Sandalwood is one of the key building blocks of modern perfumery. Its presence has caused several reactions. One is the overharvesting of the precious sandalwood of Mysore in India. This was what perfumers used in the early decades and over time it was taken down to small amounts left. It is now presided over, so it doesn’t return to that state. Nature and perfumery abhor a vacuum which means the perfume oil producers asked their chemists for synthetic alternatives. Along with that there were sustainable sources in Australia. In all these cases there was a seeming attempt to accentuate the creamy and sweet character of sandalwood. Which moved it further away from what it was trying to emulate.
Jeroen Oude Sogtoen
I have a tiny sample of actual Mysore sandalwood oil along with a few treasured vintage perfumes which feature the ingredient. None of those are creamy or sweet. Mysore sandalwood has a much more austere effect. It always reminds me of an ashy coating being removed to expose raw wood underneath. There is an acrid undercurrent in Mysore sandalwood which is what has been engineered out via chemical synthesis. Mona di Orio Santal Nabataea wants to be a perfume which explores what Mysore sandalwood used to mean in perfumery.
Creative director Jeroen Oude Sogtoen and perfumer Fredrik Dalman were inspired by the capitol of the ancient land of Nabataea, Petra. The city was made of sandstone buildings which were more varied than that sounds because there were different colored varieties to be used in the area. If you need a pop culture reference it is the city where the last act of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” takes place. This transfers to a sandalwood centric perfume as M. Dalman creates a layered effect around his keynote.
This layering is in effect from the first second. M. Dalman uses a mixture of the species of sandalwood from Mysore, santalum album, which has been sustainably grown in Australia. It is supported by some actual Indian sandalwood. This is as close to Mysore sandalwood as we’re going to get in the present day. M. Dalman blends his sources into something which is only tiny shades different than my sample of the authentic source. M. Dalman first calls forth black pepper and coffee to interact with the sandalwood. There is a distinct bitterness to santalum album both notes explore that. The black coffee does it in a richly caffeinated perspective while the pepper picks up on that “ashy” quality I perceive. It moves in the heart to a duo of odd choices in apricot and black currant leaf. There is a kind of urine-like tone to santalum album; the black currant leaf shares that together they find a more pleasant harmonic as the green leaves find more of a presence. The apricot is a fruity contrast. The base accord moves to more traditional ground of opoponax providing a resinous partner to the sandalwood.
Santal Nabataea has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
There is an economic principal called “regression towards the mean”. It means that as the price of something moves further and further to an extreme eventually it finds its way back to the place where it started. As I wore Santal Nabataea it felt like Messrs. Sogtoen and Dalman were providing a perfume equivalent. Santal Nabataea is a regression toward the Mysore.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
I walked away from the television a few nights ago and on my way back the hair rose on my forearms and neck. What caused this? The end of a commercial for the new version of the horror film “Halloween”. It wasn’t anything but the date of the release on the screen. What caused my response was the simple theme from the original movie playing for the last five or ten seconds. Just hearing the simple piano theme elicited the suspense response. As I sat back down I began to think back and realize there are three other examples where the music does as much of the work as the villain.
Music is the unsung character in a horror movie. When the low sounds of cellos and violins begin to gain some momentum, we lean forward in anticipation. It has become a staple to let the music build the tension as the generally stupid person is about to meet a grisly end. I mention the strings because the first iconic theme has become synonymous with stabbing someone.
If someone starts going, “eee, eee, eee, eee” while stabbing at you with an empty fist they are using a musical shorthand from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 movie “Psycho”. When the killer of the movie stabs Janet Leigh’s character multiple times through a shower curtain the high-pitched strings are timed to each downward stroke. Even 58 years past its release it is part of our culture.
The same is true of the “da dum, da dum, da dum” when people do that it means there is something stalking you. On screen director Steven Spielberg was able to use composer John Williams’ simple two note refrain in the 1975 movie “Jaws” as a stand-in for their malfunctioning robotic shark. The audience knew there was something under the water and Mr. Williams had just the right audio set-up for allowing us to know someone was about to be eaten.
Three years earlier director William Friedkin took an avant-garde musical piece by Mike Oldfield and turned it into the theme of the devil in “The Exorcist”. Mr. Oldfield had made a long-form musical composition called “Tubular Bells”. After notes from the movie studio that they wanted a softer musical score Mr. Friedkin found this haunting simple piano melody that made up the first movement of the longer “Tubular Bells”. It is the simplicity of the piano which sends chills up your spine and makes you turn the lights on.
Which brings me back to where we started. In 1978 when director writer John Carpenter was making “Halloween” he didn’t have enough money or time to use a traditional score. So, he sat down at a piano himself and came up with the simple progression played in a sped-up 5/4 time. In three days, he completely composed all the music. “Halloween” would set the stage for the slasher genre of horror movies to come.
That all four of these movies are considered some of the best horror movies ever might have something to do with the music.
One thing my rotation of different perfume styles based on the season has exposed that I do it for other things. I’ve been rearranging my liquor shelves too. The things I like to drink in the cooler months are the soliflores of the alcohol world. Whisky is one of them. There are also some great whisky perfumes in this month’s My Favorite Things looks at five whisky perfumes.
One of the most recent is Nasomatto Baraonda. Independent perfumer Alessandro Gualtieri returned to his flagship brand after a bit of a break with a bold whisky laden perfume. He hands you a snifter loaded with dried berries and synthetic musks. Sig. Gualtieri balances out all the rough edges into a smooth sipping fragrance.
One of the reasons I like Baraonda is it reminded me of the early releases from the brand. The same is true for By Kilian Single Malt. After a few years of going off in different directions Single Malt re-teamed creative director Kilian Hennessy and perfumer Sidonie Lancesseur. They created a beautifully constructed whisky accord which starts with plum slowly coming together via wheat, cedar, tolu balsam, and vanilla. Once it forms you have a fantastic whisky on your skin.
Thierry Mugler A*Men Pure Malt was the second flanker in what I consider the best flanker series in all of perfume. In these early releases original A*Men perfumer Jacques Huclier seemed to delight in adding in a new ingredient to show the versatility of the classic caramel, patchouli, and chocolate accord. In this case it is a whisky accord which teases out the caramel while amplifying the sweetness in all the best whiskies. I keep a little tin of high-quality caramel which I eat a bit of when I’m sipping whisky; it started here.
Another combination of sweet and whisky is present in Carolina Herrera CH Men Prive. Perfumer Christophe Raynaud uses whisky as contrast to the citrus opening of grapefruit, complement to the lavender in the heart and depth along with a black leather accord in the base. This is a rugged masculine perfume.
My final choice comes from a collaboration between independent perfumer David Seth Moltz (the D.S. in D.S. & Durga) and the scotch producer Glenlivet. Hylnds Spirit of the Glen wants to capture the bouquet of a Glenlivet 18. This is a complete experience of scotch in a perfume. Grassy fruity opening deepens into a hay and chamomile heart. When you get to the base with whisky malt and barley you are complete.
If you’re in a whisky mood but don’t feel like a drink, try these five perfumes instead.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
One of the things I assert when speaking about perfume is you do not need a big budget to make a great perfume. One of the brands I point to when backing that up is Avon. Ever since Isabel Lopes took charge of the fragrance offerings there has been a noticeable increase in quality. Ms. Lopes has been willing to offer richer styles of perfume to the Avon consumer. I have a friend who keeps me supplied with new Avon releases. It always surprises me when I come across one which shows off the idea budget is meaningless. Avon Velvet is the latest example.
The palette of multi-faceted synthetics has given any perfumer a lot of latitude to pull off any effect they desire. The perfumer behind Velvet is Gabriela Chelariu. If the name isn’t familiar to you she has been a long-time stalwart in the mass market perfume sector. Ms. Chelariu knows how to make the most of her budget. Velvet is the best perfume she has produced.
One of the techniques to getting the most out of your perfume is to find overlapping notes to form each of your accords. Velvet is at its most basic a fig, rose, and patchouli construct. Ms. Chelariu uses two supporting ingredients to each vertebra in that spine. It results in something unexpectedly great.
Ms. Chelariu opens with a creamy green fig. The red fruits of pomegranate and raspberry are used to round it out. You read that and think overwhelming sweet fruit. What you get is a green fig which is subtly sweetened. It is a fantastic accord. It continues in to the heart as rose sets up as the keynote. Ms Chelariu uses dark lily and heliotropin. The heliotropin transitions from the milky fig to the rose. The dark lily freshens up the deeply spicy rose. It leads to a smooth patchouli which is one of the variants which is a cleaner version of this ingredient. A set of musks which provide the warm skin accord is where this ends.
Velvet has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Velvet is a perfume which could pass for a niche release easily. Even though it is made of less costly ingredients Ms. Chelariu turns Velvet into something which smells like a $100 or more.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Avon.
