Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Rose of Arabie: Hammam Bouquet

Having been in the midst of moving and law school exams, I have not had much time to post, but I hope to get started again soon. I recently moved into a quaint Victorian boardinghouse in the historic downtown of Redlands, California and it really reminds me of the quality building modern society has all but forgotten: oak crown molding, door frames, gallery balconies, attics, cellars, leaded-crystal door knobs, lath and plaster walls, etc. Despite it being a terrible time in the year to wear heavy Victorian fragrances, I feel inspired to mention Hammam Bouquet by Penhaligons—vintage of course. How vintage? Perhaps 5-10 years old—and believe me, it makes a big difference. HB was reformulated within the last couple of years and is no longer a powdery, animalic rose; now it is just powdery.

Hammam Bouquet, in its proper form (vintage extract would be even better) is basically a seminar in Victorian tastes and all things that were admired, at least in fragrance, during this era in history. Tastes changed slowly before the commercialization of society starting in the 1920s. In fact, it took almost half a century for the older, lighter eau de cologne styles famed by Napoleon took lose footing to the newer, heavier, musky fragrances inspired by the Orient (not Orient as in Japan and China as we would think today, but as in Arabia, Turkey, Morocco, Persia, etc.—the common meaning of the term at the time). Turkish, Moroccan, and the awe-inspiring Bulgarian Rose Otto, Grasse Jasmine, civet, musk, oppoponax, myrrh, incense gums, rich balsams, Venetian Orris, French lavender, and Mysore Sandalwood would have been just a few of the rich ingredients available to the perfumerer.

Alas, Penhaligons is now going the way of all the other traditional English houses—into the trash bin of history that is.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Cologne to End All Colognes

Today I will be discussing the unbeatable (at least by modern standards) Acqua di Colonia by the renowned perfume house of Lorenzo Villoresi. While not a “classic” in the sense of age as it was released around 1996, it does it better than any classical citrus eau de cologne available on the market today. If we were travel back to the 18th Century with a bottle, I have no doubt it would be instantly recognizable to the ruling classes for its brilliance, simplicity, and superb ingredients. Remember, a good cologne lives and dies by the quality of its citrus oils.

I am aware that traditional eaus do not excite the modern palette, but once must make a concerted effort to at least experience and enjoy Acqua di Colonia for what it is—a light, refreshing citrus cologne with herbal and light musky aspects with the hauntingly and too often poorly portrayed neroli flower. Surprisingly, Villoresi uses a bit of vegetal ambrette seed musk to add depth and extend the fragrance a couple of hours since the original deer musk is no longer available.

The only cologne I have ever found to be comparable is vintage Farina Gegenuber (about which I will post in the future and naturally own a couple of flacons), which unfortunately, has not be produced since the 1960s, which undoubtedly fell out of style in the age of Eau Sauvage and Paco Rabanne.

Acqua di Colonia is certainly worth at least a sampling and I think you will be pleasantly surprised. I would buy now since this is a title that is not likely to endure and will likely face a monstrous price increase given the higher than gold prices of many of the ingredients used.

King Iris

Iris Silver Mist by Serge Lutens (I house I generally despise) is one of the few modern fragrances I would dare to discuss on this blog. It takes its place beside the queen of irises, the regal and long lost Iris Gris. ISM is cold, powdery, spicy, rooty, peppery, and above all else, irisy. In no other extant fragrance is there such a high concentration of orris compounds.

The opening is pungent like slicing open a beat and inhaling deeply. There is pepper, root, earth, and a bit of doughy carrot. This phase quickly gives way to the cold, icy orris heart of the fragrance. The orris is of top quality in conjunction with the rare and expensive Robertet iris base.
To my knowledge, Silver Iris Mist is the only fragrance on the market that contains large quantities of natural orris butter and other natural orris compounds. Is it as good as Iris Gris? Probably not, but you could do much worse. In the heart, the icy orris root comes to the fore. The base contains a little sandalwood and a slightly soapy musk reminiscent of the long lost Gris (do not be fooled by MPG Iris Bleu Gris as it has nothing to do with Iris Gris).

I would suggest buying ISM while it is still available if you are interested in the best available iris fragrance. Is it cheap? Certainly not, but the quality of the iris compounds justifies the price and may, of course, only be available in the States for a short period of time—ISM was once a Paris exclusive.