Of all the accords perfumers construct my favorite is leather. One reason is there are so many different variations on the theme. Soft suede, rich Corinthian, black biker jacket, or equestrian saddle; they all require a perfumer to put together a group of other ingredients to create the accord. The first leather accords used birch tar and were often referred to as “cuir de Russie” or Russian Leather. It had a roughhewn quality more emblematic of the tack of the draft horse than the elegance of an equestrienne. It was so popular that this is the kind of leather accord the general populace is most familiar with. Those of us who love perfume have our favorites; the cuir de russie version is mine because I like that rawer quality to it.
When I heard that the newest release in the Memo Cuir Nomades collection was going to be named Russian Leather I was excited to try it. I was interested to see how creative director Clara Molloy and perfumer Alienor Massenet would interpret it. They also thought of draft animals but they were high up on the steppes with reindeer in harness. They themselves described Russian Leather as a “frozen fougere”. There is never a point where I thought fougere. Instead I was greeted by a cavalcade of green leading me to the tack room adjacent to the reindeer stable.
For the beginning of Russian Leather Mme Massenet wants to create that sense of the frozen tundra. She accomplishes this with a neat trick of camphoraceous materials namely lavandin and mint. Lavandin carries a decent amount of camphor in tis natural essential oil. The mint picks that up and amplifies it. The mint also begins the march of green notes; basil, coriander, and clary sage start it off with a strong aromatic herbal trio. It modulates somewhat as cedar leaves, rosemary, and nutmeg rein things in. Next comes the leather accord and it is that smell of well-worked leather that has been well-worn through constant use. It doesn’t have as much of the birch tar bite as the old ones do. For that Mme Massenet turns to pine. The pine provides a sappy green roughness which complements the herbal fusillade from before. Over the final stages patchouli and tonka bean provide a fitting foundation.
Russian Leather has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I enjoyed the choice made by Ms. Molloy and Mme Massenet to go green and let that become the birch tar substitute at the end. It made me feel like this perfume was less cuir de russie and more cuir de vert. Russian Leather is another excellent interpretation of leather in a very strong collection within Memo.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Memo.
As I survey my desk filled with samples it is amusing to remember a time when that was not the case. As recently as four years ago I was using every connection I had to source a full set of samples from Memo Paris. Back then it was not a sure thing to get European-only releases. Over those four years Memo Paris has become available everywhere. I have also met the husband and wife team behind the brand. John Molloy takes care of the business side of things and Clara Molloy takes care of being the creative director for the brand. Mme Molloy has worked exclusively with one perfumer throughout the entire Memo Paris collection, Alienor Massenet. Over their collaboration they have designed a brand aesthetic while branching out into three collections within the brand. Memo Paris is one of my favorite brands there aren’t any which I have not enjoyed. If you have seen the display of the collection and wanted to know where to start here are my five suggestions.
John and Clara Molloy
The very first Memo Paris fragrance I tried was Inle. When I first reviewed Inle I described it as a tea dyed osmanthus. The creative team uses a focused tea accord, right down to a sprig of mint, to float osmanthus upon. It is framed out in clean lines of cedar and white musk. So often a perfume works to enhance the apricot leather duality of osmanthus. Inle decides to just let it be.
The perfume which made me mad for desire to acquire all of them was Shams Oud. The opening is a spicy glow of the sun setting on the desert. Ginger, saffron, and pepper form that dry desert breeze. As the oud becomes more apparent the three spices find their spot and form a fabulous oud chord. Later on it transitions through a green phase of papyrus and vetiver before letting birch and balsam provide the final notes. Shams Oud is still one of my very favorite oud perfumes.
Manoa is the iris fragrance for the brand. Starting with ginger and citrus a powdery iris sets itself upon a foundation of opoponax, vanilla, and labdanum. Probably the most simply constructed perfume in the entire collection it still carries that Memo Paris vibe.
Quartier Latin also trends a bit simpler in architecture too. It reminds me of walking outside of a nightclub passing through a group smoking Kretek clove cigarettes straight into a wood-paneled room. Mme Massenet chooses clove leaves instead of just clove to add a bit of green which threads itself through the very dry woods of cedar and sandalwood. The desiccated quality is relieved a bit with tonka and amber. The balance in Quartier Latin shows off what a fine technician Mme Massenet is.
There have been four leather perfumes within the Cuirs Nomades collection. The one which you should try first is African Leather. This opens with a slightly different African breeze than Shams Oud. Using cardamom and cumin to go with the saffron this time it has a more primal energy to it. The leather accord in the heart feels as if it is alive and stalking you. Vetiver and patchouli provide a sunbaked earth accord for the base. This entire Cuirs Nomades have been good but African Leather is the current crown jewel.
