I sometimes need a reminder to lighten up. To have fun. To stop taking things so seriously. I am such a believer in the art and creativity of perfume I can become a humorless drone in it’s pursuit. What I need is a perfume that just wants to be a solid commercial perfume. Paired with an equally fun bottle. For these dreary waiting for spring days of the end of winter Moschino Toy 2 brought some fun back to perfume.
Creative director Jeremy Scott is known for wanting to make Moschino and fun synonymous. The clothing and the fragrance arm reflect that. Toy 2 as you might surmise is the sequel to 2014’s Toy. That perfume was housed inside a teddy bear with a classically structured citrus perfume. It isn’t ground-breaking. It is a light-hearted perfume asking you to enjoy the combination of bear bottle and bright perfume. Like the best sequels Toy 2 doesn’t alter that script overmuch.
The bear bottle is back but in a frosted glass version hugging the clear flacon. It really is just the right side of campy. Before I even sniffed the perfume, I was in a better mood. Perfumers Alberto Morillas and Fabrice Pellegrin switch from citrus to fresh floral without losing the plot.
Toy 2 opens with mandarin reminding me of the original. White currant and apple provide a crisp fresh effect around the citrus. The heart is one of the synthetic jasmines expansive as a blue sky. Magnolia adds a subtle creaminess while peony continues the freshness from the top accord. The creamy version of sandalwood holds the center of a base accord swathed in fresh musks.
Toy 2 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
A fresh citrus floral is hardly an original idea. Toy 2 isn’t meant to be enjoyed with that kind of mindset. It is more like a walk down the carnival midway. Eating cotton candy or funnel cakes trying to figure out if the ring toss is rigged so you can win the giant pink teddy bear. Or you can spray on some Toy 2 for a similar fun effect. I’ll be back to reviewing with a more critical eye tomorrow for today I’m just looking for a little fun in all the right places.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Sephora.
I watch my fair share of cooking shows. My favorites are the one where chefs are asked to work with a set list of ingredients to create a few different dishes. It is fascinating to watch them consider the flavor and texture of the ingredients in deciding which to accentuate for each dish. In the pair of perfumes from Maison Francis Kurkdjian; Gentle Fluidity Silver and Gentle Fluidity Gold the same concept is applied to perfume.
Francis Kurkdjian by nature is an adventurous perfumer. In his own brand is where he has pushed concepts which clearly excite him. For this pair of perfumes M. Kurkdjian wanted to make two different styles of perfume from the same ingredient list. The idea, reflected in the name, was to create a fluidity between the two compositions which make them gender-free. The ingredient list: juniper berry, nutmeg, coriander, musks, ambery woods, and vanilla was easy to imagine different perfumes could arise. The fun, like on my cooking shows, would be to see which ingredients became keynotes in which style of perfume.
For Gentle Fluidity Silver the keynotes are the juniper berry, nutmeg, and ambery woods. This makes a fresh neo-fougere style of perfume. The first half of Silver is dominated by the juniper berry with its gin-like aroma uplifted with the nutmeg and coriander. Even though the nutmeg is using its sweetly spicy nature to do most of the work the green woodiness of coriander also adds a subtle harmony. Vanilla picks up the sweetness of the nutmeg while setting the ambery woods accord in the base. This is stolid woodiness as foundation for the freshness of the earlier ingredients.
Gentle Fluidity Gold takes for its keynotes; coriander, vanilla, and musks. This forms a gourmand-like vanilla style of fragrance. Coriander is an ingredient which can add a thread of green and a thread of nuttiness. As M. Kurkdjian pushes the concentration both of those aspects move forward. It leaves little room for the juniper berry and nutmeg to find much traction. The vanilla and musks arrive to coat the coriander. This makes for a delightful lightly spicy warm vanilla accord. The ambery woods provide even more warmth to what ends up being a vanilla comfort scent.
Gentle Fluidity Silver and Gentle Fluidity Gold have 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Returning to my test kitchen analogy Silver seems like an appetizer of freshness while Gold is a rich vanilla dessert. The results of this are a bit mixed. I found the two perfumes to be nicely executed and enjoyable; especially playing within the rules of only these six ingredients. It is exciting to see the two very different styles M. Kurkdjian was able to create. The thing which kept running through my mind, which also runs through my mind on the cooking shows. These are good but could they have been great with the ability to add a few small choices from off the menu? The bottom line is as two courses from M. Kurkdjian’s Test Kitchen they are delectable.
Disclosure: this review is based on samples supplied by Maison Francis Kurkdjian.
One of the things I enjoy about perfume is the duality of certain accords. One which probably smells different to every nose which experiences it is a leather accord. Some of that is because perfumers must create their own leather accord; there is no bottle labeled “leather” on their ingredient shelf. It is one of the places where a perfumer shows off their own style. When it comes to leather accords, I am a devotee of the early Cuir de Russie versions. Imitating the raw leather on a team of horses. There is a comforting pungency to these accords. It is such a classic that many contemporary perfumers want to make their own version. When they do, I have a simple test; does it smell like a garage? The best of these leather accords can also be seen as the smell of grease and motor oil. In some cases it is what makes the perfume compelling. Independent perfumer Pierre Guillaume embraces this with Pierre Guillaume Mecanique du Desir.
On the website M. Guillaume mentions that the smell of engine grease carries an “attraction-repulsion” for him. This was borne from winter days working in the garage with his father who was restoring luxury cars. I fall more on the attraction side of that pairing but I don’t want a perfume that makes me smell like a grease monkey. What M. Guillaume achieves with Mecanique du Desir is to find the blue collar beauty in just the right amount of engine grease.
Before we get to work in this garage, we first must admire the cars themselves. The opening of Mecanique du Desir uses the inherent metallic quality of aldehydes given shiny glints of chrome with mandarin. The real star of the early going is blackcurrant bud. M. Guillaume finds the right amount of sticky green to complement the aldehydes making sure I think of aluminum and not hair spray. Now its time to get into the grease. The accord comes from a set of animalic musks combined with amber, guaiac wood, and violet leaf. Just as the top accord made me think of polished cars. This makes me think of the black fluid which allows them to move. M. Guillaume balances this so that it never becomes heavy. Instead it sits just the right side of interesting. Grease is one of those odd natural scents which can be improved by a perfume abstracting the parts which attract versus repulse. M. Guillaume successfully navigates this.
Mecanique du Desir has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage
For someone who is conflicted about the actual smell of engine grease M. Guillaume was able to extract a compellingly unique perfume out of it. It is a perfumed ode to a garage.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
If there is anything which shows there is a large part of me which refuses to accept my age it is my love of the teen drama. Well past my teens the movies of John Hughes showed there was a part of me which always enjoyed the goings on of teenagers looking for love. Now in this era of peak television a series on Netflix called Sex Education is a new way to tell an old story.
Sex Education is an eight-episode series created by Laurie Nunn who wrote five of the episodes. The series is a long form version of all the classic tropes. A group of three protagonists; the virgin, the gay man, and the misunderstood girl form the central triangle at the heart of the series. Ms. Nunn does a delightful job taking these story devices into the current day.
The basic set up is Otis is a virgin who can’t even masturbate because his single mother is a famous sex therapist. His best friend Eric is one of only two out gay students at their private high school who lives in a strict religious family. Maeve is the girl who lives in the trailer park with the bad reputation. Maeve realizes Otis has absorbed a lot from listening to his mother talk about sex. Maeve gets the idea for him to be the therapist to the school’s lovelorn. Eric is there as the best friend who supports and warns of the pitfalls. Over the eight episodes these three stories are told cleverly even though they are familiar.
The young actors are fantastic. Asa Butterfield as Otis is just the right mixture of awkward frustration having to talk about sex while not having any. Ncuti Gatwa is allowed to take the best friend’s story arc into much broader places as we see him coping with his father’s disapproval. Emma Mackey plays Maeve with a balance of I don’t care/ I care which provides a sympathetic spin on her choices. The final part of the acting I must mention is Gillian Anderson who plays Otis’ mother, Jean. Ms. Anderson shines as one of the few adults with something to do.
Ms. Nunn keeps the plot moving along and by the end our characters haven’t exactly found happily ever after; because there is a season 2 coming. By the end of Season 1 things have changed enough for all three that they won’t be retreading the same problems.
If you’re looking for a fun binge watch in your Netflix queue give Sex Education a try.
This month’s Flanker Round-Up sees an improvement on one of the most cynical mainstream perfume releases along with a great version of an underrated mass-market fragrance.
Yves St. Laurent Black Opium Intense
I think 2014’s Yves St. Laurent black Opium is one of the most cynically made perfumes of the last five years. A sterile construct of focus groups and marketing, it lacked soul. I’ve written the whole thing off. Then I received my box of samples from Sephora. There was a card with Black Opium Intense written on it. I sprayed it on a strip expecting to stifle a yawn. I didn’t exactly have my eyes popping out of my head, but this felt like an interesting take on a mainstream release.
The same team of four perfumers, Honorine Blanc, Olivier Cresp, Nathalie Lorson, and Marie Salamagne, worked on Black Opium Intense. What made me take notice was the adjective in the name felt relevant. That happens with a boozy licorice-laced absinthe and boysenberry top accord. The same jasmine and orange blossom as the original remain but this time the coffee is given more prominence. The bitterness is nice contrast to the floral. The base gets back to safer territory with an amber and sandalwood base. If they had released this first, I’d be feeling a whole lot better about a modern version of Opium.
Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb Night Vision
When I’m asked about the best mainstream men’s fragrances, one I always have on my list is Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb. I think it is one of the best spicy perfumes you can find at the mall. Spicebomb often feels like the hidden gem on the fragrance counter. The new flanker Spicebomb Night Vision stays true to its roots with a clever substitution of some different ingredients from the perfume spice cabinet.
Nathalie Lorson and Pierre Negrin step-in for the original perfumer team of Carlos Benaim and Olivier Polge. They create something different while still being Spicebomb. It starts with a nice citrus top accord of grapefruit and mandarin. The perfumers lace it with apple and cardamom providing a crisp framing effect. The spices come next; clove, sage, black pepper, and chili pepper. The last ingredient is the reminder of its more elevated position in the original. In Spicebomb Night Vision it plays a more supporting role to the other spices which all coat the green floral quality of geranium. The base has a toasty sweet quality with tonka bean and almonds over woods. I have admired every flanker to Spicebomb; Night Vision is another in that series.
Disclosure: this review is based on samples provided by the manufactuers.
Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle has been one of the most innovative brands in perfumery. One of those innovations was the release of The Night in 2014. Working with perfumer Dominique Ropion they produced a perfume which used a large concentration of Indian oud. This was unapologetically oud-y displaying all the power and nuance of this now famous ingredient. For many who tried this I suspect it was the first time they had encountered the real thing over a manufactured accord. Four years later it is time for the flip side of The Night with the release of Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Dawn.
M. Malle has tapped perfumer Carlos Benaim to collaborate with him on Dawn. One of the things which Dawn mimics The Night in is as a simple composition around oud mostly and rose. Where it differs is M. Benaim adds in a set of ingredients which serve to take Dawn in a different direction.
The source of the oud in Dawn is a Laotian version. Of the oud oils I own the Laotian version is my favorite. I find it the most versatile of the sources of oud because it never is too confrontational in its less pleasant aspects. That is a matter of taste because I like the more stinky parts of oud. Dawn is a perfume where those aspects are attenuated by using a set of notes to dry it out.
The early moments of Dawn is that Laotian oud paired with a very judicious amount of baie rose. Baie rose adds a catalytic amount of herbal-ness. What this achieves it to bring out the greener pieces of the Laotian oud along with a greater presence of the floral undertones within this type of oud. The rose comes next. As in The Night this reinforces why rose is such an ideal floral counterpart to oud from its earliest times. What changes here is M. Benaim uses an assortment of resins and ambrox-based woods to dry things out. When I say that I’m talking about dry as a desert desiccated. Over the middle phase of Dawn these ingredients mummify the Laotian oud to such an extent that if I hadn’t smelled it early on, I wouldn’t believe this is it. One of the things I missed was this kind of aridity also removed much of the grace notes which make oud such an interesting ingredient. This drying out creates an ashy kind of oud.
Dawn has 24-hour longevity and average sillage.
This is another high-quality oud perfume from the brand. I think for those who want their oud tightly controlled this will be a winner. As I wore Dawn this was one of those times where I wondered if an oud accord would have been better. Dawn dries things out so much it elides away some of what makes genuine oud so fascinating. If M. Benaim could have used an accord, I wouldn’t be missing what I know to be buried under the resins and synth woods. If you want your oud as dry as it can be Dawn is the desiccated oud perfume for you.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle.
There are few types of cuisine I am extremely familiar with. Because of my childhood in S. Florida I know what Cuban food should taste like. There are strong flavors which to my palate are what makes it unique. As I grew older and moved further north there were moments where I would hear about a new restaurant opening serving Cuban food. In almost every case the foundational components were there but the savory twists which made Cuban food so vibrant to me was missing. I understood why because if you’re serving unfamiliar food to the general public you can’t go all in on authenticity. If you want customers, you “dumb it down” leaving a sturdy foundation which represents the cuisine even if it is imperfect. You will have a broader clientele by meeting them closer to where they live over choosing authenticity. I have been reminded of this with a couple of recent releases from Guerlain.
I don’t know what to think about the current trend of Guerlain taking an original perfume from an exclusive line re-releasing it with a new name and formulation. In the case of Guerlain Bois Mysterieux and Encens Mythique they have done the same thing they did with Lui in 2017. Simplified a more complex rich exclusive formulation into something more easily accessible. They dumbed it down. The funny thing is the source material is so well done these dumbed down versions are still quite good; if you never tried the originals.
Guerlian Encens Mythique D'Orient
Encens Mythique is the dumbed down version of Encens Mythique D’Orient. The earlier version was a precise balance of frankincense, saffron, rose, and an oud accord which rested on a rich ambergris base. Encens Mythique is frankincense, rose, and ambergris with almost nothing else. It seems like a decision was made that saffron and oud were not for the average fragrance consumer. What is left behind retains that balance which makes it compelling unless you know what was edited out.
Guerlain Songe D'Un Bois D'Ete
Nearly the same process is applied to Bois Mysterieux when compared to Song D’Un Bois D’Ete. The original was fantastic as leather was uplifted by saffron, oud accord, myrrh, patchouli, and cedar. Having read the previous paragraph you probably know what has been removed to create Bois Mysterieux; the oud accord and saffron. What is left behind is still quite good, but I know there is a more complete version on my shelf.
Bois Mysterieux and Encens Mythique have 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I have no idea if the dumbing down of previous perfumes is a successful commercial idea. Both perfumes are better than the great majority of what Guerlain is releasing lately. Which is its own commentary on Guerlain 2019. If you don’t know the original perfumes I’ve written about these will thrill you. If you do know the originals you will realize these aren’t what you know; which is better.
Disclosure: this review is based on samples provided by Neiman Marcus.
Everyone has their first. Like all firsts you never forget. It was fall of 1986 and I was in my local Macy’s men’s department shopping for work clothes. I had been in my first adult job for a couple years. I was shopping for new clothes because I felt I needed to find something more professional. I was in this mindset when I kept getting the hint of this wonderful smell. As I was flipping hangers on the rack there was a spicy scent in the air. On my way to the dressing room I noticed it was coming from a woman spraying a perfume on paper strips followed by spraying the air. As I was on my way to the register to pay, I detoured towards her. This was what I had been smelling. She offered me one of the strips. I fell down the rabbit hole. On my way to paying a bottle ended up with my new wardrobe. That perfume was what I consider to be my first “grown-up” perfume; Calvin Klein Obsession for Men.
Prior to that I mainly wore Ralph Lauren Polo but I had become tired of it; rarely reaching for the bottle on my dresser. That was a Christmas gift that even when I wasn’t tired of it, I wore mostly when going out, not daily. When I got Obsession for Men home it was what transformed me into a daily perfume wearer. It also transformed my shower as I bought the soap, too. I have worn Obsession for Men for over thirty years and I never have tired of it. Even today when I wear it, I feel as if I’ve come home.
When Obsession for Men was releases in 1986 it was meant to be the masculine counterpart to the very successful Obsession released a year earlier. The same perfumer for Obsession, Robert Slattery, worked on Obsession for Men. Both perfumes were riding the prevailing trend of Oriental perfumes prevalent at the time. What allowed Obsession for Men to stand out was Mr. Slattery used a lighter hand. Obsession for Men was never going to be described as a powerhouse masculine. This was a more refined take on what a man should smell like.
In the mid 1980’s there was a fear of making a male-marketed perfume too femme-y. That translated to floral ingredients being very limited. Lavender was one of the acceptable ones. Mr. Slattery would use the slightly herbal nature of lavender to construct a spicy heart accord around. The keynote was nutmeg which was the leader of the spice squad which consisted of clove, sage, and coriander. This was what caught my attention from across a sales floor. It is what makes me happy every time I wear it. Mr. Slattery forms a traditional Oriental base of amber, patchouli, myrrh, vetiver, and sandalwood.
Obsession for Men has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I am on the final sprays of my third bottle of Obsession for Men. I have found reformulation has not exacted a toll on it. With all classic perfumes which have lasted this long it is a Discount Diamond. I’ve picked up new bottles for less than $25. That’s a good price for one of the best masculine perfumes ever made. Of course that’s what I would say about my first.
