Once the big perfume producers get ahold of a brand they usually find a way to ruin it for me. The first step is to take something kind of exclusive and release a bunch of by-the-numbers releases. The fragrances which have Alexander McQueen on the bottle were in that exclusive category of reflecting the influential designer’s aesthetic via scent. Even 2016’s McQueen Parfum managed to feel like it belonged with the earlier releases of Kingdom and My Queen from a decade earlier. One reason that McQueen Perfume worked was that Sarah Burton, the creative director of Alexander McQueen, took an active hand in developing it. She worked with Pierre Aulas as a consultant. When I received the press release announcing eight new releases called the McQueen Collection I worried that the moneychangers had overrun the temple again. The McQueen Collection is eight mostly soliflore style fragrances from eight different perfumers. Overseen by Ms. Burton and M. Aulas I hoped for the best.
This is one of the rare collections where there are far more hits than misses. I will be reviewing many of these over the next few weeks. It should not be surprising to regular readers that the one I was most interested in was Sacred Osmanthus.
The perfumer behind this is Domitille Bertier. The entire McQueen Collection works as a set of simple constructs. Mme Bertier surrounds osmanthus with a gorgeous set of supporting notes. She uses ingredients to accentuate the two faces of osmanthus; apricot and leather.
The perfume opens with the apricot character pushed forward. Mme Bertier cleverly uses petitgrain as a figurative magnifying glass upon the apricot quality. In the first few moments I wondered if there was some apricot itself in the formula. The next two ingredients transform the apricot over to the leather face. First smoky Lapsang Souchong black tea steams up through the apricot. There is a moment it feels like an apricot jam pot is next to a cup of fresh brewed tea. The note which really captures the leather facet is the use of the botanical musk of ambrette seed. Ambrette seed has this vegetal animalic nature which is an ideal complement to the botanical leather of osmanthus. This is where Sacred Osmanthus captured me completely. Cashmeran finishes this off with a lightly woody effect.
Sacred Osmanthus has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Sacred Osmanthus is not as bold a fragrance as the original Alexander McQueen perfumes. If you’re looking for that kind of aggressive aesthetic it won’t be found in any of these new perfumes. Sacred Osmanthus is a more delicate style of perfume. Which is as it should be in soliflore perfumes. Sacred Osmanthus is a study of the two faces of osmanthus which is more than enough.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Alexander McQueen.
Within the spectrum of leather fragrances there is an accord I adore. When a perfumer uses a certain amount of birch tar as a piece of their leather accord it can sometimes smell like an automobile mechanic’s garage. It is one of those natural scents of tire rubber and motor oil which is what makes my motor rev. I most regularly experience it I when the leather accord is of the Cuir de Russie variety. Ormonde Jayne Cuir Imperial starts off in the garage but it ends up someplace more elegant.
Creative director-owner Linda Pilkington and her regular partner in perfumery, Geza Schoen, consider what a modern Cuir de Russie style leather would consist of. Hr. Schoen uses a couple of his favorite ingredients to tint the central leather accord refining it as it lasts on the skin.
Cuir Imperial opens with a large concentration of green cardamom. This has the characteristic zestiness of the herb what it also has is a sticky green effect, too. The rawer leather accord arises as the scent of the garage which the cardamom pushes back against. Clary sage amplifies the green followed by an ingredient Hr. Schoen is becoming a maestro with; baie rose/schinus molle. At first, he titrates its herbal nature like a thin filament running through things. It begins to wrap itself around the leather forcing it to wash some of the garage off itself. Then it reaches for a snifter of cognac. This is a striking shift in tone from rough to refined. It is brilliant as it has an airy booziness which inserts itself through the top accord. The heart further softens the leather with rose and iris giving it a floral polish. It settles into a sophisticated suede effect. The base is sandalwood, vetiver, and patchouli. It is the most typical thing about this perfume.
Cuir Imperial has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Cuir Imperial is one of the most elegant leather perfumes I have tried in a long time. What I relish about it is that it gets there by taking a trip through the garage. Once it strips off its coveralls it reveals a tuxedo underneath.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Ormonde Jayne.
Sandalwood is one of the key building blocks of modern perfumery. Its presence has caused several reactions. One is the overharvesting of the precious sandalwood of Mysore in India. This was what perfumers used in the early decades and over time it was taken down to small amounts left. It is now presided over, so it doesn’t return to that state. Nature and perfumery abhor a vacuum which means the perfume oil producers asked their chemists for synthetic alternatives. Along with that there were sustainable sources in Australia. In all these cases there was a seeming attempt to accentuate the creamy and sweet character of sandalwood. Which moved it further away from what it was trying to emulate.
