Aqua Vitae Forte by Maison Francis Kurkdjian (2015)

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Aqua Vitae Forte by Maison Francis Kurkdjian (2015) is a marked improvement from the original Aqua Vitae by Maison Francis Kurkdjian (2013), but I wouldn’t exactly call it a stronger version of that scent. You see, Kurkdjian based this out more, added additional musks and creaminess, upped the “lemon custard” factor, and removed the Aqua Vitae DNA further away from the barely-there freshness of the original. I say “barely-there” because the original was also much thicker and sweeter than most of the Aqua range, and sticks out a bit for it. Aqua Vitae proper is the worst-selling of the range, and this Forte edition is worse-selling still, so MFK under the heartless overlord of LVMH had to make the “hard” decision to axe it, along with most of the more-unique MFKs like APOM pour Homme by Maison Francis Kurkdjian (2009) .

Really though, I wouldn’t run out and buy up 15 of these things blind just because fear of missing out haunts you like a ex-lover and you need to have a lifetime supply just in case it ends up being your favoritest-est fragrance ever, especially not at over $300 for 70ml. Things like Chanel Allure Homme Edition Blanche Eau de Parfum (2011) still exist for much less money, so I’d only go all in for this if you’re a fan of the particulars concerning Aqua Vitae itself. The opening is lemon, bergamot, and mandarin bolstered by cardamom and pink pepper. A smooth musky ylang-ylang takes over the heart, joining orange blossom to form a richer version of Aqua Vitae’s heart. Creamy sandalwood, vetiver, labdanum, and white musk finish this with ample longevity. Best use is spring time by my recollection, in casual settings.

Aqua Vitae Forte is not a projection monster, and veers just slightly more-feminine than the original, although I’d still consider it unisex. My biggest issue with Aqua Vitae is not solved by the Forte edition anyway, although I think its substantial performance and creamy-woody musky body do edge it closer to being worth pulling the trigger on, although I still think other options exist at better prices for such a simple, sunny lemon-custard-pie kind of vibe. MFK knows his market, even if LVMH doesn’t like it when some of his fragrances only move 30 or so bottles a year (his words, not mine), so the more love-letterish fragrances like this get tossed by the wayside of corpo-globalist hegemony when the cold, unfeeling numbers come back that it “only” has a cult following. Why these mammoth companies think everything needs to sell like sliced bread defies all logic and sense to me, but whatever. Thumbs up

Aqua Vitae by Maison Francis Kurkdjian (2013)

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Maison Francis Kurkdjian was originally known for its smooth, provocative fragrances that merged dirty and clean together in elegant ways, with synthetics playing up the strengths of naturals rather than trying to make up for their absence. That all started to change mostly around the time Francis Kurkdjian realized that artistry doesn’t sell, informing his current opinion that perfume can’t be art, just a luxury commodity built-for-taste to sell. You can sort of see this bit of a soul-crushed perspective and assumed cynicism start to creep in as his own line became fresher and arguably more banal over time, leading up to its sale to LVMH. The Aqua line is probably a big player in this eventual coming of events, and Aqua Vitae by Maison Francis Kurkdjian (2013) furthers that notion.

However this isn’t to say Aqua Vitae is bad, it’s just not exciting. Here you have a sequel to Aqua Universalis by Maison Francis Kurkdjian (2009), taking a focus on lemon and vanilla, which treads a smoother and creamier path than the brightness of Universalis. Lemon drops and pettigrain are mixed with hedione and vanilla in the heart, and given a base of guaiac wood over tonka bean, simple as that. As a wake-up-and-sell-the-coffee fragrance, this works well, as do any number of short-lived colognes. For the price of what MFK asks on a 70ml bottle of eau de toilette, I think the pragmatic-minded fragrance enjoyer may particularly balk here, like with most Aqua scents. Unisex to a T and extremely pleasant describes Aqua Vitae, and it also is among the smoothest of the Aquas. Performance is maybe 6 hours, with mild sillage.

