In the 1920’s the bright young things were writers, artists, and designers. After a Great Depression followed by a Great War those bright young things were up on the silver screen. The Hollywood Dream Factory was humming as the 1950’s dawned. Those movie stars were what the public wanted to hear about. As this new-found celebrity was thrust upon these pretty people there weren’t really any rules. So, they made up their own.
If you were of a mind to go catch the new celebrities one place you would end up is The Beverly Hills Hotel. More specifically it was the bungalows spread throughout the property which was where the action was. Bungalow No. 7 is Marilyn’s. La Liz and Dick loved, lost, loved, and lost in Bungalow No. 5. The bad boys were in Bachelor’s Row; Bungalows No. 14-21. Even Howard Hughes had his own which nobody knew whether he was there except for select hotel staff. It is fascinating to look back and think about anything like that happening in this TMZ world. Owner-creative director of Vilhelm Parfumerie Jan Ahlgren also shares my affection for this time.
Jerome Epinette (l.) and Jan Ahlgren
Mr. Ahlgren tasked perfumer Jerome Epinette to create a perfume which was all about that time but modern enough to be worn by a contemporary Liz or Marilyn. One thing I admire about the way M. Epinette interprets a brief like that is to keep it relatively simple. There are other perfumers that would have gone for shoulder strutting power. M. Epinette goes the opposite way looking for something more intimate. That moment when the door of the bungalow is closed and the persona can be dropped, a little bit. Just make sure there is a Do Not Disturb sign on the door which is also the name of this new perfume from Vilhelm.
I am not sure many would have thought of carnation as the core of a perfume like this but because M. Epinette was going for intimacy it works. Also, carnation is a key component of some of the great classic vintage perfumes so it provides that vintage vibe without overpowering.
Do Not Disturb opens with that carnation displaying its spicy floralcy. It has a classic feel which is deepened by the addition of clove to amplify the piquant nature of the carnation. Ylang-ylang is used to give a bit of a boost to the floral side of the carnation. Blackcurrant bud provides that sticky green effect which completes the vintage part. Do Not Disturb would have gone even deeper if this was a scent of the 1950’s. Because it is of the 2010’s M. Epinette uses a Haitian vetiver and papyrus as a way of drawing out the green thread begun with the cassis while adding in some expansiveness over the last part of the development.
Do Not Disturb has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
These kind of story perfumes from this era seem to be a strength of Vilhelm in these early days of the brand. Do Not Disturb is another strong fragrance born from Mr. Ahlgren’s desire for his brand to be something a little vintage and a little modern when looking back. I know it’s impossible but I can imagine smelling a trail of Do Not Disturb somewhere along Bachelor’s Row or just behind a feminine figure with Marilyn’s laugh. This is an excellent evocation of the time and place.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Vilhelm Parfumerie.
I eat too much fast food, so my cardiologist informs me. I am intimately familiar with the offerings on the menu. A few years ago, I learned of the secret menu that exists off the board. While standing in line at McDonalds I heard the patron in front of me order a McKinley Mac. As I scanned the board above our head looking for this burger. It wasn’t there. When I got to the cash register I asked what the McKinley Mac was and was told it was a Big Mac but the regular all-beef patties were replaced with quarter pounder patties. Mmmm bigger, better more to love. My cardiologist is now yelling at his computer screen. I learned every fast food restaurant offers these kind of off the board variations.
It was only recently that I learned Memo Paris has their own secret menu. Every fall they release a kind of mash-up of one of their previous fragrances transformed by the addition of a new ingredient or tweaking of the existing pyramid. It has been going on since 2013 but I only tried them this past fall. Creative director Clara Molloy as always working in collaboration with perfume Alienor Massenet are the designers of these combinations. For 2016, the perfume was called Moon Leather.
