Among the success stories of niche perfumery is that of Laurice Rahme and her brand Bond No. 9. Started in 2003 Ms. Rahme has released multiple perfumes each year. Most of them inspired by a part of New York City where Bond No. 9 has its headquarters. It is a huge collection and I have a dozen of them. It can be daunting to keep up with the pace Ms. Rahme sets. On a recent visit to Saks I was struck by how much her latest release, Bond No. 9 FiDi, reminds me of the early days of the brand.
FiDi is shorthand for the Financial District at the southern end of Manhattan. It includes Wall St as well as a new place to go on weekends with restaurants and bars in the surrounding area. This part of NYC is no longer a ghost town after trading hours. Ms. Rahme wanted to capture the dichotomy of financial masters of the universe by day and happy hipsters at night. To accomplish this she worked with perfumer Harry Fremont.
It isn’t the first time Bond No. 9 has traveled to this part of the city. Back in 2004 Ms. Rahme and perfumer David Apel produced Wall Street. Back then they decided an energetic aquatic captured the buzz of the traders. Fifteen years later the area and the vibe has changed. Which is why Ms. Rahme and Mr. Fremont go for a spirited woody style of perfume.
The first steps in FiDi are paved with baie rose. Mr. Fremont surrounds it with citrus to tease out the subtle fruitiness while black pepper adds a piquant contrast. Nutmeg then rises to be the main counterweight to the baie rose. Mr. Fremont finds a nice balance between the sweet spice and the herbal baie rose. Lotus flower reminds us that FiDi is also near the water with its dewy floral quality. It all rests on an assertive woody base of ambrox and cedar attenuated with a touch of the sweetness of tonka bean.
FiDi has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
Just as it is in NYC, you must keep watching as things change. The same can be said for Bond No. 9 you have to keep watching so you can find good perfumes like FiDi.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Saks.
Every brand stakes out there place on the perfume spectrum. Parfums de Marly has been of interest to me because they have acted as a niche alternative to mainstream styles. I think the concept of doing department store perfumes in a slightly better version of materials with a touch more imagination works. Parfums de Marly Kalan is another on that path.
Creative director Julien Sprecher works with two perfumers, Celine Ripert and Nathalie Templer. The style they are reworking is the classic floriental. Throughout Kalan there is an extra ingredient here or a higher concentration there which results in a richer fragrance.
In the top accord the perfumers use blood orange as the citrus focal point. Blood orange provides a tart and juicy citrus component. A selection of spices adds warmth and piquancy. If you’re attempting to understand what I mean when I say the Parfums de Marly aesthetic is to do things similar, but different, this top accord is an example of that. The heart is a compelling duet of lavender and orange blossom in higher concentration. The floral quality of the lavender is more prominent as it melds with the orange blossom, as echoes of the blood orange persist. The floral duo is tilted sweeter with tonka bean. The base opens on a dry sandalwood which is given some shadows with a bit of moss snaking through the woods.
Kalan has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I know the approach by M. Sprecher is working because I have been recommending the brand often. Which has generated positive feedback when I have. Kalan will be another crowd pleaser I suspect. It will be easy to point department store floriental fans towards a better version.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Parfums de Marly.
We’ve just had our first cold mornings here. Which means I reached into the closet for my leather jacket. I’ve owned it for over twenty years. I don’t remember exactly when I purchased it, but it is old and I’m happy it still fits. When I slip it on the first time two things always happen. I smile at the history that jacket and I have lived through. Then I walk back to the perfume collection and find my bottle of Knize Ten.
Knize Ten is the one of the original leather perfumes, created in 1925. Joseph Knize was a Viennese tailor who had royalty for clients. He wanted to offer a fragrance for his male clients which was not the typical floral constructs favored by the dandies of the day. He enlisted perfumers Vincent Roubert and Francois Coty to formulate that alternative. They landed on leather as the style of perfume they would create. This time in modern perfumery it was the birch tar laden Cuir de Russie-type leathers which were in vogue. Messrs. Roubert and Coty had a different vision while creating Knize Ten. What they made was a mannered leather fit for Hr. Knize’s clients.
Knize Ten opens with a bracing citrus focused top accord around petitgrain. The perfumers use tarragon and rosemary as herbal interrogators of the green within petitgrain. It turns decidedly spicy as cinnamon and clove enter the picture. All of this is prelude to the leather accord. At first it has a powdery effect enhanced by iris. It is an interesting part of the development. It seems like the perfumers maybe wanted to entice the dandies in with iris before unloading with a full leather. That full leather comes next. Early on I read someone’s description of this as the smell of an oil change in a garage. Every time I wear it, I see this. There is a greasiness to the early stages of the leather. It continues to intensify at the same time sandalwood arrives. As it settles in for the long haul it is the scent of my well-worn leather jacket.
