Thursday, January 28, 2010

Gardénia Pétale by Van Cleef & Arpels (Collection Extraordinaire) : Perfume Review

Recently (this past September to be exact), Van Cleef & Arpels, the Haute Joaillerie house which caters, more than any other, to the unuttered wishes hidden in the secret fantasy garden of women’s hearts, launched a collection of six, uber exclusive fragrances. Titled Collection Extraordinaire and inspired by haute couture, this collection is meant to embody luxury and refinement. Following the footsteps of other luxury, high-end, hard to find, exclusive collection releases (Prada, Chanel) this line too is presented coherently in simple (yet luxuriously heavy) bottles with discreet black caps. Unsurprisingly (when considering the tactics used by the aforementioned brands), Van Cleef & Arpels too chose to retain the exclusivity and to preserve Collection Extraordinare’s recherché quality by making it quite hard to come by: It is only sold at Van Cleef & Arpels boutiques as well as very select retailers and exclusive web-boutiques. I got my sample from Essenza Nobile, which offers the entire collection (131 euro for 75ml). According to Van Cleef & Arpels, exquisite care and attention has been put into each perfume in the line, with the best raw materials chosen for each. Further, each perfume in this collection has been created by a different nose. Gardénia Pétale, which I am reviewing today, was created by Nathalie Feisthauer (Eau de Merveilles, Putain de Palaces, Nombril Immense).

If proof of God can be found in nature, in the world of flora gardenia surely embodies all the glory. To me, there is no flower that smells as magical, as surely transcendental and heavenly. Each time I smell one of the creamy-colored blossoms I can feel the exalted, breathtaking scent commanding awe and wonderment inside me. Befittingly to this holy glory, gardenia's scent is notoriously hard to reproduce in a perfume. The only one I’d so far encountered (and believe me, I’ve smelled them all, from Cruel Gardenia to Kai and from Issabey’s Gardenia to Matin d’Orage) that was worthy of the name was Ava Luxe’s Gardenia Rain. Now here comes another: Gardénia Pétale.

I won’t lie to you: Gardénia Pétale does not mimic the scent of gardenias in the conventional sense, nor does it present its gardenia facet in all the stages of its development. However when the gardenia accord does surface, it is true and magical. Magical enough to make my heart skip a beat, yes. Gorgeous, beautiful and glorious enough to make me smile wide to myself, yes. (Thank you ms. Feisthauer, you’re a genius!) Gardénia Pétale’s opening is fresh with citrus and bittersweet with orange water, turning quite pungent as notes of petitgrain and heady neroli emerge. This high-pitched, sunny warmth is soon tempered with green notes that bring with them a barely-there, almost aqueous edge that leave a sense of coolness on the skin. I’ll admit that when I tested Gardénia Pétale for the first time, this stage tested my patience - where was the promised gardenia? Surely I wasn’t to be placated with another (albeit excellent) orange blossom scent? Soon, jasmine and tuberose join the chorus. The jasmine is excellent: rich and natural, its indolic heart underscored by exotic ylang-ylang. And then, just when you think you understand this perfume, just when you think, oh this is just another gardenia approximation, comprised out of a beautiful bouquet of white flowers, beautiful, but no gardenia… She comes. Dazzlingly beautiful and effulgent, her procession is slow, like that of a princess bride. Her smile, full of promise. What a scent… It’s a true gardenia that brings you to your knees and what’s genius about it, is that Nathalie Feisthauer has managed to capture not only the beautiful antagonism between velvety softness and heady animalism of the flower, but also its heart, full of spiciness. Have you ever felt that spicy scent tingle your nose when deeply inhaling the scent of a gardenia? That peppery piquancy that words fail, simply because there is no known spice which approximates its scent? Well, it’s there. And all I can say is WOW. I know, how crude a word for such an elegantly composed perfume. But truly - WOW. The patience is rewarded, not only does Gardénia Pétale finally smell like a true gardenia, its scent is not fleeting either. It will linger on the skin forever giving you hours of gardenia bliss. From here on, the perfume does not change much: a little nectarous, honeysuckle sweetness emerges to underscore the warmth of the Diva, but it remains otherwise unchanged. I haven’t yet smelled the rest of the fragrances in Collection Extraordinaire, but if Gardénia Pétale is anything to go by, the price does not seem exorbitant at all, especially when the quality and the exclusivity are taken into consideration. Simply beautiful.

Images: Gardenia in black and white via Flickr by Gilberto Santa Rosa

Monday, January 25, 2010

Perfume in the Media: Pushing Daisies

I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the series called “Pushing Daisies”. For me, this sadly already finished show (it lasted two seasons) has been a recent discovery. The concept of this black comedy show is quirky (a pie maker who can bring people back to life with a touch of his finger solves crimes) but what is most charming about it is its style. With bright, gorgeous Technicolor sets that are as beautifully suburban and bizarre as those of Stepford Wives (with costumes to match) and a narration style that brings to mind Amelie’s innocence and magic, watching Pushing Daisies is definitely an escape.

If you haven’t watched this show I definitely recommend it. But what does a post about Pushing Daisies have to do with a perfume blog? Well, yesterday night I caught episode 7 of season 1, titled “The Smell of Success” and found that to my surprise, the entire episode was devoted to perfume, scents and the sense of olfaction! Concepts such as perfume’s connection to memories and feelings come up throughout, as do the subjects of perfume-book publishing, perfume expertise and indoles, of all things…! Of course, where real perfume and olfaction facts are concerned the episode is full of inaccuracies and embellishments, but that does not take away from the fun. If you, like me, delight in finding storylines connected to perfume in books and film, do try to catch this episode - it is really, really fun to watch. In fact I recommend the whole series. I’ve found it’s a major de-stressor, it always leaves me with a good feeling!

Images: via

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Another Perfume Ruined : Harem by LR

While in Greece for the Christmas holidays I decided to order one more bottle of LR’s Harem, seeing as my bottle was just about finished. The LR representative brought me a new bottle a couple of days later, and as soon as I opened it I knew something was up: the color was different. Nevertheless, I thought I’d give it try, thinking that maybe it was just a very new batch and hadn’t darkened yet - which was not such an unreasonable thought considering that patchouli-heavy perfumes often darken considerably with age. Nope, the perfume has changed. And I do not mean it has just been tweaked either. No, this is a case of body-snatching: there is simply no similarity between the two at all. From fruity mandarin and chocolate-patchouli sumptuousness it has gone to an ambery-musky concoction, which, although not altogether unpleasant, smells cheap and common.

Drenched in cold sweat and feeling quite desperate (Harem has become one of my all-time favorites and I consider it a GEM), I called the representative and told her that the perfume had been changed and asked if it would be possible to find me some of the remaining old bottles. She told me she did not think it had been changed, as she had not heard anything about it. She promised however, to enquire about any old bottles she could find. A few days later, I received a call from her. Yes, unfortunately the perfume had been changed, her supervisor had confirmed it. Also he had five bottles left of the old one and did I still want them? Did I? I ordered all five.

I do not understand why LR has changed their bestseller and replaced it with this cheap, ridiculous juice. Harem was sensual, velvety, deep, lightly powdery, delicious, comforting, generously decadent, SEXY... Why change it? In any case, this post is meant to be a warning for those of you planning to buy this based on my review of the original, and for everyone else who lands on my original review in the future. I am going to edit that review and post an update there as well, so that no one is misled into buying this utterly changed, radically different scent. I have five bottles now so I am not all that worried about running out, however knowing that there will be countless lovers of this scent disappointed and unable to procure it again makes me SO mad. Bring it back LR! We can smell the difference!

