I remember how disappointed I was when Mojave Ghost came out in 2014. It smelled pale, non-descript, something sweet, something faintly floral and fruity. Actually, this is what I get now; two years ago it was just a sweet nothing scent to me. I also remember when it debuted my fraghead coworker and I went to sniff it, and I said I didn’t find it interesting at all, but she said, “Oh really, I think this scent is so you.”
Two years later, out of boredom, I re-smelled again in a department store and suddenly I found it very attractive. The nuances that I didn’t detect all became vivid. Maybe on that day it was the first bottle I sniffed and my nose was very sensitive.
To me, Mojave Ghost is a bottle of irony. Firstly, It is supposed to be a soliflore, a fragrance that mimics the scent of a type of flower that blooms in the harsh condition in the Mojave desert. But I doubt most anyone has smelled it before. Has the perfumer succeeded in bringing you the scent of that flower with her creation? No one knows. Secondly, the nature of this scent is of a vague fruity floral perfume, kind of like the soft sweet scents of cactus pears or sugar-apples, but unnaturally, this perfume lasts and lasts for a whole day. My deduction is that in this perfume they use some very powerful and long lasting synthetic aroma chemicals or boosters to make it stick. A perfume that smells pale, subtle, rather complex and smooth but has such powerful longevity and yet no hard edges, is quite impressive to me.
At one point I wanted to learn perfumery and have bought an aroma chemicals starter set to play with, but I just didn’t have the time and diligence to explore. I don’t know how challenging it is to make something like Mojave Ghost, but I feel like you have to be a very well-trained perfumer to come up with something like it.
P.S. I got my bottle from eBay brand-new at a very good price and was surprised by the deal. Maybe it didn’t sell very well?
Slowly I’ve learned that the smell of leather in modern perfumery comes from a mixture of different aroma-chemicals (very likely birch tar is involved), but not something one would get from, say, soaking a stack of leather hides in some extraction solvent in a sink.
I tend to like perfumes with a touch of the leather note, not a full-fledged leather-themed perfume like Chanel’s Cuir de Russie. (Although I must say it’s a masterpiece.) Leather-themed perfumes are often too “sticky” and too butch for me.
Then there’s the smell of suede in perfumes that I find softer, lovelier, but also unsettling. I often associate the smell of suede to fine, supple furniture or luxury leather accessories, and it gives me anxiety that I might ruin them or nick them with my clumsy ass and Edwardscissors hands.
To make things even more unsettling, when a perfumer adds fruity notes to a suede-themed perfume, such as Serge Luten’s Diam Blond – you have an untreated white suede sofa spread with apricot jam, not only my ass would scratch it, it sticks to it.
I blind-bought Byredo’s Bullion in 2013 on eBay because at that time it was not available in North America and I was very into that brand. I had very little idea what it might smell like despite I had been reading the fancy marketing copy on their website over and over again while waiting for the bottle to arrive.
I tell you, Bullion, was so strange to me – a plum suede. Yes, the smell of slightly sweet gooey plum, spread on some leather/suede, then sprinkled with sweet indolic osmanthus that also smelled like plum and apricot. I wore it to work, and my coworker said, “You smell so nice,” while my stomach was ready to flip and hand me back my breakfast. And the scent lasted a whole day without too much development.
Well, years have passed and my taste and acceptance of certain perfumes/accords have changed. I occasionally wear Bullion and find it very well-blended, quite unusual, and luxurious-smelling. I just make sure I don’t have a full stomach when I wear it.
The joy and awe of wearing Amouage Jubilation 25 for Women for the first time is similar to receiving a brand new car of your favorite color named The Goddess of Aldehyde. As you sit in the comfortable back seat, a LCD screen pops up and a mini documentary (narrated in a sexy French voice) of how this car got its perfect multi-color perfumery paint job starts to play…
Mists of aroma get applied to the body layer by layer, first with a feathery light base coat of resins, musks and golden amber, then slightly darker and richer colors of patchouli, rose and incense, not very strong, but they are there. Lastly, fine mists of ylang, lemon and tarragon, whitened to a pastel palette by the powdery labdanum, gives it a smooth warm fruity hue. A final layer of aldehyde is applied to give it a bright and light sheen. No dripping, no fingerprints, just gloss and the reflection of your smile.
