As the concept of perfumes which didn’t necessarily have to smell pretty took hold simultaneously with the rise of niche perfumery there arose several trendsetting fragrances. One of the boldest was a mainstream release for Bvlgari called simply Black.
When I came upon this sometime around its release in 1998 I remember the salesperson at the department store warning me, “It’s edgy!” Thinking to myself, “How edgy can it be?” The answer was quite a bit. Perfumer Annick Menardo created a fragrance reveling in the smell of rubber. It would be like going to S&M night at the local leather bar. Edgy, indeed.
Mme Menardo fashions a powdery rubber accord around black tea, musk, and sandalwood. In an odd juxtaposition jasmine is used as contrast. Leather intersperses itself and this is where it feels like a bar as smoke, rubber, leather, and a hint of floral combine for that milieu. For the first few minutes of wearing Black it is all of this. Then before it can get truly subversive Mme Menardo reels it all back into familiarity with the olfactory version of a safe word, vanilla. Lots and lots of vanilla. It doesn’t not work as the leather and rubber have sweet facets amplified by the vanilla. But it does turn something challenging into something vanilla.
Black has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
There has always been a part of me that was surprised at how successful Black has been. I would hazard a guess that it is because it allows perfume lovers a chance to walk on the wild side for a short period before going full comfort mode. I still think that opening 30-45 minutes is as good as perfume got back in 1998. Especially mainstream perfume. You can find the distinctive hockey puck shaped bottle for $20-25. Nowadays Black has become mainstream as all that was edgy back in 1998 is now almost quaint. It doesn’t mean its any less of a Discount Diamond it just means there is still enough edge remaining to make it memorable.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
I have mentioned before that I spent some time as part of a summer share in a house on Shelter Island, NY. It was a beautiful serene respite from the hustle and bustle of the urban day-to-day. Nestled between the terminal North and South Forks of Long Island we were a ferry ride away from the rarified air of the Hamptons. I always got a weird vibe from our visits there as it felt like some of the worst parts of the city had found a beach home. Which is why I enjoyed being out there in the fall with most of the houses boarded up and only a few hardy people walking the dunes in the chilly air. In the hotel I would stay at during these visits the common room always greeted me with a roaring fire, leather chairs, and vases of fresh flowers. When I received my sample of the new perfumes from Une Nuit Nomade based on the Montauk area of Long Island; it was Memory Hotel which reminded me strongly of these autumn getaways.
Philippe Solas (top) and Alexandra Cubizolles
The creative directors behind Une Nuit Nomade are Alexandra Cubizolles and Philippe Solas who collaborate with perfumer Annick Menardo for Memory Motel. Mme Cubizolles and M. Solas met while traveling and together they decided to make a travel inspired perfume line. The first set of releases were based on their initial meeting in Bali. Now the latest two releases are meant to capture Montauk as fragrance. Memory Motel refers to the place Andy Warhol bought out in the Hamptons. For the fragrance they wanted to capture the moment in time when the Rolling Stones set up shop there to record their album “Black and Blue”. This translates into a warm resinous perfume. Memory Motel is not the stage version of the Stones this is the idea of musicians working out their material behind the scenes. It is subtle with many of the best traits of Mme Menardo’s style on display.
It opens with an opaque incense swirling in curls of smoke. It has the slightly silvery essence of good incense. Through the opacity of the resins iris and carnation arise to form a second filter through which to experience this perfume. In the base is where we get the rock and roll as leather, patchouli, tobacco, and vanilla combine in the idea of the band sitting in a room figuring out their new material.
Memory Motel has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I must admit this never quite coalesces as a fragrance of rock and roll. I kept being reminded of my autumn trips to Sag Harbor which is more sabbatical than “Satisfaction”.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample purchased from Une Nuit Nomade.
There are several inspirations which crop up again and again in fragrance. One of the more common ones is the fictional city of Shangri-La from the 1933 book by James Hilton and the movie of the same name by director Frank Capra four years later. It is suggested that it is somewhere in the area adjacent to Tibet in the Kunlun Mountains. That’s from the book. There are many other places which claim to be the inspiration for Mr. Hilton. I am happy that there is no one earthly place which can be pinned down as the definitive source of Shangri-La. Shangri-La should always be a concept embracing the ability to find true serenity which doesn’t require a physical presence; the idea is enough.
Amouage creative director Christopher Chong recently visited Bhutan coming away with the inspiration for the latest duo of releases; Figment Man and Figment Woman. Don’t read “figment” as containing fig read it as figment of imagination. Much as seeing Shangri-La would be. I’ll be reviewing both but I’m going to start with Figment Man.
Mr. Chong collaborates with perfumer Annick Menardo for Figment Man. Figment Man is part of the “second cycle” of Amouage. Now that we have a few releases in this group there is beginning to be a developing aesthetic which seems to delight in developing large themes on a broad canvas. Some of this is the brand aesthetic of Amouage. Most of it is Mr. Chong’s desire to create fragrance with an operatic wingspan. I have been enjoying this overt style through the first few releases of the “second cycle”. Mme Menardo is fluent in this kind of design making her a good partner.
The nucleus of Figment Man is sandalwood. Sandalwood is one of those smells which I associate with meditation. It is the clean slightly sweet woody scent I use as my olfactory mantra as I breathe in and out in search of center. Mr. Chong and Mme Menardo are looking to make that search a bit more challenging. Requiring an inward examination of the air, the earth, and the body.
Figment Man opens with a cleansing breath of lemon, baie rose, and geranium. This is that deep breath on a cool morning you feel it all the way to the base of your soul. The sandalwood then appears holding the center; focusing my attention. Vetiver covers it with a grassy veil which takes my focus elsewhere. Then Mme Menardo uses what is described as an “animalic note”. It is surely not a single note but a mixture of modern synthetic musks. It resolves into a clean skin accord which brings me inward. Next, I am drawn in the opposite direction as Mme Menardo creates an “earthy accord” this is a wet soil accord carrying the after the rain quality of geosmin. It intertwines with the animalic forming a duet of earth and soul on a sandalwood focal point. This is a fabulous point in the development and where Figment Man spends most of its time on my skin. After many hours guaiac wood comes along to allow me to re-establish the woody focus I started with.
Figment Man has 24-hour longevity and above average sillage.
Figment Man is everything that I respect about the current version of Amouage. Mr. Chong directs his perfumer collaborators to push to the edges of what it means to design perfume. It means Amouage is nothing less than fascinating. Figment Man uses the idea of the fictional serenity of Shangri-La to ask a perfume lover to study their idea of what an olfactive version might entail. I might not find the mythical city but the reality of Figment Man will allow me to study serenity anytime I want.
Disclosure: this review was based on a press sample provided by Amouage.
When there is a mass-market brand which has spawned many flankers my chance of liking it is dependent on what I thought of the original. The idea of most flankers is to make something new but not so new that it smells significantly different than the original. Since that is the case I should like the original if the flankers are just simple variations. The corollary is if the flanker dramatically changes that underlying architecture there is an opportunity to make me take notice. This is what has happened with Boss Bottled Tonic the tenth flanker of 1998’s Boss Bottled.
In the late 1990’s the era of fresh and clean perfumes had become dominant in men’s fragrance. Except for one small sector; the “clubbing” scent. There was some product meant to be worn out for the evening. The original Boss Bottled was in this category. Perfumer Annick Menardo made a fruity woody oriental. It was the fruit which put me off right away as apple and plum were on top which headed through a spicy heart to a vanilla sweetened woody base. Boss Bottled was successful and I smelled it often when I was out and about. If you had asked me what I wanted in a Boss Bottled flanker at the time I almost perversely would have asked for something fresher and cleaner. Nearly twenty years later Mme Menardo gives that thought a try in Boss Bottled Tonic.
In the top Mme Menardo jettisons the problematic plum and diminishes the apple significantly. In their place comes a sparkly citrus barrage lead by grapefruit supported by lemon and orange. The apple provides a crisp quality to the citrus. If there was a part of the original I liked it was the geranium, clove and cinnamon heart. That has been retained as the geranium gathers the citrus up and carries them to the spices. Cinnamon and clove have always been good companions to citrus. Ginger adds a lot of fresh energy to this heart accord. It gives it some zest. Finally, the vanilla is also gone and the woody grouping of olive wood, vetiver, sandalwood, and cedar present an opaque lighter woody foundation.
