New Perfume Review Hiram Green Shangri-La- HG and The Temple of Chypre

1

As much as I try in a year there always seems to be one or two which get by me until later. In 2013 one of those was Hiram Green Moon Bloom. I never really got a chance to try it until this past summer, over a year after it was released. I was very impressed with what Hiram Green did with his inaugural effort. Mr. Green after working in London perfumery, Scent Stystems, decided he wanted to make perfumes. He further decided that he wanted to eschew the synthetics he found in everything he was selling and wanted to try natural perfumery. Moon Bloom was a tuberose and it was an above average version of that floral. Mr. Green’s dedication to natural perfumery did not mean he had to compromise his artistic vision. As much as I liked his first effort his second release, Shangri-La, is much better.

Mr. Green’s inspiration was to give his interpretation of a classic chypre. The name of the perfume comes from the mythical city in the Kunlun Mountains described in James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon. Shangri-La is described as a utopia where the denizens age so slowly as to be essentially immortal. It is also a place of quiet study and reflection. Shangri-La as a perfume is something less mannered and it feels more Indiana Jones to me than Hugh Conway. Mr. Green has constructed something more rambunctious. Shangri-La is more suited to an adventurer with a fedora and a bullwhip than a studious man.

Mr. Green wanted Shangri-La to be more similar to the alpha chypre, 1912’s Chypre de Coty by Francoise Coty. Shangri-La follows that architecture but Mr. Green makes a couple of inspired substitutions which allow Shangri-La to be its own chypre.

hiramgreen

Hiram Green

Shangri-La opens with a citrus sunburst. It is an attention getter. In M. Coty’s original formula a crisp pear accompanies the herbal notes. In Shangri-La Mr. Green uses peach and he uses a very deep peach which carries a fruity funkiness. There are times during the early moments when it feels like there is some musk present but once I really focus on it; the peach with perhaps a bit of patchouli is what I am sensing. When I am just letting the peach be itself it adds a slightly leathery animalic quality which is very nice. The heart of jasmine, iris, and rose is the same classic triptych that M. Coty used. Mr. Green pushes the jasmine more forward and he swathes it in spice. That makes the floral heart swagger a bit, as all the best adventurers do. Mr. Green’s take on the classic patchouli, oakmoss, vetiver chypre base is very well composed. In most modern chypres those three notes are mashed together in a green hash which has almost zero character. Mr. Green has studied M. Coty’s original and realized each of those notes needs to be distinct on its own to truly bring a great chypre home properly. The patchouli is used in a very minimal way and it provides connectivity between the oakmoss and vetiver. Mr. Green lets those latter two notes rise up like twin lions and tussle to see who is greenest of them all. Over the last hours of Shangri-La on my skin the victor seems to change every so often.

Shangri-La has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage. This is remarkable for a natural perfume to have quite the level of both of these.

Shangri-La is a much more assured composition than Moon Bloom. Mr. Green shows a keen intelligence in the way he de-constructed M. Coty’s original and then re-constructed it as Shangri-La. There is not a clumsy step anywhere in this perfume; even while running across a plank bridge over a river gorge. If you’re up for a perfumed adventure follow HG into The Temple of Chypre, Shangri-La awaits.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Simone Cosac Bianca, Ose, Peccato, & Sublime- Villa Visions

When I was in Florence I had the opportunity to spend time at the Villa La Tana which is the home of Simone Cosac Naify the owner and creative director of Simone Cosac Profumi. The Villa La Tana and its previous occupant Bianaca Cappello the consort to Frederic I de Medici. Ms. Cosac has much to be inspired by. For the perfume side of the business she has worked exclusively with perfumer Sonia Constant. Mme Constant has spent time at the Villa la Tana soaking in the atmosphere and together she and Ms. Cosac have begun to create a specific aesthetic which captures the beautiful Villa and its history. 2014 has seen the release of four new fragrances, Bianca, Ose, Peccato, and Sublime; each display this burgeoning creative nous.

Simone-Cosac-Naify

Simone Cosac Naify

Bianca is inspired by Sig.ra Cappello and the gardens she tended while Frederic was off scheming. It is the perfume which most closely captures the beauty of the outdoor gardens at the Villa La Tana. It opens with tart mandarin made sticky green by blackcurrant buds. A floral heart of iris, gardenia, and violet is well-balanced and not nearly as overpowering as you might think. This is the smell of the garden at noon with more transparent hues of the florals on top. It ends with a woody base of cedar and sandalwood. The floral heart is the star of Bianca mostly because of its opacity.

If Bianca is a subtle peek at the gardens of Villa La Tana, Ose is the moment when everything is in its fullest of glory and redolence. Ose is much more extroverted and that power is led by a few notes which are very expansive. It opens on a juicy orange which is contrasted with the woody nuttiness of almond. The early moments are mostly citrus but the almond adds texture in a minimalist fashion. Lilac is the core of the heart and around it Mme Constant adds acacia, muguet, and heliotrope. These are fresher florals and the volume is turned way up on them. The lilac at this level is a tricky thing to use because it can be confused with deodorizing products. Mme Constant’s use of the greener fresher florals keeps that from happening. Here the lilac carries the day with force and beauty. A musky patchouli is the finishing touch for Ose.

Sonia-Constant

Sonia Constant

Peccato is my favorite of the new releases as it sets up a bit of dynamic tension between top notes of cardamom and neroli in conjunction with the heart of violet and orris. Those are four of my favorite notes and Mme Constant has employed the Givaudan Orpur version of cardamom which adds so much to the early moments. The cardamom has the green citrus spice quality but it also carries some stronger aspects as this cardamom doesn’t whisper it speaks in audible tones. Those tones begin a conversation with orris and violet that was captivating for me. After a few hours I was almost sorry to see the patchouli and vanilla base begin to take over.

Sublime is meant to be a meditative perfume, perfect for strolls along the garden paths at Villa La Tana. Mme Constant creates a jasmine perfume out of Sublime. Before we get to that jasmine, mandarin and crisp pear provide the top notes. The jasmine then arrives and it is a proper jasmine with much of the indoles scrubbed away. Violet leaves and gardenia help fil in the spaces where the indoles usually reside. Cedar and patchouli are the base notes. Sublime is the most familiar smelling of these new releases.

All four perfumes had 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Ms. Cosac and Mme Constnat have done a nice job at expanding the Simone Cosac line without becoming repetitive. At the same time there is a kind of Italian Classicism which runs through all of the perfumes in the collection. It isn’t as specific as a consistent grouping of notes. It is more like a similarity in architecture and design. The four new release only add to this.

Disclosure: this review was based on samples provided by Simone Cosac.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Surrender to Chance Surrender & Cold Water Canyon- Jumpin’ Jasmine

I am often asked if I would like to create a perfume and I always answer with an emphatic shake of my head, “No.” One of the trends of 2014 has been the number of people who love perfume who have a different answer. A couple weeks ago I was contacted by Lisa Lawler and Patty White of the perfume sample site Surrender to Chance. They informed me that they has been working with one of my favorite natural perfumers Dominique Dubrana aka AbdesSalaam Attar on the first two fragrances to be created exclusively for Surrender to Chance. For their first two fragrances, Surrender and Cold Water Canyon, they decided to explore two very different versions of jasmine. One of them is meant to be a politely skanky sensual jasmine and the other a greener more herbal jasmine. Both succeed at showing the versatility of jasmine.

For Surrender, Ms. Lawler and Ms. White asked M. Dubrana to create a jasmine focused wedding scent. M. Dubrana responded with a blend of multiple jasmine absolutes. He also always manages to use an array of complementary notes which bring out some of the more subtle qualities in the central note. In Surrender it is carrot and hyraceum which provide the illumination.

