As the ideas of niche perfumery took hold in the first years of the 2000’s the designer houses were determined not to be left behind. What that meant were the imaginative creative directors of the designer houses took an active hand in the perfumes which bore the logo. In hindsight we look back and see that was a time where some of the best designer perfumes were produced.
I’ve never understood entirely why the brands seemed to step away from this after five or six years of making it an extension of the brand aesthetic. This turned into a concentration of safe trend following fragrance which felt engineered to elicit a response rather than inspired by emotion. In the last couple of years, the pendulum seems to be swinging back with the creative directors taking the reins of the fragrance side again. For Maison Margiela creative director John Galliano has stepped into the perfume game again with Mutiny.
To show how this becomes more intricately entwined with the brand aesthetic Mutiny was debuted along with the Spring/Summer 2019 clothing collection at Paris Fashion Week at the end of September. Mr. Galliano spoke in an interview with Vogue about how he designed Mutiny in the same way he designs his clothing collections with distinct layers. Working with perfumer Dominique Ropion the idea was to make a transparent version of tuberose and leather to form the core.
What seems to have occurred is M. Ropion put together a tuberose accord from a number of modern sources. What it allows for is the chance to pick out the parts of tuberose you want to enhance while removing those you don’t. What M. Ropion chooses is an indole-free and menthol-free tuberose accord. If you are not fond of those aspects but really enjoy the fruity floralcy along with the creamy oleaginous quality, then M. Ropion chose the right ones.
Mutiny opens with a very wispy version of tuberose supported by citrus and orange blossom. M. Ropion is teasing out the fruit chewing gum character of tuberose. As it deepens with more layers of tuberose added it skips the things are missing to get to the fatty creamy nature also characteristic of this white flower. Also coming together is a fine leather accord using saffron, oud, and vanilla. This is also stripped of the more animalic aspects of a leather accord in favor of something refined. No rough edges here. Once both accords are in place that is where Mutiny lingers.
Mutiny has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Mutiny is done in the transparent style which seemingly is what younger perfume lovers desire. Under that qualification Mutiny is a complete success. I also like it more than others trying similar techniques because there is much more of a spine here instead of wisps of fragrance on the breeze. I also believe this isn’t a perfume that is trying to straddle the middle. They chose to go transparent and they succeeded. If you’re a fan of full spectrum white flower perfumes I suspect Mutiny is not for you. If you want a cleaner version of tuberose and leather Mutiny is a great version of that. As a beginning I see the hand of more creative direction from Mr. Galliano. I am hopeful for more because I think it is where something amazing might come.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Maison Margiela.
Someday I’m going to be able to sit down with a fragrance marketing person and get an explanation to a burning question. Why do big perfume brands use the name of a classic perfume for something that smells nothing like it? On one hand it is their own brand they are cannibalizing. At least they aren’t buying some other company and stealing a name form them. On the other they want to keep the name because they believe there is some recognition to it but when the perfume doesn’t match the memory isn’t that an issue? Clearly there isn’t an issue because it keeps happening. These are the times I wish I didn’t have knowledge of the vintage version because it is difficult to divorce the past from the present. It is also irritating when I think the new version is good but nothing like the old version. The 2018 version of Givenchy L’Interdit checks off everything I’ve just mentioned.
The original version of L’Interdit was released in 1957 in celebration of the relationship between fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy and actress Audrey Hepburn. Ms. Hepburn wore Givenchy clothing with most of her most iconic looks coming while wearing those designs. Perfumer Francis Fabron designed a stylish aldehydic floral. It was as elegant as its muse. For some bizarre reason in 2002 they released a version in celebration of the Givenchy 50th anniversary which smelled nothing like the original. No aldehydes. Different floral. No sandalwood in the base. This would be followed five years later with a celebration of the 50th anniversary of L’Interdit. This was better as perfumer Olivier Gillotin did a creditable effort with the thankless job replacing materials which were no longer allowed to be used.
We now come to 2018 and the creative forces at Givenchy think its time for another L’Interdit. They’ve assembled three perfumers to co-produce, Fanny Bal, Anne Flipo, and Dominique Ropion. They’ve again decided to make an entirely different perfume. Out of the five listed ingredients only one was in the original. If you’re looking for Audrey Hepburn or a floral aldehydic retro nouveau version; look away. Nothing to see here. What is here is a stripped down straightforward white flower perfume which is one of the better versions of this style.
The perfumers open with orange blossom trailing a lightly indolic core along with it. Jasmine and tuberose join in for the rest of the white flower chorus. There is a nice balance here especially where the intersection of the florals forms a kind of fruity accord running underneath. Makes it a floral fruity kind of perfume without using any fruit. A lighter version of patchouli provides an earthy piece of the base accord while vetiver stands in as an alternative to the woods.
