New Perfume Review Aedes de Venustas Pelargonium- Still Life with Nathalie

When a store puts their name on a bottle of perfume they take a risk in potentially diminishing the overall brand. When a brand does it right it has the effect of burnishing the reputation of all involved. This has been the case in the line named for the iconic New York perfume store Aedes de Venustas. In 2012 when they released the first perfume under their name it was what I expected. A fragrance which was honed from decades of serving customers in the store and finding what styles leave lasting impressions. Owners Karl Bradl and Robert Gerstner teamed up with Francois Duquesne as the creative directors. Over five more releases since that first one they have done nothing but confirm that initial impression. If there is an overall aesthetic to the line it is for richer, opulent constructions. The latest release Pelargonium adds in a formal elegance to that.

Karl Bradl (l.) and Robert Gerstner

Perfumer Nathalie Feisthauer was asked to work on Pelargonium. Her desire was to create a perfume which was like a still life painting done by a Dutch Master. Still Life as an art form was at its height during the latter years of the 1700’s. The name itself comes from an anglicizing of the Dutch word “stilleven”. The idea was to arrange common everyday objects and capture them using shadow, light, and color to provide new perspective. What it accomplished was to allow a viewer to see the everyday as something to appreciate. Mme Feisthauer takes one of the most common of floral notes, geranium, using it as the focal point around which she arranges the rest of her composition.

Nathalie Feisthauer

From the first days of my perfume obsession I have been very fond of geranium. The “green rose” effect it adds to a perfume has appealed to me. Only rarely is it allowed to stand out on its own. Mme Feisthauer chooses an Egyptian Geranium essential oil as the centerpiece of Pelargonium.

Before that geranium arrives Mme Feisthauer uses the lemon-tinted resin, elemi, as the opening. As the geranium begins to come forward so do a series of notes meant to surround but not override. Green cardamom and clary sage are used to support the green leafy nature of the geranium. Orris and carrot are here to give the rosy floral nature a bit of a modification. One of the reasons I think you don’t see geranium as a focus is it becomes very easy to experience it as a half-hearted rose. Which is why by using two rooty notes Mme Feisthauer turns that into something primitive and earthy. It also allows that green accord more traction, too. The earthiness is continued into the base with vetiver. The vetiver here carries a bit of smokiness with it which I liked more than if a straight vetiver was used. A little gaiac wood, moss, and musk round out Pelargonium.

Pelargonium has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

A Stiil Life is meant to find something beneath the common. Mme Feisthauer’s Still Life of Geranium does that. Every choice illuminates the focal point along with the other things in the picture. Pelargonium carries the elegance of a fine piece of art.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Arielle Shoshanna.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Amouage Opus IX- The Ragged Edge of Control

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In music there is an elemental debate whether complete control and technical mastery is more important than a performance containing flaws but having more emotion. In jazz the mastery portion is represented by Wynton Marsalis and the emotion is exemplified by the late Dizzy Gillespie. One of my most treasured musical moments was seeing Wynton and Dizzy play at the Saratoga Jazz Festival together on Dizzy’s “A Night in Tunisia”. This was the two extremes brought into stark contrast as the technician and the emotive traded runs before coming together triumphantly. What I walked away from that night with was true emotion has to live on a ragged edge of control, unafraid to fall off. A recent perfume and its inspiration returned my thoughts to that as it pertains to perfume.

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Maria Callas as Violetta in "La Traviata" (1958)

Creative Director Christopher Chong of Amouage is a man of many passions but one of his most long-lived ones is that of opera. For the latest release in the Library Collection, Opus IX, he drew on that. Opus IX is inspired by one of the great opera singers of all-time, Maria Callas. Mme Callas was a top coloratura soprano in the first part of the Twentieth Century. She was more Dizzy than Wynton. Her performances were so imbued with visible emotions it would cause a fraying of some of the notes as she would reach for them. Derided by the traditionalists she was loved by audiences because of that primal connection which was made. Mr. Chong has chosen a specific performance by Mme Callas of La Traviata in Lisbon during 1958 to inspire Opus IX. The perfume is composed by Nathalie Lorson and Pierre Negrin. I use the word composed a lot when referring to a perfume but in the case of Opus IX this does feel like something which has three very distinctive phases, or acts, as the press material maintain.

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Christopher Chong

La Traviata is the opera composed by Giuseppe Verdi which tells the story of Violetta, the titular "fallen woman”. When we meet her in Act 1 she is one of the most famed courtesans in Paris. She throws a regular salon where the brightest lights of society attend. During the one depicted in La Traviata it is her first back after an illness. It is a room full of beautiful people harboring deep emotions. There is a duet between the young Alfredo and Violetta as he can for the first time try and show her the depth of his devotion. This song is called in English “Let’s drink from the joyful chalices”. The First Act of Opus IX feels very much like this duet to me. As Violetta represented by camellia is met on even terms by black pepper representing Alfredo. The camellia is also bolstered by jasmine to make it an incredibly heady floral. The perfumers have to use an equally intense amount of black pepper to find contrast. It is right up to the edge of being too much. Like Alfredo it runs the risk of taking its emotions too far. The perfumers are sure in their precision and it all stays brightly balanced like an operatic duet.nathalie lorson

 

Nathalie Lorson

Act 2 of the opera opens with Violetta and Alfredo happy living in the country outside of Paris. When Alfredo finds out Violetta is selling off her possessions to fund their country idyll. Events of the kind of missed communications rampant in most tragedies cause our lovers to end up at a party in Paris where their relationship is put to the figurative sword because of familial and societal pressures. It ends with Alfredo angrily throwing money at her feet in payment for her services. The early moments of idyll are shattered with naked emotions. The Second Act of Opus IX is a beautiful cacophony of notes delivered with all the messiness real emotions evoke. The perfumers employ gaiac wood, beeswax, and leather. These notes never seem to find a place to mesh appropriately. This kind of dynamism is going to be tough for some to take. It is very similar to the miscommunication of our protagonists. The smoke of the gaiac battles with a rich beeswax over a refined leather accord. The beeswax is the disruptor keeping apart the more easily paired gaiac and leather. It is the beeswax which maintains the separation.