The LCD panel slowly sinks back in, and you are greeted by the look of yourself in the rear view mirror finding a glamorous, not bitchy, sophisticated woman, even if you are a man. Now, reach in your invisible handbag and get that pair of retro sunglasses and Hermes scarf and wear them. Yes, perfect.
Sorry, I got carried away. Yes, men can wear it. I think.
I can’t stress how much I love aldehydic perfumes, with Arpege being my number one. Now with Jubilation 25, I’m afraid there is going to be a spectacular WWE fight between the two Victorian ladies, slapping each other’s face with their pocket folding fans. Jubilation 25 doesn’t smell revolutionary, actually almost like a tribute to all fine aldehydic chypre perfumes of the 80s – except that the materials smell richer and yet the perfume wears lighter – how strange is that?
Hong Kong in the eighties had only one good English TV channel and they always showed popular American and British sitcoms. I used to watch some Roseanne with my sister, (the Chinese title of Roseanne was “Fat Mama’s Dairy”) and she once said, “I don’t get it, how come the parents are so big and their kids are so skinny?”
Well, my lovely friend Fracas has a daughter and she named her Petit. She has all her mother’s genes, looks almost identical to her mom, but really, not petit. She is almost as big as her mom, but cuter and younger. In their fabulous super-femmed-up home and you will find lovely photos of them enjoying some quality times together: one shows them making chocolate cupcakes together, one shows them spreading chocolate icing on a chocolate cake, and oh, a baby photo of Petit with chocolate pudding all over her face. You really can’t help but notice that Petit Fracas has a serious sweet tooth for chocolate.
If you’ve watched the Youtube footage of Joe Carces, the CEO of Robert Piguet, explaining why he created Petit Fracas, you would know that his daughter in her thirties does not like Fracas. (I can relate to her; It took me some time getting used to it before loving this famously huge tuberose fragrance from the fifties.) To convince her to wear Fracas, he added chocolate and pear notes to make it more romantic and youthful. However, he denied Petit Fracas being a flanker to the original Fracas. And I wanted to tell him that naming it Petit was quite a genius marketing move; it creates an illusion that you are wearing something light but in fact, it is almost as heavy as the original Fracas, and when are sick of chocolate, step up to the real thing.
[I want to write about some of the perfumes that have influenced and led me to the creation of my perfume brand, Zoologist Perfumes. They have sparked ideas and given me new understanding about niche fragrances and the marketing of them.]
Pt. VIII. Synthetic Notes in Perfumery – Guerlain’s Mitsouko
A fish that was thought to have gone extinct 66 millions years ago was discovered in 1938 on a local fishing trawler. Nicknamed the “Living Fossil”, coelacanth has no close relations alive, and was thought to have evolved into roughly its current form approximately 400 million years ago. Many scientists believe that the unique characteristics of the coelacanth represent an early step in the evolution of fish to terrestrial four-legged animals like amphibians.*
That was a major discovery in the world of natural history, but my “living fossil” discovery in the perfume world was Guerlain’s Mitsouko (1919).
A perfume created almost 100 years ago and is still in production, Mitsouko is a resilient survivor in the vast sea of perfumes. I can walk into any major department store and buy a bottle of Mitsouko, and I do not need to worry too much about it getting discontinued any time soon. Perfumistas, especially die-hard Guerlain fans, regard Mitsouko as a classic, and if you meet one, they will probably yap about it. Well, I only knew about Mitsouko through reading Luca Turin’s perfume review book. When I first started exploring perfumes, I was overwhelmed by the amount of perfumes out there, had never heard of the brand Guerlain, and got obsessed with testing out Le Labo and L’Artisan Parfumeur samples, and sniffing Byredos and Tom Fords.
To be honest, I am never too crazy about Mitsouko. I think it’s an acquired taste. I remember just before smelling it the very first time, I stood in front of the Guerlain counter, looking at the French-toast-shaped bottle, and thought, “This is it. This is the legendary perfume.” I had such high expectation for it and my mind was all prepared for the most amazing scent ever, and when the scent hit my nose, I didn’t know how to react. I was stunned by something so unexpectedly non-contemporary – it’s not exactly floral, not exactly powdery, not exactly sweet, not exactly fruity, not Chanel No. 5-style aldehydic… if all the perfumery keyword words were represented by circles in a Venn diagram, Mitsouko fell right outside of the chart, not belonging to any category. (That’s because I was a newbie and didn’t know what a chypre perfume was, but again, if you ask me to show you a typical chypre now, I wouldn’t not pick Mitsouko but Estee Lauder’s Knowing.)
