Editor's pick: Three solid mainstream scents

More or less good & more or less unexpensive.


Aramis - Aramis 

Year: 1966
Nose: Bernard Chant

Aramis Classic is a fantastic, solid, powerful and – as the name goes – more than classic leather chypre, so austere and straightforward it smells almost like a canon of prototypical masculinity in perfumery. Dark and bold, warm and with just a thin feel of “macho”, basically centered around leather, herbs, aldehydes, classic “manly” flowers (jasmine, lavender) and a base accord of oak moss and woods – all of this at least in the vintage EDC version I own, which is the only version I’ve worn so far of this fragrance. I got it for $12 and it has a fantastic depth rich in “aged” density (and a nuclear sillage). Great flowers, great leather, impressive oak moss. Everlasting drydown. A timeless, no-frills, dark masculine manifesto. The cheesy American cousin of Hermès Bel Ami. Conventional, but not outdated and not boring at all – simply a bold, comforting classic. As I said I do not know the actual version, I’m sure it’s great too, but personally, generally if a vintage version of a scent exists, then I’d go for that “a priori”. Anyway, beautiful!



Bottega Veneta - Eau de Parfum

Year: 2011
Nose: Michel Almairac

Bottega Veneta EDP opens with a fantastic, sharp, simple yet powerful and distinctive powdery-earthy blend, with a zesty bergamot note (which will be gone in seconds), juicy red pepper, patchouli, oakmoss and a vibrant yet tamed-down jasmine note, all surrounded by a light shade of leather and “reinforced” by aldehydes which also provide a sort of classic allure to the composition. The texture is really peculiar, as it smells at the same time cristalline, clean and vibrant yet thick, somehow “grayish” and dense: an elegant, powdery, talc white-floral accord beautiful sustained by dark, earthy and rooty notes of moss and patchouli, which smell at the same time dirty and perfectly restrained – so don’t expect anything realistic, raw or exotic: the inspiration is quite “glossy” and French in my opinion. Finally I smell a sort of mineral-salty feel which seems arising from the base earthy-mossiness, blending with aldehydes and the floral-indolic feel of jasmine. On the drydown it becomes increasingly less sweet and talc, and more herbal-mossy, but always extremely gentle and sophisticated. There is a genius and really well executed harmony going on between the powdery plushiness and the almost-indolic earthiness of the base notes, which makes Bottega Veneta smell incredibly good, refined and unique. Plus, don’t be “fooled” by the pyramid, as all notes smell quite unusual to me if compared to how they usually smell – not sure whether it’s because of the good quality of materials, or Almairac’s talent, but I had quite a hard time in “detecting” them – I expected something quite different, while here they all smell different than usual, in a totally good way. Bottega Veneta EDP is elegant and versatile, but peculiar and quite memorable: it’s a sort of half white/pink, half greyish/earthy fragrance, with nice shades and a gentle feel of pastel grace beautiful dirtened by darker notes. All, as I said, created with great and bright creativity. Worthy a try (or even a blind buy, as it is not that expensive).



Kenzo - Jungle pour Homme

Year: 1998
Nose: Olivier Cresp

Kenzo's Jungle pour Homme opens with a really peculiar, distinctive and to me totally pleasant accord composed by a sort of odd spicy-green-fruity blend, much aromatic and slightly milky, with sharp lime notes juxtaposed to a creamy, fruity, slightly synthetic feel of tropical fruits (banana, a bit of coconut too), enhanced by carnation and spices – notably nutmeg and cloves. Beyond this, a perfectly-blended note of sandalwood, which is quite sweet and creamy as well. Overall the name fits this scent perfectly, as it is quite an exotic and bizarre Oriental scent which surely conjures a “jungle” mood. What I admire the most is the effort to create something less usual than predictable “green-forest” clichés, trying to evoke a whole “raw nature” ambiance – spices, woods, leaves, even a sort of aqueous-mineral feel. The opening is quite bold, then it suddenly tones down to a nutty-citrus green and creamy blend with a prominent sandalwood note, all well wrapped up in a sort of “balsamic” creaminess that tames down both the fruity-sweet side, and the spices, avoiding to become either “too gourmand” or too spiced. Totally creative and distinctive, but well balanced and restrained enough to be perfectly safe, pleasant and unisex in any circumstance. Finally, on the drydown it becomes more quiet, more gentle and more dry, with spices and woods (cedar too) emerging to the point of bringing Jungle Homme almost close to a woody fougère territory – still with a balmy-sweet Oriental vibe all over, also with distant echoes of Opium pour Homme. A bit synthetic (this meaning “cheap”) here and there, but really nice and creative, also smelling fairly “niche” (in the positive meaning).


