Regular readers of my The Sunday Magazine column know I enjoy a skewed kind of Holiday fare at the Home Office in Poodlesville. If there is a movie which captures my Christmas perspective, it is 1993’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” by director Tim Burton. The short synopsis is the denizens of Halloweentown take over in Christmastown. What should become obvious is they put their own spin on traditional Christmas tropes. It is that part of the movie which delights me on each viewing. There is a place for the straightforward traditional activities in any holiday, but I am always drawn to the odd spin imparted to those pleasures. Blackbird Anemone is an incredibly odd delight for those who enjoy their perfumes a bit askew.
The entire Blackbird collection from Nicole Miller has always marched to its own contrapuntal beat. If there was ever a perfumer I would compare to the visual perspective of Tim Burton it would be Ms. Miller. This has always produced perfumes from a unique perspective which exist to push at the edges of what smelling good means.
Anemone takes one of the traditional ingredients of the Holidays, plum, and gives it a non-holiday treatment which I can’t get enough of. Ms. Miller takes the well-known fragrance ingredient and skewers it with spikes of contrasting effects over a flat champagne accord providing its own kind of unusual Holiday vibe.
Anemone starts with that plum bobbing on the surface of a watery lotus. It is like looking at a lily pond and finding a plum underneath the green. Then this is where the whole thing turns into an odd Holiday party as the watery effect is replaced by a flat champagne accord. There is a stray teeny bit of effervescence underneath a stale wine which is where the plum happily floats. The champagne accord has sour and sweet pieces. Ms. Miller teases out both sides with honey and tobacco picking up the sweet while amber and styrax grab the sour by the hand. Everywhere I smell there is something which feels part of the Season but twisted around. The whole effect is of a Christmas party as only the creatures of Halloweentown could put on.
Anemone has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
There is no current brand taking as many successful risks as Blackbird. It is a refreshing way to bring a little Halloweentown to the staid village of Perfumetown. Anemone is at its best in the Holiday weather. I wore it to our local tree lighting ceremony last week. As we sang along with the carolers, Anemone smelled like The Night Plum Before Christmas.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Blackbird.
One of the fun things about writing on perfume is watching the growth of an independent perfumer. There is the introductory phase where I realize there is something there to watch. The second phase is the inflection point. That is the moment when an artist finds their aesthetic and the days of slow growth will be followed by the third phase; ascension. The great majority of the independent perfumers never find that second phase. They create nice smelling things, but they lack something. Something they never get past. It is why when I sense the inflection point has been hit, I expect something special to follow.
For independent perfumer Tanja Bochnig that inflection point was 2015’s Erdenstern. It was the most complete perfume she had made. Over the next three releases each would become better and better. The rising slope of creativity was evident. With her latest release, April Aromatics Irisistible, Fr. Bochnig has outdone herself.
Fr. Bochnig wanted to make an iris-centric fragrance. She was inspired by the mythological Goddess Iris. Iris was the messenger to the Gods and used the rainbow to travel between mortals and immortals. It is that rainbow bridge which Fr. Bochnig re-creates in brilliant bands of flowers instead of colors.
One thing I am always asked about iris perfumes I write about, “Is it powdery?”. Irisistible opens on the antithesis of that query. The iris in Irisistible is the earthy slightly doughy root from which iris is extracted from. It erupts to life after a brief fanfare of announcement by a bright flare of lemon. This is the style of iris I prefer. It is rarely as vibrant as it is in Irisistible. Fr. Bochnig then adds in floral bands to the iris to form a floral rainbow. Jasmine, rose, tuberose, and cassia flower. Each of these add in a different shade of floral to an overall accord with iris in front. A lot of times, in other perfumes, florals tend to flow into each other. Fr. Bochnig keeps each on its own separate band where it is easy to pick each one out. That is like just focusing on one color in a rainbow you miss the beauty of the whole. The same is true here. This comes to an end with a slightly musky sandalwood as a foundation. As if it is the pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.
Irisistible has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
On the days I wore Irisistible I had to suppress a constant smile. One was for the iris rainbow bridge which was swirling around me. The other reason was the realization of what a complete perfumer Fr. Bochnig has become. She has never made anything better than Irisistible.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by April Aromatics.
One of my favorite movies is “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” I like both versions near equally. Both have visuals of the interior of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory that fire the imagination of where candy comes from. Not dreary machines and conveyor belts. No! In the Wonka world there are things like chocolate rivers where the candy bars come from. There is a fallacy that the smell of chocolate is overwhelmingly sweet. Whenever I see that river in the movie the nose in my mind’s eye doesn’t smell milk chocolate. It is rich Dutch process cocoa powder which is on my mental Scratch N’ Sniff card. That overwhelming sweetness is where way too many perfumes inspired by chocolate fall apart. The nose isn’t as gluttonous as Augustus Gloop shoveling chocolate into his mouth. Independent perfumer Sarah McCartney gets this because 4160 Tuesdays Over the Chocolate Shop is one of the best chocolate perfumes I’ve ever tried.
Ms. McCartney was inspired by the smell of her friend’s apartment who, wait for it, lived over a chocolate shop. Early in her career at 4160 Tuesdays she made a very limited edition of Over the Chocolate Shop. It had gained a near-legendary status on the gourmand discussions within the Internet. I had chalked it up to one of those small-run productions that I was destined not to encounter.
At the end of the summer Ms. McCartney announced Over the Chocolate Shop was returning in a non-limited edition. Looked like I was going to get a chance to try it after all. What had always piqued my interest is those who had tried it, from the original release, mentioned how it was rich without being too sweet. It also displays much of what sets Ms. McCartney out among her independent perfumer peers.
If you’ve ever smelled cocoa powder it has a desiccated richness which I have not seen replicated in a perfume until the early moments of Over the Chocolate Shop. Ms. McCartney starts with that. It becomes more liquid as the mixer starts to transform the powder to thick liquid. This is a subtle inflection from powder to liquid which is enticing on my skin. At this point things could have started off down a sweet onrush to the end. Ms. McCartney blunts that momentum with the use of two nutty ingredients of praline and hazelnut. It slows the development down as both ingredients provide a toasted nuance to the chocolate which still predominates. This is where I admire Ms. McCartney’s restraint; this would have been easy to be just another too-sweet chocolate perfume. She finds a way to stand apart. In the later going the bitterness of black coffee provides another bit of nuanced contrast.
Over the Chocolate Shop has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
The gourmand sector of perfumery has still not been populated with a lot of stand-out perfumes. It is an emerging area for which I expect more to come especially over the next couple of years. Those future perfumes will have a high standard to live up to if they want to use chocolate as their keynote. Over the Chocolate has no equals in its Wonka-licious chocolatey goodness.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
This has been a solid week of opening my imaginary Marvel Advent calendar. Tuesday was the latest trailer for March’s “Captain Marvel” movie. Seeing her in all her badass mohawk goddess glory was awesome. Friday saw the release of the trailer for “Avengers: Endgame”. As Cap shed a tear for the loss of his friends I was shattered. The other thing I received this week was one of this year’s two Holiday comic books from Marvel, “The Merry X-Men Holiday Special”.
Every year the two big comic book companies DC and Marvel release Holiday special issues. Most of the time they are single one-shots with a silly shoe-horned intersection of holidays and Heroes (or Villains). Even so they can be memorable enough to rise above it all. One from DC was in the 1994 Batman Adventures Holiday Special #1. The story “The Harley and The Ivy” is about Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy drugging Bruce Wayne with poisoned lipstick which allowed them to force him to take them on a shopping spree for gifts. The art, by Ronnie Del Carmen, would portend the jump to the animated series three years later virtually unchanged.
You’ve probably seen ads for the movie “Once Upon a Deadpool” where the PG-13 cut of “Deadpool 2” gets a new framing device around the Holidays. In the 2008 Marvel Holiday Special Deadpool took on Santa Claus to change his rich client’s name from the Naughty to the Nice list. Santa catches him at it and they fight it out with an interruption from the Abominable Snowman. Santa eventually pays Deadpool a price which cannot be matched to turn the tables on his client.
