I remember sitting at New York Comic Con in 2012 and being told by Jeph Loeb, the head of Marvel TV, that they had struck a deal with Netflix. The plan was to have four “street level” superheroes living in New York City of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In 2013 this began with the release of Daredevil followed by Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. The plan was to do as they had in the movies to introduce each character and then team them up in a series called The Defenders. At the beginning of September, the second season of Iron Fist gave each of those original heroes two seasons. It also spawned a spin-off series in The Punisher who was introduced in Daredevil season 2. As Daredevil Season 3 has just started, which I haven’t started watching, I thought it was a good time to look back at what works and what doesn’t.
The first thing which is paramount to success is a good villain. The Kingpin as played by Vincent D’Onofrio in Daredevil has been an omnipresent influence even while in prison in Season 2. As long as he is part of any Daredevil season it will probably be worth watching. The other great villain was from Jessica Jones where David Tenant portrayed the mind controlling Kilgrave. Kilgrave would lead to the PTSD suffered by Jessica in season 2 which again shows how a well-drawn villain has a longer effect than their time on screen. Both Luke Cage and Iron Fist suffered from having villains who were interested in political or corporate power. They are stories but The Kingpin and Kilgrave felt like threats. At no time watching Luke Cage and Iron Fist did the villains really seem threatening.
The one thing they all got right was the supporting cast. So much that many of the characters were able to show up in multiple series. They were working with solid source material but the performances of all the actors in the roles has been remarkable. I want to especially point out Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing and Simone Messick as Detective Misty Knight. If I wasn’t enthralled by the villains in Luke Cage and Iron fist these two women and their interaction was awesome. They are a duo within the comic book world and I am hoping to see a version of that team in the Netflix world.
The one thing they all mostly got wrong were the number of episodes. Even in the best cases thirteen episodes were too many along with a rhythm of storytelling which got repetitive. Six episodes leading to a minor victory which revealed a bigger enemy in the next episode who pressured the hero for four more episodes to a seeming victory only to have the final two episodes culminate in the final ending. If they cut these down to 8-10 episode seasons, without the filler, all of these would have been better across the board. My evidence for that is season 2 of Iron Fist was 10 episodes and it was much better.
It turns out Netflix was doing some assessing too. Both Iron Fist and Luke Cage have been canceled in the last week. I am hoping that this might mean a new series rises from these ashes teaming up the two characters along with Misty Knight and Colleen Wing. There has been no announcement of that but that seems like a series with potential.
My assessment is that the Netflix Marvel series are still a work in progress with the two best, Daredevil and Jessica jones, entering third seasons. The Punisher suffered from many of the flaws of Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Which makes me think season 2 for that series will be pivotal to its survival. At least for now the Netflix Marvel Universe has still not lived up to its potential but that opportunity remains depending on what comes next.
My primary issue with flankers is they are so often cynically safe. They tend to start with a safe mass-market alpha perfume dumbing it down by degrees. I don’t know this to be true but there are times I think they do a survey. Then for the flanker they take out whatever ingredients were problematic to the respondents. There is another way to go with a flanker. Take the same foundation and build something entirely different. This doesn’t keep the brand from playing it safe, but it does show a bit more effort than the phoning it in which seems to accompany the first way I described. For this month’s Round-Up I thought I’d provide an example of each.
Jennifer Aniston Chapter Two
Ever since the first Jennifer Aniston perfume in 2010 this has been a line firmly mired in safe boring perfumes. It had become easy to ignore the brand. Last year they released Chapter One. It was surprising to find a full-bodied white flower perfume supported by a bunch of musks. It certainly was derivative, but it was a new direction. When I saw my sample of Chapter Two I was wondering what was next.
It turns out the feedback they received must have been, “those flowers are too strong”. Because what Chapter Two does is make something so lightly floral it is almost the opposite of the previous release. Perfumer Caroline Sabas adds a watery accord on top followed by the less obstreperous florals of lavender, iris, and gardenia. It forms a less forward floral style. The musks also get reduced in effect greatly. The overall fragrance feels like something which has been overedited.
