Arquiste owner-creative director Carlos Huber and perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux are men for whom their heritage is reflected within their artform. Nowhere has this been reflected as potently to me as it has been while experiencing the Esencia de el Palacio collection they produced for the Mexican upscale department store El Palacio de Hierro. The three perfumes produced were meant to provide interpretations of modern Mexico, Azahares; the future of Mexico, Vetiveres; and the Mexican past, Magnolios. I’ve gone about this in a very random order starting with Azahares followed by Vetiveres and now finishing with Magnolios. Yet ending with Magnolios is a contrast to what had come before.
Most Americans will associate magnolia with the South. It has been a symbol of that part of the country since the beginning. The blooming of the magnolia trees is the harbinger of spring for US Southerners. In Mexico, the magnolia grows throughout the country. It is thought by some botanists to be the first indigenous flowering plant in North America. When Sr. Huber and Sr. Flores-Roux say they are going back they probably don’t mean that far back. Magnolia by itself tends to carry with it a sense of history because it defines its geography.
For Magnolios Sr. Flores- Roux creates a floral celebration of Mexican history around a central keynote of magnolia. Magnolia works as the centerpiece of any fragrance because it also carries a noticeable citrus character along with the creamy floralcy. Magnolios explores all aspects of the magnolia throughout its development.
The magnolia core is supported using the magnolia leaves to provide a full-spectrum effect. In the early moments, the flower, the woody bark of the tree, and the green of the leaves are like watching a magnolia develop via time-lapse. Then sweet orange teases out the citrus within the bloom. Early on it smells like fresh orange juice. Cardamom begins the transition into the next phase with its lemony and green duality. This evolves into something greener as the magnolia leaves are emphasized by galbanum. Sr. Flores-Roux then adds in something which takes the breath away, eucalyptus. The mentholated scent of it adds a lung-filling vibrancy while also hewing to the green effect. Cedar is the woody foundation upon which Magnolios rests.
Magnolios has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
They will have to speak for themselves but I feel a passion, from Sr. Huber and Sr. Flores-Roux, underneath all three Esencia de el Palacio fragrances. Which is understandable when these were designed to be sold exclusively in Mexico maybe they felt they could allow their heritage a little more room to express itself. I do have a wish that at some point all three of these excellent perfumes are added to the main Arquiste collection. Magnolios as well as the other two deserve to be celebrated around the world.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Arquiste.
There are certain inspirations which seem to resonate with specific perfumers. It is not necessarily the only thing which get them excited but it seems when they can match that inspiration to a project it often produces something worthwhile. In numerous interviews perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour has mentioned his fascination with Japan. The creative team behind Nomenclature, Karl Bradl and Carlos Quintero, give him the opportunity to explore green from a Japanese perspective in Shi_so.
Carlos Quintero (l.) and Karl Bradl
The place where Mr. Bradl and Mr. Quintero start every Nomenclature perfume with, is a specific aromachemical. For Shi_so the choice is Glycolierral. The most predominant use of Glycolierral has been as a green vegetal component reminiscent of ivy. It has the colloquial name of “ivy dioxolane”. By itself it reminds me of crushed sharp green leaves. I have never found it reminiscent of ivy so much. When I saw, it was being used as the focal point in Shi_so I realized I found it closer to the shiso leaves I use to cook with. By itself Glycolierral is probably too sharply green to be pleasant. M. Duchaufour’s task is then to surround it with modulators to enhance the shiso vibe while making it wearable. What comes out is an evolutionary interpretation of Eau de Cologne where the traditional citrus-floral-herbal tripod is replaced with green, greener, greenest.
Shi_so opens with a combination I didn’t expect to work well when I saw it listed, cardamom and spearmint. The green cardamom here is becoming my favorite version of the ingredient because it adds this significant green character to the freshness inherent to it. Spearmint often adds an oily fresh sweetness that I thought would obliterate the subtlety. M. Duchaufour enhances that green in the cardamom I like so much by keeping the spearmint on the herbal side of its spectrum. The spearmint provides only a hint of its cool minty face. That hint is the way Glycolierral is drawn into the mix. There is a chilly component of the aromachemical which the spearmint bridges to. The base accord is the sticky green of blackcurrant bud matched with verbena. These amplify the Glycolierral into a sparkling emerald jewel.
