We are a couple of years into this widely held belief that transparency in fragrance is the desired aesthetic. During the coalescence around this hypothesis I have found the ones which miss the mark are the ones who become so light they become an anti-perfume; afraid to have presence. There have been exceptions to this. It is why I have hope there is some greatness to be found within this trend because there are too many good people who should know how to make it relevant. I was surprised earlier this summer to find much of what I am looking for in a new brand; Les Souers de Noe.
Les Soeurs de Noe was founded and is creatively directed by Nadia Benaisa. Mme Banaisa spent her childhood between Belgium and Morocco. For her perfume brand she wanted to find the overlap between the Europe and Orient. To achieve her vision she worked with perfumers Jerome Epinette and Pierre Wulff on her first five releases. It has been a long while since a debut collection has captured my attention as fully as this one has. Her choice to work with M. Epinette is a great choice as he is a perfumer who excels in this space of transparent fragrance.
Pierre Wulff (l.) and Jerome Epinette
I am going to spend the next two days writing about all five of the original releases. Today I am going to start with the two which are the most typical styles in the collection; Mitsio Vanille and Oud Rose. Tomorrow I will follow up with the three gourmand inspired perfumes.
Mitsio Vanille is a vanilla-centric perfume which remembers the source of vanilla is the pod of an orchid. The perfumers spend the early moments discovering the orchid in a tropical milieu. This is a fresh green world of freesia and the botanical musk of ambrette seeds. The orchid hangs suspended with a strong floral quality provided by lilac. This vanilla orchid accord especially paired with the ambrette is gorgeously realized. The base deepens the vanilla as if we were making an extract of the pods we harvested. Along with the vanilla the muskiness also becomes a bit more pronounced retaining that duet by giving it some depth in the end.
Mitsio Vanille has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Oud Rose is the classic pairing of Europe and the Orient, Mme Benaisa had to include it. The challenge for the perfumers was to find a way to lighten it up. It is accomplished by using Rose de Mai as the rose counterpart to the oud accord. Both choices allow for a more transparent construct. Oud Rose steps through the classic paces of this kind of fragrance by opening with the golden halo of saffron floating on smoky tendrils of incense. The stars show up as the fresh Rose de Mai and the finely constructed oud accord create a modern version of this ancient pairing. It goes through a leather and patchouli base at the end.
Oud Rose has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
You might not think of Vanilla and Oud as candidates for a transparent perfume, usually they are not. In the hands of this creative team they capture just the right amount of opacity to keep them from being irrelevant.
In Part 2 I will examine the remaining three releases which is where this creative team really hits their stride.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample set provided by Les Soeurs de Noe.
I have been openly disappointed in the direction of the Christian Dior fragrance releases. There seems to have been an internal agreement to aggressively target those who prefer transparent styles of fragrance. I believe they think that translates to a younger demographic. I haven’t seen the proof for that hypothesis yet. Dior isn’t waiting. My issue comes with the near dismissive destruction of what came before. If this had just remained on the commercial side of the equation, I would have been less frustrated. Unfortunately this has taken over the what used to be the brilliant La Collection Privee and replaced it with Maison Christian Dior. The change happened last year, and the twelve new members of this re-named collection displayed a wide range of quality with only a couple standing out. Which makes the moment when I receive a new release less of a celebration. It becomes more a moment of nervous anticipation as it was when I received Maison Christian Dior Spice Blend.
One of the reasons I remain hopeful is the presence of perfumer Francois Demachy behind this line. I have this belief that he can be one of those who finds a way to make this transparency trend less a passing fancy. I always think that it is within this collection that I might see the first signs of it. Spice Blend is probably not the harbinger of better things to come. It is a transparent spicy perfume which is going to be great for the transition between summer and fall. While the title correctly implies this will be a spice-filled fragrance it leaves out it will also be floating on a snifter of rum.
It opens with that rich boozy rum infused with ginger. You might read that thinking there is intensity here. M. Demachy is layering semi-opaque levels of ingredients; even things like rum and ginger. The promised mélange appears next with cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and baie rose the standouts. I do admire the ability to keep an accord of those ingredients on the lighter side. As I wore this, I thought I’d be left wanting more but the right balance is struck. It all finishes on a set of synthetic woods.
Spice Blend has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
For something as light as this is it lasts much longer than I expected. While I don’t think Spice Blend does anything more than offer a lighter alternative for those who enjoy spicy perfumes it does that well. I am sure I’ll wear my sample again on a cool early fall morning, but I am still waiting for something better from Maison Christian Dior.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Christian Dior.
