New Perfume Review Nicolai Eau de Yuzu- Lemon Supernova

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As it gets hotter and I want a perfume which provides relief it is citrus fragrances I turn to. I have realized through the obviousness of which bottles are at lower levels I seem to prefer one over all the others. Those which feature lemon are the ones I go for when faced with a morning of high humidity and temperature. I think the reason is lemon is the most exuberant of the citrus choices. There is a sunniness which is at its height. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if that sun went supernova Nicolai Eau de Yuzu is here.

Patricia de Nicolai

It has been twelve years since Patricia de Nicolai has made a citrus fragrance, Cedrat Intense. That one was a lemon focused scent simmering with the energy of the fruit. This might be the lemon prior to the fireworks which appear in Eau de Yuzu. She doesn’t use regular lemon. She chooses the Japanese variety known as yuzu. It falls somewhere between lemon and grapefruit carrying some of the greener aspects of the latter. Mme de Nicolai brings it to life in a way I haven’t experienced before.

Eau de Yuzu opens on a set of grassy oximes. As if I am walking barefoot on a great greensward. As I glance up the sun seems to be pulsing. The yuzu shines in a compact ball to start. A bit of grapefruit keeps it more compact. The energy is hard to contain as the sizzle of black pepper and the acerbic scent of juniper berry warns something might be up. The classic petitgrain lights the fuse that a set of white musks use to explode the citrus into a giant yellow firework. I just close my eyes and let the intensity settle upon me. As my senses begin to recover, I feel the dirt my toes are digging in and the tree I’m holding onto as gaiac wood and patchouli ground things.

Eau de Yuzu has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

All apologies to the band Oasis but the days I wore this I kept singing to myself, “someday you will find me/caught beneath the landslide/ in a yuzu supernova/ a yuzu supernova in the sky”. This is the kind of joyous perfume that makes you want to sing while you wear it. Nothing better on a hot summer day.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Nicolai Angelys Pear- A Different Fruity Floral

As I say nearly every time, I review a perfume like this, I am not a fan of fruity florals. I guess I think it is a kind of preparation for my approval of a fragrance which belongs to a genre I don’t gravitate towards. The exceptions always tend to be from the independent perfume community. It is probably because they are listening to their vision instead of trying to be the next bottle lying on the shelf at the mall. What that tends to provide is a perfume which succeeds because it will be different. Nicolai Angelys Pear is the latest fruity floral from an independent brand to do this for me.

Patricia de Nicolai

In the “What If?” alternate dimension there has always been the thought of what would Guerlain be like today if Patricia de Nicolai had been chosen to be the perfumer at the house she was born into. I used to think that. If it had come to pass, I wonder if she would have been buffeted by the same winds of commercialism that seemingly drives all the large perfume brands. Instead for the last thirty years Mme de Nicolai has been left to her own creativity to make the best perfume she can. She has stood on her own with an artistic integrity to be admired. Angelys Pear is another excellent addition.

Pear has two faces in perfumery. A greener crisp version or a juicy riper one. In Angelys Pear it is the latter. Of the pear perfumes I own it is the former version I like better. Mme de Nicolai shows me an alternative which is just as delightful.

It opens with the grassy oximes and a sunny flare of citrus. This is a midsummer afternoon accord. The pear steps forward with a juiciness that could get too sweet. To keep it in line, but not overwrite it, Mme de Nicolai uses the sweet tart of blackcurrant to nudge it back away from the sugary abyss. Jasmine and rose come up on either side to form the central fruity floral accord of Angelys Pear. There is an appealing harmony in the balance attained. Mme de Nicolai finishes a with modern chypre accord. I assume she is using the low-atranol oakmoss. She manages to find something I can’t put my finger on to give back the velvety bite that the lack of atranol takes away. I don’t know what it is, but it is fantastic. She uses patchouli and musks to complete her chypre accord. This velvety green accord latches on to the fruity floral to finish this off in style.

