It was almost exactly a year ago that I reviewed Parfums de Marly Layton. I concluded that review with the belief this was the most accessible perfume from the brand. That has proven true as Layton has become the best seller I predicted it could be. When a brand releases something as crowd pleasing as that I wonder what they will follow-up with. Will they go for more crowd pleasers or will they return to their quirky ways. As a fan of those latter perfumes I sort of wanted that. It would turn out that the decision creative director Julien Sprecher would make is to add some of that off-beat sensibility to the skeleton of Layton and call it Layton Exclusif.
M. Sprecher retained the perfumer behind Layton, Hamid Merati-Kashani, for Layton Exclusif. I always appreciate when a brand uses the same perfumer because there should be no one with a better feel for where expansion and contraction can take place within the original. Layton Exclusif is a great example of how this hypothesis bears fruit. It shows right in the opening moments as M. Merati-Kashani trades out the crisp green apple of the original for the sulfurous citrus of grapefruit. Much of what follows in Layton is traditional fougere which for Layton Exclusif it is transformed to the Parfums de Marly strong suit of Orientals. It means it dives much deeper with some added formality to the overall aesthetic.
As mentioned the top accord is focused around grapefruit which is given a bit of leavening by mandarin. The floral heart is much lusher than the original; rose gathers geranium and gardenia to form a powerful accord. All of this is similar but different to Layton. In the final third is where things really diverge. The sandalwood remains but M. Merati-Kashati wraps it in amber, coffee, and civet. I think that latter ingredient is used to provide a faux-oud accord. It is where the animalic civet captures that same quality of oud while surrounding it in other woods allows for something less intrusive while still adding an exotic feel. The amber and coffee provide a much more pleasant harmony than I might have suspected. It ends up being my favorite drydown of any Parfums de Marly.
Layton Exclusif has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I admire what I suspect M. Sprecher is trying here with his best seller. He is asking those who love Layton to take another baby step towards Layton Exclusif’s more niche-y sensibility. If that is true I think that makes Layton Exclusif the ideal flanker. In any case I predict this is going to have as large an audience as the original. M. Sprecher keeps Layton Exclusif from being a bridge too far to those discovering niche perfumery through Parfums de Marly.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I received from Parfums de Marly.
I know that the Internet was the spark that lit the fire for me to want to write about perfume. Some of it was that I had a place where I could. Some of it was there was a community where I felt accepted for my love of scented things. Facebook has helped this even more as there are dozens of perfume groups where like-minded perfume lovers find a place which fits their style. I am a member of a few for this reason. I don’t think it is possible or even desirable to be a participant in all of them but I have heard of many of the ones I am not in. One of those is the group Eau My Soul founded by Christi Long.
I’m not sure I know the entire story but somewhere along the line, during conversation, the members decided they wanted to vote on their favorite notes. During this time founder and independent perfumer of 4160 Tuesdays, Sarah McCartney, said she would make a perfume containing the 25 highest vote getting notes; named after the group. The process started with 100 nominated ingredients which were then voted on to result in the palette of twenty-five Ms. McCartney would use. As a creative process I thought this might be a bit too noisy although Ms. McCartney has the skill to wrangle a large number of ingredients into something coherent. The leading vote-getter was sandalwood which Ms. McCartney would make the keynote around which to wind the other 24 notes. Like a maestro stepping to the podium prior to an orchestral performance she manages to take the cacophony of the scale playing and tuning; gathering the ingredients together to form a piece of compelling music.
Sandalwood as the keynote is a near perfect choice as it has so many facets for Ms. McCartney to work with as she adds in the remaining notes. After an attention getting flare of citrus the sandalwood comes to the foreground. It is ushered there flanked by incense. The resinous qualities find the sandalwood as a lift providing some softness to the austerity of the incense. One of the things about a perfume like this is Ms. McCartney is going to be inserting grace notes here and there which will pop-up like fun surprises. Right as I was getting caught up in the incense and sandalwood comes a kind of drunk uncle of a cognac, swaggering across my senses. It made me laugh every time I passed through this part of Eau My Soul. The floral top choices were jasmine, iris, and rose. These are popular for a reason and they go together well. What I find interesting here is that they provide the pivot from the resins and woods on top to the sweet ambery base accord. That base is primarily amber and vanilla with labdanum providing a recapitulation of the resins on top. The sweeter creamier facets of sandalwood shine during this part of the development. As with the florals these are popular because they provide a comforting feel to them. The last piece of Eau My Soul is that bit of subversion that can only come from a group of perfume lovers, oakmoss. Ms. McCartney doesn’t disappoint as she uses a nice amount which allows this to be the ingredient which reminds you of everything which has lead up to it.
