As I survey my desk filled with samples it is amusing to remember a time when that was not the case. As recently as four years ago I was using every connection I had to source a full set of samples from Memo Paris. Back then it was not a sure thing to get European-only releases. Over those four years Memo Paris has become available everywhere. I have also met the husband and wife team behind the brand. John Molloy takes care of the business side of things and Clara Molloy takes care of being the creative director for the brand. Mme Molloy has worked exclusively with one perfumer throughout the entire Memo Paris collection, Alienor Massenet. Over their collaboration they have designed a brand aesthetic while branching out into three collections within the brand. Memo Paris is one of my favorite brands there aren’t any which I have not enjoyed. If you have seen the display of the collection and wanted to know where to start here are my five suggestions.
John and Clara Molloy
The very first Memo Paris fragrance I tried was Inle. When I first reviewed Inle I described it as a tea dyed osmanthus. The creative team uses a focused tea accord, right down to a sprig of mint, to float osmanthus upon. It is framed out in clean lines of cedar and white musk. So often a perfume works to enhance the apricot leather duality of osmanthus. Inle decides to just let it be.
The perfume which made me mad for desire to acquire all of them was Shams Oud. The opening is a spicy glow of the sun setting on the desert. Ginger, saffron, and pepper form that dry desert breeze. As the oud becomes more apparent the three spices find their spot and form a fabulous oud chord. Later on it transitions through a green phase of papyrus and vetiver before letting birch and balsam provide the final notes. Shams Oud is still one of my very favorite oud perfumes.
Manoa is the iris fragrance for the brand. Starting with ginger and citrus a powdery iris sets itself upon a foundation of opoponax, vanilla, and labdanum. Probably the most simply constructed perfume in the entire collection it still carries that Memo Paris vibe.
Quartier Latin also trends a bit simpler in architecture too. It reminds me of walking outside of a nightclub passing through a group smoking Kretek clove cigarettes straight into a wood-paneled room. Mme Massenet chooses clove leaves instead of just clove to add a bit of green which threads itself through the very dry woods of cedar and sandalwood. The desiccated quality is relieved a bit with tonka and amber. The balance in Quartier Latin shows off what a fine technician Mme Massenet is.
There have been four leather perfumes within the Cuirs Nomades collection. The one which you should try first is African Leather. This opens with a slightly different African breeze than Shams Oud. Using cardamom and cumin to go with the saffron this time it has a more primal energy to it. The leather accord in the heart feels as if it is alive and stalking you. Vetiver and patchouli provide a sunbaked earth accord for the base. This entire Cuirs Nomades have been good but African Leather is the current crown jewel.
This is a niche line which carries my highest recommendation. I think most perfume lovers will find one or more which speak to them. Try these five as a start.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottles I purchased.
The seasonal rotation has begun as the vetivers, aquatics, and citrus perfumes move towards the back of the shelves and the cold-weather favorites come forward. A nice aspect of this change in perfumes is I welcome back these perfumes like long lost friends. It is particularly helpful in a sector of fragrance as crowded as oud perfumes. There are so many oud releases it is easy to become jaded. It is hard to believe it has only been thirteen years since Yves Saint Laurent M7 introduced oud to the western perfume conversation. Ever since it has been a mad rush to embrace this precious and fractious note. When I was thinking about my favorite oud perfumes I realized it is the ones where the perfumer doesn’t just allow the exoticism to lay there and act weird. These five perfumes are examples of perfumers working to bend oud to their will which is why I think they have all stood the test of time with me.
Very top of my list is the Mona di Orio Oudh Osmanthus. It was the last perfume released prior to Mme di Orio’s untimely passing. It is the best perfume of her career and I thought it was the best new perfume of 2011. She tamed the oud with a multi-layered effect surrounding osmanthus. By early on embracing the faux-oud of cypriol before heading to a mix of genuine Laotian white oud and oud in the base. This is how you make oud something like you’ve never smelled before. It is what I consider to be one of the five best perfumes of the past five years.
It would only be a few months before I found another oud to swoon over. Maison Francis Kurkdjian Oud is also another testament to a master perfumer’s ability to wring new facets out of something as overplayed as oud. M. Kurkdjian’s choices are to first frame it in the clean woodiness of cedar before planting it in the earthiness of patchouli and finally upping the exoticism quotient with saffron.
Liz Zorn is one of those independent perfumers who definitely illuminate the mundane into the extraordinary. The best example of her ability to do that is Soivohle Oudh Lacquer. The core of this perfume is a sinkwood tincture which takes Ms. Zorn a year to make. As the source of the oudh it adds a complexity you will not find in other oud perfumes.The lacquer is a dense chocolate. I couldn’t have told you before trying Oudh Lacquer how much I would like chocolate and oud. Not only do I love it but nobody who has tried to do this since has even come close to the richness of Oudh Lacquer.
Memo Shams Oud required a personal shopper to bring it back to me from Paris early in 2012. Clara Molloy creatively directing perfumer Alienor Massenet make an oud which rides on a sunbeam. An explosive spicy opening of ginger, pepper, and saffron turns greenish with vetiver and papyrus. The oud arises on a platform of birch and balsam. It is the reason I fell in love with this brand at first sniff.
By Kilian Rose Oud is the most traditional of my favorite ouds as rose and oud are the classic Middle Eastern pairing. Perfumer Calice Becker fuses a very European rose with an oud accord to create what I consider to be the best of these rose and oud combinations by a Western perfume brand.
As I was writing this I came to the realization that each one of these perfumes made my top 25 of the year they were released. I think it goes to show that a talented creative mind can make something transcendent even from the most pedestrian of notes.
Disclosure: This review was based on bottles I purchased of each perfume.