One of the current collections within the brand is the Cuirs Nomades where more earthly locations are used to form different kind of interpretations of leather. Moon Safari was released in 2009 to commemorate the moon landing forty years earlier. That fragrance was a sharply green citrus vetiver on top of a rough market leather. For Moon Leather, it feels like Mme Massenet is imagining an interplanetary Cuirs Nomades as she modifies the citrus and vetiver components of Moon Safari and adds in a much more refined leather accord.
The very early moments of Moon Leather are all sunlight and citrus as lemon, grapefruit and bitter orange provide a tart beginning. This time the green is much less aggressive as Mme Massenet uses lemon verbena and neroli as a floral interstitial stage to a clary sage note which picks up and amplifies the green undercurrents from both the verbena and neroli. Vetiver shades the green a deeper hue before the leather arrives. This is an expensive briefcase leather accord with elegance out front and the animalic hiding behind that civilized veneer. Tonka provides a soft sweetness in the later stages. Mmmm bigger, better more to love.
Moon Leather has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
When I tried all the previous secret Memo mash-ups there wasn’t one which I liked more than the original. Moon Leather breaks that streak because I like the smoother evolution from top to bottom than in the original Moon Safari. Even though this came out in the fall it is a fabulous spring citrus choice which really blossomed in the cool mornings and warm afternoons. Secret menus can take some effort to discover but Moon Leather is worth it to find at your local Memo stockiest.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Memo Paris.
Arquiste is another one of those perfume brands which I consider to be “mine”. The criteria to be considered “mine” is that it started about the time I started to get serious about writing on perfume. I’ve been trying to remember the first time I met Carlos Huber the owner/creative director of Arquiste. While I don’t remember the place Sr. Huber is one of the most genuine personalities in perfumery. He came to perfume from training as an architectural historian. Every Arquiste perfume starts with a brief which describes a place and time period. He then managed to find two perfumers with whom he has exclusively worked with by themselves and in tandem; Rodrigo Flores-Roux and Yann Vasnier. Together since their debut in 2011 they have created a brand aesthetic which now announces itself with each new release. Obviously, I think this is a fragrance collection worth checking out; here are the five to start with.
When you get around other perfume lovers and you both really like the same perfume there is a combination of sounds and facial expression which convey the emotions. A fluttering of eyelids over rolled back eyes. A low semi-guttural purr combined with a tilt of the head to one side. Long-time friend Ida Meister and I did this when we both tried one of the first Arquiste releases called Anima Dulcis. The fragrance was set in 1685 Mexico City as cloistered nuns developed their concoction of hot cocoa and chiles. M. Vasnier and Sr. Flores-Roux capture the simmering heat of the chiles in juxtaposition to the cocoa. Cinnamon, clove, jasmine, and sesame provide texture and detail to one of the best gourmands I own.
L’Etrog is another co-production by M. Vasnier and Sr. Flores-Roux. It is at the cologne end of the spectrum as the perfumers imagine the scent of 1175 Calabria, Italy as the local species of citron known as Etrog provides the early citrus brightness. In the background are the very light smells of the flowers around the Calabrian milieu. Vetiver provides the green contrast in the base.
For Boutonniere No. 7 Sr. Huber asked Sr. Flores-Roux to imagine a group of young men at fin de siècle France in the lobby of the Opera-Comique in Paris. Their lure is the gardenia in their lapel. Sr. Flores-Roux captures the gardenia as it scents the air to capture attention. Using lavender to evoke the cologne the dandies would be wearing then a perfectly balanced gardenia accord, lush and green. It all ends on an expertly formed accord of a freshly ironed suit. Boutonniere No. 7 is a fabulously different take on gardenia.
The Architect’s Club is the Arquiste which most acts as a time machine. Set during 1930 Happy Hour at an elegant Mayfair club of the same name in London. Some of the Lost Generation burst into the room livening up the stuffy atmosphere. It opens with spice and wood paneled drawing room accords before M. Vasnier unleashes the gin-toting wild things into the mix. Things just pick up steam from there. M. Vasnier keeps the frivolity under control to make The Architect’s Club the best party in town.
