My relationship with the perfume industry has evolved over the years. My desire to learn more has widened at the same pace my reach has. I don’t really look back to the early days of my perfume self-education wishing for a return engagement; except for one tiny part.
Those of you who live in the US know these perfume stores. They have kitschy punny names in a small storefront or kiosk. The boxes of perfume are stacked upon each other making you look behind each one hoping to find something worth digging out of the clutter. I always joked it was my version of walking the beach with a metal detector hoping to find gold. The successful perfume salvage missions are the ones I remember. There were more examples of finding something which turned out to be a bottle cap. This month’s Under the Radar choice, Vicky Tiel Ulysse, is one of those exhumed treasures which still shines today.
I was in a store in South Florida digging through the boxes hoping to find something. The owner was hovering nearby and he smelled good. It probably took an hour before I asked him what he was wearing. He pointed at a box which said Vicky Tiel Ulysse on it. When he told me how cheap it was ($15/100mL ~15 yrs ago) that sounded like a decent blind buy. Ulysse has turned out to be one of my evergreen bottles which I have replaced twice. It is a fresh style Oriental full of weird nuances and ingredients. Every time I wear it I am reminded how good it is. It is one of my fall stalwarts which means it is a good time to bring this on to peoples’ radar screens.
Vicky Tiel was a cult fashion designer before that was really a thing. She would be the costume designer on Woody Allen’s “What’s New Pussycat?” in 1965. From there she would become part of the jet set hobnobbing with Liz and Dick, dancing at Maxim’s and making the scene what it was. Over time she would eventually start her own fashion line. Ms. Tiel is probably a designer whose name you are reading for the first time but if you’ve seen the movie “Pretty woman” the dress Julia Roberts’ character wears to the opera is a Vicky Tiel. Ms. Tiel’s memoir “It’s All About the Dress” covers a life painted in the splashiest of colors. This verve carries through to Ulysse.
The perfumer she chose to work with on her early perfumes was also a free-spirit within the perfume world; Hugh Spencer. I would have enjoyed sitting in the room as Ulysse came to be. I have to think the phrase “It has to be bigger” was said a few times. I also think the phrase “make it fresh” was also tossed around. Together they did achieve the desired fresh Oriental.
Ulysse opens with the fresh part firmly in citrus territory as yuzu is the tart core. It is cleverly supported with linden and neroli adding in their floral nuanced lime and orange. It is fresh in a way I wish more perfumes would attempt. The floral quality becomes more pronounced with lavender becoming the dominant note. It is joined by cardamom and nutmeg keeping the herbal nature of lavender in the foreground. The Oriental base is formed from the classic components of patchouli, benzoin, vanilla, and musk. It is a sturdy version of this classic base which paired with the fresh and floral phases leading to it make the whole very good.
Ulysse has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
This has been one of my personal favorites from day one that I have owned it. It deserves to be on the radar screen.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
If there is one style of perfume I struggle with it is fruity floral. Part of that is because of the first word, “fruity”. It usually means intensely sweet which lives on the edge of my tolerance for that in a fragrance. There are many times I wish I could smell the version that didn’t make it into the bottle; where the fruit was cut in half. I had a realization a couple weeks ago when I was wearing one of my favorite hot weather colognes which has a prominent raspberry in it. As I was walking in the heat I realized this is a time when this should be at its worst for my sensibilities but it wasn’t. Which made me realize there are a few raspberry perfumes I really enjoy. Here are five of them.
The perfume that opened my thinking up is Carthusia Uomo. Carthusia is one of those perfume brands which is not very well-known but I think Uomo is one of the best colognes I own. Released in 1948 as part of the original set of Carthusia fragrances it is a raspberry, rosewood, and leather cologne. The raspberry is made very dry so that it lays itself like a veil over the soft rosewood which is supported by an even softer leather. This has been one of my favorite colognes ever since I tried it for the first time.
