Ever since the success of the early designer luxury brands it was only a matter of time until they all ended up producing a collection. What was surprising was how long it took one of the most successful mainstream designer collections to catch up to its peers. In 2016 the Ralph Lauren Collection was released with ten perfumes. The decision was to create soliflore style perfumes based on a focal point, named on the label, supported by two other notes. Like any debut collection of that many entries it was uneven but when it worked the potential was there.
One from those initial ten which worked was Oud by perfumer Carlos Benaim. By going with the smoky quality of the title note it stood out for having a rougher style than the others. It turned out that the concept was a bit flawed when observed over ten perfumes. To their credit unlike some other of their contemporaries they didn’t follow up with multiple releases every couple of months. They waited two years before adding the eleventh entry; Ralph Lauren Collection Saffron.
M. Benaim was asked to be the perfumer behind Saffron. If what I liked about Oud was the rougher edges; in Saffron he impresses me with the opposite. He creates a plush transparent Oriental style of fragrance. One of the other big differences was there are more than three ingredients. It carries a large effect producing a more pleasing experience.
I knew I was going to experience something different when I smelled the top accord; it had three notes all on its own. The citrus of grapefruit, the spiciness of cardamom and the piquancy of black pepper. This was a delightful combination of three of my favorite top notes. M. Benaim allows the cardamom the place of prominence, but the grapefruit captures the citrus-y character of cardamom while the black pepper provides texture. Saffron has a warm sweet botanical leathery effect when used at a higher concentration as it is here. M. Benaim provides an herbal contrast in davana, adding a bit of bite. It continues a languorous development into a full-fledged suede accord in the base. It ends on a synthetic woody base which keeps things on the light side over the final hours.
Saffron has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Saffron is by far the best in the Ralph Lauren Collection. One reason might be there was a two-year gap between ten releases and one. The other one might be to relent on the concept of three ingredient perfumes. Whatever the reason, the original ten were easy to dismiss. You might even be walking by them in your local store thinking you know what’s there. Next time see if there is an eleventh bottle and give Saffron a try. You might join me in looking forward to what comes next.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Bergdorf-Goodman.
One of the greatest gourmand perfumes is 2004’s Bond No. 9 New Haarlem. Early in the birth of the genre, perfumer Maurice Roucel and creative director Laurice Rahme, produced an incredible coffee-based perfume which is the gold standard. No perfume has been better. It also stood out for taking a lighter tone than the earlier gourmands. Bond No. 9 over the past few years has become a brand which has churned out perfume at a furious pace with a similarity to previous releases that I haven’t been motivated to write about.
A few weeks ago, I received a press release for Bond No. 9 New Bond St. The name caught my attention because the neighborhood around the flagship boutique has changed a lot in the fifteen years since the brand debuted. As I continued to read I learned there was a coffee heart accord. That also made me more motivated to check in and see what this new perfume was all about. Would it live up to the greatness of New Haarlem? Would it come close? Should I really compare the two?
Two perfumers, Carlos Benaim and Laurent Le Guernec, collaborate with Ms. Rahme for New Bond St. If I am looking for similarity to New Haarlem there is a green top accord followed by a coffee heart accord and woody base. That is selling the new perfume short. If I have been critical of an overreliance on cribbing from the past by the brand this is not one of those cases. The creative team has created a different style of gourmand which stands on its own.
Laurent Le Guernec
The top accord uses muguet as the source of green. The perfumers introduce a bit of pepper to provide a sizzle to that floral. The heart is a fancy coffee accord served up by a barista. The coffee source is described as coffee beans in the ingredient list. There is a distinction as the whole beans have an intrinsic oiliness and nuttiness more pronounced than a brewed version. The perfumers pick up on both of those by using cocoa to pick up the oils and chestnut to pick up the nutty. It comes together in a luscious coffee shop accord. It falls into a generic woody base, which has become a signature for the brand, as sandalwood and vanilla present a typical base accord.
New Bond St. has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Since I started this review with the comparison I’ll get it out of the way New Bond St. is not as good as New Haarlem. It is the best new release from Bond No. 9 in a few years. I am happy I took the time to check it out. It reminds me, in a positive way, of what a trend setter the brand was in its early years. If you’ve wanted a reminder of that New Bond St. should do that.