Eau My Soul has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I think Ms. McCartney has produced a perfume which evokes the positive aspects of a group like Eau My Soul. I never would’ve thought a version of “per fumus populi” could have worked as well as this does. Maybe it just has to come from a group of perfume lovers who want to see the world smell good.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I purchased.
While I realize it is probably economically untenable I have an irrational desire for perfume brands to have a place to take chances. I want a brand to have a subset where they attempt to push the limits of their core aesthetic. One of the few brands which seems to be doing this is Juliette Has a Gun. Owner-perfumer Romano Ricci debuted the Luxury Collection in 2013 following with a new release every year since.
I admire M. Ricci for doing this because each of these perfumes have made the effort to go beyond what you find in the main collection. They have also elicited very different reactions from me. The first release, Oil Fiction, was an admirable miss. Moon Dance was among the best things ever to come from the brand with a thoroughly modern violet composition. White Spirit, sadly, did not do the same for white flowers. Last year’s Into the Void felt like it wanted to explore the vacuum of space but with an overload of ambrox and norlimbanol it more explored my tolerance of those ingredients. This is what experimentation should be; a low success rate but the opportunity for the brand to breathe. I think those previous misses lead to Metal Chypre being another winner for me.
M. Ricci has an almost fetishistic desire to include ambrox in most of his fragrances. It means he has probably spent a lot of time learning the limits of its versatility. In Metal Chypre that experience turns into him using the ambrox in an austere effect which he uses to hyper focus the rest of the ingredients in Metal Chypre into something much more representative of the chill of space than Into the Void.
Ambrox provides that austerity right from the start. There is a sharpness to ambrox that puts it on my love it-hate it list. In Metal Chypre the needle-sharp spiky nature works because early on baie rose provides a sharp herbal contrast. Twin paths of rooty iris and leather come next. Each provides the setting for base notes of patchouli and tonka. These all are subservient to the ambrox which predominates.
Metal Chypre has 16-18 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is among my favorite uses of ambrox as a keynote I’ve tried. It comes from M. Ricci’s deep knowledge of the ingredient through his near-constant use of it. I could waggishly call him the Master of Ambrox. It is exactly what I like to see from a brand willing to try something different. Metal Chypre succeeds on that level.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Juliette Has a Gun.
One of the aspects of writing about perfume is that it largely becomes episodic for me. I receive a new release one at a time. maybe two. I get to know a brand through each new release looking for the similarity as I try to find common themes. This is fine but just like my lost weekends watching Netflix I’d like to have the opportunity to binge on something all at once. Funnily enough 2017 has offered me a few opportunities to learn about brands I had not previously experienced which have been around for a while. My latest chance came when English brand Ruth Mastenbroek became available in the US and I ordered a sample set of the four releases to date.
Based on the information in her website biography Ms. Mastenbroek was one of the “ghosts” who worked in the shadows of the perfume industry. It only became commonplace to know the name of the perfumer since 2000. In the years prior to that cadres of professional perfumer worked in anonymity; Ms. Mastenbroek among them. She made the move from working at the fragrance counter at Selfridges to perfume school in Grasse, France with her Oxford University degree in chemistry as a foundation. After a career which took her to multiple countries she settled back in England working on contract. In 2010 she finally stepped out of the shadows with her own brand.
Her first release was Signature which was a classic floral chypre to which she added a fun flip of pineapple to the rose and patchouli which predominate. Two years later Amorosa would again lead with a different fruity note in watermelon grafted onto tiare; again over patchouli. In 2015 Oxford would arrive without fruit, replaced by an herbal trio leading to an amber and oud base. Of these first three Oxford was my favorite. As I worked my way from first to third I felt like I was noticing the expansion of a perfumer free of the restraints of a customer brief. Sometimes it might take a moment or two to realize you can go where you’ve always wanted to. Her latest release Firedance feels like the perfect synthesis of independence and classicism.
The independent streak is on display in the opening as a very crisp apple is paired with tart lemon. This is my kind of fruit top accord with a laser pointer sharp precision. It paves the way for a gorgeous Damask rose to provide the heart of Firedance. This is a powdery rose and Ms. Mastenbroek dips into her bag of classic accords constructing a birch tar laden Cuir de Russie leather accord as its partner. The independence returns as she adds just a figurative drop of oud to give an exotic feel to this classic leather formula. As the rose and leather swirl together, this feels like the real fire dance within the fragrance. The base is another classically composed amber and patchouli accord which is where this ends.
Firedance has 16-18 hour longevity and above average sillage.
