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.
I think often of how the genre of science fiction has matured over the one hundred-odd years it has been around. In its earliest days it was almost entirely literary. It was also almost entirely short stories. This was the fuel of the magazines like “Amazing Stories”. Many of the greatest authors within the genre would start by publishing short form science fiction in a magazine. In the current times it has morphed into multiple websites allowing aspiring writers of the fantastical the opportunity to dazzle with fewer words than a novel. I am one who enjoys this kind of economical storytelling. It gets in, does its thing, and moves on. A perfume inspired by all of this, Ellis Brooklyn Sci Fi, feels like its own version of something found in Amazing Stories.
Ellis Brooklyn is one of the best new perfume brands of the last year. Bee Shapiro founded it in 2016 and in 2017 really stepped things up. The early release Rives was a fantastic classic fougere. Sci Fi was the end of year release and it is also excellent. Ms. Shapiro is a beauty writer at the New York Times and, at some point, she must have crossed paths with perfumer Jerome Epinette. However they teamed up M. Epinette has been an ideal partner for Ms. Shapiro. Sci Fi is another example of it.
So far for his work on Ellis Brooklyn M. Epinette works by framing a strong central note within a frame of notes which allow it to expand only within the confines of that frame. The keynote for Sci Fi is vanilla which is framed by citrus, green tea, freesia, and cedar.
Sci Fi opens with a tart citrus accord where the bitter orange nature of bergamot is enhanced. I admit I was expecting the vanilla to rise to form a creamsicle kind of feel. Instead M. Epinette adds the other two legs of his frame as a transparent green tea and fresh floral freesia flank the citrus. Then the vanilla comes forward and interacts with all three simultaneously. Taking what could have been a nondescript orange vanilla perfume into something with verve, from the tea and freesia energizing it beyond that. A synthetic cedar closes the frame providing a clean woodiness for the previous accord to rest upon.
Sci Fi has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I am again impressed at the work Ms. Shapiro and M. Epinette are producing. While Sci Fi might not seem futuristic it is an Amazing Story of how to do excellent perfume.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Sephora.
There are many times where I am introduced to a new brand and it doesn’t come together for me, but I am rooting for them. This is the case for the Room 1015 brand. I’ve met the owner Michael Partouche a.k.a. Dr. Mike a few times over the past two years since he founded the brand. On the first visit he explained how this was meant to be a brand inspired by 1970’s rock and roll. The name itself refers to the infamous room at the Continental Hyatt hotel on Sunset Boulevard where Rolling Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards flung a television out the window in 1972. As one who was growing up on the music in this period there was a glorious DIY mentality as everyone was trying to figure out how to keep this gig rolling. All while secretly believing it was going to end tomorrow so live for tonight.
Michael Partouche a.k.a. Dr. Mike
When Dr. Mike laid this out as the aesthetic he wanted I was excited to try a collection of power chords and anarchy. Which was the opposite of what I got from the three debut fragrances. They were nice, but they were not 1970’s rock and roll. They were American Top 40 as perfume. Over the next two releases I began to think that was what Dr. Mike wanted. I thought the perfume I wanted from Room 1015 was not going to come. Then I received my sample of Hollyrose and got what I was waiting for.
Kate Hudson as Penny Lane in the movie "Almost Famous"
For Hollyrose Dr. Mike was inspired by the groupies who became secondary stars to the rock stars they hung out with. Because they were sources of information the writers for the earliest publications covering the industry used them for that. This was a time when the rules were being written; with none set in stone. The leather jacket-clad ladies would be hanging around as the band made their stop where they lived. To capture this Dr. Mike works with perfumer Jerome Epinette for the first time. They deliver a rose in a black leather fisted glove which captures those Band-Aids and their world.
Hollyrose opens with a nose tickling accord of black pepper and sticky green blackcurrant bud. Blackcurrant bud can verge on the unpleasant; M. Epinette keeps it safely away from that but there are moments it feels like it might break out. The rose comes through as M. Epinette puts it into a well-cared for black leather jacket accord. This is the smell of rock and roll women throughout the 70’s. A bit of patchouli reminds you that the hippie aesthetic still lilts through it all.
Hollyrose has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
As I wore Hollyrose I kept thinking about the groupie portrayed by Kate Hudson named Penny Lane in the movie “Almost Famous”. This seems like what she would smell like. Which means Dr. Mike finally found the 70’s vibe I was hoping for.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Room 1015.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.