Many may know Ms. White from her origins as one of the founders of the perfume blog Perfume Posse. It is the first blog I can remember having a dedicated discussion on skank in perfume. When you are using a lot of jasmine absolute the indoles are going to impart a bit of skank. Being an aficionado of skank Ms. White clearly understands if you’re designing a wedding scent a little skank goes a long way. This must have been communicated to M. Dubrana and so he uses licorice and carrot to attenuate the skank and accentuate the sweet floral quality of the jasmine absolutes. The carrot really adds a different foundation to a very familiar floral note. It takes a bit of vegetal sweetness as a polychromatic chord to the floral octave of jasmine. All together it takes what could have been a beastly jasmine and converts it into a domesticated kitten. The soft jasmine is turned softly animalic for the final part of the development by myrrh and hyraceum. The hyraceum adds in the animalic and the myrrh adds subdued sweetness. This accord is the return of the skank but as earlier kept on a very tight leash.  

Surrender has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

abdessalaam attar dominique dubrana

Dominique Dubrana aka AbdesSalaam Attar

According to the press release Cold Water Canyon was inspired by a friend’s request for the scent of a summer canyon. Ms. Lawler and Ms. White asked M. Dubrana to create a green foundation for a more delicate jasmine to float upon. M. Dubrana uses a set of notes indigenous to canyons you might find in the American Southwest.

M. Dubrana opens on a dusty desiccated sage as the wind blows down the canyon. The pine trees upon the sides release their scent as the breeze inverts and blows through them. As you pass through the foliage in the base of the canyon a green leafy accord mixes with all of this. The early moments of Cold Water Canyon are very green with the sage, pine, and leafy notes all mixing together in a verdant chorus. After a few minutes as the sun sets and the stars come out so does the delicate smell of the night-blooming jasmine. Unlike in Surrender this jasmine carries a much more transparent feel to it. There is almost nothing indolic and it is nearly entirely the narcotic sweetness of jasmine. It is exactly the right contrast to the green accord on top. As you drift to sleep looking at the Milky Way above you in the canyon, Cold Water Canyon stays precisely poised between both aspects of the floral and green.

Cold Water Canyon has 4-6 hour longevity and average sillage.

Both of these perfumes show a real collaborative effort between Ms. Lawler, Ms. White, and M. Dubrana. They succeed because I imagine each of them was able to impose a bit of their own aesthetic upon both perfumes. While I am still firmly in the camp of not ever wanting to make my own fragrance it is a real pleasure to see when others take that step and succeed as well as this creative team has.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Surrender to Chance.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review DSH Perfumes Vanilla Bourbon Intense (Holiday No. 14)- Holiday Party

The Holiday season is one of those times of the year where it seems like the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is a never-ending whirl of social events. As hectic as it is the festive season is as much about sharing and enjoying our friends and family as it is about gifts. Another part of the season are yearly traditions. Many of them are personal but there is at least one fragrant one which is shared amongst perfume lovers. Perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz releases a Holiday perfume every year under her DSH Perfumes label, and this year is the fourteenth of these releases called Vanilla Bourbon Intense.

If there is a common scent to the holidays it would probably be a toss-up between pine and vanilla. Vanilla is the underpinning to so many of the Holiday sweets that it always seems to be in the air. I have a number of vanilla perfumes I wear during this time of year because I love the smell so much. Ms. Hurwitz has done more than just give us a vanilla forward perfume in Vanilla Bourbon Intense; she has given us the smell of a Holiday house party. When I first sniffed Vanilla Bourbon Intense it evoked that moment I take my winter coat off and the mixture of smells of a good party come towards me. Baked goods, wine, whiskey, candles burning, a fine cigar wafting in from outside. All of this is made even a little stuffy and claustrophobic as the notes tend to pile on top of each other as they socialize with each other during the development.

