I talk a lot about the early brands which really cemented my love of niche perfumery. Because they were my entry into the world of perfume which has become such a large part of my life. Most of those brands have had their trials and tribulations which I chronicle. The ones which I feel badly about are those which never seem to find their place. Miller Harris is one of those brands. Early in my exploration of niche brands I found the perfumes being produced by owner perfumer Lyn Harris to be some of my favorites only to disappear by 2011. Like a difficult to start gas lawnmower I watch as they try to get this hard to catch engine in gear. A year ago, I began to have hope something might change.
The reason was the hiring of Sarah Rotherham as Chief Executive. Ms. Rotherham has been one of those who joins a fragrance brand shaking it out of its rut. The first three releases of her tenure have just arrived; the Miller Harris Forage collection.
Her stamp is immediately apparent as a collection named Forage conjures up the country to me. To Ms. Rotherham it is finding the country within the urban landscape. It was a mixed bag for me. Hidden on the Rooftops, by perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, is a lightly honeyed floral. Lost in the City, by perfumer Mathieu Nardin, had an interesting concept of green growing through cracks in the concrete jungle. The green is all here; the concrete accord is not. The last one, Wander Through the Parks also by M. Nardin, captured the theme in the way I desired.
Wander Through the Parks is the kind of summery perfume which captures the time when everything is at full growth in the parks. Which means it is great foraging. In England it is said stinging nettles are also rampant. Making foraging a bit of a semi-hazardous effort. M. Nardin captures this all in a strongly green perfume.
Wander Through the Woods opens with a bit of citrus representing the sunlight through the tree canopy. The other ingredient in the top is a good amount of blackcurrant bud. M. Nardin uses enough to bring out the sappy quality of this ingredient when used at higher concentration. It’s a tricky balance and M. Nardin carefully counterbalances it with galbanum and the nettle flower. This results in a spiky green accord which is fitting based on the nettle inspiration. Violet leaf forms a bridge from that green accord to the patchouli base with some musk.
Wander Through the Parks has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
While it was only Wander Through the Parks which caught my attention in this new collection I did see the glimmers of a hopeful new future at Miller Harris. Perhaps Ms. Rotherham will remind me why I fell in love with the brand in the first place..
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Miller Harris.
There is a series of commercials in the US where they show one half of a married couple acting like their mother or father. I’m getting old enough it isn’t my parents I’m acting like but my grandparents. My grandmother used to always see the potential bad outcome to everything. If there were 99 ways things could go right she would make sure to mention the one which would be terrible. She always looked for the warning signs of the disaster she knew was right around the corner. I’ve watched the decay of some of the great perfume brands into happy mediocrity, or worse, over the last few years that my grandmother’s voice greets every stumble by my very favorite brands. I’ve spent a couple of months with Mugler Alien Man trying to decide what it portends.
Mugler is one of the great perfume brands ever. It is the product of consistent creative direction by Pierre Aulas and Thierry Mugler which has always gleefully gone against the grain. If I say Angel, A*Men, and Alien to you if you are a perfume fan you’ve tried them or smelled them on another person; and you are not indifferent about the way you feel about it. It has been the Mugler credo to ask perfume aficionados to come over to their way of thinking. If there was a bit of change it maybe came with last year’s release of Aura. It felt like the Mugler attempt to woo the younger perfume generation. It definitely had a presence just one lighter in character. I liked it better the more time I spent with it. Which is why it has taken me so long to write this review I expected Alien Man to win me over.
Alien Man, I think, wants to be the counterpart to Aura on the masculine side of the fragrance counter. Perfumer Jean-Christophe Herault puts together something which is so typical of the other perfumes in this sector; that was the main surprise. Except for the top accord which is where there may have been an attempt at something Mugler-like which just doesn’t come together.
The top accord is named “The Electronic Vibration”. It definitely does not shock it doesn’t even sizzle a bit. M. Herault creates an herbal dill opposite apricot and anise. This was unpleasant for me, reminding me of a refrigerator crisper door where the dill and the apricot got left together. I gritted my teeth every time to get through to the heart. There I found a refined leather accord which is great but nothing different than many others out there. Pairing it with osmanthus to bridge the apricot and leather is also as typical as it gets. If I was waiting for a surprise ending beechwood and white amber provide another reminder of many other perfumes out there.
