This year has seen a few perfumes where geranium has been the stand-in for rose. As one who has grown a bit jaded on straight rose fragrances this has been a welcome change. I know there are as many beautifully varied versions of geranium as there are of rose. In the hands of a talented perfumer like Bruno Fazzolari it can result in a striking composition like Bruno Fazzolari Zdravetz.
Mr. Fazzolari also didn’t want to make just another rose perfume either. In the accompanying notes to my sample he states this. What changed his mind was his ability to source a species of geranium which grows in the mountains of Bulgaria called zdravetz. As he further writes it is a difficult version to get because the harvest is unreliable. That limited supply is what makes it ideal for an independent perfumer like Mr. Fazzolari. He can use it because he is not under the same commercial restraints as a larger brand. He can feature the two florals of Bulgaria.
Zdravetz takes advantage of the unique scent profile of its namesake. Mr. Fazzolari uses many of the common pieces of rose perfumes you probably have on your dresser. The herbal floral quality of zdravetz touches all of those making them seem new.
A lovely tart flare of grapefruit opens things. Then a duet of Bulgarian flowers begins as the rose comes forward. With a flourish of galbanum the zdravetz arrives. At this point the green of the galbanum allows the zdravetz geranium ascendency. This is where the herbal quality of this version is given its most play. It settles back as the spicy core of the rose finds a harmonic with the geranium. This is the rose perfume you haven’t experienced before. It finishes with a soft leather accord framed by cedar. The leather is an ideal foundation for the florals to rest upon.
Zdravetz has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I enjoyed Zdravetz for the steely floral spine the rose and geranium form. Each ingredient elicits the best of the other. It changes dynamically over the hours I wore Zdravetz. I would sniff and think “not a rose” then minutes later think, “that’s a rose”. It is a fascinating back and forth I found to be among the best perfumes this year.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Bruno Fazzolari.
In the early part of 2013 I was introduced to a perfume and perfumer who exemplify independent perfumery. I was regularly reading a Facebook group of Pacific Northwest indie perfumers. One day I was reading about the perfumes of David Falsberg for his Phoenecia Perfumes brand. I was fascinated with one called Skin Graft. I ordered a bottle which showed me the boundaries of what perfume can realize. It remains one of the most creative perfumes I own six years later. Mr. Falsberg has continued to make perfume on his own schedule. There is no one I am more excited to receive an e-mail from letting me know something new is coming. He has always given me something new to consider. It has happened again with Phoenecia Perfumes Dark Musk.
One of the interests of Mr. Falsburg has been to find the shadows within the darkest ingredients. He released a version of genuine oud called Real Oud. It was one of the only real ouds available plus he paired it with authentic clay pot Hindi oud. It is a treat for those who love the darkness, Mr. Falsberg has just brought back Real Oud. At the same time he also released Real Oud-M wherein he creates a synthetic musk accord that is ingenious in the way it retains the bite of real musk. Both perfumes find pockets of shadow within the dark foundation. That experience comes together in Dark Musk.
As he did in Real Oud-M he constructs a musk accord as the nucleus of Dark Musk. It is composed of mainly birch tar and labdanum. It forms a country blacktop tarry accord on its own. Mr. Falberg must add in the correct amounts of other ingredients to get to this final accord. Those are a pinch of spikenard, a handful of cumin, and the decadent decay of costus. As they come together the tar turns to musk. It is the kind of transformation I have regularly experienced from Mr. Falsberg’s creations. It is nice to remember how good he is at it. Over a few minutes, sandalwood comes to lift up this musk accord. The woods help give something familiar to latch onto if the musk threatens to subsume you.
Dark Musk has 24-hour longevity and moderate sillage because it is a 100% mixture of essential oils.
When I wrote my review of Skin Graft, back in 2013, I used the second verse of the Neil Young song “Hey, Hey, My My” as my intro. Now it seems appropriate to use another few lines from later in the song to describe Dark Musk, “hey, hey, my, my/ rock and roll can never die/ there’s more to the picture than meets the eye/ hey, hey, my, my”. If you are looking for the frontier of independent perfumery Dark Musk is there.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Phoenecia Perfume.
