Orange Skin

Orange Desert

Cuir d'Oranger by Miller Harris intrigued me greatly the moment I sampled it at the flagship boutique in London. The memory of it haunted me until I was able to procure a decant some years ago. And it is much later that I got around to really sit with it and experience its personality uninterrupted. In retrospect, I realized that it is really its similarity to Feuilles de Tabac that intrigued me in the first place. But Cuir d'Oranger is nowhere near as complex and fascinating. I also misread the name as "Cuir d'Orange" (without the "r" in the end), which would mean leather and orange, rather than bitter orange tree and leather. So unlike others, I was not at all disappointed that it smelled like leather rubbed with orange skin.

The opening is that of dried, cured tobacco leaves soaked in aldehydic orange oil. There is only a blink of green from petitgrain (the leaves of the bitter orange tree), and then you notice the violet and cedar character of ionones diffusing warmth in the middle and softening the appearance of jasmine, which juxtaposed with patchouli could have come across as a hippie concoction from the 70s, but in reality is so subdued and is just there to create more body and bridge between the dry, woodsy tobacco theme in the base and the oily, waxy aldehydic top notes. At the base the dried tobacco leaf note is amplified with patchouli and vetiver notes and only the merest hint of tonka bean or coumarin, to offset the tobacco flavour and give it a more palatable taste.

All in all, Cuir d'Oranger is the more sophisticated younger sister of English Leather: less soapy, less coumarin-y, and with more accent on the orange zest rather than its leaves. The orange in question is a sweet orange at its most waxy, oily, aldehydic self, paired with a super dry tobacco and woods base, and a subtle floral softness in the heart. The orange blossom is only a suggestion, while the violetty notes of ionones creates a statement that is delicately forceful but definitely powdery, green like tomato leaves and clary sage, and along with the vetiver and patchouli alludes to the tobacco leaf as it changes colours from green to brown.

Top notes: Aldehydes C8 (Octanal) and C10 (Decanal), Sweet Orange 
Heart notes: Orange Blossom, Jasmine, Orris Butter, Ionones
Base notes: Tobacco Leaf, Patchouli, Vetiver 

Other reviews of interest:
The Perfume Critic

Feuilles de Tabac - Review + Weekly Giveaway

Feuilles de Tabac is one of those strange scents that I love yet have a difficult time writing about. I’ve been smitten with it ever since I came across it, sometime in 2003 after meeting with a perfumista client who kindly bombarded me with tens of samples from European niche perfumeries. I immediately fell for it, and when the vial ran out, begged my friend who lived in London to get out of her merry ways and fetch me a bottle.

Whatever it was that caught me in the Feuilles de Tabac trap, I can’t describe. It was the sense of familiarity in it that was intriguing to me. Something that happened to me before with Habanita (which reminded me of my grandfather’s Old Spice). But Feuilles de Tabac had something else, and was certainly more dry at first, and later on became sweeter, though not nearly as sweet as Old Spice.

Feuilles de Tabac dances between astringent and woody finesse and rustic herbal medicine.

The opening is dry, a little medicinal even, with the cascarilla bark dominating. Cascarilla is a bark used for flavouring tobacco, and has a scent that is both woody, musky and a little spicy-warm. There are also citrus and coniferous notes, though no particular one stands out, and allspice (pimento), a spice that has a dry-woody character. The other important note is sage, which is bitter and astringent at first, and than becomes velvety and warm, especially with the slight touch of rose at the heart.

Dry tobacco and vetiver peak in, but quickly, Feuilles de Tabac is cured into a very warm and sweet concoction, similar to pipe tobacco, with the tonka bean giving it a significant soft sweetness, as well as an amber accord with a muted labdanum. Only patchouli saves it from becoming powdery, adding a bold, animalic undertone and depth.

Feuilles de Tabac exudes such confidence that wearing it is akin to gulping some bravery potion, or just having a courageous powerful man on your side (unless you happen to be one).

It's interesting to compare sometimes notes from time past with the current impression of the same scent. In 2005, I described it as follows: "What starts as a medicinal, somewhat harsh drink – reminiscent of Absinthe – extremely masculine and sharp-edged – dries down to a seductive earthy sweetness. Warm, enveloping and sophisticated, Feuilles de Tabac is the emblem of what leathery-tobacco scents should be: Daring, sensitive, and seductive in a reassuring confident manner". Cascarilla has a certain liquor-like aroma to it; and sage is very similar to artemisia (absinthe). Perhaps this is where the courage comes from...

Top notes: Citrus notes, Coniferous notes, Cascarilla, Allspice
Heart notes: Sage, Rose, Vetiver
Base notes: Tobacco, Tonka Bean, Patchouli, Amber

*Weekly giveaway: Post a comment and win a 5ml decant of Feuilles de Tabac.*

Fig in Fragrance

crossed processed figs, originally uploaded by MatthewA.

Global warming makes Vancouver's summer feel real. And with it comes a craving for figs. I miss their tangy, fizzy sharpness. I miss their oddly refreshing green sap-milky attitude. I even miss the burning in the tongue as soon as you betray their fabulousness and decide to move on to the next victim in your daily diet.

I would spend many hours of my summer wrapping the fruit in brown paper bags, to protect it from the coveting eyes and beaks of birds. I would spend my mornings around the tree picking the first fruit that might have ripened in the heat remaining over night. I would go back there late afternoon for a snack, checking on the more fruit that ripened in the scorching sun, while frying my bare feet on the sun baked earth.

Figs are one of those fruit that if you don’t eat them fresh, you better not eat them at all. Fresh in this case means that you’ve just picked them from the tree less than an hour ago and preferably haven’t washed them either. It’s better to eat them dusty than washed. Trust me. Once you wash them, they lose both their flavour and their texture: their skin softenes and they become this characterless green sack of seeds…

Black (or “red”) figs keep better and are more marketable. Yet their flavour is often less intense or interesting in my opinion. It is the green figs that I am truly passionate about. And I’ve never seen them sold anywhere… Last summer I’ve had them after about 8 years of green fig withdrawal…

Diptyque Figuier Candle, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Olivia Giacobetti’s Philosykos for Diptyque is by far the most satisfying fig scent I’ve ever encountered. It reminds me of the whole fig picking experience, tongue burning, milky sap and all. I’m sure by now you are well aware of my partial opinion about it. This summer I am enjoying both the scent as well as the “Figuer” from Diptyque. I got it at Lola, and the first time was very unfortunate: the candle has no scent at all, unless you happened to stick your nose to the flame. Not even than, really. Christina was kind enough to take it back (this is her personal favourite too, and after (not) smelling for herself the poor performance of that particular specimen, has given me a replacement candle, which I am enjoying tremendously.

But for those of you unmoved by Philosykos or simply looking for other fig scents to indulge in this summer instead of the real thing, there are quite a few to choose from, as a quick search on Make Up Alley may turn out.

While I can’t claim to have tried them all (well, I haven’t!), I can definitely bring a few to consider and which I would like to re-visit this summer:

Figs in Bowl, originally uploaded by MatthewA.

Aftelier's Fig re-creates the experience of overripe black figs, the kind that is actually worth trying even when not freshly picked. An accord of resinous yet sweet fir absolute along with jasmine sambac and yuzu creates this pleasant illusion for a moment in the opening. In my experience, the FIR is the star of FIG, and the jasmine creates a perfumey impression, which dries down to a powdery sweetness.

Jo Malone’s Wild Fig & Cassis
: As the name suggest, you get two fruit here: green fig and black currants. I found it to be a little to fruity to my liking, yet I think it makes an interesting layering companion to Black Vetyver Café.

Fresh Index Fig Apricot: Like most of the Fresh line, I find this one to be yet another artificially delicious fruity aroma with too little substance to back it up and account for its perfumeness. The base is musky and head achingly artificial. Still, it’s one of my more favourite combinations in the line (the other being Pomegranate Anise and Redcurrant Basil).

Figue Amere by Miller Harris: If you’re looking for a more sophisticated fig, this might be an intriguing challenge for the fig lover: it is one of the most perfumey of all the fig scents I’ve tried, besides Aftelier’s FIG. Bittersweet and salty at once, it feels dusky rather than summery and reminds me of salt-dipped green almonds, myrrh and heliotrope more than figs...

Io Capri, on the other hand, is an uncomplicated summer pleasure of wild fig and tea leaves. To me this smells mostly of green tea, and while being not in the least sophisticated it makes perfect sense for summertime, when we tend to be a little more extrovert and don’t need the additional distraction of a contemplative fragrance. Io stays the same on my skin, light and fresh and delightful, both unchanged and extremely long lasting yet at the same time never overpowering.

Another fig and tea combination, but more perfumey than Io is Fig-Tea by Parfums de Nicolaï
As a whole, I find Patricia de Nicolaï's fragrances to be quite perfumey.

Feel free to share your favourite fig scents with me here. I would love to hear your opinions and recommendations for any fig scents I haven't smelled or heard of but should!

And last but not least is the first fig perfume to be released, also by Olivia Giacobetti – this time for l’Artisan Parfumeur, which reportedly proceeded all the other scents I’ve mentioned. While it is indeed a very fine fragrance, I believe that Ms. Giacobetti got it perfect the second time around with Philosykos. To me, Premier Figuier is a tad too melancholy, and too green with its mastic leaf top notes, and it is a tad too fleeting as well. Nevertheless, the coconut milk base makes it my second choice after Philosykos when a green fig fix is required.

Noix de Tuberéuse

flowers from my lei, originally uploaded by flicka23.

These little white flowers from the narcissus family have a rich nocturnal life: it is not until the evening that their scent is at its full intoxicating aphrodisiac powers. It was traditionally considered dangerous for a young lady to pass through them as to be overcome by its intoxicating and voluptuous fragrance and be struck helplessly by it aphrodisiac powers (Poucher, 1959). Different crops and varieties of the absolute smell differently – some are powdery, soft and sweet, other have a slightly green overtones, and the harshest ones have been described as rubbery and almost medicinal.

In modern perfumery, tuberoses are often interpreted as a bombastic, loud and high-pitched narcotic florals. Poison and Fracas are two extreme examples of how tuberose can be treated in a very bold way. Noix de Tuberéuse, however, is the first and only perfume I found so far that is built around the theme of tuberose and does not have a harsh, intimidating, heady and cloying presence.

Noix de Tuberéuse is the softest tuberose and the one that reminded me most of the pure absolute. It is simple and I consider it a soliflore as the other notes all serve to accent different aspects of tuberose: mimosa and clover leaf hint at its slight green top notes; orris enhances its powdery softness; violet flowers bring forth an almost gourmand sweetness; tonka bean brings out its rich yet gentle, creamy-buttery sweetness; and ambery incense and sandalwood add a full bodied yet mysterious aura that along with reminiscence of coconut serves as a reference to the tropical Orient.

All in all, Noix de Tuberéuse is a creamy, buttery, sweet and soft tuberose scent. It reminds me of two things – the first one being the perfume oil called “Night Queen” from India. It is not a fancy perfume – but smells delicate and alluring, like flowers and incense intertwined. I am quite sure it is suppose to smell like tuberose to begin with, as tuberose is often referred to as “Mistress of the Night”.
The other olfactory reference links us back to Lipstick Rose, as it does remind me of the scent of some lipsticks. The violet and orris that appear in both perfumes have a similar effect and create a pleasantly plasticy nuance that is akin to the taste of a shimmering pearly-pink lipstick, if you happen.

The packaging of Noix de Tuberéuse is pink, and I couldn’t think of a better colour to describe this scent. It smells pink to me… It also brings me good memories, from when I first worn it a couple of years ago and my daughter was recovering from a broken femur, an incident that had forced her to choose speech as an effective method of communication... Ever since than she can’t stop talking, and my dreams are coming true. Maybe that is why I associate it more with chilly autumn days. But regardless of my own personal memories and associations, I still feel that the heat (even the very slight heat such as the mild spring weather in which I was wearing this yesterday) upgrades this scent into the next cloying-level which decreases both its sex-appeal and delicacy.

Top notes: Wild Green Clover, Mimosa
Heart notes: Tuberose, Fig, Violet

Base notes: Tonka Bean, Orris, Amber, Sandalwood, Incense, Coconut

p.s. I can't smell the figs on my skin at all. But these are listed on the official Miller Harris website.

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