New Perfume Review: Byredo Eleventh Hour- Defining the Limits

As I come to know a brand I have an expectation of how each new perfume will fit into what came before. This is especially true of brands which have a long-time association between creative director and perfumer. It is something I think can be critical to creating the defined aesthetic for any perfume brand. Many of my favorites fall into this category. Because of that it can be soothing to get a new release from one of them because it can be an antidote to a bunch of samples from brands just beginning to figure it all out. Except for 2018, Byredo has been seemingly exploring the far edges of their well-known style.

Ben Gorham

Earlier this year creative director-owner, Ben Gorham, along with longtime collaborator perfumer, Jerome Epinette, worked with Off-White designer Keith Abloh on Elevator Music. For a brand known for a lighter style of fragrance this was out on the edge of that. Now the second release for 2018, Eleventh Hour, goes the other way as Mr. Gorham and M. Epinette make the darkest release for the brand.

Jerome Epinette

The name stands for the final hour of existence. The press copy is a bit arch even, “Eleventh Hour is an exploration around the smell of things ending, a journey to the end of time, the last perfume on Earth.” You’re a better person than me if that gives you any idea what the perfume should smell like. I was half-expecting something that smelled like metal, scorched electronics, and smoke. That is not what is in the bottle. Eleventh Hour is more about how you might face the eleventh hour if you weren’t planning on sticking around.

I have been really interested in the many ways Szechuan pepper has been used in perfumery especially over the last year or so. It is becoming a new top to middle ingredient which seemingly can be tuned to multiple effects. Eleventh Hour is another example of this versatility.

The top accord of Eleventh Hour is Szechuan pepper and fig. A green fig is what I smell first. The Szechuan pepper acts to cleave the fruit into a piquant pulpy accord. M. Epinette also uses carrot seed as an earthy sweetness to further elaborate this top accord. On the night I first smelled this I thought maybe this was going to be a new style of a Mediterranean kind of fragrance. Except M. Epinette pours some rum over the top. It turns it into a decadent boozy fig dessert which is where this lingers. Woods and tonka bean eventually form the foundation in the later hours.

Eleventh Hour has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

This stands out from most of the Byredo brand for its darker aesthetic. It fits right in because of Mr. Gorham and M. Epinette know how to take the aesthetic they’ve created while finding a way to define the limits. Eleventh Hour finds the darkness on the edge of town.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Off-White X Byredo Elevator Music- Fragrance White Noise

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When it was revealed a few months ago that designer Virgil Abloh of fashion brand Off-White and Ben Gorham owner of fragrance brand Byredo were going to collaborate I was fascinated to see what would come of it. Ever since Mr. Abloh’s fashion brand appeared in 2013 he has reached out in multiple endeavors with different collaborators. His release of “The TEN” sneaker collection with Nike last year was one of the buzziest. At this years Fall 2018 show in Paris the realization of his perfumed partnership was debuted Off-White X Byredo Elevator Music.

Virgil Abloh

The press release says the perfume was designed by Mr. Abloh and Mr. Gorham. There is no mention of longtime Byredo perfumer Jerome Epinette’s participation. (UPDATE: M. Epinette is the perfumer) If he didn’t work on Elevator Music Mr. Gorham has surely absorbed some of his proficiency from him.  

Ben Gorham (l.) and Virgil Abloh

Both designers wanted Elevator Music to be the fragrance equivalent of background noise or Muzak. Which means they wanted it to be there only when you decided to tune in to find it. It is an increasingly odd concept which has been cropping up in perfume releases lately; the desire to blend into the wallpaper. When I received my sample and wore it I admit I struggled with the idea. My idea of Muzak is a dumbed-down inoffensive version of a popular song. Elevator Music doesn’t seem dumbed-down, but it sure goes out of its way to be inoffensive but for one interesting design choice.

