Jasmine and Pine

Image from page 100 of "The Illustrated annual register of rural affairs and cultivator almanac for the year .." (1855)

Another gem from the stash of decants I received from Joanna is vintage Devin cologne by Bernard Chant for Aramis (1978). It was a FiFi Award winner that year, which was well deserved. I've never even heard of it, and wasn't really drawn to even trying it before I got on this roll of trying out masculine scents. But when I finally did, I was in for a most pleasurable ride, and a long-lasting at that as well.

Devin is that fabulous meeting point between resinous and green. It may seem familiar to us residents of the 21st Century; but back in the day when green icy florals and soapy Chypres reigned supreme (No. 19, Ivoire, Private Collection) this must have been an original.

Whenever I got out of the rustic village and visited my grandparents in their modern Tel Aviv apartment, I would be treated with the most luxurious bath in my grandmother's best tradition: foam bath in her blue bathtub. Into the warm running water (ours had to be boiled stove-top in a kettle!) into which my grandmother would drizzle generous amount of an acid-green fragrant liquid from an emerald-coloured plastic bottle to create rich lather the consistency of meringue. I would build mountains of this cream on top of my head and pretend to lick it off like ice cream. Naturally, it smelled of pine needles in the most heavenly way. And that fresh-yet-sweet, resinous scent is what the opening of Devin smells like to me.

Its body reveals sweet galbanum resin, which while still green smells unquestionably sweet, and more like a confection than something you would put in your salad (FYI: galbanum oil smells like parsley on steroids), and there is pine-y yet balsamic frankincense that extends the evergreen notes and melds them seamlessly into the obvious undercurrent of amber that's flowing underneath. If you pay close attention you'll also notice there is quite a bit of jasmine hidden in the heart, harmonizing these seemingly unrelated elements of evergreen forest and frankincense and sticky amber. Later on, spicy notes of cinnamon and cloves emerge as well, but they are not obvious at all - they just add warmth, and also an aldehydic lift to the composition. They are rather light in both dosage and character.

While the sweetness places Devin in a rather feminine territory of amber orientals, there are also other elements that make it also masculine, besides the lovely pine. There is a dry leathery base note, hint of dry, acrid oakmoss, dry cedarwood and phenolic herbs (thyme, artemisia). Compare that with Obsession though (armoise, tagetes), and you'll notice that the two are alarmingly similar not just in smell but also in their notes. The ending note is a smooth, natural vanilla-amber, a surprise for a masculine, and even more so surprising is how un-boring it is. Ambers can easily become flat and redundant. But when true vanilla absolute is used, and some contrasting elements such as dark patchouli (even if in the tiniest amount), this can't be farther from the truth.

Devin is one of those rare things: a masculine fragrance with absolutely nothing about it I do not like.   With so many of them there is a phase I wish I could fast-forward through or skip altogether (the top notes in Polo green, for example, are a bit much and I wish I could lower the volume a bit until the dry down begins to kick in). Each phase in its progression is delectable, yet calling it a crowd pleaser would do it injustice. It's unique and to me seems ahead of its time, a precursor for Obsession (1985) and predicting modern, unusual fragrances that choose to treat the note of galbanum as a rich, incensy or even foody manner rather than the bracing cut-grass and soap that Yohji (1996) and Incensi by Lorenzo Villoresi (1997). Serge Lutens' much later Fille en Aiguilles (2009) has a similar structure, only here galbanum resin is replaced by the jam-like, resinous-sweet fir absolute.

Top notes: Bergamot, Pine, Artemisia, Lemon
Heart notes: Jasmine, Carnation, Thyme, Cinnamon
Base notes: Galbanum Resin, Frankincense, Amber, Leather, Cedarwood, Patchouli 

Aromatics Elixir

From time to time, revisiting a perfume that I didn't quite connect with right away proves to be a worthy endeavor. Aromatics Elixir is case in point: a perfume that I sought out on the recommendation of a customer, and found to be quite impossible to handle. That was probably sometime in 2003. I found it overbearing, medicinal, over-the-top herbacous and densely earthy; the type of perfume that when a student shows me something similar I would dismiss as "muddy".  And I won't even tell you how many times a similar mud-brew came under my own hands before I thought I knew better... So the mudiness was not anything new to me, in case you wondered; only that in Aromatics Elixir case, the sillage was amplified beyond control, bringing to mind Nigel's nifty amplifier that goes up to 11; and as he stated in a later interview in the mockumantary This Is Spinal Tap, "you want more loudness, you want more damage".