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Pierre Negrin

In Act 3 of the opera Violetta is dying and Alfredo has been given the missing information he needs to understand all of her actions were because of her love for him. He rushes to her deathbed and arrives before it is too late. They sing another duet mourning the death of Violetta so young. For a moment it seems as if love, and song, has saved the day, only for Violetta to abruptly pass away. The Third Act of Opus IX has dispensed with the discord of the Second Act and now looks for new found harmony. The perfumers use ambergris and civet to represent our lovers at the end. The civet is full of deep animalic emotion and it overwhelms the leather and beeswax of the heart to bring the deeper aspects of the base into something more harmonious. The ambergris provides a fragile partner sometimes reviving only to falter under the civet. It is a deeply emotional place to finish our olfactory opera.

Opus IX has 14-16 hour longevity and way above average sillage.

If you can bring yourself to get lost in the emotion on display in Opus IX you will have a unique perfume experience. There are very few fragrances on the market that would dare this. It is not going to be universally loved, for this open sentimentality is not for everyone. As one who loves living on the ragged edge of emotion I can add Mr. Chong to Dizzy and Mme Callas as artists unafraid to fall only so that they can soar.

Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample provided by Amouage.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Comme des Garcons + Stephen Jones Wisteria Hysteria- Fascinating Fascinator

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2013 was a comeback year for Comme des Garcons in my opinion. For what was seeming far too long they had not been the cutting edge fragrance house they had originally been. What I was most interested in was to see if they would continue the return. The first data point for 2014 was going to be a very challenging one. 2008’s Comme des Garcons + Stephen Jones, by perfumer Antoine Maisondieu, vies for the title of best Comme des Garcons fragrance ever, with Comme des Garcons 2. The new Comme des Garcons + Stephen Jones Wisteria Hysteria was going to have a mighty big atomizer to live up to.

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Stephen Jones

Stephen Jones is a world-renowned milliner, or hat maker, who is known for his unique aesthetic and the technical expertise necessary to accomplish his vision. Mr. Jones even has a quote about the relationship between perfume and hat making, “Millinery, I think, is closer to fragrance than fashion. A hat, like a perfume, is an evocation of something nebulous, ephemeral, and other-worldly.”

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Nathalie Feisthauer

How there came to be a Stephen Jones + Comme des Garcons has sort of become a tale of chance meeting leading to collaboration. The story goes Mr. Jones ran into Comme des Garcons designer Rei Kawakubo in the Anchorage, Alaska airport and struck up a friendship which turned into an alliance. Somewhere along the line Mr. Jones was introduced to Christian Astuguevieille, the fragrance creative director for Comme des Garcons and the first Comme des Garcons + Stephen Jones fragrance was born. For the sequel the same creative team wanted to have something a little more multimedia. For the perfumer they chose Nathalie Fesithauer. To create a visual to go along with the fragrance they asked Henry Pincus to film a short clip. All of this was debuted at London’s SHOWstudio in March 2014.

The fashion film “depicts a woman discovering a new side of herself all while clad in L’Wren Scott and Stephen Jones.” The film depicts a classic set of contradiction as both the dark and light sides merge together by the end. For the fragrance Mme Feisthauer was also going for a struggle between light and dark but in the case of the fragrance the darker notes serve to define the lighter notes and while they never pull entirely free of the heaviness there is an off-kilter lightness of being that makes Wisteria Hysteria a fascinating perfume to wear.

The top notes of Wisteria Hysteria are a mélange of stimulating choices. Pepper, clove, and mate leaf form the opening accord and the mate is the keynote of the early going. The pepper and clove serve as framing notes to allow for the mate to display its fresh grass kind of character but the clove and pepper will make their presence known underneath the pastoral tableau. The heart is the promised wisteria but not anywhere near what I would call hysterical levels. Instead the wisteria is balanced with rose to create a spring fresh floral accord. To that Mme Fesithauer adds a silvery frankincense which adds a metallic edge to the florals. The base is a mix of white musks as sheer as the fascinator worn by the protagonist in the film. To ground them Mme Fesisthauer uses benzoin and amber.

Wisteria Hysteria has all-day longevity and average sillage.

Fascinator Mark

The Author avec Fascinator

I’ve had about a month to spend wearing Wisteria Hysteria and each successive wearing has allowed for me to appreciate the subtleties throughout its design. This is not a fragrance that will immediately display its charms to you. Like a hat I had to wear it a bit and break it in but once it found that sweet spot it is a perfume which rewards those with the patience to let it find the right balance between light and dark. Based on Comme des Garcons + Stephen Jones Wisteria Hysteria I think Comme des Garcons’ 2014 on the fragrance side is off to a fantastic beginning.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle of Wisteria Hysteria from SHOWstudio.

Mark Behnke