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Review: products by Imiza

SecondCherry rates this:*********( 4.5/5 )

Delightful natural products based on immortelle.

Imiza EDP

Imiza is a niche skincare brand based in Corsica and sells mainly via its website, www.imiza.com

Corsica has many small cosmetics producers, which base their products on native flora and other local products. For instance, the Corsican bee is a protected species and produces a unique honey. 

Imiza bases its mostly-natural-based products on another plant for which Corsica is famous - helichrysum or immortelle. Known in the UK as 'everlasting flower', it's often used in dried-flower arrangements because it keeps its colour well but in cosmetics it also has powerful skincare attributes. It's anti-inflammatory, analgesic, cell-regenerating (hence its use in anti-ageing products), and is also used in acne treatments and for surgical scars and wounds and stretch marks. In a warm bath, it heals aches and pains, and calms sensitive skin. 

It also has a beautiful scent - something like hay, but with notes of tobacco, honey and tea, and is used as a perfumery note in fragrances. 

The four products by Imiza that I sampled were Oliu di Sole dry oil; Latte di Sole body milk, Luce di Sole Sérum Absolu serum and the firm's Eau de Parfum.

Oliu di sole

Oliu di Sole dry oil (27.90 euros for a 100ml spray) is a fabulous-smelling dry oil that sinks directly into the skin without leaving any greasy residue and leaves your skin beautifully soft and smooth. The scent fades relatively quickly, enabling you to put your perfume on afterwards without a clash. I found this product perfect for after swimming, when I need to apply moisturiser very quickly and often in cold conditions. The spray bottle is a bonus with dry oils, which can otherwise be messy to apply. 

Latte di Sole

If you want your skin to be beautifully perfumed for hours, choose the Latte di Sole body milk instead. Equally lovely to use, it also sinks into the skin, leaving it beautifully soft but not greasy, and also fragrant (36.90 euros for 200ml).  

The eau de parfum (74 euros for 100ml, top right) was the product I was most impressed with. This chypre has immortelle throughout with head notes of lavender and orange, heart notes of jasmine, rose and orange fruit, and base notes of labdanum, patchouli, musk and benzoin. It is a truly lovely, warm perfume that smells like lying on your back in a hayfield, your limbs warmed by the sun, gazing up at a cloudless blue sky. The orange notes are the most evident at the opening, with immortelle at the heart and benzoin in the drydown, with throw and persistence both modest - a perfume suitable for wearing out to dinner or to the office. 

Luce di sole

The final product I tried was the Luce di Sole Sérum Absolu (39.50 euros for a 15ml dropper bottle). As a tired old cynic, I am never sure of the claims for serums, night creams and anti-ageing creams, but I can definitely say that this serum smells lovely and stops your skin from drying out overnight. I found I couldn't use it during the day, as being oil-based, it stops makeup from sitting properly on the skin, but it works well at night under a night cream and I fancy it made me look rather less tired. It is certainly worth a look for those who prefer an oil-based serum, and is much cheaper than similar products from firms such as Decleor, which can cost over 100 euros.

Imiza products are available from the firm's website, www.imiza.com for delivery worldwide.   

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Review: The perfumes of Caron

SecondCherry rates this:********( 4/5 )

The perfume house for duchesses.

Fleurs de Rocaille

The perfume house of Caron is perhaps not very well known outside the perfume-collecting community, but it deserves at least as much recognition by the general public as names like Dior and Chanel.

Caron is part of the tradition of French 'grand perfumery' - luxury products for a luxury market, containing the best of ingredients, both natural and synthetic, and a heaped-up, stick-it-all-in abundance that is the opposite of today's minimalist taste. Back in its heyday, Caron was a better-known house than Guerlain, and with a better reputation: Guerlain's perfumes were for cocottes, it was sniffily said; Caron's perfumes were for duchesses. 

The house was founded in 1904 by Russian emigré and self-taught perfumer Ernest Daltroff, who worked with his mistress, Félicie Wanpouille, the inspiration for all his fragrances. Many of the perfumes from this era can be read as secret love letters from one to the other. 

All Caron perfumes are said to contain a base named the 'caronade', which locks all the perfumes together as a family and smells of marrons glacés, the uber-sweet, sugary French dessert that one traditionally eats with cream and which is firmly associated in my mind with the Jardins du Palais Royal in Paris, one baking April day when I had just interviewed Serge Lutens and come away with a sack full of perfumes.

