2015 in Review: Best New Releases & Personal Favourites

Source: World in a Bottle Facebook page. Photographer unknown.

Source: World in a Bottle Facebook page. Photographer unknown.

As another year draws to a close, it’s time to look back at the best of 2015. For me, this was an iffy year for brand new releases because there weren’t a huge number of fragrances that stood out from start to finish. The exceptions to the rule were impressive or lovely but, when I went back over all the fragrances that I covered, I found the vast majority fell woefully short.

One reason stems from the hot new trends of the year. Leather was a major compositional note in 2015 or, to be more precise, the tarry, woody, forest-fire smokiness that purports to recreate the sense of “leather.” Another hot trend seemed to be a deluge of black pepper. Neither one is appealing to me, particularly since their chemical nature was usually so intrusive as to be front-and-center. Yet, that sort of excessive darkness was, in and of itself, the most common stylistic approach, one that was frequently juxtaposed next to shapeless white florals, amorphous spiciness, or some sort of limp “freshness.” The end result was that a lot of new releases smelt far too similar for me to find them distinctive, interesting, or compelling. In addition, many of them lacked the quality to warrant the higher prices that we’ve been seeing across the board.

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M. Micallef Akowa: Alien, Unique & Strange

It’s not often that a fragrance leaves me utterly befuddled and almost at a loss for words. The new Akowa from M. Micallef is one of those rare scents. Thanks to a secret mystery ingredient from Africa, its opening bears an alien strangeness that is riveting and peculiar, particularly when juxtaposed next to contradictory elements. I honestly don’t know what to make of it sometimes, let alone know if I can describe it. It dominates Akowa from start to finish, emits a wide range of unusual facets, and has an otherworldly strangeness that can be quite fascinating. Yet, other parts of Akowa verge on the repellant and nauseating, often being loud to the point of almost being garish. Wearing Akowa was one of the most perplexing scent experiences I can recall, leading me to feel as though I were practically stuttering in confusion and beset by a push-pull set of opposing, contradictory forces. It’s wildly original, probably unique, but… but… Well, I’m bewildered.

Source: Fragrantica

Source: Fragrantica

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Perfume Review: Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand for M. Micallef

Denis Durand Couture Fashion Show 2 LRHaute couture and haute perfumery seem like a natural fit, especially for the French. So, it’s perhaps not surprising that both things came together with Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand for M. Micallef. It is a new oriental eau de parfum that is the result of collaboration between the French, niche, perfume line, M. Micallef, and the French couturier, Denis Durand. (Given the length of the fragrance’s name, I hope you’ll excuse me if I’ll just refer to it as “Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand” or “Le Parfum Couture” from now on.)

M.Micallef Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand perfume bottle

In the press release, M. Micallef describes the perfume as follows:.

A glamorous, mystical and sophisticated perfume has been born from the close friendship and artistic cooperation between Martine Micallef and Denis Durand: le parfum Denis Durand Couture.

The fragrance composition explodes with citrus head notes and spicy accents of cinnamon. An intense and complex fragrance, the heart and the base cleverly balances the rose, orange blossom and honey softness with the strength of animalic and woody notes.

Dressed with hand sewn delicate Chantilly black lace, the flacon is adorned with a little satin bow and a golden medal engraved with the initials of the two artists.

Denis Durand Le Parfum Couture

The perfume notes according to the statement are as follows:

Top Note: Ceylon Cinnamon, Italian tangerine

Heartnote: Bulgarian Rose, Honey, Orange Blossoms, Animalis

Basenote: Sandalwood, Patchouly, Amber and White Musk.

The “animalis” note is the key to understanding Le Parfum Couture. Upon first sniffing the perfume, even in its vial, I thought there was oud in it. I scanned the notes three times in slight bewilderment, as “oud” wafted out across my desk. But, no, “oud” is not listed anywhere in sight. In utter confusion, I turned to the internet, and was enormously relieved to discover that CaFleureBon‘s Managing Editor, Mark Behnke, had thought the exact same thing. He writes of his experience, and about what that note actually turned out to be:

When I was first wearing Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand I repeatedly mistakenly identified the animalis as oud. Mme Micallef has been so successful in making oud behave in whatever way she needs to achieve a desired effect I thought this was another example. When I did get the note list I had to get a clarification on what animalis is and was told it is a blend of labdanum and castoreum.

Labdanum and castoreum. I would have never guessed it in a million years! I’m very familiar with both notes individually, but the primary essence in Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand doesn’t smell like either one. It most definitely doesn’t smell like labdanum, which is one of my favorite ingredients.

