In the 1920’s the bright young things were writers, artists, and designers. After a Great Depression followed by a Great War those bright young things were up on the silver screen. The Hollywood Dream Factory was humming as the 1950’s dawned. Those movie stars were what the public wanted to hear about. As this new-found celebrity was thrust upon these pretty people there weren’t really any rules. So, they made up their own.
If you were of a mind to go catch the new celebrities one place you would end up is The Beverly Hills Hotel. More specifically it was the bungalows spread throughout the property which was where the action was. Bungalow No. 7 is Marilyn’s. La Liz and Dick loved, lost, loved, and lost in Bungalow No. 5. The bad boys were in Bachelor’s Row; Bungalows No. 14-21. Even Howard Hughes had his own which nobody knew whether he was there except for select hotel staff. It is fascinating to look back and think about anything like that happening in this TMZ world. Owner-creative director of Vilhelm Parfumerie Jan Ahlgren also shares my affection for this time.
Jerome Epinette (l.) and Jan Ahlgren
Mr. Ahlgren tasked perfumer Jerome Epinette to create a perfume which was all about that time but modern enough to be worn by a contemporary Liz or Marilyn. One thing I admire about the way M. Epinette interprets a brief like that is to keep it relatively simple. There are other perfumers that would have gone for shoulder strutting power. M. Epinette goes the opposite way looking for something more intimate. That moment when the door of the bungalow is closed and the persona can be dropped, a little bit. Just make sure there is a Do Not Disturb sign on the door which is also the name of this new perfume from Vilhelm.
I am not sure many would have thought of carnation as the core of a perfume like this but because M. Epinette was going for intimacy it works. Also, carnation is a key component of some of the great classic vintage perfumes so it provides that vintage vibe without overpowering.
Do Not Disturb opens with that carnation displaying its spicy floralcy. It has a classic feel which is deepened by the addition of clove to amplify the piquant nature of the carnation. Ylang-ylang is used to give a bit of a boost to the floral side of the carnation. Blackcurrant bud provides that sticky green effect which completes the vintage part. Do Not Disturb would have gone even deeper if this was a scent of the 1950’s. Because it is of the 2010’s M. Epinette uses a Haitian vetiver and papyrus as a way of drawing out the green thread begun with the cassis while adding in some expansiveness over the last part of the development.
Do Not Disturb has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
These kind of story perfumes from this era seem to be a strength of Vilhelm in these early days of the brand. Do Not Disturb is another strong fragrance born from Mr. Ahlgren’s desire for his brand to be something a little vintage and a little modern when looking back. I know it’s impossible but I can imagine smelling a trail of Do Not Disturb somewhere along Bachelor’s Row or just behind a feminine figure with Marilyn’s laugh. This is an excellent evocation of the time and place.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Vilhelm Parfumerie.
The last of the Vilhelm Parfumerie Fall 2016 collection has been released. I have admired all three of these perfumes as they show a brand expanding their offerings with intent. Creative director Jan Ahlgren and perfumer Jerome Epinette have collaborated well and this collection shows the working relationship is top notch. With the latest release Dirty Velvet they finish 2016 on a high note.
M. Ahlgren has been treating us to olfactory interpretations of his favorite places in Paris. With Dirty Velvet he was inspired by his preferred hotel in the City of Light, Villa D’Estrees. The hotel itself sits on the edge of the Latin Quarter where the Sorbonne and many other universities within Paris are located. The conjunction of college life within one of the great cities of the world almost always produces a section of the city which is lively. Not sure why M. Ahlgren likes this part of Paris so much but Dirty Velvet captures the vibe of the Quartier Latin.
M. Epinette starts off with pomelo which provides a muted tartness that sharpens its focus over time. It leads into a rich tobacco leaf. This is the deeply narcotic with a hint of menthol kind of tobacco. M. Epinette then matches a fig accord which focuses mainly on the ripe fruit with sparkles of green. This is a rich opulent accord that becomes even better as sandalwood and vetiver come into play. The sandalwood provides a dry woody platform for the tobacco and fig to rest upon. The vetiver picks out the threads of green making them more prominent. The final piece of the puzzle is a salty skin accord. This is where it all stays together for hours.
Dirty Velvet has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I have tried four Vilhelm Parfumerie releases this year. I have enjoyed this minimalist architecture M. Ahlgren and M. Epinette have created. It allows for well-chosen raw materials to stand out. This is a technique M. Epinette has become very adept with. Dirty Velvet is my favorite of this year’s offerings because it goes deeper than any of the previous releases I’ve tried from Vilhelm Parfumerie. Once it comes together, about an hour in, the final mix is just a pleasure to be surrounded by.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Vilhelm Parfumerie.
When it comes to the inspiration for the releases coming from the Vilhelm Parfumerie brand I must give a hat tip to founder and creative director Jan Ahlgren. In more than a few of the perfumes the story which goes along with it has been equally engaging. Such is the case for the newest release Purple Fig.
One of the marvelous things about walking around any European city is finding these odd alleyways which give you a true insight into a city; more so than seeing another museum or historical site. In the 11th Arrondissement you might have been visiting the Place de La Republique and told to head to the Oberkampf district to find some nightlife. If you misheard and instead find the Rue Oberkampf you will find yourself in this urban verdant-lined oasis called Cite du Figuier. The entire small alley way has growing things and near the middle is a lone fig tree. It is this which M. Ahlgren asked his partner in fragrance, perfumer Jerome Epinette, to interpret.
Cite du Figuier
M. Epinette and M. Ahlgren have designed something closely representing a house style over these early releases. Purple Fig is the thirteenth and it follows the same as the previous having three distinct chords of two notes. Now before we go any further if the name has you excited about a figgy perfume look at that picture of Cite du Figuier above and realize this is much more about the green. For Purple Fig M. Epinette has created a sunny autumn stroll down the Cite du Figuier.
M. Epinette uses a brilliant lemon given weight by angelica seed which imparts a botanical musk to make this less ebullient. This is the way I see the sun on an autumn day when it hangs a little lower in the sky. It is bright without being blindingly so. Then in the heart M. Epinette matches cyclamen and stemone to create a green chord. It is watery, the remaining moments of the angelica seeds provides a slight hint of potted soil while the stemone comes as close to fig as you’ll get. It is a vibrant accord which has a hint of the stone walls of the buildings in the alleyway. The base is a green version of cedar bolstered with cypress which provides the woody missing link.
Purple Fig has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I’ll admit at first I was disappointed a perfume named Purple Fig wasn’t going to be a gigantic fig as the name portended to me. Instead M. Ahlgren and M. Epinette took me on one of those offbeat journeys I so enjoy to find where a fig tree grows in Paris.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Vilhelm Parfumerie.
When I visited Robertet I was very impressed with the number of fractions they take of various raw materials. For those who aren’t familiar a fraction is a smaller temperature range collected during final distillation forming a different scent profile. Depending on when it is collected it can have very different characteristics. One part of this group of raw materials were the ones named “Coeur”; French for heart. As you might intimate from that it is the oil collected within a few degrees of the very center of the distillation temperature range. What you also might expect is this is the most authentic version of a particular raw material. What I found was with some of the nuanced character distilled away in front of and behind it the “Coeur” was not just a more focused version it also draws your attention to certain aspects easier to overlook in the unfractionated essential oil. The new Vilhelm Modest Mimosa uses Mimosa Coeur in a stunning way.
Creative director Jan Ahlgren has been working with perfumer Jerome Epinette since the inception of the brand last year. It has been a prolific partnership with Modest Mimosa the twelfth release with two more to come before the end of the year. What is becoming the typical Vilhelm architecture is three phases of two notes. This does require that those few notes provide something memorable to elevate the fragrance overall.
Modest Mimosa opens with neroli and carrot. This is the second time this year a perfume has opened with this and I have been taken with it both times. The neroli has some transparent green qualities which mesh extremely well with the earthy rootiness of the carrot. There is a sun-warmed quality to these notes when they are paired. Then the Mimosa Coeur comes out. As the heart of mimosa the green facets and the slightly woody components have been distilled away. What is left is the most delicate creamy indolic white flower. M. Epinette then chooses violet to prop up the mimosa Coeur with its slightly sugared sweet floral nature. This all ends on a foundation of refined leather and what is called “salt musk” in the notes. What that means is one of those white musks that imparts a slightly ozonic quality as well. In the case of Modest Mimosa it adds expansiveness to the leather while subtly deepening the animalicness of it all.
Modest Mimosa has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
2016 has had more than its fair share of excellent mimosa perfumes this year. What is nice about these different interpretations is each is distinct. Modest Mimosa’s comes from going straight to the heart of it all.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Vilhelm.
Most perfumes are inspired by places, a particular note or accord, or a specific style. Not a lot of them choose to take a real life person or event as a place to inspire a new perfume. Jan Ahlgren of Vilhelm Parfumerie uses the affair between film star Ava Gardner and Spanish bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguin to create the latest release The Oud Affair.
The Oud Affair is the first new release after the original eight releases from last year. Of those original eight release I really fell for Black Citrus. I have not had enough opportunity to spend time with the others but all of them seem to form a very strong debut collection based on some smelling on a strip and a little patch of skin. There was an oud focused entry in there called Smoke Show. It definitely skewed towards the smoke promised in the name and was a smoky oud. The perfumer for all nine perfumes released so far has been Jerome Epinette.
The 1954 affair between Ava Gardner and bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguin took place while Ms. Gardner was married to Frank Sinatra. She had fallen in love with Spanish culture including Flamenco as well as bullfighting while filming the 1951 movie “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman” there. Through her friendship with author Ernest Hemingway she would be introduced to the bullfighters while Mr. Hemingway was writing the series of articles for Life Magazine that would eventually make up the book “The Dangerous Summer”. When she was introduced to Sr. Dominguin they would begin a tempestuous short-lived affair. Sr. Dominguin would describe Ms. Gardner, in his biography, as; “I had a very fierce wolf in a cage.” Messrs. Ahlgren and Epinette try to capture that volatility and passion in The Oud Affair.
From l. to.r: Ernest Hemingway, Ava Gardner, Luis Miguel Dominguin. (Photo: Marcel Mitrani 1955)
I couldn’t find anything within the press materials which named which of the two focal points of the perfume were meant to represent which personality. Wild honey and oud form the core of The Oud Affair. It would be easy to say honey for Ms. Gardner and oud for Sr. Dominguin. I actually think it is probably the other way around as Ms. Gardner was known for her fractious oud-like personality. In reading about Sr. Dominguin I gather he was quite the smooth-tongued ladies’ man. Sweet words of seduction dripping like honey from his lips.
The Oud Affair opens with a golden sticky honey accord enhanced with a bit of ginger. The ginger adds a bit of verve to the viscous sweetness. This leads to the heart of oud and it is an oud with many of its more difficult characteristics on display. Except the honey does the job of sweetening those almost like the comforting hug of a lover trying to impart some serenity to an agitated partner. I found it really interesting and because of the real life inspiration I was always mindful of the tension between the honey and oud. The basenotes are a mix of tobacco and vanilla. I guess the metaphorical happy ending which didn’t happen in reality. It is a nice accord but it is very familiar plus it dominates the later phases of The Oud Affair on my skin leaving the much more interesting earlier notes behind.
The Oud Affair has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
I think I bought in to the story behind The Oud Affair so much that the tobacco and vanilla finish left me slightly disappointed. I enjoyed the honey and oud interaction so much I wanted more. Which probably makes me more like Sr. Dominguin as his fierce wolf slipped her cage to run off into the night wanting more but leaving only sweet memories.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Vilhelm Parfumerie.
When I am asked, “How can you smell so many new fragrances and stay optimistic about the art form?” My response goes like this, “Because in every new perfume there is the opportunity to be reminded of why I love perfume.” My most recent love affair came from an unlikely place. I have been a curmudgeon over these new brands which land with too many entries. When I received my envelope of samples from new brand Vilhelm Parfumerie. I am sure there was a frown on my face as I looked at the eight samples in front of me. When faced with this issue I just start at the top of the alphabet and work my way down. In the case of Vilhelm Parfumerie that first perfume in line was called Black Citrus. It also was that perfume which reminds me of why I love perfume.
Vilhelm Parfumerie is the new brand headed by ex-runway model Jan Ahlgren. As he was transitioning from the catwalk he started designing leather goods. He also wanted to find a way to scent those leather goods. That brought him into contact with perfumer Jerome Epinette. They connected and decided they would like to work on a line of perfumes. M. Ahlgren created very specific vignettes for M. Epinette to work on as briefs. Here is the one for Black Citrus, “Serious freshness without frivolity. The fragrance is inspired by the clean breath of the city after the showers pass. Gentlemen step out from under protective storefront canopies, their impeccable British style uncompromised.”
Despite the name this is a fragrance about black and the citrus is around for a very short time. M. Epinette is one of those perfumers who is high up on my list of favorite perfumers because he finds something different in the well-known. In Black Citrus it is the cardamom on top and the particularly Stygian birch and patchouli in the base.
If you’re looking for the citrus in Black Citrus it comes and goes in the very early going with a rich bergamot. What blows it away is a zephyr of cardamom. M. Epinette allows the bergamot to draw my attention to the lightly lemon facets of cardamom in the first moments. Over time it turns greener. That slow shading sets it up perfectly to combine with the mate leaves in the heart. There is a wonderful sharp green chord that forms. To that violet tempers the keen edge, softening it with its floralcy. Then we move to the base which is birch and a deep earthy Indonesian patchouli. This is where I fell head over heels for this perfume. The birch provides a pungent raw woodiness and the patchouli doubles down with deep earthiness combined with multi-faceted herbal quality. These two ingredients are in constant kinetic motion around each other. There are times it smells of birch tar, there are other times it smells of black soil. Sometimes it is just woody and sometimes it is just herbal. It is constantly fascinating to me.
Black Citrus has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I am very impressed with the great majority of these first eight releases from Vilhelm Parfumerie. I expect there will be more reviews coming as I become more acquainted with the line. Black Citrus inspired me from the first moment I smelled it on a strip and has only become more memorable with each successive time I have worn it. I just had to write about it to get it out of my system. Messrs. Ahlgren and Epinette thank you for reminding me of why I do this.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples I purchased.