There were a few years where I spent a lot of time hiking in the desert southwest of the US. Those days and nights in the supposed barren wasteland of the sand taught me that beauty truly was in the eye of the beholder. One of the best things about that time were the moments of contrast when there were little outposts of greenery amidst the sand. I remember the scent of vegetation laid over the dusty mineral sand as the buried feel of the underground water feeding it all burbled below. It is a fascinating thing to see life where none should be able to survive. It seems like other deserts in the world have this same natural contrast based on Ella K Cri du Kalahari.
Ella K is the brand founded by perfumer Sonia Constant two years ago. Ella K is a fictional heroine based on the real-life women travelers of the past like Karen Blixen or Ella Maillart. The perfumes are meant to capture the fictional Ella K’s travels. At the end of 2019 her wanderings have brought her to Africa.
Baobab tree in the Kalahari
Cri du Kalahari is named after the large desert which covers most of Botswana. What sets this desert apart is the presence of massive baobab trees. That these trees can grow so large in the middle of a large desert is impressive. Mme Constant wanted to capture the dichotomy of the trees versus the sand of the desert. I imagine Ella K leaning against the trunk of one of the baobabs while sketching one nearby. Cri du Kalahari is what she might be smelling in the air.
It opens with top accord of green pepper and cedar. The pepper provides that vegetal piece of the green growing by the tree. Cedar is its typical clean woody self. In a perfume meant to capture the arid desert climate it seems ideal. A silvery frankincense adds texture to this. The frankincense is similarly austere as the cedar is. It descends to a base of sandalwood and patchouli. The sandalwood provides some release to the austerity that came first. It softens the woodiness. The patchouli adds some earthiness to it all in more subtle way that it usually appears. The patchouli acts like the subterranean sources of water covered up but detectable.
Cri du Kalahari has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Mme Constant captures the contrast of life in difficult environments. In Cri du Kalahari a tree grows in the desert.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
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.
First world perfume writer problems. About a year ago I heard of a new brand from one of my favorite perfumers had debuted. This shows the value of writing things down; because I didn’t. I read eagerly that perfumer Sonia Constant had branched out into her own brand, Ella K. I told myself I needed to contact them for some samples. The date on this review is evidence it slipped my mind. It wasn’t until the Holidays that one of my European connections asked me if I wanted a sample set of Ella K. After a face palm I typed back to send them to me.
Mme Constant along with her partner Olivier Gagliardi founded Ella K Parfums at the end of 2017 opening a boutique in Paris. Mme Constant was inspired by the women travelers of the early part of the 20th century. She cites Karen Blixen, Ella Maillart, and Alexandra David-Neel on the website as some of the people she used to create her fictional heroine, Ella K. The perfumes will chronicle her travels.
The seven perfumes I have send Ella across Asia and Africa except for one in which she pauses in Florence, Italy for a romantic adventure. That’s the one which caught my attention. It is called Baiser de Florence.
The backstory describes Ella and a paramour enjoying the wonders of Florence. After visiting the Uffizi Gallery they push their way into one of the churches. A stolen kiss within the cathedral is the moment captured in Baiser de Florence.
Mme Constant captures that moment of standing in an old church after coming from outside. The smells are the incense and the polished wood over the cold stone. That is where Baiser de Florence opens. Silvery incense and polished cedar are first. The incense has that preferred metallic edge I enjoy. The cedar is dulled as if it has been waxed over and over. It is a more diffuse effect for what usually comes off as a clean woodiness. There is a chill to their combined scents which is the stone surrounding you. Mme Constant slowly adds myrrh to the incense making things warmer. The scent of the iris cosmetics reminds you that Ella is standing next to you. This is a shimmering iris powder effect which finds an ideal set of partners in the resins of incense and myrrh. As you lean in for a kiss the scent of musky skin adds an underpinning to a kiss so sweet a figurative drop of vanilla represents it in the perfume.
