When my mailbox begins to fill up with commercial fragrance all vying for a similar demographic it is easy for me to worry about the state of perfume. There are pockets of artists who are working to make things which come from an inner vision instead of a focus group. One of the most vital group of creatives come from Italy now. There is a willingness by the Italian brands and creative teams to make perfume the consumer has not encountered before. It is not perfume for the lowest common denominator it is perfume for the connoisseur. One who sees the art in something most see as functional. As a self-titled colognoisseur it is those perfumes which make writing about fragrance so gratifying. Rubini Tambour Sacre is another triumphant release from an Italian team of passionate artists.
I met Andrea Bissoli Rubini almost four years ago at Esxence in Milan. He was introducing his first fragrance. The first words he said to me were, “I was born into a family of perfumers.” As I tried that first release, Fundamental, the proof was in the bottle. Sig. Rubini believed in the power of perfume to be more than pretty. He assembled a team of fellow Italians to achieve his vision; perfumer Cristiano Canali, writer and perfume historian Ermano Picco, and artist Francesca Gotti to create a memorable package. It is a team of like-minded people who all added their piece to the creation of Fundamental.
When I was told by Sig. Rubini a new fragrance was coming my first question was if the same creative team was working with him. As soon as he said “yes” my expectations grew. I waited somewhat patiently for my sample of Tambour Sacre to arrive.
Sig. Rubini wanted to translate the rhythm of the African drums he heard on his trip to Somalia into a fragrance. Africa has been a fertile inspiration for perfumers which allowed Sig. Picco the opportunity to provide insight into the paths less taken by others. Sig. Canali is another of the young star perfumers of his generation. His desire to find contemporary applications of the original building blocks of modern perfumery creates a bridge between the past and the present. Sig. ra Gotti’s contemporary sandwich of materials encasing the bottle provides the visual piece as she uses the native iroko wood used to make the African drums which inspired the perfume. Full circle.
Tambour Sacre opens with a spear of spiced sunlight as orange and cardamom come together. The drum beats begin in the distance as white pepper thrums with a sharp piquant slap. The heart is a fabulous alternating rhythm of coffee, tuberose, and cinnamon. The coffee is that fresh-roasted scent of beans which exude a hint of bitterness underneath. The tuberose is the greener version which has become a staple in recent years. This is where Sig. Canali calls back to the past with a modern ingredient. The roasted coffee and the green tuberose form a sinuous cadence around which the cinnamon wraps itself. The heat of the spice creates an expansiveness within the tuberose and coffee which builds to a crescendo. The base uses the resinous mixture of benzoin and myrrh on top of a tonka bean-sweetened sandalwood. This is what remains after the drummers have finished; a sweetly sacred woodiness.
Tambour Sacre has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Fundamental was such a singularly beautiful piece of artistic perfume it wasn’t obvious it could be replicated. Tambour Sacre proves that the right team with the requisite care can find that kind of success again. The Rubini team of Sigs. Rubini, Canali, and Picco with Sig. ra Gotti took me to a drum circle in the Horn of Somalia via Italian creativity. It is what Sig. Rubini was born to do.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Rubini.
As perfume companies begin to serve a generational shift there are things which are going to return. I think I can safely say in the broadest of terms there is a difference in the taste of the two largest generations of Millennials and Baby Boomers. Boomers rode in with the first wave of niche and independent perfumes; asking for something different. Millennials want something different than that, lighter in style. Never short on wanting to give their consumers what they want the large perfume companies have been producing fragrance in a lighter style. Where it is becoming problematic is they are using the same name as a previously discontinued perfume. It works because the younger generation doesn’t know there was a perfume with the same name ten years ago. To them seeing a new perfume from a designer label they respect is just that a new perfume. To the Boomers who remember that older release it seems like an evisceration. What it has meant for me is I also have to judge the new perfume on its own merits without comparing it. That becomes harder when the original version is one I really liked. This was my dilemma when receiving my sample of Badgley Mischka Eau de Parfum.
The original Badgley Mischka release in 2006 was an exuberant mash-up of the then prevalent perfume trends. It worked way better than it should have. It wasn’t perfume for everyone, but it had its fans. Those people should not come near this new version. This is your granddaughter’s perfume not yours. What perfumer Richard Herpin, who was also the perfumer on the original, converts the new perfume to is a transparent fruity floral.
