One of the books I used to broaden my knowledge of perfume was “Essence & Alchemy” by Mandy Aftel. A combination of history and how-to it was part of my introductory library as I sought to understand more. It was a short step to trying some of the author’s perfumes. Ms. Aftel is one of the most successful independent perfumers because of the foundational knowledge she brings to making her fragrances. The first perfume for her brand, Aftelier Perfumes, was a solid perfume called Alchemy. Like so many independent perfumers it was a rich perfume experience based on one-of-a-kind materials. It is this which makes independent perfumery as exciting to me.
Ms. Aftel recently discovered the remnants of those materials and has decided to bring Alchemy back as a limited edition. This time it is as an oil formulation instead of a solid perfume. What makes this something to be sought out are the presence of three materials, two of which are no longer available. They are aged versions of labdanum absolute, vanilla absolute, and ylang-ylang concrete. These three ingredients are like early Holiday presents to perfume lovers. They are what creates the magic in Alchemy.
Alchemy opens on a spicy citrus accord of orange and black pepper. This is reminiscent of the spiced orange which is prevalent around the Holidays. It is an ideal Seasonal opening. It then transitions into the rich floral heart I recall from the original. This is where the ylang-ylang concrete becomes the star. Ylang-ylang has this fleshy quality which I find appealing. The concrete brings that out. It adds a sensual depth which is amplified with absolutes of Turkish rose and jasmine. The spicy rose captures the pepper and orange from the top accord. The jasmine adds an undercurrent of indolic flower. I’m not sure I can overstate the beauty of this ylang-ylang being used here. This is the kind of complexity which comes from the finest ingredients plus it has been aged for an additional fifteen years or so. This moves toward a comforting base accord where the labdanum and vanilla come together over benzoin. The two aged ingredients provide subtle grace notes throughout the later stages especially the vanilla which finds just the right balance of sweet to contrast the resins. Once Alchemy is all together it is the same opulent floral I remembered.
Alchemy has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Experiencing Alchemy again after so many years it reinforces all of what I think sets independent perfumery apart. The singular vision of an artist like Ms. Aftel. The use of unique small-batch materials. Finally, an appreciation of history applied to today. Alchemy is a special experience by returning to the beginning.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Aftelier Perfumes.
There are many things which indicate the Holidays have arrived. One of them is the release of the new Holiday perfume by DSH Perfumes. Since 2000 independent perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz has created a new perfume for the Season. What I always look forward to is she does not make a perfume of fir trees and woodsmoke. She fixes on another part of the Holiday milieu and uses it as the focal point. For the 2018 version it is a gourmand-y version of whiskey, tobacco, and brown sugar called Uptown Moonshine.
Once things begin to wind down after a hectic day of events, during this time of year, I find just sitting still with some appropriate music and a glass of my favorite whiskey to be ideal. The best whiskeys have a perfume all their own. Capturing the wood of the barrel they aged in along with the inherent earthy sweetness of the liquid itself. As I decompress the smell of the whiskey is as important as the inner warmth it provides.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz
I’ve never smoked but the smell of tobacco has been a favorite. I especially enjoy the scent of the dried and cured leaf as it hangs in a drying barn. When you encounter it like that you get a rich narcotic sweet scent along with a harmonic of menthol-like cool.
Ms. Hurwitz uses both as the nucleus of Uptown Moonshine which through the early going is enjoyable enough, but things really take a turn for the amazing when brown sugar gets involved creating a gourmand version of illicit delights.
Uptown Moonshine opens with the whiskey out in front. Ms. Hurwitz uses a trio of woods, oak, sandalwood, and cabreuva to form the barrel. The tobacco arrives next trailing a few florals in its wake. As it takes its place next to the whiskey it forms a rich decadent effect that I wouldn’t have thought could become even more so. Then it happens as a brown sugar accord inserts itself. This finds the spaces in between the whiskey and tobacco at first. Over time it begins to take on prominence turning it into an eccentric style of gourmand as the brown sugar takes the lead. The final bit is some peru balsam to smooth everything out into a compelling peculiar confection.
Uptown Moonshine has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
If you’ve been looking for an unorthodox gourmand perfume in your Holiday stocking, Uptown Moonshine is it.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by DSH Perfumes.
