A year ago, I thought things might have been more normal by this time. Instead, 2021 has been like 2020 in that the usual ways of doing fragrance business pre-pandemic have been altered. I was able to try 621 new perfumes this calendar year. I want to thank all the people out there who make that number possible. I haven’t set foot in a store this year. The brands and stores I correspond with were almost always forthcoming in getting samples to me. I couldn’t go out into the world, but it showed up in my mailbox daily. That was because of these behind-the-scenes people. Nothing that I wrote about this year would have been possible without them.
There will not be a lot of things I’ll want to keep from these last two years. One of them is the direct communication with the brands. Without all the normal large perfume expositions the Internet took their place. Teleconferences announcing new launches allowed for the entire creative team to be present for a worldwide audience. There were a couple weeks at the beginning of the fall when I had one every other day. It allows the word to be spread much more widely than in the past. I hope it continues long after. The best version was the Masque Milano/Milano Fragranze/Malbrum Advent Calendar. Every day from December 1st through the 25th a short video on Instagram Live discussed what was in the daily box. The creative directors and perfumers all took time out of their Holidays to take part. There is even more potential for this kind of interaction going forward.
The biggest news of the year was the changing of the guard at Dior perfume. Francis Kurkdjian takes over from Francois Demachy. I am hoping M. Kurkdjian injects some sorely needed relevancy back into this esteemed brand.
If there is something I hope fades quickly it is the idea of “clean” perfumes. This doesn’t mean clean smelling perfumes. It is the anti-science snake oil being pushed by some brands which insist that perfume is dangerous unless it is “clean”. There is no evidence that anything in any commercially released perfumes is dangerous. Anyone who tells you differently is also trying to sell you something, which is almost always an indication of the validity of the claim.
An unfortunate trend that has returned is the ghosting of perfumers again. Brands want to have their owners/creative directors act as if they are also the perfumers. This practice effectively ended in 2000 with Frederic Malle putting the names of the perfumers front and center on the labels of every Editions de Parfums. I don’t think they can successfully put the ghost back in the bottle. I am going to make sure that I reveal the perfumers name every time I find out, especially if they don’t want me to.
One of the trends this year was a re-thinking about the ubiquitous inclusion of oud in perfumes. I thought at the beginning of the year I was over oud the way I am for rose. This year saw several fragrances use it in traditional ways employing the real thing. Others finally used the wide array of tools at their disposal to think of oud in the same abstract way any other natural material has been translated into perfume. 2021 has me excited for the future of oud.
One thing I enjoyed a lot was pointing people to the outstanding modestly priced perfumes being sold at Zara. Jo Malone, Jerome Epinette, and Alberto Morillas did fantastic work for the brand. It is the best kept secret at the mall. To have a place to tell newly enthusiastic perfume lovers to go have fun in, made me smile. Which is what any year of fragrance should be about.
I’ll be back tomorrow with my perfume, perfumer, creative director, and brand of the year. Followed by my Top 25 new perfumes of 2021 the day after that. I hope you’ll follow along.
Last Friday saw another big changing of the guard in perfumery. It was announced that Francois Demachy was retiring from his post as in-house perfumer at Christian Dior. His replacement as of October 18 will be Francis Kurkdjian. Of all the great designer perfume brands what has gone on at Dior over the recent years has seemed like they were taking a wrecking ball to their perfume reputation.
Starting in 2018 Dior fragrance under M. Demachy’s guidance had turned into something unrecognizable. They were releasing fragrances which had no soul. They were crass exercises in pandering to the least common denominator. All perfume brands do this. While Dior Sauvage plays on every current masculine trope it undeniably sells because it is the greatest hits of accords. Bleu de Chanel does the same for that venerable designer. The difference is for every Bleu de Chanel there is also Les Eaux de Chanel. Creativity is balanced with commercialism. Dior for the last three years has been only commercialism.
They have diluted one of the great exclusive designer collections as they released more Maison Christian Dior fragrances over three years than they did in the previous 14. All of them are easily forgettable. That Vanilla Diorama will likely be the last perfume from him is a tragedy. What is most confounding about all of this is the recent documentary “The Nose” which told M. Demachy’s story. That film showed an artist excited about perfumery. Based on the perfumes it feels like it must have been recorded years ago. As much as the film belies the reality, having M. Demachy step down seems like a good choice.
Which brings us to the new in-house perfumer. M. Kurkdjian might be the best perfumer who effectively straddles mainstream and niche. He has one of the all-time greats in Jean-Paul Gaultier Le Male. He has balanced the crowd-pleasing qualities of Maison Francis Kurkdjian Aqua Universalis and Baccarat Rouge 540 with some of the best oud-centric perfumes in the niche sector.
More importantly he has a connection to the beginning of the Maison Christian Dior exclusive line. Back in 2004 creative director Hedi Slimane wanted to position Dior in the high-end niche market. He oversaw the creation of a three-perfume debut collection. Two of them, Cologne Blanche and Eau Noire were composed by M. Kurkdjian. Both were subsequently discontinued years later. Eau Noire has become a unicorn. Cologne Blanche was a warm take on orange blossom that I feel was one of the earliest entries in the Nouveau Cologne trend.
One of the things I enjoy about M. Kurkdjian is he seems to design in a focused way. He is willing to create trends instead of following them. Just think of all the descendants of Le Male if you need an example. It is that which makes me hopeful that he can restore some of the lost creativity at Dior.
What makes me believe this might be the case is the last line of the WWD article announcing the change. M. Kurkdjian is quoted as saying, “Dior had a quotation that I adore: ‘Respect tradition and dare to be insolent. One can’t go without the other.’” It is that insolence which has been missing at Dior in recent times. If M. Kurkdjian can bring that back, he can wake the echoes of the glorious past.
Back in 2009 perfumer Francis Kurkdjian released his first seven perfumes under the Maison Francis Kurkdjian label. Over the years this has become one of the strongest collections because of the versatility of it. M. Kurkdjian has used the freedom of his own label to create on his own terms. It has been a source of pleasure from the first moments.
In that first collection there was one I dismissed too quickly on first sniff, Aqua Universalis. In short because it smelled like fabric softener. There were way more interesting things away from the laundry room in the other fragrances. It wasn’t until I was with a group of people out perfume sniffing together that I began to see that I was in error.
I was looking forward to showing off these new perfumes because I thought so highly of them. What surprised me is at the end of the day three of the group of twelve bought a bottle of Aqua Universalis. It made me wonder about that. It also made me re-think my disdain at the time for the laundry/white musk style of perfume. As much as we talk about comfort scents full of heavy ingredients which strum our mental pleasure centers these prove there are others. Think of that moment you slip in between freshly laundered bed linens. You are enveloped in a cloud of cool cloth and white musks. Just typing that makes me smile. We may not say it enough, but that scent of freshly laundered cloth is equally a comfort as any vanilla alternative.
Another thing I have noticed is when a new perfume lover is thinking of trying something a little more adventurous Aqua Universalis provides a gateway. I have nothing but my own experience to back up this hypothesis, but I think Aqua Universalis is a lot of people’s first niche purchase. There have been a couple of flankers released since 2009. The most current one is Maison Francis Kurkdjian Aqua Universalis Cologne Forte.
Kurkdjian made me giggle a bit at the seeming contradiction of a lighter cologne which is also forte. But that latter descriptor doesn’t have to mean stronger it can mean fortified. Which is what I experienced.
The same citrus-muguet-white musk axis of the original is there. M. Kurkdjian fortifies that with the soft vegetal green of sweet pea and a transparent rose. You can smirk and think this smells like some commercial fabric softener with a “spring fresh” label. It does smell like that, but it also has more substance than that description gives it credit for.
Aqua Universalis Cologne Forte has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
I have always enjoyed the way M. Kurkdjian gives me things to think about. In this case I can consider a different type of comfort scent.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Maison Francis Kurkdjian.
There is a sub-genre of fragrance which has a difficult task to achieve. Many brands attempt to make a “masculine floral”. Now I am firmly in the camp of perfume is genderless. If it smells good on you who cares if it says “for her” on the bottle. I am also aware that the rest of the world hasn’t entirely come around to that way of thinking. I can appreciate the effort to make florals appeal to men. As the name portends Maison Francis Kurkdjian L’Homme A la Rose is one of those.
The original A la Rose released in 2015 was a gorgeous interplay between Damascena rose and Rose de Mai. Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian found an ideal balance which I admired. This was an effusive rose perfume. It is a best-seller because of this. M. Kurkdjian must have considered what needed to be altered for L’Homme A la Rose. Based on the result the answer was to remove many of the supporting florals and replace them with citrus, herb, and woods.
The first one up is the use of grapefruit. This is a blast of grapefruit and it is paired with the Damascena rose. It is a kinetic opening as the amount of grapefruit contrasts the rose with vigor. It takes a little time for an equilibrium to be reached. Things get much better from there. The gentle Rose de Mai appears, escorted by clary sage. The acerbic herbal nature of the sage gives the rose a different texture. A bit rougher than I usually find this specific rose. The grapefruit and Damascena rose are still here and together they reinvent the central duo of A la Rose with a rugged feel. A set of synthetic woods make sure this never goes anywhere near being thought of as for the other gender.
