A couple years back the perfume buzzword was deconstruction. Throughout most of that time I heard Inigo Montoya saying, “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.” Or maybe more accurately their idea of deconstruction didn’t match my perception of what it should be. What I wanted was a perfume that took a well-known ingredient and using other ingredients to form an accord without any of it present. When it has been done in that style it provides a different perspective on the what it is imitating. Essential Parfums Bois Imperial does exactly this for sandalwood.
Essential Parfums is a unique brand in the way they give the perfumer the freedom to create as they wish. Because of that they also put the name of the perfumer right on the label. This is becoming a small vital piece of the niche perfume sector. Giving talented perfumers the chance to go their own way. The only restriction is that can only use sustainable materials.
That last is particularly apt when it comes to sandalwood as over harvesting severely damaged it in some places in the world. Perfumer Quentin Bisch has decided not to worry about that as he forms his deconstructed interpretation in Bois Imperial.
The core piece of this is the biological degradation of patchouli called Akigalawood. I have written about this in the past as a more versatile fraction of patchouli where a spiciness reigns over a lighter earthiness. It is an ideal foundation to build upon. In the early going he uses two Asian herbs in Timut pepper and Thai basil. Both carry a noticeable citrus piece to their scent profile of grapefruit and lemon, respectively. Those provide a bit of sparkle, but it is the spiciness of the pepper and green of the basil which begin to flow into the Akigalawood. He uses a Givaudan muguet synthetic analog called Petalia to add a fresh green to things. When I first notice it, I am not sure what part it will play. The remainder of the deconstructed sandalwood comes through vetiver and another woody synthetic Ambrofix. The latter is a less monolithic version of the well-known Ambrox. As these notes blend in the Petalia reveals its reason for being here. The grassiness of vetiver and the woodiness of Ambrofix need something to push back against their sharper edges. The Petalia is that. Once it is all together it is a fresher version of sandalwood than anything you can find in nature.
Bois Imperial has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
This perfume is one of the best deconstructions I have encountered all without anyone on the creative team using the word. The next time I do hear someone use it I’m going to point at Bois Imperial as how you construct a deconstructed perfume.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
1995’s Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male is one of the great perfumes because it redefined a style of fragrance for a generation. Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian composed a true classic. It has also been a veritable cash machine for the brand where they have released flanker after flanker. If you have ignored those because of their ubiquity that would be normal. Many of them were lesser than the original. The problem is within that steady flow of product they manage to sneak in something worthy of attention. That brings us to Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male Le Parfum.
Quentin Bisch, Nathalie Gracia-Cetto, Louise Turner (l. to r.)
When you look at that name you might think this is just a parfum version of the original. You would be half right as it uses the keynotes of Le Male. Where it differs is the team of perfumers; Quentin Bisch, Nathalie Gracia-Cetto and Louise Turner add depth befitting a parfum with something different.
It opens with the same cardamom which is part of the best Le Male flankers. Then what the perfumers do is allow the complementary original note of artemisia more agency in the perfume. It elongates the cardamom with a slightly licorice bite. It gives it the same herbal green of the original without using mint. The heart is made up of lavender given the same additional depth using iris. Here it is to give an earthier floral to enhance the herbal part of the lavender. It gives top and heart accord a connection through that. The biggest difference comes with vanilla in the forefront of the base. There are still the woods from before, but they are given the warmth of vanilla to add to it.
Le Male Le Parfum has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
As I wore Le Male Le Parfum I kept thinking this was the dress-up version of Le Male. If the original was the carefree casual one. Le Parfum is the one gussied up for the evening. Maybe that is all that is needed for a successful flanker the opportunity to dress up a classic.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Jean Paul Gaultier.
Since 2016 I have been watching the popular perfume brands come to grips with the current trend for lighter more transparent fragrances. Each of them has chosen their own path with varying degrees of success. At this point their choices have become evident. Thierry Mugler has made one of the more interesting choices. If you want to lighten up your perfumes you should also do it with a palpable smile. Thierry Mugler Angel Nova continues to achieve that.