Evidently most people found this Aqua fragrance to be just a bit too easygoing, or perhaps the lemon custard vibes too off-putting, as most of the Aqua range is a fair bit more bracing than this. Either way, Aqua Vitae sold far less than Aqua Universalis, and when its corresponding “Forte” edition of Aqua Vitae Forte by Maison Francis Kurkdjian (2015) was released, it also ended up the poorest of that series. Despite all this, I think Aqua Vitae is just fine; but do we really need “just fine” at these price points? Coupled to this the acquisition of MFK by LVMH and the gradual discontinuation of all the things that made this house so intriguing when it launched, and I am nonplussed about something like Aqua Vitae still being on offer when its own more-interesting “forte” variant couldn’t even survive the corporate ghoul chopping block. If you’re a collector, I can see owning this, but otherwise Aqua Vitae is a pass for me. Neutral

Paris-Riviera by Chanel (2019)

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Paris-Riviera by Chanel (2019) is another of the limited-edition travel series of eau de cologne releases that give scent to the places where Coco Chanel vacationed or traveled. Like with most of the fragrances from this line, Olivier Polge was charged with telling a story of Chanel’s exploits in the area of interest. In this case, we see her build the Villa La Pausa (which also has a scent named after it) on the Côte d’Azur, after opening her new boutique in Cannes. As you might expect, this is a rather sunny take on a traditional eau de cologne, in which neroli is the star. If you’re not looking for a primarily citrus-floral treatment, Paris-Riviera may not be your thing. For me, it’s nice, even if I may not find it nice enough to buy,

The opening of this is orange, petitgrain, and a soft puff of the legacy Chanel aldehydes to marry this scent to its parent brand. Both a greener texture neroli note and rounder, sweetened orange blossom note mix together in the heart, over copious amounts of jasmine hedione. Tiny bits of geranium are here too, but not much else is left to come besides the trademark “Polge Sandalwood” accord of Olivier’s father, micro-dosed with benzoin and ambroxan as the main base riff. Paris-Riviera has decent longevity that veers into eau de toilette range; but really feels like a cologne in the projection department, giving you everything it’s got in the first hour or so, then becoming a skin scent for the next 7 hours. Paris-Riviera feels unisex.

You got to love that typical Chanel softness, even-keeled performance, and totally not-stepping-out-of-its-own-way style to like this fragrance. Combine that obsessive smoothness with the not-so-economical performance for what is basically $150 for 100ml of cologne (as of 2022), and Paris-Riviera is really only for the Chanel-o-philes or collectors. That said, this is perfectly likeable, and smells of quality, which is sometimes all you want with things like Paris-Riviera, since people attracted to these higher-end eau de cologne experiences aren’t looking for a performance-focus per dollar spent anyway. So in conclusion, we check all the boxes for another Chanel eau de cologne experience, and deliver it with a smile. Thumbs up

Albatross by House of Matriarch (2015)

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House of Matriarch is an independent artisanal perfumer that has met with mixed reactions from me, mostly over price point per ounce and brute-force use of naturals in a way that tends to wreak havoc on my nose in almost the same manner as designers abusing singular synthetic materials. In the case of Albatross by House of Matriach (2015), this local Pacific Northwest brand actually broke briefly into the mainstream department store world by launching this scent along with eight others, as part of a collection designed specifically to be sold in nine different Nordstrom stores across the country, in what was probably a partnership (as Nordstrom is also from Seattle) to help take the perfume house to the next level. From what I can tell, it didn’t really work, as the same artisanal hipsters as before and now price wankers obsessed with exclusivity and expense, are the only ones talking about the brand. I guess when you charge $330 for 50ml of what is essentially a gussied-up aquatic, you’re likely to get that reaction. As for me, I do like the way this smells, but for the extreme price I’d have to pay for some, coupled with the performance, I’m left feeling indifferent to it, which is a shame. I do enjoy Ambre Vie by House of Matriarch (2016), and was looking for another win from the brand.