I was fascinated with volcanoes as a child. I don’t think it was the very first, but it was one of the earliest scientific things I wanted to know more about. When I had to do a report in school and I could make the subject “volcanoes” that was what it was. I’ve never been to an active volcano to see the pulsing orange lava bubbling up from beneath the earth. I’m also not sure I want to see it any better than National Geographic shows me in their documentaries. Because of the lack of actual experience there is a shortage of information which my imagination is happy to take the place of. My mind’s nose tells me that the smell would be acrid and sulfurous. What is fun about fragrance is when one is designing a perfume, they probably don’t want acrid and sulfurous as their keynotes. It was interesting to see how Carner Barcelona Volcano would interpret their title as a perfume.
Sara Carner is the creative director for the brand which bears her name. In the first few years it was an exploration of her hometown of Barcelona. Starting two years ago Sra. Carner began to spread her wings into less geographical inspirations for the new releases. These have shown Sra. Carner has much more to say in fragrance than stories of her her birthplace. She has shown a more adventurous style which Volcano might be the apotheosis of. She collaborates with perfumer Jordi Fenrnandez on his second perfume for the brand; following last year’s Latin Lover. The perfume volcano has a bit of mineralic bite, but the eruption of hot materials are all resins.
Volcano opens with spicy Turkish rose out front like a sacrifice to the god in the crater. The rose is lapped in spicy flames of ginger and nutmeg. The whole floral accord goes up in flames as smoky nagarmotha and similarly styled frankincense from Somalia come together in the heart accord. These notes form a kind of hot stone effect. Sr. Fernandez then sets off a flow of benzoin, labdanum, and vetiver to mimic the oozing lava. Except this is a warm viscous resinous feeling unfurling on my skin in slowly radiating waves over the hot stone accord in the heart.
Volcano has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I’m not clever enough to have thought what I think a volcano inspired perfume should smell like. Having smelled Sra. Carner and Sr. Fernandez’s version I think an eruption of resinous ingredients is a great choice.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Carner Barcelona.
We all have perfume ingredients we adore which are less admired by perfume lovers in general. Two of my favorites in this category are narcissus and immortelle. Both are oddly scented polarizing ingredients. For those who are in search of something different in their fragrance these deliver that. I wouldn’t have thought a perfume brand would put both in a perfume; L’Artisan Parfumeur Mont de Narcisse does.
Mont de Narcisse is another entry in the Les Paysages collection which is meant to cover specific geographical regions of France. This is inspired by the narcissus covered fields in Auvergne at the height of the summer. Despite that description this is not a summery perfume. This is a composition of strong ingredients in search of harmony. The perfumer who has the task is Anne Flipo.
It is a difficult balancing act using the deeply vegetal green of the narcissus with the maple syrup-like quality of immortelle alongside a birch tar leather accord. There are a couple of moments where Mme Flipo grinds some gears climbing this Mont.
The green of the narcissus is where the trip begins. Mme Flipo uses black pepper and cardamom to add a spicy complement. The pepper is more prevalent while the cardamom makes the narcissus a bit cooler than it already is. The immortelle lays down a gourmand-like contrast with the maple syrup part of the scent profile out front. It warms the standoffish narcissus while adding a contrasting floral. The leather accord which makes up the base is formed around a smoky birch tar. It opens with a bit of a smudge pot quality because of that. This is one of those clunks I was speaking about. For a short period, the tar is overriding everything else. Once it pulls back into becoming a part of a leather accord the narcissus and immortelle infuse in different ways. Once all three notes are together Mont de Narcisse hits its stride.
Mont de Narcisse has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Mont de Narcisse is a perfume for people who love the ingredients. I am one of those. If you are not a fan of any one of them I think Mont de Narcisse is a hill you should travel around. Each of them is not only prominent but at levels which make it hard to overlook. Except for a couple of moments when all three come together I enjoyed it immensely. If you are a fan this is a Mont well worth climbing.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by L’Artisan Parfumeur.
As the ideas of niche perfumery took hold in the first years of the 2000’s the designer houses were determined not to be left behind. What that meant were the imaginative creative directors of the designer houses took an active hand in the perfumes which bore the logo. In hindsight we look back and see that was a time where some of the best designer perfumes were produced.
