I love sushi and am an avid proselytizer when trying to get those reluctant to try eating raw fish to let me guide them through it. The one thing I warn all of them is my favorite final piece of any sushi outing is something only for those who really like sushi. I order sea urchin in a hand roll topped with a raw quail’s egg. The overall texture of this as sea urchin, or uni as it is called in Japanese, is very soft can be challenging. Combine this with the smell of fresh sea urchin which has a strong iodine component along with a distinct briny smell. I love the smell of fresh uni it feels like the living ocean to me. I can honestly say I never expected to find it in a perfume but now I have in the new Medittorosa Sogno Reale.
Stefania Squeglia is the owner and creative director at Medittorosa. Sogno Reale is the perfumed realization of a dream Sig.ra Squeglia had. She asked perfumer Amelie Bourgeois to create a fragrance which evoked her dream the trio of smells Mme Bourgeois had to work with was lemon, sea urchin, and leather. Sogno Reale has the feeling of a waking dream full of seeming contradictions which somehow make sense when lost in the subconscious.
Sogno Reale opens with that lemon as brilliant as you will find in a perfume. It provides stark contrast to the uni accord which Mme Bourgeois forms from iodine and ozonic notes. This captures that smell of fresh ocean and something living precisely. It is a very odd combination but it works for me. It is going to be too weird for some. If you can find something to enjoy, the next phase as Mme Bourgeois constructs her leather accord makes it worth it. First patchouli is used to lead into an unrefined leather accord. Mme Bourgeois takes olibanum, styrax, hyraceum, and sandalwood. This leather accord has a primitive quality to it. That matches the remainder of the uni accord perfectly. Very late in the drydown there is a boozy shimmering finish around rum and amber.
Sogno Reale has 8-10 hour longevity and very little sillage.
I always want perfume brands to take chances and Sig.ra Squeglia has done that with Sogno Reale. Like my finishing dish at the sushi restaurant Sogno Reale is not for those who like their perfumes safe. Sogno Reale is for the perfume lover who truly wants to try something very different. Sogno Reale is that kind of perfume. I was not able to wear it on a really hot day where I think it might be at its best. I did wear it on a trip to the beach and to the sushi restaurant afterwards. As I got ready to take a bite of my uni hand roll a slight whiff of it rose from my wrist. It was a perfect combination of two forms of uni.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Medittorosa.
There is another thing I’ve noticed about many of the most successful independent perfumers; they have a primary source of inspiration. That inspiration is as varied as the styles I find in this sector of perfumery. For Alexis Karl it is poetry.
I spent some real time with her on the day before last May’s Sniffapalooza Spring Fling talking about her way of making perfume. As we talked I could tell Ms. Karl loves the power of words. The way they sound as we speak them. The meanings they have both obvious and subliminal. The way they can form an intimate connection. She even has a perfume she will only let you smell if you pay the price of supplying her a piece of poetry. Her perfume brand, Scent by Alexis, represents the ongoing composition of a poem. With The Harmony of Being we have reached the third line. Here is what exists to date:
"A body made luminous,
a body secret, sacred, cyphered,
you are the harmony of being…"
The new perfume is that attempt to achieve harmony by just being. Ms. Karl has composed a fragrance of balance between light and dark. The constant necessity to find a point of balance between those is represented throughout the development of The Harmony of Being.
Ms. Karl starts off with the light of delicate florals as lilac and neroli combine with petitgrain sur fleur to form a shimmering opening. Shadows begin to arise as rose deepens the floralcy. A high concentration of muguet is a bit greener than I normally find which makes it more shaded into a deeper verdancy. The base is constructed on a matrix of beeswax into which Ms. Karl embeds labdanum, coffee flower, and ambergris. The final note and the true keynote for this perfume is black agarwood. This is another example of an ingredient only an independent perfumer can use because it can’t be sourced in massive quantities. This black agarwood has this fabulous amount of nuance which makes it sing in both light and shadow. There is a hint of a floral quality. There is an aged quality as if this was excavated from a tree as old as time. There is more than a little bit of a cocoa feel to this. The black agarwood does kind of cast the final shadow but it also has points of light so the dark contains the harmonizing qualities Ms. Karl is shooting for.
