I have a hypothesis when it comes to artists. The second effort is a better indication of success than their debut. There is a reason for the phrase “sophomore slump”. It shows up particularly acutely in the music business. Most of the time by the time a band is signed they’ve had years together earning that. Which also means when they enter the studio they can choose the best songs over that time span to use. It becomes much more difficult when they are asked to come up with new material for a second album in a year or two. If they can I tend to believe there is a chance for long term success. The three sisters who comprise the group Haim are the latest to show whether they can avoid this.
Haim performing on SNL
Haim was one of those acts which built their reputation on their live shows. That is much of what sets them apart in an era of production values over authenticity. They spent a year recording their first album “Days are Gone”. The length of the process was due to their using their live shows as rehearsal for when they would finally record the track. I am very fond of a less produced sound; “Days are Gone” was right where I like my rock and roll.
The second album “Something to Tell You” was released at the beginning of this month. It shows a band evolving. It is a funny thing when it comes to Haim because they have defined a seemingly singular sweet spot between pop music and alt-rock. When I say that you might think that would mean Haim has compromised both sides of that to land in the middle. What I think is different is they manage not to compromise anything while being both alt and pop.
The first single “Want you Back” is a good example. It is a song about wanting what you gave up while taking responsibility. It is surrounded by hooks of all kind. It has been one of my favorite songs of the summer. It became indicative of an album examining relationships in crisis. I don’t know if this reflects anything real in any of the band’s real life but if not, they do know how to cut to the bone.
Over the last month my favorite song has become “Right Now”. It is a heartbreaking song of wondering what happened. There is a plaintive organ which carries the lyrics to their end. I spoke about how their live shows feed into what gets recorded and there is a video which was shot around their recording session for this album. Which shows a more “live” version. If you compare it to what ended up on the album you get a real window into how these artists work.
It tells me there is much more to come from these three talented musicians, no sophomore slump here.
If you have ever grown basil at home you have now reached the point in the summer that you wonder what you can do with all that you have on hand. I know over the years we have gotten very creative in finding ways to use it. I might become tired of using it in recipes but one thing I never tire of is the fresh green herbal scent of the leaves. Just picking one and crushing it in my hand is a pleasure while cooking on the grill or watching the poodles cavort in the backyard. Basil has been an ingredient in perfume, usually paired up with some other herbs. Even as part of an ensemble there some fragrances where the basil takes the lead. Here are five of my favorite basil perfumes.
You might think I would start with the classic Jo Malone Lime, Basil, & Mandarin. It was a favorite until last year when it was replaced by Jo Malone Basil & Neroli. Perfumer Anne Flipo uses three different isolates of basil paired with a fantastic neroli. It has become my favorite perfume in the entire Jo Malone line.
It is the basil which makes Dior Eau Sauvage something more than just a masculine lavender perfume. Perfumer Edmond Roudnitska has basil provide the bridging note from the top citrus accord down to the vetiver base. As part of the expansive Hedione heart it adds green threads to the jasmine tapestry M. Roudnitska creates. I don’t think many will think of Eau Sauvage when I say basil perfumes but like things you never noticed that you can’t help seeing once you do see them; give Eau Sauvage a try and I bet you notice the basil now.
Another evergreen fragrance which uses basil is Azzaro pour Homme. This masculine powerhouse uses basil as a part of an herbal heart accord. Like in Eau Sauvage it also provides that bridging effect from the top of lavender and citrus to the patchouli and vetiver heart. This one is a little harder to see the basil as a featured note perhaps. I always notice it but that might be because I am attuned to it.
One of the best examples of a Mediterranean style is Annick Goutal Eau du Sud. Perfumer Isabelle Doyen wanted to capture twilight in Provence. She uses verbena as her focal point allowing basil, citrus, and sandalwood to complete the milieu. You might not think of basil as a typical fresh note; Mme Doyen shows that it can be.
