One of the biggest shifts in music came in 1981 when MTV debuted on cable television. Twenty-four hours a day videos matched to the popular music of the day were shown. Whenever a song of that time period comes on the air, I can’t not see the accompanying visual. This was more succinctly summed up in the comic strip Bloom County by Berkeley Breathed below:
It shows the difficulty of crossing the streams of two art forms. The fragrance industry hasn’t shied away from it even so. One of the more recent attempts is the brand Art Meets Art. They lay out the difficulty right in the name. A little over a year ago they released their first five perfumes. When I received my samples, it wasn’t like they turned into exploding porpoises, but they also missed the energy. Nowhere was it wider of the mark than in the perfume named after the hit by Marvin Gaye; Sexual Healing. The stated goal was to capture the voice of the singer. What was in the bottle was a straightforward tobacco vanilla perfume. Whenever Sexual Healing pops up on my shuffle, I can promise you tobacco and vanilla will not be accompanying it.
The latest release takes on the classic song by Queen; Bohemian Rhapsody. There is a pop culture moment taking place around Queen and their front man Freddie Mercury. There is a new movie also titled “Bohemian Rhapsody”. That suffered from acting like a rock skipping over the rich pond of the subject. It was something which I felt would have been better as a six-episode series on one of the streaming services. The film lingers on the creative process within the band during a couple of passages. One is Bohemian Rhapsody. It is portrayed as the fever dream of Mr. Mercury that the rest of the band joyfully collaborates on. The perfume, composed by Frank Voelkl, does a better job of also capturing the variable influences within the song.
The top accord captures the lyric of “easy come, easy go, little high, little low”. The high is a sprinkling of metallic aldehydes. The easy come easy go is the cassis. The low is an herbal baie rose. It comes together in an affable come on just before everything turns operatic. M. Voelkl goes for the sopranos of perfumery as he rolls out the white flowers of jasmine and tuberose along with a baroque rose and fleshy ylang-ylang. This is the first time where an accord has felt connected to the musical inspiration in an Art Meets Art release. They make me want to sing “Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the fandango?” What comes next in the song is my favorite part as it shifts gear to full-on rock anthem. The perfume does the same with a lively base accord of patchouli taking the lead with a set of musks and vetiver backing it up. M. Voelkl really lets the patchouli loose; which works.
Bohemian Rhapsody has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
In this case Art Meets Art found a place where the perfume finally represented an appropriate companion to the music. I don’t think we’ll ever have to worry about perfume killing the radio star, but some nice fragrances can make it more fun. bohemian Rhapsody does this.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Saks.
I go to my local discount stores to get ideas for this column. As I dig through the bins, I am looking for something which wasn’t there before. Which means I miss the forest for the trees. In the search for buried treasure I fail to notice the silver coins on the beach. On my last visit I was digging while another shopper was next to me going through the testers. With my head down, a nice scent drifted down upon me. I looked up and asked what he had just sprayed. He held out a bottle with big blocky letters which read: Zirh Ikon.
Zirh is a men’s full-service skincare brand including perfume. It is particularly prevalent during the holiday shopping season because they sell gift sets where they mix and match many of their products, including fragrance. When it comes to the very modestly priced fragrance out there all the Zirh perfumes are great bang for the buck. I own Zirh Corduroy and Zirh Perfume as well as Ikon. For someone who wants an economical choice of perfumes for all seasons there are many worse options.
What the spritz of Ikon at the discount store reminded me of is that it is a simple triad of spices, incense, and woods. Perfumer Frank Voelkl works with an efficient style in Ikon to create something better than it should be for the price.
The opening is a mix of lemon and cardamom which primarily hold the foreground. There are hints of clove and cinnamon, but they are there to shade the top accord towards the cardamom. The incense steps forward with a sharpness to it. This is further refined as labdanum softens it. Cedar and vetiver provide a green woody base accord.
Ikon has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
You can find 4oz. bottles of Ikon for around $10. They are $9.99 at the discount stores I shop at. I also mention the gift sets which will be popping up because you will find some of them also contain Ikon along with some skincare products.
One thing about Ikon which I should mention is when you read spice, incense, and woods you think of something with a large presence. One reason I like Ikon is M. Voelkl softens the overall effect to make it much more approachable. It is at its best in the cold weather. When I smelled it at the store the other day it was that which drew my attention the most. Reminding me to appreciate what was right in front of me.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
I don’t know if others have the same kind of perfume preferences as I do during the summer months. I’m reasonably sure colognes and light florals are constants. One of the things I have found over time that I really enjoy when the heat is at its most oppressive is a simple clean light woody perfume. As summer 2018 arrives I think Commodity Bois is going to be this year’s addition to my rotation.
