Empirical Investigation

One of my aims in life is to keep Patty happy with smell pleasures, and my samples up for review today will be winging their way across the Atlantic as you read this – if I can dare to part with them, that is. Because, for these past five days, I’ve been falling in love. Teased, caressed, confused and discombobulated, I need someone else to unpick these three fragrances for me, because I’ve been blinded by their beauty. Well, to be honest, I’ve only got eyes for one of them, though I’d hate you to let the other two know as they’re both great for flirting.

I am, of course, writing about the Parfum d’Empire trio, released sometime later this month: Osmanthus Interdite, Equistrius, Fougere Bengale. First, the background schtick – the line is the brainchild of Corsican Marc Antoine Corticchiato. He designs the bottles, does the historical research and creates the perfumes themselves. And all of that is done with impressive skill and artistic flair. He’s apparently an exacting nose when it comes to what he wants in a fragrance – the iris / rose / amber / sandalwood has to be EXACTLY right, or else… I’m not sure that his perfumes are recreations of scents of the past; to me they seem to be homages in a modern style to periods and people of historical richness. So far, we’ve had Napoleon and Josephine (Eau de Gloire, Eau Suave), Alexander (Iskander), the nineteenth century Russian court in all its heady opulence (Ambre Russe) and my favourite, the wealth and sophistication of the Ottoman Empire (Cuir Ottoman). While historians among us may question the wilful romanticism of these visions – where’s the blood, sweat and tears of culture here? – it’s much more difficult to doubt the beauty of at least one or two of these scents. There’s something for everyone here.

So, as I arrived at Les Senteurs last Friday, I did wonder where Corticchiato might go next. The lovely SAs at the best perfume store in Britain (FACT!) gave me free rein over the tiny sample bottles they’ve received as a pre-release, and they also made me the aforementioned vials to take away. Of course, I was distracted by the other glistening goodies instore, but kept returning to the newbies, because there was much to fascinate me there. I’d say, as a preamble, that the latest three are much more abstractions on a theme, rather than portraits. I might attempt to explain why, though it’s likelier I’ll be lazy and sloppy in my review. Never mind!
Osmanthus Interdite: L´osmanthus, fleur reine de la Chine, possà¨de une saveur fine aux accents d´abricot. Osmanthus Interdite, dont le nom est un clin d´Å“il à  la majestueuse Cité Interdite de Pékin, évoque aussi la Chine d´aujourd´hui et ses nouveaux Empereurs. Les capitalistes rouges´ triomphent en Chine, conquerrant le XXIà¨me sià¨cle à  coup de projets colossaux. Ils modernisent l´Empire millénaire et conduisent vers son prodigieux destin prà¨s du quart de l´humanité. Le parfum s´ouvre sur les notes fraà®ches d´un thé chinois aux accents verts et hespéridés. Autour de la rose et du jasmin, le cÅ“ur dévoile la saveur fruitée fleurie de l´osmanthus, qui évolue vers un sillage légà¨rement cuiré. Les muscs, cristallins, viennent clore la fragrance.

Helpful? Osmoz only has the details in French – I’ll leave it to you to babelfish or googletranslate it – I’m sure the mangling will be amusing. Though, it’s simple enough to get the gist of the message – an homage to China, represented by the Osmanthus, that refers to the past (the Forbidden City of Beijing) and the new capitalism of the 21st century, representing a quarter of the planet’s population. Not much to ask in a perfume, is it? So, what’s the juice like? I don’t get much in the way of red, personally. In fact, I’d be happy to swap the rich velvet red label on this one with the white one on the Equistrius bottle, partly because it does strike me as a delicate and ethereal fruity-floral, much like something in the Jean-Claude Ellena style. It starts with a finely subtle tea note that holds down the fruitier edges of osmanthus and plays up its more floral qualities. It’s supposed to be green tea, though that wasn’t necessarily clear to me. It was noticeably unfermented though – perhaps even a white tea note? As the fragrance develops, it gets both more floral (the support of the jasmine, the power of the rose – though I get no distinct high-pitched rose here) and fruitier, as the apricot aspects become prominent. And then the drydown – a definite leathery quality, like a light suede. It’s beautifully rendered and so not me, whereas Hermes’s Osmanthe Yunnan, perhaps this perfume’s most obvious point of reference, definitely is. What they share in common is the transparent quality they have – they are both silk like, built up of diaphanous layers so that you can see (pale) colours separately, as well as a blend. Whereas Osmanthe Yunnan seems to rely on hesperidic sparkle anchored by mossy basenotes, this scent, in its pale and innocent floral richness – hence the white – is too feminine for me. Conventional old me, eh?

Equistrius is the horsey one. Supposed to represent the might and majesty of the Roman equine worship, I was expecting something animalic and sweaty, more along the lines of Cuir Ottoman I guess. Instead, this opens up on a sparkling iris accord, supported by a twinkle of violets as far as Osmoz claims. It’s more like Lutens’s Iris Silver Mist, or The Different Company’s Bois d’Iris in its first few minutes – an iris that avoids powderiness completely and instead goes for the brilliance of the first shafts of sunlight on cold ground. I’ve tried to picture a horse, and all I imagine is a white stallion located somewhere in Ted Hughes’s eponymous poem.

Except for a few minutes of aftershaviness (funny how scents can do that – it’s all butch for a while and then snap! it vanishes as quickly as it arrived), this perfume is exactly ambiguous in its sexual identity. It slowly warms up, becoming more ambery, and woodier, but with the softness of high quality sandalwood, rather than the often coarser cedar (don’t tell Serge I said that!). I definitely get the chocolate, but this steers far clear of gourmand land and just adds to the enveloping warmth of the composition. Not a snort or bray to be found. So, as a scent its an interesting juxtaposition of chilly opening, clean as frost, and warm snuggle. Decant-worthy, at the very least.

Now onto love. Fougere Bengale is enigmatic. When I sprayed it on in the store, I was startled by its apparent similarity to Eau Noire or Sables. But that was smell memory tricking me – the spiciness pretended it was immortelle, but I’m now not sure there’s any of that weirdly spicey-sweet beautiful-ugliness in there. It’s nothing like those two perfumes. In fact, each time I test this scent (and no more spraying iunfortunately, which I imagine is exactly what this scent really needs), I get something different. Gingerbread and Christmas one moment; curry the next; bucolic rolls in the hay a little while later; then another time, beautiful tobacco – it’s doing the blond tobacco thing as I type, in fact. It’s a shapeshifter in extremis and five days of sniffing hasn’t been enough for me to pin it down. So, looking at the notes as listed on Osmoz, I can agree with all of them. Because, most curious of all, it is obviously a classic fougere. There’s a buzz, a thrum, in what a fougere does on the skin – when it works that is – as the perfume notes play off against each other. In something like Rive Gauche pour Homme, it gives the overall composition a salty quality, as Luca Turin wisely noted on his long defunct blog. There’s a salty-sweet thrum here too that, in spite of all the OTHER CRAZY STUFF going on, never lets you forget that you’re in weirdly mixed up classic territory. And in the base, if all that isn’t enough, there’s a funkily animalic party occurring too – the tiger of the story, no doubt.

This should be a mess. It isn’t. It’s wonderful – frequently restrained, at times refined, but on the verge of collapse at any moment, with claws out at the very end. It’s supposed to be the Victorian Empire in India – perhaps here, Corticchiato gets his history right. A bottle is mine as soon as it hits the shelves.

(Forbidden city image from brittanica.com, horse photo from http://www.billemory.com, Rousseau’s Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised) care of www.tate.org.uk)

  • carmencanada says:

    Late to the party… I just had to sample for myself. You’re right, Fougère du Bengale, which I am wearing right now (2 hours into it) has an unmistakeable whiff of immortelle: it’s the first thing that came to my mind, definitely. But without the sweetness of Eau Noire or Sables: a different animal, clearly.
    The SA said she’d perceived cumin: according to her, it’s the one Parfum d’Empire that’s a love-hate thing. I’m really getting a lot of bitterness which I would get comes from the tobacco base eating its way through the lavender. Very interesting. Scored a sample so I’ll be seeing if the shape-shifting fougère effect works on me too.

