How Does Hyper-Natural Smell? Scent Chemicals at Chandler Burr’s National Gallery of Victoria Exhibition

Yesterday I revisited the Chandler Burr scent exhibition, Hyper-Natural, at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne, Australia. To recap, the Hyper-Natural exhibition showcases seven fragrances by Guerlain, presenting them in scent stations, or “pods” in the garden at the rear of the NGV. Each of these pods contains pools of each fragrance, and also the synthetic scent chemical (molecule) used prominently in each of these fragrances. There is also some curatorial information inside each pod (which I draw from in this post) about each scent chemical and fragrance and the significance of the chemical and how it is used in the completed fragrance. I gave an overview of the opening events of Burr’s exhibition a few weeks ago, including the Keynote Address and a curator’s tour. You can read that post and see some great photos of Hyper-Natural here. You can also visit the NGV website to read about the exhibition.

Today I want to talk about how Hyper-Natural smells. For those of you who don’t live in Melbourne or who don’t have the good fortune of being able to visit Hyper-Natural, I want to describe to you how the scent chemicals (molecules) in the exhibition smell. The Guerlain fragrances themselves are generally easily found in department stores and will be well-known to many of you, so I won’t spend too much time describing them here. We don’t often have access to the isolated chemicals or ingredients used in perfumery, however, so it is a treat to be able to smell them and describe them to you, so you can share in the experience of Hyper-Natural.

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One of the scent stations at Hyper-Natural, with Chandler Burr standing to the right of the “pod”.

Before heading out to the garden to sniff the exhibition, gallery patrons are encouraged to pick up a card containing tear-off strips to dip into each scent chemical and fragrance, to facilitate the sniffing process.

Cards to tear off, dip and sniff.

Scent Station 1 – Scent Chemical: Coumarin / Fragrance: Jicky

Coumarin is the common name for scent molecule 2H-chromen-2-one. It was created out of necessity, at a time (the 1800s, in Europe) when it was hard to source certain raw, natural perfume materials. Coumarin is supposed to smell like the tonka bean from South America. It was synthesised by an English chemist in 1868 and was used by perfumer Aimé Guerlain in Jicky in 1889.

What does coumarin smell like to me?

Coumarin does smell like tonka beans, an unusual ingredient I’ve been lucky enough to find and smell at a boutique spice shop in Melbourne called Gewurzhaus. I’ve also eaten it as a flavouring in white chocolate, where it imparted a soft, vanilla-like taste. For a scent chemical, coumarin actually smells very natural. It has a subtle almond, marzipan, creamy vanilla kind of smell.

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The inside of Scent Station 1: Coumarin/Jicky

Scent Station 2 – Scent Chemical: Ethyl Vanillin / Fragrance: Shalimar

Ethyl Vanillin was created by chemists in 1872. It is described by Burr, in the curatorial notes, as a more powerful version of natural vanillin. This chemical is a good example of a “hyper-natural” smell: it’s like the natural smell that it references, but is amplified. Because of the strength of the chemical, Shalimar only uses 2% ethyl vanillin, yet the vanilla note in Shalimar, for those of us that know it, is very dominant, testifying to the strength of ethyl vanillin. Jacques Guerlain created Shalimar in 1925; rumour has it, he added a quantity of ethyl vanillin to Jicky to create Shalimar. Whether or not the creation of Shalimar was this simple (there are other differences between the compositions of the fragrances too), Shalimar does smell like a more vanillic version of Jicky.

What does ethyl vanillin smell like to me?

Like coumarin, this scent chemical also smells very natural, but as Burr says, it is more intense than natural vanillin. To me it is a sharp, savoury, strong, natural-smelling vanilla.

Scent Station 3 – Scent Chemical: Sulfox / Fragrance: Chamade

While this scent molecule is extracted from a shrub, it doesn’t smell particularly natural. At Chandler Burr’s Keynote Address, audience members had different ways of attempting to label this smell, with the general consensus being that the smell is strong, fruity, chemical, yet not particularly nature-identical (unlike coumarin and ethyl vanillin). In Chamade, perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain balanced out the “oomph” of this synthetic ingredient with large quantities of similarly powerful ingredients such as blackcurrant and galbanum.

What does sulfox smell like to me?

