Today, a look at seven niche fragrances that didn’t do much for me, leaving me either shrugging, apathetic, or running to scrub. There are a few more entries this time around in the “Average” category as compared to Volume 1 because one or two of the perfumes have decent or wearable elements, typically right at the start. However, when all the factors are taken as a whole, from start to finish, and in relation to the price as well, then their sum-total amounts to merely okay or “average,” in my opinion. The rest of the scents fell into other categories, as you will see.
As in Volume 1, I’ll be following an abbreviated format and there won’t be note lists, official descriptions, photos of every bottle, links to Fragrantica, discussion of other people’s experiences as a comparison, a long list of retail links, or anything else. I’m going to take a page out of what Luca Turin and so many other people do, and simply give my opinion in the most general, synthesized fashion I can manage.
Blomma Cult: Blomma Cult opens with gooey, plummy fruitchouli syrup, bergamot, and shrill clean musk over bone-dry (synthetic) woods. A pinch of indeterminate spiciness (that doesn’t read as cinnamon) and a slug of indeterminate, powdery floralcy (that doesn’t read as either lilac or iris) gasp for life, but it’s difficult for me to detect anything under the high-pitched shriek of the other notes. After 5 minutes, a soft vanilla note arrives, pushing the fruitchouli plum jam to the side to dance with the bergamot. The latter feels like Woody Woodpecker drilling into my brain with sharpness. Or is it the white musk? The synthetic woods? Something reminds me of the drilling bird in the old cartoons, but it’s difficult to tell precisely what because, a mere 10 minutes into its development, Blomma Cult turns into a shapeless, commercial-smelling blur of citrusy, vanillic, woody florals saturated with sugared sweetness, then enveloped in laundry cleanness.
I keep imagining a perfumer going down a checklist of popular genres and notes, choosing the cheapest and most abstract synthetic versions of them before throwing them all together. Fruity/fruitchouli florals, floral woody musks, vanillic florals, powdery clean citrusy florals… aspects of all of them are here, something for everyone, but it all feels like a $50 commercial fragrance that I could find in TJ Maxx for $19. Not a single thing about it is memorable. It just sorta… exists. Wearing it was about as interesting as sitting in a doctor’s office reading a boring, outdated magazine. A week after testing Blomma Cult, I couldn’t recall anything more about it than “fruitchouli something;” in a month, I doubt I’ll recall even that.
Nutshell synopsis: “Meh” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Blomma Cult is just not good, in my opinion. I think Roberto Greco’s superb photo is the only appealing and distinctive thing about the whole thing.
Atramental: Atramental debuts with fizzy, effervescent, and very chilled bergamot infused with a sneeze-inducing amount of black pepper. Parched (synthetic) wood follows shortly thereafter, then a wave of aquatics, but all the notes are essentially overshadowed by the leather that suddenly explodes on scene. Half industrial rubber, a quarter abrasive smoke, and a quarter fougère-style leather, it soon becomes the driving force. The lavendery freshness from the Suederal is nice, but everything is painfully, excessively synthetic for my tastes. I got a headache after 5 minutes, a migraine after 30, and my throat seized up as well.
Putting the synthetics aside, though, the real problem is that Atramental feels like a bizarre hodge-podge. The strongly synthetic, smoky rubber/leather bears strong whiffs of something metallic and, most of all, industrial that made me think of welders and burning electrical wires. It also has a disinfectant aroma and a subtle glue-like vibe on my skin as well. All of this is commingled with: 1990s Davidoff Blue Water-style, fresh, watery, cologne aquatics (which have a passing undertone of chlorine on me, by the way); dried lavender that grows increasingly medicinal; black pepper that continues to make me feel like sneezing; high-pitched, sharp citruses; a slug of fiery, faux, Safraleine oriental saffron spiciness; and ultra-dry, parched wood smoke. The cumulative effect is like… well, I’m at a loss to describe it. It goes all over the place as if, once again, the perfumer went down a list of popular masculine notes and genres, then tossed them all together in order to come up with something “edgy.” I scrubbed Altramental because its super-charged synthetics made me feel dizzy after 90 minutes, but I would have done so anyway because of the schizoid nature of the scent. Bottom-line, it’s a hot mess, in my opinion.
PARFUMS MDCI AMBRE TOPKAPI:
I used to wonder why people, particularly amber lovers, never talked about Ambre Topkapi. Then, I tried it and the answer became abundantly clear. It’s really not an amber fragrance at all. For most of its life on my skin, it’s fresh, aromatic lavender ice-cream swathed in heavy amounts of tonka and vanilla against a diffuse, very clean, quasi-amber backdrop that smells mostly like vanillic benzoin mixed with an amber synthetic.
