Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Czech & Speake's Cuba is the Smell of Heat, Sex, Mojitos, Mambo, and Cigars

I feel like taking a break from the Hermes for a bit, and I did give a quick teaser of Czech & Speake’s Cuba yesterday, so I should probably end the suspense and commence with a full review.

Before I even tried Cuba, BitterGrace described it to me as “quite a mélange – sweet, spicy, green, animalic, etc. Kinda smells like a Havana nightclub, circa 1950.” I include her words here because, really, I couldn’t have said it better, myself. Cuba has all of the olfactory elements I associate with a hot night in tropics. The notes of tobacco, lime, rum, and mint come together in a way that evokes mojitos and Cuban cigars. The vetiver and other vegetative and woody components bring to mind palm trees emitting their fragrance on a warm tropical breeze, while the animalic thread is suggestive of sweat and aggressive sexuality. And something in there smells like green bananas to me, though I’m not sure that was intentional.

As I said yesterday, Cuba is an intensely interesting cologne. Nothing about it is even remotely dull. Czech & Speake markets it as a unisex fragrance, but it smells like pure testosterone to me. I suspect it takes a big personality to wear Cuba well, and I don’t think I could pull it off in a thousand years. It’s definitely a work of art, though, for painting such a perfect picture of a very specific time and place.

Image note: I wanted to use something sexy here – a vintage photo of people dancing a mambo or something – but nothing really fit the bill, so this is just a cool iconic photo that seemed to capture the appropriate era. Many thanks to Belgian photographer Ulrik De Wachter, who kindly shared this photo over at Stock Exchange.

Monday, March 30, 2009

I Love Free Stuff!

I just got home from work to find a package in the mail from the folks at Czech & Speake, a London-based bathroom fittings company that also makes perfumes.

I had completely forgotten that I signed up for the company's mailing list after receiving a sample of their unisex fragrance Cuba from BitterGrace a few weeks ago. I haven't blogged about Cuba yet, but I will. It's an incredibly interesting fragrance, though probably not one I could really pull off. I let Julie smell it last week, though, and she seemed to really like it a lot. (Julie, you can have my new sample, now that I have two). More on the Cuba later ...

When I signed up for samples on the Czech & Speake Web site, I thought they might send off one or two samples somewhere down the line. What I got was a huge package filled with a carded sample of each of the nine fragrances in their aromatics line, along with a marketing booklet and a handwritten note. All of it came wrapped in marbelized tissue paper held together by a C&S stamped foil seal. Talk about a warm welcome!

Several of the fragrances look very interesting to me, especially Oxford & Cambridge, Neroli, Citrus Paradisi, and Frankincense & Myrrh. My partner, M., seems quite impressed with Dark Rose. She just put some on, and it does smell lovely. Very sensual. (Maybe I'll have to depart from my format and review a few girly smells down the line ...)

Anyway, if anyone wants a cadre of free samples, visit the Czech & Speake Web site and click on the samples tab. And if anyone from Czech & Speake sees this, thanks! I'll be reviewing these goodies in weeks to come. (If any of you other perfumeries are reading this, feel free to email me for my address).

Friday, March 20, 2009

Un Jardin Sur Le Nil Smells Like a Garden of Malevolent Sentient Flower Beasts!

After my quick Vetiver intermission of the other day, I’m ready to get back to Hermes, and it occurs to me that I didn’t mention before why I was so interested in smelling things from that particular house.

Back when I started this little experiment in scent, my friend Julie told me that her partner Dick was in love with Hermes Un Jardin Sur Le Nil. In fact, Julie wrote a wonderful blog entry last spring all about Dick’s experience with the perfume. I’ve only met Dick once, but he seemed to be a man after my own heart; he struck me as smart, compassionate, casual, earthy, and friendly. Plus he’s adorable, with a warm smile and kind eyes … I suppose I should stop there, before Julie gets the idea that I’m planning to switch teams and pounce on her man. The only reason I relate all of this is that, after reading about Dick’s ecstatic encounter with the fragrance, I thought, “If that’s how this great guy, who has never worn a drop of cologne in his life, reacts to Un Jardin Sur Le Nil, then I need to smell this stuff!”

