When it comes to independent American perfumery it seems like most of it has been happening on the West Coast. Except in the last couple of years the East Coast has been building a node of olfactory creativity centered around Brooklyn. As with anything like this there are more misses than hits. What is more telling, is to see which of the new brands have the potential to develop beyond their initial efforts. One of these new brands which has caught my attention is source adage NYC which released its two debut perfumes at the end of 2016, aka’ula and c’I’aan.
Robert Dobay and Christopher Draghi
source adage NYC was launched in September 2015 by married couple Christopher Draghi and Robert Dobay. In the early days, they focused on home fragrance and candles. Working with an unnamed Brooklyn perfumer they released their debut collection of perfumes a year later.
The source adage NYC concept is to focus on place and create fragrances evoked by those locales. For their first foray into perfume they chose two US states very different in nature, Hawaii and Alaska using words indigenous to each as the names on the bottles.
The Hawaiian inspired one is called aka’ula which translates to “red sunset”. The brief was for aka’ula to capture the “volcanic smoke” juxtaposed with “island spice accords”. This is a fragrance which mostly succeeds until the smoke overrides everything. The early moments take ginger, pineapple leaves and vetiver to create the spice island milieu. I just wished it lasted a little longer before the volcano erupts in a geyser of cade and oud. It is a common issue when using notes like cade and oud that they have all the subtlety of a Kilauea lava flow. If you enjoy the smoke this is a good version of it. If you are not a fan of smoke I suspect aka’ula will not be to your liking.
The Alaskan inspired one was much more to my taste. Called c’I’aan which translates to “new moon” in a Southern Alaska native language. In this case, they go for a mixture of balsamic woods and icy notes. What made me enjoy c’I’aan more was the choice of the notes which made the icy component. Using juniper, spearmint, and most interestingly apple. The juniper and spearmint mix to give that lung searing deep breath of cold air. The apple works within that accord to provide the nip of cold at the tip of your nose. I can pull this apart but when wearing it but if I relax and just let it be it is a chilly blast. The woods are fir made cleaner with cedar and warmer with amber. This seems like a much more assured composition. I liked it from beginning to end especially as the cold breeze whistled through the woods.
Both aki’ula and c’I’aan have 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
As I mentioned at the beginning these first two releases are not perfect but the potential they show for source adage NYC go beyond Hawaiian Fire and Alaskan Ice.
Disclosure: this review was based on samples provided by Twisted Lily.
As I received my many new spring rose releases for this year I kept waiting for the ones which applied some of the assumptions about what millennials want in their fragrance. If I was to summarize the perfume brands collected wisdom for what this new generation of perfume lovers desires it would be: transparent, gourmand, and floral. If you had asked me in January what would be hitting my mailbox I would have placed a large bet on transparent candied roses. Thankfully there are no bookmakers accepting bets on such speculation for I would have lost. As I look back over the samples received only one fit my description, Mademoiselle Rochas.
Rochas, as a brand, is sort of the aging dowager of perfumery. The brand which was founded with the great masterpiece Femme in 1944 has irregularly built on that auspicious beginning. My collection of discontinued Rochas fragrances is one of those which is its own museum of greatest perfumers ever. When they hired Jean-Michel Duriez as in-house perfumer I hoped for a renaissance but that never materialized. With his departure in 2014 it seems like Rochas has set its sights on this younger fragrance consumer. Both 2016 releases seemed designed to appeal to that demographic. That made it unsurprising that their spring rose perfume would also go there.
Mademoiselle Rochas was composed by perfumer Anne Flipo. The model for the mademoiselle Mme Flipo would use as a brief is a modern-day Parisienne. She is described like this in the press materials, “Frenchic”. Which I guess translates to transparent gourmand rose.
Mme Flipo opens with a cleverly assembled candy apple accord. Combining blackcurrant buds, red currants, and blackberries it all forms a hard-red sugared shell over crisp fruitiness. If there is anything I am enjoying about this presumed preference for sweet gourmands is perfumers are producing some interesting accords. This is one of them. The floral heart is less imaginative as rose de mai, jasmine, and violet form an opaque floral heart. It is serviceable and kept on the light side. The base is a mixture of clean white musks some sweet sandalwood and a modest ambergris.
Mademoiselle Rochas has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I am interested to see how well Mademoiselle Rochas connects with their target audience. I would be happy to have next spring’s rose fragrances have a gourmand twist. It does make it seem less trite. If you’re looking for a millennial spring rose for 2017 that is what Mademoiselle Rochas delivers.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Rochas.
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.
There are times I have language envy. What I mean by that is other languages have words for things I like more than the English word for them. When I was taking Spanish classes in school in S. Florida the word for library might have been my first instance of language envy. As a child, the library was the place where my mind was opened to the possibilities. When Sr. Dowdy, my Spanish teacher, said that “la biblioteca” was the word for library that felt like such a better word to me. So, I appropriated it. When I would be running out the door I’d yell over my shoulder “off to the biblioteca”. I don’t know which came first but the French word is very similar “bibliotheque”. Now there is a perfume carrying the French version of the name, Byredo Bibliotheque.
Bibliotheque came about from a rare reversal as it lived its first incarnation as a candle at Byredo. Apparently, it got a lot of requests to be made into a perfume. Creative Director Ben Gorham and perfumer Jerome Epinette worked on the transformation from solid to liquid.
If you are looking for a fragrance which captures the smell of ink, paper, leather, and wood of a classic library; Bibliotheque is not that. At least not entirely. There are some aspects of that but early on it is a fruity floral construct which eventually gives way to that library accord. What I liked about that early fruity floral phase is M. Epinette makes the keynotes so effusive it is like encountering them minutes before they make that transition from ripe to rot.
M. Epinette opens Bibliotheque with a fruit combination of peach and plum. They are so ready to burst they throw off gentle aldehydes around their inherent deep fruity nature. I am not usually a fan of these kind of fruit accords but this time it worked for me. Probably because the floral counterpart was also equally engaging. Peony and violet are those notes and they provide a contralto version of floralcy that harmonizes with the fruits. Finally, the library accord begins to form. I am guessing a patchouli fraction is being used by M. Epinette to form the dry paper and ink aspect. A transparent leather accord is also here along with an equally delicate woodiness. The base accord is much lighter than the fruity floral one that preceded it.
Bibliotheque has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I do like the fragrances which are out there which have captured the empty library milieu. Yet I might like the fragrance Bibliotheque in the same way I prefer the word. The reason is that fruity floral opening seems full of possibilities as ideas can be balanced on the edge of realization or disregard. Bibliotheque captures the world where those ideas come to light.
Disclosure: This review was based ona sample provided by Byredo.
Ever since the release of Cool Water in 1988 blue has been the color of fresh in fragrance. Whenever I walk up to a bottle of perfume and there is blue in the name or the bottle is blue or the perfume itself is tinted azure I can almost guarantee it will be fresh. What usually accompanies that is clean. No perfume brand seems to go broke by going this route which makes it one of the most ubiquitous tropes in the department store.
Back in 1998 when Givenchy Pi was released perfumer Alberto Morillas provided a warm vanilla accord consisting of coumarin and benzoin. It is still one of those perfumes which elicits unsolicited compliments when I wear it. To Givenchy’s credit they haven’t gone flanker crazy only producing five since the initial release. At the beginning of the month I received the sixth addition to the Pi collection, Pi Air.
Once again Sr. Morillas is the perfumer as he has been for three of the other Pi flankers; 2001’s Pi Fraiche, 2012’s Pi Leather Edition, and 2015’s Pi Extreme. Of all the flankers Pi Fraiche is my favorite because Sr. Morillas transformed the warm vanilla into a fresh herbal and pine which retained the benzoin from the original. It was also in a frosted blue bottle. When I first tried Pi Air I was strongly reminded of Pi Fraiche as Sr. Morillas has decided to update that version of fresh in an even more blue bottle akin to the color of ice. That seems to be the theme for Pi Air as Sr. Morillas employs a couple of the most expansive aromachemicals in the heart to create a perfume which feels like it fills up my olfactory horizon with a frosty fresh fragrance.
This icy nature shows up right away in what is called a “frozen neroli” accord. What that means is a neroli chilled by grapefruit and ginger. Both of those notes provide a closing in of the neroli. It means most of the green facets are muted while the sweetly floral is also subtler but struggles out of the ice to make its presence known. Then the iciness leads to a heart where paradisone and lavandin provide a high altitude mixture of fresh aromachemicals. Rosemary is an herbal complement to everything in the heart. Sr. Morillas manages to harness both of these strong notes into a well-balanced accord which I enjoyed a lot. The base keeps it simple with a dry cedar, a couple of white musks, and benzoin which is the connective tissue to the Pi heritage.
Pi Air has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Pi Fraiche has been discontinued for a few years now. It is hard not to think of Pi Air as Sr. Morillas’ making a 2017 version. There is nothing particularly different here but somehow, I found Pi Air to be a pleasant fragrance to wear on the days I wore it. Sometimes that is all I need.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Macy’s.
When I receive the first fragrances from a new brand it is always a bit like putting my hand in a grab bag. Most of the time as I reach in blindly the shapes are familiar to my hand. What I eventually come to perceive in the light of day is something which is a traditional kind of perfume. Then there are the times where I’m almost afraid to clutch too hard because I can feel the protruding spines. What comes of that is invariably unique but sometimes shows the rough edges of self-taught perfumers. Trying the two releases from Swedish brand Stora Skuggan was this kind of experience for me.
Stora Skuggan was founded by Tomas Hempel and Olle Hemmendorff in 2015 out of a shared passion for fragrance. Over time they would learn that quality raw materials were more likely to lead to better perfumes. One corollary to this is too many notes make for a cacophony. Their first release, Fantome de Maules, is a victim of this. Too often a self-taught perfumer decides the idea to make their composition better is more; usually it’s not. In Fantome de Maules if they had gone in a different direction and tried to streamline down to the basics this could have been a much more focused and better perfume. After that when I moved to the second fragrance, Silphium, my expectations were lowered a bit. Except in this case they had a much more clear-eyed creative direction which resulted in a much-improved final product.
Silphium is the name of a plant used by Ancient Greeks as a medicinal herb, spice, or perfume ingredient. For the fragrance based on the name Mr. Hempel and Mr. Hemmendorff focus on creating a very green fragrance which captures both the medicinal and the spicy.
Silphium starts very green with a mixture of green notes for what the perfumers describe as a “silphium accord” which is supported by a large amount of labdanum. The overall effect is that of an herbal poultice being prepared by an Ancient Greek physician. Geranium is used to tune the green into something a little less stridently sharp while cinnamon, clove, and ginger take the fragrance in to the spicy realm without ever giving up that herbal quality from the opening. It makes this feel like the same Ancient Greek was now using it as something with which to marinade his lamb in. The perfumers use a base of cedar and frankincense. The sharp green woodiness of the cedar along with the silvery facets of the incense provide a nice finish.
Silphium has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Silphium is a perfume for those who enjoy green perfumes. The journey from medicinal to savory with the herbal nucleus is beautifully realized. As Mr. Hempel and Mr. Hemmendorff learn more through their experiences I hope for more like Silphium in the future.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.
I must start as I always do with city exclusive releases that I hate them as a concept, especially when they are good. The By Kilian brand has been doing some pretty good ones for their different boutiques as they open around the world. I spend some time chasing down one if there is something I think I’ll like. After the first of the year I heard about the Paris exclusive called Noir Aphrodisiaque.
One of the reasons I was so interested in Noir Aphrodisiaque was because it felt like it was going to be the finish of what I call perfumer Calice Becker’s hot beverage trilogy. She assayed a study of green tea with 2014’s Imperial Tea. Later that year she would follow that up with Intoxicated which was inspired by Turkish coffee. When I read Noir Aphrodisiaque was chocolate and cinnamon I realized this was hot chocolate. It turns out that Noir Aphrodisiaque is that steaming cup of flavored milk I was hoping it would be.
I make my hot chocolate with Dutch Process Cocoa powder; no Swiss Miss nonsense for me. I can’t speak for Mme Becker but it seems she also uses something similar in her home. It is because she starts with the dry dusty powdery cocoa and then by adding a creamy accord she forms the steaming beverage with cinnamon sprinkled on top.
Noir Aphrodisiaque opens on that chocolate dust through which passes a bit of bergamot, cedrat, and jasmine. These three notes are all used in moderation more to act as contrast to the drier version of cocoa in the early going. Then Mme Becker adds a creamy gourmand accord as the warm milk covers the cocoa and now turns it luscious. It is exactly the smell of the kind of rich hot chocolate I make. Then like a garnish she adds a sprinkle of cinnamon which melds into the gourmand accord. The final ingredient after a long while is amber which revives the cinnamon a bit over the final moments.
Noir Aphrodisiaque has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I am a big fan of Intoxicated it is one of my favorite By Kilian fragrance within the entire collection. Noir Aphrodisiaque is every bit as good as that one. I am now hoping Mme Becker has another hot beverage she wants to transform in to perfume. For these final days of winter, I’m going to spray myself with Noir Aphrodisiaque and warm my hands on a mug of hot chocolate.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
If there is a perfume series on which to take the temperature of an in-house perfumer at Hermes it might be the Merveilles series. Begun in 2004 with Eau des Merveilles by perfumers Ralf Schwieger and Nathalie Feisthauer. It was meant to be a salute to ambergris and it was amazing in its ability to capture the subtlety of that important fragrance ingredient. Just after Jean-Claude Ellena was named in-house perfumer one of his earliest compositions was Elixir des Merveilles. M. Ellena’s take was to float the ambergris not on top of the ocean but instead a sea of luscious chocolate. It has always been my opinion that this was M. Ellena’s response to Thierry Mugler Angel as a way of doing a sophisticated gourmand. M. Ellena would do another in 2012 L’Ambre des Merveilles which was more in keeping with his minimalist aesthetic. Now that Christine Nagel has taken over as in-house perfumer at Hermes it is her turn to add to the Merveilles line; Eau des Merveilles Bleue.
Mme Nagel decides to concentrate on the eau of the ocean for this latest Merveilles. It is a fascinating commentary on how the aquatic genre can be re-invigorated with imagination and the by resisting using Calone along with the other typical ozonic notes. In the press materials, there is this quote from Mme Nagel, “I marveled at the pebbles, wet from the ocean; they had such a particular color and luminosity, and I discovered on them a salty, mineral taste”. Instead of going for sea spray and ozone Mme Nagel chooses to go for stone and salt as she translates that “salty, mineral taste” into a perfume.
The juxtaposition of those two inspirations shows up right away. A mineralic accord is matched with a sea salt accord. To mimic the luminosity of the brine covered pebbles Mme Nagel shines a shaft of lemon to provide the sparkle of sunlight off the pebble in your hand. Then the tide goes out leaving the pebble drying out on a piece of driftwood as at least a couple of the dry woody aromachemicals are used to create a soft desiccated wood accord. All during this the mineralic accord transforms from damp stone into dried earth. The base is a mixture of white musks and patchouli. As in the previous development Mme Nagel is keeping this on the drier side which makes me think this is a fractionated patchouli being used but I am not sure of that. The bottom line is this ends in an accord of the sand drying out as the waves recede with the tide.
Eau des Merveilles Bleue has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
For nearly twenty years I avoided the aquatic genre because of its banality. In the last couple of years, I have been shown time and time again that banality is due to lack of creativity. When a perfumer really is given the freedom to create even in what seems like an overexposed segment of fragrance they can show you there is lots of space to be explored. Mme Nagel has shown that the aquatic genre is not played out it just needs imagination. She has created a new aquatic which I know I will be wearing a lot as the days get warmer. Eau des Merveilles translates to “miracle water”. Eau des Merveilles Bleue should translate to Miracle Mineral Water.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Hermes.
Light is one of the words frequently used to describe the perfumes of Jo Malone. There is an easy-going nature about almost every release from the brand. It is their definitive brand aesthetic as well as a reason for their success. I know it is a place I take many who are wanting to take a step away from the mass-market fragrance offering. One of the reasons is the fragrances are simpler constructs using ingredients less seen in the best sellers. After twenty years of releasing these kind of perfumes, in 2010, a new sub-collection was created; Cologne Intense. This was a group of Jo Malone fragrances which would explore the idea of taking even the deepest notes and making them lighter while not necessary making the journey all the way to light. The releases in this collection are among some of my favorite from the entire brand because sheerer versions of classic perfume combinations are appealing when I want my lighter fragrances to still have some spine. The latest member of this collection, Myrrh & Tonka is the best example of this kind of perfume design.
The perfumers who have worked on the Cologne Intense has been impressive. The perfumer behind Myrrh & Tonka is Mathilde Bijaoui who is composing her first Jo Malone perfume. Celine Roux the Fragrance Director for Jo Malone gave her this brief; “Namibia, with its sand dunes and warm desert colors”. Mme Roux also believed that the collection was missing an Oriental and she felt Myrrh & Tonka could be that Oriental. Those might have been conflicting missions for some but Mme Bijaoui manages to capture both by turning Myrrh & Tonka into an opaque Oriental.
Lavender is the keynote whose name is not on the label and where Myrrh & Tonka begins. This is a lavender which has more of its herbal nature on display. Mme Bijaoui keeps it that way with a judicious use of cinnamon which has an effect of drying out the lavender and constricting its natural expansiveness. The same technique will be used with the myrrh in the heart. Usually myrrh is an exuberant sweet resinous ingredient. Mme Bijaoui uses some cypriol to make it less sweet. The cypriol also sets the stage for the tonka. This is that toasted version of tonka where the hay-like coumarin has a little more of the scent profile. A tiny bit of vanilla brings it back some of the sweetness while guaiac wood provides the woody frame for all of it.
Myrrh & Tonka has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
On the days, I was wearing Myrrh & Tonka it was a like an old friend relating a quick story of travel to the East. There was only time for the highlights but together it makes for one amazing trip.
Disclosure: This review is based on a press sample provided by Jo Malone.
There are some perfume brands which take pride in the city where the creative director comes from. There are some perfumers who are almost inextricably bound to their heritage when composing perfume. The creative director at Carner Barcelona, Sara Carner, has taken perfume lovers on a tour of Barcelona over seven fragrances since 2010. Perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux is a proud Mexican from whom Mexico City makes it into many of his perfumes. Sra. Carner and Sr. Flores-Roux have teamed up for a three-fragrance collection called the Black Collection in which the melding of both creative inspirations takes place.
I will eventually review all three of these fragrances because they all are worth my spending the time with. When I first tried them, there was one which immediately grabbed me; Sandor 70’s. The name comes from a legendary bar in Barcelona which was the pace to be seen in the 1970’s. It was a place where patrons puffed cigars while sitting in leather chairs. What Sra. Carner and Sr. Flores-Roux designed was a modern chypre with a heart of tobacco and leather with one specific keynote from Mexico which knits them together.
There is one thing I admire with Sr. Flores-Roux and it is his way of sometimes inverting the pyramid. With Sandor 70’s before getting to the club he provides a mesmerizing floral accord consisting of an aged jasmine absolute, osmanthus absolute, and Bulgarian rose. The osmanthus holds the center as it has the leathery quality which will provide the transition to the heart. It is that vintage jasmine which has a soft fierceness to it which harmonizes with the spicy rose. This ability of Sr. Flores-Roux to find the intersections of different notes, especially florals, is one of the things which sets him apart. The heart is that leather chair with a Cohiba in hand. The leather accord is a refined animalic leather. The tobacco accord is more sweet than narcotic. The connective note that is used is Mexican vanilla which, as in the top accord, elevates all of this when it is together. The vanilla picks up the inherent sweetness of both leather and tobacco making it glow like the ember on the end of the cigar. The base is a modern chypre accord of patchouli, vetiver, oakmoss, and frankincense.
Sandor 70’s has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Sandor 70’s is one of the best perfumes within the entire Carner Barcelona collection and my favorite of the three Black Collection releases. The reason is it is the one where Barcelona meets Mexico City inside a club in 1970’s Barcelona.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.