I’ve probably put off doing this specific ingredient because I’m not fond of spelling it. An extra “p” here an “o” turns to an “a” there. Before I get done writing this I’ll probably correct a dozen or more misspellings. Opoponax is one of the linchpins of Oriental perfumes. It is one of the critical components of three of the classic perfumes of all-time; Guerlain Shalimar, Yves Saint Laurent Opium, and Dior Poison. They owe much of what makes them so special to opoponax. It is used extensively as an earthier more balsamic alternative to myrrh. It also carries with it a sizeable powdery component which makes it especially amenable to providing the grounding for those kinds of ingredients.
I would wager most who love perfume don’t know what opoponax smells like although there are probably multiple perfumes on the shelf which contain it. I’m starting this month’s list with three different versions of the ingredient surrounded by benzoin and sandalwood. Each of them is slightly tuned differently around the opoponax. The most straight-forward is Santa Maria Novella Opoponax the benzoin and the sandalwood provide subtle foundation. It is the most unadulterated version of these three. The benzoin rises to be a more equal partner in Les Nereides Opoponax. It ends up also tilting a bit sweeter because some vanilla leads it that way to give a warmly satisfying sweetly resinous hug. Von Eusersdorff Classic Opoponax adds a floral shine on top via rose and a bit of animalic purr via castoreum but it is still primarily opoponax, benzoin, sandalwood. Once you’ve introduced yourself to opoponax here are three more where it stands out.
Diptyque Eau Lente was one of the original releases from the brand in 1986. Perfumer Serge Kalougine wanted to create an opoponax perfume as they imagined it might have been used by Alexander the Great who scented his cloaks with the smoke from burning the resin. What M. Kalougine does is to take an equally fantastic cinnamon as a partner to the opoponax. The cinnamon heats up the opoponax making it less viscous that it is by itself. While being one of my favorite opoponax perfumes it is also one of my favorite cinnamon ones, too.
Carthusia Ligea unleashes the powdery nature of opoponax more fully. Perfumer Laura Tonatto transitions from a crisp citrus opening into softer mandarin which accentuates the powder in the opoponax. Over time patchouli and benzoin find and magnify the more balsamic elements.
Before perfumer Mona di Orio’s untimely passing she made several incredibly artistic perfumes; Mona di Orio Cuir is among the best of those. Mme di Orio uses opoponax in conjunction with castoreum to provide a thoroughly engaging base underneath a smoke-laden leather accord. One of the best examples of the chiaroscuro style of perfume Mme di Orio practiced.
If you love perfume you’ve definitely worn a perfume with opoponax; now try one of these to try a perfume which features it.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased of all the perfumes mentioned.
As the mass market perfume aesthetic seems headed towards an overall lightening I worry a bit that something will be lost. The gist of my concern is the stronger notes within the perfumer’s organ will be shunned. One of the things which is making me feel more optimistic is there have been a handful of mass market releases which are using lighter isolates of those notes. Now the perfumer has access to way more than just the essential oil. Those versions can be lighter accentuating only a couple of facets of the ingredient. Elie Saab In White is one which achieves this.
Elie Saab has been producing perfume since 2011 almost all of them done by perfumer Francis Kurkdjian. While the work he has done for the Essences and Cuirs collections I have enjoyed; the mainstream selections have left me unimpressed. Some of what has bothered me is M. Kurkdjian seems more restrained when it comes to the mass-market releases. They came off too safe for my tastes. When I received the sample for Elie Saab in White I was brought up short this was different from what has preceded it.
What caught my attention was M. Kurkdjian was using a more expanded ingredient list while still retaining the transparency. It was also of interest to me that the base was kept to that style by using what I believe is a fresher patchouli isolate which really works here.