For the flip side the raspberry perfume I pull out when the weather turns colder is Tom Ford Private Blend Tuscan Leather. This has been what I have worn to many formal occasions. Tuscan Leather was one of the original Private Blend releases ten years ago. Perfumers Harry Fremont and Jacques Cavallier created a lovely mixture of fruit and animalic that works. The raspberry is surrounded with herbs and resins to keep it under control. As the leather rises the raspberry also meets it on its ascendancy. This is one of the best sellers in this very popular line. Wear it a few times and it is easy to understand why.
Shay & Blue Framboise Noire also finds the animalic is the right companion for raspberry. Perfumer Julie Masse uses musk as the companion in Framboise Noire. This also sits on a base of dark woods which provide a depth to the entire mix. If leather and raspberry don’t appeal musk and raspberry might.
When I tried Marc Jacobs Daisy the strawberry on top made me rush for the cosmetic wipes. You could have had me on the floor laughing if you told me replacing the strawberry with raspberry would change my opinion. Marc Jacobs Daisy Eau so Fresh did exactly that and you had to pick me up off the floor. Perfumer Alberto Morillas made that change but he also lightened and tightened up the entire construction from top to bottom. It is one of the few fruity florals I point to when I’m at the mall and asked for a recommendation.
Tauer Une Rose Vermeille is an example of what I would do if asked to conspire on a fruity floral. Andy Tauer uses raspberry as a note to fill in around the gorgeous rose at the heart of this perfume it is recognizably there but most of the time it is as part of a greater rose accord that I notice it. This gets richer with a vanilla and ambergris base. This is Hr. Tauer at his best finding the right notes to fill in the spaces.
If you’re a fan of raspberry and haven’t tried these see if they give you a different perspective on the little red fruit.
Disclosure: this review is based on bottles I purchased.
Thierry Mugler is one of the most successful mainstream perfume brands ever. Starting in 1992 with the release of their first perfume, Angel, they invented the gourmand style of perfume. I looked back over my master list of all that I own and within the mainstream sector there is nothing that comes close to the number of Thierry Mugler bottles. I would say that the creative team at Thierry Mugler seems to have cracked the code on how to market challenging niche-type fragrances to the masses. Despite all that success when you are working with that mindset there are going to be times you don’t make the connection to the mass market. It took twelve years for the first miss to happen, B*Men.
As is obvious from the name B*Men is the sequel to A*Men. What is less obvious is this wasn’t meant to be alphabetical per se. Instead Thierry Mugler is a big comic book fan and these were meant to be the beginning of a team of perfume superheroes. The ad above from the release in 2004 gives you an idea of what the superhero looks like. The third member of the team would come along in 2007; Ice*Men.
B*Men was composed by a team of A*Men perfumer Jacques Huclier assisted by Christine Nagel. A*Men had been the masculine gourmand partner to Angel. B*Men was going to go in a more traditionally masculine direction building around citrus, spices, and woods. Which might be the beginning of why this didn’t succeed. The first four releases; Angel, A*Men, Innocent, and Mugler Cologne would never carry the adjective traditional. B*Men seemed to want to see if classic fragrance making with only slight Mugler tweaks could still appeal.
B*Men starts on a duet of tangerine and rhubarb. The rhubarb is used as a vegetal grapefruit surrogate. It adds green and tart to the sweeter tangerine forming a soft citrus top accord. The heart is a sturdy redwood which is surrounded by cardamom and nutmeg. The base veers away from any hint of gourmand as amber replaces the signature base accord of A*Men. That makes B*Men much less of a powerhouse than A*Men is.
B*Men has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Everything about B*Men, except for the rhubarb, is traditional masculine tropes. I think it is one of the better versions of this style of perfume. When I’m in the mood for this B*Men is one I consider. The rest of the world gave a collective shrug of the shoulders. The most consistent criticism was it wasn’t “as good as A*Men”; which shouldn’t be a disqualifier. I think it more likely a perfume brand which had conditioned its consumer for something different lost them with something so similar to other perfumes. It makes it one of the more interesting denizens of the Dead Letter Office. Sent there for being too normal.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
Over the last year or so I have been fortunate to be given a bit of a crash course in new perfume ingredients. The chemist in me is fascinated with the structure of the molecules and the difference in effect moving bonds and atoms around has on a scent profile. Equally as fascinating is the way natural materials are extracted and then further separated via different physical techniques.
It is fun to meet a perfumer who is using a new raw material as they build a new perfume. There is a palpable enthusiasm at using something different. I wonder if the same kind of enthusiasm was present when new pigments expanded the options for the painters. I suspect any artist when given something new to consider they immediately begin to think of the places this could fit into their current imaginings.
I’ve also begun thinking about this because of the new wave of transparent minimal fragrances being released to appeal to the younger generation of perfume buyers. Since there is seemingly a market for minimalist constructions it provides an outlet for the different isolates of the cornerstones of perfumery to provide a different perspective.
What has been trending particularly this year is to use a particular isolate which is missing a characteristic part of the full-spectrum ingredient. For instance, the sandalwood used by perfumer Nicolas Beaulieu in Comme des Garcons Concrete is missing some of the austere woody character. The white flowers at the heart of Chanel Gabrielle can be dialed to a desired indole level by perfumer Olivier Polge. Daniela Andrier uses a specific less rooty version of iris in Tiffany & Co.
What is interesting is each perfumer adds in what is missing with a different ingredient providing an opaque abstraction of the keynote. M. Beaulieu uses rose oxide and its metallic nature to replace the desiccated wood. M. Polge uses a set of white musks to set off the small amount of indoles present. Mme Andrier lets patchouli provide a different earthiness.
This is what will drive this current generational shift in perfume styles. By having more options, the perfumers can more precisely find a desired effect. It is the definition of modern perfumery to take nature and interpret it through our sense of smell. With the cornucopia of new options, the expansion of the perfumer’s palette promises a creativity that fragrance has not seen before.
Many of the perfumes I recommend as Discount Diamonds are examples of a style of fragrance emblematic of the time frame they were released in. What I try to do is find ones which have overcome that limitation to still feel relevant today. As I look back at those scents it is the ones which tried to be slightly different from the prevailing winds by taking a different tack. 1982’s Antonio Puig Quorum went for a lighter version of the masculine powerhouses of the 1980’s.
The 1980’s were an era of men who bared their hairy chests draped with a few conspicuously chosen gold necklaces. The fragrances to accompany that were equally aggressive. Each subsequent men’s release seemed to be seeing if it could me more macho than its predecessors. Antonio Puig Quorum plumbed the other side of the question; can there be presence without so much power? Turns out the answer is yes.
A team of perfumers consisting of Carlos Benaim, Max Gavarry, and Rosendo Mateu were responsible for finding a way to the lighter powerhouse. They did it by staying true to the tropes of the day but not doubling down and using a suite of supporting notes to keep it all less severe.
It opens with a bit of bitter herbal green matched with citrus. Rosemary, artemesia and marjoram provide the green. Tangerine is the citrus but it is not what will draw your attention to it; as it is what keeps the green notes from going too deep. The spices arrive next; coriander, nutmeg, thyme, and clove capture the opening trio and notch the volume up a bit. But this time geranium and jasmine provide some relief. A lovely lilting leather accord is matched with a traditional chypre accord all wrapped up in a tobacco leaf.
Quorum has 10-12 hour longevity with average sillage.
I have an original bottle and one I purchased a month or so ago. The main difference is that the greener notes are more the focal point while the chypre has been a bit more toned down than it was in the 1980’s version. The words above refer to the newer bottle. I think Quorum has survived to the present day because it doesn’t feel like it just came out of a thirty-year time capsule. There are inevitable reminders of that time but it fits in the now just as easily.
Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle I purchased.
They say everything old is new again. In other words, live long enough and everything you own is eventually on trend. One of the trends that has begun taking hold in fragrance is that of the simple combination of three or four ingredients. I think that this style of perfume while simple is not facile. The perfumer must be very precise to get the correct balance. When there are so few notes each one carries more weight. Because of this I started thinking back on which perfumes from the past might have become new again. As soon as I began this process one jumped right to the front of my thoughts, 10 Corso Como.
When 10 Corso Como came out in 1999 it became a cult fragrance. Initially only available in Europe it began to be as desired as Coors beer used to be East of the Mississippi. I can’t remember when I finally tried it but I certainly saw it spoken of in the early perfume forums. I do remember being fascinated at how this simple perfume was so compelling. It was one of those early perfumes which seemingly affixed my wrist to my nose.
10 Corso Como is named after the fashion line overseen by Carla Sozzani. Sig.ra Sozzani wanted to add a fragrance to her fashion boutique in Milan. She turned to perfumer Olivier Gillotin to produce that. What they came up with was a triad of sandalwood, incense, and rose.
10 Corso Como opens with sandalwood paired with an incense accord made up of vetiver and oud. It is a fascinating choice by M. Gillotin. Straight frankincense would have been too austere against the sandalwood. Instead the vetiver-oud accord forms a softer version of incense which settles on top of the sandalwood. This combination is what made 10 Corso Como stand out early on. It provided an alternative to the church incense style which was becoming popular. The rose takes some time to insert itself into things. Again M. Gillotin adds some geranium to add a bit of green to it all which then accentuates the green within the vetiver. At this point as the vetiver decouples from the oud that note starts to provide a slightly medicinal contrast to the sandalwood. A few musks are sprinkled in at the end.
10 Corso Como has 4-6 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I have enjoyed 10 Corso Como for years because of its simplicity. If you are enjoying the current trend take a look back in time and under the radar for 10 Corso Como.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
If you have ever grown basil at home you have now reached the point in the summer that you wonder what you can do with all that you have on hand. I know over the years we have gotten very creative in finding ways to use it. I might become tired of using it in recipes but one thing I never tire of is the fresh green herbal scent of the leaves. Just picking one and crushing it in my hand is a pleasure while cooking on the grill or watching the poodles cavort in the backyard. Basil has been an ingredient in perfume, usually paired up with some other herbs. Even as part of an ensemble there some fragrances where the basil takes the lead. Here are five of my favorite basil perfumes.
You might think I would start with the classic Jo Malone Lime, Basil, & Mandarin. It was a favorite until last year when it was replaced by Jo Malone Basil & Neroli. Perfumer Anne Flipo uses three different isolates of basil paired with a fantastic neroli. It has become my favorite perfume in the entire Jo Malone line.
It is the basil which makes Dior Eau Sauvage something more than just a masculine lavender perfume. Perfumer Edmond Roudnitska has basil provide the bridging note from the top citrus accord down to the vetiver base. As part of the expansive Hedione heart it adds green threads to the jasmine tapestry M. Roudnitska creates. I don’t think many will think of Eau Sauvage when I say basil perfumes but like things you never noticed that you can’t help seeing once you do see them; give Eau Sauvage a try and I bet you notice the basil now.
Another evergreen fragrance which uses basil is Azzaro pour Homme. This masculine powerhouse uses basil as a part of an herbal heart accord. Like in Eau Sauvage it also provides that bridging effect from the top of lavender and citrus to the patchouli and vetiver heart. This one is a little harder to see the basil as a featured note perhaps. I always notice it but that might be because I am attuned to it.
One of the best examples of a Mediterranean style is Annick Goutal Eau du Sud. Perfumer Isabelle Doyen wanted to capture twilight in Provence. She uses verbena as her focal point allowing basil, citrus, and sandalwood to complete the milieu. You might not think of basil as a typical fresh note; Mme Doyen shows that it can be.
I often complain about flankers taking the original and shoving a couple of new notes in to the formula and repackaging it. 99.9% of the time it is cynical; Tom Ford Private Blend Neroli Portofino Forte is the 0.1%. One reason might be perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux when asked to make his original Neroli Portofino “forte” he didn’t take that to mean to turn up the volume. Instead he looked at the top and base accords to find ways to make them bolder. The basil leads the chorus of herbs joined by tarragon, rosemary, and mint. Galbanum shades it all a bit greener. I like this because it does add strength. The neroli heart is given a different perspective coming out of such an herbal top. A leather accord provides the strength to finish. This also has replaced the original as my favorite of the blue bottle Private Blends.
These five help me keep my enjoyment of basil going all year long.
Disclosure: this review is based on bottles I purchased.
