Guest Reviewer Of The Day: Way Off Scenter

A landscape architect and garden writer by trade, Way Off Scenter is a long-established and prolific reviewer of fragrances for the Basenotes web site, first as “Vibert” and then as “Off Scenter.” He has been reviewing under his current moniker since returning from a two-year’s absence at Basenotes. Click here for more reviews by Way Off Scenter.

MAAI: A Remembrance of Things Past

MAAI is an enormous, unapologetic animalic chypre scent composed in a style that hearkens back to the tropes of post-WWII perfumery. Perfumers like Edmond Roudnitska, Germaine Cellier, and Ernest Daltroff used to compose scents of this ilk for such firms as Hermès, Piguet, and Caron. Now MAAI stands as a glorious anomaly and a tribute to an art of classical perfumery that seems at times to be languishing.

Imagine, if you will, Cellier’s Fracas bedding down with Opium and Serge Lutens’s Muscs Koublaï Khan on a mattress filled with oakmoss (real, I’m told!) and you’ll have some sense of MAAI’s overall structure. The composition feels like three massive blocks laid down over a chypre foundation. First to emerge is a pungent animalic component (the Muscs Koublaï Khan part), rife with civet and castoreum, and not all that far removed from the animalic accords in Roudnitska’s original Madame Rochas or Daltroff’s vintage Narcisse Noir. Next up is a sensuous tuberose-centered white flower accord, smoother and quieter than Fracas, but still decadently creamy and substantial. Last out of the starting gate is an intensely spicy amber oriental, seasoned with cinnamon, cardamom, bergamot, and plenty of labdanum. (Opium, anybody?) The two last-mentioned notes blend with the potent oakmoss to establish MAAI’s profoundly rich chypre accord. The result is simply magnificent, and seems certain to cruise to the head of my “Best Release of 2014” list. (Not that there’s much competition.)

Once the elaborate tripartite structure is established, the components slowly rotate through olfactory space, yielding an ever-shifting sequence fragrance perspectives. Projection and sillage are both copious, especially for the first four to six hours of wear. After that, MAAI very slowly distills itself down to a marvelously warm and decadent labdanum and oakmoss skin scent, in a drydown that remains detectable for at least a day after application. Though the description might put some men off – what with that tuberose – MAAI strikes me as a thoroughly unisex composition. In fact, my wife says she has a hard time imagining it on a woman. At any rate, I heartily recommend that anyone with a serious interest in fragrance sample this great big, indulgent and uncompromising chypre. They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore!

Rating: a shocking 9.5-10/10


Helmut Lang 2014 - EDC, EDP and…Cuiron: Alive And Kicking!

Cuiron 2014

After being discontinued for almost ten years and after reaching mythical levels of appreciation amongst perfumisti who paid literally hundred bucks to get that bottle sporadically showing-up on the internet, the infamous Cuiron has been re-launched.

A lot of things have already been said on the fact if this current 2014 iteration is faithful to the original and, in my opinion, it completely is. I think most of the differences people perceived between the two versions of Cuiron are mainly due to the aging process of the juice which felt in the original formulation a bit sharper during the opening (some top notes might have turned a little bit). For the remaining aspects, the fragrance is still 100% the old infamous Cuiron.

A little disappointment came with the fact the fragrance seems a bit (and unnecessarily) overpriced today. When originally launched, it went for average designer price vs its current average niche tag. Well, I guess that's still better than the astronomic amount of bucks we all had to theoretically splurge to get a bottle of the vintage.

Rating: 9/10

Helmut Lang EDP 2014

The great news about Helmut Lang re-launching their whole range of fragrances, surprised quite a lot of us in the fragrance-sphere. Everybody was happy and concerned at the same time to discover if they messed up with these mythical fragrances and with much of my surprise, I've to say they didn't at all.

Current EDP is incredibly close to the original but, if I can dare, it feels almost better. It's slightly stronger and more balanced on the sweetness and, after all these years, still feels unique enough to gain all of my support and endorsement. I've to say that I found the original musk a bit more nuanced as it felt clean but maintained a certain dirtiness typical to this ingredient whereas the current iteration feels overall woodier and cleaner. Still top-notch stuff in my book.

Rating: 9/10

Helmut Lang EDC 2014

All of the other re-issues by Helmut Lang hadn't disappointed my expectations and I'm more than happy to say that EDC makes no exception.

