New Perfume Review Shelley Waddington for American Perfumer Pythia- Know Thyself

One of the things I enjoy most about independent perfumers is they tend to be broad in the perfumes they produce. At least the best of them is. When I think of the list of my favorites the maxim “stay in your lane” does not apply. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lane I prefer. Perfumer Shelley Waddington is one of those eight-lane freeways of fragrance. I’ve changed lanes with her numerous times, but it is when she travels in a deeply vintage-like direction I enjoy traveling with her the most. Shelley Waddington for American Perfumer Pythia is just that type.

Pythia is the latest in the limited editions offered by Dave Kern’s American Perfumer store. He has worked with some of the best independent perfumers in the country. He encourages them to work with rare ingredients or difficult to produce versions. So far this has produced a magnificent collection of limited editions which have allowed these artists to blossom in new ways. Ms. Waddington uses a classic perfume structure to depict a classic figure from ancient Greek history.

Shelley Waddington

While the name Pythia might not ring a bell her other title, Oracle of Delphi might. As the High Priestess of Apollo she shared his divine words to those who visited. The perfume is meant to be the scent of Pythia to a supplicant. What they would smell while waiting for her words.

To achieve this Ms. Waddington reached back to a way that fragrance was used in ancient times, as unguents. There was no distillation of alcohol to carry scents. So they were infused into a fatty matrix with which they could be rubbed on the skin. She created a set of them to form the foundation of Pythia.

As the Oracle leans down to speak lemon and rosemary whisper from her hair. The interplay of bright citrus and earthy herbal feels appropriate. As I hand the rose to her in offering over the smoky brazier she leans back. Ms. Waddington does an excellent job keeping the smoke from billowing in choking clouds. She keeps it at just the right level to remind me of a hazy Greek temple. After I make my request of the Oracle, she circles me with her scents enveloping me. There is civet, ambergris, musk, sandalwood, and balsam. They are a heady mix I breathe them in greedily taking it all in. This is where the hand-made unguents are present. There is a gorgeous depth to all the ingredients I mentioned. When they all come together in the base it is mesmerizing.

Pythia has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

As I stand looking expectantly at the Oracle, she points to the column at the entrance. “Know Thyself” is inscribed upon it. As always, the answers are within. It also applies to Ms. Waddington as an artist. To be a great independent perfumer you must know and understand your strengths. Pythia is testament that she does.

Mark Behnke

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample supplied by American Perfumer.

Editor’s Note: These limited editions have proven to be extremely popular, selling out very quickly. Mr. Kern to make it more equitable uses a lottery system. There are 25 signed and numbered bottles for sale. The lottery is scheduled for February 27, 2021. If you are interested you can send your name, phone number, and address to dave@american-perfumer.com to be entered. Or you can supply the same info on the Instagram page @theamericanperfumer via message.

New Perfume Review Maria McElroy for American Perfumer Desert Rouge- The Soul of Introspection

There has been a lot of great art born of solitary introspection. It isn’t a necessary ingredient, but it seems to allow an artist to access something more emotional. Being kept inside for part of this year I think we have all participated in a lot of inward thinking. The independent perfume community has also been allowing an outlet for these artists to express these feelings. Especially from this group 2020 has been a year of emotional storytelling through scent. Maria McElroy for American Perfumer Desert Rouge completes that theme for the year.

In truth all the limited editions overseen by owner of American Perfumer, Dave Kern have been personal statements of perfumery infused with emotion. Maria McElroy was one of the first to create a limited edition for Mr. Kern. He has asked these perfumers he taps to be unafraid to let their emotions run more freely. In that earlier perfume called Desert Flower Ms. McElroy accessed her childhood memories of traveling through the desert. By crossing them with unique materials sourced from Morocco. In her mind its evoked Jack Kerouac.

Maria McElroy

Desert Rouge is kind of a sequel as it is set with the adult Ms. McElroy as she gazes out at sunset in the Sahara. She also has a literary muse for this in the person of author Paul Bowles’ book “The Sheltering Sky”. The quote she references is, “How fragile we are under the sheltering sky.” What this comes together in as a perfume is a rich floral gourmand.

