One of the things I miss that our digital world has obliterated was my weekly visit to the bookstore. For most of my life there was always a part of my week where I spent some time in a bookstore. The people who worked there became familiar with me and I them. Which lead to recommendations of new books I might like. I always felt pretty clued into what was new in those days.
As I was looking at the various Best of 2020 lists for books, I came to realize how out of touch I am now. More than any other thing I enjoy I don’t have much of a clue what’s new. Which means those year-end lists have turned into reading lists. One which sounded interesting to me because it was described as steampunk and fantasy was “The Unspoken Name” by A.K. Larkwood. As I would read it, I came to realize something I had never thought of in epic fantasy.
Ms. Larkwood begins her book with a maiden of an orc-like race named Csorwe. She has lived her life to eventually ascend to becoming a sacrifice for her people’s god. On the day she is about to do this a wizard shows up and offers her life in exchange for serving him. She decides to forsake her duty and leaves with him. He trains her to become his assassin. On one of their missions they run into a young magic user Shuthmili. It is at this point the story takes off.
As I was reading, I was expecting the classic trope of wizard and apprentice on a quest. Which is a good trope I have happily read in the past. The reason the story takes off when Shuthmili arrives on the scene is that she and Csorwe begin to fall in love. Which is when everything that lays before them now has emotional stakes. Before this everyone was trying to “save the world” but the characters were just the implements to do that. Once Csorwe and Shuthmili connect it is what gives every subsequent decision something to lose more precious than “the world”. It is also seemingly where Ms. Larkwood is the most comfortable chronicling.
The early parts of the book moves along but it was a bit perfunctory. Introducing the rules of the setting and so on. Once it moves past that it becomes something more engaging. As the plights of one of our heroines deepened, I was flipping pages to make sure they were going to be all right.
Which turned a light bulb on in my head. The best epic fantasy has a love story at its core. There are always two characters who will live for the other. Once this was in place in this book, I was all in on seeing it out. I look forward to where Ms. Larkwood is taking these characters.
Disclosure: this review is based on a copy I borrowed from the library.
I am not sure if the European Grand Tour is still a thing among a certain section of affluent society. What it consisted of was after someone had finished their studies before starting their first job they took a tour of Europe. It was a rite of passage. Back in the mid 1980’s it was still a tradition. A new colleague had returned from his. He would tell us lovely stories of his travel. The one that has stuck with me was of an evening in Rome when he and his host lost track of time. My friend was going to be late. His host told him not to worry as they hopped into his Ferrari Spyder. They arrived at their destination in a breakneck ride across Rome. After my friend got out of the car his host flipped his scarf around his neck saying, “Always trust the King of Rock and Roll.” Then he shifted into gear and roared off. When it comes to perfume there aren’t that many stories with that much panache, except for one; Eight & Bob.
When I first tried this perfume upon its release in 2012, I found the story attached to it as engaging as my friend’s. The way it goes is in the 1930’s another young socialite was on his European Grand Tour. He would also make the acquaintance of a man of roguish charm, Albert Fouquet. As they ran around the Cote d’Azur the young American was taken in by M. Fouquet’s scent. Of course there was a story. M. Fouquet had been traveling in South America when upon a hike in the Andes he discovered an indigenous plant called “Andrea”. The polymath Fouquet was also a perfumer and he took some Andrea home and designed his own cologne around it. This was what our Grand Tourist smelled. He cadged M. Fouquet into sending him some. Asking for eight bottles, and one for Bob, the future President JFK would create the name for the perfume.
The perfume is better than the story. M. Fouquet has made a sophisticated cologne meant to be worn on special occasions. He achieves this without resorting to the classic formal tropes of lavender or rose. There is a floral here which I presume is the winsome Andrea but it isn’t lavender or rose.
It begins with a spicy citrus top accord of lemon, cardamom, and ginger. This has a zestiness which makes me think of my friend’s Ferrari ride across Rome. There is a lilting floral in the heart which reminds me of a cross between violet and iris. Both might be here, but it is unobtrusive. It ends with a trio of woods, guaiac, cedar, and sandalwood. Some vanilla and patchouli provide depth to the woody base accord.
Eight & Bob has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Eight & Bob sits on the shelf I reserve for the events where I must dress up. It conveys a worldly sophistication commensurate to the story behind it. I always wonder if it will send me off on my own grand adventure in a Ferrari or on the Cote d’Azur.
Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle I purchased.
