Names have a funny way of shaping one’s expectations, so when Masque Milano told me that the name of its forthcoming scent would be “Hemingway” and a tribute to the author, I had a certain olfactory profile in mind. I associate the author with the scent of rum, whisky, bourbon, and cigars, but Hemingway the fragrance was something quite different. To my surprise, however, alcohol did end up being unexpectedly involved, even if it was not actually intended to be a part of the scent and even if it wasn’t the sort that I had expected.
Hemingway is an eau de parfum that was created by Fanny Bal and was released a few weeks ago. The PR release which I was sent provides much more information than what’s listed on the Masque website and I think its discussion of the raw materials used in the scent is useful in explaining the character of the fragrance. It reads, in part, as follows:
(Homage to) Hemingway
His eyes were the same color as the sea and they were cheerful and undefeated. (E. Hemingway)
interpreted by FANNY BAL
Sheer, bright vetiver. Caribbean Vibe.
Ginger oil fresh LMR, Rhubarb
Vetiver heart LMR
Vetiver oil Haiti LMR, Vetiver oil Java Molecular Distillation LMR, Cedar wood oil, Patchouli oil Molecular Distillation LMR, Leather
While working at IFF for the development of one of our previous fragrances, we heard speaking about Fanny Bal, young and promising trainee of Dominique Ropion (the master of Vetiver). Having heard about her talent and especially her inclination to work on a material such as vetiver, beautiful and difficult at the same time, we immediately knew we had found the next perfumer to work with.
Working with Fanny we had the pleasure to experiment with one of our favourite ingredients – vetiver – in all the variants available in the wonderful LMR (Laboratoire Monique Remy) fragrance library. We worked on the balance of three different versions:
Vetiver from Haiti, woody, dry and spicy, with a slight bitterness in the opening, which perfectly marries the rhubarb note.
Vetiver from Java is dirtier, with smoky tones and leathery facets.
Vetiver Heart* is a fantastic material, worked so to give a clean and dry vetiver note without the earthy part. [snip]
* Hydro distillation followed by fractional distillation to isolate heart
The succinct list of notes boils down to:
Ginger, rhubarb, multiple vetiver varietals, cedar, patchouli, and leather.
Hemingway opens on my skin with vetiver that is brimming with a slew of micro-facets: clean, plush, dry, mossy, verdant, fresh, spicy, woody, earthy, aromatic, and bitter. The latter hints at a sort of fruited bitterness, like the raw skin of rhubarb, but it’s married here with the natural bitterness of ginger which is simultaneously raw, candied, spicy, and a bit biting. The green heap is surrounded on one side by soft cedar shavings and, on the other, by patchouli which wafts a variety of micro-facets of its own: earthy, spicy, woody, and faintly chocolate-y.
When I smell my arm up close and inhale hard, something else lurks under the main notes: a rubbing alcohol aroma. It’s merely a whisper in the opening minutes, but it grows more obvious 10 minutes in as the fragrance develops and then quite inescapable by the end of the first hour. I should also note that it was quite prominent and strong when I tested Hemingway with only a small fragrance dosage (a few piddly squirts from the sample atomizer amounting in total to roughly 1 spray from an actual bottle).
No matter how little or how much I apply, Hemingway is consistently a soliflore study of vetiver where the accompanying notes merely serve to add fine detailing, nuances, or brush strokes to the star of the show. On its own and depending on varietal, vetiver can smell woody, mossily verdant, earthy, smoky, bitter, spicy and/or a bit like fresh, aromatic lemongrass. Most of those aromas are apparent right from the first spritz, but the “smoky” part of the equation kicks in about 15 minutes in, smelling like smoky cedar dabbed with a drop of leather or like guaiac/guaiacol. What makes me think of the latter is the repeated bursts of a bonfire note, the sort of particular guaiac aroma of dry leaves being burnt in an autumnal bonfire. On my skin, that singed, burnt, dead leaves aroma is just as strong as the cedar, if not significantly more so.
