We all have a doppelganger out there. A person who looks very much like us. When I was living in Boston I found mine who also happened to be a perfumer. I was introduced to Neil Morris by my friend and future colleague at CaFleureBon Ida Meister. I met him for the first time on a trip to New York City and as we got to know each other he showed me a bottle of one of his Signature fragrances called Gotham. From the first moment I smelled it, it has become one of my personal top fragrances.
Mr. Morris has been composing perfume since 2007. Ever since Ms. Meister brought him to my attention I have found many of his perfumes to be right where I like them. Gotham is as good example of his general aesthetic.
Mr. Morris is often inspired by what he sees as he walks around. On his website he says the inspiration for Gotham came from a Manhattan stroll one October night. According to the description, “It was a bit foggy and the atmosphere had a sense of mystery and of things hidden in the night.” One of the things I enjoy about Mr. Morris’ perfumes is the densely layered quality they have. It is like waiting for things to emerge from the different layers which makes it languidly dynamic over the time it is on your skin. I love this style of fragrance for that.
Neil Morris (l.) and Me
Gotham opens with a fresh spicy blast of yuzu and black pepper. At least for the early moments there is no measured development it just sizzles with energy. I’ve always had this feel of something in the air when I am in NYC this does a nice job of capturing this. The metaphorical fog in Gotham comes from a narcissus heart bolstered by rose. This is a floral with presence. It arrives like a celebrity on a red carpet. Gotham is one of my favorite narcissus perfumes because Mr. Morris doesn’t trample it underneath a bunch of other notes. The base is a rough birch-laden leather accord. It reminded me of a leather sofa we had in the living room when I was growing up. As it heads into the foggy night leaving a trail of narcissus and leather.
Gotham has 14-16 hour longevity and above average silage.
Mr. Morris’ entire catalogue is under the radar but if you need a place to find out whether his style of fragrance is to your taste Gotham is as good as any of them to find out with.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
Back in 2011 there were a number of visual artists taking a shot at expanding into fragrance. I can remember the great majority of these efforts to have a lot of vision and no juice. The visual inspiration piece was usually paired up with a ham-handed attempt at smelling different. They often eschewed using perfumers to their detriment. I had gotten to the point that when they started talking about being multi-disciplinary I wanted to tell them to stick to the single discipline they do well, which wasn’t perfume.
That was my frame of mind when I received the initial collection of Icelandic artist Andrea Maack. Ms. Maack had a press release full of multi-disciplinary verbiage. I was expecting to be bored. Instead her initial three fragrances showed a remarkable degree of polish. The reason was she chose to work with Renaud Coutaudier as her co-creative director and they used perfumer Julien Rasquinet very early in his career. Of the initial three I liked Craft and Sharp but Smart is the one which I purchased a bottle of.
Ms. Maack’s visual art at this time was fluid geometrics. It is a style which appealed to me. This aesthetic managed to make it into her initial three perfumes as all of them had bold lines which intersected in unusual ways. The creative team and M. Rasquinet were always looking to establish contrasts within intersections. Smart is a good example of this.
Smart opens with the metallic tang of violet leaves. This is a top note which imparts a uniquely contemporary vibe almost turning it industrial. Before it can go too far in that direction a sweetly floral vector overlays itself consisting of jasmine and vanilla. The vanilla is a greener version as if of the orchid carrying more green facets along with the sweet. The jasmine picks that up and as it coats the metallic violet leaves it forms an appealing duet. M. Rasquinet then lays down a strong through line of sandalwood. The sandalwood is its very typical creamy woody version. As the sandalwood settles in a final animalic arc arrives with a leather accord and musk. M. Rasquinet balances these four strong lines skillfully so at their intersection there is much to enjoy.
Smart has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Ms. Maack would end up adding four more to the original three. Of those Coal and Coven were my favorites. This is a line worth checking out not only for the fragrances but also as a place where rising star perfumer M. Rasquinet was developing his skills. There is much to admire of his work for the brand. If you’re looking for something multi-disciplinary Andrea Maack Smart is one of the few which promise that, which also delivers.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
There is not a whole heck of a lot of perfumes which feature a cannabis accord. There are more in the last couple of years but it is still a tiny subsector of fragrance. This month’s Under the Radar pick carries the name cannabis in its name but it isn’t really that prominent. Fresh Cannabis Santal is a lush chocolate and patchouli gourmand more than an illicit hit in the dark.
Cannabis Santal was released in 2006, Fresh had been releasing fragrance since 1996 and most of them were riffs on sweetness. They were sort of taking the idea represented by Aquolina Pink Sugar and expanding it in all directions. Most of the name of the perfumes were “Sugar fill in the blank”. They had a much less distributed collection called the Index line where they still explored sweet fragrances but they were more interesting than the Sugar line. When I lived in Boston there was a Fresh boutique in town which allowed me to work my way through the many Fresh perfumes. I remember walking in on a fall day and smelling something which stood out among all of the sugar. It stood out because there was a richness to it. I was drawn to it more than anything I had ever smelled in the store previously.
Perfumer Caroline Sabas was given some leeway to break outside the sugar shack; which she used. Her composition is mainly orange, chocolate, rose, and patchouli. There is some cannabis in there and it shows up like a bit of a jack-in-the-box when I wear Cannabis Santal. If you’re looking for a pot connection it is more similar to if you made a batch of pot brownies using orange and rose water to flavor them.
Cannabis Santal opens with a deep orange given that depth by the use of plum. Very rapidly patchouli, rose, and chocolate rise to cover the orange. Very often I talk about patchouli not having that head shop vibe; not here. It actually combines with the chocolate and the rose to sort of dirty things up. It keeps the sweetness from being innocent. It gives the impression these brownies might have more underneath that you suspect. A woody finish which is more vetiver than santal completes the illusion of the label.
Cannabis Santal has 12-14 hour longevity and extremely potent sillage. When I said I smelled it from the door of the Fresh boutique it is not an exaggeration.
Fresh has discontinued much of its line of fragrances with only about a dozen left for sale. Cananbis Santal is one of those survivors. I think it is one of the top tier of gourmands released during that time when there were many of them being released. If you’re looking for that hit off of a joint don’t look for it here. Instead slice off a brownie and wonder why you are smiling so much.
Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle I purchased.
One thing I want to accomplish with this series is to remind perfume lovers of brands they may have forgotten about or never even heard of. A prime example of this is Parfums DelRae. Overseen by DelRae Roth there are only nine perfumes in the entire line. The first five: Amoreuse, Bois de Paradis, Eau Illuminee, Debut, and Emotionelle were released between 2002 and 2008. All five were composed by Michel Roudnitska. I had entered my phase of discovery which included devouring all things Roudnitska when I found the brand. M. Roudnitska is a perfumer with presence. He translates his belief in the way perfume should be made into his creations. In Ms. Roth he found a kindred spirit equally devoted to doing things correctly. You need no other indicator that while niche was exploding they only released five perfumes.
M. Roudnitska was going to take a break from perfumery in 2009 and so Ms. Roth was forced to look for a new perfumer. To her great credit she found one who had an entirely different style in Yann Vasnier. From 2009-2014 they have released four perfumes: Mythique, Coup de Foudre, Panache, and Wit. Taken as a sub collection these are some of the best perfumes ever created by M. Vasnier. I would again point to the uncompromising creative direction of Ms. Roth as a critical component in the quality. Again this was a slow and steady process while those around them were rushing to market with multiple releases per year.
My favorite perfume in a line which has nine very good to outstanding fragrances in it; is the first one M. Vasnier did, Mythique.
Ms. Roth was inspired by the story of Diane de Poitiers who was the mistress to French King Henri II. Diane de Poitiers was known as an equestrienne, a great beauty and demanding intellect. She was famous for regularly dressing in only white and black. Ms. Roth took all of that and asked M. Vasnier to design an orris and leather centered fragrance which would encompass her inspiration. What M. Vasnier delivered in the end is what comes off as a veil of orris scented leather that is breathtaking in its seemingly fragile beauty.
Mythique opens upon a flare of mandarin tinted green with a light application of vegetal ivy. This leads to a leather accord of ambrette and patchouli matched to a rich orris butter which has no powdery character. This orris butter is the rootiness of the rhizome on display. It pairs exquisitely with the leather accord to create that transparent effect that captures me every time I wear this. Sandalwood is the final ingredient in the base.
Mythique has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage. This is one of those deceptive perfumes where you might stop noticing it but others can still smell it on you.
With Mythique Ms. Roth and M. Vasnier were defining the second act of Parfums DelRae as M. Roudnitska exited stage left. Mythique is one of the first perfumes which drew me into how beautiful fragility could be.
If Parfums DelRae have flown Under the Radar for you that should be remedied by sampling all nine. It is one of the true great collection top to bottom in independent perfumery. Mythique is a great place to begin that exploration.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
The first stage of my perfume journey took place in the 1980’s and 1990’s and it was pretty much a solitary affair. When the Internet happened I would dive into the online community for a communal experience. One of the problems was information overload. Reading posts from people describing fragrances which I had to try caused me to really become acquisitive. I am sure if I had tracked my purchases the early 2000’s would have been when I bought the most. Which would coincide with finding the vast online community of other perfume lovers. Over time I would discover those who posted who shared my taste. As funny as it sounds in those days the thought of sharing my thoughts on perfume was frightening to me. I was a few years away from thinking I had anything to add to the conversation. So my benefactors had no clue they were enabling me. I was also early in my days of trying to understand the raw materials that went into perfume.
One morning I opened up one of the perfume forums and there was one of my scent twins talking about this perfume with a kelp note and a new wood I had never heard of, rosewood. The perfume was called Carthusia Uomo and I was off to find a bottle.
Carthusia is a heritage Italian brand. It was revived in 2000 with a mix of legacy and new compositions. It was 2004 until Carthusia Uomo would make its appearance. Uomo was one of the original Carthusia releases back in 1948. The four legacy releases carry a classic aesthetic to them. Uomo is the one which has some semblance of a contemporary air to it because of a couple of unique raw materials used in it. The perfumer who worked on these early releases has been lost to time. Laura Tonatto oversaw the early new releases and I suspect she also did the same for the legacy re-issues. I have never been able to source any of the vintage Uomo so I also have no idea how close or not this is to the original. What is here is one of my favorite warm weather perfumes.
Uomo opens with a very familiar Mediterranean accord of green tinged citrus. That all changes rather rapidly as the heart accord consists of notes like raspberry, patchouli, jasmine, and kelp. Here is what makes Uomo stand out for me. Those four notes could be combined to form something very heavy. In Uomo the opposite happens as it is kept very breezy and light. The raspberry is not the cloying ingredient from too many to count fruity florals. The jasmine is ethereal. The patchouli is the magic carpet for all of this to ride upon. Then there is the kelp which imparts a briny green aspect. It is like a stiff breeze off an ocean with the kelp floating on top. The same light hand extends in to the base accord as a trio of woods; cedar, sandalwood, and rosewood combine. The cedar provides a clean frame; the sandalwood the platform, for the slightly sweet rosewood to steal the show. It arises seamlessly from the opaque raspberry to form a fabulously sweet woody finish.
Carthusia Uomo has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Uomo has become more widely available than it was when I first heard about it. I can recommend giving the Carthusia brand a try if you do go in search of Uomo as the whole brand is under the radar. But the brightest light in that collection is Uomo.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
One of the interesting side effects of being a finalist judge for this year’s Art & Olfaction Awards was I was reminded of other unique perfumes of the past. It lead to me reacquainting myself with a couple of them. The first one which I had to seek out was 1997’s The People of the Labyrinths Luctor et Emergo.
My discovery of this perfume was completely due to the internet forum Basenotes. When I started lurking, too timid to want to place a word in the public record there was a spirited conversation about Luctor et Emergo going on. It revolved around how it smelled synthetic. So artificial it reminded many of those posting of the children’s clay Play-Doh. Someone posted a picture of the bottle which looked like an Erlenmeyer Flask. The chemist was reeled in. I think I swapped for a bottle from someone who found it too different for their taste. When the bottle arrived I wasn’t sure what I was going to get. But in my early days of niche discovery this was the fun about it all. That moment of seeing if something you have read about lives up, or down, to expectations.
On that day I didn’t know much about the perfumer behind Luctor et Emergo. It would be years later I learned it was Alessandro Gualtieri who is better known for his Nasomatto line. In hindsight it makes sense because Sig. Gualtieri is an aficionado of the unusual in fragrance. Even back in 1997 he was looking to expand the boundaries of what it was that could be considered a perfume.
Luctor et Emergo opens with what I have described as a cherries and almond wrapped in cellophane accord. The cherry seems like artificial flavoring. The almond is marzipan-like. Underneath it all is that smell of clean cellophane which also sometimes reminds me of artificial turf. The heart is a mixture of rarely used synthetics, at the time, to create this Play-Doh accord. It picks up on the subtle plasticky vibe from the top and doubles down on it. The cherry embeds itself in the clay. This is where Luctor et Emergo stays on my skin for hours; as if a cherry Life-Saver candy was wrapped in Play-Doh. Later on the most normal part of the fragrance comes out as a bit of incense and woods are the final phase.
Luctor et Emergo has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I’m not sure I can confidently say that Luctor et Emergo was where I started to find an appreciation for the odd in fragrance. I definitely know it was one step along the path of the evolution of my own personal understanding of what defines perfume. If you’re looking for something to broaden your fragrance horizons check out The People of the Labyrinths Luctor et Emergo.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I own.
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.