I write often about coherence of a collection. It is easy to call something a collection. It seems more difficult to find a creative through line upon which to build that group of fragrance. For a brand like Memo one thing which helps form that is a long-time partnership between creative director Clara Molloy and perfumer Alienor Massenet. They have collaborated on almost thirty perfumes over the last eleven years. I have always believed that creates the coherence I seek from a collection of perfume. Memo is a great example of that.
Something which has kept the creative partnership fresh has been the creation of sub-collections. One which contains some of my favorite perfumes from the brand overall is, Cuir Nomades. The baseline brief for the fragrances has been to pair leather with a geographical location. It has shown off Mme Massenet’s skill at using leather accords to different effect. For the most recent release, Moroccan Leather, the choice is to put the leather in the background in favor of iris and green notes.
Moroccan Leather opens with a big slug of verdant galbanum. Mme Massenet uses the woody green of cypress to enhance that. Mandarin and ginger provide contrast. They push back with presence until a rich orris butter takes charge. This is the ice princess version of iris rising out of the galbanum and ushered into the heart by ylang-ylang and orange blossom. The powdery part is almost non-existent. The leather comes in but not as a keynote. It provides a refined support like iris-scented calfskin driving gloves. The green is recapitulated by a vetiver fraction which is magnified in the greener style of that ingredient. This is where Moroccan Leather lingers for a few hours before a typical synthetic woody base accord finishes things.
Moroccan Leather has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I enjoyed the choice to de-emphasize the leather in a perfume with that in the name. Once I realized that, the fragrance sorted itself out into a study of powerful green notes versus an earthy orris butter. That was something I enjoyed even if the leather was mostly missing. Because of that it is an odd entry in the Cuir Nomades collection as it felt apart from the others. If you’re looking for the kind of leather in the previous entries this will not be as satisfying. If you’re a fan of green notes and orris that will find its admirers here.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Neiman-Marcus.
One of the more interesting sub-collections from any brand has been the “reworks” of the original Parfumerie Generale fragrances by independent perfumer Pierre Guillaume. M. Guillaume started this in 2012 where he took one of the numbered entries in the Parfumerie Generale line and re-interpreted it; releasing it with a point 1 after the original number to indicate the new fragrance.
Parfumerie Generale has been one of my favorite independent perfume brands. Most of the time the idea of a perfumer going back to reconsider his previous work would have me shaking my head. M. Guillaume has shown ingenuity in his second take on his original concepts. All the early reworks were of some of my favorites within the line causing me to get caught up in comparisons. It was only with the release of 9.1 Komorebi that he reworked one I didn’t care for. Which made it easy for me to prefer the new version. With 23.1 Jasmagonda he has taken one of my least favorites 23 Drama Nuui and transformed it into something which soars.
23 Drama Nuui was meant to showcase jasmine. The reason I didn’t care for it was that it was a flat uninspiring jasmine sprinkled with some spices and musk. This is among the most boring perfumes from a perfumer for whom I rarely use that adjective. Even the other perfumes which have not connected have been interesting. 23 Drama Nuui is one of the very few in this line which felt stunted. With a second chance, in 23.1 Jasmagonda, he uses jasmine as the keynote but this time he sends it aloft in a clean expansive perfume.
It begins with a crisp fruity snap of apple, grapefruit, and bergamot. This is the kind of fruity top accord I appreciate because it doesn’t dissolve into a sweet fruit salad, instead retaining a more focused quality. Relying on the tarter scents of the components they push back against a rich jasmine. Over all of this is a misty watery effect. Kind of like dew on the petals. Magnolia adds in a woody floral-ness which allow for cedar to provide an expansiveness to the overall perfume. This is when it takes flight. There is slight tuning over the final stages as tonka accentuates the floral over the wood.
23.1 Jasmagonda has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I’m not sure if it is because a rework of a Parfumerie Generale I didn’t care for but 23.1 Jasmagonda is my favorite of the reworks. They have all felt like new perfumes but 23.1 Jasmagonda feels like a metamorphosis from drab caterpillar to vibrant butterfly as we go from 23 to 23.1.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from Parfumerie Generale.
Ever since oud became a thing in perfume there has been a myth about many perfumes having the actual material in the formula. The great majority of oud in perfume is an oud accord built around cypriol. It has its place because a perfumer wanting a lesser oud effect can tune that accord to provide a precise amount. When a perfumer makes the effort to use real oud in their perfume it becomes a bit like riding a tiger. Every source of oud has its own powerful scent profile. Subtle oud is entirely a myth. If you’re going to work with the genuine stuff, you’re going to have to work with what the oud gives you. Independent perfumer Josh Meyer has produced an excellent example of how to do this with Imaginary Authors Whispered Myths.
