Is ‘fresh oriental’ an oxymoron? Penhaligon’s Malabah

Dear Scent Diary,

I received a scented package from the lovely Mag at the other day – an RAOK (random act of kindness) that affirms my belief in bloggerkind. One of the samples she sent was of Penhaligon’s Malabah, a fragrance I’ve heard mentioned a lot as a favourite feminine of the line, so I made a beeline for it.

Unknown-3Malabah opens as a sparkling ginger, lemon tea concoction that intrigued me right away. Chic smelling ginger ale? Hmmm, tell me more.  The spicy yet fresh and sparkling juxtaposition had me hooked. Soon, the aldehydes die down and a rose note adds dimension to create a fresh ginger, cardamom tea with smooth rose backup singers. Some sweet amber joins in at the end to add some harmonies and make things even more appealing. It doesn’t project very much but continues to hum for a good eight hours close to the skin.

I’m generally a fan of dense, lush orientals but sometimes they can be too thick for my mood, especially in the coming spring and summer months. Malabah may just be my answer. The contrast of oriental spiciness and lightweight freshness seems to be exactly what I’m craving this time of year.

I can see how those looking for, or expecting a powerhouse oriental would be disappointed by Malabah. But for me, a scent that’s not too intense, but not too light and squeaky clean can be ‘just right’. Perhaps that’s why I consider Penhaligon’s Malabah to be the perfect fresh, oriental oxymoron for spring.


Love in two acts: Olfactive Studio Lumiere Blanche

Dear Scent Diary,

Unknown-2The way I’ve come to love Olfactive Studio’s Lumiere Blanche is somewhat similar to the way I’ve come to love my husband.

When we met for the first time, sparks undeniably flew. I was mesmerized.  He seemed to understand me and somehow knew how to make me feel both comfortable and special. We felt ‘at home’ together, like two puzzle pieces slipping into place. Then, out of nowhere, he decided he didn’t want to be with me anymore and disappeared.

I was, as my girlfriends assured me, unnecessarily crushed. “Good riddance. You don’t need him,” they said. “There are plenty of others to take his place.”

And so you attempt to move on by dating a few others right away. There are some you like, and some you think you might even love, though when you’re honest with yourself, they’re a bit out of your comfort zone, or they’re great off the top but once you get to know them, they’re boring or difficult, or you’re not sure you want to go out in public with them.

Then, a few months later, you bump into HIM again. You’re not keen to go through the pain of him disappearing on you once more, so you almost turn him down when he suggests you try again. But you can’t resist. You tentatively give it a try, all the while waiting for the other shoe to drop. But this time, he doesn’t disappear. You’re not quite sure what’s changed about your chemistry, but now, not only does he make you feel beautiful, confident, sexy and at ease, he has staying power.

So you marry him.

My new full bottle of Olfactive Studio Lumiere Blanche should arrive next week.

(Oh yeah, it smells of cardamom pods steeped in warm milk, creamy sandalwood and hints of musk and almonds. Woody, milky, subtly spicy and unisex. It’s not heavy and does not project much but does (now) stay on my skin for most of a day.)

It hates me: Dries Van Noten par Frederic Malle

Dear Scent Diary,

I’m a bit stunned. I’ve been anticipating a mutual love affair with this scent from the moment it appeared on Frederic Malle’s website. I’ve even had moments of blind-buy weakness after having Facebook fragrance group conversations with those who adore it.

If this fragrance loves you, it will put its sandalwood foot forward and let its vanilla gourmandiness support, not star.


If it hates you, as it does me, it will try to choke you to death in the car on the way home from picking up your decant at the post office with a cloud of overly sweet vanilla cake frosting/marshmallow/cupcake/waffle cone.

Unknown-1Once sprayed on skin, the sweetness persists, but now buttressed by a burning rubber accord that takes about a half hour to die down. Mercifully, things do settle and I can sense the sandalwood stepping in, as if being the voice of reason and pulling all the other notes by the collar, off my face. From that point on, everything becomes much more civil.

t.33Now that the sandalwood has things under control, the sweet vanilla frosting becomes more sheer and the freshly baked white cake it’s spread on top of starts to dominate. At this point in the development, I’m so olfactorially relieved that I think for a second that I could actually be friends with this fragrance. Maybe just polite acquaintances, we’ll see.

The perfume universe obviously thought I needed to be taught a lesson and decided to do it with this fragrance. I’m clearly overly susceptible to ‘the idea’ of a perfume from a well-respected niche house and the hype that often warrants. I needed a memorable reminder that fragrance preference is supremely individual and is based on a lifetime of perceptions and associations, making it impossible for any two people to have the exact same experience with a perfume. I also needed a good slap upside the head regarding skin chemistry. I don’t recall hearing anyone mention a ‘burning rubber accord’.

