I remember going to my local Neiman-Marcus one day in 2007. The head of the fragrance department was excited to see me because she had a new line to show me. I was taken to a counter where a row of brown bottles with round gold-colored orbs on top. This was my introduction to Tom Ford Private Blends. It is hard to underestimate the influence this would exert over the fragrance market. It defined the ultra-luxe sector. They also defined a Tom Ford fragrance aesthetic. As he and Karyn Khoury would creatively direct a kind of boldness which would become a defining trend of the noughts. Over time I would own all those initial releases and many of the ones which followed.
Like many brands the most recent releases have shown an evolution. I like many of them. Lost Cherry is a good example of how that early aesthetic remains in place without becoming stale. There have been attempts to reach out to the newer perfume consumers who perhaps enjoy a lighter style. Even those still had that Tom Ford-ness present. When I received my sample of Tom Ford Private Blend Ebene Fume it felt like the past and present were in the bottle.
One of the things that was great about the early releases was the highlighting of an ingredient that was given a luxurious setting. In Ebene Fume perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux features the wood of palo santo as the focal point. This wood has seen some popularity in niche perfumery over the last few years. It has a scent profile which is like sandalwood. In the areas where it is indigenous it is seen as an instrument in religious rituals. Sr. Flores-Roux sees the parallel between burning palo santo and incense to create the nucleus of this.
Both are present in the beginning. Twin spirals of resin and wood which form a central double helix. In the earliest going there is a subtle theme of green running through things. Thyme, papyrus, and violet leaves add a noticeable accentuation to the main ingredients. Osmanthus serves as a bridge to a sturdy leather accord. The palo santo and incense swirl around it. Then a simple piece turns this transcendent.
Cade oil is a perfume ingredient I usually curse inwardly when I see it on an ingredient list. In the hands of amateurs, it is a headache inducing sledgehammer which obliterates anything it is around. Sr. Flores-Roux is a maestro who knows the right amount can change everything. In this case the cade oil acts as the flame underneath a pyramid of palo santo and incense. I could imagine flames licking at the woods and resins. This is all perfectly balanced. It is this single addition which elevates Ebene Fume.
Ebene Fume has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
This will make long time Private Blend fans think of the past and there is some of that. There is also a dose of the present as a more modern ingredient is given the Private Blend treatment. What it confirms is after fourteen years and seventy perfumes there is no lack of imagination here.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from Tom Ford Beauty.
In S. Florida the pursuit of the perfect tan was a way of life. When I was growing up there was no talk of SPF just what could make you have the best skin tone. People used baby oil (SPF 0), Coppertone, Hawaiian Tropic, Bain de Soleil, or straight cocoa butter. None of it protected, all of it was to turn your skin brown. While none of these kept out a single UV ray, they all had their own distinctive scent. As I walked around, I could define suntan society. The hardcore tanners had the slightly mineralic baby oil wafting off them. The middle-class kids were wearing Coppertone. Our mothers were wearing Hawaiian Tropic. The hipsters were using cocoa butter. The upper class had on Bain de Soleil. The background was the waves with the sea spray or the slightly chlorinated pool water. It continues to the present day, Vacation x Arquiste captures the scent of this current suntan society.
The perfume inspired by suntanning products is a niche within a niche. It is one that I enjoy immensely. Capturing sunny days on a beach towel or pool lounge are sure to induce a smile. Creative director at Arquiste, Carlos Huber was asked by the makers of Vacation sunscreen to create the scent of their product as a perfume. He turned to long-time collaborator, perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux to bring it to fragrant life.
It begins with deep coconut accord of coconut milk and coconut water. There is a fluidity to this which mimics the water somewhere close by. Petitgrain is like the sun glinting off the surface of the water. Ten seconds after you spray this on you will look down to make sure you aren’t in your swimming attire. It then transitions into the fruity part of a lot of tanning products as banana and pineapple are spread atop an expansive musk meant to convey the sun and open air. It forms a less intense version of the fruits than you might expect. It is just the right volume to evoke a poolside memory. It ends with the gentlest accord of slightly chlorinated pool water, sea spray, and lycra. This is a delightful reminder of the idea of being out in the sun without becoming too loud. It perfectly finished the milieu being represented here.
Vacation has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is without a doubt the most palpable fun I have encountered from Srs. Huber and Flores-Roux in all the time that I have known them. I feel nearly certain there were laughter-filled conversations as they closed in on a final version. That joy is not an ingredient you will find on the side of the box. It is necessary if you’re going to find just the right tone for suntan society.
Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle provided by Arquiste.
I am always interested when a brand will take an inspiration and make a second version years later. Sometimes it is a commentary on how trends have changed. This mostly happens in the mass-market brands which release annual editions of their pillars. Ever since its release in 1999 Elizabeth Arden Green Tea has been doing this. This year’s model is Elizabeth Arden Green Tea Sakura Blossom.
I tuned back into this collection a few years ago when I smelled Green Tea Fig while out shopping. When I got home and did some research, I learned that one of my favorite perfumers Rodrigo Flores-Roux has been behind the releases since 2008. One of the better kept secrets about him is he is one of the best mass-market perfumers we have. He uses an array of techniques to get the most out of his modest budget. As I’ve gone back to get all the previous releases that has only reinforced my opinion.
With Green Tea Sakura Blossom it hearkens back to 2012’s Green Tea Cherry Blossom. That’s because Sakura is the Japanese word for cherry blossom. Reflecting the times the 2012 Green Tea Cherry Blossom is built around both ingredients with a fruity floral brio. This was the trend at that time. Now we are in an era where transparency is valued. Which means Green Tea Sakura Blossom is a much more delicate construct.
This time it is the sakura blossom accord which leads the way. By adding in fresh floral support through jasmine and peony a delicacy reminiscent of the real blossoms is attained. The green tea comes through at a much lower level than in previous releases. It acts as a bridging note between citrus on top and fresh woodiness in the base. Throughout there are tiny amounts of ingredients which add more than what you usually find in the mass-market category. Some violet leaf adds sharp green, ambrette adds a soft botanical musk, and a woody almond finds some space to be noticed.
Green Tea Sakura Blossom has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is one of those economical lurkers in the perfume aisle. It is easy to overlook it. If you take the chance to get to know it better, you will find this year’s version is a great example of the prevailing trends in perfumery.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Elizabeth Arden.
Over the years I’ve found perfume created as part of a grander artistic exhibition to be really good. One big reason is it isn’t constrained by commercial considerations. It is designed with an artistic intent. Last year photographer Roberto Greco asked for a perfume to be made to go along with his exhibition. Oeilleres was one of my favorite perfumes last year because it was meant to be a part of the overall sensory experience. M. Greco has returned with a new exhibition featuring a new perfume, Roberto Greco Porter sa Peau.
Self-Portrait by Roberto Greco
Porter sa Peau translates to “wearing one’s skin”. The photographs in the exhibit depict his life in four parts. Each piece is seen through a distorted lens as he looks to find his own reflection. He asked perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux to work with him on a perfume to accompany this.
Just like last year they chose a floral which is not widely appreciated by perfume lovers, narcissus. I enjoy narcissus even though I acknowledge the reason others might be put off by it. The two creatives decided to make a perfume which was a wet salty experience.
Before the narcissus appears Sr. Flores-Roux fires off a fusillade of aldehydes. It has the effect of creating a vintage vibe which runs throughout. After those aldehydes die down the narcissus is revealed. It has a sharp green aspect within an earthy indolic floral. It is usually around in judicious amounts, not here. It is given the star treatment. Sr. Flores-Roux chooses to enhance that indolic core by layering in a set of skin musks. This gives an accord of slightly dirty sweaty skin. It verges on smelling like a body after vigorous copulation. There was always a moment while wearing this where I felt someone I encountered was going to give me a look over their mask. Or maybe a knowing wink. The sense of earthiness is deepened through patchouli in the base.
Porter sa Peau has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is indelibly a perfume which is meant to be seen as part of an artistic whole. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it by itself. There is a pleasure in smelling like expended pleasure.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
I am always interested to try the first perfume from a fashion designer. It is a fun exercise to see what tack they will take. Do they do the lazy thing and license their name out with almost zero creative control? That is the cynic’s recipe. Do they pick up on the aesthetic of their brand and try to translate it to fragrance? That’s the afficionado’s recipe. Or do they aim at the consumer market they’ve built with a fragrance meant to appeal to them? That’s the recipe for Rebecca Minkoff.