I’ve never understood entirely why the brands seemed to step away from this after five or six years of making it an extension of the brand aesthetic. This turned into a concentration of safe trend following fragrance which felt engineered to elicit a response rather than inspired by emotion. In the last couple of years, the pendulum seems to be swinging back with the creative directors taking the reins of the fragrance side again. For Maison Margiela creative director John Galliano has stepped into the perfume game again with Mutiny.
To show how this becomes more intricately entwined with the brand aesthetic Mutiny was debuted along with the Spring/Summer 2019 clothing collection at Paris Fashion Week at the end of September. Mr. Galliano spoke in an interview with Vogue about how he designed Mutiny in the same way he designs his clothing collections with distinct layers. Working with perfumer Dominique Ropion the idea was to make a transparent version of tuberose and leather to form the core.
What seems to have occurred is M. Ropion put together a tuberose accord from a number of modern sources. What it allows for is the chance to pick out the parts of tuberose you want to enhance while removing those you don’t. What M. Ropion chooses is an indole-free and menthol-free tuberose accord. If you are not fond of those aspects but really enjoy the fruity floralcy along with the creamy oleaginous quality, then M. Ropion chose the right ones.
Mutiny opens with a very wispy version of tuberose supported by citrus and orange blossom. M. Ropion is teasing out the fruit chewing gum character of tuberose. As it deepens with more layers of tuberose added it skips the things are missing to get to the fatty creamy nature also characteristic of this white flower. Also coming together is a fine leather accord using saffron, oud, and vanilla. This is also stripped of the more animalic aspects of a leather accord in favor of something refined. No rough edges here. Once both accords are in place that is where Mutiny lingers.
Mutiny has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Mutiny is done in the transparent style which seemingly is what younger perfume lovers desire. Under that qualification Mutiny is a complete success. I also like it more than others trying similar techniques because there is much more of a spine here instead of wisps of fragrance on the breeze. I also believe this isn’t a perfume that is trying to straddle the middle. They chose to go transparent and they succeeded. If you’re a fan of full spectrum white flower perfumes I suspect Mutiny is not for you. If you want a cleaner version of tuberose and leather Mutiny is a great version of that. As a beginning I see the hand of more creative direction from Mr. Galliano. I am hopeful for more because I think it is where something amazing might come.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Maison Margiela.
If there is one place most people encounter fragrance in their daily life it is in their use in laundry products. You might choose a scent-free detergent and fabric softener but the people around you probably do not. It is true for many that the smell of the musks in laundry detergent is how they define clean through their sense of smell. Those laundry musks made the leap to perfumery when the consumer wanted a “clean” fragrance. Because they are reminiscent of laundry detergent they also get criticized as smelling “cheap”. It is one of the reasons that a niche perfumer might be reluctant to go towards this style of perfume. I think it takes a certain amount of belief that you can find something interesting to bring to something so common. Independent perfumer James Heeley has taken this challenge with Heeley Blanc Poudre.
When the name was first released without any detail there were some who thought the “white powder” referred to in the name might be something more illicit. When the press release followed it says Mr. Heeley was “inspired by the bone pale fineness of French porcelain.” Mr. Heeley has put together a perfume of pale fineness, but porcelain isn’t what I think of while wearing Blanc Poudre. Instead it is that moment I open the dryer and get that wave of warmth carrying the scent of my “spring fresh” dryer sheet on top of warm cotton.
The white powder in Blanc Poudre is a beautifully restrained rice powder. It is not an obvious piece of the perfume because it is paired with the more prominent cotton linen ingredient. This is that smell of fresh linen given a very transparent overlay of powder. It is easy to lose it in the background of the linen, but it is one of those grace notes in a perfume which makes a difference. In the same kind of deftly placed style Mr. Heeley threads through some of the synthetic florals. These are the florals which exude their floral nature minus anything, like indoles, which would distract. It is a classic representation of a commercial spring flower scent In the hands of someone clumsily adding this to a perfume it would come off trite. Mr. Heeley uses the florals and the rice powder to create a weave of fragile filaments over the linen. The final prominent note is the use of those laundry musks in the base. Together they give off that warmed fabric accord. Just he did with the other ingredients it is precise uses of sandalwood and vanilla which add texture to the overall construct.
Blanc Poudre has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I know it will be easy to dismiss Blanc Poudre as something that smells like laundry. If you do that you will miss out on one of the most cleverly constructed perfumes of 2018. Not everything has to be full of bombastic portent. Mr. Heeley has dared to show the beauty found in the subtlety of the mundane.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Heeley.
