Amouage Opus VIII: Optical Illusions



Juxtaposed contradictions that tease you with masculinity and femininity, gourmand sweetness and desert aridity, lightness and dark. Feminine florals with swaggering machismo. Janus with two faces in one. Two different fragrances that lie side-by-side, or almost on top of each other like an optical illusion. I would say that all of those things are the essence of Opus VIII, except this is a fragrance that is quite a shape-shifter and you never know quite know what you’re going to get. At the end of the day, the latest creation from Amouage is a scent that is so prismatic, it throws out different notes like light hitting crystal. I think it is rather genius.

Opus VIII is a brand new eau de parfum that is part of Amouage’s Library Collection. Perfumers Pierre Negrin and Richard Herpin worked under the direction of Christopher Chong to create a scent that is expressly meant to be an olfactory version of a Trompe l’Oeil, which an optical illusion involving layers that expand space and depth.

Opus VIII via Fragrantica.

Opus VIII via Fragrantica.

According to the official Amouage press release quoted by Fragrantica, there were other goals in mind, too:

Amouage Creative Director, Christopher Chong, masterfully composed the fragrance to linger amongst the parallels of truth and perception. Crafted with the perfume connoisseur in mind, irrespective of age or gender, the woody, floral fragrance comprises of the finest ingredients sourced from around the world. Jasmine Sambac from India serenely fuses with Ylang Ylang from the Comoros and Orange Flower from Morocco to reveal a golden aura in the top notes. Saffron, Ginger and Incense smoke in the contradictory heart conjures an abstract and intriguing profundity. A surreal wave of luxury passes through the structure of the fragrance with the dark intensity of Benzoin, Balsam, Bay and Vetiver.”

According to that press release, the notes in Opus VIII include:

Top: Jasmine, Ylang Ylang, Orange Flower.
Heart: Frankincense, Saffron, Ginger, Vetiver, Gaiac Wood.
Base: Balsam, Benzoin, Jamaican Bay.

West Indian Bay tree or Pimenta Racemosa tree. Source:

West Indian Bay tree or Pimenta Racemosa tree. Source:

I’d like to take a brief moment to explain “Jamaican Bay,” a note which Fragrantica also calls West Indian Bay in its official entry for Opus VIII. According to my digging on Google, West Indian Bay is Pimenta racemosa or Pimenta berry, a tree in the Myrtle family. Its aroma is said to be”rich and pungent” with “hints of allspice, menthol and cinnamon.” Another site states that the “fragrant oil superficially resembles clove oil, another tree in the myrtle family.” In short, don’t be misled by the term “Jamaican Bay” into thinking that Opus VIII smells like Jamaican Bay Rum, or any rum for that matter. By the same token, don’t confuse the association with the myrtle family or with bay leaves to think that the note in Opus VIII will smell like any of typical Mediterranean varieties of those ingredients.

It’s extremely difficult for me to know where to begin in discussing how Opus VIII manifests itself on my skin. The simple reason is the prismatic nature of the scent that I referenced up above. I’ve tested the fragrance about 5 times by now, using different quantities, and no two tests are completely alike. Opus VIII is a shape-shifter, throwing out different notes each time. The most noticeable thing is just how critical quantity seems to be. Depending on how much you apply, the notes manifest themselves quite differently in terms of prominence, potency, and order. Sometimes, you get entirely new elements, or things that are not even included on the list. As a whole, Opus VIII is a bit like entering into a house of mirrors, where you never know what is going to reflect back at you.

House of Mirrors. Source: The Consumerist Blog.

Source: The Consumerist Blog.

The only common thread between all my tests is that Opus VIII is a woody floral centered around jasmine that reflects utterly contradictory facets, usually all at the same time. The rest… well, it all depends. So, I’ll start with one of the versions of Opus VIII on my skin, and intersperse observations throughout about the other tests and their differences. I hope you’ll be patient with me, because this is quite a complicated fragrance once you look past the ostensibly simple veneer of a “jasmine woody musk.”



Opus VIII opens on my skin with ginger dusted white flowers, an incredibly desiccated aroma-chemical, a slightly herbal nuance that is green in nature, and the bewildering presence of a citrus note. I have no explanation for the latter, but on a number of occasions while wearing of Opus VIII, I smelled various degrees of bergamot, lemon custard, lemon meringue, and even, at one point, a sort of Key Lime pie aroma. There is absolutely nothing listed in the official notes about anything citric in Opus VIII, so I rather feel like a crazy person, but that’s what I detect. As you will soon see, it won’t be the first time that Opus VIII makes me feel as though I were imagining things….

Orange Blossom. Photo: GardenPictures via

Orange Blossom. Photo: GardenPictures via

Nonetheless, the driving force behind Opus VIII on my skin is, and always will be, the white flowers. In the first few seconds, they are an abstract, amorphous accord without any distinct shape or delineation, creating merely the impression of something light, airy, and utterly translucent. That quickly changes and, within moments, they morph into orange blossoms coated with jasmine sweetness. Saffron is lightly sprinkled on top like red pollen, right next to the ginger.

The odd thing, though, is another spice accord. It’s like the strangest combination of something almost like cardamom with a hint of dry dustiness that almost resembles cocoa, only not quite for either one. It doesn’t smell like All-Spice, which is something I’m extremely familiar with and use in cooking. Still, it has to be the “allspice” character of the Jamaican Bay that has perhaps been altered by the saffron to become sweeter in nature.

Alex Dunstan in a photo by Hedi Slimane, 2009. Source:

Alex Dunstan in a photo by Hedi Slimane, 2009. Source:

The flowers fascinate me. They feel like a set of contradictions lying side by side: Janus white and black; a swaggering, macho, dusty aridity next to syrupy, feminine sweetness; and, most of all, an aloof coolness countering rich warmth. Those flowers are definitely distant, remote, and cool in their gauzy, billowing translucency. And, yet, they lie on a base of sweet warmth. It’s like Julius Caesar versus Cleopatra, with a touch of the cozy sweetness of a warm kitchen.

Yes, I said “kitchen.” There is a buttery undertone to that dusty, fiery saffron that lends itself to the unexpected impression of sweetened, lightly floured bread. (I did mention that Opus VIII sometimes made me feel like a crazy person, right?) Perhaps it is the vanilla which lurks in the base, mixed with the dustiness of the Jamaican Bay and saffron. Or, perhaps, it’s one of those elements in conjunction with the guaiac wood. Whatever the source, there is almost a wheaty, warm baked bread undertone to Opus VIII’s floral top layer, and it appeared in two different tests.

10 minutes in, Opus VIII’s bouquet turns richer and sweeter. The orange blossoms bloom, releasing a narcotic headiness that is surprisingly weightless in feel. They have a rich depth, but the flowers never evoke heated, warm, heaving flesh or languid courtesans seeking to seduce. Frankly, there is too much of a masculine edge to them, undoubtedly from the aromachemical in the base with its desiccated, parched nature. The latter helps to keep the orange blossoms’ indolic nature firmly in check, at least at first. In the opening stage, there are no rubbery, mentholated, minty, black, or skanky facets to the flowers. Yet, they are not green either, for the growing prominence of the jasmine lends a definite sweetness to Opus VIII’s bouquet. The whole thing feels like a very carefully planned balancing act.

Nonetheless, Opus VIII has a noticeable tinge of greenness lurking at its edges. This time around, the note has an aromatic touch that felt simultaneously woody, leafy, a bit herbal, and almost like a distant cousin to eucalyptus. It’s a lovely touch that is complemented by the bergamot nuance wafting about in the background. (I know, I know, none of these things are listed in the notes! Believe me, I find it as strange as you probably do.)



However, on another occasion, the green note was a completely different story. Call me insane, but I smelled green honeydew melon with a touch of cucumbers. There was a watery liquidity that didn’t smell precisely aquatic, but it was definitely a streak of green. Calone? I don’t know. I suspect Melonal much more, or some version of a green melon synthetic.

Opus VIII was well on its way to making me question my sanity (and my nose). Then, on one of the occasions when I wore it, I asked someone to give my arm a sniff. They immediately said “cucumber!” Not jasmine, not orange blossom (which is what I myself was detecting as the primary note at the time), but “cucumber.” It was their immediate first impression. I rather wish I could have given them my arm to sniff on the occasion when I was wafting warm, wheaty, floured bread.



Whatever the particular oddities of the green and/or liquidy note, Opus VIII’s opening always involves some form of strong vanilla custard on my skin. I think I read somewhere that Opus VIII’s gourmand notes are meant to turn up at the end of the perfume’s development, but not on me. In the main test that I’m writing about, the vanilla starts its rise to the surface after about 20 minutes. On other occasions, the perfume began to waft a vanilla custard, lemon custard, or lemon meringue note much sooner. In all the cases, the vanilla is rich, smooth, deep, and, at the same time, airy and sheer. In this main test, it combines with the saffron, Jamaican Bay, that bread impression, and the slowly weakening ginger element to create something akin to ginger shortbread.

"Inkt," photo by Michael David Adams. Source:

“Inkt,” photo by Michael David Adams. Source:

All of this is happening side-by-side with the orange blossoms coated with jasmine syrup. These polar opposites abound simultaneously in Opus VIII, almost as if the perfume had split down the middle with the two faces of Janus facing each other in the mirror. Two shapes, a masculine and a feminine side, growing out of the same core. Yet, Opus VIII never feels schizophrenic. For one thing, both halves are blended beautifully into a single whole. More importantly, Opus VIII feels very prismatic, reflecting different facets at different times, like light refracting off a crystal throughout the day.

"Inkt 5," photo by Michael David Adams. Source: (website link embedded within)

“Inkt 5,” photo by Michael David Adams. Source: (website link embedded within)

Which brings me back, again, to my other tests of Opus VIII. The very first time I wore the scent, I only applied a small quantity, a single spray which would be the equivalent of 2 small smears from a vial. On that occasion, I was greeted by a rather alarming aromachemical note of great desiccation. It was forceful, and left a tickle in the back of my throat. The physical reaction may have been minor, but the opening salvo was strong enough to be far from my personal cup of tea.

Even when the gauzy jasmine unfolded and delicately merged with the vanilla, that synthetic twang remained. It was a very dusty, parched figure which sapped a lot of the warmth and depth from the scent. In fact, the flowers in Opus VIII on that occasion felt a little like a tiny oasis amidst a vast desert wasteland. The perfume did improve, and the notes ended up in greater harmony, but I was still unenthused. For the most part, Opus VIII felt merely like white florals thoroughly imbued with a very arid aromachemical, atop an abstract woody base that was just barely flecked by something vaguely ambered.

For my second test of Opus VIII, I applied a greater quantity, and the result was fundamentally different. Sharply so, in fact. I used 2 big sprays from the decant, amounting to 3 good smears from a vial, or a little over 1/4 of a 1 ml. And Opus VIII bloomed. The horrid desiccation was subsumed in a richer, deeper mix. In fact, it was merely a light vein streaking through the base, and hardly a significant player in the bouquet as a whole. I actually noticed the exact same situation with Slumberhouse‘s new Zahd, where a greater quantity hid the arid Trisamber aromachemical.

"Static - Window to the Soul (Jasmine)" (Detail) 2013, by Tom Jackson and Craig Evans. Source:  Wall Street International Magazine.

“Static – Window to the Soul (Jasmine)” (Detail) 2013, by Tom Jackson and Craig Evans. Source: Wall Street International Magazine.

Here, too, the parched, dusty element is immediately integrated into the rest of the fragrance if you double the dose. The aroma-chemical (which I suspect is of some ambered variety) reveals itself at brief intervals in a sharp, individual manner, but, for the most part, it merely works indirectly from the sidelines to keep the sweeter elements in balance. It also adds to that masculine edge in Opus VIII, and gives the jasmine its swaggering attitude. A friend of mine, Carlos, may actually have the very best description I’ve ever seen for the very unusual character of the florals that ensues. If I remember correctly, he called it “jasmine with an erection,” and, honestly, that blunt categorization is completely accurate. It also supports the duality or polarity of Opus VIII.

In my third, fourth, and fifth tests of Opus VIII, I tripled the quantity to 3 big sprays, amounting to over 1/3 of a 1 ml vial, and the result was even greater richness and depth, with additional, further reduction of the aromachemical note. The orange blossom showed up in two of those tests, which hadn’t happened previously, as did the ylang-ylang. Once, there was a distinct herbal undertone in the first two hours as well, almost as if there were a real myrtle tree with its distinct aromatic kinship to eucalyptus. The saffron popped up at the higher dose, too. In contrast, the ginger did not always appear, at least not in a strongly prominent manner. There were other variations each time, too, like the cucumber, melon, lemon meringue, and bread undertones, but at no time was the aromachemical dryness a problem the way it was at the smallest dose.

In short, if or when you try Opus VIII, please try to keep in mind that the quantity you use might be very critical. Spraying a small amount may amplify different elements or create a different version of the scent. In addition, since aerosolisation increases a fragrance’s potency, if you’re dabbing from a vial, you may want to keep this words even more in mind, and apply a greater amount than what you would normally use.

I’m bringing up all these differences now, as opposed to the end of the review, because Opus VIII’s greatest changes usually occur in the first few hours, no matter how much of the perfume you apply. It’s the opening phase which is the most prismatic and complex on my skin, not so much the rest which can sometimes be quite linear for hours on end.

"Phantasms of the Living" (Detail) 2013, by Tom Jackson and Craig Evans. Source:  Wall Street International Magazine.

“Phantasms of the Living” (Detail) 2013, by Tom Jackson and Craig Evans. Source: Wall Street International Magazine.

In my main test that I’m writing about, one of the loveliest parts of Opus VIII occurs about 45 minutes into its development. The jasmine emerges fully from behind the white veil of orange blossoms. It’s incredibly silky, creamy, and smooth. There is a black heart to the flowers, but the dirty, indolic core is — like everything else in Opus VIII — firmly balanced. Tiny veins of a leathery darkness begin to streak through the flowers, gradually connecting the jasmine to the orange blossoms. Slightly smoky nuances appear, along with a small pop of mentholated rubberiness that so typical to very indolic flowers. Neither aspect is overpowering, and they certainly don’t distract from the growing creaminess of the floral bouquet.

The creaminess is helped by other shifts in the scent. The ginger and saffron sink into the base. Thanks to Opus VIII’s prismatic nature, they pop up once in a while, but they generally just add an indirect warmth and very subtle dusted spiciness to the flowers. The Jamaican Bay/Allspice note similarly plays a little vanishing-reappearing act, but it’s largely a very muted element on my skin. The “bread” or ginger shortcake impression fades away entirely, but the guaiac wood rises to the surface to take its place at the end of the first hour. I’ve come to realise that the note is a tricky one on my skin, as it often turns sour, stale, sharply acrid, or some other rather difficult manifestation. Here, however, it is merely dusty and dry.

Photo: Vickie Lewis. Source:

Photo: Vickie Lewis. Source:

I keep smelling bergamot in Opus VIII. It’s not the lemon meringue of one test, or even the Key Lime pie tartness of another, but there is definitely a citric element (or two) that always appears in some form. It works beautifully with the vanilla in the base and with the ylang-ylang. The latter wakes up like Sleeping Beauty after about an hour, and puts on a rich, custardy, banana yellow dress to join the white flowers on center stage. In the wings, the dry, woody, spiced, and lightly green elements all look on. The aromachemical note swings each velvety, lush flower around in a heady embrace, their petaled skirts billowing in an airy cloud around them. In the same way, Opus VIII projects about 2-3 inches above the skin at the end of the first hour, feeling weightless but always strong, deep, and rich.

Slowly, very slowly, the woody, herbal, dry and green facets grow more prominent. They are joined by an abstract impression of dry “amber” that might merely be another side to the aromachemical at play. The overall combination serves to cut through the jasmine’s slightly syrupy sweetness, and to overpower a lot of the vanilla custard. About 90 minutes in, Opus VIII smells like a very dry jasmine and ylang-ylang nestled in guaiac wood that has been sprinkled with an abstract amber, then flecked by the occasional hint of greenness (melon? cucumber? Calone?), a herbal note, and that dry aromachemical. Around the same time, Opus VIII also turns softer, and its sillage drops.

At the start of the 3rd hour, Opus VIII wears close to the skin, hovering just an inch above it in an increasingly sheer, weightless blend of jasmine and ylang-ylang with woody notes and an aromachemical dryness. It remains that way for quite a while, largely unchanged except for the prismatic reflections of the secondary and tertiary elements that pop up once in a while.

"Static - Hallucination" by Tom Jackson and Craig Evans. Source: Wall Street Journal International Magazine.

“Static – Hallucination” by Tom Jackson and Craig Evans. Source: Wall Street Journal International Magazine.

At the higher dosages, Opus VIII usually turns into a skin scent somewhere between the 5.5 and 6.75 hour mark. The scent turns into a blur of white flowers, just barely dominated by jasmine. The lemon custard accord reappears to dance lightly around. Its slightly gourmand aspect is juxtaposed against Opus VIII’s continued streaks of woodiness, dryness, and that parched, sometimes peppery aromachemical element. In the distance, there is a hint of smokiness, though it is extremely muted and muffled.

