Independent Perfumery 2018

When I was really starting my descent into perfumed obsession in the early years of the 2000’s it started with the discovery of niche perfumes. What that meant to me were small brands with distinctive artistic aesthetics. Those early years of this century saw the rapid expansion of this style of perfume. Presenting themselves as an alternative to what was available at the mall. It was, and remains, part of the reason I enjoy perfume.

Then in 2006 on the blogs I follow there was mention of this new perfume from Switzerland. A young artist by the name of Andy Tauer had released a perfume called L’Air du Desert Marocain. My perfume world changed again. I discovered there was another world of fragrance makers who worked on their own; independent perfumers. It would be the acclaim for L’Air du Desert Marocain that pointed those who love perfume to a new place.

Every year I am struck by how vital this community is. What spurred me to write this column was my editorial calendar for the next week. One of many important lessons I learned from my Editor-in-Chief at CaFleureBon, Michelyn Camen, is the importance of keeping an editorial calendar. That means I have all the different days subjects planned out in advance. Sometime when I look at my white board I can see patterns which arise out of the list. Looking over next week’s list I saw six wonderful perfumes from six different established independent perfumers. It made me think about where we are now.

One of the things I write about a lot is the concept of a brand aesthetic. It should be easier when an independent perfumer is the only voice in the room. From experience I can tell you it is not. I try a dozen or so new independent brands a year. I provide private feedback which is just between the perfumer and I. One of the more common sentences I write is, “What are you trying to achieve besides smelling good?” The brands which have succeeded have almost always had a personal answer to that. The ones who ask me “What do you mean?” is probably a reason why they don’t succeed.

Proof this has succeeded is there is a part of Hr. Tauer’s perfumes which has been dubbed a “Tauer-ade”. There is a scented fingerprint which says where this perfume came from. The same can be said for Charna Ethier of Providence Perfume Co. or Maria McElroy of Aroma M. I feel if I was handed any of these, and others, perfumes they are identifiable because of this. Independent perfumers can refine a personal vision over every release.

Mandy Aftel

Another more fractious aspect of independent perfumery is very few of them have any formal training. Like all artistic efforts there are the precocious few who are blessed with innate talent. For those the years spent making their perfumes provides its own kind of training; learning through trial and error. That same effort is also rewarded for those who learn entirely from that. Time can be a great leveler. Some of the early founders have become the teachers for those who are drawn to make their own perfume. Mandy Aftel has produced great perfume, under he Aftelier Perfumes label, and a wave of students from her California studio. AbdesSalaam Attar does the same in Europe.

One of the most important aspects of the current state of independent perfumery is the ability of the perfumers to use small batches of amazing ingredients. Particularly over the last few years there have been releases which are made from materials that have been gone from mainstream and niche perfumery due to the difficulty of sourcing enough to produce hundreds of bottles. The independent perfumer can produce tens of bottles if they desire. A good example are the perfumes of Russian Adam under his Areej Le Dore brand. He can source actual musk from the animal through a license he has. Other independent perfumers create their own tinctures, botanical hydrosols, co-distillates, or enfleurage. Each of these create magic. The botanicals sourced by Yasuyuki Shinohara from his home island of Hokkaido, Japan for his Di Ser line are what makes those perfumes unique.

The final thing which has made independent perfumery so important is it lives outside the geography of France, the US, Italy or Great Britain. For over 100 years that was where the perfume we knew came from. Independent perfumery takes place everywhere with the influences of location finding its way into the bottle. All four of the countries where modern perfume was born have their share of independent perfumers who have things to say about that history in their new perfumes. The perspective that comes from elsewhere is invaluable.

If you need the best argument for the importance of independent perfumer in 2018 follow along next week as the perfumes speak for themselves.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Di Ser Shiragoromo- Hokkaido Yuzu

It is a familiar refrain that independent perfumers can provide unique fragrance experiences because they aren’t trying to please a mass market.  I have said that so often it might be the official motto of the blog. What is also interesting is when the perfumer comes outside of the more traditional US-European geographical area they can also impart a sense of place. Which is what always makes me smile when I wear a new perfume from Di Ser it confounds what I believed a Japanese perfume smells like. Shiragoromo is another which shows me Japan through the eyes, and nose, of a native.

Di Ser is a perfume brand from the northern island of Japan; Hokkaido. Independent perfumer Yasuyuki Shinohara only uses hand-made botanical materials. From the independent perfumers I know who use these kinds of materials it is a time-consuming process leading to vibrant ingredients. Shinohara-san turns them into something completely Japanese just not what we have been told via Western perfume releases.

Yasuyuki Shinohara (Photo: From CaFleureBon at Pitti Fragranze 2016)

A few years ago, many of the major perfume brands touted their new releases which were aimed at the Asian market. They imitated the clean minimalist lines of the architecture. It is not how Shinohara-san designs his perfume. I’ve tried about a dozen Di Ser perfumes now and none of them are minimalist. They are some of the most complex natural perfumes I have experienced; Shiragoromo among them.

Shiragoromo is made up of two Japanese words; shira means white, goromo means cloth. This is the name of the white ceremonial silk material. It is apt as Shiragoromo has a shimmery citrus quality which is matched by a white flower counterpoint.

Shiragoromo opens with the indigenous Japanese version of lemon, yuzu. We have become familiar with this green-tinted lemon through its use in many Western perfumes recently. This version of yuzu has a more prominent green nature to go with the fruit. It is that green which causes it to travel in glistening waves. It is fresh and verdant simultaneously. Jasmine must work to break through. It takes rose pushing from behind for it to overcome the citrus. One of the real stars of many Di Ser perfumes is the way Shinohara-san uses oud. This time it is an accord where it is paired with spikenard. It follows through on the green theme brining a green resinous woodiness to the final stages.

Shiragoromo has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

If you, like me, use perfume to see new perspectives allow Shinohara-san to wrap you in the white cloth of Shiragoromo. Then breathe deep and learn of the scents of Hokkaido.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Di Ser Tsuki- Six Years Later

Back in January 2012 I was attending the Elements Showcase in New York City. Behind a stand manned by a number of Japanese people was one of my favorite finds at any perfume exposition I have attended. When I met the founder and perfumer, Yasuyuki Shinohara, of Di Ser on the first day I would keep returning to the stand to try more of the perfumes. The fragrances were so unique and beautiful I expected a deal for US distribution to arrive soon enough. I was so confident I used up my samples over the rest of the year. Then there was nothing. Because I wrote a review on Kaze at CaFleureBon I would get the occasional e-mail asking where it was available. My answer until recently was a trip to Hokkaido Island in Japan where Shinohara-san was based. It has taken six years but finally a set of Di Ser are available in the US. I ordered a sample set and was pleased to see that little had changed.

Yasuyuki Shinohara (photo from CaFleureBon at Pitti Fragranze 2016)

When it came to this set I decided to see how my memory had fared as Tsuki was one of the perfumes I tried back then. It was part of a collection capturing the four traditional Japanese elements; of which Kaze was a part of. Tsuki is the Moon and it was one of the greenest geranium perfumes I had encountered. In my notes after the exposition I wrote to myself “Herbal geranium” in my spreadsheet description. Having a new sample to experience reminded me why that description is accurate but incomplete.

What is remarkable about Di Ser as a brand is the way their raw materials are made. All hand-made botanical materials. This means the time is allowed for tinctures to gain appropriate strength. Hard to extract materials will have the time taken to achieve enough to use. This makes it among one of the best natural perfume lines in the world. Not only reconnecting with Tsuki but the other six available in the US reaffirm that statement. Over the course of the year I will review all of them, they are that good, but first let’s see how I feel six years later about Tsuki.

One thing I say often when I’m called an “expert”; I counter with the way I think of myself “experienced enthusiast”. My experience with the nuances of naturally produced ingredients has expanded tremendously in these six years. Which is why Tsuki is so enchanting to me. I can smell that authenticity more clearly now. Tsuki shows it off.

That geranium I remembered was right there as soon as I sprayed Tsuki on. The herbal part was also there as coriander and mint flank it. The coriander is extracted in such a way that the lemony nuance is amplified while the mint provides an expansiveness to the natural green of the geranium. I use the sobriquet “green rose” to describe geranium nowhere is that more evident than in the geranium in Tsuki. Then in a fabulous different turn Shinohara-san adds in juniper berry and fennel. The juniper berry combines with the coriander to form a gin accord but that is subtext. The fennel is what is writ large over the heart of Tsuki. The vegetal licorice scent of the herb provides a contrast to the floral green of geranium. Over time the geranium fades and the fennel is left to take root in a gentle earthy patchouli.

Tsuki has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I mentioned this in my previous review of Kaze. If you think you know what a Japanese perfume will smell like based on European interpretation of that aesthetic, Di Ser will prove you wrong. What stood out then and now is there is a Japanese precise arrangement which more accurately describes the Di Ser aesthetic. Every ingredient in its specific place for a specific effect. I could wish that was a more universal aspiration when designing fragrance. I am happy to see it still thrills me the same six years later.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke