As new materials in perfumery are more widely used there are some which I become less fond of. The category of ingredients called white musks became omnipresent in the first decade of this century. Also called “laundry musks” these are the fresher analogs to the heavier versions which hew closer to the natural source. There are so many of the lighter musks because they have uses beyond perfume. They are the main ingredient in clothing detergent when it says, “spring fresh”. As perfumers began to use them more and more for their fixative properties, I would find they could give a kind of screechy quality to the final stages of perfumes. One of the best things about perfumery today is there are so many creative people looking to do something different. I am not sure when it happened, but it seems like around five or six years ago a few of them learned a curious truth. One white musk might be boring but if you layer a bunch of them together there are some almost supernatural effects to be found. Jul et Mad Stairway to Heaven finds the right set can take you to the roof of the world.
Julien Blanchard (l.) and Madalina Stoica-Blanchard
Jul et Mad are creative directors-owners Julien Blanchard and his wife Madalina Stoica-Blanchard. The brand is named after them because it represents their life as translated into fragrance. For Stairway to Heaven it is based on their trip to the Himalayas in Nepal. They would hike up to the Annapurna Base Camp the literal stairway to the highest heights a human can attain via walking. I’ve done my share of high-altitude hiking here in North America. In the press materials they describe the experience as “bowing before the beauty and the sumptuousness of this veritable sanctuary.” There is something spiritual about reaching as high as you are able. There is also a scent to that.
For Stairway to Heaven the Blanchards turned again to perfumer Cecile Zarokian, whom they worked with previously on Aqua Sextius. It seems like they all agreed that this was going to be a white perfume. Mme Zarokian is that kind of ingeniously curious perfumer that I have a feeling she had a cocktail of white musks she thought might work. The press release says the heart of Stairway to Heaven is a combination of eight white musks. It leads to a fantastic accord at the center of this perfume.
Before those white musks show up Mme Zarokian wants us to take a deep breath of cold air at altitude. She opens with a chilly whoosh of aldehydes; another maligned ingredient. Mme Zarokian uses a firm hand at keeping the balance refreshing instead of obstreperous. Now as we look out over the snow field rising to the sky the musks come together in a powdery snow accord which is kept traditionally powdery in the early moments by rose and iris. The musks get a firmer hold and now they are like shuffling through fluffy crunchy snow refreshing and soft. A skirl of meditative incense wafts over the musks in the final phases.
Stairway to Heaven has 24-hour plus longevity and average sillage to start before becoming a skin scent after 12 hours or so.
Stairway to Heaven is a wonderfully realized brief. Most of the time I laugh at what a perfume is supposed to remind me of. Not this time. Every time I had this on my skin it was like staring up at the majesty of nature. Only to have a mixture of white musks whisper back to me.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Jul et Mad.
Mrs. C is a cross-stitcher which means she is a lover of the textile arts. Which further means I’ve spent my share of museum time looking at tapestries. It is an art form which I have come to appreciate for the subtle effect just a few strands of different colors have overall. The ability to get close and see these strands is like getting close to a color television and seeing the pixels. You have a better experience standing back and taking it in its entirety; not in its micro form. Perfumery has its own way of practicing the weaving of notes into their own olfactory tapestry. Jul et Mad Mon Seul Desir is inspired by a famous tapestry while also weaving its own magic.
"La Dame a la licorne"
The latest three perfumes from Jul et Mad have been using famous works of art as part of their brief. For Mon Seul Desir the tapestry “La Dame a la licorne” (“The Lady and the Unicorn”) in the Musee national du Moyen Age in Paris. It is the final piece in a series of six tapestries where the first five each depict a lady accompanied by a lion and a unicorn in interpretations of each of the five senses. In the final tapestry, the lady stands under a canopy with the words “mon seul desir” on it. The words mean “my sole desire”. Creative directors Julien Blanchard and Madalina Stoica-Blanchard collaborated with perfumer Stephanie Bakouche.
Madalina Stoica-Blanchard and Julien Blanchard
For Mon Seul Desir the perfume is primarily an osmanthus and oud construction. I have come to appreciate this pairing more than the more classical rose and oud. The dual nature of osmanthus’ fruit and leather finds a way of making oud leatherier itself which is where Mon Seul Desir spends most of its time.
Mon Seul Desir is begun by building a frame of nutmeg, baie rose, and coriander. The baie rose provides an herbal component which the nutmeg and coriander gives a kind of faux woodiness to. Then Mme Bakouche gets down to weaving as the osmanthus warps itself over the weft of oud. Always the osmanthus is on top the apricot quality floating above the leathery. The oud picks out the leather threads and attaches to them as it keeps to the background. It all evolves into a final weave of amber, benzoin, and musk; warm and comforting.
Mon Seul Desir has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
In tapestry, the warp covers the weft. It is the same effect here as the osmanthus is the focal point while the oud supports in the background. You can get close enough to pick out the threads but it as an accord that it appeals. Mme Bakouche shows she can handle the fragrant loom to get the most out of her threads making Mon Seul Desir as beautiful as its inspiration.
Disclosure: This review is based on a press sample provided by Jul et Mad.
Growing up in the south one of my favorite expressions was describing a formidable woman as a “steel magnolia”. The words are meant to convey a woman who is a combination of femininity and strength of character to withstand all that life throws at them. It means that even if the world was falling apart around them their outward appearance and courtesy was flawless. The phrase became more widely known after the movie of the same name was released in 1989. It may be parochial but that movie never captures the combination of gentility and grit the actual steel magnolias I met had.
La belle ferronniere by Leonardo da Vinci (c. 1490-1496)
The new releases for the Jul et Mad Les Whites collection reminded me of this because one of them was inspired by the Leonardo da Vinci “La belle ferronniere” Ferronniere translates to iron worker and so the picture is iron worker’s woman. The perfume inspired by this is called Bella Donna with creative direction by Madalina Stoica-Blanchard and Julien Blanchard working with perfumer Luca Maffei. All three of the made a trip to the Louvre, where it hangs, prior to beginning work on Bella Donna. They would decide Bella Donna would be a contrast of the rigidity seen outwardly matched by the warmth of the passion underneath. That passion is symbolized by a central floral accord shaped around magnolia.
Luca Maffei, Julien Blanchard, and Madalina Stoica-Blanchard (l.to r.) getting inspired at the Louvre
Bella Donna opens with a zingy ginger and mulberry top accord. It is an energetic fleeting accord which I would have liked to have stick around a tiny bit longer. The florals are in a rush to get here and so they run over it with magnolia leading the charge. Magnolia can be a heady floral and most of the time perfumers choose to bring it down a notch by using woods to rein it in. Sig. Maffei is going the other direction turning it loose to form the nucleus of the heart of Bella Donna. He delicately powders it with iris and rose, adds heft with ylang-ylang, and uses jasmine to expand it all. Once it is all together this is a huge floral accord combining beauty and presence. The base is the warmth of benzoin, opopanax, and sandalwood.
Bella Donna has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Bella Donna expertly captures the idea that within femininity can also lie iron; or steel. Which makes Bella Donna the perfume of a Ferronniere Magnolia.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Jul et Mad.
When I travel to a new country there is that moment on the first morning where all the new stimuli can become overwhelming for a short period. Eventually I sort it all out and begin to explore; settling in to the rhythm of the new vistas. When this experience is combined with a honeymoon it intensifies everything as these feelings are now doubled. The founders and creative directors of Jul et Mad, Julien Blanchard and Madalina Stoica-Blanchard have been telling the story of their relationship through their perfumes. A little over two years ago Aqua Sextius represented their wedding day. The new release Secrets du Paradis Rouge picks up the story with their honeymoon to Marrakech.
