There are certain ingredients in perfume which have such a multi-faceted character I enjoy smelling the absolute on its own. Beeswax absolute is one of those. Created by extracting hives which have been around for years. Depending on where those hives are from each version has its own scent profile. What is common is a musky honey infused with the pollen harvested from whatever indigenous plant life surrounds the hive. While the absolute is great by itself it is even better when used in a perfume here are five of my favorites.
Chanel Antaeus pour Homme was my first experience with beeswax in perfume although I didn’t know it at the time. It was part of my early expansion of my perfume collection. It provides a bit of animalic muskiness underneath the sage, patchouli, and labdanum spine. I was attracted to it because of that.
I talk about inflection points by perfumers all the time. Ineke Field Notes From Paris was that for independent perfumer Ineke Ruhland. The beeswax brings home a gorientalmand base stitching together tonka bean, vanilla, and amber. Prior to that is the smell of a Paris day.
Rubini Fundamental is one of the most original perfumes of the last few years. The creative team of Andrea Bissoli Rubini, Ermano Picco, and perfumer Cristiano Canali created a perfume capturing Verona in 1937 with the actors, in greasepaint, taking a break underneath the grape arbor. It is beeswax which provides the linchpin to the greasepaint accord mixed with the grapes in the heart of Fundamental. If you’re looking for something completely different this is where you should go.
Maria Candida Gentile released a trio of perfumes in 2014 called “Flight of the Bumblebee”. Within that she used three different sources of beeswax. It was Leuco and its powdery French beeswax which was my favorite. It was the counterweight to a keynote of tuberose. The beeswax provided a muffling effect while also adding a shimmering effect over the top of it all. Leuco is my favorite of al of Sig.ra Gentile’s perfumes.
For a straightforward beeswax experience there is nothing better than Sonoma Scent Studio Bee’s Bliss. Independent perfumer Laurie Erickson created a perfume which captures the entire process of honey. Starting with mimosa as the flower harvested on top of a rich honey accord. The beeswax represents the hive along with vetiver representing the propolis which holds the cells together. It is a gorgeous abstraction of harvesting honey fresh from the hive.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
I think it is evident how much I enjoy writing about the creative side of the perfume business. Whenever there is a new creative director, perfumer, or brand which actually carries out a stated vision the words come effortlessly. I wasn’t writing about perfume in 1996 but I can look back in hindsight. When I do that, I know Tommy Hilfiger Tommy Girl would have been one of those effortless moments. I’ve certainly written about it many times since I started blogging. Tommy Girl was the first brief for one of our greatest perfumers, Calice Becker. One reason I return to it often is there are many of the foundational techniques I have seen in her perfume in the years since. Because of that I was very interested when I heard about Tommy Hilfiger Tommy Girl Now which was also composed by Mme Becker. What would she see as being “now” as opposed to “then”?
What I got was something intriguing. When Tommy Girl came out it was meant to be an All-American companion to the fashion of Tommy Hilfiger. It is amusing because the perfumer is from French and Russian roots which showed up in Tommy Girl. What transformed it into something American was an overall freshness. As an exemplar of that it succeeded as one of the best mainstream perfumes of all-time.
What do you change to make that contemporary? Do you throw everything out and start over? Or do you look for something small but significant to change? The answer from Mme Becker is to retain the top two-thirds and place that on a base which is popular currently. That is Tommy Girl Now.
The top accord is almost the same except Mme Becker pushes it a bit greener with the sharpness of shiso and by upping the blackcurrant bud concentration. It is still the same tea room accord but it has a different paint job. It leads to a near-identical floral heart which is a now-classic construct of magnolia, honeysuckle, jasmine, rose, and violet. It remains a fantastically vibrant accord. This all leads to the biggest change in Tommy Girl Now; the base. The original was a woody mixture of cedar and sandalwood. This new version embraces the trend of gourmand florals with vanilla and musks rising to meet that exquisite floral accord. This is done in a less transparent way as many of the current floral gourmands but much lighter than the original.
Tommy Girl Now has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I think the choice to change the base might be the correct one because it is what differentiates the Now from the then. If it is true, then I suspect Tommy Girl Now will become popular among the daughters of those who wore Tommy Girl. I hope so because the top part of either version of Tommy Girl should continue as long as it can.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Tommy Hilfiger.