To me sulfox smells like a slightly funky version of passionfruit, specifically the inside of passionfruit skin, after you’ve cut it open and eaten it with a spoon, crossed with a faint, chemical, burning smell, like that of burning rubber.

Scent Station 4 – Scent Chemical: Polysantol / Fragrance: Samsara

Sniffing station 4: Polysantol / Samsara. At the curator’s tour with Chandler Burr and the NGV’s Ewan McEoin.

Mysore Sandalwood, much used in perfumery, has been over-harvested, leading to a world-wide shortage and the need to create synthetic versions of this very popular fragrance ingredient. Polysantol is just one of the synthetic versions of sandalwood to have emerged, which each representing a facet of the natural material, but unable to replicate natural sandalwood in its entire complexity. Burr considers polysantol to be an abstracted, streamlined version of sandalwood, stripped of its cedar and tar-like aspects. Polysantol is a starring note in Jean-Paul Guerlain’s Samsara, a gorgeously creamy, rich fragrance that combines faux-sandalwood and jasmine in a heady and comforting combination.

What does polysantol smell like to me?

Polysantol smells like a creamy, slightly fake version of sandalwood. It’s almost a little sickly sweet and too cloying on its own. In Samsara, the jasmine provides a balancing counterpoint to this sickly aspect of the scent chemical.

Scent Station 5 – Scent Chemical: Cis-3-hexanol / Fragrance: Aqua Allegoria Herba Fresca

Cis-3-hexanol is a green-smelling scent chemical. As Burr explains in the exhibition notes, there have been other green-smelling scent chemicals before, but cis-3-hexanol is unique in that it smells strongly of cut grass, crossed with the smell of an unripe (green) banana. In Aqua Allegoria Herba Fresca, perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain uses cis-3-hexanol in combination with other green plant smells, such as mint and green tea, to create a hovering, floating, fresh scent that most certainly references nature but is somehow abstract at the same time.

What does cis-3-hexanol smell like to me?

Cis-3-hexanol smells like a chemical, hyper-natural version of cut grass to my nose. It is also a tad earthy and hints at the cool aspects of crushed peppermint. I can also detect a faint burning smell in this chemical.

Scent Station 6 – Scent Chemical: Methyl cyclopentenolone / Fragrance: La Petite Robe Noire

This scent chemical is considered a “maple lactone”, and, according to Burr’s exhibition notes, is used “to generate sugary caramel notes without associations of fairy floss.” When perfumer Thierry Wasser was working on creating La Petite Robe Noire (The Little Black Dress), he wanted to represent the colour black in the fragrance. As methyl cyclopentenolone has a very deep, dark smell, Wasser chose to use it in La Petite Robe Noire.

What does methyl cyclopentenolone smell like to me?

Methyl cyclopentenolon smells like a deep, earthy, almost-savoury, synthetic maple syrup. It is a touch woody, and burnt-smelling, like a burnt-sugar topping on a crème brulée.

Scent Station 7 – Scent Chemical: benzaldehyde / Fragrance: L’Homme Idéal

Benzaldehyde has actually been around for quite a while, as far as scent molecules/chemicals go. It was created in 1832, and is, according to Burr, notoriously difficult to use because of its intensely strong smell of bitter almond. In L’Homme Idéal, Thierry Wasser has balanced the intensity of this ingredient with coumarin (from Jicky) and ethyl vanillin (from Shalimar), no doubt rounding out its strength with these other, slightly softer gourmand notes.

What does benzaldehyde smell like to me?

Benzaldehyde has a glorious, rich, true marzipan smell. It’s a tad sweet and while it smells a bit like coumarin, is much richer and more intense. As I continue to smell it, after a few minutes I detect a strong cinnamon facet to this chemical. The aldehyde component (aldehydes give fragrance ingredients lightness and help them to “float”) helps to create an overall impression of a floating, hovering, sweet, spicy, cinnamon-infused almond tart filling. It’s incredible, dark, rich and gorgeous, and is my favourite scent molecule in this exhibition.

