The essence of this column is meant to remind you there are some great perfumes of past years that are now available for a modest price. There is a rarer source of fragrance for this column which is produced at a modest price from the beginning. They are generally not found in the most obvious of places. To find this month’s pick you would have to walk into a Zara menswear store at the mall. When you find the shelf holding the fragrances you will have found one of the best Discount Diamond mines at the mall.
Zara has been making perfume since 1999. They have consistently worked with some great perfumers who have made excellent perfumes. I didn’t discover it until one day in 2010 when I tried Zara Man Gold. I found a fascinating gourmand in a place I didn’t expect, for a price I didn’t expect. It became a regular stop on my mall visits, for the perfume.
I don’t know what caused the change but in 2018 Zara began producing perfume at a faster pace. It has continued ever since. I was concerned that the quality would drop with the increase in quantity. To my delight it didn’t. There were still jewels to be mined. I found Zara Cool Heights on my first visit after the New Year. It is an example of what exists within the collection.
The perfumer behind Cool Heights is Jerome Epinette. M. Epinette has been behind many of the Zara releases. He is a perfumer who effortlessly achieves interesting perfume even on a small budget. Cool Heights is a citrus leather amber beauty.
The top accord is built around the versatility of Szechuan pepper. M. Epinette uses grapefruit and rhubarb with their sulfurous aspect to create a unique citrus accord that is nose catching. The leather accord at the heart is that scent of leather shoes polished to a high gloss. Not quite patent leather or leather jacket but something almost halfway between the two. The base accord is a warm amber given some sweet through tonka bean.
Cool Heights has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Cool Heights has been great throughout the spring as I’ve worn it a lot. It is a great thought for the upcoming Father’s Day if perfume is on your list for dad. Or you can give him a Zara gift card and let him go find his own Discount Diamond. This is a great place to find one.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
I have a weird category of perfume I call a “Joan Jett”. If you’re familiar with the rock singer from the 1980’s you probably know where I’m going. If you don’t; one of her big hits was the song “I Hate Myself for Loving You”. I receive so many perfumes to try, occasionally, one captures my attention when there is no good reason for it to do so. There is nothing new or different. There are probably better examples. I’ll probably forget about it six months from now. And yet, for right now, Dolce & Gabbana Fruit Collection Lemon has gone all Joan Jett on me.
Just from the press release I expected to ignore the three fragrances which make up the Fruit Collection. Each one has a cap in the shape of the fruit that is featured. They look like the perfume you buy at the airport on the way home from your island vacation. The other two, Orange and Pineapple, were every bit as uninspiring as I expected. Then I started sniffing Lemon with a jaundiced eye. When I held the strip to my nose it wasn’t as boring as I feared. I put some on skin expecting it to flatten out. I kept smelling the patch of skin I had put it on, my cynicism lightening with each sniff.
“I hate myself for loving you.”
One reason I might like it is because of perfumer Jerome Epinette. He is one of my favorites. Except he also did Orange which wasn’t doing it for me. Maybe in the early weeks of March I wanted some sunshine after the winter. Except we haven’t had much of a winter here at Colognoisseur HQ.
“Can’t break free from the things that you do.”
I think what it was is M. Epinette has just formed a zingy lemon perfume where each ingredient is sharply defined. The lemon is focused through petitgrain. A CO2 extraction of ginger provides sharp contrast with added energy. A woody green Haitian vetiver is the final piece. It all just feels great to wear.
“I want to walk but I run back to you, that’s why”
Lemon has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
There are lots of lemon-ginger-vetiver perfumes to be found. I can’t exactly pin down why this one has been so much fun to wear. If you’re looking for a spring citrus maybe you can go all Joan Jett with me.
“I hate myself for loving you!”
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Dolce & Gabbana.
As we enter midwinter my black leather jacket begins to get used a lot. I’ve owned this jacket for well over twenty years. It is beyond broken-in it has become a tame cowhide over the use of decades. Of all the leather pieces of clothing I own the scent of my leather jacket is one that pleases me most. The reason is that smell has become as soft as the leather itself. Instead of the oily strong typical leather odor, I now have something much subtler. Byredo Sellier also wants to be this kind of soft leather.
Sellier is part of the Night Veils collection. It is the seventh release within the collection. It follows the last three released in 2016 all of which had a leather keynote as well. I own a bottle of La Botte because it captures a sexy leather boot. In that fragrance long time collaborators creative director Ben Gorham and perfumer Jerome Epinette designed a leather of sharp lines. Sellier moves in a more diffuse direction.
That effect of diffusion comes right at the start with a top accord of black tea and cashmeran laid over the leather accord. The cashmeran flows across the leather while the tea provides a tannic complement. Tobacco provides a multiplier for the sweetness at the heart of any good leather accord. M. Epinette is using these complementary notes to expand the leather effect. A figurative breaking-in of his leather accord. In the base he adds an accord made up of birch and oakmoss. The birch gives back the bite to the low-atranol oakmoss. It also provides echoes of the birch tar it could become as if a cuir de Russie was off in the distance. When it is all together it is a soft leather spreading out.