Before I get into the review Imaginary Authors always begins with a fun snippet of prose from a non-existent writer. I found the one used with Whispered Myths to be one of the more illuminating entries, “When the long hours Azzam Issa pulls at his family’s bakery begin to interfere with his day-job as a security guard at The Louvre things turn bizarre. Angelic creatures move from one painting to the next and statues speak to him in cryptic whispers. The delusions are a nuisance and the few hours of sleep he is afforded between jobs are no better; dominated by visits from ancient mariners and supernatural figures from worlds past. It isn’t until he begins to listen to these apparitions that he becomes truly unhinged. In the frantic search for the true identities of these lost souls, Azzam discovers something far more remarkable, his own.”
It didn’t strike me at first but as I experienced Whispered Myths this is also a journey from the mythology of oud in perfume through to a discovery of its real identity.
The oud Mr. Meyer chose as his keynote is a Cambodian oud. The sample I have of this kind of oud is one I would describe as medicinal, fruity, and woody. I am guessing the oud sourced by Mr. Meyer also has a similar scent profile because he makes some intelligent choices on how to interact with those aspects of the oud.
Whispered Myths starts with a nose-tingling dose of oud-y reality. Mr. Meyer lets the Cambodian oud out to roar with its medicinal quality right away. This is no myth it is a slap of reality. The opening moments are going to be difficult for those who don’t appreciate this part of the oud experience. If you can get through these opening minutes what comes next is remarkable. First up is a melon note. Mr. Meyer uses this to bring forward that concentrated dried fruitiness of the oud. Melon is a trite overused ingredient. Mr. Meyer makes it relevant in his usage of it here. Then a sweet honey accord provides viscous contrast to the oud. This is my favorite part of the development as the honey finds the medicinal core of the oud and tames it. The base accord opens with ambrette providing a transparent botanical musk to underline the animalic part of the oud. The remainder is a reminder that oud is agarwood as what Mr. Meyer calls “salvaged shipwreck” is a combination of the dry synthetic woods. They provide an ascetic counterweight to the woodiness of the oud.
Whispered Myths has 12-14 hour longevity and for 90% of the time average sillage except for those opening moments then it is above average sillage.
Since the beginning of Imaginary Authors Mr. Meyer has had a distinct house aesthetic. Whispered Myths is the first to break most completely from that. That might be jarring for some. I found it showed the maturity of Mr. Meyer as a perfumer. I’ve thought very highly of the last few perfumes, but it seems like Mr. Meyer was looking for a new identity. With Whispered Myths, along with his fictional museum guard, he has seemingly found one.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
One of the great joys of attending the large perfume expositions is the opportunity to discover a new brand. I have been unable to attend the last two years which means I live vicariously through the tweets of my friends who are there. What I like about that is that many of them don’t know each other. What that means is if I start hearing about a new brand from more than a couple of them, it is one I want to try. This past Pitti Fragranze the new brand which was standing out in my electronic whisperstream was Maison Rebatchi.
The brand was founded by Mohamed Rebatchi who describes himself as a “self-taught perfumer and passionate”. He wanted to translate the northwestern region of Africa, known as the Maghreb, into fragrance. Something I admire is for being a self-taught perfumer he relied on professional perfumers as his collaborators for the first four releases. What he knows about materials allowed him to probably participate in a more focused manner with the four different perfumers he worked with on his debut collection. I think this is one of the stronger debut collections I’ve encountered recently. M. Rebatchi maintained a coherent focus throughout.
The one perfume of the four I was most anxious to try was Joyeux Osmanthe. M. Rebatchi worked with perfumer Maurice Roucel to create an effulgent duet of osmanthus and tuberose. It washed away the whole trend of transparent fragile perfumes of this year in a wave of floral beauty.
First thing is Joyeux Osmanthe is more a tuberose perfume than an osmanthus one. It is like a duel of high-spirited floral divas which tuberose eventually wins. That give-and-take in the heart is what sets this apart.
