When I was hiking in the Desert Southwest of the US my favorite time of the day was just before the sun would come up. With false dawn providing a bit of diffuse light the desert never smelled so alive. This probably has something to do with it being the coolest part of the day. Before the sun and the harsh conditions bake everything to a crisp; in the hour just before sunrise the scent on the air reminds you that there is lots of life in the seeming lifelessness. Creative Director of Byredo Ben Gorham asked perfumer Jerome Epinette to make a perfume based on one of those flowers which survive in the desert, the Ghost Flower (Mohavea Confertiflora). The perfume is fittingly called Mojave Ghost.
When I received my press materials for this perfume that I expected to be about the desert there was listed an ingredient from the tropics which really upped my anticipation. This ingredient was Jamaican Naseberry or as it is called elsewhere, Sapodilla. I loved eating Sapodilla as a kid as it had the taste of brown sugar and cinnamon on a flesh which was apple-like. I always thought it was like getting cooked cinnamon apples off of a tree. When I would split the flesh of a sapodilla that mix of spicy sweet would meet my nose as I took my first bite. M. Epinette really enjoys using the entire arsenal of natural raw materials he has access to from Robertet and in Mojave Ghost he makes this tropical ingredient fit his desert milieu.
If you have spent any time at all in the desert there is an indigenous slightly spicy smell to it. The closest I can compare it to is cinnamon but so ethereal as to be a ghost of it. This is where the sapodilla plays its part as the brown sugar and cinnamon quality are right on top and M. Epinette adds in ambrette seeds to give a natural muskiness underneath the spiciness. This is very close to that smell I get from the desert. The heart moves into a bit of astringent floralcy with magnolia and violet over sandalwood. M. Epinette keeps this very sheer keeping it wraith-like in nature as it almost feels insubstantial only to coalesce again and gather some more presence. The base is cedarwood, amber, and clean white musk. All of the base notes are also kept on the ethereal side as well.
Mojave Ghost has 8-10 hour longevity but it is so sheer you might think it has worn off when it hasn’t. Sillage is moderate as you might expect.
Mojave Ghost is such a transparent perfume that I think for those who aren’t fans of this kind of opaque construction it might be frustrating. I am a big fan of a perfume which acts as a ghost flitting in and out of my consciousness ever floating on the periphery. Mojave Ghost is that beautiful moment just before the sun explodes over the horizon in an orange fireball in the high desert except the perfume lasts well into the light of day.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Byredo.
There seems to be a pattern that all perfume lines which have been around for years go through. At first they are new and exciting. Then they enter middle age and very often they go through a mid-life crisis of sorts looking back to former triumphs via flankers and reformulations. Then there are two tracks which follow from here; either the line fades to irrelevance or it gets a creative rejuvenation. Annick Goutal is at this cross roads right now. The last good perfume release from them was Ninfeo Mio at the beginning of 2010. In the over four years since, the nine releases have been surprisingly poor. What is more surprising is the creative team of Creative Director Camille Goutal and perfumer Isabelle Doyen have remained intact. As a result the sample of the latest release Vent de Folie was not high up on my list to test. That changed when I was at Sniffapalooza Fall Ball and sniffed it there. Maybe just maybe the grande dame still had something to show after all.
Isabelle Doyen (l.) and Camille Goutal
I am glad I returned to the press materials after having sniffed because there is a definite attempt to appeal to a younger perfume wearer. Vent de Folie doesn’t try to break out of the sheer fruity floral mode seemingly prized among that set. If there is a bit of a quibble with Vent de Folie is it is seemingly so safely constructed. A fruity top, a floral heart, and a woody musk base. This is the recipe of hundreds of perfumes all vying for that elusive young demographic. Despite that Mme Doyen manages to make this an interesting version of well-trodden territory.