If you are a fan of the brand Chapter Two is more like what came before Chapter One. Depending on your feelings on that should guide you into whether you will like it.
Katy Perry’s Indi Visible
Singer Katy Perry also put her name on a fragrance starting in 2010. Hers has also been a line of perfume inspired by other trends. The difference is there have been well-done versions of those trends. 2013’s Killer Queen was an early take on the now popular floral gourmand. Last years Indi was another good lily and musk perfume. I had the same feeling when the new Indi Visible showed up; which way would they go?
In this case the perfumer, Caroline Sabas, retained the musky vanilla foundation. What they then built on top of that was something entirely different. A juicy plum lead to a sweet coconut in the heart which is amplified with some vanilla. It is then floated on a pool of musks with sandalwood retaining that sweet follow through.
Indi Visible is a mass-market alternative to anyone who has been interested in the suntan lotion style of perfume which ran through the niche market over the last year or so. This is in line with much of what the Katy Perry fragrance brand has done. Good versions of good trends. That’s as much as you can ask of flankers.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by the manufacturers.
Perfume that aspires to take us on a trip tends to rely on our perceptions. I have been taken to parts of the world I have never visited through scent. It has been one of the magical properties of fragrance for me. My confidence comes from when a perfume takes on a locale I know well I can see myself back there. When it comes to a place I have no knowledge of my perceptions are my guide. I have not visited Tokyo, but Gallivant Tokyo makes me feel if I have been to a shrine nearby.
Nick Steward founded Gallivant in 2017. He has one of the more clear-eyed aesthetics for a young brand that I have seen for a while. Mr. Stewart came from a tenure at L’Artisan Parfumeur which made me excited to see what he produced. It was a funny twist that I couldn’t get on board with the early destinations. He worked with two different perfumers creating an obvious coherence which I admire. It just came down to the part of the city he wanted to visit didn’t interest me until Amsterdam late last year. This was the perfume which made me want a ticket to Tokyo.
My first surprise was that Mr. Steward decided to work with a new perfumer, Nicolas Bonneville. I do think the formation of an early brand style is abetted with a concise creative director-perfumer partnership. The success of Tokyo makes me realize that a delineated vision can supply that no matter who the perfumer is. Mr. Steward has that in abundance.
Where are our perfumed travel agents taking us on our trip to the Japanese metropolis? The neon saturated Ginza? A bit of Kabuki theatre? A ride to the top of the Skytree? The open space of Ueno Park? The answer is something more contemplative. A trip to one of the shrines perhaps the Senso-Ji Temple as Tokyo the fragrance is a spicy, woody, incense construct.
M. Bonneville opens with the Japanese citrus of yuzu contrasted with black pepper. The pepper parallels the tartness of the indigenous lemon with a zesty pop. As we approach the shrine there is a hint of spices on the wind in the guise of cardamom and nutmeg. The cardamom feels like it rises out of the yuzu and finds nutmeg waiting for it. We then have a lightly floral phase as a transparent rose and iris accord lead into a cedar paneled interior. Incense burns in braziers all throughout the contemplative space. M. Bonneville devises a fantastically woody trio of hinoki, cedar, and sandalwood through which he weaves filaments of patchouli and vetiver. It is not one of those kind of woody base accords where you can’t see the forest for the trees. This is opaquer than it sounds. It is not a hard-core wood and incense style it is something which has a lighter feel throughout.
Tokyo has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
It may have taken me a while to join the Gallivant itinerary, but I am now hoping to be a frequent flyer. The trip to Tokyo is what sold me on that.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
I think when we look back at this current time in modern perfumery it is going to become known for the refinement of the gourmand style of fragrance. When you look back at any time in the past there are a few perfumers who seem especially inspired to do some of their best work. If I am correct it is still early to make those kinds of assertions. If I am correct one of the perfumers who seems to be enjoying evolving the gourmand perfume is Quentin Bisch. His latest effort is L’Artisan Parfumeur Mandarina Corsica.