While I was looking for a sample, I became intrigued with the descriptions of a few other Hermes scents, so I decided to just sample them all – or, all of the unisex and masculine scents, anyway. Good move. Two other Hermes scents – Terre d’Hermes and Eau d’Orange Verte – wound up becoming my two favorites (so far). But today, I’m blogging about Un Jardin Sur Le Nil.

When I first opened the sample vial, the Nil smelled very promising. It smelled like orange peels, and was very bright and cheerful. Sort of a lighter version of Eau d’Orange Verte. Once I put it on, though, the orange peels faded pretty quickly, to be replaced by flowers. It reminded me of stargazer lilies and other very strongly scented flowers. Lotus is listed among the notes for this fragrance, so I’m guessing that’s what the most insistent floral smell in there was. Immediately, I was glad I'd gone light on the application. Even after a few short minutes, that heavy floral smell seemed overbearing.

Un Jardin Sur Le Nil is most definitely a “garden,” a very large, deep one on a warm, wet June day. I’ve never been to northern Africa, so I can’t comment on the “Nil” part of the name. I did read that Ellena was trying to mimic the smell of green mangoes. I can’t comment on that resemblance either, but there was a definite impression of ripening fruit - of green bananas, specifically. Rather than carrying me along the Nile, this fragrance left me with an impression of the Amazon Rainforest, with massive, bright, bold flowers growing amid banana trees, where monkeys and parrots and toucans make their homes.

At the beginning, I liked smelling this fragrance well enough, but didn’t like smelling like it. Though I’ve been trying to avoid making judgments like “masculine” or “feminine,” I found it to be a very womanly smell, at least on me. I decided I would probably enjoy smelling it on an attractive woman on a warm summer evening. As the day wore on, though, the scent seemed to get stronger and stronger until, by lunchtime, I felt like I was being choked to death by malevolent sentient flower beasts. What started out in the morning as an attractive - if a touch too feminine for my tastes - perfume had become a total scrubber by noon.

When I shared my impression of Un Jardin Sur Le Nil with Julie, she was surprised. “On Dick, it’s a bracing citrus scent. Not feminine at all.” Lucky Dick … he got the bright tangy citrus, and I got stuck with the gaggy florals. Oh well. Ellena had me with Terre d’Hermes. I guess you can’t win ‘em all.

Image note: The Amazon Rainforest.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Guerlain Vetiver- An Attractive, Charming Disappointment

I know I promised a steady stream of Hermes reviews for the next few weeks, but I feel compelled to blog about one of the many (many many!) samples I recently received in the mail from BitterGrace. I’ve already tried a handful of the twenty or so she’s sent me over the last couple of weeks, and each will get its turn at being reviewed. But today I want to focus on Guerlain’s Vetiver, a scent that so narrowly missed finding a place in my heart, it makes me feel kind of wistful.

The opening notes of Vetiver are incredibly pleasant – green and spring-like, with just the slightest bite to give it some interest. It has an astringent, almost mentholated, quality that made my nose tingle and light up. As soon as that passes, Vetiver settles into a melodiously smooth phase that’s reminiscent of rosewater. Wearing it last night, I kept sniffing my wrist and thinking it was far too pretty to be a masculine fragrance. My tastes run more toward unisex and lighter masculine scents, though, so that isn’t necessarily a strike against Vetiver.

Before I could fall in love with this fragrance, though, the drydown brought out a nagging, bitter note that first left me with an unsettled feeling, then a touch of nausea. At first, I wondered if it was the vetiver note, itself, that was bothering me. I haven’t tried enough perfumes containing vetiver to know whether or not I like the smell of it, though it’s listed as a base note in Terre d’Hermes, which I love. Besides, whatever was bothering me smelled familiar, like something I’d encountered a lot outside the world of perfumery. A quick look at the fragrance notes list on Basenotes, coupled with some sniffs at my wrist for confirmation, helped me to finger the culprit: tobacco.

Tobacco is a common note in many masculine fragrances, and one I didn’t really expect to dislike. I used to smoke, though I never became addicted, and I still appreciate the smell of a good pipe blend. But that strong, unmistakable tobacco twang at the bottom of Vetiver just bothered the hell out of me. I didn’t end up scrubbing this one, at least. Vetiver is so light, overall, that I was able to ignore it until it faded away on its own.

Too bad. We’d gotten off to such a promising start. Sampling Guerlain’s Vetiver was a lot like having a wonderful conversation with a charming, interesting, articulate new friend, only to discover later that he voted for George W. Bush. The flaw isn’t enough to make you dislike him, exactly, but you’re forced to acknowledge, with a tinge of regret, that the two of you will never quite see eye to eye.

Image note: Tobacco. Pretty, no?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Eau d'Orange Verte, My New "Everyday Scent"

If Terre d’Hermes was love at first sniff, then Eau d’Orange Verte, the next Hermes sample I tried, was love at third or fourth sniff. This juice smells wonderful in the vial, but for its first few seconds on my skin it always bears a disconcerting resemblance to Lemon Pledge®. Happily, that impression passes quickly enough, as the bright, welcoming citrus notes at the top of this scent fill out and envelop me more completely.

After a short while, patchouli comes to the forefront, but avoids straying into dirty hippie territory. Instead, the patchouli is restrained by the crisp tangy citrus, mint, and cedar smells. The overall effect is as affable as it is elegant. Eau d’Orange Verte is uncluttered and self-possessed, with an inviting warmth of character and a sense of wit that never stoops to pretension.

I absolutely adore Eau d’Orange Verte. Where Terre d’Hermes is comfortable and rugged and woodsy, with a depth that feels almost meditative, Eau d’Orange Verte is pure sensual delight. It's the feel of sunlight on your skin on a breezy spring day.

My partner really likes Eau d’Orange Verte, too, both on me and for herself. Shortly after trying it for the first time, I managed to track down an inexpensive splash bottle on eBay. With a little looking, this fragrance can be found at dirt-cheap prices. Because of its affordability and casual, feel-good personality, this has become my "everyday scent." It's the thing I splash on when I don't feel like thinking about it. Though it's generally thought of as a "summer fragrance," I find it adds a little cheer to the sometimes oppressive drear of a Maine winter day.

Most of the complaints I’ve read about Eau d’Orange Verte go something like this: “It smells amazing, but fades too quickly, leaving me heartbroken.” I know this is a common complaint about eau de colognes in general, though I haven’t personally noticed this problem with Eau d’Orange Verte. I apply it before work in the morning and can usually still smell it long past lunchtime. This is also a scent that works well on fabric. I like to let a few drops soak into the collar of my shirt, which not only allows the fragrance to hang on all day, but also brings out the cedar notes more strongly. I haven’t yet tried Concentré d’Orange Verte, which is supposed to be a decent approximation of the original, but with better staying power.

UPDATE: I'm wearing Concentré d'Orange Verte right now and, while it does smell very nice, it's nothing like the original. The concentre is more of a green, linear scent that, even for its similarities to Eau d'Orange Verte, doesn't capture the latter's swirling, sparkling brightness. Yes, it does last longer, but the tradeoff isn't worth it, for me. Eau d'Orange Verte is inexpensive enough that it's no problem to buy a large bottle of the stuff and reapply liberally throughout the day. That said, if I don't compare Concentré to the cologne, it stands on its own as a very good fragrance. It's another triumph for Mr. Ellena, but Hermes should have named it something else. These are two very distinct fragrances.

Image note: Like the name of the cologne, this image is orange and green. I chose the tie dye as a tongue in cheek reference to the strong patchouli at the heart, though, as I said above, Eau d’Orange Verte doesn’t smell like a head shop.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Terre d'Hermes - So Good it Turns Me Stupid

What’s this, a third Smells Like Boi post in two days? Madness! Don’t get used to this frenetic pace. It’s just that, after all of those bitchy, negative reviews, I was itching to write about something I actually like. The next several posts will all be about various Hermes scents. I got samples of nine different unisex and masculine fragrances from Hermes, and have been trying each of them over a period of several weeks. As most of them smell very nice – even the ones that aren’t really my style – you can expect the atmosphere around here to be quite “posi” for the next few weeks.

The first sample I tried was Terre d’Hermes, and it smells fantastic! I think it may have been love at first sniff. My initial scent impression was a really rich, deep pine, that was not at all artificial like Pine Sol or a car air freshener. I could actually picture the needles and the bark. It smelled jut like the Pacific Northwest, and brought back a vivid sense memory of the time I visited Mt. Rainier with a couple of old friends who were living in Seattle.

