As the year comes to an end I start organizing my desk looking to make sure I’ve reviewed all of the perfumes that have come out this year before the calendar turns over. Without fail I find at least one or two which kept getting pushed down the pecking order because of timeliness or some other seemingly more important reason. The one I found a few days ago and reacquainted myself with was Narciso.
I have a very fond spot for Narciso Rodriguez the fashion designer. I remember sitting gobsmacked at one of his earliest shows at New York Fashion Week. It was no surprise to me that his star would rise hot and fast so that barely five years later he would be named the Best Designer for 2004 & 2005 by the CFDA. Contemporaneously with being at the pinnacle of the fashion world he also would produce a pair of perfumes, Narciso Rodriguez for Her and Narciso Rodriguez for Him. Both of these sit in my mythical Designer Perfume Hall of Fame. They showed that mainstream wasn’t synonymous with mediocre. Both of them were centered on a sensuous musk which does not pander to the lowest common denominator. In the years since the perfume line of Narciso Rodriguez has not been as successful as the fashion line. Flankers that were uninspiring and yearly limited editions that were indistinguishable. I received a press release over the summer and it mentioned that Mr. Rodriguez was going to take a more active creative direction in the next release. I thought that was a good thing and once I had a sample that was confirmed.
Narciso was signed by Aurelien Guichard and visually it is striking as the juice has a milky cast to it. Even before spraying it you expect a creamy center. M. Guichard starts with florals floating on the surface of a milk bath in a cedar wood paneled spa room. It is simple but underneath it all is a very untamed musk, hidden, waiting to pounce.
Narciso opens with a florid gardenia note. Very expansive and also very green. A bit of rose is used to temper the green but it doesn’t really do as good a job as it might, for which I am thankful. That green gardenia is perfect prelude to the creamy ambery heart. The creaminess comes from a cocktail of white musks that M. Guichard layers one upon the other to create a plush sensuality. What becomes striking is partway through the musk accord begins to become a bit more animalic as it transforms from safe to sort of dangerous. There is a point, about two-thirds of the way through the development, on my skin that this less well-behaved musk hearkens back to the earlier perfumes. The base provides an austere framing of cedar which provides stalwart woody simplicity in contrast to the luminous muskiness.
Narciso has 8-10 hour longevity on my skin. It starts off with above average sillage but once the florals have disappeared the musky woody finish has very minimal sillage.
As I am starting to look back over the year I am surprised at the number of mainstream designer perfumes I have liked this year. Narciso is another one to add to that list.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Narciso Rodriguez.
Robert Piguet is one of the grandest, and probably least recognizable, perfume brands. Any brand which boasts Fracas as part of its history will always be looked upon favorably. Since 2006 when, after returning Fracas to the jewel it has always been, Creative Director Joe Garces and perfumer Aurelien Guichard formed a partnership which has defined this latest phase of Robert Piguet. Early on the challenge was to reformulate the original perfumes in the line. Then in 2011 a change took place as the first new perfume carrying the Robert Piguet name, Douglas Hannant de Robert Piguet, was released. That success has led to thirteen more new perfumes from Mr. Garces and M. Guichard. If there has been a common theme to the contemporary compositions it has been for them to carry modern aspects along with a very elegant style that feels like it came from decades earlier. The last of these collaborations between Mr. Garces and M. Guichard has been released, Gardenia de Robert Piguet.
Aurelien Guichard (l.) and Joe Garces
Gardenia as a focal point has many of the same qualities that tuberose does. It would have been very easy to take gardenia and surround it with a lot of complementary notes a la Fracas. M. Guichard goes for a more restrained approach as he uses only five other notes to accompany the gardenia. This runs a risk if your central raw material is not up to carrying the entire perfume it can lead to a flat spot in the development. There is one of those in the evolution of Gardenia de Robert Piguet and I think it is a stylistic choice which for some it will work but for me it created a noticeable flaw every time I wore it.
