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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Auphorie’s Miyako (2015)

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Auphorie’s Miyako Extrait © Victor Wong

The first time Luca Turin smelled Miyako, he couldn’t even. There’s nothing he could do except give Miyako a five star glowing review; and if you know what a five star review has done to Andy Tauer, you can imagine what could happen to Auphorie, or any new startup perfume house. On the day the review was released, I checked out their website – Miyako was already sold out.

I had had the greatest pleasure meeting the owners/perfumers/brothers at the AIX Scent Fair 2016 in Los Angeles a month after the review was released. They had a booth there, and on that night they won the 2016 Art and Olfaction award in the Artisan category, and just when the show was over, they were inevitably talking to the people of Luckyscent, the biggest niche perfume online shop in US.

Rewind seven hours back that day, when I first sniffed Miyako with one of the greatest anticipations in my life since my fortieth birthday, my initial reaction was, “What am I smelling? An osmanthus leather? Ok…” I wasn’t let down, nor I needed someone to carry me to the nearest bench to get my ghost back. I bought a bottle, because I needed to, for I knew while Luca Turin sometimes can be a drama queen, he was like the little kid in the movie “Sixth Sense”, instead of seeing dead people, he could see unusual things in a perfume most people couldn’t.

I have been wearing Miyako on and off since then, and slowly I think I’ve got it. It has an accord that I have never smelled before, whether it is beautiful to you or me or not. It’s a scent of musty osmanthus flower and moist leather, and it creates a strange, austere atmosphere – like someone has taken you to an unfamiliar room with Asian decor with not much ventilation. You are told to have a seat, and someone you do not anticipate will greet you soon – except that person never comes. You are sitting in the room dead silent, looking at things, breathing the weird sweet air that the room and objects are emitting, and trying to make yourself at ease. Eventually, the uneasiness subsides, and you wake up naturally, you faintly remember you just have had a dream. Let’s try again.

Byredo’s Bullion (2012)

Byredo Bullion (100ml, EDP)
Byredo’s Bullion © Victor Wong, 2013

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.

Lanvin’s Famous Perfumes from the 20th Century, Part 2 – Scandal

Lanvin Scandal Extrait © Victor Wong
Lanvin Scandal Extrait © Victor Wong

Famous vintage perfumes are very much like Greek temples – most of them are spectacular and iconic, but all in ruins in various degrees of damage. They can be rebuilt with modern construction materials, but you know they will not be the same. The famous Parthenon in Athens is breathtaking, but you have to realize you are just looking at the columns of all there left behind. If you look at the artist’s rendition of the original temple with its giant gothic roof and rooms intact, it might blow your mind just to imagine how magnificent it was before the building collapsed. Vintage perfumes, all have never stopped slow self-destructing, often are only left with middle and base notes; top notes such as citrus and aldehyde are gone, or even worse, spoiled. Even if you are handed the original formula listing all the ingredients, I doubt one can imagine with precision what that freshly made perfume smells like because smells are not visuals.

If you are reading this, 20 years or even 50 years from the day it is published, and are considering spending a lot of money on a vintage perfume from 1920s, not to collect, but to smell, to re-experience the golden days of perfumery, I suggest you don’t. Enjoy your contemporary perfumes, ok? (I obviously don’t listen to my own advice.)

For me, analyzing a vintage perfume is both fun, humbling, and even humiliating. First of all, there are quite a few vintage perfumes not yet recorded on Fragrantica.com, the encyclopedia of perfumes and their respective notes breakdown. Without the “cheat sheet”, I really have to rely on my nose to guess what are in the perfume. I know from past experience, I can only correctly guess 5%-10% of the notes of a perfume. Luckily, there are reviews from other sources, by comparing my experience with theirs, I can tell if my perfume has turned bad or not, and also gain some insight.

Lanvin Scandal EDT © Victor Wong
Lanvin Scandal EDT © Victor Wong

So, here I go, I will start with Lanvin Scandal (1931), a leather chypre, the one that never received any reformulation/reissue. It was designed by Andre Fraysse, and discontinued in 1971. I have two versions of Scandal, one is a mini extrait, 1/2 evaporated, around 80 years old, and a travel size vaporizer EDT, also very old, but younger than the extrait.

Based on the notes breakdown I got from Fragrantica, the top notes such as bergamot, lemon, neroli, mandarin in my extrait are all missing. The “new” opening, and the extrait itself is now all about leather. Old, resinous, incensed, spicy, leather. It reminds me of Chanel’s Cuir de Russie, but with richer, sharper, more aged leather, and a smoky, mildly sweet (vanilla) and mildly white floral middle notes (probably iris, ylang and some rose). As it dries down, the leather never goes away, but it becomes smoother.

The EDT version on the other hand, smells a bit different. The opening, just the first few seconds, really, is absolutely horrendous — band-aid, plasticky and chemical. (maybe due to its old age.) That unpleasantness goes away very quickly and suddenly it behaves like the parfum/extrait version, only smelling lighter and more animalic, probably of civet. The leather in this case, smells like a new leather jacket instead of smoked old leather sofa found in a temple that burns incense 24/7.

A quick summary, Scandal to me is an incense leather perfume.
(to be continued…)

Robert Piguet’s Bandit (1944, reforumated 1999) & Balmain’s Jolie Madame (1953, reforumated)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

Perfumer Germain Cellier had two “daughters” who shared similar personalities. The elder one, whom no one really knew her real name, had a nickname, “Bandit” (by Robert Piguet, 1944), for her fearsome demeanour and untouchable “love it or hate it” beauty. I suspect Germain was secretly very proud of Bandit’s notoriousness. The younger one who was 9 years junior, lived a much more ordinary and subdued life; she had a softer feminine side, but still emitted a “don’t you dare to to take advantage of me” toughness. People called her Madame Jolie (by Balmain, 1953.)

Bandit and Jolie Madame are both leather-based perfumes for women. Although by today’s standard, it’s everyone’s game. Bandit is such an iconic perfume, it needs to be preserved in the world of perfumery. It has been “faithfully” reproduced by Aurelien Guichard of Robert Piguet, for anything less is really a waste of effort. It is a rather “hard to digest” perfume, and I vividly remember the moment I smelled it (one of my bravest blind-buys) – my brain was yelling “I can’t get a refund because I’ve opened the shrink-wrap,” and before my regret was fully formed, I died half-way crawling out of the car. But, I accepted fate, and slowly grew to appreciate and like it like hugging a porcupine. If you like Etat Libre D’Orange’s Rien, I don’t see why you would repel Bandit. It has a much more complex floral notes and your daily dose of three truck loads of leather.

Jolie Madame, on the other hand, is now discontinued and no one gives a damn. It’s a pity for it is a much more wearable perfume than Bandit (if you are chicken shit). It’s a half-and-half split between leather and violet leaves, quite soapy and doesn’t last long on my skin. If you go to Fragrantica to check out its notes breakdown, it is almost identical to Bandit, only the proportion of the ingredients used is different. I can imagine Jolie Madame being Grey Flannel’s wife.

If I ever want a perfume whiplash, I will wear Bandit. (Awesome during winter season!!) If I want a quickie of leather-violet leaf with a vintage smell, I will invite Jolie Madame for tea.

Robert Piguet’s Knightsbridge (2013)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

I have two bottles of Robert Piguet’s Knightsbridge. One is sitting among my perfume collection, well taken care of, and the other, I really don’t know where it is now. Either it is in some UK landfill, or some postal worker is wearing it now.

I was lucky enough to find someone super nice from a Facebook group who lived in England to help me get a bottle of Knightsbridge, a UK Harroh’s department store exclusive perfume. All went fine, except that I made a fatal mistake of asking her to send the perfume by regular Royal Mail. Well, you probably know how the story goes – Royal Mail detected it was a very expensive niche perfume and forbid it to leave the country, for safety reason, because that 100ml bottle perfume would leak like a garden sprinkler, and catch fire and burn the airport down to cinders. The bottle was confiscated, and no question asked, please. (In a British accent.)

My heart was very broken, and I was so upset. Months have passed, and an opportunity came. My friend who visited her friend in London was able to help me bring back a bottle. Now to be frank, this was a complete blind buy. I wanted it because I am collecting Robert Piguet’s perfumes. It’s very senseless, but anyway, let’s talk about Knightsbridge.

Knightsbridge is a warm, rich and luxurious, tonka-nutmeg-iris yummy mommy. It’s one of the best Robert Piguet perfumes among its modern line. (Please don’t roll your eyes.) But there is a big butt – if you have already owned a bottle or two perfume designed by Aurelien Guichard (such as Chinatown), I could say you have smelled Knightsbridge, and if you don’t care about Chinatown, then you are not missing anything, although I’d say it is probably his best but safest creations. Kind of like if you like Enya, and you own one of her albums, you almost own all. Or, if you have Bois de Violette from Serge Lutens, you really don’t need Bois et Fruits or Feminite du Bois.

Le Labo’s Cuir 28 (2013)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

I don’t think I will ever need to worry about getting a backup bottle of Le Labo’s Cuir 28, because I will never finish it. I might wear it once a year when no one’s home, or when there is a super moon in the sky.

Cuir 28, to me, is almost unwearable. If I try to analyze it, I would say the ingredients used are geniune. (Vetiver, leather, cedar woods, etc.) But it’s just that everything is so concentrated that it’s almost a biohazard. It’s like someone is offering you Earl Grey tea, but instead of in a cup with cream and sugar, he wets the teabag in hot water and asks you to suck it. It’s stronger than Bandit, but all the flowers are torched by Le Labo’s flamethrower squad.

If you are hot and sexy, wearing Cuir 28 would probably help you look like an egomaniac ready for some S&M session. (No offence to all the hot and sexy people here.) For normal folks, it is not a scent to wear to work, to a date, to school, to the gym, to an important meeting, to hold a baby, but may be good for a walk in the woods or a leather bar by yourself, or sitting alone by a Gothic window watching the sun scorch the desert.