I woke up Wednesday morning and over breakfast started scanning Facebook. I came upon a post by the talented Karen Dubin in which she wrote an open letter to Hollywood asking where the Movie Stars have gone. I responded that there are plenty of movie stars who are not fake creations as those original Movie Stars are. If you want to see all the discussion here is the link to the Facebook thread. I think it was a great conversation covering many topics and one responder David Garten made an interesting comment that has been percolating the rest of the week. His response was we have celebrities instead of Movie Stars. I think that is correct and I thought I’d expand on that a bit for this week’s The Sunday Magazine.
I’ve spent too much time reading about those Movie Stars and what they were forced to go through to want a return to that. Almost every great actor or actress you would call a Movie Star was shaped by unhealthy influences led by the studio hierarchy. They understood their overall success was in also creating a tier of human beings who were looked upon as near-perfect. It is one of the fascinations when it comes to Marilyn Monroe because she couldn’t live the artificial goddess script in her day-to-day life. It probably killed her. It was also the first unraveling of this unhealthy system as it became obvious these Stars were just stars.
Much of the reason for that was also the spread of television. They began to show up on talk shows and other unscripted forms of video and the façade would crack in those situations. That effect of video has only intensified over the fifty years since it began. It is the insatiable need for video content that I believe has created the celebrity.
The biggest problem with celebrity is it doesn’t require talent. Whatever I think of the system that created Movie Stars they were talented. Celebrity requires a camera paired with the willingness to do anything to bring eyes to it. The plethora of reality shows following a family, newlyweds, little people, fat people, a rainbow of different sexual people prove that. These celebrities are out and about, and they get the same treatment as any actor or actress receives. They end up on red carpets and on commercials same as those who act for a living. It has diminished movie stars to lower caps status because they are lumped in with the celebrities.
There are many who I believe are healthier versions of movie stars who can maybe find a 21st century way of capitalizing the name again. The two which sprung to mind when reading Ms. Dubin’s post were George Clooney and Jennifer Lawrence. I believe they are two of the most talented movie stars we have; among many others. I also believe they have found different ways to leverage the celebrity part.
Mr. Clooney has turned his career into a multi-faceted movie operation. He is a fascinating actor on screen. He has used the clout of being a leading man to get small movies into production. The 2012 Best Picture winner “Argo” was made because he was a producer. He is the only person nominated for Academy Awards in six different categories. That is one of my favorite trivia questions by the way. Only a few have ever gotten it right. Beyond that resume he was also the “Most Eligible Bachelor in Hollywood” until he married his wife Amal Alamuddin four years ago. He has used his celebrity to bring visibility to causes he believes in. it started with his illumination of the Darfur conflict. His celebrity elevated it from the small print to the larger print nearer the front of the newspaper. This is the good side of celebrity. Mr. Clooney and Ms. Alamuddin have continued that use of their celebrity.
George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin (l.)
Jennifer Lawrence is a marvel. Ever since I saw her performance in 2010’s “Winter’s Bone” I realized this was a movie star. When I think of the Movie Stars they had an ability to convey dark emotions with a charismatic style. You are drawn to the flame because their quality draws you into it. Ms. Lawrence has that more than any actress I can think of today. She has gone on to win many Oscar nominations while also being part of a large action franchise, The Hunger Games and X-Men. she has shown a versatility on screen and is just beginning to flex her clout behind the scenes. She is writing scripts, with Amy Schumer, and producing movies she wants to see made; “Burial Rites” about the last woman executed for murder in Iceland. When it comes to her celebrity she is seen living life with a kind of silly charm. She is up for almost anything a late-night talk show host asks of her. I watch her and wonder if Marilyn Monroe had been born today if she would have also been allowed to indulge her silly side. It might have saved Ms. Monroe’s life. For Ms. Lawrence she has achieved all of this before she is 30; quite amazing. She has so far found celebrity to be fun while presenting herself on screen as one of our best actresses.
I’m not sure if we will ever have Movie Stars again. I’m not sure if I want that. I am sure that there are enough like Mr. Clooney or Ms. Lawrence who have found the balance between movie star and celebrity there will be others. What will be nice is they won’t be god-like Movie Stars they will be Movie Stars who seem like us.
It has been a few weeks since the new edition of Perfumes: The Guide by Tania Sanchez and Luca Turin was published. Within the perfume community the book was received with the same amount of glee and teeth gnashing the original volume got ten years ago. Once the debate on the actual rating of specific perfumes died down another conversation appeared. One which focused on where perfume criticism exists today.
One of the often-repeated phrases I heard was that there is so little frank negative perfume writing that the sharpest barbs sunk even deeper. Ms. Sanchez and Mr. Turin can slice a perfume to shreds in, seemingly, less than 280 characters. When I agree, there is a sense of validation. When I disagree, there is a curiosity about why I perceive the same fragrance so differently. One of the things about The Guide which has happened on both publications is the perfumes at the extremes 1-star or 5-star were what I re-examined.
Which leads to the current landscape of perfume blogs and vlogs. In 2018 we now have a perfume way of communicating for every taste. I have spent some time randomly sampling some of the wider vlog reviewers beyond the handful I watch regularly. There was a wider ranging style than I suspected. There are nearly all perspectives being covered by a vlog or two. The one thing I didn’t find was anyone who had an actively negative component. I could see all the videos going back for over a year when I searched up a particular vlogger and I looked for a title which indicated content which was less than positive. Even those were not that hard on the specific perfume being discussed.
Blogs are almost no different; including me. There are a few more blogs where the writer has a more critical eye and expresses that opinion freely. They are some of the more popular blogs which means it connects with readers who want this kind of discussion about perfume.
I’m not interested in actively joining their ranks. I’ve mentioned this previously. I do not see myself as a perfume expert. I see myself as an experienced enthusiast. The more I learn the more questions I have. Writing about fragrance comes from a place of joy within. I’ve never enjoyed tearing something down. Which is why there are few pieces which carry a negative critical perspective. If you read between the lines you can find my opinion of some perfumes I don’t care for, but it isn’t given its own review for me to expound upon.
Where does that leave us as it applies to The Guide and those of us communicating about perfume on YouTube and WordPress? I would answer that all of us are inviting a reader/subscriber to come along with us as we take our trip through the perfumed world. That journey is informed with the intentionality of the author. I don’t think it has to be negative to have value. I don’t think it has to be positive to have value. I think it must come from a genuine desire to communicate about perfume. After a few weeks of actively looking I think that is exactly where we find perfume criticism in 2018
If Gucci is going to regain a prominence in designer fragrances it is going to require first and foremost, consistency. Ever since Tom Ford left the brand the fragrance aspect drifted in search of a new aesthetic. For a decade Gucci became an afterthought when it came to perfume. The naming of Alessandro Michele as creative director has, once again, provided someone who believes fragrance is an important piece of the Gucci aesthetic.
A year ago, with the release of Gucci Bloom the first perfume overseen by Sig. Michele showed a change. Even though Bloom was an extremely simple construct it found a way of combining jasmine and tuberose while providing a transparency with the substance of Kevlar. Over the past year the Gucci fragrance releases have made me look forward to each one as the consistency I was looking for was being built release by release. I was particularly impressed with the spring flanker Bloom Acqua di Fiori which took the simplicity of Bloom and covered it in green. By starting simple it meant that the flanker could be drastically changed with an overt choice to supply something different than the white flowers. This was why when receiving Bloom Nettare di Fiori, which is the fall flanker, I was curious to see what was next.
So far in this mini revival of the Gucci perfume fortunes Sig. Michele has been working exclusively with perfumer Alberto Morillas. There are few who are as good as M. Morillas at creating pillars and flankers which are not cynical replays. If Bloom Acqua di Fiori was the greening of Bloom then Bloom Nettare di Fiori is the spicing up of Bloom. It is accomplished by adding in three key ingredients; ginger, osmanthus, and patchouli.