In Summary

I hope that this report of my own impression of these scent chemicals and a brief discussion of how they were used in the corresponding Guerlain fragrances has helped to evoke a sense of what it is like to experience Chandler Burr’s Hyper-Natural. Have you been lucky enough to smell any of these scent chemicals yourself in another context? Have you been to Hyper-Natural, and if so, what did you think of these ingredients? What did they smell like to you? I’d love you to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Bibliographical note: I drew upon the curatorial/exhibition notes from the NGV’s Hyper-Natural exhibition in order to write this report, however, the opinions stated about each scent chemical are my own.

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How Smell Works: Olfactory Cells Heal Paralysed Man in Breakthrough Treatment

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A coronal section through the main olfactory bulb of an adult male mouse. “Mouse MOB three color” by Matt Valley – Released by author. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Last week I posted a link to an interesting article about how olfactory receptors are not just in our noses, as previously thought, but can actually be found throughout our bodies. Scientists have discovered that there is the potential for healing damaged skin and tissue with the application of various aromachemicals to damaged areas. You can read more about these discoveries and find the link to the article via my How Smell Works: It’s Not All in the Nose blog post.

This week, another interesting article made headlines around the world, again demonstrating the powerful healing potential of olfactory cells in the human body. In this case, cells taken from the olfactory bulbs in the brain of Darek Fidyka, a 38-year-old Bulgarian man, were used to heal his severed spinal cord. Darek has now learnt to walk again and can drive a car. You can read more about this incredible finding in this ABC News article.  If you want to read a little more about the method scientists used in the procedure, this article from The Guardian contains some good information.

Here is a short extract from the ABC News article:

The breakthrough came after four decades of research by Professor Geoff Raisman, from the University College London, who spotted the potential of cells that repair damage to nasal nerves.

The circuitry that gives rise to the sense of smell is the only part of the nervous system that constantly regenerates.

“The idea was to take something from an area where the nervous system can repair itself, and does throughout life, and put it into an area that doesn’t repair itself,” Professor Raisman said.

“I believe this is the moment when paralysis can be reversed.”

Amazing stuff! Enjoy reading and let me know what you think in the comments section below.

Perfume Review: Tuberose Fragrances by Histoires de Parfums – Part Two – Tubereuse 3: Animale

Tube_Rose_Snuff,_Brown_&_Williamson_Tobacco_Company,_Winston-Salem,_North_Carolina

“Tube Rose Snuff, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company, Winston-Salem, North Carolina,” illustration published by the North Carolina State Fair Premium List 1920. Image courtesy of the Government and Heritage Library, State Library of North Carolina. http://www.flickr.com/photos/statelibrarync/6185312167/

Introduction to Histoires de Parfums Reviews

A few months ago, in my Facebook perfume appreciation group, some of us took part in a perfume review challenge. In this group task, we each chose a fragrance house that we wanted to become more familiar with, and wrote a review on a different scent from that house, every day for seven days. I chose to review seven fragrances by the French company Histoires de Parfums. Over the past few weeks I’ve shared a few of these reviews with you at Perfume Polytechnic. Today’s review of Tubereuse 3 is the final installment of this series.

If you’re interested in reading some of my earlier reviews, click through to the following links:

1740: Marquis de Sade

Olympia

Part One of this “paired” review, in which I reviewed Tubereuse 1: Capricieuse and shared my thoughts on tuberose as an ingredient, can be found here. If you’re interested in some background information about Histoires de Parfums,  it can be found in this post. In this two-part review I will be sharing my thoughts and impressions of two of the Tuberose Trilogy fragrances by Histoires de Parfums, Tubereuse 1 and Tubereuse 3. I won’t be reviewing Tubereuse 2: Virginale at this stage.

Part two – Tubereuse 3: Animale

Both Tubereuse 1 and Tubereuse 3 come from a series of three tuberose-centric perfumes created by Histoires de Parfums.

On its website, Histoires de Parfums (HdP) describes the tuberose flower as follows: “The mythical tuberose flower is a symbol of desire and dangerous pleasures. First discovered in Mexico thousands of years ago, tuberose is now cultivated worldwide, specifically in South India to be devoted to Gods, ceremonies and perfumes. A night-blooming plant that ends in a cluster of corolla flowers, tuberose only blooms once a year and requires meticulous care and cultivation. Tuberose’s fragrance is considered one of the most powerful floral scents and presents a noble challenge for any perfumer to bottle, yet has inspired many legendary fragrances. Tuberose emits a sweet and heady perfume, deeper after twilight when in full bloom. Its warm and velvety scent is sensual and spicy with a hint of sweetness and crystallized sugar. A powerful aphrodisiac, the green top notes gradually fold into a wild and bewitching deep bouquet of fragrance.” (text quoted from HdP’s website)

Tubereuse 3: Animale is a curious fragrance: it seems to straddle scent categories that are usually in opposition to one another. On the one hand, it’s like an 80s powerhouse fragrance: so rich, so intense, so strong, yet its intriguingly original blend of notes and high quality ingredients ensures it remains firmly in the niche camp. Gender-wise, it’s a true unisex fragrance, including sweeter fruity and floral notes (most often considered feminine) and stronger woody and herbaceous notes (usually considered masculine).

Tubereuse 3 is described by HdP thus:

“The mystical flower of the rituals and magic! The tuberose always provokes! More than a poison her nectar of honey is a real invitation to seduction! How not to feel bewitched when you face this mixture of blond Tobacco and Immortelle!” (text quoted from HdP’s website)

The listed notes are:

Top Notes: Tuberose, Neroli, Kumquat
Heart Notes: Tuberose, Aromatics, Prune
Base Notes: Tuberose, Blond Woods, Immortelle

I know this fragrance well, as I own a small travel-sized bottle, and I’ve worn it many times. Tubereuse 3 (T3), on first spray, is strong, one of the strongest and headiest fragrances I have experienced. At first, T3 emits a sweet yet savoury, boozy, rich aroma, and conjures up images of dark maple syrup (from the immortelle), shots of fine aged whisky, pipe tobacco and honey-soaked prunes.

The tobacco used in T3 hits you with a blast, and imparts a dry, masculine layer that balances out the sweet fruitiness of the other dominant notes (immortelle and prune). This tobacco note also reminds me of the old tins of cigarettes that my father once collected. As a child I used to enjoy opening the drawer in the enormously tall antique mahogany display cabinet in the dining room, pulling out one of the beautifully labelled flat tins, and opening it to reveal the dry, sweet, hay-like smell of the cigarettes. These cigarettes smelled nothing like those available in the modern packets and I revelled in these stolen sniffs, feeling like I was doing something slightly naughty, yet pleasurable.

The tuberose, as in Tubereuse 1: Capricieuse, plays a supporting role, but here, it is slightly stronger and more recognisable as tuberose. It’s still not indolic, but it imparts a strong sweetness and richness that matches the syrup of the immortelle and the warm intensity of the prune.

As for the remaining notes, I can’t detect them, so I must assume that either my skin doesn’t augment them, or they’re so well blended that they hide behind the dominant notes.

Longevity is excellent – T3 will last on clothes until you wash them, and for at least 4-6 hours on skin. Projection is enormous for the first couple of hours. You will easily fill a room in this fragrance. This, coupled with the longevity, means you don’t need to spray much of this fragrance for it to go a long way.

Tubereuse 3: Animale is a gorgeously rich, warm fragrance, marvellously comforting in cold weather, but also delicious in the summer, when its warm-dry-sweetness matches the heat of the sun.

As for the subtitle of this fragrance, “Animale”, I’m not sure that I would call T3 an animalic fragrance. Sure, it has the richness and depth that many true animalic fragrances often have, but there are no animal-derived or animal-redolent (whether natural or synthetically mimicked) ingredients here.

Tubereuse 1: Capricieuse and Tubereuse 3: Animale are now two of my favourite fragrances. HdP has used high quality ingredients and combined them in interesting compositions, exploring the note of tuberose in more subtle and unusual ways than many other perfume houses.

I’ve enjoyed discovering and reviewing these two fragrances from HdP’s Tuberose Trilogy. I’ve learnt that tuberose can play a variety of roles in a fragrance, and that it doesn’t always have to be a hot fuchsia mash-up of the indolic, overpowering, and tooth-achingly sweet.

How Smell Works: It’s not all in the nose

Andreas Vesalius, olfactory bulbs, from “De Humani Corporis Fabrica”, 1543.

I hope to be able to share with you, from time to time, articles that are both interesting, and which challenge our collective, accepted knowledge about things. As this is a perfume blog, the nose, and how we smell, are central concepts. So… how do we smell? Many of us would answer “with our noses”; but is it just with our noses that we experience scent? You would be forgiven for answering “yes”, but researchers over the past decade or so have discovered that olfactory receptors (the things that are in our noses that allow us to smell) are also situated throughout our bodies, in many of our organs, and even in sperm. These receptors react in such interesting ways to the application of various aromas or scent chemicals, that they provide new potential methods of healing the body, and show promise in repairing things like damaged skin and muscle tissue.

This kind of discovery reminds me of recent findings regarding the presence of enormous quantities of neurotransmitters and serotonin in the human stomach. So, you literally feel with your stomach and have a second “brain” down there, albeit one that functions (thinks and feels) differently to the one in your head. That gut feeling you have about something, really is a gut feeling.

I love it when things don’t fit into neat boxes, and when we discover previously unknown connections between things. So, in today’s post, I want to share with you this very exciting article from the New York Times. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!

You can read Smell Turns Up in Unexpected Places by Alex Stone here.

 

Perfume Review: Tuberose Fragrances by Histoires de Parfums – Part One – Tubereuse 1: Capricieuse

Introduction to Histoires de Parfums Reviews

A few months ago, in my Facebook group For Love Not Money, some of us took part in a perfume review challenge. In this group task, we each chose a fragrance house that we wanted to become more familiar with, and wrote a review on a different scent from that house, every day for seven days. This was a great way to get through some of my samples, which seem to have multiplied faster than Mogwais in the movie Gremlins over the past 18 months, and to really explore both the fragrance house, and their scent compositions.

I chose to review seven fragrances by the French company Histoires de Parfums and I’ll be sharing some of these reviews with you here at Perfume Polytechnic.

A couple of weeks ago I shared my review of 1740:Marquis de Sade with you. You can read that review here. Last week, I wrote about Olympia and you can read that review by clicking on this link. If you’re interested in some background information about Histoires de Parfums,  it can be found in this post.

In this two-part review I will be sharing my thoughts and impressions of two of the Tuberose Trilogy fragrances by Histoires de Parfums, Tubereuse 1 and Tubereuse 3. I won’t be reviewing Tubereuse 2: Virginale at this stage.

PART ONE – TUBEREUSE 1: Capricieuse

Let me start off by saying I’m not sure that I like tuberose. It’s one of those overpowering notes that tends to dominate any fragrance it’s in. I find its indolic, sweet and heady nature too much, most of the time. I can admire its camphoraceous, sarsaparilla-like qualities as found in Serge Lutens’ Tubereuse Criminelle, and I respect Robert Piguet’s Fracas, which renders tuberose in intense, creamy tones. But to me, tuberose is like the colour fuchsia: I just don’t like it. Both fuchsia and tuberose scream “femininity” to me in a way that, as a woman, I don’t want to be represented.

It is with some surprise then that I have to confess I absolutely adore both Tubereuse 1 and Tubereuse 3. This may make me sound like a hypocrite, but, as I will reveal, the way in which this powerful note is used and combined in these two fragrances makes all the difference.

One day early last year I was on one of my perfume self-education sessions in Melbourne. These would go on for hours, several times a week in the early days of my fascination with perfume. On this particular outing I was reeling with excitement from sniffing Tubereuse Criminelle: I had finally learned to identify tuberose! The goal of some of these self-education sessions would be to learn, by elimination and deduction, what a particular note smelled like, then find as many perfumes as I could which contained that note (using Fragrantica and The Guide), and go and sniff them. This is how I discovered the Histoires de Parfums Tubereuse Series. I was fascinated by this trio of perfumes that utilised tuberose as top, middle and base notes. Surely they would all be too overpoweringly “tuberose-y” for me? But, to my delight, when I spritzed Tubereuse 3 (T3), I was pleasantly surprised. T3 is essentially a tobacco and immortelle dominant perfume, with the tuberose playing only a supporting role in this fragrance, adding a sweet, robust layer and strength to the fragrance. I will review T3 in more detail tomorrow.

After being totally smitten with T3, I ordered some samples from the Histoires de Parfums (HdP) line. One of these samples was Tubereuse 1: Capricieuse, which I promptly and utterly fell for.

Tubereuse 1 is described as follows:

“Miss Tuberose is a Super Diva! Stubborn, demanding, temperamental…Yes, she deserves it all! Natural yet sophisticated, she balances between modesty and pride! She delivers her powdered and adorned hypnotic iris and saffron.” (Quoted from the HdP website)

The notes for Tubereuse 1: Capricieuse, are as follows:

Top notes: Tuberose, Bergamot, Saffron.
Heart notes: Tuberose, Iris, Ylang-ylang.
Base notes: Tuberose, Suede, Cacao.

Does Tubereuse 1 (T1) match up to the description above? Not really. Do I mind? No! I adore this fragrance, just as it is. T1 is rich and restrained, warm and cool, flat and vibrant, and simply gorgeous. Six to seven sprays are enough to get me through a full six hours before this becomes a skin scent. It radiates enormously for at least the first two hours of wear. On fabric it will last until you wash your clothes.

On first blast I am almost overwhelmed by the yummiest, warmest almond, not listed in the notes; but my observation is supported by the ingredients list, where I notice farnesol is listed. Farnesol is the main constituent in mimosa (wattle) flowers, which have a similar almondy smell to them. The powdery, earthy note of saffron and the soft, fuzzy suede compliment and blend beautifully with the almond note, with the suede gradually dominating from around the 20 minute mark. The iris, flat, bitter and cool, adds another powdery facet to the composition, yet contrasts with the warmth of the other notes. Cacao seems present, again, in a warm, earthy, powdery form, but it’s not strong.

Predominantly, this is a duet between iris and suede, and a study in powdery notes: it is such a beautiful creation. Tubereuse 1: Capricieuse is a close relative to HdP’s 1889: Moulin Rouge, a similarly powdery fragrance that is heavy on the iris. Moulin Rouge is sweeter, more girlish, while Tubereuse 1 is more modern, original and striking.

But where is the tuberose? It is present, but is so well blended that it only adds a slight sweetness, a warm floral note that underpins the whole composition. During the opening of the fragrance, I occasionally catch the tiniest, most whispery glimpses of indole, as if from the very periphery of my vision, but these soon fade away. Apart from this, the tuberose could really be any sweet, warm floral smell; it isn’t really strongly identifiable to my nose as tuberose. There is no camphor, no screaming fuchsia, there is nothing cloying or overwhelming about it in this composition; it is my kind of tuberose: warm, soft and fuzzy. Dusty, rosy brown. Cosy.

Tubereuse 3: Animale review to come soon…

 

Perfume Review: Olympia by Histoires de Parfums

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Olympia Music Hall facade. By KoS, c. 2009, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:KoS

A few months ago, in my Facebook group For Love Not Money, some of us took part in a perfume review challenge. In this group task, we each chose a fragrance house that we wanted to become more familiar with, and wrote a review on a different scent from that house, every day for seven days. This was a great way to get through some of my samples, which seem to have multiplied faster than Mogwais in the movie Gremlins over the past 18 months, and to really explore both the fragrance house, and their scent compositions.

I chose to review seven fragrances by the French company Histoires de Parfums and I’ll be sharing some of these reviews with you here at Perfume Polytechnic.

A couple of weeks ago I shared my review of 1740:Marquis de Sade with you. You can read that review here. If you’re interested in some background information about Histoires de Parfums,  it can be found at the same link.

Day 2: Olympia, Music Hall

Olympia is one of Histoires de Parfums’ most recent perfume creations, dating from 2012. As with all Histoires de Parfums (HdP) creations, this fragrance has a back story, which conceptually underpins the composition of the fragrance.

The story of Olympia, a music hall in Paris, is as follows:

“We would like to tell you the story of a legendary Music Hall that was conceived and then patiently built over the years by Bruno Coquatrix.

The famous red neon façade in the heart of Paris has immortalized the names of the world’s greatest performers. On the inside, thick red curtains have embraced musical treasures on stage since 1954, welcoming the likes of artists such as Piaf, the Beatles, the Stones, David Bowie, and Lady Gaga. These performers have shaken the walls with their music and made magic of Parisian nights while the audience sits on the edge of velvet seats, their spirits glowing from the excitement of an unforgettable evening.