Other elements ripple on the sidelines. Lurking behind the cedar note is an unexpected black pepper aroma. I suspect it may be related to the ISO E-like rubbing alcohol smell, perhaps as a sub-component of the particular type of cedar used here, but that’s merely a guess. What is significantly stronger (and probably also related) is something quite unexpected: a juniper berry aroma that smells strongly of gin and, every once in a blue moon, vaguely like cade leather. Truth be told, it’s about 80% gin and 10% fizzy ginger/gin tonic, so it’s not really much leather or cade. But its fresh, highly aromatic, brisk, and crisp aspects are appealing, and I found myself quite fascinated by it and its potential source. Is it some alchemical twist related to the ginger when combined with the rubbing alcohol and black pepper which run like rivulets through the scent? Is it a by-product of the ginger with one of the vetiver materials? Whatever the exact source, by the 20-minute mark, the aromatic, fresh, brisk but also highly alcoholic “gin” aroma has quite obliterated the patchouli and even overshadowed some of the cedar as well.
The overall effect is a soliflore vetiver bouquet infused with copious amounts of spicy ginger then slashed with dark swathes of wood smoke and autumnal dried leaves bonfire before being doused in a vat of fresh, aromatic gin cocktails. Intentionally or accidentally, the gin gives me the first conceptual link with Hemingway, the author, who was well-known for his love of strong liquor. But it also makes me think of Histoires des Parfums 1899 (Hemingway) which was their tribute to the man and which also had gin, black pepper, and vetiver components. (Personally, I associate Hemingway with rum, whisky, bourbon, and cigars but, judging by a photo I found, he had a fondness for gin as well.)(Let’s face it, the man liked his alcohol, no matter what the sort.)
The less important facets in Hemingway change microscopically and gradually over time but, for the next ten hours, the fragrance remains, by and large, mostly a gin-and-ginger vetiver cocktail on my skin with a fluctuating subset of smoke, burnt leaves, and singed wood shards subsumed within. The prominence or degree of the smoke, woods, earthiness, dried leaves, black pepper, and rubbing alcohol vary over the hours, waxing and waning like the tides, but the fundamental (and admittedly simple) essence of the bouquet remains constant. Everything else is merely a question of nuances or details. Sometimes, the guaiac-like burnt leaves aroma is very apparent; sometimes the ginger engulfs everything. The rhubarb is typically subsumed within the ginger, almost like a fresher and minimally fruited subset of its bitter bite. Similarly, the black pepper and ISO E-like rubbing alcohol tonality seem to be fused with the “gin.”
The woody aroma weaves in, out, and all around but it’s never as central or strong on my skin as the aromatic spiciness and, of course, the vetiver. It is also a rather amorphous and generalized sort of aroma which makes it difficult to determine both its type and its source, like whether it is actual cedar, if it’s related to the guaiac-like dried leaves bonfire, if it stems from the vetiver or patchouli’s innate woody side, or if it’s simple singed wood smoke. The note is all of those things — simultaneously — but it’s sublimated within the spicy, aromatic gin/ginger vetiver in such a way that it’s difficult to pull out.
When taken as a whole, Hemingway is, admittedly, an extremely linear scent and it doesn’t change until its very final hours on my skin. At that point, it simply becomes a blur of green-brown, woody-verdant spiciness.
Hemingway had soft projection, moderate sillage, and, depending on how much I applied, good to excellent longevity on my skin. Although the manufacturer’s atomizer I was sent sprayed in little squirts, I tested the fragrance using the equivalent of one and then two sprays from an actual bottle. With a 2-spray equivalent, Hemingway opened with about 2 inches of projection and about 3-4 inches of sillage which eventually grew to about 6 inches after 35 minutes before dropping at the end of the 3rd hour back to roughly 3-4 inches. Although the scent bouquet was airy, it was strong in aroma up close. Hemingway turned into a skin scent about 7.5 hours into its development, but it not difficult to detect if I brought my nose to my arm. That changed around the 11th hour when Hemingway turned into the thinnest gauzy lacquer on the skin. However, I was surprised by the extent to which the scent clung on tenaciously and it took quite a while for Hemingway to die. In total, the fragrance lasted about 17 hours. With a one-spray equivalent, the numbers were obviously lower, particularly for the sillage but, even so, Hemingway lasted roughly 13-14 hours on my skin.