I received the eight perfumes in the McQueen Collection just after Labor Day. As I recounted in my review of Sacred Osmanthus these were different than the previous fragrances from Alexander McQueen. The creative team of Sarah Burton and Pierre Aulas had a vision of eight soliflore-like perfumes composed by different perfumers. My first impression was favorable to most of the eight. As the weather turned cooler, I was drawn towards two of them; Amber Garden and Dark Papyrus.
Amber Garden was created by perfumer Yann Vasnier. The keynote for this is benzoin. Benzoin is one of the perfume ingredients I frequently describe as warm. In Amber Garden M. Vasnier chooses to enhance that effect with spices and resins.
Benzoin has an inherent sweetness to it which is part of what contributes to its coziness. M. Vasnier wraps another layer of that around it as saffron, nutmeg, cardamom, and cinnamon provide a set of spices which each provide a different version of warm. The benzoin pulses like a glowing heart as the spices settle upon it. Labdanum and frankincense add resinous depth without overriding the benzoin. As this part of the perfume developed on my skin it felt a bit better defined.
Amber Garden has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Amber Garden has been the fragrance equivalent of a warm scarf for me this fall. This is how a soliflore is meant to function by cleverly burnishing the note on display.
Dark Papyrus was created by perfumer Christophe Raynaud. The focal point here is in the name; papyrus. Papyrus is a light green-tinted woody ingredient. For Dark Papyrus M. Reynaud makes an interesting choice to use blackcurrant buds as the harmonizing note. That ingredient is one which can easily get out of control. M. Reynaud makes sure that doesn’t happen. What comes through is an enhancement of the green with the fruity character conjoining with the woody part of papyrus. Ginger and cardamom are also present to pick up the leas prominent spicy character of papyrus. The final ingredient is a synthetic wood which keeps everything drier.
Dark Papyrus has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I don’t think I’ll be reviewing the other five from the McQueen Collection, but they all share the same aesthetic of a single note at the center. If you see a favorite ingredient in the name, I would suggest picking up a sample because all of them are well done. If you are looking for more immediate gratification give the two designed for fall weather a try.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Alexander McQueen.
When I was a child if there was a scent I associated with success and power it was leather. Whenever we visited family and friends who I perceived as successful the smell of leather was everywhere. In the furniture we sat on. In the pair of driving gloves worn as we drove in a big car. A leather covered desk in a wood-paneled office. This became hardwired into my developing mind as even now I still must overcome the impulse. What it does mean is when there are perfumes which go for this it brings me back to a childhood where the smell of leather is a pure luxury. Marc-Antoine Barrois B683 is one which reminds me of all of this.
Marc-Antoine Barrois is a menswear designer in Paris. He works on bespoke creations for his clientele. He decided he wanted a perfume to scent his store. For him he also shared the same childhood memories of leather as luxury. It turns out perfumer Quentin Bisch is another who also feels this way. When M. Barrois and M. Bisch came together it became obvious this was the style of perfume they would collaborate on.
Quentin Bisch (l.) and Marc-Antoine Barrois (Photo: Fred Zara)
When a leather accord is constructed it can go in many directions. Based on my experience the refined version is the most difficult to achieve. As a perfumer pulls together the pieces, I think rough spots frequently show up requiring a more precise construction. What is achieved in B683 is that high degree of difficulty leather accord achieving the desired effect.
The opening of B683 is a surprising spice mélange of black pepper, nutmeg, saffron, and Szechuan pepper. I have extolled the use of the last material a lot recently. In the hands of a perfumer like M. Bisch it still can impress in new ways. In this case M. Bisch teases out a green thread and uses the nutmeg and saffron to make it more pronounced. As much as I like the leather which comes next this top accord is compelling. The leather does come next. This is that refined supple style of leather that only seems to be attached to luxury items. It is bracketed by softly resinous labdanum and green violet leaves. The violet leaves pick up that green thread from the top accord and passes it along to the oakmoss in the base. The foundation of B683 is sandalwood, patchouli, and ambroxan. This forms a very dry woody accord as the ambroxan is used to tamp down the less arid aspects of patchouli and sandalwood.
