Saturday 5 October 2013

The 'Careful Whispers' series: No 2 - Puredistance BLACK review

Back in August, Undina of Undina's Looking Glass blogged about the upcoming fragrance from Dutch luxury perfume house Puredistance - the succinctly named BLACK - which is due to be launched in November.  All we had to go on was the press release, which described BLACK (created by French perfumer Antoine Lie) as an 'understated elegant and mysteriously charming perfume inspired by the concept of BLACK; a concept that for centuries has been associated with secrets, mystery and style...The essence of the concept was to create a perfume that is close to the wearer and releases sensual and elegant scent layers in a whispering way - without shouting.'  There was additionally a clue as to its fragrance family - we were told that it would be 'more masculine and oriental' than Puredistance 1.  And then came the kicker:

'And as a consequence of the concept of BLACK, we will not reveal the ingredients of Puredistance BLACK...Envision, Smell, Feel.  Don't analyse.'

Source: Puredistance

In the comments to Undina's post, readers weighed in with predictions as to how this latest addition to the Puredistance stable might smell, and we discussed our take on the company's wish to create an aura of mystery around its new fragrance, which extended to new levels of coyness around the idea of publishing fragrance notes. I speculated about how masculine it would be:

"I clocked the ‘elegant, mysterious and whispering’ (yay!), but wondered if for 'BLACK' one should read 'butch'."

And now my sample is here - thanks, Samira!!  I was so keen to test it that I whacked it on just as I was going out the door to a meeting in Edgbaston, taking a leap of faith that its elegant whispering ways with a masculine leaning would make it appropriate as an 'office scent'.  More on how it smells in a moment...

Sexiest Jiffy bag ever!

First of all, I would like to say that I have a lot of time for Puredistance as a company.  They are one of my favourite niche houses, no question.  For the people at Puredistance have always been unstintingly friendly, appreciative and generous in their dealings with bloggers, an impression that was only reinforced when I called into their headquarters in Groningen towards the end of a long business trip in 2011. The team working for Puredistance is young, dynamic, professional, and totally enthused by their product range.  And for such a high end brand, I was struck by how completely unstuffy they were. As I recounted in my post about that visit, Jan Ewoud Vos endeared himself to me hugely when he offered me some apple cake for the road, and proceeded to wodge a big piece into one of their pristine perfume boxes with its padded satin lining!  Nor did they bat an eyelid when, in my review of Puredistance 1, I likened their packaging to a 'top of the range coffin'.

So while I am predisposed to like the house and their perfumes, I don't get on with all of them.  M is too masculine for my taste (only to be expected, really). And the musk in Opardu was problematic on my skin, though it was an unequivocably tender and pretty scent.  And even though I was concerned that BLACK might go the same way as M, I was still unfeasibly excited to try it.

Packaging for Opardu sample - foam strips galore!, with a velvet veneer

And whereas my sample of Opardu had come in a disproportionately large and clunky box - protected by an assortment of foam strips I found so intriguingly odd that I have kept them to this day, long after the perfume vial had been drained - BLACK came in more minimalist packaging, of which I heartily approve. Moreover, the padded, bubble wrap-style envelope, was also black!!  What an inspired move!  So I was already well on the way to liking BLACK, even though I had yet to extract the vial from its size-appropriate satin baglet (see photo at top of post).

There was a flyer in the package in a black envelope, and a black business card from Jan Ewoud Vos, on the reverse of which one of his staff had written - using black fountain pen at a guess, or a high end felt tip maybe:

'Envision. Smell. Feel.  Don't analyse...', reprising the injunction of the press material.

Hold on a minute...I am a market researcher, analysing is in my D & A!  So forgive me if I cock a small snook at that injunction right off the bat...;-)  As for 'envisioning', well I'm never going to do that, am I?  I might picture in my mind's eye, or do a bit of imagining perhaps.  The only people I know of who could 'envision' without so much as a backward glance are creative types in ad agencies and government think tanks, PR execs - oh, and the odd political speech writer.

So I will kick off by describing how BLACK smells, which may involve a bit of light comparison, and some pretty wild note guessing, just for fun. Then if this post hasn't got too long by that point, I will shut my eyes and have a crack at a little visualisation...

Right, so the opening of BLACK is hotly spicy, and I was instantly reminded of Neela Vermeire's Trayee and Penhaligon's Elixir.  For the purposes of this review I am wearing all three, plus Le Labo's Poivre 23, and I can confirm that the spices in BLACK are nothing like the Le Labo scent, so I can exclude that from my inquiries - they are sharper and drier.  This piquant phase is relatively shortlived, especially compared with Trayee, and it is not long before BLACK has melded with my skin (yup, I can absolutely vouch for the staying close to the wearer part!) and embarked on its whispering phase.

How fortuitous that I had already devised this series of perfume reviews founded on the very principle of whispering...;-)

Elixir sample - also in black packaging!

There is another part of the press release which states that BLACK 'stays in the shadow, giving away - only every now and then - part of its delicate nature'.  That is also true - it really is extremely quiet after the opening salvo of spice.

So to recap, I think I am on safe ground by stating that this is some kind of woody/spicy/incense-y oriental. Eyeballing the commonalities between Elixir and Trayee - and having an almost certainly doomed punt to fill in the gaps - I would guess that the notes might include some combination of cinammon, cardamom, pepper, incense, vanilla, cedar and sandalwood - and maybe vetiver, amber or even musk to round the whole thing out, but I really haven't got a clue...;-)

I should also mention that the similarities between BLACK, Elixir and Trayee are mainly at the start - beyond that BLACK settles into a much more gauzy veil-like effect, while Trayee's hot spiciness persists all the way to the drydown - it just gets progressively softer.  I'd even say that BLACK is similar to its 'Careful Whispers' stablemate, Penhaligon's Iris Prima, specifically in that diffusive, indistinct regard, but a woody/spicy/oriental version, if that makes any sense.

Spice poster - Source: Wikimedia Commons

If there are any flowers in BLACK they are not making themselves known to me.  I note, however, that both Trayee and Elixir have jasmine in them, and I never noticed it there, so who knows? - maybe there is a smidge of jasmine in BLACK too, deftly blended into the softly spicy, thrumming base.

While - to come over all capitals myself for a moment - I ABSOLUTELY LOVE BLACK, to the point where it has just gone and pipped Puredistance 1 as my favourite of the line!, I can imagine that some people may find it a tad too quiet.  I sense there are fumeheads out there who are by no means after perfumes that 'shout' as such, but who prefer them to have a normal speaking voice, say.

And that is probably all I have to say as regards my cheeky and hopeless stab at deconstructing BLACK. So now I am going to have a crack at the envisioning bit - here goes...!

I am dressed pretty much top-to-toe in black: black boucle wool belted jacket, black jeans, black patent chunky heeled shoes, black eyeliner and lashings of black mascara, just stopping the right side of demented spider.  I am wearing my black leather bracelet I got at the Leather evening of Perfume Lovers London, and my black 'flittersniffer' earrings made from Belgian lace.  I am off to meet my friend R, who has a sleek bob of jet black hair and wears a lot of black herself.  She turns out to be wearing a black and red shift dress and black ballet pumps, and has spritzed on either Bvlgari Mon Jasmin Noir or Ralph Lauren Notorious - both glossy black carded samples I gave her, which smell fabulous and completely different on her.  We meet in the sepulchral gloom of a popular nightspot and battle our way towards the bar, nearly deafened by a cacophonous wall of sound, as it is always heaving at the weekend.  I steal a whiff of my wrist, a momentary reverie amidst the jarring Saturday night revelry.  My scent of the evening is ethereal yet warm, wistful yet comforting...I am of course wearing Puredistance BLACK.


Undina said...

Vanessa, your review of Black is my favorite out of those I read so far (now I'm really curious to read Kafka's take - once she's back from her vacation). As always, you made me smile at least couple of times - thank you! (too bad I don't have time this week for my LLL post, but I hope all of my usual readers will find this post on their own).

One question I had about the perfume: do you smell any sweetness in it? Some reviewers had mentioned that but my nose doesn't get either sweetness or smokiness. I know that I have that relationship with Tabanon - one of the aroma chemicals used to produce the smoky effect - my nose doesn't register those qualities from it - so I wondered if it was used there.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Aw, thank you! There will be many more reviews to come of course, and I too am particularly looking forward to Kafka's.

To answer your question, I don't get what I'd call sweetness though I appreciate that perceptions of what constitutes 'sweet' are very subjective. By comparison, Poivre 23, which is still going gangbusters on the right wrist while BLACK is just detectable on the left, 12 hours in, I *would* call sweet, possibly because it has a shedload more vanilla in it. And to give you an idea, I'd call Trayee drier and more austere - such that you might even remark on its *lack* of sweetness - with BLACK pitched somewhere in the middle. So I would call it 'sweet-neutral' if you can imagine what I mean by that. ;)

Re smokiness, no again, or nothing beyond a bit of incense. Smoky notes to my mind are more acrid, whether it be a lapsang souchong type note or full-on smoke from a fire, say. Nothing smoky or resinous or medicinal strikes me.

Tara said...

V, because of the masculine description I was surprised to read you reaaly loved Black, though I'm guessing they are saying that because it's very spicy at the start and not floral. You do make it sound like something I'm be keen on. I prefer my spices light and I'm looking for something subtly incensey/woody/spicy. Timbuktu came close but that base of dirt put me off.

Loved the reverie in the midst of the revelry :)

Sarah Waite said...

Vanessa, I am chortling at the concept of cake stuffed posh perfume boxes. I'm wondering how my MFK Oud Velvet Mood box would look fabulously filled up with tonight's filthy food treat - Asda battered onion rings. Perhaps if we were wealthy enough to buy multiple boxes of high end niche, we could start some sort of photography trend - Fatty food in luxury fume boxes?

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

It really is only the immediate opening that is strongly spicy - though even so it is not as masculine as those spicy Comme des Garcons, for example - or Marc Jacobs Bang, say. It is 'gender neutral super spicy' in my book, which I would also say of Trayee's opening.

And after that initial phase, which lasts no time at all, BLACK is totally soft and insidious - and again, completely appropriate for both sexes. If anything, I would say it leans more to women's tastes, simply because I think men may prefer something a bit louder or more rufty tufty, like M, indeed. You know, with leather and whatnot in. Can't wait to hear how this does end up appealing along gender lines, but I can totally see why they bill it as unisex. Yes, I'd be very hopeful of your liking this one.

That reverie / revelry thing just came out like that, haha, and then I spotted the symmetry...;-)

Vanessa said...

Hi Sarah,

Yes, it was a refreshingly informal gesture to say the least(!), and I did eat and thoroughly enjoy all the cake on my drive back from Holland. There was also one of those marshmallow Rice Crispy squares in with it - I think the staff had made them all themselves. Lovely people all round.

Pleased to meet another Asda shopper! When I shop at all, that is. Amazing how I seem to manage by just occasionally diving into my tiny local Co-op and grabbing some milk or a bag of crisps. The occasional bargain chicken. And kitchen roll, obviously. Battered onion rings - can't beat 'em! On balance though, if it's your only MFK box, I'd put them straight on your plate if I were you. ;)

lovethescents said...

You've managed to do a few of things to me with this article: a) WANT Black b) WANT a bottle of Elixir body oil c) WANT onion rings. Sigh....

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

I'd start with c) and work backwards? I am sure you will love Black - it is softer and gentler than Elixir. Or think of Poivre 23, dial back the vanilla, change the spices completely and make it quieter. Just leave the 'cosy blurry' vibe. Okay, that's a bit silly really, but there is some faint association!

Anonymous said...

I was super excited to try this before reading your thoughts, and now I can barely contain my excitement. You love it? I've got to try it!

Vanessa said...

Hi Natalie,

I hope you will get to try it soon - would be most interested to get your take on BLACK. I am not completely familiar with your taste but it is more adventurous than mine, like Dee of BOTOblog, for example, and I know she is a fan.

Suzanne said...

I'm both floored and impressed that this is your new favorite of the Puredistance scents, Vanessa. Even with its quieter nature, I wouldn't have pegged this as being your kind of scent; I'm glad to be proved wrong: this one is a beauty.

(Btw, my favorite Puredistance scent is still Antonia. I'm pretty sure Black is going to end up being my husband's favorite, though, as he is already cadging sprays from my sample). :-D

Vanessa said...

Hi Suzanne,

Oh yes, indeed - when I analysed my collection a while back, I found a disproportionate slant towards woody orientals - and I seem to have a higher threshold for spice these days, though it wasn't always so. Fleur de Shanghai, Kenzo Flower Oriental and Poivre 23 are regular winter staples, and Carner Rima XI would be included in that if I could find my sample. ;-) Dior's Ambre Nuit is also a little bit spicy come to think of it. The opening to BLACK remains a bit challenging for me, but it didn't seem to last any time at all.

I can quite understand how Antonia would remain your favourite of the PD line, and am pleased to hear that your husband shares your love of BLACK, albeit that sample doesn't lend itself to a great deal of sharing. ;-)

Lavanya said...

I really should comment on your post as soon as I read it (which is usually as soon as you post it)- now I'm not sure if I'll remember everything I wanted to

But one of the things I wanted to say after your response to undina's comment was - 'you think Trayee lacks sweetness??'..I thought Trayee was cloyingly sweet (like rice pudding) on my skin- in the beginning especially. I do have sweet amping skin though..I wonder if this is again a language thing, a tolerance for sweetness thing, or a skin chemistry thing..:D. For the record, I do think Trayee is unusual and interesting, if a bit sweet. and I like it.

I am really looking forward to trying Black- it does sound lovely.I'm lately liking the idea of sheer orientals. I like this company too though I've only tried Antonia and M and adore the one that you can't wear- M..haha

Oh and I wanted to tell you that I tried eau duelle this weekend, sort of because of you..I clocked (as you would say..:)) eau duelle, when you said that you might try it layered with dita von teese (in response to me commenting that it might work well with a 'base-y' perfume). I really liked it- and I might have liked it even more if it hadn't been quite so hot.I think it'll be lovely in fall/winter.

Undina said...

I smell no sweetness at all in Trayee :) and maybe just a little in Poivre 23 (I just wore it yesterday to compare). It's so interesting how differently we smell sweet notes in perfumes!

Vanessa said...

Hi Lavanya,

Haha, I felt like that about Laurie Erickson's guest post on your blog - I read it yesterday, then came back to it today to read it again and comment.

How odd that you find Trayee sweet, as it is one of the drier spicy perfumes I have ever tried. I do have a friend with sweet amplifying skin so I should try it on her really to see if I can reproduce the 'Lavanya effect' in controlled laboratory conditions (not). ;-) Sounds like Undina is as bemused as me - I wonder what other readers feel on this point?

I am so pleased you like Eau Duelle - now inevitably reminiscent to me of Pete Duel, whose name was really spelt Deuel apparently, though never Duelle! I have yet to try that layering effect with Dita Von Teese I came up with - very well clocked ;-) - I suppose, like you, I have been waiting for it to be a bit cooler before getting it out from its new habitat under the stairs.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

We are as one on Trayee then, and I only detect *a degree* of sweetness in Poivre 23 myself, and had never thought of it in that way before. It may be that it came off as disproportionately that precisely because it was in a wrist-to-wrist contest with the drier Trayee, Elixir and BLACK.

Lucas said...

Hello Vanessa!
How cool you also got your sample of Puredistance BLACK. Isn't Samira a charming and open person?
It was her who contacted me to generously offer a sample of their upcoming perfume.

I very much enjoyed reading your take on BLACK, it was a funny read in a few moments.

Vanessa said...

Hi Lucas,

Yes, all the PD people seem to have the same warm personal style - also Rosanne who did that role before Samira. I enjoyed reading your review of BLACK too - as a chemist, you did a great job of deconstructing its component parts! It was a pleasantly soft spicy blur to me most of the time. Which explains why I try to introduce a few funny moments to compensate. ;-)

Jordan River said...

Relentless, ridiculous and redundant capitalization – the perfume whispers, the name SHOUTS and the brand is lowercasewithnointerwordseparation.
But onto the ‘fume, yes, we are breathing the same air. I see that you too paid a visit to the Puredistance HQ.

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

Loved reading your thoughts on BLACK and am so happy to meet another fan. We are agreed on the cardamom if not the cinnamon, and I am sure it is natural that the scent reads slightly differently on us all.

'Gentle ass-kicking in black' is pretty much the look I am going for too, on a night out with a friend in my case. ;-)

Vanessa said...

Hi Jordan,

Haha - the relentless capitalisation is only matched by the lowercasenoseparation of the brand name, which I hadn't thought of, but very good point! So glad to meet another fan of this whispering wonder. :-)