Alien Man has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I’m not sure if Alien Man is a warning sign, or not. There were many who thought Womanity was a warning sign eight years ago; and were wrong. I also wonder if that top accord just never coalesced into that envelope pushing style Mugler is known for. Time will tell if this is the beginning of something or just a stumble.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Thierry Mugler.
Patience is not a virtue of mine. Especially when it comes to perfume from brands and perfumers I admire. Which makes it frustrating when there are perfumes I am very interested in trying that are out of reach. When it comes to the work done by Francois Demachy for the Christian Dior Collection Privee there is so much that I admire. Starting in the fall of 2017 I heard rumors of a release of multiple Collection Privees coming as Dior sought to expand this collection. As 2018 began I received a preview of one Souffle de Soie with the information more were right on the horizon. Within a month I received press releases on the other eleven new releases along with a new name for the overall collection; Maison Christian Dior.
Even with a brand I admire I was taken aback by twelve new releases. It turns out four of them are very slight soliflore-like constructs. All four failed to connect which reduced what was left down to seven for me to explore. One of the things I mentioned in my previous review of Souffle de Soie is M. Demachy is working on a more transparent aesthetic across all of his Dior creations in the last year or two. This style is going to be part of what will make or break your affection for many of the new Maison Christian Dior releases. I am not a fan, in general, but M. Demachy seems to find a level in the ones I do like of providing just enough structure underneath that it draws me in. The best example within these new releases is Balade Sauvage.
According to the press materials M. Demachy wanted Balade Suavage to evoke sitting under the shade of a fig tree on a coastal cliff overlooking the Mediterranean. Taken at face value what that means is far-away impressions of everything mentioned in that. To his credit he succeeds.
The opening is that ripe fig but dialed way down when compared to other perfumes which use this as a keynote. Then a listed “sea breeze accord” arrives simultaneously. This is the typical ozonic notes but this time with just a hint of the ocean and best of all a hint of the stone of the cliff we’re sitting upon. It also brings a bit of the citrus groves it has blown through on its way to me sitting under the tree. The creamy woodiness of the fig tree itself starts to arise. It all ends on a base of labdanum and light airy musks.
Balade Sauvage has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Balade Sauvage translates to “wild ride” this is not truth in advertising. The perfume with that name is more akin to an afternoon spent under a fig tree meditating.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Christian Dior.
Sometimes delays work to a new perfume’s advantage. I have commented that it is difficult to judge a perfume which is meant for the opposite season from which I receive it. There are times when I try it in its proper season which causes me to see it as it should be. Unfortunately, the calendar and PR firms do not subscribe to my desire. As the first rush of this fall’s new releases have begun to arrive in the middle of a 100-plus degree heat wave. Then there are those who just take more time to arrive. Because of ongoing postal delivery issues my samples of the new By Kilian Miami Vice Collection were significantly delayed. I think it was better that I got them just as summer was heating up.
The Miami Vice Collection is a two-fragrance release; Love the Way You Feel and Love the Way You Taste. Creative Director Kilian Hennessy chose to work with two of the perfumers who have been there from the beginning. Sidonie Lancesseur composed Love the Way You Taste. It is a Kilian take on a mojito fragrance. The evocation of boozy accords has been a staple of By Kilian. Love the Way You Taste captures it, but it felt like a higher quality version of other mojito perfumes I’ve tried.
For Love the Way You Feel M. Kilian and perfumer Calice Becker returned to something they’ve done so well in the past creating a near-perfect accord of something which exists. In this case it was to be a re-creation of Monoi Oil as perfume. Monoi Oil is the skin softener and hair spray of choice in Polynesia. It is made by soaking tiare flowers in coconut oil. Those will be the tentpoles that Mme Becker will build upon. She effectively chooses some complementary notes to complete the effect.
The perfume opens on the sun-glistened accord of bergamot and neroli. The neroli allows for the tiare to echo the floral quality as it appears. Tiare in this form has a kind of sparkly quality, too. To begin to give it the depth of Monoi Oil Mme Becker uses the oily nature of ylang ylang to provide a slippery floral nature. This becomes more prevalent as coconut starts to complete the accord. The final ingredient is vanilla, as modulator, providing the right amount of sweetness to the overall effect.
Love the Way You Feel has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
When Mme Becker does these kind of perfumes I almost hear an audible click as it all assembles into a single beautifully realistic accord. Once the vanilla arrives it is like I am in the middle of a Polynesian dream. Which is exactly where I want to be in the middle of summer.
Disclosure: this review is based on samples provided by By Kilian.
