It is easy to commend the perfume brands which develop their aesthetic and stick to it. Those are the minority. The majority are made up of brands which never find their identity. This means a perfume with that name on the bottle comes to stand for nothing. Then there comes a moment when it seems like things start to coalesce from the chaos. It’s still a little early to be sure but Ermengilido Zegna Essenze Madras Cardamom might be a further signal this brand is finding its character.
Ermengilido Zegna got into the fragrance game in 2003. They were a trend follower in those early days looking for their own version of the popular styles of the time. After a few years of doing this Estee Lauder assigned one of their best creative directors Trudi Loren to revitalize the brand. It was better but still frustratingly unfocused. There were individual releases which were good without creating a Zegna style of fragrance. There was one collection which showed something approaching a unified perspective; the Essenze Collection.
Marie Salamagne (photo: Jerome Bonnet)
Launched in 2012 there were sporadic releases which all showed a similar style in highlighting a keynote without becoming soliflore-like. I’m not sure what the reasoning is but Ermengilido Zegna has decided to bring back five of the original Essenze releases along with one new one. That is Madras Cardamom.
Perfumer Marie Salamagne creates a sweet Oriental featuring cardamom which is where the perfume starts. The cardamom is a strong presence. So strong it took me some time to notice the other ingredient in the top accord. That ingredient was a cleverly placed coffee note. Don’t come to Madras Cardamom looking for a rich coffee presence. What Mme Salamagne does with it is to use it as a focusing element of the citrus parts of cardamom. Like pulling a thread I was enjoying the cardamom and started focusing on the citrus character only to find a roasted nuttiness at the end of that thread. It is very subtle which continues into the heart as cedar takes the lead with vetiver playing the same behind the scenes role. This is a green cedar which matches the cardamom. It is very clean. Mme Salamagne uses vanilla to sweeten the final stages.
Madras Cardamom has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
The work by Ms. Loren, over the last two years especially, maybe portends Ermengilido Zegna has finally found its way out of the woods. If that’s so Madras Cardamom might be remembered for being the fragrance which signaled that.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Ermengilido Zegna.
Celine Roux has done the best job of any creative director in perfumery of redefining the brand she oversees. When Mme Roux took over she did the intelligent thing of working inside out within the releases. She has made perfumes which have the same feel as the perfumes which began the brand over twenty-five years ago. That’s the inside. The outside is when she pushes at the limits of what a Jo Malone fragrance can be. One of the best examples of an inside perfume is 2015’s Mimosa & Cardamom. It was a return to the delicacy of the early releases within the brand. If you want an example of the outside; Jo Malone Bronze Wood & Leather will do.
Mme Roux has been working with perfumers over a few consecutive releases lately. For Bronze Wood & Leather she brings back the perfumer behind Mimosa & Cardamom; Marie Salamagne. Bronze Wood & Leather is a burly style of perfume the exact opposite of that earlier perfume. That they both feel like part of the same brand is down to the intelligent creative oversight of Mme Roux.
Marie Salamagne (Photo: Jerome Bonnet)
Mme Salamagne opens with a fresh accord of grapefruit and juniper berry. I’m sure I’ve smelled this combination before but Mme Slamagne has made this one so lively it isn’t like any other. I particularly like the way the juniper blunts the sulfurous undertones in the grapefruit. I’ll admit I’d probably buy a perfume called Grapefruit & Juniper Berry if they wanted to sell me one. This begins to remind me there is meant to be wood here with a tendril of woodsmoke. It starts off at a distance as it inserts itself in the top accord. I was again surprised that the subtle smoke was very pleasant in those early moments. The smoke intensifies as the black leather accord appears. This is that leather biker jacket accord which goes very well with the smoke. Cashmeran provides the desired “bronze wood” with its soft woodiness. a little vetiver provides the final bit of polish.
