Etat Libre d’Orange’s La Fin du Monde (2013)

Etat Libre D'Orange's La Fin du Monde © Victor Wong
Etat Libre D’Orange’s La Fin du Monde © Victor Wong

My previous boss, who majored in geography and loved history, liked to share his knowledge in those subjects with people around him. Just before my vacation to visit the Yellowstone Park, his eyes lit up and enthusiastically told me that the Yellowstone National Park was a massive collapsed super-volcano. At a bar, he said that the TV show Fear Factor (in which contestants were asked to do dangerous/gruesome things to win) was an indication of the imminent end of the great American civilization because history repeats, and the Americans were acting like the citizens of the Great Roman Empire before it fell – they had nothing better to do but entertain themselves with stupid, senseless, brutal and humiliating game shows. I didn’t think the American civilization would end like the Romans, nevertheless it was a very interesting chat…

Now I must say that I have a fascination with the “end of the world”. Of course, I don’t want it to happen, and I don’t think it will happen, but living in a First World country comfortably and being a complacent middle class citizen, it is thrilling to occasionally think about it. (In 2003 Toronto and some neighboring cities had a massive blackout and the whole city was paralyzed; at nighttime the sky was pitch black and we lit candles and used mini propane stove for cooking. It was an experience of a lifetime 🙂

When Etat Libre D’Orange announced “La Fin du Monde” in 2013 (The End of the World), I was quite excited. Like watching the trailer of a disaster movie, I “previewed” the perfume by reading its notes on Fragrantica – gunpowder (war and violence), popcorn (explosion and movie theatre junk food), carrot seeds and sesame (“what the F?”), vetiver, sandalwood and cumin (reliable actors), I could tell it’s a going to be a creative nonsensical B-movie perfume. When I first wore La Fin du Monde, I was smiling from ear to ear because it smelled ridiculously silly yet perfectly fine; deliciously oily yet inedible (sesame and popcorn), strange yet familiar (carrot seed/gunpowder and vetiver/sandalwood/iris/freesia); really the top notes of the perfume are a joke but the middle and base notes are serious and sincere.

Sometimes when my friends want to watch a movie at my place, I choose the common denominator – a disaster flick or a brainless comedy; similarly, when I have friends who want to smell some niche perfumes, I will definitely bring out “La Fin du Monde”.

Juicy Couture’s Dirty English (2008)

Juicy Couture Dirty English © Victor Wong
Juicy Couture Dirty English © Victor Wong

“A perfume smells better when it gets discontinued.” – Plato

Recently I have read some posts saying that Juicy Couture’s Dirty English has been reformulated and the packaging has changed from awesome to awful. The metal chain that wraps around the original bottle cap is now cheap plastic, and the little trinkets that tied to the bottle cap with a leather band are all gone, and worst of all, the fragrance smells much weaker. For the longest time, my local perfume shop sales lady had been urging me to get a bottle because she really liked it. (Not really a factor.) I really liked the packaging, it’s thoughtful and thorough, but the reason I held off getting a bottle was that I had a negative association with the brand’s couture – I really don’t like seeing people wear their pink jogging pants with the word Juicy printed on the back on the butt – often the word gets epically distorted and the letter “i” sometimes gets fallen through the cracks.

Last time I visited the store I saw a bunch of Dirty English bottles getting a massive discount (from $90 to $40). I thought this was the time to get one… but I looked at the bottle and knew it was the new version. I asked the sales lady if she still had the old stock, and she did, but the last bottle, and it’s $90. I asked if she could give me the same price $40 and suddenly she switched to the Arabic language channel – she and her boss had a conversation for about a minute and the boss said $50. I asked why didn’t you give me $40? She replied why didn’t I buy the new version? What a… cunning businesswoman. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was getting an old version with the original packaging, but I took the chance. Damn Plato.

Yes, it’s the original version. Whew.

Dirty English smells very manly and well-blended. It’s woody and leathery, spicy and warm, and dry. There is a little bit of “dirtiness” and that probably comes from vetiver, cypress and a tiny little bit of synthetic oud. It doesn’t smell animalic, but carefree – and the guy wearing it definitely is not driving a Fiat mini car.

Interestingly, Dirty English reminds me of Gucci pour Homme (2003, discontinued, and highly sought after) but not as smooth and sophisticated – if you have a tight budget, Dirty English is still a bad boy smooth operator.

But wait, there’s more! I just said Dirty English smelled like Gucci pour Homme, but Gucci pour Homme smells like another perfume – Rochas Lui (2003)! Lui smells simpler, probably due to fewer ingredients, but all the ingredients are amped up and it’s delicious and sexy. If I get to rename it, may be I would pick “Easy French”. It’s definitely amusing to see both Gucci pour Homme and Lui were released in 2003, and five years later Juicy Couture released a slightly water-downed version, trying to lure all the dirty English wannabes.

Oriza Legrand’s Relique d’Amour (2012)

Oriza L. Legrand Relique D'Amour © Victor Wong
Oriza L. Legrand Relique D’Amour © Victor Wong

I’ve watched quite a few home renovation TV shows that teach people how to make furniture look like vintage pieces. You paint it, scratch it, score it, and even beat it with a chain like torturing a prisoner in the Middle Ages, and the end result is convincingly good. Making new things look old is nothing new, and the technique is an art by itself.

Interestingly, Orica Legrand’s Relique d’Amour (2012) is a perfume that gives me the feeling that I am smelling a new creation that was designed to smell antiquated. It smells of big institutions with a long history, sturdy furniture built with solid oak and traditional craftsmanship, and that has endured years of usage and occasional polishing. This is a grand feeling, like entering a huge library and being humbled by the massive collection of knowledge and bookshelves, or visiting a monastery and bewildered by the devoted monks who manage to maintain the dignity of their living quarters without saying a word.

Essentially Relique d’Amour is a woody perfume, but what you get out of it may depend on your age, your background, whether your country had been ruled by the British or not, and also mainly your imagination. You might find it smell like a TV amoire and nothing more, but to me, it brings back memories of me being an apprehensive Catholic primary school student standing in front of the whole class trying to recite traditional British nursery rhymes that I had no clue what they were about.

Serge Lutens’ Arabie (2000)

Serge Lutens Arabie © Victor Wong
Serge Lutens Arabie © Victor Wong

If you watch Captain Arabie The Movie in reverse, you see the chamber door closes on the super buffed-up and half-naked Captain Arabie, the machine starts sucking the golden juice out of his body, passes through the body odour enhancement system, and the essence goes into a flat and thin rectangular serum bottle. The mad doctors, Serge Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake then take it out from from the system and walk backwards out of the lab with a goofy look.

As you know, Captain Arabie really likes curry, he spreads curry Nutella on toast for breakfast, eats curry chicken for lunch and curry lamb for dinner. He fights his enemies with his famous headlock, but really, he doesn’t need to flex his arm, the B.O. from his armpits can kill most weaker enemies in the room and who can survive when your nose is so close to his odour emitting glands in a headlock situation.

Serge Luten’s Captain Arabie, or simply, Arabie, is the essence of our super hero except the B.O. has been filtered out. Every time I look at the perfume, the sparking yellow juice reminds me of the curry-infused oil that floats to the top of my curry chicken dutch oven pot. This golden juice, is so sweet (amber, dried fruits, figs, dates), spicy (cloves, caraway, nutmeg), aromatic (sandalwood, benzoin, myrrh) and beautiful, it’s irresistible. But please, don’t wear it when you have a body odour problem, because you will become Captain Arabie and you don’t want to kill anyone by entering a non-ventilated conference room on a hot day.

Bond Number 9’s Shelter Island (2014)

Bond No. 9 Shelter Island © Victor Wong
Bond No. 9 Shelter Island © Victor Wong

“Diana Was Still Alive Hours Before She Died”
“Statistics Show That Teen Pregnancy Drops Off Significantly After Age 25”
“Federal Agents Raid Gun Shop, Find Weapons”
“Bond No. 9 Puts Oud In An Aquatic Fragrance”

I guess no one was surprised? People say that it’s rare to find a niche perfume house that has an aquatic scent because a lot of men’s fragrances, particularly the inexpensive ones are aquatics. Those similar smelling marine notes can sometimes be found in $5 bottle of body wash, so unless you have a really great or creative aquatic scent, people aren’t going to buy your $200 bottle.

Amusingly, the retail price of a 100ml bottle of Shelter Island is $275, but it really is just a nice, quite standard aquatic scent mixed with some oud. Of course, I didn’t pay full price for it; I found it at a discount super store for much less than half its original price, and I regard it as my first “true” aquatic scent in my perfume collection.

Adding oud to an aquatic scent does “spice it up” and bring some novelty to a classic composition, like adding vodka to orange juice and suddenly you have a “screwdriver”. I enjoy wearing Shelter Island, and the lemon+seaweed+pepper opening karate kick combo is fresh and a little bit atypical, and the amber makes Shelter Island sweeter than most aquatic scents I have smelled. And finally the oud, although it is supposed to be a “dirty” scent, it is mixed in with just the right amount, never making the perfume smelling dirty, otherwise a dirty aquatic is really just sewage water.

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.

Chanel’s Sycomore (2008)

Chanel Sycomore © Victor Wong
Chanel Sycomore © Victor Wong

I thought Sycomore was magical when I first smelled it in a department store. It’s raw, fresh, mildly roasted, and at the same time evoked an image of an open-chested, wild-hair gentleman who is constantly perspiring some irresistible aroma. He wants to invite you to see some animals in a safari, but what he really wants to do is have a good time with you in his Jeep in the middle of nowhere under the hot sun.

That was before. Now that I know Sycomore is a vetiver eau de toilet, and exactly what vetiver smells like (I’ve bought a bottle of pure vetiver essential oil for aromatherapy), the magic of Sycomore has dramatically decreased, as if I have learned the secret behind a magician’s trick. However, the magician is still very charismatic and it’s always a joy to see him perform and tease the audience.

Sycomore is a fleeting scent, and if vetiver is removed from the formula, I guess what’s left is a scented water, or what the French call it a “l’eau”, but that is some good “l’eau” – sandalwood, tobacco, pink pepper, violet, and surprisingly, aldehyde.