One of the things I get a kick out of is when a perfumer comes up with a new accord or the company they work for presents a new isolation of a well-known note. I always imagine it is like the charge painters received when the pigment Cerulean Blue allowed them to add blue to their palettes. Just like those painters who had ideas but were unable to express them because the material wasn’t there; when it does arrive, the imagination is unleashed.
Perfumer Yann Vasnier is one of those for whom there must be a myriad of these kind of “what if?” ideas. When Givaudan showed him Roasted Oak Absolute he saw it as an alternative to the ubiquitous cedar or sandalwood. Now where to use it? Jo Malone creative director Celine Roux upon smelling it wanted it because she had been wanting to have a “fall forest in England” style of fragrance in the collection. Once new ingredient, perfumer, and creative director intersected what came out of it is English Oak & Hazelnut.
The Roasted Oak Absolute carries an interesting scent profile. There is a sharp woodiness inherent to oak. The roasted part is as if you took some cords of oak and put them in a drying shed. They would pick up some of the smoke of the low fire providing the heat. It would bring out a bit of inherent woody sweetness. This is what I encounter when wearing English Oak & Hazelnut.
The fragrance starts with the hazelnut. If you’re looking for a similar roasted effect this is not that. M. Vasnier uses a green hazelnut. This is very reminiscent of walking through the forest and crunching raw nuts on the ground with your boots. It is a raw nutty quality along with a slightly sharp green component. It is paired with the citrus-tinted wood of elemi as contrast. Vetiver comes along to focus the greener facets and cedar begins the transition from raw nutty on top to the roasted oak in the base. The vetiver remains as the roasted oak gains presence. It is an interesting overall feeling as the vetiver sometimes shifts the oak more to the greener woodiness typical of simple oak absolute. Then the roasted oak pushes back and it gets warmer. This metronomic back-and-forth is where English Oak & Hazelnut comes to its end.
English Oak & Hazelnut has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
M. Vasnier and Mme Roux were so excited about the Roasted Oak they decided there needed to be another fragrance featuring it and English Oak & Redcurrant is the other half of the English Oak collection. I preferred English Oak & Hazelnut because it displayed the new material more prominently. In English Oak & Redcurrant it is overridden by the rose in the heart more than it is here. If you really want to experience the Cerulean Oak of the Roasted Oak I recommend English Oak & Hazelnut to get the full experience.
Disclosure: This review was based on sample provided by Jo Malone.
Perfume has been used as a bit of an olfactory magic carpet meant to transport you to far-off lands. That is why there are a significant number of travel inspired fragrances. They can be excellent guides to an exotic locale. They can also be a bit lazy as a perfume brand rounds up the usual suspects for each place. The latest brand to become world travelers is Carven.
Carven resurrected itself as a fragrance brand in 2013 with the release of Carven Le Parfum. Through the first six releases there was a clear desire for clean, crisp structures. When I think of the best travel scents there is a less clean and fresh nature to them as they capture some of the stronger smells of the place. The seven perfumes which make up the Carven La Collection are all given the name of Paris and a connected locale. The overall concept is to combine the Parisian perfume style with the other locale on the bottle.
I found it to be a frustrating group to test. It is wildly uneven with some having inexplicable connections. Does magnolia make you think of Florence, Italy? Vanilla the Middle East? Paris Seville is a serviceable neroli fragrance. Paris Sao Paolo also leans on orange blossom to connect with Brazil. Even when you go with the obvious there can still be something pleasant to be found as is the case with Paris Bangalore.
When you think of India the most famous perfume ingredient from the sub-continent is sandalwood. It is no surprise that perfumer Alienor Massenet uses that as the keynote. What makes Paris Bangalore work better than any other in Carven La Collection is the dichotomy of Paris and Bangalore show up more distinctly than in any of the others.