If you are looking for a new perfume brand to binge on Ruth Mastenbroek is a great one to experience. Ms. Mastenbroek’s emergence from the shadows into the spotlight shows a fragrant storytelling ability that is remarkable. While I think you should start at episode one I can say that episode four, Firedance, is where everything pays off.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples I purchased.
I am a big Pink Floyd fan. Which meant when I heard Bruno Fazzolari’s new fragrance was called Ummagumma I was drawing parallels in my head before it arrived. Ummagumma was the fourth album by Pink Floyd. You could say it was the first by the four musicians who would become most recognizably Pink Floyd. Over the next ten years until the release of The Wall in 1979 the band would stand for experimental rock music. For Ummagumma they were far from a band at that point. On a two-record set, the first was a live recording. The second disc was each member of the band taking half a side to do their own thing. What you get are the different strands of the eventual DNA that will come to define Pink Floyd. But on Ummagumma the strands by themselves are not all that compelling. It is like seeing the ingredients of success before assembly.
Wondering what a perfume carrying that name and alluding to that album might be was fascinating theorycrafting until it showed up in my mailbox. What I would find is something reminiscent of the Pink Floyd members wanting to do something on their own apart from being part of a band. In 2016 Mr. Fazzolari collaborated on a very experimental gourmand perfume with fellow independent perfumer Antonio Gardoni called Cadavre Exquis. It was a Pink Floyd kind of gourmand perfume; experimental and engaging for that quality. At its heart was a beautiful cacao which was one of Mr. Fazzolari’s contributions. A year later Mr. Fazzolari excises the cacao from his fragrant collaborative cadaver and resurrects it as the heart of his solo perfume Ummagumma.
One other connection to the musical inspiration is that Richard Wright was insistent on each member of the band getting to have half a side to do their own thing because he wanted to do “real music”. Many took that to mean he wanted to be less experimental. His song on Ummagumma is called “Sysyphus”. It seems like it was his attempt to do something symphonic in nature. He would call it pretentious in later years. It feels throughout its thirteen minutes like it is Mr. Wright proclaiming he is a real musician making real music. As for the song I agree it is pretentious. The perfume Ummagumma is not pretentious although it does feel like it is Mr. Fazzolari showing that he can make a straightforward ambery gourmand perfume.
That fantastic cacao from Cadavre Exquis shows up right away in Ummagumma and will become the focal part for most of the evolution of the perfume. On its own this is the smell of 100% cacao bars used to bake with. It has a rich slightly bitter quality with the lack of sugar really keeping it from going all treacly. Instead it stays as a strong axis upon which Ummagumma rolls forward upon. In the early development saffron and the clove-like nature of carnation give the chocolate an offbeat spicy combination. This gets pierced by twin resinous spikes of labdanum and frankincense. The frankincense shimmers in conjunction with the chocolate it provides an almost sacred depth. For those looking for the typical Fazzolari artistry here is the place where it shows for a short time. Ummagumma moves forward into a lush ambery base given texture with tobacco. Many perfumers would have used the tobacco as primary focus. Mr. Fazzolari uses it as sweet texture with which to introduce tonka and vanilla in the late stages.
Ummagumma has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
While Ummagumma the album is not considered to be one of Pink Floyd’s best albums the perfume is one of Mr. Fazzolari’s best releases. In the past it has been for his artistic perspective on classic perfume tropes which have made him stand out. Ummagumma shows if he desires to he can play it straight and produce “real perfume” which is really good. Because of the musical inspiration my whacky imagination kept going to that part of every live rock concert where they introduce each member of the band followed by a little riff on their instrument. In that place I kept hearing, “Aaaand soloing on chocolate Bruno Fazzolari!”
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Bruno Fazzolari.
When it comes to odd Christmas song pairings there is very little which beats the classic Bing Crosby David Bowie duet. The Holidays have also brought out some other odd pairings and one of the lesser known ones is one of my favorites on my Holiday playlist. For Christmas 1979 Thin Lizzy would combine with the remaining Sex Pistols under the name The Greedies and record their only record; A Merry Jingle.
By the summer of 1978 the two Sex Pistols whose name you don’t remember; guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook were trying to figure out what was next for them after the implosion of the Pistols. Thin Lizzy lead vocalist Phil Lynott was also dealing with band issues as he had an on-again-off-again relationship with guitarist Gary Moore. 1978 was a particularly turbulent time which made Mr. Lynott just want to find a way to keep playing.
Thin Lizzy was one of the founding British rock bands of the early 1970’s. As the decade was closing out Mr. Lynott was terrified of becoming irrelevant when compared to the punk rock scene taking over English music. One way to stay relevant was if your band is falling apart see if there any of the punks who might like to do something with you. Which leads to him suggesting to Mr. Jones and Mr. Cook about forming a new band. The core of this band called The Greedy Bastards was three Thin Lizzy and two Sex Pistols with a rotating group of others including Chris Spedding, Jimmy Bain, and Pete Briquette.
