New Perfume Review Nicolai Neroli Intense- Double Neroli

There have been so many good neroli perfumes lately I am starting to think it can’t be used poorly. I know that isn’t true but it as soon as I see neroli as a keynote I am hopeful. That was particularly true for the latest release from Nicolai. Earlier this year they released a fantastic Mediterranean neroli fragrance, Cap Neroli. It has been one of my favorites throughout the summer. They now return for a fall version of neroli; Neroli Intense.

Visiting the flower fields of Grasse is on my perfume bucket list. I am thinking I might have to pencil in the neroli from Tunisia, too. Patricia de Nicolai blends the neroli essence and the absolute from there as the source of the neroli for Neroli Intense. Surrounding that is a slight animalic vector which intensifies over time. There are some slight similarities to Cap Neroli, but this is really different version of neroli than that.

Patricia de Nicolai

The closest Neroli Intense comes to Cap Neroli is in the top accord. Tarragon replaces the rosemary and mint from Cap Neroli. The herbal green is again in place to tease out the green of the neroli. The neroli is much richer here, probably due to the two different extractions being used. That means the tarragon has more to highlight. Petitgrain focuses the citrus-like quality. Pittosporum is a white flower which caries with it a musky undercurrent. This is used to pair with orange blossom and its slightly indolic nature. The neroli is still on top but the florals are keeping up while adding in the hint of a growl. This intensifies as beeswax provides the center of the base accord. Beeswax has its own musky animalic nature which is a bit stronger. Patchouli comes in and finishes things up.

Neroli Intense has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

One of the best things about neroli fragrances are it stands up so well it doesn’t have to be shuffled to the back of the shelf during the colder months. Neroli Intense is an example of a neroli perfume that will be better when there is frost on the pumpkin although it is pretty good right now.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review: Nicolai Cap Neroli- Mediterranean Madness

As I began to expand my perfume horizons the first style I latched on to was the Mediterranean aesthetic. It was enough different than the plethora of fresh aquatics, which were crowding my department store counter, while allowing me to take small steps towards different. There are plenty in this style which play up the Sea they are named after. The best are a balance of herbs, citrus, and florals which capture everything about the place they are named after. Nicolai Cap Neroli is one of the latest to get this style right.

Patricia de Nicolai has been working with her son Axel recently on the new Nicolai releases. The collaborative mere et fils have shown an evolution of the Nicolai style. There is a freshening up of the aesthetic. It hasn’t always worked for me but the effort shows another Nicolai is ready to carry on the perfumed family name. In Cap Neroli this turn towards that effect pays dividends especially early on. A Mediterranean style perfume should be bright, and a precise top accord leads to the title note followed by a biting base accord.

Axel and Patricia de Nicolai

The perfume team’s choice is to use the bitter call of bigarade to open things. Orange sweetens the bitterness. The herbal nature of rosemary and mint capture the exhilaration of standing on a cliff looking down at the Mediterranean far below. They bring a hint of the water, but they mostly provide green complement to the citrus. It isn’t stated what the source of the neroli used here but it is a top quality one where both the floral and the green are prominent. Which means the bigarade meshes with the floral while the herbs combine with the green. This forms that fresh effect I mentioned earlier. It has the frisson of summer writ large. To prepare for a deeper base the Nicolais begin to add depth with jasmine and ylang-ylang. That’s so the oakmoss which arrives doesn’t startle. It is a bitingly green version to which a set of mid-weight musks provide amplification of those qualities.

Cap Neroli has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I’ve been watching a bit too much basketball this weekend. Wearing Cap Neroli while watching the March Madness tournament made me think of this as Mediterranean Madness; thrillingly so.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Nicolai Patchouli Sublime- From the Ridiculous

Thomas Paine in “The Age of Reason” opines that there is but one step between ridiculous and sublime. It is a defining juxtaposition that within the absurd there can be found something grand. When I received my sample of Nicolai Patchouli Sublime I realized, the name notwithstanding, here was a perfume analog of Mr. Paine’s wisdom.

Patricia de Nicolai has been creating perfumes in either Intense or Sublime versions for many years. Long enough that there are sometimes pairs, as is the case here. In 2009, Patchouli Intense was a dark earthy gourmand patchouli. For 2017 the follow-up Patchouli Sublime has arrived. For the Sublime version Mme de Nicolai wanted to fashion a version that was airier than the Intense. To achieve this an opening fougere-like accord gave me the ridiculous as I struggled mightily with it. Only to find about an hour later the sublime beauty of patchouli and geranium to combine into something grand.

Patricia de Nicolai

The reason I have for my laughter at the opening is it feels like mint, coriander and lavender come together in a mixture of mouthwash, gin, and room freshener. I understand the desire to create an airy style of top accord except for me it comes off laughably pedestrian. When I first tried my sample on a strip it was only the hints of what was underneath that made me give it a sniff an hour later only to find something entrancing. When I wore Patchouli Sublime the cheap opening took about forty-five minutes to dissipate before the patchouli and geranium thankfully take over. Mme de Nicolai is using a few sources of patchouli where the earthy qualities are tamped down and the greener herbal nature is enhanced. This makes its duet with the green rosiness of the geranium a lovely harmonic. This is a gorgeous heart accord which is given some rounding with tobacco, tonka, and musks. The first two provide a sweeter outline around the keynotes. The musks add their typical animalic sensuality.

Patchouli Sublime has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I admit I have problems with mint in perfume and the mint here is one which makes me think of dental products exclusively. The coriander and lavender also come off poorer because of that. If you are a fan of these notes the opening will probably be much better for you than me. What I can unequivocally say is after that top accord disappears the patchouli and geranium are beautifully realized together. Enough so that Mr. Paine would see his truth within Patchouli Sublime.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Nicolai Rose Royale- Full-Bloom Rose

When the wave of mainstream spring rose fragrances begins to overwhelm me there almost always comes an antidote from the niche sector. Just as I think if I sniff another dewy fresh rose I will go mad the independent perfumers ride to my rescue. For 2017 it turns out Patricia de Nicolai saves me with her latest release Nicolai Rose Royale.

Patricia de Nicolai has been collaborating with her son, Axel de Nicolai, over the most recent releases. In the press materials, they describe the brief they used, “A natural and fresh rose with a hint of fruity notes like the rose at the end of the stem.” When I stick my nose in a garden rose on thebush there is a delicate fruitiness underneath the heady aroma. There is also a similar muskiness deep in the heart of a full–bloom rose. The Nicolais capture all of that not so much in a photorealistic way but by using fruity and musky ingredients to recreate that real-life experience.

Axel and Patricia de Nicolai

To do this they take a fabulous Turkish rose as the core of Rose Royale. This is a refreshing choice just because most spring roses go for the more genteel rose de mai or similar. The Turkish rose has much more presence than the Grasse variety. This allows for the Nicolais to take blackcurrant bud and passion fruit to provide the fruity nuance. The blackcurrant buds also provide that sticky green quality as well. All of this is kept subtle allowing the rose to shine brightly throughout. The fruits are displaced by the botanical musk of ambrette seeds and made woody with coriander. At this point the rose is still ascendant. Then in the base a new partner arises to share the spotlight, immortelle. Playing off the delicate botanical musk of the ambrette the maple syrup sweetness of immortelle provides a unique foil to the rose. Once Rose Royale reaches this part was when I felt redeemed from all those debutante roses with one that had something to say.

Rose Royale has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Rose Royale is much more representative of spring than the alternatives out there. Spring to me is the sight of a rose in full-bloom. Rose Royale is a perfume which captures this.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Nicolai Incense Oud- The Unfamiliar Familiar

There are many perfect perfume notes which go together like peanut butter and jelly or as Forrest Gump would say, peas and carrots. These perfume combos then have to be surrounded by something unusual to allow them to stand out. As the number of versions keeps increasing it becomes more difficult for a brand to find that space where they provide a new experience. Most of the time a perfume brand won’t even try very hard. They’ll take the tried and true add something else and start up the publicity machine. Over the last few years as the popularity of oud has soared in fragrance there has come to be some pretty traditional pairings with that ingredient. One of my favorites is oud and incense. It is really a pairing of two types of resins. It is also a kind of juxtaposition of the dirty essence of oud against the almost sterile austerity of frankincense. By themselves they are a perfect pairing. Even though I own a lot of the incense oud perfumes that have been released I am always ready for a new one. The most recent one I received is Nicolai Incense Oud.

Over the past year and a half, or so, Patricia de Nicolai the perfumer behind Nicolai has been exploring these different oud pairings. She has shown that she is a perfumer who can find that unique interstitial space and exploit it with a well-chosen grouping of ingredients. In Incense Oud those supporting notes are absinthe, cedar, patchouli, leather and castoreum to delineate the sustainably harvested Cambodian oud and the Omani Frankincense.