Disclosure: This review based on a sample provided by Saks.
As I did in last month’s installment I am looking at two flankers of mainstream success stories. It is also another example of taking the original and going lighter or heavier as a flanker.
Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio Absolu
There is no doubt that the original Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio pour Homme is one of the great mainstream success stories. Perfumer Alberto Morillas created one of the landmark aquatic perfumes in 1996. Unlike many brands Giorgio Armani has been protective of overexposing the brand; Acqua di Gio Absolu is only the third flanker released. Another good thing about these flankers is they are distinctly different perfumes which capture pieces of the original formula without just replicating it with a new ingredient or two.
Sr. Morillas is again at the helm and he starts with the “acqua”, as a marine accord of sea and sand opens things up. It is then deepened with not the typical citrus notes but something sweeter. It then takes a very woody turn over the latter stages to become a mainly woody aquatic. For anyone who wanted a woodier version of Acqua di Gio, without the jasmine, Absolu will be your thing. If you want to grow your Acqua di Gio collection it is sufficiently different from the original, Acqua di Gio Essenza and Acqua di Gio Profumo to be worth a try.
Acqua di Gio Absolu has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Ralph Lauren Polo Ultra Blue
Ralph Lauren Polo is one of the alpha masculine mainstream perfumes since its release in 1978. Ralph Lauren has aggressively expanded the collection for a Polo Man as it has expanded into different colors, Black, Red, and Blue. The latter was its entry into the aquatic genre in 2002. It was a nicely done perfume but not one of my favorites in the Polo collection although it does have its fans. I will be interested to see what they think of Polo Ultra Blue because it is extremely light. It fits in with the current trends in mainstream fragrance but it might be so light it has become like ultraviolet light; hard to sense.
Original perfumer of Polo, Carlos Benaim, opens with a chilled lemon top accord. It is right here I wanted more. This is a veil which provides a momentary outbreak of goosebumps. It gets overtaken by sage with a bit of verbena picking up the lemon opening. The base has a stony ingredient providing a craggy coastline for Ultra Blue to crash upon. There was part of me thinking this would have been more appropriately named Polo Blue Sport but there already is one. I can see this being the ideal post-workout spritz because it is undeniably refreshing. I do have to warn those who value longevity and projection Polo Ultra Blue lacks in both categories.
Polo Ultra Blue has 4-6 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by the manufacturers.
There are times when I approach a new perfume with a lot of concerns. Sometimes it is the perfumer. Sometimes it is an ingredient. Sometimes it is an inconsistent brand. It isn’t often all three but Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Music For A While checks off all of them.
Over the past few years Editions de Parfums has become maddeningly inconsistent for me. This is a brand I think of as one of the pillars of all that I think is important in niche perfume. Many of those things innovated by M. Malle. Yet over the previous six perfumes I’ve found three of them to be forgettable. One of those was Eau de Magnolia which leads to the second cautionary expectation. Perfumer Carlos Benaim was responsible for Eau de Magnolia and was in charge for Music For A While. The third was the listing of pineapple as an ingredient. It seems like ever since pineapple became a thing it has popped up in mostly boring perfumes. All of this together, of course, means Music For a While turned out to be a charming perfume.
Music For A While is a composition in two movements. The pineapple leads the first one while a sweetened patchouli concludes this. M. Benaim makes some interesting choices throughout which was what engaged me on the days I wore it.
The pineapple is there from the first moments. It is a very juicy version almost closer to pineapple juice than the fruit. There are some hints of the green part of the fruit but there is more sweet than tart here. For the first few minutes I wasn’t very interested. Then some gorgeous lavender pushes back against the sweet with a fougere-like intensity. Once they reach an equilibrium it is the partner I never knew I wanted with pineapple. After some time, patchouli begins the second part of the development. This is a medium-weight patchouli which allows for vanilla to provide a rounding effect. It makes for a complementary style to the pineapple and lavender accord. As this all comes together these four notes from an unexpectedly warm final effect.
Music For A While has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I know I’ll be reaching for this as spring gets more of a foothold. I overcame my trepidation to allow for Music For A While to provide a pineapple crush which might be my favorite perfume featuring the note.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle.