Just as the Bloom Acqua di Fiori opened with the green; Bloom Nettare di Fiore opens with the ginger. M. Morillas leads with a healthy dose of it. It is laid out to provide a spicy entry way to the floral Bloom DNA of jasmine and tuberose. Rose comes and provides an introduction before allowing the ginger, tuberose, and jasmine to mingle. M. Morillas finds a balance where the zing of ginger meshes with the lightly indolic white flowers. I am impressed anew with how M. Morilas manages to make a transparency which also projects strength. The base comes with a leathery osmanthus paired with an earthy patchouli. It provides a bit more heft than the previous two editions of Bloom but that’s what makes it a fall-style perfume.
Bloom Nettare di Fiore has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I don’t know what’s next for Gucci but through the six releases since Bloom, last year, they have become a designer brand which has returned to relevance. They are doing it by getting better and better with each release. Bloom Nettare di Fiore is another along that line.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Gucci.
As August begins we are right in the middle of the period of summer called the “dog days”. They have been called that because of the rise of the dog star, Sirius, not because canines are in charge. Although here in Poodlesville the canines are always in charge. The Greeks associated the rising of one of the brightest stars in the sky with the hottest days of summer. This is also the part of summer where things seem to slow to a crawl. Even in my free time I just want to find a shady place to snooze. I also need a fragrance which also wants to take it easy; Aerin Eclat de Vert was what I look for in that.
I was not the biggest fan of Aerin Lauder’s eponymous line when it first came out in 2013. For the first few years there was too much, too fast coming. I felt that if there was just a little more time taken there could have been something I would have appreciated more. I figured I wasn’t the desired audience and moved on. Until the beginning of last year when I tried Linen Rose. It impressed me with a fully realized beachy rose. Hibiscus Palm was another winner for me earlier this year. I had enjoyed both of those so much I looked forward to Eclat de Vert.
Eclat de Vert is based on Ms. Lauder’s memories of summers in the south of France. It is funny because it is also reminiscent of my memories of childhood summers in the south of Florida. What seems to be common to both experiences is that moment when the green leaves and grass have overtaken the flowers as the predominant scent. Perfumer Honorine Blanc captures this.
That sense of green opens with a gauzy veil of galbanum underneath which lemon shimmers with shaded sunlight. A set of green ingredients form a leafy accord while the galbanum takes a more prominent position. A set of florals provide backing vocals instead of focal point as jasmine, magnolia, rose and iris form the quartet. Magnolia sings a little louder than the others providing a smooth creamy contrast to the building green. Vetiver provides the green grounding in the base to which mastic adds a terpene-like edgier green at the end.
Eclat de Vert has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Eclat de Vert reminded me of those early days of August. School is still a few weeks away and I was happy to sit under a tree and let the sun shine through the canopy as my eyelids drooped. When I breathed in, Eclat de Vert is very close to what I smelled.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Nordstrom.
If you’re reading this review and feel like you have read it before; you have. Bottega Veneta has been one of the better designer brands to make the transition to mainstream perfumes. Two years ago, they decided to release a different collection called Parco Palladiano.
Creative director Tomas Maier was inspired by Italian architect Andrea Palladio’s 16th century villa in Vicenze called La Rotonda. Parco Palladiano is meant to be a collection featuring one of the things growing around the villa. Over nine releases that desire to make a soliflore has been pushed to a literal extreme as most of the collection is just what the bottle promises and nothing else. There might be a few different extracts layered together but overall most of the collection never moves beyond that. The only one which captured my attention from the first nine was Parco Palladiano V because besides sage it also had laurel and rosemary to help make the sage a soaring aromatic.
When I received the six newest additions to the collection I felt the same way I had when experiencing the others. X is a woody olive tree. XI is woody chestnut. XII is woody oak. Sense a theme yet? XIII is the smell of grass. XIV is pomegranate. That is all there is with nothing else. If you like those smells and want a perfume which never changes while you are wearing it; they are well-done just terribly boring to me for not allowing supplementary ingredients to show off the keynote.
In what is an odd bit of symmetry I am again drawn to only one of these new releases XV Salvia Blu. It is also meant to be a soliflore of sage. It is also bracketed by two supplementary notes which provide a softer presence than in V. Perfumer Quentin Bisch makes a soliflore which has more to it than the central ingredient.
