Mary Greenwell plum photographed by The Scent Critic on a background of unwaxed organic lemons
Mary Greenwell, how do I love thee…? Let The Scent Critic count the ways. First, Mary is one of the most gifted make-up artists ever to whisk her brushes over a famous face (including, as many know, countless supermodels and the late Princess of Wales…) Secondly, she is an inspiring, charming bundle of energy: a whirlwind of tips, ideas and anecdotes. And thirdly – relevant here – she has now created two fragrances of some considerable note.
Plum, Mary’s debut scent, is in The Scent Critic’s opinion one of the most dazzling fragrances of the last decade. (You can read my review, here.) But Lemon, while less opulent, is no less lovely. Quite some time ago, garnering second opinions, Mary gave me a teensy sample bottle of Lemon. When it squirted its last, it was all I could do not to take a hammer to the bottle, to get the weensiest last drop.
In its whacking great final flacon (as lethal a weapon as Mary’s first fragrance), Lemon does not disappoint. I get Limoncello. Sherbet lemons. A bowl of lemons on the kitchen table. In the wrong hands, lemon can go – well, pear-shaped, rapidly headling downhill in the direction of loo cleaner or furniture polish. Not here. It’s like zesting lemons into a spring risotto, or (something I can only fantasise about on yet another bloody freezing British Sunday), plucking a sun-warmed lemon from a Sicilian tree. Continue reading Mary Greenwell Lemon
Bois de Paradis photographed by The Scent Critic against vintage San Francisco postcards
The Scent Critic is writing this review with a slightly broken heart – because not long after snapping this photo, I dropped my precious bottle of Bois de Paradis in the sink, shattering it, only to watch $140 of fragrance glug down the sink.
You see, despite being in the fortunate position of being dispatched literally hundreds of bottles of perfume every year, this was one I splashed out for (and splashed on) with my own hard-earned. (I suppose I should count my blessings: last time this happened, it was the sink and not the bottle that smashed…)
But quite aside from not exposing fragrance to heat and humidity (its enemies), it’s another reason to keep my ‘wardrobe’ of scents in the bedroom, not the bathroom. I encountered Parfum Delrae’s exquisite confection in the perfumery at Barney’s in San Francisco, aided and abetted by a most passionate sales assistant. (Who then proceedd to put Delrae Roth directly in touch with The Scent Critic, which is beyond efficient.) Having previously flirted with Amoreuse (when Les Senteurs brought these fragrances into the UK for a while), this was the Parfums Delrae masterpiece I had to flex my Amex for: a warm, woody but somehow breezy scent, garlanded with full-blown roses and tangle of ripe brambles.
It’s soft and fuzzy round the edges, right from the ever-so-slightly-lemony start – even as I sit here reeking. It’s also lusciously fruity – and by that I mean luscious wafts of jam cooking on a stove late-summer at berry-preserving time: ‘fruity’ has become such an insult in perfume circles, gotten itself a bad name – when in the right hands it delivers a luscious, sexy juiciness, rather than sickly-sweet bottled goo. To wit, Jean-Claude Ellena’s 1986 In Love Again for YSL, or the fruity-chypre qualities of Cartier’s fabulous So Pretty. (Note to self: must go and smell that old favourite again, soon.)
Unlike scents which have a definite season, this is something I believe could be worn year-round. I bought it on a sunny summer day in San Francisco, after the fog had burned off, and it was just perfect then. I’ve been wearing it as autumn sweeps in on Atlantic storms, and it’s just fine with opaque tights and cashmere – and for me, that’s unusual: I have summer scents, and winter scents, but few that bridge the season. It lasts forever and a day on the skin, the woody/ambery/incense notes hanging around for days if I don’t shower. (And as a non-sweat-er, I don’t, always… Which will horrify my American followers, perhaps, but not my French…)
To me, Bois de Paradis’s ultimate triumph is that it’s so perfectly-balanced. Not too much of this, not an overdose of that. So exquisitely balanced, actually that it conjures up an image of a ballerina en pointe, with one wood-blocked toe on the head of a man riding a unicycle across a tightrope strung between the two sides of the Grand Canyon. So poised that it almost takes my breath away, then. I shouldn’t be surprised that it sprang from the imagination of Michel Roudnitska, who’s as close to perfume royalty as it gets. (Along with the Polges and the Guerlains, of course.)
Only now we’re parted. Almost. Because the fact is I was wearing a silk shirt when my fragrant accident happened, and it got drenched. As it happens, Bois de Paradis has a fantastic sillage, and some time after the event is still wafting away. So I’m now carrying my shirt round in a suitcase (The Scent Critic happens to be in Paris, perfume capital of the world, for some meetings) – and retrieving it regularly for a sensual fix, sniffing it like a grown-up little girl and her blankie. What I get, now, are the warm, walk-in-the-woodsy, hint-of-bonfire notes that are Bois de Paradis’s lasting signature. Just glorious. But my ‘sniffie’ is going to have to last for another six weeks or so when I’m back in the land of Parfums Delrae, with access to a Barney’s, and part with another 140 bucks.
Small price for a mended heart, though, eh…?
Shalimar Parfum Initial photographed by Jo Fairley at its One Marylebone launch
Every now and then the folks at Guerlain have a go at tweaking Shalimar to make it more appealing to a younger audience. Or bring in a groovy bottle designer (groovesters don’t get much groovier than Jade Jagger), to sassy up the flacon and add a dash of style that will attract a younger wearer. Shalimar Parfum Initial is the latest of these efforts (following in the ballerina-pumped footsteps of Shalimar Light and Eau de Shalimar, to name but two…)
What’s fascinating to The Scent Critic, however, is that back in 1959 when her paramour was a teenager (on a US Airforce base in Chateauroux, in France’s flat-as-a-pancake intérieur), Shalimar – the original, un-tweaked, va-va-voom, wrap-yourself-in-icing-sugared-cashmere animalic Shalimar – turns out to have been the scent-of-choice of all the American teenage girls-about-town.
If you stood on the streets, he tells me, you’d encounter great gusts of Shalimar as these young women went past on the back of sundry French boys’ vélos (while their parents waited, biting their nails at home, no doubt…) He therefore has a certain Pavlovian attraction for it, and indeed: Shalimar is one of the handful of scents that he’s bought me in over two decades together. And something quite funny happens to him whenever he smells it. (Good funny.) Continue reading Shalimar Parfum Initial
Urura's Tokyo Café photographed against cherry blossom by The Scent Critic
The Scent Critic has never been to a real speakeasy – but (in the nicest possibly way), I’m still in recovery after a perfumed version, hosted by the knowledgeable and highly entertaining Odette Toilette as the latest in her series of Scratch+Sniff evenings.
Think: fragrances overdosed with ‘lost’ or banned (or at least, under IFRA, restricted) ingredients – like storax and angelica.
Think: a whiff of actual musk. (PETA supporters will hate this, of course, but the real, warm, indescribably sexy thing is almost enough to make even a long-term bunny-loving veggie like The Scent Critic want more, more, more. Though I did say ‘almost’.)
Think: an encounter with an incredibly gifted and entirely off-the-wall self-taught perfumer, Sarah McCartney (more of her anon), who single-handedly gives the finger to those who sniffily say you need a chemistry degree and several years hanging around the great and the fragrant good in Grasse, to become a ‘nose.’ Continue reading 4160 Tuesdays Urura’s Tokyo Café
Photographed by Jo Fairley against a vintage Sanderson screenprinted chintz
One of The Scent Critic’s favourite smells in the world is a flower shop: the damp, mossy, earthy scent that assails and delights me upon stepping over the threshold of, say, Kenneth Turner in London, or Christian Tortu (in Paris), or the fabulous little Japanese florist Shimizu that to my great joy (and fairly eternal astonishment) happens to be just a few steps from my doorstep in Hastings, and showcases some of the most beautiful and creative bouquets I’ve ever seen.
So it’s pretty obvious why I’d fall for this: one of a trio of limited edition (darn it!) scents from Jo Malone, which just launched. (My advice: if you want to smell them, make it snappy; last year’s limited edition tea range just flew out of the door.) Like that tea-inspired range, the London Blooms collection is the work of Christine Nagel, who really can’t put a well-shod foot wrong, in my book. This collection cleverly contrasts notes that you wouldn’t necessarily put together, but she totally pulls it off.