In the past the Elie Saab fragrances have relied on orange blossom as a keynote in the top. Elie Saab in White lets it mature into the citrus itself with orange holding the center. Light applications of pear and blackcurrant bud come together in a dynamic top accord. Jasmine has been the heart of nearly every one of this brand’s fragrances but usually in a obtrusive way. I think M. Kurkdjian is using one of the more expansive jasmine synthetics which provides an airiness to the middle part of the development. Then we get to the base where a patchouli which is almost herbal without carrying the heavier qualities is surrounded by a swirl of a few white musks. M. Kurkdjian is one of the perfumers who knows how to layer musks to gain exquisitely beautiful effects. This is what happens in the base here. The musks provide elevation as the fresher patchouli is lifted to the jasmine and orange.
Elie Saab in White has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Elie Saab in White, by the name, was designed with brides in mind. It would be a good choice for that, I think. It is also a good choice for those looking for a nice spring floral to wear to those upcoming seasonal weddings.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Elie Saab.
In science we talk of “family trees” where the professor who you studied under is the figurative “mother/father” and the person they studied under the “grandparent” and so on. Perfume doesn’t seem to be as collaborative. I have noticed a recent trend, though, of identifying new perfumers based on who they studied under. Because of my scientific background I like this and am hoping there is more of it. Most of the ones I am thinking of are the bigger name perfumers. There are fewer examples within independent perfumery but there are some. One of those has just resulted in the first release by the student; Sammarco Yael.
I first heard about Yael when it was premiered at Pitti Fragranze but I thought I was getting mistaken information. I was being told that brand owner/perfumer Giovanni Sammarco did not make Yael. It was a graduate student designing a perfume for her thesis; Beatrice Baccon. An interview by both Sig. Sammarco and Mme Baccon given to Fragrantica writer Sergey Borisov filled in many of the blanks. Mme Baccon created a perfume as part of her Master’s Degree studies. In the interview, her thesis was not only creating the perfume but also understanding the regulatory landscape affecting how to produce it. Throughout Sig. Sammarco was by her side to teach and guide her. The result is a perfume which feels part of the Sammarco collection but perhaps the introduction to a new one, too.
Beatrice Baccon (l.) and Giovanni Sammarco (photo via Fragrantica)
Yael is inspired by all the types of kisses we receive; mother’s, lover’s and friends’. That is how Mme Baccon constructed Yael, with an accord representing each one of those kisses.
The friends’ kiss is meant to be that of young people looking forward to an evening out. Mme Baccon uses ginger for its energetic effect. The zippy ginger is modulated by a bit of pink pepper providing herbal spiciness as complement. The lover’s kiss is represented by that classic flower of romance, rose. A deep spicy rose connects back to the top accord. If there is a bit of a young perfumer’s stumble it comes in the use of raspberry which takes over at the expense of everything else for some time. I would have liked it better if the rose was given the predominant position over the fruit. Once the berry begins to recede the best part of the perfume is revealed; the mother’s kiss. Mme Baccon uses a comforting mixture of sandalwood and orris. It forms a smooth slightly powdery hug to which a few musks are swirled in, providing that human connection. The orris is a bit of a lipstick style iris, the sandalwood is like warm cookies in the oven. The musks are intelligently used to keep it comforting without becoming confrontational.
Yael has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Other than the moment in the middle where the raspberry is overwhelming Yael shows a perfume student listening to her teacher and finding her own way. Time will tell if this is the beginning of the Baccon branch from the Sammarco family tree. I hope it is.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
When I was child I heard one phrase a lot at dinner, “Eat your greens!” I found a way to nibble around the edges of what ever was on my plate while eating the other things. It is far from an uncommon experience. Green in perfume is also a difficult sell to most consumers. If there is one significant difference between niche and mainstream it that niche is happy to go green. There are plenty of examples of well executed green mainstream releases which failed. It’s like at the mall the sales associates are trying to get people to “smell your greens!”. Which makes me interested when a brand takes another attempt at trying to break through. Gucci Bloom Acqua di Fiori is the latest to step up.