B683 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
The star of B683 is the leather accord at its heart which lives up to its brief. It is a gorgeous example of this. For me it is the top accord which was my favorite part. Somewhat like the opening act overshadowing the headliner. The entire experience of B683 is one of leather as the epitome of luxury.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
One of the biggest shifts in music came in 1981 when MTV debuted on cable television. Twenty-four hours a day videos matched to the popular music of the day were shown. Whenever a song of that time period comes on the air, I can’t not see the accompanying visual. This was more succinctly summed up in the comic strip Bloom County by Berkeley Breathed below:
It shows the difficulty of crossing the streams of two art forms. The fragrance industry hasn’t shied away from it even so. One of the more recent attempts is the brand Art Meets Art. They lay out the difficulty right in the name. A little over a year ago they released their first five perfumes. When I received my samples, it wasn’t like they turned into exploding porpoises, but they also missed the energy. Nowhere was it wider of the mark than in the perfume named after the hit by Marvin Gaye; Sexual Healing. The stated goal was to capture the voice of the singer. What was in the bottle was a straightforward tobacco vanilla perfume. Whenever Sexual Healing pops up on my shuffle, I can promise you tobacco and vanilla will not be accompanying it.
The latest release takes on the classic song by Queen; Bohemian Rhapsody. There is a pop culture moment taking place around Queen and their front man Freddie Mercury. There is a new movie also titled “Bohemian Rhapsody”. That suffered from acting like a rock skipping over the rich pond of the subject. It was something which I felt would have been better as a six-episode series on one of the streaming services. The film lingers on the creative process within the band during a couple of passages. One is Bohemian Rhapsody. It is portrayed as the fever dream of Mr. Mercury that the rest of the band joyfully collaborates on. The perfume, composed by Frank Voelkl, does a better job of also capturing the variable influences within the song.
The top accord captures the lyric of “easy come, easy go, little high, little low”. The high is a sprinkling of metallic aldehydes. The easy come easy go is the cassis. The low is an herbal baie rose. It comes together in an affable come on just before everything turns operatic. M. Voelkl goes for the sopranos of perfumery as he rolls out the white flowers of jasmine and tuberose along with a baroque rose and fleshy ylang-ylang. This is the first time where an accord has felt connected to the musical inspiration in an Art Meets Art release. They make me want to sing “Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the fandango?” What comes next in the song is my favorite part as it shifts gear to full-on rock anthem. The perfume does the same with a lively base accord of patchouli taking the lead with a set of musks and vetiver backing it up. M. Voelkl really lets the patchouli loose; which works.
Bohemian Rhapsody has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
In this case Art Meets Art found a place where the perfume finally represented an appropriate companion to the music. I don’t think we’ll ever have to worry about perfume killing the radio star, but some nice fragrances can make it more fun. bohemian Rhapsody does this.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Saks.
We are right at the cusp of the Holiday season in the US. It means this is the time of year where you call on friends and family. One of the scents of this time of year for me is as you walk into a home and breathe in you get a preview of what is coming. So many of the foods of the festive season are spice-based. As we sit in family rooms and dens visiting, we are surrounded by the smell of wood paneling and spice. Mizensir Celebes Wood reminds me of the season and the camaraderie.
Mizensir is the brand founded by perfumer Alberto Morillas. It is his opportunity to work on a fragrance where he is both creative director and perfumer. It is unsurprising that this is a brand which has no duds in it. M. Morillas can expand the sensibilities which have served him so well as the best mainstream perfumer in the world into something a touch more adventurous. The way this has been most exemplified through the Mizensir line has been his use of new materials in ways which show them off. In Celebes Wood it is the patchouli substitute Clearwood.
Celebes Wood opens on one of my favorite spice notes in perfume; cardamom. This is the greener version of that ingredient which has become more common over the last couple of years. It is joined by the piquant heat of cinnamon and white pepper. It is like getting a breeze from the kitchen on your way to the family room. It picks up some of the sweets of the season as tonka bean, labdanum, and vanilla provide that. This all comes together on top of a foundation of musk and Clearwood. The advantage of Clearwood is that much of the dirty aspects of patchouli are removed without fractionation. What remains is a warm light woodiness. Riding a wave of musks it smells like a wood paneled den.
Celebes Wood has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I have a lot of Holiday perfumes, but I like the things Celebes Wood reminds me of. Which means I’m going to be doing some visiting in my mind while wearing it.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Mizensir.