I am probably in the same place as the large cosmetics companies in trying to figure out what younger fragrance consumers want. I am interested whenever I feel there is an attempt to try something slightly different to attract them. It sometimes shows up in the most surprising places; like a bottle of Ariana Grande Cloud.
When I say younger consumers, I am generally not speaking of those as young as the demographic which makes up Ms. Grande’s fan base. While I can see Cloud appealing to some of them this fits more securely in the style of transparent gourmands which is looking for admirers a few years older. Up until now it has been floral gourmands which have been the early choice. Cloud changes to a style of fruity gourmand without using the usual suspects of berry overload. Perfumer Clement Gavarry creates something quite nice.
The fruit being used on top is juicy pear. M. Gavarry adds a supporting note of lavender but it is the fruit which is ascendant. The core of cloud is a toasted marshmallow accord. M. Gavarry uses a clever trio of vanilla, coconut and praline to form a cloud of sticky fluff. This might all sound like a sickly-sweet mixture, but this is pitched at a more transparent level. It is sweet but not overly so. I enjoyed this marshmallow accord at the heart of Cloud. It is easy to detect the three pieces, all of which are gourmand notes themselves, while also experiencing the accord. That makes it somewhat more dynamic than it might seem; which was what I experienced while wearing it. M. Gavarry pulls it all together with a set of white musks and soft synthetic woods to keep this cloud afloat.
Cloud has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
I am overall enjoying this expansion of the gourmand category because it is a style which has a lot of room to grow. It is why a good perfume heading in a different direction stands out. Cloud is a toasted marshmallow cumulus puff drifting that way.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from Ulta.
In 2014 the Estee Lauder Group acquired one of the flagship brands in niche perfumery, Le Labo. While there haven’t been a lot of new releases, 2015’s The Noir 29 and 2017’s Mousse de Chene 30, there has been a noticeable expansion of presence. Le Labo now has a presence at shopping malls everywhere. They went from being perfumes that were hard to find to being much easier to experience. This is the upside to Le Labo being acquired; the opportunity to be discovered. I can only speak about the one near me but whenever I go into talk it is not an empty space. Lots of shoppers coming to check it out.
Fabrice Penot and Edouard Roschi
The brand founded by Fabrice Penot and Edouard Roschi stands for a style of perfumery far from the mainstream offerings. It is the reason there was concern. If they are going to expand will they dumb things down. What I’ve experienced in my area is the opposite. The “Field of Dreams” effect of if you build a different kind of perfume they will come. Which means there is no need to change for both the older fans and the new ones. The newest release Tonka 25 exemplifies this.
Daphne Bugey is the perfumer for Tonka 25. Mme Bugey was one of the founding perfumers for the line responsible for three of the debut releases. She is best known for what has probably become the flagship perfume for Le Labo, Rose 31. Tonka 25 shares a tiny bit of similarity to Neroli 36 from those early efforts. What it shares with most of the Le Labo fragrances is if you expect the ingredient on the bottle to be front and center you will be surprised.
If there was truth in advertising at play this would be Cedar Noir 25 or Musks 25. Those are the two most compelling pieces of Tonka 25. Also notice the plural of musk I used in my faux name. Tonka 25 is an exercise in layering the synthetic musks to produce their own special effect.
This layering begins early on as Mme Bugey uses a clever mixture of the higher showing musks to create something soft. I have spent a lot of time trying to pick this apart and I’ve just quit trying. I am confident there are a lot of musks here and they make the perfume. Early on orange blossom lilts through the musks. The cedar shows up after that. It is not the pencil shaving style of cedar. This is a deeper version. Identified as Atlas cedar in the notes list it reminds me of the smell of an old cedar closet or cedar lined chest. Mme Bugey swirls the musks through this and this is where Tonka 25 spends much of its time on my skin. The promised tonka along with vanilla essentially make a drive-by without adding any significant impact. The final ingredient which adds to this is benzoin which provides a resinous warmth for the musky cedar to nestle within.
Tonka 25 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I wouldn’t have expected to like a perfume made up of cedar and musks. It shows how Messrs. Penot and Rouschi are not giving up the Le Labo way of making perfume. I know I will be wearing out my sample over the next few weeks as it is a great choice for fall. If you like musks and cedar this needs to be on your list. If you like the way Le Labo makes perfume this also needs to be on your list. If you’re walking through the mall and you see an interesting little shop with Le Labo on the sign walk in and ask for Tonka 25 it is a great place to start. For everyone who loves the brand Tonka 25 shows the beat goes on.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Le Labo.
