Elizabeth and James Nirvana Black, Nirvana White ~ fragrance reviews & quick poll

Elizabeth and James Nirvana advert

Ashley and I are really into oils, and those were the notes we were really attracted to. — Mary-Kate Olsen, talking to Women’s Wear Daily.

Remember way back when — about 20-odd years ago in perfume years — when Sarah Jessica Parker launched Lovely, and everyone was talking about exactly which perfume oils it was based on? It was the first thing I thought of when I smelled Nirvana Black and Nirvana White, the new fragrances from Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s Elizabeth and James lifestyle brand. Lovely, it turned out, was inspired by Parker’s own layering blend of Bonne Bell Skin Musk, Comme des Garςons Avignon and some Egyptian Musk oil she bought from a street vendor, but as translated into something marketable by Coty, Lovely was far tamer and more wearable than you might have expected from the original mix.

Nirvana Black and Nirvana White come closer to walking the walk…

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Parfum d’Empire Musc Tonkin ~ fragrance review

musk deer

Parfum d’Empire is one of my favorite perfume houses, but on occasion, its references to warmongering dictators,1 brutal tiger hunts, and, now, a celebrated raw material from an endangered species, annoy me. I’ve written about musk and the musk deer before so I won’t repeat myself, but creating a perfume called Musc Tonkin, and taking that a step further and making the perfume a limited edition (which gives it the air of a “rare” commodity) strikes me as insensitive, especially right now as many wild animals around the world are in danger of being wiped out for their body parts: the elephants of Africa come to mind (please Marc-Antoine Corticchiato, don’t develop an “Ivory Tusk” perfume inspired by the Kingdom of Benin).

Rant over, I will say I’m always interested in smelling a Parfum d’Empire creation. Musc Tonkin2 goes on strong, with a fragrance reminiscent of leather scented with aromas that remind me of carnation-cloves/cinnamon and “hairy” musks (or should I say well-aged manure?) I grew up in a family of gardeners and I associate gardening with the scent of — chicken manure. Every February or March, my father and grandmother arranged to have a large quantity of fresh chicken manure delivered to the edge of a woods they owned. This manure was allowed to age before it was used in our garden. After a year spent in the sun, the rain, the heat and cold, the manure was ready to use around plants or to enrich the soil of flower and vegetable beds. The cured manure smelled sweet, not at all unpleasant…

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Serge Normant Avah ~ fragrance review

Serge Normant Avah

It’s funny how my brain will absorb and retain information from fashion-and-beauty magazines when I’m getting so forgetful in some other areas. When I heard that Serge Normant was planning to release a fragrance, I nodded sagely to myself and thought, “Ah yes, Julia Roberts’s stylist.” I’m not even a Julia Roberts fan, so why do I know and remember this fact? Obviously, the ink used to print women’s glossies has some sort of peculiar chemical-bonding effect on my brain.

In any case: stylist Serge Normant’s first fragrance is Avah, a composition of ylang ylang, jasmine, amber, soft woods, and musks with the tagline “Enter the exotic.” It’s formulated to be worn on hair as well as skin, which makes sense for the brand. The name “Avah” supposedly means “desire” and “life,” although I haven’t been able to track down that etymology. (Let me know if you have a better idea of its origin!) In the “making of” video for Avah and its ad, Normant mentions his interest in making women look (and smell) “sexy without hitting people over the head” and he describes the scent and its visuals as having a style of “rawness with a little touch of sophistication.”

That all sounds just about right…

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Etat Libre d’Orange Archives 69 ~ fragrance review

Etat Libre d'Orange Paris boutique

Archives 69 takes its name from the address of the Etat Libre d’Orange flagship boutique, located at 69 Rue des Archives in Paris. Since this is Etat Libre d’Orange, you may be guessing that the name has a double meaning, a specifically sexual one, and you are correct; an entry on the Etat Libre d’Orange blog, complete with alternate label art for Archives 69, makes that point clear. Its text explains, “This is a perfume designed to free the senses, to open the heart to all the possibilities. It is an invitation to pleasure, an ode to seduction. It comes without restrictions, rules or regulations. It is yours to do with as you wish. This is the scent of sensual liberation.”

The composition of Archives 69, developed by perfumer Christine Nagel, includes notes of tangerine, pink berries CO2, pepper leaf, orchid & prune JE, incense, camphor, benzoin, patchouli, and musk. Its concept was partially inspired by the short story “Drencula” by French writer Boris Vian, a tale of a young man’s encounter with a hermaphroditic vampire, from Vian’s collection Écrits Pornographiques. Archives 69 was given the tagline “The Illusion of Sex” in preview materials, and its press release (subtitled “The End of Innocence”) includes a lengthy meditation on a nameless female character who embodies many dualities: the sacred and the profane, heaven and hell, pleasure and pain, etc. So, how do this theme and this prose translate into scent?

Archives 69 does pair some opposing notes…

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Kiehl’s Original Musk Blend No. 1 ~ fragrance review

Kiehl's Original Musk Blend No. 1

Kiehl’s (Since 1851) Original Musk Blend No. 1 has been around a long time if you believe Kiehl’s PR: “Our original musk oil is believed to have been created in the 1920s at the ‘Kiehl Apothecary.’ Discovered there in a vat labeled ‘Love Oil’ in the late 50s, Kiehl’s signature scent was reintroduced to our patrons in 1963.” I recently sniffed Original Musk for the first time, and it reminds me of many higher priced perfumes: inside Original Musk there’s a pinch of Hermès Eau d’ Hermès with its grainy, leather-cumin accord, a hint of Serge Lutens Muscs Koublaï Khan (“tough” musk with flowers), and a ghostly bit of, believe it or not, Chanel No. 5’s floral aldehydes.

Original Musk is, of course, a synthetic musk fragrance; it has “body” but it’s still a light version of musk — not heavy in the least. Kiehl’s lists Original Musk’s fragrance notes as bergamot nectar, orange blossom, lily, rose, ylang-ylang, neroli, tonka bean, white patchouli and musk.

There are no distinct stages of development in Original Musk…

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