Jeroen Oude Sogtoen
I have a tiny sample of actual Mysore sandalwood oil along with a few treasured vintage perfumes which feature the ingredient. None of those are creamy or sweet. Mysore sandalwood has a much more austere effect. It always reminds me of an ashy coating being removed to expose raw wood underneath. There is an acrid undercurrent in Mysore sandalwood which is what has been engineered out via chemical synthesis. Mona di Orio Santal Nabataea wants to be a perfume which explores what Mysore sandalwood used to mean in perfumery.
Creative director Jeroen Oude Sogtoen and perfumer Fredrik Dalman were inspired by the capitol of the ancient land of Nabataea, Petra. The city was made of sandstone buildings which were more varied than that sounds because there were different colored varieties to be used in the area. If you need a pop culture reference it is the city where the last act of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” takes place. This transfers to a sandalwood centric perfume as M. Dalman creates a layered effect around his keynote.
This layering is in effect from the first second. M. Dalman uses a mixture of the species of sandalwood from Mysore, santalum album, which has been sustainably grown in Australia. It is supported by some actual Indian sandalwood. This is as close to Mysore sandalwood as we’re going to get in the present day. M. Dalman blends his sources into something which is only tiny shades different than my sample of the authentic source. M. Dalman first calls forth black pepper and coffee to interact with the sandalwood. There is a distinct bitterness to santalum album both notes explore that. The black coffee does it in a richly caffeinated perspective while the pepper picks up on that “ashy” quality I perceive. It moves in the heart to a duo of odd choices in apricot and black currant leaf. There is a kind of urine-like tone to santalum album; the black currant leaf shares that together they find a more pleasant harmonic as the green leaves find more of a presence. The apricot is a fruity contrast. The base accord moves to more traditional ground of opoponax providing a resinous partner to the sandalwood.
Santal Nabataea has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
There is an economic principal called “regression towards the mean”. It means that as the price of something moves further and further to an extreme eventually it finds its way back to the place where it started. As I wore Santal Nabataea it felt like Messrs. Sogtoen and Dalman were providing a perfume equivalent. Santal Nabataea is a regression toward the Mysore.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
One of the things I assert when speaking about perfume is you do not need a big budget to make a great perfume. One of the brands I point to when backing that up is Avon. Ever since Isabel Lopes took charge of the fragrance offerings there has been a noticeable increase in quality. Ms. Lopes has been willing to offer richer styles of perfume to the Avon consumer. I have a friend who keeps me supplied with new Avon releases. It always surprises me when I come across one which shows off the idea budget is meaningless. Avon Velvet is the latest example.
The palette of multi-faceted synthetics has given any perfumer a lot of latitude to pull off any effect they desire. The perfumer behind Velvet is Gabriela Chelariu. If the name isn’t familiar to you she has been a long-time stalwart in the mass market perfume sector. Ms. Chelariu knows how to make the most of her budget. Velvet is the best perfume she has produced.
One of the techniques to getting the most out of your perfume is to find overlapping notes to form each of your accords. Velvet is at its most basic a fig, rose, and patchouli construct. Ms. Chelariu uses two supporting ingredients to each vertebra in that spine. It results in something unexpectedly great.
Ms. Chelariu opens with a creamy green fig. The red fruits of pomegranate and raspberry are used to round it out. You read that and think overwhelming sweet fruit. What you get is a green fig which is subtly sweetened. It is a fantastic accord. It continues in to the heart as rose sets up as the keynote. Ms Chelariu uses dark lily and heliotropin. The heliotropin transitions from the milky fig to the rose. The dark lily freshens up the deeply spicy rose. It leads to a smooth patchouli which is one of the variants which is a cleaner version of this ingredient. A set of musks which provide the warm skin accord is where this ends.
Velvet has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Velvet is a perfume which could pass for a niche release easily. Even though it is made of less costly ingredients Ms. Chelariu turns Velvet into something which smells like a $100 or more.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Avon.
I spend a lot of time advising new indie perfumers to simplify instead of adding too much to their early fragrances. I advise if you can create a single memorable accord you will be better than 95% of the others in this sector. I know one of the best at this is independent perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. She has just released three excellent examples of this in her DSH Perfumes Les Fruits Defendus Vol. 1.
