One of the things I enjoy about perfume is the duality of certain accords. One which probably smells different to every nose which experiences it is a leather accord. Some of that is because perfumers must create their own leather accord; there is no bottle labeled “leather” on their ingredient shelf. It is one of the places where a perfumer shows off their own style. When it comes to leather accords, I am a devotee of the early Cuir de Russie versions. Imitating the raw leather on a team of horses. There is a comforting pungency to these accords. It is such a classic that many contemporary perfumers want to make their own version. When they do, I have a simple test; does it smell like a garage? The best of these leather accords can also be seen as the smell of grease and motor oil. In some cases it is what makes the perfume compelling. Independent perfumer Pierre Guillaume embraces this with Pierre Guillaume Mecanique du Desir.
On the website M. Guillaume mentions that the smell of engine grease carries an “attraction-repulsion” for him. This was borne from winter days working in the garage with his father who was restoring luxury cars. I fall more on the attraction side of that pairing but I don’t want a perfume that makes me smell like a grease monkey. What M. Guillaume achieves with Mecanique du Desir is to find the blue collar beauty in just the right amount of engine grease.
Before we get to work in this garage, we first must admire the cars themselves. The opening of Mecanique du Desir uses the inherent metallic quality of aldehydes given shiny glints of chrome with mandarin. The real star of the early going is blackcurrant bud. M. Guillaume finds the right amount of sticky green to complement the aldehydes making sure I think of aluminum and not hair spray. Now its time to get into the grease. The accord comes from a set of animalic musks combined with amber, guaiac wood, and violet leaf. Just as the top accord made me think of polished cars. This makes me think of the black fluid which allows them to move. M. Guillaume balances this so that it never becomes heavy. Instead it sits just the right side of interesting. Grease is one of those odd natural scents which can be improved by a perfume abstracting the parts which attract versus repulse. M. Guillaume successfully navigates this.
Mecanique du Desir has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage
For someone who is conflicted about the actual smell of engine grease M. Guillaume was able to extract a compellingly unique perfume out of it. It is a perfumed ode to a garage.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle has been one of the most innovative brands in perfumery. One of those innovations was the release of The Night in 2014. Working with perfumer Dominique Ropion they produced a perfume which used a large concentration of Indian oud. This was unapologetically oud-y displaying all the power and nuance of this now famous ingredient. For many who tried this I suspect it was the first time they had encountered the real thing over a manufactured accord. Four years later it is time for the flip side of The Night with the release of Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Dawn.
M. Malle has tapped perfumer Carlos Benaim to collaborate with him on Dawn. One of the things which Dawn mimics The Night in is as a simple composition around oud mostly and rose. Where it differs is M. Benaim adds in a set of ingredients which serve to take Dawn in a different direction.
The source of the oud in Dawn is a Laotian version. Of the oud oils I own the Laotian version is my favorite. I find it the most versatile of the sources of oud because it never is too confrontational in its less pleasant aspects. That is a matter of taste because I like the more stinky parts of oud. Dawn is a perfume where those aspects are attenuated by using a set of notes to dry it out.
The early moments of Dawn is that Laotian oud paired with a very judicious amount of baie rose. Baie rose adds a catalytic amount of herbal-ness. What this achieves it to bring out the greener pieces of the Laotian oud along with a greater presence of the floral undertones within this type of oud. The rose comes next. As in The Night this reinforces why rose is such an ideal floral counterpart to oud from its earliest times. What changes here is M. Benaim uses an assortment of resins and ambrox-based woods to dry things out. When I say that I’m talking about dry as a desert desiccated. Over the middle phase of Dawn these ingredients mummify the Laotian oud to such an extent that if I hadn’t smelled it early on, I wouldn’t believe this is it. One of the things I missed was this kind of aridity also removed much of the grace notes which make oud such an interesting ingredient. This drying out creates an ashy kind of oud.
Dawn has 24-hour longevity and average sillage.
This is another high-quality oud perfume from the brand. I think for those who want their oud tightly controlled this will be a winner. As I wore Dawn this was one of those times where I wondered if an oud accord would have been better. Dawn dries things out so much it elides away some of what makes genuine oud so fascinating. If M. Benaim could have used an accord, I wouldn’t be missing what I know to be buried under the resins and synth woods. If you want your oud as dry as it can be Dawn is the desiccated oud perfume for you.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle.
