Ever since its debut in 2007 the Tom Ford Private Blend collection has been one of the most successful expansions of luxury niche perfumery into the marketplace. They represent one of the defining brands of that style. They were the first perfumes I would review where I would be asked, “Are they worth it?” The answer to that is always an individual choice. What was undeniable was the collection was representing some of the best-known ingredients in high quality forms where the difference was noticeable.
Tom Ford and Karyn Khoury creatively directed each perfume to provide a singular luxurious experience. That so many of them are on “best of” lists show their success. They have been so successful that there is debate to whether they should even be referred to as niche anymore. I think they still retain a niche aesthetic while having a wider distribution than most other fragrances referred to with that adjective. Over the first three years of existence they cemented their style over 21 releases. Then 2011 happened.
This is conjecture on my part, but it seems like they had tired of hearing how “safe” they were. If you were to try the three releases from 2011 it feels like they wanted to have the word contemporary be part of the lexicon when describing Tom Ford Private Blends. Jasmin Rouge, Santal Blush, and this month’s Dead Letter Office entry Lavender Palm succeeded. What separated them from the rest of the collection was they took the keynote in their name off in very different new directions. All three have been among my favorites within the entire line. For some reason Lavender Palm was discontinued after only two years. I’ll provide my hypothesis for that later.
Lavender Palm was released early in 2011 as an exclusive to the new Beverly Hills Tom Ford boutique followed by wider release a year later. Perfumer Yann Vasnier was asked to capture a Southern California luxury vibe. He chose to use two sources of lavender wrapped in a host of green ingredients.
The top accord uses the more common lavandin where M. Vasnier adds citrus to it. The whole opening gets twisted using lime blossom which teases out the floral nature of the lavender while complementing the citrus. This is an opening with snap. The heart coalesces around lavender absolute. Here is where things take that contemporary turn. M. Vasnier uses clary sage, aldehydes, moss, and palm leaves to form a lavender accord that is at turns salty and creamy. It seemingly transforms minute-by-minute. It remains one of the most unique lavender accords I have experienced. A soft resinous base is where this ends.
Lavender Palm has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
Lavender Palm became widely available in the beginning of 2012 and was discontinued by the end of 2014. I think the reason might be this was the only one of the three 2011 releases which unabashedly altered the previous style of the collection. There aren’t many Tom Ford Private Blend releases to be found in the Dead Letter Office; Lavender Palm might have got there by being too contemporary.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
There are independent brands which are turning important milestones the last few years. It is an indication of a fragrance collection which spoke to an audience over time. One of those early trendsetters who is celebrating their 15th anniversary is Eau d’Italie. Creatively directed by husband-and-wife team of Marina Sersale and Sebastian Alvarez Murena they were inspired by the hotel they own La Sireneuse in Positano, Italy. Over the past fifteen years they have used the history of the area and the hotel as launching points for their perfumes. To celebrate an anniversary they decided to keep it light and summery in Eau d’Italie Easy To Love.
Sebastian Alvarez Murena (l.) and Marina Sersale
The first half of the Eau d’Italie perfume collection had a serious perfume quality to it. Since the release of 2012’s Un Bateau pour Capri there has been a distinct lighter playful quality. This is where Easy To Love fits right in. Working with perfumer Dora Baghriche they create a clever twist on the classic Mediterranean style cologne.
The perfume shelves are full of takes on citrus, fig, and woods concepts to capture an afternoon in the Mediterranean. What the creative team does here is to provide a Tyrrhenian spin for the part of the Mediterranean that faces Positano and La Sireneuse. The only thing which remains is the fig. On either side is a richer fruit, a fresh floral, and a sweetened skin musk.
