With so much perfume released every year it becomes easy to forget about those which were released a short while ago. One of the goals of this column is to take advantage of that as the discounting cycle is also accelerated. Throughout the nearly five years of writing Discount Diamonds this is the first entry which I think is a modern masterpiece; Lalique Encre Noire.
Vetiver has become a staple ingredient of perfumery in the 21st century. Prior to that it was two perfumes which were the standard bearers for the ingredient; Guerlain Vetiver and Givenchy Vetyver. They were the perfumes which introduced my generation to vetiver. As we crossed into the new century the independent perfume market began to expand rapidly. That meant there were new perspectives provided on previous keynotes. Vetiver started off with a pair of perfumes, once again, leading the modern interpretation. One of those is Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Vetiver Extraordinaire. I don’t think that one is ever going to be a Discount Diamond. Lalique Encre Noire is the other one and it has become a fit subject for this column.
Encre Noire was released in 2006. Lalique’s fragrance business was looking for a way to join in on this new way of making perfume. Perfumer Nathalie Lorson would help as she composed three perfumes for the brand from 2006-2007; Perles de Lalique, Amethyst, and Encre Noire. It was a statement of intent to try for something different.
The original vetivers were citrus affairs with the vetiver providing an acerbic green contrast. More interested in the higher register effects. Encre Noire was going to go for a different style; plumbing the woody depths underneath the green. What was also so interesting about doing that was there was a smoky quality just waiting to be separated and amplified. Mme Lorson finds that.
The opening of Encre Noire is the classic grassy green of old-style vetiver. Mme Lorson uses cedar to find the woods inherent within vetiver. She uses two sources of vetiver in Encre Noire, Haitian and Bourbon. The Haitian vetiver I have come to know has a quite prominent smoky character. By blending the two versions Mme Lorson tunes the smoke to a soft level. I used to burn pine needles as a boy and whenever I wear Encre Noire the smoky nature reminds me of this. The Bourbon vetiver brings a spicy complement to the Haitian smoky version. The base is a cocktail of sensual musks which really represent the “noire” in the name.
Encre Noire has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I consider Encre Noire to be one of the best perfumes of this century. That you can buy a bottle for under $30 makes it a steal. There is no other Discount Diamond which will shine brighter.
Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle I purchased.
There have been so many good neroli perfumes lately I am starting to think it can’t be used poorly. I know that isn’t true but it as soon as I see neroli as a keynote I am hopeful. That was particularly true for the latest release from Nicolai. Earlier this year they released a fantastic Mediterranean neroli fragrance, Cap Neroli. It has been one of my favorites throughout the summer. They now return for a fall version of neroli; Neroli Intense.
Visiting the flower fields of Grasse is on my perfume bucket list. I am thinking I might have to pencil in the neroli from Tunisia, too. Patricia de Nicolai blends the neroli essence and the absolute from there as the source of the neroli for Neroli Intense. Surrounding that is a slight animalic vector which intensifies over time. There are some slight similarities to Cap Neroli, but this is really different version of neroli than that.
Patricia de Nicolai
The closest Neroli Intense comes to Cap Neroli is in the top accord. Tarragon replaces the rosemary and mint from Cap Neroli. The herbal green is again in place to tease out the green of the neroli. The neroli is much richer here, probably due to the two different extractions being used. That means the tarragon has more to highlight. Petitgrain focuses the citrus-like quality. Pittosporum is a white flower which caries with it a musky undercurrent. This is used to pair with orange blossom and its slightly indolic nature. The neroli is still on top but the florals are keeping up while adding in the hint of a growl. This intensifies as beeswax provides the center of the base accord. Beeswax has its own musky animalic nature which is a bit stronger. Patchouli comes in and finishes things up.