I often complain about flankers taking the original and shoving a couple of new notes in to the formula and repackaging it. 99.9% of the time it is cynical; Tom Ford Private Blend Neroli Portofino Forte is the 0.1%. One reason might be perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux when asked to make his original Neroli Portofino “forte” he didn’t take that to mean to turn up the volume. Instead he looked at the top and base accords to find ways to make them bolder. The basil leads the chorus of herbs joined by tarragon, rosemary, and mint. Galbanum shades it all a bit greener. I like this because it does add strength. The neroli heart is given a different perspective coming out of such an herbal top. A leather accord provides the strength to finish. This also has replaced the original as my favorite of the blue bottle Private Blends.
These five help me keep my enjoyment of basil going all year long.
Disclosure: this review is based on bottles I purchased.
Creed is a perfume house which prides itself on its luxury. It is one of the few brands which lives up to its reputation. There is a certain style of sophistication baked into every Creed release. Even when it is a simple perfume the creative team at Creed knows how to create this effect. The latest release in the Les Royales Exclusives collection, White Amber, displays what I am writing about.
The Les Royales Exclusives are an ultra-luxe collection within Creed where Erwin and Olivier Creed are making it even more Creed than the regular line. Of the previous five releases I am very fond of Spice and Wood as well as White Flowers both of which I think, creatively, achieve what the Creeds wanted from this collection. White Amber, from the name, had me expecting a fresh take on amber. Instead it is a very open floral featuring one flower, jasmine.
Olivier (l.) and Erwin Creed
As I wore White Amber I was reminded of one of the most famous sketches from Saturday Night Live. In the sketch, a documentary is being filmed on the making of a classic rock song. The cowbell player is feeling extra feisty to the annoyance of the band. The producer walks into the studio after the first take and asks for “more cowbell”. It leads to more fun as the cowbell player follows orders. When I was wearing White Amber I had a thought of father and son smelling a mod of White Amber and saying to each other “more jasmine”. I highly doubt that is what happened but they did decide to make a huge jasmine soliflore out of White Amber.
If you’re looking for the amber advertised on the label make sure you enjoy the first few minutes of White Amber because it is the only place it is detectable. It is contrasted with a bit of vanilla along with blackcurrant bud but this accord is only temporary. The jasmine arises early on and keeps rising. There are multiple sources of jasmine here. The only commonality is the indoles have been stripped out of them; perhaps this is the white part. What they are replaced with is benzoin. This removes skankiness in favor of resinous warmth. When I smelled it on a strip I didn’t care for the exchange. When I was wearing it, my opinion changed as the benzoin adds a comfy quality to the jasmine. The jasmine never stops radiating and the only modulator over the end of White Amber is some sandalwood.
White Amber has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I came to like the benzoin and jasmine combination much more on my skin than on paper. It is a caution that if you are interested in White Amber to spray some on before making a decision; I found a significant difference. If you are someone for whom the idea of “more jasmine” is appealing I think this is a good interpretation of a jasmine soliflore from Creed.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Creed.
For any brand to remain relevant it must adapt to the changes within its consumer base. It is one of the reasons I am so fascinated with the current consumer landscape. With two large generations for brands to court they will obviously tilt towards the younger one. Over the last 18-24 months this has played out in the fragrance area. The older the brand the more they will have had to figure out the changes and try to stay ahead of them. When it comes to perfume I can make the case that Chanel as a fragrance brand has not only signaled the changes they have called the tune for others to dance to. Because of that the new releases from Chanel have larger significance than just a new fragrance from one of the founders of modern perfumery.
Last year No. 5 L’Eau was the first look at where Chanel might be heading. In-house perfumer Olivier Polge is given the opportunity with this change to claim the next era of Chanel fragrance as his own. No. 5 L’Eau was M. Polge’s attempt to find a middle ground between the past and the present. I thought it was a fantastic perfume brilliantly executed. M. Polge’s next fragrance is meant to be a new pillar for the house it is called Gabrielle.
