The fin de siècle of the past century was a time of transition in perfume, too. As the 1990’s gave way to the 2000’s the rise of niche and independent perfumery was shaking things up. If you look at the period just prior to this, you begin to see the elements we might take for granted twenty years later. At that time, they were riskier attempts to create something different for an audience that might not have existed with no internet to provide word-of-mouth. Many of the people who have become the standard bearers released some amazing perfumes which deserve to be known now when the concepts they represent have a receptive audience. This month in Under the Radar I introduce you to Mark Birley for Men.
Frederic Malle is much of the reason I write about the perfumers behind the fragrances. Prior to him putting their names on the bottles in his Editions de Parfum Frederic Malle brand they were ghosts. Now they are known personalities. M. Malle transitioned into creative direction after working at Roure Bertrand Dupont. He would collaborate with perfumer Pierre Bourdon on Mark Birley for Men. M. Bourdon was the unsung creative behind classics such as Creed Green Irish Tweed, Yves St. Laurent Kouros, and (in collaboration with Christopher Sheldrake) Shiseido Feminite du Bois. These two would create perfume which redefined masculine trends going for sophistication over the prevailing fresh and clean.
Mark Birley was a British proprietor of multiple members-only nightclubs throughout the 1960’s and 70’s. His was a name which conjured velvet rope elegance. When he put his name on a perfume that sense of private club sophistication was exemplified by not hewing to the popular trends. Messrs. Malle and Bourdon chose to subvert them instead.
The perfume opens with a very typical lemon top note. A sunny lens flare which is tamped down with subtle applications of pineapple and melon. The melon gives a smirking call back to the Calone used in M. Bourdon’s aquatics. The pineapple makes the lemon acerbic instead of tart. This falls into a floral heart accord of violet and iris. More violet than iris although a detectable powderiness does arise. Carrot seed provides a rooty sweetness in complement to the iris. The base eschews the sweetness working for a desiccated woodiness via sandalwood, vetiver, and patchouli overlaid with sharp silvery incense and green woody cedar.
Mark Birley for Men has 6-8 hour longevity and average silage.
The seeds of Frederic Malle’s brand were probably planted with Mark Birley for Men. M. Bourdon had the freedom to show off. Together Pierre and Frederic made an excellent perfume which deserves to be lifted from Under the Radar.
Disclosure: This review based on a bottle I purchased.
There are times when I approach a new perfume with a lot of concerns. Sometimes it is the perfumer. Sometimes it is an ingredient. Sometimes it is an inconsistent brand. It isn’t often all three but Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Music For A While checks off all of them.
Over the past few years Editions de Parfums has become maddeningly inconsistent for me. This is a brand I think of as one of the pillars of all that I think is important in niche perfume. Many of those things innovated by M. Malle. Yet over the previous six perfumes I’ve found three of them to be forgettable. One of those was Eau de Magnolia which leads to the second cautionary expectation. Perfumer Carlos Benaim was responsible for Eau de Magnolia and was in charge for Music For A While. The third was the listing of pineapple as an ingredient. It seems like ever since pineapple became a thing it has popped up in mostly boring perfumes. All of this together, of course, means Music For a While turned out to be a charming perfume.
Music For A While is a composition in two movements. The pineapple leads the first one while a sweetened patchouli concludes this. M. Benaim makes some interesting choices throughout which was what engaged me on the days I wore it.
The pineapple is there from the first moments. It is a very juicy version almost closer to pineapple juice than the fruit. There are some hints of the green part of the fruit but there is more sweet than tart here. For the first few minutes I wasn’t very interested. Then some gorgeous lavender pushes back against the sweet with a fougere-like intensity. Once they reach an equilibrium it is the partner I never knew I wanted with pineapple. After some time, patchouli begins the second part of the development. This is a medium-weight patchouli which allows for vanilla to provide a rounding effect. It makes for a complementary style to the pineapple and lavender accord. As this all comes together these four notes from an unexpectedly warm final effect.
Music For A While has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I know I’ll be reaching for this as spring gets more of a foothold. I overcame my trepidation to allow for Music For A While to provide a pineapple crush which might be my favorite perfume featuring the note.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle.
It was a few years ago when Mrs. C and I were having dinner in an Asian-themed restaurant. A couple of tables away were two parents who had a very active young boy with them. He was having trouble staying seated, silverware was hitting the floor, and he was loudly babbling nonsense words. It all culminated in him taking the silver topper off a rice bowl and pitching it like a frisbee. It ended up at my feet. I picked up the object to hand back to the father. The son had followed him over and was peeking at me from behind his dad. There was such an air of innocent mischievousness it was hard not to smile. This is that fine line that young children straddle between obnoxious and precocious. They probably oscillate back and forth every day. The latest release from Editions de Parfums Sale Gosse tries to find that balance in a perfume inspired by this.
Sale Gosse translates to “dirty brat”. It is the first niche composition by Dominique Ropion protégé Fanny Bal. Mme Bal has been a name I’ve heard about as another of the young next generation of perfumers. This is the first opportunity I’ve had to try a perfume she has had the responsibility for composing. M. Malle asked his perfumer to create an eau de cologne which represents childhood. Mme Bal took this brief and created a combination of the classic cologne recipe and candy. Depending on your tolerance for either, especially the latter, will decide your impression of Sale Gosse.
Mme Bal probably produced the traditional eau de cologne recipe hundreds of time during her training at ISIPCA. She takes those ingredients; petitgrain, bergamot, neroli and rosemary producing the typical top half of a classic eau de cologne. Repetition makes for a lively version where it seems the petitgrain and rosemary are dosed a bit higher than in the tradition eau de cologne. It is the back half of Salle Gosse where Mme Bal shows her ability to move in new directions. The note list is Malabar and violet candies. For those who are not European, Malabar is the European version of Bazooka Joe bubble gum. Candied violets have been a staple of niche perfumery for many years. It is the Malabar accord which is exciting to experience. Bubble gum has a kind of odd sweetness and there is a powder which also covers each piece. It provides an attenuated type of candy accord. The violet is much more pronounced in its sweetness as I can almost feel the crystallinity of the sugar coating them. When it comes together it forms a different accord for me. There is a violet flavored chewing gum called C. Howard’s which was sold in my local drugstore as a kid. The latter phases of Sale Gosse are a dead ringer for that.
Sale Gosse has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage
If there was anyone wondering if being purchased by a big conglomerate would change Editions de Parfums; Sale Gosse is proof that it hasn’t. Particularly the candy accords show Mme Bal is another of the young perfumers to keep an eye on. Sale Gosse turns out not to be a dirty brat but a beatific devil of a perfume finding the right balance between precocious and obnoxious.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Editions de Parfums.
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.
Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle can be attributed to bringing the perfumers out from behind the curtain. Not only did it expose them to the light of day it shone a spotlight on all of the ones who have their name listed on a bottle. It is an exclusive club for which the perfumers are given a lot of latitude in designing their creations. That latitude can result in perfumes which can be very polarizing. There have been a few of the more recent releases which have not grabbed me right away. Over time I return to them and, usually with someone who really likes them, get a second chance to find something I had previously missed. I’ve had my sample of the most recent release, Monsieur, for a few weeks. It is another one which is not drawing me in, yet I believe there might be more here than I might be giving it credit for.
Monsieur is the twenty-fourth release from the brand and it is the second composed by perfumer Bruno Jovanovic. Monsieur is meant to be a companion to 2010’s Portrait of a Lady, composed by Dominique Roipion. Portrait of a Lady is one of those previous releases I was speaking about as I’ve spent the last five years running hot and cold in my emotions about it. Portrait of a Lady is a bone dry version of rose and patchouli. It is that very aridness which makes it difficult for me to wholeheartedly love it. I admire the construction but it seems standoffish. Monsieur goes the other way with an overdose of a molecular distillation of patchouli. By going almost to the other extreme I am having the same difficulty in embracing it although Monsieur is more like someone who is standing too close while my back is against a wall.