I spend a lot of time advising new indie perfumers to simplify instead of adding too much to their early fragrances. I advise if you can create a single memorable accord you will be better than 95% of the others in this sector. I know one of the best at this is independent perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. She has just released three excellent examples of this in her DSH Perfumes Les Fruits Defendus Vol. 1.
I had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Hurwitz about this collection when I was in her home base of Boulder, CO. It was meant to be a collection of forbidden fruit; which it is. It is also a collection of how a simply constructed accord can be great perfume.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz
Bakul Medjool has dates as the fruit at the center. Ms. Hurwitz wanted something to cut the sweetness of this dried fruit. Her choice was to source Bakul attar from India. That ingredient is a co-distillation of bakul flower and sandalwood. It is a richly floral-woody ingredient which sets up opposite the dates in equality. Incense wraps it all up in a beautifully resinous embrace.
Ms. Hurwitz and I both share an antipathy to the syrupy adolescent way cherry has been used in fragrance. As she investigated the concept of forbidden fruit she realized she might have to make a cherry entry. Eau Cerise is the result. This is not that viscous fruity treacle; her cherry is a ripe black cherry including the bitterness of the skin. She surrounds it with floral and Oriental accords to produce a floriental with a cherry core. It opens with the bitterness of cherry made green with violet leaf and galbanum. A pungent champaca along with spicy Bulgarian rose provide a floral layer. Oakmoss and cedar provide the Oriental layer. It comes together around the cherry in something that feels uplifting. This is going to be on a scarf, or two, as the weather cools.
When Ms. Hurwitz handed me Figue Interdite I was surprised at what I smelled on the strip. She told me she wanted to create a full spectrum fig. This is much more than just that description. She adds in enhancers to the fig I am used to encountering until it all meshes together in something beautiful. It starts with the wood of the tree before it works outward to the leaves and then the fruit itself. Cedar provides the woody trunk. As it flows from that you smell the green creaminess of fig leaves then the lilt of the flowers before you finally arrive at the fruit. Fig is one of those fruits which represent sexuality. The fig here is sensuous because of the fleshiness of it all. The effect is created with a precise use of coconut to add even more of that quality. Most of the time coconut comes off as a tropical drink here it provides some oiliness while complementing the sweetness. It is a gorgeous accord.
All three perfumes are 100% Natural and have 8-10 hour longevity and very little sillage.
Ms. Hurwitz always display her talent to me in many ways. With Les Fruits Defendus Vol. 1 it the incredible accords which represent the fruits of her labor.
Disclosure: this review is based on samples provided by DSH Perfumes.
When two creative people you admire team-up you probably expect to find something that is more than the sum of its parts. It has been one of the characteristics of the creative direction Victor Wong has produced for his Zoologist Perfumes brand. I think he has helped the independent perfumers he collaborates with to produce some of their best perfumes ever. In the perfume whisper stream, I had heard that one of the most creative independent perfumers, Antonio Gardoni, and Mr. Wong were trying to find a way to team-up on a perfume. The rumors have been realized as Zoologist Tyrannosaurus Rex has been released.
There are a few independent perfumers who have quite as distinctive a signature as Sig. Gardoni. He was the unnamed perfumer for a different brand and the aesthetic nearly screamed his name when you tried it. Until he was revealed as the perfumer he must have become bored with being asked if he was. Sig. Gardoni has excelled at opening phases which are compelling. If there has been a consistent drawback it is the rest of the perfumes sometimes suffer from a clutter of ingredients heading off in many directions. My hope was that Mr. Wong could be the kind of traffic cop who could keep the perfume flowing without jamming up. For the most part I think this is what takes place.
Victor Wong (l.) and Antonio Gardoni
It begins with the bold opening I expected as twin pillars of smoke via cade oil and frankincense. This is amplified with notes of fir, and black pepper. This is acrid smoke the kind that makes you cough if you get too much. Sig. Gardoni captures the violence of air on fire. What twists it all is you also smell the flowers that are burning as champaca, jasmine, neroli, and ylang-ylang capture a primordial tropical milieu. It is a completely Gardoni style opening. Now the question was would this burn to the ground or soar. Mr. Wong does oversee a much more concise trip to the finish by concentrating on a set of woods and animalic ingredients to produce the giant dinosaur in the name erupting from the forest. It starts as cedar and sandalwood begin to push back at the smoke. A classically constructed birch tar leather accord joins in with civet to make the animalic accord. This is far less complicated than the typical Gardoni finish and much better for it.
