I loved growing up in South Florida. I think that’s why I start a lot of reviews with a story of my youth. This will be another one. When I was in college I had heard of the polo matches which took place about an hour north of us in Palm Beach. I was told you could park right next to the field and watch the game. I convinced some of my friends to take a drive up one January day.
Ignacio "Nacho" Figueras
When we entered the grounds I asked the man directing me where I could park by the field. He looked at me and asked, “Do you mean the field-side tickets?” I nodded as he pointed me towards another gate. When I got there, we paid what was asked and we drove into this flat area where I was directed to a spot between a Rolls-Royce and another fancy car. It would be the first time I learned what a Bentley was. As we got out, we were warmly greeted by the people in those posh automobiles. Just at it goes at any sporting event fans like to welcome in new ones. Our new acquaintances explained the game to us. I got into it. The thunder of the horses the whip of the mallets as the cane used in the shaft twanged. It all happened yards from where we sat on the hood of my car. These joy rides became the well-kept secret of a few of us as we would disappear for a few winter Saturdays to enjoy the matches field-side. I remember the scent of those days. The new perfume Ignacio Figueras Palm Beach reminds me of it.
Ignacio “Nacho” Figueras is one of the more known faces of polo. Besides being an elite player he also has been the model for Ralph Lauren Polo since 2000. It is not a surprise that he might want to try and get into the fragrance game himself. In December 2019 he released a collection of six perfumes based on the nomadic lifestyle of a polo player representing the places they spend time throughout the year. Five of the six are done by Carlos Benaim the sixth, Palm Beach, is done by perfumer Mackenzie Reilly.
The main scent of field-side is, well, the field. The wide grassy plain which extended from the hood of our car. Ms. Reilly does a smart thing by not reaching for the typical grassy ingredients. Instead she uses sage as her green. It has the bite of the grass as it is churned up by the horses’ hooves. An orange zephyr reminds us we are in Florida. The green and the citrus is extended by neroli. The neroli green grabs the sage softening it. It reminded me of when the spectators would be invited to go divot stomping between chukkas. As we covered up the dirt the green scent became softer. The neroli does the same to the orange in the top as it diffuses it into something lilting. It all finishes on a synthetic woody base which reminded me of the cane shafts in the polo mallets.
Palm Beach has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
When I received my sample set it was obvious, I was going to go for Palm Beach first. Little did I know it was going to be the fragrance of field-side on a winter Saturday at the polo grounds.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Bergdorf-Goodman.
Just about ten years ago I joined Michelyn Camen as one of the first writers at a blog called CaFleureBon. The four years I would spend there were like blogging graduate school. Ms. Camen is brilliantly inventive about everything that goes into communicating about perfume. Our first year often felt like we were a fledgling bird learning to fly. We were so happy to reach the end of that first year Ms. Camen wanted to celebrate with a perfume made to recognize that. She turned to independent perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz who produced DSH Perfumes Lautrec under Ms. Camen’s creative direction. Lautrec has been re-released as part of the Heirloom Elixir Series.
For those who have read CaFleureBon over the past ten years you will know one of the signatures of it is the art direction of Ms. Camen. Working as creative director with Ms. Hurwitz they chose the painting “Woman with Black Boa” by Toulouse-Lautrec. The perfume was meant to evoke the Bohemian scene in France at the end of the 19th century that Toulouse-Lautrec was so pivotal in exposing to the masses through his art. It means it was meant to have a vintage feel to its construction. Where it gets its contemporary twist is the gourmand base which lifts it all towards the end.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz
Reacquainting myself with this perfume I smile inwardly at the difference nine years of perspective has added. In my original review I only give a passing thought to the floral fruitiness of orange blossom and passionfruit. In 2020 I take more notice of the interplay between the richness of both. The same boozy keynote which held my fascination prior, absinthe, comes forward again. This time I think I detect a finer hand in the tincture of wormwood used for the absinthe. This version of Lautrec has a more brilliant Green Fairy as the keynote. A gorgeous fulsome floral bouquet of rose, jasmine, and ylang-ylang provide a lively gaiety appropriate to the time period. Then we get this magnificent gourmand shift to chocolate and resins meant to capture the Green Fairy in a cage of fondant surrounded by flowers. It completes a night out in the Moulin Rouge, painting the scene with fragrance.
