The 2017 Midterm Review

We’ve reached the midway point of 2017 which causes me to pause and take stock of what the year has been like in fragrance so far. In very general terms I think it has been the best year at this point since I started Colognoisseur in 2014. Here are some more specific thoughts.

Many of the leaders of artistic perfumery have stepped up in 2017. Alber Elbaz par Frederic Malle Superstitious is an example as perfumer Dominique Ropion working with the other two names on the bottle created a hazy memory of vintage perfume. Christine Nagel composed Hermes Eau des Meveilles Bleue a brilliant interpretation of the aquatic genre. Clara Molloy and Alienor Massenet celebrated ten years of working together with Eau de Memo; it turns into a celebration of what’s right in this sector.

The independent perfumers have continued to thrive. In the independent sector, very individual statements have found an audience. Bruno Fazzolari Feu Secret, Vero Profumo Naja, Imaginary Authors Saint Julep, and Tauer L’Eau. Plus, I have another four I could have added but I haven’t reviewed them yet. My enthusiasm when I do will give them away. There is a bounty of creativity thriving on the outskirts of town.

Standing out on their own. Two perfumers I admire struck out on their own establishing their own brands. Michel Almairac created Parle Moi de Parfum. Jean-Michel Duriez has put his name on the label and opened a boutique in Paris. Both show each perfumer allowing their creativity unfettered freedom to some great results.

-Getting better and better. I look to see if young brands can continue the momentum they begin with. The two Vilhelm Parfumerie releases; Do Not Disturb and Harlem Bloom, have shown this brand is creating a deeply satisfying collection. Masque Milano is also doing that. Their latest release Times Square shows creative directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi are unafraid to take risks. In the case of Times Square, it succeeds. Victor Wong of Zoologist Perfumes keeps trusting his instincts while working with some of the best indie perfumers. He and Shelley Waddington got 2017 off to a flying start with Civet.

-Mass-market has been good but not great. I have found much to like at the mall in the first half of this year. Much more than last year. My problem is I think I’m going to have to remind myself about these perfumes a year from now. I think they are trying to take tiny steps towards something new. It might even be the right choice for this sector of fragrance buyer, the exception is Cartier Baiser Fou. Mathilde Laurent’s evocation of fruit flavored lip gloss; that I’m going to remember.

The Teacher’s Pets are Rodrigo and Luca. Rodrigo Flores-Roux has always been one of my favorite perfumers. For 2017 he has returned to his roots in Mexico where he produced two collections of exceptional perfume. For Arquiste Esencia De El Palacio in conjunction with Carlos Huber they created a luxurious look at the country of their birth. Sr. Flores-Roux then collaborated with Veronica Alejandra Pena on a new line based in Mexico City; Xinu. These were perfumes which allowed him to indulge an indie sensibility. It all came together in Monstera a crunchy green gem of a fragrance. That leaves out the three Black Collection perfumes he did for Carner Barcelona; and those should not be left out.

Luca Maffei is one of the many reasons for the Renaissance of Italian Perfumery. In 2017, it seems like he is trying to prove it all on his own. He has been behind eleven releases by seven different brands. Taken together they show his exceptional versatility. The one which really shows this off is the work he did for Fath’s Essentials. Working with creative director Rania Naim he took all his Italian inspiration and transformed it into a characteristic French aesthetic. Nowhere is this more evident than in Lilas Exquis.

I am glad I still have six months’ time to find some daylight between these two for my Perfumer of the Year. Right now I’d have to declare it a tie.

My overall grade for Perfume 2017 at the midterm is a solid B+ there is much more to be admired than to make me slap my forehead. I am looking forward to the rest of the term to finalize this grade, hopefully upward.

Mark Behnke

Cartier 101- Five To Get You Started

It took Cartier a while to finally enter the fragrance game. Most of the other luxury brands had been in for decades before Cartier released their first in 1981. In those days, it was a place for perfumers Jean-Claude Ellena and Christine Nagel to refine their signature styles. It was a place where there were memorable perfumes but no coherence. That would arrive with the hiring of perfumer Mathilde Laurent in 2005. At first, she was exclusively creating bespoke perfume at the Paris boutique. It wouldn’t be until 2008 that she started releasing perfume under the brand. It has become so distinctive that Cartier fragrance can be divided into: “Before Laurent” and “After Laurent”. She has also created a style which she has described as using “wonderful ingredients and very few”. It has made this one of the more impressive collections in contemporary perfume. For this edition of Perfume 101 I am going to focus on the “After Laurent” phase of Cartier with five fragrances that introduce her style.

