As the year comes to an end I start organizing my desk looking to make sure I’ve reviewed all of the perfumes that have come out this year before the calendar turns over. Without fail I find at least one or two which kept getting pushed down the pecking order because of timeliness or some other seemingly more important reason. The one I found a few days ago and reacquainted myself with was Narciso.
I have a very fond spot for Narciso Rodriguez the fashion designer. I remember sitting gobsmacked at one of his earliest shows at New York Fashion Week. It was no surprise to me that his star would rise hot and fast so that barely five years later he would be named the Best Designer for 2004 & 2005 by the CFDA. Contemporaneously with being at the pinnacle of the fashion world he also would produce a pair of perfumes, Narciso Rodriguez for Her and Narciso Rodriguez for Him. Both of these sit in my mythical Designer Perfume Hall of Fame. They showed that mainstream wasn’t synonymous with mediocre. Both of them were centered on a sensuous musk which does not pander to the lowest common denominator. In the years since the perfume line of Narciso Rodriguez has not been as successful as the fashion line. Flankers that were uninspiring and yearly limited editions that were indistinguishable. I received a press release over the summer and it mentioned that Mr. Rodriguez was going to take a more active creative direction in the next release. I thought that was a good thing and once I had a sample that was confirmed.
Narciso was signed by Aurelien Guichard and visually it is striking as the juice has a milky cast to it. Even before spraying it you expect a creamy center. M. Guichard starts with florals floating on the surface of a milk bath in a cedar wood paneled spa room. It is simple but underneath it all is a very untamed musk, hidden, waiting to pounce.
Narciso opens with a florid gardenia note. Very expansive and also very green. A bit of rose is used to temper the green but it doesn’t really do as good a job as it might, for which I am thankful. That green gardenia is perfect prelude to the creamy ambery heart. The creaminess comes from a cocktail of white musks that M. Guichard layers one upon the other to create a plush sensuality. What becomes striking is partway through the musk accord begins to become a bit more animalic as it transforms from safe to sort of dangerous. There is a point, about two-thirds of the way through the development, on my skin that this less well-behaved musk hearkens back to the earlier perfumes. The base provides an austere framing of cedar which provides stalwart woody simplicity in contrast to the luminous muskiness.
Narciso has 8-10 hour longevity on my skin. It starts off with above average sillage but once the florals have disappeared the musky woody finish has very minimal sillage.
As I am starting to look back over the year I am surprised at the number of mainstream designer perfumes I have liked this year. Narciso is another one to add to that list.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Narciso Rodriguez.
There are so many times when a perfume brand plays it safe and we ask for something different. What happens when a brand listens to that desire and produces a perfume which is an example of not playing it safe but in going for that it doesn’t necessarily come together completely. The two latest releases from Xerjoff, Blue Hope & Red Hoba have me pondering this.
Xerjoff, as a brand, has been primarily about luxury and precious materials over making artistic statements. Many of my favorite perfumes from the line like Iriss or Richwood are exceedingly simple perfumes centered on iris and sandalwood respectively. There were some more adventurous exploits within last year’s Join The Club collection but those didn’t stray far from the Xerjoff brand DNA, really. It seems like creative director Sergio Momo gave a little more freedom to the perfumers to maybe redefine that brand characteristic and try and change the overall perception of Xerjoff. Both of these new perfumes tried to do this with different amounts of success.
The perfumer behind Blue Hope is Carlo Ribero who is signing his fourth perfume for the label. Blue Hope is a weirdly compelling combination of jasmine, saffron, and cedar. These are not notes which find harmony they mostly convey dissonance and they seem to circle each other like three gunfighters in a Mexican standoff. After a simple bergamot and mandarin opening the three protagonists take their equally placed spaces. The cedar the good guy full of clean lines. The saffron the local exotic guide knowledgeable about the indigenous ways. The jasmine the bad guy who exudes a dirty core of indolic malice. Throughout the long middle period of development it is like these three notes sit on my skin waiting for the other two to blink to take over. Instead they stay perched in equilibrium. Here is the funny thing I like this tension in small doses. For the first hour or so it was interesting but as it wore on for a few more hours it became a bit tedious. I welcomed the castoreum and vanilla base notes just to break up the tension.
Cecile Zarokian was the perfumer who composed Red Hoba. This seems to Mme Zarolkian’s take on a contemporary Oriental. When she gets this modernizing of a familiar architecture right it can be joyous. In Red Hoba it is undeniably Mme Zarokian adding different beats to the traditional Oriental melody but they cause it to lurch a bit in a noticeable way. The early moments of Red Hoba are right up my alley as cardamom and cinnamon rise off my skin in a spicy sussurus, whispering of things to come. The heart opens with orris, patchouli, and jasmine fulfilling that promise. Then Mme Zarokian adds smoke, a lot of smoke, probably too much smoke as it overwhelms the evolving accord of the other three heart notes. For a significant time the smoke buries everything and is the only thing I smell. By the time it recedes it leaves behind a wonderfully animalic base of castoreum framed with cashmeran. Red Hoba is so close to being something very good before it all goes up in smoke.
Blue Hope has 10-12 hour longevity and average silage. Red Hoba has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I am one of those who ask creative directors to take a risk and now Sig. Momo has done just that. I admire that Sig. Ribero and Mme Zarokian were given a little more latitude to color outside of the lines and they did just that. I think there will be a few who absolutely love these perfumes for their differences from the norm. I should have been one of them. In the end I am reminded of the old proverb, “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.”
Disclosure: This review was based on samples purchased from Twisted Lily.