Someday I’m going to be able to sit down with a fragrance marketing person and get an explanation to a burning question. Why do big perfume brands use the name of a classic perfume for something that smells nothing like it? On one hand it is their own brand they are cannibalizing. At least they aren’t buying some other company and stealing a name form them. On the other they want to keep the name because they believe there is some recognition to it but when the perfume doesn’t match the memory isn’t that an issue? Clearly there isn’t an issue because it keeps happening. These are the times I wish I didn’t have knowledge of the vintage version because it is difficult to divorce the past from the present. It is also irritating when I think the new version is good but nothing like the old version. The 2018 version of Givenchy L’Interdit checks off everything I’ve just mentioned.
The original version of L’Interdit was released in 1957 in celebration of the relationship between fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy and actress Audrey Hepburn. Ms. Hepburn wore Givenchy clothing with most of her most iconic looks coming while wearing those designs. Perfumer Francis Fabron designed a stylish aldehydic floral. It was as elegant as its muse. For some bizarre reason in 2002 they released a version in celebration of the Givenchy 50th anniversary which smelled nothing like the original. No aldehydes. Different floral. No sandalwood in the base. This would be followed five years later with a celebration of the 50th anniversary of L’Interdit. This was better as perfumer Olivier Gillotin did a creditable effort with the thankless job replacing materials which were no longer allowed to be used.
We now come to 2018 and the creative forces at Givenchy think its time for another L’Interdit. They’ve assembled three perfumers to co-produce, Fanny Bal, Anne Flipo, and Dominique Ropion. They’ve again decided to make an entirely different perfume. Out of the five listed ingredients only one was in the original. If you’re looking for Audrey Hepburn or a floral aldehydic retro nouveau version; look away. Nothing to see here. What is here is a stripped down straightforward white flower perfume which is one of the better versions of this style.
The perfumers open with orange blossom trailing a lightly indolic core along with it. Jasmine and tuberose join in for the rest of the white flower chorus. There is a nice balance here especially where the intersection of the florals forms a kind of fruity accord running underneath. Makes it a floral fruity kind of perfume without using any fruit. A lighter version of patchouli provides an earthy piece of the base accord while vetiver stands in as an alternative to the woods.
L’interdit has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
As I said above if the name has you hearkening back to a perfume you remember from your past; keep on walking. This will probably just annoy you at how different it is. If you never heard anything about the history and this is the first version of L’Interdit you’ve encountered, you will find a very good mainstream white floral. When I can forget the name, I focus on that.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Givenchy.
One of my favorite lines in all of science fiction comes at the end of Blade Runner when the android Roy Batty is about to hit his expiration date. He says, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.” For years I have filled in those visions with vast space battles in my imagination. There is a sub-genre of science fiction which scratches that itch for me called space opera. As you can tell from the name it is a story told in easily plotted installments usually following the crew of a ship on their journeys. There have been some good stand-alone versions, but it has been a while since a series has caught my attention. The new Axiom Series by author Tim Pratt has done that.
I have a feeling Mr. Pratt is also a fan because the Axion series is a step away from his typical fantasy books. I think because space opera is not as buttoned down as some other science fiction authors are granted a bit more leeway to play with their plot.
In the first book in the series, The Wrong Stars, we are introduced to our crew of proto-rebels aboard the White Raven. Captain Callie is a tough exterior head of the crew. Her second-in-command and doctor, Stephen, is in the curmudgeonly questioning type pioneered by Dr. Leonard McCoy in Star Trek. The mechanic is a cyborg, Ashok. Drake and Janice are the other members of the crew as pilot and navigator respectively. In the very first chapter the crew comes upon a “goldilocks ship”. These were ships launched hundreds of years prior looking for new worlds that were “just right”. They weren’t supposed to return. As the crew investigates they find Dr. Elena Oh who says she has returned to announce first contact with an alien race. Except since she has been gone humanity had already made contact with an alien race called “The Liars”. They have been the bridge to the stars for humankind, but they are unable to tell the truth; about anything. Once the crew brings Dr. Oh and her ship The Anjou back to their base The Liars take one look and flee.
