Boot or Reboot: Norell (1968) & Norell New York (2015)- Requiem for an Original

If I was to offer up a pop quiz and ask this question, “Name the first American designer fragrance?” I bet, notwithstanding looking at the title of this article, few would come up with the correct answer. Norell was the first American designer fragrance. Charles Revson of Revlon and perfumer Josephine Catapano were the creative team behind the perfume representing fashion designer Norman Norell. Norell became the first perfume to feature a huge amount of galbanum in the top notes. It was a trailblazer in many ways. In 1968 it was debuted in the luxury department store Bonwit Teller. It sold $1 Million dollars in its first year. Today heavily reformulated it can be found in any drugstore franchise fragrance cabinet.

In 2015 it was thought the Norell name needed to be recaptured in the fragrance sector. Perfumer Celine Barel was asked to create a new version called Norell New York. Ms. Barel has made a perfume which definitely has some of the same components but they have been altered in strength and prominence to create something similar but different.

norell 1968

Photo: www.vintageadbrowser.com

Norell (1968) opens with that blast of galbanum. Smelling it now that doesn’t seem to be different than many very green perfumes on the market. In 1968 this was a completely unique opening. The galbanum moves into a full floral heart of hyacinth, rose, and gardenia. Ms. Catapano adds the twist of using clove and cinnamon leaves to provide a long tail on the galbanum and a real accentuation of the spicy core of the rose. In many ways this is also the trendsetter for the spicy floral heart which will explode in the 1970’s. The base is another ahead of its time piece of work as it takes a large amount of oakmoss and softens it tremendously with sandalwood, vanilla and orris. It was a supple foundation which would also not become fashionable for another 10-15 years. If there is one word to describe Norell it is green.

norell new york 2015

That is not the word I would use to describe Norell New York (2015). This time I would say floral. Ms. Barel does hearken back to the original with a bit of galbanum in the top but it is matched with an equal amount of pear. The heart is floral dominated but instead of rose Ms. Barel uses jasmine as her focal point to which gardenia and peony provide the supporting roles. Here the green has been cut off at the pass and we are in more traditional fruity floral territory with the pear and florals interacting. The place where Norell New York most closely resembles the original is in the base as Ms. Barel uses sandalwood, vanilla, and orris. Her stand-in for the oakmoss is a particularly earthy patchouli. All together it is a really excellent re-creation of the original’s base.

One final experiment I performed with a strip of Norell and Norell New York was I gave it to a group of women who are similar in age to me in their late 40’s early 50’s; four out of the five preferred the older Norell using words like “classic”. I also tried the same exercise with five women in their late 20’s early 30’s and the result was the opposite; four out of five preferred the more recent version. Those women all had a strong reaction to the original calling it the dreaded “old lady” smell. I pointed out the base was similar in the new version but they all like the fruity floral opening so much that it seems that similarity didn’t matter.

If I was presented a bottle of the original Norell in a pristine well-preserved box I would obviously choose that. But the Norell which I find at my local CVS has been cheapened by reformulation so much that it has lost much of the original verve it had. Which is why I am pleased that Norell New York exists. By using a slightly different name and allowing a perfumer instead of an accountant to modernize the brand. The new release is a much more fitting representative of the first American designer perfume.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample of the original Norell provided by an anonymous donor. The current Norell was purchased by me. Norell New York came from a sample provided by Bergdorf Goodman.

Mark Behnke

Boot or Reboot: Jean Patou Vacances (1984) & Heritage Collection Vacances (2015)

One of my very favorite collections in all of perfumery are the Jean Patou Ma Collection perfumes which were re-released in 1984. These were the original formulations from Jean Patou’s master perfumer Henri Almeras. Within this collection is the perfume I consider to be the best green perfume ever, Vacances. All of the perfumes which make up Ma Collection are among my most-worn perfumes. I have waited for many years for someone to come along and bring these perfumes back for a new generation to discover. Starting in 2013 perfumer Thomas Fontaine has undertaken this challenge. It is a nearly insurmountable challenge as with the restrictions on materials he is able to use, which M. Almeras never had to consider, M. Fontaine is pushed into many difficult decisions.

