On the rare occasion I am asked about the most influential perfume brand I have a definitive answer. The earliest niche perfume brands were founded in the 1970’s and 80’s. it is my belief it was twenty-five years ago when the fragrance brand which would come to define much of what niche means came into being; Comme des Garcons. From the very beginning creative director Christian Astuguevieille has influenced many of the larger trends by being one of the first to execute them. If I had to, I could learn all I needed to know about the last quarter century of fragrance from the Comme des Garcons collection alone. I was wondering if they were going to commemorate the length of this sustained excellence. Right at the end of the summer I learned there would be a set of new releases to mark the anniversary. The one which had me most interested were the three perfumes in the Series 10: Clash collection.
Starting in 2000 with Series 1 each set of perfumes have explored something specific. They have been among the most adventurous perfumes within the overall collection. For Series 10 M. Astuguevieille asked three perfumers to find beauty in the confrontation between two dissimilar ingredients. Each perfume displays why Comme des Garcons still pushes at the boundaries of perfume.
The first is Celluloid Galbanum by perfumer Domitille Bertier. Each of the Clash entries is meant to capture a collision of sorts. Celluloid Galbanum is that of technology and nature. Mme Bertier takes the sweet plasticky smell of cellophane and wraps the deep green of galbanum in it. Mme Bertier uses jasmine to modulate the sweetness of her celluloid accord while lemon adds a sharper edge to the galbanum. It forms an engineered green behind a barrier of plastic which is fascinating. It ends on a base of synthetic woods.
Chlorophyll Gardenia is the least confrontational of the three Clash perfume. Perfumer Caroline Dumur uses a set of green notes to coax out the green quality inherent within gardenia infusing the white flower with a verdant glow. The inquisition of the gardenia begins with its presence from the start. Mme Dumur threads galbanum, spearmint, the synthetic Cosmofruit, and baie rose through the creamy floral. As each of those ingredients come forward, they find a complement in the similar scent deep within gardenia. As they each add to it the gardenia begins to shade green before it glows in an almost neon abstraction. A set of white musks whisper through the glimmering flower.
My favorite of the three is Radish Vetiver by perfumer Nathalie Gracia-Cetto. The reason I like this so much is it is what the Comme des Garcons Series perfumes have done so well over the years. They create a perfume around an unusual ingredient like radish. If you’ve ever sliced fresh radishes for a salad you will know what Mme Gracia-Cetto’s radish smells like it has an acerbic earthiness. She sets that against the grassy woodiness of vetiver. At first the softer quality of vetiver gently caresses the radish before the rootier nature finds a kindred spirit. Mme Gracia-Cetto cleverly uses the patchouli analog Akigalawood to provide an unusual piece of ground for these roots to find purchase in. The base is made woodier with guaiac adding to the Akigalawood.
All three Clash perfume have 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
For those who are less adventurous Chlorophyll Gardenia will be most to your liking. For the others who have followed where Comme des Garcons and M. Astuguevieille have led us for the past twenty-five years I suspect Celluloid Galbanum and/or Radish Vetiver will be part of your collection. I can’t wait for what comes next.
Disclosure: this review is based on samples supplied by Dover Street Market.
If you live in a big metropolis you treasure the greenspace carved out of the urban landscape. When you cross the boundary from concrete and steel to grass and trees it is a soothing feeling. It is a serene island within the big city. It is a place where nature has a tenuous ascendancy. For Comme des Garcons + Monocle Scent Four: Yoyogi they seek to capture one of those.
The collaboration between Comme des Garcons and Tyler Brule’s global media brand, Monocle, has been one of the best of all the perfume brand’s partnerships. Scent One: Hinoki released in 2008 is one of the best Comme des Garcons releases. Scent Two: Laurel and Scent Three: Sugi retained the high level of quality. It has been six years since Sugi was released and I had no idea a Scent Four was on its way until it landed on my desk.
For Scent Four: Yoyogi M. Brule and Comme des Garcons creative director Christian Astuguevieille ask perfumer Nathalie Gracia-Cetto to interpret the scent of an early morning jog in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo Japan.