p.s.: my review is based on the older bottle in the purple box, not sure if it smells like the subsequent one.

Antaeus by Chanel (1981)

Hail to the king!

Nose: Jacques Polge

A magnificent, raw but refined opening of musky castoreum, warm but dry and really close to leather (like in Knize Ten and other classics), but gently softened by aromatic woods, spices and silky colourful hints of flowers. Animalic but friendly and elegant, it has a typical fougère "gloominess" but it also appears more "young", relaxed and modern than most of other more classic and austere fougères, and also more sophisticated and sharp. The evolution is quite predictable, as it remains a castoreum-leather smoky accord, just drier and lighter as hours pass. Restrained and noble, always without being too shady or heavy, rather keeping it slightly "airy" and more lively thanks to rose, jasmine and fresh tasty herbs like thyme and sage. Versatile, classy, cozy, masculine. Timeless classic!


(pic is from my collection. Be sure to go vintage for this!)

Tonka Impériale by Guerlain (2010)

Nose: Thierry Wasser

Guerlain goes back to its majesty. I am not really a fan of tonka, so I procrastinated the approach to this scent. Which contrary to what I feared, is great. Beyond great! The opening is pure beauty, a sophisticated, rich, golden cornucopia of vanilla, amber, resins, aldehydes, jasmine, all together bringing in triumph a complex, faceted, rich, tremendously high-quality tonka note, well supported by a sweet, humid, rooty tobacco note. A warm, fairly unisex Oriental blend, slightly fruity too, refined and sumptuous and terribly pleasant to wear (at least for a while, especially for its first phase), well framed by a gentle breeze of petals and aromatic herbs which give this Oriental gem a touch of elegance halfway French and Mediterranean. The tonka note is perfect: dense, vibrant, round, precious, not cloying (to me it is, quite often) and not too almondy-roasted. It smells fresher and more vibrant than usual, partially probably due to its quality, partially to the simple yet totally clever composition which effortlessly enhances its nuances – from earthy to sweet. The tobacco note works perfectly in keeping the blend literally “down to earth”, providing a shady whiff of smoke, contrasting with while flowers and citrus bringing their sunrays in. And in the middle, this vibrating, warm heart of gold made of amber, vanilla and tonka. Great and elegant silky-talc drydown, discreet and still carrying soft hints of tobacco and vanilla, with no synthetic aftertaste. A perfect blend of richness and Exoticism painted with French grace and sumptuosity, great and irresistible from the very first sniff to the last second on skin. Smells, and is, hell expensive, but (finally!) for a reason. Fantastic, and for me easily the best from this “exclusive” line.


Or du Sérail by Naomi Goodsir (2014)

Nose: Bertrand Duchaufour

Booo-riiing! A sweet syrupy bomb built on the clash between dry, dark and earthy notes of tabacco-labdanum, booze (it wouldn’t be niche without the boozy note, you know...), honeyed-pollen flowers and a hyper sweet, candied, Lutensian accord of fruit and resins with a balsamic aftertaste. All sinking in sugar. Basically something like Histoires de Parfums’ 1740 drowned in molasses, a clumsy galore of unrelated contrasts among dry tobacco, melted plastic and honey sweets, also fairly reminding some By Kilian's as other reviewers noted. Without all the sweetish stuff it would smell probably better, although it would just basically be a wannabe Fumerie Turque. As-is, in my opinion it’s just tacky and exhausting. I don’t blame Duchaufour as he obviously just runs where they call & pay him, but I think he would make a better use of his talent (which he has, undoubtedly) if he just stopped working on a dozen of scents per year – ‘cause then, these are the results...