I enjoy cooking with hot peppers. The hotter the better but not these whacky hybrids which just go for high concentrations of heat with dumb names like Carolina Reaper. Just go buy some capsaicin and put it on your food and be done with it. When I cook I don’t get hotter than the habanero or scotch bonnet. It can be tricky to find the right balance with those peppers where they provide heat but not only that. I’ve learned over the years less is more. I wouldn’t have thought to find a fragrance parallel but Guerlain L’Homme Ideal L’Intense is one.
The main source of hot pepper in perfumery has been the recent use by many new releases of Szechuan pepper. Through the new extraction techniques there emerges a versatile fragrance ingredient which can be used for piquancy or as a replacement for other spices providing a kind of desiccated quality especially to top accords. I was curious what it would be like if used in higher concentrations. When I received my sample of L’Homme Ideal L’Intense I got an answer.
L’Homme Ideal has been one of the men’s pillar lines for Guerlain since the 2014 release of L’Homme Ideal Eau de Toilette. Since then there has been a Cologne version, an Eau de Parfum, and a Sport. They were all instantly forgettable. To write this review I had to remind myself of all of them; it wasn’t fun. The good news is L’Homme Ideal L’Intense is different enough in a good way I could forget about them again.
In-house perfumer Thierry Wasser uses the Szechuan pepper as the contrast for the keynote of all of the L’Homme Ideal line; almond. In the past he has taken that ingredient towards a sweeter destination. In L’Homme Ideal L’Intense it is the exact opposite heading to a darker Oriental destination I greatly preferred.
L’Homme Ideal L’Intense opens with that hot pepper at an equal volume of bitter almond. The almond brings a woody nuance out of the spicy core. The pepper acts like a flame roasting the almond into something warmer while still retaining some of the nutty character. Cardamom provides a cooling effect for a moment. A full-on spicy Bulgarian rose comes next. The pepper continues to simmer right into the rose. It was here I sort of wanted it to die down, just a little. It was living on past what should have been its expiration date. A refined leather accord helps achieve the purpose of sweeping away the pepper. From here on L’Homme Ideal L’Intense follows a predictable rose to leather to sandalwood and patchouli base.
L’Homme Ideal L’Intense has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
My overall impression of this perfume is similar to when people come over to visit and see my pile of hot peppers chopped up. They ask me to hold the hot pepper please. I wish M. Wasser had done the same here. For all that the Szechuan pepper is an interesting ingredient it is out of balance here especially as the transition from top to heart takes place. It is hard to level that criticism because this is one of the more interesting male releases from Guerlain in years. It just doesn’t fully get it right. Guerlain has become such a shadow of itself that I’m applauding a good attempt at originality says something. Maybe you like a little more hot pepper in your perfume than I do which means L’Homme Ideal L’Intense might work for you.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Guerlain.
I have an OCD type of commitment that if someone sends something to me I feel like I have to smell it. Not just assume based on the name or style of the perfume that I won’t care for it. There are some days when the yield of my mailbox is less appealing than others. On one of those days I was working through the pile of mainstream samples finding one more irritating than the next. Mrs. C laughs at me on nights like these because I make funny faces.
One of the trends in mainstream perfume has been a move towards lifestyle brands over celebrities. So far, the same cynicism behind the celebuscents has been apparent in the lifestyle-inspired fragrances. The major theme is make something safe don’t make waves. Which is how I approached the new fragrance duo, Festival Vibes for Him and Festival Vibes for Her, from Hollister Co.
Hollister Co. is the clothing brand selling the Southern California style all over the country. They have released thirty-three fragrances since 2003. All of them are safer than safe. Which is defensible because Hollister Co. is a brand which is targeting a young adult demographic. If you’re going to appeal to someone who is wearing body spray from the local drugstore it isn’t a good idea to scare them off by making them take too much of a leap. Which was why when I sprayed Festival Vibes for Him on a strip I was surprised to find something a few slight steps outside of that safety zone. It was particularly obvious in comparison to the by-the-numbers fruity floral that was Festival Vibes for Her.
Festival Vibes for Him is composed by perfumer Gino Percontino who has done some of the other perfumes in this lifestyle sector which have grabbed my attention previously. For Festival Vibes for Him it uses typical fresh fougere keynotes. What sets it apart is the choice of the supporting notes which provide surprising texture.
The top accord is constructed around pineapple. Which sounds boring. M. Percontino adds some interest by piercing the obsequious fruit with spears of birch leaf providing sharp pungent green contrast. Over all of this is a classic sea air accord with melon-like facets which intertwine with the pineapple. The same happens in the base as generic ginger is challenged by bay leaf. It turns it into a green herbal accord which extends the influence of the birch leaf in the top. The green continues into a base of atranol-free oakmoss made softer by tonka bean. Some synthetic ambergris brings the marine back into the mix.
Festival Vibes for Him has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Festival Vibes for Him could hopefully convince someone who shops in the Hollister Co. store to upgrade their fragrance choice. By enticing them away from drugstore body spray to something like Festival Vibes for Him. I can live in hope.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Hollister.
Back in my teenage days, in the 1970’s, unscrupulous dealers would take advantage of the naïve by selling them a bag of oregano claiming it was marijuana. It worked because there was nobody around to ask if it was real. I always wonder how many people in my generation smoked some oregano thinking this whole business of getting high was lame. The current version of a bag of oregano are various herbal blends sold over the counter claiming to get you high. Things are changing at a rapid pace these days with marijuana on the verge of being available at the local strip mall. I was reminded of the marijuana substitutes when I tried Mancera Hindu Kush.
There is a thriving marijuana sub-culture in perfumery with three having quite authentic accords; Kinski, Nasomatto Black Afgano, and By Killian Smoke for the Soul. When I want a marijuana perfume that is where I turn. Hindu Kush, based on its press materials, wants to join that group. It doesn’t quite measure up but as bags of oregano go it is a nicely done spice and woods perfume.
Which is marijuana and which is oregano? (photo: boxden.com)
Hindu Kush opens with the spices. Clove most prominently which reminded me of Kreteks more than a joint. Black pepper and saffron support the clove through the early moments. Then I believe the perfumer is attempting to construct a marijuana accord from oud, patchouli, cumin, and labdanum. On my skin that never comes together. The cumin joins in with the clove to form an earthier spice accord which the patchouli is also matched to. The oud and labdanum find some companionship from cedar, sandalwood, and gaiac wood in the base. It provides a rough-hewn complement to the similarly themed spice accord. Some white musk provides a bit of lift, while vanilla adds some sweetness, to the base.
Hindu Kush has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
If you’re looking for a marijuana perfume Hindu Kush is not it. It is a rough-edged spice and woods perfume which I probably enjoyed more than if they hit the mark. This time I was happy to get a bag of oregano.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
It always happens I get a new release that seems like it would be better in a different season than when I received it. It makes it challenging for me to assess it because I always wonder if it will get better in the season it seems made for. This was my mindset when I received my sample of Nest Cocoa Woods. Everything in the press release made me think cold-weather perfume. Except as I wore it in the withering heat of a Maryland summer it was also pretty good right now.
Creative Director-Owner of Nest Fragrances Laura Slatkin has quietly produced a nice collection of simple perfumes. Cocoa Woods is the twelfth release for the brand. She collaborates with perfumer Jerome Epinette. If there is one thing I like about the brand is the names are accurately descriptive. If it says Cocoa Woods I’m going to be getting some cocoa and some woods; which I do. What I like here is that it is cocoa and not chocolate which is what makes it more amenable to wear in the warmer temperatures.
M. Epinette opens with that cocoa in place. What makes it difference is this smells like the Dutch-processed cocoa powder I bake with. It is kind of dusty but still has a strong presence of chocolate without becoming viscous. It is provided some zingy energy via tiare flower and ginger in the early moments. They only make a fleeting appearance before the woods come forward. M. Epinette uses sandalwood and sequoia. It is a nice combination because the rougher-edged sequoia provides some texture to the smoother sandalwood. In the same way that I described the cocoa they provide an austere woody accord which matches the cocoa. Once the full accord comes together I kept thinking of a serving board made up of alternating strips of sequoia and sandalwood liberally coated in cocoa powder.
Cocoa Woods has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
It is this spare style M. Epinette uses for Cocoa Woods that makes this wearable in the summer. I was worried that the cocoa would become problematic later in the day but that never happened. Once it was in place it was a delightful companion both hot days I wore it. I’m still going to give it a spin once there’s some frost on the pumpkin. That I’ve enjoyed it in the season its probably not ideal for means it is more versatile than I first thought. It was a pleasant surprise.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Sephora.
