One of the things I’ve enjoyed when looking at older paintings is these were the social media of the day. There were no photographs to convey what far-off lands and peoples looked like. Western civilization saw the rest of the world through the interpretations of a painter. One movement which began in fin de siècle 18th century is grouped as the Orientalist paintings. These were fascinating because there were artists who would make the arduous journey to the Middle East and paint from experience. Then there were others who would create from the tales told to them without ever leaving home. Creative director at Amouage Christopher Chong was interested in converting this dichotomy into a perfume; Opus XI.
In the press release he likens the Orientalists who never visited the country as the first example of “fake news”. How do you turn that into a perfume? The answer is you get perfumer Pierre Negrin to do the same trick with perhaps the most Middle Eastern perfume ingredient there is; oud.
In perfumery there is an Orientalist separation of real oud and oud accord. Real oud speaks for itself. Oud accords represent themselves as “real” oud in many fragrances. Instead they are comprised of a few well-known ingredients which create an oud accord without ever using a drop of real oud. The purpose of making an accord is you don’t have to work around the more irascible qualities of the real thing. In Opus XI M. Negrin juxtaposes authentic oud with an oud accord.
Opus XI opens with the real oud as M. Negrin particularly enhances one of those difficult aspects of its scent. To do this he uses the unusual perfume ingredient of marjoram which has a soft green herbal-ness. It acts as a magnifier of the medicinal qualities of the real oud used in Opus XI. There is a richness to it while the medicinal effect is made prominent. Now that you’ve traveled to the real source M. Negrin then creates a parallel oud from styrax and a Firmenich exclusive Woodleather. The latter comes from a suite of recently synthesized molecules designed to have an oud-y scent profile. This is the real oud scrubbed of its problematic medicinal facets. Leaving behind a dry oud-like woodiness. To add back a metered amount of the rougher edges is where the styrax comes in. M. Negrin roughs up the Woodleather to a facsimile of the marjoram and real oud. What you get is a compelling perspective on oud as the two versions harmonize.
Opus XI has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I’m not sure but this might be the shortest ingredient list for an Amouage perfume. It is no less interesting for that. The idea of having a discussion of Orientalism through perfume via oud is outstanding. I have spent many weeks enjoying and thinking about Opus XI. If you love oud this perfume is one you must try.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Amouage.
I sometimes need a reminder to lighten up. To have fun. To stop taking things so seriously. I am such a believer in the art and creativity of perfume I can become a humorless drone in it’s pursuit. What I need is a perfume that just wants to be a solid commercial perfume. Paired with an equally fun bottle. For these dreary waiting for spring days of the end of winter Moschino Toy 2 brought some fun back to perfume.
Creative director Jeremy Scott is known for wanting to make Moschino and fun synonymous. The clothing and the fragrance arm reflect that. Toy 2 as you might surmise is the sequel to 2014’s Toy. That perfume was housed inside a teddy bear with a classically structured citrus perfume. It isn’t ground-breaking. It is a light-hearted perfume asking you to enjoy the combination of bear bottle and bright perfume. Like the best sequels Toy 2 doesn’t alter that script overmuch.
The bear bottle is back but in a frosted glass version hugging the clear flacon. It really is just the right side of campy. Before I even sniffed the perfume, I was in a better mood. Perfumers Alberto Morillas and Fabrice Pellegrin switch from citrus to fresh floral without losing the plot.
Toy 2 opens with mandarin reminding me of the original. White currant and apple provide a crisp fresh effect around the citrus. The heart is one of the synthetic jasmines expansive as a blue sky. Magnolia adds a subtle creaminess while peony continues the freshness from the top accord. The creamy version of sandalwood holds the center of a base accord swathed in fresh musks.
Toy 2 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
A fresh citrus floral is hardly an original idea. Toy 2 isn’t meant to be enjoyed with that kind of mindset. It is more like a walk down the carnival midway. Eating cotton candy or funnel cakes trying to figure out if the ring toss is rigged so you can win the giant pink teddy bear. Or you can spray on some Toy 2 for a similar fun effect. I’ll be back to reviewing with a more critical eye tomorrow for today I’m just looking for a little fun in all the right places.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Sephora.
I made my first trips to New York City in the 1970’s. I experienced a very different Big Apple. There was uptown and there was downtown. In between was the insanity of Times Square which was crammed with sex shops and porn theatres. You didn’t stop to take pictures bathed in neon back then. If you moved uptown there were the museums and upscale shopping. Downtown was the grungy counterpoint. The beginnings of punk rock were emerging in a place which embraced it. Moving between them was like traveling between two worlds. Anyone who experienced this carries an inward smile at how this has all been tamed with retconned history. While at the same time being turned into another roadside attraction. This was my experience as a young man.
The two new perfumes from Amouage, Imitation Woman and Imitation Man, are based on Creative Director Christopher Chong’s visit to New York City in the same time. It was the first time he would see snow. He observed the cultural melting pot as his family moved from uptown to downtown. In the press materials he says, “Imitation is a personal account of how one moment and one experience can alter a child’s perception of the world.” Working with perfumer Pierre Negrin for Imitation Woman and Leslie Girard for Imitation Man it fells like they encapsulate Mr. Chong’s reminiscence with two very different bites from The Big Apple circa the 1970’s
One thing about both perfumes is they function as a pair which felt to me as Uptown and Downtown. Except quite cleverly the perfumers made sure to put a little of the other in each. If Imitation Woman takes you to the Upper East Side it makes sure to thread a bit of the Bowery through it. The converse is true for Imitation Man.
Imitation Woman opens on a blast of hairspray aldehydes over a floral trio of rose, orange blossom, and jasmine. It is the scent of perfectly coiffed society woman. Then M. Negrin sneaks in a bit of the Battery with a duet of licorice and blackcurrant bud. The latter is amplified to its sticky urine-like level while the licorice acts like a punk walking on Madison Avenue. It all returns to the wood paneled safety of sandalwood and patchouli.
There was a cocooned decadence which defined Uptown NYC in the 1970’s. It was over-the-top with no risk. Imitation Woman gets that as the exuberance is on display but within there is a reminder it isn’t as safe as you think.
Imitation Man is rough around the edges right away. Black pepper and nutmeg create a piquant reminder you aren’t Uptown anymore. You shrug your shoulders into your black leather jacket. Mme Girard infuses it with castoreum to make it seem like the snarl from any Punk waiting for a show in the Bowery. Then some of those Upper East Side “tourists” come slumming, trailing their floral smells of rose and powdery orris; trying to live life on the wild side for a night. The real scents of the area return with vetiver and patchouli leading the charge. Underneath it all is a simmering myrrh, a resinous bit of rebellion in progress.
At this point the Punks were just finding their footing as Downtown was about to put its Doc Martens footprint on the music scene. Imitation Man captures the burgeoning scene just before it is discovered.
I like both versions of Imitation, there is an authenticity which tracks with my memory of NYC in the 1970’s.
Disclosure: this review is based on press samples provided by Amouage.
The fragrance part of designer Ermenegildo Zegna has not been a story of consistency. That might be changing. Over the course of the last year I have seen an uptick in the brand’s aesthetic. I would credit that to long-time creative director Trudi Loren. Ms. Loren took charge of the Zegna fragrance portfolio after Estee Lauder acquired the brand. In those first few years she upped the quality of the ingredients in the perfumes. They may not have been imaginative, but they were well-made. Last year there were two collections released; Essenze and Elements of Man. Now there was something in addition to quality ingredients; a contemporary interpretation of masculine tropes. In Zegna Acqua di Neroli Ms. Loren subverts the classic cologne architecture showing something more than just quality.
In the previous Acqua release, Acqua di Bergamotto, that was just a reiteration of the classic cologne recipe. This is an example of what I was describing above. Acqua di Neroli has the same cologne spine with perfumer Pierre Negrin filling it out with other ingredients to provide a new take on the venerable form.
Acqua di Neroli opens on a citrus sunbeam focused through a magnifying glass. Using lemon and bergamot for the citrus, petitgrain provides the focusing effect. Just as it becomes a bit too intense a damp green accord douses it. This has a transforming effect to the citrus as it goes from brilliant point of light to something more diffuse. The green accord sets up rosemary as the predecessor to the neroli. The neroli carries both green and citrus facets with the floral aspects. It then takes an interesting turn as M. Negrin uses a light application of watermelon to form a fleeting fruity floral phase. Lavender drags it back to more typical cologne territory. It completely leaves cologne-land in the base as a cypriol and sandalwood accord combines with another green moss-like accord along with some mid-weight musks. This provides some heft to the typical lightness of a cologne.
Acqua di Neroli has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
We are living in a time of some excellent re-interpretations of cologne into a Cologne Nouveau style for the 21st century. I wouldn’t have expected Zegna to be a brand to enter into that. Zegna Acqua di Neroli indicates I am mistaken as this belongs next to the others in this New Cologne Revolution.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Ermenegildo Zegna.
There is a current phrase which has become overused; “stay in your lane”. What it means is for you to keep traveling in the direction you are currently going without trying to move outside of the “lane” you’ve created for yourself. There are places where that is good advice. There are other times where that is counterproductive. In perfumery, it depends on what a brand is looking to be. If you’re an artistic independent niche brand you probably should never find a lane. If you’re a mainstream brand your success probably depends on finding a lane which your consumers like and traveling within it as long as you can. One fragrance brand which has known its lane for a long time is Michael Kors. The most recent release Sexy Ruby shows how well they understand this.
The Michael Kors fragrance collection has been around since 2000. Fairly quickly it did find its place on the department store shelf. It followed the major trends of the time. They were streamlined versions of those trends; often a little lighter in presence than others in the same sector. The collection was perfume for the person who wanted to smell nice without taking risks. If I said it was a collection of office-ready fragrance that is not damning with faint praise it is actual praise. For those of us who love perfume and have delved into every corner of the fragrant universe Michael Kors doesn’t necessarily offer that much interest. Although maybe it should.
What Michael Kors in their fragrance offerings has done more than a few times is to find a little space in their well-traveled lane. When that happens, I can find something pleasant in something familiar. Sexy Ruby is a beautifully done fruity floral chypre by perfumer Pierre Negrin.
I really have a problem with the overuse of raspberry in the plethora of fruity floral fragrances out there. It is usually thick overdosed sickly sweet. M. Negrin goes entirely the other way as he takes shimmering source of raspberry which acts opaque. To provide a bit of depth apricot replaces the overt saccharinity that would have been present if he had just upped the concentration of the raspberry. It also does the same with the floral part as jasmine is the central floral note. The raspberry acts as a veil which shrouds the jasmine. A bit of rose helps deepen the jasmine as the apricot did for the fruity keynote. The domesticated chypre base is made up of green aromachemical Crystal Moss, the woody aromachemical Cashmeran, and Vanillin. This is a tame chypre meant to provide a foundation and not to realty stick its head up above the fruity floral opening.
Sexy Ruby has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
What drew my attention to Sexy Ruby was the decision by M. Negrin to not clobber me with the fruit and the floral components. It is that overpowering nature of too many fruity florals which turns me off to the style. Sexy Ruby shows there is some give even when you know your lane.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Michael Kors.
When an iconic designer attempts the jump to fragrance I think it looks easier than it is. When you see the name of a designer you admire on a bottle of perfume you should expect some of the creativity of that designer to find its way into the bottle. What becomes consistently frustrating is even when these designers work with some of the best perfumers they end up playing it safe. This year has seen several these projects come to fruition only to leave me wondering where the creativity went. The latest come from Christian Louboutin.
M. Louboutin is one of the premiere shoe designers in the world. He is one of a few who transformed the women’s shoe industry into an ultra-luxury enterprise. The brilliant piece of branding he achieved was all of his shoes have a signature red lacquered sole. When you see that you know she’s wearing a “Loubie”. The shoes are exquisite objects of beautiful design.
Now 25-years after opening his store in Paris he is expanding into fragrance. He employed two excellent perfumers to compose his debut collection of three perfumes. Olivier Cresp did one, Tornade Blonde. Pierre Negrin was responsible for the remaining two; Bikini Questa Sera and Trouble in Heaven. Two of the three play it extremely safe. Bikini Questa Sera is a big jasmine and tuberose over sandalwood and vetiver. Tornade Blonde is a slightly different floral riff as a bit of fruit leads in to gardenia, rose, and jasmine before going to a typical cedar and patchouli base. These are nice scents but they lack any flair or innovation. I have to admit as I tried the last one I was expecting more of the same utilitarian perfumery. Thankfully M. Negrin and M. Louboutin were willing to go for something different in Trouble in Heaven.
If there is an overriding design aesthetic to M. Louboutin it is his delight in taking the stiletto and embellishing it with unusual things. Trouble in Heaven takes a floriental construct and pierces it with an ozonic aquatic synthetic as embellishment.
That ozonic note, Cascalone is where Trouble in Heaven begins. Cascalone is a relative to Calone; very close in chemical structure. The difference is Cascalone removes the slightly low tide character of Calone. What remains is a chilly mist of sea spray expansive and briny. When I smelled the opening I expected the typical aquatic progression. Instead an earthy orris replaces the sea shore with the dual nature of powdery and rhizome. This orris is quite powdery and it flows nicely out of the Cascalone. Rose comes along to transform the heart into a fully floral accord. The base is a typical amber, patchouli, and tonka Oriental accord.
Trouble in Heaven has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
This was a collection I was hoping would fire on all creative cylinders. At least in the case of Trouble in Heaven M. Louboutin and M. Negrin found the beginning of a spark which I am hopeful will translate to even better future releases.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Christian Louboutin Beaute.
Spring is the time of year for roses. Happy blooming red flowers to signal winter is gone. Perfume follows this same trend. The parade of rose fragrances increases in the first part of the year. They also exhibit a sense of light-heartedness. There comes a point where one more pleasantly composed rose brings out my inner curmudgeon. I want to yell at my desk full of samples for these kids to get out of my sight. I was feeling extra salty about all of this when I received my sample of the new Amouage Opus X. I looked at the set of notes and saw rose. I sprayed some on a strip and the antidote to all my irritation was washed away in a deeply moving dark rose perfume.
Christopher Chong the creative director at Amouage took the 1998 movie “The Red Violin” as his inspiration. The movie is the story of a red violin which is created in 1681 by a master violin maker. The red color comes from him mixing the blood of his wife, who dies in childbirth along with his child, in with the varnish. The movie then focuses on the violin as it shows up in 1793 Vienna, 1898 Oxford, 1968 Shanghai, and eventually present day Montreal. At each stop the violin plays a pivotal part as foretold by a tarot card reading at its creation. The Red Violin is a sweeping ambitious piece of storytelling and so is Opus X.
For Opus X Mr. Chong collaborated with perfumers Pierre Negrin and Annick Menardo. Their concept was to create an olfactory red violin. There would be four distinct strings of rose and rose accords. A “red varnish” accord followed by the wood which makes up the body. The creative team really worked out how to create the different rose accords. As I wore it I was reminded of the fingering technique used when playing a violin called vibrato. A musician by using their fingertip to rapidly lengthen and release the string provides a vibrating effect which allows a single note to resonate as if it was two different notes milliseconds apart. In the best violin players’ hands it is used to stunning effect. In the hands of this creative team for Opus X there is a real sense of vibrato among the different rose “strings”.
Opus X opens with those rose strings right away. Rose de Mai represents one of the strings. This classic rose of Provence provides the beauty. The rosebud accord imparts a delicacy. The “bloody rose accord” is the deeply rooted rose. Rose oxide provides a metallic rose which also represents the blood in the varnish. In the early moments it is just a straight bow across all of these notes as the rose ebbs and flows as the perfumers add vibrato and they begin to meld together. The next phase is going to be the challenging part for some to get through as the varnish accord is leavened a bit by geranium. This is a very heady varnish accord and it takes its place underneath the continued vibrating strings of roses. I was completely taken in by the imagery and the early notes that the varnish just kept the story evolving for me. If it becomes too prominent on some I can see it jarring you out of the mood. For me I found it fascinatingly different. The wood of the violin is made up of Laotian oud and the warm ambergris quality of the synthetic aromachemical Ambrarome. It adds in an exotic otherworldly aspect to the base accord which feels like the right place to end Opus X.
Opus X has 14-16 hour longevity and way above average sillage. This is one where you want to apply very conservatively.
I needed a rose fragrance which wasn’t willing to pander to the season. Opus X’s arrival gave me one. This is nothing like any of the other roses in the Amouage collection. It is as good as anything Amouage has produced.
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample provided by Amouage.
Great perfumes can be found in some surprising places. If there is one thing I want from this series is to help point out where some of these hidden beauties are to be found. This month’s entry is found at the luxury cosmetics counter of Chantecaille and is called Kalimantan.
Chantecaille was founded by Sylvie Chantecaille in 1997 after she left Estee Lauder where she was responsible for the Prescriptives line of cosmetics there. As part of creating a complete beauty brand fragrance was included right from the start. Frangipane, Tiare, and Wisteria comprised the original collection. Over these early years the cosmetics caught on much more easily than the fragrances did. Mme Chantacaille was not ready to give up and in 1999 Darby Rose was released followed by 2004’s Le Jasmin. I only recently tried a sample of Le Jasmin, which is discontinued. Perfumer Frank Voelkl made an incredibly deep jasmine perfume which is beautiful for the materials he used in designing it. As you can tell Mme Chantecaille was not ready to give up on the perfume side of her brand. In 2010 she collaborated with perfumer Pierre Negrin on three more perfumes; Petales, Vetyver, and Kalimantan. All three are quite good but Kalimantan stands out among the three.
Kalimantan is the Indonesian word for Borneo. It seems like any perfume which refers to Borneo must be a patchouli centered creation. Kalimantan lives up to this. M. Negrin designs a dry patchouli infused with incense and oud. It is powerful perfumery.
M. Negrin opens Kalimantan up with an herbal pair of rosemary and thyme. This very quickly picks up the central note of Indonesian patchouli. With the herbal notes in play that nature of the patchouli is what first comes up. Then as incense and labdanum provide resinous complement the patchouli morphs into something much more austere. It desiccates it. Only to have the oud splinter it into skanky fragments. This is one of the better uses of full throttle oud in a fragrance. It acts as a bit of a battering ram, in a good way; as it unsettles things. A woody foundation of cedar and sandalwood bring it all back together for the final stages.
Kalimantan has 20-24 hour longevity and way above average sillage.
Kalimantan is nothing like any of the other seven perfumes which carried the Chantecaille name. It is why it is so unheralded. If you have a Chantecaille cosmetics counter in a department store near you go and ask for this hidden gem.
Disclsoure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
There is perhaps no perfume brand which has thrived by keeping it simple more than Jo Malone. The names themselves tend to advertise the ingredients front and center. The Cologne Intense Collection within the brand has taken that concept a step further. The Cologne Intense releases tend to be comprised of more precious raw materials. The newest Cologne Intense, Orris & Sandalwood, is perhaps the best example of what this line within the line can achieve.
The Cologne Intense Collection has asked the perfumer chosen to take those notes on the label and present them in a pure almost unaltered way. This collection has been so successful because even though the perfumers adhere to that the choice of the minimal complementary notes can change the perception you might have based on the names. For Orris & Sandalwood perfumer Pierre Negrin made a couple of interesting choices when it came to orris and sandalwood. Orris is most known for being powdery but I like it best when the rootiness of the rhizome is allowed to be more prominent. With sandalwood there has always been this mania for having a Mysore-like sandalwood. I’ve actually come to enjoy the sustainably farmed versions which have become more common over the past few years. The source of the sandalwood used here isn’t named but I am guessing it is one of these newer versions because it has the austere slightly sweet woodiness I associate with those sources. By making the right choice of notes to partner the orris and sandalwood M. Negrin achieves something different from what you might be expecting.
When I read orris on the label I expect that to be the first thing I smell. M. Negrin thinks differently and violet is what first appears in Orris & Sandalwood. I think that choice is made so the violet can get ahead of the orris making sure it attenuates the powdery qualities. It is definitely the right choice because the orris when it does arrive is rich, opulent and definitely not powdery. The sandalwood if left alone could have provided a woody framing of the rooty orris. M. Negrin didn’t just want the sandalwood to be the delineating ingredient he wanted to warm things up. To achieve that effect a healthy dose of amber transforms the sandalwood into something much suppler. It is a really neat trick which comes together with the orris and violet to provide a fantastic synergy of iris roots drying in the sunshine.
Orris & Sandalwood has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Orris & Sandalwood is so rich that while wearing it I had to keep reminding myself this was a Jo Malone release. It carries the simplicity of the brand aesthetic with the luxury of the ingredients being allowed to shine in unique ways. If you are a fan of orris and/or sandalwood Orris & Sandalwood is a simple tale told well.
Dsiclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Jo Malone.
One of my favorite new perfume releases of 2014 was Amouage Sunshine Woman. I admired it so much because it was sunshine as only Amouage and Creative Director Christopher Chong could imagine it. Mr. Chong has made it one of the hallmarks of his tenure to have his perfumers find ways of expressing ideas in fascinating ways. I recently received my sample of the masculine counterpart to Sunshine Woman called Sunshine Man.
For Sunshine Man Mr. Chong chose to work with perfumers Fabrice Pellegrin and Pierre Negrin. M. Negrin is becoming a consistent participant as he has participated in the composition of every Amouage perfume since 2013 except Sunshine Woman. As with those previous works he is part of a team to realize Mr. Chong’s vision.
That vision for Sunshine Man was to try and evoke an eclipse as darkness and brightness come together. That is a familiar trope for perfume composition. I was not surprised to see Mr. Chong push for the same kind of surprising brightness out of notes you don’t normally think of as bright. This was the same process used to create Sunshine Woman. The biggest difference is each phase of development does have a point of light to be eclipsed by a couple of other traditionally darker notes. It makes for an experience where the light and the dark are constantly exchanging places on my skin.
The perfumers use lavender as the point of light in the opening of Sunshine Man. What comes next is citrus but in an unusual way as an orange brandy accord provides the first part of the shadow. This is a rich boozy citrus accord and it sort of invites the lavender in for a drink, too. The real eclipse of the top notes happens as immortelle slides across the face of the other two notes. I love immortelle for its rich maple syrup-like quality. The perfumers here also remind me that it is a bright yellow floral and beyond the sweeter depth there is a bit of sunny floralcy. By having gone from light to dark the immortelle unexpectedly provides the beginning of the light again. In the heart bergamot provides the sunlight. It actually breaks through the top notes like a sunbeam. Then almost as rapidly clary sage and juniper berry cloak it in a green herbal and astringent fruit shade. The movement of bergamot into the heart from its more traditional place right on top makes for a feeling of an introverted pyramid. I think the perfumers were working for that sunbeam effect and the bergamot provided it. In the base the clean lines of cedar are where the light is found. Vanilla and tonka provide the sweet darkness.
Sunshine Man has 18-24 hour longevity and above average sillage.
If you’ve ever witnessed a real solar eclipse, or seen a picture, there is that moment when the moon completely covers the sun itself but surrounding the moon is a brilliant ring of light called a corona. As I wore Sunshine Man there were many times I felt that it was the perfumed equivalent of that darkness surrounded by brilliance. Sunshine Man is a worthy partner to last year’s release it shines just as brightly but differently.
Disclosure: this review was based on a press sample provided by Amouage.