Knize Ten has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
I have always considered Knize Ten as a timeless leather perfume. Almost one hundred years after it was first released it still holds up. Just like my leather jacket.
Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle I purchased.
On the rare occasion I am asked about the most influential perfume brand I have a definitive answer. The earliest niche perfume brands were founded in the 1970’s and 80’s. it is my belief it was twenty-five years ago when the fragrance brand which would come to define much of what niche means came into being; Comme des Garcons. From the very beginning creative director Christian Astuguevieille has influenced many of the larger trends by being one of the first to execute them. If I had to, I could learn all I needed to know about the last quarter century of fragrance from the Comme des Garcons collection alone. I was wondering if they were going to commemorate the length of this sustained excellence. Right at the end of the summer I learned there would be a set of new releases to mark the anniversary. The one which had me most interested were the three perfumes in the Series 10: Clash collection.
Starting in 2000 with Series 1 each set of perfumes have explored something specific. They have been among the most adventurous perfumes within the overall collection. For Series 10 M. Astuguevieille asked three perfumers to find beauty in the confrontation between two dissimilar ingredients. Each perfume displays why Comme des Garcons still pushes at the boundaries of perfume.
The first is Celluloid Galbanum by perfumer Domitille Bertier. Each of the Clash entries is meant to capture a collision of sorts. Celluloid Galbanum is that of technology and nature. Mme Bertier takes the sweet plasticky smell of cellophane and wraps the deep green of galbanum in it. Mme Bertier uses jasmine to modulate the sweetness of her celluloid accord while lemon adds a sharper edge to the galbanum. It forms an engineered green behind a barrier of plastic which is fascinating. It ends on a base of synthetic woods.
Chlorophyll Gardenia is the least confrontational of the three Clash perfume. Perfumer Caroline Dumur uses a set of green notes to coax out the green quality inherent within gardenia infusing the white flower with a verdant glow. The inquisition of the gardenia begins with its presence from the start. Mme Dumur threads galbanum, spearmint, the synthetic Cosmofruit, and baie rose through the creamy floral. As each of those ingredients come forward, they find a complement in the similar scent deep within gardenia. As they each add to it the gardenia begins to shade green before it glows in an almost neon abstraction. A set of white musks whisper through the glimmering flower.
My favorite of the three is Radish Vetiver by perfumer Nathalie Gracia-Cetto. The reason I like this so much is it is what the Comme des Garcons Series perfumes have done so well over the years. They create a perfume around an unusual ingredient like radish. If you’ve ever sliced fresh radishes for a salad you will know what Mme Gracia-Cetto’s radish smells like it has an acerbic earthiness. She sets that against the grassy woodiness of vetiver. At first the softer quality of vetiver gently caresses the radish before the rootier nature finds a kindred spirit. Mme Gracia-Cetto cleverly uses the patchouli analog Akigalawood to provide an unusual piece of ground for these roots to find purchase in. The base is made woodier with guaiac adding to the Akigalawood.
All three Clash perfume have 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
For those who are less adventurous Chlorophyll Gardenia will be most to your liking. For the others who have followed where Comme des Garcons and M. Astuguevieille have led us for the past twenty-five years I suspect Celluloid Galbanum and/or Radish Vetiver will be part of your collection. I can’t wait for what comes next.
Disclosure: this review is based on samples supplied by Dover Street Market.
Technology is slowly encroaching on everything. Even perfume. Givaudan has come up with an Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a reference for perfumers called Carto. From what I understand it is a giant database of perfume formulas matched with some sense of the style each formula represents. Givaudan perfumers can ask Carto for suggestions and go from there. It seems roughly analagous to Computer-Aided Design (CAD). I have no idea how widespread its use has been at Givaudan but for the first time we have a perfume which admits using it; Etat Libre d’Orange She Was an Anomaly.
Creative director Etienne de Swardt seems to have abdicated his duties to Carto for She Was an Anomaly. Perfumer Daniela Andrier is who will take the AI suggestion and turn it into She Was an Anomaly. When Mme Andrier fed in her input it seems Carto suggested she design a perfume around two overdosed keynotes. My guess is Carto suggested iris and musk as those.
Mme Andrier had to take that suggestion and weave in a few other ingredients. After all iris and musk are not particularly unique even in overdose. One thing which does set them apart is Mme Andrier used the Orpur versions of both. Orpur are the highest quality natural ingredients in the Givaudan library.
She Was an Anomaly opens on tangerine as a juicy citrus to set things up for the iris and musk. Those keynotes arrive next. The iris is a powdery version with the carrot-y quality in abeyance. The musk is a refined version of ambrette. This is the replacement for that carrot-y quality from iris. It provides a solid accord which is kept on the lighter side. It goes very sweet with vanilla and sandalwood in the base. The sweetness adds to the iris and musk to find the overall place She Was an Anomaly remains in for most of the time on my skin.
