Turtle Vetiver Back by LesNez

Year: 2013

Notes: pea pods, violet, mimosa, coconut lactone, vetiver, musk

Comment: Turtle Vetiver Back is a limited edition release
Turtle Vetiver Back is the third instalment in LesNez's Turtle Vetiver series. Where Turtle Vetiver Front anchored the vetiver more at the front end, Turtle Vetiver Back utilises the vetiver more as a base note.

The opening is unequivocally dark, smoky and rooty, with the pea pod lending a moist vegetal aroma. The violet isn't particularly sweet but adds an extra verdant dimension the composition. Like Turtle Vetiver Front, a serving of some coconut lactone is also evident. However, one wonders if it was really necessary to re-use this accord, as that's what made Turtle Vetiver Back's predecessor so special. Eliciting powdery nuances from the mimosa, the proceedings soon develop into something lighter and muskier.

Like parting dark clouds, the vetiver finally shimmers unobstructed at this stage. The florals faintly pop-up every so often, but the creamy woodiness of the vetiver is temporarily on full display. With just a hint of castoreum in the base, the muted drydown exhibits a grassy, floral and animalic vetiver aura.

With low sillage and modest lasting power, Turtle Vetiver Back is actually more of a hybrid of the first two Turtle Vetivers – the dark earthiness of Turtle Vetiver Exercise 1 in the first half, and the smooth grassy creaminess of Turtle Vetiver Front in the second. Also, with the vetiver relegated to the background, its lack of presence may disappoint some vetiver diehards.

Ultimately, it isn't as original, distinctive or satisfying as the first two, but it still comes recommended.


Turtle Vetiver Front by LesNez

Year: 2012

Notes: Haitian vetiver, coconut lactone, moss, ambergris

Comment: Turtle Vetiver Front is a limited edition release
The name, Turtle Vetiver Front, depicts the order in which the vetiver is discernible, in relation to the other notes – in this case, first or at the forefront.

Created by Isabelle Doyen, it also comprises of coconut lactone, moss and ambergris, but these aren't merely decorative components. What makes Turtle Vetiver Front an intriguing creation is how, with the aid of the extra notes, the olfactory profile of the Haitian vetiver is kept relatively intact, while being enhanced.

With a short-lived nutty nuance, the opening possesses an inky smokiness that's not too overwhelming. When the smoky aspect subsides, it reveals a milky core, courtesy of the lactone fleshing out the creamy element of the vetiver. As the lactone increases its presence, the mild earthiness of the vetiver dwindles even further.

During the drydown, vetiver remnants come into contact with the ambergris and hay-like moss, complementing the grassy and ethereal demeanour of the Haitian vetiver. After a while, what's left are these two tertiary chords, plus faint traces of lactone and vetiver, tenderly emitting sweet, salty and earthy murmurs.

Mostly remaining close the skin, with good longevity, it doesn't possess the rawness or density of other vetiver offerings. However, for an Eau de Parfum, it's still quite substantial. Furthermore, it isn't as dark, earthy or edgy as its predecessor, Turtle Vetiver Exercise 1, noticeably coming across as more unisex. One would even go so far to say that Turtle Vetiver Front would make a splendid contemporary substitute for Guerlain's Djedi.

Although one no longer has any interest in wearing vetiver fragrances (as one feels that vetiver essential oils are more rewarding to wear), Turtle Vetiver Front makes an excellent compromise.


Turtle Vetiver Exercise 1 by LesNez

Year: 2009

Notes: citrus, vetiver

Comment: Turtle Vetiver Exercise 1 is a limited edition release
Limited to 80 bottles, the Turtle Vetiver series began with Turtle Vetiver Exercise 1. Created by Isabelle Doyen, each consecutive batch, or new release, conveys a different perspective on the vetiver theme.

Featuring a bright citrus accord, it's a bold, damp and earthy vetiver devoid of any sweetness. Any added notes are minimal and, like vetiver essential oil, it possesses a rooty green complexity. There's also a mineral nuance that, when fused with the dampness of the vetiver, imparts an aura not too dissimilar from moist granite covered in soil and foliage.

As the mineral aspect eventually dissipates, the vetiver becomes softer and woodier, while still retaining its raw earthy depth. The darkness of the vetiver still resides but is less commanding – revealing a more approachable side to its down-to-earth demeanour. And when things finally draw to a close, the persisting traces of vetiver are cleaner, clearer and somewhat brighter.

While it's earthier than Guerlain's Vetiver and Frédéric Malle's Vétiver Extraordinaire, it's not as strictly hardcore as Profumum's Fumidus or Maître Parfumeur et Gantier's Route du Vétiver, but nestles somewhere in-between. Providing minimal sillage and great tenacity, an Eau de Parfum would have been even closer to perfection.

On the whole, it's an impressively gritty vetiver fragrance, which isn't afraid to reveal its true colours.


Violette Fumée by Mona di Orio

Year: 2013

Notes: Calabrian bergamot, saffron, Mediterranean Lavender, oakmoss from the Balkans, clary sage, Egyptian violet leaves, Egyptian violet, Turkish rose, tobacco, Haitian vetiver, guaiac wood, opopanax, Somalian myrrh, cashmeran

Comment: Violette Fumée is part of Les Nombres d'Or Collection
Violette Fumée was originally composed for Mona di Orio's business partner, Jeroen Oude Songtoen. However, since her death, he has decided to share this creation with the general public.

Its concept as a smoky violet is rather unique and, in the opening, a tobacco-infused aromatic smokiness can be instantly detected. Earnest verdant accords intermingle with the lavender, and the violet itself is discernible but remains gentle throughout. As the smokiness subsides, a demure rose and vetiver pairing gradually fleshes out the proceedings. With light woods, resins and musk, the grand finale is sweet, powdery and tender.

Overall, it's an elegant masculine rendition of violet, which is also a significant improvement on this house's last couple of releases. However, there's something plastic-like or even synthetic about the first-half of its evolution, with a noticeable waxiness at the beginning. Also, its presence is soft and remains a skin scent for most of its duration. But, regardless of such flaws, one can't deny that it's a respectable effort.

While its projection could have been more pronounced, it still possesses longevity of at least eight hours.


Eau Absolue by Mona di Orio

Year: 2013

Notes: Sicilian bergamot, mandarin, clementine, petitgrain citronnier, Jamaican St. Thomas Bay Leaf, Peruvian pink pepper, Chinese litsea cubeba, Egyptian geranium, Haitian vetiver, Javanese vetiver, Virginian cedar, labdanum, musk

Comment: Eau Absolue is part of Les Nombres d'Or Collection
To be perfectly frank, a sparkling woody-citrus offering is something that Eau Absolute is anything but.

With lethargic citrus notes, the composition mainly focuses on the lemongrass-like litsea cubeba and honeyed rose greenness of the geranium. Beyond that, the cedar is vaguely detectable, with further support coming from a creamy yet translucent vetiver and musk combination. And while its general demeanour is dusty and wispy, it still lacks substance, especially in terms of tenacity and sillage.

Based on this house's recent mediocre releases, one wonders if Mona di Orio is turning in her grave.


Rose – Etoile Hollande by Mona di Orio

Year: 2012

Notes: Calabrian bergamot, white peach, aldehydes, clove, Egyptian geranium, Bulgarian rose, Turkish rose, heliotrope, Madagascan vanilla, patchouli, Atlas cedar, Virginian cedar, leather, amber, Siamese benzoin, Peru balsam

Comment: Rose – Etoile Hollande is part of Les Nombres d'Or Collection
Rose is the first posthumous fragrance from this house, after Mona di Orio unexpectedly passed away in 2011. Her business partner, Jeroen Oude Sogtoen, has since made the conscious decision to continue her legacy by releasing previously unpublished creations.

While that's great news for those who admire her work, based on Rose – Etoile Hollande, one has to wonder if such posthumous compositions will be nothing more than unfinished works-in-progress, being hastily bottled to maintain this house's market share. Call one sceptical but, after all, business is business.

Basically, it's a complete mess and has very little to do with rose, as it's more about the peach, aldehydes and heliotrope, with some spicy geranium. The only real highlight is the first few moments of the top notes, which is highly reminiscent of rhubarb and custard boiled sweets (those pink and yellow pear-shaped confections). But, once the peach and aldehydes hit their stride, it all ends up smelling cluttered and synthetic.

Whatever rose is there is overshadowed, the heliotrope is slightly bitter, the leather is crude and too intrusive at times, the woods are negligible, and the ambery-vanillic aspect is moderate yet lacks much clarity. Ultimately, it's a lacklustre affair, with a tepid balsamic drydown that vaguely recalls Caron's Parfum Sacré.

Such a disappointing performance compels one to muse on what might have been, had Mona's life not been so tragically cut short. Sillage is moderate with at least six hours staying power.


Oud by Mona di Orio

Year: 2011

Notes: Calabrian green mandarin, petitgrain from Paraguay, Philippine elemi, apricot, honey, Chinese osmanthus, jasmine, Laotian oud, Indonesian patchouli, Indian nagarmotha, Atlas cedar, ambergris, musk

Comment: Oud is part of Les Nombres d'Or Collection
When the late Mona di Orio first announced launching her interpretation of oud, one wasn't pleased at all. With so many synthetic oud fragrances available, one was hoping for some niche houses to resist the temptation of joining the 'oud club'. But, after sampling Oud, one has been left both impressed and pleasantly surprised.

Since genuine oud oil has become increasingly scarce and more expensive, one was surprised to discover that Oud would contain high-quality Laotian oud oil – especially as this variety of oud oil is now extremely difficult to attain (wild Laotian agarwood trees are now an endangered species). With syrupy sweet, animalic and leathery undertones, Mona's creation certainly contains the real thing. But what's even more astounding is the degree of complexity and originality it encompasses.

Unlike most oud fragrances, there's no reliance on the now clichéd coupling of rose and saffron. Instead, Mona incorporated a complementary union of osmanthus, apricot and honey, alongside a gentle serving of citrus and elemi (in addition to a base of dark smoky woods and musks). The oud is present throughout the composition's development, but remains soft and modest. All in all, the blending is velvety smooth, warm, refined and utterly beautiful, with understated jasmine embellishments.

Oud isn't really about showcasing Laotian oud, but rather demonstrating the juxtaposition between Laotian oud and the honeyed nectar-infused sweetness of the osmanthus. Providing moderate sillage and longevity of under six hours, it's easily wearable, and bestows both an exotic and esoteric aura.

Yes, it's considerably expensive. Yes, from a reliable source, some quality oud oil can probably be acquired for a similar price. And, yes, it could have had better sillage and been longer lasting. However, as it stands, Oud is Mona's crowning achievement and remains one of the most unique Western renditions of oud around.


MAAI by Bogue Profumo

Year: 2014

Notes: aldehydes, dried fruits, spices, oriental incense infusions, rose, green tuberose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, labdanum, resins, oakmoss, sandalwood, animal musks
MAAI is the third release from Antonio Gardoni's Italian niche house, Bogue Profumo.

Like Cologne Reloaded, MAAI successfully recreates perfumery's glorious past, while exuding a contemporary twist. However, on this occasion, it's neither an enhancement nor reconstruction of some long-forgotten vintage fragrance. Instead, it's a new creation, which largely takes its inspiration from the classic chyprés of yesteryear (particularly those from Chanel).

Commencing with spicy aldehydic accents, it's primarily a floral chypré, featuring a fresh, crisp and green floral core. With ethereal oriental incense infusions, the composition rests on a bed of resins, sandalwood, oakmoss and animal musks. But unlike Bogue's previous efforts, it isn't as herbaceous yet still possesses an old-school aura throughout.

One's not entirely sure what the musk cocktail consists of, but it's probably a mixture of castoreum, hyraceum, civet, ambergris and beeswax. This evocative animalic aroma is discernible from the very beginning and plays a central role, yet is sufficiently reined in not to give the impression that its presence is just for shock value. With leathery nuances, the musks also impart a hay-like warmth to the proceedings.

During the drydown, the resins imbue a subdued ambery sweetness, as the sandalwood adds a creamy woody sheen. By this stage, the green floral heart has long dissipated. With a sturdy oakmoss backbone, it continues to gently linger on the skin, and emit a dusty and faecal muskiness.

Superbly executed and comprising of high-quality ingredients, MAAI is both a masterful and complex effort that provides a glimmer of hope, in the light of current IFRA restrictions and EU regulations. While its staying power is respectable, one would still like Antonio to compose something more potent in the near future.

Regardless of this, MAAI is undoubtedly one of the best fragrance releases of 2014.


Cologne Reloaded by Bogue Profumo

Year: 2013

Notes: citrus, lavender, essence mixture for Colonia della Esperis, styrax, resins, castoreum

Comment: Original formulation review
The story behind Cologne Reloaded isn't one that you encounter everyday, which makes it both interesting and all the more unique.

Previously forgotten in an old pharmaceutical laboratory, Bogue founder and perfumer, Antonio Gardoni, had the good fortune of acquiring roughly forty bottles of essence mixtures, dating back to the 1950s. With most of the contents still sealed and well-preserved, he proceeded to reconstruct one of the sets of essence mixtures, for a vintage composition called Colonia della Esperis, using the original formula that accompanied the bottles.

It was only after some musing and experimenting that he decided to tinker with the end result, by adding some contemporary components to increase the concentration from 4% to 15%. After macerating this unusual blend in a small barrel, made of juniper wood, he decided to share the end-result as a limited edition release.

With a backstory such as this, one can only be thankful for being given the opportunity to sample a little piece of perfume history. With regards to the contemporary chords, citruses and lavender were added to compensate for the vintage Eau de Cologne's loss of top notes, various resins were used to provide a stronger base, and an animalic edge was also incorporated by way of some castoreum.

Cologne Reloaded is a very smoky and camphorous citrus-aromatic, opening with gentle swirls of citruses and lavender, against a dark leathery canvas of natural musk. The marriage between the vintage and contemporary aromas is both striking and well-blended. With the vintage aspect of the blend always at the forefront, yet never compromised, it's both herbaceous and medicinal. As for the contemporary aspect, the leathery smokiness of the styrax and castoreum are never too far away.

As it further evolves, the astringent opening softens somewhat, but the smokiness still continues to linger. One can also identify some labdanum and, along with the other resins, it permeates an almost powdery sweetness. During the final stages, all that remains is a sultry and mellow animalic purr, in an antiquated sense.

With moderate projection, one's only reservation is its longevity. However, under the circumstances mentioned above, this could be considered a moot point. Besides, the increased concentration is closer to that of an Eau de Toilette, which is perfectly fine but one digresses. Personally, one is just grateful to have been made privy to this project, and one is looking forward to future creations from this house.

Offering an invaluable glimpse into the golden age of perfumery, it also embodies the true spirit of modern niche perfumery. Such a fragrance this exquisite should, at the very least, be experienced.


Zahd by Slumberhouse

Year: 2013

Notes: cranberry, cherry, plum, wine ether, fir, champaca, pink lotus, gromwell, cocoa, benzoin, trisamber, oak, frankincense, Mitti Attar, Mysore sandalwood, Tolu balsam

Comment: Zahd is a limited edition release
After two years and around 80 prototypes, Zahd is the latest Slumberhouse parfum extrait, which is based on a "fairly rare" cranberry absolute. Possessing a deep ruby red colour and a 30% concentration, one was naturally curious about all the fever pitch hype that accompanied it.

As to be expected, it smells syrupy, boozy, fruity, resinous, dense and pungent. On the opening, it emanates a sweet liqueur aroma, alongside a prominent dark cocoa note (that's briefly supplemented by a somewhat salty nuance). The ripe fruitiness initially verges very close to bubblegum territory, possibly due to the champaca, but the cocoa soon diffuses the situation. With a jammy composite of cranberry, plum and cherry, its tone changes as it approaches the heart.

The brash fruity booziness is gradually tampered by a burnt wood accord. It's noticeably scratchy and, together with the oak and sandalwood, forms the woody aspect of the composition. According to Slumberhouse founder, Josh Lobb, Zahd is about 85% natural. Among the synthetics used is trisamber, which possesses dark and dry woody amber properties. Therefore, one would attribute the burnt woody element to this aroma chemical.

Over time, the parched woodiness intensifies, with gentle whiffs of frankincense occasionally greeting the nose. By the drydown, the fruity cordial slowly surrenders its dominance to the trisamber, accompanied by an earthy yet creamy underscoring of sandalwood and Mitti Attar. Faint traces of the fermented fruits continue to persist, but the woody ambery smokiness of the trisamber continues to reign supreme. It's only several hours later that fading glimmers of trisamber, sandalwood and Tolu balsam are all that remain.

While credit is given for originality, especially with the cranberry, Zahd isn't without its flaws. The bitter facets of the cranberry are drowned out by a sea of sweetness, the choice of florals does more harm than good, the oak is particularly subdued, and the artificial woody amber element is both clichéd and irritating. Maybe, sometime in the near future, one of Josh's newer offerings will be just as satisfying as Vikt... but Zahd isn't it.

Projection is below average and tenacity is in excess of six hours.

* A special thanks goes out to Lyn for making this review possible.