Patchouli-themed Perfumes (Part 2)

Personally I prefer wearing mixed-media perfumes (synthetic ingredients mixed with natural ingredients) to all-natural perfumes because they are much more interesting and exciting to me. (Aldehydes, metallic notes, fantasy notes, etc.) Some time ago I have heard a perfumer say that a lot of natural ingredients are mini-perfumes themselves and not easy to finesse; and all-natural perfumes if not well-designed often smell “muddy” or “brown”.

Maybe patchouli essential oil is one good example – to me it is a mini fragrance. It is strong, full of character, herbalness, earthiness, and nuisances, but It also gives me uneasiness for I find them smelling “too close to nature” – too earthy, deep and aromatic, almost the exact opposite of smelling a synthetic white musk detergent. I can imagine a perfumer either using just a little of it in a perfume to add some character or “darkness”, or “go big or go home”, using a lot to make a patchouli-themed perfume with some complementary notes.

There is a patchouli-theme fragrance that I have recently discovered that makes me feel that the perfumer has tamed patchouli and turned this hobo into a fine gentleman – Dior’s Patchouli Imperial. The opening is smooth, ambery, sophisticated, mildly spicy, but undoubtedly patchouli, yet constrained. It is so impressive that I feel like I want to stay close and talk to him for hours, as if he has seen the world and now he is back to tell stories in tuxedo and sandals, but really, I should leave this handsome hobo alone after taking a selfie with him. As the perfume reaches dry down, there is something in it that’s really synthetic and borderline nauseating. (Synthetic vetiver, maybe?) But crazy enough, the opening is worthy of my purchase of a full bottle.

Then I rediscovered Chanel’s Coromandel (“Asian lacquered partition screen”). You didn’t know how much I disliked this perfume when I first discovered Chanel’s exclusive line of perfumes. It smells like… you are trapped in a wet, wood cabinet and forced to eat white chocolate flavored TUMS to survive. I threw the sample across the field like a quarterback superstar and hoped not to see it again. One day, while reorganizing my sample drawers here it was again, I sprayed some on the back of hand. The epiphany arrived – it’s a powdery patchouli scent. It’s as weird as avocado milkshake in a Vietnamese restaurant, but now I have seen through the unusualness and found it amazing. Hurrah for white-chocolate and patchouli flavored TUMS! (Amazing yuck.)

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Patchouli-themed Perfumes (Part 1)

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Patchouli perfumes: Noir Patchouli (Histoires de Parfums), Ylang 49 and Patchouli 24 (Le Labo), Patchouli Imperial (Christian Dior), Coromandel (Chanel) © Victor Wong

Three years ago, when my perfume journey just began, I had no idea what patchouli was, and what it smelled like. A small perfume shop sales lady had asked me many times what it smelled like too, for she thought I knew a lot about fragrances. (No I didn’t.) She was a bit embarrassed that she had no clue when her customers asked her to show them some patchouli-themed perfumes. I was more embarrassed; but I procrastinated almost two years before going to a all-natural supplement store and bought a small bottle of patchouli essential oil to smell. Now I know! (Dramatic lighting and a stern face.)

But before all that, my first patchouli perfume was Le Labo “Patchouli 24” (2006). This is the worst perfume to learn what patchouli smells like; as if someone shoves you a book on calculus when all you want to learn is multiplication. The smell of patchouli in this perfume is heavily masked by stronger smelling ingredients, and a lot of people argue that they can’t smell any patchouli it. (Now I can, thank goodness.)

Patchouli 24 is a challenging perfume, and I am grateful that it appeared at the beginning of my fragrance learning/appreciating journey – it has broadened my perfume palate, and set the possibility of what a $250 bottle of perfume could smell like. I didn’t have many perfumes back then, and I had spent considerably more time testing Patchouli 24 than I would for any perfumes today.

