Change; for such a small word it has such a large effect. For most, we dislike change we want the things we like to stay the same. Our view of perfume brands is no different. There are times when I wonder if I am falling into the trap of resisting all change just because I don’t want to give it a chance. Am I the old man wearing vintage perfume standing on the porch telling these modern compositions to get off my lawn? Of course, I’d like to envision myself as the antithesis of that always looking for new experiences the past be damned. It has been an interesting week to consider whether that is true or not.
Earlier this week in his regular column for Style.com Arabia called “Message in a Bottle” perfume writer and reviewer Luca Turin wrote of Guerlain in his review of the new Aqua Allegoria Teazzura, “These days, Guerlain fragrances are more like seventeenth century concertos of average caliber, commissioned by the dozen for delivery a month hence. Much like baroque concertos, they are intended to perpetuate a house style, to serve as background music to frivolous conversation as opposed to devoted silence, to develop foot-tapping tunes in an unambitious way, and generally to be pleasantly unobtrusive.” I don’t on the whole disagree with that statement but are we wanting something that no longer exists? The “house style” is still recognizable we just liked the previous version. Do I want the grand perfume houses to stay true to the past? Or do I want innovation? Which by necessity means hewing to modern trends and customers?
The second event this week was my review of the new Serge Lutens Le Religieuse. I am on record for not appreciating the new aesthetic Serge Lutens has imposed on the newest releases. I have publicly wished for a return to the past. I woke up this morning to a passionately worded e-mail from a reader who actively disliked the past releases I adore and conversely owns all of the new ones. She thinks Le Religieuse is as good as it gets when it comes to Serge Lutens. After an exchange of a few e-mails I started to wonder if I am so reluctant to let go of the past I can’t embrace this new direction. There were many who told me if I gave L’Orpheline more of a chance I would come to see its charms. I did wear it some more but I found nothing to enjoy. I said in that review that I just think that for this current phase of Serge Lutens perfumes I am not their audience.
I admire both perfumers a lot. I think Thierry Wasser has done a creditable job steering Guerlain through the last few years. I think Christopher Sheldrake is the perfect facilitator of M. Lutens’ visions. I don’t think it is lack of skill or desire. I don’t think these are perfumes without an audience. I think I am not that audience and that brings me back to my metaphorical porch waving my cane. All artistic endeavors should not seek to please everyone they should try to please a specific audience. There are plenty of other perfumes out there which do thrill me and they come from venerable brands as well as precocious independents. I still believe there is a future Guerlain and Serge Lutens which will challenge me and thrill me. At that point I’ll put down my cane and go join the kids on my lawn.
There are times when a perfume creative team gets too focused on a theme and in their endless variations on it keep missing the mark by a larger margin each successive attempt. I am thinking a lot about this as I have been wearing the latest from Serge Lutens, Le Reilgieuse.
Since 2010 M. Lutens in his role as creative director, along with perfumer Christopher Sheldrake, have been working on the theme of ice. Like a perfumer’s version of “Frozen” everything M. Lutens touches these days he seemingly wants to freeze. I have found little joy in these creations. Le Religieuse translates to “nun” and the press picture seems to confirm that with an abstract nun’s habit unfurling like wings behind the bottle. The note list is much abbreviated calling out only four ingredients; jasmine, civet, musk, incense. Now there is no official list but that list of ingredients sounded wonderful except I was wary of the ice that was also mentioned. Imagine my surprise when I received my sample and I spent the better part of three days trying to find any of those four notes. The ice and snow that I found and what was buried underneath seemingly suffered from the cold.
There is definitely a floral in the opening moments and there is definitely a mix of synthetics encasing that floral in a block of ice. The only thing I am sure of is it doesn’t smell like jasmine to me. There are no indoles it has a high pitched fresh floral quality but it never seems like anything natural. The ice gets in the way so I feel like I am getting fragments of something which should come together. It is almost like a jigsaw puzzle of different florals. If the plan was to have them come together in the heart over incense that would have been great except there is no incense. There is something almost like elemi but again it is hazed over with frost which obscures what might be here. When I saw the note list and it said civet I was really looking forward to that. When M. Sheldrake unleashes civet in one of M. Lutens concepts something special happens. Except I don’t detect any civet. White musks? Oh yes a lot of them; all imparting that chill M. Lutens so desires.
