As older brands find their way back in to the marketplace it has been a bit of a mixed bag so far. One brand which I would have labeled as not living up to its heritage was Courreges. This was the fashion brand started by Andre Courreges and he was responsible for the go-go boot as well as one of the designers who made the first mini skirts. These were part and parcel of his futuristic aesthetic which would flourish especially in the 1970’s when M. Courreges found his muse and his model in Grace Jones. Throughout the 1970’s he dressed the singer for many of her magazine covers. Courreges released a couple of fragrances during this time; Courreges Homme and Courreges Amerique, The brand would make another go at perfume in the 1990’s but by 2001 had given up again. M. Courreges would sell the brand in 2011 and the new owners wanted to give fragrance a third try. There have been a total of seven releases since 2012 and the first six played it safe with well-known genres done in workmanlike style. Nothing could be further from the name on the bottle. Late last year the seventh perfume was released; Courreges Hyperbole and this felt more like what a Courreges inspired perfume should smell like.
Grace Jones in Courreges circa 1969
Hyperbole reached back to have perfumers Jean Jacques and Antoine Lie be inspired by Ms. Jones and a 70’s collection of sportswear of the same name. What came out of that was a perfume that was going to take traditional masculine notes and make them feminine. As one who sees perfume as genderless I can’t speak to the success of the gender bending they were after. What they have produced is a perfume which is a sweet tobacco with real charms.
Andre Courreges (seated) surrounded by his Hyperbole Collection circa 1974
Hyperbole opens with a snappy blast of white pepper balanced against bergamot. The white pepper is more stripped down than its full-strength cousin black pepper. That makes it a nice companion for the bergamot. The tobacco source used in Hyperbole is tobacco flower. This is where I am guessing the perfumers are trying to feminize the tobacco. The problem is they use patchouli to take the flower into that more typical deeply narcotic place you find tobacco in perfume. Vanilla provides a complementary sweetness to wrap up the tobacco and push back against the patchouli.
Hyperbole has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
For the first time since Courreges has started producing perfume again Hyperbole feels like something which fits M. Courreges style. There is a 70’s feel to all of it. I can see Ms. Jones wearing Hyperbole with a cigarette drooping from her magenta colored lips.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provide by Air France.
One of the things about the Holidays is it is one of the times of the year when fragrance is placed front and center at points of sale. I was reminded of this when standing in line to check out. There always seemed to be a display of perfume minis near the cash register. I spent a lot of time looking at the selection of perfumes in those plastic packages. I thought about how I had written about almost all of them over the three years of doing Discount Diamonds. That time was well-spent because there was one which I haven’t written about and it is sort of the epitome of what this column is all about: Zino Davidoff.
In 1988 the Davidoff brand ensured its place in the perfume hierarchy with the release of Cool Water. Two years earlier Zino Davidoff was released and it is the polar opposite of Cool Water. Named after the man who steered the Davidoff tobacco enterprise from 1912 until his death in 1994. It isn’t clear why in 1980 they entered the luxury goods market from their position as tobacco purveyors. Fragrance was one of the earliest parts of that expansion.
Zino Davidoff was the second fragrance release between the now-discontinued Davidoff and Cool Water. I knew about the perfume before I knew about the man behind the name. What I find interesting is a brand which was founded in tobacco has never released a tobacco perfume. Zino Davidoff is a powerhouse Oriental. The perfume was composed by a trio of perfumers; Jean-Francois Latty, Michel Almairac, and Pierre Bourdon. It was kept simple but each phase is excellently done.
Zino Davidoff opens with a particularly prominent bergamot opposite lavender. This is a classic top accord and the lavender matches the bergamot precisely. The heart is rose made a shade greener by geranium followed by patchouli. Again, patchouli and rose is not an unheard-of combination but it is executed professionally here. It all comes to an end with sandalwood, amber, and musk.
