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Black Gardenia

Gardenia

Russian Leather meets tuberose in Anna Zworykina's Black Gardenia. Zworykina's plays up the rubbery nuances of tuberose with the addition of  leathery-smoky quality of castoreum*, and I suspect there is also a tad of birch tar or cade in there. The green and creamy aspects of tuberose are still felt, but they feel mushroomy and dark, and stay true to the promise of the name Black Gardenia. This is by no means a shy flower, but rather a fleshy, dark, prowling feline-like beast that becomes more aroused the longer it lingers on your skin.

Along the tuberose star, there are frangipani, neroli and ylang ylang as a supporting actresses. The first two bring out the stem-green aspects of tuberose and gardenia; the latter highlights its creamy, leathery, salicylic qualities. There are some oak-barrel-like undertones from the sandalwood and agarwood, giving the leather a sturdy frame to stretch on. Slowly the smokiness dissipates and makes room for a smooth, woody-vanilla skin-scent. There is also a hint of something fruity-floral (perhaps the davana), and the floral gardenia illusion, although subtle, is felt in a suave, smooth, tropical-floral-on-warm-skin way.

The interesting things about complex compositions and raw materials: Once you notice something, you will notice it again in different stages of the composition. Another time around wearing Black Gardenia, the  juicy fruitiness of the Davana comes off right away, adorning the tuberose, shimmering and reflecting the ylang ylang juicy banana aspects, and creating more of a tropical-fruity effect, where as in the first times I worn it, I noticed the creamy-green tuberose facets more.

While Black Gardenia has a clear personality of leather-tuberose, it has many nuances that piques my interest throughout its duration on my skin. It is lovely, a little addictive and a case in point that white florals can take a stance without being loud, and be pretty without ever becoming boring.

Top notes: Ylang Ylang, Neroli, Frangipani
Heart notes: Tuberose, Jasmine, Rose, Orris, Davana
Base notes: Castoreum, Sandalwood, Vanilla, Agarwood 

* A botanical, vegan version is also available, which I haven't smelled

Ensar Oud - First Impressions

The World of Oud and Sandalwood Oils

Part of the art of selling single ingredients commodities such as tea lies in the ability of labeling and dating them appropriately with a memorable name. Dealing with oud is no different, with each specimen having a limited supply and very high demand.

Ensar Oud has done an outstanding job in not only sourcing a wide variety of pure oud oils (for wearing neat on the skin, I thought you might ask) and wood (for burning) - but also giving them imaginary names.

Ensar Oud does that with enticing names that make it a lot more memorable than just dates and numbers (although these do have their place and value in recognizing and comparing various aromatic specimens).

Jing Shen Lu
Khao Ra Kam, 2014 
Straight from the vial: Notes of spikenard, a tad minty-cool, alongside pungent notes of paint, tar and carbolineum. Reminiscent of antique patchouli as well.
On the skin: Elegant, clean, cool yet also spicy. Vetiver, berry and grass notes - reminiscent of nagramotha and davana mixed together. Tobacco-like with hints of helicrysum also.
Dryout: Woody, sweet yet clean.

China Sayang
China, 2005
Straight from the vial: Musty, old furniture, yet also mellow. Another time it smelled intense animal odours to me - like being surrounded by goats and camels, or sitting in a tent made of goat's hair and sheep's wool, dusty old cow cakes, and visiting caves where the above animals slept in.
On the skin: Grows warmer and sweeter on the skin.
Dryout: Dusty, with the animalic barnyard remnants persist. I happen to be very fond of goats, but find that wearing this on its own is a bit too realistic. I would be curious to blend it in a perfume where it would add a surprising element but only hint to the animals, without smelling so literal.

Oud Haroon
Siam, 2015
Straight from the vial: Funky, animals, valerian, hint of mint, mushroomy (like sour Cepes absolute), Marmite undertones. All in all quite yeasty.
On the skin: Strong yet somehow dull and flat.
Dryout: Becomes cooler woodier as it dries on the skin. Elegant finish to a rather funky beginnings.

Oud Yusuf
Trat, 2012
Straight from the vial: Although it begins with a blow of gasoline fumes notes that brings to mind the rather harsh opening of nagramotha (AKA Cypriol, a type of papyrus with a scent that closely resembles vetiver) - this is the mellowest of the four. Berry-like and smooth-wood body, with dusty clay and dried figs undertones.
On the skin: Clean woody. Hints of roasted nuts and coffee. A tad floral, perhaps even rosy. With herbaceous-grassy undertones, reminiscent of chamomile and blonde tobacco.
Dryout: Warm-woody, a little like vetiver.

After sampling oud oils and woods in various circumstances, I came to the realization that this is one of the most curious, sneaky and fascinating raw materials. It makes a huge difference when, how and where you experience the scents (as burned or warmed wood chips; oils on your skin or on paper or in the vial, etc.). Also, the order in which they are smelled makes a huge impact on their perception. If I were to smell these four ouds in a completely different order, they would smell quite different. I would recommend actually not smelling them side by side but immersing yourself completely in one at a time (which I would do later for each one of the oud oils I have in my collection).

