Under the Radar: Etro Messe de Minuit- Autumn Incense

One of my favorite ingredients in perfumery is incense. I’ve never done the formal analysis, but it is my suspicion that there are more incense fragrances in the Colognoisseur Collection than any other. It is such a favorite that I have difficulty putting them away for the summer. Fall is here and now I start looking for some incense choices for the cooler days. It is such a popular ingredient that all major designers have an entry. For this entry of Under the Radar I wanted to choose one from a lesser known designer and fragrance brand; Etro Messe de Minuit.

Etro is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2018. It started as a textile printing company. Their iconic paisley designs began here. Etro has managed to continue to find new ways to innovate that paisley throughout its line. Etro is unusual that it came to fragrance before fashion. The first perfumes were released in 1989 seven years before the first runway show. With few exceptions the Etro perfumes have been designed by perfumer Jacques Flori. Particularly the early entries from 1989-1999 form a beautifully coherent collection. Messe de Minuit falls right in the middle of this run.

Jacques Flori

Messe de Minuit translates to Midnight Mass. You might think church-style incense and that isn’t quite descriptive enough. Although the first half of the development does carry an indelible Christmas vibe. It is the back half where M. Flori softens some of the sharper edges of the incense via the use of some different resins.

The top accord is like one of those warm holiday punch bowls where citrus fruits and cinnamon rise in steamy waves off the surface. The cinnamon provides the metaphorical heat to the lemon and orange. The incense imposes itself upon the festivities. In the early moments the incense carries a hint of metallic shimmer. M. Flori uses myrrh as a warming resinous complement. They absorb the spices to form a delightfully deep incense accord. Labdanum and patchouli provide a different style of warmth which harmonizes with the incense over the final hours.

Messe de Minuit has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Etro is not easily found in stores. I rarely see it anymore. It can be more easily found online. It is worth seeking out and ordering a sample set, especially the early releases. The entire line is under the radar but starting with Messe de Minuit you should consider putting it on yours.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Xerjoff 101- Five to Get You Started

The ultra-luxe sector of perfume really came into being in the early years of the 2000’s. Brands with high price tags were usually comprised of artistic bottles and high-quality raw materials. When I was first considering whether consumers would see perfume as being this kind of commodity I concurrently wondered which of these brands would last for ten years. The answer is that there are consumers who gravitate to this kind of ultimate fragrant luxury. There are also some which have lasted for over ten years. One of them is Xerjoff.

Sergio Momo

It was early in my blogging efforts that I was sent a sample set. I thought the early fragrances were elegant simplicity. Owner and creative director Sergio Momo had his best success in the early collection with simple floral-focused constructs. Working with perfumer Jacques Flori for much of the collection it is only in recent years that the brand has begun using other perfumers. Throughout Sig. Momo has had a clear vision for his brand and it has not wavered for more than ten years, now. If you are looking for some suggestions about where to start here are five good entry points to Xerjoff.

When the first three fragrances were released there was Elle, Homme, and the shared XXY. The first two were a little too overstuffed and the best parts of each of Elle and Homme could get lost in the traffic.

XXY was different and for the most part provided the template for which Sig. Momo would use to build his brand going forward. XXY was at the time what I felt was a gold-plated fruity floral. M. Flori used grapefruit and peach as the fruit to contrast with powdery iris, unctuous ylang-ylang, and indolic jasmine. A lush sandalwood, patchouli, and vetiver base complete the perfume.

When the follow-up perfumes showed up a couple years later Irisss was the standout. As you can impute from the name it is an iris soliflore. Except it is a crazy good iris at the heart as M. Flori uses iris butter. This source really keeps the powder at bay while bringing forth the earthiness of the root that iris, as a raw ingredient, is isolated from. Starting with the off-kilter sweetness of carrot seed the iris comes to the foreground. This iris butter glitters like a fine jewel set off with some grace notes of violet and jasmine. This is all framed by a cedar and vetiver combination.

If there is a single ingredient many would associate with Xerjoff it is oud. There are a lot of different flavors of oud in the collection but Kobe was one of the earliest. Here M. Flori goes with the classic floral contrast to the rough-edged oud. Except instead of using the traditional rose he uses a fantastic neroli. The green facet present in high-quality neroli is a better complement to oud than the more typical rose. That is mainly what Kobe provides with some styrax and tonka to sweeten up the oud in the final stages.

I have written before how much I like Richwood. I think it is the best of the entire Xerjoff line. M. Flori takes a limited quantity of Mysore sandalwood and then uses different notes like blackcurrant buds, rose, and patchouli to illuminate and explore every facet of this precious perfume ingredient.

Oud Luban can cheekily be described as Kobe 2.0 because the same neroli and oud is at the heart. Except it is made rougher through black pepper in the top. More resinous with silvery frankincense in the base and cleaner with cedar and vetiver in the base. Perfumer Christopher Maurice has produced my favorite of the recent releases.

If you’re wondering where you should start with a luxurious brand like Xerjoff the five above provide a good idea about what Sig. Momo’s vision is all about.

Disclosure: This review is based on decants I purchased.

Mark Behnke

The Gold Standard: Sandalwood- Xerjoff XJ 17/17 Richwood

When I look at the way too many bottles of perfume that I own it is interesting to see where there are concentrations of multiple bottles. One node within my collection is formed around sandalwood. One problem with the way I started my sandalwood perfume experiences was with Crabtree & Evelyn Extract of Mysore Sandalwood. It is like starting to drink champagne by having Dom Perignon. I have the very slight remains of a bottle of this remaining and it is gorgeous but it is what it says on the label an extract of Mysore sandalwood. To be a Gold Standard my choice has to be a perfume with the sandalwood as the most prominent note. There are many great sandalwood perfumes and if you want to see others that I considered, read My Favorite Things- Sandalwood article of last year. I said in that piece that Xerjoff XJ 17/17 Richwood is the best sandalwood perfume I own, which makes it my Gold Standard for sandalwood.

xerjoff richwood

Richwood benefits from owner and creative director Sergio Momo’s fanatical desire for the finest natural ingredients to be used in his fragrances. There are a number of Xerjoff fragrances which use these unique notes, in the hands of a talented perfumer, and display them as the singular beauties that they are.

For Richwood perfumer Jacques Flori was given a supply of Mysore sandalwood to work with to compose Richwood. M. Flori studied his central raw material and then surrounded it with complementary notes which would point the wearer’s senses towards all of the fantastic depth inherent in Mysore sandalwood.

Richwood starts with the sticky green quality of blackcurrant buds and grapefruit. It is a slightly sulfurous attention getter and as it glazes over the sandalwood it exposes a bit of a harsh edge that Mysore sandalwood has, especially in the early moments. Rose is the partner for the heart of Richwood and it gives a floral underpinning for the more wood part of sandalwood. These two phases develop fairly rapidly down to where Richwood lingers. The base is at first patchouli along with the sandalwood and this turns it creamy and smooth. M. Flori later on adds in coumarin and vanilla to pull out the sweet facets and finish Richwood as a comfort scent.

Richwood has 24 hour longevity and prodigious sillage.

Richwood never fails to thrill me when I wear it. I feel as if I am swathed in an aura of sandalwood of the highest quality. There are many great sandalwood perfumes but Richwood is the one I think is The Gold Standard.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke  

My Favorite Things: Sandalwood

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For this installment of My Favorite Things I’m going to name my five favorite sandalwood perfumes. Sandalwood as a fragrance note is one of the more frequently used ingredients especially as a base note. Most of the sandalwood you encounter in these fragrances is synthetic. There original source of real sandalwood oil in the mid-20th century was from Mysore in India. It was sadly over harvested and is now protected. This caused perfumers to work with both synthetics and alternative sources of sandalwood from Australia and New Caledonia. Nothing has adequately replaced real Mysore sandalwood but the five fragrances below are special sandalwood perfumes on their own basis.

bois des iles

Chanel Bois des Iles– When Ernest Beaux originally created Bois des Iles in 1926 I am reasonably certain it was full of Mysore sandalwood. When Jacques Polge brought it back for the Exclusif line it is said there isn’t a drop of sandalwood at all in the reformulation. I’ve smelled vintage and the Exclusif side by side and accounting for age M. Polge has pulled off one of the great olfactory illusions, ever.

Diptyque Tam Dao– Perfumers Daniele Moliere and Fabrice Pellegrin create a sandalwood fragrance in three acts. Act one is sandalwood and rosewood which is liltingly fragile. The second act adds clean cedar to make the sandalwood equally delineated. Act three takes ambergris as a foundation to accentuate the sweet qualities of sandalwood. For many people this is the gateway to loving sandalwood as a fragrance.

Dries-van-noten-frederic-malle-3

Dries van Noten par Frederic Malle– Frederic Malle claimed in the press materials that this is the same species of sandalwood as Mysore but grown in a sustainable way. I have my doubts but perfumer Bruno Jovanovic keeps it simple using saffron, jasmine, and vanilla to frame the sandalwood gorgeously. Who cares where it came from?

Sonoma Scent Studio Cocoa Sandalwood– Perfumer Laurie Erickson wanted to make an all-natural perfume for her line and Cocoa Sandalwood was the first in this series. She takes New Caledonian Sandalwood and wraps it in spices and dusts it with arid cocoa powder. When people tell me natural perfume can’t have depth and richness I hand them my bottle of this to end that conversation.

Xerjoff Richwood– When I want my sandalwood straight with no chaser this is the one I reach for. Perfumer Jacques Flori uses real Mysore sandalwood at the heart and cassis, rose, and patchouli are present. Those three notes really just serve to draw out the complexity of the real thing. I think it is the single best sandalwood fragrance I own.

These are a few of my favorite sandalwoods but there are a couple I would have included if they weren’t discontinued; Crabtree & Evelyn Sandalwood and Amouage Sandal Attar. If you love sandalwood both of these are worth the effort of seeking them out through online sources.

Mark Behnke