The opening chords of Elevator Music come via a pairing of bamboo and violet forming watery floral harmony. Ambrette provides a light musky veil with jasmine also lilting through. It is a lovely spring overall accord full of garden soil and flowers blooming. It is also incredibly transparent in the early moments easily capturing the “background noise” vibe the designers intended. The light citrus-tinted woodiness of amyris provides the base. If that was it this would be premier Muzak for the nose. Instead there is one subversive ingredient which snakes through subtly; wood smoke. It ends up being the handle through which I could orient myself to find Elevator Music while I was wearing it. Then I started to laugh to myself thinking if the smoke was there to warn me the building around the elevator was on fire.

Elevator Music has 8-10 hour longevity and below average silage.

Is a perfume which becomes white noise a successful perfume? If it is the intent? I’ve struggled with that notion while getting ready to write this. Elevator Music is like wallpaper; only there if you focus on it. It is a collection of easy to like ingredients. Like an elevator music version of a song I like it is more likely to remind me of a spring earthy floral which is more original. As a conceptual endeavor Elevator Music succeeds. I’m not sure I want to hear the tune again even though I liked it.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I received from Byredo.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Byredo Velvet Haze- A Piece of the 60’s

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The most maligned perfume ingredient of all is probably patchouli. It mostly comes by its poor reputation because it was so closely associated with the smell of the hippies. There was a meme I saw which had as the definition of patchouli “filthy hippie”. During the Summer of Love, in 1969, there were probably many who ascribed to that in the rest of society. In scent, it is hard to shake an association once it resides in your memory. What is particularly sad about it is patchouli is one of the more versatile ingredients in perfumery. It has only become more varied in its use with the advent of fractionation and supercritical fluid extractions. Once the filthy hippie was treated differently new perspective on patchouli could be seen. One of the perfumers who has done wonders with the new versions of patchouli is Jerome Epinette. In his latest release for Byredo, called Velvet Haze, inspired by the 1960’s he has done it again.

Ben Gorham

Creative director Ben Gorham wanted Velvet Haze to be “inspired by the very evocative 1960’s music and cultural movement”. I must believe they tried very hard to license the name Purple Haze only to have to compromise on this. I find the change more apt. While I am not one who sees colors with my fragrance; if I was asked to word associate with patchouli “purple” would be one of the words. Because M. Epinette chooses a fraction as the keynote this patchouli is more velvet than purple. As has become the Byredo trademark Mr. Gorham and M. Epinette have collaborated on a lighter version of fragrance. It leaves it being like a faded memory of the 1960’s carrying a kind of elegiac beauty with it.

Jerome Epinette

Velvet Haze starts with a brilliant accord which leans in towards the whole filthy hippie concept. M. Epinette takes the clean sweetness of coconut water and combines it with the botanical musk of ambrette seeds. This gives a kind of slightly sweet sweaty skin. Not filthy more like bronzed skin with rivulets of perspiration trailing down it. The patchouli comes up to meet this accord and for a while there is an accord of patchouli covering sweaty skin. I really like this part of the development as over time the patchouli becomes more focused. This fraction is a brighter version of patchouli it carries lesser aspects of the earthiness containing more of the herbal quality. Then the final ingredient provides a bit of alternative darkness as a dusting of fine cacao mixes with the patchouli for the final hours.

Velvet Haze has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Velvet Haze is an excellent modern patchouli perfume; another in an already impressive collection by M. Epinette. I appreciate that Mr. Gorham didn’t just go for an immersive 60’s experience. Instead by only reaching for a fraction of the past they have captured a modern piece of the 60’s.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Byredo.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Byredo Pulp- The Un-Byredo

Once a perfume brand has matured, defined their aesthetic, it is interesting to look back to the beginning to see if the initial releases predicted how the brand would eventually grow. Byredo was founded in 2007 by Ben Gorham. Over the last ten years, working exclusively with perfumer Jerome Epinette, they have created a distinctive Byredo style. But when those first four bottles bearing the name were released there was one which was the figurative red-headed stepchild, Byredo Pulp.

Last fall it looked like I would be writing about Pulp as part of the Dead Letter Office series. It was rumored that it was going to be dropped from the brand. When I heard that news I wasn’t surprised because Pulp had its own twisted little following perhaps driven because it felt unlike every other one in the line. It seems the news of discontinuation was more rumor than fact. Which then shifted it to this column because it is so different I think those who might dismiss the Byredo collection as not being their kind of fragrance might join the group of us who enjoy the Un-Byredo-ness of Pulp.

What sets Pulp apart is it is a fragrance of fruit overload. I know the concept of overload for a Byredo is already outside normal service. In this case M. Epinette was going for the literal pulp of multiple fruits. What has always made this perfume stand out is there is so much here somewhere in all the overlap a rotten fruit accord develops. Some of life’s potentially disgusting smells have some underlying facets which are oddly pleasant smelling. What M. Epinette gets in Pulp whether by design or fortune is that right on the edge of sickly sweetness that rotting fruit emanates. It is what will make you pull Pulp close or push it away.

The fruit basket comes from grapefruit, fig, red apple, blackcurrant buds, and peach blossom. All of this roars out of the gate. It is seemingly chaotic but rather quickly all the fruit pieces settle into their lanes. In the early going it has a crisper quality than you might expect. As some greener notes begin to arrive in cardamom and cedar the beginning of the decay sets in. Eventually the sweetness is heightened following a collapse in to a praline accord in the base.

Pulp has 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I am happy that the rumors of Pulp’s demise were overstated. I think every brand needs something to show how far they’ve come. Pulp is that signpost as The Un-Byredo.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Byredo Bibliotheque- Language Envy

There are times I have language envy. What I mean by that is other languages have words for things I like more than the English word for them. When I was taking Spanish classes in school in S. Florida the word for library might have been my first instance of language envy. As a child, the library was the place where my mind was opened to the possibilities. When Sr. Dowdy, my Spanish teacher, said that “la biblioteca” was the word for library that felt like such a better word to me. So, I appropriated it. When I would be running out the door I’d yell over my shoulder “off to the biblioteca”. I don’t know which came first but the French word is very similar “bibliotheque”.  Now there is a perfume carrying the French version of the name, Byredo Bibliotheque.

Ben Gorham

Bibliotheque came about from a rare reversal as it lived its first incarnation as a candle at Byredo. Apparently, it got a lot of requests to be made into a perfume. Creative Director Ben Gorham and perfumer Jerome Epinette worked on the transformation from solid to liquid.

If you are looking for a fragrance which captures the smell of ink, paper, leather, and wood of a classic library; Bibliotheque is not that. At least not entirely. There are some aspects of that but early on it is a fruity floral construct which eventually gives way to that library accord. What I liked about that early fruity floral phase is M. Epinette makes the keynotes so effusive it is like encountering them minutes before they make that transition from ripe to rot.

Jerome Epinette

M. Epinette opens Bibliotheque with a fruit combination of peach and plum. They are so ready to burst they throw off gentle aldehydes around their inherent deep fruity nature. I am not usually a fan of these kind of fruit accords but this time it worked for me. Probably because the floral counterpart was also equally engaging. Peony and violet are those notes and they provide a contralto version of floralcy that harmonizes with the fruits. Finally, the library accord begins to form. I am guessing a patchouli fraction is being used by M. Epinette to form the dry paper and ink aspect. A transparent leather accord is also here along with an equally delicate woodiness. The base accord is much lighter than the fruity floral one that preceded it.

Bibliotheque has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I do like the fragrances which are out there which have captured the empty library milieu. Yet I might like the fragrance Bibliotheque in the same way I prefer the word. The reason is that fruity floral opening seems full of possibilities as ideas can be balanced on the edge of realization or disregard. Bibliotheque captures the world where those ideas come to light.