The Harmony of Being has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Ms. Karl has been steadily developing her perfumes, much as the poem they are based on is doing the same. With The Harmony of Being I feel like she really has composed her most assured perfume to date. There is a cognizant intelligence at play underneath it all. That is what truly makes The Harmony of Being represent the weight of words in all their myriad forms.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Scent by Alexis.
There are times when I get a sneak preview of an upcoming fragrance from a perfumer that I just count the days until it is released. When I was at Pitti Fragranze last September Pierre Guillaume showed me his idea of a fun in the sun perfume. I sprayed a little on that day and it was easily one of the best things at the entire expo but it wasn’t to be released yet. Flash forward seven months to Esxence and the same sequence as the perfume now had a name Mojito Chypre and it would be the fifth fragrance released in Collection Croisiere. My waiting is over and Mojito Chypre has now been released.
Having grown up in South Florida musician Jimmy Buffet was a Native Son and Partier-in-Chief especially in the Florida Keys where we had a weekend place. There were way too many nights we sang at the top of our lungs, “wasting away in Margaritaville!” with Mr. Buffett. There was a smell to warm liquor infused nights on the outside deck. Mojito Chypre captures that sense of carefree fun except the drink of choice is the rum and mint concoction called a mojito. M. Guillaume adds in a strawberry to his perfumed cocktail which definitely makes everything even more fun.
The first half of Mojito Chypre is that party. The rum is flowing the lime, mint, and strawberry are being muddled and releasing their flavors along with their scents. There are so many boring strawberry-themed mass-market perfumes out there. I want to grab them by the collar and have them smell this and see how it is done. There is never any moment in the opening hours, when the mojitos are flowing, when this perfume becomes too sweet, too fruity, or too much. M. Guillaume has mixed a perfect cocktail. If Mojito Chypre was just this it would be wonderful. M. Guillaume does not forget the second half of the name and there is this moment when the bottles are empty and you’re just left with the smell of late night woods and water. That is represented by a shift to patchouli and veitver as they provide the foundation for the oakmoss to rest upon. All together it makes for an excellent chypre accord. Just to make sure all the fun hasn’t disappeared M. Guillaume adds a bit of vanilla as a reminder there was a party going on here.
Mojito Chypre has 10-12 hour longevity with above average sillage.
I’m having a lot of fun describing Mojito Chypre with lighthearted terms. What I don’t want to get lost is what an accomplished perfume this is from M. Guillaume. There were so many ways this could have gone wrong. Instead it has gone deliriously right. I know I will be humming a lot to myself this summer, “wasting away in mojitoville” as I wear Mojito Chypre.
As a special bonus those who read my The Sunday Magazine column know I like making cocktails. This seems like the place to share my Strawberry Mojito recipe.
½ fresh lime
Six leaves of mint
1 ½ sliced strawberries
2 oz of white rum
2 oz club soda
In a large glass place squeeze the lines and place the limes in the glass. Add in the sliced strawberries, and the mint. Use a muddler to crush all of them together. Add in ice, the rum and the club soda and give it a stir.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Pierre Guillaume.
Independent perfumer Irina Adam of Phoenix Botanicals has been one of my favorite of the young natural perfumers working currently. What sets her apart in my mind is her very keen curiosity on finding new materials to base her perfumes around. For her latest Ella it took a friend who had some vintage essences from around the 1920’s-1940’s.