I am a horrible perfume snob; I admit it. Especially when it comes to mainstream releases. There are brands which I know can break out of the ocean of mediocrity that exists in this sector. I was on a recent trip to the mall to pick up samples of things to try from those. I have come to trust the different people I associate with to acquire my samples one of them asked me if I had tried the new Tory Burch. I must have made a face because without saying a word she said, “I’ll take that as a no.” She then followed up with “I think its pretty good probably the best of the tory Burch perfumes.” The snob was in full obsequious mode in my head, “Oh wow the best of Troy Burch perfume it must be faaaantastic….not!” This time I kept a better poker face as she handed me the blotter. Then I sniffed it and the snob in my head was being told to sit down and be quiet for a while.
If I had to give a short description to the previous nine Tory Burch perfume releases since 2013 it would be “fresh florals”. Sometimes there was some fruit for “fresh fruity florals” but it was consistent. It has always felt like a missed opportunity since the fragrance part of the brand has been under the creative direction of Karyn Khoury since it started. But there has been kind of creeping sameness about the output. What sets Tory Burch Just Like Heaven apart is it has an off-kilter green around a single floral. Perfumer Alexis Dadier was seemingly given some latitude to color outside the lines of the previous Tory Burch aesthetic.
It shows right away with rhubarb the core of the top accord. Rhubarb has been used more lately for the vegetal green paired with a kind of grapefruit character. M. Dadier uses petitgrain to focus the citrus part of the rhubarb and mandarin to provide a bit of juicy sweetness in contrast. The keynote floral is heliotrope which is given some depth by ylang-ylang and hyacinth. M. Dadier uses the hyacinth as the “fresh” component so as not to scare off previous Tory Burch enthusiasts. But then he threads the peppery earthy angelica root through the florals extending the effect of the rhubarb from the top accord. To provide a comforting finish, tonka and ambrox give a sweet woody hug.
Just Like Heaven has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Just Like Heaven should be a nice addition to someone’s summer floral rotation. If you’re having trouble trying a Tory Burch fragrance just do like I did and put your inner perfume snob in time out. I think he might be looking over his shoulder wondering what smells so good.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Bloomingdale’s.
One of the reasons I find perfume so fascinating is it makes what you might think should smell bad something that smells good. Most of those smells originate from the anal region of different animals. One of the most unique is the ingredient hyraceum, or Africa Stone. Hyraceum is the petrified form of the excrement of a small rodent-like creature known as a Cape hyrax. It has been a seldom used ingredient, but I have generally enjoyed it. It provides a funky animalic aspect that the various musks do not.
My most memorable experience with the raw ingredient was at Pitti Fragranze in Florence a couple years ago. There I was given the opportunity to smell it in its unadulterated form. I gagged. It smelled like…um…excrement; concentrated excrement. Then I was shown how, as you dilute it, the gag-inducing turns into a rough leathery ingredient. It is this which gets used most often. When I received my sample of Zoologist Hyrax I had a feeling I would be smelling some hyraceum.
The owner and creative director of Zoologist, Victor Wong, has been working with different independent perfumers ever since the beginning of his brand. For Hyrax he chose to collaborate with perfumer Sven Pritzkoleit. Mr. Pritzkoleit has his own brand, SP Perfumes, which has been in existence since 2016. I’ve tried most of his releases for that brand. The best is when he uses the animalic ingredients. Those are what he seems to have the keenest intuition about. With some creative direction I expected Hyrax would be pretty good. I was correct. The reason I like it so much is it embraces the animalic in a boozy embrace of whisky.
Hyrax opens with a huge shot of hyraceum. If you aren’t expecting it, you might be wanting to get your arm as far away as you can. It is like turning on the amplifier without noticing someone has pegged the volume. It is so strong it almost carries its own kind of distortion wave. Mr. Pritzkoleit goes to work turning the volume down. At first saffron and pink pepper start to tame the hyraceum. Then a fabulous shot of whisky does the job. Like the hyraceum is soaked in a glass of Jack Daniels. I fell for this each day I wore it. So much so that when the more pedestrian patchouli and amber arrive to finish this off I had a slight twinge of disappointment.
Hyrax has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Hyrax is the most animalic perfume released by Zoologist. It is a couple of levels stronger than Civet. For those who enjoy the brand you can use that as guidance for what your personal affinity might be for Hyrax. I have a special place in my perfumed heart for fragrances like Hyrax; always have. Which means I’m happy to shrug my shoulders and say “hyraceum happens” while spraying myself with more Hyrax.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Zoologist.