This is a niche line which carries my highest recommendation. I think most perfume lovers will find one or more which speak to them. Try these five as a start.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottles I purchased.
I am drawn to perfume because there are so many times and places in my life where the smell of a place is as much a part of the experience as anything else. One of the places where I have very distinctive memories of a smell is camping while the desert is in bloom. This usually takes place around this time of the year often reaching its peak right now. It is such a contrast to the red rocks and sand to see color where it usually isn’t. As far as I know none of these flowers have been used as is in a perfume. They certainly transform the smell of the desert from its spicy mineralic baseline into something more genteel. Harsh turns to colorful fantasia. Rocky turns to floral. There are a number of perfumes which have attempted to capture this accord. The new Memo Marfa comes as close to getting it right as I have tried.
Marfa is the first in a new collection within the brand called Art Land. The name comes from the town in West Texas of the same name. It is a city of approximately 2,000 of which a disproportionate amount are artists. It sits on the edge of the desert at the crossroads of US 90 and US 67 north of Big Bend National Park. If you are a movie fan it was used as a location for the movies, Giant, Fandango, There Will Be Blood, and No Country for Old Men. I have never been to the city, except through these films, but it is part of the same high desert of the American Southwest I am familiar with. Creative director Clara Molloy along with her longtime collaborator perfumer Alienor Massenet set out to capture the city. For me they captured the desert surrounding it while in bloom.
The floral mix Mme Massenet settles upon is one of tuberose absolute and orange blossom absolute. Marfa is primarily a tuberose perfume. Except there are bits of the desert underneath which remind you of what will remain when the flowers are gone.
Marfa opens on orange blossom which is quickly joined by tuberose. The orange blossom attenuates the tuberose. It also reminds you that it is the subtler of the white flowers. The balance Mme Massenet strikes is very nice. With the florals the first reminder we are in the desert comes with a sharp green “agave accord” it has a sort of spikiness to it which makes it an interesting contrast to all that is going on with the florals. It has the added effect of opening up the camphoraceous nature of the tuberose more fully. If you’ve ever taken a deep breath of arid desert air it feels a lot like that sinus clearing breath. The final part of the development of Marfa is the dried out wood left behind later in the summer. Cedar, sandalwood, and a few white musks form that accord as the desert reclaims its ground although the tuberose stays around even when the woods take over.
Marfa has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I will not be actually spending this spring anywhere near the desert. Thankfully Marfa is going to take me there when I want to imagine I am there.
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample provided by Memo.
One of the things I truly appreciate is when there is a long-term marriage of creative director and perfumer. It is not the usual state of affairs for a fragrance brand as the majority of them have a number of different perfumers they work with. What I like about the more monogamous fragrant relationship is there is a real sense of evolution as you move along with the brand. I was thinking about that as I tried the new Memo Paris African Leather.
Memo Paris started as a brand in 2007 with four releases. Co-owner Clara Molloy provided the creative direction and her partner in perfume for the last eight years has been perfumer Alienor Massenet. I wouldn’t discover the line until a few years later. One of the first Memo perfumes I owned was Moon Dance a perfume described as “an imaginary safari on the moon”. In that first collection from 2007 there was a perfume called Lalibela which was inspired by the Ethiopian city of the same name. In both of these cases these were the early versions of leather and Africa from the line. As Mme Molloy and Mme Massenet returned to these grander inspirations for African Leather there is very clear evidence of how much they have grown together as a creative team as African Leather is perhaps the best perfume in the entire Memo Paris line.
This time the safari is more literal as African Leather is reminiscent of the smell of wide open savannahs stretching to the horizon. Lalibela used incense and tobacco to create the exotic; African Leather uses a fantastic trio of spice notes to convey the same impression. Put together it just feels like the culmination of a fruitful creative partnership resulting in a fantastic fragrance.
One of the things which really allows African Leather to stand out is that Mme Massenet employs molecular distillations of the natural materials. These versions allow for a specific fraction of the entire essential oil to be isolated resulting in a different scent profile. This effect is used nicely by Mme Massenet as she employs each ingredient for the desired effect.
African Leather opens with a trio of spices; cardamom, saffron, and cumin. They provide a warm breeze as if the mid-day wind is sweeping the smell of the open plains to your nose. I wasn’t able to find out the source of the saffron Mme Massenet used here but it has one of the more pronounced combinations of warmth and shimmer I think I have noticed in saffron in a perfume. It floats above the entire perfume for almost all of its development giving this interesting textural quality. The heart is the molecular distillation of geranium where the greener facets have been stripped away by the process leaving the floral aspects. I have often called geranium a “green rose”. This fraction puts the lie to that description as once the green is removed, via a physical process, the floral is much more expansive. It needs to be because the leather accord is what makes up the other half of the heart. This is that animalic smell that feels alive. Like just over that hill there is a herd of wildebeest that your nose picks up before your eyes do. The base is another example of molecular distillation as patchouli with its earthy qualities enhanced is mixed with vetiver with its greener grassier qualities upgraded. This is the smell of grass and sun-baked earth. It is the savannah come to life. Mme Massenet finishes it with a mixture of white musks which manage to uplift the saffron back into my conscience again.
