New Perfume Review Providence Perfume Co. Heart of Darkness- The Smell of Fougere in the Morning

I am a firm believer in the adage that the book is better than the movie; most of the time. One exception is the movie “Apocalypse Now” based on the 19th Century fin de siècle novella “Heart of Darkness” by author Joseph Conrad. The original story was based on British Colonialism in the Congo. Director Francis Ford Coppola modernized the story bringing it forward to the Vietnam War in 1969. The plots are essentially the same as a good and upright man makes a journey into the jungle looking for a man who might have become something dark. In both stories our narrator completes his journey but he is changed by confronting the darkness of the soul. The reason I prefer the movie is the milieu of the Vietnam War and the slippery ethical reasons for being there are more easily understood by me than what were the similar concepts of 19th Century British conquest of foreign lands. What also draws me to “Apocalypse Now” is the clearer sense of the absurd captured within the brutality of a war. Of the few people, I know in my life who served in Vietnam they all say “Apocalypse Now” is the best depiction of their time in country.

Charna Ethier

Independent perfumer Charna Ethier seemingly is inspired by the story for her latest release Providence Perfume Co. Heart of Darkness. In her interpretation, she wanted to create “A classic fougere for men with a dark twist”. In essence she wants to take a fougere on a journey into the jungle to return with a shadow on it. Ms. Ethier has a particularly deft touch with these green leafy accords which she has shown numerous times in the past with fragrances like Moss Gown. Heart of Darkness is another as she adds a jungle on top of a fougere.

This story opens with lavender ready to travel. It adds on nutmeg and tonka to add an unusual sweet quality. It takes the lavender towards its more floral nature as opposed to the herbal facets. Here it really is the steadfast lavender about to step into the jungle. Ms. Ethier uses a very green, slightly camphoraceous, cedar and vetiver to begin the shading towards the dark. A mixture of oakmoss and coffee is where Ms. Ethier adds the darkness. She describes the coffee note as “espresso” I would offer an alternative description as whole roasted coffee bean. Something in here adds a bit of humidity reminiscent of the tropics. Labdanum is the final ingredient which returns our fougere back to its more traditional milieu but the journey has changed it.

Heart of Darkness has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Heart of Darkness is another of these green triumphs from Ms. Ethier. On the days I was wearing it I wanted to paraphrase a character from “Apocalypse Now” as I applied it each day. “I love the smell of fougere in the morning.” Especially when it is done in such an original way as it is in Heart of Darkness.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Providence Perfume Co.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Providence Perfume Co. Tangerine Thyme- Tincture de Cologne

There are many techniques that can only happen within the independent perfume community because of the time-intensive nature of using them. One of those is the process of creating a tincture. A perfumer will place a material into alcohol and allow it to extract the essence from it. The process will be repeated many times as the natural material is continually swapped out until the desired balance is achieved. That any perfumer still does this is to be commended. One perfumer who has made her tinctures the keynotes of many of her perfumes is Charna Ethier of Providence Perfume Co. Here latest release Tangerine Thyme shows off a new one.

Because of the process behind tincturing the ingredient itself is surely one-of-a-kind. It will be nearly impossible to get the exact same concentration back a second time; which is why Ms. Ethier’s tinctures usually are part of limited editions. Tangerine Thyme is no different as Ms. Ethier uses a tincture of a special kind of navel orange called a Cara Cara. Upon this she constructs a classic cologne architecture with typical herbal complements and a couple of unusual choices which help elevate Tangerine Thyme.

charna ethier

Charna Ethier

The Cara Cara tincture is what opens Tangerine Thyme. Cara Cara oranges have a flesh which approximates the color of grapefruit but these oranges are a lot sweeter. Ms. Ethier captures that as she uses the Cara Cara tincture to represent the tangerine. Petitgrain and neroli are used to modulate the tincture so it carries a bit of pulpy gravitas. The promised thyme provides the herbal harmony. The other inspired choice Ms. Ethier makes is to also use marigold. It provides a different green floral character to the more traditional herbal green from the thyme. The base is a simple silvery frankincense as an austere contrast.

