If you want to know what video reviews looked like prior to YouTube you need to go back to 1977. That year a show on PBS called “Sneak Previews” featured two movie critics from rival Chicago newspapers debating a new movie and giving their opinion. What made it work was the difference in perspective about movies. Each of them had preferences they were happy to share even if the other disagreed. It is one of my favorite forms of criticism. Two opinions from different positions found in one place. That dynamic has continued into the world of video reviews on the internet.
Carlos J Powell, Jean-Claude Delville, Steven Gavrielatos (l. to r.)
One of the fragrance equivalents were the shared reviews of YouTubers Redolessence and Brooklyn Fragrance Lover, Steven Gavrielatos and Carlos J Powell respectively. They would travel back and forth to each other’s home studio and would provide reviews together. These are some of my favorite perfume video reviews because they both had different tastes which they would use to form their opinions. They also clearly enjoyed their partnership. There was a warmth which came through the screen when they were together. It is not surprising that they decided to extend their collaboration into creatively directing a perfume. To achieve this they worked with The Society of Scent and perfumer Jean-Claude Delville. Together they would distil the give-and-take of their perfume tastes into a satisfying fragrance called Redbrook Parfums Underground.
The name of the brand is a portmanteau of their YouTube channels. Underground represents the amount of train time spent traveling between their homes to achieve their vision. One of the videos about the creative process shows both Mr. Gavrielatos and Mr. Powell in the courtyard at The Society of Scent with lots of strips to smell. You can see a vigorous conversation happening between the two creative directors and the perfumer. I smiled at that thinking the creative tension would produce something memorable.
It begins with a fresh top accord of citrus and ginger. Ginger has become the contemporary way to add fresh. The equally modern choice for herbal effect is baie rose which is also present in the opening of Underground. This is the appetizer of what is to come. Underground travels down parallel tracks for a bit as patchouli and vetiver runs next to a rich gourmand vanilla and chocolate. They come together through that overlap of the chocolate in patchouli. Together they sped on an express track right to its destination.
Underground has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
As many may know Mr. Powell would pass away just as Underground was on the verge of being released. I know what a personal dream it was for him to have this opportunity. To share it with his best friend added more to it. What remains is a fitting perfume which represents the joy of partnership between the two men and the perfumer who helped it happen.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle provided by Redbrook Parfums.
When I first started diving into perfume I wanted to know as much as I could. I was also willing to ask someone what they were wearing if I thought it smelled good. This opened so many interesting doors for me. I was at a professional conference taking a short course and the man next to me smelled fantastic. I was well-acquainted with the more popular perfumes at the mall and this wasn’t one of those. Towards the end of the day I inquired what he was wearing. He told me, “Curve”. I filed it away for my next shopping trip to the mall. Except I encountered it much sooner when I was filling a prescription at the drugstore. Killing time while waiting I was browsing the locked fragrance cabinet. My eyes landed on this lime green colored can. I focused on the name and there it was Liz Claiborne Curve for Men. It was really well-priced; I summoned the keymaster to unlock the case and pull out a can for me. That was twenty years ago. Curve has been one of my favorite warm-weather perfumes since then.
Liz Claiborne was a perfume brand which existed primarily in drugstore fragrance cases. In 1996 they released a pair of new perfumes, Curve for Men and Curve for Women. In that time period the desired consumer was a young person who wanted to smell good. If you need a current equivalent it would be the person who buys Axe body spray. What sets Curve for Men apart is there are the earliest examples of ideas which would be improved upon in some of the best niche perfumes years later. Perfume Jean-Claude Delville put together a classic fougere with little touches here and there which make it more than the sum of its parts.
M. Delville opens with a set of green grassy notes and fir. This is a refreshing cool opening. The coolness is added to as cardamom breezes across the top accord. There is a sharpening of the green as it becomes more crystalline. Lavender arrives to provide the floral heart. It becomes a traditional fougere at this point tinted a bit greener. Sandalwood provides the keynote in the base around which a pinch of black pepper and vetiver swirl.
Curve for Men has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Curve for Men is one of the perfumes I wear which almost always does for me what it did for my colleague at the short course; garners a compliment. There is an easy-going quality to Curve for Men which seems to draw people in; even if it is a perfume bottle in a can.
Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle I purchased.
One of the familiar refrains of this column is the perfume being profiled was ahead of its time. That is inevitably followed by the conjecture on whether it would have succeeded at a different time; after trends caught up to it. There aren’t many that are given that second chance only to end up back in the Dead Letter Office. Donna Karan Chaos owns this distinction.
Donna Karan is one of the most successful designer perfume brands on the market. Her namesake fragrances plus the DKNY branded ones are classic mass-market perfumes. It didn’t start out that way. Ms. Karan released her first branded perfume in 1992. Over the next ten years she would release another five perfumes. Taken as a collection they were an impressive group of fragrances staking out their own territory. Using those perfumes it seems like Ms. Karan was attempting to create her own niche-like character. That five of the six, Cashmere Mist the exception, are all in the Dead Letter Office tells you how successful they were in the marketplace.
