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.
At the end of 2014 there was bit of shuffling of chairs at a number of perfume brands. Jo Malone had used Christine Nagel as de-facto in-house nose for a few years. It wasn’t entirely exclusive but Mme Nagel was behind most of the releases I liked best. She has moved on to work at Hermes. Which left me wondering what Jo Malone would do? The answer seems to be that perfumer Marie Salamagne has stepped into the role. For about the last year she has composed five new releases for Jo Malone. The earlier release this year, Incense & Cedrat, left me wondering what Mme Salamagne would do differently as she settled in to her new role. The latest release, Mimosa & Cardamom, seems to provide the answer to this.
Over the last five years Jo Malone has diligently gone about shaking off one of the more prevalent perceptions of the brand. The concept that they were very nice but somehow lightweight in tone and projection. To a segment of consumers a brand cannot do that. What Mme Nagel brought to Jo Malone during her tenure was an intensifying of both architecture and sillage. It allowed for the brand to become much more widely admired. From my perspective I adore some of the more gentle earlier releases. There is a beauty in fragility that I think is sometimes lost. For Mimosa & Cardamom Mme Salamagne has decided that Jo Malone has successfully recaptured the perfume lover’s attentions that it can risk a return to delicacy.
Marie Salamagne (Photo: Jerome Bonnet)
Mimosa & Cardamom is like most Jo Malone perfumes with two ingredients on the label exactly what it promises. The soft pillowy floralcy of mimosa is matched with the spicy green exoticness of cardamom. These two notes float like a butterfly over everything else in the perfume.
Mme Salamagne takes the cardamom and in the top notes she shades it green with lily and violet leaves drawing that character out of it. There is a tiny bit of risk because the greener you make cardamom the closer it gets to being a bit like cumin. Mme Salamagne has a firm hand on the tiller and the early moments of Mimosa & Cardamom stay firmly in the green spiciness she desires. The mimosa comes in and it transforms the cardamom from green into something much more opaque. Mme Salamagne makes a really nice choice here as she uses heliotrope to provide a bit more foundation to the mimosa. I think without it the mimosa might have not carried the same amount of presence. Over a fair amount of hours sandalwood and tonka take the titular notes and fold them in a creamy woody hug.
Mimosa & Cardamom has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
It has taken a year for me to feel like Mme Salamagne has found the voice she will use at Jo Malone. Mimosa & Cardamom has me eagerly looking for more of the same in the future.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Jo Malone.
There are a few notes in fragrance which are kind of Goldilocks notes. These are notes which really test the patience of a perfumer to get it “just right”. One of the more crowd-pleasing notes is also one of the more difficult notes to find the sweet spot with. That note is vanilla. Too much and it is oppressive and cloying. Too little and it becomes an afterthought. Even with that warning a perfumer who wants to work towards the edge of the too much barrier really has to be sure to pull back just enough. Perfumer Marie Salamagne has displayed that kind of precision in the new perfume Atelier des Ors Lune Feline.
Atelier des Ors is a new brand founded and creatively directed by Jean-Philippe Clermont. The brand has released five fragrances this year all composed by Mme Salamagne. The ethos of the line is to reinvigorate the French style of perfume making. There is also a kind of throwback elegance as each bottle contains flakes of gold inside which turn the bottles into decadent snow globes with golden highlights.
Lune Feline is the gourmand representative of the debut releases. Mme Salamagne chose to go for a spicy green shade of vanilla. She also decided to let the vanilla carry some more presence than might have been wise. The end result is an encompassing vanilla but not an overwhelming one.
The opening of Lune Feline is the sizzle of spices as cardamom, baie rose, and cinnamon heat up the early going. The cinnamon is the focal point with cardamom and pink pepper providing a bit of cool on one side and bit of snap on the other. The heart gets green and woody as cedar frames a set of verdant notes. A touch of ambergris adds an interesting grace note to the straight-forward cedar accord. The vanilla begins to rise. At first it has some delicacy but it doesn’t take long for it to become more insistent. A bit of Peru balsam and some musks try and restrain the vanilla from getting out of control. It is a battle which they will fight all the way to the end as the vanilla stays intense but not overly so.
Lune Feline has crazy longevity I detected it 36 hours after application. The sillage is moderate.
Mme Salamagne managed to make a vanilla perfume that was more than “just right”. She made a vanilla perfume with real strength but without being irritatingly sweet. If you are a vanilla fan this should be on your sample list.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I received at Esxence 2015.
Header Photo via Fragrantica.com
If there is anything which is going to harm perfumery in the long term it is not going to be the usual suspects of draconian regulations or astronomical prices. The death of perfume is going to come with the incessant homogenization going on in the mass-market sector. The perfume business which is making new perfumes in this sector has shunted aside creativity and promoted the focus group. By gathering average perfume wearers and letting them in to the creative process they end up creating perfume afraid to be anything but not to offend any sensibility. It also has the effect of making all of them smell the same by recycling older tropes from more ambitious earlier releases. The final decision on what goes in the bottle is not coming from a creative director with a specific vision. It is instead coming from averaging the results of questionnaires and picking the one which appeals most broadly. Except every great perfume which has ever existed has always made a bold statement about what it was and dared an audience to come to it instead of the other way around. One of the first perfumes I can remember doing that was 1977’s Yves St. Laurent Opium. If there was a perfume of the disco era Opium was it. Because so many women wore it there were many mornings following a night out where I could easily pick up the sweet vanilla laden base notes on my clothes. Opium was a trendsetter for years.
Now in 2015 there is a new flanker of Opium called Black Opium. The press release claims it is an Opium for a contemporary Rock Chick. The ad campaign features model Edie Campbell looking very Joan Jett while spraying on Black Opium. Except while I know the younger generation makes a habit of looking unimpressed about anything the look on Ms. Campbell’s face borders on apathy. It’s almost like there should be a thought bubble above her head going, “This is a quick buck.” When I received the press materials prior to receiving my sample I found it all very incongruous. Within days something even more ominous would create more concern. Creative Director of Yves St. Laurent Hedi Slimane posted on Twitter, followed up with a press release, disavowing any involvement in the creation of Black Opium. Who was minding the store? I am not sure but after wearing Black Opium it feels solidly like the product of a thousand focus groups.
The Creative Directors? (Photo: From the TV Series "Mad Men")
A group of four perfumers are credited with Black Opium, Honorine Blanc, Olivier Cresp, Nathalie Lorson, and Marie Salamagne. That is a great team of artists who if left to their own devices under appropriate creative direction could make a great “Rock Chick” perfume. What they have produced is something generic with aspects of hundreds of fruity florals and gourmands of the past all smooshed together into something afraid to take a stand on anything for fear of offending.
Black Opium opens with pink pepper, very sweet manadarin, and crisp pear matched with mimosa. It is modern fruity floral territory being trod upon for the umpteenth time. It eventually evolves towards a bland attempt at coffee, vanilla, and patchouli over cedar. Clean woody gourmand territory, encountered many times previously.
Black Opium has 10-12 hour longevity and prodigious sillage, probably the only thing it shares with the original.
Black Opium is not a bad perfume. It is a safe perfume. It is a perfume engineered through social means to appeal to many. It is devoid of character and as boring as Ms. Campbell looks in the advert. If the creative directors for the designers don’t have the opportunity to apply their brand vision to the perfumes which carry that designer name this will work like Continental Drift, in reverse, and every new release will eventually smell the same creating an olfactory Pangea. As one who loved the way the original Opium defined a moment in time via scent it is sad to see an opportunity for Black Opium squandered for safety’s sake.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Yves St. Laurent Beaute.