Tangerine Thyme has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

Most of the time a citrus herbal cologne is not something I would wear in the colder weather. As I was wearing Tangerine Thyme over the past week one of the mornings had the first frost of the season. It stood up really nicely. I suspect this is going to be a favorite scarf spray throughout the fall. The effort Ms. Ethier puts in to creating her tinctures is only surpassed by her creativity in employing them in her fragrances. If you need proof pick up Tangerine Thyme.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Providence Perfume Co.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Providence Perfume Co. Love-in-a-Mist- Finding the Sunny Side

Social media is a wonderful thing when sharing good news. It can be less enjoyable when the news is not so happy. When you see a post where someone has had some kind of adversity you feel for them and reach out knowing there is little more you can do. A year ago I woke up and was checking in when I saw a post from Charna Ethier the independent perfumer and owner of Providence Perfume Co. Her store in Providence, RI had been damaged in a fire. After being patient with the reconstruction it turned out she still needed to move. She spent a couple of months doing that. She has now re-established her brick-and mortar presence which has allowed for her to return to that which she does so well; design beautiful perfumes from memorable ingredients. Her latest Love-in-a-Mist does just that.

When I make the statement that independent perfumery’s advantage is in exquisite small batch raw materials Ms. Ethier is one of the best at doing this. From designing her own tinctures to sourcing unique materials to use as a keynote the majority of her perfumes have a special note or accord within; put there through her persistence. For Love-in-a-Mist Ms.Ethier wanted to create a playful summer wildflower fragrance and she wanted to use the flower that is in the name. That flower is known as Nigella damascene. Ms. Ethier sourced one of the few distillers of this flower and made this note the nucleus of Love-in-a-Mist. Another thing I laud Ms. Ethier for is she spends time understanding her new material so she can choose just a few supplementary notes which display it like the fragrant jewel it is.

charna_ethier

Charna Ethier

Ms. Ethier describes the scent profile of Nigella damascene as a “honeyed floral aroma”. While I think that is probably technically true there seems to be more on display than a honeyed floral. As pink pepper opens the fragrance with the Nigella damascene already in place I get a more lilac feel from it. As mimosa comes forward it becomes more expansive reminding me strongly of honeysuckle. Sweet clover adds in the soft green aspect of a summer field. Finally, in the base sandalwood pulls out an ambery character.

Love-in-a-Mist has 8-10 hour longevity and low sillage.  

I have truly enjoyed wearing Love-in-a-Mist through these summery days. Even in a place where I have my own wildflowers there is nothing which smells as good as this does. After a year of adversity Ms. Ethier has found the sunny side again and put it in a bottle. I have to also mention that the past year’s travails seem to have fired her creativity again. I think Love-in-a-Mist is the best perfume she has made since 2012’s Moss Gown. Love-in-a-Mist is a spectacular summertime floral.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Providence Perfume Co.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Providence Perfume Co. Provanilla- Castaway Vanilla

1

There is a group of independent perfumers who I adore for their ability to poke and prod at the common perfume tropes. Natural perfumer Charna Ethier of Providence Perfume Co. is one of those unafraid to take the banal and try to make it something less so. I have to admit I forgot this when I opened my package from her with her latest release in it. As I finally revealed my sample from within its bubble-wrapped cocoon the name, Provanilla, made me groan a little inside.

charna_ethier

Charna Ethier

Vanilla is low on my list of favorite featured notes because it is used so often in such an obvious way. It is either the sweet confectionary type. Or the evocation of the vanilla orchid carrying a more floral sweetness tinged with green. It has the ability to overwhelm anything around it and that’s what turns it boring. That was my frame of mind as I sprayed a bit of Provanilla onto a strip. That’s when I was reminded not of the hundreds of boring vanilla perfumes out there but Ms. Ethier’s skill at bringing me around to seeing something new.

