There is an interesting side effect to smelling as much perfume as I do. I sometimes smell things which aren’t there. There have been what I call ghost accords living with me for the past few years. I used to think I had a problem until a perfumer friend told me he has the same thing. He has said these have sometimes inspired his actual perfume creation. It is easy for me to put them aside because I don’t have the ability to make them real. But for a perfumer that’s a different thing, they can turn the ghost into something solid. Independent perfumer Euan McCall has done this in Jorum Studio Fantosmia.
Mr. McCall talks about the inspiration for this perfume in the same ways I described my experience. He described it as, “the scent had silhouette but little form, what structure there was seemed distorted and contorted, however malleable, fluid, textural”. It is like chasing a scented will o’ the wisp never in reach but maddeningly present. Mr. McCall wanted to capture his ghost to give it substance in Fantosmia.
It opens on a transparent spice accord of cardamom, fennel, nutmeg, and saffron. This is the opacity of the phantom appearing. Mr. McCall uses a trio of sharp green ingredients as cascarilla, shiso, and mate tea begin to add weight to this phantasm. It starts to struggle from the effort to contain it. Before it can get away a base accord of animalic substance grabs a hold and does not let go. This is where the ghost is made real as Mr. McCall uses tobacco and castoreum in a compelling duet of the narcotic and the animalic. Swirling through it is spirals of white oud smoking on a brazier. They reaffirm the transparency of the ghost we started with.
Fantosmia has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I began 2020 being introduced to Mr. McCall’s own line of perfume. It seems fitting I should finish the year chasing ghosts with him.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
Nectary is described as a “brutal floral” on the Jorum Studio website. I get the description, but it tracks more closely to the Instagram photos of Mr. McCall’s I mentioned yesterday. In those pictures they are close-ups of the growing things of Scotland. Nectary is a close-up of the flowers and growing things of Scotland. It opens with a classic fruity floral duo of peach and rose. It is given a tart contrast through cranberry. Mr. McCall wanted this to be a wild milieu and so he surrounds this accord with that unkempt wilderness. He threads oud, castoreum, civet and musk together to remind you of the creatures living here. More intriguingly ambergris, labdanum, and olibanum provide an oddly briny resinous undercurrent. This forms a snapshot of rose in the wild.
Phloem is described as “a diabolical assemblage of odourants”. If I thought Nectary was one of Mr. McCall’s photos as perfume; Phloem is one of those with a kaleidoscopic filter on top. This is a fruity floral of rivals not interested in playing nice. In the vigorously kinetic development that ensues the joy of contrast can be experienced. Mr. McCall chooses the very sweet passion fruit to find its antagonist in rhubarb. This is a conflict of tartness pushing back against the sweet. The kind of tension between opposites repeats itself. Blueberry pushes back against honeysuckle as fruit and flower reverse roles in tart and sweet. Savory sesame tries to prevail over the sweet hay-like tonka. Green gorse flies into the citrus tinted amyris. Everywhere you look odiferous struggles are happening. It makes Phloem a busy type of perfume that some will find to be too unrestrained. I found that after spending some time wearing it, falling into the battle royale of perfume was fun.
Trimerous stand out from the other fragrances in Progressive Botany Vol. 1 as the only soliflore. You could make the case Nectary might be a rose soliflore but not to the degree Trimerous displays the orris butter at its heart. When a perfumer chooses to take one of the most precious perfume ingredients as the core of a soliflore they show their perspective in what they use to set it off. The rich thick butter of aged iris roots is one of the ingredients which commands the price because of the quality within it. Mr. McCall takes my favorite rooty part and amplifies it. The opening is the opulent orris butter out in front as carrot seed and angelica root find that doughy rootiness coaxing it to the foreground. Subtle touches of herbal green with thyme and baie rose along with the citrus sparkle of bergamot and nectarine remind me of light reflecting off a precious jewel. There is a lesser silvery shimmer fine orris butter has that is often lost in a perfume. Mr. McCall finds that polished veneer with the acerbic nature of juniper and kombucha. It is like shadows off the fine flatware. The powdery iris rears its head atop an animalic trio of oud, leather, and musk. Instead of powder puff it feels like the powdered lash of a luxurious dominatrix. Vanilla and incense provide a soothing balm for the return of the rooty iris over the final phases.