So getting acquainted with Ms. Mitsouko was a valuable lesson for me, as if I had got a “vintage perfume vaccination shot” – bring it on, I can love all vintage perfumes! (Hugging Lanvin’s Arpege so hard till she says let go of me.)
One interesting tidbid of information about Mitsouko that I learned from reading Roja Dove’s “The Essense of Perfumes” was its first use of Aldehyde C 14 in fine perfumery. Mitsouko is quite famous for its peachy note, and it is Aldehyde C 14 you are smelling. I haven’t seen anyone complain about it but praise it. On the Internet I have seen quite a few people who think that a perfume must smell better if natural ingredients are used instead of synthetics. I used to think that way too, but Chris Bartlett, the perfumer of my perfume Beaver, wrote in an interview** that he thinks that synthetics are very important in modern perfumery because if a perfume is all natural, the smell couldl easily turn “muddy”, and a modern fragrance needs an artificial skeleton to support it.
A lot of niche perfume companies like to emphasis the use of uncommon or hard to harvest natural ingredients and charge a hefty price, while I am sure they bring something special to the perfumes, but look at Mitsouko, a relatively simple perfume (according to Roja Dove), archieving the classic status with the use of a brave new synthetic note of the time and masterful perfumery skill.
[I want to write about some of the perfumes that have influenced and led me to the creation of my perfume brand, Zoologist Perfumes. They have sparked ideas and given me new understanding about niche fragrances and the marketing of them.]
Pt. V. What Does a Perfume Mean to Men and Women? – Creed’s Aventus
After spending three years reading posts on various Facebook fragrance groups and perfume review sites on an almost daily basis, I have noticed a huge difference between non-editorial posts made by men and women.
My observation tells me that men are more obsessed with their perfumes, such as their manufacturer batch numbers, and are more eager to show off what they have on Facebook. But the amount of details are often lacking, resulting in just a “Scent of the Day” photo of their perfume sitting on a kitchen counter, with a comment like, “This juice is amazing”. We already know that men are “visual”, may be a photo is really all you need to communicate with other men, just like if you post a photo of yourself sitting in a Porsche with a babe feeding you a banana, what really do you need to write about? “This banana has a linear fragrant indolic tropical fruity note, but it has a soft silky smooth texture. (Almost too slippery.) It is best eaten on a cold winter day, highly recommended”?
In a male-dominated group, I feel like the quality of a fragrance is often judged by how cool the bottle and the packaging look, how expensive it is, how hard it is to get, and how often it appears in the group. Of course, the fragrance itself needs to be good enough for a hype storm to form, but once it has started, it seems almost unstoppable. The best example I’ve seen is Creed’s Aventus. I don’t own a bottle, but the amount of “love” and Scent of the Day posts it has gotten makes it impossible not make you at least smell it at a department store once. Just two days ago before I wrote this post I saw a man buying a bottle at a department store without sniffing it for more than a split second. He told the sales that everyone said good things about Aventus online.
Posts made by women are a different animal. A photo of the actual perfume bottle is not necessary, but the quality of the writing and the imagery that it provokes do make a difference. (A panoramic landscape photo or an exotic painting complementing the review always help.) Where would this fragrance take you to? An enchanted garden with wisps flying around you? An unforgettable encounter with a romantic medieval knight who invites you to a grand ball and breaks your heart with some mercilessly hard bottom notes? A thorny dark rose that wraps around you like a soft blanket? Wearing this you’ll meet a tall dark stranger…
A few years ago I read an article on the differences between public toilet stall graffiti made by men and women. Studies found that men were more likely to write insults and nasty comments, and doodle penises to reinforce their dominance. For women, the washroom was a sacred place of reflection and confession, and they more often wrote about relationships, religion and philosophy.
Furthermore, I have watched a crowd-funding pitch video by a woman who wanted to create some “engineering toys for girls” called GoldieBlox. The toy set included a board with a grid of holes, some spinners, rods and ribbons and a book of challenges. Note that it’s a book, not instructions on a single-sided piece of paper. The creator said that boys liked building and girls liked reading; if you pour a bucket of Lego blocks on the floor that might not be enough to entice girls to play. You also give them something to read along.
