Schoolhouse Rock and De La Soul tell me three is a magic number. In perfumery that sometimes proves to be the case. Nina Ricci L’Extase Rose Absolue is another data point to prove this.
Nina Ricci has been producing perfume since 1948 starting with the classic L’Air du Temps. Over the decades since, the brand has had broad ups and downs. In recent times, it has become a steady European masstige brand. Because of my affection for the brand I always track down samples of the latest releases. Like all mass-market fragrances, Nina Ricci has started releasing a yearly spring rose fragrance. It started with 2015’s L’Extase which was just another forgettable rose even though it had rose damascene at its heart instead of the typical debutante rose. Last year it was L’Extase Caresse de Roses. This was no debutante rose either but it was also disappointingly linear as it was just rose and a whole lot of laundry musk. The perfumer for these L’Extase fragrances is Francis Kurkdjian who has become expert on how to create a tentpole collection within a brand but the first two L’Extase were missing something.
When I received my sample of this year’s version, L’Extase Rose Absolue, I wasn’t excited. Then I looked up the description online and found out M. Kurkdjian meant for this to be the rose for evening wear. That made me go dig the sample out and give it a try. It turns out this is a more formal rose with more depth than either of the two other members of the collection.
Rose can be a bombastic note but early on M. Kurkdjian decides to allow it to simmer a bit. It is still out front but in the early going black pepper and raspberry provide an interesting spicy fruity floral top accord. As it simmers there it eventually concentrates down to a more focused rose which is paired with orange blossom. Unlike the top accord the orange blossom is there for nuance; not really meant to be an equal partner. The base is formed of a woody duet of cedar and sandalwood. To this some vanilla, to add some light sweetness, along with some musk to provide some sensuality.
L’Extase Rose Absolue has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
This time three is a magic number as L’Extase Rose Absolue is much better than the other two L’Extase fragrances. It is much more than a spring rose as this would be great any time of the year. If you’re looking for a good evening rose three will be a magic number for you, too.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I purchased.
Before coming in to write this review I was looking at the high wisps of cirrus clouds in an otherwise cloudless sky. They are so high and thin it is easy to see them as inconsequential to the more substantial cumulus clouds. Today I was struck by the beauty of the white brushstrokes upon the blue sky. I then realized what I was wearing was like those cirrus clouds as a perfumer has performed delicate wispy brushstrokes of fragrance on a persistent background. That perfume is Maison Francis Kurkdjian Aqua Celestia.
The brand was also thinking along the same lines as their press release describes Aqua Celestia as forming, “a seamless bond between the blue of the sky and the blue of the sea.” Aqua Celestia is the third in the Aqua series for Maison Francis Kurkdjian. Aqua Universalis was part of the debut collection in 2009 and Aqua Vitae followed in 2013. Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian designed this series to be very expansive and light. It is no surprise to me that Aqua Universalis is one of the best sellers within the brand. It is exactly what M. Kurkdjian does quite well. By anchoring Aqua Universalis in a familiar version of synthetic musk like those used in laundry detergent it allows for someone to latch on to the familiar while giving them something different with a very green muguet to go with it. It is simple but brilliant in tone. Aqua Celestia shares all of that.
For Aqua Celestia M. Kurkdjian chose a different kind of white musk as his source of the sky. It is still a fresh musk like what you experience with a freshly laundered piece of clothing. There is a reason these kinds of musks are so ubiquitous because of their tenacious pleasant quality. What M. Kurkdjian does is to elevate them above the mundane which is what happens in Aqua Celestia.
Aqua Celestia opens on a bracing combination of lime, cassis, and mint. You might think that smells like a cheap version of a mojito but instead this carries a much more ethereal quality. The notes have a presence but they also seem less sharp than they could be. The real star of Aqua Celestia comes next as mimosa becomes the keynote with which the musk will pair. This is an expansive mimosa which sits upon the overarching presence of the musk like those cirrus clouds. The musk is what you experience but these wisps of mimosa peek through delicately. It is like pulling a clean shirt out of the dryer and holding it to your nose.
