Since 2008 the series of flankers in the Thierry Mugler A*Men Pure series have shown one important thing. The basic foundation created by perfumer Jacques Huclier in 1996 with the original A*Men is tremendously versatile. Over the past nine years the eleven previous releases have showcased this characteristic as M. Huclier has grafted almost every kind of note on to his original.
Two of the more interesting entries in the series was 2013’s A*Men Pure Energy and 2015’s A*Men Ultra Zest. Pure Energy used mint, white pepper, and cardamom as the variants. Ultra Zest used a mélange of orange citrus sources with ginger, mint, and black pepper. On paper, I would have suggested these were going to be a bridge too far for this series. Both fragrances showed fresher accords worked with the A*Men DNA. Even with that success my ambivalence towards mint had me approaching the new A*Men Kryptomint with some trepidation.
My reason for having issues with mint is too often it reminds me of mouthwash or toothpaste. In my mind, it is so tightly bound with those kind of products it takes something different to make me leave that behind. Kryptomint succeeds for most of the time but there is one rocky transition for me which calls up the things I dislike about mint perfumes.
Kryptomint opens with peppermint out in front. It is joined by a beautifully selected geranium. The geranium has the effect of making the mint more mentholated and herbal. This is that sense of when I eat a peppermint candy and the effect goes from my tongue through to my sinuses. It is how the first phase of the development of Kryptomint goes and I was delighted. Then to match up to the sweet A*Men base the geranium recedes the herbal quality disappears and out pops that dental product mint. This is my problem and for those who don’t have my issues the transition is nicely executed it is just something I personally don’t care for. The A*Men base here is mostly the patchouli and tonka portions which is the right choice because Kryptomint recovers quite a bit as those notes become more prominent.
A*Men Kryptomint has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I mentioned the two other fresher flankers of A*Men above if you’re looking for something to compare Kryptomint to it is closer in style to Pure Energy. Kryptomint is another well-done flanker in this series and if you like mint in your perfume it might be a favorite for you. If like me mint is your kryptonite you might want to sample first.
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample provided by Thierry Mugler.
There are certain brands which just go deeper with more ease than others. One brand for whom I have an outsized affection for their deeper darker releases is M. Micallef. This is a brand which thrives in the shadows of the perfumer’s palette. Ouds, gourmands, white flowers, and animalic musks; my favorites are the ones represented in that list. The creative direction of the brand has been via Martine Micallef and her husband Geoffrey Nejman. They have done what all brands aspire to in creating a definitive identity for their fragrances. For their most recent release they looked for creative direction from an interesting place; one of the people who sells their fragrances.
Martine Micallef and Geoffrey Nejman
Osswald NYC is one of the US points of sale for M. Micallef perfumes. If you’ve ever visited the store you have likely met Josie Alycia Plumey who is there to help guide you through the products on sale. Ms. Plumey is one of those infectiously enthusiastic personalities within perfume sales. I’ve watched her interact with experienced perfume lovers and those who have wandered in from the hotel across the street not knowing anything. Her success is due in large part to her ability to pay attention. A little over a year ago, M. Micallef produced an exclusive perfume for Osswald NYC called The No. 1. When I tried it on a visit I thought to myself the sweet vanilla and oud was nice but I wanted something darker. Evidently Ms. Plumey also shared that desire and communicated that to M. Nejman. At which point he gave her the creative directorship for the next Osswald NYC exclusive called The No. 2.
Josie Alycia Plumey
I have long sneered at consumer focus groups as a means to design perfume but a single observer like Ms. Plumey is different than that. She would provide to M. Nejman a brief where she asked for The No. 2 to be the nighttime counterpart to The No. 1. What that meant practically was reversing the ratio of vanilla to oud in favor of the latter while fine-tuning some of the other complementary notes.
The No. 2 opens on the same oud accord as The No. 1 but this time the components are given the opportunity to expand a bit becoming less constricted than in the previous fragrance. Early on plum and saffron provide the harmonies. Saffron is one of those choices which seems to meld intrinsicatly with oud. The plum is pitched at the right volume to not overwhelm the delicacy of the saffron. The heart is the traditional rose and oud pair that is a classic. It is expertly composed because of M. Nejman’s long experience with working with oud for the brand. It isn’t until very late that the vanilla makes its appearance and this time it is there to provide subtlety not equivalence.
The No. 2 has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
The No. 2 is that darker version of The No. 1 I desired. It seems Ms. Plumey has the right stuff when it comes to creative direction.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Osswald NYC.
Sex Sells! It is a truism in product promotion. Nobody has ever gone broke by cloaking their product in provocative sexy imagery. That image runs the gamut from tastefully subtle to provocatively blunt. When it comes to perfume the latter is exemplified by much of the Tom Ford fragrance ads of a few years ago. The tastefully done is a little less common but the new release from The Perfumer’s Story by Azzi called S&X Rankin is one of those.
Azzi Glasser debuted her brand, The Perfumer’s Story by Azzi, in 2015. Ms. Glasser was part of the creative team behind one of my favorite offbeat sensual perfumes, Illamasqua Freak. As I heard that she was going to work with photographer Rankin on a new release I was interested. Rankin is a British photographer who has been featured in fashion magazines and directed music videos. One of his recurring motifs is a focus on lips and tongues. There is a carnality to lips parted in invitation that I am drawn to; Rankin’s photographs mostly capture that. In a companion video he directed along with the release (link here) there is also a focus on lips and tongues again. As Ms. Glasser has become the perfumer in her story it has been an interesting transition. With S&X Rankin she has made her best perfume for her brand so far.
When it comes to fragrances which want to wear their sexiness on their sleeve I expect certain ingredients. Ms. Glasser doesn’t disappoint as leather and castoreum play prominent parts in the later stages but what she and Rankin have concocted prior to that makes S&X Rankin much less obvious.
S&X Rankin opens on a typical bergamot but as part of an Earl Grey tea accord. It provides some shading for pepper and elemi. This is a come-hither look, the parted lips of someone asking a question without words. The collision of bodies comes with a fully indolic jasmine crashing into a dark leather accord. There is an ongoing tussle throughout the middle stage of development. A woody duet of magnolia and guaiac carry this onto a base in which the castoreum revels in its animal nature. Patchouli and a blend of white musks bring this together in an accord reminiscent of tangled sweaty sheets and damp sated bodies.
S&X Rankin has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Ms. Glasser seemed inspired by Rankin allowing that collaboration to create a tasteful nude of a sexy fragrance.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
There is a great amount of collaboration within the independent perfume community. A lot of it is happening on the West Coat of the US. One of the nodes of creativity is up in the Pacific Northwest. It often takes me a while to find some of the smaller brands. One which I was motivated to track down were the perfumes done for the Portland, Oregon based store The Sum. The reason I wanted to try these was because of perfumer Josh Meyer.
Mr. Meyer is responsible for one of the best independent perfume brands, Imaginary Authors. Working with The Sum he was asked to work towards small-batch ethically resourced compositions. There is a bead of sterling silver in each bottle for its “healing and balancing” qualities. When Mr. Meyer is working on his own brand he sometimes lavishly uses some of the synthetic area of his palette. His work for The Sum has seemingly taken that part out of play. This results in some of the softest perfumes Mr. Meyer has made. When it came to the first three releases I felt like there was also something missing, besides the power, from each. The Black was focused on oud but it needed a contrasting note. In The White Mr. Meyer’s deft touch with smoke is a little less precise which doesn’t allow the iris enough presence. The Red came closest with what felt like a base accord of amber, saffron, and sandalwood. I was wondering if Mr. Meyer would deliver something else for the brand after these first three. Just after the New Year I received my bottle of The Mauve. This time it all comes together.
Most of the time the press copy seems so far off the mark but in the case of The Muave it is described as, “The first serene light peeking through a fog”. As I’ve already mentioned these are Mr. Meyer’s most subtle compositions to date. The Mauve is like looking out over a field of lavender dampened by the fog as the sun lurks behind the foggy veil.
To create the humidity of the fog Mr. Meyer employs tea leaves to provide rich leafiness paired with dewiness. This is then further elaborated upon with the lavender which provides a typical herbal tinted floralcy characteristic of the ingredient. It finishes with a sturdy woody base of oak.
The Mauve has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
With the Mauve Mr. Meyer shows he can talk through fragrance in sotto voce. I hope he continues to collaborate with The Sum because I think in a perfumer of his talents there is something very good that can come of this. The Mauve is evidence that even better could be coming.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
In my yearly diatribe against rose as the be-all end-all spring floral fragrance I think of all the other possibilities. One which is high on my list is lily of the valley/ muguet. The European celebration of May Day is celebrated with sprigs of muguet. One of the reasons I think lily has not become more of a possibility is it can have a funeral home-like old lady vibe to it. Which is true in the hands of a mediocre perfumers. When the talented take a hold of it they turn it from a symbol of death into something which represents the rebirth of spring. Which is why I was so pleased to receive the new Miu Miu L’Eau Bleue.
In the fall of 2015 perfumer Daniela Andrier was the perfumer behind the debut for the brand, Miu Miu. For that fragrance I was excited to see the use of a new ingredient called akigalawood. Mme Andrier highlighted the new ingredient as part of a floral duet of muguet and rose with some of Mme Andrier’s signature green notes opening the fragrance. It was one of my favorite releases of 2015. I wasn’t sure what to think of this spring flanker to that very original fragrance. What Mme Andrier chooses to do here is to mostly strip out the rose while making the green opening waterier. It comes together as a very nice spring floral that is not rose.
In Miu Miu the green has sharp edges. In Miu Miu L’Eau Bleue the green is there but she sprinkles dewy water droplets all over it which has the effect of softening some of the blunt verdancy. It sets the stage for the green quality of muguet to ascend over it. In Miu Miu the muguet was more an equal; in this new iteration it is like the dew something which gets burned off as the radiance of the central muguet begins to shine. There is a tiny amount of jasmine and rose as distant support but Miu Miu L’Eau Bleue is a lily through and through. As the akigalawood comes forward it has a peppery aspect which provides a nice contrast to the lily.
Miu Miu L’Eau Bleue has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
It does take a creative perfumer like Mme Andrier to make a vital lily fragrance. With Miu Miu L’Eau Bleue she has delivered a dewy spring morning lily fragrance which stands out in the sea of roses on the counter next to it.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Sephora.
It is difficult being the second act to a legend. When it comes to American beauty brands Estee Lauder is one of the great All-American success stories. From the foundation of the brand in the 1950’s into the business juggernaut it is currently she has defined beauty for over sixty years. One great aspect of that rise is fragrance was not relegated to being a bit player. It was a critical piece of the overall empire as it grew. There was a time when it looked like there was not going to be a next generation Lauder to carry on because she had two sons. Her younger son Ronald Lauder would provide the genetics when his oldest daughter Aerin would join the company where she is currently the Style and Image Director. In 2013 Aerin Lauder would follow her grandmother into the fragrance part of the business with her own brand called simply Aerin.
The Aerin perfumes have been, by design, a collection of mostly light-hearted floral perfumes. There are a few exceptions but it is flowers which are the inspiration. Even then the flower most represented is rose. One of the first set of spring roses I received samples of for 2017 were the three new releases; Bamboo Rose, Garden Rose, and Linen Rose. If I have an overarching impression is these are nice high quality versions of simple floral constructs. Ms. Lauder has been working with Karyn Khoury as co-creative directors and they have worked well together with a coherent vision which has been consistent throughout the previous releases. What will always make a difference for me even in a fragrance which is not original is when it sets off a scent memory for me. When I got to Linen Rose it reminded me of the summers I spent on Shelter Island, NY which is why I enjoyed it so much. I came to find out when I got to the press materials Ms. Lauder was inspired by her rose garden in the Hamptons just a ferry ride away from Shelter Island.
I have come to like the rose perfumes which have a seaside theme of which Linen Rose is. If it is done well, as it is here, it captures the salt spray, the grass growing in the dunes, and the rose overriding it all. Working with perfumer Richard Herpin this is exactly what Linen Rose delivers.
Mr. Herpin opens on a citrus mixture of lemon leaves and orange all of which is inflated on a bubble of Hedione. One of the things which drew me to Linen Rose was Mr. Herpin dispenses with the typical suite of oceanic notes. He employs coconut water and vetiver to create the dunes and waves milieu. This is subtle and Mr. Herpin uses the Hedione as the expansive element along with those two notes. It works quite well as an alternative. The roses come in on this and they are there in all their typically powdery and spicy nature. It all heads down to a warm amber, vanilla, and benzoin finish.
Linen Rose has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Ms. Lauder is admirably creating her own version of the Estee Lauder legacy with this line of perfumes. I suspect that before too long there will be something special from this team. Linen Rose is maybe the first harbinger of that.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Aerin.
I had my first kiss at nine at a birthday party playing the kissing game, spin the bottle. I was very nervous as I spun the bottle and it landed on one of my classmates. In theory I sort of understood what I was supposed to do but as I leaned in to perform I wasn’t sure. I was focused on the shiny lip gloss on her lips and the faint smell of strawberry. When our lips met it was nice. As I pulled away and licked my lips the taste of strawberry lip gloss was there to let me know I had indeed kissed a girl and I liked it. Funny thing that grew out of that was I always enjoyed kissing girls who wore fruit scented lipstick. I hadn’t given that much thought until I tried the new Cartier Baiser Fou.