These two seemingly unrelated pieces of information might explain a little about the phenomena I see online. I wonder, for my perfume to succeed, maybe it needs both a rocking packaging design and a potential story for people to tell?
My coworker’s father was a chef at a Chinese restaurant.
“You must be the luckiest girl in town! Your home-cooked meals probably taste like restaurant’s.”
“I don’t remember what my father’s cooking tastes like.”
“He works for a high-stress restaurant. When he is at home, he rarely touches the stove. My mom does all the cooking.”
“He must have cooked for your mom, at least?”
“Yes, he likes to cook my mom’s favourite dish, scrambled eggs.”
“Doesn’t sound too challenging, does it?”
“It’s no ordinary scrambled eggs.”
And this was one of the reasons why I had always wanted to get a bottle of Le Parfum de Therese, by Edmond Roudnitska. He created this perfume just for his wife in the mid 50’s. Frederic Malle had always wanted to hire Mr. Roudniska to create a perfume for his own line, but it was impossible for he had already passed away in 1996. After he learned about Mrs.Therese Roudnitska’s private blend, he sincerely asked her if he could use the formula under her husband’s name, and she obliged.
I’ve always wondered, under which scenario did Mr. Roudniska create this perfume:
1) He knew what his wife liked, and made it just for her;
2) He wanted to create something not to please his clients, but for himself only, and gifted it to his wife; for all artwork needed an audience.
As a video game artist, 99% of my “artwork” are commercial, and I know creating art for others and creating art for myself are two completely different things. There’s a certain romance and mystery imbued in Le Parfum de Therese.
And the scent itself is really “strange”, by today’s standard and yesterday’s standard. The accords in this fragrance are as weird as the ingredients found in the TV cooking show “Chopped”, where contestants have no idea what the secret ingredients are, and at the end you have to make a meal out of them. In this case, you open the basket and you find: a cantaloupe, some plums, a pair of leather gloves, and a set of dumb bells. Le Parfum de Therese is a metallic melon perfume with rose and patchouli as back drop.
When I first smelled it two years ago, I could not stand it; but I was very attracted to it. After I’ve got Le Labo’s Neroli 36 and conquered the metallic accord, I was ready for Le Parfum de Therese. A year ago I gave my only sample to a friend for I knew I would get a bottle eventually. I even remembered what it smelled like. As always, the price of a Frederic Malle bottle is very prohibitive, but recently I’ve found a reason (sort of) to buy it, and there are no regrets.
Thanks to the shout out from members of various Facebook fragrance groups, I did not miss this year’s Ormonde Jayne’s Black Friday massive sale.
I learned about Ms. Jayne’s perfumes from Luca Turin’s book, and was very impressed to see that both Ormonde Jayne for Women and for Men got a 5 Star review. Ms. Jayne should be very proud of herself (I assumed she was the nose of these two perfumes), for it’s almost like your two kids were the Williams sisters of the tennis world.
[Update: a reader corrected me: the woman who started OJ is Linda Pilkington. The nose behind Ormonde Man and Women was Geza Schoen.]
Before I placed my order online, I browsed through their website for other perfumes they were offering. One perfume that caught my attention was Frangipani…
A few years ago I went to a mini horticulture show in Toronto. One of the booths was showcasing potted frangipanis – a tropical plant that bears white, creamy pastel fragrant flowers. Their potted frangipanis were strong, dense and beautiful, but also looked manageable for a small home owner. I bought two stalks and they taught me how to plant them. Step 1 – Insert them into the soil and water them generously. That’s it. Well, one stalk didn’t grow and rotted from the inside, and the other one successful grew. But Canada’s winter is a bitch; every year I have to bring it inside from the backyard before the weather turns cold. My frangipani never grows big, let alone flowers.
This year I traveled to Cambodia and Taiwan, and almost killed my double-chin by constantly sweating under the extremely hot weather. As I visited different landmarks, I often saw trees that bore beautiful flowers. I looked closer and was shocked to find out that they were actually frangipani trees. They were huge. Not giant, may be 10 foot high or higher, but definitely much bigger than I had ever anticipated they could reach. I picked up a fallen flower from the ground and smelled – very sweet, fragrant and slightly indolic, almost smelled like jasmine, but not as unique. I kept smelling the flower as I walked, trying to remember the scent.