To me, Patchouli 24 is a heavy, tarry, medicinal perfume that smells like Chinese medicine pills with no sugar coating, and is made out of tree barks, 3/4 spoonful of tar, and one burnt tire of a Matchbox toy car. My love for Patchouli 24 suddenly sparked when I wore a sample one day while raking my garden. It was a cold, moist day, and I was perspiring heavily, and streams of P24 steam rose from under the neck of my hoodie. It was a beautiful melancholic “picture”; I stopped raking, and looked at all the bare trees around me standing in silence in front of a big grey sky. I dropped the rake and got back in the house to order a bottle.

My second “patchouli” perfume was, interestingly, Le Labo Ylang 49, but I didn’t know it until I blind-bought a second-hand bottle of Noir Patchouli from Histoire de Parfums from a friend. In fact, I remember some Youtube reviewer talking about Ylang 49, calling it a scrubber and a strong patchouli perfume. When I first smelled Noir Patchouli, my initial reaction was, damn it’s Ylang 49, except it’s cleaner, smokier and less floral. To me Ylang 49 is Noir Patchouli in drag and he fakes his tropical ylang ylang smile like the giant head of a theme park mascot. By that time, I had a strong idea of what patchouli smelled like and how it’s usually used in a composition.

To be continued…

Mendittorosa Odori d’Anima’s Nettuno (2016)

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Mendittorosa’s Nettuno © Victor Wong. Painting by William Hawkins

In 2006, Pluto was declassified and no long considered a planet in our Solar System. I was giddy about the declassification because Gustav Holst’s “The Planet” orchestral suite was perfect again. (Finished in 1916, Pluto was discovered in 1930, so the suite didn’t have Pluto in it.) Later I discovered that the declassification had caused other problems – people who were “governed” by Pluto suddenly had lost their planet and the astrologists needed to come up with some excuse to sooth the lost souls. One astrologist on TV said, “it doesn’t matter. It still is governing you.”

At one point I found astrology fun and briefly wondered if people were governed by big bodies in outer space. However, the most interesting talk about “something governing something” was given by my computer science professor who casually mentioned the father of computer science, Alan Turing and his “Turing Machine” – Can everything be represented by a Turing Machine? If so, does that mean our future is predetermined? It was mind boggling, also, I nearly failed the class.

So I found Mendittorosa’s Nettuno inspired by the planet Neptune quite interesting, and thought it’s about time that someone made a perfume dedicated to a planet. But, why Neptune? On their website it says, “Nettuno Extrait de Parfum is the scented vision of mirror of the soul, olfactory tribute to the Neptune. Mesmeric cosmic dust, planetary mirror of our potential, astral reflections of infinite freedom and possibilities.”

What this perfume has succeeded, is the ability to release a wonderment, mysteriousness and etherealness. It is both light and dark, rich, and very abstract. It shoots out dusty powdery pastel floral colours (iris and musk) that contrast against a three dimensional, darker, slightly medicinal aroma space (leather, vetiver, nutmeg). The scent expands very quickly then slows down, and it is not easy to tell what notes are in this perfume. It never reaches full floral, and never touches full masculinity. But one really shouldn’t analyze too much, but enjoy the little cosmic space it has created.

Etat Libre d’Orange’s Secretions Magnifiques (2006)

Etat Libre d’Orange's Secretions Magnifiques (2006)
Etat Libre d’Orange’s Secretions Magnifiques (2006) © Victor Wong

Note: The piece of writing contains adult subject matter, reader’s discretion is advised. ‪#‎hehe‬

Dismissing or making fun of Secretions Magnifiques is easy. Trashing it entertainingly requires some flair and effort. But I am here to say why I like this fragrance, as you know, like for every thousand haters of John Water’s movies there’s at least a fan. (A friend told me that I was the second person he knew who liked Secretions Magnifiques and I asked if he was the first one and he said yes.)

But first, I want to say something about the smell of human secretions, particularly semen.