As evidence, these bloggers had completely different experiences with this scent: Now Smell This, Grain de Musc, Bois de Jasmin.

I was given a rather ungentle talking to by Undina of Undina’s Looking Glass in the comments of one of my posts where I considered blind buying this perfume. She was so right. Lesson learned.

A wearable Serge Lutens: Vetiver Oriental

Dear Scent Diary,

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll wear anything anywhere. But there are times when you do have to put others first and keep your skunking tendencies at bay. I have a few ‘polite scents’ that I pull out when I’ll be in unknown company. And then there are my ‘wearable scents’ that are a bit beyond polite, but are refined and pleasing for when I’ll be amongst people and don’t think (or don’t particularly care if) they’ll be offended by a waft or two.

UnknownI’m a fan of Serge Lutens fragrances but I can’t say that many of the scents in the range fall into the ‘wearable’ camp. For me, the majority are to wear for yourself when you’re by yourself, or you’re just popping in somewhere briefly and don’t mind leaving an unusual or intense scent trail. There are a few exceptions, however, and Vetiver Oriental is one of them.

It opens with a very clean vetiver buffered by what smells to me like powdery iris and a hint of anise. There’s a refined booziness to me as it develops, and it sweetens considerably. Then out of nowhere, out pops a cocoa note that I find completely beguiling. At the start, it’s debatable whether this leans masculine or whether it’s truly unisex. However, as it drys down, the gourmand sweetness pulls the rooty greenness into what I would consider feminine territory. It’s not for girls though. Women only.

Vetiver fiends will adore this scent. But even if you merely like vetiver, read these reviews and you will, like me, find yourself blind buying it ordering a sample.

Olfactoria’s Travels

The Non-Blonde

Nathan Branch

Ten men’s fragrances women can easily wear

Dear Scent Diary,

I heard a quote once that stuck with me. It was advice for women who want the upper hand in business transactions when dealing with men – “Dress like a woman but smell like a man,” it said. I would have to argue that this boardroom psychology seems very sound.

I know many fume nerds often chafe at the idea of gender categorizing perfumes. I’m in total agreement, however, there are certain smells that seem to have been assigned gender by western culture; flowers + fruit = feminine, woods + lavender = masculine. All of which, when you start to break it down, starts sounding ludicrous. Lavender is masculine? But our noses have been trained over the years and it takes some retraining to ‘unassign’ smells.

So here’s a list to get you started. These are the ‘Pour Homme’s’ that I feel can be easily worn ‘Par Femme’.

Unknown1. Castile by Penhaligon’s – What rich people smell like when they get out of the shower. A high-end, quadruple-milled, creamy white orange blossom soap scent. Sometimes it’s all you want and all you need.

Unknown-22. Bois d’Argent by Dior Collection Privee – The boys on YouTube have claimed this one but it’s actually in no way masculine. It’s a beautiful, gauzy, almond-y, shimmering wood scent. Easily worn by a woman.

Unknown-33. Virgin Island Water by Creed – Again, only the men seem to talk about this but its fresh, tropical, boozy happiness is completely genderless if you ask me.

Unknown-64. Fleur de Male by Jean Paul Gauthier – This is one the guys might actually feel was mislabeled in the first place. It’s an orange blossom scent with some dry herbaceous notes that attempt to lean it masculine, but its glorious honeyed white floral nature make it very wearable by women.

Unknown-15. LP no. 9 for Men by Penhaligon’s – This one is quite fresh and masculine early on. If you can make it to the drydown, it’s well worth it. It sweetens dramatically and becomes an intoxicating blend of amber and spices licked with vanilla.

Unknown-76. Comme des Garcons Incense Kyoto – A beautiful, spiritual, calming, clean woodsy scent. I refuse to allow men to be the only ones to enjoy this. It does lean masculine but it’s worth trying on your skin to see if you can rock it.

Unknown-87. Tobacco Vanille by Tom Ford – Dense, rich, sweet and spicy tobacco. I tend to wear this one for myself when I’m by myself. I find it exotic smelling on a woman.

Unknown-48. Original Santal by Creed – Perhaps the perfect scent to accomplish the quote at the beginning of this post. To me, sandalwood is genderless, and this one has a slightly sweet, balmy warmth that is very comforting.

images9. Egoiste by Chanel – Hold on, actually this is the perfect scent to rock the boardroom in. Warm, spicy sandalwood that manages to be both sexy and professional smelling on a woman. Lean in baby, lean in.

Unknown-510. Back to Black by Killian – No, wait! This is the ultimate boardroom scent for a woman. Dark, rich tobacco and honey. You will fill the room with a “Don’t fuck with me” aura.

There are many more, I’m sure. What do you recommend?