Shi_so has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
It has been a while since M. Duchaufour has produced a perfume which pushes the envelope as much as Shi_so does. It feels like he is offering his interpretation of Japanese green as a new style of cologne. It is a gorgeous summertime fragrance.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Nomenclature.
One of the most genuine people in the perfume business is Ulrich Lang. Mr. Lang has promoted the greater cause of independent perfumery by co-founding the Elements Showcase and being someone who believes there is a significant place for it. He is so passionate about those themes you might not know he is the creative director of a brand which carries his name; Ulrich Lang New York.
One of the reasons you might have overlooked these perfumes is since the debut of Anvers in 2003 there have only been a total of six releases. Mr. Lang has worked exclusively with perfumer Frank Voelkl over that time. A brand which is not constantly churning out new releases is almost by definition going to fly under the radar. Over the years there has been one of these six perfumes which has become one of my spring staples, Lightscape.
When you think of fresh fragrances a perfume featuring violet and iris is unlikely to be something you might describe like that. Violet has a metallic sharpness while iris can be powdery. Even just that would seem to be a recipe for a construction akin to a head-on collision. Mr. Lang and Mr. Voelkl take some impressive measures to not put these notes against each other; instead finding a way to make them harmonize in a fresh way.
The way they go about this is two-fold. For violet Mr. Voelkl instead of using the actual essential oil of the flowers he instead creates a violet accord. That allows him to tune out those metallic aspects. It also allows the powdery nature that is also a part of the violet flower to be modulated, as well. For the iris, he chooses to use a high-quality orris which doesn’t have as much of the powderiness of iris in favor of a more grounded earthy character.
Lightscape opens with a snappy duet of lemon and galbanum. An attention-grabbing zesty green citrus. To go along with it Mr. Voelkl adds in violet leaf. This adds more green to the galbanum. Then the orris and violet accord appear. I am always so surprised at how uplifting the combination comes off here. It is why I reach for it every spring because it is green and fresh. Cedar brings it back to earth with a wood-based foundation tempered by the botanical musk of ambrette seed.
Lightscape has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I can say all six of the Ulrich Lang New York perfumes are Under the Radar gems. They are worthy of being put on your to-try list. If you need one to start with Lightscape is a spring perfume which is a fresh purple fragrance of violet and iris.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
I have been a soccer fan for many years. It is funny to think how far things have come. Now I can watch and follow my favorite players and teams effortlessly. In 1986, I couldn’t know this future was coming. With the World Cup in Mexico that summer I decided to go follow the whole tournament since I believed it was the best chance I would have to see the players I had only read about for real. For nearly a month I traveled from stadium to stadium trying to see all 24 teams. I spent many nights sleeping outside. Most mornings the scent of the air which woke me had this great vegetal tang. There are many perfumes which have had a passing resemblance to that but it was only recently that one absolutely captured what I remember; Arquiste Esencia de el Palacio Vetiveres.
Creative Director Carlos Huber and perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux have collaborated on a collection of fragrances exclusively for an upscale Mexican department store; El Palacio de Hierro. Both men have roots in Mexico and all three of these perfumes feel like perfume love letters to what the country means to them. Vetiveres is meant to be representative of the future. The perfume that has resulted is a fantastic interpretation of vetiver where the greener aspects are amplified.
Rodrigo Flores-Roux (l.) and Carlos Huber
In the last few years vetiver-centric perfumes have become much more versatile because there have been more versions of this raw material to use. Sr. Flores-Roux now has such an array of choices it allows him to create almost any shade of vetiver. What he does for Vetiveres is form a dense vegetation accord. There is a smell to the dense jungle in the tropics when the summer sun is high in the sky. The nucleus of Vetiveres is the mixture of dense growing green things with a bit of the woods way underneath.