Provanilla is a mix of five different sources of natural vanilla which provide the spine of Provanilla. What Ms. Ethier does is to tie up her five vanillas and throw then overboard to wash up on an isolated tropical island. The two components which create the Cast Away vibe are coconut pulp and a melon-based aquatic accord. Provanilla is a fantastic example of Ms. Ethier’s adventurous aesthetic.

provanilla ad

Provanilla opens with the rich mix of the five sources of vanilla. This is a unique blend of vanilla because Ms. Ethier uses her own vanilla tincture to bind the vanillas she is using together. It makes it different but it is still vanilla. It is the melon-based aquatic accord which completely transforms Provanilla. It adds an incredible watery quality to everything. The vanilla accord bobs along on top of the water and once it finds shore it lands on top of a lovely bunch of coconuts. More specifically the pulp of the coconut which provides both complement and contrast to the central vanilla. The watery aquatic accord is still here too. I loved this tropical watery vanilla and it wears so easily without being uninteresting. Only in the base do things return to a sense of normalcy as eventually myrrh and balsam provide the base notes.

Provanilla has 6-8 hour longevity and very slight sillage.

I don’t know how many times it will take for Ms. Ethier to show me something different from that which I think I know well. Provanilla has perhaps provided the strongest proof yet of Ms. Ethier’s ability to completely change my thinking about a note.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Providence Perfume Co.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Providence Perfume Co. Natural Perfume Oils- The Quiet Storm

In October the New York Times published an article about the proliferation of perfume oils. The article extolled the convenience, the more close wearing nature, and as an economical alternative to their alcoholic cousins. Natural Perfumer Charna Ethier came to this conclusion through paying attention to the customers in her retail store in Providence, RI. She came to realize through watching customers at her in-store custom perfume bar that as many customers were choosing to base their creations in oil as alcohol. Along with this realization she was getting requests from customers for something more “wearable”. She wanted to “highlight the most beautiful aspects of natural essences”. All of this thinking has led to the creation of a collection of six natural perfume oils under her Providence Perfume Co. brand: Rose 802, Orange Blossom Honey, Summer Yuzu, Ivy Tower, Sweet Jasmine Brown, and Violet Beauregarde.

A few things I noticed when wearing these perfume oils was the very nature of them wearing so close to the skin made them feel much more personal in nature. I often felt like it was my little perfumed secret for the days I wore them. I would have to test this next observation a little more blindly but while I was testing the oils in between other fragrance I was testing it seemed the oils had a more diffuse quiet and softer feeling. It was like these were gauzy dreamlike versions of perfume. When I would wear one of these after wearing a more traditional formulation from another perfumer these has a degree of comforting calm to them.

charna_ethier

Charna Ethier

Rose 802 is a tribute to mid-summer in Vermont, 802 is the Vermont area code, as the wild roses and blackberries scent the air. Ms. Ethier takes rose and black currant to form that core and adds in cedar and fir to bring forth the woods of Vermont. A bit of myrtle modulates the rose to keep it from being as boisterous. This was a good example of how the perfume oil formulation can take something like rose and currant which is the very loud opening to many fruity florals and by keeping it close and hazy turns it contemplative and calming.

Orange Blossom Honey exemplifies that the oils can allow the wearer to go beneath the surface and find something different in notes as well-known as orange blossom and honey. Ms. Ethier goes for a bit of transparent golden viscosity as the neroli is encased within a thick matrix of honey. Grace notes of ginger and vanilla add a bit of olfactory lens flares but this is an indolent lazy day as a perfume.

Summer Yuzu shows that just because these perfume oils are kept on the quiet side that doesn’t have to mean they lack energy. Summer Yuzu has energy to burn as Ms. Ethier takes a brilliant sparkling yuzu as her nucleus and sends a fantastic array of notes like, sunflower, aglaia, tomato, frankincense, and tomato spinning madly around it. This was the most fun of these six to wear because it just felt like a perpetual motion machine in perfumed form.

