Lots of perfumes are inspired by the passion between two human beings. Of all the parts that go into that the one precious moment you only get once in any romance is the first kiss. It is a beautiful thing when two people look at each other. Each giving the other permission to come closer. As you close your eyes and your lips touch it is magic. You can understand the power of a kiss in so many fairy tales. Isabey Prends-Moi is a perfume which wants to capture that magic.
Luca Maffei (l.) and Rania Naim
Creative director Rania Naim has shown the ability to translate perfumes of the past into today. Almost everything she has done with Jacques Fath is testament to that. Prends-Moi is the update to the original released in the 1930’s. I have never smelled the vintage, but I suspect this modern incarnation to be significantly re-worked. Mme Naim worked with perfumer Luca Maffei to find a contemporary version for the name from the past.
Prends-Moi is a tuberose perfume. It is a type where the tuberose doesn’t go all out obliterating everything around it. Nor is it part of that transparent trend where the qualities of tuberose are nearly lost. Sig. Maffei finds a lovely middle ground for a perfume ingredient which represents carnality. As the keynote for a perfume trying to represent a first kiss it feels like it is at just the right volume.
In the early moments it is like our couple is holding hands. Raspberry represents one of our lovers; baie rose the other. The raspberry finds the fruitiness hiding under the herbal green nature of the baie rose. as the two come closer a nice bit of tension is formed. As they look at each other a breeze of citrus-y cardamom ruffles their hair. They start to move towards each other as passion rises. Tuberose steps forward along with rose and iris. The iris captures the smell of lipstick and powder as you get close just before you kiss. The tuberose rises in enveloping swirls amidst all of this. As they move back lingering in the magic of the moment, a dry cocoa and sweet sandalwood represent our two lovers holding hands again. They walk with a different feeling now that the first kiss has passed.
Prends-Moi has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
As one who enjoys the fulsome tuberose perfumes Prends-Moi is better because of the restraint. The tuberose never felt like it was taking over. Sig. Maffei found a way to strike the correct balance to be able to imagine someone whispering “prends-moi (take me)” as a tuberose perfume.
Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle provided by Isabey.
Independent perfumer Sarah McCartney has captured specific places in many of her perfumes. Her latest release, 4160 Tuesdays Meet Me on the Corner, captures a time in olfactory amber.
Ms. McCartney grew up in Newcastle, England during the 1970’s. Meet Me on the Corner is named after the 1971 song by the band Lindisfarne. The name is also meant to capture a day before we were all connected via our digital networks. Back then you hung out at a predetermined spot. I knew the general area my friends would be on any given night. If I was going to interact with them, I had to get to where they were. In Ms. McCartney’s case it was the corner by the local firehouse. In my case it was a couple of friend’s houses. It required you to be out in the world. It was a less-connected time but the connections that were made were deeper. Those friends I hung out with in the 70’s are still my friends over forty years later. At a guess I would assume the same is true for Ms. McCartney. That is why I found Meet Me on the Corner a perfume of deep connections.
Ms. McCartney mentions on her website that she wanted to start with the citrus chypre style of perfume popular in the day. That is a tricky thing to pull off today because you can’t use some of the key ingredients that were used back then. What happens in the hands of a talented perfumer is to take something like citrus chypre and modernize it.
It opens on an expansive opening of fresh lemon given a transparency via the jasmine of Hedione. This opening is all 2020. It is the current trend of opacity to a tee. The floral quality deepens through magnolia. It makes for a more substantial floral effect as the perfume moves backward to those 1970’s styles. It completes the trip when violet tints it purple as if under a black light causing the magnolia to glow. Now we are on the corner hanging out. Listening to music on the radio not our phones. The chypre accord straddles both time periods. Moss, patchouli, and sandalwood are the traditional components, but these are modern versions. It makes for a chypre which remembers the 70’s but lives in the present day.
As I wore Meet Me on the Corner I wasn’t so reminded of the 70’s as I was the current day. This is a modern chypre no matter the inspiration. I also was thinking of those friends who have lived through the years with me. We’ve changed into modern versions with hints of what we used to be still apparent. Meet Me on the Corner captures that ideally.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
When I bake with vanilla extract, I am continually struck by how boozy the scent of the unadulterated stuff is. As I put in my tiny bit it always has smelled like I am adding some exotic liquor to my cookie batter. My favorite vanilla perfumes accentuate that; usually by using it in high doses. I received a sample set from a new independent brand, within it I found OK Fine Fragrance VBO Double Vanilla Bourbon is my kind of vanilla perfume.
