One of the stock answers I provide to someone who doesn’t live near a place to buy fragrance is to go to their drugstore. When people think of the points of sale for fragrance, they often forget the local drugstore. These are very commercial economic choices. That does not mean poor. There are lots of the perfumes on those shelves that have made this column over the years. I’m going to add Aspen for Men to the roster.
Aspen for Men came out in 1989. It was part of the turning of the men’s fragrance tide towards fresh. All the companies were vying for their place within the category. As we know eventually the aquatic based ones would win the day. Back then that was still undecided. If there was a style that was giving those aquatics a run for supremacy it was the fresh woody. In most of those cases the fresh wood of choice was fir or pine. The terpenes which define the scent profile are refreshing which made it easy for perfumers to build around them. Harry Fremont was the man behind Aspen for Men. Just as it was with the competition the idea was to capture the sensation of mountain hillside under the sunshine.
Lemon with some mint form the high-altitude sunlight accord. This is typical of these open-air top notes. The fir trees come forth wreathed in the green of galbanum. This is like being surrounded by evergreens. Combined with the top notes it is a very pleasant experience. It finishes with oakmoss, amber, and musk to add in just a hint of that lumberjack aesthetic.
Aspen for Men has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
You can find a bottle of this for less than $10.00 right on the corner where you pick up your prescriptions. As I revisited this I wondered if I would have liked it as much on re-examination if it had won the fresh war of the 90’s. It didn’t. Thirty years later it is still fresh as fir.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
Among the success stories of niche perfumery is that of Laurice Rahme and her brand Bond No. 9. Started in 2003 Ms. Rahme has released multiple perfumes each year. Most of them inspired by a part of New York City where Bond No. 9 has its headquarters. It is a huge collection and I have a dozen of them. It can be daunting to keep up with the pace Ms. Rahme sets. On a recent visit to Saks I was struck by how much her latest release, Bond No. 9 FiDi, reminds me of the early days of the brand.
FiDi is shorthand for the Financial District at the southern end of Manhattan. It includes Wall St as well as a new place to go on weekends with restaurants and bars in the surrounding area. This part of NYC is no longer a ghost town after trading hours. Ms. Rahme wanted to capture the dichotomy of financial masters of the universe by day and happy hipsters at night. To accomplish this she worked with perfumer Harry Fremont.
It isn’t the first time Bond No. 9 has traveled to this part of the city. Back in 2004 Ms. Rahme and perfumer David Apel produced Wall Street. Back then they decided an energetic aquatic captured the buzz of the traders. Fifteen years later the area and the vibe has changed. Which is why Ms. Rahme and Mr. Fremont go for a spirited woody style of perfume.
The first steps in FiDi are paved with baie rose. Mr. Fremont surrounds it with citrus to tease out the subtle fruitiness while black pepper adds a piquant contrast. Nutmeg then rises to be the main counterweight to the baie rose. Mr. Fremont finds a nice balance between the sweet spice and the herbal baie rose. Lotus flower reminds us that FiDi is also near the water with its dewy floral quality. It all rests on an assertive woody base of ambrox and cedar attenuated with a touch of the sweetness of tonka bean.
FiDi has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
Just as it is in NYC, you must keep watching as things change. The same can be said for Bond No. 9 you have to keep watching so you can find good perfumes like FiDi.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Saks.
I have no idea if this first paragraph carries a grain of truth but in hindsight I think it might. As fragrance crossed into the 21st century the uprising of interesting perfumes willingly marching out-of-step with the mainstream were creating a movement. The large corporations behind the mainstream had to be looking at this wondering how they could turn this to their ends. I don’t think they were any more successful at identifying and defining niche than I can twenty some years on. It still makes me think that at some boardrooms there was a conversation which began with the question “Can we do niche, too?” I think this led to a lot of poorly thought out perfume, but here and there that concept found its place. That mainstream audiences weren’t ready for that is why Giorgio Armani Sensi is this month’s Dead Letter Office subject.
Giorgio Armani began their fragrance line in 1982. It would become incredibly successful with the back-to-back releases of Acqua di Gio and Acqua di Gio pour Homme in 1995 and 96 respectively. They became exemplars of the prevailing trends on the men’s and women’s fragrance counters of the day. To this day they remain big sellers. By 2002 Armani wanted to release another pair of perfumes. The men’s one was Armani Mania pour Homme which was a typical masculine woody. Sensi would be released six months later and it was not typical.
Perfumers Harry Fremont and Alberto Morillas collaborated on Sensi. What they produced is a fragrance of nuance which charms because of its complexity. They used some interesting ingredients which give textural effects not usually found at the mall. Which might be why its no longer for sale.
