The end of the year is always a crazy time, particularly in terms of new releases. I’m starting to have visions of a Leaning Tower of Pisa composed of sample vials toppling over and squashing me to death. I simply can’t keep up. It’s almost entirely my own fault because of the detailed, verbose way I approach my reviews, but there are also more and more fragrances being launched every year. According to Michael Edwards, author of Fragrances of the World, there were 1620 releases in 2014 as compared to 38 back in 1984. I’m sure there are even more this year — and it all seems to reach a crescendo during the holidays. I’m exhausted, both mentally and physically, and my stack of notes (some going back months and months) exceeds the number of proper, full reviews I can write before it’s time to do the year-end “Best of” lists.
As a result, for much of this week, I’ll be posting rapid-fire mini reviews, starting today with Diptyque‘s new Oud Palao and Essences Insensées 2015, Al Haramain‘s Najm Gold and Atifa Blanche attars, A Lab on Fire‘s new Mon Musc à Moi by Dominique Ropion, and Etat Libre d’Orange‘s Remarkable People. They are all 2015 releases except for the Al Haramain attars. I’ll provide only the most basic information: note lists, and links to the company, a vendor, and/or Fragrantica for you to pursue later if you’re interested. The “reviews” themselves will be generalised overviews or nutshells. So, let’s get to it.
DIPTYQUE OUD PALAO:
A 2015 Eau de Parfum. Notes: Bulgarian rose, Laotian oud, Indian cypriol, Sri Lankan sandalwood, Somali frankincense, Madagascan vanilla, Spanish cistus labdanum, Indonesian patchouli.
My take: Synthetic Western oud slathered with fruitchouli jammy patchouli, sprinkled with saffron-rose spiciness, then wrapped up with fake neo-incense and placed over a thick layer of plummy leather. The “oud” is mostly just dry, woody cypriol that bears a vague subset of tobacco and a profound leatheriness. The overall bouquet feels like a cross between Tom Ford’s Tuscan Leather and a Montale Aoud. It’s a darker, heavier scent than Diptyque jasmine fragrance below. Parts of Oud Palao aren’t bad, but none of it feels original, distinctive, or particularly interesting to me. It’s more like Diptyque wanted to join the oud party, and chose to make a very typical and commercially safe smoky, fruity-floral, leather-oud combo to do so. I also think it’s more synthetic than the official description of the materials would have me believe.
At least the price is comparable to its many colleagues out there: $145 a bottle. It’s more expensive than many Montales but cheaper than a Tom Ford. I’d say Oud Palao’s quality falls midway in-between the two, if I were feeling generous, or is comparable to one of the Montales, if I were not. Overall, I’m neither moved nor impressed. It’s fine to just okay, but I’m sure some fruity-spicy-oud-leather lovers will enjoy it very much. If synthetics bother you, stay away.
DIPTYQUE ESSENCES INSENSÉES 2015:
A 2015 limited-edition eau de parfum. Notes: Jasmine, orange blossom flower, basil.
In a nutshell: A strongly indolic, blackened, and syrupy sweet jasmine sambac that is infused with a distinct fruitiness, thanks to the orange blossom, then wrapped up with citrusy freshness and clean musk. Light in body and airy (at least by my standards), but very strong in scent and projection. To me, it feels more like an intense eau de toilette than an eau de parfum. The jasmine is nice; the orange blossom is far less prevalent on my skin; and I didn’t detect any basil in a clearly delineated way. Basically, Essences Insensees was indolic jasmine infused with citrus fruitiness and freshness which turned into syrupy jasmine with clean white musk after two hours, then eventually ended up as a simple, amorphous floral with far too much cleanness, some soapiness, and only a subtle touch of jasmine-ish floral sweetness.
To me, Essences Insensees bears the Diptyque signature aesthetic in droves. It’s a signature that is strongly commercial and mainstream, in my opinion, and it’s never done much for me. This doesn’t either. What was odd or disconcerting to me was the contrast between the fragrance’s indolic aspect and its Diptyque-style clean freshness. If you’re going to go for an intense, concentrated jasmine fragrance, right down to its camphorated indoles, then commit and go all the way. What the devil is with all the freshness and cleanness?
I suppose the answer lies in the fact that Diptyque’s core customer base values its light, clean, and fresh style. Well, everyone but one Fragrantica commentator who wrote: “All I get is shampoo and something vaguely floral.” Everyone else there seems to love Essences Insensees, though, even those who experience the soapiness. However, one person found the fragrance to be too heavy and “dense,” by her standards. I blinked at that, but weight and heaviness is a very subjective, individual thing that varies from person to person. For me, this is merely a strong, louder version of the Diptyque eau de toilettes, though I repeat that the projection is large in the first hour. Longevity is pretty good at about 8 to 9.5 hours, depending on how much I apply.
My overall reaction: Basic, limited, uninteresting, but undoubtedly with great appeal to those who love Diptyque or mainstream florals.
AL HARAMAIN NAJM GOLD:
Najm Gold is an attar or concentrated perfume oil (CPO) from the Special Editions Collection. Notes: Bergamot, Coconut, Vanilla, Sandalwood, Musk.
In a nutshell: a coconut version of Candy Corn. I’m not kidding. Halloween Candy Corn! (For those of you who don’t live in America, “Candy Corn” doesn’t actually smell of corn.) Najm Gold is a pretty linear mix of syrupy coconut candy that’s been drizzled with caramel and caramel vanilla, then wrapped up with white musk. A few hours later, a surprising buttery note appears (like the scent of actual, real, hot melted butter) which merges with the caramel to form a butterscotch accord. At the same time, the musk starts to take on a laundry aspect to its cleanness.
I have to confess, once in a blue moon in the early stages, I found myself almost liking parts of it (plus, I’m a sucker for butterscotch) but I was always repelled at the same time by the sheer bombastic loudness, intensity, and painfully cloying nature of the scent. I feel as though I must have gained three cavities merely by smelling it, but I think hardcore gourmand lovers would probably swoon over the fragrance in the early hours.
I’m less certain about the later stages of Najm Gold. At the start of the 5th hour, the coconut is replaced by a deluge of very sharp white musk that smells exactly like the Bounce fabric softener sheets you toss into the dryer. In a nutshell, Najm Gold smells like soapy laundry cleanness drenched in white sugar then layered with vanillic caramel candy. By the 7th hour, the balance was beginning to skew towards soapy detergent and sugar, and that’s when I gave up. Al Haramain’s attars have nuclear longevity on my skin to match their sometimes super-sized sillage, and I simply couldn’t bear the thought of wearing Najm Gold for another 12-14 hours. If you are truly passionate about gourmands taken to a level of sweetness that would put diabetics in a coma, then give Najm Gold a try. However, if you have issues with either excessive sugariness, sharp and wholly synthetic laundry musk, or both, then stay away.
Info & Links: €110 for 18 ml CPO at Al Haramain Exclusive, the company’s European branch, which also sells sample sets if you want to test it first. There is a discounted U.S. price of $48.59 at Beautyspin. No Fragrantica page.
AL HARAMAIN ATIFA BLANCHE:
Atifa Blanche is an attar or concentrated perfume oil from The Premium Collection. Notes: Bergamot, Mandarin, Rose, Jasmine, Ylang Ylang, Geranium, Pink Pepper, Incense, Nutmeg, Tuberose, Cumin, Musk, Sandalwood, Vanilla, Woody.
In a nutshell: feels like a mainstream designer floral on steroids. Atifa Blanche opens with a positively piercing, acidic lemon poured over soapy musk, a fruity rose, peppery geranium leaf, and a highly synthetic woody note that smells more like an oud-ish cypriol than even a synthetic sandalwood. For a few brief, fleeting moments, the bouquet is laced with a ripe, sweaty, intimately feminine aroma, no doubt from the cumin, but it’s replaced 10 minutes later by incense that feels as raspy as a Brillo pad.
Atifa Blanche quickly changes. After 20 minutes, the bergamot becomes pure acidic lemon combined with laundry musk on steroids, while the sandalwood and incense blare as shrilly as a fire alarm. Then, suddenly 45 minutes in, everything calms down. What’s left isn’t particularly interesting. It’s a sad thing when synthetic shrillness is a fragrance’s most distinctive character trait, but that is precisely the case here. By the end of the first hour and start of the second, Atifa Blanche is basically an excessively soapy, clean, rose woody musk that’s doused in acidic bergamot lemon, as threads of scratchy, raspy incense are woven around the base. It’s like some skewy version of a celebrity trying to copy a Chanel aldehydic floral, except this is from a parallel universe where even Paris Hilton levels of quality are sacrificed for foghorn loudness. Plus, the synthetics feel like nails going down a chalkboard, especially the incense.
I lasted 2 hours, then scrubbed it off. Unfortunately, that required three attempts at removal (including pouring pure acetone over my skin in a state of frustration at one time), but Atifa Blanche was implacable. A fourth attempt via a scalding shower and the use of concentrated laundry detergent over my arms finally did the trick. This fragrance feels deadly in its persistence. Traces of Atifa Blanche got on my cardigan and shirt, and had to be eradicated by the wash, but I’m convinced I can still smell wisps of it. I may simply be traumatized at this point.
A LAB ON FIRE (ALOF) MON MUSC À MOI:
A 2015 eau de parfum created by Dominique Ropion who also made What We Do in Paris Is Secret for ALOF. Mon Musc’s Notes: Bergamot, peach blossom, rose, heliotrope, musk, toffee, amber, white woods, vanilla, tonka bean.
My take: Gah! Dominique Ropion is one of the great noses, the man who made such legendary fragrances as Portrait of a Lady, Ysatis, Carnal Flower, and others, but Mon Musc à Moi essentially smells like a celebrity fragrance that splices together a flanker to a Lancome fruity floral with Pink Sugar or something from Victoria’s Secret. It’s a gooey, fruitchouli fruity-floral where indeterminate, vaguely rose-ish florals are coated with sugary vanilla that almost verges on crème brulée vanilla, then cocooned in an excess of sharp, overly clean white musk.
