The good bits of 2016 – and my favourite perfume launches

my-favourite-perfume-launches-of-2016

Yes, 2016 has been quite stressful in many ways (I’ve been in Britain for long enough to master the art of the understatement), but this post isn’t about any of the awful stuff this year. All I’ll say about 2016 in that regard is that I hope it has made many millions more politically aware and active; I hope it has encouraged people to donate to charity and volunteer; I hope it has made the people previously sitting on the fence realise that inaction and turning the blind eye are the real enablers of terrible things in this world.

It has been an ‘interesting’ year for me. Interesting, because in-between the stress, it has also been one of the best years of my entire life, and certainly one of the most memorable.

The Juice - Perfumer & Flavorist

My column in Perfumer & Flavorist magazine kicked off and has  been running every month since this May – and due to it, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to meet really interesting and colourful people with so many stories to tell that this alone would have made 2016 one of the most fulfilling yet. It’s been a privilege to be able to peek behind the scenes at companies like Givaudan and Firmenich; to meet Luca Turin and spend time talking to indie perfumers, evaluators and chemists; educators and marketers.

pia-long-luca-turin
It was also the year of our biggest perfume tour yet and our group of perfume friends spent a wonderful day out visiting London perfumeries and enjoying an afternoon tea with a champagne twist.

afternoon-tea-at-b-bakery-covent-garden-during-love-to-smell-live-2016
In May, Nick Gilbert, a long-term fragrance friend and I got together to start a playful YouTube channel, Love to Smell. The first few episodes were a little wobbly on the production values (it took us a few tries to learn how to look at the camera and put on captions…), and our channel has been gaining a steady following of a few hundred people over the last six months. It absolutely makes my day when someone tells us they’ve watched and laughed along with us, so thank you to all of our viewers – and hope to see you in 2017!

love-to-smell-with-nick

My favourite moments from the shoots are too many to count, but I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much as when we were filming the Halloween episode – and being able to invite other perfume pals in as guests for our Christmas special was a special treat that we’re sure to repeat. Of course we were also asked to appear on a bonkers new game show on ITV, so we got to be on real telly as well.  We may or may not have given the world one its derpiest TV moments as a result.

love-to-smell-behind-the-scenes

We film the videos in my dining room. Some of the latest episodes were filmed using our new lights – we’ve also invested in a new video camera for 2017. Woohoo!

Nick and I had been talking about starting a business together anyway – we thought maybe in a year or two, but as life often has a way of doing, events unfolded in such a way that we had to grab the opportunities as they presented themselves and adapt. So while we’d already been working on a few projects together as freelancers, we also found that we were being approached by some of the same clients, and eventually it just made sense to start Olfiction. We’ve had a busy diary ever since and as a result of the kinds of clients and projects we’ve been working on, I am now spending the majority of my working time as a perfumer – something that I didn’t expect to happen so soon with our own business. Nick being an evaluator on top of his skills as a trainer and marketer makes our partnership extra special for me; I am very grateful to know him and to have an ‘extension to my nose’. I trust his opinion on fragrance like nobody else’s.

We have primarily been developing home fragrances this year, many of which will launch in the first few months of 2017 – and there are more projects in the pipeline for other clients, including some fine fragrance development and more, so it looks like we’ll be very busy on the creative front in the coming year, too. I am over the moon about that. 2016 was my 11-year anniversary of moving from fragrance sales and marketing to pursuing perfumery and all I’ll say to anyone starting on a similar path – be it with learning to play an instrument, writing novels or anything that takes a lot of practice and time – it’s worth it. Believe in yourself. Never give up.

Olfiction

In-between all of the above, I’ve been a big admirer of what the Perfume Society has been doing – the first real club for perfume enthusiasts – and have again had the chance to contribute to some of the issues of their magazine The Scented Letter. It’s a no-brainer subscription for people who’d normally flick through glossy mags in search of the parts about perfume or might be mourning the untimely shelving of ODOU.

featured-in-the-scented-letter

Speaking of perfumes – it’s been such a fabulously fragrant year with both behind-the-scenes access, discovering new launches, talking to people about their favourite smells and working on my own formulas that I don’t think any previous year can quite compete.

