My annual grumpiness at rose being the only spring flower has been better over the last year. That isn’t to say I’m not giving a pile of samples which all have rose in their name a sidelong glance. One way this will change is for there to be alternatives. One of the releases from a new brand, Kabeah Lily Cherie, proves it can be done.
Khedija Ben Ayed
Kabeah was founded in the spring of 2018 by Khedija Ben Ayed. According to the website Mme Ben Ayed wanted to capture memories of her childhood by the Mediterranean in pastel floral tones. The perfumer she turned to is Stephanie Bakouche. Together they have lived up to their brief in the first four releases.
Belle Epine is the seemingly obligatory rose entry. It is a typical dewy spring rose with a slight twist of green. Nuit de Jasmin uses another stalwart floral as green overlays an expansive jasmine. In Secret de K the creative team lets the green free as it is built around the “green rose” of geranium. A touch of strawberry is cleverly placed. The one which engaged me most was Lily Cherie.
A couple of the reasons I was drawn to Lily Cherie was the aesthetic of weaving green notes through an opaque floral. In the other three it was a bit of the usual suspects providing that coloring. For Lily Cherie it is a combination of galbanum and green tea which threads its way through the titular lily.
Mme Bakouche likes mandarin as a place setter for the Mediterranean vibe; using it in the top of three of the four debut releases. In Lily Cherie the mandarin is matched with a precise amount of galbanum. It provides an abstract citrus accord which becomes even more as green tea becomes part of it. The lily of the valley blooms out of those green notes. Mme Bakouche softens and rounds out the lily with some honeysuckle accord. It keeps it spring fresh. A fruit accord forms a contrast to the lily. The green woodiness of cedar pulls the thread begun by the galbanum and green tea through to the base. A satisfyingly expansive cocktail of white musks are where this finishes.
Lily Cherie has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Lily Cherie is a different kind of spring floral while still retaining the freshness any spring rose brings to perfume. It is also a good start for a new brand which I’ll be keeping an eye on.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I received from Kabeah.
The current landscape of new perfume brands is a minefield which has many casualties to claim. Even the best brands can succumb to something unexpected outside the bounds of the perfume itself. There are brands who have such a clear aesthetic right from the beginning I root for them to come through the other side of this process. One which has seemingly made a safe transit through the danger zone is Vilhelm Parfumerie.
Jerome Epinette (l.) amf Jan Ahlgren
Founded in spring 2015 by owner-creative director Jan Ahlgren it has many of the things I believe are important to succeed. One is finding a perfumer who understands your vision. Mr. Ahlgren has done this in perfumer Jerome Epinette. Theirs seems like an ideal creative partnership. The perfumes they have produced speak to that. Another piece of the puzzle is to convey your style of perfume coherently. Mr. Ahlgren has coupled his love of Golden Age Hollywood with perfume of location as he has designed scents around places he has lived. Vilhelm is one of the brands where the press release represents the perfume in the bottle. Finally, the brand must continue to develop beyond its beginnings. In 2018 the perfumes with Vilhelm on the label have all taken on a “sweet” style that wasn’t evident in the earlier releases. The third release of 2018, Moon Carnival, completes that trend.
The backstory is about a man from Rio who falls in love with a dancer. Her favorite flower is tuberose. To display his love the man traveled the world. Each new bloom of tuberose he found he decorated the moon with. Messrs. Ahlgren and Epinette bring this story to life with tropical fruit and tuberose before landing on a subtle gourmand base accord.
M. Epinette uses passionfruit as an ingredient to locate us in the tropics. This is a beautifully balanced use of this seldom used fruity ingredient. The transition to the tuberose is begun with freesia and gardenia first. As the tuberose gains traction it becomes a compelling partner with the passionfruit. At this point I was imagining the Brazilian dancer from the story. What comes next is a clever shift to an opaque gourmand base. If you aren’t looking for it, you have to wait a bit for the fruity floral fireworks to settle a bit. What M. Epinette does is to take the fluffy sticky sweet marshmallow we all recognize and turn into a meringue-like version; light and frothy. Tonka bean adds a vanilla tint without becoming too treacly. Vetiver arrives as a woody foundation later.
Moon Carnival has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Moon Carnival adds to the Vilhelm style of “sweet” which is best described as subtly transparent. It affirms that this brand will keep evolving as it continues forward. The sweet tuberose of Moon Carnival is proof of that.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Vilhelm Parfumerie.
I think you can tell I enjoy cooking. It is a kind of chemistry on its own. I also like to be able to improvise a bit while following recipes. Which means the more complicated the recipe the less freedom I have to do that. About three years ago I discovered a website which fits my style because of its ability to improvise on the recipes. The website is The Cookie Rookie.
The discovery is all from Mrs. C as she received a link to this recipe for oven baked chicken tacos. When I went to the website I looked to see who The Cookie Rookie was. Her name is Rebecca Hardin or just Becky when she’s writing on the website. She was newly married in her early-30’s and had never cooked at home. The early posts are Becky figuring it out. The later posts are an intuitive synthesis of what she learned by doing, combined with an ability to make delicious meals quickly and easily. Which brings me back to those tacos.
Rebecca "Becky" Hardin
When Mrs. C sent me the recipe, I didn’t realize it was going to become the foundation for dozens of meals over the last three years. It is the kind of recipe which has been so flexible I have been able to use it in so many ways it never seems the same. For the original post here is the link. It is the most popular recipe on the site.
If you want specifics click on the link but the basics are these. Take any cooked meat; chicken in the original. I’ve used almost any leftover meat you can imagine. To some sautéed onions in a pan I add the meat, diced tomatoes, and some diced jalapenos. Spice it up with taco powder. Stir for a few minutes. Then line the bottom of a taco shell with a layer of refried beans followed by a scoop of the mixture from the pan. Cover with cheese; lots of cheese. Cook in the oven for ten minutes and you’re done.
These have become the only way I want tacos now. The variations are I’ve added a bit of yellow rice to the pan to provide a kind of fried rice texture. I’ve added whole beans to the skillet mixture instead of using refried beans. I think I’ve tried every kind of bean on the shelf by now. My favorite bean to use in this way are Cuban pink beans. I’ve coated them in guacamole and enchilada sauce after baking. I think you can see how it can be used often without becoming boring.
The Cookie Rookie is full of recipes like this. My current new obsession is the ravioli lasagna recipe. I’ve only made it three times but just like the tacos I’m having a lot of fun changing it up as I go.
If you’re looking for a down-to-earth cooking website you should give The Cookie Rookie a click.
As I spend my days trying new perfume there are typical parameters the great majority of them fall within. Only rarely do I come across a perfume which gleefully colors outside the lines. It will never be a fragrance which imparts comfort or prettiness. It is a perfume meant to confront the wearer’s idea of what perfume is meant to do. If it succeeds at doing this it almost by definition is going to be Under the Radar; this month’s choice Kinski is an example of that.
Kinski was released by perfumer Geza Schoen in 2011. He timed it to coincide with the 20th anniversary of actor Klaus Kinski’s death. Klaus Kinski was a towering personality which transferred to his acting where he portrayed larger-than-life characters. He was loved by the media because he enjoyed displaying an engaging kind of oddness. His most famous quote is a good indication, “One should judge a man mainly from his depravities. Virtues can be faked. Depravities are real.” When it came to be designing a fragrance to represent that personality Hr. Schoen came up with a larger-than-life enchantingly odd celebration of fragrance depravity.
Kinski is one of Hr. Schoen’s most densely constructed fragrances of his career. It starts with deep accords and spends the next few hours diving deeper. Any perfume which opens with castoreum in the top accord should give you a sense of that.
Besides castoreum there is schinus molle, juniper berry, and blackcurrant bud. Each of these pungent pieces are balanced into a fantastic top accord. The near urinous aspect of blackcurrant buds the gin-like aspect of juniperberry and the herbal-ness of schinus molle combine into a swaggering effect. As it moves to a heart of familiar florals a marijuana accord finds Kinski toking in the flower garden. By the time the base of costus, patchouli, benzoin, and styrax over woods arrive we are knee-deep in something depraved.
Kinski has 24-hour longevity and average sillage.
Kinski is a perfume of strong emotions. It is probably why it isn’t mentioned more often. It is one of the most unique creations in Hr. Schoen’s career. So much that I wonder whether this is him telling us some truth about what is “real”.
If you are a fan of bold perfume Kinski should be on your radar.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
I am always drawn to the ocean. Growing up in S. Florida imprinted it in my soul. I have been fortunate to expand my horizons. To stand next to the crashing waves on different shores than the ones of my youth. One which has become my second favorite is what I found on the west coast of the US. These are rocky coastlines which are edged with shore pine lined escarpments. The scent of the pines mixed with the cold brine of the ocean is amazing. There aren’t a lot of perfumes which go for this when they want to make an aquatic; Tom Ford Private Blend Costa Azzurra Acqua does.