Having discussed the specifics, it might be helpful to look at Hemingway from a broader and comparative perspective. I don’t profess to be a vetiver expert (it is not a beloved note), but I see differences between Hemingway and many of the dry, woody, earthy, and smoky fragrances already on the market. It comes down to the nuances. Other than Histoires de Parfums’ 1899/Hemingway, I can’t recall any scents with both vetiver, black pepper, and a juniper/gin note, let alone gin, bitter rhubarb, spicy ginger, and woods as well. Even 1899 isn’t comparable because it has floral elements, amber, cinnamon in lieu of ginger, and a ton of vanilla. Other fragrances differ as well: the vetiver in Chanel‘s Sycomore (EDT) was darker, woodier, and accompanied by buttery, creamy sandalwood in its base; Sammarco‘s Vitrum was also darker and accompanied by citrus, rose, and incense; and Encre Noire and Unum‘s riff on it, Symphonie Passion, both had a gallon of ISO E Super as a major supporting player.
Moreover, I don’t recall the vetiver in many of those fragrances having the same degree of freshness, brightness, or aromatic briskness. Roja Dove‘s Vetiver Extrait had a nice balance of fresh, clean, dry, smoky, woody, and verdant plushness, but it never had the fizzy gin, ginger spiciness, black pepper, rhubarb bitterness, or guaiac-like tonalities I experience here. And Hemingway’s ginger note is, I must say, really fantastic!
What I found interesting about Hemingway was how my feelings towards it grew warmer with additional testing. I’m not someone who is particularly enamoured with vetiver the way I am for, say, patchouli, so the thought of a vetiver soliflore was never going to make me drool with excitement. And, in truth, I was underwhelmed the first time I tested Hemingway, in addition to being put off by the rubbing alcohol aroma. But I had applied only a small quantity of scent in that test, the equivalent of one spray, and that amount did not bring out either the full extent of the ginger or some of the other finer brush strokes. As I’ve explained in the past, how much you apply can impact the nuances which appear and that was the case for Hemingway as well. Subsequent tests with 2-spray equivalents (or even a bit more in my third test) produced a more appealing scent. It was still a vetiver soliflore but it didn’t feel quite so monosyllabic or mundane.
Plus, for reasons I can’t quite fathom since I’m not a fan of gin, the peppered gin-and-spicy-ginger vetiver cocktail took on a rather addictive quality over time. It’s not merely the gorgeous spiciness but how well it works when paired with the aromatics and crispness. Whenever the scent wafted passed me, it felt like a refreshing tonic in the face of 100-plus degree heat and humidity. Admittedly, when I sniffed my arm up close, the rubbing alcohol tonality continued to make my nose wrinkle but, from afar, Hemingway was a really enjoyable balance of punchy spiciness, brisk freshness, and autumnal smoke.
Furthermore, I liked the smoothness and fluidity of the composition. A number of elements overlapped or were fused together but, when taken as a whole, they flowed in a way which was not only harmonious but which also felt elegant and polished.
It felt unisex, too, I should add. So long as you adore vetiver, Hemingway should work for you no matter what your gender. There is nothing butch, arid, aggressively smoky, or immensely woody about the scent. Plus, I experienced no real leather, nor any other potentially masculine element for that matter. This is a brighter, crisper, more aromatic, and spicy take on vetiver than what you may be accustomed to.
It should go without saying, however, that, if you don’t worship at the altar of Vetiver, you may not be bowled over by Hemingway. I grew to enjoy it, especially in the current heat wave, but I won’t pretend that vetiver soliflores are my personal catnip. Even so, I enjoyed Hemingway a lot more than Masque’s last two releases. For me, it’s a much better scent in terms of its balance, harmoniousness, smoothness, wearability, appeal, polish, elegance, and quality of materials.
In short: I strongly recommend giving Hemingway a test sniff if you love vetiver.
Disclosure: My sample was provided by Masque Milano. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.
Details/links: Hemingway is an eau de parfum that comes in a 35 ml bottle and costs $165 or €125. Masque Milano does not have an e-store and not all its retailers have the fragrance in stock at the time of this post, but a few do. In the US: Twisted Lily just received Hemingway. Luckyscent does not have the fragrance yet but they will soon, so I’ve linked to their Masque page for you to check in a few days. Outside the US: Italy’s Sacro Cuore has Hemingway, but most of Masque’s other European retailers do not show it on their websites at the time of this post. I’ve provided you with links to their Masque brand page for you to check later: First in Fragrance; ParfuMaria; Neos1911; and Jovoy. Samples: some of the retailers listed here sell samples. The American decanting services do not have Masque at the current time. Other reviews: Fragrantica.