If you decide to warm the oud chips as incense, using the Japanese koh-doh method, try different sequences of the ouds you have. Take lots of notes, not for others to read, but for yourself. It helps a great deal to refine the sense of smell and one's perception, and to pay more attention to the many nuances in these rich and complex treasures. Also this will help you to memorize the very confusing array of ouds available - which may seem useless for a layperson, but if you want to share these treasures with friends and host a little incense party - it will be very helpful to know what you're burning and in which order to place them. It will greatly affect the experience. For example: if a scent is very strong its best to place it last after the more subtle specimens. Also, memorization of what you have will help you enjoy more and be able to better appreciate other ouds that you stumble upon in other places.


Arboreal



Arboreal by Persephenie is an otherworldly composition of spicy flowers and woods that ignites the imagination.

Ginger lily is the main theme in the opening - a spicy-warm yet watery and floral. This is a lovely prelude to the exotic quality of lotus flowers tucked within Arboreal's branches. There is a tinge of leather as well, cutting through the intensely sweet, fruity-floral qualities of pink lotus. Arboreal feels magical, mysterious and otherworldly. It's a tad animalic and leathery, like a wild cat that crawled up the tree and awaits its prey. And once it settles on the skin, it melds into a mysterious melange of flowers and woods.

Apple Orchard

Apple Orchard is yet another moody masterpiece by Russian natural perfumer Anna Zworykina. Like the few others I've reviewed before, it has a very Antique-Asian feel to it, while still being true to its title. In fact, I find all of the perfumes I've tried so far to beautifully deliver what they are meant to portray. Some perfumers are just talented that way, which adds another special dimension to the composition, in my opinion. No matter how sophisticated the audience might think they are, they always will respond more emotionally to a poetic name rather than just a number title, for instance.

Apple Orchard is not so much about apples as it is about the orchard. And I  envision an abandoned orchard, at the end of fall. Some of the apples are still dangling from the naked boughs, but most of them are already rotting on the ground...

Despite the fact that the perfumes are using similar materials to my palette (Like yours truly, Anna Zworykina uses only natural oils, absolutes, tinctures and CO2 extractions, and no isolates), it is not easy to dissect them from one another. The perfumer has masterfully succeeded in creating something new and enticing from rather familiar notes. There is a certain medicinal quality that seems to be the perfumer's trademark, and which gives it that feel of an old Chinese apothecary, with chest full of drawers mysteriously labeled, the wood thoroughly soaked in the aromas of the magical herbs contained within it for decades. All of the perfumes I've tried have a very unique "fingerprint" in that sense, and I suppose you can either find it charming, of completely off-putting. But to me this is a reminiscence of another era, where herbs, medicine, magic and perfume were all intertwined, when incense was burnt to ward off evil spirits, and sweet floral waters were sprinkled to attract good ones...

Back to Apple Orchard: At first, there is an apple-y accord, but with a significant amount of mustiness, which makes you immediately think of the abandoned orchard I describer earlier... Then you are reminded of the fertile soil underneath, forgiving the inattentive farmers and receiving these rejected fruit with open arms. This gradually evolves into the spiciness of oak barrels, with hints of musky opoponax, allspice and cloves.

The perfume is so subtly blended that I could not really discern the notes too well. Also, I could not find the notes anywhere online. But the perfumer herself provided me later with this information as to the perfumes' composition:

Top notes: Galbanum, Blackcurrant Buds, Oregano, Kashmir Lavender, Ginger Lily 
Heart notes: Mango Leaf Absolute, Jasmin Sambac, Champaca, Roses
Base notes: Angelica, Agarwood, Cedarwood, Labdanum, Vetiver, Patchouli, Oakmoss

Chez Noir

Chez Noir stands out in Coeur d'Esprit perfumes that I've smelled, with it's very retro, animalic-floral smooth bouquet. What makes this perfume particularly unique is the aging process, something that you don't get to smell much in the fast-paced world. Thanks to several years of maturation (I believe this was created in 2007 and left to mature ever since), and the usage of ambergris, the perfume became very smooth, like a homogenous being with a life of its own. There is a seamless transition from one phase to another, which is the mark of a well-aged perfume. This goes to show you that time is everything in the world of perfume. And that's also the magic of animalic notes, in particular ambergris. You may not smell it in the composition, but it has a unique effect of connecting all the elements together beautifully.

Chez Noir (which I suppose means "Among Black" in French) begins with intriguing licorice accord - the traditional anise is paired with green and sweet tarragon, and piquant cardamom, leading into a smooth floral bouquet of rose, jasmine and ylang ylang in which no particular note stands out, but rather all three flowers give the perfume a put-together, cohesive feel. There is something fruity about it, but not as a syrupy fruit salad, but rather reminiscent of the dried fruit (peach, plum, apricot) you'd find when they just discovered the fruity aldehydes (vintage Femme comes to mind). Following the faux-dried-fruit-phase, a nutty, warm phrase emerges from underneath, hinting at the dry-woody base notes, which converses delicately with the licorice and jasmine.

Licorice is the heart and soul of Chez Noir, with sandalwood in an important supporting role. The sandalwood is rich, warm and spicy. Woody with only a slight hint at lumbar dust. The other striking element is patchouli: a beautifully aged one at that, smooth and musky, without the sharp musty edge that traditionally appeals to those who are trying to mask their pot-smoking habits.

Top notes: Anise, Tarragon, Cardamom
Heart notes: Rose, Jasmine, Ylang Ylang
Base notes: Sandalwood, Patchouli, Labdanum, Ambergris
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