There are moments through my early perfume exploration when I smelled something, and it connected intensely. I was excited as I entered the L’Artisan Parfumeur boutique within Henri Bendel in NYC. In those early days L’Artisan was one of the brands which had drawn my attention. I was looking forward to trying what I had not previously been able to. One reason that I had become so attracted to the brand was perfumer Olivia Giacobetti was doing a lot of work for them. She remains one of my favorite perfumers.
On that day at Henri Bendel I was looking to fill in some blanks. Top of my list was one named Passage D’Enfer. In those early days I was very into incense scents. I had been told this was Mme Giacobetti’s take on incense. When I tried it on the strip I was taken aback because what I smelled first was the coolness of lily. But as if there were incense sticks burning below skirls of smoke began to impose their presence. Passage D’Enfer remains one of those outliers of an incense perfume in that it has a delicacy to it. Which was why a perfume called L’Artisan Parfumeur Passage D’Enfer Extreme had me concerned that would be lost.
That Mme Gicobetti was behind the wheel allayed much of that concern. In a weird way it made me more interested. I wondered what she would choose to emphasize. When I received my sample it turns out that it is a more layered incense effect where the lily appears from through the smoke. It also provides a sturdier base which is where the “extreme” really appears.
In this new version the incense comes first. This is that slivery metallic version which seems austere. To roughen it she adds just a pinch of black pepper. This picks up that undertone in incense and brings it forward. It is done so she can then create a second slightly smoky incense layer. Embedded within is the lily for this version. The pepper makes an ideal contrast to the freshness of the lily as the incense flows around it. At this point I would have said “extreme” is not the adjective running through my head. The original base was an unobtrusive cedar. For this Extreme she chooses a much deeper base accord of sandalwood and vanilla. It causes this to take on a sacred shrine vibe as it all comes together over sweet woods.
Passage D’Enfer Extreme has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
The original Passage D’Enfer is one of my favorite summer incense choices. Passage D”Enfer Extreme is going to be what I reach for in the other months. Mme Giacobetti is the daughter of photographer Francis Giacobetti. He achieved much of his fame through his use of lighting. I’ve always thought she has the same ability to use ingredients in the same way to expose new facets of ingredients. As I enjoyed Passage D’Enfer Extreme I thought this was her taking the original and changing the lighting and shading. It also exposes a new beauty.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from L’Artisan Parfumeur.
One of the benefits of being part of the online fragrance community is sometimes I get a needed reminder. The latest version happened because of the crazy avalanche of samples I received over the last twelve weeks of the year. I prioritized the best I could, but I was bound to forget something. A week ago I got a nudge from one of my Facebook perfume groups to go back and find the recent Zara releases. Thanks to them I found Zara Hip Hop Red Apple waiting for me.
I mentioned last year that I think of Zara as one of those great bargain perfume finds at the mall. The brand works with top-notch perfumers and regularly releases good things. In 2019 they started a collection called Emotions where they worked with independent perfumer Jo Malone. Yes, that Jo
Malone. She has been back to making perfumes on her own. The first grouping was eight numbered perfumes of which No. 7 Fleur de Patchouli was a good example of the aesthetic. Here she blended fresh peony over an earthy patchouli with cedar frame. It was simple and refreshing. Which is a good way to describe all of them.
Last fall they added five new fragrances to the Emotions collection. Three of them were made with a fruity giggle. It seemed this time the brief was “summer fun”. Ms. Malone delivered that especially in Hip Hop Red Apple.
What drew me to Hip Hop Red Apple over the others was apple. Any time I can enjoy a different fruit as a focal point I’m going to gravitate to it. DJ Jo mixes three different apple beats on her perfume turntable.
The entire progression is through different crispness of apples. She begins with the tartness of green apple. There is a distinctive snap to the early going. The second apple to appear is a less tart yellow apple given some contour through berries. The berries create a more recognizable fruity heart accord. Over time out of that rises a juicy red apple which is what predominates over the final hours.
Hip Hop Red Apple has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I didn’t notice it but there is a candy-like quality because on the days I wore this Mrs. C said she smelled apple hard candy. I found the entire trio of apples emotionally buoying. They exude the idea of running around outside. All the Emotions collection seem like Ms. Malone is enjoying herself. Hip Hop Red Apple is DJ Jo’s remix of apple.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples I received from Zara.
A couple years back the perfume buzzword was deconstruction. Throughout most of that time I heard Inigo Montoya saying, “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.” Or maybe more accurately their idea of deconstruction didn’t match my perception of what it should be. What I wanted was a perfume that took a well-known ingredient and using other ingredients to form an accord without any of it present. When it has been done in that style it provides a different perspective on the what it is imitating. Essential Parfums Bois Imperial does exactly this for sandalwood.
Essential Parfums is a unique brand in the way they give the perfumer the freedom to create as they wish. Because of that they also put the name of the perfumer right on the label. This is becoming a small vital piece of the niche perfume sector. Giving talented perfumers the chance to go their own way. The only restriction is that can only use sustainable materials.
That last is particularly apt when it comes to sandalwood as over harvesting severely damaged it in some places in the world. Perfumer Quentin Bisch has decided not to worry about that as he forms his deconstructed interpretation in Bois Imperial.
The core piece of this is the biological degradation of patchouli called Akigalawood. I have written about this in the past as a more versatile fraction of patchouli where a spiciness reigns over a lighter earthiness. It is an ideal foundation to build upon. In the early going he uses two Asian herbs in Timut pepper and Thai basil. Both carry a noticeable citrus piece to their scent profile of grapefruit and lemon, respectively. Those provide a bit of sparkle, but it is the spiciness of the pepper and green of the basil which begin to flow into the Akigalawood. He uses a Givaudan muguet synthetic analog called Petalia to add a fresh green to things. When I first notice it, I am not sure what part it will play. The remainder of the deconstructed sandalwood comes through vetiver and another woody synthetic Ambrofix. The latter is a less monolithic version of the well-known Ambrox. As these notes blend in the Petalia reveals its reason for being here. The grassiness of vetiver and the woodiness of Ambrofix need something to push back against their sharper edges. The Petalia is that. Once it is all together it is a fresher version of sandalwood than anything you can find in nature.
Bois Imperial has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
This perfume is one of the best deconstructions I have encountered all without anyone on the creative team using the word. The next time I do hear someone use it I’m going to point at Bois Imperial as how you construct a deconstructed perfume.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
When I get a sample set of a new perfume brand, I play a mental game. Before looking at anything else I try and decide which one I’ll like best by the name. It is not a reliable process. Very rarely is it the name I like best which also corresponds to the pick of the group.
When I received the five-perfume sample set from Atelier Materi, Cuir d’Iris was the one I went to first. It is leather and iris capably executed. Then it was Cacao Porcelana but it wasn’t as gourmand as I was expecting. Peau d’Ambrette was likely to appeal because of the botanical musk and it did. Santal Blond is a lively take on sandalwood. I stared at the final sample Atelier Materi Poivre Pomelo expecting little only to find my favorite of the set.
Veronique Le Bihan
Atelier Materi was founded in 2019 by Veronique Le Bihan. Like many new brands she was interested in sustainability of the ingredients they used. Being based in Grasse blessed them with a plethora of incredible local ingredients. Mme Le Bihan has achieved much of what she wanted according to the website. Poivre Pomelo is composed by perfumer Marie Hugentobler.
What struck me about Poivre Pomelo is the use of a variant of Szechuan pepper called timut pepper. Timut pepper has a scent profile with the inherent contrast of hot pepper and grapefruit. Mme Hugentobler uses that to create a spiced citrus given life through a sharp green base accord.
It opens with a big blast of grapefruit. It is at the concentration I enjoy because it also allows some of the quirkier nuances some more presence. Because of that as the timut pepper comes forward it has multiple places to interact. In the first moments it is an amplifier for the grapefruit. Soon after the spiciness interjects itself. Because of the time of year I was trying it I found it a weird variant of a clove orange. A pepper grapefruit perhaps? The base accord is composed of vetiver and mate tea. Both of these are known for being sharply green. Many perfumers will try to ameliorate that. Mme Hugentobler pushed it to the forefront. As these lances of green pierce the pepper grapefruit it expands into a fascinating whole.
Poivre Pomelo has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Even though I am a little late in finding Atelier Materi I feel as if Mme Le Bihan has a good idea of what she wants. I look forward to what is next. Maybe the last won’t lead then.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample set I purchased.
There are a lot of ingredients which are tailor-made to dominate a fragrance. Any number of big florals or the synthetic woods. One thing those all have in common is once they reach high concentrations, they tend to wear out their welcome. The proverbial case of the perfume wearing you. One way to make it interesting is to take that power and look for the fissures within. If you make smart choices, you can create something memorable like Anatole Lebreton Fleur Cachee.
