Although I haven’t seen as much of it in 2018 the concept of “deconstructed” perfumes were bandied about a lot last year. What that usually translated to in terms of a perfume was something lighter and all too often banal. There is an ideal within my imagination that if a perfumer is trying to deconstruct something it should be apparent without being told. Which is how I felt while wearing Bruno Fazzolari Fontevraud.
The chypre style of perfume is one of the oldest styles. It has also been one of the most affected by material restrictions, especially on the oakmoss which makes up one of the essential ingredients. It has made it fertile ground for current perfumers to find a way to re-create the accord without the proscribed ingredients. If you can’t use the traditional recipe then this should be something to which deconstruction is an obvious choice. It is what I smelled in Mr. Fazzolari’s creation.
The name comes from The Royal Abbey of Fontevraud. It began its days, 900 years ago, as a monastery in France. It would transition to a prison which author Jean Genet refers to in his autobiographical novel “The Miracle of the Rose”. Fontevraud feels to me like a fragrance trying to stage a jailbreak from the norms of chypre construction. The fruity floral chypre is taken for a makeover by Mr. Fazzolari.
That renovation begins with the choice of the fruits; guava and pear. When I saw these on the note list I expected something lush and tropical. Mr. Fazzolari instead pulls off a neat trick by using opoponax along with the fruit. It forms a power-packed opening where the guava and pear eschew lush for ebullient. There is the joy of riding an amusement park ride as you reach the top of the arc to whoosh back to earth with speed. In the case of Fontevraud the top accord zooms towards a spicy rose. Picking it up and accelerating towards the top of the next curve. As it all heads towards the chypre base accord it arrives to find it inverted. Typical chypre accords play off the depth and bite of oakmoss. Mr. Fazzolari pushes the other two ingredients to a more forward position leaving the oakmoss in the background as a supporting player.
Fontevraud has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
The first hour or so of wearing Fontevraud is a powerhouse. If he had used traditional berries as his fruit I am not sure I could’ve taken it. It is to Mr. Fazzolari’s credit that at the high volume, by using different fruit choices, I was kept engaged. Mr. Fazzolari successfully deconstructed chypre without saying a word.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
There has always been a sort of backhanded compliment encased in this phrase, “you clean up well.” It generally refers to someone who wears a very casual wardrobe on the day they wear something more formal. It tends to be double-edged in praise because it kind of infers that on a typical day you are sloppy. Seen in a more positive light it can be interpreted to say there is something elegant underneath the casual veneer. When I received the new Areej Le Dore Russian Musk I was reminded of this phrase.
Perfumer Russian Adam has released three sets of perfumes over a little more than a year. Of his inaugural three perfumes the one which generated the most conversation was Siberian Musk. Russian Adam has access to a small quantity of genuine musk from the musk deer. Siberian Musk was probably the first experience with actual deer musk for many who tried it. Because of that Russian Adam set that ingredient out in front and it was the focal point. It sold out quickly causing many to ask when there would be more. The answer; which will probably be true of everything Russian Adam does, is never. That is due to the exquisite small batches produced form equally small-batch ingredients. So, when this latest set of perfumes were released there was a sense that Russian Musk was going to be Siberian Musk Intense. If that is what someone approaches Russian Musk with they will be disappointed, especially if they equate “intense” with stronger. I am not in that group I wanted that deer musk incorporated into something more elegant. Which is what I got from Russian Musk.
Musk Deer Pod
I, again, am working off the information on Russian Musk as supplied via Kafkaesque. I also want to mention that this review refers to what was released in February 2018.
The change is apparent right from the top as lemon is the citrus used as the partner to the pine. In more pedestrian uses it can come off smelling like household cleaning products. In Russian Musk the deer musk provides a soft animalic contrast. One of the days I wore this I was thinking in my head it was like “soft Corinthian musk” as the Spanish leather used to be referred to. This musk has a softness to it which is not encountered in Siberian Musk. It is this softness which will disappoint those looking for Siberian Musk Intense. Then Russian Adam uses a gorgeous orange blossom to provide the main partner for the musk. One of things I like is he uses enough of it to bring the indoles present into the mix. A set of spices in clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon warm the overall effect. The base is a personal co-distillation of Russian Adam’s consisting of four sources of oud wood combined with oakmoss. These special distillations are what sets these perfumes apart. This one here is as amazing as the real deer musk. As it forms the underpinning to the orange blossom and musk it becomes transcendent.
