About halfway through the year I wondered if Comme des Garcons was going to do anything to celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary. For a brand which has been so influential I thought it would be a shame for this milestone to go by without something new. Right about the time I was going to ask I received an e-mail announcing the end-of-year plans. Six new perfumes along with a stand-alone fragrance store in Paris. I have reviewed the other five perfumes for this anniversary, but I’ve left the best one for last; Comme des Garcons Copper.
One of the things about the current popularity of transparent perfumes is it too often produces linear fragrances without a top-down development. It is that development which has always attracted me to my favorite perfumes. It is not that a linear perfume can’t be beautifully interesting. It is the ones which act like chameleons shifting colors as the hours pass that keep me engaged more fully. I think of those perfumes like classical music; evolving in movements. The best perfumes will have phases that have distinctly different rhythm and flow just as a symphonic piece has. Copper does all of this.
As he has for the entire twenty-five years of Comme des Garcons fragrances creative director Christian Astuguevieille has overseen Copper. He chose to work with perfumer Alienor Massenet for the first time. In my press package I was told Copper was “inspired by the idea of lying in the grass next to someone wearing excessive suntan lotion”. I have no idea what that means in relation to the perfume inside the bottle. If you expect Copper to be another of these suntan lotion perfumes it is not even close. It wasn’t until I got a different description that I was satisfied; “fiery red metal; cool to the touch.” That describes it much more closely except the cool comes before the fire.
Copper opens with an overdose of galbanum. Overdose is almost too gentle for how much galbanum is here. This is so much galbanum it has rough edges around its emerald-like crystallinity. Before it gets to be too much, Mme Massenet adds in a precise amount of baie rose. It pierces that sharpness of the galbanum creating a gorgeous dried herbal accord. Then a dynamic transformation occurs upon a flying carpet of slightly metallic aldehydes. It whisks us away to a gentler movement of ginger and violet at first. A lot of the time ginger is a buzzy kind of ingredient. In Copper it is allowed to be at rest as the violet shades it in purple hues with grains of subtle powder. This becomes sweeter through dried tobacco leaf wrapping it up like a cigar. The interplay between violet, ginger, and tobacco is compelling. Then like an usher tonka bean takes this accord, by attaching itself to the tobacco, to the waiting embrace of amber. The base accord turns completely cozy. Vanilla and myrrh provide different vectors of comfort. A cleverly subtle use of labdanum stitches it all together into a warm place to spend the rest of the day.
Copper has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I have said it before over these past twenty-five years of perfumery there has been no brand more influential than Comme des Garcons. M. Astuguevieille sets the trends that others emulate. Back in 1994 M. Astuguevieille collaborated with a talented perfume, Mark Buxton, to redefine Orientals with an opening of galbanum. The same can be true of Copper as he now asks Mme Massenet to create the new version of green for the next quarter century. Copper is the best of what perfume can be.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Comme des Garcons.
I’ll admit that there are samples which arrive here at Colognoisseur HQ I expect little of. These are brands which are content with their derivative aesthetic and their share of the market. I never expect anything more than a competently designed perfume I’ve smelled many times before. When one confounds those expectations, according to Mrs.C, I double check it by re-spraying on a new strip. I also pick up the press materials looking with more intent. What is almost always the result is I am experiencing a perfume which is much different from expectations; usually done by a perfumer allowed some latitude to have fun. All of that happened when I tried my sample of Juicy Couture Palm Trees Please.
The reason I continue to want to try each new release from Juicy Couture is because the third fragrance they released, Dirty English, is high on my list of best mainstream releases ever. It let me know that whenever they are in the mood to try something different it can result in something wonderful. Palm Trees Please is the fifth release in the “Rock the Rainbow” collection. The previous four are riffs on common fragrance tropes. It was what I expected from Palm Trees Please. What I found was this amazing chilly green floral which was ideal for the last days of summer.
As I mentioned one of the reasons for a deviation from the norm is sometimes down to the perfumer. In the case of Palm Trees Please it is two of the best, Alienor Massenet and Maurice Roucel, working together. From the moment I discovered the perfumers much of the creativity present became evident. That they were given the leeway to be this creative is more surprising.
Palm Trees Please opens on a fresh, cool, green accord. The perfumers use a juicy nectarine as the core of the top accord. They surround it with lemon blossom, matcha tea, blackcurrant buds, and ivy. Somewhere in the interaction of all that a compelling chill settles across the fruit as if the green ingredients place it in a deep freeze. I spend every summer going through one “fresh” accord after another only to discover something truly fresh in the most unexpected place. The remainder of the development evolves in a straightforward manner as jasmine emerges from the top accord to eventually settle on a lightly musky base with sandalwood.
Palm Trees Please has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
If you’re looking for something to give a new type of fresh to your final days of summer give Palm Trees Please a try.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I received from Juicy Couture.
There are ingredients in perfume which are meant to be the equivalent of scented fireworks. They are usually top notes to only last for a short time with maximum impact. One of the best examples of this are the citrus ingredients. They often act like the opening act for perfumes which contain them. In Memo Winter Palace the citrus is used in a different way.
Memo has been one of my favorite brands for many years now. Creative director Clara Molloy and perfumer Alienor Massenet have defined an identifiable brand aesthetic. To keep that from becoming stale they have collaborated on several sub-collections within the overall collection. Winter Palace is the third entry in the Art Land collection following Marfa and Tiger’s Nest. The perfumes are inspired by places. Winter Palace is inspired by the resting place of the Imperial Dragon of China. When he wakes up spring and summer return to the land. The perfume evokes that moment of awakening.
What Mmes Molloy and Massenet do is to use resins and oils to create a perfume which whispers its notes in long-lasting exhalations; drawing you in. The citrus oils are especially intriguing for their ability to last as resins along with a red tea accord swirl together.
Grapefruit, orange, lemon, and bergamot are easily recognizable perfume notes. In the early moments of Winter Palace they carry a soft unctuous effect because the citrus oils are used in a way to eschew ostentation. They whisper through the early moments before the red tea accord rises in swirls of scented steam. Mme Massenet uses some mate tea to tune the red tea to have a little more presence. Not a lot more just enough to insert itself into the citrus mélange of the top accord. These early moments of Winter Palace are testaments to the beauty of subtlety. As the resins begin to appear, they also tend to ooze into place without fanfare. Styrax, tolu balsam, and benzoin are used in their high potency resinoid forms. This also acts like coals on a brazier warming things up . This finishes on an arid woody base accord sweetened with a pinch of vanilla.
Winter Palace has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
One of my favorite synonyms for whispering is susurration. On the days I wore Winter Palace I felt like it was a perfume susurration, especially the citrus. This is a fragrance which captures your attention like a dragon languidly uncoiling from a long winter’s sleep. When it is fully exposed it is magnificent.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Memo.
I write often about coherence of a collection. It is easy to call something a collection. It seems more difficult to find a creative through line upon which to build that group of fragrance. For a brand like Memo one thing which helps form that is a long-time partnership between creative director Clara Molloy and perfumer Alienor Massenet. They have collaborated on almost thirty perfumes over the last eleven years. I have always believed that creates the coherence I seek from a collection of perfume. Memo is a great example of that.
Something which has kept the creative partnership fresh has been the creation of sub-collections. One which contains some of my favorite perfumes from the brand overall is, Cuir Nomades. The baseline brief for the fragrances has been to pair leather with a geographical location. It has shown off Mme Massenet’s skill at using leather accords to different effect. For the most recent release, Moroccan Leather, the choice is to put the leather in the background in favor of iris and green notes.
Moroccan Leather opens with a big slug of verdant galbanum. Mme Massenet uses the woody green of cypress to enhance that. Mandarin and ginger provide contrast. They push back with presence until a rich orris butter takes charge. This is the ice princess version of iris rising out of the galbanum and ushered into the heart by ylang-ylang and orange blossom. The powdery part is almost non-existent. The leather comes in but not as a keynote. It provides a refined support like iris-scented calfskin driving gloves. The green is recapitulated by a vetiver fraction which is magnified in the greener style of that ingredient. This is where Moroccan Leather lingers for a few hours before a typical synthetic woody base accord finishes things.
Moroccan Leather has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I enjoyed the choice to de-emphasize the leather in a perfume with that in the name. Once I realized that, the fragrance sorted itself out into a study of powerful green notes versus an earthy orris butter. That was something I enjoyed even if the leather was mostly missing. Because of that it is an odd entry in the Cuir Nomades collection as it felt apart from the others. If you’re looking for the kind of leather in the previous entries this will not be as satisfying. If you’re a fan of green notes and orris that will find its admirers here.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Neiman-Marcus.
There are a few brands which connect with me. To the point that I am always interested to follow where they lead. I do have to admit there is a bit of a fantasy where I am approached by one of those brands and asked what you would like to see in a perfume. Sometimes it happens through serendipity as it has with Memo Tiger’s Nest.
Incense is probably my favorite ingredient in perfume. Amber is a close second. There are a lot of perfumes on my shelf with that combination. The third ingredient in Tiger’s Nest is a favorite floral; osmanthus. If creative director Clara Molloy and perfumer Alienor Massenet asked me for a suggestion I might have chosen these.
Paro Taktsang a.k.a. Tiger's Nest
Their inspiration for Tiger’s Nest is the temple of the same name in Bhutan. This results in a church-like incense surrounded by facets of polished wood. The osmanthus is like an offering at the shrine as it rests upon the resinous foundation. The creative team has captured this milieu.
Tiger’s Nest opens with a fillip of an accord to represent the altitude of the temple which clings to the side of a cliff. A set of aldehydes freshened with lime capture the clean cool air of the Himalayas. It is fleeting; it is adroitly done. A thread of saffron leads inward to a shimmering silvery frankincense. This is the church-like incense version. There is an austerity to it that can be tough. Mme Massenet ameliorates that with the warmth of amber softening the inherent sharp edges of the incense. Osmanthus takes this in a different direction as the leathery quality of the ingredient finds purchase. Some tolu balsam acts like the polished wood of the surfaces inside the temple. This is where Tiger’s Nest lingers for a long time. Vanilla eventually adds a sweet finish.
Tiger’s Nest has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I will eventually purchase a bottle of Tiger’s Nest because of the way the osmanthus provides the kind of texture I desire in an incense perfume. When I wear it, I will imagines standing on a cliff in Bhutan about to enter a temple through a cloud of incense at the roof of the world.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
Someday, somewhere, a perfume PR person is going to explain the reasoning behind putting the same name as a classic within the brand on a new perfume which smells nothing like it. I’ve never figured it out because those who loved the original version feel “cheated” when faced with the new version. It must be especially jarring when the new version very pointedly goes for a contemporary vibe. This is the case for Penhaligon’s Elisabethan Rose.
Back in 1984 the original Elisabethan Rose, composed by perfumer Michael Pickthall, was released. It was a big powerful aldehydic rose sandalwood affair. When smelling it for the first time in the early 2000’s I felt this was Exhibit A of what people meant as “old lady perfume”. It felt like it should have a warning sticker of “only for those with grandchildren”. I received a press release announcing that Penhaligon’s was bringing back Elisabethan Rose. My first snarky thought was there must be a new generation of grandmothers by now. As I read further into the press release I saw that perfumer Alienor Massenet has been asked to produce the new version. Once I saw the note list I became much more interested in trying it. Mme Massenet has a very lean style which was just what a new Elisabethan Rose needed.
If the original Elisabethan Rose was the perfume of a Dowager Queen the new one is for the Princess first in line to the throne. Rose has always been one of the most regal perfume ingredients which something with the name Elisabethan Rose should reflect. With all of the aldehydes in the original you felt the crown was perched on a heavily hairsprayed coif. Mme Massenet creates a rose with vitality and verve for the lively Princess.
Mme Massenet substitutes a green opening for the aldehydes of the original. This comes via hazelnut leaves. This is a foliage type of accord. Almond is used in a judicious way to provide a kind of nutty woodiness. What comes next is what really drew me in as Mme Massenet uses cinnamon to add some shimmering heat to the top notes. Out of this a classic rose begins to increase in presence. It becomes very forthright; reaching a kind of sticky, near cloying, level. Mme Massenet has a firm grip on the reins which keeps it from tipping over into an unpleasant level. This is the regal spine of both versions. The cinnamon amplifies the spicy core of the rose making it a spicy jammy rose. The sandalwood is back from the original as the rose wanes. It is accompanied by a splash of vetiver, bringing back the green, and a bit of musk.
Elisabethan Rose has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I like this new version quite a bit more than the original. It feels like a rose for 2018 represented by a vivacious Queen-in-waiting telling her admirers to “Sniff the Roses!”.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Bloomingdale’s.
Memo has been a very reliable brand since I started writing about perfume. Founded by husband and wife John and Clara Molloy they have overseen a collection which resides in the higher percentile of niche. One big reason is working with one perfumer throughout, Alienor Massenet. Which always makes the arrival of a new release exciting; Tamarindo is the first of these for 2018.
John and Clara Molloy
Tamarindo is part of the Graines Vagabondes sub-collection which is inspired by places. Which means if you come here looking for tamarind you should re-calibrate to the Pacific coast of Costa Rica as the name refers to the beach town found there. This is meant to be a tropical holiday style of perfume, which it mostly meets, but there was one specific ingredient which nearly ruined my vacation of the mind. A veritable conga line of other happy partygoing notes rumble over it saving the day.
Mme Massenet opens with the crushed vegetal green leaves of the tropics illuminated with the morning sun of bergamot. In Costa Rica the smell of the rain forest is never far off which the early moments of Tamarindo capture. Then my problematic ingredient arrived like a persistent beach vendor or a chittering monkey; pineapple. Pineapple has started to become fragrance shorthand for “tropical”; much like coconut used to be. Like that note if it is not kept controlled it becomes overwhelming to the point of unbalancing everything. I had little tolerance for coconut overload and am feeling the same about pineapple. Here it overwhelms the rain forest accord. What comes next makes me forget about it. A stiff breeze of cardamom chases the annoying monkey away as jasmine scents the air. As much as the pineapple irritated; the jasmine soothes. I found this to be plenty “tropical”. The base accord is a sweetened patchouli softened by benzoin and vanilla. It folds the jasmine into an earthy warm embrace.
Tamarindo has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Depending on your feelings about pineapple Tamarindo could be a stellar choice. For my tastes I want to ask the bartender to hold the pineapple, so I can enjoy everything else about Tamarindo.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Memo.
The more compact the art form the greater importance each component takes on. The poetry known as haiku is a good example. A Japanese style of poetry with a precise structure; three lines of five syllables, seven syllables and five syllables. While the structure can be restrictive, the writer is released from rhyming or meter conventions allowing for freer choice of subject matter. What it does emphasize is in a haiku every syllable counts. Perfumers who work in a minimal style of just a few ingredients often have their fragrances described as fragrant haiku. Like the written kind these kinds of perfumes also place a premium upon each ingredient.
John and Clara Molloy
The husband and wife team, John and Clara Molloy, behind Memo Paris embraced this kind of perfumery with a collection released exclusively to Harrods last year called Floraiku. It just arrived in the US at Saks. The Molloys worked with their longtime collaborator on Memo, perfumer Alienor Massenet as well as perfumer Sophie Labbe on the original eleven debut releases. I was very excited to try the collection, but I would find like a haiku almost all of them had a syllable or two out of place. I thought the grapefruit, mate, and vetiver trio of Between Two Trees was going to be very appealing, but it started sour and never recovered. Sound of a Richochet was a treacly vanilla syrup. I See the Clouds Go By just overwhelmed with one syllable of cassis along with all the unfortunate character that ingredient provides when left hanging out all alone. If there was a consistent set of feedback throughout ten of the eleven Floraiku releases it was one ingredient took over, washing away any chance at development or character. There was one that made wading through the collection worthwhile; My Shadow On The Wall. Mme Massenet was the perfumer for this one. In this case she more precisely balanced her three ingredients. It allowed for a haiku-like feeling which I found lacking elsewhere in this collection.
The first line of My Shadow On The Wall is five syllables of violet leaf. Here the watery and grassy nature is put forward. There is also a shimmery metallic nature like silver threads running through the green. Mimosa provides the seven-syllable second line starting with its fresh floral nature and the slightly powdery feel filling that piece. This is an ideal partner to the violet leaf as it feels like a natural progression from that start. The final line is rich sandalwood, creamy and deep. It takes what has been lighter and allows the two first lines to cast a shadow upon it.
My Shadow On The Wall has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
If this line holds any interest I would encourage you to give all of them a try because the haiku nature of them might be more appealing to a different nose. I was happy to find one of them worth spending some time with where every syllable counted.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Saks.
I have admired the eponymous perfume line of Icelandic artist Andrea Maack because they have all been interesting takes of interpreting her vision into fragrance. I met Ms. Maack in 2012 at the Elements Showcase. From the very beginning she impressed me as someone who was doing this because she had something to say on an olfactory canvas. Over the past five years there have been releases on an irregular schedule. The latest, Andrea Maack Birch, has just arrived.
Ms. Maack has managed in some of her perfumes to dwell on her geographic identity. This is best exemplified by her 2014 release Coven which captures the lush damp soil of the spring thaw. Birch takes place six months later as the ground has just refrozen. Working with perfumer Alienor Massenet the first milder days of winter are captured.
As the winter winds blow more gently in the early days so does Birch open on a chilly breeze of bergamot, baie rose, and ginger. Mme Massenet does a nice job at melding this accord. The ginger gives that sense of the chilly bite of the breeze on bare skin. Bergamot represents the low-angled sun while the baie rose adds the intangible sense of far-off trees. The heart is where we get closer to those trees with a pairing of guaiac wood and cypriol. This has some sharp edges almost oud-like in nature. It is not surprising because cypriol is one of the main ingredients in many oud accords. Here it captures another roughhewn wood forming a birch accord. The cypriol also imparts a gentle wreath of smoke around it all. The base is an earthy patchouli enhanced with a few musks.
Birch has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
When I saw Birch attached to Andrea Maack I was expecting some penetrating rubbery tar construct similar to the power of Coven. What I found in the bottle was a more meditative style of perfume. On the days I wore Birch it imparted a very peaceful feeling upon me. Coming as it did, in between my testing of some other challenging fragrances, it was a welcome respite. Birch is an ode to the approach of winter.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Andrea Maack.
Perfume has been used as a bit of an olfactory magic carpet meant to transport you to far-off lands. That is why there are a significant number of travel inspired fragrances. They can be excellent guides to an exotic locale. They can also be a bit lazy as a perfume brand rounds up the usual suspects for each place. The latest brand to become world travelers is Carven.
Carven resurrected itself as a fragrance brand in 2013 with the release of Carven Le Parfum. Through the first six releases there was a clear desire for clean, crisp structures. When I think of the best travel scents there is a less clean and fresh nature to them as they capture some of the stronger smells of the place. The seven perfumes which make up the Carven La Collection are all given the name of Paris and a connected locale. The overall concept is to combine the Parisian perfume style with the other locale on the bottle.
I found it to be a frustrating group to test. It is wildly uneven with some having inexplicable connections. Does magnolia make you think of Florence, Italy? Vanilla the Middle East? Paris Seville is a serviceable neroli fragrance. Paris Sao Paolo also leans on orange blossom to connect with Brazil. Even when you go with the obvious there can still be something pleasant to be found as is the case with Paris Bangalore.
When you think of India the most famous perfume ingredient from the sub-continent is sandalwood. It is no surprise that perfumer Alienor Massenet uses that as the keynote. What makes Paris Bangalore work better than any other in Carven La Collection is the dichotomy of Paris and Bangalore show up more distinctly than in any of the others.
That dichotomy shows right from the start as pungent clove recalls Kreteks perfuming the air with their smoke on a nighttime walk on the Seine. This is matched with saffron providing a toasty golden contrast. This opening is what the entire collection should have been like. It drew me in to a heart of balsam sweetened with vanilla. It comes off as soothing arising from the clove and saffron. The vanilla significantly sweetens the balsam setting the stage for a sweet creamy sandalwood in the base. Tonka provides a warmer version of the vanilla while amber provides a spicy partner for the final moments.
Paris Bangalore has 8-10 hours longevity and moderate sillage.
I was disappointed in the Carven La Collection but Paris Bangalore showed the concept does have potential as long as they remember these perfumes are meant to be a tale of two cities.
Disclosure: this review is based on samples provided by Carven.