It is also another example of why Commodity has been consistently succeeding. It is a mainstream brand where the owners are allowing the perfumers a freer hand to design. Their only limitations are budget and aligning with the minimalist aesthetic the brand wants to be known for. What this produces are simple constructs where the perfumer’s choices can have a maximal impact on a minimalist aesthetic.
For Bois the perfumer is Frank Voelkl. Since Bois translates to “wood” he started with a duo of cedar and sandalwood. The ingredient which helps turn that from generic to something more than that is baie rose.
Bois opens with that baie rose out front. Baie rose is a versatile top note because it has many facets for a perfumer to tease out. What M. Voelkl chooses to accentuate is the peppery nature of the ingredient which is also known as pink pepper. To do this angelica is used which also has a peppery character. Together they form a textural piquant accord. It acts as a kind of figurative perfumer’s sandpaper as it roughs up the cedar and sandalwood by adding a peppery overlay on the woods. The baie rose is what really sealed the deal on my enjoyment of Bois. Some vanilla comes in without becoming cloying as I wore Bois on days where it was in the high 90’s on the thermometer.
Bois has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I can’t know who shares my summer affection for woody perfume. If you do, Bois is one you should add to fill that space. I think there are few better warm weather woods out there especially in mainstream.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Commodity.
If there is anything the dream machine that is Hollywood does best, it makes subversive safe for general audiences. I would get great enjoyment at watching the “dangerous streets of Miami” depicted in many Hollywood productions. I probably first became aware of it as they co-opted the hippie movement of the late 1960’s even building a cop show around the concept of disaffected youth called “The Mod Squad”. They were just a little too clean and a lot too establishment; except when the plot needed them to get a little uppity.
Carlos Quintero (l.) and Karl Bradl
When it comes to perfume the most recognizable ingredient associated with hippies is patchouli. It was the smell of head shops everywhere which also made it a problematic ingredient in perfume. Many consumers associated it with also being cheap. Perfumers love patchouli because it is such a mutable ingredient that they would work through that impression. The chemists behind the scenes also were working on “cleaner” versions of patchouli through technology and chemistry. One of the best innovations around patchouli was the Firmenich ingredient called Clearwood. The scientists found a way to strip out all the dirty character leaving behind something still recognizable as patchouli but not so hippie-like.
In the latest perfume from the Nomenclature line overseen by Karl Bradl and Carlos Quintero they feature Clearwood in their latest release holy_wood. Working with perfumer Frank Voelkl they were after a 1970’s Hollywood vibe. I couldn’t help thinking of The Mod Squad’s advertising slogan, “one black, one white, one blonde” as I experienced holy_wood. In this M. Voelkl combines one rose, one patchouli, one leather into a perfume version of The Mod Squad. While that might sound like a perfume combination you’ve smelled many times when it gets reformed using modern cleaner synthetics it provides a contemporary overall effect.
holy_wood opens with a synthetic rose from Firmenich called Rose Petal Nature Print which is meant to replicate a headspace extraction of rose. It has an airiness rose usually doesn’t carry. Early on a bit of pink pepper adds some of the missing green back in. Then the Clearwood arrives and what this shows most of all is a light woodiness coupled with warmth. As the two ingredients interact I found myself expecting the missing pieces to show up until I stopped. Then I began to appreciate what was on my skin. holy_wood is an example of what synthetics can bring to a well-known combo like rose and patchouli. This is all tied up in a suede leather accord to complete The Mod Squad.
holy_wood has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
One of the things Nomenclature has been doing well is displaying some of the more novel synthetic ingredients to their fullest potential. holy_wood might be patchouli-rose-leather as only Hollywood could imagine them; safer and cleaner. I still want to spend time with this modern Mod Squad.
Disclosure: this review based on a sample from Nomenclature.
When fashion designers I admire make the move to fragrance it is interesting to see how much of the runway aesthetic makes it to the perfume. Designer Jason Wu is the latest to make this leap. Mr. Wu has been a fashion wunderkind showing his first collection at New York Fashion Week in 2007 a year out of school. Two years later he would dress the new First Lady Michelle Obama and his career skyrocketed. If there is a phrase to describe Mr. Wu’s aesthetic it is understated sophistication. Except in nearly every collection there is a vibrant floral print among the other more solid colored offerings.
For the perfume Mr. Wu collaborated with perfumer Frank Voelkl. To start Mr. Voelkl exposed Mr. Wu to the building blocks of scent. According to the press materials they went through 100’s of materials before Mr. Wu settled on the key note. Befitting the fashion style, he chose jasmine sambac to be the floral print part of the perfume. He also spoke of it because it reminded him of his youth where a neighbor’s wall was covered in jasmine. The final part of the Wu style was to keep the whole fragrance light. It is light. It is so light that it might be too sheer but in that transparency, there is a gauzy beauty I found enjoyable.
Mr. Voelkl opens with a veil of baie rose and fig. These are especially good versions of these ingredients which are used in the lightest way possible. There can be a tendency to expect the phases of Jason Wu to pick up some volume but it stays very sheer. Which sometimes left me mentally chasing after this opening because I thought it was so nice. I cheated a bit and literally soaked a tissue with sprays so I could get more traction in understanding what is here. It was a fruitful exercise because once I noted everything in overdose it was much easier for me to track down the veils with a more modest application. The jasmine sambac then comes out and it has a bit more weight but it never rises to anything too heavy. It lilts and flows through the rest of the development. Towards the end a set of sheer woods and white musk provide the final veil.
Jason Wu has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
The entire time I was wearing Jason Wu I kept thinking, “I like this but it is so light.” While thinking about how to review it; that can’t be dismissed. It pushes the envelope about how sheer is too sheer. What is fascinating is the perfume here is transparently compelling. I am so interested to see how this does in the market. Tastes are in the midst of change and Jason Wu could be right there for it.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Jason Wu.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the month I believe the Ulrich Lang New York collection is underrated. Turns out I should have been speaking to myself as Hr. Lang contacted me after that piece and asked whether I had smelled his most recent release, Apsu. I had come to realize during the writing of the Under the Radar piece that I was pretty sure I hadn’t. When I went to my master spreadsheet it turns out I had smelled it on a strip but left a note to request a sample; which I never did. Then Hr. Lang made sure to rectify that and sent me a bottle of Apsu. It probably turned out okay because Apsu is a perfume of late spring early summer. Wearing it a couple times it seemed like a mirror version of the world becoming greener around me.
Hr. Lang once again collaborates with perfumer Frank Voelkl. If there has become an Ulrich Lang aesthetic it has been for transparent to opaque constructs. It has really stood out as the brand doesn’t knock you over it wraps you up in silk. Apsu is one of those as I believe Mr. Voelkl worked with a few new isolates of time-honored notes. What results is a perfume which reminds me of the beginning of the second verse of The Beatles “Yellow Submarine”; “So we sailed up to the sun/Until we found the sea of green.” If you are a fan of the smell of dew covered grass and foliage that is what Apsu delivers.
Mr. Voelkl uses a host of green notes in the early moments. Most of these seem like different isolates or molecules of the typical aromachemicals which are used for fresh-cut grass. It gives it an abstract interpretation of dewy grass which seems more alive despite its not perfectly resembling it. One note on the list that stands out is cilantro which provides a bit of an edge to the overall effect. The moist garden theme is deepened with orris and jasmine in the heart. They are joined by a faint tea and water lily duet. The florals do not override the green in the top but act more as support while making the watery nature more present. The base is clean woods with dry frankincense.
Apsu has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage. Apsu reflects the natural as seen through a perfumer’s lens. It doesn’t represent the actual so much as form a figurative “sea of green”. If you want a lightweight green perfume for summer set your Yellow Submarine for Apsu.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle of Apsu supplied by Ulrich Lang New York.
One of the most genuine people in the perfume business is Ulrich Lang. Mr. Lang has promoted the greater cause of independent perfumery by co-founding the Elements Showcase and being someone who believes there is a significant place for it. He is so passionate about those themes you might not know he is the creative director of a brand which carries his name; Ulrich Lang New York.
One of the reasons you might have overlooked these perfumes is since the debut of Anvers in 2003 there have only been a total of six releases. Mr. Lang has worked exclusively with perfumer Frank Voelkl over that time. A brand which is not constantly churning out new releases is almost by definition going to fly under the radar. Over the years there has been one of these six perfumes which has become one of my spring staples, Lightscape.
When you think of fresh fragrances a perfume featuring violet and iris is unlikely to be something you might describe like that. Violet has a metallic sharpness while iris can be powdery. Even just that would seem to be a recipe for a construction akin to a head-on collision. Mr. Lang and Mr. Voelkl take some impressive measures to not put these notes against each other; instead finding a way to make them harmonize in a fresh way.
The way they go about this is two-fold. For violet Mr. Voelkl instead of using the actual essential oil of the flowers he instead creates a violet accord. That allows him to tune out those metallic aspects. It also allows the powdery nature that is also a part of the violet flower to be modulated, as well. For the iris, he chooses to use a high-quality orris which doesn’t have as much of the powderiness of iris in favor of a more grounded earthy character.
Lightscape opens with a snappy duet of lemon and galbanum. An attention-grabbing zesty green citrus. To go along with it Mr. Voelkl adds in violet leaf. This adds more green to the galbanum. Then the orris and violet accord appear. I am always so surprised at how uplifting the combination comes off here. It is why I reach for it every spring because it is green and fresh. Cedar brings it back to earth with a wood-based foundation tempered by the botanical musk of ambrette seed.
Lightscape has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I can say all six of the Ulrich Lang New York perfumes are Under the Radar gems. They are worthy of being put on your to-try list. If you need one to start with Lightscape is a spring perfume which is a fresh purple fragrance of violet and iris.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
Drug discovery and perfumery share a similarity in the scientific approach to trying to improve on what is known. In both fields, it is down to the chemists in each discipline to find a new molecule which does the same thing but better than what is currently on the market. In pharmaceuticals, it is a little easier to define “better”. In perfumery “better” is more often in the hands of the perfumer using the newer material. Which is why the Nomenclature brand is so much fun for me to wear. The brand creatively directed by Carlos Quintero and Karl Bradl seeks to highlight the new aromachemical raw materials as the key components in the perfumes they oversee. The first collection of four did an excellent job of this. Which is why when I received my sample of the fifth release lumen_esce I was ready to be introduced to another aromachemical.
Carlos Quintero (l.) and Karl Bradl
For lumen_esce the new aromachemical is called Violettyne. Violettyne was discovered by chemists at Firmenich who were looking to improve the violet leaf molecules which were typically esters attached to triple-bonded carbons. The chemists replaced the esters with chains of carbon which did and did not have some double bonds. Violettyne was the structure which added a five-carbon chain containing two double bonds in place of the ester. The effect was to enhance the galbanum-like qualities of violet leaf while also adding a grace note of fruitiness. Perfumer Frank Voelkl was asked to incorporate this molecule in to lumen_esce.
The typical use of these kind of substances is as top notes and so Mr. Voelkl sets up his top accord as a “compare and contrast” between Violettyne and violet leaf itself. The Violettyne provides a much greener quality than the violet leaf. In this case Mr. Voelkl tunes the violet leaf to give off the slightly metallic nature which it seems Violettyne uses as a conductor on which to come to life upon. This all develops through a freesia and jasmine heart. The green intersects with the florals cutting through them. Then in the base Mr. Voelkl introduces another modern innovation in raw materials Patchouli Prisma. This is a sort of reconstruction of patchouli after it has been fractionated via distillation. By combining a few of the fractions back together you get a patchouli which has been broken down as if it has been shined through a prism. The effect is to make the patchouli cooler which makes it a better partner for the Violettyne. In lumen_esce it provides a place for that violet leaf energy to ground itself. Over time the warmer facets of patchouli become more prominent as lumen_esce comes to an end on my skin.
Lumen_esce has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
So far all the Nomenclature releases have been great examples of the versatility of chemistry as it pertains to perfume. Lumen_esce shows the energy a straight-chain can add to a molecule.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I received from Nomenclature.
Whenever I was on a big sailboat there was always this exhilarating moment when the sails get trimmed correctly and it vibrates with the energy of the wind being transferred into thrust. There was this delicious tension as the wind and the engineering of the ship were in a precarious balance. This really would hit home when we would be running downwind with the breeze coming from behind the boat; billowing spinnaker full of air. This was when the spray shot up over the side. It also took the most concentration from the helmsman because with all of Mother Nature’s windy horsepower behind us it was like mashing the gas pedal to the floor. There is a scent to all of this as the sea spray and the canvas of the sails along with the smell of the fresh air that was unique. I have smelled a lot of aquatic fragrances over the years but the recently released Tommy Bahama Maritime captured this accord with an added twist.
