I’m going to start this review off with a question. How do you know when it is time to harvest a rose? I have been part of the wine harvest in California and it is a scientifically determined level of acidity and sugar in the grape that triggers the harvest. Oranges, apples and other fruits on trees signal their ripeness by their color. So how do you know when a rose is ready to harvest? A few years ago, I learned the answer to that. In Grasse, the people responsible for the fields of Rose de Mai get up in the morning and break off a petal and bite in to it. If the taste is sweet the rose flowers are “ripe” and ready to be picked. It makes sense as the natural sugars of the bloom would move outward to the petals as the flower reaches its peak. It is one of my favorite anecdotes about perfumery I have heard. I was thinking about this with the new Diptyque Essences Insensees 2016.
Diptyque started releasing yearly versions of soliflore fragrances highlighting a particularly good harvest and calling them Essences Insensees. Essences Insensees 2014 was mimosa and Essences Insensees 2015 was jasmine. Perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin has been the one tasked with overseeing these precious ingredients. For Essences Insensees 2016 M. Pellegrin focused on Rose de Mai.
I have never visited Grasse. In my imagination, it is the perfume version of Willy Wonka’s Perfume Factory with fields of some of the most prized raw materials in fragrance growing everywhere. I’m sure the reality is less prosaic while the truth of the raw materials is grounded in reality. When Rose de Mai makes it into a perfume it has a sparkle to it as it sits in a sweet spot between the demure English rose and the spicy Turkish rose. For Essences Insensees 2016 M. Pellegrin is using what is an exceptional harvest of Rose de Mai while using only two other notes as companions.
M. Pelegrin uses different isolates of Rose de Mai to form his central note. It is a glittering central axis around which he uses a red fruity note above and a honey accord below. What these accomplish is to accentuate the inherent sweetness of the Rose de Mai. It is what makes me think of it as a perfume which represents a “ripe” rose.
Essences Insensees 2016 has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I will eventually make my way to Grasse someday. I will bite a petal of Rose de Mai off the bush. Until then Essences Insensees 2016 fits my imagination about what a ripe rose should be.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Diptyque.
I’ve probably watched too much election coverage lately. There is a word which is used often in describing the issues a candidate talks about, “pivot”. It means the candidate will move to a different perspective depending on the dynamics of the race. Particularly over the past year it seems like the dynamics of the typical perfume customer is also in flux causing brands to decide if they want to “pivot” towards existing trends. The group of consumers up for grabs is the Millennials. It has been one of the grand influences of 2016 and looks likely to continue into the next few years until there is some consensus on what this demographic wants. Which means the brand which can identify it earliest can perhaps gain some brand loyalty. Many of the niche brands seem to be watching and mostly waiting; Annick Goutal is jumping into the fray.
At the beginning of the year, with the release of Rose Pompon, creative director Camille Goutal said she was reaching out to twentysomething Parisiennes. Working with a different perfumer than Isabel Doyen she collaborated with Philippine Courtiere. That alteration already signaled a pivoting to a new demographic. Now at we get to the fall Mme Goutal completes that transition as she works with a different perfumer on a fragrance that is also very different from the rest of the line with the release of Tenue de Soiree.
The brief behind Tenue de Soiree is to capture that anticipation as a young woman is preparing to get dressed before an evening out. Mme Goutal chose to work with perfumer Mathieu Nardin to form a gourmand chypre. Tenue de Soiree succeeds at that better than I expected.
The perfume does not begin promisingly as there is a very typical fruity opening of berries and pear. The best part of it is M. Nardin makes it hazy instead of intrusive. He has better things to get to which is to use a vibrant orris which he supports with violet and freesia. The orris is as close as I get to finding the “getting ready to go out” vibe as I can imagine an iris-scented powder or lipstick being used although this orris is not that powdery. It has a richness to it which sets itself up to be part of the gourmand chypre base M. Nardin assembles. The chypre parts are courtesy of patchouli and low-atranol oakmoss. This is the chypre-ish nature without the heavy bite as M. Nardin also keeps it lighter. The finishing touch is a sweet praline accord; sugary, nutty, and bready. It adds a unique vector to a chypre focused base. It isn’t something I would have expected to like as much as I do. The praline fits with the patchouli and oakmoss in a sweet earthy way.