Certainly, the Caron perfumes I'm acquainted with have a certain 'deliciousness' in common. They are creamy, yummy and buttery, settle into the skin and stay quietly inside your clothing until a sudden waft escapes, giving the sensation - as Tania Sanchez said of Guerlain's Mitsouko - of someone else having walked into the room.

They develop beautifully on the warmth of the skin and go through quite distinct phases, but it is almost impossible to pick out individual notes, as the perfumes are too well blended.

Caron perfumes are also private pleasures, without a great deal of 'throw' or sillage: indeed people may not realise you're wearing perfume at all - the effect is more like you yourself smell wonderful. For this reason, they are ideal perfumes to wear for any occasion when you'll be in close proximity to others for some time, such as at the cinema or theatre, or during sex. But above all, wear them - like a cashmere sweater - for your own enjoyment, rather than that of others.

It should be noted, for anyone thinking of trying them, that Caron perfumes have undergone reformulations that many in the perfume community feel are disastrous, under the art direction of Richard Fraysse. However, IMHO, the ones actually created under his leadership are perfectly pleasant. You can also pick up vintage versions of the old Caron perfumes on Ebay. Failing that, it's best to find a Caron shop and sample the pure perfumes (an option that isn't open to me, living in rural France - I just make do with whatever strength I can find online, preferably EDP but EDT if there's nothing else). 

Below, I'll review the perfumes that I'm actually familiar with. Other than the house of Serge Lutens, Caron is the only house I'm actively collecting.

Perfumes that I haven't tried from Caron include: Acaciosa, N'aimez que Moi, Tabac Blond, Infini, En Avion, Alpona and Farnesiana.

Aimez-Moi 

A violet-based fragrance, but when I say violet, for me it's violet leaf, not violet flower. This has a much earthier, skankier smell than Parma Violet sweets and their ilk, so get ready for a heavy, chocolately, rooty experience with this one. It's my least-favourite Caron so far, but I do find it's growing on me, and it definitely reminds me of walking into Chocolatier Casati at Bagnoles de l'Orne with its chocolate, guimauve, sugared-almond smells. The nose is Dominique Ropion, whose best work has been for Frederick Malle. Some others find this perfume sweeter than sweet from top to finish. 

Bellodgia 

Based on carnation and devised in 1927, I have only tested the modern formulation. It is beautiful, but a little weak and quiet for my taste in the EDT. I found myself comparing it with Serge Luten's Vitriol d'Oeillet rather unfavourably.  Vitriol d'Oeillet is a stiletto-sharp blade of a perfume - a savage, evil carnation, while Bellodgia is very quiet and creamy. Unfortunately, the modern formulation is so weak that it all but disappears in about 15 minutes, partly due, says Turin, to the new EU regulations on the use of clove oil, so here is one instance where I'll be trying the vintage version when I can afford it. For now, the best approach is to spray on two applications about half an hour apart, or layer it with a dab of Vitriol d'Oeillet.   

Fleurs de Rocaille

Not to be confused with the same firm's Fleur de Rocaille (without an S), which is modern, this is a much older perfume. The perfume was devised in 1933 but my tiny Baccarat bottle of pure perfume and large bottle cologne are both 1960s vintage, though it they retain all the gorgeousness of the pre-reformulation fragrance. It's described as prim, proper and inoffensive by some reviewers, such as Luca Turin, but I don't agree at all. I feel completely delicious in Fleurs de Rocaille's flowershop bouquet embrace. Notes include half the perfumer's palette: palisander, bergamot, gardenia and violet; orris root, jasmine, narcissus, rose, carnation, lily of the valley, ylang-ylang, lilac, mimosa and iris; amber, sandalwood, musk and cedar. NB: the modern version, Fleur de Rocaille, is said to be a much more feeble creature. 

Le Troisième Homme

Supposedly a masculine fragrance, with citrus and flowers, but so well blended that it is almost impossible to pick out the notes. I first tried the modern version, in a 4ml mini format and instantly went back out and bought 100ml. Citrussy top notes give way to a mixed floral and then a drydown of such exquisite balance that I can't really describe it - warm, beeswaxy, honey-like. For me, it was love at first sniff. What makes this fragrance a masculine is beyond me - it's beautiful on a woman.   

Montaigne

One of Caron's modern offerings, devised in 2007 but smelling every bit like a vintage fume. This is a delicious spicy, powdery yellow oriental floral with great staying power - sprayed on before bed, it's still perfectly discernible after breakfast. The top notes are jasmine, coriander, mimosa and bitter orange, the middle note is single - narcissus - and the base notes are sandalwood, amber and vanilla. 