Boss Bottled Tonic has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
Boss Bottled Tonic is going to be the antithesis of the original as this new fragrance is going to be at its best as a summer daytime scent. If you like the original it is going to be a perfect set-up perfume for the nighttime version. I will spend much of my time in the daylight in Boss Bottled Tonic.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Hugo Boss.
I must admit I am amused when I receive press packets full of fancy imagery and wordsmithing meant to convey something unique. In just ten years of writing about perfume I can honestly say I have not encountered a new perspective on fragrance within the press release. Sometimes the harder the brand works with all the campaign imagery it is often meant to cover-up something less than groundbreaking. Sometimes, thankfully, I get to try a perfume before getting all the overcooked puffery. This was a good thing for the new collection from designer Philippe Starck and his new brand Starck Paris.
I tried the debut three perfumes when I attended Tranoi Parfums in NYC in September. I had read about them in a couple of trade publications and my interest was piqued by the perfumers M. Starck chose to work with; Dominique Ropion on Peau de Soie, Annick Menardo on Peau D’Ailleurs, and Daphne Bugey on Peau de Pierre. Trying them that day I was interested to wear them because they all had very interesting evolutions on the piece of skin I had them on. Sniffing those patches over the train ride home had me ready to wear them over the next few days. As I did I was fascinated on the delicacy of the work each of these perfumers produced under the creative direction of M. Starck.
M. Starck was inspired to create perfume because his mother owned a perfume shop and he spent many childhood hours there. It was where his appreciation for the impact scent could have blossomed; leading to this collection. That is a beautiful story and I wish the press stopped there because it is enough to explain why and how the collection is designed. Instead there is a tedious slog through pseudo-intellectualist claptrap. Lot of talk about being intellectual and anti-marketing. The new perfumes are not as out there as M. Starck presumes. Also, the idea of not releasing a note list is also not so revolutionary as he thinks. It made me think that these perfumes were different because of the fragile interplay but the components; those I’ve smelled before and in these combinations. Which maybe makes this all semi-avant garde.
Peau de Soie translates as “silk skin”. The brief M. Starck gave M. Ropion was to wrap a traditional masculine with a feminine covering. It is a fabulous combination of musk and wood to represent that male component which is where Peau de Soie opens. Then M. Ropion wraps it in a powdery iris while simultaneously piecing it with a greenish vector to allow the musk and wood the chance to peek out. As I mentioned above this all holds together like a house of cards that feels like a puff of wind will knock it down; except it is sturdier than that lasting for hours.
Peau D’Ailleurs is harder to translate sort of “skin even more so”. Mme Menardo’s brief was to make this the most androgynous of the three. It isn’t clear to me how much the three perfumers collaborated but based on the structure of Peau D’Ailleurs I am going to assume that Mme Menardo knew some of what her compatriots were doing. That’s because there is a recapitulation of the woods from Peau de Soie and the mineral elements from Peau de Pierre. Mme Menardo spins them on an axis of amber and musk. This all comes together to form a kind of dirt accord but one done with so much finesse it is delightful.
Peau de Pierre which translates to “stone skin” is my favorite of the three. This is meant to be the flip side of Peau de Soie as the feminine evolves the masculine. Not sure I’m there with that because the entire perfume is stolidly in smoky woody territory. I am not sure what the feminine is supposed to be represented by as Peau de Pierre opens with a cleverly composed wet stone accord, definitely some geosmin here, but there is also something else keeping it more expansive. It is like a hologram of river stones. Mme Bugey then adds smoke and vetiver again in a very opaque way. What I enjoyed so much about Peau de Pierre is despite the name it is not as solid as a rock instead it is as ephemeral as a breeze.
All three Starck Paris perfumes have over 10 hour longevity and almost zero sillage; they are skin scents, as advertised.
If I discard all of M. Starck’s pretentiousness and return to him as a child sitting in his mother’s perfume shop I see the genesis of this collection. Imagining translucent spheres of scent traveling above his head intercalating themselves into his vision as they expanded and popped that would have prepared me for the gorgeous set of perfumes which make up this debut collection.
Disclosure; This review was based on samples provided by Starck Paris.
A perfume brand has to know when to take risks and when to please their audience. Creative director/owner of Olfactive Studio Celine Verleure has tread this fine line very well over the five years of its existence. After a 2015 which saw the more adventurous side of things with Panorama and Selfie; 2016 is going back to the more comforting side of things. The earlier release this year Still Life in Rio was related to one of the original releases Still Life. The latest release is called Close Up.
Photo: Suren Manvelyan
Those familiar with the brand know that Mme Verleure chooses a photographic brief to give to her chosen perfumer. I knew Close Up was going to be interesting because she chose a picture by Suren Manvelyan. It comes from a series of photos of the human eye in extreme close up called “Your Beautiful Eyes” In this case it is of an iris floating in blackness. It is a blue eye with orange/red flecks like solar flares puncturing the serenity of the blue. It looks like it could be a galaxy being swallowed by a black hole but it is that which we use to see.
The perfumer Mme Verleure asked to interpret this is Annick Menardo. Mme Menardo usually spends most of her time in the mainstream perfume sector. The beautiful thing about her work is on the rare occasions she ventures into the niche space with a creative director who appreciates her style she has had a fantastic track record. Mme Verleure is one of those creative directors who allows enough space for her perfumers to excel. For Close Up Mme Menrado was allowed to shine.
One of the first things they must have agreed on was that this was not going to be some transparent opaque composition. It was going to carry the intensity of Mr. Manvelyan’s photograph with a host of bold notes. After a year of so much lightness it was a treat to have something which wasn’t afraid to swagger a bit.
Close Up struts its stuff from the very first moments. Mme Menardo combines green coffee with a cherry liqueur note. It is like getting a single blend coffee flavored with cherry syrup. It may sound weird but it goes together unusually well. This transitions into a cherry flavored tobacco while the coffee grabs ahold of the patchouli in the heart. These four ingredients form the part of Close Up which lasts the longest. It has great intensity to it as it wears throughout the day. Once Close Up moves on Mme Menardo has one more surprise as a suite of animalic musks provide the final flare. The musks are ameliorated with a bit of tonka and cedar.
Close Up has 24 hr longevity and average sillage.
My most-worn Olfactive Studio fragrance has been Lumiere Blanche it is probably my favorite fall fragrance I own. The testament to that is my bottle is almost empty. I was expecting to go pick up a replacement before the weather turned cooler. After having worn Close Up I am not so worried about that anymore as I think it might just nudge Lumiere Blanche off of its perch. If you are looking for a new fall fragrance you can’t go wrong with embracing Mme Menardo’s vision of Mr. Manvelyan’s eye.
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample supplied by Olfactive Studio.
Spring is the time of year for roses. Happy blooming red flowers to signal winter is gone. Perfume follows this same trend. The parade of rose fragrances increases in the first part of the year. They also exhibit a sense of light-heartedness. There comes a point where one more pleasantly composed rose brings out my inner curmudgeon. I want to yell at my desk full of samples for these kids to get out of my sight. I was feeling extra salty about all of this when I received my sample of the new Amouage Opus X. I looked at the set of notes and saw rose. I sprayed some on a strip and the antidote to all my irritation was washed away in a deeply moving dark rose perfume.
Christopher Chong the creative director at Amouage took the 1998 movie “The Red Violin” as his inspiration. The movie is the story of a red violin which is created in 1681 by a master violin maker. The red color comes from him mixing the blood of his wife, who dies in childbirth along with his child, in with the varnish. The movie then focuses on the violin as it shows up in 1793 Vienna, 1898 Oxford, 1968 Shanghai, and eventually present day Montreal. At each stop the violin plays a pivotal part as foretold by a tarot card reading at its creation. The Red Violin is a sweeping ambitious piece of storytelling and so is Opus X.