It is an interesting ritual that happens most evenings at Colognoisseur HQ. I receive my samples and after dinner I test what came in the mail. Besides my nose I am always interested when one elicits a response from Mrs. C; or the poodle. About a month ago I received a sample set of the new brand Senyoko. As I was going through the samples, I sprayed the last one. In a few seconds Mrs. C looked up and asked, “What is that?”. It wasn’t a simple query. It was a half-lidded look of maybe I should forget about that perfume stuff for a while. Even my initial response was an inner clenching of all those carnal places inside. Senyoko La Tsarine was designed for this purpose.
Senyoko was founded in 2018 by husband-and-wife Joseph and Emilia Berthion. They released two perfumes in 2018; Madama Butterfly II and Migration de L’Arbre. The latter was a finalist for the Art & Olfaction Awards last year. When I received my sample set, I remembered encountering both during my judging of last year’s candidates. I was impressed when trying them blind. Knowing what they were only confirmed that opinion. This year there have been two new releases. Duo des Fleurs is a cross-pollination of Rose de Mai and jasmine sambac over a rich sandalwood attar. One thing which is becoming apparent over these early releases is perfumer Euan McCall is forming a deep aesthetic. These are perfumes which shift tremendously over the time on your skin. None more so than La Tsarine.
La Tsarine is based upon the life of Russian empress Catherine the Great. Specifically her perhaps apocryphal sexual appetites. She was purported to be a literal “man eater” as she had a steady stream of men into her bedchamber. That room was also said to be decorated in sexual sculptures and furniture. It is this version of the Empress which is depicted in La Tsarine with a confident mixture of everything sensual in a perfumer’s organ (pun intended).
There is no subtle playfulness to La Tsarine. This is clothes ripped off, buttons skittering across the floor as they tear free. The top accord is the viscous sweetness of honey contrasted with cumin. Sticky green of blackcurrant buds and clary sage add to the sensuousness. This is the clash of sweaty aroused bodies. Mr. McCall assembles three florals which represent the scent of arousal as the indolic trio of tuberose, narcissus, and jasmine explode in animalic floralcy. After all that Mr. McCall doubles down on the animalic as civet, costus, castoreum, oakmoss, and musk form the base accord. This is the scent of vigorous happy lovemaking. Taken all together La Tsarine is unapologetically erotic.
La Tsarine has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
One of the days I wore La Tsarine I had to go out to run errands. I was definitely turning heads as I walked around. I am sure they were thinking I had been up to something before coming out to shop. The other day I wore La Tsarine I spent the day at home; with Mrs. C living up to that look I received before. There are very few perfumes that will take a wearer deep into the places La Tsarine takes you. It isn’t fragrance made for anything other than romance; definitely NSFW.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample set I purchased.
There is an unfortunate hubris among many independent perfumers to decide they can re-create, re-invent, re-interpret, even re-vitalize a masterpiece of the past. They are almost always wrong. It compares very unfavorably. It also has another blowback of just trying to make the same masterpiece perfume of the past with different materials. Like a paint-by-numbers picture where you choose to change the colors called for and them stand next to it going, “Voila!” If you have talent, and experience, you can do this as a singular study for yourself to learn how those classics were built. The commercial impulse usually finds a way to expose these silly comparisons as it has with Fort & Manle Meraki.
Rasei Fort has been almost maddeningly inconsistent in the perfumes he has released. Earlier this year Kolonya was one of the first perfumes I reviewed in 2019 and it remains one of the best releases of 2019. It shows all the promise of the independent mindset creating something new. Kolonya stands out for its originality. Meraki stands out because it attempts to be something it is not. Mr. Fort says on his website that Meraki is inspired by the unicorn masterpiece of Serge Lutens and Jean-Yves Leroy; Shiseido Nombre Noir. He further states that he owns a sealed box of Nombre Noir but that he has never opened it to smell it. He also says he is not trying to re-create it. Followed immediately by saying, “based on the notes, I endeavoured to create a vintage-inspired white floral”. Based on that Meraki is a new perfume inspired by a list of ingredients of a vintage perfume Mr. Fort has never smelled. It’s ridiculous. Here is the real punchline Meraki is a good perfume on its own merits without inane callbacks to something it doesn’t resemble in any way. As part of Mr. Fort’s recent portfolio it is another beautiful floral centered on the duality of osmanthus.
Meraki opens with a strong cocktail of aldehydes atop a fuzzy peach. It is a nice textural top accord. Osmanthus rises to use its apricot side to meet with the peach. Rose adds deeper floral tones while honey converts the fuzziness of the peach to a sticky golden viscosity. As the leathery nature of osmanthus is teased out with patchouli an intense sandalwood completes the base accord.
Meraki has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Also on the website there is a definition for “meraki” as “to put something of yourself into your work”. Mr. Fort has done that with this perfume. This is of a continuity of what came before which feels wholly of Mr. Fort’s creativity. If you’ve liked the previous darker perfumes within the collection, you’ll like Meraki. If, on the other hand, you’re drawn in by the comparisons to Nombre Noir; don’t bother. Mr. Fort is not able to come within any distance of the creativity of that perfume. It is a cynical commercial ploy. From that perspective Meraki is Nombre Not!
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
I remember the Holiday season of 1984 for many reasons. It was the first Holiday where I had a job. I was able to have a giant Christmas tree because my townhouse had a cathedral ceiling. The other thing I remember was hearing on the radio that something had happened over in England on Thanksgiving weekend that was unheard of musically. That thing has been the foundation for much of the giving back to society that popular music has been responsible for since.
I remember being out getting that giant Christmas tree. On my way back I heard on the radio that some of the most popular English musicians were getting together to do a song. Pushed by Bob Geldof, the lead singer of the band Boomtown Rats, it was something to generate funds to battle famine in Ethiopia. Mr. Geldof used his clout, at the time, to enlist every famous musician in the country to join his group Band Aid. One of his criteria for asking someone to participate was the level of their fame. He wanted this to be a huge event of the most popular musicians of the day. One of the great stories is to get Boy George of Culture Club they had to fly him, via Concorde, back to the UK because the band was on a US tour.
It came together very quickly as Mr. Geldof only had the use of the recording studio for 24 hours. He had already written the lyrics and Midge Ure of Ultravox had added the music while also producing. Over the course of November 25 the studio filled with the A-list musicians. It was reported on the network news here, an ocean away. The song was then released as a single on December 3, 1984. I made my friend in NYC wait as I stood in line at the Astor Place Tower Records to purchase a copy.
The song itself, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” has become a Holiday staple on the radio. It has a permanent place on my Holiday playlist on iTunes. It is a simple song yet when they hit the final all-star choir singing “Feed the World/ Let them know it’s Christmas time again” I’m as happy to sing that as I am to bellow “Jingle Bells”.
It was a turning point in the concept of philanthropic musical efforts. In the thirty-five years since, music has found its standing as a societal influence much more surely. Every Holiday season I am reminded that back in 1984 the idea of making a song in a day to feed starving children is exactly what the Season should be about.
When you exchange gifts during the Holidays there is an occasional moment when you receive an unexpected present. It’s nice because it reminds you there is still a magic to this time of year in its ability to surprise you. The crusty perfume reviewer is having his own overflowing desk of presents this Holiday season. There has been an increased amount of new releases in these final weeks of the year. It makes me want to find the ones which are easy to dismiss. Except a week or so ago I got my own perfume surprise package in a sample of Victoria’s Secret Bombshell Holiday 2019.
Victoria’s Secret has been selling fragrance next to their lingerie for thirty years. It has always been a brand which follows trends. They are a classic example of safe fragrance meant to be purchased as an impulse while shopping in their stores. Ever since the launch of Bombshell in 2010 they’ve been releasing seasonal flankers two or three times a year. I’ve always categorized them as good functional perfumes. This year they decided to release their first Holiday edition. This is still a fruity floral, but it has a much different personality than any other Victoria’s Secret perfume I’ve ever tried. I don’t know who the perfumer is, but I am going to keep trying to find out because they did a fantastic job.
The fruit being used is pomegranate. It is given an icy chill to the point that it reminded me of having a pomegranate snow cone. The coolness complements the tartness of the fruit nicely. There is a much more transparent version of jasmine providing a floral veil instead of the usual strident presence I’m used to finding. It is like the pomegranate can radiate through the jasmine. The base is the very unusual choice of birch. Most of the time these perfumes end on a clean woody accord of synthetic woods and cedar. That the slightly acrid birch is allowed to finish this off is against nearly everything that has come before. This is another winter-like wood effect. The birch has a bitter woodiness which is allowed to pick up the cold tart of the pomegranate to create a gorgeous Holiday harmonic.
Bombshell Holiday 2019 has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
I know that I never expected my surprise package this Holiday to be from Victoria’s Secret. Bombshell Holiday 2019 has reminded me how much fun it can be to be surprised.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Victoria’s Secret.