Neroli Intense has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
One of the best things about neroli fragrances are it stands up so well it doesn’t have to be shuffled to the back of the shelf during the colder months. Neroli Intense is an example of a neroli perfume that will be better when there is frost on the pumpkin although it is pretty good right now.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
Tom Petty tells me “the waiting is the hardest part”. Which I get daily reminders of when I look at my box of perfumes to be reviewed. Some I am asked to hold off on writing about until a specific date. It is the other perfumes in the box that Mr. Petty advises me of. I sometimes get a new release which is woefully outside of the time when I suspect it will be really great. Those sit in my “to be reviewed” box enticing me while I wait. We finally got a little streak of cooler weather, so I could take one of those out for a spin. Commodity Velvet was as good as I had hoped for.
Velvet was the third of the 2018 releases from Commodity at the end of the spring. I have come to admire the brand because they are giving the perfumers they hire a wide latitude to create. All that they ask is for a minimalist aesthetic. It has led to a collection of perfume which has more creativity than the typical mainstream fragrance. From the moment I learned of this I knew there was a perfumer for whom this brand would be a natural fit. With Velvet, perfumer Jerome Epinette gets his chance.
His inspiration for Velvet is “vibrant pink Turkish rose petals floating over a mysterious dark background of richly warm vanilla.” It is rare that a press description is as spot on as that one is. He does leave out one other important ingredient though and it really does make Velvet as good as it is.
That ingredient is there right at the start as an almond toasted by a bit of clove is the top accord. Almond is one of my favorite ingredients in perfume because it acts nutty and woody simultaneously. It is an ideal lead-in to the rose in the heart as heliotropin connects the almond and the Turkish rose. As they come together that pool of vanilla in M. Epinette’s inspiration also begins to rise. It all comes together in an opulent accord. A bit of resinous amber provides the final piece of this perfume.
Velvet has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Velvet completes a fantastic year for this brand. It is one of the places where a niche aesthetic has found some traction at the mall. Velvet will be a great addition to the cooler weather rotation. I plan on wearing it even more the colder it gets.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Commodity.
There is a type of perfume which attempts to capture a natural scent not in abstract ways but as a photorealistic composition. One of the most accomplished perfumers at doing that is Christopher Brosius. At the beginning of the niche perfume expansion he helped create this, first at Demeter before founding his own line in 2004; CB I Hate Perfume. The name is Mr. Brosius’ succinct raison d’etre. He has created over forty perfumes which do not smell like what most people think is perfume. Over the past few years he has not been as visible as he was. One of my favorite perfumes by him is Burning Leaves which I bring out every October.
On the website Mr. Brosius tells of his distaste of autumn raking as a child. The silver lining was the burning of the leaves after they were finished. Watching them go up in flames while breathing in the smoke is what is captured in the bottle.
What has always impressed me about these photorealistic perfumes by Mr. Brosius is they are constructed in such a complete fashion. Manty perfumes in this style allow you to feel the assembly of the accord as the different pieces fit together. Almost all of Mr. Brosius’ perfumes come out pre-assembled while maintaining their cohesion throughout the time on my skin.
In Burning Leaves that means a couple of things. First this is burning leaves not burning wood. That means a lighter scent of smoke. Not the cade oil sledgehammers you find in other smoky fragrances. It also means the leaves we are burning are maple leaves. Mr. Brosius adds in a thread of sweet dried leaves before they catch fire. There is an intriguing mixture of intensity and fragility throughout the time I am wearing Burning Leaves.
Burning Leaves has 6-8 hour longevity and wears close to the skin with little to no sillage. Burning Leaves comes in a water-based formulation. It generally has the effect of making these perfumes last a shorter time on my skin while also limiting projection.
Mr. Brosius is one of our most gifted independent perfumers. There isn’t anyone who does what he does in fragrance. If you haven’t discovered his perfume you are in for a treat. They definitely deserve to be on your radar. Burning Leaves is a great place to start.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
When I look back on my childhood in South Florida I realize how lucky I was to grow up in a community with so many different influences from the Caribbean and Central America. As I rode my bicycle through town I would cross invisible boundaries moving from neighborhood to neighborhood. While there wasn’t necessarily a sign indicating a change there was something else. In the warm weather of Florida most places had their windows open. Coming out of those windows was the music of their island homes. That was my introduction to ska and reggae music. I didn’t have a name to put to it until the release of the 1973 film, “The Harder They Come”. That was when most Americans used the word reggae for the first time and the soundtrack was the first time those same people listened to this music.
Andrea and Chiaro Valda
Jusbox Perfumes has been releasing fragrances inspired by different decades and genres of music. For their reggae influenced Green Bubble they moved forward thirty years to 2003 when reggae has become a part of the popular music landscape. They also focused on the Rastafarians who made the music part of their faith. Another part of their faith was the smoking of cannabis as sacrament. When the brother-sister team of Andrea and Chiaro Valda wanted to turn this to perfume they collaborated with perfumer Julien Rasquinet.
They start with a sticky green cannabis accord. This has a deeply herbal effect. M. Rasquinet skillfully uses the absinthe precursor of wormwood and grapefruit to provide a fuller accord. The grapefruit is particularly great in the early moments as its sulfurous quality is allowed free rein. Then a very raw green cedar elongates the top accord. The bass line which is such a part of reggae music begins to warm up with a sweet honey accord. It goes even deeper as patchouli, labdanum and sandalwood provide the ultimate bass heavy accord.
Green Bubble has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Green Bubble is an aggressively herbal green perfume which might not be to everyone’s taste. It has an offbeat charm which might not be readily apparent. I found it to be the best evocation of music in the Jusbox Perfumes line. If you’re a fan of this style Green Bubble will rock steady all day, and night, long.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Bloomingdale’s
It is only in hindsight that you can identify the perfumes which are the ripple which will eventually become a wave. Forty years ago, Estee Lauder White Linen was one of those fragrances. Ever since it has spawned hundreds of releases inspired by its clean florals. It is hard to make enough of an impression to be compared favorably to the one which started the trend. Lubin Princesses de Malabar is one which can be.
Lubin has been in the process of making a distinct aesthetic change which has really become obvious in the releases for 2018. They have become all about lighter more transparent styles of fragrance. The earlier releases this year all shared that while also being instantly forgettable. When I saw the press release for Princesses de Malabar I thought it fit in with the new direction.
The back story is about a land on the Malabar coast of India. It is run by women known as the Nair Princesses. At the end of every day a flock of golden collared blue birds rise to their perches on a breeze made up of white flowers and musk. That’s a lovely story but all I kept thinking about once I did receive my sample was a perfume from forty years ago. Perfumer Delphine Thierry composes a beautiful rendition of that in Princesses de Malabar.
She starts with an excellent choice by using cotton flower on top. If you’ve ever smelled a cotton boll it has the expected smell of clean linen. It also has a perceptible undercurrent of skin musk. Mme Thierry displays both of those in the first moments of Princesses de Malabar. She then summons her white flowers as jasmine, magnolia, and ylang-ylang form a complex transparent floral accord. It isn’t as indolic as I’d like but it also isn’t completely scrubbed clean of them either. It works well with the subtle muskiness of the cotton flower transforming to the subtle skankiness of the indoles. Mme Thierry adds in a nice fruity twist with a fizzy peach inserting itself in between the flowers. Iris adds a powdery veneer to it all. Then in a recapitulation of the cotton flower on top a set of linen musks form the foundation of the base accord. It is warmed a bit by sandalwood, but this is a classic linen accord.
Princesses de Malabar have 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
Princesses de Malabar stands out because Mme Thierry creates a fragrance equivalent of a variation on a classic without being beholden to it. The history might be a land of golden collared birds, but I’ll always think of Princesses de Malabar ruling the island of white linen.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Lubin.
I know fall has become pumpkin spice time for many people. I am not one of them. Growing up in Florida fall was just extended summer. I never understood the whole change of leaves, harvest celebration that takes place throughout most of the country. My first jobs were in New England where I spent 28 years. In that time, I did come to embrace the fall harvest culture. Every October I looked forward to apple picking trips. Which is why apples will always be the thing I overdose on in the autumn.
On one of my farm trips I walked into the barn to pay and found people sipping something. As I approached I was asked if I wanted some applejack. Never shy to try something new I was handed a small amount. It was very alcoholic with a tart scent of apples. My host explained it was apple brandy. As I took a sip I was enthralled by the way the apples made it all palatable and smooth. The farm wasn’t licensed to sell it, but I knew I wanted more because I felt it was going to be a great cocktail ingredient. Turns out the story behind commercial applejack is a great historical tale.
The most prominent commercial seller of applejack is Laird and Company. They began when Alexander Laird settled in New Jersey in 1698. He was a distiller and the material he had to work with was apples. Over time he would go from supplying family and friends to stocking the local Inn which was a stagecoach stop. By the time of the Revolutionary War George Washington requested the recipe. In response the Laird family supplied the troops with applejack. Once the war was over Robert Laird received Federal Liquor License #1. Lisa Laird is the ninth generation of the family to be part of the applejack business as Vice President of the company.
Applejack is a fall substitute for the whisky in cocktails like a Manhattan or Old Fashioned. It gives an apple kick to both of those. I am a big fan of the classics and there is a classic cocktail which I regularly make with applejack; The Pink Lady.
The Pink Lady is one of those drinks derided in the movies of the as a “lady’s drink”. The name is descriptive but if you think a “lady’s drink” has less of a punch The Pink Lady will knock you out. The better the ingredients you use the more impressive the simple mixture becomes. The recipe is three parts gin to one part applejack plus half part lemon juice and half part grenadine plus one egg white. Combine all the ingredients in a shaker minus the ice and shake. Add ice after the egg white has been absorbed shake some more and then strain into a glass.
I like using a strong herbal gin, like my local Green Hat, and I make the effort to make fresh grenadine. I’ve seen many a house guest smirk when I say I’m serving them a Pink Lady only to ask for seconds. It is a fantastic autumn Happy Hour choice.
While everyone else is drinking their pumpkin spice whatever I’m happy to stand to the side sipping my Pink Lady.
I’ve written about a lot of perfumes in this column which were discontinued because of bad timing. I’ve never looked back, but I suspect that is close to the most common reason for a perfume to be put in the Dead Letter Office. There are a few which lived a healthy life cycle emblematic of the trends of their time followed by being discontinued when things changed. A good example of that is Macassar by Rochas.
Macassar came out in 1980 as the second fragrance of four composed by Rochas in-house perfumer Nicolas Mamounas. Rochas was refreshing their perfumes from the classics released previously. They weren’t trying to re-invent the wheel. They looked around at the popular fragrances and tried to make their own version. In the masculine fragrance sector this was the time of the powerhouse colognes. These were the style of fragrance that gave fragrance a bad name. The caricature of the man with his hairy chest bared, draped in gold chains that was who Macassar was made for. I wasn’t exactly that guy, but I really enjoyed wearing the powerhouse masculines of the 70’s and 80’s. Macassar is one of my favorites from that time.
Macassar opens with a cocktail of green liquor and green woods as absinthe and pine form the top accord. The licorice-like quality of absinthe is a fantastic contrast to the camphor-like quality of pine. It is also softer than it might sound. The power begins to wind up as we move to the heart; geranium and carnation pick up on the herbal and the green from the top by amplifying those effects. Patchouli elevates all of it as the volume gets turned up. The base is where Macassar unbuttons its shirt right down to the navel as vetiver, oakmoss, and musk form the foundation for a powerful leather accord. This base accord is where things linger for hours, almost days.
Macassar has 24-hour plus longevity and way above average sillage.
Macassar had a good long shelf life as it would be another fifteen years until the demise of the powerhouse perfume in favor of clean and fresh. Macassar might have come around during the twilight of the powerhouse perfume but it was also one of its best.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle of Macassar I purchased.
There are many things I believe contribute to the long-term success of an independent perfume brand. I write often that a clear creative vision shared with a single perfumer creates an aesthetic that becomes as recognizable as the bottle or the label. The lines which have all of that tend to be better. There is one brand which has all of that, but I wonder if there is another factor which might be missing; distribution.
Dom De Vetta
When I was working at CaFleureBon in 2012 we heard about a new English brand called Shay & Blue. Creatively directed by Dom De Vetta who started the brand after his time with Jo Malone. He also made the decision to work with an in-house perfumer, Julie Masse. They kept their goals modest working out of a boutique in London. It was always on my list of brands I expected would do well if it was more widely available. A couple years ago that became the case. What also happened was a creative uptick from a brand which I already admired for that. The most recent release keeps that roll going.
Shay & Blue Kings Wood takes two of the most popular perfume ingredients of the last couple of years; Szechuan pepper and pineapple and shows them to their best effect. Mme Masse expertly finds new aspects of both to include in a modern evolution of fougere.
When I sprayed Kings Wood on I braced myself for the pineapple. It’s not my favorite ingredient. For the first minute or so the insipid sweetness I find unappealing was out in front. Then the Szechuan pepper I have found so versatile steps up and turns the pineapple in to something much more palatable. There is a kind of green herbal character to the Szechuan pepper. Mme Masse uses that to strip away the tropical fruit juice by overwriting it with that herbal-ness. That leaves an unripe tart fruit to represent the pineapple. It went from insipid to inspired in a flash. The Szechuan pepper accentuates the part of the pineapple I do like. This opening then nestles into a soft green fougere accord. It is a beautiful setting as the plush green picks up the green threads from the top notes. Making this a contemporary version of a fougere. The base accord is made up of oak and leather. Mme Masse uses a polished version of both wood and animalic effects.
Kings Wood has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
There have been a lot of pineapple perfumes this year which have shown me that there is more to it as an ingredient than I thought. Kings Wood is right at the top of that list. I’m beginning to think it has more to do with the brand and the creative team than the ingredient. Kings Wood is ample proof of that hypothesis.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
When I reviewed the three debut scents from Frassai earlier this year I stated that they all displayed the kind of style which comes from a jeweler’s eye. The two latest releases, A Fuego Lento and Teisenddu, continue to show what an asset that is.
Frassai was founded last year by Argentinian-born Natalia Outeda. She has shown her experience in fragrance by working with some of the best perfumers. Then from the perspective of an artist who sets each jewel in its place, she asks her perfumers to do the same with their ingredients.
For A Fuego Lento Sra. Outeda collaborates with perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux for the second time. The name roughly translates to simmer. Sr. Flores-Roux starts things off at a boil before getting to that state. That energy comes from a pairing of white flowers; orange blossom and jasmine sambac. Rich indolic white flowers. These are like a pair of brilliant white diamonds at the center of the setting. What is placed around them are a ring of emeralds. First Sr. Flores-Roux uses a smooth suede leather accord to take a bit of the brilliance off the florals. This is followed by flouve odorante. This is an ingredient I facetiously call CoumarinMax. It is a natural source of the hay-like sweetness of coumarin but amplified many times. It doesn’t just complement the suede it stands right next to it in the setting attracting the same attention. The base finishes with civet providing an echo of the indoles from up top and Tolu balsam adding in a sturdy woody base.
A Fuego Lento has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage, especially early on.
For Teisenddu Sra Outeda turned to the perfumer who did some of her candles, Roxanne Kirkpatrick. Ms. Kirkpatrick is just beginning her fine fragrance career and I believe Teisenddu is her first professional brief. I think the jeweler in Sra. Outeda knows when she has found a precious gem; Ms. Kirkpatrick seems to be the perfume version of that.
The inspiration for Teisenddu was the pastry the early Welsh settlers brought with them to Argentina. This translates into a modern style of gourmand where the foodie notes are the heart of things, but they don’t clobber you over the head. Teisenddu is a slow burn from top to bottom.
It begins with a waft of spice from nutmeg wrapping around bitter orange. Then in a funny twist the name of the boat the Welsh settlers sailed on was called The Mimosa so naturally mimosa is one of the ingredients in the heart. The other is a deep rum. It provides an odd boozy sweetness. This is further amplified by a “dark sugar crystals” accord. The base is a nicely constructed leather accord. Teisenddu is an impressive debut for Ms. Kirkpatrick.
Teisenddu has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
These two latest releases along with the three from earlier in this year makes Frassai the best debut perfume line of 2018.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Frassai.