This is damp and green and totally, totally mossy. Indeed, it’s a Japanese moss garden, in a bottle. Frankly, I might as well be lying on the moist ground in a shaded forest and basically inhaling the colour green. There’s a cassis sharpness to it, too. (Looking at the notes, they do feature blackcurrant – though I always think that’s cheating until I’ve had a darned good sniff, or I end up mentally seeking out certain elements, rather than embarking on a journey of discovery.) Rather than the juicy fruit of the blackcurrant bush, this is more akin to the Ribes plant, whose leaves and drooping flowers are currently bursting into life. There’s a bush between my house and my best friend’s and I’m incapable of resisting the temptation to rub its faintly furry leaves between my fingers, where the tart scent lingers for a surprisingly long time. Ribes is a bit love-it-or-hate-it (it tips over into cat wee at the end of its life), but I’m a fan. Continue reading Jo Malone Peony & Moss
Puredistance M photographed at Kettner's by Jo Fairley on a slate tabletop
Perfume doesn’t bite. It won’t kill you. So at fragrance press launches The Scent Critic is eternally gobsmacked, frankly, when fellow journalists don’t bother to do more than waft a blotter under their noses when being shown a new perfume.
Fact: they’re not everyday customers, who can quite justifiably smell a blotter in a department store to find out if a fragrance is a ‘no way’, or a ‘just possibly…’, before shortlisting a few to try. But beauty editors? It’s our job to smell a scent on their skin, because only then does the true nature emerge. (Which is how come The Scent Critic found herself the other day lecturing to some wet-behind-the-ears beauty journos who politely wafted a pre-spritzed blotter under their noses and then shunned the actual bottles of this perfectly acceptable scent as if they were wired to sticks of dynamite. We had been invited to the Ritz, to the room where the Queen dines, for heaven’s sake – and it wasn’t just lazy but downright rude not to put the fragrance that was being unveiled properly through its skin-warmed paces…)
Nevertheless, there are some fragrances which – on first sniff – absolutely beg to be sprayed onto every square centimetre of skin, and Puredistance M (which I discovered only yesterday) is one of those. Slightly embarrassingly so. No sooner had I unstoppered this than I was rolling up my sleeves, unbuttoning my Henley and anointing myself with smokey, sensual come-hither wondrousness. It’s so dark and smouldering and tarry and very, very naughty, M reminds me of that feeling in in the early, hormone-wracked stages of a love affair. You know: those relationships where you just can’t keep your hands off each other and keep nipping into darkened doorways or over the railings of locked parks, throwing caution (and clothing layers) to the wind. Continue reading Puredistance M
Roja Dove Danger photographed by Jo Fairley against a vintage silk sari
The Scent Critic doesn’t quite know how Roja Dove has secured some of the raciest fragrance names ever for his signature creations, but Danger is the latest in a line of brilliant light-the-blue-touch-paper-and-retire titles emblazoned across his naughty purple labels.
First came Reckless, Scandal, Unspoken and Enslaved – the last of which pretty much sums up how journalists are, in relation to the professeur de parfums, and why we refer to him so flipping often. There probably isn’t a perfume ‘anorak’ on the planet who knows more, or gives better quote. If he could but clone himself…
Actually, Danger probably isn’t my No. 1 of Roja’s signature creations. (I’m seriously fond of Scandal. Albeit not in a News of the World way…) But his scents are always noteworthy: to me, they have the allure of legendary long-lost vintage fragrances (this is a man whose own collection of historic perfumes is probably unrivalled outside the Osmothèque), but with a modern spin. Danger is the airiest yet: bright-as-a-button from first eau de parfum spritz, with a see-thru burst of classic, fresh-squeezed, undeniably Mitsouko-esque citrus grove topnotes.