If there were “glory days” for the Gucci fragrance line it was probably between 1997-2004. Tom Ford was hands-on with creative direction in all aspects of the brand during that time. Once he left the creative direction was mostly left up to the corporate team at P&G. That resulted in what you would expect, safe crowd-pleasing releases. What has me excited about Gucci again is the new creative director Alessandro Michele also seems to share Mr. Ford’s ethic of being involved in the fragrance as well as the fashion. In Sig. Michele’s early days both Gucci Bloom and Gucci Guilty Absolute pour Femme show a new intriguing creative direction in fragrance. When I received the press materials for Bloom Acqua di Fiori I noticed that two of the more prominent green ingredients, galbanum and blackcurrant buds, were top of the ingredient list. Perfumer Alberto Morillas was going to have his hands full adding those into a transparent white flower original.
The green is right there from the beginning. Sr. Morillas pushes them to a moderate level. The overall effect is a slightly bitter sap accord. There is more strength to it overall which makes Bloom Acqua di Fiori a slightly less transparent perfume than the original. Sr. Morillas then reprises the tuberose and jasmine from the original which are similarly opaque. The new addition is lily of the valley to provide a floral with a significant green quality to connect to the top accord. It ends with a lightly woody base accord of sandalwood and white musks.
Bloom Acqua di Fiori has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I am looking forward to my next visit to my local mall so I can watch first reactions to this perfume. Sig. Michele is trying to see if a new perfume generation will “smell their greens!”. The verdict will take a year to find out. In the meantime, Sig. Michele has again signaled the corporate thought process has been removed from Gucci fragrance. He has a hold of the wheel and is going off-road; Gucci Bloom Acqua di Fiori continues that journey.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Gucci.
I am not the most educated consumer of opera. One of my more misguided attempts to try and learn more was to buy tickets to the 1989 version of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at NYC’s Metropolitan Opera. I jumped into the deep end of the pool; and drowned. If there was anything which I took away from that was the way vocals combine in ways which transcend language. Beauty represented by the comingling of specific musical notes coming from the throats of trained professionals. It is layered in a way which allow both voices their space coming together in harmony. Perfume can also do that. It also takes trained professionals to pull it off. The latest from perfumer Alberto Morillas for his own brand Mizensir is called Poudre D’Or and it a great example of what I am writing about.
If there is one thing that gets an undeservedly bad rep in perfumery it is synthetics. There has never been a definitive statement of the Mizensir aesthetic. After 21 releases it seems to me like it is an opportunity for Sr. Morillas to explore the best synthetic ingredients in operatic ways. Poudre D’Or does this with two of the most widely used and recognizable synthetic ingredients; Paradisone and Exaltone.
Paradisone is jasmine at the top of the octave; the figurative soprano in Poudre D’Or. Exaltone is the tenor, as a softly animalic musk. Sr. Morillas allows both expansive ingredients the space to sing their duet in a full-throated way.
The performance starts with Paradisone going straight to High C in the key of jasmine. Paradisone has to be used intelligently, which Sr. Morillas’ experience in using it allows for him to achieve. It has explosive power to which Sr. Morillas adds a luminescence via tiare. It brings a constellation of light to the hard charging ingredient. As the Exaltone steps forward it provides an animalic musk which is designed to be easy. Sr. Morillas makes it more so by adding in some iris, the powder in the name, to provide a connective effect to the Paradisone. The two synthetics find a harmonious conjunction which is quite satisfying. It ends on a sweet woody base of sandalwood and vanilla.
Poudre D’Or has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
As a chemist I am already predisposed to not being wary of synthetics in my perfume. Sr. Morillas has been making a case, with the Mizensir collection, that those synthetics can be used for incredible effect. Poudre D’Or is an example of two of the most famous synthetics finding their voice unleashed.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Mizensir.
I sometimes ascribe intent to something when it doesn’t exist. Which means I overlay something that was never meant to be by the brand or the creative team. Part of that is I like looking for patterns and when I think I find one I want to write about it. One which crops up from time to time is when a version of a perfume is released, and it is derided as being “too light” or “too strong”. What often comes next is something in-between those perceived extremes. It is easy to see Goldilocks saying that one is “just right”. As a brand Tom Ford Private Blend has certainly releases sets of similar perfumes which run the gamut from “too light” to “too strong” and a few releases in the middle.
Two years ago, the “too light” version of a suntan lotion style of perfume was released with Soleil Blanc. I enjoyed it for its almost extreme transparency. I am guessing I wasn’t joined by many. Six months later as part of the Tom Ford Signature collection I found Orchid Soleil to be the “too strong” version. It was stronger, and it had a deep gourmand base accord to boot. I’m not sure this was flying off the shelves either. Now Tom Ford Private Blend Eau de Soleil tries to satisfy Goldilocks.
What sets it apart is a generally brighter tone as perfumer Nathalie Gracia-Cetto and Creative Director Karyn Khoury, who did Soleil Blanc, up the brightness. This is done by adding fresher alternatives to what came before which provides something more present without potentially overwhelming.
The freshening agent in the top accord is a set of citrus notes; cedrat, bitter orange, and petitgrain. It comes together like a focused beam of brightness as if you were focusing the sunlight through a magnifying glass. It becomes a bit fuzzier as cardamom and caraway provide some spicy underpinning. It is further ameliorated by the arrival of the floral heart still dominated by jasmine but in this formulation also matched by ylang-ylang. The latter ingredient provides a kind of unctuous floral effect which fits the whole suntan lotion vibe. What seals it into place is the coconut quality of Mme Gracia Cetto’s “Coco de Mer” accord. It is very reminiscent of many of the suntan lotions I smelled at the beach growing up in South Florida. It ends on a toasty accord of tonka and benzoin.
Eau de Soleil Blanc has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage. To give a reference if you thought Soleil Blanc was a skin scent and Orchid Soleil left a vapor trial this is exactly between those two.
I have liked all three of the Tom Ford interpretations of a suntan lotion style of perfume. If pressed to pick one I think the transparency of the original Soleil Blanc keeps me at arm’s length. The life of the party Orchid Soleil keeps me up too late. Like Goldilocks, Eau de Soleil blanc is “just right”.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I received from Tom Ford Beauty.
One of the best things about comics is the amazing writers who will participate in writing them. No longer seen as something less than, novelists from all genres are willing to take on the cape and spandex protagonists. One novelist who has caught my attention over the last year is Saladin Ahmed. He has been the author of a truly amazing series featuring the King of the Inhumans, Black Bolt. If you’re saying, “who?” that’s not surprising. Many of the novelists are drawn to taking a character from the shelf and giving them a new spotlight. For forty years Black Bolt has been a stiff. In Mr. Ahmed’s hands he is fascinating. Even so he is still hemmed in by the accumulated canon history of the character. As I’ve appreciated the Black Bolt Series I wondered whether he would continue. Turns out he had an original character he wanted to do, Abbott, and the first two issues have been released from BOOM! Studios.
Mr. Ahmed grep up in Detroit during the 70’s and 80’s so he decided to set Abbott in that era. The title refers to black female journalist Elena Abbott. The time period sets her apart for her skin color and her gender. One thing I like about the first two issues is the way it isn’t dwelled upon, but it isn’t ignored. We know that Abbott has more than a mystery to deal with in her life. It is essentially one of my favorite genres of urban supernatural mystery.
Abbott is out doing her job when she comes across a couple of mutilated bodies. It reminds her of the “unexplained” attack which killed her husband. She is still dealing with that loss because she saw something otherworldly take him. Mr. Ahmed gives Abbott personal quirks which give the reader a clue to what’s going on inside. The bodies provide her an opportunity to find some answers.
Mr. Ahmed has fully captured early 70’s Detroit. Abbott is a bit like the old Blaxploitation movies of the same era. Although the writing is better. Freed of some of the commercial restrains of corporate comics artist Sami Kivela saturates many of the panels with monochromatic hues to give a presence to the scene being portrayed.
The story is just getting ramped up only two issues in, but this has become one of my most looked forward to titles in 2018.
Now I have to go grab a copy of his fantasy series, “Throne of the Crescent Moon” to pass time between issues.
