One of the trends of the last year or so which I have been happy to see is the mass-market perfume executed with niche independence. What I mean by that is there are a few brands which are being distributed at the mall which have partnered with top perfumers and allowed them some freedom to create. The results of this has been some very good perfume; Ellis Brooklyn West is a good example.
Ellis Brooklyn was founded by Bee Shapiro who is a beauty editor at The New York Times. In that position she must have had an insight on where she could create a different mass-market fragrance. Over the last two years the perfume she has produced has borne that out. Ms. Shapiro has made her own space in a crowded marketplace.
For West the press release trumpets this as the “first citrus” for Ellis Brooklyn. I could quibble with that because citrus ingredients have played a prominent role in previous releases. What this translates to me is West is the first summer style of perfume for the brand.
Perfumer Jerome Epinette uses some interesting ingredients to form West. It starts right at the top with the choice of blood orange. Blood orange has been having a moment this summer as I’ve encountered it a few times so far this year. A big reason for that might be because it carries a less exuberant effect than orange. There is a slight bitterness underneath the pulpy sweetness. M. Epinette uses basil to give that an herbal veil. In the heart he employs water lily as a dewy floral to give that refreshing quality of misted water. The base is the fresh green of vetiver warmed with a touch of amber.
West has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
West is one of those perfect beach bag perfumes to take on a summer weekend away. It is the kind of perfume companion which adds to the pleasure of taking some time off. I will be putting a sample of this in my perfume fridge as a summer cooler for the upcoming ravages of midsummer.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Sephora.
If you’ve lived on either coast of the US, you have a boardwalk somewhere near you. Situated at the top of a strand of beach it has souvenir shops, arcades, and food places on one side. The beach and the ocean on the other side. I have spent many a summer day walking the boardwalk with a snow-cone, ice cream cone, or some other sweet confection in my hand as the sun shone overhead. I hadn’t thought a lot about it, but this is an ideal milieu for the current trend of transparent floral gourmands. It looks like Byredo Sundazed is going to tread the boards first.
When I received my sample and press materials this seemed like a brand who would know just what to do with a concept like this. Creative director Ben Gorham and perfumer Jerome Epinette have spent the last twelve years defining the Byredo minimalistic aesthetic. Over the past few releases a higher level of transparency has also begun to incorporate itself into the brand identity. For Sundazed it is that endless summer on a boardwalk they are attempting to capture.
It is a simple set of accords. On top is the sunshine as represented by citrus. M. Epinette uses primarily lemon given some juicy sweetness with mandarin. The lemon is that sun in a clear blue sky. The mandarin is the set-up for the sweet to follow. That comes in a heart accord of jasmine and neroli. The neroli picks up on the citrus in the top while the jasmine provides the bulk of the flower sweetness. What is also nice about this heart accord is the very subtle presence of the natural indoles present in the flowers. They give that tiny nod to sweaty skin. Then we get to the base where cotton candy is paired with white musks. Ethyl maltol is the usual ingredient to give the cotton candy effect. I’m not sure if M. Epinette is not using some new analog here because it doesn’t carry the heaviness ethyl maltol usually does. Whatever the source of the cotton candy some of the white musks expand it into an airy effect of gentle sweetness instead of sugar crystals crunching between your teeth. The other white musks give that sun-tanned skin effect.
Sundazed has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Sundazed is one of the first of the transparent floral gourmands to really engage me. I’ve thought Byredo could excel in this type of fragrance. With a mid-summer trip to the boardwalk Sundazed shows I was correct.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Byredo.
In 2010 I had an appointment on the beauty level at Bergdorf-Goodman. I was there to meet one of the creative directors behind a new brand of perfume. I was very early in this idea of being a writer about perfume; I was a bit nervous. Sylvie Ganter stood next to the pedestal with her debut collection of five. She welcomed me with a smile then introduced me to Atelier Cologne. She also had one of the perfumers who had done three of the five; Jerome Epinette. He was there to answer my geeky questions about how you make a cologne last. In 2010 when you put cologne on a bottle of fragrance that was synonymous with cheap and diluted. If this brand was going to survive, they had to overcome that perception. Their answer was to create a form they called “cologne absolue”. The simplest way to make a cologne last is to up the oil concentration. That is a simplistic formula but if done without thought you get a fragrance that is sunny ingredients bogged down in its own strength. It might last a long time, but you wouldn’t want to put up with it. The brilliance of the way Atelier Cologne re-imagined cologne for the 21st century was they never lost sight of what made cologne a specific kind of perfume. They just found a way to make it better.