Yoyogi Park is in the Shibuya section of Tokyo. It is like Central Park in New York City in the way that it draws people of all kinds during the day. The one part of the day in an urban greenspace which is given over to the runners are the early morning hours. As they wend through the park with the dew damp upon the grounds and leaves it is probably the moment of every day where the scents of nature are the most apparent. This is what Mme Gracia-Cetto captures in Scent Four: Yoyogi.
Yoyogi opens on the scent of dewy grass. I think it is a mixture of the different hexenals along with a small amount of an aquatic ingredient. It comes together to form a wet grass accord which also carries a slight chill to go with it. Then it takes an unusual turn as Mme Gracia-Cetto uses wormwood next. Wormwood is the ingredient in absinthe liqueur and that is what I am reminded of as it rises out of the damp grass. It carries a sweet anise-like scent across the pedestrian green on top. I don’t run in the morning, but I do a lot of walking. On a dewy morning there is a sweetness in the air that is captured by this wormwood and grass pairing in Scent Fout Yoyogi. The wormwood turns less sweet allowing for the herbal licorice scent profile to take us back to a greener place. The base is all light woods with cypress the most prominent.
Scent Four: Yoyogi has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I wore this for my morning walk a couple days ago on the first slightly cool day we had. I was surprised to find how attuned I was to the natural sweetness that was there. It formed my thinking about how well Mme Gracia-Cetto captured the milieu. Scent Four: Yoyogi is another excellent perfume from the partnership formed eleven years ago. Take it out for a quick run in the greenspace in your mind.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Comme des Garcons.
I would certainly plead guilty to the charge of taking perfume seriously. The defining question is whether I take it too seriously. I hope not, but a recent experience gave me pause. As readers know the whole transparency to the point that it seems like it doesn’t want to be perfume irritates me. When I received the three fragrances which make up the Azzaro Time to Shine collection I expected to feel the same. To the point that I sort of got them out of the way the night they arrived at Colognoisseur HQ. I was more interested in other things in the mail that day. As happens occasionally, one of those strips I want to ignore finds its way back to my nose. What really surprised me was it was these Azzaro ones. They are little more than single accords but every one of them caught my attention. The Time to Shine collection consists of Fun, Sea, and Shine. They are described as “feel-good” fragrances and I must admit that in the right circumstances they were.
Fun is composed by perfumer Nathalie Gracia-Cetto. It is an off-kilter citrus accord where blood orange and rhubarb form a tart vegetal citric duet which has akigalawood providing a subtly spicy foundation.
Sea is composed by Michel Almairac. It is a clever transparent take on a classic aquatic accord. Orange infuses the set of marine/ozonic ingredients with the melon quality of Calone pushed forward to make it more fruity than citrus. Regular patchouli provides the foundation here.
Shine is composed by Sidonie Lancesseur. It represents the sand of the beach with a mineralic accord. It reminded me of the scent of the sand when the sun is at its zenith. Ambroxan, used judiciously, provides a heat mirage effect off of the sand accord.
All three have 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I was testing these while we had our first concerted heat wave and they were “feel-good” companions. They provided just the right amount of fragrance in the humidity that they were welcome. As I mentioned in the opening these are little more than single accords. Maybe there are circumstances when good perfumers can please me with just that. Making me look myself in the mirror and ask, “Why so serious?”
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Azzaro.
We are now at the point of the summer where my fragrance desires regress to simplicity. It is ironic as my mailbox fills up with new fall releases which are not simple. When I received my sample set of the debut collection of Essential Parfums I was happy to find a brand which embraces simplicity.
Essential Parfums is a new brand where the creative direction is given over to the perfumer partnered with. They are choosing well with whom they asked to deliver a perfume to make their first impression. The only “rule” they asked of the perfumer was to rely on sustainable ingredients. What has resulted is a nice coherent collection which focuses on that. The perfumes are simple constructs allowing for the keynotes to shine individually. The one which fit my summer need of a cool linen suit, in perfume form, was Orange X Santal.
Perfumer Nathalie Gracia-Cetto states that she wanted to realize what is on the label; a cross of bitter orange and sustainable Australian Sandalwood. If it was just that it wouldn’t be so interesting but Mme Gracia-Cetto adds in a refreshing suite of three green ingredients to form a chypre-ish tonic.
