New Perfume Review Olfactive Studio Close Up- Annick Menardo’s Vision Quest

A perfume brand has to know when to take risks and when to please their audience. Creative director/owner of Olfactive Studio Celine Verleure has tread this fine line very well over the five years of its existence. After a 2015 which saw the more adventurous side of things with Panorama and Selfie; 2016 is going back to the more comforting side of things. The earlier release this year Still Life in Rio was related to one of the original releases Still Life. The latest release is called Close Up.

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Photo: Suren Manvelyan

Those familiar with the brand know that Mme Verleure chooses a photographic brief to give to her chosen perfumer. I knew Close Up was going to be interesting because she chose a picture by Suren Manvelyan. It comes from a series of photos of the human eye in extreme close up called “Your Beautiful Eyes” In this case it is of an iris floating in blackness. It is a blue eye with orange/red flecks like solar flares puncturing the serenity of the blue. It looks like it could be a galaxy being swallowed by a black hole but it is that which we use to see.

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Annick Menardo

The perfumer Mme Verleure asked to interpret this is Annick Menardo. Mme Menardo usually spends most of her time in the mainstream perfume sector. The beautiful thing about her work is on the rare occasions she ventures into the niche space with a creative director who appreciates her style she has had a fantastic track record. Mme Verleure is one of those creative directors who allows enough space for her perfumers to excel. For Close Up Mme Menrado was allowed to shine.

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Celine Verleure

One of the first things they must have agreed on was that this was not going to be some transparent opaque composition. It was going to carry the intensity of Mr. Manvelyan’s photograph with a host of bold notes. After a year of so much lightness it was a treat to have something which wasn’t afraid to swagger a bit.

Close Up struts its stuff from the very first moments. Mme Menardo combines green coffee with a cherry liqueur note. It is like getting a single blend coffee flavored with cherry syrup. It may sound weird but it goes together unusually well. This transitions into a cherry flavored tobacco while the coffee grabs ahold of the patchouli in the heart. These four ingredients form the part of Close Up which lasts the longest. It has great intensity to it as it wears throughout the day. Once Close Up moves on Mme Menardo has one more surprise as a suite of animalic musks provide the final flare. The musks are ameliorated with a bit of tonka and cedar.

Close Up has 24 hr longevity and average sillage.

My most-worn Olfactive Studio fragrance has been Lumiere Blanche it is probably my favorite fall fragrance I own. The testament to that is my bottle is almost empty. I was expecting to go pick up a replacement before the weather turned cooler. After having worn Close Up I am not so worried about that anymore as I think it might just nudge Lumiere Blanche off of its perch. If you are looking for a new fall fragrance you can’t go wrong with embracing Mme Menardo’s vision of Mr. Manvelyan’s eye.

Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample supplied by Olfactive Studio.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Olfactive Studio Still Life in Rio- Past, Present, and Future

Olfactive Studio had one of the best creative years in its short existence in 2015. Creative Director and owner Celine Verleure took chances which worked with Panorama and Selfie. I wondered what 2016 would bring. The first part of that answer comes in the new release Still Life in Rio.

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Celine Verleure

Still Life in Rio is sort of a sequel/flanker to one of the original three Olfactive Studio releases, Still Life. The same perfumer Dora Baghriche is back to compose this ninth release for the brand. Bu using Mme Baghriche again Mme Verleure allows for a sense of evolution to be displayed as you move from Still Life to Still Life in Rio.

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Photo by Flavio Veloso

Another hall mark of the brand is the use of a photograph as the brief for the perfume. For Still Life in Rio she uses the photo above by Brazilian photographer Flavio Veloso. The picture is taken from one of the viewing platforms around the large statue of Christ atop Corcovado looking towards the other symbolic mountain of Rio, Sugarloaf. Sr. Veloso captures a moment in time where the golden sunlight is captured in the remaining fog of the night. That burnished radiance in the photo is evident throughout the development of Still Life in Rio.