From there the path to recording a Holiday single as your first record for your new band does not seem like a logical choice. Yet this is what happened. The name was shortened to The Greedies so as not to offend. Instead of original music they would do a mash-up of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and “Jingle Bells”.
They would play it on BBC’s “Top of The Pops” in December of 1979. It would sell well. It would become a footnote in rock and roll Christmas music. The Greedies would never be heard from again.
When “A Merry Jingle” comes up on my playlist I often wonder what would have happened if they had stuck together. Could the punks have shown Thin Lizzy a few new tricks? Probably not. Instead a crunchy version of two classic Christmas carols is all we have.
Oriflame has been one of my favorite low-price perfume brands. The Swedish-based company has excelled at producing economically priced perfumes which can be very good. Another aspect of these brands is the desire to step up a tier; perhaps thinking a little more budget along with a slightly higher price will being in a different consumer. These kinds of initiatives mostly seem to not produce the desired effect. Even with the miserable track record it seems every brand needs to try for themselves and Oriflame is doing this with the Sublime Nature collection. They have hired perfumer Nathalie Lorson to compose the first two releases. I have received a sample of Sublime Nature Tuberose and expect the second release Sublime Nature Tonka Bean any day now.
Sublime Nature Tuberose gets the full treatment on the website with Mme Lorson talking about her inspirations. 2017 has been a year for many iterations of tuberose. Perfumers have several new isolates to choose from which helps tilt the overall aesthetic of the composition. Mme Lorson chooses a CO2 version of tuberose as she aims to capture it at sunrise coated with dew before it has fully unfurled itself.
By choosing the CO2 version she has found a form which accentuates the greener facets without getting the overexuberant floral nature at full volume. I have always liked that green thread which runs through tuberose which makes this isolate something I am attracted to. Mme Lorson swathes the early going with that watery nature of dew drops among the green and the floral. In the very early moments the dew drops are on top. As the sun rises and starts to burn them off the tuberose becomes much more pronounced. This is where the beauty of this version of the tuberose ingredient can exist as a soliflore. Eventually sandalwood and tonka provide the woody base accord which over time overwhelms the tuberose.
Sublime Nature Tuberose has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
In a year of tuberose Sublime Nature Tuberose is among the better versions. It comes down to letting a perfumer choose the best ingredient she has and finding the right combination to evoke tuberose at sunrise, Mme Lorson succeeds on all counts.
Dsiclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Oriflame.
There is no publication more closely tied to fashion than Vogue. There is no perfume brand which has represented what it means to be a niche perfume more than Comme des Garcons. For the occasion of Vogue’s 125th anniversary they asked Comme des Garcons to create a perfume to capture that milestone; Comme des Garcons x Vogue 125.
I have been very fortunate to have a tenuous connection to the New York fashion world. It gave me the opportunity to see the creative process from sketch to runway. It is among one of the most interesting things I have participated in. Early on I was allowed to stand on the sidelines during a photo shoot. In those pre-digital photography days the photographer would use a Polaroid camera to take many test shots before committing it to expensive film. When I say many I mean the whole room filled up with the smell of the self-developer from the amount of photos being taken. That smell is one of those odd industrial smells which has a weird pleasant quality. It never doesn’t smell like a chemical soup but it also has an undefinable sweetness, too. The other thing the room filled up with was cigarette smoke as the photographer would puff, shoot, pull the Polaroid out, shake it in the air and repeat. This is where the perfume Comme des Garcons x Vogue 125 begins.
Vogue’s Beauty Director Celia Ellenberg would team with Comme des Garcons creative director Christian Astuguevieille to bring Vogue 125 to life. They wanted to nod back to founder Conde Nast by using lily of the valley which was his favorite flower. I have to believe that it was M. Astuguevieille who presented the Polaroid accord to the Vogue creative team for their approval. This is a perfect example of why Comme des Garcons remains an innovator within niche perfumery. They find things which are aggressively synthetic and find the sweet spot where beauty can be found within the industrial.
Vogue 125 opens with the Polaroid and cigarettes combination. The tobacco comes from the synthetic ingredient acetyl furan. This is very smart, as using a more natural tobacco source wouldn’t have resonated against the synthetic instant film accord as well. This is the smell of the fashion magazine business and I think there will be some who will be pushed away especially on a strip where it is particularly sharp. For those attracted to Vogue on the bottle it might be very unusual. To those who have loved when Comme des Garcons has plumbed these kind of accords in the past this is as good as any of those. I loved this opening the same way I pressed mimeographed sheets to my nose when I was in elementary school. For those who stick around the lily of the valley returns to more traditional perfume territory. This is a soft, slightly powdery version of the ingredient. One last bit of the industrial is added here with an ink note providing an acerbic retort to the lily of the valley. This is nuanced and not nearly as prominent as the top accord. It finishes on a soft leather accord mixed with some woody notes.
Vogue 125 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Vogue the magazine is known for the September Issue where they preview the fall fashion landscape every year. As I wore Vogue 125 I felt this was maybe The December Issue where they sum up 125 years of covering fashion in a triumphant representation of both brands on the bottle.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample from Comme des Garcons.
As I reach the end of the year I am beginning to start looking back over 2017 looking for trends. Two things which stick out was tuberose was everywhere. The other trend was deconstructing a familiar keynote. In some cases, there were deconstructed tuberoses. I will say that I enjoy the perspective of that style of perfumery, but I must admit I had been craving a more fully rounded tuberose. Natural perfumer Mandy Aftel was here to grant me my wish with Velvet Tuberose.
Ms. Aftel is one of the best independent natural perfumers because she has had years of acquaintance with her palette. What this generally means is she produces natural perfumes of unusual depth. I am always impressed at the layering she can attain in her perfumes. Velvet Tuberose is a veritable masterclass in using a keynote as the foundation from which specifically chosen notes provide new perspectives. One additional note on Velvet Tuberose is it is a solid perfume. As I have mentioned in previous reviews of other Aftelier solid perfumes, the tactile experience of smearing a thin layer on my skin is much more intimate than spraying it on.
The beginning of Velvet Tuberose is the tuberose absolute that will be present from beginning to end. This is not a deconstructed floral this is an edifice of tuberose; solid and soaring. Tuberose absolute also brings out some of the other facets besides the central indolic floralcy. This is evident when fir picks up the green mentholated thread which runs through all good tuberose. Here it is like pine becomes the needle with which to pick out this green quality. There is a buttery creaminess to tuberose. Ms. Aftel matches it with a creamy sandalwood. As the two styles of creamy combine there is a soft sweetness which arises. Finally, an earthy patchouli captures those indoles and buries them in damp soil. None of this really develops in phases it is all happening simultaneously. It depends on where your focus is. There were times the patchouli perspective hit me first then I notice the fir and vice versa. It means Velvet Tuberose is an expertly blended fragrance.
Velvet Tuberose has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
As much as I adore the idea of wanting to see the structures of perfumery pulled apart. It takes something like Velvet Tuberose to remind me that those same structures still are worth re-visiting. Ms. Aftel was the perfect tour guide to take me back to a towering tuberose which is fully constructed.
Disclosure: This review was based ona sample provided by Aftelier.
There is that moment every Holiday season soon after Thanksgiving I find myself in a Christmas tree lot. The act of picking out a tree is one of the pleasures of the season. Part of that is the simple smell of the scene. The rows of trees with sap coating the cut at the end on a cold night, breath steaming, is intrinsic to my scent memory of Christmas. The reason I have a real tree is to transport this smell, in a small way, back home. There are lots of great choices out there to capture this as a perfume. I thought for this month’s Discount Diamonds I might remind you of one hiding at the back of your drugstore fragrance case; Stetson Sierra.
Sierra was the fourth release from Stetson in 1993. It was the follow-up to two of the most popular drugstore perfumes, the Original Stetson and Preferred Stock. There was a sense that this brand was trying to be an all-American style full of masculine tropes emblematic of the cowboy who wears a Stetson hat. In these early days creative director Elizabeth Marrone really had an idea of what a “Stetson Man” should smell like. She would work with perfume Rene Morgenthaler to create a fragrance which is, “a breath of fresh air that takes you to Big Sky.”
M. Morgenthaler goes for an herbal accord as the primary accompaniment to the fir balsam keynote. It captures the scent of the needles on the trees as rosemary, sage, allspice, thyme, and cumin are artfully blended into a rough accord which captures both the rawness of the sap with the softness of the pine needles. Right here is the smell of lots of pine trees leaning against saw horses with price tags affixed to them. It is subtler than most drugstore styles. The subtlety is removed in the later phase as a load of synthetic woody aromachemicals mix together in a typical base accord.
Stetson Sierra has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
If you find yourself stuck in line at your local drugstore on an emergency Holiday run; look at that fragrance case. If you see a green bottle for about $15 with Stetson Sierra on it. Grab it and make believe you’re out shopping for Christmas trees instead of waiting in line.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.