As we are firmly in the middle of winter where I need something to lift my spirits I turn to a hot cup of tea. I think I enjoy it because it carries a fragrant quality to the different types. Tea perfumes emulate that. One thing which always allows me to enjoy tea perfumes is the ingredient is not able to be extracted as an essential oil. That means this is another ingredient where a perfumer must construct their own signature tea accord. Here are five of my favorites.
Bvlgari Eau Parfumee au The Vert is the beginning of the tea trend in perfume. It is also remarkable for being one of the first releases where perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena’s style emerges in finished form. Today we take both for granted; in 1993 they were groundbreaking. M. Ellena forms a citrusy floral transparency through which tendrils of smoky green tea swirl. It is one of the all-time great perfumes.
Another perfumer known for her transparent style is Olivia Giacobetti in 2001’s L’Artisan Parfumeur Tea for Two she would create her own version. She chose to make a lapsang souchong accord which is where the fragrance begins. The scent of wood smoke dried black tea is gorgeously realized. Mme Giacobetti then adds some cinnamon followed by a veil of honey in the base. Among the best perfumes by one of the best perfumers.
Another take on the lapsang souchong accord came from independent perfumer Mandy Aftel in Aftelier Vanilla Smoke. Ms. Aftel constructs a pine wood dried version of the black tea accord. It adds the perfect amount of counterbalance to the vanilla. The real linchpin is an interstitial saffron which provides the spacing between the vanilla and the tea. This is another example of Ms. Aftel’s ability to find the most out of her accords.
The creative directors of Masque Milano, Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi, wanted to create a Russian tea ritual in a snowy St. Petersburg square. Perfumer Julien Rasquinet intersperses mint and smoke through his black tea accord before using a brilliantly conceived immortelle. That maple syrup quality transforms Russian Tea into the best tea perfume of the last few years.
Parfum D’Empire Osmanthus Interdite is one of those jasmine tea flowers which unfurl in a clear teapot. Perfumer Marc-Antoine Corticchiato uses jasmine and Osmanthus as floral components to a green tea accord which melds seamlessly with the florals. This is the fragrance equivalent of watching that jasmine tea rose languorously unfold in the tea pot.
If you’re looking for a little warmth this winter try wearing a cuppa perfume.
Once again I tried to smell every new perfume that was released in 2014 and like Wile E. Coyote chasing The Road Runner, I failed. I did smell more this year than I ever have, 614 new perfumes. Unfortunately as of this writing there were 1614 new releases in 2014. I only missed by a 1000. I think we can all agree that there is just too much new product which just smells too similar. The 25 perfumes I highlight below managed to stand out from everything I tried this year.
Top 5 (Fragrance of the Year Candidates)
5. Amouage Sunshine Woman– Creative Director Christopher Chong and perfumer Sidonie Lancesseur have created the most un-Amouage Amouage perfume in Sunshine Woman. With Mr. Chong’s hand on the creative wheel Mme Lancesseur guided Amouage into sunnier places than Amouage usually travels. That they accomplished this without using the typical sparkling ingredients from the perfumer’s palette makes it all the more remarkable. I still don’t think I do justice describing this in words other than it is one of the best perfumes of the year.
4. Maria Candida Gentile Leuco– When I attended Pitti Fragranze I must have tried thirty tuberose perfumes each more boringly generic than the next one. Until Maria Candida Gentile handed me Leuco. As part of her Il Volo del Calabrone (Flight of the Bumblebee) collection she has made a tuberose that does not seek to club you over the head. In Leuco, Sig.ra Gentile has combined it with French beeswax to create a shimmering powdery tuberose perfume.
2. Bogue Profumo Maai– The absolute best surprise of all of 2014 for me. I had heard a little bit of independent perfumer Antonio Gardoni. I didn’t expect such an assured piece of perfumery from a self-taught artist on his third release. Maai feels like a perfume of yesteryear that could be found in the glove compartment of a Tesla. When I speak of Retro Nouveau, if you need an example, try Maai and I think you’ll instantly understand what I mean.
Here are the rest of the Top 25 in alphabetical order:
Aftelier Palimpsest– Natural Perfumer Mandy Aftel is a national treasure as she continues to branch out. Her book Fragrant is the best volume on perfume in years. She also released a transcendent perfume named after the technique used in medieval times of writing over already used parchment. Palimpsest the perfume also has layers upon layers which reward my attention every time I wear it.
Ann Gerard Parfum Rose Cut– Ann Gerard came to perfumery from designing jewelry. Her fourth collaboration with perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour is a bright shining diamond that smells like a rose.
aromaM Camellia– Indie Perfumer Maria McElroy makes what I think is her most personal perfume to date. Camellia takes you more than skin deep right to the soul of a geisha in a subtle floral constructed around the titular note.
Arquiste The Architects Club– My Creative Director of the Year Carlos Huber obviously had a great 2014. The Architects Club is the crown on that year as a clash of uptight architects and flappers in 1930 London turns into a citrus, gin, and vanilla laden party. I keep going back to perfumer Yann Vasnier’s fragrant soiree for more.
By Kilian Intoxicated– If you felt that By Kilian has been off on a bit of a tangent you should come back and try the perfumes in the new Addictive State of Mind Collection. Intoxicated is a perfumed take on Turkish coffee by Calice Becker. She combines green cardamom and coffee into something I never want to see in a Starbucks cup but I want to wear over and over.
Comme des Garcons + Stephen Jones Wisteria Hysteria– There was no sequel I was more wary of than the second collaboration between Comme des Garcons and milliner Stephen Jones. Perfumer Nathalie Feisthauer created something akin to a new hat. You have to wear it a few times before it really fits. If you give Wisteria Hysteria time you will find a perfume with more subtlety and nuance throughout than almost any other release in 2014.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz
DSH Perfumes Seve de Pin– Dawn Spencer Hurwitz finds inspiration in so many places. Once she found Eric Bresselsmith of House of Aromatics and his 50-year old resin crystals in pure pinion oil she turned it into a photorealistic pine perfume like nothing I have ever smelled in this genre. Rocky Mountain high, indeed.
Etat Libre D’Orange Rien Intense Incense– Creative Director Etienne de Swadt asked perfumer Antoine Lie to create an “intense” version of the already intense 2006 release Rien. This could have gone wrong in so many ways but M. Lie created a flanker that is better than the original.
Hiram Green Shangri-La– Hiram Green was inspired by the alpha chypre, Chypre de Coty, to make his own version. His version may not be as groundbreaking as to create a whole new fragrance category but it as good as modern chypres get. Mr. Green has established himself as a new perfumer to watch in just his second release.
Le Labo Geranium 30– I wanted to not like this. A limited edition of only 100 bottles by perfumer Barnabe Fillion in collaboration with lifestyle store Opening Ceremony with added creative direction from floral designer Thierry Boutemy. I wanted to dismiss this, I really did. I can’t. It is the best Le Labo floral since Rose 31. There is no reason for this to be so limited because of some rare ingredient so maybe the new masters at Estee Lauder can release it widely in 2015, y’know as a goodwill gesture.
Map of the Heart Black Heart v.2– If you, like me, have wondered just how dark a perfume can get and still remain wearable this will test that. Perfumer Jacques Huclier makes a perfume that has not even one tiny point of light. If you’ve craved an olfactory heart of darkness, here it is.
Masque Milano Russian Tea– I’ll admit I wasn’t as big a fan of the initial three releases from Masque Milano in 2013. It couldn’t be a more different story in 2014. The second release for 2014, Russian Tea, is fabulous. Perfumer Julien Rasquinet, in the last perfume of his independent career, realized creative directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi’s brief of having a potent cup of tea on a winter’s day in St. Petersburg.
Naomi Goodsir Or du Serail– Naomi Goodsir and Renaud Coutaudier are two of my favorite creative directors because they are uncompromising in waiting until they get the modification they want. For Or du Serail they pushed perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour into creating one of his best and most textural perfumes of the last couple of years.
Neela Vermeire Creations Mohur Extrait– Neela Vermeire let me have a tiny taste of this over a year before it was finally released. It was a very frustrating secret to keep because Mohur Extrait is the best of this line to date. Mohur Extrait is a quantum leap better than the very good parent Mohur EdP all while staying very personal.
Olfactive Studio Ombre Indigo– The blue liquid in the clear flacon is visually striking all by itself. The photographic inspiration by Gustavo Pelizzon is a study in shadow. The perfume by Mylene Alran under owner Celine Verleur’s creative direction is a study in chasing perfumed shadows cast by tuberose and vetiver. I still haven’t tired of it.
Olivier Durbano Promethee– Experiencing Olivier Durbano’s development as a perfumer for nearly ten years didn’t prepare me for this fully realized creation based on the mythological character Prometheus. It feels like M. Durbano has offered a smoldering firebrand announcing his arrival as one of our best perfumers.
Parfumerie Genrale 7.1 Grand Siecle Intense– Pierre Guillaume has been going back and making variations on his earlier Parfumerie Generale fragrances. This re-working of Cologne Grand Siecle felt like he finally completed that perfume, adding in a proper heart and base to what was, and in 7.1 still is, one of the most brilliant lemon accords I have ever smelled. This was my favorite perfume of the summer of 2014. I really hope he keeps making it.
Roja Parfums Nuwa– There are sometimes I want my perfume to be big as it can be. Say what you will of Roja Dove but he has no fear of going as big as you can. Nuwa is that philosophy applied to a classic chypre.
slumberhouse Sadanne– Perfumer Josh Lobb released this in the summer and I have spent the rest of the year enjoying every time I wear this. Mr. Lobb has created a perfume of abrupt tonal shifts from gourmand to prickly floral to feral beast. This is probably too much for many. I can’t get enough of it.
Tauer Perfumes Cologne du Maghreb– Andy Tauer decides to take cologne and make it something completely Tauer-like. Hr. Tauer challenged himself to create an all-natural, all-botanical cologne. The result was a wonderful bit of inspiration and imagination.
Ulrich Lang New York Aperture– Ulrich Lang has been making a habit of flying below the radar. If I had an award for most underrated perfume brand his would be one of the front runners. Aperture is another example of why this brand should be more lauded. Hr. Lang was inspired by an amazing photograph by Olivia Bee. The perfume captures all that the picture promises. This might be one of the harder perfumes on this list to find. Make the effort, you will be well-rewarded for it.
The Final Cuts: The 18 Which Just Missed the Top 25- Aedes de Venustas Oeillet Bengale, Atelier Cologne Blanche Immortelle, Bottega Veneta Knot, Comme des Garcons Pharell Williams Girl, Dior La Collection Privee Cuir Cannage, Grandiflora Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine, Jardins D’Ecrivains Junky, Jo Malone Wood Sage & Sea Salt, Juliette Has a Gun Moon Dance, Le Galion Whip, Masque Milano Tango, Mona di Orio Myrrh Casati, Ormonde Jayne Black Gold, Parfum D’Empire Corsica Furiosa, Parfums de Nicolai Cuir Cuba Intense, Parfums DelRae Wit, Providence Perfume Co. Violet Beauregarde, and Richard Luscher Britos 14oS48oE.
That’s it for 2014. Most of you will be reading this on New Year’s Eve and I want to wish all of the readers of Colognoisseur a happy and healthy 2015. I’ll be here exploring fragrance with you throughout the upcoming year. ACME just delivered my rocket-powered sneakers so maybe I'll be able to keep up this time.
One of the more interesting presentations at Pitti Fragranze was the one for the new release from Masque Milano. When I walked through one of the aisles I was met with a stand which had a Russian samovar as its centerpiece. When I focused a little more I saw Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi, the Crative Directors for the brand, standing behind it. I knew that the promised fifth fragrance from Masque Milano called Russian Tea was ready to be tried.
Masque Milano display at Pitti Fragranze 2014 (Photo: Fragrantica)
Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi had visited Russia and were treated to a Russian Tea Ritual while in a snowy Saint Petersburg. They wanted to capture in a perfume not only the tea ritual but also the journey of the tea leaves by train across Siberia to their eventual location. As they would tell me, before giving me some to try, Russian Tea when being transported by train is kept dry by wood burning fires underneath. This causes the tea leaves to take on a smoky character. Another component of the transportation is the use of mint to also modulate the smokiness of the fires and keep the tea fresh. Once the tea is presented as part of the ritual a teaspoon of raspberry preserve is added. To encompass the journey from tea leaves to samovar, perfumer Julien Rasquinet was asked to bring this to life. For M. Rasquinet this would be his last independent perfume before taking a job with IFF. He would deliver this perfume on December 31, 2013 and on January 1, 2014 he would destroy his lab to take on his new duties. As a final nod to his independent career M. Rasquinet goes out on a high note.
Riccardo Tedeschi (l.) and Alessandro Brun
The opening of Russian Tea is all of the things around the tea ritual. There is a hint of mint as the leaves are prepared. The raspberry preserves are placed in a pot on the table. The leaves give off a piquant aroma carried by a pinch of black pepper in the top notes. The tea then begins to brew, thick and savory, in the olfactory samovar. M. Rasquinet uses a very intense black tea accord and to keep it from being too dark he cleverly uses immortelle to temper the strength. It is really a quite brilliant choice as the maple syrup feel of immortelle adds just the right amount of contrasting sweetness to make the black tea comforting. As the cup is placed before you the steam arises carrying all the scents of the journey as birch and leather form a smoky duet. Incense wafts across the base notes as a wonderfully eccentric grace note.
Russian Tea has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
When I drink tea I enjoy it dark and smoky. Russian Tea serves me up a fragrance that is not only dark and smoky it is also full of all the splendor of the Russian Tea Ritual throughout. This is a perfume which is as comforting as a cup of strong dark tea on a winter’s day in St. Petersburg.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Masque Milano at Pitti Fragranze.