I have a hypothesis about artisanal perfumers. I believe they would be much better if they had someone who would give them honest advice. I know many reach out to friends and customers but these aren’t necessarily impartial. I receive perfumes from artisanal creators who can’t stop altering them. In rare cases, I’ve received six different supposedly finished versions. It is hard to work by yourself which makes it easy for doubts to creep in. This can lead to that dilemma of the perfume being never quite finished in the perfumer’s mind. There is one brand which is helping to show that the best artisanal perfumers given creative direction and evaluation can have a positive impact; Zoologist Perfumes.
Victor Wong is the owner and creative director of the brand. In two years, over eight perfumes he has worked with six different artisanal perfumers. In every case the collaboration has produced some of the best work from each of the perfumers. With perfumer Shelley Waddington he first collaborated with her on Hummingbird released late in 2015. In that perfume, there was a real extension of Ms. Waddington’s facility with bright florals and luscious fruity notes. Now they have re-united for the latest release, Civet.
Ms. Waddington really blossomed as a perfumer in 2013 and has continued to improve since then. One particular standout for me was a trio of perfumes she released, under her EnVoyage Perfumes brand, called “Souvenir de Chocolate” in which she combined gourmand effects on top of vintage accords. There was one called Café Cacao where she paired ambergris and musk with coffee and chocolate. For Civet, the pairing of animalic and gourmand is explored again plus a blowsy tuberose also joins the fun.
The early moments of Civet are a judicious dusting of black pepper and tarragon over a fizzy set of citrus notes of lemon and orange. The spices are what move towards the heart allowing carnation to use its natural clove character to transport them towards the tuberose waiting there. This is tuberose in all of its glory. Which means it is intense it also means it is creamy with a camphoraceous grace note that if you love the classic vintage tuberoses it will remind you of that. Ms. Waddington skillfully surrounds the tuberose with a host of other florals to provide depth and texture to the overall effect. The coffee comes next and it is a plusher version of the note than I normally encounter. What has this softening effect is the synthetic version of civet oil, civettone. There are a group of perfume ingredients which only become pleasant in high dilution; civetone is one of them. The high dilution also helps in allowing the coffee to stand up to the stronger animalic nature of the synthetic civet. The tuberose is also still here and this is where Civet is finally complete as the tuberose, coffee, and civet form a complete accord. The remainder of Civet is a chypre accord comprised of leather, vetiver, oakmoss, and labdanum. If you’re a chypre lover this is not a perfume which I would primarily call it a chypre. It certainly ends there but it is the trio at the heart which give Civet its true voice.
Civet has 24-hour longevity and huge sillage. This is a powerhouse in every way that term is used in perfumery.
I imagine the effort Ms. Waddington and Mr. Wong put in to get this just right was prodigious. It shows in the final product. Civet is the best perfume of both of their careers to date. Which leads me back to my hypothesis. When two things come together you have to ask if they are additive, as in 3+3=6, or are they multiplicative, as in 3X3=9. Ideally the latter is what you are looking for. With Civet Mr. Wong and Ms. Waddington have multiplicatively created a spectacular perfume.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Zoologist Perfumes.
One of the things I find interesting about independent perfumers is they are olfactory ambassadors of where they live. It shouldn’t be surprising to find an artist inspired by their surroundings. I first learned of Shelley Waddington in 2010 as I tried her Debut de Carmel. At that time, she lived on the Monterey Peninsula in California. Over the next few years she would let that area of the world spark her creativity. Also, particularly, in the last two years she has hit her most creative phase as a perfumer. I have enjoyed her artistic growth and have looked forward to her new releases because of it.
Ms. Waddington has left California for the Pacific Northwest. She has set up her atelier in Portland, OR. When I heard this I was wondering how long it would be until we received a fragrance based on this new location. The answer was the sample I received a month ago called Rainmaker.
When I heard the name my mind was pulled towards the old tent shows in Dust Bowl America in the 1930’s where the preachers claimed to be able to use faith to make it rain. Ms. Waddington turned out to be more literal. She wanted Rainmaker to be a rainy day in the forests of the Northwest. Rainmaker is a perfume of soaring trees in a damp forest.
The first drops of Rainamker focus on pine. Ms. Waddington surrounds it with rose leaf, incense, and iris. Together these sharpen the pine effect rendering it almost metallic to my senses as I wore it. I say almost because every time I really felt it was heading that way it would snap back to pine. A rich patchouli sets up the smell of the damp forest woods. In the base is cedar, fir, and redwood. They are a woody fantasia. What pulls together the rainy milieu is Ms. Waddington’s use of petriichor. Petrichor is that smell of the forest after a rain. It is caused by the rain releasing the oils that have gathered on the surface of the leaves. It is Nature’s way of adding a base note to a thunderstorm. Ms. Waddington, doing her best Mother Nature impression, adds petrichor to Rainmaker to provide that same effect. It is a literal keynote as when it arrives it coalesces everything which has come previous to it.
Rainmaker has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I have to say if Rainmaker is a preview of things to come from Ms. Waddington I think I’m going to be delighted she decided to move on up to the NW side of the country.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by En Voyage.
The more time I spend out in farm country the more I find unexpected things which please me. One of those that snuck up on me is the little group of three hummingbirds which have also called our house their house during the spring and summer months. We have three feeders spaced throughout the outside of the house where we can observe them. It also seems like they like to observe us as I have caught them many times in a hover looking in. It has been about a month since they headed south to wherever they spend their winter months. Since I was missing them it was nice of Victor Wong of Zoologist to provide a fragrant replacement with his fourth release Hummingbird.
At the end of 2014 Mr. Wong founded Zoologist with a set of three releases. Mr. Wong was an avid participant in all of the online fragrance talk. When he started his own line he decided to work with some of the brightest lights in the independent perfume community. It is an interesting process to observe as an independent perfumer who, by the very nature of the name, enjoys being creative director as well as perfumer entering into a collaboration. The success of the first three Zoologist releases I think is testament to Mr. Wong’s ability to find the right balance. For Hummingbird he has asked Shelley Waddington to be his partner in perfume.
I have come to really enjoy Ms. Waddington’s way with floral notes. Hummingbird shows off that ability throughout most of the development of the perfume. The hummingbirds which buzz around our house are constantly in search of nectar. Ms. Waddington has collected a mélange of fruit and floral nectars into an ambrosial concoction that glistens with sweet droplets.
Hummingbird opens with fruit in front. Ms. Waddington uses pear, apple, cherry, and plum as her starters. These are not dried fruits with rich tones. These are juicy fully ripened fruity notes. They are not restrained it is a celebration of fruity notes. Ms. Waddington then matches that exuberance with a floral bouquet equally as strong. The components of that are muguet, lilac, mimosa, peony, and ylang-ylang. The three which take the lead are the lilac, peony and ylang-ylang. Lilac on its own takes a firm hand to keep it from smelling like air fresheners. Ms. Waddington deftly avoids this by using the peony and ylang-ylang to add real depth to the lilac. After having gorged on the nectar these hummingbirds retreat to the surrounding trees to take a momentary rest. While it turns woody it doesn’t dial down the richness quotient. Sandalwood, moss, amber, and coumarin form a lovely soft woody resting place for Hummingbird to roost upon.
Hummingbird has 16-18 hour longevity and above average sillage.
It will be a few months until the real things start flitting about. Until then Hummingbird will make me not miss them quite as much.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Zoologist.
When it comes to perfume inspirations famous historical figures are a common place for a perfumer to start. The hazard in choosing to do this is these kind of larger-than-life figures also have lived in different people’s imaginations in very personal ways. That is why even though a perfumer might make a fragrance which matches their impression there might not be a general agreement on that. Independent perfumer Shelley Waddington has already successfully navigated this path with last year’s stunning Zelda inspired by Zelda Fitzgerald. Now a year on she takes on another woman with a singular life story, Frida Kahlo, in the new perfume Frida.