L’interdit has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
As I said above if the name has you hearkening back to a perfume you remember from your past; keep on walking. This will probably just annoy you at how different it is. If you never heard anything about the history and this is the first version of L’Interdit you’ve encountered, you will find a very good mainstream white floral. When I can forget the name, I focus on that.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Givenchy.
Floral gourmands are one of the styles brands have decided will be popular with a younger perfume consumer. Particularly over the last two years there have been an increase in these kinds of fragrances. For the most part they have been on the lighter, more transparent side of the spectrum. One of the outliers was last year’s Elie Saab Girl of Now. That chose to leave the transparency behind, going for a fuller gourmand accord. In that case I felt like a groom whom the bride had smushed a particularly fine pistachio vanilla cake up his nose. It was a case I wondered if it would benefit from some of that opacity so many others were using. I guess the same idea occurred to the people at the brand because we now have Elie Saab Girl of Now Shine.
Most of the time I am going to complain when a flanker rehashes an original with a couple of changes. This is one of those infrequent cases where that all worked to the better along with a lighter tone overall. Perfumers Sophie Labbe and Dominique Ropion re-team, after composing the original, for Girl of Now Shine.
What I didn’t care for in the original was it was so aggressively cake-like. It was cloying in every bad definition of that word. Girl of Now Shine captures the earlier iteration of that cake as it is being baked. It is much airier, and that expansiveness allows more room for the florals to find some balance; all for the better.
The note added to Girl of Now Shine is pineapple. Despite my antipathy to the note in general the perfumers use it as an alternative sweetener. Like using fruit juice in an actual cake recipe. It underpins a crisp pear. If there was one thing I really liked about the original it was the use of pistachio. It adds an unusual roasted nutty quality. It is again given a prominent place in Girl of Now Shine. As it begins to combine with the fruit the florals in the presence of jasmine and orange blossom provide a lilting white flower duet. Vanilla provides the finishing amount of traditional gourmand sweet. It is used in a much lower amount than in the original. It closes out a perfume which is much the better for the restraint.
Girl of Now Shine has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is the aesthetic I prefer when it comes to floral gourmands. It allows for the florals to shine alongside the gourmand aspects. Finding the right balance means this is a better perfume than the original.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Elie Saab.
As I finish clearing my desk of the spring releases of 2018 I wanted to mention a couple of the flankers which were better than most of the others released in these early days of 2018.
Marc Jacobs Daisy Love
If there has ever been a brand which has overplayed a flanker, it is Marc Jacobs and Daisy. The original released in 2007 is one of the top tier mainstream perfumes. The thirty-two flankers in the last eleven years are mostly forgettable. Some flankers even spawned their own flankers. It became easy to ignore the entire mess. I wanted to write about Daisy which made me pick up flanker thirty-two, Daisy Love. It turned out there was some connectivity back to the original which made it better than most of the other Daisy flankers.
First connection was perfumer Alberto Morillas returning to make a variation on the original he created. The original was a strawberry fruity floral; for Daisy Love M. Morillas fashions a less fulgent strawberry by using raspberry and cloudberry to result in a greener, almost unripe, strawberry. It is tart more than sweet. M. Morillas then actually uses the title floral to provide a lighter floral effect than in most of the collection. It all ends on generic synthetic woods and musks. I wouldn’t throw over the original for this but it does enough different, without throwing out the whole playbook, that it could be a nice companion for the summer.
Daisy Love has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
Thierry Mugler Alien Flora Futura
Thierry Mugler has only been a touch less aggressive in producing flankers to 2005’s classic Alien. Thierry Mugler has delighted in producing perfume which engenders “love it-hate it” responses. Alien is an excellent example. One could even say that the 21 flankers since its release are attempts to convert the “hate it” crowd. For Alien Flora Futura it lightens up some of the heavier aspects for the set of people who found it too heavy.
Perfumers Dominique Ropion and Jean-Christoophe Herault make this lighter by switching the ingredients while still retaining the Alien vibe. It starts very un-Alien-like using a bright sparkling citron. Citron has a fuller feel to me than lemon although they are similar. The real alteration comes in the heart as the perfumers substitute jasmine with cereus flower, also known as the queen of the night. Cereus has a similarity to jasmine but also a fresher quality. It works nicely with the citron. It eventually slides into the Alien amber focused base accord but in keeping with everything else a touch lighter. If you love Alien I imagine this will feel like Diet Lemon Alien to you. If you hated Alien because it was overwhelmingly aggressive Alien Flora Futura might turn you into a lover.