In the realm of the senses where being different is lauded; that group of six were delightful for that. I own all of them because of their unabashed desire to do their own thing. They are examples of what mass-market can aspire to. Each of them was contemporaneous to emerging trends from niche brands.
In 1996 the style of spiced dried fruit Oriental perfume was just beginning. Working with perfumer Jean-Claude Delville; Ms. Karan and her co creative director Jane Turker made one of the earliest versions of this.
What is fascinating about Chaos is it accomplishes this fruitiness without a single fruit ingredient in the note list. This would become common; in 1996 it was still infrequently seen. M. Delville would form an axis of coriander, saffron, and sandalwood. On to that he would adhere precious woods, resins, and spices. This is a gorgeously realized opulent Oriental ahead of its time.
Chaos has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Chaos was discontinued in 2002 after failing to capture consumers’ attention. This is where I say Chaos was ahead of its time and that’s why it is in the Dead Letter Office. Except the powers that be at Donna Karan must have thought that time had arrived in 2008 when they re-issued Chaos onto the market. Along with two of the other original six Donna Karans which also seemed to be too early for perfume lovers.
By 2008 Chaos was not an oddity there were many other perfumes going for two to three times the price in the same style. This was the time for Chaos to thrive. Except it didn’t. It would be discontinued for a second time in 2013.
As much as I want to believe every perfume has the right time to find its audience Donna Karan Chaos stubbornly refutes that hypothesis by finding its way to the Dead Letter Office; twice.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
I’ve written many words on this blog about the effect Davidoff Cool Water had on fragrance designed for men. I’ve received a few e-mails from women readers asking if there was a similar women’s fragrance which exemplified the fresh style for that gender. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it to finally arrive at a conclusion. It wasn’t the first; but it was, and continues to be, the best-selling of this style released in the mid 90’s. It is also the answer I most receive from men in their 40’s when I ask what the women in their life wear. The perfume is Clinique Happy.
In women’s fragrances throughout the 1970’s and 80’s the trend was deep chypres and boisterous florals. It was the gender equivalent to the men’s powerhouse leathers and uber-fougeres. As the 90’s dawned the time for a course correction was due. The generation which came after the Baby Boomers, Gen X, wanted a style to call their own. Those who loved perfume also wanted to find new styles to explore. By the latter half of the decade two new styles would provide the change; fresh was one of them.
Evelyn Lauder (l.) and Raymond Matts
For men fresh was synonymous with aquatic. For women it wasn’t as simple. There was a large selection of fresh linen style perfumes centered around the laundry and linen musks. The style Happy fits into is the other major one, the fresh floral. It is also the first credited perfume to Rodrigo Flores-Roux who collaborated with Jean-Claude Delville. The creative team, Evelyn Lauder and Raymond Matts, was also early on in their influential term. Clinique was created by Ms. Lauder; by 1997 she became more dedicated to the fragrance part of the brand. She would work with some of the best perfumers early in their careers spotting talent before others. Mr. Matts would also become one of the most influential creative directors but at the time of Happy he was also just starting down that path. With Happy they designed a perfume which exemplifies fresh and floral.
Jean-Claude Delville (l.) and Rodrigo Flores-Roux
Happy opens on a, I have to say it, happy mixture of citrus. It is difficult to not smile in the early going because this is a sun-kissed grapefruit top accord. It leads to fresh jasmine scrubbed clean of indoles. This is a slightly dewy version of jasmine. It is expansive and transparent. Magnolia will eventually take the lead while retaining the same opacity. A similarly transparent synthetic wood is the final ingredient.
Happy has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Happy is successful because it does everything perfume is supposed to do. The citrus is uplifting. The florals are lilting. The woods are simple and light. It is why Happy is successful because it is so easy to be the perfume for a woman who only wants a couple bottles on her vanity. It continues to be a best-seller because even after twenty years few do it better.
Happy is another of the cases where its longevity is why it is a Discount Diamonds choice. It can be purchased from 10mL rollerball up to 100mL for anywhere from $4.99- $34.99 respectively. Heading into the summer if you want something fresh to add to your holiday overnight bag Happy is as good as it gets within the style it helped start.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
When it comes to the Dead Letter Office there are entries which come from a brand trying to strike out in a new direction. One which their customers are not interested in following. For some of the longer lived brands there comes a moment after a few years of success with a very specific aesthetic they will take a risk on something different. This was where Jo Malone London was at in 2002.
Jo Malone London was the early success story of independent perfumery. Ms. Malone had grown her business starting in 1994 with the release of Nutmeg & Ginger into something Estee Lauder would acquire in 1999. Part of the deal allowed Ms. Malone to continue on as creative director where she remained until 2006. The upside of the acquisition was expanded distribution which would see the heretofore difficult to find fragrances in the US begin to expand into the luxury department stores in the first five years of the new century. As part of this expansion there would be new releases to put a new shine on the previous collection.
If there was something that was frequently commented on with those early releases it was they were light. Maybe too light. There were lots of people who would criticize the longevity of the line; feeling it needed to be re-applied in an hour or two. The early releases fell into two categories either citrus or floral. As Jo Malone was starting life as part of a big company it seems the powers that be decided it was time for a change.
There were four new releases between 2002-2003. Three of them have been discontinued. One has remained as part of the collection. The four were Wild Fig & Cassis, Stephanotis & Cassia Café, Orange Blossom, and Black Vetyver Café. Which one do you think survived the Dead Letter Office? Of course it was Orange Blossom. The other three represented a different take as they went with assertive themes around keynotes which were not light. In the long run they would prove to be too different none more so than Black Vetyver Café.
Black Vetyver Café was released in 2002 by perfumer Jean-Claude Delville. The gourmand style of perfume was just gaining traction. At that point almost all of them were sweet. For Black Vetyver Café M. Delville wanted to focus on coffee as the keynote. The version he used as the focal point was the roasted whole bean. If you’ve ever opened a fresh bag of roasted coffee beans you will know the coffee being used here. It has a nutty character along with a tiny amount of sour oiliness. That is what you smell right from the moment it hits your skin. The heart is a mix of nutmeg and coriander used to pick up those nutty and oliy qualities. Turning it much richer. The woods come next and the coffee reasserts its core character. Then the promised vetiver swathes it in green. A very transparent incense skirls throughout the final drydown.
Black Vetyver Café has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
As far as I was concerned this new direction was fantastic. Black Vetyver Café was the first Jo Malone full bottle I owned. Unfortunately, I was not joined by others. Black Vetyver Café would be discontinued around 2012-ish. By that point Estee Lauder had come to realize what the Jo Malone customer desired and it wasn’t bold. It was more of the florals the brand had been founded on.
It is admirable that there was an attempt to try something different. Sometimes the perfumes which find their way into the Dead Letter Office are put there by the will of the consumer. In the case of Jo Malone those customers wanted to have their favorite brand decaffeinated.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
I have an innate reticence to trying anything which chooses to bombard me with ads. This attitude had cropped up on a couple of recent trips to Sephora when I was surrounded by all kind of various come-ons for the new Marc Jacobs Mod Noir. It was a Sephora exclusive for the first couple months of its release. Which explains the ubiquitous advertisements in-store. I had made an agreement with myself to stay away from the black striped bottle indefinitely. Which has been easy because over the past few years the brand has seemingly become a flanker factory for the last two great perfumes they released, Daisy in 2007 and Lola in 2009. They have released 20(!) different flankers of one or the other in the last eight years.
Of course it was going to take a blind moment to get me to acknowledge that from underneath the deluge of flankers something good might be present. On my last trip to Sephora I was talking to the sales associate I always talk to and this really bright gardenia scent wafted under my nose. I asked my contact what it was, and knowing my antipathy to the line, he smiled and said, “The new Marc Jacobs Mod Noir.” With having been blindsided I asked for a sample to give it a try. It is not as original as Lola or Daisy but it is easily the best new perfume Marc Jacobs has released since Lola.
Mod Noir was composed by perfumer Jean-Claude Delville. I don’t know who names these things but let me get this out of the way right at the top. This is not Mod in any way you wish to interpret that word. It is most definitely not Noir in any way you wish to interpret that word. Mod Noir is a warm-weather brightly constructed citrus gardenia perfume. M. Delville clearly was not inspired by the name when he designed this.
Mod Noir opens with a very fruity opening using yuzu, clementine, and nectarine. M. Delivile coaxes out all of the juicy qualities of these fruits and then lays a patina of green over then with one of the watery green synthetics. It is that veil of green which actually appealed to me first when I got my first unguarded sniff of Mod Noir. The heart is very prominently gardenia but modulated such that it is not overpowering or cloying. Not an easy feat when working with any of the potent white flowers. M. Delville rounds out his gardenia with just a pinch of magnolia and tuberose. The base is that warmer creamy musk cocktail which has been cropping up a lot in the mass-market perfumes over the last year. In the case of Mod Noir it actually provides just the right finish because M. Delville again keeps the potential for this to overpower well controlled.
Mod Noir has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
If you are like me and have been avoiding Marc Jacobs for a while Mod Noir might be worth giving a chance to remind you there is still some life left in the brand. As long as your expectations aren’t for something mod or noir. If you want a nicely executed summer weight fruity floral I think Mod Noir is a really good version of that.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I received from Sephora.