If you ever spend time with an artist one of the first things you will learn is colors cannot be simply described as one word. In my house if I say “blue”. Mrs. C looks at me with the unspoken question, “what kind of blue?” She is incapable of seeing the colors in the world in the reductionist way her scientist husband does. Which has taught me that there are more colors to be seen then red, green, blue and all the combinations those three can produce. When I hear one of my favorite independent perfumers is interpreting the color brown I am intrigued. Maria McElroy is the perfumer and her latest release is Aroma M Geisha Marron Eau de Parfum.
Geisha Marron was released a perfume oil a year or so ago, but Ms. McElroy has been re-interpreting those oils as eau de parfums. It is something which has been worth the effort because once transferred to the more expansive form there is a wider canvas on display. When I was wearing this version of Geisha Marron I was reminded of those dehydrated sponges that expand to three or four times their size in water. Geisha Marron EdP has that effect as everything within seems livelier because of the additional space.
Ms. McElroy has always seen Geisha Marron as a perfume of the autumn. Capturing the moment when the color of the leaves has turned to brown. It is only then that the natural shading of brown in nature can be seen. Geisha Marron is a perfume of shades which draw you in.
Ms. McElroy opens with the brilliance of a cloudless autumnal afternoon with the sun sparkling in the sky. A citrus triptych of mandarin, grapefruit, and bergamot provide the bright backdrop. Ms. McElroy mentions the smell of roasting chestnuts as a smell of the fall. I was expecting something with a gourmand bent. Instead she works with chestnut blossom; a different kind of white flower. This is a very subtle floral ingredient carrying some of the bombastic qualities of other white flowers but instead of indolic contrasts there is the hint of the chestnut it will mature into. This goes excellently with the Japanese magnolia, with which it is paired, as that carries a woody undercurrent which blends with the subtle nuttiness within the chestnut blossom. Muguet comes forward over time to tilt the heart accord in a more classically floral direction. The base accord is a lilting leather infused with musk which softly envelops the heart notes.
Geisha Marron has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
So, you might think this doesn’t sound very brown to which I would reply that is the point. If I wanted to describe Geisha Marron in different browns I would call the top accord “Amber”, the middle accord “Tan”, and the base accord “Kobicha”. It isn’t that it is just one shade it is many which answers the real question; Geisha Marron is a fantastic floral perfume for the autumn.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Aroma M.
Back in October 2011 fellow blogger, Lucy Raubertas, of Indieperfumes, put together a group project of writers and perfumers called the Clarimonde Project. It was an ambitious undertaking which produced excellent synergies as the artists all worked off the inspiration provided by the short story Clarimonde by Theophile Gautier. Over a month or so everyone involved provided inspired work. This was a group project which worked.
I had never heard of the story prior to the project but through it I would download it and read it. It is the tale of a young priest Romuald who is struck by a coupe de foudre on the day he is to be ordained. The woman responsible for it is Clarimonde. Hewing to his obligation to the church he gives up his chance at love. One night he is taken to a castle to give last rites to Clarimonde only to have her revive for a moment causing him to faint. Days later she appears to Romuald in his cell reawakened as a vampire. They run off to Venice together where she feeds on Romuald while sharing the pleasures of the flesh. One of the other priests eventually forces Romuald to watch as he pours holy water over Clarimonde in her mausoleum causing her to turn to dust. Romuald’s final words are to never lay eyes on a woman or this fate will be yours.
Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl (r.)
As you can see it is a rich source material for a creative to work from. One of the perfumes which came from the original run was House of Cherry Bomb Immortal Mine. Perfumers Alexis Karl and Maria McElroy wanted Immortal Mine to capture those Venetian nights as the physically sated Romuald would drift off to sleep while Clarimonde would feed on one drop of his blood. Immortal Mine was a rich amber and oud matched with sweet tobacco all stuck in a beeswax matrix. The amber and oud that were used were memorable enough that when I visited with Ms. Karl and Ms. McElroy, a year ago, we had a conversation about them.