Perfumer Mathilde Laurent has been the in-house nose for Cartier for almost ten years. She has added a spirit of adventurousness to Cartier fragrance that was present previous to her tenure but is now much more assured. It is also a brand which shows that same ability for unique even in the mainstream releases. Last year’s L’Envol de Cartier or even the previous entry in the “Baiser” line Baiser Vole are good examples of Mme Laurent’s idea of what she envisions department store perfume can aspire to. Both of those fragrances I mentioned are like nothing else on those counters. Baiser Fou is another although it has some more familiar touchstones perhaps.
The press material says Baiser Fou, which translates to crazy kiss, is inspired by lipstick kisses. Most perfumes inspired by that go for that Coty lipstick iris/rose on beeswax accord. Mme Laurent’s lipstick kisses, like my early ones, are fruitier. There is a real sense of playfulness in this crazy kiss that is also quite appealing.
The opening of Baiser Fou is that subtle but distinct fruity accord. I believe there are at least a couple of different fruits as I seem to detect strawberry, cherry, and melon which seemed to me different every time I tested. What I like here is these fruits which could be obstreperous are applied with the feathered effect of a stolen kiss. It is this lightness which sets this fruity opening apart from thousands of others. Mme Laurent uses an orchid accord to provide the powdery lipstick itself. As the fruity notes settle on top of the orchid it is again held together like a gossamer wing. This fragility is a significant reason why I like this part of the development. The final piece of this is dusty cacao which is identified as “white chocolate” but it feels more like a rich cocoa powder to me. It is in keeping with the tone of what came before a delicately gourmand-y way to finish Baiser Fou.
Baiser Fou has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Mme Laurent is one of the most creative perfumers we currently have working. Everything about Baiser Fou is appealing as she continues working on these very delicate constructs as she did with L’Envol de Cartier last year. Baiser Fou is another like that. There might be the tendency for some to want to ask for more. I am happy with just a light but crazy kiss from someone as creative as Mme Laurent.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Cartier.
Prada has become one of the more reliable designer perfume offerings in the mainstream sector. I can even go further and say the overall collection is the most coherent and best at the department store. I would chalk that up to the fact that Daniela Andrier has translated the same style and creativity that she uses on the more expensive creations for the brand to the general audience releases. I have unhesitatingly steered people to the brand because it has something good to great for everyone. Even the flankers are well-thought out. Except the latest release, Luna Rossa Carbon, is less a flanker than something which stands all on its own.
Luna Rossa Catamaran from America's Cup 2013 (Photo:Carlo Borlenghi via Luna Rossa website)
I have always felt an attachment to the Luna Rossa series because it is inspired by the Italian effort in the America’s Cup sailing competition. The boats have competed since 1997 and Prada has always been the team sponsor with their name prominently featured on the boats. The team has always been one of the innovators in design which is a significant piece of the America’s Cup. The team which marries superior engineering and sailing usually takes home the trophy. Luna Rossa has a desire to show off Italian design in every way. Prada finally took this partnership and used it in 2012 to release Luna Rossa. Mme Andrier served up a fougere anchored by clary sage. Through three subsequent flankers she would refine this idea of a fresh fougere which are all well done. Which was why when I received my sample of Luna Rossa Carbon I expected more of the same, only to be surprised that Mme Andrier took a different tack this time.
The previous Luna Rossa incarnations were Mme Andrier finding ways to capture that sense of being propelled through the ocean by the wind. She found clever ways to introduce fresh without relying on the typical aldehydes, ozonic notes, and Calone. For Luna Rossa Carbon the lavender is still present to create the fougere but the overall effect is more industrial and obviously synthetic. Carbon fiber is the construction material for these racing boats and I wonder if that was what she was trying for. I enjoy fragrances which unabashedly embrace the synthetic which seems to be the case here.
Luna Rossa Carbon opens with lavender and bergamot. I believe Mme Andrier chooses the more austere lavandin with its higher percentage of camphor. In the past that camphor has been used as the foundation for Mme Andrier to splice the other choices for fresh notes on top of. In Luna Rossa Carbon she uses the camphor to set off the green rose quality of geraniol in the heart. It has a deepening effect which Mme Andrier modulates a bit by using heliotropin which grounds it with a bit of the vanilla cherry nature it is known for. This doesn’t get gourmand-like it comes off more like the sweet smell of freshly extruded plastic; in a good way. A suite of woody aromachemicals provide part of the base accord which are combined with patchouli creating a solidly darker base than ever before in a Luna Rossa fragrance.
Luna Rossa Carbon has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
There is a moment in every sailing race when a captain and the tactical team must make a strategic decision to chart a different course. It is done based on the knowledge of the waters being sailed in and the conditions learned over sailing them for weeks and weeks. At the moment of making the decision to take a different tack you are hoping for the wind to fill the sails as you expected. Mme Andrier is performing a perfume version of this maneuver. For those who have enjoyed the past Luna Rossa releases this one is enough of a departure that you should try it before expecting a continuation. For those who want to try something delightfully different in the department store I suggest setting course for the bottle of Luna Rossa Carbon.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Prada.
Among the things which symbolize summer to me is a field of grass dotted with the puffy white pop-poms of dandelions. There was a hill near where I grew up which I would roll down coming up at the bottom with dandelion fuzz in my clothes and hair. Those were the lazy serene days of summer with the smells of grass and dandelions the scent of that. It was shown in a more amusing way by the comic strip Bloom County by Berkeley Breathed. The strip below shows how a dandelion break can be just the antidote needed in times of stress.
When it comes to perfume, dandelion is not something found very often as an ingredient. A bare handful of fragrances list it as a part of the formula. It was why I was very interested to try the latest release from Shay & Blue, Dandelion Fig.
Julie Masse and Dominic de Vetta
Established in 2012, by Dominic de Vetta, Shay & Blue is one of those well-kept secrets within niche perfume. Mr. de Vetta worked at Jo Malone prior to moving to his own brand. One of the things I always think about is a Shay & Blue fragrance is an adventurous take on the same kind of perfume architecture of his previous employer. Focusing on a couple of ingredients whose names are on the bottle but with a different kind of verve to it. For all the releases to date perfumer Julie Masse has been the nose. Together Mr. de Vetta and Mme Masse have created a very coherent collection of which Dandelion Fig is among the best of them.
Dandelion Fig is a soft paean to a midsummer’s day. Despite the use of the sharp green facets of dandelion leaves Mme Masse uses lemongrass and grass accords to soften those spiky moments. The early moments of Dandelion Fig are fresh because of the lemongrass while the cut grass accord and the dandelion leaves provide a pillowy verdancy. It is then made even more softly green by the addition of tomato leaf. Mme Masse uses it to change the green from grass to garden. To add to that juniper berry is along for the ride. It adds a refreshing zing to things adding to the energy from the lemongrass. The fig shows up in the base as a healthy shot of what I think is stemone which is shaded towards its greener incarnation by the other ingredients which preceded it. Once this all flows together it is a beautiful marriage of particularly complementary notes.
Dandelion Fig has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I really urge you to reach out and try all of the Shay & Blue releases to date. It is a line worth the effort. If you need a place to start Dandelion Fig is a great choice. I have admired the brand since it was founded but with Dandelion Fig it has come of age while allowing me to have a dandelion break, even in the middle of winter.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
As the calendar flips to February my mailbox fills up with the current year’s spring releases. Way too many of them are sweet debutante-fresh rose perfumes. I like rose but there are other spring flowers which could be used in their place. Every year I hope for a ripple of rose resistance to show up. So far, every year I am still sniffing one rose after another. When I complain about this within earshot of a person instead of my computer screen I am often asked, “What other choices are there?” One of my stock responses is peony. It has the same dewy freshness of rose with a discernably different scent profile. Seems like the team at Fragonard might also feel the same way as their spring release for 2017 is called Pivoine; which is French for peony.
Peony is often mistaken for rose by many. One reason is peony in fragrance is an accord, as extraction of the petals does not result in an essential oil which can be isolated in quantity. Like the process which brings lilac into perfumes it is up to the creativity of the perfumer to furnish an accord which smells like the real thing. Even more important when your perfume is named after the flower. For Pivoine Fragonard invited perfumer Celine Ellena to take on the job. Mme Ellena has been one of my favorite perfumers who I wish worked a little more often. I was excited to see how she would take on the task of making a peony perfume.
Pivoine opens with a currant and rhubarb accord. Mme Ellena uses that tart nature of the rhubarb to keep the berries from being too saccharine. Right from the beginning these are spring milieu scents but not the typical ones. In the heart comes Mme Ellena’s peony accord. One thing which has kept people away from peony in fragrance is these accords can often be easily detected as the stitched together accumulation of aromachemicals that they usually are. Mme Ellena is also relying on the same suite of ingredients but she is also using a bit of olfactory plastic surgery in the use of mimosa and jasmine. What this forms is a spring fresh floral accord with a watery floralcy that is pleasing. The base is formed around iris, amber, and musk to warm up the sunny peony in the final stages.
Pivoine has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
When I am looking for an alternative to spring themed rose perfumes Pivoine is a good example of what I am talking about. It acts as the ideal spring non-rose which is one reason I enjoyed it so much. The other is Mme Ellena’s fine working of a peony accord which is as good as these kinds of effects get. All together if you want something that is not rose this spring give Pivoine a try.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Fragonard.