There was a time when the centers of perfumery were easy to name. While that history is the foundation of today it was very typically French, American or Italian. What is fantastic about the state of fragrance today is there are many more countries showing off their heritage, creativity, and aesthetic. This is the soul of artistic independent perfume in 2017. As one who has to keep track of all of this it does make my life somewhat difficult but then I find something which combines everything I find fascinating within the world of fragrance in one place.
I regularly search my favorite perfumers to see what their most recent releases are. On a January afternoon, I typed in Rodrigo Flores-Roux. As I scrolled through the list there were things I knew were coming but as I got to the bottom of the list I saw a brand with three releases from December I had never heard of, Xinu. After doing a search I found a Now Smell This announcement which linked the homepage of the brand. As I read through the website I became more and more interested in the Mexico City-based brand because much of what was written on the web page were things that Sr. Flores-Roux has spoken to me of when we talk about how he approaches perfume making.
Owner Veronica Alejandra Pena asked Sr. Flores-Roux to achieve their shared vision of, “a reflection of botanical richness, artisanal mastery, cutting edge design, and olfactory delight.” I want to point out that second phrase “artisanal mastery”. Sr. Flores-Roux has worked for all kinds of clients over the many years he has been a perfumer. For what might be the first time the collection of three perfumes he did for Xinu give me some insight into what path Sr. Flores-Roux might have taken if he was born twenty years later. I can see him starting his own independent perfume brand highlighting the best Mexico and Latin America has to offer. The collection for Xinu is much more polished than that but there is a bit of an indie perfumer vibe lurking in the background of these perfumes. I am going to review all three of the debut collection over the next two days. I will start with Aguamadera.
Blue Agave Harvest
Aguamadera is a shank of summer fragrance centered around citrus and woods. The indigenous ingredient used in Aguamadera is agave. For those who drink tequila, which is distilled from agave, you have an idea of the bitter nature of it. What is missing in its essential oil incarnation is there is also a briny character as strong as the bitter part. It provides a different version of the aquatic sea spray accord without relying on the typical ingredients used to create that effect.
The opening of Aguamadera is tart astringent lime paired with the bitter salinity of agave. It gives the sense of walking a beach in the sunshine as the spray from the waves dampens your face. The woods used to frame the lime and agave are cedar and guaiac they continue that fresh feeling all the way until the end.
Aguamadera has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
I’ll be back tomorrow with reviews of Copala and OroNardo.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Xinu.
You know when you receive something you connect with that time stands still. The movie seems over before it has begun. You walk away from the sculpture or painting on display only to find that an hour has passed. You can’t sleep until you finish the book. It is why art is so important; this ability to draw on our innermost feelings taking them out for us to examine. In this age of storytelling the graphic form of it has become a new place to find something original. The new graphic novel My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris is a new height in this area.
The book is semi-autobiographical as Ms. Ferris who was making a living as an illustrator came down with West Nile Virus; paralyzing her from the waist down while making her unable to draw. Through laborious effort she trained herself to overcome the pain. Sometime during this came the story which she is now telling in My Favorite Thing is Monsters.
That story takes place in 1968 Chicago as we meet 10-year old Karen Reyes who has a mother fighting cancer. She projects her belief in a cure on the idea a monster, from her beloved monster comic books, will bite her mother turning her into a monster who will no longer have cancer. As she searches for these monsters she meets her upstairs neighbor Anka. When Anka is found dead in her bed after being shot in the heart Karen begins to look for real monsters as she investigates. She delves in to Anka’s past in Nazi Germany juxtaposed against the societal changes taking place in late 1960’s Chicago. The story is fascinating enough if it was just a novel. The graphic elements are what elevate it to something amazing.
Throughout high school and college I had contemporaries who drew with a ballpoint pen in a notebook using dense cross hatched lines to achieve their drawing. The graphic part of My Favorite Thing is Monsters is Karen’s notebook which is what we are reading with the prose interspersed. It is so perfect as the diary of a ten-year old. One of the devices used by Ms. Ferris is we see how Karen sees herself as one of the monsters, in a trenchcoat, in her view of herself among the illustrations. There are reproductions of horror comic book covers. There are portraits drawn with emotion of those Karen connects with. In the sample pages, you see here you get the idea.
Reading My Favorite Thing is Monsters reminded me of reading the first volume of Art Spigelman’s Maus or the first issues of Alan Moore’s Watchmen. It is what happens when a style of storytelling is beginning an evolution. Ms. Ferris is taking graphic novels to a better place.
When the discussion turns to what the first niche perfume was it has some different answers depending on who you ask. While the early pioneers started in the late 1970’s-early 1980’s I would say that niche perfume became defined in the 1990’s. I would further aver that one of the brands which did that was Comme des Garcons.
That started in 1994 when Comme des Garcons founder Rei Kawakubo had Christian Astuguevieille oversee the foundation of the fragrance section of the brand. From that moment M. Astuguevieille has developed what has become one of the most influential niche brands in the industry which continues to be influential today. One of the things that twenty-three years of perfume making offers is a chance for perspective. It is easier to know which perfumes within the collection have been those signposts.
Why I am writing about this is Comme des Garcons is bringing back those early releases back to the market under the name of the Comme des Garcons Olfactory Library. As of June 19, 2017, you will be able to find ten releases of these seminal perfumes in the niche sector.
First and foremost, in the ten re-releases is the very first Comme des Garcons Eau de Cologne from 1994. Perfumer Mark Buxton would be one of the first to take a traditional fragrance architecture and turn it inside-out. What really blows me away is it still smells relevant today. This is no anachronism.
Three of the truly ground-breaking Series 6: Synthetic scents are part of this as Garage, Soda, and Tar make their return. When this was released, in 2004, it was marketed as “anti-perfume to the extreme”. What it asked was is there room in this new branch of artistic-minded perfumery for exploring real smells. All three of these are answers to that question.
The remaining six are two choices each from Series 1: Leaves, Series 2: Red, and Series 7: Sweet. Calamus from the Series 1: Leaves is one of perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour’s best green perfumes. He would return for Series 2: Red Sequoia with a booze-infused redwood forest; also included in this retrospective. Perfumer Nathalie Feisthauer did both Tar and Soda but if you want to see one of the forerunners of the gourmand style of fragrance Series 7: Sweet Sticky Cake provides that.
I’m leaving out expanding on Series 2: Red Palisander and Series 1: Leaves Lily and Series 7: Sweet Nomad Tea each of which also defined Comme des Garcons in the years of 1994-2005. Throughout there is the sure hand of M. Astuguevieille guiding Comme des Garcons to remain one of the leaders in a sector it helped broaden..
The overall concept of the Olfactory Library is for Comme des Garcons to continue to bring back the past in consistent sets of releases going forward. There are some amazing perfumes in that history to be given the opportunity to be discovered by this generation of perfume lovers.
It is a funny thing how when you have a steady diet of something you begin to crave something the opposite. Just think of after you eat some chocolate the idea of some crunchy salty chips sounds good. As we get to May of every year after having smelled numerous fresh spring rose perfumes I begin to want a rose perfume with less fresh and more power. I know it is coincidence but just as I really start to need a perfume like this one arrives in my mailbox. This year it came from Vilhelm Harlem Bloom.
I am not sure what the creative process is between Vilhelm creative director-owner Jan Ahlgren and perfumer Jerome Epinette is. What I do know is Harlem Bloom is the seventeenth release from a brand which has stood out as one of the best new brands of the last two years. There is not a dud in the entire collection. It is also an impressively broad collection which I believe is testament to the breadth of M. Epinette. Which allows Mr. Ahlgren the opportunity to go anywhere his creativity desires.
Jerome Epinette (l.) and Jan Ahlgren
Harlem Bloom is based on the neighborhood Mr. Ahalgren calls home when he is in New York City. Just in my thirty years of visiting New York City regularly I have seen the transformation of this historical part of the city. Long gone are the days where you were warned not to go above 125th Street. Now it is one of the most vibrant areas in Manhattan. Harlem has indeed bloomed. For the fragrance Mr. Ahlgren envisioned a deep rose-centered fragrance to represent the brownstone he lives in. M. Epinette adds in five specifically chosen notes to bring that rose to life.
The rose M. Epinette chooses is a rich Turkish rose. This is the rose which carries a spicy character among the petals tilting it away from powder and more towards decadent. In Harlem Bloom M. Epinette uses those five notes to enhance that vivacious nature. First it is the peppery woodiness of angelica seeds and the toasty spiciness of saffron. These insert themselves into the rose to create a sumptuously spicy rose. There is also some violet that becomes apparent after some time which almost seems like the signal for the base combination of ebony wood and leather to come out. This is a more animalic leather which matches the rose for power. The dark wood is the foundation for these two accords to interact upon.