Nanban is an East meets West fragrance set on a Japanese sailing ship in 1618 returning from their first contact with Mexico. Sr. Flores-Roux and M. Vasnier create a construct where osmanthus pushes against the spices of the New World. Myrrh and sandalwood provide serenity which is disrupted by coffee and leather. It ends as the ship sails into the harbor of home as the fir trees and frankincense welcome the crew home.
Arquiste is one of the best new brands of the last few years well worth the time to explore. Start with these five.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
There are some independent perfumers working in places where the nearest colleague is far away. I have written that having a supportive community of other independent perfumers can be beneficial. While I believe that; there are a group of these same perfumers who being in isolation leads to unique beauty. One of those is Montreal Canada-based Isabelle Michaud.
Mme Michaud’s brand is called Monsillage. I was introduced to the brand in 2011 when a reader at CaFleureBon, where I was Managing Editor, sent me samples of her first four releases. What immediately grabbed me was Mme Michaud’s ability to successfully tweak traditional perfume architectures. Aviation Club was my favorite of those early releases which reminded me of 1960’s powerhouse masculine leather colognes. Her next release Vol 870 YUL-CDG showed she can take off on her own, creating her own style. It took a few years but in 2015 she continued to impress with Eau de Celeri which won last year’s Art & Olfaction Award in the Artisan Category. When she contacted me after the New Year to let me know a new release was on its way I was ready for the next evolution of Mme Michaud.
That new perfume is called Pays Dogon. Mme Michaud was inspired by a visit to the Bandiagara cliffs in Mali, Africa. The people who live there are called the Dogon and the area around Bandiagara is called “Pays Dogon” (Dogon Country). What allows the Dogon to thrive in their dwellings built into the sandstone cliffs is the microclimate which allows vegetation to thrive on the surrounding plain. It provides a transitional zone of green and mineral. That dichotomy is what Mme Michaud is inspired by for Pays Dogon.
Mme Michaud begins on the plain as green dominates the early moments. A vegetal green accord she calls “green oasis” is an evocation of dense jungle canopy, slightly humid, along with the leafiness. Threaded throughout are notes of pepper, baie rose, and ginger. The ginger works especially well in the early moments as it adds a sizzle to the early moments. To make the transition to the cliff dwellings Mme Michaud uses the hibiscus as this note; it carries a subtle muskiness along with a green floralcy. It is now that she composes a mineralic accord. Using, cypriol, vetiver, patchouli, guaic and sandalwood it coalesces into a sun-warmed stony accord. As this accord forms, there are elements of the green from the top still around as the breeze perhaps brings those scents up from the plain.
Pays Dogon has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Pays Dogon is Mme Michaud’s most unique composition to date. She is becoming a more assured perfumer by taking her time up there in her Montreal atelier. The compounding of green and stone in Pays Dogon exemplifies why this is the right way for her.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Monsillage.
Every one of the great perfume brands is going to react in their own way to the current generational shift in perfume consumer. One of the greatest houses of fragrance, Guerlain, seemed to be sitting back to observe which way the wind was blowing. With the release of Mon Guerlain it seems they have laid down their first marker.
The release of Mon Guerlain is being surrounded with all the surrounding accoutrements a future tentpole Guerlain would need. Perfumers Thierry Wasser and Delphine Jelk were said to be inspired by actress-philanthropist Angelina Jolie when designing the perfume. Ms. Jolie is the face of the new advertising campaign and there is a video directed by famed motion picture director Terrence Malick. Guerlain must feel like they have a hit on their hands. The resulting perfume is another of these opaque floral gourmands which is what most of the big brands have decided Millennials crave in fragrance.