There are fashion designers I know are having fun. Lazaro Hernanadez and Jack McCollogh the artists behind the Proenza Schouler clothing brand show it in every collection which comes down the runway. At the recent debut of their Fall 2018 collection they rolled out a neo-1960’s grouping of elegant tie-dye and fantastic macramé weaves. These are designs for hippies who live on the Upper East Side. It does capture the breezy aesthetic which is part of the brand hallmark.
Proenza Schouler RTW Fall 2018
Of course, there was a desire to branch out into fragrance and I had forgotten there was a deal in place with L’Oreal for a few years. I was reminded of it when one of my friends told me of a party they attended at the recent New York Fashion Week and asked me if I wanted them to send me the bottle of the new Proenza Schouler perfume they had received. I said yes and while it made its way to me I looked up what I could find.
Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollogh
In numerous interviews the perfume, called Arizona, arose from the trips Mr Hernandez and Mr. McCollogh take after each collection is released. They have found the American Southwest one of the best places to unwind. When they discussed fragrance concepts they kept returning to a desert-inspired one. This is what makes it into the bottle.
I could not find out who the perfumer, or perfumers, they worked with. (UPDATE: The perfumers are Carlos Benaim and Loc Dong) What has been produced is a transparent fragrance typical of the current perfume trend. What is atypical is the two keynotes in the top and base accords. It comes together into an excellent designer fragrance.
On top the keynote is cactus flower which is really a transparent sweet floral accord paired with a set of expansive warm luminous ingredients to form a “solar accord”. This takes the floral and expands it greatly. As the cactus flower accord spreads out the pulpy heart of the succulent also begins to peek out. Orange blossom grounds all of this in traditional citric floral territory. This is the heart of Arizona and it is a classic floral version. The base is where it again moves in a different direction as a mineral accord of dried out sand composed of Iso E Super or one of its kindred aromachemicals. This is further tuned by using a few white musks and cashmeran. It is an abstract version of the well-known petrichor ingredient. It is my favorite part of Arizona and where it lasts for the longest time on my skin.
Arizona has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
Mr. Hernandez and Mr. McCollogh have effectively translated their fashion style into a fragrance which feels completely Proenza Schouler. Even high fashion tie-dye and macramé feels like the right clothing choice for Arizona.
Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle provided by Proenza Schouler at NYFW 2018.
There has been an initiative for niche perfume brands to display the sustainability of their ingredients as the reason for purchasing the fragrance. Sometimes that leads to releases which are just whatever ingredient there is to be featured; and little else. I always feel like these brands miss the opportunity to show the difference in quality their sustainably sourced ingredient can bring to a perfume. Of course, that takes a creative team and a perfumer to work together. I was sent a sample set from a new brand, Sana Jardin, which does it correctly.
Amy Christiansen Si-Ahmed (center)
Sana Jardin was founded by Amy Christiansen Si-Ahmed and released their first seven perfumes in 2017. Her concept is to make Sana Jardin an “eco-luxe” brand. As a founder of the Beyond Sustainability Movement, Ms. Christiansen Si-Ahmed wants to reach out to the communities in the developing world who cultivate some of the most recognizable ingredients in perfume. Through her project she wants to teach the communities how to turn their tradition of growing a raw material into a local economy which can support many. She started in Morocco with a small group of women who harvest orange blossom. She has helped expand their horizons into other fragrance-containing products. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Moroccan orange blossom perfume oil makes it into two of the Sana Jardin perfumes; Berber Blonde and Sandalwood Temple.
M. Benaim takes the orange blossom keynote and works it in two different directions. He goes for a simple construct in Berber Blonde and it is here where the orange blossom is displayed more fully. In Sandalwood Temple it is part of a comfort scent style playing as part of the chorus instead of the diva.
One thing about orange blossom that people forget is that it is a white flower with its own indolic profile. When sourced as it is by Sana Jardin those indoles are more prominent which is what M. Benaim highlights in Berber Blonde by pairing it with musk. This ends up creating a simple harmonic which hums with depth.