Now to be fair to perfumer Christie Meshell, Albatross is the most lucid and natural-smelling aquatic I have ever encountered so far, so mission accomplished in keeping with the brand aesthetic. This is the aquatic for people who hate what the genre has become, and is anything but the usual shower gel fruity calone-1951 and dihydromyrcenol hygienic-themed low-brow mess you expect from the genre. Instead, you get the usual ozonic and aquatic aromachemical players (because there is no other way to make a proper aquatic), but laden over a bed of mostly natural base-materials, including cottonwood oil, cork oak and pinion oil, plus a bit of mineralic salt. The effect of Albatross is an expansive salty ocean freshness like a good aquatic from a niche house, paved over an artisanal-grade woody base of essential oils that when dried on skin, almost loses all of the aquatic nuance to become a desiccated driftwood and mineral scent. Many compare this to Tom Ford Oud Minerale (2017) of a few years later, and I can really see why, plus others may say this is an artisanal cousin to Acqua di Giò Profumo by Giorgio Armani (2015). Performance is about eight hours on skin, which isn’t terrible, but this becomes a skin scent after only about an hour, so you barely get to enjoy the aquatic opening at all.

Like with Kazimi by House of Matriarch (2012), I feel like Albatross is victim of the perfumer’s own ostensible use of naturals above all else, as like with the clusterbomb of rose oils that created a miasma of sourness in Kazimi, the massive soup of wood oils in Albatross eventually overtakes everything else, although the marine elements hover just slightly in the background. I think Albatross would have benefited from some ambergris in the base to augment the oceanic musk factor, or just ambroxan if that were Meshell’s style. The other answer here could have been to just amp up the synthetic oceanic notes in the top so they stay around longer, but once more, that level of abstract artifice cuts into what this brand is about, even if you almost sort of need to do that for anything aquatic and convincingly soapy these days. People do not wash with unscented tallow or use macassar oil in their hair much these days, so if you want to go this route, you really need to embrace the chemicals, dude. In any case, if this performed a little better, and didn’t cost a pound of flesh, I’d be all for it. I do like the Salish Sea theme of the fragrance though, as Pacific Northwestern resident myself, any callbacks to the area where I find them get my stamp of approval. Unfortunately, this scent as it stands does not. Neutral

Arlington by D.R. Harris & Co. (1840)

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Arlington by D.R. Harris & Co. (1840) doesn’t have a proper listed year, so the one I give is approximate based on the company’s own claim that fifty years on from their founding (1790), they were making this alongside other things; so I figured at least we know that -by- 1840, Arlington Cologne was a thing, even if it likely existed beforehand (although perhaps not under the same name). What Arlington Cologne is scent-wise, I find more interesting than what it’s typically used for as a wet-shaving product range, and that is as a bridge between classic eau de cologne, and the as-yet-to-be-invented fougère. Some of you who follow perfume history already know that the eau de cologne style copied and altered from the original release by Johann Farina in 1709 ended up becoming the birth of the Western perfume industry as we know it, starting when imitators like Peter Joseph Mülhens and his son Wilhelm Mülhens began manufacturing their own “Farina” eau de cologne large-scale from a factory by 1792, only to be sued by 1832 and lose use of the “Farina” name, making them an official competing brand. By then, Jean-François Houbigant had started making cologne waters and perfume oils for royalty including Napoleon, Dr. William Hunter had created what would be known as Caswell-Massey Number Six (1789) in the early United States, and Pierre François Pascal Guerlain by 1828 started working as a perfumer making cologne waters and perfume oils which culminated in Napoleon III’s Eau de Cologne Impériale by Guerlain (1853). Meanwhile, the UK was starting to see fragrance from barber and comb-maker J. Floris (via his wife), and then eventually D.R. Harris & Co. Unsurprisingly, they had their own twists on the eau de cologne style.

