Like the search for a signature scent many of us tend to settle on one alcoholic drink that we order when we are out to dinner or at a party. These drinks are the kind made up of ingredients found at any bar from the one on the corner to the Rainbow Room at the top of the Chrysler Building. Seven and seven, rum and coke, gin and tonic, scotch and soda, screwdriver, or martini; I would venture anyone who drinks that is reading this has had one or more of those. I would also go further that there is one of those which you ordered on multiple nights out. My signature drink has been The White Russian.
The Dude as played by Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski
I started drinking it during the disco nights of the late 1970’s; most of my contemporaries were drinking Tequila Sunrises but I found those too sweet because of the grenadine. Then one night a friend ordered a White Russian and I asked for a sip and that became my drink. It would fade from popularity at about the same time as disco died. Except I still ordered it. It would come back into favor after the release of the 1998 movie The Big Lebowski. The character The Dude played by Jeff Bridges drinks White Russians. The movie is a confirmed cult classic and now the White Russian is a cult classic too. Whenever I order it these days it almost always elicits a Big Lebowski comment of some kind.
The White Russian was first introduced in an ad, seen above, in The Boston Globe on March 21, 1965. The makers of Southern Comfort had recently introduced a coffee liqueur called Coffee Southern. Like any good new product they wanted to entice customers to buy by giving out some drink recipes. The recipe is as simple as it gets 1 part vodka, 1 part coffee liqueur and one part cream. As with all simple drinks there are variations and as I’ve become more interested in the more complicated cocktails there have been times where I have experimented with some interesting off shoots. One of my favorites is to replace the cream with Bailey’s Irish Cream. Just be careful because that is three shots of liquor which goes down very easily. When I want to change it up and make it less potent I substitute the vodka with amaretto and you have a Toasted Almond. The new breed of vanilla infused vodkas is the perfect choice for a White Russian or any of the variations. After many years of drinking them I will share the current favorite formula.
The Colognoisseur White Russian
1 part vanilla infused vodka
1 part Kahlua Peppermint Mocha liqueur
1 part half and half
Pour all of the ingredients over ice and stir thoroughly.
See simplicity itself. If you’re still looking for your signature drink give The White Russian a try. At the very least you’ll learn a lot of about The Big Lebowski. “Careful, man, there's a beverage here!”
When I look at the way too many bottles of perfume that I own it is interesting to see where there are concentrations of multiple bottles. One node within my collection is formed around sandalwood. One problem with the way I started my sandalwood perfume experiences was with Crabtree & Evelyn Extract of Mysore Sandalwood. It is like starting to drink champagne by having Dom Perignon. I have the very slight remains of a bottle of this remaining and it is gorgeous but it is what it says on the label an extract of Mysore sandalwood. To be a Gold Standard my choice has to be a perfume with the sandalwood as the most prominent note. There are many great sandalwood perfumes and if you want to see others that I considered, read My Favorite Things- Sandalwood article of last year. I said in that piece that Xerjoff XJ 17/17 Richwood is the best sandalwood perfume I own, which makes it my Gold Standard for sandalwood.
Richwood benefits from owner and creative director Sergio Momo’s fanatical desire for the finest natural ingredients to be used in his fragrances. There are a number of Xerjoff fragrances which use these unique notes, in the hands of a talented perfumer, and display them as the singular beauties that they are.
For Richwood perfumer Jacques Flori was given a supply of Mysore sandalwood to work with to compose Richwood. M. Flori studied his central raw material and then surrounded it with complementary notes which would point the wearer’s senses towards all of the fantastic depth inherent in Mysore sandalwood.
Richwood starts with the sticky green quality of blackcurrant buds and grapefruit. It is a slightly sulfurous attention getter and as it glazes over the sandalwood it exposes a bit of a harsh edge that Mysore sandalwood has, especially in the early moments. Rose is the partner for the heart of Richwood and it gives a floral underpinning for the more wood part of sandalwood. These two phases develop fairly rapidly down to where Richwood lingers. The base is at first patchouli along with the sandalwood and this turns it creamy and smooth. M. Flori later on adds in coumarin and vanilla to pull out the sweet facets and finish Richwood as a comfort scent.
Richwood has 24 hour longevity and prodigious sillage.
Richwood never fails to thrill me when I wear it. I feel as if I am swathed in an aura of sandalwood of the highest quality. There are many great sandalwood perfumes but Richwood is the one I think is The Gold Standard.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
If there is anything which is going to harm perfumery in the long term it is not going to be the usual suspects of draconian regulations or astronomical prices. The death of perfume is going to come with the incessant homogenization going on in the mass-market sector. The perfume business which is making new perfumes in this sector has shunted aside creativity and promoted the focus group. By gathering average perfume wearers and letting them in to the creative process they end up creating perfume afraid to be anything but not to offend any sensibility. It also has the effect of making all of them smell the same by recycling older tropes from more ambitious earlier releases. The final decision on what goes in the bottle is not coming from a creative director with a specific vision. It is instead coming from averaging the results of questionnaires and picking the one which appeals most broadly. Except every great perfume which has ever existed has always made a bold statement about what it was and dared an audience to come to it instead of the other way around. One of the first perfumes I can remember doing that was 1977’s Yves St. Laurent Opium. If there was a perfume of the disco era Opium was it. Because so many women wore it there were many mornings following a night out where I could easily pick up the sweet vanilla laden base notes on my clothes. Opium was a trendsetter for years.
Now in 2015 there is a new flanker of Opium called Black Opium. The press release claims it is an Opium for a contemporary Rock Chick. The ad campaign features model Edie Campbell looking very Joan Jett while spraying on Black Opium. Except while I know the younger generation makes a habit of looking unimpressed about anything the look on Ms. Campbell’s face borders on apathy. It’s almost like there should be a thought bubble above her head going, “This is a quick buck.” When I received the press materials prior to receiving my sample I found it all very incongruous. Within days something even more ominous would create more concern. Creative Director of Yves St. Laurent Hedi Slimane posted on Twitter, followed up with a press release, disavowing any involvement in the creation of Black Opium. Who was minding the store? I am not sure but after wearing Black Opium it feels solidly like the product of a thousand focus groups.
The Creative Directors? (Photo: From the TV Series "Mad Men")
A group of four perfumers are credited with Black Opium, Honorine Blanc, Olivier Cresp, Nathalie Lorson, and Marie Salamagne. That is a great team of artists who if left to their own devices under appropriate creative direction could make a great “Rock Chick” perfume. What they have produced is something generic with aspects of hundreds of fruity florals and gourmands of the past all smooshed together into something afraid to take a stand on anything for fear of offending.
Black Opium opens with pink pepper, very sweet manadarin, and crisp pear matched with mimosa. It is modern fruity floral territory being trod upon for the umpteenth time. It eventually evolves towards a bland attempt at coffee, vanilla, and patchouli over cedar. Clean woody gourmand territory, encountered many times previously.
Black Opium has 10-12 hour longevity and prodigious sillage, probably the only thing it shares with the original.
Black Opium is not a bad perfume. It is a safe perfume. It is a perfume engineered through social means to appeal to many. It is devoid of character and as boring as Ms. Campbell looks in the advert. If the creative directors for the designers don’t have the opportunity to apply their brand vision to the perfumes which carry that designer name this will work like Continental Drift, in reverse, and every new release will eventually smell the same creating an olfactory Pangea. As one who loved the way the original Opium defined a moment in time via scent it is sad to see an opportunity for Black Opium squandered for safety’s sake.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Yves St. Laurent Beaute.
The new Raymond Matts perfume line calls their fragrances “aura de parfum”. The phrase does a really good job of describing some of the entries in the collection. With Jarro and Sunah the name is not only a descriptor but the perfumes themselves formed a transparent aura around me as I wore them. In an e-mail exchange with Raymond Matts he described the way he works with his perfumers, “I never brief perfumers actually! When I start a fragrance I sit with and go over sensations, emotions, experiences, textures with colors I want the fragrance to be. We then will discuss notes and will create three different accords representing top, middle and back.” Then he told me they will go through 200-300 modifications searching for just the right balance to realize the shared vision. This shows the dedication of both creative director and perfumer as trying to find that perfect balance between the synthetics and natural ingredients can be difficult and I think many other brands would have given up earlier and accept a less-than-perfect formula. Both of these show the dedication to quality and collaboration.
