Grossmith’s Saffron Rose (2012)

Grossmith's Saffron Rose (2012)
Grossmith’s Saffron Rose (2012) © Victor Wong
A perfume boutique owner once told me a story of a customer who wanted to give himself a “surprise” – he asked to be left alone to sit in the corner of the shop so to read all the promotional materials of the perfumes that the shop carried. An hour later, he stood up and made a purchase based on what he had just read.
 
I wonder if he has got himself a pleasant surprise or a disappointment? Most people on the Internet are against “blind buying” perfumes, and the reasons are obvious. Even by studying the perfume notes breakdown, it is still of little use – you don’t know the proportion of each ingredient in the perfume. When a perfume says it has rose and patchouli, you might get a rose perfume with a hint of patchouli, or a patchouli perfume with a hint of rose.
 
Last week I played a round of “Wheel of Fortune – Perfumista Blind-Buy Edition.” The stakes were quite high, for I saw a few slices of “Bankrupt” on the wheel.
 
“Are you sure?” my friend who worked at the boutique worriedly asked.
 
“Yes. I have asked a friend who has smelled all the Grossmith perfumes and he said this one was the best,” I replied.
 
“Ok,” and the credit card was swiped, my neck bled a little, and irreversibly the cashier iPad displayed the message, “PAID, sucker.”
 
You may wonder why didn’t I smell the testers in the shop first? Well, the shop actually didn’t have Grossmith testers. I don’t know if Grossmith simply don’t provide or sell testers or this particular shop didn’t buy testers from Grossmith. Anyway, this purchase was a pure shopping-therapy kind of indulgence.
 
I tore open the shrink-wrap, and carefully took out the bottle and sprayed some on my wrist, took a sniff, and let her take a sniff too.
 
“Oh my, this is amazing! It smells very warm.” she exclaimed. (Remember that she had never smelled any Grossmith perfumes before this.)
 
I believe that was a sincere expression. However, in my head, I thought, “Oh shit, oh shit, this was not what I expected. Where’s the rose? Where’s the rose?”
 
I had this reaction due to the fact that 1) I expected it to be a rose perfume, 2) I had never smelled a perfume with this much saffron (real or not) in it. Stronger than sniffing a bottle of real saffron before I stingily put just a little in a Spanish paella, it was medicinal, but moist, rich, warm. So much so, as if the valve of the awesome dispenser broke and awesomeness couldn’t stop spewing out like a rainbow – I was a little dumbfounded.
 
As I was about to reach home, it was half an hour since I had sprayed one spray of Saffron Rose on my wrist, and I sniffed again. Damn, this was Le Labo Rose 31. The dry down of Saffron Rose was actually Rose 31, the whole perfume, but better – spicy, woody, powdery, tobacco-y and of course, with some saffron and rose. C’est la vie.

Guerlain’s Nahema (1979)

Guerlain Nahema Extrait (30ml)
Guerlain Nahema Extrait (30ml)

If you have watched enough TV commercials, you probably remember Disney telling everyone that their classic animation on DVDs like Dumbo or Bambi are going to the “vault” and you will never be able to buy them again…until the Blu-ray versions come out. I think Guerlain employs a similar tactic for their less popular perfumes – they discontinue them, but a decade later they re-release them with some fancier packaging. Of course the problem is, can you wait a decade?

Recently they rang the alarm bell again and the newest victim is Nahema extrait. I never imagined they would do such thing, for I see Nahema one of the last remaining pillars of their great classics (Mitsouko, Shalimar, Jicky, L’Huere Bleue, Chamade, Vol de Nuit & Nahema)I am not a huge fan of modern Guerlain, to be honest, but I plan to collect their classic extraits, for their bottles are beautiful and Luca Turin praised them like they are the epitome of classic French perfumes.

I had already acquired a bottle of Vol de Nuit extrait, and I planned to get Chamade next, but the news destroyed my plan. Guerlain’s extraits have always been so damn expensive, when I paid for my bottle of Nahema extrait at the Guerlain boutique, I absurdly requested a big sample of Nahema extrait because I didn’t want to open mine (completely nuts and illogical, I know). And The salesperson actually found that very understandable, and she prepared a 5ml decant for me.

I love Nahema. It’s an uncontaminated jammy rose perfume made in the 80s before the oud pigeons immigrated from the Middle East and started pooping oud droppings in every rose-based perfumes. (You realize I recently said I loved Ex Idolo’s 33, a rose/oud perfume right? I am just being an ass here.) What’s so strange about Nahema is that it also smells strangely synthetic to me, but in a good way, like blue colour slushies and grape sodas. The opening is fresh, green and peachy, and shortly after you see a forklift without a hand brake crashing towards you like in the movie The Omen, and it hits the rose jam shelving units behind you and you are covered with rose and passion fruit jams like Winnie the Pooh. Nahema has some massive and ambiguous florals, almost nose-shriveling sweetness, and an unforgivingly heavy-handed rich base with vetiver and resinous and vanillary peru balsam. You can either smile or take a shower, but not both at the same time.

Ironically, Guerlain discontinues Nahema extrait because it has too much real rose and that makes it non-IFRA compliant. I’ve always thought that the rose in Nahema is synthetic, but oh well, good to know.