OK Fine Fragrance is the independent brand begun by industry veterans Michael Simpson and Steve DeMercado. When you read their story on the website, they have an insouciant attitude of “let’s blow this mainstream perfume world and go do things we like”. In the middle of last year they released their first five fragrances under their new brand. Their unique take is to macerate their perfumes in the same oak barrels used to age wine or bourbon. That is more of a gimmick. The perfumes show what happens when a mainstream perfumer like Mr. DeMercado is given the chance to make fragrance without mass-market shackles. The collection succeeds because of that. These are perfumes which are not for the masses. They seem to be for those who want something more to their fragrance. VBO Double Vanilla Bourbon is a good example of this.
VBO Double Vanilla Bourbon is a mixture of multiple vanilla sources. It creates an uber-vanilla accord where I pick up pieces of the vanilla ingredients I am familiar with. Because this is done in small-batch the vanilla used can be of the higher quality natural sources than the usual vanillin found in most commercial perfumes. That blending of the natural sources is apparent from the first moments. The other thing which appears immediately is a soft suede leather accord. The vanilla and the leather fall together in a compelling accord of animalic and sweet. Mr. DeMercado uses tonka bean as a modulator to find the sweet harmony, bringing it into unison. It is here where the weeks being aged in a barrel come forward. The bourbon comes forward as a smoky undercurrent which takes the vanilla to its inherently boozy places. This is where VBO lingers for hours.
VBO has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
When you look at the website Mr. Simpson and Mr. DeMercado want to give off the vibe of being outlaw perfumers. The entire collection feels like something else to me. Two perfume people who have always wanted to create beyond the boundaries of the mall. VBO and the other four OK Fine Fragrance perfumes achieve that.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample set I purchased.
I don’t know how trends become trends. Every Fashion Week I marvel at how each designer manages to find the same color palette to work from. Perfumes do the same thing as trends seem to spring up out of nowhere that is not being imitative. It is like there is an unconscious hive mind for creatives. The latest trend showing up all over this year in fragrance marketed to men is a deep ocean aquatic.
Over the nearly thirty years of aquatic style perfumes it has been a sea spray and fresh air combination. Light airy, clean and fresh. It has driven the mainstream marketplace for decades. In the last six months I’ve received a variation which is less fresh and clean. It captures a deep-water effect as if you are out of sight of land, rising and following on the indigo swells. This has a different weight to it. It has made me look forward to the new offerings. One of the best I’ve tried in these early days is Azzaro Chrome Extreme.
Azzaro Chrome was one of these original mainstream perfumes catching the first aquatic wave. It has launched over a dozen flankers since then, many of them typical derivative versions. Last summer’s version, Chrome Aqua, stood out for me because they kept it fresh and clean without using the same typical building blocks. Now Chrome Extreme extends that by moving from the beach to the high seas. Perfumer Philippe Romano is our captain.
Chrome Extreme opens with a more concentrated citrus of green manadarin. This isn’t that sunny citrus most used. This is closer in. Not to the degree of claustrophobia but it isn’t that typical smiley face of a citrus opening. The deep blue of the ocean is formed by an accord of watery notes plus a lot of juniper berry. The gin-like part of juniper berry adds a chill to the aquatic accord. It also adds a hint of spiciness which is also another way M. Romano keeps Chrome Extreme more consolidated. As it develops further warm Cashmeran and amber push back against the chill of the aquatic accord. It produces a pleasant cool and warm effect that lasts for hours.
Chrome Extreme has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
These early days of 2020 are offering those who enjoy the aquatic perfumes an opportunity to find a new experience. I think if there are others which are as good as Chrome Extreme the genre might move from the beach to deep into the ocean.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Azzaro.
