There are a lot of creative people within the fashion industry I would like to see take the creative direction over a perfume line. Near the top of that list is the former editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris, Carine Roitfeld. Her sense of artistic direction for the magazine was so clear during her time in the post from 2001-2011 it would be interesting to see what she would do in the world of fragrance. Having worked closely with both Karl Lagerfeld and Tom Ford she would have a good idea on what kind of perfume should have her name on it.
Mme Roitfeld has debuted a line of seven perfumes called the “7 Lovers” collection. Even though each perfume carries a man’s name they really are perfumes of place. For this collection the press materials say she has worked eight years on it. She certainly chose three talented perfumers to work with; Aurelien Guichard, Pascal Gaurin, and Yann Vasnier. I’ve had a sample set for a month, and I am happy to report that Mme Roitfeld did not disappoint I like all seven of her “lovers”. I will be giving full reviews to Aurelien, Kar-Wai, and Sebastian over the next few weeks. Of course there always must be one which rises above; which for me it was Carine Roitfeld George.
George was composed by M. Vasnier meant to capture London and its punk rock aesthetic. The perfume is a floral heart sandwiched between two compellingly green accords one very contemporary and the other as classic as it gets in perfume.
The contemporary green accord is where George begins. M. Vasnier employing the Givaudan ScentTrek process to create a fabulously sticky green cannabis accord. This is that sappy green scent you smell from a container of high-quality marijuana buds. He tunes it with a couple of other green ingredients, galbanum and violet leaf. M. Vasnier finds just the right side of illicit over vegetal with this top accord. Jasmine provides a floral contrast as if someone found a few blooms among the buds. The indolic quality of the jasmine fits right in with the cannabis. Then we turn towards classic perfumery as M. Vasnier fashions a leathery chypre base. This is a modern chypre with animalic bite the perfect complement to the top accord.
George has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
So many perfumes have attempted to capture the punk vibe of London only to miss the mark. George finds it by using a perfumer’s punk mentality at re-inventing a chypre. In the doing they connect like few have before them.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample set supplied by Carine Roitfeld.
Ever since its debut in 2007 the Tom Ford Private Blend collection has been one of the most successful expansions of luxury niche perfumery into the marketplace. They represent one of the defining brands of that style. They were the first perfumes I would review where I would be asked, “Are they worth it?” The answer to that is always an individual choice. What was undeniable was the collection was representing some of the best-known ingredients in high quality forms where the difference was noticeable.
Tom Ford and Karyn Khoury creatively directed each perfume to provide a singular luxurious experience. That so many of them are on “best of” lists show their success. They have been so successful that there is debate to whether they should even be referred to as niche anymore. I think they still retain a niche aesthetic while having a wider distribution than most other fragrances referred to with that adjective. Over the first three years of existence they cemented their style over 21 releases. Then 2011 happened.
This is conjecture on my part, but it seems like they had tired of hearing how “safe” they were. If you were to try the three releases from 2011 it feels like they wanted to have the word contemporary be part of the lexicon when describing Tom Ford Private Blends. Jasmin Rouge, Santal Blush, and this month’s Dead Letter Office entry Lavender Palm succeeded. What separated them from the rest of the collection was they took the keynote in their name off in very different new directions. All three have been among my favorites within the entire line. For some reason Lavender Palm was discontinued after only two years. I’ll provide my hypothesis for that later.
Lavender Palm was released early in 2011 as an exclusive to the new Beverly Hills Tom Ford boutique followed by wider release a year later. Perfumer Yann Vasnier was asked to capture a Southern California luxury vibe. He chose to use two sources of lavender wrapped in a host of green ingredients.
The top accord uses the more common lavandin where M. Vasnier adds citrus to it. The whole opening gets twisted using lime blossom which teases out the floral nature of the lavender while complementing the citrus. This is an opening with snap. The heart coalesces around lavender absolute. Here is where things take that contemporary turn. M. Vasnier uses clary sage, aldehydes, moss, and palm leaves to form a lavender accord that is at turns salty and creamy. It seemingly transforms minute-by-minute. It remains one of the most unique lavender accords I have experienced. A soft resinous base is where this ends.
