My other series on Colognoisseur called Dead Letter Office is all about fragrances which attempted to be different at the wrong time leading to their discontinuation. This month’s Under the Radar is about a perfume which flew in the face of its contemporaries yet found enough of an audience to continue to today; Michael Kors Michael for Men.
As Michael Kors was consolidating his fashion empire in the late 1990’s he would follow in the footsteps of many before him by expanding into fragrance. In 2000 he released Michael Kors a sort of blowsy tuberose nicely executed but not particularly memorable. One year later Michael for Men would be released. In 2001 the department store counters were awash in aquatics. Fresh and clean were what men were buying and they had many choices within that genre. If you wanted something different you weren’t often finding it. If I was expecting different Michael Kors wasn’t necessarily where I would be looking.
Mr. Kors has become one of the faces of American sportswear. His clothing designs are known for their clean lines and precise tailoring. Which might lead one to think a perfume for men would also seek to have clean lines. Mr. Kors had different ideas and in numerous interviews around the launch of Michael for Men he reiterated his desire to make a “statement” perfume which flew in the face of the prevailing trends in men’s perfumes. Working with perfumer Harry Fremont and co-creative director with Camille McDonald they came up with a modern powerhouse centered on a rich tobacco accord.
Michael for Men opens with a rich spicy mélange of cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, anise, tarragon, and thyme. There is some bergamot but it is the spices which lay down a marker that those looking for clean should go elsewhere. This leads to the heart where M. Fremont’s tobacco accord comes to life. This is a narcotic blend of the dried leaf complete with a tinge of nicotine bite. A little incense swirls through the opulence but this is really a heady tobacco. The base is a very herbal patchouli softened with sandalwood.
Michael for Men has 16-18 hour longevity and way above average sillage. Spray too much and you’ll clear a room.
In a sea of aquatic fresh perfumes Michael for Men should have sunk beneath the waves like so many others who also tried the same approach. What I think allowed Michael for Men to succeed was there was no attempt to soften the concept of a modern powerhouse. No opportunity to pull the punch. The creative team doubled down on their belief that this style could succeed. Fifteen years since release it seems as if their instinct has proven correct. It also seems like men’s fragrances have also caught up as this kind of style has plenty of company at the fragrance counter today. It all goes to prove that swimming against the tide isn’t advisable but in some rare cases you can reach the shore safely.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
Great perfumes can be found in some surprising places. If there is one thing I want from this series is to help point out where some of these hidden beauties are to be found. This month’s entry is found at the luxury cosmetics counter of Chantecaille and is called Kalimantan.
Chantecaille was founded by Sylvie Chantecaille in 1997 after she left Estee Lauder where she was responsible for the Prescriptives line of cosmetics there. As part of creating a complete beauty brand fragrance was included right from the start. Frangipane, Tiare, and Wisteria comprised the original collection. Over these early years the cosmetics caught on much more easily than the fragrances did. Mme Chantacaille was not ready to give up and in 1999 Darby Rose was released followed by 2004’s Le Jasmin. I only recently tried a sample of Le Jasmin, which is discontinued. Perfumer Frank Voelkl made an incredibly deep jasmine perfume which is beautiful for the materials he used in designing it. As you can tell Mme Chantecaille was not ready to give up on the perfume side of her brand. In 2010 she collaborated with perfumer Pierre Negrin on three more perfumes; Petales, Vetyver, and Kalimantan. All three are quite good but Kalimantan stands out among the three.
Kalimantan is the Indonesian word for Borneo. It seems like any perfume which refers to Borneo must be a patchouli centered creation. Kalimantan lives up to this. M. Negrin designs a dry patchouli infused with incense and oud. It is powerful perfumery.