MDCI Parfums - Three picks (three meh's...)

Meh! (and those bottles... come on!).


Cuir Garamante (2013)

Nose: Unknown

A pile of exhausted tires and a bucket of fruits left to burn for an entire summer in the backyard under the sun, that's pretty much the smell you get: sweet and pungent, with a dry, cloying burnt-rubber (norlimbanol) leather note. Simple, sharp, straightforward dry leather with some syrupy-rancid floral notes, the same concept you find behind other crap contemporary leathers like Hard Leather by LM Parfums. Personally I do not find the accord much well done – kind of some dissonance I really don't like, but I am more than happy to admit it is my personal taste and my prudish limits. Gets better after a while, but fun enough, it jumps on the opposite side: it just becomes pleasantly dull and safe. Oud fans may like this as well, same gloomy rubbery dryness you can find in several (so-called) oud scents. And also leather aficionados will probably love this (I like leather, but I don't like this). Not my cup of tea.



Chypre Palatin (2012)

Nose: Bertrand Duchaufour

Yet another MDCI scent I don’t get the value of. I tested this twice, the first one some months ago, then some weeks ago, just to see if my nose “grew better” and I could be able to get the good of this scent. I didn’t, it still smelled exactly as much dull as the other time. Here’s what I get: an aldehydic floral-fruity chypre, soapy and talc, with citrus top notes and an artificial rendition of musky-civet notes with dark woods, restrained and quite understated. Surely elegant, classy, pleasant to wear, radiant and obscure at the same time... just like dozens of others. My “problem” with this and other similar fragrances (Roja Dove, Bogue), which despite being niche just stand on the shoulders of previous mainstream giants, is that I can’t help not taking this as a mere ghost of a chypre, pedantically duplicating that type of structures and accords, just with a more contemporary allure due to nowadays’ ingredients – this meaning lighter, more synthetic, more plain. More bright in a way, and that may be positive. I am ok with this, as there is plenty of uncreative perfumes just reiterating these and other styles on purpose; I just don’t get why paying so much for this, and why this shall be considered niche, which shall be the “élite avantgarde” of perfumery. The materials smell ok to me, the rip-off work is fine, the persistence is crap, where’s the plus justifying the incredibly high price? Not questioning other peoples’ money choices, but I am clueless on the reason why one should even just look for this. Nice and compelling in the least interesting meaning ever for me.



Rivage des Syrtes (2009)

Nose: Patricia de Nicolai

Rivage des Syrtes opens with a pleasant, silky, fresh, slightly metallic-aldehydic breeze of citrus notes (more precisely on the “orange-floral” side) blended with a synthetic, cyclogalbanate-like fruity note which you smell in several cheap fruity scents (that annoying “pineapple” note, which *always* carries that annoying sort of moldy-metallic aftertaste - and by the way, is used to build galbanum too), all posed on a sheer layer of white clean flowers – I get ylang more than tuberose. Green tips and a sandalwood base with a warm resinous-ambery aftertaste. Yawn. A barely pleasant and conventional Oriental fruity-powdery scent which tries to play the “random metallic-moldy crap unrelatedly juxtaposed to flowers and fruits” card to look creative and justify its surreal price.


Hermessence: Cuir d'Ange by Hermès (2014)