The perfume itself is so deceptively simple it is a departure from almost everything Guerlain has stood for. Powdery iris opens things up lilting softly above it all. The heart is a combination of actual jasmine with a very slight hint of indoles coating the expansive bubble of the jasmine synthetic Paradisone. This all combines with a vanilla note made more toasty by the addition of coumarin. The hay-like nature of coumarin also adds a different facet of sweet to this accord. The foundation is a very transparent sandalwood over a selection of white musks.
Mon Guerlain has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
First thing I noticed while wearing Mon Guerlain is there is no trademark Guerlinade to be found. As a longtime fan, I kept waiting it to appear like a phantom accord. Only to find its absence punctuated with the cocktail of laundry musks. Time will tell the truth of this next statement but I wonder if the powers at Guerlain believe that venerable base has now become passé for this new generation. Is Mon Guerlain the first signal of a real change? The other grand maisons of perfume have made this transition without excising their brand DNA. Mon Guerlain might be the first example of it happening.
This change has made it seem like Mon Guerlain, like the generation it is meant to appeal to, is ready to put the past in the rear-view mirror. In my mind’s eye, I see it shouldering bottles of Shalimar, Mitsouko, and Jicky aside as it says, “Move Over! Coming Through!” Within the genre, and consumer, it is trying to be part of Mon Guerlain is as good as any of them. As part of the modern history of Guerlain is where it fails to stand up. Depending on which of the last two sentences means more to you will color how you feel about Mon Guerlain.
Disclosure: This review based on a sample provided by Guerlain.
I am not usually asked what my favorite perfume book is. I do know my answer is one few of my infrequent interrogators expects; Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins.
Jitterbug Perfume was the fourth novel released by Mr. Robbins. By its release in 1984 Mr. Robbins had staked out a reputation as a literary cult author. His most famous book is “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” which is how I first discovered him. Mr. Robbins has a style of writing a tale in multiple layers covering different timeframes and almost always a bit of the fantastical. In between those threads are many laugh out loud moments. I’ve always categorized Mr. Robbins as a writer whom it is best to read over a few days and not in small bits before bed or on the commute. To fully enjoy his writing I think you have to ride the wave of prose until it carries you to the shore. Fortunately, his books are written in such a way that they propel you to wanting to know the answer to the questions of the narrative which keeps you turning pages. There is also some odd focal point which ends up tying many of the protagonists together. In Jitterbug Perfume it is beets.
The first sentence of Jitterbug Perfume informs us, “The beet is the most intense of vegetables.” After a few paragraphs supporting that thesis Mr. Robbins closes the first chapter with, “A tale that begins with a beet will end with the devil. That is a risk we will have to take.” From there a beet is delivered to three protagonists living in the modern-day Seattle, New Orleans, and Paris. All of them are working on making a modern version of Jitterbug Perfume. As the story progresses we learn they are connected by more than the beet they received. Interspersed between their story are chapters of King Alobar and his paramour Kudra. Their story tells of the reason for and the creation of Jitterbug Perfume.
When I read it for the first time in 1984 my knowledge of perfume was at an early stage. When reading it twenty years later discussions of Jamaican jasmine and synthetic replacements of the natural ingredients resonated more. The plot drives towards the moment the new Jitterbug Perfume will be revealed while Alobar and Kudra supply the historical foundation.
If you have not discovered Mr. Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume is a great place to start. I consider him to be one of the great American writers. His books are a good choice for vacation reading where you can dive in and spend uninterrupted time with them. Just be ready to have people look at you when you laugh out loud; and ask for beets in your salad.
I read an interesting piece on The NPD Group website called “How the Aspirational Purchase Has Shifted”. The basic thesis of the article is in to the mid-2000’s there was a significant number of consumers who would shell out for a particular set of expensive items in the effort to give off the sense of wealth these brands would impart. The author now hypothesizes that over the last decade or so that has changed. Now it is about finding that great item at a thrift store. The rise of YouTube videos which extol just that shows it to be a particularly enjoyable effort of that Facebook Live group of consumers. The author also believes if you are going to spend you will do it for a “signature item”. These could include an artisanal made leather briefcase or a coat from an obscure designer made to order. They are the pieces which help define the person who has them. They also hope to have them be singular to their circle of friends and family.
As I read through this I could see perfume acting as part of both categories. I still think the popularity of the major design houses in the department store can be ascribed to the aspirational type of consumer. I suspect that the bottle of perfume with Chanel, Dior, Hermes, Cartier, Prada, or Armani on its label is often the only thing from the brand in most homes. It speaks to the power of fragrance to be able to impart the brand aesthetic through scent which the best of these manage to do successfully.
Created by Pressfoto – Freepik.com
I think the signature purchase has also always been there in those who buy perfume. How many words have been written about finding a “signature fragrance”? I also think it is part of what has driven the expansion of the niche perfume market over the same time the author of The NPD Group article describes as when signature began to win out over aspirational. It has allowed a perfume lover to find a perfume that is not going to be as widely available as those typically found at the mall.
The final thing I realized is there is also a fragrance group which combines both. Chanel Les Exclusifs, Dior La Collection Privee, Hermes Hermessences, Cartier Les Heures, Prada Olfactories, and Armani Prive live in both worlds. The perfumes are often sold in upscale department stores or exclusively in the designer boutiques with price tags multiples greater than the mass-market line.
This allows perfume to inhabit that sweet spot where the Venn diagram of aspirational and signature overlap. It also probably allows it to be that affordable luxury which even the younger generation sees as “worth it” to filling whatever aspect they are looking for from their fragrance purchase. It probably means that fragrance will continue to be a significant part of the beauty economy for years to come.
When there is a mass-market brand which has spawned many flankers my chance of liking it is dependent on what I thought of the original. The idea of most flankers is to make something new but not so new that it smells significantly different than the original. Since that is the case I should like the original if the flankers are just simple variations. The corollary is if the flanker dramatically changes that underlying architecture there is an opportunity to make me take notice. This is what has happened with Boss Bottled Tonic the tenth flanker of 1998’s Boss Bottled.
In the late 1990’s the era of fresh and clean perfumes had become dominant in men’s fragrance. Except for one small sector; the “clubbing” scent. There was some product meant to be worn out for the evening. The original Boss Bottled was in this category. Perfumer Annick Menardo made a fruity woody oriental. It was the fruit which put me off right away as apple and plum were on top which headed through a spicy heart to a vanilla sweetened woody base. Boss Bottled was successful and I smelled it often when I was out and about. If you had asked me what I wanted in a Boss Bottled flanker at the time I almost perversely would have asked for something fresher and cleaner. Nearly twenty years later Mme Menardo gives that thought a try in Boss Bottled Tonic.
In the top Mme Menardo jettisons the problematic plum and diminishes the apple significantly. In their place comes a sparkly citrus barrage lead by grapefruit supported by lemon and orange. The apple provides a crisp quality to the citrus. If there was a part of the original I liked it was the geranium, clove and cinnamon heart. That has been retained as the geranium gathers the citrus up and carries them to the spices. Cinnamon and clove have always been good companions to citrus. Ginger adds a lot of fresh energy to this heart accord. It gives it some zest. Finally, the vanilla is also gone and the woody grouping of olive wood, vetiver, sandalwood, and cedar present an opaque lighter woody foundation.
Boss Bottled Tonic has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
Boss Bottled Tonic is going to be the antithesis of the original as this new fragrance is going to be at its best as a summer daytime scent. If you like the original it is going to be a perfect set-up perfume for the nighttime version. I will spend much of my time in the daylight in Boss Bottled Tonic.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Hugo Boss.
In the early days of the internet and my participation on the fragrance forums I was deep in the throes of acquisition syndrome i.e. Gotta Have Them All. I chased all over the world looking for things that sounded interesting. Nowadays I am fortunate to be able to have many brands who send things to me but not everything. The network I created back in the beginning still exists and when I want to track something down I can still do it. I activated it to get a new perfume released in Europe because it was done by one of my favorite young perfumers. It took a couple of months but the bottle of Betty Barclay Pure Pastel Mint arrived.