All three have 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
Just as I had experienced with the perfumes Mr. McCall produced for Senyoko his own creations show the same breadth of design. Any perfumer that can bridge the gap between the iris soliflore of Trimerous with the kinetic furor of Phloem knows what he is doing.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Jorum Studio.
As much as I grumble about the dearth of new releases in January it does have an upside. Over the past few years it has allowed me the time to explore a new young perfumer’s line. For 2020 it is the work of Scotland-based perfumer Euan McCall for his own brand Jorum Studio.
I became acquainted with Mr. McCall last year for the work he produced for Senyoko. I was quite impressed with his ability to make perfume of subtlety or power. Many independent perfumers find a single key to compose in. Based on the Senyoko releases I was wondering if Mr. McCall was producing his own perfumes. I had a feeling under his own creative eye there might be something worth learning about.
I contacted him and he graciously agreed to send me a sample set of the latest collection Progressive Botany Vol. 1. I had an idea these were going to be fascinating before I ever got a whiff of any of them. It was because through the process of connecting to Mr. McCall I began to follow him on Instagram. I wake up most mornings to a photo of the Scottish flora. These pictures showed me an artist’s eye who sees beyond the broader strokes to find the grace notes which make for a compelling aesthetic. The perfumes live up to that. I am going to spend the next two days reviewing all six perfumes in the Progressive Botany Vol. 1 collection.
Arborist is “an ode to enchanting woodlands”. When I saw the name it made me think or Mr. McCall’s Instagram photos. This is the fragrance of perfumer as arborist as he walks through the Scottish landscape. It opens on a leathery osmanthus which is provided an acerbic tart contrast via quince. Arborist then finds the woodlands promised as Mr. McCall forms a powerful woody accord of fir balsam and spruce resin. This reminded me strongly of the Florida pine trees I grew up with including the sap. That stickiness is enhanced with a precise use of honey. It becomes particularly interesting over the final stages as malt and myrrh provide grain and resin to the final construct. I can’t put my finger on what comes together to form a clean sweat accord, but it reminds me of a fall hike when I remove my sweaty flannel shirt.
Carduus is an homage to the Scottish Order of the Thistle. I have a bramble thicket where I walk once or twice a week. It has a fresh herbal natural scent to it. Mr. McCall finds that same quality in Carduus. Before describing it, I want to mention how tonally different it is from Arborist. Arborist is a burly Scotsman building in power as it goes. Carduus goes the opposite direction; its most intense at the beginning before finding a lovely light touch at the end. The intensity of the opening is all from a mixture of herbal ingredients. Primarily chamomile, clary sage, Bengal pepper, and clove. This is the green slightly woody quality of the bramble patch. It then does a fantastic pivot through Mr. McCall’s use of a cocoa absolute which doesn’t come off as gourmand. It provides a divider of sorts as a set of tobacco infused woods of cherry and mahogany form a platform for the top accord to spread out upon. Woven throughout are subtle florals, rose and tuberose find purchase among the vines. Over the latter stages Carduus is a delicate herbal woody reverie.
Medullary-ray is one of the most unique interpretations of fig I’ve encountered in a long time. Mr. McCall was trying to catch the scent of a woodworker shaving down a plank in the Tuscan sunshine. The location of this woodworker is on the edge of a grove of fig and olive trees. Mr. McCall re-interprets the concept of a fig-centric Mediterranean fragrance as he combines the fig and olive. The fig is the creamy green of the fig leaf wile the olive is the oleaginous viscosity of the pressed fruit. Cardamom provides lift to the fig leaf as juniper and frankincense provide the borderlines for them to interact within. I adore this accord. It has an odd decadence to it I just wanted to immerse myself in. It gets better as orris provides the rooty transition to the woodworker in this tableau. There is a rich mixture of woods here. Sandalwood, guaiac, cedar, birch, and papyrus. You might think that last would get lost. Instead it provides the glue which holds all the woods together. It closes with a sweaty castoreum reflecting the person doing the woodworking.
All three perfumes have 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
This past year in perfume was a great one. One of the best since I have been writing about perfume. Part of the reason is what I wrote about in the prologue yesterday. It was the best year ever for independent perfumery. I tried 734 new perfumes in this calendar year. When I look at the bottom of my spreadsheet to see that number it kind of chills me to realize I smelled that many. I knew it was a great year when I put together my first draft of perfumes I wanted to consider for these columns. I ended up with 75 fragrances on that list. 10% of everything I tried was memorable. It speaks to the quality that is out there to be found.
