As I did in last month’s installment I am looking at two flankers of mainstream success stories. It is also another example of taking the original and going lighter or heavier as a flanker.
Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio Absolu
There is no doubt that the original Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio pour Homme is one of the great mainstream success stories. Perfumer Alberto Morillas created one of the landmark aquatic perfumes in 1996. Unlike many brands Giorgio Armani has been protective of overexposing the brand; Acqua di Gio Absolu is only the third flanker released. Another good thing about these flankers is they are distinctly different perfumes which capture pieces of the original formula without just replicating it with a new ingredient or two.
Sr. Morillas is again at the helm and he starts with the “acqua”, as a marine accord of sea and sand opens things up. It is then deepened with not the typical citrus notes but something sweeter. It then takes a very woody turn over the latter stages to become a mainly woody aquatic. For anyone who wanted a woodier version of Acqua di Gio, without the jasmine, Absolu will be your thing. If you want to grow your Acqua di Gio collection it is sufficiently different from the original, Acqua di Gio Essenza and Acqua di Gio Profumo to be worth a try.
Acqua di Gio Absolu has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Ralph Lauren Polo Ultra Blue
Ralph Lauren Polo is one of the alpha masculine mainstream perfumes since its release in 1978. Ralph Lauren has aggressively expanded the collection for a Polo Man as it has expanded into different colors, Black, Red, and Blue. The latter was its entry into the aquatic genre in 2002. It was a nicely done perfume but not one of my favorites in the Polo collection although it does have its fans. I will be interested to see what they think of Polo Ultra Blue because it is extremely light. It fits in with the current trends in mainstream fragrance but it might be so light it has become like ultraviolet light; hard to sense.
Original perfumer of Polo, Carlos Benaim, opens with a chilled lemon top accord. It is right here I wanted more. This is a veil which provides a momentary outbreak of goosebumps. It gets overtaken by sage with a bit of verbena picking up the lemon opening. The base has a stony ingredient providing a craggy coastline for Ultra Blue to crash upon. There was part of me thinking this would have been more appropriately named Polo Blue Sport but there already is one. I can see this being the ideal post-workout spritz because it is undeniably refreshing. I do have to warn those who value longevity and projection Polo Ultra Blue lacks in both categories.
Polo Ultra Blue has 4-6 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by the manufacturers.
When I was child I heard one phrase a lot at dinner, “Eat your greens!” I found a way to nibble around the edges of what ever was on my plate while eating the other things. It is far from an uncommon experience. Green in perfume is also a difficult sell to most consumers. If there is one significant difference between niche and mainstream it that niche is happy to go green. There are plenty of examples of well executed green mainstream releases which failed. It’s like at the mall the sales associates are trying to get people to “smell your greens!”. Which makes me interested when a brand takes another attempt at trying to break through. Gucci Bloom Acqua di Fiori is the latest to step up.
If there were “glory days” for the Gucci fragrance line it was probably between 1997-2004. Tom Ford was hands-on with creative direction in all aspects of the brand during that time. Once he left the creative direction was mostly left up to the corporate team at P&G. That resulted in what you would expect, safe crowd-pleasing releases. What has me excited about Gucci again is the new creative director Alessandro Michele also seems to share Mr. Ford’s ethic of being involved in the fragrance as well as the fashion. In Sig. Michele’s early days both Gucci Bloom and Gucci Guilty Absolute pour Femme show a new intriguing creative direction in fragrance. When I received the press materials for Bloom Acqua di Fiori I noticed that two of the more prominent green ingredients, galbanum and blackcurrant buds, were top of the ingredient list. Perfumer Alberto Morillas was going to have his hands full adding those into a transparent white flower original.
The green is right there from the beginning. Sr. Morillas pushes them to a moderate level. The overall effect is a slightly bitter sap accord. There is more strength to it overall which makes Bloom Acqua di Fiori a slightly less transparent perfume than the original. Sr. Morillas then reprises the tuberose and jasmine from the original which are similarly opaque. The new addition is lily of the valley to provide a floral with a significant green quality to connect to the top accord. It ends with a lightly woody base accord of sandalwood and white musks.
Bloom Acqua di Fiori has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I am looking forward to my next visit to my local mall so I can watch first reactions to this perfume. Sig. Michele is trying to see if a new perfume generation will “smell their greens!”. The verdict will take a year to find out. In the meantime, Sig. Michele has again signaled the corporate thought process has been removed from Gucci fragrance. He has a hold of the wheel and is going off-road; Gucci Bloom Acqua di Fiori continues that journey.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Gucci.