Russian Musk has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I have enjoyed Russian Musk more than any of the Areej Le Dore releases so far. It is probably because it feels like a more refined version of Siberian Musk which appeals more to me. If you are looking for the second coming of Siberian Musk this is not it. If you are looking for an elegant perfume featuring some of the most unique ingredients to be used, then Russian Musk sure cleans up well.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
One of the more exciting things to a perfume nerd like me has been the final acquisition of the De Laire perfume bases by Symrise. Unless you read a lot of history that sentence probably underwhelms you. Let me see if I can get you interested. De Laire was a producer of perfume bases in the first half of the 20th Century. The concept was to take the new synthetic fragrance molecules and make them into pleasant accords meant to provide the foundation for a perfume to be built upon. Edmond Roudnitska began his career at De Laire making bases. One of the most famous De Laire bases, Prunol, is married to his use of it. Others you might have heard of are Mousse de Saxe, Amber 83, or Coroliane. These are the foundations of many of the most famous vintage perfumes. Now that Symrise has cleared all the legal hurdles to put these bases back into their perfumers’ rotation I was waiting for someone to use it in a modern perfume. A Lab on Fire Hallucinogenic Pearl is the first I am aware of to do this.
One of the great things about A Lab on Fire is the creative freedom granted their perfumers. Creative Director Carlos Kusubayashi has elicited some of the most innovative work from some of our best-known perfumers. Hallucinogenic Pearl freed Symrise Master Perfumer Emilie Coppermann to look for one of the classic De Laire bases to incorporate. She decided to use Iriseine.
Mme Coppermann opens with the botanical musk of ambrette paired with baie rose. The gentle herbal nature of the baie rose provides just the right amount of texture to the light musk. One of the things about ambrette is it can be so light as to be too fleeting. By adding in the baie rose it adds more presence. Then the heart begins with a fabulous violet which is everything I enjoy about this in a fragrance. This is where Iriseine comes forward providing iris as the leading edge of the base. What is also here is gorgeous depth courtesy of using a base instead of the iris by itself. For those familiar with the vintage perfumes like L’Heure Bleue which feature the same duo of violet and Iriseine this is many levels softer. It is what I mean when I say I want to see what a modern perfumer can do with a classic base like Iriseine. It is a modern evolution of what a De Laire base can achieve. It finishes with light woods and some synthetic musks recapitulating the ambrette from on top.
Hallucinogenic Pearl has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
The use of this historical base in a modern composition delighted me on every level. Just the shading of the Iriseine and violet would have made the perfume nerd happy. What really made me happy was in the hands of our most talented perfumers it seems like the De Laire bases are back to be used.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by A Lab on Fire.
There are few florals I enjoy more than osmanthus. Most of the time perfumers take advantage of its dual nature as an ideal transitional floral ingredient. Having dried apricot and leathery qualities are why it works so well in that way. Osmanthus gets used as a keynote much less of the time. To produce a soliflore of osmanthus you just need to let it shine with a few supporting ingredients and get out of the way. Berdoues Peng Lai does just that.
Peng Lai is part of the Grands Crus collection for the brand. These are meant to be location inspired perfumes. Peng Lai is based on the island of flowers overseen by the goddess of flowers, He Xiangu. Osmanthus is lifted out of all the possibilities on the island to star in the perfume. Perfumer Sebastien Martin chooses to provide a satisfying gourmand setting for the osmanthus to radiate above.
Peng Lai is only three ingredients. The first is the osmanthus which is in place right from the start. The dried apricot and the subtle leatheriness are as fascinating as ever to me. This is a nice version of the note which shows off both sides of its inherent nature. M. Martin then makes a couple of nice choices to provide some support. The first is benzoin for warmth. There is a satisfying sweetness to this ingredient and here it gathers up the apricot in its embrace. For the leathery side, tonka also provides a toasted faintly nut-like complement. Once it is all together it comes of as a faintly gourmand-y osmanthus.
Peng Lai has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I really enjoyed wearing Peng Lai. The benzoin and tonka in conjunction with the osmanthus made it an unusual style of comfort scent I wouldn’t have said I was craving. Maybe I need to hope for more gourmand shades to be applied to osmanthus in the future.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Berdoues.
I have been an admirer of the entire multimedia effort Stephen Dirkes has constructed for his Euphorium Brooklyn brand. I have found his style of perfume to have its own distinctive personality which seems to be closely attuned to mine. Which was one reason why upon receiving the new Spring release, Ume, I knew this would be no pale floral.