This is probably the one that's more distant from its original formulation but it's still somehow faithful to its former self. It feels slightly soapier, more sparkling and cleaner (closer to Tom Ford's Pure Musk in these aspects) but they also enhanced the general barbershop vibe which is, in my opinion, one of the most appealing traces of this impossible to overlook fragrance.

Enduring love.

Now PLEASE, bring back Velviona and Helmut Lang Parfum.

Rating: 9/10

Check out my takes on the vintage formulations here.


Guest Reviewer Of The Day: Colin Maillard

Today I've the pleasure to host one of my favorite reviewers of the last couple of years or so: Colin Maillard. Already known and respected by fragrance-freaks for his severe but totally solid perfume criticism on Fragrantica and Basenotes, Colin is actually one of the sweetest guys around. He likes to read and write just like he did when he was 5. He loves his cat, his girlfriend and traditional tattoos but, most of all, he loves his mortgage with which he's bond in a really long-term relationship.

He also runs his personal fragrance-related blog Ye Olde Civet Cat. For more reviews by Colin Maillard please check here and here.

Tiffany For Men: Luxury In A Bottle.

Straight to the point: Tiffany for Men (vintage, "cologne" version) is a masterpiece. Jacques Polge composed it pretty much when he was working on Chanel pour Monsieur, and the similarity between the two fragrances is quite clear, but to me Tiffany overpasses the Chanel to any extent - creativity, richness, uniqueness, class. If you want, in a way this is far more "Chanel" than the actual Chanel. The opening of Tiffany is quite, and I’d say "deceptively" at first, adherent to late 1980's/early 1990’s “modern” trends in masculine perfumery: a chypre accord with sweet and powdery nuances, that is classic masculine structures revisited with a dandier, more exotic and more feminine touch. The soft, mellow, sweet notes of the Nineties are around the corner. In a way, the opening is also a bit similar to Héritage by Guerlain, mostly for its complex spicy-woody-floral substance, but only in this very first phase, and anyway in a far more compelling and balanced way here. The initial accords are all about powder, woods, oak moss, dense humid flowers (rose, carnation) and spices, quite "heavy" in a way, but wait just a bunch of minutes for heaven's door to open. 

Not more than thirty minutes after application the scent literally opens, or in a more figurative way, "blossoms up" with an airy, spacious, dimensional power which I have almost never experienced in perfumes - and that surely is the first significant mark of difference with the abovementioned scents this one is often compared to. Partially this would be probably due to the extremely high quality of materials, as this scent dates back when brands still destined high budgets to perfumes (especially a discreet and sophisticated brand like Tiffany about to launch their first perfume for men); and partially to the talent of Polge in using and balancing them. Once the opening phase passes, everything starts to smell more and more sumptuous, golden, invigorating, extremely refined , with a palpable yet oniric feel of silk, warmth and elegance, with just a hint of shady animalicness on the very base. The magnetic, irresistible smell of pure luxury - Clive Christian, Roja Dove, Amouage? Parvenus. 

Tiffany for Men is even quite simple to describe as regards of what it actually smells like, as I mentioned above it is basically all about citrus-neroli notes on head, oak moss and rosewood on the base, a really subtle and velvety woody-smoke note all over which creates a great sense of "shady" and sensual refinement, and then this central heavenly symphony of talc, iris, jasmine, rose, carnation, spices, vanilla, sandalwood and amber notes, both the "warm", sweet amber note and something which to me smells like amber gris, the real salty-camphoraceous one (but it may just be benzoin which creates that feeling with woods). All realistic, vibrant, golden, captivating: we're talking about great iris, great rose, great woods, (perhaps) great ambergris... you can imagine how deep, rich and faceted this gem smells. It's exciting how the greatness of this fragrance grows as minutes and hours pass, contrary on most of nowadays' perfumery (niche included), where averagely all happens within the first hour, then it's all about declining power and faint drydowns. Here, the more hours pass, the better it gets, with a transition towards a dusty woody-iris drydown with a stout oak moss base still dusted with talc, spices and vanilla notes. Which lasts for hours. Tiffany for Men is possibly one of the most rich and refined fragrances for men ever made, and probably (not to sound presumptuous) one of those which are more likely to be loved by people who love perfumes - like those obscure musicians which are praised by colleagues far more than by the audience. Self-confident, restrained just enough, modern and incredibly classy, with just the right amount of dark exoticism yet completely civilized and safe. Finally, one of the very few scents which embodies and expresses my concept of "exclusivity" *solely* by olfactory means (this means neither by price, nor marketing bollocks: just for how great and holy-grail-esque it actually smells).



