There are times I make a request for a set of samples expecting I know which one I will think is best just from the description. I’ve come to realize my track record in being correct is pretty poor. Some of that might be anticipation versus a purer experience in which a new fragrance gets the chance to surprise me. Such was the case with the set of samples from Atkinsons London The Contemporary Collection.
What drew mw to this collection was the statement on the Atkinsons website saying they wanted “transform the familiar into the fabulously unfamiliar”. As I looked at the perfumes in the collection the one which caught my eye was Lavender on the Rocks. Perfumers Christine Nagel (pre-Hermes) and Violaine Collas wanted to make an icy lavender cocktail. I liked it as it really pushes the herbal character of lavender. The thing was the strip I kept returning to over and over was not Lavender on the Rocks; it was The Big Bad Cedar.
It is hard not to giggle at the name as I keep seeing an anthropomorphic tree threatening to huff and puff and blow your flowers away. Despite that imagery perfumer Maurice Roucel seemed less interested in making the cedar bombastic. Instead what he produces in The Big Bad Cedar is a remarkably refined version of cedar which seems very stiff upper lip British.
M. Roucel shows this is not Big Bad territory with the top accord. He blends a lovely cardamom-centric whisper using lemon and lavender to caress it. I am very fond of cardamom on top and this is just classically composed. A great opening. The heart sets the stage for the title note to appear as M. Roucel uses clary sage to take what the cardamom started into a greener direction. The sage becomes a prelude to the green woodiness inherent in cedar. The other note in the heart, broom, is used to anticipate the clean; the desiccated sweet dustiness is perfectly positioned. M. Roucel uses a classic Virginia cedarwood essence. As it becomes apparent it reaches out to both the clary sage and the broom to form a harmonic which captures all there is to see in cedar. M. Roucel grounds this with moss and cashmeran in the base.
The Big Bad Cedar has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Despite the Big Bad name and the desire of The Contemporary Collection to make the “familiar…unfamiliar” this perfume is completely classic in its construction and the way it felt when I wore it. There are others in this collection which do live up to their fanciful names and desire to be different. The Big Bad Cedar is not one of them and that is not so bad.
Disclosure; this review was based on a sample provided by Atkinsons London.
I spent last weekend binge watching the latest must-see original series on Netflix, Stranger Things. One of the things that tipped me over into watching it was on my Spotify there was an official Stranger Things playlist. That playlist had a lot of my favorite songs from the 1980’s. Little did I know that Stranger Things would also have some of my favorite movies from the 1980’s within it as well.
Stranger Things is an eight-episode series by The Duffer Brothers. It takes place over the first week of November 1983 in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana. The story is propelled by the simultaneous disappearance of one child, Will Byers; and the appearance of another, the enigmatic Eleven. The search for Will consumes his three friends who find Eleven who they call “El”. The four kids work together while at the same time the town sheriff Hopper investigates in more traditional ways. Over the course of the series Will’s mother, Joyce, played by Winona Ryder finds out there is more going on than meets the eye. This all comes together in a mix of horror and comedy that works for the most part.
While I was watching it I kept coming back to the question when is imitation not inspiration. The Duffer Brothers use so many things from 1980’s movies nearly verbatim there are times it felt like a manic fan video pulling scenes from E.T., The Goonies, Heathers, Stand By Me, Aliens, Flatliners, Explorers, etc. There was an overall feel that The Duffer Brothers wrote Stranger Things while tripping one Saturday night reminiscing about their favorite movies and pulling their favorite characters and scenes together. Which is to say I found almost nothing unique about anything I saw. Which doesn’t mean I wasn’t entertained because The Duffer Brothers did choose some of the best stuff from their inspirations.
The other issue I had was eight hours was too long for this. It would have been much better at half the length. There’s an awful lot of overheated adolescent angst and frantic adults in the first few hours which could have been shortened considerably.
I think the success of Stranger Things is down to it is a near-perfect video time capsule of the 1980’s. If you lived through the times you will laugh when you see one of the characters in a perfect Farrah Fawcett hairdo. There are movie posters and comic books to delight the geeks sprinkled throughout. Corded telephones, television with rabbit ears, and Ford Pintos all present.
It is a fun way to spend a weekend plowing through the series. Unlike most, even though there are a couple of unanswered questions, I don’t care if there is a second season. One weekend lost in the 1980’s is probably enough for me.
There has been another round of acquisition of niche perfume lines by the big cosmetics companies. By Kilian was purchased by Estee Lauder followed by the recent Atelier Cologne sale to L’Oreal. While there is plenty to talk about in whether these are good for the niche/independent perfume business that is not what has struck me about all of the sales of the last two years. What I realized is every one of these had a strong identifiable brand to go with their perfumes.
When I was at Cosmoprof most of the beauty products I saw were very conscious of creating a brand. In that sector it is what separates you from others essentially doing the same thing. In perfume it is easier as the products usually at the very least smell different. That doesn’t mean that a perfume should not consider that a distinct brand can provide a consumer a particular guidance.
This has been true since the earliest days of perfumery. Chanel and Guerlain have used their brands for almost a century. When I write about the new releases I very often say how closely it tracks to what I consider the brand identity.
For the independent brands the same has been true. Of the four niche brands which have been acquired; Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle, Le Labo, By Kilian, and Atelier Cologne. All of those have distinctive identities which come from the top down. The creative directors for each of those perfume lines kept true to the vision that was in place on day one. These are as identifiable by aesthetic as Chanel or Guerlain.
The other part of all of this is a recognizable package. All of these six brands I’ve mentioned have pretty simple bottles but most perfume lovers could recognize them by their silhouette. All of this comes together to become eye-catching enough to have a casual consumer be attracted to it to give it a try.
It is why when I am asked by emerging independent perfume lines how to take the next step I pass along this advice. If you are looking to expand your market you need to think seriously about what you want not only your perfume but your packaging and your personality to say to the perfume buying public. That is the foundation of building a brand. More in the independent perfume business should understand the importance of making the effort to do it.
Two years ago when I received my samples of Elizabeth & James Nirvana White and Nirvana Black I expected normal celebuscent service to hold. Much to my delight Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen showed they weren’t slapping their name on a bottle as an afterthought. Both of the debut fragrances showed the effort behind them in being a cut above. Flash forward to the middle of last month when I was asked if I would like samples. “Yes, please” was my answer. I was surprised how excited I was to see if the same attention to care would be evident again. That answer is also yes.
The two new fragrances are Nirvana Rose and Nirvana Bourbon. I didn’t end up wearing Nirvana Rose for review purposes. I can say it is a well-done sprightly rose de mai perfume supported by geranium and vetiver to provide a bit of a green hue to the pretty debutante rose. I think I’m just saturated with rose perfumes this year and there will probably be quite a few who really like this. Nirvana Bourbon was something which cut through the clutter.
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
One of the clear features of this Elizabeth & James aesthetic is to task their perfumers to balance three notes to form something memorable. This is not easy perfume making. When there are only a few ingredients flaws are more apparent. When it is done right you can look back and realize the perfume needed all three components to be good. I was unable to find out who the perfumers were behind the new releases but it is very clear they again worked with top-notch talent as they did with the first two.
The bourbon in Nirvana Bourbon is not the whiskey but the vanilla. The trio of notes in Nirvana Bourbon are tuberose, oak, and vanilla. When I looked at that list I expected the perfumer would have to pull off quite the feat to balance the boisterous tuberose, the stolid oak, and the sweet vanilla.
Right from the beginning the vanilla and the tuberose come out to play. The choice here is to allow the tuberose to provide a sensual underpinning to that sweet vanilla. The tuberose takes the confectionary character and turns it sultrier and alluring instead of playful. The oak wraps that seductress up in a strong woody hug. The oak adds in smoky facets which also swirl throughout the composition.
