New Perfume Review Agonist Solaris- Midnight Sun

My only experience with the Midnight Sun came on my honeymoon when we cruised to Alaska, followed by a tour of the state. It was an experience which illuminated the effect daylight has on one’s emotional state. I would be happily moving along and would look at my watch to see it was 11PM when it felt like 4PM. The light was almost magical in the way it energized and sustained me. In conjunction with the extended daylight there was a great crispness to the air we were breathing which also seemed especially rejuvenating. I hadn’t considered the idea of a fragrance attempting to evoke the Midnight Sun. If I did give it some thought I would’ve imagined Niclas and Christine Lydeen, owners and creative directors, of Agonist to be capable of doing it. The ninth release Solaris is exactly this.

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Christine and Niclas Lydeen

The Lydeens have forged a durable partnership with perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin and through the eight previous perfumes created a very Nordic aesthetic for the Agonist line. This aesthetic has a bit of an aloof personality and many find Agonist to be a perfume line which requires too much effort to get close to. I have always found that slightly chilly antipathy the perfumes tend to wear defiantly something which perversely makes me want to give them an extra spritz when wearing them. If you have found this style one you have had issues with in the past Solaris might be a great perfume to give it a try again. M. Pellegrin has made the easiest to wear Agonist to date by turning Solaris into an unnaturally long lasting citrus fragrance whose sun finally sets on the woods in the distance.

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Fabrice Pellegrin

M. Pellegrin uses a veritable olfactory produce section of citrus notes with pink grapefruit, mandarin, lemon, and petitgrain combining to make a mega-citrus accord. To add some variation black pepper adds spice and black currant adds dark berry features. The pepper and currant have the effect of turning all that citrus into something less bracing and more diffuse in effect. It is a really beautiful combination. Galbanum anchors the heart with a green focal point. M. Pellegrin then uses peach, ginger, an ozonic accord, and litsea cubeba. That last note is an evergreen shrub found in Southeast Asia. Its essential oil is mostly the lemon scented molecule Citral. The rest of it is as you would expect from an evergreen, lighter greens and a very subtle floral component somewhere between iris and violet. It isn’t often used but based on Solaris I would like to see it used a little more. It is what extends the citrus vibe from the top notes. The peach and ginger balance it out with fruit and spice. The ozonic accord is that of a lungful of clear cool crisp air inhaled with gusto. The base notes are centered on labdanum. Tonka and benzoin add sweetness, patchouli and amber add depth. As befits a fragrance inspired by the Midnight Sun the base notes don’t show up for a long time and when they do they are there for a shorter time than normal.

Solaris has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I didn’t know I wanted a Midnight Sun perfume. Solaris has shown me the fallacy of that thinking. M. Pellegrin has made a fragrance of opaque strength which captures a feeling, a place, and the light just right

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Agonist.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Diptyque Geranium Odorata & Eau de Lavande- The Return of Fabrice and Olivia

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I tend to remember the fragrance which makes me sit up and notice a perfumer for the first time. Diptyque is responsible for two of those moments. When I tried Philosykos in the late 1990’s I had never considered fig to be something I would want in a perfume, Phiolsykos changed that. It was one of my earliest impulse buys because I couldn’t walk away from it. It wasn’t until years later that I found out the perfumer was Olivia Giacobetti. A similar encounter happened in 2003 at the same Diptyque counter as I tried Tam Dao and found one of my favorite sandalwood fragrances of all-time. Perfumers Fabrice Pellegrin and Daniele Moliere were the co-creators but this was the start of M. Pellegrin’s amazing run at Diptyque. It is really the work of these two perfumers, Mme Giacobetti and M. Pellegrin, that I consider to represent the continued artistic excellence of the Diptyque brand. It is why I was delighted to see that both of them were back at work each doing one of the two new releases from Diptyque, Geranium Odorata and Eau de Lavande.

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Fabrice Pellegrin

In Geranium Odorata M. Pellegrin returns to green themes he explored previously at Diptyque in 2006’s Eau de Lierre. That fragrance was the smell of ivy growing on a brick wall. Geranium Odorata is the smell of a geranium stem snipped away from the bush. M. Pellegrin combines the “green rose” quality of geranum with very different green notes on top and bottom. It has the same realistic aspect as the ivy in Eau de Lierre but there is also more artistic flair in how that is achieved in Geranium Odorata.

Cardamom is one of my favorite notes in all of perfumery and by pairing it with bergamot M. Pellegrin highlights the lemony and minty aspects of that raw material. The geranium arrives at first smelling a lot like rose before its characteristic green aspects begin to take hold. It is this rougher, rawer kind of rose that makes me like geranium as a perfume ingredient and here M. Pellegrin displays it beautifully. There is a bit of pink pepper to allow the spicy facets to not get lost. The last bit of green comes from a powerful Haitian vetiver. This vetiver leaps into a clinch with the geranium and together they dance a green tinted quickstep through to the finish.

Geranium Odorata has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

Olivia-Giacobetti

Olivia Giacobetti

Mme Giacobetti’s trademark is the creation of perfumes that seem almost inconsequentially lightweight but have surprising structure and power for that fragility. I’ve always likened them to a soap bubble floating on the breeze. You can see through it as if it is clear but if you look closer there are all of the colors of the rainbow swirling on the surface. This is Mme Giacobetti’s gift and it is on full display in Eau de Lavande. Lavender Water is one of the earliest fragrances known but Mme Giacobetti also wants to do something different and she does so by combining the two major sources of lavender oil and infusing them with spices.

There is the more precious and expensive Lavender oil from the L. angustofolia species. Lavandin is the more plentiful L. x intermedia species. Because of the lower cost this is the smell of lavender in most laundry products and soaps. Mme Giacobetti uses almost equal amounts of each as the spine of Eau de Lavande. Early on she uses coriander seed and basil to create a haze of green to surround the lavender. In the heart cedar is used to accentuate the more familiar lavandin. This will give you a soapy moment but it is quickly removed form that by cinnamon and nutmeg and together they banish any thought of the laundry room that was beginning to form. The base is a beautifully composed mix of the lightest sandalwood and incense. This is where Mme Giacobetti always impresses me as when I read those notes I’m expecting something strong and instead I get delicacy, she does it to me nearly every time.

Eau de Lavande has 4-6 hour longevity and deceptive sillage. I often thought it was gone only to catch a sniff again.

Both perfumers have very different styles but their success at Diptyque has helped define the way I think about the brand. Geranium Odorata and Eau de Lavande both contribute to that history quite ably.

Disclosure: this review was based on samples I purchased.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Sandalwood

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For this installment of My Favorite Things I’m going to name my five favorite sandalwood perfumes. Sandalwood as a fragrance note is one of the more frequently used ingredients especially as a base note. Most of the sandalwood you encounter in these fragrances is synthetic. There original source of real sandalwood oil in the mid-20th century was from Mysore in India. It was sadly over harvested and is now protected. This caused perfumers to work with both synthetics and alternative sources of sandalwood from Australia and New Caledonia. Nothing has adequately replaced real Mysore sandalwood but the five fragrances below are special sandalwood perfumes on their own basis.

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Chanel Bois des Iles– When Ernest Beaux originally created Bois des Iles in 1926 I am reasonably certain it was full of Mysore sandalwood. When Jacques Polge brought it back for the Exclusif line it is said there isn’t a drop of sandalwood at all in the reformulation. I’ve smelled vintage and the Exclusif side by side and accounting for age M. Polge has pulled off one of the great olfactory illusions, ever.

Diptyque Tam Dao– Perfumers Daniele Moliere and Fabrice Pellegrin create a sandalwood fragrance in three acts. Act one is sandalwood and rosewood which is liltingly fragile. The second act adds clean cedar to make the sandalwood equally delineated. Act three takes ambergris as a foundation to accentuate the sweet qualities of sandalwood. For many people this is the gateway to loving sandalwood as a fragrance.

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Dries van Noten par Frederic Malle– Frederic Malle claimed in the press materials that this is the same species of sandalwood as Mysore but grown in a sustainable way. I have my doubts but perfumer Bruno Jovanovic keeps it simple using saffron, jasmine, and vanilla to frame the sandalwood gorgeously. Who cares where it came from?

Sonoma Scent Studio Cocoa Sandalwood– Perfumer Laurie Erickson wanted to make an all-natural perfume for her line and Cocoa Sandalwood was the first in this series. She takes New Caledonian Sandalwood and wraps it in spices and dusts it with arid cocoa powder. When people tell me natural perfume can’t have depth and richness I hand them my bottle of this to end that conversation.

Xerjoff Richwood– When I want my sandalwood straight with no chaser this is the one I reach for. Perfumer Jacques Flori uses real Mysore sandalwood at the heart and cassis, rose, and patchouli are present. Those three notes really just serve to draw out the complexity of the real thing. I think it is the single best sandalwood fragrance I own.

These are a few of my favorite sandalwoods but there are a couple I would have included if they weren’t discontinued; Crabtree & Evelyn Sandalwood and Amouage Sandal Attar. If you love sandalwood both of these are worth the effort of seeking them out through online sources.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Incense

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I often get asked to name my top 10 fragrances and of all the questions I get asked this is probably the most difficult for me to answer. There are so many perfumes out there I admire and I always fret I’ll miss one when making any list of any kind. Now that I have my own blog I feel like I should try and sort of answer the question. So once a month I’ll share my favorite things and the five I think are the best examples of that note or style. For the first version I’m going to tackle incense fragrances.

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Frankincense

Saying incense fragrances can be problematic all on its own but what I mean are fragrances where the incense note is prominent throughout. The five choices below all hit the spot when I’m craving an incense perfume.

Amouage Jubilation XXV- I have facetiously named Bertrand Duchaufour the “High Priest of Resins” as over a five year period starting with 2002’s Comme des Garcons Series 3: Incense Avignon & Kyoto he would refine his incense accord until it all came together in this brilliant luminous incense fragrance, in 2007.

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Juozas Stakevicius (aka Joe Stat)- There are a number of perfumes which capture the church incense vibe with cold stone walls and smoky censers, none of them do it better than this one by perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin.

L’Artisan Parfumeur Passage D’Enfer– Most of my incense fragrances are on the heavier side and I rarely take them out as the weather turns warmer. Passage D’Enfer is the exception to that rule as perfumer Olivia Giacobetti turns in an incense that feels like it is miles away even though it is right underneath my nose. It is like an optical illusion as I expect it to get stronger every time I wear it but it just stays sheer and gorgeous.

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Serge Lutens Encens et Lavande- This was the Serge Lutens fragrance which made me find a way to get a bell jar flown back here to me. From the first moment I smelled the lavender, sage, juniper berry, rosemary, and incense core I was, and am continually, in love with Christopher Sheldrake’s ability to make all of that work.

Sonoma Scent Studio Incense Pure– Independent Perfumer Laurie Erickson has captured a cross between campfire and incense as Incense Pure has a glowing heart of frankincense, smoky cistus, and myrrh. This is the most comforting of my favorite incense fragrances and it immediately makes me feel better every time I wear it.

This is one of those categories where others could come up with their top five and it would be entirely different than mine and I would admire all of the choices in that list. If you need a place to begin your exploration the five above are a good place to start your own list of your favorite things.

Mark Behnke