It opens with a crisp pear as the fruity part of the formula. The floral part is a grouping of the expansive florals of jasmine, neroli, magnolia, and peony. This forms a fresh floral pear accord which is where Badgley Mischka Eau de Parfum spends most of its time. It settles into a warm accord of amber, sandalwood, and musk for the final stages.
Badgley Mischka Eau de Parfum has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
I often watch versions of my favorite movies which have a label of “director’s cut”. It generally means it is a longer version with the last edits before release returned. While I was wearing Badgley Mischka Eau de Parfum it occurred to me that these versions of perfumes with older names is the opposite of that. These are perfumes designed for a specific generation of consumer; The Millennial Cut. Badgley Mischka Eau de Parfum is exactly that.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Badgley Mischka.
Of the many new things that have happened in the 21st century for modern perfumery one of the most important is it has spread worldwide. Perfumers no longer must be from the historical centers of perfume. As independent perfumery has risen in prominence great perfume has come from seemingly all four corners of the globe. One of the beneficiaries of this has been the accessibility of Australian perfume brands. One reason is there is different botany to be harvested which eventually finds its way into perfume. It provides for some unique creativity of which Goldfield & Banks Southern Bloom exemplifies.
Goldfield & Banks became widely available about a year ago as the first five releases arrived here in the US. Four of the five were focused on woody constructs while the other was an alternative aquatic which stood out among those first five. Owner-creative director Dimitri Weber wanted Goldfield & Banks to represent the special ingredients of Australia. In Southern Bloom he uses one of the ingredients which has been lightly used; boronia.
Mr. Weber continues to collaborate with perfumer Francois Merle-Baudoin. For Southern Bloom they sourced a multi-faceted boronia absolute from the fields of Bruny Island. Every time I’ve encountered boronia in a perfume I’ve enjoyed the prismatic floral quality it imparts to fragrance. I imagine for a perfumer it is by turns fun and challenging to find the right balance of other ingredients to balance it out. Southern Bloom uses boronia to provide the heart of the most floral construct from Goldfield & Banks, yet.
The boronia is placed at the top with a green blackcurrant bud as its opening partner. This gives a vegetal green undertone to the boronia. That begins to be swept away as jasmine, iris, and ylang-ylang gather the boronia up in a floral embrace. Throughout the heart it shifts tones as the jasmine makes it more white flower-like, then the iris gives a powdery effect, before ylang-ylang adds in a sensuality. M. Merle-Baudoin finds that elusive balance in an effusive floral heart accord. A tropical touch of coconut sets the stage for a base accord of vetiver and sandalwood.
Southern Bloom has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Southern Bloom stands apart from the rest of the line because of its floral nature. It stands in solidarity with the others in the desire to show off the Australian ingredients beautifully.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
Heritage perfume brands are an odd breed. It takes a well-thought out plan to revive it without trivializing it. There are not a lot of successful case studies. One which has succeeded is the revival of one of the first perfume brands; Houbigant. Ever since the Perris Group acquired the brand, they have treated it with respect. Elisabetta Perris has been the primary creative force for the Houbigant releases since 2010. In 2015, she began working with perfumer Luca Maffei. Together they have found the right balance of traditional and contemporary in the perfumes they have produced. The latest example is Houbigant Bois Mystique.
One of the ways to generate that balance is to have some throwback accord using contemporary materials. The range of the modern perfumer’s palette allows for combinations those at the beginning of modern perfumery could only dream of. What this means is there is a vintage sensibility fleshed out with the perfume version of CGI. Throughout the time I wore Bois Mystique I enjoyed Sig. Maffei’s twist on classic accords.
That starts right at the top with a modern extract of ginger surrounded by a classic set of spice notes in cinnamon, cardamom, and black pepper. Piercing the simmering heat is a shimmering incense. It provides a chilly foil to the heat of the spices. It also blazes a path for the subtle florals of iris and neroli. The florals flit around the open spaces left to them. This all heads to a completely comforting base accord. Soft woods of guaiac, cypress and cashmeran are suffused with the warmth of amber and myrrh. The final stages are a softening of the early heat but it appears like a natural decay from the spices to the wooded base.
