One of the most striking cities I’ve visited is Palm Springs, California. Post-World War 2 it became the place for Los Angelinos to have a second home and many of the Hollywood stars would spend time there. Because of this the architecture of the bigger homes in the area carry that modernist style of the late 1950’s into the 1960’s. They all have swimming pools beyond the typical rectangle. Besides the architecture there is also the geography as it sits squarely in the Sonoran Desert surrounded by Joshua Tree National Park to the east, San Bernadino National Forest to the north, the Salton Sea to the south and Mount Saint Jacinto State Park to the east. This means the scents of the desert combine with the scents of the manicured gardens of the houses just as twilight falls; A Lab on Fire California Snow captures that.
Frank Sinatra's Palm Springs home, Twin Palms
Creative director for A Lab on Fire, Carlos Kusubayashi, has created a brand where he has delighted in allowing the perfumers wide latitude to make their perfume. Until now those have all been perfumers whom have had a portfolio. For California Snow he is giving that freedom to a new perfumer from IFF, Mackenzie Reilly. When reading the bio on the A Lab on Fire website I was struck with this passage where she describes where her minimalist style comes from, “Sophia Grojsman taught me: know the ingredients you love and work with them over and over – it won’t make you boring; it will make you good!” I think this is a laudable approach to take to perfume design. It also explains why California Snow is such a striking debut.
One of the things that struck me about Palm Springs is all of the glass in the architecture. It has a clarity to it which makes it feel like a crystal city. Ms. Reilly spends the early moments of California Snow interpreting that kind of transparency with a focused set of ingredients that captures the setting of the sun. By the time we pass through the sunset things cool off and the smell of the earth and the florals arise. Finally the breeze brings the smells of the nearby forest and a relaxing neighor.
California Snow opens with a very arid sage note this is made a little less astringent by using some coumarin to give that kind of hay-like sweetness to the sage. A small amount of chamomile provides the harbinger of the rose to come in the heart. Early on this is as focused a rose as the sage is on top. Over time it starts to become less delineated. The coumarin is still here to provide some of that effect. Vetiver heralds the final cooling off as a damp soil accord around patchouli takes over. In the final stages a warm breeze of musks carry the scents of the cedar trees in the forests and the smell of the neighbor smoking a joint.
California Snow has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I like the progression from warm and dry to cool and moist that happens throughout the development of California Snow. Ms. Reilly shows a deftness at making this set of transitions without it seeming abrupt. This is a remarkable first impression. I will be very interested to see what comes next as her follow-up. In the meantime I’ll sit poolside breathing in the scent of twilight in Palm Springs.
Disclosure: This review based on a sample from A Lab on Fire.
When I was quite young my grandmother took me to see a movie called “Endless Summer”. The documentary followed two surfers on a trip around the world. My grandmother always eager for teachable moments had us look up all the locations in our Atlas. I remember when I got to the tiny island of Tahiti, barely a flyspeck on the map, it seemed like the waves we saw in the movie could swallow the island whole. If I needed reinforcement the 2004 movie “Riding Giants” revisited the tiny island with the big waves. The name of the town they surfed in was called “chopo”; except that is how its pronounced. It is correctly written Teahupo’o. I’ve always imagined the smell of tropical flowers combined with a sea spray accord would feel like riding down the barrel of a wave. A Lab on Fire My Own Private Teahupo’o tries to do just this.
Laird Hamilton riding a Teahupo'o wave
The ad copy is sort of the butterfly effect of wave creation as it mentions a single drop in Antarctica turns into a rideable wall of water in Tahiti. The rest of the copy wants to capture riding in the barrel of the wave surrounded by sea spray as the smell of the indigenous flora is carries to you. Creative director Carlos Kusubayashi collaborates with perfumer Laurent Le Guernec to create the break to ride our olfactory surfboard within.
Laurent Le Guernec
The fragrance is as simple as the description. It opens on a suite of ozonic notes and sea spray aquatics. M. Le Guernec tunes his top accord to capture the sun shining through the top of the curl while the chill of the water surrounds us as we traverse through the spray fraying on the edges. This is a common top accord done well. I appreciate the balance brought to it. Frangipani is the floral used to represent the tropics. To make sure it has the required strength M. Le Guernec supports it with a group of salicylates to build the effect up. As we cruise through the wave we catch the smell of vanilla on the breeze as the unfettered sun beams down in a warm ray of amber. This all comes together in an aquatic Oriental construct which worked nicely for me.
My Own Private Teahupo’o has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
My Own Private Teahupo’o is not the first fragrance to try and translate surf culture into a bottle. It succeeds for me because when I’m wearing it I can close my eyes believe I’m on a surfboard in Tahiti.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
There is nothing more liberating for an artist than to have the freedom to create where your inspiration takes you. Most perfumers must follow the whims of their clients; exerting influence here and there. A true license to create without bounds usually comes when they form their own brand with their name on it. There are a few brands which also provide the leeway for an artist to do as they will. One of the more successful examples of this is the brand A Lab on Fire.
Over 10 releases since 2012 creative director Carlos Kusubayashi has taken one of the most impressive rosters of perfumers out there and set them free. The collection is one of the most diverse for a niche brand because of this. I would imagine that the process is enjoyable enough that it is no surprise that perfumer Dominique Ropion returned to do his second, and the brand’s eleventh, with the new Mon Musc A Moi.
Dominique Ropion (photo: Hajime Watanabe)
M. Ropion is on my highest tier of perfumers. My favorites by him have come from brands which trust him to carry much of the inspiration and creativity. For Mon Musc A Moi M. Ropion seems to be out to recapture vanilla from the gourmand sector of the olfactory spectrum. In recent years vanilla has become the sweet baker’s confectionary component which radiates sweetness; sometimes overly so. Which has led to many forgetting that vanilla was a vital component to many of the great perfumes from the first half of the 20th century. It was often paired with the deeper animalic musk to form a pulsing sultry base. M. Ropion wants Mon Musc A Moi to remind you that vanilla is not just for those with a sweet tooth it is also for those who want the passion of human connection.
The early moments of Mon Musc A Moi are all floral, M. Ropion floats out a mixture of peach blossom, heliotrope, and rose. This is exactly how a Retro Nouveau perfume should begin. The rose and heliotrope feel retro and the peach blossom feels more contemporary. M. Ropion lays it all out right from the first moments. Then in a very sly wink to the gourmand lovers he takes a little bit of toffee and produces a sweet intermezzo from which the vanilla appears. This is full on Nouveau. The Retro comes as the musks arise to swat away the toffee and to capture the vanilla in an amorous embrace.The vanilla musk accord is fine-tuned with a bit of tonka, amber and light woods. Those notes all serve to enhance and frame the beautiful base accord.
Mon Musc A Moi has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Mon Musc A Moi is a romantic fragrance and is maybe a perfume for romance. In this house it is rare anything I wear gets commented upon unless Mrs. C thinks it smells bad. There are a rare few things I wear which bring Mrs. C closer for a more lingering sniff. The second day I wore Mon Musc A Moi she spent much of the day snuggled close breathing it in with a contented smile. Purely as a Retro Nouveau construct it succeeds at every level. It was high time some of our best perfumers went out and took vanilla back from the perfumed bake shop and reunited it with its passionate partner, musk. M. Ropion has successfully achieved this reunion with style.
Dosclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Luckyscent.
The greatest cities in the world carry signature smells with them as well. It is interesting to see what a perfume which wants to capture one of those cities chooses as their interpretation. Every once in a while my scent memory of a place and the imagination of a fragrance creative team coincide. The new A Lab on Fire One Night in Rio effectively captures my memory of many nights in Rio de Janiero.
More accurately One Night in Rio captures the smell of the early morning. Something I learned in my time in Rio was the night ends when you say it ends. As long as the party wants to keep going it rolls on. In my late 20’s this was a lifestyle I could get used to. Most nights ended with my group of friends walking home with false dawn on the horizon. The smell of those early mornings was especially sharp as the night blooming flowers overlapped with the blooms of the morning. I am not sure whether perfumer Jean-Marc Chaillan has ever been to Rio but this was one of my favorite natural floral scents. It was a way to signal this particular night was over.
Creative director Carlos Kusubayashi has taken some of the most commercial mainstream perfumers and allowed them a bit more latitude than they might get in a more commercial brief. For One Night in Rio M. Chaillan takes that leeway and fills it in with tropical fruit and flowers. It makes for a very sweet composition.
One Night in Rio opens on one of those flowers of the dawn as orange blossom rises up first. M. Chaillan adds a little shade with a judicious pinch of pepper mainly to draw you to the more repressed indoles present in the orange blossom. The heart is where the gardenia of the night and the magnolia of the morning create that shank of the evening accord I was describing above. M. Chaillan lets these two florals intertwine and samba a bit. Passionfruit provides a bit of colorful complement. The final phase is the smell of amber and musk as the exertions of the night come home with a bit of sweaty skin made less skanky with some vanilla.
One Night in Rio has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I have always found something magical about those hours where the night gives way to the light. I especially enjoy them when I approach them from the nightside. M. Chaillan has produced a fragrance which captures that transition in a place known as Rio.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.
There are fragrances created where there is no middle ground. The accords or notes used are so divisive as to one’s own personal idea of where beauty resides that one either loves it or hates it; not a lot of “meh” heard here. The Brooklyn-based perfume house overseen by Carlos Kusubayashi, A Lab on Fire, seems to really enjoy making perfumes that generate these kind of polar opposite responses. The latest two releases, Paris*LA and Made in Heaven, are the brand’s take on gourmands of a different stripe.
Laurent Le Guernec
Paris*LA is meant to be what Los Angeles looks like to a Parisienne and perfumer Laurent Le Guernec has decided that Coca-Cola and macarons capture this dichotomy. Right there I can already hear people thinking, “Eww! Coke and a macaron.” To be candid I have to admit that was my reaction when reading the notes. M. Le Guernec does a fine job of capturing the brilliance of LA and a Parisienne looking for something to remind her of home.
The opening note of Paris*LA is a bright blast of key lime. It is like stepping off the plane and the sun hits you square between the eyes. The key lime is an olfactory attention getter and it burns off pretty rapidly. The coca-cola accord comes next and it is a combination of fizzy aldehydes, ginger, and caramel. The fizz of the aldehydes are fine tuned to not trip over into their more provocative nature and here provide more effervescent background than anything. Next comes the macaron accord vanilla and almond out front. Then because all the best macarons are flavored M. Le Guernec adds in subtle hints of neroli, coriander, and thyme. They take the dessert-y accord and add some texture to it. The coca-cola accord has persisted and by the final hours this is a mix of sweet and sweeter as the cola and macaron accord combine to form a fragrant sugar rush. You can put me firmly in the love it category as both the cola and macaron accords work really well on my skin. I think for those who are not fond of sweet gourmands this will raise different emotions.
One of my favorite things to observe is when Mr. Kusubayashi hires a perfumer who has done the great majority of their work in the non-niche side of the business and allows them the freedom to create. Made in Heaven by perfumer Pascal Gaurin is what happens. M. Gaurin works for IFF and within the company there is a branch called Laboratoire Monique Remy (LMR) which is the group who produces unique natural absolutes using the latest scientific techniques. By their very nature these are expensive raw materials and most mainstream releases would use a tiny bit of one to stay within budget. M. Gaurin freed of the economic constraints uses five of these exquisite floral absolutes in Made in Heaven. One of the other remaining notes must have been an accord M. Gaurin has had on the shelf and been wanting to use because underneath the diaphanous flowers is a foundation of cereal.
Made in Heaven starts with magnolia absolute and this has lilting woody floral air to which M. Gaurin hangs mandarin and saffron upon it. The saffron provides an exotic effect while the mandarin adds citrus-y energy. While the magnolia is tender and fragile the heart notes stride into view with a brassy white flower confidence. Absolutes of jasmine, tuberose, and orange flower take over the heart of Made in Heaven. All three of these absolutes show off the flower in a pristine jewel-like spotlight. If you concentrate on it you can pick out each note individually. Together it is divine. The base is made up of the cereal accord and to my nose it smells the way a box of Cap’n Crunch smells when you first open the bag. Sugary vanilla sweetness rises through the flowers and mixes with them surprisingly well. The jasmine in particular seems to really take to the cereal. Much later on orris absolute starts to fill in as the orange flower fades. It adds a slightly powdery finish to it all. I really enjoy when perfumers are allowed to use the “good stuff”. The LMR absolutes are the “good stuff” and M. Gaurin has displayed them in a way to show why they are so special.
Paris*LA has 8-10 hour longevity and, except for the key lime blast on top, below average sillage. Made in Heaven has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Both Paris*LA and Made in Heaven continue to show why A Lab on Fire is one of the most exciting niche houses on the scene. Mr. Kusubayashi allowing the perfumers to have as much latitude to create as possible leads to perfumes you may love or hate but you will never be bored by them.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples I purchased from Twisted Lily.