M. Negrin opens Kalimantan up with an herbal pair of rosemary and thyme. This very quickly picks up the central note of Indonesian patchouli. With the herbal notes in play that nature of the patchouli is what first comes up. Then as incense and labdanum provide resinous complement the patchouli morphs into something much more austere. It desiccates it. Only to have the oud splinter it into skanky fragments. This is one of the better uses of full throttle oud in a fragrance. It acts as a bit of a battering ram, in a good way; as it unsettles things. A woody foundation of cedar and sandalwood bring it all back together for the final stages.
Kalimantan has 20-24 hour longevity and way above average sillage.
Kalimantan is nothing like any of the other seven perfumes which carried the Chantecaille name. It is why it is so unheralded. If you have a Chantecaille cosmetics counter in a department store near you go and ask for this hidden gem.
Disclsoure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
One of the fun things about having amassed so many bottles of perfume is when I run across a bottle I have not thought about for a while. In the week between the Holidays and the New Year I was doing some rearranging of the perfume vault. While doing this I came across a rank of squat bottles in different shades of color. I smiled and thought to myself, “Ah Costume National I had forgotten about you.” Part of the reason for that is there hasn’t been a new release in eighteen months. Which is a far cry from the beginning of the brand which those bottles I had rediscovered represent.
Costume National was the Italian fashion version of rockstar couture. In 2002 it was riding high as one of the hip new brands. Founded by Ennio Capasa, in 1986, these were the clothes the cool kids were wearing. As they made the move in to fragrance Sig. Capasa was going to also want to make the perfume for those same cool kids. His choice of perfumer was Laurent Bruyere who was also an artist coming into his own in 2002.
Over the next two years Sig. Capasa and M. Bruyere would collaborate on the simply names Scent collection. The five releases: Scent, Scent Intense, Scent Sheer, Scent Gloss, Scent Cool Gloss comprise one of the most coherently designed sets of fragrance I own. Having the chance to look back at them I realized the one which drew me the strongest was the first one, Scent.
The idea behind Scent was to make a radiant floriental. What made it very interesting back in 2002 was the choice of the floral keynote of hibiscus. Hibiscus is an odd floral to work with. It is most well-known in its tea form. M. Bruyere uses that form before introducing us to the flower itself. The transparency with which the hibiscus is presented is what makes Scent as interesting to me.
M. Bruyere opens Scent up with the hibiscus tea with some cardamom added. The hibiscus tea accord has a bit of berry-like tartness. The cardamom provides a bit of the same from the spice rack. The heart is where the hibiscus itself comes out. It has a fairly thin scent profile but what is there is the same sort of snappy floral quality and the aforementioned berry facet. By itself it would be less interesting. M. Bruyere makes sure not to let that happen by using jasmine and rose to supply the depth Mother Nature did not. This is as light as a silk scarf. It is a beautifully realized heart accord. The base accord consists of ambergris, sandalwood, and vanilla. This is kept at the same intensity of what came before which means it is still gauzy and expansive.
Scent has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Over the next four releases in the Scent collection M. Bruyere would further explore the nature of the floral heart accord trying different variations; all of which succeeded to me. After finding the bottles I spent the rest of the day wearing Scent. It made for a day of happiness in my cloud of hibiscus.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
When I look back over a perfumer’s career I look for those years when their creativity comes into full bloom. If pressed to pick the time period where perfumer Olivia Giacobetti reached that level, I would say that 1999-2001 was the moment when she was finding her first peak as a perfumer. Over ten fragrances in that time period she made some of her most memorable perfumes including Editions de Parums Frederic Malle En Passant, L’Artisan Passage D’Enfer, and Hermes Hiris. The one which got lost in this period of creativity was a collaboration with famed French interior designer Andree Putman.
Andree Putman (Photo: Nour El Gammal)
Mme Putman came to her vocation at the age of 46 when she founded Createurs & Industriels where she was free to indulge her desire to “design beautiful things”. She also provided an incubator space for designers among whom were Issey Miyake, Claude Montana, and Thierry Mugler. The idealism of Createurs & Industriels would go bankrupt and she would turn to the world of interior design. When she was commissioned to do the interior of the Morgans Hotel in New York City it would spark a career which would see her design museums, boutiques, government office buildings, and other hotels. One of her last commissions was to revamp the interior of the Guerlain flagship store on the Champs-Elysees in 2005. In 1997 she opened the Andree Putman Studio and branched out into all areas of design including fragrance in 2001.
During this time period Mme Putman was doing a lot of one-of-a-kind design like asymmetric flatware for Christofle or a champagne bucket for Veuve Clicquot. When it came to fragrance she turned to Frederic Malle to help advise her on the creative direction and employed Mme Giacobetti to bring their vision to life. What they came up with was an asymmetrical response to the aquatic wave cresting in fragrance at that time. Mme Giacobetti composes one of her most ethereal perfumes which carries a fragile beauty. The perfume was called Preparation Parfumee Andree Putman when it was released. It was gone from shelves in 2013 and I thought it was going to be an entry in the Dead Letter Office. Last March I discovered it was returning, renamed as Preparation Parfumee Andree Putman L’Original, as part of a collection which included six other new releases.
L’Original opens on a fascinating duet of pepper and damp wood. Most often pepper has a nose-tickling presence. Mme Giacobetti uses it to breathe life into her damp wood accord. If you spend any time in a rainforest you know that Nature adds its own form of spiciness to the trees in the wild. The pepper is used to make the top accord feel as if it is photorealistically accurate. The heart is a transition note of waterlily where the green qualities of the floral float through a mist of water. This is the riposte to the Calone-heavy aquatics as Mme Gicobetti makes an aquatic that is meditative instead of disruptive. The base is the opposite of the top as a bleached out driftwood accord is displayed paired with cilantro for a unique green contrast. The driftwood accord is a triumph of delicacy as again something which can be so strident is instead turned into something which requires you to lean in to get the full impression. The cilantro is such an outre green note yet it conjures up the grass growing in the dunes as the sea breeze blows through it.
L’Original has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
L’Original is a masterpiece of construction by a perfumer in her prime. Every note has a function and a place in creating a fabulous perfume. I had thought this lost but now it has been found again. If you love the architecture of perfume do not allow L’Original to not be on your radar screen.
Disclosure: This review based on a bottle of the 2001 release I purchased and a sample of the 2015 re-issue I received from Andree Putman.
In those early days of the internet it was exciting to discover there were other people out there who also loved perfume. One of the by-products was perfumes I had never heard of I was now hearing about. And I wanted them. It was sort of fun to watch a member talk about a new discovery and then watch it propagate over the next few months as more joined in. In that time period there were many of these waves. There are a number of my favorite perfumes that came from those times. In the first weeks of 2008 a forum poster waxed eloquently on Domenico Caraceni 1913. Which set off a chase for others to get some and join in on the conversation.
Domenic Caraceni is an Italian men’s suit maker who according to the website is the “father of Italian tailoring” In 2007 there were three perfumes released under the Domenico Caraceni brand; 1913, Ivy League, and Loren. I do not know who the perfumer is for any of these releases. What struck me about Domenico Caraceni 1913 as soon as I received my bottle was that this was my impression of a European tailor shop. There were clean citrus and woody creases along with a powerhouse floral heart which all comes together like a fine suit, impeccably.
Domenico Caraceni 1913 from 2015 (l.) and 2008
Domenico Caraceni 1913 opens on a scissors sharp citrus accord of petti grain honed with styrax. Every time I wear this I think of the glint of light along a pair of clothing shears as it travels from handle to the point. Rose forms the core of the heart and it is made less overtly floral by neroli and geranium. This was meant to be a masculine fragrance and it seems clear that they wanted to moderate the rose so that it wouldn’t become too powdery. One thing they didn’t alter was the power as the rose is at a high volume which makes the neroli and geranium necessary to try and keep it more controlled. This heart note was called “funeral home-like” by many on those early forum days. I never got that it; is a hugely expansive rose but it never tripped over into cloying for my tastes. The base is very traditional masculine territory as tobacco, incense, and cypress form the foundation.