Mme Baghriche uses white currant as her opening fruity blast. It is exuberantly fruity, enough so that it had to be carefully measured so the green fig could contrast it with its creamy green quality. In a smart pivot she uses the freshness of peony to lift the currant and fig away from becoming too heavy. It turns it into a Tyrrhenian breeze. As delightful as this was it is the base which connected most with me. Mme Baghriche uses honey, tonka, and ambrette to form a sweet warm skin accord. So often in this style of perfume the skin musk is given a salty tint. The idea to drizzle it in honey and tonka is very pleasurable. It also gives this enough weight to be worn on a summer evening as well as the daytime.
Easy to Love has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Easy To Love is a fantastic variation on a classic perfume trope. It lives up to its name. I have a set of three go-to summer errand perfumes. Easy To Love looks poised to join that group.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
I have always been fascinated with large gemstones. It is why even though I live in the Washington DC area my favorite museum is the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History just so I can walk through the gemstone room again. One of the things which becomes evident when you can compare so many side-by-side that it is the cut of the stone that adds to its brilliance. Over my many visits the cut I’ve come to enjoy most is a “radiant-cut”. It can take the light which surrounds the stone deep inside itself and then reflects itself back through the center providing a soft glowing pulse right at the heart of it all. This also has an added benefit of making the gemstone look bigger than it is. When it comes to perfume, I use jewelry analogies whenever I describe soliflores. I think of them as diamond solitaires given a setting where they can be as brilliant as they can be. Hiram Green Lustre is a radiant-cut rose soliflore.
Hiram Green has been building one of the strongest portfolios in independent natural perfumery. Since the debut of Moon Bloom in 2013 each new release has shown continued expansion of what a natural perfume can be. That belief is becoming more wide spread as last year’s Hyde won the Art & Olfaction Award this year. It was why when I was chatting with people at Esxence this year I kept asking about Lustre which was premiered in Milan. I think because I was so annoying one of my friends sent me a sample from the booth. What I found was a rose soliflore as only Mr. Green could conceptualize.
The rose Mr. Green uses is a rich Bulgarian version knows as Rose Damascena. It is one of the most famous roses in the world. Mr. Green takes this gorgeous essential oil and treats it as a rough gem using four ingredients to add cuts until it achieves the desired radiance. The first cut comes via citrus. This is the light which surrounds things being pulled inward. It is like the sun reflected off dew drops on the rose petals. Orris comes next to more fully shape the rose with its rooty and powdery aspects. It accentuates those characteristics within the rose. Olibanum creates a resinous focal point to draw your attention to the softly glowing drop of honey underneath it all.
Lustre has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I repeatedly commend Mr. Green for finding an intensity from his natural palette that is uncommon in this kind of perfumery. Lustre is a long-lived jewel of a rose that draws you in to its radiant-cut depths.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from Hiram Green as relayed by a friend from Esxence.
When a trend begins to filter down into the flankers, I presume that means it has been a best seller. Over the past two years transparent floral gourmands have become a persistent trend especially on the mainstream side of the fragrance world. For once this is a trend which I am fully behind as it isn’t an area where a lot of perfume has been created. It doesn’t feel to me like we’ve had that great version which will be the benchmark within the genre yet. In the meantime this style continues to expand and in this month’s Flanker Round-Up I look at Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Sun and Marc Jacobs Daisy Love Eau So Sweet.
Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Sun
Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue was launched in 2001 and has been one of the best-selling perfumes since then. This year’s summer flanker Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Sun tweaks the formula a bit more than the typical flanker without going too far away from what works. Perfumers Olivier Cresp and Alberto Morillas team-up to find a way to insert a gourmand element into the Mediterranean feel of the original.
The citrus top accord has always been a part of the Light Blue DNA the perfumers add in a crisp apple note to add a snap to it. Then a very light use of coconut inserts itself between that focused top accord and the jasmine in the heart. This is where the floral gourmand comes to life as the apple and citrus along with the coconut and jasmine form a summery accord at just the right intensity. The base is bit of vanilla sweetened cedar also kept light. One note there is also a Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Sun pour Homme. This is not a review for that.