It all happens once the spotlights illuminate the stage. Time becomes suspended, breathing is shortened, eyes widened, muscles contracted as thousands of hearts beat to a similar rhythm… The opening chords strike like lightning, liberating the crowd, unleashing a passion and creating an atmosphere that is impossible to understand without having experienced it. Thousands of voices singing in unison for one magical moment.

That is the Olympia!” (Text quoted from Histoires de Parfums website.)

Sure sounds exciting, doesn’t it? As do the notes listed. Olympia boasts a large number of notes for an HdP fragrance. They are as follows:

Top notes: Orange, Bergamot, Lemon, Mandarin.
Heart notes: Pink Berries, Black Pepper, Saffron, Rose, Freesia, Lilac, Peony.
Base notes: Blond Wood, Patchouli, Frankincense, Styrax, Suede, Vanilla, Chocolate, Licorice, White Musk.

From the notes and the vibrant description of the great Olympia Music Hall above, I am expecting something exciting, uplifting, colourful, bold and interesting. A fragrance buzzing with energy, somehow iconic, ground breaking, larger than life.

I’m sorry to say that I am quite underwhelmed by Olympia. When I first smelt Olympia, a few nights ago, the impression I got was that this was similar to Sarah Jessica Parker’s Lovely, with a soft and subtle musk and patchouli accord, but overlaid with a tiny smear of grapefruit (was the combination of citrus notes playing a trick on my brain?). Last night, and all day today, I have given this fragrance the chance to really show me what it’s made of. Today I sprayed Olympia liberally, at least 10 times, on skin and under fabric, yet this liberal application didn’t offer me much more.

My overall impression of Olympia is that it is nothing more than a wan whisper, a pale watercolour in pastel tones with a strangely muddy grey wash beneath the pastels, providing some contrast to them, and thankfully adding a small amount of interest to the whole composition.

What do I smell when I spray Olympia? The top notes, a citrus quartet of orange, bergamot, lemon and mandarin, present themselves fleetingly and quietly. They are soon replaced by a soft, slightly acidic floral combination of mostly lilac, with hints of freesia and rose. Freesia is a flower I adore, but in this fragrance it is so hidden that its loveliness doesn’t have a chance to shine. Saffron seems to poke its head in somewhere round the ten minute mark, lending a powdery flatness to the composition, more like the yellow, dusty smell of powdered turmeric (pretend saffron) than the real deal. The standout note is, I can only assume, some form of “suede”. I say this as it doesn’t conform to my olfactory knowledge of what suede actually smells like (in real life or in perfumery) at all. Rather, it smells like a cross between car engine oil, rubber, and stale cigarette smoke. It is somewhat reminiscent of the rubber note in Bvlgari Black. This note is, without a doubt, the saving grace of Olympia, and the only aspect of this fragrance that I find interesting. Sadly, this intriguing note is overlaid with an underwhelming blend of soft, chintzy florals (lilac, freesia, rose), which threatens to undermine it.

When I smell this fragrance I think of layers: thin, light, translucent layers. Fabrics like chiffon or organza, in soft pastels without much saturation of colour; pale layers floating above each other in a very gentle breeze. Translucent sheets of tracing paper, beautiful and delicate, but lacking in definite character, masking something underneath it; paper that you can create a copy of something else with, but which isn’t the real thing.

Where is the red velvet of the Olympia Music Hall? Where is the neon?

Olympia is a flat fragrance. It doesn’t have a great deal of development beyond the opening twenty minutes, and the sillage is poor to moderate at best. For such a light fragrance, the longevity is oddly tenacious. I’ve worn it for six hours now, and while it became a skin scent a few hours ago, it promises to linger for a few hours more.

Overall, Olympia is, to my nose, a fragrance that doesn’t live up to its potential. The fragrance, to me, doesn’t accurately represent the creative concept behind it: there is no electricity to it, no excitement, no emotional and physical rush, as promised. As for the lengthy list of exciting notes, I could hardly detect any other than those I’ve mentioned already in this review. I would have loved to smell the chocolate and the smoky incense, to have had more zesty citrus, a gutsier rose, and an earthy patchouli. Amplifying these notes may well have helped turn this faded wash of a watercolour into a strong, bright oil painting, more befitting the spirit of Histoires de Parfums and the Olympia Music Hall.