I don’t want to do a ‘Best of 2016’ for perfumes; just the ones from this year I immediately wanted to add to my own collection and start wearing. I’m still switching hats between a perfumista and a perfumer – roles which are not as immediately compatible as one would think – and on the days I get to wear perfume and enjoy it as a fan, I have found the following fragrances the most enjoyable of this year’s crop:

eau-noble

Le Galion Eau Noble (with a special honorary mention to Sortilège). Eau Noble is a crisp, unisex, eau de cologne-type scent with hints of leather and chypre tones. I wore it from a sample on a trip, not thinking anything much of it upon application, other than “oh, that’s nice”, but as the day progressed, I found myself doing that wrist-sniffing thing a lot of us nosenerds do: what’s that wonderful smell?  This might now be my holy grail hot weather scent. As for Sortilège, I have not smelled the original, so this is not an opinion on whether the modern re-telling of the tale is as good or not. Just that I adored the hints in it towards the old fashioned face cream smell of Dior’s Icone; Frederic Malle’s Lipstick Rose; the Nivea fragrance – and Sortilège is like a silent movie starlet with old world sex appeal, brought to present day and dressed in modern clothing.

The main image (above) contains my real superstar fragrance of the year. No, it probably won’t be on anyone else’s list; no, it isn’t revolutionary in any way, but did it feel like someone had sat down and designed a fragrance just for me? Yes. Did I almost skip around the room in joy when I discovered it? Yes. The fragrance I am talking about is Jardin d’Ombre by Ormonde Jayne.

Its combination of iris, which is usually austere, and of solar notes and sandalwood, which are usually soft skin scents, manages something rarely achieved in perfume: a sensual iris.

It positively glows, yet the iris grounds it. It is sensual without being banal. It is a serious fragrance without being standoffish and cool. I am a particular fan of iris notes, and of sandalwood, so these facts must be taken into account in my praise, but do try for yourselves if you can.

The other happy discoveries of this year include two from Atelier Cologne: Mimosa Indigo (dried mimosa twigs inside an expensive leather handbag) and Camélia intrépide (metallic tea; tart, fruity rose and leather), and Cierge de Lune from Aedes de Venustas (antique leather-bound books, fresh vanilla pipe tobacco leaves, one handsome owner of an opulent library).

You may have spotted that every one of my favourites either hints at or prominently features suede or leather notes. My name is Pia and I’m a leather addict.

What were your favourite perfume launches or discoveries from this year?

I wish you all a happy and prosperous 2017 and for anyone dealing with stress and difficulties, the strength to carry on and breaks of pure joy in-between. Even though my work is very important to me, let’s face it – perfume is no big deal in today’s world – it’s a frivolous luxury, and what I do for a living is of no huge importance in the bigger picture. I’m not saving lives here. But I hope in some small way I’ll at least be able to provide a welcome distraction in the form of enjoyable scents and funny videos. See you on the other side!

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ERMAHGHERD, PERFERM

 

ERMAGHERD PERFERM

Perhaps we should re-name our channel?

Our perfume review channel, Love to Smell is 11 episodes old today and we’ve had a lot of fun shooting the videos. We’ve also learned a lot on the way and there are many improvements yet to be made. Come along for the ride!

Next week we’ll be shooting September’s episodes (in my glamorous dining room, as always, ahem) and I’m excited about the selection already – it’ll feature some products other than fine fragrance again, too.

If you haven’t already, check out Love to Smell and subscribe! There are new episodes every Friday and today we look at Ruth’s trio of scents.

Gri Gri from Anaïs Biguine – fragrance for tattooed skin

Gri Gri fragrances

“Do you think perfume smells different on tattooed skin?” I ask Anaïs Biguine when we meet at Aubaine in Selfridges. Our table is tucked around the corner from the main gallery, in a section whose bleak air conditioning-vent covered ceiling has been cleverly transformed to an abundant hanging wisteria garden. Faux pale purple blossoms dangle from every available surface.

“Of course not!” she replies, and this doesn’t have to be translated – Sharon from Aspects Beauty PR is there with us because Anaïs speaks French and my French is remedial at best (I understand more than I can speak, but I would have missed most of the conversation without help).

“You don’t suppose the way in which bottles, packaging, colours… context affects our perception of scents could affect the perception of perfume sniffed from tattooed skin?” I ask, almost winking – I’m being a little bit playful because Anaïs has called her new Gri Gri (“good luck charm”) perfume range “perfume for tattooed skin” and I want to find out why.

She considers and nods: “Yes, a psychological effect, absolutely, there could be one. Maybe it would push your imagination a bit further. I see that the more daring people – people who have tattoos – will probably be more attracted to these perfumes.”