In the early moments, I think the vetiver used is a fraction where the woodiness is very attenuated. To combine with that Sr. Flores-Roux caresses the vetiver with myrtle and artemesia. This forms that scent of the morning I spoke of in the first paragraph. It is recognizably vetiver but it is different in presence, pleasingly so. In the heart the vetiver begins to deepen. Here Sr. Flores-Roux chooses to bracket it with incense and labdanum. It elongates the green in what I found surprising. The resins almost step in for the typical woody underpinning of vetiver. Cedar and guaiac provides the woods that have been missing and patchouli bring the earthy aspect. The longer Vetiveres goes on the vetiver expands its presence until at the end it is beautifully displayed.
Vetiveres has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I believe that Vetiveres not only represents the future of Mexico as much as it represents the future of what a vetiver perfume can be. As I wore Vetiveres I realized it had been a while since I wore a vetiver perfume which engaged me as much as Vetiveres has. Maybe it is because it is a scent memory of my summer of 1986. More likely it is because Sr. Flores-Roux has found something new within vetiver.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Arquiste.
Back on New Year’s Eve I made a wish for 2017; “A new perfume from Vero Kern”. At that point in time it had been nearly three years since her last new release, Rozy. Ms. Kern has a meticulous work ethic about her fragrances. If you love them, as I do, part of the process is to allow her to take it at her own pace. Not long after I made my wish Ms. Kern began posting on Facebook the teases on a new release called Vero Profumo Naja. It was scheduled to be released at Esxence 2017. There are many things I missed about not being in Milan this past March but not being there for the debut of Naja was top of the list.
Naturally I went in to piteous begging mode asking anyone who would listen, “Please could you send me a sample of Naja?” I am fortunate to have those who respond to my pathetic pleas and a few weeks ago a sample of Naja arrived. When I was hearing about Naja from afar it was interesting to hear from writing colleagues who seemed to be experiencing Naja as if from different perspectives. Everyone agreed that the listed notes were there but which ones were predominant seemed to differ depending on who I was talking to. It was going to be fun to see what stood out on my skin.
Naja is symbolized by a snake on the bottle. There is a stylized cobra poised with hood unfurled. Ms. Kern mentioned that the snake represents its use in numerous native mythologies around the world having to do with transformation and creativity. Naja the fragrance also has a serpentine quality itself. Tobacco provides the spine on which this perfume perches. If Rozy was about honey and rose then Naja is about tobacco. Ms. Kern uses a few other notes to interrogate her keynote exposing different facets of it.
Naja opens with the tobacco already in place but it is not what is part of the first impression. Lime blossom provides a citrusy green floral as sharp as any fang. I know this opening threw me a bit because it is so incisive. When I hear tobacco perfume I expect soft rich narcotic depth. Naja provides an alternative as the acerbic green note constricts the tobacco in the early moments. As the coils slowly release the tobacco edges its way forward. As the tobacco finds a firmer foothold and starts to equilibrate towards something more familiar Ms. Kern finds a complementary sweetness to the dried tobacco leaf in melon. Rich fruits or resins usually provide that role. By using melon Ms. Kern keeps the familiar a tiny bit unfamiliar. There is almost a Calone feeling to this phase of Naja as on a different day it could have become an aquatic tobacco. Before Naja goes too far down that path osmanthus provides its dual nature. The dried apricot part acts like the typical fruit accompaniment to tobacco while the leathery part provides a final foundation. Over many hours the tobacco and the leather is what remains.
Naja has 24-hour plus longevity and average sillage.
More than any of her creations to date Naja is the most fascinating perfume she has made. It is full of contradictions and capitulations. I wore it three times for this review and it wore differently every time. Different notes were on top at different times with the tobacco being the only constant. It makes Naja as hypnotizing as that swaying cobra drawing you in with its unceasing movement. The difference being that when Naja strikes it leaves only pleasure behind. Thank you, Ms. Kern, for granting my wish.
Disclosure: My sample provided by Vero Profumo via Val The Cookie Queen. (Read Val’s review of Naja here)
This past week as the weather turned warmer the need for many people to move faster has taken an upturn. I have always wondered about the things people do in cars to speed up their day. Crossing a double-yellow line to get around a car doing the speed limit. Tailgating on the expressway so the person in front of you will get out of the way. The place where my mind wanders is what does the person who practices this speed do with the extra time their behavior gains them?
If I’m being charitable these kinds of behaviors give them back two minutes. So, I wonder what does a person do with those extra two minutes?
Do they use them to do something on their job for two minutes longer?
Do they use them to think about important things?
Do they save a life?
Do they write an extra line in their literary work?
Do they read an extra two pages?
Do they spend that time in meditation?
Do they spend that time with loved ones?
Or, do they do nothing with this extra time?
If it is the last one what justifies taking a risky behavior like most of the ones in a moving car. Is a mistake when passing on a curve, or following too close, or just plain going too fast, worth it? Is the damage you can do to someone else worth those two minutes?
In the country area, we live in I’ve seen too many close calls with the bicyclists who like to ride outside of the city and the drivers who have to always be going fast.
I know there are reasons to go fast; medical emergencies, picking up children, respecting an appointment made. Even then consider whether those two minutes will change anything at the end of your journey.
As we all start to enter the travel portion of the year please try and remember all the risky speeding behavior behind the wheel of a car probably doesn’t gain you much. Let those two minutes go.
We all have different natural smells which signal the change of seasons. Based on the sheer amount of perfume that gets released this time of the year most brands believe rose is the harbinger of spring. While that might be true for many; my signal scent for spring comes with one of the first things harvested; rhubarb. I always look forward to May because rhubarb and strawberries are ready to be eaten at the same time. Rhubarb as a perfume ingredient has a rooty vegetal quality along with a hint of tart citrus facets and a sulfurous undertone. It is not an easy ingredient for a perfumer to work with but sometimes it can create the sense of digging in the soil. Here are five of my favorite rhubarb fragrances.
My first experience with rhubarb in perfume came from Comme des Garcons Series 5 Sherbet: Rhubarb. Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour took rhubarb and displayed in all its tart vegetal glory. To stay true to the sherbet theme of the series M. Duchaufour adds in sweetness via lychee and vanilla. The whole effect is a creamy rhubarb ice cream. Beyond the use of rhubarb, it is just a fascinating deep freeze effect M. Duchaufour realizes.
Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena uses rhubarb with its most common partner grapefruit as his top accord for Hermes Hermessence Rose Ikebana. Hermessences have been likened to perfume haiku. The rhubarb and grapefruit are the five syllables of the first line here. Peony and rose provide the second line while honey and vanilla the final line. Rose Ikebana is all about the rose but it is the grapefruit and rhubarb which keeps me returning to this minimalist construct.
There was a part of me that wanted a perfumer to go all-out with the rhubarb and give it a chance to shine. M. Duchaufour would create a spring garden opening around not only rhubarb but tomato leaves, green apple, and strawberry in Aedes de Venustas. This is spring time digging in the dirt which patchouli represents before trailing to a warm amber. It is the perfume which showed me that rhubarb could be a star.
In Jul et Mad Terasse A St-Germain perfumer Dorothee Piot uses rhubarb as part of an elderflower accord. The rhubarb provides the tart aspect as along with grapefruit, freesia, and lotus flower the elderflower comes alive. It ends with a creamy sandalwood and patchouli base. This shows the potential of rhubarb as a versatile ingredient.
I was still wanting a rhubarb perfume which showed something artistic. I would get that from Hermes Eau de Rhubarbe Ecarlate. Perfumer Christine Nagel takes a fabulously complex rhubarb note then like tendrils of fog she ensnares it in a coating of white musks. Each new musk transforms the keynote displaying every facet that is there. It is a shifting study of rhubarb as the shadows and light alter constantly.
If you want to join me down in the dirt this early spring try one of my favorite rhubarb perfumes.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
In the 1920’s the bright young things were writers, artists, and designers. After a Great Depression followed by a Great War those bright young things were up on the silver screen. The Hollywood Dream Factory was humming as the 1950’s dawned. Those movie stars were what the public wanted to hear about. As this new-found celebrity was thrust upon these pretty people there weren’t really any rules. So, they made up their own.
If you were of a mind to go catch the new celebrities one place you would end up is The Beverly Hills Hotel. More specifically it was the bungalows spread throughout the property which was where the action was. Bungalow No. 7 is Marilyn’s. La Liz and Dick loved, lost, loved, and lost in Bungalow No. 5. The bad boys were in Bachelor’s Row; Bungalows No. 14-21. Even Howard Hughes had his own which nobody knew whether he was there except for select hotel staff. It is fascinating to look back and think about anything like that happening in this TMZ world. Owner-creative director of Vilhelm Parfumerie Jan Ahlgren also shares my affection for this time.
Jerome Epinette (l.) and Jan Ahlgren
Mr. Ahlgren tasked perfumer Jerome Epinette to create a perfume which was all about that time but modern enough to be worn by a contemporary Liz or Marilyn. One thing I admire about the way M. Epinette interprets a brief like that is to keep it relatively simple. There are other perfumers that would have gone for shoulder strutting power. M. Epinette goes the opposite way looking for something more intimate. That moment when the door of the bungalow is closed and the persona can be dropped, a little bit. Just make sure there is a Do Not Disturb sign on the door which is also the name of this new perfume from Vilhelm.
I am not sure many would have thought of carnation as the core of a perfume like this but because M. Epinette was going for intimacy it works. Also, carnation is a key component of some of the great classic vintage perfumes so it provides that vintage vibe without overpowering.
Do Not Disturb opens with that carnation displaying its spicy floralcy. It has a classic feel which is deepened by the addition of clove to amplify the piquant nature of the carnation. Ylang-ylang is used to give a bit of a boost to the floral side of the carnation. Blackcurrant bud provides that sticky green effect which completes the vintage part. Do Not Disturb would have gone even deeper if this was a scent of the 1950’s. Because it is of the 2010’s M. Epinette uses a Haitian vetiver and papyrus as a way of drawing out the green thread begun with the cassis while adding in some expansiveness over the last part of the development.
Do Not Disturb has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
These kind of story perfumes from this era seem to be a strength of Vilhelm in these early days of the brand. Do Not Disturb is another strong fragrance born from Mr. Ahlgren’s desire for his brand to be something a little vintage and a little modern when looking back. I know it’s impossible but I can imagine smelling a trail of Do Not Disturb somewhere along Bachelor’s Row or just behind a feminine figure with Marilyn’s laugh. This is an excellent evocation of the time and place.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Vilhelm Parfumerie.
I eat too much fast food, so my cardiologist informs me. I am intimately familiar with the offerings on the menu. A few years ago, I learned of the secret menu that exists off the board. While standing in line at McDonalds I heard the patron in front of me order a McKinley Mac. As I scanned the board above our head looking for this burger. It wasn’t there. When I got to the cash register I asked what the McKinley Mac was and was told it was a Big Mac but the regular all-beef patties were replaced with quarter pounder patties. Mmmm bigger, better more to love. My cardiologist is now yelling at his computer screen. I learned every fast food restaurant offers these kind of off the board variations.
It was only recently that I learned Memo Paris has their own secret menu. Every fall they release a kind of mash-up of one of their previous fragrances transformed by the addition of a new ingredient or tweaking of the existing pyramid. It has been going on since 2013 but I only tried them this past fall. Creative director Clara Molloy as always working in collaboration with perfume Alienor Massenet are the designers of these combinations. For 2016, the perfume was called Moon Leather.
One of the current collections within the brand is the Cuirs Nomades where more earthly locations are used to form different kind of interpretations of leather. Moon Safari was released in 2009 to commemorate the moon landing forty years earlier. That fragrance was a sharply green citrus vetiver on top of a rough market leather. For Moon Leather, it feels like Mme Massenet is imagining an interplanetary Cuirs Nomades as she modifies the citrus and vetiver components of Moon Safari and adds in a much more refined leather accord.
The very early moments of Moon Leather are all sunlight and citrus as lemon, grapefruit and bitter orange provide a tart beginning. This time the green is much less aggressive as Mme Massenet uses lemon verbena and neroli as a floral interstitial stage to a clary sage note which picks up and amplifies the green undercurrents from both the verbena and neroli. Vetiver shades the green a deeper hue before the leather arrives. This is an expensive briefcase leather accord with elegance out front and the animalic hiding behind that civilized veneer. Tonka provides a soft sweetness in the later stages. Mmmm bigger, better more to love.
Moon Leather has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
When I tried all the previous secret Memo mash-ups there wasn’t one which I liked more than the original. Moon Leather breaks that streak because I like the smoother evolution from top to bottom than in the original Moon Safari. Even though this came out in the fall it is a fabulous spring citrus choice which really blossomed in the cool mornings and warm afternoons. Secret menus can take some effort to discover but Moon Leather is worth it to find at your local Memo stockiest.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Memo Paris.
Arquiste is another one of those perfume brands which I consider to be “mine”. The criteria to be considered “mine” is that it started about the time I started to get serious about writing on perfume. I’ve been trying to remember the first time I met Carlos Huber the owner/creative director of Arquiste. While I don’t remember the place Sr. Huber is one of the most genuine personalities in perfumery. He came to perfume from training as an architectural historian. Every Arquiste perfume starts with a brief which describes a place and time period. He then managed to find two perfumers with whom he has exclusively worked with by themselves and in tandem; Rodrigo Flores-Roux and Yann Vasnier. Together since their debut in 2011 they have created a brand aesthetic which now announces itself with each new release. Obviously, I think this is a fragrance collection worth checking out; here are the five to start with.
When you get around other perfume lovers and you both really like the same perfume there is a combination of sounds and facial expression which convey the emotions. A fluttering of eyelids over rolled back eyes. A low semi-guttural purr combined with a tilt of the head to one side. Long-time friend Ida Meister and I did this when we both tried one of the first Arquiste releases called Anima Dulcis. The fragrance was set in 1685 Mexico City as cloistered nuns developed their concoction of hot cocoa and chiles. M. Vasnier and Sr. Flores-Roux capture the simmering heat of the chiles in juxtaposition to the cocoa. Cinnamon, clove, jasmine, and sesame provide texture and detail to one of the best gourmands I own.
L’Etrog is another co-production by M. Vasnier and Sr. Flores-Roux. It is at the cologne end of the spectrum as the perfumers imagine the scent of 1175 Calabria, Italy as the local species of citron known as Etrog provides the early citrus brightness. In the background are the very light smells of the flowers around the Calabrian milieu. Vetiver provides the green contrast in the base.
For Boutonniere No. 7 Sr. Huber asked Sr. Flores-Roux to imagine a group of young men at fin de siècle France in the lobby of the Opera-Comique in Paris. Their lure is the gardenia in their lapel. Sr. Flores-Roux captures the gardenia as it scents the air to capture attention. Using lavender to evoke the cologne the dandies would be wearing then a perfectly balanced gardenia accord, lush and green. It all ends on an expertly formed accord of a freshly ironed suit. Boutonniere No. 7 is a fabulously different take on gardenia.
The Architect’s Club is the Arquiste which most acts as a time machine. Set during 1930 Happy Hour at an elegant Mayfair club of the same name in London. Some of the Lost Generation burst into the room livening up the stuffy atmosphere. It opens with spice and wood paneled drawing room accords before M. Vasnier unleashes the gin-toting wild things into the mix. Things just pick up steam from there. M. Vasnier keeps the frivolity under control to make The Architect’s Club the best party in town.
Nanban is an East meets West fragrance set on a Japanese sailing ship in 1618 returning from their first contact with Mexico. Sr. Flores-Roux and M. Vasnier create a construct where osmanthus pushes against the spices of the New World. Myrrh and sandalwood provide serenity which is disrupted by coffee and leather. It ends as the ship sails into the harbor of home as the fir trees and frankincense welcome the crew home.
Arquiste is one of the best new brands of the last few years well worth the time to explore. Start with these five.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.