What we know about Arlington cologne is its popularization (if not release) coincided with the popularization of dandy fashions that had come over from France via the influence of Alfred Guillaume Gabriel Grimod d’Orsay: Comte d’Orsay. This included sartorial dress inspired from frocks and morning suits that evolved into the three and four-piece suits English tailors would popularize on Saville Row, to the haberdashery, clean-shaven faces, and short haircuts informed by the neatness of Military dress. All these British men with custom suits, hats, and shorn appearances needed a smart fragrance that wasn’t musky or overtly spicy like the jasmine oils or sandalwood oils some women liked then, so the eau de cologne saw a second wind as a more-commercialized hygienic fragrance form, rather than a weird cure-all multipurpose product like it had been when Farina and later Mülhens had begun selling it from Germany. D.R. Harris & Co. also were clever to work in the Victorian’s increasing interest in “fern” smells as the 19th century wore on, and this fictitious odor could really be anything so long as it implied clean and green finishes, before the creation of the proper fougère via Fougère Royale by Houbigant (1882). Thus, we see an assemblage of lemon, orange, neroli, and herbed cedarwood oils up top; then the tiniest touch of rosewood, oakmoss, and lavender in the base for the “fern” feeling. Modern iterations use a white musk and a farnesol/limolene/linalool cocktail to boost the florality and skin retention of Arlington where natural rosewood and oakmoss cannot be used for whatever reason, maintaining the “fern” finish in the process. Wear time and projection is longer than a regular eau de cologne, but not up to the expected standards of today’s “extended” EdC fragrances.

Arlington has unsurprisingly become one of D.R. Harris & Co. longest-lived and best-selling products, moving into an entire shaving range to boot. This scent has inspired quite a few colognes from Geo F. Trumper in later decades of the 19th century, then eventually some works from Penhaligon’s too, including the more-recent Penhaligon’s Castile (1996). Even the relative upstart Murdock of London has an homage to Arlington in the form of Avalon by Murdock of London (2010), which is a sort of super-powered take on Arlington with much more bergamot and lavender in the mix, being both more potent and more aromatic, moving away from the floral character of neroli in the quite-dandy original. Of course, the modern “colognoisseur” who has undoubtedly smelled dozens of “extended/enhanced” takes on eau de cologne during their “perfume journey” might become bored with the simple nature of Arlington; and I might too, if not for that weird tenuous link to the fougère in the base. You see, although the earliest fougères patterned after Fougère Royale would be a bit darker and more hay-like (thanks to the discovery of isolated coumarin), eventually the soapier side of the fougère would emerge due to the re-popularization of rosewood, its synthetic substitutes, and things like dimetol, dihydromyrcenol, and synthesized linalool separately from what’s found in lavender. So really, Arlington is more of a missing link between something like 4711 and Paco Rabanne pour Homme (1973), than it is a much more baroque fougère like say, Mouchoir de Monsieur by Guerlain (1902). That right there is what keeps me sniffing D.R. Harris & Co. Arlington, even if I admit there are better options for less money than it would cost to buy a 100ml bottle of a fragrance that for all intents, poofs in about 4 hours. Thumbs up

Windsor by D.R. Harris & Co. (2012)

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The best way to describe Windsor by D.R. Harris & Co (2012) is as a modern designer sent back in time to be made by barber or chemist perfumers, but using mostly modern base materials. In this case, we’ve taken the famous Terre d’Hermes (2006) composed by Jean-Claude Ellena, and sent it back to roughly the early to mid-20th century, when D.R. Harris & Co. was first starting to be truly recognized after over a century of effort up until that point. Top and heart notes here are all natural oils that amazingly conjure much of the same effect as the proper Terre d’Hermes, just obviously flatter in much the same way Etiquette Bleue by parfums D’Orsay (1908) was an attempt to extend the eau de cologne with powdery mossy base materials of the day, resulting in some flattening of the freshness after the opening subsides. In that same mode follows Windsor, which basically “de-makes” all the fanciness of Terre d’Hermes’ Iso E Super and sheer mineral musk notes, replacing them with traditional cedar essences, a brown shoe leather note not out of place in a Pinaud or Williams after-shave product, and elemi resin. For me, this could have almost been a “retro” flanker, if Hermes was interested in making Terre d’Hermes feel more like if it had been released as Eau d’Hermes (1951) instead. Since I’m such a huge fan of postmodernism when it doesn’t come from a card-carrying hipster brand that thinks it knows tradition because it uses Google to find garage sales to rummage, I rather like this scent.

