Over my time of writing about perfume I have been given various samples of specific ingredients. To the point now I have a nice reference set of most of the major ingredients. There are only a few of them that have such dynamic scent profiles they are fascinating all on their own. One of those is ylang-ylang. Because of a visit to one of the major oil houses I not only have the essential oil but the different fractions of that oil. It has always struck me that when you take a complex ingredient like ylang-ylang and break it into fractions and each of those are different it speaks to the specialness of ylang-ylang as an ingredient. It is so versatile it is a supporting ingredient most of the time. There are some instances where it can star and here are five of my favorites.
M. Micallef Ylang in Gold is one of the best straight ylang perfumes you will find. Martine Micallef working with perfumer Jean-Claude Astier take the kaleidoscopic floral and gild it with sandalwood, vanilla, bitter orange. Throughout everything which makes ylang-ylang unique is displayed. My all-time favorite ylang-ylang perfume.
One of the odder facets of ylang-ylang is a ripe banana character which can be seen sometimes. In Hermes Hermessence Vanille Galante perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena relies on it to add a fruity tint to the lily and vanilla keynotes. It is one of the more divisive uses of ylang because of the ripe banana. It is one of my favorite tropical vibe perfumes.
Ylang-ylang was one of the great ingredients during the beginning of modern perfumery. As we have seen the rise of heritage brands; one of those Grossmith Hasu-No-Hana gives you a feel of what that was like. The modern team of Amanda and Simon Brooke oversaw a reconstruction where the ylang soars, paired with iris, as the floral heart headed to a chypre base. This is how they used to do it.
Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian would dabble with the animalic side of ylang with MDCI Enlevement au Serail. When he started his own brand, he would turn it into the fulcrum for the most sensually dynamic perfume of the 21st century Maison Francis Kurkdjian Absolue Pour le Soir. This is a celebration of all that is deep and dark in perfume with ylang right in the center.
Perfumer Frank Voelkl would also find the voluptuous side of ylang in Le Labo Ylang 49. While lighter than my previous choice it is still a femme fatale just dressed up in brighter shades of citrus and gardenia. A daytime version of sensuality.
If you’ve never explored ylang-ylang on its own these five will give you and idea of its special nature.
Disclosure: this review is based on bottles of which I have purchased.
While there are many independent perfume brand success stories who use many different perfumers; I am a big fan of the monogamous approach. When a creative director and a perfumer work together over the life of a brand I believe it helps create a definitive aesthetic. It also allows for explorations of different keynotes from altered perspectives. That in turn leads to some special subsets within a brand. This has been happening at Atelier des Ors as the latest release Musc Immortel provides a third look at iris.
Jean-Philippe Clermont has chosen to work exclusively with perfumer Marie Salamagne since the founding of Atelier des Ors in 2015. In the original collection Aube Rubis was a fabulous warm iris which was supported by vetiver and patchouli. In 2016 they would continue using the same trio with Iris Fauve. Musc Immortel takes it in a new direction. This time the patchouli becomes the primary counterweight to the iris through the heart before sinking into the titular notes.
Marie Salamagne (Photo: Jerome Bonnet)
The citrus and herbal duet of grapefruit and clary sage announce the arrival of the iris. As it was in the previous two releases this is the rhizomal version of iris; earthy instead of powdery. It is my preferred version of iris in perfume. The same heart accord as existed in Iris Fauve makes a return in Musc Immortel but the concentrations have changed. In Iris Fauve the vetiver has the upper hand with the faux-oud of cypriol. In Musc Immortel those two notes appear first but the patchouli builds into a wave which eventually rises over the iris near exclusively. This is where the base accord becomes critical. Left with iris awash on a sea of patchouli this becomes less interesting. Mme Salamagne uses immortelle to capture the iris in a lifesaving embrace as the earthiness has the maple syrup quality of immortelle to stick to. It holds fast forming a deeply pleasing accord. A mixture of botanical and synthetic musks carry this to softly a animalic finish.
Musc Immortel has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Musc Immortel has been around as an exclusive at Harrod’s since early 2017; it is now ready to expand to where Atelier des Ors is sold. I think it is great that this is getting a wider distribution because it fits so well within the Atelier des Ors Collection. If you’ve been a fan of Aube Rubis or Iris Fauve I suspect you will enjoy Musc Immortel. I look forward to the fourth movement of the iris-vetiver-patchouli symphony because the third movement was so inspiring.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Atelier des Ors.
Heritage can do one of two things, it can shackle you to the past or it can inspire you to add your own imprint. This is equally true when speaking of heritage perfume brands which have been springing up. Some decide to try and slavishly re-create. The ones I find more interesting are those who look to bring the style of the heritage into the present. Very quietly one of the latter success stories at doing this continues to evolve with the release of Blocki Sanrovia.
Blocki released a set of three perfumes in the fall of 2015 to revive the brand. Under the stewardship of Tyler Delabar and Tammy Kraemer, Mr Kraemer did his great grandfather John Blocki proud. These were all fantastically contemporary perfumes with vintage brushstrokes. The other part of this team which has made it work so well is perfumer Kevin Verspoor. Mr. Verspoor and I have spoken about perfume making. If there is something which I know is he is a student of the past so that he can translate it to the present day. That the creative directors and the perfumer are all on the same page is a reason why this has been a successful collaboration.
On a visit to a trade show in the fall of 2016 Ms. Kraemer shared with me the fourth perfume which would be released. It is one of that hazards of smelling something like that at a trade show when it is by far my favorite thing of the day and I am not allowed to speak of it. Now that Sanrovia has been released that restriction has been removed.
The original version of Sanrovia was released in 1911 out of Mr. Blocki’s Chicago shop. It was inspired by trips of Mr. Blocki to an Italian village. As the original Sanrovia was an interpretation of Italy through American eyes the current version does the same thing with the similarity being the prominent use of sandalwood.
Many Mediterranean perfumes choose to open with a blast of the citrus groves. Sanrovia starts here, too. Mr. Verspoor starts off with lemon structured to be as cool as it is tart. Orange comes along to mellow both effects. The heart is a floral two-step of paired floral accords. The first is lavender and geranium. They combine into a green tinted floral where the lavender does most of the floral lifting. This progresses into the second pair of jasmine and rose. The rose is an oil from Jacques Cartier roses which are a hybrid of Damask and China varieties. It has all the complexity of a typical rose otto but there is also more space for the jasmine to find some footing. The rose is on top but not as much as usual in accords like this. The star of the show arrives after this as Mr. Verspoor uses Australian Sandalwood. I would wonder if Mr. Blocki used Mysore Sandalwood back in 1911. By using the version available in 2018 Mr. Verspoor plays to its strengths as the modern sandalwood is more desiccated he uses vetiver and labdanum to enhance that.
Sanrovia has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
From the moment I got a sniff of this I felt like this would be my favorite of the Blocki releases to date, which it is. This never feels like a vintage perfume or even a Retro Nouveau. The only ingredient which carries that vibe is the Jacques Cartier Rose and it is more restrained than, I am guessing, if a full Damascene rose had been used. The citrus top accord is so often forgettable in most perfumes. In Sanrovia it is a bracing cool breeze. The florals cavort as if they were on holiday while the sandalwood stands to the side with stolid strength. This is a triumph of the Kraemers and Mr. Verspoor. If there is an afterlife which can see the present I have to believe John Blocki would be proud of the evolutionary heritage they have achieved.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Blocki.
The comic book history of the superhero group, X-Men, has two distinct eras. The first covering their creation in 1963 until they ran out of steam and were canceled in 1969. The early incarnation was all about these powerful mutants helping humanity without too much resentment on display. When they would return in 1975 with a new team they had shifted from teenagers to adults from all over the world. The other significant shift was the world feared them. It has been that struggle which has become the hallmark of the comic book and movie versions. The feared outcasts have always provided a rich vein of stories and the latest television series, The Gifted, has taken that as its starting point.
Over the first couple of episodes we meet the Strucker family. The two children, Lauren and Andy, with parents Reed and Caitlin. Reed is a district attorney known for prosecuting mutants. Which of course means when his son exhibits uncontrollable powers he is split as a father and prosecutor. His journey will be the decision on what is more important to him. Andy’s use of his powers sends them on the run. They encounter a Mutant Underground which will smuggle you out of the country. Of course, it is never that easy and the family finds getting out of Atlanta tougher than expected which covers the entire 13-episode first season.
The other background provided throughout the first half of the season is important. First, The X-Men have disappeared. There are no heroics to be found from the most well-known mutants. Second, the fear and hate from the non-mutant population stems from an incident that happened on July 15 when at a mutant rights protest something, which hasn’t been explained fully, happened to cause mass casualties. The humans hunting the mutants refer to this as 7/15. This is the backdrop which propels the story.
Over the course of the season there are discussions of how these mutants should react. The large ensemble cast does a nice job of expanding on all the different perspectives. I have liked the overall framework and the general storyline being told but the large cast has created a different problem. I am not invested in the individual story of anyone. There isn’t a mutant I particularly want to see or that stands out. There isn’t a villain which provides me enough animosity I want to see their fall. The strongest emotions I had were when the mutants who have the mind-altering abilities used them..
The show is written and overseen by Matt Nix who was a fan of the same comic books I read. If I could give him some advice for the second season I’d ask him to focus more strongly on a couple of mutant characters. Make them our focus from which stories can expand upon. The foundation is here but it now needs to be built upon so that The Gifted is more like the second generation of the comic book that created an entirely new superhero style.
One of my favorite perfume brands has been the Narciso Rodriguez line. One reason I enjoy them is right from the start, in 2003, the decision that this was going to be a collection which would be focused on musk. Throughout the years some of the perfumers best known for using musk in creative ways laid the foundation for Narciso Rodriguez to become synonymous with the ingredient. Late last year the most recent installment in this collection was released Narciso Rodriguez Santal Musc.
Santal Musc is the latest entry in the Oriental Musc Collection after Amber Musc from 2013 and Rose Musc in 2016. For This latest perfumers Caroline Sabas and Sonia Constant team up. What they have produced is classic spicy Oriental base accord featuring the two notes on the bottle.
The spice comes from cardamom in the beginning. Early on it seems like it is the lemon tinted refined cardamom. Over time it seems like some of the rawer green cardamom also arrives. At the same time ylang-ylang also comes up. For a moment the stickier cardamom inserts itself into the slightly oily ylang-ylang. It is an interesting combination. Which is when the musk comes to the fore. I like the way the slightly animalic nature harmonizes with the fatty floral. Now this might sound heavy but the perfumers mange to create something lighter in tone by using some of the expansive musks to add lift. Then an equally opaque sandalwood completes the Oriental effect. This all comes together rapidly which maybe makes the overall effect seem linear. I found it enjoyable while I was wearing it with out becoming inured to it.
Santal Musc has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
This is a lovely take on a musky Oriental. I’m not sure it creates new ground within the genre. Saying that it does create new space for the Narciso Rodriguez brand as it is the most Oriental of the three Oriental Musc Collection. What I admire is even on the thirtieth version of a musk perfume Narciso Rodriguez Santal Musc is staying the course started fifteen years ago beautifully.
Disclosure: This review is based on a smaple provided by Narciso Rodriguez.
Among the many ingredients which sharply divide perfume lovers, licorice and oud would rank high on that list. I am that contrarian which enjoys both. I like the sharply herbal darkness of licorice. I adore the medicinal tinted ouds; like smelling a bandage on my finger. When these notes are combined in a perfume you might expect an obstreperous off-putting composition; which it might be for some. I found the perfume which does this, The House of Oud Crop 2017, exactly the combination I was looking for.
I became acquainted with The House of Oud last year. Founded by perfumer Andrea Casotti and oud distiller Mohammed Nashi. One of the things they are doing is creating yearly limited editions which feature a specific oud called Crop. The first one Crop 2016 was built around a green Kalimantan oud that was compelling. I was curious to see what Crop 2017 would bring.
This vintage works with a traditional oud full of those medicinal aspects I enjoy. It is not as unique as the oud in Crop 2016. For Crop 2017 it seems as if Sig. Casotti wanted to explore the depth of how dark you could take an oud. Instead of lightening it up he drives it even deeper with licorice.
Crop 2017 does not have a pyramid as much as everything sort of appears. Very early the herbal pure licorice of a throat lozenge is dunked in a glass of absinthe. What this creates is souped-up wormwood accord with the licorice maxed out. Before I get much time to enjoy this the oud rumbles in like a rhino into a china shop lifting the licorice accord up and slamming it down on top of itself. This is where Crop 2017 hovers and if the idea of acerbic herbal boozy bandages makes you go “oooh!” then, like me, you will be in bliss. I enjoyed this so much that I almost was disappointed when the sandalwood began to find its way in. It was so normal I was irritated with its presence.
Crop 2017 has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I am reasonably sure if I asked many oud lovers whether they like Crop 2016 or 2017 most of them would choose 2016. Not me. Crop 2017 is one of those reasons I enjoy niche perfumery. Everything doesn’t have to be made for the masses. Sometimes it can be made for us who want to hang out on the event horizon of licorice and oud.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
I think often of how the genre of science fiction has matured over the one hundred-odd years it has been around. In its earliest days it was almost entirely literary. It was also almost entirely short stories. This was the fuel of the magazines like “Amazing Stories”. Many of the greatest authors within the genre would start by publishing short form science fiction in a magazine. In the current times it has morphed into multiple websites allowing aspiring writers of the fantastical the opportunity to dazzle with fewer words than a novel. I am one who enjoys this kind of economical storytelling. It gets in, does its thing, and moves on. A perfume inspired by all of this, Ellis Brooklyn Sci Fi, feels like its own version of something found in Amazing Stories.
Ellis Brooklyn is one of the best new perfume brands of the last year. Bee Shapiro founded it in 2016 and in 2017 really stepped things up. The early release Rives was a fantastic classic fougere. Sci Fi was the end of year release and it is also excellent. Ms. Shapiro is a beauty writer at the New York Times and, at some point, she must have crossed paths with perfumer Jerome Epinette. However they teamed up M. Epinette has been an ideal partner for Ms. Shapiro. Sci Fi is another example of it.
So far for his work on Ellis Brooklyn M. Epinette works by framing a strong central note within a frame of notes which allow it to expand only within the confines of that frame. The keynote for Sci Fi is vanilla which is framed by citrus, green tea, freesia, and cedar.
Sci Fi opens with a tart citrus accord where the bitter orange nature of bergamot is enhanced. I admit I was expecting the vanilla to rise to form a creamsicle kind of feel. Instead M. Epinette adds the other two legs of his frame as a transparent green tea and fresh floral freesia flank the citrus. Then the vanilla comes forward and interacts with all three simultaneously. Taking what could have been a nondescript orange vanilla perfume into something with verve, from the tea and freesia energizing it beyond that. A synthetic cedar closes the frame providing a clean woodiness for the previous accord to rest upon.
Sci Fi has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I am again impressed at the work Ms. Shapiro and M. Epinette are producing. While Sci Fi might not seem futuristic it is an Amazing Story of how to do excellent perfume.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Sephora.
It is a familiar complaint from me. I do not understand why Prada likes to hide their exclusive line of perfume. I used to have to go to the Prada flagship in Manhattan where I knew more about their perfume inventory than the staff. The Exclusives have evolved in to the Olfactories Collection. In the summer of 2017 a four-perfume subset called Mirages was UK only. I was told the exclusivity was for a year. I was impatient enough to get one anyway and Soleil au Zenith did not disappoint. I was willing to be patient and wait out the year. Imagine my surprise as I was flipping through the Saks Fifth Avenue website to find they were selling not only the Mirages but the entire Olfactories collection. There is a forehead sized dent in my desk after seeing this. The one which interested me second most was Dark Light which I ordered.
The entire set of Olfactories are composed by in-house perfumer Daniela Andrier. This collection is where Mme Andrier tries some different techniques and some different ingredients. In Dark Light she is trying to capture the moment just before a large thunderstorm breaks. The early moments show her ability to create something without using the usual suspects. Her choice of ingredients to capture the deluge is totally fascinating and different from what I expected.
It starts at the top. The moments prior to a thunderstorm is a common theme for perfumers to interpret. They want to capture the tension in the air the smell of the ozone from lightning with the weight of the dark clouds coming closer. Mme Andrier uses the peppery herbal nature of angelica seeds in place of the ozonic ingredients more commonly used. What she does is to explode them with lightning strikes of aldehydes. As a thunderstorm approaches it feels like the world smells sharper. The angelica seeds and aldehydes capture that. Then the deluge comes and instead of full on aquatic or geosmin or petrichor, Mme Andrier envisions a rain of resinous vanilla as vanilla and myrrh fall from the sky. This is a release of sorts, delightfully so. The promised amber arrives in the base along with musk which is the most traditional choice in this perfume.
Dark Light has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Dark Light shows Mme Andrier’s innovative streak to its fullest. I just want to stand and let the sweet lightning strike again and again.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
The end of January is the cruelest time of year for me. I’ve recovered from the Holidays but now face weeks of grey cold blah-ness before spring takes hold. Those who can, take a winter break to an island to shuck the coats and slip on the swimming gear. I’ve done it a few times in my life and it is rejuvenating giving me just enough to make it through the final weeks until spring. For those of more modest means one of the beautiful things about fragrance is you can use the right perfume to take a mental winter break. One of the latest to do this is Aerin Hibiscus Palm.
Aerin Lauder has done an admirable job of accepting the role of Estee Lauder’s granddaughter but making her line a coherent collection focused on lightly weighted floral constructs. Her co-creative director Karyn Khoury and Ms. Lauder have made the brand a reliable source of these types of perfume since the launch in 2013. Hibiscus Palm fits right in with that.
When you visit the tropics, the flowers scent the air, but the island breezes tend to keep them from forming an overwhelming cloud. Hibiscus Palm is one of those island breezes carrying the smell of the flowers to you as you sip your favorite drink on the beach or poolside.
In the opening the breeze brings the hibiscus along with ylang-ylang. Hibiscus can be slight when used as a perfume ingredient which allows the ylang-ylang to support it while also adding to the tropical aesthetic. More recognizable florals like jasmine and gardenia begin to become noticeable. What I really liked about these early moments was the use of ginger to provide a sharp contrast to all the floral gymnastics. It provides the right amount of counterpoint. As you become used to the flowers a nice sun-warmed skin musk accord is used with vanilla tinted with coconut milk to give that tropical drink vibe.
Hibiscus Palm has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
If you’re finding yourself in need of a winter break but can’t get on a plane; head to the fragrance counter and let Hibiscus Palm get you there instead.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Nordstrom.
As much as I enjoy intricate perfumes full of nuance there are times when I just want it given to me straight; like a hard right-hand to the jaw. When I’m in this mood there is a line of small metal containers which contain this style of fragrance. All of them have the name Montale on them. Montale is one of the more prolific brands and many of their perfumes are variations on specific themes. It allows for someone who like the style to find one which is just right. Many of their perfumes are oud based. Despite the amount of perfumes that have been released I was always looking for a Montale leather full of attitude. The new Montale Arabians finally gave me my leather I was looking for.
Despite being a fragrance brand, which is very Middle Eastern in aesthetic, the Arabians in the name refers to Arabian Horses. The preferred steed of desert raiders, the breed has become one of the most versatile equine lines in the world. The perfume inspired by them is the leather of the saddle, the musk of the horse. And the smell of the floral garland of the Winner’s Circle.
The opening is an overdose of thyme and cardamom. So often both are used as supporting notes. For Arabians they come right to the front dragging a reluctant lavender with them. This is one of my favorite opening of any Montale I own; it is that sharp herbal green enhanced by the cardamom and supported by the lavender. Rose holds the heart for a little while before patchouli comes along to pump up the volume. The leather accord comes next and this is the classic saddle leather version. It is rich with a hint of saddle soap. A full serving of musk provides the scent of the horse before oud reminds you that this is an Arabian we’re talking about.
Arabians has 20-24-hour longevity and above average sillage.
Every time I wear a Montale I like I imagine there is a sign somewhere in the design studio, “Subtle is a 4-letter word”. Arabians like every Montale I own is not subtle. Yet this raw power carries an attraction because it doesn’t pull its punches. The caveat is you must like what is being produced. If you are looking for a powerful leather Arabians might just have you saying some positive 4-letter words.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.