In 2014 the Estee Lauder Group acquired one of the flagship brands in niche perfumery, Le Labo. While there haven’t been a lot of new releases, 2015’s The Noir 29 and 2017’s Mousse de Chene 30, there has been a noticeable expansion of presence. Le Labo now has a presence at shopping malls everywhere. They went from being perfumes that were hard to find to being much easier to experience. This is the upside to Le Labo being acquired; the opportunity to be discovered. I can only speak about the one near me but whenever I go into talk it is not an empty space. Lots of shoppers coming to check it out.
Fabrice Penot and Edouard Roschi
The brand founded by Fabrice Penot and Edouard Roschi stands for a style of perfumery far from the mainstream offerings. It is the reason there was concern. If they are going to expand will they dumb things down. What I’ve experienced in my area is the opposite. The “Field of Dreams” effect of if you build a different kind of perfume they will come. Which means there is no need to change for both the older fans and the new ones. The newest release Tonka 25 exemplifies this.
Daphne Bugey is the perfumer for Tonka 25. Mme Bugey was one of the founding perfumers for the line responsible for three of the debut releases. She is best known for what has probably become the flagship perfume for Le Labo, Rose 31. Tonka 25 shares a tiny bit of similarity to Neroli 36 from those early efforts. What it shares with most of the Le Labo fragrances is if you expect the ingredient on the bottle to be front and center you will be surprised.
If there was truth in advertising at play this would be Cedar Noir 25 or Musks 25. Those are the two most compelling pieces of Tonka 25. Also notice the plural of musk I used in my faux name. Tonka 25 is an exercise in layering the synthetic musks to produce their own special effect.
This layering begins early on as Mme Bugey uses a clever mixture of the higher showing musks to create something soft. I have spent a lot of time trying to pick this apart and I’ve just quit trying. I am confident there are a lot of musks here and they make the perfume. Early on orange blossom lilts through the musks. The cedar shows up after that. It is not the pencil shaving style of cedar. This is a deeper version. Identified as Atlas cedar in the notes list it reminds me of the smell of an old cedar closet or cedar lined chest. Mme Bugey swirls the musks through this and this is where Tonka 25 spends much of its time on my skin. The promised tonka along with vanilla essentially make a drive-by without adding any significant impact. The final ingredient which adds to this is benzoin which provides a resinous warmth for the musky cedar to nestle within.
Tonka 25 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I wouldn’t have expected to like a perfume made up of cedar and musks. It shows how Messrs. Penot and Rouschi are not giving up the Le Labo way of making perfume. I know I will be wearing out my sample over the next few weeks as it is a great choice for fall. If you like musks and cedar this needs to be on your list. If you like the way Le Labo makes perfume this also needs to be on your list. If you’re walking through the mall and you see an interesting little shop with Le Labo on the sign walk in and ask for Tonka 25 it is a great place to start. For everyone who loves the brand Tonka 25 shows the beat goes on.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Le Labo.
Something I hope has become obvious is that I have a great appreciation for mainstream perfume when done well. Not every fragrance has to push boundaries. There must be a place for a well-constructed perfume which builds on a popular style in the conversation. I found myself in a bit of a quandary when a new niche release built upon a foundation from one of the most popular mainstream perfumes. It is particularly difficult for me when I think the mainstream perfume was a cynically conceived effort. Especially when I like the niche release while recognizing from whence it came. Parfums de Marly Percival has more than enough differences from Bleu de Chanel for me to acknowledge the comparison while admiring the new iteration.
There is a desire for a style of perfume that can be the single perfume on a man’s dresser. Something good for the workday and the weekend. That is the kind of perfume Percival is. What sets it apart from its mainstream counterparts is at every turn there is more depth and complexity. Creative director Julien Sprecher collaborates with perfumer Hamid Merati-Kashani continuing their successful partnership begun with Layton and Layton Exclusif. In writing about both of those previous releases I detected an effort towards refining crowd pleasing trends into something more niche-like. That kind of thinking appears to be in place for Percival.
At its most basic Percival is a fresh fougere. Except M. Sprecher encouraged M. Merati-Kashani to find the nooks and crannies within that style to place different notes and accords. These add texture and depth. It is what sets Percival apart.