Christophe Cervasel and Sylvie Ganter-Cervasel
2019 begins the tenth year of the brand. They have not just survived they are one of the great success stories in perfumery over that period. Mme Ganter would marry her business partner, and co-creative director, Christophe Cervasel to become Mme Ganter-Cervasel. The brand would become one of the few to take the niche sensibility out to the mall. I’ve lost count at the number of people I’ve sent to try Atelier Cologne to learn of the difference between mainstream and niche. The brand has been the first step to a new perfumed world for many because of that availability. Throughout everything the vision of what “cologne absolue” is, and could be, was never lost. M. Epinette has designed 28 of the 39 perfumes released. He has been as influential at defining the brand as the creative directors. It is why as Atelier Cologne begins its tenth year the perfume which kicks it off is a return to its roots; Pacific Lime.
If you ask someone to describe a cologne to you it is likely they will reply “citrus-y” just before they complain about it not lasting. For perfume 39 the brand focuses on a citrus fruit they have not designed a perfume around previously, lime. M. Epinette has refined both his concepts of cologne and minimalist construction immensely over the ensuing years. Pacific Lime is proof of that.
There are five listed ingredients; lime, lemon, coconut, spearmint, and eucalyptus. Three of the five are traditional cologne components. Coconut and eucalyptus are not. The way both of those are used within Pacific Lime is what gives it that Atelier Cologne signature.
If you’ve ever spent time slicing fresh limes prior to a party, or if you work as a bartender, the first few minutes of Pacific Lime will remind you of that. Piercing the skin of the lime while the juice of the pulp and the citric acid of the skin scent the air. The sticky juice coating your hands. That’s what Pacific Lime smells like out of the bottle. Then if you read that ingredient list above and started thinking baker’s coconut or pina colada that is not what’s here. The coconut is reminiscent of the fresh white meat of the coconut after you’ve drained off the water. Growing up in Florida I husked many coconuts and used my penknife to scoop out the white part. This is not overly sweet it carries a kind of muskiness not unlike a synthetic white musk. For all I know M. Epinette might have made a coconut accord using that. The way the coconut combines with the incredible freshness of the lime is spectacular. It then finishes with twin prongs of mentholated goodness. The spearmint provides a lighter piece of that effect. The eucalyptus is what makes the final stages of Pacific Lime something special. It carries an expansiveness through the menthol inherent within the eucalyptus forming an energetic glow surrounded by lime.
Pacific Lime has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is one of the best citrus colognes Atelier Cologne has produced in their entire line. It continues to show that even when you come full circle there are still new things to say.
Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle provided by Atelier Cologne.
The current landscape of new perfume brands is a minefield which has many casualties to claim. Even the best brands can succumb to something unexpected outside the bounds of the perfume itself. There are brands who have such a clear aesthetic right from the beginning I root for them to come through the other side of this process. One which has seemingly made a safe transit through the danger zone is Vilhelm Parfumerie.
Jerome Epinette (l.) amf Jan Ahlgren
Founded in spring 2015 by owner-creative director Jan Ahlgren it has many of the things I believe are important to succeed. One is finding a perfumer who understands your vision. Mr. Ahlgren has done this in perfumer Jerome Epinette. Theirs seems like an ideal creative partnership. The perfumes they have produced speak to that. Another piece of the puzzle is to convey your style of perfume coherently. Mr. Ahlgren has coupled his love of Golden Age Hollywood with perfume of location as he has designed scents around places he has lived. Vilhelm is one of the brands where the press release represents the perfume in the bottle. Finally, the brand must continue to develop beyond its beginnings. In 2018 the perfumes with Vilhelm on the label have all taken on a “sweet” style that wasn’t evident in the earlier releases. The third release of 2018, Moon Carnival, completes that trend.
The backstory is about a man from Rio who falls in love with a dancer. Her favorite flower is tuberose. To display his love the man traveled the world. Each new bloom of tuberose he found he decorated the moon with. Messrs. Ahlgren and Epinette bring this story to life with tropical fruit and tuberose before landing on a subtle gourmand base accord.
M. Epinette uses passionfruit as an ingredient to locate us in the tropics. This is a beautifully balanced use of this seldom used fruity ingredient. The transition to the tuberose is begun with freesia and gardenia first. As the tuberose gains traction it becomes a compelling partner with the passionfruit. At this point I was imagining the Brazilian dancer from the story. What comes next is a clever shift to an opaque gourmand base. If you aren’t looking for it, you have to wait a bit for the fruity floral fireworks to settle a bit. What M. Epinette does is to take the fluffy sticky sweet marshmallow we all recognize and turn into a meringue-like version; light and frothy. Tonka bean adds a vanilla tint without becoming too treacly. Vetiver arrives as a woody foundation later.
Moon Carnival has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Moon Carnival adds to the Vilhelm style of “sweet” which is best described as subtly transparent. It affirms that this brand will keep evolving as it continues forward. The sweet tuberose of Moon Carnival is proof of that.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Vilhelm Parfumerie.
Tom Petty tells me “the waiting is the hardest part”. Which I get daily reminders of when I look at my box of perfumes to be reviewed. Some I am asked to hold off on writing about until a specific date. It is the other perfumes in the box that Mr. Petty advises me of. I sometimes get a new release which is woefully outside of the time when I suspect it will be really great. Those sit in my “to be reviewed” box enticing me while I wait. We finally got a little streak of cooler weather, so I could take one of those out for a spin. Commodity Velvet was as good as I had hoped for.
Velvet was the third of the 2018 releases from Commodity at the end of the spring. I have come to admire the brand because they are giving the perfumers they hire a wide latitude to create. All that they ask is for a minimalist aesthetic. It has led to a collection of perfume which has more creativity than the typical mainstream fragrance. From the moment I learned of this I knew there was a perfumer for whom this brand would be a natural fit. With Velvet, perfumer Jerome Epinette gets his chance.
His inspiration for Velvet is “vibrant pink Turkish rose petals floating over a mysterious dark background of richly warm vanilla.” It is rare that a press description is as spot on as that one is. He does leave out one other important ingredient though and it really does make Velvet as good as it is.
That ingredient is there right at the start as an almond toasted by a bit of clove is the top accord. Almond is one of my favorite ingredients in perfume because it acts nutty and woody simultaneously. It is an ideal lead-in to the rose in the heart as heliotropin connects the almond and the Turkish rose. As they come together that pool of vanilla in M. Epinette’s inspiration also begins to rise. It all comes together in an opulent accord. A bit of resinous amber provides the final piece of this perfume.
Velvet has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Velvet completes a fantastic year for this brand. It is one of the places where a niche aesthetic has found some traction at the mall. Velvet will be a great addition to the cooler weather rotation. I plan on wearing it even more the colder it gets.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Commodity.
As I come to know a brand I have an expectation of how each new perfume will fit into what came before. This is especially true of brands which have a long-time association between creative director and perfumer. It is something I think can be critical to creating the defined aesthetic for any perfume brand. Many of my favorites fall into this category. Because of that it can be soothing to get a new release from one of them because it can be an antidote to a bunch of samples from brands just beginning to figure it all out. Except for 2018, Byredo has been seemingly exploring the far edges of their well-known style.
Earlier this year creative director-owner, Ben Gorham, along with longtime collaborator perfumer, Jerome Epinette, worked with Off-White designer Keith Abloh on Elevator Music. For a brand known for a lighter style of fragrance this was out on the edge of that. Now the second release for 2018, Eleventh Hour, goes the other way as Mr. Gorham and M. Epinette make the darkest release for the brand.
The name stands for the final hour of existence. The press copy is a bit arch even, “Eleventh Hour is an exploration around the smell of things ending, a journey to the end of time, the last perfume on Earth.” You’re a better person than me if that gives you any idea what the perfume should smell like. I was half-expecting something that smelled like metal, scorched electronics, and smoke. That is not what is in the bottle. Eleventh Hour is more about how you might face the eleventh hour if you weren’t planning on sticking around.
I have been really interested in the many ways Szechuan pepper has been used in perfumery especially over the last year or so. It is becoming a new top to middle ingredient which seemingly can be tuned to multiple effects. Eleventh Hour is another example of this versatility.
The top accord of Eleventh Hour is Szechuan pepper and fig. A green fig is what I smell first. The Szechuan pepper acts to cleave the fruit into a piquant pulpy accord. M. Epinette also uses carrot seed as an earthy sweetness to further elaborate this top accord. On the night I first smelled this I thought maybe this was going to be a new style of a Mediterranean kind of fragrance. Except M. Epinette pours some rum over the top. It turns it into a decadent boozy fig dessert which is where this lingers. Woods and tonka bean eventually form the foundation in the later hours.
Eleventh Hour has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
This stands out from most of the Byredo brand for its darker aesthetic. It fits right in because of Mr. Gorham and M. Epinette know how to take the aesthetic they’ve created while finding a way to define the limits. Eleventh Hour finds the darkness on the edge of town.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Byredo.
If I describe a perfume with the adjective “tropical” I would bet manty of you are thinking of something dense with sweet flowers and fruits. It has always been a funny thing for me because having grown up in South Florida and traveling throughout the tropics that is not the scent of the actual region. It is the scent of cocktails served at tourist areas. My idea of the tropics is the scent of the fruit ripening on the trees. A lighter scent of florals reaching me as if on a breeze. Turns out that a perfume called Vilhelm Mango Skin agrees with me.
I’m sure you’re all tired of reading this but Jan Ahlgren the owner-creative director of Vilhelm is one of the great success stories of the last three years. Mr. Ahlgren has defined a brand aesthetic which allows him to find new ways to position the new releases. He has so far exclusively worked with perfumer Jerome Epinette. Another reason for the coherence of the collection overall. Earlier this year Poets of Berlin was the first perfume from the brand I would have called “sweet”. Mango Skin continues the sweet trend at Vilhelm but it is less sweet than that previous release.
Jerome Epinette (l.) and Jan Ahlgren
M. Epinette has always found surprising new ways to use different ingredients. The note list of Mango Skin is a roster of typical tropical components. M. Epinette uses violet as the linchpin to what is a fantastic perfume of the tropics.
From the first moments the mango is here. In the very early going this is the smell of a ripe mango on the tree. There is some green from the skin. M. Epinette adds orange to flesh out the mango. Then the violet adds a candied floral bridge to frangipani and ylang-ylang. Those florals are pitched at a transparent level which allows for the violet to act as connective tissue between the fruit on top and the florals in the heart. The last part of the construction is an effervescent blackcurrant accord bubbling up through the other notes.
Mango Skin has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
Mango Skin is that combination of fruit and floral without being a typical fruity floral. The entire composition feels like a carefree day in the sun. If tropical could be like this all the time I’d be quite happy.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Vilhelm.
It always happens I get a new release that seems like it would be better in a different season than when I received it. It makes it challenging for me to assess it because I always wonder if it will get better in the season it seems made for. This was my mindset when I received my sample of Nest Cocoa Woods. Everything in the press release made me think cold-weather perfume. Except as I wore it in the withering heat of a Maryland summer it was also pretty good right now.
Creative Director-Owner of Nest Fragrances Laura Slatkin has quietly produced a nice collection of simple perfumes. Cocoa Woods is the twelfth release for the brand. She collaborates with perfumer Jerome Epinette. If there is one thing I like about the brand is the names are accurately descriptive. If it says Cocoa Woods I’m going to be getting some cocoa and some woods; which I do. What I like here is that it is cocoa and not chocolate which is what makes it more amenable to wear in the warmer temperatures.
M. Epinette opens with that cocoa in place. What makes it difference is this smells like the Dutch-processed cocoa powder I bake with. It is kind of dusty but still has a strong presence of chocolate without becoming viscous. It is provided some zingy energy via tiare flower and ginger in the early moments. They only make a fleeting appearance before the woods come forward. M. Epinette uses sandalwood and sequoia. It is a nice combination because the rougher-edged sequoia provides some texture to the smoother sandalwood. In the same way that I described the cocoa they provide an austere woody accord which matches the cocoa. Once the full accord comes together I kept thinking of a serving board made up of alternating strips of sequoia and sandalwood liberally coated in cocoa powder.
Cocoa Woods has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
It is this spare style M. Epinette uses for Cocoa Woods that makes this wearable in the summer. I was worried that the cocoa would become problematic later in the day but that never happened. Once it was in place it was a delightful companion both hot days I wore it. I’m still going to give it a spin once there’s some frost on the pumpkin. That I’ve enjoyed it in the season its probably not ideal for means it is more versatile than I first thought. It was a pleasant surprise.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Sephora.
There are people in perfume who I want to see work together. It arises from the same impulse to see your favorite actors or other artists combine their talents into something you hope will be special. One of my favorite examples was when two of my favorite horror authors, Peter Straub and Stephen King, co-wrote “The Talisman”. It was a story which accentuated what both authors did in a memorable way. It was a case of two of the most popular genre authors combining into a kind of super duo. The latest release from Olfactive Studio, Flash Back in New York, brings together two of my favorite creatives in perfumery; Celine Verleure and Jerome Epinette.