Jarro is signed by Christophe Laudamiel. If I asked most to describe M. Laudamiel based on his perfumes in one word I am guessing I would get a lot of variations on edgy or dark. I knew he was the perfumer behind three of the seven entries in the collection. If I was asked to pick the three he worked on blindly Jarro would not have been one because it seems too light. Mr. Matts also addressed that in his e-mail and said, “Christophe and I have been working together for many years. He is dark and I'm not so this makes for interesting collaborations.” Jarro is a burst of optimism wrapped up in green brilliance. M. Laudamiel constructs complex accords and Jarro opens with two of those. The citrus one is that bit of sunshine in a jar as there is a complement of citrus facets all shining like sunbeams. Matched to this is a green aquatic accord composed of calone and labdanum among other ingredients. This is one of those classic perfume accords but M. Laudamiel puts his spin on it by keeping it on the light side. The green deepens with muguet as the focal point in the middle part of Jarro’s development. M. Laudamiel enhances the hidden spiciness of muguet by using it in significant quantities and complementing it with other spices so it can’t be overlooked. The base is Ambrox and woods; and in keeping with the whole tone of the construction it stays lighter. Jarro has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
As Mr. Matts mentioned he has worked with M. Laudamiel for many years. I think he has probably worked with perfumer Jean-Claude Delville for a shorter period of time. One of the pieces of information that tells me this might be the case is Mr. Matts shared the number of modifications that went into refining the concepts that would eventually become Sunah; over a thousand. If I admired the stick-to-it-iveness of 200 modifications more than a thousand had to be frustrating until the right one emerges out of the pile of flawed vials. What caused all of this olfactory angst was an attempt to make a saffron focused perfume which also was soft. M. Delville opens with a contrast of tart and crisp with citrus and apple. It is a high-pitched downbeat which then rises up the scale as mimosa forms an opaque fruity floral early phase. Sunah transforms as the saffron rises to prominence in the heart. M. Delville allows the saffron to eventually exude an exoticism at the middle. M. Delville then chooses a mix of woody synthetics which are layered precisely to effect a pillow soft base for this intense saffron to lay upon. It is this which must have have occupied Mr. Matts and M. Delville during many of those one thousand modifications. To get this just right. To keep the synthetics all purring together without one rising up to be disruptive all while the saffron still exudes its influence. This effort really shows as Sunah moves from the fruity floral into this exotic end phase and it is completely fascinating to wear. Sunah has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I really like both of these for the effort the perfumers put in with Mr. Matts. In both cases I think that effort shows in the finished product. Sunah especially for the effect of saffron on top of soft woods is brilliantly realized.
Discalosure: this review was based on samples provided by Raymond Matts.
One of the benefits of being able to look back and find interesting moments in a perfumer’s history is I have the benefit of perfect vision when looking backwards. One of the moments I realized was a real watershed moment in masculine perfumes happened under the aegis of two of the best designer perfumers working. As I’ve covered previously in the late 1980’s men’s fragrance was beginning a shift towards the aquatic and the fresh. Two perfumers who had been working together for about five years were not going to let it go down without offering an alternative. The three men’s perfumes Francois Demachy and Jacques Polge had a hand in from 1987-1990 were Chanel pour Monsieur Concentree, Tiffany for Men, and Chanel Egoiste. Messrs. Demachy and Polge would offer a less burly fragrance that wasn’t quite as aquatic or clean, as the burgeoning trend towards that style was beginning to dominate the market.
They combined on adapting the original Chanel pour Monsieur composed in 1955 by Henri Robert into the Concentree version in 1987. This was a follow-up to their only previous masculine release 1981’s Chanel Antaeus. Where Antaeus was the scent of a player circa 1980’s; with Pour Monsieur Concentree they were trying to define a certain more refined masculine style. If the aquatics were for casual perfume wearing. Pour Monsieur Concentree was for wearing once you came in from the sun. Messrs. Demachy and Polge took the original and intensified it. It was a divisive move as some think it throws the balance off and turns it cloying. I have the opposite opinion. They upped the central note of cardamom until it goes from just a hint of green into something that is no mere trifle at the heart of Pour Monsieur Concentree. This enhanced cardamom follows an energetic lemon opening. This opening would return in 1996’s Chanel Allure. The base was a classic chypre finish but again taken up a couple notches in intensity. I believe they took what was a traditional cologne and beefed it up into something which has much more presence.
Two years later they would return to the themes of Pour Monsieur but while being asked to create a perfume for the jewelry brand Tiffany. 1989’s Tiffany for Men seems like what Messrs. Demachy and Polge wanted to do with Pour Monsieur Concentree but were handcuffed into reprising the original set of notes. Freed of those constraints they would create a uniquely masculine Oriental. They start with bergamot to provide the citrus but juniper berry and coriander provide a bit of a gin accord to go with it. This time instead of just taking cardamom and upping the concentration to create green they take geranium and galbanum to create a seriously green floral heart. The base notes of nutmeg and pepper over a very creamy sandalwood are a fabulous finish. This is one of my favorite men’s perfumes of all-time because it really does have it all. The fresh opening into an intense green down to a spicy woody finish. I knew I didn’t want to smell like the ocean I wanted to smell like Tiffany’s.
In 1990 they would bring all of this together to create the unforgettable Chanel Egoiste. Again they open with citrus but the choice this time is the sweeter tangerine paired with a pale rosewood. Those rose facets will lead into rose in the heart which is enhanced by the presence of coriander. The coriander defines the spiciness underlying a great rose. For the base notes sandalwood is here but they choose to go sweet with vanilla and they use the botanical musk of ambrette seeds to provide a much more delicate muskiness to the final moments. Egoiste is considered to be one of the great masculine masterpieces and continues to be held in high regard.
These three perfumes provided a counterpoint to the perfume trends which wer ein flux. That I can still look back and laud them shows that Messrs. Demachy and Polge succeeded in giving men of a certain aesthetic an alternative.
One of the best perfumed collaborations of the past few years has been the work perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz has done in conjunction with various exhibits at the Denver Art Museum. For these shows she creates a collection of perfumes to go with what is being displayed. This time the exhibit which inspired the perfume is “Brilliant: Cartier in the 20th Century”. Perhaps more than any exhibit she has been asked to make accompanying scents for this one tickles two of Ms. Hurwitz’s creative zones. The idea of capturing jewels as fragrance is a long standing inspiration for perfumers. Ms. Hurwitz is also a jewelry designer herself. I know that the history of both of her creative outlets has always been a foundation for her to create contemporaneously. For The Brilliant Collection both sets of design skills as perfumer and jeweler come together. Three of the four perfumes are inspired by pieces and the women who wore them from the exhibit. The fourth is a bit of fantasy but still remains on theme.
Deco Diamonds was inspired by the Flamingo Brooch seen above worn by Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor. Ms. Hurwitz goes with the set of hairspray aldehydes cut with galbanum and peach. This all leads into a white flower fusillade of indoles with jasmine, gardenia, and tuberose providing deep floral flares. It all ends on a chypre base of oakmoss, vetiver, civet, and ambergris. All together Deco Diamonds delivers on having a real Art Deco feel. Ms. Hurwitz knows how to channel the great perfumes of the 1920’s as she creates new perfumes nearly 100 years later.
Rubis Rose was inspired by the necklace above given to Elizabeth Taylor by Mike Todd. When he gave it to La Liz she had no mirror so she leaned over the pool to see the reflection. The perfume is more of a study of just the rubies as Ms. Hurwitz equates rose with the red gemstone. She pairs her rose with a deep raspberry note sticking with the red theme. It is those two notes which predominate throughout most of Rubis Rose’s development. There is a bit of pink pepper on top and there is a bit more incense and gaiac in the base. This is more evocative of the lavender-eyed beauty than any of the perfumes which bear her name.
Jacinthe de Sapphir was inspired by a flawless blue sapphire worn by Queen Marie of Romania in 1922. As with Rubis Rose Ms. Hurwitz is working on a perfume equivalent of matching colors. This time she is using hyacinth as the central note. The opening is the smell of fresh earth just after the winter thaw as spring finally takes hold. Then like a time-lapse film she zooms us forward a few weeks to the hyacinth in full bloom accompanied by rose de mai, tuberose, and narcissus. This is a deeply mesmerizing floral that feels like you are falling in to that sapphire pictured above. A balsamic finish with some civet added rounds it off perfectly.
Gold Smoke by etafaz
Fumee D’Or is what Ms. Hurwitz imagines a Paris goldsmith’s workshop should smell like. This is my favorite of the four because Ms. Hurwitz pulls together a disparate number of some of my favorite materials. On top a leather accord is combined with the more metallic aldehydes. The early going has an almost dangerous sensuality to it making me think this goldsmith has an interesting private life. The core of the leather accord is a huge amount of birch tar. This is a throwback to the great leather perfumes of the past. She them picks a skanky jasmine to pick up the lascivious leather from the top notes. She finally brings it home with civet in the base. There is never a moment during this where it doesn’t feel like Fumee D’Or is not oozing a kind of unctuous carnality. This is the least evocative of jewelry but I think that was what Ms. Hurwitz was going for.