One of the very first perfume styles, cologne, was inspired by one man’s walk in the Alps near his home. It is the essence of perfumery to capture the smells of the great outdoors in a liquid form. It is one of the reasons cologne is one of my favorite styles. There is an inherent openness to those who honor the original form. Of course we don’t typically walk in the Alps anymore, we drive. Bastide 1958 captures the scent of driving around in a convertible through Provence.
Frederic and Shirin Fekkai
Bastide is the brand overseen and creatively directed by couple Shirin and Frederic Fekkai. They have assembled a great collection of perfumes inspired by their home in Aix-en-Provence. In 1958 this is the memory of M. Fekkai growing up here. He and his friends would take his father’s convertible, radio on loud, through the fields and hills. This is what an Alpine walk looks like in the 20th century. Working with perfumer Mathieu Nardin they create a classic cologne structure infused with the summer scents of Provence.
The structure of cologne is simple citrus, herbs, flowers. 1958 hews to that recipe. It opens on a brilliantly sunny citrus accord of petitgrain. I think the focused nature of petitgrain is the ideal choice to represent the late summer sun above a cruising convertible. The herbs chosen are clary sage and rosemary. They set up a green duet which is supported by an herbal lavender. To complete the cologne triad orange blossom appears. At this point it is a perfect classic cologne composition. M. Nardin has one extra twist to add, a light skin musk. This is the scent of tanned skin with a sheen of moisture. It inserts itself into the cologne providing a hint of carefree days of youth in the final days of the summer.
1958 has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
I’m not sure why the brand shies away from calling 1958 a cologne. In every way that matters it is; which is a great thing. I really wished they has added a subtitle to 1958. If they had, Cologne de Provence would be perfect.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Bastide.
There are times when I wonder why a brand puts the name they do on a fragrance. There is many a time I receive a perfume with “noir” in the name. I usually end up staring at the strip with the perfume on it thinking what the heck could be noir about this. Another choice is “nuit”, or night. This is also meant to convey shadow or darkness or at the very least increased depth. It is another moment where I am too often left scratching my head. So imagine my surprise when I received Yves Rocher Cuir de Nuit and the word in the title which isn’t represented is “cuir”.
This perfume is composed by Amandine Clerc-Marie. If you go to the Yves Rocher webpage all you see is mentions of vanilla, cocoa and coffee. Nothing about leather. Where is the cuir? Answer there isn’t any. I have no idea why they named this “night leather”. Night vanilla would have been more appropriate, but Yves Rocher released that, Nuit Vanille, as their Holiday scent last year. I guess that means in a pinch leather is equivalent to vanilla? Let me stop those of you who are looking for a leather perfume; this is not a leather perfume in any way. What Mme Clerc-Marie has produced is a rich vanilla darkened by cocoa and coffee with one other ingredient which really makes the early moments.
The fragrance starts off with the vanilla out front. This is the typical comfort style of vanilla. What I enjoyed was Mme Clerc-Marie uses the versatility of baie rose to add hints of fruit, herbs, and green. It adds some texture to the bland vanilla. It reminds me that the source of vanilla is an orchid. Mme Clerc-Marie then adds her shadows. Dusty puffs of cocoa float upon a pool of fresh brewed coffee. The cocoa dominates at first with the coffee only becoming apparent over time. Even early on when it is just cocoa and vanilla the perfume is balanced so neither is too much. The coffee is what provides the “nuit”.
Cuir de Nuit has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
The name of this perfume is nonsense, there is no leather. What is here is a delicious vanilla based gourmand which does know what “nuit” means.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Yves Rocher.
As this column has pointed out many times in the past, I am a wine guy. Like my perfumes there is a season when I tend to drink more beer, the height of the summer. The taste of a great beer on a hot day is unrivaled by anything I can find in a wine bottle. Like many my summer beer offerings developed with the availability of the Mexican beer Corona. When it first made it to the US, I was like everyone else pushing a slice of lime down the neck of the bottle. What made it so popular is it was a refreshing version of regular beer.
As the craft beer revolution took hold every small brewery came up with their version of a summer style refreshing blend. I am fortunate to live close to two of the best breweries in the country, Flying Dog and Dogfish Head. These guys go out of their way to produce amazing summer brews. Both ones I’ve had in the fridge hearken back to that first bottle of Corona with a much tastier version.
Flying Dog is the brewery which is best known for having illustrations by artist Ralph Steadman on their labels. For those who know that name it is because Mr. Steadman also did the illustrations for gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s books. That he illustrates a brewery that also seeks to push boundaries fits.
My summer selection from them has been “Numero Uno”. It is labeled as a Mexican lager. I read that as “Corona-like”. It is much better than that description. The quality of the German malt and hops used give this much more character. It is also brewed with the lime zest already included so I don’t have to waste time cutting a lime for the same citrus tinted beer I want.
The same idea is found in Dogfish Head SeaQuench Ale. When Corona first showed up people might ask, “why not just get a margarita?” The brewers at Dogfish Head asked what a margarita-like beer might look like.
In their hands it is what they call a “session sour” where three types of beer are blended together; Kolsch, Gose, and Berliner Weiss. I don’t know the names either but they tell me they impart crisp, salty, and tart respectively. That blend is infused with sea salt and two types of lime. The result is something closer to margarita with a foamy head than a Corona.
Even though these are my local breweries both are available nationwide.
I love great food. Yet there are days when the best thing you can put on a plate is a perfectly toasted grilled cheese sandwich. Nothing special about two slices of bread, cheese, and butter but there are moments when the simplicity appeals. I go through this thought process when I receive samples of the new commercial releases. I think to myself is this fragrance potentially a grilled cheese sandwich. The latest to give me this thought is Lancome Idole.
Zendaya is the Face of Idole
It was hard to want to review Idole because it was one of the dreaded scents by committee. It usually means it is also a perfume of focus group testing. Which usually means lowest common denominator style of perfume. The three perfumers credited, Nadege Le Garlantezec, Shyamala Maisondieu, and Adriana Medina-Benz are not here to push boundaries. Their task was to make a musky fruity rose that would ideally appeal to the younger fragrance consumer. To their credit Idole carries a touch more weight than most of the fragrances aimed at that demographic. It is one of the reasons it appealed to me. They didn’t sacrifice their ingredients on the altar of transparency although it is still on the lighter side of the spectrum.
Idole opens with a fruity top accord of pear and citrus. The pear imparts a juiciness which the citrus adds bright tartness in contrast. It is nicely balanced between the two fruity pieces. The rose comes around to form a typical fruity floral pairing. Where Idole stands apart, a little bit, is the way the perfumers use a series of white musks from here. It is like a set of those ingredients seep through the fruity floral as if they were tendrils of fog. It adds a lightly musky tone to the overall perfume without becoming screechy. It all comes together quickly and lingers for hours.
Idole has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Idole is a basic musky fruity floral. What makes it less bland than its counterparts on the department store counter is it has an idea of what it wants to be. A great grilled cheese sandwich.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Lancome.
Sandalwood is one of the more common ingredients in perfumery. Along with cedar it could be called the “safe wood”. The one that gets used because it is so likeable. I also think it gets used because sandalwood has multiple scent profiles to provide to the woody part of a fragrance. One type of sandalwood I enjoy is a creamier version. I like it because it is easy-going while providing a comforting scent to me. Van Cleef & Arpels Santal Blanc is a perfume designed around that.
Santal Blanc is part of the Collection Extraordinaire collection. This time perfumer Michel Almairac’s brief was in the name, white sandalwood. M. Almairac interpreted that in two ways. One is to amplify the creamy parts of sandalwood. Second it is to use a set of white musks to wrap it in crisp linen. It creates a compellingly simple woody perfume.
M. Almairac begins with fig. This is called “fig milk” in the ingredient list but fig on its own has a milky nature without creating something. That is the kind of fig M. Almairac uses here. It is joined straightaway by the sandalwood. Together this creates an opulently creamy sandalwood. A lot of times sandalwood can be dry. To prevent this from happening M. Almairac sweetens the woody accord with tonka bean. It adds a lovely roundness to the central accord. The base accord is something M. Almairac has become quite good at; a layering of white musks into a plush fabric-like accord. It all comes together in a precisely realized white accord.
Santal Blanc has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Santal Blanc fits in with the rest of the Collection Extraordinaire collection of luxurious versions of well-known perfume ingredients. In this case Santal Blanc felt less like “fig milk” and more like milk of sandalwood.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Neiman Marcus.
I love neon signs. When I am in a place where there are great ones around, they impart a unique light, especially at night. Slashing bands of color reflect onto the asphalt or sidewalk. It transforms the mundane into something exotic. When I received my sample of Gallivant Los Angeles it reminded me of this.
Gallivant was founded in 2017 and over the past two-and-a-half years creative director-owner Nick Steward has created a solid collection of fragrance. With each release Mr. Steward tells us what part of the city he wants to evoke. For Los Angeles he asked perfumer Karine Chevallier for a “shimmering Hollywood” neon floral. As soon as I read that, before smelling it, I was on Hollywood Boulevard in the height of the evening. When I tried my sample it seems like we were on the same wavelength.
Hollywood Boulevard is one of my favorite places in LA because it feels like the crossroads of the entertainment industry and California cool. It is hard not to look down at the Walk of Fame tiles and not feel the history of the visual arts. At night the recently restored neon signs of the grand theatres glow above it all providing the perfect coloring for this part of town. On the street there are the examples of Cali car culture. Nighttime on Hollywood Boulevard is where it all collides. For the perfume based on this Mr. Steward and Mme Chevallier create bands of color all their own each representing part of the milieu.
The first band is cool green represented by eucalyptus and clary sage. This is the vegetal accord of LA. It gets matched with the garish yellow of pineapple. The fruit oozes over the top accord adding a sweetness which finds the right balance. The pulsating pink of tuberose sets the heart ablaze. Mme Chevallier also uses narcissus to create her neon floral accord. The tuberose is made less indolic so it can be opaquer. This isn’t transparent but it also isn’t the powerhouse tuberose can be. The narcissus also is balanced to a lighter effect as it provides a greener foundation for the florals to match the early notes. At this point Mme Chavallier reminds us that LA is on the ocean with a breeze of ozonic notes subtly riding over the floral heart. As it moves to the base the wind shifts from out of the hills; carrying the scent of smoke from the recent fires. It all ends with a clean woody base accord.
Los Angeles has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I really enjoyed spending a Hollywood Boulevard Night with Mr. Steward. If you like modern florals you might like spending some time underneath the neon.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Gallivant.
Sometimes all I need to enjoy a new perfume in an overexposed style is just one twist. As I spend most of the summer releases smelling one fresh fougere after the other one, something different stands out. As I was wearing K by Dolce & Gabbana I was thinking this is the opposite of designing a summer flanker. Instead of shoehorning in summery ingredients K goes for something un-summery roughing up the staid fougere architecture.
I am surprised perfumers Daphne Bugey and Nathalie Lorson could take that risk for a commercial release. They stay very true to the formula until they added one specific ingredient in enough concentration to make it noticeable. That ingredient is pimento. The way it is used here is like Buffalo sauce on chicken wings to provide a spicy kick to the bland.
K opens on a nice duet of blood orange and juniper berry. The tartness of the citrus and the bite of the juniper berry are a refreshing top accord. Then the pimento sizzles into view as lavender and clary sage give an herbal foundation for it. K really gets interesting as the patchouli enters the heart accord. The heat of the pimento and the earthiness of the patchouli are an ideal match. I liked this as the core of K because it had a little more heft then the typical summer fougere. A woody combo of cedar and vetiver make the foundation.
K has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
K is another recent commercial release taking a risk by using a heretofore “niche” ingredient in a mass-market perfume. I’ve seen more of this lately and I’m wondering why the brands have decided to start striking out by using some of these less safe ingredients. I am happy to find them because the right twist can make me enjoy the commercial releases so much more.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Dolce & Gabbana.
When Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle released The Night five years ago I thought it would be the first time for many to smell real oud in concentration. At the time I wondered what the eventual concept was going to be. I now know The Night was the first of the Desert Gems collection celebrating oud as an ingredient. Since then there have been two other releases, Promise and Dawn. The latest addition to the sub-collection is called The Moon.
As in the previous releases The Moon is created around a focal point oud. Perfumer Julien Rasquinet takes the most rambunctious oud in the series, so far, out for a spin on top of a fruity floral set of ingredients. As I wore it, I realized The Moon was the stinky fruity floral I’ve always wanted.
I couldn’t find out the source of the oud being used here. Suffice it to say this is one of the more pungent varieties. If you like the qualities of oud described as “dirty gym socks”, “cheesy”, or “a touch fecal” this is your kind of oud. What I found interesting about what M. Rasquinet designs here is the genuine version of many department store fruity florals which have an oud accord. The accord is designed to be exotic and inoffensive. This specific oud can’t do anything but put your nose right into the heart of the real stuff while not caring a whit about being offensive.
The Moon rises with the scent of that real oud up front. M. Rasquinet uses raspberry as his fruity contrast. I think he also adds lychee to make the raspberry even sweeter so it can stand up to the oud. The classic oud ingredient pairing of rose follows given a resinous shine via olibanum and frankincense. The resins also gives the Turkish rose a little bit of an edge to push back against the oud. I’ve smelled too many raspberry-rose fruity florals; most of them eminently forgettable. The presence of the oud makes this one unforgettable. It provides a funky contrast to the classic fruity floral duet. It does it by picking up on the rose, finding the sour obstreperous parts of that ingredient and bringing them forward. M. Rasquinet uses all that this rose can bring to find new facets of the oud to highlight. There is a moment when the oud has that cheesy scent for the slightly sour rose and the sweet raspberry to contrast. It made me think The Moon was an outré gourmand. It isn’t because it is only a passing phase.
The Moon has 24-hour longevity and average sillage.
The Moon is first of the Desert Gems to really push the oud with one which contains a scent profile of its less crowd-pleasing qualities. For those who enjoy real oud The Moon is a treat as it takes an insipid form like fruity florals and gives it some soul.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle.