New Perfume Review Ex Nihilo Amber Sky- Do Robots Dream of Amber Skies?

I have been interested in the brand Ex Nihilo from when I first became aware of them a little over a year ago. The concept is they make a perfume and through the use of an instrument they call an Osmologue they add in a specific note of the buyer’s request. It creates a personalization similar to having a bespoke perfume made. As I tried all of the perfumes in the line I have always enjoyed the baseline perfume so much that the idea of adding something to it was not appealing. Even when visiting the brand outpost in Bergdorf-Goodman in NYC I tried the variations on some of my favorites in the line; always preferring the basic model. When I received my sample of the twelfth release Amber Sky I think I’ve found one that I might want to try adding something to it.

Ex-Nihilo-Team

Ex Nihilo Creative Team

Amber Sky is the third perfume by Olivier Pescheux under the Ex Nihilo creative team of Benoit Verdiere, Sylvie Loday, and Olivier Royere. It must be an interesting process to create a perfume made to be tailored at the final step to a personal taste. One of the reasons I haven’t been interested in changing from the perfume as bottled is all of the previous releases have distinct top, heart, and base accords I liked. Amber Sky is the first one which seems to have a missing top accord opening up the opportunity to add something in. The heart and base are lovely and so the opportunity to tune this perfume to taste really explores the entire Ex Nihilo hypothesis.

olivier pescheux

Olivier Pescheux

Amber Sky opens with a full geranium showing its greener qualities to their fullest. M. Pescheux support it with a couple of spices in coriander seeds and nutmeg. The nutmeg does a nice job of making the geranium softer; it adds a definite presence. The advertised amber arrives in the base lifted up by a duet of woods in cedar and sandalwood. This starts very dry until tonka and vanilla act, as the nutmeg did previously, as a softener of the amber-centric base accord.

Amber Sky has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I enjoyed what was here but I did really want more of a floral presence in the early going. This is where the Osmologue might be able to help me out. Of the choices that are available I would really like to see Amber Sky with orange blossom, rose, and jasmine added. When I visit NYC at the end of the month I am going to try it out and see. Amber Sky on its own is a simple amber perfume well-executed and if that is appealing you might not need anything added. I am interested in allowing the robot to dream of amber skies.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Ex Nihilo.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office Lanvin Arpege Pour Homme- Too Powdery Masculine Floral

I was always a fan of the original Lanvin Arpege. The 1993 reformulation even felt very much like a perfume designed for men. It was with a great deal of interest when I found out that there was a Lanvin Arpege Pour Homme. I was wondering what Lanvin would consider a manly Arpege to smell like.

olivier pescheux

Olivier Pescheux

In 2005 perfumer Olivier Pescheux was chosen to compose this perfume. At this time in the brand history Lanvin was deep in the midst of a deep identity crisis. Arpege was one of the great perfume classics but they weren’t sure how to leverage that affection from the consumer into a brand-wide version. I could probably make the case that this is the current state of affairs at Lanvin, as well. I speculate that there was vigorous discussion taking place behind the scenes on how best to position Lanvin as a fragrance brand. One thing is for sure there was never any consensus reached even though the team of Creative Directors; Philippe Benacin and Anne Duboscq have been in place for the entire time. For Arpege Pour Homme it would be M. Benacin collaborating with M. Pescheux.

philippe benacin

Philippe Benacin

For almost forty years there were attempts to make the “masculine floral”. What this generally meant was a floral perfume wrapped up in enough hairy chested notes it wouldn’t be the perfumed equivalent of wearing a dress. The ones which had a little bit of traction were the rose versions because you could load them up with spice and drop it into a sandalwood base. For this time period there was no breakout successful “masculine floral”. This was the tack Messrs. Benacin and Pescheux wanted to take for Arpege Pour Homme. They wanted to use the iris of the original and sandwich it in between citrus and woods. Iris has always been a tricky ingredient to sell to men because it can be so reminiscent of the women in their lives iris scented cosmetic products. It made M. Pescheux’s task that much more difficult.

Arpege Pour Homme opens with a distinct citrus character from bitter orange sweetened just a little with mandarin and pink pepper. M. Pescheux sets the stage for the iris by using a bit of neroli to provide the transition. The iris comes next and it is reminiscent of those powders. M. Pescheux does his best to keep that quality under control with nutmeg and mate providing a sharper edge. It isn’t very successful. The powderiness doesn’t really become modulated until the sandalwood and patchouli of the base get a chance to add some presence.

Arpege Pour Homme has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

In 2005 Arpege Pour Homme had a bit too much of the cosmetic counter in it to find any real market share among men. The real death knell for this perfume was the release of Dior Homme in the same year. Dior Homme was the breakout “masculine floral” the market had been waiting for. To add insult to injury it was also focused on iris. The Dior Homme iris was paired with lavender and wrapped in chocolate and leather; with not a hint of powder to be found.

I think Arpege Pour Homme is underrated and an interesting counterpoint to Dior Homme. I’ll admit I wear the latter more than the former but there are days I can stand a little powdery iris to be part of it. Arpege Pour Homme is easily found online for pretty reasonable prices.

Sometimes the marketplace given two differing visions postmarks one for the Dead Letter Office which is what happened with Arpege Pour Homme.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Diptyque Eau des Sens- Aloft in an Orange Tree

I am always impressed with the continued excellence shown by Diptyque. They have stayed true to their brand, and what it represents, for forty years. Over the last few years it has been given over to the hands of mainly two perfumers, Fabrice Pellegrin and Olivier Pescheux. That has resulted in one of the stronger runs of releases for Diptyque in their long history. As each new release arrives I look for signs of a downturn. The latest Eau des Sens continues the trend of quality.

One of the earliest perfumes by Diptyque, Philosykos, is a study of the fig tree in its entirety. One of the best orange fragrances I own is L’Eau de Tarocco which was composed by M. Prescheux. Eau des Sens is a study of the orange tree in the same vein as Philosykos with the same perfumer as L’Eau de Tarocco. It makes Eau des Sens a hybrid of two of the best fragrances within the line. It actually lives up to this pedigree.

olivier pescheux

Olivier Pescheux

As a boy who spent way too much time sitting in the branches of an orange tree while growing up in S. Florida that smell is imprinted in my memory. One of my favorite remembered smells of that time is when the tree would be covered with orange blossoms. As the wind would blow through; the softest floral smell on top of the wood of the tree came to my child’s nose. When those blossoms became fruit the smell of the tree would change. M. Pescheux captures both of those transitions within the development of Eau des Sens.

Eau des Sens opens with the fruit, as a bitter orange comes up first. M. Pescheux chooses juniper berry to enhance the bitter quality just a bit. For those who are fans of L’Eau de Tarocco this is that orange made less effusive and a bit more conservative. It sets the stage for the orange blossom to arrive on its own breeze of angelica which plays the part of the tree. After climbing an orange tree I would have the smell of the wood on my hands; which always had a bit of a spicy smell to it along with the smell of my sweaty skin. This is what the angelica imparts to Eau des Sens. The orange blossom is tuned to just the right intensity. Not too transparent and not too concentrated. M. Pescheux balances the orange blossom and angelica just right. A great earthy patchouli provides the soil the tree is rooted upon as the base note.