Aqua Celestia has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I expect that eight years after the release of Aqua Universalis M. Kurkdjian has created the next iteration in Aqua Celestia. I also suspect it will become one of the best sellers for the brand because of it. There are times fragrance can be cirrus clouds and Aqua Celestia is one of them.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.
The earliest leather accord was the classic “Cuir de Russie” or Russian Leather accord. It is the origin of all leather perfumes which have followed for over a hundred years now. It is so much a foundational piece of perfumery it seems like there comes a time for a perfumer to attempt their version. Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian takes his turn with the Elie Saab Le Collection de Cuirs.
M. Kurkdjian wanted to really explore all the ways this rich Russian Leather could be presented. In a quite unique twist it starts with Cuir Absolu which is just the Russian Leather accord by itself. What is in Cuir Absolu will provide the focal point for the other three perfumes in the collection; Cuir Ylang, Cuir Bourbon, and Cuir Patchouli. Cuir Ylang was my least favorite because for some reason M. Kurkdjian chose to not let the ylang be an equal partner. Instead he made incense and birch the more prominent partners yielding a refined grainy leather accord. Cuir Bourbon was much better as the Bourbon Vanilla teases that inherent sweetness out of the leather accord as a bit of saffron and musk add contrast and detail. Cuir Patchouli was the one I decided to spend some time with mostly because it reminded me of my black leather jacket from my punk rock days.
I think everyone who owns a leather zipper jacket they wear all the time knows that smell of the jacket material mixed with the sweat of your body permeating the lining. That is what M. Kurkdjian gets out of this version of his Russian Leather accord in Cuir Patchouli.
Cuir Patchouli is a rapidly evolving fragrance. While I am going to call out distinctive parts of the evolution; when I put it on my skin it ended up as a perfectly formed accord within fifteen minutes or so. Right as I spray it on cumin and cinnamon leaves evoke that smell of last night’s sweat as I pick the jacket up off the chair it has been hanging on overnight. A fantastically chosen patchouli which I think is a fraction accentuating the earthier nature blends with the stale sweat accord freshening it up a bit. Then the Russian Leather accord comes into play. I think there is a bit of labdanum here which also pushes the complete fragrance more towards that broken-in leather feeling.
Cuir Patchouli has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
If you are one who enjoys leather in your perfume you should give all four of the Elie Saab Le Collection de Cuirs a try. If nothing else trying Cuir Absolu gives you the opportunity to smell M. Kurkdjian’s interpretation of the classic accord. I think all three of the perfumes he built upon that foundation are well done but it is that old punk rock jacket I want to wear most often in Cuir Patchouli that will be the one I return to
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Elie Saab.
The transitions between light and dark that happens twice every day carry a special magic to them. Folklore would suggest that magic is literal in those moments. Perfumer Francis Kukdjian was looking for perfumed inspiration from those same times. He has released two new fragrances from his Maison Francis Kurkdjian brand Petit Matin and Grand Soir.
Petit Matin (Little Morning) is inspired by that moment when the sun has cleared the horizon and its light fills the world with brilliant points of light as it reflects off windows, water and buildings. There is that moment in every early morning where it is pure light. That is the effect M. Kurkdjian goes for with Petit Matin.
Petit Matin opens with two sources of lemon. One is a typical lemon essential oil. The other is an evergreen shrub called litsea cubeba. Litsea cubeba is made up mostly of the lemon scented molecule citral. That gives the essential oil a really different scent profile of bright lemon along with an undertone of green shrubbery. Together they provide that mixture of doubled up lemon brightness with the green providing the smell of dew-coated leaves. The heart is when the flowers of the day wake up as M. Kurkdjian combines orange blossom hawthorn, and lavandin. The lemon remains as the flowers peek out. It comes together in a sun-drenched floral accord which is where this morning stays for hours. It eventually moves along to a starched white linen mix of musks with ambrox.
Petit Matin has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Grand Soir (Big Evening) is that moment just after the sun has set and the dark takes hold. There is that anticipation of what the night can bring. This is the moment when the moon provides the shadows and light works hard to find purchase.
