New Perfume Review Amouage Opus VIII- The Light’s Winning

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The Library Collection from Amouage started in 2010 with the release of Opus I-IV and has released a new volume every year since. 2013’s Opus VII was an excursion into darkness which asked a wearer to gaze into the equivalent of an olfactory abyss. It was one of the more fascinating releases of last year because of the introspective nature of going for that level of depth. One of the hallmarks of the Library Collection is that it is a more experimental creative process than the paired “Man & Woman” annual releases of the main Amouage line. Creative Director Christopher Chong has urged the perfumers he has hired to realize his visions to push the limits in their designs. I imagine working for Mr. Chong has to be a fantastic experience as I’m sure there are few creative directors who believe enough in their customers that they will follow anywhere they are taken. Opus VII challenged that with its downward spiral of the heaviest notes in perfumery. For 2014, Opus VIII is the opposite as it glows with a gauzy sunlight although that gauziness is the remnants of some of those dark notes from Opus VII.

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Christopher Chong

The perfumers for Opus VIII are Pierre Negrin who participated with Alberto Morillas on Opus VII and Richard Herpin who is composing his first fragrance for Amouage. M. Negrin also did the exquisitely constructed Interlude Man in 2012. M.Herpin, like M. Morillas, has spent much of his time working on the more commercial side of the business. This sets up an interesting dynamic as these two come together to realize the brief that Mr. Chong asked of them, “an evocative exploration of the subconscious dialogue between illusion and reality.” What this translates to is an incandescent opening of jasmine followed by a transition of light and dark in the heart before the darker notes bring down fragrant twilight.

The opening of Opus VIII is jasmine sambac, ylang ylang, and orange flower. The early going is all about the jasmine, it floats off my skin like a heat mirage. The ylang ylang and orange flower shimmer as energetically but from a more distant perspective. Each is used to enhance a different part of the jasmine, the ylang pulls the sweetness to the foreground while the orange flower adds a slight bump to the indolic heart. Messrs. Negrin and Herpin make this glow like a golden halo. The florals are then subsumed by a wave of saffron, ginger, and incense. The lighter notes of ginger and saffron have a more prominent part of the heart but the incense slowly increases in character until the base notes start to arrive. Bay, benzoin, and balsam signal the lessening of the light. As I said earlier this is a gauzy kind of darkness as it sort of lays a film of these notes over the jasmine, which is still going strong, and its light can’t be put out by these intruders. A solid application of vetiver turns the later phases of Opus VIII distinctly woody but the jasmine still refuses to give way as its glow remains even as darkness threatens to descend.

Opus VIII has overnight, and then some, longevity and above average sillage.

cohle light winning

As I wore Opus VIII over the last week I was reminded of the final line from the recently completed HBO series “True Detective”. After one of the main characters has survived his encounters he talks about the night sky and how there is an awful lot of dark between the light. The other detective replies that everything used to be all black and the existence of the stars show that the light is winning. This is what I thought of as I wore Opus VIII the light at the heart of this fragrance continues to shine even though the black attempts to overwhelm it. Opus VIII is another bright star for both Amouage and The Library Collection.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle of Opus VIII provided by Amouage.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Suleko Albho, Vy Roza, Djelem, and Baba Yaga-Tales of the Russian Woods

When there is a close relation between creative director and perfumer, working in tandem, is often when magic happens. At the recent Elements Showcase I found another example of this thesis to be true. I am a big fan of perfumer Cecile Zarokian and believe 2014 is poised to be a breakout year for her. When I met her at Elements she introduced me to Anastasia Sokolow the owner and creative director of Suleko. Together they told me the story of creating four fragrances to reflect Mme Sokolow’s Russian heritage and one for each season. When I was talking with both of these talented women and hearing their description of each fragrance it struck me how this was a true match of equals. Each brought their passions to bear and together have created a beautiful collection of four special fragrances.

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Anastasia Sokolow

Albho represents winter and the name comes from the Indo-European root for the Russian word for swan, Lebed. The concept for Mme Zarokian was to evoke “strength and power, but at the same time calm and gentleness”. When I tried Albho on a strip at Elements it didn’t show off all of those charms but I had a feeling once I wore it there was a chance I would feel differently. Albho captures the feel of that icy inhalation on a winter’s morning, if it is adjacent to a stand of sentinel pine trees. Mme Zarokian begins with that frigid pairing of mint and eucalyptus. It is vaporous and frosty as the eucalyptus in particular sets the winter milieu. Then a frigid pine note arrives. By framing this pine note in cedar Mme Zarokian makes it feel separate, much as smells in the cold feel detached. The eucalyptus and pine form a winter’s breath accord that lingers for a good while. Eventually one has to warm up and the base notes of benzoin, labdanum, and tolu balm provide the olfactory heat.