Tyrannosaurus Rex has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is by far the most avant-garde release from Zoologist. It is not going to be a crowd pleasing easy-to-wear style of perfume. It is also another example of how Mr. Wong can accentuate the positives of the perfumers he works with. Tyrranosaurus Rex is a show of creative force multipliers producing something amazing.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
One of the signs of aging is a longing for things of the past. Perfume is a good antidote for that. New perfumes can use the past as beginning for something different. When my fragrance buying began to expand in the 1970’s it was mostly through the fougeres on offer at the men’s fragrance counters at the mall. I still wear many of those because they appeal to me. Within the past year there seems to be a tiny rippling trend of modernizing fougere. Atelier des Ors Crepuscule des Ames does this by becoming a bit more of a throwback fougere.
"The Hostile Forces" from the Betthoven Frieze by Gustav Klimt
Crepuscule des Ames is one-third of the White Collection. Based on the concept of finding happiness as visualized in the Beethoven Frieze by Gustav Klimt. The three perfumes were each meant to represent one panel of the triptych. Crepuscule Des Ames is inspired by the middle panel titled “The Hostile Forces”. There is a wonderfully artistic description of the panel where the monster in the middle is surrounded by the sins we encounter in life. While wearing Crepuscule des Ames I see the hairy beast in the middle as the classic powerhouse fougeres of decades ago. While the women surrounding attempt to soften that effect.
Marie Salamagne (l.) and Jean-Philippe Clermont
Creative director Jean-Phillipe Clermont continues the collaboration with perfumer Marie Salamagne which has been the case for every Atelier des Ors. Together they use a very traditional herbal citrus opening. The updating occurs throughout the middle part of the development as some different choices are used before returning to a traditional finish.
Crepuscule des Ames opens with mandarin, cardamom, and sage. This was emblematic of many masculine fougeres in the 1970’s and 80’s. It is done in that style with powerful presence from the first moments. It begins to be softened by using hyssop, pimento, and incense. The incense rises to a key note while being shepherded by the herbal-ness of the hyssop and the odd sweetness of the pimento. This part feels very 2018. The base is patchouli paired with hyraceum to provide a more animalic edge to the base accord in place of the more typical leather accord.
Crepuscule des Ames has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I quite enjoyed this homage to the old style masculine fougeres. Mme Salamagne has formed a more luxurious version with some modern twists here and there. It all adds up to a compelling throwback fougere.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Atelier des Ors.
For most people the smell of the beach is a combination of salt spray, suntan lotion, and fresh air. Growing up in South Florida there is another ingredient I have always added to that; the smell of damp coral. At the edge of my bicycle range as a child was a public beach called Matheson Hammock. The main feature of this beach was a natural atoll pool. This was a natural saltwater pond which was refreshed as the tides came and went, ringed with coral. Everything at Matheson Hammock was made of coral; the snack bar, the picnic canopy, you name it. It was as present as the ingredients I mentioned above in my memory of the beach. There have been a few perfumes which have added a bit of stony minerality to the beach scene, the latest is Arquiste Sydney Rock Pool.
The name indicates what part of the world inspired this perfume. Creative director-owner Carlos Huber released Sydney Rock Pool exclusively to Australia earlier this year. It has just become available worldwide. The perfume grew out of a private release to Conde Nast VIP’s. Sr. Huber continued to develop it with perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux into what has become Sydney Rock Pool.
There is a time and place represented by every Arquiste perfume for this one it is the “Golden Hour” in 2016. For those who don’t know the phrase “golden hour” it represents the final hour of the sun in the sky every day. For me the golden hour was the natural signal to head home while there was still daylight to ride my bicycle. As an adult it has become one of my favorite parts of the day as it closes with a palette of colors across the sky; sometimes finishing with a flash of green.
On the days I was at Matheson Hammock as the sun reached a low position I had salt dried on my skin from swimming in the atoll pool. The remains of my suntan lotion were on its last legs. The sea breeze was switching directions bringing the smell of the flowers growing on the land to me. The wet coral was mingling with the scent of the warmed trunks of the palm trees. This is what Sydney Rock Pool smells like.
Sydney Rock Pool begins with a suntan lotion accord represented by coconut on top of salt spray dried on skin. I remember looking down at my chest and seeing white trails. Some of which were dried sea water and some were the places where suntan lotion remained. It would take a touch to see if it was oily or flaky to determine which was which. The scent is reproduced here uncannily by Sr. Flores-Roux. A mineralic accord that rises underneath this is the smell of wet coral. The scent of the flowers behind me come as jasmine and frangipani provide the tropical style botanicals. Sr. Flores-Roux use a thread of narcissus to stitch them together into a late afternoon early evening style of floral accord. The narcissus provides some weight without overwhelming. A healthy dollop of ambermax captures the smell of drift wood and palm trees warmed by the day’s sun.
Sydney Rock Pool has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I suspect that some where Down Under there is a young child on a bicycle standing atop an atoll pool who is a twin to myself fifty years ago and a world away. Sydney Rock Pool connects us via the scent of the golden hour no matter what the map says.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle supplied by Arquiste.
I was challenged to one of those Facebook things where you post a picture of an album cover, favorite movie scene or book cover. It was the last one which I responded to. As I’ve posted a new cover every day this week I realized reading books is still one of my favorite activities. Which got me thinking a bit more about why that is so.
One thing I’m afraid of is thirty years from now a lot of this generation might not be able to fulfill this challenge. Reading a book has begun to seem equivalent to writing with a pen; rarely done. For all that the information revolution has improved things, book reading might become a long-term casualty. I have asked a few of the people in my life, in their twenties, what the last book was they read. I’ve received mostly looks like I asked for them to remember what they did last summer or the one before that. What makes me look forward to reading?
The one thing I have enjoyed is the transition from printed page to my tablet. The print is always the right size and perfectly lit. I can read anywhere anytime now. The one thing I miss is my regular trips to the bookstore browsing the new release shelves. So many books made it into my hands because of an attractive dust jacket or compelling come on in the interior flap of that dust jacket. I’ve gotten over that the same way I got over album covers informing my music choices by sampling. Almost any book will let you sample a chapter or two online. It is fun to read a sample chapter followed by hitting download and continuing. All of that is just convenience. There is an even larger reason I still read books.
It is because there is no other art form which immerses my imagination more fully. When a historian takes me to a specific era I am there, surrounded in my head by those people. When a science fiction write puts me on a new planet it exists informed by the words on the page. When a detective novel discovers a body I’m on the case, too. When a writer creates an entire fantasy universe it becomes my fantasy universe.
When I sit down to read I am not multitasking. I am solely doing one thing; reading. It is why it is so immersive. Even the best video games can’t provide the same experience. Reading outpaces all of that. I hope that I am not part of the last generation which sees the value in that.
There are some brands which just don’t click with me. It is not that they are poorly constructed they just don’t do anything for me. Which makes it hard for me to write about them. I will often receive e-mails asking if I like something from one of those brands to which I reply, “not yet”. If they keep releasing new perfumes eventually there is one which does break through. Usually it is something which is chock full of my favorite ingredients. Imagine my surprise to find myself liking Gallagher Fragrances Fineapple.
Daniel Gallagher began his independent perfume brand in 2016 releasing nine in the debut collection. While none of them made an impression on me one thing did stand out. If there is a flaw to first-time independent perfumers, it is they can’t stop adding things to their creations. Mr. Gallagher stood out for releasing more streamlined formulas. He followed up a year later with two more releases which again were more noteworthy for their restraint than their effect.
When I received the latest release, Fineapple, the name had me thinking this was going to join the rest of the line. My antipathy to pineapple has been chronicled in previous reviews. A perfume promising me a lot of pineapple? That should have been a non-starter. Except Mr. Gallagher’s succinct style used some of the things I see as flaws in the fruit and turned them into something enjoyable.
If there is a consistent complaint I have about pineapple in perfumes is it is used as a sweet fruit bludgeon. So strong it overwhelms. Mr. Gallagher by using a smaller ingredient list embraces that exuberance while refining the overall effect to something much more enjoyable.
The pineapple is there right from the start, but Mr. Gallagher also has a tart green apple there simultaneously. What this does is prevent the pineapple from going all juicy. It focuses it with the crispness of the apple sharing that trait with the pineapple. It is an ideal pairing. The rest of Fineapple is kept simple with an expansive jasmine, synthetic woods and musky ambrette. They are all used as complementary support to the apple and pineapple.
Fineapple has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I always am pleased to find a pairing which helps me appreciate an ingredient I was previously agnostic about. Mr. Gallagher makes a fine apple-pineapple perfume in Fineapple.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample from Gallagher Fragrances.