Robert Piguet – Fracas

Robert Piguet – Fracas


There are some fragrances which are love at first sniff, as though the scent satisfied some intense longing we never knew we had. And there are those which we struggle with, knowing conceptually that they are the stuff of legacy, but which we are nevertheless unable to embrace. While most would pass on a perfume that failed to capture their immediate attention, many perfumistas have confessed to a struggle with one classic or another until either the relationship ended, or a lifetime romance began. For me, it was Fracas.

Perhaps it was not the fragrance itself as much as it was tuberose, the heady white flower which when used injudiciously can evoke images of a Hawaiian luau. The name also befuddled me, as fracas implies a noisy conflict or quarrel and I found none of that here. I had a vintage bottle which I kept for reference purposes mostly, taking it out every now and then to re-test, which I did regularly over the years. Perhaps there was some half-forgotten association from childhood, but whatever the reason, the lovely little bottle went unloved for many years.

And then something magical happened. The way an old friend who has waited patiently in the wings while you date the more flashy suitors, I found myself thinking of Fracas and wondering if there might be something there, some magic spark. Magic indeed. Fracas was created by Germaine Cellier in 1948, one of the few female noses and a master of her craft. In addition to other memorable Piguet fragrances, she was the genius behind Balmain’s Vent Vert.


While Cellier used a perfume base in her creation of Fracas, a dense, luscious tuberose dominates the landscape and indeed, it appears that any other flowers are there to support tuberose in its leading role. Upon application, one notices immediately that Fracas is like no other. The citrus opening is miles away from the ordinary, lush and rich, rather than sparkling.  As the tuberose unfolds, it seems impossibly large, buoyed by the presence of jasmine and violet, which lend to the fragrance’s deep indolic quality. There is an unctuous sensation to the fragrance, as though the tuberose had turned to syrup.  While iris helps to temper the creation slightly, Fracas envelops you in a thick velvety haze that is indolic one moment and pure butter the next. Fracas is tuberose on the point of turning, with animalic references throughout enforced by the depths of oakmoss and woods.

Fracas feels both sophisticated and sensual. It is a fragrance which one must give oneself over to, as it is completely enveloping, to the point of rapture. And now that I have given myself over, there is no turning back.


Notes: bergamot, orange blossom, greens, peach, tuberose, jasmine, violet, iris, lily of the valley, carnation, sandalwood, musk, oakmoss, and cedar.


Carven – Ma Griffe

Carven – Ma Griffe


My eyesight is very poor, a circumstance which at times provokes sheer panic at the thought of not being able to read, which is essential in my line of work and my life as I know it. When asked which of the five senses they would give up, people are often quick to sacrifice their sense of smell without taking into consideration the impact this would have on their lives. Aside from the obvious lack of scents, flavors would be gone as well. Think of how many scent-triggered memories and associations you treasure: the smell of a loved one, autumn, holiday cooking – these would all be relegated to the territory of imagination. Indeed, life would take on a flat and somewhat frightening existence, since we often perceive things with our nose well in advance of our eyes.

Imagine how much more terrifying this loss would be if one’s passion and livelihood depended upon it. At the time perfumer Jean Carles created Ma Griffe, he was largely anosmic. Anosmia is condition whereby one loses their ability to perceive odors. Let’s put aside the fact that if any of us tried to create a fragrance with no sense of smell it would probably resemble kerosene, but the fact that this man created a beautiful and unique fragrance is astounding and a testament to his abilities as a perfumer.

The French term “ma griffe” is literally defined as “my claw”. While the fragrance would later be repositioned (both in its chemical composition and its advertising) to fit this definition, it was initially portrayed with the more subtle, figurative translation of Ma Griffe, namely “my signature” or “my label” as in a designer’s label. Ma Griffe was launched in 1946 by the design house Carven. Madame Carmen de Tommaso, Carven’s founder, was a proponent for innovative clothing, meant to suit women in their everyday lives and the house’s “signature” scent clearly reflected these sensibilities.

My main experience of Ma Griffe is of the vintage, and while this does possess an intense, green burst of galbanum and citrus in its opening (I felt I could almost see the green) it quickly offers brief, veiled glimpses of the soft, mossy heart that is to come. Ma Griffe in its original form is not the talon-bearing sabertooth alluded to in later advertisements which depict a woman’s hand clawing deep marks into a man’s back. While its composition and character are assuredly memorable, Ma Griffe is more like a playful feline which gently rakes its nails over your arm and then proceeds to arrange itself cozily in your lap.

While the heart notes feature jasmine and rose, this is by no means a sweet fragrance. More prominently featured are dry and warm facets of iris, musk and oakmoss. Even the vetiver, labdanum and sandalwood take on a tone which is more mossy than woody. While most mossy fragrances offer the impression of rain-soaked forests, Ma Griffe feels more like a walk in the forest on a dry day, when the soaring oaks and ma griffetheir mossy inhabitants are warmed by the sun and give off a dry, slightly powdery musty odor. If you are not a fan of oakmoss or musk, this may be a challenging fragrance. While its character is not overpowering, it is certainly distinct. For me, this fragrance takes me back to hours spent exploring the forest behind my house, in search of magical creatures both real and imagined.

Unfortunately, Ma Griffe has been repositioned into something of a bargain basement fragrance due in part to regulations regarding the use of oakmoss, in addition to financial considerations. The current incarnation plays up the more “aggressive” factors of the fragrance and has unfortunately all but destroyed the velvety drydown. While I cannot recommend the reformulation, I find the original to be exceedingly unique and would wear it more often if my supply of it were not so limited.

Floral chypre

Notes: gardenia, greens, galbanum, citrus, aldehydes, clary sage, jasmine, rose, sandalwood, vetiver, orris, ylang ylang, styrax, oakmoss, cinnamon, musk, benzoin, and labdanum.

Hermes – Terre d’Hermes

Hermes – Terre d’Hermes


In these modern times of aggressive fruity florals, I find I am often drawn to “unisex” or even “masculine” fragrances as a means of finding suitable alternatives. I am a great admirer of the work of Jean-Claude Ellena first and foremost for his ability to weave great olfactory symphonies out of a mere handful of notes, but also for his ability to keep his oeuvres within a range that makes them highly accessible to a wide audience.

While marketed as a masculine scent, the 2009 release Terre d`Hermes borders upon gender-neutral with a masculine leaning. The fragrance opens with the sparkle of citrus: orange with a touch of grapefruit, though decidedly more subdued than Hermes Un Jardin sur le Nil or Guerlain’s Aqua Allegoria Pamplemousse. The hesperidic opening is punctuated by a hint of pepper, an excellent segue for the underlying earthiness of the fragrance.

Hermes and Ellena named the fragrance wisely, for the French word “terre” can be translated literally as soil or more figuratively as “Earth”. At its base, Terre d’Hermes captures many of the planet’s primordial properties: the richness of its soil, deep forest woods, smoky volcanic eruptions and the metallic tang of the mineral world. Where Ellena reveals his true genius, however, is in his ability to portray these heavy, elemental qualities in a light manner. While Terre is not as diaphanous as some of his other creations, it possess a graceful quality which keeps the combination of vetiver, oakmoss, patchouli and benzoin from becoming too rich or medicinal. While Terre is an elegant composition for a man and a wonderful departure from the typical marine fragrance, I find it equally suitable for a woman.

Woody Chypreterre2

Notes: grapefruit, orange, floral notes, patchouli, vetiver, oakmoss and benzoin.

Guerlain – Chant D’Aromes

Guerlain – Chant D’Aromes

chant-daromes21Chant D’Aromes was the first solo creation of Jean-Paul Guerlain after the retirement of his grandfather Jacques. Chant D’Aromes was released in 1962, before much of the social and political upheaval which would come to define the era. The name, roughly translated as “Song of Scents” is especially revealing for me, because within Chant D’Aromes, I detect the seedlings of all of the magnificent creations Jean-Paul would cultivate throughout his illustrious career. If Aime Guerlain was innovation, and Jacques contemplation, Jean-Paul would soon prove to be flirtation.