As I noted earlier, most of Opus VIII’s major twists and turns take place in the first two or three hours. After that, the perfume isn’t particularly complicated, in my opinion. It’s a simple dry, woody jasmine, by and large, especially if smelled from afar and particularly after the start of the 6th hour. Opus VIII may waft fractionally different versions, depending on how much of the scent you apply, but the broad brush strokes are largely the same in the remaining hours. The only differences are slight fluctuations in the prominence or strength of the supporting players, especially the ylang-ylang.

"Phantasms of the Living" (Detail), by Tom Jackson and Craig Evans. Source:  Wall Street International Magazine.

“Phantasms of the Living” (Detail), by Tom Jackson and Craig Evans. Source: Wall Street International Magazine.

On my skin, time simply renders Opus VIII more abstract, woody, translucent, and dry. On occasion, there is the suggestion of something vaguely ambered in nature, but it’s incredibly muted. In its final hours, the fragrance is a gauzy smear of dry woodiness with the hint of florality about it.

All in all, Opus VIII consistently lasts over 10.75 hours on my perfume consuming skin, starting with the smallest application of 1 spray. The time frame is pushed to a little under 14 hours if I apply 3 big sprays. The sillage is generally soft after the first 90 minutes, and the perfume hovers just above the skin but it remains there for hours and hours. I was consistently surprised by how long it took Opus VIII to turn into a true skin scent.

"Optical Illusion," painting by Ghita Iustinian at (Website link embedded within.)

“Optical Illusion,” painting by Ghita Iustinian at (Website link embedded within.)

Opus VIII’s mercurial, complicated nature fascinates me, in part because it actually accomplishes Christopher Chong’s goal of creating an optical illusion. All too often, one reads PR blurbs after trying a fragrance, shakes one’s head, and mutters, “hogwash.” All right, maybe that’s just me. The point is that press releases often seem to involve a lot of wishful thinking in terms of a fragrance’s nature or how it actually develops. In this case, I think both the Trompe l’Oeil mission and the “contradictory heart” assessment really hit the nail on Opus VIII’s head.

I, for one, love the optical illusion, but then, I love really complicated fragrances that lead you on a twisted journey — the more confusing, bewildering, and morphing, the better. If I want a simple, straightforward, conventional scent that doesn’t make me think or that I can spray on just to go to the supermarket, I can turn to any number of the brands that I frequently slam in this blog for being about as interesting a squashed gnat on a windshield. Simple, uncomplicated conventionality is not why people pay Amouage’s prices, especially in the Opus line.

"Optical Illusion," painting by Ghita Iustinian at

“Optical Illusion,” painting by Ghita Iustinian at

The newest addition to the Library Collection bears all the hallmarks of an Amouage fragrance, but I think there are also differences this time around. I have only tried a few in this line, but Opus VIII seems softer and sweeter than the others. It is not as heavy as Opus VI and Opus VII, and definitely not as strongly masculine as the latter. I’ve noticed that the two Opus fragrances I’ve tried are typically much drier than scents in the regular Amouage line, so Opus VIII fits in that respect. Yet, it has a gourmand undertone that feels like something new for the collection, judging by my admittedly narrow exposure to the lot. Opus VIII also feels contradictory and polarized, whereas Opus VI and VII are quite straightforward. Plus, those two scents were not shape-shifters on my skin at all. Opus VIII, in contrast, sometimes made me feel quite mad in terms of the unexpected, odd nuances that I detected, not to mention how drastically the perfume seemed to change from one wearing to the next.

I happen to love that constant mystery, but I don’t know if others may find Opus VIII to be a little too much of a chameleon. In fact, The Non-Blonde found Opus VIII to be extremely “disorienting.” Her generally positive review reads, in part, as follows:

The thing is that Amouage Opus VIII is really about perception. It’s a “what exactly am I smelling?” thing. As well as a “where amI?“, because the perfume takes you by surprise and leaves you a bit disoriented in a large and well-lit space, with a ceiling so high you can almost imagine it’s not there. The light is so bright that for the longest time you cannot make the details of your surroundings (were you abducted by aliens? is there gravity around you?) until you manage to focus on form and texture, recognizing colors and movement, and all of a sudden you’re in a museum, standing in front of an artwork that starts to take shape right there.

Have I mentioned it’s disorienting? It really is.

Orange Blossom. Photo: GardenPictures via

Orange Blossom. Photo: GardenPictures via

Interestingly, both The Non-Blonde’s husband and a friend thought that Opus VIII had a strong, but more refined, similarity to Seville à L’Aube. She herself didn’t see it, and nor do I. (Thank God, because I’m in the minority who really dislikes Seville à L’Aube.) For her, Opus VIII was as prismatic as it was for me, though she uses the term a “game of perceptions”:

What I’m getting is a slightly dirty marriage between jasmine and orange blossom. Oddly enough, it doesn’t make me think of a hot summer night, but of that aforementioned space in the museum, where the light is artificial and the windows open into an indoors courtyard. The outside is inside– again that game of perceptions. But it’s more than just about these slightly weird flowers. Musette wrote in her Posse review that she smells an aquatic/calone note, and I know exactly what she’s talking about, because I was instantly reminded of the opening in Musc Tonkin (Parfum d’Empire). It’s that note I called “turd on the water”, and find disturbingly appealing. The Husband, naturally, disagrees (both about Musc Tonkin and about Opus VIII). He’s taken by the refinement and smooth edges of the transition from heady florals to a very suave woody-balsamic base.

This is where the artwork emerges and reveals itself out of (not so) thin air: light and shade, wood and marble, curves and straight edges. It’s an abstract work of modern art, yet as the hours pass (and Opus VIII lingers for the better part of the day and night), the perfume becomes incredibly intimate and personal. Sniffing between dress and skin, it’s a balsamic fantasy where glimmering resins (how is that even a thing? but it is), burn ever so slowly. And passionately.

I can tell you that over the last week I’ve spent every moment I possibly could wearing Opus VIII. It’s fascinating on an intellectual level and satisfying on the “I want to smell really really really good” front.

Speaking of the Perfume Posse review, I’m glad to know that Musette detected a calone undertone, because now I feel slightly less crazy about my cucumber and melons. (Now, if only I could find an explanation for the other oddities that appeared on my skin, like the bergamot, or that bread-like nuance that occasionally verged into ginger buttered shortbread territory. I suppose I shall have to chalk the latter up to some combination of the woody guaiac and the buttered saffron with spices.)



I thoroughly enjoyed Opus VIII at the higher doses which brought out its custardy sweetness and warmth, but, at the end of the day, it is a scent that is a little too dry for me personally. I like my white flowers to operate at Wagnerian levels, radiating out a lush, narcotic, voluptuous opulence that evokes quivering, heaving bosoms on languid courtesans. Here, the orange blossom isn’t a substantial part of Opus VIII on my skin (and didn’t even show up a few times that I wore the scent), while the jasmine feels a little more Julius Caesar than Cleopatra. A Julius Caesar who is on a military campaign through the dry woods and desert of North Africa. (So, perhaps, Rommel, more than Caesar?)

However, it is precisely because those flowers have a macho swagger that I think Opus VIII will work on men who typically fear that “big white flowers” are too feminine for them to pull off. The polarity I’ve described in the review, the gourmand elements, Opus VIII’s dryness and woodiness — those are all elements which make the scent eminently unisex, in my opinion. I actually think the perfume may seem a little masculine for women who prefer their florals on the very sweet or conventional side, though it’s all going to depend strongly on skin chemistry and on what aspects of Opus VIII are highlighted on their skin. (Judging by my experience, small doses or light smears will not help in that regard, since they will only bring out the perfume’s drier elements.)

Rorschach Bean by Alex L'aventurier on

Rorschach Bean by Alex L’aventurier on

Regardless of gender, however, I think a lot of you will find Opus VIII to be a fascinating journey into a house of mirrors, one that reflects back different elements in each glass and on each occasion. It is not a reductive scent, but the trompe de l’oeil optical illusion that it was intended to be. The technical skill and amount of work which must have gone into creating that constantly morphing prism are truly impressive. A brilliant job, without doubt.

Disclosure: My decant of Opus VIII was courtesy of Amouage and Christopher Chong. That did not influence this review, I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.

Cost & Availability: Opus VIII is an eau de parfum, and is the first in the Library Collection to be offered in a small 50 ml size, in addition to the usual 100 ml bottle. I believe all the other Library Opus scents will now be offered in the 50 ml bottle as well. I don’t know the price for the small size, but the 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle of Opus VIII will cost $365. At this time, Opus VIII is not yet shown on the Amouage website, but I’m sure it will soon be listed in their Library Opus section. By the end of March, all the usual retailers should have received the fragrance, including Luckyscent, MinNewYork, Parfums Raffy, First in Fragrance, Jovoy, and the like. I will try to remember to update this section at that time.

La Via Del Profumo Venezia Giardini Segreti



Venice, the city of canals, Casanova, and romance is also a city with a secret. Gardens and green courtyards abound in secret nooks and crannies unknown to the anyone but the city’s residents. Did you know? I certainly didn’t, and I’ve been to Venice.

Venezia Giardini Segreti via the Profumo website.

Venezia Giardini Segreti via the Profumo website.

La Via del Profumo wants to open up this private world to you with Venezia Giardini Segreti, or “Venice’s Secret Gardens.” Venezia Giardini Segreti (which I’ll just call “Giardini Segreti” for the sake of brevity) is an all-natural eau de parfum from Dominique Dubrana (now known as “Abdes Salaam Attar“), the second in his new “Italian Series,” and a 2013 release.

Abdes Salaam Attar explains the inspiration for the fragrance:

Venezia, Giardini segreti” is inspired by the “corti” – the courts of Venice that contain its secret gardens, hidden within the maze of the city – and particularly to the imaginary “Corte Sconta detta Arcana” of the “Favola di Venezia” di Corto Maltese, first discovered in the recesses of Hugo Pratt’s mind, and illustrated by his hand. [¶] “When the Venetians grow tired of the established authorities,” he writes, “they walk to these 3 secret places and, opening the doors that are in the bottom of these courts, they go away forever into beautiful places and other stories.”

Source: La Via del Profumo.

Source: La Via del Profumo.

The essences that recount these hidden courts, where the feel and smell of the sea are never far away, are of Jasmine and Rose, of Italian aromatic herbs and of Myrrh, the sweet resin which evokes the city’s ancient connection with the East.

Ambergris is the ingredient of this perfume that celebrates Venice’s foundation on seafaring; it’s the key that opens the door to other worlds and other stories. It is the magical ingredient that renders the fragrance three-dimensional, the noble pheromone with a scent of leather, of sea and of mother’s milk. This smell, so rare and precious that it is no longer used in modern perfumes, confers to the “Venezia Giardini Segreti” a unique and inimitable magic.

Visit with me the secret gardens of Venice. Photo gallery.

Based on that description, the official notes in Venezia Giardini Segreti include:

jasmine, rose, herbs, myrrh, and ambergris.



Giardini Segreti opens on my skin with a powerful but delicate burst of green, dewy jasmine, infused with mint and dark, smoky indoles. The flower’s aroma feels as crisp and clear as a bell rung in the Alpine mountains, but there is a black, smoldering heart which is magnificent. The jasmine is not as heavily sweetened, fleshy, ripe or heavy in feel as the one in Abdes Salaam’s Tawaf; this is much fresher, greener and watery, at least at first. Yet, it inexplicably feels stronger, and its heart has a certain dark rubberiness. The wintergreen note which is laced throughout the jasmine is powerful at first, but it softens within minutes.



Giardini Segreti starts to slowly turn deeper and richer, losing some of its chilled dewiness and crispness. There is the tiniest flicker of something like light olive oil poking its head up in the distance. It’s hard to explain, but there is an oily richness which gradually starts to seep into the jasmine. It’s not greasy and it certainly doesn’t smell of olives, but it’s more than mere oil. It’s also lightly herbal in nature, though I find it impossible to distinguish the precise aroma. Basil? Tarragon? Myrrh can have an anise-like undertone on rare occasion, as it does in Serge LutensLa Myrrhe, but Giardini Segreti’s accord doesn’t smell like anise. Whatever the elusive herb, it’s an intangible, muted presence, but a pretty one.

10 minutes in, Giardini Segreti is a jasmine scent whose primary characteristics veer between minty green and oiled smoothness. The whole thing is flecked with black from the smoky indoles, while a tiny animalic tinge of leather stirs for the first time in the depths below. The fragrance continues to grow warmed and more oiled, but I smell no roses at all. In fact, I didn’t on any of the occasions when I tested Giardini Segreti.

Pure, fresh ambergris found on the beach.

Pure, fresh ambergris found on the beach.

I also don’t smell ambergris in the way that I’m used to or have previously encountered. There is none of the note’s salty, marshy or wet characteristics, though there is an increasing touch of muskiness circling around the animalic accord in the base. All there is instead is a richness and warmth. I would bet it’s the ambergris which is responsible for the oily feel which I talked about earlier. With every passing quarter-hour, it feels as though a soft wave of smooth, lightly scented, vaguely herbal oil is flooding over the jasmine. It turns the petals unctuous and slightly slick, though I have to repeat that the jasmine here is not voluptuously rich, narcotic, or heavy. The greenness remains at this point, thereby ensuring that the floral aroma is still somewhat fresh and bright. Nevertheless, the ambergris helps to muffle and mute some of that minty tonality.

At the end of the first hour, Giardini Segreti has turned into a baby-soft, smooth jasmine oil, with emphasis on the oil part of that sentence. The sillage has changed accordingly. From its originally forceful, strong opening, Giardini Segreti now lies less than an inch above the skin. The velvety jasmine petals are lightly infused with ambergris, herbs, and a lingering trace of smokiness. The more interesting thing, however, is the growing presence of an animalic, almost civet-like edge in the base. It’s the tiniest bit feral, but also very subtle.

Sketch: Walter Logeman at

Sketch: Walter Logeman at

Slowly, Giardini Segreti starts to shift into something darker, less green. At the 90 minute mark, the perfume is a softly smoky gardenia with only a trace of a green undertone but increasingly animalic, leather facets. The petals feel soft, but the sense of an oil has vanished. There is instead the first appearance of something peppered and woody in feel in the background. Giardini Segreti lies right on the skin like a discreet, intimate silken sheath. For my personal tastes, the sillage is too soft too soon, but, then, I prefer my florals to be sonic booms worthy of one of Wagner’s Valkyries. Giardini Segreti feels better suited to one of the dainty damsels who Casanova turned into a quiet sensualist.

Giardini Segreti continues to change by slow degrees. 2.5 hours in, it is a skin scent of half-sweet, half-dry jasmine with an undertone of animalic leather and a dash of peppered woodiness. An hour later, a subtle honeyed creaminess appears on the scene, leading me to wonder if Giardini Segreti has opoponax or sweet myrrh in addition to the ambergris listed in the notes. After 4.25 hours, Giardini Segreti is a blur of jasmine and lightly honeyed beeswax, and then just eventually just sweetened creaminess. All in all, it lasted just short of 6.5 hours on my skin.

On Fragrantica, there is only one review for Giardini Segreti. “Spookie” writes:

my first impression is that there is something very familiar about this perfume. Not in the sense that it reminds me of another scent but that it’s like turning a corner and experiencing deja vu. But this time I’ve turned a corner and I’m in a sunlit courtyard, the light dappled by a green canopy, small flowers peeking out of cracks in the cobbles and a brambly rose climbing a wall. It’s like this place has been waiting for me, patiently, to find it again. This is the scent of that place: quiet, private, and otherworldly. That was my first impression. [¶]

Over time this scent becomes more human, even sensual. There’s salty skin under the florals and an almost spicy green lifting it up. Projection is moderate but I have only dabbed from a small sample- not that there’s anything wrong with having someone lean in to smell this. I compared this to Tawaf, because I was curious about how the jasmine might appear in both, and unlike Tawaf’s almost sticky density, VGS’s jasmine is higher and brighter without losing its intensity. I like this perfume a lot, but then I’m frequently impressed by La Via del Profumo.

Source: For The Love of Venice Facebook page.

Source: For The Love of Venice Facebook page.

Denyse Beaulieu of Grain de Musc loved Giardini Segreti, put it on her Top 10 List of Summer Scents (in 2013) that she had fallen for and described it as: “a haunting blend of jasmine, rose, herbs and ambergris that is just a joy to behold.” In her full review, she talks of how it evokes an alternate universe, writing in part:

AbdesSalaam Attar hails from that alternate universe. A Frenchman by birth and a traveler, he has undertaken the journey of fragrance backward, eastward, toward the origin and the Orient, via Italy. His Venezia Giardini Segreti does not attempt the dazzling technical feats of contemporary, French-trained perfumers but – I’ve written this before about his work – it nevertheless springs from an age-old culture of scent. […]

Here, rose and jasmine are both seductive and mystical. The herbs that tinge them with green and aromatic notes hint at an even richer bouquet – there is a tuberose effect – the petals vivid against sap-filled leaves and sprigs.[…]  the secret ingredient of his Venezia Giardini Segreti is ambergris, which he describes as “a scent of leather, of sea and of mother’s milk.” I’ve only smelled ambergris tincture twice, and couldn’t truly pretend to recognize it: perhaps the “sea” and “mother’s milk” are what give Venezia Giardini Segreti the eerie, “I’ve been there before” sensation I experienced when I applied it. Like Venice, perfume is nothing if not a labyrinth.

On Perfume Smellin’ Things, Giardini Segreti conjured up “garden of dreams and reverie” inhabited by “poet or noblewoman dressed in Renaissance garb.” Donna’s review talks about Giardini Segreti’s “magical effect,” and says:

The luscious jasmine Sambac in this fragrance is particularly sublime, and since my skin tends to amplify white florals, it is quite dominant at first, but that’s fine with me, since I love jasmine, and the languid dreaminess of the composition speaks to my own personality as a lover of gardens, history, beautiful vintage objects, and good stories. The rose is the handmaiden to the jasmine here, adding a ripe fullness and plush comfort to the centerpiece of jasmine. I don’t know what pure ambergris smells like, but its inclusion in this perfume seems to give in an overall patina of nostalgia and wistfulness, like the ineffable pull of memory experienced when looking at faded photographs of places you have never been, but to which you feel a deep connection, and you wish you could somehow become a part of that long ago scene, where all the rough edges have been erased by time, leaving only the watercolor beauty of happy memories and idyllic living. Wearing Giardini Segreti is like stepping into that fantasy world, and I never want to leave it.

Casanova's Garden. Source: For The Love of Venice Facebook page.

Casanova’s Garden. Source: For The Love of Venice Facebook page.

My experience was obviously very different from either of those accounts. I didn’t have any of the lush richness, roses, or saltiness that they encountered. Then again, I experienced animalic leather and smokiness which I far prefer to roses. Whatever the specific notes, I have to confess that I didn’t find Venezia Giardini Segreti to evoke either romantic fantasy worlds or a sense of “I’ve been there before” that both the Fragrantica commentator and Denyse Beaulieu mentioned. I liked Venezia Giardini Segreti, and agree that it has a very languid feel as a whole, but I far preferred the decadent, hedonistic excesses of the jasmine in Tawaf. Plus, as I’ve noted a few times in the past, I like my white flowers to sing operatically and at Wagnerian levels. Others, however, prefer their perfume to be more discreet and approachable, so it’s all a matter of personal tastes.

At the end of the day, though, there is no doubt that Venezia Giardini Segreti is lovely. Its gorgeous, fresh, bright opening is a head-turner. At the same time, the unusual leathered touch and the animalic whiff of the later stages make the perfume stand out from many jasmine scents on the market. If you’re looking for a languid jasmine with a twist and with a touch of darkness, then you should definitely give Giardini Segreti a sniff.

Disclosure: My sample was courtesy of Abdes Salaam Attar. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, my views are my own, and my first obligation is honesty to my readers.

Cost & Availability: Venezia Giardini Segreti is an eau de parfum that comes in a variety of sizes. It is available exclusively from the website, which ships its scents world-wide. All the following prices for Giardini Segreti are in Euros without VAT: €57,52 for 15.5 ml, €114,06 for 32 ml,  and €178,52 for 53 ml/1.79 oz. At today’s rate of exchange, the USD prices roughly comes to: $78 for the 15.5 ml, $155 for the 32 ml, and $243 for the 50 ml bottle. The site says: “Prices are without VAT and are valid for USA and all non EEC countries[;] for shipments in the EEC 22% VAT will be ADDED to the amount in the shopping cart.” There is also a Mignon Discovery Coffret which is available for any 5 fragrances, each in a glass 5.5 ml bottle. The price depends on which perfumes you pick, as the choice is up to you. The 5.5 ml bottle of Venezia Giardini Segreti is €20,83. On a side note, I received my samples from Mr. Dubrana incredibly quickly, less than 4 days after he sent it. Also, I have the impression that, with all purchases, Profumo provides free 2 ml samples, especially of any new fragrances that he is developing, since AbdesSalaam is very interested in feedback. In short, if you’re ordering fragrance, you may want to ask for a tiny sample of something that strikes your eye. Samples: Surrender to Chance sells Venezia Giardini Segreti starting at $5.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.

Perfume Review- Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque: Classic Sex Appeal

Serge Lutens perfumes tend be polarizing. Leather perfumes are also polarizing. Throw the two together and…. Whoa, mama! Yet, I find myself entranced by Cuir Mauresque (“moorish leather”) from The Master. And I don’t even particularly like leather perfumes! This one, though, has just shot up the list to equal Chergui, my previous favorite Lutens, and may even surpass it by a faint whisker. Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque

One reason may be the fact that Lutens puts Cuir Mauresque in the “Sudden Sweetness” category, alongside Chergui and Musc Koublai Khan. In fact, it does represent a line between those two scents: more spiced, ambered and floral than Chergui, but less musky than Musc Koublai Khan. Yet, in terms of descriptions, Lutens essentially settles for “Moorish” and “leather” as the basic gist for the perfume. It was created in 1996 with Lutens’ favorite perfumer, Christopher Sheldrake, and is a unisex scent for both men and women. Originally, it was released only as a bell-jar fragrance exclusive to Lutens’ Paris Palais Royal salon and was not available for export. In 2010, however, it was made available in the US and worldwide.

I think the reason why I enjoyed Cuir Mauresque so much is because it is not really a leather scent on my skin. Instead, it’s a swirling, seductive jasmine, amber, animalic civet, and spice perfume which just merely happens to have leather undertones. It is a gloriously classique scent that strongly evokes Jean Desprez‘ legendary Bal à Versailles to my nose, though others seem to place it between the equally legendary Tabac Blond from Caron and Knize Ten from Knize.

Fragrantica classifies Cuir Mauresque as a “Leather” and says:

It represents a blend of leather wrapped up in jasmine and sweet spices to make a true Arabian aroma.

Notes: [Egyptian Jasmine] amber, myrrh, burnt styrax [resin], incense, cinnamon, aloe wood, cedar, civet, nutmeg, clove, cumin, musk, mandarin peel and orange blossom.

Cuir Mauresque opens on my skin with a richly heady mix of orange blossom, mandarins, musk, amber, resinous myrrh, nutmeg, cloves and a dry, earthy, (but not skanky) dash of cumin. There is the merest whisper of smoke and incense. Even fainter is the subtle impression of something flowery dancing at the very furthest edge of the notes. There is also, however, that slightly camphorous, chilled note which seems to be Christopher Sheldrake’s signature in many of his perfumes. It is subtle and evanescent on my skin — absolutely nothing like the mentholated, almost rubbery, slightly burnt, camphor note in Tubereuse Criminelle or, to a much lesser degree, in Borneo 1834.

Clove Studded Orange. Source: DwellWellNW blog at

Clove Studded Orange. Source: DwellWellNW blog at

The predominant notes, however, are musky orange, nutmeg and cloves. It’s surprisingly sweet, but there is nothing cloyingly about them. It’s also definitely not gourmand. I think the fruit, the dryness of the spices, and the woody elements cuts through the sweetness, as does the floral note. As the minutes pass, that last note becomes stronger and stronger. It’s jasmine — sweet, heady, and musky but not indolic, sour or over-ripe.

CognacAt first whiff, I did not detect any strong leather note except, perhaps, as just a vague, subtle, ghostly sense. Even then, I wouldn’t bet on it. Ten minutes in, however, there is a definite impression of uber-expensive, luxury car interiors, though interiors doused in very aged cognac. Yes, cognac. There is a definite sense of the dryer, almost woody, nutty aspect of really expensive cognac, as opposed to something sweet, boozy rum. It adds great warmth to the leather which takes on a very creamy, dark, rich feel. It’s more akin to a really old, dark brown, leather jacket than to the scent of a new Chanel purse. There is no impression of coldness nor of soft suede, and most definitely nothing evoking dead animals, barnyard manure or raw animal pelts as some leather fragrances are wont to do.Bal à Versailles

Twenty minutes in, lovely jasmine is the predominant note. It is sweetly spiced and slightly musky, underpinned by that very subtle leather note that has a faintly dirty, animalic, musky element to it, thanks to the civet. I have a definite impression of vintage Bal à Versailles with its heady florals wrapped in amber, musk, civet and resins. I’m not the only one; on Fragrantica, a large number of people seem to think the same way on the Bal à Versailles page. That said, Cuir Mauresque is nowhere near as animalic as Bal à Versailles and not one millionth as skanky. It’s softer, lighter, more spiced, less powdery and without any sweat, fecal or “piss” undertones.



It’s a lovely scent and narcotically heady in that first hour but, also, somewhat indolic. That’s where I fear it will trip up a few people, since indoles can be very tricky depending on skin chemistry. (See, “Indoles” and “Indolic” in the Glossary linked at the very top of the page for more details.) On me, the jasmine is never sour, verging on rotting fruit, or urinous. Instead, the jasmine, orange blossoms and spices are warmed in a lovely way by the styrax resin, the subtle smokiness of the incense, the amber and the musk. But it is the added touch of that animalic civet which is the perfect, crowning touch. It’s not skanky like unwashed panties or unsettling. Instead, it just evokes old-school glamour and seduction.

An hour in, the leather is much more noticeable, as is the animalic civet. However, they both share the stage with the jasmine. To the side, as supporting players, are: honey; very light, subtle incense; and a touch of earthy cumin and dry cloves, with musk and amber undertones.

There is a very classique aspect to the perfume, one which even my mother noted when she smelled my arm. She absolutely adored it, couldn’t smell any leather, thought it had “depth” (her highest compliment), and called it “seductive and mysterious.” I was very taken aback, especially as my mother doesn’t like most of what I give her to smell — Neela Vermeire’s Trayee and Téo Cabanel’s Alahine excepted. Generally, her tastes range from hardcore orientals like vintage Opium, Shalimar and Cartier’s Le Baiser du Dragon, to the classique scents of things like Femme, Jolie Madame, Joy, 1000, Fracas and Bal à Versailles. I suspect that it is Bal à Versailles which led to my mother’s admiration for Cuir Mauresque….

Marlene Dietrich in her later years.

Marlene Dietrich in her later years.

The perfume’s very classique profile led to an interesting discussion when I asked what movie star she would associate with the scent. I kept imagining Marlene Dietrich in her older, less edgy, less hard and androgynous days.

Ava Gardner.

Ava Gardner.

My mother said, flatly and point-blank, “Ava Gardner.” Hardcore glamour, oozing sex appeal, a forceful personality to be reckoned with, and mystery. I countered with the mysterious, seductive, exquisite Princess Fawzia of Egypt. My mother still said Ava Gardner. We both finally settled on agreeing that there was nothing about this scent that could evoke someone cool like Grace Kelly, obvious like Bridget Bardot, or the girl-next-door like Doris Day.

In modern day terms, I thought of Halle Berry in her Bond girl role but that’s not quite the right fit. I can’t really think of someone who does represent the scent for me, not in today’s movie world. Cuir Mauresque isn’t symbolized by a Gwyneth Paltrow type, nor a Jennifer Aniston or Anne Hathaway. This is a perfume for a very strong woman (or man) with a slight edge, a bit of toughness, who radiates seductiveness and mystery, and who entrances as much by the enigmatic gaze as by her long legs or his broad shoulders.

Sometime at the second hour, the leather note does become more apparent but it soon vanishes with the return of the fruity-floral, musky civet, and amber notes of Bal à Versailles. Cuir Mauresque is significantly lighter and less animalic, while also being more tinged by smoke, but the resemblance is noticeable to my nose. The appearance of some sweet powder doesn’t change things as that, too, was in Bal à Versailles. Here, it’s not like baby powder or even like hardcore Guerlainade. It’s hard to describe, but there is a balmy, sweet aspect it.

By the end of the third hour, the perfume is all fruity-florals with honey, resins, musk and faintly powdered vanilla. The leather notes — to the extent that they are there — are very subtle and more like soft suede. Creamy, light and beige. Eight hours later, almost by the end of its duration, Cuir Mauresque turns into nothing more than lovely honey and dried fruit. The dry-down in all those last hours is warm, sweet, and truly cozy. Interestingly, the sillage on Cuir Mauresque was not particularly high. It was noticeable in the first hour, then dropped significantly and became close to the skin by the third hour. Others, like Angela at Now Smell This, have also found the perfume to have persistent longevity but to be “quiet” with moderate to low, sillage. I very much agree.

As you might tell from some of this review, I didn’t find Cuir Mauresque to be a very leather fragrance. I did, however, to be extremely approachable and versatile, not to mention seductive, mysterious and, in the final hours, as cozily delicious as a cashmere  blanket. I’m not surprised at all that, according to Luckyscent:

the master himself [Serge Lutens] has gone on record saying he doused himself in [it] on the rare occasions when he goes out. And considering the choice he’s got, that’s saying quite a lot.

He’s not the only one. The Non-Blonde wrote in 2009 that Cuir Mauresque was her “favorite” leather perfume, though the “less easily defined (and probably most controversial)” out of all the many leather scents that she has tried. She added: “I can’t get enough of Cuir Mauresque and tend to murmur sweet nothings at my bell jar[.]”

Angela at Now Smell This found it ” special — warm and cozy, intimate and spicy, different from my other leathers.” On her, the perfume “kicks off with a surprising note that offers a freaky insight into the rest of the fragrance.” It’s a sweet plastic note “that mingles with the fragrance’s leather to remind me of a 1970s faux patent leather purse.” That soon changes, however:

Lest you suspect Cuir Mauresque is headed down a path of discos, bondage, and Tupperware, think again. Cuir Mauresque warms into one of the snuggliest, most welcoming leather fragrances I’ve worn. Its mandarin peel and orange blossom work the way citrus does in baking rather. They keep the composition from cloying but definitely aren’t tart or bracing. The spices — and I’d include cardamom with the listed cinnamon and nutmeg — feel so obviously right with the medium-weight leather. Cumin and musk are just barely noticeable, but they push Cuir Mauresque away from bundt cake toward skin. Warm, luxurious, grandpa-cardigan-wearing skin — that is, if your grandpa has worn his shape into his Bugatti’s leather seats and has publishers clamoring for his memoir.

And Perfume-Smellin’ Things just went weak at the knees for Cuir Mauresque:

Along with Muscs Koublai Khan, I consider this to be one of Lutens’s most sensual, most seductive scents. Cuir Mauresque makes my mouth dry and my knees week. From the slap of pure unadulterated leather in the beginning to the warm, gentle caress of cinnamon and orange blossom at the middle stage, to the wonderful dark, ambery, leathery embrace of the drydown, Cuir Mauresque charmed, enamoured and enslaved me. This being a Lutens scent, it goes almost without mention that the woody accord of cedar and aloe wood (agarwood, the source of ouds) is executed in the most exquisite way; the wood here serves only as a background, but what a luscious, almost sweet background it is! I also adore the way a musk note is woven into the rich tapestry of the composition; even though never too evident, it is there at every stage of the development, adding the raw, animalistic accord that makes the blend all the more irresistible to me.

But, like many Lutens, the love is almost equaled by hate. For all the positive raves on places like Fragrantica or Basenotes, there are a number of negatives that evince pure loathing. Basenotes, to be specific, has 22 Positive reviews, 10 Neutral and 10 Negative. But the most searing, most scathing, and most amusingly repulsed review has to come from the blogger, Nathan Branch, who wrote:

in what seems to be a desire to be willfully obtuse, it contains a compound that smells strongly of piss — which, I suppose, if you’re into gay faux-biker bars and fetishistic watersports, you’d quickly associate with the scent of leather, but is this really the Lutens target audience?  […]

In Cuir Mauresque’s defense, the sour aroma of piss does fade as time passes, but it doesn’t fully go away, and I have to admit to not being particularly certain why anyone would reach into their perfume collection and think, “A-ha! Today I want to smell kind of like the windowless back room of a gay leather bar!”

Ouch! Clearly, the indoles in the jasmine turned extremely sour on his skin. But the degree of revulsion in that review and in a few comments on Basenotes led me to wonder.

So, I tried Cuir Mauresque a second time. I strained and strained to find something akin to the notes described but, no, I didn’t. Perhaps, during the second hour, there was a slightly sour note — but I’m pretty sure I found it only by the power of suggestion. Whatever it was, and if it was even there, it was extremely fleeting.

The funny thing is, on both occasions, Cuir Mauresque was not a very leathery scent for me. It was always a seductively jasmine, fruity scent with civet, spices, resin and subtle smoke. It just merely to have a leather undertone — and only on occasion at that! But, as the other reviews up above demonstrate, the perfume can take on a wide variety of aspects, from much more leathery, to notes resembling oud, and, alas, occasionally, also something urinous in nature. Clearly, this is one perfume that needs to be tried first and not purchased blindly, particularly if you have issues with indoles or leather. In fact, I’d say flat-out that those who don’t like either note — but who especially don’t like very heady florals or musky, animalic civet scents — won’t like Cuir Mauresque one bit.   

Those who do like leather scents, however, may be interested to know that Cuir Mauresque is repeatedly said to fall somewhere between the old leather greats: Caron‘s Tabac Blond and Knize‘s Knize Ten. Some people also bring up Chanel‘s Cuir de Russie, especially in the dry-down, but I see absolutely no similarity to the latter. On me, Cuir de Russie was pure horse feces cloaked in soap. (I was not a fan, but I recognize that I’m in a distinct minority on that one.)

In Perfumes: The A-Z Guide by Luca Turin & Tania Sanchez, Ms. Sanchez classifies Cuir Mauresque as a “Sweet Leather” and gives it a three-star rating, writing succinctly:

The great leathery classic, Caron’s Tabac Blond, receives the Lutens treatment — more transparent, sweetened with jasmine and dried fruit. Lovely, but somehow less, and no match for, say, Knize Ten.

I’ve never tried either, though I do have a sample of Knize Ten that I will get around to eventually. While I can’t compare Cuir Mauresque to the great leather classics of the past, I think that Ms. Sanchez’s 3-star rating is extremely unfair. My perspective is closer to that of PereDePierre who writes that it is “[a]rguably the best of the modern leather fragrances” and who considers it to be much more of an amber than a leather, one whose “most distinguishing feature is its combination of cinnamon and orange blossom.” I’d toss in jasmine and civet into that mix, but yes, I quite agree.

I also think Cuir Mauresque is a very approachable “leather” that is perfect for people like myself who have some difficulty with the category. But, most of all, I think it’s sexy as hell.

Cost & Availability: Cuir Mauresque is available on the Serge Lutens website for $140 for a 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle. It is also available in the famous Bell Jar for $290 for 75 ml/ 2.5 fl. oz. Barney’s, Luckyscent and Beautyhabit all carry the 1.7 oz/50 bottle for $140. I also found it on sale at FragranceX for $106.99 and I believe they ship all over the world. However, at this time, they only have 6 bottles left. In the UK, I couldn’t see it listed at either Harrods, Selfridges or Les Senteurs. In Australia, I found it on the Hot Cosmetics website where the 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle seems to be on sale for AUD $130 instead of AUD $196. For other countries, you can use the Store Locator on the Lutens website.
Sample vials to test it out can be purchased at Surrender to Chance and start at $3.99. Surrender to Chance also has a special Lutens sample pack of 3 non-export perfumes which includes Cuir Mauresques (Musc Koublai Khan and Ambre Sultan) and which starts at $11.99 for the smallest sized vials. Surrender to Chance has the best shipping rates, in my opinion: $2.95 for orders of any size within the U.S.. Unfortunately, with the US Postal Service’s recent price increase, international shipping has now jumped from $5.95 to $12.95 for all international orders under $150. However, price increases for international shipping have occurred across the board at most other sites, too. 

Preliminary Review – Chanel Les Exclusifs 1932: Sparkling Jasmine

In 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression, Chanel launched her first collection of haute jewelry. It consisted of diamonds set in platinum and was shown in an exhibit entitled “Bijoux de Diamants.” In 2012, on the 80th Anniversary of that exhibit, Chanel debuted a new fine jewelry collection and, in homage, called it The 1932 Collection.

Le-parfum-1932-de-ChanelSometime in early 2013, Chanel will release the perfume that goes along with that collection. It too is called, quite simply, 1932 and it is part of Chanel’s Les Exclusifs line of fragrances. The date for its release seems to be February 1, 2013, though I have read one report of March 1, 2013.

I have a large sample of 1932 already, but there is no official information on the perfume, no press release, no listing on Chanel’s website, and only a few unconfirmed details. So, I set out to discover more about the perfume prior to reviewing it. Two attempts to ascertain notes or details from Chanel were unsuccessful. The only thing that seemed certain beyond all doubt is that 1932 is a jasmine scent that comes in Eau de Toilette concentration. So, I played amateur detective, relying on a photo of a 1932 perfume box, its listed ingredients, and Google. You can read about my efforts in full detail here, but the bottom line is that the only definite notes in 1932 thus far seem to be:

jasmine, iris and musk.

Relying on the perfume box’s list of ingredients and all the sources available to me thusChanel 1932 far, I hazarded a vague guess that the notes may include some or all of the following:

Jasmine, rose or some possible rose enhancers (farnesol), bergamot (or lavender or coriander), cinnamon, cloves, violet or orris/iris, coumarin (hay), musk and possibly vetiver.

Again, you can read all the reasons why I came to that conclusion in the Sneak Peek post.

I am the very first to say that I am no perfume expert, and even less so when it comes to chemical terms and the technical aspect of perfume ingredients. I have tried to do the best that I can, with the limited information and resources available to me, but I’m sure my attempts to translate terms like “hexyl cinnamal,” “linalool,” or “farnesol” may have gone array somewhere.

Nonetheless, I think I have a mildly competent nose (I hope), so I can give you preliminary idea of what 1932 is like. Later, when Chanel releases press information, details of 1932’s notes, pricing and availability, I will do a proper review and include other people’s perceptions or reviews of the scent so that you can get a better, fuller idea as to what it is like.

For the meantime, however, I’m working totally blind on this — much like someone standing before a Mexican piñata while blind-folded, and attempting to hit something accurately. Let’s take a leap into the deep-end together.

1932 opens on me with a strong burst of bright lemon. It’s so fresh and zesty, I feel as though someone just cut into a lemon in front of me and squirted some drops of its juices on my skin. That immediate burst of freshness is followed almost seconds later by a massive dose of aldehydes. (You can read more about aldehydes in the Glossary.) Here, they smell soapy, waxy and candle-like. The lemon quickly melts into the aldehydes, creating the impression of soapy lemon wax. There is also the impression of something floral, akin to rose, but it is almost imperceptible under that thick veil of aldehydes. Along side, there is faintly powdery iris, but, again, the whole thing is subsumed under the sheer force of the aldehydes.

For full clarity, I should note that I tested out 1932 twice to ensure I had as accurate a sense about the perfume as possible. And, with one exception, 1932 was consistently the same throughout. The difference was a slight variation in the opening. The second time I tested 1932, there was a hefty dose of coumarin with its strong notes of sweet hay that appeared almost immediately after the lemon note. (In fact, if I sniff the vial to my decant, the predominant impression is of lemon followed by hay.) Unfortunately, the hay note is a bit of a ghost throughout this perfume. As you will read later, it pops up, vanishes, comes back, flits away, and so on. It is both maddening and quite enchanting, but then I love coumarin. With the exception of coumarin’s appearance in the opening the second time around, the rest of the perfume’s development continued on the same trajectory in both tests.

Two minutes in, the jasmine makes an appearance. It is timid, as if raising its bonneted head above the field of waxy soap and dappled lemon. The jasmine is sweet, light and demure, verging on the insubstantial. How could it possibly compete with those forceful aldehydes? This is probably the time to confess that I am not a particular fan of aldehydic fragrances and that this opening makes me sigh a little, though it is never as extreme or as unbearable as some perfumes. Even for someone like myself who dislikes the note, this is very manageable.

Fifteen minutes in, the jasmine becomes a much stronger player on 1932’s stage. It is heady, but there is a surprising sheerness and airiness to the scent. It is not an indolic or over-ripe scent — and jasmine can be one of the most indolic flowers around! (You can read more about Indoles and Indolic scents at the Glossary.) Indolic flowers can often have a rubbery element to the narcotic richness at their heart; over-blown ripeness that, sometimes, can verge almost on the side of decay. These indoles are the reason why some people get the impression of “rotting fruit,” sourness, urine, plastic, or Hawaiian flowers. Here, I don’t smell anything verging on over-ripe or full-blown; there is no rubberiness, no rotting fruit and, certainly, no decay. However, I do occasionally get faint whiffs of something slightly sour emanating from my arm. It’s extremely mild, never constant, and quite fleeting.

Thirty minutes in, 1932’s aldehydes have faded and jasmine takes full center stage. It is significantly stronger, though still airy, and is now accompanied by musk. There are also faint banana undertones to the scent. I have no idea if they are yet another manifestation of the aldehydes (which can take on a banana accord in addition to the lemon, waxy, soapy one) or if they are the result of something else. Such as, for example, ylang-ylang.

One person who has already tried 1932 says that there is ylang-ylang and sandalwood in the scent. On Perfume Shrine (a blog which first broke the story of 1932 over a year ago in early 2012), a poster by the name of Henrique/Rick wrote the following description this week on the site’s latest entry about the perfume:

Well, in the case of this fragrance, i’m pretty sure that it’s not hedione, since the jasmine used on it has a slightly fruity, yellow aspect on the aroma, while the hedione is more green to my nose. This is a lovely Chanel, very true to the classics. Altough the jasmine is highlighted, this is not a heavy jasmine fragrance. It starts with a exquisite blend of aldehydes, iris and ylang-ylang, then leaving space for the jasmine to shine, and at the base revisiting the jasmine and combining it with a gorgeous woody base of sandalwood supported by some musks. It’s really well done, there was a long time that i didn’t smell a Chanel that i wanted to glue my nose on my arm from the first moment until the last on skin.

Henrique/Rick’s comment is the sole description or impression of 1932 that I can find anywhere on the internet at this point. I agree with him on much of his description, especially the aldehydes. (How could one miss them?!) I also agree on the iris, but I’m not absolutely convinced on the ylang-ylang or the sandalwood. Yes, they could be there. But then again, the banana smell could easily come from the aldehydes; and jasmine by itself can be as heady, ripe and creamy as ylang-ylang.

Henrique/Rick is probably correct that “hedione” (a jasmine molecule first discovered in 1962) is not included here. For one thing, hedione is not listed on the box, though obviously that’s not dispositive. Perfume boxes don’t always list all the ingredients, after all! But the real thing is, one doesn’t have to use hedione to create a jasmine scent. According to a detailed explanation of how to create jasmine scents by Pierre Benard, a Grasse perfumer interviewed on Fragrantica, there are other ways to replicate the flower’s note. One way is to combine “Indol plus Benzyl Benzoate” with some eugenol for a green note. I see the eugenol and Benzyl Benzoate on 1932’s box, so maybe that is the route Chanel decided to take here. I certainly don’t smell the green note that Henrique/Rick attributes to hedione but, like him, a much more yellow, fruity aspect.

We part ways on the issue of sandalwood. If it’s included in 1932, it was almost nonexistent on my skin the first time round. The second time round, I could smell something vaguely approximating it, I suppose, but it was extremely faint. The impression may well have come from another ingredient entirely. I think back to Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez’s repeated comments in “Perfumes: the A-Z Guide” on just how few sandalwood fragrances actually have sandalwood in them at all these days. According to them, true sandalwood from Mysore, India is so scarce and so prohibitively expensive that most perfumers use Australian sandalwood which is an entirely different species of plant and with an entirely different scent. To the extent that 1932 may have sandalwood in it (of any kind), I think it is completely overshadowed and overpowered by the musk.

In that first hour, there was an unexpected element to 1932 in my first test. For some inexplicable reason, there was a slight earthiness to the scent on one arm accompanied by definite notes of mildew. It was faint but, there is no doubt, I smelled mildew! It’s not musty, so much as faintly moldy and a bit damp, if that makes sense. I can only attribute it to iris note which I’m guessing is from orris root; distillations from the roots of a flower or plant can have a faintly earthy smell, and that is much more the case than when the flower above earth is used. But I’m still not quite sure what causes the mildew note unless it is the combination of the orris root with the musk. The second time around, I didn’t smell mildew precisely, but there was a similarly damp and slightly earthy note. This time, it was faintly musty. Nonetheless, it was extremely subtle and subsumed by the stronger musk note.

1932 remains a predominantly musky jasmine smell for about two hours and then two new players arrive on the stage. The first is bergamot. It isn’t overwhelming but neither is it so faint as to be imperceptible. It’s a bit of a surprise, to be honest, especially for it to show up at this point instead of in the opening. But I definitely smell traces of Earl Grey Tea! It adds a note of freshness and depth to a scent that was essentially quite simple thus far.

The second player is coumarin. As noted earlier, the coumarin note is almost like a playful ghost: it appears with such freshness and sweetness, then it suddenly vanishes entirely, only to reappear and pop back up 10 minutes later, before flitting away again. Its coy disappearing act continues throughout the development of 1932. Each time, however, the coumarin smells exactly like freshly mowed hay! It never has the vanilla undertones that the ingredient may sometimes have. It adds a bit of dryness and a subtle woodsy element to the sweet jasmine; it also tends to make 1932 a scent that some jasmine-loving men could wear as well.

The final hours of 1932 are very simple. It is really just jasmine and musk with an almost imperceptible touch of something woody. It’s soft, light, and silky on the skin like a fine negligée. And that’s about it.

At no time did I smell the cinnamon or cloves which I had guessed might be in the perfume due to the ingredient list on the perfume box. Nor did I perceive any obvious or strong vetiver notes, even though the French Marie-Claire site had stated vetiver was in the perfume. To the extent that vetiver roots can contribute to an earthy element in perfumes, then perhaps that was the cause of the faintly musty, earthy impression that I had at one point. But I highly doubt it; I really don’t smell vetiver! (And I just reviewed Chanel’s vetiver scent, Sycomore, yesterday, so I am familiar with both the note and how Chanel may handle it.) No,1932 is not a green or green-brown scent in any way; it is all yellow and white, with perhaps a little beige from the musk.

ChandelierI have the oddest perception of 1932 as a crystal chandelier. Not all of its prism drops have been properly cleaned, and some have a thin film on them, as if from the remnants of soap. Others prisms, in contrast, are clear and reflect the light, shooting off coloured rays of lemon, jasmine and musk when the sun catches them. It’s overall shimmer is so subtle as to be imperceptible at times. Sometimes, it’s a bit dull and dusty. Sometimes, bright and shiny. But whenever the light hits it, there is a sparkle in Chandelier reflectionsthe reflection, even if it only hits the walls around it. In those cases, the jasmine sparkles with a sort of evanescent glow.

That said, I wasn’t overwhelmed by 1932. It is most definitely not love at first sniff, or even third. It is a perfectly nice, even lovely, scent that oozes very discreet, very expensive, elegant trails behind it. It is simultaneously somewhat heady but, yet, also sheer and light. But it is far too demure, nondescript and soft for me. I don’t find it particularly complex, transformative, or unique. At the same time, however, I think it is undeniably well-blended with ingredients that are obviously of extremely high-quality. It is hugely approachable, and will undoubtedly be a massive hit with those who like soft florals, jasmine fragrances and/or unobtrusive feminine scents.

All in all, it really and truly embodies the classique Chanel woman — though not a very modern one. To me, it calls to mind one of those 1950s aristocratic, wealthy leaders of high-society, or one of Alfred Hitchcock’s icy blondes. Impeccably dressed with pearls and gloves, hair frozen in a perfect coif, and extremely feminine, but also controlled, reserved, haughty, aloof and not-so-faintly superior. It is a fragrance that I can imagine a lot of women wearing every day. It is discreet, while being highly feminine, lady-like, and expensive-smelling. On the other hand, one might argue, it is also simple, boring, predictable, and faintly generic. There is nothing particularly electrifying or charismatic about it.

But you know what? I highly doubt it’s meant to be! This is a scent for the woman (or jasmine-loving man) who does not want to stand out in an ostensible manner. This is not for Maria Callas, Grace Kelly, or any famous person for that matter. This is for the quiet movers-and-shakers behind the scene who abhor the spotlight and who clutch their pearls (or cufflinks) at anything as remotely vulgar as obviousness. Quelle horreur! I think this is absolutely and intentionally meant to be a scent for the aristocratically discreet who want something safe and timeless that screams high-class, restraint and quiet wealth.

1932 accomplishes all that superbly.

Sillage & Longevity: The sillage and longevity of 1932 is adequate, in line with some others in the Exclusifs line which are said to be thin, sheer, and of short duration. (For example, 31 Rue Cambon or 28 La Pausa.) On me, 1932 had good projection for the first one and a half hours, thereafter becoming close to the skin. As for longevity, it was below-average even for my perfume-consuming skin. It only lasted a little bit above 4 hours, all in all. But, as always, remember that my body consumes perfume. Perhaps others will have more luck. At this time, it’s hard to know for certain what it would be like for the average, normal person.
Cost & Availability: There are limited details on either of these points. Thus far, I know that 1932 comes in Eau de Toilette concentration, but I don’t know if Chanel will release a parfum version as it has for three of its Exclusifs line (Bois des Iles, Gardénia & Cuir de Russie). As for cost, it will undoubtedly be the same as all the other Exclusifs eau de toilette fragrances which currently retail for $130 for a 2.5 oz/75 ml bottle or $230 for a 6.8 oz/200 ml bottle. In general, the Exclusifs line is only available in Chanel boutiques or on their website. At this time, however, I have no information as to when 1932 will be available outside of Chanel’s Paris store, or when it will be available on its website (either the U.S. one or the French one). As noted earlier, I will do a full, proper review with all the necessary information once the perfume officially launches and Chanel releases further details.