Sunday 25 October 2020

Hidden gem, aka a corundum conundrum: Puredistance RUBIKONA review (eventually!)

Source: Puredistance

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved secret things. I don't mean secrets as such, though goodness knows I have kept a few of those down the years(!), but things in secret places...usually, but not always small things. The miniaturisation aspect contributes greatly to the objects' sweetness, it always seemed to me. But I also mean something observed from afar, so it appears mysterious or elusive. Take the puppets you watch longways in a shoebox theatre, for instance. Then on childhood holidays in Ireland on the way to our seaside caravan, we would pass a house at the end of a long drive. It had a wrought iron gate which was overgrown with creeper, and the drive itself was more like a tunnel due to the intertwined branches of trees on either side. You could just about spy a glimpse of the house itself in the distance, which massively piqued my brother's and my curiosity...A good everyday example of 'small secret things' might be an advent calendar. (It's nearly that time!) I haven't had one since I was a kid, but I can imagine I'd still get the same frisson of excitement on opening each little door and viewing the picture behind. Or finding the piece of chocolate, to which the secret may well have upgraded these days. Not forgetting nests of Russian dolls - the littlest one in the set was impossibly sweet! - and roos in kangaroo's pouches.

Source: Amazon

One of the most memorable illustrations of this principle was a plastic souvenir altar my father brought back from his travels to Spain or Italy, which stood on the mantlepiece of his study. Despite its being unashamedly cheap and kitsch, I derived endless fun from opening the little door in the centre of the altar to reveal a tiny gold chalice - in my memory it is against a red background and backlit, but that is perhaps the embellishment of my imagination. I may be getting muddled with this votive candle I lit in St Therese's basilica in Lisieux last year. The candles in the photo are actually a bit blurry, but that serves my purpose in fact, as will become clear. But you can tell a red theme is at least forming, with a side of religious imagery that may also prove significant in these meandering musings. I thought I might be able to play on the perfume's namesake of the Rubicon river and its wandering course, but having consulted a map I see that the river believed to have been the ancient waterway so famously and irreversibly crossed by Julius Caesar is in fact shortish and disappointingly straight.

Here is the altar, or one just like it, which does indeed have a red back panel. This is from a Worthpoint auction site, so it may have been worth a bob or two, had we known!

And lastly there is the miniature cargo that came with one of my favourite childhood boardgames, Buccaneer. How adorable are those gemstones and little ingots and barrels of rum! How many attractive combinations there are to play around with of boat colour and pirate swag. ;) These little plastic replicas still thrill and excite me, like the chalice in its niche. Check out those tiny rubies...

Source: Shpock

And now - rather circuitously - we have at last come to the gemstone itself which inspired the creation of Puredistance's latest release, RUBIKONA.

I do actually have some professional experience of the jewellery business, having worked all over America for De Beers on a project mapping the supply pipeline for diamonds. Coloured stones were mentioned in passing, but diamonds were the main focus. A quick google of industry websites has confirmed that the market for rubies, like diamonds, is every bit as arcane and insiderish, with its own impenetrable jargon. ;) Here are a couple of fun facts I gleaned:

1) Burmese rubies are the most prized of all. The Prince of Burma weighs in in its raw state at 950 carats. If it were cut, it would produce a stone of 300 carats, which the jeweller from whose website I learnt this staggering nugget, wrily observed is: 'possibly not realistic for a stud earring'.

2) The most desirable colour for rubies is 'pigeon blood red', which is a very deep shade, though I have not dissected a frog in biology class, never mind a pigeon. Interestingly, if you google 'pigeon blood red' you get a whole slew of pictures of rubies - loose and set in rings etc - and absolutely nary a one of pigeons, wounded or otherwise. Oddly, there are pictures of fish, which appear to have annexed the name. Then some rubies have their colour enhanced through heat treatment, which arguably involves the same cheat factor as acquiring your sunkissed look in a tanning salon.

The 25.59 carat Sunrise Ruby, via Wikiwand

And now on to some specialist terms from and the GIA website, which are every bit as eclectic as in the diamond world, and which I see include the term 'inclusions', meaning anything naturally occurring which gets trapped inside a mineral as it forms:

3) Rubies and sapphires are the same mineral, known as 'corundum' - they just differ in colour. And there's more...

"Typical ruby clarity characteristics include thin mineral inclusions called needles. When the mineral is rutile and needles are present in intersecting groups, it is called silk...Some inclusions can actually contribute positively to a gem’s appearance. The presence of rutile silk causes light to scatter across facets that might otherwise be too dark. This adds softness to the color and spreads the color more evenly across the ruby’s crown."