Something I hope has become obvious is that I have a great appreciation for mainstream perfume when done well. Not every fragrance has to push boundaries. There must be a place for a well-constructed perfume which builds on a popular style in the conversation. I found myself in a bit of a quandary when a new niche release built upon a foundation from one of the most popular mainstream perfumes. It is particularly difficult for me when I think the mainstream perfume was a cynically conceived effort. Especially when I like the niche release while recognizing from whence it came. Parfums de Marly Percival has more than enough differences from Bleu de Chanel for me to acknowledge the comparison while admiring the new iteration.
There is a desire for a style of perfume that can be the single perfume on a man’s dresser. Something good for the workday and the weekend. That is the kind of perfume Percival is. What sets it apart from its mainstream counterparts is at every turn there is more depth and complexity. Creative director Julien Sprecher collaborates with perfumer Hamid Merati-Kashani continuing their successful partnership begun with Layton and Layton Exclusif. In writing about both of those previous releases I detected an effort towards refining crowd pleasing trends into something more niche-like. That kind of thinking appears to be in place for Percival.
At its most basic Percival is a fresh fougere. Except M. Sprecher encouraged M. Merati-Kashani to find the nooks and crannies within that style to place different notes and accords. These add texture and depth. It is what sets Percival apart.
Percival opens with an herbal citrus top accord. The citrus are the bright sunny notes often encountered but the array of herbal notes provide the kind of effect I was speaking of above. This transitions into a floral heart of violet and lavender. These are combined to form another typical masculine floral duo. M. Merati-Kashani then dusts them with the spices of baie rose, cinnamon, coriander, black pepper, and nutmeg. I could tritely say he is butching up the florals. Instead I will refer to what I see throughout Percival as a way of finding depth without changing the intent. The use of the spices does create a vibrancy to the heart. In the base M. Merati-Kashani has built a gorgeous accord of synthetic woods and musks. He has seemingly used four or five of each to create one of those drydowns to die for. All these ingredients in the base last days on a strip or clothing. When I was sitting at my desk while testing Percival I kept returning to the strips I had sprayed days ago just to revisit. When I did my laundry and got to the shirt I wore one of the days I considered not washing it. I have a special place for perfumes with outstanding drydowns and Percival is there.
Percival has 16-18 hour longevity on skin and days on clothing. It also has above average sillage.
It is because the drydown is so neglected these days I would like Percival just for that. There is more to admire than that. Percival takes something that I perceive in its mainstream inspiration as cynical and transforms it into something fantastic. If Percival was the one perfume most men had on their dresser this would be a better smelling world.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample from Parfums de Marly.
I am not a fan of the movie remake. The great majority of the time it seems like an exercise in laziness infused with vanity. A modern set of movie stars want to see if they can do better than what came before. The answer almost every time is “No!” It turns out that there are some stories which can be told again and again because they are about celebrity. “A Star is Born” seems to be one of them.
The first version of “A Star is Born” was released in 1937 and revolved around the acting business. It sets the template for all the successive versions. Older popular male star meets younger unknown female talent. The trajectories of their careers go in different directions exacerbating the addiction problems of the older man leading to tragedy. The story is simple. The plot is as straight as an arrow if not a bit trite. Yet all four versions of this movie succeed because the actors in the leading roles have something to say about stardom and fame. Fredric March and Janet Gaynor showed us the Hollywood studio system. In 1954 it was transformed to a musical starring James Mason and Judy Garland. This was still a story about the motion picture business, but Ms. Garland’s character was an aspiring singer, too. By 1976 Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand turned it into a commentary on the music business. In the most recent version Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga retain the music business setting.
Bradley Cooper as Jackson Maine and Lady Gaga as Ally in "A Star is Born"
The new version was one of those projects stuck in development hell for many years. Beyonce was going to be the young singer and every A-list actor you can name was rumored to be interested in playing opposite her. Then she stopped waiting. In the interim Mr. Cooper became interested not only as an actor but as a director. When the studio gave the green light to move forward he chose Lady Gaga as his co-star.
