Saturday, October 21, 2017

Arquiste Ella & El and the Cannonball Flower

One of the best things about living in Singapore has been my almost daily walk through Singapore's Botanic Gardens. Other than the Tembusu tree which I wrote about here, my favorite flower is on the Cannonball tree. These flowers look almost prehistoric and are large enough to cradle in the palm of your hand. Their petals are thick and waxy but the mechanism that holds them together on the tree disappears once they leave the tree's lifeblood. They fall apart into pieces in your hand. The interior of the flower looks like what I would expect a Venus Flytrap to look like and evidently it is a favorite with bees. The scent is not as strong as the appearance of the flower would indicate. It's a not-quite-jasmine, not-quite-magnolia scent touched with a tiny drop of lemon, actually fairly delicate compared to many flowers in the gardens. I had always thought Singapore Botanic society should make a perfume from this so when last year Carlos Huber of Arquiste Perfumeur introduced El and Ella, the latter which features a note from the Cannonball tree, I was ecstatic. Everyone else was featuring blog posts about Studio 59 and the crazy disco days but I was just thinking, Cannonball Flower, yes!

Cannonballs from the Cannonball tree, Singapore Botanic Gardens.

The thing is, though, that Ella really is all about the madcap 70's when perfumes were big, fashion and hairstyles made a statement, and the frolics of celebrities in fancy NYC bars was considered a bit shocking. Little did we know it was really the age of innocence compared to today. When I first put Ella on my wrist I flashed back to my twenties, which was quite a few years ago! I used to wear a Ralph Lauren perfume called Tuxedo. It was one of those magic perfumes that not many people were aware of but whenever I wore Tuxedo it always drew attention. If I had known how short its life would be I would have bought every bottle I could find but one day it just quietly disappeared. I really can't remember exactly how it smelled but when I applied Ella it triggered something deep within my memory that brought me back to that time in life, when I was young and men flirted, I bloomed with youth, and the possibilities before me seemed endless. Looking at the two perfumes, Tuxedo and Ella, I can see that their notes are totally different and there is no way they could have smelled alike, but I believe that Ella perfectly captures that era, and that's why I had to have a bottle the minute I tried it.

I usually try to describe a perfume's notes but El and Ella really do harken back to that 70's era when perfumes were a glorious blend and the individual notes were not meant to take precedence. Perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux took an inspiration from Carlos Huber's tribute to the memory of the glamour of Acapulco, Mexico in 1978, and specifically Armando's Le Club which was a hangout for the glitzy and glamorous. Mr. Huber is an architect by training but in truth a Renaissance man who is interested in multiple fields. He has combined his love of history and architecture to pick moments in time for scented inspiration. El and Ella are his foray into recent history and he has captured the moment as perfectly as if he lived it. My only slight complaint is that I love Ella so much that I wish it displayed the force field strength tendencies of perfumes of that era. It is a scent to be noticed but is treated to a lighter touch.

I can tell you the note list of Ella: The flower from the Cannonball tree, angelica root, rose, carrot seed essence, jasmine, honey, ambergris, cardomom, patchouli, civet, vetiver, cigarette smoke accord and chypre accord. What I can't give is a play by play of how these notes unfold. As I stated above, it's a fragrant story describing what I personally consider one of the best perfume eras of our time. Even with all the perfumes being released today, chypres make up only a small portion of this output, maybe because so many of the ingredients are unattainable today. If you like chypres I would definitely try Ella.

El is the masculine partner to Ella and though more familiar to today's perfumes, it also radiates a bit of vintage vibe. It is an anamalic fougere and opens with the classic and old fashioned notes of laurel, clary sage, rosemary, and Egyptian geranium. I can also smell the orange water in the opening and these notes combine to smell to me like a man who has lathered in very posh and richly scented Italian soap while showering in preparation for his evening out. Eventually notes of patchouli, oak moss and vetiver bring on the deeper darker notes present in fougeres. What makes this feel a bit vintage is the addition of honey, civet, and castoreum. They provide just the slightest thread of funk to this overwise traditional style of men's scent. In keeping with the 1970's Acapulco disco inspiration, I picture a tanned, well groomed man, shirt unbuttoned one button to many to be proper, a gold chain is perhaps around his neck. He starts the evening out smelling richly fragrant but as the hours pass, he dances, he sweats, his own natural pheromones began to integrate with the scent and it becomes something altogether more provacative. The scent never tips all the way over to a strong animalic on my skin and continues to waft the refined air of herbs and orange water.

In writing my review on Ella I was excited to explore the connection to the cannonball flower. If you would like to read a great review which delves deeply into the whole Acapulco disco connection, I highly recommend this review by The Silver Fox at A Scent of Elegance.

Photos my own. Scent purchased by me at

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Zoologist Perfumes Part Eight: Elephant

Elephant is the latest release from Zoologist Perfumes, brainchild of Canadian owner and creative director Victor Wong and the work of perfumer Chris Bartlett, who is also the creator of Zoologist Beaver. I should know by now not to try to predict in which direction the Zoologist perfumes will interpret their "animal" but I was sort of expecting elephant skin, aka their rough and distinctive hide translated into a leather based fragrance. I was wrong as it turns out, but I was interested to read that the final version of Elephant is very different than the perfumer's initial interpretation. Victor is always very generous in crediting his perfumers with their work and he always posts an interesting interview which give additional insight into the creative process. Click here is his latest interview with Chris Bartlett.

In the interview Chris states that initially his vision was of an elephant from the Indian subcontinent illustrated by notes of sandalwood, spice, and chai tea. At the point of the third prototype of Elephant he decided to take the scent a different direction, becoming more about the elephant's habitat and food foraging habits. This made the perfume greener and fresher. In the interview on the Zoologist website Mr. Bartlett states, "In my view, if you can pick out the individual notes in a perfume too easily, it's not finished yet." I will describe notes below but the perfumer succeeded in making this a unique scent, not defined by any one note.

So how does Elephant smell? At first spray there is a blast of very photorealistic green. Perfumer Chris Bartlett was going for the illusion of a hungry elephant stripping trees of vegetation, taking every last leaf and blossom then tossing the bared branches before heading for the next tree. There is a rawness to the green aroma in Elephant as if large leaves were snapped from the bark, leaving green wet sap oozing out of the torn foliage. This is a bright green smell, not the moody dark green of forest or fougere type scents. The intensity of the green aroma, used as a reference to the elephant's olfactory perception, made this image of my dog pop into my head.

Look at that nose, sniffing the wind. She has a bit of a long nose and when I take her for her daily walks it goes aquiver with the delightful scent of nearby squirrel, possum, and raccoon. Dogs clock in with double the genes that control our sense of smell, 800 to our not quite 400 olfactory receptors. A dog's nose is long, so how many more receptors would an elephant have with its very long proboscis? The answer is almost 2000, more than double that of the dog and five times that of humans. This is the sense of green I get from the first spray; the intensity that the elephant must feel when it finds a field of ready food. A green on steroids. I have no idea if this is what Victor and Chris were going for but that's my take on it. Only a few of the notes used to achieve this effect are listed, and they are tree leaves, Darjeeling tea, and magnolia. Mr. Bartlett also mentions violet leaf in his interview with Victor.

After about thirty minutes the green loses its intensity and a freshness enters, again to display the elephant's surroundings. Chris wanted to give the sense of fresh air.  Coming on the heels of this freshness the scent becomes creamier and almost milky. Some of the heart notes are cocoa (can't pick it out!), coconut milk (milk yes, coconut no), incense (light and fragrant!), jasmine (can't discern), and wood notes. With the scent's green fading to soft woods, the perfumer references the idea of the satiated elephant lumbering through the woods, now stripped of greenery. This velvety green is embroidered with a beautiful but faint trail of incense and it is imbued with a soft appealing creaminess, the same sort of creaminess that certain fig scents can display (minus the fig scent itself).

The entry of sandalwood sets the stage as the scent languidly drifts to a more woody dominance. Other base notes are amber, musk, and patchouli. I find the amber adds a very delightful warmth to the wood notes and slowly simmers with a touch of spiciness. This is my favorite stage of Elephant. It has become softer and a little more serious,  and on my skin at least is a more personal scent, apparent to me but probably not those a few feet away. It gives a sense of meditative beauty, which is a fitting tribute to these magnificent creatures. Once again Zoologist Perfumes has produced  a thought provoking study on the scent of an animal, in this case Elephant, and also created a very wearable and beautiful perfume.

See more reviews of Zoologist Perfumes starting here with Part One.

Top Photo Google image. Second photo my own. Third photo from Sample provided by Zoologist perfumes.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Jo Malone English Oak and Redcurrant and English Oak and Hazelnut

Jo Malone perfumes don't always work for me but one thing I can never fault is their marketing. They introduce seasonal fragrances with an unusual combination of notes that sound like something you can't live without. Their photo ads introduce worlds you wish you could melt into the page and live in their world. This new campaign for Jo Malone's new English Oak collection perfectly encapsulates the desire for cooler weather, falling leaves, and autumn magic. The elfin models perfectly suit the mood, well perhaps the girl is a bit more zombie than elf, but they add to the aesthetic of the ad.

I went through a phase where I burned nothing but Votivo Red Currant candles and I became addicted to their sharp tangy smell. The opening of Jo Malone English Oak and Redcurrant Cologne reminds me of these candles. It is piquant and the first spray made my mouth pucker. On subsequent sprays I didn't get quite a much tartness but it was always a realistic red currant note, juicy and almost acerbic. I really enjoy this note and it does have autumn connotations. There is a note of green mandarin which amps up the zest of the opening. There is a mid note of rose with white musk but the rose note does not stand out as distinct to me. On my skin the roasted oak note adds a toasty wood note which carries the perfume along after the redcurrant has faded. I love the opening of this perfume but find what follows a little bland, however I can imagine this will be popular with the Jo Malone customer base. I would be happy to have a bottle if someone gifted it to me.

The Acorn Fairy by Cicily Mary Barker.

The yang to Redcurrant's yin in this English Oak duo is Jo Malone English Oak and Hazelnut Cologne. The top note is a green hazelnut accord which is supposed to add a fresh, nutty feel. When I spray the cologne on my skin I get a strange chemical smell  tinged with a slight vanilla note. I couldn't get past the opening to give a review of the cedarwood and roasted oak notes. This one just didn't work for me at all but I see online that others quite liked it so perhaps this is just a skin chemistry issue for me. Try it--maybe you'll have better luck than me.

I usually find the Jo Malone line a little light for my taste, both in sillage and longevity, but as this is a constant I have accepted that their customer base approves and it works for them.

Top photo from Second photo Google image. Perfume samples from Tangs, Singapore.