I am spending this fine mid-October weekend among people who share my passions. Half of it will be spent with my fellow comic book fans at New York Comic-Con and half will be spent with my fellow perfumistas at Sniffapalooza Fall Ball. One thing both groups have in common is the willingness to spend for that which they believe to be unique and/or collectible. As I have observed this over the past few years I have begun to wonder if there is an upper limit to the price we can be asked to pay for our passion.
I rarely talk about price in my perfume reviews because I try to judge based on the quality alone. I leave it up to the reader and eventual consumer to judge whether it is “worth it”. I do talk about perfumes I think are a great “bang for the buck” and heck there is a whole category called Discount Diamonds on the sidebar to the right. There have been ultra-luxe lines exemplified by Amouage, Roja Parfums, and Clive Christian. Not to mention extrait versions from established houses like Guerlain. There are bottles of perfume in my collection which required me to pause for a moment before paying the price. I always justify it as the price for owning a piece of olfactory art. No matter how a buyer justifies paying the price the brands can still go too far.
What is beginning to concern me is that brands that previously didn’t charge high prices have started to do so. There have been numerous examples of brands in the last year charging significantly more for a new release. Some brands have charged up to four times their previous price. Sometimes I can understand the increase in price because of the choice of ingredients….and sometimes it is not so obvious. That is really where my concern lies if the much higher priced offering doesn’t differ significantly is the brand taking advantage?
Many of the brands I am talking about have spent years building a passionate base of perfumistas who await each new release. I don’t know what it must feel like to see myself, or another reviewer, wax rhapsodic about that new release only for the consumer to get sticker shock when choosing to buy it. Business principles say the market will only bear what the consumer is willing to pay. I wonder if that factors passion into that equation.
My final worry with this tactic is if the passionate supporters feel taken advantage of can this do damage to the brand as a whole? Once a consumer feels taken advantage of there is no easy way for a brand to re-capture that one time supporter. This could be a case of short-term gains at the expense of the long-term.
How much something is worth to someone is a very personal decision. Almost as personal as choosing which perfume brand commands your respect and loyalty. I don’t want to see either taken for granted in an attempt to increase the bottom line.
True androgyny, the combination of masculine and feminine characteristics, is not an easy thing to pull off without becoming caricature. In music David Bowie, Grace Slick, Annie Lennox, and Lady Gaga exemplify this. In perfumery this concept has been less adroitly realized. If you are going to try and do this rose would not be the first focal point I might consider as a candidate. Which goes to show why I review perfumes and don’t make them. Creative Directors Elise Juarros and Rosa Vaia of Coquillete Paris have decided rose is the perfect place to start with to make an androgynous perfume. Tudor is the result of this effort.
Rosa Vaia (l.) and Elise Juarros
One of the hall marks of the first five perfumes from Coquillete Paris was their easy affability while wearing them. I had compared them to your favorite t-shirt and jeans when reviewing them in the past. For this sixth fragrance Tudor does not show that easy going nature. On the website there is a proverb which reads, “The rose falls, the thorns remain.” This is a good description of Tudor as it is more stem and thorn than bloom which is because there is no actual rose in the perfume.
Tudor opens with the green stemminess in place courtesy of geranium and muguet. The geranium also supplies some of the rose nuance. The heart goes for more rose that is not a rose with rosewood supplying the rosiness. There is also a fabulously pungent soil accord which further advances the concept it is about everything but the bloom. The base is a richly resinous mix of benzoin, labdanum, and ambergris. It is sweetened with a hint of vanilla but this stays tilted towards the warm side for the final moments.
Tudor has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I was surprised that Tudor was so different than the previous five perfumes in the collection. I was told at Pitti Fragranze that Tudor is meant to be a conclusion to this original collection. I was also told it contains at least one note in common with the previous five perfumes to make it a fitting capstone to the fragrant story. I said at the beginning that androgyny in perfumery is hard; based on Tudor it may be easier than I think.
Disclsoure: This review was based on a sample from Coquillete Paris provided at Pitti Fragranze.
The weather is cooling off here as the calendar flips to mid-October. This generally triggers the grand migration of my warm-weather scents to the back of the shelf as the bigger bolder cold-weather perfumes move forward. It is at this point in the year I bid au revoir to my citrus perfumes. Almost all of my favorites do not do well underneath sweaters and scarves. There are mornings where I look at them but I know they are waiting for a warmer day. I have always wanted a citrus perfume which would be able to stand up and be counted in the chill of the fall. When I was at Pitti Fragranze I discovered a new line, to me, and the winter citrus I’ve been looking for in Peccato Originale Antidoto.
As a medicinal chemist the Peccato Originale display caught my eye because it had a lot of the old pharmaceutical accoutrements used to treat patients about a hundred years ago. Creative Director Silvia Monti’s family has owned a chemist’s shop for generations. From that inspiration she designed Peccato Originale to be a fragrant medicine, “something that goes beyond its function, it becomes an emotional support, a traveling companion that, sometimes, stays at your side for a lifetime.” Sig.ra Monti has released four fragrances to date Antidoto is one of the two newest releases.
When I was being introduced to the line and we came to Antidoto I was told that this was a citrus that would last longer than any I have tried. I’ve heard that before and after a few hours the proof is no longer on my skin. It was explained to me before spraying it on that Sig.ra Monti wanted Antidoto to be a potent antidote and to jump start the internal systems. Once I sprayed a bit of Antidoto on my skin my internal clock started ticking. Twelve hours later it was still going strong. In fact the citrus in Antidoto goes so strong the heart and base notes of mate tea and rum have a difficult time making themselves known.
The citrus bouquet of Antidoto is made up of petitgrain, lemon, mandarin, and grapefruit. All are present in overdose and then the note which helps knit them together and make them last for a long time is a high percentage of hedione. The jasmine quality of hedione acts as a fixative to the top notes and allows them to elongate their presence over many hours. The other note in the top accord is a great green cardamom. That cardamom, hours into the development, will help delineate the mate tea as it forces its way into perception. Another couple of hours later a rich dark rum accord finishes this off. Even throughout the mate and rum drydown the citrus notes dance like fireflies on top of the heavier notes.
Antidoto has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Antidoto is a fascinating perfume to wear because of this elongated development. It makes it seem like I had applied different perfumes throughout the day. Fresh citrus then green tea and citrus finally a rum cocktail with a twist of citrus. Every time I wore Antidoto it lived up to its name as it was the antidote to my dilemma of being able to wear a citrus perfume in the colder weather.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Peccato Originale at Pitti Fragranze.
Amouage is an ultra-luxe perfume brand which was founded in 1983, in Oman, to create modern perfumes in the Omani tradition. The original two perfumes created for the brand by perfumer Guy Robert, Gold Man and Gold Woman, would set the brand DNA for the next thirty years. Amouage really transformed itself in 2006 when it hired Christopher Chong as creative director. Mr. Chong has made Amouage into one of the most consistently artistic of any perfume house you can name. The fact that Amouage doesn’t make perfume for the lowest common denominator is something to be commended. I often refer to many Amouage releases as graduate level perfumery. Even though I believe Amouage puts out some of the most spectacularly intricate fragrances it doesn’t mean there aren’t some good introductory courses in Amouage perfume before taking on the more advanced offerings. Here are the five I would suggest starting with.
Jubilation XXV by Bertrand Duchaufour was one of Mr. Chong’s first releases in 2007. It is in my estimation one of the finest incense perfumes ever made. M. Duchaufour takes everything he had learned about making incense perfumes and creates a modern masterpiece. Jubilation XXV caresses you with a swirl of resinous smoke that comforts.
Reflection Woman by Maurice Roucel is fresh the Amouage way. Most fruity florals which can also be described as fresh are light. Reflection Woman is not light but it also not as powerful as most of the other Amouage perfumes. M. Roucel takes an aquatic green accord and mixes it with violet and watermelon. The notes complement each other quite nicely.
Memoir Man by Karine Vinchon-Spehner was the pine fragrance I had been waiting for. Mme Vinchon-Spehner starts with an absinthe top surrounded by herbal notes. A fabulous camphor laden heart carries into a mix of vetiver, oakmoss, and sandalwood. This is all kept surprisingly light like walking through the woods on a winter’s day.