Nirvana Bourbon has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Nirvana Bourbon is going to be the great autumn companion fragrance to Nirvana Black as the weather starts to turn cooler in a few weeks. I am again impressed with the fragrance work coming from The Olsen Twins. There is a real chance for them to create one of the best celebrity perfume collections ever.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Sephora.
Lily focused perfumes have always been a problem for me. If you smell a living lily it is a wonderfully complex smell coming from the bloom. Too many perfumes go for a stripped down version which becomes a washed out version of the real thing more appropriate for the funeral home. This has become so common my eye probably begins to twitch when I start reading a description of a new lily perfume. So it was when I received the press release in advance of the new Laboratorio Olfattivo MyLO.
As I waited for the perfume to catch up to the e-mailed press release I thought that Laboratorio Olfattivo creative director Roberto Drago is not one to follow the crowd. If there is a trademark to Laboratorio Olfattivo it is that Sig. Drago asks some of the best young perfumers to work with him. This more often than not provides a fragrance that takes risks. One thing that had me excited to try MyLo was the perfumer Sig. Drago asked to compose it, Luca Maffei. Sig. Maffei has had an incredibly creative 18 months impressing me at nearly every turn. I should have been aloft with anticipation instead my eye was twitching.
The press release told me that the name came from Sig. Drago calling the fragrance My Laboratorio Olfattivo which was shortened to MyLO. I have had the opportunity to meet Sig. Maffei quite a bit over the last year. One quality that I like is he becomes quite passionate about the perfumes he makes. Every creative director who works with him comments on his drive to produce something special. Sig. Maffei leaps fearlessly into his designs.
Two Calla Lily on Pink (1928) by Georgia O'Keeffe
When I finally smelled MyLO I was more than pleased, I was amazed. When it comes to lilies my frame of reference isn’t the chill of the funeral parlor. It is the deep colors and lines of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings of calla lilies. When I would stand in front of these in a museum I didn’t smell the wan polite lily. I would smell a lily holding the natural spice of the pollen on its pistil thrusting out from the middle of the petals. The creamy lines of those petals on the canvas don’t smell polite they promise carnality. Sig. Maffei does this with MyLO.
The early going of MyLO is pretty standard citrus and baie rose. This has become the opening to so many perfumes lately the first moments were not promising. The floral heart warms things up. The lily is there fairly quickly rising from out of the citrus. It is beautifully demure until Sig. Maffei uses three other floral notes to create something much more realistic. An indolic jasmine adds a bit of an animalic growl to things. A spicy rose provides the natural spice that the pollen of the real thing provides. Finally, a fully powdery orris acts as if that pollen has transformed to a sweet cloud. This floral accord is so accomplished and balanced. On the days I wore MyLO it was so good I stopped often throughout the day to enjoy it. In the base Sig. Maffei uses benzoin and vanilla to give a sweetly resinous foundation.
MyLO has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
MyLO is immediately one of my favorite lily perfumes. There are so few perfumes which embrace the spicy sexy quality of lily that MyLO stands out for that reason. This goes with Daimiris and Kashnoir as the best this very good brand has produced. If you are tired of cleaned up near-sterile lilies MyLO will offer a different perspective.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Laboratorio Olfattivo.
I was always a fan of the original Lanvin Arpege. The 1993 reformulation even felt very much like a perfume designed for men. It was with a great deal of interest when I found out that there was a Lanvin Arpege Pour Homme. I was wondering what Lanvin would consider a manly Arpege to smell like.
In 2005 perfumer Olivier Pescheux was chosen to compose this perfume. At this time in the brand history Lanvin was deep in the midst of a deep identity crisis. Arpege was one of the great perfume classics but they weren’t sure how to leverage that affection from the consumer into a brand-wide version. I could probably make the case that this is the current state of affairs at Lanvin, as well. I speculate that there was vigorous discussion taking place behind the scenes on how best to position Lanvin as a fragrance brand. One thing is for sure there was never any consensus reached even though the team of Creative Directors; Philippe Benacin and Anne Duboscq have been in place for the entire time. For Arpege Pour Homme it would be M. Benacin collaborating with M. Pescheux.
