If there is a perfume series on which to take the temperature of an in-house perfumer at Hermes it might be the Merveilles series. Begun in 2004 with Eau des Merveilles by perfumers Ralf Schwieger and Nathalie Feisthauer. It was meant to be a salute to ambergris and it was amazing in its ability to capture the subtlety of that important fragrance ingredient. Just after Jean-Claude Ellena was named in-house perfumer one of his earliest compositions was Elixir des Merveilles. M. Ellena’s take was to float the ambergris not on top of the ocean but instead a sea of luscious chocolate. It has always been my opinion that this was M. Ellena’s response to Thierry Mugler Angel as a way of doing a sophisticated gourmand. M. Ellena would do another in 2012 L’Ambre des Merveilles which was more in keeping with his minimalist aesthetic. Now that Christine Nagel has taken over as in-house perfumer at Hermes it is her turn to add to the Merveilles line; Eau des Merveilles Bleue.
Mme Nagel decides to concentrate on the eau of the ocean for this latest Merveilles. It is a fascinating commentary on how the aquatic genre can be re-invigorated with imagination and the by resisting using Calone along with the other typical ozonic notes. In the press materials, there is this quote from Mme Nagel, “I marveled at the pebbles, wet from the ocean; they had such a particular color and luminosity, and I discovered on them a salty, mineral taste”. Instead of going for sea spray and ozone Mme Nagel chooses to go for stone and salt as she translates that “salty, mineral taste” into a perfume.
The juxtaposition of those two inspirations shows up right away. A mineralic accord is matched with a sea salt accord. To mimic the luminosity of the brine covered pebbles Mme Nagel shines a shaft of lemon to provide the sparkle of sunlight off the pebble in your hand. Then the tide goes out leaving the pebble drying out on a piece of driftwood as at least a couple of the dry woody aromachemicals are used to create a soft desiccated wood accord. All during this the mineralic accord transforms from damp stone into dried earth. The base is a mixture of white musks and patchouli. As in the previous development Mme Nagel is keeping this on the drier side which makes me think this is a fractionated patchouli being used but I am not sure of that. The bottom line is this ends in an accord of the sand drying out as the waves recede with the tide.
Eau des Merveilles Bleue has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
For nearly twenty years I avoided the aquatic genre because of its banality. In the last couple of years, I have been shown time and time again that banality is due to lack of creativity. When a perfumer really is given the freedom to create even in what seems like an overexposed segment of fragrance they can show you there is lots of space to be explored. Mme Nagel has shown that the aquatic genre is not played out it just needs imagination. She has created a new aquatic which I know I will be wearing a lot as the days get warmer. Eau des Merveilles translates to “miracle water”. Eau des Merveilles Bleue should translate to Miracle Mineral Water.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Hermes.
Light is one of the words frequently used to describe the perfumes of Jo Malone. There is an easy-going nature about almost every release from the brand. It is their definitive brand aesthetic as well as a reason for their success. I know it is a place I take many who are wanting to take a step away from the mass-market fragrance offering. One of the reasons is the fragrances are simpler constructs using ingredients less seen in the best sellers. After twenty years of releasing these kind of perfumes, in 2010, a new sub-collection was created; Cologne Intense. This was a group of Jo Malone fragrances which would explore the idea of taking even the deepest notes and making them lighter while not necessary making the journey all the way to light. The releases in this collection are among some of my favorite from the entire brand because sheerer versions of classic perfume combinations are appealing when I want my lighter fragrances to still have some spine. The latest member of this collection, Myrrh & Tonka is the best example of this kind of perfume design.
The perfumers who have worked on the Cologne Intense has been impressive. The perfumer behind Myrrh & Tonka is Mathilde Bijaoui who is composing her first Jo Malone perfume. Celine Roux the Fragrance Director for Jo Malone gave her this brief; “Namibia, with its sand dunes and warm desert colors”. Mme Roux also believed that the collection was missing an Oriental and she felt Myrrh & Tonka could be that Oriental. Those might have been conflicting missions for some but Mme Bijaoui manages to capture both by turning Myrrh & Tonka into an opaque Oriental.
Lavender is the keynote whose name is not on the label and where Myrrh & Tonka begins. This is a lavender which has more of its herbal nature on display. Mme Bijaoui keeps it that way with a judicious use of cinnamon which has an effect of drying out the lavender and constricting its natural expansiveness. The same technique will be used with the myrrh in the heart. Usually myrrh is an exuberant sweet resinous ingredient. Mme Bijaoui uses some cypriol to make it less sweet. The cypriol also sets the stage for the tonka. This is that toasted version of tonka where the hay-like coumarin has a little more of the scent profile. A tiny bit of vanilla brings it back some of the sweetness while guaiac wood provides the woody frame for all of it.