Mandarina Corsica is part of the Les Paysages collection which is interpreting geographical areas of France. Corsica is the subject of this perfume. According to the press release it is known for the scent of citrus in summer. Reading that you would suspect Mandarina Corsica to be a Mediterranean-style cologne. This is far from what is in this bottle. Instead of a summery scent this is a deeper citrus gourmand which combines with another flower from Corsica.
Caramel is where the entire gourmand sector was born just over twenty years ago. If there has become an overused note in this style it is that one. M. Bisch finds a way to lighten it up while surrounding it with some interesting choices.
It opens with the promised oranges but not the airy zephyr version. Think instead of the candied jelly version of orange. It has a crystalline focus around an intense orange. I can almost feel the sugar crystallizing on my skin. The pivot point for this perfume is the use of immortelle in the middle. Immortelle has the scent of maple syrup over a straw-like undercurrent. It is especially appropriate in a perfume of Corsica as it is the flower which grows in the maquis. It is one of my favorite ingredients in perfume. M. Bisch uses it to head into a caramel “lite” accord around brown sugar and tonka bean. The coumarin of the tonka connects with the immortelle to pull everything together.
Mandarina Corsica has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
When it all comes together it reminds me of Brach’s orange caramels. This is the kind of citrus perfume which finds a different weight by being the filling within M. Bisch’s caramel accord. It is another expansion of what a gourmand perfume can be.
Disclosure; This review is based on a sample supplied by L’Artisan Parfumeur.
I am probably in the same place as the large cosmetics companies in trying to figure out what younger fragrance consumers want. I am interested whenever I feel there is an attempt to try something slightly different to attract them. It sometimes shows up in the most surprising places; like a bottle of Ariana Grande Cloud.
When I say younger consumers, I am generally not speaking of those as young as the demographic which makes up Ms. Grande’s fan base. While I can see Cloud appealing to some of them this fits more securely in the style of transparent gourmands which is looking for admirers a few years older. Up until now it has been floral gourmands which have been the early choice. Cloud changes to a style of fruity gourmand without using the usual suspects of berry overload. Perfumer Clement Gavarry creates something quite nice.
The fruit being used on top is juicy pear. M. Gavarry adds a supporting note of lavender but it is the fruit which is ascendant. The core of cloud is a toasted marshmallow accord. M. Gavarry uses a clever trio of vanilla, coconut and praline to form a cloud of sticky fluff. This might all sound like a sickly-sweet mixture, but this is pitched at a more transparent level. It is sweet but not overly so. I enjoyed this marshmallow accord at the heart of Cloud. It is easy to detect the three pieces, all of which are gourmand notes themselves, while also experiencing the accord. That makes it somewhat more dynamic than it might seem; which was what I experienced while wearing it. M. Gavarry pulls it all together with a set of white musks and soft synthetic woods to keep this cloud afloat.
Cloud has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
I am overall enjoying this expansion of the gourmand category because it is a style which has a lot of room to grow. It is why a good perfume heading in a different direction stands out. Cloud is a toasted marshmallow cumulus puff drifting that way.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from Ulta.
In 2014 the Estee Lauder Group acquired one of the flagship brands in niche perfumery, Le Labo. While there haven’t been a lot of new releases, 2015’s The Noir 29 and 2017’s Mousse de Chene 30, there has been a noticeable expansion of presence. Le Labo now has a presence at shopping malls everywhere. They went from being perfumes that were hard to find to being much easier to experience. This is the upside to Le Labo being acquired; the opportunity to be discovered. I can only speak about the one near me but whenever I go into talk it is not an empty space. Lots of shoppers coming to check it out.
Fabrice Penot and Edouard Roschi
The brand founded by Fabrice Penot and Edouard Roschi stands for a style of perfumery far from the mainstream offerings. It is the reason there was concern. If they are going to expand will they dumb things down. What I’ve experienced in my area is the opposite. The “Field of Dreams” effect of if you build a different kind of perfume they will come. Which means there is no need to change for both the older fans and the new ones. The newest release Tonka 25 exemplifies this.
