There is a trend in niche perfumery I find very irritating; the city exclusive. It is even more troublesome when I see a note list from a brand I like in a city I have no way of getting access to. Which was how I learned of By Kilian Lemon in Zest.
In 2014 creative director owner Kilian Hennessy began to open stand alone boutiques all over the world. For each opening there was a corresponding city exclusive to be sold only at that store. All of them were based on alcoholic beverages indigenous to the city the store was in. New York. Moscow, Paris, Doha, and London I had ways of getting a sample of those. As I managed to try all of them Lemon in Zest remained the stubborn outlier I couldn’t source. It was at the boutique in Lugano, Switzerland. Lugano is on the Swiss-Italian border and is not a large metropolis. I just couldn’t manage to pull the strings I needed to get a sample. Now it seems as if all the city exclusives have become available more widely. I got my sample of Lemon in Zest a little over a month ago.
What had me interested from afar was that it was based on the Italian liqueur limoncello. It also had perfumer Alberto Morillas as the perfumer. I had liked the previous city exclusives for their booziness. I was thinking that M. Morillas could make a limoncello perfume with the bite it would need. I wasn’t wrong.
Limoncello is made from the rind of the lemon and not the pulpy fruit itself. Those rinds are marinated in alcohol for days before being combined with simple syrup. It is served ice cold from the freezer carrying the bite of cold matched to the alcohol and the tart lemon. Limoncello is best drunk as the sun sets on a summer day. M. Morillas makes his own limoncello.
It begins with that tartness of the rind of lemon. Besides the lemon there is a subtle green underneath which is very appealing. These early stages are photorealistic lemon perfume at its best. Then he takes it and adds it to the sweet alcohol. The note list calls it “orange liqueur”. There is a hint of orange, but it is there as a surrogate for the simple syrup adding in some sweet. The alcohol here has that kind of bite I was hoping for. This isn’t a warm comfy cognac or whisky accord. This is a bracing shock to the system full of lemon energy. The same experience a shot of cold limoncello makes in my mouth. It ends as it does for me in real life as I look out over my back yard in summer twilight. Vetiver gives an earthy feel through a judicious use of patchouli. It is an ideal base accord for this.
Lemon in Zest has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
I admit that once I got my sample, I was motivated to make some limoncello. I also put my sample in the refrigerator. About a week ago I took both out to enjoy the fireflies and the comet visible overhead from my deck. It felt like I was living my best limoncello life inside and out.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
If there is anywhere where the resurrection of the Gucci fragrance fortunes can be found it is in Gucci Bloom and its flankers. Ever since overall creative director at Gucci, Alessandro Michele, has taken a hand in the fragrance side things have noticeably improved. Gucci Bloom in 2017 was the first marker that things were going to be different under Sig. Michele. The fifth flanker Gucci Bloom Profumo di Fiori continues the ascending trajectory.
Since Sig. Michele has taken over perfumer Alberto Morillas has become his exclusive creative partner. There is a wonderful new Gucci aesthetic which is coming from this. One thing about it which sets it apart is it isn’t going along with the transparent trend so many other brands are following. When Bloom debuted it decided to go with a substantial floral core of tuberose and jasmine. That has been the starting point for every successive version as M. Morillas finds a new partner for his keynote florals. For Bloom Profumo di Fiori it is ylang ylang.
I adore the version of that floral M. Morillas uses here. There is a fresher ylang ylang fraction which gets used a lot by those fragrances seeking opacity. The one here is that fleshy sensual version which finds a couple of willing partners in tuberose and jasmine.
The jasmine and tuberose come to life immediately along with the green vegetal Rangoon creeper adding a bit of contrast. This is the essential DNA of Bloom from past to present. One of the things I admire about this line is they don’t scrub the indoles away. They are kept to a more modest effect, but they add a lot of character to these perfumes. This is where the full spectrum ylang ylang finds harmony as the carnal floral dances a pas de deux with the indolic parts of tuberose and jasmine. If you like sexy florals this is your accord. M. Morillas adds a bit of rooty orris to connect to a sandalwood, benzoin, and musk base.