Baiser de Florence has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I am late to discovering this new endeavor of Mme Constant, yet I always am happy to discover new perfume. My impression of Ella K, as a whole, is Mme Constant is enjoying the travels of her heroine. For me to follow on her journeys it begins with a kiss in Florence courtesy of Baiser de Florence.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples I purchased.
There are brands which have picked a perfume lane to travel in. Those brands will mine every shade and nuance of the style they have chosen. This is certainly true of Narciso Rodriguez who have been doing this with musk-centric perfumes for fifteen years. Over thirty-plus releases they have kind of exhausted the variations. Now maybe it is time to try to improve on the more well-known. Narciso Rouge feels like that kind of perfume to me.
A team of perfumers, Sonia Constant and Nadege le Garlantezec, are responsible for designing Rouge. They go back and design around tropes familiar to those who love musk perfumes. Rose and iris as the floral, check. Cedar and vetiver as the base, check. Here is the difference, while the ingredients are nothing new there is an overt sultriness to Rouge that the perfumers manage to evoke I found engaging.
Nadege le Garlantezec
The opening is a lipstick rose accord of iris and rose. when this accord is done right it gives off a sense of sophistication and seduction. The perfumers do a great version here. It reminds me of lips perfectly lacquered in crimson lipstick; almost velvety in nature. The musks are titrated in over an hour or so. As the time goes on there is a classically sensual style of musk against the rose accord. It is sort of like a rough kiss on the perfect lips mussing up the perfection. The cedar comes in to try and clean things up with a greenish woody base. Vetiver accentuates the green quality of the wood finishing things off in a reliable manner.
Rouge has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I think it can be easy to dismiss new Narciso Rodriguez releases because there has been so many released. There is a bit of a sense of repetition beginning to set in. Rouge caused me to consider whether composing in a more typical style of musk isn’t still worth the effort.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Narciso Rodriguez.
One of my favorite perfume brands has been the Narciso Rodriguez line. One reason I enjoy them is right from the start, in 2003, the decision that this was going to be a collection which would be focused on musk. Throughout the years some of the perfumers best known for using musk in creative ways laid the foundation for Narciso Rodriguez to become synonymous with the ingredient. Late last year the most recent installment in this collection was released Narciso Rodriguez Santal Musc.
Santal Musc is the latest entry in the Oriental Musc Collection after Amber Musc from 2013 and Rose Musc in 2016. For This latest perfumers Caroline Sabas and Sonia Constant team up. What they have produced is classic spicy Oriental base accord featuring the two notes on the bottle.
The spice comes from cardamom in the beginning. Early on it seems like it is the lemon tinted refined cardamom. Over time it seems like some of the rawer green cardamom also arrives. At the same time ylang-ylang also comes up. For a moment the stickier cardamom inserts itself into the slightly oily ylang-ylang. It is an interesting combination. Which is when the musk comes to the fore. I like the way the slightly animalic nature harmonizes with the fatty floral. Now this might sound heavy but the perfumers mange to create something lighter in tone by using some of the expansive musks to add lift. Then an equally opaque sandalwood completes the Oriental effect. This all comes together rapidly which maybe makes the overall effect seem linear. I found it enjoyable while I was wearing it with out becoming inured to it.
Santal Musc has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
This is a lovely take on a musky Oriental. I’m not sure it creates new ground within the genre. Saying that it does create new space for the Narciso Rodriguez brand as it is the most Oriental of the three Oriental Musc Collection. What I admire is even on the thirtieth version of a musk perfume Narciso Rodriguez Santal Musc is staying the course started fifteen years ago beautifully.
Disclosure: This review is based on a smaple provided by Narciso Rodriguez.
There are times I get almost wholly inappropriate associations when I am trying a perfume. I don’t know if it is because New York Comic-Con is approaching but when I finally got around to trying the new Van Cleef & Arpels Moonlight Patchouli I had one. What kept springing into my mind was the question the comic book villain The Joker asks just before he guns down Bruce Wayne’s parents, “Did you ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?” It has nothing to do with the perfume which is quietly beautiful; as far from being a super villain as it can get.
What got me thinking about The Joker is the difficulty many perfumers have with patchouli as a keynote. There are so many ways it can unbalance an architecture. Especially when it is used in high concentrations. One technique which is used less frequently is to dial it back making it less obstreperous. In Moonlight Patchouli perfumer Sonia Constant chooses to take this path. The patchouli here is made opaque then combined with some familiar partners which are also treated with similar opacity. It truly felt like Mme Constant took her patchouli out for a spin in the rose garden underneath the full moon.
Moonlight Patchouli presents its transparent version of the titular note with a flourish of bergamot. As the patchouli rises it begins to circle in a holding pattern before some of the more challenging facets become apparent. Instead there are hints but mostly it is an herbal quality which suffuses Moonlight Patchouli. Mme Constant brings in powdery orris and spicy Bulgarian rose. As she did with the patchouli Mme Constant treats these as veils instead of scarves. What this does is form an atypical iris rose patchouli accord notable for its softness. The final flare is an equally soft leather which wraps all of this up in a gentle embrace.
Moonlight Patchouli has 12-14 hour longevity but below average sillage.
There are many within my perfume circle who do not like patchouli for all of its characteristic earthiness. I am going to be interested to see how they react to Moonlight Patchouli. I believe like it is something which might attract them because it isn’t so aggressive. I appreciate it because of the feather-light touch Mme Constant applied throughout the construction. With a deft hand she was able to take patchouli out for a dance in the pale moonlight.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Van Cleef & Arpels.
Of the mainstream designer fragrance collections; Tom Ford has consistently been one of the best. Since the release in 2006 of Black Orchid I could make the case that the 16 releases in the Signature collection are overall more cohesive and better than the pricier Tom Ford Private Blends. The newest release Orchid Soleil actually seems to improve upon one of the most recently released Private Blends.
Orchid Soleil was composed by perfumer Sonia Constant. The press release says this is meant to be a “summer” version of Black Orchid. It is definitely a summer style perfume but its relationship to Black Orchid is tenuous at best, bar sharing half of the name on the bottle. Orchid Soleil has a much closer relationship to another Tom Ford fragrance with which it shares half of its name as well; the Private Blend Soleil Blanc released a few months ago. That perfume was a tuberose exploration of the suntan lotion style of fragrance. Orchid Soleil also contains tuberose but in a more prominent way. It also provides that viscosity endemic to suntan lotion by using a sweet whipped cream accord, making this feel like an edible version.
Mme Constant opens with a sun flare of bitter orange and pink pepper. She also employs the top-note musk of Sylkolide to provide that hint of tanned skin. The tuberose comes next and it is as if a floral scented suntan lotion has been applied with enough SPF to block out the citrus. There is a bit of greenish lily to modulate the tuberose a bit. Then Mme Constant literally whips up a creamy accord of patchouli, vetiver, vanilla, chestnut cream, cypress, and cashmeran. Taken together this is an unctuous creamy accord that the vanilla and chestnut make into a subversive gourmand.
Orchid Soleil has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I likened Soleil Blanc, in my review, to the soft lingering smell of suntan lotion on a beach wrap the next day. Orchid Soleil is probably the smell of that very suntan lotion right after you apply it. I have been wearing this in the heat of the early summer and this might be the most purely fun Tom Ford perfume ever. It is summery. It is gourmand-y. It seems to be winking at me with a sly smile. I am happy to wink back and luxuriate in this all summer long.
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.
One of the most reasonably priced fragrance lines is Yves Rocher. Sold only through their website it is often a bit of a gamble to try one of the fragrances blind. If you buy anything they are very generous with their samples which can help make a choice a little less sightless. Like many of the modestly priced brands it takes a bit of trial and error to find the ones which stand out. The first Yves Rocher release of 2016, Cuir Vetiver, is one which stands out.
