A little over four years ago when Comme des Garcons collaborated with Gosha Rubchinskiy on a perfume I wondered aloud about it being made for a younger audience. It seemed on brand for Comme des Garcons to work with someone who came out of the skateboard culture if that was the intent. The releases over the intervening years have not seemed to be as interested in that demographic. Until I received my sample of Comme des Garcon x Stussy Laguna Beach.
Back in the 1980’s when founder Shawn Stussy was selling his designs out of the back of his car, he hit a perfect alignment for his success. The surfers, skateboarders, punks, and hip-hop kids all wanted to wear his things. Over thirty years on it still retains that street cred even though you can buy it at the mall. Which makes the decision by Stussy to branch out into fragrance an interesting choice. If this is meant to aim at the twentysomethings it is the right brand to get their attention. Creative director Christian Astuguevieille knows how to make oddly unique perfumes. He asks perfumer Nisrine Grille to create it.
A perfume named after a California beach is almost by necessity an aquatic. What makes it Comme des Garcons is the use of some synthetic expansive florals over that. Those take things in a different direction.
The opening is a salty ozonic marine accord which is commonplace. Mme Grille captures that sea air on the open beach. What comes next seems like a layered effect of some synthetic expansive florals. The current trend for younger perfume fans is to keep it transparent. Most perfumes accomplish that with a synthetic expansive version of a well-known floral. Hedione does this for jasmine as the best example. Mme Grille seemingly adds multiple versions of these types of materials. It has one advantage in making the floral accord not as opaque as it usually is. It also creates a soap bubble which has whirls of different floral sources on its surface. The sea breeze accord gently nudges this fragile orb along. In the base cedar adds a woody foundation. It has a more pronounced green quality as if it is raw wood being cut.
Stussy Laguna Beach has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
It has taken four years for Comme des Garcons to return to Cali and the skateboarders. Just as before they offer something different to an age group that doesn’t usually experience it in their fragrances.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Comme des Garcons.
Last year was the 25th anniversary for what I think of as one of the most influential perfume brands. It was a real festive end of 2019 which saw a half-dozen new perfumes. It was like a literal Holiday present for me. It has taken a year for the next new release, Comme des Garcons Rouge, to appear.
I don’t truly think there is a signature to the brand. There is a commitment to experimenting around the edges of current trends. That kind of innovative thinking appears in Rouge. Creative director Christian Astuguevieille collaborates with perfumer Nathalie Gracia-Cetto on a perfume of earth and incense.
I am unsure why so many recent releases are using the color red as part of their inspiration. It is an odd coalescence in the fragosphere. For the Comme des Garcons version it is all about using beetroot.
This is only the second perfume I’ve tried with this in it. Beetroot adds an odd vegetal earthiness in both cases. It could verge a bit on unpleasant. In this case Mme Gracia-Cetto captures all of what I described plus the sweetness of the vegetable in a memorable way.
Rouge begins with that strong vegetation effect. Rapidly ginger and baie rose are employed as modifiers. These entice the sugar at the heart of the beet to the surface. It reminds me strongly of the crystallized sugar effect I encounter in violet in perfumery. This is like taking a shrubbery and adding some sugar to it. That might not sound pleasant, but it is a reminder of cleaning out the vegetable beds in these early days of October. It is a fascinating accord. As Rouge develops geranium adds a green floral quality as the bridge is made to a base of the patchouli analog Akigalawood. It is an interesting choice because this biological degradation of patchouli removes the earthiness. The beetroot more than makes up for it. It is like they are making a patchouli accord from the two. Now a beautifully serene incense begins to swirl in curls of smoke as if there are joss sticks in my empty vegetable bed. It increases in presence until it is the main scent over the latter phases.
Rouge has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Rouge is reminiscent of last year’s Copper in the way it changes shades throughout its development. It is one of the things I enjoy a lot in a perfume. It makes it a fantastic fall choice. I have enjoyed it immensely on these cool rainy days around my neck of the woods. If someone were to ask me for a shade of the titular color which describes this it would be easy, beet red.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Comme des Garcons.
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.
When I received my samples of the five new perfumes from Comme des Garcons to celebrate their twenty fifth anniversary in the fragrance world, there was one which I was most interested in. Over this time period one thing Comme des Garcons has stood for is pushing unusual accords to extremes. Two of my favorites are the pair of perfumes called Odeur 53 and Odeur 71. Both are fragrances of metallic heat. Synthetic to their core. They are representative of those odd comforting smells like electronics overheating. It has been since 2000 that Odeur 71 was released. Now we can add another to the collection Comme des Garcons Odeur du Theatre du Chatelet.