Grand Soir is a tightly composed mix of just four notes: benzoin, labdanum, tonka bean, and vanilla. In the early moments it is the benzoin which predominates. This is a high quality benzoin which displays its vanilla character. Which allows the actual vanilla and tonka something with which to form a particular vanillic chord. The labdanum picks up on the resinous aspect of benzoin forming an incense-like vibration. Together they form the anticipation of an evening swathed in vanilla and incense.
Grand Soir has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I give a hat tip to M. Kurkdjian for accurately capturing these magical times of the day in both Petit Matin and Grand Soir. Petit Matin is my favorite by just a bit because when it all comes together with the citrus and the floral notes it is expansively beautiful and luminous. Grand Soir is going to be a great fall choice as the air chills and the nights get longer. In any case you can wear this pair from dawn to dusk.
Disclosure: This review was based on press samples provided by Maison Francis Kurkdjian.
Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian is one of the elite perfumers working currently. He burst upon the perfume scene in 1995 as one of the perfumers behind Jean-Paul Gaultier Le Male. His career would only trend upwards from there. M. Kurkdjian has made a large number of perfumes I think rank among the very best. In 2009 he started his own line, Maison Francis Kurkdjian. From the initial seven releases to a collection which now numbers twenty-seven fragrances it is one which has always had my attention. I have realized over the last couple of years that it is with this brand where I will start somebody off who is dipping their toe into the niche perfume sector. The perfumes which make up the collection carry a baseline classicism which I think is why they are such appropriate entry level choices into niche. These are the five perfumes I usually take someone through when introducing them to this brand.
One of the first seven releases Aqua Universalis lives up to its tag line of a “A scent for all things”. This is the best clean musk perfume I own. M. Kurkdjian uses a selection of citrus matched to lily of the valley as his come-on. The base has a few sheer woods along with a blend of white musks that M. Kurkdjian has become known for. In Aqua Universalis it all comes together. When I am showing this brand to someone new to niche this is the bottle that most often is purchased.
The masterpiece within the Maison Francis Kurkdjian collection is Absolue pour Le Soir. That is not where someone new to the brand should start. Instead the precursor release Cologne pour Le Soir is a great introduction to themes which will be intensified in the later release. Absolue pour Le Soir is an animalic feral beast with honey. Cologne pour Le Soir is a domesticated feline with honey. From a spicy opening into a lilting incense heart down to cedar sweetened with vanilla. In the original seven this was the one which captured my attention the most.
In 2012 the oud craze had reached its heights. Every time I saw oud in a new release I inwardly said, “Please no more”. The problem was the early oud fragrances were using oud as something to represent exoticism. 2012 would see the end of that as some of the best perfumers began to use oud in constructs which showed its versatility. The simply named Oud was one of those. M. Kurkdjian has a way of tweaking something classic and making it seem contemporary. With Oud he was able to take a note which had usually been used as a wrecking ball, transforming it in to something less pulverizing. By using saffron, cedar, and patchouli along with a Laotian oud which imparts a more delicate profile; containing interesting grace notes which M. Kurkdjian teases out. Oud will make you believe the wrecking ball has become a brilliant fragile crystal ball.
Masculin Pluriel is the best example of M. Kurkdjian’s way of re-interpreting classical styles. Here he takes the fougere and makes it his own. It starts with a single source of lavender that is herbal and green as well as floral. It is so good M. Kurkdjian keeps the rest of the development simple. Cedar, patchouli, and vetiver are the usual fougere components. The fabulous leather accord also present is not. It is that which contemporizes Masculin Pluriel.
When I tried the original 2013 release Aqua Vitae I wanted it to have more heft. Two years later M. Kurkdjian granted that desire with Aqua Vitae Forte. A fabulous mixture of spices, citrus, orange blossom, sandalwood, and vetiver. It is as easy to wear as an old pair of jeans. As I have only had a year to introduce this to people when I take them through Maison Francis Kurkdjian it seems like Aqua Vitae Forte is finding as many admirers from the novice niche users as Aqua Universalis.
These five are where I think you should start but this brand has many more advanced delights once you delve deeper. It is one of the stronger collections currently on the market.
Disclosure: This review was based on bottles I purchased.
Limited editions are the bane of my existence. As a blogger I can often get a small sample of even the most expensive perfumes. On a visit to the Baccarat shop in New York City, in the Fall of 2014, I was able to get a small sample of the perfume designed for the 250th anniversary called Rouge 540. I would later learn it was composed by Francis Kurkdjian. When I spoke with the person in the boutique I was informed there were only 250 pieces made and there were only a few not already spoken for. I felt it was a tragedy because I kept sniffing the spot on my forearm where I sprayed some. I took care of my sample in hopes that M. Kurkdjian might return to the themes on display. Right after the New Year I got a very pleasant surprise as I received a sample of Maison Francis Kurkdjian Baccarat Rouge 540. I immediately located my sample from before and happily found them to be identical.
The name comes from the temperature necessary to achieve red colored Baccarat crystal. While I admire the connection Baccarat Rouge 540 is not a perfume of heat. It is instead something more akin to the finished product; sparkling and depthless. What I liked when I first tried it was the use of some extremely well-chosen raw materials to create that effect.
M. Kurkdjian uses blood orange to open Baccarat Rouge 540. This is all of the blood orange: pulp, pith, and rind. It falls somewhere between the bitterness of bergamot and the juiciness of regular orange. Neither of those would have been the right choice, blood orange is. M. Kurkdjian next uses a bridging note of saffron. This more than any note used in Baccarat Rouge 540 imparts the luxuriousness of its inspiration. Saffron in all of its exotic dusty floral quality is the perfect lead in for the duet of lavender and sage in the heart. Lavender and sage are classic partners found in many colognes. The presence of the saffron changes it enough that I never get a cologne vibe. It comes to rest on a mix of woods, ambergris, and oakmoss. It is the ambergris which provides a marine-like foundation which the woods and oakmoss push against.
Baccarat Rouge 540 has 14-16 hour longevity and very little sillage wearing as a skin scent on me.
M. Kurkdjian is at his best when he is giving his interpretation of something modern. Baccarat Rouge 540 feels like a perfume less interested in 250 years of history than making a mark on the present day. Baccarat Rouge 540 is one of my favorite Maison Francis Kurkdjian releases.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.
There are perfumers who I enjoy them most when they compose in transparencies and whispers. There are others where the converse is true. It usually takes a particular perfume to reach out and hit me between the eyes for me to realize it. For Francis Kurkdjian that realization came when my favorite perfume of his initial Maison Francis Kurkdjian releases in 2009 was Cologne pour Le Soir. A year later he would release Absolue pour Le Soir the more feral cousin to the original. When M. Kurkdjian decides to add more to a previous construction there is no mistaking the power behind it. The newest release Aqua Vitae Forte is another example of this.
Aqua Vitae was released in 2013 as a pleasant Hedione-focused fragrance with citrus on top and the very light woodiness of Gaiac on the bottom. It was a perfume for the hot days of summer with the Hedione giving off shimmers like a heat mirage at the center. For this new version M. Kurkdjian has again put on his loud speaking voice as a composer of Aqua Vitae Forte. The follow-ups he has done within Maison Francis Kurkdjian should not be thought of as flankers because the notes he uses transforms them completely. I can detect a few bits and pieces of Aqua Vitae but Aqua Vitae Forte really stands on its own despite the similarity in name.
Francis Kurkdjian (Photo via www.ft.com)
The place where the two perfumes come closest to being similar is in the very early moments as both open on a tart mix of lemon and mandarin. In the original the Hedione takes over from there. In Aqua Vitae Forte M. Kurkdjian throws three spice notes into the mix. Cinnamon, Szechuan pepper, and cardamom intersperse themselves within the bright citrus shading the sunniness and providing contrast. A lot of times the spices overwhelm the citrus but here they stand their ground and it really makes the opening purr with energy. The Hedione remains in the heart but for Aqua Vitae Forte M. Kurkdjian uses orange blossom and ylang ylang as running mates. The florals provide the same effect as the spices did in the top notes by curtailing the expansiveness of the Hedione and keeping it more compact in its effect. This time the Hedione simmers instead of shimmers. All pretense at mimicking the original is tossed aside in the base as a rich sandalwood and a sturdy vetiver form the foundation. There is no lightness of being anymore just a two-footed stance of assuredness.
