When I was a teenager there was a series of shows called the ABC Afterschool Special. Each of these shows, starting in 1972, would tell an educational story. Except when they did a “Very Special” episode. That was code for this time we are taking on a controversial subject in an uplifting way. It was important because they would put on the television screen topics like divorce, child homelessness, venereal disease, teen suicide, eating disorders, and teen pregnancy. In a lot of cases this was one of the earliest depictions of many of these subjects.
The “Very Special” terminology has transitioned to primetime television. Being used, and now overused, mostly as code to do something traumatic to the characters on the show. In these days of “peak” television, shows tend to up the ante on traumatic events to get attention. It is the reason I stopped watching Grey’s Anatomy regularly. When it premiered March 27, 2005 it immediately connected with me. It became appointment television which was turned in to season-long scheduling on my DVR. I empathized for twelve seasons with Meredith Grey and her colleagues until the trauma became too much for me. Any show that survives for fifteen seasons must challenge their characters with interesting situations. With medical shows there is an unfortunate need to keep upping the level of the trauma. I left the last couple of seasons of “ER” for the same reason. The writers have made me care enough about these characters watching them suffer another devastating blow becomes too much.
The thing is the writers on Grey’s Anatomy and the creator Shonda Rhimes haven’t lost their edge. They still put interesting words in the characters’ mouths. While I couldn’t watch anymore, I read the recap of each week’s episode so I can keep up. Which was what happened this past Friday morning. I read the recap for the most recent episode “Silent All These Years” and cried. I knew I was going to go watch the episode via “on demand” as soon as I could.
“Silent All These Years” is a Very Special episode built around the subject of consent. It is told mainly through the story of a patient who comes to the hospital, Abby. One of the doctors, Jo, realizes she is suffering from more than the apparent cut on her cheek. As she examines her, she realizes Abby has been sexually assaulted. This story is juxtaposed against a flash back to a recent visit Jo had with her birth mother. Jo was left at a fire station when she was five days old. She finally tracks down her birth mother and meets her at a diner to try and understand. The trauma of sexual assault again impacts the decisions of both women. The third tiny story is when Ben has a talk with his stepson Tuck after he realizes he is dating. This was much needed tension breaking scenes from the other two stories. In a kind of ABC Afterschool Special way Ben explains to Tuck in a relatable way how the words “no” and “stop” are always to be heard, and acted upon, when a woman you are with say them.
Very rarely does episodic television get it right with an episode dealing with a subject as fraught as consent and sexual assault. “Silent All These Years” is Very Special because it does it so well.
As we reach the end of March it is time to start digging in the dirt. Before the flowers begin to scent the air in Poodlesville it is the herbs which have the honor of providing the smell of spring. We have a patch of wild sage growing in a corner. It is always one of the earliest things I detect in the spring. Sage in perfume is more of a character actor ingredient. Happy to be part of an ensemble of herbal notes most of the time. It is used a lot because it is one of the more versatile herbal ingredients. This month I pick five perfumes which display that.
Tom Ford Private Blend Moss Breches is still one of the most striking of this collection. Perfumer Stephen Nilsen creates one of the most compelling earthy green perfumes available. In the heart of it all is sage as part of a group of herbal notes. They act as the harbinger for the patchouli and moss in the base.
When I first discovered D.S. & Durga one of the first bottles I purchased was Cowboy Grass. Perfumer David Seth Moltz takes every dusty showdown on a movie Western Main Street and makes a fragrance. It has a dryness imparted by many herbs but it is that sage brush tumbleweed which rolls through the center of it all which turns it from desert to cowboy.
One of the most unique uses of sage comes in L’Artisan Parfumeur Caligna by perfumer Dora Baghriche. The top accord is a vibrant combination of fig and sage. When it sinks into the jasmine marmalade accord in the heart it sets Caligna apart. This is my favorite L’Artisan release of the last few years.
Thirdman Eau Inexplicable took its time to grow on me. The reason I’ve come around to enjoying it as much as I do is the sage at the heart of the perfume. Creative director Jean-Christophe le Greves and perfumer Bruno Jovanovic have made one of the edgier Cologne Nouveaus. It has a spiky top half of baie rose, sage, and geranium. The sage is the star before sandalwood and vetiver in the base finish things up. It is a perfume which is a little aloof but if you give it a chance you might warm to its charms.
