There are many things I believe contribute to the long-term success of an independent perfume brand. I write often that a clear creative vision shared with a single perfumer creates an aesthetic that becomes as recognizable as the bottle or the label. The lines which have all of that tend to be better. There is one brand which has all of that, but I wonder if there is another factor which might be missing; distribution.
Dom De Vetta
When I was working at CaFleureBon in 2012 we heard about a new English brand called Shay & Blue. Creatively directed by Dom De Vetta who started the brand after his time with Jo Malone. He also made the decision to work with an in-house perfumer, Julie Masse. They kept their goals modest working out of a boutique in London. It was always on my list of brands I expected would do well if it was more widely available. A couple years ago that became the case. What also happened was a creative uptick from a brand which I already admired for that. The most recent release keeps that roll going.
Shay & Blue Kings Wood takes two of the most popular perfume ingredients of the last couple of years; Szechuan pepper and pineapple and shows them to their best effect. Mme Masse expertly finds new aspects of both to include in a modern evolution of fougere.
When I sprayed Kings Wood on I braced myself for the pineapple. It’s not my favorite ingredient. For the first minute or so the insipid sweetness I find unappealing was out in front. Then the Szechuan pepper I have found so versatile steps up and turns the pineapple in to something much more palatable. There is a kind of green herbal character to the Szechuan pepper. Mme Masse uses that to strip away the tropical fruit juice by overwriting it with that herbal-ness. That leaves an unripe tart fruit to represent the pineapple. It went from insipid to inspired in a flash. The Szechuan pepper accentuates the part of the pineapple I do like. This opening then nestles into a soft green fougere accord. It is a beautiful setting as the plush green picks up the green threads from the top notes. Making this a contemporary version of a fougere. The base accord is made up of oak and leather. Mme Masse uses a polished version of both wood and animalic effects.
Kings Wood has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
There have been a lot of pineapple perfumes this year which have shown me that there is more to it as an ingredient than I thought. Kings Wood is right at the top of that list. I’m beginning to think it has more to do with the brand and the creative team than the ingredient. Kings Wood is ample proof of that hypothesis.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
It is a great thing when a good European-based brand finds its way to the US. I always root for the good ones to have as much coverage as they can. The English brand Shay & Blue is one of these. Started by creative director Dom De Vetta five years ago it was a UK exclusive for a long time. Mr. De Vetta founded Shay & Blue after a tenure at Jo Malone London. As he started Shay & Blue he had the freedom to be a little more creative which has become one of the brand hallmarks. He has worked exclusively with perfumer Julie Masse developing an effective partnership which also helps define the Shay & Blue aesthetic. The latest release is Scarlet Lily.
Julie Masse and Dom De Vetta
Lily is a hard note to feature in fragrance; in its most prevalent version it can have a sterility to it. What gets forgotten is there are other versions of lily instead of the white version seen at weddings and funerals. There is a tawdry pink version called the Stargazer Lily which has a spicy core to it which imparts a bit more life into things. It is that one which is featured in Scarlet Lily.
Mme Masse opens Scarlet Lily floating on a watery lotus. It is a lovely choice as the aquatic nature is burned away by the spicy lily as it rises over the lotus like the sunrise. To keep the spicy heart out in front Mme Masses uses red pepper to provide an opaque piquancy. To buff the floral parts a bit of muguet and ylang-ylang provide support. All together it forms a lively spicy lily accord which is where Scarlet Lily lingers for hours before descending into the warm embrace of amber at the end.
Scarlet Lily has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Scarlet Lily is yet another reminder of the top-notch collection Mr. De Vetta is compiling here. They are all simple constructs but each carries more heft than their simplicity would imply. Scarlet Lily is another which shines by forming a compelling accord intelligently.
Disclosure : This review was based on a sample I purchased.
Among the things which symbolize summer to me is a field of grass dotted with the puffy white pop-poms of dandelions. There was a hill near where I grew up which I would roll down coming up at the bottom with dandelion fuzz in my clothes and hair. Those were the lazy serene days of summer with the smells of grass and dandelions the scent of that. It was shown in a more amusing way by the comic strip Bloom County by Berkeley Breathed. The strip below shows how a dandelion break can be just the antidote needed in times of stress.
When it comes to perfume, dandelion is not something found very often as an ingredient. A bare handful of fragrances list it as a part of the formula. It was why I was very interested to try the latest release from Shay & Blue, Dandelion Fig.