That dichotomy shows right from the start as pungent clove recalls Kreteks perfuming the air with their smoke on a nighttime walk on the Seine. This is matched with saffron providing a toasty golden contrast. This opening is what the entire collection should have been like. It drew me in to a heart of balsam sweetened with vanilla. It comes off as soothing arising from the clove and saffron. The vanilla significantly sweetens the balsam setting the stage for a sweet creamy sandalwood in the base. Tonka provides a warmer version of the vanilla while amber provides a spicy partner for the final moments.
Paris Bangalore has 8-10 hours longevity and moderate sillage.
I was disappointed in the Carven La Collection but Paris Bangalore showed the concept does have potential as long as they remember these perfumes are meant to be a tale of two cities.
Disclosure: this review is based on samples provided by Carven.
The most maligned perfume ingredient of all is probably patchouli. It mostly comes by its poor reputation because it was so closely associated with the smell of the hippies. There was a meme I saw which had as the definition of patchouli “filthy hippie”. During the Summer of Love, in 1969, there were probably many who ascribed to that in the rest of society. In scent, it is hard to shake an association once it resides in your memory. What is particularly sad about it is patchouli is one of the more versatile ingredients in perfumery. It has only become more varied in its use with the advent of fractionation and supercritical fluid extractions. Once the filthy hippie was treated differently new perspective on patchouli could be seen. One of the perfumers who has done wonders with the new versions of patchouli is Jerome Epinette. In his latest release for Byredo, called Velvet Haze, inspired by the 1960’s he has done it again.
Creative director Ben Gorham wanted Velvet Haze to be “inspired by the very evocative 1960’s music and cultural movement”. I must believe they tried very hard to license the name Purple Haze only to have to compromise on this. I find the change more apt. While I am not one who sees colors with my fragrance; if I was asked to word associate with patchouli “purple” would be one of the words. Because M. Epinette chooses a fraction as the keynote this patchouli is more velvet than purple. As has become the Byredo trademark Mr. Gorham and M. Epinette have collaborated on a lighter version of fragrance. It leaves it being like a faded memory of the 1960’s carrying a kind of elegiac beauty with it.
Velvet Haze starts with a brilliant accord which leans in towards the whole filthy hippie concept. M. Epinette takes the clean sweetness of coconut water and combines it with the botanical musk of ambrette seeds. This gives a kind of slightly sweet sweaty skin. Not filthy more like bronzed skin with rivulets of perspiration trailing down it. The patchouli comes up to meet this accord and for a while there is an accord of patchouli covering sweaty skin. I really like this part of the development as over time the patchouli becomes more focused. This fraction is a brighter version of patchouli it carries lesser aspects of the earthiness containing more of the herbal quality. Then the final ingredient provides a bit of alternative darkness as a dusting of fine cacao mixes with the patchouli for the final hours.
Velvet Haze has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Velvet Haze is an excellent modern patchouli perfume; another in an already impressive collection by M. Epinette. I appreciate that Mr. Gorham didn’t just go for an immersive 60’s experience. Instead by only reaching for a fraction of the past they have captured a modern piece of the 60’s.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Byredo.
Extrait versions of perfumes that I already think highly of fall into two categories. One just gives me a higher concentration of that which I already like. That can be seen as the easier way but upping the strength without unbalancing the whole is trickier to achieve than it seems. The other way is to reinterpret the original version shifting a few critical notes while upping the concentration. This is the walk across a tightrope as everything you change has an effect on the overall construct potentially just losing its balance and disappearing into the mist below. Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian chose this second way with his Maison Francis Kurkdjian Oud Satin Mood Extrait.
When it comes to working with oud I believe M. Kurkdjian is the best at it. If you look at the breadth of oud fragrances he has released across all the brands he works for you will see every shade possible. The pinnacle of this was the Maison Francis Kurkdjian Oud Mood collection. Within that each mood was named after a fabric. M. Kurkdjian would create a tactile version of oud to match the textile inspiration. My favorite oud perfume M. Kurkdjian has ever done was the fourth release Oud Satin Mood. One reason was he turned the fractious oud into satiny smooth exotica. Using Laotian oud he has made one of the great oud perfumes by rounding off the edges with resins and roses.
My affection for that perfume had me wondering what the Extrait version would be like. I had been warned the composition was altered with the resins removed. I was conflicted about that but my faith in M. Kurkdjian was such that I knew the changes would ring true. They do.
As in the original version we begin with candied violets and Laotian oud. Laotian oud has an inherently floral undercurrent. That floral nature is brought to the forefront due to the concentration. The violet intersperses itself in crystalline nuggets throughout. The mixture of Tunisian and Turkish roses partners this oud. They arrive with a swoosh enveloping the oud and violet before uncovering the oud again minus the violet. Now a classic rose oud lingers for a moment before the oud gains ascendency again. What helps is a simmering cinnamon and amber duo which replace the benzoin from the original. Extraits when they are at their best are banked fires holding their energy within glowing coals of intensity. The cinnamon and amber make those embers glow white hot. Benzoin I don’t believe could’ve had this effect. It all culminates in fabulously sweet vanilla recapitulating the candied violet at the top with a deeper sweetness.
Oud Satin Mood Extrait has 24-hour longevity and average sillage.
I got my sample of this at the beginning of the summer and I was patiently waiting for some cool rainy days to wear it because I thought it would have not impressed in the heat. On two very cool days it did more than impressed it outdid the original. I have already picked out the scarf which will have this applied to as I enter the fall and winter. M. Kurkdjian didn’t just pump up the volume but the quality too.
Disclosure: this review was based on a press sample provided by Maison Francis Kurkdjian.
Going fragrance shopping at the mall used to be a terribly depressing experience. It seemed like all the fragrance counters were covered in the same brands and bottles. Sometime in the last couple of years something changed and a few of the stores decided to strike out in a different direction. One of those stores is Sephora. Just about three years ago they expanded by adding in some carefully curated well-known niche brands. This has been followed with expansion into some equally well-chosen independent brands. I don’t know for sure who is doing the selection but that person, or persons, deserves a round of applause. I receive a quarterly box of samples from Sephora. It is one of my most eagerly awaited arrivals because there seem to be new discoveries within, every three months. In my midsummer box one of those discoveries was the new brand Ellis Brooklyn.
Ellis Brooklyn was founded about a year ago by New York Times beauty writer Bee Shapiro. As a professional she had a deep knowledge of whom she might like to work with on her perfume line. She probably couldn’t have made a better choice than perfumer Jerome Epinette. One reason for that is M. Epinette is perhaps the best perfumer to help build a distinctive brand aesthetic. Ms. Shapiro wanted her line to be “fresh”. Fresh can be one of those descriptors which has become sort of meaningless because of its overuse. What I can say through the first five Ellis Brooklyn releases is Ms. Shapiro and M. Epinette have a better understanding of the word than most.
Fable crackles with green floral energy and woods. Myth does the same with white flowers. Raven takes rhubarb and patchouli without becoming weighted down. Rrose is a crisp vanilla rose which seems like it shouldn’t ever come together, but it does. I have liked all of these but it is the newest release Rives I have fallen for.
Rives is a fresh fougere in what is becoming the Ellis Brooklyn style. What I mean by that is M. Epinette draws distinct boundaries with specific notes to allow other ingredients to expand within. For a crisp fougere the expansive ingredient will be lavender. The four sides of the frame to contain it are petitgrain, neroli, cashmeran, and a suede leather accord. The lavender pushes up against the neroli and petitgrain in a typical fougere opening phase. It gets less typical as the opaque suede accord arrives. As with Rrose and the vanilla the leather is something which could weigh everything down. M. Epinette manages to make these heavier notes retain their strength without overwhelming. The cashmeran is its characteristic blond woody self as the frame around the lavender snaps into place.