This is one of the more difficult Perfume 101 columns to write. It is because the best perfumes from Yves St. Laurent (YSL) all carry with them an above average presence. There is nothing gentile about any YSL perfume. Yet if, as a perfume lover, you have come to appreciate the vintage aesthetic a little more; of all the mainstream designer brands YSL has stayed the course while continuing to produce perfume since 1964. Which is my difficulty. The perfumes of YSL are of a style which represents the 1960’s or 1970’s if you’re looking for contemporary this is not the place you should be. If you are wondering if there are still some perfumes which still carry that classic style YSL is your place; here are five you can start with.
I start this list with the first perfume released by the brand in 1964, Y. Y was designed a summer weight chypre. In 1964, I am sure that this was considered light. In 2017, less so. Transitioning from aldehydes through a heart of galbanum to a characteristic chypre base. I wear this in the summer all the time but your mileage may vary.
In 1971 the perfume worn by M. St. Laurent himself was released with Yves St. Laurent Pour Homme. Perfumer Raymond Chaillan composes around an axis of lemon-thyme-vetiver. Lavender and carnation provide the floral components. Sage and rosemary add more herbal quality before woods surround the vetiver. It is another summer staple for me.
Perfumer Sophia Grojsman would make some of the more memorable perfumes in the YSL collection. Her first for the brand was Paris in 1983. Years before the gourmand style of perfume would become a thing Paris is one of the proto-gourmands. Before that appears in the base Mme Grojsman unleashes a gigantic rose bolstered by violet and iris. As the base begins to come forward the florals have transformed to soft powderiness. This sets the stage for tonka and vanilla to add in a sweet ending.
When I first encountered Yvresse it was called Champagne. Then the wine makers in France forced a name change. Mme Grojsman is again the perfumer ten years after she did Paris. This time she is after a pared down fruity floral chypre. To achieve that she keeps it simple. Nectarine provides the citrus on top cut with mint. Violet and rose form the heart twisted with the sweetness of lychee and the herbal nature of anise. A modern chypre base is the foundation upon which this stands. It is a controlled fruity floral which is why it stands out.
My introduction to the brand came when I was given a metal cylinder in silver black and blue as a gift. Inside was Rive Gauche Pour Homme. It was the beginning of my love of barbershop perfumes. Tom Ford had just begun his creative direction at YSL in 2003; working with perfumer Jacques Cavallier they would create a barbershop with sleek modern fixtures. The lavender and vetiver fougere is the basis for this style of fragrance. The additions to each phase that Mr. Ford and M. Cavallier attempted succeeded in turning Rive Gauche Pour Homme into this great contemporary perfume. Anise provides a different running partner to the typical rosemary. Carnation joins lavender in the heart but clove is added in to form deeper combination with the geranium. Gaiac wood is the modern counterpoint to the vetiver in the base. Rive Gauche Pour Homme is one of the most versatile scents out there. It is why I recommend it often to those who want to own just one bottle of perfume.
Those are the five where I think you should start. This list leaves out three of the greatest perfumes of all time because I think they are not the place to be introduced to YSL. If you find you like the vibe seek out Opium, Nu, and Kouros. They aren’t for the faint of heart but they are the best that perfume has to offer.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
The first flush of independent perfume brands came in the late 1990’s in to the early 2000’s. It was a brave new world for these alternatives to what the department stores were offering. When there are no rules or past performances to learn from the early indies were going on instinct; and not much else. It is one reason that the breadth of fragrance from the niche and independent perfumers was so large; nobody knew what would connect. There were advantages to this; being small you didn’t have to move thousands of units. You could narrowcast looking for enough perfume lovers to connect to your brand. It probably wasn’t until 2010 that the winners and the Dead Letter Office denizens were completely sorted out. The story of Beth Terry Creative Universe Mare is an example of one that tried to write their own rules only to end up here.