Betty Barclay seems to be a mass-market fashion and beauty line. They’ve been producing fragrance since 1994. Pure Pastel Mint is the twenty-fifth perfume for the brand. Pure Pastel Mint was paired with another fragrance Pure Pastel Lemon. These were released as springtime fresh releases. What piqued my interest was the involvement of perfumer Quentin Bisch for Pure Pastel Mint. Those who read my reviews regularly know I have issues with mint in perfume and its unfortunate association with my daily dental routine. Besides trying another of M. Bisch’s works I was equally intrigued because the mint referred to on the label was not the herb it was the color as promised in the name. I have mentioned in the past that I am not a synesthete where I experience color in conjunction with fragrance. So that component also drew me to wanting to try this. Could M. Bisch make me experience color over herb?
In the early moments of Pure Pastel Mint M. Bisch uses yuzu matched with baie rose and blackcurrant buds. Yuzu is lemon with green undercurrent. Blackcurrant buds are raspberry with a similar shading while baie rose adds an herbal effect. This is where I can most easily see a pastel mint color occurring as M. Bisch forms his top accord. Of course, this being a spring scent rose must be in the heart, and it is. Cyclamen adds dew drops, ylang-ylang adds brightness with the interesting twist coming by the addition of tea forming a figurative tea rose heart accord. The finale is a mixture of sandalwood and synthetic linear musk with an expansive musky-woody effect.
Pure Pastel mint has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
My color-blind sense of smell really only got the color association in the early stages and not overwhelmingly so. I did find Pure Pastel Mint to be a nice take on the spring rose motif worth the effort in sourcing it.
Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle I purchased.
When I look back over the perfumes which have been discontinued to add to the list of future Dead Letter Office columns sometimes I am a little sad. Most of the time that emotion arises because the first perfumes that connected me to a brand are no longer being made. Those first impressions are what made me look forward to every future release. One of the reasons those fragrances end up here is because they were also part of the brand evolving their aesthetic. A good example of this is the M. Micallef Seas Collection.
I became aware of M. Micallef and the Seas Collection through my participation on the Basenotes forums. They sounded interesting and through the generosity of other members I swapped for the first two; Black Sea and Red Sea. They were two distinct points in my discovery of the difference between European and American aesthetics. Even in the early 2000’s Americans were continuing with clean and fresh. When I tried Red Sea there was the fresh and clean but creative director Martine Micallef and perfumer Jean-Claude Astier added in cumin which added in the body odor character that ingredient is known for. Black Sea would provide a contrast as it added in a prominent saffron note which I found to be the best representation of that particular note I had tried at that point in my perfume testing. I came away from trying those two wanting to try more from the brand and went on an acquisitional spree. What I found was the other perfumes by Mme Micallef and M. Astier were very different; they had an ineffable French-ness to them. That quality is what would define the brand but they weren’t done with the Seas at this point. When Yellow Sea was released in 2008 that Gallic sense of style was added to a sunny plush citrus fragrance.
The early moments are sunny lemon and bergamot which then is transformed by one of the best uses of castoreum to provide the sweet muskiness as contrast. Unlike the earlier Seas this time the stronger note added into the mix works very well. Patchouli and incense provide a richly resinous heart but it is pitched at a much more transparent level than you normally get from the rest of the brand. The base is a clean cedar framing with a bit of amber and benzoin adding some length to the resinous tail from the heart.
Yellow Sea has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
None of the M. Micallef Seas is like anything else the brand has released. It seems clear that consumers were more interested in the different aesthetic being presented in the other releases; Note Ambree is a good example of that which was released contemporaneously with Yellow Sea. I miss the loss of my first impressions of M. Micallef but the brand has mostly delighted me over the years even if I wanted more of what ended up in the Dead Letter Office.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.