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.
The very essence of this series is that as diligent as I can be I can’t try everything. It is one of the reasons the large perfume expos like Esxence offer me a second chance to find something I overlooked. At the most recent version this happened when I walked up to the X-Ray Profumo booth to meet owner and creative director Ray Burns. In 2012 the line had debuted five new releases exclusively in Barney’s. I remember trying it at the time but one of my colleagues at CaFlureBon wrote about it first. Then as so often happens with brands that are exclusive to a store I forgot about it.
Photo via Fragrantica
I was drawn to the booth by this turquoise colored liquid. Mr. Burns presented to me the perfume he released in the spring of 2014 called Amnesia. Amnesia was inspired by the Mediterranean island of Ibiza. Ibiza is a summer paradise which is as known for its nightlife as it is for its beaches. Amnesia is meant to capture that mix of beachside fun Ibiza is known for. Mr. Burns employed perfumer Ralf Schwieger to help him capture this. In a year of new twists on the aquatic perfume style Amnesia steps up and produces yet another one.
One of the things very admirable about Hr. Schwieger is he can take an accord which smells unpleasant on its own and magically transform it into something that is unforgettably beautiful. In Amnesia the accord he uses as the focal point is a sea salt and seaweed accord. By itself it smells exactly as it sounds, like low tide. There is a strong damp vegetal component matched with the smell of clean sea spray. By itself this is nothing anyone would want to wear. Placed at the center of a perfume called Amnesia it gives it a depth and texture unobtainable without it.
Amnesia opens with a fresh water bouquet of water lily floating on a pond. It is a very opaque floral accord which is also quite watery. A mix of salicylates remind us we are at the beach as they form a suntan lotion accord. Then the tide goes out and the sea salt and seaweed accord arrives. The salicylates do quite a lot to ameliorate the more pungent aspects. Violet wood and clove also help twist it from full-on low tide into something more abstract. As if you were trying to remember the smell of the beach after you had forgotten it. This wonderfully effective aquatic accord is where Amnesia spends most of its time on my skin. When it moves into the base it is a woody base of sandalwood, cedar, and ambrox along with a white musk cocktail to form a skin accord.
Amnesia has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I’m not sure why the aquatic style of perfume has suddenly attracted the creative talents of so many perfumers recently. I can only enjoy each new version as they give me something new to consider. I know that Amnesia is another one of these and it will take a real case of amnesia for met to forget Hr. Schwieger’s creation.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by X-Ray Profumo at Esxence 2015.
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.