Kenzo’s Air (2003)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

I will be honest with you, one of the reasons why I wanted to explore the works of perfumer Maurice Roucel is that he looks like the video game character Mario, which I find it a little bit hilarious. (Check out any Frederic Malle’s marketing materials and look for his portrait and you will know what I mean.) The other reason, and the main reason, of course, is that he has received high praises for his work (Envy, Musc Ravaguer, 24 Faubourg, Rochas Man, etc) and Luca Turin thinks that he’s (almost) a perfumery genius.

I have been collecting some of his scents ever since reading Luca’s book; his Kenzo Air is very interesting to me because its main note is the love-or-hate anise.

Star anise (smells similar to anise) is a spice commonly used in Chinese cooking, particularly in the dish “Soy Sauce Chicken”. (By the way, pouring soy sauce directly on top of steamed chicken is not Soy Sauce Chicken, y’all.) The time I really thought anise smelled like no other spices was during a holiday season I tried to make some German springerles cookies. The recipe asked for a few of drops of anise essential oil, which wasn’t that easily available at my local supermarket, but when I found some and took a sniff, I thought it smelled a bit cray-cray – bitter, uplifting, pungent and liquorice-like.  It’s hard to imagine it is used in perfumery without it hi-jacking the whole perfume.

I guess the creative Mr. Roucel realized that and decided not to fight it and let anise in Kenzo Air be a lead singer and the other ingredients (vetiver, cedar, amber, bergamot) be back up vocals. The result is a casual but confident scent –fresh, airy, woody with a little bit sweetness, and most importantly, an interesting anise perfume.

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Lanvin’s Avant Garde (2011)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

The avant-garde (from French, “advance guard” or “vanguard”, literally “fore-guard”) are people or works that are experimental or innovative, particularly with respect to art, culture, and politics. (from Wikipedia)

Sorry, Ms. Shyamala Maisondieu, the nose of Lanvin’s Avant Garde (2011), your creation belongs to the Commercial Art Museum, not the Avant Garde Museum, because it shocks no one (in fact, it’s quite a crowd pleaser), pushes no boundaries and repels no one in any elevator or restaurant. In fact, it smells a little bit like Hugo Boss Bottled (1998), a sweet and friendly apple juiced-up semi-masculine cologne; and you sneakily replaced the apple with some honey, tobacco, pink pepper and white pepper to warm it up, making bad boys smell a bit friendly, and boring clean-shaven office men a bit bad boy.

All-in-all, it’s a decent modern designer scent, but what I find so interesting is not what it smells like, nor its nice bottle. What I find interesting is that I have witnessed a real-time social-media-influenced sales phenomenon happening in slow motion. I have always wanted to get Avant Garde, because I’m a Lanvin fan. I love Arpege, and I think I should also love her extended family despite some of them are only as interesting as a pumpkin. What I didn’t expect was that someone bought a bottle of Avant Garde at a discounted price and reviewed it on Youtube, which caused a domino effect of other Youtube reviewers getting their own bottle and saying how good and affordable it was. Before the Youtube reviews appeared, Avant Garde was readily available at my favourite online shop. Ever since the reviews, fewer and fewer were available (didn’t happen to other perfumes that I paid attention to), until I found out they were sold out. (Pulling hair out.) I have concluded it’s all because of Youtube reviewers! Good job, guys!

Rochas’ Monsieur Rochas (1969)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

“Excuse me, sir! Have you tried the latest Michel Germain Intense Sexual Secret?” asked the department store Indian sales woman with a noticeable accent.

“Sorry, I am not interested…” I said.

“No, you should try it, it’s very good! Best seller!”

She handed me a test strip. It smelled like Fukushima earthquake – deadly, but intense.

“It’s very intense, it guarantees 24 hours longevity, or your money back! Do you want me to spray some on you?”

“No, I am fine!” I started walking away from her quickly. She started chasing after me, “It’s very good!”

This was completely crazy. She’s trying to kill me. I ran and ran until I was facing a cliff and there’s nowhere to go.

“It’s very good!” She sprayed a huge amount of Intense Sexual Desire on me and I immediately felt dizzy, my limbs became weak and I fell off the cliff. As I plunged into the abyss, I could hear echoes of “It’s very good!” bouncing off the walls.

24 hours later, I woke up. I was sitting in a bed.

“You are finally awake. Not many people can survive 5 sprays of that atrocity,” said a 60-year-old man wearing glasses, looking at me intently.

“Who are you? Where am I?”

“I’m Guy Robert. You are resting in a place called the Forgotten Fougere.”

“I don’t know you…”

“Of course you don’t, only a few people know me. Even women who wear Dioressence and Calèche don’t know I made them. Now people only love the newest and hottest. What do they know.”

“Take this. And don’t let those people bully you again.” He handed me a bottle and turned around to his piano and started playing.  I looked at the bottle, it read “Monsieur Rochas”. I sprayed a little of on my wrist and took a sniff. It smelled wonderful – a great mix of citrus and fresh herbs such as lavender and sage, also spicy and aromatic cedar, vetiver, patchouli and yummy oakmoss, very manly and confident… but it reminded me of something else.

“It smells amazing, but it smells like Lever 2000.”

“Yes, I also made soap products. Mine is better, they probably got the inspiration from my creations.”

“Sir, are you ok? You hit a column and fainted away.” The sales woman helped me up from the floor. She continued, “We have a promotion going on, it’s very good!”

Related Links on Guy Robert:

Guerlain’s L’Instant de Guerlain pour Homme Eau Extreme (2005)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

To me, the olfactory journey of L’Instant de Guerlain Eau Extreme (2005) is like watching a cloudy aquarium slowly turn crystal clear. The opening is bitter, unpleasant and chalky; if I were judge Simon Cowell on the Guerlain Got Talent show, I would press the button to open the trap door under its feet in less than three seconds. But of course, other judges see much more than what meets the eye (particularly the bottle design looks like Borat wearing a black thong) – as the top notes fade away, a well balanced triad of notes (not too sweet gourmand/resins, masculine woods and florals) takes over, making it a very decent and humble (may be sexy?) scent.

To my understanding, L’Instant de Guerlain Eau Extreme (LIDGE) is not available in the States (correct me if I am wrong) and a lot of people who won’t settle for a regular version are looking for one. The Toronto Guerlain flagship store for all the unfathomable reasons carries it, making me feel very privileged. (If you live in Toronto, you know how few niche brands the city carries.) One day I was at the Guerlain store and a sales lady gave me some info on which perfumes were going to be discontinued. She told me that LIDGE was going to receive a new bottle design (because it sold unexpectedly well), so if I wanted one, I should get it now. At the cashier, another saleslady told me that someone in the States just ordered 50 bottles of LIDGE, so I really should get two bottles before it got sold out. (Frankly, I think the Toronto Guerlain is not generating too much sales. I hope it is not the case.) I only bought one, because at that time I was still dubious about this scent.

Guerlain’s Eau de Cologne Imperiale (1860)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

You are at a gas station convenience store, and you want to get a Twinkie cake snack. Instead of getting the freshest one on the shelf, you ask the cashier if they carry any that were made 15 years ago. You enthusiastically describe what the old packaging looks like and talk about how good the old recipe is, but as expected, he compassionately tells you that they don’t have any. He says he actually believes that the new one tastes as good as the ones made in the old days. You are not convinced and not giving up and drive around town hopping in and out from one store to another, and just when you are about to scream “why!?”, you find a very old store that has a bunch of 20-year-old Twinkies hidden in the back room. The manager tells you that each one costs $100 and you don’t even show a hint of shock on your face. You immediately buy two (one as a back up), and take a bite. It tastes a bit spoiled, but “really amazing”.

Do you find this ridiculous? No? Good. Never mind. I want to thank a group member for telling me that my local perfume store has stocked some Guerlain “treasures”. He pointed out that any Guerlain perfumes that come in a shiny gold box (as opposed to the current ones that are matte-bronze) have vintage formulations and are much sought after. Today I revisited that store and spotted a 250ml bottle of Eau de Cologne Imperiale in a “shiny gold box”. The price was good, and as a bonus, the cologne came in the famous Guerlain bee bottle. The sales told me she had never seen a Guerlain bee bottle before (!) and it looked very pretty. She took a sniff from the sample bottle and said, “hmm, it smells like 4711 cologne.” (10 times cheaper) I said, “Come on, it’s one of the best lime colognes!” (It’s true! I guess…)

Atkinson’s The Odd Fellow’s Bouquet (2013)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

While testing a bottle of Atkinson’s “The Odd Fellow’s Bouquet” (2013) at a department store, an experienced sales lady approached me to tell me that the word ‘bouquet’ in a British perfume title didn’t mean ‘a bunch of flowers’, but ‘a characteristic scent’. But she didn’t tell more about the ‘odd fellow’s’ part of the title.

I thought an odd fellow would be someone like the Shamwow towel commercial guy or Wimpy, the character in the Popeyes comics who likes to eat hamburgers all the time. But Wikipedia told me that in British English, odd fellows is a name broadly referring to “any of a large number of friendly societies, fraternal and service organizations”. So… essentially everyone in this Facebook group.

When you are part of the odd fellowship, you’d better smell good or you stay home and watch Netflix by yourself. After applying “The Odd Fellow’s Bouquet”, you immediately smell half-drunk because of the whisky notes. Then the little spiciness of white pepper and the sweet tobacco and ginger notes instantly make you smell very approachable and conversation-ready. (Luckily I don’t talk to myself when I am wearing this, or I would be crazy.) A very alluring scent, but don’t wear a tuxedo or an Armani suit to wear this perfume because it will kill its humour. (Think Cookie Monster Monsterpiece Theater.)

Rochas’ Moustache (1948)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

The Rochas Moustache store display was such a great bargain and rare find on eBay that I had to get it, even though I had no clue what the cologne smelled like. Through eBay again I have acquired a vintage bottle of Moustache, and now my diorama is complete.

Judging from the packaging, I guess my bottle was from the late 70s. Not the first version (1948), and not the latest “more modern-looking” version either. (All discontinued now.) I actually quite wanted to smell Moustache, because I have smelled a few vintage perfumes for women already, but never a vintage cologne for men.

So here’s my report. Moustache is the father of Eau Sauvage by Dior. Eau Sauvage is a well-educated charmer, well known in the circle. He is more sophisticated than his father and exceeds his father in many ways, but the older ladies definitely knows where the genes of that kid come from, and that silver-haired old man still carries his moustache and charisma pretty well. Moustache opens with a mega blast of citrus, then very out-of-this-world oakmoss follows. Is that all, old pop? No, bitter herbal notes and a hint of honey/floral notes start to appear, which reminds me a little bit of that dirty old man Yatagan everyone wants to push him in a senior home, but without the prolonged awkwardness of “You don’t know him, but he’s actually approachable.” Strangely, I feel like I am more an old man wearing Eau Sauvage than Moustache.