I’ve tried a number of fragrances that didn’t work for me over the last eight months, but not all of them were actually bad scents. Although I scrubbed all of them off, a few were things that I actually think some of you might like quite a bit. The problem in each case (for me) was that the fragrance had one or more elements which pushed one of my hot button issues, and did so in a way that not only felt imbalanced but, quite frequently, also made the scents physically difficult to test.
Perfume reviewing is a wholly subjective thing that is dependent on individual tastes, experiences, and skin chemistry, but it’s not easy to write about scrubbers in exhaustive detail, one after another. (And I’ve gone through a lot of scrubbers in the last 8 months that I haven’t talked about.) For many of the fragrances mentioned in this post, I lacked the heart and will to write thousands of words for one of my usual reviews, and didn’t want to cover them even in one of my short(er) Reviews en Bref because I wasn’t keen to relive the experience. Yet, as I said, some of you might like a few of the fragrances quite a bit — like the new Cilice from Euphorium Brooklyn which should appeal to lovers of dark, smoky, woody, and campfire fragrances. Two of the scents are things that I would sincerely recommend to people with a very particular taste set to try for themselves.
As a result, I finally decided to cover some of my “misses” briefly in one post, writing what essentially amounts to blurbs by my (admittedly skewed) standards rather than skipping them entirely. They are: Andy Tauer’s Carillon Pour Un Ange, Tom Ford’s Private Blend Santal Blush, Morph Parfum’s Nudo, and Euphorium Brooklyn’s Cilice. In each case, I’ll eschew quoting the company’s description for the scent and the background information, as well as my usual list of direct retail links around the world. Instead, I’ll simply give the fragrance’s concentration, its notes, a link to a vendor, and a link to either Fragrantica or Basenotes where you can read different perspectives as a counterbalance. At the end, I’ll talk even more briefly about Jardins D’Ecrivains’ Junky and four of the new Elisire Parfums.
TAUER CARILLON POUR UN ANGE:
Carillon Pour Un Ange is an eau de parfum that was released in 2010. According to Luckyscent, its notes are:
Rose, ylang, lilac, lily of the valley, jasmine, leather, ambergris, moss, woods.
Carillon Pour Un Ange is a controversial, polarizing scent that is ostensibly an ode to muguet (lily of the valley). People argue about how much of that is true, and I can see why. Unlike some, I do smell muguet on my skin, but it is perpetually hidden behind a wall of other elements, a wall so thick and high that the muguet only sometimes escapes in a noticeable manner. The rest of the time, it either plays a game of peek-a-boo, feels merely like abstract floralcy, or is a muffled to the point of irrelevance.
Carillon Pour Un Ange has three distinct stages on my skin. In the first, the wall is a herbal and green one that smells like anise with mint, possibly a touch of basil, and perhaps some piquant leafiness, all laced with a nebulous greenness that only barely suggests moss. Strong whiffs of white musk add another layer behind which the muguet hides. In the second phase, the wall is made out of laundry musk mixed with ISO E Super, harsh smokiness, and a lesser streak of equally raspy woods. Except for the quiet hint of ambered warmth that stirs in the base, all of it feels overtly synthetic, particularly the laundry musk that has turned sharp and industrial in feel. In the third stage, the woods take over. They’re strongly smoky, but also laced with sweet, spiced musk, as well as sharp laundry musk and ISO E Super. As always, the muguet hides behind the latest incarnation of the wall, but the floralcy is weakest in this stage.
And it is this third stage that became the most unbearable for me. I loathe both ISO E Super and laundry musk (especially when they resemble Bounce drier sheets, as they often did here), but it was musky, singed, raspy woods that were the greatest problem for me. Abrasive, harsh, and wholly unpleasant, they were the last straw. After 8 hours, I scrubbed it off. Carillon Pour Un Ange may have muguet in it, but this is Frankenstein’s muguet that has been sewn up with butchered spare parts from other creatures and they are the ones who drive the scent.
Opinions on Carillon Pour Un Ange are firmly split on Fragrantica. In one camp, the fans call it: “stunning magic,” “amazing,” “beautiful,” and describe Andy Tauer as a genius. In the other, people find it: “extremely reminiscent of slugs,” “unwearable, unbearable,” physically nauseating, “vile,” or “harsh.” I side with them. But at least I experienced some muguet. “LovingtheAlien” was less fortunate, writing: “Honestly, this is probably one of the harshest, most synthetic, and most overpoweringly unpleasant perfumes I’ve encountered. A cacophonous brew of weeds, smelling salts, and detergent factory runoff that just won’t quit.”