Tenue de Soiree has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
In conjunction with Rose Pompon it seems like Mme Goutal is thinking the new generation of fragrance customers will want a lighter floral in the spring and a similarly weighted gourmand in the fall. Her instincts are shared by many of the other bigger brands also working to bring this audience to their product. Tenue de Soiree is an excellent example of how to display your brand to that group without dumbing it down. Tenue de Soiree completes the “pivot” begun earlier. I am hopeful that Mme Goutal will find her audience because I would like to see more of the same next year from Annick Goutal.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Annick Goutal.
When I was a young man summer always meant time to read for fun. I would inevitably binge read within a genre. In the summer of 1980 the topic was horror fiction. I devoured the Stephen King catalogue. I finally journeyed to H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulu. Revisited the classics of the genre by Shirley Jackson, Daphne DuMaurier, and Oscar Wilde. Throughout that long summer full of suspense and my screaming “don’t do that!” in my head just before someone on the page “did that” I was asked which book was the scariest. The answer I gave that summer is the same answer I would give to the question in 2016; Ghost Story by Peter Straub.
In 1980 when there was no such thing as the internet I relied on the clerk at my favorite bookstore to guide me to something I might like. As I was running out of possibilities I asked the guy who was working at the Grove Bookstore if there was a horror book I was overlooking. He smiled and told me it had just come out in paperback and pointed at Ghost Story. Most of my book buying at that time was driven by what was on the back cover describing the contents. The people who wrote the one for Ghost Story completely buried the lede in their description. I looked skeptically at my guide but trusted his taste more than the description on the back cover.
Peter Straub was an author in search of mainstream success throughout the 1970’s. At first he wanted to be a literary writer of novels of concept. After writing two of those his agent suggested Gothic might be a better genre choice which produced “Julia” with some horror elements. His fourth book “If You Could See Me Now” completely embraced the style which would set the stage for his fifth novel “Ghost Story”.
“Ghost Story” is the tale of five men from the town of Milburn, NY a small community where five young scions christened themselves “The Chowder Society”. As the book opens the members of The Chowder Society are old men drawn back to Milburn by the death of one of them who was found dead on the floor with a look of terror on his face. Another character is the nephew of one of The Chowder Society who has seemingly kidnapped a young girl and is also headed to Milburn. As the story reveals through the perspectives of each character the secrets we hold can sometimes transform themselves into actual monsters. As the town of Milburn slowly becomes enveloped in a winter storm the monster begins to kill.
“Ghost Story” is considered a classic of the horror fiction genre because Mr. Straub’s literary prose leant a formal air to the horrific proceedings taking place on the page. There were many times I re-read a passage because Mr. Straub would gut punch me with a shock related in beautifully connected words. There is a passage within the climax of the book where Mr. Straub sent delicious shivers throughout my body with the coming together of the plot and the imagery depicted on the page.
I stupidly finished reading Ghost Story around ten o’clock in the evening and then thought I might be able to go to sleep. Instead I called some friends to go to a midnight movie where I made sure we did not go to the screen with “Night of the Living Dead” on it.
If you need a scary story for this Halloween; Ghost Story is the scariest one I know of.
One of the things I like about autumn mornings is the smell of smoke which hangs in the air in a visible haze. Smoke is a longtime part of fragrance. It can often be used poorly overbalancing a composition. Yet when it is used in balance it provides one of the more unique chords in perfumery. Here are five of my favorite smoky perfumes.