She Was an Anomaly has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I can’t say I am able to see the artificial influence of Carto without being told it was used. Which means it probably isn’t going to replace the perfumer yet. If there is something I can hypothesize it is Carto will trend towards what it has the most data on. By landing on iris and musk it tells me it will always be suggesting crowd-pleasing best-selling formulae. Without the hand of a perfumer it will probably converge on something nondescript. To keep that from happening it will require the human touch.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Etat Libre d’Orange.
One of the great things about the world we live in now is the algorithm that knows what you have read and then recommends new releases for you. Last weekend I was alerted to the release of a new collection of urban fantasy short stories called “Hex Life” edited by Christopher Golden and Rachel Autumn Deering.
What initially attracts me to these books are new stories from authors I already read. What always happens after finishing is, I have a new list of authors who I start reading. These books are the literary equivalents of movie trailers. They give me a sense of the style of the author’s storytelling while making me want more. Hex Life introduced me to two authors I want more of.
The first is author Angela Slatter. Her contribution to Hex Life is the short story “Widows’ Walk”. In the narrative we meet the three witches, aka The Widows, of the town of Mercy’s Brook. The town knows they are witches, but we are told they are accepted if not wholeheartedly. One of the Widows finds it amusing when townsfolk cross the street when they see her coming. They capture a young child trying to steal milk off their porch. Once the Widows have the child inside, we realize they know much about her home life. Ms. Slatter tells a classic short story of supernatural karma. I enjoyed it so much I have the three books in her Verity Fassbinder trilogy queued up.
The other new discovery was author Hilary Monahan. Her story is called “Bless Your Heart”. The witch mother of a gay son takes the matter of her child’s bullying to the PTO meeting of the school. Ms. Monahan also weaves a witchy tale of karmic balance with a large helping of humor. The ending is perfect. I am looking forward to reading her book “Snake Eyes”.
These are my favorite stories, but my hat is off to Mr. Golden and Ms. Deering they have overseen a collection of witch stories just in time for Halloween.
Disclosure: I purchased this book.
When large collections have interesting sub-collections it is usually because the creative team is inspired. Ever since 2013 the Cuirs Nomades collection at Memo has been that kind of exploration of the versatility of leather accords. I am fascinated at how each perfumer creates a leather accord. I’ve always thought it is on the fashioning of such an abstraction where the artistry of a perfumer shines through.
Throughout the Cuirs Nomades creative director Clara Molloy has placed those leather accords in the center of the perfumes. That changed with last year’s Moroccan Leather which was a give and take between intense green notes and orris with the leather in a supporting role. It was an excellent departure, but I was wondering if this was going to be the next generation of Cuirs Nomades. Memo Oriental Leather answers that question affirmatively.
To not feature the leather in a perfume with it in the name means the other half of the name better produce something compelling. In the case of Oriental Leather the choice is to lean into the benzoin and spices which are characteristic of Oriental perfumes.
The spices are on fire, literally, at the beginning. Pimento and cinnamon go the red hots route. Before it gets all Halloween candy-like, coriander and anise bank the confectionary flames smoothing it out into a more traditional spice accord. Lavender provides an herbal tinted floral enhanced with clove. It is here that the leather makes its appearance as the transitory effect from the spices to the warm benzoin in the base. That rich benzoin is matched with an earthy patchouli and enough vanilla to sweeten without becoming cloying.
Oriental Leather has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is an Oriental fragrance without the leather anywhere near being a focal point. It reminded me of a shaman who showed me his leather bag of herbs and spices. It didn’t smell like this perfume but when I did smell it all that came through were the contents and not what the bag was made of. Oriental Leather is also a magic spice bag fragrance.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Neiman-Marcus.
Every September for the last six years I look forward to an envelope in the mail with a Colorado postmark. It means one of my favorite independent perfumers has renewed herself at the annual Burning Man festival. For Amber Jobin of Aether Arts Perfume this means a new Burner Perfume is here.
Ms. Jobin has always used perfume as her contribution to the spontaneous society which springs up on the playa every summer. It has been the source of some of her very best creations because these are fragrances which are born of passion and intellect. Ms. Jobin uses each year’s theme as the jumping off point for that year’s Burner Perfume. For 2019 the Burning Man theme was “Metamorphoses”. The way Ms. Jobin chose to interpret that was to imagine the process which gives us a Monarch butterfly. Specifically the forming of the chrysalis as the caterpillar nears its change into winged beauty. That is where Aether Arts Perfume Burner Perfume No. 10 Chrysalis comes from.
Ms. Jobin was inspired by the color of the chrysalis of the Monarch butterfly which is a lacquered green. To translate that into a perfume she uses a set of fantastically different green notes before allowing the beginning of the transformation to be represented through the later development.
When I say green opening it would be normal to think of the grassy notes or the leafier ones, perhaps grapefruit. This is where I enjoy independent perfumers, they think green but in the case of Ms. Jobin she goes on a tangent. Her green top accord consists of tomato leaf, aldehydes, rhubarb, and green coffee. The sulfurous quality of rhubarb with the oiliness of the green coffee harmonizes with the acerbic tomato leaf and the aldehydes to create a vivid green accord which captures the color of that chrysalis. The stirring of the creature within is represented by a transitory floral green as violet and clover form the heart. This is a softer green than the top accord with violet signaling a change. The base is a brilliant accord of musks capturing the butterfly inside with a subtle animalic effect.
Chrysalis has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage because it is at extrait strength.
Chrysalis is another brilliant perfume from an independent perfumer who allows her imagination to take wing with the Monarch butterflies who inspired her.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Aether Arts Perfume.
Italy has become one of the predominant perfume countries because of the originality which many of the releases display. Bois 1920 was one of the original Italian brands to embrace the creativity which seems endemic to any perfume from the country now. Bois 1920 Cannabis Fruttata is what I mean when I say that.
Enzo Galardi resurrected his grandfather’s perfume brand in 2005. For twelve years there was a consistent output of perfumes which took chances. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t. I admire a fragrance brand that willingly takes this route. Although I wonder how it affects the bottom line. It had been since 2017 which saw the last new release. It made me wonder if the attitude had caught up to them. Now under new ownership would they stay as adventurous? My answer came in seven new releases this year. All of which upheld what had come before.
Part of those releases were the two perfumes in the Cananbis collection. Both were composed by perfumer Cristian Calabro. One fittingly named Cannabis is a straight soliflore style fragrance which smells like sticky green buds of cannabis with a dose of patchouli to boot. It is a Summer of Love flashback in a perfume. I liked it fine, but it was the other one, Cannabis Fruttata, which took the cannabis accord Sig. Calabro created for Cannabis and uses it in a modern fragrance.
Cannabis Fruttata opens with what I believe to be a sly wink. In the 60’s people were regularly ripped off when an unscrupulous dealer would sell a bag of oregano as cannabis. Sig. Calabro uses the sweet herbal quality of oregano along with rosemary and fig leaves to create a slightly milky herbal top accord. It was hard not to smile when the real thing replaced the oregano as the cannabis accord takes hold. Sig. Calabro has constructed a slightly bitter green accord which captures the real thing beautifully. He cleverly brackets it in the heart accord with the green floral of lily and the sweetness of blueberry. The blueberry is an inspired choice as it captures the resinous nature of a fresh bud of cannabis with its sweetness. This is a great use of the cannabis as part of something greater. The base goes woody with ambrox and cedar leavened with a bit of patchouli.
Cannabis Fruttata has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Cannabis Fruttata reminds me why I enjoy this brand so much. Sig. Calabro makes a contemporary interpretation of cannabis in perfume by rolling his own.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
When you love a particular perfume and you hear a more concentrated version is coming it usually induces a smile. After all more of what you enjoy should be an improvement. Except in perfumery that isn’t usually possible. If you just up the oil concentration what you end up with is a distorted version of the original. To do it correctly a perfumer has to re-work the proportions while hewing to the original while also making something more. It’s not easy. Now imagine you are the son of the original co-perfumer who is making a parfum version of one of the best perfumes his father was responsible for. That adds another degree of difficulty. Happily Chanel Coromandel Parfum overcomes all of these hurdles.
Chanel Coromandel was originally released in 2007 as one of the first Les Exclusifs. Composed by Jacques Polge and Christopher Sheldrake it was an Oriental style of perfume in every way that term applies in the positive. It has always been one of my favorites of the Les Exclusifs. Now Jacques Polge’s son Olivier Polge, who has succeeded his father as in-house perfumer at Chanel, creates a Parfum version.
The press release says it is meant to be an “intensely ambery Oriental fragrance”. What that means in execution is M. Polge has enhanced the warmer elements of the original Coromandel. What that further means is a near-decadent opening before a second phase which simmers for hours.
Coromandel Parfum opens with a smokier version of the jasmine-pine-patchouli trio of the original. That smoke comes through frankincense and labdanum. The original triptych had a green core from the pine and patchouli which the jasmine gave a sweet floral veneer. In the Parfum version the sweetness is pulled back so the resins can warm the top notes. It is a gorgeous re-invention of the top half of Coromandel. I like it as much as the original. Over an hour or so the Parfum transitions into the promised intensely ambery base accord. This is made that way though benzoin warming up the more earthy patchouli while the resins persist. It becomes elegant over the long run as it just goes on and on.
Coromandel Parfum has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage as befits a parfum strength fragrance.
Coromandel Parfum is a compelling re-telling of the original Oriental perfume. It works because M. Polge allowed things to get warmer and more intimate.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Saks.