Making matters much more complicated is the argument that CaFleureBon is completely incorrect and that Animalis has absolutely nothing to do with labdanum or castoreum but is, in fact, a trademarked ingredient from the fragrance company Synarome. According to the commentator, “Joe,” on Now Smell This, Animalis is a wholly separate ingredient and a famous perfume “base” that is the key to such scents as Etat Libre d’Orange‘s Vierges et Toreros. The Perfume Shrine article which he cites does indeed give a very different scent description for Animalis, saying that it is the very basis for the descriptive term “animalic” in perfumery and cataloguing its long, “dirty” history in perfumery from vintage Robert Piguet Visa, to being the mystery ingredient responsible for Kouros‘ savage, almost urinous, animalic splendour. Whatever the truth of all this, all I know is that M. Micallef has apparently gone on record as to what that the “Animalis” note is supposed to be.

Honestly, none of this matters one whit to me. Whatever the semantics or technicalities, all I know is that, on my skin, “Animalis” smells like oud — absolutely and exactly, right down to the medicinal facet that agarwood can sometimes reflect. I thought so, CaFleureBon thought so, Now Smell This and others have thought so. Period. Le Parfum Couture is so centered on this one aroma that, for the purposes of this review, I’m simply going to have to refer to it as “oud,” in quotes, because anything else would feel a bit misleading and would create the impression that the perfume smells animalic, “dirty,” urinously leathery, or feral in muskiness. It simply does not.

Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand opens on my skin with a split second blast of pure medicinal “oud” which almost instantly softens under a wave of honey. The “oud” is never just peppered woods, but it doesn’t smell like rubbery, pink bandages or camphor, either. Really, the only way to describe it is medicinal. There are also slightly animalic undertones to the scent, but they are faint. The perfume quickly turns richer, softer, sweeter and heavier, as the medicinal undertones soften a little. The honey note is beautiful; it feels very dark and rich, almost exactly like what you’d smell in a jar. Wisps of rose, cinnamon and tangerine swirl in the background, but they are extremely faint. The primary note is honeyed “agarwood”: rich and potently strong, it is also surprisingly airy in feel.

HoneyAn hour in, Le Parfum Couture is honey, cinnamon, light ambered musk, and rose — all heavily mixed with “oud.” I never smelled orange blossoms in any distinct way, though there is the faintest suggestion of both the flowers and the fruit lurking behind that wonderful honey note. The latter is my favorite, and it is so photo-realistic that I confess to being driven to make hot, buttered toast slathered with honey. In doing so, I noticed a funny oddity: out of the three different kinds of honey in my pantry, the note in Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand was almost exactly like that in my Mitica Orange Blossom Honey. Make of that what you will.

Despite the strong role of that photo-realistic honey, the perfume smells much more like an oud-centric fragrance than anything else. Throughout its entire development, “oud” sings loudest on stage. Other accords come and go, but they are merely supporting players. One of those is the rose note which starts to become significant around the ninety minute mark. As the honey recedes, the rose steps up to take its place. There is the very lightest hint of cinnamon — which feels a lot more like cardamom, actually — along with an even fainter suggestion of animalic musk. The latter is never skanky, dirty, raunchy, or, indeed, very profound. As a whole, the influences of these notes so minor that Le Parfum Denis Durand smells quite similar to By Kilian‘s Rose Oud — only significantly richer, stronger, and mixed with a large amount of honey.

Three and a half hours in, the perfume starts to shift a little. A beautiful, spicy, creamy sandalwood taps the rose on the shoulder, and steps in to dance with the “oud.” Yes, Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand is a little like the game of musical chairs where only the “oud” remains truly constant and powerful, sitting on a throne in the line-up. The sandalwood is lovely and it softens the “agarwood” note, turning it ambered, golden, and much less medicinal. Instead, it starts to feel a little closer to highly peppered woods. The rich honey and the whisper of cardamom-cinnamon add to the shimmery, amber glow. The rose note is still there, but it flickers in the background, adding its subtle touch to the overall effect.

The perfume doesn’t change much in its final dry-down stage. Around 6.5 hours in, it is mostly “oud” with hints of rose and sandalwood. Later, in its final moments, Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand is just amorphous, dry, woodsy notes and “oud” atop the faintest base of light musk and honey. The cinnamon note, which smells even more like cardamom to me, whispers faintly in the background. And that’s about it. All in all, Le Parfum Couture lasted just over 9.25 hours on my perfume-consuming skin. For much of its development, it was quite a strong scent, though always surprisingly airy and light in feel. It projected a few feet in the first hour, then dropped quite a bit, but Le Parfum Couture only became a skin scent around the 5th hour.

