As we begin the sprint towards the Holidays the seasonal limited editions are beginning to arrive. It always produces a mixed bag of happiness and coal in the stocking. There is a brand which has reliably been a purveyor of excellent Holiday releases. Every year I look forward to the release from Jo Malone. Over recent years under the creative direction of Celine Roux they have been on top of their fragrance game. This year’s model, Jo Malone Starlit Mandarin & Honey is a great example of why this brand gets it right for the Holidays.
Throughout the years Jo Malone has been happy to create scents of the season. Those have been good. It is when there is a different thought about the Holiday season expressed through fragrance when I am most intrigued. Starlit Mandarin & Honey is that.
My favorite memory of the season is sitting in the dark watching the lights on the Christmas tree twinkle and the logs in the fireplace crackling. I am snuggled under a blanket with Mrs. C and the poodles. We are watching a movie. The coziness of it all seems most vital as we hit the end of the year. This perfume is an abstraction of this feeling. Perfumer Yann Vasnier pulls it all together.
The beginning is the mandarin promised. M. Vasnier adds some points of starlight to it by using cedrat. To give it some shading a precise amount of star anise adds to the irrepressible citrus. Now comes the subtly animalic honey. This is a difficult material to get right there is a sweet spot where on either side it is sugar water or unpleasantly dirty. M. Vasnier finds the place where the animalic facets and the golden sweetness ooze around the citrus accord. Just like that blanket we gather under.
The clever piece that M. Vasnier uses to tie this perfume together is a suite of dried grasses. First the dried grass of hay is threaded through the honey and citrus. Sweetgrass is also braided into the honey. What they are waiting for is the linchpin of coumarin. Coumarin has a strong-hay-like quality. With the other grasses present it is tilted towards that profile. The final piece is the warmth of Peru balsam providing a hint of the Holidays right at the end.
Starlight Mandarin & Honey has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is a comfort scent which will be easily worn in the colder months beyond the Holidays. It will be especially welcome in those long nights of the beginning of the year. Just snuggle in with your pack.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Jo Malone.
There are brands that have no clear idea what they want to stand for. Their sole reason for existing is to throw something out there and wrap it in a lot of PR. This is the cynical side of independent perfumery. What makes independent perfumery great is when a brand does know what kind of perfume they want to make and get down to doing it. Trusting that their vision will find an audience. Ten years ago the owner creative team of John and Clara Molloy had me working overtime to find their perfumes. I had heard about this amazing oud perfume. When I finally got a sample, it was everything I had heard. Ever since I have admired The Molloys. Their clear-eyed ability to create a line of perfumes which live up to an idea instead of down to a bottom line. Memo Sicilian Leather brings me back to when I first encountered the brand.
John and Clara Molloy
Early on The Molloys decided to have distinct collections within Memo. The first was called Cuirs Nomades. The simple concept was to create leather perfumes from a geographic location. This has been a largely successful effort because they have found ways of encouraging the perfumers, they work with to think of place as well as leather. For Sicilian Leather they turn to perfumer Yann Vasnier to continue this.
In the press release there is a lot of talk about volcanoes and Mt. Etna. So much so I was expecting a scorched style of leather. There is a warm, even hot type of leather here, but it comes courtesy of the sun not the volcano. What kept floating through my mind was an inappropriately dressed hiker in a leather jacket on the slopes of Etna in the summer.
That summer sun comes from a fantastically focused citrus accord of cedrat and bitter orange. This is that sunny citrus with some bite. A noonday sun versus one at either end of the day. The trees and the vegetation come though a heart accord of violet leaves and balsams. This again carries a high noon feeling as if everything is just a little faded by the sun. The leather accord comes next. Using the biologically fractionated patchouli known as Akigalawood along with patchouli. This also follows this overheated effect that has led here. The leather is rich with just a hint of sweat underneath.
Sicilian Leather has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Noel Coward tells us “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun”. Sicilian Leather shows there might be something worth smelling in that heat.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Memo.
If there is a style of perfume which gets a bad rap it is the intense white flowers one. Through the middle part of the last century these were the fragrances which featured tuberose, gardenia, and jasmine. These were heady unapologetic floral powerhouses. They are also the opposite of the current trend of the transparent floral. It is natural to believe the current popularity of the opaquer style of floral is the Newtonian response to what came before. Or it could be put more simply, “I don’t want to smell like my mother/grandmother.” When I heard there was a Tom Ford Private Blend featuring tuberose, I expected their version on this lighter type. What I received when I got my sample of Tom Ford Private Blend Tubereuse Nue was a throwback to the earlier days.
One of the things I often wonder is what would a modern perfumer do with modern materials in a vintage-ish style. Tubereuse Nue perfumers Shyamala Maisondieu and Yann Vasnier design this with that in mind. The other thing which happens is they do not dumb down the skanky indoles at the heart of any white flower but especially welcome in tuberose.
That rich seductive tuberose appears right from the start. The perfumers interrogate it with a set of spices. Black pepper, the Szechuan pepper variant called Timut pepper, and coriander ask the white flower for her greener virtues. The sharpness of the black pepper along with the grapefruity heat of the Timut pepper find it through harmony. The coriander provides a woody undercurrent to the early moments. The heart is that deeply satisfying opulent white floral accord as jasmine joins the tuberose. This is what I enjoy the most about tuberose when it reaches this level. For the final stages, the modern ingredients re-appear as the perfumers from an ambered leather accord. Around the leather is the biodegraded patchouli ingredient Akigalawood, the ambery musky Sylkolide, and another animalic synthetic musk. The Sylkolide predominates but the leather and the musks find that indolic core of the white flowers and amplifies it.
Tuberuese Nue has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I really admire the choice to design Tubereuse Nue in this full-throated way. For those looking for a baseline this is not as overwhelming as the classic white florals of yesterday. It does take these easy-to-wear contemporary versions and jumps up three or four levels in intensity. I am not sure if the modern perfume lover is ready for a throwback tuberose. If they are Tuberuese Nue is here.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.
Two years ago when premiere candle makers Cire Trudon finally entered the liquid fragrance game with Trudon Parfums it was an event. The original five perfumes were memorable for not trying to check boxes. Creative director Julien Pruvost wanted to have Trudon Parfums stand out by not following trends. I concluded my reviews of those perfumes looking forward to what was next. Two years later M. Pruvost has my answer with Trudon Parfums Elae and Medie.
M. Pruvost works with perfumer Yann Vasnier again after creating Mortel in the debut collection. This time the pair of perfumes are evocations of summer effulgence. M. Vasnier pushes both perfumes to embrace the saturated brightness of late summer.
In Elae M. Vasnier creates a heady floral. He could hardly do otherwise by making tuberose his keynote. Before the white flower makes its entrance, he uses a snappy fruit top accord of apple and neroli to set the scene. Neroli acts as harbinger of its louder sister tuberose. The apple provides a crisp fruit which will push back at the creaminess of the tuberose. The floral diva is shrouded in a stole of benzoin and akigalawood in the base. The benzoin adds snuggly warmth while the akigalawood adds a spicy contrast.
Elae has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Medie is a fresh summery citrus perfume modulated with spices. M. Vasnier uses grapefruit as his citrus focal point. I enjoy the choice because grapefruit carries a sulfurous undertone along with the bright fruitiness. M. Vasnier uses the spicy woody chemical Pepperwood to tease out that pungency. It adds depth to what would have otherwise been a typical citrus top accord. The clean woody lines of cypress and cedar provide guardrails for the citrus as it heads towards the base. Awaiting it there is Akigalawood and incense. If there is a commonality between both Elae and Medie it is the Akigalawood. In Medie it continues the synthetic spicy beat begun by the Pepperwood. The incense adds a silvery resinous sheen to it all.
Medie has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I am very pleased that M. Pruvost is taking time between releases. Elae and Medie seem the better for it. If you need a little summer sunbeam as the world around you cools Elae and Medie offer two versions.
Disclosure: this review is based on samples provided by Trudon Parfums.
As the days of summer begin to dwindle there is a desire to make the most out of them. Make sure you get in those last things which make this time of year fun in the sun. When it comes to fragrance I still want to find some light-hearted fun in a bottle too. Thankfully Moschino Toy Boy showed up just in time to extend the party for awhile.
Back in February I found the same fun in the earlier release of Moschino Toy 2. That fragrance embodied the aesthetic Moschino creative director Jeremy Scott wants to create. Toy 2 was a trifle of a citrus fresh floral which just wanted to be a scent you could hang out with; leaving expectations behind. Toy Boy does the same thing from a more masculine perspective.