The results of this low-tech apothecary take on Terre d’Hermes are evident right away when you apply, as Windsor feels much more natural in the opening with its orange peel essence and geranium essential oil. There of course are still a few magic synthetics here as this is not an all-natural perfume, and some brighter limonene and citronellol notes replace the grapefruit material used by Ellena. Black pepper coming straight out of a table shaker replaces any mineral musk fanciness you may remember, and a solid non-dusty nutmeg rounds the spice off to lead into patchouli oil and real vetiver, which also adds a bit more of a tobacco and nuttiness a la Guerlain Vetiver (1961), than the really grassy vetiver materials used in Terre d’Hermes. From here, the clove-like birch oil leather and elemi resin mix with some cedar, castoreum, and synthetic mossy compounds like evernyl to remind me a lot of how leathers used to be made before the tannery notes of isobutyl quinoline introduced in the 1920’s took over, so once again big-time wet-shaver vibes abound. The black pepper in particular sticks out on fabric and paper, while on skin the leather and vetiver mix with spice to be warmer. Performance as a cologne is going to be lesser than Terre d’Hermes, but Windsor does follow the classic British gentlemanly aesthetic much closer with this subtlety. Best use is as a signature, plus matching shaving supplies exist for this as well, meaning Windsor by D.R. Harris & Co. could really be a -replacement- for Terre d’Hermes too.

People who love Terre d’Hermes but get anosmic to the forever-blooming cedarwood note caused by the Iso E Super may enjoy Windsor by D.R. Harris & Co. more, although folks a bit tired of this DNA being toyed with and redressed may also just pass on Windsor unless an older more-natural take on the Terre d’Hermes style sounds interesting. The quality for the price of this juice is fantastic, so I can’t help but recommend it; although making a “more British” version of Terre d’Hermes with a traditional array of materials to divorce the scent profile from its very French (and forward-thinking) source does feel a tad culturally myopic in my opinion; and the same could be said of when American designers like Halston or Tom Ford make really loud, gauche, and simplified versions of things originating in -both- the UK and France, because Americans like instant gratification delivered with air-horns and confetti, so I get it… no hypocrite here I promise; I’m just making an observation. All in all, Windsor by D.R. Harris & Co. marries the modern interpretation of a traditional style that is Terre d’Hermes with a more postmodern approach, offering a bit of an alternate universe where the brand had come up with the idea themselves, about 60 years before Hermès, and there’s no way that isn’t cool. Worth a sniff either way, as there aren’t many brands doing what D.R. Harris & Co. does for the price they do it at, anyway. Small deductions for non-originality of course, but with a concept this fun, I’ll still give it my stamp of approval, however I understand if you just can’t. Thumbs up

Tabac Rose by BDK Parfums (2020)

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Tabac Rose by BDK Parfums (2020) is a fragrance that I needed some time with to determine if I really liked it or not, which is something that can be said of many fragrances I review, except the reasons here for it are a little less common than for most other perfumes I’ve tried. Firstly, I didn’t immediately understand this as the rose and tobacco fragrance the name on the bottle proclaims, which had me thinking there was a mistake. Secondly, if you had shown me this blind without a name, I’d have assumed we’re dealing with another Western synth-oud competing with the Maison Francis Kurkdjian range of ouds. Third and finally, when the dust settles and the weirdness subsides, I get more of a gourmand patchouli rose and woody-amber scent than anything else, which is literally none of the above. Taken in as a whole, I was confused, and I don’t like being confused by fragrances; hence I needed some time to figure out if I actually like this, and I don’t. One gripe is Tabac Rose rides dangerously close to the big commercial “masstige” niche brands in style, which is something BDK had avoided in past collections prior to this release. We don’t need any more alternatives to the Tom Ford Private Blend collection please, especially if they aren’t significantly cheaper per ounce, and most of the “smells expensive” things made these days are also forgettable; so BDK is flirting with disaster here worse than Molly Hatchet. Although to be fair, this isn’t the first, nor likely the last BDK scent cashing in on cynicism.