Marc Jacobs Daisy Love Eau So Sweet
Here is the insanity of flankers as Marc Jacobs Daisy Love Eau So Sweet is the flanker of 2018’s Daisy Love which is a flanker of 2007’s Daisy. I can’t even keep up. Perfumer Alberto Morillas was there in the beginning and is here for Daisy Love Eau So Sweet. Last year Daisy Love went for floral gourmand territory, but it left the transparent part out. For Daisy Love Eau So Sweet M. Morillas adds that back into the mix.
The same berry top accord is back from Daisy Love but pitched in a much lighter shade of fruitiness. The floral heart is also equally expansive. Then as the fruity floral accord settles in; a wash of sugar and white musks adds a whole new level of expansiveness. It does it so ingeniously that it goes from being sugary sweet to almost fresh in the way it rises off my skin. It is just this happy sugar coated fruity floral bubble to spend a summer’s day within.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by the manufacturers.
There are ingredients in perfume which are meant to be the equivalent of scented fireworks. They are usually top notes to only last for a short time with maximum impact. One of the best examples of this are the citrus ingredients. They often act like the opening act for perfumes which contain them. In Memo Winter Palace the citrus is used in a different way.
Memo has been one of my favorite brands for many years now. Creative director Clara Molloy and perfumer Alienor Massenet have defined an identifiable brand aesthetic. To keep that from becoming stale they have collaborated on several sub-collections within the overall collection. Winter Palace is the third entry in the Art Land collection following Marfa and Tiger’s Nest. The perfumes are inspired by places. Winter Palace is inspired by the resting place of the Imperial Dragon of China. When he wakes up spring and summer return to the land. The perfume evokes that moment of awakening.
What Mmes Molloy and Massenet do is to use resins and oils to create a perfume which whispers its notes in long-lasting exhalations; drawing you in. The citrus oils are especially intriguing for their ability to last as resins along with a red tea accord swirl together.
Grapefruit, orange, lemon, and bergamot are easily recognizable perfume notes. In the early moments of Winter Palace they carry a soft unctuous effect because the citrus oils are used in a way to eschew ostentation. They whisper through the early moments before the red tea accord rises in swirls of scented steam. Mme Massenet uses some mate tea to tune the red tea to have a little more presence. Not a lot more just enough to insert itself into the citrus mélange of the top accord. These early moments of Winter Palace are testaments to the beauty of subtlety. As the resins begin to appear, they also tend to ooze into place without fanfare. Styrax, tolu balsam, and benzoin are used in their high potency resinoid forms. This also acts like coals on a brazier warming things up . This finishes on an arid woody base accord sweetened with a pinch of vanilla.
Winter Palace has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
One of my favorite synonyms for whispering is susurration. On the days I wore Winter Palace I felt like it was a perfume susurration, especially the citrus. This is a fragrance which captures your attention like a dragon languidly uncoiling from a long winter’s sleep. When it is fully exposed it is magnificent.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Memo.
There are a few creative directors of independent perfume brands who have shared their personal bespoke fragrance with the wider public. I enjoy these expressions of how those creative directors desire to experience fragrance in their daily life. It informs how that translates to the rest of the brand. I had heard that Jan Ewoud Vos of Puredistance was going to be sharing his own perfume. When I finally received my sample and heard the story of Puredistance Aenotus it turned out to be slightly different.
Jan Ewoud Vos
The briefs for many of the Puredistance perfumes have been so interesting. For Aenotus it is perhaps the simplest brief as Mr. Vos asked perfumer Antoine Lie to create “my signature scent”. Mr. Vos had an idea a “perfume that would first refresh (then) transform into a sensual but subtle skin scent.” It presented many challenges not the least of which is defining the concept of refreshing from Mr. Vos’ perspective. I bet if I asked a hundred readers to define “refreshing” in a perfume I’d find little consensus. I find refreshing to be a mixture of citrus and herbs if I was directing someone to make this style of perfume that would be where I started. With Aenotus it seems like Mr. Vos and I have a similar, but not exact, vision of refreshing. The other part of that brief, to simmer down to a skin scent, is another tricky piece of engineering. M. Lie employs a set of heavier green notes to achieve that.