Patricia de Nicolai

Incense Oud opens without either of the title notes around. Instead Mme de Nicolai takes coriander, the botanical musk of ambrette seeds, and artemesia to form a sexy absinthe accord. It provides a swirl of alcoholic entry before the resins come to the fore. The oud and incense rise up together. This sustainable harvested oud has a kind of cedar undertone to it. Mme de Nicolai adds in cedar to emphasize that. It allows a cleaner version of oud to meet the silvery quality of the Omani frankincense. Together this is more incense than oud but it is because of the nature of the sustainable oud. Since I was missing a bit of that animalic character Mme de Nicolai gives it back to me with a leather accord accompanied by patchouli and castoreum. This actually does fill those spaces I spoke of as it seems to recognize the oud and try and make it a little dirtier.

Incense Oud has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This version of incense and oud really does a fine job of displaying the qualities of the newish sustainably harvested oud. Mme de Nicolai shows it off by allowing it to find its own space to expand in to while the frankincense steps up to it. It is a really beautifully realized example of creativity within heavily explored space by making the familiar seem unfamiliar.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Nicolai at Pitti 2016.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Nicolai Oud Sublime- Oud as Tiramisu

There was a time ten or so years ago when Mrs. C and I became interested in the Italian dessert called tiramisu. We would discover that the origin of the dessert was in dispute with its first appearance being anywhere from the 17th century up to the 1960’s. There are even disagreements on how to make it. We experimented with making it in different ways as well. They all tasted great and there was truly no specific one that was head and shoulders above the rest. The only common agreement across any of this was the ingredients; coffee-soaked ladyfingers, eggs, sugar, mascarpone cheese, and cocoa. Every variation I have tried is still recognizably these ingredients yet also carrying subtle differences.

In perfumery there may also be an analog to this tiramisu recipe; the rose and oud combination. For the last fifteen years oud centered fragrances have exploded. Hundreds of perfumes have been released featuring this note in that time. A significant percentage of them have rose as a prominent note. Like those tiramisu recipes I was so enthralled with even a perfume with prescribed ingredients can still be influenced by a creative perfumer. This was what I was thinking when I tried Nicolai Oud Sublime at Esxence 2016.


Patricia de Nicolai

Patricia de Nicolai has been also exploring oud and this is her third oud perfume following up on Rose Oud and Amber Oud. Oud Sublime is a rose and oud perfume except Mme de Nicolai seemed to really consider the supporting players to bring out the beauty inherent in that rose and oud combination. The oud she uses is a Cambodian oud. The Cambodian version is the least confrontational source of oud. It carries a sweeter slightly dried fruit profile versus the more medicinal edgier profiles of oud from other countries. By making this choice it allowed Mme de Nicolai the opportunity to find complements to bring out all of the nuances of this exquisite raw material.

From the first moments of Oud Sublime that Cambodian oud is present. The first two ingredients Mme de Nicolai uses with it are davana and ambrette seeds. The sweet herbaceous nature of the davana is an inspired choice as it feels like it is interspersing itself within the oud. The botanical musk of ambrette adds back in some of the animalic quality some other ouds have. This is much subtler being able to be precisely titrated in by Mme de Nicolai. The rose comes forward at this point. It is a spicier rose which again provides a bit of what the Cambodian oud doesn’t display as much of. Coriander and cumin up the spice quotient. Both of these are tremendous within the construct of Oud Sublime. They add their distinctive presence as modulators for the rose-oud combination. This all settles in to a catoreum base swirled with incense and styrax.

Oud Sublime has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage as it is in extrait concentration.

Oud Sublime is another version of oud and rose. It is also a version which carries a seemingly more intellectual consideration on how to display that combination to its best effect. Mme de Nicolai has delivered a recipe which stands out from all the others.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Nicolai at Esxence 2016.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Nicolai Ambre Cashmere Intense- The Comfort of Softness

I guess I have to believe the cold is here as I spent this morning scraping ice off my car windshield. I try and convince myself it isn’t going to come only to be reminded of its inevitability by a morning layer of ice on my car. When the weather is getting me down it is also inevitable that I reach for my comfort scents. They are the perfume version of warm socks, a comfy sweater, and a roaring fire. One style of perfume which is one of my go-to places when I want this kind of solace are gourmand perfumes. The sweet quality with large quantities of vanilla have a way of soothing my iced over nerves. I recently received a sample of a new gourmand, Nicolai Ambre Cashmere Intense, which helped get me through this cold weekend.

