Equistrius by Parfum d'Empire

*****
Year: 2007

Notes: green notes, violet, Florentine iris, rice powder, chocolate, vetiver, sandalwood, ambrette butter, ambergris
In honour of the horse that gave Parfum d'Empire's Marc-Antoine Corticchiato, a former competitive horse rider, his greatest victories, Equistrius is allegedly "built around the noblest of raw materials" with iris being the star accord. But, where most offerings of this ilk explore the rooty, buttery or candied aspects of iris, this rendition treads its own path – resulting in a soft, powdery and slightly fruity affair.

Starting out fairly sweet, the rice powder and iris come into play almost immediately, with a slightly green violet adding a little edge. Coupled with the chocolate, the composition exudes suede undertones, as opposed to a gourmand premise. Resting on a foundation of ambrette, sandalwood and ambergris, the resultant woody-musk drydown is pleasantly creamy, nutty and slightly ambery.

Ultimately, it's a well-blended fragrance that's comforting, inoffensive and relatively easy to wear. And although there's nothing particularly riveting about it, it would certainly appeal to those who prefer a far less challenging iris-dominant scent.

Staying very close to the skin, its lasting power could have been considerably better.


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Fougère Bengale by Parfum d'Empire

*****
Year: 2007

Notes: mint, tarragon, laurel, gingerbread, spices, lavender, geranium, Assam tea, blond tobacco, hay, tonka bean, patchouli, vanilla, oakmoss
"Fougère Bengale revisits the [fougère] genre with a powerful, honeyed blond tobacco accord, and carries us off to India..."

Inspired by the Bengal region of the ancient Mongol Empire, one wouldn't really view Fougère Bengale as a true fougère. However, its Southern Asian olfactory theme is undeniable.

It starts off with a haphazard flurry of mint, herbs and spices. At this stage, there's a lot going on – a celery-like greenness, a culinary herbaceous leaning and a cumin-led spiciness. Although not listed, one can also discern some immortelle (with its earthy maple syrup properties), underscored with liquorice, aniseed and camphorous accents. As for the lavender, its interaction with the immortelle results in a chocolate-like effect.

While it sounds like a complete mess, it actually works – immediately bringing to mind comparisons to Annick Goutal's Sables and, in particular, Christian Dior's Eau Noir. But what separates Fougère Bengale from these two is its more complex structure of herbs, spices, tobacco, hay and woods. Actually, in some ways, Fougère Bengale takes the olfactory swarthiness of Eau Noir much further, with a warm woody-aromatic mélange of tea, blond tobacco, hay and woods replacing Eau Noir's more austere base of leather and cedar.

With a mellow, and slightly honeyed, foundation of tobacco, hay, tonka bean, vanilla and patchouli, there sadly isn't much oakmoss present. As a result, one isn't completely convinced about its fougère classification. Also, one found it too muted, after the first hour, and in need of a liberal application for a satisfactory experience.

Overall, it's an admirable effort, which could have been more rewarding with sufficient oakmoss and a higher oil concentration. And while it's not a fragrance one would personally wear, it still comes recommended.


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Osmanthus Interdite by Parfum d'Empire

*****
Year: 2007

Notes: green tea, osmanthus, rose, jasmine sambac, suede, white musk
Osmanthus Interdite serves as a tribute to the mysteries of the Forbidden City (known as Gu Gong, in Chinese – the imperial palace for twenty-four emperors, during the Ming and Qing dynasties). With osmanthus being the emblematic flower of the Chinese cities Hangzhou, Suzhou and Guilin, this note is used as the cornerstone for the composition.

What's immediately clear is that it successfully manages to capture the overripe apricot fruitiness and leathery undertones of osmanthus, while accentuating the green, floral and fruity aspects with additional florals. Sadly, its performance is far too sheer for its own good.