Aenotus opens with a fantastic flair of citrus notes, mandarin, yuzu, and petitgrain. It feels like a cool mist on a hot day. M. Lie then uses mint in its most herbal form to add a green aspect of freshness. I usually don’t like mint in perfume; that’s not the case here because the herbal is as present as the sweet. The linchpin ingredient of Aenotus is blackcurrant bud. This is one of those difficult to work with ingredients. If you go too high in concentration you get a urine-like effect. If you go too low, you get an insipid vegetal component. A perfumer must find the way the other ingredients can be guardrails preventing either extreme. In the first moments the blackcurrant bud appears it is complementing the mint with a sticky green quality. Over time as the citrus and mint fades it is the entry to the skin scent side of Aenotus. That skin scent accord is made up of oakmoss, patchouli, and a mix of synthetic woods. That sticky green finds the oakmoss; together they sing of green in a lower key. The patchouli adds depth and grounding. The synthetic woods provide a dry finish to it all.
Aenotus has 18-24 hour longevity and low sillage. This is 48% perfume oil it will last forever on fabric as well as skin.
The evolution of Aenotus has been enjoyable on the two very warm days I wore it. The refreshing part energizes me through the first part of the day before it settles into a pleasant skin scent. I don’t often get unsolicited compliments but one day I wore this was my weekly day of errands. The cashier at the grocery store, the clerk at the county office, and the waitress where I had lunch all remarked on how good I smelled. Aenotus might be Mr. Vos’ signature scent but I suspect there are going to be a lot of other people who find it to be theirs, too.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Puredistance.
Two of my best friends shared a love of wine with me. When we were in college together, we learned through experiencing what we could. I would say that is when we began to develop out ability to distinguish the different varieties of wine. Our shared knowledge would soar when we found ourselves living in the New York City area after graduation. I don’t remember which one of us found the book first but when we opened “Bordeaux: The Definitive Guide for the Wines Produced since 1961” by Robert M. Parker Jr. we were captured by the matter-of-fact talk about wine. Mr. Parker would become the most influential wine critic in the world because of it.
Robert M. Parker Jr.
Mr. Parker’s fascination with wine happened because of a girl he fancied. He followed her to Alsace France and besides finding his wife he also found French wine. When he returned to the US, he finished his law degree, but his inspiration was in a bottle of French wine. Over time he would realize the current wine publications were mainly shilling for the brands who advertised on their pages. He wanted to run a publication which survived only on subscriptions while producing unbiased wine reviews and commentary. “The Wine Advocate” was born in 1979. Mr. Parker would begin a career of visiting the wineries. In the early 1980’s he would correctly predict some of the great French Bordeaux vintages from barrel tastings. He would become especially known for being the first to laud the 1982 vintage using this method. Many others felt differently. My friends and I knew nothing of this. Our introduction was through his book.
“Bordeaux” was just what we needed as a reference text to refine our knowledge. Our experience had given us a foundation Mr. Parker would show us how to build our own chateau upon it. We could try the wines he wrote about and compare what we experienced with what he said he felt. We all came to love the style of wines from certain Chateaus he seemed less enthused about and vice versa. What we were gaining was our own personal critical perspective. It has provided a lifetime of pleasure for all three of us I believe.
Mr. Parker’s influence rose rapidly along with the subscribers to The Wine Advocate. He would become a champion of non-European wines. I know one of my favorite moments was tasting a Shiraz wine from Australia while thinking this is amazing for $6/bottle. Only to find in the next issue that Mr. Parker was writing about them, too. It is one of those times where I felt I had learned some of what he had to teach me. Whenever I try wines from a new region in the world I approach with an open mind because I have been rewarded most of the time.
There was a backlash to Mr. Parker by some who felt he had too large an influence on the wine-buying public with his ratings. That always felt like a false narrative to me. I followed his writing because he pointed me to wine I enjoyed. That was always the most important piece of Mr. Parker to me that wine was here to enjoy.
Which leads to my favorite story of my personal interaction with him. A local restaurant was having a wine tasting event with Mr. Parker in attendance. I couldn’t buy a ticket fast enough. It was a small affair and he spent time with each table taking questions and talking about what we were drinking. Someone who was less starstruck than I asked him if he ever visited any of his reader’s wine collections. He then told a story about being invited by a reader who he knew had an extensive collection to dinner. He was surprised when the hosts served younger wines. After the meal was done, he asked when they drank some of the wines in the cases around them. The host replied, “Never! We’re saving them!” Mr. Parker looked around our table and said to us “don’t do that, the joy of wine is in drinking it.” It is those words which have stuck with me.
This week Mr. Parker announced he was retiring from The Wine Advocate and from active reviewing. Because of his trailblazing The Wine Advocate has a staff that will continue the good work.
For me part of the way I write about perfume was directly affected by the way Mr. Parker approached wine. I try to approach every new fragrance with the same open mind he encouraged me to have about wine. I am always pleased when I find a new brand that I like because of it.
Tonight I’ll raise a toast to Robert M. Parker Jr. he made wine fun.
I’m not sure why it is the case but when I am on vacation at the beach, I drink cocktails which come with umbrellas in them. Fruity alchololic trifles meant to add to the fun of time away from home. This sense of fun is not found as often within fragrance as I would like. There isn’t a perfume bottle with an umbrella sticking out of it to let you know its time to kick back for fun. There might not be an umbrella sticking out of it but Thierry Mugler Angel Eau Croisiere is exactly what I’m talking about.
Three years ago Thierry Mugler began the evolution of Angel towards a new audience. The original Angel was a powerhouse. With Angel Muse there was a distinct effort to make the aesthetic less confrontational while retaining that special Angel magic. This was achieved by altering the gourmand heart of the original into something much lighter. I thought it was a brilliant re-invention of Angel. In the years since the subsequent releases haven’t captured that as well as I’d hoped; until Angel Eau Croisiere. Perfumer Sidonie Lancesseur does that by following a similar recipe infused with insouciance. It is fruits leading to a more transparent gourmand, but this carries a glint in its eye.
Angel Eau Croisiere opens with a trio of fruits which are both sweet and tart. Mme Lancesseur balances them right on that defining line. She also does something else quite clever. One of the fruits is listed as “blackcurrant sorbet”. This is conjecture but I think she uses a supercritical fluid extraction source of the blackcurrant. It gives the sense of the chill you see when you open up a quart of ice cream on a summer day and you see tendrils of frost rising from the surface. The blackcurrant has that chilly airy feeling. Grapefruit provides its typical citrusy sparkle. The star of the top accord is mango. This is the tart fleshy fruitiness kept to an opacity to not allow it to overwhelm the other two ingredients. This creates a joyful back and forth between fruits I don’t usually find. Then we head to the base where Mme Lancesseur chooses to follow the praline-focused base of Angel Muse instead of the chocolate-caramel version of the original. I extolled its use in Angel Muse. For Angel Eau Croisiere Mme Lancesseur employs it equally well. There is a nuttiness which goes nicely with the patchouli also present in the base. This is a gourmand with a light touch.
Angel Eau Croisiere has 16-18 hour longevity and average sillage.
Angel Eau Croisiere extends the trend I was so happy with in Angel Muse. Mme Lancesseur does it with a grin and an umbrella.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Thierry Mugler.
Like many perfume lovers as the weather warms up there are certainly styles of perfume which get pushed to the back of the shelf. As a writer on perfume I don’t always have the luxury of adhering to that completely. I have to take what comes no matter what the weather. It was a mixed blessing when I received my sample of Marc-Antoine Barrois Ganymede. That was because last year’s debut perfume Marc-Antoine Barrois B683 was a gorgeous refined leather perfume. Ganymede was said to be using the same leather accord. What I found was something delightfully different in both style and weight.
