Over the last couple of years we have seen a number of older, mostly French, perfume houses be revived. These have been called heritage brands. Certainly every brand that existed in the early part of the 20th century is part of the heritage of perfumery. When it comes to my heritage the roots of my love of perfume come from what my father wore, Dana English Leather. If you speak to almost any baby boomer about what fragrance their father wore English Leather would be mentioned a lot. For me it defines a certain particular American aesthetic in the post-war years.
After 2007 it seemed like Dana had stopped making new fragrances. The tentpole perfumes which created the brand still were available but it seemed like management had thrown in the towel as far as being competitive. Even I had forgotten they existed. Then I saw the list of this years Fragrance Foundation nominees and in the category Fragrance of the Year Men’s Popular there was listed Dana Valor. I wanted to find out more. As luck would have it I met Terrence Moorehead the CEO of Dana at the Fragrance Foundation Finalists breakfast. After speaking with him I really got the sense of a man who wants to make Dana a player in their sector of the market. I was given a sample of Valor and I was hopeful it would be good. It’s not only good it feels relevant.
Perfumer Carlos Vinals was the man behind Valor. The brief was to make a fragrance which “celebrate(s) our troops and champion(s) the American dream for a new generation.” Mr. Vinals decided a slightly boozy citrus Oriental composition would fit the bill.
The early moments of Valor have some similarity to the early moments of English Leather as lemon, bergamot and lavender are up front for both. Mr. Vinals makes sure to take a quick left turn away from too much similarity and to that end he adds a crisp green pear to it. It adds some sharper lines around the citrus and makes it pop a little more. As we move into the heart a swoosh of cardamom leads into a bourbon accord. This is not a full on alcoholic haze, it is much lighter in feel. It has the bite of a good bourbon without leaving teeth marks. The lavender remains and this mixture of the cardamom, and bourbon with it is quite enjoyable. Valor heads into a typical Oriental finish with patchouli, amber, cashmeran, and vanilla combining to create a warmly bolstering foundation.
Valor has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
When speaking with Mr. Moorehead I know there is more to come from Dana. Valor is a great first step at putting a quintessential American perfume brand back on every perfume lover’s radar.
Disclosure: this review was based on sample of Valor provided by Dana Beauty.
The ranks of discontinued perfumes are full of examples of fragrances released at the wrong time. I am often lamenting that if that particular scent was released today it would be a big seller. It is rare but some of those early out-of-step perfumes have managed to survive until the trends caught up with them. Because they have been around so long it is no surprise that they have fallen off most people’s radar screens. This month I’m going to try and put Paloma Picasso Minotaure back into play.
Paloma Picasso was the daughter of famed modern artist Pablo Picasso. In 1984 she released her first perfume called Mon Perfume. It was a very classical chypre done very well and it sold pretty well. Eight years later Ms. Picasso would follow-up with a masculine fragrance called Minotaure. She worked with perfumer Michel Almairac to create a wonderfully complex perfume which struggled to find an audience in 1992. It would go out of production for a time but it has been placed back on the shelves as of 2012.
Where Mon Parfum nodded to a classical composition Minotaure was doing anything but playing it safe. M. Almairac used a very green geranium as the core which he surrounded in bright citrus, vibrant herbs, woods, and leather. Today this kind of structure is not unusual if not necessarily common. In 1992 this was not on trend.
Minotaure opens with a big bright flare of citrus to which lavender is added. This was a common opening but M. Almairac added what he called a “marine accord” trying to nod to the beginning of the aquatic trend. This set of ozonic and salt spray notes makes it feel like you are standing on a cliff overlooking the ocean with fields of lavender and citrus at your back. Tarragon, sage, and rosemary provide a strongly herbal transition into the heart. M. Almairac takes geranium and uses it in a concentration not usually found, as this time it is the star instead of providing support and depth. It makes it the perfect pairing with the herbs as at this concentration the green qualities of geranium are amplified. This all gives way to a lovely leather accord and sandalwood in the base.
Minotaure has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage. It is a 1990’s powerhouse go easy when applying.
