Piotr Czarnecki Sensei & She ♥ Sensei

Photo by Daniel Fox. Source: petapixel.com . http://petapixel.com/2013/05/25/photographer-captures-abstract-photos-showing-lava-up-close/

Photo by Daniel Fox. Source: petapixel.com . http://petapixel.com/2013/05/25/photographer-captures-abstract-photos-showing-lava-up-close/

Imagine for a moment that the mighty Nile were a river called Sensei. It would begin with a small trickle of boozy rum that flows into three parallel streams made of stewed fruits, dark tobacco, and coffee. The small streams run past large banks of cinnamon and incense, sweeping up their essence as they all merge into a massive river of sticky balsamic resins which quickly flows out to the sea. There, they dissolve and vanish in waters made up solely of cinnamon amber. That is the essence and development of Sensei.

Piotr Czarnecki via Fragrantica.

Piotr Czarnecki via Fragrantica.

Sensei is a fragrance from Piotr Czarnecki which was released in 2013. It is the first creation from Mr. Czarnecki who is professional dance instructor and a self-taught perfumer from Poland. (If you’re interested in learning more about him, Fragrantica had a detailed article and interview with Mr. Czarnecki.) Sensei has been the subject of much talk recently, and was a Finalist in the Artisan category in the very first Arts & Olfaction Awards whose 2014 panel of judges included Luca Turin. I was sent a sample for review a few weeks ago, along with the latest 2014 release from Mr. Czarnecki called She ♥ Sensei, which I will talk about briefly at the end.

SENSEI:

Source: Fragrantica

Source: Fragrantica

Normally, when I write reviews, I mention the concentration and then quickly move on, but it’s a little more complicated with Sensei. The fragrance comes in a conjoined set of 3 different concentrations, ranging from Eau de Toilette to pure Parfum. According to the Luckyscent description, there are small differences in focus between each one.

The company sent me a sample of both its Sensei fragrances in Eau de Parfum. I’ve been told by Jo Bond, the Czarnecki representative, that the EDP concentration best summarizes and captures the spirit of both fragrances. Ms. Bond also said, “The EDT is a tiny bit lighter version of Sensei and the EXTR DP is a bit more concentrated.” In short, I will be reviewing the Goldilocks version that is right in the middle, but do keep in mind that any bottle which you buy of “Sensei” will come with 3 concentrations, each in a 33 ml size, and that the other versions may differ slightly from what I’m describing here.

Source: Luckyscent.

Source: Luckyscent.

According to the Fragrantica interview with Mr. Czarnecki, the perfume pyramid for Sensei is:

Top notes: Cuban tobacco, Whiskey, Arabica coffee
Heart notes: Spices, Myrrh, Frankincense
Base notes: Labdanum, Ambrette absolute, Musk.

Sensei opens on my skin with rum, tobacco, cinnamon, spices, and coffee, all in a really rich, deep, slightly musky and briefly animalic warmth. It’s rivers of browns and gold, dominated initially by a strongly caramelized booziness that’s really lovely.

Hot Buttered Rum wallpaper by Njanj. Source: scenicreflections.com

Hot Buttered Rum wallpaper by Njanj. Source: scenicreflections.com

I don’t smell whisky, per se, but more of a rum note infused with stewed fruits and rum raisins. Tendrils of incense smoke and an absolutely wonderful undercurrent of coffee weave their way subtly throughout , and the whole thing is dusted off with sweet spice. Cinnamon is particularly evident and profound, but there are also flecks of powdered vanilla and chocolate cocoa. It strongly evokes images of a Starbucks counter where shakers of powdered cinnamon, vanilla, and chocolate wait to be dusted onto your frothy, booze-ladened drink.

Hookah or narguile pipe tobacco. Source: the Hookah report.

Hookah or narguile pipe tobacco. Source: the Hookah report.

Underlying it all is the tobacco. It is rich, dark, and just barely sweetened by the other notes. Interestingly, when I applied a smaller quantity of Sensei, the tobacco was much smokier and much more prominent than when I applied more. The larger dosage brought out more of the perfume’s boozy and run-raisin sweetness, as well as the natural, golden, vegetal musk of the ambrette. With the smaller amount, however, Sensei strongly evoked the Turkish incense and tobacco dens that were the inspiration for Serge LutensFumerie Turque. Actually, I must say, Sensei has a very Lutenesque feel as a whole, regardless of the quantity that you apply, thanks to its dark, resinous, chewy base in conjunction with the stewed fruits, incense, and sweetness.

Rum Raisins. Source: Diary of a Mad Hausfrau. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Rum Raisins. Source: Diary of a Mad Hausfrau. (Website link embedded within photo.)

For the first 15 minutes, Sensei also shares a momentary kinship to HermèsAmbre Narguilé. Both fragrances have the same vein of rum-raisin, boozy amber with incense and tobacco. The difference, however, is that Sensei feels a hundred times darker, thicker, and heavier. In addition, the booziness is much more heavily spiced; there are subtle gourmand elements of coffee, chocolate, and vanilla; and the tobacco is much less like the fruited, pipe tobacco of the Hermes scent and more like the smokier, blacker variety of Fumerie Turque.

Yet, I must stress again that the tobacco is quite subtle on my skin when I applied a larger amount of the fragrance. With 3 good smears, amounting to 2 small spritzes of the perfume, Sensei’s dominant notes in the opening is the spiced, boozy amber with stewed fruits, coffee, cinnamon, and subtle vanilla tonalities. Only when I applied a single big smear, amounting to a tiny spray, was the tobacco really noticeable at the start and a key part of the scent.

Photo: Mike Wepplo at mikewepplo.com

Photo: Mike Wepplo at mikewepplo.com

The similarities to either Fumerie Turque or Ambre Narguile are quite short-lived on my skin. Roughly 15 minutes into Sensei’s development, the rum-raisin and boozy aspects soften, while the coffee and cinnamon grow stronger. There is almost a nutty undercurrent to the perfume, as if toasted hazelnuts were now mixed into the cinnamon and vanilla. In addition, something about the carmelized nature of the amber feels a lot more like ambergris than the more toffee’d nature of labdanum. It’s lovely, especially in conjunction with the subtle muskiness of the ambrette seeds, which is one of my favorite types of musk.

"Javascapes" by Photographer Daniel G. Walczyk. Source: http://devidsketchbook.com

“Javascapes” by Photographer Daniel G. Walczyk. Source: http://devidsketchbook.com

Yet, for all that I keep describing sweet elements, Sensei isn’t really a gourmand fragrance on my skin. I think the fragrance straddles the boundary between the Gourmand and Oriental categories, but its main body is strongly and almost entirely in the Oriental camp on my skin. It has too much cinnamon spice, smoky incense, and balsamic resins to be a true gourmand. They keep the perfume’s sweetness in check, and not even the vaguely caramel-like facet to the amber in the base changes that. The perfume is perfectly balanced on my skin between the various sweet, dry, oriental, and resinous aspects.

In fact, Sensei is perfectly balanced in a number of ways. Take, for example, the perfume’s weight and body. Sensei is much airier and softer on my skin than the very chewy, heavy elements would lead you to think. The visuals may all be dark, and the perfume opens with incredibly richness, but Sensei is surprisingly soft in weight and feel after the first hour.

As a result, and considering the average mean, I would put Sensei in the middle of the scale. It doesn’t have the overall heft of a Profumum, Roja Dove, or SHL 777 scent, but it is initially much denser than a Lutens, LM Parfums, or Parfums d’Empire creation. It never feels opaque, and its projection begins at only 2-3 inches above the skin with 3 large smears, though small tendrils of scent lingered around me when I moved. The sillage dropped after about 30 minutes to lie just 1.5 inches above my skin, and Sensei becomes a very thin, gauzy skin scent on me about 3.25 hours into its development. Frankly, it becomes a little too thin and subdued for my personal tastes.

"Javascapes" by Photographer Daniel G. Walczyk. Source: http://devidsketchbook.com (Website link embedded within.)

“Javascapes” by Photographer Daniel G. Walczyk. Source: http://devidsketchbook.com (Website link embedded within.)

The main focus of Sensei continues to subtle shift over the course of the first few hours. Roughly 30 minutes into its development, the booziness takes a step back from its dominant, primary position, while the cinnamon grows stronger. Sensei is now largely a cinnamon-dusted coffee scent with tobacco, ambrette muskiness, and incense in an amber cocoon with just a touch of rum. As the booziness retreats to the sidelines, it is followed by the vanilla and chocolate cocoa powder.

The end of the first hour and the start of the second marks the beginning of a new stage in Sensei’s development. The perfume slowly starts to become drier and darker, though it’s an extremely subtle change at first. The incense and cinnamon grow stronger, while there is almost a leathery and resinous feel to the base, as if there were balsamic resins like Tolu Balsam used in addition to the labdanum. We’re now a long, long way from the Ambre Narguile opening or even the Starbucks imagery, never mind any coffee focus.

In fact, I want to emphasize that Sensei’s coffee aspect is consistently limited to the perfume’s first hour, and definitely does not last on my skin. Each time I’ve worn the fragrance, the darker elements take over, in addition to the cinnamon spice, in the second stage which usually begins roughly 90 minutes into the perfume’s evolution.

By the end of the 3rd hour, Sensei is quite a resinous, dark scent with prominent tobacco, incense, and leathery balsams in the base. Subtle flickers of vanilla, and even a touch of pepperiness lurk in the background, along with an occasional pop of booziness. Yet, from afar, Sensei feels heavily concentrated on something very different: cinnamon and amber. Up close, the perfume is drier and smokier than it was at the start, but it is also sheerer with intimate sillage.

"Passion,"  by Jaison Cianelli at cianellistudios.com (website link embedded within.)

“Passion,” by Jaison Cianelli at cianellistudios.com (website link embedded within.)

Sensei’s third and final stage begins at the end of the 4th hour, and can essentially be summarized as cinnamon amber. There is a subtle touch of powdery, vanillic benzoin in the background, next to the slightly more prominent undercurrent of incense smokiness, but no tobacco, few labdanum toffee tonalities, and not even a really resinous, balsamic feel either. In essence, all that remains on my skin for hours and hours on end is a massive sea of cinnamon and amber. It’s a sheer, gauzy layer that clings on tenaciously, though you have to really focus hard and sniff with your nose right on your arm to detect it after the 8th hour. All in all, Sensei EDP lasted just under 10.75 hours with 3 large smears, amounting to 2 small spritzes from a bottle, and roughly 8 hours with a single large smear.