Julien Blanchard and Madalina Stoica-Blanchard
To compose the perfume M. Blanchard and Mme Stoica-Blanchard chose to work again with perfumer Luca Maffei. Sig. Maffei did two of the three perfumes in last year’s Les Whites collection with Nea winning a 2016 Art & Olfaction Award in the Independent Category.
For Secrets du Paradis Rouge Sig. Maffei was tasked with composing a perfume which captured the Red City and the newlyweds coming together. The choice was in the very early moments to do in a perfumed way what I described in the previous paragraph; start out fast and furious right on the edge of overload. Then pull it back as the lovers find they are falling in love with a city as they settle into their new lives.
Secrets du Paradis Rouge opens with a very green Moroccan Neroli which if Sig. Maffei had let it be the only note in the opening would have been beautiful. Except this is all about saturated senses and so here comes clove, orange, davana, almond, and honey. This arrives in an exhilarating rush which might make you think the rest of the perfume is going to be as concentrated. Now Sig. Maffei peels back many of those opening notes as a Turkish rose forms the center of the heart. The honey takes on a more prominent role along with the orange but not the pulp but the greener nature of the rind. The base accord becomes cozy as patchouli, amber, musk, and benzoin form a softer Oriental accord than usual. The final moments are a sweet kiss of vanilla over the traditional base accord.
Secrets du Paradis Rouge has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
When I first smelled the opening on a strip I was unsure about Secrets du Paradis Rouge. Once I got down to wearing it that opening works amazingly well on my skin. Over the rest of the day as the perfume settles into its quieter more studied phase it really takes off. It is a real perfumed journey which has a definitive beginning, middle, and end. I like this as much as I like Nea which should tell you how much I like it. I need a little more time with it to know if it is my favorite but it surely is in the conversation. The Red Honeymoon has carried me away.
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample provided by Jul et Mad.
For a brand to thrive they need to be willing to take on new directions. They also need to be aware that the new direction needs to feel connected to what has come previously. When I learned about the new Jul et Mad Les White Collection I was interested to see how, what seemed like, a new direction would feel.
Julien Blanchard and Madalina Stoica-Blanchard
Jul et Mad is the perfume brand owned and creatively directed by married couple Julien Blanchard and Madalina Stoica-Blanchard. The first four perfumes in the line were chapters in their love story from first meeting to marriage. With Les White it is inspired by ancient civilizations that they admire. Those first four perfumes had sprightliness along with the frisson of a new relationship. They also were mostly on the lighter side of things. Les White was going to head for the deeper richer style of perfume that hadn’t really been represented by Jul et Mad so far.
When I stepped up to the booth at Esxence 2015 I had the inspiration explained to me. Then I had the chance to try all three. I was very pleased to find they all adhered to what I would consider the Jul et Mad aesthetic as they all took a dive into the deep end of the perfumed swimming pool. Perfumer Luca Maffei was responsible for Nea and Garuda. Perfumer Sidonie Lancesseur did Nin-Shar. I am going to review all three and will save Sig. Maffei’s for another day. Mme Lancesseur’s entry is a good place to start.
Nin-Shar is the Goddess of Plants in Sumerian mythology. The ancient civilization Mme Lancesseur was asked to interpret was that of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The Hanging Gardens didn’t really hang they were the original rooftop gardens on the Royal Palace of Babylon. As you can imagine Nin-Shar would be a busy goddess overseeing all of this. In Mme Lancesseuur’s perfume we find her in the section of the garden where roses grow. Nin-Shar is a decadently rich rose fragrance.