Yann Vasnier is the perfumer behind Toy Boy and he does present an interesting thought for a perfume marketed to men by making a spiced up fruity floral. I found it to be an entertaining twist on the typical men’s fragrance tropes.
Toy Boy opens with a common pear and berries top accord. In the first few seconds you wouldn’t be off base to be expecting a typical fruity floral accord. M. Vasnier helps rough it up a bit by using elemi as a citrus surrogate to attenuate the fruits. A set of spices in nutmeg and clove also keep those fruits in check while also providing a spice-laden partner to the rose in the heart. Through to this part of the development I really was taken with what M. Vasnier was up to. Unfortunately it all goes away as a tide of Ambermax and Sylkolide crush it in a monolith of woods and white musk. It isn’t surprising to see a mass-market release end on this kind of base accord but it is frustrating to see it destroy what came before.
Toy Boy has 14-16 hour longevity, mainly due to the synthetics in the base, and average sillage.
Toy Boy is another perfume which loses all its originality when the synthetics take over. If you are one who enjoys these kinds of synthetics then the early part of Toy Boy will allow you to have some new fun on the way to that base accord. I would’ve liked to keep that early party going but just like summer it ends, too.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Sephora.
One of my favorite warm weather styles of perfume are the Mediterranean ones. Working from the obvious inspiration I have found the combination of fruit and green with just a whiff of the ocean to be the kind of perfume ideal for summer. One of the classic building blocks for this style is fig. Most of the time a perfume will choose to go with the richer fruit or the creamier leaves; but not both. Which was why I it was nice to see Carner Barcelona Fig Man take the route less traveled.
Fig Man is part of a trio of Mediterranean inspired perfumes released by Carner Barcelona. The other two Bo-Bo and Salado plumb the same thematic territory as Fig Man with less variation. Creative director Sara Carner claims the inspiration for Fig Man is the illustration “Homme Fig” by artist Salvador Dali. If you read that and are thinking surrealist fig; think again. This is one of those times where I never get the connection the press release tries to impart on me. This is far from a surrealistic experience. I could claim it is the opposite a more realistic version. The brand has not revealed the perfumer, but I will update when I find out. (Update: The perfumer is Yann Vasnier)
One of the clever twists in Fig Man is the choice to lead with the fruit instead of the fig leaves. The reason why is it allows for a very nice interaction between the ripe fig and cardamom. The fig has this richness which is uplifted by the cardamom. It takes the lush quality and gives it a freshness more like picking the fruit right from the tree and eating it. In the heart the fig leaves come forward with a lot of presence. This is the creamy slightly green version of this ingredient. It takes in the cardamom and fig with a warm embrace. As you luxuriate in the uber-fig accord from far off an ocean breeze swirls through. The base accord brings you down to earth with patchouli sweetened by tonka bean.
Fig Man has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Fig Man is a perfume for people who love fig fragrances. It is like having an all-you-can-smell version of the ingredient. Wearing this in the early summer it just my kind of thing. This realistic fig is a beauty.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
There are a lot of creative people within the fashion industry I would like to see take the creative direction over a perfume line. Near the top of that list is the former editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris, Carine Roitfeld. Her sense of artistic direction for the magazine was so clear during her time in the post from 2001-2011 it would be interesting to see what she would do in the world of fragrance. Having worked closely with both Karl Lagerfeld and Tom Ford she would have a good idea on what kind of perfume should have her name on it.
Mme Roitfeld has debuted a line of seven perfumes called the “7 Lovers” collection. Even though each perfume carries a man’s name they really are perfumes of place. For this collection the press materials say she has worked eight years on it. She certainly chose three talented perfumers to work with; Aurelien Guichard, Pascal Gaurin, and Yann Vasnier. I’ve had a sample set for a month, and I am happy to report that Mme Roitfeld did not disappoint I like all seven of her “lovers”. I will be giving full reviews to Aurelien, Kar-Wai, and Sebastian over the next few weeks. Of course there always must be one which rises above; which for me it was Carine Roitfeld George.
George was composed by M. Vasnier meant to capture London and its punk rock aesthetic. The perfume is a floral heart sandwiched between two compellingly green accords one very contemporary and the other as classic as it gets in perfume.
The contemporary green accord is where George begins. M. Vasnier employing the Givaudan ScentTrek process to create a fabulously sticky green cannabis accord. This is that sappy green scent you smell from a container of high-quality marijuana buds. He tunes it with a couple of other green ingredients, galbanum and violet leaf. M. Vasnier finds just the right side of illicit over vegetal with this top accord. Jasmine provides a floral contrast as if someone found a few blooms among the buds. The indolic quality of the jasmine fits right in with the cannabis. Then we turn towards classic perfumery as M. Vasnier fashions a leathery chypre base. This is a modern chypre with animalic bite the perfect complement to the top accord.
George has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
So many perfumes have attempted to capture the punk vibe of London only to miss the mark. George finds it by using a perfumer’s punk mentality at re-inventing a chypre. In the doing they connect like few have before them.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample set supplied by Carine Roitfeld.
Ever since its debut in 2007 the Tom Ford Private Blend collection has been one of the most successful expansions of luxury niche perfumery into the marketplace. They represent one of the defining brands of that style. They were the first perfumes I would review where I would be asked, “Are they worth it?” The answer to that is always an individual choice. What was undeniable was the collection was representing some of the best-known ingredients in high quality forms where the difference was noticeable.
Tom Ford and Karyn Khoury creatively directed each perfume to provide a singular luxurious experience. That so many of them are on “best of” lists show their success. They have been so successful that there is debate to whether they should even be referred to as niche anymore. I think they still retain a niche aesthetic while having a wider distribution than most other fragrances referred to with that adjective. Over the first three years of existence they cemented their style over 21 releases. Then 2011 happened.
This is conjecture on my part, but it seems like they had tired of hearing how “safe” they were. If you were to try the three releases from 2011 it feels like they wanted to have the word contemporary be part of the lexicon when describing Tom Ford Private Blends. Jasmin Rouge, Santal Blush, and this month’s Dead Letter Office entry Lavender Palm succeeded. What separated them from the rest of the collection was they took the keynote in their name off in very different new directions. All three have been among my favorites within the entire line. For some reason Lavender Palm was discontinued after only two years. I’ll provide my hypothesis for that later.
Lavender Palm was released early in 2011 as an exclusive to the new Beverly Hills Tom Ford boutique followed by wider release a year later. Perfumer Yann Vasnier was asked to capture a Southern California luxury vibe. He chose to use two sources of lavender wrapped in a host of green ingredients.
The top accord uses the more common lavandin where M. Vasnier adds citrus to it. The whole opening gets twisted using lime blossom which teases out the floral nature of the lavender while complementing the citrus. This is an opening with snap. The heart coalesces around lavender absolute. Here is where things take that contemporary turn. M. Vasnier uses clary sage, aldehydes, moss, and palm leaves to form a lavender accord that is at turns salty and creamy. It seemingly transforms minute-by-minute. It remains one of the most unique lavender accords I have experienced. A soft resinous base is where this ends.
Lavender Palm has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
Lavender Palm became widely available in the beginning of 2012 and was discontinued by the end of 2014. I think the reason might be this was the only one of the three 2011 releases which unabashedly altered the previous style of the collection. There aren’t many Tom Ford Private Blend releases to be found in the Dead Letter Office; Lavender Palm might have got there by being too contemporary.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
As I’ve been making my list of the perfumers, I want to cover in this column, I naturally trend towards my favorites.Yann Vasnier is certainly one of my favorites. He is a perfumer who has done some of his best work in partnership with Rodrigo Flores-Roux, Calice Becker, and Francoise Caron. He is unafraid to take risks which means some of his most daring work is discontinued. I could’ve made a list of Apothia L Apothia, Le Labo Aldehyde 44, Tom Ford Private Blend Urban Musk, Marc Jacobs Bang, and Tom Ford Private Blend Lavender Palm. If I had done that it would have been a column examining texture within perfume design. M. Vasnier is one of the few perfumers who is known to have designed an Axe spray; 2009’s Axe Essence. For this month’s Perfumer 201 I’m going to look at the development of M. Vasnier’s gourmand style over the years.
