Etat Libre d’Orange Afternoon of a Faun: Afternoon of a Faun muscles its way into the green chypre category with an overall vibe halfway between a drenched forest and a bowl full of crushed iris roots. It’s described as an aromatic, spicy scent on Fragrantica, but actually, it comes off as a scorched-earth chypre. It shouldn’t work. But the contrast of wet, bitter green iris and the dry woods is all kinds of addictive.
I love the way it takes me on a ride every time I put it on. It reminds me somewhat of a vintage No. 19 pure parfum I had from the 1950’s which had turned badly – it shares something of that singed woods and burned coffee smell the parfum had. But in contrast, Afternoon of a Faun smells really good to me.
Right away, the strangeness of the immortelle note is apparent. It adds a sticky, savory syrup note, like sugared hay boiled down in whiskey. This has the effect of injecting the chilly green halls of No. 19 with streaks of autumnal warmth. So, for once, you have a damp, mossy chypre that smells….warm, human, sunny almost. It makes this an exceedingly comfortable wear without sacrificing an ounce of its stylish swagger, like a pair of fabulous, wide-cut slacks that are both comfortable and capable of making you look like Marlene Dietrich.
I love, love, love the textures at play in Afternoon of a Faun too. The opening is sort of damp and glazed, like the patina from old wood that you’ve just loving rubbed with oil. The immortelle adds a spicy, vegetal syrupy feel, and orris butter a creamy, rooty smell and texture. It is sweet, but also dry and slightly spicy, like good old wood.
In the dry down, the most amazing transformation in texture takes place – it sheds any sticky or wet feel it may have add, and becomes dry and smoky, like ash smoldering in the grate. At this stage, the immortelle smells like slightly burned coffee, which is a wonderfully dry, aromatic smell that I really enjoy. In fact, I feel comfortable characterizing this as a dry, smoky iris perfume with a significant green/woody aspect to it. It smells like a real chypre too, even without oakmoss, so hats off to the folks at ELDO for proving that you can still produce a fantastic perfume that smells like the real deal rather than a sad sack imitation of what once was.
Histoires de Parfums 1740 (Marquis de Sade): My favorite fragrance featuring immortelle by a large margin, but also one of my favorite fragrances period. The opening is as rich as Christmas fruitcake that has been aged and fed with brandy for five months in your pantry (and feels just as likely to give you gout). Man, it comes on strong, though. There’s a bit too much of everything at first – leather, booze, tobacco, the funky rot of patchouli, armpit-like spices, and a massive dousing of the bittersweet syrup that is immortelle.
But given warm skin and time, it relaxes and spreads out into a soft, warm, buttery leather that hums away stoutly for the whole day, the immortelle adding its burned-sugar syrup tone to the underbelly – the very necessary touch of ‘strange’ to counteract the supine wallowing of the other notes.
And immortelle sure is odd. Together with the patchouli, the immortelle turns on a knife edge from syrupy sweet to salty to spicy (cumin, clove, and cardamom), and shoots off little smoke streams of dry, resinous coffee and dark, putrefied plums. A massive thing, this fragrance, and it takes some commitment to wear.
Apart from just loving this perfume down to its bones (I feel like it’s a person rather than a thing, this one), I just freakin’ love that they still make perfumes built to a humongous scale in this day and age. 1740 is a 25-course banquet, and a six-hour-long opera, and the full deck of cards. Amazing that people still bother to make this sort of thing – so I say thank you, cher Gérald Ghislain. I, for one, do you honor by committing to the hugeness of 1740 at least once a week.
Dior Privee Eau Noire: This is a fascinating fragrance, and one of great balance and refinement. It opens up on an almost shockingly bitter, aromatic note, like the burning smell you get when you spill coffee or sugar on a boiling hot stove. Actually, the more I wear this, the more I’ve realized that this ‘burned coffee’ note is actually lavender, which makes sense both coffee and lavender smell piercingly resinous, woody, and ‘roasted’ as if exposed to high heat for too long. It’s pretty genius of Francis Kurkdijan to pair two highly aromatic notes like this – they play off each other so that your nose smells sun-roasted lavender one moment and burned coffee grounds the next.
It is almost too “black” a smell at first. There is a coffee roasting business near my building, and in the early hours of the morning, the owner turns on the roasting machine and starts processing the coffee beans. The smell fills the entire neighborhood. But like with all good, aromatic smells, like herbs or coffee, when you take it too far, like way past burning point, the effect is almost exactly half way between nauseating and attractive. Eau Noire has that effect going on for the first half hour. I am torn between repulsion and attraction, but either way, I can’t stop smelling my wrist.
The dry down is sublime, though, no two ways about it. I can only describe it as an arid, burning cedar smell, giving the impression of dry and hot all at once, like when someone throws water on the stones in a Swedish sauna. It is so parched in effect that it feels like the air is being sucked out of the room. The dry, papery vanilla is a delight too – the more I wear it, the more it smells like fresh newspaper pages to me.
So here we have all the elements needed for total relaxation – a good cup of steaming black coffee, a touch of immortelle to provide that interesting salt-sweet twang of Scandinavian licorice, the smell of a sauna heating up, and a good fresh newspaper waiting for you to read. What more could a person want?
Amouage Beloved: Beloved is a fragrance that has a secret immortelle heart that is only apparent if you really pay attention. It’s beautifully done. But what strikes me most about Beloved is that it is Amouage’s homage to that great classic, Clinique’s Aromatics Elixir, just as surely as Jubilation 25 is a homage to classic French fruity chypres such as Rochas Femme or Diorella.
Beloved opens up with a bitter, powdered clove, lavender, and sage combination that smells as aromatic and as talc-like as one of those quaint gentlemen’s colognes you might find at Penhaglion’s, or indeed a modern interpretation of a Dandy perfume, such as Histoires de Parfums’ 1876. There is a certain spicy, resinous, talc-like feel that links all these fragrances in my mind.
But more than anything, the rose, the hay-like chamomile, the sage all sing a tune that is familiar to me from my lovely, pagan, mother earth Aromatics Elixir. AE is earthier, dirty with patchouli, and far more ‘deep down in the forest’ than Beloved. Beloved is a fine lady, and AE is a hippy mom. But the essential bone structure is there. One was like the other in a different life, and all that.
The rose note in Beloved is pretty remarkable. Hidden behind the aromatic powder of the opening, you might miss it at first, but then it swells in intensity, rising up from a crumble of dusty potpourri rose petals to become a big, juicy rose fluffed out by moisture. The rose lingers for a while in a pool of boozy, hay-like immortelle, for a combination that is simultaneously syrupy and dry, sweet and savory. The immortelle adds a lovely ‘baked grass’ note to the florals and makes it feel less rarified than the start.
The dry down of Beloved is more pedestrian and standard-Amouage-oriental fare than its ‘Classic French’ opening and heart. After the herbal chypre dressing gown is dropped to her ankles, Beloved lurches off into a dry, resinous base made up of cedar, a heavily spiced musk, and a fairly bitter olibanum (Frankincense). This part’s a bit of a snooze after the impressive first half, but it’s still an Amouage base, so you know things weren’t done on the cheap or stuffed full of nasty, cheap woody ambers.
Beloved is unquestionably a beautiful, almost intoxicating perfume, but I won’t be spending any money on it. For one, it is over-priced, even within the usual standards for an Amouage fragrance, and for my money, Aromatics Elixir performs a similar trick of making the wearer feel womanly, powerful, and in control of her own fate, but at almost ten times less the cost of one bottle of Beloved. That said, there is an uneasy beauty about it that moves me, and I put it down to the bitter-liquorish, golden afternoon note of immortelle, casting its warmth over the cool, forest-like tones of the rest of the fragrance.