DSH

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

As I remove my coat the first smell to hit me is that vanilla. Ms. Hurwitz used a “double dose” and it shows. This is rich chewy decadent vanilla. Vanilla can be such a common note but when it is from a good source and used in overdose it achieves a depth that makes it hard to ignore. That is how the early vanilla in Vanilla Bourbon Intense sets up. I walk towards the bar to get a drink and along with the vanilla I get the smell of whiskey and wine. The two forms of alcohol mix very well and the vanilla intersperses itself at the bar quite nicely. The finishing touch comes with a touch of blond tobacco and a bit of smoky amber. This kind of resinous narcotic accord is a fitting foundation for all the previous notes to rest upon.

Vanilla Bourbon Intense has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Ms. Hurwitz’s Holiday releases always have the effect of adding to my happy seasonal mood. This year she has delivered an entire celebration in a bottle.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Phoenix Botanicals Tempest Blossom & Bed of Roses- Natural Intimacy

I say it almost every time I review a talented independent perfumer’s wok but it bears repeating. Those who stand out from the crowd are those who spend real time with their raw materials. The best form a personal bond with these extracts and through their exploration when they are ready to compose a perfume using them they also know exactly how to make it shine. Natural Perfumer Irina Adam of Phoenix Botanicals is one of these intimate imagineers of natural perfume and her latest releases Tempest Blossom & Bed of Roses are another illustration of this.

I met Ms. Adam in 2012, she is a very soft spoken individual and after speaking with her she pressed some samples into my hand. It would be days later when I would come across those samples and I was very impressed. She has made a number of natural perfumes where the natural ingredients were displayed with a clarity and depth that is unusual. One of the things about Ms. Adam is she goes out and gathers her ingredients and compounds them herself. She recently spent some time in Hawaii and that trip and the materials she gathered have inspired a new spate of perfumes. At the recent Sniffapalooza Fall Ball I had the pleasure of introducing her and she presented her new perfumes.

irina adam

Irina Adam

Tempest Blossom is one of the most unique combinations Ms. Adam has created so far. She was inspired by walking through Hawaii after a wind driven rainstorm had passed. The scent of foliage uprooted and flowers bruised and releasing their fragrance from their crushed petals. Over all of this she wanted to capture the power of standing outside and watching the storm approach as the air gets heavier and nature rises up. What is so interesting is the two notes she chooses to capture this are tuberose and oud.

Tuberose and Oud? I can imagine you thinking this could be a roaring beast of two of perfumery’s most extroverted notes. This is where Ms. Adam’s dedication to making her own raw materials comes into play. Tuberose and Oud are definitely here but since she is responsible for making the raw material she has already shaped it, some, to be powerful but it is much quieter than other tuberose and oud you have run into. It opens with the wind picking up, wafting some smells from the citrus grove in the distance. Hints of some of the other flowers are also flowing on the freshening wind. As the storm crackles and passes overhead you walk out to find crushed tuberose everywhere releasing their perfume. The oud represents the moist earth and there is a bit of vetiver to help enhance this illusion. Tempest Blossom is like seeing what the storm has revealed after it has passed.

bed of roses1

It is a funny thing that Tempest Blossom enchanted me because of its unique duet. Bed of Roses I expected to be just another rose perfume. There are so many rose perfumes out there now it is hard to find something new to say. The name comes from a real life bed which had wild rose petals sprinkled on it and where Ms. Adam would lay her head after a day of harvesting. Bed of Roses has a beautiful rose core but Ms. Adam adds in the bed underneath as there is a hint of linen and wooden bedframe underneath this rose.

Bed of Roses opens with a blend of five roses and it must have been the smell that first hit her when she laid down as the rose petals gave up their fragrance. Underneath is the freshly laundered sheets carrying a slightly soapy accord consisting of violet, carnation, and neroli. The wood of the four posters is represented by vetiver and oakmoss. As with Tempest Blossom there is powerful delicacy on display in Bed of Roses.

Tempest Blossom and Bed of Roses have 6-8 hour longevity and almost zero sillage.

Ms. Adam has quickly risen to one of the natural perfumers from whom I eagerly await what comes next. It all starts with her very personal way of gathering her ingredients and ends in delightfully singular natural perfumes like Tempest Blossom and Bed of Roses.

Disclosure: this review was based on samples provided by Phoenix botanicals at sniffapalooza Fall Ball.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review: M Micallef Mon Parfum Gold- Different Elegance

I have to admit that it can be hard to work up any excitement over a new flanker. Which is why they often keep moving down my list of things to wear pushed out by something newer and shinier. This was the plight of the new M. Micallef Mon Parfum Gold. I have had a sample since Pitti Fragranze in September but there was always something more enticing. The one good thing about this time of year is there is some time to eventually get around to trying the things which kept getting displaced.

Martine Micallef and her husband Geoffrey Nejman have been the owners and creative force behind M. Micallef Perfumes since 2002. They have worked exclusively with perfumer Jean-Claude Astier to create a very distinctive, very French, brand. 2009’s Mon Parfum was, perhaps, the culmination of everything M. Micallef stands for as it remains the flagship perfume for the brand. Last year the first flanker, Mon Parfum Cristal, was released and while it was good it somehow lost some of that elegance that the original Mon Parfum had to burn. I tried Mon Parfum Gold at Pitti and it didn’t really perform well on the strip. It seemed a little unfocused. Once it finally returned to my attention I found it was much better on my skin and over the last couple of weeks it has really been a great autumn perfume.

martine-micallef-and-geoffrey-nejman

Martine Micallef and Geoffrey Nejman

Team Micallef wanted to make Mon Parfum Gold a real Oriental while retaining the soft floral nature of the original. M. Astier cleverly uses a trio of more boisterous florals in his heart but there is much greater depth throughout the development and it makes Mon Parfum Gold an interesting extrovert.

Mon Parfum Gold opens on a fruity accord centered upon plum and mandarin. This is where there is an identifiable aesthetic that is M. Micallef. There are a lot of plum and mandarin openings out there. Here M. Astier lets the mandarin stand out front and then adds in the plum to add a fruity lower octave. There is a beautiful harmony that seems different from others which use the same notes. This all leads into a heart of mostly tuberose supported by jasmine and orange blossom. This is a complete tuberose from slightly green mentholated facets straight through to its indolic floral beauty. The jasmine is used to as modifier and I really only caught it as a singular note at odd times throughout the days I wore this. It finally ends on a base of vanilla and musk. There also seems to be a bit of really fine frankincense swirling through the final stages.

Mon Parfum Gold has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Mon Parfum has always been my idea of a perfume for a woman planning to engage her lover. Mon Parfum Gold is the perfume for that same woman who is at a party and every eye in the room tracks her movement because she has such an understated elegance.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by M. Micallef at Pitti Fragranze.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Narciso- Hidden Dangers

As the year comes to an end I start organizing my desk looking to make sure I’ve reviewed all of the perfumes that have come out this year before the calendar turns over. Without fail I find at least one or two which kept getting pushed down the pecking order because of timeliness or some other seemingly more important reason. The one I found a few days ago and reacquainted myself with was Narciso.

I have a very fond spot for Narciso Rodriguez the fashion designer. I remember sitting gobsmacked at one of his earliest shows at New York Fashion Week. It was no surprise to me that his star would rise hot and fast so that barely five years later he would be named the Best Designer for 2004 & 2005 by the CFDA. Contemporaneously with being at the pinnacle of the fashion world he also would produce a pair of perfumes, Narciso Rodriguez for Her and Narciso Rodriguez for Him. Both of these sit in my mythical Designer Perfume Hall of Fame. They showed that mainstream wasn’t synonymous with mediocre. Both of them were centered on a sensuous musk which does not pander to the lowest common denominator. In the years since the perfume line of Narciso Rodriguez has not been as successful as the fashion line. Flankers that were uninspiring and yearly limited editions that were indistinguishable. I received a press release over the summer and it mentioned that Mr. Rodriguez was going to take a more active creative direction in the next release. I thought that was a good thing and once I had a sample that was confirmed.

milk bath

Narciso was signed by Aurelien Guichard and visually it is striking as the juice has a milky cast to it. Even before spraying it you expect a creamy center. M. Guichard starts with florals floating on the surface of a milk bath in a cedar wood paneled spa room. It is simple but underneath it all is a very untamed musk, hidden, waiting to pounce.

Narciso opens with a florid gardenia note. Very expansive and also very green. A bit of rose is used to temper the green but it doesn’t really do as good a job as it might, for which I am thankful. That green gardenia is perfect prelude to the creamy ambery heart. The creaminess comes from a cocktail of white musks that M. Guichard layers one upon the other to create a plush sensuality. What becomes striking is partway through the musk accord begins to become a bit more animalic as it transforms from safe to sort of dangerous. There is a point, about two-thirds of the way through the development, on my skin that this less well-behaved musk hearkens back to the earlier perfumes. The base provides an austere framing of cedar which provides stalwart woody simplicity in contrast to the luminous muskiness.

Narciso has 8-10 hour longevity on my skin. It starts off with above average sillage but once the florals have disappeared the musky woody finish has very minimal sillage.

As I am starting to look back over the year I am surprised at the number of mainstream designer perfumes I have liked this year. Narciso is another one to add to that list.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Narciso Rodriguez.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Xerjoff Blue Hope & Red Hoba- Be Careful What You Wish For

There are so many times when a perfume brand plays it safe and we ask for something different. What happens when a brand listens to that desire and produces a perfume which is an example of not playing it safe but in going for that it doesn’t necessarily come together completely. The two latest releases from Xerjoff, Blue Hope & Red Hoba have me pondering this.

Xerjoff, as a brand, has been primarily about luxury and precious materials over making artistic statements. Many of my favorite perfumes from the line like Iriss or Richwood are exceedingly simple perfumes centered on iris and sandalwood respectively. There were some more adventurous exploits within last year’s Join The Club collection but those didn’t stray far from the Xerjoff brand DNA, really. It seems like creative director Sergio Momo gave a little more freedom to the perfumers to maybe redefine that brand characteristic and try and change the overall perception of Xerjoff. Both of these new perfumes tried to do this with different amounts of success.

carlo ribero

Carlo Ribero

The perfumer behind Blue Hope is Carlo Ribero who is signing his fourth perfume for the label. Blue Hope is a weirdly compelling combination of jasmine, saffron, and cedar. These are not notes which find harmony they mostly convey dissonance and they seem to circle each other like three gunfighters in a Mexican standoff. After a simple bergamot and mandarin opening the three protagonists take their equally placed spaces. The cedar the good guy full of clean lines. The saffron the local exotic guide knowledgeable about the indigenous ways. The jasmine the bad guy who exudes a dirty core of indolic malice. Throughout the long middle period of development it is like these three notes sit on my skin waiting for the other two to blink to take over. Instead they stay perched in equilibrium. Here is the funny thing I like this tension in small doses. For the first hour or so it was interesting but as it wore on for a few more hours it became a bit tedious. I welcomed the castoreum and vanilla base notes just to break up the tension.

cecile zarokian 2

Cecile Zarokian

Cecile Zarokian was the perfumer who composed Red Hoba. This seems to Mme Zarolkian’s take on a contemporary Oriental. When she gets this modernizing of a familiar architecture right it can be joyous. In Red Hoba it is undeniably Mme Zarokian adding different beats to the traditional Oriental melody but they cause it to lurch a bit in a noticeable way. The early moments of Red Hoba are right up my alley as cardamom and cinnamon rise off my skin in a spicy sussurus, whispering of things to come. The heart opens with orris, patchouli, and jasmine fulfilling that promise. Then Mme Zarokian adds smoke, a lot of smoke, probably too much smoke as it overwhelms the evolving accord of the other three heart notes. For a significant time the smoke buries everything and is the only thing I smell. By the time it recedes it leaves behind a wonderfully animalic base of castoreum framed with cashmeran. Red Hoba is so close to being something very good before it all goes up in smoke.

