January is a cruel month for me as my mailbox fills up with all the new spring releases; most of them rose focused. Longtime readers will be familiar with this perennial complaint from me. There are other flowers that could be used. To which I usually hear my internal voice say, “Oh yeah smarty what’s your alternative?” Truth be told I just want something different, but I am not sure what it is until I encounter it. When I received my sample of Bvlgari Magnolia Sensuel I realized this could be one.
Last spring Bvlgari premiered their Splendida Collection focused on floral compositions. Those first three releases focused on rose (Rose Rose), jasmine (Jasmin Noir), and iris (Iris D’Or). They were nice but those are probably three of the most ubiquitous flowers in perfumery. There are not a lot of different themes to be explored. Magnolia Sensuel uses a flower not so common.
Magnolia is mostly used as a supporting floral. It is because it has a dual floral and citrus scent. It makes it an ideal note to underpin either of those qualities. Perfumer Jacques Cavallier uses a Chinese version of magnolia which really displays both splendidly.
M. Cavallier brackets the magnolia with citrus and jasmine as supporting notes in a reverse of the usual relationship of these three notes. The magnolia bursts out of the first moments with a freshness from the inherent tartness and the floral nature has an outward expansiveness more typical of synthetic ingredients. The mandarin gives a sweet citric interstitial note while the jasmine provides more of a base than I think the magnolia would have had without it. This is a fresh spring scent as the magnolia feels sunny and floral simultaneously. The base accord is musk with a hint of vanilla and patchouli.
Magnollia Sensuel has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Wearing Magnolia Sensuel weeks away from actual spring arriving; it makes me believe it is closer than it is. I don’t know if it is prohibitive to use magnolia in this concentration regularly but the next time I’m having an argument with myself over a spring alternative; Magnolia Sensuel is going to be the answer.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Bvlgari.
Bulgari Aqua Pour Homme is one of the best aquatic perfumes I own. Released in 2005 by perfumer Jacques Cavallier this was an attempt to add something more to the fresh and clean aquatic by adding something a little less so. With a heart of chamomile and seagrass there was something here that wasn’t so readily available in the other blue bottles in the department store. As it is their wont to do Bulgari had M. Cavallier spin out numerous flankers over the years. Some are recapitulations of the original formula with a note or two added. Those are uninspiring and have never matched the original. In the examples of 2008’s Aqua Pour Homme Marine and 2013’s Aqua Pour Homme Amara M. Cavallier could continue to evolve this particular vision of the aquatic genre. It was in the latter case where he added a warm base of patchouli and olibanum as foundation to the traditional citrus and sea spray. As I spent time with Amara I was wondering what it would be like if M. Cavallier married the heftier aquatic accord of the original with the warmth of the base in Amara. The new Bulgari Aqua Pour Homme Atlantique is my answer.
I’m not sure who writes the press copy but the idea of a perfume which will be “exploring the most powerful ocean in the world” makes me giggle a little more than this kind of press copy usually does. As one who spent a lot of time in a boat on the Atlantic it just doesn’t exactly fit. Especially because the perfume that goes with it is so brilliant in its citrus opening before heading into its warmth in the base.
M. Cavallier retains the lemon-focused opening but this is lemon instead of the petitgrain used in the original. It provides a sparkly quality to go on top of the oceanic aquatic accord in the heart. The first few minutes are this glimmering zestiness. Then ambrox acts as a stand-in for ambergris. It subtracts the brininess but streamlines the rest. Then in the base sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver, and benzoin form a warm and woody base accord. The sparkle of the early notes still twinkle like lens flares on the periphery of the base but this transitions to almost entirely woody by the end.
Aqua Pour Homme Atlantique has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Atlantique is my favorite of the flankers because it isn’t a straightforward flanker. It is instead more inspired by the original than something in a direct line. In this case that is a good thing because Atlantique can stand on its own.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample from Macy’s.
It has become so common for luxury brands to have a fragrance as part of their portfolio it is more surprising when one doesn’t. The luxury leather goods brand Louis Vuitton has taken their sweet time about entering the fragrance market. There have been a few fits and starts which never made it past the early development stage. Earlier this year it became apparent that Louis Vuitton had made their decision on how to make their entrance. They decided on a seven fragrance collection in the exclusive category. Initially available only in Louis Vuitton boutiques before slowly becoming more available.