When I was studying in university, I lived in a dormitory. I had two very good friends who also lived in the same wing of the complex, and we frequented each other’s rooms for instant noodles and study notes. One evening Dave wanted to return a computer game he had borrowed from Tony and go to the cafeteria together afterwards. We knocked on Tony’s door a few times, and many minutes later he let us in. Dave put down the computer game on his desk and started sniffing, “wow, what smells so fragrant here?” Tony immediately said in an annoying voice, “hey, let’s go.”

Well, I was pretty certain we had just smelled Tony’s secretion magnifique – post-masturbation paper tissue clean up in the waste basket next to his desk. It was very awkward, of course, but now I think about it, isn’t it amusing that Dave’s candid reaction of Tony’s secretion was “what smells so fragrant”?

I have never given much thought about the smell of semen, but now I think it has two aspects – the easily spoiled milky smell of protein, and something that smells fragrant and musky. And this is why I think the perfumer of Secretions Magnifiques, Antonie Lie, has successfully captured the essence of the smell of bodily secretions and reinterpreted it in an artful way in the form of a perfume – a mix of something fragrant (iris aldehyde floral accord) and something repulsive (seaweed / coconut milk / metallic accord).

Some reviewers say that Secretions Magnifiques smells like semen but I think that’s just their imagination. No, it doesn’t smell like semen. It’s a floral perfume with a disturbing high dosage of metallic accord. Luca Turin praised Secretions Magnifiques in his 5-star review (which I thought was over-blown) and he described it as a “nautical floral”, which to a certain degree I agree. (The nautical part probably comes from seaweed.)

I fell deeply in love with the coconut iris accord of Secretions Magnifiques, which is absolutely beautiful and powdery. If that accord is to be extracted and released as a perfume I would instantly buy it, only until a few weeks later I would be bored with it. It is this crazy combination of floral and metallic notes that make this perfume a fun challenge to wear. This is not a beginner’s perfume; (similar examples such as Serge Lutens’ Tubereuse Criminelle, Amouage’s Opus VIII) it is for those who have a broad palette for unusual perfumes and challenging accords. When I am bored, I crave for a spray of Secretions Magnifiques on the back of my hand. But never more than three sprays. Never.

Atkinsons’ Amber Empire (2015)

Atkinsons' Amber Empire (2015) © Victor Wong
Atkinsons’ Amber Empire (2015) © Victor Wong

I remember listening to a radio show on which the host asked listeners to call in and talk about their favourite movie director. A guy called in and said his was Tim Burton. When asked which movies of Tim Burton he liked most and why, he could only name “Nightmare Before Christmas”. Ridicule ensued.

I was like that listener when I declared Maurice Roucel to be my favourite perfumer two years ago, partly because he was one of the very few high-profile perfumers whose name I could remember (due to CRNCNTWS, Can’t Remember Non-Chinese Names Too Well Syndrome), and also he was the nose of one of my favourite perfumes, Le Labo’s Jasmin 17. (I was senselessly madly in love with Le Labo back then.) However, I was very troubled by the fact that I didn’t care about his most famous work, Musc Ravageur.

Now I don’t think I have any favourite perfumer, although I have a few favourite perfumes and perfume genres.

I admire Mr. Roucel’s ability to create hits out of shoestring ingredient budgets, like DKNY’s Delicious (2004) and Nautica Voyage (2006). His style to me seems to be all over the place, but when he is given a bigger budget and freedom (this is purely my speculation), his affinity towards certain style of perfumes becomes more apparent.

When I found out recently he had created a perfume named “Amber Empire” for the British brand Atkinsons, I was very intrigued. To my knowledge, I don’t think he has designed any amber themed perfume before. And the main supporting note that he picked was unexpected, too – oolong tea (a type of Chinese green tea.) This big amber/tea combination is quite novel to me (Annick Goutal’s “Duel” being the only one that comes to mind), and neither ingredient steals the show. The opening is mildly sweet and herbal, like an ice tea sweetened by light brown sugar. Shortly after, the shy tobacco flavoured tea note appears and disappears. A rather simple and intoxicating perfume, both grand and unassuming at the same time, and it’s a joy to wear.

Byredo’s Mojave Ghost (2014)

Byredo's Mojave Ghost (2014)
Byredo’s Mojave Ghost (2014) © Victor Wong

I remember how disappointed I was when Mojave Ghost came out in 2014. It smelled pale, non-descript, something sweet, something faintly floral and fruity. Actually, this is what I get now; two years ago it was just a sweet nothing scent to me. I also remember when it debuted my fraghead coworker and I went to sniff it, and I said I didn’t find it interesting at all, but she said, “Oh really, I think this scent is so you.”

Two years later, out of boredom, I re-smelled again in a department store and suddenly I found it very attractive. The nuances that I didn’t detect all became vivid. Maybe on that day it was the first bottle I sniffed and my nose was very sensitive.

To me, Mojave Ghost is a bottle of irony. Firstly, It is supposed to be a soliflore, a fragrance that mimics the scent of a type of flower that blooms in the harsh condition in the Mojave desert. But I doubt most anyone has smelled it before. Has the perfumer succeeded in bringing you the scent of that flower with her creation? No one knows. Secondly, the nature of this scent is of a vague fruity floral perfume, kind of like the soft sweet scents of cactus pears or sugar-apples, but unnaturally, this perfume lasts and lasts for a whole day. My deduction is that in this perfume they use some very powerful and long lasting synthetic aroma chemicals or boosters to make it stick. A perfume that smells pale, subtle, rather complex and smooth but has such powerful longevity and yet no hard edges, is quite impressive to me.

At one point I wanted to learn perfumery and have bought an aroma chemicals starter set to play with, but I just didn’t have the time and diligence to explore. I don’t know how challenging it is to make something like Mojave Ghost, but I feel like you have to be a very well-trained perfumer to come up with something like it.

P.S. I got my bottle from eBay brand-new at a very good price and was surprised by the deal. Maybe it didn’t sell very well?

Aeon’s aeon 001 (2015)

Aeon's aeon 001 (2015) © Victor Wong
Aeon’s aeon 001 (2015) © Victor Wong

The idea of a perfume company launching its debut perfume in small quantity (in this case, 333 bottles) and also as a limited-edition scent is baffling to me. What if it’s a smash hit? Are they going to lose their cool and release another batch due to popular demand? I suppose they have something new up in their sleeve, otherwise, how do they sustain their business? And how do they expand their customer base for there are only so few people who can experience their perfumes?

On top of that, Aeon are also keeping the name of the perfumer anonymous. Frederic Malle goes against the tradition of keeping the perfumers’ name out of the picture and puts the perfumers under the spotlight, but now aeon is upping the ante and does the exact opposite. I am pretty sure they are not doing that just in case the perfumer sucks – they want it to be fun and controversial… as long as the perfumer is not someone who no one knows about.

(Spoiler Alert) So the perfumer of Aeon 001 is Antonio Gardoni, the same guy behind the famous chypre, Maai. At a perfume exhibition, he put the beautiful fused-lab-glass bottle on his booth table and said, “Well, everyone knows it’s mine, anyway.”

If you have smelled both Maai and Aeon 001, you could tell they share the same DNA – a signature heavy, oakmossy, resinous, musky, civet-loving animalic base. (Maybe that’s why a lot of people could guess he’s the perfumer behind it right away.) It’s easy to say Maai is a gigantic floral chypre and aeon 001 is a smoky vetiver-based perfume, but in terms of mood, if you say Maai smells like a perfume taken from the last century, then aeon 001 smells like it is taken from the last geological period.

When I wear Aeon 001, I feel like I am lost in a midnight forest surrounded by tall vegetation and I am holding burning torch, and things around me are smelling toasty. The animalic base makes me feel like there’s some beasts lurking around me behind the tall grasses. It smells raw, raunchy, unsettling, primitive and dangerous. If I may rename it, I would name it Jurassic Park. It simply is entertaining and thrilling. Aeon 001 is one of the most satisfying and “full” vetiver perfumes I have ever owned.