Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Review: COMME DES GARCONS COLOGNES Anbar, Citrico, Vettiveru

It's too bad that Comme des Garçons' Series 4: Cologne (2002) doesn't seem to get much press. The excellent incense series (also 2002) does rather overshadow the other series and maybe deservedly so, but I find this little cologne trio, though perhaps less ambitious, nevertheless really pleasant.

Pleasant, wearable, clean -- some of the best characteristics of the eau de cologne genre, and evinced very competently here in Anbar, Citrico, and Vettiveru. And sans fanfare. I think that makes me like the set even more.

I also think this Comme des Garçons series has a certain coherence, too, more so than, say, the Hermès cologne series. At least, it strikes me as more deliberate in its variations on the eau de cologne theme, with Anbar nudging things slightly warmer/oriental, Citrico brighter/floral, and Vettiveru drier/aromatic, while a notably soapy-clean undercurrent runs through each.

Anbar opens with something like a rather sour lemon before moving onto the carnation, a bit floral but mostly cinnamon-y. This carnation is most prominent for me in Anbar, rather than the amber 'Anbar' supposedly is named after, and is similar to the sheer spice treatment that Diptyque's neo-cologne L'Eau de L'Eau (2008) gets, though Anbar is the softer. Actually, the blunted spice in Anbar reminds me, crazily, of Mesoamerican food, like a dusting of corn over very mild chipolte. I imagine the amber is responsible for the softness (tortillas notwithstanding!) -- but without exerting itself in a heavy, typically ambery way. It remains light, as an eau de cologne should, and mainly seems to round off any possible edges to the composition, warming and sweetening it up a bit, along with the mandarin and a soapy, sheer skin-musk. Easily wearable, stylish, and very well-executed. And somewhat unusual -- spiced citrus eaux are less common in my experience and this one predates L'Eau de L'Eau by several years. I'm surprised so little seems to have been said about Anbar.

Citrico, on the other hand, is less strong on originality -- Anbar is probably the most interesting of the trio -- but it is a lovely floral citrus. Cold sniff of it is a little sharp and thin, and it opens very lemon, but the citrus blend turns quite juicy and flowery on my skin. Also, the neroli is very delicate here, much more like orange blossom than the green, harsh neroli essences that I'm familiar with, and together with a rather floral bergamot, it gives Citrico a graceful lilt, like a gentle breeze in spring. Clearly the eau de cologne tradition is upheld -- but also, updated. Citrico's update is sweeter and definitely soapier, a bit in the style of Mugler Cologne (2001), another nice neo-cologne built around a light orange blossom. I actually find Citrico even soapier than the rather soapy Mugler, at least on my skin, and in fact, a drop of that soapy base is present in Anbar as well -- so that Citrico and Anbar sort of approach each other on the far drydown, Citrico from the side of citrus (duh) and Anbar from the side of spice.

Vettiveru, in contrast, is the 'coolest' of the trio for me, and since I tend to love sheer, cool vetivers, it is not too surprising that I should like Vettiveru, as it is exactly that on the drydown. But like the other two in the Series, its characteristic eau de cologne refreshment is not excessively chilly. It does open with a clear, high, sour hit of bergamot-lemon, but Vettiveru settles fairly quickly into a dry, dusty, vetivergrass goodness. It's very like my rug made of vetiver -- so much so that it makes me wish the ending 'veru' in its name were a play on the Latin verus. As in 'true vetiver'... but no... only the sort of thing that someone with zero Latin knowledge (like me) would conjure up. But as much as I do like Vettiveru, something in it prevents me from loving it. Some vaguely peppery floral mid-drydown moment that gives me a headache; I think it may be the neroli (a note I tend to dislike) interacting with the white cedar. Nevertheless, it is a very nice vetiver, far less aggressive than classic vetivers like Guerlain's or Roger et Gallet's and more along the lines of cleaner, more streamlined versions from Malin+Goetz or even L'Aromarine.

And indeed, the line is clearly minimalist in slant. From bottle design to scent composition, these colognes are not stuffed with clutter -- conceptually, sort of a Guerlain Cologne du 68 antithesis. But ironically, almost like the scent of the 68-note stuffed Cologne du 68, neither Anbar, Citrico, or Vettiveru is "too" anything. Not too eau de cologne-y. Or too amber, citrus, or vetiver. I find them all rather mild. I don't know, perhaps that is part of its genre reinvention? A sort of modern chic simple. As applied to the cologne genre, which incidentally rather lends itself to such modernization, given its native simplicity (of composition).

Merely an impression on my part. But it doesn't seem completely uncharacteristic that it should be Comme des Garçons making statements about modernity. If in an uncharacteristically subtle and non-odd way. No notes of photocopier toner and flashing metal here.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Review: HERMES COLOGNES Eau d'Orange Verte, de Pamplemousse Rose, de Gentiane Blanche

I've been really interested in eaux de cologne/eaux fraîche this summer. Inasmuch as the genre can be interesting? But it seems it can. Still waters run deep... well, at least enough to inspire a reemergence (with some modest reinvention) of the genre in the last few years.

Then again, it isn't as if citrus eaux have ever gone away. So, the above is probably less considered than willful observation on my part. (Plus some enthusiasm spilled over from my interest in the Diptyque neo-cologne trio, already reviewed.) Still, insofar as this newer generation of eau de cologne must contend with the good old canon, it has to do at least some deliberate thinking about itself in relation to its genealogy, even if it doesn't aim to kill the father.

I start with the Hermès trio: Eau d'Orange Verte (1979), Eau de Pamplemousse Rose (2009), Eau de Gentiane Blanche (2009).

I have to admit, I still like Eau d'Orange Verte best of the three. I think only a small part of that has to do with its having become a beloved summer staple for me and mostly to do with its unmistakably oldschool signature -- i.e. the oakmoss.
I'm by no means an oakmoss fanatic, but its presence here is very, very nice. It gives EdOV a surprising depth (for a citrus eau), veering it toward a chypre, while still remaining very refreshing (as a citrus eau should be). And though EdOV now has become absorbed into the eau de cologne canon as a classic, its addition of oakmoss and subtle emphasis of the orange constitute its own 1979 genre-reinvention. It's a simple adjustment to the standard recipe but so brilliant. I really love how it transforms this eau de cologne into a contrast of citrus and woods, opening with a clean hit of that lemon-orange and then drying down wonderfully dark green and mossy. Like lying on a forest floor under a huge tree and breathing in the cool shady damp. But without the itching.

Fast forward to Pamplemousse Rose and we have something very contemporary. Even the citrus in it smells more present-day than that of EdOV. In fact, it isn't the oakmoss alone that 'dates' EdOV; its lemon is somehow oldschool, too. Somehow a bit powdery in the drydown -- and definitely not as linear and sheer as in, say, Marc Jacobs Lemon. Actually, it reminds me quite a lot of the lemon in Caron Eau Fraîche (1997), which I take to be a traditionalist take on eau de cologne (in contrast to the other two Caron Eaux, Forte and Pure).

But back to Pamplemousse Rose. The citrus here is very clean, very light, very sparkling. Also very fleeting. Probably the shortest-lived of the Hermès eaux on the skin. But happy and lithesome while it lives, rather like the Sempé-like drawings on Hermès' website. And also the simplest (some might say boring) of the trio. There must be other notes in its composition but its name says most of it, and both the grapefruit and rose are easily recognizable. It opens with the grapefruit, more fizzy than tart and not at all sour (or sulfurous), with a touch of rose, which then blooms on the skin until it almost equals the citrus.
This is eau de cologne as grapefruit ginger ale.

Eau d'Orange Verte and Pamplemousse Rose are aptly associated with the colors green and pink, but Eau de Gentiane Blanche, I think, should get gray, not white. Gentian probably doesn't come in gray, but then, I have no idea what this flower looks/smells like, while what I most recognize in EdGB is iris. A cool, rooty (but progressively more floral) iris, with the signature Jean-Claude Ellena transparency. Of the Hermès trio, it is the farthest removed from traditional eau de cologne and, actually, seems more related to Hiris. Not as if Hiris were turned into an eau de cologne, because there really is too little citrus for that, but rather, as if Hiris were soap-washed, thinned, made more green-vegetal, and its powder transformed into mist. It's a gray morning high up in the mountains.

I'm surprised I don't like it more than I do. I do like it, and more than the pretty Pamplemousse Rose, but I didn't like it on my first try -- there is something vaguely fecal in there. It isn't obvious on cold sniff, so it may merely be its development on my skin, but after the pleasantly medicinal and aldehydic opening, something like an indolic neroli appears and keeps interfering with the iris. It does subside eventually and the late drydown is more enjoyable for me, as a sheer floral white musk grafted onto iris and which also very slightly sweetens the otherwise dry composition. The white musk is a little soapy, but its overall effect on EdGB seems to me less laundry detergent than white tea. Like a Hiris Thé Blanc flanker, gauzy and cool. Not tremendously eau de cologne-like, apart from general lightness, but at least, maybe the white is apt here, after all.

On the whole, I don't know that by these two fragrances, Hermès achieves any startling revelations about (or revolutions to) the general State of Eaux or its own H signature on it, except to say in various ways that these are 'new' in contrast to the 'founding' Eau d'Orange Verte. Still, intriguingly, there does appear to be the illusion of coherence -- a trio series, linked by bottle, color, theme, and some inchoate idea of 'freshness.'

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Review: NASOMATTO Black Afgano

Black Afgano strikes me as partner to China White. An obvious thought, I guess, given the color and drug allusions, but neither of those occurred to me as the thought struck me -- it was the scent itself. Black Afgano has a trace resemblance to China White, sort of in the way that couples sometimes converge toward certain traits. This is not at all to say these two fragrances are smell-alikes, but both seem to share similar greenish and civet-y (or what I register as civet, since Nasomatto eschews note listings) aspects. The other predominant note for me in Black Afgano is vetiver -- and plenty of it, much more robust than its somewhat thin presence in China White. The vetiver here is earthier, darker, a bit like in Lalique Encre Noire, actually; and it dries down a little smoky and leathery, with noticeable patchouli mid-drydown and a mild but sweetish orange-like citrus opening hit that seems to reemerge again later; the civet appears in the far drydown. Formidable 'notes,' on the whole, and although far too potent to be a transparent brew, yet I don't find it all that bubble bubble toil and trouble.

For one thing, there is no potstink. Not recognizably cannabis at all, though I have no idea about whether Afghani. For another, I don't find it too hard to wear, as it seems to stay fairly close to my skin (but one drop goes a long, long way). I like it. Almost as much as China White. The cool floral-powdery-herbal suits me better and I think is more interesting as a fragrance, but this earthy vetiver-woods of Black Afgano is quite nice.

And molto Nasomatto. Drug-inspired. Pompous ad copy. Strong as hell. Checkity check check. But I find it hard to get all annoyed about it -- and I think because Nasomatto totally totally reminds me of high school counterculture hipsters. So heavy-handed about their Manifesto of Edgy that they render themselves kind of cute. I can't help but feel a little fond of all the thusness of its flashy self-conscious commitment to Cool. Take its website [includes audio]. The Little Annie song currently on it is really just too perfect.