New Perfume Review Anna Sui Fantasia- The Right Sweet Spot

If there is a consistent criticism I carry of the mainstream fruity floral perfumes it that they are overwhelming. Worse is it isn’t usually one or the other it’s both working in concert. It is part of my general antipathy to the genre. I usually try all the new ones which come in with the similar thought that I wish they just dialed it back a bit. I like sweet, it is cloying I am not fond of. I generally file them away with the damning classification in my spreadsheet of “typical fruity floral”. When I received my sample of Anna Sui Fantasia just after Labor Day I expected it to join the others department store fruity florals with the same description. Turns out this was a fruity floral with the right balance to stand out.

If I was going to point to a brand which exemplified much of what I disliked about fruity florals Anna Sui would’ve done the trick as well as many others. Then about a year ago they began working exclusively with perfumer Jerome Epinette. The change was heralded when I received my sample earlier this year of M. Epinette’s Romantica Exotica. Romantica was so overwhelming to me on a strip I didn’t even give it a patch of skin. Romantica Exotica was a set of crisp accords that carried a focus through each stage of the development. Fantasia is an even better example of how to do fruity floral right and that is with including a gourmand praline accord right in the heart. Except M. Epinette is nothing if not a master of keeping all his raw materials in their lanes only crossing over when necessary.

Jerome Epinette

He starts Fantasia with grapefruit, baie rose and a green underpinning of blackcurrant bud. That green goes especially well with the herbal nature of the baie rose and the slightly sulfurous nature of the grapefruit. This provides a shimmery opening which raspberry shades a bit. I braced myself for the raspberry to become too loud but M. Epinette never lets that happen. He adds in a deep Bulgarian rose as support turning the raspberry into jam. This then coats a praline accord which is designed to have a slighter sweet quality than you might expect. The raspberry does supply most of the sweet through the heart without becoming out of control. The base is a clean woody combination of cypress and cedar which also provides some contrast to the sweetness, too.

Fantasia has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Fantasia is a different kind of fruity floral for the department store counter. I wonder if fans of the genre will gravitate to its less intense style. It could also draw in new fans like me because it finds just the right sweet spot for those who have stayed away in the past.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Anna Sui.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Byredo Velvet Haze- A Piece of the 60’s

The most maligned perfume ingredient of all is probably patchouli. It mostly comes by its poor reputation because it was so closely associated with the smell of the hippies. There was a meme I saw which had as the definition of patchouli “filthy hippie”. During the Summer of Love, in 1969, there were probably many who ascribed to that in the rest of society. In scent, it is hard to shake an association once it resides in your memory. What is particularly sad about it is patchouli is one of the more versatile ingredients in perfumery. It has only become more varied in its use with the advent of fractionation and supercritical fluid extractions. Once the filthy hippie was treated differently new perspective on patchouli could be seen. One of the perfumers who has done wonders with the new versions of patchouli is Jerome Epinette. In his latest release for Byredo, called Velvet Haze, inspired by the 1960’s he has done it again.

Ben Gorham

Creative director Ben Gorham wanted Velvet Haze to be “inspired by the very evocative 1960’s music and cultural movement”. I must believe they tried very hard to license the name Purple Haze only to have to compromise on this. I find the change more apt. While I am not one who sees colors with my fragrance; if I was asked to word associate with patchouli “purple” would be one of the words. Because M. Epinette chooses a fraction as the keynote this patchouli is more velvet than purple. As has become the Byredo trademark Mr. Gorham and M. Epinette have collaborated on a lighter version of fragrance. It leaves it being like a faded memory of the 1960’s carrying a kind of elegiac beauty with it.

Jerome Epinette

Velvet Haze starts with a brilliant accord which leans in towards the whole filthy hippie concept. M. Epinette takes the clean sweetness of coconut water and combines it with the botanical musk of ambrette seeds. This gives a kind of slightly sweet sweaty skin. Not filthy more like bronzed skin with rivulets of perspiration trailing down it. The patchouli comes up to meet this accord and for a while there is an accord of patchouli covering sweaty skin. I really like this part of the development as over time the patchouli becomes more focused. This fraction is a brighter version of patchouli it carries lesser aspects of the earthiness containing more of the herbal quality. Then the final ingredient provides a bit of alternative darkness as a dusting of fine cacao mixes with the patchouli for the final hours.

Velvet Haze has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Velvet Haze is an excellent modern patchouli perfume; another in an already impressive collection by M. Epinette. I appreciate that Mr. Gorham didn’t just go for an immersive 60’s experience. Instead by only reaching for a fraction of the past they have captured a modern piece of the 60’s.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Byredo.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Ellis Brooklyn Rives- Framing Lavender

Going fragrance shopping at the mall used to be a terribly depressing experience. It seemed like all the fragrance counters were covered in the same brands and bottles. Sometime in the last couple of years something changed and a few of the stores decided to strike out in a different direction. One of those stores is Sephora. Just about three years ago they expanded by adding in some carefully curated well-known niche brands. This has been followed with expansion into some equally well-chosen independent brands. I don’t know for sure who is doing the selection but that person, or persons, deserves a round of applause. I receive a quarterly box of samples from Sephora. It is one of my most eagerly awaited arrivals because there seem to be new discoveries within, every three months. In my midsummer box one of those discoveries was the new brand Ellis Brooklyn.

Bee Shapiro

Ellis Brooklyn was founded about a year ago by New York Times beauty writer Bee Shapiro. As a professional she had a deep knowledge of whom she might like to work with on her perfume line. She probably couldn’t have made a better choice than perfumer Jerome Epinette. One reason for that is M. Epinette is perhaps the best perfumer to help build a distinctive brand aesthetic. Ms. Shapiro wanted her line to be “fresh”. Fresh can be one of those descriptors which has become sort of meaningless because of its overuse. What I can say through the first five Ellis Brooklyn releases is Ms. Shapiro and M. Epinette have a better understanding of the word than most.

Jerome Epinette

Fable crackles with green floral energy and woods. Myth does the same with white flowers. Raven takes rhubarb and patchouli without becoming weighted down. Rrose is a crisp vanilla rose which seems like it shouldn’t ever come together, but it does. I have liked all of these but it is the newest release Rives I have fallen for.

Rives is a fresh fougere in what is becoming the Ellis Brooklyn style. What I mean by that is M. Epinette draws distinct boundaries with specific notes to allow other ingredients to expand within. For a crisp fougere the expansive ingredient will be lavender. The four sides of the frame to contain it are petitgrain, neroli, cashmeran, and a suede leather accord. The lavender pushes up against the neroli and petitgrain in a typical fougere opening phase. It gets less typical as the opaque suede accord arrives. As with Rrose and the vanilla the leather is something which could weigh everything down. M. Epinette manages to make these heavier notes retain their strength without overwhelming. The cashmeran is its characteristic blond woody self as the frame around the lavender snaps into place.

Rives has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I recently took someone on a perfume sniffing trip to the mall. I was excited to take someone who is just discovering the wide world beyond the department store into Sephora. She went home with a bag of samples. The one bottle she bought was Ellis Brooklyn Rives. Ms. Shapiro has provided yet another reason why fragrance shopping in the mall is much less of a wasteland.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Sephora.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Atelier Cologne Café Tuberosa- White Flower Crema

Among all the things in my life of which I am a snob about coffee ranks right up there. Growing up in S. Florida I became enamored of the super sweet, super strong Cuban coffee. Espresso freshly made in a pot on the stove was the finish of every family dinner. The spread of the Seattle coffee craze nationwide exposed me to all the different ways to drink it. My favorite way to drink it straight became as a ristretto shot. When I am served my order in a small cup there is a bit of froth which floats on top called crema. It has a nutty slightly dark chocolate scent to it. I’ve always wanted a perfume to capture that. What I didn’t know was I wanted that crema to float on top of tuberose. That is what I got with Atelier Cologne Café Tuberosa.

Over the years I have admired the ability of creative director Sylvie Ganter- Cervasel to expand the notion of what the structure of cologne is. It is particularly interesting when they work with notes like coffee and tuberose which should never be in anything called a cologne. One reason this can be achieved is perfumer Jerome Epinette has been a part of this re-definition ever since the first releases from the brand. They have navigated the contradiction of powerful notes and cologne before. I’m not sure if it has ever been as interesting previously as it is here.

Jerome Epinette

The only thing which will remind you, from an ingredient perspective, of old school cologne is the citrus sunburst of tangerine and bergamot which opens Café Tuberosa. M. Epinette then sweeps it away on a sirocco of cardamom which ushers in a rich tuberose. This is not a shy tuberose it is a grande dame version dominating the room. After a while she introduces her friend rose and the florals hold in position for a while. Then M. Epinette pours his ristretto shot over the top. As the rich coffee accord comes forward I imagine a bloom of tuberose stained brown with the espresso. It is fabulous different combination. Dark cacao comes along to give the espresso more traction against the tuberose. Patchouli completes my desired crema accord.

Café Tuberosa has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Café Tuberosa is part of the Avant Garde collection within Atelier Cologne. I have taken that to mean these are the ones where we push the envelope on what it means to be a cologne. Café Tuberosa is the most envelope pushing of anything which carries the Atelier Cologne name. I think there will be some who find this a bit too much. For me M. Epinette and Mme Ganter-Cervasel have pitched this just right; giving me my fragrance version of crema on a white floral backdrop.

Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample provided by Atelier Cologne.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Vilhelm Basilico & Fellini- Summertime Fun with Fellini

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.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Vilhelm Harlem Bloom- Craving Relief

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.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Vilhelm Do Not Disturb- Bungalow Nights

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.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Byredo Pulp- The Un-Byredo

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.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Byredo Bibliotheque- Language Envy

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.

Ben Gorham

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.

Jerome Epinette

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.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Atelier Cologne Clementine California- The Cologne Welcome Mat

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.

Jerome Epinette

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.

Mark Behnke