Picture of a couple of the actual vintage essences found in Ella
In the description on her Etsy site of Ella Ms. Adam tells of her friend artist Anne Arden McDonald who shared three vintage essence with her to use in a perfume. For Ella these were vetiver, hay, and hyacinth. The last note would be the keynote to build Ella around. Ms. Adam introduced Ella at the Sunday lunch of the recent Sniffapalooza Spring Fling where she brought tiny samples of all three vintage essences. Besides this being a special experience I also got to share smelling these raw materials with perfumer Christophe Laudamiel and Michael Edwards of Fragrances of the World. The three of us remarked on how all of these typical perfume ingredients had gained a lot of depth with nearly one hundred years of age. They were exceptional ingredients to build a perfume around. Ms. Adam is definitely one who is up to this challenge and she uses one of each vintage essence in each phase of Ella.
The vintage hyacinth is what predominates throughout all of the development. I am a big fan of hyacinth and this vintage version has layers to it I have never experienced previously. Ms. Adam wisely uses a bit of galbanum as green contrast before allowing the floral bouquet of the heart to bear the hyacinth up on to their shoulders. Those florals are ylang ylang, honeysuckle, gardenia, and jasmine. In other circumstances the hyacinth would be trampled by those florals. This vintage version never lets that happen as it stays on top all the way through this phase. Next is a human skin accord constructed around the vintage hay mixed with tobacco, botanical musks, and clove. This accord is where Ella snaps into brilliant focus for me. As the hyacinth continues to ring out the hay forms a shimmering human skin accord underneath it all. It is something very special. The base notes provide the concept of this all being kept in a timeless curio cabinet. Sandalwood and moss combine with the vintage vetiver. The vintage vetiver on its own is so smooth and deeply woody it was nearly unrecognizable. As part of Ella there are enough other notes to sort of resurrect the green familiar qualities but they seem like whispers of its normal volume.
Ella has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
I have been impressed by Ms. Adam’s technical abilities for a while now but they have never been displayed as conspicuously as they are in Ella. Given exquisitely precious ingredients she has produced an exquisite perfume. This is obviously a limited edition because of the ingredients and it is going to be one of the top perfumes of 2015. This is one you will be sorry if you miss it.
Disclosure: This review based on a sample provided by Phoenix Botanicals.
One of the great things about Facebook is the anticipation it builds in me for upcoming perfumes from many of my favorite independent perfumers. Early this month Mandy Aftel posted a picture with the caption “Working at my organ on a new chypre perfume!” In a response to one of the comments she promised, “it has all the “real” stuff in it.” It would be barely a week later when Ms. Aftel contacted me to let me know a sample of her new solid perfume for Aftelier Perfumes, Bergamoss, was on its way.
Picture from Mandy Aftel's Facebook page of her working on Bergamoss
Ms. Aftel often releases her perfumes as solids versus liquid applications. The biggest difference I notice is how wearing a solid perfume might be the most intimate experience one can have in perfume. The act of taking a finger and dipping it into a pot and choosing where to apply it only adds to that feeling.
Bergamoss is indeed a chypre with all of the “real” stuff. It is also a chypre made personal which is a side effect of it being produced in a solid form. By making it in this form Ms. Aftel takes something well-known and transforms it into something more transparent. Because it has all of the appropriate components it makes one lean in looking for more. Bergamoss makes me take what it is willing to give. Once I stopped chasing and actually accepted the level of engagement it became much more compelling than it was on first sniff. By the time I had worn this a couple more times it was all about the compulsion to bring it closer.
Botanical drawing of flouve
Bergamoss opens with the promised “berg” of bergamot. The citrus quotient is doubled with orange added which provides a juiced up “berg” to start things. The heart is where things really come together. Ms. Aftel employs a particularly juicy peach in combination with citronellol and nutmeg for the heart. Nutmeg has a wonderful spiced sweetness which opens up the sweeter qualities of the citronellol and peach while also providing necessary grounding effects. After the first two acts we finally get to the “real” stuff. The base of Bergamoss is the “amoss” from the name and much more. The note which leads you into the base is called flouve absolute. Ms. Aftel says in the press release it is from the tops of French sweet grass. She also says it can be chameleon-like in a fragrance and the base of Bergamoss does have a seemingly shifting frame of reference and I am going to chalk that up to the flouve. The core of the base is real oakmoss and antique civet. Coumarin provides a bridge between the muskiness and the woody green. That leaves the flouve to provide the grace notes which it does throughout the great majority of time Bergamoss is on my skin. It goes from narcotic sweetness to intense greenness. This makes Bergamoss feel in constant motion.