The opening of Tabac Rose has a really strange medicinal oud-like tone followed by lemon, loads of pink pepper, and the very start of what smells like a rather artificial rose note coming in. At this stage of the game, you might be thinking you’re sniffing some cute-rate take on the usual “luxury blob” of Initio or Parfums de Marly, and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong, since the fake patchouli saffron and artificial musk over woody-amber backfill already starts up even before we hit the middle. The notes in the pyramid are mostly all there, they just appear in the wrong order from how they’re listed by the brand, in my experience. The fake oud smell and luxury blob do give way to a rounder, jammier rose note, although it still smells fairly impressionistic, and not like real Turkish rose jam or even the old carnation-padded jammy rose notes of decades past. Cinnamon and cocoa mix with some vanillin to create the gourmand experience I mentioned above, and although I can feel how the perfumer was going for a plum note with something like frambinone or similar, it doesn’t read like any lucid plum notes I’ve known. Eventually the musks and woody notes merge with the “chocolatey” patchouli, the candied rose, and a late-stage tonka (tobacco I suppose); which then on the whole wears okay if this sort of “slightly cheaper Initio DNA” thing is something you enjoy. Performance is good and long, although this is too cloying for anything outside winter, and this perfume feels unisex leaning feminine to my nose.

Tabac Rose comes across to me like Julien Rasquinet understood the assignment, but maybe David Benedek of BDK Parfums himself perhaps didn’t actually understand who he was dealing with when hiring this perfumer. The early perfumes created by Benedek himself were a bit more simple, straightforward “standard” niche tropes that exude the usual “perfume for connoisseurs who like picking apart what’s in the fragrance” since identifying individual notes made niche fragrances feel higher-end than the blending of abstract materials like in your modern designer. Nomenclature for Tabac Rose suggests that would be the case here too; but as this was four years away from the launch collection and Benedek had “graduated” to Creative Director of his own (by then larger) brand, he forgot that industry perfumers like Rasquinet (student of Pierre Bourdon) had been working in the abstract for years since they have mostly abstract chemical materials at their disposal per the budgets and briefs of once again, designer and “masstige” clients. The result? A fragrance that ultimately gives you some semblance of “Tabac Rose”, but only smells like either if you really squint when looking at the word on the bottle. This is a perplexing not-rose-patchouli-oud-in-disguise though, and if you overlook the name, overlook the commonly-abused materials and market segment malaise, then wait until the dry down to judge it, you might find something here worthwhile; I just don’t enjoy being confused though. Neutral

Versaillles pour Homme by Jean Desprez (1980)

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Versailles pour Homme by Jean Desprez (1980) was not a work of Jean Desprez himself, who had passed away in 1973, just a year after finishing his final limited-edition fragrance called Jardanal by Jean Desprez (1972). I’m not sure who composed this as information on it is just about non-existent, and it didn’t last on the market very long at all, making it not just a unicorn, but a supercalifragilisticexpialicorn that gets vintage gatekeepers and flexers all moist in their drawers, meaning you don’t really know what it actually smells like amidst all the “lost masterpiece” and “true perfume art for the TRVE KVLT perfume lover” comments that get left on it in various places across the internet. Well, your old pal Varanis has you covered here, as I am actually going to talk about what this smells like, in detail, then let YOU decide if it’s worth the hefty finder’s fee resellers charge for surviving bottles of Versailles pour Homme. For the most part, this is an unrelated leather chypre, bearing almost no “floriental” properties that defined the original Bal à Versailles by Jean Desprez (1962). If you love things like Portos by Balenciaga (1980) or Lanvin for Men (1979) with that pissy floral woody vibe, this may suit if your pockets are deep enough. On the other hand, if you already have a lot of things in your collection that wear the way Versailles pour Homme does, and you don’t get off to wearing fragrances “nobody else has” or whatever, you can safely skip it and just sample it like I have.