Instead of getting run over at the mall I spend the days immediately after Thanksgiving baking cookies. I really only am motivated to make cookies during the Holiday season. I have my favorites along with recipes I’ve optimized to my taste. The kitchen counter is cleared of all unnecessary things as it becomes my surface to make my cookies. As much as the cookies are fun to eat, I noticed a couple years ago what a lovely scent the ingredients provide as I am working. Vanilla, spices, fruits, the wood of the rolling pin, and the muskiness of the effort. I was thinking what a nice perfume this would make. It seems like Essential Parfums Divine Vanille is that fragrance.
Essential Parfums debuted last year with a set of five perfumes. It is an interesting brand aesthetic where the perfumer is given wide latitude to create. The only commandment is to use sustainable materials. It isn’t explicitly stated on the website but to keep it simple also seems to be important, too. I liked the original five quite a bit for their execution. Orange X Santal was my favorite but I felt they all would appeal to perfume fans who liked the ingredients named on the label. Perfumer Olivier Pescheux is given his opportunity with Divine Vanille.
The keynote sustainable ingredient is vanilla from Madagascar. M. Pescheux sets it up as the spine of this perfume. I bake with Madagascar vanilla. It always struck me as having a kind of boozy undertone to its scent in the bottle. M. Pescheux plays up that part of his ingredient which keeps this from becoming too food-like. The vanilla is there and M. Pescheuz surrounds it in cinnamon along with black pepper and clary sage. The cinnamon is the main player. It takes the sweet vanilla and gives it some verve. The clary sage teases out just enough green to remind you vanilla comes from an orchid. The black pepper acts like a bit of sizzle atop it all. As this moves to the heart the fruit takes over. The apricot nature of Osmanthus is combined with the fruity rose synthetic Pomarose. It gives a set of luscious fruitiness attenuated by the rose and leather dualities of the two. Cedar reminds me of the rolling pin nearby. Tonka bean adds a toastiness to the vanilla as we move to the base. Benzoin, patchouli and musk form a classic Oriental base. Which is the scent of myself under the blanket waiting for the timers to go off as the cookies bake.
Divine Vanille has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Divine Vanille is another simple construct from a brand which allows its perfumers to strike a different balance. It is an excellent addition to the collection particularly welcome for the Holidays.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
If you imagine the environment which might produce someone interested in scent Corsica would be one. The small island of France is known for its geography known as the Maquis. It is a mixture of scented herbs and flowers which give Corsica the sobriquet, “The Scented Isle”. One of the pioneers of modern perfumery, Francois Coty, was born there. One of the best current practitioners of modern perfumery, Marc-Antoine Corticchiato, is also from the island. He has released a few perfumes inspired by his home; Parfum D’Empire Immortelle Corse is the most recent.
M. Corticchiato picks out immortelle as the component of the maquis to feature here because that is what surrounds his place there. I adore immortelle on the rare occasions it is featured as a keynote. The reason it is rarely showcased, I presume, is it has a strong maple syrup-like quality which might not be pleasing to some. It is exactly that which draws me to it. As I’ve become more familiar with the ingredient, I’ve learned it is more than that syrupy scent. M. Corticchiato used it as a keynote in his take on an aquatic last year, Acqua di Scandola. It was one of the few times I found the immortelle distracting as it seemed forced to compete with a mineralic oceanic accord without finding any harmonic. In Immortelle Corse that is all dispensed with in a simple construct where the immortelle is featured in all its midsummer glory.
If its summer the sun is high in the sky. In a perfume of that time of year lemon evokes the sunshine which is where we start. A bracingly tart lemon is given a sweet patina. It reminds me of the sugar covered lemon wedges called lemon drops. The fruit changes to a more burnished gold as apricot takes over from the lemon. It is here where the immortelle makes its first appearance. The apricot embraces the syrupy nature. It makes the immortelle seem to be bursting at the seams. The thing that I’ve come to notice about immortelle is a hay-like quality underneath the sweetness. M. Corticchiato uses saffron to tease out that thread while amplifying it. It gives a wide-open space feel to Immortelle Corse. A final bit of velveteen moss adds a plush green base to finish this summer walk on the Maquis.