There aren’t a ton of in-depth reviews for Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand out there yet, since it was only just released a few weeks ago. One of the few is an admiring assessment from Angela at Now Smell This who seems to have a considerably different experience. Though Angela also detected the “oud,” she had loads of tangerine at the start and then, later, orange blossom. Here are some snippets from her review:

While Parfum Couture could never be called shy, neither is it the crass, room-hogging perfume I feared. Instead, it’s a warm, easy-to-wear oriental balancing tangerine, honey, and amber with a streak of metallic tang. I bet it will find a lot of fans. I’m one. […]

Parfum Couture’s tangerine and honey leap right out of the fragrance at first, reminding me of Byblos by Byblos (remember that one?) layered over the new Schiaparelli Shocking. I like the combination of sweet and animal that honey gives a fragrance — something about it reminds me of drinking sweetened ice tea. As for the citrus, in the mid-1990s I was obsessed with tangerine-laden fragrances, and I even wore Guépard for a while, despite the cheesy gold and green plastic cage over its bottle. (Sorry, all you old office mates.) Parfum Couture reminds me of those fragrances, but softer and more elegantly blended.

Oud isn’t listed in Parfum Couture’s notes, but I swear I detect it cutting the mouthwatering heft of the tangerine and honey. Or is it the “animalis” listed in the perfume’s notes?1 Orange blossom adds buzz, and Parfum Couture’s amber is the shimmery rather than cloying sort. I mostly smell the perfume’s patchouli after I’ve worn it several hours and on my clothing the next day, where it clings in a quiet, sexy way.

CaFleureBon was similarly entranced. In fact, I believe the Managing Editor, Mark Behnke, found Le Parfum Couture to be one of the very best Micallef fragrances ever released. In fact, he thought it was so “smoldering” that it would be his pick for a Valentine’s Day scent. His review describes a little of how Le Parfum Couture manifested itself on his skin:

If the rose and animalis was all that was going on in the heart it would be great but a sweet grace note, courtesy of orange blossom and honey, adds a glowing core to the intensity and it feels like the reflection of light off of satin or the shine off a bared shoulder under the spotlights. With such an intense heart it would have been easy to ease up a bit but Mme Micallef keeps the intensity level high as patchouli and amber produce a foundation for sandalwood and white musk to interact with. This base lightens up on the animalic by using the white musk but patchouli, amber, and sandalwood keep the development at a consistent volume right until the end.

Clearly, I had a very different experience from both of them. For me, Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand was primarily an “oud” fragrance, and it was never as complex or “smoldering” on my skin as it seems to have been on others. If it had been, I think I would have been considerably more wow‘d. I would have loved to experience what Angela at Now Smell This encountered since it seems much more nuanced and sexy. Plus, I adore orange blossoms and orange notes. You can’t imagine my enormous disappointment at how little (if at all) each note appeared on my skin. Lastly, as I’ve noted a few times on the blog recently, I have increasingly severe “oud” fatigue as a whole. It is probably the main reason for why, for my own personal use or tastes, I thought Le Parfum Couture was simply pleasant, as opposed to love at first sniff.

That said, most normal people do not test an “oud” fragrance (or two) each and every week, and many have a considerably greater appreciation for the note than I do now. Those who love it would probably greatly enjoy Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand. It has a richness thanks to that beautiful honey note and a quiet spiciness which separates it out from many of the “oud” fragrances with their simple rose accord. Plus, Le Parfum Couture has that lovely stage where the “oud” duets with the sandalwood in quite an entrancing manner. So, if the notes intrigue you, I would definitely encourage you to give it a sniff. Those who aren’t enraptured by Animalis and its oud-like manifestation here may prefer instead to watch the runway defilé for the release of Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand as shown in the YouTube video below.

DISCLOSURE: Sample provided courtesy of M. Micallef Parfums. I do not do paid reviews, and I always tell a company upfront that there is no guarantee of a good review, or any review at all. I make it very clear that my first obligation is to my readers and to be completely truthful as to my thoughts.

