I’ve probably put off doing this specific ingredient because I’m not fond of spelling it. An extra “p” here an “o” turns to an “a” there. Before I get done writing this I’ll probably correct a dozen or more misspellings. Opoponax is one of the linchpins of Oriental perfumes. It is one of the critical components of three of the classic perfumes of all-time; Guerlain Shalimar, Yves Saint Laurent Opium, and Dior Poison. They owe much of what makes them so special to opoponax. It is used extensively as an earthier more balsamic alternative to myrrh. It also carries with it a sizeable powdery component which makes it especially amenable to providing the grounding for those kinds of ingredients.
I would wager most who love perfume don’t know what opoponax smells like although there are probably multiple perfumes on the shelf which contain it. I’m starting this month’s list with three different versions of the ingredient surrounded by benzoin and sandalwood. Each of them is slightly tuned differently around the opoponax. The most straight-forward is Santa Maria Novella Opoponax the benzoin and the sandalwood provide subtle foundation. It is the most unadulterated version of these three. The benzoin rises to be a more equal partner in Les Nereides Opoponax. It ends up also tilting a bit sweeter because some vanilla leads it that way to give a warmly satisfying sweetly resinous hug. Von Eusersdorff Classic Opoponax adds a floral shine on top via rose and a bit of animalic purr via castoreum but it is still primarily opoponax, benzoin, sandalwood. Once you’ve introduced yourself to opoponax here are three more where it stands out.
Diptyque Eau Lente was one of the original releases from the brand in 1986. Perfumer Serge Kalougine wanted to create an opoponax perfume as they imagined it might have been used by Alexander the Great who scented his cloaks with the smoke from burning the resin. What M. Kalougine does is to take an equally fantastic cinnamon as a partner to the opoponax. The cinnamon heats up the opoponax making it less viscous that it is by itself. While being one of my favorite opoponax perfumes it is also one of my favorite cinnamon ones, too.
Carthusia Ligea unleashes the powdery nature of opoponax more fully. Perfumer Laura Tonatto transitions from a crisp citrus opening into softer mandarin which accentuates the powder in the opoponax. Over time patchouli and benzoin find and magnify the more balsamic elements.
Before perfumer Mona di Orio’s untimely passing she made several incredibly artistic perfumes; Mona di Orio Cuir is among the best of those. Mme di Orio uses opoponax in conjunction with castoreum to provide a thoroughly engaging base underneath a smoke-laden leather accord. One of the best examples of the chiaroscuro style of perfume Mme di Orio practiced.
If you love perfume you’ve definitely worn a perfume with opoponax; now try one of these to try a perfume which features it.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased of all the perfumes mentioned.
There are some perfume notes which I think are problematically labeled as “cheap”. Cherry is one of those; the result of being the ingredient of too many plug-in air fresheners. It means more opportunity for perfumers to find gold within the dross. There aren’t a lot of cherry perfumes I own but the ones I do show the previous assertion is true. Here are my five favorites.
The People of the Labyrinths Luctor et Emergo– Before perfumer Alessandro Gulatieri would go on to found his Nasomatto line, he caught the attention of many perfume lovers with this gorgeous experimental fragrance. He at first uses a strong cherry but wraps it in an artificial cellophane accord. Then he embeds it in a Play-Doh casing for a different kind of artifice. One of the earliest groundbreakers in niche perfumery.
Serge Lutens Rahat Loukoum– Perfumer Christopher Sheldrake also uses cherry as a keynote in the top accord in this release to help further define the nascent gourmand style of fragrance. He takes a marzipan almond and matches it to a syrupy cherry liqueuer. Based on the Turkish Delight confection it eventually heads deeper into sweet confectionary territory, but it is always the cherry-almond opening which stays with me.
Ramon Monegal Cherry Musk– This is a perfume which simply lives up to its name as perfumer Ramon Monegal takes a concentrated cherry followed by a cocktail of white and animalic musks to provide a fascinating counterbalance. It is very strong and some days I’m not up for it; on the days I am spraying it on I like being swept away by it.
Beyonce Heat Rush– Within the celebuscent category Beyonce has produced a better than average collection since 2010. I liked the original Heat but the one bottle I own is the second flanker Heat Rush and it is all down to the cherry note. Perfumer Honorine Blanc re-works the fruity nature of Heat as she uses a top accord of cherry, passionfruit, and orange instead of the peach of the original. It turns this into a summer party.
Prada Candy Gloss– Perfumer Daniela Andrier completely leaves behind the formula from Candy for this flanker. It revolves on an axis of cherry, orange blossom, and vanilla. This is a transparent version of those usually heavy notes full of effervescence. I have come to like it better than the original.
Disclosure: These reviews based on bottles I purchased.
Over my time of writing about perfume I have been given various samples of specific ingredients. To the point now I have a nice reference set of most of the major ingredients. There are only a few of them that have such dynamic scent profiles they are fascinating all on their own. One of those is ylang-ylang. Because of a visit to one of the major oil houses I not only have the essential oil but the different fractions of that oil. It has always struck me that when you take a complex ingredient like ylang-ylang and break it into fractions and each of those are different it speaks to the specialness of ylang-ylang as an ingredient. It is so versatile it is a supporting ingredient most of the time. There are some instances where it can star and here are five of my favorites.
M. Micallef Ylang in Gold is one of the best straight ylang perfumes you will find. Martine Micallef working with perfumer Jean-Claude Astier take the kaleidoscopic floral and gild it with sandalwood, vanilla, bitter orange. Throughout everything which makes ylang-ylang unique is displayed. My all-time favorite ylang-ylang perfume.
One of the odder facets of ylang-ylang is a ripe banana character which can be seen sometimes. In Hermes Hermessence Vanille Galante perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena relies on it to add a fruity tint to the lily and vanilla keynotes. It is one of the more divisive uses of ylang because of the ripe banana. It is one of my favorite tropical vibe perfumes.
Ylang-ylang was one of the great ingredients during the beginning of modern perfumery. As we have seen the rise of heritage brands; one of those Grossmith Hasu-No-Hana gives you a feel of what that was like. The modern team of Amanda and Simon Brooke oversaw a reconstruction where the ylang soars, paired with iris, as the floral heart headed to a chypre base. This is how they used to do it.
Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian would dabble with the animalic side of ylang with MDCI Enlevement au Serail. When he started his own brand, he would turn it into the fulcrum for the most sensually dynamic perfume of the 21st century Maison Francis Kurkdjian Absolue Pour le Soir. This is a celebration of all that is deep and dark in perfume with ylang right in the center.
Perfumer Frank Voelkl would also find the voluptuous side of ylang in Le Labo Ylang 49. While lighter than my previous choice it is still a femme fatale just dressed up in brighter shades of citrus and gardenia. A daytime version of sensuality.
If you’ve never explored ylang-ylang on its own these five will give you and idea of its special nature.
Disclosure: this review is based on bottles of which I have purchased.
Having grown up in South Florida I was not wishing for a White Christmas. I was happy with brightly colored flowers instead of snow. I recently saw a picture of a hibiscus wreath which reminded me how we took the traditions and gave them a tropical tweak. Hibiscus as an ingredient is not one of the most popular choices. It has a similar sweetness to jasmine which makes it a frequent partner to that flower. It also is most commonly encountered as hibiscus tea which has been mimicked, too. This month’s My Favorite Things looks at five perfumes which show off hibiscus at its best.
Hibiscus Holiday Wreath
Acca Kappa Hibiscus is as close as there is to a hibiscus soliflore. Released in 2004 it takes the sweet floral keynote and supports it with magnolia, citrus, and heliotrope. Amber comes along to warm things up at the end. This is a great casual scent which is when I use it.
Demeter Hibiscus Tea does what perfumer Mark Crames does so well; create a perfumed simulacrum of the name on the bottle. The hibiscus is carried to your nose on steamy clouds of green tea. It is simply beautiful.
As I mentioned hibiscus is used along with jasmine. My favorite version of this is Costume National Scent. Perfumer Laurent Bruyere uses equivalent amounts of jasmine and hibiscus in the heart. It is laid on top of sheer woods and amber. Scent is a luminous floral perfume. Interestingly, M. Bruyere will take the same ingredients and alter the concentrations to make a darker version called Scent Intense. The hibiscus is more secondary in that one but that is also one of my favorites.
The most unambiguously tropical version of hibiscus comes in Creed Virgin Island Water. Most focus on the pina colada quality of the lime, rum, and coconut. But what seals the drinks with umbrellas vibe is the floral accord of hibiscus and jasmine reminding you that it is the Virgin Islands you’re in.
The most artistic use of hibiscus comes from perfumer Olivia Giacobetti and her IUNX No. 4 L’Eau Azteque. The botanical musk of ambrette comes from hibiscus seeds. Mme Giacobetti combines ambrette and musk into a foundational sun-warmed skin accord over which she lays hibiscus and pear. This is a fantastic fruity floral which captures indolent days in the sun.
If you’re looking for a mental trip to the tropics as we head further into the colder temperature months give these five a try.
Disclosure: This review is based on botlles which I own.
If there is one style of perfume I struggle with it is fruity floral. Part of that is because of the first word, “fruity”. It usually means intensely sweet which lives on the edge of my tolerance for that in a fragrance. There are many times I wish I could smell the version that didn’t make it into the bottle; where the fruit was cut in half. I had a realization a couple weeks ago when I was wearing one of my favorite hot weather colognes which has a prominent raspberry in it. As I was walking in the heat I realized this is a time when this should be at its worst for my sensibilities but it wasn’t. Which made me realize there are a few raspberry perfumes I really enjoy. Here are five of them.
The perfume that opened my thinking up is Carthusia Uomo. Carthusia is one of those perfume brands which is not very well-known but I think Uomo is one of the best colognes I own. Released in 1948 as part of the original set of Carthusia fragrances it is a raspberry, rosewood, and leather cologne. The raspberry is made very dry so that it lays itself like a veil over the soft rosewood which is supported by an even softer leather. This has been one of my favorite colognes ever since I tried it for the first time.
For the flip side the raspberry perfume I pull out when the weather turns colder is Tom Ford Private Blend Tuscan Leather. This has been what I have worn to many formal occasions. Tuscan Leather was one of the original Private Blend releases ten years ago. Perfumers Harry Fremont and Jacques Cavallier created a lovely mixture of fruit and animalic that works. The raspberry is surrounded with herbs and resins to keep it under control. As the leather rises the raspberry also meets it on its ascendancy. This is one of the best sellers in this very popular line. Wear it a few times and it is easy to understand why.
Shay & Blue Framboise Noire also finds the animalic is the right companion for raspberry. Perfumer Julie Masse uses musk as the companion in Framboise Noire. This also sits on a base of dark woods which provide a depth to the entire mix. If leather and raspberry don’t appeal musk and raspberry might.
When I tried Marc Jacobs Daisy the strawberry on top made me rush for the cosmetic wipes. You could have had me on the floor laughing if you told me replacing the strawberry with raspberry would change my opinion. Marc Jacobs Daisy Eau so Fresh did exactly that and you had to pick me up off the floor. Perfumer Alberto Morillas made that change but he also lightened and tightened up the entire construction from top to bottom. It is one of the few fruity florals I point to when I’m at the mall and asked for a recommendation.
Tauer Une Rose Vermeille is an example of what I would do if asked to conspire on a fruity floral. Andy Tauer uses raspberry as a note to fill in around the gorgeous rose at the heart of this perfume it is recognizably there but most of the time it is as part of a greater rose accord that I notice it. This gets richer with a vanilla and ambergris base. This is Hr. Tauer at his best finding the right notes to fill in the spaces.
If you’re a fan of raspberry and haven’t tried these see if they give you a different perspective on the little red fruit.
Disclosure: this review is based on bottles I purchased.
If you have ever grown basil at home you have now reached the point in the summer that you wonder what you can do with all that you have on hand. I know over the years we have gotten very creative in finding ways to use it. I might become tired of using it in recipes but one thing I never tire of is the fresh green herbal scent of the leaves. Just picking one and crushing it in my hand is a pleasure while cooking on the grill or watching the poodles cavort in the backyard. Basil has been an ingredient in perfume, usually paired up with some other herbs. Even as part of an ensemble there some fragrances where the basil takes the lead. Here are five of my favorite basil perfumes.
You might think I would start with the classic Jo Malone Lime, Basil, & Mandarin. It was a favorite until last year when it was replaced by Jo Malone Basil & Neroli. Perfumer Anne Flipo uses three different isolates of basil paired with a fantastic neroli. It has become my favorite perfume in the entire Jo Malone line.
It is the basil which makes Dior Eau Sauvage something more than just a masculine lavender perfume. Perfumer Edmond Roudnitska has basil provide the bridging note from the top citrus accord down to the vetiver base. As part of the expansive Hedione heart it adds green threads to the jasmine tapestry M. Roudnitska creates. I don’t think many will think of Eau Sauvage when I say basil perfumes but like things you never noticed that you can’t help seeing once you do see them; give Eau Sauvage a try and I bet you notice the basil now.
Another evergreen fragrance which uses basil is Azzaro pour Homme. This masculine powerhouse uses basil as a part of an herbal heart accord. Like in Eau Sauvage it also provides that bridging effect from the top of lavender and citrus to the patchouli and vetiver heart. This one is a little harder to see the basil as a featured note perhaps. I always notice it but that might be because I am attuned to it.
One of the best examples of a Mediterranean style is Annick Goutal Eau du Sud. Perfumer Isabelle Doyen wanted to capture twilight in Provence. She uses verbena as her focal point allowing basil, citrus, and sandalwood to complete the milieu. You might not think of basil as a typical fresh note; Mme Doyen shows that it can be.
I often complain about flankers taking the original and shoving a couple of new notes in to the formula and repackaging it. 99.9% of the time it is cynical; Tom Ford Private Blend Neroli Portofino Forte is the 0.1%. One reason might be perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux when asked to make his original Neroli Portofino “forte” he didn’t take that to mean to turn up the volume. Instead he looked at the top and base accords to find ways to make them bolder. The basil leads the chorus of herbs joined by tarragon, rosemary, and mint. Galbanum shades it all a bit greener. I like this because it does add strength. The neroli heart is given a different perspective coming out of such an herbal top. A leather accord provides the strength to finish. This also has replaced the original as my favorite of the blue bottle Private Blends.
These five help me keep my enjoyment of basil going all year long.
Disclosure: this review is based on bottles I purchased.
Having grown up in South Florida there were many summer afternoons when my snack was opening one of the coconuts which had fallen from one of the palms in our front yard. If I needed more coconut it was the smell of every suntan lotion people wore. Coconut has found its way into fragrances inspired by the sun tanning products and the fruit itself. It always seems particularly appropriate for the summer months. Here are five of my favorite coconut perfumes.
The best fragrance inspired by coconut suntan lotion is Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess. Bronze Goddess began its life in 2007 with the name Azuree Soleil before changing the name a year later. Perfumer Alberto Morillas has made a combination of sun, flowers, and coconut that is arranged on its own metaphorical beach towel. Citrus on top moves to a heart of jasmine and magnolia. The coconut here is fantastic because M. Morillas embeds it in myrrh and amber. It provides warmth like shimmering sun-warmed oiled skin. This is one of M. Morillas’ best perfumes. Every summer when I wear it I am reminded of that.
The perfume which reminds me most of the process of getting through the husk to the core nut at the heart is Comptoir Sud Pacifique Coco Extreme. Perfumers Claude Broggi and Jacques Lions use almond to represent the woody nut, coconut and vanilla to evoke the sweet meat inside. Whenever I wear this I am a child sitting with my back against our palm tree chewing on the coconut I just opened.