M. Guichard gives the gardenia two very high quality floral running mates, lily and ylang-ylang, for the first half of the development. This is my favorite part of this perfume. All of my favorite gardenia perfumes have captured the subtle green quality that a real gardenia has. M. Guichard uses the lily to coax that green out of its corner and brings it more centrally into the composition. Ylang-ylang is present to modulate the exuberant sweetness of the gardenia and in so doing it allows the greener highlights the space to expand into. Now here is where Gardenia de Robert Piguet goes flat for me. The next thing is a leather accord. I really would have preferred a rich supple leather like what M. Guichard used in Knightsbridge. Instead M. Guichard chose to go with a dark leather accord which has some harsher animalic features. This phase always felt like it was two separate ingredients in search of some common ground. This is where I think this just might be a simple difference in styles; I wanted elegance and I think M. Guichard wanted something more brutal. The rest of the base is predominantly cashmeran made a bit sweeter with a touch of vanilla.
Gardenia de Robert Piguet has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Gardenia de Robert Piguet is not my favorite of the newer Robert Piguet releases. I think if you are a fan of rawer leather perfumes and wanted that in a blowsy white flower Gardenia de Robert Piguet might just be perfect. I think I wanted a modern bookend to Fracas to put an exclamation point to the teamwork of Mr. Garces and M. Guichard. In the end it is another good addition to the modern line of Robert Piguet perfumes.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I received at Sniffapalooza Fall Ball 2014.
There are few perfume houses as prolific as Laurice Rahme’s Bond No. 9. Since she founded it with sixteen fragrances based on New York City neighborhoods in 2003 there are currently over 70 Bond No. 9 fragrances to choose from. I am going to suggest five of those to start your exploration of this uniquely New York perfume house. Bond No. 9 has some exclusives for Saks Fifth Avenue and Harrod’s and I’m not including any from those collections because of their exclusivity. The main collection Bond No. 9 fragrances are some of the most accessible niche perfumes to be found and they should be easier to find than many other niche brands.
Chinatown is arguably the best perfume in the entire line. Perfumer Aurelien Guichard was a rising star in 2005 and his modern chypre underneath a soft fruity floral opening is incredible. If I was making a list of the best perfumes released post-2000 Chinatown would be near the top.
New Haarlem was one of two perfumes by perfumer Maurice Roucel for Bond No. 9, the other is Riverside Drive. M. Roucel creates an abstract version of a coffee gourmand fragrance. There is definitely coffee at the core but he adds in things no barista would think of like lavender and patchouli. The latter is really what turns New Haarlem into one of the better gourmand fragrances on the market.
2010’s High Line by perfumer Laurent LeGuernec is inspired by the recaptured railroad line turned into urban green space in downtown New York. M. LeGuernec composed a fragrant sonnet to springtime and growing things. The opening freshly cut grass accord is joined by a fresh bouquet of spring flowers most notably tulips. This is all laid over a base accord of sun warmed concrete after a spring shower. The smell of nature in a big city setting makes High Line one of my favorite spring fragrances.
In 2007, Aurelien Guichard created Silver Bond (aka Andy Warhol Silver Factory) it is a sheer incense fragrance with a metallic twinge throughout. It opens with a very sheer citrus, lavender, and incense opening. A combination of violet and iris are used to enhance their sharper more metallic facets which adds the sort of weirdly artistic flourish to what could be a straightforward incense fragrance without it. The base notes go towards a much deeper incense vibe.
Success is the Essence of New York (aka Andy Warhol Success is a Job in New York) is a grown-up version of Calvin Klein Obsession for Men. Perfumer Claude Dir takes a softly spicy opening centered on cardamom into a floral accord of tuberose, rose, jasmine, and orris to fashion a depth form those notes without becoming cloying. The warm base of amber, vanilla, and patchouli serves to round this out.
If you’ve been itching to take a perfumed tour of New York courtesy of Bond No. 9; grab the olfactory subway and make your first stops on the five suggestions above.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of these fragrances I purchased.