Lautrec has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Lautrec reminds me of artists then and now. Toulouse-Lautrec’s way of bringing the hidden society out to the rest of the world. Ms. Camen’s creation of a place where the art of perfume is comingled with the visual arts. Ms. Hurwitz’s growth as a perfumer into one of the premier artists in all independent perfumery. Together Lautrec is an homage to the memory of artists.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by DSH Perfumes.
Of all the classic styles of perfume it is the fougere which seems to best reflect the times it is made in. It was there at the beginning of modern perfumery and has represented itself ever since. The original fougeres were slightly sweet lightly green perfumes. They have developed along with the new ingredients perfumers have added to their organs. It makes for an interesting timeline of perfumery if you examine fougere through the decades. As we move into 2020 Floris Vert Fougere provides the latest data point.
Floris creative director Edward Bodenham has enlisted a new in-house perfumer, Nicola Pozzani, to update this venerable English brand. It seems like with Vert Fougere they are showing the ability to honor the history of perfumery while adding modernity into it. In this case it is done with a blast of green and a swirl of smoke.
That blast of green is the fanfare of galbanum that leads the way in Vert Fougere. Galbanum in this quantity has a spiky edginess to it. M. Pozzani wisely blunts it with grapefruit. The citrus adds a tart shade of green while also eliding the sharper facets of the galbanum. It results in an intensely fresh green top accord. The classic lavender and neroli floral pair of many fougeres flow around the sparkly green accord. M. Pozzani adds some sizzle to all of this with a swoosh of ginger. The final piece of newness cones as smoke skirls through the florals and over the crystalline galbanum. It ends on a warm ambery woody base accord.
Vert Fougere has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Floris is one of those brands which could use an update. Based on Vert Fougere it sems like Messrs. Bodenham and Pozzani are ready to take Floris into the modern age.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from Floris.
The Aramni Prive collection is so interestingly inconsistent I always look forward to trying what is new. It is because at its best it produces some of my favorite perfumes. Last summer was one of those high points with the release of Orangerie Venise. Perfumer Dominique Ropion provided a fascinating riff on a neroli soliflore. To begin 2020 M. Ropion returns to do the same with Armani Prive Jasmin Kusamono.
Jasmin Kusamono is one of four new additions to the “Les Eaux” collection. Gardenia Antigua, Rose Milano, and The Yulong, are the others. This has been a series of perfumes highlighting a single ingredient with unique contrasting counterweights. The other part of the name, kusamono, gives an idea of what M. Ropion is attempting. Kusamono is a Japanese compound word of “grass” and “thing”. It is an artistic floral arrangement meant to capture a specific season. It tries to also evoke a specific kind of natural milieu. M. Ropion seems to be looking toward spring on the ocean.
One of the trends of 2019 I liked a lot was this idea of deep-water aquatics. None of the sea spray freshness but a deeper briny quality. It is that unique contrast to the jasmine that M. Ropion weaves into his composition.
The perfume starts with a mix of pear and pink pepper. This is a nice way to add some texture to a juicy pear. The saltiness of the ocean begins to leak into the scent as the jasmine seems to float upon it. This is fresh but not “fresh!”. What I mean is there is a cleanliness to the fruity floral atop the deep-sea swells without going into generic fresh territory. This is also a very light perfume. It has a feeling of delicacy to it in these early moments. As it evolves there is a stronger saltiness which begins to crystallize on the floral. It finds it’s footing on a base of cedar and sandalwood. Again, not in a heavy way.
