As I’ve been making my list of the perfumers, I want to cover in this column, I naturally trend towards my favorites.Yann Vasnier is certainly one of my favorites. He is a perfumer who has done some of his best work in partnership with Rodrigo Flores-Roux, Calice Becker, and Francoise Caron. He is unafraid to take risks which means some of his most daring work is discontinued. I could’ve made a list of Apothia L Apothia, Le Labo Aldehyde 44, Tom Ford Private Blend Urban Musk, Marc Jacobs Bang, and Tom Ford Private Blend Lavender Palm. If I had done that it would have been a column examining texture within perfume design. M. Vasnier is one of the few perfumers who is known to have designed an Axe spray; 2009’s Axe Essence. For this month’s Perfumer 201 I’m going to look at the development of M. Vasnier’s gourmand style over the years.
Divine L’Homme Sage (2005)- M. Vasnier’s first released perfume was 1986’s Divine with Yvon Mouchel who also came from M. Vasnier’s home of Brittany in France. M. Mouchel would work exclusively with M. Vasnier. L’Homme Sage has no sage in it. What caught my attention on the day I tried it was how it played with metamorphosizing syrup in the beginning and heart. It opens with mandarin encased in sweet lychee syrup. A beautiful use of the maple syrup quality of immortelle transitions that sweetness into a heart of resins and base of woods. It isn’t strictly a gourmand style of perfume but the early moments carry that feeling.
Keiko Mecheri Gourmandises (2004)- Keiko Mecheri wanted a perfume of the marketplace in Istanbul and its confections. Specifically rose rahat loukhoum. M. Vasnier chooses to eschew a photorealistic version in place of something abstract. He embeds a praline accord inside a jammy rose accord. Then he brilliantly attenuates the intense sweetness with the contrast of saffron. It turns it into something not of the bazaar but enticingly bizarre.
Parfums DelRae Panache (2010)- M. Vasnier has had one of his most creative partnerships with creative director DelRae Roth for her Parfums DelRae brand. Panache is a gorgeously dark rum top accord which flows into an equally rich floral heart of jasmine and ylang-ylang. Vetiver provides a support for the boozy florals. As in the previous two fragrances it is the viscous matrix of honey which makes Panache come alive. It oozes into the spaces left to it turning Panache into something lovely.
Arquiste The Architects Club (2014)- When Carlos Huber was starting his Arquiste brand of perfume he turned to two perfumers. M. Vasnier was one of them and his body of work here is among his finest. The Architects Club imagines a meeting between flappers and architects during 1930. The architects are represented by woods and vetiver. The flappers come in with gin martinis, citrus, and vanilla to liven things up. The gin accord is used as a disruptive force and it is one of the reasons, I enjoy this so much because of that energy. It is like The Wild Party goes on and on.
Frassai Blondine (2017)-Natalia Outeda also used M. Vasnier to create one of her debut perfumes for Frassai. Blondine was an early example of the transparent floral gourmand trend which has taken off in the last eighteen months. M. Vasnier takes an expansive floral accord. Then he precisely adds caramel and cocoa until they reach a place where they do not overwhelm the floral but make a sticky platform for them to rest upon. This is one of my favorites of this early floral gourmand style.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottle I purchased.
For those who read my The Sunday Magazine columns my love of gin has been the topic of many of them. I think it started when as a child a family friend used to stand on his pool deck with freshly-made gin and tonic and would say, “g and t, ice and a slice, nothing nicer”. It would be a few years before I had my first cocktail but I knew it would be a “g and t”. Which it was. I even learned how to make my own gin and as a poor student had something better to drink than just beer. From a fragrant perspective, the heart of gin is juniper berry. Now that we have kicked off the summer I thought I’d share my favorite juniper berry perfumes.
For the purest “g and t” fragrance experience it is the recently released Art de Parfum Gin & Tonic which does it best. Creative director Ruta Degutyte and perfumer Sofia Koronaiou create a near-photorealistic fragrance. The juniper berry is the heart surrounded by citrus, cucumber, and cardamom. What sets this apart is a very well-constructed tonic accord. You can almost see the condensation on the outside of the glass.
In 2011 perfumer Olivier Cresp created a gin-based floral cocktail in Penhaligon’s Juniper Sling. M. Cresp has the juniper berry out front until it duets with orris and leather. Turns out gin goes with everything.