The perfume which made me fall in love with fragrant smoke was Tauer Lonestar Memories. It was the third fragrance by Swiss independent perfumer Andy Tauer. It was also after he had become the first independent perfume star due to receiving a 5-star review from Chandler Burr in the NY Times for L’Air du Desert Marocain. Hr. Tauer did what has always made me enjoy independent perfumers he set this anticipated release on fire. This is the figurative campfire scent of the American West. The early moments are the herbal slightly spicy greenness of the prairie. Then the campfire accord is formed around birch tar, labdanum, and leather. This smolders enchantingly before giving way to woody embers of sandalwood, myrrh, vetiver, and cedar. Hr. Tauer has always shown the admirable quality of following his muse; Lonestar Memories laid down an early marker to the truth of that.
My introduction to another independent perfumer was also shrouded in smoke. Olivier Durbano Black Tourmaline was a perfume with a smoky charcoal-like color to the juice. M. Durbano would layer on multiple versions of swirling clouds of smoke. Starting with skirling curls of frankincense swathed in cumin and cardamom. Leading to an intensely smoky heart accord of leather and oud before grounding it all with an earthy patchouli and musk. It was M. Durbano’s third release but it has always been near the top of my personal chart.
One of the few celebrity fragrances which rises to be able to be included on this list is 2nd Cumming. A collaboration between actor Alan Cumming and perfumer Christopher Brosius. Together they made a fragrance of whisky and cigars on the Scottish heath which has a fantastic haze of the peat fires burning. There are amazing fun grace notes to be found throughout like rubber, truffle, and mud but it is the burning peat which makes 2nd Cumming a smoky stunner.
Most smoky perfumes are either cade or leather. Perfumer Mona di Orio chose to use both in her Les Nombres D’Or Cuir. She wisely keeps it simple with a mix of cardamom and wormwood on top providing a twisted absinthe accord. The cade and leather could have become incredibly boisterous but Mme di Orio keeps it all controlled. The animalic is accentuated with castoreum and opoponax in the base. One of Mme di Orio’s best.
Australian designer Naomi Goodsir and her partner Renaud Coutaudier started the Naomi Goodsir brand in 2012 with an example of how to use cade for the smoke effect in Bois D’Ascese. Perfumer Julien Rasquinet leads you to it with a progression of mandarin, tobacco, labdanum, and incense. Then mixing cade with oak he provides a forest fire of charred wood which is gorgeous in its simplicity.
If you want to surround yourself in a smoky veil here are five of my favorite things.
Disclosure: this review was based on bottles I purchased.
I know it isn’t even Halloween and I’m going to start talking about Christmas over the next few paragraphs. For all of you who can’t stand the idea bookmark the page and come back in a week or whenever you’re ready to start the Holidays. Let me just tell you that it is a truly extraordinary perfume which has me doing this; and it is a limited edition.
I love the Holidays and I really love having a Christmas tree. It is a full spectrum experience of the smell of the tree paired with the visual of bubble lights and ornaments. I think my affection for the smell of Christmas trees came from my time in high school, in South Florida of all places. One of my best friends was a member of an organization called Key Club which is the junior version of the Kiwanis. Their major fundraiser was selling Christmas trees in a lot. I wasn’t so big on being there during the selling. I was very big on being there with the overnight crew who would keep an eye on things in the early hours of the morning. We would sit in folding chairs around a fire pit talking about the things teenagers talk about. Broken parts of the fir trees found their way into the flames. There would always be a moment when the wind would shift and the smoke would swirl around me with the smells of the cut trees surrounding me. The camaraderie of a shared experience created bonds which have lasted over forty years for me, of which that smell is the trigger for that memory.
Shared experiences can be the genesis of some great ideas. This past May at the Hammer Museum on the same weekend The Art & Olfaction Awards were handed out there was an exhibition at the Hammer Museum called the AIX Scent Fair. While there independent perfumer Sam Rader, of Dasein, met fellow independent perfumer Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors. Over the course of the weekend they decided they wanted to work together on a sequel to Ms. Rader’s first release for her brand called Winter. That fragrance was the near photorealistic smell of a Christmas tree. Ms. Rader captured my attention with that first release. Now in collaboration with Mr. Meyer she has released a limited edition called Winter Nights.