For Sandalwood Temple the orange blossom is not doing all the work. Only in the beginning does it have the spotlight. Fairly rapidly the clean woodiness of cedar captures the inherent green quality while vanilla captures the nascent citrus aspect. It forms a creamy accord which is complemented by an equally smooth sandalwood. A bit of vetiver dials back the sweetness level so it doesn’t enter gourmand territory.
Berber Blonde and Sandalwood Temple have 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Both Berber Blonde and Sandalwood Temple display the promise of what Ms. Christiansen Si-Ahmed is working so hard to do. If she keeps along this same path there offers some opportunities for Sana Jardin to combine sustainability and great perfume.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Sana Jardin.
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.
There is a conceit of movies and literature that when a pair of star-crossed lovers end up in a hay loft something sexual will happen. Not sure what it is about loose hay which gets the hormones flowing but the look of satisfaction paired with bits of dried grass stuck to their sweaty bodies and hair is a staple. There’s even the euphemism “a roll in the hay” to further the point. It is a funny thing that it took so long for a perfume to go for its own roll in the hay. With the release of Edward Bess La Femme Boheme we have one.
Edward Bess (Photo: Ruven Afanador)
Edward Bess is the precocious originator of his own eponymous makeup and hair line. He started when he was 20. This year he celebrated turning 30 and his tenth year in business by making the expansion in to fragrance. The perfumer he chose to work with for his foray into fragrance is perfumer Carlos Benaim. It could be argued that M. Beniam is the most successful mainstream perfumer ever. He rarely comes over to do a niche perfume. In those rare appearances, he has also taken the opportunity to use the extra budget to make similarly memorable niche fragrances with a populist’s aesthetic. The three perfumes he produced for Mr. Bess are stripped down crowd pleasers. Genre is a perfume where M. Benaim’s leather accord meshes with an austere frankincense on top of furry musks. Spanish Veil takes the toasted sweetness of tonka and amplifies it with the woody sweetness of sandalwood all framed by the cleanliness of guaiac wood. La Femme Boheme is also seemingly equally unembellished but as I wore it I found within the trio of primary notes M. Benaim also had some grace notes hiding underneath which only peeked out later.
La Femme Boheme opens with the hay accord formed by combining amber and honey. The honey takes the hay up a few levels of sweet but the amber counterbalances the overall effect so it doesn’t just become honey. The honey also uses its sometimes less pleasant nature to help add the sense of sweaty bodies amidst the hay. The final piece of M. Benaim’s tryst in the hay loft is a rich indolic jasmine. M. Beniam turns it loose in all of its skanky glory to really represent the physical act itself. The notes aren’t listed but there are times I get a bit of tobacco along with a bit of stale alcohol. I noticed it both days I wore it so I am pretty sure they are really there but it could just be a trick of the indoles playing off of the amber or honey too.
La Femme Boheme has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
There are so many perfumers to whom Mr. Bess could have turned. I am very happy that Mr. Benaim was the one who brought Mr. Bess’ vision of perfume to life.
Disclosure; This review was based on samples provided by Edward Bess.
The first step on my fragrant path was getting Jovan Musk for my thirteenth birthday. The second step was moving up to Ralph Lauren Polo when I was in college. While I really only look at my bottle of Jovan Musk these days there is always some time when I want to wear Polo. That affection has always made me interested when a new flanker of Polo is released. It has been an uneven experience over the years but there is a nice little collection of similarly shaped bottles on a shelf in my closet which indicates there have been some hits. What I have found when I look closer is that most of those were composed by Carlos Benaim who did the original Polo. Which now makes me look forward to any new Polo he produces.
2015 has seen the Polo flankers move into something called a “Supreme” series where they feature a specific note. The first release, in the beginning of the year, was Polo Supreme Oud. M. Benaim along with Clement Gavarry were responsible and they used the cypriol oud accord but nothing about that felt like Polo to me. It had the name but it didn’t have the essence. For the last part of the year the second release is Polo Supreme Leather. This one feels like it has both the name and the essence.