I think what grabbed me was the opening fruity fusillade. It isn’t subtle. In truth I wouldn’t disagree heartily with someone who found it to be over the top. I think it is exactly that excessive layering of the fruity notes which made me give this a second chance because when Mme Doyen works in overdose she often provides interesting insights. For the top notes of Vent de Folie that is what happens for me. She combines blood orange, blackcurrant buds, and raspberry. Each one of these is present in high concentration. The blood orange at that level shows off more of its tartness. The blackcurrant buds show off the sticky green, almost urinous, quality. The raspberry provides a saccharine foundation. All together they sing in three-part harmony which I found lovely to listen to. Unfortunately the rest of the development is very straight forward as rose and geranium provide the floral foil to the fruit and cedar and white musks provide a clean finish.
Vent de Folie has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
For at least the first hour of Vent de Folie there was a vital pulse again in Annick Goutal. I was reminded when the line used to take risks. The remainder of the time I wore Vent de Folie the patient lapsed back into the creative coma it has been mired in. When you are hoping for a recovery though you will latch on to any small sign. Which is what I’m hoping for as perhaps Vent de Folie is a sign of better days and better perfumes to come.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample of Vent de Folie provided by Annick Goutal.
Wherever I have lived there is always a bit of a local mythology about things that go bump in the night. Now that I live in Maryland one of its most famous sons Edgar Allan Poe is a source of pride and inspiration especially as Halloween approaches. One of the more unique celebrations of Poe’s life was practiced for over seventy years. The tradition of the Poe Toaster who would show up at the gravesite in the early morning hours of January 19, Poe’s birthday. The Poe Toaster was dressed all in black with their face covered by a scarf carrying a cane. The Poe Toaster would lay three roses on the grave and pour a glass of Martell cognac raise a silent toast and leave the unfinished bottle next to the roses. The tradition started sometime in the 1930’s and ended in 2009 on the bicentennial of Poe’s birth.
David Frossard the creative director at Frapin Perfumes had heard of this tradition and wanted to make a perfume as a homage to this. The perfumer he chose to work with is Anne-Sophie Behaghel. The result is the new release Frapin Nevermore. Mme Behaghel was going to be the right choice for this because as I read her bio on the Flair website it starts with, “I was born in Paris with the all-pervasive smell of concrete and the Metro in my nostrils.” It serves her well as she evokes a chilly night in a graveyard of concrete grave markers with roses and alcohol added in.
Mme Behaghel sets the stage of a January early morning as she takes a combination of ozonics, aldehydes, and black pepper to create a frozen concrete accord. This is a bit of fragrant scene setting but it might be my favorite part of Nevermore. There is an almost frozen density to the opening moments. Next the roses come out to play as she mixes Rose de Mai and Damask Rose with a rose essential oil. The figurative three roses laid on the grave. As a perfume these three rose sources are blended into a heady middle stanza. As if the rose wasn’t enough Mme Behaghel dunks them in wine. I think this is an excellent choice because if she went with the cognac I think it might not have been as well balanced. The wine adds a deep ruby foundation for the roses to float upon. Now it is time for the Poe Toaster to make his escape and they do so in a swirl of ambrox, saffron, and cedar.
Nevermore has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Nevermore is a fascinating perfume which manages to straddle a line between unabashedly old fashioned and completely modern. The opening accord could be used for an urban jungle perfume and along with the ambrox in the base that makes Nevermore seem contemporary. The wine and roses in the heart seem to hearken back to a day when those ingredients were the stuff of civility and refinement. All together Mme Behaghel makes Nevermore a fascinating study in perfumed storytelling. I think Poe would approve.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I purchased.
For those of us who love niche perfume we have to be hopeful that the number of people interested in it continues to grow over time. For most who fall down the rabbit hole of artistic perfumery it happens through being introduced to the world from an avid perfume lover who will share. Or you might stumble across a boutique carrying brands you’ve never heard of and fall in love with one. That way requires expansion through word of mouth or chance. Over the past few years we have seen niche brands expand outward by ingenious partnerships with other more populist brands. Sephora has begun to offer some niche brands on their fragrance shelves again. The hard thing is that sometimes making the jump to something so different, from the mainstream, is a big leap. Sometimes it seems like if there was a bit of an intermediate step offered it might help make the transition a bit easier.