Zino Davidoff has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Zino Davidoff is collection of accords you’ve smelled previously. What sets it apart is the perfumers mange to put them together in a way which makes it feel classically new. Even now thirty years on it doesn’t smell dated. You can find it as a mini for $5 which is a great deal. A full bottle is easily found for around $20. This is a fragrance which glitters as bright as any of the previous Discount Diamonds.
Disclosure: this review was based on a bottle I purchased.
I’ve mentioned in other places that I am what is called a wetshaver. What that means is those multi-blade monstrosities meant to be used on my face hold no appeal no matter whether they swivel, vibrate, or grant a number of wishes equal to the number of blades. Instead after I step out of the shower every morning I take an old-fashioned Gillette Red Tip loaded with a single double-edged blade to do my shaving. This is also accompanied with a brush loaded with shaving cream which I use instead of an aerosolized gel. My wetshaving routine appeals in large part because of the smell of my shaving cream. I can pick something which will go with whatever I am wearing that day. One brand of products I own a lot of come from The Art of Shaving.
The Art of Shaving caught on to the rise of the quality shaving products trend and spread throughout the country with stores in many upscale malls. I was happy to add their products to the others in my cabinet. What was interesting to me was a line which carried everything for a shave did not have an equally well-done fragrance. When they started they just had two; one called Lemon and one called Sandalwood. The sad truth was the shaving creams had more depth than the colognes. Somewhere along the line that criticism must have spurred them to give the perfume thing a second try and at the end of last year they released a five-fragrance collection called Cologne Intense. My local outpost was excited for me to give them all a try,
I will say that all five of the new releases were better than the first two; there were some lessons learned over the past ten years. As for the perfumes, I would say they went two for five. Vetiver Citron and Green Lavender were nice but each carried a flaw which pushed me away. In Vetiver Citron the early citrus is bracing but afterward there is a muddy spice heart over an even less-defined vetiver. Green Lavender has a sharp punch of peppermint which makes me think of mouthwash instead of cologne. Surprisingly Oud Suede actually comes together very nicely leading to an oud accord at the base. It is very well done. Of the remaining two I expected the mix of clary sage and lavender along with the titular notes of Coriander & Cardamom to be my favorite. It is quite good and if Sandalwood & Cypress didn’t exist it would have been.
What drew me to Sandalwood & Cypress was an attention getting whisper of chamomile, baie rose, and cardamom. This was like a soft kiss of soft herbs and spices. It gets roughed up with cumin, black pepper, and laurel leaf before heading to the promised woody base. There along with sandalwood and cypress there is also cedar and guaiac. Together they form a solid woody accord which doesn’t overwhelm. It forms a foundation for the spices which works nicely.
Sandalwood & Cypress has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
While I don’t think they have the art of fragrance down; The Art of Shaving is getting better at it. If they do more like Sandalwood & Cypress they might be able to master the art one day.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by The Art of Shaving.
I have a hypothesis about artisanal perfumers. I believe they would be much better if they had someone who would give them honest advice. I know many reach out to friends and customers but these aren’t necessarily impartial. I receive perfumes from artisanal creators who can’t stop altering them. In rare cases, I’ve received six different supposedly finished versions. It is hard to work by yourself which makes it easy for doubts to creep in. This can lead to that dilemma of the perfume being never quite finished in the perfumer’s mind. There is one brand which is helping to show that the best artisanal perfumers given creative direction and evaluation can have a positive impact; Zoologist Perfumes.
Victor Wong is the owner and creative director of the brand. In two years, over eight perfumes he has worked with six different artisanal perfumers. In every case the collaboration has produced some of the best work from each of the perfumers. With perfumer Shelley Waddington he first collaborated with her on Hummingbird released late in 2015. In that perfume, there was a real extension of Ms. Waddington’s facility with bright florals and luscious fruity notes. Now they have re-united for the latest release, Civet.