Myrrh & Tonka has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
On the days, I was wearing Myrrh & Tonka it was a like an old friend relating a quick story of travel to the East. There was only time for the highlights but together it makes for one amazing trip.
Disclosure: This review is based on a press sample provided by Jo Malone.
There are some perfume brands which take pride in the city where the creative director comes from. There are some perfumers who are almost inextricably bound to their heritage when composing perfume. The creative director at Carner Barcelona, Sara Carner, has taken perfume lovers on a tour of Barcelona over seven fragrances since 2010. Perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux is a proud Mexican from whom Mexico City makes it into many of his perfumes. Sra. Carner and Sr. Flores-Roux have teamed up for a three-fragrance collection called the Black Collection in which the melding of both creative inspirations takes place.
I will eventually review all three of these fragrances because they all are worth my spending the time with. When I first tried them, there was one which immediately grabbed me; Sandor 70’s. The name comes from a legendary bar in Barcelona which was the pace to be seen in the 1970’s. It was a place where patrons puffed cigars while sitting in leather chairs. What Sra. Carner and Sr. Flores-Roux designed was a modern chypre with a heart of tobacco and leather with one specific keynote from Mexico which knits them together.
There is one thing I admire with Sr. Flores-Roux and it is his way of sometimes inverting the pyramid. With Sandor 70’s before getting to the club he provides a mesmerizing floral accord consisting of an aged jasmine absolute, osmanthus absolute, and Bulgarian rose. The osmanthus holds the center as it has the leathery quality which will provide the transition to the heart. It is that vintage jasmine which has a soft fierceness to it which harmonizes with the spicy rose. This ability of Sr. Flores-Roux to find the intersections of different notes, especially florals, is one of the things which sets him apart. The heart is that leather chair with a Cohiba in hand. The leather accord is a refined animalic leather. The tobacco accord is more sweet than narcotic. The connective note that is used is Mexican vanilla which, as in the top accord, elevates all of this when it is together. The vanilla picks up the inherent sweetness of both leather and tobacco making it glow like the ember on the end of the cigar. The base is a modern chypre accord of patchouli, vetiver, oakmoss, and frankincense.
Sandor 70’s has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Sandor 70’s is one of the best perfumes within the entire Carner Barcelona collection and my favorite of the three Black Collection releases. The reason is it is the one where Barcelona meets Mexico City inside a club in 1970’s Barcelona.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.
I love incense fragrances from the very first moment I found my first one. It is by far the largest category within my collection. One of my favorite recent additions was Unum Lavs. The creative director behind that brand, Filippo Sorcinelli, started a new brand late last year called Sauf. The bottles are shaped like organ stops from the Grand Organ found in the Cathedral at Notre Dame. Each of the first three releases for the brand, Plein-Jeu III-IV, Voix Humaine 8, and Contre Bombarde 32. What is unique about organ stops is they are there to produce specific harmonics representing strings, reeds, flutes, or principals. While I was trying these perfumes out it struck me that this is not unlike the creation of perfume accords. As a set of ingredients are used to emulate something else.
If there has been a consistent theme to Sig. Sorcinelli’s fragrances to date is that simpler is better. For two of the three they end up striking a sour note of discord because they are too overstuffed. Plein Jeu III-IV would have been better served if everything but the mimosa, jasmine, incense, balsamic notes had been left. In its current form, there are other notes which distract from the core notes. Voix Humaine 8 was going for a more fragile interpretation but it fell apart when a few too many heavy notes disrupt the delicacy. Contre Bombarde 32 is the only one to get the evocation of the organ stop and the evolution of incense fragrances right.
The Contre Bombarde stop on an organ produces a sound of deep reeds combined with a high brassy sound. Contre Bombarde, the perfume, gets that dichotomy correct by sticking to only a few key materials.
The high brassiness comes from elemi resin which is helped along by bitter orange to accentuate the slight lemony aspect and juniper berry’s astringency to begin the lower resinous chord. That depth is pierced by a fanfare of a very sharp cedar. I like the use of it here because it becomes a kind of separator as Contre Bombarde 32 heads into a well-done caramel gourmand accord. There is some vanilla for the sweet with amber to provide that sense of aged wood. There was a moment on the days I wore this that I envisioned a sticky soft caramel squished onto a polished church pew.
Contre Bombarde 32 has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I really like the concept behind Sauf and look forward to seeing what further fragrances the grand old instrument from Notre Dame will inspire. Contre Bombarde 32 shows that there is beautiful perfumed music to be found there.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.
Most of the time flankers have a clear relation to the other perfumes within a brand for which it shares its name. It is a pleasant surprise when I receive a new flanker which has almost nothing to do with the previous releases. This was the case when I tried the new Ralph Lauren Polo Red Extreme.
One of the reasons I probably looked sideways at my sample of Polo Red Extreme was because I am not a fan of the original Polo Red, released in 2013. Perfumer Olivier Gillotin did a by-the-numbers lemon, lavender, and cedar perfume. When the first flanker, Polo Red Intense was released two years later, it was a bit unfocused as M. Gillotin shoehorned some extra notes like cranberry, saffron, and leather into the basic Red architecture. It was not an improvement on the original.
When I sprayed my sample of Polo Red Extreme I was so surprised at how much M. Gillotin had changed the pyramid I had to go find the other two just to make sure my memory was accurate. Polo Red Extreme goes for a much deeper style of fragrance which is more a gourmand than the woody versions the first two were.
The citrus changes for Polo Red Extreme to blood orange and if it was just that it would be similar enough to what has come previously. Instead he goes a bit more tropical with ginger and pineapple providing contrast. It still is mostly the citrus but the other two notes provide a very different fruity opening moment. The one note which is the connecting tissue between all three Red fragrances is clary sage in the heart. It is a supporting note in all three cases. What it does in Polo Red Extreme is to provide that 3AM in the diner roughness to the coffee at the heart of this new release. There is a kind of coffee found only in the wee hours of the morning which is just the right side of burnt and that is the accord M. Gillotin constructs here. It goes from straight black coffee to a mocha as cocoa flavors it in the base along with amber, and ebony wood. This isn’t an intense gourmand but it is a pleasantly different take for a mainstream perfume.
Polo Red Extreme has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
It is a low bar, for me, but Polo Red Extreme is my favorite of the Polo Red collection. It can be different within the department store offerings around it even though it is so unlike its siblings it should have been called The Anti-Red.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from Ralph Lauren.
Before coming in to write this review I was looking at the high wisps of cirrus clouds in an otherwise cloudless sky. They are so high and thin it is easy to see them as inconsequential to the more substantial cumulus clouds. Today I was struck by the beauty of the white brushstrokes upon the blue sky. I then realized what I was wearing was like those cirrus clouds as a perfumer has performed delicate wispy brushstrokes of fragrance on a persistent background. That perfume is Maison Francis Kurkdjian Aqua Celestia.
The brand was also thinking along the same lines as their press release describes Aqua Celestia as forming, “a seamless bond between the blue of the sky and the blue of the sea.” Aqua Celestia is the third in the Aqua series for Maison Francis Kurkdjian. Aqua Universalis was part of the debut collection in 2009 and Aqua Vitae followed in 2013. Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian designed this series to be very expansive and light. It is no surprise to me that Aqua Universalis is one of the best sellers within the brand. It is exactly what M. Kurkdjian does quite well. By anchoring Aqua Universalis in a familiar version of synthetic musk like those used in laundry detergent it allows for someone to latch on to the familiar while giving them something different with a very green muguet to go with it. It is simple but brilliant in tone. Aqua Celestia shares all of that.
For Aqua Celestia M. Kurkdjian chose a different kind of white musk as his source of the sky. It is still a fresh musk like what you experience with a freshly laundered piece of clothing. There is a reason these kinds of musks are so ubiquitous because of their tenacious pleasant quality. What M. Kurkdjian does is to elevate them above the mundane which is what happens in Aqua Celestia.
Aqua Celestia opens on a bracing combination of lime, cassis, and mint. You might think that smells like a cheap version of a mojito but instead this carries a much more ethereal quality. The notes have a presence but they also seem less sharp than they could be. The real star of Aqua Celestia comes next as mimosa becomes the keynote with which the musk will pair. This is an expansive mimosa which sits upon the overarching presence of the musk like those cirrus clouds. The musk is what you experience but these wisps of mimosa peek through delicately. It is like pulling a clean shirt out of the dryer and holding it to your nose.
Aqua Celestia has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I expect that eight years after the release of Aqua Universalis M. Kurkdjian has created the next iteration in Aqua Celestia. I also suspect it will become one of the best sellers for the brand because of it. There are times fragrance can be cirrus clouds and Aqua Celestia is one of them.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.
Tuberose is a wild beast of a fragrance ingredient. It can be so untamed with its overwhelming nature that many perfumers must go to great lengths to rein it in so it can be used without becoming too much. There is another technique in direct opposition to trying to tame it; jump on its back and try to ride it. That is what the new D.S. & Durga Durga does.
You might think the perfume is named after the nickname perfumer David Seth Moltz has given to his wife Kavi Moltz and which makes up the brand name with his first two initials. It turns out that this is instead more literal as they design a fragrance inspired by the Hindu Goddess Durga. She is a multi-limbed warrior goddess depicted riding on the back of a tiger brandishing a weapon form each of her multiple hands. Her keynote victory is over the Buffalo Demon. How this translates to the perfume bearing her name is that Mr. Moltz uses two fabulous sources of tuberose to which he piles on with most of the opulent floral materials in perfumery.
David Seth Moltz and Kavi Moltz
Mr. Moltz uses green tuberose as his opening note. Over the last couple of years, I have enjoyed seeing what different perfumers do with this version of tuberose where there is a more prominent green quality as well as making the camphoraceous heart of tuberose also stand out. The choice he makes to modulate this is a melon note in all its intense fruitiness. It is not an intuitive choice but it is one which I really took to and this is from someone who can find melon irritating. From here Mr. Moltz starts adding one floral note after the other. It starts with chrysanthemum freshening things up. Orange blossom takes the freshness and brings it back to white flower territory. A high percentage irone orris butter runs the danger of perhaps gilding the tuberose but it doesn’t. Ylang-ylang turns this creamy and lush. Then when most perfumers would try and cage the tiger Mr. Moltz drenches the base in tuberose absolute paired with jasmine sambac. This is a basso profundo finish as these two huge white flowers strut their indolic nature. Mr. Moltz accentuates the skanky quality with musk added in for that purpose.
Durga has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Outside of the melon, which works here, this is a collection of most of my favorite floral motes. Mr. Moltz does an impressive job at keeping all of this roaring at full speed but never flying off a cliff. If you are a fan of the white flower powerhouse perfumes Durga is a contemporary interpretation which succeeds by being unafraid to allow the tiger that is tuberose the opportunity to range freely.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.
There are times when I receive a new perfume brand with multiple releases and it just takes me a long time to finally get around to writing about them. When I attended Tranoi back in September of 2016 I met the founder of Art de Parfum, Ruta Degutyte. I was in my typical drive-by mode and Ms. Degutyte gave me samples of her five debut releases. Very slowly over the past few months I have spent time with all of these perfumes.
One of the things I think Ms. Degutyte got right was to create a small group of perfumes as her introduction to the market. Working with perfumer Sofia Koronaiou they developed a broad collection of different styles. In Sea Foam they composed a stylish aquatic with typical fresh salt air and the grass on the dunes. Gin & Tonic provides what the name promises as there is astringent juniper, citrus, green cucumber and a nicely realized tonic accord. Excentrique Moi brings back the citrus only to send it deep through an unusual hibiscus and black tea heart accord before grounding itself in patchouli. Sensual Oud is one of those straight forward rose-oud combinations with saffron added it is a nice version of a classic fragrance style. The fifth one Signature Wild was the one which connected with me.
Signature Wild feels a bit like the culmination of much of what I experienced in the other four Art de Parfum releases. What made it stand out for me was there was more of a developmental trajectory as Mme Koronaiou moves it from boozy spice through floral to leather.
Signature Wild opens with a big slug of cinnamon. I enjoy an overdose of cinnamon especially when it stays more on the dusty spicy side versus reminding me of red hots candy. The cinnamon is matched with cardamom to bring some contrast. Davana provides a boozy undertone to all of it. A smooth transition from the top accord to the orange blossom heart is performed by a group of dried fruit transforming the spice into a delicate orange blossom. Signature Wild doesn’t linger there for too long because there is a sturdy leather accord which wants its presence felt. This is a leather handbag accord polished and rich. Vetiver, balsam, and labdanum modulate the leather throughout the later stages.
Signature Wild has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Ms. Degutyte has done an excellent job overseeing the premiere of her brand. There is a feel of coherence even though these five fragrances contain some diversity. There are connective aspects between two or three throughout them. Signature Wild was my favorite but all five are worth seeking out because it is a good example of a new brand which has gotten off to a great start.
Disclosure: this review was based on samples provided by Art de Parfum.
As gimmicks to sell soap go I am a sucker for soap on a rope. One of my earliest fragrance related gifts was a bar of Aramis scented soap with a loop of braided rope sticking out of the side. I am sure this is a product which has almost all of its sales to men. As I got older I still liked having one hanging from my shower faucet. If there was something that I would use to describe the scent of the soap was that it was a lighter more transparent version of the parent. As we would cross over in to the 2000’s transparent design of the perfume itself became more common. There were also more perfumes which actively embraced being soapy. The new Sisley Izia reminded me of a transparent soapy rose that could have been on a rope.
Sisley is not one of those brands which seems to ride the wave of trends. They have released a total of 12 fragrances since the debut of Eau de Campagne in 1976. At that pace, you have to work on more traditional structures. Which was why Izia surprised me a little bit because this was a contemporary rose fragrance from a brand where that is not one of the adjectives which springs to mind. Perfumer Amandine Clerc-Marie did a nice job at making Izia a spring rose with something different to say.
The soapiness for Izia comes from a selection of aldehydes which combine to form a fine French-milled soap accord. When I get a really fine soap and open it for the first time there is this wonderful moment as the pent-up scent rises off the cake and fills the room as if on an invisible soap bubble. The aldehydes in Izia do the same for the rose. The aldehydes serve to give a diffuse quality to the rose making it softer. To that Mme Clerc-Marie adds a pinch of pink pepper, some pear, and bergamot. These provide detail without distracting from the soapy rose. That effect gets stronger in the heart as freesia, angelica, and peony make Izia fresher but no less soapy. The base is a very clean cedary musk.
Izia has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
If you do not like your perfume soapy Izia should be avoided it is one of the more prominent soapy perfumes I have tried in some time. Prior to wearing Izia I would have numbered myself in that group. What Izia made me see was if the soap is given something on which to actively make transparent it can be a refreshing change from the other dewy spring roses on the shelf this time of year. If you have overlooked Sisley, Izia is enough of a change that you might want to give it a chance to make a new impression.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Nordstrom.
When it comes to the private collection fragrance lines from the major designers there is none more frustrating for me than the Armani Prive collection. When it comes to mainstream designer perfume Giorgio Armani also shares this inconsistency. My hypothesis is since the Armani line of fragrances is not overseen by a single set of creative directors it has suffered for not having a singular defining brand aesthetic. Which translates to these pendulum swings in quality. There are many in the line which I think are as great as I consider others to be poor. In the past, I’ve said their success rate is about 50%. What I’ve also come to realize is that when they are good they are very good as is the new Armani Prive Iris Celadon.
Iris Celadon is the thirty-second release in the Armani Prive collection. Perfumer Marie Salamagne is composing her fifth within the group. I found this quote, by Giorgio Armani, attached in the press materials interesting; “The color celadon is neither blue, green, nor grey. It’s an indefinable color, and one that I find fascinating.” That quote could be applied to the use of iris in perfume as it can be powdery, floral, or earthy without being completely any one of those. Which is one reason I like iris as a perfume ingredient because it allows the perfumer to define the nature of it by what they use along with it. Mme Salamagne tries to show all these faces of iris in Iris Celadon.
Marie Salamagne (Photo: Jerome Bonnet)
The powdery quality of iris comes surrounded by a cloud of aldehydes and cardamom. These are not the hairspray aldehydes instead they are more like wispy cirrus clouds of aldehydes adding some lift to the powdery face of iris. Mme Salamagne uses mate to bring a green focal point to the development into the heart while also shaping the powdery into the more floral. There is a good few minutes where it feels like the mate is chiseling away the powder to find the flower underneath. When the floral character does arise, she sprinkles it with a delicate coating of cocoa powder. It is an interesting transition from flowery powderiness to a gourmand version of the same effect. She finally plants the rootiness of iris deep in a fertile base accord of patchouli and ambrette. Now the powder and the floralcy recedes to leave something which reaches deep into the earth.
Iris Celadon has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Few perfumers embrace the spilt personality of iris as well as Mme Salamagne does in Iris Celadon. It makes for fragrance which has a dynamic development seemingly in motion no matter when you check in with it. I like my perfumes to be mutable even if I don’t get to spend as much time on one phase over the other. Iris Celadon is one of the Armani Prive releases which works because it doesn’t sit still.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Giorgio Armani.