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May 6, 2011 | Hermès Eau de Pamplemousse Rose

There is a day, in early summer, known simply and jubilantly to me as ‘The Day’, when you can throw open the windows upon waking to find the world is already warm outside, with the leaves everywhere you look unfurling in that reach-for-your-sunglasses shade of spring green that’s perfect for foliage.  (Though pretty terrible for anything else, such as clothes or paint or shoes, as I’ve found to my cost.)

Right now I’d say we’re all on that kind of ‘chlorophyll high’ – and this, from Hermès, is the fragrance to match it.  Every year around now, The Scent Critic shuffles Eau de Pamplemousse Rose to front and centre on her crowded-tube-train of a dressing table, and prepares for lift-off.  Because one whoosh of this bathes your senses in total freshness:  like running your wrists under cold water, or slipping into a crisp, cool linen shirt.

In aromatherapeutic circles, grapefruit (a.k.a. pamplemousse) is acknowledged for its reviving, awakening, focussing power – and it has exactly that effect on the mind and even the body, seems to me.  Bleary-eyed?  Partied too late?  Feeling like the treacle you’re wading through has turned to toffee, at the end of a long and weary week?  Un-stopper this attractive green bottle and spray very, very generously indeed.  (Which you can, without fear of overwhelming yourself or those within sniffing distance:  this is a true cologne, subtle in its charms.) Continue reading Hermès Eau de Pamplemousse Rose

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May 3, 2011 | Guerlain Idylle Duet

Nobly (in every sense of the word), Catherine Middleton wore a British perfumer’s creation for her wedding – White Gardenia Petals by the ubertalented Michael Boadi – keeping the Union Jack flying in the same steady-handed way as she did with the choice of bubble-and-squeak canapés, the seasonal home-grown flowers, the field maples now destined for a leafy avenue at Highgrove.  But if the new Duchess (or Dude-ess, as I like to think of her) had been looking for a romantic French bouquet, this limited-edition ‘flanker’ to contemporary Guerlain bestseller Idylle would have been parfait.

The ‘Duet’ in the name refers to two elements in the Idylle original that have been ramped up, for this version:  rose, yes, but also Indonesian patchouli.  The patchouli tethers it, as that element characteristically does, without making it heavy or in the least hippie-dippy.  (Patchouli being synonymous, in less able hands, with whisper-of-joss-stick fragrances.  Not that I’ve anything against patchouli:  generally I can’t get enough of it, but it’s as if the characteristic earthiness has been fractionated out of it, here.)

So the hype goes, Thierry Wasser – and The Scent Critic won’t embarrass him any further by prattling on about his gifts – was inspired to create this by Hector Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’Eté– the languid movement entitled ‘La Spectre de la rose,’ I suspect, because this is as full-blown a rose scent as you could hope to dab behind your diamond-earringed lobes.  And it’s certainly utterly classical:  a so-grown-up tumble of jasmine, freesia, lily of the valley and lilac garlanding a rosy heart. Continue reading Guerlain Idylle Duet

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April 26, 2011 | Nez à Nez Atelier d'un Artiste

Once upon a time, in her slightly misspent youth, The Scent Critic was an artist’s muse.  (She is now slightly at that oh-heck-I’d-better-buy-up-all-those-nudes stage in life, but since the artist went on to become rather collectible, that’s not really an option.)

What I’m leading up to is that I know only too well what the inside of an artist’s studio smells like, and this is eerily reminiscent:  cedar pencils, a touch of incense wafting in the background, plenty of tobacco – even strangely Gauleoise-y, which happens to be the brand of cigarettes the artist in question chain-smoked – and a glass of spirits, perenially beside the easel.  (Rum and a rather fruity Cognac – almost Calvados – are clearly present in Atelier d’Artiste.)

In some ways, with its amber sensuality, this chunkily bottled perfume has strong echoes of Serge Lutens’ Ambre Sultan, which I once went on record in a colour supplement as saying was ‘sex-in-a-bottle’ – prompting a somewhat undignified scramble to the perfume counters.  This is also sexy:  languid afternoons with velvet curtains drawn and only candles to illuminate the gloom, the rain pouring down outside, a fire flickering in the grate, a fur hearth-rug, and – well, I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

Ambre Sultan roars, though.  Not much subtlety to it (though it is darned gorgeous, to my nostrils).  After a few potent opening minutes of its own, Atelier d’un Artiste becomes gentler, humming and thrumming, its come-hither less of a Moulin Rouge chorus kick, more of a Dangerous Liaisons wink over a concertina-ed fan.