I found it shocking, simply shocking, but then I took a closer look at Dominique Ropion’s Fragrantica page. What I saw there was not only Lancome‘s La Vie Est Belle but also 8 or 9 of its flankers, about 6 flankers of Lancome’s Tresor, Mugler‘s Alien, its flankers, Flowerbomb, its flankers, and… well, this man is basically the king of the mainstream market and its flankers. A good chunk of the fragrances sold in Sephora or TJ Maxx were made by him. Mon Musc à Moi might as well be the 10th flanker to La Vie Est Belle, or another retread of one of his other mainstream, ostensibly “floral” concoctions where shapeless, nebulous floralcy is driven more by syrupy fruited sweetness, then drenched in caramel vanilla, pure, granulated, white sugar, and loads of white musk. The flowers are as generic and faceless as the rest of the scent. Nothing about Mon Musc à Moi feels remotely “niche” to me. I gave up with it when the fragrance started to take on floral hairspray qualities mixed with sugary sweet, laundry fresh cleanness. Godawful, especially for the price.
If you like this sort of thing, save yourself some money and just buy one of his many Sephora “florals” or quasi-gourmand, sugary florals.
ETAT LIBRE D’ORANGE REMARKABLE PEOPLE:
2015 Eau de parfum. Notes: Grapefruit, Champagne Accord, Cardamom, Jasmine, Curry, Black Pepper, Labdanum, Sandalwood, Lorenox. (Lorenox is an aromachemical produced by Mane which has a woody, leathery, ambery profile.)
My view: Remarkable People is a fragrance that rapidly cycles through several mini-stages before settling on a wholly UNremarkable bouquet. It opens with fizziness imbued with a slightly sour, brisk citrus freshness. Neither the “champagne” nor the grapefruit are well-defined, incontrovertibly clear in character to me. It’s more like a generalised, fizzy sparkle that could just as well be Perrier rather than “champagne.” And it’s blended with a bright, slightly mineralized citrus that could just as easily be Yuzu as grapefruit. Moments later, the focus changes, thanks to a caramel ambered sweetness, black pepper, a pinch of cardamon, and an indistinct woodiness. Then, a haze of diffuse, soft jasmine descends on the mix, infused with a plush, fluffy musk that is not quite clean but rather like the sort used in Narciso Rodriguez fragrances.
Within a mere 10 minutes, the bouquet begins to blur, and Remarkable People turns into a citrusy, jasmine woody musk with fiery black pepper, sweetness, and a warm, soft, but clean musk. The pepper is raspy and scratchy, the same unpleasant note used in so many fragrances this year. The end result feels like a cross between something put out by Narcisco Rodriguez and the new breed of Amouage women’s fragrances with their very mainstream aesthetic. After an hour, the notes blur (except for the blasted pepper), and the scent collapses in on itself, feeling like flat on the skin. The jasmine loses shape and clarity; the sweetness and spice weaken substantially; and the musk turns clean with a soapy undertone. The scent is nothing more than a generic floral woody musk with a muffled, inconsequential sliver of citrus, a vague sweetness, and a solid heaping of black pepper.
In the base, the Lorenox synthetic awakens, and it will rapidly become a key part of the fragrance. It initially smells like an utterly nondescript woodiness that is musky and nebulously animalic with an oddly metallic, grating quality, but there is something else lurking underneath. It resembles a mix of a heavily synthetic, scratchy civet with warm, slightly dirty ambrette, but it’s neither of those things precisely and exactly. As noted up above, Lorenox is an ambery, woody aromachemical but, here, it manifests itself as woodiness with dirty, warm, metallic, vaguely animalic, scratchy muskiness.
After two hours, Remarkable People is merely a peppery, nondescript floral with various forms of musk (clean and dirty) over a generic and very synthetic woody base. After the 3rd hour, the scent began to occasionally remind me of floral woody hairspray with raspy pepper and raspy, metallic muskiness. At the 4th hour, it’s primarily just synthetic, Lorenox woody muskiness with clean musk and a lingering vestige of floralcy. After that, I don’t even know what it was; a blur of something musky and synthetically warm that was too flat and indistinct to really determine.
In short, none of it is particularly remarkable. It feels like a designer floral woody musk with slightly “niche” quality. A lot of women will probably enjoy it in the first hour or so, because it’s an inoffensive, pleasantly bland, citrusy floral musk, though I’m dubious about the black pepper part. I think some men might find it too feminine initially, but the Lorenox does give it some unisex character. Someone on Fragrantica called the drydown “dreary,” while another said the fragrance felt very familiar as a whole. I agree with them both. It’s a cross in style, notes, and aesthetic between a Narciso Rodriguez For Her type of fragrance with something like Amouage’s Opus IX, except it’s less interesting, less complex, and more generic.
Bottom line: Meh.
Disclosure: Samples of the Al Haramain fragrances were provided by the European branch of the company, Al Haramain Exclusive. My sample of Mon Musc à Moi was provided courtesy of Luckyscent. None of that impacted these reviews. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.