Comme Des Garcons For Pharrell Williams - Girl: Unhappy!

Being myself a Comme Des Garcons aficionado, I don't deny that the news about this collaboration with Pharrell Williams left me a bit surprised. Yes, CDG delivered a bunch of *fancy* streetwear-inspired collections in the past (especially in their *Play* line) but, for the most part, I think their aesthetic is very distant from diamond rings / earrings and revised ranger's hats. I'm surely missing something here because there must be something else beside, um, mere commercial purposes that links these two entities but, when I think about Comme Des Garcons, what immediately comes to mind is their unmistakeable drop-crotch pants or their most avant-garde / punk-ish designs. I can't help it. Bascially because that's what I always liked about the brand. I can honestly live without their doodle-style red-hearts logos.

With that said, the fragrance is nothing more than a decent spicy woody concoction with floral facets. It opens with a leafy / green violet note paired to pepper. A smooth and kind of milky accord provide a fig-like vibe and some entertaining juxtapositions between transparent notes and opaque ones. The fragrance then turns into a darker synth woody / incensey drydown that dangerously borders into plastic-y woodyamber territories. That's it. 

It's nice and, depending on your tolerance to woodyambers, it's also pleasant to wear but, while feeling *smarter* than most celebuscents available on the market, it really adds NOTHING to the Comme Des Garcons roster. In other words I would say it's a trite CDG and a good celebuscent but given that my interest towards this fragrance was mainly because of the CDG's involvement, I'll have to stick to the *trite* aspect of it.

All in all I would suggest this to either Comme Des Garcons novices or to the brand's completists. People who don't have a special fondness towards the brand and are simply into *interesting* fragrances, might want to look somewhere else.

Given Kaws' involvement in the design of the bottle, this might become a collector's item pretty soon.

Rating: 6.5/10


Goti - Smoke: A Hidden Gem.

Goti is an italian brand mainly focused on high-end and avant-garde jewelry using the most unusual materials together with precious metals and gems. Sometime in 2008 they collaborated with Santa Maria Novella's perfumers to start their own line of fragrances and delivered three compositions (Black, Earth and White) that, for the most part, had flown under the radars. Both because they were poorly distributed and not advertised at all.

In 2013, they re-designed the packaging, reformulated their previous range (this time working with historical florentine pharmaceutical lab from the 30s, Laboratorio Therapeutico M.R.) and introduced two new perfumes of which Smoke is my personal standout. Now, given the name, if you're expecting a fireplace type of smoky thing, get ready for a disappointment because Smoke is anything but that. Instead, if you're after a radiant and modern incensey thing, you'll have much to love here.

Smoke opens with a sour-ish and fizzy accord that makes me literally salivating. On one side there's the red and slightly sweet fruity vibe of pomegranate juxtaposed to the zesty and aromatic quality of the ginger. It feels sparkling, joyful and even light-hearted if you want but never dull. The top notes tame down pretty soon but they keep on lingering throughout the rest of the evolution of the fragrance which is made out of a darker, simple yet pretty impeccably executed crispy incense with woody notes as reinforcement. There's a nose-tingling thing going on throughout that might vaguely remember of gasoline or other kind of combustibles. The woods are smooth and elegant as opposed to the sickening powerful synth-woody notes we often experience in modern masculines and eastern-themed compositions.

Overall, I would suggest Smoke to those who like the more incensey Comme Des Garcons or certain fragrances by Olivier Durbano (especially Citrine, Lapis Philosophorum and Heliotrope). It's a modern aesthetic, restrained, quirky and effortlessly elegant.

Quick note on the packaging which is simple but very striking in a post-Owens way. The bottle design is pretty much the same for all of their fragrances but you can choose to have your bottle in chrome-finish porcelain (cheaper) or plain metal (much more expensive). Big 100ml bottles come with a leather bulb-pump which is simply stunning. All of the bottles come is a plain black box wrapped in a black leather belt.

Rating: 7-7.5/10


Rancé 1795 l L'Aigle De la Victoire: Dare If You Can!

Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner!

L'Aigle De La Victoire, from the Rancè 1795 Collecion Impériale, is an uncompromising, straight-forward and extremely potent skanky / woody leather that immediately gained a spot up there together with the most popular testosterone-monsters in this genre.

I'm gonna give you a bunch of parameters so that you can't say you haven't been warned of what kind of monster this is. Rien and Leather Oud are the first ones that come to mind. If not for objective similarities (which are there BTW), surely for their striking and uncompromising iterations of leather…but then also, Boadicea The Victorious Complex, Mazzolari Lui, Montecristo, Oud 27, Yatagan, Parfum D'Habit…ok I'll stop it here.

So, it's an hardcore sweaty leather with a thick animalic presence and green-resinoid (incense) facets. A dirty patch note reinforces the overall dark-woody vibe by providing a kind of creepy vein. The most interesting aspect though, is that L'Aigle De La Vctoire is built around an extremely classic bone structure that brings to mind of several masculine chypres of the past while still feeling anything but derivative. Again, thick, ballsy, daring and, in the end, even reasonably priced. Kudos to Rancè 1795 for delivering such a anachronistic and unapologetic beauty.

Tremendous sillage and beyond exceptional longevity. Skank-lovers, you've been warned. The others, should probably stay carefully away from this.

Rating: 8.5-9/10


Masque Fragranze - Russian Tea: The Warmest Winter.

My first instinct would be to start with "what a surprise!" but then, if I think about it, this is more like a confirmation than actually a surprise. The work Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi are doing with their Masque line is definitely something not to overlook and Russian Tea represents just the newest chapter in their already important and noteworthy path started with humongous releases such as Montecristo, Tango and Terralba.

For Russian Tea they worked with cult-perfumer Jacques Rasquinet who previously collaborated with the likes of Naomi Goodsir (for whom he delivered what have become one of my all-time favorites, Bois D'Ascese) and Andrea Maack amongst others. An extremely talented perfumer who's rapidly becoming the undisputed master of smoky notes. The result of this collaboration strikes as a sort of hypothetical lovechild of Guerlain Herba Fresca and the much overlooked Eau Du Fier by Annick Goutal…well, this is honestly kind of a stretch but it might give you an idea on the axis this fragrance moves on, anyway. Smoky, aromatic, dark, fresh, leathery and…bittersweet.

There's clearly a mint note up top which while completely skipping the typical (and annoying) toothpaste effect, it's immediately joined by the most realistic smoky black-tea rendition I've experienced in quite a while. The pairing of the two gives birth to a fantastic juxtaposition all played around moderately sweet fresh notes and darker smoky ones. It's funny how in this phase, while smelling somewhat refreshing, the fragrance doesn't fail to show its darker side with an overall wintery vibe. It's a modern accord made out of bittersweet juxtapositions and just a hint of red-fruitiness. A modern accord where smoke it's relevant but not overwhelming and where tea is left to express and unveil all of its aromatic and evocative qualities. 

Slowly, the base starts lurking in the back… 

The evolution from the opening to the middle phase and the drydown is slow, smooth and completely flawless. A much darker central accord of smoky woods remarks it presence and takes form while joined by a leather-incense combo with some immortelle providing extra body. It gets darker and darker with time. Deeper and deeper, warmer and warmer, drier and drier… At traces, it made me think of a more aromatic version of Comme Des Garcons Black (the immortelle-leather-incense combo is really not that distant) but whereas the CDG feels urban and sort of punk-ish, Russian Tea pushes on melancholy and coziness by evoking immense rural landscapes during winter. Traditional rituals, historic buildings, fireplaces and time spent meditating and traveling. 

Now, I'm impressed for way too many reasons. First of all, this a fragrance which is a total pleasure to wear on many different levels. It'd make one hell of a signature as well as something distinctive for special occasions. It's easy to like but has so much substance. Daring but not weird, solidly built and conceived and, most of all, perfectly sized. Longevity is beyond good while silage is discreet but remarkable. An entirely elegant composition that's able to standout and feel distinctive without being necessarily odd or pretentiously *arty*. Masque's Montecristo was one of my favorite fragrances of 2013 and Russian Tea will most definitely be amongst my favorites of 2014. With that said, there's really no doubts on my side that Masque is rapidly becoming one of the most interesting and solid outfits of this second decade of 2000. 


Rating: 8.5-9/10