When I got to Esxence this year there were a couple of new lines which were high on my list to try. I am usually drawn to these new brands because of the perfumer they are working with. In the case of the new Orlov Paris line that was the case. Dominique Ropion is one of my favorite perfumers especially when he is working for a niche brand. Orlov Paris was premiering five new perfumes by M. Ropion at Esxence. I think the collection as a whole is very strong but there is one which I just couldn’t wait to spend some more time with, Star of the Season.
Star of the Season Diamond
Each of the perfumes in the Orlov Paris collection is based on a famous diamond which is also the name of each perfume. The diamond Star of the Season is a 100.10 carat diamond which was bought for a record price of $16,548,750 at auction in 1995. That is still the world-record for the highest amount paid for a single piece of jewelry at auction. When I think of diamonds I think of brilliance and sparkle. When I look at the picture of the Star of the Season above I see something which has mutable shades of blue much the way the ocean changes color in relation to the sky. I think M. Ropion looked at this diamond and also saw the deep violet color captured within and decided to make a crystalline iris perfume. I find Star of the Season to be sort of like gazing into a huge cut diamond and each day I wore it I was drawn by different facets and nuances as I allowed the olfactory brilliance to draw me in.
Star of the Season opens on a bold rose note as a sort of traditional harbinger of luxury. This is a dewy pure rose with the spicy core kept deep in the background. The orris comes next and it is a rich rooty iris. This also has its more common powdery elements dialed way back. It is earthier and M. Ropion adds patchouli to keep it tilted that way. Over time the earthy qualities fade and just the iris remains in all of its glory. It has a shine to it like it is those violet colors diffused through its namesake jewel. There is a quality of being captured in a crystal lattice which is what has made Star of the Season stand out for me. This all eventually settles onto a base of creamy sandalwood and warm vanilla.
Star of the Season has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
As he has done with all of the perfumes in the debut collection for Orlov Paris M. Ropion has discovered shades of brilliance to display. Star of the Season is the deepest of those shades and perhaps that is why it has captured so much of my initial enthusiasm. I can easily say that Star of the Season is the star of the inaugural Orlov Paris collection.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Orlov Paris at Esxence.
Editor’s Note: Orlov Paris will be available starting in July 2015. For those attending the upcoming Sniffapalooza Spring Fling. Orlov Paris is going to exclusively debut the collection at a champagne, caviar, and perfume reception on the evening of Saturday May 16 at the end of day one of Spring Fling.
One of the things I find interesting about writing these pieces is the opportunity to apply complete hindsight when looking back at a perfumer’s career. With the fullness of time’s perspective it is easier to find that moment when the style associated with them first comes to the fore. What is amusing to me as I do this is I often wore these early fragrances and while memorable I can’t say I was prescient enough to know the milestones they represented. In 1996 I picked up a bottle of Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant and this was my vanilla and spice baseline for many years. It would be followed up a year later with Kenzo Jungle Le Tigre which was a brilliant bit of fruity floral wildness. The entire team behind these two perfumes have been involved with some great perfumes in the years since. Over 1996 and 1997 they all intersected in the perfumed jungle.
The creative director for both of these perfumes was Celine Verleure who has gone on to found her own niche perfume line Olfactive Studio. Two perfumers, Dominique Ropion and Jean-Louis Sieuzac collaborated for both of these. M. Sieuzac was part of the team which had created Yves St. Laurent Opium twenty years earlier. M. Ropion was still defining his style. They had both worked together on Dior Dune in 1991 so a working relationship had been created. Together they would create two perfumes that you would never suspect came from Kenzo if you smelled them blind today.
In 1996 Kenzo was still forming its identity and as such I think they gave Mme Verleure a wide latitude to let her perfumers follow their instincts. It would be four years later with the release of FlowerbyKenzo that Kenzo’s aesthetic would crystallize. With Jungle L’Elephant and Jungle Le Tigre Messrs. Ropion and Sieuzac explored the boundaries of Orientals from two differing vectors.
Jungle L’Elephant is the perfume where M. Ropion would display his ability to soften and refine even the most boisterous of notes. Nowhere is that more evident than in the early moments of L’Elephant. If I tell you the top notes are cardamom and cumin I can imagine many already exclaiming, “No Thank You!” Except the perfumers harness these notes and turn them into a soft spicy pillow to lay one’s head down on. None of the sweatiness or rough green quality is here. Instead it is exotic and plush. That would be enhanced as the heart adds in clove and licorice to make the spicy accord more complex, yet still soft. Ylang-ylang and mango provide a fruity floral combo to add contrast. The transition here happens fairly quickly and it leads to a vanilla laden base made warm by cashmeran and amber. This evolution from soft to comfort will return time and again in M. Ropion’s perfumes but it is here that I first noticed it.
Jungle Le Tigre dispenses with the spices and instead chooses to prowl the jungle with a fruity floral vapor trail. The perfumers choose the sour kumquat and they pair it with davana allowing for its characteristic fruity nature to be enhanced. It heads into a heart of osmanthus supported by ylang-ylang. The perfumers make a smart choice to let the leather and apricot character of the osmanthus hold the center of Le Tigre. It sits there full of restrained potential. It all devolves into a slightly sweet spicy woody base. Massoia wood provides the cream and the wood as cinnamon roughs up the edges a bit. The base of Le Tigre is a bold final statement. M. Ropion would refine and alter this architecture in just four years to result in Une Fleur de Cassie as one of the first Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle releases.
M. Ropion has had one of the great perfume portfolios of the last twenty years and if you want to know where it started you need to head into the jungle.
