5 stars: 109 posts

5 stars means “outstanding,” a perfume that invariably feels like a special discovery, even though I might have been wearing for it years. These fragrances are the ones I would keep if I had to pare down my perfume collection; they satisfy all of my yearnings and fantasies. On a technical level, 5 star fragrances are the ones that I find impeccable–well-crafted, original, and high-quality.

Neela Vermeire Creations Niral : Fragrance Review

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My saris are my personal archaeological layers. The turquoise and saffron one was bought from a market in Pune on my very first trip to India. The magenta one with the border of gold thread woven into the peacock pattern came from a cavernous shop in Gujarat, where I sat in a hot daze surrounded by towering stacks of silks. The hot pink one with the silver embroidery was a nod to Mumbai fashions circa 2005 picked up on a whim, along with matching bangles. The sienna and orange one was given to me on my wedding day by my parents-in-law.

My saris live in a box and I wear them only when I’m in India. Here, in Belgium, they don’t feel right. A sari needs the context–the music, the movement, the heat, the chaos of an Indian wedding. So I spread them out on the furniture to enjoy their colors, but I drape myself in a sari-like perfume of layers and folds. Like Neela Vermeire’s Niral, for instance.

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Penhaligon’s Ostara : Fragrance Review

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My tastes for white florals are indiscriminate, encompassing everything from vulgar things like Guerlain Mayotte to prim school governess types like Jessica McClintock. But even I can get tired of the genre and retreat to other pastures for a change–dry woods and damp mosses, perhaps. This is what happened for most of last year, when I was so satiated with white florals that I declared a moratorium on new acquisitions. But it’s a testament to Pehnaligon’s Ostara’s loveliness that despite my best intentions, I ended up breaking my resolve.

ostara

Ostara shines brightly to me for its surprising combination of the lush, decadent heft that makes lovers of white florals swoon and the exhilarating springtime freshness. Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour built the composition around the theme of narcissus, a flower that on a stem smells honeyed and indolic, but when turned into essence becomes leathery, musky and somber. Ostara melds both facets, but it stays on the sunny side.

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Mysore Sandal Soap : Bath & Body Review

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Does luxury need to come with a big price tag? If you take a stroll around any department store, you might come away with that conclusion. But if your shopping strategy is more of the Poirot sleuthing variety, then you can turn up some affordable gems. My local India shop doesn’t fall under any definition of upscale. It’s a tiny, overcrowded space that smells pungently of cumin, wilting coriander greens and fried snacks. But it is here that I discovered my favorite soap of all, Mysore Sandal Soap. And it cost me 1.95 euros.

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Mysore Sandal soap is produced by Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited, a company owned by the Government of Karnataka, a southern Indian state famous for its sandalwood. Mysore sandalwood groves were plentiful at the turn of the century, but while Europe was engulfed in the First World War, the precious wood couldn’t be exported. In 1916, the Maharaja of Mysore established a company to use up the excess sandalwood, and Mysore Sandal soap still remains the company’s trademark. It bears a proprietary Geographical Indication seal and contains natural sandalwood oil.

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Tom Ford Private Blend Fleur de Chine : Perfume Review

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Tom Ford’s Private Blend Collection is a mixed bag. It’s too large and hard to navigate. Some fragrances are excellent enough to justify the high prices; others barely stand out. I can list further complaints, but the truth is that I keep returning to the collection and smelling all of its launches, because when Tom Ford scores, he really does offer something impressive. Such is the case with Fleur de Chine.

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When I first tried Fleur de Chine, it intrigued me, but I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.  Shanghai Lily from the same Atelier d’Orient collection (it also includes Plum Japonais, Fleur de Chine and Rive d’Ambre) was an instant hit for its lush white flowers and generous dose of spice. Fleur de Chine wasn’t going to open up so easily, though. I loved its baroque, ornate character and its hints of retro glamour, but it took its time to grow on me.

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Guerlain Habit Rouge and Its Family : Perfume Review

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Jean-Paul Guerlain, the last perfumer for the house carrying the family name, once memorably said that one could be a Shalimar woman or a L’Heure Bleue woman, but not both. Of course, he made the statement in his usual provocative manner, but the idea was that the two perfumes had such different characters that you loved either one or the other. I had all the makings of a L’Heure Bleue woman, having fallen for its older sister Après l’Ondée, but then I met Habit Rouge. One encounter was all it took for me not only to be captivated by its velvety orange blossom doused in incense and bergamot, but also to understand the allure of Shalimar.

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That Habit Rouge is marketed to men should make no difference to women. In 1965, when Habit Rouge was created by Guerlain, the collection had many splendid feminine perfumes like Jicky, Shalimar, L’Heure Bleue, and Mitsouko, but the offerings for men were considerably less outstanding. The exception was Vétiver, which Jean-Paul Guerlain created a few years earlier. His solution to draw gentlemen to the perfume counter was to take the basic outline of Shalimar and its famous accord of citrus and sweet oriental notes and give it a dandy appeal with leather and green orange blossom. The result was a less sweet, less curvy and less ripe version of Shalimar, but with all the elegance and panache of its great ancestor.

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