I’ve read a number of accounts in perfume sites of other people’s experiences with Sensei, and they all seem to generally experience something similar, though the length of the various stages and the perfume’s overall longevity seems to differ. In most of the accounts that I’ve read, coffee seems to be a limited, not particularly dominant or long-lasting aspect of the fragrances, so I wouldn’t get your hopes up and expect a very coffee-centered perfume. On some people, Sensei seems to be primarily a cinnamon-amber bomb, without a lot of nuances. One or two people report a heavily gourmand scent. As always, what notes your skin will emphasize will depend on your skin chemistry, but I think that almost everyone will experience the cinnamon, and probably quite a bit of it, too. Keep that in mind if you aren’t a fan of the note.

I should also add that I’ve read quite a few accounts of Sensei not lasting very long on people’s skin, with some numbers as low as 4 hours. It surprised me a little, given the perfume’s richness but it does underscore just how light and subtle Sensei becomes after the first few hours.

"Gold Rush," by Artist Elizabeth Chapman. Source: melizabethchapman.blogspot.com

“Gold Rush,” by Artist Elizabeth Chapman. Source: melizabethchapman.blogspot.com

There aren’t a ton of written reviews for the fragrance thus far, but a few people have talked about the scent on Basenotes and Fragrantica. You can read the comments for yourself, but I would like to highlight one review from “ClaireV” on Basenotes, as I agree with a number of her thoughts:

Smelling it blind the first time around, I jotted down all the notes I thought I could identify, which were as follows: Irish whisky, dried fruit, black Russian tea, unflavored tobacco leaves raw and wet, leather, woods, and the resinous edge of a cinnamon stick. Interestingly, though, there is no black tea or dried fruits anywhere in this. The only explanation I can come up with is that tobacco leaves, when presented as raw and as wet as they are here, do have a sort of tannic edge to them that resembles black tea, and they also smell somewhat fruity. I couldn’t pick up on the coffee note the first few times, either, probably because my nose was reading it as dark woods – for me, coffee is first and foremost a dark, woody smell, and not a chocolate-gourmand smell at all. In general, though, Sensei just reminds me of how great a smell tobacco is, and how multi-faceted.

The opening blast is almost unpleasantly boozy and dense, like Christmas cake, but the dry-down is absolutely gorgeous. Once the booze and wet tobacco leaves settle down a bit, it becomes drier and sweeter, eventually thinning out to become a gauzy, transparent woody-tobacco scent that I find deeply comforting. No matter the concentration, Sensei reaches its light, sheer dry down in a mere matter of hours, and does not have the sort of sillage that will invade anybody’s personal space.

Source: rgbstock.com

Source: rgbstock.com

She obviously didn’t experience the cinnamon-amber bomb that I and some other people had in the drydown, but she’s absolutely right that Sensei’s heft, density, and booziness settle down after a surprisingly short amount of time, as well as how sheer, gauzy, thin, and intimate the perfume becomes. I also think she’s accurate in her description of the tobacco as something much darker, smokier, and more resinous than the sort of fruited tobacco note which is so common in many “tobacco” fragrances. As I said, it’s much more like Fumerie Turque’s version than, say, Chergui, so that is something you may want to keep in mind if you’re not a particular fan of the note.

Yet, the real reason I wanted to highlight ClaireV’s comment is the rest of her review, and it pertains to my own feelings about the scent as a general whole:

So, yes, Sensei is really very good. It is wholly deserving of all the rave reviews it is getting, but it does not, in my humble opinion, justify the frenzied hype surrounding it, for the simple reason that, while it is beautiful, it is not unique. For me, Sensei is simply too reminiscent of different parts of other perfumes I already own and love to ever warrant me buying a bottle (or bottles, I should say). The black tea samovar and booze feel strongly recalls Parfums d’Empire’s incredible Ambre Russe, which is one of my favorite perfumes. The raw tobacco and slightly leathery, dirty labdanum dry down reminds me of Sonoma Scent Studio’s infinitely more severe but also more beautiful Tabac Aurea, and the woody cinnamon parts remind me (uncomfortably) of Diptyque’s spicy Eau Lente.

During the far dry down, I am reminded most delightfully of the spicy, delicious woody-fruity dry downs of fragrances such as Idole EDP by Lubin, Feminite du Bois by Serge Lutens, and even some parts of Fendi’s sadly discontinued Theorema – I don’t mean to suggest that these are smellalikes, but to me, there is something in their transparent woodiness and spiciness that unites all four. Take it as a rough guide – if you are drawn to any of the fragrances I have just mentioned, then it is highly likely that you will enjoy Sensei too. I know I did.

Although I won’t be getting a full bottle, I have to say that I am thoroughly enjoying exploring my samples. [...] None of the concentrations last more than four hours on my skin, but there are slight differences between them when it comes to the presentation of notes. The EDP is stronger on the booze in the opening, the EDT has more of a dried-out tobacco leaf feel in the drydown, and the extrait is heavier on the coffee upfront. But beyond these small variations at the beginning, they all dry down to the same delicious base. [Emphasis to perfume names and longevity added by me.]

Photo by Daniel Fox. Source: petapixel.com . http://petapixel.com/2013/05/25/photographer-captures-abstract-photos-showing-lava-up-close/

Photo by Daniel Fox. Source: petapixel.com . http://petapixel.com/2013/05/25/photographer-captures-abstract-photos-showing-lava-up-close/

I’ve spent a few days trying to figure out why Sensei left me a bit cold when all is said and done. After all, its notes are absolutely and completely up my alley; boozy, tobacco, smoky, ambered Orientals are my favorite type of fragrance; and I love cozy, spiced richness. With Sensei, I enjoyed the very rich, heavy opening, and particularly the coffee of the first 30 minutes. And, unlike the Basenotes commentator, Sensei was substantially better for me when it was dark, dense, boozy, and chewy, not when it became a simplistic, sheer, wispy, rather linear cinnamon-amber bomb. (Then again, I love boozy scents, and she obviously doesn’t.)

Yet, I have to be honest, I found Sensei uninteresting the second time that I tried it, and very boring the third time, despite simultaneously recognizing that it is, indeed, very good. I want to be clear on that point: Sensei really is very well done. It’s perfectly balanced, rich at times, darkly chewy initially, and with some truly lovely undercurrents. It’s an impressive debut for a first-time, self-taught perfumer. So, I’ve struggled to pinpoint the reasons for my feelings, and for why I doubt I’d wear Sensei much, even if a full bottle fell into my lap. I’m not particularly close to being able to find the answer, but some of it is that I think Sensei tries to be several things at once, perhaps too many things, before ending up being nothing but simple cinnamon-amber, at least on me.

In a way, and what I think the Basenoter was saying with her comparison to many other fragrances, is that Sensei feels lacking in a strong, individual, original identity. It is Oriental but Gourmand, dense but light, chewy but sheer, hefty but thin. It is a boozy-rum raisin Ambre Narguilé scent. No, wait, it is a coffee Starbucks scent. No, it’s a tobacco, incense, balsamic scent. No, actually, it is just amber-cinnamon for hours on end. Writing all that out seems to make my comments feel even more unfair, as Sensei definitely has nuances and layers in the first 3 hours. It’s hard to call it a simplistic or linear scent when you look at its overall transformation, but I still am not sure what Sensei wants to be. Perhaps the problem is that all of Sensei’s transformations are short-lived in the face of the very lengthy, main drydown stage and its ultimate simplicity. Or, perhaps, maybe, and in all fairness, none of this is accurately pinpointing the real issue because it’s such a subjective, personal feeling.

It’s very hard for me to explain. All I know is that Sensei is a fragrance that is extremely well done, worthy of all the praise, and very enjoyable to wear the first time, but just not interesting enough for me (personally) to want to wear repeatedly. For me, it lacks a spark and character. Nonetheless, I encourage any of you who love the notes in question (especially cinnamon) to give Sensei a sniff. It’s really very well-done, and I think would be a big hit with a number of amber or oriental lovers.

SHE ♥ SENSEI:

She ♥ Sensei via Jo Bond on Facebook.

She ♥ Sensei via Jo Bond on Facebook.

She ♥ Sensei is the latest creation from the company and came out just a few weeks ago. It’s too new for a Fragrantica listing and isn’t offered on Luckyscent, the sole retail distributor for Piotr Czarnecki perfumes thus far. However, Ms. Jo Bond, the company’s representative provided a description for the scent on Facebook:

Well balanced and unique arrangement of plum and rose with nuance of vanilla, based on exclusive natural ingredients of SENSEI classic. Composition reminds of the best quality plum dipped in chocolate and rose petals in some sweet dessert. Opening of the fragrance is sweet and fresh with a hint of morning garden rose. Elegant, violet and full flavoured plum is the main fragrance note. In the heart notes the classical myrrh, frankincense and labdanum give classical but very interesting perfume accord. Whiskey, coffee and some spices give an impression of the best quality chocolate-box with alcohol when they opened for the first time. The fragrance base is changing slowly because of using the oriental musk with ambrette and small touch of vanilla.

She ♥ Sensei’s succinct list of notes is:

Plum, rose, vanilla, whiskey, cuban tobacco, arabica coffee, spices, myrrh, frankincense, labdanum, ambrette, musk.

Candied, spiced plum. Source: tastefood.info

Candied, spiced plum. Source: tastefood.info

She ♥ Sensei Eau de Parfum opens on my skin with plum, ginger, booziness, smoke, tobacco, and leathery nuances, all in an amber cocoon. The scent is initially quite strong in feel, though sheer, light, and substantially less hefty than the original Sensei’s opening. The tobacco is extremely minimal, and the main bouquet is dominated by plumminess and gingered, stewed fruits. Lurking in the background is a touch of rose, while the base has a very jammy, fruited, syrupy patchouli running through it. As a result, She ♥ Sensei is extremely sweet on my skin, to the point where it feels much more wholly gourmand than its brother.

Grilled plums with ginger-balsamic glaze. Photo by Jerry James Stone at treehugger.com (website link w/ recipe embedded within.)

Grilled plums with ginger-balsamic glaze. Photo by Jerry James Stone at treehugger.com (website link w/ recipe embedded within.)

In fact, there are quite a few differences from the original Sensei. The amber and booziness in She ♥ Sensei is substantially weaker; there isn’t much tobacco; the incense is mostly in the base and quite subtle; the spice focus is on ginger instead of cinnamon; and the perfume is much more heavily fruited in nature. When taken as a whole, it also has a substantial floral focus that the original Sensei lacked. And, again, it is much lighter and airier in feel than Sensei, even from the start.

Source: amideastfeast.com

Source: amideastfeast.com

She ♥ Sensei reminds me very much of the Serge LutensBois Series, particularly Feminité du Bois mixed with Bois et Fruits, with a small touch of the ginger plum smokiness of my beloved Fille en Aiguilles. There are differences, though. She ♥ Sensei is much, much sweeter on my skin than those fragrances. I suspect one reason why is the jammy fruitchouli which rises up from the base after 10 minutes.

The rose comes out of the shadows at the same time, too, turning She ♥ Sensei into a very plummy, ginger spiced, syrupy, darkly stewed rose fragrance with a light touch of booziness, subtle tendrils of incense smoke, and a minute sliver of vanilla, all over a base of dark resins. At the end of the first hour, I could finally detect the violet note lurking in the background. It’s more metallic than green, dewy, or peppery, but it generally isn’t a significant part of the fragrance on my skin. I don’t smell any chocolate at all.

"Bleeding Rose" by April Koehler. Source: redbubble.com

“Bleeding Rose” by April Koehler. Source: redbubble.com

She ♥ Sensei is generally a very linear, uncomplicated fragrance on my skin. It has fewer changes than the original as well. At the end of 90 minutes, the perfume hovers a bare half-inch above my skin, but it continues to be a lightly boozy, dark, fruited rose with plum and ginger spice, all over a darkly resinous base infused with incense and the faintest wisp of vanilla. It feels even sweeter and more syrupy than it was at the start, though also a hair more resinous.

Using the same amount of 3 big smears that I used for the original Sensei, She ♥ Sensei turns into a skin scent on me roughly 3.25 hours into its development. Around the same time, the notes largely blur into one, but the perfume finally starts to feel a little drier and darker, and the incense seems fractionally stronger. It’s a question of degree, though, as She ♥ Sensei continues to be a very sweet fruity-floral oriental for the most part.

source: rgbstock.com

source: rgbstock.com

The secondary oriental, resinous, and smoky notes weaken even more as time passes. By the end of the 6th hour, She ♥ Sensei is primarily just a plummy rose fragrance with subtle suggestions of darkness and ambered warmth at the edges. It essentially dies away in the same way, a little over 8.75 hours from its start. The sillage was generally intimate and weak throughout the majority of the fragrance’s lifetime, though it wasn’t hard to detect the scent up close for the first 6 hours.

I’m not particularly a rose person, and I dislike heavy, purple fruitchouli notes as well as strong sweetness, so She ♥ Sensei wasn’t my personal cup of tea. It’s well-done, rich, and seamless in feel, but I found it even less interesting than the original Sensei. That said, I think women (and men) who love dark, sweet, rose scents would probably enjoy She ♥ Sensei. I don’t think the perfume is as obviously unisex as the original Sensei, and I personally think it skews rather feminine in nature, just as the “She” part of its name implies. However, a number of men seem love gourmand rose fragrances, and I know fruitchouli-rose combinations like that in Phaedon‘s Rouge Avignon are popular, so it’s going to come down to taste.

ALL IN ALL:

Regardless of my personal tastes, I think both fragrances are worth a sniff. They are rich, well-done, seamless, and smooth. They are also generally quite reasonably priced. Sensei costs $160 or €130 for 99 ml or roughly 3.3 oz. She ♥ Sensei costs €120 for 66 ml, or just over 2.2 oz.

However, accessibility is a small issue. Neither of these fragrances is in wide circulation, and the sole online distributor for the company is Luckyscent in America. It only carries Sensei at this time, but the perfume sold out on its first day and, at the time of this review, is back-ordered on the site until mid-August. Nonetheless, Mr. Czarnecki makes it quite easy for anyone who is interested in either Sensei fragrance, as you can purchase them directly from the company or his representative. There is also a sample duo of both the original Sensei and She ♥ Sensei (in the EDP concentrations reviewed here) which is available for a very affordable price. It’s $11 or €8, and they ship world-wide. (See the Details section below.)

In short, if you’re a fan of the notes in either fragrance or curious about all the fuss, then I encourage you to give them a sniff. I think the original Sensei, in particular, may win a few fans.

Disclosure: Samples were provided by the company. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my thoughts are my own.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Sensei comes in a combined, adjoined 3-in-one bottle set of different concentrations (EDT, EDP and Extrait), each one being 33 ml in size, for a flat price of $160. It is €130 in Europe. Luckyscent in America is the only online retailer. At the time of this review, Luckyscent is back-ordered on Sensei until mid-August. For all readers, but especially International or European ones, you can purchase Sensei directly from the company’s representative, Joanna Bondaryk, on Facebook. They ship world-wide. I’ve been told that you can also contact Mr. Czarnecki on his FB page for purchases. For those of you who despise Facebook, you can send an email for inquiries or purchase to: strange_jo at wp dot pl, or to czarnecki dot peter at gmail dot com. (All one word, and obviously not written out like that. I’ve done so to avoid them getting hit by spam bots.) With regard to She ♥ Sensei, it comes in a dual bottle of 2 x 33 ml, one in EDP concentration and one in Extrait Parfum. It is not yet carried by Luckyscent, and I do not know how much its U.S. price will be. In Europe, it costs €120, and is already available from Ms. Bondaryk. Samples: none of the decanting services currently offer Sensei. Luckyscent will be your best bet when the perfume is back in stock, or you can contact Ms. Bond to order samples of both Sensei perfumes in their EDP concentration. A pack of 2 EDP samples in 1 ml vials (one of each fragrance) costs $11 or €8. The set is available for world-wide shipping.

Van Cleef & Arpels Orchidee Vanille

Source: aufeminin.com

Source: aufeminin.com

Van Cleef & Arpels entered the prestige “niche” market in 2009 when it debuted its Collection Extraordinaire. Orchidée Vanille (hereinafter just “Orchidee Vanille”) was one of the six fragrances, a vanilla soliflore with subtle floral and gourmand accents that I found to be surprisingly pleasant.

Orchidee Vanille is an eau de parfum created by Randa Hammami. The official description for the perfume as provided by Neiman Marcus is as follows:

An intoxicating journey through the Indian Ocean and Asia, Orchidee Vanille explores all the richness of vanilla.

Source: perfumemaster.org

Source: perfumemaster.org

A floral, gourmand fragrance with a subtle blend of fruity notes (mandarin orange and litchi), combined with tasty bitter almond and dark chocolate, and accented with sensual European flourishes of Bulgarian rose and violet notes. The vanilla pod is faceted with woody cedar and balsamic tonka bean and notes of transparent white musk.

Van Cleef & Arpels, the world-renowned Paris jeweler, pays tribute to nature with a range of magnificent fragrant compositions inspired by its Les Jardins (“The Gardens”) jewelry range. Created with the finest raw materials in the great tradition of French luxury perfumery, Van Cleef & Arpels debuts the Collection Extraordinaire with six scents, each given a formulation number by the master perfumer and presented in a hallmarked and embossed presentation gift box.

The succinct note list is available from Luckyscent:

Mandarin orange, litchi, bitter almond, dark chocolate, Bulgarian rose, violet, vanilla pod, cedar, tonka, and white musk.

Vanilla flower. Source: visualphotos.com

Vanilla flower. Source: visualphotos.com

Orchidee Vanille opens on my skin with clean vanilla, followed by abstract floral and fruity notes, hints of cedar, and clean white musk. There is a brief suggestion of something unctuous, reminiscent of vanilla extract paste melted in butter, but it is fleeting. Moments later, tiny flickers of almond, chocolate, and orange appear at the edges. They continue to flit in and out for the next 20 minutes, but rarely detract from Orchidee Vanille’s main focus which is clean vanilla with a floral facade, a hint of woodiness, and white musk.

The secondary notes are interesting. On my skin, the chocolate doesn’t seem dark, powdered, or much like chocolate at all, to be honest. It’s really more of an abstract, nebulous suggestion, and akin to something approximating “chocolate.” The almond is infinitesimal, and there is no clear rose, violet, or litchi whatsoever. The orange is more noticeable in a concrete, individual way, but it feels almost translucent and ghostly, darting in and out of background in the opening stage.

The cedar is the most prominent of the lot at first, and it combines with the white musk and vanilla in a way that reminds me of Tuesday 4160‘s Sexiest Scent On The Planet. There are differences, however. Orchidee Vanille feels significantly more expensive and luxurious. The “Sexiest Scent” is apparently close to 70% synthetic, and it smells like it with its heavy, walloping amounts of ISO E Super and something strongly resembling white musk. It is also a much woodier scent, by and large, than the Van Cleef & Arpels fragrance which feels more supple and creamy.

Source: Superstock.com

Source: Superstock.com

The similarity between the two perfumes doesn’t last for long. Orchidee Vanille begins to change less than 15 minutes into its development, though the perfume is so light that the transformation is initially quite subtle. The most noticeable thing is that Orchidee Vanille starts to turn creamier and smoother, as the vanilla deepens. The clean, white musk softens; the cedar becomes weaker; and the orange, cocoa, and general fruitiness fade to the periphery. The already abstract floral notes become even more of a nebulous, vague suggestion, and melt into the vanilla. They exist just enough to ensure that the perfume never smells like a cupcake or vanilla icing, but, rather, more of a “floral” vanilla.

That’s generally about it for Orchidee Vanille’s development on my skin. All that happens over the many hours which ensue is that the perfume becomes creamier, softer, and more intimate in nature. The clean, white musk fades away after 30 minutes, though it returns later at the very end of the perfume’s development in a light way. There are occasional, microscopic suggestions of something vaguely chocolate-y lurking in the background, though it often feels more like a sprinkling of the white variety than the bitter, dark chocolate listed in the notes.

Photo: Vickie Lewis. Source: Allposters.com

Photo: Vickie Lewis. Source: Allposters.com

The overall impression is of a very creamy (but airy) vanilla scent with just the lightest suggestion of something floral about it. On my skin, there is absolutely nothing about Orchidee Vanille that is purely and solely foody, evocative of the dreaded sugared cupcakes (which is a trap that many vanillas fall into), or cloyingly sweet. It’s not dry, woody, or buttered, either. By and large, Orchidee Vanille is a very simple floral vanilla fragrance, though a very adult take on the genre.

It’s also extremely light and subtle on me. Three very large smears (amounting to two sprays from a bottle) create a very gauzy cloud that initially hovers 2 inches, at best, above my skin. It’s not as thin and translucent a bouquet as “The Sexiest Scent,” but it definitely lacks the richness or heft of a Profumum vanilla for example. The sillage is extremely intimate on me, and Orchidee Vanille turns into a skin scent before the close of the second hour. However, the perfume has excellent longevity. With a smaller dose of 2 moderate smears, Orchidee Vanille lasted just over 10.5 hours. With the 3 smears, the number was just short of 11.75. Some of the perfume got onto a shirt I was wearing in one test, and the scent lasted for well over a day.

There are two things that struck me about Orchidee Vanille. In the first few hours of wearing the scent, the combination of its intimate feel along with the initial, very subtle suggestion of something both clean and floral evoked the sense of feminine skin. “My skin but better,” if you will, but definitely for a woman. It also evoked the image of a very well-dressed banker in an elegant, restrained, very structured suit who uses Orchidee Vanille as her subtle nod to femininity. Later, however, when the perfume turns much smoother, softer, and creamier, the images which came to mind were those of white, vanilla flower petals blowing in the wind. Creaminess is much more a part of the fragrance than some of the official elements in the note list, and certainly more than any rose, almond, or fruity tonalities.

Source: goodfon.su

Source: goodfon.su

The response to Orchidee Vanille is generally very positive. I have a number of friends who wear it, and I often see rave reviews for the scent on different sites. The main issues involving the perfume seem to be the usual ones of sweetness and cost. I’ll get to the latter point shortly, but sweetness is obviously going to depend on one’s skin chemistry. The same applies to whatever secondary notes you will experience apart from the vanilla. On Fragrantica, the majority of posters love the scent, and a good number of people talk about the chocolate which was clearly more profound on their skin than on mine. Some also experienced a lot more floral or fruity notes at first. As a whole, people call it “gorgeous,” “one of the best vanilla fragrances in the market,” or “the fragrance equivalent of a string of pearls.”

Source: popsugar.co.uk

Source: popsugar.co.uk

The Non-Blonde was also a fan of the scent, much to her surprise. For her, Orchidee Vanille evoked the sense of skin as well. Her review reads, in part, as follows:

The thing about perfumer Randa Hammami’s creation for Van Cleef & Arpels is that it’s not as floral and airy as I feared. As a matter of fact, Orchidee Vanille has an almost Guerlain-like heft. Hammami is the nose behind Guerlain’s Cruel Gardenia and L’Instant Magique, but if I were to classify and label, I’d say that this fragrance is actually a distant cousin of Aqua Allegoria Ylang & Vanille. The non-foody vanilla and complementary creamy flowers create a similar smooth sensation. The orchid image comes from the very opulent violet note. It’s interesting how one flower creates the illusion of another, while not trying to fully deceive – you’re aware that it’s violet, yet you see an orchid. Quite clever, really.

Flowers aside, it’s the musk, almond and bitter chocolate note that rule Orchidée Vanille. This reminds me a little of Guerlain’s Boise Torride, that also has some cedar in its backbone to keep the non-gourmand balance. While Orchidee Vanille keeps flirting with the edible side, the overall impression is of skin: the nape of the neck, the scalp of a second day hair. That’s what makes this Van Cleef & Arpels so incredibly intimate and warm, as well as worth the time of those who aren’t necessarily vanilla fiends. [Emphasis to names added by me.]

On Makeup Alley, the main focus of the conversation seems to be on whether or not the perfume is too sweet, or just perfect, followed by talk of its cost. On Luckyscent, Orchidee Vanille receives a lot of compliments, with people calling it “beautiful” or saying that they “love it,” often followed by comments about how they wouldn’t buy it. Bottom line, it keeps coming down to the price. Orchidee Vanille retails for $185 or £126 for a 75 ml bottle and, while pricing is always a very subjective, personal valuation, I share the feeling that the perfume costs too much for what it is. Yes, Orchidee Vanille’s smoothness does feel luxurious and, yes, it lacks the synthetics of many vanilla fragrances on the market, but it’s ultimately a very simplistic scent without a lot of nuances and layers.

However, you can find Orchidee Vanille for a discounted price at a few places, especially eBay. There, you can find unused tester bottles for roughly $89, or unopened, sealed boxes for $114. Amazon is also another option for a more reasonable price. (The perfume also is available from a few traditional retailers in a smaller 45 ml size that costs less than the 75 ml bottle. See the Details section below.) I think Orchidee Vanille is definitely worth it at the lower price for anyone who is a fan of adult vanillas.

As a whole, Orchidee Vanille skews rather feminine in nature, though it does have some male fans. One chap on Fragrantica thought it was perfect as a layering scent with more “manly” fragrances, while another insists that it is wholly “unisex” in nature. Regardless of gender, I think Orchidee Vanille a very office-appropriate scent, even for conservative environments. I should add, however, that a few people struggled with its longevity and lightness. One commentator said that it didn’t last on them more than 4 hours. As always, it’s going to depend on your skin chemistry.

If you’re looking for a creamy vanilla with a more adult character than some of the Pink Sugar varieties on the market and with some subtle floral or gourmand touches, give Orchidee Vanille a try. It’s really quite pretty.

DETAILS:
Cost, Availability & Discount Prices: Orchidée Vanille is an eau de parfum that almost always is sold in a 75 ml/2.5 oz bottle, though I did find two sites that offers it in a small 45 ml/1.5 oz size. Generally, the 75 ml regular size costs $185, €120, €130, or £126, but you can find it substantially discounted on eBay and a few other sites. Fragrance One sells it for $119.99 on Amazon, with free shipping. Some eBay vendors sell it for even less. A vendor called “The Perfume Choice” offers tester bottles of Orchidee Vanille for $89, and an unopened, sealed bottle for $114.99. About 10 of each are available, and there is world-wide, free shipping. At full retail price, you can find the 75 ml bottle of Orchidée Vanille at Luckyscent and Neiman Marcus. However, Bergdorf Goodman has the small 1.5 oz/45 ml bottle on their website for a lower $125 price. Outside the U.S.: In the U.K., you can find Orchidee Vanille at House of Fraser, Harrods, and Liberty London for £126. The unusual 45 ml size is sold at John Lewis for £69. On mainland Europe, First in Fragrance sells Orchidee Vanille for €130, and Essenza Nobile for €131. However, Purs-Sens in France sells the same size bottle for €120. In the Middle East, I found the perfume on Souq.com for AED 1,200. For all other countries, you can use Van Cleef & Arpels’ store locator guide, though I have to say that I can’t imagine that the perfume will actually be sold within the ultra-luxury jewellery stores themselves next to the diamonds and rubies. Samples: Surrender to Chance sells Orchidee Vanille starting at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. Luckyscent sells samples for $5 for a 0.7 ml vial.

Mid-2014 Best & Favorites List

Photo: my own.

Photo: my own.

We’re more than half way through 2014, so I thought it would be a nice time for a mid-year look at some of the perfumes that caught my attention. I used to do a list of favorite things that I had tried after every 100 posts, but that practice has fallen by the wayside due to the demands of my schedule. A few weeks ago, I was thinking of some of the fragrances I have covered since the beginning of the year, and the ones on my personal list of things to buy, so it seemed like a good time for an updated list.

Perfume reviewing is subjective and personal by its very nature, so winnowing fragrances down to a list like this is even more so. My criteria for selection varied. Some of the fragrances were not really for me, but I think they’re good examples of their genre and done very well. Others are on the list for the most subjective reason of all: I either bought full bottles for myself, plan to get them, or would love to do so, if their high price were not a consideration. Ranking things is an utter nightmare, but the Top Four are firmly placed in accordance with my feelings. The remainder of the perfumes are generally ranked within one to two slots, plus or minus, of where they are in my wholly subjective estimation. None of the 25 fragrances on this list are based on their date of official release, but on what I’ve covered since January 1st through to the end of June. And all of them are current releases, not vintage fragrances.

FAVORITES OF 2014 THUS FAR:

  1. Photo: stonehousetiles.co.uk

    Photo: stonehousetiles.co.uk

    SHL 777 BLACK GEMSTONE is my favorite fragrance that I’ve tried this year. An opening of black, smoky, tarry darkness is pierced by an astonishingly vibrant, bright yellow beam of concentrated, juicy, tangy lemon. The rest of the scent is a superb blend of shape-shifting notes, dominated by spicy patchouli, incense, and rich amber. Cedar, myrrh, saffron, tonka sweetness, and a touch of eucalyptus all dance around before the perfume transitions to a smoky, spicy, ambered richness in the drydown. It is layer upon layer of goldenness upon a deep base that feels like the darkest resins have turned to velvet or satin. Black Gemstone was love at first sniff for me, and a fragrance which I adore from start to finish. My black bottle is one of the treasures in my collection, and something I turn to whenever I want to be transported away by a really powerful, potent darkness.

  2. Source: whoniversefanon.wikia.com/  Original artist unknown.

    Source: whoniversefanon.wikia.com/ Original artist unknown.

    TIE. ROJA DOVE NUWA & SHL 777 O HIRA. Roja Dove’s NUWA is not a scent that I’d recommend to most people, as it is a fiercely concentrated cumin bomb. Galactic levels of cumin, in fact. (Plus, it has an astronomical price tag that puts it firmly out of most people’s reach, including my own.) I’ve always respected the luxuriousness and high-quality of Roja Dove fragrances, but none of them moved me enormously or passionately until Nuwa. It is a Fallen Angel whose demonic, blackened, smoky, tarry, leathered opening reminded me of the darkness of Black Gemstone, but with the addition of an avalanche of spices. That powerful, intense opening slowly makes way for a spicy, skanky, ambered but also mossy chypre heart which is beautifully opulent. The two things together make Nuwa slightly different than Rochas’ vintage chypre, Femme, which it definitely resembles on my skin. Similarities notwithstanding, I loved every bit of Nuwa and its stupendous richness. It was my Waterloo when it came to the Roja Dove line, and I would buy it in a heartbeat if I didn’t have to sell an organ (or two) to do so. I have to repeat, however, that Nuwa is definitely not for the faint of heart.

Photo: my own.

Photo: my own.

SHL 777‘s O HIRA is the Incredible Hulk of ambers, in my opinion, and in a class all by itself. A labdanum monster, O Hira has far more elements than the mere, umbrella description, “fossilized amber,” that is given on the official one note list. Its labdanum is seamlessly blended with darkened woods and treacly, sticky, blackened resins. The end result is a civilized veneer of baroque, bronzed opulence which hides animalic, smoky, musky, and leathered elements, as well as a strongly blackened, slightly dirty heart. I think it’s absolutely stunning, drop-dead sexy, an utter beast, and it would be at the top of my “To Buy” list if the price were not so terrifying.

  1. Photo: my own.

    Photo: my own.

    PARFUMS MDCI CHYPRE PALATIN. A truly spectacular chypre with jaw-dropping amounts of oakmoss, thanks to Bertrand Duchaufour‘s use of a technique that takes out the regulated, EU/IFRA restricted atranol molecule. The result is an  endless sea of true, green mousse de chene in a mix that is as baroque and opulent as it is seamless. Yet, there is far more to Chypre Palatin than mere oakmoss. It opens with bright, sun-sweetened tangerines, zesty lemon, and tons of smoky sweetness from styrax resin, but slowly takes on a subtle animalic tinge through the use of costus root (a big part of Kouros‘ legend) and castoreum. The multi-faceted mix is finished off with delicate florals, a touch of vanilla, boozy touches, spicy patchouli, and a definite streak of leathered darkness in the base. It’s a stunner, one that defies simple characterization in a mere paragraph, and it is going to be the next fragrance that I buy for myself.   

  2. "Ophelia" by Arthur Hughes. Source: preraphaelitesisterhood.com

    “Ophelia” by Arthur Hughes. Source: preraphaelitesisterhood.com

    HIRAM GREEN MOON BLOOM. Moon Bloom would definitely have been on my Best of 2013 list had I tried it at the time. I’m a sucker for the BWF genre (Big White Florals), and tuberose is my absolute favorite flower in nature. Frederic Malle’s much-beloved Carnal Flower has never impressed me much, but Moon Bloom is simply spectacular in its delicacy, richness, and depth. There is greenness that feels like dewy gardenia, along with blackness from the deconstructed tuberose, and perfectly calibrated milkiness from coconut that is never — not once — unctuous, buttery, gooey, or something resembling sun tan lotion. Moon Bloom is a masterfully created mix of lightness and darkness, richness and delicacy, that evokes a Pre-Raphaelite’s Ophelia. Those of you who have always been terrified of tuberose fragrances may be surprised by Moon Beam because is it not a divaesque Fracas white bomb that assaults you. (I adore vintage Fracas, but it definitely is a Maria Callas fragrance!) Instead, Moon Beam is a romantic beauty that is incredibly smooth, well-calibrated, refined, and polished. One thing that is astonishing is the fact that it is an all-natural fragrance; it doesn’t feel like it with its depth, body, and longevity. As a whole, I cannot rave about Moon Beam enough. Truly lovely, masterfully done, and another one that I will one day purchase for myself.

  3. Source: drawingforkids.org

    Source: drawingforkids.org

    MASQUE MONTECRISTO. A brilliant, animalic fragrance that is positively feral at times, in the best way possible. Montecristo evokes a dry jungle where a leather and fur-clad warrior travels through fields of tobacco, spices, dusty woods, and lemony florals, all drenched with honey, booziness, and golden, musky warmth. Cumin, a powerful urinous note, and a distinct raunchiness make Montecristo a scent that is not for everyone, but it’s rather magnificent, in my opinion, especially because of the multi-faceted river of leather that runs through it. The golden drydown evoking the feel of heated, warmed skin is particularly splendid, far outweighing anything in the lighter, significantly tamer MKK from Serge Lutens. Montecristo is enormously bold, quite fascinating, very powerful, and masterfully done, in my opinion.

  4. Photo: my own.

    Photo: my own.

    PARFUMERIE GENERALE COZE. A patch head’s dream, but also far more, Coze is an incredibly rich, resinous oriental with beautiful warmth that straddles the line between an oriental and a gourmand in a perfectly calibrated mix of spices, warmth, dryness, and sweetness. It opens with a fierce, concentrated explosion of nutmeg and cloves, then black pepper, chili flakes, and patchouli. In their trail is the sweet aroma of dried tobacco that smells like tobacco leaves drizzled with honey after being soaked in rich vanilla extract. The whole thing is lovely, but becomes even better when the cocoa arrives. It resembles rich slabs of semi-sweet chocolate, as well as dusty cocoa powder. As the Madagascar vanilla and chocolate infuse the top notes, the spicy patchouli turns earthier. Tying the whole thing together like a bundle are sweet grassy notes, presumably from the hemp. Coze has apparently been reformulated and weakened, but I loved it enough to I succumb to a bottle for myself

  5. "Yellow jag" by Nancy Simmons Smith. http://simmonssmith.com/gallery/abstracts/

    “Yellow jag” by Nancy Simmons Smith. http://simmonssmith.com/gallery/abstracts/

    SHL 777 KHOL DE BAHREIN. I’m generally not one for iris scents, but Khol de Bahrein is special. A study of light and dark, of coolness and warmth, Khol de Bahrein takes the stony aspects of iris and marries it to the warmth and richness of amber, then dusts them off with heaping mounds of sweetened heliotrope and vanillic tonka powder. I’m a sucker for heliotrope, so I fell for the perfume’s coziness and quasi-gourmand flourish, but Khol de Bahrein is first and foremost a study of cool elegance and sophistication. Its enormously rich notes are blended seamlessly, are perfectly balanced, and are held in check by a discreet softness that feels very refined. Khol de Bahrein is the very first (and only) iris fragrance that I’ve ever liked, but hardcore iris lovers rave about it even more. I personally would recommend it for fans of heliotrope as much as those who love iris.

  6. Source: Normann Copenhagen. (Link to blog site with recipe for mousse embedded within photo.)

    Source: Normann Copenhagen. (Link to blog site with recipe for mousse embedded within photo.)

    PROFUMUM ROMA ANTICO CARUSO. Antico Caruso is a stand-out in a line that specializes in rich fragrances. It opens with a retro, barber-shop bouquet centered on powerful, aromatic fougère notes with bright citruses, aromatic herbs, and lavender. The whole thing is dusted off with soapy lather, and is far too clean for my personal tastes, but it takes a mere 75 minutes for the opening to fade to a deluge of creaminess that is truly special. Almond custard, equally creamy, soft woods, and airy vanilla mousse lie at the heart of Antico Caruso, pulsating out with silky smoothness for hours to come in a way that is really delicious. What a drydown! I can’t rave enough about that almond-vanilla duet. I thought it was compulsively sniffable.

  7. Source: dragonw.wikia.com

    Source: dragonw.wikia.com

    AMOUAGE JOURNEY MAN. Journey Man grabs you from the very start with a fiery boldness that feels like a Chinese dragon roaring at you. Sichuan peppers with a definite bite are tossed into boozy, lightly fruited cognac that pulsates a golden warmth. The rich spiciness is countered with very dry woods, smoky incense, dusty cardamom, and a definite streak of blackened, leathery resins in the base. It’s a spectacular opening! However, I must be honest and repeat what I wrote in my review, which is that the drydown that begins at the third hour is much less special. The boozy, spicy boldness eventually fades to a soft tonka creaminess flecked with abstract woods and a touch of amber. It’s pleasant, but not as appealing for me personally as that spicy debut (with its distant kinship to some other perfume favorites of mine). Still, Journey Man is definitely one of the better fragrances that I’ve tried this year and very well-done, so it fully deserves a place on this list.

THE NEXT 15 FOR THE LIST OF THE TOP 25:

  1. Source: creativity103.com

    Source: creativity103.com

    SHL 777 SOLEIL DE JEDDAH. Soleil de Jeddah is a supernova of ultra-bright, glowing citruses, tangy fruits, green touches, and richness, all countered by a darkened, smoky streak of leatheriness in the base. I’m not generally one for citric or fruity fragrances, but it’s hard for one’s jaw not to drop at the concentrated richness, sunniness, and brightness of this perfume’s opening. On my skin, Soleil de Jeddah opens with juicy apricots that are tangy with jamminess, followed by very tart, sour, zesty lemon, and something distinctly resembling green mangoes, followed by iris, more iris, a light dusting of iris powder, chamomile, and a touch of woodiness. The whole thing is set upon a smoky leather base made up of styrax, birch, and isobutyl quinoline, with a wisp of smokiness, and a hint of animalic civet. Yet, despite the dark undercurrent, the overall impression you get from sniffing Soleil de Jeddah is of brightness. It is a glowing orb of citruses and golden warmth, all infused with incredible richness. It is beautifully done.

  2. Photo: Wanna Be A Country Cleaver, Megan Cleaver, via Tastykitchen.com

    Photo: Wanna Be A Country Cleaver, Megan Cleaver, via Tastykitchen.com

    PATRICIA DE NICOLAI AMBER OUD. If I were to choose things solely on the basis of how much they stick in my head and beckon to me, Patricia de Nicolai’s Amber Oud would probably be in my Top Five. This extremely simple, utterly uncomplicated, misleadingly named lavender-vanilla-patchouli perfume became a small obsession of mine. Whenever I was stressed, frazzled, or upset, this is the perfume that I wanted to wear. Whenever I was fed up with thinking and analysing perfumes, this is the cozy comfort that I sought. I really don’t think you could get anything more simple than lavender ice-cream which is really what Amber Oud is, despite the claims in its name. (No, there is not an ounce of actual agarwood in this scent. Not one.) I’m on the record about my decades-long issues with lavender, but what gets me in the case of Amber Oud is the vanilla, tonka sweetness, and light touches of spicy, brown patchouli. A minuscule sprinkling of golden amber is the final touch to this scent that envelops you in endless coziness and sweet warmth. It is like the best parts of Jicky‘s lavender-tonka heart, only without its animalic civet touches and with the benefit of tons of deep, warm, lightly spiced, golden patchouli. It is also like a much sweeter, more vanillic, less ambered Fourreau Noir (Serge Lutens), but without the latter’s incense smokiness. Far before I actually bought a full bottle, I couldn’t get Amber Oud out of my head. Its effect on me defies logic, but I’m telling you, something about this seamlessly smooth, elegant mix lowers my blood pressure and makes everything seem like it’s going to be all right.

  3. Photo: Andrew Yee for How To Spend It Magazine via FashionGoneRogue.com

    Photo: Andrew Yee for How To Spend It Magazine via FashionGoneRogue.com

    GROSSMITH SHEM-EL-NESSIM. Originally issued in 1906, Shem-el-Nessim is heavily influenced and inspired by Guerlain’s legendary L’Heure Bleue, which came out a few years before. There are definite differences, however, most noticeably in Shem-el-Nessim’s more overtly floral mix that is sweeter, and not peppery, woody, or melancholic in any way. Rich neroli orange blossoms swirl together with geranium, roses, deep bergamot, orris, and plush patchouli greenness to create an opulent, luxurious floriental worthy of a queen in a bygone era. I find it truly beautiful, carrying the full weight of its 108 year old history in its powdered floral start, but ending with a very timeless, perhaps even modern, finish of creamy neroli-vanilla mousse. Shem-el-Nessim is not for everyone, and most definitely not for modern tastes. But for women who bemoan the loss of the vintage greats, it is a fragrance that they must try. Luca Turin loves it too, and recently awarded it Four Stars.

  4. Painter: Henry Asencio, 1972. Source:  http://www.tuttartpitturasculturapoesiamusica.com/2013/02/Henry-Asencio.html

    Painter: Henry Asencio, 1972. Source: tuttartpitturasculturapoesiamusica.com

    TIE: SHL 777 OUMMA & ROSE DE PETRA. Yes, there is a lot of SHL 777 on this list, but it is a brand that thoroughly impressed me this year with its superb quality, intense richness, seamless blending, and sophistication. Oumma and Rose de Petra are two very different takes on roses. The first, Oumma, is a blackened, smoky, oud fragrance that is strongly middle-eastern with only a tiny kernel of a smoked, withered rose nestled deep under the veneer of dark woodiness and smoke. The second, Rose de Petra, is a stunningly spiced, rich, smoky rose that begins with similarities to Malle’s Portrait of a Lady (but far better) before transitioning to an Amouage-like Lyric-Epic combination. I’m not one for rose-centric fragrances at all, but Rose de Petra really caught my attention with its spiced, smoky, slightly dusty, and really elegant nature. And Oumma is an incredibly complex, quite masculine, wholly Middle Eastern scent that, on my skin, was dominated more by the smoke and oud woods than by the roses. Yet, it is also a shape-shifter that changes from wearing to wearing. I recommend both of them for different reasons.

