Daniel Barros’ Perfumes

Daniel Barros Perfumes
Daniel Barros’ Cuir Mojito, Yuzucello, Sex on the Peach and Gincenso (9ml, 2016) © Victor Wong

After all those years, I can vividly remember two things that happened in my sister’s econo-lite wedding – she served raw cauliflower florets on a platter with some ranch sauce on a buffet table. Who eats cauliflowers in a wedding party? Might as well serve just one head of cauliflower; there might come someone who really wants to eat it and says, “excuse me, I hope you don’t mind, I really like cauliflowers” and takes the whole thing and starts chomping it away in a corner.

The second thing was that my sister asked me to be a bartender at the wedding party. She casually said, “Just mix vodka and orange juice together, I think it’s called a screwdriver.” I was really glad that none of her guests went blind after drinking my concoctions, for I had mixed them big plastic cups full of orange juice with a few drops of vodka, and vodka with a few drops of orange juice as the night started to drag. I really had no clue what I was doing, for I don’t drink beer or any cocktails at all.

So I guess my total ignorance and disinterest in alcohol is useful when I test my friend Daniel Barros’ brand new line of cocktail/drinks inspired perfumes – I don’t have any perceived idea whether the perfume is a successful reinterpretation of the cocktail that it is supposed to represent.

Currently his line consists of 12 scents, and he has sent me four.

After testing them, I have come up with this silly conclusion: his perfumes are like South Park episodes – super outrageous, creative, crazy, but all somehow end with a moral redemption, in a form of traditional, proper perfume dry down, for he knows what he is doing, but somehow the theme of the perfumes that he has chosen confines what the perfume should smell like.

Yuzucello – probably my favourite. The opening is like you have won the Superbowl and your teammates dumps a barrel of Limoncello over your head. Crazy strong lemon candy opening, surprisingly non-sticky, if you let the opening subsides a bit, you are rewarded with a very addictive great sandalwood/tonka/lily of the valley dry down.

Gincenso – A gin fragrance that’s actually more like an incense fragrance but somehow smells like a latex fragrance to me? This incense fragrance is masculine, respectful, and sparsely aromatic. Actually it is not at all a comedy fragrance, it’s a proper and properly made fragrance, but if it is a real drink, it is garnished with one blue plastic flip flop on a toothpick. I have said it many times, a lot of leather perfumes smell like plastic flip flops to me. I remember it was a group favourite.

Cuir Mojito – It’s refreshing like mint but rustic like brown leather hide; it’s clean like lime but damp like oakmoss and vetiver; Cuir Mojito is full of contradictions, the movie Cowboys vs Aliens, despite a bit confusing, it’s entertaining.

Sex on the Peach – there is a salty note in this fragrance that reminds me of the beach, and the peach accord is supposed to represent peach schnapps. So far so good, but I must confess I wish the cumin and black pepper isn’t that strong in this fragrance for it gives me a bit of seasickness.

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Amouage’s Interlude for Women (2012)

Amouage Interlude for Women (100ml)
Amouage Interlude for Women (100ml) © Victor Wong

There’s a time when everyone talks about how strong and uncompromising Interlude for Men smells; how it is not for everyone, but if you like it you are a perfume connoisseur. Or how people around you might get offended if you wear too much of it; and how fun it was to “accidentally” wear 20 sprays and kill everyone in Sunday church. Probably those are the reasons why men want a bottle, to tell the world that I am a bad boy, I am a nonconformist.

I won’t dismiss the excellent quality of Interlude for Men, but I can’t say I get pleasure wearing it – it’s an inextinguishable incense factory industrial fire. Me, being your everyday nonconforming nonconformist, I, chose to investigate Interlude for Women instead. And just to prove how cool I am, I bought a bottle of Interlude for Women. (No, just kidding, it smells good to me.)

What’s in Interlude for Women? There is only one note: magic pencil. Some people said it smelled like Jolly Rancher, I think they are crazy, because it clearly smells like a magic pencil to me – it’s dense, dark, rich, a little sweet and a little floral and woody like a pencil. (Note: upon research, most pencils are made from “incense cedar”.)  I went to Fragrantica in glee to verify my guess, and holy moly, it said it had bergamot, ginger, lemon, marigold, incense, rose, jasmine, tuberose, walnut (really?), coffee (didn’t get it), kiwi (what?), honey, immortelle, sandalwood, opoponax, vanilla, leather, oak moss, amber, frankincense, tonka, musk and guaiac? Hey, these ingredients all have very distinct personality, but when the perfumer of Interlude blended them together, it’s almost too hard to tell them apart, like I can’t believe mayonnaise is made of egg, vinegar and oil.