Julie Masse and Dominic de Vetta
Established in 2012, by Dominic de Vetta, Shay & Blue is one of those well-kept secrets within niche perfume. Mr. de Vetta worked at Jo Malone prior to moving to his own brand. One of the things I always think about is a Shay & Blue fragrance is an adventurous take on the same kind of perfume architecture of his previous employer. Focusing on a couple of ingredients whose names are on the bottle but with a different kind of verve to it. For all the releases to date perfumer Julie Masse has been the nose. Together Mr. de Vetta and Mme Masse have created a very coherent collection of which Dandelion Fig is among the best of them.
Dandelion Fig is a soft paean to a midsummer’s day. Despite the use of the sharp green facets of dandelion leaves Mme Masse uses lemongrass and grass accords to soften those spiky moments. The early moments of Dandelion Fig are fresh because of the lemongrass while the cut grass accord and the dandelion leaves provide a pillowy verdancy. It is then made even more softly green by the addition of tomato leaf. Mme Masse uses it to change the green from grass to garden. To add to that juniper berry is along for the ride. It adds a refreshing zing to things adding to the energy from the lemongrass. The fig shows up in the base as a healthy shot of what I think is stemone which is shaded towards its greener incarnation by the other ingredients which preceded it. Once this all flows together it is a beautiful marriage of particularly complementary notes.
Dandelion Fig has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I really urge you to reach out and try all of the Shay & Blue releases to date. It is a line worth the effort. If you need a place to start Dandelion Fig is a great choice. I have admired the brand since it was founded but with Dandelion Fig it has come of age while allowing me to have a dandelion break, even in the middle of winter.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
I own several L’Occitane fragrances. They have always been a solid line of fragrance which I think is a bit underrated. That is why I always check in when I’m at the mall. Over the Holidays when I stopped in I found something new a flanker to Eau de Cedrat released in 2015. That perfume was very straightforward as a clean citrus. It is typical for much of the brand’s offerings. The new flanker, L’Homme Cedrat Cologne, succeeds because it is not so typical.
Now don’t get me wrong this isn’t something so unique but perfumer Julie Masse does a nice job at adding in some atypical aspects to the traditional citrus perfume making it more interesting than its cousin. One of the things which made this stand out was the use of violet leaves to provide the aquatic accord. It has always been a part of the perfumer’s palette but I’ve noticed it being used more often in lieu of the more typical suite of ozonic notes. At its heart L’Homme Cedrat Cologne is a Mediterranean style fragrance.
L’Homme Cedrat Cologne opens with the title note in place from the very first moment. Then Mme Masse surrounds the tart citrus with a lively selection of spices; ginger, black pepper, and chilly mint. That last note is there to begin the transition to the aquatic phase of the violet leaves. The mint is that sensation of cooling sea spray on your face. The violet leaves provide the expansiveness and wateriness of being on the water. In the heart lavender uses both halves of its dual nature as the herbal side picks up the spices while the floral nature provides a new vector. The base is back to generic as it is cedar and white musks an appropriate, if not terribly exciting, finishing accord.
L’Homme Cedrat Cologne has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
As I mentioned above I like the overall L’Occitane fragrance collection quite a bit. The best of them do provide something a little different which is exactly what L’Homme Cedrat Cologne does.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by L’Occitane.
I am sitting here with a desk overflowing with samples. As I was attempting to organize them I was pooling all of the flankers in one stack. As I was doing this I noticed there were four new versions of perfumes of which I liked their original iteration. I have infrequently done a round-up of flankers when I think there is something worth mentioning. I did not give these perfumes which I will write about below my typical two days of wearing. These all got the same day and about the same amount of territory on my two forearms. They were not enough alike that it did set up a bit of olfactory cacophony but I do think I learned enough to make some broad assessments.
Kenneth Cole Black Bold- The original Kenneth Cole Black is one of those great workhorse masculine fougeres which is probably underrated. Perfumer Harry Fremont did Black and he has returned to do Black Bold. As almost all flankers do they keep the basic structure of the original in place and either pump up one of the supporting notes or add an extra one in. Here M. Fremont enhances the mint in the top accord so it is more prominent. It adds a cooling effect to the ginger and basil with which it is matched. The bold is a big slug of oak in the leather focused base. The oak roughs up the smooth leather and for someone wanting a bolder version of Black I think Black Bold does that.
