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The Alchemist’s Garden: The Voice of the Snake by Gucci (2019)

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It’s pretty difficult to say much about a perfume in a review when that perfume has little to say itself. Not even a year after Gucci released Gucci Guilty Oud (2018), they turned around and had Alberto Morillas compose The Voice of the Snake by Gucci (2019) as part of their “The Alchemist’s Garden” line, a line that itself was originally just meant to be a rich person’s blending kit of single perfume oils (in green bottles) over a light fragrance base (one of like 4 white bottles). Already under fire as being a very expensive way for the one-percenters to play with essential oil perfumery, The Alchemist’s Garden became even more irrelevant when they started shuffling out $300-per-bottle standard perfume releases in a fashion similar to Dior or Chanel upper-tier pseudo-niche. In this case, we have what is basically a retread of both Gucci Guilty Oud and Gucci Guilty Absolute pour Homme (2017), mixed together, diluted, and placed in a much more-expensive bottle. Ho hum.

The rose and saffron Western-oud accord slaps you in the face out of the sprayer, and the usual patchouli and rubbery medicinal oudBy Killai blah blah follows, not altogether unlike Gucci Guilty Oud or even By Killian Musk Oud (2013), which is one of the earlier Morillas takes on the subject. By this point he’s just going through the motions, having done better work, sold for less money at counters, and really just slap-dashed it to collect a check. Considering how many fragrances this man releases in a year, and how he unabashedly embraces AI, he probably just pulls from a “bank” of collected accord combinations and like making Hamburger Helper, just tosses some embellishments on top then sends it out. The leathery bits that will remind some of Tom Ford Tuscan Leather (2007) also show up near the bottom, with a bit of that petrol band-aid vibe from Gucci Guilty Absolute. Performance isn’t terrible, but for the price, isn’t super great either. I guess this is unisex, but I don’t know who would reach for it considering the glut of better-priced options.

The voice of the snake in this case is telling you to avoid buying this bottle, as it offers nothing new, and instead makes some kind of college party punch bowl of multiple Alberto Morillas compositions, cut down with some Sprite to reduce potency, and served with a plastic ladle under the auspices of being something worth the price of admission. I’m sorry, but considering that even Parfums de Marly Akaster (2015) does this genre better for less if found at discount, I really don’t know what to say about The Voice of the Snake that could redeem it in the eyes of even the most-hardcore Gucci fan. There are just so many synthetic Western rose/saffron/patchouli/ouds out there for a better price, I can’t consciously recommend this. If you’re in the US, Darren Alan Perfumes has perhaps the ultimate take on this structure with Vintage Novel by Darren Alan Perfumes (2017), a fragrance that at nearly $200 for half the juice is still a better value in terms of performance and artistic quality. Thumbs down

Kiehl’s Original Musk by Kiehl’s (1963)

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Kiehl’s Original Musk (1963) is a somewhat basic musk fragrance with an intriguing history, as its success had consequences on the evolution of popular scent in the West throughout the counterculture years of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The story according to the brand is this formula was adapted from a recipe for “love oil” dating back to the 1920’s in the brand’s own archives, which tells you all you need to know about its aphrodisiac properties. Most musk treatments up until the mid-60’s were fecal or urinous applications of civet and hyraceum or fleshy castoreum, in sour arrangements with dry citruses and sandalwood for men, or patchouli and jasmine indole for a soiled-with-sex bedsheets smell for women, very austere or raunchy, leaving little to the imagination either way. There were fluffy nitromusks too, and they often replaced deer musk, which itself is often more fur-like or confectionery in tone, until laundry-clean polycyclic musks of a new generation came into vogue. Before that though, baby boomers were in love with Egyptian musk oils imported from far away lands, sometimes containing real deer, muscone, ambrette, or ambergris mixed with amber resins and indoles, being come-hither without being fully pornographic like some of the “fancy French whorehouse” perfumes their parents warned them to avoid. I know that sounds silly now, but smelling overtly sexual was to be avoided according to the wisdom of those long-gone generations, meaning wearing deliberately-pleasant musky perfumes was an act of rebellion.