Lady Gaga plays Ally as songwriter sometime singer at a cabaret. When she has her first encounter with Mr. Cooper’s Jackson Maine singing “La Vie en Rose” I was reminded of the movie “Cabaret”. Lady Gaga stalks the room handing out roses until she stretches out on the bar in front of Jackson handing out her final rose. From there they spend the night roaming through the after-hours life of a big city cautiously opening up to each other. Throughout this introductory sequence Mr. Cooper uses a directorial technique of close-up on the two faces when they become the most connected. I found it effective because it felt like I was being drawn into a secret conversation. It also visually cues that when these two characters are connected there is nothing else to be seen. Throughout the movie the close-up of both characters is used effectively.
The music is a mixture of the roots rock of Jackson Maine to the almost everything else by Lady Gaga. If there are people who dismiss her as spectacle over substance I think a couple hours in the theatre will change some minds. She is not going to be seen as lesser than Gaynor, Garland, or Streisand. Although in this case on the acting front a star truly is born. She is going to have some interesting places to go on the movie screen after this.
I always wait to see what song manages to find purchase in my head. Which song am I hearing over and over. For this movie it is “Always Remember Us this Way”. I laugh to myself because when the Streisand version was released in 1976 the song “Evergreen” was my high school, and many many others, prom song. I have a feeling “Always Remember Us This Way” is about to have a similar popularity. It is the best song in a movie of many because it starts slow and builds allowing Lady Gaga’s voice at times to be the sole instrument playing. It is one of the best ballads in her career.
I wrote a few backs about movie star v. celebrity. “A Star is Born”, in every version, is a story about the latter how it lifts you up only to tear you down. That it turns out to be a timeless story has something to do with the original screenplay. It also has something to do with eight incredibly talented actors who have shown it to be true. The new version is part of that.
With so much perfume released every year it becomes easy to forget about those which were released a short while ago. One of the goals of this column is to take advantage of that as the discounting cycle is also accelerated. Throughout the nearly five years of writing Discount Diamonds this is the first entry which I think is a modern masterpiece; Lalique Encre Noire.
Vetiver has become a staple ingredient of perfumery in the 21st century. Prior to that it was two perfumes which were the standard bearers for the ingredient; Guerlain Vetiver and Givenchy Vetyver. They were the perfumes which introduced my generation to vetiver. As we crossed into the new century the independent perfume market began to expand rapidly. That meant there were new perspectives provided on previous keynotes. Vetiver started off with a pair of perfumes, once again, leading the modern interpretation. One of those is Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Vetiver Extraordinaire. I don’t think that one is ever going to be a Discount Diamond. Lalique Encre Noire is the other one and it has become a fit subject for this column.
Encre Noire was released in 2006. Lalique’s fragrance business was looking for a way to join in on this new way of making perfume. Perfumer Nathalie Lorson would help as she composed three perfumes for the brand from 2006-2007; Perles de Lalique, Amethyst, and Encre Noire. It was a statement of intent to try for something different.
The original vetivers were citrus affairs with the vetiver providing an acerbic green contrast. More interested in the higher register effects. Encre Noire was going to go for a different style; plumbing the woody depths underneath the green. What was also so interesting about doing that was there was a smoky quality just waiting to be separated and amplified. Mme Lorson finds that.
The opening of Encre Noire is the classic grassy green of old-style vetiver. Mme Lorson uses cedar to find the woods inherent within vetiver. She uses two sources of vetiver in Encre Noire, Haitian and Bourbon. The Haitian vetiver I have come to know has a quite prominent smoky character. By blending the two versions Mme Lorson tunes the smoke to a soft level. I used to burn pine needles as a boy and whenever I wear Encre Noire the smoky nature reminds me of this. The Bourbon vetiver brings a spicy complement to the Haitian smoky version. The base is a cocktail of sensual musks which really represent the “noire” in the name.
Encre Noire has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I consider Encre Noire to be one of the best perfumes of this century. That you can buy a bottle for under $30 makes it a steal. There is no other Discount Diamond which will shine brighter.
Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle I purchased.
There have been so many good neroli perfumes lately I am starting to think it can’t be used poorly. I know that isn’t true but it as soon as I see neroli as a keynote I am hopeful. That was particularly true for the latest release from Nicolai. Earlier this year they released a fantastic Mediterranean neroli fragrance, Cap Neroli. It has been one of my favorites throughout the summer. They now return for a fall version of neroli; Neroli Intense.