Blue Hope has 10-12 hour longevity and average silage. Red Hoba has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I am one of those who ask creative directors to take a risk and now Sig. Momo has done just that. I admire that Sig. Ribero and Mme Zarokian were given a little more latitude to color outside of the lines and they did just that. I think there will be a few who absolutely love these perfumes for their differences from the norm. I should have been one of them. In the end I am reminded of the old proverb, “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.”

Disclosure: This review was based on samples purchased from Twisted Lily.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews A Lab on Fire Paris*LA & Made in Heaven- Have a Coke and a Smile

There are fragrances created where there is no middle ground. The accords or notes used are so divisive as to one’s own personal idea of where beauty resides that one either loves it or hates it; not a lot of “meh” heard here. The Brooklyn-based perfume house overseen by Carlos Kusubayashi, A Lab on Fire, seems to really enjoy making perfumes that generate these kind of polar opposite responses. The latest two releases, Paris*LA and Made in Heaven, are the brand’s take on gourmands of a different stripe.

laurent2

Laurent Le Guernec

Paris*LA is meant to be what Los Angeles looks like to a Parisienne and perfumer Laurent Le Guernec has decided that Coca-Cola and macarons capture this dichotomy. Right there I can already hear people thinking, “Eww! Coke and a macaron.” To be candid I have to admit that was my reaction when reading the notes. M. Le Guernec does a fine job of capturing the brilliance of LA and a Parisienne looking for something to remind her of home.

The opening note of Paris*LA is a bright blast of key lime. It is like stepping off the plane and the sun hits you square between the eyes. The key lime is an olfactory attention getter and it burns off pretty rapidly. The coca-cola accord comes next and it is a combination of fizzy aldehydes, ginger, and caramel. The fizz of the aldehydes are fine tuned to not trip over into their more provocative nature and here provide more effervescent background than anything. Next comes the macaron accord vanilla and almond out front. Then because all the best macarons are flavored M. Le Guernec adds in subtle hints of neroli, coriander, and thyme. They take the dessert-y accord and add some texture to it. The coca-cola accord has persisted and by the final hours this is a mix of sweet and sweeter as the cola and macaron accord combine to form a fragrant sugar rush. You can put me firmly in the love it category as both the cola and macaron accords work really well on my skin. I think for those who are not fond of sweet gourmands this will raise different emotions.

perfumer_gaurin

Pascal Gaurin

One of my favorite things to observe is when Mr. Kusubayashi hires a perfumer who has done the great majority of their work in the non-niche side of the business and allows them the freedom to create. Made in Heaven by perfumer Pascal Gaurin is what happens. M. Gaurin works for IFF and within the company there is a branch called Laboratoire Monique Remy (LMR) which is the group who produces unique natural absolutes using the latest scientific techniques. By their very nature these are expensive raw materials and most mainstream releases would use a tiny bit of one to stay within budget. M. Gaurin freed of the economic constraints uses five of these exquisite floral absolutes in Made in Heaven. One of the other remaining notes must have been an accord M. Gaurin has had on the shelf and been wanting to use because underneath the diaphanous flowers is a foundation of cereal.

Made in Heaven starts with magnolia absolute and this has lilting woody floral air to which M. Gaurin hangs mandarin and saffron upon it. The saffron provides an exotic effect while the mandarin adds citrus-y energy. While the magnolia is tender and fragile the heart notes stride into view with a brassy white flower confidence. Absolutes of jasmine, tuberose, and orange flower take over the heart of Made in Heaven. All three of these absolutes show off the flower in a pristine jewel-like spotlight. If you concentrate on it you can pick out each note individually. Together it is divine. The base is made up of the cereal accord and to my nose it smells the way a box of Cap’n Crunch smells when you first open the bag. Sugary vanilla sweetness rises through the flowers and mixes with them surprisingly well. The jasmine in particular seems to really take to the cereal. Much later on orris absolute starts to fill in as the orange flower fades. It adds a slightly powdery finish to it all. I really enjoy when perfumers are allowed to use the “good stuff”. The LMR absolutes are the “good stuff” and M. Gaurin has displayed them in a way to show why they are so special.

Paris*LA has 8-10 hour longevity and, except for the key lime blast on top, below average sillage. Made in Heaven has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Both Paris*LA and Made in Heaven continue to show why A Lab on Fire is one of the most exciting niche houses on the scene. Mr. Kusubayashi allowing the perfumers to have as much latitude to create as possible leads to perfumes you may love or hate but you will never be bored by them.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples I purchased from Twisted Lily.

Mark Behnke  

New Perfume Review Gardenia de Robert Piguet- Partnership’s End

Robert Piguet is one of the grandest, and probably least recognizable, perfume brands. Any brand which boasts Fracas as part of its history will always be looked upon favorably. Since 2006 when, after returning Fracas to the jewel it has always been, Creative Director Joe Garces and perfumer Aurelien Guichard formed a partnership which has defined this latest phase of Robert Piguet. Early on the challenge was to reformulate the original perfumes in the line. Then in 2011 a change took place as the first new perfume carrying the Robert Piguet name, Douglas Hannant de Robert Piguet, was released. That success has led to thirteen more new perfumes from Mr. Garces and M. Guichard. If there has been a common theme to the contemporary compositions it has been for them to carry modern aspects along with a very elegant style that feels like it came from decades earlier. The last of these collaborations between Mr. Garces and M. Guichard has been released, Gardenia de Robert Piguet.   

Aurelien and Joe Piguet

Aurelien Guichard (l.) and Joe Garces

Gardenia as a focal point has many of the same qualities that tuberose does. It would have been very easy to take gardenia and surround it with a lot of complementary notes a la Fracas. M. Guichard goes for a more restrained approach as he uses only five other notes to accompany the gardenia. This runs a risk if your central raw material is not up to carrying the entire perfume it can lead to a flat spot in the development. There is one of those in the evolution of Gardenia de Robert Piguet and I think it is a stylistic choice which for some it will work but for me it created a noticeable flaw every time I wore it.

M. Guichard gives the gardenia two very high quality floral running mates, lily and ylang-ylang, for the first half of the development. This is my favorite part of this perfume. All of my favorite gardenia perfumes have captured the subtle green quality that a real gardenia has. M. Guichard uses the lily to coax that green out of its corner and brings it more centrally into the composition. Ylang-ylang is present to modulate the exuberant sweetness of the gardenia and in so doing it allows the greener highlights the space to expand into. Now here is where Gardenia de Robert Piguet goes flat for me. The next thing is a leather accord. I really would have preferred a rich supple leather like what M. Guichard used in Knightsbridge. Instead M. Guichard chose to go with a dark leather accord which has some harsher animalic features. This phase always felt like it was two separate ingredients in search of some common ground. This is where I think this just might be a simple difference in styles; I wanted elegance and I think M. Guichard wanted something more brutal. The rest of the base is predominantly cashmeran made a bit sweeter with a touch of vanilla.

Gardenia de Robert Piguet has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Gardenia de Robert Piguet is not my favorite of the newer Robert Piguet releases. I think if you are a fan of rawer leather perfumes and wanted that in a blowsy white flower Gardenia de Robert Piguet might just be perfect. I think I wanted a modern bookend to Fracas to put an exclamation point to the teamwork of Mr. Garces and M. Guichard. In the end it is another good addition to the modern line of Robert Piguet perfumes.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I received at Sniffapalooza Fall Ball 2014.

Mark Behnke