Slightly incongruously, then, I feel a little like Julie Andrews trilling ‘These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things’, reeling off the list of base notes:  patchouli, vetiver, tobacco, vanilla, leather.  Love all those.  Love them, love them, love them.  There’s a delicious fruitiness, too, in the overture – they say black grape and raspberry, I say booze-soaked dried fruits and Christmas cake.  Oh, and a chaser of a double espresso – candied with enough demerara to stand your spoon up in it.

The ‘pencil’ note is omnipresent, meanwhile, like a captain’s sea chest, the inside of your school pencil box or (slightly less romantically) those anti-moth blocks that cashmere-owners are wise to stockpile.  All in all the impression is unseasonably warm, as fragrances go (most definitely unsuited to the hot April day on which this review’s being written), cocooning and enveloping.  The sillage is great, as is the staying-power.  And always a bonus:  The Scent Critic’s husband declares ‘that’s really sexy’, post-neck-nuzzle.  Complex and bottom-heavy, this almost certainly not to everyone’s taste – but I’m definitely stashing it away for cooler weather.

To set the scene, Nez à Nez is a small, intriguing Parisian fragrance house:  a collaboration between a painter and writer, and an anthropologist and inveterate traveller, whose ‘souvenirs’ are hundreds of smells that she now seeks to capture in a bottle, like an insect in amber.  Initially, the fragrances are ‘imagined pictorially’, as they tell it:  drawings, colours, photographs – and then, the essences, the notes, the compositions.   (Actually, ‘noses’ for the big houses often work from moodboards, but these two don’t have a strict commercial brief to work to, and their imaginations – as you can tell from Nez à Nez’s bottled wonders – can wander more freely.)

On their website is a rather good quiz, worth filling in if your French is passable and you’ve got a coffee break to kill, to help steer you to your potential ‘matches’, within the Nez à Nez collection.  Having had a bit of fun with the questionnaire myself, I’m looking forward to exploring some more of their recommended confections:  Ambre à Sade (I’m liking the sound of Russian leather, tonka bean and patchouli), and jasmine/vanilla/Earl Grey tea-infused Vanithé, par example.

As for Atelier d’Artiste, it takes me right back to that fourth-floor walk-up studio, and my life modelling days.  Indeed, it’s had me rummaging in my own attic, hauling down some portraits of my more youthful self and rehanging them in this house – just happy to have fared somewhat better than Dorian Grey, overall.

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April 21, 2011 | Yardley Lily of the Valley

The Scent Critic has recently been too frantic to stop and smell the roses.  (Hence the lack of postings.)  To be honest, I was beginning to get worried.  On a crazy-busy book tour, criss-crossing the UK, I did take with me a selection of fragrances in my suitcase, in the hope of writing about them.  Yet here’s the weirdest thing:  although I could to all intents and purposes smell them, they failed to unlock any emotions or memories.  Between my slightly retroussé nose and my brain, there was a total disconnect.

It was perfumer extraordinaire Francis Kurkdjian who set my mind at rest, over breakfast a couple of days ago.  No, I shouldn’t fret.  Yes, it was perfectly natural.  ‘When you’re tired or stressed,’ (I was both), ‘the messages don’t get through to the brain,’ explained Francis, who’s experienced this phenomenon himself.  (Since he makes his entire living via tapping into this sense, that could be pretty serious.)  In order to focus on notes and compositions himself, it turns out, Francis works in almost total darkness, without music.  ‘Only then does a perfume start to fall into place, for me…’

So:  when we encourage people to stop and smell the roses, that’s exactly what we mean.  In order to smell the roses, we really do have to S-T-O-P.  Only in this case it was lily of the valley that I tuned into, when I finally paused to take breath.   Now, it would be wrong to dismiss this as ‘the poor man’s Diorissimo’, because this inexpensive scent – from the recently revamped and relaunched Yardley – has its own quiet charms.  And while I can’t imagine swathing myself in this on a blustery autumn day, it is apt for this ‘green shoots’ season of new hope, as the garden outside romps away and the trees are doing a rapid reverse-burlesque, putting on lime green Agent Provocateur undies all over the place.

This is definitely green, fresh, almost mown-grassy at times, and with the softly narcotic sweetness that is lily of the valley.  There’s the merest breath of jasmine, and it drifts hyacinth-wards at times, in headiness – but the overall impression is subtle freshness.  Yardley’s creation has none of Diorissimo’s swagger:  this is understated.  The shy girl at the back of the class who’s too scared to put her hand up when she knows the capital of Peru, rather than The Girl Most Likely To… Star on the West End Stage, in the school yearbook.

Funny thing, lily of the valley, you know.  I’ve seen the desire for it transform a burly chap into a pensioner-elbowing brute, as he storms the flower stall at the local Women’s Institute Market, to get his hands on a posy of these most dainty of white flowers.  Though in reality, they’re not dainty at all:  thuggish, in the garden, imitating the aforementioned portly individual as they make a takeover bid for the flower bed.  (I don’t think you can get enough of them, personally, and am pleased to let my lilies of the valley have their nodding head and romp away.)

Ah, back to Yardley’s.  After a while, on my skin, this goes slightly metallic.  Cool.  Almost icy, at moments.  If I licked an aluminium saucepan, I’m pretty sure it would taste like this smells.  I get nickel watchstraps.  Buckles.  But that’s not to say it’s totally unpleasant, at this point.  It’s shady, glade-y.  (Though not Glade-y as in those ghastly loo fresheners, NB.)  It also has a sort of ‘treasured doll’ phase:  when you reach into a suitcase, find your Baby Annabelle or your Shirley Temple doll (in my case), breathe deep, and have a comforting, nostalgic but nevertheless somewhat plasticky encounter.  Eventually, some woodiness sneaks in, and lingers for quite a while.

Do I like it, overall?  Well, I guess so.  Will I be wearing it again…?  Hmmm, maybe not, since my dressing table right now is a bit like one of those push-penny games in an amusement arcade:  if I add one more, a bottle of Shalimar, Rive Gauche or Aqua Universalis is in danger of dropping off the back and smashing.

But I’m grateful to this gentle little fragrance, for helping to restore that vital nose-brain link for me, after too long a hiatus.  I sincerely hope I will never again be so busy that I can’t smell the roses – not to mention the lily of the valley, the honeysuckle, the incense, the ambergris and 1,001 other scented delights.  Without a fully functioning, memory-conjuring, emotion-triggering nose, life’s pleasure quotient was seriously diminished for a while there.

Quite a scary lesson, that.

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March 17, 2011 | Jo Malone Sweet Milk Cologne

And now for something completely and utterly different.  At first cosy sniff, Sweet Milk – the last in the Jo Malone Tea Collection – is exactly as it sounds.  Sweet.  And Milky.  Think: condensed milk.  Think:  that smell you get when milk has almost boiled over on the stove:  a tiny bit burned (in a caramelised way).  Think:  just-fed baby.  No, I mean it;  I spent last weekend around a particularly cute Rugrat and he smelled deliciously like this.  (There’s a touch of ‘baby’s head’ about this, too:  that perfect scent that you get when you nuzzle the warm, gently pulsing crown…)  I’m also getting Milky Bar Kid, twirling his toy Colt-45s.  Or Green & Black’s White Chocolate, with its real vanilla particles, to which I have a guilty affinity…

Part of me finds the sweetness overwhelming.  Part of me can’t stop sniffing my wrist, compulsively.  (That’s the part that’s winning.)  Interestingly, of all the Jo Malones that I’ve been wearing (and wearing), this is the one that got most compliments.  It’s a fact:  we’re drawn to comforting, vanilla-y smells, and with its eau de custard warmth, this seems to have a wide allure.  It’s very gourmand – reminds me a bit, in fact, of Laura Mercier’s foodie fragrances, yet is somehow more intriguing and multi-dimensional, less synthetic.  There’s a caramel underbelly, meanwhile, that would appeal to anyone who’s wanting a fling on the side, to cheat their beloved Angel.  (But if you’re not an Angel fan, don’t let that put you off Sweet Milk, please.  It really is worth a nose.)  Continue reading Jo Malone Sweet Milk Cologne

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March 11, 2011 | Jo Malone Sweet Lemon Cologne

It’s a while since those of us in Beautyland got to preview Jo Malone’s Tea Collection, and I had forgotten my absolute instinctive reaction to Sweet Lemon – the fourth I’ll be reviewing, out of this quintet.  It is my grandmother, in a bottle.  Not my warm-and-cosy, capaciously-bosomed, rock-cake-baking granny (it’s the smell of geranium leaf that brings her back faster than you can say H.G. Wells’s Time Machine).

