Independent Perfumery 2018

When I was really starting my descent into perfumed obsession in the early years of the 2000’s it started with the discovery of niche perfumes. What that meant to me were small brands with distinctive artistic aesthetics. Those early years of this century saw the rapid expansion of this style of perfume. Presenting themselves as an alternative to what was available at the mall. It was, and remains, part of the reason I enjoy perfume.

Then in 2006 on the blogs I follow there was mention of this new perfume from Switzerland. A young artist by the name of Andy Tauer had released a perfume called L’Air du Desert Marocain. My perfume world changed again. I discovered there was another world of fragrance makers who worked on their own; independent perfumers. It would be the acclaim for L’Air du Desert Marocain that pointed those who love perfume to a new place.

Every year I am struck by how vital this community is. What spurred me to write this column was my editorial calendar for the next week. One of many important lessons I learned from my Editor-in-Chief at CaFleureBon, Michelyn Camen, is the importance of keeping an editorial calendar. That means I have all the different days subjects planned out in advance. Sometime when I look at my white board I can see patterns which arise out of the list. Looking over next week’s list I saw six wonderful perfumes from six different established independent perfumers. It made me think about where we are now.

One of the things I write about a lot is the concept of a brand aesthetic. It should be easier when an independent perfumer is the only voice in the room. From experience I can tell you it is not. I try a dozen or so new independent brands a year. I provide private feedback which is just between the perfumer and I. One of the more common sentences I write is, “What are you trying to achieve besides smelling good?” The brands which have succeeded have almost always had a personal answer to that. The ones who ask me “What do you mean?” is probably a reason why they don’t succeed.

Proof this has succeeded is there is a part of Hr. Tauer’s perfumes which has been dubbed a “Tauer-ade”. There is a scented fingerprint which says where this perfume came from. The same can be said for Charna Ethier of Providence Perfume Co. or Maria McElroy of Aroma M. I feel if I was handed any of these, and others, perfumes they are identifiable because of this. Independent perfumers can refine a personal vision over every release.

Mandy Aftel

Another more fractious aspect of independent perfumery is very few of them have any formal training. Like all artistic efforts there are the precocious few who are blessed with innate talent. For those the years spent making their perfumes provides its own kind of training; learning through trial and error. That same effort is also rewarded for those who learn entirely from that. Time can be a great leveler. Some of the early founders have become the teachers for those who are drawn to make their own perfume. Mandy Aftel has produced great perfume, under he Aftelier Perfumes label, and a wave of students from her California studio. AbdesSalaam Attar does the same in Europe.

One of the most important aspects of the current state of independent perfumery is the ability of the perfumers to use small batches of amazing ingredients. Particularly over the last few years there have been releases which are made from materials that have been gone from mainstream and niche perfumery due to the difficulty of sourcing enough to produce hundreds of bottles. The independent perfumer can produce tens of bottles if they desire. A good example are the perfumes of Russian Adam under his Areej Le Dore brand. He can source actual musk from the animal through a license he has. Other independent perfumers create their own tinctures, botanical hydrosols, co-distillates, or enfleurage. Each of these create magic. The botanicals sourced by Yasuyuki Shinohara from his home island of Hokkaido, Japan for his Di Ser line are what makes those perfumes unique.

The final thing which has made independent perfumery so important is it lives outside the geography of France, the US, Italy or Great Britain. For over 100 years that was where the perfume we knew came from. Independent perfumery takes place everywhere with the influences of location finding its way into the bottle. All four of the countries where modern perfume was born have their share of independent perfumers who have things to say about that history in their new perfumes. The perspective that comes from elsewhere is invaluable.

If you need the best argument for the importance of independent perfumer in 2018 follow along next week as the perfumes speak for themselves.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Areej Le Dore Russian Musk- You Clean Up Well!

There has always been a sort of backhanded compliment encased in this phrase, “you clean up well.” It generally refers to someone who wears a very casual wardrobe on the day they wear something more formal. It tends to be double-edged in praise because it kind of infers that on a typical day you are sloppy. Seen in a more positive light it can be interpreted to say there is something elegant underneath the casual veneer. When I received the new Areej Le Dore Russian Musk I was reminded of this phrase.

Perfumer Russian Adam has released three sets of perfumes over a little more than a year. Of his inaugural three perfumes the one which generated the most conversation was Siberian Musk. Russian Adam has access to a small quantity of genuine musk from the musk deer. Siberian Musk was probably the first experience with actual deer musk for many who tried it. Because of that Russian Adam set that ingredient out in front and it was the focal point. It sold out quickly causing many to ask when there would be more. The answer; which will probably be true of everything Russian Adam does, is never. That is due to the exquisite small batches produced form equally small-batch ingredients. So, when this latest set of perfumes were released there was a sense that Russian Musk was going to be Siberian Musk Intense. If that is what someone approaches Russian Musk with they will be disappointed, especially if they equate “intense” with stronger. I am not in that group I wanted that deer musk incorporated into something more elegant. Which is what I got from Russian Musk.

Musk Deer Pod

I, again, am working off the information on Russian Musk as supplied via Kafkaesque. I also want to mention that this review refers to what was released in February 2018.

The change is apparent right from the top as lemon is the citrus used as the partner to the pine. In more pedestrian uses it can come off smelling like household cleaning products. In Russian Musk the deer musk provides a soft animalic contrast. One of the days I wore this I was thinking in my head it was like “soft Corinthian musk” as the Spanish leather used to be referred to. This musk has a softness to it which is not encountered in Siberian Musk. It is this softness which will disappoint those looking for Siberian Musk Intense. Then Russian Adam uses a gorgeous orange blossom to provide the main partner for the musk. One of things I like is he uses enough of it to bring the indoles present into the mix. A set of spices in clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon warm the overall effect. The base is a personal co-distillation of Russian Adam’s consisting of four sources of oud wood combined with oakmoss. These special distillations are what sets these perfumes apart. This one here is as amazing as the real deer musk. As it forms the underpinning to the orange blossom and musk it becomes transcendent.

Russian Musk has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I have enjoyed Russian Musk more than any of the Areej Le Dore releases so far. It is probably because it feels like a more refined version of Siberian Musk which appeals more to me. If you are looking for the second coming of Siberian Musk this is not it. If you are looking for an elegant perfume featuring some of the most unique ingredients to be used, then Russian Musk sure cleans up well.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Areej Le Dore Walimah Parfum- Union of Dualities

As I’ve come to know the perfumes of independent perfumer Russian Adam through his Areej Le Dore brand I have consigned them to my “wall of scent” category. What I mean by that is they are solid constructs of ingredients only an independent distiller could source. These kinds of materials have nuances and grace notes not experienced in more industrial isolations. It is what makes the Areej Le Dore perfumes stand apart. Because of that, balance is sometimes less apparent because the volume is so turned up. It is like listening to punk rock turned up to maximum volume; the pleasure is all in the intensity not necessarily the precision. In the group of fragrances, I put in this category there is always an anomaly where the perfumer chooses to show me there is an ability to play at a lower volume, if not necessarily something I’d call soft, while also displaying a subtler hand in putting together things. That is how I view Areej Le Dore Walimah Parfum.

Before we go any further this is a review of the Parfum version of Walimah. Russian Adam released an attar version of Walimah as well. That is so different from the Parfum I am going to give it its own review. This is also where I’ll mention that this is a review based on the version released in February 2018. I also need to thank Kafkaesque for all the information on Walimah contained below.

Photo: Heather Kincaid

Walimah was inspired by Russian Adam’s marriage at the end of 2017. He describes it as, “the beautiful union of two souls from different corners of the globe”. Walimah is an evocation of the Russian groom and the Indonesian bride as there is a suite of ingredients which represent each. For the bride it is tropical flowers. For the groom it is genuine musk, rare oud, and vetiver. What captured me throughout the development of Walimah was the interlacing of complementary notes in celebration of this union.

It opens with the bride swathed in a silky dress of magnolia. The magnolia used here has a creamy floral nature underscored with its woody nuance. The groom is dressed in an authentic musk tuxedo. The depth of the musk provides a solid platform for the magnolia to drape itself upon. The ceremony complete, the first kiss is of white flowers and oud.  Tuberose and gardenia form the bouquet. The oud is described as coming from “incense-grade wood” from Bengal. As the magnolia and musk settle into the floral indoles and oud it forms an exquisite accord which captures this ceremony. Russian Adam uses a special Champaca distillation which rains down upon the happy couple. It has an interesting tempering effect to the white flowers. The same is achieved with a ribbon of tobacco which tames the musk and oud. Just as many of the Areej Le Dore begin to ramp up in intensity Walimah finds a plateau where it remains until the end. Through the final phase there are more ribbons to tie onto the heart accord. Cocoa passes through accentuating the chocolate vibe of the oud. Saffron adds a happy glow to the champaca. Cinnamon provides spicy contrast to the musk. Once this all moves along to the base it is a rounded vetiver accord which uses labdanum and Peru balsam to make the vetiver a smooth closing effect.

Walimah has 16-18 hour longevity and average sillage.

I like my perfume “loud” and when I do the Areej Le Dore perfumes are where I often look for that. Walimah will not be on this list because it is a union of dualities made whole with a kiss.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Areej Le Dore Indolis- The Green Temple of Indoles

It was only six months ago when I finally tried my first Areej Le Dore perfume. The independent line from perfumer Russian Adam stands out for the quality of the materials he is using. He is personally producing the small quantities which go in each new release. It makes each bottle a one-of-a-kind perfume. I joined in with the set of four new releases in October of 2017. I was impressed enough to acquire samples of the first three released earlier in the year. The style that Russian Adam works within is a dense kaleidoscopic aesthetic full of multiple layers to focus upon. If there was anything I took away from the first seven releases it was because of that multi-layered nature it was what parts the wearer would choose to notice which would describe the fragrance for them.

My primary source of information for the brand has been the blog Kafkaesque. It first exposed the perfumes to me and excited me enough to buy the sample set when the second set was released. Kafkaesque has also been the best source for information about each new release and it is so again as I will write about the new releases.

The latest set of four releases have two which continue an ongoing thread through the three release sets; oud and musk focused perfumes. As Russian Adam is one of the few using authentic musk from the animal source as well as distilling his own ouds it is natural for that to be the case. The other two were more interesting to me on paper because they seemed a bit like departures. Walimah is a self-described “wedding” perfume of Russian Adam’s recent nuptials. The one which had me extremely excited for my samples to arrive was Indolis.

Jasmine Enfleurage

Those of you who have read my reviews over the years know I am an indole fanatic. The more of the filthy skanky stuff I can get from a white flower source the happier I am. Russian Adam promised a perfume “full of indolic Indonesian florals” which read to me as a perfume full of the good stuff. I get all of that.

Indolis pours a foundation of those indolic white flowers. Two sources of jasmine, an absolute, and an enfleurage, are the keynote. Gardenia and neroli provide even more white flower power as they add in their support to this. For the first few minutes the leering floral indolic bouquet greets me with a wicked smile. Just as I get near tendrils of green begin to ensnare me. The single pulsing green vein from neroli intensifies through galbanum and oakmoss. It provides a sharp contrast to the indolic florals. The smile, as it spreads wider, turns to fangs. The first time I wore Indolis I found this part distracting from what it was I wanted more of. Subsequent wearings, because I was ready for it, made it an essential part of the whole. Just as it all seems like things might turn bad the canine smile beckons me into a temple of sandalwood and frankincense. Two different distillations of sandalwood plus a very austere frankincense impart the religious overtones. This is a version of sandalwood and frankincense that sings to my particular senses. As much as I was prepared for the indoles the woody resins are equally something I adore. Very late, many hours later, there is a delicate grace note which comes out which makes me enjoy Indolis even more. Russian Adam speaks of making a green tea extract and lavender extract within the note list. Wearing Indolis late in the day for the first time I detected none of that. The next morning, I woke up with a spot on one of my arms next to my head and in the whispers of all of the intensity of the previous day there was a cup of green tea and a bouquet of lavender to awake to.

Indolis has 18-24 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Indolis is a perfume which stimulated many of my fragrance pleasure centers; indolic florals, green intensity, church-style incense, and tea. Many of those are problematic to others and they are at such a level in Indolis that I believe they could be too hard to wade through if you’re not fond of them. If you see that list and, like me, are going, “that sounds good” go out and get a sample of Indolis.

I am going to add this note to all reviews of Areej Le Dore because of the singular nature of the materials used by Russian Adam. This review refers to the version of Indolis released in February 2018.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Areej Le Dore Atlantic Ambergris- It’s The Real Thing

Back in the 1970’s Coca Cola came up with a slogan “Coke, it’s the real thing.” I think of it a lot in reference to perfumery. Especially with synthetic alternatives for raw materials like musk, oud, or ambergris. Perfumers can be magicians in forming an accord which performs the illusion of the real thing but once you experience it you always know where the gaps are. Because of that I obtained real samples of musk, oud, and ambergris. When it came to musk and ambergris I thought you have one kind you’ve got them all. At least in the case of ambergris I should have considered my oud experience. My little precious case of ouds covers different geographies and years of aging. My first clue my education in real ambergris was lacking came courtesy of Areej Le Dore Atlantic Ambergris.

White Ambergris via Pat Lillis of Celtic Ambergris

I have a tiny pea shaped amount of solid ambergris which sits in a sealed vial like a black stinky pearl. When I open it for a sniff it is briny with a pronounced funk to it. I also own an ambergris attar from Amouage and it is what I expect a tincture of that odiferous pearl to produce. I thought my knowledge base was complete. When I read the review of Atlantic Ambergris on Kafkaesque there was a primer on the spectrum of ambergris to introduce the review. Kafkaesque turned to Pat Lillis of Celtic Ambergris to provide the explanation for what causes the different scent profile for any chunk of ambergris. If you’re interested I urge you to go read it. The short form is the longer a chunk spends floating in the ocean the more bleached it gets providing a softer scent profile while the chunks that spend more time on shore in the sand get blacker, and funkier. Russian Adam obtained a quantity of white ambergris, from Mr. Lillis, as the keynote of Atlantic Ambergris.

Russian Adam describes the scent profile of the white ambergris in Atlantic Ambergris this way, “It’s aroma is pristine, fluffy, silky, slightly powdery, sweet and earthy, with a bottomless oceanic depth that is truly unique.” I agree with that statement entirely but what really struck me was the last part of it. Growing up in S, Florida there were days where I was out on the ocean water skiing or just leaning over the side of the boat as it headed home at speed. There was a smell of the ocean that went beyond sea spray to something with more weight to it along with a briny depth. As the white ambergris rises I was vividly reminded of this smell.

Atlantic Ambergris is a Russian Adam perfume which means it is full of other interesting notes besides the white ambergris. He chooses to take his unique keynote and float it upon a sea of spices; cardamom, clove, and nutmeg. This is a powerful wave of spices which are meant as contrast to the deep ocean quality of the ambergris. I am a fan of all three of these spices and I am given full servings of all of them. As the chunk of ambergris approaches the shoreline the wind brings the smell of the pines and the tropical flowers of jasmine and ylang ylang. This all transitions into a base accord which I think is funnily enough Russian Adam’s concept of an oud accord. From a perfumer who has consistently used exquisitely sourced ouds it seems like he didn’t want to step on the beauty of the ambergris. This gives an oud-like foundation which because it is an accord he can tune it to exactly the desired effect.

Atlantic Ambergris has 16-18 hour longevity and average sillage. Also this is the version of Atlantic Ambergris released in October of 2017

If you’ve never smelled the real thing, when it comes to ambergris, Atlantic Ambergris provides an opportunity. I know that there is a wide world of ambergris to explore now but it will be hard to be better than Atlantic Ambergris.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Areej Le Dore Inverno Russo- Hidden Objects

When I received my Areej Le Dore sample set of the most recent four releases I knew these were perfumes I was going to have to spend time with to try and write about them. I was introduced to the brand via blogger Kafkaesque which had me ordering a sample set of the new releases as soon as I could. I initially wrote about Flux de Fleur in November 2017. Having read the review from Kafkaesque and having a different experience I chalked it up to being such a dense construction you can get fixated on a different set of ingredients than another experiencing the same perfume.

With the bitter cold temperatures of the end of the year I thought I’d give the one named after winter a try, Inverno Russo. One of the things perfumer Russian Adam does with these perfumes is use the most individual of ingredients. Thanks to Kafkaesque he has shared those ingredients. It is also why these are kind of like vintage wines. Russian Adam may make it again but whether the co-distillates or the oud obtained can be replicated probably makes each unique to its batch. For clarity this review refers to the release in October 2017.

What I notice first upon wearing Inverno Russo is the co-distillate of peach blossom and osmanthus absolute. It forms a pivot point around which rose otto and gardenia form a unique floral accord. There is the fruity nature of the co-distillate followed by the spicy rose and the indolic white flower. Spices come along to give the rose a bit more prominence. Then the musk arrives. This is real musk, legally obtained by Russian Adam. It is probably the first time many who try this will encounter the real thing. I have always noticed a kind of fattiness to the real musk grains I have. Russian Adam takes that and uses synthetic civet, tonka, along with a mixture of ouds to provide an animalic chocolate accord. It is musky, but it is also bizarrely gourmand simultaneously. The chocolate begins to fade with the woods and the musk remaining throughout the last hours.