Tommy Bahama Maritime was overseen by Parlux creative director Jennifer Mullarkey working with perfumer Frank Voelkl on his second release for the brand. The Tommy Bahama brand is meant to stand for fun and most of the fragrances released over the past ten years or so have been predictable variations on well-known perfume genres. For instance, the first fragrance M. Voelkl did was last year’s Island Life for Her which was as straight forward fruity floriental as it gets. Maritime is something different as it is an aquatic where the sense of the ocean is set up by accords in the top and base but in the heart, he presents a fabulous floral intermezzo.
M. Voelkl cleverly uses lavender as his core note for the top accord. He wants to make sure it displays its herbal nature and so it is tilted towards that by the inclusion of baie rose and clary sage. This forms that breathy exhilaration of being on the deck sails full. Then he adds one more note which represents the snap of those sails in the wind, red apple. This never rises to such a level that it becomes fruity instead it is a note which provides an orthogonal whip-crack across the herbal mixture of the other notes. Then as much as I like the top this evolves into a floral heart of geranium and jasmine made greener by violet leaves and waterier with water lily. This is so much better than the notes portend. The geranium and the violet leaves form one half of the effect while jasmine and waterlily provide the complement. Maritime picks up speed again as we round the mark into the base accord. Here M. Voelkl matches that smell of the sun-warmed wood of the deck with the canvas in the sails. Cedar, sandalwood, and a few white musks provide that. The final addition is an accord of sun-warmed skin from ambrette and some of the lower octave musks.
Maritime has 16-18 hour longevity and average sillage.
I think this might be the most original perfume Tommy Bahama has ever released. Even saying that it is still at heart firmly a member of the aquatic fougere family. What makes it stand out for me is the intelligent use of different ingredients by M. Voelkl to achieve some of the more familiar beats in this type of perfume. I know this is going to be one I take out for a sail again sooner rather than later.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Tommy Bahama.
It is something to watch as a clothing designer makes the, seemingly, inevitable entry into fragrance. There are now many variations which have seen success or failure. At this point the trajectory a brand takes as they explore a new sector tells you as much about their brand as to how serious they are about fragrance. The fashion brand Rag & Bone took the collection route as they released eight new perfumes.
Per co-founder and creative director Marcus Wainwright they wanted to start each perfume with a focal point note and then essentially accessorize them in a Rag & Bone style. What that means in terms of the perfumes is that seven of the eight have an ingredient on the bottle and it is paired with something else. Like all collections it is hit or miss. Perfumer Daphne Bugey does a nice turn on musk and bergamot in Bergamot. Perfumer Ilias Ermenidis does a quirky boozy gourmand oriental with rum, plum, tobacco and amber in Amber. Of course, contrarian that I am the one which I really fell for is the one with a name which doesn’t have a raw material in it; Oddity.
Look from Rag & Bone Spring/Summer 2017
Oddity is one of two done for this collection by perfumer Frank Voelkl; Rose is the other. I am speculating here but where the other seven fragrances do seem like variations on a theme much as the jeans which Rag & Bone are famous for; Oddity represents their runway shows. When Rag & Bone does their runway collection at Fashion Week Mr. Wainwright likes to do contemporary takes on classic British schoolboy uniforms. While there is an underlying coherence there is always a sense of asymmetry in the designs which gives them that outsider appeal. That same design aesthetic is apparent in the way Oddity develops under M. Voelkl’s hands. Each phase has something traditional made asymmetric by an orthogonal note.
M. Voelkl opens on a gentle breeze of cardamom which he intersects with Szechuan pepper. To make sure the spice has a bit of the upper hand here he also adds in angelica root. Which performs a neat juxtaposition as the cardamom starts on top only to be rapidly toppled by the pungency of the pepper. The spiciness continues as incense and leather arrive in the heart. This is a rougher leather and the incense complements it nicely. The orthogonal choice here is to use licorice underneath. This is the herbal throat lozenge version not the ones you eat at the movies. That herbal nature helps continue the connection that the pepper provided in the top. This all lands on a base of rich vetiver made even more so by amber. The amber also captures the spicy herbal nature of what has come prior. The final bit of contrast comes via the sweetness of vanilla.
Oddity has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I will say that the Rag & Bone collection, overall, is mostly well done and even the ones I wasn’t enchanted by are well executed. They are worth seeking out and trying. Oddity does prove one of my issues with receiving a big collection when there is one which I think is just on a different level it can leave the others feeling pale in comparison. That’s how much I liked Oddity.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Rag & Bone.