Rebecca Minkoff began her fashion brand in 2005. From day one her target audience has been millennial women. She has found a style which appeals to that segment which has translated into a successful brand. When it came to the first perfume with her name on it, she turned to two perfumers Rodrigo Flores-Roux and Linda Song. She asked them for a fragrance which would appeal to her audience. What they delivered is a beautiful variation on the transparent florals in vogue currently.
One of my biggest issues with this style of perfumery is it can become so insubstantial it is meaningless. What the perfumers have done here it to add just enough counterweight to offset that. It is in those ingredients where Rebecca Minkoff steps it up.
The first fresh floral I encountered is called “baby orchid” in the note list. This is that slightly chilly florist shops cold room scent. It is given some of that counterweight I spoke of through coriander and cardamom. They provide an herbal veil of green over the fresh floral. In the heart that floral vibe becomes more tropical as two floral synthetics Hedione and Karmaflor are balanced into an airy floral accord just a bit less transparent that the top accord floral. The counterweight here is the nice use of tobacco. This is not the narcotic dried leaf tobacco. This is a light application which adds the dried leafy sweetness to the flowers. It connects to the hay-like tonka bean in the base and a lighter patchouli to complete things.
Rebecca Minkoff has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is a great debut for the brand. It should appeal to the same women that the clothing does. Sometimes that is the best recipe for success staying true to your consumer.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Rebecca Minkoff.
Rodrigo Flores-Roux is one of my favorite perfumers because he creates perfume that finds ways of making the common, uncommon. He has done it again with tobacco in Xinu Ummo.
Xinu is the Mexico City-based independent brand creatively directed by Veronica Alejandra Pena. She opened her boutique in 2017 and released four perfumes. All of them were composed with Sr. Flores- Roux. I enjoyed all four with Monstera standing out among those early perfumes. At the time I wrote that this felt like the kind of perfume Sr. Flores-Roux might have made if he had started his fragrance career as an independent perfumer from Mexico. His path instead took him to becoming a perfumer for Givaudan. I still think there is that independent spirit lurking underneath, Ummo allows it to peek out.
For Ummo the idea was to make a perfume capturing the sacred nature of tobacco. Many of the indigenous people of North America used tobacco as part of their rituals. Ummo would take the shape of one of those rituals as a fragrance.
It is easy to imagine a penitent entering a sweat lodge as I wore Ummo. This is a claustrophobic tobacco perfume. It feels as if it has a pent-up energy which I enjoyed. There is a smart use of the flower and leaves of tobacco to create a development from green leaf to dried leaf.
Ummo opens with the tobacco flower. It is recognizable as tobacco in its early form. Using juniper berry and agave it is kept on the vegetal side of the profile. The more familiar tobacco appears with a scent of the sweaty scent of muscone. Overlaying it all is the floral sweetness of jasmine. The floral quality expands on the sweetness in the smell of sweat and tobacco. This is the heart of the ceremony. A leather accord provides more animalic facets. Tonka and honey add in their versions of hay and viscous versions, respectively. This is the moment where the dance among the smoke takes place until it ends with the rising of the sun.
Ummo has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
If you are looking for a different spin on tobacco Ummo is worth trying. I like the way it evolves from green to narcotic depths. Deep in a trance as I can find a place within.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
A couple of years ago I was at the mall and followed my nose to something that smelled good. I was surprised to find at the end of my journey a bottle of Elizabeth Arden Green Tea Fig. It put me on notice that maybe I should pay attention to this line of flankers. The latest release Elizabeth Arden Green Tea Pear Blossom rewards that.
The original Elizabeth Arden Green Tea was released in 1999 as part of the trend of that time. Every spring they release a new version, adding another ingredient. To their credit these perfumes aren’t just the original Green Tea formula with the new listed note shoehorned in. Since 2008 it has seemingly become a nice creative outlet for one of my favorite perfumers Rodrigo Flores-Roux. He has overseen each year’s new iteration. What drew me to Green Tea Fig was the dual green of unripe fig and green tea. Green Tea Pear Blossom is the antithesis of that sparkling with juicy fruit despite the green tea.
That fulsome fruit is pear. Sr. Flores-Roux recreates the juicy Anjou version of the fruit. This is a slice of pear with a clear droplet of juice hanging off the end. Along with that lemon provides the sunlight to that droplet with citrusy sparkle. The heart is a floral pairing of pear blossom and jasmine. It is mostly the latter as the sweet floral nature of jasmine slowly replaces the pear. This is where the green tea enters the picture. It flows through the floral heart in slightly bitter plumes of steam. In this non-indole version of jasmine it adds a different type of bite. A nibble perhaps. Some amber warms the overall effect before a set of white musks add lift to the later stages.
Green Tea Pear Blossom has 8-10 hour longevity and average siallage.
This is another spring floral alternative to the rose offerings out there. Sr. Flores-Roux has crafted a fruity floral bursting with vernal vividness.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Elizabeth Arden.
As so many things are in the jargon of perfume “independent perfume” is an inexact phrase. There is a baseline agreement, that is probably shared by most who view that, as fragrance that does not want to be influenced by the mainstream. To a deeper degree I think it also must indicate a specific mindset. You can be “independent” because you refuse to go with the flow. What I think is the best practitioners are those who lead with their heart before the head ever becomes involved. At its best is when that passion is shared by congruent visions as has been the case with creative director Carlos Huber and perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux. They have produced 19 of the 22 releases for Sr. Huber’s brand Arquiste since the first collection in 2011. These perfumes have always been about their shared heritage along with a unique perspective; their latest is Arquiste Misfit.
I have known both men for almost ten years now. I have mentioned this in previous reviews, but I will repeat it again. When I first moved to the Washington DC area Srs. Huber and Flores-Roux were invited by the Mexican Embassy to make a presentation of the new, at the time, Arquiste perfume collection. To see these sons of Mexico in the presence of the dignitaries that were there that night was a joy to behold. Their smiles showed their pride. In these early days of the brand I remember one quote from that night every time I receive a new Arquiste, “I like to put a little bit of Mexico in every perfume I make.” It has served them well.
Misfit has as its brief the typical historical timeframe of September 1877 in Marseille, France. Sr. Huber chose this date because it was after the exotic patchouli-scented Kashmiri shawls had fallen out of favor with the well-to-do. At this time they had fallen to the shoulders of the misfits; the bohemians and prostitutes. The scent of patchouli would become associated with those. Ninety-ish years later it would also find its way to the bohemian misfits of the 1960’s as patchouli would become the scent of the flower children. Patchouli would continue to have poor public relations for many years with many mainstream perfumes shying away from using a lot of it for fear of being seen as a “head shop” fragrance.
As we turned the corner into a new century patchouli became rehabilitated through science and creativity. The first came about as the chemists at the large perfume oil producers began experimenting with different ways of distilling the essential oil. They would find that you could collect fractions of the whole which would give you very different scent profiles. Patchouli was one of the ingredients which benefited the most from this. Perfumers could now tune a patchouli effect to any profile they chose. The creativity came about because those who wear independent perfumes are their own kind of misfit choosing to wear what they like without following the crowd. For Misfit Srs. Huber and Flores-Roux combine three fractionated sources of patchouli to stitch together a modern Kashmiri shawl of the way patchouli smells now.
The other well-known scent of the free spirits of the late 19th century was lavender. That is where Misfit begins. It is made into a fascinating accord as Sr. Flores-Roux coats this flower in seeds. The rooty sweetness of carrot seeds primarily. The botanical musk of ambrette seeds is matched with the less musky herbal quality of angelica seed. It tilts the lavender towards a more herbal presence just in time for the first piece of patchouli to arrive. Akigalawood is a biological degradation of patchouli. What remains is a spicy woody version. As it appears in Misfit a Bulgarian rose rises to meet it. It is a modern re-telling of rose and patchouli. It gets more contemporary as two fractions of patchouli are combined in the base. Sr. Flores-Roux embraces all the problematic history of this ingredient by combining two of the earthier versions. It makes for an interesting contrast to the Akigalawood where all of that is missing. To offset the earthiness, tonka bean provides a toasted quality while tolu balsam picks up on the woody aspect of the Akigalawood which elongates it into the base. This is where Misfit transforms into a Kashmiri shawl for 2019. It has a contemporary feel without losing that earthy patchouli quality.
Misfit has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
If you’re looking for that bit of Mexico in Misfit I imagine it comes from all of the different botanical seeds in the top accord. If you wear independent perfumes you probably like living life at a different rhythm than those around you. If you are that person Arquiste Misfit is there to give you one option to be your own modern bohemian.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Arquiste.
One of the interesting aspects of living in a small town is people learn about you over time. Many in town know I write about perfume. During the summer we have Friday events on our town green. Which is where I can sometimes have interactions on perfume. A little over a month ago during “Wine Down in the Park” I was sipping with one of my neighbors who smelled good. It was a sparkly floral which also seemed to have some depth. I asked her what she was wearing. Which caused an amusing reaction from others who were surprised I didn’t know what it was. I knew it had to be commercial because there were a lot of synthetics but there was also this unexpected sparkle which usually doesn’t come out in a perfume like this. Given the spotlight my neighbor told me she got it on her recent trip to Las Vegas after she saw the show in residence by Christina Aguilera. There is a perfume to go with it called Christina Aguilera Xperience. My neighbor let me make a sample from her bottle. Under further scrutiny it turned out there was a reason it stood out.
That reason is perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux. Sr. Flores-Roux knows how to squeeze the most out of the budget for a mainstream commercial fragrance. In the past he has told me one technique he uses is to add a tiny amount of the actual essential oil of a floral ingredient to the more economical synthetic equivalent. It has the effect of adding subtle nuance to those ingredients giving a fuller floral experience. I don’t know for sure if that is what he did here, but this seems so much more than what its ingredients say it should be I’ll be surprised if he didn’t.
Xperience opens on a floral pairing of plumeria and orange blossom. These seem much brighter than they usually are in mainstream releases. There is a sparkle and kick in their step. Sr. Flores-Roux uses a set of other florals to support things, but it is mostly these two florals for the early going. The base is a warm woody accord around balsamic components and amber. It gives off a warmth to add something more to the florals on top.
Xperience has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
If you are looking for a fall floral for cool mornings and warm afternoons Xperience is a great mainstream choice.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I made from a bottle owned by a friend.
Designer fragrances are a dime a dozen; most ending up not being worth a dime. It is why when there is a designer collection which stands out it really stands out. That is the case with the fragrance side of John Varvatos.
John Varvatos is an American fashion designer known for his rock and roll aesthetic. In 2004 he wanted to branch out into fragrance. From here the story usually goes this way; brand name turns over creative control to big cosmetics brand who produce an insipid fragrance. When there are successes within the designer area of perfume it almost always comes because the name on the bottle gets involved in the creative process. Mr. Varvatos was one of those. That would lead to some other anomalies to the way John Varvatos developed as a brand. The most important is he worked with the same perfumer, Rodrigo Flores-Roux, exclusively for the first fifteen perfumes. This kind of partnership is common in the niche community; much rarer in mainstream. Over the years they have developed one of the very best fragrance collections you can find at the department store. They have been at it so long that the early releases are now easily found in the discount bins. While I whole heartedly recommend almost everything released by Mr. Varvatos and Sr. Flores-Roux for this month’s Discount Diamonds I’m going to start at the beginning with John Varvatos Cologne.
At that time for men’s fragrance they made a couple of interesting choices. One to eschew all the fresh and clean competition. Second to work with some unusual ingredients. In that first press release they would tout four ingredients being used for the first time.
John Varvatos Cologne opens with the sweet dried fruitiness of medjool dates. This provides a unique kind of sweetness which is kept from getting to be too much by using rosemary and tamarind leaves to wrap it up in notes of herb and vegetal forms of green. The herbs continue into the heart with clary sage, coriander, and thyme. At this point there is a lot of similarity to the stewed fruit accord which would become popular in niche perfumery. In the base they use a couple of woody synthetics, Eaglewood and Auramber. This gives an intensely woody accord with an amber finish.
John Varvatos Cologne has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
What you see above would be repeated time and again as Mr. Varvatos and Sr. Flores-Roux seemingly improved release after release. It has been one of the most remarkable collaborations in all mainstream perfume.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.