It probably isn’t fair to even do this comparison because M. Fontaine is composing with one hand tied behind his back. On the other hand I do want to provide a comparison for others who love the originals and want to know if there is a reason to try the new ones.   

Patou vacances

The original Vacances was created in 1938 and was to celebrate the advent of mandatory time off. As a result M. Almeras was looking to make what he thought was a summer fragrance. I have always found Vacances to be that quintessential early spring fragrance. Vacances is early on a translucent purple flower fragrances as hyacinth and lilac provide the shading. Hawthorn adds a slightly woody quality before galbanum tints the whole composition deep green. The florals are still readily apparent but now everything is green. The base is the musk accord reminiscent of skin M. Almeras would use often throughout his tenure at Patou. This is as close to perfection in a perfume as I can ask for.

patou heritage vacances

The Heritage Collection version of Vacances makes some interesting alterations. M. Fontaine rearranges the sequence of the notes development. He also speeds it up so even though things seem to show up in different places they arrive at the same ending place when everything is taken together. For this new version M. Fontaine opens with the galbanum supported by mimosa. The mimosa provides bright points of light through the dense verdancy of the galbanum. Lilac inhabits the heart but also jasmine and rose add their presence. This is meant to intensify the lilac to similar levels found in the original. Overall it does have that effect but I kept getting distracted if I focused too intently by the jasmine and rose. The hyacinth has moved from the top to the base and it is far less potent. M. Fontaine also did his best at using the modern musk aromachemicals to recreate M. Almeras’ musk accord. It is good but if you’ve smelled the original it feels like a copy.

Both versions of Vacances have 10-12 hour longevitry and above average sillage.

I think I would have eaten one of those boots in the header picture if M. Fontaine could have truly re-created Vacances. Of course he couldn’t. As I’ve said previously with the work M. Fontaine is doing here if you have never smelled the original these are very good perfumes. They only suffer when compared to the original masterpieces by M. Almeras.  But the Vacances he has created is worthy of carrying the name. It has its own presence matched with a subtle power M. Fontaine emulated from the original by skillfully shuffling the notes around.

Disclosure: The 1938 and 1984 versions are from bottles I purchased. The 2014 version is from a sample from Aus Liebe zum Duft.

Mark Behnke

Boot or Reboot: Helmut Lang Cuiron 2002 & 2014

Back in August I consigned Helmut Lang Cuiron to the Dead Letter Office. In that article I expressed regret that it was a perfume which would have found the current time the right place for its minimalist post-modern leather to thrive. It would be barely two months later that I would receive a press release announcing the return of all three discontinued Helmut Lang perfumes. Besides Cuiron there was Helmut Lang Eau de Cologne and Eau de Parfum. I was dreading receiving my samples because I expected the probable reformulation to somehow have marred them. All three of these perfumes are among the best I have smelled. The Eau de Cologne and Eau de Parfum are both by perfumer Maurice Roucel and M. Roucel shows how very different the same notes can be made to smell. Both of those have survived completely intact from their 2000 formulation. Cuiron was going to be something different, perfumer Francoise Caron so artfully used a number of synthetics to create her three leather accords I was concerned it would not be the same; and it isn’t.

francoise-caron

Francoise Caron

Mme Caron created fluid leather, sensual leather, and noble leather accords to use as Cuiron developed from top to bottom. The thing was this never felt like real leather it felt like patent leather, synthetic and artificial. She used a brilliant set of notes to temper that reproduction leather and make it work. As I said in my Dead Letter Office article Cuiron is one of the greatest leather fragrances ever in its 2002 incarnation.