M. Almairac produced a perfume twenty years ahead of its time. If Minotaure had been released in 2012 I think it would have been talked about and lauded. Just because it is from 1992 doesn’t mean it’s not relevant in 2015. It means its time has finally come.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
This should have been a story for the Dead Letter Office series. Indult Paris released three perfumes at the beginning of 2007, Isvaraya, Manakara, and Tihota. A year later a fourth, Reve en Cuir would arrive and two years after that the brand would be out of business. The perfumes reached a sort of legendary kind of acclaim over the next few years. Then an angel appeared. One fan of the perfumes acquired the rights to the formulas and resurrected the line in 2013. Original perfumer Francis Kurkdjian ensured the new versions were identical to the original versions. All four perfumes in the collection are very good but for me there is one which stands out, Tihota.
Tihota is the word for sugar in Polynesian. M. Kurkdjian really keeps the construction simple as it is vanilla over a grouping of musks which make a skin accord. Over the years M. Kurkdjian has frequently explored multiple iterations of musk in his perfumes. Tihota is one of the rarer cases where he eschews the cleaner musks for the richer more sensual ones. This is a vanilla that also leaves behind the overly sweet versions that appeal to adolescents.
M. Kurkdjian uses a rich source of vanilla and he allows it to come to life over time. This is done by adding in each musk gradually. Early on the vanilla reminds me of vanilla bean custard. As the first musks appear it becomes more vanilla sugar cookie. Once the musks form the skin accord underneath the vanilla does not remind me of dessert, it leans much more carnal in nature. Another thing about this is many vanilla perfumes can be very intense and almost cloying. Tihota does not do that. Instead it creates an aura which radiates warmth and sensuality.
Tihota has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
It is very unique thing that something that fell off the radar completely has found its way back. It is even more unique to find its way back unchanged and unaltered. Everyone involved has treated these perfumes as the jewels that they are. Seek all of them out but if you are a vanilla lover start with Tihota.
Disclosure: This review based on a bottle I purchased in 2007 and a sample of the 2013 version provided by Luckyscent.
It probably doesn’t get much more under the radar than Home Shopping Network (HSN). I would imagine most of you reading this skip past that channel as you are flipping through all of the offerings of your cable service. I’m no better I can’t say that HSN gets much airtime in the Colognoisseur household. If your timing is right though you might be surprised to find that HSN is the home of one of the best celebrity perfume collections I know. Dita von Teese has produced four perfumes for the shopping channel and they are all very good. The price is also very good at $30/0.7oz. I like all four but it was the fourth one, Erotique, which I think is the best of the bunch.
For those unfamiliar with Dita von Teese she has been called the “Queen of Burlesque”. She has made sure that true burlesque will not disappear as long as she can perform. Burlesque has long been associated with stripping and those two activities are far apart. Burlesque is all about the style behind a sexy striptease which emphasizes the second part of that compound word. You think you see more than you really see. To be an accomplished burlesque performer a woman needs a personality that keeps the audience engaged all while she moves and seduces without showing you everything. Ms. von Teese has become the face of this modern version. The perfumes that she has leant her name to are also meant to be inspired by aspects of this personality. Erotique is the culmination of that performance as it is meant to seduce and beguile.
Erotique opens on a spicy accord of pepper and coriander. This is much more pepper than coriander. This is also a bit of slap and tickle pepper as it generates a bit of heat along with nose-wrinkling energy. Erotique then holds out a rose as enticement in the heart. This is kept simple with just the rose and the pepper holding the stage for a little while. This transitions to a leather and sandalwood base. The leather seems appropriate as there might be a sense of something dangerous underneath it all. The sandalwood has a bit of cedar to keep it on the drier side and keep it from getting too creamy.
Erotique has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
Most of the time the celebrity name on the bottle has had nothing to do with the fragrance inside. Ms. von Teese participated fully in producing the perfumes. That she also chose to do it for an economical price is also to be lauded. So if you’re channel surfing one night and you see an HSN host holding up a perfume bottle stop and check it out. You might find something surprisingly good.
Disclsoure: this review is based upon a bottle I purchased.