Ms. Karl and Ms. McElroy return to Clarimonde’s world to capture the moment when she died her human death only to be reborn a vampire in Immortal Mine II. For this version, many of the same ingredients remain but they are sourced from different places to complete the transition from the Clarimonde that was to the Clarimonde that has risen.
Immortal Mine II opens on tobacco flower a lot of it. This is the continuation of Immortal Mine which ended with tobacco. Immortal Mine opens with the tobacco flower which is the same but not the same just as Clarimonde in her new form is. Then we get two fantastic nods to the living dead as a desiccated henna and the funeral flower of choice lily add a sense of the cemetary. This is a fabulous piece of interpretation that I enjoyed very much. The base accord is like the tobacco flower as the recapitulation of the amber and oud ensnared in beeswax from Immortal Mine. Except in Immortal Mine II they are a mix of vintage ouds and fossilized ambers. I smelled a couple of these raw materials on that year ago visit; the fossilized amber is amazing by itself. Here the perfumers have allowed it to provide the power of the ages to Clarimonde.
Immortal Mine II in the Eau de Parfum concentration has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
There are two concentrations to Immortal Mine II Eau de Parfum and Oil. I chose the EDP to review because it was more expansive imparting more of a supernatural feel to it all. The oil wears much closer to the skin for a few hours longer.
I am not sure what Ms. Raubertas’ intentions are with the future of the Clarimonde Project but she should be very proud that it continues to inspire five years later. With Immortal Mine II Ms. Karl and Ms. McElroy finish their examination of Clarimonde with style. Maybe poor besotted Romuald needs to be next?
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by House of Cherry Bomb.
There are a few perfumers who have successfully created a world for their perfumes to live within. Not only does the perfume smell great but it can tell a story as well. I look forward to the next releases from these perfumers as eagerly as I look forward to the next book from my favorite novelist. That is why I was very pleased to get the next installment from Maria McElroy who with her brand aroma M has been illuminating the life of a geisha. The latest release is Geisha Vanilla Hinoki.
Since 1995 through many releases the story being told has been of the occupation of geisha. It was only with 2014’s Camellia where we saw the geisha off-stage as I imagined her removing the makeup at the end of the evening. Geisha Vanilla Hinoki continues her off-duty story. Ms. McElroy described this as a trip for her geisha to a hot spring to soak in a hinoki wood tub. As a result, my imagination renders Geisha Vanilla Hinoki as the story of our perfumed geisha on her precious and rare day off.
Geisha Vanilla Hinoki is primarily what the name implies. Ms. McElroy sourced a vanilla from Morocco which contains a smoky aspect. I can say that as it is used in Geisha Vanilla Hinoki it is an unusual vanilla which carries some of the bakery but also a different kind of depth to it giving it a little more gravitas than playful vanilla often has. The hinoki is one of my favorite variations of cypress. It also has more presence as well as more sharply defined lines. These are the heart of this perfume.
It would be a long trip to the hot spring but she had the cream pan her client brought for her last night. As she walked out in the sunshine the light sparkled in points of bergamot. She boarded the train into the mountains sitting next to a spice salesman with his bags of cardamom and nutmeg while he chewed on a piece of clove. After arriving at the hot spring she was shown to her tub which had a view of the mountainside and the world below. She added a few drops of lavender oil to provide contrast to the hinoki wood of the tub. As she eased into the steamy water the smell of the surrounding amyris and the damp earth reminded of her patchouli oil back on her vanity. She remembered her parcel of cream pan and drew them to her. The steam and the wood made them a little less confectionary giving a smoky tint to the sweetness. As she floated on the water her cares radiated away into the water and out with the steam. Today was a day for her to love herself; tomorrow it would be shared with her clients.
Geisha Vanilla Hinoki has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage as the eau de parfum. 14-16 hour longevity and minimal sillage as the perfume oil.
There are two versions of Geisha Vanilla Hinoki; perfume oil and eau de parfum. In the past I have always preferred the oil form. For the first time the expansiveness of the eau de parfum was much more evocative of the open air hot tub for me. It felt more like my imaginary geisha at play. The oil is much more personal it has a sultrier quality. I wholeheartedly recommend both forms I think it will come down to personal preference.