Atelier Cologne Cedrat Envirant is inspired by a champagne and gin cocktail called a French 75. Perfumer Ralf Schwieger captures the effervescence of the champagne with cedrat. He twists it with mint and basil before the juniper berry arrives. This is all over a sweet woody base. After smelling this perfume for the first time I went out and made myself a French 75; the perfume is better. Gin was the drink of Prohibition and the 1920’s.
In Arquiste The Architects Club creative director Carlos Huber and perfumer Yann Vasnier use the juniper berry to represent the gin portion of a party in a wood-paneled men’s club in London. M. Vasnier captures the clash of bright young things and the establishment with an exquisitely designed woody observation on how the old and the new interact.
Frapin L’Humaniste has perfumer Sidonie Lancesseur create a spring floral infused version of “g and t”. A pinch of pepper along with thyme and nutmeg form the introduction to heart of peony and juniper berry before Mme Lancesseur uses her tonic accord as part of an oakmoss and tonka bean base. It is another close to reality interpretation of gin and tonic.
This was a funny list as there are five other juniper berry perfumes I had thought to include only to find they were currently discontinued. If you want your summer to have a bit of gin and tonic in your fragrance try these five.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased except for Art de Parfum Gin & Tonic which is from a press sample provided by the brand.
Arquiste is another one of those perfume brands which I consider to be “mine”. The criteria to be considered “mine” is that it started about the time I started to get serious about writing on perfume. I’ve been trying to remember the first time I met Carlos Huber the owner/creative director of Arquiste. While I don’t remember the place Sr. Huber is one of the most genuine personalities in perfumery. He came to perfume from training as an architectural historian. Every Arquiste perfume starts with a brief which describes a place and time period. He then managed to find two perfumers with whom he has exclusively worked with by themselves and in tandem; Rodrigo Flores-Roux and Yann Vasnier. Together since their debut in 2011 they have created a brand aesthetic which now announces itself with each new release. Obviously, I think this is a fragrance collection worth checking out; here are the five to start with.
When you get around other perfume lovers and you both really like the same perfume there is a combination of sounds and facial expression which convey the emotions. A fluttering of eyelids over rolled back eyes. A low semi-guttural purr combined with a tilt of the head to one side. Long-time friend Ida Meister and I did this when we both tried one of the first Arquiste releases called Anima Dulcis. The fragrance was set in 1685 Mexico City as cloistered nuns developed their concoction of hot cocoa and chiles. M. Vasnier and Sr. Flores-Roux capture the simmering heat of the chiles in juxtaposition to the cocoa. Cinnamon, clove, jasmine, and sesame provide texture and detail to one of the best gourmands I own.
L’Etrog is another co-production by M. Vasnier and Sr. Flores-Roux. It is at the cologne end of the spectrum as the perfumers imagine the scent of 1175 Calabria, Italy as the local species of citron known as Etrog provides the early citrus brightness. In the background are the very light smells of the flowers around the Calabrian milieu. Vetiver provides the green contrast in the base.
For Boutonniere No. 7 Sr. Huber asked Sr. Flores-Roux to imagine a group of young men at fin de siècle France in the lobby of the Opera-Comique in Paris. Their lure is the gardenia in their lapel. Sr. Flores-Roux captures the gardenia as it scents the air to capture attention. Using lavender to evoke the cologne the dandies would be wearing then a perfectly balanced gardenia accord, lush and green. It all ends on an expertly formed accord of a freshly ironed suit. Boutonniere No. 7 is a fabulously different take on gardenia.
The Architect’s Club is the Arquiste which most acts as a time machine. Set during 1930 Happy Hour at an elegant Mayfair club of the same name in London. Some of the Lost Generation burst into the room livening up the stuffy atmosphere. It opens with spice and wood paneled drawing room accords before M. Vasnier unleashes the gin-toting wild things into the mix. Things just pick up steam from there. M. Vasnier keeps the frivolity under control to make The Architect’s Club the best party in town.
Nanban is an East meets West fragrance set on a Japanese sailing ship in 1618 returning from their first contact with Mexico. Sr. Flores-Roux and M. Vasnier create a construct where osmanthus pushes against the spices of the New World. Myrrh and sandalwood provide serenity which is disrupted by coffee and leather. It ends as the ship sails into the harbor of home as the fir trees and frankincense welcome the crew home.
Arquiste is one of the best new brands of the last few years well worth the time to explore. Start with these five.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
Once again I tried to smell every new perfume that was released in 2014 and like Wile E. Coyote chasing The Road Runner, I failed. I did smell more this year than I ever have, 614 new perfumes. Unfortunately as of this writing there were 1614 new releases in 2014. I only missed by a 1000. I think we can all agree that there is just too much new product which just smells too similar. The 25 perfumes I highlight below managed to stand out from everything I tried this year.
Top 5 (Fragrance of the Year Candidates)
5. Amouage Sunshine Woman– Creative Director Christopher Chong and perfumer Sidonie Lancesseur have created the most un-Amouage Amouage perfume in Sunshine Woman. With Mr. Chong’s hand on the creative wheel Mme Lancesseur guided Amouage into sunnier places than Amouage usually travels. That they accomplished this without using the typical sparkling ingredients from the perfumer’s palette makes it all the more remarkable. I still don’t think I do justice describing this in words other than it is one of the best perfumes of the year.
4. Maria Candida Gentile Leuco– When I attended Pitti Fragranze I must have tried thirty tuberose perfumes each more boringly generic than the next one. Until Maria Candida Gentile handed me Leuco. As part of her Il Volo del Calabrone (Flight of the Bumblebee) collection she has made a tuberose that does not seek to club you over the head. In Leuco, Sig.ra Gentile has combined it with French beeswax to create a shimmering powdery tuberose perfume.
2. Bogue Profumo Maai– The absolute best surprise of all of 2014 for me. I had heard a little bit of independent perfumer Antonio Gardoni. I didn’t expect such an assured piece of perfumery from a self-taught artist on his third release. Maai feels like a perfume of yesteryear that could be found in the glove compartment of a Tesla. When I speak of Retro Nouveau, if you need an example, try Maai and I think you’ll instantly understand what I mean.
Here are the rest of the Top 25 in alphabetical order:
Aftelier Palimpsest– Natural Perfumer Mandy Aftel is a national treasure as she continues to branch out. Her book Fragrant is the best volume on perfume in years. She also released a transcendent perfume named after the technique used in medieval times of writing over already used parchment. Palimpsest the perfume also has layers upon layers which reward my attention every time I wear it.
Ann Gerard Parfum Rose Cut– Ann Gerard came to perfumery from designing jewelry. Her fourth collaboration with perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour is a bright shining diamond that smells like a rose.
aromaM Camellia– Indie Perfumer Maria McElroy makes what I think is her most personal perfume to date. Camellia takes you more than skin deep right to the soul of a geisha in a subtle floral constructed around the titular note.
Arquiste The Architects Club– My Creative Director of the Year Carlos Huber obviously had a great 2014. The Architects Club is the crown on that year as a clash of uptight architects and flappers in 1930 London turns into a citrus, gin, and vanilla laden party. I keep going back to perfumer Yann Vasnier’s fragrant soiree for more.
By Kilian Intoxicated– If you felt that By Kilian has been off on a bit of a tangent you should come back and try the perfumes in the new Addictive State of Mind Collection. Intoxicated is a perfumed take on Turkish coffee by Calice Becker. She combines green cardamom and coffee into something I never want to see in a Starbucks cup but I want to wear over and over.
Comme des Garcons + Stephen Jones Wisteria Hysteria– There was no sequel I was more wary of than the second collaboration between Comme des Garcons and milliner Stephen Jones. Perfumer Nathalie Feisthauer created something akin to a new hat. You have to wear it a few times before it really fits. If you give Wisteria Hysteria time you will find a perfume with more subtlety and nuance throughout than almost any other release in 2014.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz
DSH Perfumes Seve de Pin– Dawn Spencer Hurwitz finds inspiration in so many places. Once she found Eric Bresselsmith of House of Aromatics and his 50-year old resin crystals in pure pinion oil she turned it into a photorealistic pine perfume like nothing I have ever smelled in this genre. Rocky Mountain high, indeed.
Etat Libre D’Orange Rien Intense Incense– Creative Director Etienne de Swadt asked perfumer Antoine Lie to create an “intense” version of the already intense 2006 release Rien. This could have gone wrong in so many ways but M. Lie created a flanker that is better than the original.
Hiram Green Shangri-La– Hiram Green was inspired by the alpha chypre, Chypre de Coty, to make his own version. His version may not be as groundbreaking as to create a whole new fragrance category but it as good as modern chypres get. Mr. Green has established himself as a new perfumer to watch in just his second release.