Sometimes the way a brand treats its perfumes completely baffles me. None is more perplexing to me than the way Prada treats its line of exclusives. Every other designer line you can name displays their exclusive line in ways which are as elaborate as the perfumes themselves. Not Prada, you have to know these exist to even have a hope of finding them. In the Prada flagship store in New York I go through this same ritual every time I want to find one. I walk into the store and tell them I’m interested in perfume. They direct me to the counter which is full of the mainstream bottles. I ask them for one of the exclusives and they very politely tell me they don’t have it. I equally politely ask them to look it up on their computer. They are surprised to find out they have this and it is in stock; in the back room. They go retrieve my bottle usually mentioning they didn’t know about these. I walk away shaking my head.
Since 2003 Miuccia Prada and perfumer Daniela Andrier have made one of the great experimental lines of perfume. The forerunner of Infusion D’Iris was the very first of these called simply Iris No. 1. Mme Andrier is one of our greatest perfumers because of her versatility and in this collection it is vividly on display. Last summer I repeated the ritual for the latest release Rossetto No. 14.
The concept of this line of exclusives is not necessarily to break new ground but to re-interpret existing fragrant forms. Rossetto No. 14’s task is that of the iris-scented lipstick. This is a study which has been done previously in perfume. It is a natural because for many, including me, the first smell of iris they ever encountered was the smell of their mother’s Coty lipstick. What Rossetto No. 14 does is to take that smell and update it to the super luxurious lipsticks being sold by the top luxury brands today. Even as a man I can see the depth to the newest lipsticks which look like the most upscale Chap-Stiks ever. Mme Andrier winks to that in the opening moments of Rossetto No. 14 but then she goes for the iris lipstick accord and it is beautiful.
The opening of Rossetto No. 14 is a breath of aldehydes of the hair spray variety reminding one you are at the vanity table surrounded by the appropriate accoutrements. The wink to more pedestrian lip balms comes with a flash of cherry followed by astringent violet leaves and baie rose. This is a fleeting phase as Rossetto No. 14 transitions rapidly right into the lipstick accord. Mme Andrier takes orris, rose, violet, and heliotrope to form the basis but it needs a catalyst. That ingredient which sparks the lipstick accord to life is raspberry. It is the moment of sheer genius within this perfume. As I detected the florals I was a bit disappointed but then the raspberry converts all of it into a lush lipstick accord. Mme Andrier places all of it on a vanilla and benzoin foundation which adds contrasting resinous sweetness to the lipstick. The final moments are a cocktail of musks as the lipstick has finally worn off.
Rossetto No. 14 has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Rossetto No. 14 is, as I mentioned, not a breakthrough lipstick evoking fragrance. It is a new interpretation of it. I find when I’m in the mood for it that Rossetto No. 14 scratches my itch without causing Oedipal issues. That is because Mme Andrier has tweaked it just enough to make it her own and to allow me to make my own memories with it.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
If an artist is staying true to their vision and not allowing outside factors in I believe that will lead to a creation that will be polarizing to those who experience it. It is why as success happens it is often too difficult for that artist to not hear the catcalls and sometimes try to alter their vision to appeal. Then there are the very rare examples of those who just don’t let the noise into their aesthetic. There are many in the perfume world who I think have not allowed the detractors to gain sway. One of them was perfumer Mona di Orio.
Mona di Orio
Mme di Orio passed away in 2011 in what I consider to be the peak of her career. I first became aware of her back in 2007 upon the release of her fourth perfume Oiro. There would be three more perfumes in her initial collection. Every one of them did not attempt to be liked by everyone. Instead as a whole the initial collection was a grand statement on Mme di Orio’s desire to work in alternating phases of light and shadow. Using notes that explode in brilliance only to be subsumed by deep animalic shadow this was her signature style. Starting in 2010 she began her Le Nombres d’Or collection and it is here where her star really began to glow incandescently. An unfortunate side effect was the original collection was discontinued. Mme di Orio’s partner Jeroen Oude Sogtoen had always promised the perfume community, even before her death, they would return someday. That day has come and I wanted to make sure that those who might not be familiar with these perfumes don’t miss them. The return will be a slow affair and for 2014 Lux and Nuit Noire are the first to return.