Lavender Palm has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
Lavender Palm became widely available in the beginning of 2012 and was discontinued by the end of 2014. I think the reason might be this was the only one of the three 2011 releases which unabashedly altered the previous style of the collection. There aren’t many Tom Ford Private Blend releases to be found in the Dead Letter Office; Lavender Palm might have got there by being too contemporary.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
As I’ve been making my list of the perfumers, I want to cover in this column, I naturally trend towards my favorites. Yann Vasnier is certainly one of my favorites. He is a perfumer who has done some of his best work in partnership with Rodrigo Flores-Roux, Calice Becker, and Francoise Caron. He is unafraid to take risks which means some of his most daring work is discontinued. I could’ve made a list of Apothia L Apothia, Le Labo Aldehyde 44, Tom Ford Private Blend Urban Musk, Marc Jacobs Bang, and Tom Ford Private Blend Lavender Palm. If I had done that it would have been a column examining texture within perfume design. M. Vasnier is one of the few perfumers who is known to have designed an Axe spray; 2009’s Axe Essence. For this month’s Perfumer 201 I’m going to look at the development of M. Vasnier’s gourmand style over the years.
Divine L’Homme Sage (2005)- M. Vasnier’s first released perfume was 1986’s Divine with Yvon Mouchel who also came from M. Vasnier’s home of Brittany in France. M. Mouchel would work exclusively with M. Vasnier. L’Homme Sage has no sage in it. What caught my attention on the day I tried it was how it played with metamorphosizing syrup in the beginning and heart. It opens with mandarin encased in sweet lychee syrup. A beautiful use of the maple syrup quality of immortelle transitions that sweetness into a heart of resins and base of woods. It isn’t strictly a gourmand style of perfume but the early moments carry that feeling.
Keiko Mecheri Gourmandises (2004)- Keiko Mecheri wanted a perfume of the marketplace in Istanbul and its confections. Specifically rose rahat loukhoum. M. Vasnier chooses to eschew a photorealistic version in place of something abstract. He embeds a praline accord inside a jammy rose accord. Then he brilliantly attenuates the intense sweetness with the contrast of saffron. It turns it into something not of the bazaar but enticingly bizarre.
Parfums DelRae Panache (2010)- M. Vasnier has had one of his most creative partnerships with creative director DelRae Roth for her Parfums DelRae brand. Panache is a gorgeously dark rum top accord which flows into an equally rich floral heart of jasmine and ylang-ylang. Vetiver provides a support for the boozy florals. As in the previous two fragrances it is the viscous matrix of honey which makes Panache come alive. It oozes into the spaces left to it turning Panache into something lovely.
Arquiste The Architects Club (2014)- When Carlos Huber was starting his Arquiste brand of perfume he turned to two perfumers. M. Vasnier was one of them and his body of work here is among his finest. The Architects Club imagines a meeting between flappers and architects during 1930. The architects are represented by woods and vetiver. The flappers come in with gin martinis, citrus, and vanilla to liven things up. The gin accord is used as a disruptive force and it is one of the reasons, I enjoy this so much because of that energy. It is like The Wild Party goes on and on.
Frassai Blondine (2017)- Natalia Outeda also used M. Vasnier to create one of her debut perfumes for Frassai. Blondine was an early example of the transparent floral gourmand trend which has taken off in the last eighteen months. M. Vasnier takes an expansive floral accord. Then he precisely adds caramel and cocoa until they reach a place where they do not overwhelm the floral but make a sticky platform for them to rest upon. This is one of my favorites of this early floral gourmand style.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottle I purchased.
I am always drawn to the ocean. Growing up in S. Florida imprinted it in my soul. I have been fortunate to expand my horizons. To stand next to the crashing waves on different shores than the ones of my youth. One which has become my second favorite is what I found on the west coast of the US. These are rocky coastlines which are edged with shore pine lined escarpments. The scent of the pines mixed with the cold brine of the ocean is amazing. There aren’t a lot of perfumes which go for this when they want to make an aquatic; Tom Ford Private Blend Costa Azzurra Acqua does.
Back in 2014 as part of the first expansion of the Neroli Portofino collection in the blue bottles Costa Azzurra was released. I enjoyed it because it reminded me of summer days beachcombing as a boy. Five years later the same perfumer, Yann Vasnier, is behind Costa Azzurra Acqua. In the original M. Vasnier used a dry woody accord to represent driftwood. In this new perfume he uses the shore pine as his woody piece of the perfume. He also finds a chillier aquatic accord to represent the denser feel of the ocean when it is cold. This is what comes together in Costa Azzurra Acqua.
That colder accord is composed of juniper berry, lemon, and myrtle. Each ingredient is noticeable on its own until they mesh into this mineralic ocean accord. This is the smell of cold swells crashing against rocks. As you look up the slope you get a hint of the pines as the breeze brings a clean pine-tinted woodiness courtesy of cypress. As you get closer the sticky sap of the trees becomes more apparent as M. Vasnier uses mastic and labdanum to represent that. Everything comes together into a satisfying whole.
Costa Azzurra Acqua has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
I must mention this because I know it is important to some; this might have the least longevity of any Private Blend. I don’t care but this comes together in a fantastically realized accord which only holds together for a short period of time. It means I am going to go through my sample a lot quicker, but I am okay with that.
I usually don’t reach for aquatics in the cooler weather; Costa Azzurra Acqua was nice on the cooler days I tested it. Which I think means it will be a great winter-to-spring choice. I can imagine myself standing on a Pacific coastline as the shore pines scent the air.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.
I received the eight perfumes in the McQueen Collection just after Labor Day. As I recounted in my review of Sacred Osmanthus these were different than the previous fragrances from Alexander McQueen. The creative team of Sarah Burton and Pierre Aulas had a vision of eight soliflore-like perfumes composed by different perfumers. My first impression was favorable to most of the eight. As the weather turned cooler, I was drawn towards two of them; Amber Garden and Dark Papyrus.
Amber Garden was created by perfumer Yann Vasnier. The keynote for this is benzoin. Benzoin is one of the perfume ingredients I frequently describe as warm. In Amber Garden M. Vasnier chooses to enhance that effect with spices and resins.
Benzoin has an inherent sweetness to it which is part of what contributes to its coziness. M. Vasnier wraps another layer of that around it as saffron, nutmeg, cardamom, and cinnamon provide a set of spices which each provide a different version of warm. The benzoin pulses like a glowing heart as the spices settle upon it. Labdanum and frankincense add resinous depth without overriding the benzoin. As this part of the perfume developed on my skin it felt a bit better defined.
Amber Garden has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Amber Garden has been the fragrance equivalent of a warm scarf for me this fall. This is how a soliflore is meant to function by cleverly burnishing the note on display.
Dark Papyrus was created by perfumer Christophe Raynaud. The focal point here is in the name; papyrus. Papyrus is a light green-tinted woody ingredient. For Dark Papyrus M. Reynaud makes an interesting choice to use blackcurrant buds as the harmonizing note. That ingredient is one which can easily get out of control. M. Reynaud makes sure that doesn’t happen. What comes through is an enhancement of the green with the fruity character conjoining with the woody part of papyrus. Ginger and cardamom are also present to pick up the leas prominent spicy character of papyrus. The final ingredient is a synthetic wood which keeps everything drier.
Dark Papyrus has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I don’t think I’ll be reviewing the other five from the McQueen Collection, but they all share the same aesthetic of a single note at the center. If you see a favorite ingredient in the name, I would suggest picking up a sample because all of them are well done. If you are looking for more immediate gratification give the two designed for fall weather a try.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Alexander McQueen.
In 2007 when the first dozen Tom Ford Private blend perfumes arrived they were a sensation. Tom Ford working with Karyn Khoury would create something unique within the niche perfume sector. So many of those originals were such groundbreaking constructs it was maybe too much to expect the Private Blend collection to keep up that kind of creativity over the long run. As we begin 2018 and a second decade of Private Blends it is fair to say the collection has become an elder statesman of the luxury fragrance sector. You might notice I left off niche because as the brand has matured it has also become less adventurous. Particularly over the past year or so there has been an emphasis on using top notch ingredients within familiar constructs. The latest release, Vanille Fatale, is a good example.
As the collection becomes safer the PR copy becomes ever more impenetrable. Here is a bit from the press materials for Vanille Fatale:
“Vanille Fatale is a force of nature personified. A beguiling tempest that takes over like a rush of blood to the head. The impossible becomes real, too good to be true becomes true. Her – or his – unrelenting hold is fixed, refined yet raw, polished yet primal.”
All of that for a fragrance which is a nicely formed vanilla perfume using a great source of the titular note.
Perfumer Yann Vasnier uses saffron as an exotic opener which might give you the idea something more unique is coming. It isn’t. What is coming is one of the Givaudan proprietary Orpur ingredients. The Orpur version of Madagascar vanilla is as good as raw materials get. It has power and nuance. The green nature of the orchid runs through the sweetness like stringy veins. M. Vasnier chooses olibanum and myrrh to provide resinous contrast and depth. It all rests on a soft suede accord in the base. There are some floral notes and coffee listed in the ingredient list but over a couple days of wearing this none of those came through. This is primarily saffron-vanilla-incense-leather.
Vanille Fatale has 16-18 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
It is hard to not try a new Tom Ford Private Blend containing vanilla and not be reminded of one of those early trendsetters in the debut collection; Tobacco Vanille. I’ve heard many tell me the tobacco is too much in that one. For those, Vanille Fatale is Tobacco Vanille avec tobacco. This is a very luxurious high-quality vanilla perfume for which I think vanilla lovers will die for because of the Orpur vanilla. I fall in between wanting there to be some of the adventurousness of the early Private Blends but accepting an elder statesman needs to show some decorum. Vanille Fatale is a decorous vanilla perfume.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.
Yesterday I introduced Natalia Outeda the creative director-owner behind the jewelry and fragrance brand Frassai. I also reviewed Tian Di. Today I am going to cover the remaining two releases from the debut collection Blondine and Verano Porteno.
For Blondine Sra. Outeda collaborated with perfumer Yann Vasnier. The name of the fragrance refers to the heroine of a 1920’s French fairytale. I’m not familiar with the story but the musky floral gourmand Sra. Outeda and M. Vasnier have created reminds me more of Hansel and Gretel. As mouth-watering food elements draw you closer.
M. Vasnier opens with a walk among the flowers and trees with ashok flower and tiger lily giving spicy floral touches while pear leaves provide some green with hints of fruit. It isn’t a forest per se, but it is an outdoors floral accord. Then from a distance caramel and cocoa entice you towards a house that exudes a fabulous gourmand accord. M. Vasnier finds a nice balance in something that could have been overwhelming. This is a recurrent theme in the entire Frassai debut collection on not going as far as the ingredients will let you. Instead Sra. Outeda goes for an opaquer aesthetic. It works to the advantage of the gourmand heart in Blondine. The musks come forward and they provide an animalic contrast which works.
Blondine has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
If there was one I was looking forward to from the press materials it was Verano Porteno by perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux. Sr. Flores-Roux is one of my favorite perfumers because of his passion. The idea of having him assay a summer evening in Buenos Aires was always going to be special. The keynote is a gorgeous Imperial Jasmine around which the other notes dance with gusto.
Sr. Flores-Roux again displays his deft touch with citrus as he blends bergamot, clementine, and cedrat. The clementine carries the focal point but the tart nature of the other two keep it from being as ebullient as it could, which I liked. A very green intermezzo of mate tea and cardamom transition from the citrus to the jasmine. This is an impressive jasmine kept light but not neutered as the indoles purr underneath. The base is the botanical musk of ambrette and woody vetiver.
