Kenzo has been one of the most interesting brands I have followed since I started paying attention to the wider world of fragrance. They go through cycles of real originality followed by consolidation and safety. There is one big problem with this kind of fluctuation it is hard to create a brand identity. I believe if a brand fails at that it adds an extra level of difficulty in breaking through to the consumer. If I had to point to a reason why Kenzo has had so much of a problem doing this, it has been because they have never been clear what they wanted to be. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when Celine Verleure was creatively directing, until 1998, and co-directors Delphine Fossoyeux & Patrick Guedj took over after she left you could almost feel like they were going to be a challenger to Comme des Garcons as an early niche leader. They were using some of the current superstars of perfumery in their early days. Names like Ropion, Kurkdjian, Morillas, Cresp, and Menardo all made interesting releases but there was no focus. In 2003 Fossoyeux and Guedj decided it was time to bring to bring in a big star perfumer; enter Maurice Roucel.
M. Roucel was one of the first perfumers who had his name brought from out of the shadows by Frederic Malle. One of the earliest successes of the original Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle was M. Roucel’s Musc Ravageur. The thought at Kenzo was likely to ride this new wave of perfumers as auteurs. They asked him to design a perfume. M. Roucel had been busy making perfume for over twenty years at this point but surprisingly he had never done a vetiver centric fragrance. Kenzoair would check that box.
M. Roucel would look at the trends of clean and fresh especially in masculine releases. He would choose to find a way to make a vetiver opaquer going for a cleaner version of that very common masculine note. He would keep it simple to allow the transparent vetiver the space to shine.
Kenzoair starts with angelica root in a lighter concentration than you usually run in to. Often this comes off as very earthy and musky. M. Roucel uses bergamot to lighten it up. Vetiver comes next and M. Roucel uses anise to pull that nature of vetiver. I have rarely seen this pairing used and Kenzoair is a good example of why it should be. Herbs are used to pull the herbal nature of lavender all the time. The anise has a similar effect here on the vetiver. It pushes the greener facets to the background which is how M. Roucel does transform it into something less rigid. There is a mixture of woody aromachemicals to finish this off with a similar volume.
Kenzoair has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Kenzoair would have a very short shelf life. It seems the transparency which I find so compelling was not seen the same way by consumers. So much so that Kenzoair Intense was released within two years. Both would be discontinued not too much longer after that. This is the hazard of not forming a distinct brand identity. Kenzoair did not stand for anything but adventurous perfume composition to an uninterested audience.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
There are times I make a request for a set of samples expecting I know which one I will think is best just from the description. I’ve come to realize my track record in being correct is pretty poor. Some of that might be anticipation versus a purer experience in which a new fragrance gets the chance to surprise me. Such was the case with the set of samples from Atkinsons London The Contemporary Collection.
What drew mw to this collection was the statement on the Atkinsons website saying they wanted “transform the familiar into the fabulously unfamiliar”. As I looked at the perfumes in the collection the one which caught my eye was Lavender on the Rocks. Perfumers Christine Nagel (pre-Hermes) and Violaine Collas wanted to make an icy lavender cocktail. I liked it as it really pushes the herbal character of lavender. The thing was the strip I kept returning to over and over was not Lavender on the Rocks; it was The Big Bad Cedar.
It is hard not to giggle at the name as I keep seeing an anthropomorphic tree threatening to huff and puff and blow your flowers away. Despite that imagery perfumer Maurice Roucel seemed less interested in making the cedar bombastic. Instead what he produces in The Big Bad Cedar is a remarkably refined version of cedar which seems very stiff upper lip British.