Lux means light in Latin and the top notes of Lux burn like a supernova of intense citrus. Mme di Orio uses lemon, petitgrain, and litsea cubeba. The last note may be unfamiliar to some but it comes from a shrub of the evergreen family and the fruit it produces delivers a textured lemon essential oil. Mme di Orio could have used somewhat less of this but this truly provides olfactory lux as all three notes combine. I always detect a bit of the evergreen floating around underneath and it just might be my imagination but if it is there it would be the litsea providing it. Now here is where these works are not for everyone Lux performs a dramatic pivot as even the brightest light doesn’t banish all shadows and a very animalic musk encased in labdanum, cedar, and sandalwood escape the luminescence. The entire tone changes and it will either enchant you or drive you crazy. I like the tonal shift and I particularly like the woody musky accord. After all of this turmoil Mme di Orio comforts with a soft ambery vanilla late in the development.
Nuit Noire follows much of the same architecture but instead of extreme brilliance the light here is a floral bouquet of white flowers as tuberose and orange blossom form the floral nucleus. Early on it is a mélange of spice which provides the context. Very early it is a green cardamom and ginger. These particularly play off the slightly camphoraceous facets of tuberose. Clove and cinnamon provide some spiced heat. Then a truly filthy musk arrives and it is this which will make or break one’s enjoyment of Nuit Noire. This musk does not come in on cat’s feet it stomps in with combat boots. What is fascinating is the tuberose doesn’t back down and a fascinating tension between the narcotic white flower and the feral musk collide. This kind of dissonance is an acquired taste to be sure but if it is your taste it just doesn’t get better than this. Unlike Lux Mme di Orio doesn’t look for comfort as she doubles down on the animalic with a raw leather accord as, along with the musk, it kicks the tuberose to the curb.
Lux and Nuit Noire both have 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
If you are only familiar with Mme di Orio from the Le Nombres d’Or Collection, and like them, I urge you to sample these and all of the others as they are re-released. If you have never tried Mme di Orio’s perfumes before these are a great place to see if her vision matches yours.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of Lux and Nuit Noire I own and samples of the new 2014 re-releases I received at Pitti Fragranze. The perfumes are identical with no discernable difference.
Ever since I first encountered the Stephane Humbert Lucas 777 line of perfume at Esxence in 2013 I have very slowly and deliberately taken my time to understand each one. Many perfume collections would fall apart underneath this much scrutiny. M. Humbert Lucas, working for himself, has authored a body of olfactory art that almost demands you spend time with it to allow it to fully reveal all that is present in each perfume. Therefore even though it has been almost a year and a half I am still getting to the last couple of entries from the line. Most recently I’ve spent time with 2022 Generation Homme and like every one of the 777 perfumes there was much to enjoy.
One of the reasons that I held off on 2022 Generation Homme is that on a strip this was the oudiest of the entire collection. On a strip it never seemed to open up. When I finally sprayed some on my skin it was like there was an entire experience hidden from detection. The oud was there but there was also an array of spices surrounding a yuzu. These offer a fresh crisp contrast to the very complex oud mixture M. Humbert Lucas uses.
Stephane Humbert Lucas
2022 Generation Homme opens with yuzu floating like a shimmery veil over an intense oud. Very often many see yuzu as a stand-in for grapefruit but when it is appropriately allowed to have a personality in a fragrance it is more like a hybrid of lemon and grapefruit. It has a snappy brightness that neither lemon nor grapefruit have on their own. M. Humbert Lucas takes that and adds even more snap with mint coming along for the ride. It is just a touch of mint but it is present and adds an important effect underneath the yuzu. The final addition to the top notes is a very green blackcurrant bud. This is used at such a level that it has a urine-like characteristic. On its own it would be offputting. Placed in the middle ground between the yuzu-mint and the oud it works surprisingly well. The rough sticky green smell forms a bridge to the more sulfurous aspects of the yuzu and the more medicinal qualities of good oud. This is not an easy part of the development as it sort of pushes forward many of the more challenging aspects of both the yuzu and the oud. It took me some time to learn to roll with it instead of struggling to make it something it wasn’t. 2022 Genration Homme finishes on a peru balsam matched with a second source of oud. This oud has less of the medicinal and more of the woody nuances. Matched with the peru balsam is ends this on a final woody platform.