First off, this smells like a lot of things, as it is your typical “kitchen sink” fragrance of the late 70’s through mid 80’s, so there is no shortage of complexity or abstraction to be had here if that’s your cuppa. For the most part, Versailles pour Homme registers somewhere between Aramis by Estée Lauder (1965) and Lauder for Men by Estée Lauder (1985), with bits of Estée Lauder Private Collection (1971) tossed about here and there, making me wonder if the owners of Desprez at the time didn’t just buy an unused formula from IFF (who Lauder used a lot) that was in the running against others for a Lauder brief. Bergamot, aldehydes, pimento, galbanum, styrax, all that spicy green sour-ish goodness is in the opening that sometimes hints at Dunhill for Men by Alfred Dunhill (1934). Later, geranium and carnation show up in the heart, flanked by jasmine and lactonic fruity notes like those in Capucci pour Homme (1967) and Revlon Charlie (1973). The base is pine, incense notes of olibanum, a terpenous patchouli, oakmoss, sandalwood, labdanum, isobutyl quinoline leather, and a touch of urinous civet rounded by vanilla, to connect this very tenuously to Bal à Versailles proper. The ride down to the incense, woods, leather, and sharp musk base is where the complexity shows up, but the final skin scent is deceptively simple chypre tones like many of the things I mentioned above. Performance is long but projection is rather muted for something from this era, which is puzzling as gentlemanly and discrete wasn’t trendy in the age of Studio 54.

Where would you use something like this? Well, Versailles pour Homme was made in the days when a man was expected to own just one signature scent, so much like Chanel Antaeus (1981) or Van Cleef & Arpels pour Homme (1978), Versailles pour Homme is balanced in such a way as to be a Jack-of-all-trades in that it doesn’t particularly feel suited to one type of weather or situation, but can slide past just about anywhere you use it. Modern noses will read this as formal at best, or musty and old-mannish at worst; for Versailles pour Homme has absolutely no sweetness or anything overtly pleasant, holding onto the traditional mid-century belief that a man’s scent needs to be aggressively masculine, ergo not pleasant or inviting by design. Obviously, this still smells very pleasant as it’s still perfume, just don’t expect to smell anything but sharp aldehyde chypre accords and punchy citrus-and-woods tropes as per the style once all the complexity fades away into the dry down. Versailles pour Homme is a good example of enjoyable aromatic chypre design, even if some of the density is lost on the final effect. I think if this had been a bit more daring with the animalics like its older sister, Versailles pour Homme may have survived the 80’s like Kouros by Yves Saint Laurent (1981); or at very least, this should have been released a decade sooner, although it may have been a very different scent since Jean Desprez himself would have been alive to compose it as he saw fit. Thumbs up

Bal à Versailles by Jean Desprez (1962)

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Bal à Versailles by Jean Desprez (1962) is a very controversial perfume created by perfumer Jean Desprez, who was originally a perfumer both on his own and at his grandfather’s house of F Millot, where he made scents like Crêpe de Chine by F. Millot (1925), although he also made fragrances for other houses as well, if that isn’t confusing enough. Bal à Versailles is also the most famous – or infamous – creation of his to ever carry the Jean Desprez name, and one of the last things Desprez composed himself for his own brand, with subsequent perfumes coming from the house being products of other perfumers after the house was bought and sold to different owners (all from the US so far). As such, Bal à Versailles’ many vintage formulations come under great scrutiny from collectors wishing to vet those done by the perfumer himself, and those done by later perfumers per cost or ingredients availability limitations, plus adjustment for modernizing tastes. I haven’t smelled a bad version of this scent myself, just good, better, best. Your tastes may of course differ from mine. After the eighties is when the formula really started seeing synthetic adulteration though, as the perfume was brought downmarket.

You’ll understand all the fuss about reformulations of this fragrance once you see the bit about Bal à Versailles being the first fragrance to out-price Jpy by Jean Patou (1930), a notoriously-expensive fragrance in the age before proper luxury brands like Amouage, Creed, Roja Dove, and the like. Of course, Patou would reclaim the throne lost to Desprez with 1000 by Jean Patou (1972), but that’s another story. Bal à Versailles is most notorious for its combination of civet, leather, and indolic florals, all seeking to recreate 17th century aristocratic hedonism at the palace of the France’s “Sun King”. Of course, this perfume is so much more than teh sell of sex-soiled bedsheets, but I digress. Bergamot, mandarin orange, lemon, and neroli form a classically-sweet citrus opening that lays on a bed of rose, jasmine, lily of the valley, ylang-ylang, and a bit of powdery iris. Halfway between Guerlain Shalimar (1925) and Estée Lauder Youth Dew (1953), the middle-phase of Bal à Versailles is beaten only by its base of tolu balsam, sour leather, and that urinous civet, all “creamed” by sandalwood and vanilla. I don’t really need to mention performance metrics do I? I’m pretty sure I don’t. This stuff is nuclear in almost all formats.

