Just over two years ago I became aware of the Paris perfume brand Ex Nihilo. It has become a brand for whom I look forward to their new releases because the creative direction of the three founders of the brand; Sylvie Loday, Olivier Royere, and Benoit Verdier. They began with a well-thought out brand vision and for the last two years have stuck to that. Starting this past April, they announced a new collection called Iconoclaste meant to celebrate the free thinkers among us. The first release is called Citizen X.
Ex Nihilo Creative Team
The group of perfumers the Ex Nihilo creative team has worked with so far have fit the brand concept. For the first Iconoclaste they chose one of the best perfumers working who has always impressed me with his ability to work creatively when given that freedom, Yann Vasnier. With Citizen X it seems like M. Vasnier has found a place to stretch his ingenuity. Citizen X is a resinous iris perfume. M. Vasnier uses a couple different resins to sandwich the heart of iris.
The resin on top of Citizen X is mastic. Mastic is a lighter version of the green galbanum usually provides to perfumes. By using it for Citizen X M. Vasnier uses that brighter verdancy to good effect as he boosts it with white pepper. The pepper adds a clean piquancy to the lemony woody nature of the mastic. Next come the iris. This iris has some powdery parts but they are mostly background as the earthier character is enhanced by the mastic. The second half of the resins arrive with incense. This is typical incense and it provides both complement and contrast to the mastic. It also helps to keep the powder well in the background. This is where Citizen X spends most of its development. Over hours some musk provides the final roundness to Citizen X.
Citizen X has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
Citizen X is a good start to the Iconoclaste collection. M. Vasnier’s use of resins and iris is creatively done while expanding the Ex Nihilo brand overall.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Ex Nihilo.
Arquiste is another one of those perfume brands which I consider to be “mine”. The criteria to be considered “mine” is that it started about the time I started to get serious about writing on perfume. I’ve been trying to remember the first time I met Carlos Huber the owner/creative director of Arquiste. While I don’t remember the place Sr. Huber is one of the most genuine personalities in perfumery. He came to perfume from training as an architectural historian. Every Arquiste perfume starts with a brief which describes a place and time period. He then managed to find two perfumers with whom he has exclusively worked with by themselves and in tandem; Rodrigo Flores-Roux and Yann Vasnier. Together since their debut in 2011 they have created a brand aesthetic which now announces itself with each new release. Obviously, I think this is a fragrance collection worth checking out; here are the five to start with.
When you get around other perfume lovers and you both really like the same perfume there is a combination of sounds and facial expression which convey the emotions. A fluttering of eyelids over rolled back eyes. A low semi-guttural purr combined with a tilt of the head to one side. Long-time friend Ida Meister and I did this when we both tried one of the first Arquiste releases called Anima Dulcis. The fragrance was set in 1685 Mexico City as cloistered nuns developed their concoction of hot cocoa and chiles. M. Vasnier and Sr. Flores-Roux capture the simmering heat of the chiles in juxtaposition to the cocoa. Cinnamon, clove, jasmine, and sesame provide texture and detail to one of the best gourmands I own.
L’Etrog is another co-production by M. Vasnier and Sr. Flores-Roux. It is at the cologne end of the spectrum as the perfumers imagine the scent of 1175 Calabria, Italy as the local species of citron known as Etrog provides the early citrus brightness. In the background are the very light smells of the flowers around the Calabrian milieu. Vetiver provides the green contrast in the base.
For Boutonniere No. 7 Sr. Huber asked Sr. Flores-Roux to imagine a group of young men at fin de siècle France in the lobby of the Opera-Comique in Paris. Their lure is the gardenia in their lapel. Sr. Flores-Roux captures the gardenia as it scents the air to capture attention. Using lavender to evoke the cologne the dandies would be wearing then a perfectly balanced gardenia accord, lush and green. It all ends on an expertly formed accord of a freshly ironed suit. Boutonniere No. 7 is a fabulously different take on gardenia.
The Architect’s Club is the Arquiste which most acts as a time machine. Set during 1930 Happy Hour at an elegant Mayfair club of the same name in London. Some of the Lost Generation burst into the room livening up the stuffy atmosphere. It opens with spice and wood paneled drawing room accords before M. Vasnier unleashes the gin-toting wild things into the mix. Things just pick up steam from there. M. Vasnier keeps the frivolity under control to make The Architect’s Club the best party in town.