I eventually warmed up to the idea of Aromatics Elixir with their limited edition Aromatics Elixir Velvet Sheer (2006). Partly because of the bottle, which has a dabber, so even if the scent is still strong - the discreet application tones it down. Coming across another limited edition from 2011 that was created to celebrate the perfume's 40th birthday, titled Aromatics Elixir Perfumer's Reserve (which I'm determined to track down and review as well) peaked my interest in this fragrance again. So here I am revisiting the big bombshell from the 70's; and as it turned out - it really does go beyond.

While still having the earthy and medicinal qualities I remember, there is more of a spicy oriental quality to Aromatics Elixir than I recalled. It opens with very resinous, almost smoky and medicinal notes, vetiver and myrrh being the most dominant.

Aromatics Elixir knocks you down first with a thick veil of smoke, sweaty spices (coriander) and pungent herbs (sage). Than it just works its magic on you, with soothing aromatic oils that are known for their aroma-therapeutic calming effects and beautifying qualities (as Grain de Musc points out, citing the first ad copy for this perfume). Roman chamomile initially calms the nerves, geranium leaf energizes and tones the skin, and mingled with soothing rose; yet the juxtaposition with contrasting bitter-resinous analgesic myrrh and groovy patchouli it creates a mysterious fruity-mushroomy effect.

Once this subsides, the smokiness of vetiver comes in (it smellls like a rich, woody-nutty Bourbon vetiver), which goes hand-in-hand with clean, masculine sandalwood and musk. There is a dry, woody, diffusive appeal to this triad. And it makes a perfect foundation for the spacious yet erogenous jasmine that is at the core of Aromatics Elixir. With the addition of orange blossom and ylang ylang's ability to soothe anxiety and lifts the spirit, Aromatics Elixir walks a very fine line between a medicinal brew and a love potion. Furthermore, it has such a unique composition, which is very base-heavy, non-compromising and yet beautiful in a non-pretentious kind of way.

Top notes: Geranium, Chamomile, Coriander, Sage
Heart notes: Jasmine, Rose, Orange Blossom, Ylang Ylang
Base notes: Vetiver, Patchouli, Oakmoss, Cedarmoss, Sandalwood, Myrrh, Musk

Cabochard de Grès

Cabochard was reated in 1959 by perfumer Bernard Chant for French couturier Germaine Émilie Krebs (publicly known as Alix Grès or Madame Grès). Cabochard in many ways preceded its time and the trend that will dominate the 1970's - green, formal florals, often soapy, and at times even icy. However, while Cabochard is definitely green, it has the joie de vivre of the genre's founder, Vent Vert, and a warm yet playful personality which I can only guess has a lot to do with Madame Grès' vision and personality.

While most of the successful couturiers fashion houses of Paris followed their success to become more commercial, the house Grès remained purely dedicated to haute-couture. Everything was done by hand, made to measure, and with utmost attention to detail. This can usually only last as long as the founder is alive and working. And so, sadly, when Madame Grès retired in the 1980's, the business was sold, but while the couture was pretty much lost, the fragrance part remained alive and kicking, even if they don't launch a new fragrance every other day...

I came across Cabochard before, but wasn't really "grabbed" by it until a generous perfumista gave me this vintage coffret of minis of various concentrations, which is probably from as far back as the 80's. Enough time to disintegrate the rubbery lid (I had to use an actual corkscrew to pluck it out!) but it has retained its scent beautifully.

I was first intrigued by the scent; then by the story of Madame Grès - whatever of it I was able to pick from the very little information is found about her - mostly in French. She's not nearly as known as Gabrielle Chanel, and even more enigmatic. She was married to the Russian sculptor Serge Czerefkov, which I'm certain had some influence on her art: her pieces have the a solid structure wrapping around the female form, yet draping in innovative ways, showing the fabric's flow, texture and bringing out intriguing shapes and silhouettes by the interaction between body and garment. As to her personal style - she seems to be sporting a turban at almost all the photographs of her, which makes me wonder if she had hair at all, or was just obsessed with the Orient.

Cabochard means stubborn or hard-ass in French, and the personality of this fragrance makes me think that there is something to it. I was, however, surprised to find out via Fragrantica (and upon further investigation in Michael Edward's Perfume Legends), that her fascination with India is what inspired both Cabochard and another twin fragrance called Chouda, supposedly a floral, which never quite came to be. The latter was designed by Guy Robert, and was an ethereal floral, to resemble a flower she encountered in India, possibly water hyacinth (which I find unlikely, as it is native to the Amazon basin). By the sound of the name, I think it might have been kewda, which has hyacinth-like quality. Although this was reportedly Madame Grès' personal favourite between the two, she decided to go with the bold green chypre, which was more trendy at the time.