Back in 2014 as part of the first expansion of the Neroli Portofino collection in the blue bottles Costa Azzurra was released. I enjoyed it because it reminded me of summer days beachcombing as a boy. Five years later the same perfumer, Yann Vasnier, is behind Costa Azzurra Acqua. In the original M. Vasnier used a dry woody accord to represent driftwood. In this new perfume he uses the shore pine as his woody piece of the perfume. He also finds a chillier aquatic accord to represent the denser feel of the ocean when it is cold. This is what comes together in Costa Azzurra Acqua.
That colder accord is composed of juniper berry, lemon, and myrtle. Each ingredient is noticeable on its own until they mesh into this mineralic ocean accord. This is the smell of cold swells crashing against rocks. As you look up the slope you get a hint of the pines as the breeze brings a clean pine-tinted woodiness courtesy of cypress. As you get closer the sticky sap of the trees becomes more apparent as M. Vasnier uses mastic and labdanum to represent that. Everything comes together into a satisfying whole.
Costa Azzurra Acqua has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
I must mention this because I know it is important to some; this might have the least longevity of any Private Blend. I don’t care but this comes together in a fantastically realized accord which only holds together for a short period of time. It means I am going to go through my sample a lot quicker, but I am okay with that.
I usually don’t reach for aquatics in the cooler weather; Costa Azzurra Acqua was nice on the cooler days I tested it. Which I think means it will be a great winter-to-spring choice. I can imagine myself standing on a Pacific coastline as the shore pines scent the air.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.
I would not say 2018 will go down as a creative apex for the fragrance side of Christian Dior. My thoughts on the travesty of Joy by Dior are well-known. The brand’s insistence on releasing new perfumes which smell nothing like the old perfume while retaining the name; another peeve. In the past I’ve overlooked these because of the La Collection Privee. That was where the soul of Dior fragrance lived. If in-house perfumer Francois Demachy was making that collection with the creativity that was apparent, I didn’t care what was going on at the mall. Then they had to complete their wrecking ball of 2018 and ruin that.
In the middle of 2018 they replaced La Collection Privee with a new collection folding some of those into the Maison Christian Dior collection. This was twelve new releases plus the holdovers from La Collection Privee. It was overall a mess. Proving even a talented perfumer like M. Demachy does not have an endless well of creativity. There were some bright lights but compared to the earlier collection they seemed less substantial in a every meaning of that word.
In the past as my desk starts to become covered in upcoming floral spring releases, I would look for a sample of the new La Collection Privee to lift my spirits. I stared at the sample of this year’s Maison Christian Dior Holy Peony with apprehension; equal parts hope and dismay. The reality falls somewhere in the middle.
Like all the new Maison Christian Dior releases, heck all the recent Dior releases; M. Demachy has embraced the trend of transparency. In most of the cases in the Maison Christian Dior collection that produced insipid perfume. in the too rare cases where it did come together the result was slight without becoming complete. Holy Peony manages to find a better finish to a transparent fruity floral.
Holy Peony is a mix of berries combined with apricot rose. It comes together in a familiar fruity floral accord. What sets it apart is a suite of synthetic woods and musks are used to expand that accord. The base notes provide a warmth while attenuating the fruity floral-ness by inflation. Using those synthetic base notes are what make Holy Peony a better than average spring floral.
Holy Peony has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
These past few months have felt like I am sifting through the wreckage of a once great maison de parfum. That there are still some things worth the effort stand for something.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Christian Dior.
One of my favorite columns to write during my first five years was Perfume 101. By looking at a brand while trying to pick five perfumes which represent it was most often illuminating. The only problem was there was a finite list which deserved that kind of scrutiny. After 41 editions of Perfume 101 I thought it was time to matriculate to a more advanced level. For the foreseeable future I am going to focus on the career of a perfumer in what I’m calling Perfumer 201.
One of the perfumers who has most benefited from the niche perfume expansion is Dominique Ropion. M. Ropion was there at the beginning of it; allying him to Editions de Parfum Frederic Malle right at the start. If I wanted to be lazy, I could just list the perfumes he has done for that brand; modern masterpieces like Carnal Flower or Portrait of a Lady among them. As you’ll see I chose something different. M. Ropion excels within the Oriental genre of perfumery. Many of his best fragrances fall within that category. He isn’t a one-trick pony especially more recently as my choices will reflect. Here are five perfumes by Dominique Ropion which are worth seeking out.
Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant (1996)- M. Ropion collaborated with perfumer Jean-Louis Sieuzac and creative director Celine Verleure at the cusp of niche perfumery. This is where M. Ropion would develop a style of soft Oriental which would show up time and again over the next twenty-plus years. He would take some of the most difficult to tame ingredients and find a nonabrasive application. It shows in the opening of L’Elephant where cumin and cardamom set the stage for clove, licorice, ylang-ylang, and mango to set up a vanilla amber base. This is still one of the very best vanilla and spice perfumes I own.
Editions de Parfum Frederic Malle Vetiver Extraordinaire (2002)- One of the innovations of niche perfumery was to encourage overdose of ingredients. This was done to find something unique in that kind of concentration. Creative director Frederic Malle encouraged M. Ropion to do that with one of the stalwart ingredients of modern perfumery, vetiver. Choosing to make it 25% of the composition. M. Ropion would frame it in woods and smoke. This is the best modern vetiver perfume ever. It is why this was the choice from M. Ropion’s incredible portfolio for this brand.
Costume National Homme (2009)- Lots of brands wanted to stake out the space of “avant-garde”. Costume National creative director Ennio Capasa was one of them. When he asked M. Ropion to make a masculine perfume he got the twist he was looking for. What this means is M. Ropion’s by-now signature sandalwood, spices, and resins become coated in a synthetic oily accord which is a slightly sweet oleaginous effect. It smells much better than it sounds.
Starck Paris Peau de Soie (2016)- There is a point in every perfumer’s career where I want them to speak to me with a whisper. Working with Philippe Starck, M. Ropion has made a perfume which feels like a bubble which should pop at any moment. Instead Peau de Soie takes iris which encloses synthetic musks and woods. They expand the iris to a powdery translucent globe which enthralls with its fragility.
A Lab on Fire And The World Is Yours (2018)- If there is an abiding theme of the five perfumes I’ve chosen it is creative directors who know how to give a perfumer space to be creative. Creative director Carlos Kusubayashi is another who has found this leeway is a recipe for success. And The World Is Yours brings this list full circle as cumin plays an important role in the top accord. This time there is no softening instead it is used as divider between orange blossom and neroli. As the florals shift to rose and hyacinth the pungent cumin persists until splashdown in a balsamic pool of vanilla and sandalwood. Over the past year I have come to see And The World Is Yours as the spiritual flip side to Kenzo Jengle L’Elephant. Which makes it the right place to end this list.
Disclosure: I purchased bottles of each perfume mentioned.
In “Game of Thrones” one of the characters says “the night is dark and full of terrors”. It is why humanity used fire to keep it at bay during the time when the sun has set. Anyone who has spent time outdoors in a wild setting around a campfire knows the sound of creatures stirring just outside the circle of light. On a trip to Montana a moose decided to remind us there were creatures beyond our firelight by hightailing it through camp. There was another night where there was a musky feral smell which drew near but didn’t reveal itself. When there are perfumes which have a significant raw animalic aspect I am often reminded of that. When I tried DSH Perfumes Oudh Noir I found a fragrance which was the entirety of that experience.
Independent perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz has begun a new sub-collection called “Heirloom Elixirs”. They are meant to be limited editions. Oudh Noir was #2 released simultaneously with #3 Aoud Blanc representing an “Oud in Chairoscuro” duo. Not sure what it says about me, but I was attracted to the darkness over the light. Part of what appealed to me was this sense of standing in a circle of firelight while the wild things circled.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz
Oudh Noir opens with oud representing the woodsmoke. The surrounding trees are portrayed by sandalwood and cedar. That is the smoky circle of light. A haze of tobacco is as if I am muttering a Native American chant to keep me safe while tossing tobacco into the flames. Then the scent of the earth being moved by something large comes forth in patchouli. A swirl of spices accompanies the earthiness. The scent of the beast, perhaps? Then a feral animalic accord circles the light. This is a snarling pacing bit of musk and fur. It tiptoes right up to the edge of being rank. A leathery quality emerges to prevent that. Oudh Noir remains at this point for hours. It isn’t until the dawn appears over the horizon that the beast retreats only leaving the embers of the fire.
DSH Perfumes Oudh noir has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
It is rare for any perfumer to let the skanky animalic notes have the lead in a perfume. I think it probably only appeals to a certain kind of perfume lover. Oudh Noir is one which allows me to wonder what is outside the firelight with pleasure.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by DSH Perfumes
The best perfumers use their past to define the present. No one has been more adept at this than perfumer Olivia Giacobetti. Throughout her career you can draw lines from previous perfumes straight through to the newest release. There is a name for this. When objects are placed side-by-side and there are small differences to each subsequent item yet when you reach the terminus it is quite distinctly different than the beginning. This is called a continuum. Mme Giacobetti has seemingly designed her perfumes to be the next data point on her personal version of this. Talc de IUNX extends it.