Ambre Topkapi’s opening is even further away from the sort of chewy, dense, dark richness that one associates with full-on, hardcore labdanum or ambergris ambers. The lavender is brisk, fresh, and given a barbershop feel with loads of synthetic citrus, synthetic woodiness (that really left my throat feeling rough and irritated), a drop of rather stale smelling, dusty spices, a pinch of dry herbs, and a drop of wholly indeterminate fruitiness. The first hour kept reminding me of a mainstream cologne that I’d tried, possibly from Jean Paul Gaultier, possibly Le Male (without the mint), but there are so many fragrances with this sort of scent and profile that it was difficult to narrow down the possibilities.
Most of the notes I’ve described rapidly give way to Ambre Topkapi’s core of powdery lavender-vanilla with a drop of citrus against that generic, diffuse “amber” background to result in a fragrance that smells enormously like Parfums de Nicolai‘s Amber Oud. (Don’t let the name confuse you, Amber Oud actually has zero oud in it, per my nose as well as the company’s own comments to me.) The only difference is that Ambre Topkapi has the persistent thread of citrus to it in lieu of patchouli. All of it is surprisingly soft on my skin with rather below-average sillage/projection when taken from start to finish, and the longevity isn’t what I’d hope for either. I was lucky if I got 8 hours with double the amount that I usually apply for testing. Ambre Topkapi costs $250 for a 75 ml bottle. You can buy Nicolai’s Amber Oud for $200 for a 100 ml bottle or $70 for 30 ml.
Out of curiosity, I looked up Luca Turin‘s review for Ambre Topkapi in his “Perfumes: the A-Z Guide,” written with Tania Sanchez. He classified it as “citrus spice,” gave it Three Stars, but wrote more negatively than 3 Stars would seem to imply, calling it the only “disappointment” from MDCI’s first five releases. He noted the “abundant use” of a “woody-citrus” aromachemical in the composition, then added that Ambre Topkapi had “neither the depth nor the originality of” the others in the line, and felt like a “rushed job” by a very busy perfumer.
He’s right about all of it, but particularly the disappointing aspect. Putting aside the fact that Ambre Topkapi is hardly an amber fragrance as the name would imply, what’s left has been done a thousand times before, arguably better in some cases and cheaper in others. It’s a thousand miles, nay a whole galaxy away, from MDCI’s glorious Chypre Palatin. If you love true, proper amber, you may become as frustrated or irritated as I was by the end. If you love aromatic, lavender-based, citrusy fresh colognes, you can do better elsewhere for less.
PROFUMUM ROMA AUDACE (PROFVMVM ROMA AVDACE):
Audace (spelt Roman style as “Avdace” by the company but commonly written as “Audace” by everyone else) is one of the fragrances that falls into both the Average and Banal categories, in my opinion. It opens with a very nice vetiver that is laced with smoke, licorice, and a quiet nuttiness. Quiet touches of rootiness and soft, dry woods run through it as well, but they’re overshadowed after a few minutes by the sharp, almost high-pitched, lemony, citrus note that appears on center stage, followed by a similarly sharp, clean, fresh musk. A mere 10 minutes in, the licorice becomes a ghost, the smokiness vanishes, and Audace turns into a virtual copy of Hermès Vetiver Tonka.
When I read up on Audace on Basenotes, I saw everyone else reached the same conclusion. The two fragrances are astonishingly alike. I accidentally broke my vial of the latter a while back, so I couldn’t do a side-by-side test to see how much the shared notes differed in quality or quantity, particularly the musk and lemon. Going solely by memory, I think Vetiver Tonka had more nuttiness, more praline, less citrus and, in particular, less clean musk. For me, personally, the level of musk in Audace is excessive and too laundry-like, while the bergamot feels needle sharp at times.
One positive difference between the two is that Audace is an extrait or pure parfum, while Vetiver Tonka is an eau de toilette. As a result, Audace feels fractionally heavier in body than my memory of Vetiver Tonka. To my surprise, though, Audace didn’t have Profumum’s typically nuclear or huge sillage, and it was a surprisingly quiet scent by the brand’s standards. On the other hand, it did have Profumum’s famous longevity (16 hours+), so it might be a better deal in that regard than Vetiver Tonka for only a negligible difference in price. ($265 for 100 ml extrait –vs.– $255 for 100 ml of EDT.) Then again, anyone who adores Vetiver Tonka probably already owns it, particularly as one can buy 4 travel-sized, 15 ml bottles (60 ml in total) for $156 which is quite a bit less.
So the only major, significant advantage that you’re getting with Audace, in my opinion, is really just longevity and, to a lesser extent, a touch heavier body. Personally, the memory that I have of Vetiver Tonka was more pleasant and enjoyable than Audace, perhaps because of those small differences in the quality or degree of the shared notes. Obviously, if you’re a passionate Vetiver Tonka lover, you should try Audace for yourself.