When I say this was the best year for independent perfumery it does not meant that it was a bad year for the mainstream. On the contrary there were some amazing releases from the big brands. Regular readers are tired of my extolling Gucci Memoire d’une Odeur for its fearlessness, but it deserves the recognition. Hermes Un Jardin sur la Lagune stood out for the change in style as Christine Nagel created a more introverted garden which appealed to me. Olivier Polge extended the Les Eaux de Chanel with Paris-Riviera. Thierry Mugler Angel Eau Croisiere is the kind of crazy summer flanker I wish we saw more of. Finally, Guerlain has their yearly reminder they aren’t a spent creative force with the magical Embruns D’Ylang.
To my great pleasure Comme des Garcons laid down a fantastic reminder of why they haven’t lost their innovative style after 25 years of doing fragrance. The fall saw six new Comme des Garcons releases under the creative guidance of Christian Astuguevieille. They were a reminder of everything this brand continues to do well. From the collaboration with Monocle for Scent Four: Yoyogi. To the neon pink of Odeur du Theatre du Chatelet. The three new Series 10 Clash perfumes, each a study in synthetic contrasts. Ending with the metallic chameleon of Copper. So many of the brands which sparked my interest in artistic perfume have lost the plot I am thankful M. Astuguevieille hasn’t.
This year saw the ultimate transformation of bloggers into creative directors. I think it is easy to convince yourself that if you write about perfume it is a small step to creating it. There have been a few examples this year of how untrue that is. The three who succeeded put in the hard work necessary to see their vision through to a perfume. Victor Wong of Zoologist Perfumes released four in 2019 all wildly different. Barbara Hermann evolved her brand Eris Parfums into her best release to date Mxxx.Arielle Weinberg has made the transition from blogger to store owner to creative director putting in the time to make each endeavor succeed. Arielle Shoshana Sunday was part of a new breed of gourmands for 2019.
The new gourmands all seemed to be inspired by hot beverages. Arielle Shoshana Sunday by matcha horchata. Floral Street Ylang-Ylang Espresso is an exotic drink of dark coffee and exuberant floral. Ineke Jaipur Chai finds the gentle harmony in the blend of ingredients in chai as a perfume. Cocoa plays a starring role in Curata Dulceo and Eris Parfums Mxxx.
I met fantastic new perfumers for the first time through their work. Caroline Dumur did two of the new Comme des Garcons; Odeur du Theatre du Chatelet and Clash: Chlorophyll Gardenia. Along with her work for Masque Milano Love Kills she has become one to watch. Scottish perfumer Euan McCall impressed me with his work for Senyoko. La Tsarine is a perfume unafraid to go deep into carnality. Contrast that with his work on Migration de L’Arbre which captures the outdoors vibrantly. Shawn Maher of Chatillon Lux was another new name who impressed me with his skill at evoking all that his St. Louis home can give to perfume.
Of everything I experienced this year it was a book which has altered my perspective most. Michael Edwards released Perfume Legends II in September. I devoured it over a week. Mr. Edwards has spoken publicly that the revered perfume houses like Guerlain, Chanel, or Dior were the niche perfumes of their day. Though the 52 perfumes covered in the book you realize the era of modern perfumery from Fougere Royale to Portrait of a Lady has always reflected the best of what perfume has to give. It made me view perfumery with a new foundation. It is why I think 2019 has been so good.
Join me tomorrow as I name my Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, and Brand of the Year.
Sunday, I make a list of my favorite non-perfume things of the year.
Monday, I will have the Top 25 new perfumes of 2019.
Tuesday, I look forward to what I hope to see in 2020.
It is an interesting ritual that happens most evenings at Colognoisseur HQ. I receive my samples and after dinner I test what came in the mail. Besides my nose I am always interested when one elicits a response from Mrs. C; or the poodle. About a month ago I received a sample set of the new brand Senyoko. As I was going through the samples, I sprayed the last one. In a few seconds Mrs. C looked up and asked, “What is that?”. It wasn’t a simple query. It was a half-lidded look of maybe I should forget about that perfume stuff for a while. Even my initial response was an inner clenching of all those carnal places inside. Senyoko La Tsarine was designed for this purpose.