For almost forty years there were attempts to make the “masculine floral”. What this generally meant was a floral perfume wrapped up in enough hairy chested notes it wouldn’t be the perfumed equivalent of wearing a dress. The ones which had a little bit of traction were the rose versions because you could load them up with spice and drop it into a sandalwood base. For this time period there was no breakout successful “masculine floral”. This was the tack Messrs. Benacin and Pescheux wanted to take for Arpege Pour Homme. They wanted to use the iris of the original and sandwich it in between citrus and woods. Iris has always been a tricky ingredient to sell to men because it can be so reminiscent of the women in their lives iris scented cosmetic products. It made M. Pescheux’s task that much more difficult.
Arpege Pour Homme opens with a distinct citrus character from bitter orange sweetened just a little with mandarin and pink pepper. M. Pescheux sets the stage for the iris by using a bit of neroli to provide the transition. The iris comes next and it is reminiscent of those powders. M. Pescheux does his best to keep that quality under control with nutmeg and mate providing a sharper edge. It isn’t very successful. The powderiness doesn’t really become modulated until the sandalwood and patchouli of the base get a chance to add some presence.
Arpege Pour Homme has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
In 2005 Arpege Pour Homme had a bit too much of the cosmetic counter in it to find any real market share among men. The real death knell for this perfume was the release of Dior Homme in the same year. Dior Homme was the breakout “masculine floral” the market had been waiting for. To add insult to injury it was also focused on iris. The Dior Homme iris was paired with lavender and wrapped in chocolate and leather; with not a hint of powder to be found.
I think Arpege Pour Homme is underrated and an interesting counterpoint to Dior Homme. I’ll admit I wear the latter more than the former but there are days I can stand a little powdery iris to be part of it. Arpege Pour Homme is easily found online for pretty reasonable prices.
Sometimes the marketplace given two differing visions postmarks one for the Dead Letter Office which is what happened with Arpege Pour Homme.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
It was in the early 1990’s that a London-based aesthetician named Jo Malone burst on to the fragrance scene with a true original perfume called Lime Basil & Manadrin. The herbal citrus perfume has become a standard not only within the line but in general. In 1999, Ms. Malone sold her fragrance business to Estee Lauder in one of the earliest niche acquisitions by a large beauty company. In the seventeen years since that acquisition I think Jo Malone has done pretty well staying true to the style Ms. Malone pioneered in her early days. I tend to look forward to receiving new releases because I think the large company has not squashed the spirit of the small company it acquired.
In particular the last couple of years has seen some releases which have been among the best the line has released; 2014’s Wood Sage & Sea Salt along with last year’s Mimosa & Cardamom are but two examples. I was really looking forward to the latest release Basil & Neroli for a couple of reasons. The first was that this is the first time basil has been used as a keynote in a Jo Malone perfume since that long ago original release. Secondly perfumer Anne Flipo seemed to be extending the Herb Garden collection she did earlier in the year for the brand. I really liked the way she used the herbs throughout those fragrances.
Basil & Neroli is real deep dive into the two notes on the label. Mme Flipo uses three different sources of basil throughout. Two of them are sort of spliced together which give some unique perspective to this herbal ingredient. The neroli is also incredibly rich matching the variations in basil.
In the top accord Mme Flipo takes a version of basil called Grand Vert. That is some truth in advertising as the first hint of basil is very green. It is sharpened by the use of cedar leaves to bring it into hyper-focus. Then the second variation of basil to be used is called a “basil-verbena twist” this takes the green tinted verbena twisted with a lees Grand Vert version of basil so that the lemon quality can peek through. Once this is in play it is like finding a lemon amongst a dense bush of basil. The lemon connects to the other titular note as neroli finds its way out of the green. Bitter orange helps push some of the green down too. The third basil comes from doing a combined headspace isolation of basil and neroli together. This lays down an interstitial foundation where the top accord and the neroli combine in a luminous uber-accord. The base is vetiver to keep the green theme through to the base. Mastic to extend the citrus character a bit. Finally, some white musks to add a bit of expansive lift.
Basil & Neroli has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Basil & Neroli is one of my favorite Jo Malone fragrances I’ve tried. The last time I enjoyed one as much on first try it was 2008’s discontinued Sweet Lime & Cedar. That bottle is getting sort of low these days but I think I just found a replacement.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample from Jo Malone.
An emerging trend for 2016 has been the return of the soliflore collection. In particular for the upcoming fall releases I have two other soliflore collections which will be released soon. One thing that I always value is when I get a lot of the same thing is it allows me to clarify my thoughts on what it takes to make something compelling in these most simply constructed of fragrances. The new Bottega Veneta Parco Palladiano collection really brought home one lesson very clearly; your focal note needs support to carry interest for an entire day.
The Bottega Veneta designer line of perfumes has been one of the better collections in the department store category. Creative director Tomas Maier has managed to carry the luxury leather goods aesthetic successfully into fragrance. For Parco Palladiano he was inspired by the Palladian style of architecture. Andrea Palladio was a 16th century architect who did most of his work in and around Vicenza, Italy. In Vicenza one of his most famous is the Villa Capra aka La Rotonda. Sig. Palladio designed his structures to harmonize with the surrounding landscape. To that end specific styles of gardens were designed to surround his designs. Hr. Maier visited La Rotonda and was taken with the different plants and flowers growing there which in turn lead to a collection of perfumes based on those plants. The result is the six fragrance Parco Palladiano collection.
Each of these perfumes are meant to be a single scent representing one of the growing things around La Rotonda. Working with four different perfumers the choices were: Parco Palladiano I is magnolia. Parco Palladiano II is cypress. Parco Palladiano III is pear. Parco Palladiano IV is azalea. Parco Palladiano V is sage. Parco Palladiano VI is rose. After smelling these together with the other soliflore collections I have I realized that this collection took the term too literally. Most of the Parco Palladiano fragrances are just what I wrote above. There is little to no other notes present which means that central note needs to be able to be enchanting throughout an entire day of wearing it. This is where all but one of the Parco Palladiano releases fell apart for me. They were just simply azalea or rose with no addition of notes to help enhance or contrast except for Parco Palladiano V.
Parco Palladiano V was composed by Daniela Andrier. Mme Andrier uses sage as her focal point but there are two other near equal intensity notes in laurel and rosemary which allow the sage to interact off of them creating a much richer effect. These kind of perfumes usually go on with everything in them to be detected right from the start and that is true here. A very green clary sage is matched with a lively rosemary and a stolid laurel. I have a little herb garden which smells of stem and aromatics so does Parco Palladiano V. The laurel provides that stemmy quality to allow the sage to attach to. The rosemary acts as green modulator adding intensity early on and then as it fades it allows the sage to be more on its own. Over the course of hours these three ingredients present different facets of the sage which is what sets it apart from the rest of the Parco Palladiano perfumes.
Parco Palladiano V has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I am not sure why the sudden interest in soliflores but if there is one critical component to making a successful one is the choice of a few well-chosen supporting notes is critical for it standing out as something other than just the single note. Which means these simplest of constructs are not that easy to do successfully. When it is done well as in Parco Palladiano V it can be beautiful.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples from Bottega Veneta.
Every four years in the final weeks of summer I end up spending a lot of time indoors watching some of the greatest athletes in the world compete. I also end up getting very little sleep because coverage goes very late in to the night.
It has been this way for as long as I can remember. Back in 1968 in the Mexico City Olympics I remember watching Tommie Smith and John Carlos thrust their black gloved hands up ward in a clenched fist. In 1972 the horrific terrorist attack in Munich. The bombing in Atlanta in 1996. Every time these things happened they hurt me because I have loved the ideal behind the Olympics of nations competing together every four years instead of fighting with each other.
As I write this the first week of the Rio Olympics have finished. I’ve watched the greatest swimmer of all-time, Michael Phelps, prove that talent can overcome age. I may have watched the rise of the woman who will steal that title from him in Katie Ledecky. There were two swimmers who competed in nearly every event representing their countries; Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu and Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom. They won some and they lost some but they were seemingly always in the pool.
This picture released by the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games shows the emblem of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Dec. 31, 2010. A multidisciplinary evaluation commission, formed by 12 professionals enjoying domestic and international recognition, was involved in the whole process of the emblem selection. (AP Photo/Rio 2016 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games )[/caption]
Gymnastics saw another athlete perform above and beyond her peers. Simone Biles showed she has taken gymnastics and evolved it to a new more athletic level. The challenge will be for the next generation to catch up. The last generation was also represented by Aly Raisman who felt the heartbreak of losing a bronze medal four years ago in the women’s all-around to come back and win silver this year. It is more impressive because at her age she is supposed to be too old to be out there. She is affectionately called “grandma” by the rest of the team; at the age of 22.
Gymanstics also provided one of my favorite moments so far. During the gymnastics team competition Laurie Hernandez was standing next to the balance beam waiting for the signal to begin her routine. The cameras were close enough to hear her whisper to herself “I got this.” Then she jumped up onto that narrow beam of wood and nailed her routine. It is these moments for the lesser known athletes that keep me coming back every four years.
I had tears in my eyes watching Simone Manuel as the first African-American swimmer to win an individual gold medal have it draped around her neck. Even more impressive to me was her ability to understand the potential impact it will have. In the end I think it is that which typifies the Olympic spirit. As athletes win and inspire the next generation to aspire to take their place. That’s why I’m bleary eyed and smiling until these Rio games end.
When it comes to flankers it is usually a depressing affair of shoving a couple of new notes into the existing architecture. Similar to adding a modern addition to a Colonial style house. Most of the time it doesn’t work. There are a few who take their flankers a bit more seriously. One of those is Acqua di Parma and their flankers to their original perfume Acqua di Parma Colonia.
Acqua di Parma Colonia is an evergreen classic of cologne. It was one of my first expensive perfume purchases. It has always been one of my baselines in the cologne sector. Starting in 2003 with Colonia Assoluta there has been a steady stream of Colonia flankers. What I admire is they are each singular creations which have a connection to the original without smelling exactly like it plus a couple of shoehorned ingredients. It has had its share of hits and misses. I received my samples of the two latest Colonia Sandalo and Colonia Quercia. The one which hit for me was Colonia Quercia.
Quercia means oak in Italian and this seems like an attempt at a modern chypre. The funny thing is I found it to be much more like an Oriental with a strong oakmoss component. I liked it because it is a deeper version of Colonia with a bit of a bite at the end.
Colonia Quercia opens with that lemon flare which is the bit of connective tissue between Colonia and Colonia Quercia. My only quibble with this fragrance was the overused pink pepper which was added to the top accord. It brought me down a bit. My spirits were lifted pretty quickly as the heart accord matched cardamom and geranium in a green-hued floral and herbal chord. This isn’t terribly original but it is executed nicely. This leads to the base accord where a decent amount of the low-atranol oakmoss is present. I thought it was an interesting choice to use tonka bean to give it a roasted sweet facet. It really turns woody as cedar and patchouli bracket the oakmoss. I again like the choice to go more woody and Oriental than follow the more obvious chypre path.
Colonia Quercia has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
As flankers go Colonia Quercia ia better than most of them. That they managed to make one which is not so similar to the original is why I like this one.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Acqua di Parma.