Ipso Olfacto

fragrant musings


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A True Flower Bomb: Chloe Narcisse

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90’s powerhouse Narcisse by Chloe distinguishes itself from the brands rather tame modern offerings. I’ve always been kind of indifferent to the wildly popular soapy- -musky-fruity rose that is (modern) Chloe. It’s perfectly pleasant but ends up being a bit bland, so I’ve never felt the need to own it. Imagine my surprise when I blind bought a bottle of Chloe Narcisse towards the beginning of my fragrance collecting, and was met with a bold explosion of rich, narcotic yellow flowers, spices, and apricot syrup.

Narcisse has that classic powerhouse quality in that it’s opening is… difficult. This is actually one of things that I find distinguishes a lot of mainstream fragrances from the 90s and earlier from what’s popular today. Fragrances of the past weren’t as afraid of being a bit prickly when you first met them. So many fragrances now have the pressure of having to smell great straight out of the bottle, on a blotter, lest a potential buyer write it off for the hundreds of other options within easy reach.

Nope, Narcisse is a bit of a grower. It opens with strong apricot syrup- thick, warm, almost like cough syrup when mixed with the spicy, clove-like bitterness of carnation. Weather the storm for about 20 minutes, and the distinct smell of daffodils emerges to temper the syrup. It’s incredibly naturalistic- you get the whole daffodil package: the crisp, almost celery-like quality of the stem, the greenness of the leaves, and, of course, that unique spicy, pollen-filled yellow flower itself. There’s also marigold in there, along with tolu balsam, to provide some oriental, resinous sweetness. It’s a heavy yellow floral- in fact, when I first smelled Narcisse, the phrase “flower bomb” came to mind. Then, I remembered there’s already a fragrance called Flower Bomb that doesn’t really live up to that name.

Longevity is true to powerhouse status- Narcisse lasts all day, and just gets better and better as it dries down. In the real stretch, it reveals the slight woody creaminess of sandalwood. In a world of mostly roses, gardenia, and tuberose, the idea of a daffodil based scent, or any yellow floral really, feels exotic and intriguing. Plus, a heavy, unabashedly feminine powerhouse floral feels almost edgy among today’s mostly clean, restrained, unisex floral offerings. And that bottle! So gorgeous. AND when that bottle can be yours for around $15? Chloe Narcisse is a rarity: a high quality, bold fragrance that won’t break the bank.

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Blandly Literal: Jil Sander Sun

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I’ve been intrigued by Jil Sander Sun for a while now. It’s one of those classic 90’s scents that still has a cult following, and it frequently comes up on “cheapie but goodie” fragrance lists. I’ve always been drawn to scents that are made to smell like skin- clean skin, dirty skin, or, in this case, sun-warmed skin. I like how conceptual that point of inspiration is, rather than simply replicating an exact, isolated smell. Looking at the note listing for Sun, also, paints a picture of a complex, multi-faceted fragrance (carnation! Benzoin! Ylang-ylang!) Unfortunately, I was ultimately disappointed when I finally came around to trying it.

Sun just smells… Bland. And sometimes, actually off-putting. I suppose it has all the right elements to get across that “skin sweetened by the sun” quality- it has sweet, creaminess, powder, resins, woods, light, spicy florals… But all of these elements just never feel quite balanced- like an inexperienced chef trying to follow a recipe by just eyeballing everything, rather than measuring. I also feel like the sweetness is overdone- especially in the opening. It has a grating, chalky quality to it. Think of the smell of opening a bottle of Tums. Yeah, not the sweetness I was looking for. It actually kind of smells like all of Sun‘s notes have been pulverized and crushed into a tums-like pellet. You don’t get the distinct, powdery almond sweetness of the heliotrope, nor do you get the real warm, resinous creaminess of the benzoin- the personalities of each individual note has been beaten into submission. Sun also doesn’t go through very noticeable development- it just dries down slightly less sweet, and gets a little more pleasant and woody by the end. But it still just ends up smelling like the residue from some generic, sweet suntan lotion- which, admittedly, fits the bottle design. Sun is most tolerable once it hits the 4 or 5 hour mark, where it becomes a soft skinscent that lingers for a few more hours.

Sun can be found very cheaply online- I got my bottle for less than $15. And that’s the thing- this review is for the current formulation of Sun. I’m sure that back when Sun was more popular (and therefore, more profitable) it was probably a better scent. But, alas, it’s current formulation is nothing impressive. Sun, despite seemingly containing every note under the sun, weirdly just ends up being boring.


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Vacation in a Bottle: Yves Rocher Monoi EDT & Body Oil

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Ah, the proverbial “tropical vacation.” When most people think about “getting away from it all,” their imagination conjures up an exotic somewhere with plenty of sea, sun, and relaxation. Unfortunately, in reality, we don’t all have the time and/or money to travel to, say, Tahiti, for a summer getaway. Luckily, French beauty brand Yves Rocher offers an affordable way to feel a bit of island relaxation at home with their Monoi line of lush, tiare scented products.

If you’re looking for an exotic, tropical summer floral, you can’t do much better than tiare flower (also known as Tahitian gardenia.) Tiare is a rich, creamy white floral that has a hint of fruitiness, similar to tuberose.  In both the Monoi Eau de Vahines EDT ($33) and Monoi de Tahiti body oil ($17), the tiare takes center stage, resulting in a full-bodied, vivid white floral scent that feels natural, never overpowering. This is thanks to the fact that they both contain a high concentration of tiare essential oils (keeping with Yves Rocher’s “natural, botanical” brand image.)

Both the Monoi Eau de Vahines EDT and the Monoi de Tahiti body oil smell very similar- they both, at the end of the day, are mostly just creamy, tiare goodness. In the oil, the white floral creaminess is perfectly combined with nutty, also creamy coconut- giving it just a hint of sweetness. The EDT also has a hint of coconut milkiness, but it veers more towards a vanillic sweetness. There’s also a pronounced fruitiness to the EDT that reminds me of opening a fresh, slightly under-ripe peach. They are both lovely, feeling like a sweet, summer breeze- but I think that I actually prefer the scent of the body oil in it’s simplicity. It just pairs so perfectly with the natural smell of warm, sun-kissed skin.

The only downside is longevity. The EDT doesn’t last more than a few hours on skin (longer on clothes, as always.) The oil, I think, lasts a little longer. I also hate the bottle for the oil, as it’s hard to dispense without getting it everywhere. Sillage is low- close to the skin. As expected, both the oil and EDT are lovely layered together. I see these more as “summer fun” scents- their function is to enjoy applying them- to relax and celebrate the smells of summer. And with Autumn on the horizon, I’ll enjoy every last drop of carefree, summer breeze while I can.


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Your Skin but Better: Bruno Acampora Musc

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I discovered Musc by Italian perfumer Bruno Acampora by accident.  It was one of those “wild cards” that I threw into a large sample order.  I was intrigued because YouTuber Katie Puckrik (come back to us, Katie!) said that it was her favorite perfume at the time- that it was a sexy, lived-in musk that smelled like “clean, slept-in sheets.”  So, I thought it was at least worth a sniff. And lo and behold, I fell in love!

What you first notice with Musc is that it’s, well, musty. It specifically opens with the distinct smell of mushrooms, fresh from the earth. Now, musty doesn’t really sound like something you’d exactly seek out from a perfume. But I find that dank earthiness to be addictive, in the same way that the sweaty, sweet earthiness of Mugler’s Angel sure sounds like it’d be disgusting, when in reality,  it’s what you’ve been craving all your life.

However, if you aren’t a fan of smelling like a mushroom forest, then you’re in luck. The musty-ness settles down considerably after 20 minutes or so, allowing dry, powdery sandalwood to emerge. There’s wisps of spicy clove and the tiniest hint of creamy vanilla. It smells a bit vintage, without feeling dated. But of course, all of this is wrapped up in a comforting, “lived-in” musk. This isn’t a clean laundry musk, nor is it a fluffy, candy musk that you find in a lot of generic gourmands nowadays. It’s human, but not dirty. And it effectively blurs the individual notes so that you’re left with a full, distinct scent.

I feel like Musc makes me smell like I’m staying in a cabin in the woods, and I’ve just taken a morning walk through the forest (maybe foraging for mushrooms!)  There’s morning dew on the vegetation, and in the air. So, I’ve been outside, but not exerted myself. Afterwards, I take a nap with the window open, letting the moist smells of the forest mingle with the ambient, cozy smells of home. Musc is how I think I’d smell after all that. Although it stays pretty close to the skin, Musc has great longevity, keeping me in my relaxing fantasy cabin all day long- and sometimes into the next morning!

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The Price Superiority Complex

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Anyone who’s spent enough time in a fragrance hobby knows just how expensive a single bottle can get. Oh, how naive I was when my awareness of fragrances was limited to the selections at Ulta- where a $100 Chanel was the most exorbitantly expensive fragrance option. Now, I don’t even bat an eye at $200 niches (not that I can afford them, they just don’t surprise me anymore. ) Combine an (often) expensive, niche hobby with a completely subjective way of judging said items, and you have an ideal environment for snobbery to flourish. It’s not difficult to find people who will make remarks like: “Oh, you simply haven’t LIVED until you’ve smelled Amouage’s Homage Attar ($400+)” while simultaneously snubbing their noses at your “mainstream,” cheaper fragrance choices. The reality is, you can find great fragrances at any price point, and price isn’t necessarily an indicator of quality.

I think that there’s always going to be that need to justify spending a huge amount of money on something “frivolous” like fragrance. Although, the “mainstreaming” of many niche brands like Byredo and Diptyque have likely lessened the “stigma.” Still, there’s often this need to assert that there’s something just so objectively better about fragrances that cost 200, 300, 400(!!!) dollars than their cheaper, designer or, heaven forbid, drug-store brethren.

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Two great woody gourmands: PG Praline de Santal ($125) and Britney Spears Fantasy The Naughty Remix ($10)

But you know what? I’d pit Perfumer’s Workshop Tea Rose ($10) against Jo Malone Red Roses ($95) any day (Tea Rose even lasts longer.) The sweet, fruity fun of Viktor and Rolf Bon Bon ($95) can also just as easily be found in Britney Spears Fantasy ($10 at discounters.) Want a jammy, gourmand rose scent? Mancera Roses Vanille or Roses Chocolate ($100+) are lovely, but Kyse Perfumes Confit de Rose ($52) is just as beautiful (and delicious!) Anyway, you get my point. I think that you learn more by smelling more- at all price points. What actually determines a perfume’s price is much more complicated than the literal cost of materials for the liquid in the bottle, which highly varies depending on economies of scale. And just because a material is rare or hard to find doesn’t mean it will necessarily smell better to you.

Now, even though you can find a great fragrance at virtually any price- if you’re like me and sample things across the board, it’s always possible to end up falling IN LOVE with one of the really expensive ones. At that point, it’s simply up to you to decide if you love that scent enough to spend that kinda dough. It’s kind of like if you want to buy art for your home- a $200 painting from a local artist isn’t objectively lesser “quality” than a $10,000 one from a more famous artist (one has much greater resale value- in the moment, but you know what I mean.) Assuming you could buy both, you may get just as much, or more enjoyment out of the $200 paining than having the more pricey one.  And sometimes, you can only afford the $200 one. I see perfumes as a similar, artistic investment. I find Amouage Lilac Love to be delightful, but I’m not exactly in a place in my life where I can plop down $400 for a bottle. At this time, I’m fine with enjoying some scents without owning full bottles.

Anyway, my point is that, although this hobby can get expensive, you can still enjoy and explore plenty of great fragrances at many price points. The availability of decants and samples also means that we can own a bit of even the super expensive scents without committing to a full bottle. Ultimately, fragrance is subjective, and we should all go a-sniffing with both open nostrils and open minds.


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Bargain Fragrances: Tea Rose ($10!)

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This is for all you rose lovers out there. Tea Rose by Perfumers Workshop is a classic “cheapie but goodie.” Long lasting, potent, and incredibly naturalistic – if you want that smell of a bouquet of fresh, pink roses, then Tea Rose is your scent.

Now, a “tea rose” is actually just a type of rose. I say this because a good number of people end up buying/testing this fragrance because they think it’s some sort of rosey, tea scent. Its not. 

Nope, Tea Rose is straight up rosey roses and basically nothing else. Perhaps a hint of powder, a pinch of woods. It actually has a bit of a turkish delight feel (rose flavored, of course.) But this isn’t a jammy, gourmand rose or a powdery, vintage one. It’s green and fresh – like the smell of a bouquet, fresh from the florists freezer. 

Does Tea Rose go through any crazy stages of development? No. Is it an artistic, avant-garde marvel? Nah. It’s wonderful in its simplicity, monster longevity, and incredible value. As the Brits would say, “it does what it says on the tin.” Sometimes, simple pleasures can be the most satisfying.


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Vintage Finds: Guerlain L’Heure Bleue

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Recently, I hit the estate sale jackpot and found two huge splash bottles of vintage Guerlain L’heure Bleue. The classic Guerlain bottles are simply stunning. Most of their modern ones are, too, but these just have that vintage elegance that goes so perfectly with the scent inside.

The bottle with the heart shaped stopper is the extrait, and was designed by Raymond Guerlain himself along with famous French crystal company Baccarat. I’m not sure how old my bottle is, but it looks like it’s from the 70s or earlier.

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The juice inside? Divine. Its soft, powdery, and blue. The scent fits the name here- “L’heure Bleue” being French for “the blue hour” or twilight. I can smell fluffy, blue/purple flowers. The light, sweet nuttiness of heliotrope, powdery iris, and hint of “Guerlain-ade” vanilla take center stage. There’s also some anise to add a bit of bite. Truly a lovely fragrance! It looks like L’heure Bleue is my Guerlain. Good thing, too, as Shalimar didn’t work for me.

The round bottle is the flacon montre or “watch” bottle used for most cologne concentrations. These were used from 1936 all the way to 1999, so who knows how old mine really is. The label looks decently aged, so maybe 1980 or earlier? The juice in this one is essentially the same as the extrait, only less rich and more transparent (not exactly a surprise from the EDC.)

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I just love finding gems like these at estate sales. These lovely bottles were likely treasured and refilled multiple times, in contrast to most perfume bottles nowadays that are seemingly made to be discarded after use. Although splash bottles don’t preserve your precious perfume as well as sprays, there’s just something so glamorous about dabbing your neck with a crystal stopper that I’m finding it hard to care!