My bottle of Ormonde Jayne’s Frangipani had finally arrived, and I was initially deeply disappointed, for the wrong reason. I was hoping for a fragrance that smelled exactly like the flower that I had smelled in Taiwan, but in fact, I should have looked for a frangipani essential oil instead of a perfume. Geza Schoen (the nose of Frangipani) did a good job here – it’s a very feminine and quite beautiful floral scent; while it has tons of white flowers (jasmine, lotus, tuberose, magnolia), it still smells fresh and watery (and a little powdery too). The supposedly super star of the perfume, frangipani, is somehow lost in the crowd. (Or maybe I have forgotten what frangipani smells like?) The perfume then dries down to some green notes, completing the quick journey around a tropical flower garden.
Last week Meetup.com sent me an email telling me there would be a Toronto “Scent Society” gathering at a recently-opened niche perfume shop in mid-town. I had no clue how Meetup.com found out I love perfumes, and I had never heard of “Scent Society”, but anyway, I went. Only three people showed up, which wasn’t so bad because the shop wasn’t the most spacious. It also gave me ample time to learn more about each other, and not to mention I also used the opportunity to give them some samples of my own perfumes.
The shop was a delight to visit because it carried perfume brands that I had been dying to explore. They have Rance, MDCI, Amouage, and a few other high-end brands. Did you know that luckyscents.com says on their website, when you buy a bottle, they let you choose a free sample? (Something like that, check their website.) Well, I had asked for a free sample of MDCI with my last purchase, but they didn’t send me one, I guess it’s too expensive to be “free”. So when I found out that my local shop carried MDCI, I was ecstatic.
After sniffing MDCI’s line-up, I immediately knew which one I wanted to get. The others joined in; one woman really liked Peche Cardinal (a peach fruity scent). The owner recommended Invasion Barbare, which really didn’t need any introduction for I had read about it many times – a perfume that Luca Turin had given a 5-star review. The store owner sprayed some on the back of my hand, and said it smelled wonderful on me. (It’s an oriental leather perfume.) She sprayed some on her neck, and said it didn’t smell as good on her. I also sprayed some La Belle Helene on my other hand, but she wasn’t crazy about it. Another female member from the group approached and smelled my hand sprayed with Invasion Barbare, and agreed it smelled great on me. The implication I got from them was, if you want a perfume that women like, get Invasion Barbare. Guess what, at the end I bought a bottle of La Belle Helene (for women). I decided to get a perfume that pleases me, not others… (but it definitely is a bonus when the person I have a crush on also likes it.)
La Belle Helene is a soft pear floral perfume. The pear aroma, combined with soft aldehyde, soft rose, soft osmanthus, soft ylang, soft plum is so soft, and so beautiful it’s like a little dream. But it turns out it’s a chypre perfume with some attitude; it won’t let you have a soft dream for too long and wake you up with gentle-slaps-in-your-face cedar, oak moss, and licorice wood. It’s ok, I don’t mind this gentle abuse.
Eve of Eden had eaten it before and so did Snow White. Now it’s your turn to eat the “apple”, the life-changing symbol of temptation, but just like e-cigarettes, it only looks like the real thing and you shouldn’t feel too ashamed taking a bite of it; it’s supposed to be fun and “harmless”. Lolita Lempicka’s debut fragrance (1997) is a fantasy created and marketed perfectly, from the scent to the look of the bottle to the lush marketing imageries; no wonder it is still a best-seller for over 20 years.
The marketing didn’t do magic for me, but it surely had grabbed my attention every time I walked by some perfume counters. It’s everywhere, so I had no urgency to smell it, until, of course, I read Tania Sanchez’s 5-star review. It’s not easy to immediately tell if it’s a great scent (or not), but I know if a designer scent sucks, typically it can’t last more than 5 years on the market. It took me several wearing to understand what’s going on, for the opening is quite complex: essentially it’s a down-to-earth, quieter Angel, a gourmand perfume that features star anise. But the supposedly pungent liquorice note here is like a peanut M&M’s, covered up by all kinds of yumminess, when you eat it, you are not eating a peanut, you are eating a chocolate candy with personality.
The best part of Lolita Lempicka is actually the dreamy powdery dry down. (I love my powder!) If you think Angel is too much and you don’t mind a little bit of liquorice, Lolita Lempicka is pretty neat.