From here the uncovering of the other alien race encountered by the crew of The Anjou; The Axiom and what that portends is what drives the story. By the end of the first book Callie and the White Raven are the only ones who know and can deal with the threat posed by The Axiom. Book 2 “The Dreaming Stars” follows their journey further. That there will be book 3 next year tells you The Dreaming Stars is not where things end.
Mr. Pratt has written an incredibly enjoyable space opera I zipped through both books in a few days. They carry you along with them as the find figurative attack ships and c-beams among the stars. If you want something like that the first two books of The Axiom Series are what you’re looking for.
Back in the summer Tom Ford Private Blend released two different fougeres. I reviewed Fougere D’Argent first because I felt it had a more contemporary feel. I also promised in that review to get to the other, Fougere Platine, in a couple weeks. Its been two months and I think I put it off for so long because it is a classic fougere done well with good quality ingredients. There should be some attention paid to perfume which achieves just that. So, better late than never here we go.
As always creative director Karyn Khoury is overseeing any new release from this brand. This time she works with a team of perfumers, Olivier Gillotin and Linda Song. Ms. Song has been doing most of her early work on the mainstream side of fragrance. I was interested to see how she would do with a niche budget. The answer is in the first paragraph; the perfumers create a fougere which is more fleshed out throughout its development.
All fougeres begin with lavender and this is one which displays equal parts the floral and herbal faces of it. Which it needs because clary sage and basil amplify that quality. It is a greener style of lavender top accord, but it is still recognizably lavender. If you are a fan of M. Gillotin’s work on the Private Blend Vert series this has a bit of that feel early on. The heart is a mixture of labdanum, olibanum, and honey. This was where the perfume crossed the line into luxuriousness for me. It is my favorite part of Fougere Platine as the lavender sinks into the sticky resinous heart accord. The honey provides a sweetness vector for the resins to cling to. The honey slowly transforms into dried tobacco leaf made green by atlas cedar. The original fougeres had oakmoss and coumarin in the base. The perfumers’ approximation here is to use the narcotic quality of tobacco and the clean woodiness of cedar as their base accord, which worked for me.
Fougere Platine has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
If there was a silver lining to waiting for two months; wearing it in the cooler fall weather made it cozier. Fougere Platine is a well-executed version of a straightforward fougere. If you’re a fan of the style and want a black-tie version this might be a good formal fougere.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.
If there is a part of the world I have grown to love it is the desert southwest of the US. For what seems like a spare landscape of dusty red rocks it has a natural scent which is indelible to me. A part of that is the combination of the low humidity along with the altitude seem to heighten what there is to smell. There are a few perfumes which capture this very well; Providence Perfume Co. Sedona Sweetgrass is a new addition to my list.
On one of my visits I bought a braid of sweetgrass from one of the Native American tribes out there. It became my companion on many hiking trips as it stayed sealed in a zip lock bag in a little compartment on top of my pack. I know lots of people use lavender to help them relax before bed. There were many nights that braid of sweetgrass was the last thing I smelled before falling asleep in my tent. I couldn’t have put my finger on it at the time but now I know what I was smelling was coumarin. Sweetgrass is one of the higher percentage botanicals containing coumarin. It is a logical place for any perfumer to start a new fragrance.
Charna Ethier is the perfumer behind her brand. She is one of the best independent perfumers we have. One reason is her knowledge of her materials along with an innate sensibility at tuning a final formula. What she has done with a perfume inspired by the desert is to make it as expansive as the stars above you on a desert night. This never becomes heavy as it could be with the ingredients she uses. Ms. Ethier finds the wide-open spaces in between her ingredients.
One of my favorite smells of the desert are the tall pine trees. There is a seemingly sharper scent profile to those desert sentinels. Ms. Ethier opens Sedona Sweetgrass with those pinon pines. The provide the green platform upon which to place the sweetgrass. I’m not sure how she makes this as soft as she does, but it is like laying my head down underneath one of those pine trees with my braid of sweetgrass under my nose. Nothing is intrusive it is all relaxing and meditative. After a while the far-off scent of the remains of the campfire swirl through along with some incense which helps the dreamy mood.
Sedona Sweetgrass has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Ms. Ethier has captured what I smelled on many nights in the desert. On the days I wore this I slept with some on my pillow just to remember those days. Sedona Sweetgrass allowed me to enjoy sweet dreams in the desert on those nights.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Providence Perfume Co.