Steven Dirkes (Photo by Tal Shpantzer via talfoto.com)
One part of the multimedia I adore is the ongoing tale each new release tells us about the three men from the Euphorium Bile Works in Brooklyn circa 1860. They are Christian Rosenkreuz, Etienne Chevreuil and Rudolph Komodo. Over the first few releases we were introduced to each member of who I refer to as the Bile Works Boys. Now that we have moved past that it has become about their encounters outside of the factory. For Ume the factual event of the arrival of the first Japanese Embassy in 1860 is woven into an accompanying tale. The poet Walt Whitman wrote this as part of a fuller work he composed for this visit; “The box-lid is but perceptibly open’d-nevertheless the Perfume pours copiously out of the whole box.” Mr. Komodo a.k.a The Dragon takes his current female companion Sra. Bustello to meet the envoy and the poet. They end up receiving both at the Bile Works a few evening later. After a typical night of sensorial exploration, the envoy brings the evening to a close as he recites the story of “The Plum Blossom and The Butterfly”. A reminder that words are every bit as hedonistic as the more obvious ways. Mr. Dirkes translates that into a deeply sensual perfume centered around plum. As Ume tells its own tale of the plum blossom early in the spring.
Sra. Bustello and the Japanese Envoy connect over honey covered plums. Mr. Dirkes also provides sweetness enhanced plums in the opening of Ume. His choice is to use a lot of apricot. I think this is a great choice a high concentration of honey runs the risk of becoming unpleasant. Apricot does not, as it provides a capable honey substitute to saturate the plum in sweetness. That is all I perceive in the first few minutes before the apricot-plum begins to make room for some other things in the room. Which is mainly a lilting green tea and a tart spike of yuzu. This becomes entwined with spirals of incense snaking throughout. Simultaneously the clean woody lines of Hinoki provide a temple-like feel. Moss brings us back to the chilled earth still not quite thawed. Icy accords tussle with the soil.
Ume has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Ume is the kind of spring floral I need after months of trying the lighter ones. For me spring is the sensual practice of feeling the grass in my barefeet. Inhaling the growth just beginning. Ume may be the story of the Dragon and the Plum. It is also a poem to the sensual pleasures of midnight in the early spring.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Euphorium Brooklyn.
As I did in last month’s installment I am looking at two flankers of mainstream success stories. It is also another example of taking the original and going lighter or heavier as a flanker.
Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio Absolu
There is no doubt that the original Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio pour Homme is one of the great mainstream success stories. Perfumer Alberto Morillas created one of the landmark aquatic perfumes in 1996. Unlike many brands Giorgio Armani has been protective of overexposing the brand; Acqua di Gio Absolu is only the third flanker released. Another good thing about these flankers is they are distinctly different perfumes which capture pieces of the original formula without just replicating it with a new ingredient or two.
Sr. Morillas is again at the helm and he starts with the “acqua”, as a marine accord of sea and sand opens things up. It is then deepened with not the typical citrus notes but something sweeter. It then takes a very woody turn over the latter stages to become a mainly woody aquatic. For anyone who wanted a woodier version of Acqua di Gio, without the jasmine, Absolu will be your thing. If you want to grow your Acqua di Gio collection it is sufficiently different from the original, Acqua di Gio Essenza and Acqua di Gio Profumo to be worth a try.
Acqua di Gio Absolu has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Ralph Lauren Polo Ultra Blue
Ralph Lauren Polo is one of the alpha masculine mainstream perfumes since its release in 1978. Ralph Lauren has aggressively expanded the collection for a Polo Man as it has expanded into different colors, Black, Red, and Blue. The latter was its entry into the aquatic genre in 2002. It was a nicely done perfume but not one of my favorites in the Polo collection although it does have its fans. I will be interested to see what they think of Polo Ultra Blue because it is extremely light. It fits in with the current trends in mainstream fragrance but it might be so light it has become like ultraviolet light; hard to sense.
Original perfumer of Polo, Carlos Benaim, opens with a chilled lemon top accord. It is right here I wanted more. This is a veil which provides a momentary outbreak of goosebumps. It gets overtaken by sage with a bit of verbena picking up the lemon opening. The base has a stony ingredient providing a craggy coastline for Ultra Blue to crash upon. There was part of me thinking this would have been more appropriately named Polo Blue Sport but there already is one. I can see this being the ideal post-workout spritz because it is undeniably refreshing. I do have to warn those who value longevity and projection Polo Ultra Blue lacks in both categories.
Polo Ultra Blue has 4-6 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by the manufacturers.