This is every bit a dandy’s dream, just like Jicky by Guerelain (1989) and Cabochard de Grès (1959), so it’s not surprising to hear a considerable number of men wore Bal à Versailles too, including the aforementioned Roja Dove and most famously, Michael Jackson. Once everything actually settles down, Bal à Versailles is much less scary than people think, and is much less “horny monster” than it actually is “unrepentant tease”. Granted, if you’re a macho manly-man who chews on sawdust for breakfast and practices his monotone speech to avoid revealing honor-compromising emotion, this is not a fragrance for you, although I bet you wear Kouros by Yves Saint Laurent (1981), which is deliciously ironic to me for reasons I won’t expound here. Fans of classic French perfumery, and in particular the darker “floriental” chypres like the aforementioned Youth Dew or even the original Chypre de Coty (1917) should feel right at home in Bal à Versailles, which is really just a lusty maiden bound by a breath-constricting corset, bottled. The eau de cologne is the most animalic ironically, with stronger concentrations leaning more on sandalwood and the heavier elements of the base. You may not be a Sex God or Goddess wearing this, but you’ll feel like one. Thumbs up

Eau d’Hadrien Eau de Parfum by Annick Goutal (1988)

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Eau d’Hadrien Eau de Parfum by Annick Goutal (1988) is inspired by the 1951 book Memoirs of Hadrian, plus Annick’s own personal experiences in Italy. This fragrance is a stronger iteration of the 1981 Eau de Toilette that helped launch the Annick Goutal house, and was considered a signature scent for the celebrity-turned perfumier herself. Completely unisex and based around citrus, following a tradition set down by Ô de Lancôme (1969), Eau de Guerlain (1974), Yves Saint Laurent Eau Libre (1975), Eau de Patou by Jean Patou (1976), and Sisley Eau de Campagne (1976). Goutal’s version of the unisex aromatic citrus chypre is very fundamental, and some may say bare-bones, focusing mostly on lemon verbena, grapefruit, ylang-ylang, and a woody/mossy base. As an eau de parfum, performance was tweaked without noticeably changing the scent profile of the original Eau de Toilette, but your opinion may vary.

The opening is pretty straightforward, with lemon, mandarin, grapefruit, and green verbena notes boosted by a bit of galbanum. Aldehydes also boost projection but burn off fast, as the jasmine and ylang-ylang filter in. Stronger versions of the creamy woody tones of santal and cedar from the original EdT move in, with sage for roundness in the aromatic department but no detectabe lavender like in the original. Still very chypre however, the oakmoss and labdanum settle this down into a clean long-legged subtle wear, while the lemon and grapefruit melt into the heavier EdP base. Performance is better than the EdT but this is not a powerhouse. Some of the lucid citrus is sacrificed for a more pillowy-musky finish too, with ylang-ylang being a bigger player here. This could be a signature if you just wanted a subtle clean skin-scent, but the typical perfumista or “cologne guy” might yearn for a bit more extroversion.

The hard-to-beat simple goodness of Eau d’Hardien set a standard to be followed into the 80’s with fragrances like Heure Exquis (1984), Sables (1985), and Gardénia Passion (1989). The original Eau de Toilette seems to be the preferred vector for fans, especially ones who covet vintage examples, but the eau de parfum seems a bit easier to find either new or old batch. Since both versions of the fragrance are extremely alike outside of moving the equalizer faders to the left or right, I count one review with a few modifications as representative for both concentrations. However, Les Nuits d’Hadrien by Annick Goutal (2003) is a true flanker and entirely different. Francis Camail did good work alongside Annick Goutal herself, although some may argue subsequent reformulations of both EdT and EdP haven’t been kind. I leave that up to you. Thumbs Up