12 Bitters for Summer - The 2015 Heat Wave Edition {Perfume List}


© 1947 Robert Doisneau

In France today, we're back to summer of 1947 in terms of temperature highs, the national weather report announced. When the summer heat forms a mantle of atmospherically enveloping mink fur, we think there is nothing better than wearing the bitterest of fragrances to counteract this seasonal sartorial faux-pas.

Just like for our palates, appreciating bitterness with our noses is perhaps not our first reflex. When we come around to it, we can feel however that we have opened up a new sensory frontier for ourselves. It is known that babies will smile when licking sugared water experimetally laid on their mouths, and conversely, make a frown when given something to taste which is sour and bitter...

Embracing this difficult gamut of sensations one day is a telling sign that you might have left childhood and are no more swayed only by sticky sweet notes - the easy ones. If bitterness is not easy, it is however a rewarding taste-frontier and olfaction-frontier when you wish to cut through the mugginess of the day, like acidic vinegar does through the richness of a ribbon of olive oil.

Similarly to dry champagne, dark so-called astringent "dead-man" coffee brews, or 100% cacao chocolate bars - I find the latter too fat to the palate as they contain more butter - bitter, even bitter-sweet notes are not for everyone. But there could be more people won over to the near-poisonous side of perfume right where it is still medicinal and roborative.

The other day, as I was having a cooling lunch savoring spoonfuls of a cold soup made of kale, broccoli and kiwi, I couldn't help but notice how interesting the palette of acidic, sour and bitter notes can be and how well they went with the coldness the fridge had created, a welcome contrapunct to the soaring heat.

Bitter is admittedly interesting because it flirts with danger teetering on the edge of unpalatable. If you can find the right dosage, it feels completely mastered; I added a little salt to a spoonful or two to see what would happen: the balance was destroyed and the cold soup became as metallic-tasting as my shiny Inox spoon. It needed the freshness of the greens to be fully expressed. Salt can be a barrier to that.

This list of perfumes below, I suppose, gelled in part thanks to a kale, broccoli and kiwi cold consommé eaten on a summer day. Here we explore a best of bitter perfumes offering an appealing astringency - excellent in the most unforgiving of summer weathers.

Mure_musc_extreme.jpgL'Artisan Parfumeur Mûre et Musc Extrême

Mûre et Musc Extrême signed by perfumer Karine Dubreuil in 1993 is a priori just a more intense version of the original eau de toilette (1978) created by perfumer Jean Laporte. It is that and much, much more. This fragrance deserves to be better adulated. The blackberry note has been revisited and revitalized by a chypre structure reminiscent of Paloma Picasso. The whole composition now offers an interesting bitter and cooling twist, superseding the natural fruitiness of blackberry. It's ravagingly seductive - and a life-saver.

orange_verte.jpgHermès Eau d'Orange Verte

This fragrance by perfumer Françoise Caron epitomizes the idea of a bitter orange cologne originally. It remains a reference point since 1979 {See Review}. In-house Hermès perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena has said intriguingly about it that, "Eau d'Orange Verte is the scent of the Little Prince in all of us."

echt-koelnisch-wasser.jpg 4711 Echt Kölnisch Wasser

You have all heard of the extremely popular cologne Made in Germany. It's even occasionally the butt of German jokes on social types. Please see below for further notes, through a comment on its half self-confessed descendant and much more hubris-filled cologne, Tom Ford Neroli Portofino, its most expensive version. Eau d'Orange Verte shares this distinction, of belonging to the same lineage.

neroli_portofino.jpgTom Ford Neroli Portofino

The first time I smelled Neroli Portofino, it immediately made me think of the ubiquitous and famous 4711 Kölnisch Wasser. Isn't it a bit of a stretch to bottle virtually the same fragrance and sell it for oodles more money? Its model after all is known for its affordability, together with its invigorating properties. Smelling them side by side, you could say that Neroli Portofino feels like silk where 4711 feels like solid cotton canvas. The niche brand has managed to offer both a more subtle and persistent version of the first thanks in part to an elegant incensey amber base. They have also decided to settle the historical querelle between an Italian or German origin to the formula by giving it an Italian point of reference. Or maybe they didin't really settle the centuries-long conversation but they like to travel to Portofino - it's sunnier.


Guerlain Pamplelune

This Aqua Allegoria by perfumer Mathilde Laurent is bitter with an added sulphurous edge, the one belonging naturally to grapefruit. It is consumately elegant never feeling overly polished and bland. No, this is dryly elegant, with some whiffs from a region where volcanoes erupt. {See Review}


Cartier Eau de Vétiver Bleu

With this recent 2015 opus by Mathilde Laurent bitterness is not stressed. It is however present. It is only logical that the creator of Pamplelune would continue to explore the range in her body of work.


Hermès un Jardin sur le Nil

Seen from the angle of bitterness, Un Jardin sur le Nil indeed plays with the bitter and suphurous facets of unripe green mango. It is a bitter-sweet composition, softer in that range, yet dedicated to perhaps replacing the house legendary green orange with the more exotic green mango encountered in an island on the river Nile during a fact-finding mission.

eau_tres_fraiche_terre_hermes.jpgHermès Terre d'Hermès Eau Très Fraîche

Newly out in 2015, the Terre d'Hermès Eau Très Fraîche reprises the subtly elegant and sensual formula of the original while adding more hesperidic pounce in the beginning while lightening its texture. Mandarin is a key opening note. Unlike some other Jean-Claude Ellena fragrances which end up smelling embarrassingly un-fresh and rather carnal, this one stays put and won't start smelling like you haven't washed, in the heat of the day. It comes chronologically after Dior Cologne (2013) as if to recapture its lost market share to it, which turns out to be very much influenced by Terre d'Hermès (2009) - a very fresh version of it.

dior_cologne.jpgDior Homme Cologne

When it came out in 2013, it was lauded for its unisex appeal. This is a very pleasant, subtle and light floral-y cologne evoking a sparkling beverage situated between 7 Up and Schweppes Tonic. The drydown is so reminiscent of Terre d'Hermès that you have to reapply to make certain you did not spray on the first. Perhaps understandly so, Hermès have answered this year with a Terre d'Hermès Eau Très Fraîche, its twin.

jean_marie_farina_cologne.jpg Roger et Gallet Jean Marie Farina Cologne

This surviving 18th century eau de Cologne is very bitter in the top, opening with a flash of white hesperidic light. It continues to thrum this blanched and bitter effect albeit less explosively. Like classic eaux de cologne it is not meant to last unduly. This is why Napoleon Bonaparte had to douse himself in multiple bottles of it per day. It is however a great classic eau de Cologne with an uncompromising tooth for bitterness.

mugler_cologne.jpg Thierry Mugler Cologne

Devised by perfumer Alberto Morillas to be very sensual and skin-friendly, it is an updated, modern bitter cologne with softened medicinal excess.

nicolai_eau_Corail.jpg Nicolaï L'Eau Corail

This 2015 perfume by perfumer Patricia de Nicolaï is an eccentric bird of paradise. It is complex, substantial - a very sophisticated & old-world take on the idea of a lady-like eau fraîche. Orange creamsicle meets spices and allure. Before that, you will get lashings of astringent and bitter green mango. It ends up smelling like mouth-watering Malaysian Kaya, the irresistible coconut jam with a smoky facet whose best recipes are found on local farmers' markets. The tart green mango lives on. Needless to say, L'Eau Corail is a gifted eau to help you travel in spirit or in reality to foreign lands while enabling you to keep your cool and composure.

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