Sensi opens with a laser beam of lime. It is focused, delineated, and clean. It is an attention getter before the florals arrive. The floral accord is primarily jasmine and mimosa. It is a gorgeous accord with some of the indoles present instead of being scrubbed away. Then the first bit of texture arrives with barley providing a “grain” to the florals. It comes off as a slightly toasted almond effect which meshes with the florals in a fascinating way. Throughout this phase it is like there is a kinetic accord subtly shifting moment by moment. This moves to a kind of gourmand-like vanilla and benzoin accord. I say gourmand because the barley also interacts with these to form something which feels gourmand. Except as it also interacts with the florals it provides a warming depth. As it moves into this phase I am again met with a perfume which continually shifts. Some palisander wood provides a woody base for this to end upon.
Sensi has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
Even now there are almost no perfumes in the department store which display the subtle charms of Sensi. It never caught on with consumers. Although those who did find it have become fanatic about it. It is one reason you see the bottles go for high prices on the auction sites.
So if there is any accuracy to my first paragraph the answer to the question “can we do niche?” was answered with an enthusiastic “Yes!” by Sensi. That it was received somewhat less enthusiastically by the buying public is why it is in the Dead Letter Office.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by a generous reader.
I am sitting here with a desk overflowing with samples. As I was attempting to organize them I was pooling all of the flankers in one stack. As I was doing this I noticed there were four new versions of perfumes of which I liked their original iteration. I have infrequently done a round-up of flankers when I think there is something worth mentioning. I did not give these perfumes which I will write about below my typical two days of wearing. These all got the same day and about the same amount of territory on my two forearms. They were not enough alike that it did set up a bit of olfactory cacophony but I do think I learned enough to make some broad assessments.
Kenneth Cole Black Bold- The original Kenneth Cole Black is one of those great workhorse masculine fougeres which is probably underrated. Perfumer Harry Fremont did Black and he has returned to do Black Bold. As almost all flankers do they keep the basic structure of the original in place and either pump up one of the supporting notes or add an extra one in. Here M. Fremont enhances the mint in the top accord so it is more prominent. It adds a cooling effect to the ginger and basil with which it is matched. The bold is a big slug of oak in the leather focused base. The oak roughs up the smooth leather and for someone wanting a bolder version of Black I think Black Bold does that.
Bulgari Rose Goldea– I really liked last year’s Goldea for the way perfumer Alberto Morillas used his supernatural skill with musks to create a unique mainstream release. Rose Goldea feels like what happens when you release something different; the brand asks for something more conventional. M. Morillas provides a very classic rose focused fragrance bracketed with sandalwood and incense. He couldn’t keep the musks entirely out and they appear in the base providing the similar golden glow they do in the original. I preferred the strong musk thread which ran through the original. If you wanted a lot less musks and more floral, Rose Goldea might do.
Anna Sui Romantica Exotica– I was not a fan of last year’s Romantica it was an overheated fruity floral that I could barely stand on a strip. A change of perfumer also gave a change in style as Jerome Epinette likes to work in more focused accords with clear connections. Romantica Exotica moves from a crisp blood orange and lemon top to an orange blossom and gardenia heart. Cottonwood and sandalwood provide the base accord. Of the four things I had on this was the one that almost got another day of wear out of me.
Giorgio Armani Si Le Parfum– The latest Giorgio Armani release to turn into a sea of flankers is 2013’s Si Eau de Parfum. It has been a pretty bleak grouping as the main thing which was altered was the concentration of the rose de mai focal point. I never understand who these kind of flankers are meant to entice. With the new Si Le Parfum perfumer Julie Masse, who worked on the original with Christine Nagel, makes a massive change from rose de mai to osmanthus in the heart. Almost everything else is the same cassis and vanilla top; amber and labdanum base. The heart is transformed as osmanthus steps up with its leathery apricot quality and wraps the patchouli, benzoin, and jasmine into something that does resemble the desired modern chypre accord. This is the most different of the four from the original because Mme Masse massively reworks the heart accord; for the better.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by the perfume brands.
My other series on Colognoisseur called Dead Letter Office is all about fragrances which attempted to be different at the wrong time leading to their discontinuation. This month’s Under the Radar is about a perfume which flew in the face of its contemporaries yet found enough of an audience to continue to today; Michael Kors Michael for Men.
As Michael Kors was consolidating his fashion empire in the late 1990’s he would follow in the footsteps of many before him by expanding into fragrance. In 2000 he released Michael Kors a sort of blowsy tuberose nicely executed but not particularly memorable. One year later Michael for Men would be released. In 2001 the department store counters were awash in aquatics. Fresh and clean were what men were buying and they had many choices within that genre. If you wanted something different you weren’t often finding it. If I was expecting different Michael Kors wasn’t necessarily where I would be looking.
Mr. Kors has become one of the faces of American sportswear. His clothing designs are known for their clean lines and precise tailoring. Which might lead one to think a perfume for men would also seek to have clean lines. Mr. Kors had different ideas and in numerous interviews around the launch of Michael for Men he reiterated his desire to make a “statement” perfume which flew in the face of the prevailing trends in men’s perfumes. Working with perfumer Harry Fremont and co-creative director with Camille McDonald they came up with a modern powerhouse centered on a rich tobacco accord.
Michael for Men opens with a rich spicy mélange of cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, anise, tarragon, and thyme. There is some bergamot but it is the spices which lay down a marker that those looking for clean should go elsewhere. This leads to the heart where M. Fremont’s tobacco accord comes to life. This is a narcotic blend of the dried leaf complete with a tinge of nicotine bite. A little incense swirls through the opulence but this is really a heady tobacco. The base is a very herbal patchouli softened with sandalwood.
Michael for Men has 16-18 hour longevity and way above average sillage. Spray too much and you’ll clear a room.
In a sea of aquatic fresh perfumes Michael for Men should have sunk beneath the waves like so many others who also tried the same approach. What I think allowed Michael for Men to succeed was there was no attempt to soften the concept of a modern powerhouse. No opportunity to pull the punch. The creative team doubled down on their belief that this style could succeed. Fifteen years since release it seems as if their instinct has proven correct. It also seems like men’s fragrances have also caught up as this kind of style has plenty of company at the fragrance counter today. It all goes to prove that swimming against the tide isn’t advisable but in some rare cases you can reach the shore safely.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
Growing up in South Florida some of my favorite moments were in my canoe paddling through the Everglades. When you are on the water the sobriquet of the “river of Grass” is never more apparent as there are long moments where you are paddling through a green field of sawgrass waving above your head. It was easy to lose your direction when surrounded by the fronds taller than my head in the boat. There was a specific combination of water and green; which was the smell of those canoe trips.
Joyce Lanigan the creative director behind Nomad Two Worlds handed me a sample of the latest release Raw Spirit Summer Rain and I was struck by that mix of water and green I was so familiar with from the back of my canoe. When she told me perfumer Harry Fremont was attempting to make a fragrance which captures summer in the Everglades it carried me right back there, via scent, from New York City.
Summer Rain is a consistent meditation on green floating on top of water. M. Fremont slowly turns up the intensity of his green components as Summer Rain develops. He adds in other indigenous qualities of the South Florida milieu like citrus and orange blossom but in the end this is a watery green perfume.
Summer Rain opens on a citrus burst of grapefruit, bergamot, mandarin, and lime. That covers most of the citrus notes. M. Fremont then lays down the first layer of green as he uses basil and lime leaves to form a fairly transparent green accord. In a nod to the Florida Water sold in the area orange blossom and jasmine open the heart. Very quickly galbanum now adds a sterner green quality. A tiny bit of mint is used to tune the strident green of galbanum into something more fresh. M. Fremont get this balance right as the mint never becomes intrusive. The base is vetiver and moss over cedar. As I would paddle under trees covered in tendrils of Spanish Moss the smell of green alive on the air is what the base of Summer Rain smells like to me.
Summer Rain has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Perfume has the ability to unlock memories like a fragrant time machine. Summer Rain is a spot on olfactory evocation of the smells I associate with canoeing in the Everglades. On the days I wore this it was hard to believe I was hundreds of miles away from where my mind was. The Nomad Two World Raw Spirit collection has been very adept at creating this sense of place by using indigenous raw materials. Summer Rain is a day on the water surrounded by the green stalks with the sun shining overhead.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Nomad Two Worlds.
There are times when the summer is at its hottest that I crave a woody perfume. There are never a shortage of this style of perfumes available to sate my desire. What has been amusing this summer is the woody perfume I have been wearing the most has the word winter in its name.
The fragrance brand Nomad Two Worlds is part of the wider initiative founded by photographer Russell Brand. In 2012 the brand introduced me to the indigenous Australian plant known as fire tree in their firs fragrance; Raw Spirit Fire Tree. Mr. James wants Nomad Two Worlds, through art, to find a wider understanding of marginalized and indigenous peoples all over the world. The ambitious plan is to use fragrance as one of the art forms. The Raw Spirit collection is the sixth of a planned ten perfumes. For this one called Raw Spirit Winter Oak it is meant to illuminate the U.S. Native Americans.
All of the Raw Spirit perfumes have been composed by perfumer Harry Fremont, for Winter Oak he wanted to capture the age and power of the oak while wrapping in the smells of the desert southwest. Winter Oak is, as all of the other Raw Spirit perfumes to date have been, a perfume with simplexity. Always when I wear these perfumes the first time I think they are very straightforward but there is a lilting subtext to all of them that seems to only be apparent to me after I wear them a couple of times.
M. Fremont starts with a spicy green opening of clary sage, geranium, and a very measured amount of pepper. The pepper adds only a modicum of piquancy to the otherwise herbal opening. Clove, olibanum, and mate form the heart notes. The clove presents itself in a more forceful way than the pepper in the top notes. Here the saffron and mate play the supporting roles. Finally in the base we get to that towering oak tree. Oak has a real green character especially when you compare it to cedar. In Winter Oak that green quality is more noticeable because M. Fremont has set your expectations up through the first two phases of development to be attuned towards it. As the oak grows it is supported by even more green from vetiver. After a few hours a very soft suede leather accord rounds out this perfume.
Winter Oak has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Raw Spirit Winter Oak is donating some of the proceeds to The Chumash Indian Museum in Thousand Oaks, CA.
I have found Winter Oak to be just the right tonic for my need for summer woods even if the name tells me I should be wearing it in a different season.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Nomad Two Worlds.
My first exposure to Avon was our local Avon Lady who visited our house regularly. There were commercials with the tag line “Avon Calling!” Many of those companies which sold door-to-door in the 1960’s and 1970’s were made obsolete by the internet. Avon has not only adapted they have thrived with $10 biliion in sales in 2013. They have managed to navigate the shifting fortunes and stake out a place for themselves. As I went through the box of fragrance supplied by my friend who is a current Avon Lady I was impressed with the consistency of the collection as a whole. Current Creative Director Isabel Lopes and her predecessors all understand how to make an appealing fragrance for their customers at a more than appealing price, around $20. The epitome of Discount Diamonds. Here are five more I think are worth giving a try.
Haiku Kyoto Flower by perfumer Pierre Negrin is the latest flanker to 2001’s Haiku, whose gauzy lilting green was also good. The newest member of the Haiku family is a little more outgoing. M. Negrin uses sharp violet made greener with blackcurrant. This is very much a recognizable opening from many niche perfumes but made more palatable by keeping it very light. The heart is peony and orange blossom, pretty and more pronounced then the top notes. It ends on sandalwood and a favorite in many of the feminine marketed Avon fragrances a cocktail of the cotton linen musks. This is very lovely green floral perfume.
Avon Femme is by perfumer Harry Fremont. M. Fremont is one of the best mainstream perfumers working currently. He definitely knows how to interpret a brand’s character and capture it in a fragrance. Avon Femme is a crisp fruity musk perfume. It starts with the snappy pairing of grapefruit and pear matched with a bit of very clean jasmine. There will be no indoles here this is fresh and pretty. Magnolia is the floral keynote supported with a bit of peach. It ends with the sheer musk cocktail I mentioned above. For those who want a skank-free jasmine fruity floral Avon Femme is a good choice.
Avon does make fragrances for men and Avon Exploration by perfumer Laurent Le Guernec is a good example. As I mentioned yesterday the men’s fragrances hew to an aesthetic of bracing and woody, Avon Exploration does that. M. Le Guernec does choose to make Avon Exploration very bracing as he fashions an olfactory slap of cardamom, sage, and rosemary. This is a very concentrated opening and it is typical of the masculine Avon fragrances. It does settle down into a sandalwood, vetiver, and non-sheer musk which is less challenging. If you are a fan of powerhouse men’s fragrances Avon Exploration is a modern version.
Far Away Gold by Calice Becker is a special warm floral. Mme Becker knows how to build a soft warm vanilla and sandalwood base even with the more cost-efficient materials and it is that where Far Away Gold ends. Prior to that osmanthus and peach lead to a jasmine and ylang-ylang heart. A wonderful comfort scent.
Avon does have their celebuscents and one of the more interesting collaborators is musician Bon Jovi. Part of the Bon Jovi collection is Unplugged for Her by perfumer Annie Buzantian. This was the most subtle fragrance of all of the ones I tried. It was very surprising since a rock star is associated with it, although it is unplugged. Mme Buzantian uses a very opaque application of ivy and plum to give a sheer green fruity opening. Rose carries the heart but this is a synthetic rose which carries the fresh floralcy and little of the spiciness or powdery facets. It keeps it on the light side for making that choice. A cocktail of soft woods and even softer white musks close this. Very easy to wear and a perfect office scent for those who work in close quarters and still want to wear perfume.
Now let me reiterate what I stated yesterday, perfume for $20 is not chock full of essential oils. There might be a pinch here and there but this is all synthetic versions of the notes I mentioned. As you can see there are very talented perfumers working for Avon and I think they do a tremendous job at making the most of a limited budget. Enough so that if you need an economical perfume fix contact your local Avon Lady…..Avon Calling!
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Avon.
One of my favorite quotes by Chandler Burr is, “Every bottle of perfume contains a world.” This refers to the far flung places in the world many of the raw materials are harvested in to make the ingredients within our favorite fragrances. One of the things I have been most pleased to see is the continuing recognition by the people who make perfume that they are reliant on the communities within the developing world which collaborate with them. One of those companies is a brand called Nomad Two Worlds. Russell James, the founder and world-renowned photographer, had a vision of a company that could work together with indigenous and marginalized communities throughout the world.
The first Raw Spirit fragrance, Fire Tree, introduced the oil produced by the indigenous tree of the Australian Outback. I was a big fan and it felt like good intentions done right. This past October Mr. James announced a collaboration between the Clinton Global Initiative, and Firmenich. They have agreed to create ten new “Raw Spirit” perfumes following the ideals Mr. James has outlined. Besides support Firmenich has also supplied one of their most accomplished perfumers, Harry Fremont, to compose these new perfumes.
The first four of the ten have been released and two feature notes from Mr. James’ Australia and the other two are differing takes on Haitian Vetiver. What strikes me, again, about this project is everyone participating is doing this for all of the right reasons and then on top of that they are producing very good fragrances.
The two different versions based on the Haitian Vetiver are Citadelle and Bijou Vert. One is a sort of traditional vetiver construct and the other is something quite beautifully different.
Citadelle is the different one as M. Fremont takes the strength of the Haitian Vetiver and adds in some wonderfully contrasting notes. It starts with a crisp pear whose sweetness stands in opposition to the green facets of the vetiver. Lemon adds some tartness and marigold adds a bit of green floral quality to now amplify the green. It all settles down to a cedar and musk base which picks up the woody underpinning of the vetiver.
Bijou Vert is a more straightforward vetiver fragrance. M. Fremont takes grapefruit and mandarin to give a traditional citrus opening. As the vetiver becomes more focused he brackets it with black pepper and geranium along with lotus flower. The lotus adds a bit of watery subtlety to the heart of Bijou Vert. The base is benzoin, patchouli, and cedar once again giving the woodiness of this Haitian Vetiver a place to shine in the final moments.
For the remaining two fragrances Wild Fire and Desert Blush we return to Australia and M. Fremont is asked to use wild harvested Australian sandalwood for Wild Fire and the indigenous flower Boronia is the star of Desert Blush. Although I could say both of these are explorations of Australian sandalwood as it plays a prominent part in Desert Blush.
As Mysore sandalwood became proscribed the world turned to the Australian version. Wild Fire is a “soliflore” of this source of the very familiar note. M. Fremont sets the desiccated quality of the sandalwood as the hub of Wild Fire. He then adds in spokes of ylang ylang, jasmine, amber, cedar, and musk. Each of these come together to produce a spinning wheel of a fragrance. It carries warmth like a day in the Outback and it is equally as fascinating.
I had the opportunity to smell Desert Blush early on in its development and even in that raw version I knew I was going to adore this perfume. Boronia has been used sparingly in perfumery although one of its first uses in Edmond Roudnitska’s Diorissimo, as part of the central muguet accord, showed its versatility. In Desert Blush the boronia gets the chance to be a star and it makes sure to make its turn in the spotlight memorable. Boronia has what I would call a strong herbal tea character infused with floralcy and honey. It is that which I first encounter when wearing Desert Blush. As it warms on my skin there is a spicy component of the boronia which becomes more prevalent and this is where the Australian sandalwood comes in as it picks this up and creates an energetic synergy of these two Down Under ingredients. Osmanthus and ylang ylang support the floral character of the boronia and cedar and musk support the sandalwood.
All of the Raw Spirit fragrances are perfume oils and as such have 8-10 hour longevity but almost no sillage.
All four of these fragrances are very good and Desert Blush is my favorite for the singularity of the boronia but I have been happily wearing all of them. Good intentions are always to be applauded but when they produce excellent fragrances like these four Raw Spirit perfumes it deserves a standing ovation.