One thing which made me interested in Cuir Vetiver was the shape of the bottle. One of the very best releases by Yver Rocher was 2013’s Ambre Noir. Cuir Vetiver comes in a similar looking container with the same font. Sonia Constant is the perfumer behind it all. On the website Mme Constant states, “I imagined a leather fragrance with bright facets…” What I like about that statement is a perfume named Cuir Vetiver you might imagine being very heavy. Mme Constant does brighten it up quite a bit while still having enough cuir and vetiver to make the name still have meaning.
The brightness comes right away with a lively bergamot. As a partner Mme Constant adds a bit of lavender. The lavender is the more floral form of the ingredient. It provides a contrast to the heart notes of cedar and vetiver. The very strong lines of both notes provide the framework for the leather accord to appear. This leather accord is composed of amyris, patchouli, and tonka. It’s not quite refined enough to remind me of suede nor is it animalic enough to be a rawer version of leather. It seems to sit closer to the suede side of the spectrum. It definitely has the brightness and lift Mme Constant described. The base is amber and vanilla; a sweet warm comfort.
Cuir Vetiver has 4-6 hour longevity and below average sillage.
For those who consider longevity something important in the fragrances you buy Cuir Vetiver like most of the Yves Rocher releases has some of the lowest amount of longevity. On the other hand, they are so modestly priced that I have never had a problem reapplying in the middle of the day.
Cuir Vetiver is another really good perfume in the Yver Rocher collection. Mme Constant pulls off an interesting take on leather and vetiver while keeping the cost down. Cuir Vetiver feels like a triumph of brains over budget.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I received from Yves Rocher with purchase.
When I was in Florence I had the opportunity to spend time at the Villa La Tana which is the home of Simone Cosac Naify the owner and creative director of Simone Cosac Profumi. The Villa La Tana and its previous occupant Bianaca Cappello the consort to Frederic I de Medici. Ms. Cosac has much to be inspired by. For the perfume side of the business she has worked exclusively with perfumer Sonia Constant. Mme Constant has spent time at the Villa la Tana soaking in the atmosphere and together she and Ms. Cosac have begun to create a specific aesthetic which captures the beautiful Villa and its history. 2014 has seen the release of four new fragrances, Bianca, Ose, Peccato, and Sublime; each display this burgeoning creative nous.
Simone Cosac Naify
Bianca is inspired by Sig.ra Cappello and the gardens she tended while Frederic was off scheming. It is the perfume which most closely captures the beauty of the outdoor gardens at the Villa La Tana. It opens with tart mandarin made sticky green by blackcurrant buds. A floral heart of iris, gardenia, and violet is well-balanced and not nearly as overpowering as you might think. This is the smell of the garden at noon with more transparent hues of the florals on top. It ends with a woody base of cedar and sandalwood. The floral heart is the star of Bianca mostly because of its opacity.
If Bianca is a subtle peek at the gardens of Villa La Tana, Ose is the moment when everything is in its fullest of glory and redolence. Ose is much more extroverted and that power is led by a few notes which are very expansive. It opens on a juicy orange which is contrasted with the woody nuttiness of almond. The early moments are mostly citrus but the almond adds texture in a minimalist fashion. Lilac is the core of the heart and around it Mme Constant adds acacia, muguet, and heliotrope. These are fresher florals and the volume is turned way up on them. The lilac at this level is a tricky thing to use because it can be confused with deodorizing products. Mme Constant’s use of the greener fresher florals keeps that from happening. Here the lilac carries the day with force and beauty. A musky patchouli is the finishing touch for Ose.
Peccato is my favorite of the new releases as it sets up a bit of dynamic tension between top notes of cardamom and neroli in conjunction with the heart of violet and orris. Those are four of my favorite notes and Mme Constant has employed the Givaudan Orpur version of cardamom which adds so much to the early moments. The cardamom has the green citrus spice quality but it also carries some stronger aspects as this cardamom doesn’t whisper it speaks in audible tones. Those tones begin a conversation with orris and violet that was captivating for me. After a few hours I was almost sorry to see the patchouli and vanilla base begin to take over.
Sublime is meant to be a meditative perfume, perfect for strolls along the garden paths at Villa La Tana. Mme Constant creates a jasmine perfume out of Sublime. Before we get to that jasmine, mandarin and crisp pear provide the top notes. The jasmine then arrives and it is a proper jasmine with much of the indoles scrubbed away. Violet leaves and gardenia help fil in the spaces where the indoles usually reside. Cedar and patchouli are the base notes. Sublime is the most familiar smelling of these new releases.
All four perfumes had 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Ms. Cosac and Mme Constnat have done a nice job at expanding the Simone Cosac line without becoming repetitive. At the same time there is a kind of Italian Classicism which runs through all of the perfumes in the collection. It isn’t as specific as a consistent grouping of notes. It is more like a similarity in architecture and design. The four new release only add to this.
Disclosure: this review was based on samples provided by Simone Cosac.
There are multiple stories of the places that inspire creative directors and perfumers. I have always wanted to visit the specific place which inspired a perfume. On my recent trip to Florence, Italy for Pitti Fragranze that opportunity presented itself to me. I stayed in the Villa La Tana on the outskirts of Florence while attending the fair. This is where Simone Cosac Naify as the creative director and owner of Simone Cosac Perfumes lives, along with her family. It is also where Mme Cosac has looked to for inspiration when designing her perfumes.
When I met Mme Cosac, nearly two years ago in New York, she presented her perfumes to me while showing sketches of the beautiful villa she had renovated after purchasing it. With her words she painted a picture of bucolic serenity. She spoke of the history of Villa La Tana as the home of Bianca Cappello consort to Frederic I de Medici in the 16th Century. She felt like Bianca spoke to her as she walked the gardens. Mme Cosac needed to enlist a perfumer to help realize her internal conversations with Bianca. She would invite Sonia Constant to spend some time at Villa La Tana. During her stay Mme Cosac and Mme Constant would traverse the gardens speaking of Bianca and what a perfume which would embody her would smell like. From those discussions and walks they would collaborate to produce Trama and Trama Nera.
I believe it has to be walking through the rose garden above that Trama was conceived. By the edge of fall there were only a few roses left on the bushes but as I walked around the path I imagined what this would smell like on a midsummer’s day with all of the bushes in full bloom. I can imagine Bianca standing in the center of that garden looking up at Frederico who had ridden out from the city to see her. Trama the fragrance captures the bouquet of myriad rose sources but it also carries the greenery of the bushes and the gravel of the path. Mme Constant captures the riot of this rose garden, with Bianca standing fulgently in the center, a queen among the roses.
Bianca Cappello by Alessandro Allori
Trama Nera was meant to capture the beauty and intelligence of Bianca as a woman capable of holding her place in a Medici court. Beauty would be a given but to survive there would have to be more to Bianca than that. Besides romantic rendezvous I could feel that Villa La Tana was where Bianca could consult with Frederico on how to navigate the intrigues and real dangers of court. I imagined them walking the paths in the morning as the flowers would scent the planning between the lovers. There would always be a thread of real danger in place. Mme Constant weaves a dark thread throughout Trama Nera from saffron on top through orris and violet in the heart down to oud and patchouli in the base. Around the axis of intrigue softer notes of bergamot, jasmine, rose, sandalwood, and amber place a soft façade hiding the steel underneath. Bianca was a beauty but she was nobody’s fool.
The time I spent at Villa La Tana gave me insight into how a sense of place can create a distinct aesthetic which can carry as much impact as the people behind the perfume. The best part of this story is Villa La Tana, Mme Cosac, and Mme Constant have new tales to tell with three new perfumes Ose, Sublime, Peccato. I know as I wear these it will be impossible for me to not be transported back to the garden paths and hospitality of Villa La Tana.