Some of my favorite interactions in my perfume career are with independent perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. We have spent most of our time together walking, sniffing, and talking about perfume. We have chattered about the reality of vintage perfumes and which fragrances we think are the best ever. One we both agree belongs in that category is Jacques Fath Iris Gris. I know for myself it is the benchmark an iris fragrance has to live up to for me to think it extraordinary. Finding a bottle these days is a very expensive proposition.
One of the things I admire so much about Ms. Hurwitz is she spent the early part of her independent career reconstructing the great fragrances of the past. She is a believer in the adage that says to study an art form you must also try and reproduce it. That stage of her development is long past and now she is on the top tier of independent perfumers in the world. Earlier this year one of her clients who was fighting cancer asked Ms. Hurwitz to make an exception and to recreate Iris Gris for her. Through a happy confluence of events Ms. Hurwitz agreed. This has been named Scent of Hope.
Ms. Hurwitz has always let us into her creative process and for the task of making a new Iris Gris it was no different. On her blog DSH Notebook there are three parts about the whole process behind Scent of Hope and if you’re interested in the process I highly encourage you to read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. The two things I took from those posts was how Ms. Hurwitz didn’t just take some of her original Iris Gris and get it analyzed. Instead she looked to two invaluable resources in the fragrant blogosphere; Barbara Herman and Octavian Coifan. Ms. Herman has been writing about perfume for many years at her blog Yesterday’s Perfume and she recently published a book “Scent and Subversion”. M. Coifan was the iconoclastic voice behind the now-defunct blog 1000 Fragrances. M. Coifan had exquisitely used his own nose to dissect Iris Gris and this gave Ms. Hurwitz a framework to start from. Ms. Herman has a way of using words to make a fragrance seem to arise from the computer screen. When I eventually try something she has described I find her description to be spot on. The second thing is Ms. Hurwitz let her nose and her client’s nose as well as their skin be their guide on when Scent of Hope was done. The scent strips were dispensed with and they let their feelings guide them to a final product.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz
How did they do? I’ll cut to the chase; fantastically well. It is only the use of a couple of modern equivalents which give away Scent of Hope’s contemporary birth. The genius of Iris Gris is the use of a particular aromachemical called aldehyde c-14 which is not an aldehyde but a different chemical class called a lactone. This lactone imparts a gauzy peach veil over the entire composition of Iris Gris and Ms. Hurwitz had to work with it in Scent of Hope. The trick is not to let the iris blunt this shimmering layer but to somehow support it as if you are looking at an iris through a peach colored scarf. If the balance is off the whole thing falls apart. Ms. Hurwitz’s previous experience studying the great perfumes had to come into play here because she manages this with what seems preternatural ease. Based on her blog posts she reached the finished product in very few mods.
I compare my bottle of Iris Gris and Scent of Hope and these are very close. The aging process has made the orris suppler in Iris Gris. In Scent of Hope it still has a lot of its chill and steel on display. What is absolutely identical is the use of aldehyde c-14 to caress and float above the iris. That is recreated perfectly. Scent of Hope lacks a bit of the animalic bite of the original mainly because those raw materials are no longer available. Even so Ms. Hurwitz has chosen a good group of modern musks to come very close. It is right here where the biggest difference between original and modern versions are apparent.
Ms. Hurwitz is a unique combination of passion and precision; both of those qualities were necessary to produce Scent of Hope successfully. This is a great iris fragrance and if you love iris you want to own this.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by DSH Perfumes.
Editor’s Note: 30% of the proceeds of Scent of Hope will go to a Denver-area support center for those battling breast cancer called, “Sense of Security”.
I know my first exposure to Mysore sandalwood came courtesy of Crabtree & Evelyn in their original Extract of Mysore Sandalwood. This might have been one of my earliest exposures to the concept that raw materials make a difference. As is well documented the precious Mysore sandalwood was over harvested and the Indian government had to step in and protect the remaining trees before the predations of perfumistas eradicated it. For most of the years right after that the huge majority of sandalwood in perfume was synthetic. Recently there have been sustainable groves of sandalwood being grown in Australia from the same genus Santalum Album. The plantations are concentrated in Western Australia which is supposed to have a similar microclimate to India. These farms are now producing sandalwood oil for perfumery. Extract of Mysore Sandalwood was a big seller for Crabtree & Evelyn and so they bit the bullet and created Sandalwood in 2004 when they could no longer source the titular ingredient. Sandalwood was surprising in how good it was even though it was an all synthetic version of sandalwood. Now in 2014 Crabtree & Evelyn have released Indian Sandalwood which has listed as an ingredient Santalum Album. I loved the 2004 Sandalwood for the nifty sleight of hand it pulled in creating something worthy of its predecessor based on synthetics. Would the 2014 Indian Sandalwood be more like the original Extract or a “real” version of the Sandalwood?