Daphne Bugey is the perfumer for Tonka 25. Mme Bugey was one of the founding perfumers for the line responsible for three of the debut releases. She is best known for what has probably become the flagship perfume for Le Labo, Rose 31. Tonka 25 shares a tiny bit of similarity to Neroli 36 from those early efforts. What it shares with most of the Le Labo fragrances is if you expect the ingredient on the bottle to be front and center you will be surprised.
If there was truth in advertising at play this would be Cedar Noir 25 or Musks 25. Those are the two most compelling pieces of Tonka 25. Also notice the plural of musk I used in my faux name. Tonka 25 is an exercise in layering the synthetic musks to produce their own special effect.
This layering begins early on as Mme Bugey uses a clever mixture of the higher showing musks to create something soft. I have spent a lot of time trying to pick this apart and I’ve just quit trying. I am confident there are a lot of musks here and they make the perfume. Early on orange blossom lilts through the musks. The cedar shows up after that. It is not the pencil shaving style of cedar. This is a deeper version. Identified as Atlas cedar in the notes list it reminds me of the smell of an old cedar closet or cedar lined chest. Mme Bugey swirls the musks through this and this is where Tonka 25 spends much of its time on my skin. The promised tonka along with vanilla essentially make a drive-by without adding any significant impact. The final ingredient which adds to this is benzoin which provides a resinous warmth for the musky cedar to nestle within.
Tonka 25 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I wouldn’t have expected to like a perfume made up of cedar and musks. It shows how Messrs. Penot and Rouschi are not giving up the Le Labo way of making perfume. I know I will be wearing out my sample over the next few weeks as it is a great choice for fall. If you like musks and cedar this needs to be on your list. If you like the way Le Labo makes perfume this also needs to be on your list. If you’re walking through the mall and you see an interesting little shop with Le Labo on the sign walk in and ask for Tonka 25 it is a great place to start. For everyone who loves the brand Tonka 25 shows the beat goes on.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Le Labo.
Something I hope has become obvious is that I have a great appreciation for mainstream perfume when done well. Not every fragrance has to push boundaries. There must be a place for a well-constructed perfume which builds on a popular style in the conversation. I found myself in a bit of a quandary when a new niche release built upon a foundation from one of the most popular mainstream perfumes. It is particularly difficult for me when I think the mainstream perfume was a cynically conceived effort. Especially when I like the niche release while recognizing from whence it came. Parfums de Marly Percival has more than enough differences from Bleu de Chanel for me to acknowledge the comparison while admiring the new iteration.
There is a desire for a style of perfume that can be the single perfume on a man’s dresser. Something good for the workday and the weekend. That is the kind of perfume Percival is. What sets it apart from its mainstream counterparts is at every turn there is more depth and complexity. Creative director Julien Sprecher collaborates with perfumer Hamid Merati-Kashani continuing their successful partnership begun with Layton and Layton Exclusif. In writing about both of those previous releases I detected an effort towards refining crowd pleasing trends into something more niche-like. That kind of thinking appears to be in place for Percival.
At its most basic Percival is a fresh fougere. Except M. Sprecher encouraged M. Merati-Kashani to find the nooks and crannies within that style to place different notes and accords. These add texture and depth. It is what sets Percival apart.
Percival opens with an herbal citrus top accord. The citrus are the bright sunny notes often encountered but the array of herbal notes provide the kind of effect I was speaking of above. This transitions into a floral heart of violet and lavender. These are combined to form another typical masculine floral duo. M. Merati-Kashani then dusts them with the spices of baie rose, cinnamon, coriander, black pepper, and nutmeg. I could tritely say he is butching up the florals. Instead I will refer to what I see throughout Percival as a way of finding depth without changing the intent. The use of the spices does create a vibrancy to the heart. In the base M. Merati-Kashani has built a gorgeous accord of synthetic woods and musks. He has seemingly used four or five of each to create one of those drydowns to die for. All these ingredients in the base last days on a strip or clothing. When I was sitting at my desk while testing Percival I kept returning to the strips I had sprayed days ago just to revisit. When I did my laundry and got to the shirt I wore one of the days I considered not washing it. I have a special place for perfumes with outstanding drydowns and Percival is there.