Interlude for Women is one of the heaviest scents “for women” that I have encountered. It doesn’t break down, it smells the same from start to finish and it wears me down like a heavy coat. After wearing Interlude for Women for more than five times, the magic pencil note finally unravelled a little bit. I focused and could detect the incense (that’s almost a given for an Amouage perfume), honey and guaiac. It will take me a while to recognize the other notes. But I need strength to wear it.

Giorgio Armani’s Bois d’Encens (2004)

Giorgio Armani's Bois d'Encens (2004)
Giorgio Armani’s Bois d’Encens © Victor Wong

The coworker sitting next to me is a 30-something year old man who immigrated from Pakistan to Canada when he was a young teenager. He is a video game level designer, and every afternoon he takes a break and goes to pray at a prayer center unexpectedly located within walking distance from our office above an auto repair shop, and returns to work with a Wendy’s milkshake most of the time. He loves anime and wears a different nerdy T-shirt to work everyday like I wear a different perfume. He is familiar with both the Middle Eastern culture and the Western culture, and has a very liberal heart (I would say he has “synced up” with the Canadians’ worldview), a 100% nice guy, and also a devout Islamic follower. But little does he know, he has a more important purpose in life – a guinea pig for the perfumes that I develop with my perfumers.

“Here, smell this.” I don’t know how many times I have handed him a paper napkin, marked with a number and sprayed with some work-in-progress perfumes.

“Not bad,” “it’s very nice,” “this smells like a spice cabinet,” “this smells like attar from Pakistan,” “please flush it away, now, immediately” are some of his typical comments.

Then one time he said, “This is not perfume. It’s nice, I would wear this, but my wife will hate it. And really, this is not perfume.”

I was deeply worried, for the perfume that I just showed him was almost done, and “it’s not a perfume”.

A few days later while looking for a stapler, I found a sample of Armani’s Bois d’Encens in my drawer, and sprayed some on myself. Out of curiosity, I asked him for his opinion on this perfume.

“This is not perfume.”

“Say again? Did you know this is fricking Armani? I mean, would Armani release a perfume that is not perfume?”

“I know some Middle Eastern guys would wear this, but I can’t detect any florals in it, and it’s just wood and incense. My wife would not let me wear this in the house. No, it’s not perfume.”

The sky suddenly cleared – he needed a new life. No, a new wife. No, not really, but now I know I could release any perfumes that I like without worrying too much what other people think. I have to trust my taste.

To be fair, Bois d’Encens is a very straight forward perfume, exactly like what the title suggests, it is just woods and incense, with pink pepper, labdanum and vetiver. But the simplicity demands your attention and respect – it’s a tall, dark, austere smelling scent. When wearing it, you have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions.

Serge Luten’s L’orpheline (2014)

Serge Lutens L'orpheline © Victor Wong
Serge Lutens L’orpheline © Victor Wong

I don’t know why this tidbit of news that I read from a newspaper gets stuck in my head for almost 30 years: an art teacher takes his class to the museum that is showing an all-red minimalist painting to “protest”; he asks his students to paint their own all-red painting at the museum to mock the museum curator, why he would consider such a simple single-colour painting worthy of exhibition. I knew what the teacher was thinking – the artist pushed his luck with a piece of “art” that probably didn’t take him much effort to create and he succeeded, while all the excellent artwork that took “better” artists years to create didn’t get the admiration they deserved.

I think my first reaction when I smelled Serge Luten’s L’orpheline was probably the same as that art teacher’s – “What? Uncle Serge, you think you can get away with a simple two-note perfume? (Incense and ISO E Super)” However, after wearing and smelling it for a while, I start to get it… it is quite beautiful, elegant and poignant, and there are subtleties in its simplicity. Maybe that’s why it’s called “The Orphan?” – you are born unprivileged, and you have to work very hard with the very little that you have to impress and achieve, and the admiration from others all goes to the perseverance and the struggling, not the work the orphan has accomplished?

Well, a red painting is still a red painting, I can only give the artist credit for designing a mood and an awe, but the appreciation of the artwork, to me at least, is limited, and cannot be compared to, say, The Coronation of Napoleon.

I wonder, if it was not Serge Lutens who released this perfume but a new start up perfume company, would it get the same reception?

Diptyque’s L’Eau Trois (1975)

Diptyque L'Eau Trois © Victor Wong
Diptyque L’Eau Trois © Victor Wong

I’ve observed that there are many kinds of perfume enthusiasts – some focus on new niche releases only, some like to collect vintage perfumes, and some are loyal to only one brand, and of course, those busy hummingbirds that need to sample every flower in the garden or they will die of boredom.

At one point I had focused only on niche perfumes; then I became interested in well-known perfume houses with a prestigous history in perfume making. Take Chanel No. 5 and Shalimar for example, they were created in 1920s. It’s cool and important to know what famous perfumes of the early 20th century smell like, but currently my interest in them is only skin deep.

As I smell more and more perfumes, I have developed some sensibility to tell approximately what decade a particular perfume is from. (Hmm, I should back track… may be not, but most likely I can tell if it is vintage, from the 80s or contemporary. I guess most people can do that too. Waahh wahh.)

Now what’s holding in my hand is a bottle of L’Eau Trois by Diptyque. It was first released in France in 1975. I was a toddler in Hong Kong back then. 1975 is really not that long ago, but I have very little memory of what things were like during the first 10 years of my childhood. Is L’Eau Trois an indicative perfume of the 70s? It makes me think… Christian Dior’s Eau Sauvage was released in 1966. Ralph Polo was released in 1978. In between we have L’Eau Trois, a frankincense perfume that smells like an Orthodox church? If I show you this scent and ask you what decade it’s from, can you guess it correctly? I myself can’t. So here’s my theory…L’Eau Trois is actually a timeless niche perfume from the 70s! (Dramatic lightning.)

L’Eau Trois smells particularly interesting to me because it’s all about frankincense and myrrh. I’ve played with frankincense and myrrh essential oil for aromatherapy, burnt frankincense and myrrh resins on a piece of hot coal – slightly different flavor, I’d compare it to poaching something vs roasting. But wearing a perfume that’s all about these two famous resins is another experience; it makes me feel like I am a hippie or someone very spritual who sells snake oil. (It also has rosemary and spices in it, but that seems almost irrelevant.) A must try, in my opinion.

Gucci’s Gucci Pour Homme (2003)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

[This post was originally posted on Facebook Fragrance Friends group and got me in hot water. In the post I wrote, “The things that he designs and his style, is so manly that makes me wonder why he is gay.” which is in very poor taste. I am a gay man, and I thought it was a casual tongue-in-cheek joke, but in fact, very politically incorrect. My apology.]

As someone who is overweight for decades, I cherish finding a clothing brand that has sizes that fit me. I never pay attention to designer clothing; their awesomeness stops at size L. May be that’s the reason I never realized how legendary Tom Ford was until I’ve started paying attention to perfumes. When I looked up information on Gucci Pour Homme, the perfume that made me stop looking for another incense perfume, I discovered that it was created when Tom Ford was the creative director of Gucci. Look at that bottle – it’s still marvellous to hold and look at. The things that he designs and his style, is so manly that makes me wonder why he is gay. Luca Turin says that after Tom Ford has left Gucci, Gucci perfume bottles all return to their kitschy looking belt and buckle design.

Robert Piguet’s Casbah (2012)

Robert Piguet Casbah, 100ml, EDP
© Victor Wong

Hide-and-Seek Incense

Casbah, my new blind-buy from the Robert Piguet line. It smells so different from the rest of the line-up. Funny thing is that all the current perfumes from Robert Piguet are created by Aurelien Guichard.

I originally expected a perfume similar to Serge Luten’s Arabie, a very spicy and rich perfume, but instead it’s a ghostly nutmeg incense. 5 sprays in the morning, an hour later I couldn’t smell it anymore. At lunchtime I took a short walk and suddenly the scents came out like a genie from a bottle.

I would not call this a lovely perfume (it has a lot of pepper in it, I usually don’t associate pepper to loveliness ), but if you think Amouage’s Memoir for Men is lovely, then this Casbah is quite lovely.