Ivy Tower is a photorealistic version of ivy growing among a selection of spring flowers. Ms. Ethier captures the deeply vegetal green of the ivy growing in rain-soaked earth by combining geranium, narcissus, blue tansy, jonquil, and lily. All together these floral create the ivy accord but then as you focus it is like finding a bunch of flowers growing within the vines.

Sweet Jasmine Brown is Ms. Ethier’s riff on the jazz standard “Sweet Georgia Brown”. Ms. Ethier wanted a sassy and sweet construction. To bring this dichotomy together she chose pink pepper, jasmine and musk ambrette to represent sassy and cocoa nib, ylang-ylang, and vanilla to hold up the sweet side. It sets up a bit of a see-sawing development as it moves from the sassy to sweet and back to the sassy again. Like watching Miss Georgia Brown sashaying down the street.

Just from the name I suspected that Violet Beauregarde was going to be my favorite. It seems like we both share an affection for the gum snapping child of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who would eventually expand into a human blueberry. Ms. Ethier eschews going the blueberry route and instead focuses on violet. The violet is transparent but like the namesake Ms. Ethier expands the transparent violet by inflating it with ylang-ylang, jasmine, and mimosa. It makes it feel like a purple balloon blown up to its limit with the sun shining through it. I loved the delicacy of this one which always seemed to be on the verge of popping like that overinflated balloon in my mind’s eye.

All of the perfume oils had 6-8 hour longevity and about as close to zero sillage as you can get.

Ms. Ethier wanted something “beautiful and wearable” and with all six of these perfume oils she has achieved her goal.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Providence Perfume Co.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Providence Perfume Co Bay Rum- A Pirate Looks at 50

As appealing as pretending to be a pirate was as a child, I have to admit the idea is even more appealing as a man in his 50’s. I am pretty sure I’m not alone in the idea of a life on the ocean living on the fringes of the law having appeal as we get older. When I was a kid with an eyepatch and a plastic sword I also nipped into my dad’s bathroom to get a bottle of rum, bay rum. My father had a humongous bottle of Pinaud’s Bay Rum. I used to sprinkle a little in my bandana to smell authentic. Bay Rum also played a large part in my haircuts as it was the spicy finish to a visit to the barber. I can honestly say I haven’t given Bay Rum a thought in twenty years, easy. Thanks to one of our most talented Natural Perfumers, Charna Ethier, who has released Bay Rum under her Providence Perfume Co. label, it has plundered my consciousness.

Ms. Ethier wanted Bay Rum to pay homage to Newport, RI which was at one time the rum capital of the world. Bay Rum is as simple a fragrance as it gets as sailors in the West Indies took bay leaf and let it soak in some rum. That has been the formula for hundreds of years. Ms. Ethier takes that most basic of formulas and adds a little bit more of the fragrant beats of a pirate’s existence. This turns her Bay Rum from something focused into a fragrance which has a much wider perspective.

charna ethier

Charna Ethier

Ms. Ethier stayed true to her Rhode Island roots and contacted a local rum distiller to provide the rum. This provides a rich boozy foundation for everything else to be added to. Most importantly the other part of the name, a real West Indian bay leaf. On the top of this she adds a bit of tart lime to ward off scurvy. Her choice of allspice takes the bay leaf and transforms it into something less piquant and more elegant. I would venture she spent some time finding the right partner for the bay leaf and allspice is absolutely the right one. A pirate hides in a cove surrounded by flowers growing from the trees and in Bay Rum Ms. Ethier adds jasmine and ylang-ylang to remind you that you are in the tropics. The last addition is a wonderfully briny ozonic sea spray accord. When you are on a boat at speed and the spray is being flung up into the air as the bow cleaves through the wave, is what this accord smells like. It is what turns Bay Rum into a voyage on the high seas while wearing it.

Bay Rum has 10-12 hour longevity. Ms. Ethier has made a very long lasting version of something which is not known for its longevity in other forms. The sillage is average.

