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.
There are a few perfumers who always capture my attention no matter what they do. One of those is Alberto Morillas. He has been responsible for some of the greatest mainstream perfumes of the last 30 years. Before I knew who he was I knew him through his perfumes that I owned. In those days knowing who it was who had made the perfume was unheard of. Since 2000 that has changed and it allows M. Morillas the opportunity to be seen as the artist that he is. The overwhelming majority of his perfume making still takes place in the mainstream sector. Except over the past few years he has been making some forays into the niche space. 2016 looked like it was going to come to an end without that happening. Then I received my sample of the new Aedes de Venustas Grenadille D’Afrique.
Karl Bradl and Robert Gerstner
Starting in 2012 the owners of the New York City boutique Aedes de Venustas, Karl Bradl and Robert Gerstner, have been creatively directing a compact collection bearing the store name. Grenadille D’Afrique is the seventh of these. Working with M. Morillas for the second time, after last year’s Palissandre D’Or, they return to woody themes. This time they describe the new perfume as “a tribute to ancient ebony”. While it does get up to that concept, especially in the base, the early going is all modern fougere territory.
The opening is that fougere accord. M. Morillas uses juniper berry, lavender, and violet. They form a gin-tinted set of purple flowers. The violet works to keep the lavender from hewing too close to its herbal nature because the juniper berry surely tries to accentuate this. M. Morillas balances this perfectly as it achieves a contemporary lavender effect. Now that promised ebony wood shows up. M. Morillas mixes some of the cleaner woods, like cedar, with a particularly lively vetiver. That vetiver provides the sappy nature that the creative direction called for making it feel as if the wood is straight from the tree. The final phase is a lilting smoky vanilla over a few musks. It provides a soothing ending to a brisk woody fougere.
Grenadille D’Afrique has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Grenadille D’Afrique is a great example of everything I think makes M. Morillas stand out. As a perfumer who has probably made dozens and dozens of fougeres he still manages to find new areas to explore. The final “ebony accord” shows his way at intricately constructed chords. His accords are so layered that they always seem to be subtly in motion while still retaining the overall effect. I am very happy that M. Morillas found his way back to the niche side of the street before the end of the year. Grenadille D’Afrique is another triumph for him.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Aedes de Venustas.
2016 is going to be a very good year for perfumes that were released in the mainstream sector. The primary factor which I think have made this year better is the desire of the big perfume brands to connect with the younger fragrance buyer. What this has led to is a few interesting takes on existing tropes. One of the more consistent things this has produced are perfumes which take half chances. Willing to let the top notes or the base notes carry some risk but the other half needs to be safe. If the interesting half is engaging enough that might be enough. The latest example of this is Versace pour Homme Dylan Blue.
Versace pour Homme Dylan blue is ostensibly a flanker to Versace pour Homme. While it shares the same perfumer, Alberto Morillas, this is pretty much a very different fragrance. It shares some of the same freshness of the original but that’s pretty much where I would end any comparisons. Dylan Blue is making a play for the player in his 20’s or 30’s.
M. Morillas’ plan to ensnare this perfume wearer is to take that stale aquatic fresh accord and really add some pizazz to it. This is that half of Dylan Blue which really succeeds. M. Morillas combines a whole host of synthetics which bounce off one another in a very engaging fashion. The problem is that ends and what we are left with is a very generic ending which lasts longer than the opening.
Dylan Blue opens on the tried and true citrus of grapefruit buttressed with bergamot. Right away M. Morillas switches things up by adding fig leaves and an aquatic accord. The fig leaves are a really nice touch adding a creamy green quality. This juxtaposes with the aquatics and the citrus. Then M. Morillas just keeps adding in kinetic energy; black pepper, violet leaves, and papyrus all come in and find a dance partner. The papyrus inserts itself with the aquatic accord and the fig leaves. The violet leaves provide a sharpness to the grapefruit. As this all comes together this does feel like an attempt to reach out to a new younger fragrance wearer with the plea “I’m not your father’s cologne.” The unfortunate part is the base is just like your dad’s cologne. A very generic ambrox, musk, and tonka is what is left behind.
Dylan Blue has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Dylan Blue is half of a very good fragrance. On the second day I wore it I topped it off three times during the day so I could enjoy the early moments again. Even though the title refers to a color of fabric used by fashion designers I was reminded of Bob Dylan’s great song “Tangled up in Blue”. In that song the lyrics tell of a search for love that always begins well but ends with him back in the same place heading down the road. Versace pour Homme Dylan Blue begins well only to end up in the same place but that beginning is worth getting tangled up in Dylan Blue.
Disclosure; This review was based on a sample provided by Versace.
I am sitting here with a desk overflowing with samples. As I was attempting to organize them I was pooling all of the flankers in one stack. As I was doing this I noticed there were four new versions of perfumes of which I liked their original iteration. I have infrequently done a round-up of flankers when I think there is something worth mentioning. I did not give these perfumes which I will write about below my typical two days of wearing. These all got the same day and about the same amount of territory on my two forearms. They were not enough alike that it did set up a bit of olfactory cacophony but I do think I learned enough to make some broad assessments.
Kenneth Cole Black Bold- The original Kenneth Cole Black is one of those great workhorse masculine fougeres which is probably underrated. Perfumer Harry Fremont did Black and he has returned to do Black Bold. As almost all flankers do they keep the basic structure of the original in place and either pump up one of the supporting notes or add an extra one in. Here M. Fremont enhances the mint in the top accord so it is more prominent. It adds a cooling effect to the ginger and basil with which it is matched. The bold is a big slug of oak in the leather focused base. The oak roughs up the smooth leather and for someone wanting a bolder version of Black I think Black Bold does that.
Bulgari Rose Goldea– I really liked last year’s Goldea for the way perfumer Alberto Morillas used his supernatural skill with musks to create a unique mainstream release. Rose Goldea feels like what happens when you release something different; the brand asks for something more conventional. M. Morillas provides a very classic rose focused fragrance bracketed with sandalwood and incense. He couldn’t keep the musks entirely out and they appear in the base providing the similar golden glow they do in the original. I preferred the strong musk thread which ran through the original. If you wanted a lot less musks and more floral, Rose Goldea might do.
Anna Sui Romantica Exotica– I was not a fan of last year’s Romantica it was an overheated fruity floral that I could barely stand on a strip. A change of perfumer also gave a change in style as Jerome Epinette likes to work in more focused accords with clear connections. Romantica Exotica moves from a crisp blood orange and lemon top to an orange blossom and gardenia heart. Cottonwood and sandalwood provide the base accord. Of the four things I had on this was the one that almost got another day of wear out of me.
Giorgio Armani Si Le Parfum– The latest Giorgio Armani release to turn into a sea of flankers is 2013’s Si Eau de Parfum. It has been a pretty bleak grouping as the main thing which was altered was the concentration of the rose de mai focal point. I never understand who these kind of flankers are meant to entice. With the new Si Le Parfum perfumer Julie Masse, who worked on the original with Christine Nagel, makes a massive change from rose de mai to osmanthus in the heart. Almost everything else is the same cassis and vanilla top; amber and labdanum base. The heart is transformed as osmanthus steps up with its leathery apricot quality and wraps the patchouli, benzoin, and jasmine into something that does resemble the desired modern chypre accord. This is the most different of the four from the original because Mme Masse massively reworks the heart accord; for the better.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by the perfume brands.