Vy Roza comes from Pushkin’s novel, Eugene Onegin where the heroine Tatiana is referred to as “Vy Roza belle Tatiana” (You are a rose, beautiful Tatiana). Vy Roza is meant to evoke spring and it does so be being a “beautiful rose”. Mme Zarokian surrounds the central rose with some other spring-like floral compatriots and finishes back in the woods. The opening of Vy Roza takes lilac and muguet which form a slightly green very fresh floral duet. The rose combusts to life like a phoenix rising as it takes over and dominates. Vy Roza ends with a series of woody notes but it takes hours before you notice anything but the rose.

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Cecile Zarokian

Djelem refers to the name of the song which became the anthem of the Gypsies in 1971. Mme Sokolow wanted the fragrance to capture all of the freedom loving proud impulsive pride of the gypsy spirit. To do this Mme Zarokian created a fragrance which captures a summer night around a gypsy fire. As you sit down you smell the hay field around you freshly threshed. Then the music of spicy carnation is deepened even further with cloves and made slightly sweet with a bit of immortelle as it begins to swirl around. The base is the ambery warmth of the fire as only glowing embers are left. Djelem seems as persistently variable as a gypsy song, at turns joyous and solemn. It felt like it was in constant motion during both days I wore it.

Baba Yaga is the Russian child’s boogeywoman. She is the witch of the forest, all that makes up the darkness. When I think of storybook witches I think of a swirl of cape with a lot of flying about accompanied with magical gestures. The witches of our dark tales always seem to have a physical power equal to their magical ones. Mme Zarokian captures that feel of power waiting to be unleashed with a gesture and a cackle of glee in Baba Yaga. When I tried this at Elements the kinetic nature of the notes swept me away. Baba Yaga opens with a furious rush of red berries, cinnamon, nutmeg, and pepper. All of these notes seem to orbit and fly past each other as you sense the berries, then the pepper, then the cinnamon, then the nutmeg. Like gathering the strands of a spell that just won’t come together. In the heart a core of darkness arises with a deep patchouli trying to form a focal point as you sense the earth in the dark forest. Finally the base notes of leather, cade, and moss combine to form a powerful completion to this olfactory witches’ brew.

All four Suleko fragrances had above average longevity and above average sillage.

The ceramic sculptures which hold the atomizers for each of these fragrances were designed by sculptors Joelle Fevre and Alain Fichot. They add a very unusual visual element to each of these fragrances.

This collection truly does carry through the thread of Mme Sokolow’s Russian heritage with a seasonal aspect. Mme Zarokian listened carefully and skillfully translated the words into perfume. Baba Yaga is my favorite for all of its kineticism but Albho really runs a close second for all of its chilly charms. Taken together this is another example of creative director and perfumer working together on the same wavelength to produce beautiful olfactory music.

Disclosure: this review was based on sample provided by Suleko at the Elements Showcase.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Providence Perfume Co. Samarinda- On Nose Across Borneo

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One of my favorite books is Eric Hansen’s “Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo”. In the book Mr. Hansen describes his eight months of crossing the large Island of Borneo back and forth. Throughout the book his experiences with the indigenous Penan people who were his companions on his trek through the dense rainforest added a wonderfully distinct contrast to the modern civilized way of life. After reading the book I worried that the pace of modern expansion would destroy the more primitive civilization that was happily flourishing without the rest of the world interfering. Mr. Hansen painted a vivid portrait of his surroundings and often I felt I could feel the humidity and smell the jungle, which of course I couldn’t.

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Charna Ethier

Perfumer Charna Ethier of Providence Perfume Co. has also been inspired by Borneo for her latest release Samarinda. Samarinda is the capital city of the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan. Borneo also contains two Malaysian states, Sabah and Sarawak along with the tiny sovereign state of Brunei. The slow creep of deforestation described in 1988 by Mr. Hansen has continued apace and Ms. Ethier is donating 5% of all proceeds to the World Wildlife Fund for the protection of the indigenous and endangered species in Borneo.

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Choya Distillation Vessels

Samarinda continues a trend in Ms. Ethier’s perfumery begun with 2012’s Moss Gown and continued with last year’s Branch & Vine. She has dramatically expanded her palette of notes to work with and during that expansion she is taking thoughtful time with each of these unusual notes to bring out the best in them. For Samarinda the unusual note is Choya Nakh which is the smell of roasted seashells. If you’ve ever walked a beach which has a lot of shells drying in the heat of the day you know what this smells like. It can be overwhelming and in less assured hands it would have thrown everything out of balance. Ms. Ethier knows what effect she wants and spent a year on Samarinda perfecting it.

Samarinda opens right away with a lush intensity as a full juicy orange, sheer piquant pink peppercorn, and a cardamom made rawer by the pink peppercorn so it is less smooth and more unrefined. This is how we enter Ms. Ethier’s trek into Borneo. A combination of heliotrope, carnation, and orange blossom advance the tropical vibe but there was a hint of sun scorched earth underneath and that must be from the coffee note listed. I can’t distinctly pick it out but it is the only thing that could be responsible for it. This is the smell of tropical flower garden but it also carried a bit of humid weight as well. It is high noon in the rainforest heady and beautiful. The base is where the Choya Nakh comes in as we leave the jungle behind and walk towards the ocean. The floral part of the jungle is over our shoulder, not gone just diminished. Now a scotch leather layover and rum ether add a bit of boozy diffusion while vanilla and a tincture of jasmine rice add a soupcon of ethnic food to everything. Underneath all of this is the Choya Nakh as an exotic underpinning precisely balanced with everything else. It is the signature note to tie this entire olfactory journey together.

Samarinda has all-day longevity and average sillage.

Ms. Ethier is becoming one of those perfumers for whom I can’t wait to see what is next. There is a dedication on her part to composing with the outliers in the pantheon of notes. Like playing with the less used colors in a big box of Crayola crayons. What she is slowly gathering is a signature style combining exploration and artistry into completely unique fragrances. Samarinda is as good, and maybe better, than Moss Gown; time will tell. What I do know is I will go anywhere with my nose that Ms. Ethier wants to lead me.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Providence Perfume Co.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Byredo Flowerhead- A Fruity Floral Indian Wedding

As we move into March you begin to feel like winter is on the run and just up ahead is spring. Along with spring comes the new floral perfume releases. For a spring floral to resonate with me it has to have a great amount of sheer floral quality. I want a lot of flowers but I don’t want to be consumed by them. Insert “Little Shop of Horrors” joke here. I want my spring florals to mimic that moment when I step out and it feels like everything is blooming. Last March perfumer Jerome Epinette provided that for me with his lily of the valley creation for Byredo called Inflorescence. Now one year later he is following that up with another amazing spring floral for Byredo called Flowerhead and this time the central note is jasmine sambac.

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Ben Gorham

Ben Gorham is the owner and Creative Director at Byredo and he wanted Flowerhead to speak to his mother’s, and his, Indian heritage. According to an interview in Cosmetics Business he related the story of giving his cousin away at a traditional Indian wedding. This is what he said he wanted Flowerhead to represent, “This fragrance was about capturing that idea of an Indian bride, rather than just the wedding and I called it Flowerhead, because it was really the fictional memory that I can imagine from my own Indian wedding. The idea of marrying someone you don't know was very interesting. There's anxiety and excitement. And I described this person as a 'flowerhead', because the bride is completely covered in floral hair arrangements.” Flowerhead captures that sense of heady anticipation as you cover yourself in floral garlands of jasmine, rose, and tuberose.

Jerome-Epinette

Jerome Epinette

M. Epinette starts Flowerhead off with a tart combination of lemon, cranberry, and ligonberry. Citrus and berries is not unusual fruity floral territory; these three notes together are. They provide a lip puckering pop to the initial moments that I wish would last a little longer, but we have a wedding to get to. Now M. Epinette starts adding the floral lei to Flowerhead. The jasmine sambac is the star of the perfume and it is a complete jasmine fully displaying its indolic nature. With all of that the skank is more hinted at than allowed to become too pronounced. Part of the reason is the other two lei of rose and, in particular, tuberose amplify the sweeter floral nature. The indoles add depth and hint at the bride underneath all of the flowers. The base of Flowerhead sneaks up on you with a soft suede leather and an even softer and warmer amber. Together they add a refined filigree to the base notes to go with all of the fruity floral pyrotechnics previously.

Flowerhead has all-day longevity and above average sillage.

Like most I look to the return of the robins and the appearance of green buds on the trees to let me know spring is here. Now, for the second year in a row M. Epinette has provided another signal for me to look for as Flowerhead is a perfect perfume for new beginnings.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I received from Barney’s New York.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Martin Margiela Replica Jazz Club

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Maison Martin Margiela was late to the designer perfume game but under the Creative Direction of Karine Lebret and Pauline Zanoni they have built steadily upon the foundation provided by perfumer Daniela Andrier’s brilliant Untitled in 2010. In the summer of 2012 they began the Replica series where the idea is to capture a specific place and time. Each label carries the information that the perfumer is trying to capture. The first three, Beach Walk, Flower Market, and Funfair Evening; were the work of Jacques Cavallier and Marie Salamagne. My favorite of that first collection was Funfair Evening which was meant to capture a Santa Monica, California evening at a summer fair in 1994. It did a really nice job at capturing the smells of the carnival; candy apples along with sweet and sultry accords capture the humidity of the evening. I really liked the attempt to try and stay true to the source material.

I just received my samples of the newest set of three Replicas, Lazy Sunday Mornings, Promenade in the Gardens and Jazz Club. Much like the first three all of them are pretty good but one really stands out for me and that one is Jazz Club.

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Alienor Massenet

Replica Jazz Club is signed by Alienor Massenet who is familiar to many as the de facto in-house nose for Memo Paris. For Jazz Club the place and time on the box is Brooklyn 2013. The label also describes the fragrance as a combination of “Heady cocktails and cigars”. Despite the non-smoking rules which persist across the US the idea of the smoky jazz club remains and while I think a Brooklyn club in 2013 would be smoke free with nary a cigar in sight; Mme Massenet’s choice to base Jazz Club on the twin pillars of booze and tobacco works very well.

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Jazz Club opens on a strong brilliant riff of pink peppercorns with lemon and neroli. The citrus is like the glint off the bell of a trumpet under the spotlight and the peppercorns are the blare of that opening trumpet’s first sounds. It captures your attention and it carries you to the bar for Mme Massenet’s olfactory craft cocktail wherein she adds clary sage to a rich dark rum accord and garnishes it with green vetiver. There is an almost mentholated quality which overlays the depth of the rum accord and it is another piece of brightness continued from the top notes. Finally we take up a cigar and roll it between our fingers and run it under our nose. The narcotic richness of tobacco leaves is front and center. Styrax and vanilla accentuate the sweeter qualities of that tobacco leaf. The final phases of Jazz club is the promised combination of cocktails and cigars without any of the deleterious health effects.

Replica Jazz Club has overnight longevity and above average sillage.

Replica Jazz Club is one of the best new designer offerings of the last few years. Mme Massenet paints a perfect picture of a night in a jazz joint enjoying the fine music, alcohol, and cigars. It accentuates the fun of that kind of evening perfectly.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample purchased from The Perfumed Court.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Parfumerie Generale PG 26 Isparta- Portrait of Pierre?

It has been almost two years since Pierre Guillaume has released anything new for his Parfumerie Generale line. The early part of 2014 has seen four new releases. The three new reimaginings of his early fragrances PG 02 Coze, PG 03 Cuir Venenum, and PG 06 L’Eau Rare Matale which have turned into PG 2.1 Coze Verde, PG 3.1 Arabian Horse, and PG 6.1 Vetiver Matale. These three fragrances are interesting exercises in variation but I found I preferred the original over the newer versions. They have enough of the structure of the earlier with minor variations that expose interesting aspects of the perfumes but nothing truly exciting sprung out and so I was left hoping for something more stirring from his new release PG 26 Isparta.