  1. Photo: my own.

    Photo: my own.

    ROJA DOVE CREATION-E OR ENIGMA POUR HOMME. The best way I can describe Creation-E is with the introduction to my review: “Rivers of brandy and tobacco flow out like tributaries to a sea made of spicy, crystallized ginger and dark plum molasses. An ambered wind blows, making the waves froth white peaks made of vanilla mousse, while the sky rains down cardamom, more ginger, and soft cocoa. Eventually, the brandy river dries up, leaving a sea of Christmas plum pudding that crashes onto shores of pure tobacco in a land called Enigma.” It’s a profoundly rich fragrance with a distant kinship to such scents as Tom Ford‘s Tobacco Vanille, Kilian‘s Apple Brandy, and Serge LutensFille en Aiguilles, all rolled into one. I would have absolutely adore this scent had it not been for a streak of aroma-chemicals in the base, probably from the tobacco, that I struggled with when I applied less of Enigma. As a whole, though, it’s a very opulent, regal fragrance that makes you feel like dressing up in a velvet smoking jacket, putting on a silk ascot, and taking out a pipe. In short, it makes you feel a little like you’ve suddenly turned into Roja Dove himself. For some crazy reason, however, Enigma doesn’t move me personally, perhaps because it is a little too much like boozy Christmas plum pudding and Tobacco Vanille at times, but there is no denying its richness and quality.

  2. Photo: my own.

    Photo: my own.

    LM PARFUMS ULTIMATE SEDUCTION. Ultimate Seduction is meant to be a gourmand fragrance with a praline-vanilla heart amidst a sea of juicy fruits, sweet roses, dewy violets, and jammy patchouli, lightly flecked with a touch of dry woods. On my skin, though, it was primarily a rich rose scent with strong cassis and jammy fruitchouli that later turns into an abstract fruity-floral with a lusciously silky, airy, vanilla mousse, and only occasional whispers of green tartness. It’s a very soft, discreet scent whose middle phase evokes a sea of petals, all pink, white, peach and cream, with a touch of lingering fruity redness, and endless creamy vanilla. In its drydown, Ultimate Seduction is primarily just a vanilla scent, lightly infused with a pink rosiness. The whole thing has a seamless smoothness that is genuinely impressive. I personally may not be drawn to rose-patchouli fragrances, or those with a hazy or discreet nature, but I think Ultimate Seduction is a high-quality fragrance that is extremely well-done. 

  3. Mata Hari, 1905, via Pinterest.

    Mata Hari, 1905, via Pinterest.

    LA VIA DEL PROFUMO TAWAF. Perhaps the best jasmine soliflore that I’ve tried in a while, Tawaf has a truly spectacular, heady, and completely narcotic opening of floral richness and sweetness, all infused with a touch of  skanky, indolic, blackened naughtiness. The overall effect feels like something wickedly voluptuous. If ever a jasmine were so fleshy that it amounted to a courtesan’s pillowy breasts heaving above the top of a tight corset, it would be Tawaf. There is a decadent excessiveness, overt carnality, and lush ripeness that positively oozes fleshiness. The white togated courtesans of Nero’s Rome would have drowned themselves in Tawaf while the city burned and he fiddled. And it definitely feels like the perfect scent for one of the greatest seductresses of all time, Mata Hari. Tawaf is a true beauty that rather took my breath away, but the problem is that all that headiness fades on my skin after 90 minutes or so, though the drydown is pretty with its soft floralcy, creamy myrrh and beeswax. If the gorgeous opening lasted and if Tawaf didn’t have generally weak sillage, it would be far, far, far higher on this list.

  4. Source: brookstone.com

    Source: brookstone.com

    LA VIA DEL PROFUMO MILANO CAFFE. An incredibly bold, dark scent with expresso coffee, spicy patchouli, rich vetiver, and dry woods, Milano Caffé made me do a double-take from the first sniff.  It is a visual plethora of dark colours from the blackness of bitter expresso and licorice, to the mahogany of deep woods, the green-blackness of patchouli and smoky vetiver, and the darkness of black chocolate. Subtle hints of goldenness flit about from amber and vanilla, but on my skin, they are mere fireflies in the dark forest. Mentholated peppermint lingers in the air, while myrrh emits tiny puffs of smokiness. Touches of burnt resins and birch tar or cade run through the base, adding to the chewiness of the bouquet which is heavily dusted with cocoa on my skin. Milano Caffé’s concentrated darkness might make it slightly challenging for some, but perfect for anyone who loves really bold, intense fragrances centered on patchouli, coffee, and vetiver.

  5. "Romance" by Jaison Cianelli at cianellistudios.com

    “Romance” by Jaison Cianelli at cianellistudios.com

    AMOUAGE EPIC WOMAN. Epic is a lush, deep oriental rose fragrance with great spiciness, a veil of black incense, dusty oud, and velvety richness. Smoky dark orris, tea, jasmine, rich patchouli, geranium, and an increasingly prominent streak of vanilla custard are some of the other elements. Epic carries its name well, in my opinion, and is beautifully done. In truth, this would be far, far higher on the list if my personal skin chemistry didn’t make the guaiac wood take on the smell of pickles. It’s not powerful, but it’s noticeable and constant enough to ruin things for me personally, especially in conjunction with some of the dustiness and the touch of soapiness at the end. None of those things appeal to me personally, but it’s hard to deny that Epic smolders with richness and complexity. (It was created by the same nose, Daniel Maurel, who did Lyric Woman, and the two share a distant kinship, though Epic is considerably darker, spicier, and drier, in my opinion.) Most people trying Epic do not experience pickles or the other issues that I’ve mentioned, so those of you who enjoy very oriental, rich, rose fragrances may want to give it a sniff. As a side note, I think Epic’s profound spiciness, incense smokiness, and dryness make it very unisex in nature.

  6. Source: lewallpaper.com

    Source: lewallpaper.com

    LOREE RODKIN GOTHIC I. A beautiful, deep vanilla fragrance touched lightly by the warmth of spicy patchouli, Gothic I (as in the roman numeral) is an incredibly cozy scent. I’m not particularly one for vanilla, but the richness of the note here vaguely resembles that in Profumum Roma’s much beloved Dulcis in Fundo, but without any excessive sweetness or heavy waffle cone tonalities, and with the addition of patchouli. Gothic I is a scent that you can find at rather affordable prices on eBay, and one I strongly recommend to those who like deep, smooth vanillas with spice and golden warmth, but without cloying sugar. It’s definitely one that I have on my list to get for myself sometime. As a side note, I tried Gothic II which I had expected to love much more, as I’m a huge “patch head” and this version is supposed to be smokier and spicier. They are more similar than unlike, in my opinion, but something about Gothic II is not quite as appealing. I haven’t figured out why yet, but Gothic I is the one that I’d recommend.

  7. "Rush" movie still, via developersaccomplice.co.uk

    “Rush” movie still, via developersaccomplice.co.uk

    SANTA MARIA NOVELLA NOSTALGIA. Nostalgia is a motorcar leather, birch tar, and vanilla fragrance that I keep thinking about, thanks to its truly race-car elements from burning, rubber tires to a surprisingly addictive touch of gasoline. You’d never imagine that a whiff of gasoline could smell so good, but it does. (No, really, it does!) Never fear, though, that fantastic race-car opening doesn’t last long (alas), and the vanilla steps in to create something that has often been compared to the much-beloved Bvlgari’s Black. I found Nostalgia to have faint, small similarities to Andy Tauer’s Lonestar Memories, but with a slightly more classical approach. As a whole, Nostalgia evoked everything from Mario Andretti and F1 races, to classic Steve McQueen and Paul Newman cool. It is very well-done, and with an excellent price, so it’s a shame that this fragrance doesn’t get the attention than it deserves, especially amongst guys who like leather, birch tar fragrances, or some of the darker scents mentioned here.

  8. Natalie Portman by Mert & Marcus for W magazine, 2006. Source: photochronograph.ru

    Natalie Portman by Mert & Marcus for W magazine, 2006. Source: photochronograph.ru

    DSH PERFUMES EUPHORISME D’OPIUM (The YSL Retrospective Collection). Euphorisme d’Opium is perhaps the best bet amongst modern, recent creations for those who miss vintage Opium. There are differences, however. The goddess’ daughter is more restrained, more lady-like, though it doesn’t give up all of the original’s sultriness. The best part of Euphorisme d’Opium is its opening which bursts forth with cloves, black pepper, pink pepper, and the bite of fiery chilis. They are followed by orange and bergamot, both of which have been infused with patchouli and incense, and the whole thing lies on a base of golden amber. The perfume soon turns more floral, beginning with delicate pink roses, trailed by hints of jasmine and ylang-ylang. The most prominent thing, however, is a dark, blood-red carnation which practical swaggers into an arena dominated by bold spices and black incense. It’s an absolutely gorgeous opening, but DSH perfumes are incredibly discreet and soft on my skin. If Euphorisme d’Opium had greater strength or sillage, it would be placed much higher on this list.

  9. Cigar humidor room. Source: fivepalms.com

    Cigar humidor room. Source: fivepalms.com

    LA VIA DEL PROFUMO TABAC. Tabac is a multi-faceted exploration of tobacco which opens with its floral and green, grassy facets before turning into a woody, resinous, slightly smoky, and very chewy tobacco fragrance with serious heft in its notes. It made me think of Cuba, or of humidor rooms with shelves of boxed Monte Cristo or Cohiba cigars. However, the beautiful drydown takes you to a Southern plantation and centers on the gingerbread aroma of tobacco leaves drying in the sun, a rare thing in a sea of sweetened, fruited pipe tobacco fragrances which may be why Luca Turin loves it so much, rating it Four Stars in his Guide. Tabac is well done and intriguing, from start to finish.

  10. Pink meringues. Source: misslemon.eu

    Pink meringues. Source: misslemon.eu

    GUERLAIN CUIR BELUGACuir Beluga is a cashmere cloud of cream and pink, with the soothing comfort of Mary Poppins telling you take a spoonful of sugar at bedtime. There is no medicine to go with that sweetness in this case, only marzipan treats, powdered heliotrope meringues, and vanilla milk. It’s an absolutely addictive spoonful of deliciousness that, alas, fades away to a lingering whisper all too quickly. Were it not for Cuir Beluga’s weak sillage and iffy longevity, it would be much higher on this list, as I think it’s lovely. Fellow fans of heliotrope really should try this one. Just don’t expect an actual leather scent, because this is most definitely not one, in my opinion. 

Source: Zedge.com

Source: Zedge.com

Honourable Mentions: Oriza L. Legrand‘s Muguet Fleuri (a softer, more floral, dewy, lily-of-the-valley cousin to Chypre Mousse, and a Spring scent that evokes fairy forests of green); Oriza L. Legrand‘s Foin Fraichement Coupé (a beautifully classic aromatic fougère with green grasses, spicy star anise, hay, citruses, a vetiver-like note and cleanness, all over a creamy base); Guerlain Jicky EDP (Modern Version)(the legendary aromatic fougère which takes lavender, gives it a skanky, civet edge, and then dusts it with tonka vanilla); Frapin 1270 (a gorgeously boozy, amber-cognac fragrance with lush, caramelized oranges, stewed fruits, a dusting of cocoa, and a touch of woodiness that eventually turns into a rich vanilla-tonka scent); DSH Perfumes Le Smoking (YSL Retrospective Collection)(a gender-bending chypre-oriental whose green galbanum opening quickly turns into a darkly balsamic fragrance centered on tobacco drizzled with honey, intertwined with leather, and then nestled in plush, rich oakmoss); and Caron Poivre Extrait (Modern Version)(a clove-pepper-spice bomb that starts off feeling almost like a classical cologne before it turns warm, rich, and soft with a touch of florals and powder).

So, that’s the round-up for the first half of the year. I look forward to seeing what the rest of the year may bring.

Part II: The Perfume Industry & EU Regulations

source: girlandboything.com

source: girlandboything.com

There is a new Reuters article on the situation involving the EU regulations, but this one focuses heavily on what the response of various perfumers or perfume houses, along with measures that they’ve taken to deal with the potential oakmoss ban. In Part I of what seems likely to be an ongoing series of mine on this issue, I focused on Frederic Malle versus LVMH, Chanel, and L’Oreal, based on various reports by Reuters’ Astrid Wendlandt. This time, she has spoken to other perfumers like Parfums d’Empire‘s Marc-Antoine Corticchiato, Maurice Roucel, and Patricia de Nicolaï in a piece entitled, What’s in a scent? Perfume makers adapt to EU rules.”

However, what I found most intriguing of all in the article was Ms. Wendlandt’s subtle hint of a potential bias in the SCCS group (Scientific Committee on Consumer Safetywhose original 2012 proposals started this mad dash towards increasingly draconian EU restrictions. So I looked into the group, and Ms. Wendlandt may have a point. I’ll discuss all that, as well as provide analysis from others regarding the iffy science underlying the SCCS’ theories. There will also be a brief tangent of my own to look at the wealth of several perfume companies who would seem to have every incentive to join in a united front against the EU measures, but are doing next to nothing.

BACKGROUND:

Oakmoss or tree moss.

Oakmoss or tree moss.

Very briefly, however, let’s start with some background if you’re unfamiliar with the convoluted details of the EU situation. As I noted in an 2014 piece I wrote on perfume regulation, a 2012 Advisory Committee had offered certain draconian suggestions to the EU regulatory body on widespread restrictions of 12 ingredients. These were mere suggestions, but, as I talked about in a 2013 post, it had already led the perfume industry to begin changes to formulas of existing perfumes. To bring you up to date on the current situation, and to put it in a nutshell:

  1. the EU is currently contemplating banning 3 things: two compounds in oakmoss and tree moss, as well as HICC (otherwise known as lyral), a synthetic that replicates the smell of lily of the valley (muguet). To be specific, in the case of oakmoss, what the EU is targeting are two core compounds, atranol and chloroatranol. (Any oakmoss that is stripped of these elements can be used, but I doubt the process is affordable enough to be widely available to everyone.)
  2. The EU is deliberating on how much 9 other key, very essential ingredients should be restricted and to what levels they should be limited. As Ms. Wendlandt wrote in an earlier Reuters article a few weeks back, these other ingredients include citral, found in lemon and tangerine oils; coumarin, found in tropical tonka beans; and eugenol, found in rose oil.”
  3. Finally, they are trying to determine what sort of perfume lists and labeling should be required.

THE PERFUMERS:

Marc-Antoine Corticchiato of Parfum d'Empire. Source: monbazarunlimited.com

Marc-Antoine Corticchiato of Parfum d’Empire. Source: monbazarunlimited.com

The new Reuters article, “What’s in a scent?”, had some interesting comments from Marc-Antoine Corticchiato, founder and “nose” at Parfum d’Empire, especially with regard to countermeasures he is considering to replace the scent of oakmoss: seaweed.

Seaweed may not be the first ingredient that springs to mind for perfume. But algae are among obscure ingredients to which perfume makers are turning to preserve the scent of their fragrances in the face of new EU anti-allergy restrictions. [...][¶]

“I am crazy about oak moss, it is one of my favorite ingredients,” says Marc-Antoine Corticchiato, perfume creator or “nose” at his niche Parfum d’Empire brand. A 100 ml bottle of scent costs 120 euros.

Corticchiato, like many other “noses,” is anxious about the new wave of potentially costly rules emanating from Brussels. [...][¶]

One solution for oak moss, Corticchiato says, is to add a touch of algae as its wet, iodized smell coupled with other ingredients, can help recreate oak moss’ moldy character.

Patricia de Nicolaï, via her own website.

Patricia de Nicolaï, via her own website.

Equally interesting to me was the fact that more perfumers are slowly going on the record to admit that they’ve reformulated fragrances already. Patricia de Nicolai, for example, points directly to the oakmoss and lyral/HICC issues as reasons for why she’s changed two fragrances. (At least, two that she’s willing to mention by name….)

She says she has never received a complaint about allergy but has reformulated some of her best sellers such as New York and Eau d’Ete because they used oak moss and lyral respectively.

She’s not the only one speaking out about forced reformulation:

“Many perfumes have had to be reformulated even though they were considered masterpieces due to changing legislation,” said Olivier Maure, head of Accords et Parfums, a supplier of major brands including Dior based in Grasse, likening it to “changing the colors of the Mona Lisa”.

In Part I, I noted the sharp change in LVMH‘s comments over the course of the last year or so on the issue of EU perfume regulations. This time, LVMH flat-out refused to make any comment whatsoever, as did its subsidiaries Dior and Guerlain. Perhaps they realized that their sudden shift in the wind had become too obvious. As for the other big brands, Hermès and L’Oreal said nothing at all, which is fully in keeping with their constant silence on the issue, no matter what the year or article.

Chanel's Jacques Polge. Source: papierblog.papierdoll.net

Chanel’s Jacques Polge. Source: papierblog.papierdoll.net

So consider me shocked when Chanel actually said something this time around. In fact, there are direct quotes from Jacques Polge, though they follow the standard line that you’d expect and nothing of any substance:

Chanel said it stopped using lyral in 2010 and has been evolving its formulas in anticipation of new rules.

“At Chanel, we follow very closely talks about regulation and scientific findings concerning raw materials,” Jacques Polge, Chanel’s chief perfume creator for 36 years, said in an emailed response to questions.

Polge said Chanel controls its formulas and supply chains to ensure its natural oak moss is bereft of the allergens targeted by Brussels. That way, “we can respect the original scent”.

Maurice Roucel. Source: Charitybuzz.com

Maurice Roucel. Source: Charitybuzz.com

One of the most famous noses around, Maurice Roucel, seems to have a response to that line of argument:

But “once you change an ingredient or two it can be very difficult to keep the scent absolutely intact, especially if those ingredients played an important role in defining the scent,” says Maurice Roucel, creator of many perfumes including L’Instant for Guerlain and Hermes’s 24 Faubourg.

A few years ago, Roucel reformulated Dior’s Fahrenheit perfume to remove lyral along with a few other ingredients and he is now working on the reformulation of about eight perfumes to make them meet new regulation.

“Big brands tell me: replace this and that and make sure it smells the same and costs the same to produce,” Roucel said.

“NO UNITED FRONT”:

Source: corporateeurope.org

Source: corporateeurope.org

I’ve written about the EU perfume regulations about 5 or 6 times by now, and the issue of cigarettes comes up each time, whether from me or from readers in the comments. So, I have to admit, I snorted rather gleefully when Ms. Wendlandt raised the matter bluntly in her article:

Some inside the perfume industry say lobby groups representing the interests of tobacco firms are better financed and better organized than those representing perfume makers.

One reason is the sheer size of the global cigarette industry. In sales terms, it is more than three times the size of the perfume industry. Cigarette lobby groups include the tobacco manufacturers’ association and the tobacco retailer’s alliance.

By comparison, perfume makers rely on Cosmetics Europe, a bulky organization that represents 4,000 companies including deodorant, toothpaste and perfume providers which have very disparate interests.

Even within the perfume industry, there is no united front as some brands are more affected than others by IFRA and new EU regulation.

One of the industry’s biggest players, L’Oreal, says it uses mainly synthetic ingredients in its perfumes. These ingredients raise fewer allergy concerns than natural products found in niche perfumes and brands such as Chanel and LVMH’s Dior and Guerlain.

Another issue is that perfumes are not protected by intellectual property rights. The composition of a perfume is not legally recognized as a “creation of the mind” but rather an industrial formula that can be replicated and altered.

Source: deceptology.com

Source: deceptology.com

I’m afraid I don’t understand how that last argument relates to the issue of the perfume industry not having adequate lobbies to support their interests. Cigarettes — whether Marlboro, Lucky Strike, Gitanes, or some menthol contraption — are products that might well be considered to have an individual “industry formula” which can be replicated. To my knowledge, they aren’t a patentable product, and there are certainly knock-offs floating around that I’ve seen myself. Yet, that doesn’t stop Phillip-Morris and its brethren from having a powerful lobbying presence. To me, the IP (intellectual property) concerns pertain more to the labeling issue and the third-prong of the upcoming EU regulations. It has nothing to do with the size or power of lobbying groups.

Source: 1ms.net

Source: 1ms.net

Even if the perfume industry is not as large or as wealthy as the tobacco one, it still doesn’t explain to me why they can’t unite in a common cause. (Well, not L’Oreal whose stuff is replete with synthetics, but I’ll spare you a repetition of my views on that company.) For everyone else, there is ample money at stake to warrant a joining of arms, even if it’s done behind the scenes to avoid potentially negative PR from some tabloid banners. Consider an article in Euronews from June 2013 which discusses the financial cost of the upcoming regulations to just the French perfume industry alone:

There are 2,500 lavender producers in France, covering 20,000 hectars. Grasse is considered by many to be the “capital of perfumes”. It is close to the lavender flower growing regions and home to Robertet, a world leader in natural fragrance production and perfume design. Their 22 branches worldwide turnover 400 million euros a year.

Robertet workers were shocked at the SCCS report with its long list of allergenic substances to declare, limit or ban. To adapt, the French perfume industry would need to pay up to 100 million euros, according to one of the directors. The cost to Robertet would be approximately five million euros. [Emphasis added by me.]

Source: 4-traders.com

Source: 4-traders.com

People keep talking about the wealth of the aromachemical companies who are IFRA supporters, like Givaudan, to which I keep countering with the amount of money on the other side of the aisle. Forbes puts LVMH‘s worth at $28.4 billion as of November 2013 is worth. In my article on Coco Chanel, I noted how Forbes estimated the wealth of the Wertheimer brothers who privately own the company lock, stock, and barrel at roughly $19 billion. Businessweek estimated Hermès’ worth in 2012 at $19.1 billion. Coming in at a much lower level is Robertet which Businessweek says had $389.5 million in 2013 revenues. It may be less than LVMH, but it’s still nothing to scoff at. Plus, Robertet’s core business is based on natural fragrance oils, and they are based in Grasse which is currently seeking UNESCO World Heritage protection against the financial depredations already wrought by the EU proposals.

Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, owners of Chanel. Source: forbes.com

Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, owners of Chanel. Source: forbes.com

When you add in the financial impact on all the various smaller perfume houses, there is a lot of money in total on the side of those who have a vested interest in preventing more draconian EU measures from passing. The amount that Chanel makes just from Chanel No. 5 alone is something that should interest its Wertheimer owners. In addition, there is the fact that many of these fashion houses rely desperately on their beauty and fragrance sales to support their costly haute couture lines that hemorrhage money but provide a necessary prestige. For example, I highly doubt Armani could never keep up his Privé couture line if a bottle of Acqua di Gio were not selling something like every 8 or 20 seconds in this world. (I read that once in an article, but I can’t find it now to quote you the exact number.)

My point is, the perfume industry may not be as large as the tobacco one, but there is certainly enough wealth amongst certain groups to justify a united front. Why isn’t there one? There may be a split in the industry with those like L’Oreal and Givaudan on one side, but reformulation is a costly enough affair to warrant companies on the other side stepping forward.

The fact that they haven’t is starting to seem suspiciously strange under the circumstances. I have to admit, I’m starting to inch towards the camp of those who have been saying all along that the big perfume houses will benefit in the long run from lower production costs if they have to use more synthetics and if natural ingredients are drastically curtailed in their allowed percentages. Perhaps the companies are simply giving in, or perhaps they see the current wave of reformulations as a temporary financial setback which they will compensate for with decreased expenses down the road.

Viktoria Minya. Source: Fragrantica.

Viktoria Minya. Source: Fragrantica.

Whatever the reason, I think the ones it hurts the most are the smaller niche perfumers, the ones we rely upon for truly creative or high-quality fragrances. Perfume houses like Parfums de Nicolai and Andy Tauer (who has written repeatedly on his blog about the serious impact of even current EU regulations on a business like his, including the cellophane rules for his packaging). Or, professional noses like Viktoria Minya who has had to tell clients that she can’t make something according to their specifications because the ingredients are illegal or heavily restricted in the EU. And, then, of course, we have poor Marc-Antoine Corticchiato resorting bloody seaweed as a solution to his perfume woes.

BIAS & NORTH-SOUTH PERFUME LINES:

The most fascinating part of the Reuters article pertains to the SCCS advisory committee (Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety) whose extremely draconian proposals in 2012 made everything so much worse. The new Reuters article states:

The European Union denies targeting perfume any more than any other industry and says its new regulation seeks to address scientists’ and doctors’ concerns about the health hazards related to the use of perfume. [...][¶]

[However,] Some industry executives say Brussels’ recent focus on the perfume industry stems from its main advisory body, the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS). Many of the committee’s members come from northern countries such as Sweden and Denmark where there is opposition to perfume on health grounds.

“Clearly, there are more experts at the SCCS who are based in northern Europe than in the south but it is not a deliberate choice,” said David Hudson, spokesman for consumer policy at the European Commission. “We strive for geographic and gender balance but the primary selection criteria is expertise.”

Perfume is not as important to the economies of northern Europe as it is to southern countries. Perfumes and cosmetics are among France’s top five exports and the southern city of Grasse is the historic capital of the perfume industry where many leading brands such as Chanel, Hermes and Dior source their essences.

Added to that, research shows people from northern regions tend to be more vulnerable to allergies than those living around the Mediterranean. One theory is that people in northern countries are more susceptible because of their lifestyle and generally cleaner environment.

I don’t know about you, but my jaw dropped at the Reuters statements and their implications. So Scandinavians who oppose perfume on general health grounds are influencing proposals that would impact the entire EU and, by its ripple effects, perfumery around the world? The bloody bastards. If it’s true, that is….

Chairman of the EU's SCCS group, Prof. Thomas Platzek.

Chairman of the EU’s SCCS group, Prof. Thomas Platzek.

I looked into the members of the group, as listed on the SCCS website, and I don’t think that one can say that a majority come from Sweden or Denmark. However, there is no doubt that ALL the current members are geographically based in Northern Europe, even if two seem to be of Indian or South Asian ancestry. Here are the SCCS members and their country, as stated by the organization itself:

  1. Dr Ulrike Bernauer: Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), Berlin, Germany.
  2. Dr Qasim Chaudhry: The Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA), Sand Hutton, United Kingdom.
  3. Dr Pieter Coenraads: University Medical Center Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands.
  4. Prof. Gisela Degen: Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors (IfADo), Dortmund, Germany.
  5. Dr Maria Dusinska: Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU), Kjeller, Norway.
  6. Dr Werner Lilienblum: Retired.
  7. Dr Andreas Luch: Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), Berlin, Germany.
  8. Dr Elsa Nielsen: Technical University of Denmark, Søborg, Denmark.
  9. Prof. Thomas Platzek: Chair of the Committee : Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), Berlin, Germany.
  10. Dr Suresh Rastogi: Vice-Chair of the Committee: Retired [Location seems to be Denmark according to a Google search.]
  11. Dr Christophe Rousselle: French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES), Maisons-Alfort, France.
  12. Dr Jan Van Benthem: National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Bilthoven, the Netherlands.
SCCS member, Dr. Bernauer from Germany.

SCCS member, Dr. Bernauer from Germany.

Out of those 12 people, 5 are Germans (if you include Dr. Werner Lilienblum whose location is not listed but which I looked up). After that: 2 are Dutch, 2 are Danish, 1 is Norwegian, 1 is French, and 1 is British (and of South Asian, Indian or Pakistani origins). Not a Spaniard, Greek, or Sicilian amongst the lot. While there are two South Asians of possibly Indian or Pakistani ancestry, one has to admit that the panel’s composition is heavily skewed in one direction.

What is more troublesome is the very real likelihood that all these doctors or scientists . used unsound, highly limited data as the basis for their ruthlessly stringent 2012 proposals to the EU. I’m wholly unqualified to speak to the underlying science, but Mark Behnke has an advanced degree in chemistry and wrote about this issue for his site, Colognoisseur:

The data used to determine the allergen potential of these molecules is scientifically and statistically unsound. [...] The studies these bans and restrictions have been based on were performed one time at one concentration on 25 patients with no controls, positive or negative! This is what makes me shake my head as this is not good scientific practice and the conclusions made are very preliminary and possibly incorrect.

An even bigger flaw is the idea that it’s really only 23 molecules, so what? If these single molecules are restricted and banned it will have a ripple effect throughout many more raw materials. A natural oil is not a single molecule it is a combination of as many as hundreds of individual molecules. Any one of which could be identified as one of the “bad 23” which would then make that natural oil unusable as well. [...]

Even I know that you need controls in a scientific study, but there seem to have been none used here. And only a one-time test on a mere 25 patients?! It’s rather astonishing.

Source: cosmeticsdesign-europe.com

Source: cosmeticsdesign-europe.com

As for the medical data, a reader of the blog, “Colin,” provided a response to that in a comment to one of my prior articles. He wrote:

Most people who may be allergic to perfumes or specific scent chemicals have a skin reaction which is not dangerous or life-threatening in any way. A brief review of medical literature reveals only two, yes that is TWO, reported cases of anaphylaxis, which is the severe, life-threatening kind of allergic reaction. One occurred in a health care worker when a patient sprayed her directly in the face with 3 sprays of perfume (I’m completely serious, look it up–Lessenger JE. Occupational acute anaphylactic reaction to assault by perfume spray in the face. J Am Board Fam Pract. 2001;14:137-40). The other occurred when a mother sprayed her 2-month infant in the face with cologne. Neither of these would be considered by anyone to be a customary use of fragrance. Incidentally, in the case of the infant, the cologne contained menthol which was the ingredient the authors suspected to have been the main factor in triggering this response. Is menthol even on the list of ingredients of concern? Should any chemical be regulated if, in the recorded history of humanity, there have been but 2 cases recorded of any anaphylactic reaction and in both cases the perfume was being misused?

SCCS Dr.  Pieter Coenraads.

SCCS Dr. Pieter Coenraads.

So, a geographic (and skin tone) imbalance amongst the SCCS, and their reliance on faulty science involving 25 people as proof, even though there have been only 2 instances in medical history of life-threatening reactions to perfumery. If you ask me, the SCCS and their northern issues lie behind all of this. If perfume were up there with automotive engineering as one of Germany’s leading industries, you can bet that they would not do anything so ridiculous as they are doing now. And obviously the fair-haired, pale Dutch or Scandinavians are going to care more about “research [that] shows people from northern regions tend to be more vulnerable to allergies than those living around the Mediterranean,” to quote the Reuters article.

I think it’s going to be important for more and more perfume houses or noses to speak out. The EU legislators in Brussels have not yet finalized their legislation, and they previously indicated that they were interested in hearing from people in the industry with the 90-day period that ended in May. The fight over oakmoss is lost, but there are still the 9 or so ingredients whose restriction levels are being considered, including such key components as lavender, certain citrus oils, compounds in rose oil, and coumarin from tonka beans. In my opinion, the only small hope in making the EU legislators put forth more moderate legislation lies in having numerous figures in the perfume industry speak out to the media, drawing attention to the situation and, more importantly, to the severe economic loss that might issue. I think a media campaign is something that  Brussels could not easily dismiss.

No-one can rely on the big houses like LVMH or Chanel to lead what’s left of the charge in the final months ahead, and I think that sad fact is starting to sink in across the industry. As Marc-Antoine Corticchiato of Parfum d’Empire stated in that Reuters article: “I expected big groups to take the initiative on this matter but it turns out that they are the most risk averse[.]”

Mr. Corticchiato, Frederic Malle, Patricia de Nicolai, Maurice Roucel, and a handful of others deserve enormous praise for their public stance. They certainly have my respect and admiration, which is more than I can say for both the SCCS and some of the companies mentioned here.