For those of us who love perfume there was a significant bit of news earlier this month; Christopher Chong was leaving his post as Creative Director at Amouage. Over this past decade of top tier perfumery Amouage was right at the top of the list because of the artistic direction of Mr. Chong. His vision also helped to establish the ultra-luxe perfume sector. Amouage was worth the extra expense because there was extra effort going into making the perfumes. I’ve always thought Amouage was perfume made for those who really want to find artistry within smelling good. I will have more to say about Mr. Chong when I review his last (?) duo of perfumes for Amouage next week. What this column is about is what comes next at Amouage.
As of the end of June 2019 there has been no official announcement of a replacement for Mr. Chong at Amouage. We talk about the difficulty of replacing in-house perfumers but there are only a few brands where the vision was so strongly communicated from the creative director as at Amouage. Whomever would be asked to step into this post would find it very challenging to follow the decade of perfume Mr. Chong oversaw. Which means we might not see a replacement at all. Maybe Amouage stays with the collection they have and continue on. I think that would be fine.
My concern comes from another well-known ultra-luxe brand which went the cynical route; Clive Christian. For those who don’t know Clive Christian was purchased by EME Investments in 2016. They then proceeded to flood the market with new Clive Christian releases at the same price point. They dumped a torrent of mediocre to poor product with tenuous connections to the previous perfumes under the old regime. It killed everything Clive Christian represented as a brand. It would be a crime if the same thing happened to Amouage. If we had inflicted upon us Jubilation XXV Intense or Opus V Legere. It would do what happened to Clive Christian and destroy what Amouage stands for.
I have no special insight to know anything about the decisions made at Amouage. Which means everything above is pure speculation. What has me worried most is when a true artist leaves without any mention of what comes next. That’s where we are right now. Hopefully in the not too distant future we will hear what Amouage plans to do.
There has been an interesting trend among the Tom Ford Private Blend collection; flankers. In what has been one of the, arguably, most influential perfume collections the recent choice to release flankers stands out. In most of the cases it has been to make “intense” or “eau” forms indicating darker or lighter. The ones they’ve chosen to do that with allow for a choice between styles with similar construction at different volumes. The sub-collection which has seen the most flankers are the blue bottled Neroli Portofino collection. These flankers have had “acqua” appended to their name. While it might seem natural to think this means aquatic it generally doesn’t. It means a subtle shifting of ingredients. It makes it a true kind of flanker. This month’s Flanker Round-Up covers the two most recent additions to the neroli Portofino sub-collection.
Tom Ford Private Blend Fleur de Portofino Acqua
What I enjoyed about the original Fleur de Portofino was it was the most floral of the Neroli Portofino collection. It was an exuberant floral collage that remains a favorite. For Fleur de Portofino Acqua the exuberant florals remain but they are shifted in concentration to create a similar style as in the original.
The same summery citrus mélange is back in all its glorious tart juiciness. The difference is violet leaf is given more presence which teases out the green undercurrents inherent within the citrus accord. The key combination in the original was the honey nuance of acacia attached to honey in the base. For Fleur de Portofino Acqua, orange blossom joins with the acacia in equal presence. It provides a clearer connection to the citrus on top through to the honey in the base.
Fleur de Portofino Acqua remains a fantastic summer floral like the original.
Tom Ford Private Blend Sole di Positano Acqua
Sole di Positano is more emblematic of the overall Mediterranean aesthetic which runs through the Neroli Portofino collection. Especially with the classic citrus-floral-woody axis upon which many of this type of fragrance spins upon. Sole di Positano Acqua doesn’t disrupt this but it adds a little more to the bones of the original.
Sparkling lemon and bitter orange open the new version with an enhanced amount of shiso leaf. The sharp green quality of the shiso finds purchase among the brilliant tartness of the lemon. It accentuates the sunniness of the citrus. In the original I mentioned I liked the use of the lighter versions of jasmine and ylang-ylang. In the new one, versions of both florals which have a slight tint of the indoles inherent in both are used. It works because of the presence of the higher concentration of the shiso. It all coalesces into a sandalwood base with some moss growing on it.
Sole di Positano Acqua is an overall greener version than the original.
Disclosure: this review was based on samples provided by Nordstrom.