2022 Generation Homme has 16-18 hour longevity and above average sillage.
2022 Generation Homme is one of the hidden gems within the entire 777 line. I think it is imperative that it is worn on skin to truly experience it completely. It took that for me to finally realize how good it was and bring it out from Under the Radar.
Disclosure: This review was based on a samples provided by Stephane Humbert Lucas and Osswald NYC.
As I decide what to write about on an ongoing basis simplicity always loses out to edgy or weird. There are time that I think I do a disservice not only to myself but those who read my reviews. A really well executed single note perfume can be just as enjoyable as the latest avant-garde experiment in olfactory art. There are a couple of lines which excel at these kind of perfume still lifes. One of those is Von Eusersdorff.
Von Eusersdorff is the perfume brand of Camille Henfling. Mr. Henfling had learned that his ancestors had been a German family which specialized in the international trade of rare oils, spices, herbs, and dried flowers. In 2010 he decided that Von Eusersdorff would once again stand for rare oils, spices, herbs, and dried flowers; except this time they would be perfumes. The first release in 2010, Classic Patchouli, is an example of the template Mr. Henfling would follow for the next four releases. When most perfumers use patchouli they attempt to distance themselves from the concentrated oil form because of its association with hippies and the 1960’s counterculture. Mr. Henfling embraced this nature and produced a beautiful study of every single bit of patchouli. A year later Classic Mimosa, Classic Myrrh, and Classic Vetiver would follow the same formula. Late last year the newest release Classic Orange was released and the Von Eusersdorff style displayed the orange spectacularly.
The source of orange Mr. Henfling chose was not just a regular orange but a blood orange. I love eating and cooking with blood orange because besides the juice there is also an added tartness which makes the sweet less overpowering. In Classic Orange Mr. Henfling takes the blood orange and sets it up as the frame upon which a truly inspired list of notes will hang. First up is a dense black tea which works very well because we are dealing with the less saccharine blood orange. The bit of tart blends with the tea seamlessly. Next up is osmanthus in all of its apricot and leather glory. Here the blood orange sets up shop right in between in a menage a trois nuzzling up to the apricot only to be enticed by the animalic leathery aspect. It is here that Classic Orange remains for hours on my skin simply beautiful and engaging. Very late on, an austere dry sandalwood provides the base notes for the last few hours.
Classic Orange has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I was reminded of classic Orange and how much I liked it when I was at the recent Pitti Fragranze. In a booth shared with some of the most artistic brands out there Classic Orange shone like a simple jewel among the movers and shakers. I’ve been wearing it more since my return and want to make sure it is no longer Under the Radar.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
There are times I am just too stubborn. If there is anything which makes me dig my fragrant heels in it is celebrity perfume or as they are called, celebuscents. Too often they are quick creations heavily influenced by focus groups who are asked inane questions like, “Which one of these do you think smells like the name on the bottle?” This is not to say celebuscents are completely devoid of quality just 99% of them. You might glean from this why when I receive a new celebuscent it very quickly gets buried. I think when Elizabeth and James Nirvana White and Nirvana Black appeared in the spring I should have given them more than a cursory sniff. While cleaning up the pile of perfumes I came across my samples again. I guess I was in a more receptive mood and this time they connected.
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
The template for a successful celebuscent was laid out by actress Sarah Jessica Parker, in 2005, as she collaborated closely with the perfumers behind her fist perfume for Coty, Lovely. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen did the same with perfumer Pierre Negrin. It took over two years for them to arrive at a final version which would become Nirvana Black. I would guess that process was a learning experience; because as they were putting the finishing touches on Nirvana Black they decided they wanted a second fragrance to go with it. This time the collaboration with perfumer Honorine Blanc went much quicker and Nirvana Black and Nirvana White were released in January of 2014.
What I like about both of these perfumes is that they are very simple and that simplicity captures the goth boho chic design aesthetic of the Elizabeth and James clothing and accessories. The three note structure of both makes it difficult; for the perfumer needs to make sure those three notes harmonize well together and in this case M. Negrin and Mme Blanc did a tremendous job.
Nirvana White is the more boho of the two as it works with two fresh florals before ending on a beautiful soft musk. The top floral is peony and the peony source Mme Blanc employs is that spring garden fresh floral version. It is uplifting until the other floral, muguet, adds a significant green aspect. Together this is an elementary vernal floral accord. What is not elementary is the cocktail of musks Mme Blanc uses in the base. With white in the name you might expect the laundry-fresh musks but Mme Blanc decides to create an accord that runs the spectrum of synthetic musks. At the end this musk accord has a soft authenticity to it that feels like a bit of an illusion.
Nirvana Black is that boho girl heading out to her favorite Goth club in the evening. M. Negrin also uses primarily three notes for his fragrance but I can see why they took so long to find the right balance. The top note is violet and there are a variety of violets they could have chosen. The one which makes it into the bottle is a rich slightly candied version. It segues smoothly into a sandalwood heart and the synergy they hit is perfect as the candied facets are bolstered by the sweeter nature of sandalwood. Nirvana Black comes to an end with an austere less sweet vanilla.
Nirvana White and Nirvana Black have 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are to be commended for taking their time and being uncompromising in getting what they wanted. That dedication shows and it is why Nirvana White and Nirvana Black stand out from the rest of the celebuscent pack.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Elizabeth and James.
As a perfume collection matures over the years it tends to swing back and forth like a pendulum. The Tom Ford Private Blend Collection has been around since 2007, under the creative direction of Tom Ford and Karen Khoury. Most of the early fragrances had an intensity to them and that depth is what drew me to the line in the first place. Noir de Noir’s mix of chocolate, rose, oud, and patchouli is a good example. In 2010, things lightened up a bit and Jasmin Rouge is a good example of where the pendulum had swung to as the jasmine was kept cleaner and the notes surrounding it were kept in check. That kind of restraint added a sense of ephemeral beauty to those that I came to appreciate very much. But, but, but I wanted another Private Blend which swaggered with audacity. Little did I know it had been released last September.
Tom Ford Private Blend London was an exclusive to the new Sloane Square Tom Ford boutique which opened in 2013 in London. There was little enthusiasm for it among the London contingent of perfumistas and as a result without an attendant buzz I had a very difficult time getting a sample. I did finally get one from online decanting site Surrender to Chance. What I was greeted with was a fragrance which seemed to encompass something more than trying to assay London as a fragrance. This was a fragrance of the East; exotic spices, opulent florals, and deep woods. This was the London of the Royal Geographic Society as their members brought back things seen for the first time from all over the globe. In a wood paneled drawing room, furnished in leather, one explorer shows off the cinnamon and cardamom he acquired. On another table a species of jasmine from the Himalayas scented the room. Raw vanilla pods from the West Indies mixed with these very intense smelling oud wood chips from Egypt smoking in a censer. This is the smell of Tom Ford Private Blend London.
Perfumer Yann Vasnier opens London up with a spicy mélange centered on cinnamon but heavily influenced with cardamom, ginger, and black pepper. This captured my attention immediately as M. Vasnier swirls all of this up into a spicy sirocco which blows with an airy potency. The jasmine in the heart is full on indolic jasmine and it has to be to make any headway against the spices. This skanky jasmine fits in perfectly with the spices and it is heady stuff. It gets even deeper as oud over leather makes up the key notes of the base. It is sweetened with a bit of vanilla and amber but this is drawing room leather and oud mostly.
London has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
My wish has been answered as London feels like it belongs to the original collection more than the more recent releases. It seems appropriate if London is the signal that the pendulum is swinging back because y’know; London swings like the pendulum do.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample purchased form Surrender to Chance
Editor’s note: I expect London will be available worldwide sooner than later as the previous exclusive fragrance to a boutique, Lavender Palm, became widely available about a year later. As of this writing it is still only available in London.