Mme Verleure has been one of the best creative directors from the moment she launched Olfactive Studio in September of 2011. Her process of using a photograph as a brief for the perfumer she collaborates with has proven time and again to produce excellent perfumes. One reason is by using a visual instead of a written brief it accesses different ideas of what a new perfume might smell like.
M. Epinette has become the man who can launch a brand. He has helped to define the aesthetic for no less than four brands. That they can be distinct yet different speaks to his skill. Yet, in its way once that aesthetic is defined it can keep you hemmed in by what you created. M. Epinette isn’t going to cut loose with something dramatically different he is going to find the edges of the frame he created and subtly push against it. The opportunity given to M. Epinette, by Mme Verleure, is to not have that frame to push against but a freedom to explore a theme.
Flash Back in New York photo by Vivienne Gucwa
That theme comes from a photo by New York-based photographer Vivienne Gucwa. I have followed Ms. Gucwa through her Instagram feed “travelinglens” and her website “New York Through the Lens”. If you look through her photos online, you will be unsurprised to find she just released a book called “New York in the Snow” which is a frequent topic of her photography. Mme Verleure chose one which captured New York in a blizzard.
The perfume which comes from this is a set of contrasts mirroring the view of the snow falling while warm inside. M. Epinette uses each phase to develop this effect in three parts.
Flash Back in New York opens on a pungent mixture of cumin and clary sage. I imagine if you are not a fan of these ingredients this will not be an ideal start. Hang in there because M. Epinette uses a couple of the linen musks to provide a cleaner contrast to the less clean cumin and sage. It works beautifully especially as saffron rounds it off after a few minutes more. The heart moves towards the floral as violet and jasmine provide that. The top accord begins to combine with a leather accord to set up the contrast of animalic and floral. The remains of the cumin evoke a bit of a sweaty leather jacket just after you’ve taken it off. Birch smoke swirls off the leather in lazy ascending spirals. A green accord first of papyrus but later joined by vetiver increases in intensity. As the saffron did in the top accord tonka bean provides the finishing touch to the base accord.
Flash Back in New York has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
While all the snow themed imagery is liable to induce PTSD rather than a flashback to my New York City readers that isn’t what the perfume is really about. It is a study in contrasts where at the crossroads the artists find beauty. That is what Flash Back in New York is all about.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle provided by Olfactive Studio.
My least appreciated style of perfume is the fruity floral. If you ask me to only have one half of that I would have said give me the floral. It isn’t that there aren’t fruity perfumes which retain interest, but it sometimes becomes difficult for a creative team to keep it from smelling like candy. Which is a shame because fruity notes offer some of the same promise that their floral partners do. The latest Vilhelm Parfumerie release, Poets of Berlin, shows how that is done.
Creative director of Vilhelm Parfumerie, Jan Ahlgren, has done a fantastic job of using musicians as inspiration but I must confess this time the connection has passed me by. In the press copy it says Poets of Berlin is inspired by David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy of albums. I will leave it to better minds than mine to make the connection between a fruity woody perfume and Bowie’s Berlin portfolio. Once again M. Ahlgren calls on his collaborator on the entire collection to date, Jerome Epinette, to find a way to add something to fruity fragrance.
Jerome Epinette (l.) and Jan Ahlgren
The choice that is made is to take a combination of sweet and tart fruit ingredients and let them open with a crystalline sweetness before slowly adding in woody ingredients from light to heavy to provide unexpected depth to the fruit.
The two fruits M. Epinette uses are lemon and blueberry. When they first hit my skin, they project predominantly as sugary sweet reminding me a bit of those sugar-coated jelly candies. Then M. Epinette uses the green tinged woodiness of bamboo to turn my attention to the tart underneath the sugar. That green thread is picked up and amplified with vetiver which also notches the woodiness up a level, too. This is where the sweetness of the fruit returns to the foreground pushing back against the woods. Sandalwood and vanilla comprise the base accord creating depth to both the sweet and the woods.
Poets of Berlin has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Poets of Berlin is an excellent spring fragrance. I wore it on an unexpected warm day and it really sang on my skin. It is surprising that I am happier wearing fruity rather than floral on a warm day, but Poets of Berlin has made me crave fruity woods.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Vilhelm Parfumerie.