If there is something for which founder and perfumer of Nicolai, Patricia de Nicolai, is becoming known for it is her amber perfumes. It is starting to become a recognizable part of many of her best creations. She has also taken to making “intense” versions with three of the last four including that as part of the name. For Ambre Cashmere Intense Mme de Nicolai wanted a perfume with a “long trail” and so the heart of this is a mixture of her amber accord, orris butter, and vanilla. Together they form the perfumed equivalent of a downy soft pillow suitable for hugging closely.


Patricia de Nicolai

Before we get to that heart we start with a bright citrus flare of lemon and mandarin which are contrasted with a pinch of black pepper. The spicy citrus is further spiced by some clove which provides the bridge to the orris butter. This is the powdery feel of orris with much of the rootiness attenuated. Amber provides a handoff from the sharper spiciness of the clove and black pepper to something more refined. The vanilla provides a completed tonal shift to the gourmand which is where Ambre Cashmere Intense spends most of its development. Benzoin and sandalwood provide the effect of lengthening the central accord providing the “long trail” as they elongate the sweetness while turning it woody and resinous in the very late moments.

Ambre Cashmere Intense has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I think these kind of comfort fragrances are sometimes dismissed for being this olfactory version of a glass of warm milk. That sells the best of them short. Amber Cashmere Intense is a very good example because it forms a perfectly balanced softness in which the wearer can seek the comfort they are looking for.

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

Mark Behnke

Header Photo via Fragrantica.

New Perfume Review Parfums de Nicolai Cuir Cuba Intense- Memories of Domino Park

Growing up in Miami in the 1960’s was a wonderful experience for me. One of the big reasons was the Cuban exile community known as Little Havana was a bicycle ride from my front door. Once I would make the turn onto Calle Ocho it was like crossing an invisible border as the signs were all in Spanish and the people on the street weren’t speaking English. I was very slowly learning a hybrid of Spanish and English which allowed me to communicate. In South Florida it is called Spanglish and it developed into its own dialect similar to Creole French around New Orleans. My destination most days was Domino Park. Over the course of a few months I had been taught the game and developed an aptitude for it. I was given a nickname by most of the older men “El Joven”. As I became a better player I felt there was a real pride in the men who had been my teachers. A roar of laughter would go up when I slapped my final tile down with a cry of victory. As much as I enjoyed playing the game the smells of the park were equally as exotic. Many of the players smoked cigars. I always stopped to pick up a serving of flan. If you asked me to describe the smell of Domino Park I would say it was cigars and flan. Perfumer Patricia de Nicolai must have channeled my memories because her latest release Parfums de Nicolai Cuir Cuba Intense captures that mix of caramel dessert and freshly rolled cigars almost perfectly.

Mme de Nicolai has been creating perfume under her Parfums de Nicolai brand for twenty-five years. She is part of the Guerlain bloodline but she has forged her own distinctive identity almost from the start. One of those first releases, New York, is still one of my favorite perfumes of all-time. From that auspicious start she has created over 50 perfumes and it is a collection that has never been afraid to take risks. Mme de Nicolai, according to the press release, was inspired by the smell of a cigar box. That cigar box must have been close to a jar of licorice and caramels because Cuir Cuba Intense matches the tobacco with those gourmand facets for much of its development. The promised leather is only around in a very transparent way.


Patricia de Nicolai

Cuir Cuba Intense begins with a double dose of licorice as Mme de Nicolai uses anise and licorice as the focal note for the top notes. Lemon and mint are around to add a bit of context but the early moments are all licorice. The list of notes show the heart to be full of floral notes but of all the ones listed magnolia is the most prominent. The burnt caramel accord is constructed of coriander, sage, hay, and liatrix. This is the smell of cooked caramel and it comes together in a mouth-watering way. Mme de Nicolai adds in a bit of orthogonal cumin. For me it is the smell of sweat on a S. Florida day. It is noticeable and if you are cumin averse it could pull you out of the spell Cuir Cuba Intense is weaving. Thr liatrix is a great choice to use as a raw material because it has a very high coumarin content and along with the other contents in the essential oil it also has a bit of tobacco character as well. Tobacco absolute forms that smell of freshly rolled cigars and patchouli adds depth to it. Musk and civet form the leather accord but it is a supporting player in this perfume not as prominent as you might expect from a fragrance with cuir in the name.

Cuir Cuba Intense has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

For the last twenty-five years Mme de Nicolai has been forging her own language of perfume. With Cuir Cuba Intense she has fused the worlds of French perfumery and Latin America charm into a delightful ride to my memory of Domino Park.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke