Wherever I have lived there is always a bit of a local mythology about things that go bump in the night. Now that I live in Maryland one of its most famous sons Edgar Allan Poe is a source of pride and inspiration especially as Halloween approaches. One of the more unique celebrations of Poe’s life was practiced for over seventy years. The tradition of the Poe Toaster who would show up at the gravesite in the early morning hours of January 19, Poe’s birthday. The Poe Toaster was dressed all in black with their face covered by a scarf carrying a cane. The Poe Toaster would lay three roses on the grave and pour a glass of Martell cognac raise a silent toast and leave the unfinished bottle next to the roses. The tradition started sometime in the 1930’s and ended in 2009 on the bicentennial of Poe’s birth.
David Frossard the creative director at Frapin Perfumes had heard of this tradition and wanted to make a perfume as a homage to this. The perfumer he chose to work with is Anne-Sophie Behaghel. The result is the new release Frapin Nevermore. Mme Behaghel was going to be the right choice for this because as I read her bio on the Flair website it starts with, “I was born in Paris with the all-pervasive smell of concrete and the Metro in my nostrils.” It serves her well as she evokes a chilly night in a graveyard of concrete grave markers with roses and alcohol added in.
Mme Behaghel sets the stage of a January early morning as she takes a combination of ozonics, aldehydes, and black pepper to create a frozen concrete accord. This is a bit of fragrant scene setting but it might be my favorite part of Nevermore. There is an almost frozen density to the opening moments. Next the roses come out to play as she mixes Rose de Mai and Damask Rose with a rose essential oil. The figurative three roses laid on the grave. As a perfume these three rose sources are blended into a heady middle stanza. As if the rose wasn’t enough Mme Behaghel dunks them in wine. I think this is an excellent choice because if she went with the cognac I think it might not have been as well balanced. The wine adds a deep ruby foundation for the roses to float upon. Now it is time for the Poe Toaster to make his escape and they do so in a swirl of ambrox, saffron, and cedar.
Nevermore has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Nevermore is a fascinating perfume which manages to straddle a line between unabashedly old fashioned and completely modern. The opening accord could be used for an urban jungle perfume and along with the ambrox in the base that makes Nevermore seem contemporary. The wine and roses in the heart seem to hearken back to a day when those ingredients were the stuff of civility and refinement. All together Mme Behaghel makes Nevermore a fascinating study in perfumed storytelling. I think Poe would approve.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I purchased.
For those of us who love niche perfume we have to be hopeful that the number of people interested in it continues to grow over time. For most who fall down the rabbit hole of artistic perfumery it happens through being introduced to the world from an avid perfume lover who will share. Or you might stumble across a boutique carrying brands you’ve never heard of and fall in love with one. That way requires expansion through word of mouth or chance. Over the past few years we have seen niche brands expand outward by ingenious partnerships with other more populist brands. Sephora has begun to offer some niche brands on their fragrance shelves again. The hard thing is that sometimes making the jump to something so different, from the mainstream, is a big leap. Sometimes it seems like if there was a bit of an intermediate step offered it might help make the transition a bit easier.
I had this exact conversation with Roberto Drago who is well-known in niche circles as the creative director of Laboratorio Olfattivo. Sig. Drago is well aware that having a line of perfumes which can be seen as transitional would be good for business. Towards that end he has a line, he also creative directs, which attempts to do that called Jacques Zolty. These are meant to be easily worn fragrances which show much of what makes niche perfume interesting without becoming so complex as to be aloof. One of the most recent releases for this line has straddled this line brilliantly and is called Van-Ile.
Vanilla is an ideal focal point for a perfume trying to complete this delicate kind of balancing act. Vanilla is a comforting familiar component to most who wear mainstream perfumes. Sig. Drago asked perfumer Cecile Zarokian to be the one to realize this. Mme Zarokian does a wonderful job of balancing this so that it carries widespread appeal to the longtime niche perfume lover and the person deciding to give something new a try.