Disclosure: This review was based ona sample provided by Byredo.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Byredo La Botte- Lipstick & Leather

I have written a lot about my affection for the different leather accords and fragrances. As I move further in to my second decade of writing about perfume the whole concept of leather in perfumes has yet to become uninteresting to me. One reason is there are so many versions of leather in the world to use as inspiration.

ben gorham

Ben Gorham

Ben Gorham the owner-creative director behind Byredo also is inspired by leather in the latest releases for the Night Veils collection. In the first trio released last year it was night-blooming flowers which were the raison d’etre. This trio is all about the difference in leather from the glove, Le Gant, to the saddle, La Selle, and the boot, La Botte. All were composed by perfumer Jerome Epinette. La Selle does a fantastic job of capturing the tack room bracketing the leather accord with black tea and birch. The one which captured my attention was La Botte.

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Dita von Teese (Not Mistress Stephanie)

When I was a young man I was doing what callow young men did; I let it be known I was exploring my sexuality. I wanted to try everything on the spectrum. In hindsight, I know that the whole attitude was pose more than real introspection. In that arrogantly stupid frame of mind I cajoled an invitation to an underground S&M club. On the night I attended I received an education from one Mistress Stephanie who did not use anything to lash me but her tongue. She derisively called me a tourist more repressed than someone afraid to come through the door. She continued to take out my hypocrisy and examine it until I understood it. What does this have to do with perfume? Well Mistress Stephanie was powdered and wore a many layered coating of vermillion lipstick. As she spoke to me the scents of the powder and lipstick mingled with the leather of her knee-high brilliantly polished boots. As with so many times in my life that co-mingling of smells is attached to that moment of education. La Botte is that perfume.

Jerome-Epinette

Jerome Epinette

M. Epinette uses a mixture of jasmine and violet to form that powdery cosmetic accord. Then M. Epinette uses Civettone to make the bridge to the leather accord. Civettone is the chemical in the highest concentration in natural civet. When isolated it imparts a cleaner animalic character. M. Epinette takes advantage of that to lead down to his highly polished leather accord. This is high gloss leather and it is made to sparkle with the addition of mahogany wood. It forms a fascinating animalic effect that I could not get enough of.

La Botte has 12-14 hour longevity and below average sillage because of its extrait strength.

Even though I fell for La Botte I think highly of the other two in this trio of Night Veils. As a collection, they allow for M. Epinette to offer you three different perspectives on leather. I just preferred the one which took me back to a teachable moment in time.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Byredo.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Byredo Unnamed- Figure It Out

As I think is apparent for those who read me regularly I am all about the perfume. I rarely comment on the bottle or the marketing campaign because I am all about what I wear on my skin. So far the PR or the bottle have never managed to make it out the door with me. Most of the time it is white noise to me. Except sometimes it is so precious it makes me cringe a bit. This was how I approached the new Byredo Unnamed.

ben gorham

Ben Gorham

Byredo Unnamed is meant to represent the tenth anniversary of the brand. For this occasion, owner and creative director Ben Gorham decided it would be interesting to leave the name off and give those who purchase a bottle a sheet of stick-on letters so you can give it your own name. There is a page on the Byredo website with pictures of the various names people have put on their bottle. It looks like a deranged Pinterest page of narcissists. The concept was so irritating I wanted to skip the whole thing; but the perfume inside the nonsense is really good around a heart of two of my favorite notes orris and violet.

Jerome-Epinette

Jerome Epinette

Mr. Gorham once again works with perfumer Jerome Epinette. This is a culmination of this unbroken partnership which has spanned 32 fragrances making Unnamed the thirty-third. They have produced some truly beautiful perfumes. Byredo is a place where M. Epinette often has the chance to display a new isolation of a natural source. It is what has made me enjoy so many of these releases over the last few years. Unnamed continues this trend.

Usually when one celebrates you pop a bottle of champagne. Apparently around the Byredo offices gin must be the alcohol of choice for celebrations because that is where Unnamed begins. M. Epinette provides a chilly gin accord matched with some pink pepper floating around. The gin pops like a dry martini. This then leads to the heart where M. Epinette uses a full spectrum violet joined with an orris fraction called “orris stem”. This is a powder-free isolate focused on the earthy rooty quality with a fascinating green thread running through it. With a more florid violet it provides a foundation for that exuberance to expand upon. The base is a leather accord made up of balsamic components, moss, cashmeran, and musk. It provides a bit of rough-hewn leatheriness to finish things.

Unnamed has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Unnamed is a fitting exemplar of what Byredo has done well the past ten years. It also feels like a nice congratulatory pat on the back between Mr. Gorham and M. Epinette. I like it quite a bit. As for a name? I’ll let others figure it out.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Byredo.

Mark Behnke

Byredo 101- Five To Get You Started

Byredo is a brand which has a very distinctive aesthetic which has been in place from their very beginning in 2006. Founder and Creative Director Ben Gorham wanted to make understated fragrances which use top-notch raw materials. Over the past 10 years and 29 releases working with perfumer Jerome Epinette they have created a recognizable Byredo-ness for every new release. When faced with choosing five to start with it was a difficult choice. One reason is there might not be a line I’ve done Perfume 101 for which has entries which might be called Perfume 201 because they are very good but I think not good entry points. That group includes some of my favorites from the line: Pulp, M/Mink, and Black Saffron. They are impressive to me because while staying true to their desire to keep it lighter those have undeniable strength. Those are not where one should start. The five below are where I think you should begin.

ben gorham

Ben Gorham

Encens Chembur was one of the inaugural releases. M. Epinette was able to provide one of the most transparent incense-centered perfumes I own. Through a veil of lemon buttressed with elemi he combines a mannered ginger with an opaque frankincense. It all ends with a sheer amber and musk base. This is one of the few incense perfumes I wear in the summer.

Bal D’Afrique was inspired by a romanticized version of Africa as seen through Parisiennes of the 1920’s. The fragrance is also an impression as if M. Epinette watched a few National Geographic specials on Africa. A beautifully lilting neroli is contrasted with a shot of astringent marigold. Buchu leaves take up the case with the marigold turning it greener. Before this gets too strident a floral heart of jasmine, cyclamen, and violet bring things back to a floral heart. The base is vetiver and cedar classically framing this picture of Africa.

Baudelaire might be my favorite of all the perfumes M. Epinette has made. Inspired by the poet of the same name; M. Epinette compose a three stanza perfumed poem of his own. Starting with a fabulous duet of juniper berry and black pepper. The second verse is led by hyacinth caressed with incense and caraway. The final part is the beginning of a style which will reappear frequently in other Byredo releases as M. Epinette creates an arid desiccated accord of papyrus, patchouli, and amber.

Jerome-Epinette

Jerome Epinette

When I first tried Sunday Cologne the name on the bottle was “Fantastic Man”. I laughed out loud at that name feeling like I should put my hands on my hips and jut my chest out while saying it. Thankfully Byredo also realized the name was silly and in less than a year changed it. The new name describes it perfectly; a cologne for a lazy Sunday. It is a classically constructed lavender cologne tuned to the Byredo transparency. Starting with a breath of cardamom into lavender and incense followed by patchouli and vetiver.

Bullion is another Byredo which takes one of my favorite notes, osmanthus, and shows how it can be made more interesting for having it used with a lighter hand. The osmanthus is the focal point. M. Epinette uses plum in the top notes to blend with osmanthus’ apricot nature. He then doubles down on the flower’s leather character by adding in even more. It all rests on another arid sandalwood foundation.

There are some who find the lightness of the line to be an issue. I appreciate it because it allows me to wear some of my favorite notes on the hottest of days. Give the five above a try and see what you think.

Disclosure: This review was based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Byredo Super Cedar- IKEA Dreams

Guilty pleasures are things you know you shouldn’t like but are irresistibly pulled towards. When it comes to perfume I like complex, evolving, layered compositions. Which is why I am surprised at how much I like the new Byredo Super Cedar because it is as advertised; essentially a cedar soliflore.

Cedar is one of the most distinctive notes on the perfumer’s palette. Its clean woodiness was one of the first notes I could confidently pick out of a fragrance early on. It is easy to describe; most often as “smelling like pencil shavings”. In the press materials which came with Super Cedar creative director Ben Gorham mentions he was looking for, “Evocative of log cabins and Scandinavian furniture”. That line capture what I think is fascinating about Super Cedar. Perfumer Jerome Epinette moves away from the more obvious pencil shavings. Instead he channels his interior IKEA and captures the smell of a warehouse of disassembled blond wood shelving stacked high to the ceiling.

I am not sure what the sources of cedar M. Epinette used to build Super Cedar. I know Robertet has a full array of fractions and different extractions of cedar for him to consider. My belief is he must have spent a lot of time working with a number of those raw materials finding just the right balance to allow the cedar to be pulled all the way through the development. There are only a few grace notes which provide minimal contrast.

Jerome-Epinette

Jerome Epinette

Right away Super Cedar opens with a sotto voce version of cedar. It doesn’t carry that intensity that cedar usually imparts to a fragrance. A tiny bit of rose floats through but it is left way in the background. Over the next hour the cedar accord slowly forms gathering intensity as I suspect each new cedar raw material adds itself to the mix. This all leads to a pure cedarwood accord which I found compelling. It is here where Super Cedar holds for quite a while. Eventually a bit of vetiver and white musks become apparent but it really is the cedar accord holding together for hours which predominates.

Super Cedar has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

The engineering of the central cedar accord is what elevates Super Cedar from just being a flat cedar perfume. It is as densely engineered as a piece of IKEA furniture. As I was wearing it I could almost see one of those pictorial assembly instructions in my head as each new piece of cedar was added. Super Cedar is both super and cedar, if you like the latter I think you will also find it pretty good.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Byredo.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Byredo Midnight Candy- Candied Violet Noir

Byredo has been one of those niche brands with a very consistent aesthetic. Creative Director Ben Gorham and perfumer Jerome Epinette have collaborated successfully in creating that distinct brand identity. For that reason, I was interested when in the Fall of 2015 Byredo announced a collection of three extrait de parfums called the Night Veils collection. The concept was to focus on three separate floral notes in an extrait formulation. This is noteworthy because the main Byredo collection has a very expansive opaque quality to it. Extraits are the opposite of that as they are much more closed up and wear very close to the skin.

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Ben Gorham (photo: Andreas Ohlund via Wall Street Journal.com)

The three perfumes released were Casablanca Lily which is a plum and lily focused perfume; Reine de Nuit explores the intersection of rose, saffron, and blackcurrant buds. Both were nice but neither really intrigued me enough to wear them for a couple of days. The third one, Midnight Candy had me from the beginning as it combines four of my favorite floral notes; orris, jasmine, violet, and osmanthus into a sultry seductive stunner of an extrait.

Jerome-Epinette

Jerome Epinette

Midnight Candy felt unlike the other two Night Veils releases because M. Epinette worked each phase of development in well-chosen pairs of notes. I particularly like when M. Epinette does this because at its best it adds unique harmonies to notes. In Midnight Candy it is all made into a creature of the night.

The first pair to be noticed is a rooty duet of carrot and orris. This has been used before but in this case M. Epinette does accentuate the rooty quality of both ingredients. The vegetal sweetness of the carrot keeps the powdery nature of orris well in hand. In the heart violet come to the fore with jasmine hurrying to catch up. In all of the Night Veils extraits each phase builds and encapsulates the previous one. In Midnight Candy it means that the orris and carrot provides a candied aspect to the violet. This is them given depth with the late arriving jasmine. In truth I was already thrilled with Midnight Candy. M. Epinette added a figurative cherry on my fragrant sundae with osmanthus as the final floral. The leathery -apricot quality provides a faux animalic effect which is sweetened a bit with vanilla. Once this all assembles it feels like a candied violet rooted in the ground at midnight.

Midnight Candy has 12-14 hour longevity and low sillage.

Midnight Candy has provided a successful departure from the perfumes which have defined Byredo for the last nine years. I have enjoyed its dark take on violet immensely.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Barney’s.

Mark Behnke