2004 Sandalwood was almost miraculous in the fact that it didn’t smell overtly synthetic. Sure if you truly focused intently on it the truth became apparent but if you just wore it the scent was really fantastic. The perfumer was able to recreate the slightly spicy quality of Mysore sandalwood by using lavender, violet, amyris wood, and vetiver. I really wish I could find out who the perfumer(s) were behind this. Even wearing it now I am surprised at how very good this is. Sandalwood remains a beautiful example of the perfumer’s art when working with a restricted set of ingredients.
2014 Indian Sandalwood shows how well done the 2004 version is, as this new version which does contain real sandalwood smells very close to the older version. This time I do know the perfumer behind Indian Sandalwood, Ashley Wilberding. Ms. Wilberding isn’t hampered by having to form an illusion. Her task is different, to add complementary notes to allow this nouveau sandalwood to expand and feel as if it was much older and refined. She also chooses to use amyris, lavender, and vetiver. Cypress and cedar extract the woody quality of the sandalwood and a judicious use of cinnamon adds the characteristic spiciness of the best Indian sandalwood. Ms. Wilberding does a fantastic job at allowing her raw material to shine to its fullest.
This should be a slam dunk win for reboot, synthetic vs. real, c’mon. I do prefer the reboot because there is nothing that can take the place of real sandalwood in a perfume. This new version of Indian Sandalwood is excellent. For those who want to ask whether it is as good as the Extract of Mysore Sandalwood, it isn’t. But it isn’t like comparing Kobe beef to a Big Mac. It is more like comparing it to a dry-aged USDA Porterhouse. Truly all three of these perfumes are great examples of sandalwood fragrances even if they all come from different places.
One last thing to mention is the price of this new release $45 for 100mL. It is crazy good for that price; a real bargain.
Disclosure: this review is based on bottles of all three fragrances I purchased.
It has been almost a year since I joined the Fragrance Republ!c. For those unfamiliar with the concept behind Fragrance Republ!c it is an effort to allow some of the biggest perfumers working the opportunity to work on special small batch perfumes. This time the perfumers are allowed to create their own brief and encouraged to go where their creativity takes them. The perfumes are then shared with the membership of Fragrance Republ!c and I receive a new 15mL bottle as each creation is released. I look forward to my new box every time it arrives as a perfumer who I admire gets to try out an idea they have wanted to try. Fragrance Republ!c is the subscription service for the perfume lover who already has a lot of perfume and wants to try something which goes in a different direction form the purely commercial. This review will cover the latest four released over the first part of 2014: 01/05 by Antoine Lie, 01/06 by Karine Chevallier, 01/07 by Jean Claude Delville, and 01/08 by Jean-Christophe Herault.
01/05 was given the name “Eau Verte” by M. Lie and what he wanted to accomplish was to create perfume made up of overdoses of notes used to make up the fresh fragrances so ubiquitous on the market. Now if he had just overloaded the perfume with a bunch of explosive green notes it just would’ve been a loud boisterous mess. Instead he chose to use the wormwood used in absinthe as his nucleus and then puts into orbit around it electrons of mint, star anise, oak moss, galbanum, and vetiver. These are in overdose so there is no missing these notes and they each find a place to complement the wormwood at the heart of the perfume. I found 01/05 to have an off-kilter kind of freshness and the more I wore it the more I found it to be just the right perfume for the summer.
Mme Chevallier was enchanted by a Persian lime raw material she encountered while attending the World Perfume Congress. It was this she used to make the centerpiece of 01/06. What caught her attention about this particular lime was besides the typical citric zest it also has floral facets of rose and lavender, creamy coconut, and woodiness. From when she smelled it she knew she wanted to pair it with vetiver to tease out that woody quality. She also wanted to use fig to get the creamy coconut quality. All of this rests on a base of sandalwood. This comes off very simple on a strip but it absolutely soared when I wore it. The full impact of this very special lime at the heart of 01/06 completely comes alive and each of the notes Mme Chevallier chose to go with it work seamlessly.