I will spare you asterisms, cabochon cuts and pleochroism(!), about which the article goes on talk, or we really would be here all day.

But hey, 'rutile silk' - wasn't the detour worth it for that gem of a term!?

There is much more on this mineral phenomenon here, in which the author - amongst other gloriously offbeat revelations about the formation of silk inclusions - quotes Joni Mitchell, and also likens these 'daggers of rutile' to a 'beguiling silk lattice'; meanwhile The Natural Ruby Company speaks of the 'sleepy transparency' conferred to rubies by the little needles. 

Source: Lotus Gemology


I apologise for that monster preamble before getting down to the nitty gritty of what RUBIKONA is like. But I would make a case for all the foregoing being relevant, for one of the key powers of scent is to trigger memories, and as you can see, that has happened to me in spades here! And there is also the alchemy of how RUBIKONA conjures the impression of this red jewel in olfactory terms. Where is it in the composition, when does it emerge? As the fragrance unfolds, there is a secret, hidden, trompe-nez of a gem, glimpsed from afar - and occasionally close up - which teases and fascinates my nose in equal measure.

The first thing to clear up is the actual inspiration for RUBIKONA, as oppposed to my own gemological and other riffings. 

"The creation of this perfume started with the word RUBIKONA that combines the deep and warm colour red of a RUBY with the timeless beauty of an ICON...RUBIKONA is 'Chic inside Out'".

The word 'icon' is meant here in a couture sense, rather than my religious take on it, but Jan Ewoud Vos, Puredistance's founder, is not the sort to mind where the mind takes the wearer of one of their fragrances. Though this post may test him to the max(!).

Source: Puredistance

I say, does this dress look like rutile silk to you? ;)

The perfumer behind RUBIKONA is Cecile Zarokian, who created SHEIDUNA for Puredistance.  As ever, the fragrance is extrait strength, at 28%.


Top notes: Grapefruit, bergamot, mandarin

Middle notes: Rose, iris, ylang, clove, orange blossom, creamy notes

Base notes: Patchouli, cedarwood, vanilla, solar notes, musk

When I heard the name of the new scent, I wondered if it might be diva-esque like Vero Kern's Rubj, with its vampish teaming of narcotic white flowers and an exotic fruit bowl. It isn't, and doesn't smell remotely like Rubj, which I do like, but which is quite full on. I note that Vero Kern's scent also has bergamot, mandarin, orange flower, cedar and musk, which information I will park for now and possibly feed into my 'ruby detection matrix' by and by.

A perfume I thought of fleetingly when I first sniffed RUBIKONA was Guerlain Shalimar Parfum Initial. Here there are seven crossover notes: bergamot, orange, rose, iris, patchouli, vanilla and musk. The only similarity that struck me though was its patchouli-forwardness, notwithstanding the many notes in common. The vetiver and green notes - and possibly what Robin of NST cleverly identifies as its "flat" feel and "ever so slightly almond-y" facet - take Parfum Initial in a dull, vegetal and relentlessly patchouli-driven direction. I am so with Robin when she says: "It's something else entirely, and whatever that something else is, I don't find it all that compelling."

No, I think the stylistic register to compare RUBIKONA to might be Penhaligon's Iris Prima, which I included in my 'Careful Whispers' series. It has the same 'diffusive, indistinct' quality, which makes it so hard to parse. Funnily enough, I originally thought of dropping RUBIKONA into that series, before I even spotted the atmospheric likeness between the two scents, but what a waste of a good title that would have been...! ;)

Source: Puredistance

It is hard to parse, as I say, but here goes anyway...RUBIKONA opens with a noticeable showing of patchouli, but the earthy salvo is held in check by a wistful posse of powdery iris, sensual florals, and a creamy musky trail that persists throughout. It is not chilly or austere as some iris-containing scents can be, and strikes me as neither vintage nor especially modern. This is despite the mention of 'solar notes', which I first came across as a term in Guerlain's Lys Soleia, and which I associate with contemporary scents, even though I gather they have been used in perfumery in one guise or another for a long time. Here I am guessing they infuse the composition with a sunny radiance that helps connote the idea of a ruby catching the light. I am not really aware of any overt citrus element at any point in the fragrance's development, but I expect the rose (betcha they were red!) - and the various orange notes (as in Rubj) - together suggest the warmth and depth of a ruby. Of the requisite pigeon blood shade no less. Now RUBIKONA is not a dark scent, for it is of course refracted by our rutile silk inclusions(!), but it is 'darker' and more grown up than Iris Prima, while remaining resolutely subtle and staying close to the skin. Over time, RUBIKONA becomes a gentle, attenuated version of the aforementioned wistful posse, their having by now wrangled the patchouli into submission in fairly short order, not that it was ever loud to begin with.

