In Part 1 of these series of reviews on the Mexico City-based perfume brand Xinu I posited that the perfumes might have represented what it might have looked like if perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux began his career as an independent perfumer in Mexico. There are moments within the other three I’ve written about but it is the brand-new release Monstera which really put this idea in my head.
The biggest divergence between independent perfumery and niche perfumery is in the former there is a much more personal vision on display. In niche perfume, there is a more business-like approach to what is released. Which is what can give independent perfumes their vividness. There are more than a few occasions where niche and independent priorities can mesh. Monstera is one of those times.
Monstera refers to the giant leafy fruit-bearing plant of Central America. Its botanical name is “monstera deliciosa” The giant leaves are the “monstera” part. The “deliciosa” part is the ripe fruit which is a variation of pineapple when ripe; a little tarter but as sweet. I ate a lot of them during my time and they are deliciosa. What this means for the fragrance named Monstera is Sr. Flores-Roux has created a magnificent perfume of tropical greenery and fruit which almost magically transforms into leather by the end.
If you have spent time in the tropics there is a smell to the dense green leafy things in the high humidity. It has a weighty vegetal quality. Sr. Flores-Roux captures that in the early moments of Monstera. The vegetation is dense and moist the fruit is tropical and slightly tart. This is the monster plant accord beautifully realized. Then over the course of an hour or so that vegetation slowly turns leathery. I had never considered how close densely vegetal is to raw unrefined leather. As Monstera makes that transformation it is something that becomes as plain as the nose on my face. This slightly verdant leathery accord is where Monstera stays for hours.
Monstera has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
After trying these initial four releases from Xinu I must commend Veronica Alejandra Pena in realizing her vision of capturing the botanical bounty of the Americas. By allowing Sr. Flores-Roux to be her partner it has also seemingly allowed him more latitude to compose in some different ways. Monstera is certainly one of the best perfumes Sr. Flores-Roux has made. I am hoping that Rodrigo y Veronica will spend many more years in their Mexico City Laboratorio.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Xinu.
Soon after I discovered the existence of Mexico City-based perfume brand Xinu I was busy exploring their website. One of the things which interested me was the layout of the boutique. Dominated by a long central table filled with sculptural interpretations of fragrance and botany. As you can see below it looks like a steampunk botanist’s laboratory. As I tried the fragrances this image was floating in my head as I imagined owner Veronica Alejandra Pena and perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux discovering new ways to extract and combine those oils into unique perfumes. As I continue reviewing the first releases from Xinu I take on Copala and OroNardo.
One of my first experiences with fragrance came during one of my summers sailing through the Caribbean. I don’t remember where but I found an oblong piece of sticky amber colored glassy material. I loved the texture of it and it became my worry stone in my pocket. I would notice my fingers always had a pleasant smell on them after rubbing the material. I would learn many years later it was most likely copal resin. It was used as incense is used for sacred ceremonies among the Mayan peoples. Sr. Flores-Roux uses copal as the focal point of Copala. One of the things about copal is like the natural material it has an amber glow to it as opposed to the silvery metallic sheen of good frankincense. Sr. Flores-Roux uses that pliability to make Copala a soft resinous perfume.
In the opening, he uses baie rose to go with the copal resin. For Copala Sr. Flores-Roux enhances the herbal quality of baie rose to match the resinous heart of the copal. Mesquite wood provides an acerbic bite in contrast to the mellow opening. It returns to the mellow as fine Mexican vanilla forms a sweetly resinous final accord.
Copala has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I always think of Sr. Flores-Roux as a master of the floral perfume. His schooling in botany and growing up in Mexico has always made me feel it is in his blood. What is surprising is the flower most known in perfumery which comes from Mexico has not been interpreted many times by Sr. Flores-Roux. With OroNardo his mastery of the floral fragrance is front and center.
Tuberose is indigenous to Mexico and if you’ve ever spent a night in Mexico it is what you smell on the nighttime breezes. In Mexico, the flower is called nardo and thus OroNardo is gold tuberose. Sr. Flores-Roux combines five floral ingredients as he gilds the tuberose in gloriously decadent floralcy. OroNardo is the smell of the night-blooming flowers.
A deep full-spectrum tuberose in the nucleus of OroNardo. In includes the indoles, slight camphor-like green, along with the sweet floral nature. Mock orange is used as the first added floral. The pineapple tinted orange blossom makes this the right kind of opening. “Queen of the night” brings its jasmine-like nature to bear as it forms a sweet floral duet taking on the high notes. Marigold finds the green mentholated vein and exposes it. Oleander provides a gently powdery finish.
OroNardo has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I thought this was where I was going to end but I was also sent a sneak preview of the newest Xinu release Monstera. So I am going to do Part 3 tomorrow reviewing that along with some closing thoughts on Xinu.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Xinu.
There was a time when the centers of perfumery were easy to name. While that history is the foundation of today it was very typically French, American or Italian. What is fantastic about the state of fragrance today is there are many more countries showing off their heritage, creativity, and aesthetic. This is the soul of artistic independent perfume in 2017. As one who has to keep track of all of this it does make my life somewhat difficult but then I find something which combines everything I find fascinating within the world of fragrance in one place.
I regularly search my favorite perfumers to see what their most recent releases are. On a January afternoon, I typed in Rodrigo Flores-Roux. As I scrolled through the list there were things I knew were coming but as I got to the bottom of the list I saw a brand with three releases from December I had never heard of, Xinu. After doing a search I found a Now Smell This announcement which linked the homepage of the brand. As I read through the website I became more and more interested in the Mexico City-based brand because much of what was written on the web page were things that Sr. Flores-Roux has spoken to me of when we talk about how he approaches perfume making.
Owner Veronica Alejandra Pena asked Sr. Flores-Roux to achieve their shared vision of, “a reflection of botanical richness, artisanal mastery, cutting edge design, and olfactory delight.” I want to point out that second phrase “artisanal mastery”. Sr. Flores-Roux has worked for all kinds of clients over the many years he has been a perfumer. For what might be the first time the collection of three perfumes he did for Xinu give me some insight into what path Sr. Flores-Roux might have taken if he was born twenty years later. I can see him starting his own independent perfume brand highlighting the best Mexico and Latin America has to offer. The collection for Xinu is much more polished than that but there is a bit of an indie perfumer vibe lurking in the background of these perfumes. I am going to review all three of the debut collection over the next two days. I will start with Aguamadera.
Blue Agave Harvest
Aguamadera is a shank of summer fragrance centered around citrus and woods. The indigenous ingredient used in Aguamadera is agave. For those who drink tequila, which is distilled from agave, you have an idea of the bitter nature of it. What is missing in its essential oil incarnation is there is also a briny character as strong as the bitter part. It provides a different version of the aquatic sea spray accord without relying on the typical ingredients used to create that effect.
The opening of Aguamadera is tart astringent lime paired with the bitter salinity of agave. It gives the sense of walking a beach in the sunshine as the spray from the waves dampens your face. The woods used to frame the lime and agave are cedar and guaiac they continue that fresh feeling all the way until the end.
Aguamadera has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
I’ll be back tomorrow with reviews of Copala and OroNardo.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Xinu.
It is a funny thing how when you have a steady diet of something you begin to crave something the opposite. Just think of after you eat some chocolate the idea of some crunchy salty chips sounds good. As we get to May of every year after having smelled numerous fresh spring rose perfumes I begin to want a rose perfume with less fresh and more power. I know it is coincidence but just as I really start to need a perfume like this one arrives in my mailbox. This year it came from Vilhelm Harlem Bloom.
I am not sure what the creative process is between Vilhelm creative director-owner Jan Ahlgren and perfumer Jerome Epinette is. What I do know is Harlem Bloom is the seventeenth release from a brand which has stood out as one of the best new brands of the last two years. There is not a dud in the entire collection. It is also an impressively broad collection which I believe is testament to the breadth of M. Epinette. Which allows Mr. Ahlgren the opportunity to go anywhere his creativity desires.
Jerome Epinette (l.) and Jan Ahlgren
Harlem Bloom is based on the neighborhood Mr. Ahalgren calls home when he is in New York City. Just in my thirty years of visiting New York City regularly I have seen the transformation of this historical part of the city. Long gone are the days where you were warned not to go above 125th Street. Now it is one of the most vibrant areas in Manhattan. Harlem has indeed bloomed. For the fragrance Mr. Ahlgren envisioned a deep rose-centered fragrance to represent the brownstone he lives in. M. Epinette adds in five specifically chosen notes to bring that rose to life.