Opus V by Jacques Cavallier is part of the Amouage Library Collection it replaces rose with orris as the partner of oud. It works so seamlessly you wonder why it isn’t used more. M. Cavallier also uses a very boozy rum accord with the orris early on before letting ambroxan turn it austere and dry by the end.
Homage Attar is one of the easier to find attars by Amouage. This is what Amouage stood for when they were founded to revive the Omani tradition of perfumery. Amouage has a selection of incredible attars which are straight distillations of an essential oil into an existing woody base. In the case of Homage Attar it is rose distilled into a base of oud and sandalwood. Attars are among the most concentrated forms of perfume there are and a drop or two goes a long way. Attars also wear very close to the skin making this a perfume that exists for you and those you allow to get close. If you’ve ever been curious about attars this is the best place you could start to explore them.
These are the introductory perfumes but if you find you like these great pleasures await you in the advanced levels.
Disclosure: This review was based on bottles I own.
It is funny but at the time I didn’t recall 2004-2005 as being an especially auspicious year for independent perfumery. It is only as 2014 has moved along and a number of our best, and most established, independent perfumers are celebrating ten years, or so, that I missed noticing the convergence of the class of 2005. Perfumer Olivier Durbano was one of those who did leave an impression when he released his first perfume Rock Crystal back then. I say this often but one of the pleasures of having been around at the beginning makes the moment when they create something transcendent all the more enjoyable. M. Durbano’s tenth perfume Promethee is a moment of fire-kissed transcendence.
When I reviewed last year’s Lapis Philosophorum I mentioned that M. Durbano being able to interpret from myth versus the reality of stone freed him to be especially creative. Promethee shows even more of the creativity that was on display in that fragrance. M. Durbano wanted to capture the myth of Prometheus and his tricking Zeus while regaining fire for humanity. Prometheus would pay a price for this betrayal by being shackled to a rock while attacked by an eagle while his immortality kept him alive. Eventually Hercules would free him. M. Durbano chooses his keynotes and accords to re-tell the story in perfumed form. Prometheus used a stalk of fennel to capture the flame from Zeus. That forms the core of the top notes. M. Durbano’s near-trademark mineral accord evokes the years of imprisonment chained to the rock. The smell of the woods in the forest reveals the smell of the freedom to walk amongst the trees once again.
M. Durbano opens Promethee with a stalk of fennel glowing softly with the banked fire of spices. Sage, pink pepper, nutmeg, and fenugreek add an herbal flame atop the fennel. The fennel along with the fenugreek provide a strongly anisic character which the herbs and spices complement perfectly. The heart is the olibanum based mineral accord M. Durbano has used in the past. This time he allows the accord to represent the weight of the rock Prometheus is chained to. In the other perfumes this has appeared in it is often a foundation for other notes. In Promethee the mineral accord is made more prominent and it gives it weight. I have always admired this particular accord, in the past, but by using it so boldly it makes me appreciate it even more. The base notes form a forest walk free of the chains with cedar as the core along with vetiver, labdanum, storax, and lavender absolute. The balsamic facets of storax are the glue which holds the base accord together.
Promethee has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Promethee is the best perfume M. Durbano has ever produced. It is by far his most complex and complete creation. While I can pick apart the various voices in the chorus Promethee succeeds so well I really don’t want to make the effort. When I mentioned that the freedom to interpret the mythological freed M. Durbano’s creativity I couldn’t have imagined it would lead to something like this. Promethee is one of the best new perfumes of 2014.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Olivier Durbano at Pitti Fragranze 2014.
Patchouli is one of the most common notes in all of perfumery. It is also one of the most widely-known notes by those who are not interested in perfume because it has been a fragrance associated with hippies and head shops, especially during the 1960’s and 70’s. The latter is an unfortunate association even though it makes it identifiable. I have always embraced the association as one of trying something different. As I’ve been exposed to more and more sources of really outstanding patchouli I have been reminded that the way patchouli became known to western noses was through the silk trade of the 18th and 19th centuries. Because patchouli was thought to be an insect repellent the rare silks were packed with patchouli leaves before being shipped to every royal court in Europe. The scent of patchouli on your silk was as good as a seal of authenticity. The smell of patchouli became associated with the noble classes and royalty during that time.