All four of The Brilliant Collection perfumes have 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.
As she has done in the past Ms. Hurwitz has provided a fantastic scented tour through an exhibit at the Denver Art Museum. The Brilliant Collection lives up to its name on every level.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by DSH Perfumes.
When it comes to trying the original perfumes that formed the beginning of modern perfumery that usually means a trip to the Osmotheque in Versailles. Or a friend with a very deep collection of vintage perfumes. There is one of these olfactory historical touchstones that you can still buy and try for, usually, around $25. It is the original Eau de Cologne created by Jean Marie Farina. Roger & Gallet has produced this original formula under the name Jean Marie Farina Extra Vieille for years and years. It is supposedly the same formula M. Farina created over two hundred years ago.
There is a lot of reason to be skeptical of that claim but this cologne is simplicity itself. In a vacuum you might pass it by without a second thought. That is why it is not a real stretch to believe that what is in the bottle in 2015 is pretty close to what was in the bottle in 1806. That previous sentence probably seemed sort of underwhelming as an endorsement but of any of the classic colognes this one is by far my favorite. There is nothing that compares to it on a hot summer day. The crisp herbal and citrus pick-me-up is like drinking a glass of ice-cold lemonade.
The Original Eau de Cologne Recipe
M. Farina wrote to his brother after he had created this first Eau de Cologne, “I have discovered a scent that reminds me of a spring morning in Italy, of mountain narcissus, orange blossom just after the rain. It gives me great refreshment, strengthens my senses and imagination.” He could never realize that the last part of that statement would become true for generations of perfumers to follow. From those words I realize he wanted his Eau de Cologne to be bracing and strengthening. The best Eau de Colognes have always done this for me. What is nice is the very first one still does this for me.
As I said this is as simple as it gets in construction. It opens on a focused snap of lemon with bergamot. Petitgrain adds even more tart citrus to the beginning. Rosemary adds an herbal greenness which puts metaphorical sunglasses on all of the sunny citrus. It ends on a very lightly floral bouquet of orange blossom. Each of these notes runs one into the other in a fast moving kind of development that is done from beginning to end in a couple of hours. It is that fleeting longevity which is emblematic of many of the classic colognes.
Jean Marie Farina Extra Vieille has 2-3 hour longevity and above average sillage. This is a fragrance you apply liberally and keep doing it throughout a day.
I’ve said often we are in a new golden age of cologne as current perfumers have been taking this venerable architecture and turning out amazing new constructions. It is worth going back to see where it all began and when you can do it for such a low price there is almost no reason for a perfume lover not to own a bottle of this.
Disclosure: this review was based on a bottle I purchased.
I have been having a hard time focusing on writing for the last 24 hours. When I got home from work on Friday night I checked into my Facebook news feed to find that my colleague in perfume writing Tama Blough had passed away earlier in the day. For those unaware Tama had been diagnosed a few months ago with a terminal case of cancer. Her friends who spanned a number of different communities, including perfume, all donated to a fund so she could live her last months on her own terms. That effort was successful as Tama passed away in her apartment surrounded by the things in her life that gave her joy. Most of us will never have the chance to make sure our final moments are as well lived as Tama’s were. I know this makes all who helped this come about feel better about her passing. But yet I am still sad and I know I shouldn’t be.
I only met Tama in person one time and it happened a little less than a year ago at Esxence in Milan. We had worked together as editors for the perfume blog CaFleureBon for a little over three years. She was a constant joy to work with as she always treated the work we did together on the blog as something worth doing. We connected over our mutual passion not only for perfume but our desire to talk about it and communicate about it. We both enjoyed giving early reviews to debut perfume lines we thought were good. She would happily relate when she would receive an e-mail from an independent perfumer thanking her for the piece she wrote. It was the kind of feedback a lot of writers don’t receive, they are more used to the less desirable kind. Tama never received any of the less desirable feedback because she was a genuine person. That is an extremely rare quality. Tama didn’t have ulterior motives or hidden agendas she lived her life pursuing her passions with a refreshing honesty and they were part of her. Think of how many people exist in your life for whom that description applies. I would suspect most can count that on one hand.
Tama (l.) and Yosh Han
This is why I think Tama’s passing is bothering me because there is one less genuine person I know. Another person more well-known than Tama passed away due to cancer this week; ESPN SportsCenter anchor Stuart Scott. Much like Tama he was able to co-ordinate his final days so he continued to work right up until the very end. Earlier in the year he gave a speech when he received an award in courage. His words apply to any who have lost people to cancer and there are three thoughts he observed that I am going to finish with.
“Our life’s journey is really about the people that touch us.” I don’t think Tama wasn’t aware of how much she was adored in her various communities. The outpouring of love from all corners of her life allowed her the opportunity to see that as she finished her life’s journey.
“Fight like hell. And when you get too tired to fight, then lay down and rest and let somebody else fight for you” Those who came forward when Tama needed to lay down were instrumental in allowing her final days to be the best they could be. I want to thank the team behind the Give Forward effort: Nina Zolotow, Heidi Schroeder, Ruth Kaminski, Brooke Baird, and Elizabeth Dietrich; plus others who are not listed who stood up as Tama had to lay down. All of you should be proud of your efforts on her behalf.
“When you die it does not mean you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live…..Have a great rest of your life.” This is something I have always believed. Tama leaves behind a life lived well so she could indulge her passions and gather anyone she could into a fragrant hug. If she could have I am sure she would have wished all of us who have known her to have a great rest of your life. That s is how I will move beyond my morose feelings of the last day or so. I will strive to have a great rest of my life and the next time I smell an amazing tuberose perfume I will think to myself, “Tama would’ve loved this one.”
Sometimes the way a brand treats its perfumes completely baffles me. None is more perplexing to me than the way Prada treats its line of exclusives. Every other designer line you can name displays their exclusive line in ways which are as elaborate as the perfumes themselves. Not Prada, you have to know these exist to even have a hope of finding them. In the Prada flagship store in New York I go through this same ritual every time I want to find one. I walk into the store and tell them I’m interested in perfume. They direct me to the counter which is full of the mainstream bottles. I ask them for one of the exclusives and they very politely tell me they don’t have it. I equally politely ask them to look it up on their computer. They are surprised to find out they have this and it is in stock; in the back room. They go retrieve my bottle usually mentioning they didn’t know about these. I walk away shaking my head.
Since 2003 Miuccia Prada and perfumer Daniela Andrier have made one of the great experimental lines of perfume. The forerunner of Infusion D’Iris was the very first of these called simply Iris No. 1. Mme Andrier is one of our greatest perfumers because of her versatility and in this collection it is vividly on display. Last summer I repeated the ritual for the latest release Rossetto No. 14.
The concept of this line of exclusives is not necessarily to break new ground but to re-interpret existing fragrant forms. Rossetto No. 14’s task is that of the iris-scented lipstick. This is a study which has been done previously in perfume. It is a natural because for many, including me, the first smell of iris they ever encountered was the smell of their mother’s Coty lipstick. What Rossetto No. 14 does is to take that smell and update it to the super luxurious lipsticks being sold by the top luxury brands today. Even as a man I can see the depth to the newest lipsticks which look like the most upscale Chap-Stiks ever. Mme Andrier winks to that in the opening moments of Rossetto No. 14 but then she goes for the iris lipstick accord and it is beautiful.
The opening of Rossetto No. 14 is a breath of aldehydes of the hair spray variety reminding one you are at the vanity table surrounded by the appropriate accoutrements. The wink to more pedestrian lip balms comes with a flash of cherry followed by astringent violet leaves and baie rose. This is a fleeting phase as Rossetto No. 14 transitions rapidly right into the lipstick accord. Mme Andrier takes orris, rose, violet, and heliotrope to form the basis but it needs a catalyst. That ingredient which sparks the lipstick accord to life is raspberry. It is the moment of sheer genius within this perfume. As I detected the florals I was a bit disappointed but then the raspberry converts all of it into a lush lipstick accord. Mme Andrier places all of it on a vanilla and benzoin foundation which adds contrasting resinous sweetness to the lipstick. The final moments are a cocktail of musks as the lipstick has finally worn off.
Rossetto No. 14 has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Rossetto No. 14 is, as I mentioned, not a breakthrough lipstick evoking fragrance. It is a new interpretation of it. I find when I’m in the mood for it that Rossetto No. 14 scratches my itch without causing Oedipal issues. That is because Mme Andrier has tweaked it just enough to make it her own and to allow me to make my own memories with it.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
I started my reviews of the new Ephemera by Unsound line with Noise because it is going to be the easiest of the three to approach. That doesn’t mean the remaining two, Bass and Drone, aren’t as good because they are. Perfumer Geza Schoen continued to use music as his brief for the perfumes and MFO provided video interpretations. In the continuation of the conversation I began in the Noise review Bass and Drone live right on the edge of what is commonly considered pleasant smells. This is why these might be less easy to initially embrace. I think these are perfumes worth the effort because once they invade your consciousness they are darn hard to shake.
Bass was founded on a piece of music from Kode9 aka Steve Goodman. He titled the music “Vacuum Burn”. It is his earliest olfactory memory of a vacuum cleaner which emitted a burning smell. Hr. Schoen goes for that odor of burning electronics, dust, and hair. That smell is going to be seen as flat-out unpleasant by many. I once responded to a forum thread on weird smells you like with hot electronics and the smell of hair burning. For me this means Bass accesses that affection for odd smells. Hr. Schoen does a fantastic job at bringing this to life. How he achieves this effect is to take woodsmoke and combine it with rum. The rum stands out very early on but eventually the smoke shrouds it and this forms the burning hair accord. The heated electronic accord consists of a combination in the heart of leather and black tea, on a platform of mastic. Hr. Schoen takes the mastic and uses it as a foundation to build this accord. The base notes are a rich animalic castoreum matched with oakmoss and a couple other musks. It forms a very human final accord as it reminds you there is a young child accessing a unique smell for the first time. Bass has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
The video of Bass, above, captures the sense of heat and burning but the music especially does an amazing job of this. There is a sound of crackling burning punctuated with an irregular mouse click. When I wore Bass and listened to the track I saw the image of the vacuum on overload. I spent my whole hour commute one day listening to Vacuum Burn on repeat with my eyes closed breathing deeply the evolution of Bass. The time flew by.
The piece of music Tim Hecker supplied Hr. Schoen is the antithesis of the name, Drone. It is a languidly swelling soundscape. Early on I lean in to hear the opening notes; by the end it has me sitting back in my chair. Mr. Hecker wanted “a speculative Day-Glo incense from rituals where long-form sound induces levitation.” Hr. Schoen starts with us up in the air as he uses a different set of aldehydes and ozonic notes than he used in Noise. In Noise these ingredients radiated cold. In Drone they do almost the opposite as they convey an expansive openness. This is a fabulous example of what a very talented perfumer can do with primarily the same sets of raw materials. By balancing and combining in just the right way Hr. Schoen produces two very different effects. These early moments of Drone make me feel like I am gliding a few hundred feet above the ground. The heart notes bring me in for a landing in the middle of a stand of pine trees. Fir and juniper are the heart notes but this is mostly fir with the juniper adding in depth. As I continue to take in the airy opening accord over the fir Hr. Schoen pulls out a wonderfully weird synthetic vetiver which begins to insert itself in between the other notes oozing into the spaces and creating a new fragrant accord. The base notes are patchouli and ambergris and they form perhaps the most traditional accord of any of the three fragrances in the collection. Drone has a lot of unusual angles and shifts to it to the point that on first sniff I wasn’t excited. I wore it a lot and the combination of sound and visual really drew me in. Drone has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Drone was the complete package for me. The music by itself was the one I liked the best and the one which has made it onto a playlist with other non-perfume music. This time the video captures the smell and the sound perfectly. There is a moment in the video at the 1:14 point which visualizes the way I smell the vetiver combining in the scent as the music hits the crescendo it has been building towards. This is the perfect combination of sight, sound, and smell. Because of all of this Drone has become my favorite.
Now let me return to the thesis I brought up in the review of Noise, does a perfume have to smell good? I can see showing someone these three perfumes and they can’t find anything within them that smells good. That is judging them solely on a superficial level. What I think all three of the perfumes in this collection exemplify is if you have the vision to go more than skin deep and attempt to connect with more than just the sense of smell there is something beyond the purview of simple questions like “does it smell good?”. Instead the question becomes, “Does it make me feel good?” Where the answer to the first question might be variable; if you allow these perfumes and the music and the visuals the opportunity I think the answer to the second question is something much more affirmative. If you have any interest in the potential of what perfume can do this is a collection you need to try.
Disclosure: this review was based on samples I purchased.