Cost & Availability: Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand is an eau de parfum that comes in a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle and costs $190. In the U.S., it is available at Luckyscent, along with a sample for $4. Normally, M. Micallef perfumes are also carried at Parfum1, but Denis Durand Couture is not yet listed there. You may want to check back in a few weeks. In Europe, M. Micallef Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand is carried at First in Fragrance where it retails for €145. The full range of M. Micallef fragrances, including the brand new Denis Durand Couture, is available at Paris’ Jovoy Fragrances. In the U.K., Micallef fragrances are usually carried at Fortnum & Mason, but I don’t see Denis Durand Couture listed on their website at the moment as it is so new. In Australia, you can find M. Micallef at Cara & Co in Sydney, but they don’t have an online store yet. In the Middle East, some of the many places where M. Micallef fragrances are available are: all UAE malls and Dubai Duty-Free locations at the airports; Al Hawaj in Bahrain; Mazaya in Cairo Egypt; everywhere in Kuwait; ABC and Beauty Concept in Lebanon; and Pari Gallery and Bleu Salon in Qatar. For all other locations, you can try the Points of Sale locator on the M. Micallef website. If you want to try a sample of the fragrance, you can do so at Lucky Scent at the link listed above which sells a 0.7ml vial for $4.

Perfume Review: M. Micallef Royal Vintage Eau de Parfum

Vintage Aston Martins, luxurious leather, and Cary Grant…. that is the mental image I Royal Vintagehad in my mind when I first saw the ads for the brand new, just-released Royal Vintage from the French luxury house, M. Micallef. Unfortunately, that is not quite what I experienced when I tried this sometimes perplexing leather fragrance for men.

On its website, M. Micallef describes the perfume as follows:.

ROYAL VINTAGE is a very subtle fragrance: opening on tonic scents of pink berries and bergamot, the assertive notes of cypress and leather are lightened by the patchouly and musk notes. Timeless and elegant. […] ROYAL VINTAGE is a perfume for men with timeless, sophisticated elegance.

The perfume opens with pink pepper and citrus in a way that evokes very classique,M.-MicallefRoyalVintagePerfume  old-fashioned men’s colognes and barber shops. The citrus from the bergamot is not like Earl Grey (something bergamot is often associated with) but, rather, like crisp, light, fresh lemon. It calls to mind very classic aromatic fougères and colognes with their lemony start. Under the veil of the pepper and the lemon, there is the faintest hint of woody notes but it is far from predominant at this stage.

Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow interior.Source: Wedcars.

Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow interior.
Source: Wedcars.

Less than three minutes in, the leather emerges. It smells soft and supple at first and, then, increasingly, like a very, very expensive, new car interior. It’s lovely but, as time goes on, it takes on a sour, almost metallic undertone that was quite surprising. One of the very few reviews already out for Royal Vintage is from the perfume blog, Sensate, which wrote:

The pepper note is very strong at first. It mixed with the bergamot and a woody note to create something resembling Old Spice. It’s a bit urinous too, which is a nice addition.

I was really surprised when I read that comment prior to testing Royal Vintage, but I think Sensate is absolutely correct on all of it. There is a faintly retro call-back to such scents as Old Spice and the sour undertone to the leather does smell a bit “urinous.” The latter soon fades, however, and what is left is a very cold, smoky, peppery leather with an undertone of citrus. I wrote in my notes how the combination seemed very masculine and how it would probably be extremely sexy on a man. But then, something else occurred.

About fifteen minutes in, Royal Vintage takes on an incredibly strong smell of old cigarettes and ashtrays. I blame it mostly on the combination of the pepper — which seems far stronger, blacker, smokier, and more biting than any mere “pink” peppercorn — in conjunction with the cypress. A professional wood-workers site describes the latter as follows:

Cypress trees have a distinctive odor when cut. Some describe the odor as earthy; others say it smells like cedar and a few references call the odor sour.

Others, however, find the aroma to be slightly smoky as well. Here, I suspect that the combination of the biting, smoky pepper, the cypress and the leather has resulted in something that is really a bit unpleasant for me. It’s as though a man dabbled on a very classique, fresh, aromatic, citrus fragrance and then went to work for 14 hours in a very Ashtray Blackmonmooring comsmoky nightclub. Let me be clear, the ashtray note is quite different than the smoky pepper note. They are both present, but there is no doubt that what was wafting from my arm included the smell of stale cigarettes. I was so surprised by the strength of the note that I tried Royal Vintage on twice. The second time, I put on much less than my usual amount. And, still, I smelled stale ashtrays, though it was just slightly more subtle, more hidden by the citrus, and not quite so overwhelming.

At the one hour mark, Royal Vintage is still predominantly biting black pepper, smoke, ashtrays, and citrus on a base of soft leather. To my relief, the ashtray note is significantly less pronounced at this time, and eventually fades away entirely, leaving just the smoky note from the pepper and woods. The citrus note is occasionally a little closer to bergamot, though still never Earl Grey bergamot. As for the leather, I noticed that, at my first try with the higher dose of perfume, the leather was much colder than it was the second time around when I put on much less. To be precise, it retained the “new car” aspects of leather for much longer at a higher dose than the second time around when it seemed much sweeter, warmer and akin to buttery suede. I suspect it all depends on how much the black pepper and cypress notes dominate.

As time progresses, the notes remained fundamentally the same with the smoky pepper becoming much more manageable with every hour. The leather is soft and tame, underpinned by the sweetness of the musk note which starts to rise to the surface. Then, suddenly, at the three-hour mark, patchouli bursts onto the scene. It’s such an abrupt arrival, it’s quite astonishing — as is the fact that Royal Vintage suddenly becomes another perfume entirely. It’s now all sweet patchouli, soft musk, and suede with green, fresh bergamot. The perfume remains that way for another two hours before fading away entirely. All in all, Royal Vintage lasted around six hours on me. It was always a relatively discreet scent with average-to-low sillage and never loud, though it became very close to the skin around the third hour.

I can’t make up my mind if Royal Vintage is a very retro fragrance or not. Cigarette and ashtray notes are old, classique elements that were first introduced around the early 1900s. Perfumers intentionally sought to replicate some of those accords so that more avant-garde women who had picked up the new fad of smoking as part of their new, liberated or progressive lifestyle could disguise their habit. Hence, scents like Habanita from Molinard. The most famous, of course, is the legendary, fabled Tabac Blond (in vintage version) from the famous house of Caron which is beloved in part because of the leathery-cigarette aspects. But with modern society’s disdain for smoking and our recognition of its dangerous effects, cigarette notes are much less common nowadays than they used to be. Tobacco leaves, yes; cigarettes, no. Etat Libre d’Orange paid homage to the old classics with its Jasmine et Cigarette, but that is a perfume house which seeks to be different on purpose.

All in all, I don’t think Royal Vintage is a very old (or old-time) vintage scent, but itsHumphrey Bogart underpinnings can’t be ignored. I think how you interpret it may depend on how well you know (and like) the classics. I find the citrus cologne opening and the cigarette element to be a definite retro touch. And, to be honest, I wasn’t keen on the latter.

And yet, there is undeniable elegance to Humphrey Bogart Casablancathe perfume, especially in its final stage. For some reason that I cannot explain, it brings to mind Humphrey Bogart for me. He was one of the quieter of the masculine, old Hollywood stars. He wasn’t smooth, blatantly good-looking, or rugged (like Cary Grant or Clark Gable, respectively), but he had a quiet masculinity with a deep, underlying toughness. I always think of him in a leather jacket, too, though his trench-coated Casablanca persona is often more well-known.

Are you a fan of leather perfumes? Have you tried anything that called to mind cigarettes and ashtrays? And will that make you hesitate to try Royal Vintage?

Cost & Availability: Royal Vintage will be officially released at the beginning of February 2013, but I do not know the exact date. It is currently available on the Parfums M. Micallef website where it comes in a 1 oz/30 ml size or in a 3.4 oz/100 ml size. I think the larger size costs $185. To be completely honest, I have no idea how to navigate the company’s eternally confusing website (which also moves up and down in an extremely annoying, jittery way) in order to find the prices there. Thankfully, you can buy Royal Vintage at Luckyscent (currently “available for pre-order” with January 31st given as the shipping date), Parfum1, and Parfumerie Nasreen. The sites only offer the larger 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle which retails for $185. According to the Perfume Shrine, quoting from the press release, the UK price for the perfume will be 76 € for a 30ml/ 1oz bottle and 175 € for the 100 ml/3.4 oz size. Outside the U.S., I’ve read that M. Micallef is carried at first-in-fragrance in Germany and fortnumandmason in the UK. If you want to try a sample of the fragrance, you can do so at both Parfum1 and Lucky Scent at the links listed above. LuckyScent sells a 0.7ml vial for $4. I obtained my vial from Parfum1, via eBay, where a 1.2 ml sample is still available for purchase for $4.50 with $2.95 shipping.