It is always interesting when the famously creative cosmetic brands decide to branch out into fragrance. Francois Nars has waited 25 years to add a perfume to the NARS beauty collection. I was interested from the moment I heard this was happening early this year. What really sharpened my anticipation was the announcement that M. Nars would be working with perfumer Olivia Giacobetti. They have produced a provocative perfume which lives up to its NARS pedigree; NARS Audacious.
They say if you keep doing something long enough the trends come around to where you are. This could easily be true for Mme Giacobetti. Back in the mind 1990’s when M. Nars was revolutionizing the lipstick palette; Mme Giacobetti was composing transparent perfumes. Both met initial resistance from their respective worlds only to succeed despite that. The NARS success story is on display at any luxury department store you visit. Mme Giacobetti’s is less apparent as she has mostly made perfume for her single Paris storefront, IUNX. Audacious is the first perfume she has made outside of that in five years. It seems like the right time for the way Mme Giacobetti makes fragrance because transparency is one of the predominant trends.
M. Nars and Mme Giacobetti wanted to use contrasting notes of light and dark throughout Audacious. That the theme is coherently expressed while working in an opaque style is testament to the skill of Mme Giacobetti.
That skill shows up right away as the tropical floral frangipani and incense are combined. This is an exuberantly sweet floral shaded by smoky incense swirling among the petals. I can see a single flower of frangipani against a black background as an incense stick sends swirls of smoke to surround the bloom. This is all as if it was etched on a fine silk veil as you lean into it expecting it to get louder and it enchants with a whisper instead. In the heart the sparkle of tiare is fortified with a touch of ylang-ylang. While an austere sandalwood provides the shading. This is a more traditional light-dark dichotomy. It gives way to a brilliant base accord. Mme Giacobetti returns to the smoke as she uses cedar smoke. Through that she expands the lightness with a set of white musks that form a pillow soft musky pillow for that smoke. So often smoke is used to blunt effect. The base of Audacious uses it as a foil to the lightness of the white musks.
Audacious has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Audacious is setting NARS on another challenge to the current fragrance common wisdom. M. Nars believes that a consumer who goes to NARS for cosmetics to stand apart will also want a fragrance which provides the same. Audacious is that perfume.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by NARS.
Tuberose is one of the most powerful ingredients in all of perfumery. It is the queen of the white flowers. it is also a versatile ingredient having many aspects for a perfumer to seize upon. One of those aspects which has been seeing more presence lately has been the creamy nature. This is because of the newfound popularity of floral gourmands. One which does it well is Bulgari Splendida Tubereuse Mystique.
The Bulgari Splendida collection began in 2017. I found last year’s Magnolia Sensuel to be a particularly nice study of that floral. What I liked most about it was the use of a high concentration of the floral keynote. That is repeated in Tubereuse Mystique. Perfumer Sophie Labbe takes that concentration and then finds the right ingredients to find the creaminess at the core of tuberose.
Mme Labbe lets her tuberose take center stage. In the early going she uses blackcurrant bud to strum the green chord within. Just as quickly vanilla comes along to allow the cream to rise to the foreground. It keeps it at that level while davana adds a subtle woodiness. The final ingredient which makes this come together is the resin myrrh. As the myrrh oozes into the accord it tunes the sweetness to a warmer level while the vanilla keeps it traditionally sweet. A lot of times myrrh can make a sweet perfume seems medicinal, like cough syrup. Mme Labbe finds the balance which keeps it far away from that.
Tubereuse Mystique has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
If you like your tuberose sweet and creamy this is a perfume you should try. Mme Labbe manages to tease out all of those facets while still retaining a bit of the green and indolic nunaces. It makes for a different take on tuberose.
Disclosure; This review is based on a sample supplied by Bloomingdale’s
As we are on the cusp of October, we firmly begin harvest season. Besides all the pumpkin flavored things which most people associate with this time of year I have a different one. For me the smell of the apple orchard with apple pie spices and apple cider are one pillar. The other revolves around my love of wine. On a mid-October trip to the Finger Lakes region many years ago I was present for a late harvest at one of the vineyards. The reason for late harvest is to have grapes where the sugar is a bit more concentrated due to the added length of time on the vine along with the cooler temperatures. In this region of the US they are known for some of the best late harvest wines in the world. The wines are elegantly sweet with a flowery nose. I hadn’t expected a perfume to capture that until I received my sample of the extraordinary Chatillon Lux Weinstrasse.
Shawn Maher is the independent perfumer behind this Saint Louis-based perfume brand. He has always looked to his locality for inspiration. In the case of Weinstrasse he wanted to pay homage to the Germans who emigrated to the area and set up vineyards on the slopes of the Missouri River. As I’ve mentioned in the past Mr. Maher often has a post on his website about the creation of his perfumes; here is the link for the one on Weinstrasse. In that post he mentions that he wanted to try and re-imagine the classic fougere through a vinous lens. He succeeds.
The top accord is those bunches of grapes hanging on the vine on an October morning. The ingredient he uses for his grape effect is green cognac essential oil. To capture the green foliage of the vine blackcurrant bud adds in its fruit tinted leafiness. This is those grapes as they are about to be snipped in the low autumn sunlight. The brightness of this top accord is that low horizon sun which glows. The heart of Weinstrasse is a mixture of sweet floral notes. If you’ve ever drunk a great late harvest muscat this accord in Weinstrasse is that scent of the wine amplified. Mr. Maher uses a nucleus of immortelle made sweeter by pairing it with a honeysuckle accord. The green parts of the top accord reach down into the florals to provide some contrast to the overall honey and floral scent. To make sure this finishes with as much brio as it has opened with Mr. Maher goes full classic fougere with an overdose of coumarin. It harmonizes with the florals beautifully while providing some grounding to allow the rest of the base accord to evolve. That comes through a creamy sandalwood and oakmoss providing a furry green complement. It all ends back in the earth with patchouli and a few musks reminding us where this late harvest day began.
Weinstrasse has 14-16 hour longevity.
Weinstrasse is a brilliant perfume. It is one of the very best perfumes of this year, or any year. That it comes from a perfumer as new to the field as Mr. Maher is incredible. Part of the joy of writing about perfume is experiencing a new talented nose. Over this past year Mr. Maher has impressed me repeatedly. I can’t think of another independent perfumer who has had this strong of a start in many years.
Weinstrasse displays everything which sets him apart. His careful choice of materials. His clear understanding of the history of perfume matched with a vision of what he wants to change. The updated fougere which is Weinstrasse is as good as it gets. Finally there seems to be a passion to get it right. The beauty of Weinstrasse lies in how throughout Mr. Maher infuses that autumn sunlight through everything. It is a subtle shading that only very few can achieve. Weinstrasse is the very best of what independent perfumery can be.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Chatillon Lux.
Every great city I’ve visited has its own scent profile. They are specific to the season and the locale. One of my favorite cities and seasons is spring in New York City. In those days the city emerges from its hiding indoors during the winter to get back on the street. What that means is as you wander around the city there is a freshness attendant to the new growth on the trees. Blossoms fall in a gentle cascade if the wind blows. Street vendors are selling their wares. When I received my sample of Widian New York it reminded me of all of this.
Widian is the re-branded name of the former AJ Arabia line of perfume. Ali Aljaberi is the creative director overseeing it all. The early perfumes from 2014-2018 were all Middle Eastern inspired styles. I tried some here and there and thought the quality was high, but the perfumes never connected. That changed a year ago when there was a change in inspiration.
Mr. Aljaberi retained the quality and decided to use the great cities of the world as the briefs for the Sapphire Collection. London was an interesting oud-y fruity floral that was different than what came prior to that. New York is the follow-up to London.
The perfumer for New York is Jordi Fernandez. It is not surprising that I was reminded of springtime in the Big Apple because that was the brief behind New York. One of the things I didn’t think they would be able to capture is that sense of overlapping smells enveloping you as you stand in midtown on a sunny day. Mr. Fernandez captures this by using a spine of baie rose, the patchouli analog akigalawood, and a warm amber. On this he hangs all the things which make a spring day in NYC fun.
It opens with a flash of citrus sunlight as lemon beams out. Underneath it is the herbal, slightly fruity green of baie rose. To that Mr. Fernandez captures the early green of spring as coriander, juniper, and geranium rise to meet it in an accord of new growth. This is where the spicy woody akigalawood finds its way to the foreground. It carries a bouquet of flowers as rose, lavender, and jasmine create a rich floral harmony. As we move to the base a bit of the grit of the city comes through as ambrox and cypriol provide an edge. It becomes sweeter as we pass a street vendor making caramel covered nuts. There is a gourmand caramel accord here which Mr. Fernandez keeps from being too sweet or overpowering. The final touches are a set of warm ambers as we pull our sweaters close on our way home.
New York has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
This change to city inspired fragrances has changed the way I look at Widian. New York is another in a positive new direction.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
One of the things about perfume I adore is the sense of social history within. I know I am probably hypersensitive to this after reading Michael Edwards’ Perfume Legends II. When you think of all the classic perfume styles, they reflect the times they were released in. It tends to allow those of us who wear perfume the luxury of choosing an era to spend the day in when choosing one for the day. There is something about the extroverted perfumes of the 1950’s and 1960’s which carry an appeal to me.
It was a time when the world was expanding again post-World War 2. It was time when the style was driven by celebrities using the visual medium of movies and television. You dressed up to go out. that meant a jacket for men and a dress for women. For certain men and women it also meant perfume. Those perfumes carried the same dressed up aesthetic. I was reminded of all of this by a new perfume from an independent brand, Sarah Baker Charade.
Sarah Baker is an independent perfumer who released her first perfumes in 2016-2017 collaborating with perfumer Ashley Eden Kessler and Sarah McCartney on two each. I admired the line for an immersive style of perfumery. This is not transparent constructs for those who don’t enjoy bold fragrances. At the time they reminded me of those fragrances which seemed as classic as a blue blazer for men.
When I received the newest four releases that aesthetic has been more firmly refined. All four still have an immersive quality where you sink into the perfume. They are all worth seeking out if you enjoy that style of perfume. For me, Charade was always going to be the one which I gravitated towards because Ms. Baker called out Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. It is the style they represented as the inspiration for perfumer Andreas Wilhelm to use for Charade.
If you’re going for that old school style you almost must think chypre. Hr. Wilhelm uses some of those classic ingredients of the fragrances I think of from that era. Predominantly tuberose and leather along with the chypre accord.
Charade opens with tuberose in all its extroverted charm. Hr. Wilhelm ups the ante, using ylang-ylang to add a fleshy supporting floral while he drenches it all in a sticky matrix of honey. The heart is a rugged leather accord given a polish through styrax and benzoin. The animalic aspect of the leather reverberates against the indolic heart of the tuberose. Hr. Wilhelm then puts together a chypre accord that carries all the dark green charm which makes it so compelling. Sandalwood, patchouli, and moss are all present. They are balanced into an excellent version of the chypre accord.
Charade has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
I admire Ms. Baker’s choice to make perfumes in this style. These are perfumes which carry an enveloping time machine quality without feeling dated. Charade makes me want to dust my blazer off and take Mrs. C out for dinner and a movie while being wrapped in a Movie Star chypre.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Sarah Baker.
Christopher Chong is one of the most innovative creative directors in perfumery. For the length of his tenure at Amouage he sought to define the edges of modern perfumery. It is why I eagerly await what is next for him. Until then we have his final two perfumes from Amouage to look forward to. The penultimate release Amouage Love Mimosa finds a perfume which embraces some of the most unique synthetic ingredients in combination with similarly versatile natural ingredients.
Love Mimosa is the final perfume in the Secret Garden collection. Through the first three releases I remarked on how it was the entryway to the wider Amouage aesthetic. Focusing on lilac, cherry blossom, and tuberose the first three were opulently designed florals carrying gourmand-y twists to match the floral keynote. Love Mimosa is not a floral gourmand instead perfumer Elise Benat was looking to highlight the synergy between some of the most dynamic synthetic ingredients and natural ingredients. Each phase of its development highlights this harmonic.
The first phase matches violet leaf and the Calone analog Cascalone. Cascalone was developed by the chemists at Firmenich to remove the melon and low tide facets of the parent molecule. What is left behind is a purer sea spray effect. The violet leaf replaces the melon with a shimmering vegetal green piece of the top accord. This is a cool breeze off the ocean through the grass of the dunes. In the heart the mimosa shows up. In the early going some orris provides amplification to the powdery nature of mimosa. Mme Benat uses the expansiveness of the jasmine-on-steroids synthetic Paradisone to expand that powderiness into an opacity which allows the other half of mimosa to take precedence. That occurs as ylang-ylang brings out the richer slightly animalic quality buried underneath the powder. Ambrox is the synthetic in the base which acts as a late day sunbeam setting the mimosa aglow. The Ambrox is a catalyst to allow the deeper carnality of the mimosa to stand next to the powdery bubble created by the Paradisone.
Love Mimosa has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
If the first three Secret Garden scents were meant to entice someone into the Amouage aesthetic; Love mimosa asks them to step more fully into that. Love Mimosa doesn’t feel as much an introductory perfume but a place to go after that. The composition that Mme Benat achieves makes Love Mimosa an ideal fall floral. In one of his final statements, from his position at Amouage, Mr. Chong seems to ask you to come deeper into a different style of perfumery.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Amouage.
If you live in a big metropolis you treasure the greenspace carved out of the urban landscape. When you cross the boundary from concrete and steel to grass and trees it is a soothing feeling. It is a serene island within the big city. It is a place where nature has a tenuous ascendancy. For Comme des Garcons + Monocle Scent Four: Yoyogi they seek to capture one of those.
The collaboration between Comme des Garcons and Tyler Brule’s global media brand, Monocle, has been one of the best of all the perfume brand’s partnerships. Scent One: Hinoki released in 2008 is one of the best Comme des Garcons releases. Scent Two: Laurel and Scent Three: Sugi retained the high level of quality. It has been six years since Sugi was released and I had no idea a Scent Four was on its way until it landed on my desk.
For Scent Four: Yoyogi M. Brule and Comme des Garcons creative director Christian Astuguevieille ask perfumer Nathalie Gracia-Cetto to interpret the scent of an early morning jog in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo Japan.
Yoyogi Park is in the Shibuya section of Tokyo. It is like Central Park in New York City in the way that it draws people of all kinds during the day. The one part of the day in an urban greenspace which is given over to the runners are the early morning hours. As they wend through the park with the dew damp upon the grounds and leaves it is probably the moment of every day where the scents of nature are the most apparent. This is what Mme Gracia-Cetto captures in Scent Four: Yoyogi.
Yoyogi opens on the scent of dewy grass. I think it is a mixture of the different hexenals along with a small amount of an aquatic ingredient. It comes together to form a wet grass accord which also carries a slight chill to go with it. Then it takes an unusual turn as Mme Gracia-Cetto uses wormwood next. Wormwood is the ingredient in absinthe liqueur and that is what I am reminded of as it rises out of the damp grass. It carries a sweet anise-like scent across the pedestrian green on top. I don’t run in the morning, but I do a lot of walking. On a dewy morning there is a sweetness in the air that is captured by this wormwood and grass pairing in Scent Fout Yoyogi. The wormwood turns less sweet allowing for the herbal licorice scent profile to take us back to a greener place. The base is all light woods with cypress the most prominent.
Scent Four: Yoyogi has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I wore this for my morning walk a couple days ago on the first slightly cool day we had. I was surprised to find how attuned I was to the natural sweetness that was there. It formed my thinking about how well Mme Gracia-Cetto captured the milieu. Scent Four: Yoyogi is another excellent perfume from the partnership formed eleven years ago. Take it out for a quick run in the greenspace in your mind.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Comme des Garcons.
When I heard perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena was retiring from being in-house perfumer at Hermes I was sad. I felt like one of the most distinctive voices in perfumery was going to enjoy life without the grind of being the face of the fragrance line of an important brand. He had certainly earned it. In his time at Hermes he created an identifiable aesthetic wherein he found beauty from simplicity. If the source of my sadness was that M. Ellena would make perfume no more; this past year has put the end to that line of thought. He has been behind five different releases for four different brands.
If there is something common to these new perfumes it is the focus on floral ingredients. In the past M. Ellena’s perfumes have been likened to scented watercolors. The delicacy was part of the appeal. These latest perfumes step things up a notch or two. I might call these acrylic pastels. Less transparent while still retaining a minimalist ingredient list. The best example of this is Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Rose & Cuir.
M. Ellena returns to the groundbreaking brand by M. Malle sixteen years after his last fragrance; L’Eau D’Hiver. A year later he would be at Hermes. When I heard about Rose & Cuir I was excited to see what M. Ellena would produce for his fifth perfume. Even within this collection Rose & Cuir feels like a new step taken.
I have recently been reminded the soul of modern perfumery is not to slavishly replicate nature. Instead it is meant to interpret nature using scent. Rose & Cuir lives up to this as there is no rose and there is no leather. What replaces them is geranium and isobutyl quinoline. M. Ellena uses them to create a bitter green facsimile of the titular notes.
Rose & Cuir opens with a cousin to Szechuan pepper called Timut pepper from Nepal. This rare pepper has a scent profile of citrus and flowers. It is what comes off my skin in the early moments. The green begins to take form as geranium comes forth. This is a lush geranium, at first, which is given a few thorns as the sharpness of blackcurrant bud complements it. Now comes the leather surrogate, isobutyl quinoline. This ingredient was Germaine Cellier’s response to all the birch tar leathers of the day as she overdosed this ingredient in Robert Piguet Bandit. It created a leather of the tannery with bitter facets front and center. M. Ellena does not overdose the isobutyl quinoline. He adds just enough to provide a precise counterweight to the geranium. This allows the acerbic leathery-ness just enough room to provide the same alternative to a birch tar leather as it did in the past. This all finishes with vetiver elongating the green atop cedar.
Rose & Cuir has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I have had my sample of Rose & Cuir for about a month. I have spent most of that time dissecting it to find the overlaps. What I found is the evolution of M. Ellena as he looks for a less opaque way to create modern perfume.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle.
I write about soliflores, where a single ingredient is highlighted, as being difficult to have that be compelling. It is much easier to find a pair of perfume ingredients which can provide all the complexity you desire. I say it is easy but, finding that balance to give both the space to shine individually and in harmony is also difficult. I was reminded of what it is like when done well with Shalini Paradis Provence.
Paradis Provence is the fourth fragrance overseen by fashion designer Shalini for her fragrance brand. As before, she collaborates with perfumer Maurice Roucel. It is meant to evoke the special scent of Provence in France. For Shalini she wanted to feature the “golden light of thyme”. I’m not sure who had the idea to marry lavender to it, but it is an inspired choice.
One of the things I enjoy about high-quality lavender is the tripartite scent profile it exudes. The obvious floral quality is matched by a green herbal-ness over a subtle woodiness. In the hands of M. Roucel the concept is to find other ingredients which can accentuate all three parts.
Right away the lavender appears with the floral and herbal qualities on display. The thyme rises by first teasing out the herbal quality seeking it as a complement. It gives the early moments a vegetal green field accord. The floral quality is matched with orange blossom containing its own green to match the lavender and the thyme. The thyme achieves that “golden light” as the orange blossom arises. It ends with olive wood and the woody part of the lavender comprising the base.
Paradis Provence has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I was so intrigued with the lavender-thyme combination I visited my local lavender farm to see what the real things smelled like together. Not as good as Paradis Provence. It was a reminder of what modern perfumery is meant to do; interpret nature through an artistic vision of scent. Paradis Provence lives up to that high minded ideal beautifully.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
I admire purity of vision in all the arts. One of the ways that manifests itself is producing that art on the artist’s time scale. It exists in perfumery as it does elsewhere. It happens when a new brand releases too many perfumes in a debut collection. As a result muddling their aesthetic. It happens when a new brand rushes their next releases after a successful introduction. They forget those first perfumes came from an extended time of development. Changing that will lead to compromises. Then there are the outliers. The creative teams who have faith in their process. One of those teams is the one behind Strangelove NYC. Founder Elizabeth Gaynes, creative director Helena Christensen, and perfumer Christophe Laudamiel have produced one of the best collections in all of perfumery because they don’t stray from their core principles. The latest example is Strangelove NYC fallintostars.
Elizabeth Gaynes (l.) and Helena Christensen
The first of these principles is to use high quality natural materials as the keynotes. Ms. Gaynes has proven to have an outstanding instinct about which ones to feature. In many ways fallintostars comes full circle back to the first release, deadofnight. Their commonality comes from the use of real oud as the heart note. deadofnight was a modern version of the classic oud-rose duet. fallintostars returns to the oud while surrounding it with a new ensemble of supporting ingredients.
When M. Laudamiel is left to his own devices he will find every rough edge within oud and amplify it. Ms. Christensen provides the direction to allow for him to go just far enough with as fractious an ingredient as oud.
For fallintostars M. Laudamiel created a special cocktail of different sources of oud. It is like a kaleidoscope in the way it subtly shifts as it is on my skin. I don’t know how many ouds are here, but I suspect four or five because I believe I detect at least four. M. Laudamiel masterfully combines them into an uber-oud accord. It is present right from the first moments. Early on he gives it a sunny glow via saffron and ginger. The ginger flits through the early moments like a will of the wisp. It sets up the floral contrast which is jonquil nectar. This adds a honeyed jasmine-like floral to the oud. It oozes over the top of the oud, filling in spaces. It is complete when the green vein within jonquil seals this with an almost audible click. The base is a mixture of Peru balsam and benzoin. This gathers up the resinous character of the oud and gives it a warm foundation.
fallintostars has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Over five releases Ms. Gaynes, Ms. Christensen, and M. Laudamiel have created perfume of the highest quality. There is not one misstep within this collection. They have remained true to their core artistic beliefs. Which means fallintostars is another example of how quality wins over quantity, every time.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Strangelove NYC.