So did I find the ruby in the composition? I am going with a combination of patchouli, orange, rose and solar note facets (see what I did there?) answer!

To sum up, I am a big fan of Puredistance 1, and BLACK, and GOLD in particular. Puredistance 1 reminds me nostalgically of the early days of my perfume hobby, coming out just a year before I fell down the rabbit hole; BLACK I associate with happy times touring with the band; GOLD makes me think of my work trips abroad, which once even took me to the HQ of Puredistance itself.

 And now the understated, hidden gem in the Puredistance stable that is RUBIKONA is definitely up in my top two or three of the eleven releases so far. It reminds me of so many things as you can see! Which may go a long way to explaining why I feel such a visceral connection to the Puredistance brand. Their scents are elegant, singular, wearable, and made from high quality materials, with exquisite packaging. And to be fair, prices to match - though as Undina points out in her post (see link below), considering the perfumes are extrait the price per ml is in fact very reasonable. And crucially they are also evocative - and as I said above in mitigation for my meandering memories - for me that is what the best perfumery is all about...

The Graff ring via


Source: Wikipedia

NB Note the Rubicon river above - a lot less wiggly than my review, as you can see - but if you have got this far, it is TOO LATE NOW! The die is cast, and the post is read...

er...not quite!

The forgotten anniversary

For it is only now that it has suddenly occurred to me that it might be my 11th blogging anniversary around about this time of year, and it turns out that it is in fact today. ;) Well, there is no point writing a separate post to mark that milestone, but I can think of no more fitting brand to devote this post to instead. I will celebrate with a virtual Ruby Red Buttercream cake. (Photo via Liggys Cake Co.)



Tara said...

Wow happy 11th blogoversary to the most unique perfume blog on the block!
How did I not know that you had once worked for De Beers? Another interesting gem (!) from your past.
I do agree the best perfumes are evocative and Rubikona certainly sounds that.
DNEM thanks.

Hazel said...

My birthstone is, disappointingly, garnet. But as a child I upgraded the red stone in the ring I wore to Ruby (though in point of fact it was glass and Woolworth's). Red was my favourite colour up to about 12 or 13 before switching to a life-long (to date) preference for blues and browns - ideally in combination. ButI do still like poppies. And red wine. Does that qualify me as a sufficient erythrophil?

Ines said...

Wow! 11! Congratulations! :) Hope you get to have some real cake too.

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

Thank you for your blogoversary wishes, and kind comment about Bonkers. Yes, I did two big jobs for DB in 2006 and 2011. I got to meet fellow bloggers Bloody Frida, Beth from Perfume-Smellin' Things, and ScentSelf of Notes from The Ledge on one of them, and some Monochrome Set fans in Ohio on another - or both even(!). It was amongst the toughest work I have ever done, partly due to the high degree of secrecy in the industry - fittingly enough for this topic.

Vanessa said...

Hi Hazel,

There is a perfume by Sage Machado called Garnet, but I sense you have left those days far behind you. ;) I had to look up erythrophil, which looked at first glance like a type of white blood cell. I think you do qualify as one, but blues and browns are a nice combo for sure. I think I need a blue room one day.

You are in the draw!

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

Thank you, though you must have been blogging for longer still! I am sure you were one of the first blogs I encountered when I started in 2009...

Everyone is in the draw unless they indicate otherwise, like Tara. ;)

Catlady1649 said...

Happy Blogversary. I love reading your quirky posts XXXX

Sarah Waite said...

Hi Vanessa,
So pleased to see the blog has gone beyond ten years. Yours was (and is) still my favourite, especially for the chortles.
I've tried hard not to think about rubies whilst exploring Rubikona. I associate them with Autumn (must be the berries) and you know how much I want to hide during the season of annual foliage death. Luckily my nose doesn't connect this beautiful scent to the horror of rotting pavements.
I hope the next one has an associated green coloured gemstone to balance things out!

Vanessa said...

Hi Catlady1649,

Very nice to meet you, and thanks for your lovely comment.

Catladies are the best! ;)

You are in the draw...

Vanessa said...

Hi Sarah,

I hear you on the rotting pavements - I am not a fan of autumn either, and just walked home from the Coop in the middle of the road to avoid the leaf sludge.

Interesting that you set out to dodge the ruby association with RUBIKONA, while I dived right in, in a 'bring it on - where is it??' spirit. My diamond projects made me fascinated with gemstones, and now I even want to own a ruby ring to go with the perfume! Maybe not quite on the Graff scale...

speranza16 said...