Le Labo Geranium 30– I wanted to not like this. A limited edition of only 100 bottles by perfumer Barnabe Fillion in collaboration with lifestyle store Opening Ceremony with added creative direction from floral designer Thierry Boutemy. I wanted to dismiss this, I really did. I can’t. It is the best Le Labo floral since Rose 31. There is no reason for this to be so limited because of some rare ingredient so maybe the new masters at Estee Lauder can release it widely in 2015, y’know as a goodwill gesture.
Map of the Heart Black Heart v.2– If you, like me, have wondered just how dark a perfume can get and still remain wearable this will test that. Perfumer Jacques Huclier makes a perfume that has not even one tiny point of light. If you’ve craved an olfactory heart of darkness, here it is.
Masque Milano Russian Tea– I’ll admit I wasn’t as big a fan of the initial three releases from Masque Milano in 2013. It couldn’t be a more different story in 2014. The second release for 2014, Russian Tea, is fabulous. Perfumer Julien Rasquinet, in the last perfume of his independent career, realized creative directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi’s brief of having a potent cup of tea on a winter’s day in St. Petersburg.
Naomi Goodsir Or du Serail– Naomi Goodsir and Renaud Coutaudier are two of my favorite creative directors because they are uncompromising in waiting until they get the modification they want. For Or du Serail they pushed perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour into creating one of his best and most textural perfumes of the last couple of years.
Neela Vermeire Creations Mohur Extrait– Neela Vermeire let me have a tiny taste of this over a year before it was finally released. It was a very frustrating secret to keep because Mohur Extrait is the best of this line to date. Mohur Extrait is a quantum leap better than the very good parent Mohur EdP all while staying very personal.
Olfactive Studio Ombre Indigo– The blue liquid in the clear flacon is visually striking all by itself. The photographic inspiration by Gustavo Pelizzon is a study in shadow. The perfume by Mylene Alran under owner Celine Verleur’s creative direction is a study in chasing perfumed shadows cast by tuberose and vetiver. I still haven’t tired of it.
Olivier Durbano Promethee– Experiencing Olivier Durbano’s development as a perfumer for nearly ten years didn’t prepare me for this fully realized creation based on the mythological character Prometheus. It feels like M. Durbano has offered a smoldering firebrand announcing his arrival as one of our best perfumers.
Parfumerie Genrale 7.1 Grand Siecle Intense– Pierre Guillaume has been going back and making variations on his earlier Parfumerie Generale fragrances. This re-working of Cologne Grand Siecle felt like he finally completed that perfume, adding in a proper heart and base to what was, and in 7.1 still is, one of the most brilliant lemon accords I have ever smelled. This was my favorite perfume of the summer of 2014. I really hope he keeps making it.
Roja Parfums Nuwa– There are sometimes I want my perfume to be big as it can be. Say what you will of Roja Dove but he has no fear of going as big as you can. Nuwa is that philosophy applied to a classic chypre.
slumberhouse Sadanne– Perfumer Josh Lobb released this in the summer and I have spent the rest of the year enjoying every time I wear this. Mr. Lobb has created a perfume of abrupt tonal shifts from gourmand to prickly floral to feral beast. This is probably too much for many. I can’t get enough of it.
Tauer Perfumes Cologne du Maghreb– Andy Tauer decides to take cologne and make it something completely Tauer-like. Hr. Tauer challenged himself to create an all-natural, all-botanical cologne. The result was a wonderful bit of inspiration and imagination.
Ulrich Lang New York Aperture– Ulrich Lang has been making a habit of flying below the radar. If I had an award for most underrated perfume brand his would be one of the front runners. Aperture is another example of why this brand should be more lauded. Hr. Lang was inspired by an amazing photograph by Olivia Bee. The perfume captures all that the picture promises. This might be one of the harder perfumes on this list to find. Make the effort, you will be well-rewarded for it.
The Final Cuts: The 18 Which Just Missed the Top 25- Aedes de Venustas Oeillet Bengale, Atelier Cologne Blanche Immortelle, Bottega Veneta Knot, Comme des Garcons Pharell Williams Girl, Dior La Collection Privee Cuir Cannage, Grandiflora Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine, Jardins D’Ecrivains Junky, Jo Malone Wood Sage & Sea Salt, Juliette Has a Gun Moon Dance, Le Galion Whip, Masque Milano Tango, Mona di Orio Myrrh Casati, Ormonde Jayne Black Gold, Parfum D’Empire Corsica Furiosa, Parfums de Nicolai Cuir Cuba Intense, Parfums DelRae Wit, Providence Perfume Co. Violet Beauregarde, and Richard Luscher Britos 14oS48oE.
That’s it for 2014. Most of you will be reading this on New Year’s Eve and I want to wish all of the readers of Colognoisseur a happy and healthy 2015. I’ll be here exploring fragrance with you throughout the upcoming year. ACME just delivered my rocket-powered sneakers so maybe I'll be able to keep up this time.
One of my very favorite recent new perfume lines is Arquiste. In 2011 there were six debut releases and one year later a seventh was added. What I like so much about Arquiste is it is a tight knit team behind all of the fragrances. It starts with owner and Creative Director Carlos Huber who has taken his training as an architectural historian and restorer and applied that to the world of fragrance. So far for all of the Arquiste line he has exclusively used two perfumers, Rodrigo Flores-Roux and Yann Vasnier, separately or in tandem. Arquiste is an example of passionate creativity and friendship leading to a collection which is excellent from top to bottom. Because of this admiration I was really looking forward to seeing Sr. Huber at Esxence because I was hoping for something new after over a year. I wasn’t disappointed as he presented two new fragrances, L’Etrog Acqua and The Architects Club.
L’Etrog Acqua is a continuation of the story begun by one of the original six, L’Etrog and how it came to be is a funny story. Sr. Huber was visiting with Sr. Flores-Roux and as he got near he realized he sort of smelled L’Etrog but it was different. When he asked about it, Sr. Flores-Roux said he wanted a more “summer” version and so he ditched most of the notes in the heart and base and what was left was a very Mediterranean cologne. Sr. Huber agreed and now we can all enjoy the summer version of L’Etrog.
L’Etrog Acqua has exactly the same opening notes as in L’Etrog but they are more pronounced without as much underneath to start pushing them to the side. For almost the entire time I wore L’Etrog Acqua these were the notes which were on display; cedrat, lemon, mandarin, petitgrain, and myrtle. With the original those would give way to an intense dried fruit accord down to the vetiver, orris and patchouli base. All of that is gone and all that remains in L’Etrog Acqua is cedar, vetiver, and labdanum. Without the darker contrasts the top notes get to frolic more freely and the base notes really just sort of join in. For a straightforward citrus fragrance L’Etrog Acqua kept going strong for over 8 hours. Sr. Flores-Roux does capture the flip side to L'Etrog, a summer morning in an Italian citrus orchard. I know this will be worn a lot this summer by me.
The Architects Club is a more typical Arquiste fragrance complete with appropriate scene setting by Sr. Huber. All of the fragrances have a time and place assigned to them as a brief. For The Architects Club it is Dusk, March, 1930, Mayfair, London inside an Art Deco smoking room. A group of architects settle into the warm interior of dark woods, leather, and velvet. A group of London’s bright young things burst in to the room frosted martinis in hand, surrounded by a cloud of laughter, white smoke, and fine vanilla.
I love the whole Lost Generation era and I was excited to see what M. Vasnier came up with as a perfume to match the described tableau. What he did was make a group of architects’ notes; woods, vetiver, amber, and spices. A group of notes representing the flappers; citrus, gin, and vanilla. Let them crash together and watch the interaction. This turns out to have all of the attributes of an impromptu party in fragrant form.
The Architects Club starts with the spice and woods of the boys out in front and then very quickly the gin and citrus energy of the girls destroy the serenity. M. Vasnier has produced as quickly a developing first few moments of perfume that I have encountered in recent memory. When Sr. Huber gave me the strip after hearing the brief I immediately got the men’s club vibe and just as I was about to say, “nice”, the ladies had started a party on my mouillette. Wearing this for a couple of days this animated opening is even more appealing on my skin. Once everyone is in the midst of having a good time the gin accord and the spices really dominate the early going and they are also having a good time getting to know each other. As this party rages on the vetiver and vanilla make sure the shank of the evening still holds some interest. I can’t remember when an opening of a fragrance has made me say “wow” as much as The Architects Club did. The rest of the fragrance is also very good but there is a wonderful rush I get from the first few moments of this one each time I’ve worn it and it is intoxicating. The Architects Club has all-day longevity and modest sillage as it is at 25% perfume extract concentration. There may be a party going on but only those you let close will know about it.
I’ll be wearing both of these for the next few months but once fall comes The Architects Club party will continue to play on because, as you know, nothing stops a great show.
L'Etrog Acqua will be available in June and The Architects Club will be released in the fall wherever you find Arquiste for sale.
Disclosure: This review was based on press samples provided by Arquiste at Esxence 2014.