Nose: Jean-Claude Ellena

The new Cuir d’Ange by Hermès is undoubtedly a gorgeous scent, showing an actual careful work, great composition skills (not that we needed a confirmation for that), and perfect choice of materials. As-is, the idea is not new: basically a floral-suede scent with a subtle, slightly earthy floral accord of narcissus and heliotrope topped with musky-anisic-spicy tips, but Ellena succeeds in making it smell completely innovative and unique, putting together an impressively crystalline, sharp, clear, deep scent – not a “thick” deepness, rather airy, almost celestial as the name suggests. Cuir d’Ange is ethereal and minimalist in a way, as regards to the composition, yet really dense and with a quite bold projection. The leather accord (which I am usually quite picky about) is great, carrying a range of nuances from musky to silky/polished, all conveyed in a slightly drier and more “roasted” accord if compared to the usual and over-used (most of times, rather uncreatively) safraleine/suederal bases. It smells contemporary and synthetic in a way, but not conventional. Floating all over, a gentle and slightly resinous anisic-floral breeze with a sort of subtle “milky” substance (or better say “watery” in a liquid, mineral meaning – not ozonic, shortly), melting with a powdery white musks note, all together colouring this scent with delicate pastel hints of grace. Simple yet complex and incredibly well executed, showing all Ellena’s clever elegance and ability in creating a thin scent full of nuances and notes which fill the space at the same time leaving it airy and “empty”. Beautiful and also quite persistent despite being close to skin (as you would expect, from both this type of fragrance and Ellena’s style). A bit linear perhaps, but not a flaw here. I can not think of any particular similarity with other scents, as this really brings the floral-leather genre to another level, but I'll agree with the similarities reviewers mentioned online - e.g, Guerlain's Cuir Beluga or Heeley's Cuir Pleine Fleur, but the distance from both (and others) is wide enough - just more a matter of general inspiration. So, in short, a sophisticated and terribly pleasant scent which is compelling and remarkable to every extent, and most important, totally unique and distinctive despite showing a deceptively “already-seen” pyramid of notes. Now, if the market situation was different and there were more remarkable new scents around (as I wished), I’d be probably less enthusiastic and rate this only as a “really good” scent; but given the dramatic lack of new ideas and good scents both in niche and mainstream, this is a memorable standout. Probably more costly than it should be, but nice enough to be worth it (perhaps...).


Theorema EDT by Fendi (1998)

Nose: Christine Nagel

Theorema opens with a powerful spicy accord, Oriental and sweet, with dusty and exotic notes of cumin, resins (olibanum too?), cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, all supported by woods – I get sandalwood and cedar – and softened by a graceful, light floral breeze with a sprinkle of citrus and neroli, providing an irresistible fruity-warm feel to an otherwise quite pungent blend. A totally modern opening for a scent which could have been released last week; Theorema has a sophisticated, bright sort of “thin” substance and transparency, which is quite typical of many contemporary scents, yet not smelling plain or cheap: all ingredients smell terribly sharp, high-quality and vibrant, it’s just that most of them are, say, “high-pitched” notes (spices, citrus) and this creates a sort of light transparency, yet dense and bold. The unsurpassed beauty of this scent lies in the incredible class with which Nagel composed it: the spicy structure is perfectly counter-balanced by the watercolor sweetness of flowers, all darkened with a gentle shade of woods. All is discreet, simple, almost “geometrical”, clean and incredibly sharp, clear and bright. Radiant, refined, a joy to wear and to discover, civilized enough to please also non-lovers of resinous-spicy scents (I’m one of them). Elegant sillage, decent persistence, totally unisex. Far superior to its masculine companion, by the way.


Solid discontinued cheapos: Arpège pour Homme EDT by Lanvin (2007)