Hi there! First time on this blog, found it through an article on NST. I see some exteeeensive reviews here. Regards!

Vanessa said...

Hi speranza16,

Thanks very much for dropping in. Am intrigued which article you found the blog through on NST, and funny that I do in fact reference Robin in this post. Along with Victoria of Bois de Jasmin, Robin is someone with whom I seem to have a lot of perfume likes in common - or not. Oh, it wasn't my guest post there on what I learnt from blogging by any chance? (From Feb 2012, I think, which is admittedly going back a lot ;) )

Anyway, you are in the draw, and good luck.

KoolKat said...

Hi, I posted a comment about cats (of course) and your quirky blogs but forgot to ask if could be put in the draw.

Undina said...

Happy blogoversary! (Sorry, I’m late, I read the post until the beginning of the review a couple of days ago, decided to read the rest the next day (it was beyond late, so I decided that I read the most important part - the associations, and I knew already how it smelled :) ). I didn’t realize it was an anniversary post until today I came back to finish it :). I hope to celebrate many more of you blog’s milestones, even if a day or ten later. I enjoy the intricacies of your mental connections and parallels.

As a child, I would have loved that “pirate swag”!

I’m glad Rubikona smells nothing like Rubj (though, I kind of liked Rubj extrait but EdP was really bad on my skin). Rubikona, I think, now shares the third and forth place with Gold (after Antonia and White). I like Black as well but not for me but on my vSO. And now I’m curious about their No 12.

Vanessa said...

Hi Koolkat/Liz,

Are you by any chance also Catlady1649 above, or did your comment get lost somehow? I am putting everyone in the draw unless they tell me otherwise, or are people who I know have a sample of RUBIKONA already. So you are definitely included.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Thanks for your good wishes. I am pleased you didn't mind all my mental connections and parallels, for I had real doubts that I had wandered off the topic too far this time, and I already set the wandering bar pretty high.

The pirate swag was the best fun! I loved the rubies in the yellow, orange and blue boats particularly.

I couldn't wear Rubj myself, as it is very big and fruity, but I do like it. I see we share GOLD and RUBIKONA in our top Puredistance perfumes league table. Now you mention it, I also like BLACK best on men, but it has happy memories for me too. And yes, am very curious about No 12. I wonder if they will stop there - or if not, perhaps skip No 13(!).

Catlady1649 said...

Hi Vanessa
I'm not Koolcat/Liz.
Just little old me Catlady1649

KoolKat said...

Hi Vanessa

I am Koolcat/Liz

Please send any comments to

Sorry about confusion but great to know we're included in the draw! By we I mean me and two furry friendly Maine Coons... would love to sent pic of them sometime cos they do love all attention, virtual or real...


Vanessa said...

Hello again Catlady1649 and Liz!

Thanks to you both for clarifying your distinct identities. You are well and truly in the draw, hehe. I wondered whether Catlady might be KoolKat because Catlady's comment mentions both 'cats' and the word 'quirky' in it and KoolKat references similar content in an earlier comment which must have vaporised, as it never appeared publicly - or in my spam or 'awaiting moderation' limbo folder. How peculiar.

Interesting that you have Maine Coons, Liz. I have committed to a 'commercial' pet feeding stint over Christmas, caring for a Maine Coon who lives across town. I might hold a 'send in your cat pics' post sometime, with a little blurb about each...

KoolKat said...

Hi Vanessa how interesting you have been caring for a MC. Mine are two big furry gentle giants who like sleeping on keyboards dinning table, ok pretty much anywhere.

Vanessa said...

Hi Liz, ah, the pet sitting assignment is coming up this Christmas, so will be able to report back by New Year how I got on!

KoolKat said...

How exciting, they are usually lovely cats, but don't hold me to it if this one is the furry exception to the rule! They're not kind to small things that move btw! Neighbour keeps getting dead mice left outside her front door but better out than in I guess...

Vanessa said...

Interestingly, KoolKat, I just enrolled my cat in a hunting study run by Derby University. I have to upload her prey count (dead and alive!) every month for a year to a database, and have also put her name down for a separate GPS/camera experiment - have no idea if she will be picked. Cat would be most indignant at the very idea of having her roamings monitored, and would probably try to get the equipment off herself like all the collars she has ever worn. Still, I thought it a fun idea in principle. ;)

speranza16 said...

Hi Vanessa,

Yes, that was the article from the 2012 :) It showed up after googling something :)

Vanessa said...

Aha, I was right then - that post caused quite a storm at the time...! ;)