Bronze Wood & Leather has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
There were so many times while wearing Bronze Wood & Leather I felt like I was surrounded by a contemporary interpretation of mid 1970-80’s masculine perfume. If that doesn’t sound like Jo Malone to you, you’re right. If it sounds good to you should step up to the plate for a fantastic curveball on the outside corner.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Nordstrom.
One of the signs of aging is a longing for things of the past. Perfume is a good antidote for that. New perfumes can use the past as beginning for something different. When my fragrance buying began to expand in the 1970’s it was mostly through the fougeres on offer at the men’s fragrance counters at the mall. I still wear many of those because they appeal to me. Within the past year there seems to be a tiny rippling trend of modernizing fougere. Atelier des Ors Crepuscule des Ames does this by becoming a bit more of a throwback fougere.
"The Hostile Forces" from the Betthoven Frieze by Gustav Klimt
Crepuscule des Ames is one-third of the White Collection. Based on the concept of finding happiness as visualized in the Beethoven Frieze by Gustav Klimt. The three perfumes were each meant to represent one panel of the triptych. Crepuscule Des Ames is inspired by the middle panel titled “The Hostile Forces”. There is a wonderfully artistic description of the panel where the monster in the middle is surrounded by the sins we encounter in life. While wearing Crepuscule des Ames I see the hairy beast in the middle as the classic powerhouse fougeres of decades ago. While the women surrounding attempt to soften that effect.
Marie Salamagne (l.) and Jean-Philippe Clermont
Creative director Jean-Phillipe Clermont continues the collaboration with perfumer Marie Salamagne which has been the case for every Atelier des Ors. Together they use a very traditional herbal citrus opening. The updating occurs throughout the middle part of the development as some different choices are used before returning to a traditional finish.
Crepuscule des Ames opens with mandarin, cardamom, and sage. This was emblematic of many masculine fougeres in the 1970’s and 80’s. It is done in that style with powerful presence from the first moments. It begins to be softened by using hyssop, pimento, and incense. The incense rises to a key note while being shepherded by the herbal-ness of the hyssop and the odd sweetness of the pimento. This part feels very 2018. The base is patchouli paired with hyraceum to provide a more animalic edge to the base accord in place of the more typical leather accord.
Crepuscule des Ames has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I quite enjoyed this homage to the old style masculine fougeres. Mme Salamagne has formed a more luxurious version with some modern twists here and there. It all adds up to a compelling throwback fougere.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Atelier des Ors.
When I was Boy Scout I was told of the value of natural wildfires. Caused, hopefully, by lightning strikes instead of careless humans. A natural fire clears away the old and ushers in the new. One of the most dramatic examples I would ever encounter was hiking through a part of Yellowstone National Park which had succumbed to a very large wildfire the year before I was there. After having walked through the more typical rolling green it was striking to come to an area where everything had been scorched back to nothing. The skeletal charred wood still gave off a smoky scent on the misty day I walked among them. As I looked around I saw the beginnings of new shoots pushing up from the ashy ground. I realized it would be wonderful to return in a few years to see what came of this.
Smoke in perfume is problematic for me because it can too easily become overwhelming. That subtler yet softer smoky haze I encountered that day in Yellowstone is not often found in a perfume. When I received my sample of Atelier des Ors Bois Sikar I was strongly reminded of that.
Marie Salamagne (Photo: Jerome Bonnet)
Atelier des Ors is another of the more recent brands which has drawn my attention because of the quality of their collection. Owner and creative director Jean-Philippe Clermont has chosen to work with a single perfumer, Marie Salamagne, over the first eleven releases. Bois Sikar is the latest addition to the main collection.
According to the press release Bois Sikar was inspired by the smell of cigars in a cedar box along with a glass of fine peaty whiskey. If I was attuned to it in a different way I probably could have seen all of that. Instead Mme Salamagne made a perfume that, for me, lived up to its translation “smoking wood”.