While Audace is pleasant, inoffensive in the safest way around, and obviously not an original, distinctive composition, my problem is that, as compared to Profumum’s prior releases, it feels surprisingly generic and banal. It doesn’t have the depth, richness, luxuriousness, and/or standout character of things like Ambra Aurea, Arso, Fumidus, Acqua di Sale, Patchouly, or even Vanitas, for example. Those fragrances each take one core note, run with it, and push it to the max in order to create the most hardcore, niche-style, opulent olfactory rendition possible.
Audace doesn’t feel like that. At all. Instead of being audacious, it’s pretty mundane. It’s part of a trend that I’ve noticed with Profumum’s most recent releases, like its Sorriso chocolate gourmand, its Orangea, and its ISO E-heavy, bland, generic floral, Tagete: the company is moving away from its originally bold style (and heft) in favour of safe, softer, almost entirely mainstream, commercial profiles whilst also using less high quality, less luxurious materials. Pity.
Venenum Kiss: Venenum Kiss opens like yet another one of the faux Arab, oud-ish rose fragrances that so many companies feel obliged to put out these days. It starts with the typical saffron-heavy rose covered with a gooey, red berry note like fruitchouli, then layered with artemisia/wormwood to give it that very parched, faux oud-ish woody note so characteristic of the genre. A pinch of indeterminate spiciness is sprinkled on top, but it never smells like actual nutmeg, perhaps because its character and identity are simply obliterated by the intensity of the gloopy, saffron-fruity molasses. Vanilla and a smoky, rough, Javanol synthetic sandalwood run through the base, while a faux woody-amber lies in the background. The cumulative effect is yet another saffron-rose-oud with fruit syrup, vanilla, and woody-amber aromachemicals. I’ve lost track of how many of these I’ve smelt this year alone.
The boring, tired, and unimaginative factors are upped even further as Venenum Kiss develops because, like the second Ex Nihilo fragrance I tried (and that I’ll get to in a moment), it basically devolves into a generic, mainstream and commercial bouquet. In the case of Venenum Kiss, less than 25-20 minutes in, the fragrance is nothing more than an intensely sweet, spiced fruity-floral with vanilla and woody amber (or amber-woody) synthetics. That’s it. It blasts away like a foghorn, before it turns soft and quiet after 2 hours. It reminds me a lot of YSL Black Opium which, itself, reminds me of a ton of other generic fragrances. The difference is that this one has oud-ish notes in the debut and, after 90 minutes, abrasively smoky woody synthetics that something like Black Opium never had. (That blasted Javanol is particularly intrusive). I gave up after 3 hours and scrubbed Venenum Kiss. All of it prior to that point was tedious, redundant, and unpleasant to me. $225 for the smallest bottle? Don’t make me snort.
Sweet Morphine: Sweet Morphine may be the best of the lot in this post, at least based on the opening hour and by the standards of a lilac lover (which I am). The first 30 minutes in particular are lovely. Sweet Morphine opens with an utterly delightful bouquet of sweet, liquidy lilacs that rapidly gain their characteristic dusting of fluffy, vanillic, floral powder, no doubt from a heaping dose of heliotrope which is then further accentuated by vanilla-ish tonka and a drop of iris.
As a general rule, lilacs in perfumery are either synthetic or a compounded, blended, mixed accord whose aroma is indirectly recreated from other materials because the flowers cannot be captured as an essential oil via steam distillation or other extraction methods, at least not in the sort of big quantities that you’d need for perfumery. You can’t find real, genuine lilac absolutes or pure, natural (solo) essential oils, although I think I’ve read about some maceration techniques that produce a watered-down, soft, anemic version useful for things like soaps. Still, the point here is that Sweet Morphine’s recreation via things like heliotrope, iris, powdery tonka, and some synthetics smells lovely and true, and that’s what matters. It’s not as good as Puredistance‘s Opardu (which was really exceptional in its debut) or Roja Dove‘s discontinued Lilac Extrait, but it’s good and thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless. If you’re a lilac (or heliotrope) lover, I think Sweet Morphine’s debut will turn your head.
If only it lasted. Actually, if only the fragrance as a whole lasted…. After 30-40 minutes, the lilac turns diffuse, less liquidy, less solid, and far less concrete in shape; the growing waves of increasingly sugary vanilla muffles its sounds. So does the parallel expansion of the woody accords. By the end of the first hour, they dilute the lilac’s distinctness, clarity, and floralcy even further. By the 90 minute mark, Sweet Morphine has become a very vanillic, woody floral that is nebulously, vaguely lilac-ish. Roughly 2.25 hours in, the fragrance is a skin scent and the lilac has become not only a mere passing suggestion but a ghostly one at that. If I really focus, put my nose right on my arm, and sniff hard, then once in a while I’ll detect that lilac-ish note, but it’s really like a mirage most of the time.
Sweet Morphine died after 4 hours when I used several good smears equal to 2 sprays from a bottle. With double that amount, roughly equal to 4 sprays, Sweet Morphine lingered on for about another 2 hours, so about 6 hours or just under in total, and the tenuous lilac mirage endured a hair longer than before, until roughly the middle of the 3rd hour. I have to admit, I keep wondering if maybe I was willing myself to sense it? Perhaps I was telling myself that hints of it remained?
I might have been, because so much of Sweet Morphine’s middle and drydown stages on my skin consists of a generalized, powdery, vanillic floral woody musk. To the extent that one can pick out a single flower, I suppose it would be the rather amorphous (synthetic) iris giving off that sort of quasi-niche, quasi-designer woody iris aroma that one often finds, but it’s definitely not the lilac which ceases to have any concrete, solid, easy to pick, and truly dominant character after a mere 90 minutes. It’s a mere impressionistic abstraction for the next hour, then it vanishes entirely when Sweet Morphine turns into a skin scent at the 2.25 hour mark.
When I consider all these factors together and then place them next to the perfume’s $225 and $325 price, the result is a fragrance that has some very pretty elements in the opening but that feels very over-priced and average when taken as a whole, from start to finish. Speaking only for myself, I have no interest in spending $225 for the smallest bottle of a fragrance that I’d have to reapply every 2 hours to get the good bits. Plus, I wasn’t crazy about the vanilla’s level of sugariness nor the profuseness of the very clean white musk as the perfume developed. Having said all that, lilac fragrances aren’t a dime a dozen and this one has a truly beautiful opening 30 minutes, so you should try it for yourself if you’re a lilac fan. Just don’t expect any sort of serious longevity.
ROBERT PIGUET GARDENIA DE ROBERT PIGUET or ROBERT PIGUET GARDENIA:
Not gardenia. Lily perhaps, abstract department store modernistic white florals definitely, but not gardenia. Gardenia de Robert Piguet (hereinafter just “Gardenia”) opens with crisp, cool, watery lily and spicy, custardy ylang-ylang tied together with ribbons of sugared vanilla and clean musk. For about 10-15 minutes, there is an elusive, wholly abstract, impressionistic sense of quasi-“gardenia” floating like a shimmering mirage and an optical, olfactory illusion in the background. Then it disappears, swallowed up by a tsunami of vanilla that surges forward to become the third leg of the scent, followed by increasingly sharp, powerful, overly clean white musk.
Other elements are also noticeable. In the first hour, there is the same exact bug spray note that filled another Robert Piguet white floral that I tried, Mademoiselle Piguet. It’s less overt, longstanding, or intrusive here, but that’s undoubtedly because buckets of highly synthetic, sharp, and sugar-encrusted vanilla are punching me in the nose, with the white musk joining in on occasion. At the start of the second hour, the bug spray is replaced by an unpleasant woody synthetic that smells stale, dusty, smoky, and just… weirdly off. Perhaps it’s the “leather” that is supposed to be in the fragrance. Who knows? All I can smell is an odd chemical smokiness and dustiness.
Every single thing in Piguet’s Gardenia smells synthetic and/or cheap to me, but my main problem with the fragrance is that it turns into an anonymous abstraction that feels identical to an inexpensive department store scent. The flowers turn into a shapeless indeterminate blur that are vaguely lily-ish by the middle of the 2nd hour, then become completely faceless after that. The scent is basically just clean, fresh, floral whiteness layered with sugary vanillic synthetics then placed atop indeterminate synthetic woods before the whole thing is cocooned in a thick cloud of white musk. A suggestion of lily pops up once in a blue moon if I sniff my arm up close and really concentrate during the first 4 hours, but the scent from afar is merely a sharp white floral, vanillic woody musk.
I’m wholly unimpressed by all of it. And the $175/£150 price tag associated with this non-gardenia excursion into vapidness, mindlessness, and banality makes me roll my eyes. If you want a clean lily fragrance with green freshness (from muguet or lily of the valley), as well as some vanilla, a hint of woodiness, and niche quality, then try Serge Lutens Un Lys. If you want lily with ylang, spiciness, vanilla, and woods, try Tom Ford’s significantly better and really pretty (but very quiet) floral oriental, Shanghai Lily. If you want gardenia, go elsewhere. But if you want a modernised, mall-style, impressionistic, vanillic, clean white floral abstraction, do you really need to spend $175 on this?
Somewhere out there, poor Germaine Cellier is probably turning over in her grave at the sheer tediousness and commonness of this little cluster of bloodless molecules put out under the banner of the company for whom she once made such revolutionary floral masterpieces.