Bloom Profumo di Fiori has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Even though this review is coming out in midsummer Bloom Profumo di Fiori is a post-Labor Day fall floral. It is one of the best new releases for the upcoming season. Once again Sig. Michele and M. Morillas have added to their winning record. It all comes down to adding a fleshy floral to everything.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Gucci.
1995’s Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male is one of the great perfumes because it redefined a style of fragrance for a generation. Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian composed a true classic. It has also been a veritable cash machine for the brand where they have released flanker after flanker. If you have ignored those because of their ubiquity that would be normal. Many of them were lesser than the original. The problem is within that steady flow of product they manage to sneak in something worthy of attention. That brings us to Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male Le Parfum.
Quentin Bisch, Nathalie Gracia-Cetto, Louise Turner (l. to r.)
When you look at that name you might think this is just a parfum version of the original. You would be half right as it uses the keynotes of Le Male. Where it differs is the team of perfumers; Quentin Bisch, Nathalie Gracia-Cetto and Louise Turner add depth befitting a parfum with something different.
It opens with the same cardamom which is part of the best Le Male flankers. Then what the perfumers do is allow the complementary original note of artemisia more agency in the perfume. It elongates the cardamom with a slightly licorice bite. It gives it the same herbal green of the original without using mint. The heart is made up of lavender given the same additional depth using iris. Here it is to give an earthier floral to enhance the herbal part of the lavender. It gives top and heart accord a connection through that. The biggest difference comes with vanilla in the forefront of the base. There are still the woods from before, but they are given the warmth of vanilla to add to it.
Le Male Le Parfum has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
As I wore Le Male Le Parfum I kept thinking this was the dress-up version of Le Male. If the original was the carefree casual one. Le Parfum is the one gussied up for the evening. Maybe that is all that is needed for a successful flanker the opportunity to dress up a classic.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Jean Paul Gaultier.
Ever since the introduction of oud into western modern perfumery I have been interested in how it is used in the Middle East. According to what I have read oud chips are placed in braziers and allowed to add their scent to rooms as they burn. As a perfume ingredient it is one of my favorites because of the complexity of the scent profile. I have spent years buying small vials of different sources of oud. My wooden box which contains the vials is one of my most cherished fragrant possessions. While I am pretty sure Mrs. C would frown upon me ordering some oud chips and setting them on fire in a brazier in Poodlesville. I think I’ve found the next best thing in Louis Vuitton Nuit de Feu.
In a touch over two years the luxury leather brand Louis Vuitton has jumped feet first into fragrance. Nuit de Feu is the fifteenth release of this collection. Perfumer Jacques Cavallier has been the perfumer behind all of them. This has been an uneven collection with hits and misses but more in the squishy middle of they’re okay. Until I got my hands on a sample, I expected Nuit de Feu to be one of the latter.
Nuit de Feu translates to “night of fire” I wouldn’t call this a dark style of fragrance. M. Cavallier provides a more transparent framing that the ingredients might lead you to believe. All three keynotes are pitched at a lighter level than I usually encounter them.
It opens with the smoky austere resin of Somalian incense. This always feel like tendrils of fragrant smoke whenever it shows up in a perfume. No different here. It is this which sets the idea of a brazier burning. Over the next few minutes a classic refined leather accord worthy of Louis Vuitton meshes with oud. If you’re expecting powerhouse dial it back by half. It isn’t ethereal but it isn’t bowl you over either. As these three keynotes come together it is how I imagine a brazier in the Middle East to smell. It ends with a gentle suite of animalic musks picking up on all three of the keynotes.
Nuit de Feu has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I think some will be disappointed that an incense-leather-oud fragrance isn’t a sledgehammer. If you give it a chance you might come to find the same joy in a subtler combination of the same notes. M. Cavallier does a nice job in providing an alternative. I am just happy I can imagine myself spending a night at the brazier while wearing it.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Louis Vuitton.
After my birthplace, the place I have spent most of my life is in the Boston, Massachusetts area. I loved living there it was a town which fed my interests daily. One of those was a vibrant local perfume lovers’ community. Using the internet we would find time to meet-up. During one of those events I met Sandy Carr. I moved away nine years ago but Ms. Carr has caught up to me again, this time as an independent perfumer. She has gone to study in Grasse and returned to Boston to create her brand Bluehill Fragrances. She has released three debut perfumes. I am going to review two of them Bluehill Fragrances Back Bay and Bluehill Fragrances Metrogarden. The third is a nice aquatic rose called Beach Rose and is worth trying if you are a fan of that style of fragrance.
My very first experience of this city was on an interview trip. I was housed in a hotel at the corners of Mass Ave and Commonwealth. Between me and the Public Garden was this amazing walking path down the middle of the street flanked by enormous brownstones. On the night before my interview I went for a walk through the Back Bay as this part of town is called. It is a curious mixture of old stone building, asphalt, massive trees, and flowers. It is the oft spoken of urban oasis. Ms. Carr captures it all in Back Bay.
It opens with a Revolutionary War-like fusillade of florals. Ms. Carr shows her technical ability right from the start as she balances a half dozen floral ingredients. None of them particularly leap to the forefront. Instead she forms a floral accord of equals. This is given the sparkle of sunlight through the canopy of trees over the boulevard via bergamot. The heart takes this in a decidedly vegetal direction with basil and galbanum. The crystalline verdancy of the latter acts as its own deeper sparkle in complement to the citrus earlier. For the final stages, the stone of the buildings and the wood of the trees provide the scent. Ms. Carr finishes with as accomplished an accord as she began with. The stone accord feels old. The earth that the trees are rooted in feels slightly damp and sandalwood and cedar provide the woods.
Back Bay has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Once we bought our home in Somerville one of the reasons was because it had a tiny bit of yard. In that small space we turned one part of it into a raised bed to grow vegetables. It was just the right size for me to enjoy. Any bigger and it would have been a chore. My postage stamp garden was a source of joy for all the years we lived there. Throughout the Boston area there are many tiny gardens in backyards and parks areas set aside for it. Metrogarden captures an afternoon digging in the dirt surrounded by the city.
Petitgrain provides that mid-morning sunlight that would greet me. Ms. Carr then recapitulates her skill with floral ingredients I mentioned above. This time she asks iris and narcissus to be the surrogates for the garden. Both ingredients are made from the root and not the bloom. The rhizome for iris and the bulb for narcissus. It gives them an inherent earthiness in the right hands. She then allows tendrils of rose and violet the chance to grow within this floral milieu. As she did with Back Bay the base accord is a reminder of the city. This comes through a slightly smoky vetiver, peru balsam, and a set of white musks. It reminded me of the smell of the clapboard on the side of the house underneath the sun as it glints off the windows.
Metrogarden has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I fully admit when I hear a story like Ms. Carr’s of deciding to convert hobby into independent perfumer my skepticism is high. In this case she has captured the town we know so expertly it erased any qualms. There is a clear understanding of ingredients and accords which will serve her well moving forward. For now she has provided a fragrant companion for Dropkick Murphys “Shipping Up to Boston” when I miss my old home.
Disclosure: This review was based on bottles supplied by Bluehill Fragrances.
If there is a single perfume which has always had me giving the benefit of the doubt to Armani Prive it is 2005’s Cuir Amethyste. It was among the first releases in this exclusive fragrance collection for Giorgio Armani. It remains one of my favorite violet and leather perfumes I own. Over the past fifteen years they have only rarely returned to releases with “cuir” in the name. With the latest release Armani Prive Cuir Zerzura they take another try.
Perfumer Nelly Hachem-Ruiz works for the second time for the brand. She previously collaborated on 2015’s Sable Or with Sophie Labbe. Zerzura is the Saharan equivalent to El Dorado; a mythical city of treasure. It was also called the “oasis of little birds”. Mme Hachem-Ruiz creates a perfume which captures the scent of a movie hero in search of treasure the twist is I imagine this to be a leather jacketed woman with a rose in her hair.
Our perfume story begins with our heroine standing at the end of a valley looking at the parchment map that led her here. The valley is lined with orange trees. Mme Hachem-Ruiz uses a rich mandarin oil along with violet leaves and elemi to create this accord. This is the scent of fruit, leaf, and trunk. It is more concentrated giving off less sunniness than mandarin usually does. As she moves through the valley the gates to Zerzura beckon, a fresco of birds above the portal. She settles her jacket onto her shoulders giving the rose in her hair a final opportunity to release its floral beauty. This is a classic rose and leather accord. The difference here is she adds in some of the expansive synthetic florals for lift and transparency. It allows the rose to float above the leather jacket accord. That is the well-worn leather accord anyone who has owned a leather jacket for a long time will recognize. It isn’t animalic or refined, but something in between. Experienced perhaps? The final moments take place as our heroine reaches the soaring cedar gates. Somewhere inside the scent of vanilla greets her.
Cuir Zerzura has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is a perfume which took me to faraway places for fabulous adventures. It is the best Armani Prive with cuir in the name since Cuir Amethyste. Instead of King Solomon’s Mines I felt as if I was at Queen Nelly’s Oasis.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Giorgio Armani.
Since 2016 I have been watching the popular perfume brands come to grips with the current trend for lighter more transparent fragrances. Each of them has chosen their own path with varying degrees of success. At this point their choices have become evident. Thierry Mugler has made one of the more interesting choices. If you want to lighten up your perfumes you should also do it with a palpable smile. Thierry Mugler Angel Nova continues to achieve that.
The original Angel is nobody’s idea of a light perfume although the spirit behind it was fun. In 2016 perfumer Quentin Bisch laid down the marker on the new Angel with Angel Muse. It has continued through two iterations of Angel Eau Croisiere and Eau Croisiere II. Those perfumes are made for nights on holiday. They are also intelligently designed perfumes. Angel Nova picks up on all of this with a team of M. Bisch, Louise Turner, and Sonia Constant collaborating.
One of the hallmarks of this current generation of Angel flankers is they have been simple constructs. Angel Nova is three keynotes of raspberry, rose, and akigalawood. There are a couple of supporting ingredients which add to the complete piece, but it is predominantly those three.
It opens with a juicy raspberry given a syrupy finish through lychee. It made me think of opening a can of lychee and finding raspberries covered in the syrup. This is the kind of value added of a clever supporting note. It leads into a rich rose living up to its jammy adjective. I know you read this and think light, how could this be light. It is a remarkably transparent effect. It is capped with the spicy patchouli analog of akaigalawood adding an echo back to the original with its own patchouli inspired base. Some benzoin completes that base accord.
Angel Nova has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is another perfume full of joy. I keep looking forward to these Angel flankers because they all manage to find a way to have fun without becoming inane. Perhaps because they know the secret on how to lighten up their perfumes.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Thierry Mugler.
I get all kinds of PR material surrounding every new release. I spend as much time reading between the lines as I do what is printed. Sometimes they are done with a self-deprecating humor that it makes me smile. When I received the latest text from the London-based brand Atkinsons they wrote they were celebrating over two centuries of “perfume snobbery”. This is done with that typical British charm like comedian Ricky Gervais delivers. You laugh but there is truth inherent within the joke. In celebration the new perfume, Atkinsons 44 Gerrard Street, is named after the location of their first shop back in 1799.
The press release goes on to say this will be a classic cologne structure. If there is something many self-proclaimed perfume snobs’ disdain it Is the lowly cologne. “It smells cheap”, is a regular commentary on the style. Atkinsons decided to take the opposite tack. Collaborating with perfumer Mathieu Nardin they asked him to use the exquisite Mane Jungle Essence ingredients in composing 44 Gerard Street. The snobs may have other issues but with these ingredients in use they won’t be calling it cheap.
As I say often the recipe is simple; citrus-herb-floral-woods. If you’re going to go for a new twist it can’t just be top shelf ingredients it also has to be something slightly different than the traditional. M. Nardin deploys his Jungle Essence ingredients to impressive effect. There is a depth which sets this apart.
The opening lays this out. Using green lemon as the citrus piece this is not the sunbeam version of the citrus it carries an unripe vegetal aspect. This leads into the keynote of the early going eucalyptus. This is a beautiful version of this ingredient. It is leafy, slightly woody, and mentholated. That first quality meshes with the green lemon ideally. If that isn’t enough energy for you it becomes supercharged with ginger. This is the turbocharged version of cologne. For the floral part jasmine takes the wheel with a similar energy. Through to this point this is as advertised. It was slightly disappointing to have the base be the same synthetic woods of Orcanox which have become so ubiquitous. The thrill ride ends on a banal note.
44 Gerrard Street has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
It seems likely the synthetic wood was added to ameliorate the other criticism of cologne, “It doesn’t last”. I wish they had the courage to overlook that criticism because the rest of the perfume puts to bed the cheapness debate. I think this does succeed at being a cologne for perfume snobs.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
It was the natural perfumers who brought my attention to the botanical musk of ambrette seeds. I loved the softness of this animalic scent from plants. The perfume version of plant-based meats. It is that less ferocious nature that makes it appealing. I have come to look forward to any perfume which uses it smartly. Clean Reserve Radiant Nectar joins that list.
One of the things creative director Greg Black wanted out of this collection was to become a trendsetter within the field of transparent fragrances. It seemed like the trends finally bent to where Clean has always been. With Clean Reserve Mr. Black has turned my initial skepticism completely around. Now every Clean Reserve release has my attention. They still have an irksome habit of not letting me know who the perfumer is. It bothers me because the work has been of such a high quality, I’d like to give credit. I will eventually find out and update it but for now I don’t know who made this.
It revolves around a top accord of ambrette seeds and pear. I usually am not a fan of the juicy version of pear used here. The ambrette makes it much more palatable as it wraps soft musky tendrils around the ebullient fruit. What really sold me on this perfume is what comes next. A combination of carrot seed, iris, and tobacco flower. This is a transparent style of fragrance so what you get are opaque versions of all three. It is an intelligent accord which lets the carrot seed provide an alternate soft sweetness to the pair while also harmonizing with the ambrette seeds. The iris and tobacco flower provide silky veils of each. It ends on a synthetic woody base.
Radiant Nectar has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is an ideal perfume for midsummer especially if you’ve tired of the colognes. Radiant Nectar offers a soft alternative though the seeds of desire at its heart.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Clean Reserve.
As we undergo the definition of the gourmand style of perfume there is still much to come from the ingredients which launched the genre. Dark deep patchouli can be the source of chocolate in a fragrance. I think it is easy to believe that there is nothing new to find. I found Francesca Bianchi Sticky Fingers had something to add.
Francesca Bianchi has become an independent perfumer I have begun to pay closer attention to. Last year’s The Black Knight was one of my favorite perfumes of 2019. She has a refreshing perspective on traditional perfume conventions. When I received my sample of Sticky Fingers I was taken, by the name, to where she wanted. The 1971 album of the same name by The Rolling Stones. I was expecting a rock-and-roll black leather perfume inside the vial. In this case the titular digits are sticky from dipping them in chocolate. There is leather here along with some other clever choices, but the star of this perfume is patchouli in all its gourmand-like glory.
Before the patchouli shows up Sig.ra Bianchi creates a spicy tobacco with cinnamon dusting the dried leaf. This on its own carries a gourmand feel to it. The cherry-almond like facets of heliotrope tilt things more firmly in that direction. This is a rich fruit scented tobacco accord. Now the patchouli reaches its treacly paws into this and coats it in chocolate. It is subtle at first, increasing in intensity over time. As it begins to take precedence that rock-and-roll leather comes out. The final stoke is to add the carrot-y nature of orris butter. Another odd gourmand choice which works. The patchouli takes over completely just in time for castoreum to turn the leather a bit more dangerous, a bit more subversive. Sandalwood provides the woody foundation of all of it.
Sticky Fingers has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
I adore this perfume even in the heat of midsummer for its rock-and-roll gourmand style. I suspect once I try the last of my sample out in the fall it is going to be even better. If you think you’ve tried a chocolate patchouli allow Sig.ra Bianchi to show you differently.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.