I am a big fan of the biannual perfume magazine NEZ. Run by Jeanne Dore and Dominque Brunel it has formed one of the best contemporary references for perfume lovers. I look forward to each new issue. When I ordered the latest issue, No. 8, I was given an option to have a perfume included. I clicked on that choice and received a 15mL bottle of perfume that is the beginning of a yearly perfume project for NEZ.
They are calling it 1+1 imagining one creative from outside the perfume world and a perfumer coming together for a limited edition. For this first release they chose Hong Kong designer Alan Chan and perfumer Maurice Roucel. Mr. Chan is known for his riffs on tea house designs. After talking with M. Roucel they decided on a perfume based on tea called NEZ Hong Kong Oolong.
Alan Chan (l.) and Maurice Roucel
Within the accompanying magazine there is a lengthy article on the entire design process. What caught my attention was the desire of both men to capture the history of China as it is faced with evolving in the 21st century. By choosing oolong tea they capture the contrasts apparent in balancing the past and the present.
The perfume opens with the oolong in place. Oolong is the compromise tea for those who don’t want bitter matcha or intensely smoky lapsang souchong. Oolong is the middle ground with a hint of the bite and smoke. M. Roucel constructs an oolong accord that captures that. In the early moments it is a strongly spiced version of oolong as cinnamon, clove, and cardamom combine with the tea. These can coax out the greener face of the oolong accord. As we transition to the heart a lilting veil of jasmine also finds the greener nature of the accord. The smoke gets its chance as leather and incense find those aspects while giving them life. It finds a sweet creamy contrast in the base with sandalwood and tonka adding a bit of warm woody sweetness to the final composition.
Hong Kong Oolong has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
One of the things I admired most was that the perfume found its own compromise between the transparent trend and full-bodied styles. Like the tea it emulates Hong Kong Oolong thrives in the middle ground.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
Ever since I moved away from S. Florida I have come to enjoy the northern beaches in the early fall. Gone are the sunscreen and fruity drinks. Instead I walk the boardwalks in a sweater while the ocean carries more weight. For the most part the aquatic genre of fragrance wants to trend towards the summer party than the dour days of fall. There are exceptions, Nautica Voyage is one of them.
Nautica is one of the better discount lines of perfume. There are more than a few interesting takes on the aquatic genre. I have happily picked up many Nautica bottles out of my local discount shop without disappointment. One of the reasons I think they do a better than average job is they use some of the best perfumers. They allow them to move in unique directions. For Voyage it is perfumer Maurice Roucel at the wheel.
If you’ve spent time on a New England beach in autumn, you will know there is a deep green scent to it. M. Roucel captures that in the early going as he has a green accord match with what is listed as a “sailcloth accord”. It reminds me of the canvas awnings of the boardwalk shops as a stiff breeze fills them from off the water. Instead of the typical suspects to create the water-like accord M. Roucel uses lotus and mimosa. This is the grey swells of the ocean after the summer crowds have left. It is a weightier water scent. Voyage finishes on a warm amber accord with hints of the green from on top in cedar and moss.
Nautica Voyage has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Voyage is a nice iteration of a popular fresh aesthetic. M. Roucel makes it enough different without completely breaking with the form. We are headed to the beach next weekend for the first weekend of fall. Nautica Voyage will be in my overnight bag.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
I write about soliflores, where a single ingredient is highlighted, as being difficult to have that be compelling. It is much easier to find a pair of perfume ingredients which can provide all the complexity you desire. I say it is easy but, finding that balance to give both the space to shine individually and in harmony is also difficult. I was reminded of what it is like when done well with Shalini Paradis Provence.
Paradis Provence is the fourth fragrance overseen by fashion designer Shalini for her fragrance brand. As before, she collaborates with perfumer Maurice Roucel. It is meant to evoke the special scent of Provence in France. For Shalini she wanted to feature the “golden light of thyme”. I’m not sure who had the idea to marry lavender to it, but it is an inspired choice.
One of the things I enjoy about high-quality lavender is the tripartite scent profile it exudes. The obvious floral quality is matched by a green herbal-ness over a subtle woodiness. In the hands of M. Roucel the concept is to find other ingredients which can accentuate all three parts.
Right away the lavender appears with the floral and herbal qualities on display. The thyme rises by first teasing out the herbal quality seeking it as a complement. It gives the early moments a vegetal green field accord. The floral quality is matched with orange blossom containing its own green to match the lavender and the thyme. The thyme achieves that “golden light” as the orange blossom arises. It ends with olive wood and the woody part of the lavender comprising the base.
Paradis Provence has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I was so intrigued with the lavender-thyme combination I visited my local lavender farm to see what the real things smelled like together. Not as good as Paradis Provence. It was a reminder of what modern perfumery is meant to do; interpret nature through an artistic vision of scent. Paradis Provence lives up to that high minded ideal beautifully.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
I’ll admit that there are samples which arrive here at Colognoisseur HQ I expect little of. These are brands which are content with their derivative aesthetic and their share of the market. I never expect anything more than a competently designed perfume I’ve smelled many times before. When one confounds those expectations, according to Mrs.C, I double check it by re-spraying on a new strip. I also pick up the press materials looking with more intent. What is almost always the result is I am experiencing a perfume which is much different from expectations; usually done by a perfumer allowed some latitude to have fun. All of that happened when I tried my sample of Juicy Couture Palm Trees Please.
The reason I continue to want to try each new release from Juicy Couture is because the third fragrance they released, Dirty English, is high on my list of best mainstream releases ever. It let me know that whenever they are in the mood to try something different it can result in something wonderful. Palm Trees Please is the fifth release in the “Rock the Rainbow” collection. The previous four are riffs on common fragrance tropes. It was what I expected from Palm Trees Please. What I found was this amazing chilly green floral which was ideal for the last days of summer.
As I mentioned one of the reasons for a deviation from the norm is sometimes down to the perfumer. In the case of Palm Trees Please it is two of the best, Alienor Massenet and Maurice Roucel, working together. From the moment I discovered the perfumers much of the creativity present became evident. That they were given the leeway to be this creative is more surprising.
Palm Trees Please opens on a fresh, cool, green accord. The perfumers use a juicy nectarine as the core of the top accord. They surround it with lemon blossom, matcha tea, blackcurrant buds, and ivy. Somewhere in the interaction of all that a compelling chill settles across the fruit as if the green ingredients place it in a deep freeze. I spend every summer going through one “fresh” accord after another only to discover something truly fresh in the most unexpected place. The remainder of the development evolves in a straightforward manner as jasmine emerges from the top accord to eventually settle on a lightly musky base with sandalwood.
Palm Trees Please has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
If you’re looking for something to give a new type of fresh to your final days of summer give Palm Trees Please a try.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I received from Juicy Couture.
One of the great joys of attending the large perfume expositions is the opportunity to discover a new brand. I have been unable to attend the last two years which means I live vicariously through the tweets of my friends who are there. What I like about that is that many of them don’t know each other. What that means is if I start hearing about a new brand from more than a couple of them, it is one I want to try. This past Pitti Fragranze the new brand which was standing out in my electronic whisperstream was Maison Rebatchi.
The brand was founded by Mohamed Rebatchi who describes himself as a “self-taught perfumer and passionate”. He wanted to translate the northwestern region of Africa, known as the Maghreb, into fragrance. Something I admire is for being a self-taught perfumer he relied on professional perfumers as his collaborators for the first four releases. What he knows about materials allowed him to probably participate in a more focused manner with the four different perfumers he worked with on his debut collection. I think this is one of the stronger debut collections I’ve encountered recently. M. Rebatchi maintained a coherent focus throughout.
The one perfume of the four I was most anxious to try was Joyeux Osmanthe. M. Rebatchi worked with perfumer Maurice Roucel to create an effulgent duet of osmanthus and tuberose. It washed away the whole trend of transparent fragile perfumes of this year in a wave of floral beauty.
First thing is Joyeux Osmanthe is more a tuberose perfume than an osmanthus one. It is like a duel of high-spirited floral divas which tuberose eventually wins. That give-and-take in the heart is what sets this apart.
The perfume opens with a transparent top accord of spiced fruits combined with a green leafy ingredient. It acts as a curtain-raiser as tuberose struts on stage. This is the creamy slightly mentholated version of the white flower. The green from the top accord is used as a marker to pick up those green aspects of the tuberose. It serves as a reminder there are subtler harmonics than a big blowsy flower. As osmanthus comes on stage the fruits from the top fall right into line pushing that aspect of it to the front. As the divas get warmed up it is the green of the tuberose and the fruitiness of the Osmanthus which interact. As things move forward the indolic core of tuberose and the botanical animalic leather-like nature of Osmanthus also find a nice balance before the overwhelming floralcy of the tuberose finally emerges on top. M. Roucel has become adept at mixing the synthetic woody ingredients into something with more character; which is what happens here. It is easy for those woody ingredients to overwhelm. In this case they provide the floorboards of the stage for our two floral stars to take a bow upon.