Domenico Caraceni 1913 has 10-12 hour longevity and way above average sillage. This is one you probably want to wear a lot less than you might normally.
Domenico Caraceni 1913 disappeared in 2010-2011 but it has just been brought back into production. I have compared the new version to my original bottle and I see little difference which can just be explained by seven years of aging in the bottle. If you are one who likes rose sandwiched between citrus, incense, and woods Domenico Caraceni needs to be on your radar screen.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
As I’ve mentioned in the past I have never been to Paris. In my imagination I have been to Paris many times. For the last ten years it is a perfume which has been the inspiration for where I would want to stay on my mind trips. The perfume is 2003’s Costes by perfumer Olivia Giacobetti.
After an incredible eight year span where Mme Giacobetti created some of the best perfumes of that time she had decided to strike out on her own. In 2003 there was news she was working on her own line of perfumes. By 2005 that would become reality as the IUNX boutique would open in Paris. During this time the owner of the Hotel Costes in Paris, Jean-Louis Costes, convinced Mme Giacobetti to make a perfume to be used as the trademark scent for the Hotel Costes. For many years the only place to buy it was at the Hotel Costes. It is only fairly recently that it has been sold elsewhere. Because of that unavailability I think this is one of Mme Giacobetti’s least known perfumes from a time when she was producing one memorable perfume after another.
Costes is Mme Giacobetti’s take on a classic wood-laden Oriental. It has an exotic feel as she weaves in spicy and floral facets early on before a mix of woods and incense finish it all. It is the scent which represents where I want to begin and end my days when I eventually do get to Paris.
Mme Giacobetti takes lavender as her opening and then sheathes it with spices. Coriander, bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon, and pepper. The last two notes are the most prominent as the cinnamon is that of red hots candy and the pepper is a little more biting than in most other perfumes. It is a mixture of spicy heat around the cool lavender. Rose and laurel comprise the heart and they form the bridge to the woods and incense in the base. The swirling spiral of incense winding its way through the latter stages of Costes is almost a trademark of Mme Giacobetti’s use of this note during this time period. It always feel like a tight spiral of resinous smoke rising off the tip of a lit stick of incense. It isn’t transparent but neither is it as strong as it can be. Mme Giacobetti knows how to find just the right volume for her incense. The woods are made much more interesting because of this level of incense.
Costes has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I suspect many are familiar with the highlights of Mme Giacobetti’s career from 1983-2001. Costs belongs with that time and phase of her creativity. Costes is like a found manuscript by a favorite author which reminds you how much you like the artist all over again.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
When there are perfume brands as prolific as Xerjoff it is an unfortunate by-product that something will get lost in the ever evolving shuffle of new product. Back at the beginning of 2013 owner and creative director of Xerjoff, Sergio Momo, introduced his third collection underneath the Xerjoff umbrella. It was called Sospiro and debuted with six new fragrances. When I tried them there were two in that initial collection I really liked; Duetto and Laylati. There would be nine more releases over the next year or so and then, at least in the US, they sort of dropped out of sight. Fell completely off of the radar screen. In the crush of new product it is hard for large collections to make an impression which is what Sospiro suffered from. It really deserved a better fate than diffident dissolution. When I ran into Sig. Momo at Pitti Fragranze he feels the same way and therefore the entire 15-fragrance line is being re-introduced into the US market. Because it was sort of ignored the first time around I thought I would pick one of my favorites from the entire line Wardasina as it returns to the perfumed radar screens.
Wardasina was one of the earliest follow-ups to the original collection. The signature of the Sospiro collection was a tendency to go for the deeper darker notes and accords. It makes for perfumes which carry more than a little power. These are not introverts by any means. Wardasina hews to this philosophy by using tobacco, rose, and patchouli to form a narcotic floral fragrance.
