The greatest cities in the world carry signature smells with them as well. It is interesting to see what a perfume which wants to capture one of those cities chooses as their interpretation. Every once in a while my scent memory of a place and the imagination of a fragrance creative team coincide. The new A Lab on Fire One Night in Rio effectively captures my memory of many nights in Rio de Janiero.
More accurately One Night in Rio captures the smell of the early morning. Something I learned in my time in Rio was the night ends when you say it ends. As long as the party wants to keep going it rolls on. In my late 20’s this was a lifestyle I could get used to. Most nights ended with my group of friends walking home with false dawn on the horizon. The smell of those early mornings was especially sharp as the night blooming flowers overlapped with the blooms of the morning. I am not sure whether perfumer Jean-Marc Chaillan has ever been to Rio but this was one of my favorite natural floral scents. It was a way to signal this particular night was over.
Creative director Carlos Kusubayashi has taken some of the most commercial mainstream perfumers and allowed them a bit more latitude than they might get in a more commercial brief. For One Night in Rio M. Chaillan takes that leeway and fills it in with tropical fruit and flowers. It makes for a very sweet composition.
One Night in Rio opens on one of those flowers of the dawn as orange blossom rises up first. M. Chaillan adds a little shade with a judicious pinch of pepper mainly to draw you to the more repressed indoles present in the orange blossom. The heart is where the gardenia of the night and the magnolia of the morning create that shank of the evening accord I was describing above. M. Chaillan lets these two florals intertwine and samba a bit. Passionfruit provides a bit of colorful complement. The final phase is the smell of amber and musk as the exertions of the night come home with a bit of sweaty skin made less skanky with some vanilla.
One Night in Rio has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I have always found something magical about those hours where the night gives way to the light. I especially enjoy them when I approach them from the nightside. M. Chaillan has produced a fragrance which captures that transition in a place known as Rio.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.
There are fragrances created where there is no middle ground. The accords or notes used are so divisive as to one’s own personal idea of where beauty resides that one either loves it or hates it; not a lot of “meh” heard here. The Brooklyn-based perfume house overseen by Carlos Kusubayashi, A Lab on Fire, seems to really enjoy making perfumes that generate these kind of polar opposite responses. The latest two releases, Paris*LA and Made in Heaven, are the brand’s take on gourmands of a different stripe.
Laurent Le Guernec
Paris*LA is meant to be what Los Angeles looks like to a Parisienne and perfumer Laurent Le Guernec has decided that Coca-Cola and macarons capture this dichotomy. Right there I can already hear people thinking, “Eww! Coke and a macaron.” To be candid I have to admit that was my reaction when reading the notes. M. Le Guernec does a fine job of capturing the brilliance of LA and a Parisienne looking for something to remind her of home.
The opening note of Paris*LA is a bright blast of key lime. It is like stepping off the plane and the sun hits you square between the eyes. The key lime is an olfactory attention getter and it burns off pretty rapidly. The coca-cola accord comes next and it is a combination of fizzy aldehydes, ginger, and caramel. The fizz of the aldehydes are fine tuned to not trip over into their more provocative nature and here provide more effervescent background than anything. Next comes the macaron accord vanilla and almond out front. Then because all the best macarons are flavored M. Le Guernec adds in subtle hints of neroli, coriander, and thyme. They take the dessert-y accord and add some texture to it. The coca-cola accord has persisted and by the final hours this is a mix of sweet and sweeter as the cola and macaron accord combine to form a fragrant sugar rush. You can put me firmly in the love it category as both the cola and macaron accords work really well on my skin. I think for those who are not fond of sweet gourmands this will raise different emotions.
One of my favorite things to observe is when Mr. Kusubayashi hires a perfumer who has done the great majority of their work in the non-niche side of the business and allows them the freedom to create. Made in Heaven by perfumer Pascal Gaurin is what happens. M. Gaurin works for IFF and within the company there is a branch called Laboratoire Monique Remy (LMR) which is the group who produces unique natural absolutes using the latest scientific techniques. By their very nature these are expensive raw materials and most mainstream releases would use a tiny bit of one to stay within budget. M. Gaurin freed of the economic constraints uses five of these exquisite floral absolutes in Made in Heaven. One of the other remaining notes must have been an accord M. Gaurin has had on the shelf and been wanting to use because underneath the diaphanous flowers is a foundation of cereal.
