New Perfume Review Gucci Guilty Oud- Absolute pour Homme Take Two

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When I really started expanding my perfume horizons one of the brands which thrilled me was Gucci. This was during the time Tom Ford was in charge of Gucci as creative director for everything. Mr. Ford showed the power of cohesive creative control. When he left Gucci to form his own eponymous brand those principles have created one of the great success stories in fashion retail. What he left behind at Gucci descended into soulless corporate fragrance with few exceptions. There is a new creative director for all things Gucci again, Alessandro Michele, and he actually cares about the fragrances which carry the Gucci imprint. The proof of that has been the releases over the last eighteen months. The latest addition to the new era at the brand is Gucci Guilty Oud.

Alessandro Michele

Sig. Michele has again turned the brand into a forward-thinking fragrance one. An aspect of the early phase is he has chosen to work almost exclusively with perfumer Alberto Morillas. As I remark upon frequently this kind of creative director-perfumer partnership has a positive effect; especially when trying to design a brand aesthetic. Just a few perfumes into this collaboration there are the outlines of what that might be for Gucci 2018 and beyond.

Alberto Morillas

One thing I have been enjoying is Sig. Michele is not signing on to the “lighter and transparent is better” bandwagon. He is defining something which has much more presence than the other masstige brands he is competing with. It is too early to see if consumers share his vision. I am hoping that there is room for something beyond lighter and transparent in the current landscape. Guilty Oud will be one which helps let us know if there is.

Guilty Oud is really a flanker of Gucci Guilty Absolute pour Homme.  I was not a fan of that perfume. Guilty Oud is almost take two on that perfume. It uses some of what I really liked about the earlier release this year of Guilty Absolute pour Femme; the blackberry. That perfume was an effusive fruity floral. Guilty Oud is not that but the blackberry along with some other similar ingredients improves greatly on Guilty Absolute pour Homme.

It is that blackberry which opens Guilty Oud. In this perfume it is a quick fleeting bit of fruit. I like it for that kind of effect; here then gone. It moves into a patchouli and rose heart which has been the Guilty DNA. Here it is made to stand out without too much support. The oud comes from using a small amount of natural oud within a larger oud accord. One thing which I found to be a nice touch was using a cypress extract called Goldenwood to provide a blonde wood counterweight to the oud accord. It smooths out the entire fragrance providing an overall sophistication.

Guilty Oud has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

These are exciting times at Gucci perfume. Guilty Oud gives me more reason to believe we are at the beginning of something great again.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Gucci.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Giorgio Armani Sensi- Can We do Niche?

I have no idea if this first paragraph carries a grain of truth but in hindsight I think it might. As fragrance crossed into the 21st century the uprising of interesting perfumes willingly marching out-of-step with the mainstream were creating a movement. The large corporations behind the mainstream had to be looking at this wondering how they could turn this to their ends. I don’t think they were any more successful at identifying and defining niche than I can twenty some years on. It still makes me think that at some boardrooms there was a conversation which began with the question “Can we do niche, too?” I think this led to a lot of poorly thought out perfume, but here and there that concept found its place. That mainstream audiences weren’t ready for that is why Giorgio Armani Sensi is this month’s Dead Letter Office subject.

Harry Fremont

Giorgio Armani began their fragrance line in 1982. It would become incredibly successful with the back-to-back releases of Acqua di Gio and Acqua di Gio pour Homme in 1995 and 96 respectively. They became exemplars of the prevailing trends on the men’s and women’s fragrance counters of the day. To this day they remain big sellers. By 2002 Armani wanted to release another pair of perfumes. The men’s one was Armani Mania pour Homme which was a typical masculine woody. Sensi would be released six months later and it was not typical.

Alberto Morillas

Perfumers Harry Fremont and Alberto Morillas collaborated on Sensi. What they produced is a fragrance of nuance which charms because of its complexity. They used some interesting ingredients which give textural effects not usually found at the mall. Which might be why its no longer for sale.

Sensi opens with a laser beam of lime. It is focused, delineated, and clean. It is an attention getter before the florals arrive. The floral accord is primarily jasmine and mimosa. It is a gorgeous accord with some of the indoles present instead of being scrubbed away. Then the first bit of texture arrives with barley providing a “grain” to the florals. It comes off as a slightly toasted almond effect which meshes with the florals in a fascinating way. Throughout this phase it is like there is a kinetic accord subtly shifting moment by moment. This moves to a kind of gourmand-like vanilla and benzoin accord. I say gourmand because the barley also interacts with these to form something which feels gourmand. Except as it also interacts with the florals it provides a warming depth. As it moves into this phase I am again met with a perfume which continually shifts. Some palisander wood provides a woody base for this to end upon.

Sensi has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

Even now there are almost no perfumes in the department store which display the subtle charms of Sensi. It never caught on with consumers. Although those who did find it have become fanatic about it. It is one reason you see the bottles go for high prices on the auction sites.

So if there is any accuracy to my first paragraph the answer to the question “can we do niche?” was answered with an enthusiastic “Yes!” by Sensi. That it was received somewhat less enthusiastically by the buying public is why it is in the Dead Letter Office.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by a generous reader.

Mark Behnke

Flanker Round-Up: Marc Jacobs Daisy Love and Thierry Mugler Alien Flora Futura

As I finish clearing my desk of the spring releases of 2018 I wanted to mention a couple of the flankers which were better than most of the others released in these early days of 2018.

Marc Jacobs Daisy Love

If there has ever been a brand which has overplayed a flanker, it is Marc Jacobs and Daisy. The original released in 2007 is one of the top tier mainstream perfumes. The thirty-two flankers in the last eleven years are mostly forgettable. Some flankers even spawned their own flankers. It became easy to ignore the entire mess. I wanted to write about Daisy which made me pick up flanker thirty-two, Daisy Love. It turned out there was some connectivity back to the original which made it better than most of the other Daisy flankers.

First connection was perfumer Alberto Morillas returning to make a variation on the original he created. The original was a strawberry fruity floral; for Daisy Love M. Morillas fashions a less fulgent strawberry by using raspberry and cloudberry to result in a greener, almost unripe, strawberry. It is tart more than sweet. M. Morillas then actually uses the title floral to provide a lighter floral effect than in most of the collection. It all ends on generic synthetic woods and musks. I wouldn’t throw over the original for this but it does enough different, without throwing out the whole playbook, that it could be a nice companion for the summer.

Daisy Love has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

Thierry Mugler Alien Flora Futura

Thierry Mugler has only been a touch less aggressive in producing flankers to 2005’s classic Alien. Thierry Mugler has delighted in producing perfume which engenders “love it-hate it” responses. Alien is an excellent example. One could even say that the 21 flankers since its release are attempts to convert the “hate it” crowd. For Alien Flora Futura it lightens up some of the heavier aspects for the set of people who found it too heavy.

Perfumers Dominique Ropion and Jean-Christoophe Herault make this lighter by switching the ingredients while still retaining the Alien vibe. It starts very un-Alien-like using a bright sparkling citron. Citron has a fuller feel to me than lemon although they are similar. The real alteration comes in the heart as the perfumers substitute jasmine with cereus flower, also known as the queen of the night. Cereus has a similarity to jasmine but also a fresher quality. It works nicely with the citron. It eventually slides into the Alien amber focused base accord but in keeping with everything else a touch lighter. If you love Alien I imagine this will feel like Diet Lemon Alien to you. If you hated Alien because it was overwhelmingly aggressive Alien Flora Futura might turn you into a lover.

Alien Flora Futura has 14-16 hour longevity an average sillage.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by the manufacturers.

Mark Behnke

Flanker Round-Up: Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio Absolu and Ralph Lauren Polo Ultra Blue

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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.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Gucci Bloom Acqua di Fiori- Smell Your Greens!

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.

Alessandro Michele

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.

Alberto Morillas

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.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Mizensir Poudre D’Or- Sopranos and Tenors

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.

Alberto Morillas

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.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Gucci Guilty Absolute Pour Femme- Dreamy Blackberry

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.

Alessandro Michele

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.

Alberto Morillas

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.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Mizensir Elixir de Musc- The Musks of Summer

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.

Alberto Morillas

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.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Carolina Herrera Confidential Bergamot Bloom- Jasmine Supernova

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.

Alberto Morillas

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.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Gucci Bloom- White Flower Emotions

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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.

Alberto Morillas

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.

Mark Behnke