Adidas’ Originals by Jeremy Scott (2015)

Adidas Originals by Jeremy Scott © Victor Wong
Adidas Originals by Jeremy Scott © Victor Wong

Recently I was reminded by a friend that I liked “weird shit”. We were sniffing new perfumes at a department store and I showed him some of the newer perfumes that I liked, and he didn’t like any of them. “Nah, this smelled like an old man”, he said. His girlfriend said, “I bet there’s Indian oil in this perfume. Go check out Fragrantica.” I didn’t, because I was sure that no company would ever put “Indian oil” in their notes breakdown. Frankly, all I had shown them was a chypre perfume.

Actually that made me think… Do I prefer “weird shit” to “good stuff”? I only know the type of perfumes that my friend likes are designer and mainstream niche, and in my opinion, his “fragrance palate” is not very broad. (Hmm… Did I sound like a pompous asshole? In retrospect, my palate wasn’t very broad either, but I didn’t brush off challenging scents too easily.) I told him I liked “weird shit” last time we met because I was a bit tired and didn’t want to elaborate. (This also reminded me of my other friend Fifty-Fifty who absolutely hates Mac computers, and when he asked me why I loved Mac, I just told him it’s a “fashion statement”. He nodded his head in glee while spending a full day cursing and removing Windows Vista.)

In fact, the real reason why we met at the department store was that he wanted to sell me his “Adidas Originals by Jeremy Scott” perfume. He bought it on an impulse, and he regretted it. I had never smelled it before we met, and really, no one needed to because, come on, look at that bottle – it’s a collector’s item, the perfume is just icing in the shoe.

He told me that he didn’t like the smell, which was expected, not because he liked only a small subset of “normal” masculine perfumes, but I expected it to smell subpar. But to my surprise, it smelled good – pepper, rose and incense, something you don’t find in a regular pair of sneakers or any regular $15 Adidas sports scents. While It doesn’t smell rich, resinous or oudy, it smells modern, sweet and fresh, and definitely “niche”. (It reminds me of Le Labo Baie Rose 26, too.) However, I can see soccer jocks finding this perfume too strange to match their masculine persona and their armpits not accepting a rose scented perfume.

While we were strolling through the department store, he mentioned that he liked Maurice Roucel’s work. Later I found out that Adidas perfume was co-designed by Maurice Roucel. Oh, the irony.

Lubin’s Grisette (2015)

Lubin's Grisette © Victor Wong
Lubin’s Grisette © Victor Wong

If the scent progression of Grisette were a four-hour-long day, it begins with a sunny morning and a small glass of fresh grapefruit juice that is faintly sweet but not bitter. Quickly in the afternoon, scents of pink roses and cedar woods rise up under the hot sun. As shadows get longer, wispy incense, soft musks and light vanilla drift through the amber sky. The remaining glory of the day is reflected on a small river of ISO-E Super running through a small 20th century French city.

And how interesting is that the bottle cap of Lubin’s Grisette sets the tone of the perfume perfectly? The color is light Victorian pink (in the photo it looks orange), not pure pink, suggesting that it’s for young women who are vibrant and optimistic but a little bit reserved; it’s translucent, not some heavy opaque jade stones, suggesting that the scent is light, darling and a little whimsical. And so it is, Grisette, a simple but not non-sophisticated feminine perfume that is fun to wear casually in spring or summer.

Grisette actually reminds me of Le Labo’s Benjoin 19, which costs three times as much, but the rose and grapefruit in Grisette make it a much more worthwhile and interesting perfume.

Annick Goutal’s Ce Soir Ou Jamais (1999)

Annick Goutal Ce Soir Ou Jamais © Victor Wong
Annick Goutal Ce Soir Ou Jamais © Victor Wong

The first time I smelled Annick Goutal’s Ce Soir Ou Jamais (Tonight or Never) it was freshly sprayed on a test strip in a department store. Its opening was so beautiful that I almost bought it immediately, but I didn’t and shouldn’t because I was already holding a shopping bag in my hand. The opening smelled of ripe Bartlett pears, it’s so juicy, sweet and lovely, I felt that I had levitated half an inch above ground. (Actually it was ambrette seed note that I was smelling.)

The second time I visited the counter, I smelled Ce Soir Ou Jamais again, but from the bottle cap. The fresh opening was already gone, and all I got was Miss Fatturkish Rose. “Miss Rose? I didn’t expect to see you here.” “Yes, hun, I got stuck in this cap for a while. Can you ask the sales assistant for a pry bar?”

In my head there’s a mini war going on… Should I bring Miss Rose home? I already have a lot of rose perfumes. Ombre Rose, Robert Piguet’s Rose Perfection, even Portrait of a Lady… well, who am I kidding, I of course lost. What a meaningless war. I bought a bottle.

When I reached home, I sat down and checked out some fragrance reviews online. One of the reviews of Ce Soir Ou Jamais was, “Annick Goutal, or whoever wearing this perfume, you are responsible for cleaning up the floor when people throw up after smelling it.” I frowned. I then reached for my Perfumes review book, and Tania Sanchez wrote, “Tonight or Never? Never. Two stars.”

I was upset, I tore open the shrink-wrap and sprayed myself crazy. I levitated a full inch above ground and floated around the living room like a piece of cloud.