I see that the more daring people – people who have tattoos – will probably be more attracted to these perfumes.

Anaïs tells me about her creative process: “My creativity has a kind of incubation period and one day I will embark on a project for reasons that may not be clear at the time – but eventually it will start to make sense. And because I am very organised in my working life, everyone thinks that’s what I’m like, but I’m not like that at all outside work. I write, I think; I circle around different concepts and disciplines.”

Yoga meditationFor this range, there was one very specific spark of inspiration, however.

Professeur de Yoga

“I practice Kundalini yoga, which works on muscle groups and parts of your body that you didn’t even necessarily even know were there”, says Anaïs, “and a fragrance should allow you to discover parts of you that were unknown to you as well.”

“Quite often, what you think of as smelling good to you or smelling bad to you is related to your own olfactory recollections,” she explains, “and if it takes you to a good place which unlocks good emotions, that’s going to give you a great experience. So, when creating a fragrance, if you know something is going to smell good, that’s fine, but a good fragrance should also take you someplace – transport you. And it is possible that it will take you somewhere that’s not good, and that’s fine. It’s a risk you have to take to do something completely new.”

It is possible that [a fragrance] will take you somewhere that’s not good, and that’s fine. It’s a risk you have to take to do something completely new.

Anaïs describes herself as a deep thinker and tells me of her daily meditation – we all have eyes to look into the world and meditation gives you the third eye to look inside. And because through meditation she effectively has a meeting with herself every day, it helps with her intuitive creativity.

It was her yoga teacher who sparked off a burning curiosity about tattoos and eventually led to the creation of Gri Gri – perfume for tattooed skin.

“He has a lot of tattoos – and I realised I knew absolutely nothing about tattoos,” says Anaïs about her yoga teacher, “I realised that a lot of very spiritual people have them. I had the same prejudices that many people have about tattoos – that it’s only rebellious people who have them. I realised that tattoo was a universal language, but one I didn’t know anything about.”

“I’ve always been very curious about things and it was natural I should start exploring tattoos next – initially I didn’t think about perfumes at all; just felt bad that I had really misunderstood tattoos and felt remorse for misjudging tattoeed people.”

In some ways, Gri Gri became an artistic apology of sorts. Anaïs felt she had to be thorough, and so studied tattoo history, attended every exhibition she could find, read lots of books – and found a whole world she hadn’t known anything about before.

She quickly realised that there were parallels between perfume which she really understood and tattooing, which she really didn’t.

“A tattoo is a message that goes into your skin and perfume is a message that rests on your skin,” says Anaïs.

Both are costumes that we display to the outer world – messages we send out about ourselves.

Gri Gri

“I am a specialist in narrative fragrances,” says Anaïs, “very caught up in history and stories.” Indeed, her first range Jardins d’Ecrivains was about authors and their gardens – a blend of perfume and literature, two of her great loves and sources of inspiration.

She cites 19th century, baroque and the beat generation as landscapes she likes to travel over and over again and explore in different ways. For Gri Gri, each fragrance is its own story, with the tattoo and its subject as the starting point, which meant that Anaïs was keen to create fragrances based around smells native to that region and unusual raw materials – some of them artist’s impressions made up of naturals and synthetics, some locally-sourced materials.

Anaïs feels synthetics are an important part of fragrance creation: “Synthetics enhance your palette immensely and allow the perfumer to express things one can’t with naturals alone,” she explains. She works with a Japanese technician in a Grasse laboratory to refine each scent. “She’s really good at balance, so we spend a lot of time working together. Every note has to sing,” says Anaïs.

Every note has to sing.

“I had lots of completely crazy materials sent to me from all over the world so I could explore the scent profiles and be inspired,” she explains.
Moko Maori from Gri Gri

Moko Maori

Anaïs started with the facial tattoos of the Maoris of New Zealand. “Every tattoo tells of a stage in their lives,” says Anaïs, “the symbolic fern-curls found in these shapes led to an obvious theme – fougere. It also happens to be a place where they have the greatest variety of ferns in the world. You’ve got to imagine a forest in New Zealand when you smell Moko Maori.”