It opens with the orange which early on isn’t as bitter as expected. It comes off sweeter in the first moments. That is remedied by adding in basil. The intense green of that ingredient teases out the bitterness of the orange. As it does that it overwrites the juicy quality with one of orange zest. Australian sandalwood comes next. This is a creamy smooth version of sandalwood which returns to a sweetly woody effect. Then as with the orange Mme Gracia-Cetto transforms that with cedar and oakmoss. The cedar is that fresh cut slightly mentholated version. The oakmoss is a bitingly green version. This adds a kind of green sappy quality to sandalwood as if it was harvested young and raw. The total effect of herbal orange crossed with sappy sandalwood is lovely.
Orange x Santal has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Essential Parfums is another new brand worth seeking out especially if you want something well-made around a few ingredients. If you look through this first collection and see a list of ingredients you enjoy I’ll bet the perfume does, as well. Orange X Santal is a good example of everything this brand is doing right at the start.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
I sometimes ascribe intent to something when it doesn’t exist. Which means I overlay something that was never meant to be by the brand or the creative team. Part of that is I like looking for patterns and when I think I find one I want to write about it. One which crops up from time to time is when a version of a perfume is released, and it is derided as being “too light” or “too strong”. What often comes next is something in-between those perceived extremes. It is easy to see Goldilocks saying that one is “just right”. As a brand Tom Ford Private Blend has certainly releases sets of similar perfumes which run the gamut from “too light” to “too strong” and a few releases in the middle.
Two years ago, the “too light” version of a suntan lotion style of perfume was released with Soleil Blanc. I enjoyed it for its almost extreme transparency. I am guessing I wasn’t joined by many. Six months later as part of the Tom Ford Signature collection I found Orchid Soleil to be the “too strong” version. It was stronger, and it had a deep gourmand base accord to boot. I’m not sure this was flying off the shelves either. Now Tom Ford Private Blend Eau de Soleil tries to satisfy Goldilocks.
What sets it apart is a generally brighter tone as perfumer Nathalie Gracia-Cetto and Creative Director Karyn Khoury, who did Soleil Blanc, up the brightness. This is done by adding fresher alternatives to what came before which provides something more present without potentially overwhelming.
The freshening agent in the top accord is a set of citrus notes; cedrat, bitter orange, and petitgrain. It comes together like a focused beam of brightness as if you were focusing the sunlight through a magnifying glass. It becomes a bit fuzzier as cardamom and caraway provide some spicy underpinning. It is further ameliorated by the arrival of the floral heart still dominated by jasmine but in this formulation also matched by ylang-ylang. The latter ingredient provides a kind of unctuous floral effect which fits the whole suntan lotion vibe. What seals it into place is the coconut quality of Mme Gracia Cetto’s “Coco de Mer” accord. It is very reminiscent of many of the suntan lotions I smelled at the beach growing up in South Florida. It ends on a toasty accord of tonka and benzoin.
Eau de Soleil Blanc has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage. To give a reference if you thought Soleil Blanc was a skin scent and Orchid Soleil left a vapor trial this is exactly between those two.
I have liked all three of the Tom Ford interpretations of a suntan lotion style of perfume. If pressed to pick one I think the transparency of the original Soleil Blanc keeps me at arm’s length. The life of the party Orchid Soleil keeps me up too late. Like Goldilocks, Eau de Soleil blanc is “just right”.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I received from Tom Ford Beauty.
I’m starting this edition of Dead Letter Office a little bit differently. In the almost four years I’ve been writing on my own at Colognoisseur I am very happy that certain columns connect with specific readers. This usually leads to delightful conversations via e-mail or chat. One big fan of this column has decided to move beyond that. Over the past year I can count on seeing a chat pop-up the next morning after a Dead Letter Office piece. This reader has a crazy collection of discontinued fragrances. At the beginning of the summer I was asked how many more Dead Letter Offices I had in me. I responded that I was getting to the end of my list that I own. I was asked for my address and a few weeks later the most amazing surprise arrived; a box full of samples of discontinued gems. There was a little note which accompanied it, “this should keep you busy”. I’ve asked, I’ve pleaded, I’ve begged for the reader to allow me to name them. I feel like I should be able to call this the “Person’s Name Collection” when I write about it. For now, it will remain an anonymous random act of kindness.
When you get something like this there is a giddy moment of colognoisseur in the rare perfume store. I wanted to try everything. As the temperatures were cooling there was one which I had heard about which was purported to be a “perfect chocolate gourmand”. I felt like that was where I wanted to start, with Trussardi Python.
Trussardi is an Italian fashion design house which began by selling leather goods in 1911. Over the next seventy years the brand would expand into accessories of all kinds. In an interesting turnabout the fragrances which bore the brand name came before the clothes. In 1982 they would release their first branded fragrance; the women’s ready-to-wear collection would come a year later. The rest of the 1980’s would see a dramatic worldwide expansion for all things Trussardi.
As they reached the turn of the century they decided to jump on the fledgling gourmand perfume trend with Python. At this point in time Thierry Mugler Angel had spawned multiple follow-ons. To stand out perfumers Louise Turner and Nathalie Gracia-Cetto decide to create a photorealistic chocolate accord and serve it up on a sandalwood platter. It turns out to be all of that.
The perfumers raise the curtain with a raucous fanfare of orange, jasmine, and rose. It is loud and proud to be on your skin. Soon enough the chocolate comes forward as it seems to kick the florals to the curb while embracing the orange. The perfumers pull a neat effect by using plum to add depth to the chocolate. This then allows cardamom and nutmeg to gently spice the overall accord. The base is all sandalwood in overdose. It is sweet and creamy and kept there with a little vanilla.
Python has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
The chocolate in the heart of Python is not an abstraction in any way. The perfumers successfully present the smell of a fine chocolate bar. Evidently the abstract fireworks of Angel were preferred by the segment of consumers who wanted to buy a gourmand perfume. Which meant Python would join many other early gourmands in the Dead Letter Office.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample supplied by a reader.
Sometimes I get a second chance. Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male is one of those great perfumes of the 1990’s. It put Jean Paul Gaultier on the fragrance map. For twenty years, there has been a summer release and they have been near slavish retreads of Le Male. Which was why when I received last year’s version I put off giving it a try until months later as I was filling out my database. This was not an imitator of Le Male this was different. An Eau Fraiche with Popeye on the bottle. I was mentally kicking myself for not having written about it. It was a limited edition so I felt like I had missed my window of opportunity. Then my second chance came as the Eau Fraiche was re-released this year with Superman replacing Popeye on the bottle. This time I was not hesitating because Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male Superman is a fantastic update which is going to be a great summer choice.
Perfumer Nathalie Gracia-Cetto was asked to be the one to undertake this new interpretation. By choosing an Eau Fraiche Mme Gracia-Cetto had to use ingredients with impact. Subtlety is undetectable when the fragrance is at such low concentration. I don’t think subtle is an adjective that would be often used to describe Le Male. For Le Male Superman each ingredient is pieced together like a comic book gizmo which eventually saves the day. The only holdover notes from Le Male to Le Male Superman are mint and orange blossom in the early going. It eventually converges with a similar base accord but even that has recognizable differences.
Mme Gracia-Cetto wraps that mint in a swirl of aldehydes and ozonic notes. It is an uplifting accord with the mint grounding the less earthbound notes around it. The orange blossom leads into a heart dominated by sage. This is a place where keeping it lighter makes the overall effect better. This is sage and orange blossom as brought to you on a warm breeze. Never more powerful than a locomotive more like a scooter. That is not a criticism as it works very well especially for a perfume designed to be worn in the summer. In the base the mixture of woods and vanilla are still here from the original. The biggest difference is Mme Gracia-Cetto relies on Ambrox as the predominant source of woodiness. The vanilla and tonka bean are still there to make it close enough to the sweet woody foundation that defines Le Male.
Le Male Superman has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Just so people are aware last years’ Le Male Popeye and this year’s Le Male Superman are identical. There is no need to buy one if you have the other. If, like me, you missed Popeye then faster than a speeding bullet you should give Le Male Superman a try.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Jean Paul Gaultier.
As I begin to follow a brand I am always interested in trying to define a particular brand aesthetic. I believe if a brand can create this it allows for a perfume buyer an opportunity to connect more strongly to it. Through the first ten releases Ex Nihilo was forming what I thought might be an emerging aesthetic. With the eleventh release, Love Shot, that aesthetic is mostly left behind. Which leaves me wondering if it is outlier or is it more similar than I think?
Love Shot is the second of two new Ex Nihilo releases helmed by perfumer Nathalie Gracia-Cetto. Creative directors Sylvie Loday, Benoit Verdier, and Olivier Royere asked Mme Gracia-Cetto to create a modern floral chypre. The previous florals within the Ex Nihilo collection have had a very extroverted presence which hearken back to the powerhouse florals of the past. It has been that embrace of the structures of perfume from decades ago which had me thinking this was the eventual identity of Ex Nihilo as a brand. Love Shot is a very modern version of a classic perfume type.
Mme Gracia-Cetto chooses a fruity floral beginning with peony supported with a bit of raspberry. The raspberry imparts a tartness instead of the sweetness which I find so off-putting in this style. Having the fresh floralcy of the peony in place it allows jasmine to be the real star floral of this floral chypre. I like the expansiveness of the jasmine as it adds a tremendous amount of lift to Love Shot. So much so that the raspberry peeks out again. Then we head to the chypre base accord which Mme Gracia-Cetto constructs from patchouli, vetiver, and musk. This combination is starting to become the standard go-to for a modern chypre. What makes it different is how each perfumer chooses to balance the ingredients. Here the musks are amplified a little more so the vetiver and patchouli add a little less bite than they might. The choice works particularly well in Love Shot because Mme Gracia-Cetto matches the chypre accord with a leather accord. This is a classical leather accord very refined but not so far as to be suede more motorcycle jacket. Together this leathery chypre is a wonderful foil to the jasmine and raspberry.
Love Shot has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Love Shot represents a contemporary quality that most of the rest of the Ex Nihilo collection does not display. I think if I smelled it blind I would have guessed a whole lot of other brands before probably giving up and being surprised at the answer. Where it is similar is in its desire to push towards the limits of a style. As a fruity floral chypre I found Love Shot to be much more interesting than most perfumes of this ilk. That’s because it feels modern and vintage at different turns. Which might be the reason Love Shot is not an outlier just a different perspective on a vintage aesthetic.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Ex Nihilo.
There is an interesting subsection of perfume genres titled suntan lotion. There are some great examples from some of our best perfume brands. It should be no surprise that Tom Ford Private Blend wants to join in the fun in the sun with the new release Soleil Blanc.
Growing up in South Florida the smell of suntan lotion was one of the consistent smells of my day-to-day life. Which is why I probably enjoy this niche within a niche. To get this right there is a certain amount of tropical touchstones which need to be present. Perfumer Nathalie Gracia-Cetto working under the creative direction of Karyn Khoury has chosen to go in a slightly different direction. Soleil Blanc eschews the deeper, oilier nature some of the other sunscreen fragrances conjure. As a result, Soleil Blanc is kept very sheer almost like the scent of the afternoon’s suntan lotion as it remains on a wrap hanging on the door.
Soleil Blanc speaks sotto voce right from the start as breezy cardamom is matched up with bergamot and baie rose. The cardamom is the focal point and its slightly lemony nature conjures up the sun. The tropical nature is carried off by ylang-ylang bolstered with jasmine and a very precise amount of tuberose. Ylang-ylang has this oily quality when taken on its own. The jasmine used here is meant to lighten that up. The tuberose is very controlled and it is meant to enhance the tropical feel without getting out of control. Again this is all done at the volume of a whisper. The base forms an interesting sun-kissed skin accord of benzoin, tonka, and cocoa. That last note is there for a very interesting alternative to Ms. Gracia-Cetto using a bunch of musks. Together this is the smell of your skin as you get up after a day sunbathing. A very distant fragrant reminder of the afternoon.
Soleil Blanc has 14-16 hour longevity and very low sillage. This is one of those perfumes where you will think it is gone after a few hours. Because of the low sillage it can seem that way but it does last a decent amount of time.
Ms. Gracia-Cetto has composed the cleanest of the suntan lotion scents. The low wattage on it is going to be an issue for some. I found the transparency of it all to be very appealing. It is such a clean scent that it doesn’t remind me of the beach but instead sunning by the pool or as Ellie May Clampett says the cement pond. Soleil Blanc is by far the quietest of the Private Blend collection but sometimes there is beauty in the softer moments.
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.