While overall, Chant D’Aromes gives the impression of a light-hearted floral bouquet with rich peachy undertones, within the opening notes, I detect the slightest sharpness that would be the unforgettable introduction to Chamade. As the seedlings begin to unfurl out of their sharp green hyacinth cases, the radiant fruity warmth of what would become Nahema is apparent. Chant D’Aromes also has a slight animalic note that would re-appear in many of Jean-Paul’s creations, subtle enough not to cloud the overall innocent impression of the composition, yet an unmistakable nod to the scent of the woman whom these flowers adorn.

While Chant is a lovely fragrance in its own right, it conveys all of the exuberance of youth not yet tempered by long years of experience. Chant is jubilant and smells of a celebration, as though Jean-Paul was able to distill a thousand disparate thoughts about love and perfume and harmonize them into a glorious nectar. While his later fragrances would achieve a level of sophistication comparable to that of his predecessors, Chant is a beautiful creation that captures the excitement and passion of a young man in love. This by no means is meant to imply that Chant is an amateurish creation – on the contrary, Chant D’Aromes reflects a level of craftsmanship that surpasses many of the perfumes available today.

chant_daromes_color_ad I am fortunate enough to have vintage versions of the extrait and eau de cologne which are similar in character, with the eau de cologne being slightly more powdery. I have not sampled the most recent reformulation, but understand that it bears a closer resemblance to Chant D’Aromes than prior attempts.

Floral Chypre

Notes: bergamot, mandarin, peach, tuberose, ylang ylang, , gardenia, honeysuckle, jasmine, helichrysum, iris, cedar and sandalwood, musk, oakmoss, frankincense, vetiver, and tonka bean.

Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle – Iris Poudre

Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle – Iris Poudre


Iris is one of my favorite perfume notes, so I am constantly seeking out fragrances where it is prominently featured. The 2000 launch of Iris Poudre taught me, however, that not all irises are created equal. Indeed, Iris Poudre, while undoubtedly lovely, is not very iris-like, nor does it contain much poudre (French for powder). The nose behind this fragrance is Pierre Bourdon, the man behind behind such classics as Yves Saint Laurent’s Kouros, as well as Feminite du Bois in collaboration with Christopher Sheldrake.

Several have drawn comparisons between Iris Poudre and Chanel No 5, however the aldehydes in Iris Poudre are more evanescent than the sparkling champagne bubbles of Mademoiselle Chanel’s iconic fragrance. Where No 5 is crisp, Poudre is shimmery. While the iris becomes more prominent in the heart, it feels overshadowed and is rendered almost fruit-like by the presence of ylang-ylang, magnolia and jasmine. Absent from Iris Poudre is the metallic tang of iris or its deep, earthy root smell. While the fragrance takes on a delicate, fluffy warmth in the drydown thanks to some delicious, nearly edible amber and musk, I found that the absence of the ghost-like aspects of iris gave the fragrance a slightly two-dimensional feel. A serious contender, but unfortunately not the winner for the top iris fragrance. iris poudre2

Notes: Bergamot, Orange, Rosewood, Ylang-Ylang, Carnation, Magnolia, Jasmine, Muguet, Violetta-Rose, Aldehydes, Iris, Musk, Amber, Sandalwood and Ebony.

Revlon – Fleurs de Jontue Iris de Fete

Revlon – Fleurs de Jontue Iris de Fete


In order for a perfume to be truly appreciated, it must always be viewed within context. Similar to the world of fashion, perfume styles change, at times in conjunction with the tide of cultural sentiment, but often at the hands of those searching for the next big commercial success. While perfume releases hit department stores these days at breakneck speed, a healthy level of competition has always existed between perfume houses, making them seek out innovative ways of promoting their wares. While few self-respecting perfumistas would dream of buying fragrance in a drugstore these days, after WWII and continuing until the 1970s, it was possible to purchase Chanel No 5 at the local five and dime.

Founded in 1932 by brothers Charles and Joseph Revson, along with chemist Charles Lachman, Revlon entered the world of beauty through an innovative nail enamel product that would ultimately pave the way for what became a multi-million dollar corporation, allowing the group to expand into cosmetics and eventually perfume. Revlon’s first commercial success in perfumery came in 1973 with the launch of the iconic Charlie, which quickly became a bestseller. Revlon followed up its success with the launch of Jontue, which became the number two bestseller for the company. While Revlon initially sold fragrances in departments stores as well as drugstores, the group struggled against giants like Estee Lauder and chose to focus their efforts on the lower-tier retail market.

While still a relatively new phenomena at the time, Jontue was followed up by three variations under the Fleurs de Jontue moniker. These flankers were Fleurs de Jontue Rose de Mai, Lotus de Nuit and Iris de Fete. The original Jontue, which was launched in 1976, was a floral fragrance balanced with a touch of oakmoss and musk. The three flankers each emphasized different floral notes and could be purchased with the original Jontue as a gift set.


Iris de Fete opens with a sharp green note, which initially seems a bit artificial. This opening quickly fades, however, and the fragrance’s character immediately softens. At its heart, Iris de Fete is fairly close to an iris soliflore, a fragrance based on the scent of a single flower. While a touch of Lily of the Valley is detectable, it only serves to lift the powdery softness of the Iris. The fragrance is somewhat understated, and the dusty quality of the iris is enhanced by a touch of light musk later in the dry down, giving the fragrance a bit of warmth.

Despite the subtle presence of these other notes, it is evident that they are there to highlight the star of the show: the iris. The fragrance has a polite sillage, but the lasting power is relatively good. Iris de Fete and its sister fragrances pop up every now and again on Ebay and at some internet retailers. While Iris de Fete might not stand up in a competition against iris-heavy presby_iris_new_jersey_originalhitters Chanel La Pausa from the Les Exclusifs line or Guerlain’s Apres L’Ondee, it is a lovely, light, and affordable fragrance that calls to mind the beauty of Springtime and the innocence of youth. It is by far one of my favorites drugstore finds and never fails to bring a smile to my face.


Notes: Green notes, iris, lily of the valley, musk

Jo Malone – Amber and Lavender

Jo Malone – Amber and Lavender


Jo Malone is not a line I have had great success with. I find this disappointing, because there are many aspects of the house I find appealing conceptually. Jo Malone’s aesthetic conveys an understated elegance with a bit of English eccentricity thrown in for good measure. The house’s shops are lovely, as are their bottles and gift sets. The fragrance names suggest quirky combinations that I want to fall in love with, as the names tend to remind me of high end Aqua Allegorias (the good ones).

Amber and Lavender had been high on my test list ever since I read somewhere that the fragrance had originally been created as a bespoke scent for Malone’s husband and later released to the public by the house in 1995. The combination seemed intriguing, and I imagined the amber lending a warm touch to the cool bite of lavender, making it a wonderful transition from the bitter cold of Winter to the warm Summer months.

When I got home and applied the fragrance, I checked and re-checked my sample. It seemed that my fragrance had been mislabeled, for I smelled no amber or lavender. But after process of elimination with the other samples I picked up, I determined that this scent was indeed meant to be Amber and Lavender.

The fragrance opens with a strong soapy smell that reminds me of men’s body wash, the combination of bergamot and lavender creating an almost fougere-like scent where the lavender seems more like an afterthought than one of the protagonists. After a few minutes, the fragrance is tempered by a slight mintiness which is interesting, but does nothing to highlight the lavender.

After the strong opening, the fragrance mellows into a nondescript warm base. There are hints of amber, though sometimes I sense more patchouli and myrrh. And while the lavender seems to wave a white flag every now and then, the more enticing notes drown under the weight of the body wash smell. Unfortunately, Amber and Lavender satisfied neither my taste for amber, nor my obsession with lavender. Guess I’ll stick with Gris Clair…


Notes: Mint, bergamot, lavender, clove, cinnamon, lily-of-the-valley, myrrh, patchouli and amber.

Charbert – Ambre

Charbert – Ambre


One of the challenges of vintage perfumery involves researching brands which have not survived the test of popular sentiment. Every once in a while I will stumble upon a fragrance for which I am unable to get much background on, both in terms of its composition or information on the house that created it. When the fragrance is as unique as Charbert Ambre, it can be especially confounding, as there is no explanation for why this house closed its doors, leaving this unique creation all but lost to time.

According to Nigel Groom’s New Perfume Handbook, Parfums Charbert was founded in 1933 by William Gaxton and Herbert Harris. The firm, which was based in New York, produced both perfumes and cosmetics for the middle market of American consumers. The firm had a trademark drum shaped flacon (see photo at right) which housed many of its perfumes, including Ambre. Ambre was released in 1940 and by all accounts, Charbert ceased operating approximately twenty years later in 1963.

Ambre starts off with a soapy, green opening somewhat reminiscent of Lucien Lelong’s Tailspin. These are not the soapy aldehydes of a Chanel No 5, instead, Ambre’s opening feels like the precious little soaps that one sets out in a guest bathroom to give visitors a sense of luxury. Unlike other “green” openings, Ambre feels neither overly sharp or medicinal, coming across instead as fairly soft and warm. The true beauty of this fragrance however lies in its heart and base, which reveals a warm, vanillic amber, soft and velvety smooth. The base reveals subtle hints of spice and woods, but they serve to round out and deepen the amber, without competing for dominance.


For those accustomed to bold amber fragrances such as Serge Lutens’s Ambre Sultan or even L’Ambre des Merveilles by Hermes, Charbert’s interpretation may seem somewhat tame. The fragrance features an average sillage and longevity, making it suitable for wear in various situations and occasions. This makes it an amber fragrance uniquely suited to the Spring and Summer months, when this fragrance category can feel a bit stifling. If anyone out there has more background on Charbert, I would love to hear about it.

Amber Oriental

Notes: Green notes, aldehydes, vanilla, amber, spices, resin, woods and musk.

Guerlain – L’Heure Bleue

Guerlain – L’Heure Bleue


Vincent Van Gogh – Starry Night over the Rhone

It is often those things which we are closest to that we fail to see objectively, blotting out any shortcomings or imperfections. While this trait is certainly desirable in love, it can render a perfume review nearly impossible. 2012 was the 100 year anniversary of Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue, which was created by Jacques Guerlain, arguably one of the greatest noses of all time. And while Guerlain released a gorgeous anniversary edition, as well as three noteworthy re-interpretations of the classic, I found myself unable to compose a single word on the subject of what is perhaps my most beloved perfume. It is only now that the anniversary has passed, and that the pages upon pages on the blogosphere celebrating this masterful creation have subsided, that I feel up to the task of dissecting the beloved.

L’Heure Bleue, French for the blue hour, is named for the quality of light displayed at dusk, when the rays of the sun have softened and suffused, just before night takes its grip on the world.   This hour signals the end of the day and has traditionally been associated with other-worldly events. The term has also been used to describe life in Pre-WWI Paris, a time before the baser forces of the world reared their ugly heads and interrupted an idyllic existence. L’Heure Bleue often feels for me like time suspended – the sky has given up the light of the sun, and patiently awaits the arrival of its stars – a quiet breath before the stillness of the night.