There are choices to make when releasing flankers. You can add another ingredient and depending what it is append a season to the name. yYu can go deeper and call it intense or noir. Or you can lighten it up with L’Eau being a favorite way of distinguishing this stylistic choice. It is this latter case which I think is more difficult. All versions of flankers to be good require some re-balancing. It is much tougher when you are changing the concentration of the focal point ingredient. In Maison Francis Kurkdjian L’eau A la Rose a different choice was made on the way to a lighter rose perfume.
The original A la Rose was released in 2015. It was a rose soliflore featuring two sources of rose; Damascena rose from Bulgaria and Rose de Mai from Grasse. Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian mixed them into a central accord of rose where the Bulgarian rose had the lead over the one from Grasse. The character of A la Rose came from the overdose of both rose ingredients. To lighten things up for L’eau A la Rose M. Kurkdjian flipped the concentration profile having the Rose de Mai prevail over the Damascena rose. It forced some choices on how to create a different style of lighter rose with the change in concentration.
L’eau A la Rose opens with that Damascena rose out first. In these higher concentrations the inherent fruitiness within is more easily detected. I’ve always thought of that fruit as pear-like. M. Kurkdjiaqn adds a crisp pear to amplify and delineate that quality. It gives the Bulgarian bloom a more defined profile than in the original. Almost as if it is standing up straighter. The Rose de Mai also has a facet only evident in overdose, too. There is a sun-kissed glowing honey within this rose. To form a more diffuse sweetness M. Kurkdjian uses the slightly syrupy lychee to attenuate some of the honey quality while adding a lighter version of it. It also keeps the Rose de Mai from sliding into its sultry seductress in favor of a smartly dressed version. A veil of white musks provide lift and transparency from the base.
L’eau A la Rose has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
L’eau A la Rose is the kind of spring rose perfume I can get behind because it isn’t trying for insipid transparency in its desire to be lighter. M. Kurkdjian tells his spring rose to whisper its story so that you lean into it. L’eau A la Rose is worth leaning into.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Maison Francis Kurkdjian.
Since my desk is currently covered in new perfume releases featuring rose it must be popular. I know I’m in the minority in wanting some other floral to represent spring. It is like grabbing onto a life preserver in a sea of rose essential oil if I get a sample of a new spring floral that isn’t rose. When they are good, I feel dutybound to point out these alternatives like Coach Dreams.
Coach is one of those mass-market brands which makes solid, usually unremarkable, fragrances. They have been making perfume since 2007. They tend to discontinue their older releases fairly brutally. Allowing them to remain on the shelves for a few years before moving on. Almost all of them are created via a committee of perfumers. I would love to observe this process. I try to imagine Nathalie Gracia-Cetto, Antoine Maisondieu, Shyamala Maisondieu, and Olivier Pescheux sitting in a board room discussing what goes into Coach Dreams. I wonder if they started designing this one with the premise of a different floral than rose for spring. It is what they ended up with.
Dramatic Re-Enactment of the Design Process for Coach Dreams
Coach Dreams opens with an interesting pairing of bitter orange and pear. This is a crisp slightly unripe pear matched to a tart orange. As a citrus top accord it carries a green freshness under the fruit which is nicely realized. Instead of rose the perfumers chose gardenia as the focal point floral. This is not that narcotic indolic heady gardenia. This is a version meant to appeal to a younger demographic who want their florals cleaner. This is a gardenia which is similar to the fresh debutante rose in almost every other spring floral out there. It is a nice version of gardenia where the greener aspects have the chance to find some space. It works especially well with the fruit from the top. A fresh green ingredient deepens the gardenia a touch. It is called “Joshua tree” in the ingredient list but it comes off as a dried herbal green not anything like a Joshua tree. It ends with the typical dried woodiness of Ambrox.
Dreams has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
If you are looking for an alternative to rose as a spring floral Coach Dreams asks, “How about some gardenia?” It is a good choice if that is what you are looking for.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Ulta.
For a brand which puts out so much perfume it impresses me how often Montale hits the mark. There is a quality of knowing what their typical customer wants. It seems power is what that most coveted ingredient is by the Montale consumer. These perfumes do not wallow in subtlety they ascend with confidence. There is a charm in knowing what I’ll receive in a new release. Montale Arabians Tonka showed me they can do sweet and powerful.
Arabians Tonka is nominally a flanker to 2017’s Arabians; except there really isn’t that much of the original to be found in Arabians Tonka. Arabians was a great spicy leathery oud that I enjoyed. Arabians Tonka is a horse of different stripe.
In this case there is no spice, no leather but there is oud. Arabians Tonka is a much more stripped-down style of perfume. It focuses on imposing tonka on the classic combination of oud and rose. It could have been a sickly sweet gemisch. Instead it harnesses many of the facets of tonka to add sweetness to that stalwart duo of rose and oud.
Arabians Tonka opens on that rose and oud pair. There is a reason it is a classic. There is a reason Montale does great versions of it. All of that is on display in the early moments. Tonka bean is an ingredient high in coumarin which has that sweet dried grass scent of hay. It also has a strong vanilla-like scent. Both of those faces of tonka find their places here. The coumarin is built to temper the rough edges of oud that the rose didn’t already take care of. The vanilla beings out the beautiful floral quality of rose. It creates a sweet component which inserts itself into the rose and oud for a great accord. There is some amber which warms things up much later.
Arabians Tonka has 16-18 hour longevity and average sillage.
I have no idea what number of rose oud Montale releases came before Arabians Tonka. It is a lot of them. I don’t think they have one which finds the sweet complementing the power of the rose and oud as well. This is a stand-out among the collection because of it.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
Perfume lovers find many overlaps with the other arts. Music is a favorite one, especially as inspiration. I have generally found it difficult to find that overlap. The closest I come is thinking of a great perfume evolving in movements like a symphony. That works for me because each phase of a fragrance’s development feels like a combination of many notes as a piece of music uses many instruments to provide different harmonics. Berceuse Allegretto 7.2 is based on a single movement from a great symphonic piece.
Berceuse is the new brand from founder-creative director Will Carius. Mr. Carius wanted to make a perfume based on the second movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. It has become one of the most played pieces of Beethoven’s extensive works. Even on the night it was premiered in 1811 it was encored. What is enchanting about it is the way it moves up and down in waves. There is a rhythm throughout its duration which allows for different sections of the symphony to shine. It is the tonal shifting within the classical music I enjoy which makes me listen again and again. The second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh is a good example.
When faced with a perfume inspired by this piece of music, I realized a great perfume is also about rhythm. The way it moves through its development it can also go up and down only to return. There are a couple of independent perfumers I think of who bring rhythm to their creations. One of them is Antonio Gardoni. Mr. Carius asked Sig. Gardoni to take on this task. In a blog post on the website Sig. Gardoni says it was the rhythm of the music which he thought he could translate to a perfume. and that is what Allegretto 7.2 does.
The technique Sig. Gardoni uses is to employ two different sources of three notes; lavender, vetiver, and benzoin. It is like the difference between two different players of the same instrument in the symphony. On the whole things will be identical. Look closer and the slight differences add a richness of tone because it is not just sterile copies. It is what makes a symphony the experience it is. It is what makes Allegro 7.2 the perfume it is.
The opening is what Sig. Gardoni calls the “group of herbs”. In Allegro 7.2 it is rosemary, thyme, and mint. The first of his dual ingredients, lavender, is the final part of the top accord. This provides an herbal quality from one of the lavenders while the other gently powders things. That powderiness acts as a soft contrast to the boisterousness of the herbs. The heart uses a full ylang-ylang and the two vetivers to form a kind of rondo as the vetivers pull between green and woody with the fleshy flower in between. This sense of rhythm reaches a crescendo in the base as the two benzoins set up between the sweetness of vanilla and the clean lines of cedar. Benzoin has an inherent sweetness that finds a partner in the vanilla. It also has a resinous quality with which the cedar meshes with. At this point Allegretto 7.2 swirls in sections around the vetivers and benzoins moving up and down, in and out.
Allegretto 7.2 has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I have spent extra time with this perfume because it changes so much on my skin, which seems to be Mr. Carius’ intent. It also has brought to my mind something about Sig. Gardoni. He has an unmistakable signature to the way he designs his perfumes. I’ve heard other perfume lovers refer to it as his Gardoni-ness. After Allegretto 7.2 I think it is more his rhythm which forms that signature just like an elite musician’s technical mastery. Allegretto 7.2 celebrates all phases of creativity; with rhythm.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Berceuse.