Nanban is an East meets West fragrance set on a Japanese sailing ship in 1618 returning from their first contact with Mexico. Sr. Flores-Roux and M. Vasnier create a construct where osmanthus pushes against the spices of the New World. Myrrh and sandalwood provide serenity which is disrupted by coffee and leather. It ends as the ship sails into the harbor of home as the fir trees and frankincense welcome the crew home.
Arquiste is one of the best new brands of the last few years well worth the time to explore. Start with these five.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
There are times brands can still throw a curveball at me. When I received the announcement of the Jo Malone Bloomsbury Collection I was expecting something completely in keeping with the brand aesthetic developed over twenty years. The creative team at Jo Malone asked perfumer Yann Vasnier to make a set of five perfumes to represent the early Twentieth Century collection of intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group. Based in the London section bearing the same name it has taken on mythological import in the hundred years since its founding. I can’t say the five fragrances do much to remind me of a Lost Generation salon. What they do display is M. Vasnier’s versatility on his first work for the brand.
One thing M. Vasnier manages to do throughout all five perfumes is to take a titular note that you expect to have some depth instead are presented in an opaquer form. Which for people who shy away from the hi-test version might find these to be at a different intensity allowing you to relax in to it. Blue Hyacinth is a dewy spring version of hyacinth planted in moist earth. Garden Lilies goes for a waterier effect as the lilies in the name are waterlilies instead of the ones found in floral arrangements. Leather & Artemesia matches a suede leather accord with a light licorice-like note. Tobacco & Mandarin also lives up to its name with little else around and made transparent. All the above is typical Jo Malone kind of perfumes. The one which stood out for me and feels like little else in the entire Jo Malone collection is Whisky & Cedarwood.
If you’ve ever visited a whisky distillery they will tell you during the aging in barrels there are two parts of what happens during that process. The amount of whisky that evaporates is called the Angel’s Share. The whisky that soaks in to the wood of the barrel is called The Devil’s Cut. Whisky & Cedarwood is a perfume of The Devil’s Cut.
M. Vasnier opens with allspice as the contrast for the whisky accord. I must complement M. Vasnier on employing a whisky accord which is not overwhelming in its booziness. Instead this is whisky almost as smelled from the person next to you at the bar. The cedar comes next completing the whisky soaked wood milieu. This is where the Devil gets his due. It is also where Whisky & Cedarwood lingers for quite a while until late in the development. That is where a truly odd high gloss waxed wood accord transforms the wood from barrel to bookcase. It works well but it feels so edgy for a line which does not usually willingly come close to that.
Whisky & Cedarwood has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
If you are a Jo Malone fan I think the Bloomsbury Collection is worth seeking out to see if there is one which grabs you. Overall, I liked all five but Whisky & Cedarwood is the one I wanted to belly up to the bar with and share a drink with the Devil.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Jo Malone.
Most of the time when I see a list of many perfumers who are responsible for a new release I worry that it will be a muddled mess of competing aesthetics. One of the exceptions to this rule was 2004’s Tom Ford Violet Orchid. A group of four Givaudan perfumers, whom I called the TF All-Stars, because they had all worked on individual perfumes for the brand previously created that fragrance. I imagined them in my review as like a rock and roll supergroup all contributing their strengths to form a worthy successor to the original Tom Ford fragrance launch Black Orchid. Like all musical supergroups even the perfume ones must go out on their own. For the new Tom Ford Velvet Orchid Lumiere perfumer Yann Vasnier steps on to the stage alone to create this follow-up.
While I liked Velvet Orchid for all the subtle moments in what was a traditional floriental. I enjoyed Velvet Orchid Lumiere more because M. Vasnier took the opportunity to add some upgrades to the framework. This time the result is a gourmand floriental that doesn’t feel as recognizable.
Bergamot and mandarin have been the traditional openers to most of the Tom Ford Orchid named fragrances. For Velvet Orchid Lumiere M. Vasnier breaks out a very special version of mandarin as he uses the Givaudan Orpur version. Orpur are the crown jewel raw ingredients in the Givaudan palette. When they get used they have always added a bit of class. As if M. Vasnier puts down the electric guitar for a Gibson 12-string acoustic. The Orpur mandarin used here has subtle sparkling facets with an accompanying richness to them. The Orpur mandarin also stands up to the same mixture of honey and rum that was present in Velvet Orchid. When I compared these side-by-side there was a noticeable difference in the way the mandarin exhibited itself. M. Vasnier adds in grace notes of saffron, pimento, and ginger. They provide some contrast and begin to set up the gourmand accord to come. Before we get there the connective tissue of all the Tom Ford Orchid fragrances. The “black orchid” accord holds the center as M. Vasnier wraps it with the same rose, hyacinth, and orange blossom that was in Violet Orchid. He then replaces the jasmine with tuberose. Trading one white flower for another shouldn’t seem to have much of an effect but the tuberose has a focusing effect on the “black orchid” accord making it more distinctive while also making it a little quieter; the unplugged version of the florals in Velvet Orchid perhaps. This leads to the heavy vanilla base accord. M. Vasnier forms a rich almost custard-like accord except he supports it with some things you should never find in your dessert. Mainly tobacco, myrrh, and a suede leather accord. This is the moment when M. Vasnier picks up the electric guitar for one final high-octave solo as the vanilla looms large but the tobacco and the leather complement with the sweetness inherent in those notes. A woody foundation of sandalwood and balsam finish Velvet Orchid Lumiere.
Velvet Orchid Lumiere has near 24-hour longevity and above average sillage especially the florals and the vanilla.
I like the solo work M. Vasnier has done here quite a bit. Velvet Orchid Lumiere feels like a perfume to be worn to a semi-formal it carries a lot of class to it because of the quieter moments M. Vasnier imparts to the same construct that existed in Velvet Orchid. By starting quiet with some intelligent raw material choices, it allows for an intense coda. I will be enjoying M. Vasnier’s gourmand floriental solo a lot over these upcoming colder months.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.
There is an inherent kinetic energy to the best herbal citrus perfumes. When they are done right the herbs provide a moving platform upon which the citrus can slide around on. As I’ve refined my personal taste over the years I have found I prefer this kind of style. I like having it carry me along with its exuberant nature throughout a day. The latest perfume to do this for me is Coolife Le Cinquieme Parfum.
Carole Beaupre and Pauline Rochas
Coolife creative directors Carole Beaupre and Pauline Rochas are exploring chakras in their debut collection. For Le Cinquieme Parfum the chakra that is being interpreted is Visuddha which represents “the search for truer knowledge, beyond time and space.” I have not bought into the mysticism behind these perfumes for the most part. What I have bought into is the work perfumer Yann Vasnier has done for the brand as Le Cinquieme is his second composition for Coolife.
M. Vasnier has done some of his best work with the herbal section of his perfumer’s palette. Le Cinquieme Parfum fits that pattern. He also uses some of the higher flying musks to provide the necessary expansiveness and lift to send this fragrance soaring.
Le Cinquieme Parfum opens with a brilliantly sparkling bergamot which is supported with lemongrass to provide a green vector for the herbal notes to gravitate towards. The first to show up is a leafy mint which pops against the citrus. Then we get a run of juniperberry, sage, basil, and pepper. The keynote for all of this is the synthetic musk Serenolide which provides a sheer kind of lift which gathers up all of these herbal notes expanding their presence like an inflating balloon. Just as it reaches its maximum volume M. Vasnier punctures it with incense leaving behind a set of balsamic notes combined with labdanum.
Le Cinquieme Parfum has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Le Cinquieme Parfum flits around with considerable energy for much of its first few hours. As those herbal notes begin to coalesce only to be expanded upon by the Serenolide it makes for something which has kaleidoscopic development. I’m not sure that I found “truer knowledge” but I did find a new a new fragrance to wear out during the day.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Coolife.
The Tom Ford Private Blend collection has been releasing a collection within the collection over the last few years. For 2016 the four new releases are called Les Extraits Verts. When I heard the name I was looking forward to a Tom Ford take on green. When I received my samples a couple weeks ago I was surprised overall it wasn’t as vert as I was expecting. Although there was one exception Vert D’Encens.
Vert Boheme missed the vert boat entirely as it was mostly citrusy floral before getting a bit musky at the end. Vert de Fleur did have the green going but it didn’t feel special to me. Vert des Bois was my second favorite of the four as perfumers Olivier Gillotin and Rodrigo Flores-Roux really added in some odd versions of green in olive leaves, and marigold along with some more traditional choices. It made for a really engaging development.
Vert D’Encens was the one I spent some time with because it, too, was an off-beat green but with two very common ingredients; pine and incense. Longtime creative director Karyn Khoury oversaw a team of perfumers consisting of Antoine Maisondieu, Shyamala Maisondieu, and Yann Vasnier. The decision to combine a full body pine tree, including sap, to a full throated frankincense turned out to be just the green I was looking for.
In the early going the perfumers bring out a very traditional pine joined by lemon and lavender. In these very first moments Vert D’Encens is a little bit a like a lot of drugstore pine fragrances. It doesn’t stay that way long as a green cardamom and sage set the stage for a pine sap accord. That accord carries a tint of the camphoraceous quality which provides a lift as the pine intensifies with the sap accord and the pine from on top becoming stronger. Right as it seems like the pine is at its zenith a fine silvery frankincense cuts across it and embeds itself in the sticky pine. Together it forms what I thought of as Pine-cense. This is where Vert D’Encens stayed at for hours. Much later on cedar and vetiver add a bit cleaner green to close things out.
Vert D’Encens has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
What drew me in to Vert D’Encens over the other Les Extraits Vert was the simple combination of the pine and incense. The perfumers found a way to find just the right balance for me. It is definitely going to be another excellent choice as the weather gets cooler as fall arrives.
Disclosure; This review was based on press samples provided by Tom Ford Beauty.
One thing I want to accomplish with this series is to remind perfume lovers of brands they may have forgotten about or never even heard of. A prime example of this is Parfums DelRae. Overseen by DelRae Roth there are only nine perfumes in the entire line. The first five: Amoreuse, Bois de Paradis, Eau Illuminee, Debut, and Emotionelle were released between 2002 and 2008. All five were composed by Michel Roudnitska. I had entered my phase of discovery which included devouring all things Roudnitska when I found the brand. M. Roudnitska is a perfumer with presence. He translates his belief in the way perfume should be made into his creations. In Ms. Roth he found a kindred spirit equally devoted to doing things correctly. You need no other indicator that while niche was exploding they only released five perfumes.
M. Roudnitska was going to take a break from perfumery in 2009 and so Ms. Roth was forced to look for a new perfumer. To her great credit she found one who had an entirely different style in Yann Vasnier. From 2009-2014 they have released four perfumes: Mythique, Coup de Foudre, Panache, and Wit. Taken as a sub collection these are some of the best perfumes ever created by M. Vasnier. I would again point to the uncompromising creative direction of Ms. Roth as a critical component in the quality. Again this was a slow and steady process while those around them were rushing to market with multiple releases per year.
My favorite perfume in a line which has nine very good to outstanding fragrances in it; is the first one M. Vasnier did, Mythique.
Ms. Roth was inspired by the story of Diane de Poitiers who was the mistress to French King Henri II. Diane de Poitiers was known as an equestrienne, a great beauty and demanding intellect. She was famous for regularly dressing in only white and black. Ms. Roth took all of that and asked M. Vasnier to design an orris and leather centered fragrance which would encompass her inspiration. What M. Vasnier delivered in the end is what comes off as a veil of orris scented leather that is breathtaking in its seemingly fragile beauty.
Mythique opens upon a flare of mandarin tinted green with a light application of vegetal ivy. This leads to a leather accord of ambrette and patchouli matched to a rich orris butter which has no powdery character. This orris butter is the rootiness of the rhizome on display. It pairs exquisitely with the leather accord to create that transparent effect that captures me every time I wear this. Sandalwood is the final ingredient in the base.
Mythique has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage. This is one of those deceptive perfumes where you might stop noticing it but others can still smell it on you.