Mme Salamagne opens with her charred wood accord. It stays present throughout the entire development. First a sweetness due to nutmeg comes through the smoke. This reminded me of the sweetgrass which was growing among the blackened timbers. The whisky accord comes next and it is, as promised, very peaty. Which reminded me of deep rich earth instead of booze. Clean shoots of cedar and vetiver carry more of the new growth vibe. Tobacco only shows up in the final stages and it is a nice bit of typical smokiness at the end.
Bois Sikar has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
As I mentioned this is meant to be a cigars and booze style of perfume; which it probably will be for most. In my case it was the natural scent of a year after a wildfire as life returns to the ashes.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Atelier des Ors.
While there are many independent perfume brand success stories who use many different perfumers; I am a big fan of the monogamous approach. When a creative director and a perfumer work together over the life of a brand I believe it helps create a definitive aesthetic. It also allows for explorations of different keynotes from altered perspectives. That in turn leads to some special subsets within a brand. This has been happening at Atelier des Ors as the latest release Musc Immortel provides a third look at iris.
Jean-Philippe Clermont has chosen to work exclusively with perfumer Marie Salamagne since the founding of Atelier des Ors in 2015. In the original collection Aube Rubis was a fabulous warm iris which was supported by vetiver and patchouli. In 2016 they would continue using the same trio with Iris Fauve. Musc Immortel takes it in a new direction. This time the patchouli becomes the primary counterweight to the iris through the heart before sinking into the titular notes.
Marie Salamagne (Photo: Jerome Bonnet)
The citrus and herbal duet of grapefruit and clary sage announce the arrival of the iris. As it was in the previous two releases this is the rhizomal version of iris; earthy instead of powdery. It is my preferred version of iris in perfume. The same heart accord as existed in Iris Fauve makes a return in Musc Immortel but the concentrations have changed. In Iris Fauve the vetiver has the upper hand with the faux-oud of cypriol. In Musc Immortel those two notes appear first but the patchouli builds into a wave which eventually rises over the iris near exclusively. This is where the base accord becomes critical. Left with iris awash on a sea of patchouli this becomes less interesting. Mme Salamagne uses immortelle to capture the iris in a lifesaving embrace as the earthiness has the maple syrup quality of immortelle to stick to. It holds fast forming a deeply pleasing accord. A mixture of botanical and synthetic musks carry this to softly a animalic finish.
Musc Immortel has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Musc Immortel has been around as an exclusive at Harrod’s since early 2017; it is now ready to expand to where Atelier des Ors is sold. I think it is great that this is getting a wider distribution because it fits so well within the Atelier des Ors Collection. If you’ve been a fan of Aube Rubis or Iris Fauve I suspect you will enjoy Musc Immortel. I look forward to the fourth movement of the iris-vetiver-patchouli symphony because the third movement was so inspiring.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Atelier des Ors.
Thierry Mugler fragrances have a dear place in my fragrance library. A*Men and many of the outstanding flankers, the proto gourmand Angel, and the proto Cologne Nouveau Thierry Mugler Cologne. Any single brand which claims these kind of innovations is one to look for as the new generation of fragrance buyers look for one of the fragrances which might define them. The answer from this brand is the new pillar perfume Thierry Mugler Aura.
When I saw the bottle for the first time I was reminded of the emerald they were searching for in the 1984 movie “Romancing the Stone”. You can see them side-by-side above. Longtime Thierry Mugler fragrance creative director Pierre Aulas assembled a team of Firmenich perfumers; Daphne Bugey, Amandine Clerc-Marie, Christophe Raynaud, and Marie Salamagne.
Aura comes off as a bit of an experimental fragrance as two Firmenich exclusive materials are used one called Wolfwood and the other given a code name of Tiger Liana. Wolfwood has little information available beyond it is a woody aromachemical. Tiger Liana on the other hand sounds much more interesting. According to Firmenich it is extracted from the root of an unidentified Chinese medicinal root. It is described as smelling “botanical, animalic, and smoky”. I was going to have to figure out what these new ingredients to me were adding in the spaces between the other listed notes I know.
I have mentioned in the past that most of the brands have made an early determination that millennials want a light floral gourmand. The Aura creative team provides exactly that. What makes it stand out is the inclusion of the new materials. I will be guessing what exactly they bring to the overall experience but they have a profound effect.
The first thing I notice is a slightly cleaned-up orange blossom. The indoles are kept to a level such that they are a background hum underneath the transparent floral quality. What is paired with it at first is a tart rhubarb. This rhubarb accentuates the green tinted citrus nature and the sulfurous quality, like the indoles, are pushed far to the background. Then a humid green note intersperses itself; based on the description I am guessing this is the Tiger Liana. It smells like damp green foliage, at first, in a good way as it adds some weight to a fragrance which has been very light to this point. Then beneath the green the promised animalic and smokiness is also simmering beneath it all right next to the indoles and sulfur. It is a clever way to add in a deep set of notes to provide detail without giving them the room to be more pervasive. The smokiness gets more pronounced which I think might be the Wolfwood. It could be how Tiger Liana develops too. A haze of smoke is what leads to the base of a rich opaque vanilla on a woody base. It is a comforting finish.
Aura has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I must give M. Aulas and the team of perfumers credit they have made a perfume that is indelibly Thierry Mugler that has a great opportunity of romancing the millennials to the brand.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Thierry Mugler.
Why are sunsets, and sunrises, so compelling? Over my lifetime, if I am able, I pause to watch the sunset. This is especially true when I am on vacation. When I am in a new place I want to end my day of sightseeing by watching the sunset; usually from a vantage point with height. I know I’m not alone in this because I have never been alone while watching the sun disappear below the horizon.
As my interest in fragrance has deepened over the years there has always been a scent to each sunset. Particularly the summer versions as it is generally the warmest part of the day. The sun on its path across the sky has warmed and released the natural scent of the world. There are many fragrances which are wonderful scent memories of my travels. It would seem perfumer Marie Salamagne also enjoys sunsets in foreign climes. Unlike me she can bottle her memory. She has composed L’Artisan Parfumeur Histoire D’Orangers to capture a specific sunset in Morocco.
Marie Salamagne (Photo:Jerome Bonnet)
On Mme Salamagne’s visit to Morocco she headed to the city of Taroudant. If you travel, from there, through the Souss Valley you end up in the surfer’s town of Taghazout. Sunset happened at some point along her journey and she paused to take it in. The light infused the valley with a warm glow while the smell of orange tree flower water was around her. For Histoires D’Orangers she wanted to snare that moment in a perfume. To do that she uses a few very expansive materials to capture that wide-open spaces feel along with the orange flower memory.
It opens with a particularly green neroli. To add that glow underneath, white tea adds lift. Orange blossom comes along to overwhelm the green and intensify the orange flower accord the two notes form. Helevetolide is one of those very expansive synthetic musks it is like the warm air of the valley floor rising with the orange flower riding on top. It forms a transparent version of the early moments. To bring us back down she uses an overdose of Ambrox leavened with tonka bean.
Histoire D’Orangers has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Histoire D’Orangers is a fantastic warm weather fragrance. Mme Salamagne has translated her memory of Morocco into a modern take on the classic orange flower water. Her memory of the Souss Valley is worth sharing.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by L’Artisan Parfumeur.
When it comes to the private collection fragrance lines from the major designers there is none more frustrating for me than the Armani Prive collection. When it comes to mainstream designer perfume Giorgio Armani also shares this inconsistency. My hypothesis is since the Armani line of fragrances is not overseen by a single set of creative directors it has suffered for not having a singular defining brand aesthetic. Which translates to these pendulum swings in quality. There are many in the line which I think are as great as I consider others to be poor. In the past, I’ve said their success rate is about 50%. What I’ve also come to realize is that when they are good they are very good as is the new Armani Prive Iris Celadon.