When I received the collection I spent a lot of time with them on strips. The perfumer behind all of them was Jacques Cavallier. All of them are part of this current trend of simpler and lighter fragrances, presumably targeted at a younger fragrance buyer. Except I have never viewed Louis Vuitton as a place where that demographic shops. I was surprised that with seven fragrances there weren’t a couple that went for something bolder. None of them do. Even more confusing to me was leather was only a keynote in three out of the seven. When I imagine the fragrance which embodies Louis Vuitton lily of the valley or orange blossom don’t even come close to being on top of the list but Apogee and Contre Moi are limpid versions of those florals. Even when having the chance to take some luxurious ingredients like orris and rose in Rose des Vents or narcissus and oud in Matiere Noire they come off less opulent than they should. Which leaves the three leather fragrances; Turbulences pairs tuberose with it while Mille Feux is a typical osmanthus and leather mixture. The only one which actually gave me some feel of being a perfume which was a Louis Vuitton aesthetic was Dans La Peau.
Dans La Peau is no more complex than any of the other members of the collection. What enticed me to wear it for a couple of days was the very nice luxury leather accord M. Cavallier employed. This is what a leather goods store smells like. This is closer to what a Louis Vuitton fragrance should smell like.
Dans La Peau opens with the leather accord right there as if you have entered an LV boutique and breathed deep. M. Cavallier then uses three florals to nice effect as complements to the leather. First a very light narcissus adds a bit of floral astringency. Magnolia adds a bit of creamy floralcy. Jasmine is the main floral in Dans La Peau. M. Cavallier combines two sources from Grasse and China. Both are jasmine scrubbed mostly free of indoles. There are some and they make sure never to get too obstreperous. I wanted more tension between the jasmine and leather instead of the generally genial way they are in Dans La Peau. It finishes with a suite of musks but again the safer less animalic synthetics which confirmed that I wanted more of that, too,
Dans La Peau has 8-10 hours longevity and average sillage.
As the perfume brands look to be more enticing to a younger fragrance audience it seems like simple and light are the current choices. The entire Louis Vuitton collection hews to that. In a luxury market which has thrived on fragrances which carry something exclusive along with their brand I wonder how these Louis Vuitton fragrances will fare. Luxe is in flux and Louis Vuitton has placed a wager on simple and light.
Disclosure: this review was based on samples provided by Louis Vuitton.
When I first discovered the discount fragrance collection at my local TJ Maxx it was like my own personal treasure hunt. If it only cost $9.99 it wasn’t much of a risk to buy one and see what I thought. Most of the time I would understand why it ended up at the discounters. The fun of the whole process was finding the ones which fell through the cracks. One rule of thumb I had was if it was in every discount bin it was probably not that good. Which is why it took me quite a while to finally buy a bargain bottle of Versace Blue Jeans.
In 1989 the fashion brand Versace wanted to really make a mark in fragrance. Since then Versace has consistently released a few perfumes every year. Versace is one of those brands which has staked out the department store sector as where their fragrance customer is found. It has been a successful enterprise over time but those early years were a bit bumpy as Versace was searching for their perfume style. In 1994 they really pushed all in with a pair of massive new releases Blue Jeans for men and Red Jeans for women. These were everywhere that holiday season and they never really caught on. Which then saw them slowly make the descent to the discount bins. They had produced so much of it that it was everywhere. When I finally purchased my bottle I found a fresh Oriental which was quirkily interesting.
The perfumer behind Blue Jeans was Jacques Cavallier fresh off of his L’Eau D’Issey success. With Blue Jeans it was like he was attempting to graft some of that fresh onto an Oriental foundation. It ends up coming off like a perfumed mash-up of a top 40 pop song and a baroque string quartet.
Blue Jeans starts with that populist aesthetic right away. M. Cavallier uses grapefruit, geranium, and juniper berry to provide that fresh opening accord. Iris, lavender, and violet tint the heart a shade of purple. Nutmeg provides a nice contrast. The base is all woody Oriental as cedar, sandalwood, vetiver, and amber all take their proscribed places within a very recognizable base.
Blue Jeans has 10-12 hour longevity and way above average sillage. This is one you only need a spray or two of.
The Versace aesthetic would come alive with the release of 1996’s The Dreamer. Blue Jeans is that interesting signpost pointing to better days to come. It is still one of those fragrances I turn to for hot days followed by cooler nights.
Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle I purchased.
For all of the series I have on Colognoisseur there is a long list of potential subjects which I choose from when I am ready to write a new entry. For the series called Dead Letter Office which is about discontinued perfumes which I think are incredible pieces of olfactory art I recently noticed an interesting thing. When I started the blog in February of 2014 I made up a list of discontinued perfumes and the perfumer for each. When I look over the list of about thirty there is one perfumer who is responsible for five of the entries. All of them were released from 1998-2004. All of them were composed by perfumer Jacques Cavallier who I now dub the Postmaster General of the Dead Letter Office.
Those five perfumes are Issey Miyake Le Feu D’Issey, Yves St. Laurent Nu, Yves St. Laurent M7 (co-created with Alberto Morillas), Alexander McQueen Kingdom, and Boucheron Trouble. If there is any similarity between the perfumes it is that they failed for being out of step with the prevailing perfume trends at the time of “fresh and clean” or fruity floral. None of these followed those trends and thus the marketplace rejected them to eventually be discontinued. If you think M. Cavallier himself was out of step that also isn’t the case as he is the perfumer behind Issey Miyake L’Eau D’Issey which could be said to be the standard bearer for “fresh and clean”.
The reason M. Cavallier is associated with these discontinued perfumes is because the Creative Directors for each of them was willing to take a big risk. These are all perfumes which flew in the face of the market forces attempting to shift the trends onto something different. Those two visionary Creative Directors were Chantal Roos and Tom Ford who are responsible, in part or together, for the creative direction of all five. If there is anything I repeat over and over is I want a brand to take a chance on breaking away from convention; these perfumes do that.
M. Cavallier has provided truly unique aspects to each. The raw coconut milk accord of Le Feu D’Issey. The cumin based human musk of Alexander McQueen Kingdom. The fantastic green cardamom of YSL Nu. The contrast from lemon meringue to wood infused vanilla in Boucheron Trouble. Finally, most famously, the first prominent use of oud in western perfumery in YSL M7.
This is the soul of creativity and what turns a perfume from fragrance to olfactory art. That M. Cavallier can seamlessly create mega-hits like L’Eau D’Issey and any of these five perfumes mentioned above shows how talented he is. Even if he does spend an inordinate amount of time in the Dead Letter Office.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of all of the fragrances which I purchased.
One of the most cutting edge fashion designers of the last fifty years was Alexander McQueen. His was a life of vibrant imagery crossed with internal demons which would lead to him taking his own life in 2010 at the age of 40. Like many who have their brilliance tempered with something entirely the opposite it leaves behind a glittering trail like a shooting star across the sky.
Mr. McQueen by 2003 at the age of 34 had been named British Designer of the Year four times. Like all designers with that much success it was time to branch out into other areas. Of course one of those areas was fragrance. The first perfume was released in 2003, Alexander McQueen Kingdom. Of the many designers who release their first signature perfume Kingdom might have been the most emblematic of the fashion that the name on the bottle portended it to be.
Mr. McQueen would team up with Chantal Roos, as Creative Directors, to perfumer Jacques Cavallier for Kingdom. Mr. McQueen was known for going for the dramatic on his catwalk shows. Kingdom was going to do the same. M. Cavallier while producing many mainstream fragrances was also having a creative streak with lots of different fashion designer brands. I think most of those fragrances in the latter category are part of the most impressively creative collection by a single perfumer. That most of them will be subjects of this series tell you they really were for only a precious few. Kingdom was no different M. Cavallier was creating a perfume that was meant to shock and the note he was going to use to shock and awe was cumin.
By the time I got my opportunity to try Kingdom that cumin note was all anyone was talking about. Remember in 2003 the predominant perfume aesthetic was the fresh and clean. Cumin was not fresh and clean it was filthy dirty. When I was talking about it with a couple of other perfume lovers they told me it was disgusting that it smelled like, as they lowered their voices, “a vagina”. This became a pervasive label for Kingdom and it is at least partially responsible for its demise. It was out of step with the current trends and the whisper campaign did it no favors.
I love cumin in perfume and one of my most favorite Ditpyques, L’Autre, was loaded with cumin. It was also one of the perfumes I had to be careful to choose my moments on when to wear it. Hearing Kingdom was similar had me smiling in anticipation. So imagine my surprise when I finally get a bottle that the first thing I smell is orange. M. Cavallier takes bergamot, neroli, orange blossom, and mandarin to create this gauzily beautiful citrus opening. It is gorgeous and it is shredded in the next phase as a spicy rose and indolic jasmine form the layers that the cumin would perch between. the indolic jasmine was the perfect floral to go with the cumin to form a deeply human accord. The rose is not as prevalent as you might think as it creeps in and out with a waxing and waning effect. This all finishes on a base of Copahu balm, sandalwood and myrrh. After the heart this serves to soothe the nerves set jangling with the confrontational heart.
Kingdom has 12-14 hour longevity in the EDP concentration and above average sillage.
This is one of my most cherished bottles because I think the entire creative team achieved the perfume they wanted to make. That they had the fortitude to release it into a world which, at the time, was not ready for it was also impressive. I end many of these by saying if it was released today it would find its audience. Not in this case. Kingdom was a unique evocation of a particular designer’s aesthetic written in bold olfactory strokes. This was never going to be a commercial success. It is a spectacular piece of olfactory art that I have continued to enjoy for many years now.
Disclosure: this review was based on a bottle I purchased.
I chose Davidoff Cool Water as a Discount Diamond a couple months ago and I mentioned that it was the perfume which launched a thousand aquatic fragrances on to the market. Reading between the lines you can add the subtext “and most of them were bad”. But not all of them. 1995’s Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme took some of the concepts of the aquatic class and added in some unique beats to make it one of the few to stand out as successfully different.
Jacques Cavallier was part of the original group of perfumers who took the concepts of the aquatic and expanded it in the mid 1990’s. He was responsible for L’Eau D’Issey and L’Eau D’Issey pour Homme and was part of the creative team on Armani Acqua di Gio pour Homme. All of these were examples of the best aquatic fragrances on the shelf. By 2005 when he was commissioned to do Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme he wanted to try something different. His choice was to take two raw materials created especially to evoke water and make them the centerpiece of Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme.
M. Cavallier starts in well-trodden territory with citrus on top. Mandarin and petitgrain add a lip pursing tartness to the top notes. Then we get to the two unique raw materials in the heart Santolina and Posidonia. Santolina is more commonly known as cotton lavender and it has a lavender aspect crossed with a strong syrupy quality. Posidonia is simply the smell of drying seaweed after the ocean has receded leaving it behind on the beach. It has an ozonic watery quality on top of the vegetal note. Smelling either of these by themselves you would be hard pressed to believe these could be the centerpiece of a perfume. That is M. Cavallier’s skill as he takes these two notes and balances them so the lavender, the ozonic notes and a bit of the seaweed aspects form a fascinating seaside accord. It feels more realistic than the previous aquatics which wanted to clean up the ocean. Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme gives it all to you right down to the seaweed. The final phase is also quite interesting as M. Cavallier takes a soft amber and adds clary sage. Clary sage is usually further up the pyramid but in Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme it almost seems like it is what the seaweed evolves into. The amber adds a subtle warmth to the base notes.
Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme has 6-8 hours of longevity and average sillage.
M. Cavallier took a chance by using notes which weren’t widely used in the aquatic fragrance family and fashioned something wonderfully unique. It is one of the few aquatics I think is worth owning. If you want to own it it is found on most of the discount websites for less than $40 for 100mL.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle of Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme I purchased.
There are a number of fragrances which have been released and had a very short shelf life, for a variety of reasons. In the Dead Letter Office I want to take a look at these perfumes which are alternatively called “ahead of their time” or “colossal failure”. The reality is often found somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. What I can confidently say is that the perfumes I will profile in this series did not play it safe. In their daring they sometimes paved the way for better executed fragrances years later. Sometimes it was just proof there are some ideas which never should’ve been unleashed on the public. 1998’s Le Feu D’Issey is a fragrance which has been described as both ahead of its time and a colossal failure.
In 1998 perfumer Jacques Cavallier was riding a wave of spectacular success especially with the two fragrances which defined Issey Miyake as a fragrance house; L’Eau D’Issey and L’Eau D’Issey pour Homme. Those two fragrances are still big sellers to the present day. He would design the third fragrance, Le Feu D’Issey, to be completely different to the aquatic pair he previously created. In that desire to be different M. Cavallier probably went a little too far especially as the pendulum was starting its swing firmly towards the “fresh and clean” era of fragrance. M. Cavallier had made a safe Woody Oriental in 1995 with YSL Opium pour Homme. As he sat down to compose Le Feu D’Issey he clearly wanted to make a new version within this style.
Le Feu D’Issey challenges right from the first moment as M. Cavallier creates a raw coconut milk accord. If you’ve ever been offered a coconut fresh off the tree, opened so you can drink the coconut water within, that is what the early phase of Le Feu D’Issey smells like. It carries a pungency which some have described as “rancid”. I don’t agree with that; it has a watery quality which also carries some of the husk of the coconut as well as the white meat. This right here is where Le Feu D’Issey probably went wrong as a commercial enterprise. I can imagine them handing out strips of this to passers-by and having them grimace and move on. That’s where they make a mistake because in the heart the next risk M. Cavallier takes actually works amazingly as he takes a milk accord and pairs it with jasmine. If the coconut water accord was off-putting the jasmine milk accord draws me in and fascinates me. This is the richness of whole milk which allows all the sweetness of jasmine to float on top like a floral crème. The base is pretty normal as a woody mix of sandalwood, cedar, and gaiac grounds this in safe territory at the end.
Le Feu D’Issey has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
When I wear Le Feu D’Issey I always find it to be a significantly different experience each time. I’m not talking about slight differences but phases which seem to come off very different and often not for the better. Especially the opening. There are times it is right on the verge of unwearable but once that heart accord comes together it is all of a sudden something special. As to how to classify it? I would call it a noble experiment. In the last few years we have seen the milk accord used to great effect in Jean-Claude Ellena’s Hermessence Santal Massoia and by Christine Nagel in Jo Malone Sweet Milk. So far the coconut water accord has not yet found the right fragrance for it to be featured in again. Le Feu D’Issey has found itself consigned to the Dead Letter Office for being too different at the wrong time.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle of Le Feu D’Issey I purchased.