Verano Porteno has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I must compliment Sra. Outeda on the aesthetic she imposed upon her three perfumers. It produces a coherent collection of familiar ingredients used in a lighter way than expected. I think all three are worth sampling but I know it will be my sample of Verano Porteno which will be empty first.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Frassai.
Tom Ford Private Blend new release names are starting to feel like challenges. The last one, Fucking Fabulous, led me to ask; “is it?” Now there are two more additions to the Tom Ford Private Blend collection what are going to beg the same question; Oud Wood Intense and Tobacco Oud Intense.
Intense is another of those names which often seems to mean more concentrated. When that is what it translates to in the bottle it isn’t that interesting. I was particularly concerned about a perfume called Oud Wood Intense. If there is a masterpiece in the Private Blend collection Oud Wood is in the running for that accolade. To go back and alter that was worrisome. Tobacco Oud Intense was less of a concern because I could see less destructive ways to make that intense. It helps that the original perfumers were involved in both. Richard Herpin returns for Oud Wood Intense while Olivier Gillotin gets an assist from Yann Vasnier on Tobacco Oud Intense. What both have produced are perfumes which are more like second cousins of each other there are some common blood lines but both are distinct from the other perfume they share a name with.
It doesn’t take any time at all to see the difference in Oud Wood Intense as the entire top accord is re-orchestrated. M. Herpin combines ginger, nutmeg and angelica root on top of the blond wood of cypress. There are faint echoes of the Szechuan pepper and cardamom opening of the original but this group of ingredients does create a top accord with more presence. M Herpin brings the oud to the forefront out of that top accord. He captures the rougher edges of oud by using sage, juniper berry, vetiver, and oakmoss. This is meant to make an oud accord which shows off some of the more difficult parts of oud. The base doesn’t let up as a huge slug of castoreum really doubles down on that. This creates an accord full of animalic depth which is probably not going to be to everyone’s taste. A clean woody base of sandalwood and patchouli finish this. Oud Wood Intense is that country cousin to the refined city cousin of Oud Wood. M. Herpin decided to let the deeper tones of oud free to make Oud Wood Intense.
Oud Wood Intense has 16-18 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Olivier Gillotin (l.) and Yann Vasnier
Tobacco Oud Intense becomes the city cousin in this pair to the country cousin of Tobacco Oud. For Tobacco Oud Intense the perfumers work together to turn down the smoke while adding in gourmand aspects. The first of those is the near-signature Tom Ford addition of raspberry as the companion for coriander instead of the herbs of the original. Some Givaudan Orpur Olibanum sets the stage for the title notes. The purity of this Orpur version adds a level of refinement to the setting for the tobacco and oud to rise. As they do, this time they don’t smolder instead they become entwined with toasty tonka giving an entirely different style of heart accord from the original. Labdanum and patchouli provide the finishing touch for Tobacco Oud Intense.
Tobacco Oud Intense has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I am gratified to find both perfumes to not be more of the same but kissing cousins instead.
Disclosure: This review is based on press samples provided by Tom Ford Beauty.
As I’ve mentioned multiple times I’m not a candle guy. Although because I write about fragrances I get a few sent to me anyway. Of all the ones I’ve received there was one which even I could tell was at the pinnacle of quality; Cire Trudon. I know at the time I wondered how interesting it would be for the creative mind behind the candles, Executive Director Julien Pruvost, turned to perfumes of the liquid kind. With the release of the first five perfumes in the Trudon Parfums collection we see if the waxen brilliance can be translated to something without a wick.
A couple of things which pleased me before I even spritzed a drop. Mr. Pruvost kept the first set of releases to five. Another positive is there is no desire to make sure they check every box on the style of perfumes checklist. These five span the deeper part of the perfumed spectrum. Finally, he chose to work with only three perfumers. Lyn Harris did three; Deux, Mortel, and Olim. Those three have an interesting coherence when taken together which is why I’ll cover them in Part 2 tomorrow. For today I’m going to look at the other two; Bruma and Mortel.