Wardasina opens with saffron and rose performing an intricate dance. The rose is a classic spicy rose which the saffron accentuates. The early moments carry the only bit of delicacy you will encounter while wearing Wardasina. That’s because hard on its heels comes a heady tobacco followed by an earthy patchouli. In many other fragrances those notes would easily muscle out the saffron. For quite a few hours the saffron manages to stand up to the bigger notes on display. It particularly finds an interesting place to land between the richer aspects of tobacco and the spicy core of the rose. The patchouli literally grounds everything in a dark earthiness. Very much later a bit of cedar and vanilla become more apparent.
Wardasina has 24 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Wardasina also fits in with the rest of the Sospiro collection because it is on its surface a simple construction of a few notes. What sets it apart is those few notes linger supernaturally long making a lasting impression. The Sospiros should become widely available again towards the end of October 2015. If you missed them the first time around give them a second try there are some good perfumes to be found here, Under the Radar.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Xerjoff.
Much as television and movies take advantage of brand awareness, and reboot a previous project, fragrance has begun to do this as well. There are also some of these projects which make me wonder who thought this was a good idea. One of the latest reboots of a brand overcame my skepticism with one really good new release which fixes some of the things I thought the brand never got right.
Calypso St. Barth started as a resort wear fashion brand in 1992. By 1995 they would branch out into fragrance and release fifteen fragrances until 2012. Then I heard the brand was going to stop making perfume. At that point I sort of felt it was a mercy killing. The collection had unsuccessfully tried to capture that easy breezy aesthetic that resort wear conjures up. Most of the earlier fragrances were flat nondescript compositions. The biggest thing I found irritating was there was nothing of the island of St. Barth’s inside the bottle. Where was Island Time? How about some tropical fruits and/or flowers? Somewhere the creative team decided less island and more bland was the right choice.
I received my packet of press release and samples at the beginning of the summer. It took me awhile to get around to opening the envelope I will admit. One thing which sort of forced my hand was in my pile of unopened packages there was something which was smelling pretty good to me. After finally hunting down that pleasant smell I was surprised to find it was Calypso St. Barth Figue.
For this re-launch of the brand they were concentrating on three releases all composed by perfumer Jerome Epinette. What I was smelling from my stack of mail was primarily coconut and fig. I was happy to think maybe the islands finally found their way into a Calypso St. Barth Perfume.
M. Epinette opens Figue with a brilliant lemon matched with coconut. This is not a rich coconut think more like coconut water. You get a hint of the sweetness but more transparent. The lemon turns out to be a pretty good partner and I really enjoyed the first moments because of this. The heart is where Figue really takes off as M. Epinette takes two purple florals in violet and heliotrope and sets them as contrast to the creamy woody fig. This is all kept very light, matching the intensity of the top notes. A sweet sun-kissed skin accord of musks, sandalwood, and vanilla is where Figue comes to an end.
Figue has that kind of deceptive longevity where the wearer thinks it is gone but it really isn’t. My wife was able to smell it on me after 10 hours. The sillage is moderate.
M. Epinette really has a way with using some powerful notes in quite transparent ways. Figue captures that relaxed attitude of a vacation on an island. With actual nods to things you might find on that island. If like me you ignored Calypso St. Barth perfumes in the past now is the time to perhaps put them back on your radar, especially Figue.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Calypso St. Barth.
I don’t stop in to my local Crabtree & Evelyn to check out their new perfume offerings as much as I should. They have always managed to produce capable fragrances with the occasional standout all for very reasonable prices. About a month ago I found myself standing in the store in my nearby mall. As I was going through about a year’s worth of new releases one definitely stood out, Crabtree & Evelyn Black Absinthe.
Black Absinthe is part of what Crabtree & Evelyn call their Heritage Collection. The Heritage Collection is meant to “capture the aromas of the Mediterranean coastline and ancient European cities.” The collection has released nine fragrances since 2013; four described as flower water and five eau de colognes. The Eau de Colognes have been the better grouping. Prior to trying Black Absinthe there was a modern retelling of Eau de Hongrie called Hungary Water. With Black Absinthe perfumer Cyrill Rolland makes a more risky kind of cologne than the previous releases within the Heritage Collection. The mixture of absinthe and licorice makes for a very black cologne.
M. Rolland, I think, decided to take down all of the licorice tinged ingredients from his perfumer’s organ and combine them. There is a great bit of revelation in doing that as the very herbal nature of licorice is what M. Rolland explores by combining all of these notes. Despite something as intense as licorice being the focal point M. Rolland also keeps this very nicely balanced at Eau de Cologne weight making this feel like a throwback to the original eau de colognes and their very herbal nature.
Like I mentioned the licorice starts and just keeps on coming. That means we start with fennel and star anise. The bite of boozy wormwood comes next. It definitely has the feeling of a weird absinthe cocktail with a bit of star anise floating on top and fennel as a swizzle stick. The fennel adds an earthy herbal quality. Lavender comes next in the heart and surrounded by the top notes it tilts towards its more acerbic herbal nature. Which works fine because artemesia and licorice want to join lavender on that side of the spectrum. This should be heavy and M. Rolland manages to keep it refreshing and light. Throughout most of the development of Black Absinthe it is this mix of the very herbal licorice tinged with alcoholic decadence which predominates. The base notes are sandalwood and vetiver befitting the eau de cologne theme.
Black Absinthe has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Black Absinthe has been out since the beginning of 2015 and Crabtree & Evelyn aggressively rotate their fragrance stock. Therefore I imagine not only is this Under the Radar but there is probably only a limited time left for it to be available in the store and on the website. If you want something which has a little bit of a bite for the remaining weeks of the summer Black Absinthe should fill the bill.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
If there is one perfume I own which gets the greatest workout in the summer it is Thierry Mugler Cologne. This is one of two or three perfumes which I wear on the most sweltering of days. It is one of the most refreshing perfumes I wear which is why it works so well in the heat.
Thierry Mugler Cologne was the fourth fragrance released by Thierry Mugler. The first three Angel, A*Men, and Innocent could not reliably be described as refreshing. These were perfumes with presence. In 2001 it was very different than its stablemates in the Thierry Mugler collection. It is so different that I think it often gets overlooked. I am guilty of that as I’ve rarely written about Thierry Mugler Cologne as much as I have the other perfumes from the brand. One reason is when I have written about it I have referred to it as the perfume equivalent of your favorite t-shirt and broken-in jeans. There are few fragrances which wear so effortlessly.
Perfumer Alberto Morillas was in the middle of his use of white musks in the base of numerous perfumes. By the time he got to Thierry Mugler Cologne he had truly become the master of the white musks. What he imposed over the top of the musks in the base was citrus and what he describes as a “sap” accord. It is that accord which makes Thierry Mugler Cologne the outstanding perfume that it is.
Thierry Mugler Cologne opens on a sort of soap-like feel. The perfume was inspired by a soap M. Mugler remembered from his youth. Petitgrain and orange blossom combine to make it feel like a homemade citrus soap. This is fresh without being boring. The heart note was listed only as “S” when the perfume was released. In later years M. Morillas identified it as a green sap accord. It has a funny quality about it as there are bits and pieces of familiar green notes like vetiver, clary sage, and galbanum. The trick is I don’t think any of those notes are actually present. There are just times I think they might be there and when I focus in looking for them I get lost in the green. It is one reason that this perfume has fascinated me for over ten years now because I think I make it whatever my mood wants it to be. It finishes on a mixture of white musks. By this time M. Morillas could make these ingredients dance to his tune. Here they are those broken in denim jeans just after being ironed.
Thierry Mugler Cologne has 10-12 hour longevity although this is deceptive because you might not detect it after 8 or so hours but other will still smell it on you. It has average sillage.
Sometime the things that fly Under the Radar are the things that have become so normal they don’t feel noteworthy. In the case of Thierry Mugler Cologne it was well past time I took note.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.