New Perfume Review NEZ Ambre A Levres- Memories of our Families’ Lipstick

One of the best things to come out of 2020 was a new perfume series from the magazine NEZ. At the beginning of the year they began what they call the 1+1 series. The idea is to take an artist from outside of the fragrance business and pair them with a perfumer. Both of last year’s editions made my best of the year list. Watching to see the perfume result of two artists in collaboration is even better than it sounds. The third 1+1 is here in NEZ Ambre a Levres.

Marjane Satrapi

In the first two cases I was unfamiliar with the artist asked to be creative director. Not this time. Marjane Satrapi was the artist and writer behind the graphic novel “Persepolis”. It is an autobiographical story of her early life surviving in Iran after the Islamic Revolution. Mme Satrapi pulls the reader in through sharply drawn black-and-white panels to tell her story. It is one of the great graphic novels of all time. The final sentence has always stayed with me “Freedom has a price.” It was with great anticipation I awaited what she and perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui would come up with.

Mathilde Bijaoui

Where it began was the memory of Mme Satrapi’s aunt. She had a wide array of beauty products. The one which drew the attention of the 6-year-old Mme Satrapi were the lipsticks. The concept of perfume inspired by lipstick is nothing new. The question is how you can add an interpretation which gives it new life.

As Mme Bijaoui and Mme Satrapi began to work together they homed in on the nature of the lipstick accord. No rose. Only a specific ionone instead of all of them. And iris. What sealed the collaboration was a combination of Mme Satrapi’s current use of amber perfumes. Mme Bijaoui presented a leathery amber accord for the lipstick to rest upon. Once the pieces were there all that was left to bring them together in Ambre a Levres.

In the early moments this reminds me of the perfume on a stylish lady’s vanity and not the lipstick. It is because iris is out in front carried by a set of aldehydes. There was a mélange of scent from the different cosmetics on my mother’s vanity. The very first moments remind me of that. Then methyl-ionone comes forward. Because it comes from iris it is almost as if the rhizome exudes only the one specific version. The lipstick accord attains a waxiness as the intensity increases. Now the second half comes.

My grandmother kept her lipsticks in a leather cosmetics bag. As much as I associate violet with lipstick, I also think of leather from the bag they were kept in. The inclusion of Suederal has more to do with Mme Satrapi’s enjoyment of its leathery ambery quality. Before it comes into play in Ambre a Levres vanilla connects the lipstick accord to the Suederal. A suite of musks add an animalic diffusiveness to the final stages.

Amber a Levres has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is a fantastic interpretation of the lipstick accord given new life through the vanilla and amber in the base. Both Mme Satrapi and I have the fragrance we need to remember our family members for whom the right lipstick was essential.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by NEZ.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Jo Malone Scarlet Poppy- Grainy Floral

Whenever I am chatting online with other perfume lovers, I am sometimes surprised at the way certain brands are seen. I think Jo Malone has been in the middle of a great creative run overseen by creative director Celine Roux. Whenever I bring this up, I am met by “that line is so safe/bland”. That threshold is different for everyone. I try to encourage those I am chatting with to take a second look. I point them to the Absolu or Cologne Intense collections. It is within those that Mme Roux tries to work outside of that perception. The latest addition to the Cologne Intense collection, Jo Malone Scarlet Poppy is a good example.

Celine Roux

Back in 2018 Mme Roux oversaw a set of perfumes under the “English Fields” where the five fragrances worked with grains as keynotes. I thought it was well-done. One of my favorites was Poppy & Barley by perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui. Working again with Mme Bijaoui, Scarlet Poppy feels like an evolution of that earlier scent. The similarity to that previous fragrance is in the inclusion of fig, poppy, and barley. The use of the grain adds a different textural feel.

Mathilde Bijaoui

Mme Bijaoui uses the botanical musk of ambrette wrapped around a green fig as her top accord. The gentle muskiness of ambrette is ideal as a complement to the fig. The floral accord which comes next is the poppy. It has a sticky green aspect which is softened by iris to form an abstract poppy. This is where the barley comes in again. This time it resonates with the ambrette and the iris more intensely. The big difference comes as the barley combines with the toasty sweetness of tonka bean. There is a moment when it reminds me of a cereal with vanilla milk. That passes quickly. Cedar comes to provide a clean woody way of moving away from the cereal metaphor.

Scarlet Poppy has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Scarlet Poppy is why I think the current Jo Malone under Mme Roux is not “safe/bland”. This is a perfume with some unique choices by Mme Bijaoui which pay off. If I’ve convinced you to give the brand a second look this is a good place to start.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Jo Malone.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Jo Malone Yuja- Finding the Green

If you enjoy a brand it is almost a certainty, they will discontinue one of your favorites. Jo Malone has a couple of my very favorites which are no longer available. One is 2008’s Sweet Lime & Cedar. The simple juxtaposition of tart citrus and clean woods through a Southeast Asian lens is perfect for summer days. The brand has returned to that area of the world for inspiration with another citrus and wood; Jo Malone Yuja.

Celine Roux

Yuja is part of the Blossoms in Bloom collection. Starting with the iconic Orange Blossom by the brand’s founder it also includes last year’s Frangipani Flower. For 2020, creative director Celine Roux asked perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui for two new compositions. Besides Yuja, Waterlily is the other. I thought that perfume accentuated the first part of the compound word over the second part. Yuja is also part of a popular genre of fragrance too. Sometimes it all comes down to how the creative team seeks to make just enough difference. That is what I experienced with Yuja.

Mathilde Bijaoui

Yuja is the South Korean version of yuzu which is an Asian version of lemon. When I’ve smelled the real thing, I am struck at the significant green scent it has. Very often when it is used in perfume it tends to hew more towards just being lemon in Asian clothing. In this case Mme Bijaoui seeks out the green and accentuates it with herb and wood.

The yuzu is the first thing I smell. It is given some focus with a smidge of petitgrain. Framing the edges in preparation for clary sage to shine a spotlight on the green in the center of it all. Lavender picks up on the herbal while adding a fleeting floral to this part of the development. Fir balsam provides the woody version of green as the yuzu nestles within the needles.

Yuja has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Yuja is going to be a great choice for the warmer days coming. It is refreshing with a satisfying twinkle beneath the citrus. Mme Bijaoui makes this stand out because she found the green.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample supplied by Jo Malone.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Jo Malone Vetiver & Golden Vanilla- Cozy Green Blanket

As I start another review of a new Jo Malone fragrance, I am again going to laud Creative Director Celine Roux. With a brand as long-lived as this one there is a point where it can go in one of two directions. The more typical choice is to coast on a wave of self-referential mediocrity. Taking advantage of the initial goodwill built up. I’ve finally learned to just close the book on those brands. The way Jo Malone chose was to give Mme Roux a mission of reinvigorating the brand. She has done such a good job I look forward to every new release. Jo Malone Vetiver & Golden Vanilla is another extension of her tenure.

Celine Roux

The change had begun prior to Mme Roux’s arrival when Christine Nagel created the “Cologne Intense” sub-collection. These were richer deeper styles than previously found in a Jo Malone bottle. Since taking charge Mme Roux has put her own imprint on these more recent releases within this collection. Vetiver & Golden Vanilla is one of these.

Mathilde Bijaoui

Mme Roux has also seemingly been working with a small roster of perfumers she keeps returning to. For this one she collaborates with Mathilde Bijaoui. One of the advantages of building a working relationship with a perfumer is there is more congruity on what the perfume should smell like. That seems to be the case with these two. The concept behind this is to showcase two of the most famous ingredients from the island of Madagascar; the Bourbon varieties of vetiver and vanilla.

Before either of them show-up a fabulous top accord of cardamom, tea and grapefruit lead things off. The cardamom is the greener version, the tea is also green both combine to coax the green quality of grapefruit rind to join them. This is a smart way of tinting things a lighter shade of green before it gets down to business. That happens when the vetiver adds its grass-like green to it. Clary sage shades it deeper yet. Before this becomes too strident the vanilla appears. This is the vanilla orchid version giving a strong reminder that it is first a plant before a flavoring. It softens any of the slight edginess the vetiver supplies. The final effect is a plush comfort scent.

Vetiver & Golden Vanilla has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is another excellent perfume under Mme Roux’s oversight. If you’re looking for a little New Year’s treat snuggle underneath this cozy green blanket.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Jo Malone.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Etat Libre d’Orange Spice Must Flow- Holiday Corsage

I have a whole section of perfumes I wear over the Holidays. Probably my favorite of all of them is 2010’s Etat Libre d’Orange Like This. I enjoy it because it is the perfume which closely resembles cocooning at home with family and friends. It is a cozy, happy fragrance I will never be without. Earlier this year I heard that the perfumer, Mathilde Bijaoui, was making a new spicy perfume for creative director Etienne de Swardt. At the time it was exclusive to a European department store and I resigned myself to waiting until it was released more widely. It turns out that time is now as I received my sample of Etat Libre d’Orange Spice Must Flow just in time for the Holidays.

Etienne de Swardt

Anyone who is a fan of the science fiction series “Dune” by Frank Herbert will recognize the name. In the book “God Emperor of Dune” we are told, “The spice had glowed radiant blue in the dim silver light; and the smell- bitter cinnamon, unmistakable.” If you are of the mind-set to pair your perfume to its name, there is plenty for you to find within Spice Must Flow. Because it has arrived at the beginning of the Season, I’m in a more Holly Jolly Christmas mood about it all.

Mathilde Bijaoui

Spice Must Flow opens on an overdose of cardamom. It provides a zesty green tinted whoosh. Ginger comes along to add even more kinetic energy. Mme Bijaoui adds a tiny bit of warmth as cinnamon wends its way in between the cardamom and ginger. Then an opulent Turkish rose arises. This is that spicy rose I prefer. The previous set of spices finds plenty to harmonize with. The ginger slowly mellows out until it provides a subtle gingerbread accord as if there was some baked a few hours ago. It ends on shiny silvery frankincense atop a fir tree.

Spice Must Flow has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

It might become easy for many to label this Like This 2. It is not that. If Like This is about the joys of being home. Spice Must Flow is the excitement of going to a Holiday party wearing a Turkish rose on your wrist, or lapel. I think I have a new perfume for my holiday shelf.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Roger & Gallet Feuille de Figuier- Refreshing Green

I have written many times in the past about my belief that Roger & Gallet is one of those “best bang for your buck” brands. Using some of the best perfumers available while giving them latitude to provide something different in the drugstore venue has produced a collection which should be more widely known. Until the end of last year it seemed like Roger & Gallet had given up on bringing their version of quality to the masses. After a two-year hiatus they came back with a five-fragrance collection which captured all that I praise the brand for. I was hoping this was a sign there would be more regular output. When I received my package of Feuillle de Figuier I was happy to see things were back on track.

I was particularly pleased to see the name of this new release because one of the highlights of the Roger & Gallet collection is 2013’s Fleur de Figuier. Composed by perfumer Francis Kurkdjian it is still one of the best fig perfumes I own. Feuille de Figuier seeks to interpret fig in a different more austere paradigm.

Mathilde Bijaoui

Perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui decides to focus on creating a perfume with refreshing shades of green. This befits a perfume named after fig leaves. Throughout the entirety of its development there is a consistent green spine which is delivered in a lighter style ideal for warm weather months.

The best example of Mme Bijaoui tempering some of the stronger ingredients is her use of galbanum in the top accord. Most often this is a deep green powerful effect. By pairing it with sunnier citrus and controlling the concentration there comes a refreshing quality that will be repeated throughout Feuille de Figuier’s development. The citrus gives way to neroli and its green underpinnings. The galbanum amplifies that. The orange blossom part of neroli finds itself adding some joie de vive to the fig leaves. Fig leaves a carry a creamy aspect along with the obvious leafy nature. That creaminess is enhanced by benzoin in the base while cedar brings in the raw green woodiness to keep things on the light side.

Feuille de Figuier has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Mme Bijaoui has delivered a genial transparent green perfume which is just the kind of sparkling green the days of summer call out for.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Jo Malone English Fields Collection- Grainy Gourmands

When I received my sample set of the new Jo Malone English Fields Collection a couple months ago I was instantly enthralled by Oat & Cornflower. It is still my favorite of the five releases in the collection. I also think the other four are quite good and thought I’d do a quick take on each of them. Creative Director Celine Roux collaborated with perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui on the entire collection which lends to a cohesion throughout this exploration of a different kind of gourmand fragrance type.

Green Wheat & Meadowsweet is a nicely realized version of those moments in the spring as the green shoots of new growth appear. Mme Bijaoui uses one of the grassy aromachemicals along with a healthy dose of grapefruit. That concentration of that citrus allows for its slightly sulfurous facets to blend with the fresh grassy part to form an accord which captures that early spring moment of the return of the green. Over time this warms, as if the sun is rising, making it slightly sweeter sort of hay-like by the time it reaches the base accord. It is an alternative to all the florals as a perfume to celebrate spring.

Celine Roux

In Crocus & Honey it starts off with a hay-like quality as Mme Bijaoui uses broom flower and coumarin in the top accord. Lavender matched with sage provides an herbal floral heart which fits in with the top accord pleasantly. The honey is then drizzled in at the same time almond and vanilla are also used to form a kind of honey butter accord. It is this final accord which I found the best part of Honey & Crocus.

Poppy & Barley is my second favorite mainly because of the floral not listed, violet. Mme Bijaoui uses a blend of violet and fig in the early going. That is a combo which appeals to me quite a bit. Blackcurrant bud turns it greener before the floral interlude of poppy accord carries you through to what really stands out here. The base accord is a texturally grainy affair made up of bran and barley. It is like running your hands through a filed of grains and bringing them to your face. A set of white musks leave you under the clothesline with linens drying in the sun.

Mathilde Bijaoui

Primrose & Rye seems like it comes from an English Field on one of the Caribbean Islands. The reason it seems like it comes from that part of the world is the use of coconut in the top accord along with sweet corn. It is a unique combination closer to sunscreen than gourmand. As it gives way to the florals in the heart the primrose is equally matched by an effervescent mimosa. The grain comes forward as the rye is leavened with a bit of vanilla. It reminds me of the smell of freshly baking rye bread. There is a slight sweetness paired with the graininess.

I found all five of the English Fields perfumes to have 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I think what Mme Roux has been bringing to Jo Malone has been a sense of adventurousness. She has overseen several perfumes for the brand over the last couple of years which really stand out. English Fields is part of that trend.

Disclosure: this review is based on samples provided by Nordstrom.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Jo Malone Jasmine Sambac & Marigold- Jasmine Dawn

Over the last couple of years Jo Malone creative director Celine Roux has been doing an outstanding job at expanding the overall aesthetic at Jo Malone. Last year’s English Oak collection. The previous Bloomsbury Collection and the recent English Fields collection have all shown her penchant at pushing beyond what you think of when the brand is spoken of. Of course, that kind of risk taking will naturally appeal to me. It can’t go on unabated which is why Mme Roux has sprinkled in several classically designed Jo Malone florals in between the collections.  While those were steeped deeply in the brand aesthetic I was wondering if the more adventurous spirit might make it into that side. I think Jo Malone Jasmine Sambac & Marigold is my answer.

Celine Roux

Jasmine Sambac & Marigold are part of the Cologne Intense collection within Jo Malone. I think this is one of the more underappreciated group of perfumes in the niche sector. I own most of them because they have always seemed to reach for a slightly more artistic vibe from the beginning. With Mme Roux overseeing some more adventurous attempts in the main brand it is not surprising that Jasmine Sambac & Marigold fits right in.

Mathilde Bijaoui

Mme Roux has been collaborating extensively with a perfumer for a few months lately. We are currently in the middle of her partnership with perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui. They have been producing some memorable perfumes starting with the Holiday release, Green Almond & Redcurrant, and the aforementioned English Fields set of five. Those all had subtle takes on a gourmand style. That is not the goal here. This is meant to capture the beauty of spring in full bloom as heralded by the two flowers on the label.

Marigold, also called tagete, is one of my favorite flowers in perfume meant to evoke spring. It has a pungent green aroma which also carries a fruity character along with it. It always reminds me of green growing things pushing up through the dirt. Mme Bijaoui starts this with the marigold out front given some depth with ylang-ylang. That is what allows it to stand up to the jasmine in the heart. The jasmine here Is lush without fully deploying its indoles. They are there but attenuated. Mme Roux was inspired by jasmine fields she saw at dawn in India. Mme Bijaoui threads through a watery accord to capture dew speckled petals of jasmine. The marigold is an excellent contrast forming an enjoyable duo for those spring mornings which start cold and end warm. It all settles on a cozy benzoin and amber base.

Jasmine Sambac & Marigold has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Mme Bijaoui and Mme Roux are having one of those serendipitous collaborations which produce special results. I don’t know what comes next, but I’ll spend my spring in Jasmine Sambac & Marigold awaiting it.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from Nordstrom.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Jo Malone Oat & Cornflower- Stick To Your Bones Perfume

There are perfumers who reprimand me for pigeonholing them as I write about them. I try to offer a weak defense that it means there is a perfume you’ve done which is memorable to me. It is good-natured conversation, but I admit there is truth to the perfumers’ assertion; I do associate certain perfumers with certain styles. Which of course doubles down when I learn they are working on a new release in that style. Which was why I greeted the press release for the new Jo Malone English Fields collection with some excitement. Perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui has made some of my favorite gourmand perfumes and she was going to be responsible for all five.

Celine Roux

Creative Director Celine Roux has really taken to working with specific perfumers over a series of releases. In 2017 Yann Vasnier was the collaborator on seven new fragrances. Mme Bijaoui jumped the gun a bit as she provided the Holiday 2017 release, Green Almond & Redcurrant. I mentioned in that review that Mme Roux seemed to be interested in featuring a different palette of ingredients along with working with perfumers who are adept at that style. Mme Bijaoui shows that Mme Roux’s instincts are right on as she produces a fantastic collection featuring grains as a focal point.

Mathilde Bijaoui

I just received my sample set of all five recently so I have initial impressions of all of them but there was one which grabbed me right away; Oat & Cornflower. I think I’ll probably do another post summarizing the other four English Fields perfumes another day because I think they are all interesting. Oat & Cornflower is the most interesting.

We’ve all probably eaten our share of oatmeal. You almost must add something to it to make it less bland. Mme Bijaoui does the same thing except she also makes sure the creamy graininess of the oat does not get lost throughout.

What greets you in the first moments is an ethereal use of hedione to provide a lilt of floral quality as the slightly musty dry oats come in underneath. Over minutes the oats become creamier as if they have been warmed in boiling water. Mme Bijaoui takes hazelnut and in using that makes it seem like it is when I add some nuts to my breakfast bowl of oatmeal. There is a nutty quality to oats; the hazelnut picks that thread out and examines it. The depth is provided by the base accord of benzoin gently supported by tobacco and vetiver. It turns into a stick to your bones gourmand.

Oat & Cornflower has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This exploration of grains is so well done in Mme Bijaoui’s hands that it is the first set of perfume this year which has really captured my attention fully. I encourage you to start with Oat & Cornflower then find out which one appeals to you.

Disclosure: This review based on a sample provided by Nordstrom.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Jo Malone Green Almond & Redcurrant- Nuts and Berries

I’m beginning the process of looking back over the year as I start to consider my end-of-year lists. Part of the fun of this is as I look back at specific brands some of them sneak up on me with the quality of their releases for the year. One of those that I’ve realized has had an awesome 2017 is Jo Malone. One of the reasons is creative director Celine Roux has taken the brand in some new directions this year. It started on an auspicious note with one of my favorite perfumes of 2017 Myrrh & Tonka by perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui. In a nicely symmetrical way the Holiday release for 2017, Green Almond & Redcurrant, is also by the same team.

Celine Roux

Jo Malone is known for their floral perfumes. This year Mme Roux has spent more time exploring new ingredients which are at the darker end of the perfumer’s palette. Oak, whisky, hazelnut, and tobacco have all been keynotes in releases this year. There has also been a trend towards gourmand-y styles within this year’s collection. Green Almond & Redcurrant removes the modifying “y” and goes full gourmand for this seasonal release.  

Mathilde Bijaoui

Green almond is another of these accords of something that cannot be extracted. It gives the opportunity for a perfumer to fine tune the effect they are going for. In Green Almond & Redcurant, Mme Bijaoui accentuates the contrasting textures of tart and milky so that the green is supplied by an accompanying note.

Before we get there Mme Bijaoui takes the other note in the name and sandwiches it between mandarin and petitgrain to form a very rounded fruity accord. It can seem slight but it is worth focusing on the first few moments. These kinds of fruity accords are seemingly commonplace but this one meshes seamlessly. Which then sets up the green almond accord as the tarter quality of the accord resonates with the petitgrain. The mandarin slides into the milky aspect. Then blackcurrant buds provide a more primitive version of the redcurrant. Which is a nice connection but it is those buds which provide the real green in the green almond heart. The buds have a slight acerbic quality to them, here they provide the rawness that the green in green almond refers to. It all comes together beautifully. Tonka comes to give this the rounded toasted vanilla nature to make it feel like some exotic Holiday confection from a far-away place. The base is straightforward cedar and amberwood.

Green Almond & Redcurrant has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

In my press materials it is mentioned that Green Almond & Redcurrant should be layered over Myrrh & Tonka. This is not something I am fond of but in this case with the same perfumer behind both it seems to create an even more festive fragrance. Green Almond & Redcurrant brings 2017 to a close with the same quality with which Jo Malone opened it. A combination of nuts and berries seems appropriate.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample from Jo Malone.

Mark Behnke