Ms. Ethier is really broadening her abilities as a perfumer as Bay Rum shows she can take something elementary and add to it without disrupting it. That is much easier than it sounds. Bay Rum is a success because every additional note she chose to add had its place within the existing structure. I am loving Bay Rum because Ms. Ethier has made a Bay Rum for this perfumista in his 50’s which allows me to let my inner child out to play; at the wheel of a ship flying the Jolly Roger. It is like finding a treasure, no ‘X’ necessary to mark the spot.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Providence Perfume Co.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Providence Perfume Co. Samarinda- On Nose Across Borneo

2

One of my favorite books is Eric Hansen’s “Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo”. In the book Mr. Hansen describes his eight months of crossing the large Island of Borneo back and forth. Throughout the book his experiences with the indigenous Penan people who were his companions on his trek through the dense rainforest added a wonderfully distinct contrast to the modern civilized way of life. After reading the book I worried that the pace of modern expansion would destroy the more primitive civilization that was happily flourishing without the rest of the world interfering. Mr. Hansen painted a vivid portrait of his surroundings and often I felt I could feel the humidity and smell the jungle, which of course I couldn’t.

charna ethier

Charna Ethier

Perfumer Charna Ethier of Providence Perfume Co. has also been inspired by Borneo for her latest release Samarinda. Samarinda is the capital city of the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan. Borneo also contains two Malaysian states, Sabah and Sarawak along with the tiny sovereign state of Brunei. The slow creep of deforestation described in 1988 by Mr. Hansen has continued apace and Ms. Ethier is donating 5% of all proceeds to the World Wildlife Fund for the protection of the indigenous and endangered species in Borneo.

choya-distillation2

Choya Distillation Vessels

Samarinda continues a trend in Ms. Ethier’s perfumery begun with 2012’s Moss Gown and continued with last year’s Branch & Vine. She has dramatically expanded her palette of notes to work with and during that expansion she is taking thoughtful time with each of these unusual notes to bring out the best in them. For Samarinda the unusual note is Choya Nakh which is the smell of roasted seashells. If you’ve ever walked a beach which has a lot of shells drying in the heat of the day you know what this smells like. It can be overwhelming and in less assured hands it would have thrown everything out of balance. Ms. Ethier knows what effect she wants and spent a year on Samarinda perfecting it.

Samarinda opens right away with a lush intensity as a full juicy orange, sheer piquant pink peppercorn, and a cardamom made rawer by the pink peppercorn so it is less smooth and more unrefined. This is how we enter Ms. Ethier’s trek into Borneo. A combination of heliotrope, carnation, and orange blossom advance the tropical vibe but there was a hint of sun scorched earth underneath and that must be from the coffee note listed. I can’t distinctly pick it out but it is the only thing that could be responsible for it. This is the smell of tropical flower garden but it also carried a bit of humid weight as well. It is high noon in the rainforest heady and beautiful. The base is where the Choya Nakh comes in as we leave the jungle behind and walk towards the ocean. The floral part of the jungle is over our shoulder, not gone just diminished. Now a scotch leather layover and rum ether add a bit of boozy diffusion while vanilla and a tincture of jasmine rice add a soupcon of ethnic food to everything. Underneath all of this is the Choya Nakh as an exotic underpinning precisely balanced with everything else. It is the signature note to tie this entire olfactory journey together.

Samarinda has all-day longevity and average sillage.

Ms. Ethier is becoming one of those perfumers for whom I can’t wait to see what is next. There is a dedication on her part to composing with the outliers in the pantheon of notes. Like playing with the less used colors in a big box of Crayola crayons. What she is slowly gathering is a signature style combining exploration and artistry into completely unique fragrances. Samarinda is as good, and maybe better, than Moss Gown; time will tell. What I do know is I will go anywhere with my nose that Ms. Ethier wants to lead me.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Providence Perfume Co.

Mark Behnke