L’Homme A la Rose has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
L’Homme A la Rose was excellent in these later days of summer. The warmth really allowed the grapefruit and sage to shine. I suspect it will also be as good as the weather cools. When I get the inevitable response where a reader asks me if this is a good “masculine floral”. My answer will be an enthusiastic, “yes!”
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
There are choices to make when releasing flankers. You can add another ingredient and depending what it is append a season to the name. You can go deeper and call it intense or noir. Or you can lighten it up with L’Eau being a favorite way of distinguishing this stylistic choice. It is this latter case which I think is more difficult. All versions of flankers to be good require some re-balancing. It is much tougher when you are changing the concentration of the focal point ingredient. In Maison Francis Kurkdjian L’eau A la Rose a different choice was made on the way to a lighter rose perfume.
The original A la Rose was released in 2015. It was a rose soliflore featuring two sources of rose; Damascena rose from Bulgaria and Rose de Mai from Grasse. Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian mixed them into a central accord of rose where the Bulgarian rose had the lead over the one from Grasse. The character of A la Rose came from the overdose of both rose ingredients. To lighten things up for L’eau A la Rose M. Kurkdjian flipped the concentration profile having the Rose de Mai prevail over the Damascena rose. It forced some choices on how to create a different style of lighter rose with the change in concentration.
L’eau A la Rose opens with that Damascena rose out first. In these higher concentrations the inherent fruitiness within is more easily detected. I’ve always thought of that fruit as pear-like. M. Kurkdjiaqn adds a crisp pear to amplify and delineate that quality. It gives the Bulgarian bloom a more defined profile than in the original. Almost as if it is standing up straighter. The Rose de Mai also has a facet only evident in overdose, too. There is a sun-kissed glowing honey within this rose. To form a more diffuse sweetness M. Kurkdjian uses the slightly syrupy lychee to attenuate some of the honey quality while adding a lighter version of it. It also keeps the Rose de Mai from sliding into its sultry seductress in favor of a smartly dressed version. A veil of white musks provide lift and transparency from the base.
L’eau A la Rose has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
L’eau A la Rose is the kind of spring rose perfume I can get behind because it isn’t trying for insipid transparency in its desire to be lighter. M. Kurkdjian tells his spring rose to whisper its story so that you lean into it. L’eau A la Rose is worth leaning into.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Maison Francis Kurkdjian.
I watch my fair share of cooking shows. My favorites are the one where chefs are asked to work with a set list of ingredients to create a few different dishes. It is fascinating to watch them consider the flavor and texture of the ingredients in deciding which to accentuate for each dish. In the pair of perfumes from Maison Francis Kurkdjian; Gentle Fluidity Silver and Gentle Fluidity Gold the same concept is applied to perfume.
Francis Kurkdjian by nature is an adventurous perfumer. In his own brand is where he has pushed concepts which clearly excite him. For this pair of perfumes M. Kurkdjian wanted to make two different styles of perfume from the same ingredient list. The idea, reflected in the name, was to create a fluidity between the two compositions which make them gender-free. The ingredient list: juniper berry, nutmeg, coriander, musks, ambery woods, and vanilla was easy to imagine different perfumes could arise. The fun, like on my cooking shows, would be to see which ingredients became keynotes in which style of perfume.
For Gentle Fluidity Silver the keynotes are the juniper berry, nutmeg, and ambery woods. This makes a fresh neo-fougere style of perfume. The first half of Silver is dominated by the juniper berry with its gin-like aroma uplifted with the nutmeg and coriander. Even though the nutmeg is using its sweetly spicy nature to do most of the work the green woodiness of coriander also adds a subtle harmony. Vanilla picks up the sweetness of the nutmeg while setting the ambery woods accord in the base. This is stolid woodiness as foundation for the freshness of the earlier ingredients.
Gentle Fluidity Gold takes for its keynotes; coriander, vanilla, and musks. This forms a gourmand-like vanilla style of fragrance. Coriander is an ingredient which can add a thread of green and a thread of nuttiness. As M. Kurkdjian pushes the concentration both of those aspects move forward. It leaves little room for the juniper berry and nutmeg to find much traction. The vanilla and musks arrive to coat the coriander. This makes for a delightful lightly spicy warm vanilla accord. The ambery woods provide even more warmth to what ends up being a vanilla comfort scent.
Gentle Fluidity Silver and Gentle Fluidity Gold have 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Returning to my test kitchen analogy Silver seems like an appetizer of freshness while Gold is a rich vanilla dessert. The results of this are a bit mixed. I found the two perfumes to be nicely executed and enjoyable; especially playing within the rules of only these six ingredients. It is exciting to see the two very different styles M. Kurkdjian was able to create. The thing which kept running through my mind, which also runs through my mind on the cooking shows. These are good but could they have been great with the ability to add a few small choices from off the menu? The bottom line is as two courses from M. Kurkdjian’s Test Kitchen they are delectable.
Disclosure: this review is based on samples supplied by Maison Francis Kurkdjian.
Whenever I make my periodic field trip to the local mall, I sometimes see how out of step I am with the typical perfume consumer. I had already gone in and collected a bunch of strips of the new releases. I then play a little game. I can sit in a comfortable sofa just outside the entry to the fragrance department to a big department store. From there I watch the stream of people taking strips from the sales reps handing them out. The other thing which is next to me is a garbage can which is the first opportunity for anyone walking to discard the strip if they don’t like it. This becomes my very unscientific research on what new fragrances are making an impression. When I sit down having smelled the offerings for the day, I make my choice on which I think will not end up in the garbage can. Over the past year or so I have seen a distinctive trend towards lighter airier constructs being the strips which keep getting sniffed. On this recent trip it was one of the lightest of the day which I was surprised was the winner; Burberry Her.
Burberry Her is another of the recent new releases to go after a more transparent fruity gourmand. Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian was asked to compose this perfume. M. Kurkdjian is one of the perfumers who understands the use of all the musks at a perfumer’s disposal to create the effect he wants. For Burberry Her he uses a successive layering of musks to provide an expansive meringue-like lightness to which he adds a bounty of berries. The official note list mentions florals here but I have to say that if there is jasmine here it is one of the synthetic expansive versions which becomes part of this airy transparent bubble at the center of Burberry Her.
The opening of Burberry Her is those berries. If you are a fan of berries in perfume almost all of them are here. If M. Kurkdjian was not going to lighten them up this would rapidly become too much. What keeps that from happening is this expanding transparency courtesy of the musks. Just as the berries begin to concentrate into something strident the musks spread them out increasing their opacity. There is a point where I would have liked to have the opportunity to stop this effect from going as far as it does. That is when the fruit still has a presence with the musks inflating them. It is only for a short time as the eventual end point is a shimmering globe of light berries which is where this stays for the duration.
Burberry Her has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
On my afternoon at the mall Burberry Her was the runaway winner as I observed people handing the strip to others they were walking with. My guess is there is a market for this style of perfume among more casual perfume wearers. Within those boundaries Burberry Her is one of the better ones.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Burberry.
Sometimes it is hard to tell what the reason is for a flanker’s existence. The two choices in this month’s Round-Up do not suffer from that.
Mr. Burberry Indigo
I think the marketers have decided that the word “sport” added to a fragrance name is no longer a sales aid. What they have seemingly settled upon in its place are colors. The sport style of fragrance definitely has a place and within the Mr. Burberry line of perfume Indigo is code for “sport”.
Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian freshens up the Mr. Burberry style with a traditional cologne duet of rosemary and lemon. It diverges with a heart of mint and violet leaves. It comes off as a cool heart accord. Just the thing after a workout. What makes me like this the best of the Mr. Burberry releases is the use of oakmoss in the base which provides a more aggressive green to offset the heart accord. Some amber and musk combine with the oakmoss to finish this off. This is the kind of versatile perfume which is a good choice if you’re looking for a “sport” perfume.
Mr. Burberry Indigo has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Azzaro Wanted by Night
When I reviewed Azzaro Wanted last year I remarked that it was an outlier in the idea that consumers wanted something lighter. It was closer in style to the original hairy-chested Azzaro pour Homme. If you had asked me to guess which direction a flanker of that would take I would have said lighter. Well Azzaro Wanted by Night goes way in the other direction in what almost seems like a throwback to the masculine powerhouses of the 1970’s.
Perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin completely reworks the pyramid in Wanted by Night. This is less a flanker than a different perfume which shares a name. Cinnamon provides a simmering heat right from the start. A nice parade of ingredients follow that up, as cedar and tobacco take the lead. The cinnamon doesn’t get lost as cumin gives it a boost to match the other two. I have to mention this is a huge powerhouse of a men’s perfume. It seems out of place in today’s market. There’s a lot of press nonsense which came with my sample claiming this to be a “seduction perfume”. Not sure about that unless you catch a DeLorean ride back to the 70’s.
Azzaro Wanted by Night has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by the manufacturer’s.
As the mass market perfume aesthetic seems headed towards an overall lightening I worry a bit that something will be lost. The gist of my concern is the stronger notes within the perfumer’s organ will be shunned. One of the things which is making me feel more optimistic is there have been a handful of mass market releases which are using lighter isolates of those notes. Now the perfumer has access to way more than just the essential oil. Those versions can be lighter accentuating only a couple of facets of the ingredient. Elie Saab In White is one which achieves this.
Elie Saab has been producing perfume since 2011 almost all of them done by perfumer Francis Kurkdjian. While the work he has done for the Essences and Cuirs collections I have enjoyed; the mainstream selections have left me unimpressed. Some of what has bothered me is M. Kurkdjian seems more restrained when it comes to the mass-market releases. They came off too safe for my tastes. When I received the sample for Elie Saab in White I was brought up short this was different from what has preceded it.
What caught my attention was M. Kurkdjian was using a more expanded ingredient list while still retaining the transparency. It was also of interest to me that the base was kept to that style by using what I believe is a fresher patchouli isolate which really works here.
In the past the Elie Saab fragrances have relied on orange blossom as a keynote in the top. Elie Saab in White lets it mature into the citrus itself with orange holding the center. Light applications of pear and blackcurrant bud come together in a dynamic top accord. Jasmine has been the heart of nearly every one of this brand’s fragrances but usually in a obtrusive way. I think M. Kurkdjian is using one of the more expansive jasmine synthetics which provides an airiness to the middle part of the development. Then we get to the base where a patchouli which is almost herbal without carrying the heavier qualities is surrounded by a swirl of a few white musks. M. Kurkdjian is one of the perfumers who knows how to layer musks to gain exquisitely beautiful effects. This is what happens in the base here. The musks provide elevation as the fresher patchouli is lifted to the jasmine and orange.
Elie Saab in White has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Elie Saab in White, by the name, was designed with brides in mind. It would be a good choice for that, I think. It is also a good choice for those looking for a nice spring floral to wear to those upcoming seasonal weddings.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Elie Saab.
Extrait versions of perfumes that I already think highly of fall into two categories. One just gives me a higher concentration of that which I already like. That can be seen as the easier way but upping the strength without unbalancing the whole is trickier to achieve than it seems. The other way is to reinterpret the original version shifting a few critical notes while upping the concentration. This is the walk across a tightrope as everything you change has an effect on the overall construct potentially just losing its balance and disappearing into the mist below. Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian chose this second way with his Maison Francis Kurkdjian Oud Satin Mood Extrait.
When it comes to working with oud I believe M. Kurkdjian is the best at it. If you look at the breadth of oud fragrances he has released across all the brands he works for you will see every shade possible. The pinnacle of this was the Maison Francis Kurkdjian Oud Mood collection. Within that each mood was named after a fabric. M. Kurkdjian would create a tactile version of oud to match the textile inspiration. My favorite oud perfume M. Kurkdjian has ever done was the fourth release Oud Satin Mood. One reason was he turned the fractious oud into satiny smooth exotica. Using Laotian oud he has made one of the great oud perfumes by rounding off the edges with resins and roses.
My affection for that perfume had me wondering what the Extrait version would be like. I had been warned the composition was altered with the resins removed. I was conflicted about that but my faith in M. Kurkdjian was such that I knew the changes would ring true. They do.
As in the original version we begin with candied violets and Laotian oud. Laotian oud has an inherently floral undercurrent. That floral nature is brought to the forefront due to the concentration. The violet intersperses itself in crystalline nuggets throughout. The mixture of Tunisian and Turkish roses partners this oud. They arrive with a swoosh enveloping the oud and violet before uncovering the oud again minus the violet. Now a classic rose oud lingers for a moment before the oud gains ascendency again. What helps is a simmering cinnamon and amber duo which replace the benzoin from the original. Extraits when they are at their best are banked fires holding their energy within glowing coals of intensity. The cinnamon and amber make those embers glow white hot. Benzoin I don’t believe could’ve had this effect. It all culminates in fabulously sweet vanilla recapitulating the candied violet at the top with a deeper sweetness.
Oud Satin Mood Extrait has 24-hour longevity and average sillage.
I got my sample of this at the beginning of the summer and I was patiently waiting for some cool rainy days to wear it because I thought it would have not impressed in the heat. On two very cool days it did more than impressed it outdid the original. I have already picked out the scarf which will have this applied to as I enter the fall and winter. M. Kurkdjian didn’t just pump up the volume but the quality too.
Disclosure: this review was based on a press sample provided by Maison Francis Kurkdjian.