Light is one of those words I use a lot to describe perfumes. Sometimes I mean the strength of the composition. There are certainly many new releases for whom this applies, especially recently. I use light to often describe those accords and fragrances which feel sunny; citrus, aquatics, or fougeres can all be full of light. Then you encounter a perfume which has as its stated goal to explore light in fragrance and in that experience, realize all those previous ideas of light didn’t tell the whole story; Parfum D’Empire Le Cri de la Lumiere is that one.
Parfum D’Empire is one of the most successful independent perfume brands because of the creative force behind it, Marc-Antoine Corticchiato. M. Corticchiato is not the most prolific perfumers but each of his releases are among the best of the year they are released. Le Cri de la Lumiere qualifies as that for 2017. The name translates roughly into “Cry of Light”. If you look at that you might think the perfume carrying that name would be a full-throated olfactory scream. M. Corticchiato instead works with a minimalist’s efficiency using only four ingredients to create this. It places a burden on those ingredients to not have any rough edges when coming together with the others. In this case, with this perfumer, that is hardly a problem. Each ingredient is chosen such that it provides its own part of the spectrum that become Le Cri de la Lumiere.
The opening moments are dominated by ambrette seeds. These are the most commonly used botanical musk. As a result, they are almost always blended with other notes which tend to cover up the nuances inherent in this ingredient. If you smell ambrette essential oil you will get a definitive vegetal and pear undercurrent. In Le Cri de la Lumiere M. Corticchiato gives the early going exclusively to the ambrette and both of those aspects rise to be noticed. In this form it can focus the musky parts into something less diffuse. In the press materials it is described as “crystalline” but I kept thinking “laser pointer”. There is also a subtle powdery quality which provides the transition to iris in the next phase. You might not think of iris as a “light” note but here it is the powderiness which expands into a bright globe of particles illuminated by the ambrette. Just as it seems this can’t get better Turkish rose appears in a transparent concentration as it colors the pink a deeper shade of red. Once this all comes together it is a lightness I’ve never experienced previously. There is a bit of woods, in the base, but it is this ambrette-iris-rose accord which is the story.
Le Cri de la Lumiere has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Le Cri de la Lumiere is another brilliant creation from M. Corticchiato which has given me new things to think about in my definition of light as it pertains to perfume.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from Parfum D’Empire.
If there is something I feel very sure of is that when a perfume I didn’t care for in its first release reaches its fourth iteration; I am not going to feel any differently. Of course, I wouldn’t be starting with that sentence if I hadn’t found an exception. This exception is particularly noteworthy because the version that was released just a few months before it was particularly wretched. This exceptional exception is Valentino Uomo Noir Absolu.
Valentino began their Uomo collection in 2014 with a particularly pedestrian interpretation of the masculine iris fragrance. Last year was an equally uninspired Uomo Intense. At the beginning of this summer Uomo Acqua was described in the press release as evoking the “fading grandeur” of an Italian palace. This had nothing grandiose about it as it was a harsh mixture of aromachemicals that was repellant. When I received my sample of Uomo Noir Absolu I remember thinking, “It couldn’t be worse.” I was right; it was amazing because they chose to go for a real Oriental instead of the faux attempts which preceded this.
Perfumer Sophie Labbe has been responsible for the Uomo collection after Olivier Polge did the original. Mme Labbe breaks through with Uomo Noir Absolu because she actually goes for a darker opulent style of perfume which is diametrically opposed from any other perfume with Valentino Uomo on the bottle. This works by diving straight away to the essence of an Oriental, the base accord.
A spicy duet is the opening movement as Mme Labbe combines cinnamon and black pepper. They are combined in an accord which has presence while also conveying a simmering heat. Incense swirls through this as it is particularly good with both top notes. I’ve always found the combination of black pepper and incense to work together but the cinnamon is also lifted by the resin as well. The iris, which is the connective tissue within the collection, shows its face here as the rootier less powdery version. It is not a focal point but it is also not a complete background player either. It rests on a rich woody base of sandalwood lightened with guaiac wood.
Valentino Uomo Noir Absolu has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Uomo Noir Absolu is one of the best mainstream fragrances of 2017. It is the ideal perfume for scarves and sweaters as the air turns colder. I should have been able to ignore this collection but Mme Labbe has turned out an exceptional exception of a fragrance.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Valentino.
Of the many things I learned working with Michelyn Camen, the EIC of CaFleureBon, was an appreciation of how visual art intersected with olfactory art. Her addition of just the perfect choices of visual cues to match the words of the writers who worked for her has made that one of the signatures of CaFleureBon. One of the things I enjoyed most was when she would give me some deep cuts in artists I thought I knew well. One of those was Gustav Klimt. I knew of the famous “The Kiss” but there were others from his “Golden Phase” which I would learn of. One was a portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer which has been called the Austrian Mona Lisa. They are paintings which feel like naturals to be paired with fragrance. Kilian Hennessy also must believe that too as they become the latest inspiration for the newest collection from By Kilian; From Dusk to Dawn. The one called Woman in Gold is the one attached to the painting of Adele Bloch-Bauer below.
Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt (1907)
M. Hennessy collaborates again with his most frequent perfumed muse Calice Becker. They were looking for “the contrasts between shadow and light”. I would also remark they were looking for the golden glow of Hr. Klimt’s paintings, too.
Mme Becker opens with a rich bergamot oil to give off a golden sunburst. This is not the typical opening as the bergamot has a shimmery quality which reveals a multi-faceted rose underneath. This is where the shadows reside in Woman in Gold. Geranium pairs with the rose to provide a translucent green lens to observe it through. The whole construct turns warm with vanilla as it infuses the floral heart. Then Mme Becker takes the patchouli bio-isolate Akigalawood to provide a slightly spicy version of patchouli which bridges the rose while contrasting the vanilla. It settles in to a powerful accord of all three in perfect harmony.
Woman in Gold has 12-14 hour longevity and above average siilage. This is one to be cautious in spraying, a little goes a long way.
This is a cold weather rosy vanilla it reminds me a lot of another rose creation in the brand Rose Oud. In both cases the keynotes are given the room to shine. In the case of Woman in Gold I guess I should say it glitters.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by By Kilian.
A few years ago, I went to the museum to see one of the more macabre exhibitions I have attended. From the moment archeologists began to excavate the city of Pompeii covered under the ash of the volcano Vesuvius’ explosion in 79 AD they discovered the bodies were preserved in a protective shell of ash. If they cautiously poured plaster inside that delicate framework they could create something solid from the ashes. To see the results of this work gathered in exhibition is to see a snapshot of death. Besides that, there was much to discover from these plaster casts which continues to the present day. Just a couple years ago they used 3-D techniques to determine the people of Pompeii were remarkably healthy some of them with “perfect teeth”. I remember having it inhabit my thoughts for days afterward thinking how death becomes an historical document through the shape of ashes. I was reminded of these thoughts by Mendittorosa Talismans Osang.
The creative director Stefania Squeglia grew up in Naples with Vesuvius able to be seen on the horizon. The name Osang comes from the annual San Gennaro festival in the city during which the dried blood of the saint is presented to the public. If it liquifies all will be well but if it stays dried….well Vesuvius is waiting. This is in keeping with the Talismans collection where the perfumes are inspired by artifacts which ward off the bad things in life.
Sig.ra Squeglia has created a very personal fragrance to the point that she does not reveal the perfumer she worked with on it. Osang is what she promises it to be except instead of it liquefying into the blood of San Gennaro Osang comes closer to representing the ashes portended by the blood staying dried. It leads to some very odd choices of ingredients which successfully accomplish the effect of a sky full of ashes.
The keynote to Osang is a fenugreek extraction being used in overdose. It appears right away and in the first moments it is sort of a watery vegetal effect which strengthens rapidly into a urine-like pungency. That effect is enhanced by using honey which also can feel urinous. The other note in the early going which provides the breath of fire is Szechuan pepper. This ingredient has been used a lot over the last couple of years but the use here comes closest to mimicking the real thing. It imparts a heat while also adding a kind of choking mustiness. This all transitions into a set of resins and balms in the base accord. Benzoin, styrax, incense, and peru balsam combine to form its own sort of ashy burn. Sandalwood seemingly provides some comfort, until oud joins it, charring even that short respite.
Osang has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I admire Sig.ra Squeglia’s dedication to her vision. Osang is an expertly constructed piece of perfumed art which achieves its stated goals. On that level it succeeds. On the level of “do I smell good?” it is more problematic. Because of the nature of the perfume I found it wasn’t comforting but that it put me on edge the days I wore it. Even smelling it on a strip to remind myself of it while writing this I can feel it provoking some of those feelings again. Which leads to a greater question about the art of perfumery. I think Osang is as good as it gets in realizing its artistic ambitions. It is just not something I would want to wear often. It is similar to my visit to the exhibition of the Pompeii plaster casts; the shape of ashes are disturbing but you can’t look away. Osang is great art within a delicate shell of ashes and death.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Medittorosa.
Nature offers up some wonderful contrasts of extremes. None more surprising and ephemeral than snow in the Sahara Desert. It has happened twice in the town known as “The Gateway to the Desert”. Ain Sefra in Algeria. Once in 1979 and again in December of 2016. For the most recent occurance photographer Karim Bouchetata was there to capture it. When you look at the picture below it almost looks like exotic dessert instead of desert. The perfumer behind The House of Oud was inspired to create perfume based on this called Wonderly.
Snow in the Sahara December 2016 (Photo: Karim Bouchetata)
The House of Oud was founded by perfumer Andrea Casotti and Indonesian oud distiller Mohammed Nashi. They released their debut collection in June of 2016. As you might suspect the expertise of M. Nashi in sourcing oud was displayed throughout. Of those initial releases the most intriguing was a limited edition called Crop 2016 featuring a rare green tinted oud from Kalimantan in Borneo. I had never smelled anything like it and Sig. Casotti surrounded it with a “tea in the Sahara” theme which displayed all the uniqueness of the keynote. When I received my sample of Wonderly I was surprised to find a fragrance intent on capturing the dichotomy of snow upon the dunes.
I imagine if I asked many of you to describe a perfume trying to capture the snow and sand combination fruity floral would not be where you might start. When I first tried it on a strip I was initially thinking if this was the best choice to represent the snow. Then I realized the snow in the Sahara is itself an anomaly and a fragrance should look for something anomalous to portray the event.
The fruity top accord is the tart goji berry combined with apricot and almond flower. The accord comes off as a juicy fruity accord with some nutty facets. For Wonderly, Sig. Casotti uses white flowers as his snow; neroli and jasmine primarily. Then in a clever twist a bit of orris is applied underneath to represent the sand beneath the snow. For a long time, it is just the orris pushing against the “snow”; over time a resinous mixture of myrrh, and incense begin to figuratively provide a thawing effect. Sandalwood, vanilla, and the powdery musk Cosmone add the finish as the desert takes its normal place on top.
Wonderly has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I like Wonderly because Sig. Casotti didn’t bring a selection of chilly notes to represent the snow but instead took a different tack. The result is as layered as snow in the Sahara.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample from The House of Oud.
One of the great parts of writing about perfume is the wide variety of fragrance which is available. One of the things which particularly pleases me is that even on the lower priced end of the spectrum there are some excellent perfumes being produced. Ever since I started Colognoisseur a friend I’ve known since high school has kept me supplied with the latest offerings from Avon. The brand is undergoing a transformation within their fragrance offerings getting better while following the current trends more closely. When I was sent the new Holiday offering for 2017, Prima Noir, I kept going back to the strip it was sprayed on during the first night as I was comparing to the other samples I had received in the mail. I came to the realization that on this night the best thing in front of me was Prima Noir.
This more forward-thinking approach to perfume has come under the stewardship of Isabel Lopes who has been overseeing this part of Avon since 2014. There has been an obvious uptick in the releases over that time. There has also been a more focused PR campaign which matches some of their department store competitors. Prima Noir is the flanker to 2015’s Prima both are represented by American Ballet Theatre dancer Courtney Lavine. Prima was a rose and patchouli representation of flowing pink silk as it ripples in the air during a grand jete. It was meant to be an everyday perfume. Prima Noir also has Ms. Levine as its face but instead of leaping through the air she is pirouetting in place concentrating the colors of her costume. Prima Noir mixes violet, jasmine, and vanilla in a dynamic rotation.
The perfumer behind Prima Noir is David Apel who has worked this style of fragrance for some of his niche clients. I think that shows here because he finds some nice ways of presenting the three ingredients. It starts with the violet as it dances like this perfume’s sugar violet fairy. It dances with the sweeter candied version of the flower inviting you in. The jasmine is one of the expansive synthetic versions scrubbed clean of the obstreperous indoles in place of a contained effect of pure flower power. As the violet inserts itself within the bubble the jasmine provides it is like a petaled snow globe. The depth and the noir part come courtesy of a rich vanilla base note. Mr. Apel tunes this so that it never becomes cloying it instead offers a subtler shading of vanilla. What then happens is the violet, jasmine, and vanilla all combine into a cozy winter accord which lasts for hours.
Prima Noir has 12-14 hours longevity and average sillage.
On the days I wore this I got several compliments from my co-workers. I am used to them asking me, “what are you wearing today?” Most of the time my answer is disappointing due to price or availability. This time the smiles which broke out when I answered, “Avon Prima Noir” told me my local rep was going to get some calls. If you haven’t checked out Avon in years Prima Noir is an excellent example of the changes on the fragrance side of the brand for the better.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Avon.
Independent perfumer Josh Meyer has been producing perfume for his Imaginary Authors brand since 2012. He has embodied that indie ethos of doing things his own way. From the start his fragrances showed a lot of promise but they also felt like we were undergoing some on-the-job training with him. This leads to a place where if there is something there all the lessons learned come together and there is a period of sustained creativity. In my estimation that happened with 2014’s Yesterday Haze. Since that release there has been not only releases for Imaginary Authors, but also a collection for Portland, OR store The Sum and a collaboration with Sam Rader of Dasein on Winter Nights. Through all of this I have felt like the work for The Sum was him experimenting with restraint which has been in short supply in his original brand. Winter Nights was a true collaboration which wove magic as Ms. Rader and he found an incredibly balanced construct. All of this comes home in Imaginary Authors O, Unknown!
The faux literary inspiration for O, Unknown! is the final installment of the Philip Sava trilogy who was the author behind Memoirs of a Trespasser and Cape Heartache. For O, Unknown! Mr. Sava is faced with his mortality he tells, “the story of a man grappling with the meaning of life as he grasps to life’s last vestiges.”
The perfume captures the final wanderings of our author as he moved from Bangladesh into Nepal, Tibet and rural China. This translates into the rich black tea found in Bangladesh and the Chinese Lapsang Souchong over a traveler’s accord which captures the final journey.
Mr. Meyer takes black tea and combines it with a tincture of Lapsang Souchong. The tincture has the effect of pulling the focus to the tea instead of the smokiness. It is there but it lilts instead of creating a fog. It is a gorgeously realized delicacy unlike any other beginning Mr. Meyer has used before. The keynote for O, Unknown! Is a rich orris butter where the powdery is jettisoned in place of the rhizomal earthiness. It is that which provides some weight to the tea accord. This all leads to a forest walk of sandalwood, moss, and musk as the last hike ends.
O, Unknown! has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
This is the best perfume Mr. Meyer has made because he is willing to walk the tightrope of delicacy and heft. O, Unknown! has the ability to stay high in the clouds while keeping the ground below in sight. This might be the final story of our imaginary author but it the best perfume by the non-imaginary perfume author behind it.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Imaginary Authors.
No white after Labor Day. Red wine for meat and white wine for fish. Citrus perfume is for summer. These kinds of pseudo-rules are supposed to make our lives easier. They can also have the effect on never allowing us to color outside the lines. Which is silly on my part because it is out on the margins where things can be the most exhilarating. This is the second year in a row when a new citrus focused release has challenged my assertion that citrus is for the dog days.
Masaya Kuroki and Gildas Loaec
When it comes to coloring outside the lines Maison Kitsune has been doing that with their multi-platform stylings founded by Masaya Kuroki and Gildas Loaec. Beginning in 2002 the pair would use the DJ nightlife of Paris as a platform to show off their clothing designs. They opened their first New York Boutique last fall. When I heard they were collaborating with James Heeley and his Heeley brand for their first perfume I was interested enough to get a sample. The trio seemingly enjoyed meshing the Japanese, French, and British aesthetics into a fragrance. The result is Maison Kitsune x Heeley Note de Yuzu.
The basis for the framework are the yuzu baths popular in Japan during the autumn months. Soaking in a wooden tub filled with salt-laden water upon which float slices of yuzu is a fall ritual for many. I was excited because I think one of the very best salt water perfumes is Heeley Sel Marin. I was interested to see if Mr. Heeley and Messrs. Kuroki and Loaec could find some spaces on the margins to create a memorable fragrance.
The yuzu is present right away, but it is presented differently than usual citrus. There is a real sense of humidity around this version of lemon. Instead of crisp brightness there is a muted diffusive effect which is made more pronounced as the sea salt accord rises for the yuzu to float upon. To really give the saltiness some extra texture a bit of seaweed adds a vegetal iodine facet which threads its way through the hot lemon water. I was enthralled by this opening because of the way it renounces the airy sunshine of most sea spray and citrus perfumes. Instead this has a kind of comforting warmth as if I was in the bath. Vetiver provides the sense of the wooden bath tub while the green overwrites the seaweed with something more typical. The final hours of Note de Yuzu are a set of white musks providing a soft slightly powdery final phase.
Note de Yuzu has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I would have never believed Mr. Heeley could have improved on Sel Marin but Note de Yuzu is much better. I think it is because by collaborating with rulebreakers like Messrs. Kuroki and Loaec it brought out a freer style within. Note de Yuzu is what happens when perfumery is practiced outside the lines.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from Maison Kitsune.
Looking back with science to find out about our ancestors has become all the rage. There is a desire to understand where you came from to inform where you are going. Unlike the fanciful stories in the commercials I found out my genealogy is exactly as I had been told my whole life. The only thing I discovered is my grandfather’s claim that there was some Cherokee blood was not borne out by science. I found that confirming my ancestry in this way was comforting. My place in the flow of history is anchored by the generations before. When you ask a perfumer to use “roots” as an inspiration you expect the literal application of ingredients which have roots to be used. Independent perfumer Tanja Bochnig took this a step further for April Aromatics Pink Wood.
The beginnings of Pink Wood came from Ms. Bochnig’s entry into the OSA! Competition at the Smell Festival in Bologna, Italy in May of this year. The theme all the perfumers were asked to interpret was “Roots”. I think these kinds of projects can have the effect of taking a perfumer in a different direction than when left on their own. In this case Ms. Bochnig sought to tie notes that are roots to the concept that “home is where the heart is”. This results in a perfume where a heart of layered rose is surrounded by the rooting effect of the earth grounding it all.
Pink Wood opens with a suite of dried fruits, they provide a concentrated effect without becoming too exuberant. The rose heart is a mixture of geranium and Turkish rose. The latter has a rich spicy core which is enhanced here. The remnants of the fruits provide sweet contrast while the geranium drapes it in a green tinted veil. This is a rose accord which evolves minute-by-minute and as the roots ensnare it that is when Pink Wood takes off. Oud, sandalwood, labdanum, oak wood, and aged patchouli are the roots below the rose. The oud swirls through the heart, like smoke from a brazier with oud chips burning within. Sandalwood provides a steady platform for the heart accord to rest upon. Oak accentuates some of the rougher aspects of the oud while labdanum coats it all in a resinous shell. The linchpin to the base accord is an aged patchouli from Indonesia. Used sparingly it unites the disparate genes in the base into a cohesive whole upon which the rose heart can rise above in glorious waves.
Pink Wood has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Pink Wood is among the best perfumes Ms. Bochnig has released. It has a dynamic profile not often found and my description above does not capture that quality adequately. There is the concept of life in motion grounded by the earth below. In the OSA! Competition Pink Wood finished third which makes me wonder how good the other two above it were. For 2017, Pink Wood is one of the best perfumes of the year.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by April Aromatics.
Whenever I speak about perfume with people who are not into fragrance I try to gently point out they are surrounded by it. The easy ones are their soaps and shampoos, their fabric softener, and their spray room freshener. I point out that even the places they go have specific scents; the bakery, the coffee house, the movie theatre, or the pizza place. I almost always end up using the mall as one of those examples because for fifteen years there has been an actual perfume which is the smell of every mall which has an Abercrombie & Fitch store in it.
For those who are unfamiliar with the story Abercrombie & Fitch actually adds their cologne Fierce to their air system. Which not only permeates the store but generally the entire level of the mall the store is situated on. It can make for an interesting confluence when it is in the proximity of the food court or movie theatre. I have always thought Fierce is one of the best mass-market fragrances. It has been said it is the current generation’s version of Ralph Lauren Polo. Which is why it being this fragrance of the mall was fitting.
At the beginning of the summer as part of a number of changes Abercrombie & Fitch are going through they announced that Fierce was no longer going to be the scent of the store anymore. They were replacing it with one of their new unisex collection, Ellwood. Times change and brands which don’t keep up will find themselves left behind. I thought it was a good idea and sought out a sample set of the new perfumes. If Ellwood was going to be the new scent of the mall I wanted to give it a try.
All three of the perfumes are depressingly simple; Ryder is clean cedarwood with white musk, Hempstead is cypress and vetiver. Ellwood is white musk and bergamot. I am sure the store knows the consumer they want to attract with these but compared to Fierce these are so lacking inspiration it is perplexing to me.
Ellwood is subtitled White Bergamot which is probably because White Linen was already taken. Ellwood is a mixture of the laundry-inspired white musks cut with a bit of the bright citrus of bergamot. That’s it; that’s all there is. It smells like that from the first second to the twelfth hour.
Ellwood has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I think when I visit the mall over the Holidays I am going to be disappointed to walk by Abercrombie & Fitch and have the clean linen smell of Ellwood greet me instead of Fierce. Maybe I’ll head down to Cinnabon to get my scent of the mall from now on.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Abercrombie & Fitch.