I’m starting this edition of Dead Letter Office a little bit differently. In the almost four years I’ve been writing on my own at Colognoisseur I am very happy that certain columns connect with specific readers. This usually leads to delightful conversations via e-mail or chat. One big fan of this column has decided to move beyond that. Over the past year I can count on seeing a chat pop-up the next morning after a Dead Letter Office piece. This reader has a crazy collection of discontinued fragrances. At the beginning of the summer I was asked how many more Dead Letter Offices I had in me. I responded that I was getting to the end of my list that I own. I was asked for my address and a few weeks later the most amazing surprise arrived; a box full of samples of discontinued gems. There was a little note which accompanied it, “this should keep you busy”. I’ve asked, I’ve pleaded, I’ve begged for the reader to allow me to name them. I feel like I should be able to call this the “Person’s Name Collection” when I write about it. For now, it will remain an anonymous random act of kindness.
When you get something like this there is a giddy moment of colognoisseur in the rare perfume store. I wanted to try everything. As the temperatures were cooling there was one which I had heard about which was purported to be a “perfect chocolate gourmand”. I felt like that was where I wanted to start, with Trussardi Python.
Trussardi is an Italian fashion design house which began by selling leather goods in 1911. Over the next seventy years the brand would expand into accessories of all kinds. In an interesting turnabout the fragrances which bore the brand name came before the clothes. In 1982 they would release their first branded fragrance; the women’s ready-to-wear collection would come a year later. The rest of the 1980’s would see a dramatic worldwide expansion for all things Trussardi.
As they reached the turn of the century they decided to jump on the fledgling gourmand perfume trend with Python. At this point in time Thierry Mugler Angel had spawned multiple follow-ons. To stand out perfumers Louise Turner and Nathalie Gracia-Cetto decide to create a photorealistic chocolate accord and serve it up on a sandalwood platter. It turns out to be all of that.
The perfumers raise the curtain with a raucous fanfare of orange, jasmine, and rose. It is loud and proud to be on your skin. Soon enough the chocolate comes forward as it seems to kick the florals to the curb while embracing the orange. The perfumers pull a neat effect by using plum to add depth to the chocolate. This then allows cardamom and nutmeg to gently spice the overall accord. The base is all sandalwood in overdose. It is sweet and creamy and kept there with a little vanilla.
Python has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
The chocolate in the heart of Python is not an abstraction in any way. The perfumers successfully present the smell of a fine chocolate bar. Evidently the abstract fireworks of Angel were preferred by the segment of consumers who wanted to buy a gourmand perfume. Which meant Python would join many other early gourmands in the Dead Letter Office.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample supplied by a reader.
It has taken awhile but I finally had to scrape some ice off the windshield earlier this week. The warmer weather has kept me from reaching for my fall stalwarts. I always notice as I perform my autumnal perfume rotation how many are ambers. There is something about the sense of warmth and comfort I get from amber which makes it the right choice for me this time of year. My favorites are the ones which wear close to my skin so they scent my sweater allowing them to gently accompany me throughout my day. It was with some interest I received a sample of Jeroboam Ambra.
Jeroboam is a collaboration between creative director Francois Henin and perfumer Vanina Murraciole. I tried the debut collection of four at Esxence 2015. The connective tissue of the Jeroboam releases is they feature musk. All the Jeroboam fragrances are at extrait strength which means they wear close to the skin. This can sometimes lead to a perfume feeling less exuberant. An extrait done well though is like riding on a fragrant cloud. It wasn’t until the Holiday release of Origino at the end of 2015 where Jeroboam came together as a concept for me. A warmly enveloping nutmeg and sandalwood fragrance on a musky foundation; it was made for the festive time of year. It took almost two years for M. Henin and Mme Murraciole to release two more. Vespero is a nice geranium, cedar, patchouli and musk perfume. Ambra is the one which caught my attention.
Amber as the ingredient in an Oriental construction is an accord. Mme Murraciole constructs a compellingly dense one for Ambra. It plays into the advantages the extrait concentration brings by keeping it banked like embers in a fireplace.
Geranium is where Ambra opens and this is becoming a consistent characteristic of Jeroboam as a single ingredient puts the welcome mat out only to be left behind. In Ambra it is the four legs upon which Mme Murraciole builds her amber accord; incense, patchouli, peru balsam, and musk. The musk provides a nice complementary roundness to the overall amber accord. This is so restrained but it has hidden depths which I could feel myself chasing down on the days I wore Ambra. It is the pulsing heart which beats for hours. Over time vetiver finds a way into the spaces within to add the finishing touch.