Van-Ile is a very simple structure which opens with the figurative perfume version of “once upon a time” as citrus in the form of orange is what you encounter first. As Van-ile proceeds into the heart it uses jasmine as a safe haven but here is where Mme Zarokian offers a little something more as a nutty almond adds a toasty quality to the floral notes. It also is a great note to usher in the vanilla. The vanilla here is that of the vanilla orchid. Which means besides the immediately recognizable sweet vanilla there are also green flares throughout. Some oakmoss picks up and accentuates those green moments. It all finishes in a safe patchouli foundation.
Van-Ile last 8-10 hours with average sillage.
Van-Ile does exactly what it sets out to do as Mme Zarokian mixes the common with just a bit of uncommon. It allows someone who is familiar with mainstream perfumes to take a slight step towards the world of niche. For me I enjoy it for the simple good-natured companion it can be for a day of running errands because even someone who wears as much perfume as I do likes something a little less challenging once in a while.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Jacques Zolty at Pitti Fragranze.
There is no collection in perfumery which more fully captures my attention than the Hermessences. Composed by Hermes in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena these deceptively simple constructs have been called everything from perfumed haiku to olfactory watercolors. Without looking back I’ve probably used these terms to describe these perfumes as well. It is an unsatisfactory way to capture the beauty of the best of the Hermessence entries. When they work it provides some of the most heartbreakingly beautiful moments in all of olfactory art. The most recent release Cuir D’Ange is one of the best in the collection.
Cuir D’Ange translates to Angel’s Leather and it was inspired by a visit M. Ellena made to the vault where the leather used to make Hermes accessories is stored. This visit was made in 2004 when he first came on-board as in-house nose. He knew as he walked amidst the stacks of tanned skins he wanted to capture this essence. One of the things that makes capturing a specific leather essence is the perfumer has to create a leather accord as there is no single note which mimics leather. Most often the components of a leather accord are deep heavy things like birch tar as it was for the classic leathers of the early 20th century. For Cuir D’Ange M. Ellena found a fusion of floral notes to complement his leather accord which makes it smell as if it is a Hermes purse or wallet which has been handled by a woman wearing the most delicate floral perfume.
M. Ellena uses hawthorn as his top note in Cuir D’Ange. Hawthorn is one of my favorite ingredients when used well as it imparts an indolic component along with the floral character. It is a great choice to start with as the indoles stick to the leather template which is also present from the first moments. The leather accord is that of a supple soft leather which smells of opulence. It is by turns dry and then voluptuous. In the early going it the dry aspect which matches up with the hawthorn. Then like the named angel unfurling its wings heliotrope arrives and Cuir D’Ange takes wing. The faux violet nature of heliotrope is perfect as it lifts the leather up and makes it feel luxurious, as a Hermes leather should feel. The final ingredient is a musk which evokes the smell of sun warmed skin. It is an especially apt finishing note as it becomes a duet of processed skin and living skin. It may sound a bit macabre but it is a fascinating study as it lingers on your skin.
Cuir D’Ange has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
One of the things which allows the Hermessence line to stand out is not just the construction but how M. Ellena is able to take a relatively few notes and be so expansive. Cuir D’Ange might be the most successful of all in this collection at providing transitional grace notes. Despite the notes I describe above each of those notes carries subtle undertones and at different points you will get a hint of iris or a suspicion of almonds. Cuir D’Ange is a perfume which allows all of my senses to soar to new heights.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by the Hermes boutique in Vienna, VA.
When it comes to designer perfumes on display in the department stores I have found that the ones with clear connections to the brand on the label are the most successful. The Italian leather luxury goods brand Bottega Veneta has flourished under the brand and creative direction of Tomas Maier. Starting in 2001 he turned Bottega Veneta into a complete luxury goods enterprise. This would finally spread to perfume with the release of 2011’s Bottega Veneta. That was one of the best designer perfumes released that year and in the five successive releases since then it has become clear that Bottega Veneta is going to make as big an impact in fragrance as they do in purses.