I am not the most educated consumer of opera. One of my more misguided attempts to try and learn more was to buy tickets to the 1989 version of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at NYC’s Metropolitan Opera. I jumped into the deep end of the pool; and drowned. If there was anything which I took away from that was the way vocals combine in ways which transcend language. Beauty represented by the comingling of specific musical notes coming from the throats of trained professionals. It is layered in a way which allow both voices their space coming together in harmony. Perfume can also do that. It also takes trained professionals to pull it off. The latest from perfumer Alberto Morillas for his own brand Mizensir is called Poudre D’Or and it a great example of what I am writing about.
If there is one thing that gets an undeservedly bad rep in perfumery it is synthetics. There has never been a definitive statement of the Mizensir aesthetic. After 21 releases it seems to me like it is an opportunity for Sr. Morillas to explore the best synthetic ingredients in operatic ways. Poudre D’Or does this with two of the most widely used and recognizable synthetic ingredients; Paradisone and Exaltone.
Paradisone is jasmine at the top of the octave; the figurative soprano in Poudre D’Or. Exaltone is the tenor, as a softly animalic musk. Sr. Morillas allows both expansive ingredients the space to sing their duet in a full-throated way.
The performance starts with Paradisone going straight to High C in the key of jasmine. Paradisone has to be used intelligently, which Sr. Morillas’ experience in using it allows for him to achieve. It has explosive power to which Sr. Morillas adds a luminescence via tiare. It brings a constellation of light to the hard charging ingredient. As the Exaltone steps forward it provides an animalic musk which is designed to be easy. Sr. Morillas makes it more so by adding in some iris, the powder in the name, to provide a connective effect to the Paradisone. The two synthetics find a harmonious conjunction which is quite satisfying. It ends on a sweet woody base of sandalwood and vanilla.
Poudre D’Or has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
As a chemist I am already predisposed to not being wary of synthetics in my perfume. Sr. Morillas has been making a case, with the Mizensir collection, that those synthetics can be used for incredible effect. Poudre D’Or is an example of two of the most famous synthetics finding their voice unleashed.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Mizensir.
The designer perfume brands naturally go through up and downs. It usually depends on how important the Creative Director thinks fragrance is to the overall brand identity they want. When that Creative Director is invested in fragrance that is when some of the greatest designer perfumes arrive along with an overall collection coherence. At Gucci it seems like Creative Director Alessandro Michele is one of those.
Gucci Spring/Summer 2018
Sig. Michele has revived the fashion side of Gucci in just over two years. It has been impressive to see as he uses vintage inspirations to add detailing to modern silhouettes. Last year’s Gucci Bloom was the first fragrance release under his oversight. That it was one of the best designer releases of 2017 showed the interest in fragrance was back. Now it is time to see where Gucci is headed on the fragrance side with the second release under Sig. Michele’s creative direction Gucci Guilty Absolute Pour Femme.
As he did with Gucci Bloom he collaborates with perfumer Alberto Morillas who also did last year’s Gucci Guilty Absolute Pour Homme prior to Sig. Michele taking over the fragrance creative direction. It allows for a real indication of where Sig. Michele is adding to the overall design. The Guilty Absolute Pour Homme rested upon a patchouli, leather, and cypress base. I wasn’t crazy about that combination. When I received the press materials and noticed that same base present I was worried. Here is where Sig. Michele’s vision comes to the fore. Also, in the press materials he says, “I wanted a blackberry note that would make you dream upon smelling it.” Right there is what makes Guilty Absolute Pour Femme excel as Sr. Morillas finds that. That dreamy blackberry is the exact counterweight needed for that base accord.
That blackberry is where we start. This is so good I think it is going to sell a lot of perfume because those who like fruity florals are going to go crazy for this blackberry. I’ve spent a lot of time examining it. I think its dreaminess comes from a judicious use of blackcurrant to keep the sweetness of the blackberry leaner. It’s not listed as an ingredient but there is something keeping the blackberry from going all jammy. What does bring that aspect out is the rose and patchouli which come next. The rose does what it usually does with berries it encounters it deepens them. The patchouli adds an earthy aspect which then adds in the leather accord and cypress from Guilty Absolute Pour Homme.
Gucci Guilty Absolute Pour Femme has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I can’t overstate how much better Gucci Guilty Absolute Pour Femme is compared to Guilty Absolute Pour Homme. It all comes down to the choice of Sig. Michele to insist upon a dreamy blackberry over the same base. It is clear what the influence of active creative direction can have. A simple dreamy blackberry has me dreaming for even better days ahead for Gucci fragrance.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Gucci.
When a perfumer begins their own line you get to see some of the personality unaltered by creative directors or PR campaigns. When designing for themselves they can be indulgent. The brands which succeed understand the difference between that and self-indulgent. It is what makes the Mizensir fragrance collection by Alberto Morillas such an interesting experience.
I consider Sr. Morillas the best perfumer in the mainstream sector of perfume. When he began Mizensir in 2015 I was interested to see what the direction of the brand would be. With these latest three releases, bringing the number up to 19, the data set is large enough to see patterns. One of the more obvious ones is Sr. Morillas could take some of his favorite notes and accords and push them a little further than the typical mainstream release is likely to tolerate. It is making the Mizensir collection a stepping stone to the niche perfume side of the fragrance aisle.
Sr. Morillas is known for many things but if there is one note which lingers in my consciousness it is musk. He championed the use of white musks. He has been instrumental in delineating the uses of many of the popular synthetic versions. It was why when I got the press materials with my samples the one I was most interested to spend time with was Elixir de Musc.
Sr. Morillas wanted Elixir de Musc to represent sun-warmed skin, an accord he has done many times. The difference is he also wanted this to be more concentrated befitting the name, a true elixir of musks. As such there is no real pyramid here. Instead Sr. Morillas presents a brew of three of Firmenich’s finest synthetics: Cetalox, Limbanol, and Iris Concrete. Cetalox is a lighter version of the more well-known Ambox. Limbanol is the same kind of lighter version of the more ubiquitous Norlimbanol. Iris Concrete is a synthetic recreation of the precious natural ingredient orris concrete. Into this mixture Muscenone and Habanolide provide the musk component.
Form the first moment I sprayed this on it strongly reminded me of warm skin. It is the smell of a day at the beach as the breeze carries the smell of your skin to your nose. It is clean but the musk keeps it from being insipid. It is a gorgeously realized accord.
Elixir de Musc has 24-hour longevity and average sillage.
There is another thing Sr. Morillas is doing within the Mizensir line; he is showing the versatility of the synthetic ingredients available in 2017. Throughout the collection there are numerous examples of it but Elixir de Musc stands apart as the pinnacle of this kind of construction. In this case he has created a perfume of the musks of summer.
Disclosure: This review based on a sample from Mizensir.
There are times when I receive a collection that there is one which is so much better than the others it sucks all the air out of the room. I have always seen it as a double-edged sword. One edge is having produced something memorable is great. The other edge is the remaining members wither by comparison; maybe unfairly so. It is made worse when I pick the outlier from the group first so that the others become afterthoughts. This was the situation when I received a collection of six Eaux de Toilettes comprising the newest Carolina Herrera Confidential releases.
The Confidential collection debuted in 2015 with a collection of six perfumes designed to be combined with a companion set of three perfume oils. Those first releases were uniformly average; they were well done but presented nothing new. I can’t speak to the effect adding in any of the oils to them would have had because none of them stood out enough for me to care to explore that. Now two years later the new collection goes for a set of light volume perfumes designed for wearing during the summer. As before the collection is well executed. The difference this time is there is one which is more than that; Bergamot Bloom.
Don’t let the name fool you Bergamot Bloom has almost nothing to do with bergamot. Perfumer Alberto Morillas has made a fabulously expansive jasmine which has a corona of citrus, ginger, baie rose, vetiver and patchouli.
The core of Bergamot Bloom is jasmine as represented by the aromachemical Paradisone. When Paradisone is used it can run roughshod over everything else in the perfume. The skill of Sr. Morillas is he knows how to use the right partners to ride the dramatic expansiveness of something like Paradisone. In the early moments, it is lemon and ginger providing the brilliance of a corona. Later, baie rose, vetiver and patchouli provide the warmth. All while the jasmine explodes like a supernova. To provide the final bit of ignition Ambrox doubles down obliterating all but the jasmine in its path as the jasmine collapses around the synthetic woody ingredient.
Bergamot Bloom has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Ingredients like Paradisone and Ambrox are like wild bucking broncos which can be hard to control. It is why Sr. Morillas is the perfumer he is because he knows it isn’t just about the heat of the core but the corona is what makes it beautiful; which is what happens in Bergamot Bloom.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Carolina Herrera.
The Gucci fashion empire is amid change. Two years ago, the creative brain trust at the brand was overturned with young designer Alessandro Michele becoming the Creative Director. Of course, first on his list was to oversee the fashion aspect. Now he finally turns to the fragrance business with the first release under his creative direction; Gucci Bloom.
Alessandro Michele (Photo: Jamie Hawkesworth)
When it comes to fragrance Gucci has really never had a consistent brand identity. It doesn’t mean there haven’t been some great perfumes with Gucci on the label just nothing approaching cohesion from release to release. In many of the interviews Sig. Michele gave after being named to his post he would talk about how fashion is an emotional experience when it is at its best. I would also say that kind of attitude would be paramount in designing a perfume.
For his first fragrance Sig. Michele couldn’t have chosen a better collaborator than perfumer Alberto Morillas. When I saw the photo of the bottle which accompanied my sample I didn’t even need the prompting from the PR to think it was in #Millennial pink. Which lead me to expect a transparent floral gourmand inside that container. Imagine my surprise to find a full-throated white flower fragrance instead.
The construction of Bloom is kept very simple with it being most easily described as a tuberose and jasmine perfume. Except where nearly everyone else is going for opaque Sig. Michele and Sr. Morillas go to the opposite. There is meant to be a fragrance with presence here.
Describing this is facile. It opens with tuberose and it is the creamy, buttery version of tuberose. The indoles are here but are the only part of the white flowers which are dialed back a little bit. Not gone but not enough to provide the full-on skank you find elsewhere. The jasmine is kept just a notch below the volume of the tuberose making it a supporting note but one which has an important role to play. The final note I experience is iris which provides a powdery finishing effect. There is supposed to be a proprietary note used here for the first time called Rangoon creeper, a version of Chinese honeysuckle. If it is here it is being used so subtly I was unable to experience it as a distinct presence. Maybe when I smell it in something where it is most prominent I’ll be able to re-visit Bloom and go, “Oh, yeah now I see it.”
Bloom has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Sig. Michele is definitely willing to allow a perfume lover’s emotion to carry the weight of how they will feel about this. It is an excellently executed white flower mainstream release. How you feel about that will probably decide your emotion when it comes to Bloom.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Gucci.
Ever since the release of Cool Water in 1988 blue has been the color of fresh in fragrance. Whenever I walk up to a bottle of perfume and there is blue in the name or the bottle is blue or the perfume itself is tinted azure I can almost guarantee it will be fresh. What usually accompanies that is clean. No perfume brand seems to go broke by going this route which makes it one of the most ubiquitous tropes in the department store.
Back in 1998 when Givenchy Pi was released perfumer Alberto Morillas provided a warm vanilla accord consisting of coumarin and benzoin. It is still one of those perfumes which elicits unsolicited compliments when I wear it. To Givenchy’s credit they haven’t gone flanker crazy only producing five since the initial release. At the beginning of the month I received the sixth addition to the Pi collection, Pi Air.
Once again Sr. Morillas is the perfumer as he has been for three of the other Pi flankers; 2001’s Pi Fraiche, 2012’s Pi Leather Edition, and 2015’s Pi Extreme. Of all the flankers Pi Fraiche is my favorite because Sr. Morillas transformed the warm vanilla into a fresh herbal and pine which retained the benzoin from the original. It was also in a frosted blue bottle. When I first tried Pi Air I was strongly reminded of Pi Fraiche as Sr. Morillas has decided to update that version of fresh in an even more blue bottle akin to the color of ice. That seems to be the theme for Pi Air as Sr. Morillas employs a couple of the most expansive aromachemicals in the heart to create a perfume which feels like it fills up my olfactory horizon with a frosty fresh fragrance.
This icy nature shows up right away in what is called a “frozen neroli” accord. What that means is a neroli chilled by grapefruit and ginger. Both of those notes provide a closing in of the neroli. It means most of the green facets are muted while the sweetly floral is also subtler but struggles out of the ice to make its presence known. Then the iciness leads to a heart where paradisone and lavandin provide a high altitude mixture of fresh aromachemicals. Rosemary is an herbal complement to everything in the heart. Sr. Morillas manages to harness both of these strong notes into a well-balanced accord which I enjoyed a lot. The base keeps it simple with a dry cedar, a couple of white musks, and benzoin which is the connective tissue to the Pi heritage.
Pi Air has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Pi Fraiche has been discontinued for a few years now. It is hard not to think of Pi Air as Sr. Morillas’ making a 2017 version. There is nothing particularly different here but somehow, I found Pi Air to be a pleasant fragrance to wear on the days I wore it. Sometimes that is all I need.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Macy’s.
Mrs. C and I became obsessed with the Italian dessert tiramisu a few years ago. We were still living in Boston and we traveled the North End comparing the different versions. From modern chefs to recipes handed down through generations. One of the things we learned during our tasty tour was that despite the origin of the dessert being attributed to the restaurant La Beccherie in Treviso, Italy in 1960 it was widely disputed. The dessert was seen as a layered version of the more classic dessert zuppa inglese. As we learned more I have come to agree with that assessment. Tiramisu roughly translates to “pick me up” The mixture of coffee, cocoa, mascarpone cheese and lady finger cookies is simple but can be made even more complex at whim. When we started making it we added coffee liqueur as a different kind of pick me up over the caffeine from coffee. When I heard the new release Salvatore Ferragamo Uomo was going to be a perfumed take on tiramisu from two of my favorite perfumers Alberto Morillas and Aurelien Guichard I was definitely interested.
Salvatore Ferragamo as fragrance producer has been much more hit than miss for me. If not for the perfumers involved and the tiramisu theme my interest would have been tempered. Even with that, because the brand has been so uneven in the past my expectations were set low. Another reason was the burgeoning of this gourmand mainstream sector in the last year. The great majority of those have lacked focus replacing it with a giant slug of vanilla and ethyl maltol. When I finally got around to Uomo every one of those concerns disappeared. Messrs. Morillas and Guichard have turned in one of the more genial mainstream gourmands of the last few years.
The first moments of Uomo are a pick me up of a different sort as a snappy spiced citrus is the top accord. Bergamot is enveloped with cardamom and black pepper in a zesty first few minutes. Just as I am ready to ask, “where’s dessert?” here it comes. The mixture of cocoa and coffee is supported with some other sweet notes. I think a touch of maltol provides a bit of toasty sweetness but if not that something else is adding a warmth to the main ingredients. The tiramisu accord is balanced and delectable to experience. Another excellent choice is the perfumers choose tonka bean as the deeper sweet note in the base. Instead of overwhelming everything which came before with vanilla, the tonka picks up the coffee and cocoa transporting them to the final ingredients a cocktail of dry woody aromachemicals. These are the particularly austere versions and they provide a surprisingly good framing set of notes for the final moments of Uomo.
Uomo has 18-24 hour longevity and average sillage.
For a mainstream gourmand fragrance Uomo gets almost everything right. If you are a fan of this style of perfume this is one of the best. If you have shied away from gourmands in the past because the vanilla can become too much give this a try. I give credit to Messrs. Morillas and Guichard for their perfumed tiramisu recipe it has been a favorite Holiday pick me up this year.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Salvatore Ferragamo.
I complain a lot about receiving these large collections. Truth be told as I am digging out samples and I get above five with more still in the envelope a slight irritation sets in. If there are one or two which grab me then things tend to work out. If I start with the ones that are less appealing even when I find the one or two I might have been more forgiving to; if they are last they get consigned to the “not going to review” bin. This was what happened a year ago when the initial sample set of Eric Buterbaugh Florals landed on my desk. Seven soliflore-like perfumes featuring a different floral. Eric Buterbaugh is floral designer to the stars in Los Angeles. He branched out in to fragrance in the back half of 2015. When I tried them I expected to like a couple of them but they all left me sort if cold. I wasn’t sure whether it was collection fatigue or something else. I recently received a sample of the latest addition to the line Kingston Osmanthus; this was one which I had no problem connecting with.
Mr. Buterbaugh was working with a strong roster of perfumers right from the start. Alberto Morillas designed two of the original set; Apollo Hyacinth and Fragile Violet. Kingston Osmanthus is his follow=up to those earlier releases. This fragrance grew out of a conversation between the two as Sr. Morillas explained his fascination with osmanthus. It made it a natural to become the eighth Eric Buterbaugh Florals fragrance.
Osmanthus is always a good choice as the focal point of a soliflore because of its inherent dual nature of apricot and leathery facets. What made me enjoy Sr. Morillas’ treatment of it is he uses that bifocal character as a way of filling in blanks in the top and base accords animating the osmanthus even more.
Sr. Morillas opens Kingston Osmanthus with a vivacious duet of violet leaves and jasmine. The indolic nature of the jasmine is dialed way down so the sharp violet leaf has an opportunity to rise to the same level. Now is when the osmanthus enters promoting its apricot forming a funky fruity floral top accord. Over time as the osmanthus develops a leatherier aspect Sr. Morillas uses sandalwood and orris to assist with that transition. Then he injects it into a patchouli fraction called Clearwood. Clearwood is a patchouli oil altered to remove the earthy components while also making it much less powerful. Because the leathery part is not overwhelming the Clearwood becomes an ideal partner. The final touch is a cocktail of musks to help the leather become more musky over the final stage.
Kingston Osmanthus has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Sr. Morillas shows how a raw material like osmanthus can be used as a clever nucleus to stitch the top and base accords together. Kingston Osmanthus is another excellent osmanthus in a year of them.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Eric Buterbaugh Florals.