There are many perfume brands which use artists’ histories as a jumping off point to create perfume. There are more than a few who do it in a way where the connection to the past is more PR than perfume. One brand which has done an excellent job of turning these stories into fragrance is Vilhelm Parfumerie. Owner-creative director Jan Ahlgren seems to have a passion about classic film and the people who made those movies. For the latest release, Basilico & Fellini, he looks to a tidbit about the legendary director Federico Fellini.
Federico Fellini cooking pasta
The maybe true factoid cited by Mr. Ahlgren is that Sig. Fellini “requested extra basil with his meals for its aphrodisiac effect.” Some of what makes it more rumor than fact is a story written by Germaine Greer for The Guardian in 2010. In her writing about her visiting the set and spending time with Sig. Fellini during his filming of “Casanova” she speaks of the first night he visited her. She relates, “I would have made supper, but Federico was even more fussy and valetudinarian than your average Italian man, and insisted on making himself risotto bianco with only a single leaf of basil to flavour it.” That does not sound like a man who was had a strong belief in basil as an aphrodisiac.
Jerome Epinette (l.) and Jan Ahlgren
Working again with perfumer Jerome Epinette, Mr. Ahlgren wanted to create a green perfume of seduction. In some ways that sounds like a contradiction in terms considering that many green notes carry more than a little bite to them. With Basilico & Fellini three separate duets throughout the development result in a sensual green fragrance.
Basil as a focal point had me thinking of earthy herbal types of accords. What has made many of the Vilhelm releases so enjoyable is Mr. Ahlgren and M. Epinette like to color outside the lines of those expectations. There is basil right from the moment you spray it on. What is surprising is the way it stays at a kind of lush state. The ingredient M. Epinette uses for this effect is dragon fruit. Dragon fruit when you eat it is sort of bland along the lines of a kiwi. As an essential oil it also provides little strong presence. Instead it modulates the basil from getting so in control you would smell nothing else. It also provides a nuanced sweetness, too. As much as I like the opening the heart pairing of green fig and violet is what really pulled me in. The creamy green fig supported by violet is fantastic, it arises from trailing a tiny amount of the basil along with it before becoming violet and fig alone. The base is vetiver and what is described as “green hay”. Which might be as simple as vetiver lending some of its grassiness to coumarin but it seems like there is also something else besides those familiar notes. Because the hay does seem less dried out than it normally appears.
Basilico & Fellini has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I tested Basilico & Fellini on some very warm days and it was delightful under those conditions. This is another excellent addition to the Vilhelm Parfumerie collection. One which promises some hot fun in the summertime.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Vilhelm Parfumerie.
It is a funny thing how when you have a steady diet of something you begin to crave something the opposite. Just think of after you eat some chocolate the idea of some crunchy salty chips sounds good. As we get to May of every year after having smelled numerous fresh spring rose perfumes I begin to want a rose perfume with less fresh and more power. I know it is coincidence but just as I really start to need a perfume like this one arrives in my mailbox. This year it came from Vilhelm Harlem Bloom.
I am not sure what the creative process is between Vilhelm creative director-owner Jan Ahlgren and perfumer Jerome Epinette is. What I do know is Harlem Bloom is the seventeenth release from a brand which has stood out as one of the best new brands of the last two years. There is not a dud in the entire collection. It is also an impressively broad collection which I believe is testament to the breadth of M. Epinette. Which allows Mr. Ahlgren the opportunity to go anywhere his creativity desires.
Jerome Epinette (l.) and Jan Ahlgren
Harlem Bloom is based on the neighborhood Mr. Ahalgren calls home when he is in New York City. Just in my thirty years of visiting New York City regularly I have seen the transformation of this historical part of the city. Long gone are the days where you were warned not to go above 125th Street. Now it is one of the most vibrant areas in Manhattan. Harlem has indeed bloomed. For the fragrance Mr. Ahlgren envisioned a deep rose-centered fragrance to represent the brownstone he lives in. M. Epinette adds in five specifically chosen notes to bring that rose to life.
The rose M. Epinette chooses is a rich Turkish rose. This is the rose which carries a spicy character among the petals tilting it away from powder and more towards decadent. In Harlem Bloom M. Epinette uses those five notes to enhance that vivacious nature. First it is the peppery woodiness of angelica seeds and the toasty spiciness of saffron. These insert themselves into the rose to create a sumptuously spicy rose. There is also some violet that becomes apparent after some time which almost seems like the signal for the base combination of ebony wood and leather to come out. This is a more animalic leather which matches the rose for power. The dark wood is the foundation for these two accords to interact upon.
Harlem Bloom has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
If you’re still enjoying you fresh spring rose fragrances; continue on. When you have that craving for a rose with something more to it give Harlem Bloom a try; it will scratch that itch.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Vilhelm.
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.
Once a perfume brand has matured, defined their aesthetic, it is interesting to look back to the beginning to see if the initial releases predicted how the brand would eventually grow. Byredo was founded in 2007 by Ben Gorham. Over the last ten years, working exclusively with perfumer Jerome Epinette, they have created a distinctive Byredo style. But when those first four bottles bearing the name were released there was one which was the figurative red-headed stepchild, Byredo Pulp.
Last fall it looked like I would be writing about Pulp as part of the Dead Letter Office series. It was rumored that it was going to be dropped from the brand. When I heard that news I wasn’t surprised because Pulp had its own twisted little following perhaps driven because it felt unlike every other one in the line. It seems the news of discontinuation was more rumor than fact. Which then shifted it to this column because it is so different I think those who might dismiss the Byredo collection as not being their kind of fragrance might join the group of us who enjoy the Un-Byredo-ness of Pulp.
What sets Pulp apart is it is a fragrance of fruit overload. I know the concept of overload for a Byredo is already outside normal service. In this case M. Epinette was going for the literal pulp of multiple fruits. What has always made this perfume stand out is there is so much here somewhere in all the overlap a rotten fruit accord develops. Some of life’s potentially disgusting smells have some underlying facets which are oddly pleasant smelling. What M. Epinette gets in Pulp whether by design or fortune is that right on the edge of sickly sweetness that rotting fruit emanates. It is what will make you pull Pulp close or push it away.
The fruit basket comes from grapefruit, fig, red apple, blackcurrant buds, and peach blossom. All of this roars out of the gate. It is seemingly chaotic but rather quickly all the fruit pieces settle into their lanes. In the early going it has a crisper quality than you might expect. As some greener notes begin to arrive in cardamom and cedar the beginning of the decay sets in. Eventually the sweetness is heightened following a collapse in to a praline accord in the base.
Pulp has 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I am happy that the rumors of Pulp’s demise were overstated. I think every brand needs something to show how far they’ve come. Pulp is that signpost as The Un-Byredo.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
There are times I have language envy. What I mean by that is other languages have words for things I like more than the English word for them. When I was taking Spanish classes in school in S. Florida the word for library might have been my first instance of language envy. As a child, the library was the place where my mind was opened to the possibilities. When Sr. Dowdy, my Spanish teacher, said that “la biblioteca” was the word for library that felt like such a better word to me. So, I appropriated it. When I would be running out the door I’d yell over my shoulder “off to the biblioteca”. I don’t know which came first but the French word is very similar “bibliotheque”. Now there is a perfume carrying the French version of the name, Byredo Bibliotheque.
Bibliotheque came about from a rare reversal as it lived its first incarnation as a candle at Byredo. Apparently, it got a lot of requests to be made into a perfume. Creative Director Ben Gorham and perfumer Jerome Epinette worked on the transformation from solid to liquid.
If you are looking for a fragrance which captures the smell of ink, paper, leather, and wood of a classic library; Bibliotheque is not that. At least not entirely. There are some aspects of that but early on it is a fruity floral construct which eventually gives way to that library accord. What I liked about that early fruity floral phase is M. Epinette makes the keynotes so effusive it is like encountering them minutes before they make that transition from ripe to rot.
M. Epinette opens Bibliotheque with a fruit combination of peach and plum. They are so ready to burst they throw off gentle aldehydes around their inherent deep fruity nature. I am not usually a fan of these kind of fruit accords but this time it worked for me. Probably because the floral counterpart was also equally engaging. Peony and violet are those notes and they provide a contralto version of floralcy that harmonizes with the fruits. Finally, the library accord begins to form. I am guessing a patchouli fraction is being used by M. Epinette to form the dry paper and ink aspect. A transparent leather accord is also here along with an equally delicate woodiness. The base accord is much lighter than the fruity floral one that preceded it.
Bibliotheque has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I do like the fragrances which are out there which have captured the empty library milieu. Yet I might like the fragrance Bibliotheque in the same way I prefer the word. The reason is that fruity floral opening seems full of possibilities as ideas can be balanced on the edge of realization or disregard. Bibliotheque captures the world where those ideas come to light.
Disclosure: This review was based ona sample provided by Byredo.
If there has been one thing I have done the most over the time I’ve been running Colognoisseur it has been to recommend Atelier Cologne. One of the difficult things for me is to receive an e-mail from a reader letting me know they want to give this niche perfume world a try but they live outside of the major US cities. Most consumers want to know if they are going to pay more that they personally can tell, and appreciate, the difference between mainstream and niche. My answer has been, more often than not, to head to their local mall; go to Sephora, and get a sample of Atelier Cologne. Most of the time I receive a follow-up from those who do see the difference. There are some who have replied that they like what they smelled but it was “too strong”. Even when I show visitors niche perfumes that is a common refrain, as well.