When it was revealed a few months ago that designer Virgil Abloh of fashion brand Off-White and Ben Gorham owner of fragrance brand Byredo were going to collaborate I was fascinated to see what would come of it. Ever since Mr. Abloh’s fashion brand appeared in 2013 he has reached out in multiple endeavors with different collaborators. His release of “The TEN” sneaker collection with Nike last year was one of the buzziest. At this years Fall 2018 show in Paris the realization of his perfumed partnership was debuted Off-White X Byredo Elevator Music.
The press release says the perfume was designed by Mr. Abloh and Mr. Gorham. There is no mention of longtime Byredo perfumer Jerome Epinette’s participation. If he didn’t work on Elevator Music Mr. Gorham has surely absorbed some of his proficiency from him.
Ben Gorham (l.) and Virgil Abloh
Both designers wanted Elevator Music to be the fragrance equivalent of background noise or Muzak. Which means they wanted it to be there only when you decided to tune in to find it. It is an increasingly odd concept which has been cropping up in perfume releases lately; the desire to blend into the wallpaper. When I received my sample and wore it I admit I struggled with the idea. My idea of Muzak is a dumbed-down inoffensive version of a popular song. Elevator Music doesn’t seem dumbed-down, but it sure goes out of its way to be inoffensive but for one interesting design choice.
The opening chords of Elevator Music come via a pairing of bamboo and violet forming watery floral harmony. Ambrette provides a light musky veil with jasmine also lilting through. It is a lovely spring overall accord full of garden soil and flowers blooming. It is also incredibly transparent in the early moments easily capturing the “background noise” vibe the designers intended. The light citrus-tinted woodiness of amyris provides the base. If that was it this would be premier Muzak for the nose. Instead there is one subversive ingredient which snakes through subtly; wood smoke. It ends up being the handle through which I could orient myself to find Elevator Music while I was wearing it. Then I started to laugh to myself thinking if the smoke was there to warn me the building around the elevator was on fire.
Elevator Music has 8-10 hour longevity and below average silage.
Is a perfume which becomes white noise a successful perfume? If it is the intent? I’ve struggled with that notion while getting ready to write this. Elevator Music is like wallpaper; only there if you focus on it. It is a collection of easy to like ingredients. Like an elevator music version of a song I like it is more likely to remind me of a spring earthy floral which is more original. As a conceptual endeavor Elevator Music succeeds. I’m not sure I want to hear the tune again even though I liked it.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I received from Byredo.
Starting in the late 1980’s there was a consistent stream of new musical acts hailing from Australia which formed a musical invasion of sorts. I wouldn’t label any of them as trendsetters within music but by incorporating Australian influences into existing rock music templates there was a discernable difference. I had a feeling of déjà vu as I experienced the sample set from a new brand out of Australia, Goldfield & Banks. A debut set of five perfumes deliver an Australian vibe to recognizable fragrance types.
Part of what owner-creative director Dimitri Weber achieves is to highlight some of the perfume ingredients which are common to Australia. One of the most obvious is Australian sandalwood which has come to be the best sustainable natural source since the Indian woods were overharvested. In White Sandalwood and Wood Infusion that ingredient forms the cornerstone around which both fragrances are built by perfumer Francois Merle-Baudoin. White Sandalwood is more “soli-wood” while Woof Infusion matches it up with oud and iris in a more expansive style. The other two entries also revolve around wood, Blue Cypress and Desert Rosewood. Blue Cypress has a refreshing lung-filling accord around the light woody ingredient. Desert Rosewood goes for a more classical Oriental base. All of them are nicely executed examples worth checking out to see if any of them offer something different to add to your collection. The one which I chose to spend some time with was Pacific Rock Moss.
There has been an admirable shift in aquatic perfume to go away from the suite of ozonic-fresh notes overused in the sector. Perfumers are now taking up the challenge of capturing sun, sea, and sand using different notes. One aspect of the beach milieu which I have been noticing more is a use of wet green vegetal accords. They are meant to evoke the kelp or algae growing in and around the seashore. M. Merle-Baudoin uses this to evoke a tidal pool surrounded by moss-covered rocks at midday.
To let you know the sun is high in the sky M. Merle-Baudoin shines a sunbeam of lemon down right at the start. This is a focused citrus which diffuses over time as a couple of greener notes in sage and geranium pave the way for the mossy rock accord to come forward. This is the smell of clean damp greenery. There is the hint of a mineralic facet which creates the tidal pool geology. I am guessing there is just a smidge of geosmin or something like it underneath the wet moss. Cedar comes forward as the tide rushes in to wash away the tidal pool until it recedes again hours later.