He’s borrowed a touch of peach from Mitsouko, too, for Danger’s heart. (Nothing wrong with that; it’s a scent that both he and I happen to be eternally – yes – enslaved to, with good reason.) To be honest, it’s this middle phase that’s just not me: seriously floriferous, certain to seduce a white-flower-wearer – and I’m not one, really. It’s propped up by the traditional pillars of jasmine and rose, with a sweet-breath kiss of violet and an if-it’s-good-enough-for-Chanel-it’s-good-enough-for-Roja ylang-ylang hit. At this point I also, strangely, get almonds, maybe a nibble of marzipan, and a slight damp, green tinge, beckoning like Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, forest-wards… Continue reading Roja Dove Danger
Skin. Warm skin. Warm, sexy skin. Warm, sexy, kissable skin. At the end of the day, isn’t that what we’d all like a fragrance to smell like…? And of course, they all do, after a while: blood-warmed, after the dry-down, our own natural, signature body aroma emerges through its veil of perfume elements. But a fragrance that smells like warm, sexy, kissable skin from the very first poofff! of its black silken puffer? Take it from The Scent Critic: this debut scent from Carita comes closer than many (and I’d include Narciso Rodriguez Musk for Her, Chanel Exclusifs No. 18 and Nude by Bill Blass, on that list…)
There are two accepted ‘interpretations’ for skin scents, in fragranceland. Of course, there’s the category which seeks to conjure the actual smell of skin. (In general, skin that’s just come out of a hot bath and been talcum-ed dry, rather than dirty, post-roll-in-the-hay skin, however.) Others hum at such a subtle vibration, pulsing gently with every heartbeat, that they’re only really discernible by someone who’s positioned their nostrils very, very close to your body. This ticks both boxes: gentle, delicate, understated – but also, evoking that can’t-tell-it-from-real-skin warmth.
For once, it actually makes sense for a fragrance to seek to recreate ‘skin’. Carita has long been the destination salon for soignée Frenchwomen seeking complexion perfection – and is now also a global skincare brand. So: a skin fragrance…? Anything else would have been seriously off-message. Continue reading Carita Eau de Parfum
First of all, I’d like to point out that despite the fact this fragrance harks back to the era of fur tippets and flapper dresses, no chinchillas were harmed in the photography of this bottle. (The fur in my photo is entirely faux. Thanks, Restoration Hardware; the Davy Crockett hat’s come into its own in this cold snap.)
Caron Tabac Blond is quintessentially 20s: a fragrance for a time when women were discovering their independence (and – woohoo! – a freer sexuality). It’s Charlestons and over-made-up silent movie stars and Lucky Strike cigarettes and illegal hooch: daringly naughty, especially for that period – but (I think) delicious.
The Scent Critic knew all of this already, but it was brought home by an afternoon gathering I attended a few days ago, orchestrated by the wonderful Scratch+Sniff fragrance events (co-ordinated by a knowledgeable perfume-lover who glories in the nom de parfum Odette Toilette). The salon – the latest in her series of ‘Vintage Session’, and fuelled by generous quantities of ‘fizz’ and cake – was to explore the scents of the 20s, among which Tabac Blond featured. Continue reading Caron Tabac Blond
‘Never apologise, never explain.’ So: no long-winded justification for The Scent Critic’s hiatus; she’s simply throwing herself headlong into reviews again, before the 2012 launch season gets up a serious head of steam. Let us hope that this will be another vintage year, as 2011 surprisingly turned out to be – the Chateau Pétrus (or should that be the Brunello…?) of which, in my book, was Bottega Veneta’s debut scent.
Everything about it shrieks the cliché ‘understated luxury’ – but for once, with this modern chypre, created by Michel Almairac, that couldn’t be more appropriate. We all know that the raison d’être of the scent industry – at its more commercial end – is to drive ‘you-can’t-afford-the-bag-so-buy-the-perfume’ sales. Simple as that. Ker-ching, ker-ching, ker-ching.
Mostly, I wouldn’t want the perfume or the handbag – but Bottega Veneta is different. Well over 30 years ago I found myself virtually licking the window of their first little shop near Harry’s Bar, lusting after the so-unusual woven leather bag I saw there. I can remember it vividly: chocolate brown, butter-soft, no logo. I loved its absolute discretion: this was a bag that only those-in-the-know would recognise. (I’d never heard of Bottega Veneta, notwithstanding my Vogue subscription.) And there was absolutely no way, then, that I was going to find the £700 it required – in 1976, for God’s sake! – to acquire it. One day, I vowed, I’d own one. Continue reading Bottega Veneta