“Earth” is an incredibly apt description; Terre d’Hermes smells like nature in all the best ways. I can even smell dirt and rocks and rain and fresh air, and maybe even a little bit of a far off wood fire. It makes me wonder how the hell Jean-Claude Ellena managed to bottle the smell of camping. Then it makes me wonder if Luca Turin could possibly have been smelling the same thing I was when he declared there was “no terre in sight” in his review for The Guide.

After a little while, the pine seems to fade, and I can smell other parts of the forest - ferns and moss and grass, deciduous trees and even a few spring flowers poking up through a carpet of fallen leaves in search of the sun. Before I can miss the pine, though, I find it’s still there, if I focus on it.

Terre d’Hermes is exactly what I was hoping it would be, and more: earthy, wholesome, and unpretentious. It’s a scent I would recommend to people who claim not to like perfume. It’s very rugged, but not at all hyper-masculine.

On a subsequent wearing, I noted all of the things I smelled before, but I also realized it smells strikingly similar to the Nippon Kodo Viva Pine incense I use during my daily zazen (Buddhist meditation) practice. I think its meditative association is a large part of the draw for me. I love incense-y smells.

I’m wearing Terre d’Hermes again today, and for the first time, I can smell the citrus notes people keep mentioning in their reviews. It’s been described as everything from grapefruit to navel orange peels. Whatever it is, it’s pleasant, as citrus notes generally are for me.

As much as I love this fragrance, I couldn’t wear it every day. Beyond the fact that it’s quite expensive – which is why I haven’t snatched up a bottle yet – it makes me stupid. Really! I’ve been wandering around in a haze of contentment all morning. I don’t think I could handle feeling this good all the time.

Image note: Isn’t this photo gorgeous? This is one of those popular nature photos that get put up on those “free wallpaper” sites. I think it was taken in Japan, but I’m not sure. Anyway, this is where wearing Terre d’Hermes takes me.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Eau d'Ashtray?

Attention fragrance fanatics ... how would you like to smell like an ashtray? No? How about fireworks on the Fourth of July, cold hard cash, magazine pages, or boiled crawfish? Now you can, for free!

I was trolling the ol' Intertubes, looking for some free samples, when I stumbled upon WeirdFragrances.com. For a limited time, you can get a free sample of one of ten off-the-wall unisex "perfumes," such as The Love of Money, Cajun Delight, Fourth of July, Burning Rubber, and yes, Ash Tray

Just go to their site, choose a scent, and fill in your address. Not all of them sound repulsive. In addition to those already listed, there are others - like Spiced Pumpkin, Fresh Bread, and Hot Cookies - that appear to be more conventional.

I opted for Grease Monkey. The copy reads, "Smell like a mechanic without getting your hands dirty (or getting paid $50/hr). Oil, spray lubricant, a little sweat, and pheromones kick this scent into high gear."

Who could resist that?

Bvlgari Blv is a Schizophrenic Stinkbomb!

I realize I’m still a newb at this fragrance reviewing business, so my horizons are still a bit narrow, but Bvlgari Blv Pour Homme may well be the absolute worst thing I’ve ever smelled in my entire life. It’s worse than skunk, worse than burnt rubber, worse than shit … To be fair, it may rank just below a cocktail of all of those things in terms of repulsiveness.

Bvlgari Blv is just a complete trainwreck of a scent that is at turns loud and spicy, like an obnoxious open-shirted 70s guy, then soft and powdery, like a little old lady in a pink frilly dress. This scent is trying very hard to be something ... The trouble is, it can’t seem to decide what it's trying to be.

For reasons I can't quite put my finger on, this stuff leaves a picture in my head of two men having sex in the bathroom of a very loud, grossly trendy nightclub … And they’re not attractive men, either; they’re greasy, over-tanned men dressed like extras on Miami Vice.

Image note: Wearing Bvlgari Blv made me wish I owned a gasmask. I’m not sure what the origin of this picture is. I found it on someone’s Myspace page. It reminds me of the old Sandman comic - not Neil Gaiman’s Dream King, Morpheus, but Wesley Dodds, the gasmask-and-fedora-wearing hero from the Golden Age of comics. He used to put villains to sleep using a special gun filled with knock-out gas (thus the gasmask).

Sunday, March 8, 2009

This Angel Won't Fly ...