Despite some marketing material alluding to Cabochard being inspired by a walk on the beach of Southern India (again, rather unlikely that a tropical beach would smell that green and bitter), there is nothing quite India-related in Cabochard as far as I can smell. But it sure smells like a strong-headed gal with a great sense of humour, which is how I imagine Madame Grès to be in real life. Some further reading also revealed that unlike Chanel, she strongly opposed the Nazi occupation of Paris, and insisted on displayed the tricolor flag on her shop (which ultimately resulted in the Nazis closing her shop). I admire her now not only for her talent, but also for her courage.

Cabochard is so many things - green, leathery, woody, floral, indolic... It begins with a definitive juicy-green character, like frsehly squeezed wheatgrass; yet there is something ashy and dry underneath. The health-concious wheatgrass juicer is also a chain smoker. The nicotine in her veins brings the best of her - creativity, energy, laughter. It's balanced again with some medicinal sage, and pretty, clean and proper neroli and enough rose to make you think of a rose garden but not smell like an English lady. Orange blossom and jasmine make advances as the perfume develops on the skin. These two bold notes, while indolic and dirty, also have a zest of life to them, a very forward personality, with the methyl anthranilate shining through beautifully and bringing some sweetness into the green. They are only ever so slightly soft-focused with powdery orris note. As for the base - it's what you've always dreamed of: oakmoss, tobacco and vetiver, with some isobutyl quinoline for good measure.

Cabochard to me seems to have predicted the future of the 1970's - No. 19, especially, to whom it is a very close relative with the same motifs of leather, greens, juicy citrus notes, iris, leather and vetiver; interplay between green, dry and floral-powdery. As well as everything that followed, dominated by green, herbaceous and soapy notes. The leading scents in this trend were No. 19, Ivoire, Estée Lauder's Azurée (by perfumer Bernard Chant), Alliage and Private Collection; Coriandre, Calandre, Chamade, 1000, AnaisAnais, and Aromatics Elixir (also designed by Bernard Chant), and of course Rive Gauche. I'm glad I found out who is the perfumer behind it (though I'm certain that Guy Robert's Chouda was magnificent!) and see the connections with his other creations.

Top notes: Sage, Rose, Neroli
Heart notes: Jasmine, Orange Blossom, Orris

Base notes: Vetiver, Leather, Oakmoss, Tobacco

Aromatics Elixir Velvet Sheer

Herbs lady, originally uploaded by ximenacab.
In the past few days, I have been wearing mostly Aromatics Elixir in the "Velvet Sheer" formulation (by the way, I find the name "Aromatics Elixir" odd enough grammatically, so adding the "Velvet Sheer" in the end takes away even from the little sense the name had to begin with). It has a consistency of a shower jel that melts into your skin. It is not alcohol free, but has only very little alcohol in it. And unlike Aromatics Elixir in the pure perfume spray - it has none of the aggressiveness and instead has a powerful but not forceful silage. Instead of being analytical, I would prefer to be descriptive now. Chypres are designed to not give away easily the notes they are composed of. And now this is precisely what I intend to do. In fact, perfumes were not intended to be perceived as individual notes chasing each other on a scent strip or one's skin. Perfume is meant to be greater than the sum of its parts; therefore analyzing perfumes and the notes contained within them could take away from the pleasure of experiencing the perfume as a whole.

Aromatics Elixir is indeed aromatic: herbaceously dry and at first even pungent. I will not attempt to compare it to the alcohol parfum formulation as I find that formulation to strong to bear and just never managed to keep it on my skin for long. It's that overwhelming. I think the fact that I've been wearing this slimy velvet sheer liquid for a few days in a row speaks for itself. The dryness of the first few hours does soften in the end and turns into a cozy ambery chypre with obvious vetiver underlining it all.

It may not be as polished or chic as the French perfumes of that genre - it is not as seamless as, say, Miss Dior - but I find its direct crudeness to be charming and reassuring in its lack of pretense. The notes do stand out on their own occasionally, as if they didn't have quite enough time to mingle with one another before being bottled, but that just suits me fine.

Bodegón copiado, originally uploaded by xuse_22.

P.s. I have been particularly enjoying wearing Aromatics Elixir while wearing my pendant filled with Ayalitta solid perfume. The two are not that similar, but their green/aromatic chypre character helps them get along.
Back to the top