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Dora Baghriche

Still Life in Rio begins with a nod back to the original. Mme Bachriche again uses yuzu mixed with black pepper and pink pepper. The final ingredient is a hot pepper. In Still Life it was Szechuan Pepper. Still Life in Rio uses Jamaican Hot Pepper. There is a difference where the Szechuan pepper simmers with heat; the Jamaican version adds an acidic contrast to the citric nature of the yuzu. I like the new version of the opening it is much more lively with the addition of the Jamaican pepper. Ginger emphasizes the new pizazz. The movement into the heart is rum and coconut water. If you have ever visited Rio there are whole coconuts which are opened and poured over ice beachside. In Still Life in Rio Mme Baghriche uses it as a way to lighten up the rum while softening it a bit. Copaiba matched with a soft white leather accord impart more of that misty golden quality seen in the photographic inspiration. The copaiba balsam along with the leather accord is such a deeply satisfying conclusion I always let out a sigh when the last of it faded away.

Still Life in Rio has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I liked the nods back to Mme Baghriche’s Still Life throughout Still Life in Rio. It reminds me how assured Mme Verleure has come to know her audience and its willingness to follow in new directions. Still Life in Rio is a golden riff on the past while promising more of the same for the future.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle provided by Olfactive Studio.

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur 2015 Year-End Review Part 2- Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, & Brand of the Year

In a year when I smelled almost 700 new perfumes it is easy to focus on some of the problems which affect the perfume industry. What is nice about this time of year is it allows me to focus on what is outstanding within perfumery. These next four winners are what keep me coming back for more.

Iris Cendre bottle

Perfume of the Year: Naomi Goodsir Iris Cendre– There is one thing about finding a great perfume for the first time at one of the big expos; it stands out head and shoulders above all that surround it. When I arrived at this fall’s Pitti Fragranze in Florence my very first stop was to see Australian born milliner Naomi Goodsir and her partner in perfume Renaud Coutaudier. I look forward to connecting with this brand because these two have an uncompromising attention to detail in each of their releases. In three years they have only released four perfumes. Every single one of them is among the best for their particular year. I knew there was going to be a transcendent entry sooner than later. On that September day in Florence Iris Cendre turned out to be that fragrance.

For Iris Cendre Mme Goodsir and M. Coutaudier returned to the perfumer they worked with on their first two releases, Julien Rasquinet. Together they created a shimmering green iris which had a sly callback to their earlier collaboration Bois D’Ascese in the base. Iris Cendre is a success on every level I can name. Choosing a Perfume of the Year has never been easier.

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Perfumer of the Year: Christophe Laudamiel– This category was the toughest it has ever been for me. There was so much laudable work by many perfumers this year I ended up looking for intangibles to elevate my eventual choice, Christophe Laudamiel. The perfume reasons were the three 2015 releases he composed; Raymond Matts Pashay, Raymond Matts Tulile, and Strangelove NYC meltmyheart. I mentioned in my overview yesterday that there were more unabashedly synthetic perfumes released this year. In the past I have used M. Laudamiel’s work for brands like Humiecki & Graef or Nest as what can be accomplished with a primarily synthetic palette. The three perfumes he worked on for 2015 are even better examples especially the Raymond Matts Pashay. Strangelove NYC meltmyheart shows how he can take a perfectly executed central accord of chocolate, oud, and orris accompanied by a set of synthetics which impart a transparency to create something supernatural.

The intangible that lifted him over the others listed below is his tireless work for The Academy of Perfumery & Aromatics. In that capacity he developed a fantastic children’s introductory set to fragrance. By using different ingredients and tying them to their geographic location and their smells it is an ingenious way of introducing the concept of scent, in an educational way, to the next generation.

A great year of perfume combined with an important ambassadorial role makes Christophe Laudamiel my Perfumer of the Year.

Runner-Ups: Mandy Aftel, Cristiano Canali, Jean-Claude Ellena, Bruno Fazzolari, Rodrigo Flores-Roux, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Pierre Negrin, and Geza Schoen.

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Creative Director of the Year: Celine Verleure of Olfactive Studio– Of the many things I say over and over it is how disappointed I am when a brand plays it safe. While I press for a brand to take risks their bottom line is at stake to please my desire. Any Creative Director who takes too many risks will probably not succeed. My choice for Creative Director of the Year is Celine Verleure of Olfactive Studio who fearlessly released two very different perfumes in 2015, Panorama and Selfie.

Mme Verleure has always been interested in pushing the envelope as a Creative Director and that started with her work on the Kenzo Jungle collection from 1996-1998 which were not hewing to current trends at that time. When she started Olfactive Studio in 2011 she still made memorable riffs on recognizable templates but the early releases were about building an audience. In 2015 she challenged that audience with the fierce greenness of Panorama including a wasabi accord. Followed up by Selfie which took a fractured top accord of contrasting notes and coalesced it around a maple syrup heart. It is a fascinating bit of olfactory architecture I enjoy every time I wear it. These are perfumes which invite scrutiny and that is something I can only say about the very best releases in a year.

For her sense of adventure, I name Celine Verleure my Creative Director of the Year.

Runner-Ups: Karl Bradl (Aedes de Venustas and Nomenclature), Sylvie Ganter-Cervasel and Christophe Cervasel (Atelier Cologne), Madalina Stoica-Blanchard and Julien Blanchard (Jul et Mad), Christopher Chong (Amouage), and Marina Sersale and Sebastian Alvarez Murena (Eau D’Italie, ALTAIA).

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Brand of the Year: Atelier Cologne– Atelier Cologne has been on an ever expanding trajectory since their founding in 2010. This year represented their most ambitious to date as they released eight new fragrances and an extrait version of one of the bestsellers. Owners and Creative Directors Sylvie Ganter-Cervasel and Christophe Cervasel have always impressed me with their clear vision for their brand. By releasing a four fragrance Collection Azur at the beginning of the year meant to be an introduction to the world of Cologne Absolue which was released to various Sephora for that reason. It was followed by four releases spread out through the year that continued the evolution of this style of perfume. Saphir Oud, Pomelo Paradis, Jasmine Angelique, and Musc Imperial displayed the versatility that can be elicited from this concept.

Atelier Cologne is also the genial ambassador to niche for many who don’t live in large cities. I have lost count how many times I have told those who live in these areas to go to their local Sephora and try the Atelier Cologne that are there. I almost invariably get a return e-mail relating to me how they bought one after smelling the difference. I always talk about wanting niche brands to reach out to consumers beyond the big cities. Atelier Cologne has done this with great success.

For those reasons Atelier Cologne is my Brand of the Year.

Runner-Ups: Aftelier Perfumes, DSH Perfumes, Hermes, Jo Malone, and Olfactive Studio.

Part 1 was my broad overview of the year.

Part 3 tomorrow I will reveal my top 25 new perfumes of 2015.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Olfactive Studio Selfie- Look at Me!

As I head to New York City for Comic-Con there is something I am very much not looking forward to; dodging the obstacle course of selfie sticks. In the last year the habit of taking your own picture with your smartphone, called a selfie, has exploded. Previously it was smaller in scale now the narcissistic desire to take a picture of one’s self anywhere they happen to be is out of control. Like many things it is something which will get much worse before it gets better. With that preface about what the grumpy curmudgeon who writes this blog thinks you probably have some idea of where my mind was at when I heard the newest release from one of my favorite brands, Olfactive Studio, was called Selfie.

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Celine Verleure

Ever since its inception in 2011 I have been a huge fan of owner and creative director Celine Verleure’s method of using a striking photograph as the brief for her perfumer to design a fragrance. It has been so successful with me that no matter which one of Olfactive Studio releases I wear I see that picture in my mind’s eye when I spray it on. So what was the photographic inspiration for Selfie going to be? The answer is instead of a photograph on the label there is a reflective surface which you can see yourself in. Mme Verleure is exploring the commonality between taking a picture of yourself and wearing perfume. Are not both of these ways of drawing attention to yourself? Or are they ways of sharing an experience in a larger virtual community? Not sure any of these have simple answers, or answers at all but for the first time an Olfactive Studio perfume is sort of unmoored from the visual and attached to the philosophical.

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Thomas Fontaine

The perfumer she is collaborating with, Thomas Fontaine, has been so diligently involved in resurrecting heritage brands that he perhaps relished an opportunity to give us a perfume selfie of himself. I think that is one of the advantages of working with Mme Verleure that there are no preconceived notions of what an Olfactive Studio perfume smells like. It has led to one of the more diverse brands currently on the market. Selfie continues that.

Selfie opens with a right on the edge of chaotic mix of notes. Ginger and anise first make their presence known then angelica, incense, and elemi all try to crowd into the frame. There are moments early on that it seems like there are too many notes in this selfie. It takes a little while for them to all find the right spot so the entire group can be captured and appreciated. Once it comes together it does make me break into a smile but the very early moments are fragmented. The heart has no such problems as M. Fontaine uses a maple syrup accord as a sticky matrix for three diverse notes to blend in to. Cinnamon, lily and cabreuva wood are the choices. The cinnamon adds a bit of zippiness. The lily adds a bit of green floralcy. The cabreuva reminds me of the smell of Brazil nuts sort of woody and sort of nutty. All trapped in the maple syrup accord, which adds a significant sweetness, this comes together like a bunch of disparate friends meeting up after years apart but feeling like they have never been apart. The final phase of Selfie is a portrait of two accords; suede leather and chypre accord. When I saw this mentioned I was concerned this would be a return to the frenetic early moments. Instead this is a partnership of equals which forms a leathery chypre foundation. After everything which has come before ending on a base of strong accords is the best partnership of all.

Selfie has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

As I’ve worn Selfie over the past few days I will admit I am not narcissistic enough to see a picture of me when I wear it. What it does bring to mind is a perfume with a strong sense of self which almost asks those around to “look at me!” In the final reckoning maybe Mme Verleure has it correct as taking a selfie and wearing Selfie are both acts meant to draw attention. In which case I’ll take my attention getting in perfume form, happily.

Disclosure; this review was based on a sample provided by Olfactive Studio at Pitti Fragranze 2015.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Olfactive Studio Panorama- Contemporary Green Architecture

At the end of 2011 when I was first introduced to the Olfactive Studio line of perfume I was immediately drawn in. Owner and Creative Director Celine Verleure has married photography and perfumery in a striking package. Through the six fragrances that have come over the last four years there has been a consistent progression towards a more modern aesthetic. Last year’s Ombre Indigo began the transition and it is the latest release Panorama which unabashedly completes it.

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Photo: Miguel Sandinha

Mme Verleure always begins with a photograph and usually it is one which already exists as part of a photographer’s collection. For Panorama she already had in mind the subject of the photographic brief, The Sheats Goldstein House in Los Angeles. The Sheats Goldstein House is an example of modern architecture from one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s students John Lautner. It is one of the finest examples of modern architecture to be found. The unique nature of the house has found it in multiple movies. Mme Verleure commissioned Miguel Sandinha to photograph the residence and she would pick one of the shots as the brief for Panorama. You can see the picture she chose above.

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Clement Gavarry

Next step was to enlist perfumer Clement Gavarry in turning that visual into a fragrance. One of the things to notice about that picture is the actual part of the house takes up only a small portion of the overall photo. The great majority of it is the verdant greenery which surrounds the house and far off in the distance you see the skyline of LA. If you look at that photograph and take all that in you will get an idea of what is to come in Panorama as M. Gavarry makes a fragrance of varying hues of green including some truly inspired unusual choices. All together it makes one of the boldest artistic statements this brand has ever made.

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Celine Verleure

The accord that many will be talking about when trying Panorama appears in the first moments. M. Gavarry has constructed a wasabi accord and like that dried horseradish paste which accompanies sushi it captures your attention. When Mme Verleure told me about this being one of the components of Panorama I had to admit I was skeptical. That concern remained right up until I sprayed some on my skin. M. Gavarry has indeed created a recognizable wasabi accord, it has a cold spiciness with an accompanying desiccated quality. It is weird. It is also wonderful. Oft times something weird can be interesting but when you wear it all day it continually begins to rub you in the wrong way. On the days I wore Panorama it was exactly the opposite as I spent much of my time wanting more. One of the reasons that I think it doesn’t become irritating is because M. Gavarry uses bamboo and fig leaves to keep the oddness under control. Over an hour or so like a light show the bright vivid green of the wasabi changes hues and gets a few shades deeper. A freshly-cut grass accord leads down to a pairing of galbanum and green cardamom with violet leaves. This is where you get the clean lines of the glass and concrete structure of The Sheats Goldstein House. It is still green but it is a sleek metallic green like the reflection of the plants in the glass of the house. The final shade of green comes through a deeply coniferous fir balsam. It is given even more depth by the skillful use of myrrh, labdanum, and vanilla. Like the bamboo and fig on top these alter the fir balsam into something completely modern.

Panorama has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Panorama is the most experimental fragrance release from Olfactive Studio. I applaud Mme Verleure for being willing to move the brand in this direction. Panorama smells like nothing else in the collection and it is all the more fascinating for that. I have found it to be one of the few fragrances I have tried recently which has me completely intellectually engaged throughout its development. It is as architecturally unique in its construction as the edifice which inspired it.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle of Panorama provided by Olfactive Studio at Esxence 2015.

Mark Behnke

Perfumer Rewind: Dominique Ropion 1996-1997: Jungle Fever

One of the things I find interesting about writing these pieces is the opportunity to apply complete hindsight when looking back at a perfumer’s career. With the fullness of time’s perspective it is easier to find that moment when the style associated with them first comes to the fore. What is amusing to me as I do this is I often wore these early fragrances and while memorable I can’t say I was prescient enough to know the milestones they represented. In 1996 I picked up a bottle of Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant and this was my vanilla and spice baseline for many years. It would be followed up a year later with Kenzo Jungle Le Tigre which was a brilliant bit of fruity floral wildness. The entire team behind these two perfumes have been involved with some great perfumes in the years since. Over 1996 and 1997 they all intersected in the perfumed jungle.

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Dominique Ropion

The creative director for both of these perfumes was Celine Verleure who has gone on to found her own niche perfume line Olfactive Studio. Two perfumers, Dominique Ropion and Jean-Louis Sieuzac collaborated for both of these. M. Sieuzac was part of the team which had created Yves St. Laurent Opium twenty years earlier. M. Ropion was still defining his style. They had both worked together on Dior Dune in 1991 so a working relationship had been created. Together they would create two perfumes that you would never suspect came from Kenzo if you smelled them blind today.

In 1996 Kenzo was still forming its identity and as such I think they gave Mme Verleure a wide latitude to let her perfumers follow their instincts. It would be four years later with the release of FlowerbyKenzo that Kenzo’s aesthetic would crystallize. With Jungle L’Elephant and Jungle Le Tigre Messrs. Ropion and Sieuzac explored the boundaries of Orientals from two differing vectors.

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Jungle L’Elephant is the perfume where M. Ropion would display his ability to soften and refine even the most boisterous of notes. Nowhere is that more evident than in the early moments of L’Elephant. If I tell you the top notes are cardamom and cumin I can imagine many already exclaiming, “No Thank You!” Except the perfumers harness these notes and turn them into a soft spicy pillow to lay one’s head down on. None of the sweatiness or rough green quality is here. Instead it is exotic and plush. That would be enhanced as the heart adds in clove and licorice to make the spicy accord more complex, yet still soft. Ylang-ylang and mango provide a fruity floral combo to add contrast. The transition here happens fairly quickly and it leads to a vanilla laden base made warm by cashmeran and amber. This evolution from soft to comfort will return time and again in M. Ropion’s perfumes but it is here that I first noticed it.

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Jungle Le Tigre dispenses with the spices and instead chooses to prowl the jungle with a fruity floral vapor trail. The perfumers choose the sour kumquat and they pair it with davana allowing for its characteristic fruity nature to be enhanced. It heads into a heart of osmanthus supported by ylang-ylang. The perfumers make a smart choice to let the leather and apricot character of the osmanthus hold the center of Le Tigre. It sits there full of restrained potential. It all devolves into a slightly sweet spicy woody base. Massoia wood provides the cream and the wood as cinnamon roughs up the edges a bit. The base of Le Tigre is a bold final statement. M. Ropion would refine and alter this architecture in just four years to result in Une Fleur de Cassie as one of the first Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle releases.

M. Ropion has had one of the great perfume portfolios of the last twenty years and if you want to know where it started you need to head into the jungle.

Disclosure: This review was based on bottles I purchased

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Olfactive Studio Ombre Indigo-Shadowy Perspectives

When I am out walking my two standard poodles on the night of a full moon; the yard is filled with shadows as the dogs and I cast shadows either from the moonlight or the electric floodlights. The size and intensity of those shadows varies depending on our respective positions in the yard. It is an interesting study of perspective. Perfumes also like to capture shadows and through them also add unique perspectives to what those shadows are representing. Creative Director Celine Verleure of Olfactive Studio was also thinking about shadows for her latest release Ombre Indigo.

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Photo by Gustavo Pellizzon

Every Olfactive Studio fragrance begins with a brief based on a photograph. For Ombre Indigo Mme Verleure chose the picture above by Brazilian photographer Gustavo Pellizzon. This picture was part of Sr. Pellizzon’s 2012 photgraphic series “Encante” inspired by Brazilian myths and legends. If you click on the link you will see the rest of the series, with the exception of one, are all bright. The inspiration piece for Ombre Indigo is unique within the collection. When I look at the picture I am struck by two things; the indeterminate nature of the person at the center. Is it male of female? Young or Old? Sr. Pellizzon has seemingly photographed a shadow made solid. The second thing is the saffron colored clothing. It is a contrasting splash of color which only deepens the reflection of the indigo water except for one echo of the saffron in the upper left corner. Mme Verleure had posted this picture on her Facebook page and it had captured my attention from the moment I saw it. I had a week to think what a fragrance from this picture would smell like until I met Mme Verleure at Esxence in Milan.

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Mylene Alran

I had also seen a picture of the bottle and knew the juice was colored blue but it is as blue as the water in the photograph and the depth of the color creates another visual shadow to complete the eye candy prior to smelling the perfume. Mme Verleure tapped Robertet perfume Mylene Alran to produce the perfume. Mme Alran chose tuberose and vetiver as the central themes but she carefully turns them from the powerhouse notes that often overwhelm fragrances into dancing shadows. By using notes like bigarade, leather, or incense to provide the more intense floodlight variety of shadow. Or saffron, plum, and papyrus to shine a little diffuse moonlight on the central notes; Ombre Indigo leaves me delightedly pursuing these shadows while I wear it.

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Celine Verleure

Ombre Indigo opens with a fully realized bigarade oozing its slightly sulfurous nature and then the tuberose comes next but accompanied by saffron and plum. If you’re used to tuberose knocking you off your feet Mme Alran gives you a tuberose that is a shadow of that incarnation. This is delightfully precise perfumery of the highest order to keep the tuberose in check. The vetiver then arrives and together the tuberose and vetiver form the central accord for the remainder of Ombre Indigo’s development. Papyrus slides a veil of green over the vetiver and tuberose drawing one’s attention to that facet lurking in the background of both core notes. A very animalic leather accord comes next and that enhances the indolic nature of the tuberose and turns the vetiver more deeply woody. The final stages are a sturdy amber and musk drydown to allow the tuberose and vetiver a final point of reflection.

Ombre Indigo lasts all-day on me and has above average sillage.

Ombre Indigo is the most complete package of visual and olfactory treat that Olfactive Studio has produced, so far. There is nothing out of place as every piece of the puzzle fits together to form a fascinating experience. With each new release Mme Verleure’s consistent vision continues to produce perfume of the highest quality which deserves to be displayed in the brightest light. This has become my favorite Olfactive Studio fragrance to date for the completeness of vision produced by Mme Verleure, Sr. Pellizzon, and Mme Alran. I think the only shadows one will find Ombre Indigo in are those of its own making.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle of Ombre Indigo provided by Olfactive Studio at Esxence 2014.

Mark Behnke