Ms. Waddington really blossomed as a perfumer in 2013 and has continued to improve since then. One particular standout for me was a trio of perfumes she released, under her EnVoyage Perfumes brand, called “Souvenir de Chocolate” in which she combined gourmand effects on top of vintage accords. There was one called Café Cacao where she paired ambergris and musk with coffee and chocolate. For Civet, the pairing of animalic and gourmand is explored again plus a blowsy tuberose also joins the fun.
The early moments of Civet are a judicious dusting of black pepper and tarragon over a fizzy set of citrus notes of lemon and orange. The spices are what move towards the heart allowing carnation to use its natural clove character to transport them towards the tuberose waiting there. This is tuberose in all of its glory. Which means it is intense it also means it is creamy with a camphoraceous grace note that if you love the classic vintage tuberoses it will remind you of that. Ms. Waddington skillfully surrounds the tuberose with a host of other florals to provide depth and texture to the overall effect. The coffee comes next and it is a plusher version of the note than I normally encounter. What has this softening effect is the synthetic version of civet oil, civettone. There are a group of perfume ingredients which only become pleasant in high dilution; civetone is one of them. The high dilution also helps in allowing the coffee to stand up to the stronger animalic nature of the synthetic civet. The tuberose is also still here and this is where Civet is finally complete as the tuberose, coffee, and civet form a complete accord. The remainder of Civet is a chypre accord comprised of leather, vetiver, oakmoss, and labdanum. If you’re a chypre lover this is not a perfume which I would primarily call it a chypre. It certainly ends there but it is the trio at the heart which give Civet its true voice.
Civet has 24-hour longevity and huge sillage. This is a powerhouse in every way that term is used in perfumery.
I imagine the effort Ms. Waddington and Mr. Wong put in to get this just right was prodigious. It shows in the final product. Civet is the best perfume of both of their careers to date. Which leads me back to my hypothesis. When two things come together you have to ask if they are additive, as in 3+3=6, or are they multiplicative, as in 3X3=9. Ideally the latter is what you are looking for. With Civet Mr. Wong and Ms. Waddington have multiplicatively created a spectacular perfume.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Zoologist Perfumes.
When I was fourteen years old, in 1973, I went to the theatre to see a movie called “Westworld”. I was fascinated with the idea of a theme park populated by robots where you could live out a fantasy in a specific era. In that movie besides the titular area based on the American Old West there was also Medieval World and Roman World which are what you might expect them to be. Of course, the movie is the story of what happens when the programming stops functioning and the safe robots become dangerous. It was one of the earliest movies to explore the idea of artificial intelligence growing beyond the boundaries of its internal code. There have been so many cautionary tales since then it is a wonder people are so comfortable talking to Siri, Cortana, or Alexa. The storytelling potential is so great that it has come full circle with the recently released ten-episode series called Westworld on HBO.
This new version tells the story of a theme park which only is set in the American Old West; no knights or togas in this version. It tells the story of the robots referred to as Hosts. The humans who come to the park as Guests as well as the humans who keep it all going. In the first episode, you realize this is not only going to be a story about the humans but the Hosts are also undergoing change. The remainder of the series is whether that change is evolutionary or programming.
This should have been something which I should have wanted to see every week as it came on but for some reason the story moved too slowly for me. There were moments of genuine surprise but they were between long stretches of characters repeating some of the same actions. There is a plot device to that but it began to feel like I was treading water more than I was moving towards something. One of the cleverer devices used to delineate specific chapters was a player piano which you would see catch and begin to play as the paper roll unspooled. What made it fun is sometimes the piano is playing a Joplin rag and sometimes it is not. In those times, it is foreshadowing of things to come.
Jeffrey Wright (l.) and Anthony Hopkins
While I have some quibbles with the speed of storytelling the performances greatly helped my motivation to keep watching. The two which interested me the most were Robert Ford as played by Anthony Hopkins and Bernard Lowe played by Jeffrey Wright. Ford was one of the original architects of the robots and has been at Westworld from the beginning. Bernard is his current Head of Programming. There is one scene at the end of episode seven which reveals exactly who is in charge at Westworld that stands out.
I really wanted this to be about two or three episodes shorter. I think there are moments when the writers are too enamored of the importance of the tale they are spinning that they become too repetitive in delivering the desired message. In my favorite moments of the series it is the times when a character is revealed to be something beyond their social or literal programming where it is at its best.
I’ll have to sit down with Siri, Cortana, and Alexa to get their impressions.
Now that we have passed the winter solstice the days are getting longer which means spring will be here before too long. I am already getting the first trickle of upcoming rose perfumes for this spring. If the past is any indication I will soon be buried beneath an avalanche of fresh sparkly roses. I’m not ready for it. I need a rose which is unafraid to strut her stuff with nary a bit of fresh to be found. The new Lubin Kismet is providing that bulwark against the fresh.
Ever since Gilles Thevenin brought Lubin back to life in 2005 he has been charting a consistent course. Reaching back to the heritage of the brand and re-formulating for the current day as well as making new perfumes with a vintage-y vibe to them. Kismet is one of the heritage reconstructions.
According to the press materials Kismet was originally composed in 1921 named after the Indian princess it was made for. Kismet the person was an enigma as she entertained in Paris during the Roaring Twenties. The story goes she wanted a fragrance which would be the only trace left of her after she left a place. Kismet the perfume was what the perfumers at Lubin came up with. For this modern version I was unable to determine who the perfumer was but Thomas Fontaine has been behind almost all of the previous ones and Kismet has a similar feel to it. So until I find out differently I suspect M. Fontaine is once again performing fragrance archaeology on Kismet.
What was great about the early rose perfumes of modern perfumery is they weren’t after fresh they were more interested in grabbing your attention and never letting go. This version of Kismet uses a rose and patchouli heart to do that.
Before the roses come out to play in Kismet a fantastically finger popping top accord of bergamot, lemon, and petitgrain sharpen the focus. This was such a staple vintage opening which has seen less use currently. When I smell it again, as here, I am reminded how effervescently bracing it can be. Soon enough two versions of rose, centifolia and otto, form a full-blooded rose note. An equally powerful patchouli is needed to stand up to it. Here is where Kismet gains a bit of power that is not seen in today’s new releases. The patchouli provides a dirty contrast to the lush rose all done at volume. When this combination is done well it is lovely; which it is here. An opoponax and vanilla base accord provides a sweetly resinous coda.
Kismet has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Kismet is a perfume for someone who does want their perfume to linger after they have left. For me it is going to be the antidote to the upcoming deluge of fresh as I cling to my winter rose.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Lubin.
This coming weekend is that moment when I finally can take a moment to kick back and relax. There are no more parties to attend. No more special meals to prepare. No more places to be; other than on my sofa. This is the weekend where I sit with a bottle of wine, junk food and never get out of my sweatpants. Perhaps my favorite combination of post-holiday cocooning sustenance is a deep red wine and an even deeper dark chocolate. This year it is going to be a selection of Spanish Ribera del Duero reds along with a 15-piece box of dark chocolate confections from our local chocolatier Artisan Confections. This is the smell of recovery. Now I’m not sure independent perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz agrees with me but her Holiday release for 2016 is a red wine and chocolate gourmand called Dark Moon.
Dark Moon is the sixteenth Holiday release from Ms. Hurwitz. On her website, she describes it as a “chocolate chypre”. The foundation is most certainly chypre but she is leaving out something which really allows Dark Moon to stand out; her red wine accord. In the perfume description she names two; “fragrant wine” and “madeira”. It is the latter accord which I found to be particularly pleasant within the overall structure.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz
Dark Moon opens with a dry dark chocolate which forms the nucleus of Dark Moon. She uses nutmeg to give a bit of traditional seasonal cheer while also using black pepper for bite. Then her madeira accord comes out. Madeira is a dry sweet wine. The accord is also dry and sweet which harmonizes with the chocolate providing deep thought about sweetness that isn’t the typical pastry gourmand territory. To this a subtle floral bouquet of rose flits through before heading for the promised chypre base. In this chypre accord Ms. Hurwitz takes brown oakmoss, fossilized amber, and labdanum to form something with depth to match the chocolate and madeira. Throughout the later going there are flares of other resins but for the majority of its time on my skin Dark Moon is wine, chocolate, and chypre.
Dark Moon has 6-8 hour longevity and little sillage.
The Madeira accord is the reason to check out Dark Moon because you will not find anything like it elsewhere. It is another example of the joy of independent perfumery. It is also sort of interesting that Dark Moon has a kind of vintage feel even though it is a gourmand which has only been around for as a fragrance style for twenty-five years. I think it comes from the chypre accord but that doesn’t always impart that vibe to me. I look forward to putting up my feet this weekend, pour a glass, grab a square of chocolate and anoint myself with Dark Moon.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by DSH Perfumes.
When it comes to leather perfumes there are many variations. Suede, patent, rawhide, etc. One of the types of leather in perfumery that has been repeated since its arrival in the 1930’s is the Cuir de Russie or Russian Leather type of accord. This is not the kind of leather you find in a luxury product this is what you find attached to a team of horses pulling your sleigh through the Siberian snow. When done well it has a raw beauty. Done poorly it is a cacophony of conflicting notes. Over the past year, I’ve received a couple of good versions of this type; one of them is Berdoues Russkaya Kozha.
I have been quite pleased with the overall cohesion of the Collection Grand Cru fragrances from Berdoues of which Russkaya Kozha is one. Sophie Berdoues is the creative director of this collection. Her concept is for it to be a globetrotting selection of fragrances which highlight a single ingredient indigenous to the region using only three notes. For Russkaya Kozha she asked perfumer Flavien Laurandeau to create a Cuir de Russie accord using only that many notes.
This is a little bit like the old game show Name That Tune asking a perfumer to create a specific well-known accord with limited ingredients. The first choice M. Laurandeau makes is to center his accord on cade oil. Cade oil is the culprit when you smell smoke in many fragrances which have it. It is tricky to not have it smolder in anything it is used in. In Russkaya Kozha the other two ingredients must clear the smoke while leaving the bite of this pungent juniper wood. The other two notes M. Laurandeau employs are cardamom and benzoin. The benzoin does most of the trick of smoothing out the rough edges of the cade oil. It is the cardamom that adds some fresh expansiveness to the overall effect. It all comes together quickly and holds together for a long time on my skin.
Russkaya Kozha has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Russkaya Berdoues is a simple riff on Cuir de Russie but for those who love it this is a nice variation. M. Lasquandeau pulled together a true rough trade leather in style.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.
Whenever I was on a big sailboat there was always this exhilarating moment when the sails get trimmed correctly and it vibrates with the energy of the wind being transferred into thrust. There was this delicious tension as the wind and the engineering of the ship were in a precarious balance. This really would hit home when we would be running downwind with the breeze coming from behind the boat; billowing spinnaker full of air. This was when the spray shot up over the side. It also took the most concentration from the helmsman because with all of Mother Nature’s windy horsepower behind us it was like mashing the gas pedal to the floor. There is a scent to all of this as the sea spray and the canvas of the sails along with the smell of the fresh air that was unique. I have smelled a lot of aquatic fragrances over the years but the recently released Tommy Bahama Maritime captured this accord with an added twist.
Tommy Bahama Maritime was overseen by Parlux creative director Jennifer Mullarkey working with perfumer Frank Voelkl on his second release for the brand. The Tommy Bahama brand is meant to stand for fun and most of the fragrances released over the past ten years or so have been predictable variations on well-known perfume genres. For instance, the first fragrance M. Voelkl did was last year’s Island Life for Her which was as straight forward fruity floriental as it gets. Maritime is something different as it is an aquatic where the sense of the ocean is set up by accords in the top and base but in the heart, he presents a fabulous floral intermezzo.
M. Voelkl cleverly uses lavender as his core note for the top accord. He wants to make sure it displays its herbal nature and so it is tilted towards that by the inclusion of baie rose and clary sage. This forms that breathy exhilaration of being on the deck sails full. Then he adds one more note which represents the snap of those sails in the wind, red apple. This never rises to such a level that it becomes fruity instead it is a note which provides an orthogonal whip-crack across the herbal mixture of the other notes. Then as much as I like the top this evolves into a floral heart of geranium and jasmine made greener by violet leaves and waterier with water lily. This is so much better than the notes portend. The geranium and the violet leaves form one half of the effect while jasmine and waterlily provide the complement. Maritime picks up speed again as we round the mark into the base accord. Here M. Voelkl matches that smell of the sun-warmed wood of the deck with the canvas in the sails. Cedar, sandalwood, and a few white musks provide that. The final addition is an accord of sun-warmed skin from ambrette and some of the lower octave musks.
Maritime has 16-18 hour longevity and average sillage.
I think this might be the most original perfume Tommy Bahama has ever released. Even saying that it is still at heart firmly a member of the aquatic fougere family. What makes it stand out for me is the intelligent use of different ingredients by M. Voelkl to achieve some of the more familiar beats in this type of perfume. I know this is going to be one I take out for a sail again sooner rather than later.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Tommy Bahama.
I am always interested when one of the successful mainstream perfumers chooses to strike out on their own. It is not a slam dunk that someone who has success at the popular can make the transition to independent niche aesthetics. The new brand Parle Moi de Parfum is perfumer Michel Almairac’s branching out. He is doing it with his entire family on board. His sons Benjamin and Romain are providing creative direction. His wife Elisabeth designed the Paris boutique which is the only place they are being sold, now. It took me a while for the trans-Atlantic perfume underground railroad to get me some samples. I requested three of the eight perfumes which make up the inaugural collection; Guimauve de Noel, Woody Perfecto, and Tomboy Neroli.
The overriding design of each perfume seems to be based on simplicity. When I was looking over the note lists they name three ingredients and only three. It is a departure from M. Almairac’s mainstream work which can sometimes seem overcrowded. In these three perfumes I tried, there is a stripped down feel. M. Almiarac is working with some more precious ingredients and perhaps doesn’t feel like there needs to be a lot of things to get in the way. In the case of Guimauve de Noel I wanted something more than the orange blossom pastry that it is. It ended up feeling like a trifle while I wanted cake. Still what shone through was a spectacular orange blossom matched with an equally beautiful vanilla. I asked for Woody Perfecto because the idea of coffee, leather, and vetiver sounded perfecto; and it was. As with Guimauve de Noel there is a richness to the coffee and vetiver along with a strong leather accord. Of the three it was the most kinetic. The one which grabbed me was Tomboy Neroli.
I’m not sure if my newfound enjoyment from Neroli is because there has been a steady stream of excellent neroli perfumes over the past fifteen months but Tomboy Neroli is another to add to that list. M. Almairac uses one of the isolates of neroli that allows for the terpene-like quality to have a little more traction. It is those molecules which add the bite. The neroli in Tomboy Neroli stands its ground as if defying anyone to challenge it. A subtle use of orange blossom scrubs some of the dirt off the tomboy and gets her to braid her hair. A sublimely chosen amber warms things while also framing the neroli further giving it something to really interact with.
Tomboy Neroli has 10-12 hout longevity and moderate sillage.
I must commend the Les fils D’Almairac for providing the creative direction which convinced him simple was the correct choice for his own perfume line. Based on these three I will need to endeavor to get the other five. For the time being these will hold me over and Tomboy Neroli will lead the way.
Disclosure: These samples were obtained from the Paris Parle Moi de Parfum store.