What that means is a perfume brand needs a fragrance which acts as a welcome mat to allow a consumer to take a smaller step from the mainstream into a different style of perfumery. I think the most recent release from Atelier Cologne called Clementine California will be that perfume for the brand. One of the reasons I think this will become important is if the recent acquisition by L’Oreal comes with a plan to expand the availability even more; Clementine California can become the brand ambassador.
Sylvie Ganter-Cervasel and Christophe Cervasel
Clementine California is still the Cologne Absolue for which the brand started by Sylvie Ganter-Cervasel and Christophe Cervasel pioneered. Jerome Epinette is once again the perfumer. Clementine California is a sparkling citrus cologne. All of this is part of the brand DNA. What is different is this is, seemingly by design, the most easygoing Atelier Cologne ever.
To achieve this affability M. Epinette uses a very traditional cologne spine of citrus, spice, and woods. Only in a few places is there a different twist to that classic cologne recipe which is what makes it a small step towards niche.
The opening is a sun-drenched citrus mix of clementine and mandarin. Then M. Epinette tints it green with juniper. This is the technique he will use throughout by adding a green facet to each accord. In the heart star anise and Szechuan pepper provide the spice component which is turned greener by basil. The base is sandalwood and cypress providing a woody alternative to the more commonly used cedar. M. Epinette adds vetiver for the last bit of green.
Clementine California has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
From the very first moment I smelled Clementine California I believed this is the cologne which can put its arm around your shoulder while you step over the threshold into a different fragrance world. I am looking forward to recommending this to the next person to send me an e-mail.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Atelier Cologne.
I know for many who love perfume they have an equivalent passion for makeup. I am obviously not one who falls in to that particular categorization. I am not so clueless that I don’t know most of the major brands plus if they decide to expand in to fragrance I become even better acquainted with the brand. I knew about MAC cosmetics because they always seem to have a lot of space in the department store beauty aisles. I can figure out that to have that much square footage must translate to a passionate consumer. MAC had tried to branch out into perfume from 1999-2009 but for some reason I haven’t been able to determine why; they gave up on it. Especially because the 2002 releases MV1, MV2, and MV3 were very well-done department store releases. For the end of 2016 MAC is re-entering the perfume market with a collection of six new releases called Shadescents.
The inspiration behind Shadescents are the six-current best-selling MAC lipstick shades. The color of the bottle cap matches the shade of lipstick in the name. What especially got my attention was the collaboration between creative director Karyn Khoury and perfumer Jerome Epinette who were the team behind all six. The concept was to create a perfume version of lipstick. What that meant was not to smell like lipstick but instead for each perfume to be one distinct note or accord which best represented the color. I will confess that I am not one of those synesthetes who sees color when I smell perfume which means I will not comment on whether I think the perfumes succeed on that level. Where I do think they achieve their goals is to take a bold single note and treat it as a soliflore which M. Epinette can surround with some complimentary notes.
Candy Yum-Yum is a candy floss blast of ethyl maltol with vanilla cut with a set of interesting fruit notes. Crème D’Nude also is based around vanilla but in this case a set of botanical and synthetic musks wrap themselves around the sweet core. Velvet Teddy is also musky but matched with honey. Lady Danger uses cherry as the focal point. My Heroine was the one which did not seem to belong because it is a smoky resinous leather. The one I liked best is the one based on the most popular MAC lipstick shade Ruby Woo.
Ruby Woo actually picks up on the themes from Lady Danger and My Heroine as there is cherry and what M. Epinette calls a “red leather accord”. It opens with a kind of patent leather accord which is pierced with a strong cherry which I think is what is meant to give it its crimson shade. M. Epinette then uses as highlighting notes; saffron, iris, rose, and sandalwood. These four notes take the red leather jacket on a lively journey by the time all is said and done.
Ruby Woo has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
If one of the reasons for MAC getting out of the perfume business seven years ago, was they took too many chances. I believe Shadescents is an attempt to rectify that perceived error. All six have identifiable aesthetics similar to many of their mass-market brethren. The collection as a whole provides enough difference that I think it will resonate with the MAC consumer. I’m not a MAC consumer but I would happily wear Ruby Woo.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Macy’s.
I have written a lot about my affection for the different leather accords and fragrances. As I move further in to my second decade of writing about perfume the whole concept of leather in perfumes has yet to become uninteresting to me. One reason is there are so many versions of leather in the world to use as inspiration.
Ben Gorham the owner-creative director behind Byredo also is inspired by leather in the latest releases for the Night Veils collection. In the first trio released last year it was night-blooming flowers which were the raison d’etre. This trio is all about the difference in leather from the glove, Le Gant, to the saddle, La Selle, and the boot, La Botte. All were composed by perfumer Jerome Epinette. La Selle does a fantastic job of capturing the tack room bracketing the leather accord with black tea and birch. The one which captured my attention was La Botte.
Dita von Teese (Not Mistress Stephanie)
When I was a young man I was doing what callow young men did; I let it be known I was exploring my sexuality. I wanted to try everything on the spectrum. In hindsight, I know that the whole attitude was pose more than real introspection. In that arrogantly stupid frame of mind I cajoled an invitation to an underground S&M club. On the night I attended I received an education from one Mistress Stephanie who did not use anything to lash me but her tongue. She derisively called me a tourist more repressed than someone afraid to come through the door. She continued to take out my hypocrisy and examine it until I understood it. What does this have to do with perfume? Well Mistress Stephanie was powdered and wore a many layered coating of vermillion lipstick. As she spoke to me the scents of the powder and lipstick mingled with the leather of her knee-high brilliantly polished boots. As with so many times in my life that co-mingling of smells is attached to that moment of education. La Botte is that perfume.
M. Epinette uses a mixture of jasmine and violet to form that powdery cosmetic accord. Then M. Epinette uses Civettone to make the bridge to the leather accord. Civettone is the chemical in the highest concentration in natural civet. When isolated it imparts a cleaner animalic character. M. Epinette takes advantage of that to lead down to his highly polished leather accord. This is high gloss leather and it is made to sparkle with the addition of mahogany wood. It forms a fascinating animalic effect that I could not get enough of.
La Botte has 12-14 hour longevity and below average sillage because of its extrait strength.
Even though I fell for La Botte I think highly of the other two in this trio of Night Veils. As a collection, they allow for M. Epinette to offer you three different perspectives on leather. I just preferred the one which took me back to a teachable moment in time.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Byredo.
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.
There are certain rules which are universally accepted. No wearing white after Labor Day. Red wine with meat; white wine with fish. Citrus perfumes are for warm weather. When you look at that list you realize that they are generally true but it is in the exceptions that you find creative thinking. Some of my favorite citrus fragrances come from Atelier Cologne but even those are usually worn when the temperature rises. Slowly but surely brands have been providing citrus perfumes which can break this adage. Atelier Cologne has turned this trick with the release of Citron D’Erable.
Citron D’Erable is part of the Collection Azur but it is currently only available in Canadian Sephora and at Atelier Cologne boutiques. One of the things I liked about the first four releases within Collection Azur was they felt like an evolution of the brand’s cologne absolue aesthetic. Citron D’Erable is very much part of that ongoing refinement. Citron D’Erable translates to “Maple Citrus”. As an homage to Canada that is an appropriate mixture of the trademark citrus of Atelier Cologne with one of the symbols of the country. Perfumer Jerome Epinette is back for his twenty-third composition for the brand.
Citron D'Erable postcard from Atelier Cologne
Maple Syrup is harvested in the spring as the temperature begins to fluctuate between below freezing nights and sunny warm days. The back and forth causes the sap to flow and be collected via a tap placed into the tree itself. M. Epinette combines that early spring sunshine, the wood of the maple tree, and the syrup flowing from the tap.
M. Epinette uses lemon to represent the lower hanging sun of the spring. He modulates it with Szechuan pepper. This has been an ingredient I have seen used a lot over the last year to modify some of the more incandescent notes. M. Epinette uses it in exactly this way here. Then we get to the tree itself where we see the cut in the wood with the maple syrup flowing in a steady stream. The syrup accord is given lift by a very intelligently chosen eucalyptus. If you’ve ever smelled fresh cut wood it has a mentholated undertone. The eucalyptus represents that as well as the chilly air you are breathing in. It is here as a grace note which feels perfect. To represent the tree M. Epinette takes maple wood oil and, as with the lemon on top, transforms it with cedar, sandalwood, and sequoia wood. This is done to make a more impressionistic maple tree accord instead of working towards something photorealistic.
Citron D’Erable has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Citron D’Erable is my favorite of the Atelier Cologne releases in 2016. It is going to get a lot of wear throughout the harvest season because it will shine there as much as when the spring thaw is happening. For at least the next few weeks I am going to be breaking my citrus perfume in warm weather rule with a snappy maple syrup salute to our neighbors to the north courtesy of Citron D’Erable.
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample supplied by Atelier Cologne.