I am drawn to perfume because there are so many times and places in my life where the smell of a place is as much a part of the experience as anything else. One of the places where I have very distinctive memories of a smell is camping while the desert is in bloom. This usually takes place around this time of the year often reaching its peak right now. It is such a contrast to the red rocks and sand to see color where it usually isn’t. As far as I know none of these flowers have been used as is in a perfume. They certainly transform the smell of the desert from its spicy mineralic baseline into something more genteel. Harsh turns to colorful fantasia. Rocky turns to floral. There are a number of perfumes which have attempted to capture this accord. The new Memo Marfa comes as close to getting it right as I have tried.
Marfa is the first in a new collection within the brand called Art Land. The name comes from the town in West Texas of the same name. It is a city of approximately 2,000 of which a disproportionate amount are artists. It sits on the edge of the desert at the crossroads of US 90 and US 67 north of Big Bend National Park. If you are a movie fan it was used as a location for the movies, Giant, Fandango, There Will Be Blood, and No Country for Old Men. I have never been to the city, except through these films, but it is part of the same high desert of the American Southwest I am familiar with. Creative director Clara Molloy along with her longtime collaborator perfumer Alienor Massenet set out to capture the city. For me they captured the desert surrounding it while in bloom.
The floral mix Mme Massenet settles upon is one of tuberose absolute and orange blossom absolute. Marfa is primarily a tuberose perfume. Except there are bits of the desert underneath which remind you of what will remain when the flowers are gone.
Marfa opens on orange blossom which is quickly joined by tuberose. The orange blossom attenuates the tuberose. It also reminds you that it is the subtler of the white flowers. The balance Mme Massenet strikes is very nice. With the florals the first reminder we are in the desert comes with a sharp green “agave accord” it has a sort of spikiness to it which makes it an interesting contrast to all that is going on with the florals. It has the added effect of opening up the camphoraceous nature of the tuberose more fully. If you’ve ever taken a deep breath of arid desert air it feels a lot like that sinus clearing breath. The final part of the development of Marfa is the dried out wood left behind later in the summer. Cedar, sandalwood, and a few white musks form that accord as the desert reclaims its ground although the tuberose stays around even when the woods take over.
Marfa has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I will not be actually spending this spring anywhere near the desert. Thankfully Marfa is going to take me there when I want to imagine I am there.
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample provided by Memo.
One of the most pleasant things about writing about perfume is watching young perfumers grow. Right now in the independent niche sector there is a group of these artists I think of as Young Guns. At this stage of their career they are working with young brands which allow them to think a bit out of the box. Sometimes that thinking can lead to something unfocused. The perfumers I put in this category have all learned from those lesser efforts. Thankfully it doesn’t make them retreat into their shell thinking of playing it safe. What has most often happened is they come back ready to strike out in a new direction.
Another component of this is these young brands having a continuing relationship with a perfumer or couple of perfumers. When it comes together both the creative direction and the nose begin to form a working relationship which hopefully leads to something great. At Esxence 2016 one of those moments came to fruition with the release of Gabriella Chieffo Maisia.
Gabriella Chieffo started her eponymous brand in 2014 with four releases. She would follow that up with two more the following year. Maisia is the first release for 2016. Through all seven fragrances she has been collaborating with perfumer Luca Maffei. Sig.ra Chieffo has a very distinctive vision which she entrusts Sig. Maffei to realize. Maisia is the first of a new series where Sig.ra Chieffo wants to create perfumes of shadow and light. That is an easy concept to articulate. Difficult to achieve. For Maisia, Sig.ra Chieffo envisioned a young woman accused of being a witch being burned at the stake. The inspiration photograph above is another interesting bit of information for Sig. Maffei to use as he went about composing Maisia.
Maisia is simply a fig fragrance with that fruit representing our unjustly accused sorceress. She is singed by the fire of spices. Then in the base she is redeemed as her beauty arises from the ashes as a shadow.
Maisia opens on bright lemon matched with green fig leaves. The fig leaves carry mostly green qualities but underneath it all is a bit of the creaminess of the wood of the tree itself. The lemon provides the last of the light before shadows rise. For the rest of the development the keynote is a slightly overripe fig. Early on it picks up some of the fig leaves. Then a heated spicy accord envelops the fig. It figuratively burns it as the they overwhelm the fig for a bit of time. As the spices recede the fig is left behind, a ghost of itself. Then come the moment where Maisia becomes shadowy. Sig. Maffei uses broom and narcissus to bring back to life the incinerated beauty. The difference is the broom provides a dried out dead grass quality. The narcissus provides a transitional beauty note to go along with what remains of the fig.
Maisia has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
If you are a fan of fig perfumes Maisia should be on your list to try. The base accord is something unique worth seeing if you like it as much as I do. If you are a fan of precocious young talent and brands Maisia needs to be embraced so more of this kind of perfumery is encouraged. Sig. Maffei has transformed the beauty of fig into ashy shadows. It is a gorgeous trip.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Gabriella Chieffo at Esxence 2016.
The path to releasing your own perfume brand is a long one, if you’re going to do it correctly. When I attended Pitti Fragranze in September of 2014 I met Luca Calvani and Olivia Mariotti. They were at a stand with their fledgling brand Inspiritu which at that time was a collection of candles. They were developing a line of perfumes to go along with the candles but they weren’t ready to release them, yet. A year later when I go to Pitti they were ready for prime time with a collection of five fragrances.
The inspiration behind the entire brand, both candles and fragrance, is to take one inside themselves into a meditative place. They believe the fragrances will allow a person to find their inner creativity. When you spend time with Sig.ra Mariotti and Sig. Calvani you realize they are passionate about their perfumes being able to do this. That personal connection made me more receptive to their perspective than if I had received the same words on a press release.
Olivia Mariotti and Luca Calvani
The five releases are made up of the four cardinal virtues, Temperantia, Iustitia, Prudentia, and Temperantia. They are joined by Lux the light which binds them all. Temperantia is a fairly typical white flower Floriental. Iustitia is a more interesting take on an Oriental with the herbal orange top accord being the best part of its development. Prudentia is a bitingly green floral with a galbanum and moss base accord adding the snap. Lux definitely carries the meditative feel the brand is trying for with a clean cedar and sandalwood focal point. Fortitudo is the one I liked best because it was the most kinetic of the collection. I felt like it took me to wide open spaces in the countryside.
Fortitudo opens on a duet of acacia and violet. The soft floralcy of the acacia contrasts the stronger presence of the violet. This reminded me of hillsides covered in purple flowers at the height of summer. I felt like I was in a meadow. That feeling is only intensified with a strong presence of hay. Hay this strong might conjure up the barnyard to some. For me it carried me to the smell of the dried brown grass of late summer. It forms a foundation for the acacia and violet to rest upon. The base is the creamy woods of sandalwood and cedar.
Fortitudo has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I found it interesting that a perfume brand built on inner meditation instead took me outside for my favorite. Then I realized a meadow covered in flowers in midsummer is a great place to be transported to as a meditative locus.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Inspiritu.
There is probably no more difficult task for a perfumer to try and come up with a modern version of one of the early 20th century classic perfumes. The best of those fragrances have achieved near mythical status as perfume lovers attempt to find vintage bottles. This desire has led to companies wanting to release new versions to take advantage of this. The biggest problem facing the current perfumer is trying to make a perfume where many of the ingredients are no longer allowed to be used or have risen in price so dramatically that synthetic equivalents need to be employed. This usually has the effect of the newer version having the feel of a lithograph; lacking the vibrancy of the original. It can be particularly frustrating when I know how much lesser the new version is. I am still hopeful especially when the perfumer behind the new version is one I admire. The new Jacques Fath Faths Essential Green Water was one I was hopeful for.
The original Jacques Fath Green Water, from 1946, is one of the few perfumes which manages to use mint without reminding me of dental care products. Original perfumer Vincent Roubert uses it as part of a citrus and neroli accord before really getting green in the foundation with vetiver and oakmoss. The amount of neroli being used here is massive. The use of the mint and the cost of getting the orange blossom concentration correct were but two of the challenges facing perfumer Cecile Zarokian as she took on the challenge of making a 2016 version of Green Water.
Mme Zarokian dealt with the easiest of the problems by convincing the powers at Jacques Fath there was no substitute for lowering the neroli concentration. In that case she was able to hold the line and the neroli in this new version is as densely potent as it was in the original. The mint was going to be another thing. Mme Zarokian decided to take the mint and make it the leader of a selection of herbal notes. It helps control the mint and remind one that it is also an herb. It keeps it from being the presence that it is in the original but in this case it seemed less important to me. Keeping the neroli at the previous level was the more important battle to win.
The new version of Green Water opens with that mixture of citrus as lemon and orange add a snappy beginning. Then the lush neroli rises up on all sides. It is beautifully encompassing. The mint arrives with caraway, tarragon, and basil in attendance. The basil in particular really attenuates the mint. I like this change as it is more herbal than in the original. It is what really separates it from that. The base is vetiver and the low atranol version of oakmoss. Mme Zarokian adds in a bit of ambergris to add interesting depth to the variant on the original base accord.
Green Water has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Mme Zarokian has successfully taken on the challenge of reinterpreting a classic. Her diligence at getting something close to the original without feeling like something lesser is laudable. I am looking forward to wearing this new version of Green Water during this upcoming spring and summer. It feels like seeing an old friend after many years with changes for the better.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I received from Jacques Fath at Esxence 2016.
I have long had a fascination with the contemporary evolution of the cologne. The whole Nouveau Cologne movement over the past five years has shown how much creativity can be applied to one of the most basic of fragrance architectures.
Another recent development that I have also enjoyed has been the re-emergence of Le Galion as a vital brand. Owner and Creative Director Nicolas Chabot first reminded us of these lost perfumes by the great perfumer Paul Vacher two years ago. Over the last year M. Chabot has been working with some of the best perfumers out there in realizing new perfumes in the style of M. Vacher. Now the latest step forward comes as M. Chabot collaborates with perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux on two very different colognes called Cologne and Cologne Nocturne.
Nicolas Chabot (Photo: Sylvie Mafray)
Cologne is an imaginary meeting between M. Vacher and Sr. Flores-Roux in the gardens attached to the Le Galion mansion. Sr. Flores-Roux is a perfumer with whom I have had many discussions about how the heritage of the past can be reflected today. Thinking about these two perfumers having this conversation I would imagine it to be one on the classic form of cologne. Cologne provides that kind of experience.
Cologne opens on a fully realized orange blossom dominant accord underpinned with citrus. Sr. Flores-Roux has always had a deft touch with floral accords. This one is so basic yet somehow there is unexpected depth to the early moments of Cologne. It is softened in the heart with a bit of angelica root before heading to a green base of galbanum and clary sage. This is classical cologne distilled through that perspective using modern materials to add complexity. Cologne has 8-10 hours of longevity and average sillage.
Cologne Nocturne is everything I enjoy about Nouveau Cologne. Sr. Flores-Roux creates what he calls an “amber water”. This is not the usual construction for cologne as the base is usually not the star. In Cologne Nocturne Sr. Flores-Roux has opened it up with traditional cologne components before turning it on its head in the base to realize his vision.
Cologne Nocturne starts with lemon and bergamot. It is a typical breezy cologne opening. The heart early on also stays firmly in the traditional as lavender is matched with herbal notes of rosemary, sage, and thyme. Then the modern aspects begin to arrive as a spice laden accord sweeps the herbs away to combine with the lavender. I don’t know if it is just the newness of it all but I prefer when the spices are ascendant with the lavender. These spices live on as a parade of woody notes begin to form the amber water accord. Sr. Flores-Roux takes what could become a very heavy finish and manages to keep it lighter. This is how he gets to his vision of “amber water”. Cologne Nocturne was one of my most anticipated things to try at Esxence 2016 and it did not let me down. It is a brilliant Nouveau Cologne. Cologne Nocturne has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I have to reiterate my admiration for the way M. Chabot is working so hard to keep it from being a relic and making sure it stays relevant. It is a difficult balancing act between the classic and the contemporary. Le Galion with Cologne and Cologne Nocturne continue to navigate these tricky waters creditably.
Disclosure: This review was based on sample provided at Esxence 2016.
One of my most anticipated new launches of 2016 is McQueen Parfum. This is the third perfume under the Alexander McQueen brand following up on the discontinued Kingdom and My Queen from 2003 and 2005 respectively. It is those two fragrances which had my interest level as high as it was. There are only a few designer fragrance brands which reflect their designer’s style adequately. The Alexander McQueen fragrances are among the best at doing that. McQueen Parfum had some big shoes to fill.
This follow-up was taking place after the death of Mr. McQueen in 2010 and without his collaborator in the perfume creative designer Chantal Roos. Sarah Burton who took over the brand is responsible for the creative direction on McQueen Parfum. Over the last six years Ms. Burton has done an amazing job keeping the fashion side of the business moving forward. McQueen Parfum will begin to answer whether she can do the same with the fragrance side of the business.
As much as I tried to find out the answer there is no information on the perfumer Ms. Burton worked with on McQueen Parfum. All of the online information comes from her. Ms. Burton’s vision was to form the perfume around a core of three night-blooming flowers; jasmine, tuberose, and ylang ylang. The ad campaign featuring model Maartje Verhoef wearing a dress from the Fall 2016 collection is a great visual to go along with this concept.
Model Maartje Verhoef
McQueen Parfum opens with a piquant combination of clove and black pepper. This hearkens back to the strong spicy core of Kingdom except it is moved up to the beginning. I felt these early moments were a way of saying this new fragrance was not going to shy away from being aggressive. I like this opening a lot but I really fell for the florals in the heart. The perfumer behind this did a fantastic job of balancing these three very extroverted florals into one noir-ish accord. The jasmine adds its animalic floral, the tuberose its slightly mentholated version, and the ylang ylang its viscous oiliness. These are used in decent concentration which makes the balancing act a little more impressive. It ends with an earthy patchouli, vetiver, and benzoin base accord. This is not as unique as the previous phases but maybe having it be a little quieter at the end is by design.
McQueen Parfum has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I tip my hat to Ms. Burton for continuing to keep the Alexander McQueen brand and aesthetic relevant. This first fragrance under her guidance is a great return for the brand.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
Guilty pleasures are things you know you shouldn’t like but are irresistibly pulled towards. When it comes to perfume I like complex, evolving, layered compositions. Which is why I am surprised at how much I like the new Byredo Super Cedar because it is as advertised; essentially a cedar soliflore.
Cedar is one of the most distinctive notes on the perfumer’s palette. Its clean woodiness was one of the first notes I could confidently pick out of a fragrance early on. It is easy to describe; most often as “smelling like pencil shavings”. In the press materials which came with Super Cedar creative director Ben Gorham mentions he was looking for, “Evocative of log cabins and Scandinavian furniture”. That line capture what I think is fascinating about Super Cedar. Perfumer Jerome Epinette moves away from the more obvious pencil shavings. Instead he channels his interior IKEA and captures the smell of a warehouse of disassembled blond wood shelving stacked high to the ceiling.
I am not sure what the sources of cedar M. Epinette used to build Super Cedar. I know Robertet has a full array of fractions and different extractions of cedar for him to consider. My belief is he must have spent a lot of time working with a number of those raw materials finding just the right balance to allow the cedar to be pulled all the way through the development. There are only a few grace notes which provide minimal contrast.
Right away Super Cedar opens with a sotto voce version of cedar. It doesn’t carry that intensity that cedar usually imparts to a fragrance. A tiny bit of rose floats through but it is left way in the background. Over the next hour the cedar accord slowly forms gathering intensity as I suspect each new cedar raw material adds itself to the mix. This all leads to a pure cedarwood accord which I found compelling. It is here where Super Cedar holds for quite a while. Eventually a bit of vetiver and white musks become apparent but it really is the cedar accord holding together for hours which predominates.
Super Cedar has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
The engineering of the central cedar accord is what elevates Super Cedar from just being a flat cedar perfume. It is as densely engineered as a piece of IKEA furniture. As I was wearing it I could almost see one of those pictorial assembly instructions in my head as each new piece of cedar was added. Super Cedar is both super and cedar, if you like the latter I think you will also find it pretty good.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Byredo.
I am used to getting a lot of new spring releases featuring rose. It is a difficult space to do something new within. It seems like a few brands decided to get away from rose for 2016. Now they aren’t eschewing florals entirely they’re just not relying on rose to be the flower which represents spring. As someone who has to sniff so many of these it has made many of the new releases more interesting. Another emerging theme from this trend away from pretty roses for spring is these other florals have been paired with sweet gourmand accords. Penhaligon’s Equinox Bloom is one of these.
Penhaligon’s has been one of the more successful brands at wearing its country of origin on its atomizer. There are many very British inspirations throughout the collection. For Equinox Bloom perfumer Olivier Cresp wanted to recapture his afternoon of tea and cakes surrounded by lush floral arrangements. One of the new technologies helping M. Cresp is Firmenich’s SmellTheTaste collection of proprietary food extracts. This new process is purported to capture food smells in a more accurate way than ever before. In Equinox Bloom M. Cresp uses Chantilly SmellTheTaste and Brown Sugar SmellTheTaste. I really feel the difference in these ingredients. Their use perhaps heralds a new creativity in gourmands.
Equinox Bloom opens with the Chantilly SmellTheTaste providing a luscious Chantilly cake in scented form. By itself it would be too sweet so M. Cresp uses violet leaves to pull back on the sugary intensity. The heart is the floral bouquet. Neroli, jasmine, frangipani, and orange blossom. I think M. Cresp made a nice choice of florals to represent spring instead of falling back on rose. The neroli and frangipani bracket the Chantilly SmellTheTaste forming that tea cake accord M. Cresp wanted. If M. Cresp was trying to keep the sweetness at bay early on by the time we get to the base notes he has unleashed the Brown Sugar SmellTheTaste. It feels like the crystalline particles are present on my skin. This is going to break Equinox Bloom for people who are not fond of sweet perfumes. Benzoin and ambroxan finish out the construction of Equinox Bloom.
Equinox Bloom has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Based on this first experience with the SmellTheTaste molecules I am looking forward to see which other food extracts Firmenich has to be used. The two used in Equinox Bloom make it worth thinking of as an alternative to all those other spring rose fragrances.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.
It is a familiar gripe when I receive a massive new debut collection. I wonder why more time wasn’t spent in designing this many perfumes along with the necessity for so many. The latest brand to irritate me in this way is Derek Lam 10 Crosby.
Designer Derek Lam designed this collection with the Millennials in mind and maybe that group wants unfinished poorly thought out fragrances. The cynic in me says nobody has quite figured out this market sector and they are throwing everything they have at finding out what will sell. The Derek Lam 10 Crosby collection is ten perfumes done by four perfumers. It is a broad exercise in box checking as nearly every fragrance style is represented except aquatic. Maybe they have some bit of research which informs them Millennials don’t like them. Nine of the ten releases feel like perfumes caught in the act of being created. They are ideas which never go anywhere. Notes which should have more to them than just a single accord. I was well along the path to dismissing the whole line when I picked up my sample of 2AM Kiss.
All of the fragrances are supposedly inspired by things Mr. Lam observed while looking out of his 10 Crosby office in SoHo. On the website there are little films to go with each fragrance but they seem to have little to do with the way any of these smell. If you like visuals with your scents you can check out the 2AM Kiss film above. I am divorcing myself from any of the imagery because it has nothing to do with what is in the bottle. That is a luscious salted caramel gourmand by perfumer Laurent LeGuernec.
M. LeGuernec creates a sticky caramel which he then adds salt to. It is gourmand-like but it also has some lift to it which keeps it from just being a viscous gooey blob. That lift comes from some woody aromachemicals which provide a foundation for the candy to spread out upon. One of them is a spicy woody synthetic I don’t recognize. The piquancy comes through almost like adding a bit of heat to the sweet. The end is a cozy amber accord.
Derek Lam 10 Crosby 2AM Kiss has 6-8 hours longevity and moderate sillage.
I am hopeful that Millennials have the same desire for quality that I do. If they are going to give the Derek Lam 10 Crosby line a try I hope 2AM Kiss is the one which sells best. It might encourage the next releases to be a bit more fleshed out and complete. If you like caramel gourmand fragrances 2AM Kiss is definitely worth trying out next time you’re at the mall.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Sephora.
One of my wishes every year is for one of the cadre of independent perfumers to have a mainstream success. One of the first steps towards this is for these perfumes to become more readily available to the perfume consumer. Which means it somehow has to make it to the mall. There have been a few who have taken the initiative to do just that. One of the most current efforts is independent perfumer Christi Meshell’s House of Matriarch launching a collection of nine fragrances, old and new, in Nordstrom’s across the country. I am rooting for Ms. Meshell because she has developed into an assured artist over the time I have followed her fragrances. I believe she offers an alternative to what else will be found on Nordstrom’s fragrance counter. If these can entice a few of those consumers over to something less commercial in aesthetic this could be the start of my wish coming true.
One of the ways to coax someone into becoming more adventurous is to give them a different riff on a style they know well. One of the perfumes, House of Matriarch Albatross, attempts this with the woody aquatic genre. Ms. Meshell was inspired by the Salish Sea area of her native Pacific Northwest. In that area of the world the pine trees grow right down to the rocky shoreline while the slate grey cold ocean laps against the craggy strand. This zone where the land meets the water is called the Littoral zone. Ms. Meshell uses Albatross as a literal interpretation of the littoral of the Salish Sea.
What separates independent perfumery from the mainstream is the ability to use unusual ingredients. Ms. Meshell doesn’t conjure the ocean by throwing a ton of Calone into Albatross and moving on. Her marine accord accentuates the cool salinity of the ocean water and not the warm sea spray so prevalent within the aquatic genre. It is that chilly watery accord which opens Albatross. This then captures the evergreens on the shore with a mixture of cork oak and pinon oil. This has a sharp woody quality which is the perfect conjuration of this milieu as the cold breeze bites a bit when you breathe deeply. Albatross has a similar bite as the pines ride the wave of the marine accord. Over a few hours the pine mellows and dries out into what Ms. Meshell calls a driftwood accord. What this means is early on the pine accord is sappy. By the later parts of the drydown that sappiness is gone leaving a drier more austere version of the pine.
Albatross has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I’ve never visited the Salish Sea but I’ve spent a lot of time in the East Coast version of the Littoral zone of Acadia National Park in Maine. Albatross accurately captures that intersection of brine and pine, literally.
Disclosure; This review was based on a sample provided by House of Matriarch.