Sellier has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Sellier is an extrait strength perfume. I think this wouldn’t have been as pleasant if it was at a lower concentration. The way it is now makes it more personal just like my well-loved leather jacket.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Byredo.
Back in August I received a discovery set of a new perfume brand, Floral Street. I was impressed by the overall set of perfumes. I felt like there were going to be a couple that would be better for me to try in colder weather. Floral Street Ylang Ylang Espresso turned out to be one of those.
The current trend of floral gourmands is producing surprising intersections of ingredients. Ylang ylang is one of those multi-faceted ingredients which practically begs for a similarly versatile partner. I wouldn’t have thought coffee would be that kind of ideal companion. In the hands of perfumer Jerome Epinette it is.
It is my guess that M. Epinette is using a set of ylang ylang fractions in this fragrance. The reason is the inherent salicylates which tend to give a banana-like piece of the scent profile seem almost non-existent. Instead we are left with the floral sweetness which carries a subtle freshness with it. This is still the sexy ylang ylang I like just without the fruit salad hat. M. Epinette then contrasts it with a roasted coffee bean. This is a rich coffee scent given a healthy dose of bitterness capturing the oils on the surface of the roasted bean. Together these two ingredients rock back and forth in a pleasurable teeter totter. M. Epinete sweetens things up with a dusting of cocoa powder over light woods in the base.
Ylang Ylang Espresso has 12-14 hour longevity.
This is one of those style of perfumes you haven’t smelled everywhere. The balance of floral and coffee is exactly what I am hoping for as this floral gourmand trend continues to expand. It is these kinds of unusual pairs which will lead to this trend going far beyond its simplistic description. Ylang Ylang Espresso is one which is going to be a trendsetter for the trend.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Sephora.
As one who tends to sneer at celebuscents you would be interested to know how much I was looking forward to the release of Ariana Grande Thank U, Next. The reason for that anticipation was that last year’s Ariana Grande Cloud impressed me by interpreting the transparent gourmand trend in a compelling way. I would have been interested to see where this would go in any case. When I found out perfumer Jerome Epinette was involved my interest was further piqued.
Thank U, Next is named after the song by Ms. Grande after her recent break-up. Not someone who follows the ins-and-outs of her life I am not sure if I can find an overlap between song and fragrance. What I do find is another different transparent gourmand than Cloud which is equally as good.
I’m not sure if this is intentional or not but Thank U, Next has a similar trio of pear, coconut, and white musks as Cloud does. M. Epinette tunes them to different effects than in Cloud yet there is enough similarity this could be a flanker of Cloud.
That pear is paired with raspberry to give a sweet fruity top accord. Just as it was in cloud this is kept at such an opaque level it is appealing instead of overpowering. The heart accord is coconut cream leavened with a fresh rose. This is a contrast of the fresh floral with the more substantial coconut cream. It is like finding an exotic dessert of rose petals atop a coconut custard. If you are left thinking of that dessert M. Epinette places a coconut macaroon right next to it as a sweet dough-y complement. It all ends with a clean cocktail of white musks to add lift to it all.
Thank U, Next has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
For everyone who was a fan of Cloud Thank U, Next should be next to try. It has everything that made that perfume stand out while having its own personality. I am again quite amazed at how well this creative team is doing in this new fragrance space. It has me in my own way saying, “thank you, next!”
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from Ulta.
The ritual of the school dance is where most of us have our first close encounter with someone we are attracted to. It was 1971 and I was attending my first junior high dance. I had decided not to be one of those who sat in the bleachers; I wanted to dance with someone. The girl who had caught my attention had done so for the most pedestrian of reasons, her shampoo. If you grew up in the 1970’s the scent of Clairol Herbal Essence shampoo was amazing. Even 50-years later I still lean into a woman who walks by wafting it from her hair.
In 1971 it was brand new and there was only one girl in our school who used it. I had decided I was going to ask her to dance. Once the music started, I waited for a song I thought I could move somewhat gracefully to. I walked over to the group of girls. In a firm voice I asked Debbie if she would like to dance. She smiled and said, “yes”. It broke the ice in her group and soon we were all on the dance floor. One fast song after another we were having a great time. Then the DJ changed things up as “How Do You Mend A Broken Heart?” by the Bee Gees came on. A slow dance! I looked at Debbie and reached out. She responded by putting her arms around my neck. As we swayed and twirled in a small circle, we progressively got closer until she rested her head on my chest. This was the moment of human contact which remains so precious. Byredo Slow Dance wants to capture that magic in a perfume.