Alien Flora Futura has 14-16 hour longevity an average sillage.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by the manufacturers.
I must say that as I’ve now received most of the spring releases it looks like one of my wishes has come to be; less rose perfumes for the beginning of the year. I have reviewed several mass-market releases which have left rose on the shelf without leaving behind the seasonal vibe. It just means there are alternatives to rose not that they stopped making rose perfumes for spring. For me to find a rose, at this time of year, of any interest I have to see something a bit different; Givenchy Live Irresistible Blossom Crush manages to achieve this.
Givenchy started the Live Irresistible in 2015 with an Eau de Parfum composed by perfumer Dominique Ropion. That was a fall-themed pineapple, rose, amber grating megaphone of all three notes. Almost a year later M. Ropion did enter the spring rose sweepstakes with, Eau de Toilette, another grating fruity floral where pear and raspberry accentuated the debutante rose. Then last year with Delicieuse M. Ropion thought we’d like some cake with our rose in a misguided gourmand. My expectation that Blossom Crush would be enjoyable was near zero. Except M. Ropion puts his bullhorn away in favor of something much less aggressive along with a modulating note cleverly chosen.
In the ever lightening of fragrance overall and especially at the department store Blossom Crush is an example of where it is an asset. M. Ropion keeps it completely simple with a dewy rose matched to a mid-weight musk. That is common, this time M. Ropion chooses to use a gourmand note in a precise way to give an unusual effect to the rose which allows for the musk to pick it up in a different way.
In the first moment and for a few minutes beyond that this is that dewy rose that crowds the fragrance counters. In this case it is made a bit fresher with peony. Then the use of cocoa is what sets this apart. Like a needle slowly entering within the floral accord a subtle bitterness tunes the floral sweetness. If there was a common complaint from me on the earlier Live Irresistible releases, they were way too sweet. In Blossom Crush the cocoa works to remove some of the natural floral sweetness. What I found really smart was to never allow the cocoa to become gourmand-level strength. It acts as only as a background effect. It also bridges the floral to musk which is not so fresh but one which also has a few bitter facets for the cocoa to attach to.
Live Irresistible Blossom Crush has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
At the end of the day Blossom Crush is mostly a typical spring rose but if you’re looking for a new one for 2018 there are much more banal choices. Give the bitter rose of Blossom Crush a chance.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Macy’s.
There is something voyeuristic about photographs of celebrities. Certainly, there is a cottage industry of poorly taken “gotcha!” photographs taken by paparazzi. Those I have little interest in. The ones which capture my attention are the ones where well-known professional photographers have the opportunity to shoot during a particular time in a celebrity’s career. One of the more memorable pictures in that category was one taken by photographer Terry O’Neill in 1977. His subject was actress Faye Dunaway sitting by the pool at The Beverly Hills Hotel at 6AM the morning after she won her Best Actress Oscar for “Network”. Looking like she still hadn’t been to bed (she had) Mr. O’Neill captured the moment after you’ve won an Academy Award with the newspapers headlines of your win at your feet and your trophy on the table considering what’s next. It is an iconic picture for so many reasons; the early morning light, the Old Hollywood vibe, and a spectacular actress in her prime. I don’t know if this begged to have a perfume made from its inspiration but it has arrived; A Lab On Fire And The World Is Yours.
Faye Dunaway as photographed by Terry O'Neill (March 1977)
The perfumer hired by creative director Carlos Kusubayashi to take this on is Dominique Ropion. M. Ropion had converted a classic Hollywood photograph into a perfume two years previously with one of Douglas Kirkland’s photos of Marilyn Monroe. The opening to that was gorgeous but an overly aggressive musky gourmand base put me off. With And The World Is Yours that problem does not exist this is a stunning companion to the inspiration. What is especially pleasing about And The World Is Yours is that M. Ropion is not playing it safe which is apropos of an actress who won her Academy Award by also taking risks.
What I so expected in the early moments of And The World Is Yours was a sparkly bergamot-y dawn sun kind of opening. M. Ropion embraces the “morning after” vibe instead. As the dawn signals the end of the night not the beginning of the day. M. Ropion deploys neroli and orange blossom in a weary evocation of daybreak. There is no sparkle but there is a banked luminosity to them maybe as you close your eyes to the rising sun. You also catch a whiff of yourself which is where M. Ropion uses cumin to cleave the floral duet. I adore when perfumers are unafraid to use cumin as an effective contrast as it is here. The cumin really deepens the sense of a long night’s day. It persists through a heart of rose and heliotrope. This ends on a mixture of tolu balsam and sandalwood sweetened by tonka bean and vanilla. The sweet smell of success.
And The World Is Yours has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is one of my favorite perfumes from A Lab On Fire ever. It is near-perfect as M. Ropion never puts a foot wrong for my tastes. That being said, if you find cumin a problem in perfume I think there is little chance you will be as enthusiastic about this as I am. If you can get past it, or embrace it, what is to be found is the smell of the morning after success.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
The perfume business is a strange beast. Here’s the latest exhibit. Paco Rabanne’s fragrance releases have been solid mainstream offerings over the past few years. For my tastes I keep finding myself drawn to one of the flankers over the original pillars. One of those flankers was Invictus Aqua which was released at the beginning of 2016. Composed by perfumer Anne Flipo this was a nice take on the masculine aquatic which stood out among the other choices at the mall. Then inexplicably it was removed off the perfume counter in 18 months. I was fascinated to find out why because I wanted to use the story as a Dead Letter Office column subject. As I shot off emails and made phone calls trying to ascertain the reason; I was contacted by the PR company representing the brand. I was told Invictus Aqua was going to be re-released early in 2018 followed by the offer of a press sample. I took them up on it and waited for my opportunity to review it; which is here.
Invictus Aqua 2018 Perfume Team
Before we go too far I will say that Invictus Aqua 2018 is overall fresher than Invictus Aqua 2016. I do think they are similar enough that you probably don’t need both in your collection as they both cover enough of the same ground it would likely seem redundant. Besides the scent profile the perfume was composed by a trio of perfumers who joined Mme Flipo; Nicolas Beaulieu, Juliette Karagueuzoglu, and Dominique Ropion. It seems like a lot of firepower for the slight difference on display.
The biggest difference I found shows up in the first few moments. Aqua 2016 opened on a sunny citrus mix before the typical ozonic aquatic accord arrived. Aqua 2018 opens with that set of aquatic notes making the first few seconds slightly sharper. When the grapefruit comes forward in Aqua 2018 it begins to dovetail with the previous version more closely. From here until the finish the two perfumes are on the same track but when wearing them side-by-side the Aqua 2018 always felt a little cleaner and a little lighter than Aqua 2016. So, the green violet leaves, the light woods, and the synthetic amber are close enough.
Invictus Aqua 2018 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage. The sillage is another difference from the Aqua 2016 version; 2018 has a bit less of it.
I think Invictus Aqua 2018 takes its place on the department store counter in the same place it was when it left as one of the better aquatics in that sector.
Disclosure: This review is based on a press sample provided by Paco Rabanne.
There have been many designers who have entered the niche perfumery category. They all looked to be the next Comme des Garcons. I can safely say that nobody has come close to that record of success. In the early 2000’s there was an interesting contender which had some similarities; Costume National.
Costume National was also a fashion line appealing to a young trendsetting clientele. The founder Ennio Capasa carried that slim silhouette from working in Japan at Yohji Yamamoto fusing it with Milan details. In 1986 it was a sensation which put it on the map. They would become known for a cutting-edge aesthetic which they wanted to spread out into accessories. Starting after the turn of the new century Sig. Capasa added fragrance to the brand portfolio. The very first release in 2002, Scent, was a brilliant encapsulation of the brand. Working with perfumer Laurent Bruyere they would follow that initial triumph with a collection of Scent with five flankers over the next three years. Each was interesting with Scent Intense being the best of the bunch. Just when it seemed Costume National was ready to accelerate they pumped the brakes. Releasing two new perfumes over the next four years. It is that 2009 release Costume National Homme which is my choice for this month’s Under the Radar.
For this release Sig. Capasa changed perfumers from M. Bruyere who had done all the Scents to Dominique Ropion for Homme. I would also venture that Sig. Capasa had tired of being risky because while there are some hints of the aesthetic which runs throughout the Scent Collection it is greatly attenuated. If this column was on creativity it would be one of the Scents which was its topic. Instead it is about one of my favorite cold weather comfort perfumes.
M. Ropion has most of his recognizable signatures on display in Homme. Sandalwood, spices and resins do what you come to expect in one of his perfumes. The twist here is there is an odd synthetic oily accord which oozes through the familiar. That’s what ends up making it Costume National.
A brief flare of citrus via grapefruit and bergamot open things up then cardamom combines with cinnamon to provide a typical spicy top accord. It is here the oily accord appears. The best description I have seen of it was from a Basenotes reviewer “rogalal” who thinks it smells like fake movie theatre butter. I’m not fully in agreement but I don’t have a better shorthand for describing the accord. Once you get underneath that the labdanum, cloves and thyme add a spicy resinous accord which is very comforting. Patchouli and sandalwood are the base accord.
Homme has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Homme is much more comforting than a perfume from Costume National ought to be, except for the oily accord in the middle, it never challenges. Nevertheless, this has been a winter staple ever since I bought a bottle in 2009. If you’re looking for a new brand to explore or need a new cold weather comfort scent, try Costume National Homme.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
In 1964, Yves Saint Laurent began the fragrance part of his business with a women’s perfume called Y. It is a crisp austere green chypre which might have represented the last days of this style of perfume. As a perfume M. St. Laurent was less interested in blazing a new path he just wanted fragrance as part of the overall collection. Over the ensuing years that would change and some of the most influential perfumes of the next forty years would have YSL on the label. Recent times has seen the brand living on their past. If they were going to begin to be part of the modern discussion of designer brands they were going to have to design some perfumes for the emerging millennial market. With a new creative director in Tom Pecheux the first attempt is for the guys given the same name as that first release; Y.
Mr. Pescheux turned to perfumer Dominique Ropion to compose Y. This is another composition of greatest hits. It is the fragrance equivalent of colorblocking as each phase of development is its own well understood accord. It is competently constructed and will remind one of many of the other perfumes sitting next to it on the department store counter. Its reason for existence is to ask the consumer if they would like their fresh floral and woody notes in this specific progression. It is hard not to feel that there were too many focus groups weighing in on the creative process. This is the antithesis of what YSL used to stand for. Can you imagine the reaction of a focus group to Opium? It would never have existed. Y becomes a perfume of lowest common denominator (LCD).
M. Ropion opens with an ozonic accord comprised of the safer aldehydes. Not the ones which conjure hair spray or wax but rather the ones which capture fresh sea air. A very overused ginger is used to provide some verve. It moves to that uber-safe men’s floral note geranium. Not so rose to be worrisome say the focus group. It finishes on a base of balsamic woods and incense. The incense is probably the most confrontational note in the whole thing and it’s not that intense.
Y has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Y is a warning light of the things I worry about when marketing to the millennials. If a brand chooses to play it safe by asking them, “is this okay?” The result becomes something full of crowd-pleasing accords which stands for nothing. I am hoping Mr. Pecheux is more interested in recapturing the boldness of the past instead of calling for more focus groups. From a brand which produced something like Kouros it is sad to see Y represent the YSL LCD.
-Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Nordstrom.
In 2013 Frederic Malle announced he was going to create a sub-collection within the Editions de Parfums. M. Malle was going to work with other creatives with whom he shared inspiration with. The first release Dries van Noten Par Frederic Malle is the last great release from the brand. It absolutely captured the overlap of creative influences of the two minds on the label along with perfumer Bruno Jovanovic. Perhaps naively I was hoping for one every couple of years. Four years on the second has arrived; Alber Elbaz par Frederic Malle Superstitious.
Frederic Malle (l.) and Alber Elbaz
M. Malle returns to the world of fashion to collaborate with Alber Elbaz. M. Elbaz was the head designer at Lanvin from 2001-2015. His collections for Lanvin were influenced by the silhouettes from the 1920’s. As he began to work on the fragrance he was introduced to perfumer Dominique Ropion. M. Ropion and M. Malle have worked together from the beginning of Editions de Parfums. They always have something on the drawing board. One which had been tricky for them was an aldehydic floral which had never quite coalesced into the fragrance they wanted. When M. Elbaz smelled the work in progress he asked if that could be their starting point.
It was an interesting place to start especially since 1927’s Lanvin Arpege is one of the greatest aldehydic florals in all of perfumery. Could M. Elbaz do with perfume what he had done with fashion; modernize the Lanvin of the 1920’s into a child of the 2010’s?
It is difficult to know what was there before M. Elbaz entered the process. What is in the bottle is a clever softening of the aldehydic part by using the apricot and peach versions. They fizz but they don’t overwhelm. There is a softening of the intensity that existed in the past. This carries throughout the development. Turkish rose is there but jasmine is its partner keeping it from turning powdery like the classics generally did. The base is also a deft inversion where M. Ropion lets vetiver take the lead over the patchouli, sandalwood, and labdanum. This adds a blurriness which is appealing. Very late on there is a surprising amount of animalic musk which is the final nod to the classics.
Superstitious has 10-12 hours longevity and average sillage.
Superstitious is like the recollection of something from the distant past. It carries a dreamy hazy kind of memory. Superstitious is that kind of remembrance of a classic aldehydic floral. I think it will appeal to the current consumer of perfume while also pleasing those who love the vintage inspirations behind it. Not an easy balance to strike but Messrs. Malle, Elbaz, et Ropion do it with style.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle.