New Perfume Review Van Cleef & Arpels Ambre Imperial- Crème Brulee for the Soul

There is a popular series of books called “Chicken Soup for the Soul” where editors Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen collect inspirational essays. The title is obvious as chicken soup is a well-known curative straight from a family recipe. In my family we had nobody who was adept at making chicken soup. What I had was dessert makers and when I needed something from the kitchen to pick me up it was a dessert. One of my favorites was, and is, crème brulee. It is still how I judge a great restaurant; if they can’t cap off my dinner with an exceptional version then it will always be lacking in my book. There are not a lot of perfume versions of the dessert but the new Van Cleef & Arpels Ambre Imperial might be the best.

Creme-Brulee

Ambre Imperial is part of the Van Cleef & Arpels Collection Extraordinaire and is the tenth release for this exclusive collection. If I have had an issue with this collection it is that it has played it a bit too safe. The quality of ingredients has been there but they are often put to very standard uses. Orchidee Vanille was my favorite because it was a perfect evocation of freshly made vanilla ice cream straight from the churn. The sheer beauty of the vanilla matched with the floralcy of the orchid it comes from is what I wanted from a collection labeled extraordinary. Amber Imperial asks perfumer Quentin Bisch to create a different type of vanilla, something classic. Ambre Imperial is that crème brulee with a solid shell of amber lying on top of it.

Quentin Bisch

Quentin Bisch

M. Bisch opens Ambre Imperial with a typical flourish of bergamot made piquant by the presence of baie rose. It is nothing more than a momentary fillip towards the real business of Ambre Imperial which comes with a warm deeply satisfying amber accord. M. Bisch then uses benzoin to turn it into that hard fluid shell which coats the top of any good version of crème brulee. The vanilla comes to the foreground and while the amber and benzoin still have the floor it creates a caramel accord which eventually transitions into a solid vanilla base. The vanilla is supported by the toasty quality of tonka bean. The tonka reminds me of the black flecks of real vanilla pods I see in the best things featuring vanilla. It adds a sense of depth with its presence.

Ambre Imperial has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Amber Imperial is probably the most straight forward composition of M. Bisch’s career so far. Which is a good thing because while I appreciate his sense of adventure there is a point at the end of the day that I want my favorite sense-based artists to soothe me with something simple but rich. With Ambre Imperial M. Bisch has crafted crème brulee for my soul.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Thierry Mugler A*Men Ultra Zest- Orange is the New Mugler

One of the more successful line of flankers has been those which have descended from the 1996 classic Thierry Mugler A*Men. The perfumer behind that creation, Jacques Huclier, has spent every year since 2008 designing a new version enhancing or adding to the classic formulation. A*Men has been a powerhouse perfume since its inception and most of the original members of the “Pure” collection have been heavy hitters as well. Last year’s A*Men Pure Wood showed a different aesthetic as it was surprisingly, and delightfully, softer than any of the previous A*Men flankers. I was wondering if that was going to be a singularity or the beginning of a trend. The latest, A*Men Ultra Zest, provides an answer.

Jacques-Huclier

Jacques Huclier

One of the reasons I think this set of flankers has been so successful is M. Huclier has been the perfumer behind all of them. His intimate knowledge of the construction of A*Men makes him the most qualified to alter it without harm. That has been accomplished quite efficiently with Pure Coffee and Pure Malt, my preferred versions of A*Men when I am in the mood. Even so they are powerful perfumes with equally powerful projection. They are not something I wear to work. Pure Wood was constructed such that not only have I wore it to work but it is almost an ideal work fragrance because the power is controlled as M. Huclier dials down the gourmand base. For Ultra Zest M. Huclier got some help from fellow Givaudan perfumer Quentin Bisch. Ultra Zest is in a bright orange bottle and that is the foreshadowing of the composition of the perfume inside. This could have been called Pure Orange and it wouldn’t be far off the mark.

Quentin Bisch

Quentin Bisch

The opening of Ultra Zest is all about the orange but not the typical juicy orange. The perfumers use blood orange to add a bit more tart added to tangerine to keep it sweet but not as sweet as a traditional orange. This is all placed on a rapidly moving flying carpet of ginger. This makes the opening moments go by almost too fast. The flying carpet lands at a coffee shop as the citrus is surrounded by rich coffee notes. There is cinnamon and spearmint listed on the note list but I never detected them. The heart felt like the coffee heart of most A*Men iterations. The base is very similar to Pure Wood as the perfumers again make a much softer chocolate accord consisting of patchouli and tonka bean. As I wore Ultra Zest I was always wondering if it was going to ramp up in power or settle into a comfortable hum. It was definitely the latter.

A*Men Ultra Zest has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I am not sure why Thierry Mugler has decided to rein in the powerful nature of A*Men but it makes Ultra Zest perhaps the most versatile in the line. It is light enough to be worn to the office. It has enough presence for a night out. It has enough bright citrus character to be worn in warm weather. There might be entries which do any one of those things better but none of them do all of them as well. A*Men Ultra Zest is one you should add to your A*Men collection if you’re a fan. It is also one to try if you maybe weren’t a fan of the original and the earlier flankers. It is my favorite of the flankers since 2012’s Pure Havane.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Ex Nihilo Fleur Narcotique & Venenum Kiss- Searching for Quentin Bisch

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In everything that I am passionate about I am always looking for the next new talent. In perfumery one of those who has caught my eye, and many others, is Quentin Bisch. I think like most people I became aware of him through the three part BBC Perfume documentary. (If you want to see his introduction here is the link to the episode https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cz3_tY6Ld5I M. Bisch’s introduction happens at the 11:20 mark) What came through on the screen was this was a person who wore his passion for perfume openly. There was not a calculating bone in his body when it comes to perfume. Ever since that documentary I have waited for M. Bisch to start to produce his body of work. As a result I keep track of what he releases. Late last year I found out he had done a perfume for a new perfume brand in Paris, Ex Nihilo. At the time they did not have samples and I could only impatiently wait. Now the decant site Surrender to Chance offered five samples and two of them were the ones signed by M. Bisch, Fleur Narcotique and Venenum Kiss.

Ex-Nihilo-Team

Ex Nihilo Team (l. to r.) Olivier Royere, Sylvie Loday, Benoit Verdier

Ex Nihilo from the latin for “out of nothing” is owned and creatively directed by Olivier Royere, Sylvie Loday, and Benoit Verdier. Their backgrounds are not from classically trained beauty backgrounds. In a quote from their website they acknowledge this, “Our references come as much from perfumery as from design or architecture.” This belief allows them to take in a precocious young talent like M. Bisch and turn him loose. For his first two efforts for Ex Nihilo he has produced a fruity floral and a woody oriental.

Fleur Narcotique is described on the website as a “floral overdose” and while it is aggressively floral I am not sure if I ever felt close to an OD. I found it to be a study in subtlety as very often just when I thought I had a handle on things something new would change that opinion. Fleur Narcotique had an appealing olfactory restlessness which makes it fascinating to wear.

In the opening moments you are greeted with bergamot and peach; pretty standard fruity floral territory. Except for two things. First the fruit is not amped up to bludgeoning levels it is kept much more transparent than the typical fruity openings. The second is M. Bisch’s use of lychee to add an exotic twist to the mundane. Great lychee has a syrupy kind of musty quality. Paired with the peach, especially, it makes for an opening to a fruity floral which had me wanting to see what floral was coming. The answer was peony bolstered by orange blossom and jasmine. The fresh quality of the peony was an excellent foil to the peach and lychee. Most of the time while wearing a fruity floral I can pretty much ignore it after an hour or so because besides a few woods or musks that will be it. Fleur Narcotique has those woods and musks, along with some moss. M. Bisch brings them forward so they interact with the fruit and the florals instead of waiting for them to disappear before emerging. These base notes provide a languid transformation over the last few hours that I wore Fleur Narcotique. Fleur Narcotique has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Quentin Bisch

Quentin Bisch

Venenum Kiss is described as “opulent and poisonous” which I found appropriate. M. Bisch works the classic spicy sandalwood rose axis of Oriental perfumes and gives his own interpretation. If Fleur Narcotique was restless, Venenum Kiss is indolent. It carries a relaxed comfortable vibe which makes one just want to stay in and enjoy the smell.

M. Bisch chooses nutmeg and saffron as the spices. I like the way these two spices interact with each other as the familiarity of the nutmeg is crossed with the exoticness of saffron. The heart is rose which is partnered with neroli. The neroli is really the bridging note between the spices on top and the rose in the heart. Sandalwood comes to the fore and it is joined by davana which picks up the rose and carries it down into the base. A bit of styrax and vanilla add a bit of sweetness to the late stages. Venenum kiss has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

These two perfumes show two different sides of M. Bisch’s style and what I can see and smell makes me want more.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples I purchased from Surrender to Chance.

Mark Behnke