Iris Celadon is the thirty-second release in the Armani Prive collection. Perfumer Marie Salamagne is composing her fifth within the group. I found this quote, by Giorgio Armani, attached in the press materials interesting; “The color celadon is neither blue, green, nor grey. It’s an indefinable color, and one that I find fascinating.” That quote could be applied to the use of iris in perfume as it can be powdery, floral, or earthy without being completely any one of those. Which is one reason I like iris as a perfume ingredient because it allows the perfumer to define the nature of it by what they use along with it. Mme Salamagne tries to show all these faces of iris in Iris Celadon.
Marie Salamagne (Photo: Jerome Bonnet)
The powdery quality of iris comes surrounded by a cloud of aldehydes and cardamom. These are not the hairspray aldehydes instead they are more like wispy cirrus clouds of aldehydes adding some lift to the powdery face of iris. Mme Salamagne uses mate to bring a green focal point to the development into the heart while also shaping the powdery into the more floral. There is a good few minutes where it feels like the mate is chiseling away the powder to find the flower underneath. When the floral character does arise, she sprinkles it with a delicate coating of cocoa powder. It is an interesting transition from flowery powderiness to a gourmand version of the same effect. She finally plants the rootiness of iris deep in a fertile base accord of patchouli and ambrette. Now the powder and the floralcy recedes to leave something which reaches deep into the earth.
Iris Celadon has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Few perfumers embrace the spilt personality of iris as well as Mme Salamagne does in Iris Celadon. It makes for fragrance which has a dynamic development seemingly in motion no matter when you check in with it. I like my perfumes to be mutable even if I don’t get to spend as much time on one phase over the other. Iris Celadon is one of the Armani Prive releases which works because it doesn’t sit still.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Giorgio Armani.
Over the years I’ve been writing about perfume there have been many things which have evolved. In the early days I loved getting special little peeks into upcoming projects. I thought it was one of the perks of the job. Until it went sideways on me a couple of times. Someone would show me a version of an upcoming release which I thought was perfect. I was already thinking about how I would be framing the imminent glowing review. Then I would receive the final version and it was not the same as the one I was infatuated with. There were often very good reasons behind the change but I knew there was a version I liked better. That made me stop allowing perfume brands to show me things early because I always wondered if I had experienced the fragrance for the first time after release whether my reaction would be different. I know it confused some who saw the glee on my face before turn into this line in the sand. I have done pretty good since I made the decision except at Esxence this past March.
When I was there I stopped by the Atelier des Ors stand to chat with owner and creative director Jean-Philippe Clermont. Atelier des Ors was one of my favorite brand debuts of 2015 so it was natural to drop by and say hello. When I arrived M. Clermont was showing the line to a pair of retailers from Australia and New Zealand and he invited me to sit in. Before I settled down he sprayed something on my wrist. Drawing it to my nose I expected to be greeted with something familiar. Instead I was surprised by a warm musky iris I fell instantly for. After talking with M. Clermont he told me that was one of two possible version of a new iris focused release coming at the end of the year. I smelled my wrist for the rest of that day surrounded by many excellent new perfumes but none were better to my nose. I knew the wait was going to be interminable to see if the version I liked so much would be the one which made it in to the bottle. I received my answer a couple weeks ago, with the arrival of my sample of Iris Fauve.
One of the things I approve highly of is the idea of a new brand working exclusively with a perfumer, or two. I believe it helps hone a brand’s identity while also allowing the creativity to build upon the foundation of the earlier work. So far M. Clermont has worked only with perfumer Marie Salamagne. The foundational scent from the initial five releases for Iris Fauve was Aube Rubis. In that fragrance Mme Salamagne explored the iris, patchouli, and vetiver triptych found so often in other constructs. It was a warm iris but there were slashes of fruit and sweet on the periphery. Iris Fauve is a complete evolution of Aube Rubis while still retaining the warmth of the iris; Mme Salamagne found some very new ways to illuminate the same trio.