Immortelle Corse has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I’ve never been to Corsica but M. Corticchiato has been familiarizing me with the scent of place through his Corsica inspired perfumes. Of all the ones he has done it is wherever in the Maquis the immortelle blooms so fully to inspire Immortelle Corse I would want to visit first.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
It is fun for me to experience the evolution of independent perfumers. It becomes most interesting when their muse shifts dramatically. It is a way to see if a perfumer is more than their earlier work indicated. Dannielle Sergent is in the midst of having a conversation with a new inspiration. In the beginning of her brand, Cognoscenti, Ms. Sergent created fragrance around the interplay between two keynote ingredients. Then earlier this year she made a dramatic shift.
Ms. Sergent decided to start creating a new perfume not from the choice of two ingredients but the interpretation of her own paintings. She called her two inspiration pieces “Dark Lovelies”. Earlier this year Warrior Queen was the first to be released. It was a maximal style of perfume composition as Ms. Sergent layered florals into a satisfying portrait. The companion piece has now arrived; Cognoscenti Wild Child.
When I looked at the inspiration piece, above, the first thing I noticed was all the black space. It looked to me like there were tendrils of green and florals attempting to pierce that darkness. It is an apt description of Wild Child as Ms. Sergent sets up a dark accord which has a primary green antagonist. Once Wild Child completely comes together it displays the tension of that struggle fully.
The blackness is represented by a fabulous licorice accord. This is not sweet Twizzlers-like licorice this is the herbal original version. It carries a darkness like a black hole with an herbal event horizon. It drew me in with its depth. To make sure I don’t get subsumed completely a lifeline of green strands begins to assemble. Tarragon provides the central filament. It resonates against the herbal quality of the licorice Braided around that tarragon is vetiver, cedar, and moss. As I grab hold a deep rose provides a floral direction for me to climb. Once clear I fall into an earthy dark patchouli my journey complete.
Wild Child has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Wild Child is a fitting companion to Warrior Queen although it is more introverted in its construction. Wild Child is given the ability to find the darkness through a green contrast. I am unsure if this is a complete change in direction for Ms. Sergent. I have thoroughly enjoyed both the Dark Lovelies. They show a confident perfumer evolving her aesthetic. I’d like to see more.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Cognoscenti.
I have always found the days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day to be the most hectic of the year. Until we are a day or two into 2020 it is time to go, every moment of every day, to stuff in everything. I used to get terribly run down on these weeks leading to a bad head cold for the first part of the new year. I learned an important lesson that it was critical to take a little time for myself to sit quietly. What that means is I make something warm to sip while I watch the poodle run around the backyard just after dawn. The early morning I have found is that place where the demand for your time is almost non-existent. The loss of an hour, or so, of sleep is well worth it. On these mornings I am sitting next to our Christmas tree with a vase of roses somewhere nearby. The cup in my hand can be a chai latte. The smell of tree, rose and chai is therapeutic it re-charges me. I don’t really need the reminder to capture some quiet time but if I do Ineke Jaipur Chai will certainly do so.
Independent perfumer Ineke Ruhland is one of the best artists creating perfume out there. Her last release, Idyllwild, was my Perfume of the Year for 2017. I own a bottle of her entire collection. She works at her own pace in a deliberate manner. Each perfume begins with an ordinal letter of the alphabet. As of 2019 we have reached “J”. Ms. Ruhland describes Jaipur Chai as her first gourmand. I would agree with that but as I spent time with Jaipur Chai I was more focused on an Oriental kind of structure; which the spices early on enhance. It doesn’t fully come together as the chai latte part until later. It is a comforting change.
Jaipur Chai opens on the mélange of spices inherent in chai. There is the moisture of the black tea hydrating the dry spices of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, clove, and black pepper. This is the smell as you plunge your measuring spoon into the chai. Ms. Ruhland designs a spicy confluence which forms an accord of serenity instead of one less smooth. To that moment she adds a rose. This is a full bloom rose exuding the peak of its scented beauty. The spice accord swirls around it seemingly attaching itself to the dewy petals. Ms. Ruhland frames this with cedar to provide clean delineation. Just in time for the steamed milk to bubble up. A subtly sweet milk accord given a golden glow with honey along with the odd sweetness of a suede leather accord. This is where the chai latte, and my quiet morning, converges. The scent of the spices with the sweet milk as the scent of a rose and the wood of the tree fall into each other create the final tableau.
Jaipur Chai has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Jaipur Chai is a perfume of subtlety that I worry many will miss the intricacy of it all. To have all this flow so seamlessly is not easily achieved. It is what sets Ms. Ruhland apart. If this Holiday season gets too hectic I might just spray some Jaipur Chai as a substitute for my quiet morning.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Ineke.