The original Angel is nobody’s idea of a light perfume although the spirit behind it was fun. In 2016 perfumer Quentin Bisch laid down the marker on the new Angel with Angel Muse. It has continued through two iterations of Angel Eau Croisiere and Eau Croisiere II. Those perfumes are made for nights on holiday. They are also intelligently designed perfumes. Angel Nova picks up on all of this with a team of M. Bisch, Louise Turner, and Sonia Constant collaborating.
One of the hallmarks of this current generation of Angel flankers is they have been simple constructs. Angel Nova is three keynotes of raspberry, rose, and akigalawood. There are a couple of supporting ingredients which add to the complete piece, but it is predominantly those three.
It opens with a juicy raspberry given a syrupy finish through lychee. It made me think of opening a can of lychee and finding raspberries covered in the syrup. This is the kind of value added of a clever supporting note. It leads into a rich rose living up to its jammy adjective. I know you read this and think light, how could this be light. It is a remarkably transparent effect. It is capped with the spicy patchouli analog of akaigalawood adding an echo back to the original with its own patchouli inspired base. Some benzoin completes that base accord.
Angel Nova has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is another perfume full of joy. I keep looking forward to these Angel flankers because they all manage to find a way to have fun without becoming inane. Perhaps because they know the secret on how to lighten up their perfumes.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Thierry Mugler.
When I receive mainstream releases, I am rarely challenged by what I find in the sample. They are searching for a broad audience, so they are not inclined to be groundbreaking. It is what marks the biggest separation between mainstream and niche. The later being where the envelope gets pushed. There are exceptions, the latest comes from Zadig & Voltaire Girls Can Be Crazy.
Thierry Gillier has been making fashionable threads for cool young girls from Paris for over twenty years. The move into fragrance has been uneven, to be charitable. It veers between being insipidly simple to something enchantingly engaging. A good example is 2018’s Girls Can Do Anything which was a pear and orange blossom fougere. The opposite was last year’s Girls Can Say Anything which was the simpering peony that bores me to tears. Perfumer Quentin Bisch has been the perfumer for this “Girls Can” series. He returns for Girls Can Be Crazy, surprisingly living up to the name.
The first two in the series were safe; the third is just odd. Using a cola accord as a keynote is unusual. You expect a pairing of the traditional flavored colas which exist as a beverage. M. Bisch wants to bottle a new cola flavor entirely, he chooses pear. It is not something which comes off the top of my head when I think of flavored cola.
It opens with that pear cola accord. The pear is the crisp version. The cola accord is more the flat syrup than the carbonated soda. Cola in that form has a caramel aspect that does find traction with the pear. But the brisk fruitiness tends to push against the syrupy cola finding contrast over harmony. M. Bisch adds some synthetic jasmine to add some expansiveness to the accord to keep it from becoming too heavy. As it becomes more expansive there is more space for the pear and cola to find. A twist of vanilla does create a vanilla coke moment before sandalwood picks up the sweetness of the cola in a woody embrace.
Girls Can Be Crazy has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
The pear cola accord is downright weird. Even as I have been smelling it on the strip while writing this, I am thinking I’m not communicating it adequately. It is hard to believe this is what the trendsetting Parisiennes will be wafting on the Seine this year. I would love to believe that could be the case because it might mean there would be more experimental perfumes to come from Zadig & Voltaire. I appreciate this pear cola experiment even if it is only a one season stand.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Zadig & Voltaire.
If there is anything I associate as the scent of luxury it is leather. Leather always seems like an upgrade. Ricardo Montalban would tell me soft Corinthian leather was part of the luxury of the automobile he was hawking. The pieces of leather I’ve owned all seem like some of the most high-end things I own. Part of that is the smell of leather. There is something primal and opulent about it.
Leather has been a staple of modern perfumery since the 1927 release of Chanel Cuir de Russie by perfumer Ernest Beaux. Here is the thing there is no such thing as leather essential oil. When you smell leather in a perfume it has to be a created accord by the perfumer to smell like leather. When I learned this I realized whenever I smelt leather in a perfume, I was encountering a perfumer’s signature.
Because there is no one recipe every perfumer creates their own version of the accord. M. Beaux would use one of the materials used to tan leather, birch tar, as the foundation for the one in Cuir de Russie. Ever since, each perfumer has had the opportunity to evolve the making of their accord as more and more ingredients became available.
This has resulted in perfume with differing leather effects. They can be subtle as a driving glove to as robust as that original saddle leather. Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour would make different leather accords for different compositions. He combined styrax and birch tar for the classic leather vibe. Frankincense, davana, cistus, and saffron form a piquant version. Angelica seed, blackcurrant bud, and tomato leaf form a raw untanned scent. My favorite is his combination of castoreum and ambergris. There is just the right balance of refined and animalic that is near perfect.
Quentin Bisch (l.) and Marc-Antoine Barrois
A recent pair of releases shows the difference ways a leather accord can be tuned to very different styles of perfume. Perfumer Quentin Bisch working with Marc-Antoine Barrois. Released their first perfume based on a leather accord called Marc-Antoine Barrois B683. This is that luxurious leather accord I spoke of at the beginning. This leather caresses and envelops me in all the things which make leather great. They would return a year later with Marc-Antoine Barrois Ganymede. This time the leather accord is used in a near transparent way allowing immortelle to tease out the ambergris I am pretty sure is there. This makes it that kind of salty animalic that I enjoyed so much by M. Duchaufour.
Leather is one of the most important accords in all of perfumery. It also allows the perfumers an opportunity to append a scented signature to their works. This is why I adore it.
When a brand offers their long-time consumers a change it is interesting to see how that works. For mass-market fragrance releases the best way to know the new direction went well is a follow-up. Two years ago Chloe Nomade marked a significant departure from the Chloe fresh aesthetic for a fruity chypre. I thought it was one of the best mainstream releases of 2018. Apparently, consumers and the powers at Chloe also saw the results they wanted because Chloe Nomade Absolu de Parfum has arrived.
Perfumer Quentin Bisch harnessed a gorgeous plum and freesia duo to go with his modern chypre base. For the flanker he has decided to take the remnants of the brighter Chloe DNA and soften them while adding depth. It makes for a much more satisfying experience.
The plum remains from the original, but it is secondary to a cherry ingredient. The plum can be too sweet. The cherry adds just the right amount of tart to offset that. This is a rounding off of a corner which might have been seen as too saccharine in the original. Freesia supplied that fresh floral in the predecessor. M. Bisch uses Davana which is the antithesis of freesia. It has a real depth to it. This is the kind of warmth that makes this version very different. The chypre base this time has more of the oakmoss than before. This provides a velvety cushion for this all to rest upon.
Nomade Absolu de Parfum has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I am delighted that Chloe allowed M. Bisch to push what they did with Nomade to a more intense place. I like this version much better than the original; and I liked that one a lot. It seems as if they were willing to believe by rounding off the corners for a cozier experience, they would retain the audience they built. Time will tell if there is another version in a couple of years. I am rooting for that if it is as good as this.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Sephora.
When it comes to summer flankers it usually means adding something tropical to the DNA of the brand. The majority of the time it feels awkwardly placed as well as being redundant or inconsequential. Of the flankers for summer 2019 I found two which did a nice job of adding a tropical attitude to their respective lines.
Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male Le Beau
Jean Paul Gaultier adds a summer flanker to their Le Male line every year. As a whole this is one of the better summer flanker collections with many more successes than misses. For 2019 they created Le Male Le Beau by crossing the fresh aesthetic of the original through a fantastic coconut at the heart of it.
Perfumers Quentin Bisch and Sonia Constant collaborated on Le Male Le Beau. What they’ve produced is a perfume version of a summer book as a perfume. The freshness is provided by bergamot and they then use what the notes call coconut wood. It seems more like a mixture of coconut and wood. Tonka bean is also present to make that coconut sweeter and fleshier. So many coconut fragrances goo too far to the sweet. By using the wood to keep things drier the coconut has a better effect.
One caveat the name I gave you is what I was supplied by the brand. There are also other flankers which are Le Beau or Le Male. If this perfume interests you look for the exact bottle in the picture above.
Bulgari Rose Goldea Blossom Delight
The original Bulgari Goldea is one of the best commercial releases nobody talks about. The unfortunate upshot of that is Bulgari has become a flanker machine over the last decade. Their success rate is surprisingly low for all the effort they put into it. When they released Rose Goldea three years ago I thought it was a nice summery companion to Goldea which had some personality. For Rose Goldea Blossom Delight I can say the same thing.
Perfumer Alberto Morillas has been responsible for all the Goldea releases. Rose Goldea Blossom Delight is distinctly different from either of its predecessors. M. Morillas sets that difference right from the start with a green top accord made up of papaya and violet leaves. Papaya is a naturally musky fruit and M. Morillas uses that faux-muskiness to create a lightly fruity musky opening. It dovetails nicely into the rose in the heart and the amber in the base. This is a delightful end of summer choice that will also do well as the weather cools post-Labor Day.
Disclosure: this review is based on samples provided by the manufacturers.
Like many perfume lovers as the weather warms up there are certainly styles of perfume which get pushed to the back of the shelf. As a writer on perfume I don’t always have the luxury of adhering to that completely. I have to take what comes no matter what the weather. It was a mixed blessing when I received my sample of Marc-Antoine Barrois Ganymede. That was because last year’s debut perfume Marc-Antoine Barrois B683 was a gorgeous refined leather perfume. Ganymede was said to be using the same leather accord. What I found was something delightfully different in both style and weight.
Quentin Bisch (l.) and Marc-Antoine Barrois (Photo: Fred Zara)
Marc-Antoine Barrois and perfumer Quentin Bisch were the creative team behind B683 and continue into Ganymede. I described B683 as the scent of luxurious leather. Ganymede is a lighter version of the same leather among an entirely different set of supporting notes. The name comes from the largest moon of Jupiter. This planet has captured the imagination because it has a large frozen salt-water ocean, a magnetic field, and traces of oxygen in its atmosphere. For the purposes of the perfume version Messrs. Barrois and Bisch imagine what would a frozen aquatic smell like over their leather accord.
Ganymede opens with a vibrant mandarin providing sunny citrus energy. Saffron provides a corona around the mandarin as a diffuse glow. The same leather accord of B683 comes in with a stealthy step. It almost infuses itself underneath the top accord. Then immortelle is used as the center of that “frozen ocean” accord. Immortelle is most often described as having a maple syrup-like scent profile. M. Bisch attenuates that in favor of the dried grass aspect it also contains. It is used to create that concentrated salinity you might imagine Ganymede the planet smelling like. Contrasted with the subtle vitality of the leather accord this is out of this world.
Ganymede has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Ganymede is a very transparent leather perfume. I rarely pull out my leather perfumes on a summer day. Ganymede will not fall in that category. I will happily wear this out on a midsummer’s evening. I am not sure if there is a trilogy of leather scents to be completed in the future from this creative team. I selfishly hope so. I also am quite curious to see what they might come up with in a non-leather style of perfume. If they can pull off a summer-weight leather it seems there is nothing out of their reach.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
If there is a disappointment, I have in most of the designer perfumes it is that they don’t connect as strongly to the clothing side as I would wish. There are so many innovations the great couture designers have made with the use of fabric I want some perfumes to mimic that. This is not a never seen kind of thing it is mostly a rarely seen event. Yves Saint Laurent Grain de Poudre tries to be one.
Grain de Poudre is part of the Le Vestiaire de Parfums collection launched in 2015. Each perfume is inspired by some aspect of Yves Saint Laurent’s fashion life from design to studio. It has produced seventeen previous perfumes to Grain de Poudre. My overwhelming reaction has been safe perfume extoling a visionary designer. These do not do justice to the aspects of M. Saint Laurent’s life they are inspired by. They have mostly been about producing a varied collection of common styles of perfume. Grain de Poudre doesn’t stray too far outside those lines.
Grain de Poudre is named after the wool and mohair blend used by M. Saint Laurent in his blazers. The classic Le Smoking tuxedo jacket with which M. Saint Laurent revolutionized the concept of women wearing a tuxedo was made of grain de poudre fabric. It is a sleek kind of wool with a tactile density attached to it. Perfumer Quentin Bisch was asked to make a perfume based on it in Grain de Poudre.
Good woolen fabrics have the same kind of animalic scent as leather does. It is different, a little more funky than the more acceptable cowhide scent. M. Bisch chooses to use a leather accord in the base of Grain de Poudre to stand in for that quality. What comes before adds a texture to it all.
Grain de Poudre opens on a combination of violet leaves and black pepper. This is a top accord M. Bisch has used previously in Ex Nihilo Cuir Celeste. There he kept it light. In Grain de Poudre it is rougher. The black pepper rasps across the silvery violet leaves. It turns a sticky shade of green as coriander and sage add even more texture to this opening. Some animalic musks precede the suede leather accord in the base. This is the sleek feel of grain de poudre fabric made funkier by the other ingredients.
Grain de Poudre has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Grain de Poudre is still like most of the other La Vestiaire de Parfums entries in that it never veers outside of safe boundaries. It is better than most everything else in the collection because M. Bisch does try to get a little wooly bully without knocking things over.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Neiman Marcus.
When I was a child if there was a scent I associated with success and power it was leather. Whenever we visited family and friends who I perceived as successful the smell of leather was everywhere. In the furniture we sat on. In the pair of driving gloves worn as we drove in a big car. A leather covered desk in a wood-paneled office. This became hardwired into my developing mind as even now I still must overcome the impulse. What it does mean is when there are perfumes which go for this it brings me back to a childhood where the smell of leather is a pure luxury. Marc-Antoine Barrois B683 is one which reminds me of all of this.
Marc-Antoine Barrois is a menswear designer in Paris. He works on bespoke creations for his clientele. He decided he wanted a perfume to scent his store. For him he also shared the same childhood memories of leather as luxury. It turns out perfumer Quentin Bisch is another who also feels this way. When M. Barrois and M. Bisch came together it became obvious this was the style of perfume they would collaborate on.
Quentin Bisch (l.) and Marc-Antoine Barrois (Photo: Fred Zara)
When a leather accord is constructed it can go in many directions. Based on my experience the refined version is the most difficult to achieve. As a perfumer pulls together the pieces, I think rough spots frequently show up requiring a more precise construction. What is achieved in B683 is that high degree of difficulty leather accord achieving the desired effect.
The opening of B683 is a surprising spice mélange of black pepper, nutmeg, saffron, and Szechuan pepper. I have extolled the use of the last material a lot recently. In the hands of a perfumer like M. Bisch it still can impress in new ways. In this case M. Bisch teases out a green thread and uses the nutmeg and saffron to make it more pronounced. As much as I like the leather which comes next this top accord is compelling. The leather does come next. This is that refined supple style of leather that only seems to be attached to luxury items. It is bracketed by softly resinous labdanum and green violet leaves. The violet leaves pick up that green thread from the top accord and passes it along to the oakmoss in the base. The foundation of B683 is sandalwood, patchouli, and ambroxan. This forms a very dry woody accord as the ambroxan is used to tamp down the less arid aspects of patchouli and sandalwood.
B683 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
The star of B683 is the leather accord at its heart which lives up to its brief. It is a gorgeous example of this. For me it is the top accord which was my favorite part. Somewhat like the opening act overshadowing the headliner. The entire experience of B683 is one of leather as the epitome of luxury.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.