Disclosure: this review is based on bottles I purchased.
My annual grumpiness at rose being the only spring flower has been better over the last year. That isn’t to say I’m not giving a pile of samples which all have rose in their name a sidelong glance. One way this will change is for there to be alternatives. One of the releases from a new brand, Kabeah Lily Cherie, proves it can be done.
Khedija Ben Ayed
Kabeah was founded in the spring of 2018 by Khedija Ben Ayed. According to the website Mme Ben Ayed wanted to capture memories of her childhood by the Mediterranean in pastel floral tones. The perfumer she turned to is Stephanie Bakouche. Together they have lived up to their brief in the first four releases.
Belle Epine is the seemingly obligatory rose entry. It is a typical dewy spring rose with a slight twist of green. Nuit de Jasmin uses another stalwart floral as green overlays an expansive jasmine. In Secret de K the creative team lets the green free as it is built around the “green rose” of geranium. A touch of strawberry is cleverly placed. The one which engaged me most was Lily Cherie.
A couple of the reasons I was drawn to Lily Cherie was the aesthetic of weaving green notes through an opaque floral. In the other three it was a bit of the usual suspects providing that coloring. For Lily Cherie it is a combination of galbanum and green tea which threads its way through the titular lily.
Mme Bakouche likes mandarin as a place setter for the Mediterranean vibe; using it in the top of three of the four debut releases. In Lily Cherie the mandarin is matched with a precise amount of galbanum. It provides an abstract citrus accord which becomes even more as green tea becomes part of it. The lily of the valley blooms out of those green notes. Mme Bakouche softens and rounds out the lily with some honeysuckle accord. It keeps it spring fresh. A fruit accord forms a contrast to the lily. The green woodiness of cedar pulls the thread begun by the galbanum and green tea through to the base. A satisfyingly expansive cocktail of white musks are where this finishes.
Lily Cherie has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Lily Cherie is a different kind of spring floral while still retaining the freshness any spring rose brings to perfume. It is also a good start for a new brand which I’ll be keeping an eye on.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I received from Kabeah.
The current landscape of new perfume brands is a minefield which has many casualties to claim. Even the best brands can succumb to something unexpected outside the bounds of the perfume itself. There are brands who have such a clear aesthetic right from the beginning I root for them to come through the other side of this process. One which has seemingly made a safe transit through the danger zone is Vilhelm Parfumerie.
Jerome Epinette (l.) amf Jan Ahlgren
Founded in spring 2015 by owner-creative director Jan Ahlgren it has many of the things I believe are important to succeed. One is finding a perfumer who understands your vision. Mr. Ahlgren has done this in perfumer Jerome Epinette. Theirs seems like an ideal creative partnership. The perfumes they have produced speak to that. Another piece of the puzzle is to convey your style of perfume coherently. Mr. Ahlgren has coupled his love of Golden Age Hollywood with perfume of location as he has designed scents around places he has lived. Vilhelm is one of the brands where the press release represents the perfume in the bottle. Finally, the brand must continue to develop beyond its beginnings. In 2018 the perfumes with Vilhelm on the label have all taken on a “sweet” style that wasn’t evident in the earlier releases. The third release of 2018, Moon Carnival, completes that trend.
The backstory is about a man from Rio who falls in love with a dancer. Her favorite flower is tuberose. To display his love the man traveled the world. Each new bloom of tuberose he found he decorated the moon with. Messrs. Ahlgren and Epinette bring this story to life with tropical fruit and tuberose before landing on a subtle gourmand base accord.
M. Epinette uses passionfruit as an ingredient to locate us in the tropics. This is a beautifully balanced use of this seldom used fruity ingredient. The transition to the tuberose is begun with freesia and gardenia first. As the tuberose gains traction it becomes a compelling partner with the passionfruit. At this point I was imagining the Brazilian dancer from the story. What comes next is a clever shift to an opaque gourmand base. If you aren’t looking for it, you have to wait a bit for the fruity floral fireworks to settle a bit. What M. Epinette does is to take the fluffy sticky sweet marshmallow we all recognize and turn into a meringue-like version; light and frothy. Tonka bean adds a vanilla tint without becoming too treacly. Vetiver arrives as a woody foundation later.
Moon Carnival has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Moon Carnival adds to the Vilhelm style of “sweet” which is best described as subtly transparent. It affirms that this brand will keep evolving as it continues forward. The sweet tuberose of Moon Carnival is proof of that.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Vilhelm Parfumerie.