Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle can be attributed to bringing the perfumers out from behind the curtain. Not only did it expose them to the light of day it shone a spotlight on all of the ones who have their name listed on a bottle. It is an exclusive club for which the perfumers are given a lot of latitude in designing their creations. That latitude can result in perfumes which can be very polarizing. There have been a few of the more recent releases which have not grabbed me right away. Over time I return to them and, usually with someone who really likes them, get a second chance to find something I had previously missed. I’ve had my sample of the most recent release, Monsieur, for a few weeks. It is another one which is not drawing me in, yet I believe there might be more here than I might be giving it credit for.
Monsieur is the twenty-fourth release from the brand and it is the second composed by perfumer Bruno Jovanovic. Monsieur is meant to be a companion to 2010’s Portrait of a Lady, composed by Dominique Roipion. Portrait of a Lady is one of those previous releases I was speaking about as I’ve spent the last five years running hot and cold in my emotions about it. Portrait of a Lady is a bone dry version of rose and patchouli. It is that very aridness which makes it difficult for me to wholeheartedly love it. I admire the construction but it seems standoffish. Monsieur goes the other way with an overdose of a molecular distillation of patchouli. By going almost to the other extreme I am having the same difficulty in embracing it although Monsieur is more like someone who is standing too close while my back is against a wall.
Monsieur opens with the juicy citrus of tangerine lightly combined with rum. The rum is not truly boozy as it is contrast for the citrus. Then the patchouli lands with a huge presence. According to the press materials the patchouli is over 50 % of the oil. If this was straight patchouli this would have been that dirty hippie smell so commonly associated with patchouli. The fraction M. Jovanovic chose is that child of the 60’s given some refinement. This fraction has a much reduced earthy quality while I found the herbal and spicy facets to be more pronounced. The fraction also sometimes has a bit of a leathery quality which I kept noticing from time to time. It never persists and it might just be my imagination but every time I started wearing and sniffing Monsieur I would have a moment where I encountered a very transparent leather. M. Jovanovic takes the patchouli fraction and frames it with a very clean cedar. After a long time, amber and vanilla provide a cozy sweet warmth.
Monsieur has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
If Portrait of a Lady is so mannered that it leaves me wanting more; Monsieur gives me too much making me want to push it away. The overdose of the patchouli fraction does this no favors. I wonder if instead of overdose; a balance was sought if I would have liked Monsieur better. What is here is going to appeal to those who wanted something different than Portrait of a Lady. It is also going to appeal to those who really love patchouli. I am not either of those people.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample I purchased.
I have mentioned how I believe Atelier Cologne has done one of the best jobs at building a brand of any of their contemporaries. I have also believed a key part of that was the use of only two perfumers on nearly all of the previous thirty releases. Perfumers Jerome Epinette and Ralf Schwieger have provided the olfactory DNA which has define Atelier Cologne. Particularly over the last year I began to wonder if there was room for a new collaborator who could also add a different genetic makeup to this brand.
When I received my five press samples of Collection Orient I have become so used to the styles of M. Epinette and Hr. Schwieger that I felt like four out of the five felt like M. Epinette’s work. When I sent off the e-mail to Atelier Cologne to get confirmation I asked if the fifth perfume, Poivre Electrique, was maybe a new perfumer. When I received my response I was delighted to find out it was Bruno Jovanovic.
Sylvie Ganter-Cervasel and Christophe Cervasel
M. Jovanovic was the one perfumer outside of Atelier Cologne who I admired for also working on modernizing the cologne architecture. In 2012-2013 he made five fragrances which showed his version of contemporary cologne. The three releases he did for Thirdman, A Lab on Fire Almost Transparent Blue, and Dries van Noten for Frederic Malle. If there was a signature to his style of cologne it came in the more transparent use of woody notes in the base accord. The five fragrances I named above sit in the same space as all of my Atelier Cologne bottles because that is where I feel the future of cologne exists. I don’t know the story behind M. Jovanovic being brought in to the Atelier Cologne Perfume fold. I can say that I am delighted that creative directors Sylvie Ganter-Cervasel and Christophe Cervasel reached out to him.
For M. Jovanovic’s first brief he was tasked with using black pepper as a keynote in Poivre Electrique. Black pepper has been a fantastic note in perfume when used correctly. It has been an overbearing presence when used inappropriately. There are more examples of the latter. M. Jovanovic I believe recognized this. He uses black pepper as the replacement for the traditional herbal component of the cologne top accord. It is a beautiful beginning to what turns in to a spectacular new cologne.
Poivre Electrique opens with the black pepper front and center. It holds all of my initial attention until bitter orange eventually adds in the citrus piece of the cologne design. M. Jovanovic keeps this pepper set at a steady burn without crossing over into searing. The pepper continues as the heart notes begin to become more apparent. Rose and incense make up the duet along with pimento carrying on with the fading pepper in adjacent to it. In a set of perfumes dubbed as from the Orient this is the one phase where I felt like I was in a Pasha’s Palace. Myrrh warms the incense. Then M. Jovanovic provides his signature as sandalwood and cedar provide the translucent woody veil over the heart accord.
Poivre Electrique has 16-18 hour longevity and average sillage.
