My Favorite Things: Cardamom

Spring is here right on schedule. Also, right on schedule is the beginning of my rotation of spring favorites to the front of the perfume wardrobe. Most opt for florals and aquatics. I prefer spice perfumes for the cool nights and warm days. One of my favorite shoulder season spices is cardamom. Here are five of my favorite fragrances featuring cardamom.

I can’t be 100% sure but I think the perfume which made me a cardamom fan was 1996’s Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant. Composed by perfumers Dominique Ropion and Jean-Louis Sieuzac under the creative direction of Celine Verleure; Jungle L’Elephant features a rich creamy cardamom among the panoply of spice as clove, cumin, licorice mix with mango, vanilla and amber. Jungle L’Elephant has always been that perfect shoulder season perfume. The equivalent of a lightweight cashmere sweater. It is among my very favorite perfumes, period.

Perhaps one of the oddest cardamom perfumes I own is Heeley Esprit du Tigre. Perfumer James Heeley wanted a fragrance which evoked the classic liniment Tiger Balm. Not your typical inspiration leading to an atypical perfume. A strong camphor and mint opening leads into a strong cardamom, black pepper, and clove heart which recreates the herbal scent of Tiger Balm. Vetiver finishes it with a green flourish. I wear this on the spring mornings which are a little cooler and the days don’t get that warm.

With the new renaissance of colognes cardamom has become one of the more popular ingredients in this trend.

In 2012 there was an entire collection of cologne nouveau from The Different Company all created by Emilie Coppermann with the creative direction of Luc Gabriel. I liked all of them but the one I wear the most is Sienne D’Orange. Mme Copperman uses a greener version of cardamom to go with orange in the top accord. She brilliantly uses carrot as the bridge to orris before finishing with a suede leather accord. This is exactly what imagination can provide to staid archetypes.

The same can be said for Thirdman Eau Contraire which was called Eau Nomade when I purchased it in 2013. Owner-Creative Director Jean-Christophe le Greves wanted a collection which pushed the envelope on cologne architecture. Working with perfumer Bruno Jovanovic this was an impressively realized collection of which Eau Contraire was my favorite. In this case M. Jovanovic used a hefty amount of cardamom to provide contrast to lemon and orange. A very technically adept mixture of various musks provide the development around this trio. This has been one of those perfumes which makes me smile broadly when I wear it.

As mentioned above a greener version of cardamom was beginning to be used by perfumers and I was wanting someone to really go all in with that ingredient. My wish was granted in 2014’s By Kilian Intoxicated as Calice Becker working with creative director Kilian Hennessy made a cup of strong spice infused Turkish coffee. Mme Becker formed a nucleus of strong rich coffee to which she added the green cardamom in a significant quantity so it could stand up to the coffee. It almost has a sappy stickiness in this concentration. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and caramel finish this off. Intoxicated is one of my favorite coffee fragrances but it is the green cardamom which makes that true.

If you’re looking for something to add to your spring fragrance rotation give these cardamom perfumes a try.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Perfumer Rewind: Dominique Ropion 1996-1997: Jungle Fever

One of the things I find interesting about writing these pieces is the opportunity to apply complete hindsight when looking back at a perfumer’s career. With the fullness of time’s perspective it is easier to find that moment when the style associated with them first comes to the fore. What is amusing to me as I do this is I often wore these early fragrances and while memorable I can’t say I was prescient enough to know the milestones they represented. In 1996 I picked up a bottle of Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant and this was my vanilla and spice baseline for many years. It would be followed up a year later with Kenzo Jungle Le Tigre which was a brilliant bit of fruity floral wildness. The entire team behind these two perfumes have been involved with some great perfumes in the years since. Over 1996 and 1997 they all intersected in the perfumed jungle.

ropion

Dominique Ropion

The creative director for both of these perfumes was Celine Verleure who has gone on to found her own niche perfume line Olfactive Studio. Two perfumers, Dominique Ropion and Jean-Louis Sieuzac collaborated for both of these. M. Sieuzac was part of the team which had created Yves St. Laurent Opium twenty years earlier. M. Ropion was still defining his style. They had both worked together on Dior Dune in 1991 so a working relationship had been created. Together they would create two perfumes that you would never suspect came from Kenzo if you smelled them blind today.

In 1996 Kenzo was still forming its identity and as such I think they gave Mme Verleure a wide latitude to let her perfumers follow their instincts. It would be four years later with the release of FlowerbyKenzo that Kenzo’s aesthetic would crystallize. With Jungle L’Elephant and Jungle Le Tigre Messrs. Ropion and Sieuzac explored the boundaries of Orientals from two differing vectors.

Kenzo-Jungle-LElephant

Jungle L’Elephant is the perfume where M. Ropion would display his ability to soften and refine even the most boisterous of notes. Nowhere is that more evident than in the early moments of L’Elephant. If I tell you the top notes are cardamom and cumin I can imagine many already exclaiming, “No Thank You!” Except the perfumers harness these notes and turn them into a soft spicy pillow to lay one’s head down on. None of the sweatiness or rough green quality is here. Instead it is exotic and plush. That would be enhanced as the heart adds in clove and licorice to make the spicy accord more complex, yet still soft. Ylang-ylang and mango provide a fruity floral combo to add contrast. The transition here happens fairly quickly and it leads to a vanilla laden base made warm by cashmeran and amber. This evolution from soft to comfort will return time and again in M. Ropion’s perfumes but it is here that I first noticed it.

kenzo-jungle-le-tigre

Jungle Le Tigre dispenses with the spices and instead chooses to prowl the jungle with a fruity floral vapor trail. The perfumers choose the sour kumquat and they pair it with davana allowing for its characteristic fruity nature to be enhanced. It heads into a heart of osmanthus supported by ylang-ylang. The perfumers make a smart choice to let the leather and apricot character of the osmanthus hold the center of Le Tigre. It sits there full of restrained potential. It all devolves into a slightly sweet spicy woody base. Massoia wood provides the cream and the wood as cinnamon roughs up the edges a bit. The base of Le Tigre is a bold final statement. M. Ropion would refine and alter this architecture in just four years to result in Une Fleur de Cassie as one of the first Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle releases.

M. Ropion has had one of the great perfume portfolios of the last twenty years and if you want to know where it started you need to head into the jungle.

Disclosure: This review was based on bottles I purchased

Mark Behnke