As it was in V the sage is present right away, but its greener aspects are more muted for a fresher aromatic scent. Lavender complements and amplifies this effect as its dual nature of herbal and floral meshes with the sage. As this is happening on one side a spicy rose is also arriving on the other side. As the florals appear the sage becomes more extroverted pushing the florals to the background. This is where XV stays for hours.
Parco Palladiano XV has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Fifteen entries in I am guessing I am not the intended audience and there is a desire for this kind of single ingredient perfumery. As the only two which I enjoyed also had to contain something besides the sage keynote. Just goes to support my hypothesis from the first Parco Palladiano review; soliflores aren’t easy.
Disclosure: this review is based on samples provided by Bottega Veneta.
At the beginning of the month in the Under the Radar column I wrote about Providence Perfume Co. Moss Gown. In the last paragraph I mentioned that I found I had missed a new release earlier this year. By the next morning I was contacted and told a sample had been sent but returned to sender. It was quickly dispatched back to me. What greeted me in Providence Perfume Co. Vientiane is another example of why independent perfumer Charna Ethier is among our best.
I visited Ms. Ethier a couple years ago in her home base of Providence, RI. Through her early releases there was a delicacy of certain notes I had noticed. In the ingredient roster there were always lists of tinctures. I knew what they were, but Ms. Ethier schooled me that day on them. For those who would like to learn more than I am about to write I point you to a blog post by Ms. Ethier from 2012 where she goes into greater depth. In short, a tincture is the use of dried fragrant botanical material soaked in perfumer’s alcohol. The material is continually filtered out and replaced every few days. Once it has reached a desired scent profile it can be used.
You can see how this is the ideal ingredient for an independent perfumer. It provides a uniqueness that only comes from a particular creative. For Ms. Ethier these tinctures have provided some of the most fascinating undercurrents to her perfumes. In Vientiane she uses a jasmine rice tincture as the river upon which she floats three different sources of sandalwood.
The name Vientiane comes from the capital city of Laos. The jasmine rice tincture adds a steamy humidity to the sandalwood core reminiscent of sitting on the side of the Mekong in the city itself.
Vientiane opens with an Indiana Jones-like scent of using a machete to cut through vines. It is vegetal and very green. It catches your attention and then as you hack it away you are left looking at a structure of sandalwood as if uncovered for the first time. By the coloration you see there are three types of sandalwood. A typical creamy version, a drier desiccated version, and a lighter version used as modulator. Underneath all of this is the jasmine rice tincture. Ms. Ethier sent me a little vial of it along with my sample of the perfume. Once I had the chance to smell its steamy toasty fragrance I was able to detect it sending its tendrils up through the sandalwood. This is where Vientiane remains with a surprisingly complex sandalwood on display for hours.
Vientiane has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
If you are a colognoisseur of sandalwood perfumes Vientiane should be part of your collection. It is an entirely unique take transformed by the magic of the jasmine rice tincture into something very special.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Providence Perfume Co.
When I was Boy Scout I was told of the value of natural wildfires. Caused, hopefully, by lightning strikes instead of careless humans. A natural fire clears away the old and ushers in the new. One of the most dramatic examples I would ever encounter was hiking through a part of Yellowstone National Park which had succumbed to a very large wildfire the year before I was there. After having walked through the more typical rolling green it was striking to come to an area where everything had been scorched back to nothing. The skeletal charred wood still gave off a smoky scent on the misty day I walked among them. As I looked around I saw the beginnings of new shoots pushing up from the ashy ground. I realized it would be wonderful to return in a few years to see what came of this.
Smoke in perfume is problematic for me because it can too easily become overwhelming. That subtler yet softer smoky haze I encountered that day in Yellowstone is not often found in a perfume. When I received my sample of Atelier des Ors Bois Sikar I was strongly reminded of that.
Marie Salamagne (Photo: Jerome Bonnet)
Atelier des Ors is another of the more recent brands which has drawn my attention because of the quality of their collection. Owner and creative director Jean-Philippe Clermont has chosen to work with a single perfumer, Marie Salamagne, over the first eleven releases. Bois Sikar is the latest addition to the main collection.
According to the press release Bois Sikar was inspired by the smell of cigars in a cedar box along with a glass of fine peaty whiskey. If I was attuned to it in a different way I probably could have seen all of that. Instead Mme Salamagne made a perfume that, for me, lived up to its translation “smoking wood”.
Mme Salamagne opens with her charred wood accord. It stays present throughout the entire development. First a sweetness due to nutmeg comes through the smoke. This reminded me of the sweetgrass which was growing among the blackened timbers. The whisky accord comes next and it is, as promised, very peaty. Which reminded me of deep rich earth instead of booze. Clean shoots of cedar and vetiver carry more of the new growth vibe. Tobacco only shows up in the final stages and it is a nice bit of typical smokiness at the end.
Bois Sikar has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
As I mentioned this is meant to be a cigars and booze style of perfume; which it probably will be for most. In my case it was the natural scent of a year after a wildfire as life returns to the ashes.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Atelier des Ors.
I write about perfume because it fascinates me and writing about it allows me to gather my thoughts about it. Writing this weekly The Sunday Magazine has allowed me to do that for other passions of mine. One of the joys of writing this blog has been the ability to share a bit of myself through what I write here. That others not only read but keep it in mind makes every minute I spend on it worth it. One of those readers has figured out my affection for my birthplace of S. Florida. She also read a recent The Sunday Magazine column on a collection of short stories, Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin, where I wondered if the form was becoming obsolete. A few weeks ago, she sent me an e-mail with a recommendation; Florida by author Lauren Groff. I downloaded it and devoured it during a recent road trip.
Lauren Groff has been one of the most successful authors of the last few years. There have been many times I’ve almost downloaded one of her three previous novels: The Monsters of Templeton, Arcadia, or Fates and Furies. Fates and Furies was a highly acclaimed novel in which the story of a marriage was told from the perspective of the husband then the wife. These three books have resulted in her being named a Guggenheim Fellow earlier this year.
For Florida, Ms. Groff who lives in Gainesville, Florida; tells stories which seemingly could only take place there. Almost all of the eleven entries take place there. There are a few that don’t take place in Florida but reference it. None so savagely as when one narrator realizes it is where she feels most at home.
All of the stories are told from a woman’s narration. Ms. Groff enjoys playing with the gauzy veil between reality and fantasy. There are unreal elements that I am left questioning if they are hallucination or actuality. The writing crosses back and forth seamlessly.
The beauty of a short story is it allows an author a freedom to plumb that delicate line in a kind of overheated style. Two hundred pages of it would be too much. Fifteen pages is just right. When a character refers to looking into people’s windows at night as she walks through the neighborhood as “domestic aquariums” it rings with truth and archness.
Many of the stories carry a particular undercurrent of fear as hurricanes, concussions, snakes, and alligators all lurk on the periphery. Each story carries its own collection of them.
When I finished the book, I realized that many of the stories were told by a mother of two boys. No names are used, and I wonder if those stories are meant to be connected.
Ms. Groff captures the Florida psyche well because she lives there. I think it takes someone who experiences day in and day out to understand the precipice the state is perched upon. Without saying it as plain as I just did Ms. Groff uses the eleven stories in Florida to say the same thing.
When it comes to the scents of summer most of us think of beaches, fruits, and green growing things. I was reminded of another less referenced scent of summer with some road construction in front of my house; tar. Birch tar has been one of the key components of leather accords. Even though the overall effect is that of tanned cowhide when I wear these perfumes there is also a hint of country blacktop, too. Here are five of my favorite tar perfumes.
In 1927 Chanel perfumer Ernest Beaux would use birch tar as the key ingredient in his “Russian leather” accord. It would be the beginning of its widespread use for nearly the next 100 years. Cuir de Russie has been a part of the Les Exclusifs collection and it shows off a raw tanned leather as the name promises. M. Beaux tempers it with the use of aldehydes, jasmine, and sandalwood. Don’t kid yourself though this is all about the leather; gloriously so.
