Independent perfumers have become the primary driving force for natural perfumery. When asked by someone to show them a natural perfume which has the same beauty as a mixed media version. One brand I turn to is Sonoma Scent Studio and the perfumer behind it Laurie Erickson. In 2013 she began her Sonoma Naturals collection with Cocoa Sandalwood and followed that up with Spiced Citrus Vetiver, and Amber Incense. These are great examples of her skill as a natural perfumer. I have found these perfumes to be as good as it gets. Just prior to the Holidays Ms. Erickson sent me the fourth entry in the Sonoma Naturals collection, Pacific Forest.
In 2012 Ms. Erickson released a perfume called Forest Walk as a result of an online conversation between Mandy Aftel and herself. Ms. Erickson’s side of the conversation was about the difficulty in blending a couple of sources of hemlock absolute. Forest Walk was a fragrance that started with its feet firmly planted on the ground but by the end you were high up among the trees surrounded by the woods. Pacific Forest wanted to take that natural hemlock and woods based formula and instead of soaring high; ground it as you dig your toes into the earth with an amber base. In the end Ms. Erickson would also find that some very small amount of synthetics were necessary to get the blend of Pacific Forest correct. So instead of 100% natural she says it is 99% natural.
Pacific Forest uses that hemlock blend from Forest Walk as the opening again. This time it is allowed to be a little gauzier and diffuse. That allows for the violet used to gain a little more prominence than in the original. This is a subtle effect to be sure but wearing them side by side it is definitely apparent. I suspect higher concentrations of synthetics help draw stronger lines between the notes. Pacific Forest is much less delineated and as such it makes changes to how it develops on my skin. The woods begin to arrive as fir, cedar, sandalwood and oakmoss all provide the woods of the forest. In Forest Walk this is where things begin to lift off with an ever expanding woody accord atop the hemlock. In Pacific Forest a fabulously warm amber keeps this earthbound. It has the effect of hugging the woods in a fragrant sunbeam. It also moves the hemlock to the background more.
Pacific Forest has 6-8 hour longevity and very low sillage.
Pacific Forest in the introvert’s version of the same walk taken in Forest Walk. Ms. Erickson puts you at a fork in the path and asks if you want to soar up into the branches or keep your feet on the ground. It depends on my mood which fork I will take on a particular day. That Ms. Erickson has given me that choice is another reason why I think so highly of her.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Sonoma Scent Studio.
As I wrote when I posted my five favorite incense perfumes Laurie Erickson of Sonoma Scent Studio composed one of my favorite incense perfumes ever in Incense Pure. That was a mixture of synthetic and natural ingredients. Ms. Erickson has decided to re-visit incense again; this time for her Sonoma Naturals collection.
In 2013 Ms. Erickson decided to create an all-natural botanical line of fragrances within her Sonoma Scent studio brand. She would work at high concentrations so as to enhance the beautiful natural ingredients she was using. Both of the first two releases Cocoa Sandalwood and Spiced Citrus Vetiver were extremely good. I was wondering when she would return to this line. The answer is 2015 as Ms. Erickson’s latest release is Amber Incense.
To compose an all-natural incense perfume is a significant challenge. Usually a perfumer will use one of the longer lasting woody synthetics as a way of extending the incense used over the length of the fragrance’s development. Ms. Erickson didn’t have that luxury so instead she turned to one of the longest-lasting natural woods, cedar. By co-distilling her frankincense with cedar she was able to use the longevity of the cedar as a matrix for the frankincense to permeate. It is the kind of ingenious solution common in the independent perfume community and it works. The cedar-frankincense spine of Amber Incense provides the substance necessary to add in other notes.
The cedar and frankincense are present from the first seconds to the final moments. Each phase of the development of Amber Incense uses a set of other natural notes to provide the development from top to base. The first set of complementary notes is led by Szechuan pepper. This turns the very early moments into a kind of cinnamon-like accord. It changes fairly rapidly as a natural damascenone adds that plummy rose quality and converts it into a resinous floral heart. Jasmine, heliotrope, and rose provide the floral depth for the damasceone to rest upon. The base turns a little more woody as oak and oakmoss start to pull the cedar more to the foreground. A nice touch of sweet vanilla provides a bit of sweetness in juxtaposition to the chill of the incense and the clean woodiness of the cedar.
Amber Incense has 8-10 hour longevity and very little sillage.
All three of the Sonoma Naturals are very personal fragrances for the wearer. This was by design as Ms. Erickson wanted these to be softer more intimate perfumes. Amber Incense is the epitome of this aesthetic as it feels like it is a second skin of resinous richness. i didn’t think it was possible for me to like an incense fragrance more than Incense Pure; Amber Incense is giving it a run for its money.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Sonoma Scent Studio.
So far in this series I have been concentrating on niche lines. A reader sent me an e-mail which made me realize independent perfumers also have large collections and some advice on where to start there would also be appreciated. The reader requested some insight into one of my very favorite independent perfume brands Sonoma Scent Studio.