Geisha Vanilla Hinoki is the most exuberant of the aroma M Geisha collection. I can feel the relaxed smile of my figurative geisha and the perfume makes that infectious in its simple joy.
Disclosure: This review was based on a samples provided by aroma M.
When I was a boy all of the traveling I did to Europe was in a seat at my local movie theatre. I especially liked the movies which took place in one city as at that age I treated them as documentaries. At the Miracle Theatre they used to show older movies as matinees. One of my mother’s favorite movies was “Roman Holiday”. Director William Wyler created one of the great romantic comedies of all-time. Much of that was also down to the two stars, Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. If you asked the eight-year old me I would also have pointed out that the Vespa scooter they rode around on was also an important member of the cast. There was a Vespa dealer right next to the Miracle and whenever I walked by those shiny scooters lined up I would think of Rome and wayward princesses looking for freedom. I was reminded of those memories because independent perfumer Maria McElroy was inspired by those same things to create her new release Aroma M Voluptuous Nostalgia Perfume.
I believe this is the first release not inspired by Geisha and Japan for Ms. McElroy. Voluptuous Nostalgia Perfume has a combination of a 1950’s vibe along with the gentle feeling of motion as if it is its own fragrant scooter careening through the senses.
Ms. McElroy conjures up a spring day by opening with muguet and gardenia. Muguet is a veritable symbol of that time of year. It would have worked by itself. By choosing gardenia to partner it Ms. McElroy conjures up the feel of the big floral perfumes of the mid-20th century. It is fresh and lush as the Vespa zigs and zags between them. It all turns slightly less heady as violet predominates in the heart. This is a moment where we gently pass through the cobblestoned streets enjoying the arms wrapped around my waist. Things begin to pick up speed again as a warm amber provides the rotary around which we will travel picking up ambergris and tonka before zooming off. About an hour in it is easy to still pick up all of the notes I’ve mentioned as the trip to all of them becoming apparent is fairly rapid. It isn’t linear but the development does move with alacrity. What forms is a pastiche of fragrant harmonics finding a place of equilibrium.
Voluptuous Nostalgia Perfume has 10-12 hour longevity and almost no sillage, it is very much a skin scent.
Ms. McElroy succeeded in taking me back to watching Ms. Hepburn and Mr. Peck zooming through 1953 Rome. Which has made me want to go call up Roman Holiday on Netflix. I think I’ll spray some Voluptuous Nostalgia Perfume as my scent track for that viewing.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Aroma M.
There are so many perfumers who work so very hard to form a brand identity. Then there are others where it feels like an organic extension of who they are. Maria McElroy created her aroma M perfume line in 1995 as an extension of her affection for Japanese art and incense. Over almost twenty years Ms. McElroy has made eight perfume oils and four eau de parfums all meant to portray a different geisha. Each perfume like the variation in kimono or makeup had a distinct personality. I admired Ms. McElroy’s dedication to letting her muse take her where it will. Geisha O-cha was a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Geisha Marron was the French courtesan who formed a mismatch of her Occidental features while wearing a kimono. I only discovered the line in 2011 and it has become one that I keep an eye on because of Ms. McElroy’s singular style. Her latest release Camellia is another entry in her impressive collection.
Ms. McElroy had initially developed Camellia as a line of beauty products; hair oil, face oil, and bath oil. It is said that geisha use camellia oil to remove their make-up and Ms. McElroy was inspired to make her own formula of that product. The funny thing is for a line known for its perfumes there wasn’t an accompanying Camellia perfume oil. After multiple requests Ms. McElroy capitulated and designed two concentrations; perfume oil and eau de parfum. As has been the case with the previous EdP concentrations I find I prefer the oil based formulations better. There is a deeper interaction with the perfume oils and the EdP’s seem to become so expansive that they lose some texture along the way. It is purely a matter of preference as both concentrations are wonderful. I am going to focus on the perfume oil for the rest of this review.
My imagination takes me to the table where a geisha sits at the end of the evening. She looks in the mirror and uses her camellia oil make-up remover to uncover the person beneath the façade. As the woman underneath the geisha reveals herself she unpins the gardenia from her hair and removes her kimono still holding the scent of the frankincense burning in the main areas of the house. The rose and jasmine also from her hair lies next to the gardenia. As she lies down to sleep the remnants of the camellia oil reminds her who she is before closing her eyes.
Ms. McElroy has made a fantastic deep floral fragrance with Camellia. She opens it with the camellia essential oil on display from the first moments. In those early moments geranium and neroli provide harmony. The geranium adds a green transparency, the neroli adds a hint of indoles. The heart is a narcotic mix of gardenia and camellia. This is as potent as an opium pipe as it fills every bit of my senses. Ms. McElroy manages to make something encompassing without being overwhelming. Camellia ends on an austere slightly metallic frankincense. The incense really has to push hard to be noticed and it takes hours before it really gains some traction on my skin. Once it does the gardenia camellia and frankincense usher Camellia through its final paces.
Camellia perfume oil has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage. The EdP has 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Camellia is a perfumed homage to a geisha at rest. It feels like the most personal perfume Ms. McElroy has composed to date. It is the truth behind the illusion. I always prefer the truth.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by aroma M.
The Brooklyn section known as DUMBO (Down Under The Manhattan Bridge Overpass) has become a vibrant creative nexus in Brooklyn. There have been a couple of perfumers who have gotten their start in this section. Maria McElroy of Aroma M perfumes and Alexis Karl of Scent by Alexis work on their own creations in their ateliers in Brooklyn. What has come to be special is when Ms. McElroy and Ms. Karl decide to collaborate for their shared brand House of Cherry Bomb. While their first two releases Truth or Dare and Rebel Angel were constructed for a different perfumista than I there was a great energy in those compositions. Last year’s Cardamom Rose and Tobacco Cognac were very much constructed for a perfumista like me. That energy I detected in the first two fragrances was even more assured here. It seemed like Ms. McElroy and Ms. Karl had really found a collaborative harmonic from which more perfumes would come. That next perfume has come and it is called House of Cherry Bomb Pink Haze.
Pink Haze is part of The PLP Project. PLP stands for the Facebook perfume group Peace-Love-Perfume started by Carlos J Powell, also known as YouTube reviewer Brooklyn Fragrance Lover, three years ago. For this third anniversary Mr. Powell has reached out to the perfumers who are part of the community to help celebrate by making perfumes in celebration of PLP. Pink Haze is more about Brooklyn than the Facebook group but that seems right as that is where Mr. Powell calls home, too. On the House of Cherry Bomb website Pink Haze is described as “the scent of tree lined Brooklyn streets, of stone buildings, both old and new, and of the hot metal of subway cars.” Pink Haze is the smell of midsummer twilight in DUMBO as the sun hits the horizon. The stone of the bridge and the smell of the sun charged aluminum on the side of the subway train roaring past all the while the summer flowers release their natural fragrance into the cooling air. Pink Haze paints a perfect Brooklyn still life on a summer evening.
Maria McElroy (l.) and Alexis Karl
Pink Haze opens underneath the Manhattan Bridge as the smell of the stone is juxtaposed with the smell of hot aluminum. Ms. McElroy and Ms. Karl have created an authentic city accord as the stone has the feel of seeing the heat shimmer in waves off of it. The same holds true for the hot aluminum which also feels like it is radiating its scent in heated pulses off of its surface. I was drawn in by this opening and I think it takes a city dweller to get this just right and the Brooklynites nail this. As the stone and aluminum cools in the night the florals begin to come out and on this street lilac, muguet, and gardenia are what is growing. The muguet leads the way and the lilac and gardenia come a bit later. The strength of these are kept well-modulated and that help keeps Pink Haze more true to its name. A bit of cedar provides the base note for the end of Pink Haze.
Pink Haze has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
Pink Haze is the best perfume by House of Cherry Bomb to date. I think that is because this was a very personal project. Not only to evoke the place where they create but to also celebrate the online place where they congregate. Taken all together Pink Haze is a celebration of Peace-Love-Perfume and Brooklyn.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Carlos J Powell.
Editor’s Note: For more information on all of the perfumes that are part of The PLP Project check out the Facebook link here.