The orris arrives right away and the heat also comes with it in the form of cinnamon. The spice is a true supporting note as it helps tamp down the powdery facets allowing the earthy rootiness of the rhizome to rise. The patchouli and vetiver return but this time Mme Salamagne adds in cypriol which forms a lilting kind of faux-oud accord which the iris inserts itself in to. This all becomes quite transparent as Mme Salamagne really brings the warmth in the base. The key note is an ingredient called Carolina Vanilla. More commonly known as deertongue, Carolina Vanilla was used as an additive to tobacco because it has a sweetly vanillic nature as the name portends. What it also has is that dried toasty nature you find in tonka bean. This provides a sweet underpinning to the animalic musks and myrrh Mme Salamagne uses in her base accord. As the iris and the oud accord settle into the warm embrace of the base notes it as good as perfume gets for me.
Iris Fauve has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Even though it wasn’t officially released at the time Iris Fauve was the perfume I carried the strongest memory of home from Esxence. Now that the same perfume has shown up in the bottle on the shelf I can confirm Iris Fauve is one of my very favorite perfumes of 2016.
Disclosure; This review was based on a sample provided by Atelier des Ors.
My feelings about flankers is well-known. I mostly dislike them. There is also a different situation which crops up with some of the better versions, though. Not all flankers are cynical marketing exercises some of them are different takes entirely. Those are flankers I want to approve of. Except when they are not to my personal taste, what then? This was the situation I found myself in with the release of two flankers of two of my favorite mainstream perfumes of last year. I think while they are not for me they are good enough that they might be something that will be adored by someone else. So, I am doing another round-up on John Varvatos Dark Rebel Rider and Alaia Paris Blanche. One caveat these did not get two days of wear as other perfumes I review do. Each of them got a liberal application to one arm on a weekend afternoon. I will say they did not go together all that well and the clash of both caused me to end the experience after a few hours. Even so I think I can share some broad experiences which might let a reader know if these are worth them seeking out.
The John Varvatos brand of perfume is one I laud, especially in the department store. The same perfumer has composed all of them, Rodrigo Flores-Roux. While there are flankers within the collection Sr. Flores-Roux always makes systematic changes to the original. The same effort is made with the follow-up to last year’s Dark Rebel; Dark Rebel Rider. Dark Rebel caught the smell of a well-worn leather jacket along with some rum and spicy wood. For Dark Rebel Rider Sr. Flores-Roux lightens up the beginning before returning to a different leather accord in the base.
Sr. Flores-Roux opens with bright citrus accord made expansive on a bubble of aldehydes. It leads into a floral heart of iris and violet. In the final third a birch tar-like Russian leather appears supported by balsamic notes along with incense and some smoke. The bright citric floral is an interesting contrast to the rougher leather in the base. Just not for me.
Dark Rebel Rider has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
The first perfume under the label of fashion designer Azzedine Alaia, Alaia Paris, was not just one of the best mainstream perfumes it was just one of the best perfumes of last year. Perfumer Marie Salamagne captured this duality of high and low with ozonic notes contrasted with musks. It was a vibrant silhouette. Alaia Paris Blanche is all powder, overwhelmingly so. Mme Salamagne makes a cloud of almond scented facial powder.
Alaia Paris Blanche lacks that silhouette that so enchanted me with Alaia Paris. Instead Mme Salamagne combines almond, heliotrope, vanilla, and a different suite of white musks. It is completely well-balanced as each ingredient contributes to the entire effect. It was just so powdery I couldn’t allow myself to relax in to it. If you are a lover of powdery fragrances I think Alaia Paris Blanche might be the ticket. I’m not interested in taking this trip, though.
Let me be clear though I think both are above average perfumes. They suffer by comparison to their predecessors which both made my year-end top 25. My personal antipathy to what each of these perfumers have successfully achieved should not keep you from lassoing a sample or two to give them a try if the descriptions above intrigue you.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by John Varvatos and Alaia Paris.