When I first started finding out who the perfumers were behind my favorite perfumes, I was surprised to find I had a type. Some of my earliest favorites were from Comme des Garcons. I would determine the perfumer behind most of those was Mark Buxton. For over twenty years he has remained as one of those I look to for something different. In Mark Buxton Why Not a Cologne he asks a question for which he has a surprising answer.
The last ten years or so have seen a golden age for the cologne type of fragrance. No longer the derided stepchild it has been given new verve through smart artists reimagining the form. With that said the recipe has remained the same from the original Johann Maria Farina triad of citrus-floral-herbal. Modern purveyors have altered some of the pieces using modern ingredients but have mostly kept to a streamlined architecture. The question Mr. Buxton is asking here is “why can’t a cologne do more?”
This is part of a new four fragrance collection by Mr. Buxton and David Chieze called The Freedom Collection. The other three are inspired by the Queen hit broken down into three fragrances I Want, To Break, and Free. Why Not a Cologne decides to call its own tune.
It is still a cologne of three distinct phases of fruit, floral, and woods. This is not a simple recipe it is complex accords which progress like a cologne. Mr. Buxton’s to make something as fulsome seem like it belongs to a more facile genre is what makes this so interesting.
The fruit top accord is made up of red apple, mandarin, and pineapple. Mr. Buxton asks why does it need to be only one fruit? Especially when three can do better. The apple adds a crispness to the accord while the mandarin adds citrus tart and the pineapple sugary sweetness. Any one would have been fine but balanced into a single accord it is better. The floral heart follows the same plan with rose, magnolia, jasmine, and neroli. The magnolia is the lead singer, but it is the harmonies of the other florals which make it more. This is a floral accord which forms a single accord which improves the whole. For the base, a leathery chypre-like accord awaits. Vetiver, ambergris, castoreum, cedar, and leather. This is more intense than a typical cologne finish, but it is just like what has come before in this perfume. It is a complete accord which shows a fuller scent profile than is usual in a cologne.
Why Not a Cologne has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Mr. Buxton continues to ask intriguing questions of what fragrance can be. His answer to why not a cologne is “because it can do more”.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
When I lived in Boston there was a place I went to escape the summer heat out in the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts. It was an easy hike up to a stand of birch trees on the edge of an overlook where I could revel in the coolness of the place. As I would eat my lunch among the trees, I always marveled at how the birch smelled. Especially when I was familiar with it as its perfumery use as birch tar. It is that ingredient which makes up many leather accords. I would sit among the real thing and think there was a different woody freshness like a heftier cedar. I have often wondered why there haven’t been fragrances which attempted to use this face of this ingredient. Olfactive Pharmacy Betula shows how to do it.
Olfactive Pharmacy is a new brand which just released their first three fragrances. Founded by two brothers who are pharmacists in Cologne, Germany: Oliver and Holger Dubben. They wanted their brand to represent the perfume ingredients which are also reputed to have therapeutic uses. Betula represents the birch. The Dubbens chose to collaborate with perfumer Mark Buxton to achieve their vision. Mr. Buxton forms a fragrance of wood and leaf finding a balance between the two.
It opens with a citrus flare of sunlight via citron. The use of citron instead of lemon allows for the green undercurrent of that to mesh with the set of green vegetal notes representing the leaves of a tree. This reminded me of looking up at the sunlight through the canopy of birch leaves. The woodiness becomes a bit more prevalent as we move forward. It seems that Mr. Buxton diluted birch tar down until it comes closer to the bark of the tree. The green leafiness also rises in volume to match the woods. Over the base there is a slightly watery earthiness as vetiver takes its woody green nature as a foundation for Betula.
Betula has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Betula is a version of birch you haven’t found in perfumery much. It is a perfect midsummer fresh alternative to the vetiver and cedar stalwarts. Betula makes a grand debut for die bruder Dubben. I look forward to what the future holds.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
There isn’t a great movie about perfume; yet. There is a great movie which features perfume prominently. As of now 2014’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is the best depiction of fragrance on the silver screen.
The movie was the eighth directed and written by Wes Anderson. Mr. Anderson has become one of the most reliable stylist auteurs working in movies. All his movies are multi-layered delights. The Grand Budapest Hotel works as a fractured non-linear tale told via time jumping.