For Opus X Mr. Chong collaborated with perfumers Pierre Negrin and Annick Menardo. Their concept was to create an olfactory red violin. There would be four distinct strings of rose and rose accords. A “red varnish” accord followed by the wood which makes up the body. The creative team really worked out how to create the different rose accords. As I wore it I was reminded of the fingering technique used when playing a violin called vibrato. A musician by using their fingertip to rapidly lengthen and release the string provides a vibrating effect which allows a single note to resonate as if it was two different notes milliseconds apart. In the best violin players’ hands it is used to stunning effect. In the hands of this creative team for Opus X there is a real sense of vibrato among the different rose “strings”.
Opus X opens with those rose strings right away. Rose de Mai represents one of the strings. This classic rose of Provence provides the beauty. The rosebud accord imparts a delicacy. The “bloody rose accord” is the deeply rooted rose. Rose oxide provides a metallic rose which also represents the blood in the varnish. In the early moments it is just a straight bow across all of these notes as the rose ebbs and flows as the perfumers add vibrato and they begin to meld together. The next phase is going to be the challenging part for some to get through as the varnish accord is leavened a bit by geranium. This is a very heady varnish accord and it takes its place underneath the continued vibrating strings of roses. I was completely taken in by the imagery and the early notes that the varnish just kept the story evolving for me. If it becomes too prominent on some I can see it jarring you out of the mood. For me I found it fascinatingly different. The wood of the violin is made up of Laotian oud and the warm ambergris quality of the synthetic aromachemical Ambrarome. It adds in an exotic otherworldly aspect to the base accord which feels like the right place to end Opus X.
Opus X has 14-16 hour longevity and way above average sillage. This is one where you want to apply very conservatively.
I needed a rose fragrance which wasn’t willing to pander to the season. Opus X’s arrival gave me one. This is nothing like any of the other roses in the Amouage collection. It is as good as anything Amouage has produced.
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample provided by Amouage.
There are a few perfume brands which are attached to a specific place. As I sit here in the dog days of summer dreaming of vacations in places not here it doesn’t take much to let my mind wander. One perfume brand which always has me imagining the place where it comes from is Eau D’Italie. Co-Owners and Creative Directors Marina Sersale and Sebastian Alvarez Murena have produced a line of perfumes which have made the hotel which inspired it live in my mind. That hotel is La Sireneuse in Positano. The perfumes have always sparked my imagination of what the hotel looks like. The latest release called Morn to Dusk is an evocation of a day on holiday from morning until getting ready for the evening.
Sebastian Alvarez Murena and Marina Sersale
For Morn to Dusk the creative directors chose Annick Menardo to work with for the first time. Mme Menardo is another of those perfumers who spends most of her time on the more mainstream releases. I always look forward to the time she will take on a niche project. One common theme to her niche compositions is her ability to choose high quality raw materials and display them like fine jewels on black velvet. In Morn to Dusk she chose notes to represent the morning, mid-afternoon, and twilight.
The morning notes start with a sunburst of bergamot. Mme Menardo rapidly follows that up with the green floralcy of muguet. Lily of the Valley is one of those floral notes that seems so green while also containing a pretty floral character. Here Mme Menardo displays it as an early morning bloom as the daylight glitters off the petals. For the afternoon it is time for a treat as she uses vanilla as her heart note. This is a confectionary vanilla. It could represent a vanilla macaron or gelato. The muguet sticks around and that has the ability to pick up some of the deeper buried green facets from underneath the sweet in the vanilla. By twilight the day has left us ready for a shower before the evening. Mme Menardo uses a cocktail of synthetic musks to give that accord of warm skin to finish our day.
Morn to Dusk has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Morn to Dusk really did evoke a lazy day on holiday for me. It makes it one of those deceptively easy to wear fragrances that you can some time erroneously dismiss for that ease. It asks nothing more of you than to enjoy the day. Sometimes that is everything a perfume should ask of the wearer.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
Christian Dior was late to the trend of creating an exclusive niche line of fragrances apart from their mainstream offerings. They really didn’t jump into it wholeheartedly until 2010. Prior to that there was a collection of three fragrances only available at Dior Homme boutiques. In 2010 Francois Demachy took two of those perfumes and added seven new perfumes he composed to create the La Collection Privee. In just five years the collection has grown to 20 perfumes. This is one of the great underpublicized collections in all of perfumery. If you haven’t tried any of them here are five to get you started.
Bois D’Argent by perfumer Annick Menardo is probably my favorite honey perfume of all time. After smelling this I made a special trip to Las Vegas to buy a bottle. Mme Menardo keeps a light tone throughout as she starts with a transparent incense into a fabulous heart of orris, honey, and myrrh. It all ends with a soft leather and patchouli base. The whole composition is so opaque it defies the weight of the components.
Eau Noire by perfumer Francis Kurkdjian is one of the more fascinating studies of immortelle on the market. M. Kurkdjian uses it as the spine of Eau Noire. Clary sage on top turns it herbal and incense-like. Lavender enhances the floralcy of it in the heart. In the base vanilla brings out the inherent maple syrup sweetness. Immortelle can be a hard note to love but Eau Noire makes sure you experience everything immortelle can bring to a perfume.
Mitzah by perfumer Francois Demachy is a fabulous resinous rose Oriental. M. Demachy uses a spice swathed rose as foil to a very concentrated frankincense. A bit of vanilla and patchouli add some nuance but this is the rose and incense show all the way.
New Look 1947 also by M. Demachy takes an expertly balanced heart of three of the heaviest floral notes and makes something powerfully heady. Jasmine, Turkish rose, and tuberose form a heart that one can get lost inside of. A pinch of baie rose on top and some benzoin and vanilla in the base provide some contrast.
Oud Ispahan also by M. Demachy takes the classic rose and oud combination and gives it a Dior spin. This is a Western version of that classic Eastern staple. M. Demachy keeps it simple. Allowing the rose and oud to carry on throughout the development. They are pitched at a much lighter level than most of the other ouds on the market and it allows for the labdanum, patchouli, and sandalwood to provide some texture to the power duo.
As I mentioned this is not the easiest of collections to find. If you do find it the five choices above are great places to start.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
Once the gourmand style of perfume had been created with the launch of Thierry Mugler Angel in 1992 a deluge of imitators followed. One common flaw to most of these was they all decided to work on the sweet shop side of the edible olfactory. That sort of slavish devotion to the candy floss character of Angel led to cloyingly overbalanced sugar bombs. As with every trend in perfumery it got to the point that I would steel myself for the onslaught of ethyl maltol every time I was told this was a new gourmand fragrance. It took five years for someone to try a different tack. Perfumer Annick Menardo would look to the candy aisle for inspiration too but she reached for a package of licorice when she composed Lolita Lempicka Perfume.
By 1997, when Lolita Lempicka Perfume was released, there were no fragrances which featured licorice previously. It would become a trendsetter in that respect and over the last seventeen years some of the most talented perfumers have produced their take on licorice but Mme Menardo was first. Licorice has a pronounced herbal character to it in its best forms and Mme Menardo enhances that especially in the early moments before allowing it to become a little more candy-like in the heart. All of this lies on an expertly chosen woody foundation.
Lolita Lempicka Perfume opens with a vegetal green ivy note paired with aniseed. Together this is recognizably licorice but it is almost as intense as an herbal lozenge. Mme Menardo makes sure to keep this arid and delineated until she is ready to make the licorice sweeter. She accomplishes this with the addition of cherry which turns the licorice from black to more of a Twizzler red. Like those red whips of candy it is sweet but not overly so. As contrast a bouquet of iris and violet provide a floral component which synergizes extremely well. Lolita Lempicka Perfume lingers on this sweet tinged floral heart for many hours of wear. It is only after many hours that I notice that vetiver has crept in and brought a little vanilla and bezoin to allow the sweetness to resonate at a low frequency all the way through the woody drydown.
Lolita Lempicka Perfume has 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Even seventeen years later Mme Menardo’s creation still feels contemporary and different. The licorice would become a bit of Lolita Lempicka fragrance DNA. Mme Menardo has made eighteen more Lolita Lempicka fragrances and every one of them has a nod to licorice in some way. It is a brilliant stroke to brand the perfume brand with a particular note. That is the advantage of being first it allows for a perfumer to make something their very own. When it comes to licorice I always think back to Lolita Lempicka Perfume every time I smell it in a new fragrance and it still stands up favorably to the comparison. This Discount Diamond can regularly be found for less than $30/oz.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.