Bulgari Rose Goldea– I really liked last year’s Goldea for the way perfumer Alberto Morillas used his supernatural skill with musks to create a unique mainstream release. Rose Goldea feels like what happens when you release something different; the brand asks for something more conventional. M. Morillas provides a very classic rose focused fragrance bracketed with sandalwood and incense. He couldn’t keep the musks entirely out and they appear in the base providing the similar golden glow they do in the original. I preferred the strong musk thread which ran through the original. If you wanted a lot less musks and more floral, Rose Goldea might do.
Anna Sui Romantica Exotica– I was not a fan of last year’s Romantica it was an overheated fruity floral that I could barely stand on a strip. A change of perfumer also gave a change in style as Jerome Epinette likes to work in more focused accords with clear connections. Romantica Exotica moves from a crisp blood orange and lemon top to an orange blossom and gardenia heart. Cottonwood and sandalwood provide the base accord. Of the four things I had on this was the one that almost got another day of wear out of me.
Giorgio Armani Si Le Parfum– The latest Giorgio Armani release to turn into a sea of flankers is 2013’s Si Eau de Parfum. It has been a pretty bleak grouping as the main thing which was altered was the concentration of the rose de mai focal point. I never understand who these kind of flankers are meant to entice. With the new Si Le Parfum perfumer Julie Masse, who worked on the original with Christine Nagel, makes a massive change from rose de mai to osmanthus in the heart. Almost everything else is the same cassis and vanilla top; amber and labdanum base. The heart is transformed as osmanthus steps up with its leathery apricot quality and wraps the patchouli, benzoin, and jasmine into something that does resemble the desired modern chypre accord. This is the most different of the four from the original because Mme Masse massively reworks the heart accord; for the better.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by the perfume brands.
There have been a few moments, especially at the beginning of this year, where I fear I might be on perfume overload. I receive so many samples and when deciding what I am going to wear, and subsequently review, that first impression out of the envelope is critical. I always liken my evening snap evaluation of what has come in the mail to speed dating. Each perfume has the time it takes for me to smell a strip and a patch of skin to make their case for a chance to get to know me better. While I was attending Esxence and Sniffapalooza there have been a few perfumes which would get a second chance because they were presented again during the event. I admit as they were placed under my nose again I still had the first impression in my mind only to find something which was more interesting on the second sniff. The latest perfume to make a more favorable impression the second time around is the new Armani Prive Pivoine Suzhou.
Armani Prive is the exclusive fragrance line of Giorgio Armani started in 2004. It has all the Armani hallmarks of exquisite tailoring for these fragrances. As a collection the perfumes might be a little too obviously engineered and it is what makes it a collection which when it hits for me as with Bois D’Encens or Cuir Amethyste it really makes an impact. Other times it just feels like a competently constructed perfume but almost unemotionally so. When I received my sample of Pivoine Suzhou, by perfumers Cecile Matton and Julie Masse, in the depth of winter I was probably not in the mood for a sprightly spring fruity floral. I do remember that it was one of the earliest spring florals I received this year and in this case being first might not have been an advantage. After my initial spray it went into the “not for review” pile. Flash forward to May at Sniffapalooza Spring Fling and the swag bag from Bergdorf’s, a nice tester of Pivoine Suzhou was included. On my bus trip home something happened and mine began to leak. By the time I unpacked I got hit with an intense wave of the perfume. Which I really liked. It took me awhile to track down the culprit in a bag full of almost 75 samples but I was surprised to find out what it was. What I found was Pivoine Suzhou was a perfume which I needed to spray on with abandon to find the parts of it I enjoy.
Pivoine Suzhou opens with a fruit duet of tangerine and raspberry contrasted with baie rose. I have really come to appreciate the use of baie rose as an instrument of texture in the fruity opening of this style of fragrances. In Pivoine Suzhou it really makes the fairly common opening feel less pedestrian. It leads into the floral mix of peony and Rose de Mai. This is where wearing more really made a difference. On a strip this comes off watercolor weak and it was overridden by the fruit. On my skin with multiple sprays it not only stands up to the fruit but it takes a fairly standard combination of fruity floral components and injects new life into them. This is not a watercolor it is a pop art day-glo fruity floral fragrance which radiates in intense waves. The base is the usual mix of Ambrox, patchouli, and white musks.
Pivoine Suzhou has 10-12 hour longevity and the way I tested it, with 8 sprays, above average sillage.
As I considered the way I would review this I was wondering whether a perfume which requires me to spray a lot on myself to make a memorable impression is a well-constructed perfume. Shouldn’t I have been able to realize this from a quick preliminary test? I’m not sure I have a final answer but in the case of Pivoine Suzhou more was definitely better.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Giorgio Armani and a sample received at Sniffapalooza Spring Fling.