Dear Perfume Industry:
Do me a solid and please quit ruining perfectly good scents by drying them out with icky-sicky baby powder stank. While I'm sure there are people in the world who enjoy smelling like baby ass, wouldn' it be kinder to allow these people to skip the middle man and just douse themselves in powder? It would certainly be cheaper ...

Case in point, A*Men, Thierry Mugler's masculine reimagining of Angel. I decided to try a sample of A*Men after reading many reviews that compared it - either favorably or unfavorably, depending on the reviewer - to HM for Men, a scent I raved about just the other day.

And, yes, there is a more than subtle resemblance between A*Men and HM. As promised, A*Men does share the rich, chocolately base I enjoyed so much in the HM. Unfortunately, while HM has many other interesting and complimentary notes to balance out the chocolate, the noses at Thierry Mugler saw fit to dump a bottle of baby powder into this sweet treat. The result, while not terrible, left me feeling flat.

If HM and A*Men are the olfactory siblings everyone claims, then they're no more than fraternal twins, at best. Neither scent is particularly dangerous or challenging, but in this family, the HM is the witty, flirtatious twin, while A*Men is the affably ho-hum one. Though likeable enough, this scent is the type that might sit at home on a Friday night reading Chicken Soup for the Soul or a Nicholas Sparks novel.

Image note: Nah ... I think you can get this one on your own.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

HM for Men - Refined, Playful, Complex, Yummy!

Hanae Mori’s HM for Men is an understated fragrance that is just generally pleasant. It’s chocolately without being overly-sweet, and flowery without being too feminine. This is the smell of refinement, but with a touch of playfulness. If HM for Men were a person, it would be a good-looking older gay man in an expensive – but not flashy – suit, who collects Asian antiques.

At first sniff, I thought that – just as the Azzaro Pour Homme was a touch too macho for me – HM for Men was a little too dainty. My partner, M, certainly thought so, too. She had trouble believing, at first, that it was meant to be a men's fragrance, though she came around later.

The first time I tried it, the HM didn’t smell terribly sweet to me, and I was amazed that so many reviews I’d read went on and on about its chocolate notes. There was definitely chocolate, but it mingled with the floral notes in a nice way that seemed satisfyingly sophisticated. The second time, though, the chocolate dominated for a good 20 minutes, to the point that it smelled exactly like I would imagine a chocolate factory smells. It was almost overpowering, and certainly, I thought, too sweet for me … but I couldn’t make myself stop sniffing it. It was so yummy! Not at all like a bad chocolate scented candle or a Bath & Body Works scent. Rather, it was rich and alluring, like an expensive bar of dark chocolate. Then, about a half an hour in, the chocolate faded a notch to allow those floral notes I remembered to come through. It was still sweet, but in a way that was so layered it smelled almost musky. As there is no musk in it, I think it must be the lavender and/or moss I smell.

I disagree with M’s initial opinion that it’s too feminine. HM for Men is definitely masculine, but in a light, unobtrusive way. After the first few days of wearing the sample, I got my hands on some more, and have been wearing it every so often, in a rotation with a couple of others I enjoy. Interestingly, the strong chocolate tones of my second encounter with it have never returned in full force. Instead, subsequent wearings have brought out some warm, bright, sparkling notes that tickle my nose like champagne. No matter how often I wear it, I never quite get to the bottom of this fragrance. It’s deceptively complex. There’s so much going on in it, yet it never comes across as noisy or muddy. I suspect this may be a favorite for years to come.

I haven't tried HM for Men in the EDP concentration, but I hear it's a completely different sense experience than the EDT. I look forward to trying it.

UPDATE: I have now tried the eau de parfum concentration. Interestingly, I suspect my first encounter with HM may have actually been the EDP, not the eau de toilette, as I'd originally thought. I have two spray samples of the EDT that I've been using for several weeks, and I've been enjoying this fragrance less and less over time. What once smelled smooth and artistic and complex began to strike me as harsh and discordant. The EDP, on the other hand, is wonderful. It smells just as I remembered my first experience with this fragrance. I would advise anyone who wants to try HM to stick with the EDP and avoid the EDT.

Image note: HM for Men makes me think of the cherry blossoms of Tokyo, and not just because Hanae Mori is a Japanese designer. Like the cherry blossoms, this fragrance is both earthy and elegant, bright and restrained. Its balance also reminds me of the way the light, airy pink petals at the top of this photo offset the dark, deep brown trunks at the bottom.