There are few types of cuisine I am extremely familiar with. Because of my childhood in S. Florida I know what Cuban food should taste like. There are strong flavors which to my palate are what makes it unique. As I grew older and moved further north there were moments where I would hear about a new restaurant opening serving Cuban food. In almost every case the foundational components were there but the savory twists which made Cuban food so vibrant to me was missing. I understood why because if you’re serving unfamiliar food to the general public you can’t go all in on authenticity. If you want customers, you “dumb it down” leaving a sturdy foundation which represents the cuisine even if it is imperfect. You will have a broader clientele by meeting them closer to where they live over choosing authenticity. I have been reminded of this with a couple of recent releases from Guerlain.
I don’t know what to think about the current trend of Guerlain taking an original perfume from an exclusive line re-releasing it with a new name and formulation. In the case of Guerlain Bois Mysterieux and Encens Mythique they have done the same thing they did with Lui in 2017. Simplified a more complex rich exclusive formulation into something more easily accessible. They dumbed it down. The funny thing is the source material is so well done these dumbed down versions are still quite good; if you never tried the originals.
Guerlian Encens Mythique D'Orient
Encens Mythique is the dumbed down version of Encens Mythique D’Orient. The earlier version was a precise balance of frankincense, saffron, rose, and an oud accord which rested on a rich ambergris base. Encens Mythique is frankincense, rose, and ambergris with almost nothing else. It seems like a decision was made that saffron and oud were not for the average fragrance consumer. What is left behind retains that balance which makes it compelling unless you know what was edited out.
Guerlain Songe D'Un Bois D'Ete
Nearly the same process is applied to Bois Mysterieux when compared to Song D’Un Bois D’Ete. The original was fantastic as leather was uplifted by saffron, oud accord, myrrh, patchouli, and cedar. Having read the previous paragraph you probably know what has been removed to create Bois Mysterieux; the oud accord and saffron. What is left behind is still quite good, but I know there is a more complete version on my shelf.
Bois Mysterieux and Encens Mythique have 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I have no idea if the dumbing down of previous perfumes is a successful commercial idea. Both perfumes are better than the great majority of what Guerlain is releasing lately. Which is its own commentary on Guerlain 2019. If you don’t know the original perfumes I’ve written about these will thrill you. If you do know the originals you will realize these aren’t what you know; which is better.
Disclosure: this review is based on samples provided by Neiman Marcus.
My annual grumpiness at rose being the only spring flower has been better over the last year. That isn’t to say I’m not giving a pile of samples which all have rose in their name a sidelong glance. One way this will change is for there to be alternatives. One of the releases from a new brand, Kabeah Lily Cherie, proves it can be done.
Khedija Ben Ayed
Kabeah was founded in the spring of 2018 by Khedija Ben Ayed. According to the website Mme Ben Ayed wanted to capture memories of her childhood by the Mediterranean in pastel floral tones. The perfumer she turned to is Stephanie Bakouche. Together they have lived up to their brief in the first four releases.
Belle Epine is the seemingly obligatory rose entry. It is a typical dewy spring rose with a slight twist of green. Nuit de Jasmin uses another stalwart floral as green overlays an expansive jasmine. In Secret de K the creative team lets the green free as it is built around the “green rose” of geranium. A touch of strawberry is cleverly placed. The one which engaged me most was Lily Cherie.
A couple of the reasons I was drawn to Lily Cherie was the aesthetic of weaving green notes through an opaque floral. In the other three it was a bit of the usual suspects providing that coloring. For Lily Cherie it is a combination of galbanum and green tea which threads its way through the titular lily.
Mme Bakouche likes mandarin as a place setter for the Mediterranean vibe; using it in the top of three of the four debut releases. In Lily Cherie the mandarin is matched with a precise amount of galbanum. It provides an abstract citrus accord which becomes even more as green tea becomes part of it. The lily of the valley blooms out of those green notes. Mme Bakouche softens and rounds out the lily with some honeysuckle accord. It keeps it spring fresh. A fruit accord forms a contrast to the lily. The green woodiness of cedar pulls the thread begun by the galbanum and green tea through to the base. A satisfyingly expansive cocktail of white musks are where this finishes.
Lily Cherie has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Lily Cherie is a different kind of spring floral while still retaining the freshness any spring rose brings to perfume. It is also a good start for a new brand which I’ll be keeping an eye on.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I received from Kabeah.
The current landscape of new perfume brands is a minefield which has many casualties to claim. Even the best brands can succumb to something unexpected outside the bounds of the perfume itself. There are brands who have such a clear aesthetic right from the beginning I root for them to come through the other side of this process. One which has seemingly made a safe transit through the danger zone is Vilhelm Parfumerie.
Jerome Epinette (l.) amf Jan Ahlgren
Founded in spring 2015 by owner-creative director Jan Ahlgren it has many of the things I believe are important to succeed. One is finding a perfumer who understands your vision. Mr. Ahlgren has done this in perfumer Jerome Epinette. Theirs seems like an ideal creative partnership. The perfumes they have produced speak to that. Another piece of the puzzle is to convey your style of perfume coherently. Mr. Ahlgren has coupled his love of Golden Age Hollywood with perfume of location as he has designed scents around places he has lived. Vilhelm is one of the brands where the press release represents the perfume in the bottle. Finally, the brand must continue to develop beyond its beginnings. In 2018 the perfumes with Vilhelm on the label have all taken on a “sweet” style that wasn’t evident in the earlier releases. The third release of 2018, Moon Carnival, completes that trend.
The backstory is about a man from Rio who falls in love with a dancer. Her favorite flower is tuberose. To display his love the man traveled the world. Each new bloom of tuberose he found he decorated the moon with. Messrs. Ahlgren and Epinette bring this story to life with tropical fruit and tuberose before landing on a subtle gourmand base accord.
M. Epinette uses passionfruit as an ingredient to locate us in the tropics. This is a beautifully balanced use of this seldom used fruity ingredient. The transition to the tuberose is begun with freesia and gardenia first. As the tuberose gains traction it becomes a compelling partner with the passionfruit. At this point I was imagining the Brazilian dancer from the story. What comes next is a clever shift to an opaque gourmand base. If you aren’t looking for it, you have to wait a bit for the fruity floral fireworks to settle a bit. What M. Epinette does is to take the fluffy sticky sweet marshmallow we all recognize and turn into a meringue-like version; light and frothy. Tonka bean adds a vanilla tint without becoming too treacly. Vetiver arrives as a woody foundation later.
Moon Carnival has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Moon Carnival adds to the Vilhelm style of “sweet” which is best described as subtly transparent. It affirms that this brand will keep evolving as it continues forward. The sweet tuberose of Moon Carnival is proof of that.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Vilhelm Parfumerie.
I am always drawn to the ocean. Growing up in S. Florida imprinted it in my soul. I have been fortunate to expand my horizons. To stand next to the crashing waves on different shores than the ones of my youth. One which has become my second favorite is what I found on the west coast of the US. These are rocky coastlines which are edged with shore pine lined escarpments. The scent of the pines mixed with the cold brine of the ocean is amazing. There aren’t a lot of perfumes which go for this when they want to make an aquatic; Tom Ford Private Blend Costa Azzurra Acqua does.
Back in 2014 as part of the first expansion of the Neroli Portofino collection in the blue bottles Costa Azzurra was released. I enjoyed it because it reminded me of summer days beachcombing as a boy. Five years later the same perfumer, Yann Vasnier, is behind Costa Azzurra Acqua. In the original M. Vasnier used a dry woody accord to represent driftwood. In this new perfume he uses the shore pine as his woody piece of the perfume. He also finds a chillier aquatic accord to represent the denser feel of the ocean when it is cold. This is what comes together in Costa Azzurra Acqua.
That colder accord is composed of juniper berry, lemon, and myrtle. Each ingredient is noticeable on its own until they mesh into this mineralic ocean accord. This is the smell of cold swells crashing against rocks. As you look up the slope you get a hint of the pines as the breeze brings a clean pine-tinted woodiness courtesy of cypress. As you get closer the sticky sap of the trees becomes more apparent as M. Vasnier uses mastic and labdanum to represent that. Everything comes together into a satisfying whole.
Costa Azzurra Acqua has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
I must mention this because I know it is important to some; this might have the least longevity of any Private Blend. I don’t care but this comes together in a fantastically realized accord which only holds together for a short period of time. It means I am going to go through my sample a lot quicker, but I am okay with that.
I usually don’t reach for aquatics in the cooler weather; Costa Azzurra Acqua was nice on the cooler days I tested it. Which I think means it will be a great winter-to-spring choice. I can imagine myself standing on a Pacific coastline as the shore pines scent the air.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.
I would not say 2018 will go down as a creative apex for the fragrance side of Christian Dior. My thoughts on the travesty of Joy by Dior are well-known. The brand’s insistence on releasing new perfumes which smell nothing like the old perfume while retaining the name; another peeve. In the past I’ve overlooked these because of the La Collection Privee. That was where the soul of Dior fragrance lived. If in-house perfumer Francois Demachy was making that collection with the creativity that was apparent, I didn’t care what was going on at the mall. Then they had to complete their wrecking ball of 2018 and ruin that.
In the middle of 2018 they replaced La Collection Privee with a new collection folding some of those into the Maison Christian Dior collection. This was twelve new releases plus the holdovers from La Collection Privee. It was overall a mess. Proving even a talented perfumer like M. Demachy does not have an endless well of creativity. There were some bright lights but compared to the earlier collection they seemed less substantial in a every meaning of that word.
In the past as my desk starts to become covered in upcoming floral spring releases, I would look for a sample of the new La Collection Privee to lift my spirits. I stared at the sample of this year’s Maison Christian Dior Holy Peony with apprehension; equal parts hope and dismay. The reality falls somewhere in the middle.
Like all the new Maison Christian Dior releases, heck all the recent Dior releases; M. Demachy has embraced the trend of transparency. In most of the cases in the Maison Christian Dior collection that produced insipid perfume. in the too rare cases where it did come together the result was slight without becoming complete. Holy Peony manages to find a better finish to a transparent fruity floral.
Holy Peony is a mix of berries combined with apricot rose. It comes together in a familiar fruity floral accord. What sets it apart is a suite of synthetic woods and musks are used to expand that accord. The base notes provide a warmth while attenuating the fruity floral-ness by inflation. Using those synthetic base notes are what make Holy Peony a better than average spring floral.
Holy Peony has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
These past few months have felt like I am sifting through the wreckage of a once great maison de parfum. That there are still some things worth the effort stand for something.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Christian Dior.
In “Game of Thrones” one of the characters says “the night is dark and full of terrors”. It is why humanity used fire to keep it at bay during the time when the sun has set. Anyone who has spent time outdoors in a wild setting around a campfire knows the sound of creatures stirring just outside the circle of light. On a trip to Montana a moose decided to remind us there were creatures beyond our firelight by hightailing it through camp. There was another night where there was a musky feral smell which drew near but didn’t reveal itself. When there are perfumes which have a significant raw animalic aspect I am often reminded of that. When I tried DSH Perfumes Oudh Noir I found a fragrance which was the entirety of that experience.
Independent perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz has begun a new sub-collection called “Heirloom Elixirs”. They are meant to be limited editions. Oudh Noir was #2 released simultaneously with #3 Aoud Blanc representing an “Oud in Chairoscuro” duo. Not sure what it says about me, but I was attracted to the darkness over the light. Part of what appealed to me was this sense of standing in a circle of firelight while the wild things circled.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz
Oudh Noir opens with oud representing the woodsmoke. The surrounding trees are portrayed by sandalwood and cedar. That is the smoky circle of light. A haze of tobacco is as if I am muttering a Native American chant to keep me safe while tossing tobacco into the flames. Then the scent of the earth being moved by something large comes forth in patchouli. A swirl of spices accompanies the earthiness. The scent of the beast, perhaps? Then a feral animalic accord circles the light. This is a snarling pacing bit of musk and fur. It tiptoes right up to the edge of being rank. A leathery quality emerges to prevent that. Oudh Noir remains at this point for hours. It isn’t until the dawn appears over the horizon that the beast retreats only leaving the embers of the fire.
DSH Perfumes Oudh noir has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
It is rare for any perfumer to let the skanky animalic notes have the lead in a perfume. I think it probably only appeals to a certain kind of perfume lover. Oudh Noir is one which allows me to wonder what is outside the firelight with pleasure.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by DSH Perfumes
The best perfumers use their past to define the present. No one has been more adept at this than perfumer Olivia Giacobetti. Throughout her career you can draw lines from previous perfumes straight through to the newest release. There is a name for this. When objects are placed side-by-side and there are small differences to each subsequent item yet when you reach the terminus it is quite distinctly different than the beginning. This is called a continuum. Mme Giacobetti has seemingly designed her perfumes to be the next data point on her personal version of this. Talc de IUNX extends it.
Mme Giacobetti is one of the most important perfumers of the last fifty years. Unlike her contemporaries she has delighted in doing things her own way. Currently that means the only place she makes perfume is for her own brand, IUNX. Which is sold in only one place; the IUNX boutique in Paris. This is typical of Mme Giacobetti who would rather blaze the trail than tread after others. Her body of work speaks for itself as her signature transparent style has now become commonplace. She has been around long enough to see what was once perceived as a flaw become the trend.
When I say Talc de IUNX is part of an evolution in Mme Giacobetti’s perfumes in this case I am referring to the iris-centric perfumes. I would say this line begins with 1996’s L’Artisan Parfumeur Drole de Rose to 1999’s Hermes Hiris to three of the perfumes she did for the all-natural brand Honore des Pres; Bonte’s Bloom, Sexy Angelic, and We Love NY: I Love Les Carottes in 2010.
Iris is an ingredient of duality as it embodies powder and root. The latter, which is the source of the perfume material, can be used to provide a shimmering effect which the powdery nature dusts. In Talc de IUNX the name should give you a hint which part of the duality Mme Giacobetti is most interested in.
Mme Giacobetti begins with the iris out front. It is listed as “white orris powder” on the website. What I perceive is an iris which is slightly powderier while still retaining that silvery effect of the root. To ensure that the powder remains ascendant over the root Mme Giacobetti uses rice absolute. This warms the overall iris effect while also enhancing the powderiness. Rice powder and iris powder are kissing cousins on the cosmetic table; in Talc de IUNX they mesh in a more intimate union. Layered underneath this is white cedarwood essential oil. This does not ground the perfume but adds a gentle lift to the iris. What does tenuously ground things is ambrette seeds. Ambrette seeds are a source of natural musk. They provide a gentle scent of skin. With all the powder, along with the name, it is difficult not to think “infant’s skin”. That is not entirely off-base but the ambrette is more like a gentle caress of human touch. It makes Talc de IUNX feel like a kiss of benediction.
Talc de IUNX has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I haven’t gone more than a few hours since I received my sample without thinking about Talc de IUNX. When I add this to The Giacobetti Continnuum of iris perfumes it feels like a culmination of all she has done in the past.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
In the South Florida neighborhood I grew up in there was a small citrus grove. Run by Mr. Meeks he realized in the neighborhood kids he had a labor force when he needed to harvest. Our parents encouraged it because it kept us busy and outside. I would say my love of citrus came from climbing ladders while filling a crate with ripe fruit. It is also one of the reasons I am so fond of citrus fragrances. It does give them a higher bar to clear to catch my admiration. Most citrus perfumes will go for an abstraction. There are a few which will attempt a photorealistic re-creation. For those to receive my approbation they have an even higher degree of difficulty to clear; Maison Margiela Replica Under the Lemon Trees does.
Maison Margiela began the Replica collection in 2012 it has overall been one of the more coherent selection of fragrance on the market. They each choose a place and a year allowing the perfumer the opportunity to interpret with a lot of freedom. It is one of the reasons for the success of the collection. Which is why I am so frustrated to not be able to tell you the perfumer behind Under the Lemon Trees. This is a fantastic piece of perfume construction which deserves to have the artist behind it named. I am sure I will eventually find out and I’ll update when I do.
The Replica collection has quite a few of the photorealistic type of perfumes within it. I don’t think any of them have done it as well as Under the Lemon Trees. Intelligent choices throughout coalesce into a perfect composition which does what it says on the label.
The lemon source is an accord of petitgrain, which comes from bitter orange, and lime. This is realized as the sweetness of the petitgrain provides the right balance to the tart of the lime. The first time I sprayed this on a strip it was like picking a yellow ripe lime off Mr. Meeks’ tree. There is a cool breeze of cardamom which flows through the early moments. The perfumer clearly wants to capture the green leaves of the trees. The choice is unconventional as they achieve it through green tea and mate tea with coriander. The bitterness of mate tea mixed with the less confrontational green tea comes together to form the scent of those sharp green leaves. The smart perfume making continues in the base as a set of white musks soften a green cedar to the right density to capture the trunk of the tree. Once it all comes together it is exactly like sitting under a lemon tree.
Under the Lemon Trees has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
We’re still a few months way from when Under the Lemon Trees is really going to be at its best. That it still made me feel the sun on my face in an orchard grove in the middle of winter tells you how good it is.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Maison Margiela.