Quentin Bisch (l.) and Marc-Antoine Barrois (Photo: Fred Zara)
Marc-Antoine Barrois and perfumer Quentin Bisch were the creative team behind B683 and continue into Ganymede. I described B683 as the scent of luxurious leather. Ganymede is a lighter version of the same leather among an entirely different set of supporting notes. The name comes from the largest moon of Jupiter. This planet has captured the imagination because it has a large frozen salt-water ocean, a magnetic field, and traces of oxygen in its atmosphere. For the purposes of the perfume version Messrs. Barrois and Bisch imagine what would a frozen aquatic smell like over their leather accord.
Ganymede opens with a vibrant mandarin providing sunny citrus energy. Saffron provides a corona around the mandarin as a diffuse glow. The same leather accord of B683 comes in with a stealthy step. It almost infuses itself underneath the top accord. Then immortelle is used as the center of that “frozen ocean” accord. Immortelle is most often described as having a maple syrup-like scent profile. M. Bisch attenuates that in favor of the dried grass aspect it also contains. It is used to create that concentrated salinity you might imagine Ganymede the planet smelling like. Contrasted with the subtle vitality of the leather accord this is out of this world.
Ganymede has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Ganymede is a very transparent leather perfume. I rarely pull out my leather perfumes on a summer day. Ganymede will not fall in that category. I will happily wear this out on a midsummer’s evening. I am not sure if there is a trilogy of leather scents to be completed in the future from this creative team. I selfishly hope so. I also am quite curious to see what they might come up with in a non-leather style of perfume. If they can pull off a summer-weight leather it seems there is nothing out of their reach.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
Anyone who has read my writing knows how excited I get when a new perfumer catches my nose. At the end of 2017 I learned about Mackenzie Reilly with her first perfume release A Lab on Fire California Snow. She showed an uncommon skill to shift from dry to moist through precisely measured accords. I finished that review waiting to see what came next. It’s been more than a year but the release of A Lab on Fire Hossegor is that perfume.
I mention in nearly every A Lab on Fire review that the creative freedom given the perfumers by creative director Carlos Kusubayashi has resulted in some great things. To allow a senior perfumer working on her first commercial releases the opportunity to bring her vision to life in this environment must be a dream for Ms. Reilly. With Hossegor she repays that faith with another perfume of distinct phases.
Hossegor is the French surf town in the southern part where the waves from the Bay of Biscay provide a mecca. Ms. Reilly wanted to capture this sense of the coastal surf village. Her vision is of walking through a forest to reach the beach. As you stand at the interface of sand and trees the waves beckon you with an aquatic come-on. You dive in watching the horizon for a swell to ride. As she did in California Snow everything I described is realized as Hossegor develops.
It starts in that seaside forest. Ms. Reilly uses as the source of her pine tree scent the resin known as lentisque. It has a pine-like smell with resinous diffusion. It isn’t sharp, it is soft. Juniper berry is used to further add some tone to the pine-y top accord. As you emerge from the forest the smell of the ocean arrives with the bite of black pepper on the breeze. This turns the overall scent into a resinous aquatic. It turns subtly as olibanum and clary sage pick up on the resin and spice. The base does the same kind of switch from arid to moist as you get closer to the water. Ms. Reilly assembles an accord of mineralic ingredients to capture the water-soaked rocks. There is the breeze of white musks off those rock walls bringing a tiny thread of green from the moss. Time to stop looking and dive in.
Hossegor has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Hossegor is a fascinating perfume of different emotional moments stitched together through the intelligent use of precise materials. I said I couldn’t wait to see what was next for Ms. Reilly; thanks to Mr. Kusubayashi her precocious talent was set free on a surf beach in France.
Disclosure: This review is based upon a sample provided by A Lab on Fire.