    • Lee says:

      I hope it does – that strikes me as the beauty of the scent. And it’s not very sweet at all. Y’know, the drydown is somehow reminiscent of Chene – at least in my smell memory (don’t have any more FB, but am ordering a bottle today).

  • Rich says:

    This is a house I accidentally fell in love with… I think I’m feeling the same way all over again. All three sound fabulous, too bad the horse doesn’t have any stamina.

    BTW, where could I find a full resolution size of that black and white horse picture. I couldn’t find it on the photographer’s website. Thanks for the reviews!
    – Rich

  • Flora says:

    Oh, the exquisite torture of waiting for these! I am eagerly anticipating Equistrius – a non-powdery iris combined with the other notes sounds just perfect to me. The other two sound fab as well. If everyone likes these half as much as you do, we are all in deep trouble. 😡

  • Kyra says:

    Thank you for following up last week’s wicked tease with these great reviews. Already jonesing for a bottle of Cuir Ottoman and still panting to try these three, but now in a different order.

  • Solander says:

    Hullo luv!
    I’m back from the dead (vacation) and now I’m a Brit too. York is very, um, English. I suspect England is, generally. Brick houses, unhygienic carpets, separated hot & cold water taps, salt & vinegar crisps, you get the drill… It feels a bit as if I’ve stepped out of the magic cupboard, into a reality I’d forgotten all about, shocked that I’d been living in Narnia all along… It’s all so familiar – from fiction, especially children’s fiction and fantasy and Victorian novels, hence it feels a bit unreal. Haven’t done any fragrance shopping in York yet but I’m already planning a trip to London… Suddenly, I’m 3 times as rich as I used to be, the grant’s quite generous, so buying bottles might actually be an option.
    Too bad the horsie smell is just iris-sandalwood-chocolate. I don’t like iris and the rest sounds rather dull. I guess I’ll have to stick to Guet-Apens for my horse scent kicks… The fougere sounds absolutely fabulous though, I must go to Les Scenteurs and smell it when I’m in London!

    • Lee says:

      Well, we have mixer taps in this house (well, one anyway). And there aren’t unhygienic carpets everywhere – there are one or two hygienic ones too!;)

      I think the feelings you’re having will hit you most of all in a city (in only name!) like York. I imagine the cultureshock will wear off – some of us Brits hate carpets and salt ‘n’ vinegar crisps, you know!

      I think you’ll love the fougere…

      • Solander says:

        You know, it’s not so much culture shock as an immediate feeling of familiarity. I got pretty much the same when I stayed with an English family in London (ok, ok, Wimbledon…) 10 years ago. Even London has that cosy British small town feeling, although to a lesser degree than York. It’s the beloved draughty old brick houses that look the same everywhere! York is actually larger than Uppsala where I come from, though I admit it has more of a small town (and tourist attraction!) feeling about it. So far, I think the best thing about the UK is that ginger nuts are a staple, and the worst thing, um, either the carpets or the lack of cheese slicers (every Swedish home has at least two or three of these, cutting the cheese with a knife simply won’t do unless you’re doing fancy dessert cheese!). Well, I can bring my cheese slicer from Sweden but I can’t rip out the carpets so the carpets win. Especially combined with shoes and/or bathrooms…. :-&

  • Louise says:

    Lovely review, luv. What was missing was your reading outloud of the poem.

    But, whoa! I am feeling overwhelmed. Each scent seems so complex, and so very different, one from another. I do love Ambre Russe, and very much like Cuir Ottoman, so I have hopes for all of these three.

    I am guessing Fougere will be my winner of the trio, but am also really hoping to love the Osmanthus. It’s one of very few florals I adore. Digits twisted.

    • Lee says:

      Yep – overwhelming is about right. All three of them need time and careful unpicking – they’re not ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am’ types at all. Well, it’s very osmanthussy, as far as I can tell (no expert here).

      That poem’s a stunner, isn’t it? Hughes is my favourite nature poet – does hard gritty nature like no-one else.

  • Patty says:

    BTW, that “live to keep Patty happy” crack does not amuse me… especialy when you are still holding onto those samples with your sweaty palms. 🙂

    I know, though! I’m still clutching that Bond Warhol thing, and I know I should share it, and I promise I will, but I just can’t bring myself to do it yet. Next week, really.

    • Lee says:

      I’ve packaged them up for you, my doll

      No rush on Bond’s hole; not all of us have the same level of smell frenzy as you…


  • Robin says:

    Have samples on the way and can’t wait, so glad they are worth waiting for.

    And where do I sign up to get on your list of people to “keep happy with smell pleasures”, LOL?

    • Lee says:

      I’ll eat my hat (well, I would if I had one) if the osmanthus one doesn’t tickle your fancy.

      You can join the list any time, but now you have samples of these winging their way to you, I’m not sure what I can offer… You always seem way to clued up. But I’ll keep my ear to the ground. Not literally. That would be daft…

      • Robin says:

        Now you’ve promised, so if the osmanthus is no darned good, will send you a hat. To eat.

        And if I were you, I’d hold out for that Andy Warhol! It is pretty darned nice too.

  • violetnoir says:

    Lee, I love osmanthus, so I can’t wait to try that one. But now you have me so interested in the Bengale one. It sounds fascinating!


    • Lee says:

      Oh my, it is fascinating. i’m waiting for a review to debunk it and go meh… perhaps that might cool my ardour

      Who am I kidding!:-“

  • tmp00 says:

    I wasn’t feeling it at all until you got to Fougere Bengale, evil man!

    I was in ScentBar the other day and was reminded that I made a mental note to myself that I need a bottle of Cuir Ottoman. But I am on a no-buy in preparation for a trip to NYC next month. :((

  • Teri says:

    oh my….my original ‘itch’ of interest has turned into a ‘scratchfest’ after reading your reviews. I’ve been very impressed with this line. Even those fragrances that aren’t right for me have still intrigued me. You folks have nailed it — they ARE interesting.

    I think a decant of each is in my future, at the very least. Thank you, Lee, for giving us the skinny on these prior to their release.

    • Lee says:

      Interesting is right. On the one hand (financial probity…) I was hoping they’d be dull as ditchwater; on the other, I’m delighted they’re out there – they could lift a few flat perfumistas out of scentnui, with any luck.

  • March says:

    These sound delicious! Equistrius does not sound at all like what I was expecting, but yum. I am particularly excited about Fougere Bengale. And BTW I love that Rousseau — the National Gallery of Art had a Rousseau show last year, I believe — what a nut he was. They had some interesting portraits and other non-jungle things I’d not seen before.

    • Lee says:

      Equistrius isn’t at all what I was expecting either – so much airier, much less sweaty. And perhaps the most conventional of the three. Not sure how anybody else will react to FB – I can’t triangulate its appeal at all…

      As for Rousseau – I love his sportsmen most of all…

  • AimeeinAustin says:

    Whhoar! I can almost smell the keyboard smoking from that review of Fougere Bengale! Nice job — they all look to be fascinating must-trys. Great Rousseau painting you’ve used, too. What enticing images (to a history and lit geek like myself, anyway) Parfum d’Empire uses — Roman equine worship and forbidden cities…. Stunning!

  • donanicola says:

    Very interesting reviews, Lee, thanks. I think you gave enough information on which to assess a possible purchase without hiding your love of the tiger! Curiousity got the better of me and I checked Osmoz – I think they’ve taken note of your suggestion as the Equistruis has a red label on and the Osmanthe a white. From your description and the lists of notes I’m looking forward to sniffing the Tiger and the Horse (shades of Rome? And the lovely Titus Pullo? Now that’s got me going…)

    • Lee says:

      So it does! That was a very doltish misinterpretation of mine – it even does on the photo at the top of my review. Sometimes I’m less this :-b and more this 8-} .