Senyoko was founded in 2018 by husband-and-wife Joseph and Emilia Berthion. They released two perfumes in 2018; Madama Butterfly II and Migration de L’Arbre. The latter was a finalist for the Art & Olfaction Awards last year. When I received my sample set, I remembered encountering both during my judging of last year’s candidates. I was impressed when trying them blind. Knowing what they were only confirmed that opinion. This year there have been two new releases. Duo des Fleurs is a cross-pollination of Rose de Mai and jasmine sambac over a rich sandalwood attar. One thing which is becoming apparent over these early releases is perfumer Euan McCall is forming a deep aesthetic. These are perfumes which shift tremendously over the time on your skin. None more so than La Tsarine.
La Tsarine is based upon the life of Russian empress Catherine the Great. Specifically her perhaps apocryphal sexual appetites. She was purported to be a literal “man eater” as she had a steady stream of men into her bedchamber. That room was also said to be decorated in sexual sculptures and furniture. It is this version of the Empress which is depicted in La Tsarine with a confident mixture of everything sensual in a perfumer’s organ (pun intended).
There is no subtle playfulness to La Tsarine. This is clothes ripped off, buttons skittering across the floor as they tear free. The top accord is the viscous sweetness of honey contrasted with cumin. Sticky green of blackcurrant buds and clary sage add to the sensuousness. This is the clash of sweaty aroused bodies. Mr. McCall assembles three florals which represent the scent of arousal as the indolic trio of tuberose, narcissus, and jasmine explode in animalic floralcy. After all that Mr. McCall doubles down on the animalic as civet, costus, castoreum, oakmoss, and musk form the base accord. This is the scent of vigorous happy lovemaking. Taken all together La Tsarine is unapologetically erotic.
La Tsarine has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
One of the days I wore La Tsarine I had to go out to run errands. I was definitely turning heads as I walked around. I am sure they were thinking I had been up to something before coming out to shop. The other day I wore La Tsarine I spent the day at home; with Mrs. C living up to that look I received before. There are very few perfumes that will take a wearer deep into the places La Tsarine takes you. It isn’t fragrance made for anything other than romance; definitely NSFW.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample set I purchased.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed about seeing perfumery being seen as an artform is artists from other forms want to create using scent, too. It is an uneven prospect because those artists don’t feel bound by the conventional aspects of modern perfumery. It can lead to inspired fragrance construction. It can lead to cacophonous disasters as the desire to be different crashes up against lack of skill. Those are the extremes. The two perfumes from Neandertal called Light and Dark fall somewhere in the middle.
Neandertal was conceived by London-based Japanese sculptor Kentaro Yamada. The concept was if Neanderthal Man has survived to the current time; what would a perfume designed for that smell like? Mr. Yamada collaborated with perfumer Euan McCall to form two perfumed answers called Light and Dark. This was released as a very limited edition in 2015 and has now been released late last year for wider distribution. When I received my samples I wasn’t sure what I’d find inside. It wasn’t as unique as I was hoping while both suffer from a shifting of effects that is achieved with caveman-like precision.
Neandertal Light wants to be the lighter of the two and in the early and later moments it succeeds. It grinds gears in the middle going for that avant-garde touch. It opens on a nice duet of hinoki and galbanum. The Japanese cypress always has a hint of green raw wood within and the galbanum intensifies that. Then the creative team wants a “metallic accord”. What they get is a heavily synthetic accord which thuds on top of a powdery iris. Once it moves past this the base accord returns to a theme as a mineralic accord using synthetic ambergris and patchouli. This is the soul of the primitive underneath the less feral exterior.
Neandertal Dark goes the other direction as it starts with an evocation of a cave dwelling before furnishing it in other fragrant notes. Baie rose forms the core of the top accord as ginger, pine, and leafy green notes form an impression of a cave mouth overgrown with vegetation. The effect is nicely enhanced with caraway and incense. Then we grind gears again as an iodine-like seaweed accord crashes across the top accord like a club. This needed to be used much more delicately instead of as a distracting counterweight. Things get back on track in the base with sandalwood the core which has oud, tobacco, and patchouli forming a nice black leather jacket accord. Which I can see a 2018 Neanderthal wearing.
Neandertal Light and Dark both have 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I ended up wearing both of these weeks apart for the purpose of the review. The second time around in both cases was better. Maybe because I was expecting the tonal shifts I didn’t care for they didn’t feel as jarring. I’m not sure I want another perfume from the Yamada-McCall team but Neandertal Light and Dark were good enough even if they missed in the middle.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.