I had this exact conversation with Roberto Drago who is well-known in niche circles as the creative director of Laboratorio Olfattivo. Sig. Drago is well aware that having a line of perfumes which can be seen as transitional would be good for business. Towards that end he has a line, he also creative directs, which attempts to do that called Jacques Zolty. These are meant to be easily worn fragrances which show much of what makes niche perfume interesting without becoming so complex as to be aloof. One of the most recent releases for this line has straddled this line brilliantly and is called Van-Ile.
Vanilla is an ideal focal point for a perfume trying to complete this delicate kind of balancing act. Vanilla is a comforting familiar component to most who wear mainstream perfumes. Sig. Drago asked perfumer Cecile Zarokian to be the one to realize this. Mme Zarokian does a wonderful job of balancing this so that it carries widespread appeal to the longtime niche perfume lover and the person deciding to give something new a try.
Van-Ile is a very simple structure which opens with the figurative perfume version of “once upon a time” as citrus in the form of orange is what you encounter first. As Van-ile proceeds into the heart it uses jasmine as a safe haven but here is where Mme Zarokian offers a little something more as a nutty almond adds a toasty quality to the floral notes. It also is a great note to usher in the vanilla. The vanilla here is that of the vanilla orchid. Which means besides the immediately recognizable sweet vanilla there are also green flares throughout. Some oakmoss picks up and accentuates those green moments. It all finishes in a safe patchouli foundation.
Van-Ile last 8-10 hours with average sillage.
Van-Ile does exactly what it sets out to do as Mme Zarokian mixes the common with just a bit of uncommon. It allows someone who is familiar with mainstream perfumes to take a slight step towards the world of niche. For me I enjoy it for the simple good-natured companion it can be for a day of running errands because even someone who wears as much perfume as I do likes something a little less challenging once in a while.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Jacques Zolty at Pitti Fragranze.
There is no collection in perfumery which more fully captures my attention than the Hermessences. Composed by Hermes in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena these deceptively simple constructs have been called everything from perfumed haiku to olfactory watercolors. Without looking back I’ve probably used these terms to describe these perfumes as well. It is an unsatisfactory way to capture the beauty of the best of the Hermessence entries. When they work it provides some of the most heartbreakingly beautiful moments in all of olfactory art. The most recent release Cuir D’Ange is one of the best in the collection.
Cuir D’Ange translates to Angel’s Leather and it was inspired by a visit M. Ellena made to the vault where the leather used to make Hermes accessories is stored. This visit was made in 2004 when he first came on-board as in-house nose. He knew as he walked amidst the stacks of tanned skins he wanted to capture this essence. One of the things that makes capturing a specific leather essence is the perfumer has to create a leather accord as there is no single note which mimics leather. Most often the components of a leather accord are deep heavy things like birch tar as it was for the classic leathers of the early 20th century. For Cuir D’Ange M. Ellena found a fusion of floral notes to complement his leather accord which makes it smell as if it is a Hermes purse or wallet which has been handled by a woman wearing the most delicate floral perfume.
M. Ellena uses hawthorn as his top note in Cuir D’Ange. Hawthorn is one of my favorite ingredients when used well as it imparts an indolic component along with the floral character. It is a great choice to start with as the indoles stick to the leather template which is also present from the first moments. The leather accord is that of a supple soft leather which smells of opulence. It is by turns dry and then voluptuous. In the early going it the dry aspect which matches up with the hawthorn. Then like the named angel unfurling its wings heliotrope arrives and Cuir D’Ange takes wing. The faux violet nature of heliotrope is perfect as it lifts the leather up and makes it feel luxurious, as a Hermes leather should feel. The final ingredient is a musk which evokes the smell of sun warmed skin. It is an especially apt finishing note as it becomes a duet of processed skin and living skin. It may sound a bit macabre but it is a fascinating study as it lingers on your skin.