I had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Hurwitz about this collection when I was in her home base of Boulder, CO. It was meant to be a collection of forbidden fruit; which it is. It is also a collection of how a simply constructed accord can be great perfume.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz
Bakul Medjool has dates as the fruit at the center. Ms. Hurwitz wanted something to cut the sweetness of this dried fruit. Her choice was to source Bakul attar from India. That ingredient is a co-distillation of bakul flower and sandalwood. It is a richly floral-woody ingredient which sets up opposite the dates in equality. Incense wraps it all up in a beautifully resinous embrace.
Ms. Hurwitz and I both share an antipathy to the syrupy adolescent way cherry has been used in fragrance. As she investigated the concept of forbidden fruit she realized she might have to make a cherry entry. Eau Cerise is the result. This is not that viscous fruity treacle; her cherry is a ripe black cherry including the bitterness of the skin. She surrounds it with floral and Oriental accords to produce a floriental with a cherry core. It opens with the bitterness of cherry made green with violet leaf and galbanum. A pungent champaca along with spicy Bulgarian rose provide a floral layer. Oakmoss and cedar provide the Oriental layer. It comes together around the cherry in something that feels uplifting. This is going to be on a scarf, or two, as the weather cools.
When Ms. Hurwitz handed me Figue Interdite I was surprised at what I smelled on the strip. She told me she wanted to create a full spectrum fig. This is much more than just that description. She adds in enhancers to the fig I am used to encountering until it all meshes together in something beautiful. It starts with the wood of the tree before it works outward to the leaves and then the fruit itself. Cedar provides the woody trunk. As it flows from that you smell the green creaminess of fig leaves then the lilt of the flowers before you finally arrive at the fruit. Fig is one of those fruits which represent sexuality. The fig here is sensuous because of the fleshiness of it all. The effect is created with a precise use of coconut to add even more of that quality. Most of the time coconut comes off as a tropical drink here it provides some oiliness while complementing the sweetness. It is a gorgeous accord.
All three perfumes are 100% Natural and have 8-10 hour longevity and very little sillage.
Ms. Hurwitz always display her talent to me in many ways. With Les Fruits Defendus Vol. 1 it the incredible accords which represent the fruits of her labor.
Disclosure: this review is based on samples provided by DSH Perfumes.
When two creative people you admire team-up you probably expect to find something that is more than the sum of its parts. It has been one of the characteristics of the creative direction Victor Wong has produced for his Zoologist Perfumes brand. I think he has helped the independent perfumers he collaborates with to produce some of their best perfumes ever. In the perfume whisper stream, I had heard that one of the most creative independent perfumers, Antonio Gardoni, and Mr. Wong were trying to find a way to team-up on a perfume. The rumors have been realized as Zoologist Tyrannosaurus Rex has been released.
There are a few independent perfumers who have quite as distinctive a signature as Sig. Gardoni. He was the unnamed perfumer for a different brand and the aesthetic nearly screamed his name when you tried it. Until he was revealed as the perfumer he must have become bored with being asked if he was. Sig. Gardoni has excelled at opening phases which are compelling. If there has been a consistent drawback it is the rest of the perfumes sometimes suffer from a clutter of ingredients heading off in many directions. My hope was that Mr. Wong could be the kind of traffic cop who could keep the perfume flowing without jamming up. For the most part I think this is what takes place.
Victor Wong (l.) and Antonio Gardoni
It begins with the bold opening I expected as twin pillars of smoke via cade oil and frankincense. This is amplified with notes of fir, and black pepper. This is acrid smoke the kind that makes you cough if you get too much. Sig. Gardoni captures the violence of air on fire. What twists it all is you also smell the flowers that are burning as champaca, jasmine, neroli, and ylang-ylang capture a primordial tropical milieu. It is a completely Gardoni style opening. Now the question was would this burn to the ground or soar. Mr. Wong does oversee a much more concise trip to the finish by concentrating on a set of woods and animalic ingredients to produce the giant dinosaur in the name erupting from the forest. It starts as cedar and sandalwood begin to push back at the smoke. A classically constructed birch tar leather accord joins in with civet to make the animalic accord. This is far less complicated than the typical Gardoni finish and much better for it.