Ambra has 12-14 hour longevity and little sillage.
I have a hard time believing I need another amber perfume but Ambra gives me something different from my other favorites. I think it is the concentration which imparts an intimacy. In any case it looks like I’ll be making room to add one more to my group of amber fragrances.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples I purchased.
When I was quite young my grandmother took me to see a movie called “Endless Summer”. The documentary followed two surfers on a trip around the world. My grandmother always eager for teachable moments had us look up all the locations in our Atlas. I remember when I got to the tiny island of Tahiti, barely a flyspeck on the map, it seemed like the waves we saw in the movie could swallow the island whole. If I needed reinforcement the 2004 movie “Riding Giants” revisited the tiny island with the big waves. The name of the town they surfed in was called “chopo”; except that is how its pronounced. It is correctly written Teahupo’o. I’ve always imagined the smell of tropical flowers combined with a sea spray accord would feel like riding down the barrel of a wave. A Lab on Fire My Own Private Teahupo’o tries to do just this.
Laird Hamilton riding a Teahupo'o wave
The ad copy is sort of the butterfly effect of wave creation as it mentions a single drop in Antarctica turns into a rideable wall of water in Tahiti. The rest of the copy wants to capture riding in the barrel of the wave surrounded by sea spray as the smell of the indigenous flora is carries to you. Creative director Carlos Kusubayashi collaborates with perfumer Laurent Le Guernec to create the break to ride our olfactory surfboard within.
Laurent Le Guernec
The fragrance is as simple as the description. It opens on a suite of ozonic notes and sea spray aquatics. M. Le Guernec tunes his top accord to capture the sun shining through the top of the curl while the chill of the water surrounds us as we traverse through the spray fraying on the edges. This is a common top accord done well. I appreciate the balance brought to it. Frangipani is the floral used to represent the tropics. To make sure it has the required strength M. Le Guernec supports it with a group of salicylates to build the effect up. As we cruise through the wave we catch the smell of vanilla on the breeze as the unfettered sun beams down in a warm ray of amber. This all comes together in an aquatic Oriental construct which worked nicely for me.
My Own Private Teahupo’o has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
My Own Private Teahupo’o is not the first fragrance to try and translate surf culture into a bottle. It succeeds for me because when I’m wearing it I can close my eyes believe I’m on a surfboard in Tahiti.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
As the weather cools off some of my evenings are spent with a snifter in hand sipping either a 15-year Rhum Barbancourt or Louis Royer Force 53. These appeal because they provide an inner warmth underneath my sweater. Like wine, fine liquor also has a scent and a nuanced flavor like any of my favorite perfumes. Which is why I tend to gravitate towards perfumes with boozy hearts. When I received samples of the five perfumes which make up the new Ermenegildo Zegna Elements of Man it was the one which felt like it belonged in a snifter which was my favorite, Passion.
The fragrance side of Ermenegildo Zegna has been a story of fits and starts as they search for a perfume identity as tailored as a Zegna suit. For most of their history they have kept it simple; often too simple. Focusing on something that stripped down there needs to be a lot of care taken to not have something dissonant within. That has been the story and it continued as I was initially trying the Elements of Man collection. A couple of classic citrus in Wisdom and Talent. A fougere, Integrity; and a smoky tobacco oud in Strength make up four of the five. In each case there was the familiar experience of finding something not quite coming together. Only in the last one Passion does it.
When Ermenegildo Zegna allied with Estee Lauder creative director Trudi Loren was asked to oversee it. She has consistently asked for quality keynotes and worked with some great perfumers. There are some signs that Elements of Man might be a slight change in direction. For Passion Ms. Loren works with perfumer Ilias Erminidis. Together they create a collaboration of rum and cognac I almost wanted to drink.
If there is an advantage to the style of fragrance represented by the brand they cut right to the chase. For Passion that means it is awash with rum and cognac. Great cognac has a deep molasses facet, rum has caramel on the nose. Passion leads with both as molasses and caramel come forward in a rich accord that carries a 90-proof pop underneath as it swirls in the nose. M. Erminidis then uses a few complementary notes to make this all glow. It starts with a toasty saffron continues with amber and really pulses with resinous olibanum in place. This all comes together rapidly and lingers over many hours; as if it is being sipped by my nose.
Passion has 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Wearing Passion, I ended up having a two-fisted drinking night as I poured a bit of Barbancourt and Louis Royer to see if they could be layered into something resembling Passion. They don’t really approach the richness of Passion. When I wore Passion all I wanted to do was grab a snifter and sit back and luxuriate in my senses.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Ermenegildo Zegna.