Le Religieuse has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.
La Religieuse reminded me of when I clean out my freezer and way in the back I find a frost encrusted foil wrapped object. There is a label on the outside which identifies what is inside but the prolonged exposure to the cold has had a deleterious effect on the contents; making them unrecognizable. That is exactly how I feel about Le Religieuse it seems like M. Lutens left it out in the cold too long. M. Lutens in the press release ends the text with the following, “I have told the youth within me that the white which clouded my vision was “snow”.” Right there is the truth about the recent output by Serge Lutens it is clouded by snow and it doesn’t look like there is a forecast for a thaw any time soon.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I purchased.
The smell of pine is one of my favorite comfort scents. It evokes Christmas trees and walks through stands of sentinel pines reaching to the sky. There is something uplifting about standing amidst them and breathing deep. Perfumers have always worked to make memorable versions of pine fragrances. Over the past year the ones which have stood out have come from small independent perfume brands where they are using uniquely sourced raw materials to realize a specific vision. The latest to do this is eSENSielle In the Woods.
eSENSielle is headed by Heike Jeannette Hegmann who also acts as creative director. Fr. Hegmann collaborated with perfumer Clement Salva for In the Woods. She wanted In the Woods not to be just a pine centered perfume she instead wanted top, heart, and base to all have a specific evergreen character. Working with M. Salva they chose three specific sources of coniferous raw materials to use for each phase of the perfume’s development. It is not only these materials but the choices M. Salva makes to enhance each focal point as In the Woods evolves on my skin.
Heike Jeannette Hegmann
The focal point for the early moments is Canadian Hemlock. Nearly every time I try a perfume with a significant hemlock note in it I wonder why it is not used more. In this case M. Salva uses galbanum to provide depth to the natural green quality this hemlock possesses. Juniper and pink pepper allow for some of the rough edges to stay that way. The early moments carry a roughhewn rustic quality that really works for me. The heart is Siberian Pine from the taiga. M. Salva again uses a set of complementary notes to coax the most out of the pine. By using the lighter green floralcy of geranium along with black pepper it calls up the smell of the forest floor covered in pine needles. The truly smart choice here is to include a bit of mint. When you smell a fresh cut pine tree there is a camphor-like smell which rises from the wood. By using mint M. Salva makes that connection. The final ingredient in the base is Fir Balsam harvested in New England. This material is so good M. Salva wisely leaves it on its own with only a very transparent use of labdanum and cedar to provide a baseline.
In the Woods has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
While I was wearing In the Woods I felt like I was on my own journey from Canada to Siberia to New England. Each phase of development has a distinct presence before the next appears. This is a well done first effort for Fr. Hegmann. I would be willing to follow her wherever she wants to take her next scented journey.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I purchased.
Photos taken from Beauty-Mekka.de
Like all things perfume has its seasons. When it is spring it seems like many perfume brands consider it time for a new rose perfume. Rose is one of the most crowded categories in all of perfumery. While it might be true that there is nothing new, talented perfumers manage to find new ways to interpret this most ubiquitous of notes. As I receive new rose perfumes I have a group which I use as comparators. I’ve already written about what I consider The Gold Standard, Guerlain Nahema, in rose perfumes. I’ve also lauded Vero Profumo Rozy Voils D’Extrait as the best post-modern rose ever. For this edition of My Favorite Things I’ll add five more worth trying.
Francis Kurkdjian has produced a number of spectacular rose perfumes including his most recent Maison Francis Kurkdjian A La Rose. No matter how many times M. Kurkdjian interprets rose I always go back to one of his earliest takes, MDCI Parfums Rose di Siwa. In this perfume M. Kurkdjian takes rose from dewy petaled ingénue through to sophisticated adult. So many rose perfumes tend to choose one of those and with Rose di Siwa you get both with the mix of Moroccan and Turkish roses in the heart supported by hawthorn and lychee on top and a beautifully sensual musk in the base.
I once described Le Labo Rose 31 by perfumer Daphne Bugey as a rose which is doing the walk of shame after a wild night. Mme Bugey has cumin, vetiver, and oud convince rose to join them for a rowdy ride. By the time it is all done rose is left holding her shoes as she squints into the sunlight wondering where the night went.
If rose is the most interpreted note in perfumery, oud would have to be a close second especially in the last five years. In eastern attar making rose and oud are the classic pairing. In By Kilian Rose Oud perfumer Calice Becker westernizes that combination. The oud is surrounded by exotic spices saffron, cardamom, and cinnamon. The Bulgarian rose is presented in a very French style to stand up to the oud. Together it makes something undoubtedly eastern as seen by western eyes. One of my most complimented fragrances I wear.
Creative Director Serge Lutens and perfumer Christopher Sheldrake have produced a number of great rose perfumes for the Serge Lutens brand. While Rose de Nuit and Sa Majeste La Rose have more fans it is La Fille de Berlin which is my favorite. M. Sheldrake composes an explosive rose which detonates on my skin every time I wear it. There are many more complex rose perfumes out there but few with more presence.
Last year’s Ann Gerard Rose Cut has risen steadily in my opinion. Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour has created a crystalline rose full of shiny facets like a rose diamond. The rose in the heart is topped by pepper and rum and supported with a base of oakmoss and vanilla. This is brilliant in both aesthetic and composition.
As I said at the beginning this is a list which could go on and on. Give these five a try and you will explore five singular interpretations of rose.
Disclosure: this review based on bottles of the perfumes I have purchased.
The use of leather in perfumery is one that seems to have multiple variations. It spans a spectrum from raw untreated animal hide at one end to refined buttery suede at the other. Because leather is an accord and not a specific raw material it allows a perfumer to adjust to fit their vision. There are many brands for which their leather accord has become a signature. One of those brands is Mancera which has seemingly perfected a patent leather accord which I like quite a bit. Their latest release to feature it is called Wild Leather.
Mancera, like its sister brand Montale, is notoriously difficult to find out anything about the perfumes as they are released. I generally get my information from their Facebook and Twitter feeds. When Wild Leather was released late in 2014 there was a Tweet which showed the picture of model Vivien Solari taken by photographer Txema Yeste as the inspiration for the fragrance. I liked the sort of stylish dominatrix look of the photograph and hoped for a leather which would live up to the adjective on the label.
Vivien Solani; Photo by Txema Yeste
If I was hoping for Wild Leather to be something dangerous that was not what I received when I finally got my sample. The pictorial inspiration should not have been seen as something dangerous. Instead it should have been seen as a fashion forward kind of perfume. Viewed through that lens Wild Leather is not wild because it is illicit; it is wild because it dares to be very modern in construction and style. It is so modern that I think it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Once I settled into wearing it for a few days I really enjoyed the risks the perfumer took.
The opening of Wild Leather is a really beautiful bergamot which sticks around a little longer than the usual bergamot. As the perfume develops the heart forms around Bulgarian rose, violet and patchouli. The use of the patchouli works extremely well as underpinning for the rose and violet. I really like the effect that patchouli provides when used in modest quantities especially with heavy hitter florals. In this case it complements the spicy nature of the Bulgarian rose and brings it more forward. With the violet it acts as a softener to the sharp edges violet can have. From here that patent leather accord comes bubbling up. What I like so much about this accord is it reminds me of the smell of opening the box of patent leather loafers I got prior to each school year. It smells like equal parts leather and plastic. That accord is what is present in Wild Leather. It is so well done I can almost see the gloss on the leather as I wear it. The base of Wild Leather is oakmoss and white musks to give a green and clean finish to it all.
Mancera Wild Leather lasts 24 hours with prodigious sillage.
How much you like Wild Leather will depend on how much you like this patent leather accord. If you like the modernistic quality it brings I think you will like Wild Leather a lot. If the smell of patent leather is equivalent to cheap in your mind you might have a hard time getting past that. I am in the first camp and I think Mancera does this accord as well as any perfume brand does. Which makes Wild Leather a winner for me.
Diisclosure: This review was based on a sample I received from Babalu.
In my part of the world the past week has been filled with arctic cold and frozen precipitation. That combination keeps me house bound for way too long for my own good. As we enter the final days of winter I just want it to be over and fast forward to spring. Alas I have no more magical powers than the groundhog does at speeding up the approach of spring and just have to wait it out. Thankfully a lot of the spring releases I’ve been receiving have helped me create a little spring in my office. The new Dasein Spring has been a great companion over the last week as it immerses me in the wet dirt of green and growing things.
Spring is the second release from Dasein following up last year’s Winter. On the website perfumer and owner Sam Rader promises Summer and Autumn will appear before year’s end. She has even put up note lists to give us something to look forward to. In her description of Spring Ms. Rader states, “The blend evokes a sunny spring morning, with a gentle breeze carrying the scent of wet earth, budding flowers and green things to your cute little nose.” Just reading that made me look forward to it because I really love the smell of fresh-turned earth. It has been addressed in perfume but it is rarely done well. Dasein Spring is one of those which succeeds at creating that early spring milieu where the damp earth sticks to your hands as you dig in the garden in the morning.
Ms. Rader starts with sunrise as yuzu adds a citrusy brilliance to the first moments. Then as you kneel down to dig in the dirt you get that subtle spicy earthy smell which in the case of Spring is represented by black pepper. Ms. Rader balances this just right; it is more than a pinch but not enough to tickle your nose. As you take another breath the violets and roses on the other side of the garden make their presence known. As with the black pepper Ms. Rader keeps it transparent enough so that it has presence but that it stays at arm’s length. Finally you plunge the spade into the ground and dig. Ms. Rader uses a fabulously complex vetiver equal parts green and woody. Very often a perfumer tilts the use of vetiver one way or the other. Ms. Rader amplifies both and it is that enhanced vetiver that forms the dirt accord. The pepper and florals have lingered to combine with the vetiver and sandalwood provides a bit more foundation for the woody character.
Dasein Spring has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I have to say that in these last few days where I felt the walls were closing in on me Ms. Rader’s perfume was the cure. It made me feel surer that all of the cold will eventually recede and let me outside again. Dasein Spring has been my cure for cabin fever.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I purchased.
When it comes to movies there is probably no more successful production studio currently than Marvel Studios. The visual arm of the comic book brand has connected with audiences in a big way. As a longtime fan of the comic books Marvel produces I am not surprised. The biggest difference between Marvel and their main competitor DC was that the superheroes on the Marvel page felt more relatable, more like real people bestowed with extraordinary powers and the struggle to adapt to them. As a child I could sympathize with Peter Parker as he navigated high school and being Spider-Man simultaneously. It is this which I think is the foundation for Marvel’s success on the page and the silver screen.
When I was growing up, girls didn’t read comics. In 2015 that is not true. Women are the fastest growing segment of the comic book reading audience. It has been very interesting to watch as Marvel has actively reached out to that audience. This effort began in earnest with Ms. Marvel in February of 2014 which chronicles a shapeshifting Muslim teenager in New Jersey. In less than a year it has become one of the best-selling titles for Marvel. Last fall the holder of the mystic hammer Mjolnir which makes one Thor was a woman. In January of this year The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl debuted as she fought off a supervillain while moving into her dorm in college. Just this week the character which I think is the best of all of these debuted in Silk #1.
Silk tells the story of Cindy Moon who was bitten by the same radioactive spider which turned Peter Parker into Spider-Man. She has spent the last ten years isolated in a bunker by a mysterious businessman Ezekiel. Ezekiel kept Silk hidden away to “protect” her because she had no training in her powers. Now that she is back in the world she is awkward not knowing anything about the last ten years. She doesn’t know what Twitter is, as an example. This is classic Marvel territory that was explored with Captain America when he was revived in the present day after being frozen post-World War II. It makes for an interesting story hook as this time the hero is not all-knowing and will make mistakes from her lack of current knowledge. Also, like Peter Parker, Cindy Moon is learning what her powers can do. In these early days they don’t seem to function as well as they do for Spider-Man. Cindy Moon will figure it out as we move along with her. The writer who will pen these early tales is Robbie Thompson who is one of the writers on the television series “Supernatural”. Based on the first issue it seems like Mr. Thompson has a definite direction in mind and the first issue is almost overstuffed with plot threads for him to weave together in the future.
Art by Stacey Lee
There is another vital component to comic books and it is the art. I’ve been reading comic books for over forty years now and it is a rare joy to pick up a comic and be bowled over by the artwork by a newcomer. The artist on Silk is Stacey Lee and she has a very distinctive style right from the start for Silk. She has chosen a streamlined Manga style with less of the day-glo components and no enormous black eyes. Ms. Lee’s artwork is as compelling and fascinating as Mr. Thompson’s words.
I haven’t enjoyed the debut of a comic series as much as I did Silk #1 in a very long time. This feels like the start of something big. What is nice about it is it is built on a foundation of Marvel traditions as it swings into the future. I’m going to be reading the adventures of Cindy Moon for a long time, I hope.
Disclosure: This review was based on a copy of Silk #1 I purchased.
One of the things I find interesting about writing these pieces is the opportunity to apply complete hindsight when looking back at a perfumer’s career. With the fullness of time’s perspective it is easier to find that moment when the style associated with them first comes to the fore. What is amusing to me as I do this is I often wore these early fragrances and while memorable I can’t say I was prescient enough to know the milestones they represented. In 1996 I picked up a bottle of Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant and this was my vanilla and spice baseline for many years. It would be followed up a year later with Kenzo Jungle Le Tigre which was a brilliant bit of fruity floral wildness. The entire team behind these two perfumes have been involved with some great perfumes in the years since. Over 1996 and 1997 they all intersected in the perfumed jungle.
The creative director for both of these perfumes was Celine Verleure who has gone on to found her own niche perfume line Olfactive Studio. Two perfumers, Dominique Ropion and Jean-Louis Sieuzac collaborated for both of these. M. Sieuzac was part of the team which had created Yves St. Laurent Opium twenty years earlier. M. Ropion was still defining his style. They had both worked together on Dior Dune in 1991 so a working relationship had been created. Together they would create two perfumes that you would never suspect came from Kenzo if you smelled them blind today.
In 1996 Kenzo was still forming its identity and as such I think they gave Mme Verleure a wide latitude to let her perfumers follow their instincts. It would be four years later with the release of FlowerbyKenzo that Kenzo’s aesthetic would crystallize. With Jungle L’Elephant and Jungle Le Tigre Messrs. Ropion and Sieuzac explored the boundaries of Orientals from two differing vectors.
Jungle L’Elephant is the perfume where M. Ropion would display his ability to soften and refine even the most boisterous of notes. Nowhere is that more evident than in the early moments of L’Elephant. If I tell you the top notes are cardamom and cumin I can imagine many already exclaiming, “No Thank You!” Except the perfumers harness these notes and turn them into a soft spicy pillow to lay one’s head down on. None of the sweatiness or rough green quality is here. Instead it is exotic and plush. That would be enhanced as the heart adds in clove and licorice to make the spicy accord more complex, yet still soft. Ylang-ylang and mango provide a fruity floral combo to add contrast. The transition here happens fairly quickly and it leads to a vanilla laden base made warm by cashmeran and amber. This evolution from soft to comfort will return time and again in M. Ropion’s perfumes but it is here that I first noticed it.
Jungle Le Tigre dispenses with the spices and instead chooses to prowl the jungle with a fruity floral vapor trail. The perfumers choose the sour kumquat and they pair it with davana allowing for its characteristic fruity nature to be enhanced. It heads into a heart of osmanthus supported by ylang-ylang. The perfumers make a smart choice to let the leather and apricot character of the osmanthus hold the center of Le Tigre. It sits there full of restrained potential. It all devolves into a slightly sweet spicy woody base. Massoia wood provides the cream and the wood as cinnamon roughs up the edges a bit. The base of Le Tigre is a bold final statement. M. Ropion would refine and alter this architecture in just four years to result in Une Fleur de Cassie as one of the first Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle releases.
M. Ropion has had one of the great perfume portfolios of the last twenty years and if you want to know where it started you need to head into the jungle.
Disclosure: This review was based on bottles I purchased
It is nice when brands have an identifiable aesthetic that mostly rings true. It allows for me as a consumer to have an idea of what I’m getting if it is consistent. One perfume brand which has this kind of consistency is Penhaligon’s. It has always stood as the epitome of British style. The great majority of the collection possesses a refinement that somehow seems very English to me. It might be the same infatuation many Americans have for things from Britain but I just like the style. When it works it really works. The latest release in the Trade Routes Collection, As Sawira, applies this aesthetic to one of the more recalcitrant notes out there; oud.
As Sawira is inspired, as are all of the Trade Routes collection are, by the old shipping trade when it was transported by tall ships. For As Sawira perfumer Christian Provenzano was asked to interpret the city of Essaoiura which was the first seaport in Morocco. M. Provenzano assembles many of the more exotic Eastern ingredients in perfumery; saffron, davana, cardamom, myrrh, and oud. At the time of these great ships crossing the oceans these provided an interpretation of the rest of the world most would never see. M. Provenzano takes As Sawira and provides a very British re-telling of a trip to Morocco.
Before M. Provenzano gets down to his tale he pours himself a glass of absinthe and the boozy licorice starts things off. In fairly short order the darkly woody davana and saffron join it. It immediately sets this as coming from the East. The saffron really does a nice job at taking the wood and licorice and making it seem alien. The heart is centered on a beautifully poised jasmine. M. Provenzano has used a source which has only a trace of indoles, sort of cleaning up his story for English audiences. The three notes which surround this jasmine are clove, cardamom, and peach. The cardamom adds a spicy green effect to the jasmine while the peach makes it creamier. Clove is almost a stand-in for the missing indoles from the jasmine. This all leads to a base of oud and myrrh. M. Provenzano uses the myrrh as a foil to the rougher edges of oud. He has done a fine job as he dresses up the oud in bow tie and blazer before unleashing it on society. The first time I wore As Sawira I kept expecting the oud to tear the tie off and throw the jacket on the ground as it would eventually take over the final stages of development. Instead, M. Provenzano keeps it completely well-behaved allowing it to interact with sandalwood, and amber for the very end stages.
As Sawira has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage. One of the least projecting oud fragrances I have tried.
When a perfumer undertakes the effort to modulate the effect oud has in a perfume very often it leads to one of the better oud creations. In As Sawira M. Provenzano has done an excellent job of making oud behave like a gentleman and the perfume is much the better for it.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample I purchased.
One of the most widely used aroma chemicals in perfumery is Iso E Super. Iso E Super was synthesized by International Flavor & Fragrances (IFF) chemists John B. Hall and James M. Sanders in 1973. In the book “Scent and Chemistry, The Molecular World of Odors” by Philip Kraft and Gunther Orloff they write that it had one of the most pronounced effect on fragrance development since Edmond Roudnitska introduced Hedione in Dior Eau Sauvage in 1966. What makes this such an influential molecule? One of the reasons that I will explore today is its size. If you look below at the structure of Iso E Super next to Limonene you can see they are closely structurally related but they have very different effects when used in perfume.
Limonene is one of the chemicals extracted from lemon rind. As is common citrus notes tend not to last very long on skin when used in a perfume and Limonene is no exception to that. Iso E Super has a very different effect. It is one of the great fixatives and base notes in all of perfumery. It is more well-known for its use in high percentages in some particularly seminal perfumes like Lancome Tresor, Hermes Terre D’Hermes, Perles de Lalique and of course Geza Schoen’s Molecule 01 which is 100% Iso E Super. In high percentages it does have a unique odor profile. Iso E Super has the influence cited my Kraft and Orloff for the effect it adds when used in small quantities.
Perfumer Andy Tauer has the best description of Iso E Super in small quantities in his blog entry of October 9, 2012. In that post he likens it to a layer in graphics program Photoshop. He says, “It adds lift, and it soften all notes, and it brings out contrasts and optimizes a fragrance in quite a spectacular way. In a sense it is present by its effect, and less by its scent. It is not by chance that you find Iso E Super in so many scents these days. Actually, the analogy to a photoshop layer is not so bad.” It is that lift and the ability to add to the longevity of the perfume which makes it so influential. That property is also related to its size.
One of the more unique features of Iso E Super is that some people can’t smell it easily, called anosmia. Just as people show anosmia for the large macrocyclic musks which are at similar molecular weight they do the same for Iso E Super.
When it comes to aromachemicals size does matter and Iso E Super is one of the larger molecules in regular use, and influence.
Title Picture: Bloom County by Berkley Breathed– "Size Matters"