Angelys Pear has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Angelys Pear is going to be a great alternative to all the boring spring debutante roses about to come out. It has an artistic intent to it those commercial perfumes have no concept of. Mme de Nicolai has made a perfume for those who want a different fruity floral.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Nicolai Baikal Leather Intense- Cuir de Nicolai

I’m not sure why this year has seen me notice the longevity of what I consider the pillars of independent and niche perfumery. The earliest innovators are all seeing significant milestone anniversaries is probably one reason. One which has lasted for thirty years is Parfums de Nicolai. When Patricia de Nicolai blazed her own path, leaving her family brand Guerlain behind, it was not the perfume business landscape it is today. She would build her own aesthetic and brand, perfume by perfume. At this point Mme de Nicolai has given back by being one of the guiding lights of the Osmotheque in Versailles. Preserving the history of modern perfumery for all to learn from. She remains a vital creative perfumer as her latest Nicolai Baikal Leather Intense proves.

Mme de Nicolai was inspired by the classic Cuir de Russie leather perfumes. Those are creations which mostly have a significant birch component to create the desired concentrated leather accord. Mme de Nicolai creates her leather accord from a different set of woods, guaiac and pine. This turns Baikal Leather Intense into a different kind of animalic accord which feels modern.

Patricia de Nicolai

That leather accord is where Baikal Leather Intense starts. Mme de Nicolai says she uses smoked pine and guaiac wood as the two pieces of her leather accord. The charred terpenic aspect of the pine is apparent, especially in the early going. The guaiac needs a little help gaining a foothold. Saffron along with yuzu and black pepper give it the needed assist. The saffron adds its typical warm glow to the opening while tart yuzu and piquant pepper provide framing. As they push back on the smoked pine the guaiac does complete the accord. After a few minutes a tanned supple leather appears. As that accord moves forward it is altered with a floral trio of rose, violet, and iris. This meeting of rich florals and leather is the acknowledgement of the Cuir de Russie perfumes of the past. Except the difference is this floral leather phase is kept at a much lower intensity. I wouldn’t call this transparent. I also wouldn’t call it intense. It falls more towards the latter, but it doesn’t become that obstreperous saddle leather of the inspiration. Baikal Leather Intense remains like this for hours. Very slowly tonka and some white musks provide warmth and lift respectively.

Baikal Leather Intense has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

If you’re looking for a vintage Cuir de Russie from Baikal Leather Intense I think you’ll be disappointed. I was looking for Mme de Nicolai to create something modern with her own spin. That’s what I got, her own personal Cuir de Nicolai.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Nicolai Neroli Intense- Double Neroli

There have been so many good neroli perfumes lately I am starting to think it can’t be used poorly. I know that isn’t true but it as soon as I see neroli as a keynote I am hopeful. That was particularly true for the latest release from Nicolai. Earlier this year they released a fantastic Mediterranean neroli fragrance, Cap Neroli. It has been one of my favorites throughout the summer. They now return for a fall version of neroli; Neroli Intense.

Visiting the flower fields of Grasse is on my perfume bucket list. I am thinking I might have to pencil in the neroli from Tunisia, too. Patricia de Nicolai blends the neroli essence and the absolute from there as the source of the neroli for Neroli Intense. Surrounding that is a slight animalic vector which intensifies over time. There are some slight similarities to Cap Neroli, but this is really different version of neroli than that.

Patricia de Nicolai

The closest Neroli Intense comes to Cap Neroli is in the top accord. Tarragon replaces the rosemary and mint from Cap Neroli. The herbal green is again in place to tease out the green of the neroli. The neroli is much richer here, probably due to the two different extractions being used. That means the tarragon has more to highlight. Petitgrain focuses the citrus-like quality. Pittosporum is a white flower which caries with it a musky undercurrent. This is used to pair with orange blossom and its slightly indolic nature. The neroli is still on top but the florals are keeping up while adding in the hint of a growl. This intensifies as beeswax provides the center of the base accord. Beeswax has its own musky animalic nature which is a bit stronger. Patchouli comes in and finishes things up.

Neroli Intense has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

One of the best things about neroli fragrances are it stands up so well it doesn’t have to be shuffled to the back of the shelf during the colder months. Neroli Intense is an example of a neroli perfume that will be better when there is frost on the pumpkin although it is pretty good right now.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review: Nicolai Cap Neroli- Mediterranean Madness

As I began to expand my perfume horizons the first style I latched on to was the Mediterranean aesthetic. It was enough different than the plethora of fresh aquatics, which were crowding my department store counter, while allowing me to take small steps towards different. There are plenty in this style which play up the Sea they are named after. The best are a balance of herbs, citrus, and florals which capture everything about the place they are named after. Nicolai Cap Neroli is one of the latest to get this style right.