Theatre du Chatelet is a theatre on the banks of the Seine in Paris. The current creative director for the theatre, Ruth Mackenzie, was asked to join Comme des Garcons fragrance creative director Christian Astuguevieille to oversee the new Odeur. The perfumer they chose to work with is Caroline Dumur. The fragrance they envisioned is a mixture of the old and the new on the floorboards of the Theatre du Chatelet.
Mme Dumur nods back towards the earlier Odeurs with her top accord. She takes the botanical musk of ambrette and combines it with the metallic floral of rose oxide. This is further enhanced with black pepper. It creates this sizzling electric pink accord as if you smell the pink filter over the spotlight in the theatre. This is exactly what I wanted from a new Odeur. It is right on the edge of harsh for my sensibilities. I have a feeling it is going to go way past many others’ tolerances. That is what this series is meant to do. Every time I wear it, I am more and more enchanted by this top accord it is so unique. In the heart it moves to the orris powder used by the actors cut subtly with a bitter coffee from the cups on the apron during rehearsal. It settles on the cedar floorboards for the final moments with a woody base accord.
Odeur du Theatre du Chatelet has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
Odeur du Theatre du Chatelet is why Comme des Garcons is still among the premiere niche perfume makers after so long. It carries aspects from which a thoroughly contemporary perfume takes center stage bathed in electric pink.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Dover Street Market.
On the rare occasion I am asked about the most influential perfume brand I have a definitive answer. The earliest niche perfume brands were founded in the 1970’s and 80’s. it is my belief it was twenty-five years ago when the fragrance brand which would come to define much of what niche means came into being; Comme des Garcons. From the very beginning creative director Christian Astuguevieille has influenced many of the larger trends by being one of the first to execute them. If I had to, I could learn all I needed to know about the last quarter century of fragrance from the Comme des Garcons collection alone. I was wondering if they were going to commemorate the length of this sustained excellence. Right at the end of the summer I learned there would be a set of new releases to mark the anniversary. The one which had me most interested were the three perfumes in the Series 10: Clash collection.
Starting in 2000 with Series 1 each set of perfumes have explored something specific. They have been among the most adventurous perfumes within the overall collection. For Series 10 M. Astuguevieille asked three perfumers to find beauty in the confrontation between two dissimilar ingredients. Each perfume displays why Comme des Garcons still pushes at the boundaries of perfume.
The first is Celluloid Galbanum by perfumer Domitille Bertier. Each of the Clash entries is meant to capture a collision of sorts. Celluloid Galbanum is that of technology and nature. Mme Bertier takes the sweet plasticky smell of cellophane and wraps the deep green of galbanum in it. Mme Bertier uses jasmine to modulate the sweetness of her celluloid accord while lemon adds a sharper edge to the galbanum. It forms an engineered green behind a barrier of plastic which is fascinating. It ends on a base of synthetic woods.
Chlorophyll Gardenia is the least confrontational of the three Clash perfume. Perfumer Caroline Dumur uses a set of green notes to coax out the green quality inherent within gardenia infusing the white flower with a verdant glow. The inquisition of the gardenia begins with its presence from the start. Mme Dumur threads galbanum, spearmint, the synthetic Cosmofruit, and baie rose through the creamy floral. As each of those ingredients come forward, they find a complement in the similar scent deep within gardenia. As they each add to it the gardenia begins to shade green before it glows in an almost neon abstraction. A set of white musks whisper through the glimmering flower.
My favorite of the three is Radish Vetiver by perfumer Nathalie Gracia-Cetto. The reason I like this so much is it is what the Comme des Garcons Series perfumes have done so well over the years. They create a perfume around an unusual ingredient like radish. If you’ve ever sliced fresh radishes for a salad you will know what Mme Gracia-Cetto’s radish smells like it has an acerbic earthiness. She sets that against the grassy woodiness of vetiver. At first the softer quality of vetiver gently caresses the radish before the rootier nature finds a kindred spirit. Mme Gracia-Cetto cleverly uses the patchouli analog Akigalawood to provide an unusual piece of ground for these roots to find purchase in. The base is made woodier with guaiac adding to the Akigalawood.