Harlem Bloom has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
If you’re still enjoying you fresh spring rose fragrances; continue on. When you have that craving for a rose with something more to it give Harlem Bloom a try; it will scratch that itch.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Vilhelm.
As we move into the latter half of this decade we are now approaching the moment when many of the early niche brands begin to hit ten-year anniversaries. These are occasions which should be celebrated. All one must do is to look at what brands never made it past a couple of years. If a brand does make this kind of anniversary I would say it shows they have found an audience which has followed it for those years. Memo Paris is observing their ten-year anniversary in 2017. What creative director Clara Molloy and perfumer Alienor Massenet have created over those years is wonderful example of what niche perfumery is all about. Perfume for someone who wants something more. In celebration of this milestone they have released Eau de Memo.
The Raison de Etre for the brand has always been Ms. Molloy’s desire to have perfume become a magic carpet to another place. Together with Mme Massenet I have globetrotted from my desk with a spray of perfume on skin my passport. Memo has been one of my favorite brands because of this. For Eau de Memo there is no distinct destination. Eau de Memo is also no greatest hits collection of the best accords from previous releases. Instead Ms. Molloy and Mme Massenet create something which serves as shining example of ten years of their mutual passion. Eau de Memo evolves from a tea accord into a floral heart down to a leather accord. Each phase illustrates why the brand had thrived.
Eau de Memo opens with lemon and bergamot providing a tart snap. Underneath a slightly bitter green tea accord arises. There are times when working with green tea some perfumers try and soften the inherent bitterness. Mme Massenet allows it to join the lemon and bergamot to form something that put a smile on my face each day I wore this from the first moment. The heart is centered upon jasmine. It is a well-mannered version of that ingredient which allows orris and saffron to find some space next to it. The saffron is a particularly interesting choice as it acts as if it is gilding the jasmine in its copper colored coils. It is that addition which elevates a normal floral into something more compelling. In the base Mme Massenet provides a fully animalic leather accord. It is refined but not so much so that you forget this is a processed animal hide. Moss and an array of white musks provide support.
Eau de Memo has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
From the moment, I tried my first Memo Paris perfume I hoped that this was a brand in it for the long haul. As they celebrate this anniversary it is apparent that they are. That they are also ready for the next ten years is also apparent. Eau de Memo is one of my favorites within the entire collection. I also think it is an excellent introduction into how Memo continues to be one of the stalwarts in all artistic perfumery.
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample provided by Memo Paris.
For those who read my The Sunday Magazine columns my love of gin has been the topic of many of them. I think it started when as a child a family friend used to stand on his pool deck with freshly-made gin and tonic and would say, “g and t, ice and a slice, nothing nicer”. It would be a few years before I had my first cocktail but I knew it would be a “g and t”. Which it was. I even learned how to make my own gin and as a poor student had something better to drink than just beer. From a fragrant perspective, the heart of gin is juniper berry. Now that we have kicked off the summer I thought I’d share my favorite juniper berry perfumes.
For the purest “g and t” fragrance experience it is the recently released Art de Parfum Gin & Tonic which does it best. Creative director Ruta Degutyte and perfumer Sofia Koronaiou create a near-photorealistic fragrance. The juniper berry is the heart surrounded by citrus, cucumber, and cardamom. What sets this apart is a very well-constructed tonic accord. You can almost see the condensation on the outside of the glass.
In 2011 perfumer Olivier Cresp created a gin-based floral cocktail in Penhaligon’s Juniper Sling. M. Cresp has the juniper berry out front until it duets with orris and leather. Turns out gin goes with everything.
Atelier Cologne Cedrat Envirant is inspired by a champagne and gin cocktail called a French 75. Perfumer Ralf Schwieger captures the effervescence of the champagne with cedrat. He twists it with mint and basil before the juniper berry arrives. This is all over a sweet woody base. After smelling this perfume for the first time I went out and made myself a French 75; the perfume is better. Gin was the drink of Prohibition and the 1920’s.
In Arquiste The Architects Club creative director Carlos Huber and perfumer Yann Vasnier use the juniper berry to represent the gin portion of a party in a wood-paneled men’s club in London. M. Vasnier captures the clash of bright young things and the establishment with an exquisitely designed woody observation on how the old and the new interact.