Mathilde Laurent

I’ll start with that very first release from 2008, Roadster. I was so sure I wasn’t going to like it because mint was listed as a focal point. Instead Mme Laurent uses the green herbal nature of the leaf which eventually combines with vetiver in a fresh way. Patchouli and woods are the other foci. It highlights Mme Laurent’s ability to find strength in transparency.

That quality would find its pinnacle in 2011’s Baiser Vole. Working with Domitille Michalon-Bertier an exquisite lily perfume was produced. They chose to surround lily with a top accord of watery green and a base accord of powder and vanilla. The lily snuggles in between to create one of my favorite lily perfumes.

Last year L’Envol de Cartier was released with the description of it being a “transparent Oriental”. That translates into a perfume which is like watching the expansion of a soap bubble coated in a microlayer of honey. It is so light in effect I dismissed it as a trifle when I first reviewed it. The more I wear it the more I have come to admire this honeyed bubble for that lightness.

At the beginning of this year the sequel to Baiser Vole was released; Baiser Fou. This is Mme Laurent showing her playful side as she wanted this to represent “lipstick kisses”. Except her lipstick was not the iris or rose of the cosmetic counter. Baiser Fou is the fruit scented lip gloss you apply with a wand. That accord is layered over cacao. It is a stolen kiss leaving a bit of scent in its wake.

Along with the commercial releases Mme Laurent has produced a luxury line for Cartier called “Les Heures de Parfum”. These are more like Cartier 202 style perfumes and not a good choice to introduce yourself to the brand. If there is one which I think is the best introduction it is Oud Radieux. It is because it is a fascinating taming of that fractious Middle Eastern ingredient, oud. Mme Laurent transforms it with ginger and Szechuan pepper. It adds bite from somewhere besides the oud.

I am short shrifting the work done for Cartier prior to Mme Laurent. If you’re of a mind Declaration, Must de Cartier and Le Baiser du Dragon are great examples of that time. For now catch up with the current house style with the five suggested above.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Cartier Baiser Fou- Spin the Bottle

I had my first kiss at nine at a birthday party playing the kissing game, spin the bottle. I was very nervous as I spun the bottle and it landed on one of my classmates. In theory I sort of understood what I was supposed to do but as I leaned in to perform I wasn’t sure. I was focused on the shiny lip gloss on her lips and the faint smell of strawberry. When our lips met it was nice. As I pulled away and licked my lips the taste of strawberry lip gloss was there to let me know I had indeed kissed a girl and I liked it. Funny thing that grew out of that was I always enjoyed kissing girls who wore fruit scented lipstick. I hadn’t given that much thought until I tried the new Cartier Baiser Fou.

Mathilde Laurent

Perfumer Mathilde Laurent has been the in-house nose for Cartier for almost ten years. She has added a spirit of adventurousness to Cartier fragrance that was present previous to her tenure but is now much more assured. It is also a brand which shows that same ability for unique even in the mainstream releases. Last year’s L’Envol de Cartier or even the previous entry in the “Baiser” line Baiser Vole are good examples of Mme Laurent’s idea of what she envisions department store perfume can aspire to. Both of those fragrances I mentioned are like nothing else on those counters. Baiser Fou is another although it has some more familiar touchstones perhaps.

The press material says Baiser Fou, which translates to crazy kiss, is inspired by lipstick kisses. Most perfumes inspired by that go for that Coty lipstick iris/rose on beeswax accord. Mme Laurent’s lipstick kisses, like my early ones, are fruitier. There is a real sense of playfulness in this crazy kiss that is also quite appealing.

The opening of Baiser Fou is that subtle but distinct fruity accord. I believe there are at least a couple of different fruits as I seem to detect strawberry, cherry, and melon which seemed to me different every time I tested. What I like here is these fruits which could be obstreperous are applied with the feathered effect of a stolen kiss. It is this lightness which sets this fruity opening apart from thousands of others. Mme Laurent uses an orchid accord to provide the powdery lipstick itself. As the fruity notes settle on top of the orchid it is again held together like a gossamer wing. This fragility is a significant reason why I like this part of the development. The final piece of this is dusty cacao which is identified as “white chocolate” but it feels more like a rich cocoa powder to me. It is in keeping with the tone of what came before a delicately gourmand-y way to finish Baiser Fou.

Baiser Fou has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Mme Laurent is one of the most creative perfumers we currently have working. Everything about Baiser Fou is appealing as she continues working on these very delicate constructs as she did with L’Envol de Cartier last year. Baiser Fou is another like that. There might be the tendency for some to want to ask for more. I am happy with just a light but crazy kiss from someone as creative as Mme Laurent.

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

Mark Behnke