Tyrannosaurus Rex has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is by far the most avant-garde release from Zoologist. It is not going to be a crowd pleasing easy-to-wear style of perfume. It is also another example of how Mr. Wong can accentuate the positives of the perfumers he works with. Tyrranosaurus Rex is a show of creative force multipliers producing something amazing.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
One of the signs of aging is a longing for things of the past. Perfume is a good antidote for that. New perfumes can use the past as beginning for something different. When my fragrance buying began to expand in the 1970’s it was mostly through the fougeres on offer at the men’s fragrance counters at the mall. I still wear many of those because they appeal to me. Within the past year there seems to be a tiny rippling trend of modernizing fougere. Atelier des Ors Crepuscule des Ames does this by becoming a bit more of a throwback fougere.
"The Hostile Forces" from the Betthoven Frieze by Gustav Klimt
Crepuscule des Ames is one-third of the White Collection. Based on the concept of finding happiness as visualized in the Beethoven Frieze by Gustav Klimt. The three perfumes were each meant to represent one panel of the triptych. Crepuscule Des Ames is inspired by the middle panel titled “The Hostile Forces”. There is a wonderfully artistic description of the panel where the monster in the middle is surrounded by the sins we encounter in life. While wearing Crepuscule des Ames I see the hairy beast in the middle as the classic powerhouse fougeres of decades ago. While the women surrounding attempt to soften that effect.
Marie Salamagne (l.) and Jean-Philippe Clermont
Creative director Jean-Phillipe Clermont continues the collaboration with perfumer Marie Salamagne which has been the case for every Atelier des Ors. Together they use a very traditional herbal citrus opening. The updating occurs throughout the middle part of the development as some different choices are used before returning to a traditional finish.
Crepuscule des Ames opens with mandarin, cardamom, and sage. This was emblematic of many masculine fougeres in the 1970’s and 80’s. It is done in that style with powerful presence from the first moments. It begins to be softened by using hyssop, pimento, and incense. The incense rises to a key note while being shepherded by the herbal-ness of the hyssop and the odd sweetness of the pimento. This part feels very 2018. The base is patchouli paired with hyraceum to provide a more animalic edge to the base accord in place of the more typical leather accord.
Crepuscule des Ames has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I quite enjoyed this homage to the old style masculine fougeres. Mme Salamagne has formed a more luxurious version with some modern twists here and there. It all adds up to a compelling throwback fougere.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Atelier des Ors.
For most people the smell of the beach is a combination of salt spray, suntan lotion, and fresh air. Growing up in South Florida there is another ingredient I have always added to that; the smell of damp coral. At the edge of my bicycle range as a child was a public beach called Matheson Hammock. The main feature of this beach was a natural atoll pool. This was a natural saltwater pond which was refreshed as the tides came and went, ringed with coral. Everything at Matheson Hammock was made of coral; the snack bar, the picnic canopy, you name it. It was as present as the ingredients I mentioned above in my memory of the beach. There have been a few perfumes which have added a bit of stony minerality to the beach scene, the latest is Arquiste Sydney Rock Pool.
The name indicates what part of the world inspired this perfume. Creative director-owner Carlos Huber released Sydney Rock Pool exclusively to Australia earlier this year. It has just become available worldwide. The perfume grew out of a private release to Conde Nast VIP’s. Sr. Huber continued to develop it with perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux into what has become Sydney Rock Pool.
There is a time and place represented by every Arquiste perfume for this one it is the “Golden Hour” in 2016. For those who don’t know the phrase “golden hour” it represents the final hour of the sun in the sky every day. For me the golden hour was the natural signal to head home while there was still daylight to ride my bicycle. As an adult it has become one of my favorite parts of the day as it closes with a palette of colors across the sky; sometimes finishing with a flash of green.
On the days I was at Matheson Hammock as the sun reached a low position I had salt dried on my skin from swimming in the atoll pool. The remains of my suntan lotion were on its last legs. The sea breeze was switching directions bringing the smell of the flowers growing on the land to me. The wet coral was mingling with the scent of the warmed trunks of the palm trees. This is what Sydney Rock Pool smells like.
Sydney Rock Pool begins with a suntan lotion accord represented by coconut on top of salt spray dried on skin. I remember looking down at my chest and seeing white trails. Some of which were dried sea water and some were the places where suntan lotion remained. It would take a touch to see if it was oily or flaky to determine which was which. The scent is reproduced here uncannily by Sr. Flores-Roux. A mineralic accord that rises underneath this is the smell of wet coral. The scent of the flowers behind me come as jasmine and frangipani provide the tropical style botanicals. Sr. Flores-Roux use a thread of narcissus to stitch them together into a late afternoon early evening style of floral accord. The narcissus provides some weight without overwhelming. A healthy dollop of ambermax captures the smell of drift wood and palm trees warmed by the day’s sun.
Sydney Rock Pool has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I suspect that some where Down Under there is a young child on a bicycle standing atop an atoll pool who is a twin to myself fifty years ago and a world away. Sydney Rock Pool connects us via the scent of the golden hour no matter what the map says.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle supplied by Arquiste.
There are some brands which just don’t click with me. It is not that they are poorly constructed they just don’t do anything for me. Which makes it hard for me to write about them. I will often receive e-mails asking if I like something from one of those brands to which I reply, “not yet”. If they keep releasing new perfumes eventually there is one which does break through. Usually it is something which is chock full of my favorite ingredients. Imagine my surprise to find myself liking Gallagher Fragrances Fineapple.
Daniel Gallagher began his independent perfume brand in 2016 releasing nine in the debut collection. While none of them made an impression on me one thing did stand out. If there is a flaw to first-time independent perfumers, it is they can’t stop adding things to their creations. Mr. Gallagher stood out for releasing more streamlined formulas. He followed up a year later with two more releases which again were more noteworthy for their restraint than their effect.
When I received the latest release, Fineapple, the name had me thinking this was going to join the rest of the line. My antipathy to pineapple has been chronicled in previous reviews. A perfume promising me a lot of pineapple? That should have been a non-starter. Except Mr. Gallagher’s succinct style used some of the things I see as flaws in the fruit and turned them into something enjoyable.
If there is a consistent complaint I have about pineapple in perfumes is it is used as a sweet fruit bludgeon. So strong it overwhelms. Mr. Gallagher by using a smaller ingredient list embraces that exuberance while refining the overall effect to something much more enjoyable.
The pineapple is there right from the start, but Mr. Gallagher also has a tart green apple there simultaneously. What this does is prevent the pineapple from going all juicy. It focuses it with the crispness of the apple sharing that trait with the pineapple. It is an ideal pairing. The rest of Fineapple is kept simple with an expansive jasmine, synthetic woods and musky ambrette. They are all used as complementary support to the apple and pineapple.
Fineapple has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I always am pleased to find a pairing which helps me appreciate an ingredient I was previously agnostic about. Mr. Gallagher makes a fine apple-pineapple perfume in Fineapple.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample from Gallagher Fragrances.
My first leather jacket was a brown bomber jacket. It was for my tenth birthday and I wore it constantly; in the South Florida heat. For the year or so I wore it, until I outgrew it, it had a unique combination of sweat and leather as scent. I remember thinking it was interesting how the overlap occurred in a sweet place. It turns out a more grown-up version of that bomber jacket is the inspiration for Ex Nihilo Cuir Celeste.
Olivier Royere, Sylvie Loday, and Benoit Verdier (l. to r.)
Cuir Celeste is the first perfume in the Visionnaires collection. The idea is to work with another artist on a perfume. For this first one the team at Ex Nihilo: Sylvie Loday, Olivier Royere, and Benoit Verdier asked photographer Mathieu Cesar to take over the creative director duties. M. Cesar wears a classic bomber jacket and wanted a perfume with this as the brief. Working with perfumer Quentin Bisch they came up with a nice interpretation of their inspiration.
Quentin Bisch (l.) and Mathieu Cesar
This is an interesting trip which starts with a green kick. M. Bisch uses black pepper, galbanum, and violet leaves for the top accord. If that sounds intense you should look at the second word in the name; celeste or light blue in English. This is not meant to be something heavy but a more expansive style of fragrance. It is evident in that top accord as M. Bisch uses the violet leaves to provide a less spiky version of both the pepper and the galbanum. This is more like light green in effect. Before the leather comes M. Bisch treats me to a brilliant accord of the botanical musk of ambrette seed crossed with osmanthus. This is that sweaty body inside the jacket but after that sweat has dried inside the jacket. It is the memory of yesterday’s labors. The osmanthus is an ideal partner as its leather leads into M. Bisch’s leather accord. He uses cypriol, akigalawood, and a couple of musks to produce an opaque unrefined leather accord. It is an interesting choice because it feels like Cuir Celeste is always headed deeper, but it never stops being light blue.
Cuir Celeste has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is one of my favorites of the Ex Nihilo collection overall. I’m not sure I’ll wear it as much as my adolescent bomber jacket, but I am sure I won’t grow out of, or tired of, it.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Ex Nihilo.