There are a few perfume ‘genres’ that I have never really ‘got’: green, woody and amber. Well, with time (and through this blog) I’ve learned to appreciate green and to love woods, but for the most part amber still eludes me. Amber, for those of you not familiar with it, is a blend of benzoin (a balsamic resin obtained from the bark of a number of trees within the Styrax genus), labdanum (a sticky brown resin sourced from shrubs) and vanilla that creates a warm, glowing sweetness that is soft, fluffy and gauzy in texture. It is the backbone of big oriental fragrances such as Shalimar, but it’s also used as a standalone theme in many modern perfumes.
More than being an iconic perfume genre, the amber is also the perfect scent for this cold weather. I like to think of ambers as winter warmers – those gloriously toasty and enveloping scents that get stuck in one’s winter scarf, wafting a hedonistic aura around the wearer. So as the winter draws in, it makes sense for everyone to have an amber in their wardrobe. But what happens when you don’t really like amber? Or, you think that you don’t like amber?
Miller Harris has had a very busy year – they’ve launched two capsule collections of fragrances: Scherzo x Tenderand Forage (Lost, Wander & Hidden), and to complete the hat trick, they now presents their third collection of fragrances this year: Peau Santal and Powdered Veil. Housed in bottles coated in intriguing shades of pink (baby pink for Powdered Veil and a more ‘nude’ (not a word I like to use because it only represents one type of skin colour, but other descriptors escape me, ‘blush’ maybe?) shade for PeauSantal), these two fragrances celebrate the intimacy and the ritual of glamming up – the lace of dresses, the powder of make-up, and the wood of dressing tables, and wardrobes. They are fragrances with distinct textures, of powder and skin, that arrive perfectly in time for winter. Let’s check them out.
Speed Sniffs is a way to bring you ‘to-the-point’ fragrance reviews that are quick and easy to digest. They are perfume reviews without the faff.
I am not a massive fan of amber fragrances. There’s something pleasing about the classic blend of benzoin, labdanum and vanilla, absolutely, but I often find that, because it’s such a distinct accord, amber fragrances seem to cover very similar ground. So you own one and there’s little need to own more – you just need to pick out the one for you. I’m also not too keen on leather either, because it tends to dominate a perfume. Now, you’re probably wondering why I’m telling you all of this so I shall enlighten you: today I am writing about a amber/leather fragrance that I really love.
I don’t mean rhinestones!
But diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”
– Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Marilyn Monroe knew a thing or two about glamour, I’d say, and in her iconic performance of the Carol Channing-composed ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’ in Gentleman Prefer Blondes she said it best when she said that, when it comes to diamonds, a man better get you the real thing, or else. Like diamonds, niche perfumery should be subject to such a discerning set of rules because, let’s face it, there are many pretenders out there – tons of cubic zirconia brands that offer a pretty package but not much in the way of honest olfactory beauty. Niche fragrance is all about offering something special, something unique and something more luxurious than the mainstream fair, and many brands provide sparkle, but none of the lasting interest that they should.
One brand that I recently discovered with both style and substance is Orlov Paris. I’m a sucker for a good story and theirs is one that is refreshingly devoid of tacky gimmicks. Brand founder Ruth Méaulle is a Gemologist who loves fragrance as much as she does diamonds. Having worn some cracking scents in her life, the likes of Carnal Flower and having gifted equally wonderful fragrances to her mother (Amarige) and husband (Vétiver Extraordinaire), Méaulle realised that she had followed one perfumer with each of these fragrant choices: the legendary Dominique Ropion. So it makes sense that, when Méaulle decided to start her own fragrance house, Orlov Paris (Orlov being Russian for ‘Our Love’), Monsieur Ropion was the only nose she could work with.
Each of the fragrances within the Orlov Paris collection is inspired by a legendary stone, with the first five taking their inspiration from iconic diamonds. The best seller, Flame of Gold, is named after the Diamonds International award winning canary yellow diamond of the same name, which weighed in at a whopping 29 carats. Originally set in a necklace but later purchased by Texas oilman E.E. “Buddy” Ogelmen for his wife, Oscar-winning actress, Greer Garson, the location of the diamond today is unknown. Like the stone, Flame of Gold the fragrance is mysterious and dazzles with warm light in shades of yellow, glowing with amber, vanilla, leather and cedar wood. Talk about divine.
Oud fragrances come in all shapes and sizes. There are the straightforward ouds presented in a vaguely middle-eastern style, uniformed with rose and amber. There are also the hidden ouds – ouds that are anything but the funky barnyard of the real thing. Finally, we mustn’t forget the unusual ouds – the ouds that do something a bit different, and a bit daring, with this now plentifully utilised note, and take it to dizzying new heights of olfaction. One of my favourite ouds that sits firmly in the unique camp is Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s OUD – a scent that colours the usually smoky and animalic odour of the noble tree rot into shades of cerulean blue, with flecks of gold shimmer. In OUD, Kurkdjian pairs oud from Laos with a metric-f-ton of musk and fresh citrus to create an ethereal, and not to mention, thoroughly modern oud, that is a world away from the oppressive, and dense ouds that attempt to conjure images of a middle eastern bazaar, but ultimately come across as a caricature.
Kurkdjian followed his tremendous OUD with his OUD Mood collection, which consisted of three oud-based fragrances inspired by silk, cashmere and velvet. My favourite from this particular collection was OUD Velvet Mood, an odd and industrial sort-of-oud that perfectly captures the smell of hot metal skyscrapers formed from steel and blazing sheets of glass, rising from the sands in Dubai. To put it simply, when it comes to oud, or the art of perfumery in general, Kurkdjian follows his own set of rules and he always offers up something new, and exciting. So, if you’re bored with oud (at this point, I’m bored with being bored with oud) Kurkdjian is the man to get you out of that funk.
This spring, Kurkdjian is treating us to yet another oud, and this time he’s ready to paint the town red – ruby red, to be precise. Joining the OUD Mood collection, this new scent, which is entitled OUD Satin Mood, is a delicious, decadent and daring take on the oud theme that plays with familiar themes, but twists them excitedly on their heads. It’s a fragrance that one wants to wrap around themselves in a veil of protection – an amulet and a talisman to ward of the greyness of everyday life – a banner that says, back of bitches, I’m fabulous.
“With your eyes closed, you can imagine flowing fabrics delicately draped over bare skin, caressed by intense and dazzling sunlight. You will want to wrap it around you, lose yourself in the depth of the moment and suspend time.”
Swedish perfume house, Byredo have launched their popular and Fragrance Foundation Award winning fragrance, 1996 as a limited edition candle. The fragrance, which was created in collaboration with fashion photographers Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, was inspired by a photograph taken by the duo in 1996, and is described as a scent that “combines polar opposites” and boasts a distinct accord of “viscous black amber”.
1996 was one of my favourite launches of 2013 and in my review I described it as being “sepia toned”. It’s an unfamiliar take on amber that sees sharpness, sweetness and unique textures pieced together to create a truly exceptional blend that is really unlike anything else out there. It is easily the brand’s most exciting fragrance and now, for those that love it, there is a candle too!