All three Clash perfume have 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
For those who are less adventurous Chlorophyll Gardenia will be most to your liking. For the others who have followed where Comme des Garcons and M. Astuguevieille have led us for the past twenty-five years I suspect Celluloid Galbanum and/or Radish Vetiver will be part of your collection. I can’t wait for what comes next.
Disclosure: this review is based on samples supplied by Dover Street Market.
If you live in a big metropolis you treasure the greenspace carved out of the urban landscape. When you cross the boundary from concrete and steel to grass and trees it is a soothing feeling. It is a serene island within the big city. It is a place where nature has a tenuous ascendancy. For Comme des Garcons + Monocle Scent Four: Yoyogi they seek to capture one of those.
The collaboration between Comme des Garcons and Tyler Brule’s global media brand, Monocle, has been one of the best of all the perfume brand’s partnerships. Scent One: Hinoki released in 2008 is one of the best Comme des Garcons releases. Scent Two: Laurel and Scent Three: Sugi retained the high level of quality. It has been six years since Sugi was released and I had no idea a Scent Four was on its way until it landed on my desk.
For Scent Four: Yoyogi M. Brule and Comme des Garcons creative director Christian Astuguevieille ask perfumer Nathalie Gracia-Cetto to interpret the scent of an early morning jog in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo Japan.
Yoyogi Park is in the Shibuya section of Tokyo. It is like Central Park in New York City in the way that it draws people of all kinds during the day. The one part of the day in an urban greenspace which is given over to the runners are the early morning hours. As they wend through the park with the dew damp upon the grounds and leaves it is probably the moment of every day where the scents of nature are the most apparent. This is what Mme Gracia-Cetto captures in Scent Four: Yoyogi.
Yoyogi opens on the scent of dewy grass. I think it is a mixture of the different hexenals along with a small amount of an aquatic ingredient. It comes together to form a wet grass accord which also carries a slight chill to go with it. Then it takes an unusual turn as Mme Gracia-Cetto uses wormwood next. Wormwood is the ingredient in absinthe liqueur and that is what I am reminded of as it rises out of the damp grass. It carries a sweet anise-like scent across the pedestrian green on top. I don’t run in the morning, but I do a lot of walking. On a dewy morning there is a sweetness in the air that is captured by this wormwood and grass pairing in Scent Fout Yoyogi. The wormwood turns less sweet allowing for the herbal licorice scent profile to take us back to a greener place. The base is all light woods with cypress the most prominent.
Scent Four: Yoyogi has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I wore this for my morning walk a couple days ago on the first slightly cool day we had. I was surprised to find how attuned I was to the natural sweetness that was there. It formed my thinking about how well Mme Gracia-Cetto captured the milieu. Scent Four: Yoyogi is another excellent perfume from the partnership formed eleven years ago. Take it out for a quick run in the greenspace in your mind.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Comme des Garcons.
When perfume nerds get to talking about the most influential brand of the niche age of perfume; I have a very strong opinion. My choice is Comme des Garcons. From its beginnings in 1993 it would help define and refine what a niche aesthetic was in fragrance. It has been overseen by one incredible creative director in Christian Astuguevieille for the entire time. That longevity and consistency should not be taken for granted. Many of the early niche pioneers have lost their way. It seemed like it was part of the natural process. Keeping a high level of creativity was just not something that should be sustainable. Especially as we entered the second decade of the 2000’s it was happening with frustrating regularity. Comme des Garcons had seemingly fallen prey to the same issue with a streak of one mediocre release after another in 2012. I was thinking this was the final exclamation point on the first age of niche perfumery. Then M. Astuguevieille showed me in 2013 that the previous year was just an anomaly. Comme des Garcons bounced back with a new set of perfumes which recalibrated their aesthetic to be relevant for the now. At the center of these releases was Comme des Garcons Blue Santal.
One of the things which Comme des Garcons has done well is to have releases for the wider mass-market next to the more exclusive releases. Blue Santal was one of a trio of the former released in the summer of 2013. The other two Blue Cedrat and Blue Encens have been discontinued leaving Blue Santal as the only reminder of the sub-collection.
Perfumer Antoine Maisondieu would compose a perfume which creates a push and pull between the green of pine and the dry woodiness of sandalwood. It is the kind of perfume I wear on a warm day because of that vacillation between cool pine and warm sandalwood.
Blue Santal opens with the terpenic tonic of that cool pine. M. Maisondieu adds in the sharp gin-like acidity of juniper berries as the bridging note. The base is one of the early uses of the sustainable Australian sandalwood. It is one of the first fragrances to accentuate the drier character of this newer source of sandalwood. It still carries the sweetness with the creamier character less prominent. It presents the right counterweight to the pine. Then over the hours it lasts on my skin it is like a set of scales with the pine on one side and the sandalwood on the other pivoting on a fulcrum of juniper berries.
Blue Santal has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
You might think it unusual to choose a release from such a well-known brand as Comme des Garcons as an Under the Radar choice. From a brand pushing towards a collection of one hundred releases I think it is easy for even the best ones to fall off the radar screen. I thought it was time to put Blue Santal back on it.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
There is no publication more closely tied to fashion than Vogue. There is no perfume brand which has represented what it means to be a niche perfume more than Comme des Garcons. For the occasion of Vogue’s 125th anniversary they asked Comme des Garcons to create a perfume to capture that milestone; Comme des Garcons x Vogue 125.
I have been very fortunate to have a tenuous connection to the New York fashion world. It gave me the opportunity to see the creative process from sketch to runway. It is among one of the most interesting things I have participated in. Early on I was allowed to stand on the sidelines during a photo shoot. In those pre-digital photography days the photographer would use a Polaroid camera to take many test shots before committing it to expensive film. When I say many I mean the whole room filled up with the smell of the self-developer from the amount of photos being taken. That smell is one of those odd industrial smells which has a weird pleasant quality. It never doesn’t smell like a chemical soup but it also has an undefinable sweetness, too. The other thing the room filled up with was cigarette smoke as the photographer would puff, shoot, pull the Polaroid out, shake it in the air and repeat. This is where the perfume Comme des Garcons x Vogue 125 begins.
Vogue’s Beauty Director Celia Ellenberg would team with Comme des Garcons creative director Christian Astuguevieille to bring Vogue 125 to life. They wanted to nod back to founder Conde Nast by using lily of the valley which was his favorite flower. I have to believe that it was M. Astuguevieille who presented the Polaroid accord to the Vogue creative team for their approval. This is a perfect example of why Comme des Garcons remains an innovator within niche perfumery. They find things which are aggressively synthetic and find the sweet spot where beauty can be found within the industrial.
Vogue 125 opens with the Polaroid and cigarettes combination. The tobacco comes from the synthetic ingredient acetyl furan. This is very smart, as using a more natural tobacco source wouldn’t have resonated against the synthetic instant film accord as well. This is the smell of the fashion magazine business and I think there will be some who will be pushed away especially on a strip where it is particularly sharp. For those attracted to Vogue on the bottle it might be very unusual. To those who have loved when Comme des Garcons has plumbed these kind of accords in the past this is as good as any of those. I loved this opening the same way I pressed mimeographed sheets to my nose when I was in elementary school. For those who stick around the lily of the valley returns to more traditional perfume territory. This is a soft, slightly powdery version of the ingredient. One last bit of the industrial is added here with an ink note providing an acerbic retort to the lily of the valley. This is nuanced and not nearly as prominent as the top accord. It finishes on a soft leather accord mixed with some woody notes.
Vogue 125 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Vogue the magazine is known for the September Issue where they preview the fall fashion landscape every year. As I wore Vogue 125 I felt this was maybe The December Issue where they sum up 125 years of covering fashion in a triumphant representation of both brands on the bottle.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample from Comme des Garcons.
One of the fun things about the gathering of perfume lovers that the internet spawned was when lemmings were spawned. The typical life cycle for this was for someone to stumble over a press release describing a perfume to come which sounded amazing. The next stage was a general amplification of desire as it was imagined what it would smell like. Then the first people would get the chance to try it. If they came back and reported it was as good, or better, the stampede was initiated, and we rushed headlong to the cliff…um…I mean the store. The final stage was a kind of post-coital languor as we all talked about how good it was. In 2008 one of the largest lemmings ever born was Comme des Garcons x Monocle Scent One: Hinoki.
Comme des Garcons had serious perfumista cred in 2008 as creative director Christian Astuguevieille had defined what it meant to be a niche fragrance. Merging that aesthetic with a non-fragrance brand was another interesting step. Monocle was a lifestyle magazine founded by Tyler Brule in 2007, Besides lifestyle there were also international affairs stories in between the sleek furniture and cutting-edge fashion. The sensibilities seemed like a good match.
Towards the end of 2007 it was announced that the first perfume from this collaboration was going to be called Scent One: Hinoki. Perfumer Antoine Maisondieu was going to bring the juice to life. Scent One: Hinoki was meant to evoke a soak in a hinoki wood tub amidst a pine forest in Japan. What was great about this perfume when we were in the imagining what it would smell like phase of the lemming cycle was the inclusion of this top note, turpentine. Turpentine? You mean mineral spirits? Lots of debate on whether that was going to be good or not. It, plus another challenging note, would become the acid test on whether it was worth the chase.
That other note is camphor and along with the turpentine that is what you get at the start. It is challenging in a nose wrinkling kind of way. When I first tried it on a paper strip it put me off in a big way. When I finally put some on my skin it was completely different as the challenging aspects became more diffused on my skin. Then the camphor and turpentine turn into a raw wood accord. If you’ve ever worked with green wood this is the smell of that. As that fades a more finished wood appears; cypress and pine are the choices. Green is introduced via vetiver, thyme, and moss adding back some of the rawer character lost with the more refined woods ascension. In the base the incense burning just outside the tub swirls over it all.
Scent One: Hinoki has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
During 2008 I was tracking what the most reported scents in the Scent of the Day thread in the forum were. On the men’s forum Scent One: Hinoki was one of the top 5 for the year. The really final stage of a lemming is it is forgotten as the crowd chases the next one. Scent One: Hinoki is good enough it shouldn’t be forgotten or found Under the Radar.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
I have written often how lack of longevity on skin has become inextricably entwined with quality in the consensus of the fragrance consumer. I can write until my fingers tire that the very notes which impart longevity are some of the cheapest and most synthetic; it falls as if a tree in a forest with no one around to hear. One of the reasons this has become a truism in perfume marketing is because in the mid-2000’s a number of brands put this to the test by releasing truly interesting short-lived perfumes. Almost all of them now occupy a shelf in the Dead Letter Office. One of the best examples is Comme des Garcons Play.
By 2007 Comme des Garcons had emerged as one of the early pillars of the niche perfume sector. Overseen by Creative Director Christian Astuguevieille they would define many of the core principles of what it meant to be an artistic fragrance. Especially in these first years they were also the most willing to experiment. To their credit they still are. What that meant in 2007 was M. Astuguevieille wanted to see if the idea of longevity could be overcome with something truly avant-garde but fleeting.
The place within the Comme des Garcons brand where something like this might do well was the Play collection. On the clothing side Play was debuted in 2002 as a source of “casual luxury”. Which meant t-shirts and other casual wear done in the Comme des Garcons way. This brand generated one of the most iconic Comme des Garcons images. Shown above artist Filip Pagowski’s heart with eyes is as emblematic of the overall brand as it is for the sub-collection it was designed for. The Play collection were sold in these new outlets called Dover Street Market. To fill up the shelf space accessories were going to be hard on the heels of the clothing.
Five years on M. Astuguevieille collaborated with perfumer Aurelien Guichard for Play. It isn’t explicitly stated in any of the press materials that they were trying to make a short-lived fragrance. What is sure is Play is the Comme des Garcons aesthetic in short form.
It opens on a mixture of peppery citrus as black pepper and bitter orange provide a lively opening. It transitions quickly to an herbal heart of sage and thyme lifted on a cloud of aquatic notes like Calone. It sets up the truly odd accord that forms the base. If you ever spent time wiring stereo speakers in the old days before wireless made it irrelevant there is a smell of electronics in a wood cabinet. That is exactly what M. Guichard assembles out of patchouli, oakmoss. and musks for the final moments of Play. I’ve always thought of this as an electronic chypre.
Play has 4-6 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
The final accord is a classic odd Comme des Garcons example. It is unlikely that was the reason Play didn’t survive. The longevity was pointed out time and again whenever it was written about. It became a kind of baseline to compare other new releases to, “it lasts longer than Play”. Very quickly the decision came to pull the plug. It would be replaced by set of three perfumes Play Red, Play Green, and Play Black which would not make the same mistakes. What it comes down to is Play was not around long enough because it was not around long enough on a perfume lover.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.