Monsieur opens with the juicy citrus of tangerine lightly combined with rum. The rum is not truly boozy as it is contrast for the citrus. Then the patchouli lands with a huge presence. According to the press materials the patchouli is over 50 % of the oil. If this was straight patchouli this would have been that dirty hippie smell so commonly associated with patchouli. The fraction M. Jovanovic chose is that child of the 60’s given some refinement. This fraction has a much reduced earthy quality while I found the herbal and spicy facets to be more pronounced. The fraction also sometimes has a bit of a leathery quality which I kept noticing from time to time. It never persists and it might just be my imagination but every time I started wearing and sniffing Monsieur I would have a moment where I encountered a very transparent leather. M. Jovanovic takes the patchouli fraction and frames it with a very clean cedar. After a long time, amber and vanilla provide a cozy sweet warmth.
Monsieur has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
If Portrait of a Lady is so mannered that it leaves me wanting more; Monsieur gives me too much making me want to push it away. The overdose of the patchouli fraction does this no favors. I wonder if instead of overdose; a balance was sought if I would have liked Monsieur better. What is here is going to appeal to those who wanted something different than Portrait of a Lady. It is also going to appeal to those who really love patchouli. I am not either of those people.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample I purchased.
When I look back over a perfumer’s career I look for those years when their creativity comes into full bloom. If pressed to pick the time period where perfumer Olivia Giacobetti reached that level, I would say that 1999-2001 was the moment when she was finding her first peak as a perfumer. Over ten fragrances in that time period she made some of her most memorable perfumes including Editions de Parums Frederic Malle En Passant, L’Artisan Passage D’Enfer, and Hermes Hiris. The one which got lost in this period of creativity was a collaboration with famed French interior designer Andree Putman.
Andree Putman (Photo: Nour El Gammal)
Mme Putman came to her vocation at the age of 46 when she founded Createurs & Industriels where she was free to indulge her desire to “design beautiful things”. She also provided an incubator space for designers among whom were Issey Miyake, Claude Montana, and Thierry Mugler. The idealism of Createurs & Industriels would go bankrupt and she would turn to the world of interior design. When she was commissioned to do the interior of the Morgans Hotel in New York City it would spark a career which would see her design museums, boutiques, government office buildings, and other hotels. One of her last commissions was to revamp the interior of the Guerlain flagship store on the Champs-Elysees in 2005. In 1997 she opened the Andree Putman Studio and branched out into all areas of design including fragrance in 2001.
During this time period Mme Putman was doing a lot of one-of-a-kind design like asymmetric flatware for Christofle or a champagne bucket for Veuve Clicquot. When it came to fragrance she turned to Frederic Malle to help advise her on the creative direction and employed Mme Giacobetti to bring their vision to life. What they came up with was an asymmetrical response to the aquatic wave cresting in fragrance at that time. Mme Giacobetti composes one of her most ethereal perfumes which carries a fragile beauty. The perfume was called Preparation Parfumee Andree Putman when it was released. It was gone from shelves in 2013 and I thought it was going to be an entry in the Dead Letter Office. Last March I discovered it was returning, renamed as Preparation Parfumee Andree Putman L’Original, as part of a collection which included six other new releases.
L’Original opens on a fascinating duet of pepper and damp wood. Most often pepper has a nose-tickling presence. Mme Giacobetti uses it to breathe life into her damp wood accord. If you spend any time in a rainforest you know that Nature adds its own form of spiciness to the trees in the wild. The pepper is used to make the top accord feel as if it is photorealistically accurate. The heart is a transition note of waterlily where the green qualities of the floral float through a mist of water. This is the riposte to the Calone-heavy aquatics as Mme Gicobetti makes an aquatic that is meditative instead of disruptive. The base is the opposite of the top as a bleached out driftwood accord is displayed paired with cilantro for a unique green contrast. The driftwood accord is a triumph of delicacy as again something which can be so strident is instead turned into something which requires you to lean in to get the full impression. The cilantro is such an outre green note yet it conjures up the grass growing in the dunes as the sea breeze blows through it.
L’Original has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
L’Original is a masterpiece of construction by a perfumer in her prime. Every note has a function and a place in creating a fabulous perfume. I had thought this lost but now it has been found again. If you love the architecture of perfume do not allow L’Original to not be on your radar screen.
Disclosure: This review based on a bottle of the 2001 release I purchased and a sample of the 2015 re-issue I received from Andree Putman.
Ever since oud was introduced to the west a little over fifteen years ago it has become one of the most used ingredients in perfumery over that time. Especially over the last five years there has been a virtual wave of oud perfumes. The funny thing is most people who have worn those perfumes have never smelled the real thing. Most often it is either one of the synthetic ouds or cypriol/nagarmotha as a substitute in those perfumes. The real oud is so expensive to source, and create, the real stuff is difficult to find. I have spent a lot of time over the past few years buying direct from Asian sources to acquire a little of the real thing. Real oud is one of the most fascinating substances a perfumer can use. What region it comes from, how old the tree being harvested is, how long the oil has aged, all have an effect on its profile. For those of you who want to try real oud the opportunity has arrived with the release of the new Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle The Night by perfumer Dominique Ropion.
The Night is purported to contain an “unprecedented” amount of oud from India. M. Ropion only adds in two other notes, Turkish rose and amber. From the moment I opened my sample there was no doubt in my mind this was indeed real oud. When I, and others, write about oud we remark on it with unflattering adjectives like medicinal, band-aid-y, cheesy, dirty gym socks. Those don’t inspire one to want to put something like that on their body. The funny thing it is the combination of all of those derogatory aspects which make real oud so much fun to wear. I would also be the first to admit that it is an acquired taste. If you let the more confrontational character of oud push you away you will miss something sublime. In The Night M. Ropion clearly understands this and so keeps the perfume simple.
When I put The Night on for at least two hours it is nothing but the Indian oud. It smells like any of the oud oils I own. Indian oud tends to tilt towards the dirty bandage side of the oud spectrum. There is also a bit of cheese here too but it predominantly is the medicinal oud on display. These first two hours you might feel like this perfume is wearing you instead of the other way around. Because I knew what was coming I had a chance to mentally brace myself for the onslaught. There was still a bit of struggle but this Indian oud is an excellent choice to use because it really does display the quirky nature of pure oud. When the Turkish rose does finally make an appearance hours after first application it probably takes another couple of hours for it to even begin to make an impression with the oud. Once it does happen you can really appreciate why rose has been the historical yin to oud’s yang. The Turkish rose used here has an enhanced spicy core and it is that which allows it to gain some traction. The rose feels like it is the chaperone in bringing real oud to a western audience. Amber is used as an opaque shimmer of finishing but The Night is all about the oud and then the rose and the oud.
The Night has ridiculous longevity of over 24 hours. It also has significant sillage. This is a perfume to wear and appreciate around others who enjoy fragrance.
The Night is going to cause a lot of commotion once it makes its way to the usual Editions de Parfums stockists next year. There are many who are going to learn what they always thought was oud was something else. I kept hearing Mick Jagger singing the opening line of “Sympathy for the Devil” imagining these reactions. The ones who persevere will be rewarded with an experience of oud unlike anything they have tried before.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I purchased.
It happens to me a couple times a year there is a fragrance I have consigned to the “not going to review” pile because I am not fond of it. Then some of the perfumed voices I respect all start lauding it making me give it a second, or third, chance. The new Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Eau de Magnolia is one of these examples.
Eau de Magnolia from Frédéric Malle on Vimeo.
Based on the press release and the personnel I expected to be if not enchanted then at least interested in it. In the press release Creative Director Frederic Malle and perfumer Carlos Benaim talked about wanting to take the magnolia candle Jurassic Flower M. Benaim did for the line and turn it into a cologne/chypre hybrid. They literally talk about it in the video above. In the press materials there is also a section on how they used headspace technology to capture the magnolia raw material to be used in Eau de Magnolia. Headspace technology is, in a very simplified explanation, encasing the living bloom in an airtight container and while blowing an inert gas over the flower to release the aroma the container itself is cooled so that it will condense and be collected. It is a painstaking process which has produced some spectacular versions especially of floral raw materials. All of this was prelude to my receiving my sample a couple months ago, my expectations were high perhaps they were too high. Upon first sniff on a strip I got hit with a very spiky lemon containing none of the green and indolic nuances I associate with magnolia. I also got a way too green vetiver overwhelming any delicacy that was present. For the next few nights I kept spraying a strip and a bit of skin trying to find something I was missing. Finally I conceded this was the first Frederic Malle fragrance that just didn’t work for me.
Over the last few weeks I have been surprised to see how different my experience has been to other reviewers. Many of the most respected reviewers I know have raved over it and they certainly have given me more to think about. I read enough of this that I ordered another sample of Eau de Magnolia just on the possibility that my sample was off. I so wanted to like this that when I received the new sample I think I was almost chanting to myself as I pulled it out, “please be different”. Alas the juice that was in the purchased sample was identical to the review sample. I still had problems with it.
On my skin and to my nose the magnolia still seems sharp and it never seems to display the softer character that the more recent Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine captured so perfectly. Eau de Magnolia somehow takes the headspace magnolia and neuters it. Worse by using fractionated patchouli and vetiver coupled with cedar all of the raw materials seem like they are missing some of their vitality. Even the oak moss in the base meant to turn this chypre-like seems as if it has been wilted in the summer sun.
Eau de Magnolia has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
It wouldn’t be unheard of for me to eventually come around to appreciating Eau de Magnolia. It took me quite a few years to overcome the too-realistic Coty lipstick in a leather purse vibe of Lipstick Rose. For right now Eau de Magnolia feels like a perfume which has conformed instead of inspired.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle and one purchased from Surrender to Chance.
When I speak with Michael Edwards on the beginning of niche perfumery he can accurately names L’Artisan Parfumeur in 1978 and Annick Goutal in 1980 as the first niche lines. When I think of when niche perfumery really managed to breakthrough I go back to 2000 when Frederic Malle released the first nine perfumes in his Editions de Parfums brand. These were the first perfumes to feature the name of the perfumer on the bottle. It really was the beginning of my starting to take a stronger interest in the people behind the perfume. Over the last fourteen years and 21 total releases I can say that this is one of the strongest collections of fragrances on the market. There is not a mediocre one in the whole group. A particular style might not be to your taste but the quality and creativity is always prominently displayed. This is one of the best places for anyone interested in niche perfume to start and here are the five I would suggest you begin with.
There are a plethora of citrus colognes but Jean-Claude Ellena’s Bigarade Concentree is one that stands way above the fray. There is fantastic bitter orange (bigarade) surrounded by the most gentle aldehydes. The heart is rose, cardamom, and a bit of textural pepper to coax the spiciness from the rose. It finishes with a golden hay note over cedar. This fragrance re-invigorated my interest in citrus fragrances all by itself.
Lys Mediterranee by Edouard Flechier is one of the most luminous perfumes I own. M. Flechier weaves three sources of lily raw materials to render a larger-than-life composite as the core of this fragrance. He adds orange blossom, angelica, and musk as the perfect complements to the uber-lily. If you want lily in your fragrance here is one of the best.
Musc Ravageur by Maurice Roucel has a bit of a rakish reputation as a lady-killer if you believe the stories told on the perfume forums. That has died down over time and now what remains is a fantastic ambery musk by one of the great perfumers working. Starting with a flare of tangerine and lavender which are spiced up wiith clove and cinnamon we reach the base notes which form the ambery musky accord. I was well married by the time I found this but it is one of the few fragrances I wear which generates unsolicited compliments, so maybe its reputation is deserved.
For so many years the baseline tuberose perfume was Robert Piguet’s Fracas and nothing came close until Dominique Ropion’s Carnal Flower. M. Ropion chooses an eclectic company of complementary and contrasting notes for the tuberose. He uses eucalyptus to accentuate the mentholated quality a the heart of the flower. He adds coconut to provide an oily sweet contrast. A few other white flowers join in to create the other great tuberose fragrance.
Pierre Bourdon showed that he was more than the perfumer who created Cool Water when he made French Lover (aka Bois D’Orage). When I smelled this when it was released in 2007 it felt like a more sophisticated version of my old staple Calvin Klein Obsession for Men. It doesn’t smell anything like it but it was the one fragrance I continually chose over it once it was in my perfume cabinet. M. Bourdon uses the rich spiciness of pimento to lead into a finely balanced heart of iris and galbanum. It is a greener floral because of the presence of the galbanum and it keeps the iris from getting powdery. A musk and vetiver base finish this off. If I was still prowling the night looking for a connection French Lover would be one of my choices.
As I mentioned above the entire Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle line is consistently excellent. So start here but do yourself a favor and keep on going through the whole line it is a magical ride.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.