Visiting the flower fields of Grasse is on my perfume bucket list. I am thinking I might have to pencil in the neroli from Tunisia, too. Patricia de Nicolai blends the neroli essence and the absolute from there as the source of the neroli for Neroli Intense. Surrounding that is a slight animalic vector which intensifies over time. There are some slight similarities to Cap Neroli, but this is really different version of neroli than that.
Patricia de Nicolai
The closest Neroli Intense comes to Cap Neroli is in the top accord. Tarragon replaces the rosemary and mint from Cap Neroli. The herbal green is again in place to tease out the green of the neroli. The neroli is much richer here, probably due to the two different extractions being used. That means the tarragon has more to highlight. Petitgrain focuses the citrus-like quality. Pittosporum is a white flower which caries with it a musky undercurrent. This is used to pair with orange blossom and its slightly indolic nature. The neroli is still on top but the florals are keeping up while adding in the hint of a growl. This intensifies as beeswax provides the center of the base accord. Beeswax has its own musky animalic nature which is a bit stronger. Patchouli comes in and finishes things up.
Neroli Intense has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
One of the best things about neroli fragrances are it stands up so well it doesn’t have to be shuffled to the back of the shelf during the colder months. Neroli Intense is an example of a neroli perfume that will be better when there is frost on the pumpkin although it is pretty good right now.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
Tom Petty tells me “the waiting is the hardest part”. Which I get daily reminders of when I look at my box of perfumes to be reviewed. Some I am asked to hold off on writing about until a specific date. It is the other perfumes in the box that Mr. Petty advises me of. I sometimes get a new release which is woefully outside of the time when I suspect it will be really great. Those sit in my “to be reviewed” box enticing me while I wait. We finally got a little streak of cooler weather, so I could take one of those out for a spin. Commodity Velvet was as good as I had hoped for.
Velvet was the third of the 2018 releases from Commodity at the end of the spring. I have come to admire the brand because they are giving the perfumers they hire a wide latitude to create. All that they ask is for a minimalist aesthetic. It has led to a collection of perfume which has more creativity than the typical mainstream fragrance. From the moment I learned of this I knew there was a perfumer for whom this brand would be a natural fit. With Velvet, perfumer Jerome Epinette gets his chance.
His inspiration for Velvet is “vibrant pink Turkish rose petals floating over a mysterious dark background of richly warm vanilla.” It is rare that a press description is as spot on as that one is. He does leave out one other important ingredient though and it really does make Velvet as good as it is.
That ingredient is there right at the start as an almond toasted by a bit of clove is the top accord. Almond is one of my favorite ingredients in perfume because it acts nutty and woody simultaneously. It is an ideal lead-in to the rose in the heart as heliotropin connects the almond and the Turkish rose. As they come together that pool of vanilla in M. Epinette’s inspiration also begins to rise. It all comes together in an opulent accord. A bit of resinous amber provides the final piece of this perfume.
Velvet has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Velvet completes a fantastic year for this brand. It is one of the places where a niche aesthetic has found some traction at the mall. Velvet will be a great addition to the cooler weather rotation. I plan on wearing it even more the colder it gets.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Commodity.
There is a type of perfume which attempts to capture a natural scent not in abstract ways but as a photorealistic composition. One of the most accomplished perfumers at doing that is Christopher Brosius. At the beginning of the niche perfume expansion he helped create this, first at Demeter before founding his own line in 2004; CB I Hate Perfume. The name is Mr. Brosius’ succinct raison d’etre. He has created over forty perfumes which do not smell like what most people think is perfume. Over the past few years he has not been as visible as he was. One of my favorite perfumes by him is Burning Leaves which I bring out every October.
On the website Mr. Brosius tells of his distaste of autumn raking as a child. The silver lining was the burning of the leaves after they were finished. Watching them go up in flames while breathing in the smoke is what is captured in the bottle.
What has always impressed me about these photorealistic perfumes by Mr. Brosius is they are constructed in such a complete fashion. Manty perfumes in this style allow you to feel the assembly of the accord as the different pieces fit together. Almost all of Mr. Brosius’ perfumes come out pre-assembled while maintaining their cohesion throughout the time on my skin.
In Burning Leaves that means a couple of things. First this is burning leaves not burning wood. That means a lighter scent of smoke. Not the cade oil sledgehammers you find in other smoky fragrances. It also means the leaves we are burning are maple leaves. Mr. Brosius adds in a thread of sweet dried leaves before they catch fire. There is an intriguing mixture of intensity and fragility throughout the time I am wearing Burning Leaves.