I am notoriously difficult to but a gift for because I buy what I want as I want it. Yes, I’m one of those. One of the beneficial aspects is when I get gifts they are things I didn’t know about. A couple years ago I received a gift of Moroccan Neroli Shaving Serum from an Australian brand I had never heard of called Aesop. When I used it up a few months later I ventured to the local Washington DC store to replace it. When I walked into the store I didn’t know they made perfume. It turned out to be my lucky day because they were featuring their perfume, Marrakech Intense. This was a perfume right in my spicy woody sweet spot it has been one of my favorite fall scents since I bought it.
Dr. Kate Forbes
I again headed to Aesop a few weeks ago and this time I coincided with the release of a new perfume. I wasn’t sure I’d like it as much as I did Marrakech Intense. The new perfume is called Hwyl. Hwyl is inspired by ancient Japanese hinoki forests. Creative director at Aesop, Dr. Kate Forbes, re-teams with perfumer Barnabe Fillion, who was responsible for Marrakech Intense, for Hwyl.
Hwyl does carry a strong cypress facet evoking hinoki but what is really striking is the use of incense. There seem to be multiple sources which form an overlapping resinous accord at the heart of Hwyl. There is also strong green thread running throughout. It is different style from Marrakech Intense entirely. The definition of hwyl is “a stirring feeling of emotional motivation and energy” The perfume delivers on its name
Hwyl opens with very herbal thyme which provides a place for baie rose, elemi, geranium to attach to. The very clean cedar-like nature of cypress provides the hinoki inspiration point. Then the incense starts to form up at first a familiar metallic frankincense finds a dynamic partner with the thyme. Softer myrrh and olibanum add softer facets. Finally, there is a smoky version of incense I couldn’t place. It is combined with a classic vetiver for the base accord. The smoky incense and the vetiver particularly provide a pleasing final few hours.
Hwyl has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
The layered incense accord at Hwyl has captured me from the moment I smelled it on a strip. M. Fillion has delivered a delightful resinous layer cake on a cypress plate. If you like incense you should discover your local Aesop boutique. There are surprises to be discovered there.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample form Aesop.
When you look around the world to witness change over the last 20 years there is nothing to rival Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. In just two decades the skyline in the city has sprouted skyscrapers one after the other with the 2,722-foot-tall Burj Khalifa, the tallest man-made structure in the world, the biggest. These are the modern versions of the ancient pyramids to the northwest in Egypt. While bigger might be better I like a bit of a twist in my design which I find literally in the 90-degree twist of Cayan Tower. I also like a bit of twist in my perfume pyramids too.
Burj Khalifa (l.) and Cayan Tower at night
Indian-born fashion designer Shalini released her first perfume, Shalini, back in 2004. That perfume was a collaboration with perfumer Maurice Roucel. It was a magnificent study in how to take tuberose and create haute couture out of it. M. Roucel considers it one of his best which I have no argument with. When I heard there was a new perfume to come from the same team I was interested to see what the second act would smell like.
Shalini Jardin Nocturne is based on the nighttime air in Dubai. The idea is you’re driving through the city as night-blooming flowers and a scented haze of oud form the background to the lit-up skyline. One thing which has been interesting is Shalini has encouraged M. Roucel to use high concentrations of exquisite sources of the keynotes in these perfumes. For Jardin Nocturne this means an Indian Jasmine absolute in overdose along with a significant amount of real Assam oud. While both of those notes provide the height M. Roucel adds in a few complementary notes to add a twist to the overall architecture.
The ride begins awash in the smell of jasmine. This is a ton of jasmine which displays everything about jasmine at full volume, including the indoles. It is that skanky core of this white flower which makes people gravitate to the cleaner synthetic versions. In Jardin Nocturne the depth of a high-quality absolute puts the jasmine in sharp focus. Then M. Roucel adds the first twist as he uses saffron to warm up the jasmine smoothing out the rougher edges. As we move along the oud begins to permeate the indoles. It almost comes as a surprise because it seems to rise out of the indoles. One moment it is indolic the next moment it is the resinous oud ruling at the heart of the jasmine. This is what the central accord of Jardin Nocturne is; balanced and compelling in its strength. What is particularly enjoyable is the Assam oud M. Roucel uses has a floral aspect which becomes apparent over time. Which means as the accord evolves it becomes more floral and the more challenging parts of the oud and jasmine get pushed to the background. The final twist is to find a complement for the oud in its final stages; M. Roucel uses Mysore sandalwood to round out the edgy woodiness of the oud. To make sure it doesn’t get too safe some musks arrive to make sure there is still a hint of indolic depth to the very end.
Jardin Nocturne has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Shalini has said Jardin Nocturne is the middle piece of a planned perfume trilogy with M. Roucel. I am very interested to see where this all ends. Jardin Nocturne is the perfume equivalent to these modern pyramids comprising the skyline of Dubai. It is sleekly constructed glowing with illumination.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Shalini.
Two years ago, I wrote in this column after the first four episodes of Fear the Walking Dead had aired, “Because right now the only fear I have is that “Fear The Walking Dead” will continue shambling along; a zombie incarnation of its predecessor.” All throughout that first season I was pulled through by characters who grew on me and it paid off with a back third of the season which had dealt with much of my annoyances laid out back then. Now two years later I enjoy Fear the Walking Dead as much as The Walking Dead.
One big reason for my enjoyment is I don’t know what is coming. These are all characters that do not exist on Robert Kirkman’s comic book page. Mr. Kirkman created a whole new set of characters. Early on they seemed two-dimensional. As time has passed the backstory has been filled in providing the emotional connection to the characters. In hindsight I must admit I was being unfair. When The Walking Dead came on the air I already knew those people on the TV screen. My feelings about them had already been determined years earlier. Fear the Walking Dead did not have that advantage and I showed impatience early on. Now at the end of season three the cast of Fear the Walking Dead have won me over.
Ruben Blades (l.) and Colman Domingo
On The Walking Dead most of the characters are clear-cut heroes or villains. It is only with the recent introduction of Negan that the concept of whether they are “heroes” has been explored. Fear the Walking Dead has done this with characters made up of deep gray hues. The mother who will do anything to save what’s left of her family. Actress Kim Dickens plays Madison Clark with a surety of purpose. Except in decidedly small steps it seems like she might be sliding down a slippery slope to something less heroic. Actor Domingo Colman plays the hustler Strand he is the quintessential out for himself con man. The interesting thing here is even through trying to look out for himself he manages to save others. The final character in this trio is played by Ruben Blades, Daniel Salazar. He carries the burden of his past life as a secret policeman in a dictatorship. He fled to the US with his wife and daughter to start over. As the dead have shambled into his life the old habits of his original life have proven useful. The open question is does he want to fully embrace them or find a way to keep as much of his new life he had before the zombie apocalypse. These three are the heart of Fear the Walking Dead.
The show by using its California and Mexico border setting has explored all kinds of modern themes like immigration, water rights, and Native Americans. Without a previous story to adapt it feels like the writing team has more freedom to create more contemporaneously. It has felt like they have a grasp on where the show is heading.
Next weekend with the season eight premiere The Walking Dead will celebrate its 100th episode. Two years ago, I didn’t think I wanted Fear the Walking Dead to reach the same milestone; now I do.
If I ask someone to name a Ralph Lauren perfume I suspect the most common answer would be, “Polo”. For the last forty years Ralph Lauren has become a pillar in the masculine perfume world. If I also told you that there was a feminine counterpart to Polo released at the same time I’d bet that would surprise many. Lauren was its name it was composed by perfumer Bernard Chant formed on a lovely green spine of petitgrain, tagete, and vetiver it was gorgeous. Except that it never caught on. That would be a phrase to describe the attempts by the brand to court the women consumers. It is almost a fascinating case study in how the creative team is so successful with men and equally unsuccessful with women. I must give them credit they are back with another attempt; Woman by Ralph Lauren.
When I received my sample, I expected Woman to be aimed directly at the young women. When I sprayed it on a strip my first impression was they were still chasing the older women that got away in the past. Perfumer Anne Flipo has fashioned a very traditional fruity floral which seemingly is meant for the white flower fans out there.
The opening is a very brash pear which Mme Flipo reins in only slightly with blackcurrant bud and rhubarb. The early moments of Woman are the pear making sure you notice it. Orange blossom provides some floral complements to the fruit before the tuberose comes out. The tuberose is kept more controlled than the pear is. Which means the tuberose rises to a significant intensity but the strength of the pear pushes back from allowing it to take over entirely. Woman stays as primarily a tuberose and pear duet for most of the time I wore it. Over the final stages sandalwood leavened with some hazelnut is where it all ends.
Woman has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
Woman is a nicely executed department store fruity white floral except it misses the trends the younger buyer wants. It isn’t very transparent. The hazelnut is the only thing slightly trending towards gourmand. It is odd but the whole time I wore it I thought that Woman was meant to get the girl(s) that got away.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Ralph Lauren.
I’m beginning the process of looking back over the year as I start to consider my end-of-year lists. Part of the fun of this is as I look back at specific brands some of them sneak up on me with the quality of their releases for the year. One of those that I’ve realized has had an awesome 2017 is Jo Malone. One of the reasons is creative director Celine Roux has taken the brand in some new directions this year. It started on an auspicious note with one of my favorite perfumes of 2017 Myrrh & Tonka by perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui. In a nicely symmetrical way the Holiday release for 2017, Green Almond & Redcurrant, is also by the same team.
Jo Malone is known for their floral perfumes. This year Mme Roux has spent more time exploring new ingredients which are at the darker end of the perfumer’s palette. Oak, whisky, hazelnut, and tobacco have all been keynotes in releases this year. There has also been a trend towards gourmand-y styles within this year’s collection. Green Almond & Redcurrant removes the modifying “y” and goes full gourmand for this seasonal release.
Green almond is another of these accords of something that cannot be extracted. It gives the opportunity for a perfumer to fine tune the effect they are going for. In Green Almond & Redcurant, Mme Bijaoui accentuates the contrasting textures of tart and milky so that the green is supplied by an accompanying note.
Before we get there Mme Bijaoui takes the other note in the name and sandwiches it between mandarin and petitgrain to form a very rounded fruity accord. It can seem slight but it is worth focusing on the first few moments. These kinds of fruity accords are seemingly commonplace but this one meshes seamlessly. Which then sets up the green almond accord as the tarter quality of the accord resonates with the petitgrain. The mandarin slides into the milky aspect. Then blackcurrant buds provide a more primitive version of the redcurrant. Which is a nice connection but it is those buds which provide the real green in the green almond heart. The buds have a slight acerbic quality to them, here they provide the rawness that the green in green almond refers to. It all comes together beautifully. Tonka comes to give this the rounded toasted vanilla nature to make it feel like some exotic Holiday confection from a far-away place. The base is straightforward cedar and amberwood.
Green Almond & Redcurrant has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
In my press materials it is mentioned that Green Almond & Redcurrant should be layered over Myrrh & Tonka. This is not something I am fond of but in this case with the same perfumer behind both it seems to create an even more festive fragrance. Green Almond & Redcurrant brings 2017 to a close with the same quality with which Jo Malone opened it. A combination of nuts and berries seems appropriate.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample from Jo Malone.
From the moment I read JRR Tolkein’s The Hobbit the written version of epic fantasy is probably my favorite style of literature. The mixture of magic, monsters, heroes, and quests for the magic muffin of power have captivated me for as long as I could read. In the early days it was the covers of the books which would give away what was inside. After Middle-Earth it was Shannara and Earthsea which beckoned me to get lost in their pages. The way I knew they were my kind of books were the covers; all had a similar grandiosity about them with a strategically placed dragon or elf somewhere. I knew what I was getting when I saw that. Perfume names can also have that ability too which is why I was very interested to try Anatole Lebreton Grimoire.
I first became aware of Grimoire as Esxence 2017 was taking place and I was texting those there asking what was good. Grimoire was one of the more frequent answers I received. I spent time waiting for it to become available here. During that time, I acquainted myself with M. Lebreton via his website. There was sentence about his style of perfume-making which particularly caught my attention, “I like it when you feel a heart beating, when it is moving and thrilling, when there’s fantasy and mystery.” This could easily just be the description of Grimoire.
In many of my epic fantasy books there is a grimoire in use by the wizard who can be either hero or villain. A grimoire is a book of spells either to be destroyed or deployed. Grimoire evokes the place where that book might be found. I found myself entering the magician’s study at the top of a spiral staircase every time I wore Grimoire.
As I enter the study I smell the sweaty robes of the sorcerer as cumin billows from his sleeves. I look down on the table in front of him as resins smoke over the spell; olibanum primarily along with elemi providing a contrasting resin beneath the more traditional incense. Green leaves of basil, purple sprigs of lavender, are contained in a box of cedar. This lies atop a mound of earth represented by patchouli. The excitement of the wizard is communicated in waves of musk as the incantation is complete.
Grimoire has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
M. Lebreton had already fired my imagination, like those earlier book covers. It would have been so easy to be disappointed. Instead I was elated at how much this captured my anticipation. Grimoire is a verdant resinous animalic perfume. It is also Epic Fantasy in a bottle.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.