Percival has 16-18 hour longevity on skin and days on clothing. It also has above average sillage.
It is because the drydown is so neglected these days I would like Percival just for that. There is more to admire than that. Percival takes something that I perceive in its mainstream inspiration as cynical and transforms it into something fantastic. If Percival was the one perfume most men had on their dresser this would be a better smelling world.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample from Parfums de Marly.
I am not a fan of the movie remake. The great majority of the time it seems like an exercise in laziness infused with vanity. A modern set of movie stars want to see if they can do better than what came before. The answer almost every time is “No!” It turns out that there are some stories which can be told again and again because they are about celebrity. “A Star is Born” seems to be one of them.
The first version of “A Star is Born” was released in 1937 and revolved around the acting business. It sets the template for all the successive versions. Older popular male star meets younger unknown female talent. The trajectories of their careers go in different directions exacerbating the addiction problems of the older man leading to tragedy. The story is simple. The plot is as straight as an arrow if not a bit trite. Yet all four versions of this movie succeed because the actors in the leading roles have something to say about stardom and fame. Fredric March and Janet Gaynor showed us the Hollywood studio system. In 1954 it was transformed to a musical starring James Mason and Judy Garland. This was still a story about the motion picture business, but Ms. Garland’s character was an aspiring singer, too. By 1976 Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand turned it into a commentary on the music business. In the most recent version Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga retain the music business setting.
Bradley Cooper as Jackson Maine and Lady Gaga as Ally in "A Star is Born"
The new version was one of those projects stuck in development hell for many years. Beyonce was going to be the young singer and every A-list actor you can name was rumored to be interested in playing opposite her. Then she stopped waiting. In the interim Mr. Cooper became interested not only as an actor but as a director. When the studio gave the green light to move forward he chose Lady Gaga as his co-star.
Lady Gaga plays Ally as songwriter sometime singer at a cabaret. When she has her first encounter with Mr. Cooper’s Jackson Maine singing “La Vie en Rose” I was reminded of the movie “Cabaret”. Lady Gaga stalks the room handing out roses until she stretches out on the bar in front of Jackson handing out her final rose. From there they spend the night roaming through the after-hours life of a big city cautiously opening up to each other. Throughout this introductory sequence Mr. Cooper uses a directorial technique of close-up on the two faces when they become the most connected. I found it effective because it felt like I was being drawn into a secret conversation. It also visually cues that when these two characters are connected there is nothing else to be seen. Throughout the movie the close-up of both characters is used effectively.
The music is a mixture of the roots rock of Jackson Maine to the almost everything else by Lady Gaga. If there are people who dismiss her as spectacle over substance I think a couple hours in the theatre will change some minds. She is not going to be seen as lesser than Gaynor, Garland, or Streisand. Although in this case on the acting front a star truly is born. She is going to have some interesting places to go on the movie screen after this.
I always wait to see what song manages to find purchase in my head. Which song am I hearing over and over. For this movie it is “Always Remember Us this Way”. I laugh to myself because when the Streisand version was released in 1976 the song “Evergreen” was my high school, and many many others, prom song. I have a feeling “Always Remember Us This Way” is about to have a similar popularity. It is the best song in a movie of many because it starts slow and builds allowing Lady Gaga’s voice at times to be the sole instrument playing. It is one of the best ballads in her career.
I wrote a few backs about movie star v. celebrity. “A Star is Born”, in every version, is a story about the latter how it lifts you up only to tear you down. That it turns out to be a timeless story has something to do with the original screenplay. It also has something to do with eight incredibly talented actors who have shown it to be true. The new version is part of that.
With so much perfume released every year it becomes easy to forget about those which were released a short while ago. One of the goals of this column is to take advantage of that as the discounting cycle is also accelerated. Throughout the nearly five years of writing Discount Diamonds this is the first entry which I think is a modern masterpiece; Lalique Encre Noire.
Vetiver has become a staple ingredient of perfumery in the 21st century. Prior to that it was two perfumes which were the standard bearers for the ingredient; Guerlain Vetiver and Givenchy Vetyver. They were the perfumes which introduced my generation to vetiver. As we crossed into the new century the independent perfume market began to expand rapidly. That meant there were new perspectives provided on previous keynotes. Vetiver started off with a pair of perfumes, once again, leading the modern interpretation. One of those is Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Vetiver Extraordinaire. I don’t think that one is ever going to be a Discount Diamond. Lalique Encre Noire is the other one and it has become a fit subject for this column.
Encre Noire was released in 2006. Lalique’s fragrance business was looking for a way to join in on this new way of making perfume. Perfumer Nathalie Lorson would help as she composed three perfumes for the brand from 2006-2007; Perles de Lalique, Amethyst, and Encre Noire. It was a statement of intent to try for something different.
The original vetivers were citrus affairs with the vetiver providing an acerbic green contrast. More interested in the higher register effects. Encre Noire was going to go for a different style; plumbing the woody depths underneath the green. What was also so interesting about doing that was there was a smoky quality just waiting to be separated and amplified. Mme Lorson finds that.
The opening of Encre Noire is the classic grassy green of old-style vetiver. Mme Lorson uses cedar to find the woods inherent within vetiver. She uses two sources of vetiver in Encre Noire, Haitian and Bourbon. The Haitian vetiver I have come to know has a quite prominent smoky character. By blending the two versions Mme Lorson tunes the smoke to a soft level. I used to burn pine needles as a boy and whenever I wear Encre Noire the smoky nature reminds me of this. The Bourbon vetiver brings a spicy complement to the Haitian smoky version. The base is a cocktail of sensual musks which really represent the “noire” in the name.
Encre Noire has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I consider Encre Noire to be one of the best perfumes of this century. That you can buy a bottle for under $30 makes it a steal. There is no other Discount Diamond which will shine brighter.
Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle I purchased.
There have been so many good neroli perfumes lately I am starting to think it can’t be used poorly. I know that isn’t true but it as soon as I see neroli as a keynote I am hopeful. That was particularly true for the latest release from Nicolai. Earlier this year they released a fantastic Mediterranean neroli fragrance, Cap Neroli. It has been one of my favorites throughout the summer. They now return for a fall version of neroli; Neroli Intense.
Visiting the flower fields of Grasse is on my perfume bucket list. I am thinking I might have to pencil in the neroli from Tunisia, too. Patricia de Nicolai blends the neroli essence and the absolute from there as the source of the neroli for Neroli Intense. Surrounding that is a slight animalic vector which intensifies over time. There are some slight similarities to Cap Neroli, but this is really different version of neroli than that.
Patricia de Nicolai
The closest Neroli Intense comes to Cap Neroli is in the top accord. Tarragon replaces the rosemary and mint from Cap Neroli. The herbal green is again in place to tease out the green of the neroli. The neroli is much richer here, probably due to the two different extractions being used. That means the tarragon has more to highlight. Petitgrain focuses the citrus-like quality. Pittosporum is a white flower which caries with it a musky undercurrent. This is used to pair with orange blossom and its slightly indolic nature. The neroli is still on top but the florals are keeping up while adding in the hint of a growl. This intensifies as beeswax provides the center of the base accord. Beeswax has its own musky animalic nature which is a bit stronger. Patchouli comes in and finishes things up.
Neroli Intense has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
One of the best things about neroli fragrances are it stands up so well it doesn’t have to be shuffled to the back of the shelf during the colder months. Neroli Intense is an example of a neroli perfume that will be better when there is frost on the pumpkin although it is pretty good right now.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.