M. Roucel shows this is not Big Bad territory with the top accord. He blends a lovely cardamom-centric whisper using lemon and lavender to caress it. I am very fond of cardamom on top and this is just classically composed. A great opening. The heart sets the stage for the title note to appear as M. Roucel uses clary sage to take what the cardamom started into a greener direction. The sage becomes a prelude to the green woodiness inherent in cedar. The other note in the heart, broom, is used to anticipate the clean; the desiccated sweet dustiness is perfectly positioned. M. Roucel uses a classic Virginia cedarwood essence. As it becomes apparent it reaches out to both the clary sage and the broom to form a harmonic which captures all there is to see in cedar. M. Roucel grounds this with moss and cashmeran in the base.
The Big Bad Cedar has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Despite the Big Bad name and the desire of The Contemporary Collection to make the “familiar…unfamiliar” this perfume is completely classic in its construction and the way it felt when I wore it. There are others in this collection which do live up to their fanciful names and desire to be different. The Big Bad Cedar is not one of them and that is not so bad.
Disclosure; this review was based on a sample provided by Atkinsons London.
When Thierry Mugler created the gourmand category of fragrance with 1992’s Angel with its signature chocolate heart it fired the imagination of others. Where else could one go with notes that smelled of food? One of the early answers was to make a coffee centered fragrance. 1996’s Thierry Mugler A*Men would be the first on the market but over the nearly twenty years since the release of A*Men there have been almost two hundred coffee inspired perfumes.
I love the smell of coffee. I start everyday with an espresso and even before I take my first sip I breathe deeply taking in the rich aroma. I think I own a virtual Starbucks worth of coffee perfumes and can serve up any style one would like. When I am playing olfactory barista for myself there is one coffee perfume which rises above them all, Bond No. 9 New Haarlem.
When Bond No. 9 released its first set of perfumes in 2003 Creative Director and Owner, Laurice Rahme’s fragrant tour of New York was an instant hit. It was so successful that many were wondering what the follow-up would be. In 2004 she would oversee what I think are two of the flagship perfumes for the brand in Wall Street and New Haarlem. For New Haarlem Ms. Rahme would collaborate again with perfumer Maurice Roucel. They had worked together on Broadway Nite and Riverside Drive in the inaugural collection. This time they would serve up the quintessential to-go cup of coffee for that New Yorker on the move.
What sets New Haarlem apart for me is that too many of the early gourmands tried to imitate A*Men’s power. That all too often turned them into cloying miasmas that made you feel as if you were one of the misbehaving children in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. M. Roucel made one of the first gourmands with restraint. There is never a moment where the coffee smell is not apparent but the exquisite balance he achieves throughout is what makes New Haarlem special.
From the moment I spray it on the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee rises to my nose. The first movement is a green, slightly herbal, contrast. It has the effect of making the early moments a little more coffee bean than coffee drink. The green reminds me of the natural oil which covers a whole bean. The heart is where the coffee really gets brewing. Again M. Roucel makes a wonderfully balancing choice of framing the deeply redolent coffee with cedar. Those clean woody lines delineate and amplify the central note. The base is where he adds a shot of flavor to our coffee. M. Roucel uses amber, vanilla, and tonka bean to create a hazelnut accord. It is a well-chosen accompaniment as the nuttiness is tinted with a little sweet. A great patchouli recalls some of the herbal beginning as the final ingredient is added.
New Haarlem has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
As I already mentioned it is the incredible balance M. Roucel achieves which makes New Haarlem the Gold Standard for coffee perfumes. Head out and grab a bottle, to-go.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
When I speak with Michael Edwards on the beginning of niche perfumery he can accurately names L’Artisan Parfumeur in 1978 and Annick Goutal in 1980 as the first niche lines. When I think of when niche perfumery really managed to breakthrough I go back to 2000 when Frederic Malle released the first nine perfumes in his Editions de Parfums brand. These were the first perfumes to feature the name of the perfumer on the bottle. It really was the beginning of my starting to take a stronger interest in the people behind the perfume. Over the last fourteen years and 21 total releases I can say that this is one of the strongest collections of fragrances on the market. There is not a mediocre one in the whole group. A particular style might not be to your taste but the quality and creativity is always prominently displayed. This is one of the best places for anyone interested in niche perfume to start and here are the five I would suggest you begin with.
There are a plethora of citrus colognes but Jean-Claude Ellena’s Bigarade Concentree is one that stands way above the fray. There is fantastic bitter orange (bigarade) surrounded by the most gentle aldehydes. The heart is rose, cardamom, and a bit of textural pepper to coax the spiciness from the rose. It finishes with a golden hay note over cedar. This fragrance re-invigorated my interest in citrus fragrances all by itself.
Lys Mediterranee by Edouard Flechier is one of the most luminous perfumes I own. M. Flechier weaves three sources of lily raw materials to render a larger-than-life composite as the core of this fragrance. He adds orange blossom, angelica, and musk as the perfect complements to the uber-lily. If you want lily in your fragrance here is one of the best.
Musc Ravageur by Maurice Roucel has a bit of a rakish reputation as a lady-killer if you believe the stories told on the perfume forums. That has died down over time and now what remains is a fantastic ambery musk by one of the great perfumers working. Starting with a flare of tangerine and lavender which are spiced up wiith clove and cinnamon we reach the base notes which form the ambery musky accord. I was well married by the time I found this but it is one of the few fragrances I wear which generates unsolicited compliments, so maybe its reputation is deserved.
For so many years the baseline tuberose perfume was Robert Piguet’s Fracas and nothing came close until Dominique Ropion’s Carnal Flower. M. Ropion chooses an eclectic company of complementary and contrasting notes for the tuberose. He uses eucalyptus to accentuate the mentholated quality a the heart of the flower. He adds coconut to provide an oily sweet contrast. A few other white flowers join in to create the other great tuberose fragrance.
Pierre Bourdon showed that he was more than the perfumer who created Cool Water when he made French Lover (aka Bois D’Orage). When I smelled this when it was released in 2007 it felt like a more sophisticated version of my old staple Calvin Klein Obsession for Men. It doesn’t smell anything like it but it was the one fragrance I continually chose over it once it was in my perfume cabinet. M. Bourdon uses the rich spiciness of pimento to lead into a finely balanced heart of iris and galbanum. It is a greener floral because of the presence of the galbanum and it keeps the iris from getting powdery. A musk and vetiver base finish this off. If I was still prowling the night looking for a connection French Lover would be one of my choices.
As I mentioned above the entire Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle line is consistently excellent. So start here but do yourself a favor and keep on going through the whole line it is a magical ride.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
Maurice Roucel is one of our greatest perfumers and he just as easily produces a fragrance for Victoria’s Secret, 2012’s Simply Gorgeous; as he does for Frederic Malle, 2000’s Musc Ravageur. There is a broad spread to the perfumes he makes. From a gourmand like 2004’s Bond No. 9 New Haarlem to a fruity floral like 2006’s Guerlain Insolence there is always a dashing sense of style underlying all that he creates. M. Roucel feels like one of the last of the old school perfumers just turning out things that smell good. One of my favorites by M. Roucel is also one of the best perfume bargains you can find, one of the best perfumes you can buy; Rochas Tocade.
M. Roucel created Tocade in 1994 and it was one of his earliest forays into what would eventually become the gourmand style of perfume. For Tocade which translates to “whim” he centers the perfume on two notes, rose and vanilla. Vanilla had been used in a more restrained way with rose in many previous fragrances but the change here was to really up the vanilla and that in turn makes Tocade feel like an olfactory version of Turkish Delight. It is a typical Oriental and in that way it carries a heft to it appropriate for the confection it imitates.
Tocade opens with a bit of light green aspects from bergamot and geranium. It gives way to a transparent rose which is given some structure with iris as support. Through the first few moments, all of this is fairly traditional pretty rose. It all changes as the vanilla makes its presence known. M. Roucel pulls off a fabulous effect with his vanilla as it never tilts into a pedestrian kind of vanilla. It never seems to get sweet and buttery, or saccharine and sugary. Somehow it straddles a knife’s edge of balance between the two. Because of the translucence of the rose it comes off almost watery. It is difficult to say M. Roucel has a signature move but if there is one this watery sheer floral effect is probably it. Once the vanilla rises fully Tocade feels like a beautiful sticky piece of Turkish Delight. To further deepen the comfort aspects amber and benzoin add a softly sweet resinous complement while a bit of musk adds a twinge of animalic contrast.
Tocade has average longevity and above average sillage.
Tocade has survived the ravages of reformulation pretty much intact for twenty years. I picked up a 1Oz. bottle for $9.99 at my local TJ Maxx to compare to my original bottle and the only difference is in the very top notes as the new bottle feels a little brighter for those first few minutes; which is probably to be expected. Once Tocade gets down to its rose and vanilla business my mid 1990’s bottle and the 2014 bottle are identical on my skin. As I mentioned above this perfume is easily obtainable from a number of sources for less than $20/Oz. I think Tocade is one of the great perfumes of the last thirty years and the fact that it isn’t more well-known is a shame; the price certainly shouldn’t be a barrier. This is an example of a master perfumer fashioning a simple construction which contains subtle shadings and brushstrokes to take it far above being a simple rose and vanilla perfume. For $10 how can you go wrong?
There are few perfume houses as prolific as Laurice Rahme’s Bond No. 9. Since she founded it with sixteen fragrances based on New York City neighborhoods in 2003 there are currently over 70 Bond No. 9 fragrances to choose from. I am going to suggest five of those to start your exploration of this uniquely New York perfume house. Bond No. 9 has some exclusives for Saks Fifth Avenue and Harrod’s and I’m not including any from those collections because of their exclusivity. The main collection Bond No. 9 fragrances are some of the most accessible niche perfumes to be found and they should be easier to find than many other niche brands.
Chinatown is arguably the best perfume in the entire line. Perfumer Aurelien Guichard was a rising star in 2005 and his modern chypre underneath a soft fruity floral opening is incredible. If I was making a list of the best perfumes released post-2000 Chinatown would be near the top.
New Haarlem was one of two perfumes by perfumer Maurice Roucel for Bond No. 9, the other is Riverside Drive. M. Roucel creates an abstract version of a coffee gourmand fragrance. There is definitely coffee at the core but he adds in things no barista would think of like lavender and patchouli. The latter is really what turns New Haarlem into one of the better gourmand fragrances on the market.
2010’s High Line by perfumer Laurent LeGuernec is inspired by the recaptured railroad line turned into urban green space in downtown New York. M. LeGuernec composed a fragrant sonnet to springtime and growing things. The opening freshly cut grass accord is joined by a fresh bouquet of spring flowers most notably tulips. This is all laid over a base accord of sun warmed concrete after a spring shower. The smell of nature in a big city setting makes High Line one of my favorite spring fragrances.
In 2007, Aurelien Guichard created Silver Bond (aka Andy Warhol Silver Factory) it is a sheer incense fragrance with a metallic twinge throughout. It opens with a very sheer citrus, lavender, and incense opening. A combination of violet and iris are used to enhance their sharper more metallic facets which adds the sort of weirdly artistic flourish to what could be a straightforward incense fragrance without it. The base notes go towards a much deeper incense vibe.
Success is the Essence of New York (aka Andy Warhol Success is a Job in New York) is a grown-up version of Calvin Klein Obsession for Men. Perfumer Claude Dir takes a softly spicy opening centered on cardamom into a floral accord of tuberose, rose, jasmine, and orris to fashion a depth form those notes without becoming cloying. The warm base of amber, vanilla, and patchouli serves to round this out.
If you’ve been itching to take a perfumed tour of New York courtesy of Bond No. 9; grab the olfactory subway and make your first stops on the five suggestions above.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of these fragrances I purchased.