Sonoma Scent Studio is the indie label that perfumer Laurie Erickson founded in 2004. Ten years later it is one of the premiere independent perfume labels out there. Despite there being twenty-one choices on her website she creates her perfumes at a sedate pace. I have been pleased to act as tester during the process a few times over the years. Ms. Erickson takes the time to source just the right raw materials, a trait common among the best indie perfumers. As a result the entire collection is one worth trying but if you need a place to start here are the five I would begin with.
Champagne de Bois– Ms. Erickson wanted to capture the effervescence of champagne and to do this she selected a number of aldehydes to provide the sparkle. This was paired with a spicy woody base Ms. Erickson had developed containing sandalwood and vetiver which are kicked up a notch with clove and amber. I’ve always felt this captures the fizz of fine champagne which tickles the nose before the wine refreshes the palate.
Tabac Aurea– There is the most photorealistic tobacco perfume I own. Ms. Erickson captures the smell of a tobacco leaf curing barn as you stand within breathing deeply of the drying tobacco leaves. It captures the narcotic sweetness of tobacco leaf by using a judicious amount of tonka and musk. Cedar brings home the wood of the barn. This all ends on a sweet amber and vanilla mix.
Wood Violet– I am not a fan of fruity florals but Ms. Erickson balances her mix of violet and plum so efficiently it even makes a grump like me smile. She wraps the core notes in cedar and sandalwood along with a spicy duo of cinnamon and clove. As much about the spice and woods as it is the plum and violet which is probably why I like it so much.
(Photo: Avis Mandel)
Velvet Rose– There are few fragrances which capture their name better than Velvet Rose. Ms. Erickson makes a tactile rose of crushed red velvet. She keeps it very simple using a Damask rose as the center of her fragrance. She uses violet leaf and carnation to add green facets and a bit of clove-like floralcy, respectively, to surround the rose in the early going. In the base a fabulous patchouli provides depth and detail while the musk provides strength.
Cocoa Sandalwood– Ms. Erickson started her all-natural line with this stunning creation which does exactly what is advertised. Ms. Erickson takes cocoa and coffee absolute combined with cinnamon to create a deep dark cacao accord. This coats a renewable New Caledonian sandalwood. The absolutely brilliant choice to add peach lactone to keep this from being too desiccated is perfect. One of the finest natural perfumes I own.
Sonoma Scent Studio is a brand well worth the effort to seek out and she does offer a sample program so you can try before buying. The five choices above are a gateway to one of our best independent perfumers.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased of these perfumes.
One of the reasons independent perfumers are often independent perfumers is they want to do everything from concept to cologne. It is always interesting when these very singular people collaborate with anyone on a new fragrance. Sometimes it allows everyone involved to gain new insights into the creative process. For the latest release from Sonoma Scent Studio, Yin & Ylang, two of my favorite people in perfumery combined to create something true to both of their aesthetics but the combination is something multiplicative rather than additive.
Michelyn Camen, my editor-in-chief when I worked at CaFleureBon, approached Laurie Erickson the woman behind Sonoma Scent Studio with a concept and a name to go with it. Ms. Camen wanted to see ylang-ylang have a starring role in a fragrance and she wanted to call it Yin & Ylang. The yin she wanted to mirror “soft skin comfort” and the yang to carry “bold sensuality”. Ms. Erickson would take this brief and accept the challenge of working with an ylang-ylang keynote and also capturing the ancient meanings of yin and yang. The result is something I hope both women are very proud of as it really exemplifies the strengths both of them can bring to the creative process. (For more about that creative process here is the link to the article on CaFleureBon where they describe the back and forth which eventually produced the fragrance)
Laurie Erickson (Photo: Avis Mandel)
Yin & Ylang opens with a bit of misdirection as Ms. Erickson combines blood orange and aldehydes which give a bit of off-kilter luminosity but it feel neither yin nor yang nor ylang. Patience is rewarded as they move into the ylang-ylang heart. An organic ylang-ylang complete oil is the ylang source. By using this as the ylang note Ms. Erickson both added some difficulty but also gave herself more inherent texture to hang other notes off of to create a desired effect. Since this was supposed to reflect yin, and soft, the ylang is swathed in jasmine and tuberose. These notes add support while simultaneously softening some of the earthier aspects. She adds a bit of lactone and beeswax to add another layer of pliancy to the yin. The ylang is also still around to form the yang part of things as we move into the base where we find sandalwood, oakmoss, patchouli, and leather. Those earthy aspects that were subdued in the heart arise in the base to create the bold sensuality asked for in the brief.
Yin & Ylang has 6-8 hours of longevity and modest sillage.
After working with Ms. Camen for five years to say she is always creating new concepts is underselling her ability to cut to the truth of what she wants. I’ve known Ms. Erickson for almost as long and her brand DNA is strong in almost everything she creates. Yin & Ylang is an accurate reflection of both women’s collective inventiveness. I can only hope that they continue to work together from time to time as this certainly seems like the beginning of a beautiful working relationship.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Sonoma Scent Studio.