L’Heure Bleue is distinctly a fragrance of its time, embodying many of the ideals of the turn of the century and events preceding. If L’Heure Bleue were to be rendered in a painting, for me it would display the spirit of the Impressionists, where form was second to emotion. L’Heure Bleue is mapped out with soft, subtle strokes that meld and merge on the skin into an olfactory masterpiece. Most telling perhaps is a description of the fragrance from the mouth of its creator Jacques Guerlain: “The sun has gone to bed but the night has not yet arrived. It is the uncertain hour. In the light of a profound blue, everything, the shivering foliage, the lapping waters, is concentrated to express a love, a kinship, an infinite tenderness. Suddenly, man is in harmony with his surroundings, the time of a second, the time of a perfume” (Jacques Guerlain on L’Heure Bleue taken from the Cent Cinquantenaire anniversary book, translation mine).

In L’Heure Bleue, Jacques Guerlain was able to capture this magic of suspended time, as though he had distilled the blueness right out of the sky. In its hesperidic opening, it captures the final light of the golden orb as it dips down below the horizon. A powdery veil of heliotrope, iris and anise convey the suffusion of these last remaining rays of light, and create a sensory impression of the deepest blue. Jasmine and Bulgarian rose announce the richness of the night sky, like a velvet shroud which will drape and cover the land in its soft folds. And at its depth, the vanilla, tonka and amber shine with all the resplendence of the evening stars. L’Heure Bleue is often said to have a gourmand quality to it, as the notes of anise, heliotrope, tonka and vanillin create a patisserie-like impression. This should not be confused, however, with the modern gourmands which possess a distinctly sweet, candy-like scent. The overall effect is stunning and while the fragrance possesses a distinct character, it is one of refinement and grace. It is no wonder then that L’Heure Bleue counts Queen Elizabeth and Catherine Deneuve as admirers, the latter identifying it for many years as a signature scent.


This review is for the vintage version of L’Heure Bleue which is available from various decant services and from reputable sellers on Ebay. While I adore the parfum version, even the eau de toilette and eau de cologne are worth sampling, and the latter especially has an extraordinary powder-like quality to is which is in keeping with the fragrance’s overall character. Unfortunately, this fragrance in its current form is one of my greater disappointments in the Guerlain line, so I highly recommend seeking out a pre-formulation version.


Notes: Orange blossom, anise, heliotrope, iris, rose, jasmine, vanilla, tonka and amber.

Christian Dior – Diorella

Christian Dior – Diorella

If Diorella had a face, it would be the exquisite beauty of Jane Fonda in Roger Vadim’s 1968 sci-fi, B-movie masterpiece Barbarella. Both reflect a beauty which is disarming, innocent, sensual and yet somewhat strange. Dior released Diorella in 1972, yet another masterpiece created by Edmond Roudnitska.


Diorella first tempts you with the freshness of lemony greens rounded out with a touch of melon and floral notes, giving the opening a hint of ripeness. Were it to end there, Diorella would have been an attractive, linear warm-weather fragrance, perfect for after a shower. But as is often the case with great beauty, Diorella has an underlying complexity which must be experienced if its beauty is to be fully appreciated.

Regardless of how many times I smell the opening, I am always surprised by a sense of underlying strangeness just beneath the surface, not unlike smelling an approaching storm before one feels the first drop.  As the top dissipates, a savory note of basil begins pushing toward the surface, which seems both out of place and brilliant, hinting at the richness of soil which lies underneath. Diorella is not unlike a flower blooming in reverse, its petals collapsing onto themselves and rolling up into the stem, which then plunges below the surface back into its damp, musky bulb. Diorella takes its time unfolding, each layer becoming increasingly sensual as the earthiness of oakmoss and vetiver settle down into the warmth of patchouli and musk.

If Diorella had sisters (or daughters perhaps), for me they would be Calyx Prescriptives and Cristalle for their green ripeness and Ma Griffe for its mossy magnificence.diorella


Notes: Lemon, Peach, Basil, Bergamot, Melon, Green Notes, Honeysuckle, Jasmine, Violet, Rose Bud, Carnation, Cyclamen, Oakmoss, Vanilla, Clove, Sandalwood, Vetiver, Musk, and Patchouli.