Rose Pickers, Isparta, Turkey

Rose Harvesting in Isparta

Isparta is the name of the province in Turkey where the rose oil from “Isparta Summer Roses” is produced. The rose oil produced is said to be “intense, rich, slightly spicy” due to harvesting in the morning before they have reached full bloom. Personally I prefer the Turkish or Moroccan rose because of that slightly spicy quality it brings to a fragrance along with the more familiar rose floralcy. M. Guillaume also likes contrasting what has come previously within the Parfumerie Generale collection. The other previous rose-centric fragrance PG 13 Brulure de Rose was the more refined rose one finds more prominently in perfumery. Brulure de Rose was a sunnier rose allowed to blossom in the midday sun accompanied by raspberry and M. Guillaume’s signature gourmand notes of cocoa and vanilla. Isparta is the rose cut off in its prime with its potential needing a bit of energy to release it. In Isparta that energy comes, again, from raspberry. It seems a number of perfumers have discovered this combination of raspberry and Turkish rose, Frederic Malle’s Portrait of a Lady by Dominique Ropion being the best example. Isparta shares some of the same early beats of that as the rose and berry combination is ascendant but Isparta goes for a more sheer effect over the rest of its development as the resinous suite of notes paired with oud and patchouli are precisely applied to keep Isparta sotto voce all the way.

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Pierre Guillaume

Isparta opens with that raspberry and rose duet; the juiciness of the berries along with the spicier quality of the rose seem like perfect complements. The piquancy is blunted by the sweet and the sweet is reined in by the spiciness allowing for the floral component to have a little more prominence. A bit of calamus adds a tiny bit of green to the early moments but it is more of a grace note than a note. The heart is a resinous coffee klatch of peru balsam, benzoin, and incense. They serve to add a dryness to the opening accord and they also seem to serve as restraint from keeping that roseberry accord from becoming too overwhelming. The resins hold their own until the base notes of oud and patchouli take their place and usher the rose into its final phase. As I keep saying it feels like this should be overwhelming and intense with these kind of raw materials but M. Guillaume has found a way to keep it much much sprightlier than this note list should have produced.

Isparta has all-day longevity and average sillage.

Some are going to call Isparta “Portrait of a Lady 0.1” and that would be the easy interpretation especially based on the top notes. It is the rest of the journey in Isparta which truly shows how different it is. This also feels like a natural aesthetic progression for M. Guillaume which I think began with PG 24 Papyrus de Ciane and has continued in PG 25 Indochine and PG 22 Djhenne. That perhaps makes PG 26 Isparta the complete portrait of Pierre Guillaume.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample purchased from Surrender to Chance.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Bellegance Midnight Promise- Sniffapalooza Crowdsourciing

One of the best things about the biannual event put on by Karen Dubin and Karen Adams (aka The Karens) called Sniffapalooza is the bringing together of fragrance fans from all over the world. Through the course of the weekend event there are three meals where you share a table with, usually, somebody you haven’t met before. I have had the pleasure of having the beginnings of many of my favorite, and long lasting, fragrant relationships begin at Sniffapalooza. It seems like almost everything has sprung up from these gatherings except fragrance. That has all changed with the release of Bellegance Midnight Promise.

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Carmen Schaye(l.) & Karen Dubin at Sniffapalooza Fall Ball 2013

At Sniffapalooza husband and wife Gordon & Carmen Schaye began talking with Ms. Dubin and from those discussions they decided they wanted to make a fragrance. Ms. Schaye wanted to create a team of talented women to make a fragrance to celebrate women. Ms. Dubin asked perfumer Sarah Horowitz-Thran to join and to complete the Fantastic Four of Bellegance, Ping Li would design the flacon. During the process of designing Midnight Promise they would return to Sniffapalooza and ask the group to pick their favorite from a number of preliminary mods. In October of 2013 the process was finished and Bellegance Midnight Promise was premiered at Sniffapalooza to bring things full circle. While this isn’t exactly an example of crowdsourcing Midnight Promise feels like it has had a lot of midwives on its way to the perfume counter.

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Sarah Horowitz-Thran (l.) & Karen Dubin at Sniffapalooza Fall Ball 2013

Ms. Horowitz-Thran starts Midnight Promise with a wonderfully chosen duo of mandarin coated in cinnamon. Cinnamon has a sweet spiciness which is complemented by the sweeter citrus of the mandarin. Ms. Horowitz finds a nice balance and, as top notes go, Midnight Promise holds that chord a little longer than most fragrances. A rose damascene holds the heart and it picks up the cinnamon as a running mate as the mandarin fades. Moroccan rose often has a slightly enhanced spicy character and the cinnamon enhances it. The base is a panoply of warm comforting notes as incense, sandalwood, vanilla, patchouli, and amber weave a figurative woolen scarf to pull tight around you for soft warmth.