M. Polge describes Gabrielle as an “abstract floral”. I am coming to realize when a fragrance brand uses “abstract” that is PR speak for a transparent style of perfume. The more correct description of Gabrielle is as a transparent floral. What is fascinating here is M. Polge is doing what he did with No. 5 L’Eau. He is taking some of the heavier perfume ingredients; finding a way to make them more expansive. Gabrielle succeeds with this task as M. Polge finds that same middle ground that he did with No. 5 L’Eau.
Gabrielle opens with a transitory citrus top accord using grapefruit as the focal point. The flowers begin to arrive straightaway. Neroli and ylang-ylang come first as they pick up on the sunny quality of the citrus transforming it to a floral version. There is a faux-aldehydic sparkle to this. The heart is all white flowers, orange blossom, tuberose, and jasmine. M. Polge doesn’t remove the indoles completely. They are dialed down but they are there and that choice makes the heart a more relevant accord than if M. Polge played it safe using non-indolic versions of the notes. What is here is an effusive version of this white floral bouquet without being insipid. The base is sandalwood and a few white musks which provides a linen-like closing accord.
Gabrielle has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Coco nee Gabrielle Chanel
The name of this perfume is Ms. Chanel’s name that she was born with before she became Coco. While wearing this and bearing that in mind it made me think Gabrielle the perfume represents Gabrielle the aspiring fashion icon. Still searching for exactly what she stands for while knowing there are some things which are going to be part of Gabrielle or Coco. This is also going to be how many perfume lovers approach this. If you have come to Chanel through Coco; Gabrielle might seem to be a trifle. If you are someone who has stayed away from Chanel because it is “too strong” or “too old” I believe Gabrielle might bring you to Chanel for maybe the first time. I do think Chanel is trying to send the message that you don’t have to go as far towards the transparent as many other brands seem to believe. Chanel seems to be saying that things change but the underlying style is ever present.
Disclosure: this review was based on a preview bottle I purchased.
This is one of the more difficult Perfume 101 columns to write. It is because the best perfumes from Yves St. Laurent (YSL) all carry with them an above average presence. There is nothing gentile about any YSL perfume. Yet if, as a perfume lover, you have come to appreciate the vintage aesthetic a little more; of all the mainstream designer brands YSL has stayed the course while continuing to produce perfume since 1964. Which is my difficulty. The perfumes of YSL are of a style which represents the 1960’s or 1970’s if you’re looking for contemporary this is not the place you should be. If you are wondering if there are still some perfumes which still carry that classic style YSL is your place; here are five you can start with.
I start this list with the first perfume released by the brand in 1964, Y. Y was designed a summer weight chypre. In 1964, I am sure that this was considered light. In 2017, less so. Transitioning from aldehydes through a heart of galbanum to a characteristic chypre base. I wear this in the summer all the time but your mileage may vary.
In 1971 the perfume worn by M. St. Laurent himself was released with Yves St. Laurent Pour Homme. Perfumer Raymond Chaillan composes around an axis of lemon-thyme-vetiver. Lavender and carnation provide the floral components. Sage and rosemary add more herbal quality before woods surround the vetiver. It is another summer staple for me.
Perfumer Sophia Grojsman would make some of the more memorable perfumes in the YSL collection. Her first for the brand was Paris in 1983. Years before the gourmand style of perfume would become a thing Paris is one of the proto-gourmands. Before that appears in the base Mme Grojsman unleashes a gigantic rose bolstered by violet and iris. As the base begins to come forward the florals have transformed to soft powderiness. This sets the stage for tonka and vanilla to add in a sweet ending.
When I first encountered Yvresse it was called Champagne. Then the wine makers in France forced a name change. Mme Grojsman is again the perfumer ten years after she did Paris. This time she is after a pared down fruity floral chypre. To achieve that she keeps it simple. Nectarine provides the citrus on top cut with mint. Violet and rose form the heart twisted with the sweetness of lychee and the herbal nature of anise. A modern chypre base is the foundation upon which this stands. It is a controlled fruity floral which is why it stands out.
My introduction to the brand came when I was given a metal cylinder in silver black and blue as a gift. Inside was Rive Gauche Pour Homme. It was the beginning of my love of barbershop perfumes. Tom Ford had just begun his creative direction at YSL in 2003; working with perfumer Jacques Cavallier they would create a barbershop with sleek modern fixtures. The lavender and vetiver fougere is the basis for this style of fragrance. The additions to each phase that Mr. Ford and M. Cavallier attempted succeeded in turning Rive Gauche Pour Homme into this great contemporary perfume. Anise provides a different running partner to the typical rosemary. Carnation joins lavender in the heart but clove is added in to form deeper combination with the geranium. Gaiac wood is the modern counterpoint to the vetiver in the base. Rive Gauche Pour Homme is one of the most versatile scents out there. It is why I recommend it often to those who want to own just one bottle of perfume.
Those are the five where I think you should start. This list leaves out three of the greatest perfumes of all time because I think they are not the place to be introduced to YSL. If you find you like the vibe seek out Opium, Nu, and Kouros. They aren’t for the faint of heart but they are the best that perfume has to offer.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
I am a sucker for a good bergamot focused perfume. I probably smell no ingredient more that bergamot. It is a staple of top accords of a huge amount of various fragrances. It is so common it is easy to forget it can be beautiful when given an opportunity to shine. Allowing the forgotten ingredient some time in the spotlight.
The most recent example of a fun bergamot perfume has come from a brand I sort of forget about, too. I receive a box of samples from Sephora quarterly. The brand Commodity has been a part of these boxes since their inception in 2014. The overall brand aesthetic is one of creating a minimalistic style of fragrance which reflects strongly whatever is on the label. For the most part I have found this stripped-down style to not have engaged me enough to wear one for a couple days so I could review it. This is not to say that I tossed the strips to the side. Most of the perfumes are done by some of my favorite perfumers and they deliver what is asked of them. When it came to Commodity Bergamot, perfumer Stephen Nilsen turns this style to his advantage.
The reason there are not many bergamot perfumes is because it doesn’t last very long. Even if a perfumer empties their bag of tricks the bergamot will be gone in a few short hours. Mr. Nilsen does his best to keep the bergamot around. Which is why there are only two other ingredients to note; amber and violet leaf.
The fragrance opens with a giant shot of bergamot. Every time I experience bergamot in this quantity I am reminded of the way light moves on silk fabric with flow and presence. Bergamot is a fast-moving ingredient. To extend its stay Mr. Nilsen uses some mandarin oil to extend the citrus feel although there is nothing like the first half-an-hour as the bergamot shines by itself. As the mandarin begins to become more present violet leaf gives a green platform from which amber eventually warms things up in the end.
Commodity Bergamot has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
There is a shiny fabric called brilliantine that was used in fashion. As I wore Commodity Bergamot I kept thinking this was a perfume of sparkle given flow. It is a brilliant choice for midsummer because its simplicity makes it a refreshing unobtrusive companion.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Sephora.
The best perfumes are all about harmonics. The ability to have a fixed focal point over which several specific notes provide overtones in a pleasant way. At least that’s the idea. There are lots of brands which mention this as a principle but Masque Milano Mandala used it as inspiration.
Riccardo Tedeschi and Alessandro Brun
The creative directors of Masque Milano, Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi, were inspired by the manner of singing by Tibetan monks. It is called overtone singing. It is a concept of two parallel singers finding a middle path between them by sticking to their choral lane. It is at its most compelling when widely different styles find within the combination something not found in either by themselves.
Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi brought in perfumer Christian Carbonnel to try and accomplish something similar with Mandala. They wanted to take a resinous track and in parallel run a fresh one. A mixture of deep and airy. It makes for a tricky effect to pull off for the entire time you wear Mandala. I also found less of the fresh line and more of a consistent spicy through line which was in the same pitch as the resins.
Sig. Carbonnel uses a silvery austere frankincense to set up the first moment of the resin line. The other line is nutmeg and a bit of angelica. This is where I got thrown a bit because the nutmeg is much more prominent than the angelica. Which is like another singer arriving and shoving the fresh one out of the way. That is compounded in the heart as cinnamon picks up the tune laid down by the nutmeg and asks clove and cardamom along. I think the cardamom was meant to be the fresh but it is happier playing with the warmer clove and cinnamon. The incense becomes stronger and some cedar is used to separate it from the other notes keeping it humming along. In the base myrrh adds some sweet tonality to what has been something severe to this point. The spices finally give way to ambergris which finally does provide the briny contrast to the resins. The woods remain as chaperone keeping the two sides apart.
Mandala has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Based on the description I was looking for something which really attempted to work disparate fragrance tracks into something memorable. I can see where there was meant to be that fresher presence but it never makes any impression until the end. Up until then it is spices and resins. Mandala is a good version of that style of fragrance as it still finds something worth sniffing even if this harmonic has been seen before.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Masque Milano.
One of the great joys of writing Colognoisseur is the amount of e-mail I receive. The interaction between reader and writer has sparked many story ideas on fragrance. When I started Colognoisseur I wanted to spend one day a week writing about non-perfume things. I always expected those to be my least read piece of the week, or month. What has been a pleasant surprise is some of the readership is also interested in the same things I am. I also get e-mails about that too. Because the perfume ones eventually get answered through a story I thought I’d take a week to answer some of the questions which have been asked about The Sunday Magazine topics.
The question I have received, particularly in the last three weeks, several times now is what convinced me to write this column. “What do you think of Twin Peaks: The Return?”
The volume of this question spiked after the airing of Episode 8. First as I replied to everyone who asked; no I have no idea what exactly was going on for that entire episode but I expect some of it will become clearer by the end of all 18 chapters.
To the larger question I have really found myself immersed in the vision of David Lynch and Mark Frost twenty-five years later. I think Mr. Lynch is telling the story in a way so different that it can be hard to embrace. Halfway home I am happy.
I received a half-dozen emails on the graphic novel “My Favorite Thing is Monsters” by Emil Ferris. With the question is there anything else like it to read? Short answer; no.
Better answer is Ms. Ferris uses graphic storytelling to tell her story in an unconventional way. If it is that which you are looking for “The Best We Could Do” by Thi Bui tells the story of her Vietnamese-American family and the immigration experience in the United States. It is timely and poignant.
What wine should I serve with BBQ? That’s an easy one where I have recommended the same thing for many years. The best BBQ wine is the reds from France’s Cotes du Rhone. They all come in at under $20 a bottle and provide an ideal counterpoint to the smoky barbecue. The best ones are from Guigal, Vidal-Fleury, and Louis Bernard.
Nobody asked but my favorite recent guilty pleasure is the Netflix series GLOW. Loosely based on the story of the first televised women’s professional wrestling show it captures the Los Angeles 1980’s milieu hysterically well. It is mostly played for laughs but the underlying point of women figuring out how to own their own lives by dressing up as wrestlers; is heartfelt.
Which leads to the number of responses my column on strong women in pop culture generated. From “not good enough; yet” to agreement with most of my hypothesis. I am happy that we can have the discussion with so many examples to choose from. I am looking forward to seeing Charlize Theron as Atomic Blonde next weekend. I don’t think that movie ever gets made five years ago.
Please keep writing to me and I’ll do this periodically when there are enough responses.
The Gucci fashion empire is amid change. Two years ago, the creative brain trust at the brand was overturned with young designer Alessandro Michele becoming the Creative Director. Of course, first on his list was to oversee the fashion aspect. Now he finally turns to the fragrance business with the first release under his creative direction; Gucci Bloom.
When it comes to fragrance Gucci has really never had a consistent brand identity. It doesn’t mean there haven’t been some great perfumes with Gucci on the label just nothing approaching cohesion from release to release. In many of the interviews Sig. Michele gave after being named to his post he would talk about how fashion is an emotional experience when it is at its best. I would also say that kind of attitude would be paramount in designing a perfume.
For his first fragrance Sig. Michele couldn’t have chosen a better collaborator than perfumer Alberto Morillas. When I saw the photo of the bottle which accompanied my sample I didn’t even need the prompting from the PR to think it was in #Millennial pink. Which lead me to expect a transparent floral gourmand inside that container. Imagine my surprise to find a full-throated white flower fragrance instead.
The construction of Bloom is kept very simple with it being most easily described as a tuberose and jasmine perfume. Except where nearly everyone else is going for opaque Sig. Michele and Sr. Morillas go to the opposite. There is meant to be a fragrance with presence here.
Describing this is facile. It opens with tuberose and it is the creamy, buttery version of tuberose. The indoles are here but are the only part of the white flowers which are dialed back a little bit. Not gone but not enough to provide the full-on skank you find elsewhere. The jasmine is kept just a notch below the volume of the tuberose making it a supporting note but one which has an important role to play. The final note I experience is iris which provides a powdery finishing effect. There is supposed to be a proprietary note used here for the first time called Rangoon creeper, a version of Chinese honeysuckle. If it is here it is being used so subtly I was unable to experience it as a distinct presence. Maybe when I smell it in something where it is most prominent I’ll be able to re-visit Bloom and go, “Oh, yeah now I see it.”
Bloom has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Sig. Michele is definitely willing to allow a perfume lover’s emotion to carry the weight of how they will feel about this. It is an excellently executed white flower mainstream release. How you feel about that will probably decide your emotion when it comes to Bloom.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Gucci.
The essence of curiosity is to look around the corner, walk through the door, open the book, or look inside the drawer. A life where one avoids these things is one where something inspiring is most likely missed. When we went on family road trips I had some of my most fun poking around in the roadside shops. The ones which had signs like “If you break it, you bought it.” Each place was an undiscovered country where possibility could present anything to me. I still have some of the items from those road trips on my desk. Those early discoveries remind me of what I might still find today.
I wonder if the curious, today, spend too much time swiping and clicking their way through the electronic roadside shops. A step away from experiencing things on the electronic highway is something perfumer Mandy Aftel just opened recently.
Ms. Aftel has been a consistent source of reference for perfume lovers. Her first book “Essence and Alchemy” was one of the earliest essential fragrance references. Through her work with the Natural Perfumer’s Guild, in its early days, along with the classes she has taught her knowledge has been easily shared with many who want to try their hand at perfume making. I have no interest in making perfume myself although Ms. Aftel, through her books, has explained the basics I should be aware of. What all of you who have read my words know has been a consistent fascination for me are the ingredients. The Aftel Archive of Curious Scents is a museum of over three hundred natural sources of perfume ingredients. I don’t know how or when but I am going to go spend an hour inside this magnificent collection.
Until then I have to satisfy my curiosity with Ms. Aftel’s latest perfume inspired by her museum called, Aftelier Perfumes Curious. The idea behind the perfume is what it might smell like if you stood in the middle of The Aftel Archive of Curious Scents and inhaled. What comes to life in that breath is a mixture of smoky muskiness contrasted by spicy citrus.
Curious opens with a full-spectrum orange accord. Ms. Aftel combines the green leaf with a bitter orange. In the sour, the green finds some purchase to form an accord which feels rounded out. It gets roughed up a bit with some spices cutting through the citrus. The heart is smoke over wood. The wood is identified as Siam wood. It smells like an exotic hardwood after being charred a bit. This is a light smoke not the obtrusive kind you more often find. Out of the smoke comes tobacco absolute. Ms. Aftel calls it the ultimate botanical musk. I have never looked at it from that perspective. It is made more malleable by also using hay absolute as a catalyst to spark the development.
Curious has 8-10 hour longevity and minimal sillage.
Come Inside My Friends To the Show That Never Ends….
Curious is like the carnival barker enticing you closer to the attraction just through that door over there. Like those family road trips, I want to take a drive to Berkeley to visit this newest of roadside attractions wafting Curious the entire way.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Aftelier Perfumes.