Much of my childhood was spent in the sunshine in South Florida; the nights left their impression, too. As soon as I could stay up as late as I wanted that meant I was awake after midnight most nights. There is a stillness to that time of day even in an urban area. In the tropics there are also the scent of the many night-blooming flowers which are indigenous. Jasmine is the most common. When I smell a really deep jasmine it makes me think of the post-midnight hours. This is how I experienced The Harmonist Moon Glory.
The Harmonist is the brand founded by Lola Tillyaeva in 2015 based on Feng Shui principles of Yin and Yang. Each perfume carries the energy of one or the other. The inaugural collection was 10 perfumes with which Ms. Tillyaeva collaborated with perfumer Guillaume Flavigny. I somehow missed out on these entirely. Thankfully I am getting a new opportunity to get acquainted with the brand through this first release in the “Prequel Collection”; two new releases for 2020 the first of which is Moon Glory.
Moon Glory is meant to be the Yin member of the Prequel Collection. It is intended to capture the energy of a full moon shining upon a tropical garden at twilight. It is that scented demarcation of day to night as the night-blooming flowers provide the sensation. M. Flavigny uses jasmine with the unusual “queen of the night” flower to create a fulsome dusky floral accord at the center of Moon Glory.
That jasmine is what greets you from the start. This is not the transparent airy jasmine analogs. This is deeply narcotic full-spectrum jasmine. M. Flavigny then adds a syrupy complement with lychee. It is as if the sweet blooms float on a similar flow of lychee. This repeats itself as queen of the night appears providing a lighter harmonic of sweet floral which is deepened by honey. It is the opposite of the top accord where jasmine is carried by the lychee, in the heart the honey carries the queen of the night. M. Flavigny buttresses the tropicality with precise amounts of ylang-ylang and passionflower. This pulls together into a deeply satisfying floral accord. M. Flavigny rests it on a base of sweet sandalwood and warm Peru balsam.
Moon Glory has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I know many want their spring florals to be more delicate, not me. Moon Glory is the kind of depth I prefer in a floral perfume without becoming overwhelming. I think it could easily be worn in place of the typical spring style perfumes. Maybe you just need to embrace the flowers which come out at night.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle provided by The Harmonist.
My favorite perfumers develop themes over their perfume making. It is one of the reasons I enjoy covering new releases looking for those connections. One of those favorite perfumers is Christine Nagel. She has just released her second flanker to the original Hermes Eau des Merveilles called Hermes L’Ombre des Merveilles. She extends some of the mineralic themes she began in 2017’s Eau des Merveilles Bleue.
I could actually say the beginning of Mme Nagel’s mineralic phase began in 2011’s Etat Libre D’Orange Archive 69. That perfume is remembered more for the camphor but underneath there was a mineralic accord built around incense. That returns in L’Ombre des Merveilles in a prominent role. In Eau des Merveilles Bleue she wanted an accord of oceanic stones which she delivered beautifully. It has been one of my favorite versions of an aquatic perfume from the last few years. L’Ombre des Merveilles combines this experience into a different mineralic style of perfume.
The ingredient list is only three items; incense, tonka bean, and black tea. Those are the prevalent ingredients although I think I detect a couple of other things too. Those things call back to those previous two mineralic perfumes by Mme Nagel.
The mineralic accord is built around a very austere silvery frankincense. This is the kind of incense I often think of as light shimmering off a metal surface. I think I also smell judicious amounts of violet leaf and, wait for it, camphor. This time it is the camphor which takes the metallic quality and flattens it out into a stone accord. There is a real precision in Mme Nagel’s perfumery here. I might be wrong about the exact materials but whatever she is using takes the sterile metallic frankincense and turns it into dry stone. The remaining two ingredients provide some depth to the stoniness. The tonka bean used is high in coumarin adding in warmth. The black tea adds in a slightly smoky dried leafiness also imparting warmth to the stone. Once it all comes together it is like being in a cave where a fire has warmed the stones.
L’Ombre des Merveilles has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
The perfume geek in me has enjoyed dissecting the mineralic accord here. I look forward to Mme Nagel eventually letting me know what she did use to transform the incense to stone. I have come to adore this alternately chilly then warm fragrance. I think it is about to match those upcoming spring days which have the same temperature pattern.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Hermes.