Divine L’Homme Sage (2005)- M. Vasnier’s first released perfume was 1986’s Divine with Yvon Mouchel who also came from M. Vasnier’s home of Brittany in France. M. Mouchel would work exclusively with M. Vasnier. L’Homme Sage has no sage in it. What caught my attention on the day I tried it was how it played with metamorphosizing syrup in the beginning and heart. It opens with mandarin encased in sweet lychee syrup. A beautiful use of the maple syrup quality of immortelle transitions that sweetness into a heart of resins and base of woods. It isn’t strictly a gourmand style of perfume but the early moments carry that feeling.
Keiko Mecheri Gourmandises (2004)- Keiko Mecheri wanted a perfume of the marketplace in Istanbul and its confections. Specifically rose rahat loukhoum. M. Vasnier chooses to eschew a photorealistic version in place of something abstract. He embeds a praline accord inside a jammy rose accord. Then he brilliantly attenuates the intense sweetness with the contrast of saffron. It turns it into something not of the bazaar but enticingly bizarre.
Parfums DelRae Panache (2010)- M. Vasnier has had one of his most creative partnerships with creative director DelRae Roth for her Parfums DelRae brand. Panache is a gorgeously dark rum top accord which flows into an equally rich floral heart of jasmine and ylang-ylang. Vetiver provides a support for the boozy florals. As in the previous two fragrances it is the viscous matrix of honey which makes Panache come alive. It oozes into the spaces left to it turning Panache into something lovely.
Arquiste The Architects Club (2014)- When Carlos Huber was starting his Arquiste brand of perfume he turned to two perfumers. M. Vasnier was one of them and his body of work here is among his finest. The Architects Club imagines a meeting between flappers and architects during 1930. The architects are represented by woods and vetiver. The flappers come in with gin martinis, citrus, and vanilla to liven things up. The gin accord is used as a disruptive force and it is one of the reasons, I enjoy this so much because of that energy. It is like The Wild Party goes on and on.
Frassai Blondine (2017)-Natalia Outeda also used M. Vasnier to create one of her debut perfumes for Frassai. Blondine was an early example of the transparent floral gourmand trend which has taken off in the last eighteen months. M. Vasnier takes an expansive floral accord. Then he precisely adds caramel and cocoa until they reach a place where they do not overwhelm the floral but make a sticky platform for them to rest upon. This is one of my favorites of this early floral gourmand style.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottle I purchased.
I am always drawn to the ocean. Growing up in S. Florida imprinted it in my soul. I have been fortunate to expand my horizons. To stand next to the crashing waves on different shores than the ones of my youth. One which has become my second favorite is what I found on the west coast of the US. These are rocky coastlines which are edged with shore pine lined escarpments. The scent of the pines mixed with the cold brine of the ocean is amazing. There aren’t a lot of perfumes which go for this when they want to make an aquatic; Tom Ford Private Blend Costa Azzurra Acqua does.
Back in 2014 as part of the first expansion of the Neroli Portofino collection in the blue bottles Costa Azzurra was released. I enjoyed it because it reminded me of summer days beachcombing as a boy. Five years later the same perfumer, Yann Vasnier, is behind Costa Azzurra Acqua. In the original M. Vasnier used a dry woody accord to represent driftwood. In this new perfume he uses the shore pine as his woody piece of the perfume. He also finds a chillier aquatic accord to represent the denser feel of the ocean when it is cold. This is what comes together in Costa Azzurra Acqua.
That colder accord is composed of juniper berry, lemon, and myrtle. Each ingredient is noticeable on its own until they mesh into this mineralic ocean accord. This is the smell of cold swells crashing against rocks. As you look up the slope you get a hint of the pines as the breeze brings a clean pine-tinted woodiness courtesy of cypress. As you get closer the sticky sap of the trees becomes more apparent as M. Vasnier uses mastic and labdanum to represent that. Everything comes together into a satisfying whole.
Costa Azzurra Acqua has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
I must mention this because I know it is important to some; this might have the least longevity of any Private Blend. I don’t care but this comes together in a fantastically realized accord which only holds together for a short period of time. It means I am going to go through my sample a lot quicker, but I am okay with that.
I usually don’t reach for aquatics in the cooler weather; Costa Azzurra Acqua was nice on the cooler days I tested it. Which I think means it will be a great winter-to-spring choice. I can imagine myself standing on a Pacific coastline as the shore pines scent the air.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.