It opens with a reporter meeting the owner of the titular edifice, Zero, in 1968. He wants to know how he went from lobby boy to owner. Zero tells the story beginning with his hiring in 1932. The man who hires him is Monsieur Gustave H. He is the majordomo of the hotel in its heyday. In control of everything from his appearance to his guests needs.
The important part of his appearance is his own signature perfume L’Air de Panache. People know where he has been if they smell it in the air. After one harrowing experience in the movie the first thing he asks for is some L’Air de Panache.
This is the depiction of the concept of the “signature scent”. It has never been depicted in a movie as well. For Gustave H it is part of who he is. He allows fragrance a piece of his personality to present to the world. When he has been deprived of it, he wants it.
For most who wear perfume this concept is what draws them to it. To have a scent which speaks to the world around you. I would say it is a piece of the popularity of artisanal and niche perfumery. That desire to find a scent which presents the way you see yourself to others.
While I don’t have any single perfume which I would consider a signature. I do have perfumes which fit specific occasions communicating the way I am feeling.
For weekend outings Thierry Mugler Cologne or Beth Terry Mare are the fragrance equivalent of jeans and t-shirt. When I am asked to something more formal Clive Christian C or Tom Ford Noir de Noir always seem perfect underneath a tux. I can’t reduce the wide world of perfume down to one single choice. It is too wonderful to me for that.
What The Grand Budapest Hotel does is depict how the right scent makes the person.
Postscript: In the movie L’Air de Panache did not exist. The bottles were filled with water. By the time of the World Premiere Mr. Anderson turned to perfumer Mark Buxton to create an actual version. It was given out as gifts to the cast and crew at the premiere.
Heading into 2020 it seems like vetiver is having a moment; again. It waxes and wanes in popularity due to how ubiquitous it becomes. I’ve never tired of good vetiver fragrances because a good perfumer has many tools to make it feel different. Mark Buxton is a good perfumer which means Linari Drago Nero should be a good vetiver perfume.
Linari is one of those underappreciated perfume brands. Creative director Rainer Diersche releases on an infrequent schedule which might be a reason it isn’t mentioned more. I have usually found the time between new fragrances has proven to lead to better results. For Drago Nero he again collaborates with Mr. Buxton. They have been working together on the last four Linari releases since 2012.
For this black dragon they chose to use two sources of vetiver. A cleaner grassier Haitian version and a smoky one from Java. They tend to provide the foundation between the early moments of Drago Nero and the latter stages.
When I saw the ingredient list, I saw pineapple listed which made me groan a little bit. Mr. Buxton instead uses a tart green apple to provide a crisp green fruit to complement the similarly clean green of the Haitian vetiver. There is also a citrus-like undercurrent in this vetiver. With mandarin that quality is given a bit more prominence especially in the earliest moments. A rich orange blossom provides the bridge between the two vetivers. The floral sweetness captures that citrus thread in the Haitian vetiver. The slight indolic core of the orange blossom grabs those tendrils of smoke rising from the Java vetiver. As Drago Nero resets itself a strong amber and woody mix shows the eventual destination. Sandalwood and Guaiac wood provide the woody part. Ambrarome gives a drier amber effect over the final phase.
Drago Nero has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Drago Nero is a different vetiver perfume for the shift which happens around the orange blossom. I liked the tonal change as it made me feel like I was wearing a different perfume than what I had put on in the morning. That made it more a shape-shifting vetiver chameleon than a roaring black dragon. If you are looking for a new vetiver for the spring Drago Nero is a good choice.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Linari.
When I was a young child there was a doll that was sold which had a tiny reservoir on the back for a child to put a fruit fragrance in. It had the scent of plastic soaked in fruit. I hadn’t thought about it for fifty years, probably. When I opened my sample of Moth and Rabbit Dolls it came back to me.
Moth and Rabbit is the new name of the previous brand Folie a Plusieurs. It still retains the ideal of interpreting avant garde films as perfume. I have not tried all of them but the ones I have are all unapologetically different. Asking wearers to embrace the oddness. The ideal perfumer for this is Mark Buxton who has made all the Moth and Rabbit releases.
I think it helps to know the film being interpreted. I had never heard of the 2002 film by Japanese director Takeshi Kitano. It moves through the seasons which is what Mr. Buxton wants to do beginning in spring and ending in winter. I can’t say I got any of the seasonal shift. What I did get was a dose of plastic doll head and fruit. Which brought back my childhood memories. Mr. Buxton has always found ways to explore the fringes of the perfumer’s palette. In Dolls he finds the plastic.
The plastic doll head accord centers on an unctuous ylang-ylang. Most of the time when I smell this I think a perfumer missed the mark on the right amount. I don’t think that here. Instead Mr. Buxton wraps it in the subtle fruitiness of cherry blossom followed by apple blossom. This is that fruity doll head I remember. The final stages transition to woods with maple and cedar over a selection of white musks. The latter is probably meant to evoke the snow of winter, but I never felt that.
Dolls has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
I’m not sure how many will be running for fruit scented plastic doll head as something they want to wear as a perfume. I found it to be quite easy to wear even in the heat of summer. I’m sure I’m going to return to it in the cooler weather because I think this plastic is fantastic.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
When the discussion turns to what the first niche perfume was it has some different answers depending on who you ask. While the early pioneers started in the late 1970’s-early 1980’s I would say that niche perfume became defined in the 1990’s. I would further aver that one of the brands which did that was Comme des Garcons.
That started in 1994 when Comme des Garcons founder Rei Kawakubo had Christian Astuguevieille oversee the foundation of the fragrance section of the brand. From that moment M. Astuguevieille has developed what has become one of the most influential niche brands in the industry which continues to be influential today. One of the things that twenty-three years of perfume making offers is a chance for perspective. It is easier to know which perfumes within the collection have been those signposts.
Why I am writing about this is Comme des Garcons is bringing back those early releases back to the market under the name of the Comme des Garcons Olfactory Library. As of June 19, 2017, you will be able to find ten releases of these seminal perfumes in the niche sector.
First and foremost, in the ten re-releases is the very first Comme des Garcons Eau de Cologne from 1994. Perfumer Mark Buxton would be one of the first to take a traditional fragrance architecture and turn it inside-out. What really blows me away is it still smells relevant today. This is no anachronism.
Three of the truly ground-breaking Series 6: Synthetic scents are part of this as Garage, Soda, and Tar make their return. When this was released, in 2004, it was marketed as “anti-perfume to the extreme”. What it asked was is there room in this new branch of artistic-minded perfumery for exploring real smells. All three of these are answers to that question.
The remaining six are two choices each from Series 1: Leaves, Series 2: Red, and Series 7: Sweet. Calamus from the Series 1: Leaves is one of perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour’s best green perfumes. He would return for Series 2: Red Sequoia with a booze-infused redwood forest; also included in this retrospective. Perfumer Nathalie Feisthauer did both Tar and Soda but if you want to see one of the forerunners of the gourmand style of fragrance Series 7: Sweet Sticky Cake provides that.
I’m leaving out expanding on Series 2: Red Palisander and Series 1: Leaves Lily and Series 7: Sweet Nomad Tea each of which also defined Comme des Garcons in the years of 1994-2005. Throughout there is the sure hand of M. Astuguevieille guiding Comme des Garcons to remain one of the leaders in a sector it helped broaden..
The overall concept of the Olfactory Library is for Comme des Garcons to continue to bring back the past in consistent sets of releases going forward. There are some amazing perfumes in that history to be given the opportunity to be discovered by this generation of perfume lovers.
Bertrand Duchaufour is one of my favorite perfumers because I feel like I can see his desire to use the ingredients on his palette in different ways. He is also the perfumer for whom I have probably given the most nicknames to from Pirate to High Priest of Incense I have always admired his way of designing perfumes. As I was thinking about his perfume he composed for Project Renegades I return to that focus of doing something different to achieve a desired effect. It turns him into The Experimentalist.
For his Project Renegades entry M. Duchaufour wanted to create a fresh marine fragrance without the usual suspects. It is particularly interesting because as Geza Schoen did with his Project Renegades fragrance M. Duchaufour uses an overdose of pink pepper in the top notes. Except this overdose gives a slightly different effect.
M. Duchaufour opens his perfume with 10% pink pepper. I am not sure how often I have smelled that concentration but at that level it effectively replaces that ozonic suite of notes which usually open this style of fragrance. At this kind of level the pink pepper has a surprisingly uplifting presence. I think I expected to get bowled over by it. Instead I was enticed into the cool pine forest as balsamic notes matched with cardamom, cassis, and juniper berries provide that accord. Once they become apparent it also brought to my attention the balsamic qualities inherent in the pink pepper at this concentration. This dries down into an amber and incense base which also carries a bit of desiccated driftwood to remind one we are on the beach.
Project Renegades Bertrand Duchaufour has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Mark Buxton is a perfumer who lives in the specific moment of creativity of a perfume. I like that he gets a concept within his imagination and then executes upon that in a matter of days. It is perfumery as practiced by only those skilled enough to trust those impulses to take you to a good place. Over his career knowing when to leave the well-trodden path has served him well. For Project Renegades he wanted to throw the saddle off of his horse and ride off at breakneck speed just to see where these notes would take him. It makes his Perfume Renegades entry the most unusual of the three as only The Instinctualist could provide.
I use the horse analogy because Mr. Buxton combines a sharp green opening of basil and galbanum with a stinky animal accord. He told me at Esxence he wanted people to go “WTF!” when they first sniffed it. With me it definitely has that effect. It reminds me of when my dog comes in from a summer rain shower after the grass is mowed and he has rolled around in it. It is weird and that quality is not relieved as we move deeper in to the development. A spicy rose is enhanced with black pepper, red pepper and clove but the stinky animal accord pushes right up against the rose corrupting it. All of this gives way to a very warm base accord of sandalwood and amber.
Project Renegades Mark Buxton has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I have had a great deal of fun with these Project Renegades perfumes. Each of them feels characteristic of the perfumer behind them. I also returned often to my analogy of a music supergroup in perfumed form. When that concept succeeds it is because the musicians are tasked with taking on different tasks than they usually do. Project Renegades saw these three perfumers take the opportunity to let The Scientist, The Experimentalist and The Instinctualist take on fragrance construction in a different way helping to illuminate what independent perfumery is all about.
Disclosure: This review is based upon samples from Project Renegades I received at Esxence 2016.
When I was at Esxence 2013 there was an exciting announcement which was made. Three of the best perfumers were going to combine their talents and release three perfumes under their own brand. This joint effort of Geza Schoen, Bertrand Duchaufour, and Mark Buxton was one of the topics of discussion for the remainder of the expo that year.
My thoughts on it were it reminded me of the rock music supergroup where a few successful musicians would combine to do something different. Cream was the first of these supergroups in 1965. The one which most probably remember as it was a product of the MTV video years was The Traveling Wilburys which included Roy Orbison, Georege Harrison, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, and Jeff Lynne. I could also be said that in operatic music The Three Tenors of Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, and Jose Carreras were also a supergroup. What makes these endeavors successful is each of the musicians finds their spot within the whole. The perfume supergroup, dubbed Project Renegades, succeeds because the three perfumers also managed to find a way for their individuality to stand out while forming a cohesive collection of three perfumes.
Over the next two days I am going to review all three of the releases. I start with Geza Schoen’s Entry.
When I approached the booth at Esxence 2016 the first question on my lips was, “What took you so long?” One answer was the bottles which have a three dimensional head of each perfumer which was designed from laser scans of their faces. This turned out to be especially challenging when it came to production. Even without the logistical headaches of the bottle Project Renegades still would have taken over a year because Hr. Schoen told me that was how long he worked on his perfume. It is not surprising to me because as a fellow chemist he applies his scientific training as he analyzes his raw materials. For Project Renegades he wanted to work with a version of pink pepper known as Schinus Molle. He told me he spent weeks just understanding all of the facets of this raw material. He used two extractions an essential oil and a CO2 extraction. Then he loads up the early moments with the schinus molle in overdose. This is the soul of The Scientist at work.
Hr. Schoen opens his fragrance with the two versions of schinus molle. The CO2 extraction has a bit of a cassis effect which he accentuates by adding a little bit of cassis with the tart citrus notes of lemon and lime. Hr. Schoen wanted an unusual top accord and he achieves it. By going for intense layering of the schinus molle and the cassis it jumps out at you. I liked the effect but it is going to make some step back away from it. If you can hang on the heart offers an orris-based accord matched with the expansiveness of hedione and the depth of osmanthus absolute. If the top notes are a bit confrontational the heart notes are there to settle the nerves. The base notes are a balsamic mixture of woods bolstered by Iso E Super and some animalic notes. This returns to being a little less easygoing as the castoreum provides a bit of a snarl at the end.
Project Renegades Geza Schoen has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I’ve said it before the state of rose perfumes in 2016 have made me grumpy about the class as a whole. I was so grumpy about it that I have to say I didn’t really pay much attention to one which was presented to me at Esxence 2016. As soon as I heard rose I was starting to check out. When it is perfumer Mark Buxton providing the perfume I probably should have been more generous. The rose curmudgeon was not interested in this new Mark Buxton Perfumes A Day In My Life.
One of the dangers of the sheer perfume overload of a large exposition like Esxence is you become jaded to the expected. It has a good effect because it allows the most interesting things to literally jump out of the noise. The bad is what happened here. Mr. Buxton said rose I tuned out. When I got home and was sorting my samples I was in a less saturated state and thought to give A Day In My Life another go. I am glad I did because I was drawn into Mr. Buxton’s vision of a modern rose.
The structure of A Day In My Life is to use three sources of rose; essential oil on top, absolute in the heart, and concrete in the base. This kind of staged construction allows for an evolving long-lived rose effect. With the rose oil in the top Mr. Buxton uses schinus molle. Schinus molle is a variation on pink peppercorn from Peru. This provides a spicy rose effect in the beginning. In the heart lily of the valley and elemi provide extra floral support. It is here where the rose feels most normal. In the base is where it takes on the modern evolution. Using the rose concrete it imparts a metallic shimmer to the rose. Adding in cistus, patchouli and sandalwood tries to ground it. It never succeeds as it feels like a cyborg rose all the way.
A Day In My Life has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
A Day In My Life is the final fragrance in the Mark Buxton Perfumes line. Despite my initial impatience it is a fitting end for a collection which has been overall very strong.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Mark Buxton Perfumes at Esxence 2016.
When I was at Esxence I actually met Kaya Sorhaindo for the first time. Kaya had been responsible for the creation of Six Scents Perfumes. I had wondered what he was doing and at a stand just inside the entrance I found the answer. He has started a line of perfume under the brand name Folie a Plusieurs. The first collection is called Le Cinema Olfactif. In this collection he asked perfumer Mark Buxton to interpret a specific moment from five independent films. Each perfume carries a time stamp calling out the isolated moment from each film. My favorite of the debut perfumes was the one based on Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film Blow-Up.
The specific section of Blow-Up interpreted is where the photographer protagonist is looking at an abstract oil painting done by his neighbor who is living with the woman the photographer desires. It is the three conversations he has with this object of desire which lets us know there is still the need for human connection for a man who appears to use his camera as a barrier. While visiting he stares at one of the paintings as the camera stays focused on him. Mr. Buxton described it as, “The oil painting becomes a metaphor for holding onto a small part that is real from the abstract.”
The perfume Mr. Buxton creates captures that mix of outward ennui as inside you fight for real emotional connection. It opens on a swirl of marijuana smoke and the green of the park. They match quite nicely as they give a sign of pleasures illicit and innocent. The heart is where Blow-Up is really interesting as Mr. Buxton chooses to juxtapose the two art forms on display in the movie, photography and oil painting. He has created a very synthetic accord which captures the dark room and the smell of oil paint. These are both odors which carry an acrid edge to them but underneath there is also a subtle sweetness which Mr. Buxton probably makes more apparent than in reality. The final stages of Blow-Up are made up of polished aged wood. This is wood hidden behind a veneer of polish. It, like the photographer, is looking for a way to get out from underneath the shiny surface.
Blow-Up has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
The work done by Mr. Buxton across all five of the Le Cinema Olfactif collection is very good. I will admit my affection for Blow-Up might be because it is also my favorite movie of the initial ones. The very synthetic smelling heart will also not make every perfume lover happy. For me it does capture the mood of the film and I enjoyed it quite a bit. So much so I watched the film again while wearing the perfume one night. I am really looking forward to the coming attractions from Kaya and Mr. Buxton.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Folie a Plusiurs at Esxence 2015.