Frapin L’Humaniste has perfumer Sidonie Lancesseur create a spring floral infused version of “g and t”. A pinch of pepper along with thyme and nutmeg form the introduction to heart of peony and juniper berry before Mme Lancesseur uses her tonic accord as part of an oakmoss and tonka bean base. It is another close to reality interpretation of gin and tonic.
This was a funny list as there are five other juniper berry perfumes I had thought to include only to find they were currently discontinued. If you want your summer to have a bit of gin and tonic in your fragrance try these five.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased except for Art de Parfum Gin & Tonic which is from a press sample provided by the brand.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the month I believe the Ulrich Lang New York collection is underrated. Turns out I should have been speaking to myself as Hr. Lang contacted me after that piece and asked whether I had smelled his most recent release, Apsu. I had come to realize during the writing of the Under the Radar piece that I was pretty sure I hadn’t. When I went to my master spreadsheet it turns out I had smelled it on a strip but left a note to request a sample; which I never did. Then Hr. Lang made sure to rectify that and sent me a bottle of Apsu. It probably turned out okay because Apsu is a perfume of late spring early summer. Wearing it a couple times it seemed like a mirror version of the world becoming greener around me.
Hr. Lang once again collaborates with perfumer Frank Voelkl. If there has become an Ulrich Lang aesthetic it has been for transparent to opaque constructs. It has really stood out as the brand doesn’t knock you over it wraps you up in silk. Apsu is one of those as I believe Mr. Voelkl worked with a few new isolates of time-honored notes. What results is a perfume which reminds me of the beginning of the second verse of The Beatles “Yellow Submarine”; “So we sailed up to the sun/Until we found the sea of green.” If you are a fan of the smell of dew covered grass and foliage that is what Apsu delivers.
Mr. Voelkl uses a host of green notes in the early moments. Most of these seem like different isolates or molecules of the typical aromachemicals which are used for fresh-cut grass. It gives it an abstract interpretation of dewy grass which seems more alive despite its not perfectly resembling it. One note on the list that stands out is cilantro which provides a bit of an edge to the overall effect. The moist garden theme is deepened with orris and jasmine in the heart. They are joined by a faint tea and water lily duet. The florals do not override the green in the top but act more as support while making the watery nature more present. The base is clean woods with dry frankincense.
Apsu has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage. Apsu reflects the natural as seen through a perfumer’s lens. It doesn’t represent the actual so much as form a figurative “sea of green”. If you want a lightweight green perfume for summer set your Yellow Submarine for Apsu.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle of Apsu supplied by Ulrich Lang New York.
A few years ago, when attending a Sniffapalooza one of the stops was the Molton Brown store in Soho. I have been a longtime fan of the bath products but the fragrances had been underwhelming. On that day, they presented a collection based on different countries. I was surprised at how much I liked them despite being examples of most of the prevailing perfume trends. Since that day I have continued to carry that same thought as I have tried their new releases looking for one which would offer a something a little bit different. The latest release Coastal Cypress & Sea Fennel doesn’t create a new direction in aquatic fragrances but it does have a couple nice wrinkles to it.
Over the past few years the Molton Brown fragrances have followed the lead of the bath products by naming themselves after the main ingredients. If you like the fragrance all the ancillary products are available and if the bath product appeals the converse is true. Perfumer Carla Chabert succeeds by tracking closely with the refreshing nature of the bath gel. She focused on a composing a perfume which was akin to a cool shower after a day at the shore. The wrinkle I wrote about is the use of cardamom and jasmine in significant quantities enough so that their names could have been added to the name, too.
Coastal Cypress & Sea Fennel opens with a very typical marine accord. The first few moments almost have a by-the-book aquatic accord. Mme Chabert works to change the mundane with a healthy dose of cardamom. The cardamom has that lemon-tinged character that provides a bit of muted luminosity while also adding some weight grounding the more expansive aspects of the marine accord. Fig leaf and violet leaf provide the sea fennel effect as it comes off as a soft green. Mme Chjabert then uses one of the synthetic non-indolic jasmines to provide significant expansiveness before the cypress shows up. It is listed as “salted cypress” in the note list but I don’t get that as much as weathered cypress. This is like driftwood, sun bleached and transparent, which fits in with the jasmine. Later on, cedar and some laundry musks tie Coastal Cypress & Sea Fennel off.
Coastal Cypress & Sea Fennel has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate silage.
