Sonoma Scent Studio’s Amber lncense & Fig Tree


I must confess that the name Sonoma Scent Studio preceded my discovery and love of niche perfumes. A few years ago my friend from Pittsburgh visited me in Toronto and I told him I had never smelled anyone wearing a perfume that’s actually “incensy”. (He’s caucasian and he loves everything Chinese and he lights incense joss sticks everyday and his home smells like a temple.) He highly recommended Sonoma because it’s “awesome”.

And now I can tell you he is right. My impression of this line after smelling most of their samples is that they remind me of a high-end nature store. You know, beautiful interior, decorated with big wind chimes, hangable stained glass panels, cosy all natural organic sweaters and a bird chirping soundtrack being played from all-surround sound Bose speakers.

There are so many that I like from the sample pack, and some of my favs include Spiced Citrus Vetiver (quite unexpected, because I am not a big fan of cologne and vetiver, but this blend is just done amazingly appealing), Yin and Yang (florals, amber, musks), Fig Tree, and of course, Amber Incense and Incense Pure, and ALL their rose perfumes.

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Sonoma Scent Studio’s Amber lncense (2015)

Remember in The Lord of the Rings, the hobbits carry little biscuits called Lembas Bread that have magical powers of satiation; “one small bite is enough to fill the stomach of a grown man”? Well, the amber incense perfume equivalent is Sonoma‘s Amber Incense, an all natural, powerful, concentrated perfume that can rival any extraits and it lasts for many many hours.

On first wearing, you might think you are just wearing amber and incense, because the spice, rose, oakmoss, resins are so packed tightly together, it takes some time for your nose to slowly unravel this Pac Man Power Pellet, and while you are doing that, you are invincible.

Sonoma Scent Studio’s Fig Tree (2011)

Note that it’s not “Figs”, but “Fig Tree”, and here you really get a beautiful, austere fig tree scent with ripe figs ready to be harvested. The smells of leafy greenness, woodiness, and unique fig fruitiness in this scent are naturally proportionate to a real fig tree and in that order. The touch of creamy coconuty vanilla makes this scent extra comforting to wear.

I’d say Fig Tree is an upgraded version of Diptyque’s Philosykos, the more famous mass-marketed fig scent, but Fig Tree smells stunningly more longer-lasting, natural, classy, generous and less cartoony, than Philosykos.

Diptyque’s Noisetier Candle

Diptyque Noisetier Hazel © Victor Wong
Diptyque Noisetier Hazel © Victor Wong

Burning my first Diptyque candle. I love uncommon scents and this one is Noisetier, or Hazel. At first I thought it was roasted chestnuts, but the sales told me it’s hazelnuts, and we were both wrong – it’s hazel. (Leaves? Flowers? Raw nuts?) The scent is woody green and a bit raw! I wonder what other essential oils are in this formula or is it purely hazel? I have never smelled anything like it, although it’s not completely in a strange territory.

Zoologist Perfumes’ Panda (2014)

© Zoologist Perfumes
© Zoologist Perfumes

[I started Zoologist Perfumes in 2013 and spent a year developing three perfumes with award-winning perfumers Chris Bartlett and Paul Kiler. I have just received a stellar review from Joseph Sagona of the Facebook Fragrance Friends group, and I am so honoured to share it with you.]

Scent of the Night, Zoologist Panda EDP by Victor Wong this is the second sample I am testing from Victor’s upcoming fragrance line and it is just wonderful, the opening starts off with a blast of green tea and pepper which gives it a very clean, grassy, watery, slightly soapy vibe, almost like a Prada fragrance does, and the pepper gives the fragrance some warmth, spice and punch.

Then after about an hour or so that dies down and it morphs into a totally different fragrance which is the part I love most about it, then I get some incense, woods and vetiver, the incense is very light and makes the fragrance slightly sweet and aromatic, the woods and vetiver make it dry and earthy, I think this can be worn all year ’round and it would really bloom in the warmer months, I get average projection and average longevity, I can’t say enough great things about Panda, very well blended and smells fantastic, I really do love it Victor, this edges out Beaver slightly for me, 5/5 Stars, I can’t wait to get my hands on a bottle of it.

[Panda, together with Beaver and Rhinoceros will be available in late 2014. Please like our Zoologist Perfumes Facebook page to receive the latest news!]

Tom Ford’s Jonquille de Nuit (2012)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

Tom Ford is a very busy business man, but each day he can still find time to christen each vat of perfume by taking a long bath in it – that is why despite the line has so many different scents, they somehow all share similarities. Jonquille de Nuit (2012), a narcissus themed perfume, should by default smell intoxicating, but Tom Ford definitely took his time washing his body in it with extra soap and shampoo to make it very manly, perverse and… soapy. The result is a scent that’s not most well-loved and it got discontinued in merely two years since its debut.

Narcissus is one of my most favourite flowers, because it is Chinese tradition to bring fresh flowers home during the Chinese New Year holidays and narcissus is the most fragrant flower among all. It really is a marvel that such tiny little trumpets can smell so fragrant and intense, and I associate narcissus with the happiest time of my childhood. (I think it’s similar to bringing a fresh pine tree home for Christmas in western culture.)

Tom Ford’s Jonquille de Nuit definitely caught my attention when it came out in the market, but I was very hesitant to buy it because while I could detect a big amount of narcissus in it, the other ingredients almost “polluted” it, making it very bitter and green. (Similar to Balmain’s Vent Vert but more intense and floral.) But it’s a supposed to be a sophisticated unisex perfume, so on that level, it’s a good dark green floral, or, in my opinion, a little evil springtime scent.

(P.S. In case you are curious, I bought this half-full flacon bottle on eBay at a price cheaper than a brand-new 50ml bottle – I don’t think I will ever buy a brand new flacon Tom Ford at full retail price.)

Balmain’s Vent Vert (1947, reformulated 1991)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

Vent Vert (1947) is one of those perfumes with a long history and is still available in the market. What it does not have is integrity and foresights from perfumers who were responsible for its reformations over the years. It has gone through at least three reformulations, and Luca Turin announces in his book that Vent Vert, is dead. If it is dead, Balmain reformulated the corpse one more time and has given it a new packaging and a new price tag, 75 Euros for 75ml instead of $50 for 100ml.

The bottle I have, I believe, is the 1999’s reformulation (the dead one), and it smells ok. Actually very good, but as I have read enough negative reviews, I do not dare to say it’s great. (Kind of like saying the latest Adam Sandler’s movie is great very loudly in a movie critics convention.) But I like it as is – a little bit green and bitterness, rosy and a little bit powdery, and I do not feel like spending more money trying to find the vintage vintage versions on eBay. But I can imagine the glory Vent Vert had had when it came out – “With its famous overdose of the ingredient galbanum, which imparts a bitter-green freshness to scents, Vent Vert is herbs, bent stems and roses.”, writes Barbara Herman in her book, Scent & Subversion. Let’s be complacent that I have the better version of Vent Vert at a greater price than the newest one.

P.S. Actually I have never smelled the newest one. I wonder if it is better?

[A reader has informed me that my bottle, in fact, is not the latest reformulation (which is dreadful), but a still good reformulation.]

Gucci’s Envy for Woman (1997)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

Some time ago I mentioned the difficulty of getting a new bottle of Gucci Envy for Men. However, I have never felt the pressure of getting a bottle of Gucci Envy for Women because I can see them in every discounted perfume shop in Toronto. (Not in great abundance, but at least one or two bottles.) But, all discontinued perfumes will someday get sold out, I think it’s better be safe than sorry, so I bought a bottle a few days ago.

While appreciating Envy for Woman for the first time, I suddenly realized that I had smelled it before, at least a few times. I don’t remember when, who wore it, or the location, but the smell was so distinct and pretty that I somehow recognized it. It is like watching Disney’s Dumbo when I was a kid, I don’t remember a thing about it now, but I knew I had watched it in a cinema.

I would compare Envy for Women to Prescriptives’ Calyx (both are 5-star perfumes in Luca Turin’s book); they share similar structure – fruity tops, rosy/lily-of-the-valley middle notes, but Envy is lighter, fresher, more distinct, and has a surprisingly strong longevity.

I wonder why there are more bottles of Envy for Women than for Men. May be it was so good and had sold so well that Gucci had over-produced Envy for Women. Or may be men tend to buy the same perfume when a bottle is finished and hence the remaining stock gets depleted faster? Either way, I am glad that I have all the Envy – and can see how brilliant the two minimalistic bottle designs can suggest the envy of men and women.

Robert Piguet’s Futur (1960, redesigned 2009)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

The original Futur was introduced in 1960 by Robert Piguet, and I imagine they wanted to market it as “a perfume from the future” but you can smell it now!

I have never smelled the vintage version, but I bet it doesn’t smell like any contemporary perfumes, which are supposed to be “the future”. In 2009, nearly 50 years later, they relaunched Futur with a new formula. I blind-bought a bottle because I wanted to know what a “revived future perfume” would smell like.

Futur smells like nothing I have ever smelled; it is a cocktail of different era and genre. It smells retro but not vintage; it smells green and cedar-ly like a forest but the flowers are bigger than the trees. It is just f**king weird to me. It reminds me of Bandit, not of the smell, but under what occasions I would wear it and leave home, which is none. But, I do wear it at home frequently, for its strangeness and addictive quality when you know it well enough.

Again, I showed it to my coworker, and he said, “Why would I want to smell like a hospital?” I looked at him and said, “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

Estee Lauder’s Private Collection (1973)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

It is my goal to smell all the 5-star perfumes reviewed by Luca Turin. I don’t worship him, but there are so many perfumes out there and compared to the small number of 5-star perfumes reviewed by him, I believe the goal is totally attainable and fun.

One of the 5-star perfumes that I least paid attention to was Estee Lauder’s “Private Collection”. I didn’t know why, I just never felt like I had to smell it ASAP like Fracas or Mitsouko. May be the review was short and unexciting to read (actually reviewed by his wife Tania Sanchez).

Over the year I had casually walked by a few Estee Lauder counters in various department stores, and never saw a bottle of “Private Collection”. I saw, however, some of its flankers like “Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia”.

Then one weekday after work, I walked into an almost empty department store where all the sales person were standing still like wax statues but with eyes following you as you passed by them, I suddenly turned around and asked a sales lady, “Do you have Estee Lauder’s Private Collection?” She came alive and said, “Oh yes!!! You are the one who bought a bottle of Youth Dew from me (three months ago)? I remember you!!” Then she bent down and dug through the bottom-most drawer behind the counter and showed me a fossilized box. “I don’t have a sample bottle on the counter because no one buys it and everyone steals it.”

I bought it without really smelling it because she was so kind and nice (and didn’t let me test-spray it). Anyway, I sprayed a few times on my skin when I reached home… it’s Genie Grandma again! She spun around the room a few times and said, “I have been imprisoned in this bottle for 40 years, and whoever released me I shall gift her notes of oak moss, cedar, patchouli, coriander, all the nice scents a modern woman will ever need! Wait, what are you?” I immediately closed the bottle cap. It’s a dangerous perfume.