The most recent release is Bottega Veneta Knot. It is inspired by the line of clutches which have a knot clasp on top. Perfumer Daniela Andrier has created an olfactory Gordian Knot in which she takes four exquisitely constructed accords and brings them together in an orange blossom focused creation that almost seems a bit too edgy for the department store.
The first accord from Mme Andrier is that freshly washed linen evocation. It is comprised of aldehydes and lavender. The aldehydes give that hint of the remains of the detergent used to wash the linen. The lavender adds a crispness to it all with a green tint. The orange blossom arrives on a stiff sea breeze as Mme Andrier uses mandarin to usher in the orange blossom over the top of the ozonic cascade used to mimic the sea spray. This is the cleaned up version of orange blossom. Mme Andrier lets it linger for a short while before adding what she calls a mothballs accord of cedar and indoles. The indoles in particular serve to add a lot of depth to the orange blossom and the cedar frames it. Despite the suggestion of mothballs I mostly get a full spectrum orange blossom. The remaining accord is focused on peony which is supported by a foundation of rose and tonka.
Bottega Veneta Knot has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Mme Andrier has captured the texture of the woven nature of a Bottega Veneta purse as each of the accords acts as its own strip of material to be woven tightly with the others. Most mainstream releases do not have this level of texture and intricacy to them. When I think back to the ones which do it seems like Mme Andrier has also been behind those as well. Bottega Veneta Knot is one of the finest designer releases of the year and an excellent reason to visit the department store fragrance counter.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Bottega Veneta.
One of the first Tom Ford Private Blend perfumes released in 2007 was Amber Absolu. For many, including myself, it is one of the best entries of the Private Blend collection. By giving perfumer Christophe Laudamiel the direction to create a study in amber creative directors Tom Ford and Karen Khoury would repeat this starting with Oud Wood. The latest release, Patchouli Absolu, is another exploration of one of the most used notes in all of perfumery.
For this they turned to the same perfumer behind Oud Wood Richard Herpin. What made Oud Wood work so well was M. Herpin’s ability to surround oud with a set of notes not containing rose which allowed the full versatility of this, at the time, unusual perfume note to be displayed. With Patchouli Absolu his job is much different as he has to take a note probably every person who has any interest in fragrance is familiar with and make it different. He accomplishes this by making a refined version of patchouli. You could even say it is a patchouli which has been to a Tom Ford Men’s Store and fitted for a tux. It has the power you are familiar with but it is now refined and elegant as well.
One of the ways M. Herpin does this is by using patchouli flower as one of his top notes. Patchouli comes from extraction of the leaves and the flower is not used very often because it is a more ephemeral version of what you get from the leaves. M. Herpin can do this because he matches it with a new aromachemical called Clearwood from Firmenich. Clearwood comes from a fermentation of sugar cane. Firmenich describes clearwood as a “Soft, clean version of patchouli without the earthy, leathery, and rubbery notes found in the natural oil.” It is this clearer version of patchouli which allows the patchouli flower to add back the parts that are missing but with a degree of subtlety. This opening sets the tone for the rest of the development as this patchouli is tamed. Even when after an herbal intermezzo of bay and rosemary the patchouli which comes from the leaves arrives it is also more controlled in every way like the man who has his name on the bottle. The base segues into a leather and woods finish surrounding the patchouli in a luxurious frame.
Patchouli Absolu has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
The funny thing about Patchouli Absolu is when you try it at first it seems very simple, maybe too simple, especially on a mouillette. I really didn’t find Patchouli Absolu compelling until I wore it. Once it was on my skin it became more expansive exponentially. On the strip is was all closed up; on my skin the very intricate opening truly comes to life. The use of Clearwood was a very smart choice by M. Herpin and it really showed once I was wearing it. Patchouli Absolu is a Tom Ford patchouli and that gives it a degree of luxury this ubiquitous note rarely finds.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.
It is no secret that one of my favorite fragrance categories is incense fragrances. One of my favorite perfumers within that category is Bertrand Duchaufour. As I recounted in Perfumer Rewind from 2002-2007 I called him The High Priest of Resins for his facility with all kinds of incense notes. After that article was published I received an e-mail letting me know M. Duchaufour was returning to his resinous roots for an upcoming new perfume which would have a higher concentration of incense than any that came before. Often more is better but sometimes more is just too much. With M. Duchaufour at the helm the new release Aedes de Venustas Copal Azur reveals, in the hands of the master insense perfumer, more is just a new kind of beauty realized.
Karl Bradl (l.) and Robert Gerstner
Aedes de Venstas is the line from the perfume store of the same name in New York City. Owners Karl Bradl and Robert Gerstner have been the creative directors for three previous fragrances. They return to working with M. Duchaufour who was the perfumer behind the first Aedes de Venustas perfume in this collection. They clearly felt that M. Duchaufour could bring something new to the incense perfume. One of the new things for M. Duchaufour was to work with a new incense source, copal. Copal comes primarily from Central America where it was used as an indigenous incense source during pre-Columbian times. It is also a component in some varnishes. M. Duchaufour had to be careful in how he used it in Copal Azur because if he used too much he would risk it smelling like varnish. He did not disappoint as he incorporated the new resin into his existing arsenal of resins.
Copal Azur starts with a bit of an oceanic aspect as a mix of salt and ozone evoke a turbulent ocean. The copal comes next and it has a bit of a sharper edge to it than other incense sources. I think if this had gone much higher in concentration it might have been unpleasant. In Copal Azur it just sets the stage for frankincense to match it with its own slightly metallic nature that all fine frankincense seems to have. Cardamom and patchouli add some levity to the incense action. The base is the sweetness of myrrh matched with tonka and amber. The myrrh elides away the rough edges and takes Copal Azur deeper and softer. The final phase of Copal Azur is almost a study in the contrast of strength and softness. Whenever Copal Azur reached the late stages of development I always felt it culminated in a full spectrum incense accord.
Copal Azur has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
It was a pleasure having M. Duchaufour return to that with which he was so successful with and create another perfume that is amazing. Copal Azur is a perfume for incense lovers which delivers it with an unmatched power.
Disclsoure: This review was based on a sample provided by Aedes de Venustas at Pitti Fragranze.
True androgyny, the combination of masculine and feminine characteristics, is not an easy thing to pull off without becoming caricature. In music David Bowie, Grace Slick, Annie Lennox, and Lady Gaga exemplify this. In perfumery this concept has been less adroitly realized. If you are going to try and do this rose would not be the first focal point I might consider as a candidate. Which goes to show why I review perfumes and don’t make them. Creative Directors Elise Juarros and Rosa Vaia of Coquillete Paris have decided rose is the perfect place to start with to make an androgynous perfume. Tudor is the result of this effort.
Rosa Vaia (l.) and Elise Juarros
One of the hall marks of the first five perfumes from Coquillete Paris was their easy affability while wearing them. I had compared them to your favorite t-shirt and jeans when reviewing them in the past. For this sixth fragrance Tudor does not show that easy going nature. On the website there is a proverb which reads, “The rose falls, the thorns remain.” This is a good description of Tudor as it is more stem and thorn than bloom which is because there is no actual rose in the perfume.
Tudor opens with the green stemminess in place courtesy of geranium and muguet. The geranium also supplies some of the rose nuance. The heart goes for more rose that is not a rose with rosewood supplying the rosiness. There is also a fabulously pungent soil accord which further advances the concept it is about everything but the bloom. The base is a richly resinous mix of benzoin, labdanum, and ambergris. It is sweetened with a hint of vanilla but this stays tilted towards the warm side for the final moments.
Tudor has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I was surprised that Tudor was so different than the previous five perfumes in the collection. I was told at Pitti Fragranze that Tudor is meant to be a conclusion to this original collection. I was also told it contains at least one note in common with the previous five perfumes to make it a fitting capstone to the fragrant story. I said at the beginning that androgyny in perfumery is hard; based on Tudor it may be easier than I think.
Disclsoure: This review was based on a sample from Coquillete Paris provided at Pitti Fragranze.
The weather is cooling off here as the calendar flips to mid-October. This generally triggers the grand migration of my warm-weather scents to the back of the shelf as the bigger bolder cold-weather perfumes move forward. It is at this point in the year I bid au revoir to my citrus perfumes. Almost all of my favorites do not do well underneath sweaters and scarves. There are mornings where I look at them but I know they are waiting for a warmer day. I have always wanted a citrus perfume which would be able to stand up and be counted in the chill of the fall. When I was at Pitti Fragranze I discovered a new line, to me, and the winter citrus I’ve been looking for in Peccato Originale Antidoto.
As a medicinal chemist the Peccato Originale display caught my eye because it had a lot of the old pharmaceutical accoutrements used to treat patients about a hundred years ago. Creative Director Silvia Monti’s family has owned a chemist’s shop for generations. From that inspiration she designed Peccato Originale to be a fragrant medicine, “something that goes beyond its function, it becomes an emotional support, a traveling companion that, sometimes, stays at your side for a lifetime.” Sig.ra Monti has released four fragrances to date Antidoto is one of the two newest releases.
When I was being introduced to the line and we came to Antidoto I was told that this was a citrus that would last longer than any I have tried. I’ve heard that before and after a few hours the proof is no longer on my skin. It was explained to me before spraying it on that Sig.ra Monti wanted Antidoto to be a potent antidote and to jump start the internal systems. Once I sprayed a bit of Antidoto on my skin my internal clock started ticking. Twelve hours later it was still going strong. In fact the citrus in Antidoto goes so strong the heart and base notes of mate tea and rum have a difficult time making themselves known.
The citrus bouquet of Antidoto is made up of petitgrain, lemon, mandarin, and grapefruit. All are present in overdose and then the note which helps knit them together and make them last for a long time is a high percentage of hedione. The jasmine quality of hedione acts as a fixative to the top notes and allows them to elongate their presence over many hours. The other note in the top accord is a great green cardamom. That cardamom, hours into the development, will help delineate the mate tea as it forces its way into perception. Another couple of hours later a rich dark rum accord finishes this off. Even throughout the mate and rum drydown the citrus notes dance like fireflies on top of the heavier notes.
Antidoto has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Antidoto is a fascinating perfume to wear because of this elongated development. It makes it seem like I had applied different perfumes throughout the day. Fresh citrus then green tea and citrus finally a rum cocktail with a twist of citrus. Every time I wore Antidoto it lived up to its name as it was the antidote to my dilemma of being able to wear a citrus perfume in the colder weather.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Peccato Originale at Pitti Fragranze.
It is funny but at the time I didn’t recall 2004-2005 as being an especially auspicious year for independent perfumery. It is only as 2014 has moved along and a number of our best, and most established, independent perfumers are celebrating ten years, or so, that I missed noticing the convergence of the class of 2005. Perfumer Olivier Durbano was one of those who did leave an impression when he released his first perfume Rock Crystal back then. I say this often but one of the pleasures of having been around at the beginning makes the moment when they create something transcendent all the more enjoyable. M. Durbano’s tenth perfume Promethee is a moment of fire-kissed transcendence.
When I reviewed last year’s Lapis Philosophorum I mentioned that M. Durbano being able to interpret from myth versus the reality of stone freed him to be especially creative. Promethee shows even more of the creativity that was on display in that fragrance. M. Durbano wanted to capture the myth of Prometheus and his tricking Zeus while regaining fire for humanity. Prometheus would pay a price for this betrayal by being shackled to a rock while attacked by an eagle while his immortality kept him alive. Eventually Hercules would free him. M. Durbano chooses his keynotes and accords to re-tell the story in perfumed form. Prometheus used a stalk of fennel to capture the flame from Zeus. That forms the core of the top notes. M. Durbano’s near-trademark mineral accord evokes the years of imprisonment chained to the rock. The smell of the woods in the forest reveals the smell of the freedom to walk amongst the trees once again.
M. Durbano opens Promethee with a stalk of fennel glowing softly with the banked fire of spices. Sage, pink pepper, nutmeg, and fenugreek add an herbal flame atop the fennel. The fennel along with the fenugreek provide a strongly anisic character which the herbs and spices complement perfectly. The heart is the olibanum based mineral accord M. Durbano has used in the past. This time he allows the accord to represent the weight of the rock Prometheus is chained to. In the other perfumes this has appeared in it is often a foundation for other notes. In Promethee the mineral accord is made more prominent and it gives it weight. I have always admired this particular accord, in the past, but by using it so boldly it makes me appreciate it even more. The base notes form a forest walk free of the chains with cedar as the core along with vetiver, labdanum, storax, and lavender absolute. The balsamic facets of storax are the glue which holds the base accord together.
Promethee has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Promethee is the best perfume M. Durbano has ever produced. It is by far his most complex and complete creation. While I can pick apart the various voices in the chorus Promethee succeeds so well I really don’t want to make the effort. When I mentioned that the freedom to interpret the mythological freed M. Durbano’s creativity I couldn’t have imagined it would lead to something like this. Promethee is one of the best new perfumes of 2014.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Olivier Durbano at Pitti Fragranze 2014.
Patchouli is one of the most common notes in all of perfumery. It is also one of the most widely-known notes by those who are not interested in perfume because it has been a fragrance associated with hippies and head shops, especially during the 1960’s and 70’s. The latter is an unfortunate association even though it makes it identifiable. I have always embraced the association as one of trying something different. As I’ve been exposed to more and more sources of really outstanding patchouli I have been reminded that the way patchouli became known to western noses was through the silk trade of the 18th and 19th centuries. Because patchouli was thought to be an insect repellent the rare silks were packed with patchouli leaves before being shipped to every royal court in Europe. The scent of patchouli on your silk was as good as a seal of authenticity. The smell of patchouli became associated with the noble classes and royalty during that time.
When I met Laoboratorio Olfattivo creative director Roberto Drago at Pitti Fragranze he spoke to me of wanting to create a patchouli perfume which captured both of these influences. To that end he asked perfumer Cecile Zarokian to create the new Patchouliful from a sketch he had done of a man wearing a crown, Hawaiian shirt, shorts and flip flops sitting on a throne. We laughed and I called it him the King of the Summer of Love. As Sig. Drago and I spoke further he related to me his desire to have a patchouli fragrance which was not so heavy he wanted something which would be as light-hearted as the sketch of his laid-back king. Mme Zarokian has a wonderful habit of listening to the creative directors she works with. She understood what Sig. Drago wanted and delivered a patchouli that is transparent and lilting while still having a real sense of the power of the title note.
Mme Zarokian starts Patchouliful off with a beautifully balanced spicy duet of cinnamon and clove. She keeps them floating on the surface of things and once you see underneath you are greeted by orris, frangipani and the expected patchouli. The clove, in particular, persists into the floral heart. The orris and frangipani form a slightly green floral bouquet. The patchouli is added in such a way that it seems to be playing hide and seek in among the spices and flowers. For quite a while it never seems like the patchouli will gain the upper hand. Later on in the development it does and it lands on a base of cedar, labdanum, and musk. Mme Zarokian leaves the ending as opaque as the middle phase of development was.
Patchouliful has 8-10 hours of longevity and average sillage.
All too often patchouli is used as a powerful presence in a perfume. Patchouliful shows there is also pleasure to be found by dialing back the power and allowing the user to come forward to the patchouli rather than the patchouli coming to them. The delicate hand used by Mme Zarokian to realize Sig. Drago’s vision makes for a memorable patchouli perfume. I have the Hawaiian shirt, short, flip flops and crown; whenever I find my throne Patchouliful will be my coronation day scent.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Laboratorio Olfattivo.