Inverno Russo has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

As I read through the other reviews of Inverno Russo it again seems like we are all wearing a different perfume. I link to Kafkaesque’s as an example. Then I think I’ve finally hit on why that is so. One of my favorite games to play on my tablet is what is called “hidden object”. You are given a scene and asked to find a list of things within it. Based on where your focus is that is the order you fill out your list. Inverno Russo was kind of a perfume version of that where I “found” the peach blossom and osmanthus co-distillate first before finding the rest. I am guessing others found other things first. These are fabulously dense architectures within which you can get lost; just leave a thread of hidden objects behind you so you can return to where you started.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Areej Le Dore Flux De Fleur- Indian Street Vendors

When I first discovered the world of independent perfumery I entered the acquisitional phase where I bought samples of anything which sounded interesting. My guides for this were the internet resources that existed but primarily the blogs. They were going even further afield to find things that were interesting. That still applies today as the bloggers I read still introduce me to something new. One blogger who has been bringing into the light some of the most dedicated indie perfumers is Kafkaesque. After a brief sabbatical Kafkaesque returned a few months ago with a number of series on some lines I had not heard of. The stories on Ensar Oud and Feel Oud illuminated the dedicated artists behind these brands. Kafkaesque shows through these profiles the passion these men have for their fragrances. There are links within the sentences above and I highly encourage a visit to read about these singular creatives. Because there was now a stoked curiosity when Kafkaesque announced that perfumer Russian Adam of Feel Oud was releasing four new perfumes in the Areej Le Dore line I purchased a sample set immediately.

What is so fascinating about perfumers like Russian Adam is they aren’t looking for mainstream success they are only focused on making fragrances you can’t find anywhere else. One way this is achieved is using exquisitely sourced natural materials. This results in small batches of each perfume being made and if there is a second version a particular ingredient might be altered because of availability. To make it clear to future readers all comments here are on the versions released in October 2017. Also all information about the perfumes comes from the Kafkaesque blog.

This set of four Areej Le Dore releases remind me of perfumed mazes. Just as I feel as if I am finding a path I am familiar with things shift kaleidoscopically and I’m heading down a different path. This makes this a difficult line of fragrance to review because I am reasonably certain that the density of the architecture allows for different experiences dependent upon which fixtures you focus upon. To bear this out I haven’t read anyone else’s experience who has published online to be the same as mine. (Kafkaesque's review is here) There are similarities but I reiterate that I think it is just because there is so much to experience none of us are up to the task of capturing it all. I’ll end up writing about all of them after the New Year but I wanted to make sure I highlighted my favorite of the four new releases before the end of the year; Flux De Fleur.

Russian Adam has created an interesting take on incense and white flowers. He has ended up creating an incense that evokes the cheap incense sticks sold on the street. These are draped with floral garlands of jasmine and tuberose. Surrounding all of it is the street vendor milieu of a large city in India.

Flux De Fleur opens on a crystalline candied grapefruit paired with incense. When I use “cheap” to describe it what I mean is this is not the typically silvery pure frankincense we usually encounter in high-end fragrances. It is described in the note list as “dissolved green and black frankincense” which has the effect of blurring that precision of high quality incense into something more opaque. With the sweet candied nature of the citrus it is an engaging accord. This also carries more power than my description might suggest. As the jasmine and tuberose begin to appear the incense embraces them wrapping them up in a resinous envelope. From here there is a layering of spices which harmonizes with the incense. As mentioned above Russian Adam works with some amazing sources of oud. For Flux De Fleur he uses a 10-year old Cambodian oud along with Sumatran oud soaked in coconut water. With the florals dominating, the ouds provide a dark almost gourmand layer. It might be the power of suggestion but I swear I catch a whiff of a Mounds candy bar in this phase. The final phase is around a Shamama attar which provides an ambery nucleus for some real musk and castoreum.

Flux De Fleur has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is another of those reviews where my words are inadequate which I will end up saying three more times as I finish all the reviews of the new releases. One thing I want to communicate especially about Flux De Fleur is despite being full of power it is not a “wall of scent” it is more muted than you might suspect reading the above. It is a predominantly white floral incense perfume but the supporting characters are all memorable additions in the time they spend with the main ingredients. Flux de Fleur is magnificent in its depth while not ever becoming overwhelming.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples I purchased.

Mark Behnke