Kiehl’s, either by accident or maybe by design assuming the brand had that much foresight, brings this sexy and inviting semi-bohemian musk style into focus without any real animal components, using new replacers like Shangralide and tonquitone (both IFF materials, and Kiehl’s is from New York City just like IFF), plus a host of soapy floral notes to counter-balance. Houbigant via Parfums Parquet (their drugstore division at the time) would attempt something like this when they overhauled Monsieur Houbigant (1967) into Monsieur Musk (1972) with a similar application of soapy florals and animalic musks counterbalanced with some white fluff, although that exercise was marketed strictly to men, had civet and carnation because of it, and wasn’t ambery or spicy. Kiehl’s seeks to be as gender neutral as the conventions of the 1960’s likely allowed at the time, adding some amber, tonka, and patchouli to the melange of neroli, rose, ylang, orris, and muguet up top, before giving way to its fur blanket of tonquitone and similar materials, alongside an easy-to-miss clean white musk filler. The skank is there in just the right amount to definitely smell like the hair of the dog that bit you, but all the mid-century soap tones and muted ambery warmth make Kiehl’s delectably approachable too, for the adventurous. Performance is very long, and Kiehl’s is especially good in the cold, but likely a nightmare in any sort of humidity or heat. Kiehl’s is still considered unisex today, and tends to be looked at as a cheap thrill for seekers of animal delights among the online perfume community spaces.

Ultimately, most flower children of the late 60’s weren’t quite ready for Kiehl’s offering if they weren’t into the straight-from-Egypt stuff found in head shops, so the much-cleaner Alyssa Ashley Musk (1967), which excises all the animalics in favor of creamy white musk and soap, became the real mainstream winner, since it was essentially a mainstreaming of what Kiehl’s had been trying to do. This musk did get quite the reputation for being a taboo animal bomb among US buyers, and for those who hadn’t wandered into French perfumery to sniff the soiled bedsheets of Lanvin, Rochas, or Desprez, I suppose that could be true. Oddly enough, Jovan ended up sitting somewhere in the middle with its own tonquitone-powered musk reverse-engineered from some head shop specimen, having the amber and the fur-rug muskiness of Kiehl’s, without the between-the-legs indoles or huge doses of soap. This more-to-the-point musk got dosed with mint and lavender for men, and then became a huge hit among dive bar sleezeballs across the country for the next 20 years or so. Kiehl’s, daring to be more animal and true-to-source than all the rest, plus arguably more-complex and better made, would remain a notorious inspirational figure lurking in the shadows, and can still be found today, only if you ask a salesperson for a bottle. Obviously, this one is still marketed as a “if you know, you know” kind of thing outside of when displays get trotted out around the holidays. Thumbs up

Le Nomade by D’Orsay (1974)

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Le Nomade by Parfums D’Orsay (1974) is an obscure fragrance from an obscure house, itself having been rebooted once in 2000 to very little fanfare, as if anyone had missed it from before. What’s more odd than the scent itself is the choice of reviving it by then-owners of the house, who had painstakingly resurrected a cherry-picked selection of mostly masculine-market (or unisex) formulae, then oddly re-used names of old perfumes for entirely new unrelated ones for the smaller feminine-market selection. So while scents like Le Dandy by Parfums D’Orsay (1925) and Tilleul by Parfums D’Orsay (1955) were completely remade as then-modern fragrances, popular feminine-market selections like Intoxication by Parfums D’Orsay (1938) were completely ignored and left dead; yet fragrances barely anyone cared about like Arôme 3 by Parfums D’Orsay (1943) or Chevalier d’Orsay by Parfums D’Orsay (1911) were remade just as they were decades to nearly a century prior. If you’re one of the few people who loved D’Orsay’s more masculine-friendly yet obscure citrus aromatics, you might have been happy with the return of Le Nomade; but most folks (including other reviewers I see on Basenotes and Fragrantica) were left mostly scratching their heads, or suspecting some aromachemical blasphemy due to the prickly nature of the compositions. The absolute love for vintage styles we see now in online communities also didn’t exist back then when this was reintroduced. This mixed reception is more a taste issue than a quality or design competence one, and having a taste for this style is like acquiring a taste for quinine in the modern era.