Beth Terry began her career working in the fashion industry. She worked at Charivari the cutting-edge fashion store in New York. She learned from the experience on how to appeal to the individualists out there; with money. She also had always wanted to make a fragrance capturing the experience of drinking green tea with her grandfather. Her first release under the Beth Terry Creative Universe brand, in 1995, was also one of the earliest green tea fragrances, Te. Working with perfumer Victor Rouchou, who would collaborate on all the releases, she produced a minimalist architecture in which grapefruit, green tea, and green notes form the axis upon which it spins. Te would turn out to be a big hit because Ms. Terry knew how to get it seen where it would do the most good. She wasn’t going to buy an ad in a fashion magazine but she knew all the editors and could get them to feature Te in an article; as good as an ad to a small brand. It reportedly sold out in the exclusive department stores on both sides of the Atlantic.
Riding the fame in 1999 she released her second perfume Mare. Mare was a stripped-down aquatic consisting of two accords and a floral. The accords were a sea salt and an avocado. The floral was ginger lily. Mr. Rouchou constructed the sea salt accord from the typical building blocks of ozonic and water notes. He manages to form a pure salt breeze accord which is where Mare begins. It is the cleanest version of this accord I have ever tried. The avocado accord is a heavier fruity contrast then the typical citrus of the other aquatics of the day. It is this which made Mare significantly different from anything else on the shelf at the time. The final note is the slightly spicy ginger lily.
Mare has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Mare has been one of my favorite aquatics ever since I first tried it. Ms. Terry was able to emulate the success of Te with Mare. Through the 2000’s she would hold her own but there were other buzzier indies slowly encroaching on the territory she had to herself early on. The brand would transition from the luxury department stores to small discerning boutiques to a final few points of sale. I can’t for sure find a final date when the brand stopped but based on forensic searching it looks like it was 2010-2011. There were five more releases after Mare and the whole collection is interesting. In the end, even the best indies find their way to the Dead Letter Office.
Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle I purchased.
I am always happy to see data support a widely-held belief. The scientist is always skeptical of the anecdotal over the analytical. Which Is why I am always interested in the reports the consumer research company The NPD Group release on fragrance buying habits. The one from June 2017 was titled “Women are More Emotionally Connected to Fragrance than Men”. The article takes data from their recent “Scentiments” program where they did a deep-dive on fragrance buying habits.
What they found was, “one-third of women see fragrance as a personal treat, or a pick-me-up to enhance their mood. They tend to choose a new scent based on how well it fits with their personality.” This translates to new purchases on the average of once a month from women. When it comes to men they buy, “typically for the purpose of replenishment” and 1-2 times a year.
These findings lead to some recommendations on how to sell fragrance to the genders. It posits women are more willing to try new things and grouping perfumes in categories based on their style offers opportunity for discovery of other brands. On the men’s counter the uber-focused replenishers just want to be able to find their brand therefore keep them grouped together in that way. A couple of other insights were smaller sizes and/or rollerballs have seen an upsurge in sales. Also, women are more likely to gravitate towards fragrance sellers who give out samples.
I have no doubt this applies to the general public. It reflects much of what I see when I take my weekend field trips to the local malls to make my own observation on buying habits. When it comes to the group of people who have become perfume lovers I think all the gender divisions are removed. We are better grouped by our passion for fragrance than our sex. Within this subset we are more like the women described in The NPD Group article.
How many of us, “see fragrance as a personal treat, or a pick-me-up to enhance their mood. They tend to choose a new scent based on how well it fits with their personality.” I would make a wager it is much higher than one-third. I know that sentence has described my personal experience.
Even now when I am buried under hundreds of new perfumes a year; when one connects it is my emotions which are engaged. I almost involuntarily smile. When it’s really good I make noise and roll my eyes upward. Love of perfume is entwined with emotion and I think that is genderless.
Shelves at Scent Bar/Luckyscent in Los Angeles
I also want to mention the suggestion about selling fragrance by grouping them in similar styles as opposed to collecting them into brands. There are two stores I know of which do this and I think it is a more useful way of guiding any consumer to find something new. It gives them the opportunity to find that emotional connection in a style which has had a similar effect previously.
There is probably a more general maxim that all buying is emotional but I believe fragrance is something which has a more primal connection to those who add it to their day. When it is great it makes your mood brighter which is why we keep going back.