Mme Giacobetti is one of the most important perfumers of the last fifty years. Unlike her contemporaries she has delighted in doing things her own way. Currently that means the only place she makes perfume is for her own brand, IUNX. Which is sold in only one place; the IUNX boutique in Paris. This is typical of Mme Giacobetti who would rather blaze the trail than tread after others. Her body of work speaks for itself as her signature transparent style has now become commonplace. She has been around long enough to see what was once perceived as a flaw become the trend.
When I say Talc de IUNX is part of an evolution in Mme Giacobetti’s perfumes in this case I am referring to the iris-centric perfumes. I would say this line begins with 1996’s L’Artisan Parfumeur Drole de Rose to 1999’s Hermes Hiris to three of the perfumes she did for the all-natural brand Honore des Pres; Bonte’s Bloom, Sexy Angelic, and We Love NY: I Love Les Carottes in 2010.
Iris is an ingredient of duality as it embodies powder and root. The latter, which is the source of the perfume material, can be used to provide a shimmering effect which the powdery nature dusts. In Talc de IUNX the name should give you a hint which part of the duality Mme Giacobetti is most interested in.
Mme Giacobetti begins with the iris out front. It is listed as “white orris powder” on the website. What I perceive is an iris which is slightly powderier while still retaining that silvery effect of the root. To ensure that the powder remains ascendant over the root Mme Giacobetti uses rice absolute. This warms the overall iris effect while also enhancing the powderiness. Rice powder and iris powder are kissing cousins on the cosmetic table; in Talc de IUNX they mesh in a more intimate union. Layered underneath this is white cedarwood essential oil. This does not ground the perfume but adds a gentle lift to the iris. What does tenuously ground things is ambrette seeds. Ambrette seeds are a source of natural musk. They provide a gentle scent of skin. With all the powder, along with the name, it is difficult not to think “infant’s skin”. That is not entirely off-base but the ambrette is more like a gentle caress of human touch. It makes Talc de IUNX feel like a kiss of benediction.
Talc de IUNX has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I haven’t gone more than a few hours since I received my sample without thinking about Talc de IUNX. When I add this to The Giacobetti Continnuum of iris perfumes it feels like a culmination of all she has done in the past.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
I’ve written about it a few times, but I am a fan of a well-done television commercial. My current favorite is the one for Progressive Insurance where we discover that Jaime, who has been the butt of jokes, has an amazing home life. The insurance companies have all stepped up their commercial games recently as not only Progressive, but Farmer’s and GEICO are also ones which make me laugh. My favorite overall recent series is the Allstate “Mayhem” ads. Those are the everyday ones. With the airing of the Super Bowl the other game besides the one on the field is to be named the best commercial of the game. It has become a crown worth seeking.
The commercials at the Super Bowl often debuted something new for the brand they were representing. It was where new soft drinks or beer would have their first exposure. The eternal fast food battle of McDonalds vs. Burger King has had Super Bowl skirmishes. The real turning point took place 35 years ago during Super Bowl XVIII.
It was partway through the third quarter of a game where the Los Angeles Raiders were handily beating the Washington Redskins. As the announcers sent us to break nobody knew what was coming. Over the next minute a commercial showing a female runner in red shorts and a white tank top running with a sledgehammer. As she is chased by the police, we realize this is the dystopia described in George Orwell’s 1984. The runner approaches the screen where Big Brother is speaking. As he says, “We shall prevail!” the runner throws the sledgehammer through the screen; exploding it. Only at the end do we see the tagline from Apple Computers saying, “you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984”.
That commercial was directed by Ridley Scott less than two years after he had done “Blade Runner”. In those days there were only a few VCRs and no internet to see it again. Over the next couple days it was as talked about as the game. Ever since brands have upped their game looking for that kind of buzz.
The commercials at the Super Bowl fall into a couple of categories; funny and heart-warming. The funny commercials have become such a recent trend that having the funniest Super Bowl commercial almost assures it will be voted the best commercial. If a funny commercial doesn’t win it is because there is an ad which is meant to make you go, “aww” while complaining about the dust in your eye. There hasn’t been a big spectacle ad like the Apple 1984 ad in a while.
I would give out a yelp of delight if Apple marked the anniversary with a new big-budget ad. I still expect to laugh and wipe a tear away in those four minutes of advertisement in between the game itself. Because that’s the other Super Bowl going on.