African Leather has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
African Leather is easily one of my favorite new perfumes of 2015. If it isn’t my favorite Memo fragrance it is pretty close. A little more time and perspective is required for that I suspect. Every time I wore this I can feel the evolution of the collaborative effort between these two extraordinary artists. African Leather is an example of how familiarity breeds excellence.
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample from Memo.
There are times that my perfumed wishes do come true. From the first moments I became acquainted with the perfumes of Memo Paris I have wanted them to be available in the US. In the spring of 2015 my wish was granted as they were now found in select stores and online. What I have admired so much about this brand is the longtime collaboration between Creative Director Clara Molloy and perfumer Alienor Massenet. Theirs has been an ever evolving creative journey which I have been happy to follow along with.
For the seventeenth release Mmes Molloy and Massenet add to the Graines Vagabondes collection with a follow-up to last year’s Kedu. Much of the inspiration for all of the Memo perfumes comes from a specific place. The Graines Vagabondes goes even deeper by attempting to evoke the actual smell of the place. The new addition is called Ilha Do Mel.
Ilha Do Mel is a Brazilian island off the south coast. It is accessible only by ferry and there are no cars allowed on the island with most of it being an ecological preserve. The name of the island translates to Honey Island. The name comes from the intensely deep smell of the indigenous flowers which release their scent into the air. Mme Molloy wanted to capture this and Mme Massenet constructs her vision.
Ilha Do Mel opens with a juicy mandarin tempered by a tart juniper berry. This lasts for a very short period before the florals start to assemble. It starts with a swish of genet providing its subtle floralcy before that gives way. Hyacinth begins to increase the floral volume before jasmine and gardenia take it over the top. Orange blossom and orris also add to the festivities. This is floral with a flair. The one thing I found interesting about this is when you have all of these florals together they do form a kind of honey accord. It doesn’t seem to me like there is a distinct source of honey in the perfume. Instead I think Mme Massenet has let her flowers become the honey much like it does on the real Ilha Do Mel. Much later vetiver leads into a vanilla and musk base.
Ilha Do Mel has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Ilha Do Mel has a lush floral character that is very reminiscent of the tropics. It is also fascinating for how there are interesting intersections among all of the floral notes in the heart. For long periods on my skin the heart would fluctuate through the floral notes present. It made it a perfume that was always showing me something different from hour to hour. If you’ve wanted to wander a sandy trail surrounded by flowers of all kinds spray on some Ilha do Mel and take that walk in your mind.
Disclosure; this review was based on a sample of Ilha Do Mel provided by Memo.
I don’t know why I am having such strong evocations of some of my favorite movies as I smell new perfumes lately. Get ready the latest release from Memo called French Leather has me seeing a particular movie every time I wear it. The seeds of the connection were planted when I was speaking with John Molloy, the co-founder of Memo, at Pitti Fragranze in September. He only had enough for me to test on a strip and a bit of skin. As we spoke we came up with the idea of a young Parisienne walking along the Seine late at night in a leather skirt holding a rose she received earlier in the evening. French Leather was the scent of a young sophisticate who has things to say while looking equally as fashionable. Even as I sniffed at my wrist throughout the day at Pitti I knew there was someone in my memory banks trying to claim this fragrance as her own. It wasn’t until I actually had a sample and wore it for a day that it finally made itself clear to me. French Leather is the scent of Celine of Art Linklater’s 1995 movie “Before Sunrise”.
Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) in "Before Sunrise"
For those unfamiliar with the movie an American, Jesse, and Celine meet on a train. Jesse is heading to Vienna to fly back to the States. Celine is returning to Paris to continue her university studies. Jesse convinces her to stay with him in Vienna, until his flight leaves the next morning, and they spend the night walking and talking. Actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy portray two adults still trying to figure out what their future holds for them. Both of them speak as only a scriptwriter can provide for them. Even so the actors are so charming it has always been a favorite movie of mine. Celine is a young woman who enjoys her youth while still holding on to a romantic ideal of what her future might be. French Leather is that mix of the insouciance of youth over the development of a sophisticated adult. Creative Director Clara Molloy and perfumer Alienor Massenet have made a rose and leather perfume that exudes playfulness and elegance in equal measures.
Few notes will do a better job of providing a bit of fun than the lime note which opens French Leather. After speaking with M. Molloy lime was not what I expected to be the first thing I smelled. Mme Massenet’s lime is that quirky smile from a smart woman who clearly has a sense of humor. It is made even more vibrant by the addition of juniper berry and pink pepper. They provide the intelligence underneath the laughter. The heart is the passion of our imaginary young woman as a full-blooded rose wears itself on its sleeve. It is very extroverted as it is expansive and for a good while it is the rose which you smell. Eventually you find a bit of herbal green quality which comes from clary sage. The sage is an announcement that the leather is on its way. Mme Massenet uses a refined leather accord, the kind which would be used to make an article of clothing like a skirt. She then uses styrax, vetiver, and musk to provide textural contrast. The rose is still going strong as the leather accord takes some time to resolve itself and eventually stand tall. The last few hours are the smell of the rose and leather together.
French Leather has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Memo is one of my favorite perfume lines because Mmes Molloy and Massenet have formed a fabulous partnership which has created one of the standout collections in all of perfumery. French Leather is another excellent addition to the brand.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Memo.
For the great majority of the time being in the US gives me the opportunity to try things first. In the perfumed world though that isn’t always the case and often there are releases that take over a year to find their way to America. Usually patience wins the day except in the case of the few lines I like very much which haven’t found their way across the pond, yet. Very top of that list is Memo Paris. For a few years I used a Paris shopping service to get my bottles back to me then I found that Colette, the French Department Store, had worldwide shipping. Over time I have struck up a relationship with John Molloy who is the husband of Creative Director, and co-owner, Clara Molloy. When I was in Milan for the most recent Esxence I had the opportunity to meet with Mme Molloy about their newest release Kedu which is part of the new Graines Vagabondes series, inspired by seeds.
John and Clara Molloy
When we began to talk about Kedu, Mme Molloy handed me a coffee table book with the Middle-Earth-like name of Borobudur on it. It didn’t turn out to be the long lost home of the dwarves but instead one of the great Buddhist temples located in Central Java, Indonesia. It is the largest Buddhist temple in the world and a pilgrimage site for Buddhists on the holiday of Waisak, more prosaically known as Buddha’s Birthday. As an act of purification you burn one sesame seed for every passion, I would hold up the line if I did this. What is unique is on Waisak the smell of burning sesame arises all around the area. This is what Mme Molloy wanted to capture with Kedu and she asked her longtime collaborator, perfumer Alienor Massenet, to compose the fragrance around a central note of sesame.
Borobudur in the Mist
One of the special joys of my meeting with Mme Molloy was she offered me the opportunity to smell the three linchpin notes for the top, heart, and base of Kedu. On top was a grapefruit oil which was as bright a grapefruit as I have ever smelled without a hint of the sour or sulfurous facets sometimes present. The base note was a white musk which was silky smooth without the screechy irritating quality some white musks have for me. Those I had smelled versions of before. The sesame absolute was something new for me and it was absolutely glorious. This was a flame kissed seed with all the rich viscosity of a sesame oil. I spent most of the evening returning to the strip to experience it over and over. At this point I couldn’t wait to see how Mme Massenet put this all together.
If I hadn’t smelled the building blocks before trying Kedu I would have said it was a typical grapefruit opening complete with the sour and sulfurous facets, but I knew that wasn’t true. Mme Massenet lets the sesame absolute substitute for those facets. Once I tuned into that I realized this was a very different grapefruit accord as instead of sulfurous it was really sort of toasted and instead of sour it was slightly piquant; both of those courtesy of the sesame. A slight floral interlude courtesy of rose and peony set the transition to the heart of where the sesame truly takes center stage. On a strip it was great, on my skin it was better. It lingers at this stage long enough for my own personal passions to take their time burning away. When the sesame does dissipate what is left is the very smooth white musk with a bit of moss thrown in for texture.
Kedu has 6-8 hour longevity and modest sillage.
The sesame absolute has also shown up in two other of my recent favorite fragrances, Arquiste Anima Dulcis and Etat Libre D’Orange La Fin du Monde, but it is not as prominent as it is in Kedu. Kedu allows me to revel in the swirling smoke of the immolating sesame seeds and it is an exciting beginning to the Graines Vagabondes series. I am really hoping that caraway is one of the seeds on the drawing board because I would really like to see what the Memo team would do with that. I do know that if I find myself at Borobodur during Waisak there will be one seed named Memo Paris that I feed to the fire. Kedu is another passionate entry in the Memo Paris catalogue.
Disclosure: this review was based on a press sample provided by Memo Paris and Campomarzio 70.