Bruma was composed by Antoine Lie. Bruma is translated as “solstice” from Latin. Solstice is also either the shortest day or night of the year; Bruma looks for the light before the darkness arrives. M. Lie embodies his daylight with beautifully rooty iris without a hint of powder. It is kept illuminated by peony, lavender, and jasmine. It is that last ray of sun expressed in iris. The darkness comes forward in a gorgeously constructed leather accord it wraps the sunny florals in a cloak of twilight. Vetiver comes along to extinguish the light leaving the earthier aspects of the orris as the remains of the day.
Bruma has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Mortel was composed by Yann Vasnier. M. Vasnier is also playing with themes of shadow and light but Mortel is more twilight than one or the other. It has been a long time since I have tried a new incense perfume as good as Mortel. It was my first love in niche perfumery which Mortel reminded me of. Great incense has a shimmery metallic covering over the resinous core. The incense M. Vasnier chooses is all of that. He spices it up with black pepper, nutmeg, and allspice. They blend in adding shadow to the slightly monolithic nature of the incense. That solidity gets broken down even more as the sweetness of myrrh and benzoin modulate the chilly frankincense into a softer warmer resin accord as the shadows deepen.
Mortel has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Both Bruma and Mortel are excellent fragrance representatives of this most esteemed of candle brands.
I’ll return tomorrow with reviews of the other three.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Trudon Parfums.
One of the things I get a kick out of is when a perfumer comes up with a new accord or the company they work for presents a new isolation of a well-known note. I always imagine it is like the charge painters received when the pigment Cerulean Blue allowed them to add blue to their palettes. Just like those painters who had ideas but were unable to express them because the material wasn’t there; when it does arrive, the imagination is unleashed.
Perfumer Yann Vasnier is one of those for whom there must be a myriad of these kind of “what if?” ideas. When Givaudan showed him Roasted Oak Absolute he saw it as an alternative to the ubiquitous cedar or sandalwood. Now where to use it? Jo Malone creative director Celine Roux upon smelling it wanted it because she had been wanting to have a “fall forest in England” style of fragrance in the collection. Once new ingredient, perfumer, and creative director intersected what came out of it is English Oak & Hazelnut.
The Roasted Oak Absolute carries an interesting scent profile. There is a sharp woodiness inherent to oak. The roasted part is as if you took some cords of oak and put them in a drying shed. They would pick up some of the smoke of the low fire providing the heat. It would bring out a bit of inherent woody sweetness. This is what I encounter when wearing English Oak & Hazelnut.
The fragrance starts with the hazelnut. If you’re looking for a similar roasted effect this is not that. M. Vasnier uses a green hazelnut. This is very reminiscent of walking through the forest and crunching raw nuts on the ground with your boots. It is a raw nutty quality along with a slightly sharp green component. It is paired with the citrus-tinted wood of elemi as contrast. Vetiver comes along to focus the greener facets and cedar begins the transition from raw nutty on top to the roasted oak in the base. The vetiver remains as the roasted oak gains presence. It is an interesting overall feeling as the vetiver sometimes shifts the oak more to the greener woodiness typical of simple oak absolute. Then the roasted oak pushes back and it gets warmer. This metronomic back-and-forth is where English Oak & Hazelnut comes to its end.
English Oak & Hazelnut has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
M. Vasnier and Mme Roux were so excited about the Roasted Oak they decided there needed to be another fragrance featuring it and English Oak & Redcurrant is the other half of the English Oak collection. I preferred English Oak & Hazelnut because it displayed the new material more prominently. In English Oak & Redcurrant it is overridden by the rose in the heart more than it is here. If you really want to experience the Cerulean Oak of the Roasted Oak I recommend English Oak & Hazelnut to get the full experience.
Disclosure: This review was based on sample provided by Jo Malone.