Pacific Rock Moss has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
This early collection from Mr. Weber is worth seeking out. He has a clear aesthetic from down under which works for all the releases. I just enjoyed it best when applied to an aquatic in Pacific Rock Moss.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample set I purchased.
There are things in life I like dry. My martinis are one of them. What that means is I want only a drop or two of vermouth in my chilled gin. That gives a more astringent effect as I sip my drink. There are many perfumes which also benefit from that same dry style. Foremost among them would be cologne. One of the more interesting explorations of cologne comes from the Hermes “Eau” collection. It has always provided the perfumer an opportunity to interpret this classical perfume architecture as a post-modern version. The latest release fits right in; Eau de Citron Noir.
Loomi a.k.a Black Lemon a.k.a. Citron Noir
When I saw the “noir” in the name I was wondering what might be going on. I then looked up “citron noir” and was introduced to the Persian cooking ingredient “loomi”. It is formed by drying limes after boiling them in salt water. They look like charred unappetizing black globes. As this material transferred from the Middle East to the Western world loomi became lemon and the color was obvious. So black lemon is “citron noir”.
Perfumer Christine Nagel follows up her first cologne for Hermes, Eau de Rhubarbe Ecarlate, with something different as she embraces the citrus origins of cologne with modern eyes. To recreate loomi as a perfume she blends multiple citrus ingredients before steeping them in black tea. It forms a spectacularly arid accord just like the material itself.
Mme Nagel uses lime as part of her citrus mélange, in a nod to reality, but here the black lemon accord is really made up of pieces of lemon-like ingredients: Lemon, lemon blossom, and Buddha’s Hand citron. It forms a swirly tart accord with almost no respite from that until she boils it in black tea. I don’t know what tea ingredient she uses but the effect is that of a smoky style akin to Lapsang Souchong. The tea accord also dries everything out. It wasn’t particularly juicy prior to this but now it is like a desert instead of a dessert. The slight smokiness is reinforced by the base note of cabrueva wood which provides a very light woody finish.
Eau de Citron Noir has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Eau de Citron Noir is another excellent entry into the Hermes “Eau” collection. Because I’ve been wearing it in these early days on unseasonably cold days there were times it never felt like it opened up as fully as it might a month or so from now. Even on these cooler days the skirl of a thin tendril of smoke through the very dry citrus was still enjoyable. I am looking forward to trying Eau de Citron Noir while sipping the drink I discovered looking it up for this article, iced loomi, later in the summer.
Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle I purchased.
I was in Macy’s a few weeks ago and I was talking with the fragrance manager. In a not uncommon occurrence for me there were a group of three young women trying something on their skin. As the scent made its way to me I realized I liked it. Once the women moved on I asked what it was. When I read the name on the bottle I realized I had been ignoring a line of flankers I probably shouldn’t have been. Elizabeth Arden Green Tea Fig is going to fix that problem.
In 1999 when the original Elizabeth Arden Green Tea was released it was an example of what the brand does well. Catching a hold of a trend and making it fresh and sparkling. This was also one of perfumer Francis Kurkdjian’s early examples of the aesthetic we would come to know. Starting in 2001 there has been an annual flanker which has added a new ingredient into the mix. I can’t remember trying any of those. I had become a horrible niche snob by that point, so I probably turned my nose up at them and moved on to something I thought was more interesting. Until my recent visit to the mall.
Since 2008 perfumer Rodrogo Flores-Roux has overseen the annual Green Tea flankers. I can’t speak for what has been done previously but for Green Tea Fig the mention of the fig is not just a throwaway gesture in the name. In this case the fig stands up and makes this stand out.
Sr. Flores-Roux opens with the fresh citrus top accord like the original. The fig makes its presence known soon after. There are many types of fig accords in perfumery. The one used here is a green fig. It has more of the leafiness and less of the pulpy lushness of the riper accord. It is the right choice to harmonize with the green tea accord in the heart. This is what caught my attention across the fragrance counter. The unripe fig and the astringent green tea are lovely together. Sr. Flores-Roux adds in grace notes of almond and clary sage to provide a connection to the soft woody finish along with some musks.
Green Tea Fig has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
I need to keep reminding myself that in the more moderately priced sector in the department store there are some well-executed examples of perfume. They may not be trendsetters, or terribly original, but they can be darn good; Green Tea Fig is a reminder of that.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I received from Macy’s