Kenzo’s Parfum d’Été (1992)

Kenzo's Parfum d'Ete (1992) © Victor Wong
Kenzo’s Parfum d’Ete (1992) © Victor Wong

Kenzo’s Parfum d’Été (Scent of Summer) comes in a leaf-shaped bottle that I think looked so tacky in the 90s is now finely-aged, uber-tacky, and its big bottle cap made out of 500 pounds of non-recyclable plastic is so ridiculously big and awkwardly shaped that it could be used as a lifeboat when the flood hits my city. I simply love it and have to have it.

There are a lot of 50 mL Parfum d’Été bottles on eBay but not many 100 mL bottles that also come with the original box and a good price (yes, I am that fussy). In fact, my local perfume shop still has one left (with no box) and I was so close to buying it because the scent was actually very good (umm… to be discussed), but I resisted the temptation. (By the way, there is a “newer” version of Parfum d’Été that comes in a more sensible and modern bottle design, but the scent is much more diluted. It’s also discontinued but still widely available.)

Eventually an unopened, brand new 1992 Parfum d’Été appeared on eBay and no one wanted it and I got it for a good price. The package arrived, I unwrapped it, took it out of the box carefully by grabbing the gigantic perfume cap and the bottle just fell off my hand and hit the floor. My heart was screaming in such a high-pitch voice that my neighbour’s evil pure white Pomeranian started barking. I suddenly had flashbacks of reading people’s posts saying how much they had missed their bottles because they all slipped off their hands and fell to the ground, shattered. Now I think about it, Parfum d’Été has the world’s worst ergonomically designed perfume bottle.

Now on to the perfume itself… I put it in an interrogation room for a week and everyday I asked the same question, “Are you a perfume or a shampoo scent!?” I analyzed its DNA sample in my head and the result was not conclusive. As a vintage scent, I could detect notes that I have never smelled in shampoos (hints of oakmoss, musks, sandalwood, rose and amber), but it also has a bunch of rather synthetic floral notes that are now commonly used in shampoos (green aldehyde, freesia, peony, etc). But really, no one cares, when I wear it it brings me happiness and feelings of cleanliness and freshness. It can also be interpreted as an extension of my hair hygiene.

Kenzo’s Madly Kenzo! (2011)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

Someone on the net once made this comment: “Kenzo no longer makes bold and daring perfumes like they used to be.” I think the bold Kenzo perfumes she was talking about were anything released before Kenzo Flowers. There’s some truth to it, particularly after smelling Kenzo Amour (2006) and Madly (2011), the boldness of their new offerings can’t compare to the scent bombs like Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant (1996) and Ca Sent Beau (1988). At the same time, I wouldn’t blame them for light scent is the current trend (though it’s slowly coming to an end, in my opinion).

I had smelled Kenzo Madly at Sephora, and quickly dismissed it. It’s light and sweet, not unique enough, I thought. Also, Luca Turin reviewed Kenzo Madly Oud Collection and gave it a two stars review, so I thought Kenzo Madly, the predecessor, also sucked.

Well, recently I found Madly in a discounted bin and bought it, for I couldn’t resist its truly beautiful and sculptural bottle. At home, I decided to spend some good time to smell it properly. My initial impression didn’t change much – it smelled like super deluxe detergent to me; it’s fresh, comforting, floral, inoffensive and nonintrusive. (Pink pepper, rose, orange flower, light musk.) I went back to web-surfing, suddenly something hit me. What’s this sweet incense smell? Oh lord, this is the incense perfume I have been looking for forever! A light, sweet incense! How delightful! As much as I like Comme de Garcons’ Incense series, they never hit the mark. I want an incense perfume that’s either very joyful and non-smoky, or very deep, dark and sinister. Madly succeeds in the former category for just $30. Upon further research, I found out that Madly was designed by Aurelien Guichard (Chinatown, Narciso, Fracas reformulation), who is very busy and popular nowadays, pumping out perfumes for big and small perfume houses.

I shouldn’t dismiss a perfume just because of the top notes, but there are so many perfumes out there, it’s easier said than done. May be I should also check out Madly Oud…

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.

Kenzo’s Ça Sent Beau (1989)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

This Smells Nice…

That’s the English translation of Kenzo’s 1989 perfume, titled “Ça Sent Beau”. Actually, it’s the reformulated version of Kenzo’s 1988 same-titled perfume, “Kenzo”. According to some online reviews, Ça Sent Beau and Kenzo don’t smell the same, and Kenzo smells better. It doesn’t matter too much; it’s Ça Sent Beau that got a 5 star review from Tania Sanchez (Luca Turin’s wife) in the Perfumes A-Z Guide.

Not sure if you have noticed, near the end of that book, there is a small section called “Top Ten Lists”, and Ça Sent Beau can be found in the “Best Fougères” list. Also in that list you can find “Azzaro”, “Cool Water” , “Kouros” and “Jicky”. Here’s the amusing thing, I own none of the top 10 fougères. I guess I am not a fan of fougères?

Frankly, I find Ça Sent Beau very challenging to wear. It’s like a macho guy who has lost a bet to his neighbour and he has to mow the neighbour’s lawn wearing a ballerina dress. Half masculine and half feminine, but doesn’t make it very unisex to me. I have to study more. Definitely interesting!

Kenzo’s Junge L’Elephant & L’Tiger (1996)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

Spicy Animals

Yes, the nose who painted “A Portrait of a Lady” for Frederic Malle is also the safari hunter who captured “Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant” and “Kenzo Junge L’Tigre”. Both perfumes are Dominique Ropion’s creations and you can tell he really likes ’em spices.

Both are discontinued perfumes, but L’Tigre is definitely a bigger challenge to find. L’Elephant is really a big spice bomb – liquorice, caraway seeds, cardamon, cloves, but yet it doesn’t smell like Indian food; instead it’s rather refreshing. One spray and you are wide awake. L’Tigre is a vegetarian animal who likes to eat oranges and chew cinnamon

sticks. A sweet and fragrant spicy perfume; I must say I like L’Tigre a bit more.