Poivre Electrique is my favorite of the new Collection Orient. I admire much of the risk taking evident in the other four releases but Poivre Electrique combines that adventurousness with a set of incredibly pleasing accords. I suppose it could just be that The Return of Bruno to making new cologne in a place where it feels like he should always have been, being a match made in Heaven.
Disclosure; This review is based on a press sample provided by Atelier Cologne.
Every few months I take a field trip to the mall to do a little research. My method is to find a chair or bench right by where the perfume counter is at in a department store. My local malls offer me multiple opportunities to observe every major chain. What I am looking for is to see what happens when consumers walking through the fragrance department do with the sprayed strip the line representative hands to them. The great majority of them end up in a garbage can as they walk away from the store. Every so often I see the women, or men, tuck the strip away. That always piques my interest. It means that at least on a first impression level the fragrance has made the consumer want to give it a sniff later. Very often these are perfumes that those who like independent and niche perfumes would shun as derivative. When I see a perfume making an impression I want to give it a try and see if I can understand what makes it interesting to the more casual perfume wearer. On my last foray into consumerism the perfume that was not getting thrown into the garbage can was Oscar de la Renta Extraordinary.
Extraordinary was composed by perfumers Bruno Jovanovic and Pascal Gaurin. What is in the bottle is a very straightforward floral oriental. There is truly nothing new to anyone who has lots of fragrances in their collection. It is a simple floral progression into a sweet woody base. Where I think this might be getting a second look by those walking through the fragrance department is the perfumers added a couple of interesting grace notes while also going very sweet in the base for a traditional spring/summer perfume.
Extraordinary opens primarily with neroli but there are a couple of interesting underpinnings which keep it from being just neroli. The perfumers use cherry blossom and passionfruit flower to provide subtle fruity facets without really turning it into a fruity floral. I think this is a very smart way of differentiating yourself in the consumer marketplace. Especially in the top notes; as neroli will be easily recognized but those faint fruity qualities? Those are just making the neroli interesting. The heart is a very straight forward peony and rose floral. This is definitely nothing that isn’t in a thousand floral perfumes. The base is where the perfumers decide to also take a slightly different tack. There is a mix of long lasting ambrox and woody synthetics. What is interesting is there is a very healthy dose of vanillin which makes the foundation of Extraordinary almost edge into gourmand territory.
Extraordinary has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
The most surprising thing about Extraordinary is a lack of staying power. With all of the synthetics in the base I expected to have it with me well into the evening if not into the next morning. I don’t have a good explanation for this but I think that might keep Extraordinary from being a runaway hit. Because in the department store world longevity is equated with quality. If it does become a hit I think that the perfumers had a small amount of courage to push some less commercial inspirations into Extraordinary may be the reason it stands out in the glass forest on the department store counter.
Disclosure: This review was based on a carded sample I received at the department store.
For this installment of My Favorite Things I’m going to name my five favorite sandalwood perfumes. Sandalwood as a fragrance note is one of the more frequently used ingredients especially as a base note. Most of the sandalwood you encounter in these fragrances is synthetic. There original source of real sandalwood oil in the mid-20th century was from Mysore in India. It was sadly over harvested and is now protected. This caused perfumers to work with both synthetics and alternative sources of sandalwood from Australia and New Caledonia. Nothing has adequately replaced real Mysore sandalwood but the five fragrances below are special sandalwood perfumes on their own basis.
Chanel Bois des Iles– When Ernest Beaux originally created Bois des Iles in 1926 I am reasonably certain it was full of Mysore sandalwood. When Jacques Polge brought it back for the Exclusif line it is said there isn’t a drop of sandalwood at all in the reformulation. I’ve smelled vintage and the Exclusif side by side and accounting for age M. Polge has pulled off one of the great olfactory illusions, ever.
Diptyque Tam Dao– Perfumers Daniele Moliere and Fabrice Pellegrin create a sandalwood fragrance in three acts. Act one is sandalwood and rosewood which is liltingly fragile. The second act adds clean cedar to make the sandalwood equally delineated. Act three takes ambergris as a foundation to accentuate the sweet qualities of sandalwood. For many people this is the gateway to loving sandalwood as a fragrance.
Dries van Noten par Frederic Malle– Frederic Malle claimed in the press materials that this is the same species of sandalwood as Mysore but grown in a sustainable way. I have my doubts but perfumer Bruno Jovanovic keeps it simple using saffron, jasmine, and vanilla to frame the sandalwood gorgeously. Who cares where it came from?
Sonoma Scent Studio Cocoa Sandalwood– Perfumer Laurie Erickson wanted to make an all-natural perfume for her line and Cocoa Sandalwood was the first in this series. She takes New Caledonian Sandalwood and wraps it in spices and dusts it with arid cocoa powder. When people tell me natural perfume can’t have depth and richness I hand them my bottle of this to end that conversation.
Xerjoff Richwood– When I want my sandalwood straight with no chaser this is the one I reach for. Perfumer Jacques Flori uses real Mysore sandalwood at the heart and cassis, rose, and patchouli are present. Those three notes really just serve to draw out the complexity of the real thing. I think it is the single best sandalwood fragrance I own.
These are a few of my favorite sandalwoods but there are a couple I would have included if they weren’t discontinued; Crabtree & Evelyn Sandalwood and Amouage Sandal Attar. If you love sandalwood both of these are worth the effort of seeking them out through online sources.