Patricia de Nicolai has been working with her son Axel recently on the new Nicolai releases. The collaborative mere et fils have shown an evolution of the Nicolai style. There is a freshening up of the aesthetic. It hasn’t always worked for me but the effort shows another Nicolai is ready to carry on the perfumed family name. In Cap Neroli this turn towards that effect pays dividends especially early on. A Mediterranean style perfume should be bright, and a precise top accord leads to the title note followed by a biting base accord.

Axel and Patricia de Nicolai

The perfume team’s choice is to use the bitter call of bigarade to open things. Orange sweetens the bitterness. The herbal nature of rosemary and mint capture the exhilaration of standing on a cliff looking down at the Mediterranean far below. They bring a hint of the water, but they mostly provide green complement to the citrus. It isn’t stated what the source of the neroli used here but it is a top quality one where both the floral and the green are prominent. Which means the bigarade meshes with the floral while the herbs combine with the green. This forms that fresh effect I mentioned earlier. It has the frisson of summer writ large. To prepare for a deeper base the Nicolais begin to add depth with jasmine and ylang-ylang. That’s so the oakmoss which arrives doesn’t startle. It is a bitingly green version to which a set of mid-weight musks provide amplification of those qualities.

Cap Neroli has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I’ve been watching a bit too much basketball this weekend. Wearing Cap Neroli while watching the March Madness tournament made me think of this as Mediterranean Madness; thrillingly so.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Nicolai Patchouli Sublime- From the Ridiculous

Thomas Paine in “The Age of Reason” opines that there is but one step between ridiculous and sublime. It is a defining juxtaposition that within the absurd there can be found something grand. When I received my sample of Nicolai Patchouli Sublime I realized, the name notwithstanding, here was a perfume analog of Mr. Paine’s wisdom.

Patricia de Nicolai has been creating perfumes in either Intense or Sublime versions for many years. Long enough that there are sometimes pairs, as is the case here. In 2009, Patchouli Intense was a dark earthy gourmand patchouli. For 2017 the follow-up Patchouli Sublime has arrived. For the Sublime version Mme de Nicolai wanted to fashion a version that was airier than the Intense. To achieve this an opening fougere-like accord gave me the ridiculous as I struggled mightily with it. Only to find about an hour later the sublime beauty of patchouli and geranium to combine into something grand.

Patricia de Nicolai

The reason I have for my laughter at the opening is it feels like mint, coriander and lavender come together in a mixture of mouthwash, gin, and room freshener. I understand the desire to create an airy style of top accord except for me it comes off laughably pedestrian. When I first tried my sample on a strip it was only the hints of what was underneath that made me give it a sniff an hour later only to find something entrancing. When I wore Patchouli Sublime the cheap opening took about forty-five minutes to dissipate before the patchouli and geranium thankfully take over. Mme de Nicolai is using a few sources of patchouli where the earthy qualities are tamped down and the greener herbal nature is enhanced. This makes its duet with the green rosiness of the geranium a lovely harmonic. This is a gorgeous heart accord which is given some rounding with tobacco, tonka, and musks. The first two provide a sweeter outline around the keynotes. The musks add their typical animalic sensuality.

Patchouli Sublime has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I admit I have problems with mint in perfume and the mint here is one which makes me think of dental products exclusively. The coriander and lavender also come off poorer because of that. If you are a fan of these notes the opening will probably be much better for you than me. What I can unequivocally say is after that top accord disappears the patchouli and geranium are beautifully realized together. Enough so that Mr. Paine would see his truth within Patchouli Sublime.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Nicolai Rose Royale- Full-Bloom Rose

When the wave of mainstream spring rose fragrances begins to overwhelm me there almost always comes an antidote from the niche sector. Just as I think if I sniff another dewy fresh rose I will go mad the independent perfumers ride to my rescue. For 2017 it turns out Patricia de Nicolai saves me with her latest release Nicolai Rose Royale.

Patricia de Nicolai has been collaborating with her son, Axel de Nicolai, over the most recent releases. In the press materials, they describe the brief they used, “A natural and fresh rose with a hint of fruity notes like the rose at the end of the stem.” When I stick my nose in a garden rose on thebush there is a delicate fruitiness underneath the heady aroma. There is also a similar muskiness deep in the heart of a full–bloom rose. The Nicolais capture all of that not so much in a photorealistic way but by using fruity and musky ingredients to recreate that real-life experience.

Axel and Patricia de Nicolai

To do this they take a fabulous Turkish rose as the core of Rose Royale. This is a refreshing choice just because most spring roses go for the more genteel rose de mai or similar. The Turkish rose has much more presence than the Grasse variety. This allows for the Nicolais to take blackcurrant bud and passion fruit to provide the fruity nuance. The blackcurrant buds also provide that sticky green quality as well. All of this is kept subtle allowing the rose to shine brightly throughout. The fruits are displaced by the botanical musk of ambrette seeds and made woody with coriander. At this point the rose is still ascendant. Then in the base a new partner arises to share the spotlight, immortelle. Playing off the delicate botanical musk of the ambrette the maple syrup sweetness of immortelle provides a unique foil to the rose. Once Rose Royale reaches this part was when I felt redeemed from all those debutante roses with one that had something to say.

Rose Royale has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Rose Royale is much more representative of spring than the alternatives out there. Spring to me is the sight of a rose in full-bloom. Rose Royale is a perfume which captures this.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Nicolai.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Nicolai Incense Oud- The Unfamiliar Familiar

There are many perfect perfume notes which go together like peanut butter and jelly or as Forrest Gump would say, peas and carrots. These perfume combos then have to be surrounded by something unusual to allow them to stand out. As the number of versions keeps increasing it becomes more difficult for a brand to find that space where they provide a new experience. Most of the time a perfume brand won’t even try very hard. They’ll take the tried and true add something else and start up the publicity machine. Over the last few years as the popularity of oud has soared in fragrance there has come to be some pretty traditional pairings with that ingredient. One of my favorites is oud and incense. It is really a pairing of two types of resins. It is also a kind of juxtaposition of the dirty essence of oud against the almost sterile austerity of frankincense. By themselves they are a perfect pairing. Even though I own a lot of the incense oud perfumes that have been released I am always ready for a new one. The most recent one I received is Nicolai Incense Oud.

Over the past year and a half, or so, Patricia de Nicolai the perfumer behind Nicolai has been exploring these different oud pairings. She has shown that she is a perfumer who can find that unique interstitial space and exploit it with a well-chosen grouping of ingredients. In Incense Oud those supporting notes are absinthe, cedar, patchouli, leather and castoreum to delineate the sustainably harvested Cambodian oud and the Omani Frankincense.

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Patricia de Nicolai

Incense Oud opens without either of the title notes around. Instead Mme de Nicolai takes coriander, the botanical musk of ambrette seeds, and artemesia to form a sexy absinthe accord. It provides a swirl of alcoholic entry before the resins come to the fore. The oud and incense rise up together. This sustainable harvested oud has a kind of cedar undertone to it. Mme de Nicolai adds in cedar to emphasize that. It allows a cleaner version of oud to meet the silvery quality of the Omani frankincense. Together this is more incense than oud but it is because of the nature of the sustainable oud. Since I was missing a bit of that animalic character Mme de Nicolai gives it back to me with a leather accord accompanied by patchouli and castoreum. This actually does fill those spaces I spoke of as it seems to recognize the oud and try and make it a little dirtier.

Incense Oud has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This version of incense and oud really does a fine job of displaying the qualities of the newish sustainably harvested oud. Mme de Nicolai shows it off by allowing it to find its own space to expand in to while the frankincense steps up to it. It is a really beautifully realized example of creativity within heavily explored space by making the familiar seem unfamiliar.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Nicolai at Pitti 2016.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Nicolai Oud Sublime- Oud as Tiramisu

There was a time ten or so years ago when Mrs. C and I became interested in the Italian dessert called tiramisu. We would discover that the origin of the dessert was in dispute with its first appearance being anywhere from the 17th century up to the 1960’s. There are even disagreements on how to make it. We experimented with making it in different ways as well. They all tasted great and there was truly no specific one that was head and shoulders above the rest. The only common agreement across any of this was the ingredients; coffee-soaked ladyfingers, eggs, sugar, mascarpone cheese, and cocoa. Every variation I have tried is still recognizably these ingredients yet also carrying subtle differences.

In perfumery there may also be an analog to this tiramisu recipe; the rose and oud combination. For the last fifteen years oud centered fragrances have exploded. Hundreds of perfumes have been released featuring this note in that time. A significant percentage of them have rose as a prominent note. Like those tiramisu recipes I was so enthralled with even a perfume with prescribed ingredients can still be influenced by a creative perfumer. This was what I was thinking when I tried Nicolai Oud Sublime at Esxence 2016.

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Patricia de Nicolai

Patricia de Nicolai has been also exploring oud and this is her third oud perfume following up on Rose Oud and Amber Oud. Oud Sublime is a rose and oud perfume except Mme de Nicolai seemed to really consider the supporting players to bring out the beauty inherent in that rose and oud combination. The oud she uses is a Cambodian oud. The Cambodian version is the least confrontational source of oud. It carries a sweeter slightly dried fruit profile versus the more medicinal edgier profiles of oud from other countries. By making this choice it allowed Mme de Nicolai the opportunity to find complements to bring out all of the nuances of this exquisite raw material.

From the first moments of Oud Sublime that Cambodian oud is present. The first two ingredients Mme de Nicolai uses with it are davana and ambrette seeds. The sweet herbaceous nature of the davana is an inspired choice as it feels like it is interspersing itself within the oud. The botanical musk of ambrette adds back in some of the animalic quality some other ouds have. This is much subtler being able to be precisely titrated in by Mme de Nicolai. The rose comes forward at this point. It is a spicier rose which again provides a bit of what the Cambodian oud doesn’t display as much of. Coriander and cumin up the spice quotient. Both of these are tremendous within the construct of Oud Sublime. They add their distinctive presence as modulators for the rose-oud combination. This all settles in to a catoreum base swirled with incense and styrax.

Oud Sublime has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage as it is in extrait concentration.

Oud Sublime is another version of oud and rose. It is also a version which carries a seemingly more intellectual consideration on how to display that combination to its best effect. Mme de Nicolai has delivered a recipe which stands out from all the others.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Nicolai at Esxence 2016.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Nicolai Ambre Cashmere Intense- The Comfort of Softness

I guess I have to believe the cold is here as I spent this morning scraping ice off my car windshield. I try and convince myself it isn’t going to come only to be reminded of its inevitability by a morning layer of ice on my car. When the weather is getting me down it is also inevitable that I reach for my comfort scents. They are the perfume version of warm socks, a comfy sweater, and a roaring fire. One style of perfume which is one of my go-to places when I want this kind of solace are gourmand perfumes. The sweet quality with large quantities of vanilla have a way of soothing my iced over nerves. I recently received a sample of a new gourmand, Nicolai Ambre Cashmere Intense, which helped get me through this cold weekend.

If there is something for which founder and perfumer of Nicolai, Patricia de Nicolai, is becoming known for it is her amber perfumes. It is starting to become a recognizable part of many of her best creations. She has also taken to making “intense” versions with three of the last four including that as part of the name. For Ambre Cashmere Intense Mme de Nicolai wanted a perfume with a “long trail” and so the heart of this is a mixture of her amber accord, orris butter, and vanilla. Together they form the perfumed equivalent of a downy soft pillow suitable for hugging closely.

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Patricia de Nicolai

Before we get to that heart we start with a bright citrus flare of lemon and mandarin which are contrasted with a pinch of black pepper. The spicy citrus is further spiced by some clove which provides the bridge to the orris butter. This is the powdery feel of orris with much of the rootiness attenuated. Amber provides a handoff from the sharper spiciness of the clove and black pepper to something more refined. The vanilla provides a completed tonal shift to the gourmand which is where Ambre Cashmere Intense spends most of its development. Benzoin and sandalwood provide the effect of lengthening the central accord providing the “long trail” as they elongate the sweetness while turning it woody and resinous in the very late moments.

Ambre Cashmere Intense has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I think these kind of comfort fragrances are sometimes dismissed for being this olfactory version of a glass of warm milk. That sells the best of them short. Amber Cashmere Intense is a very good example because it forms a perfectly balanced softness in which the wearer can seek the comfort they are looking for.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.

Mark Behnke

Header Photo via Fragrantica.