Designer fragrances are a dime a dozen; most ending up not being worth a dime. It is why when there is a designer collection which stands out it really stands out. That is the case with the fragrance side of John Varvatos.
John Varvatos is an American fashion designer known for his rock and roll aesthetic. In 2004 he wanted to branch out into fragrance. From here the story usually goes this way; brand name turns over creative control to big cosmetics brand who produce an insipid fragrance. When there are successes within the designer area of perfume it almost always comes because the name on the bottle gets involved in the creative process. Mr. Varvatos was one of those. That would lead to some other anomalies to the way John Varvatos developed as a brand. The most important is he worked with the same perfumer, Rodrigo Flores-Roux, exclusively for the first fifteen perfumes. This kind of partnership is common in the niche community; much rarer in mainstream. Over the years they have developed one of the very best fragrance collections you can find at the department store. They have been at it so long that the early releases are now easily found in the discount bins. While I whole heartedly recommend almost everything released by Mr. Varvatos and Sr. Flores-Roux for this month’s Discount Diamonds I’m going to start at the beginning with John Varvatos Cologne.
At that time for men’s fragrance they made a couple of interesting choices. One to eschew all the fresh and clean competition. Second to work with some unusual ingredients. In that first press release they would tout four ingredients being used for the first time.
John Varvatos Cologne opens with the sweet dried fruitiness of medjool dates. This provides a unique kind of sweetness which is kept from getting to be too much by using rosemary and tamarind leaves to wrap it up in notes of herb and vegetal forms of green. The herbs continue into the heart with clary sage, coriander, and thyme. At this point there is a lot of similarity to the stewed fruit accord which would become popular in niche perfumery. In the base they use a couple of woody synthetics, Eaglewood and Auramber. This gives an intensely woody accord with an amber finish.
John Varvatos Cologne has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
What you see above would be repeated time and again as Mr. Varvatos and Sr. Flores-Roux seemingly improved release after release. It has been one of the most remarkable collaborations in all mainstream perfume.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
It should not come as a surprise that a blog named Colognoisseur has an affection for cologne. As I began writing about perfume there was a concurrent re-interpretation of the lowly cologne. Over the last ten years the style has been given new life by many brands and many talented creative teams. One of the earliest brands to re-imagine cologne was Thirdman.
When Thirdman came onto the scene in 2012 they wanted to create a sense of mystery to go along with their colognes. Creative director Jean-Christophe le Greves centers the campaign around the first three releases with the query; “Who is the Thirdman?” I along with many others lauded the first three releases and wondered who the perfumer was. Thankfully M. le Greves gave up that secret with the release of the fourth Thirdman perfume Eau Nomade. The perfumer behind it all was Bruno Jovanovic. Before we get too much further, I must clear up the confusion on the name. When it was released in 2013 it was called Eau Nomade. Some years later it was changed to Eau Contraire which is how you will find it available now. With either name on the bottle it is the same cologne inside.
The Thirdman aesthetic was to stick to the classic citrus and spice cologne recipe but to use higher quality ingredients. For Eau Contraire the choice was blood orange and cardamom. There are a couple of other ingredients, but this is a cologne primarily about those two. It provides a cologne of the desert much as its original name portended.
It opens with lemon providing the sun high in the sky. This sets the stage for a high concentration of cardamom to take its place. There is a clever shift of actual citrus fruit to the lemon-tinged spice in the early moments. Blood orange comes next. In most fragrances the blood orange can get lost. When it is the featured player it gives it the opportunity to show off its richer facets. It creates a fantastic harmonic with the cardamom. In the base a set of white musks create a more expansive accord over the final development.
Eau Contraire has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
Eau Contraire has become my midsummer Mad Dogs and Englishmen cologne. I keep a small decant in the refrigerator as a fragrant refresher. I’m not sure why M. le Greves hasn’t followed up with a new perfume in over four years. Because of that it is easy to understand why Thirdman Eau Contraire is Under the Radar.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
There are only a few perfumers who ask those of us who wear perfume whether it must smell nice. As one who believes perfume is an art form my answer is obviously no. One perfumer who has asked that question more than most is Antoine Lie. From his first perfume for niche brand Etat Libre D’Orange he has made perfumes which color outside the lines.
When Etienne de Swadt was creating his niche line Etat Libre D’Orange, in 2006, he wanted the first perfume for the brand to be one only a few would like. He turned to M. Lie to create Secretions Magnifiques. The resulting perfume captures a panoply of human fluids none of which are pleasant smelling. What it does is also challenge the notion of perfumery. M. Lie makes a fragrance which has stood the test of time as one of the great masterpieces of perfume.
In 2010’s Comme des Garcons Wonderwood M. Lie, under Christian Astuguevieille’s creative direction, would ask the question, “can there be too much wood?”. M. Lie would describe Wonderwood as a mixture of five real woods, two woody notes, and three synthetic woods. This came out at the height of the popularity of the synthetic wood. M. Lie showed that even pushed to the extreme there was wonder to be found within that much wood.
Nu_Be (One of Those) Oxygen was part of the debut collection of this elemental line. M. Lie chose to interpret oxygen in its supercooled liquid form. For Oxygen he blended many of the ingredients within perfumery one would describe as “sharp” to create that chilliness. The mixture of aldehydes, vetiver, and white musks can be too cool for many. I find it one of M. Lie’s most compelling creations.
Jan Ewoud Vos wanted Puredistance Black to convey a mysterious effect. Asking M. Lie to create it turns out to be a brilliant choice. Black is a perfume of darkness with tendrils of fog swirling throughout. M. Lie combines accords to form that stygian depth. I get lost in its enveloping effects every time I wear it.
Barbara Herman went from blogger to creative director for Eris Parfums Night Flower. When Ms. Herman wanted to create a line of perfume which re-captured vintage ingredients in contemporary ways M. Lie was her choice as the perfumer she wanted to do that with. Night Flower is the most successful at doing that by taking three ingredients of classic perfumery; birch tar, leather, and tuberose. Together they make Night Flower one of the best Retro Nouveau perfumes to be made.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
The sources of most musks in perfumery are derived from animal sources. Those musks have a presence to them which sets them apart. There is a source of musk in fragrance which does not come from animals. It comes from the seeds of the ambrette plant. Particularly over the past few years it has become one of the more interesting musks to use. One reason is it can be used as part of a top accord. It can substitute for the heavier musks when a lighter touch is needed in a base accord. It also is the musk I most enjoy wearing in warm weather because it is lighter. Here are five of my favorites.
The perfume which probably put ambrette on the map is 2007’s Chanel No. 18. A mixture of ambrette and iris this is one of the most lilting Chanel perfumes. One of the interesting aspects of ambrite is it has tinges of green and fruit to its scent profile. Perfumers Christopher Sheldrake and Jacques Polge take advantage of all the nuance available from the ambrette as they wrap it around a luxurious iris. Most perfume lovers had never heard of ambrette prior to this. After this I never forgot about it.
The reference standard musk perfume is 2009’s Serge Lutens Muscs Koublai Khan. Most people remember it for the combination of rose and the animalic musks. What few people realize is perfumer Christopher Sheldrake uses a high concentration of ambrette as the interstitial tissue between the rose and animalic musks. The ambrette is what makes this the king of musk perfumes.
One of perfumer Christine Nagel’s last perfume for Jo Malone was 2014’s Wood Sage & Sea Salt. Working with creative director Celine Roux they wanted to make a different aquatic. Mme Nagel uses ambrette in the top accord in place of the typical ozonic notes of most aquatics. It is the ambrette that brings the fresh to push back against the briny mineralic accord. This is a great example of how flexible ambrette is in the hands of perfumers.
In 2017’s Parfum D’Empire Le Cre de la Lumiere perfumer Marc-Antoine Corticchiato uses ambrette as the sole ingredient in the top. He takes advantage of that by teasing out the threads of subtlety he wants to use. Most importantly a powdery aspect which entwines around a similarly styled iris. This forms the most beautiful opaque globe of light musk and iris which get a rose tint before it is done. A gorgeous fragile piece of perfume.
In 2017’s Frassai Verano Porteno creative director Natalia Outeda asked perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux for a perfume of summer nights in Buenos Aires. The opening is a beautifully realized air of night flowers on the breeze. In the base he uses ambrette to form a lighter musk accord by combining it cleverly with mate tea. It is just the right partner to add some edge to the ambrette without it taking over.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased of each perfume.
Ever since its debut in 2007 the Tom Ford Private Blend collection has been one of the most successful expansions of luxury niche perfumery into the marketplace. They represent one of the defining brands of that style. They were the first perfumes I would review where I would be asked, “Are they worth it?” The answer to that is always an individual choice. What was undeniable was the collection was representing some of the best-known ingredients in high quality forms where the difference was noticeable.
Tom Ford and Karyn Khoury creatively directed each perfume to provide a singular luxurious experience. That so many of them are on “best of” lists show their success. They have been so successful that there is debate to whether they should even be referred to as niche anymore. I think they still retain a niche aesthetic while having a wider distribution than most other fragrances referred to with that adjective. Over the first three years of existence they cemented their style over 21 releases. Then 2011 happened.
This is conjecture on my part, but it seems like they had tired of hearing how “safe” they were. If you were to try the three releases from 2011 it feels like they wanted to have the word contemporary be part of the lexicon when describing Tom Ford Private Blends. Jasmin Rouge, Santal Blush, and this month’s Dead Letter Office entry Lavender Palm succeeded. What separated them from the rest of the collection was they took the keynote in their name off in very different new directions. All three have been among my favorites within the entire line. For some reason Lavender Palm was discontinued after only two years. I’ll provide my hypothesis for that later.
Lavender Palm was released early in 2011 as an exclusive to the new Beverly Hills Tom Ford boutique followed by wider release a year later. Perfumer Yann Vasnier was asked to capture a Southern California luxury vibe. He chose to use two sources of lavender wrapped in a host of green ingredients.
The top accord uses the more common lavandin where M. Vasnier adds citrus to it. The whole opening gets twisted using lime blossom which teases out the floral nature of the lavender while complementing the citrus. This is an opening with snap. The heart coalesces around lavender absolute. Here is where things take that contemporary turn. M. Vasnier uses clary sage, aldehydes, moss, and palm leaves to form a lavender accord that is at turns salty and creamy. It seemingly transforms minute-by-minute. It remains one of the most unique lavender accords I have experienced. A soft resinous base is where this ends.
Lavender Palm has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
Lavender Palm became widely available in the beginning of 2012 and was discontinued by the end of 2014. I think the reason might be this was the only one of the three 2011 releases which unabashedly altered the previous style of the collection. There aren’t many Tom Ford Private Blend releases to be found in the Dead Letter Office; Lavender Palm might have got there by being too contemporary.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
When a trend begins to filter down into the flankers, I presume that means it has been a best seller. Over the past two years transparent floral gourmands have become a persistent trend especially on the mainstream side of the fragrance world. For once this is a trend which I am fully behind as it isn’t an area where a lot of perfume has been created. It doesn’t feel to me like we’ve had that great version which will be the benchmark within the genre yet. In the meantime this style continues to expand and in this month’s Flanker Round-Up I look at Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Sun and Marc Jacobs Daisy Love Eau So Sweet.
Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Sun
Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue was launched in 2001 and has been one of the best-selling perfumes since then. This year’s summer flanker Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Sun tweaks the formula a bit more than the typical flanker without going too far away from what works. Perfumers Olivier Cresp and Alberto Morillas team-up to find a way to insert a gourmand element into the Mediterranean feel of the original.
The citrus top accord has always been a part of the Light Blue DNA the perfumers add in a crisp apple note to add a snap to it. Then a very light use of coconut inserts itself between that focused top accord and the jasmine in the heart. This is where the floral gourmand comes to life as the apple and citrus along with the coconut and jasmine form a summery accord at just the right intensity. The base is bit of vanilla sweetened cedar also kept light. One note there is also a Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Sun pour Homme. This is not a review for that.
Marc Jacobs Daisy Love Eau So Sweet
Here is the insanity of flankers as Marc Jacobs Daisy Love Eau So Sweet is the flanker of 2018’s Daisy Love which is a flanker of 2007’s Daisy. I can’t even keep up. Perfumer Alberto Morillas was there in the beginning and is here for Daisy Love Eau So Sweet. Last year Daisy Love went for floral gourmand territory, but it left the transparent part out. For Daisy Love Eau So Sweet M. Morillas adds that back into the mix.