Perfumer Olivia Giacobetti created an abstract version of coconut in Honore des Pres We Love New York: Love Coconut. Mme Giacobetti wanted to have her perfumes for Honore des Pres be all-natural. She also wanted to keep her indelible transparent style. Coriander and tonka provide the outside while coconut milk and cedar provide the rest of the picture. This is a coconut cirrus cloud which works best when the temperature is at its hottest.
I’ve also eaten my share of coconut while on the beach. For that experience Heeley Cocobello captures all of that. Perfumer James Heeley’s opening of green gardenia over palm fronds is perfect. The sweet coconut is sprayed with briny mist before settling on a vanilla laden base.
My final choice is a way I learned to eat coconut while traveling through the islands. Once you crack it open you squeeze some honeycomb over the coconut. Perfumer Margot Elena must have also had this experience because she made her version as a fragrance in Love & Toast Honey Coconut. It is, as advertised, as she combines honey and a coconut accord in a simple linear construct. It is a lovely trifle ideal for a day at the beach.
If you want a little coconut in your summer fragrance choices give any of these five a try.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
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.
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.
Spring is here right on schedule. Also, right on schedule is the beginning of my rotation of spring favorites to the front of the perfume wardrobe. Most opt for florals and aquatics. I prefer spice perfumes for the cool nights and warm days. One of my favorite shoulder season spices is cardamom. Here are five of my favorite fragrances featuring cardamom.
I can’t be 100% sure but I think the perfume which made me a cardamom fan was 1996’s Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant. Composed by perfumers Dominique Ropion and Jean-Louis Sieuzac under the creative direction of Celine Verleure; Jungle L’Elephant features a rich creamy cardamom among the panoply of spice as clove, cumin, licorice mix with mango, vanilla and amber. Jungle L’Elephant has always been that perfect shoulder season perfume. The equivalent of a lightweight cashmere sweater. It is among my very favorite perfumes, period.
Perhaps one of the oddest cardamom perfumes I own is Heeley Esprit du Tigre. Perfumer James Heeley wanted a fragrance which evoked the classic liniment Tiger Balm. Not your typical inspiration leading to an atypical perfume. A strong camphor and mint opening leads into a strong cardamom, black pepper, and clove heart which recreates the herbal scent of Tiger Balm. Vetiver finishes it with a green flourish. I wear this on the spring mornings which are a little cooler and the days don’t get that warm.
With the new renaissance of colognes cardamom has become one of the more popular ingredients in this trend.
In 2012 there was an entire collection of cologne nouveau from The Different Company all created by Emilie Coppermann with the creative direction of Luc Gabriel. I liked all of them but the one I wear the most is Sienne D’Orange. Mme Copperman uses a greener version of cardamom to go with orange in the top accord. She brilliantly uses carrot as the bridge to orris before finishing with a suede leather accord. This is exactly what imagination can provide to staid archetypes.
The same can be said for Thirdman Eau Contraire which was called Eau Nomade when I purchased it in 2013. Owner-Creative Director Jean-Christophe le Greves wanted a collection which pushed the envelope on cologne architecture. Working with perfumer Bruno Jovanovic this was an impressively realized collection of which Eau Contraire was my favorite. In this case M. Jovanovic used a hefty amount of cardamom to provide contrast to lemon and orange. A very technically adept mixture of various musks provide the development around this trio. This has been one of those perfumes which makes me smile broadly when I wear it.
As mentioned above a greener version of cardamom was beginning to be used by perfumers and I was wanting someone to really go all in with that ingredient. My wish was granted in 2014’s By Kilian Intoxicated as Calice Becker working with creative director Kilian Hennessy made a cup of strong spice infused Turkish coffee. Mme Becker formed a nucleus of strong rich coffee to which she added the green cardamom in a significant quantity so it could stand up to the coffee. It almost has a sappy stickiness in this concentration. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and caramel finish this off. Intoxicated is one of my favorite coffee fragrances but it is the green cardamom which makes that true.
If you’re looking for something to add to your spring fragrance rotation give these cardamom perfumes a try.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.