Burning Leaves has 6-8 hour longevity and wears close to the skin with little to no sillage. Burning Leaves comes in a water-based formulation. It generally has the effect of making these perfumes last a shorter time on my skin while also limiting projection.
Mr. Brosius is one of our most gifted independent perfumers. There isn’t anyone who does what he does in fragrance. If you haven’t discovered his perfume you are in for a treat. They definitely deserve to be on your radar. Burning Leaves is a great place to start.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
When I look back on my childhood in South Florida I realize how lucky I was to grow up in a community with so many different influences from the Caribbean and Central America. As I rode my bicycle through town I would cross invisible boundaries moving from neighborhood to neighborhood. While there wasn’t necessarily a sign indicating a change there was something else. In the warm weather of Florida most places had their windows open. Coming out of those windows was the music of their island homes. That was my introduction to ska and reggae music. I didn’t have a name to put to it until the release of the 1973 film, “The Harder They Come”. That was when most Americans used the word reggae for the first time and the soundtrack was the first time those same people listened to this music.
Andrea and Chiaro Valda
Jusbox Perfumes has been releasing fragrances inspired by different decades and genres of music. For their reggae influenced Green Bubble they moved forward thirty years to 2003 when reggae has become a part of the popular music landscape. They also focused on the Rastafarians who made the music part of their faith. Another part of their faith was the smoking of cannabis as sacrament. When the brother-sister team of Andrea and Chiaro Valda wanted to turn this to perfume they collaborated with perfumer Julien Rasquinet.
They start with a sticky green cannabis accord. This has a deeply herbal effect. M. Rasquinet skillfully uses the absinthe precursor of wormwood and grapefruit to provide a fuller accord. The grapefruit is particularly great in the early moments as its sulfurous quality is allowed free rein. Then a very raw green cedar elongates the top accord. The bass line which is such a part of reggae music begins to warm up with a sweet honey accord. It goes even deeper as patchouli, labdanum and sandalwood provide the ultimate bass heavy accord.
Green Bubble has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Green Bubble is an aggressively herbal green perfume which might not be to everyone’s taste. It has an offbeat charm which might not be readily apparent. I found it to be the best evocation of music in the Jusbox Perfumes line. If you’re a fan of this style Green Bubble will rock steady all day, and night, long.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Bloomingdale’s
It is only in hindsight that you can identify the perfumes which are the ripple which will eventually become a wave. Forty years ago, Estee Lauder White Linen was one of those fragrances. Ever since it has spawned hundreds of releases inspired by its clean florals. It is hard to make enough of an impression to be compared favorably to the one which started the trend. Lubin Princesses de Malabar is one which can be.
Lubin has been in the process of making a distinct aesthetic change which has really become obvious in the releases for 2018. They have become all about lighter more transparent styles of fragrance. The earlier releases this year all shared that while also being instantly forgettable. When I saw the press release for Princesses de Malabar I thought it fit in with the new direction.
The back story is about a land on the Malabar coast of India. It is run by women known as the Nair Princesses. At the end of every day a flock of golden collared blue birds rise to their perches on a breeze made up of white flowers and musk. That’s a lovely story but all I kept thinking about once I did receive my sample was a perfume from forty years ago. Perfumer Delphine Thierry composes a beautiful rendition of that in Princesses de Malabar.
She starts with an excellent choice by using cotton flower on top. If you’ve ever smelled a cotton boll it has the expected smell of clean linen. It also has a perceptible undercurrent of skin musk. Mme Thierry displays both of those in the first moments of Princesses de Malabar. She then summons her white flowers as jasmine, magnolia, and ylang-ylang form a complex transparent floral accord. It isn’t as indolic as I’d like but it also isn’t completely scrubbed clean of them either. It works well with the subtle muskiness of the cotton flower transforming to the subtle skankiness of the indoles. Mme Thierry adds in a nice fruity twist with a fizzy peach inserting itself in between the flowers. Iris adds a powdery veneer to it all. Then in a recapitulation of the cotton flower on top a set of linen musks form the foundation of the base accord. It is warmed a bit by sandalwood, but this is a classic linen accord.
Princesses de Malabar have 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
Princesses de Malabar stands out because Mme Thierry creates a fragrance equivalent of a variation on a classic without being beholden to it. The history might be a land of golden collared birds, but I’ll always think of Princesses de Malabar ruling the island of white linen.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Lubin.