Joyeux Osmanthe has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.
One of my text correspondents sent me this, “I just smelled the perfume I am 100% sure you would have named best in show if you were here”. Not sure if that would have been true. What is true is Joyeux Osmanthe is one of my favorite new perfumes of 2018. I am certain I will be reviewing the other three after the New Year. Until then, the two floral divas will keep me company.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples supplied by Maison Rebatchi.
When you look around the world to witness change over the last 20 years there is nothing to rival Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. In just two decades the skyline in the city has sprouted skyscrapers one after the other with the 2,722-foot-tall Burj Khalifa, the tallest man-made structure in the world, the biggest. These are the modern versions of the ancient pyramids to the northwest in Egypt. While bigger might be better I like a bit of a twist in my design which I find literally in the 90-degree twist of Cayan Tower. I also like a bit of twist in my perfume pyramids too.
Burj Khalifa (l.) and Cayan Tower at night
Indian-born fashion designer Shalini released her first perfume, Shalini, back in 2004. That perfume was a collaboration with perfumer Maurice Roucel. It was a magnificent study in how to take tuberose and create haute couture out of it. M. Roucel considers it one of his best which I have no argument with. When I heard there was a new perfume to come from the same team I was interested to see what the second act would smell like.
Shalini Jardin Nocturne is based on the nighttime air in Dubai. The idea is you’re driving through the city as night-blooming flowers and a scented haze of oud form the background to the lit-up skyline. One thing which has been interesting is Shalini has encouraged M. Roucel to use high concentrations of exquisite sources of the keynotes in these perfumes. For Jardin Nocturne this means an Indian Jasmine absolute in overdose along with a significant amount of real Assam oud. While both of those notes provide the height M. Roucel adds in a few complementary notes to add a twist to the overall architecture.
The ride begins awash in the smell of jasmine. This is a ton of jasmine which displays everything about jasmine at full volume, including the indoles. It is that skanky core of this white flower which makes people gravitate to the cleaner synthetic versions. In Jardin Nocturne the depth of a high-quality absolute puts the jasmine in sharp focus. Then M. Roucel adds the first twist as he uses saffron to warm up the jasmine smoothing out the rougher edges. As we move along the oud begins to permeate the indoles. It almost comes as a surprise because it seems to rise out of the indoles. One moment it is indolic the next moment it is the resinous oud ruling at the heart of the jasmine. This is what the central accord of Jardin Nocturne is; balanced and compelling in its strength. What is particularly enjoyable is the Assam oud M. Roucel uses has a floral aspect which becomes apparent over time. Which means as the accord evolves it becomes more floral and the more challenging parts of the oud and jasmine get pushed to the background. The final twist is to find a complement for the oud in its final stages; M. Roucel uses Mysore sandalwood to round out the edgy woodiness of the oud. To make sure it doesn’t get too safe some musks arrive to make sure there is still a hint of indolic depth to the very end.
Jardin Nocturne has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Shalini has said Jardin Nocturne is the middle piece of a planned perfume trilogy with M. Roucel. I am very interested to see where this all ends. Jardin Nocturne is the perfume equivalent to these modern pyramids comprising the skyline of Dubai. It is sleekly constructed glowing with illumination.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Shalini.
Kenzo has been one of the most interesting brands I have followed since I started paying attention to the wider world of fragrance. They go through cycles of real originality followed by consolidation and safety. There is one big problem with this kind of fluctuation it is hard to create a brand identity. I believe if a brand fails at that it adds an extra level of difficulty in breaking through to the consumer. If I had to point to a reason why Kenzo has had so much of a problem doing this, it has been because they have never been clear what they wanted to be. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when Celine Verleure was creatively directing, until 1998, and co-directors Delphine Fossoyeux & Patrick Guedj took over after she left you could almost feel like they were going to be a challenger to Comme des Garcons as an early niche leader. They were using some of the current superstars of perfumery in their early days. Names like Ropion, Kurkdjian, Morillas, Cresp, and Menardo all made interesting releases but there was no focus. In 2003 Fossoyeux and Guedj decided it was time to bring to bring in a big star perfumer; enter Maurice Roucel.
M. Roucel was one of the first perfumers who had his name brought from out of the shadows by Frederic Malle. One of the earliest successes of the original Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle was M. Roucel’s Musc Ravageur. The thought at Kenzo was likely to ride this new wave of perfumers as auteurs. They asked him to design a perfume. M. Roucel had been busy making perfume for over twenty years at this point but surprisingly he had never done a vetiver centric fragrance. Kenzoair would check that box.
M. Roucel would look at the trends of clean and fresh especially in masculine releases. He would choose to find a way to make a vetiver opaquer going for a cleaner version of that very common masculine note. He would keep it simple to allow the transparent vetiver the space to shine.
Kenzoair starts with angelica root in a lighter concentration than you usually run in to. Often this comes off as very earthy and musky. M. Roucel uses bergamot to lighten it up. Vetiver comes next and M. Roucel uses anise to pull that nature of vetiver. I have rarely seen this pairing used and Kenzoair is a good example of why it should be. Herbs are used to pull the herbal nature of lavender all the time. The anise has a similar effect here on the vetiver. It pushes the greener facets to the background which is how M. Roucel does transform it into something less rigid. There is a mixture of woody aromachemicals to finish this off with a similar volume.
Kenzoair has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Kenzoair would have a very short shelf life. It seems the transparency which I find so compelling was not seen the same way by consumers. So much so that Kenzoair Intense was released within two years. Both would be discontinued not too much longer after that. This is the hazard of not forming a distinct brand identity. Kenzoair did not stand for anything but adventurous perfume composition to an uninterested audience.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
There are times I make a request for a set of samples expecting I know which one I will think is best just from the description. I’ve come to realize my track record in being correct is pretty poor. Some of that might be anticipation versus a purer experience in which a new fragrance gets the chance to surprise me. Such was the case with the set of samples from Atkinsons London The Contemporary Collection.
What drew mw to this collection was the statement on the Atkinsons website saying they wanted “transform the familiar into the fabulously unfamiliar”. As I looked at the perfumes in the collection the one which caught my eye was Lavender on the Rocks. Perfumers Christine Nagel (pre-Hermes) and Violaine Collas wanted to make an icy lavender cocktail. I liked it as it really pushes the herbal character of lavender. The thing was the strip I kept returning to over and over was not Lavender on the Rocks; it was The Big Bad Cedar.
It is hard not to giggle at the name as I keep seeing an anthropomorphic tree threatening to huff and puff and blow your flowers away. Despite that imagery perfumer Maurice Roucel seemed less interested in making the cedar bombastic. Instead what he produces in The Big Bad Cedar is a remarkably refined version of cedar which seems very stiff upper lip British.
M. Roucel shows this is not Big Bad territory with the top accord. He blends a lovely cardamom-centric whisper using lemon and lavender to caress it. I am very fond of cardamom on top and this is just classically composed. A great opening. The heart sets the stage for the title note to appear as M. Roucel uses clary sage to take what the cardamom started into a greener direction. The sage becomes a prelude to the green woodiness inherent in cedar. The other note in the heart, broom, is used to anticipate the clean; the desiccated sweet dustiness is perfectly positioned. M. Roucel uses a classic Virginia cedarwood essence. As it becomes apparent it reaches out to both the clary sage and the broom to form a harmonic which captures all there is to see in cedar. M. Roucel grounds this with moss and cashmeran in the base.
The Big Bad Cedar has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Despite the Big Bad name and the desire of The Contemporary Collection to make the “familiar…unfamiliar” this perfume is completely classic in its construction and the way it felt when I wore it. There are others in this collection which do live up to their fanciful names and desire to be different. The Big Bad Cedar is not one of them and that is not so bad.
Disclosure; this review was based on a sample provided by Atkinsons London.
When Thierry Mugler created the gourmand category of fragrance with 1992’s Angel with its signature chocolate heart it fired the imagination of others. Where else could one go with notes that smelled of food? One of the early answers was to make a coffee centered fragrance. 1996’s Thierry Mugler A*Men would be the first on the market but over the nearly twenty years since the release of A*Men there have been almost two hundred coffee inspired perfumes.
I love the smell of coffee. I start everyday with an espresso and even before I take my first sip I breathe deeply taking in the rich aroma. I think I own a virtual Starbucks worth of coffee perfumes and can serve up any style one would like. When I am playing olfactory barista for myself there is one coffee perfume which rises above them all, Bond No. 9 New Haarlem.
When Bond No. 9 released its first set of perfumes in 2003 Creative Director and Owner, Laurice Rahme’s fragrant tour of New York was an instant hit. It was so successful that many were wondering what the follow-up would be. In 2004 she would oversee what I think are two of the flagship perfumes for the brand in Wall Street and New Haarlem. For New Haarlem Ms. Rahme would collaborate again with perfumer Maurice Roucel. They had worked together on Broadway Nite and Riverside Drive in the inaugural collection. This time they would serve up the quintessential to-go cup of coffee for that New Yorker on the move.
What sets New Haarlem apart for me is that too many of the early gourmands tried to imitate A*Men’s power. That all too often turned them into cloying miasmas that made you feel as if you were one of the misbehaving children in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. M. Roucel made one of the first gourmands with restraint. There is never a moment where the coffee smell is not apparent but the exquisite balance he achieves throughout is what makes New Haarlem special.
From the moment I spray it on the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee rises to my nose. The first movement is a green, slightly herbal, contrast. It has the effect of making the early moments a little more coffee bean than coffee drink. The green reminds me of the natural oil which covers a whole bean. The heart is where the coffee really gets brewing. Again M. Roucel makes a wonderfully balancing choice of framing the deeply redolent coffee with cedar. Those clean woody lines delineate and amplify the central note. The base is where he adds a shot of flavor to our coffee. M. Roucel uses amber, vanilla, and tonka bean to create a hazelnut accord. It is a well-chosen accompaniment as the nuttiness is tinted with a little sweet. A great patchouli recalls some of the herbal beginning as the final ingredient is added.
New Haarlem has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
As I already mentioned it is the incredible balance M. Roucel achieves which makes New Haarlem the Gold Standard for coffee perfumes. Head out and grab a bottle, to-go.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
When I speak with Michael Edwards on the beginning of niche perfumery he can accurately names L’Artisan Parfumeur in 1978 and Annick Goutal in 1980 as the first niche lines. When I think of when niche perfumery really managed to breakthrough I go back to 2000 when Frederic Malle released the first nine perfumes in his Editions de Parfums brand. These were the first perfumes to feature the name of the perfumer on the bottle. It really was the beginning of my starting to take a stronger interest in the people behind the perfume. Over the last fourteen years and 21 total releases I can say that this is one of the strongest collections of fragrances on the market. There is not a mediocre one in the whole group. A particular style might not be to your taste but the quality and creativity is always prominently displayed. This is one of the best places for anyone interested in niche perfume to start and here are the five I would suggest you begin with.
There are a plethora of citrus colognes but Jean-Claude Ellena’s Bigarade Concentree is one that stands way above the fray. There is fantastic bitter orange (bigarade) surrounded by the most gentle aldehydes. The heart is rose, cardamom, and a bit of textural pepper to coax the spiciness from the rose. It finishes with a golden hay note over cedar. This fragrance re-invigorated my interest in citrus fragrances all by itself.
Lys Mediterranee by Edouard Flechier is one of the most luminous perfumes I own. M. Flechier weaves three sources of lily raw materials to render a larger-than-life composite as the core of this fragrance. He adds orange blossom, angelica, and musk as the perfect complements to the uber-lily. If you want lily in your fragrance here is one of the best.
Musc Ravageur by Maurice Roucel has a bit of a rakish reputation as a lady-killer if you believe the stories told on the perfume forums. That has died down over time and now what remains is a fantastic ambery musk by one of the great perfumers working. Starting with a flare of tangerine and lavender which are spiced up wiith clove and cinnamon we reach the base notes which form the ambery musky accord. I was well married by the time I found this but it is one of the few fragrances I wear which generates unsolicited compliments, so maybe its reputation is deserved.
For so many years the baseline tuberose perfume was Robert Piguet’s Fracas and nothing came close until Dominique Ropion’s Carnal Flower. M. Ropion chooses an eclectic company of complementary and contrasting notes for the tuberose. He uses eucalyptus to accentuate the mentholated quality a the heart of the flower. He adds coconut to provide an oily sweet contrast. A few other white flowers join in to create the other great tuberose fragrance.
Pierre Bourdon showed that he was more than the perfumer who created Cool Water when he made French Lover (aka Bois D’Orage). When I smelled this when it was released in 2007 it felt like a more sophisticated version of my old staple Calvin Klein Obsession for Men. It doesn’t smell anything like it but it was the one fragrance I continually chose over it once it was in my perfume cabinet. M. Bourdon uses the rich spiciness of pimento to lead into a finely balanced heart of iris and galbanum. It is a greener floral because of the presence of the galbanum and it keeps the iris from getting powdery. A musk and vetiver base finish this off. If I was still prowling the night looking for a connection French Lover would be one of my choices.
As I mentioned above the entire Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle line is consistently excellent. So start here but do yourself a favor and keep on going through the whole line it is a magical ride.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.