Selected reviews from Perfumes: The Guide 2018
Miyako (Auphorie) ★★★★★ yuzu osmanthus
Legend has it that when the young Belgian composer Guillaume Lekeu finally heard the first chord of Tristan and Isolde at the Paris premiere of Wagner’s opera, he promptly fainted and had to be carried out on a stretcher, thereby missing the rest. Only a robust constitution saved me from doing the same when I first smelled Miyako. Or to be exact, while I was assessing a 3-milliliter sample labeled with only a number, sent to me by the Institute of Olfactory Arts in my capacity as a judge selecting finalists for the Art and Olfaction awards. At least Lekeu had the consolation of knowing what had laid him low. I did not, and patience is not my strong suit. When all the judging was over, I obtained advance notice of the finalists a few days before they were announced at Esxence, and was told that this mysterious fragrance was among them.
I looked into it online and found that the only fragrance whose description matched the smell was Miyako, by the Malaysian firm Auphorie. To confirm my hunch, I asked them for samples. To their credit, knowing that I was a judge but unaware that the judging was over, they sent me everything except Miyako so as not to influence me. Now that the finalists are known, I have finally received a fresh sample of the stuff. When it arrived at my work address, I got a message from the lab telling me that a wonderful-smelling envelope was waiting for me.
Miyako is primarily a superb osmanthus, a material I first fell in love with when I first encountered it in Shiseido’s Nombre Noir (1982). Osmanthus spans a wide range of smell characters ranging from apricots to leather. Like narcissus, it is almost a perfume all by itself. This, perhaps counterintuitively, is not particularly helpful in fragrance composition, because other notes in the mix tend to obscure the message, as if the mind could figure out which parts came in one piece and what was added. The brilliance of Miyako is that it manages to extend osmanthus at both ends. Like a great Sauternes, it balances tremendous weight and sweetness with fierce acidity up top, likely the yuzu listed among the materials. Nombre Noir did a similar thing using powerful tangy-rosy damascones. In the middle and bottom, some woody notes, including a sandalwood described by TS as huge (not so to me), and a wonderful, warm note of candied peanuts.
All the above is mere incidental folderol which in no way accounts for the uncanny emotion of Miyako. For some mysterious reason, I recomposed all the cheerful citrus, apricots, peanuts, woods, and leather into a tragic tableau and perceived it as a luscious, radiant rose surrounded by a dour, airless, almost musty note of underground spaces. This is one of the most affecting accords I have ever smelled, an Orphic descent into the underworld conveyed without words or music. It is simply astounding that a self-taught perfumer would not only find this Tristan chord of perfumery, but also be able to write the rest of the score. Unlike so many artisan fragrances that are full of charm but sadly fugacious, this one carries on majestically, expanding at first into a rutilant tutti and ending mezzo-forte on woods. There had been so far only one -ko among my all-time favorites, the one composed by Jacques Guerlain in 1919. This makes two. LT
Fatih Sultan Mehmed (Fort & Manlé) ★★★★ woody rose
Some fragrances elicit a leisurely contentment resembling what one feels when settling down on a plush couch with a good book and no other immediate plans. For a perfume to be good in this way it must cater to the simple but rare pleasure of smelling a clever arrangement of quality materials that unfolds like a story well told. There is nothing showy and obvious about Fatih Sultan Mehmed, and at first one sniffs around for a one-liner, an epigram that would define it. None comes, and in good time one relaxes for the long haul, surrounded by vapors of apple, candle wax, and a rose-vetiver accord, which seems to be Fort & Manlé’s signature core. Very good indeed. LT
Mr. Burberry eau de toilette (Burberry) ★★★ citrus fougère
A dapper minty top note reminiscent of the much better Menthe Fraîche (Heeley) runs in and out, and a conventional fougère follows. Though done by the book, it benefits from a lemony hum that accompanies the main accord. Epilogue: LT reports this is a very, very loud fragrance, though I perceive it as fairly quiet, indicating I am anosmic to some major material. Moral: if you buy fragrances hoping to attract some winsome guy or gal with your irresistible odor, remember to be prepared to look nice and say interesting things as a backup plan. TS
Mon Guerlain (Guerlain) ★★ lavender vanilla
It would be hyperbole to say that the world was waiting for the latest “big” Guerlain release with bated breath. Guerlain has, after all, released twenty fragrances since January 2016, none world-changing. This one plans to be, for accountants. Guerlain’s corporate overlord LVMH seems to think that the time has come to make the brand as big as Dior—not easy because Guerlain does no couture, just fragrances and cosmetics. Nevertheless, they did what MBAs consider the right thing: focus-group the living crap out of the fragrance, hire Angelina Jolie as the face, and spend tons on advertising. For all I know, this will work and bring in scads of moolah. Artistically, considering what Thierry Wasser can do even under constraints that would make a strong man cry, I was hoping for a new Samsara (1989) or Insolence eau de parfum (2008), i.e. a wide-load perfumery convoy with blinking blue lights.
Despite a brave and beautiful lavender top note, which feels like Jicky wings bolted onto a family car, you soon figure out for sure that nothing else interesting is going to happen in this fragrance. The core accord is a compromise gemisch of everything that has done well in the last few years. The fragrance is supposedly built around Paradisone®, a diastereomer of hedione and testament to the genius of Firmenich production chemists, combined with a big slug of coumarin, an unremarkable jasmine, vanilla, Australian “sandalwood” (only in name) and a pinched little iris. The only good thing that can be said about this broth is that it is (as you would expect from Wasser and his crew) less brassy and gappy than most of its congeners, and that Guerlain’s orchestration does a good job magnifying a banal tune. Meh. LT
PH–Bright Oudh (Blood Concept) ★ woody cloying
This one is apparently part of an “Upside Down” series. I did not, and will not, read the explanation of what this means, because the fragrance was so awful I could not even stand the smelling strip being on the table in front of me, and had to flush it down the toilet. I heard a distant patter of sewer rats stampeding away from it somewhere down the pipe. LT