Image: Flickr by Darwin Bell

Monday, January 18, 2010

Geranium pour Monsieur by Frederic Malle : Perfume Review

Happy New Year everyone! I am hijacking the first part of this review to thank you all for your lovely wishes and the warmth you’ve shown me through your messages in the past month after my attack. I am fine now. I spent three days in bed, not really wanting to travel to Greece - I was so down I didn’t feel I could go celebrate the holidays with my family. However, after just two days with my family, my spirits were lifted and my emotional as well as physical wounds healed. I had a lot of writing to do for the university through the holidays unfortunately, and although I finished delivering papers yesterday, I now have to study for one more exam and my thesis group is beginning later this month. Wait, WHAT? Oh darlings, this year is truly kicking my ass. No matter, as long as I don’t have to be writing day and night like I have been doing for the past two weeks, then I am here, dontcha know? :) Yup, that’s what I call commitment! What can I say, I love perfume and I love you so forget about rest (or shopping), here I am, ready for another review. Enough about studies and pressure and all that: Let’s just pause and breathe in the rarefied air of Monsieur Malle!

It has to be said that Geranium pour Monsieur is not going to be everyone’s favorite: with a rather toothpaste-like, strong mint-spearmint opening, it is unlikely to float everyone's boat. Not a universally accessible scent thus, but an extremely innovative, unique and beautiful one nevertheless. The mint opening is supremely cool, like an icy breath, perfect for cooling down in the evening with a couple of spritzes after a gloriously sunny, hot day. Give it five minutes and the mint loses its toothpaste qualities and calms down to an herbal, bitter-sweet breeze of freshness with gentle camphoric undertones. A slight earthiness, too, struggles to emerge, bringing the senses on the cusp of delicious anticipation.

The heart notes are dominated by geranium. If you haven’t smelled geranium essential oil (Pelargonium Odorantissimum), do it now: any perfume lover that wants to train his or her nose to better pick out notes can start successfully with this one. Its scent is extremely pungent and extremely unforgettable. Alone and in good quality high concentrations it is rather unpleasant, smelling profusely of citronella and leaving a rather sour, dry and ever so slightly earthy trail. The reason I so eagerly suggest it as an early tool to train your nose, is that once you smell it, you won’t forget its scent again, preparing you to readily pick it out in complex compositions. In Geranium pour Monsieur the dose is just right. Yes, it is used generously, so that the end result is instantly recognizable as a composition in which the geranium note steals the starring role, but it is used with such consideration along with the supporting notes, that it shines brightly, jubilantly, youthfully, all its harshness beautifully tempered by the lovely bitter-sweetness surrounding it. So let’s return to those supporting notes then: the mint is unbelievably still there, providing quiet freshness and a cool breeze. Its herbal aspect is underscored by a dill note (oh yes, don’t laugh, I am quite serious), whose inherent soft anise aspects are enhanced by sweet fennel and barely-there anise. You see how genius that progression goes? From the is-it-there, is-it-not anise aspect of dill, to the stronger aniseedic scent of fennel, and finally, to the oh-so moderately used anise? Beautifully considerate, isn’t it? The result is beautiful too, balanced and calm - never a spiky note. Finally, hints of clove and cinnamon underscore the sweetness gently, provide a good bit of dark spiciness to the mix and enhancing the quietly camphoric impression.

The drydown is pure glory. The freshness dies down to a whisper and allows itself to be superseded by clean musks (think fresh sheets), but the beauty truly comes from the round voluptuousness provided by the sweet ambers: soft incense rises through a cloud of yummy, vanillic Siam Benzoin and beautifully balsamic storax. It is all gorgeously rounded off by creamy-sweet sandalwood. Despite this being a predominately masculine scent, it really can work like a charm on a woman. While its signature is definitely masculine, at no point is it even close to aggressive. Proof positive of how well it can work on a woman is Sniffapalooza’s Karen Dubin. She bought this while on our trip and her sillage was so magnificent I had to immediately ask her what she was wearing. Do give this one a try, it might just surprise you. If I am honest, I’ll even admit that I like it better on women than on men. Hey did I say this out loud? Apologies in advance to all the Monsieurs reading my blog - Sorry guys, we’re stealing this one from your shelf!

Images: toothpaste tube via Flickr by twenty_questions, Geranium pour Monsieur flacon