In Winter Ms. Rader took a spectacularly sourced pine essential oil and supported it with cardamom and lavender. That trio remains but is much transformed; made softer. Ms. Rader and Mr. Meyer use a more attenuated pine source. It is matched with a haze of smoke. I must compliment the perfumers the smoke here is perfectly balanced it hangs like a haze not as an overwhelming presence as it does in so many lesser fragrances. Then instead of cardamom, cardamom tea is used. Instead of lavender absolute, lavender flowers are used. Both call back to Winter but have a much lighter presence. The final addition is a suite of darker musks.
Winter Nights has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Winter Nights is a limited edition of only 400 bottles made especially for the 2016 Holiday season.
Ms. Rader finished doing all four seasons earlier this year. Her tour through the seasonal year showed she was a special talent. Mr. Meyer has also become a standout with his Imaginary Authors releases, especially the ones from this year. Winter Nights is very close to the best perfume from both of these talented independent perfumers. It is constructed like a delicate gauze of memory of midnight in the tree lot. Winter Nights is as close to those high school December nights as I have ever encountered. It is a sublime Holiday perfume.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.
There are certain rules which are universally accepted. No wearing white after Labor Day. Red wine with meat; white wine with fish. Citrus perfumes are for warm weather. When you look at that list you realize that they are generally true but it is in the exceptions that you find creative thinking. Some of my favorite citrus fragrances come from Atelier Cologne but even those are usually worn when the temperature rises. Slowly but surely brands have been providing citrus perfumes which can break this adage. Atelier Cologne has turned this trick with the release of Citron D’Erable.
Citron D’Erable is part of the Collection Azur but it is currently only available in Canadian Sephora and at Atelier Cologne boutiques. One of the things I liked about the first four releases within Collection Azur was they felt like an evolution of the brand’s cologne absolue aesthetic. Citron D’Erable is very much part of that ongoing refinement. Citron D’Erable translates to “Maple Citrus”. As an homage to Canada that is an appropriate mixture of the trademark citrus of Atelier Cologne with one of the symbols of the country. Perfumer Jerome Epinette is back for his twenty-third composition for the brand.
Citron D'Erable postcard from Atelier Cologne
Maple Syrup is harvested in the spring as the temperature begins to fluctuate between below freezing nights and sunny warm days. The back and forth causes the sap to flow and be collected via a tap placed into the tree itself. M. Epinette combines that early spring sunshine, the wood of the maple tree, and the syrup flowing from the tap.
M. Epinette uses lemon to represent the lower hanging sun of the spring. He modulates it with Szechuan pepper. This has been an ingredient I have seen used a lot over the last year to modify some of the more incandescent notes. M. Epinette uses it in exactly this way here. Then we get to the tree itself where we see the cut in the wood with the maple syrup flowing in a steady stream. The syrup accord is given lift by a very intelligently chosen eucalyptus. If you’ve ever smelled fresh cut wood it has a mentholated undertone. The eucalyptus represents that as well as the chilly air you are breathing in. It is here as a grace note which feels perfect. To represent the tree M. Epinette takes maple wood oil and, as with the lemon on top, transforms it with cedar, sandalwood, and sequoia wood. This is done to make a more impressionistic maple tree accord instead of working towards something photorealistic.
Citron D’Erable has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Citron D’Erable is my favorite of the Atelier Cologne releases in 2016. It is going to get a lot of wear throughout the harvest season because it will shine there as much as when the spring thaw is happening. For at least the next few weeks I am going to be breaking my citrus perfume in warm weather rule with a snappy maple syrup salute to our neighbors to the north courtesy of Citron D’Erable.
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample supplied by Atelier Cologne.
There are so many young talented perfumers working within the industry now it makes it an exciting time for me to be writing about them. One of the more fascinating things to watch is as they begin to interpret classical perfume architectures. The one style which allows a perfumer to break new ground is in designing a modern chypre. Due to restrictions on the traditional materials any perfumer approaches the design of a new chypre thinking about how to design accords which can approximate the proscribed materials. Thus, it gives a perfumer wide latitude to do their thing. Quentin Bisch is one of those young stars I admire. With the release of Martin Margiela Replica Soul of theForest we see M. Bisch’s version of a chypre.