Mme Lancesseur uses an interesting rose accord to open Nin-Shar called Rose Liquor. It smells to me like rose which has been marinating in rum. It imparts a boozy floral quality to the early moments. It also has a kind of dark fruits character to it as it dominates for almost an hour and it slowly evolves over that time. The heart of Nin-Shar is actual Turkish rose along with Egyptian jasmine. A lot of time these raw materials are used so as to moderate their spicy and indolic facets, respectively. Mme Lancesseur couldn’t afford to allow that or they would have been lost to the rose liquor. She uses everything those notes have to give. This makes for a floral heart with an intensity of deep floral highlights that is in constant evolution on my skin. I think because Mme Lancesseur doesn’t try to hold back it makes for an overall effect which is much more kinetic than you might expect from something this intense. We head for a woody base with one of the Robertet patchouli fractions which accentuates the more herbal nature of patchouli. Mme Lancesseur blends oud, cedar, and sandalwood as her foundation. Unlike the heart accord this is kept tightly controlled. That allows the rose to linger much longer over the final stages. A bit of sweet vanilla and frankincense round things out.
Nin-Shar has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Nin-Shar is without a doubt the deepest and strongest perfume in the entire Jul et Mad Collection. Even so it does not feel out of place. It feels like the deeply emotional connection between two individuals in love. Had they chosen to make this Chapter 5 of the perfumed love story it would have fit. Instead we have an opulent rose which seems like its own Ancient Wonder.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Jul et Mad at Esxence 2015.
There are so many inspirations which turn into perfume but the story behind Jul et Mad is, I think, unique. Julien Blanchard and Madalina Stoica-Blanchard are the owners and Creative Directors of Jul et Mad which comes from the abbreviation of their first names. The first three fragrances followed the pair from Lexington Avenue in NYC to a café in Paris and left us with them on a palazzo in Venice. For the fourth fragrance in the Histoire D’Amour series, Acqua Sextius, our lovers travel to Aix-en-Provence where they will wed.
The Real Jul et Mad
For Acqua Sextius perfumer Cecile Zarokian was asked to be the interpreter of chapter four. The name comes from the original name given Aix-en-Provence by Roman consul Gaius Sextius in 123 BC. The Acqua is particularly appropriate as Aix-en-Provence is now known for its over 100 fountains and its famous thermal springs. Mme Zarokian captures the green vitality of a summer day in the South of France at the same time there is a very clever watery theme running throughout. This turns Acqua Sextius into a sort of green aquatic although it often times feels in a class of its own.
Mme Zarokian wakes us up with a sparkle of sunlight streaming into our bedroom; she combines a citrus trio of lemon, orange, and grapefruit with a translucent veil of green notes as if one was looking at the sun through gauzy green curtains. This is a wonderfully executed opening which brims with the potential of the day ahead. In a nod to the thermal baths a bit of eucalyptus and mint deepen the green and an application of ozonic notes give the impression of a spa bath. A bouquet of floral notes centered on mimosa make up the heart of Acqua Sextius. Mme Zarokian keeps them light and playful and as we head outside a fig tree adds in its luscious creamy greenness. Mme Zarokian uses labdanum to deepen the green theme as we are now walking in green fields. Ambergris carries the smell of the nearby Etang de Berre. For most of the time Acqua Sextius is on my skin this is where things stay; as a pleasant mix of aquatic, floral, and green. Many hours after applying it everything turns lightly woody with cedar and gaiac mixing with a light sheer musk which is the perfect easy way to end our day in Provence.
Acqua Sextius is an Extrait de Parfum and despite its ineffable lightness it lasts overnight on my skin. The sillage is also more than one might expect from an Extrait de Parfum but you won’t be leaving a vapor trail in your wake.
Fontaine de la Rotonde on the Cours Mirabeau in Aix-en-Provence
One of things I am coming to admire about the way Mme Zarokian composes her fragrances is deftness of precision which places each note in its proper place. I also admire that even though she works for many different brands her style does not impose its will upon each brand's characteristics. Acqua Sextius is clearly a Cecile Zarokian fragrance but it is even more importantly a Jul et Mad fragrance and I am sure that is due to a very close working relationship throughout the process of finishing Acqua Sextius. For me the fragrant wedding of one of my favorite perfumers and favorite creative directors is a complete success. I will be wearing Acqua Sextius throughout the upcoming summer pretending my backyard is a field in Provence.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample of Acqua Sextius provided by Jul et Mad at Esxence 2014.