As much as I spend the first few months of the year complaining about the avalanche of new spring rose perfumes; I’ve been asked if there is a men’s corollary. The answer is, kind of. As Father’s Day in the US gets closer, I get a significant increase in colognes from the big perfume brands. The reason it doesn’t bother me as much is there are more variations within a cologne architecture. Most of them are flankers of established best sellers which try to freshen and lighten things up. Boss Bottled Infinite and Givenchy Gentleman Cologne are two recent examples.
Boss Bottled Infinite
Hugo Boss has surely milked the popularity of 1998’s Boss Bottled. Boss Bottled Infinite is the thirteenth flanker. I was not one of the fans of the original. I felt perfumer Annick Menardo overloaded things. I was in the minority as it has been a consistent best seller. Usually a flanker keeps much of the original formula while adding in a couple new ingredients. Which is a description of most of the Boss Bottled flankers. What made me give Boss Bottled Intense a second look was that it went in the opposite direction by stripping it down to the essential keynotes. Mme Menardo was again behind the wheel for the new flanker.
For this new version the top accord is simplified to mandarin and apple, with the citrus out front. Cinnamon and sage form the heart with some lavender as underpinning. This is more spicy than previous versions without becoming heavy. The significant change is olive wood for sandalwood. What that adds is less dry woodiness. It has a richer quality which complements the early accords nicely. If you’re a fan of the original I believe this will be a nice summer alternative.
Givenchy Gentleman Cologne
The Givenchy Gentleman released in 1974 is one of the masterpieces of that decade of perfume. When Givenchy decided to release a new perfume with that name in 2017, they did it in Eau de Toilette concentration. I was not happy it shared nothing of the sophistication of the original; it was a mess. A year later they released an Eau de Parfum version. This felt like the heir to the original I was looking for. When Givenchy Gentleman Cologne arrived it fell in the middle but closer to the Eau de Parfum side.
Perfumers Olivier Cresp and Nathalie Lorson continue to design the new Givenchy Gentleman collection. They keep it simple, too. In the Eau de Toilette there was a pear note on top that really turned me off. For Cologne the top note is a brilliant lemon in high concentration. It is a summery blast of sunlight. Some rosemary provides the herbal component of the cologne recipe. The perfumers substituted iris for the more typical lavender. It is a fantastic choice. The early moments are as good as it gets. My only drawback is a high concentration of synthetic woods. It lands like a sledgehammer. The lemon and iris nearly get obliterated holding on by a thread. If there was a bit better balance to the base, I would have liked this as much as the Eau de Parfum. Whether it is for you will come down to your tolerance for the synthetic woody in high concentration.
Disclosure: These reviews are based on samples from the manufacturers.
Eau D’Italie was another of the early brands which helped define the broad outlines of niche perfumery. The brand is overseen by owners, co-creative directors, husband and wife; Marina Sersale and Sebastian Alvarez Murena. All of it inspired by their hotel La Sireneuse in Positano, Italy. Especially in the most recent releases there has been an attempt to capture the carefree style lakeside in Positano in the warmer months. The latest release Fior Fiore is that gentle companion for warm days at the shore.
Sebastian Alvarez Murena and Marina Sersale
The past twelve months has seen a revival of the use of ambrette. Many of them have gone for a classical vibe by using the botanical musk along with a floral or two to provide a soft effect overall. Working with perfumer Olivier Cresp the creative directors have made a kind of sequel to 2015’s Morn to Dusk. In that one it displayed lily-of-the-valley dew covered in the morning. M. Cresp captures the same floral but at twilight as the jasmine begins to unfurl under the moonlight. It is a soft gentle study of three ingredients.
Fior Fiore opens with the lily-of-the valley front and center. M. Cresp uses the ambrette to blunt many of the sharper green aspects of the floral. For the first hour or so it is just these two notes like a gentle floral breeze. The jasmine languidly inserts itself in between. Using jasmine sambac, M. Cresp allows the indoles to take the ambrette into a deeper phase. The sweeter floral component raises up the lily-of-the-valley as the sun begins to set. Once all three notes are present Fior Fiore shimmers with facile beauty.
Fior Fiore has 10-12 hour longevity.
As I mentioned above over the last couple of years there has been a noticeable lightening of the Eau D’Italie aesthetic. Fior Fiore is the lightest perfume in the line. That is not a drawback by any means. I still find the same cheerful “lake life” smiling back at me. This is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a floral summer perfume which isn’t just stuffed with flowers and aquatic notes. Fior Fiore offers you a refreshing change of pace.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
Givenchy has been one of the most recognizable fashion brands in the world almost from their beginning in 1952. Much of that can be laid at the feet of the recently deceased Hubert de Givenchy who defined the sophisticated aesthetic that has lasted over sixty years. It was a frustration that it never fully translated over into the fragrance side of the brand. This is another case of masterpieces among mediocrity. It makes it difficult to generate brand loyalty.
One of those I consider a masterpiece of the past was 1974’s Givenchy Gentleman. Composed by perfumer Paul Leger is one of the best examples of a masculine powerhouse of the 1970’s. I would have preferred the brand did not attempt to revisit it. They felt differently and last year released Givenchy Gentleman Eau de Toilette. I was not fond of it. It barely felt like it shared anything of the same brand genetics. When I received my sample of Givenchy Gentleman Eau de Parfum I was expecting to feel similarly. I ended up feeling like this was the way a modern version of Givenchy Gentleman should be.
When the original was released Hubert de Givenchy wanted a perfume to define “masculine elegance” to go with his new men’s ready-to-wear boutique. At that time that meant woody, vetiver, leather hairy-chested perfume. This was the style that gave “men’s cologne” a bad name when men wore too many sprays. If you move to the current day one of the styles of fragrance that has risen to the level of “masculine elegance” has been an iris focused perfume. That is what perfumers Olivier Cresp and Nathalie Lorson deliver.
Gentleman Eau de Parfum opens with a nose-tickling black pepper. Used like this it also carries a bit of a woody character along with the spiciness. Then the perfumers use a full-blown iris concrete which means the powdery aspect of iris is almost completely deleted. A bit of lavender makes sure it has no chance to catch any traction. A warm balsamic patchouli leads to a gorgeous rich vanilla base.
Givenchy Gentleman Eau de Parfum has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Givenchy Gentleman Eau de Parfum captures both the current trends of iris and vanilla at the men’s fragrance counter. The perfumers have done an excellent job at adding in the pepper and balsam to make them sufficiently different than their brethren on the department store counter. This feels like the closest rendition of “masculine elegance” from Givenchy in years. Hubert de Givenchy would have been proud.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I received from Bloomingdale’s.
I received my latest package from Amouage courtesy of creative director Christopher Chong with delight. I have been a long-time admirer of the way Mr. Chong has transformed Amouage into a perfume brand which excels in doing the unconventional. When I receive a new sample I generally give it some time all on its own without anything else I received in the mail getting in the way. This was the process as I opened my sample of the latest release Bracken Man. Imagine my surprise when I was greeted by a ginormous fougere although I should have known; it was right there in the name.
Christopher Chong (Photo: Ben Rayner for Forbes)
Bracken is a huge ground covering fern, the basis of fougeres. Bracken Man is also a large ground covering fern as a perfume. Mr. Chong worked with perfumers Olivier Cresp and Fabrice Pellegrin. I am probably underselling this a bit because while it is a fougere through and through there are some recognizable Amouage aesthetics throughout.
The most Amouage-y thing about Bracken Man comes right at the beginning as the perfumers create a wet earth accord out of primarily lavandin, nutmeg and clove. Before this accord really takes hold a ray of citrus sunshine courtesy of lemon and bergamot take you down in to the earth. The sparkliness of the citrus grounds itself into the earth and gets swallowed up. This is a challenging beginning which is not going to be loved by all. I am fascinated with the way these notes form the accord as I can pick them out individually but when I stop analyzing it snaps right back to wet soil. A marvelous olfactory parlor trick. From here on we are in traditional fougere territory writ a bit larger than most of the contemporary versions. The perfumers use cypress, cedar and sandalwood to form the woody nucleus. A smidge of cinnamon. Some geranium. All leading to a patchouli and musk base. The patchouli and musk bring Bracken Man back full circle to a more traditional earthy quality.
Bracken Man has 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Of the many things I could have requested from Mr. Chong a large fougeres was not one I would have thought of. Which shows why he is a creative director and I am a reviewer because despite a structure which is typical I still found enough Amouage in there to make Bracken Man fun to wear.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Amouage.
I am used to getting a lot of new spring releases featuring rose. It is a difficult space to do something new within. It seems like a few brands decided to get away from rose for 2016. Now they aren’t eschewing florals entirely they’re just not relying on rose to be the flower which represents spring. As someone who has to sniff so many of these it has made many of the new releases more interesting. Another emerging theme from this trend away from pretty roses for spring is these other florals have been paired with sweet gourmand accords. Penhaligon’s Equinox Bloom is one of these.
Penhaligon’s has been one of the more successful brands at wearing its country of origin on its atomizer. There are many very British inspirations throughout the collection. For Equinox Bloom perfumer Olivier Cresp wanted to recapture his afternoon of tea and cakes surrounded by lush floral arrangements. One of the new technologies helping M. Cresp is Firmenich’s SmellTheTaste collection of proprietary food extracts. This new process is purported to capture food smells in a more accurate way than ever before. In Equinox Bloom M. Cresp uses Chantilly SmellTheTaste and Brown Sugar SmellTheTaste. I really feel the difference in these ingredients. Their use perhaps heralds a new creativity in gourmands.
Equinox Bloom opens with the Chantilly SmellTheTaste providing a luscious Chantilly cake in scented form. By itself it would be too sweet so M. Cresp uses violet leaves to pull back on the sugary intensity. The heart is the floral bouquet. Neroli, jasmine, frangipani, and orange blossom. I think M. Cresp made a nice choice of florals to represent spring instead of falling back on rose. The neroli and frangipani bracket the Chantilly SmellTheTaste forming that tea cake accord M. Cresp wanted. If M. Cresp was trying to keep the sweetness at bay early on by the time we get to the base notes he has unleashed the Brown Sugar SmellTheTaste. It feels like the crystalline particles are present on my skin. This is going to break Equinox Bloom for people who are not fond of sweet perfumes. Benzoin and ambroxan finish out the construction of Equinox Bloom.
Equinox Bloom has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Based on this first experience with the SmellTheTaste molecules I am looking forward to see which other food extracts Firmenich has to be used. The two used in Equinox Bloom make it worth thinking of as an alternative to all those other spring rose fragrances.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.
Today’s perfume cliché was last year’s game changing raw material. One raw material, Norlimbanol, has followed this trajectory from its early exciting use in 2001 to today’s overused woody basenote. From a chemical point of view there are a couple of interesting aspects about its structure.
One is that the structure you see above (+)-Norlimbanol is one of the most powerful woody notes in all of perfumery. If you just change the geometry by taking the bonds which have the solid wedge or the dashed wedge and reverse all three of them so the solid wedges are now dashed and the dashed wedge is now solid. You have (-)-Norlimbanol. So it is the same structure but the solid wedges are coming out of the page and the dashed wedges are going behind the page. These two structures are what are called enantiomers. They are mirror images of each other. That enantiomers have dramatically different properties is not just confined to perfume. This phenomenon extends to drug discovery as well. There are drugs where one enantiomer has the positive effect and the other enantiomer causes a bad side effect. Separation chemistry has evolved so much that separating these isomers has become easy and it allows for a chemist to isolate the specific enantiomer with the desired character almost at will. This is why even though it is a single enantiomer it is one of the more economical ingredients to be found in perfumery.
Norlimbanol was discovered by Firmenich chemists and patented in 2000. In 2001 perfumer Olivier Cresp would use it in two of the best designer perfumes ever released. M. Cresp didn’t just use Norlimbanol by itself he mixed a potent mix of Norlimbanol and two other synthetics Ambrox and Z-11. The two perfumes this mix was used in were Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue and Paco Rabanne Black XS. If the idea of strong long-lasting woody bases has become a cliché these were the two perfumes which popularized the concept. Nowadays Norlimbanol is often used by itself and because it has a great longevity and projection perfumers add it in because they believe this is what consumers want. I would say that the perfumer who takes the time to balance it out with other raw materials to deliver a specific effect can still use Norlimbanol effectively and creatively. Unfortunately those perfumes are few and far between especially on the department store counter. Next time you are there take a sniff of Light Blue or Black XS and keep in mind how Norlimbanol is used there. Then pick up any other perfume next to it that has a woody base and you will instantly see the difference.
Norlimbanol may have become trite due to overuse but it is still one of the most versatile and interesting synthetics on the perfumer’s palette.
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.