Cuir D’Ange has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
One of the things which allows the Hermessence line to stand out is not just the construction but how M. Ellena is able to take a relatively few notes and be so expansive. Cuir D’Ange might be the most successful of all in this collection at providing transitional grace notes. Despite the notes I describe above each of those notes carries subtle undertones and at different points you will get a hint of iris or a suspicion of almonds. Cuir D’Ange is a perfume which allows all of my senses to soar to new heights.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by the Hermes boutique in Vienna, VA.
When it comes to designer perfumes on display in the department stores I have found that the ones with clear connections to the brand on the label are the most successful. The Italian leather luxury goods brand Bottega Veneta has flourished under the brand and creative direction of Tomas Maier. Starting in 2001 he turned Bottega Veneta into a complete luxury goods enterprise. This would finally spread to perfume with the release of 2011’s Bottega Veneta. That was one of the best designer perfumes released that year and in the five successive releases since then it has become clear that Bottega Veneta is going to make as big an impact in fragrance as they do in purses.
The most recent release is Bottega Veneta Knot. It is inspired by the line of clutches which have a knot clasp on top. Perfumer Daniela Andrier has created an olfactory Gordian Knot in which she takes four exquisitely constructed accords and brings them together in an orange blossom focused creation that almost seems a bit too edgy for the department store.
The first accord from Mme Andrier is that freshly washed linen evocation. It is comprised of aldehydes and lavender. The aldehydes give that hint of the remains of the detergent used to wash the linen. The lavender adds a crispness to it all with a green tint. The orange blossom arrives on a stiff sea breeze as Mme Andrier uses mandarin to usher in the orange blossom over the top of the ozonic cascade used to mimic the sea spray. This is the cleaned up version of orange blossom. Mme Andrier lets it linger for a short while before adding what she calls a mothballs accord of cedar and indoles. The indoles in particular serve to add a lot of depth to the orange blossom and the cedar frames it. Despite the suggestion of mothballs I mostly get a full spectrum orange blossom. The remaining accord is focused on peony which is supported by a foundation of rose and tonka.
Bottega Veneta Knot has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Mme Andrier has captured the texture of the woven nature of a Bottega Veneta purse as each of the accords acts as its own strip of material to be woven tightly with the others. Most mainstream releases do not have this level of texture and intricacy to them. When I think back to the ones which do it seems like Mme Andrier has also been behind those as well. Bottega Veneta Knot is one of the finest designer releases of the year and an excellent reason to visit the department store fragrance counter.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Bottega Veneta.
One of the first Tom Ford Private Blend perfumes released in 2007 was Amber Absolu. For many, including myself, it is one of the best entries of the Private Blend collection. By giving perfumer Christophe Laudamiel the direction to create a study in amber creative directors Tom Ford and Karen Khoury would repeat this starting with Oud Wood. The latest release, Patchouli Absolu, is another exploration of one of the most used notes in all of perfumery.
For this they turned to the same perfumer behind Oud Wood Richard Herpin. What made Oud Wood work so well was M. Herpin’s ability to surround oud with a set of notes not containing rose which allowed the full versatility of this, at the time, unusual perfume note to be displayed. With Patchouli Absolu his job is much different as he has to take a note probably every person who has any interest in fragrance is familiar with and make it different. He accomplishes this by making a refined version of patchouli. You could even say it is a patchouli which has been to a Tom Ford Men’s Store and fitted for a tux. It has the power you are familiar with but it is now refined and elegant as well.
One of the ways M. Herpin does this is by using patchouli flower as one of his top notes. Patchouli comes from extraction of the leaves and the flower is not used very often because it is a more ephemeral version of what you get from the leaves. M. Herpin can do this because he matches it with a new aromachemical called Clearwood from Firmenich. Clearwood comes from a fermentation of sugar cane. Firmenich describes clearwood as a “Soft, clean version of patchouli without the earthy, leathery, and rubbery notes found in the natural oil.” It is this clearer version of patchouli which allows the patchouli flower to add back the parts that are missing but with a degree of subtlety. This opening sets the tone for the rest of the development as this patchouli is tamed. Even when after an herbal intermezzo of bay and rosemary the patchouli which comes from the leaves arrives it is also more controlled in every way like the man who has his name on the bottle. The base segues into a leather and woods finish surrounding the patchouli in a luxurious frame.
Patchouli Absolu has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
The funny thing about Patchouli Absolu is when you try it at first it seems very simple, maybe too simple, especially on a mouillette. I really didn’t find Patchouli Absolu compelling until I wore it. Once it was on my skin it became more expansive exponentially. On the strip is was all closed up; on my skin the very intricate opening truly comes to life. The use of Clearwood was a very smart choice by M. Herpin and it really showed once I was wearing it. Patchouli Absolu is a Tom Ford patchouli and that gives it a degree of luxury this ubiquitous note rarely finds.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.
It is no secret that one of my favorite fragrance categories is incense fragrances. One of my favorite perfumers within that category is Bertrand Duchaufour. As I recounted in Perfumer Rewind from 2002-2007 I called him The High Priest of Resins for his facility with all kinds of incense notes. After that article was published I received an e-mail letting me know M. Duchaufour was returning to his resinous roots for an upcoming new perfume which would have a higher concentration of incense than any that came before. Often more is better but sometimes more is just too much. With M. Duchaufour at the helm the new release Aedes de Venustas Copal Azur reveals, in the hands of the master insense perfumer, more is just a new kind of beauty realized.
Karl Bradl (l.) and Robert Gerstner
Aedes de Venstas is the line from the perfume store of the same name in New York City. Owners Karl Bradl and Robert Gerstner have been the creative directors for three previous fragrances. They return to working with M. Duchaufour who was the perfumer behind the first Aedes de Venustas perfume in this collection. They clearly felt that M. Duchaufour could bring something new to the incense perfume. One of the new things for M. Duchaufour was to work with a new incense source, copal. Copal comes primarily from Central America where it was used as an indigenous incense source during pre-Columbian times. It is also a component in some varnishes. M. Duchaufour had to be careful in how he used it in Copal Azur because if he used too much he would risk it smelling like varnish. He did not disappoint as he incorporated the new resin into his existing arsenal of resins.
Copal Azur starts with a bit of an oceanic aspect as a mix of salt and ozone evoke a turbulent ocean. The copal comes next and it has a bit of a sharper edge to it than other incense sources. I think if this had gone much higher in concentration it might have been unpleasant. In Copal Azur it just sets the stage for frankincense to match it with its own slightly metallic nature that all fine frankincense seems to have. Cardamom and patchouli add some levity to the incense action. The base is the sweetness of myrrh matched with tonka and amber. The myrrh elides away the rough edges and takes Copal Azur deeper and softer. The final phase of Copal Azur is almost a study in the contrast of strength and softness. Whenever Copal Azur reached the late stages of development I always felt it culminated in a full spectrum incense accord.
Copal Azur has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
It was a pleasure having M. Duchaufour return to that with which he was so successful with and create another perfume that is amazing. Copal Azur is a perfume for incense lovers which delivers it with an unmatched power.
Disclsoure: This review was based on a sample provided by Aedes de Venustas at Pitti Fragranze.
True androgyny, the combination of masculine and feminine characteristics, is not an easy thing to pull off without becoming caricature. In music David Bowie, Grace Slick, Annie Lennox, and Lady Gaga exemplify this. In perfumery this concept has been less adroitly realized. If you are going to try and do this rose would not be the first focal point I might consider as a candidate. Which goes to show why I review perfumes and don’t make them. Creative Directors Elise Juarros and Rosa Vaia of Coquillete Paris have decided rose is the perfect place to start with to make an androgynous perfume. Tudor is the result of this effort.
Rosa Vaia (l.) and Elise Juarros
One of the hall marks of the first five perfumes from Coquillete Paris was their easy affability while wearing them. I had compared them to your favorite t-shirt and jeans when reviewing them in the past. For this sixth fragrance Tudor does not show that easy going nature. On the website there is a proverb which reads, “The rose falls, the thorns remain.” This is a good description of Tudor as it is more stem and thorn than bloom which is because there is no actual rose in the perfume.
Tudor opens with the green stemminess in place courtesy of geranium and muguet. The geranium also supplies some of the rose nuance. The heart goes for more rose that is not a rose with rosewood supplying the rosiness. There is also a fabulously pungent soil accord which further advances the concept it is about everything but the bloom. The base is a richly resinous mix of benzoin, labdanum, and ambergris. It is sweetened with a hint of vanilla but this stays tilted towards the warm side for the final moments.
Tudor has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I was surprised that Tudor was so different than the previous five perfumes in the collection. I was told at Pitti Fragranze that Tudor is meant to be a conclusion to this original collection. I was also told it contains at least one note in common with the previous five perfumes to make it a fitting capstone to the fragrant story. I said at the beginning that androgyny in perfumery is hard; based on Tudor it may be easier than I think.
Disclsoure: This review was based on a sample from Coquillete Paris provided at Pitti Fragranze.
The weather is cooling off here as the calendar flips to mid-October. This generally triggers the grand migration of my warm-weather scents to the back of the shelf as the bigger bolder cold-weather perfumes move forward. It is at this point in the year I bid au revoir to my citrus perfumes. Almost all of my favorites do not do well underneath sweaters and scarves. There are mornings where I look at them but I know they are waiting for a warmer day. I have always wanted a citrus perfume which would be able to stand up and be counted in the chill of the fall. When I was at Pitti Fragranze I discovered a new line, to me, and the winter citrus I’ve been looking for in Peccato Originale Antidoto.
As a medicinal chemist the Peccato Originale display caught my eye because it had a lot of the old pharmaceutical accoutrements used to treat patients about a hundred years ago. Creative Director Silvia Monti’s family has owned a chemist’s shop for generations. From that inspiration she designed Peccato Originale to be a fragrant medicine, “something that goes beyond its function, it becomes an emotional support, a traveling companion that, sometimes, stays at your side for a lifetime.” Sig.ra Monti has released four fragrances to date Antidoto is one of the two newest releases.
When I was being introduced to the line and we came to Antidoto I was told that this was a citrus that would last longer than any I have tried. I’ve heard that before and after a few hours the proof is no longer on my skin. It was explained to me before spraying it on that Sig.ra Monti wanted Antidoto to be a potent antidote and to jump start the internal systems. Once I sprayed a bit of Antidoto on my skin my internal clock started ticking. Twelve hours later it was still going strong. In fact the citrus in Antidoto goes so strong the heart and base notes of mate tea and rum have a difficult time making themselves known.
The citrus bouquet of Antidoto is made up of petitgrain, lemon, mandarin, and grapefruit. All are present in overdose and then the note which helps knit them together and make them last for a long time is a high percentage of hedione. The jasmine quality of hedione acts as a fixative to the top notes and allows them to elongate their presence over many hours. The other note in the top accord is a great green cardamom. That cardamom, hours into the development, will help delineate the mate tea as it forces its way into perception. Another couple of hours later a rich dark rum accord finishes this off. Even throughout the mate and rum drydown the citrus notes dance like fireflies on top of the heavier notes.
Antidoto has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Antidoto is a fascinating perfume to wear because of this elongated development. It makes it seem like I had applied different perfumes throughout the day. Fresh citrus then green tea and citrus finally a rum cocktail with a twist of citrus. Every time I wore Antidoto it lived up to its name as it was the antidote to my dilemma of being able to wear a citrus perfume in the colder weather.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Peccato Originale at Pitti Fragranze.