Nose: Oliver Pescheux

Arpège pour Homme is an unpretentious scent which I’ve always considered fairly underrated for its value. It is not a masterpiece and not even a “great” scent, but it’s a good, solid mainstream fragrance which would surely fit many perfumistas’ shelves – if they only knew how actually good it is. The genre here is the sweet-powdery-ambery-spicy “metropolitan” and contemporary à la Dior Homme, plus a slight similarity with the equally underrated Jil Sander Man by Wasser & Menardo: here, as in Arpège, there is violet, sandalwood and a soft, polished, synthetic leather note (which I don’t see listed for Arpège, but I clearly smell it). Arpège pour Homme is somehow halfway these two, but spicier, warmer and more Oriental than both, especially in the first stages of its evolution. It opens with sandalwood, violet, spices (comprising also a “juicy” red pepper note), cardamom and tonka, amber, a refreshing yet subtle and silky citrus-bergamot breeze, a woody-balsamic note and a light, mellow and soft leather note. Soft, clean, effortless and “office-safe” elegance, with the right amount of versatile “mainstreamness” but without smelling generic or boring. I used this scent some years ago, right after its release, and I recall  it was not a commercial success as I remember buying it for pennies in a mall; once I finished my bottle (which occurred quickly as back then I used mostly 1-2 scents at a time), I did not buy again until now. And now that I smell it again, I realise how distinctive it was, as it did not remind me any other scents – and I surely tried hundreds in the meantime. So, anyway: a bit mainstream, but not dull at all. As I said, the reference may be Dior Homme, not for an actual similarity of notes (well, just a bit), but more for the general inspiration behind this scent; it’s one of those mid-2000s sweet, mellow, soft and slightly feminine scents aimed at a sort of  “urban”, thirty-something and office-safe kind of elegance, a bit glossy and trendy too (did we have the term “metrosexual” for this?). Finally, the drydown of Arpège is even better than the first phase, as it’s woodier, smokier, a bit darker and more dry, less “rich” than the opening, still irresistibly powdery and soft. Perfect sillage and solid longevity. Quite unisex too. It’s discontinued but you can still find it for cheap – and my advise would be to grab it, in case.


Gomma EDC by Etro (1989)

Undoubtedly, the opening makes quite clear the close similarity to Knize Ten several other reviewers picked up. That is what I thought too almost instantly. But for me, call me heretic, and speaking as a fan of both Etro and Knize, Gomma (vintage eau de cologne in paisley box) is better. Actually much better. It carries that irresistible charme of several early Etro’s, a nondescript yet totally recognizable feel of smoky, rich, mystic exoticism, here played with a somber, powdery and sumptuously soapy mood perfectly rendered by a fantastic jasmine note, powerful and gloomy, a soapy feel which seems exuding from a baroque macabre still life. All perfectly blended with sour-green notes and this gigantic central leather accord which is much “rubbery” in fact, but not artificial: it’s dry, sour, pungent but also soft, smoky, warm, rounded by a mellow amber accord, and carrying quite a natural feel of organic rubber. One of the nicest leather accords I’ve ever experienced, which reveals its quality on the drydown – a heavenly, sinful, subtle harmony of amber and leather. Gomma is overall austere and quite classic, yet deceptively simple or “conventional”: to me it’s like if it had a sort of fractal structure, with the two main characters – leather and green-floral soapy notes – which can be “dissected” into further nuances and notes – amber, smoke, rubber, earthy notes. Knize is to me quite more “monolithic”, more powerful and in a way, more simple and reassuringly solid: still great, just different. Gomma instead has just something exotic and creepy, that I can’t describe better but it’s something other vintage Etro’s have (take Palais Jamais, for instance) and that is what makes them so special to me. Elegant and shady, a bit light if you want, I’d call it “discreet”.


Helmut Lang reissues: Cuiron, Eau de Cologne, Eau De Parfum (2014)

No worries: they did a good job.

Eau de Parfum

The new version of Helmut Lang's EDP is quite close to the new EDC, just with a slightly more prominent presence of tonka, vanilla and heliotrope - less metallic, transparent and "abstract" than the EDC and a bit more warm, substantial, more balmy and sweeter, and in a way more "conventionally" cozy and clean. Yet, it still carries as well that particular sort of architectural, dusty feel of "gray", so the avantgarde factor which makes Lang's range so unique is here as well. If you had to choose between the new EDP and EDC, my advice would to be to go for this; it's not exactly the same, but is fairly similar, just richer and a bit more persistent. Sadly I can not give my opinion about the faithfulness as regards to the original version, as I've never tried it. As-is, I consider it a really pleasant, clean, well-built scent, a bit costly but unique enough to be worth at least a try (by the way, I agree with the similarity with Labdanum 18 some reviewers picked up online).



Eau de Cologne

Briefly put: at the very first sniff, the new version of this EDC smells much close to the original one, giving you that instinctive, soothing feel of "oh, that's it!". The only difference I detect, speaking of notes, is that this new version appears to be somehow slightly softer, sweeter and "whiter". The original one managed to blend harmonically a clean whiteness with a metallic and shady grayness, in a really faceted yet minimalist composition; here, that fascinating subtle contrast seems a bit tamed down in a blend more tending towards a straightforward "clean" feel, slightly softer, sweeter and also perhaps a bit more fruity than its previous version. In short, it seems to me slightly less "dirty" than the vintage EDC – that peculiar kind of dusty, "lunar" dirt. Apart from this, which perhaps is just a matter of subtle nuances, as I said the notes smell all quite similar. The main difference between the two versions is another one, and it is about the *substance* of the notes, which smell quite different to me between the two versions in terms of texture – and this may be considered a "deal-breaker". The new one is significantly lighter, sharper, cleaner, standing to its original version like a hologram, or a shade, just capturing its surface appearance leaving behind all its substantial richness and evolution – its "life", basically. I won't say the difference is as much clear (and depressing) as lying on a Moroccan beach and watch a poster of that beach while sitting in a travel agency, but that is the concept. And it's something you'll notice after one hour or so of full wearing. Comparisons aside though, if you are not familiar with the original EDC and you don't care much of it, this cologne is basically a white heaven of lavender, heliotrope, tonka, vanilla, sandalwood and a dry, aromatic herbal notes, sharp and classy, so "abstractly" clean it can work pretty much anywhere and anytime. And if you are not particularly picky and always wanted to smell the original EDC... this is quite faithful to its predecessor, taking into account the differences I mentioned. A little duller, yet still pleasant.




Straight to the point: a sight of relief, they did not mess with this. It's not "it" anymore, this meaning there is some differences and therefore in a way it's still worth to get the original one (*only* in case of good deals, don't feed eBay shark sellers), but they did not ruin it, and this one is totally compelling and good the same. And the fact there are some differences does not mean there aren't bold similarities as well - which in fact there are, and honestly, are actually more than the differences. Less picky noses would probably consider the two scents identical. Anyway, for whom is familiar with the vintage Cuiron, the main difference which I smell at the very opening is a rubbery-roasted note which is used pretty much anywhere today to build "light" leather accords, a dry and dusty accord of safraleine and quinolines. All the rest is pretty much identical to older Cuiron: all its clean whiteness, its irresistible, sophisticated, soft, plushy and plummy floral-vanillic and "non-leather" suedeness is perfectly rendered here too. White musks, bergamot, spices, all in its right place. It is just all posed on this thin layer of leather which wasn't there before, and which makes the new Cuiron sadly a tad more conventional, as if they wanted to give a bit of a boost to the "cuir" side - or to make it *really* clear it's a leather scent, taking away the magic of the vintage one, which was a leather, yet it kind of wasn't.... So, anyway, on one side, it's surely a honest and pleasant reformulation which gives us most of the original scent; but, besides an overall lightness (contrary to the minimalistic yet rich and dense substance of the vintage version), the "con" in my opinion is precisely that leather note, which kind of makes Cuiron more normal, more "another minimalistic leather". One of the nicest around, probably, but "one of them" - and not "one of a kind" anymore. But, surprise: the drydown gives a whiff of hope, as this leather note tones down to the point it almost disappears, so you remain with all the rest which as I said, it's basically "the true Cuiron", that seems even to become bolder and richer than in the first stage. And the sillage you get at this point is *definitely* "that" Cuiron. Overall I personally enjoy this new version; the similarity is close, perhaps they tamed down a bit the avantgarde side by introducing that sharper leather note, but it still "works" well in my opinion - both if comparing to the older version, and itself as-is. It's a sophisticated, clean, unique, understated, simple yet complex "modern leather" scent, which manages (perhaps somehow clumsily at the opening) to delivery again that vibrant feel of clever minimalism which made the vintage line of Lang's scents so special. Plus the persistence is decent. Kudos for not having messed up with this gem.