In the last eighteen months, I have received eight different collections from well-known brands focused on soliflores. I am not sure what set off this latest competition among brands but it has become a persistent force in fragrance. I can believe that it is thought among these brands that simple perfumes focused on high-quality single materials will have appeal to those wanting their perfume easy. For the most part this has been the case. There hasn’t been skimping on the focal point notes but no-frills perfumery can lack for the presence of those details. The latest version of this is the six-member collection called Boucheron La Collection.
The analogy I use when approaching these kind of fragrances is of a single note which acts as a diamond in the middle of a setting where a few tiny gems enhance the overall effect. Boucheron La Collection has done a good job of using ingredients which qualify as olfactory diamonds. The five perfumers who worked on the six perfumes have also crafted fine settings for these raw materials to shine within. Except the problem is the subtle grace notes don’t really change the equation that whatever is on the bottle is essentially what you will be smelling for the length of time these last on your skin. The orris in Iris de Syracuse is lovely. The oud in Oud de Carthage is darkly compelling. Amber D’Alexandrie is a golden amber. Vanille de Zanzibar captures the depth of vanilla. Tubereuse de Madras is a creamy version of that white flower. These are straightforward, nice, and no different from one or more from the previous seven collections. There was one which I enjoyed the most; Neroli D’Ispahan.
I have recently become much more interested in neroli focused perfumes. One reason is excellent neroli has a green counterbalance to the floral nature. For Neroli D’Ispahan perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin sourced a neroli which displays that. A dual-natured note like neroli is a good place to begin with a soliflore because one ingredient acts like two. This is what happens here. M. Pellegrin sets up the neroli front and center. To that a pinch of green cardamom, elemi, and ginger buck up the green. Baie rose, labdanum, and patchouli do the same to the floral side. None of the notes listed in the last two sentences persist for any appreciable time. They are there to add the sparkle to the gem that is the neroli in the heart, which they do.
Neroli D’Ispahan has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I have a hard time believing the marketplace can bear the amount of luxury soliflores that are now out there. Especially since they are sort of indistinguishable from each other. There is no brand identity at play in something as facile as a soliflore. Which makes for a problem when brands want to claim the space as the most luxurious soliflore. The consumer will show whether there is an appetite to keep this soliflore arms race on its current trajectory. Boucheron La Collection, especially Neroli D’Ispahan, is the latest launch; I sort of hope détente is not far off.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Boucheron.
Sometimes, a brand which has been about being totally different must feel like throwing in the towel. These brands probably tire of writers, like me, saying I admire the perfume but I wouldn’t wear it. The Swedish perfume brand Agonist has a lot of these kind of perfumes. Despite my wariness to spend more time with them I have admiration for their ability to make fragrance on their own terms. When I write that I want something different it should be right on the bleeding edge of being wearable. Which made the latest release White Lies perplexing because this is a fairly straightforward niche spring floral.
The Agonist creative team of husband and wife Niclas and Christine Lydeen continuing to work with perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin decide to create a snappy white flower dominated fragrance. There is nothing here which is dramatically different from many other spring florals. Which makes it stand out among the Agonist collection while not necessarily among the overall niche fragrance sector. All of that might lead you to think I didn’t care for it but I did for a couple of reasons. The use of boisterous white flowers as the centerpiece of a spring floral is different from the plethora of roses. The other reason is there is a quite zippy fruity top accord that I enjoyed much more than I usually do.
Christine and Niclas Lydeen
White Lies opens with a tart sparkly lemon, a juicy raspberry, and sweet lychee. This forms a fruity accord of contrasts that was like a gourmet Sweet Tart. Then the white flowers arrive with jasmine and tuberose taking the lead. They are well-balanced within White Lies. The nice choice is to add heliotrope to provide a powdery softening of the two co-stars. The base is a standard patchouli, ambrox, and vanilla ending. Woody with a touch of sweet.
White Lies has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
If Agonist was planning on White Lies being their “normal” fragrance within the collection; they succeeded. The only thing that is bad about it is despite enjoying it I’m just as unlikely to wear it as some of the more avant-garde offerings. Not because it isn’t good but because it isn’t different enough. I understand the desire to just give the consumer what they want. Hopefully the next Agonist release will go back to giving the customer something to think about.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Agonist.
I’m going to start this review off with a question. How do you know when it is time to harvest a rose? I have been part of the wine harvest in California and it is a scientifically determined level of acidity and sugar in the grape that triggers the harvest. Oranges, apples and other fruits on trees signal their ripeness by their color. So how do you know when a rose is ready to harvest? A few years ago, I learned the answer to that. In Grasse, the people responsible for the fields of Rose de Mai get up in the morning and break off a petal and bite in to it. If the taste is sweet the rose flowers are “ripe” and ready to be picked. It makes sense as the natural sugars of the bloom would move outward to the petals as the flower reaches its peak. It is one of my favorite anecdotes about perfumery I have heard. I was thinking about this with the new Diptyque Essences Insensees 2016.
Diptyque started releasing yearly versions of soliflore fragrances highlighting a particularly good harvest and calling them Essences Insensees. Essences Insensees 2014 was mimosa and Essences Insensees 2015 was jasmine. Perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin has been the one tasked with overseeing these precious ingredients. For Essences Insensees 2016 M. Pellegrin focused on Rose de Mai.
I have never visited Grasse. In my imagination, it is the perfume version of Willy Wonka’s Perfume Factory with fields of some of the most prized raw materials in fragrance growing everywhere. I’m sure the reality is less prosaic while the truth of the raw materials is grounded in reality. When Rose de Mai makes it into a perfume it has a sparkle to it as it sits in a sweet spot between the demure English rose and the spicy Turkish rose. For Essences Insensees 2016 M. Pellegrin is using what is an exceptional harvest of Rose de Mai while using only two other notes as companions.
M. Pelegrin uses different isolates of Rose de Mai to form his central note. It is a glittering central axis around which he uses a red fruity note above and a honey accord below. What these accomplish is to accentuate the inherent sweetness of the Rose de Mai. It is what makes me think of it as a perfume which represents a “ripe” rose.
Essences Insensees 2016 has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I will eventually make my way to Grasse someday. I will bite a petal of Rose de Mai off the bush. Until then Essences Insensees 2016 fits my imagination about what a ripe rose should be.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Diptyque.
Before niche really took off just after the year 2000 there were a few creative directors who were working on the early outlines of a niche aesthetic. One of those was Chantal Roos. From 1992-2002 she was among the most creative creative directors in perfumery. Because of that ability to challenge the status quo many of those fabulous perfumes were discontinued and are now highly sought after. Most recently she has been working with her daughter Alexandra Roos on their own perfume brand Dear Rose. I met both of them in Esxence in Milan in March. Soon after I returned I received a package of samples of all eight Dear Rose releases since its inception in 2014. Joining them in this endeavor Is perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin who has composed all eight. M. Pellegrin has worked a lot with the elder Mme Roos on other brands so it is natural to believe they had built up a rapport. What is refreshing about the entire Dear Rose line is these are not box checking easy fragrances. These are complex constructs which reward the time spent with them. The most recent release Mentha Religiosa is a good example.
Alexandra and Chantal Roos
Mentha Religiosa is loosely translated to religious mint. How the creative team has interpreted this is to combine mint with church-like frankincense. Now that combination sounds like there was a collision as a dental products truck ended up in the apse of an old church. I have very little affinity for mint in fragrance because it is so fresh. Especially when I take a leaf of peppermint and slowly crushing it in my hand it doesn’t release treacly insipid sweetness but an herbal green matched equally with the sweet mint. This is the mint M. Pellegrin serves up with Mentha Religiosa.
How M. Pellegrin goes about doing that is to take peppermint essential oil and combine it in equal parts with petitgrain and a very bitter version of bergamot. The petitgrain adds back the green and the herbal bitterness as contrast. The bergamot adds a different kind of bite but one which creates that minty herbal accord. The very austere frankincense comes next. Together they form a delightfully quirky duo. I don’t think this is going to appeal to everyone but for me it was so off-beat I got lost in its oddness. A bit of iris tries to attenuate that but it isn’t until cedar and patchouli really grab ahold in the base that it becomes a bit more approachable.
Mentha Religiosa has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I enjoyed getting to know all eight fragrances in the Dear Rose line because the entire creative team of The Roos and M. Pellegrin seem to want to make perfume interesting again. If you need to know what that smells like pick up some Mentha Religiosa.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Dear Rose.
I think Diptyque is having a period of quiet excellence. Some of it is easy to attribute to the simple fact that they have been a part of the niche perfume landscape for nearly thirty years. When there are brands that come and go in thirty months it can become simple to forget that which has always been there. Much of this renaissance at Diptyque I can lay at the nose of perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin who has been doing some of his best recent work for the brand. It is reminiscent to the body of work that Olivia Giacobetti did for ten years starting in 1996 at Dipryque. There is something about this brand which allows perfumers the opportunity to create with abandon. I was excited to receive the latest by M. Pellegrin Kimonanthe.
Kimonanthe is part of The 34 Collection calling back to the very first Diptyque shop on 34 boulevard Saint Germain. This has become emblematic of the quality I was describing above. For Kimonanthe M. Pellegrin wanted to make a perfume which evoked the powdered incense of Japan called zukoh. Zukoh is meant to be worn on the body directly. It was also used as body purification by Buddhist monks prior to ceremonies. Paired with the incense in Kimonanthe the other keynote is a fulgent osmanthus which has been powdered with zukoh.
Kimonanthe opens with a distinct apricot note very prominent. Out of that M. Pellegrin allows the osmanthus to reveal itself. It happens in tiny steps as apricot dominates things and then the leathery component of osmanthus is there slowly gaining in intensity. As that happens the incense also begins to insert itself. M. Pellegrin uses clove as a connective note between the osmanthus and incense. A pinch of camphor provides a lift to the incense making it seem as if it is more ephemeral as it nestles into the petals. It Kimonanhte ended here I would have been very happy. M. Pellegrin then takes a risk by forming a base accord of sandalwood and leather infused with a milk accord. It adds a wonderful foundation to the zukoh infused osmanthus.
Kimonanthe has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
M. Pellegrin gets the balance on this just right. These are notes and accords which can fill a room. In Kimonanthe they are kept at half that volume throughout. This is going to be a fabulous choice which with to spray my scarves this coming winter. Surrounded by a smoldering incense laden osmanthus is just the way to keep warm.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Diptyque Paris.
I received my latest package from Amouage courtesy of creative director Christopher Chong with delight. I have been a long-time admirer of the way Mr. Chong has transformed Amouage into a perfume brand which excels in doing the unconventional. When I receive a new sample I generally give it some time all on its own without anything else I received in the mail getting in the way. This was the process as I opened my sample of the latest release Bracken Man. Imagine my surprise when I was greeted by a ginormous fougere although I should have known; it was right there in the name.
Christopher Chong (Photo: Ben Rayner for Forbes)
Bracken is a huge ground covering fern, the basis of fougeres. Bracken Man is also a large ground covering fern as a perfume. Mr. Chong worked with perfumers Olivier Cresp and Fabrice Pellegrin. I am probably underselling this a bit because while it is a fougere through and through there are some recognizable Amouage aesthetics throughout.
The most Amouage-y thing about Bracken Man comes right at the beginning as the perfumers create a wet earth accord out of primarily lavandin, nutmeg and clove. Before this accord really takes hold a ray of citrus sunshine courtesy of lemon and bergamot take you down in to the earth. The sparkliness of the citrus grounds itself into the earth and gets swallowed up. This is a challenging beginning which is not going to be loved by all. I am fascinated with the way these notes form the accord as I can pick them out individually but when I stop analyzing it snaps right back to wet soil. A marvelous olfactory parlor trick. From here on we are in traditional fougere territory writ a bit larger than most of the contemporary versions. The perfumers use cypress, cedar and sandalwood to form the woody nucleus. A smidge of cinnamon. Some geranium. All leading to a patchouli and musk base. The patchouli and musk bring Bracken Man back full circle to a more traditional earthy quality.
Bracken Man has 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Of the many things I could have requested from Mr. Chong a large fougeres was not one I would have thought of. Which shows why he is a creative director and I am a reviewer because despite a structure which is typical I still found enough Amouage in there to make Bracken Man fun to wear.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Amouage.
When I was just beginning my life as an adult one of the fragrances on my dresser was Azzaro pour Homme. It was a creature of its time; a powerhouse fougere. Even when I smell it today I want to unconsciously unbutton my shirt a few extra buttons and go looking for my gold chains. Even though it is out of style it is one of the great fougeres ever. I was talking with one of the reps from Clarins and they sent me bottles of the four new men’s releases for 2016. One was a reworking of Azzaro pour Homme by perfumers Olivier Pescheux and Quentin Bisch. They went too far in stripping down the original to appeal to modern tastes really leaving only grapefruit, lavender, and cedar behind. Solarissimo Levanzo was a slightly more complex fougere with a bit more fruit and basil present. Chrome Summer 2016 is a summer flanker of the original Chrome which does exactly what it needs to do. What left me unsatisfied with those three was the need to use very few notes keeping everything light and clean. When I picked up the last one, Wanted, It turns out perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin also felt like today’s fragrance consumer could take a little more oomph in their perfume.
Wanted has the typical press jibber jabber using words like “hedonist”, “rebellious”, “charismatic”; “desired by women, envied by men”. It is all packaged in a truly tragic bottle which evokes the spinning bullet chamber of a revolver. Despite all of this I found Wanted to be a pretty solid mass-market fragrance with some atypical choices than its compatriots on the department store counter.
There must have been a special on citrus raw materials because all four of the Azzaro perfumes opened with that. Wanted employs a solar lemon full of energy to start things off. One of my favorite parts of Azzaro pour Homme is the basil, cardamom, and fennel combination which elaborates on the lavender in that fragrance. In Wanted M. Pellegrin uses an equally interesting trio of cardamom, ginger, and cade. The cardamom is the most prominent note. The ginger provides that sort of zestiness it seems to be prized for. The really interesting choice here is the cade which provides a curl of smoke interspersed with the cool spices. When I wore Wanted just as the cardamom and ginger were about to lose my attention the cade appeared and brought it right back. The base is a very typical vetiver sweetened with a modicum of tonka.
Wanted has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Of the four new Azzaro releases I tried, Wanted is the direction I would like to see the brand trend more towards. The use of an interesting raw material for a mass-market release can be challenging if consumers find it too odd. If there was a theme among the four new Azzaros it was that they are seemingly trying to evolve from their powerhouse beginnings. Wanted succeeded for me because it nodded a bit more obviously to that past.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle provided by Clarins.
Besides the crush of rose-based fragrances over the first half of 2016 there have also been a number of above average gourmands. I think I have more patience with the gourmands because the genre doesn’t seem as played out. That being said if there is a style of gourmands which has been prevalent it would be the vanilla-based ones. There is still plenty of flexibility for something different than what has come before to stand out. That is what the new Aedes de Venustas Cierge de Lune has done.
Karl Bradl and Robert Gerstner
In just four years creative directors Karl Bradl and Robert Gerstner have established a strong brand identity over just a few releases. Cierge de Lune is just the sixth addition to the brand. What has been interesting is they are able to communicate this brand identity even though they have worked with five different perfumers. For Cierge de Lune the perfumer they chose was Fabrice Pellegrin.
M. Pellegrin is one of the more prolific perfumers working currently; designing fragrances up and down every economic sector. I think when a perfumer like M. Pellegrin has the opportunity to work with a bit more of a budget he takes that flexibility and runs with it.
Cierge de Lune is inspired by the night-blooming cactus flower Selenicereus Grandiflorus. It is the found at the top of the vanilla cactus so named because of the scent. It is often called the “queen of the night”. Cierge de Lune is the French name for it which translates to “moon altar candle”. The task set forth for M. Pellegrin was to capture the fragility of the flower which only lasts for the night; wilting in the first rays of the sun.
I have mentioned in other fragrances inspired by the desert there is an inherent spiciness to the smell of the desert over the mineral smell of the sand. M. Pellegrin opens Cierge de Lune with his version of that; comprised of pink pepper and black pepper. The black pepper stands in quite nicely for the sandy landscape. The pink pepper adds in the transparent piquancy along with some sense of the plant life, as well. The plant life dominates in the heart as ylang ylang adds its fleshy floralcy for the cactus flower accord to unfurl upon. In the early stages that means the vanilla is paired with some incense. This is also kept on the light side. Cierge de Lune picks up some heft as it transitions into the base where the vanilla has a much firmer foothold over a base accord of ambrox and chocolate. When I say this has some more presence it is still on the light side when compared to most vanilla chocolate gourmand base accords.
Cierge de Lune has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
When I tried Cierge de Lune at Esxence I was initially underwhelmed. Like the delicate flower it is based upon I needed some time to get to know Cierge de Lune by itself. In that time, I have come to appreciate what M. Pellegrin has assembled a delicate vanilla floral which seems ephemeral. That fragility is what appeals to me so much. It reminds me that even something which only lasts for a short time can be as inspiring as something built to last. Cierge de Lune is an homage to that fleeting beauty.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Aedes de Venustas at Esxence 2016.
There is a small sub-category of niche perfumery which encompasses the ability to capture a scent from real life which might be unpleasant or harsh. These are hard perfumes to review because while I admire the technical effort and skill required to create the smell I struggle with seeing it as something I want to wear. The very few brands, which almost defiantly stride into this area; ask of a perfume lover to consider if something sort of difficult can eventually be something you would still find time to wear. One of those brands is Agonist and its latest release Nordic Noir fits into this category.
Christine and Niclas Lydeen
I was first introduced to Nordic Noir at Pitti Fragranze in Florence last September. One half of the creative team behind Agonist, Niclas Lydeen, was there to tell me about it. He wanted Nordic Noir to represent that biting cold breath of air taken in extreme cold. The one where the frigid air interacts with the warm skin in your sinus passages. It stings a little. It can cause an uncomfortable pressure. It also smells incredibly clean. Not sterile; frostily clean. Mr. Lydeen and his wife Christine Lydeen again collaborated with perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin as they have for all of the eleven Agonist releases so far. M. Pellegrin gets this exactly right with it all being so true to life that I found it tripped over into unpleasant for me at first blush.
I left Florence with a sample and it has taken a few months for it to finally hit the shelves. That time allowed me to approach it in a much more cautious manner than most perfumes get from me. I loved the realism but wearing it for a couple of days? That would take some working up to. In the end I am happy I did wear it, funnily enough on one of the coldest days of the year with a blizzard to match and on a temperate winter day.
M. Pellegrin chooses a very interesting pair of notes to open Nordic Noir; cardamom and rosemary. There has been a lot of the greener version of cardamom in use lately. M. Pellegrin returns to the less green version which has a chilly demeanor to it. The rosemary adds back the green with an herbal aspect. The bite of the ice comes courtesy of spearmint, ginger, and heliotrope. M. Pellegrin pushes the concentration of all three. They aren’t present in overdose but they surely are here to make an impression. Spearmint and ginger form the stinging core of which the heliotrope ups the intensity. It is this accord which is the one I have to almost steel myself for. Orris comes along to add a rooty earthy quality of frozen tundra. When I first tried this the mint was too much and the ginger just annoyed me. After some time, I grew to enjoy the stiff breeze they represent here. The blond Nordic woods are represented by a very strong cedar made slightly sweet by vanilla.
Nordic Noir has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Like almost everything which carries the Agonist name Nordic Noir is not a perfume for the faint hearted. The Lydeens have shown a real commitment to their brand aesthetic and it not being for everyone. What Agonist has come to represent is it is a brand which will give the person who tries them something unique. Nordic Noir does this with the icy blast of a Nordic snow field.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample from Intertrade Europe.
As designers have all added an exclusive luxury fragrance line to their perfume business it has become problematic for some. The best ones have quality across the line with only a few clunkers within. The other ones have less success. One of the latter has been the Armani exclusive line called Armani Prive.
Armani Prive started in 2004 with four releases. Even then it was two for four with Bois D’Encens and Ambre Soie standing apart. Over the next twelve years that has been about the way this line has gone. For each good one there is a not so good one. I will say the uneven quality always makes me interested to try the new releases because when they are good they can be very good. I received the samples of the two new releases Rouge Malachite and Vert Malachite curious to see how they would be. The Rouge Malachite was an unimpressive pretty tuberose overdosed with an amber synthetic called AmberXtreme. It was at turns pretty followed by aggressive. When I turned to the Vert Malachite I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found was a white flower perfume streaked with green in all the right places. Perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin really does a nice job in combining the two.
M. Pellegrin begins with a typical citrus opening of bitter orange and petitgrain smoothed over with baie rose. This has become such a generic opening it should be trademarked. Thankfully change was coming as M. Pellegrin uses a green leafy accord to provide the place for jasmine and ylang-ylang to combine with. This might have become banal too but for the skillful interjection of lily. This is a very green tinted lily which cuts through the more boisterous florals. Over time the lily becomes the focal point. It is a slow burn while that happens and at first the lily seems like it is in competition with the jasmine and ylang ylang only to eventually come out on top. Once that happens while still very white flower-ish there is also a lot of green present which adds some needed texture. The base is a mix of woods, benzoin, and vanilla for a sweetly woody foundation.
Vert Malachite has 18-20 hour longevity and average sillage.
It should have been no surprise for a perfume line batting .500 that one would be better than the other. Vert Malachite is a nicely composed floral perfume tailor-made for the upcoming spring.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Neiman Marcus.