Eau des Sens has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

M. Pescheux has successfully called back to two of the standouts within the Diptyque brand while making something different enough from both of them to stand on its own. It is a complete experience of being aloft within the branches of an orange tree without a care in the world.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Ex Nihilo Rose Hubris and Musc Infini- Haughty or Powdery Rose

As I mentioned in yesterday’s review Ex Nihilo has opened an in-store boutique at Bergdorf-Goodman in New York City. One of the interesting concepts behind Ex Nihilo is the ability to personalize any of the nine perfumes by adding one of six raw materials via the Osmologue. The six materials are iris, orange blossom, sandalwood, vanilla, Rose de Mai, and jasmine. I was skeptical about this process but on my recent visit some of those concerns were allayed a bit. My favorite of the first five Ex Nihilo fragrances I tried was Vetiver Moloko and I’ve worn it enough to know it well. In the boutique we added three of the six ingredients for me to try; orange blossom, sandalwood, and vanilla. Each ingredient was approved of by the perfumer as being able to blend well with the perfume in its unadorned state. What I found was the orange blossom brightened up what is a shadowy fragrance in Vetiver Moloko. The vanilla turned it into a delicious creamy gourmand reminiscent of the A Clockwork Orange moloko. The sandalwood made the vetiver pop as it brought it to an even greater level. I still think I prefer my Vetiver Moloko as the perfumer created it but the idea works.

I am going to finish up my reviews of the Ex Nihilo debut fragrances with two rose fragrances, Rose Hubris and Musc Infini.

olivier pescheux

Olivier Pescheux

Rose Hubris was composed by perfumer Olivier Pescheux. In my review of Oud Vendome I liked the way he pushed the envelope making the most structurally interesting of the Ex Nihilo perfumes. Rose Hubris is a little less adventurous but the opening moments do provide something different in a rose perfume.

Those early moments are where M. Pescheux trots out fenugreek and lychee as his top accord. Fenugreek is one of those perfume ingredients I would like to see used more often. It has an odd dichotomy of earthiness and syrupy sweetness. I think of it as kindred to immortelle in that department. In Rose Hubris being paired with the lychee it thrusts the sweeter character to the foreground but that earthy quality adds a really unique underpinning. A fabulously beautiful Rose de Mai is the rose in the heart. It really does carry a haughty air as it powers through the fenugreek and lychee to take over. It is a more giving partner to the base notes of patchouli and oakmoss where it settles down into more typical rose fragrance patterns.

I adore the opening phases of Rose Hubris and that makes me more forgiving of it becoming a little more traditional in the back half of the development.

Rose Hubris has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Louise Turner

Louise Turner (Photo: Rui Camilo Photography)

Musc Infini was composed by Louise Turner. Ms. Turner is one of those perfumers who does not make an impression on many perfume lover’s list of favorite perfumers. She should as she has made some of the best mass-market perfumes to be found. For Ex Nihilo she is afforded the opportunity to have some more latitude in constructing Musc Infini. What she does is to take a very powdery rose and sandwich it between a couple of synthetic musks to form an uber powdery floral perfume.

Musc Infini opens with the botanical musk provided by ambrette seeds leavened with a pinch of citrus. This quickly transitions into a soft powdery rose. This rose is turned even softer as two synthetic musks embrace it and form this incredibly silky smooth puff cloud of powder. Very late on a bit of vanilla cuts the powder but not for a long while.

Musc Infini is for those who love their florals powdery. This is the one perfume of the collection where I would like to see what the addition of iris would do to it. Would it add another layer of powder or shift it into something else? I know on my next visit that is the experiment I want to try.

Musc Infini has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I am impressed with this initial collection of Ex Nihilo it shows a breadth of styles along with a new way to personalize the perfume to what you like. Definitely worth a visit next time you are in NYC.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Ex nihilo.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Ex Nihilo Bois D’Hiver and Oud Vendome- Two Faces of Wood

Back in March I wrote about the new perfume brand Ex Nihilo created by partners Benoit Verdier, Sylvie Loday, and Olivier Royere exclusively in their Paris boutique. At that time, I had five of the nine releases and was hoping for another helpful friend to get me the remaining four. Instead those remaining four came to me as Ex Nihilo has opened an in-store boutique at Bergdorf-Goodman in New York. Ona recent trip to New York City I stopped in to get samples of the remaining four and take in the Ex Nihilo experience. I will talk more about that in tomorrow’s review for today I will give quick reviews on two of the woodier offerings in the original collection.

michel girard

Michel Girard

Boid D’Hiver (winter woods) is composed by perfumer Michel Girard. M. Girard has spent most of his career composing mass-market designer fragrances. I am always interested to see what a perfumer who has been so successful in the mass consumer market does when given the opportunity to go with a niche sensibility. In Bois D’Hiver it is clear that M. Girard relishes having the opportunity to add a few more precious raw materials while staying true to his populist aesthetic. It makes Bois D’Hiver the more easily experienced fragrance but no less interesting for that affability.

M. Girard uses a very focused burst of cardamom and pink pepper to lead you into those winter woods. The first of which is cedar wrapped in a floral cloak of cyclamen and heliotrope. The intense florals do an excellent job of making the cedar more interesting and less of a framing device as it so often can be. The real woods come in the base as an oud accord and sandalwood form the real woody heart of Bois D’hHver. A little patchouli and a little musk are here also but it is the sandalwood and cypriol-based oud accord which stand out.

Bois D’Hiver is a smoothly unspooling piece of perfumery. I admired the way M. Girard agilely carried me from one phase of development to the next. Bois D’Hiver is so easy breezy to wear I suspect this is going to be one of the brand’s best sellers.

Bois D’Hiver has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.  

olivier-pescheux

Olivier Pescheux

Oud Vendome by perfumer Olivier Pescheux is the opposite of Bois D’Hiver as I think it is one of the more adventurous entries in this inaugural collection. M. Pescheux combines many of niche perfumery’s most challenging notes into a perfume which is fascinating for how they all manage to combine into a perfume more enjoyable despite the envelope pushing going on.

M. Pescheux opens with a very focused ginger swathed in saffron. The ginger here is really tightly controlled making it a concentrated focal point. By making it that tight the saffron has more space to expand into. I think there are going to be people who will be surprised at this opening as it was nothing like I imagined it would be when I saw the note list. The heart is a raw cedar wood made even more vestigial with galbanum making it seem like a freshly shattered branch. Then we get down to a base of real oud matched with incense. The oud is allowed to be oud and some of its more challenging facets are here to be seen. The incense helps keep them from being as strident as it could be.

Oud Vendome is going to be the one Ex Nihilo for those who really want to smell different. I think when it finds its audience it will have a fan forever.

Oud Vendome has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I appreciate the creative team at Ex Nihilo choosing to have two such very different interpretations of a woody perfume. It is a real testament to the variety overall of these first nine releases.

Tomorrow I will review Rose Hubris and Musc Infini as well as give you my impression of how the Osmologue personalized my favorite in the line, Vetiver Moloko.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Ex Nihilo.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Diptyque Benjoin Boheme- Benzoin in Repose

I’m not sure what it is about the cooler months but there are times I crave simplicity as comfort. As I’ve written over and over again those comfort scents are almost always high in resinous character. Sometimes I crave the less complex I wonder if I shouldn’t just dab some essential oil on and be done. Then a fragrance comes along which reminds me that there is a difference between essential oil and perfume. The latest lesson in this came courtesy of Diptyque Benjoin Boheme.

Benjoin, or benzoin as it is also called, is one of the most versatile notes on the resinous end of the perfumer’s palette. It is so versatile it can be used in almost any style of perfume you can name. It is because it is so prized as a support note that it rarely becomes the focal point of a fragrance. Even if it is the focal point it is usually surrounded by equivalent amounts of other notes. In Benjoin Boheme perfumer Olivier Pescheux trusted in the source of his benzoin that it could be all that was needed to take the lead in this perfume.

olivier pescheux

Olivier Pescheux

M. Pescheux opens with the botanical musk of angelica seeds. The seeds also provide a peppery aspect which is exactly what is needed to announce the arrival of the star. The best benzoin comes from the mountains of Laos and this is what M. Pescheux uses here. What is highlighted first is the cinnamon character of the Laotian benzoin. As the peppery character of the angelica seeds blends seamlessly. As the benzoin warms up, the balsamic vanillaness inherent rises slowly but surely. Benjoin Boheme holds this note for a good long while before sandalwood complements the sweetness. Styrax turns it more familiarly resinous as some patchouli grounds the entire composition.

Benjoin Boheme has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Benjoin Boheme shows why a perfume is not just one note or accord. By using a cleverly assembled ensemble of complimentary notes M. Pescheux shows off everything that is interesting about the best Laotian benzoin. If you love ambery resinous perfumes this should be high up on your wish list.

Disclosure: this review was based on s ample provided by Diptyque.

Mark Behnke

Boot or Reboot: Yohji Homme 1999 & 2013

It seems like some of the greatest discontinued fragrances have been reformulated in the last twelve months. Much like the reformulation of Patou pour Homme I approached the new version of Yohji Homme with some concern.

yohji homme

The original Yohji Homme was released in 1999; it was signed by Jean-Michel Duriez just at the moment Proctor & Gamble had acquired Jean Patou. When I smelled Yohji Homme I was swept away with this spicy licorice and lavender concoction. It was clearly not a success as it would disappear from shelves within three years. In that endless internal conversation about the best masculine perfumes ever Yohji Homme is right there in the mix. Late in 2013 the newly reformulated Yohji Homme was released with perfumer Olivier Pescheux taking on the task. He consulted with M. Duriez but this was a difficult task because a few of the ingredients had been restricted by IFRA regulations and a couple others were from the resources M. Duriez had while at Patou.

jean michel duriez

Jean-Michel Duriez

The 1999 version of Yohji Homme started with one of the best lavenders I have ever encountered in a fragrance it is so close to the real lavender that grows outside my house. It pushes right to the edge of being unpleasant because of its strength. M. Duriez then wraps this intense lavender in strands of black licorice. It is a bold beginning and it becomes even bolder as coriander and cinnamon are joined by geranium and carnation to form a spicy floral heart which slithers underneath the lavender and licorice insinuating itself within the slight olfactory space available to it. After about an hour on my skin these notes combine to produce a singular accord like nothing else in my experience. If that was all there was Yohji Homme would have been great but the base adds in a rum-soaked leather and things take a quantum leap forward. It never fails to be a fascinating ride and a perfume which delivers time and again.

olivier pescheux

Olivier Pescheux

M. Pescheux in the 2013 version of Yohji Homme is really trying to do this with one hand tied behind his back while jumping on one foot. Because of the lack of availability of the restricted and proprietary ingredients M. Duriez used in the original, M Pescheux was forced into Hobson ’s choice time and again. When it comes to the lavender used it is in no way close to the quality from the original, the same goes for the licorice. The leather is tamed instead of wild. The cinnamon lacks the same bite. The same progression as the original is there but the new version sort of lurches through its transitions. I almost smell an audible clunk as the less strident lavender and licorice seem to just get out of the way of the spice and florals in the heart. By the time the base notes of leather and rum show up they seem too polite. This new version feels like recreating the Eiffel Tower in wood. It looks like the same thing but it lacks in majesty and power.

It is obvious that the Reboot comes nowhere near the Boot and that’s a shame because it feels like in 1999 the perfume world was not ready for Yohji Homme but in 2013 it is less of an outlier. If you had never tried the original I think many will be enchanted by the new version as all of the important beats are there and it is still a unique fragrance. M. Pescheux did a great job considering the straitjacket he was bound in. One other difference between the two is the original is a powerhouse which lasts all-day the new one barely made it through the workday. The new Yohji Homme has been exclusive to Selfridge’s in the UK and is expected to be released wider by the end of 2014.

Disclosure: This review was based on bottles of both versions of Yohji Homme I purchased.

Mark Behnke