Commencing with a brisk green tea accord, the composition is disappointingly thin and watery. As a result, it's a markedly faint skin scent with underwhelming tenacity. That's a real pity, as it's actually a beautifully uplifting tea and osmanthus creation – exhibiting creamy, leathery and fruity subtleties. But its transparent demeanour belies its supposed Eau de Parfum concentration.

An extra star warded solely because the blending is quite stunning.


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Cuir Ottoman by Parfum d'Empire

*****
Year: 2006

Notes: Egyptian jasmine, iris, frankincense, leather, styrax, cistus, benzoin, tonka bean, vanilla, Tolu balsam
Cuir Ottoman is based on "the secular tradition of leatherwork in Anatolia", during the Ottoman rule.

The opening is very alluring, with an authentic leather accord that's slightly smoky yet unmistakeably clean (as opposed to animalic). Combined with dusty florals, the composite aroma is extremely reminiscent of brand new leather goods, with fresh trails of leather finishing chemicals greeting the nose. Furthermore, one is also able to discern olfactory parallels between Cuir Ottoman and Bulgari's Black, but Cuir Ottoman is far less dark, smoky and synthetic, with a much more refined and feminine demeanour.

As the composition further evolves, a combination of iris and frankincense further supports the opening until the leather is more suede-like. With a base of balsams and resins, the eventual drydown is gentle, warm, creamy, slightly smoky and bittersweet. And as amber subtleties intermingle with remnants of frankincense, suede and a lipstick-like iris, Cuir Ottoman's drydown is highly reminiscent of Guerlain's Bois d'Arménie.

All in all, it's an elegant, versatile and easy to wear fragrance, but its performance on the skin could have been better. Still, Cuir Ottoman is a remarkable creation that acts as a feasible alternative to Serge Lutens' relatively smoke-free Daim Blond (but with apricot kernel and white musk instead of a resinous-balsamic foundation).


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Iskander by Parfum d'Empire

*****
Year: 2006

Notes: grapefruit, citron, mandarin, coriander, tarragon, neroli, orange blossom, amber, cedar, oakmoss, ambergris, musk
"Like the conqueror whose name it bears – Iskander is the Persian translation of Alexander..."

Classified as a hesperidic chypré, the citrus-herbaceous opening is crisp, zesty and wonderful, underpinned by a demure array of peppery spices. However, after several minutes, it significantly reduces the volume and turns into a faint woody-musk affair (with salty and citric traces). And while both the cedar and oakmoss are vaguely discernible, one also detects a synthetic ambroxan-type ambery-woodiness that one can do well without.

Largely staying close to the skin, with below average longevity, it's both clean and elegant... but monumentally dull (especially once the citrus notes have subsided). If the base was less artificial and more substantial, one's impression of it would have been very different.


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Ambre Russe by Parfum d'Empire

*****
Year: 2005

Notes: champagne, vodka, coriander, cinnamon, cumin, Russian tea, frankincense, birch tar, Russian leather, vanilla, ambergris
"Ambre Russe's luxurious ambergris expresses the unbridled magnificence of the Russian empire in the days of the last tsars. A baroque, splendorous setting, studded with golden bubbles that catch light even as it goes out..."

Opening with a spirituous assault, Ambre Russe's introduction is certainly an acquired taste. And although one doesn't mind boozy openings, the olfactory effect is akin to smelling like an alcoholic, with a strong preference for liquor. But, once beyond this stage, it's pretty much a spicy rendition of amber, infused with smoky nuances from the Russian tea, frankincense, birch tar and leather.

But the thing is, while it's not as overtly sweet and dense as other amber scents, it isn't particularly remarkable either. Firstly, the amber note comes across as too gaunt and insubstantial. Secondly, the composition smells relatively synthetic, at times, though not strikingly. And thirdly, its general performance is severely lacking, with only moderate sillage and staying power. Throw in the challenging opening and one is left with both a frustrating and underachieving amber fragrance.

With some vanilla emerging towards the drydown, one would have preferred a richer structure, with possibly an animalic musk accord and some extra leather to create more edge. As for the ambergris, one finds it laborious to detect any. In fact, one suspects that the base is more about ambroxan than the supposed inclusion of any natural animal musk.