Bois Mystique has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Bois Mystique has been the scent of my favorite scarf over the last week. It shines in the bitterly cold weather. Bois Mystique is a Retro Nouveau perfume which is modern in materials but classic in effect.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I received from Neiman-Marcus.
Over the past few years I have been fortunate to spend a lot of time with Michael Edwards the man who created the perfume database Fragrances of the World. Whenever we are together, I joke it is like talking to a walking history of modern perfumery. He has provided so many insights for me to explore.
Mr. Edwards lives in Australia, but he was visiting a New Zealand department store when he began speaking with the sales associate. When the young man realized the opportunity to gather information, he took advantage of the serendipitous encounter. The sales associate aspired to be a perfumer. He asked, “What was the best way?” Mr. Edwards told him there was an annual conference in Grasse where he could present himself to industry insiders. Flash forward to a few months later at that conference where the sales associate has used his savings to make the trip from New Zealand to France. Mr. Edwards sees this as a sign of his determination. He would meet the head of Symrise who was similarly impressed. He sponsored the young man’s training in Milan which then lead to a series of positions within Symrise. The final piece of training comes as Maurice Roucel’s assistant for four years. At that point he is offered a position as junior perfumer in Brazil. Ever since I heard this story, I have wanted to try one of Isaac Sinclair’s perfume. I wanted to smell the end of the story.
I finally had the chance with the introduction of the Abel line of perfumes from the Netherlands to the US. The brand was begun in 2016 when owner Frances Shoemack chose Mr. Sinclair as her creative partner for her new perfume brand. When they became available in the US, I quickly acquired a sample set. What I found within the collection were very focused perfumes designed around sets of three keynotes. What I didn’t realize early on was these are 100% Natural perfumes. Mr. Sinclair elicits the most from this palette finding a quiet power within. The one which captured my attention the most was Green Cedar.
If there is a perfume which advertises itself as green cedar I am always interested. There is a freshness to raw wood. In the case of cedar, it keeps it from becoming pencil shavings; elevating it to something less utilitarian. Mr. Sinclair captures all of this.
It opens with a gentle breath of cardamom and magnolia. Then the woods show up. Mr. Sinclair uses two sources of cedar, Moroccan and Texan. He cleaves it with the use of cypriol. This is the main ingredient of faux-oud accords. Mr. Sinclair uses it here as the rawness of green wood with an ideally modulated amount cutting through the cedar.
Green Cedar has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
As I tried the whole sample set of Abel perfumes, I smiled a lot. The perfumes are all good. They provide the finish to the story begun one night in Mr. Edwards’ voice. Green Cedar is part of the fairytale ending from sales associate to perfumer halfway around the world.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample set I purchased.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed about seeing perfumery being seen as an artform is artists from other forms want to create using scent, too. It is an uneven prospect because those artists don’t feel bound by the conventional aspects of modern perfumery. It can lead to inspired fragrance construction. It can lead to cacophonous disasters as the desire to be different crashes up against lack of skill. Those are the extremes. The two perfumes from Neandertal called Light and Dark fall somewhere in the middle.
Kentaro Yamada (via Persefume.com)
Neandertal was conceived by London-based Japanese sculptor Kentaro Yamada. The concept was if Neanderthal Man has survived to the current time; what would a perfume designed for that smell like? Mr. Yamada collaborated with perfumer Euan McCall to form two perfumed answers called Light and Dark. This was released as a very limited edition in 2015 and has now been released late last year for wider distribution. When I received my samples I wasn’t sure what I’d find inside. It wasn’t as unique as I was hoping while both suffer from a shifting of effects that is achieved with caveman-like precision.
Euan McCall (via Persefume.com)
Neandertal Light wants to be the lighter of the two and in the early and later moments it succeeds. It grinds gears in the middle going for that avant-garde touch. It opens on a nice duet of hinoki and galbanum. The Japanese cypress always has a hint of green raw wood within and the galbanum intensifies that. Then the creative team wants a “metallic accord”. What they get is a heavily synthetic accord which thuds on top of a powdery iris. Once it moves past this the base accord returns to a theme as a mineralic accord using synthetic ambergris and patchouli. This is the soul of the primitive underneath the less feral exterior.
Neandertal Dark goes the other direction as it starts with an evocation of a cave dwelling before furnishing it in other fragrant notes. Baie rose forms the core of the top accord as ginger, pine, and leafy green notes form an impression of a cave mouth overgrown with vegetation. The effect is nicely enhanced with caraway and incense. Then we grind gears again as an iodine-like seaweed accord crashes across the top accord like a club. This needed to be used much more delicately instead of as a distracting counterweight. Things get back on track in the base with sandalwood the core which has oud, tobacco, and patchouli forming a nice black leather jacket accord. Which I can see a 2018 Neanderthal wearing.
Neandertal Light and Dark both have 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I ended up wearing both of these weeks apart for the purpose of the review. The second time around in both cases was better. Maybe because I was expecting the tonal shifts I didn’t care for they didn’t feel as jarring. I’m not sure I want another perfume from the Yamada-McCall team but Neandertal Light and Dark were good enough even if they missed in the middle.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
The life of a pirate has always been an object of fascination. For the current generation Captain Jack Sparrow has imprinted his swashbuckling charm onto the screen. While Johnny Depp has created a modern take on the genre it has also added some dirtiness to it. You might not want a perfume which picked up some of the scents of the things we see in the Pirates of the Caribbean. As one much older I was inspired to make a home-made eye patch along with a sword out of a broomstick by Errol Flynn. I watched the 1935 film “Captain Blood” whenever it came on our local UHF TV station. Mr. Flynn was a Pirate of Old Hollywood. Finely coiffed, a crease in his pantaloons, and shiny new blade. Even the shipboard scenes looked like drawing rooms on the waves. When I read the promotional materials for Jovoy Pavillon Rouge I realized this was an Errol Flynn style of fragrance; not a Johnny Depp one.
Jovoy creative director Francois Henin chose perfumer Marie Schnirer to create this Old Hollywood Pirate perfume called Pavillon Rouge. This is a mannered construct of an unrealistic depiction of a pirate. Even so it has a cocky grin Errol Flynn would be proud of.
We find our well-coiffed buccaneer in the hold examining the sacks of spices he just took off the burning ship astern. He takes a swig of the fine whisky while the smell of the spices from the pillaged sacks rises underneath. He muses that the scent of booze and spices smell like victory. He accepts his leather jacket from the crew member who washed the blood off. It adds a nice contrast to the whisky and spice. He walks to the other side of the hold where the sacks containing black tea, dried leaves of tobacco, and coffee all swirl around the boozy leather clad pirate. He emerges from the hold to the cheers of the crew. As he relaxes in his polished wood captain’s quarters the remains of the scents of the hold remind him it was a good day for the Pavillon Rouge.
Pavillon Rouge has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Pavillon Rouge is a classic style of perfume capturing a classic style of pirate. I enjoyed unleashing my Pirate of Old Hollywood sans eye patch and broomstick.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
Celine Roux has done the best job of any creative director in perfumery of redefining the brand she oversees. When Mme Roux took over she did the intelligent thing of working inside out within the releases. She has made perfumes which have the same feel as the perfumes which began the brand over twenty-five years ago. That’s the inside. The outside is when she pushes at the limits of what a Jo Malone fragrance can be. One of the best examples of an inside perfume is 2015’s Mimosa & Cardamom. It was a return to the delicacy of the early releases within the brand. If you want an example of the outside; Jo Malone Bronze Wood & Leather will do.
Mme Roux has been working with perfumers over a few consecutive releases lately. For Bronze Wood & Leather she brings back the perfumer behind Mimosa & Cardamom; Marie Salamagne. Bronze Wood & Leather is a burly style of perfume the exact opposite of that earlier perfume. That they both feel like part of the same brand is down to the intelligent creative oversight of Mme Roux.
Marie Salamagne (Photo: Jerome Bonnet)
Mme Salamagne opens with a fresh accord of grapefruit and juniper berry. I’m sure I’ve smelled this combination before but Mme Slamagne has made this one so lively it isn’t like any other. I particularly like the way the juniper blunts the sulfurous undertones in the grapefruit. I’ll admit I’d probably buy a perfume called Grapefruit & Juniper Berry if they wanted to sell me one. This begins to remind me there is meant to be wood here with a tendril of woodsmoke. It starts off at a distance as it inserts itself in the top accord. I was again surprised that the subtle smoke was very pleasant in those early moments. The smoke intensifies as the black leather accord appears. This is that leather biker jacket accord which goes very well with the smoke. Cashmeran provides the desired “bronze wood” with its soft woodiness. a little vetiver provides the final bit of polish.
Bronze Wood & Leather has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
There were so many times while wearing Bronze Wood & Leather I felt like I was surrounded by a contemporary interpretation of mid 1970-80’s masculine perfume. If that doesn’t sound like Jo Malone to you, you’re right. If it sounds good to you should step up to the plate for a fantastic curveball on the outside corner.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Nordstrom.
One of the new personal insights I’ve discovered this winter is gourmands are really good. I’ve liked the style for years. This year I have been receiving more new gourmand releases to try in the colder months. As I have been wearing them, I am finding them just as much a comfort scent as the warmer Orientals which are where I usually turn. The latest to leave an impression is Mancera Vanille Exclusive.
Mancera debuted the “Exclusive Collection” at the end of 2018 along with Vanille Exclusive there are Aoud Exclusif and Jasmine Exclusif. Why two get the French spelling and one gets the French-English hybrid I don’t know. The Aoud and Jasmine are the style of perfume Mancera has done well; big bold constructs. Vanille Exclusive is also that but the early going is a subtle wonderland of gourmand notes which is fantastic.
Vanilla Flowers in Whipped Cream
The decision is to use the floral gourmand trend as a launching point. Vanille Exclusive cleverly plays with both of those ingredients throughout the first part of the development before settling in to an Oriental base. The early choice of osmanthus as the floral foil to the foodie elements turns out to be inspired.
It is very typical fruity floral territory where Vanille Exclusive begins as osmanthus and peach are the first thing you notice. It doesn’t take long for this delightful whipped cream cloud to appear. This is the smell of sweetened cream turned into a transparent accord. It adds a lilting creaminess to the osmanthus and the peach. Brown sugar provides a caramel-like effect without tripping completely into that. It tethers the airy whipped cream to the florals. As things drift along a candied violet finds space on this gourmand accord. Vanilla deepens things just in time for the larger impact florals of tuberose and jasmine to join in.Tthis is the kind of floral gourmand accord I could drift in for days. This is as good a version as I have tried. It heads towards a soft Oriental base of amber, woods, and musk which is where things end.
Vanille Exclusive has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
I think it is because I’m used to more straightforwardly powerful perfumes from Mancera that the gentle charms of Vanille Exclusive caught me off guard. I was happy to float the day away on a gourmand thunderhead which took some time to find that power.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample from Mancera.
The trend towards transparent perfumes has been one I’ve not been completely onboard with. The other trend which has arisen over the past couple of years is something I am enjoying; floral gourmands. In some ways these kinds of fragrances are the natural evolution of the popular fruity floral perfumes. It isn’t a huge step to replace the fruit with foodie counterpoints. One of the early successes is the combination of rose and chocolate. Van Cleef & Arpels Rose Rouge is another addition to this kind of floral gourmand.
Rose Rouge is part of the ongoing Collection Extraordinaire. I have found this to be a reliably solid group of perfumes. The idea is generally to highlight an ingredient whose name is usually found on the bottle. Rose Rouge is no different. Although “red rose” seems uninspiring. What makes it more than its name is a nice high-low effect for the rose from perfumer Julien Rasquinet.
Rose Rouge opens on top notes of an herbal baie rose and the sticky green of blackcurrant buds. M. Rasquinet unfurls a rose essence as the first evocation of the title note. This is followed by the hints of the chocolate as a dry cocoa. Right here is where most modern floral gourmands would end. At this point this is a lighter rose and chocolate. It all changes as a more full-bodied Turkish rises along with patchouli and a deepening of the chocolate takes place. M. Rasquinet moves Rose Rouge from an ephemeral surface effect towards something with more substance. The Turkish rose carries a jam-like quality which the chocolate, carrying a bitter edge, meshes ideally with. The patchouli supplies an earthy depth. Vetiver comes along in the base to recapitulate the green top accord while a set of woods form the foundation.
Rose Rouge has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
The first hour of Rose Rouge is so reminiscent of the typical transparent floral gourmands currently on trend. Once rose Rouge moves from that high to the low of the fuller chocolate and rose it really improves. It is this dichotomy which I enjoyed the most on the days I wore Rose Rouge.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Van Cleef & Arpels.