For this installment of My Favorite Things I’m going to name my five favorite sandalwood perfumes. Sandalwood as a fragrance note is one of the more frequently used ingredients especially as a base note. Most of the sandalwood you encounter in these fragrances is synthetic. There original source of real sandalwood oil in the mid-20th century was from Mysore in India. It was sadly over harvested and is now protected. This caused perfumers to work with both synthetics and alternative sources of sandalwood from Australia and New Caledonia. Nothing has adequately replaced real Mysore sandalwood but the five fragrances below are special sandalwood perfumes on their own basis.
Chanel Bois des Iles– When Ernest Beaux originally created Bois des Iles in 1926 I am reasonably certain it was full of Mysore sandalwood. When Jacques Polge brought it back for the Exclusif line it is said there isn’t a drop of sandalwood at all in the reformulation. I’ve smelled vintage and the Exclusif side by side and accounting for age M. Polge has pulled off one of the great olfactory illusions, ever.
Diptyque Tam Dao– Perfumers Daniele Moliere and Fabrice Pellegrin create a sandalwood fragrance in three acts. Act one is sandalwood and rosewood which is liltingly fragile. The second act adds clean cedar to make the sandalwood equally delineated. Act three takes ambergris as a foundation to accentuate the sweet qualities of sandalwood. For many people this is the gateway to loving sandalwood as a fragrance.
Dries van Noten par Frederic Malle– Frederic Malle claimed in the press materials that this is the same species of sandalwood as Mysore but grown in a sustainable way. I have my doubts but perfumer Bruno Jovanovic keeps it simple using saffron, jasmine, and vanilla to frame the sandalwood gorgeously. Who cares where it came from?
Sonoma Scent Studio Cocoa Sandalwood– Perfumer Laurie Erickson wanted to make an all-natural perfume for her line and Cocoa Sandalwood was the first in this series. She takes New Caledonian Sandalwood and wraps it in spices and dusts it with arid cocoa powder. When people tell me natural perfume can’t have depth and richness I hand them my bottle of this to end that conversation.
Xerjoff Richwood– When I want my sandalwood straight with no chaser this is the one I reach for. Perfumer Jacques Flori uses real Mysore sandalwood at the heart and cassis, rose, and patchouli are present. Those three notes really just serve to draw out the complexity of the real thing. I think it is the single best sandalwood fragrance I own.
These are a few of my favorite sandalwoods but there are a couple I would have included if they weren’t discontinued; Crabtree & Evelyn Sandalwood and Amouage Sandal Attar. If you love sandalwood both of these are worth the effort of seeking them out through online sources.
I often get asked to name my top 10 fragrances and of all the questions I get asked this is probably the most difficult for me to answer. There are so many perfumes out there I admire and I always fret I’ll miss one when making any list of any kind. Now that I have my own blog I feel like I should try and sort of answer the question. So once a month I’ll share my favorite things and the five I think are the best examples of that note or style. For the first version I’m going to tackle incense fragrances.
Saying incense fragrances can be problematic all on its own but what I mean are fragrances where the incense note is prominent throughout. The five choices below all hit the spot when I’m craving an incense perfume.
Amouage Jubilation XXV- I have facetiously named Bertrand Duchaufour the “High Priest of Resins” as over a five year period starting with 2002’s Comme des Garcons Series 3: Incense Avignon & Kyoto he would refine his incense accord until it all came together in this brilliant luminous incense fragrance, in 2007.
Juozas Stakevicius (aka Joe Stat)- There are a number of perfumes which capture the church incense vibe with cold stone walls and smoky censers, none of them do it better than this one by perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin.
L’Artisan Parfumeur Passage D’Enfer– Most of my incense fragrances are on the heavier side and I rarely take them out as the weather turns warmer. Passage D’Enfer is the exception to that rule as perfumer Olivia Giacobetti turns in an incense that feels like it is miles away even though it is right underneath my nose. It is like an optical illusion as I expect it to get stronger every time I wear it but it just stays sheer and gorgeous.
Serge Lutens Encens et Lavande- This was the Serge Lutens fragrance which made me find a way to get a bell jar flown back here to me. From the first moment I smelled the lavender, sage, juniper berry, rosemary, and incense core I was, and am continually, in love with Christopher Sheldrake’s ability to make all of that work.
Sonoma Scent Studio Incense Pure– Independent Perfumer Laurie Erickson has captured a cross between campfire and incense as Incense Pure has a glowing heart of frankincense, smoky cistus, and myrrh. This is the most comforting of my favorite incense fragrances and it immediately makes me feel better every time I wear it.
This is one of those categories where others could come up with their top five and it would be entirely different than mine and I would admire all of the choices in that list. If you need a place to begin your exploration the five above are a good place to start your own list of your favorite things.