There is a nice fragrance collection quietly growing at Molton Brown. Coastal Cypress & Sea Fennel even portends something greater for the future.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Molton Brown.
It was a couple weeks after Labor Day 2016 and we were having our last backyard soiree. I had an array of new botanical gins I had just unearthed. I asked one of the later arrivals to please bring some tonic water. As sometimes happens tonic water turns to soda water in the process which happened this time. Faced with a dilemma I decided to try out my panel of gins on a different cocktail. What happened would remind me that the best answers are sometimes the standards as I re-discovered the cocktail known as the Tom Collins that day.
I have always loved the story of how this cocktail came to be. In 1874, there was a joke that the men who were out in bars played on each other. It went like this. As a friend would walk in to the bar you would begin to shake your head in dismay. As your friend arrived and asked what the look was for you would tell him this guy Tom Collins is telling people you have the ankles of a girl and your father was a blacksmith. In 1874 that would send our dishonored man off in search of Tom Collins who did not exist. Somewhere during the heyday of this prank an enterprising New York bartender decided to make a drink named after the man everyone was looking for.
What this bartender came up with is the best alternative to Gin & Tonic for a summer drink. It is simple as you add a shot of gin, an equal amount of lemon juice, and a half shot of simple syrup into a glass filled with ice. Stir. Then top off with soda water. What I discovered last year is with the advent of the small-batch botanical gins that are out there the Tom Collins is an excellent platform on which to display them. For alterations, you can substitute lime juice for the lemon juice. You can add in almost any herb growing in the garden. I’ve found a bit of crushed basil, thyme, and rosemary add a lot. This is especially true with the new gins. We also found a float of St. Germain elderflower liqueur or Crème de Violette also added something to the mix.
As I spend the first summer weekend looking out over the backyard as the poodles run, the ribs smoke, and the sun shines on Poodlesville I am purposefully buying soda water; for this is going to be a Tom Collins summer.
If you were on Facebook a month or so ago there was a game going on where you named ten musical acts you saw in concert with one being a lie. Your friends commented with which one they thought was the lie. I decided to do a perfume version where I listed ten long lost perfumes that were extremely difficult to get. My friends are pretty smart and many of them figured out the one which I did not own a bottle of was Jean Patou Lasso.
Lasso was the Jean Patou perfume which has fallen so far through the cracks that it is also very difficult for me to confirm any of the details. It isn’t even listed in the Fragrances of the World database it is so lost. Going by many places on the internet the year of release has been listed as 1936, 1956, and “sometime in the 1960’s”. The perfumer is also impossible to track down although if it was released in 1936 it seems likely it would be Henri Almeras. If it was 1956 Henri Giboulet is most likely as he did 1955’s Eau de Joy and 1964’s Caline. Then in a fantastic article on Fragrantica Sergey Borisov says it is Guy Robert. What’s correct? Nobody is left to unambiguously clear it up.
The only thing I know is Lasso exists. Thanks to some kind friends I have generous samples even though in my “gotta have them all” desire to have a bottle of every Jean Patou perfume my collection has a Lasso-sized hole in it. Lasso is not the greatest Jean Patou fragrance it is not even in the top 10 overall. The reason for that is it is the most derivative perfume within the entire collection. When I use a simple descriptive phrase for Lasso I call it a violet-hued butch version of Guerlain Mitsouko. I like it because the violet and leather improve the aldehydes and peach to something different but not so far that, in particular, the opening is very recognizable.
Lasso opens with the aldehydes and peach doing their fizzy fruity dance. The violet comes forth with the same presence as rose and jasmine. This is a classic power floral heart accord typical of any of the decades Lasso is presumed to come from. What becomes the biggest change is a beautifully soft leather accord which envelops the early accords in a sexy refined embrace. This leather imparts a more overt sexuality to Lasso than there is in Mitsouko. The base is a classic chypre again as was seen during the timeframe which Lasso existed in. Which means musky sandalwood, patchouli, oakmoss, and vetiver. Overall it leaves an effect of Lasso being a scent of seduction.
Lasso has 14-16 hour longevity and way above average sillage.
Within the Fragrantica article Mr. Borisov comprehensively covers the details that this was being marketed to women as a way of roping a man might explain why it is such a forgotten fragrance. It might also be the derivativeness. It just might be wrong time, wrong place. Like so much with Lasso it is all lost in translation.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by personal friends.