Two years before Cuir de Russie perfumers Francois Coty and Vincent Roubert produced an unabashedly straightforward leather fragrance, Knize Ten. The perfumers make one of the most full-bodied leather perfumes ever. Their accord reminds me of not only birch tar but the motor oil scent of a garage. It might sound unpleasant, but it is mesmerizing to me. A musky patchouli sandalwood base accord is the main complement to the uber-leather accord.
I leave it to Comme des Garcons to give me the exact scent of overheated asphalt. In 2004’s Series 6 Synthetic: Tar perfumer Nathalie Feisthauer accomplishes it. She uses birch tar as the nucleus but expertly weaves in styrax, castoreum, and opoponax. It is exactly what the road in front of my house smells like this month. It is this aesthetic which has elevated Comme des Garcons above so many of their contemporaries.
Just as Tar is emblematic of the creativity at Comme des Garcons the existence of Le Labo Patchouli 24 does the same for that brand. Perfumer Annick Menardo finds the intersection of birch tar and patchouli to create a fascinating pungency. That she adds in a bit of sweet vanilla as contrast to it only serves to delineate it all. Another great perfume from one of the true innovators of niche perfumery.
Even though it was the smell of summer road work which got me in to this column; Sonoma Scent Studio Winter Woods is how you use tar along with cade wood to create that winter haze of woodsmoke. Those two ingredients form one of the most intense woodsmoke accords I have. Independent perfumer Laurie Erickson spends the rest of the development taming the smoke with warm amber, clean cedar, green vetiver, and sweet sandalwood. It is among the best that this talented artisanal perfumer has produced.
As I look back over this list it might be the most imaginative list I’ve produced for this series. Every one of these perfumes are among the best of the brands and styles described. If you love perfume this is something to get on the road to try.
Disclosure: this review is based on bottles I purchased.
The way we all experience perfume is unique to each nose. We can agree that something smells like a rose. From there it might remind one of us as a cosmetic rose; another might see it as a fresh cut stem. The difference of perception is why one person’s holy grail fragrance is another’s scrubber. It also carries over when I hear from others about a perfume. I tend to have to battle through that to find my personal interpretation. This would be the situation with Blackbird Y06-S.
Blackbird is the Seattle, Washington-based brand owned and creatively directed by Nicole Miller. I have met Ms. Miller on a few occasions and one of the things which delights me about her is her fearlessness at producing perfume. Particularly over the last couple years, nothing which has the Blackbird label on the bottle is produced to be easy. Ms. Miller embraces an aesthetic which asks the wearer to confront their idea of what fragrance means to them. I also admire that Ms. Miller doesn’t feel the necessity to produce new product every few months.
Y06-S was released at the end of 2017, but it has taken six months to find its way to me. In my community of fellow perfume lovers, it has been one of the things I have been most asked about which I did not have the chance to try. The consensus description was it smells like bananas and skanky jasmine. Sounded like something I would like. When I received my sample a few weeks ago and sprayed some on a strip it was bananas and jasmine but that’s not what came up in my mind’s eye. Y06-S smells like my organic chemistry lab.
There is a reason for this disconnect. The organic molecule in banana oil is isopentyl acetate. Ms. Miller, as perfumer on Y06-S, uses a lot of this to produce her banana effect. For me it crosses from banana to chemical. This is not unpleasant in any way, but it is because I work with so many esters in a laboratory setting it is sort of the ambient sweet smell of a research lab. What is also the ambient scent of a laboratory is the heated electronics of the equipment. Ms. Miller wanted to use a metallic accord as contrast to the banana overdose. It achieves that but instead of contrast it completes the laboratory accord for my nose. The indole-laden skanky jasmine does come next. This will provide a floral complement to the strong fruit for most. For me the indoles are just more of the lab milieu. A figurative pinch of oud provides more of that as it amplifies the indoles over the floral in jasmine.
Y06-S has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Ms. Miller has continued the avant-garde aesthetic Blackbird is becoming synonymous with. Most others are going to smell a skanky banana; which it is. I just have a different view. Y06-S reminds me of happy days working in the lab. It is all a matter of perspective except that Ms. Miller is one of our most daring independent perfume producers.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Blackbird.