Frida Kahlo was like one of those heroines in a historical novel who seems to be there when important people show up. The difference is she is a real person. She is most known for her paintings. She was also involved with Diego Rivera and Leon Trotsky after he fled to Mexico from Russia. She was bisexual and had an affair with the singer Josephine Baker. Ms. Waddington was drawn to her “unconventional style” and decided to make a fragrance centered on tuberose. She surrounds it with touchstones of other parts of Ms. Kahlo’s life.
Frida Kahlo (Photo by Guillermo Kahlo)
Ms. Waddington opens her assay of Ms. Kahlo’s life in her garden where she grew herbs and vegetables. The very vegetal green accord Frida opens with is that smell of green leafy things growing in abundance. She uses a healthy dose of agave which places the setting as Mexico. I really thought this was an interesting choice as it indelibly fixes the geographical place of this fragrance. Tuberose is next to show up. This is a lush tuberose fully rounded and soft. In Frida some of the greener and mentholated character has been greatly diminished. What remains is the indolic floralcy. The tuberose takes over the middle phase and allows for a little nuance to be added by hibiscus but the tuberose is always on top. As that tuberose looks for a foundation to settle upon Ms. Waddington chooses a woody base. As the tuberose matches the woody notes it later evolves one last time into a musky accord rounded off by tobacco. The later stages of Frida are really spectacular as everything that has come before hits a crescendo.
Frida has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
When I wore Zelda I was immediately transported to the 1920’s. Frida not only transports me to Ms. Kahlo’s time but also her place. What I like most about Frida is not only has Ms. Waddington created a fragrance made up of parts of Ms. Kahlo’s life she has also managed to find the heart underneath the icon. I have said it before Ms. Waddington has been on an impressive creative streak over the last 18 months. Frida continues the upward trend.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by En Voyage Perfumes
The 1920’s and The Lost Generation make up one of my favorite eras. Not only from a historical perspective but also that of societal change. I would say that it would take until the 1960’s before society would undergo a similar change driven by the youth of the time. It seems that perfumer Shelley Waddington of En Voyage Perfumes has also become interested in this time and place. Her interest was piqued by working on her homage to Zelda Fitzgerald called Zelda which came out last year. Ms. Waddington began to delve into the perfumed history of the time and also began to wonder what Zelda might have worn. The 1920’s were great years for perfumery with Ernest Daltroff’s work at Caron right at the top of the class. Ms. Waddington came to the conclusion that Caron Bellodgia from 1927 would be Zelda’s choice.
Caron Bellodgia was M. Daltroff’s carnation-centric floral on a base of sandalwood and musk. For her re-interpretation, Fiore di Bellagio, Ms. Waddington adds some well-chosen additions to the florals from Bellodgia to create modern perfume with the inspiration of M. Daltroff’s classic. All of the ingredients present in Bellodgia are found in Fiore di Bellagio. Ms. Waddington carefully chooses some new additions like citrus on top, gardenia in the heart, and resins and vanilla in the base. All of these extra notes work very well and never disturb the 1920’s vibe Ms. Waddington is attempting.
The same ylang ylang Belodgia opens with is in Fiore di Bellagio. Ms. Waddington decides to add a green shrubbery accord along with lemon. The lemon in particular adds depth and contrast to the ylang ylang. This opens onto a floral blockbuster of a heart. The carnation is front and center but it is just part of a floral fusillade of gardenia, jasmine, rose otto, orris, muguet, and violet. Ms. Waddington makes it so each of these notes can be picked out like concentrating on a single instrument in an orchestral work. While you can do that you are better served by enjoying the overall effect. Fiore di Bellagio feels like a throwback and it only becomes more pronounced in the base. Ms. Waddington trots out a beautiful aged sandalwood and civet to have the Bellodgia base notes present. She chooses to round those out with a rich vanilla to turn the sandalwood sweeter and creamier as well as a group of resinous notes which keeps the civet from being as feral as it could be.
Fiore di Bellagio has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Ms. Waddington has done a marvelous job creating a companion piece to Zelda. Both creations create a wonderful “out of time” sensation without feeling like museum pieces. If you are a fan of Zelda or Retro Nouveau perfumes Fiore di Bellagio is one to put on your sampling list.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by En Voyage Perfumes.
There is a moment with every independent perfumer where they hit an inflection point. From then onward they enter a better more complete phase of perfume-making. Often you see the threads of things in their early fragrances strengthened and a real development of a personal aesthetic. It is a joy when I get a sample from the indie perfumers I think are on the verge of this kind of success to see if that will be the inflection point. In 2013 over the course of her two releases, Zelda and A Study in Water, perfumer Shelley Waddington of En Voyage Perfumes hit that place where her fragrances truly came of age. In both of those perfumes Ms. Waddington reached back for classic inspiration as starting points to go off in two delightfully distinct directions. Of course for these to truly signal the sea change I expected it would depend on what Ms. Wadidngton followed them up with. For 2014 she has created three fragrances within what she has called the Souvenir de Chocolate collection. As promised in Café Cacao, Captured in Amber, and Indigo Vanilla there is chocolate; but it is what else is included that truly delivers on Ms. Waddington’s talent.
In Café Cacao Ms. Waddington was going for a scented version of “Parisienne café mocha” crossed with Marie Antoinette, who added ambergris to her hot cocoa; and Empress Josephine who impregnated the walls of the palace with musk. In the early going it is all steaming hot café mocha. In Paris they must sprinkle some cardamom on their mochas because it provides spicy contrast to the sweetness of the cream and vanilla present around the chocolate. From here the French historical divas have their way as Marie adds some real ambergris, beachcombed from New Zealand, and Josephine embeds the musk. Together they provide a combination of animalic, briny, sweet coffee. That might sound like something you wouldn’t want to experience but Ms. Waddington has worked with her raw materials and positioned them just so to result in something very unique.
Amber is a resin which can preserve things trapped within in a timeless matrix. Captured in Amber is Ms. Waddington’s nod to “the opiated Oriental fantasies that gripped turn-of-the-century Paris and London.” The key here is through the arts was how most of Europe was becoming acquainted with the Orient and so it led to emphasis on the more attention getting aspects of behavior encountered by those translating it into art. Captured in Amber also captures that larger-than-life quality as Ms. Waddington goes for opulent to the nth degree. It starts with a swish of bitter orange before her amber accord takes over. Ms. Waddington tames a whole cornucopia of resins to create this sumptuous amber accord. You can pick the strands apart, but why bother, because the whole is so much greater than the parts. For all the complexity in creating her amber accord the rest of Captured in Amber is simplicity as first a very dark chocolate and more of the real ambergris combine to provide the foundation of Captured in Amber.
I’m not sure where Ms. Waddington hangs out when in New Orleans but I need to find out because in Indigo Violet her inspiration is “New Orleans hot chocolate” which seems to have violet sugar added to the traditional ingredients. For this last fragrance in the Souvenir de Chocolate collection she starts with a sugared violet. This is crystalline violet sparkling with sweetness. It slowly sinks into a creamy luxuriant accord equal parts chocolate and cream. I think many perfumers would have continued the gourmand theme and finished with more foodie notes. Instead Ms. Waddington resurrects the French royalty from Café Cacao and ambergris and musk again provide the finish. This time they seem much more sensual and intimate than they do in Café Cacao, which again shows Ms. Waddington’s ability to tune similar notes to disparate effect.
All three fragrances in the Souvenir de Chocolate collection have 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
The virtue of being an indie perfumer allows Ms. Waddington the freedom to use exquisite ingredients, like the New Zealand ambergris, in her small batches. That it shows up in all three of these fragrances means she could easily have called it Souvenir de Ambergris. Really though it is the different forms of chocolate and the skill Ms. Waddington brings to bear which are the true stars of this fragrant show. Take a bow Madame your star continues to ascend.
Disclosure: this review was based on samples provided by En Voyage Perfumes.