Going all the way back to the original Etiquette Bleue by Parfums D’Orsay (1908), the citrus aromatics from the house have always had a certain harshness or powderiness to them, mostly because we had citrus oils over dry, powdery woods and herbs, without all the rounding and sweetening that other houses used to do by adding benzoin or any number of oriental-themed notes, since these were fashioned in a conservative 19th century motif. This starkness carried over almost as a house quirk to Chevalier d’Orsay as well, although that one was more of an early proto-chypre exercise built upon artemisia for even more bitter appeal. Eau Fringante by Parfums D’Orsay (1969) continued this trend with vetiver as a base, and then Le Nomade culminated the style by hearkening back somewhat to the herbal chypre nature of Chevalier d’Orsay. The difference is, Le Nomade works with lime and mint in ways people even nowadays do not expect, getting comparisons to floor cleaner or institutional products in the same way Green Water by Jacques Fath (1947) does. The rest is a chewy assemblage of muted spices and cedar similar once again to Eau Fringante, but heavier. Nutmeg, coriander, black pepper, and clove are lightened a bit by rose and jasmine, crossing vaguely into floral fougère territory with geranium, tonka, and sage before creamy labdanum musk, sandalwood, and oakmoss settle in with some vetiver and a touch of vanilla to dull the edges of the herbs. Performance is close to skin but decently long, although this is not a fragrance to wear for the attention of others.

Le Nomade sits somewhere in between contemporaries like Yves Saint Laurent pour Homme (1971) and the herbal bite of its higher-powered Yves Saint Laurent pour Homme Haute Concentration (1983) sibling, with arboreal facets of Caron Yatagan (1976) and Pascal Morabito Or Black (1982) as well, all while also recalling the brand’s own aforementioned citrus aromatic legacy which always seems to rub people raw if they don’t have a love of gin or lemon bitters in their fragrances. Once again, it makes me really wonder why the owners of the house at the time choose to resurrect this or Chevalier, but not surefire sellers like Divine by Parfums D’Orsay (1947) or the Henry Robert-penned original formula for Le Dandy; it’s not like IFRA was stopping them back in 1995-2000. Personally, I’m a sucker for herbal citrus aromatic chypres and I have everything from this house in that vein, alongside others from designers such as Chanel pour Monsieur (1955) or Moustache by Rochas (1949). Furthermore, I’m not the least bit afraid of mint or some lemon bitters, being a gin drinker and lover of juniper in fragrance as well, so this gets on well with me despite it not for so many others. You however, must be of particular kind like me to enjoy Le Nomade, even if you seek out nearly-extinct 1970’s bottles with the weird U-shaped caps. Outside of perhaps the usually mossier or more-ambery base and probable loss of top notes, your money likely won’t go much farther with deep vintage Le Nomade than it will with this format. Thumbs up

Wallace by Xarmony (2020)

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Wallace by Xarmony (2020) is a very green and grassy fragrance, perhaps the grassiest I have ever smelled in my time exploring perfume. Full stop, this is the scent for the person who can’t get enough of the fresh cut grass smell, and has a lot of cis 3 hexanol to that effect, which is a potent synthetic compound that produces vivid green notes. Of course, Wallace is more than that, but the “front load” consists of that green salvo, before a light floral woody background moves in to support it. Overall I wouldn’t call this a sweet fragrance either, despite the floral choices, nor is it particularly mossy either, even if there are some nuances. I like this, and it really has a different character from many of the others from the brand I’ve tried, which is an added compliment to Trill Noel’s diverse tastes as a perfumer.

