I write often about coherence of a collection. It is easy to call something a collection. It seems more difficult to find a creative through line upon which to build that group of fragrance. For a brand like Memo one thing which helps form that is a long-time partnership between creative director Clara Molloy and perfumer Alienor Massenet. They have collaborated on almost thirty perfumes over the last eleven years. I have always believed that creates the coherence I seek from a collection of perfume. Memo is a great example of that.
Something which has kept the creative partnership fresh has been the creation of sub-collections. One which contains some of my favorite perfumes from the brand overall is, Cuir Nomades. The baseline brief for the fragrances has been to pair leather with a geographical location. It has shown off Mme Massenet’s skill at using leather accords to different effect. For the most recent release, Moroccan Leather, the choice is to put the leather in the background in favor of iris and green notes.
Moroccan Leather opens with a big slug of verdant galbanum. Mme Massenet uses the woody green of cypress to enhance that. Mandarin and ginger provide contrast. They push back with presence until a rich orris butter takes charge. This is the ice princess version of iris rising out of the galbanum and ushered into the heart by ylang-ylang and orange blossom. The powdery part is almost non-existent. The leather comes in but not as a keynote. It provides a refined support like iris-scented calfskin driving gloves. The green is recapitulated by a vetiver fraction which is magnified in the greener style of that ingredient. This is where Moroccan Leather lingers for a few hours before a typical synthetic woody base accord finishes things.
Moroccan Leather has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I enjoyed the choice to de-emphasize the leather in a perfume with that in the name. Once I realized that, the fragrance sorted itself out into a study of powerful green notes versus an earthy orris butter. That was something I enjoyed even if the leather was mostly missing. Because of that it is an odd entry in the Cuir Nomades collection as it felt apart from the others. If you’re looking for the kind of leather in the previous entries this will not be as satisfying. If you’re a fan of green notes and orris that will find its admirers here.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Neiman-Marcus.
There are a few brands which connect with me. To the point that I am always interested to follow where they lead. I do have to admit there is a bit of a fantasy where I am approached by one of those brands and asked what you would like to see in a perfume. Sometimes it happens through serendipity as it has with Memo Tiger’s Nest.
Incense is probably my favorite ingredient in perfume. Amber is a close second. There are a lot of perfumes on my shelf with that combination. The third ingredient in Tiger’s Nest is a favorite floral; osmanthus. If creative director Clara Molloy and perfumer Alienor Massenet asked me for a suggestion I might have chosen these.
Paro Taktsang a.k.a. Tiger's Nest
Their inspiration for Tiger’s Nest is the temple of the same name in Bhutan. This results in a church-like incense surrounded by facets of polished wood. The osmanthus is like an offering at the shrine as it rests upon the resinous foundation. The creative team has captured this milieu.
Tiger’s Nest opens with a fillip of an accord to represent the altitude of the temple which clings to the side of a cliff. A set of aldehydes freshened with lime capture the clean cool air of the Himalayas. It is fleeting; it is adroitly done. A thread of saffron leads inward to a shimmering silvery frankincense. This is the church-like incense version. There is an austerity to it that can be tough. Mme Massenet ameliorates that with the warmth of amber softening the inherent sharp edges of the incense. Osmanthus takes this in a different direction as the leathery quality of the ingredient finds purchase. Some tolu balsam acts like the polished wood of the surfaces inside the temple. This is where Tiger’s Nest lingers for a long time. Vanilla eventually adds a sweet finish.
Tiger’s Nest has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I will eventually purchase a bottle of Tiger’s Nest because of the way the osmanthus provides the kind of texture I desire in an incense perfume. When I wear it, I will imagines standing on a cliff in Bhutan about to enter a temple through a cloud of incense at the roof of the world.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
Memo has been a very reliable brand since I started writing about perfume. Founded by husband and wife John and Clara Molloy they have overseen a collection which resides in the higher percentile of niche. One big reason is working with one perfumer throughout, Alienor Massenet. Which always makes the arrival of a new release exciting; Tamarindo is the first of these for 2018.
John and Clara Molloy
Tamarindo is part of the Graines Vagabondes sub-collection which is inspired by places. Which means if you come here looking for tamarind you should re-calibrate to the Pacific coast of Costa Rica as the name refers to the beach town found there. This is meant to be a tropical holiday style of perfume, which it mostly meets, but there was one specific ingredient which nearly ruined my vacation of the mind. A veritable conga line of other happy partygoing notes rumble over it saving the day.
Mme Massenet opens with the crushed vegetal green leaves of the tropics illuminated with the morning sun of bergamot. In Costa Rica the smell of the rain forest is never far off which the early moments of Tamarindo capture. Then my problematic ingredient arrived like a persistent beach vendor or a chittering monkey; pineapple. Pineapple has started to become fragrance shorthand for “tropical”; much like coconut used to be. Like that note if it is not kept controlled it becomes overwhelming to the point of unbalancing everything. I had little tolerance for coconut overload and am feeling the same about pineapple. Here it overwhelms the rain forest accord. What comes next makes me forget about it. A stiff breeze of cardamom chases the annoying monkey away as jasmine scents the air. As much as the pineapple irritated; the jasmine soothes. I found this to be plenty “tropical”. The base accord is a sweetened patchouli softened by benzoin and vanilla. It folds the jasmine into an earthy warm embrace.
Tamarindo has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Depending on your feelings about pineapple Tamarindo could be a stellar choice. For my tastes I want to ask the bartender to hold the pineapple, so I can enjoy everything else about Tamarindo.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Memo.
The more compact the art form the greater importance each component takes on. The poetry known as haiku is a good example. A Japanese style of poetry with a precise structure; three lines of five syllables, seven syllables and five syllables. While the structure can be restrictive, the writer is released from rhyming or meter conventions allowing for freer choice of subject matter. What it does emphasize is in a haiku every syllable counts. Perfumers who work in a minimal style of just a few ingredients often have their fragrances described as fragrant haiku. Like the written kind these kinds of perfumes also place a premium upon each ingredient.
John and Clara Molloy
The husband and wife team, John and Clara Molloy, behind Memo Paris embraced this kind of perfumery with a collection released exclusively to Harrods last year called Floraiku. It just arrived in the US at Saks. The Molloys worked with their longtime collaborator on Memo, perfumer Alienor Massenet as well as perfumer Sophie Labbe on the original eleven debut releases. I was very excited to try the collection, but I would find like a haiku almost all of them had a syllable or two out of place. I thought the grapefruit, mate, and vetiver trio of Between Two Trees was going to be very appealing, but it started sour and never recovered. Sound of a Richochet was a treacly vanilla syrup. I See the Clouds Go By just overwhelmed with one syllable of cassis along with all the unfortunate character that ingredient provides when left hanging out all alone. If there was a consistent set of feedback throughout ten of the eleven Floraiku releases it was one ingredient took over, washing away any chance at development or character. There was one that made wading through the collection worthwhile; My Shadow On The Wall. Mme Massenet was the perfumer for this one. In this case she more precisely balanced her three ingredients. It allowed for a haiku-like feeling which I found lacking elsewhere in this collection.
The first line of My Shadow On The Wall is five syllables of violet leaf. Here the watery and grassy nature is put forward. There is also a shimmery metallic nature like silver threads running through the green. Mimosa provides the seven-syllable second line starting with its fresh floral nature and the slightly powdery feel filling that piece. This is an ideal partner to the violet leaf as it feels like a natural progression from that start. The final line is rich sandalwood, creamy and deep. It takes what has been lighter and allows the two first lines to cast a shadow upon it.
My Shadow On The Wall has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
If this line holds any interest I would encourage you to give all of them a try because the haiku nature of them might be more appealing to a different nose. I was happy to find one of them worth spending some time with where every syllable counted.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Saks.
As we move into the latter half of this decade we are now approaching the moment when many of the early niche brands begin to hit ten-year anniversaries. These are occasions which should be celebrated. All one must do is to look at what brands never made it past a couple of years. If a brand does make this kind of anniversary I would say it shows they have found an audience which has followed it for those years. Memo Paris is observing their ten-year anniversary in 2017. What creative director Clara Molloy and perfumer Alienor Massenet have created over those years is wonderful example of what niche perfumery is all about. Perfume for someone who wants something more. In celebration of this milestone they have released Eau de Memo.
The Raison de Etre for the brand has always been Ms. Molloy’s desire to have perfume become a magic carpet to another place. Together with Mme Massenet I have globetrotted from my desk with a spray of perfume on skin my passport. Memo has been one of my favorite brands because of this. For Eau de Memo there is no distinct destination. Eau de Memo is also no greatest hits collection of the best accords from previous releases. Instead Ms. Molloy and Mme Massenet create something which serves as shining example of ten years of their mutual passion. Eau de Memo evolves from a tea accord into a floral heart down to a leather accord. Each phase illustrates why the brand had thrived.
Eau de Memo opens with lemon and bergamot providing a tart snap. Underneath a slightly bitter green tea accord arises. There are times when working with green tea some perfumers try and soften the inherent bitterness. Mme Massenet allows it to join the lemon and bergamot to form something that put a smile on my face each day I wore this from the first moment. The heart is centered upon jasmine. It is a well-mannered version of that ingredient which allows orris and saffron to find some space next to it. The saffron is a particularly interesting choice as it acts as if it is gilding the jasmine in its copper colored coils. It is that addition which elevates a normal floral into something more compelling. In the base Mme Massenet provides a fully animalic leather accord. It is refined but not so much so that you forget this is a processed animal hide. Moss and an array of white musks provide support.
Eau de Memo has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
From the moment, I tried my first Memo Paris perfume I hoped that this was a brand in it for the long haul. As they celebrate this anniversary it is apparent that they are. That they are also ready for the next ten years is also apparent. Eau de Memo is one of my favorites within the entire collection. I also think it is an excellent introduction into how Memo continues to be one of the stalwarts in all artistic perfumery.
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample provided by Memo Paris.
I eat too much fast food, so my cardiologist informs me. I am intimately familiar with the offerings on the menu. A few years ago, I learned of the secret menu that exists off the board. While standing in line at McDonalds I heard the patron in front of me order a McKinley Mac. As I scanned the board above our head looking for this burger. It wasn’t there. When I got to the cash register I asked what the McKinley Mac was and was told it was a Big Mac but the regular all-beef patties were replaced with quarter pounder patties. Mmmm bigger, better more to love. My cardiologist is now yelling at his computer screen. I learned every fast food restaurant offers these kind of off the board variations.
It was only recently that I learned Memo Paris has their own secret menu. Every fall they release a kind of mash-up of one of their previous fragrances transformed by the addition of a new ingredient or tweaking of the existing pyramid. It has been going on since 2013 but I only tried them this past fall. Creative director Clara Molloy as always working in collaboration with perfume Alienor Massenet are the designers of these combinations. For 2016, the perfume was called Moon Leather.
One of the current collections within the brand is the Cuirs Nomades where more earthly locations are used to form different kind of interpretations of leather. Moon Safari was released in 2009 to commemorate the moon landing forty years earlier. That fragrance was a sharply green citrus vetiver on top of a rough market leather. For Moon Leather, it feels like Mme Massenet is imagining an interplanetary Cuirs Nomades as she modifies the citrus and vetiver components of Moon Safari and adds in a much more refined leather accord.
The very early moments of Moon Leather are all sunlight and citrus as lemon, grapefruit and bitter orange provide a tart beginning. This time the green is much less aggressive as Mme Massenet uses lemon verbena and neroli as a floral interstitial stage to a clary sage note which picks up and amplifies the green undercurrents from both the verbena and neroli. Vetiver shades the green a deeper hue before the leather arrives. This is an expensive briefcase leather accord with elegance out front and the animalic hiding behind that civilized veneer. Tonka provides a soft sweetness in the later stages. Mmmm bigger, better more to love.
Moon Leather has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
When I tried all the previous secret Memo mash-ups there wasn’t one which I liked more than the original. Moon Leather breaks that streak because I like the smoother evolution from top to bottom than in the original Moon Safari. Even though this came out in the fall it is a fabulous spring citrus choice which really blossomed in the cool mornings and warm afternoons. Secret menus can take some effort to discover but Moon Leather is worth it to find at your local Memo stockist.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Memo Paris.
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.