One of the greatest gourmand perfumes is 2004’s Bond No. 9 New Haarlem. Early in the birth of the genre, perfumer Maurice Roucel and creative director Laurice Rahme, produced an incredible coffee-based perfume which is the gold standard. No perfume has been better. It also stood out for taking a lighter tone than the earlier gourmands. Bond No. 9 over the past few years has become a brand which has churned out perfume at a furious pace with a similarity to previous releases that I haven’t been motivated to write about.
A few weeks ago, I received a press release for Bond No. 9 New Bond St. The name caught my attention because the neighborhood around the flagship boutique has changed a lot in the fifteen years since the brand debuted. As I continued to read I learned there was a coffee heart accord. That also made me more motivated to check in and see what this new perfume was all about. Would it live up to the greatness of New Haarlem? Would it come close? Should I really compare the two?
Two perfumers, Carlos Benaim and Laurent Le Guernec, collaborate with Ms. Rahme for New Bond St. If I am looking for similarity to New Haarlem there is a green top accord followed by a coffee heart accord and woody base. That is selling the new perfume short. If I have been critical of an overreliance on cribbing from the past by the brand this is not one of those cases. The creative team has created a different style of gourmand which stands on its own.
Laurent Le Guernec
The top accord uses muguet as the source of green. The perfumers introduce a bit of pepper to provide a sizzle to that floral. The heart is a fancy coffee accord served up by a barista. The coffee source is described as coffee beans in the ingredient list. There is a distinction as the whole beans have an intrinsic oiliness and nuttiness more pronounced than a brewed version. The perfumers pick up on both of those by using cocoa to pick up the oils and chestnut to pick up the nutty. It comes together in a luscious coffee shop accord. It falls into a generic woody base, which has become a signature for the brand, as sandalwood and vanilla present a typical base accord.
New Bond St. has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Since I started this review with the comparison I’ll get it out of the way New Bond St. is not as good as New Haarlem. It is the best new release from Bond No. 9 in a few years. I am happy I took the time to check it out. It reminds me, in a positive way, of what a trend setter the brand was in its early years. If you’ve wanted a reminder of that New Bond St. should do that.
Disclosure: This review based on a sample provided by Saks.
Names of things can be double edged swords. It can set your expectations higher than they maybe should be. They can also be an elegant intro to something surprising. As an avid Star Wars fan and reader of epic fantasy a perfume called Dark Lord conjures up Stygian depths swirling with portent from which Darth Vader strides with lightsaber glowing. Not sure any perfume can live up to that, but I found By Kilian Dark Lord to have some of that villain we love to hate lurking in it.
Kilian Hennessy has enjoyed making perfumes which tend to the darker side of the fragrance spectrum. It is one reason the brand is successful because he has created a brand identity around embracing those styles. There have been so many of those it becomes a bit difficult to not be self-reverential to a previous release when working on a new one. Working with perfumer Alberto Morillas common themes of the past like rum, leather, and vetiver are re-combined into Dark Lord.
M. Morillas has had some of his most successful collaborations in the niche world working with M. Hennessy. He produced Musk Oud and Eternal Oud in the Arabian Nights collection along with one of the best perfumes in the line in Good Girl Gone Bad. They know how to make perfume in the darkness.
I think regular readers must be tired of my pointing out the versatility of Szechuan pepper in perfumery. I am going to do it again because M. Morillas marries it to bergamot which brings out the fruity grace note in the pepper while also providing a shimmering warm effect, too. A fantastic leather accord comes next. This is not biker jacket leather. This is the leather jacket of a James Bond villain; smelling of wealth and refinement. A background of jasmine adds a bit of Luciferian contrast. Next comes a rich burnt sugar-like rum accord. The Kilian line of perfume has had a number of rum accords this one is scorched with a bit of brimstone to differentiate it. It all ends in a field of vetiver and patchouli as you strike a deal at the crossroads.
Dark Lord has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
As I said at the beginning Dark Lord has a name to live up to. It might not actually make me think of Darth Kilian but it does smell of dubious deeds agreed to in the darkness.
Disclosure; This review is based on a sample supplied by By Kilian.