Jean Claude Delville
The inspiration for 01/07 was the “grace of a woman”. In M. Delville’s olfactory world this woman is wearing a sheer cotton dress edged with black, the antithesis of the little black dress. 01/07 opens on a fresh cotton accord that has been washed with mandarin blossom fabric softener. It has a softness that the best cotton gets from being used. This opening is everything I want from a Fragrance Republ!c experience. M. Delville is able to go to an extreme in creating this textured fabric based accord. Since this is a woman we are talking about orchid and freesia make up a sweetly floral heart before a soft mix of cashmere woods and white musks add that bit of sensuality. The outline of black on the figurative white dress I spoke of at the beginning of the paragraph.
Osmanthus was the ingredient M. Herault wanted to explore in 01/08. I have always loved the fantastic nature of osmanthus to be floral but also to carry distinct aspects of apricot, leather, and tea along with it. When in the hands of a skilled perfumer they can take that chameleon-like nature and play to it. M. Herault does exactly that as he first allows you to appreciate the osmanthus in its pristine glory before letting other notes start to attract your focus elsewhere. Bergamot and apricot bring you to the fruity character. Violet leaf brings forward the tea. Jasmine and orange blossom get their white flower bluster out to turn fully floral in the heart. Finally, the leathery quality forms a faux chypre with a deep patchouli. Of the eight fragrances which have been released 01/08 is my favorite so far.
If what I’ve written has made you curious a sample program is now available on the Fragrance Republ!c website where you can try any three of the releases from 01/01 through 01/07 for the cost of shipping. I would recommend checking out the three you think sound best to you. This is really one of the great new initiatives for perfume lovers.
Disclosure: This review was based on the bottles I’ve received from being a member of Fragrance Republ!c.
I am not sure what it is about Harrod’s but when a perfume line designs an exclusive for the Knightsbridge luxury department store they seems to go all out. I could name five perfume lines where the best perfume in their collection is their Harrod’s exclusive. I can add a sixth name to the list as the new Ormonde Jayne Black Gold is the best fragrance from Ormonde Jayne in many years.
Ormonde Jayne owner Linda Pilkington has been working with perfumer Geza Schoen from the very beginning of the brand back in 2002. From the very early days of their artistic partnership they have had a more intimate relationship than the traditional Creative Director-Perfumer hierarchy. Ms. Pilkington has used her love of travel to also allow for her to discover and access some of the more unique raw materials, from all over the world, being used in niche perfumery. As she finds her ingredients she has Hr. Schoen assist her in striking the right balance and by adding in a supporting cast so the special ingredients are displayed prominently. Black Gold is a prime example of this style of collaboration and composition.
In the press notes for Black Gold Ms. Pilkington describes the five keynote raw materials for this perfume. Two of the ingredients are fractionations of the absolute where a second distillation is performed and the oil is collected within a very specific, and narrow, temperature range. The concept is you can fine-tune an absolute down to a very specific scent profile. In Black Gold it is sandalwood and ambrette which are afforded this treatment. The other three are carnation absolute, labdanum resinoid, and an Andean version of pink peppercorn called Schinus Mole. All five of these are some of the most precious raw materials you could choose to work with and Ms. Pilkington literally took years to find and source all five. She brought these ingredients back to her home base in London and together with Hr. Schoen they created Black Gold.
Black Gold opens with top notes that are all Hr. Schoen as his adeptness with citrus and herbs is right out front. Bergamot, mandarin, and lemon provide the tart and juicy citrus spine for clary sage and juniper berry to interact with. The result is a lively fresh olfactory appetizer. But now it is time to tuck into the main course as the first two of the focal points come forward. The carnation is one of the finest versions of carnation I have encountered and is combined with this Peruvian pink peppercorn which picks up the clove-like aspect of the carnation. I would say that I think this species of pink peppercorn is a bit less rough adding in a sophistication I usually don’t get from pink pepper. Jasmine, rose, and waterlily provide a floral foundation so that the carnation does not get lost in the spice cabinet. The base starts with the two fractions of sandalwood and ambrette. The sandalwood fraction is all about the arid quality the finest sandalwood has. The ambrette fraction swaddles that very dry woodiness with a powdery aspect along with the botanical musk that ambrette provides. The final piece to the Black Gold construction is the labdanum which provides a green glowing heartbeat to the final phases of this perfume. A very intricate underpinning of patchouli, vetiver, moss, and vanilla provide all the grace notes these three jewels need to shine to their fullest.
Black Gold has 24 hour longevity and very little sillage as it is extrait strength.
Black Gold is a beguiling fragrance that enchants with a whisper and fascinates with a unique set of ingredients. It is my favorite Ormonde Jayne fragrance since 2006’s Orris Noir. Ms. Pilkington and Hr. Schoen have created a spectacular sensuous perfume.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample purchased from Surrender to Chance.
I am about a month away from the final book in one of my favorite urban fantasy series being released. Author Kim Harrison’s version of a contemporary world where the supernatural is real and is out in the open is called The Hollows.
The tipping point for the supernatural races to reveal themselves is a virus spawned by genetic engineering of tomatoes. The virus destroys a quarter of humanity and at that point the combined supernatural community realize they are no longer outnumbered. Many of them help during the ensuing chaos and reveal that they were already embedded in powerful positions throughout society. This event is called The Turn and takes place in the 1960’s in the fictional timeline.
The first book “Dead Witch Walking” takes place forty years after The Turn as the existence of supernatural creatures has become commonplace but not necessarily accepted. The stories within The Hollows series are set in Cincinnati. The name for the series comes from the section of town where the supernatural folk called Inderlanders live. Law enforcement is also divided with each society having their own entity. In the beginning of the series we meet witch Rachel Morgan, who is the first person narrator of all the books, and her partner vampire Ivy Tamwood. The first book sets up their friendship and along with a pixy named Jenks create the three main characters the rest of the installments will focus on.
As is common in these urban fantasy series Rachel is a character who manages to straddle many of the supernatural races. Through the course of the twelve books she has profoundly affected the power structure within The Hollows and Cincinnati. What is great about the way Ms. Harrison plots these books is every decision Rachel has made has had consequences which have rippled through the following books. All too often in urban fantasy the protagonists do things which are forgotten by the next book. Ms. Harrison has loaded the proverbial one straw short of a camel’s burden on Rachel and unflinchingly shown her main character dealing with it.
There is also a very aromatic compnent to the series as places smell of burnt amber and certain races smell of sandalwood, cinnamon, or wine. I often recall the perfumes I like best when these passages are read in my mind.
For all of this the series is coming to an end with the publication of the thirteenth book “The Witch with No Name” right after Labor Day. As I look back over the previous twelve books it is interesting to notice when I think Ms. Harrison switched from writing episodes to actually plotting the path to a final ending. In my estimation it is book eight “Black Magic Sanction” where Rachel begins to bear the consequences of her actions and as she resolves the issues that are placed in front of her is, slowly but surely, creating a society of the outcasts and creating a family out of her friends. Ms. Harrison writes this with gusto and I race through each new entry.
Now I am down to one entry left and I am looking forward to seeing if Rachel lives happily ever after. I suspect she will but not without one more trial to overcome before getting her storybook ending. I can’t wait.
I chose Davidoff Cool Water as a Discount Diamond a couple months ago and I mentioned that it was the perfume which launched a thousand aquatic fragrances on to the market. Reading between the lines you can add the subtext “and most of them were bad”. But not all of them. 1995’s Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme took some of the concepts of the aquatic class and added in some unique beats to make it one of the few to stand out as successfully different.
Jacques Cavallier was part of the original group of perfumers who took the concepts of the aquatic and expanded it in the mid 1990’s. He was responsible for L’Eau D’Issey and L’Eau D’Issey pour Homme and was part of the creative team on Armani Acqua di Gio pour Homme. All of these were examples of the best aquatic fragrances on the shelf. By 2005 when he was commissioned to do Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme he wanted to try something different. His choice was to take two raw materials created especially to evoke water and make them the centerpiece of Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme.
M. Cavallier starts in well-trodden territory with citrus on top. Mandarin and petitgrain add a lip pursing tartness to the top notes. Then we get to the two unique raw materials in the heart Santolina and Posidonia. Santolina is more commonly known as cotton lavender and it has a lavender aspect crossed with a strong syrupy quality. Posidonia is simply the smell of drying seaweed after the ocean has receded leaving it behind on the beach. It has an ozonic watery quality on top of the vegetal note. Smelling either of these by themselves you would be hard pressed to believe these could be the centerpiece of a perfume. That is M. Cavallier’s skill as he takes these two notes and balances them so the lavender, the ozonic notes and a bit of the seaweed aspects form a fascinating seaside accord. It feels more realistic than the previous aquatics which wanted to clean up the ocean. Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme gives it all to you right down to the seaweed. The final phase is also quite interesting as M. Cavallier takes a soft amber and adds clary sage. Clary sage is usually further up the pyramid but in Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme it almost seems like it is what the seaweed evolves into. The amber adds a subtle warmth to the base notes.
Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme has 6-8 hours of longevity and average sillage.
M. Cavallier took a chance by using notes which weren’t widely used in the aquatic fragrance family and fashioned something wonderfully unique. It is one of the few aquatics I think is worth owning. If you want to own it it is found on most of the discount websites for less than $40 for 100mL.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle of Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme I purchased.
In the war of attrition that is exclusivity I think Le Labo is winning. There are many perfume companies which play the exclusivity game. Boutique exclusives, special collaborations, city exclusives, genetic exclusives; okay the last one isn’t reality, yet. In any case the lines come up with ways to entice you to want to try these exclusives. The nice thing for me is that so often when I get a chance to sniff it I am usually not smitten enough to want it, except for Le Labo. Le Labo has been making city exclusives that are only sold at the Le Labo boutique within that city. I went through many gyrations to own four of those; Gaiac 10, Poivre 23, Vanille 44, and Aldehyde 44. Thankfully Le Labo allowed the rest of the world to get in on the fragrances and for one month every other fall the city exclusives are available everywhere Le Labo is sold. But now they have a new exclusive even more exclusive than the city exclusives.
Le Labo partnered with lifestyle and clothing store Opening Ceremony to create a fragrance, Geranium 30. Geranium 30 would have floral designer Thierry Boutemy as creative director overseeing perfumer Barnabé Fillion. M. Boutemy is known for his fantastic floral designs most notably as part of the set design for director Sofia Coppola’s movie “Marie Antoinette”. M. Fillion is not a well-known name in perfumery circles but he has been exploring fragrance in most interesting ways. Last November he was part of a show in conjunction with Belgian design house Unfold where he added fragrance to different ceramic diffusers created via 3-D printing. This was a very exciting partnership and as I was reading the press release I got more excited until I reached the end and read this, “Limited Edition: 100 bottles”. Surely this must be a typo and they meant 1000 bottles. Nope 100 bottles was it. When I knew it was only going to be so few I fervently hoped this would be one of those rare Le Labo misfires. Nope this might be the best Le Labo floral since Rose 31; of course.
Barnabé Fillion at Unfold November 2013
Geranium 30 is an example of what Le Labo does so well in allowing creatives to follow their instincts. In this case M. Boutemy had created a series of smashed and stomped upon flowers for the Opening Ceremony collection with his name on it. M. Fillion picks up on that and creates a floral that captures a physical grinding of flowers against the concrete. On the surface Geranium 30 is a spicy floral fragrance but taken together it is a collision of the garden against the sidewalk.
M. Fillion takes a brilliant grapefruit as the top note of Geranium 30 and uses that to segue into the geranium. Geranium is one of my favorite floral notes because it carries greener facets closer to the surface. M. Fillion ups that by adding just the right amount of galbanum to tint the green a few shades darker but not to overwhelm it. For that he uses black pepper and it is used as a flame to consume the floral heart of Geranium 30. Where cumin consumes the rose in Rose 31 the pepper does the same thing to the geranium here. As much as I love Rose 31 this might be a more balanced effect as some remnants of the geranium linger after the pepper flamethrower has died down. The base is a wet concrete accord and a cocktail of white musks.
Geranium 30 has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I have been very conflicted about writing this review because Geranium 30 is one of my favorite new fragrances of the year and as of this writing is sold out. Bottles are popping up on auction sites for crazy prices. I wanted to write this because I am going to hope that when the next sale of city exclusives comes around they will relent and add Geranium 30 in to the list of exclusives. It is a great fragrance which deserves a very wide audience especially for those who are appreciative of the line. The exclusivity game may be a war of attrition but, damn them, Le Labo plays it so well they will probably be the last perfume line left standing.
Disclosure: This review was based on a split of a bottle I purchased.
One of my favorite side effects of being a perfume blogger has been the opportunity to be the Master of Ceremonies at the Sunday lunch at Sniffapalooza for the past few years. Twice a year I get to introduce a group of independent perfumers to an appreciative audience. Most of the time I have already made the acquaintance and so I don’t often get the opportunity to share the experience of trying something for the first time. At last May’s Spring Fling I did get that opportunity as independent perfumer Gauri Garodia introduced her perfume line Code Deco.
Mme Garodia lives in Singapore and she has spent much of her career working for the Asian subsidiaries of some of the big perfume companies. This prepared her to create her own line in 2013. The name Code Deco was chosen because they are anagrams of each other and they also capture a couple of concepts near to Mme Garodia’s heart. She is an aficionado of the Art Deco time in history and she also believes there is a hidden code to fragrances which is deciphered by one’s preferences. There are currently thirteen fragrances in the line and the majority of them are jazz inspired. Mme Garodia told me when we met at Sniffapalooza music is a mandatory component of her creative process and there are pairs of her fragrances which feel like riffs on each other. One of those pairs are A Minor and B Minor.
For both fragrances there is a spicy clove heart which leads down to a leather and tobacco base. These provide the backbeat and bass line. The different riffs are in A Minor which starts with dark fruit as opposed to B Minor’s gin and grapefruit. The heart contains different spices and floral notes to go with the clove and the bases use different woods to mix in with the common components.
A Minor always catches me off guard as it opens with a brilliant bergamot but it is quickly eclipsed by dark plum. This is a crackling transition and it is a bit like a perfumed attention getter. The clove comes next and with it is the green rose quality of geranium, cinnamon, and bay leaf. This is a very green heart and it is very deep when it all comes together as both the clove and cinnamon add a simmering heat to it all. Mme Garodia definitely paid attention to creating excellent bases and the leather and tobacco base she uses for both of these is very well composed. For A Minor a bit of sandalwood adds creamy warm woody highlights.
B Minor is exactly the opposite as Mme Garodia goes for the cool and it begins with an icy gin accord paired not with lime but grapefruit. This is a fabulous choice as the grapefruit adds some depth without heft. The cool theme continues in the heart as a bouquet of white flowers are dusted with cardamom and the clove comes back to remind us of its kinship to A Minor. If A Minor was heat at this point B Minor has a frosty cool aspect to it. The gin and grapefruit ligers to combine with the clove, cardamom, and white flowers. This eventually heads down to the leather and tobacco base but this time, in keeping with the cool theme, cedar adds its definitive lines to the final measure of B Minor.
A Minor and B Minor have 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Mme Garodia has coded both of these as masculines but I would say they are very much genderless. I have really come to enjoy B Minor a lot throughout this summer. A Minor has its pleasures as well but I suspect it will be worn a bit more in the cooler weather of the fall. All thirteen fragrances have made it to the US and are currently exclusive to MiN New York. In the end I think I’m just a jazz guy and Mme Garodia’s perfume jazz riffs make beautiful music on my skin.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Code Deco at Sniffapalooza Spring Fling 2014.
The most current iteration of musk molecules form the class known as alicyclic musks. In all of the previous versions of musks they were variants of the original nitro musks or they were synthetic counterparts to the natural molecule muscone. In the alicyclic musks these finally comprised a new class of molecule uninformed by previous musk molecules.
The first alicyclic musk would be discovered in 1969 by scientists at International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF) and it was called Rosamusk. Even at a fragrance house like IFF, Rosamusk found no enthusiasm for its use despite its interesting rose and fruit character over musk. Rosamusk was so overlooked that older texts on the musk molecules will tell you that it was BASF’s molecule Cyclomusk, discovered in 1975, that was the first alicyclic musk. Cyclomusk gets the press because it is a muskier smelling molecule but it is the fruity floral aspects of Rosamusk which have become the defining characteristic of this class of molecules.
It wouldn’t be until the 1990’s that Firmenich would make the two molecules which have come to represent this class in perfumery; Helvetolide and Romandolide. If you look at the two molecules above you will notice how similar they are and how they were influenced by the molecules which came before. Helvetolide takes the two CH3, or methyl, groups from Cyclomusk and forms a hybrid with the basic structure of Rosamusk. Romandolide takes the structure of Rosamusk and adds on the same molecules at the end that are present in Helvetolide. These are good examples of what all synthetic organic chemists do to produce a desired effect. We look at what has come in the past and if the chemistry allows we will put these fragments together to see if we can make something more useful. What worked in the case of aromamolecules also works in drug discovery.
Ref: Chemistry & Biodiversity, Vol. 1, pg. 1975 (2004)
As you see above the structures of these alicyclic musks differ in the nature of the group on the six-membered ring. It can be quite remarkable how just moving the groups around can have a significant effect on the odor profile. In the figure above there is a collection of derivatives of Helvetolide and Romandolide and you can see by the descriptions just how much removing or shifting a methyl group around the ring can have.
As I said these molecules have a stronger fruity and floral character than other of the synthetic musks. One of my favorite descriptions of Romandolide comes from perfumer Frank Volkl who in a 2012 article in Perfumer & Flavorist says, “It’s the marmalade within a fragrance. For me it’s the type of musk that adds a little bit of fun to the fragrance.” I think that is really the most striking aspect of the alicyclic musks as these are the “fun” musks. They still carry that identifiably musky quality but the fruity and/or floral facets make them lighter in both heft and intention. Perfumer Alberto Morillas uses a high concentration of Helvetolide in Lancome Miracle and Romandolide features in Rochas Absolu by perfumer Jacques Cavallier.
The whole story of the musk molecules is perhaps the best chemical story in all of perfumery as it illustrates the developments of synthetic aromamolecules for the last 100 years.
When writing this series many of the perfumes I will write about are small batch rarities by our best perfumers. The subject of this one is rare because most of it was removed from circulation due to a corporate takeover. Back in 2003 the home fragrance company Slatkin & Co. wanted to branch out into fine fragrance and beauty products. The original three releases in their foray into the world of perfume were simply named Mimosa, Muguet, and Absinthe. Perfumer Christian Truc was responsible for Muguet and Christophe Laudamiel would create the remaining two. These fragrances barely had any time to find an audience because Slatkin & Co. were acquired by the parent company of Bath and Body Works in 2005. The brand was acquired because of the home fragrance products and these perfumes were just an aberration. With no place for them to go they pretty much just disappeared after less than two years on the market.
I wish I could say I was smart enough to have discovered them back when they were released but that wouldn’t be true. I didn’t become acquainted with Slatkin Absinthe until my Editor-in-chief at CaFleureBon, Michelyn Camen, gifted me a large decant of it. What I have is one of the most treasured fragrances in my entire collection. M. Laudamiel was coming off a year when he had been part of the team behind two very recognizable fragrances, Abercrombie & Fitch Fierce and Ralph Lauren Polo Blue. The two briefs for Slatkin were his first opportunity to fly solo as a perfumer.
What he created in Absinthe is not a literal interpretation of the wormwood flavored liquor. Instead it is a night at the Moulin Rouge complete with the bohemians of the time looking for The Green Fairy to inspire them.
Absinthe opens with the anise-flavored liquor on top. M. Laudamiel squeezes a fresh lime along with the tamarine citrus base and a sprig of mint. This is an exhilarating sinus clearing opening. It is like sipping from your glass of absinthe as you look up to take in the surroundings. The smell of the rose powder of the dancing girls, the slightly urinous character of honey, the sticky green quality of blackcurrant buds all form a heady accord of carnality to go with the absinthe. The base is a woody patchouli and M. Laudamiel made some interesting choices for his woods as there is cherry tree bark, candlewood, cashmere woods, maplewood and oakmoss. This woods accord with the patchouli makes up one of the more striking woody bases of any perfume I own. It is an early sign of M. Laudamiel’s intention to use more of the ingredients of his perfumer’s organ.
Absinthe has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I was already a fan of M. Laudamiel by the time I smelled Absinthe. It confirmed his incredible talents were present from his first moments as a perfumer. It is sad that the meager stock at the time of the acquisition was placed on discount shelves and that was it. Bottles show up very rarely on the auction sites. I have an alert for it and I would say on average two or three bottles will be available over the course of a year. Because it is such an oddity the prices are not worse than any new perfume you might purchase. I can say that if I was ever forced to pare down my voluminous collection to something much smaller there is no version which wouldn’t include Slatkin Absinthe.
Disclosure: This review is based on a decant which I received as a gift.