The opening of Wallace is fresh cut grass and some light. dry, fresh hay-like notes courtesy of tonka. The brand denotes a “Scottish bog” note in the structure, which I can only surmise is the musk choice here. The white florals and dry rose come in behind once that grassiness gets cozy and settles down. The tonka re-asserts and then some nondescript dry woody impressions show up. Wallace lists wisteria, gardenia, and freesia, although I won’t say I get any significantly stand-out floral notes potent enough to be recognizable other than some of the light rose. Wallace is the rare example of a Xarmony fragrance that isn’t knock-your-socks-off strong, but that’s because of the transparent design. This scent is long-lasting, even if it comes and goes from your nose.

Not that Wallace really compares to anything, but the closest fragrance to this I’ve encountered is Ashes by Clandestine Laboratories (2021), although they go in different directions with the base as Ashes is much earthier and less focused on green. Still, if you’re looking for a comparable experience, and a rather unique one in the fragrance market otherwise, I’d say these two could definitely sit in a collection beside one another for fans of either, as having the other is complimentary rather than redundant. Just really a green-focused grassy fresh fragrance here with a unique take on the theme devoid of the usual heavy herbs or pine/moss notes associated with the genre. If any of that sounds interesting to you, maybe Wallace is your starting point for the house. Thumbs up

Pleasures for Men by Estée Lauder (1997)

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On paper, Pleasures for Men by Estée Lauder (1997) looks stacked to be the ultimate 1990’s fresh fougère, featuring three IFF perfumers who each contributed a massive watershed fragrance towards the evolution of the genre, yet it wasn’t. Pierre Wargnye contributed Drakkar Noir by Guy Laroche (1982), a fragrance that more or less defined the fresh fougère in the 1980’s; Carlos Benaim contributed Eternity for Men by Calvin Klein (1989), a fragrance that refined and further modernized the DNA for the 1990’s; and Jean-Claude Delville contributed Curve for Men by Liz Claiborne (1996), a fragrance that took the fresh fougère DNA to its mainstream apex into the 2000’s. The result of their collective brain trust here in Pleasures for Men is indeed very wearable and unique among others in the field, representing a sort of higher-end take on the style as houses like Laroche, Klein, and Claiborne were mid-tier at best; even Lauder’s own Aramis division usually consigned to masculine releases could not muster something like this as the reputation for the Aramis label still read too brusque and mature for the kind of person who’d want to wear a fresh fougère in the 90’s, so it makes sense to dump this into the main line. The drab gray box and nondescript bottle does this absolutely no favors.

Lauder for Men by Estée Lauder (1985) and it’s minty sibling Metropolis by Estée Lauder (1987) were also looking a bit too mature for the ever-younger male fragrance buyer in the 90’s too, so Pleasures for Men – clearly a reaction to the success of the feminine-market Pleasures by Estée Lauder (1995) with young women – was an equal offering to capture the same demographic from the male side of the counter. Notes for this fragrance read like a mood board, so don’t expect much from market copy without actually smelling it yourself. Even for me this is difficult to peg down, as the full brunt of 1990’s synthetic wizardry is brought to bear here by no less than three of the most-capable perfumers to ever wield such chemical magic; but what I get is some kind of grape thing in the opening which mixes with bits of Eternity for Men’s shimmery start. The “sky air” accord and fruity molecules eventually lead into rose, geranium, lavender, coriander, and some ginger. The base feels lifted somewhat from Clinique Chemistry (1994), with a certain soapiness, although the heavier tobacco-like tonka here pegs this as more fougère. In fact, this dry tonka riff with oakmoss and sandalwood materials reads heavier than most fresh fougère contemporaries. Performance is the one area I have to ding this stuff, as it wears a bit too light, even if it lasts a long time.

Ultimately, this is more aromatic, woodier, and drier than most fruity-fresh molecular-wonder fragrances of the same era, which helps it feel more luxurious and most-importantly, more appropriately an Estée Lauder fragrance. Being a slightly up-market fresh fougère exercise might have been enough for the average Joe in a Macy’s to feel like he earned his middle-management promotion; but the online cognoscenti that would emerge in the following decade wasn’t buying it, and Pleasures for Men was seen as just another banal beige 90’s masculine scent alongside all the things it technically sat upmarket from, especially since all brands were for a time created equal by early online discounters that didn’t really account for market placement with their discounts (yet). Being able to buy Pleasures this way for the same price as Curve, Eternity, or Drakkar made it seem more of a side-step than a step up, plus any of its more-unique qualities in the dry-down were lost once folks had access to cheap Creed or Guerlain bottles from those same early discounters. Plus, Lauder never really did make a name for itself with male fragrance buyers and eventually axed most male options. Pleasures for Men is enjoyable, but If you’re hunting and wearing this nowadays, it’s just because you want to be weird. Thumbs up

L’Homme Eau de Parfum by Yves Saint Laurent (2022)

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L’Homme Eau de Parfum by Yves Saint Laurent (2022) is the first flanker in a while that actually seems to make sense, despite there being so many which come and quickly go, to the point of not even being worth looking into before they’re already gone and scalped on eBay. Between L’Homme Parfum Intense by Yves Saint Laurent (2013) and L’Homme Le Parfum by Yves Saint Laurent (2020), one gets the notion that the heads at L’Oréal didn’t really know what to do with an “intense” variation of the best-selling but venerable L’Homme by Yves Saint Laurent (2006) DNA. The first option was a bit of a challenging piece in the spirit of old Maison Francis Kurkdjian fragrances (all discontinued) that mixed in orange blossom and animalic musks (in this case davana) to make a contrast you either loved or loathed. Since L’Oréal is in the heartless game of squeezing every last drop of blood money out of its owned fragrance marquees, that wasn’t going to last. They tried again in 2020 with the blue-tinged Le Parfum, a less-divisive scent to be sure and having a callback to the 10th Anniversary flanker and fan favorite (but sadly-discontinued) L’Homme Ultime by Yves Saint Laurent (2016). That scent seemed a bit too boring and indistinct, so it too was chopped.

Now we see L’Homme Eau de Parfum, with a note pyramid and juice color not entirely unlike that of the original Parfum Intense, but with orange blossom swapped for bitter orange (bigarade), and boozy notes replacing the musky/leathery davana. I think the “Goldilocks approach” of being somewhere between distinctive and mass-appealing is where L’Oréal is trying to tread with this one, and it works probably the best out of all them so far. Now I don’t know who worked on this, because L’Oréal seems unbothered to even list perfumers anymore if they’re even using real ones and not AIs with Human proofreaders, but it feels like Dominique Ropion, Anne Flipo, and the late Pierre Wargnye at least had their work studied if they didn’t participate. This flanker grafts the apple and ginger notes onto the bitter orange and lavender/geranium core of the original L’Homme, and even has its ethyl maltol sweetness, ambroxan lift, and tonka. Boozy cognac notes and boosted woodiness with some nondescript amber fuzz warm up and beef up the base, making this a richer wear. Performance is longer, heavier, more ambery, but not necessarily louder. I’d like to think L’Homme Eau de Parfum makes a better cold weather option than the OG, but otherwise is cut from the same cloth.

If this had been released back in 2013 instead of Parfum Intense, it might still be on the market, or then again, it might not because L’Oréal is so cruelly fickle about its market direction with brands for which it produces fragrance. If you don’t sell a mile-a-minute without slowing down, and don’t clear out inventory within the season you are introduced, you are brutally cancelled like a Netflix show by the brand, destined to be some overzealous FragBro’s new unicorn obsession. So it goes with many a L’Homme and La Nuit de L’Homme by Yves Saint Laurent (2009) flanker, and with over 20 of them now, you could almost complete an entire wardrobe with them. Still, by rights this should have been and should remain the more-intense and step-up option in the L’Homme range, as it feels right, smells balanced, and doesn’t come across contrived or gimmicky. Is L’Homme Eau de Parfum a must-buy? Certainly not; but neither is the original L’Homme to be fair, as someone could just as easily wear Boss Bottled by Hugo Boss (1998) or Chanel Allure Homme (1999) and get a similar effect, meaning L’Homme wasn’t even super revolutionary when new. L’Homme Eau de Parfum by Yves Saint Laurent is the intense flanker we probably didn’t know we wanted all along, arriving a decade late. Thumbs up

La Buse by Xarmony (2020)

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To paraphrase Wikipedia, Olivier Levasseur was a French pirate of the 17th and early 18th centuries, nicknamed La Buse (“The Buzzard”) or La Bouche (“The Mouth”) in his early days for the speed and ruthlessness with which he always attacked his enemies, as well as his ability to verbally attack his opponents. He is known for allegedly hiding one of the biggest treasures in pirate history, estimated at over £1 billion, and leaving a cryptogram behind with clues to its whereabouts. The fragrance La Buse by Xarmony (2020) is made in his honor much the same way as Ching Shih by Xarmony (2020) was for the fabled Chinese pirate, although that is where their similarities end. La Buse is a dry and sharp oceanic scent that combines wisps of gin, bay leaf, woodiness, and lime. When a lot of people think “boozy” or “bay rum” fragrances, they think tons of sweetness and clove or cinnamon, because that’s what the mainstream has more or less fed us since the original bay rums from A.H. Riise first came over to the US from St. Thomas. However, this is not that.

To understand La Buse, you have to forget most of those modern reworkings of the “pirate fragrance” trope, and get straight down to the materials and environs that would have permeated a pirate’s clothing and self in those days. The opening is punchy and a slightly rounded, with the dry lime and bay leaf hitting you right away, carried on a salty ambergris accord compounded rather cleverly from synthetic materials. The “boozy” notes are rum and gin inspired, but they’re not soaked in ethyl maltol sweetness or tonka overloads. There isn’t a ton of cinnamal here either. Instead, these notes are stark, unfriendly, and cutting like the tip of La Buse’s blade. The cedar furthers this dry aromatic approach to a “pirate fragrance” theme; and while both clove and amber notes provide just enough rounding to keep this from feeling rude, it is definitely meant to have a condescending tone, since La Buse was born of aristocracy and educated as an architect before becoming a pirate in 1716. The finish is a mix of cedar, the salty oceanic bits, and bits of the dry aromatics, almost giving a desiccated leather feel. Performance is of course insane, so no need to worry there.

Some of the hallmarks of Trill Noel’s masculine-leaning work are here, save for an overt mint accord which this one actually lacks, so if you’ve smelled Odinsleep (2020), Ironbend (2020), Wallace (2020), or Primal (2021) by Xarmony, you’ll be in comfortable territory. If however, you’re expecting something sweet, thick, or full of the bubblegum tropes that pervade a lot of men’s fragrances these days, La Buse will be a shock to your system. Fans of work from perfumers who use mineral accords like Jean-Claude Ellena or folks familiar with mid-century tropes where mint, camphor, or really unflinching juniper notes were commonplace will be prepared to handle something like La Buse, as is my case. I wear a lot of stuff like Acqua di Selva by Victor (1949), which has a rather blunt pine and oakmoss accord, or almost “musky gunmetal” fragrances like Caron L’Anarchiste (2000), so this sort of style is nice to see specialized by someone in the indie perfume scene. Whether or not you see the imagery set out by the perfumer with La Buse, you definitely won’t find another treatment of the subject on the market quite like this. Thumbs up

Wallowa by Xarmony (2020)

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Wallowa by Xarmony (2020) is what one might call a semi-oriental fougère, because it crosses the streams of both genres as classic hybrids of that type do; but really defies most attempts at categorization, since the cavalier way in which perfumer and owner Trill Noel works outside the “orthodoxy” of perfumery seldom yields something that can be placed within its confines. This is one of the earlier designs by the brand as well, so it doesn’t have as much complexity since the perfumer admittedly had less at hand to work with when creating his first fragrances (dubbed “Gen 1” by him), meaning it has some close ties to others within its own range, which I can see with the similarity in opening to Ching Shih by Xarmony (2020). That said, this is not a predominantly floral perfume like that one, and does not dry down the same, it just shares a similar character that could very well make it a “brother” to that scent. All in all, the conceptualism for Wallowa is also more vague and open to interpretation, as it doesn’t recall any historical figure or place, merely that it gives the impression of the perfumer himself returning to his ancestral homeland.

Therein then, lies the reasons for the semi-oriental note configuration, as that is the region of the world from which some of Noel’s predecessors hail. All told this has a certain golden hue about it, not altogether unlike Pasha de Cartier (1992), particularly in a lavender/mint combo in the starring role, surrounded by rich woods and spices to keep it from being sharp. The scent doesn’t have much of a typical top/heart/base structure, it all just sort of comes “out” at you, with different elements receding at different speeds during the dry down, in true rogue-like renegade perfumery fashion. The sandalwood is very clearly here for lovers of that note, alongside patchouli and something that recalls incense, whether real or synthetic. Parts of this scent also remind me of Laura Biagiotti Roma Uomo (1994), especially the woody-ambery finish with a speck of green, but Wallowa is missing the weird orange creamcicle note juxtaposed over it that made me dislike Roma Uomo, so its simpler nature is a benefit here. Performance like all Xarmony scents I’ve tested thus far is absolutely weapons-grade. If you’re a beastmode bro that wants maximum power in your perfume, this is a house for you to check out.

Like with Odinsleep by Xarmony (2020), most criticisms could be lobbed at the rudimentary nature of the blend, but the counterpoint to that is when brands deliberately make simple fragrances to showcase the strength of individual materials, as Areej le Dore, Auphorie, or Bortnikoff sometimes do; and simplicity or rudimentary design can also be shopped as an aesthetic choice with “less is more” style, like with Lush Cosmetics or any number of attar makers out there. The key difference between Xarmony and them in this case is the use of mixed media (natural and synthetics), plus made-on-the-spot per-bottle fulfillment, much like souk perfumers do in major cities within Arabian territories. All told Wallowa is every bit a unisex experience, but I think the focus on lavender and sandalwood with incense may ever-so-slightly nudge out to the men or masculine-presenting folks than the ladies, even if there are no rules. For me personally, something like this would wear best in the cold, rain, or scenario where it could contrast the surrounding air best. A little goes a long way, but it’s a good way to go. Thumbs up

Odinsleep by Xarmony (2020)

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Odinsleep by Xarmony (2020) is a fragrance loosely based on Viking lore, but the name is a bit misleading. This is because sleeping is pretty much the last thing you’ll be doing while wearing Odinsleep, due to it’s high quotient of peppermint in the composition, coming across like a mid-century masculine fragrance once advertised to wet-shavers on black and white televisions across the US. That said, this is a unisex fragrance, and there are nuances here which make it feel more appropriately so once you move past the mint (which is omnipresent but less a star later). Overall, the story of a viking coming home from battle and not recognizing anyone around is tenuous to the actual fragrance itself, but as with all Xarmony fragrances, adds an additional layer of intrigue or makes for a cool talking point to folks asking you what you’re wearing. The brand also prides itself for making all the fragrances to-order per-bottle, and not diluted from batches of concentrate, which is something you don’t see much outside of custom perfume shops in The Middle East.

The opening is a pretty powerful peppermint, with some very sheer green notes surrounding it, similar to cis3hexanol cut grass but not on the same level of power as something deliberately grassy like Creed Green Irish Tweed (1985). There is also something of a dry or dark chocolatey nuance here, not listed as a note, and possibly the interplay of coumarin and other materials present, but it gives a tiny bit of gourmand touch here. All in all, this coumarin also represents the tobacco note listed, but to me it reads a bit more woody than tobacco once the base settles in, with dry vanilla and a sliver of something mineralic. I also at times get a bit of a cherry effect but again, this is all likely the result of how coumarin interacts because it’s a more-complicated material than folks give it credit for, and can do all sorts of things in high concentrations. The effect overall is something that is a bit of a contrast between warm and cold, with an uncompromising sharpness which runs throughout. Performance is insane on this, and it is advised to spray very carefully upon first use. I almost gassed myself out on my first try of it.

This is not a scent for everyone as it has little sweetness or roundness, being very much like a Viking hammer blow to head of an unsuspecting villager about to have his home pillaged; but if strong and bracing fragrances are for you, and if you love a lot of mid-century stuff in this style which is no longer made, Odinsleep may be worth looking into. Being the very first fragrance from Xarmony and built on a more-limited palate of materials (including natural essential oils) than many of the brand’s newer work, Odinsleep can at times feel a bit on the basic side; but anyone who has worn or enjoyed similarly hand-composed fragrances from brands like Lush won’t be unfamiliar with this effect. My only concern is if you’re used to something more layered or multifaceted, you may not want to make this your first experience with the brand, and work your way backwards from newer releases instead. That said, this was a big wow for me, and I do love me some mint, so I’m down. Thumbs up

Ching Shih by Xarmony (2020)

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Ching Shih by Xarmony (2020) is a fragrance of singular resolution based around the story of Zheng Yi Sao, born as Shi Yang in 1776, a Chinese pirate who was active in the early 1800’s. She was named Zheng Yi Sao by the people of Guangdong, but more-widely known as Ching Shih, this pirate became something of an anti-heroine, her ships entering into conflict with several major powers, such as the East India Company, the Portuguese Empire, and Qing China. This singular resolution comes from a very potent peach and jasmine combination that defines the opening moments, with more fruity floral and fleshy nuances between, eventually settling into more ambery-floral territory later on. Xarmony itself is interestingly much like a Middle-Eastern made-to-order perfumer found in souks across cities like Cairo and other major cities there, in that the perfumer (Trill Noel) makes everything on the spot from formula per-bottle, rather than large pre-mixed oil batches which are then diluted for entire runs of bottles or diluted per-bottle as Le Labo does at their counters. This “made for you” process imparts a bit more of a personal touch, as personal a touch as ordering from an indie perfumer’s online shop can be, at least.

Although it’s not listed by the perfumer in the official note breakdown, something can be said that the way the floral notes interplay in the heart of Ching Shih recalls tuberose and gardenia in my mind, being that we’re dealing mostly with a peach-topped floral amber scent anyway, and a lot of the materials used are at least adjacent to those found in tuberose/gardenia combo fragrances (more popular in the 2000’s than now). What this means is there is a lot of complexity open to interpretation by the wearer, but that singular resolute nature I mentioned is still present, as it all really just makes a “whole” accord that isn’t easily dissected into pieces like some florals can be. The vanilla warms and smooths, while the sea notes are really just an aromachemical melange you’re likely familiar with if you’ve smelled any number of fresh or aqautic fruity florals made for the feminine market by designers, just here applied more judiciously than with designers, to give some lift and prevent Ching Shih from being heavy. The amber and mineralic “gunpowder” notes are probably the last ones to roll into town, and I personally don’t get much rum accord here, but that doesn’t mean you won’t. Honestly, these elements will make Ching Shih smell like no other floral of its type on the market. The performance is absolutely bonkers too, so if you’re someone tired of all the boys having the beastmode fragrances, this is your comeuppance. Seriously, Ching Shih is “80’s strong”.

I’m famously not a fan of these types of scents, and sometimes have been known to go on the rampage when something I don’t gravitate towards adds insult to injury by also being poorly or cheaply hashed together. However, I am delighted to report that this made-to-order fruity floral amber scent is anything but poorly made or cheap. Strong, rich, multifaceted, yet not falling victim to the usual indie artisanal tropes of being easily picked apart by its materials, Ching Shih by Xarmony is a fragrance that answers the question sometimes asked when a person comes onto a forum like Basenotes looking for a “niche version” of their favorite fragrance. In this instance, that fragrance is a conventional fruity floral amber, something you’d be used to seeing issued by Lauder or Arden, but leagues beyond anything coming from their stables these days, both in polish and power. That this scent also comes with an obscure and pretty cool historical story about a character we could all stand to learn more about in the West is an added bonus for me. All this value and coming from a genre I normally don’t like, which makes me wonder what this brand can do with genres I do like, such as the classic chypre or fougère. Does this smell like a pirate? No, not really. Does it smell gorgeous? Absolutely. Although I wouldn’t wear something like this on the regular, nonetheless color me impressed. Thumbs up