Jasmin Kusamono has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
I have been looking for perfumes which are part of the popular transparency trend that I can embrace. Jasmin Kusamono is one which I can happily hug to me. M. Ropion has practiced his own form of kusamono via perfume.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Giorgio Armani.
I am a big fan of the biannual perfume magazine NEZ. Run by Jeanne Dore and Dominque Brunel it has formed one of the best contemporary references for perfume lovers. I look forward to each new issue. When I ordered the latest issue, No. 8, I was given an option to have a perfume included. I clicked on that choice and received a 15mL bottle of perfume that is the beginning of a yearly perfume project for NEZ.
They are calling it 1+1 imagining one creative from outside the perfume world and a perfumer coming together for a limited edition. For this first release they chose Hong Kong designer Alan Chan and perfumer Maurice Roucel. Mr. Chan is known for his riffs on tea house designs. After talking with M. Roucel they decided on a perfume based on tea called NEZ Hong Kong Oolong.
Alan Chan (l.) and Maurice Roucel
Within the accompanying magazine there is a lengthy article on the entire design process. What caught my attention was the desire of both men to capture the history of China as it is faced with evolving in the 21st century. By choosing oolong tea they capture the contrasts apparent in balancing the past and the present.
The perfume opens with the oolong in place. Oolong is the compromise tea for those who don’t want bitter matcha or intensely smoky lapsang souchong. Oolong is the middle ground with a hint of the bite and smoke. M. Roucel constructs an oolong accord that captures that. In the early moments it is a strongly spiced version of oolong as cinnamon, clove, and cardamom combine with the tea. These can coax out the greener face of the oolong accord. As we transition to the heart a lilting veil of jasmine also finds the greener nature of the accord. The smoke gets its chance as leather and incense find those aspects while giving them life. It finds a sweet creamy contrast in the base with sandalwood and tonka adding a bit of warm woody sweetness to the final composition.
Hong Kong Oolong has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
One of the things I admired most was that the perfume found its own compromise between the transparent trend and full-bodied styles. Like the tea it emulates Hong Kong Oolong thrives in the middle ground.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
Christopher Marlowe would opine of Helen of Troy, “Was this the face that launched a thousand ships?” In 1882 the synthesis of a single molecule was the scent which launched modern perfumery. The molecule was coumarin which had been identified as the primary molecule in the isolation of tonka bean. Because of the synthetic source, it freed perfumer Paul Parquet to use as much as he wanted for a specific effect. It created the abstraction of nature that was the first of its kind, Fougere Royale. Ever since the art of perfume has been closely intertwined with the chemistry behind the ingredients. The perfume brand Nomenclature has featured those molecules ever since its inception. Now it is time to focus on that alpha-molecule in Nomenclature Psy_Cou.
Carlos Quintero (l.) and Karl Bradl
The most common synthetics are usually prized for their consistency of profile. Coumarin has a sweet hay-like scent. A perfumer can choose to surround it with a choir of ingredients which can go towards the sweet or the hay-like. Under the creative direction of Karl Bradl and Carlos Quintero perfumer Frank Voelkl chooses the latter for this version of coumarin perfume.
If you’ve ever smelled hay just as it is being baled the early moments of Psy_Cou will remind you of that. Mr. Voelkl uses cardamom to capture the slight green of fresh harvested hay which has a little of that quality before completely drying out. Psy_Cou moves into modern perfumery abstraction with the introduction of a high-low combo of juniper berry and palo santo wood. The acerbic bite of juniper berry finds the soothing tones of palo santo in contrast as the coumarin acts as a fulcrum in between. It is a contemporary riff on coumarin. As the palo santo tilts the see-saw to its side, saffron adds a golden glow. A bit of oud adds a last bit of modern to Psy_Cou.
Psy_Cou has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Coumarin is the “Helen of Perfume” molecule, having launched thousands of perfumes. Psy_Cou shows that 138-years later it still retains its ability to define the current state of modern perfumery.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Nomenclature.
The end of 2019 saw the completion of two things I care about; Watchmen and Star Wars. The end of 2019 also showed the future of two things I care about; Watchman and Star Wars. I am going to comment on each of them over the next two weeks in this column. I will start with Watchmen.
Watchmen is the greatest graphic novel ever produced. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons wrote the perfect novel about superheroes and how they would influence society. From the way the comic was laid out through the way the story was told in comic panels plus text it continues to stand alone over thirty years since its publication.
Because of that there have been too many people who have chosen to try and take their turn at using the world created in Watchmen as the canvas for their own imagination. 2019 saw two versions of sequels come to life. One in comic form called “Doomsday Clock” along with one in visual form on HBO called “Watchmen”. The comic version was authored by Geoff Johns. The HBO version by Damon Lindelof. Both men are people I respect but I was unhappy they were going to take on Watchmen. I felt their previous proclivities would lead to unsatisfying endings. In one case I was right. In the other I was completely wrong.
Doomsday Clock is the failure. Mainly because it wants to squeeze in Batman and Superman among
Doctor Manhattan, Rorschach, and Ozymandias. It falls apart because it never seems like anything other than a dopey team-up series. Look Batman and Rorchach meet to compare vigilante cred. Lex Luthor and Ozymandias meet to see who the smartest person in the world is really. Superman and Doctor Manhattan meet to see who the uber-mensch is. It reads like the fan service it is. I found it degenerated into the typical multi-dimensional brawl which ends up changing nothing. This is exactly what I expected from the HBO version.
HBO’s Watchmen was so much smarter. Mr. Lindelof looked for the modern-day version of the Cold War which drove so much of the plot of the original. He settled on race as the equivalent divide. It works brilliantly. In the same way that the original comic veered back and forth in history while telling the individual stories of its protagonists the tv series does the same. There are episodes which are about specific characters and there are episodes that are not. Mr. Lindelof captured all of that. He used four original characters from the comic. Three of them you would expect. The fourth is the origin of the original Watchman, Hooded Justice, which sold me. In episode 6 Mr. Lindelof makes a significant extrapolation to the Watchmen universe by telling that story. It left me with my jaw slack throughout the episode. Until two episodes later in “A God Walks into Abar” he does it again with Dr. Manhattan. Mr. Lindelof decided to take big swings paying homage while also making brave changes to the original. It ends with the perfect final shot. He also found a way to use the text add-ons in a way to add to the tv series by having a website which was updated by one of the FBI agents in the show. It gave the viewer more depth to what was happening on screen. It also answered one last question from the series after it aired.
To be honest I don’t want anyone to go further. Doomsday Clock was a step above fan fiction. There is no reason to think they could do anything better with it. The final shot of Watchmen is equivalent to the final shot of the movie “Inception”. The ideal piece of ambiguity to conclude with. If they do more on HBO I will watch because they have earned my good will, but I would love to think they know they got it right the first time.
If you love the original, I highly recommend the HBO series. I think you will be rewarded for the time spent watching it.
One of the things which makes perfume composition difficult is you can have too much of a good thing. It is easy to think a floral fragrance should have many of those included. The real effort is to choose the right two or three; striking a balance. A precise balance. It was what made Gucci Bloom stand out three years ago. A near-perfect recipe of four florals which stands for what seems to be the reinvigoration of the fragrance side of Gucci.
Creative director Alessandro Michele and perfumer Alberto Morillas managed to follow that up with two excellent flankers; Bloom Acqua di Fiori and Bloom Nettare di Fiori. They did this by adding in something which created new compelling fragrances. A year ago they released Bloom Gocce di Fiore where they changed the concentrations of the original ingredients. It was terrible except as an example that they made the right decision in the choices made in the original. For the end of 2019 the most recent flanker, Gucci Bloom Ambrosia di Fiori, split the difference.
M. Morillas is again behind the wheel as the original four florals; Rangoon creeper, jasmine, tuberose, and orris take their places. For this version the tuberose concentration is increased a lot. The extra flower added is Damask rose. There are lots of floral perfumes which feature Damask rose and tuberose. They are a classic floral pairing. They are also two of the strongest ingredients in perfumery. In the case of Bloom Ambrosia di Fiori they nearly overwhelm everything else. The only one of the other florals which gets a tiny foothold is jasmine. This is all there is on my skin, rose and tuberose.
Bloom Ambrosia di Fiori has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
This is not the train wreck last year’s Bloom Gocce di Fiore was. Instead it is an example of what happens when you add one flower too many to something that is great on its own.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Gucci.
There is a box on my desk which contains samples of perfumes I like and will review if I get the chance. January is usually that time. This is the month when there is the least amount of new releases to write about. Which means I rummage around in the “like” box looking for something. Ever since the summer there has been one sample which has been beckoning me because of a faulty sample sprayer. Because it leaks when turned on its side the “like” box has slowly but surely begun to smell like it. Which means it has also become the background scent at my desk. I think its time to get Bvlgari Man Wood Neroli onto the page.
Something that most of the samples in the “like” box share is they are good versions of common perfume types. There should be some attention paid to a perfume which is just well done without breaking any kind of new ground. Man Wood Neroli falls into this category.
The entire Bvlgari Man collection since its debut in 2010 has been composed by perfumer Alberto Morillas. It is kind of an entire “like” box of fragrance. M. Morillas has previously plumbed the variations of woody oriental in the preceding eight releases. What makes Man Wood Neroli stand apart is it is a solid citrus woody instead of an oriental.
Man Wood Neroli opens with a great amount of neroli. It is a refreshing bitter green citrus top note. M. Morillas brings along the promised wood in the presence of cedar. The cedar used here is closer to raw green wood than the typical pencil shavings variety. It harmonizes well with the neroli through the shared green chord in both. It all ends on a swoosh of clean white musks.
Man Wood Neroli has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Man Wood Neroli stands out also for its projection. There were times I was reminded of classic citrus woody perfumes of the 1980’s because of the way this came off my skin. This is a nice change for the Bvlgari Man group of perfumes I’d like to see more of in the future. For now I was quite happy to get it out of the “like” box.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Bvlagri.
One of the worst things about mainstream perfumery is the use of focus groups. I think they produce the lowest common denominator fragrance. Often so bland it is difficult for me to think of them as perfume. I have wondered what a motivated, educated, perfume-loving focus group could produce.
Independent perfume Anatole Lebreton seems to have answered that with Anatole Lebreton Perfumista.
In the middle of last year he asked a group of perfume fans to buy into The Perfumista Project. For the price of the eventual final product they would be brought along on a two-month journey to create a new perfume. By the fall Perfumista was the result of this process. I was not a participant but according to the website M. Lebreton introduced the members to the raw materials and the gradual development of the final perfume. The result is the same genre as many a larger focus group spits out; a fruity floral. The difference here is this kind of fruity floral is not the typical miasmic mediocrity found at the mall. This is the kind of fragrance which could give the class a good name. It shows what intelligent feedback can produce.
That shows in the fruity top accord. Raspberry is the keynote, but it is a juicy pear along with a plush plum that make this less irrelevant than the typical berry top accord. The shading the plum gives to the pear and raspberry is particularly appealing. The floral part is a magnificent nod to vintage perfume florals. An indolic jasmine meets a spicy Bulgarian rose. Whenever I encounter this it always seems like the two bad girl florals out for a good time. As the plum shadowed fruit inserts itself into the festivities this is where Perfumista shows off the potential of a fruity floral with intent. Fruity florals are my least favorite perfume genre. I could luxuriate in this fruity floral for days. The base accord provides a woody foundation for the fruity floral to rest upon. It is the least interesting part of Perfumista while still being quite good. Patchouli gives a dark earthiness for cedar and peru balsam to finish the construction.
Perfumista has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
Perfumista is a fragrance developed by people passionate about perfume. The simple act of participation exemplifies that. The perfume that came out of this focus group is the way it should always happen.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.