Disclosure: This review was based on bottles I purchased
Ever since oud was introduced to the west a little over fifteen years ago it has become one of the most used ingredients in perfumery over that time. Especially over the last five years there has been a virtual wave of oud perfumes. The funny thing is most people who have worn those perfumes have never smelled the real thing. Most often it is either one of the synthetic ouds or cypriol/nagarmotha as a substitute in those perfumes. The real oud is so expensive to source, and create, the real stuff is difficult to find. I have spent a lot of time over the past few years buying direct from Asian sources to acquire a little of the real thing. Real oud is one of the most fascinating substances a perfumer can use. What region it comes from, how old the tree being harvested is, how long the oil has aged, all have an effect on its profile. For those of you who want to try real oud the opportunity has arrived with the release of the new Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle The Night by perfumer Dominique Ropion.
The Night is purported to contain an “unprecedented” amount of oud from India. M. Ropion only adds in two other notes, Turkish rose and amber. From the moment I opened my sample there was no doubt in my mind this was indeed real oud. When I, and others, write about oud we remark on it with unflattering adjectives like medicinal, band-aid-y, cheesy, dirty gym socks. Those don’t inspire one to want to put something like that on their body. The funny thing it is the combination of all of those derogatory aspects which make real oud so much fun to wear. I would also be the first to admit that it is an acquired taste. If you let the more confrontational character of oud push you away you will miss something sublime. In The Night M. Ropion clearly understands this and so keeps the perfume simple.
When I put The Night on for at least two hours it is nothing but the Indian oud. It smells like any of the oud oils I own. Indian oud tends to tilt towards the dirty bandage side of the oud spectrum. There is also a bit of cheese here too but it predominantly is the medicinal oud on display. These first two hours you might feel like this perfume is wearing you instead of the other way around. Because I knew what was coming I had a chance to mentally brace myself for the onslaught. There was still a bit of struggle but this Indian oud is an excellent choice to use because it really does display the quirky nature of pure oud. When the Turkish rose does finally make an appearance hours after first application it probably takes another couple of hours for it to even begin to make an impression with the oud. Once it does happen you can really appreciate why rose has been the historical yin to oud’s yang. The Turkish rose used here has an enhanced spicy core and it is that which allows it to gain some traction. The rose feels like it is the chaperone in bringing real oud to a western audience. Amber is used as an opaque shimmer of finishing but The Night is all about the oud and then the rose and the oud.
The Night has ridiculous longevity of over 24 hours. It also has significant sillage. This is a perfume to wear and appreciate around others who enjoy fragrance.
The Night is going to cause a lot of commotion once it makes its way to the usual Editions de Parfums stockists next year. There are many who are going to learn what they always thought was oud was something else. I kept hearing Mick Jagger singing the opening line of “Sympathy for the Devil” imagining these reactions. The ones who persevere will be rewarded with an experience of oud unlike anything they have tried before.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I purchased.
When I speak with Michael Edwards on the beginning of niche perfumery he can accurately names L’Artisan Parfumeur in 1978 and Annick Goutal in 1980 as the first niche lines. When I think of when niche perfumery really managed to breakthrough I go back to 2000 when Frederic Malle released the first nine perfumes in his Editions de Parfums brand. These were the first perfumes to feature the name of the perfumer on the bottle. It really was the beginning of my starting to take a stronger interest in the people behind the perfume. Over the last fourteen years and 21 total releases I can say that this is one of the strongest collections of fragrances on the market. There is not a mediocre one in the whole group. A particular style might not be to your taste but the quality and creativity is always prominently displayed. This is one of the best places for anyone interested in niche perfume to start and here are the five I would suggest you begin with.
There are a plethora of citrus colognes but Jean-Claude Ellena’s Bigarade Concentree is one that stands way above the fray. There is fantastic bitter orange (bigarade) surrounded by the most gentle aldehydes. The heart is rose, cardamom, and a bit of textural pepper to coax the spiciness from the rose. It finishes with a golden hay note over cedar. This fragrance re-invigorated my interest in citrus fragrances all by itself.
Lys Mediterranee by Edouard Flechier is one of the most luminous perfumes I own. M. Flechier weaves three sources of lily raw materials to render a larger-than-life composite as the core of this fragrance. He adds orange blossom, angelica, and musk as the perfect complements to the uber-lily. If you want lily in your fragrance here is one of the best.
Musc Ravageur by Maurice Roucel has a bit of a rakish reputation as a lady-killer if you believe the stories told on the perfume forums. That has died down over time and now what remains is a fantastic ambery musk by one of the great perfumers working. Starting with a flare of tangerine and lavender which are spiced up wiith clove and cinnamon we reach the base notes which form the ambery musky accord. I was well married by the time I found this but it is one of the few fragrances I wear which generates unsolicited compliments, so maybe its reputation is deserved.
For so many years the baseline tuberose perfume was Robert Piguet’s Fracas and nothing came close until Dominique Ropion’s Carnal Flower. M. Ropion chooses an eclectic company of complementary and contrasting notes for the tuberose. He uses eucalyptus to accentuate the mentholated quality a the heart of the flower. He adds coconut to provide an oily sweet contrast. A few other white flowers join in to create the other great tuberose fragrance.
Pierre Bourdon showed that he was more than the perfumer who created Cool Water when he made French Lover (aka Bois D’Orage). When I smelled this when it was released in 2007 it felt like a more sophisticated version of my old staple Calvin Klein Obsession for Men. It doesn’t smell anything like it but it was the one fragrance I continually chose over it once it was in my perfume cabinet. M. Bourdon uses the rich spiciness of pimento to lead into a finely balanced heart of iris and galbanum. It is a greener floral because of the presence of the galbanum and it keeps the iris from getting powdery. A musk and vetiver base finish this off. If I was still prowling the night looking for a connection French Lover would be one of my choices.
As I mentioned above the entire Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle line is consistently excellent. So start here but do yourself a favor and keep on going through the whole line it is a magical ride.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.