With Mythique Ms. Roth and M. Vasnier were defining the second act of Parfums DelRae as M. Roudnitska exited stage left. Mythique is one of the first perfumes which drew me into how beautiful fragility could be.
If Parfums DelRae have flown Under the Radar for you that should be remedied by sampling all nine. It is one of the true great collection top to bottom in independent perfumery. Mythique is a great place to begin that exploration.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
There are times when I receive the press materials accompanying new samples and it is hard for me not to laugh. The more magical the claims around a perfume in the text; I have usually found a lack of inspiration in the perfume itself. One brand which has particularly made me giggle has been the ongoing collection of perfumes from the brand Coolife inspired by the chakras called The Seven. The creative directors and founders Carole Beaupre and Pauline Rochas are immersed in the idea of perfume as pixie dust. I have been openly skeptical of these perfumes to perform to that level. The first three releases were perfectly decent perfumes composed by perfumer Patricia Choux. The only emotion it aroused for me was indifference. I received the fourth release, Le Quatrieme Parfum, and guess what? This time I did go along with the mysticism attached.
Carole Beaupre (l.) and Pauline Rochas
Le Quatrieme Parfum is meant to represent the root chakra, our foundation and of feeling grounded. Perfumer Yann Vasnier was tasked with making the perfume which would form this sense of being. I found Le Quatrieme Parfum to be a tremendously relaxing perfume to wear. It reminded me of putting on a well-worn denim jacket; broken in just right. It felt like something easy which also imparted depth along with familiarity. M. Vasnier has assembled a coterie of warm, golden, glowing notes to achieve this.
When it comes to being grounded a shot of rum is probably not high up on the list of things to try. For the perfume which seeks to ground oneself it turns out a shot of rum works quite nicely. Especially when M. Vasnier traps it within a matrix of golden viscous honey. The honey never threatens to tilt over to its less desirable scent profile. In conjunction with the rum it stays sweetly boozy before moving into the heart. Waiting there is a rich narcotic dried tobacco leaf for it to rest upon. The inherent sweetness of the tobacco intertwines with the honey and leaves the rum behind. It elicits a sweeter shade of tobacco. Then comes the part where my fanciful imagination takes over, and probably my upbringing in Little Havana in S. Florida. I imagine this fragrant tobacco leaf being loaded with myrrh soaked patchouli and being rolled into a perfumed cigar. As all of those notes are in play in the next phase of the development. This is where Le Quatrieme Parfum lingers for hours on my skin. It languorously allows a beautiful balsamic note to eventually arise which almost acts as a figurative cigar box for my imaginary stogie.
Le Quatrieme Parfum has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Like the other Coolife perfumes there is nothing terribly original about the ideas M. Vasnier has used. Unlike the other Coolife perfumes this time Le Quatrieme Parfum did ground me, allowing me to find an inner harmony. I wore it on a very hectic day and every time I caught a puff of my imaginary cigar it did have a centering effect. I found Le Quatrieme Parfum allowed me to get to the root of things.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.
One of the more interesting periods in history was when western sailing ships discovered Japan. The very insular society was shaken to its core as evidence of other civilizations were uncovered. The resulting culture clash as Western attitudes and Eastern honor clashed is the subject of much popular culture in books and film. Even though it wasn’t as well-known there was the reverse as Japanese sailing ships made their way west. The first diplomatic mission from Japan to Europe via Mexico took place from 1611-1618. Carlos Huber the creative director behind Arquiste uses this historical trip as the inspiration for the new Arquiste Nanban.
Nanban in its first usage in 16th century Japan referred to the visitors from Portugal and Spain. It has evolved over time to come to mean Japanese art of that time period which has obvious Western influences. This is fertile ground for Sr. Huber to mine as he has done with historical touchstones for the previous nine releases in the line. He has employed his team of perfumers in Rodrigo Flores-Roux and Yann Vasnier to collaborate together for the third time. This is another example where the teamwork between this team leads to extraordinary results. There is a clear bond between all of them whenever I have met them. I think that shows in the perfume they produce. While all three worked on the preliminary concept it would be Sr. Huber and Sr. Flores-Roux who would carry it to the finish. The idea was to have Nanban be the view of the West this Eastern diplomatic mission would bring back home.
The story Nanban tells is of a Japanese delegation who has been away from home for too long. When they arrived in Mexico I can imagine they must have been very happy to see the familiar osmanthus flowers greeting them after the long ocean crossing. This is where Nanban starts. The perfumers then dust it with black pepper, infuse it with black tea, and cloak it in saffron. All of the Western influences are imposed on the Eastern floral. The feel of culture clash is vividly on display. In the heart sandalwood and myrrh provide a meditative core of resinous woods. That calm is shattered with the new Western influences of coffee and tanned leather. The tug of war begins in earnest as the coffee and leather are in direct opposition to the sandalwood and myrrh. This is a civilized struggle as on my skin it was a vigorous negotiation as to which would eventually have the upper hand. Over time the coffee and leather win out. By the time we get to the heart the members of the mission breathe deeply of the forest adjacent to the harbor. The woods of home embrace them upon their return. Cade wood, copahu balm, and frankincense provide the structure of the homecoming.
Nanban has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
The best Arquiste fragrances are descriptions of the everlasting change history provides. Nanban is one of the liveliest discussions to take place so far. On the days I wore Nanban I found myself engrossed in the voyage it took me on. It also made me consider what it must have been like for the crew of the Japanese ship alone in the West trying to build a bridge. I can’t ask more from a perfume than to engage my intellect as well as my emotions, The Arquiste team has once again put time in a bottle, making it beautiful.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Arquiste.
Header photo by Hisao Oka and Edwin Pabon
As a perfume collection matures over the years it tends to swing back and forth like a pendulum. The Tom Ford Private Blend Collection has been around since 2007, under the creative direction of Tom Ford and Karen Khoury. Most of the early fragrances had an intensity to them and that depth is what drew me to the line in the first place. Noir de Noir’s mix of chocolate, rose, oud, and patchouli is a good example. In 2010, things lightened up a bit and Jasmin Rouge is a good example of where the pendulum had swung to as the jasmine was kept cleaner and the notes surrounding it were kept in check. That kind of restraint added a sense of ephemeral beauty to those that I came to appreciate very much. But, but, but I wanted another Private Blend which swaggered with audacity. Little did I know it had been released last September.
Tom Ford Private Blend London was an exclusive to the new Sloane Square Tom Ford boutique which opened in 2013 in London. There was little enthusiasm for it among the London contingent of perfumistas and as a result without an attendant buzz I had a very difficult time getting a sample. I did finally get one from online decanting site Surrender to Chance. What I was greeted with was a fragrance which seemed to encompass something more than trying to assay London as a fragrance. This was a fragrance of the East; exotic spices, opulent florals, and deep woods. This was the London of the Royal Geographic Society as their members brought back things seen for the first time from all over the globe. In a wood paneled drawing room, furnished in leather, one explorer shows off the cinnamon and cardamom he acquired. On another table a species of jasmine from the Himalayas scented the room. Raw vanilla pods from the West Indies mixed with these very intense smelling oud wood chips from Egypt smoking in a censer. This is the smell of Tom Ford Private Blend London.
Perfumer Yann Vasnier opens London up with a spicy mélange centered on cinnamon but heavily influenced with cardamom, ginger, and black pepper. This captured my attention immediately as M. Vasnier swirls all of this up into a spicy sirocco which blows with an airy potency. The jasmine in the heart is full on indolic jasmine and it has to be to make any headway against the spices. This skanky jasmine fits in perfectly with the spices and it is heady stuff. It gets even deeper as oud over leather makes up the key notes of the base. It is sweetened with a bit of vanilla and amber but this is drawing room leather and oud mostly.
London has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
My wish has been answered as London feels like it belongs to the original collection more than the more recent releases. It seems appropriate if London is the signal that the pendulum is swinging back because y’know; London swings like the pendulum do.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample purchased form Surrender to Chance
Editor’s note: I expect London will be available worldwide sooner than later as the previous exclusive fragrance to a boutique, Lavender Palm, became widely available about a year later. As of this writing it is still only available in London.