I continue to extol the creative direction of Celine Roux at Jo Malone because her tenure has seen the first part of her title return to one of the original niche brands. One of the things which has seemingly been a part of this is Mme Roux’s habit of working with a single perfumer for five or six releases. Over the last two years it was Mathilde Bijaoui and Yann Vasnier. Her current partner in perfume is Sophie Labbe. The holiday 2018 release is their third collaboration; White Moss & Snowdrop.
If there is one release every year that I look forward to it is the Holiday release from Jo Malone. I realize I own almost all of them. The brand has excelled at releasing a festive style of perfume just in time for the season. The two releases from this summer from Mmes Roux and Labbe, Tropical Cherimoya and Catlleya Flower Mist, were tropical floral styles ideal for the summer. White Moss & Snowdrop is a winter floral wrapped in green garland shot through with sparkles of light.
The perfume opens with the lemon tinted zest of cardamom over orange and petitgrain. As an admirer of cardamom heavy top accords this is top of my list. Mme Labbe uses the cardamom as a chill breeze over the citrus elements. The fruit and the tart never take the lead. They are there as a way of enhancing the inherent citrus in the cardamom. The balance achieved here is beautifully realized. Neroli rises out of this. it is the greener neroli which has been appearing a lot this year in perfume. The chilly effect is provided by the titular snow drop although this remains more neroli than snowdrop on my skin. This is the kind of connective note which captures the transition from top notes to base notes. Those base notes are surrounding a key note of white moss. I wanted to determine if this white moss was the same ingredient used in Estee Lauder Private Collection Jasmine White Moss. After many days of comparison my answer is I’m not sure. I also think the comparison maybe overshadows what is here. The moss note in White Moss & Snowdrop has that pillowy green effect of moss but continues the slight chill carried on from the top and heart. Mme Labbe uses a bit of tonka and amber to leaven the white moss a bit but this is where things come to an end.
White Moss & Snowdrop has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
The overall effect from this perfume is that of green holly garland wrapped in white lights on the fireplace mantel. It is an ideal Holiday style of perfume. So much so I felt like my sample of White Moss & Snowdrop was like an early present under my tree.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Nordstrom.
Vetiver is one of the most versatile ingredients in perfumery. Depending on the source and/or the isolation method you can find any combination of effects. It has caused an increase in the kinds of perfume which contain it as a keynote. Perfumers tend to choose a characteristic or two while using it as the spine upon which to build a more complex structure. Vetiver is also a great choice as a soliflore ingredient. Anything which can have so many faces begs to be used as a single ingredient. This is the path independent perfumer Bruno Fazzolari follows with Vetiverissimo.
I am calling this Bruno Fazzolari Vetiverissimo but there was another name on my sample “Fzotic by Bruno Fazzolari”. I don’t know if this is an overall brand change or whether Mr. Fazzolari is creating a different collection with a different name. Vetiverissimo is in keeping with his recent release, Unsettled, where he took another multi-faceted ingredient in sandalwood exploring its expansiveness. Unsettled was one of the few misses for me from Mr. Fazzolari because the other ingredients chosen clashed with the sandalwood in a demolition derby leaving a wreck behind. Vetiverissimo is like a makeover artist finding the hidden beauty underneath the rough exterior.
The vetiver used here has two very distinct impressions, the green grassy part and the earthy woody part. These are common to the Haitian and Bourbon versions of vetiver. I’m not sure if there is a sole source of vetiver being used by Mr. Fazzolari but my impression is that it might be a mixture of one of the fractions combined with one of the French-accented vetivers.
My reasoning for that is because the green part of the early stages has an edgier feel than either of the samples of vetiver I have. I was reminded of the sharp green edges of sawgrass in the Everglades instead of the dried brown aromatic strands of harvested vetiver. It is a transitory effect but one I found worth chasing by re-spraying to enjoy it again. Mr. Fazzolari uses some spices from the stronger side of the cabinet. It’s not named but there is a dusting of something like saffron dulling those sharper edges while also re-centering the wearer’s perspective towards the woody side of the coin. For this part of Vetiverissimo Mr. Fazzolari used cedar and sandalwood to frame the vetiver. It, at first, brings out the woodiness before the earthiness pushes back a bit in the later stages.
Vetiverissimo has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Vetiverissimo is a full-spectrum study of all that vetiver can bring to a perfume. It does what all soliflores should do enhancement through examination.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.