Venturing closer to the olfactory realm of Frapin's 1270 than some of the best niche ambers currently available, Ambre Russe is merely a reflection of Parfum d'Empire's marketing blurb – ostentatious hot air, with delusions of grandeur, and very little substance.

One star deducted for the ominous top notes and brazen aroma chemical underpinning.


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Eau Suave by Parfum d'Empire

*****
Year: 2005

Notes: bergamot, tangerine, raspberry, apricot, peach, coriander, pepper, saffron, tea rose, Souvenir de la Malmaison, patchouli, Bourbon vanilla, oakmoss, musk
Described as a "piquant rose cocktail", Eau Suave starts out reasonably well before stuttering and petering out long before the drydown.

With suggestive red berries and herbaceous chords, the opening is intensely fruity, alongside some pepper and a generous serving of saffron. However, where Souvenir de la Malmaison is classified as a hybrid Bourbon rose, one was expecting a stronger rose profile. Beyond that, the composition is strikingly derivative and feeble.

Resting on a slightly powdery chypré base, the quality of the ingredients are apparent but its general execution leaves a lot to be desired. Rapidly regressing into something soft, wispy and incredibly apologetic, only muted and bland traces of rose, vanilla and woods are discernible for the rest of its lifespan.

Staying power is average with very low projection.


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Eau de Gloire by Parfum d'Empire

*****
Year: 2003

Notes: bergamot, lemon, orange, rosemary, myrtle, aniseed, liquorice, lavender, neroli, tea, tobacco, leather, frankincense, labdanum, immortelle, oakmoss

Comment: Eau de Toilette review
Meant to be an olfactory evocation of Napoleon, Eau de Gloire is an unusual old-school Eau de Cologne in Eau de Toilette concentration.

The initial mentholated herbal-citrus blast quickly dissipates to reveal soapy aromatic mid notes, as a lavender accord is accompanied by a generous serving of liquorice, aniseed and tobacco. With some tea softly lingering in the background, the drydown reveals a light leathery smokiness emitting from a bountiful base of labdanum, immortelle and oakmoss.

Quintessentially masculine, Eau de Gloire is largely about the liquorice, aniseed, tobacco and immortelle, with a leathery oakmoss foundation. However, while it's an interesting effort, its structure, as well as the inclusion of black liquorice, simply fails to generate much excitement.

Both longevity and sillage are reasonably adequate.


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Off to Ibiza by Brecourt

*****
Year: 2015

Notes: watermelon, raspberry, pink peony, sandalwood, musk

Comment: Off to Ibiza is part of Les Contextuels Collection
Off to Ibiza is a vibrant, carefree and feminine fruity-floral.

Starting out with a succulent fusion of watermelon and raspberry, the peony keeps a low profile, while a musky sandalwood drydown soon rises to the surface. All in all, it's a relatively simple composition, with just the right amount of sweetness. Sadly, for the reminder of its lifespan, only faint fruity-musk traces are evident.

Ultimately, there's nothing really noteworthy about it.


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Osmanthus Guilin by Brecourt

*****
Year: 2015

Notes: bergamot, peach, tea, orange blossom, violet, osmanthus, jasmine sambac, tuberose, labdanum, sandalwood, cashmere wood, musk

Comment: Osmanthus Guilin is part of Les Éphémères Collection
Being the fourth Les Éphémères release, Osmanthus Guilin isn't any better than the other three.

Most of the chords are discernible, with a pleasant pairing of peach and tea. However, the osmanthus is largely eclipsed by the tuberose and jasmine. Possessing a rich orange blossom note, the composition initially smells like a floral fabric conditioner. It's only when a clinical woody-musk base surfaces that this olfactory association fades... only to be replaced by a cheap-smelling woody-floral air freshener aroma.

As always with this pseudo-luxury line, it's mostly quiet on the skin and provides inadequate longevity.


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