The rose M. Epinette chooses is a rich Turkish rose. This is the rose which carries a spicy character among the petals tilting it away from powder and more towards decadent. In Harlem Bloom M. Epinette uses those five notes to enhance that vivacious nature. First it is the peppery woodiness of angelica seeds and the toasty spiciness of saffron. These insert themselves into the rose to create a sumptuously spicy rose. There is also some violet that becomes apparent after some time which almost seems like the signal for the base combination of ebony wood and leather to come out. This is a more animalic leather which matches the rose for power. The dark wood is the foundation for these two accords to interact upon.
Harlem Bloom has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
If you’re still enjoying you fresh spring rose fragrances; continue on. When you have that craving for a rose with something more to it give Harlem Bloom a try; it will scratch that itch.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Vilhelm.
As we move into the latter half of this decade we are now approaching the moment when many of the early niche brands begin to hit ten-year anniversaries. These are occasions which should be celebrated. All one must do is to look at what brands never made it past a couple of years. If a brand does make this kind of anniversary I would say it shows they have found an audience which has followed it for those years. Memo Paris is observing their ten-year anniversary in 2017. What creative director Clara Molloy and perfumer Alienor Massenet have created over those years is wonderful example of what niche perfumery is all about. Perfume for someone who wants something more. In celebration of this milestone they have released Eau de Memo.
The Raison de Etre for the brand has always been Ms. Molloy’s desire to have perfume become a magic carpet to another place. Together with Mme Massenet I have globetrotted from my desk with a spray of perfume on skin my passport. Memo has been one of my favorite brands because of this. For Eau de Memo there is no distinct destination. Eau de Memo is also no greatest hits collection of the best accords from previous releases. Instead Ms. Molloy and Mme Massenet create something which serves as shining example of ten years of their mutual passion. Eau de Memo evolves from a tea accord into a floral heart down to a leather accord. Each phase illustrates why the brand had thrived.
Eau de Memo opens with lemon and bergamot providing a tart snap. Underneath a slightly bitter green tea accord arises. There are times when working with green tea some perfumers try and soften the inherent bitterness. Mme Massenet allows it to join the lemon and bergamot to form something that put a smile on my face each day I wore this from the first moment. The heart is centered upon jasmine. It is a well-mannered version of that ingredient which allows orris and saffron to find some space next to it. The saffron is a particularly interesting choice as it acts as if it is gilding the jasmine in its copper colored coils. It is that addition which elevates a normal floral into something more compelling. In the base Mme Massenet provides a fully animalic leather accord. It is refined but not so much so that you forget this is a processed animal hide. Moss and an array of white musks provide support.
Eau de Memo has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
From the moment, I tried my first Memo Paris perfume I hoped that this was a brand in it for the long haul. As they celebrate this anniversary it is apparent that they are. That they are also ready for the next ten years is also apparent. Eau de Memo is one of my favorites within the entire collection. I also think it is an excellent introduction into how Memo continues to be one of the stalwarts in all artistic perfumery.
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample provided by Memo Paris.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the month I believe the Ulrich Lang New York collection is underrated. Turns out I should have been speaking to myself as Hr. Lang contacted me after that piece and asked whether I had smelled his most recent release, Apsu. I had come to realize during the writing of the Under the Radar piece that I was pretty sure I hadn’t. When I went to my master spreadsheet it turns out I had smelled it on a strip but left a note to request a sample; which I never did. Then Hr. Lang made sure to rectify that and sent me a bottle of Apsu. It probably turned out okay because Apsu is a perfume of late spring early summer. Wearing it a couple times it seemed like a mirror version of the world becoming greener around me.
Hr. Lang once again collaborates with perfumer Frank Voelkl. If there has become an Ulrich Lang aesthetic it has been for transparent to opaque constructs. It has really stood out as the brand doesn’t knock you over it wraps you up in silk. Apsu is one of those as I believe Mr. Voelkl worked with a few new isolates of time-honored notes. What results is a perfume which reminds me of the beginning of the second verse of The Beatles “Yellow Submarine”; “So we sailed up to the sun/Until we found the sea of green.” If you are a fan of the smell of dew covered grass and foliage that is what Apsu delivers.
Mr. Voelkl uses a host of green notes in the early moments. Most of these seem like different isolates or molecules of the typical aromachemicals which are used for fresh-cut grass. It gives it an abstract interpretation of dewy grass which seems more alive despite its not perfectly resembling it. One note on the list that stands out is cilantro which provides a bit of an edge to the overall effect. The moist garden theme is deepened with orris and jasmine in the heart. They are joined by a faint tea and water lily duet. The florals do not override the green in the top but act more as support while making the watery nature more present. The base is clean woods with dry frankincense.
Apsu has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage. Apsu reflects the natural as seen through a perfumer’s lens. It doesn’t represent the actual so much as form a figurative “sea of green”. If you want a lightweight green perfume for summer set your Yellow Submarine for Apsu.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle of Apsu supplied by Ulrich Lang New York.
A few years ago, when attending a Sniffapalooza one of the stops was the Molton Brown store in Soho. I have been a longtime fan of the bath products but the fragrances had been underwhelming. On that day, they presented a collection based on different countries. I was surprised at how much I liked them despite being examples of most of the prevailing perfume trends. Since that day I have continued to carry that same thought as I have tried their new releases looking for one which would offer a something a little bit different. The latest release Coastal Cypress & Sea Fennel doesn’t create a new direction in aquatic fragrances but it does have a couple nice wrinkles to it.
Over the past few years the Molton Brown fragrances have followed the lead of the bath products by naming themselves after the main ingredients. If you like the fragrance all the ancillary products are available and if the bath product appeals the converse is true. Perfumer Carla Chabert succeeds by tracking closely with the refreshing nature of the bath gel. She focused on a composing a perfume which was akin to a cool shower after a day at the shore. The wrinkle I wrote about is the use of cardamom and jasmine in significant quantities enough so that their names could have been added to the name, too.
Coastal Cypress & Sea Fennel opens with a very typical marine accord. The first few moments almost have a by-the-book aquatic accord. Mme Chabert works to change the mundane with a healthy dose of cardamom. The cardamom has that lemon-tinged character that provides a bit of muted luminosity while also adding some weight grounding the more expansive aspects of the marine accord. Fig leaf and violet leaf provide the sea fennel effect as it comes off as a soft green. Mme Chjabert then uses one of the synthetic non-indolic jasmines to provide significant expansiveness before the cypress shows up. It is listed as “salted cypress” in the note list but I don’t get that as much as weathered cypress. This is like driftwood, sun bleached and transparent, which fits in with the jasmine. Later on, cedar and some laundry musks tie Coastal Cypress & Sea Fennel off.
Coastal Cypress & Sea Fennel has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate silage.
There is a nice fragrance collection quietly growing at Molton Brown. Coastal Cypress & Sea Fennel even portends something greater for the future.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Molton Brown.
Sometimes I get a second chance. Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male is one of those great perfumes of the 1990’s. It put Jean Paul Gaultier on the fragrance map. For twenty years, there has been a summer release and they have been near slavish retreads of Le Male. Which was why when I received last year’s version I put off giving it a try until months later as I was filling out my database. This was not an imitator of Le Male this was different. An Eau Fraiche with Popeye on the bottle. I was mentally kicking myself for not having written about it. It was a limited edition so I felt like I had missed my window of opportunity. Then my second chance came as the Eau Fraiche was re-released this year with Superman replacing Popeye on the bottle. This time I was not hesitating because Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male Superman is a fantastic update which is going to be a great summer choice.
Perfumer Nathalie Gracia-Cetto was asked to be the one to undertake this new interpretation. By choosing an Eau Fraiche Mme Gracia-Cetto had to use ingredients with impact. Subtlety is undetectable when the fragrance is at such low concentration. I don’t think subtle is an adjective that would be often used to describe Le Male. For Le Male Superman each ingredient is pieced together like a comic book gizmo which eventually saves the day. The only holdover notes from Le Male to Le Male Superman are mint and orange blossom in the early going. It eventually converges with a similar base accord but even that has recognizable differences.
Mme Gracia-Cetto wraps that mint in a swirl of aldehydes and ozonic notes. It is an uplifting accord with the mint grounding the less earthbound notes around it. The orange blossom leads into a heart dominated by sage. This is a place where keeping it lighter makes the overall effect better. This is sage and orange blossom as brought to you on a warm breeze. Never more powerful than a locomotive more like a scooter. That is not a criticism as it works very well especially for a perfume designed to be worn in the summer. In the base the mixture of woods and vanilla are still here from the original. The biggest difference is Mme Gracia-Cetto relies on Ambrox as the predominant source of woodiness. The vanilla and tonka bean are still there to make it close enough to the sweet woody foundation that defines Le Male.
Le Male Superman has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Just so people are aware last years’ Le Male Popeye and this year’s Le Male Superman are identical. There is no need to buy one if you have the other. If, like me, you missed Popeye then faster than a speeding bullet you should give Le Male Superman a try.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Jean Paul Gaultier.
We are in mud season here in Poodlesville. The rains are moving through on schedule the trees are nearly full of leaves while the dead wood is being broken up to be burned in the fire pit. There is a smell to this time of the year. Mud is sharper than moist soil. Conversely the green is softer. Breaking up damp wood releases this wet woodiness. It is an odd accord and it is one which you might not expect to make a fragrance around. Amouage Bracken Woman shows there is a perfume within.
One of the reasons I have consistently enjoyed Christopher Chong’s creative direction for Amouage is this ability to find beauty from things like mud season. Mr. Chong is one of the premiere perfume creative directors because he truly does think “out of the box” followed by working with perfumers who bring that vision to fruition. For Bracken Woman he works with two of his more recent collaborators as Dorothee Piot and Karine Vinchon-Spehner return as the perfumers.
Bracken Man which came out previously was a Fougere, capitalization intentional. Bracken Woman pulls back on the intensity while still providing an alternative interpretation of green. From a very green opening Bracken Woman segues through leather which in conjunction with some florals form a wet mud accord to my nose. Before ending with my damp wood by the fire pit.
The perfumers open with a much softer green opening reminiscent of new leaves. Galbanum, violet leaves, and fern form the green which have a pinch of berries to remind one of the early fruit growing on runners underneath the green. Early in the transition to the heart a smoky slightly unrefined leather accord sets the stage for the mud. Narcissus provides an indolic modulation which begins the transition from animalic to sharp earthiness. Lily adds back the green while chamomile attenuates the overall effect. The base is my favorite part of Bracken Woman as the perfumers use birch, vetiver, and patchouli to form a damp wood accord. When I am breaking up the dead branches there is an expansive woodiness form the particles being captured in the air which is contrasted by the heavy dampness of the large pieces I’m stacking up. The perfumers capture this as the birch evokes the solid wood while the vetiver is the airier woods. Patchouli adds a lighter version of wet earth for this final phase of Bracken Woman.
Bracken Woman has 24 hour longevity and average sillage.
I’ve had my sample of Bracken Woman for a couple of months. I was so intrigued by this “mud season” perfume I wanted to compare it to the actual thing. I also always enjoy spending extra time with an Amouage release; Bracken Woman was one which paid back that time. As for how close it is to the smells of my backyard right now; I am thrilled to have mud season all year round.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Amouage.
Just over two years ago I became aware of the Paris perfume brand Ex Nihilo. It has become a brand for whom I look forward to their new releases because the creative direction of the three founders of the brand; Sylvie Loday, Olivier Royere, and Benoit Verdier. They began with a well-thought out brand vision and for the last two years have stuck to that. Starting this past April, they announced a new collection called Iconoclaste meant to celebrate the free thinkers among us. The first release is called Citizen X.
Ex Nihilo Creative Team
The group of perfumers the Ex Nihilo creative team has worked with so far have fit the brand concept. For the first Iconoclaste they chose one of the best perfumers working who has always impressed me with his ability to work creatively when given that freedom, Yann Vasnier. With Citizen X it seems like M. Vasnier has found a place to stretch his ingenuity. Citizen X is a resinous iris perfume. M. Vasnier uses a couple different resins to sandwich the heart of iris.
The resin on top of Citizen X is mastic. Mastic is a lighter version of the green galbanum usually provides to perfumes. By using it for Citizen X M. Vasnier uses that brighter verdancy to good effect as he boosts it with white pepper. The pepper adds a clean piquancy to the lemony woody nature of the mastic. Next come the iris. This iris has some powdery parts but they are mostly background as the earthier character is enhanced by the mastic. The second half of the resins arrive with incense. This is typical incense and it provides both complement and contrast to the mastic. It also helps to keep the powder well in the background. This is where Citizen X spends most of its development. Over hours some musk provides the final roundness to Citizen X.
Citizen X has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
Citizen X is a good start to the Iconoclaste collection. M. Vasnier’s use of resins and iris is creatively done while expanding the Ex Nihilo brand overall.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Ex Nihilo.