I probably treat the concept of writing about perfume too seriously. Dissecting new releases looking for something new under the sun. There are some brands and perfumers who mange to not take it all so seriously. There are also some perfumers who find the time to let their less serious side out to play. It often becomes clear over time. With the release of Prada Candy Sugar Pop it sure seems like Prada in-house perfumer Daniela Andrier is finding some joy in making perfume.
This has been an evolution from the original Prada Candy which was the next evolution, itself, of the modern gourmand style of fragrance. That was a seriously imagined construct which I consider one of the best designer releases of the last ten years. Through three flankers Mme Andrier began to lighten the tone. By the time last year’s Prada Candy Gloss arrived the mirth was fully on display. If you needed to know if that was going to continue the name, Candy Sugar Pop, give it away. I’m thinking Ice Cream wouldn’t fit on the label.
This is like the sugar candy Sweet Tarts. There is a lot of sweet and some tart in contrast. A beautiful floral synthetic holds the heart while a nod to the gourmand roots of the original reminds you what this is a flanker of.
The top accord is a mixture of three different types of fruit. A tart lime finds crisp green apple to form an acerbic fruit accord. Peach drenches that in pulpy creamy sweetness. What is particularly nice about this accord is it is formed in a transparent style. A normal volume fruity floral accord of these ingredients would’ve set my teeth on edge. Mme Andrier finds the right balance giving it a powdered sugar candy style. To add the floral component Mme Andrier use Mahonial, a lily-of-the-valley variant, which also has a significant jasmine character. This complements the sweet tart top accord by being that in floral tones. This settles onto a vanilla base ending on a sweet note.
Prada Candy Sugar Pop has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
As I wore this I felt like I could hear the joyful laughter of Mme Andrier behind it. Candy Sugar Pop is proof Daniela just wants to have fun.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Prada.
When someone is tasked with having to follow a highly respected predecessor they know there will be comparisons. One way to approach this is to make significant changes making the enterprise your own. Another option is to understand what made the previous occupant successful and find a way to evolve that. It is the latter which has been occurring at Hermes as Christine Nagel has taken over from Jean-Claude Ellena as in-house perfumer. She has worked her way through most of the collections adding her imprint upon them. One of the few left is also one of the most important, the Hermessence collection. She has now opened the Nagel era of Hermessences with the release of three eau de toilettes and two ‘essence de parfums”.
I reviewed the three EdTs; Agar Ebene, Cedre Sambac, and Myrrhe Eglantine yesterday. Those are the slow evolution which has been happening as Mme Nagel provides her artistic perspective on that style. What has captured my attention more fully in this new set of Hermessences are the two “essence de parfums”; Cardamusc and Musc Pallida. These are significantly different from what has come before. Oil-based formulations which give an entirely different textural feel. They still hew to the minimal ingredient concept with which this collection was founded. What really changes is we leave the ethereal behind for shimmering depths.
Cardamusc is what the name portends cardamom combined with not one musk but a few. Mme Nagel uses cardamom in overdose. This has to be the single loudest ingredient in any Hermessence, ever. As is typical when a high-quality ingredient is used in overdose there are unexpected nuances not usually noticed. Cardamom at typical concentration adds a woody-tinged citrus effect. Cardamom in Cardamusc provides a multi-faceted single ingredient accord. The lemony citrus effect is enhanced as is the woody underpinning. What also becomes more evident is a set of nuanced green facets which hide underneath. There is a mint-like aspect, a leafy herbal one, and a slightly grassy vein. This is cardamom like I have never experienced previously and since it is one of my favorite notes I was hypnotized. It gets better as tendrils of a warming musk accord start to intersperse itself throughout. The cardamom is never cool as it can be in other perfumes. It starts warm but the musks provide a heat mirage style effect. I felt like this rose off my skin in waves.
Musc Pallida is also what is given in the name, iris and again not one musk but a suite of them. As with Cardamusc the iris is what comes first but this is not at high concentration. It is an iris effect seen in better perfume versions. I presume Mme Nagel is using an orris butter of some kind because it has that nuanced feel of the better ones I’ve encountered. What it means for Musc Pallida is Mme Nagel uses a set of musks which cover the entire octave of musk. Early on it is a white musk which makes the powdery nature of iris expand on the transparent bubble it provides. A mid-weight musk captures and enhances the violet-like floral quality. A slightly earthy-animalic musk teases out the rhizomal rootiness. Together as it was in Cardamusc it makes up this shimmery style which also waxes and wanes on my skin. It is a lovely combination of ingredients.
It is with these “essence de parfum” Hermessences where Mme Nagel makes this collection her own. Both are like nothing else in it. Also it is early but I can not get enough of Cardamusc. Right now, it is close to all that I want to wear. If you feel about iris the way I do about cardamom I believe Musc Pallida has the same quality to entrance you. If you’ve stayed away from the Hermessences because they seemed too light or ethereal you might want to see if Mme Nagel’s “essence de parfums” provide a more satisfying experience. With the release of both Mme Nagel has completed the process of making the fragrance side of Hermes her own.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples I received with purchase from Hermes.
Much to their credit the changeover from Jean-Claude Ellena to Christine Nagel as in-house perfumer at Hermes has been a gradual effort. Mme Nagel has been adding new releases to the existing Hermes fragrance collections. Except for one. Perhaps the most important one, the Hermessence collection.
Begun in 2004 by M. Ellena it is the private collection which all designer brands have. It also consisted of the most diverse display of his minimalist aesthetic. The individual perfumes were frequently described as haiku. One of the reasons I was enthusiastic over Mme Nagel’s appointment as M. Ellena’s successor was she had done a version of Hermessence-like perfumes when she was at Jo Malone; 2010’s Cologne Intense Collection. In the press release for that collection she said, “I chose to take potentially opposing ingredients of very high quality to create unexpected yet harmonious fragrances”. Remove the “potentially opposing” out of that sentence and it is a description of the Hermessence aesthetic.
M. Ellena’s last Hermessence was 2016’s Muguet Porcelaine. I was waiting for Mme Nagel to begin her Hermessence collection. In what I think is another smart move Mme Nagel opens the new era of Hermessence with a set of five releases; three are the same eau de toilette concentrations as the previous releases with two additional released in “essence de parfum” concentration. I am going to review all five over the next two days. I’ll start with the three eau de toilette releases today and continue with the “essence de parfum” releases tomorrow.
Agar Ebene has had a lot of fuss made about it as being the first Hermes perfume to feature oud. After wearing it I’m not sure that line has truly been crossed. The press release makes a big deal that this is “agarwood” the uninfected tree which becomes oud. Which is sort of the small print to keep the oud pledge still in place. All of that should tell you the star of Agar Ebene is not the agarwood but the other ingredient, fir balsam. Mme Nagel uses a rich version around which, I believe, she wraps a precisely balanced oud accord. It allows for only a touch of the agarwood to “infect” the balsam. There are moments when it smells like the beginning of a leather accord. It ends up making this, unexpectedly, a comfort scent. If you’re looking for a Hermes oud this isn’t the one.
Cedre Sambac is the one which calls back to that desire to take “potentially opposing” ingredients looking for the harmony. Mme Nagel takes a strong cedar and finds that the indolic jasmine sambac doesn’t clash. Cedar is the most pedestrian of perfume ingredients. By taking a fully indolic jasmine and allowing it to grow up the trunk of that cedar. The skanky effect of the prototypical white flower snaking around the slightly green woodiness of the cedar was compelling each day I wore it. It is my early favorite of these three.
Myrrhe Eglantine is a spring rose and myrrh duet. It is my least favorite of the three eau de toilette versions. Some of that is probably because the rose is a slightly spicier take on the typical debutante rose rampant in spring rose releases. The myrrh is a whisper underneath the rose which rises in intensity the longer it was on my skin. I suspect this will be the best-seller among the new collection because it is the easiest to wear.
The three eau de toilette releases are Hermessences but they are recognizably Nagel Hermessences. Which I am happy to see. For where Mme Nagel is really making her mark on the Hermessence collection come back tomorrow for my reviews of the two “essence de parfum” releases.
Disclosure: this review is based on bottles I purchased.