Muguet de Bonheur 

My bottle is vintage, from the 1960s. Muguet de Bonheur, the name of the lily-of-the-valley offerings that French people make to each other on May Day, is a green, bright muguet that came out about the same time as Diorissimo but was never as popular. It is a nice enough fragrance and perfectly respectable, but a little linear for my taste and compares poorly with Diorissimo's far greater complexity.   

Nuit de Nöel

Named for Christmas Night, Félice's favourite night, you might expect this perfume to smell of cloves and spices, etc, but it doesn't at all. Top notes are ylang-ylang, rose and jasmine, the middle notes are sandalwood and oak moss, and the base notes are musk and amber. My bottle is 1960s vintage, and therefore a splash version, so I have decanted it into a spray. My version dries down very quickly, like Old Spice aftershave, but then remains on the skin for a long time - easily discernable in the morning when sprayed before bed. 

Parfum Sacré 

A truly delicious perfume, devised by nose Jean-Pierre Bethouart who also designed Paul Smith's London for Women, this is a wonderfully spicy, peppery, cinnamony scent that makes me feel completely luscious.  Notes include rose and narcissus, incense and musk, but the balance and weight of this perfume differ from any other I've tried in which the same ingredients appear. I would now love to try the 'Intense' version.   

Pour un Homme

Another classic men's fragrance, based on lavender and vanilla. Starts out as lavender and dries down to vanilla, though the lavender is reactivated with heat, sweat or moisture. I have two versions of this - one the modern version in a mini 5ml EDT and the other a vintage 50ml spray. Both are EDT. The difference, I would say, is that the vintage version has much stronger top notes - very citrussy, with shades of rosemary and mint, and the lavender is much stronger, almost distressingly so. However, after an hour or so it settles to the same lavender/vanilla drydown as the modern fume. This is a most gorgeous fragrance for undecided days, days when you want to feel clean but don't fancy a white floral. The idea of it being a male fragrance is ludicrous - this would work well on most women and I wear mine a great deal.  

Royal Bain de Champagne

I was extremely lucky to pick up this vintage version of the modern Royal Bain de Caron on Ebay, which dates from the days before the Champagne wineries forced the withdrawal of the word from all other manufacturers. The nozzle was so caked with resin that I had to pick it out with a pin, and the top notes were a weird blast of benzoin and something unpleasantly green (opoponax?). But oh boy, once it settled down, the ambrosial mix of lilac and rose, incense and amber, vanilla and sandalwood... Smells nothing like champagne, but an awful lot like heaven.

Yatagan

Yatagan is something I wanted because it's an animalic - a genre that I like very much (just chuck a wad of civet, castoreum and costus at me). I bought a mini bottle on Ebay and for some time thought it was a frag too far - way too strikingly masculine a fragrance to actually wear. But I have come round to it even on myself in small doses. You know a fragrance is good (like Serge Lutens' Gris Clair) when you're not sure you like it, but you can't keep away from it. 

Fragrances I hope to test in the future include Tabac Blond, Farnesiana and Narcisse Noir.  

Caron perfumes are available online, from the firm's store in Paris and via selected outlet.  

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Review: La Fille de Berlin by Serge Lutens

SecondCherry rates this:*******( 3.5/5 )

Roses roses everywhere for Serge's latest release

La Fille de Berlin

The latest fragrance release from niche house Serge Lutens is La Fille de Berlin, which should appear on shelves in March next year. 

As usual with Lutens releases, the company has stayed tight-lipped on the ingredients used, except to say that the perfume contains roses and pepper. Instead, as a journo, you receive a text, which in this case was even more impenetrable than Serge's usual output.

"Upon her lips I tasted the blood of Siegfried. For my girl from Berlin was armed, poised for battle, and thus more beautiful than ever, slaying all contempt, also known as my shame, acting like a fur lining for my cloak of pride..." etc. 

None the wiser, I am testing the perfume by actually wearing it.

One's first impression is a strong one, which is the colour of the juice. It's rare for Lutens to produce coloured juices - most of the fragrances are in soft shades of brown or grey-brown, with the only real exception I can think of being the bright purple De Profundis.

La Fille de Berlin in contrast is bright berry red like a vial full of blood. Sprayed on the skin it looks like blackcurrant juice, and is probably best kept well away from light-coloured clothing.

The top notes are a green and sappy fresh rose, somewhat like Sa Majesté la Rose, which is based on Bourbon roses, but feeling pinker, redder and more complex and containing the full raspberry-jelly scent of true rose oil (it also feels oily on the skin). After 30 minutes or so, it becomes sherbety, sugary and quite fondant, like a rose-flavoured dessert of some sort, though never as artificial neon pink as Paris, before morphing slowly into a softly woody rose. 

I detect no pepper, but I do detect a creamy vanilla or sandalwood in the drydown.

Compared side by side with Sa Majesté, I would say the latter is crisper, greener, more springlike, more soapy, whereas La Fille is deeper, redder and more velvety (oddly, if I smell Sa Majesté and then La Fille, the latter has no fragrance at all, though I can smell them both if I sniff them the other way around). Persistence is about eight hours, though faint after about three, and the sillage is moderate, but the scent is very much a true rose fragrance rather than a rose-based fragrance such as Goutal's Grand Amour. 

In the Lutens canon, La Fille, I would say, falls somewhere between the darkness of Rose de Nuit and the brightness of Sa Majesté, but my personal taste is for the more extreme fragrances and with La Fille, I would have liked to see the pepper component cranked up to the max - the kind of bravery we are used to from this label. On the other hand, I do not currently own Rose de Nuit, and it is far more expensive, so I certainly see myself wearing La Fille on days when Sa Majesté would seem too optimistic and cheery. La Fille, also, might suit my gardener friend E, who is gradually searching through the rose fragrance database in the hope of finding that elusive perfect rose. 

La Fille de Berlin is in the export line and will cost 78 euros from www.sergelutens.com and selected outlets from spring 2013.  


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Review: Séville à l'Aube by Artisan Parfumeur

SecondCherry rates this:**********( 5/5 )

Séville à l'Aube is a powerfully orange-scented limited edition from a favourite niche parfumerie.

Séville à l'aube

Séville à l'Aube (Dawn in Seville) is Artisan Parfumeur's latest release - due out in the summer - and is a limited edition, though the company are staying tight-lipped on how many bottles they are going to produce. 

It has a somewhat unusual provenance for a perfume, as it's the fruit of a collaboration between Artisan's resident perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour and the perfume blogger Denyse Beaulieu, who writes under the name Grain de Musc.

Beaulieu once recounted to Duchaufour her memory of a particular night she spent with a young Spanish lover in the town of Seville during Holy Week. The scent of orange blossom from the trees mingled with the lavender-cologne-soaked sweat of the crowds, the incense from the churches and the smell of burned-out beeswax candles. He remarked that it sounded like a good idea for a perfume, and so the two began work together.

Séville à l'Aube is the result of that two-year collaboration and the notes are orange blossom, petitgrain, petitgrain citronnier, beeswax absolute, Somalian incense, lavender absolute and benzoin. 

As usual with perfume tests, I took this one down to the local pool with me and tried it on both men and women. Everyone liked it, though some could smell incense in the top notes, and some only orange blossom. There is enough petitgrain oil to leaven the sweetness for men, and the lavender sends it in the direction of a fougere, so I feel that this perfume could be worn by both sexes. It is extremely true to its ingredients. 

On me, I detect no lavender at all, but get strong orange-blossom notes, the sharp greeness of petitgrain (both orange and lemon, so here it differs from Serge Lutens' Mandarine Mandarin) and then deepening and sweetening beeswax notes. On my friend E, it is all incense. On my friend K, it smells, as she put it, like 'pink fur'. On my friend N, it switches between neroli and incense, back and forth so that it smells different each time she puts her wrist to her nose. 

It starts out bright but after some 20 minutes morphs into a very sexy perfume, but still far fresher than Serge Lutens Fleurs d'Oranger (formerly my favourite orange blossom), and the neroli note has real staying power of at least six hours. I would suggest wariness from anyone who doesn't like the smell of honey, though. 

I originally gave this 4.5 stars, docking half a star just for the shape of the new Artisan bottle, which I really dislike compared with the old one. But at November 2012 I upped it to 5 stars because I now think this really is the sexiest perfume I've ever used in my life. My bottle of Fleurs d'Oranger lies unworn in the drawer, and Séville à l'Aube has become my go-to orange blossom. In fact, I've just bought another bottle as I can't bear to think of ever being without it. 

Séville à l'Aube is priced at 105 euros for 100ml, while stocks last.  

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