      You need to call into Les Senteurs prontisimo, I think!

  • Kelley says:

    Lee, great reviews. I will keep an eye out for these (isn’t that a gross saying…”keep an eye out”?). Does the Tiger compare to L’artisan’s Navigateur?

    • Lee says:

      I like it as a saying – makes me imagine a world where we’re all cartoons!

      FB is very different to EdN – they both have foody hints I suppose, but move in entirely different directions. I enjoy EdN but can’t wear it – coffee goes weird on me (there’s a story behind that; another time…). But I would imagine both scents appeal to the same kind of person.

  • camille says:

    What a fabulous way to start my day! Thanks for an informative and lemming-producing review, Lee.

    I want to try all three, but suspect I might *need* the horse and the tiger. Adore ISM, Bois d’Iris, and Sables–anything mentioned as reminiscent of those perks my ears and gets my heart thumping.

    This fall sounds like it might get expensive….

  • Divalano says:

    Lee, you evil thing, you’re torturing me!! I will be haunting the doorway at Aedes for wks now, waiting for these to arrive.

    The truth is I am not a fan of Pd’E in general but I love Cuir Ottoman so much that I am filled with hope & desire for these. They all sound interesting, even the floral Osmanthe (yes, I’d brave the rose in it), even the Fougere (although I suspect I might hate it). But the one I’m really waiting to fall in love with is Equistrius. And waiting. And waiting. :-w

    • Lee says:

      Well I’m with you – CO is for me the stand-out frag of the line. I love it to pieces. But FB could slide up there alongside it I think. But it’s a scent that does need time.

      I hope Karl puts a bed out for you.

  • Hi Lee!
    Oh my, ” Teased, caressed, confused and discombobulated”? They all sound wonderful but I
    am especially eager to try the Osmanthus.
    Hope you had a great birthday and that the job is going well!

    • Lee says:

      If you like the JCE style, if you like floral and a hint of leather, you’ll be all over the osmanthus.

      And thanks for your kind words – birthday was great and I’m strangely loving my new job…

  • Silvia says:

    Fab reviews indeed ^:)^
    I can’t wait to try all 3 !!!

  • juliaforsberg says:

    Thanks for an excellent review!

    Our family have always own horses and I grew up with them. In fact my mum took me with her in the saddle when I was 2 months old 😮 I’m also a die hard fan of anything with an iris note in it. That’s probably why I find it almost unbearable NOT to have a sample of Equistrius *right here right now*

    Fougere Bengale sound interesting as well and I just love that Rousseau painting!

    • Lee says:

      Oh, I’m a big Rousseau fan, so that was obvious for me. Though I did debate Blake’s tiger from Songs of Experience, but that looks more like a cuddly teddy bear!

      Equistrius is somehow ethereal – it’s the scent of the houyhnhnms from Gulliver’s Travels…

  • Patty says:

    There’s about Want x10 on these. They sound interesting, and I can’t wait to sniff the tiger, yum, sounds wonderful. Thanks for the review!

  • Maria says:

    Ah, Lee, it’s so nice to see a man in fragrance love. The wackiness of Fougere Bengale sounds irresistible. I like Cuir Ottoman a lot, and Ambre Russe even more.

    Do you think your dislike of florals might have affected your response to the osmanthus one? I have a tiny osmanthus plant that simply won’t grow. I don’t know what’s wrong with the wee thing. I’ve had it since early spring. Most of the other plants (of many sorts) I got around that time have gotten huge.

    I’m so glad I studied French, naughty man. 😡

    • Lee says:

      See, I’m not sure if FB is that wacky – it just tricks you into thinking it is. But by golly I’m enjoying it!

    • Lee says:

      Oh, and the osmanthus thing might be down to my floral issues – which is probably why I prefer OY. Much less floral…

      Did you read the poem? Ain’t it brilliant? Better than all that french gerfuffle up above…