Creative director Ben Gorham and perfumer Jerome Epinette collaborate once again. This is a fragrance where the meeting of two people on a dance floor comes through.
It opens with the gorgeous invitation offered by opopanax. It is the hand offered to the potential dance partner. The remainder of Slow Dance is a juxtaposition of a feminine accord of flowers and a masculine accord of patchouli. The floral accord is geranium and violet supported by labdanum. It isn’t Herbal Essence shampoo but it is a compelling accord all its own. The patchouli fraction, which is the earthier musky version, is sweetened with a little vanilla. Together these two accords sway their way through the night entwined with each other.
Slow Dance has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is a beautiful fragrance just right for the upcoming fall days. If the name and the perfume can take you back to a dance floor of your youth all the better.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Byredo.
In Part 1 I introduced owner-creative director Nadia Benaisa along with perfumers Jerome Epinette and Pierre Wulff who produced the first five releases for Les Soeurs de Noe. Today I will finish with reviews of the remaining three; Amazing Jade, Bohemian Absinthe, and Jardin de Macarons.
One of the things I have been hopeful for from this trend towards transparency is the opportunity to find a new style. Two which seem to have become more prevalent have been gourmands and floral gourmands It is in those areas where Les Soeurs de Noe really takes off.
Amazing Jade is the gourmand one of the three. I was caught right from the top as the perfumers used pistachio and hazelnut as their top accord. They create a toasted nutty effect that is ideally realized. I don’t have too many perfumes which have such an enticingly nut-based opening. They then encase those nuts in swirls of incense and a supple opaque leather accord. The nuts find a harmonic with the leather that was a joy all day. It all ends on a musky base. This is a remarkably light perfume despite the presence of things like leather and incense. I think once the weather turns a tiny bit cooler, I will really find the spot where this perfume excels.
Amazing Jade has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Bohemian Absinthe is the fruity floral member of the debut collection. It is not a typical version of that style as the perfumers pair the tart juiciness of kumquat with the gentle floral quality of apple blossom. Where this begins to feel different is through the mentholated verdancy of eucalyptus adding lift to the fruit and floral. To provide contrast a base accord which grounds this comes courtesy of sandalwood, leather, and vetiver. The woodiness is bracketed with a smoky version of vetiver to give texture while leather provides a more refined effect. This is another which will be fantastic in the cooler weather
Bohemian Absinthe has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
That leaves my favorite of these initial releases, Jardin de Macarons. This is the floral gourmand I mentioned earlier. What makes this style the right choice for transparent aesthetics is by keeping both the floral and the gourmand on the opaquer side it gives more room for both sides of the coin to shine. In the case of Jardin de Macarons it is the combination of rooty orris with a sugary candy floss which holds the center. Prior to that a luscious plum lead into it while an earthy patchouli and sweet woody palo santo support it. All of that is great but it is the sugared orris which takes this to a new level. It felt like I was trying a gourmet macaron of orris all the while I had this on my skin.
Jardin de Macarons has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
As I said in Part 1, I am looking for those brands and creative teams who will grab this transparency aesthetic and find ways to make it their own. Mme Benaisa has done this through her first five releases. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Les Soeurs de Noe.
We are a couple of years into this widely held belief that transparency in fragrance is the desired aesthetic. During the coalescence around this hypothesis I have found the ones which miss the mark are the ones who become so light they become an anti-perfume; afraid to have presence. There have been exceptions to this. It is why I have hope there is some greatness to be found within this trend because there are too many good people who should know how to make it relevant. I was surprised earlier this summer to find much of what I am looking for in a new brand; Les Souers de Noe.
Les Soeurs de Noe was founded and is creatively directed by Nadia Benaisa. Mme Banaisa spent her childhood between Belgium and Morocco. For her perfume brand she wanted to find the overlap between the Europe and Orient. To achieve her vision she worked with perfumers Jerome Epinette and Pierre Wulff on her first five releases. It has been a long while since a debut collection has captured my attention as fully as this one has. Her choice to work with M. Epinette is a great choice as he is a perfumer who excels in this space of transparent fragrance.
Pierre Wulff (l.) and Jerome Epinette
I am going to spend the next two days writing about all five of the original releases. Today I am going to start with the two which are the most typical styles in the collection; Mitsio Vanille and Oud Rose. Tomorrow I will follow up with the three gourmand inspired perfumes.
Mitsio Vanille is a vanilla-centric perfume which remembers the source of vanilla is the pod of an orchid. The perfumers spend the early moments discovering the orchid in a tropical milieu. This is a fresh green world of freesia and the botanical musk of ambrette seeds. The orchid hangs suspended with a strong floral quality provided by lilac. This vanilla orchid accord especially paired with the ambrette is gorgeously realized. The base deepens the vanilla as if we were making an extract of the pods we harvested. Along with the vanilla the muskiness also becomes a bit more pronounced retaining that duet by giving it some depth in the end.
Mitsio Vanille has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Oud Rose is the classic pairing of Europe and the Orient, Mme Benaisa had to include it. The challenge for the perfumers was to find a way to lighten it up. It is accomplished by using Rose de Mai as the rose counterpart to the oud accord. Both choices allow for a more transparent construct. Oud Rose steps through the classic paces of this kind of fragrance by opening with the golden halo of saffron floating on smoky tendrils of incense. The stars show up as the fresh Rose de Mai and the finely constructed oud accord create a modern version of this ancient pairing. It goes through a leather and patchouli base at the end.
Oud Rose has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
You might not think of Vanilla and Oud as candidates for a transparent perfume, usually they are not. In the hands of this creative team they capture just the right amount of opacity to keep them from being irrelevant.
In Part 2 I will examine the remaining three releases which is where this creative team really hits their stride.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample set provided by Les Soeurs de Noe.
Usually the month of August is a sleepy time here in perfume land. I am receiving lots of fall releases that I can’t write about for a month or so. The summer releases have dwindled. It usually means it is a good time to catch up. Except this time I keep getting new interesting things I can write about. The latest discovery came from my box of new releases from Sephora.
I had head about a British brand called Floral Street which debuted in 2017. It was interesting to me because perfumer Jerome Epinette was the nose behind the collection. I’ll also admit some of the names were enticing, too. I was already interested in something named Ylang Ylang Espresso, Iris Goddess, or Chypre Sublime. Although the name which most enticed me was this year’s release called Electric Rhubarb.
Electric Rhubarb was released this past May in conjunction with the Royal Horticultural Society’s annual Chelsea Flower Show. The brand was founded by Michelle Feeney who collaborated with M. Epinette through a series of moodboards for each fragrance. She wanted to have a light-hearted style of perfume. Based on my sampling of the nine perfumes, so far, she succeeded.
I would love to see what the moodboard was for Electric Rhubarb. Based on the press release I am guessing “bubbly, effervescent, and a little bit unexpected” might have covered it. M. Epinette interprets the “little bit unexpected” by using the rhubarb as a modulator of gardenia. Based on the name I was expecting a kinetic rhubarb. What is in the bottle is a gorgeous green velvet gardenia.
Most of the time when rhubarb is on top in a fragrance you get both the grapefruit-like quality and the green vegetal quality in equal measure. M. Epinette manages to tamp down the citrus aspect while allowing that greenness to find an ideal partner in gardenia. Gardenia in perfume also has a green vein within. It is often sharp in nature. Part of what makes a good gardenia to me. M. Epinette takes the vegetal green and uses it to soften that sharp green inherent in the gardenia. It produces this lushly textural gardenia. Not only is it plush it is also opaque. I wore this on blazing hot days, and it was never too much. The perfume lands on a base of Australian sandalwood in all its desiccated glory. It is the kind of unobtrusive platform for the soft gardenia to shine upon.
Electric Rhubarb has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
This same kind of textural alteration of floral keynotes happens throughout the Floral Street collection. There are a trio of them I will wait for a little cooler weather to review because I think they are going to be awesome in cooler weather. If you’re a fan of floral perfumes Floral Street should be an avenue you want to take a walk on; start at Electric Rhubarb.
Disclosure: This revew is based on a sample provided by Sephora.
One of the trends of the last year or so which I have been happy to see is the mass-market perfume executed with niche independence. What I mean by that is there are a few brands which are being distributed at the mall which have partnered with top perfumers and allowed them some freedom to create. The results of this has been some very good perfume; Ellis Brooklyn West is a good example.
Ellis Brooklyn was founded by Bee Shapiro who is a beauty editor at The New York Times. In that position she must have had an insight on where she could create a different mass-market fragrance. Over the last two years the perfume she has produced has borne that out. Ms. Shapiro has made her own space in a crowded marketplace.
For West the press release trumpets this as the “first citrus” for Ellis Brooklyn. I could quibble with that because citrus ingredients have played a prominent role in previous releases. What this translates to me is West is the first summer style of perfume for the brand.
Perfumer Jerome Epinette uses some interesting ingredients to form West. It starts right at the top with the choice of blood orange. Blood orange has been having a moment this summer as I’ve encountered it a few times so far this year. A big reason for that might be because it carries a less exuberant effect than orange. There is a slight bitterness underneath the pulpy sweetness. M. Epinette uses basil to give that an herbal veil. In the heart he employs water lily as a dewy floral to give that refreshing quality of misted water. The base is the fresh green of vetiver warmed with a touch of amber.
West has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
West is one of those perfect beach bag perfumes to take on a summer weekend away. It is the kind of perfume companion which adds to the pleasure of taking some time off. I will be putting a sample of this in my perfume fridge as a summer cooler for the upcoming ravages of midsummer.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Sephora.