Moko Maori opens with a manuka honey accord so realistic I would expect bees to be attracted to the wearer of this scent – it’s not a sugary honey impression, but hay-like and very polleny. The fougere character becomes immediately apparent and the impression is of an ode to the perfumer’s fern, decorated with heavy New Zealand fantasy. The hay and pollen turn out to provide a counterpoint to the fougere-on-steroids accord; a kind of dampener which allows it to be overloaded. When I wore the scent for a few days I got a mental impression of a giant fern totem carved out of soap; of a hyper-lush alien forest full of exotic birds and insects; of a well-to-do body-conscious American juicer-type wearing it after a session with her personal yoga guru. Moko Maori is a genuinely new combination of olfactory impressions, yet achingly on-trend because it could really be described as a feminine fougere (and that’s all the rage right now, boys and girls).

If Anaïs is on trend, she doesn’t attribute it to any kind of planning or market research on her part; just following her gut. She tells me that her methods are intuitive, she composes the scents for herself, and that she loathes the idea of thinking of a ‘target market’ or even a specific person when composing a fragrance.

“Lots of fragrances are born for the wrong reasons,” says Anaïs.

I found this was the one scent out of the whole collection that I couldn’t get out of my mind and felt a real craving to re-visit again and again. It felt like discovering a novel that stays in your dreams after reading it.

Moko Maori official notes list
Top notes: Tussock Grass, New Zealand Flax
Middle notes: Fern, Kowhai, Manuka
Base notes: Lichen, Kanuka

Tara Mantra from Gri Gri

Tara Mantra from Gri Gri

Tara Mantra

According to Anaïs, Tara Mantra is based on Buddhist Sanskrit language which inspires wisdom and introspection. Most of the influence comes from India and Nepal.

Anaïs has chosen a herbal theme for this scent – it opens with a soft saffron accord, much more reminiscent of saffron in food than in perfumery and the fantasy “hing” accord, based on an Asian cooking herb follows. In fact, the whole fragrance has a quasi-edible quality and on wearing it, I found a slightly unsettling fatty animal note lurking underneath, which made the experience like wearing some kind of mystic broth instead of perfume. However, as with all of the Gri Gri scents, I strongly encourage trying them on your skin for a while and seeing what happens. This scent may take you to a place where you want to be.

Many fragrances (and indie fragrances especially) smell better on skin than on scent strips and what could be more appropriate for a range designed for ‘tattooed skin’ than perfumes which require your skin as the last ingredient.

Tara Mantra official notes list
Top notes: Saffron, Cardamom, Hing
Middle notes: Patchouli, Ajowan
Base notes: Lotus, Jasmine, Agarwood

Ukiyo-e from Gri Gri

Ukiyo-e

“I learned that the Japanese tattoo tradition was wrapped up in criminal activity, but that it has been largely reclaimed from that in recent years and become a really wonderful artform,” explains Anaïs.

She wanted to make this a very theatrical scent; the most unusual of the three, and based it around a genmaicha tea accord. Genmaicha is blend of green tea and brown rice, and so the fragrance opens with a cereal-type accord which my nose interprets as hazelnut (though I was assured by my partner-in-scent Nick Gilbert that there was a recognisable genmaicha impression in this scent; he studies Japanese and his tutor has treated him to this beverage on occasion).

However, whether a fan of hazelnut or genmaicha – this perfume is a really fun exploration and also (accidentally) rather trendy – there have been praline and nutty accords popping up in scents lately. This isn’t a fashion fragrance, so the nutty-cereal accord is dominant rather than a cautious hint. It’s a scent I really recommend experiencing for yourself, just for the ride. And I have to add this cheeky thought – far from the artistic inspiration of this scent, but one I want to share nevertheless –  if you happen to be a fan of the Dove Deep Care Nourishing Lotion with Pistachio and Magnolia, I cannot think of a better perfume for you to layer it with.

Ukiyo-e official notes list
Top notes: Genmaicha, Yuzu, Aralia
Middle notes: Daphné, Green tea
Base notes: Sakura, Ashibi

1920s tattooed woman

A new scent from Gri Gri, due out next spring

I was let in on a little secret – Anaïs is putting finishing touches on a new perfume for the Gri Gri range which she hopes to launch next spring.

“I was really inspired by the tattooed women of the 1920s and 1930s,” she says, “in some ways they represent real forerunners of female independence to me. But there are also stories of how tattoos were still viewed as something freakish, and tattooed people would sometimes be more at home in sideshows among the bearded ladies.”

Anaïs wanted to play with the idea of turning the shock value up; of creating a scent that would be as bizarre as a head-to-toe tattooed woman in the 1920s, and so, Sideshow was born.

It is a completely bonkers perfume of bubble gum, candy floss, leather and circus animal bedding – almost two scents in one – the pink ballerina tutu twirling into the ring first. It takes a moment for you to realise it’s been worn by a dancing bear.

I wore Sideshow for a night and kept giggling at it, which is usually a good sign – I am not sure if I could get away with wearing this seriously, but on the other hand, I am a huge fan of wearing scents un-seriously.

The art of tattoos

Tattoos have moved on, diversified, developed and become their own art form – above are a few wonderful examples of wearing art on your skin.

Check out these examples:

Tattoo art by Bicem Sinik

41 inspirational examples of tattoo art

Flora and fauna tattoos by Tenderfoot Studios

Double exposure tattoos by Andrey Lukovnikov

“Having a tattoo is a strong statement for someone to make. A tattoo can make you feel stronger,” says Anaïs.

It’s an excellent point. Many people choose tattoos as a way to mark their body after something else has marked it; or as a self-defining act.

On the other hand, with so many styles and inspirations to choose from, tattoos have become just another way for people to decorate themselves and it’s no longer shocking to be tattooed. If Dame Judi Dench has one, I’m pretty sure anyone can.

Radiant – new perfumes for men and women

Radiant perfume for men and women

It’s that time of the year when we hope to see the sun and if we’re lucky enough, we might get to travel somewhere it appears more reliably than in good ol’ Blighty.

There are a few fragrances which can put you in that holiday mood even if you haven’t got the time or money to hop on a plane somewhere warm and balmy. Or, indeed, recall a more relaxing time at the beach when you’re back stuffing yourself into the sardine tin that is a rush hour London tube carriage. My old favourite such scent is – brace yourselves – Miami Glo by Jlo. Yes. Trashy, suntan lotion-y; wonderful. I don’t currently own a bottle, but it absolutely puts me in that summery mood – very specifically, I picture the teenage me sunning herself at the Helsinki olympic stadium outdoor swimming pool, circa 1985, canary yellow Walkman in tow and smothered in Hawaiian Tropic.

Maldives

The Fragrance Shop has just launched two exclusive fragrances: Radiant for women and Radiant for men (although I am going to suggest that you can wear whichever you prefer because gender bending with your fragrance wearing is very chic right now and always has been for those in the know). The perfumer for both is Angela Stavrevska from CPL Aromas.

And here’s the thing, although I expected the pina colada x suntan lotion accord, what these actually serve up is something a little subtler and it took me a day’s wear of both to finally home in on how the coconut here had been interpreted (both fragrances list ‘coconut water’ in the notes). To me, there is definitely a core theme of coconut in both. Room-temperature, fresh coconut oil, to be exact.

Coconuts

Radiant for women has a wonderful green-tinged muguet-jasmine floralcy, light herbal touch, soft woody notes and slightly soapy, sensual musks to accentuate the coconut oil impression and this makes it possibly the most easy-to-wear coconut scent I’ve ever encountered (I have found many coconut-themed scents a little sickly, fatty; too full of lactones). This is not.

I have worked a lot with coconut oil in some way (either when making cosmetics or when using it at home as the DIY beauty miracle product it is – for instance, as a pre-shampoo hair oil treatment), and I have found the scent a little bit overpowering, but somehow this perfume performed a magic trick and made me crave the smell of coconuts. It was the inedible, floral/herbal/woody aspect which seemed to tame the smell into something which exuded health and happiness. Wearing this made me smile. It also made me feel a little bit like I was one of those super slim and health-conscious Wholefoods-store-visiting juicers, just popping in for my organic coconut oil while wearing a subtle, feminine fragrance.

There is also a body oil spray in the feminine variant, which I bet will work extremely well with this fragrance and would be a gorgeous summer body treat.

Official notes list: 
Bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, lime; a cool sea breeze accord, coconut water, sweet amber, muguet, freesia, lavender, geranium, jasmin, sandalwood and clean, powdery musks.

Radiant from the Fragrance Shop_volatile fiction

Radiant for men has a bracing citrus opening – a Cool Water twist with coconut follows, and the drydown was dramatically different between my skin and a male test subject’s* (*my long-suffering husband who has had hundreds of perfumes sprayed on him “just to see what happens”). On me, the drydown went to powdery, sensual, sweet woods and amber with a hint of coconut – on his skin, the somewhat bracing freshness remained and his skin also brought out a much stronger, almost bitter woody-amber theme that was undetectable on mine. Now I know some people claim scents smell the same on everyone, but trust me, they really don’t. Sometimes the difference is minimal – in this case it was dramatic.

Official notes list:
Fresh coconut water, dry amber, bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, lime; a crisp sunshine sea breeze accord, lavender, birch leaf, elemi, vetiver and clean musks.

Radiant for men and women volatile fiction

As you might have guessed, the sandy-golden beige bottle is the women’s version and the blue one is the men’s. I have to say, these are fantastic bottles – heavy glass with lots of attention to detail. The Fragrance Shop describe the design as ‘sand-dipped’ and what might not be obvious from the photos is that there is a lovely ombre graduation of colour on both bottles, fading into clear glass at the top. The golden radiant sun emblem on the centre is heavy-duty and solid metal. These bottles will be beautiful to have around (just please don’t keep them in the bathroom – that’s where perfumes go to die).

Sandy beach

Both are £30 for 100ml and available exclusively from the Fragrance Shop.


Disclaimer: Radiant for women and men provided by the Fragrance Shop for review purposes. My policy is not to review at all unless I like the fragrances in question and samples do not influence this decision in any way. 

Love to Smell: Discovery Sets

The second episode our brand new YouTube channel, Love to Smell is up and in it, we sniff through and talk about some fragrant discovery sets. Speaking of discovery… my personal challenge to you: count how many times Nick says it during the episode.

 

We’re still learning, so there are a few improvements to make, but come along for the ride and subscribe! We’d love to smell things with you.

YouTube shenanigans – Love to Smell launches today

Some of you may know that Nick Gilbert and I have been working on a new YouTube channel behind the scenes – we always get carried away when we’re smelling things and decided to get carried away on camera (what could go wrong?).

There’s a website with shownotes and we’ve got several episodes in the can already, with a diverse range of fragranced products to review and talk about. Vlogging is a new thing for us, so we decided to ignore how perfume vlogs normally work and just do our own thing. This may be for the better or worse.

Please give our intro episode a watch and check back again on the 3rd of June for our first official episode.

Oud to Joy

Abstract smoke

There are several kinds of agarwood which, when infected with the parasitic mould (Phaeoacremonium parasitica), can produce one of those perfumery’s perversions – something heavenly out of something unfortunate (see, also: whale excrement; natural musk).

Alas. You can already see this ingredient isn’t going to be easy to mass-produce, no matter how much we’d like to. Trees take a long time to grow. Infected heartwood from a specific subset of trees  – which then has to be cut down to be processed into oil (so no more tree; no repeat harvest like with oranges or roses) – it doesn’t bode well for price and availability. Oud oil is one of the most Milli Vanilliexpensive perfumery raw materials still in use today. Which is why the majority of oud scents on the market are interpretations of the theme with a little bit of real oud in them or no oud in them at all. Sometimes another material called nagarmotha or cypriol (Cyperus scariosus) is used in oud accords. All kinds of other naturals can help tremendously – a bit of patchouli; other woods. Often oud accords are made with the help of synthetic materials – various animalic, amber and woody notes, and the results can be beautiful. And, as with all perfumery – these fragrances range from the tragic to the sublime. We get everything from the Milli Vanilli of oud to actual oud.

Real oud oil comes in a few varieties, too. There are at least a couple which have strong animalic notes and at least one which has a strong whiff of camel undercarriage dipped in gorgonzola. That oud variety is very difficult to mimic in the lab without the real thing. I’ve tried. It also doesn’t usually appeal to Western noses.

Oud as a word has been a big marketing hit for a while now. I’ve spoken to several indie perfumers who claim to have started the trend. You know something is truly popular when everyone claims credit. And you know a trend is meant to be over when it has trickled down to deodorants and fabric conditioner. We’ve had absolutely everyone and their mum jumping on the bandwagon. Let’s not pretend otherwise. I’ve smelled a fragrance which was a cringeworthy combination of a Barbie-pink fruity-floral with a bit of fake oud thrown in, pushed to me on a scent strip at a posh London department store by a sales assistant whose demeanour was a cry for help: “I don’t like it either!” I’ve smelled an impressively authentic cheesy-animalic oud scent in an equally posh London department store. The fragrance felt serious, expensive, well-made and completely unwearable, bar to a highly niche group of connoisseurs.