Instead, this is my rather cooler, primmer, slide-a-coaster-towards-your-sherry-glass grandmother, who lived in America.  And who smelled exactly like this.  As did her house.  (Especially the large basement laundry room, to which we could slide from the bathroom above via a chute, when she wasn’t within earshot.)  I’m going to have to spray this on my brothers (it’s unisex enough to do that), but I’d put money on them having the same bittersweet (literally) Proustian moment.

It’s 13 years since my grandmother died but this brings up all sorts of stuff.  This is very, very cool and – well, sweetly and tartly fruity at the same time.  (Lemon tart.  Key Lime pie.  Marks & Spencer pineapple chunks, one of my all-time favourite train snacks.)  In fact, I get much, much more of the tangy pineapple and rhubarb notes than the lemon itself (and I don’t encounter the promised bergamot at all).  Altogether, it’s really green and appropriately spring-like:  as bright as the ‘spring green’ leaves boldly through the earth right now.  And it is, like most of this Tea Collection, super-clean.  (Indeed, at times, just a tad furniture polish-y.) Continue reading Jo Malone Sweet Lemon Cologne

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March 9, 2011 | Jo Malone Earl Grey & Cucumber Cologne

Although Earl Grey is The Scent Critic’s least favourite kind of brewed tea (and just about the only one I’ve ever been known to decline), this third in the series of Jo Malone’s limited edition Tea Collection is absolutely my favourite yet.  In truth, I don’t really get Earl grey or cucumber, when I initially apply this:  for me, it’s more the sweet element of teatime:  a little icing sugar, a touch of Ladurée macaron, a definite gourmand character.  Powdery and pretty.  Makes me feel a bit like Marie Antoinette – or rather: Kirsten-Dunst-as-Marie-Antoinette, in Sofia Coppola’s film, in one of my all-time favourite screen indulgences:  a festival of Manolo Blahnik shoes and cakes, enjoyed to a rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack.

The cucumber coolness does come later, but it’s the flirty intro that hooks me (line and sinker).  It’s nebulous and gauzy but very much ‘there’, and ultimately has better staying power either than the Assam & Grapefruit or the Mint Leaf Cologne that I’ve already reviewed.  The first few times I wore this, I was completely anosmic to the bergamot note (normally so citrussy and fresh).  Instead, I got violets and iris and marble-smooth softness.  (At moments, this could even be a Guerlain, to The Scent Critic’s nose.  Wowzer.  That’s not something you’d have said about Jo Malone, in its pre-Christine Nagel era.)

And then: success!  When I sprayed this on my clothes rather than my skin (pashmina in particular – I DO like a scented pashmina), there it was:  Earl Grey, to the bergamot-scented letter.  Why my clothes should be so receptive to this when my skin isn’t is an alchemical mystery, but there you have it.  The really, really weird thing is that I like this so much, it makes me want to start drinking Earl Grey.  Earl Grey, which I’ve always loathed.  Go figure.

And you want to hear something even stranger…?  After a day wearing this fragrance, I dreamed of an old boyfriend, from several decades ago, who – yes – always drank Earl Grey.  Somehow, my limbic system got my memory bank playing a kind of tennis-elbow-foot (or rather:  Earl-Grey-tea-Anthony-Marrian) game, while I was unconscious. I knew that fragrance could conjure up memories while we’re awake;  I just didn’t know it could do it when we’re in bed asleep.

Word is from the folk at Jo Malone that this Tea Collection is flying off the shelves in Asia, meanwhile, and The Scent Critic is less-than-surprised.  There is, of course, a serious ‘tea heritage’ in the Far East (China, Japan etc.), which probably hard-wires them to be receptive to anything with the black tea note that emerges here, after a while.  As a fragrance note, tea is fiercely difficult to describe.  Dry, tannin-y, aromatic – and addictive as the real, brewed thing, if my reaction to this collection is anything to go by.

I am absolutely in raptures about how this smells after a few hours, meanwhile:  beautifully full-bodied.  Although I get vanilla early on (right from the word ‘go’, with that cake-y first impression), this sweetness strengthens over time.  According to Jo Malone, there’s also a ‘beeswax’ note in the base – which probably accounts for its slightly honeyed, languid quality.  And cedar and musk, which are a leitmotif in the Tea Collection, tether and ground it, more sexily than in the ‘sister scents’ that I’ve reviewed in the past few days.

It’s simply dreamy.  In more ways than one….

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March 7, 2011 | Jo Malone Fresh Mint Cologne

In theory, fresh mint could be tricky, in a cologne.  The danger is it could go all ‘toothpaste-y’.   But I don’t find anything Colgate-ring-of-confidence about this second in the sequence of the Jo Malone Tea Collection that The Scent Critic is refreshing herself with over the next few postings:  it’s genuinely ‘mint tea’ – that Moroccan thirst-quencher that’s thrust at you while you haggle over carpets, baskets or babouches in Marrakech’s souk.

To be honest, I’m thinking of this more as a spritz-it-all-over full-body ‘cool-down’ than something to dab daintily behind the ears.  Like the Assam & Grapefruit that I reviewed the other day (also created by Christine Nagel), it’s a perfect-for-summer scent.  And possibly a little too cooling right now, with a North wind jiggling The Scent Critic’s Listed-and-poorly-insulated Georgian office window.  It sure makes me wistful for the warmer weather to come, when I’ll be twisting mint leaves between my own fingers as I head garden-wards up the steps.

Jostling for airspace with the mint are some other fresh herb notes, in the (fleeting) overture, including basil.  If you weren’t awake already, you would be after a few whooshes of this.  (It’s good on clothes, for the same reason, although the usual caveats about not spritzing onto garments vulnerable to staining apply.) Continue reading Jo Malone Fresh Mint Cologne

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March 4, 2011 | Jo Malone Assam & Grapefruit

Have you ever stumbled upon an entire collection of fragrances, launched all at once, that you loved…?  Me neither.  Until now.  Although maybe my passion for Jo Malone’s new tea-inspired collection is because The Scent Critic is such a tea-lover, at heart.  Fuelled by cups of tea throughout the day – and quite a lot of the time I could care less whether it’s rare White Silver Tip or PG Tips or Mariage Frères Lapsang Souchong.  (Though The Scent Critic’s new friend, The Rare Tea Lady, is probably spluttering into her vintage teacup at that confession.)

Bulgari was the first fragrance house to make a big thing of tea, of course, with Eau Parfumée Green Tea – but this limited edition collection, created once again by gifted perfumer Christine Nagel, is an epic exploration of the tea world.  (If I go on being effusive about Christine Nagel’s brilliance, she’s going to think I’m some kind of scented stalker – so from now on, The Scent Critic is playing it cool.)

Of the quintet, this is your morning cuppa – and super-refreshing and sense-waking it is, too.  Grapefruit is familiar to many Jo Malone-lovers, of course, from a Grapefruit cologne in the main range.  If you love that, you’ll definitely love this – although I find this softer and rounder:  cooling, calming, in contrast to the original Jo Malone cologne which always had a slightly chalk-on-a-blackboard quality, to me. Continue reading Jo Malone Assam & Grapefruit

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March 2, 2011 | Jimmy Choo Eau de Parfum

Ah, Jimmy Choo.  Shoes-of-choice for slinky-limbed aristos, WAGs and fashionistas.  (Not for The Scent Critic, however, who – confession time – is more of an Ecco/Chie Mahara girl.)  It was only a matter of time before Tamara Mellon OBE brought out a perfume, so that all those aspiring women who long to fill specially-built shoe cupboards with Jimmy Choo heels can get their hands on a little bit of what has become one of the Great British Brand Successes.  The shoes, of course, are legendarily easy-to-wear.  Can the same be said of this fragrance?

Yes, I’d say.  The first sherbet rush gives it a slightly ‘young’ vibe – not so much a zoosh as, blimey, a whoosh!!! – of sparkling aldehyde topnotes – but blink, and it comes over all stretch-limo-powered Knightsbridge sophistication.  Technically, Jimmy Choo is a chypre, that most elegant of fragrance types – though only vaguely so, to The Scent Critic’s nostrils:  more vanilla-y than you’d expect from a chypre, in the dry-down, and fruitier, too, with a pear note – which gives a crisp, green edge as this revs up. Continue reading Jimmy Choo Eau de Parfum

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