Designer fragrances are a dime a dozen; most ending up not being worth a dime. It is why when there is a designer collection which stands out it really stands out. That is the case with the fragrance side of John Varvatos.
John Varvatos is an American fashion designer known for his rock and roll aesthetic. In 2004 he wanted to branch out into fragrance. From here the story usually goes this way; brand name turns over creative control to big cosmetics brand who produce an insipid fragrance. When there are successes within the designer area of perfume it almost always comes because the name on the bottle gets involved in the creative process. Mr. Varvatos was one of those. That would lead to some other anomalies to the way John Varvatos developed as a brand. The most important is he worked with the same perfumer, Rodrigo Flores-Roux, exclusively for the first fifteen perfumes. This kind of partnership is common in the niche community; much rarer in mainstream. Over the years they have developed one of the very best fragrance collections you can find at the department store. They have been at it so long that the early releases are now easily found in the discount bins. While I whole heartedly recommend almost everything released by Mr. Varvatos and Sr. Flores-Roux for this month’s Discount Diamonds I’m going to start at the beginning with John Varvatos Cologne.
At that time for men’s fragrance they made a couple of interesting choices. One to eschew all the fresh and clean competition. Second to work with some unusual ingredients. In that first press release they would tout four ingredients being used for the first time.
John Varvatos Cologne opens with the sweet dried fruitiness of medjool dates. This provides a unique kind of sweetness which is kept from getting to be too much by using rosemary and tamarind leaves to wrap it up in notes of herb and vegetal forms of green. The herbs continue into the heart with clary sage, coriander, and thyme. At this point there is a lot of similarity to the stewed fruit accord which would become popular in niche perfumery. In the base they use a couple of woody synthetics, Eaglewood and Auramber. This gives an intensely woody accord with an amber finish.
John Varvatos Cologne has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
What you see above would be repeated time and again as Mr. Varvatos and Sr. Flores-Roux seemingly improved release after release. It has been one of the most remarkable collaborations in all mainstream perfume.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
When I was beginning to start thinking about writing perfume reviews I was deep in my “niche is best” phase. I would happily debate with those who would insist there was good perfume at the mall with a very pithy “Nuh-uh!” There would be a few which would shake my narrow world view. One of those was 2004’s John Varvatos. If there is a reason I make sure I survey the department store offerings the John Varvatos line is one of them.
John Varvatos has been a successful men’s fashionwear designer since the mid 1980’s creating some of the most iconic styles for both Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein. He would begin his independent career with his own label in 2000. One of the things I like about Mr. Varvatos is we share a similar rock and roll musical taste. He used to do a radio show on SiriusXM where he would play some of his favorite songs. Plus, he is the current tenant of the storefront which was CBGB in NYC. Unlike many who put their name on the bottle it is clear to me that his is not a licensing deal but an active creative partnership.
That partnership has been with perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux. I think Sr. Flores-Roux also gets the Varvatos rock and roll aesthetic. He has translated it successfully over fifteen releases into what I would consider the best department store brand from top to bottom. Not only do they share passion, but Sr. Flores-Roux brings his artistic perspective even to the most modest briefs he receives. This is another reason the John Varvatos collection stands out among the other bottles on the counter. Artisan Pure is the most recent release.
Artisan Pure is the fourth member of the Artisan sub-collection. It was inspired by hillsides of Xalapa in Sr. Flores-Roux’s birthplace of Mexico. 2017 has been a year of Sr. Flores-Roux stepping forward with many looks at Mexico. Artisan Pure captures those hillsides when the orchards and coffee fields are in full bloom.
Artisan Pure opens with a citrus accord that rings with the clarity of pinging a finger off a crystal wineglass. Lemon, bergamot, and clementine form a juicy pulpy chord. Petitgrain provides the focus that turns it into a crystalline citrus accord. It also makes this one of the longer lasting citrus accords because of that. The green of the hillsides is captured by herbal notes of marjoram and thyme. Ginger provides a zingy intermezzo to a heart of orris root. This is the kind of non-powdery iris I find wonderful when paired with citrus. This is where Sr. Flores-Roux understands a little bit of an expensive ingredient helps lift the overall above the ordinary. The base accord is woods and amber over some musks.
Artisan Pure has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Artisan Pure is yet another example of why John Varvatos is the best of the department store. There are so many brands which phone it in at this point. That Mr. Varvatos and Sr. Flores-Roux continue to produce this kind of quality is remarkable.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by John Varvatos.
When I am asked to name a mainstream perfume brand I admire one of my answers for the last couple of years has been John Varvatos. There are a couple of very good reasons for this. One of these is consistency. Since the very first release of John Varvatos in 2004 every perfume has been composed by the same perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux. That kind of long-term relationship is common in the niche sector but far less likely to happen in the mainstream perfume market. It is why flankers are usually so bland compared to their original. From the first John Varvatos straight through to the newest, and twelfth, release Dark Rebel this has been a brand which has thrived on being an outlier in the department store.
John Varvatos (Photo: Richard Phibbs)
In reading eleven years of press notes, as I receive each release, it is evident that Mr. Varvatos is not an absentee creative director. As a result I think it allows for Sr. Flores-Roux to develop a deeper understanding of what a John Varvatos fragrance should smell like. Many of these press releases of the past have mentioned rock and roll; Dark Rebel is no different. What is different is this one is the closest to capturing that experience of wearing my leather jacket to hear a band at my favorite club. Sr. Flores-Roux captures the bar, the leather jacket, and the cigarettes as I wait for the music to begin.
Sr. Flores-Roux opens with a very boozy rum sweetened with sugarcane. It has a bit of a kinship to a daiquiri. The spices which come next keep it from being overly sweet. Cardamom and clary sage, especially the latter, add a real edge to this rum cocktail. More spices continue this direction as black pepper and a beautiful nutmeg provide the transition to the leather accord at the heart. Every black leather jacket I have owned has had the same smell; animalic with a bit of oiliness. Sr. Flores-Roux captures this perfectly with fir and styrax providing the enhancement to the excellent leather accord. The base opens on a lovely golden tobacco which is roughened up with cade wood. The foundation is the new Akigalawood which is the biologically obtained fraction of patchouli which has stripped away the earthiness leaving the herbal and spicy facets. In Dark Rebel it closes the loop from the spices earlier to the leather in the heart. I think we are going to see a lot of Akigalawood especially in men’s designer releases over the next year.
Dark Rebel has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
From a line I have liked a lot over the past ten years Dark Rebel is easily my favorite as it finally gets the rock and roll vibe right. Both days I wore this I was channeling my inner Billy Idol curling my lip and singing “With a Rebel Yell more, more, more”. Please Mr. Varvatos and Sr. Flores-Roux; more, more more.
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample provided by John Varvatos.