As a consumer I don’t really care if an oud fragrance has real oud in it, but I do want the fragrance to hang together. I don’t like the idea of bandwagon-jumping, so the transparent attempts at throwing oud in just to be ‘on trend’ make me sigh. As do the scents which feature oud in the name and haven’t really managed to create an oud impression at all. On the other hand, I don’t find the ultra-authentic oud scents my cup of tea either (even though I like the smell experience itself – as an experience – just not on my skin. But I also like to smell new glossy magazines and the tar of old railway tracks and I don’t want those as a perfume either).

Something has happened to the way Western noses are calibrated towards the oud accord, though. The other day I spoke to my hairdresser about the kinds of perfumes she buys and was completely shocked to find that she buys Arabian Oud. I had her down as a happy-go-lucky celeb fragrance wearer (nothing wrong with that, by the way). My jaw dropped. What did I like to smell of when I was 21 years old? Coco Chanel. Not of camels. But here we are.

So when I was invited to meet the people behind a new brand Amouroud, I was a little concerned. Uh-oh. Aren’t they a little… late to this trend? Is this going to be a really cynical attempt to cash in? Are those glossy-looking black bottles going to cost £250? Are they going to have even a hint of oud in them?

Perfumer’s Workshop

Custom blending conceptPerfumer’s Workshop International was founded in States in the early 70s and has been creating highly commercial and successful fragrance concepts ever since. They were the first to think of bringing custom fragrance blending to department stores (long before Aveda and others had a go) and they were talking to Arabs about oud fragrances at their Selfridges perfume counter back in the 80s when virtually no other fragrance marketer in the West had heard of it.

I met the co-founder Donald G. Bauchner along with his team William Skinner and Denis Roubinet in London last week to talk about Amouroud. It’s always interesting to talk with real industry veterans and I was open to be convinced.

Trying my best to ignore all the official marketing and focus just on their own words and the scents themselves, piece-by-piece, note-by-note, the concept opened up to me. These guys have watched the oud trend be handled by others in the variety of inconsistent ways we’ve seen – and spotted an opportunity to do something better.

Has it worked?

Amouroud packaging conceptThe concept is this – use oud as an amplifier to add intrigue to other fragrance themes. Blend the notes in such a way that oud is not what jumps out, but it does something to all the other materials in the scent; something good, hopefully.

One could say that where Jo Malone scents are for people who want an elegant fragrance but find typical perfumes too heavy, the Amouroud range is for people who wish their designer perfumes had a bit more depth and interest. Amouroud is also attempting to sew together everything that is good about the oud trend and make it accessible. Those glossy black 100ml bottles? £140. For a luxury niche brand, that’s a jaw-droppingly good price. Consider that the current UK best-seller Paco Rabanne 1 Million Eau de Toilette for men retails at the equivalent of £69 for 100ml and we’re talking about a mass-market EdT strength designer fragrance. For that price point alone; that lack of cynical cashing in on ‘niche pricing’ this brand deserves some attention. They have done everything with care – worked with some fine perfumers (Cecile Hua, Patricia Choux, John Mastracola, Claude Dir and Irina Burlakova), packaged everything in beautiful bottles and cartons and have not rushed to be the first on the oud train but watched and learned from other people’s mistakes and chosen to do things their own way. I suppose in this they’re not the innovators, but the potential success story – not the Myspace and LiveJournal, but maybe the Twitter and Facebook. Remains to be seen.

Their sales technique is designed to show off the drydown – a good approach when you’ve invested money in your base notes and the main theme of your collection rests there. You are given a scent strip which was sprayed yesterday and has been kept sealed in a glass jar. So you skip to the end where the oud accord is on full display, but remnants of the main theme are still lingering. I enjoyed testing the scents I had samples of fresh, too – the comparison gave a full picture. I do think the top note and heart are an important part of the experience as well.

The packaging is perfect for the concept. The boxes are heavy card with a metal label affixed to the front (great attention to detail) and the bottles are heavy black glass with a metal label. When you purchase a 100ml bottle, you are given a travel spray of your second most favourite fragrance as a gift. How very cheeky of them to marry you to one scent and immediately enable a love affair with another.

So what about the scents?

TobacconistSay Harrison Ford was playing an incredibly wealthy Russian businessman walking past the Harrods tobacconist eating pear drops while wearing a classic woody masculine fragrance – that scene would smell of Safran Rare. This scent is old-fashioned in the best possible way. It’s a little bit showy but not trashy. It absolutely does have that luxe Harrods oud fragrance signature that one would assume from the look of this brand – perhaps more than any other in the line. But it still manages to have lightness, space and a degree of playfulness that is not what one would expect. Every one of these scents has an American twinkle in the eye.

Oud du Jour – a modern raspberry-apple fruity-floral meets oud – and is done well. What could be a mismatch is actually a seductive tango. It’s like watching a film where an older actor is paired with an actress 20 years younger and you fear they won’t be plausible as a romantic couple but instead the chemistry sizzles on screen and later you find out they had a real off-screen romance. I can’t decide if the name is meant to feel a little playful in your mouth when you say it out loud, but it does. This fragrance is full of genuine fun and contrast. I have nicknamed it Oud to Joy.

Midnight Rose opens with a popular rose – lychee theme which sings in crystal-clear tones from the top for a good while and swells to a classic green-tinged rose melody at the heart until the oud accord joins in – and doesn’t break the tune. It just provides a thrum of bass line; an amplifier. It’s like listening to a fully orchestrated cover version of a pop song. It’s beautiful. Do not be fooled by the name and expect a typical Middle Eastern rose + oud combination. This might be the most accessible of the line-up for the oud-curious.

Candy in FinlandDark Orchid – well, I am just going to have to be honest here and say my immediate impression was Tom Ford Black Orchid x Covonia cough syrup x Finnish dark liquorice … and I ADORED it from the first sniff. Adored it. There is something unsettling about Black Orchid to me, whereas Amouroud Dark Orchid is just right. This fragrance amps up all the dark, medicinal, ambery notes and that flips the scent from an apologetic attempt at a Halloween costume to a full-on drag queen out and proud, head held up high and killing it. If you’re going to dress up, go to town or go home. The more Dark Orchid blooms, the less it looks like its wallflower of a
cousin and the more it takes on its own, fabulous personality.

You’ve got to make a choice about how to lift a sandalwood – do you
stick with a woody theme (oh goodness, that was an accidental pun,
wasn’t it?) or do you build a bouquet which reveals a sandalwood
drydown? The perfumer for Santal des Indes has chosen the former
strategy and leads us to the idea of sandalwood through a woody theme –
we get that almost fizzy cola aspect of a cedarwood and incense accord on top,
which develops over time to a sensation of heat – and after a while conjured another Finnish reference for me: sauna benches. If there is a fatty sandalwood
note, I can’t quite detect it, but if it’s there, I wouldn’t be surprised if it stayed close to skin, as sandalwood often does.

Nancy PorterMiel Sauvage made me giggle with delight when I first smelled it (I have witnesses) and this is a good sign (and the last time a fragrance did that to me I bought it immediately). I also love it when the name of a scent is completely at odds with what pops into my head when I smell it (as regular readers will know). The image Miel sauvage conjured for me was that of a saucy pinup lolloping about in an abundantly overflowing bubble bath, coyly managing to keep the bubble cover just a smidgen too low around her cleavage. This scent makes me think of Camay soap ads from the 50s; of glamorous film stars on just the wrong side of saucy and fruity goings-on in a chiffon dressing gown and fluffy slippers. It’s fantastic; every time I smell it on my skin, I find myself smiling and feel the champagne bubbles of laughter beginning to form in my chest. I’m calling this Pinup and it may become one of my treasured signature scents. I love it that much. Oh – and the honey note? It’s not the urinous kind. It’s the waxy, soapy kind. Just in case my florid description didn’t make that clear.

Oud to Joy

Amouroud has nailed it. At least for people like me who were sitting on the fence about oud and were thinking it wasn’t for them. And there must be millions of us left. If you’re one such person and any of the above made you think “hmm…” run, don’t walk to a store where you can smell these scents and have a play. I think they’re worth the money and I think these guys deserve to do well.

Amouroud will be available at Harrods in the UK first. You can already explore the range in Sweden (this might have something to do with the fact that Donald’s wife Gun is Swedish. They got first dibs).

Just one more thing

I’m wondering something about oud. I’m wondering whether what we’ve got here isn’t a trend at all, but the birth of a whole new fragrance family. That would explain a lot.

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Agarwood, Milli Vanilli and  Nancy Porter images via WikiMedia Commons

Travel samples and one full bottle of fragrance provided for review purposes by Amouroud. My policy is not to review at all unless I like the fragrance(s) in question and freebies do not influence this decision in any way.