When I met Laoboratorio Olfattivo creative director Roberto Drago at Pitti Fragranze he spoke to me of wanting to create a patchouli perfume which captured both of these influences. To that end he asked perfumer Cecile Zarokian to create the new Patchouliful from a sketch he had done of a man wearing a crown, Hawaiian shirt, shorts and flip flops sitting on a throne. We laughed and I called it him the King of the Summer of Love. As Sig. Drago and I spoke further he related to me his desire to have a patchouli fragrance which was not so heavy he wanted something which would be as light-hearted as the sketch of his laid-back king. Mme Zarokian has a wonderful habit of listening to the creative directors she works with. She understood what Sig. Drago wanted and delivered a patchouli that is transparent and lilting while still having a real sense of the power of the title note.
Mme Zarokian starts Patchouliful off with a beautifully balanced spicy duet of cinnamon and clove. She keeps them floating on the surface of things and once you see underneath you are greeted by orris, frangipani and the expected patchouli. The clove, in particular, persists into the floral heart. The orris and frangipani form a slightly green floral bouquet. The patchouli is added in such a way that it seems to be playing hide and seek in among the spices and flowers. For quite a while it never seems like the patchouli will gain the upper hand. Later on in the development it does and it lands on a base of cedar, labdanum, and musk. Mme Zarokian leaves the ending as opaque as the middle phase of development was.
Patchouliful has 8-10 hours of longevity and average sillage.
All too often patchouli is used as a powerful presence in a perfume. Patchouliful shows there is also pleasure to be found by dialing back the power and allowing the user to come forward to the patchouli rather than the patchouli coming to them. The delicate hand used by Mme Zarokian to realize Sig. Drago’s vision makes for a memorable patchouli perfume. I have the Hawaiian shirt, short, flip flops and crown; whenever I find my throne Patchouliful will be my coronation day scent.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Laboratorio Olfattivo.
Back in 1989 before MTV became an entertainment network and still showed music videos there were two videos which were some of my favorites to watch that year. Don Henley’s The Boys of Summer and Aerosmith’s Janie’s Got a Gun both were directed by the same person. I was reminded of those videos after seeing that director’s latest feature film. The director is David Fincher and his latest film is Gone Girl.
Gone Girl is a movie based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, who also wrote the screenplay. It is a story of married couple Nick and Amy Dunne. Amy goes missing on their fifth wedding anniversary. The movie explores both of their very different journeys. I was thinking about those early videos by Mr. Fincher because I can see The Boys of Summer as Nick’s theme and Janie’s Got a Gun as Amy’s theme.
Rosamund Pike and David Fincher on set at Gone Girl
Mr. Fincher has become one of our best movie directors over the twenty five years between those videos and Gone Girl. He has a reputation as a perfectionist asking his actors to do many more takes than usual looking for the perfect nuance. It is a process which has led to the creation of singular set pieces in his movies. The final act in Se7en, the reveal of the twist in Fight Club, Lisbeth’s revenge in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the scene in the bar where Mark Zuckerberg buys into the world of big business in The Social Network. Every one of those scenes requires the actor to show you layers underneath the obvious playing out on screen. That Mr. Fincher is able to do that makes his dedication worth it. Gone Girl is a movie where nothing that you see on the surface is real and Ben Affleck as Nick and Rosamund Pike as Amy are asked to give some of the most layered performances they have ever given. I think Mr. Fincher is responsible for that especially when it comes to Ms. Pike who has never given a performance like this in her career.
Ben Affleck (l.) and David Fincher on set at Gone Girl
If there is a frequent criticism of Mr. Fincher it is that his characters come off as cold or unfeeling but I think that, again, is a surface judgment. These characters are alight with banked emotions which are kept hidden. In my opinion Mr. Fincher is as close as we have to a modern Hitchcock. Even in true stories like Zodiac or The Social Network where going into the movie I know the story he still manages to involve me within the story and make me see what I know in a different way.
It is very early to be making movie award predictions but Gone Girl is an example of Mr. Fincher synthesizing everything he has learned over the last twenty-five years into something I hope is at the very least recognized with a directorial nomination come Academy Award time.
For years the extraction of the essential oils from natural sources was done via extraction in hot ethanol and distillation of the resulting solution to collect the essential oil. This process due to the heat used for the extraction and the distillation causes loss of some of the ingredients which are heat sensitive or reactive with alcohol when it is heated to boiling this is called denaturing. What this means is the process does not get the whole spectrum of ingredients that come from the natural source. The only alternative to this steam extraction and distillation process was the very labor intensive enfleurage which would capture a fuller amount of the natural products but still not everything.
Then along came supercritical fluid extraction. This is a process where a solvent which exists at a gas at normal pressure and ambient temperature when placed under pressure and cooled, liquefies. If there is a source of essential oils covered by the cold liquid it extracts everything out of it. After the extraction is done the liquid is transferred into a vial where it is allowed to return to room temperature and pressure. This turns it back into a gas leaving behind the essential oil. Are your eyes glazing over yet? This is always where I see the light going out of the eyes anyone I have ever tried to explain this to. You know the whole adage about a picture being worth a thousand words? Well the video below which comes from Mane describing their Jungle Essence procedure is worth a million words as it is a beautiful way of showing how this is done.
The solvent used in the video is probably primarily butane, the gas used in cigarette lighters. When used as the solvent in supercritical fluid extraction it performs well. The first solvent used was carbon dioxide and those early essential oils were labeled CO2 to indicate that they were extracted with that. Now all of the aromachemical houses have worked to perfect different blends using other blends mostly using a high percentage of butane.
When I was at the Mane presentation at Pitti they showed the video above and they passed around examples of raw materials which were extracted the traditional steam distillation way, using carbon dioxide as a supercritical fluid, and using their Jungle Essence blend. It was striking to see how much more there was in the supercritical fluid extractions. The most striking was an extract of hot Szechuan pepper. A glass of the ground pepper pods was passed around followed by a mouillette of the Szechuan pepper Jungle Essence. If I was blindfolded I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. Petitgrain was also an interesting example because in that case the essential oil realized by steam distillation was only very slightly different than the Jungle Essence version. That showed me that supercritical fluid extraction is not always the best choice.
I hope that the video above especially helps you to understand the technique much better than my overly technical second paragraph and the next time you see a note which says something like sandalwood EO CO2 you’ll understand why it might smell a little different.
My thanks to Mane for the video I really do think it is very well done.
The ultra-luxe category of niche perfumery has been expanding, especially over the last year or so. Some of that expansion seems as ill-advised as the releases that carry the high price tag. Clive Christian was one of the original ultra-luxe perfume houses and they still hold the Guinness Book of World Records title of World’s Most Expensive Perfume for 2001’s No. 1 for Men & No. 1 for Women. One of the things I admire about the brand is their dedication to making sure the money is in the bottle instead of on the bottle. Clive Christian and his daughter Victoria Christian have dedicated themselves, as creative directors, to the brand which carries their name to also reflect their innate British style. It has been two years since the last new release by Clive Christian now for 2014 we have a new pair, L for Women and L for Men.
C stood for Clive and V stood for Victoria so what does L stand for? According to the press materials it stands for Love. As perfumes L for Women is a powerful fruity floral and L for Men is a spicy woody pastiche. Neither perfume is innovative about their structure. What differentiates them is the concentration of the raw materials which often shows subtlety to the note which can only be detected when such a high concentration is used. In both of the “L” perfumes it is this which makes them so enjoyable to wear.
L for Women opens with a densely green accord made up of a mélange of Black, Pink, and White Pepper. Davana supplies the strawberry preserves quality. This is one of those ingredients which is provided in overdose and that allows for the green and woody facets to be discerned. A green accord is also used to accentuate the green. The final result in the early going is like a pot of fine strawberry jam surrounded by ivy. The heart is a classic pairing of jasmine and Damask rose. This is a heady olfactory opiate. It is so powerful that at first it is hard to get close to it. Wait it out because once you allow yourself to settle into it the intensity contains hidden delights. For me it is the way the indoles of the jasmine suffuse the spicy core of the rose. The floral lightness abounds but it is the raw animalic center which fascinates. It all ends up on a woody base of vetiver, cedar, and musk.
L for Men is my favorite of the two which is maybe as it should be as after all I am a man. It also carries a rose in the heart but where L For Women is all about the rose in L for Men it mainly acts as a transitional note from the spicy opening down to the very woody base. This opens with a tart selection of citrus, mainly grapefruit and petitgrain. Then it is subsumed in a tsunami of spices. Cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, and probably others crash in a wave over the citrus. It makes for a very lively early development. It carries a vitality along with the depth. This opening really checked off all of my boxes. I was sort of sad to see it begin to attenuate as the rose acts as an attention getter before the base notes come forward. Vetiver forms a woody nucleus to which cedar, fir balsam, and oud are added. Just as with the spices on top the woody notes are all in high concentration and instead of being cacophonous they come together in a woody harmonic convergence and vibrate for hours on my skin.
L for Women & L for Men lasts for 14-16 hours on my skin with above average sillage.
As I mentioned above the money is in the bottle and both L for Women and L for Men show me the care in the use of the raw materials used to make these perfumes. The intensity and concentration of both of these could have led to a hot mess if done poorly. Instead they are studies in how deep you can go with a typical architecture like fruity floral or spicy woody. The answer as provided by L for Women and L for Men is it is nearly fathomless.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Clive Christian.
The yearly festival known as Burning Man is a consistent source of inspiration for the participants. As one who attended the early Burning Man events out on the playa it is stunning to see that it has grown from a couple thousand to tens of thousands. Burning Man was always a moment for the participants to find out something about themselves as part of a temporary community. Even as it has become larger there are always signs that it still inspires on an individual basis. For evidence of that you need look no further than Boulder, Colorado based independent perfumer Amber Jobin and her Aether Arts Perfume line. Ms. Jobin creates a new perfume for each Burning Man she attends. For last year her Burner Perfume No. 4; John Frum was one of the best new perfumes of the year and it won one of the inaugural Art & Olfaction Awards in the Artisan Category. Ms. Jobin is one of the rising stars in independent perfumery and it was with interest I waited to see what this year’s Burner Perfume would be.
Amber Jobin at Burning Man 2014
Burning Man has a theme every year and Ms. Jobin designs her perfume to fit that theme. For 2014 the theme was “Caravansary: The First Information Highway”. Ms. Jobin was drawn to the idea of “Imagining all the precious and exotic cargo that passed along the Silk Road.” She realized this was a good opportunity to make an incense perfume. As she thought about it she wanted to make a different incense perfume. She chose an ingredient which is “a plant that shares many of the same components, cannabis.” All of this is what Burner Perfume No. 5: Incense Indica became. It seems like as marijuana has started to become legalized it has become more common as a perfume ingredient. Incense Indica is one of five cannabis based perfumes I received just in the last six weeks. That coincidence has also illuminated, to me, the versatility of it as a core note. Ms. Jobin does use it in place of a traditional frankincense in a typical incense perfumer design.
Incense Indica opens with opoponax, choya loban and cannabis all rolled together in a magnificent olfactory spliff. Ms. Jobin captures not only the narcotic depth of the cannabis but also the green sticky resinous quality, too. It is that combination which makes cannabis such an interesting note to build upon. The choya loban adds a cloud of smoke over the early moments. Often smoky notes can overwhelm. Ms. Jobin uses it as a distinct opaque haze. All of this turns decadent with honey as it picks up on the cannabis and sets it glowing. Myrrh adds to the sweetness quotient.. Then Ms. Jobin lets a fully indolic jasmine sambac out to search out all of the deeper skankier noes within the cannabis. The last stage is gorgeously animalic and greenly herbal on a cedar and sandalwood base.
Incense Indica has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Incense Indica shows cannabis to be a fully functional perfume ingredient and Ms. Jobin has used it well by skillfully using the right notes to fully explore all of the fragrant potential within. The jasmine and cannabis pairing is the one which really grabs ahold of my imagination. One of the principles of Burning Man is that of Radical Self-Expression with these series of Burner Perfumes Ms. Jobin lives up to that in all of the best ways.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Aether Arts Perfume.