Bottom line: you’ll either love it, or you’ll hate it. There seems to be no in-between.
TOM FORD PRIVATE BLEND SANTAL BLUSH:
Santal Blush is an eau de parfum released in 2011. According to Luckyscent, its notes are:
Indian spices, cumin, cinnamon, carrot seeds, fenugreek, jasmine, ylang-ylang, rose, Australian sandalwood, cedar, benzoin, musk.
Tom Ford’s homage to sandalwood essentially seeks to recreate the various facets of endangered Mysore, and, to a large extent, it achieves its goal quite successfully. It is a scent that I would recommend to everyone who loves sandalwood, so long as they have no problems with aromachemicals in heaping doses. I’ve tried Santal Blush four times, and had to scrub it off each time because this fragrance gives me a head-splitting migraine of massive proportions whenever I would sniff my arm. In fact, I would put Santal Blush on the list of the most physically difficult fragrances that I’ve tested.
In essence, Santal Blush is a mix of strong sandalwood synthetics — probably Ebanol and Javanol, in my opinion — all topped with spices. The perfume opens with creamy sandalwood, streaked with milky greenness and dusted with amorphous spices. Once in a while, I can smell fenugreek and the most minute suggestion of curry. More often in the opening phase, there is carroty sweetness, an intangible floralcy, and a strong whiff of cedar shavings. Initially, the sandalwood is dominated by the greener milkiness of Ebanol, but that changes roughly 20 minutes in when the Javanol arrives on scene. Slowly, it dries up a good portion of the milk and cream, mutes the carrot purée, and transforms the wood into something darker and less sweet. By the top of the 3rd hour, there is quite a shift in the scent which is growing increasingly synthetic. The curry note returns, followed by a drop of fenugreek and a lot of cumin. The latter emits a stale sweat aroma, though it is only an occasional whiff and hardly a central chord.
I actually could have withstood the curry and body odor were it not for the aggressive sandalwood synthetics and the shooting pains that pierced my head every time I sniffed my arm. It all became too much, and I’ve consistently had to scrub Santal Blush. The first time I tried the scent, I only lasted 15 minutes before the harshness of the Javanol got to me, but I eventually worked my way up to 4 hours. As a soliflore, Santal Blush doesn’t change and really isn’t supposed to, but the linearity here felt exhausting because of my issues with the notes.
I’m in a tiny, distinct minority when it comes to Santal Blush because few fragrances seem to receive the raves that this one does. There is hardly a bad word for it on Fragrantica and Luckyscent, including from people who call themselves sandalwood aficionados. Most think it is the “perfect sandalwood,” and only a few are lukewarm on the scent. If you’re worried about the stale body odor aspect, you should be comforted by the fact that I’ve only seen one person (“Paintedlily” on Fragrantica) mention “sweaty (cumin) underarm,” though one chap did allude to detecting a “funk.” Those are rare comments. The few people who dislike Santal Blush struggled primarily with an excess of “pencil shavings,” or some ineffable, undefined element that they said they found either harsh or gave them a headache. (It’s the synthetics.) Everyone else seems to think it’s a stunning, addictive scent that smells like the real thing.
Personally, I don’t think Santal Blush has the smoothness of real Mysore and it was initially too milky green for my tastes but, yes, by and large, the fragrance does eventually recreate most of Mysore’s facets. Given everyone’s glowing reaction to the scent, Santal Blush is clearly worth testing if you’re a sandalwood lover who lacks my sensitivity to massive quantities of aromachemicals — which would be most of you.
MORPH PARFUMS NUDO:
Morph Parfums is a relatively new Italian house whose fragrances are all eau de parfums with extrait strength. I previously covered the rose rollercoaster, Cruda, and the gourmand iris, Montmartre, but it was always Nudo that intrigued me the most because of the note list, As First in Fragrance makes clear, the company is keeping everything but Nudo’s top notes secret. They are: frankincense and “leaves of green.” However, Morph’s description also talks quite a bit about cocoa, and since I’m a bit of a sucker for that note in fragrances, I ordered a sample from Europe. Unfortunately, as I learnt with Cruda and Montmartre, Morph’s elaborate stories rarely match up to the scent in question, and they did not do so this time, either.