Jo Malone Wood Sage & Sea Salt is one of the recent spate of aquatic perfumes which look for a different beach milieu. Creative director Celine Roux and perfumer Christine Nagel, in one of her last for the brand, took a trip to the English seaside in Cornwell. What that turned into as a perfume is a mineralic mixture of sun and dunes with the sage standing in for the grass growing on those. This has become one of my favorite shoulder season aquatics.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
If there is a perfume ingredient I am picky about it is gardenia. My grandmother’s Florida pine house was surrounded by the bushes. The blooms floated in bowls of water throughout the house. As the overhead fans stirred the humid air I was surrounded by the scent of gardenia. If there is one thing many gardenia perfumes lack for me is the significant green component of the actual gardenia. Many focus on the floral qualities. If they miss out on the underlying green it isn’t for me. Jeroboam Boha gets it right.
Jeroboam is the perfume brand founded by Francois Henin and perfumer Vanina Muracciole. The idea was to create a foundational base accord of musks which they would build upon for each release. It has been a mixed bag for me with the first releases not quite coming together. That changed with Origino and Ambra. All the Jeroboam perfumes are at extrait strength. In conjunction with the musky base accord it creates an intimacy which I find appealing. In Boha it is at its best.
One other thing about gardenia perfumes is they are often quite dense. The power of white flowers wants to trend that way. What sets Boha apart is that Sig. ra Muracciole makes the gardenia more expansive without sacrificing presence.
The green thread is placed right from the start. Green almond, bergamot and violet leaves form a green accord of foliage and stem. Above that blooms the gardenia. Sig. ra Muracciole constructs this with jasmine and orange blossom to round things out. The top accord slides underneath the florals as they become more expansive. The gardenia becomes more effusive without becoming transparent or, alternatively, cloying. She finds a precise balance where the hidden indoles can snake out of the center right down to that musky base. It harmonizes beautifully which is further accentuated by the addition of a rich sandalwood.
Boha has 14-16 hour longevity and very little sillage. This is a skin scent.
Boha is the best of the Jeroboam perfumes to date. M. Henin and Sig. ra Muracciole have fully realized the potential of their aesthetic. Boha is the kind of gardenia perfume I am looking for.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
Timing is everything. After I’ve spent weeks smelling one debutante rose fragrance after another; the first to offer something different is sure to get my attention. This year’s refreshing slap came from Edward Bess Last Night.
A little over two years ago Edward Bess began to expand into fragrance with an initial collection of three perfumes. Working with perfumer Carlos Benaim they created a min-max group of simple ingredients chosen for big effects. I was drawn to them for this quality although it was the one which had more subtlety, La Femme Boheme, I enjoyed most. When I saw another spare ingredient list for Last Night I wasn’t sure which way this would go.
Edward Bess (Photo: Ruven Afanador)
One of the things about the previous three releases is M. Benaim takes these chosen ingredients and gives them space to fill. I like it when there is more overlap amongst them. Last Night finds a lot of overlap between the three ingredients of rose, leather, and smoke.
After being fed a steady diet of gentle rose having a diva like Bulgarian rose out in front was the right antidote. This is a rose that wants to be the belle of the ball. She wants to be remembered. She is curved in all the right places with insouciance to burn. When she shows up at the party wearing her biker jacket around her all eyes turn. That is the opening salvo of Last Night as M. Benaim surrounds Bulgarian rose in a leather jacket accord. It is where things pause for a bit before a layer of smoke inserts itself. It is not exactly wood smoke and it isn’t quite cigarette smoke. I’m not sure the source but I think one of the synthetic woods with a prominent smoky scent profile is what M. Benaim is using. This is an abstract smoke effect which I sort of liken to the morning after as our rose, still in her leather jacket, wakes up with a patina of smoke.
Last Night has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
Last Night has more of what I like from this style of perfume making by Mr. Bess and M. Benaim. They seem to have an agreed upon aesthetic which Last Night executes as rose spends the night out.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Edward Bess.
One of the familiar refrains of this column is the perfume being profiled was ahead of its time. That is inevitably followed by the conjecture on whether it would have succeeded at a different time; after trends caught up to it. There aren’t many that are given that second chance only to end up back in the Dead Letter Office. Donna Karan Chaos owns this distinction.
Donna Karan is one of the most successful designer perfume brands on the market. Her namesake fragrances plus the DKNY branded ones are classic mass-market perfumes. It didn’t start out that way. Ms. Karan released her first branded perfume in 1992. Over the next ten years she would release another five perfumes. Taken as a collection they were an impressive group of fragrances staking out their own territory. Using those perfumes it seems like Ms. Karan was attempting to create her own niche-like character. That five of the six, Cashmere Mist the exception, are all in the Dead Letter Office tells you how successful they were in the marketplace.
In the realm of the senses where being different is lauded; that group of six were delightful for that. I own all of them because of their unabashed desire to do their own thing. They are examples of what mass-market can aspire to. Each of them was contemporaneous to emerging trends from niche brands.
In 1996 the style of spiced dried fruit Oriental perfume was just beginning. Working with perfumer Jean-Claude Delville; Ms. Karan and her co creative director Jane Turker made one of the earliest versions of this.
What is fascinating about Chaos is it accomplishes this fruitiness without a single fruit ingredient in the note list. This would become common; in 1996 it was still infrequently seen. M. Delville would form an axis of coriander, saffron, and sandalwood. On to that he would adhere precious woods, resins, and spices. This is a gorgeously realized opulent Oriental ahead of its time.
Chaos has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Chaos was discontinued in 2002 after failing to capture consumers’ attention. This is where I say Chaos was ahead of its time and that’s why it is in the Dead Letter Office. Except the powers that be at Donna Karan must have thought that time had arrived in 2008 when they re-issued Chaos onto the market. Along with two of the other original six Donna Karans which also seemed to be too early for perfume lovers.
By 2008 Chaos was not an oddity there were many other perfumes going for two to three times the price in the same style. This was the time for Chaos to thrive. Except it didn’t. It would be discontinued for a second time in 2013.
As much as I want to believe every perfume has the right time to find its audience Donna Karan Chaos stubbornly refutes that hypothesis by finding its way to the Dead Letter Office; twice.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
There are brands which make the trends. Those are few. There are brands that imitate the trends. Those are many. The least creative is to slightly tweak the trendsetter fragrance. That is all too often the choice. What can set a brand apart which does follow trends is if they can find their own version. That is what I found in Avon Honey Blossom.
For about two years now one of the prevailing fragrance trends is transparent floral gourmands. As I’ve mentioned in the past at least this is not an overplayed sector of perfume space. It is starting to become that way because of the early success of this style with the younger perfume consumers.
For a brand like Avon they are looking to follow the current trends. Which means it was time for a transparent floral gourmand. They turned again to perfumer Gabriela Chelariu. From my perspective it was her participation which made me want to try Honey Blossom. She produced last years Velvet for the brand which I thought was one of the best perfumes of the year. In that case I was impressed with her use of overlapping synthetic ingredients to create a fuller effect than I expected. There is less of that in Honey Blossom because Ms. Chelariu stuck to a simpler formula of floral and gourmand.
The floral is a clever apple blossom on top. This carries a hint of green, a smidge of apple, along with a gentle floral-like quality. This is the kind of multi-faceted ingredient Ms. Chelariu used to construct Velvet. This is kept much simpler with a mixture of what is listed as “honeysuckle blossom” but to my nose is “honeyed water”. It imparts a sweet dewiness to the apple blossom capturing an early morning bloom covered in tiny droplets. It forms a nice honeyed floral effect without becoming sticky sweet. The sweet is on its way as vanilla rounds things out. As before the vanilla is kept opaque so as not to drown out the other ingredients. It finds its space completing the floral gourmand with comfort.
Honey Blossom has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
I am becoming more impressed with Ms. Chelariu the more I experience her perfumes. She has so far shown she knows how to get the most out of her ingredients; and her budget. Honey Blossom is a great spring floral choice if you’re looking for a floral gourmand.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Avon.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed when looking at older paintings is these were the social media of the day. There were no photographs to convey what far-off lands and peoples looked like. Western civilization saw the rest of the world through the interpretations of a painter. One movement which began in fin de siècle 18th century is grouped as the Orientalist paintings. These were fascinating because there were artists who would make the arduous journey to the Middle East and paint from experience. Then there were others who would create from the tales told to them without ever leaving home. Creative director at Amouage Christopher Chong was interested in converting this dichotomy into a perfume; Opus XI.
In the press release he likens the Orientalists who never visited the country as the first example of “fake news”. How do you turn that into a perfume? The answer is you get perfumer Pierre Negrin to do the same trick with perhaps the most Middle Eastern perfume ingredient there is; oud.
In perfumery there is an Orientalist separation of real oud and oud accord. Real oud speaks for itself. Oud accords represent themselves as “real” oud in many fragrances. Instead they are comprised of a few well-known ingredients which create an oud accord without ever using a drop of real oud. The purpose of making an accord is you don’t have to work around the more irascible qualities of the real thing. In Opus XI M. Negrin juxtaposes authentic oud with an oud accord.
Opus XI opens with the real oud as M. Negrin particularly enhances one of those difficult aspects of its scent. To do this he uses the unusual perfume ingredient of marjoram which has a soft green herbal-ness. It acts as a magnifier of the medicinal qualities of the real oud used in Opus XI. There is a richness to it while the medicinal effect is made prominent. Now that you’ve traveled to the real source M. Negrin then creates a parallel oud from styrax and a Firmenich exclusive Woodleather. The latter comes from a suite of recently synthesized molecules designed to have an oud-y scent profile. This is the real oud scrubbed of its problematic medicinal facets. Leaving behind a dry oud-like woodiness. To add back a metered amount of the rougher edges is where the styrax comes in. M. Negrin roughs up the Woodleather to a facsimile of the marjoram and real oud. What you get is a compelling perspective on oud as the two versions harmonize.
Opus XI has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I’m not sure but this might be the shortest ingredient list for an Amouage perfume. It is no less interesting for that. The idea of having a discussion of Orientalism through perfume via oud is outstanding. I have spent many weeks enjoying and thinking about Opus XI. If you love oud this perfume is one you must try.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Amouage.
I think when I’m done writing this, I will never refer to the gender or race of the central superhero again. I think with the release of Captain Marvel that has ended. The old myths about what a superhero had to look like to inspire audiences to share their journey have been shattered. When someone writes a grand dissertation of all the things Marvel Studios did correctly in their first ten years a key piece will be the inclusion of the last year or so. Captain Marvel beings the first cycle to its penultimate entry by shifting the paradigm to where being heroic is the important trait over anything else.
Brie Larson as Captain Marvel
Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have made a movie where their hero stands for something by simply standing up. I don’t know who it is who finds the actors to fill these roles for Marvel Studios, but Brie Larson is an ideal choice to play Carol Danvers who over the course of the movie we learn how she became Captain Marvel. The story is told in a non-linear narrative. Starting with Captain Marvel already an intergalactic force to be reckoned with as part of the Kree Starforce. Through various plot machinations she crashes to Earth in 1995. She meets Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) when he still had both eyes and was just an agent of SHIELD and not its head.
Like Black Panther did a year ago the genders are inverted as Captain Marvel and Fury spend the movie together. The woman hero knows what is happening and spends lots of time explaining it to limited understanding human Fury. What ever the opposite of mansplaining is that is the dynamic of Marvel to Fury. Fury is the one who does reckless things which she has to rescue him from. At the end Fury holds the cat while she takes down the villains.
As she spends more time back on Earth she comes to realize this is where she was born and had a life before becoming Captain Marvel. When she regains enough memory to re-connect with her old wingwoman that is when Captain Marvel finds the heart underneath the power. Towards the end as Carol begins to understand she hasn’t claimed all the power she has access to there is a montage of her being knocked down throughout her life. Internally she tells herself to, “Stand up!”. As a man I am never going to realize what that means to women who get knocked down regularly. In the full theatre where Mrs. C and I saw the movie I got a hint. When she seizes her power with one final “Stand up!” there was an audible set of women in the auditorium who shouted “Yes!”
This is the part of why this kind of film matters. It doesn’t spend time battering you with a message. It allows you to engage with a hero who is taking a journey many can empathize with.
I don’t know what will happen after next month’s Avengers: Endgame finishes this first 22-film story. I do know that if the decision is to build the next 22-films on the cornerstones of Captain Marvel, Black Panther, and Doctor Strange; I’m all in for that.
I do like surprises. When I was at my recent mall field trip one of the sales associates asked me if I had tried Abbott before. While noticing the new packaging I was replying that I had when I also noticed there were two new ones. I sprayed them on strips, continued chatting; eventually walking away. Then as happens to many one of those strips began asking to be re-smelled. By the time I was ready to go I made another stop at the counter to ask for samples of both new Abbott colognes.
Jose Alvarez (l.) and Michael Pass
Abbott was founded in 2016 by Jose Alvarez and Michael Pass. Their concept was to make simple perfumes to capture the Great Outdoors. The debut four were Mojave, Sequoia, Telluride, and The Cape. They worked with perfumer Antoine Lie. I should’ve liked these. Except they just were not the sense of place they were trying to be. I couldn’t see the Mojave Desert in a dry tobacco. The blue-sky altitude of Telluride in a suede leather. Especially having spent a ton of time on The Cape I don’t think I’ve ever smelled minty ginger on the dunes at Truro. Sequoia was a wood fest which lost the forest for the trees.
I expected the two new locations to similarly miss the mark for me. They didn’t. Working with a new perfumer, Steven Claisse, Messrs. Alvarez and Pass came closer to their stated ideal this time. Big Sky with a clever accord of cypress and vetiver captures the scent of mile-high evergreens with a hint of spices. It was the other new release, Voyageurs, which was on the strip saying, “sniff me again” which really caught my attention.
One thing which Voyageurs did was to trigger a scent memory of early spring hiking while in graduate school. Walking into a field of wildflowers just as the sun evaporated the last of the morning dew. That has always been a glorious scent lodged in my hippocampus. M. Claisse evokes that with a beautiful mixture of ozonic notes, violet, amber, and musk.
When they say the reason you go hiking is to breathe “fresh air” it isn’t a funny line. If you’re enough off the beaten track there is a clean snap to the air especially in the morning. M. Claisse uses a selection of ozonic notes to capture that “fresh air” without it becoming “sea spray”. What comes out of that clean air is a strong violet. I am a big fan of the smell of violets in perfume. M. Claisse does not disappoint as he makes it a focal point. This is what a field of wildflowers smells like. With the remnants of the ozonic accord lifting away this is my analogy of the dew evaporating under sunrise. An accord of damp earth comes from amber and musk as I walk through the violets.
Voyageurs has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Voyageurs has come along at the perfect time for me. My graduate school hiking days are behind me. Voyageurs brings back those memories of the trail.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Macy’s.
I am always highly appreciative of perfumes which accentuate the bitter over the sweet. My enjoyment comes from my own perverse enjoyment of bitter cocktails and food ingredients. There is nothing like experiencing something which has its own point of view. I don’t think a lot of perfume lovers agree with me. Not a lot of perfumes out there going all in on bitter. I found one recently; The House of Oud Each Other.
The House of Oud is the brand founded by perfumer Andrea Casotti. For Each Other he wanted to capture the vibrancy of the street art of his hometown of Milan. He asked graffiti artist KayOne to act as creative director.
KayOne at Work in Milan c.1992
If the concept of street art is also married to the idea of outsider art. Each Other mirrors that, as the perfume which has been made is something outside of the normal parameters of what perfume usually is. What this feels like are bold slashes of dark colors intersecting at odd vectors. It is a perfume not meant to wear as a comfort. It is meant to be worn as something to be experienced.
Sig. Casotti gets things started with the bitter sulfurous citrus of grapefruit matched to the herbal-ness of baie rose. There have been a few perfumes lately which have used this combination. I was struck here at the concentration Sig. Casotti uses. It pushes the un-pretty pieces of the scent of both ingredients. The slightly stinky sulfur of the grapefruit along with the sharp green baie rose lays down slashes of yellow lines outlined in black. The heart is an equally fascinating duet of calamus and wormwood. Calamus is one of those rarely used ingredients because of its odd nature. It comes off kind of oily I liken it to the smell of butter fresh from the churn. There are sweet accents, but it has an oleaginous quality. By contrasting that with the bitter licorice scent of wormwood it is a fascinating effect of viscous herbal which ensnares the grapefruit and baie rose. Slicing the yellow slashes of color with two different shades of green. The base finds the same acerbic quality in two familiar ingredients as a green vetiver is given over to a soft labdanum. This is the sharp slightly smoky vetiver provided a small amount of restraint through the labdanum. This is where shades of soothing browns intersperse themselves through the previous bold colors. Like every The House of Oud perfume I’ve tried this all comes together over a few minutes and then lingers for hours.
Each Other has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I have admired Sig. Casotti’s dedication to not trying to take away the bitterness by amplifying it. It doesn’t make Each Other the kind of perfume for everyone. If you appreciate the bitter vectors of scent Each Other is where to find them.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.