Two of my favorite versions of Polo are Crest and Modern Reserve. One of the reasons I like them is M. Benaim tweaks the spices on top in both cases. Basil is in Polo, rosemary in Crest, and cardamom in Modern Reserve. The entry spice for Polo Supreme Leather is nutmeg and even though it is different it is somehow similar enough to make it feel like a Polo. The rest of the construction is also made up of very different notes from Polo. Because the leather is being featured M. Benaim can particularly get away with changing things up in the foundation.
Polo Supreme Leather opens with a soft breath of cardamom and bergamot before the nutmeg steals that breath away. Saffron and sage provide the next additions to the nutmeg. It provides a nicely constructed triangle as all three notes form a lively accord. Rose is the floral at the heart of Polo Supreme Leather and it fills up the space within that triangle beautifully. By having it framed in those spices it keeps it from becoming too rosy. It does a fine job of butching up the rose but it is the next note which really takes care of that. Suderal is a synthetic leather aromachemical which smells like the most expensive suede leather. The leather in the traditional Polo base is fused to woods. In Polo Supreme Leather there are no woods. It is just the supple sweet leathery smell of Suderal. M. Benaim uses Tonka and a honey accord to amp up the sweeter refined quality of the Suderal. This is where Polo Supreme Leather remains for hours and hours.
Polo Supreme Leather has 16-18 hour longevity and average sillage.
This was a much more successful attempt to feature an ingredient than the first Supreme. Polo Supreme Leather gets all of the things right that I want in a Polo flanker. A spicy opening, an herbal floral heart, and a leathery base. The suede is so interesting I never noticed that the woods weren’t there until the second time I wore it. I believe my Polo bottles will be getting a new addition very soon.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Bloomingdale’s.
One of the stalwarts of men’s perfumes for over thirty years has been Ralph Lauren Polo. That perfume composed by Carlos Benaim has stood the test of time. It has, deservedly so, found its place in the metaphorical perfume Hall of Fame. Like all mass-market perfumes it has spawned a number of flankers with a mixed record of success. The general rule of thumb is the closer it hews to the original the more likely it is to sell well. I am guessing that rule was first brought home with the release of the first flanker in 1992 Polo Crest.
By 1992 Polo had become one of the most successful men’s fragrances of all time after fourteen years on the market. It was so successful that Ralph Lauren decided it was time to make a companion ostensibly for the warmer months. The concept was a version of Polo that was lighter. If the original Polo was men’s drawing room full of tobacco and wood; Polo Crest was going to be more like being at a polo match in the sunshine and fresh air. Carlos Benaim was asked to re-interpret his original composition with this in mind. What M. Benaim would do is call up more of the fresh cut grass smell of the polo field and the sweaty players. It ends up feeling like a more sophisticated version of Polo.
The original Polo opens with a strongly herbal beginning of basil and thyme over pine. M. Benaim retains the herbal facets and embellishes them as both the basil and thyme are present but for Polo Crest he lets rosemary take the lead. This is a much smoother opening with both the thyme and basil dialed way back. The really brilliant addition is a tiny amount of cumin which gives that tiny bit of sweaty polo player. Where Polo Crest really diverges is in the heart. As M. Benaim brings back the pine but this time he adds in two floral notes of geranium and jasmine. This is an interesting choice as at this time florals for men were not yet big sellers and the florals are more than just nodded at. They stand up with the pine to be counted. I felt like it captured that feel of a well-manicured greensward when taken as an accord but it is easy to detect the components separately. The divergence is over as Polo Crest moves into the base as the leather, patchouli, and oakmoss which will eventually become the signature Polo accord are here. The biggest difference is the tobacco is gone replaced with olibanum. The other difference is M. Benaim pushes the oakmoss into a more prominent position, as well.
Polo Crest has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I was a wearer of the original Polo but I don’t think I ever saw a bottle of Polo Crest appear at my local department store. It is my conjecture that the floral nature of the heart made Ralph Lauren unsure of how to market it. I also think they went right back to the drawing board and in a little more than a year Polo Sport would arrive. That Polo Sport is still available and Polo Crest is discontinued tells you which generated more sales. Aesthetically I think Polo Crest is the best of the Polo flankers. I don’t think it could be released today because I suspect the oakmoss levels are too high. Lack of sales and lack of interest cause many perfumes to end up in the Dead Letter Office. Polo Crest was a casualty of both.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.