It is easy to commend the perfume brands which develop their aesthetic and stick to it. Those are the minority. The majority are made up of brands which never find their identity. This means a perfume with that name on the bottle comes to stand for nothing. Then there comes a moment when it seems like things start to coalesce from the chaos. It’s still a little early to be sure but Ermengilido Zegna Essenze Madras Cardamom might be a further signal this brand is finding its character.
Ermengilido Zegna got into the fragrance game in 2003. They were a trend follower in those early days looking for their own version of the popular styles of the time. After a few years of doing this Estee Lauder assigned one of their best creative directors Trudi Loren to revitalize the brand. It was better but still frustratingly unfocused. There were individual releases which were good without creating a Zegna style of fragrance. There was one collection which showed something approaching a unified perspective; the Essenze Collection.
Marie Salamagne (photo: Jerome Bonnet)
Launched in 2012 there were sporadic releases which all showed a similar style in highlighting a keynote without becoming soliflore-like. I’m not sure what the reasoning is but Ermengilido Zegna has decided to bring back five of the original Essenze releases along with one new one. That is Madras Cardamom.
Perfumer Marie Salamagne creates a sweet Oriental featuring cardamom which is where the perfume starts. The cardamom is a strong presence. So strong it took me some time to notice the other ingredient in the top accord. That ingredient was a cleverly placed coffee note. Don’t come to Madras Cardamom looking for a rich coffee presence. What Mme Salamagne does with it is to use it as a focusing element of the citrus parts of cardamom. Like pulling a thread I was enjoying the cardamom and started focusing on the citrus character only to find a roasted nuttiness at the end of that thread. It is very subtle which continues into the heart as cedar takes the lead with vetiver playing the same behind the scenes role. This is a green cedar which matches the cardamom. It is very clean. Mme Salamagne uses vanilla to sweeten the final stages.
Madras Cardamom has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
The work by Ms. Loren, over the last two years especially, maybe portends Ermengilido Zegna has finally found its way out of the woods. If that’s so Madras Cardamom might be remembered for being the fragrance which signaled that.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Ermengilido Zegna.
The fragrance part of designer Ermenegildo Zegna has not been a story of consistency. That might be changing. Over the course of the last year I have seen an uptick in the brand’s aesthetic. I would credit that to long-time creative director Trudi Loren. Ms. Loren took charge of the Zegna fragrance portfolio after Estee Lauder acquired the brand. In those first few years she upped the quality of the ingredients in the perfumes. They may not have been imaginative, but they were well-made. Last year there were two collections released; Essenze and Elements of Man. Now there was something in addition to quality ingredients; a contemporary interpretation of masculine tropes. In Zegna Acqua di Neroli Ms. Loren subverts the classic cologne architecture showing something more than just quality.
In the previous Acqua release, Acqua di Bergamotto, that was just a reiteration of the classic cologne recipe. This is an example of what I was describing above. Acqua di Neroli has the same cologne spine with perfumer Pierre Negrin filling it out with other ingredients to provide a new take on the venerable form.
Acqua di Neroli opens on a citrus sunbeam focused through a magnifying glass. Using lemon and bergamot for the citrus, petitgrain provides the focusing effect. Just as it becomes a bit too intense a damp green accord douses it. This has a transforming effect to the citrus as it goes from brilliant point of light to something more diffuse. The green accord sets up rosemary as the predecessor to the neroli. The neroli carries both green and citrus facets with the floral aspects. It then takes an interesting turn as M. Negrin uses a light application of watermelon to form a fleeting fruity floral phase. Lavender drags it back to more typical cologne territory. It completely leaves cologne-land in the base as a cypriol and sandalwood accord combines with another green moss-like accord along with some mid-weight musks. This provides some heft to the typical lightness of a cologne.
Acqua di Neroli has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
We are living in a time of some excellent re-interpretations of cologne into a Cologne Nouveau style for the 21st century. I wouldn’t have expected Zegna to be a brand to enter into that. Zegna Acqua di Neroli indicates I am mistaken as this belongs next to the others in this New Cologne Revolution.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Ermenegildo Zegna.
As the weather cools off some of my evenings are spent with a snifter in hand sipping either a 15-year Rhum Barbancourt or Louis Royer Force 53. These appeal because they provide an inner warmth underneath my sweater. Like wine, fine liquor also has a scent and a nuanced flavor like any of my favorite perfumes. Which is why I tend to gravitate towards perfumes with boozy hearts. When I received samples of the five perfumes which make up the new Ermenegildo Zegna Elements of Man it was the one which felt like it belonged in a snifter which was my favorite, Passion.
The fragrance side of Ermenegildo Zegna has been a story of fits and starts as they search for a perfume identity as tailored as a Zegna suit. For most of their history they have kept it simple; often too simple. Focusing on something that stripped down there needs to be a lot of care taken to not have something dissonant within. That has been the story and it continued as I was initially trying the Elements of Man collection. A couple of classic citrus in Wisdom and Talent. A fougere, Integrity; and a smoky tobacco oud in Strength make up four of the five. In each case there was the familiar experience of finding something not quite coming together. Only in the last one Passion does it.
When Ermenegildo Zegna allied with Estee Lauder creative director Trudi Loren was asked to oversee it. She has consistently asked for quality keynotes and worked with some great perfumers. There are some signs that Elements of Man might be a slight change in direction. For Passion Ms. Loren works with perfumer Ilias Erminidis. Together they create a collaboration of rum and cognac I almost wanted to drink.
If there is an advantage to the style of fragrance represented by the brand they cut right to the chase. For Passion that means it is awash with rum and cognac. Great cognac has a deep molasses facet, rum has caramel on the nose. Passion leads with both as molasses and caramel come forward in a rich accord that carries a 90-proof pop underneath as it swirls in the nose. M. Erminidis then uses a few complementary notes to make this all glow. It starts with a toasty saffron continues with amber and really pulses with resinous olibanum in place. This all comes together rapidly and lingers over many hours; as if it is being sipped by my nose.
Passion has 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Wearing Passion, I ended up having a two-fisted drinking night as I poured a bit of Barbancourt and Louis Royer to see if they could be layered into something resembling Passion. They don’t really approach the richness of Passion. When I wore Passion all I wanted to do was grab a snifter and sit back and luxuriate in my senses.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Ermenegildo Zegna.