Midnight Promise has six-eight hour longevity and above average sillage.

For those who have followed Ms. Horowitz-Thran’s previous fragrances Midnight Promise feels like a more luxurious and intimate version of her Love Comes from Within. There are significant differences but the spice/rose/warm progression is the same. If you’ve never tried Ms. Horowitz-Thran’s fragrances this is a great place to start as she has become one of the more reliable American independent perfumers.

Every Sniffapalooza holds promise in the form of finding a new fragrance or a new friend or coming up with a great idea. Bellegance Midnight Promise is the culmination of all that potential into a great new perfume.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Bellegance Perfumes.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Roja Parfums Nuwa- Chypre Redux

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Roja Dove is a tireless ambassador for all things fragrance. For over thirty years he has promoted the beauty of fragrance. He often tells the story of his mother kissing him goodnight, prior to going out for the evening, dressed in her cocktail dress and the sillage of her fragrance remaining in his room long after she left, comforting him. Over the last few years as he has produced his own line I always get the feeling he is attempting to make fragrance which will leave a lasting impression, too. The newest Roja Parfums Nuwa is Mr. Dove’s aesthetic writ large with supreme confidence.

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Roja Dove at Osswald Zurich

Mr. Dove’s beginnings were from 1981-2001 as Global Ambassador for Guerlain. He was immersed in what it meant to be Guerlain even without the surname. As I have experienced his own line, Roja Parfums, there are times you feel that it is Mr. Dove who is the standard bearer for interpreting and modernizing the classic perfume styles, arguably, Guerlain created and refined. Never has that felt as apparent to me as it does with Nuwa. Nuwa is a chypre, all in caps followed by multiple exclamation points. It is perfumery not often seen these days, unafraid to push limits and to pay homage to the past while challenging the wearer to embrace change.

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Nuwa Creating Man

The name, Nuwa, comes from multiple ancient Chinese texts where she is alternatively creator, mother, or goddess. In the press booklet Mr. Dove chooses the creator version where she is responsible for creating woman and man along with imbuing them with creativity and wisdom as well as introducing them to the arts. For the fragrance I interpret the name to mean a rebirth of the chypre using the experience and creativity of his lifetime to form a new chypre that feels old and new at the same time.

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Nude Couple by Lucien Clergue (1989)

Nuwa opens on a bergamot and lemon point of light. Enjoy it for the few moments it is there because the light is subsumed by deep notes and accords as Nuwa takes you into a fabulous darkness not for the timid. Rose holds the middle, in the heart, but the pungent blackcurrant bud and the maple syrup-like immortelle pierce the rose like twin blades. The blackcurrant bud takes the spicy facets and turns them a shade of deepest sticky green. The immortelle takes the sweetest floralcy and gives it a tactile depth not usually felt from rose. The heart oozes sensuality and it sets you up for the base which realizes it in carnality. Vetiver and oakmoss setup the classic chypre foundation over which Nuwa lays a lusty leather accord and full doses of cumin, black pepper, and clove. Together they combine to feel like the olfactory version of human consummation. This is what sexy means in a fragrance to me.

Nuwa has overnight longevity and above average sillage.

I think it will be easy to try Nuwa and think it smells like other classic chypres because it does hearken back to the traditional forms that is an all too easy surface impression. If you have the opportunity to spend a few days with it I think you will find the genius on display is not in the broad strokes but in the shading in between. Nuwa is so powerful it is easy to miss these subtleties. Like the goddess it is named after it is what comes after the creation that makes life worth living. Nuwa is everything that makes me love fragrance all over again.   

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Osswald NYC.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Ulrich Lang New York Aperture- Picture Perfect

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There have been a number of multi-disciplinary collaborations between fragrance and another art form. You can name excellent examples for almost any intersection of perfume and visual one can imagine. The most prevalent collaboration is that of photography and perfume. One of the earliest to take advantage of this was Ulrich Lang with his 2003 release Anvers. On the side of the box there was a cropped close-up of a man’s face in black and white. The accompanying fragrance was a thoroughly modern fougere with magnified aspects of that style of fragrance. Over the next three releases the picture on the side of the box would always prepare me, in a visual way, for what was inside.

Olivia Bee Quiet

"Quiet" by Olivia Bee

When I saw the picture, above, by Olivia Bee, as I walked up to the Ulrich Lang New York booth at the February 2014 Elements Showcase I knew the fragrance that could match this photograph would be something interesting. When I got my first sniff of Aperture and looked again at the photo I realized the strip I was smelling was represented by the three distinct color bands in the photograph, The light purple top band is a spicy aldehydic top, the deep orange is represented by the glow of tobacco and the midnight blue is the depth of vetiver. The picture is an overture to the fragrance it accompanies.

The opening fizz of aldehydes is matched with a Technicolor pepper blend of pink pepper, white pepper, and black pepper. Even though three sources of pepper might sound overwhelming it is really a pinch of each to add some further energy to the aldehydes and to attenuate the hairspray character they sometimes have. Tobacco flares to life on a cedar foundation which smolders like a glowing ember in the heart. The base notes collaborate with the tobacco and cedar as vetiver adds its woodiness and for a good while Aperture persists as a smoky vetiver accord. The final touch is to add musk, civet, and ambergris to add further depth to the smoke and wood.

Aperture has all-day longevity and above average sillage.

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Ulrich Lang (Photo: Eric Swain)

Mr. Lang has become more widely known, perhaps, for his founding and expansion of the Elements Showcase. Which sometimes makes it easy to overlook his talent when it comes to his line of perfume. Aperture is the fifth Ulrich Lang New York fragrance and it is the best fragrance from this line to date. That is truly the test, if a perfume house manages to continually rise to new heights with each new release. In the case of Aperture the sky seems to be the limit for Mr. Lang.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I received from Ulrich Lang New York at the Elements Showcase in February 2014.

Mark Behnke

Editor’s Note: A portion of the proceeds of Aperture will go to the Aperture Foundation to support their educational programs.

New Perfume Review Maison Francis Kurkdjian Ciel de Gum- From Russia With Love

With the Winter Olympics from Sochi, Russia seemingly on every channel I feel immersed in Russia and all things Russian. One thing very Russian is the GUM department store which celebrated its 120th anniversary in 2013. For the occasion perfumer Francis Kurkdjian, under his Maison Francis Kurkdjian line, designed a GUM exclusive fragrance in honor of that milestone, Ciel de Gum.

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GUM Building in 1893

Ciel de Gum is another perfumer’s take on what a store’s characteristics are turned into fragrant form. The press materials that go along with this say it is meant to be “a creation worked like haute couture”. I actually thought of it in a different light going back to the beginning of GUM. GUM wasn’t a department store at its beginnings, in 1893, but was instead the GUM building which housed numerous independent stores selling everything a Nineteenth Century fin de siècle shopper could want. GUM at this point was more like a modern shopping mall on three levels than a department store. Ciel de Gum captures a number of the different smells I imagine might have drifted from the different sellers. A bit of spice, some fresh roses or a jasmine scented eau de parfum, some leather goods, a sweet vanilla from a bakery.

francis kurkdjian

Francis Kurkdjian

M. Kurkdjian opens Ciel de Gum with cinnamon and pink pepper which instead of working together to amplify the piquant nature of both instead seems to have the opposite effect. Both the cinnamon and pink pepper seem like they are shadows of their normal self found in many other fragrances. It adds a delicacy to both notes that isn’t normally found. I found it had the effect of drawing me inward until I found something with some more heft to it. In Ciel de Gum that brings you to a duet of jasmine and rose in the heart. The rose is the anchor for the jasmine which is what eventually predominates although early on they are more equal in impact. A leather accord arrives after the florals and eventually it settles down to a beautiful amber warmed vanilla.

Ciel de Gum has all-day longevity and above average sillage.

When it comes to these, in essence city exclusives, I really don’t want to start a desire for most who can’t get access to them. The unfortunate truth is Ciel de Gum is the best Maison Francis Kurkdjian release since 2012’s Oud. It shows all of the best qualities of M. Kurkdjian’s skills as a perfumer. This is so good I waited to write about it until it became available through some of the reputable decant websites. I have been wearing Ciel de Gum on and off for the last six weeks and it is one of those fragrances I think is worth the effort to try especially if you are a fan of M. Kurkdjian’s style of perfumery.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample sent to me from Russia. I have recently bought a decant from Surrender to Chance.

Mark Behnke