Rives has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I recently took someone on a perfume sniffing trip to the mall. I was excited to take someone who is just discovering the wide world beyond the department store into Sephora. She went home with a bag of samples. The one bottle she bought was Ellis Brooklyn Rives. Ms. Shapiro has provided yet another reason why fragrance shopping in the mall is much less of a wasteland.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Sephora.
It is a great thing when a good European-based brand finds its way to the US. I always root for the good ones to have as much coverage as they can. The English brand Shay & Blue is one of these. Started by creative director Dom De Vetta five years ago it was a UK exclusive for a long time. Mr. De Vetta founded Shay & Blue after a tenure at Jo Malone London. As he started Shay & Blue he had the freedom to be a little more creative which has become one of the brand hallmarks. He has worked exclusively with perfumer Julie Masse developing an effective partnership which also helps define the Shay & Blue aesthetic. The latest release is Scarlet Lily.
Julie Masse and Dom De Vetta
Lily is a hard note to feature in fragrance; in its most prevalent version it can have a sterility to it. What gets forgotten is there are other versions of lily instead of the white version seen at weddings and funerals. There is a tawdry pink version called the Stargazer Lily which has a spicy core to it which imparts a bit more life into things. It is that one which is featured in Scarlet Lily.
Mme Masse opens Scarlet Lily floating on a watery lotus. It is a lovely choice as the aquatic nature is burned away by the spicy lily as it rises over the lotus like the sunrise. To keep the spicy heart out in front Mme Masses uses red pepper to provide an opaque piquancy. To buff the floral parts a bit of muguet and ylang-ylang provide support. All together it forms a lively spicy lily accord which is where Scarlet Lily lingers for hours before descending into the warm embrace of amber at the end.
Scarlet Lily has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Scarlet Lily is yet another reminder of the top-notch collection Mr. De Vetta is compiling here. They are all simple constructs but each carries more heft than their simplicity would imply. Scarlet Lily is another which shines by forming a compelling accord intelligently.
Disclosure : This review was based on a sample I purchased.
There are many perfumes which have outsized reputations. One of those is Creed Aventus. Aventus has defined the masculine offerings from The House of Creed ever since it was released in 2010. There was a part of me that wondered if they would ever try and capture that lightning in a bottle again. I received an e-mail a few weeks ago answering that question as I was offered a preview sample of their new masculine perfume Creed Viking.
Viking is inspired by the voyages of the Viking longships as they discovered the new lands within their ability to sail there. Viking surprisingly coalesces around a rose heart. A spicy rose is a common theme for masculine florals. I wanted a bit more of the ocean here but there is nothing of that to be found. If Aventus is the perfume for date night; Viking is the perfume for the office. Perfumer Olivier Creed does an admirable job trying to follow up a sensation.
Viking opens with a focused charge of lemon. When lemon is done well it pops; in Viking it pops. Mr. Creed then uses the herbal baie rose to pierce that brightness. The first few minutes are full of energy. The rose in the heart starts to come forward. This is a Bulgarian rose which is very deep displaying the spicy quality this rose has within. Mr. Creed then brackets it with hot and cold. Pepper is the hot and peppermint is the cool. The pepper sinks into the spices inherent to the rose bringing them to the foreground. The peppermint exhales an icy breath across all of it. This is a nicely achieved rose heart accord. A bit of lavender begins the transition to the woods in the base. Sandalwood and vetiver provide the foundation. A rich patchouli carries the depth of the rose in the heart to the woody foundation.
Viking has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Let’s get the overarching question out of the way; is Viking as good as Aventus? No, but I think Aventus is one of the best perfumes Creed has ever made. Viking is not in that league. It is a Creed masculine in the same vein as their classic Green Irish Tweed. I think Viking will have a group of admirers of its spicy rose. It might be enough to even bring some admirers closer. Viking is a good Creed perfume it is not Nordic lightning.
Disclosure: This review is based upon a preview sample provided by Creed.
There are several inspirations which crop up again and again in fragrance. One of the more common ones is the fictional city of Shangri-La from the 1933 book by James Hilton and the movie of the same name by director Frank Capra four years later. It is suggested that it is somewhere in the area adjacent to Tibet in the Kunlun Mountains. That’s from the book. There are many other places which claim to be the inspiration for Mr. Hilton. I am happy that there is no one earthly place which can be pinned down as the definitive source of Shangri-La. Shangri-La should always be a concept embracing the ability to find true serenity which doesn’t require a physical presence; the idea is enough.
Amouage creative director Christopher Chong recently visited Bhutan coming away with the inspiration for the latest duo of releases; Figment Man and Figment Woman. Don’t read “figment” as containing fig read it as figment of imagination. Much as seeing Shangri-La would be. I’ll be reviewing both but I’m going to start with Figment Man.
Mr. Chong collaborates with perfumer Annick Menardo for Figment Man. Figment Man is part of the “second cycle” of Amouage. Now that we have a few releases in this group there is beginning to be a developing aesthetic which seems to delight in developing large themes on a broad canvas. Some of this is the brand aesthetic of Amouage. Most of it is Mr. Chong’s desire to create fragrance with an operatic wingspan. I have been enjoying this overt style through the first few releases of the “second cycle”. Mme Menardo is fluent in this kind of design making her a good partner.
The nucleus of Figment Man is sandalwood. Sandalwood is one of those smells which I associate with meditation. It is the clean slightly sweet woody scent I use as my olfactory mantra as I breathe in and out in search of center. Mr. Chong and Mme Menardo are looking to make that search a bit more challenging. Requiring an inward examination of the air, the earth, and the body.
Figment Man opens with a cleansing breath of lemon, baie rose, and geranium. This is that deep breath on a cool morning you feel it all the way to the base of your soul. The sandalwood then appears holding the center; focusing my attention. Vetiver covers it with a grassy veil which takes my focus elsewhere. Then Mme Menardo uses what is described as an “animalic note”. It is surely not a single note but a mixture of modern synthetic musks. It resolves into a clean skin accord which brings me inward. Next, I am drawn in the opposite direction as Mme Menardo creates an “earthy accord” this is a wet soil accord carrying the after the rain quality of geosmin. It intertwines with the animalic forming a duet of earth and soul on a sandalwood focal point. This is a fabulous point in the development and where Figment Man spends most of its time on my skin. After many hours guaiac wood comes along to allow me to re-establish the woody focus I started with.
Figment Man has 24-hour longevity and above average sillage.
Figment Man is everything that I respect about the current version of Amouage. Mr. Chong directs his perfumer collaborators to push to the edges of what it means to design perfume. It means Amouage is nothing less than fascinating. Figment Man uses the idea of the fictional serenity of Shangri-La to ask a perfume lover to study their idea of what an olfactive version might entail. I might not find the mythical city but the reality of Figment Man will allow me to study serenity anytime I want.
Disclosure: this review was based on a press sample provided by Amouage.
Leather perfumes are some of the most interesting perfumes I try. One reason is that every perfumer must construct their own leather accord. There is no leather essential oil to take down off the shelf. Nope, each artist must create their own recipe which they can then tweak for every effect leather can have. Refined and silky on one end of the spectrum to raw and animalic at the other end. Choose your ingredients correctly and they can be adjusted to create anything along that continuum. Every time a perfumer takes on a leather focused perfume I look forward to acquainting myself with their version. Perfumer Fredrik Dalman decided to give me two visions of his leather accord within one perfume; Mona di Orio Suede de Suede.
Jeroen Oude Sogtoen
M. Dalman has been handpicked by Mona di Orio owner and creative director Jeroen Oude Sogtoen as the in-house perfumer to continue Mme di Orio’s legacy. Some of the greatest perfumes of this century were created by Mme di Orio therefore M. Dalman has a weighty responsibility to live up to. M. Sogtoen has accepted his job as protector of the realm, as it were, which makes his choice of M. Dalman as in-house perfumer apt. I have believed M. Dalman understands the concept of “Monaesque”. Suede de Suede is one of two new releases. It is the one where I see M. Dalman on display and Mme di Orio is much more a directing influence. The other, Dojima is the opposite way which I’ll discuss in a future review of that.
The name Suede de Suede seems like a purposeful duplication purporting leather of leather. This is not exactly what I experienced. Instead it was one kind of leather early on which became eclipsed by a different one later. This goes back to how M. Dalman constructs his leather accord. He can go from the refined end of the spectrum to the raw end of the spectrum all in one fragrance.
Suede de Suede opens with the suede leather accord on display. Early on a clever mixture of fruit and spice provide an interesting enhancement and contrast. The fruit is called a cloudberry which provides a sweet berry effect which complements those facets of refined leather. Sichuan pepper is there to remind you of the raw place where this refined leather came from. Osmanthus provides a floral counterpart along with a limpid green nature courtesy of strawberry leaves. This is the beginning of the metamorphosis of the suede back to rawhide. Patchouli coats it in a dark earthy haze removing the outer edges of the suede. It takes the use of castoreum and some other musks to fully eclipse the genteel and bring out the animal which is where Suede de Suede finishes.
Suede de Suede has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Suede de Suede felt like a leather eclipse on my skin as the very bright and refined suede eventually gets covered up by the rawer nature of leather in its unrefined state. Because this is so dependent on M. Dalman’s leather accord this is probably the most personal Mona di Orio fragrance he has made. Mme di Orio is here as well with her love of olfactive shadow play because no bigger shadow is created than when something eclipses another.
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample provided by Mona di Orio.
Among all the things in my life of which I am a snob about coffee ranks right up there. Growing up in S. Florida I became enamored of the super sweet, super strong Cuban coffee. Espresso freshly made in a pot on the stove was the finish of every family dinner. The spread of the Seattle coffee craze nationwide exposed me to all the different ways to drink it. My favorite way to drink it straight became as a ristretto shot. When I am served my order in a small cup there is a bit of froth which floats on top called crema. It has a nutty slightly dark chocolate scent to it. I’ve always wanted a perfume to capture that. What I didn’t know was I wanted that crema to float on top of tuberose. That is what I got with Atelier Cologne Café Tuberosa.
Over the years I have admired the ability of creative director Sylvie Ganter- Cervasel to expand the notion of what the structure of cologne is. It is particularly interesting when they work with notes like coffee and tuberose which should never be in anything called a cologne. One reason this can be achieved is perfumer Jerome Epinette has been a part of this re-definition ever since the first releases from the brand. They have navigated the contradiction of powerful notes and cologne before. I’m not sure if it has ever been as interesting previously as it is here.
The only thing which will remind you, from an ingredient perspective, of old school cologne is the citrus sunburst of tangerine and bergamot which opens Café Tuberosa. M. Epinette then sweeps it away on a sirocco of cardamom which ushers in a rich tuberose. This is not a shy tuberose it is a grande dame version dominating the room. After a while she introduces her friend rose and the florals hold in position for a while. Then M. Epinette pours his ristretto shot over the top. As the rich coffee accord comes forward I imagine a bloom of tuberose stained brown with the espresso. It is fabulous different combination. Dark cacao comes along to give the espresso more traction against the tuberose. Patchouli completes my desired crema accord.
Café Tuberosa has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Café Tuberosa is part of the Avant Garde collection within Atelier Cologne. I have taken that to mean these are the ones where we push the envelope on what it means to be a cologne. Café Tuberosa is the most envelope pushing of anything which carries the Atelier Cologne name. I think there will be some who find this a bit too much. For me M. Epinette and Mme Ganter-Cervasel have pitched this just right; giving me my fragrance version of crema on a white floral backdrop.
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample provided by Atelier Cologne.