Nudo opens with frankincense, frankincense, frankincense, and more frankincense — all of it smelling harsh, raspy, and like industrial strength aromachemicals. Snaking through the base is a genuinely enjoyable streak of green bamboo, smelling liquidy and slightly sweet. Unfortunately, it is a minor touch and far too muted to ever have much impact in the face of the incense which is one of the harshest, most unpleasant types that I’ve experienced since the Brillo-pad incense in Serge Lutens‘ ghastly Gris Clair. I have to wonder if ISO E Supercrappy has been tossed in as well because this is one abrasive scent, but it’s hard to tell because the abrasive incense is such a bulldozer. Nudo’s balance is off-kilter, and none of it feels smooth or refined. It shares the same heavy-handed treatment that made Cruda such a rollercoaster, as if the brand thinks more is more, and keeps amping up the volume merely for the sake of it.
Nudo didn’t change during the two hours that I had on my skin. Perhaps it would have developed some complexity had I waited, but each time I tried Nudo (which is twice), 95% of the fragrance consisted of one single, harshly aromachemical note. It gave me a splitting migraine, and made me feel physically unwell. My apologies if two hours seems insufficient to form a proper judgment on a scent, but there are limits to my masochist desire to be thorough.
I haven’t found blog reviews for Nudo, and there is nothing written on its Fragrantica or Parfumo pages. In general, the best of the three Morphs that I’ve tried, and the one that I would recommend out of the trio, is Montmartre. It is basically a creamy iris-incense marshmallow, and should appeal to fans of SHL 777‘s Khol de Bahrein, especially as it costs less. As a side note, Morph Parfums is exclusive to Europe at this time.
EUPHORIUM BROOKLYN CILICE:
Euphorium Brooklyn is a new artisanal perfume house that makes handcrafted scents. Twisted Lily has a description that really caught my attention, but it’s too long to quote here in full. Suffice it to say that the brand seeks to re-imagine Victorian-era perfumery, that Cilice is a concentrated fragrance oil, and that its list of notes looks truly wonderful:
Benzoin, Labdanum, Frankincense, Elemi, Leather, Beeswax, Angelica, Cistus [labdanum amber], Clove, Honey, Papyrus, Cloister Liquor, Ambergris, Oud, Cedar, Coumarin, Birch Tar, Castoreum.
Cilice opens on my skin with cade smoke, burnt woods, aromachemicals, and spices, all wrapped up in heavy frankincense and enveloped by a musky warmth. The spices are abstract on my skin and, to the extent that one element was distinct, it felt more like mace essence than cloves. I don’t detect the toffee’d, caramel, or balsamic facets of labdanum, nor the musky leatheriness of castoreum, but much of that is due to the fact that Cilice’s notes are quite blurry on my skin. To me, there is a difference between a seamless transition or overlap between notes that are each clearly delineated, and a blurry haze — and Cilice falls into the latter category for me.
The other problem, a far greater one for me, is that the majority of Cilice’s bouquet on my skin is just multi-faceted forms of smokiness, dominated primarily by cade smoke with burnt, charred woods and aromachemicals. In general, cade and birch tar are means by which perfumers recreate “leather” in perfumery. On my skin, though, only birch skews to leather, while cade usually manifests itself as campfire smoke from burning woods.
Here, though, the blackened intensity of the smoke seems to go beyond either cade or the tarriness of birch by themselves; it feels as though creosote tar had been scraped off the inside of a chimney flue, and then mixed with ISO E Super and probably a few other really powerful synthetics. The end result reminds me of Orto Parisi, Nasomatto‘s offshoot brand where the aromachemicals have been amped up on steroids. I’m not a fan of the two Orto Parisi scents that I’ve tried because, as should be perfectly evident from earlier parts of this post, I have difficulties with supercharged synthetics.
As the first hour ends, the cade and incense smoke swallow up many of the other notes in its path. There is a hint of dirtiness, but it doesn’t smell like castoreum on my skin, and it’s too minor for me to determine the cause. There is also an acrid quality the scent that goes beyond desiccated woods which have been burnt down to ashes, but I’m at a bit of a loss at how to describe it and, again, the overall blurriness of the notes makes it difficult for me to pinpoint the exact cause. On top of all this, and lurking in the background, is something overly bitter, but this one I think stems from the spices. It doesn’t feel precisely like cloves, but like nutmeg and mace that have been burnt.
Yes, everything in Cilice smells burnt on my skin — burnt and enveloped in smoke. Incense smoke, cade smoke, creosote tar smoke, wood smoke, and hefty chemical smoke. It’s too much for my personal taste and for me physically; the back of my throat seized up after 10 minutes, and felt as though a knife had scraped it raw by the end of the first hour. I’ve tried Cilice twice, and had to scrub it off on both occasions. I’m simply not cut out for this sort of thing.
That said, I think Cilice would have a lot of fans in people with less sensitivity to large quantities of synthetics. It conjured up two things that I think would appeal to those who love dark fragrances: Steampunk and forest campfires. Perhaps the Victorian story in the ad copy has made me overly susceptible to suggestion, but I do think that Cilice has a pronounced industrial vibe. The last time something reminded me of Steampunk was MFK‘s Oud Velvet, though I must stress that the two fragrances smell nothing alike. A somewhat closer analogy would be Naomi Goodsir‘s Bois d’Ascese, solely because of the prominence of the cade’s campfire smoke. Yet, Cilice is much deeper, richer, and denser than Bois d’Ascece. For all of the blurriness of its notes, it is not a scent that I would ever describe as ascetic or overly austere. The fact that it is an oil helps as well. Ultimately, though, I think the closest analogy would be to the Orto Parisi style of fragrances: woody smokiness on steroids that, in my honest opinion, demonstrate a heavy hand and not a lot of elegant finesse. In the case of Cilice, I think some judicious editing could have helped the scent without detracting from its boldness and intensity.
A few other things are worth mentioning about the texture and strength of the fragrance. Cilice is an oil, but it was strangely watery at first. Unlike Middle Eastern or Amouage attars, it didn’t sink into the skin, leaving a glistening sheen, but stayed atop it like a mix of oil and … well, water. It took about 30-40 minutes for it to sink in. As a whole, Cilice had generally soft sillage, a very intense bouquet up close, and probably has major longevity. I don’t know how long it actually lasts because I only managed two hours before I felt ill, but I suspect it would be a full-day scent judging by the monumental difficulty I had in removing it. One scalding shower did not suffice; it only brought out the chemical aroma and made it stronger. Two showers, along with a kitchen scrubbing sponge and the repeated use of a special mix that I use for the worst cases — acetone nail varnish remover, hydrogen peroxide, baby oil, and concentrated Tide “HE” laundry detergent — were required, a surefire testament to the sheer quantity and industrial nature of the aromachemicals involved. That just pissed me off, if you’ll forgive my bluntness.
Others, however, really love Cilice, and since it is a new scent from a small brand, one that most of you are probably not familiar with, it is only fair in this instance to go into detail about all positive opinions of Cilice as a counterbalance. On Fragrantica, there are two short comments at this time, and one poster adored how it evoked “a camping trip in the mountains out west.” (The other merely said that Cilice had a lot of castoreum, but took no stance on the scent.)
On Basenotes, Cilice received a glowing, rave review from “The Beck.” He found all the notes blended seamlessly in and out, and no element dominated above the rest. He concluded by saying that Cilice was “a scent made for aficionados of the art of perfume. If you like the style of Maai and Cologne Reloaded by Bogue Profumo, there’s a good chance you’ll appreciate and enjoy Cilice.” [Emphasis to Bogue’s name added by me.]
Another Basenoter, “Trex57” loved Cilice as well. Though he found the frankincense to dominate, he wrote, in part:
Cilice is perfectly mixed melange of darker notes, smoke and boozy spice. Haven’t been wearing it long enough to get the full drydown. This scent is definitely a dabber. No spray nozzles here. This is a wonderful scent. Definitely sample first though. Its not for everyone.(IMHO) […] The drydown is amber/honey/mild cloves(on me anyway) and does indeed last 24hrs. First rate fragrance.
A third commentator, “Dorje123,” has a wonderfully detailed review for Cilice. He called its opening “both awesome and daunting,” found similarities later on to Nasomatto‘s Duro (which he called “restrained” in comparison), but he struggled with the ISO E Super and, ultimately, found the synthetics to be too much. He writes, in large part:
The opening is both awesome and daunting, Cilice hits you full force with it’s entire array of notes, producing a complex cacophony that reminds me a bit of a Borneo oud oil, it’s both sunny and bright, dark and powerful at the same time. It’s one of the few frags I’ve tried that made me smile right at first sniff and go looking up the price on the net…
However, as Cilice dries down a couple of powerful synthetics dominate and make this very cilice-like. The mid/base of this perfume smells a lot like Nasomatto Duro, there is a ton of iso-e super and whatever that aromachemical is that reminds some folks of floor polish. And it is strong and unrelenting, it’s spikes dig into my nose and make me suffer. The dark incensy vibe is also somewhat reminiscent of Puredistance Black, but a much more roughed-up, unrefined and synthetic-smelling version. As time goes on the drydown of Cilice and Duro converge to become very similar. I am wearing a bit of Duro on another spot now to compare, and Cilice makes Duro seem somewhat restrained, it is a real beast of a fragrance!
So while I enjoy the opening I do not enjoy the drydown and after an hour or so I’m ready to scrub it off, but this is easier said then done… Cilice is rather tenacious and it’s not easy to remove it’s hooks from your skin. This seems typical of many Niche brands, it’s imaginative and beautiful in the opening but depends on powerful woody-amber aromachemicals for the base, which makes it an automatic no-go for me… My personal preference is for natural smelling frags, I can even handle iso-e in small quantities, but if I can smell it from the opening it’s used in far too high of a concentration for me. Some people are going to really love this frag though, it’s really very good, just not for me. [Emphasis to names added by me.]
He has my full sympathy. Cilice is not for people like us, but I do think it’s a scent worth testing for those with particular tastes. Specifically, people who love darkness, smoke, and campfire woody fragrances laced with muskiness, spices, and ambered warmth; those who adore Orto Parisi (Nasomatto on steroids); and those who have no issues whatsoever with hefty amounts of aromachemicals.
For that group, Cilice is one to try. Plus, it’s an affordable scent, given the tiny bottles, and its exclusive retailer, Twisted Lily, sells samples and ships worldwide. But I cannot stress this enough, please test it first.
PASSING (DISHONOURABLE) MENTIONS:
JARDINS D’ECRIVAINS JUNKY: A synthetic hot mess, beyond just the tsunami of ISO E Supercrappy. A hodgepodge of styles that, strangely enough, convey no identity at all other than a sense of cheapness. I’ve tested Junky three times, but I simply can’t bring myself to write about it in detail. I think it’s actually worse than this year’s Marlowe — which is saying something given that the latter smells entirely of Tang and Bounce drier sheets on my skin.
ELISIRE PARFUMS: with the exception of the legitimately good and luxurious Ambre Nomade (which is basically a more balanced, richer Ambre Sultan), all the other Elisire fragrances felt like department store releases that should be selling for $70 in Sephora, rather than $325 fragrances carried exclusively by OsswaldNYC. All of them showed the founder’s background in working on Flowerbomb and Acqua di Gio — and I don’t mean that as a compliment. With the exception of Ambre Nomade, I found them all to be overly commercial, wholly generic, with zero personality, and with only a slight improvement in quality from a department store fragrance. In general, they all had an overly citrusy top stages with excessive clean white musk, adopting the in-your-face freshness of mainstream scents. Their florals were too hazy, undefined, and poorly delineated, as were many of the notes in general across the four. They were blurry compositions, except for the citrus in the opening and the clean musk. The latter was either soapy or just like hairspray.
To my surprise, the fragrance that I thought I would like best, Elixir Absolu, was the worst of the lot. Putting aside the sharp citruses that plague most of the quartet, the Elixir had far more white musk than the rest, as well as freesia which is often problematic because it is always a man-made recreation of the flower that smells artificially “fresh.” Together, the clean musk and freesia resulted in an opening that smelt like floral hairspray before somehow turning into the scent of a plastic shower curtain a few minutes later. Afterwards, the Elixir simply became a basic, generic floral that reminded me of Florabotanica. To be precise, it was as though Florabotanica had sex with a synthetic, low-rent Sephora version of Arquiste‘s citrusy L’Etrog, as Acqua di Gio, ISO E, and hairspray notes somehow added their spirit, thereby resulting in the love child that is the Elixir. I couldn’t wait to get it off my skin.
Eau de Papaguéna was more bearable, though it’s relative. Its tropical fruit notes felt like an attempt to copy some of Aventus‘ style, only with an amorphous floralcy tossed in as well. The powdery one that I had expected to dislike, Poudre Désir, was actually the most tolerable of the four, primarily because it had the smoothest quality, had an enjoyable creaminess in the base, and was well balanced. The balance or equation of notes in the other ones was lopsided, in my opinion. That includes Jasmin Paradis which — like the Elixir — had an overly citrusy top opening, too much clean musk and synthetics, thin body with little depth, a blurry shapelessness to its notes, and no luxuriousness. The result in this case: a faceless “fresh floral” with poor delineation and the most forgettable character around.
Are they the worst things that I’ve ever tried? Hardly. They’re far too mediocre and generic for that. Which brings me to my greatest issue with the fragrances, and one of the main reasons why Elisire is in the Dishonourable Mention section. (Other than the fact that they were all scrubbers that I couldn’t bear to review in detail.) Each Elisire fragrance costs $325 for a 50 ml bottle. $325? For a mere 50 ml? Of this??! Ridiculous.
Disclosure: My Elisire samples were provided courtesy of OsswaldNYC. That did not impact this review, and my opinions are my own.