Made in Heaven starts with magnolia absolute and this has lilting woody floral air to which M. Gaurin hangs mandarin and saffron upon it. The saffron provides an exotic effect while the mandarin adds citrus-y energy. While the magnolia is tender and fragile the heart notes stride into view with a brassy white flower confidence. Absolutes of jasmine, tuberose, and orange flower take over the heart of Made in Heaven. All three of these absolutes show off the flower in a pristine jewel-like spotlight. If you concentrate on it you can pick out each note individually. Together it is divine. The base is made up of the cereal accord and to my nose it smells the way a box of Cap’n Crunch smells when you first open the bag. Sugary vanilla sweetness rises through the flowers and mixes with them surprisingly well. The jasmine in particular seems to really take to the cereal. Much later on orris absolute starts to fill in as the orange flower fades. It adds a slightly powdery finish to it all. I really enjoy when perfumers are allowed to use the “good stuff”. The LMR absolutes are the “good stuff” and M. Gaurin has displayed them in a way to show why they are so special.
Paris*LA has 8-10 hour longevity and, except for the key lime blast on top, below average sillage. Made in Heaven has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Both Paris*LA and Made in Heaven continue to show why A Lab on Fire is one of the most exciting niche houses on the scene. Mr. Kusubayashi allowing the perfumers to have as much latitude to create as possible leads to perfumes you may love or hate but you will never be bored by them.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples I purchased from Twisted Lily.
One of my favorite early niche perfume lines was one called S-Perfume which came straight out of the DUMBO art collective in Brooklyn. The creative director behind the brand was Nobi Shioya who is also known as sculptor Sacre Nobi. In 2000 he became fascinated with fragrance and worked with perfumers Alberto Morillas and Thierry Wasser to add scent to his sculpture. This would lead to a one-off project where he assigned one of the Seven Deadly Sins to a perfumer. Back in 2002 this was the roster he attracted, besides Messrs. Morillas and Wasser, Annie Buzantian, Jacques Cavallier, Ilia Ermenidis, Annick Menardo, and Harry Fremont. I would say that my little sample set of these Seven Deadly Sin perfumes was one of the earliest moments where I seriously began to consider the idea of olfactory art. Each perfume was challenging and the perfumers were encouraged to push the boundaries of perfume making. I can’t say any of them are anything I crave to wear but I do pull them out from time-to-time to appreciate them as artistic statements. Sacre Nobi would go on to produce two perfumes which would be sold in stores 100% Love by Sophia Grojsman and S-ex by Christophe Laudamiel released in 2007 and 2006 respectively. These were and are amazing fragrances I do wear and they are among the very best of both perfumer’s collection.
Nobi Shioya aka Sacre Nobi
Sacre Nobi would say in 2008 that he was phasing out of his “fragrance period” and for a while that seemed to be the case. 100% Love and S-ex continued to be produced intermittently and the brand was never completely gone. In 2011 I heard Sacre Nobi was back and working on a new fragrance line A Lab on Fire. A Lab on Fire held all of the same principles that S-Perfume had giving perfumers wide latitude to create without commercial pressure. It has been one of my favorite new niche perfume houses of the last few years. Then a few months ago I received a press release announcing the return of S-Perfume with new bottles and four new perfumes added to the original two. Of the four new perfumes there was one I was zeroed in on right from the start Musk-S.
One of the very first S-Perfume compositions was an attempt to create the perfect sheer skin musk. Alberto Morillas created S-Perfume to be that back in 2000. Ever since Sacre Nobi has encouraged the perfumers to tweak that original formula trying to perfect it. Perfumer Carlos Benaim is the latest hand to evolve the original formulation and the result is Musk-S. I am not sure if perfection has been reached but it is getting much closer.
M. Benaim uses chestnut flower as the top note. In the original formulation this was around in much greater quantity as a method of discomfiture for the wearer. For those unfamiliar with the raw ingredient chestnut flower smells like semen. The higher the concentration the easier it is to make the connection. For Musk-S M. Benaim uses it in a much modulated form more as a nod to the original than anything else. A continued light mix of vanilla and bourbon add a bit of sweet booziness of the barroom. Once these preliminaries are out of the way we get down to the base note collection of synthetic musks. The original S-Perfume came off smelling more like a money shot from a pornographic movie. It was interesting but it felt miles away from where Sacre Nobi wanted it to be. This was also because M. Morillas had a lot of synthetic musks to use but not nearly the arsenal M. Benaim would have 14 years later. That is the key difference as M. Benaim has taken many of the more modern synthetic musks and layered them in to one of the most compelling synthetic musk skin accords I have smelled. There are still a few rough edges here and there which disrupt the illusion but they are slight and require attention to notice them. If I let my analytical mind take a nap they are really unnoticeable.
Musk-S has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I am thrilled that Sacre Nobi has decided to start a second “fragrance period” the freedom he grants the perfumers he works with is unrivaled in the niche perfume business. Musk-S serves as a perfect first fragrance to kick off this new era as it borrows from the past to create a current spectacular synthetic musk perfume.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Intertrade Europe at Pitti Fragranze.