Percival opens with an herbal citrus top accord. The citrus are the bright sunny notes often encountered but the array of herbal notes provide the kind of effect I was speaking of above. This transitions into a floral heart of violet and lavender. These are combined to form another typical masculine floral duo. M. Merati-Kashani then dusts them with the spices of baie rose, cinnamon, coriander, black pepper, and nutmeg. I could tritely say he is butching up the florals. Instead I will refer to what I see throughout Percival as a way of finding depth without changing the intent. The use of the spices does create a vibrancy to the heart. In the base M. Merati-Kashani has built a gorgeous accord of synthetic woods and musks. He has seemingly used four or five of each to create one of those drydowns to die for. All these ingredients in the base last days on a strip or clothing. When I was sitting at my desk while testing Percival I kept returning to the strips I had sprayed days ago just to revisit. When I did my laundry and got to the shirt I wore one of the days I considered not washing it. I have a special place for perfumes with outstanding drydowns and Percival is there.
Percival has 16-18 hour longevity on skin and days on clothing. It also has above average sillage.
It is because the drydown is so neglected these days I would like Percival just for that. There is more to admire than that. Percival takes something that I perceive in its mainstream inspiration as cynical and transforms it into something fantastic. If Percival was the one perfume most men had on their dresser this would be a better smelling world.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample from Parfums de Marly.
There have been so many good neroli perfumes lately I am starting to think it can’t be used poorly. I know that isn’t true but it as soon as I see neroli as a keynote I am hopeful. That was particularly true for the latest release from Nicolai. Earlier this year they released a fantastic Mediterranean neroli fragrance, Cap Neroli. It has been one of my favorites throughout the summer. They now return for a fall version of neroli; Neroli Intense.
Visiting the flower fields of Grasse is on my perfume bucket list. I am thinking I might have to pencil in the neroli from Tunisia, too. Patricia de Nicolai blends the neroli essence and the absolute from there as the source of the neroli for Neroli Intense. Surrounding that is a slight animalic vector which intensifies over time. There are some slight similarities to Cap Neroli, but this is really different version of neroli than that.
Patricia de Nicolai
The closest Neroli Intense comes to Cap Neroli is in the top accord. Tarragon replaces the rosemary and mint from Cap Neroli. The herbal green is again in place to tease out the green of the neroli. The neroli is much richer here, probably due to the two different extractions being used. That means the tarragon has more to highlight. Petitgrain focuses the citrus-like quality. Pittosporum is a white flower which caries with it a musky undercurrent. This is used to pair with orange blossom and its slightly indolic nature. The neroli is still on top but the florals are keeping up while adding in the hint of a growl. This intensifies as beeswax provides the center of the base accord. Beeswax has its own musky animalic nature which is a bit stronger. Patchouli comes in and finishes things up.
Neroli Intense has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
One of the best things about neroli fragrances are it stands up so well it doesn’t have to be shuffled to the back of the shelf during the colder months. Neroli Intense is an example of a neroli perfume that will be better when there is frost on the pumpkin although it is pretty good right now.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
Tom Petty tells me “the waiting is the hardest part”. Which I get daily reminders of when I look at my box of perfumes to be reviewed. Some I am asked to hold off on writing about until a specific date. It is the other perfumes in the box that Mr. Petty advises me of. I sometimes get a new release which is woefully outside of the time when I suspect it will be really great. Those sit in my “to be reviewed” box enticing me while I wait. We finally got a little streak of cooler weather, so I could take one of those out for a spin. Commodity Velvet was as good as I had hoped for.
Velvet was the third of the 2018 releases from Commodity at the end of the spring. I have come to admire the brand because they are giving the perfumers they hire a wide latitude to create. All that they ask is for a minimalist aesthetic. It has led to a collection of perfume which has more creativity than the typical mainstream fragrance. From the moment I learned of this I knew there was a perfumer for whom this brand would be a natural fit. With Velvet, perfumer Jerome Epinette gets his chance.
His inspiration for Velvet is “vibrant pink Turkish rose petals floating over a mysterious dark background of richly warm vanilla.” It is rare that a press description is as spot on as that one is. He does leave out one other important ingredient though and it really does make Velvet as good as it is.
That ingredient is there right at the start as an almond toasted by a bit of clove is the top accord. Almond is one of my favorite ingredients in perfume because it acts nutty and woody simultaneously. It is an ideal lead-in to the rose in the heart as heliotropin connects the almond and the Turkish rose. As they come together that pool of vanilla in M. Epinette’s inspiration also begins to rise. It all comes together in an opulent accord. A bit of resinous amber provides the final piece of this perfume.
Velvet has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Velvet completes a fantastic year for this brand. It is one of the places where a niche aesthetic has found some traction at the mall. Velvet will be a great addition to the cooler weather rotation. I plan on wearing it even more the colder it gets.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Commodity.
When I look back on my childhood in South Florida I realize how lucky I was to grow up in a community with so many different influences from the Caribbean and Central America. As I rode my bicycle through town I would cross invisible boundaries moving from neighborhood to neighborhood. While there wasn’t necessarily a sign indicating a change there was something else. In the warm weather of Florida most places had their windows open. Coming out of those windows was the music of their island homes. That was my introduction to ska and reggae music. I didn’t have a name to put to it until the release of the 1973 film, “The Harder They Come”. That was when most Americans used the word reggae for the first time and the soundtrack was the first time those same people listened to this music.
Andrea and Chiaro Valda
Jusbox Perfumes has been releasing fragrances inspired by different decades and genres of music. For their reggae influenced Green Bubble they moved forward thirty years to 2003 when reggae has become a part of the popular music landscape. They also focused on the Rastafarians who made the music part of their faith. Another part of their faith was the smoking of cannabis as sacrament. When the brother-sister team of Andrea and Chiaro Valda wanted to turn this to perfume they collaborated with perfumer Julien Rasquinet.
They start with a sticky green cannabis accord. This has a deeply herbal effect. M. Rasquinet skillfully uses the absinthe precursor of wormwood and grapefruit to provide a fuller accord. The grapefruit is particularly great in the early moments as its sulfurous quality is allowed free rein. Then a very raw green cedar elongates the top accord. The bass line which is such a part of reggae music begins to warm up with a sweet honey accord. It goes even deeper as patchouli, labdanum and sandalwood provide the ultimate bass heavy accord.
Green Bubble has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Green Bubble is an aggressively herbal green perfume which might not be to everyone’s taste. It has an offbeat charm which might not be readily apparent. I found it to be the best evocation of music in the Jusbox Perfumes line. If you’re a fan of this style Green Bubble will rock steady all day, and night, long.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Bloomingdale’s
It is only in hindsight that you can identify the perfumes which are the ripple which will eventually become a wave. Forty years ago, Estee Lauder White Linen was one of those fragrances. Ever since it has spawned hundreds of releases inspired by its clean florals. It is hard to make enough of an impression to be compared favorably to the one which started the trend. Lubin Princesses de Malabar is one which can be.
Lubin has been in the process of making a distinct aesthetic change which has really become obvious in the releases for 2018. They have become all about lighter more transparent styles of fragrance. The earlier releases this year all shared that while also being instantly forgettable. When I saw the press release for Princesses de Malabar I thought it fit in with the new direction.
The back story is about a land on the Malabar coast of India. It is run by women known as the Nair Princesses. At the end of every day a flock of golden collared blue birds rise to their perches on a breeze made up of white flowers and musk. That’s a lovely story but all I kept thinking about once I did receive my sample was a perfume from forty years ago. Perfumer Delphine Thierry composes a beautiful rendition of that in Princesses de Malabar.
She starts with an excellent choice by using cotton flower on top. If you’ve ever smelled a cotton boll it has the expected smell of clean linen. It also has a perceptible undercurrent of skin musk. Mme Thierry displays both of those in the first moments of Princesses de Malabar. She then summons her white flowers as jasmine, magnolia, and ylang-ylang form a complex transparent floral accord. It isn’t as indolic as I’d like but it also isn’t completely scrubbed clean of them either. It works well with the subtle muskiness of the cotton flower transforming to the subtle skankiness of the indoles. Mme Thierry adds in a nice fruity twist with a fizzy peach inserting itself in between the flowers. Iris adds a powdery veneer to it all. Then in a recapitulation of the cotton flower on top a set of linen musks form the foundation of the base accord. It is warmed a bit by sandalwood, but this is a classic linen accord.
Princesses de Malabar have 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
Princesses de Malabar stands out because Mme Thierry creates a fragrance equivalent of a variation on a classic without being beholden to it. The history might be a land of golden collared birds, but I’ll always think of Princesses de Malabar ruling the island of white linen.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Lubin.
There are many things I believe contribute to the long-term success of an independent perfume brand. I write often that a clear creative vision shared with a single perfumer creates an aesthetic that becomes as recognizable as the bottle or the label. The lines which have all of that tend to be better. There is one brand which has all of that, but I wonder if there is another factor which might be missing; distribution.
Dom De Vetta
When I was working at CaFleureBon in 2012 we heard about a new English brand called Shay & Blue. Creatively directed by Dom De Vetta who started the brand after his time with Jo Malone. He also made the decision to work with an in-house perfumer, Julie Masse. They kept their goals modest working out of a boutique in London. It was always on my list of brands I expected would do well if it was more widely available. A couple years ago that became the case. What also happened was a creative uptick from a brand which I already admired for that. The most recent release keeps that roll going.
Shay & Blue Kings Wood takes two of the most popular perfume ingredients of the last couple of years; Szechuan pepper and pineapple and shows them to their best effect. Mme Masse expertly finds new aspects of both to include in a modern evolution of fougere.
When I sprayed Kings Wood on I braced myself for the pineapple. It’s not my favorite ingredient. For the first minute or so the insipid sweetness I find unappealing was out in front. Then the Szechuan pepper I have found so versatile steps up and turns the pineapple in to something much more palatable. There is a kind of green herbal character to the Szechuan pepper. Mme Masse uses that to strip away the tropical fruit juice by overwriting it with that herbal-ness. That leaves an unripe tart fruit to represent the pineapple. It went from insipid to inspired in a flash. The Szechuan pepper accentuates the part of the pineapple I do like. This opening then nestles into a soft green fougere accord. It is a beautiful setting as the plush green picks up the green threads from the top notes. Making this a contemporary version of a fougere. The base accord is made up of oak and leather. Mme Masse uses a polished version of both wood and animalic effects.
Kings Wood has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
There have been a lot of pineapple perfumes this year which have shown me that there is more to it as an ingredient than I thought. Kings Wood is right at the top of that list. I’m beginning to think it has more to do with the brand and the creative team than the ingredient. Kings Wood is ample proof of that hypothesis.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
When I reviewed the three debut scents from Frassai earlier this year I stated that they all displayed the kind of style which comes from a jeweler’s eye. The two latest releases, A Fuego Lento and Teisenddu, continue to show what an asset that is.
Frassai was founded last year by Argentinian-born Natalia Outeda. She has shown her experience in fragrance by working with some of the best perfumers. Then from the perspective of an artist who sets each jewel in its place, she asks her perfumers to do the same with their ingredients.
For A Fuego Lento Sra. Outeda collaborates with perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux for the second time. The name roughly translates to simmer. Sr. Flores-Roux starts things off at a boil before getting to that state. That energy comes from a pairing of white flowers; orange blossom and jasmine sambac. Rich indolic white flowers. These are like a pair of brilliant white diamonds at the center of the setting. What is placed around them are a ring of emeralds. First Sr. Flores-Roux uses a smooth suede leather accord to take a bit of the brilliance off the florals. This is followed by flouve odorante. This is an ingredient I facetiously call CoumarinMax. It is a natural source of the hay-like sweetness of coumarin but amplified many times. It doesn’t just complement the suede it stands right next to it in the setting attracting the same attention. The base finishes with civet providing an echo of the indoles from up top and Tolu balsam adding in a sturdy woody base.
A Fuego Lento has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage, especially early on.
For Teisenddu Sra Outeda turned to the perfumer who did some of her candles, Roxanne Kirkpatrick. Ms. Kirkpatrick is just beginning her fine fragrance career and I believe Teisenddu is her first professional brief. I think the jeweler in Sra. Outeda knows when she has found a precious gem; Ms. Kirkpatrick seems to be the perfume version of that.
The inspiration for Teisenddu was the pastry the early Welsh settlers brought with them to Argentina. This translates into a modern style of gourmand where the foodie notes are the heart of things, but they don’t clobber you over the head. Teisenddu is a slow burn from top to bottom.
It begins with a waft of spice from nutmeg wrapping around bitter orange. Then in a funny twist the name of the boat the Welsh settlers sailed on was called The Mimosa so naturally mimosa is one of the ingredients in the heart. The other is a deep rum. It provides an odd boozy sweetness. This is further amplified by a “dark sugar crystals” accord. The base is a nicely constructed leather accord. Teisenddu is an impressive debut for Ms. Kirkpatrick.
Teisenddu has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
These two latest releases along with the three from earlier in this year makes Frassai the best debut perfume line of 2018.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Frassai.
Once the big perfume producers get ahold of a brand they usually find a way to ruin it for me. The first step is to take something kind of exclusive and release a bunch of by-the-numbers releases. The fragrances which have Alexander McQueen on the bottle were in that exclusive category of reflecting the influential designer’s aesthetic via scent. Even 2016’s McQueen Parfum managed to feel like it belonged with the earlier releases of Kingdom and My Queen from a decade earlier. One reason that McQueen Perfume worked was that Sarah Burton, the creative director of Alexander McQueen, took an active hand in developing it. She worked with Pierre Aulas as a consultant. When I received the press release announcing eight new releases called the McQueen Collection I worried that the moneychangers had overrun the temple again. The McQueen Collection is eight mostly soliflore style fragrances from eight different perfumers. Overseen by Ms. Burton and M. Aulas I hoped for the best.
This is one of the rare collections where there are far more hits than misses. I will be reviewing many of these over the next few weeks. It should not be surprising to regular readers that the one I was most interested in was Sacred Osmanthus.
The perfumer behind this is Domitille Bertier. The entire McQueen Collection works as a set of simple constructs. Mme Bertier surrounds osmanthus with a gorgeous set of supporting notes. She uses ingredients to accentuate the two faces of osmanthus; apricot and leather.
The perfume opens with the apricot character pushed forward. Mme Bertier cleverly uses petitgrain as a figurative magnifying glass upon the apricot quality. In the first few moments I wondered if there was some apricot itself in the formula. The next two ingredients transform the apricot over to the leather face. First smoky Lapsang Souchong black tea steams up through the apricot. There is a moment it feels like an apricot jam pot is next to a cup of fresh brewed tea. The note which really captures the leather facet is the use of the botanical musk of ambrette seed. Ambrette seed has this vegetal animalic nature which is an ideal complement to the botanical leather of osmanthus. This is where Sacred Osmanthus captured me completely. Cashmeran finishes this off with a lightly woody effect.
Sacred Osmanthus has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Sacred Osmanthus is not as bold a fragrance as the original Alexander McQueen perfumes. If you’re looking for that kind of aggressive aesthetic it won’t be found in any of these new perfumes. Sacred Osmanthus is a more delicate style of perfume. Which is as it should be in soliflore perfumes. Sacred Osmanthus is a study of the two faces of osmanthus which is more than enough.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Alexander McQueen.
Within the spectrum of leather fragrances there is an accord I adore. When a perfumer uses a certain amount of birch tar as a piece of their leather accord it can sometimes smell like an automobile mechanic’s garage. It is one of those natural scents of tire rubber and motor oil which is what makes my motor rev. I most regularly experience it I when the leather accord is of the Cuir de Russie variety. Ormonde Jayne Cuir Imperial starts off in the garage but it ends up someplace more elegant.
Creative director-owner Linda Pilkington and her regular partner in perfumery, Geza Schoen, consider what a modern Cuir de Russie style leather would consist of. Hr. Schoen uses a couple of his favorite ingredients to tint the central leather accord refining it as it lasts on the skin.
Cuir Imperial opens with a large concentration of green cardamom. This has the characteristic zestiness of the herb what it also has is a sticky green effect, too. The rawer leather accord arises as the scent of the garage which the cardamom pushes back against. Clary sage amplifies the green followed by an ingredient Hr. Schoen is becoming a maestro with; baie rose/schinus molle. At first, he titrates its herbal nature like a thin filament running through things. It begins to wrap itself around the leather forcing it to wash some of the garage off itself. Then it reaches for a snifter of cognac. This is a striking shift in tone from rough to refined. It is brilliant as it has an airy booziness which inserts itself through the top accord. The heart further softens the leather with rose and iris giving it a floral polish. It settles into a sophisticated suede effect. The base is sandalwood, vetiver, and patchouli. It is the most typical thing about this perfume.
Cuir Imperial has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Cuir Imperial is one of the most elegant leather perfumes I have tried in a long time. What I relish about it is that it gets there by taking a trip through the garage. Once it strips off its coveralls it reveals a tuxedo underneath.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Ormonde Jayne.