Vanilla is one of those notes which can become monolithic at high concentrations. It can cause an olfactory cavity because it is so sweet. What I have found in the past is if a perfumer chooses to, they can turn that flaw into an advantage. Most don’t make the effort because it isn’t easy. Independent perfumer Anatole Lebreton takes the time to provide something which benefits from the effort.
One of the interesting things that M. Lebreton has been doing is he has been asking for creative direction from his fans. He created Fleur Cachee as a crowdfunded project. He told his funders he wanted to make vanilla perfume featuring two different sources a CO2 extraction and the absolute. They suggested ingredients to play off the vanillas and they also came up with the name. I’m not usually a fan of focus groups but this one succeeds because of the shared passion.
The perfume opens with timut pepper as the first ingredient to interact with the vanilla. Timut pepper has a pronounced grapefruit scent profile with a spicy cinnamon-like undertone. In the early moments it starts to take the vanilla towards warm cinnamon custard. At this point I expected a typical gourmand progression. This is where the focus group creative directors and M. Lebreton came up with a smart thought. Go in a different direction. It is accomplished by using turmeric and fenugreek. The turmeric moves the hint of dessert back towards a different vibe. It picks up the citrusy part of the timut pepper and turns it towards a greener spice blend. As the fenugreek adds in its dried grass quality the gourmand is left behind. It then takes this vanilla with veins of ingredients shot throughout and places it on a rich sandalwood platform. Just as with the vanilla M. Lebreton finds the proper balance to keep everything in play.
Fleur Cachee has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
M. Lebreton turns Fleur Cachee into an example of how to find and fill the spaces in between of a seeming monolith. The resultant perfume is a glimmering gem of complexity.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
I’ve often written about how the best results for geek franchises is when you put a true believer in charge. I’ve also mentioned with a bit of a sneer how I am not a supporter of fan service in search of a plot. The entire movie “Solo: A Star Wars Story” is an example of the worst of those impulses. I hadn’t considered what could happen if you allowed true believers the chance to apply their sense of fan service. The Mandalorian Season 2 is what happens.
One bit of warning. I usually stay away from spoilers and major plot twists when I write about these things. This time I will be breaking that rule. Much of what I want to talk about requires me to reveal some of the best parts of the season. After the end of the next paragraph there will be spoilers.
The Mandalorian picks up where we ended the first season. A lone exiled Mandalorian bounty hunter has been tasked with returning a child to its own kind. Because that child looks like Yoda, we as an audience know where this should lead. A lot of the fun of the first season was writers Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni enjoying translating classic movie Western tropes into a Star Wars setting. There was also a kind of lone samurai or ronin feel to the title character as well. As the season begins The Mandalorian is looking for how he can return the child to where he should be. Spoilers From Here, Last Warning.
Jon Favreau (l.) and Dave Filoni
Right from the start we end up on Tatooine meeting a lawman wearing very familiar armor to any Star Wars fan. As this Mandalorian sees it he practices his code of only one of his race can wear it. In a saloon standoff an alternate option is offered. This is what I mean by fan service that assists the story. Only the audience knows the wider history of the armor belonging to Boba Fett. The characters are only interested in it for what it is not who owned it. In lesser hands the actors would have been saying “Boba Fett’s armor” twenty times in five minutes. It isn’t necessary to do that. Favreau and Filoni just let it be armor which one man wants and the other doesn’t want to give up.
This leads into a season of the return of many characters previously seen in the Star Wars saga. Yes, Boba Fett does show up because he wants his armor back. The ex-Jedi Ahsoka Tano is given an entire episode in which The Mandalorian believes she is a person he can leave the child with. By the time we are done Baby Yoda/ The Child has a name, Grogu. The other Mandalorian sect we know from the animated series comes to life as Bo-Katan and our Mandalorian work together. Every bit of this is fan service. Every bit of it works because they are characters given story.
The reason is Favreau and Filoni care about Star Wars. This isn’t corporate storytelling. It is creative people who grew up with this in their DNA. And it shows. They don’t want to see these characters devalued through hackneyed plots designed to get people to point at the screen. They do something much more difficult they get us to point at the screen in joy because these characters are being shown in the most relevant way.
Which leads to the very end of the season and the appearance of Luke Skywalker. Because these guys get it his return is fantastic. It has wonderful echoes to his father as Darth Vader in the way he moves towards rescuing Grogu. But here is where Favreau and Filoni get the gold star. The most iconic Star Wars character shows up and yet the emotional weight of the scene is on The Mandalorian and Grogu. This is the way.
The best part of it all at the end is we now know this is the beginning of wider exploration of this time and place in the Star Wars timeline. Because Masters Favreau and Filoni are here it looks like a new saga has begun.
I’m going to share a secret. When I get a box of new samples if you have a catchy name, I am going to try you sooner than others with more pedestrian ones. When I received my winter box from Nordstrom, and I ran across The Nue Co. Forest Lungs sample it was prioritized.
I spent a lot of my childhood among the Florida pines. I spent a fair amount of my adulthood hiking the mountains out west among the majestic fir trees. Whenever I was out among them there was a moment when I would stand still while taking a deep breath. The scent of the pines would fill me with the happiness I sought while walking outdoors. This is the peace which always drew me to hiking.
The Nue Co. came to my notice last year with the release of their first fragrance Functional Fragrance. Founder and creative director Jules Miller has built her full-service beauty brand around the products adding to your well-being. The fragrances are no different. Ms. Miller looks to find scents which can lessen stress. Functional Fragrance was a simple combination of green cardamom and palo santo for a meditative woody effect. Forest Lungs is the follow-up. Working with perfumer Guillaume Flavigny, Ms. Miller again keeps it simple. This time it works a little better on a fragrance level.
- Flavigny uses only a few ingredients. It starts with an accord of pine and cedar. A lot of time pine smells like a Christmas tree. M. Flavigny uses the cedar to make it more expansive. Like that scent of the forest as you walk through it. As you trek you also release the earth beneath your boots. M. Flavigny takes patchouli leavened with vetiver. The latter adds the green connectivity between the patchouli and the woods. The final little surprise is a bit of benzoin to represent the droplets of sap on the trunks.
Forest Lungs has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
I don’t have many pine trees near Colognoisseur HQ. After wearing Forest Lungs I now have some of them on my desk in the sample. All I have to do is spray some on and breathe deep.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Nordstrom.
I have been giving some thought to what it is that sets small independent perfumers apart from their slightly bigger niche cousins. The one thing which I’ve spoken of consistently is for the smaller brands they can work with hard-to-source unique materials. It is what makes many of the best creations. The other thing I noticed when looking at this is a good percentage of them make their own oils from indigenous sources near their home. It also allows the perfumer to dial in a specific effect as they are the source. One of my favorite brands in this style has released a perfect example in Di Ser Kagiroi.
The perfumer behind the brand is Yasuyuki Shinohara who lived and works on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. He works with an all-natural set of ingredients which he makes himself. He sources the raw material which he then extracts. Many of them come from the surrounding countryside. Which is one of the special joys of a new Di Ser perfume. I am usually introduced to a new ingredient from Shinohara-san.
Kagiroi is meant to remind the wearer of watching the shades of the sky change at dawn. Shinohara-san seems to have three hues in mind as Kagiroi unfolds on my skin.
It opens on the familiar and the unfamiliar. The former is the citrus of yuzu which is in a more closed off version. Usually the lemony quality of yuzu is sunny and bright. Here Shinohara-san uses this introverted form to capture the potential of that light of the sun on the dawn horizon. The new features come through a Japanese citrus called shikuwasa. According to the internet it is called Okinawa lime. I am guessing this is part of what is forming this contained citrus accord. The other piece of the top accord is sansho seed. Sansho is the Japanese analog to Szechuan pepper. That ingredient has become one of the more versatile in mainstream perfumery. The sansho variant also seems to have a similar malleability. Early on it acts as an herbal complement to the greener compact citrus. Over some time it imparts a deeper bitter/tart quality to the overall accord. As it continues to evolve the spiciness of the sansho finds new partners in coriander and shiso. This forms a more overtly herbal accord. The base is made up of the Japanese cedar variety of hinoki, oud, and vetiver. The oud is exactly what I am speaking of when I mention Shinohara-san’s ability to find the right shade by making his own. The oud is a lighter version which is given back some of its rougher edges through the vetiver. The clean meditational lines of hinoki provide the center for both.
Kagiroi has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage in this parfum concentration.
There is a type of foodie cuisine called farm to table. A reviewer of Kagiroi on Luckyscent described it as “farm to bottle”. Which I think is appropriate, but I’d like to refine it a bit. Whenever I wear a Di Ser scent, I always see Shinohara-san with a basket walking through the Hokkaido countryside harvesting the flora. Which makes me think of Kagiroi as a field to fragrance experience.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.