The same berry top accord is back from Daisy Love but pitched in a much lighter shade of fruitiness. The floral heart is also equally expansive. Then as the fruity floral accord settles in; a wash of sugar and white musks adds a whole new level of expansiveness. It does it so ingeniously that it goes from being sugary sweet to almost fresh in the way it rises off my skin. It is just this happy sugar coated fruity floral bubble to spend a summer’s day within.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by the manufacturers.
When I first started diving into perfume I wanted to know as much as I could. I was also willing to ask someone what they were wearing if I thought it smelled good. This opened so many interesting doors for me. I was at a professional conference taking a short course and the man next to me smelled fantastic. I was well-acquainted with the more popular perfumes at the mall and this wasn’t one of those. Towards the end of the day I inquired what he was wearing. He told me, “Curve”. I filed it away for my next shopping trip to the mall. Except I encountered it much sooner when I was filling a prescription at the drugstore. Killing time while waiting I was browsing the locked fragrance cabinet. My eyes landed on this lime green colored can. I focused on the name and there it was Liz Claiborne Curve for Men. It was really well-priced; I summoned the keymaster to unlock the case and pull out a can for me. That was twenty years ago. Curve has been one of my favorite warm-weather perfumes since then.
Liz Claiborne was a perfume brand which existed primarily in drugstore fragrance cases. In 1996 they released a pair of new perfumes, Curve for Men and Curve for Women. In that time period the desired consumer was a young person who wanted to smell good. If you need a current equivalent it would be the person who buys Axe body spray. What sets Curve for Men apart is there are the earliest examples of ideas which would be improved upon in some of the best niche perfumes years later. Perfume Jean-Claude Delville put together a classic fougere with little touches here and there which make it more than the sum of its parts.
M. Delville opens with a set of green grassy notes and fir. This is a refreshing cool opening. The coolness is added to as cardamom breezes across the top accord. There is a sharpening of the green as it becomes more crystalline. Lavender arrives to provide the floral heart. It becomes a traditional fougere at this point tinted a bit greener. Sandalwood provides the keynote in the base around which a pinch of black pepper and vetiver swirl.
Curve for Men has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Curve for Men is one of the perfumes I wear which almost always does for me what it did for my colleague at the short course; garners a compliment. There is an easy-going quality to Curve for Men which seems to draw people in; even if it is a perfume bottle in a can.
Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle I purchased.
I have always been interested when a fashion designer I admire ventures into fragrance. It can be difficult to translate an aesthetic from the runway into a perfume. Some brands eschew it altogether defining a fragrance aesthetic apart from the fashion one. The ones I like best are the ones who take this problem on. This month’s Under the Radar choice did just that; Maison Martin Margiela Untitled.
Nowadays Maison Margiela, the Martin has been dropped, is known for the very good, and popular, Replica collection. This is where they divorced themselves from trying to mimic the fashion. In 2010 when they were entering the perfume sector Untitled was trying to capture the asymmetric layering of M. Margiela in a fragrance. The perfumer they chose was Daniela Andrier.
Somewhere along the line the vision of Untitled became layers of green; focused, diffuse, and subtle. The creative team added in fascinating grace notes to each of these layers as if they were detailing a fashion design. It has always been one of my favorite spring perfumes to wear because it captures green as a concept so well.
The first layer of green is a crystalline galbanum glittering with verdant intensity. This is a powerhouse of an opening and if you are not fond of galbanum you will be put off immediately. I adore this kind of concentrated effect especially with what Mme Andrier does with it. She takes a harmonic of bitter orange to come alongside the galbanum. It focuses the green effect while softening it slightly with the citrus beneath. The second layer comes as the galbanum becomes more diffuse. The crystal matrix implodes as it is speared by an indolic jasmine. The indoles keep this from becoming a comfort scent. It retains some of the green edginess of the top accord. This then ends on a green cedar focused base accord. Mme Andrier uses the inherent greenness of cedar while swirling it among incense and white musks. It ameliorates all the early green into something subtle by the end.
Untitled has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
As mentioned above the opening moments are challenging for those who are not fond of galbanum. I can’t even advise you to wait it out because while it gets less intensely green it is still intense hours in. Untitled is a perfume for those who enjoy an unapologetic galbanum. As spring gives way to the heat of summer this is one of my favorites because the layers of green are so good. Next time you’re checking out the new Maison Margiela Replica releases at the mall give the first perfume from the brand a try.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.