The perfume opens with a transparent top accord of spiced fruits combined with a green leafy ingredient. It acts as a curtain-raiser as tuberose struts on stage. This is the creamy slightly mentholated version of the white flower. The green from the top accord is used as a marker to pick up those green aspects of the tuberose. It serves as a reminder there are subtler harmonics than a big blowsy flower. As osmanthus comes on stage the fruits from the top fall right into line pushing that aspect of it to the front. As the divas get warmed up it is the green of the tuberose and the fruitiness of the Osmanthus which interact. As things move forward the indolic core of tuberose and the botanical animalic leather-like nature of Osmanthus also find a nice balance before the overwhelming floralcy of the tuberose finally emerges on top. M. Roucel has become adept at mixing the synthetic woody ingredients into something with more character; which is what happens here. It is easy for those woody ingredients to overwhelm. In this case they provide the floorboards of the stage for our two floral stars to take a bow upon.
Joyeux Osmanthe has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.
One of my text correspondents sent me this, “I just smelled the perfume I am 100% sure you would have named best in show if you were here”. Not sure if that would have been true. What is true is Joyeux Osmanthe is one of my favorite new perfumes of 2018. I am certain I will be reviewing the other three after the New Year. Until then, the two floral divas will keep me company.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples supplied by Maison Rebatchi.
This year has seen a rise in the idea of fragrance of a single well-made accord as a perfume to be released. They are linear as can be with the only hint of development as the accord comes together, quickly, on the skin. Maybe followed by some fraying down to a base note or two. Of the brands that have tried this, Kilian and H&M, I found the Kilian ones more interesting because they felt like previews of other perfumes in the line. The H&M ones smelled like the samples collected after any perfume school session where they are teaching accords. Overall, I’m not going to be drawn in by an accord in search of perfume. There is a computer programming philosophy epitomized by UNIX called DOTADIW deconvoluted it means “Do One Thing and Do It Well”. The clothing brand AllSaints has done what most successful brands do; expand into fragrance. Their three debut scents, Incense City, Metal Wave, and Sunset Riot are all single accords which are done well. It is because they are so simple, I will do quick paragraphs on all three.
Incense City I thought would be my favorite because how can an incense accord by perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux go wrong? This is a simple mixture of cedar, incense, and ambrox. Sr. Flores-Roux creates a kind of incense box accord. It is much lighter than those materials might portend but it also has a tenacity on my skin which was surprising. I think what kept this from being my favorite was I always want more from my resins and this just stayed on the transparent side of things.
Metal Wave by perfumer Gil Clavien was an oddly named choice for a perfume which smells more like parchment because of the papyrus in it. Mme Clavien creates an austere accord of magnolia and juniper berry atop the papyrus. It is like someone is writing on a scroll as the juniper berry has a bit of inky bite while the magnolia provides a sweet floral contrast.
Sunset Riot by perfumer Gabriela Charliu was my favorite because the accord here is that of a citrus-tinted Oriental. Mme Charliu uses the herbal nature of baie rose along with the clean woody lines of cedar to come together with orange blossom to form a recognizably Oriental accord. I liked this because it was subtler than most Oriental accords within perfumes; which usually come as the base accord and require some presence. Mme Charliu wisely keeps this a little less amplified but not so transparent.
All three perfumes have 12-14 hour longevity due to some tenacious synthetics in their compositions and average sillage.
You might look at these three perfumes and think incense top accord, magnolia heart accord, Oriental base accord and layer them, Don’t! I tried this and the cacophony that resulted had me using my fragrance wipes to scrub the whole irritating concoction off my forearm. What that exercise confirmed is each of these are doing just one thing and doing it well.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples sent by AllSaints.
One of the debates I remembered having with my friends who liked jazz was over trumpet player Wynton Marsalis. There was general disdain among some over the precision of his playing. The thesis was jazz needs to be more spontaneous. Wynton was so precise it couldn’t be contemporaneous at the same time. I was always on the other side of this argument. I appreciated the ability to pick out each piece of a greater whole as it was being put together. When you attempt to be as close to perfect as you can be in any artistic effort it can come off as cold. I find this kind of effort exhilarating because a single flaw can cause it to fall apart. There are perfume equivalents as Perris Monte Carlo Cedro di Diamante shows.
At the end of the summer Perris Monte Carlo released the “Italian Citrus Collection”. Creative director Gian-Luca Perris collaborated with perfumer Luca Maffei on all three perfumes in the collection. Two of the three, Bergamotto di Calabria and Mandarino di Sicilia, were surprisingly generic. The third, Cedro di Diamante was not. One reason was Sig. Maffei worked with some of the more modern ingredients to create a citrus perfume which comes together into a brilliantly precise tower of perfume.
It starts with a CO2 extraction of the titular Italian version of citron. It enhances the floral spicy nature under the tart lemon. Sig. Maffei uses another CO2 extraction of lemon verbena. This provides a shimmering green-citrus effect over the early accord. The spicy part of the cedro is enhanced with ginger, cardamom, Szechuan pepper, and CO2 extraction of baie rose. When I speak of precision this heart accord and the way it interacts with the top accord is Exhibit A. I have spoken of how mutable Szechuan pepper is. Sig. Maffei wanted it to behave in a specific way. To get that, it is the other three spices which essentially tune it to what he wants. The ginger pulls the fresh aspect. The baie rose finds the green herbal-ness. The cardamom, particularly, finds the thread of citrus and uses it to attach to the top accord. This continues in the base as cedar, oakmoss, and white musks form a solid foundation for this tower to rest upon.
Cedro di Diamante has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
There may be some who find Cedro di Diamante such a shiny surface it is hard to embrace. I’m not there. It is easy for me to swoon over the beauty in precision this perfume exemplifies.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I received from Bloomingdale’s.
If you’ve been following my reviews this year it has probably become obvious that I am struggling with the new trend of transparent perfumes. I understand why it is happening, but I keep wondering if it is not the type of perfume I can embrace. One reason is most of those perfumes, up until now, have been produced by the large brands. Only towards the end of the year have some of my favorite independent perfumers also begun to make perfume in this style. It is here where I expect to find perfumes I can connect with. Proof of this is D.S. & Durga Amber Kiso.
Perfumer David Seth Moltz released two new perfumes highlighting the “mythical material concept of amber”. I expected to find Amber Teutonic to be more to my taste because it is a fragrance which lives up to the adjective in its name. It is a cascade of woody green which pushed just beyond my level of enjoyment. Which made picking up Amber Kiso, as the antithesis of that, something I was ready for.
David Seth Moltz
Amber Kiso is described as a Japanese inspired perfume. Combining the leather armor of the samurai walking among the hinoki tree forest. It is fused with the scents of nature into something enticingly transparent.
Mr. Moltz opens with a green cedarwood accord. I enjoy this effect especially when used in the top notes. It reminds me of a freshly hewn piece of wood, there is a greener effect than normal cedar. This becomes an ideal partner for the metallic incense which moves through it all. It is like the sheen of the sword on the samurai’s back. As he walks through the forest, he releases a loamy earthy scent. Mr. Moltz constructs this of orris, patchouli, and maple wood. This is a fantastic accord as the rooty nature of orris is combined with the inherent earthiness of patchouli. That sounds like something which would be a strong accord. This is where Mr. Moltz shows me there is a transparent accord which doesn’t trade strength for lack of substance. This continues into the leather accord. It is a rawer leather type which usually means more presence. Mr. Moltz manages to offer a different effect. It is also kept withdrawn which allows the hinoki wood to provide a recapitulation of the rawer cedar in the top with a more refined version in the base.
Amber Kiso has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Amber Kiso showed me that there is a right kind of transparency which I can get behind.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample from DS & Durga.
One of the books I used to broaden my knowledge of perfume was “Essence & Alchemy” by Mandy Aftel. A combination of history and how-to it was part of my introductory library as I sought to understand more. It was a short step to trying some of the author’s perfumes. Ms. Aftel is one of the most successful independent perfumers because of the foundational knowledge she brings to making her fragrances. The first perfume for her brand, Aftelier Perfumes, was a solid perfume called Alchemy. Like so many independent perfumers it was a rich perfume experience based on one-of-a-kind materials. It is this which makes independent perfumery as exciting to me.
Ms. Aftel recently discovered the remnants of those materials and has decided to bring Alchemy back as a limited edition. This time it is as an oil formulation instead of a solid perfume. What makes this something to be sought out are the presence of three materials, two of which are no longer available. They are aged versions of labdanum absolute, vanilla absolute, and ylang-ylang concrete. These three ingredients are like early Holiday presents to perfume lovers. They are what creates the magic in Alchemy.
Alchemy opens on a spicy citrus accord of orange and black pepper. This is reminiscent of the spiced orange which is prevalent around the Holidays. It is an ideal Seasonal opening. It then transitions into the rich floral heart I recall from the original. This is where the ylang-ylang concrete becomes the star. Ylang-ylang has this fleshy quality which I find appealing. The concrete brings that out. It adds a sensual depth which is amplified with absolutes of Turkish rose and jasmine. The spicy rose captures the pepper and orange from the top accord. The jasmine adds an undercurrent of indolic flower. I’m not sure I can overstate the beauty of this ylang-ylang being used here. This is the kind of complexity which comes from the finest ingredients plus it has been aged for an additional fifteen years or so. This moves toward a comforting base accord where the labdanum and vanilla come together over benzoin. The two aged ingredients provide subtle grace notes throughout the later stages especially the vanilla which finds just the right balance of sweet to contrast the resins. Once Alchemy is all together it is the same opulent floral I remembered.
Alchemy has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Experiencing Alchemy again after so many years it reinforces all of what I think sets independent perfumery apart. The singular vision of an artist like Ms. Aftel. The use of unique small-batch materials. Finally, an appreciation of history applied to today. Alchemy is a special experience by returning to the beginning.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Aftelier Perfumes.
There are many things which indicate the Holidays have arrived. One of them is the release of the new Holiday perfume by DSH Perfumes. Since 2000 independent perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz has created a new perfume for the Season. What I always look forward to is she does not make a perfume of fir trees and woodsmoke. She fixes on another part of the Holiday milieu and uses it as the focal point. For the 2018 version it is a gourmand-y version of whiskey, tobacco, and brown sugar called Uptown Moonshine.
Once things begin to wind down after a hectic day of events, during this time of year, I find just sitting still with some appropriate music and a glass of my favorite whiskey to be ideal. The best whiskeys have a perfume all their own. Capturing the wood of the barrel they aged in along with the inherent earthy sweetness of the liquid itself. As I decompress the smell of the whiskey is as important as the inner warmth it provides.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz
I’ve never smoked but the smell of tobacco has been a favorite. I especially enjoy the scent of the dried and cured leaf as it hangs in a drying barn. When you encounter it like that you get a rich narcotic sweet scent along with a harmonic of menthol-like cool.
Ms. Hurwitz uses both as the nucleus of Uptown Moonshine which through the early going is enjoyable enough, but things really take a turn for the amazing when brown sugar gets involved creating a gourmand version of illicit delights.
Uptown Moonshine opens with the whiskey out in front. Ms. Hurwitz uses a trio of woods, oak, sandalwood, and cabreuva to form the barrel. The tobacco arrives next trailing a few florals in its wake. As it takes its place next to the whiskey it forms a rich decadent effect that I wouldn’t have thought could become even more so. Then it happens as a brown sugar accord inserts itself. This finds the spaces in between the whiskey and tobacco at first. Over time it begins to take on prominence turning it into an eccentric style of gourmand as the brown sugar takes the lead. The final bit is some peru balsam to smooth everything out into a compelling peculiar confection.
Uptown Moonshine has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
If you’ve been looking for an unorthodox gourmand perfume in your Holiday stocking, Uptown Moonshine is it.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by DSH Perfumes.
I was fascinated with volcanoes as a child. I don’t think it was the very first, but it was one of the earliest scientific things I wanted to know more about. When I had to do a report in school and I could make the subject “volcanoes” that was what it was. I’ve never been to an active volcano to see the pulsing orange lava bubbling up from beneath the earth. I’m also not sure I want to see it any better than National Geographic shows me in their documentaries. Because of the lack of actual experience there is a shortage of information which my imagination is happy to take the place of. My mind’s nose tells me that the smell would be acrid and sulfurous. What is fun about fragrance is when one is designing a perfume, they probably don’t want acrid and sulfurous as their keynotes. It was interesting to see how Carner Barcelona Volcano would interpret their title as a perfume.
Sara Carner is the creative director for the brand which bears her name. In the first few years it was an exploration of her hometown of Barcelona. Starting two years ago Sra. Carner began to spread her wings into less geographical inspirations for the new releases. These have shown Sra. Carner has much more to say in fragrance than stories of her her birthplace. She has shown a more adventurous style which Volcano might be the apotheosis of. She collaborates with perfumer Jordi Fenrnandez on his second perfume for the brand; following last year’s Latin Lover. The perfume volcano has a bit of mineralic bite, but the eruption of hot materials are all resins.
Volcano opens with spicy Turkish rose out front like a sacrifice to the god in the crater. The rose is lapped in spicy flames of ginger and nutmeg. The whole floral accord goes up in flames as smoky nagarmotha and similarly styled frankincense from Somalia come together in the heart accord. These notes form a kind of hot stone effect. Sr. Fernandez then sets off a flow of benzoin, labdanum, and vetiver to mimic the oozing lava. Except this is a warm viscous resinous feeling unfurling on my skin in slowly radiating waves over the hot stone accord in the heart.
Volcano has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I’m not clever enough to have thought what I think a volcano inspired perfume should smell like. Having smelled Sra. Carner and Sr. Fernandez’s version I think an eruption of resinous ingredients is a great choice.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Carner Barcelona.