Aqua Vitae Forte has 10-12 hours longevity and above average sillage.
If Aqua Vitae was perfect for the heat of summer; Aqua Vitae Forte is going to be perfect for the upcoming chilly days of fall. This is a perfume which will go extremely well with sweaters and scarves on a crisp autumnal sojourn. When M. Kurkdjian raises his tone it usually leaves me saying Bravo Francis!
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample from Maison Francis Kurkdjian,
I wish I understood why designers have to have collections which are overly difficult to obtain. I can add another one to the list with the Elie Saab La Collection des Essences. It took a completely chance encounter followed by a set of samples to be sent to me for me to become clued in. In 2014 fashion designer Elie Saab working with the perfumer Francis Kurkdjian began a new numbered series of perfumes. The first set of releases numbered one through four were rose, gardenia, amber, and oud. All of these were really good. I especially enjoyed the No. 4 Oud. It was a simple construction of pepper, benzoin, and oud but it carried itself with a real presence for that simplicity. The two new releases for 2015 are No. 6 Vetiver and No. 7 Neroli. I was drawn to the more simply constructed No. 7 Neroli as I was to No. 4 Oud.
The press release mentions that neroli is the scent of Mr. Saab’s native Lebanon. It evidently took M. Kurkdjian some time to find a Lebanese source of neroli with which he could attempt to evoke the air which Mr. Saab breathes while designing in his workshop.
M. Kurkdjian keeps the composition very streamlined with only four notes. One thing that struck me with these simpler entries within the La Collection des Essences is how M. Kurkdjian looks for a subtle lynchpin note to hold everything together. In No. 7 Neroli that note is clove.
It should be no surprise that the opening moments is the neroli M. Kurkdjian sourced. One of the things which is apparent when the neroli is on its own in the early going is that this is a white flower. We tend to think of the more boisterous members of the family which have a real presence. Neroli is a white flower, indolic and sweet, but less assuming. In No. 7 Neroli M. Kurkdjian allows neroli to strut her stuff a bit. As a result it carries a bit more swagger. The clove slowly reveals itself around the edges of the indoles. It surprises but provides a differing contrast to the sweeter character than the natural indolic contrast. The clove then ties together the basenotes of cedar and musk. This is that clean white musky woody finish which often seems common. In this simple composition it seems the appropriate way to end.
No. 7 Neroli has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
As of right now these only seem to be available at select Elie Saab boutiques in Europe, Hong Kong, and the Middle East. The limited availability I think is keeping some of M. Kurkdjian’s most precise work out of the hands of many who would appreciate it. I know I have spent the last couple months thoroughly enjoying all six of the Elie Saab Le Collection des Essences. No. 7 Neroli is the best of the six and deserves a wider audience.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Elie Saab.
Christian Dior was late to the trend of creating an exclusive niche line of fragrances apart from their mainstream offerings. They really didn’t jump into it wholeheartedly until 2010. Prior to that there was a collection of three fragrances only available at Dior Homme boutiques. In 2010 Francois Demachy took two of those perfumes and added seven new perfumes he composed to create the La Collection Privee. In just five years the collection has grown to 20 perfumes. This is one of the great underpublicized collections in all of perfumery. If you haven’t tried any of them here are five to get you started.
Bois D’Argent by perfumer Annick Menardo is probably my favorite honey perfume of all time. After smelling this I made a special trip to Las Vegas to buy a bottle. Mme Menardo keeps a light tone throughout as she starts with a transparent incense into a fabulous heart of orris, honey, and myrrh. It all ends with a soft leather and patchouli base. The whole composition is so opaque it defies the weight of the components.
Eau Noire by perfumer Francis Kurkdjian is one of the more fascinating studies of immortelle on the market. M. Kurkdjian uses it as the spine of Eau Noire. Clary sage on top turns it herbal and incense-like. Lavender enhances the floralcy of it in the heart. In the base vanilla brings out the inherent maple syrup sweetness. Immortelle can be a hard note to love but Eau Noire makes sure you experience everything immortelle can bring to a perfume.
Mitzah by perfumer Francois Demachy is a fabulous resinous rose Oriental. M. Demachy uses a spice swathed rose as foil to a very concentrated frankincense. A bit of vanilla and patchouli add some nuance but this is the rose and incense show all the way.
New Look 1947 also by M. Demachy takes an expertly balanced heart of three of the heaviest floral notes and makes something powerfully heady. Jasmine, Turkish rose, and tuberose form a heart that one can get lost inside of. A pinch of baie rose on top and some benzoin and vanilla in the base provide some contrast.
Oud Ispahan also by M. Demachy takes the classic rose and oud combination and gives it a Dior spin. This is a Western version of that classic Eastern staple. M. Demachy keeps it simple. Allowing the rose and oud to carry on throughout the development. They are pitched at a much lighter level than most of the other ouds on the market and it allows for the labdanum, patchouli, and sandalwood to provide some texture to the power duo.
As I mentioned this is not the easiest of collections to find. If you do find it the five choices above are great places to start.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
If there is one perfumer who I trust to give me something different when he chooses to work with oud it is Francis Kurkdjian. He is a perfumer who has put oud through its paces and realized specific visions not only for his own Maison Francis Kurkdjian line but for other lines as well. M. Kurkdjian reminds me a bit of a lion tamer at the circus surrounded by all of these snarling rambunctious oud notes. Like that lion tamer he summons one to the center of the ring and begins to form a perfume. In 2013 he took my favorite, Laotian Oud, and created three tactile versions of oud using it; Oud Cahmere Mood, Oud Silk Mood, and Oud Velvet Mood. Like my metaphorical animal wrangler M. Kurkdjian put that Laotian oud through its paces. The only thing that was missing was the warmth that accompanies that particular oud I wanted one which was also warm. The new Oud Satin Mood is what I was looking for.
What makes Oud Satin Mood so very different is most of the time perfumers allow oud to gallop headlong over the horizon trailing whatever can keep pace with it. In all of the Oud Mood collection M. Kurkdjian makes sure the exquisite Laotian oud does not get lost in the need for power. It takes a perfumer with an innate feel for his raw material and after four perfumes it seems pretty clear to me that when it comes to Laotian oud and M. Kurkdjian he has found his king of the perfumed jungle. Oud Satin Mood is when that royal presence wants to rest indolently in the sun as M. Kurkdjian wraps his oud up in a warm blanket of notes.
Oud Satin Mood opens with a less metallic violet accord as M. Kurkdjian puts forward the candied sweet aspects over the edgier facets. The oud begins to rise as the violet seems to sprinkle itself over it. As the oud become more prominent a rose mixture of Bulgarian and Turkish varieties also rise. Rose and oud are a classic pairing and if the rose continued to increase in intensity this might be one of those perfumes. M. Kurkdjian has a different destination in mind and for that the rose needs to lag behind the oud. The final phase of development is a cuddly warm mixture of the oud, benzoin, and vanilla. M. Kurkdjian pulls this all together into a plush slightly floral comfort perfume. That it has one of the strongest ouds out there and it can still be called comforting tells you what a good job he did in balancing this.
Oud Satin Mood has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
I’m not sure if M. Kurkdjian has more tricks to teach the Laotian member of his menagerie. I am hoping if there are more Oud Moods to come that he calls forth the Vietnamese version. The sweet and spicy nature would be very interesting to see what he would create. If you want to try one of the most comfortable oud perfumes on the market head to your local Maison Francis Kurkdjian stockist in May.
Disclsoure: This review was based on a sample provided by Maison Francis Kurkdjian.