She is again working with small batches of uniquely sourced materials. It becomes apparent right at the start with the rose oil she uses. It forms an odd variation on the dewy debutante rose. This is not a debutante this is an experienced rose which can still look innocent. I am calling it dewy, but it is more reminiscent of rose water without the transparency. I am usually bored with rose in perfumes. This one is compelling in its complexity. The floral accord is rounded out with sandalwood and Siam wood. The woods provide that sweet touch to the rose while setting up the gourmand accord to come.

As she did with Desert Flower this perfume finds a childhood memory embedded in the gourmand accord. This is that remembrance of Greek pastries cooling on a fresh linen tablecloth at home. Ms. McElroy calls this out as her earliest recollection of fragrance. It connects because it is easy to imagine a plate of pastries which smell like this on a table as you watch the desert change colors.

She uses that rose water quality I mentioned to become the foundation upon which she builds her accord. A classic mélange of spices within a syrup of Moroccan vanilla. What takes this much deeper is tendrils of tobacco and honey. Ms. McElroy uses a deft touch so that they add to the lusciousness of the gourmand accord. When complete this is that hybrid of Arabic, through the rosewater, and Greek pastry through the honey and spices.

Desert Rouge has 16-18 hour longevity and minimal sillage as a pure parfum.

It is the gourmand piece of Desert Rouge which makes this such a compelling experience. I have lost myself within it for hours performing my own introspection. It also reminded me of another passage of Mr Bowles from the same novel, “How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”  Ms. McElroy has made a limitless perfume which is born of the soul of introspection.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by American Perfumer.

Mark Behnke

Editor’s Note: These limited editions have proven to be very popular selling out extremely quickly. Mr. Kern in an attempt to make it more equitable is moving to a lottery system for Desert Rouge. There are 50 signed and numbered bottles for sale. The lottery is scheduled for December 26, 2020. If you are interested you can send your name, phone number, and address to dave@american-perfumer.com to be entered. Or you can supply the same info on the Instagram page @theamericanperfumer via message.

New Perfume Review Shawn Maher for American Perfumer Madame Chouteau- St. Louis Sister

If there was one thing I wanted from a store dedicated to American independent perfumery it was limited editions. When owner Dave Kern contacted me two years ago to announce he was opening American Perfumer in Louisville, KY it was the first thing I asked him. He politely replied it was in his plans but first he had a store to open. It didn’t take long. By the end of 2018 he had released two limited editions from Dawn Spencer Hurwitz and Maria McElroy. Ms. Hurwitz’s perfume, Colorado, won the 2019 Art & Olfaction Award for best independent perfume. Hans Hendley followed with last year’s ode to his Texas home, Bloodline. One commonality of all three was the use of a special rare ingredient. Long time readers know how much I enjoy the aspect of independent perfumery where a one-of-a-kind ingredient leads to a singular perfume. The oil Ms. McElroy used to build her entry Desert Flower let her connect the desert near Marrakech and the one she grew up near in Utah. All these first three releases were perfumes tied deeply to the perfumer’s heritage and location. Of the newer American independent perfumers Shawn Maher of Chatillon Lux has been designing his entire brand around his roots in the St. Louis, MO community he lives in. Mr. Maher has been one of the most exciting new perfumers I have encountered in years. You can imagine my excitement when just after the New Year Mr. Kern and Mr. Maher contacted me to announce the upcoming release of Shawn Maher for American Perfumer Madame Chouteau.

American Perfumer in Louisville, KY

Mr. Maher when left to his own vision has delved deeply into the history of his hometown. As he spoke with Mr. Kern they remarked they both live in cities named after French King Louis. There is a pervasive French style underpinning this area of the country the US had to eventually purchase from France. Madame Chouteau pays homage to one of the founders of the city of St. Louis with a perfume which calls back to the classic French origins of modern perfumery through an American perspective.