Bergamoss lasts 6-8 hours and has almost no sillage to speak of.
Bergamoss is going to be one of those perfumes where my already high estimation of it only climbs higher the more I become familiar with it. Ms. Aftel has put the “real” stuff in a really excellent perfume. Dip your finger in and find your personal olfactory bliss in its intimate excellence.
Disclosure; this review was based on a sample provided by Aftelier Perfumes.
There are so many leather perfumes out there it is a challenge to stand out among them. Unlike single floral notes though leather perfumes have a bit of an advantage because the smell of leather in a perfume is an accord. An accord is as close as we get to an olfactory signature from a perfumer. I really like having the opportunity to compare the use of a leather accord by a perfumer when I can get a couple of new releases within a few months of each other. In the case of perfumer Vanina Murraciole it was her two recent releases for Le Galion which gave me an opportunity to examine her perfumed John Hancock.
Le Galion has begun to evolve away from being a heritage perfumery by moving away from re-creating Paul Vacher’s original releases into creating new perfumes based on the style of those early releases. Owner and creative director Nicolas Chabot has made a wise decision to do this. In Mme Murraciole he has found a perfumer who can capture that retro vibe and splice it onto something more modern. In my review of Aesthete I felt that one skewed so contemporary that it is the most modern of the line. For the other new one composed by Mme Murraciole, Cuir, this feels more akin to the originals with a very retro feeling to it. Both perfumes have Mme Murraciole’s leather accord in use. In Aesthete it is used as foundation for the other notes. It has a supple quality by being used at a lower concentration. In Cuir, as the name suggests, it is not part of the ensemble it is the star of the show with its name up in lights, or at least on the bottle. This transforms the leather into something less soft, more intriguing, and much more present.
Cuir opens up with bergamot and elemi. Mme Murraciole uses a lot of elemi and the lemon-tinted resin complements the bergamot. The opening is very reminiscent of many of the classic men’s fragrances of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. The leather accord comes next and it does nothing to break Cuir out of that time period. The leather accord smells like that well-worn biker jacket lovingly oiled and cared for. What I like about this leather accord is there is a strong oily character within which really makes it different for me. That aspect adds a slightly funky quality which might not be to everyone’s taste. I found myself drawn to it each time I wore Cuir. Mme Murraciole takes her accord and drapes it over a chair made of sandalwood where you can smell the sweaty body that had it on. The final notes of musk and sandalwood again return to feeling like they are directly from a perfume fifty years older.
Cuir has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
I found it interesting how well Mme Murraciole’s leather accord was able to be soft when used in support and to roar when it was the keynote. If you like your leather loud and uncomplicated Le Galion Cuir is one to add to your list.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Le Galion at Esxence 2015.
The whole concept of Cologne Absolue, that the brand Atelier Cologne is built around, is a story of concentration. By taking a cologne architecture and increasing the perfume oil concentration to greater than 15% they removed one of the most commonly mentioned drawbacks to cologne, the longevity. That Creative Director Sylvie Ganter-Cervasel has changed that particular characteristic has been one of the reasons that Atelier Cologne has flourished.
Another reason is the willingness of the brand to boldly redefine what a cologne can be constructed of. What I consider to be the inflection point where Mme Ganter-Cervasel truly proved to me Atelier Cologne was going to change things came with the simultaneous release in Fall 2012 of Vetiver Fatal and Rose Anonyme. Perfumer Jerome Epinette created two examples of light and dark which allowed me to consider what makes up a cologne. That these have been consistently two of the more popular entries in the line shows how this has resonated with consumers as well.
With that background I was extremely interested to receive the press release for Rose Anonyme Extrait. I was wondering what M. Epinette would do as he reworked his original for an even greater concentration. The answer is in upping the concentration from 18% in the original to 22% in the extrait it throws interesting shadows. In those shadows some new interactions come to the foreground.
Rose Anonyme Extrait begins near identically with bergamot and ginger on top. One of the first shadows is the presence of baie rose which is noticeable in this concentration while still being in the background. What is great about that subtle spiciness is that it opens the door for the rose to arise. The source of the rose in this perfume is from the Robertet rose fields in Turkey called Rose Petals Natural. This is one of the best rose raw materials I have ever come in to contact with. Used in higher concentration the spicy core which was apparent in the original is now made deeper and more luminous. Especially as the incense is also a much stronger presence in the higher concentration too. Together these provide a heartbeat to the extrait. Patchouli, papyrus, and vetiver provide an earthy grounding of the extrait as they did in the original. Vetiver substitutes for benzoin in the original and it has the effect of making it woody as well as earthy.
Rose Anonyme Extrait has overnight longevity and moderate sillage.
Rose Anonyme Extrait has everything the original had. It also contains more space for the difference in concentration to provide fascinating shading to a perfume you know well. Those shadows are worth seeking out especially if you are a an of the original. I expect the Rose Anonyme Extrait is going to become my preferred version when the weather turns colder, the days shorten, and the shadows lengthen.
Disclosure: this review was based on a press sample provided by Atelier Cologne.
If New York is the center of American Perfumery for the big firms then the West Coast is the hub for independent perfumery. It seems there is a gathering momentum of collaboration and creativity coming from there. Which makes it all the more interesting to try the new brands as they produce their first perfumes. I became aware of Sam Rader and her brand Dasein towards the end of 2014. She has been methodically working through the seasons as she started with Winter and Spring and now we have Summer.
I mention this a lot when referring to independent perfumers like Ms. Rader. They have a particular affinity with making unusual notes work. There are times when it can be refreshing. There are times when it can be downright confounding. I have to confess Summer started out confounding for me before becoming refreshing. The cause of the divergence in my opinion was Ms. Rader’s use of cilantro as a keynote. Just as it does when used in food it has a quite powerful green herbal effect. Just because I wanted to know I looked up how many times cilantro has made it into a perfume listed in the Fragrances of the World database. That search produced 30 entries all since 2001. I would have to suspect that it must be difficult to work with and balance. This is where an independent mindset works wonders as Ms. Rader takes this very powerful note, finding an ensemble that harmonizes with the booming presence of the cilantro.
Sam Rader (Photo: via Dasein blog)
Summer opens with the cilantro and only the cilantro. It is an unusual note and I think having looked at the note list prior to trying it I expected the grapefruit to be more prominent. The cilantro carries a variegated greenness which seems impossibly deep. Over time the grapefruit does make its entry via the more sulfurous facets of the citrus matching up with the similar facets in the cilantro. As the grapefruit rises in presence it provides a more familiar fragrance note to ground me. The very first time I wore this I badly needed it. The second and third times it was more harmonic as well as anticipated. Summer eventually transforms into a jasmine and orange blossom floral but the cilantro is still there providing leaf and stem along with the flowers. This is where Summer lingers for most of the time on my skin.
Summer has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I have to warn you that the cilantro is a bit of a prickly note to embrace, especially on first sniff. I would really encourage you to give Summer a second chance especially if you like herbal green fragrances. Ms. Rader is working out on the frontier here but it is something perfumery needs from time to time. Third time I wore this was on the first truly scorching hot day of summer and the cilantro really worked in the extreme heat as well as my beloved vetiver did. Everything that is great about the West Coast perfume scene is on display here in Summer.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.
There are times that my perfumed wishes do come true. From the first moments I became acquainted with the perfumes of Memo Paris I have wanted them to be available in the US. In the spring of 2015 my wish was granted as they were now found in select stores and online. What I have admired so much about this brand is the longtime collaboration between Creative Director Clara Molloy and perfumer Alienor Massenet. Theirs has been an ever evolving creative journey which I have been happy to follow along with.
For the seventeenth release Mmes Molloy and Massenet add to the Graines Vagabondes collection with a follow-up to last year’s Kedu. Much of the inspiration for all of the Memo perfumes comes from a specific place. The Graines Vagabondes goes even deeper by attempting to evoke the actual smell of the place. The new addition is called Ilha Do Mel.
Ilha Do Mel is a Brazilian island off the south coast. It is accessible only by ferry and there are no cars allowed on the island with most of it being an ecological preserve. The name of the island translates to Honey Island. The name comes from the intensely deep smell of the indigenous flowers which release their scent into the air. Mme Molloy wanted to capture this and Mme Massenet constructs her vision.
Ilha Do Mel opens with a juicy mandarin tempered by a tart juniper berry. This lasts for a very short period before the florals start to assemble. It starts with a swish of genet providing its subtle floralcy before that gives way. Hyacinth begins to increase the floral volume before jasmine and gardenia take it over the top. Orange blossom and orris also add to the festivities. This is floral with a flair. The one thing I found interesting about this is when you have all of these florals together they do form a kind of honey accord. It doesn’t seem to me like there is a distinct source of honey in the perfume. Instead I think Mme Massenet has let her flowers become the honey much like it does on the real Ilha Do Mel. Much later vetiver leads into a vanilla and musk base.
Ilha Do Mel has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Ilha Do Mel has a lush floral character that is very reminiscent of the tropics. It is also fascinating for how there are interesting intersections among all of the floral notes in the heart. For long periods on my skin the heart would fluctuate through the floral notes present. It made it a perfume that was always showing me something different from hour to hour. If you’ve wanted to wander a sandy trail surrounded by flowers of all kinds spray on some Ilha do Mel and take that walk in your mind.
Disclosure; this review was based on a sample of Ilha Do Mel provided by Memo.
There are times when it is extremely difficult for me to stifle a laugh when talking to a new brand. Usually it centers around the marketing language. One brand I had a difficult time keeping a straight face with, at Esxence 2015, was Malbrum. It was even harder when hearing the words coming out of a Norwegian man who could give Thor a run for his money based on looks. It was hard to know if Creative Director Kristian Malbrum was having fun with his over the top marketing copy or if he was serious. It was the description for Tigre du Bengale which had me chewing the inside of my cheek. Here it is off of the website, “The Bengal tiger urinates on a pile of bark. The scent transmits highly complex messages to other tigers about its sex, size, and social status.” I had no idea what I was in for when I lifted the strip to my nose.
Mr. Malbrum worked with perfumer Delphine Thierry on all three of the Volume I fragrances and the diversity among this collection is admirable. I am happy to report that Mme Thierry did not produce a perfume that smells like urine and wood. Tigre du Bengale is a warm comforting gourmandy oriental fragrance.
Mme Thierry crafts a Coca-Cola accord to open Tigre du Bengale. She combines juniper, cardamom, and bergamot to fashion an accord that smells of the soda. It smells more like a version where the carbonation has all been gone as it has a slightly syrupy quality without any effervescent notes to evoke the fizz of the soda. This moves into an opulent heart of myrrh and labdanum. The Coke accord lingers to mix with the resinous heart notes and it provides a different kind of subtle gourmand phase. The base is another unusual coupling as Mme Thierry combines licorice and leather. The herbal licorice matches surprisingly well with the leather accord. Tigre du Bengale ends on a predominantly leather note. Leather which has had a soda spilled on it and a few black Twizzlers ground into it. Both of the unusual gourmand notes murmur softly in the background all the way until the end.
Tigre du Bengale has 10-12 hour longevity and below average sillage as this is at extrait strength.
I am very happy that the promised randy tiger has stayed in the jungle. If there is a tiger here it is more like Hobbes of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. I found Tigre du Bengale to be a lot of fun to wear with the different accords Mme Thierry used throughout. I think it is one of the better leather fragrances I’ve tried recently.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I received at Esxence 2015.