Chypres are all about the namsake base. That base is composed of oakmoss, patchouli and musk. That accord provides a bitingly woody earthy base to contrast with whatever bright notes were used in the top accord. The only problem is in current times oakmoss is restricted to using the version which has had atranol removed. Musks have also undergone multiple restrictions over the years also requiring a perfumer to find ways to put back what regulators have removed. Or a perfumer can make up their own accord using entirely different materials. That is what M. Bisch has chosen to do with Soul of the Forest.
Soul of the Forest is what would be described as a fruity chypre. M. Bisch uses a mixture of blackcurrant buds and pimento beries. They are unusual choices but they do provide an alternative to the more ubiquitous citrus or berry infused chypre openings. The combination of blackcurrant buds and pimento form a faux-cherry accord which reminds me of ripe cherries on the tree. It is a fleeting accord as M. Bisch wants to get to building his chypre accord. He chucks both the oakmoss and the musks out the window. Instead he retains the patchouli using that as the nucleus to form the base. The complementary notes include balsam, cistus, and atlas cedar. All three of those provide components of the familiar chypre but it is the choice of an intense Somalian frankincense which seals the deal. M. Bisch uses this to bring the bite; helped significantly with the cedar providing a shoulder to lean upon. This comes together in a magnificent resinous rush.
Soul of the Forest has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Soul of the Forest is lighter in nature than the classic chypres. That lightness is one part of what makes it appealing to me but if a chypre must carry a certain kind of intensity it might not measure up for other aficionados of the style. I have spent much of 2016 lost in the imaginative constructs of young perfumers. Soul of the Forest allowed me to see M. Bisch’s chypre.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample from Maison Martin Margiela.
When it comes to the inspiration for the releases coming from the Vilhelm Parfumerie brand I must give a hat tip to founder and creative director Jan Ahlgren. In more than a few of the perfumes the story which goes along with it has been equally engaging. Such is the case for the newest release Purple Fig.
One of the marvelous things about walking around any European city is finding these odd alleyways which give you a true insight into a city; more so than seeing another museum or historical site. In the 11th Arrondissement you might have been visiting the Place de La Republique and told to head to the Oberkampf district to find some nightlife. If you misheard and instead find the Rue Oberkampf you will find yourself in this urban verdant-lined oasis called Cite du Figuier. The entire small alley way has growing things and near the middle is a lone fig tree. It is this which M. Ahlgren asked his partner in fragrance, perfumer Jerome Epinette, to interpret.
Cite du Figuier
M. Epinette and M. Ahlgren have designed something closely representing a house style over these early releases. Purple Fig is the thirteenth and it follows the same as the previous having three distinct chords of two notes. Now before we go any further if the name has you excited about a figgy perfume look at that picture of Cite du Figuier above and realize this is much more about the green. For Purple Fig M. Epinette has created a sunny autumn stroll down the Cite du Figuier.
M. Epinette uses a brilliant lemon given weight by angelica seed which imparts a botanical musk to make this less ebullient. This is the way I see the sun on an autumn day when it hangs a little lower in the sky. It is bright without being blindingly so. Then in the heart M. Epinette matches cyclamen and stemone to create a green chord. It is watery, the remaining moments of the angelica seeds provides a slight hint of potted soil while the stemone comes as close to fig as you’ll get. It is a vibrant accord which has a hint of the stone walls of the buildings in the alleyway. The base is a green version of cedar bolstered with cypress which provides the woody missing link.
Purple Fig has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I’ll admit at first I was disappointed a perfume named Purple Fig wasn’t going to be a gigantic fig as the name portended to me. Instead M. Ahlgren and M. Epinette took me on one of those offbeat journeys I so enjoy to find where a fig tree grows in Paris.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Vilhelm Parfumerie.
As the calendar reaches the end of October I’m looking back over the year to find overall trends. One of the trends I noticed this year is that osmanthus has been part of several amazing perfumes. I have long been a fan of this biphasic bloom which shows its twin nature as apricot and leather. As a perfumer approaches using it a decision is usually made to either go big on both faces or pick one while fading the other. The latest release from Perris Monte Carlo; Absolue D’Osmanthe chooses the latter method.
Perris Monte Carlo under the creative direction of Gian-Luca Perris has been all about the deep end of the perfumed pool. Oud, musk and patchouli are the main players for much of the brand. If you didn’t pay attention you wouldn’t notice that there are a few florals. Sig. Perris chooses to treat the florals the same way he treats an oud or patchouli. Up the concentration to a level where you become surrounded by the keynote. It is because of this house style and my love of osmanthus I expected to like Absolue D’Osmanthe.
Perfumer Jean-Michel Santorini chooses to use a set of notes meant to accentuate the leathery nature of osmanthus; particularly by using a couple of specific ingredients to make that happen.
M. Santorini takes his jewel of an osmanthus and presents it right off the bat. If you like the apricot nature make sure to enjoy the first fleeting moments when it makes its appearance. Rapidly M. Santorini adds a dry sandalwood which pulls the osmanthus towards its leather personality. It stays firmly there as tolu balsam helps deepen the effect while subtly modifying it. Over the time on my skin there are some other notes which try and find some traction to allow the apricot to come out and play but jasmine, labdabum, and vanilla don’t prove formidable enough to pull that off. They end up being sweet complements to the leatheriness.
Absolue D’Osmanthe has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
The sample I had was for the Eau de Parfum and that is what is reviewed above. There is also an Extract version available but I found that gilded the osmanthus by adding in a set of extra notes which had conflicting impact. I found the simpler EdP to be much more enjoyable. If you’ve been feeling like 2016 has been the year of osmanthus try this one out it adds to an already great year for this floral note.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Perris Monte Carlo.
There are people who will tell you the best part of a movie are the previews. There is a big reason for that. They don’t operate under the same rules. They can put all the best jokes in it. They can scramble the narrative to the point that it becomes deceptive advertising. Yet there are sometimes where a preview, or a trailer as they are called, can just make me want to see a movie right now. That the most disappointing thing about it is the future date before I will be able to see the actual full movie. This past week the teaser trailer for the May 5, 2017 release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 achieved that.
In 2014 the original Guardians of the Galaxy was a surprise hit. It grossed over $750 million dollars which was incredible for a movie based on comic book characters that few had heard of. Director James Gunn had not only heard of them but he clearly had an affection for them. He assembled a cast who inhabited these roles making them their own. The people at Marvel Studios knew they had a hit on their hands before they even released it. Which allowed them at add to the end of the movie “The Guardians of the Galaxy will return”. Next May that will come true with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
For big anticipated movies like this the advertising campaign starts about six months out. The first phase is the release of a teaser trailer. A short set of images meant to whet your appetite. The teaser is usually followed up rather quickly by a full trailer which runs for 2-3 minutes revealing plot details meant to draw you further in. The final long trailer usually arrives 60 days or so prior to the release. The bigger the anticipation the more these clips will be examined and broken down. A Star Wars trailer will be combed over with forensic detail looking for clues. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 just released the teaser trailer and it is one of the best examples of how to re-engage your audience in one minute and thirty seconds.
For a sequel of a big movie the director doesn’t need to introduce the viewer to what they are seeing. The job of a teaser is to remind you why you loved the original while promising more of the same. Mr. Gunn pulls this off by first using one of the 1970’s songs which made up the soundtrack of the first movie; Hooked on a Feeling by Blue Suede. That immediately reminds you of the fun of the music. Then over the first half of the trailer we see shots of all our returning heroes. Which leads to a scene between Star-Lord, played by Chris Pratt, and Drax, played by Dave Bautista. It captures all the fun of the way these characters interact in 30 seconds. The final shot shows us the only Guardian we hadn’t seen previously in a way much different than last we saw that character at the end of the first movie.
Kudos to Mr. Gunn for this kind of detail it raises my hopes for the sequel and it makes me look forward to the longer trailer which should be here in a few weeks.