I’ve been observing and writing about perfume long enough I can recognize a change in aesthetic at a brand. Most of the time this change is due to consumer preferences. That is usually predictably boring. The one which interests me is when a new creative director comes in to oversee things. The result can be a brand which bears watching. Chopard Black Incense Malaki seems to be asking me to pay attention again.
Chopard is a Swiss-based luxury jewelry and watches manufacturer. They got into the fragrance business in 1985 and have intermittently been very active followed by a few gap years. Starting last year I noticed a change with the release of the Chopard Collection. There was a clear change to richer more powerful fragrances. That continued into this spring’s release of Love Chopard which was a very classic rose with gourmand highlights. I wondered about the change and was told Artistic Director Caroline Scheufele was now overseeing the fragrance side as well as the rest of the brand. Based on the recent releases she is not following the current trends. She is working on perfumes which have presence. All the most recent releases have been composed by perfumer Alberto Morillas. Black Incense Malaki is their boldest statement yet. To be clear there is incense here but it is in service of a raw dark leather accord which is the heart of this perfume.
When it comes to leather accords most perfumes go for a refined softer version. Those of you who own a black leather biker jacket will be familiar with the real smell of a new one. A slightly pungent gasoline scent overlays the processed cowhide. This is the accord M. Morillas brings to life in Black Incense Malaki.
In the earliest moments, an herbal lavender is surrounded by a swoosh of cardamom. If you’re drawn to incense, for a fleeting moment it is detectable before the rest of the leather accord assembles around it. Cumin and clary sage provide the herbal component. The ingredients of a medicinal oud accord created from nagarmotha, patchouli, and labdanum form the spine of the leather accord. Amber fleshes it out. when it all comes together this is a leather accord which is what niche perfumery is about. It has a high-octane scent with a bit of burnt rubber. As if my biker jacket is on an actual motorcycle peeling out of the gas station. A bit of cedar provides some woody relief in the end.
Black Incense Malaki has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
This is a powerfully projecting fragrance with an unusual accord. It feels like it belongs from a few decades ago. But that is a bit unfair of me because this is just the kind of envelope pushing fragrance I plead for. If you like unusual leather accords this should be given a try. What I take from this is it is time for me to pay attention to Chopard again. Especially if the mistress’ hand stays on the creative wheel.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Chopard.
I thought I had covered all my favorite perfume ingredients in this column. Last weekend’s Pierre Benard Challenge showed me I had missed cinnamon. It is one of those spicy ingredients which seem made for fall. Which makes this a great time to share my favorite cinnamon centric perfumes.
Estee Lauder Cinnabar is the first example I found of the classic cinnamon and clove pairing. It will be mentioned again below. In 1971 perfumers Josephine Catapano and Bernard Chant would use this duo as a retort to the uber-popular Opium. After a fizzy aldehydic opening the spices simmer over a base of sandalwood, patchouli, and incense.
Clove and cinnamon, you say? Perhaps the pinnacle of this comes in Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur. This takes the spices with tangerine to form a spiced citrus accord that is ready to stand up to a fantastically balanced base accord of sandalwood, vanilla, and musk. The spices particularly sing in the cooler weather. One of perfumer Maurice Roucel’s best perfumes.
Aramis JHL was a part of the burly masculine cologne tradition of the early 1980’s. Perfumer Bernard Chant would make a cinnamon centric version of that. When I wear this as the fruits spices and woods come together, I channel my inner wild and crazy guy. It can feel anachronistic but in the cooler temperatures of this time of year it feels timeless.
Comme des Garcons Jaisalmer is the least mentioned of the great Series 3: Incense collection. Perfumer Evelyn Boulanger created the quietest of the five resinous perfumes. She spreads the spices out to form a layered opaque accord which is given more expansiveness through gaiac wood. It is so on trend for 2020 I think if these were released today it would be the biggest seller of them all. This is one of my favorite perfumes to spray on a scarf because it is at just the right volume.
Hermes Hermessence Ambre Narguile is one of my seasonal staples for the end of the year. Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena composed this haiku in syllables of tobacco, cinnamon, honey, and vanilla. Another one on the lighter side which revels in its delicate balancing act.
Disclosure: I purchased bottles of all the perfumes mentioned.
If there is anything designer Tom Ford is known for is his ability to push at the limits. It has been as true in the fragrances he has designed as it has for the fashion. Lately that has taken its turn in the names of the exclusive perfume collection. They are sniggering double entendres which don’t necessarily pair to the perfume behind the label. Tom Ford Private Blend Bitter Peach takes its turn.
This trend in the Private Blend collection began with 2017’s Fucking Fabulous. It was the second, Lost Cherry, in 2018 which returned a much-needed jolt of originality to the brand. Bitter Peach is closer to Lost Cherry than Fucking Fabulous in originality.
Peach has been a staple of the perfumer’s palette ever since the discovery of aldehyde C-14 early in the 20th century. Although it says aldehyde it is actually a lactone known for its creaminess. Bitter Peach seems to have a lot of this to provide the title note. This can be a tough ingredient to wrangle because at high concentrations it can smell like shampoo. Which is not a vibe a luxury perfume is looking for. Bitter Peach manages to stay on the right side of that line.
It opens with that peach lactone at overdose. To keep it under control cardamom and davana provide some contrast pulling it back from becoming utilitarian. There is a tiny hint of rum; not enough to make it boozy. Just a pinch to add some richness to the peach. Jasmine then flows into it creating a fleeting fruity floral intermezzo. Cashmeran adds a synthetic link between a dark patchouli and resinous benzoin. This inserts itself into the peach adding shadows to the fruitiness.
Bitter Peach has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
As I cautioned with Lost Cherry if you are not a fan of peach in perfume Bitter Peach is unlikely to make you a convert. It does share the same feeling as that earlier release of adding some shade to the fruit. Bitter Peach doesn’t go as far but it is for the best. What is here is a chiaroscuro peach ripe enough for fall.
Disclosure: This review is based on a press sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.
As much as I enjoy many of the video perfume reviewers there is one part that escapes me. The unboxing part of the video. A lot of them spend time taking the cellophane wrapping off. Opening the box and displaying the packaging. They are popular so I feel sure I am in the minority. I was strongly reminded of this by a perfume, Nasomatto Fantomas.
Alessandro Gualtieri is the mastermind creative force behind his Nasomatto brand of perfume. He has always staked out his own section of fragrance space where few others go. Everything he has done for the brand has a madcap energy that makes for a collection of love them or hate them releases. I admire his risky approach too much to be as reductionist as that. I would say there are Nasomattos I happily wear and others that are best on a strip. One thing to be sure is they are never boring.
Fantomas based on the accompanying video on the website seems meant to be a mysterious protagonist hidden in the fog. I know enough not to expect the visual to be too informational on the scent. When I received my sample, I was surprised to find the perfume equivalent of a cellophane wrapper containing two of the most ubiquitous ingredients in perfumery.
Sig. Gualtieri does not release lists of ingredients so what follows is my best guess. It opens with a plastic accord which reminded me strongly of cellophane. One of his signatures is the ability to add texture into his accords. The reason I think of cellophane is there is a crinkliness to the way this tickles my nose. It also reminds me of those industrial smells we find kind of pleasant. This is the scent of sweet plastic behind every cellophane wrapper. Now that we have taken the covering off, what is inside Sig. Gualtieri’s box? Two ingredients, or their analogs, known to every perfume lover; Calone and Ambrox. For the Calone he accentuates the melon-like quality. It is what makes me think this might be an analog created to do this. The briny undercurrent is also here which Is why I think Calone. I have been bored to death with this ingredient but here, wrapped in sweet plastic, the syntheticness of it all is pleasant. This is reinforced through the addition of a set of synthetic woods from the Ambrox family. These provide a monolithic profile which usually unbalances things. In Fantomas they are here in force but not enough that it the only thing you smell. Once it comes together with the other two ingredients it is surprisingly good.
Fantomas has 24-hour plus longevity and way above average sillage. If you spray this on fabric be prepared to live with it for a few days.
Fantomas should be a celebration of everything that bores me about contemporary perfumery. Instead Sig. Gualtieri decided to unbox the banal to show me that isn’t always the case.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
I am one of those who enjoys lists. I have come to enjoy making my own list of the best perfumes of the year annually. Whether it is me or others the process of judging different genres of anything is guaranteed to generate conversation. This week one of the biggest lists was updated.
Rolling Stone magazine released their new list of the 500 greatest albums which was last released in 2003. It is a mammoth project where they asked 300 people throughout the music industry to send in a list of their top 50 albums. Once it was all compiled, they debuted the new list at the beginning of last week. There have been a lot of discussions on the music boards but what I find most interesting is not that anything was left out. It is more on the placement of an album. Even then it isn’t that it is wildly overrated just that in one person’s opinion the albums under the one in question are better. Which is why this list works so well for me because they had 300 someones decide what the top is.
I don’t really feel too exercised about positioning because within the top 50 are Ramones (#47), The Clash (#16) and Talking Heads (#39). What I think is the greatest hip-hop jazz fusion album “The Low End Theory” by A Tribe Called Quest checked in at #43. The biggest surprise of the top ten percenters for me.
I own all the top 100 albums which was not the case in 2003. The ability to download and stream has allowed me to create my own reference library. After seeing the list I spent some time renewing my acquaintance with the top three.
I forget what a brave album Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” was when it was released in 1971. As the accompanying text to the entry says it was a singer-songwriter putting her life on vinyl for the world to hear. The authenticity of it rings true almost fifty years later. Ms. Mitchell was one of the few women who stood with the mostly boys of the early days of rock. The list reminded me why that was so.
I was a late convert to the Beach Boys “Pet Sounds”. I wasn’t a fan of the whole surfer style pop which caused me to dismiss them while I was listening in the early 1970’s. It wasn’t until I started into the NYC music scene in the mid 1980’s when I kept reading about “Pet Sounds” influencing this sound or that sound I finally gave it a chance. I understand the high placement, but this is the one which seems like the foundational album which is difficult for me to embrace. Relistening to it this week it reminds me of what it inspired more than what it is.
There were two albums in the 1970’s which constituted my introduction to soul. Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack to “SuperFly” which is #76 on the list and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”. This was part of a window into a world a young white teenager couldn’t experience or understand. Music has always been one of the ways to communicate to an audience the life of a person of color. That “What’s Going On” still sounds like it belongs in 2020 is testament to its vision and commentary on society.
Ever since I started the Pierre Benard Challenge back in May it has renewed my awareness of the scents around me. That might sound odd from someone who enjoys writing about perfume, but I tend to focus on the perfume under my nose. That leads to me missing the ambient world of odors around me. One thing this effort has done is to make me look up from the bottle and breathe in more consistently. Earlier this week after being outside in the early fall weather with the dogs I entered the house to the comforting smell of cinnamon. It completed a connection which I had not explicitly understood as this being the scent of autumn.
The reason the house smelled of cinnamon is a lot of our fall pastry cooking requires lots of it. If I were writing this twenty years ago there would just be cinnamon. Except I discovered there are many varieties of cinnamon all of which have their own flavor and scent profiles. We have four different kinds in our kitchen: Vietnamese, Ceylon, Indonesian, and Chinese. Just like the perfume ingredient oud, terroir seems to make a difference.
When it comes to apple pie the Chinese cinnamon is our choice. We tend to use the tarter apples in our pies, so this sweeter type of spice is used to take some of that edge away. For cinnamon rolls we want the strongest flavor we can get and that is the Vietnamese type. For my beloved snickerdoodle cookies it is the Indonesian cinnamon I mix with sugar to coat the dough in. For everyday use on my oatmeal or cocoa the mellow Ceylon cinnamon gives me just the bit of flavor I desire.
When I walked into the house this week there were two apple pies cooling. A cinnamon roll was waiting for me to have with my morning coffee. I thought this is the essence of autumn the humid scent of cinnamon from baking.
The perfume which gives me the same thrill is Estee Lauder Cinnabar. It has always been a fall favorite because of its cinnamon and clove heart.
I know for many it is the pumpkin spice mélange which provides the demarcation of summer into fall. In out house it is cinnamon which does it.
I tend to have reservations with fragrances which state they aspire to be textural. The way that translates is abrupt shifts in tone in the ones I think fail. Texture as it is applied to perfume is a more subtle effect in my experience. The perfumes I would describe as doing this well create the olfactory experience of a tactile effect. There is a new perfume brand which has stated this as their desired aesthetic of which Maison Crivelli Iris Malikhan is the latest evidence.
Creative director Thibaud Crivelli stated in 2018 that he wanted the Maison Crivelli collection to be a collection of textural accords. I have found that they have hit the mark admirably through their initial releases. For Iris Malikhan perfumer Marc Zini begins with a keynote which already carries its own bifurcated texture of powder and root. What I found interesting in the way M. Zini approached this was he inverted the usual progression of iris if both faces are featured. Usually the powder precedes the root; the opposite happens here.
Before the iris arrives cypress and baie rose provide the first impression. Then the rooty face appears through a layer of lentisk and galbanum. This creates a glossy silky effect. Like feeling it slip through your fingers. Through a heart of cinnamon and blackcurrant buds the iris morphs into its powdery face. Now this is an odd animalic gourmand accord as leather and vanilla interact most prominently. The vanilla along with the cinnamon forms a bakery confection dusted with iris powder. While a rich leather contrasts the gentle powder. M. Zini finds the place where this pleasantly harmonizes.
Iris Malikhan has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Iris Malikhan lives for its tonal shifts. It makes it quite dynamic on my skin. It ends up in a quite different place than where it starts. It is because the creative team knows what they mean when they use the word texture.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
As we enter fall, I start to take out my green scents which evoke foliage. As the air becomes crisper, I find that the natural smells of undergrowth finds its time to appear. I think without all those fancy flowers to compete with ivy, moss, and the like get their chance to display a vegetal version of beauty. Over the past few years there have been a proliferation of fragrances which have married woods and green to evoke this. Jo Malone Cypress & Grapevine is the most recent example.
Creative director Celine Roux collaborates with perfumer Sophie Labbe on this addition to the Cologne Intense collection. The idea was to capture the smell of an afternoon in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Surrounded by cypress trees and vines. As have most of the entries on this collection it stays focused on the two ingredients on the bottle.
Cypress comes first as Mme Labbe wraps it with an herbal lavender. This opens the way for the green foliage accord. This is that slightly piquant vegetal scent I find. It uses the herbal part of lavender as the connection to the cypress. A pinch of geranium gives a veil of floral quality. The vegetation is diffused through the softness of moss. This is where what is promised on the bottle is realized. Patchouli and a synthetic wood are the final ingredients.
Cypress & Grapevine has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is a simple perfume done well. It is not particularly groundbreaking, but it arrived at the right time of year for me. I could feel as if I were spending a day in ancient Babylon which sometimes is just enough.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Jo Malone.
In the morning I take the dogs out the back gate onto a path through a forest of birch trees. One of the ways I mark the transition from summer to fall is the smell of woodsmoke on that walk. As the mornings gain a little chill there are a set of houses in the distance which fire up their wood stoves. The sunlight slices through the haze. I have a perfume which captures this perfectly; Naomi Goodsir Parfums Bois d’Ascese.
Bois d’Ascese was one of the first two releases by Australian hatmaker Naomi Goodsir in 2012. Along with co-creative director Renaud Coutaudier they collaborated with perfumer Julien Rasquinet. Ever since then the brand has released three more fragrances. Every one of them have been among the best perfumes the year they were released. Because they are a brand which releases perfume infrequently it is easy for them to fall off the radar. To put them on your radar I will let Bois d’Ascese introduce you to it, as it did me.
When talking to Ms. Goodsir and M. Coutaudier they have an uncompromising vision which they will take their time to realize. M. Rasquinet was early in his career and was just beginning to show his skills off. Bois d’Ascese exemplifies this because they use one of the most common ingredients, cade oil, as the smoky component. I’ve smelled way too many smoky perfumes where the cade oil turns into choking billowing clouds of smoke. This creative team takes that same ingredient to a lighter place where it is that morning woodsmoke haze I recognize.
The way the cade oil is given that effect is through a precise amount of incense. It gives a foundation for the cade oil to not have to carry all the weight of a woodsmoke accord. That keeps it with a consistently strong but not overpowering presence. The woods come into focus through oakmoss, tobacco, and labdanum. This is the smell of birch trees on an autumn morning.
Bois d’Ascese has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Bois d’Ascese is one of my favorite smoky perfumes I own. It has engaged me ever since I tried it eight years ago. If you like smoky perfumes it should be on your radar. Naomi Goodsir Parfums should be there because this is the epitome of what independent perfumery can be.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
I have difficulty when I receive a fragrance which has quality ingredients with boring architecture. Am I to point out the step up in materials or the fact it is the hundredth iteration of a style? There is a place for well-made perfume which seeks to be nothing more. Louis Vuitton Metore is just this kind of scent.
The concept of better ingredients and common genres has been a lot of the raison de etre of the Louis Vuitton perfume collection since its inception in 2016. Perfumer Jacques Cavallier has been behind the entire set of which Meteore is number 24. As it has developed there have been some excellent original releases but those seem to be the exception. I am guessing there is a guiding principle of playing it safe while upping the quality. I think that’s a tough line to walk because if the consumer doesn’t pick up on it then they think it just smells like everything else. Meteore is a crisp citrusy vetiver ideal for fall days which stands out because of the ingredients.
It begins with a juicy citrus given shape though neroli and cardamom. A lot of time the crisper citrus effects come through the evocation of the rind. M. Cavallier goes for the pulp relying on the floral and herbal guardrails to keep it on the straight and narrow. Nutmeg provides a connection between that and the amazing Javanese vetiver in the base. This kind of vetiver carries a significant smoky piece to it. It is like that hint of woodsmoke in the distance while on a fall walk. The vetiver used here is mutli-faceted reaching out to both the citrus and nutmeg. Its greener facets play off them before letting the woodiness of it carry the latter stages.
Meteore has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
If you are a fan of this variety of vetiver Metore features it in a way you can really enjoy it. If you want a fall weight vetiver Meteore will also fill that need. There is nothing new to see here but what is here is a better than average version of it.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Louis Vuitton.