Shawn Maher

Madame Chouteau would co-found the trading post which would be the cornerstone of the city with Pierre Laclede Liguest. She lied about being a widow so she could have the standing in male society it provided, which was little. It was enough for her to use what she had to get what she wanted.

Mr. Maher releases a Scent Notes column on his website for most of his releases. The one on Madame Chouteau, linked here, mentions how he would construct a perfume using ingredients he was using for the first time. It is a fabulous peek behind the curtain for those who want to know more.

Madame Chouteau opens with an exquisite apricot accord. Most of the time apricot appears as a dried fruit in perfume. Mr. Maher rehydrates his apricot with the use of the aromachemicals which provide rose their depth, damascenones. This turns the early moments into a photorealistic apricot. This is the American perspective on the French traditions I mentioned. This is an apricot which is full of life instead of abstractly desiccated. Jasmine provides the floral counterweight as Mr. Maher combines three natural sources with a Hedione analog for lift. It is the expansiveness from that which gives the jasmine a weightlessness that allows them to float above the apricot while still retaining the complexity of the natural oils. The French-American collaboration reaches its zenith in what Mr. Maher calls his “Mousse de Saint Louis” base. Inspired by the classic Mousse de Saxe base. To go from Saxe to Saint Louis he adds a dirtier vanilla to act like the muddy Mississippi running through the atranol-free oakmoss with orris and leather completing it. The final ingredient is genuine Mysore sandalwood in all its gorgeous glory providing the proper pedestal for Madame Chouteau to stand upon.

Madame Chouteau has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I was such a lazy writer that my reviews of the previous American Perfumer limited editions came after they were sold out. Not this time. At 3PM EST this Saturday February 15 the 25 bottles of this amazing perfume will go on sale. It is another outstanding entry in this series.

As I learned more of Madame Chouteau, Annie Lennox’s voice through the Eurythmics song “Sisters are Doin’ it for Themselves” played in my head. I especially heard the couplet, “Standin’ on their own two feet/And ringin’ on their own bells”. The perfume in her name does just that. With a French accent and an American fist in the air Madame Chouteau was a St. Louis Sister doin’ it for herself.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by American Perfumer.

Mark Behnke

Hans Hendley for American Perfumer Bloodline- American Vitality

2

I have a friend who has a woodworking hobby. He enjoys working with woods most people have never heard of. I know when I visit, I get an education on a wood new to me. The scent of that workshop is magical. My friend works on small wooden creations using rare materials. All of that came to mind when I tried Hans Hendley for American Perfumer Bloodline.

American Perfumer Shop

Bloodline is the third special edition from Dave Kern’s shop American Perfumer. Mr. Kern is asking different American perfumers to create one-of-a-kind fragrances. Bloodline comes from Brooklyn-based Hans Hendley. Mr. Hendley has been selling perfume since 2014. His is a line I do not have extensive experience with. There was a set of four releases in 2015 which I had samples of but never reviewed. My favorite of those was Bourbon. Just from that one example there are some definite connections to Bloodline.

Hans Hendley

Mr. Hendley does what always thrills me from the independent perfume community; he works with small batches of exquisite ingredients for Bloodline. The pulsing heart of Bloodline is a red cedar oil his father distilled from their home in Texas. That might not thrill you, cedar is a common perfume ingredient. This is not that. This oil comes from the Eastern Red Cedar which is closely related to the juniper tree this gives it an unusual scent profile. What Mr. Hendley does is to take his family derived gem of an oil and surround it with his own tinctures and unique distillates. It turns Bloodline into a testament to American vitality in perfume.

Right from the beginning the red cedar holds prominence. It acts as a sentinel standing tall at the central axis of Bloodline. To enhance those juniper characteristics Mr. Hendley uses a tincture of white pine fatwood along with an artisanal distillation of pinyon pine needles. This creates a densely faceted woody accord. To tease out the inherent sweetness of the wood Mr. Hendley turns to another tincture of his own of vanilla bean combined with tobacco. This provides a deeply narcotic foundation to everything. It delves deep in the earth as patchouli and oakmoss provide the final touch.

Bloodline has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Bloodline is one of the best perfumes of the year. It seems to be a clear labor of passion for Mr. Hendley in paying homage to where he came from. To take a piece of his Texas home into his Brooklyn atelier to produce Bloodline; is there anything more American Perfumer than that?

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by American Perfumer.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Dawn Spencer Hurwitz for American Perfumer Colorado- High-Altitude Heart

One of many things I learned while I was managing editor at CaFleureBon was the breadth of creativity in American Perfumery. Editor-in-Chief Michelyn Camen has been the most tireless supporter of these national treasures through her series on CaFleureBon called Profiles in American Perfumery. Over 130 posts where the perfumer speaks in their own words. I had always wondered if there was enough for someone to open a store dedicated to American independent perfume.

Inside American Perfume in Louisville, Kentucky

The answer came this past September with the opening of American Perfumer in Louisville, Kentucky. Owner Dave Kern opened a shop dedicated to showcasing the best of American independent perfume. When I looked over what he chose to fill his shelves it was obvious he had gathered brands from every part of the country. What I was hoping for, was over time Mr. Kern would collaborate with some of these artists for limited editions exclusive to the store. It turns out Mr. Kern was way ahead of me. He was going to do this right away.

When I asked him about how he chose who to ask to do the first two he answered, “When I started to reach out to American perfumers about the AMERICAN PERFUMER concept two years ago, Dawn and Maria both quickly emerged as friends, advisors and confidants. As two people that I had tremendous respect for, their immediate encouragement, and enthusiasm for what I was proposing, gave me great confidence that I was onto something.” The Dawn is Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes and the Maria is Maria McElroy of aroma M and House of Cherry Bomb. Mr. Kern continued, “Launching the Limited Editions with them was always the plan. Practically speaking, Dawn and Maria are quality assurance. I knew they’d make beautiful, interesting work and get it done on time. That said, in every way, they exceeded my expectations.”

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

Over the next two days I am going to review both gorgeous limited editions which show off the heart and soul of American Perfumery. I start today with Dawn Spencer Hurwitz for American Perfumer Colorado and will follow tomorrow with Maria McElroy for American Perfumer Desert Flower.

Like many of the best perfumes they start with a simple query. This one began with Mr. Kern asking Ms. Hurwitz “what Colorado smelled like.” Ms. Hurwitz is based in Boulder, Colorado which makes it easy for her to answer that question. For those who are fans of Ms. Hurwitz’s perfume she has been showing us what Colorado smells like in perfumes like The Voices of Trees, Mountain Sage, or Rocky Mountain High. Colorado fits in that continuum as you breathe in the high-altitude milieu on the slopes of the Rockies.

Ms. Hurwitz opens Colorado on a top accord primarily of spruce. To keep that from becoming too generic in its piney-ness Ms. Hurwitz cleverly supports it with a sunbeam of neroli and a softening of the terpenic sharpness with softer leafy ingredients. This blunts the pine needles from getting too sharp right off the bat. As we gain altitude we pass through a stand of clean woods of cedar and sandalwood. Ms. Hurwitz winds strands of jasmine and immortelle through the woods to capture the wildflowers in bloom. The immortelle adds a richness to these otherwise straightforward woody ingredients. Once you reach the highest altitude all you have left are the sentinel pine trees overseeing the valley. The base accord is a superbly realized mixture of three sources of pine combined with balsam. This is that breath of chilled air carrying the scent of the trees along with it. A subtle filament of cade swirls though as if woodsmoke from a cabin far below has risen to the peak.

Colorado has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

If you are a fan of any of Ms. Hurwitz’s perfumes which feature pine, Colorado is an essential piece of that series. They are among my very favorite styles that Ms. Hurwitz produces. I have always found the perfumes from Ms. Hurwitz to display the heart of an artist at work. In Colorado she shares the love of the place she lives with a perfume that soars over her personal American landscape.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz.

Mark Behnke