The 2014 incarnation is oh so close to being perfect except on top. One of the synthetic components of the “fluid leather” accord has been changed and it keeps it from being as supple as advertised. There is now a sharper synthetic substitute and it has the unfortunate side effect of drawing my attention to it every time I’ve worn it. It completely throws the opening moments off kilter for me. Once the top notes have been burned off the rest of the development is exactly as it is in my original bottle.

cuiron

Without confirmation I can’t be sure if it is just one change or more but the difference between the opening of the 2014 version and the 2002 version are very different. I’ve tried trying to assess the 2014 version as if it was something different but the heart and base are identical in both versions. It is hard to not think the new version is flawed. There is the crux of the matter this time. I think the new Cuiron might be good enough to make an impact now where it just fizzled out in 2002. If you had never smelled the original I think that those new to it will really be impressed and I urge leather lovers to try it. If you are a fan of the original and own a bottle this might be disappointing. You might also like the new alteration. Both versions are worth trying.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle of 2002 Cuiron I own and a sample of 2014 Cuiron supplied by Helmut Lang.

Mark Behnke

Boot or Reboot: Crabtree & Evelyn Sandalwood (2004) and Indian Sandalwood (2014)

I know my first exposure to Mysore sandalwood came courtesy of Crabtree & Evelyn in their original Extract of Mysore Sandalwood. This might have been one of my earliest exposures to the concept that raw materials make a difference. As is well documented the precious Mysore sandalwood was over harvested and the Indian government had to step in and protect the remaining trees before the predations of perfumistas eradicated it. For most of the years right after that the huge majority of sandalwood in perfume was synthetic. Recently there have been sustainable groves of sandalwood being grown in Australia from the same genus Santalum Album. The plantations are concentrated in Western Australia which is supposed to have a similar microclimate to India. These farms are now producing sandalwood oil for perfumery. Extract of Mysore Sandalwood was a big seller for Crabtree & Evelyn and so they bit the bullet and created Sandalwood in 2004 when they could no longer source the titular ingredient. Sandalwood was surprising in how good it was even though it was an all synthetic version of sandalwood. Now in 2014 Crabtree & Evelyn have released Indian Sandalwood which has listed as an ingredient Santalum Album. I loved the 2004 Sandalwood for the nifty sleight of hand it pulled in creating something worthy of its predecessor based on synthetics. Would the 2014 Indian Sandalwood be more like the original Extract or a “real” version of the Sandalwood?

c and e sandalwood

2004 Sandalwood was almost miraculous in the fact that it didn’t smell overtly synthetic. Sure if you truly focused intently on it the truth became apparent but if you just wore it the scent was really fantastic. The perfumer was able to recreate the slightly spicy quality of Mysore sandalwood by using lavender, violet, amyris wood, and vetiver. I really wish I could find out who the perfumer(s) were behind this. Even wearing it now I am surprised at how very good this is. Sandalwood remains a beautiful example of the perfumer’s art when working with a restricted set of ingredients.

c and e indian sandalwood

2014 Indian Sandalwood shows how well done the 2004 version is, as this new version which does contain real sandalwood smells very close to the older version. This time I do know the perfumer behind Indian Sandalwood, Ashley Wilberding. Ms. Wilberding isn’t hampered by having to form an illusion. Her task is different, to add complementary notes to allow this nouveau sandalwood to expand and feel as if it was much older and refined. She also chooses to use amyris, lavender, and vetiver. Cypress and cedar extract the woody quality of the sandalwood and a judicious use of cinnamon adds the characteristic spiciness of the best Indian sandalwood. Ms. Wilberding does a fantastic job at allowing her raw material to shine to its fullest.

This should be a slam dunk win for reboot, synthetic vs. real, c’mon. I do prefer the reboot because there is nothing that can take the place of real sandalwood in a perfume. This new version of Indian Sandalwood is excellent. For those who want to ask whether it is as good as the Extract of Mysore Sandalwood, it isn’t. But it isn’t like comparing Kobe beef to a Big Mac. It is more like comparing it to a dry-aged USDA Porterhouse. Truly all three of these perfumes are great examples of sandalwood fragrances even if they all come from different places.

One last thing to mention is the price of this new release $45 for 100mL. It is crazy good for that price; a real bargain.

Disclosure: this review is based on bottles of all three fragrances I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Boot or Reboot: Yohji Homme 1999 & 2013

It seems like some of the greatest discontinued fragrances have been reformulated in the last twelve months. Much like the reformulation of Patou pour Homme I approached the new version of Yohji Homme with some concern.

yohji homme

The original Yohji Homme was released in 1999; it was signed by Jean-Michel Duriez just at the moment Proctor & Gamble had acquired Jean Patou. When I smelled Yohji Homme I was swept away with this spicy licorice and lavender concoction. It was clearly not a success as it would disappear from shelves within three years. In that endless internal conversation about the best masculine perfumes ever Yohji Homme is right there in the mix. Late in 2013 the newly reformulated Yohji Homme was released with perfumer Olivier Pescheux taking on the task. He consulted with M. Duriez but this was a difficult task because a few of the ingredients had been restricted by IFRA regulations and a couple others were from the resources M. Duriez had while at Patou.

jean michel duriez

Jean-Michel Duriez

The 1999 version of Yohji Homme started with one of the best lavenders I have ever encountered in a fragrance it is so close to the real lavender that grows outside my house. It pushes right to the edge of being unpleasant because of its strength. M. Duriez then wraps this intense lavender in strands of black licorice. It is a bold beginning and it becomes even bolder as coriander and cinnamon are joined by geranium and carnation to form a spicy floral heart which slithers underneath the lavender and licorice insinuating itself within the slight olfactory space available to it. After about an hour on my skin these notes combine to produce a singular accord like nothing else in my experience. If that was all there was Yohji Homme would have been great but the base adds in a rum-soaked leather and things take a quantum leap forward. It never fails to be a fascinating ride and a perfume which delivers time and again.

olivier pescheux

Olivier Pescheux

M. Pescheux in the 2013 version of Yohji Homme is really trying to do this with one hand tied behind his back while jumping on one foot. Because of the lack of availability of the restricted and proprietary ingredients M. Duriez used in the original, M Pescheux was forced into Hobson ’s choice time and again. When it comes to the lavender used it is in no way close to the quality from the original, the same goes for the licorice. The leather is tamed instead of wild. The cinnamon lacks the same bite. The same progression as the original is there but the new version sort of lurches through its transitions. I almost smell an audible clunk as the less strident lavender and licorice seem to just get out of the way of the spice and florals in the heart. By the time the base notes of leather and rum show up they seem too polite. This new version feels like recreating the Eiffel Tower in wood. It looks like the same thing but it lacks in majesty and power.

It is obvious that the Reboot comes nowhere near the Boot and that’s a shame because it feels like in 1999 the perfume world was not ready for Yohji Homme but in 2013 it is less of an outlier. If you had never tried the original I think many will be enchanted by the new version as all of the important beats are there and it is still a unique fragrance. M. Pescheux did a great job considering the straitjacket he was bound in. One other difference between the two is the original is a powerhouse which lasts all-day the new one barely made it through the workday. The new Yohji Homme has been exclusive to Selfridge’s in the UK and is expected to be released wider by the end of 2014.

Disclosure: This review was based on bottles of both versions of Yohji Homme I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Boot or Reboot: Jean Patou Chaldee 1927/1984 & 2013

For those who read last week’s Boot or Reboot on Patou pour Homme I can understand if you might be unsure about my confidence in perfumer Thomas Fontaine’s ability as the keeper of the Jean Patou flame in the 21st Century. Patou pour Homme was a good opening statement if not entirely successful in recreating the original. My confidence really comes from M. Fontaine’s work on the 2013 version of Chaldee.

jean-patou-cosmetics-1930-huile-de-chaldee

1930 Ad for Huile de Chaldee

In 1927, Chaldee was the fourth fragrance released by Jean Patou. It sprang up from another Jean Patou product Huile de Chaldee which was meant to be used a suntan oil, as “sun culture” was just coming into its own in the late 1920’s. Suntan oil in those early days was just castor oil and so Jean Patou asked their perfumer Henri Almeras to add something to the castor oil to make it smell nice. After its launch they found women wearing it even when they weren’t in the sun because they liked the smell and so M. Almeras designed the perfume version simply named Chaldee.

patou chaldee 1984

1984 Ma Collection Jean Patou Chaldee

The original Chaldee was a mix of orange blossom, narcissus, and vanilla predominantly over a musky base meant to evoke sun warmed skin. When you sniff the 1927 or the re-released 1984 Ma Collection version it is mostly the deep musky aspects which predominate. My small sample of 1927, or so, Chaldee and my Ma Collection bottle both smell very similar so I am guessing that somewhere after around 20-30 years of aging the oils have hit their steady state. That is something that should always be taken into account when doing these comparisons. Any vintage fragrance has had tens of years to continue to evolve. In essence it has continued to macerate in the bottle which means it has changed somewhat. This was especially brought home to me when Patricia de Nicolai of the Osmotheque shared with me their freshly made versions of vintage perfumes. There is an essential brightness that is lost upon aging for an extended period of time, although an extra level of depth is probably commonly added. Which brings me to the new version of Chaldee.

chaldee 2013

Jean Patou Chaldee 2013

For the 2013 version of Chaldee M. Fontaine retained the core trio from the original of orange blossom, narcissus, and vanilla. What is different is the narcissus has a much more pronounced presence. Narcissus is one of my favorite floral notes in all of perfumery and its enhanced prominence adds an intensity to the heart of the 2013 version which doesn’t exist in either of the vintage versions. M. Fontaine also adds a pinch of lilac which makes the new version feel fresher. The base is opopanax and vanilla as in the original but the musky aspect never hits the depths it does in the original. Here is where M. Fontaine makes a truly ingenious decision. Instead of trying to plumb the same depths that the original Chaldee did he lets the 2013 version add some musky aspects and then before going deeper he asks the 2013 version to hold that lesser intensity through to the end.

In this battle I am extremely surprised to be choosing the Reboot over the Boot. One reason is I think this new version is more truly close in style to its suntan oil beginnings. M. Fontaine shows an understanding of its history and the 2013 version smells like something I would smell on a beach or next to the pool. When I smell my vintage versions I’ve always giggled a bit at the thought of a beach full of women smelling like Chaldee on a summer’s day. The 2013 version feels like it easily could be seen like that. This singular achievement has me excited for M. Fontaine’s future efforts because I think he gets what it means to be a Jean Patou fragrance and with the restrictions placed on him by IFRA I think he is the best person to try and revive my beloved Jean Patou.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample of 1927 Chaldee, a bottle of 1984 Chaldee I purchased; and a sample of 2013 Chaldee from Aus Liebe zum Duft.

Mark Behnke

Editor’s Note: There is also a 2013 version of 1976’s Eau de Patou and it is also very well done. If I was going to do a Boot or Reboot on that it would be another very close call for Boot but M. Fontaine keeps making me think about it.

Boot or Reboot: Patou pour Homme 1980 & 2013- Taking on a Classic

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The world of movies and television is full of what are called reboots where a beloved older property is given a fresh interpretation by a new set of creative minds. An excellent example of this is the television series of the 60’s Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry and the fantastic re-imagining of that universe in 2009 by J.J. Abrams and the movie version of Star Trek. Both retain the essential soul of the creation but each set of artists imparts their own sense of style to things. Particularly over the past few years the perfume world has seen a number of cherished “out of print” vintage fragrances get a modern reboot. Sometimes the results are similar to the Star Trek experience where both retain the essential soul but differ in fascinating ways. Other times one is clearly better than the other and not always in the original’s favor. In this series I am going to examine both the original (boot) and the reformulated version (reboot) and give you my opinion on both of them.

Jean Kerleo

Jean Kerleo

Of all the purely masculine marketed fragrances to have ever been released 1980’s Patou pour Homme by the perfumer Jean Kerleo is one of those Holy Grail type fragrances. When the discussion of what the best masculine fragrances ever created are I have never not seen Patou pour Homme not make the short list of contenders and is often the winner of many of these olfactory beauty contests. It has created a hunger for the vintage bottles which show up on auction sites and estate sales with bottles fetching between $500-1000 regularly. For me personally it is not just Patou pour Homme but the entire output of Jean Patou which is priceless and they are the most prized parts of my perfume collection as I think they are the very pinnacle of what perfume can be. Patou pour Homme is just one of those which sits very high in my personal esteem.

thomas_fontaine

Thomas Fontaine

Over the past fifteen years I have watched as numerous business entities have taken a run at reviving the house and reformulating these classic fragrances. All throughout the process I was simultaneously rooting for its success and fearing the worst. Finally in 2013 Jean Patou was bought from Proctor & Gamble by a British firm Designer Parfums, Ltd. They hired perfumer Thomas Fontaine to oversee the resurrection of these perfumes. In the second half of 2013 they released their first three recreations, Chaldee, Eau de Patou, and Patou pour Homme.

pph ad

Patou pour Homme 1980 was groundbreaking for its day as Jean Kerleo used a mix of pepper, lavender, clary sage and tarragon to create a shimmering heat at the beginning. Patchouli, cedar, and vetiver took the traditional triptych of men’s fragrances and moved it up the pyramid into the heart. The finish was a lavish amount of oakmoss, labdanum, and sandalwood. The synergies and interplay has always made this one of the most fascinating fragrances that I have ever worn and M. Kerleo’s skill at keeping this as kinetic as a kaleidoscope is not to be underestimated. This is a fragrance which lives up to its hype.

pph2013

Patou pour Homme 2013 has a couple of difficulties for M. Fontaine right from the start. First he has to comply with IFRA restrictions and so the oakmoss is out. The shimmering heat effect also was going to be difficult to replicate. M. Fontaine consulted with M. Kerleo and worked from the original recipe as he composed this modern version. The top notes are much brighter as bergamot and lemon partner the tarragon and galbanum is added to the top notes to try and create that shimmery effect. The effect it gives is a deeper richer citrus accord but the stunning piquancy of the original is gone. Instead of having a two-step of very intense notes M. Fontaine crafts an intermezzo of jasmine, violet, and rose which partner the top notes quite pleasantly. The base is clearly a bit of inspired perfumery as since he can’t use oakmoss he goes for a raw leather accord, olibanum, patchouli, and ambergris. While it misses that “je ne sais quois” of the original it really works at the end of the brighter less extreme lead up of this modern version.

I think it is obvious that the winner of this battle is the original Patou pour Homme but that really is unfair to the newer version. M. Kerleo had a fuller palette to work with than M. Fonatine did and he used that to his advantage. The fragrance that M. Fontaine has created is very good and maybe the real disservice is calling it Patou pour Homme. If it was named Patou pour Homme II I think many would think it was much better than they are going to with it having the same name. If you have never tried the original, the new Patou pour Homme is very good without being compared to one of the great perfumes of the last 35 years. If you’re looking for that experience you’ll still need to haunt the internet and auctions to get your fix.

In this case I would say Boot is the winner but the Reboot deserves its own amount of attention because M. Fontaine has made me believe he is the right person to oversee this revival of Jean Patou.

Disclosure: Thie review was based on a bottle of Patou pour Homme (1980) that I purchased and a sample of Patou pour Homme (2013) I received from Aus Liebe zum Duft.

Mark Behnke