I think you can tell I usually enjoy these efforts. For this year’s “The Merry X-Men Holiday Special” I was interested for two reasons. One, was that it was laid out like an Advent calendar with each day represented by a one-page story written and drawn by different teams. The second reason was the return of the man who made the X-Men great, writer Chris Claremont. There were also some pages by celebrities which showed that they shouldn’t quit their day jobs. The exception to that was hip-hop artist Jean Grae who wrote a funny Jean Grey and Deadpool which I would be happy to see expanded in next year’s Holiday special.
The best work was done by the regular writers of the X-Men books. As a pet owner watching the happy couple of Rogue and Gambit trying to give medicine to their cat was great. The return of Wolverine from the dead with “#hotclaws” gets a smirky send-up.
We get to Mr. Claremont’s entry which is an inner dialogue of Kate Pryde as she lights a menorah in the remains of the mutant land of Genosha. She decides that the way to make a change for mutantkind is to become President. It is a fascinating thought from one of the originators of the X-Men.
This is a fun issue of X-Men for any comic book fan you have on your holiday shopping list even if they haven’t been reading the regular books.
Disclosure: I purchased my issue of all comics described within.
I write often about coherence of a collection. It is easy to call something a collection. It seems more difficult to find a creative through line upon which to build that group of fragrance. For a brand like Memo one thing which helps form that is a long-time partnership between creative director Clara Molloy and perfumer Alienor Massenet. They have collaborated on almost thirty perfumes over the last eleven years. I have always believed that creates the coherence I seek from a collection of perfume. Memo is a great example of that.
Something which has kept the creative partnership fresh has been the creation of sub-collections. One which contains some of my favorite perfumes from the brand overall is, Cuir Nomades. The baseline brief for the fragrances has been to pair leather with a geographical location. It has shown off Mme Massenet’s skill at using leather accords to different effect. For the most recent release, Moroccan Leather, the choice is to put the leather in the background in favor of iris and green notes.
Moroccan Leather opens with a big slug of verdant galbanum. Mme Massenet uses the woody green of cypress to enhance that. Mandarin and ginger provide contrast. They push back with presence until a rich orris butter takes charge. This is the ice princess version of iris rising out of the galbanum and ushered into the heart by ylang-ylang and orange blossom. The powdery part is almost non-existent. The leather comes in but not as a keynote. It provides a refined support like iris-scented calfskin driving gloves. The green is recapitulated by a vetiver fraction which is magnified in the greener style of that ingredient. This is where Moroccan Leather lingers for a few hours before a typical synthetic woody base accord finishes things.
Moroccan Leather has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I enjoyed the choice to de-emphasize the leather in a perfume with that in the name. Once I realized that, the fragrance sorted itself out into a study of powerful green notes versus an earthy orris butter. That was something I enjoyed even if the leather was mostly missing. Because of that it is an odd entry in the Cuir Nomades collection as it felt apart from the others. If you’re looking for the kind of leather in the previous entries this will not be as satisfying. If you’re a fan of green notes and orris that will find its admirers here.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Neiman-Marcus.
One of the more interesting sub-collections from any brand has been the “reworks” of the original Parfumerie Generale fragrances by independent perfumer Pierre Guillaume. M. Guillaume started this in 2012 where he took one of the numbered entries in the Parfumerie Generale line and re-interpreted it; releasing it with a point 1 after the original number to indicate the new fragrance.
Parfumerie Generale has been one of my favorite independent perfume brands. Most of the time the idea of a perfumer going back to reconsider his previous work would have me shaking my head. M. Guillaume has shown ingenuity in his second take on his original concepts. All the early reworks were of some of my favorites within the line causing me to get caught up in comparisons. It was only with the release of 9.1 Komorebi that he reworked one I didn’t care for. Which made it easy for me to prefer the new version. With 23.1 Jasmagonda he has taken one of my least favorites 23 Drama Nuui and transformed it into something which soars.
23 Drama Nuui was meant to showcase jasmine. The reason I didn’t care for it was that it was a flat uninspiring jasmine sprinkled with some spices and musk. This is among the most boring perfumes from a perfumer for whom I rarely use that adjective. Even the other perfumes which have not connected have been interesting. 23 Drama Nuui is one of the very few in this line which felt stunted. With a second chance, in 23.1 Jasmagonda, he uses jasmine as the keynote but this time he sends it aloft in a clean expansive perfume.
It begins with a crisp fruity snap of apple, grapefruit, and bergamot. This is the kind of fruity top accord I appreciate because it doesn’t dissolve into a sweet fruit salad, instead retaining a more focused quality. Relying on the tarter scents of the components they push back against a rich jasmine. Over all of this is a misty watery effect. Kind of like dew on the petals. Magnolia adds in a woody floral-ness which allow for cedar to provide an expansiveness to the overall perfume. This is when it takes flight. There is slight tuning over the final stages as tonka accentuates the floral over the wood.
23.1 Jasmagonda has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I’m not sure if it is because a rework of a Parfumerie Generale I didn’t care for but 23.1 Jasmagonda is my favorite of the reworks. They have all felt like new perfumes but 23.1 Jasmagonda feels like a metamorphosis from drab caterpillar to vibrant butterfly as we go from 23 to 23.1.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from Parfumerie Generale.
Ever since oud became a thing in perfume there has been a myth about many perfumes having the actual material in the formula. The great majority of oud in perfume is an oud accord built around cypriol. It has its place because a perfumer wanting a lesser oud effect can tune that accord to provide a precise amount. When a perfumer makes the effort to use real oud in their perfume it becomes a bit like riding a tiger. Every source of oud has its own powerful scent profile. Subtle oud is entirely a myth. If you’re going to work with the genuine stuff, you’re going to have to work with what the oud gives you. Independent perfumer Josh Meyer has produced an excellent example of how to do this with Imaginary Authors Whispered Myths.
Before I get into the review Imaginary Authors always begins with a fun snippet of prose from a non-existent writer. I found the one used with Whispered Myths to be one of the more illuminating entries, “When the long hours Azzam Issa pulls at his family’s bakery begin to interfere with his day-job as a security guard at The Louvre things turn bizarre. Angelic creatures move from one painting to the next and statues speak to him in cryptic whispers. The delusions are a nuisance and the few hours of sleep he is afforded between jobs are no better; dominated by visits from ancient mariners and supernatural figures from worlds past. It isn’t until he begins to listen to these apparitions that he becomes truly unhinged. In the frantic search for the true identities of these lost souls, Azzam discovers something far more remarkable, his own.”
It didn’t strike me at first but as I experienced Whispered Myths this is also a journey from the mythology of oud in perfume through to a discovery of its real identity.
The oud Mr. Meyer chose as his keynote is a Cambodian oud. The sample I have of this kind of oud is one I would describe as medicinal, fruity, and woody. I am guessing the oud sourced by Mr. Meyer also has a similar scent profile because he makes some intelligent choices on how to interact with those aspects of the oud.
Whispered Myths starts with a nose-tingling dose of oud-y reality. Mr. Meyer lets the Cambodian oud out to roar with its medicinal quality right away. This is no myth it is a slap of reality. The opening moments are going to be difficult for those who don’t appreciate this part of the oud experience. If you can get through these opening minutes what comes next is remarkable. First up is a melon note. Mr. Meyer uses this to bring forward that concentrated dried fruitiness of the oud. Melon is a trite overused ingredient. Mr. Meyer makes it relevant in his usage of it here. Then a sweet honey accord provides viscous contrast to the oud. This is my favorite part of the development as the honey finds the medicinal core of the oud and tames it. The base accord opens with ambrette providing a transparent botanical musk to underline the animalic part of the oud. The remainder is a reminder that oud is agarwood as what Mr. Meyer calls “salvaged shipwreck” is a combination of the dry synthetic woods. They provide an ascetic counterweight to the woodiness of the oud.
Whispered Myths has 12-14 hour longevity and for 90% of the time average sillage except for those opening moments then it is above average sillage.
Since the beginning of Imaginary Authors Mr. Meyer has had a distinct house aesthetic. Whispered Myths is the first to break most completely from that. That might be jarring for some. I found it showed the maturity of Mr. Meyer as a perfumer. I’ve thought very highly of the last few perfumes, but it seems like Mr. Meyer was looking for a new identity. With Whispered Myths, along with his fictional museum guard, he has seemingly found one.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
The longer a brand is around the usual trajectory is a solidifying of a brand aesthetic. If there are some swings, they usually come early in their existence. In the case of perfume brand Penhaligon’s I could make the case they have never been able to figure out what they’re all about. For a brand over a hundred years old you might think they’ve figured it out. You would be wrong. Penhaligon’s has gone through so many distinctly different eras and styles it is hard to keep track. One benefit of all that uncertainty is there was bound to be a time of creative apotheosis. That happened in the years between 2006-2013. Perfumers like Mathilde Bijaoui, Bertrand Duchaufour, Olivier Cresp and Alberto Morillas had a freer hand under creative director Nathalie Vinciguerra. Too many of these have found their way to the Dead Letter Office including the one I think is the best of them all; Penhaligon’s Elixir.
Mme Vinciguerra kept up her trend of working with the best perfumers as she asked Olivia Giacobetti to compose Elixir. She would come forward with one of her trademark transparent structures which has become one of my Holiday Season staples.
By 2008 when Elixir was released the trend towards more transparent constructs was only being practiced by a few perfumers. Mme Giacobetti was one of the earliest and most creative working on these kinds of fragrances. She is one of the reasons I have some issues with many of the modern transparent creations now that the pendulum has swung so firmly in this direction. She showed me that transparency can have tremendous beauty in fragility. Elixir is a good example of how spices, florals, and woods can form an opaque Oriental.
Elixir opens with an accord of three spices; cinnamon, cardamom, and clove. I jokingly think of them as the “3C’s”. Mme Gicaobetti finds an ideal balance of all three so that they form this shimmering spicy accord. In an ingenious flourish she takes eucalyptus to provide mentholated lift to those spices. This is one of my favorite top accords by Mme Gicaobetti, ever. When I wear Elixir, I sometimes refresh it a few hours after the first sprays because I like it so much. What comes after is also quite good, but the beginning is brilliant. It moves through a floral phase led by a lightly indolic orange blossom paired with a subtle incense. This is another diaphanous accord which doesn’t sacrifice the soul of its ingredients. It finishes on a fabulous guaiac wood and sandalwood clean woody foundation.
Elixir has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Elixir has made it to the Dead Letter Office because of the schizophrenic nature of the Penhaligon’s brand. They hit the reset button early and often sending too many good perfumes off to oblivion. The nice thing is bottles of Elixir can still be found reasonably at many of the fragrance resellers.
Elixir has been one of my favorite perfumes by Mme Giacobetti I marvel at how well it stands up to cold weather as I wear it during the Holidays. It shows a sturdiness belied by its presence. The only thing which it couldn’t survive was the reset button.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
One of the great joys of attending the large perfume expositions is the opportunity to discover a new brand. I have been unable to attend the last two years which means I live vicariously through the tweets of my friends who are there. What I like about that is that many of them don’t know each other. What that means is if I start hearing about a new brand from more than a couple of them, it is one I want to try. This past Pitti Fragranze the new brand which was standing out in my electronic whisperstream was Maison Rebatchi.
The brand was founded by Mohamed Rebatchi who describes himself as a “self-taught perfumer and passionate”. He wanted to translate the northwestern region of Africa, known as the Maghreb, into fragrance. Something I admire is for being a self-taught perfumer he relied on professional perfumers as his collaborators for the first four releases. What he knows about materials allowed him to probably participate in a more focused manner with the four different perfumers he worked with on his debut collection. I think this is one of the stronger debut collections I’ve encountered recently. M. Rebatchi maintained a coherent focus throughout.
The one perfume of the four I was most anxious to try was Joyeux Osmanthe. M. Rebatchi worked with perfumer Maurice Roucel to create an effulgent duet of osmanthus and tuberose. It washed away the whole trend of transparent fragile perfumes of this year in a wave of floral beauty.
First thing is Joyeux Osmanthe is more a tuberose perfume than an osmanthus one. It is like a duel of high-spirited floral divas which tuberose eventually wins. That give-and-take in the heart is what sets this apart.
The perfume opens with a transparent top accord of spiced fruits combined with a green leafy ingredient. It acts as a curtain-raiser as tuberose struts on stage. This is the creamy slightly mentholated version of the white flower. The green from the top accord is used as a marker to pick up those green aspects of the tuberose. It serves as a reminder there are subtler harmonics than a big blowsy flower. As osmanthus comes on stage the fruits from the top fall right into line pushing that aspect of it to the front. As the divas get warmed up it is the green of the tuberose and the fruitiness of the Osmanthus which interact. As things move forward the indolic core of tuberose and the botanical animalic leather-like nature of Osmanthus also find a nice balance before the overwhelming floralcy of the tuberose finally emerges on top. M. Roucel has become adept at mixing the synthetic woody ingredients into something with more character; which is what happens here. It is easy for those woody ingredients to overwhelm. In this case they provide the floorboards of the stage for our two floral stars to take a bow upon.
Joyeux Osmanthe has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.
One of my text correspondents sent me this, “I just smelled the perfume I am 100% sure you would have named best in show if you were here”. Not sure if that would have been true. What is true is Joyeux Osmanthe is one of my favorite new perfumes of 2018. I am certain I will be reviewing the other three after the New Year. Until then, the two floral divas will keep me company.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples supplied by Maison Rebatchi.
This year has seen a rise in the idea of fragrance of a single well-made accord as a perfume to be released. They are linear as can be with the only hint of development as the accord comes together, quickly, on the skin. Maybe followed by some fraying down to a base note or two. Of the brands that have tried this, Kilian and H&M, I found the Kilian ones more interesting because they felt like previews of other perfumes in the line. The H&M ones smelled like the samples collected after any perfume school session where they are teaching accords. Overall, I’m not going to be drawn in by an accord in search of perfume. There is a computer programming philosophy epitomized by UNIX called DOTADIW deconvoluted it means “Do One Thing and Do It Well”. The clothing brand AllSaints has done what most successful brands do; expand into fragrance. Their three debut scents, Incense City, Metal Wave, and Sunset Riot are all single accords which are done well. It is because they are so simple, I will do quick paragraphs on all three.
Incense City I thought would be my favorite because how can an incense accord by perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux go wrong? This is a simple mixture of cedar, incense, and ambrox. Sr. Flores-Roux creates a kind of incense box accord. It is much lighter than those materials might portend but it also has a tenacity on my skin which was surprising. I think what kept this from being my favorite was I always want more from my resins and this just stayed on the transparent side of things.
Metal Wave by perfumer Gil Clavien was an oddly named choice for a perfume which smells more like parchment because of the papyrus in it. Mme Clavien creates an austere accord of magnolia and juniper berry atop the papyrus. It is like someone is writing on a scroll as the juniper berry has a bit of inky bite while the magnolia provides a sweet floral contrast.
Sunset Riot by perfumer Gabriela Charliu was my favorite because the accord here is that of a citrus-tinted Oriental. Mme Charliu uses the herbal nature of baie rose along with the clean woody lines of cedar to come together with orange blossom to form a recognizably Oriental accord. I liked this because it was subtler than most Oriental accords within perfumes; which usually come as the base accord and require some presence. Mme Charliu wisely keeps this a little less amplified but not so transparent.
All three perfumes have 12-14 hour longevity due to some tenacious synthetics in their compositions and average sillage.
You might look at these three perfumes and think incense top accord, magnolia heart accord, Oriental base accord and layer them, Don’t! I tried this and the cacophony that resulted had me using my fragrance wipes to scrub the whole irritating concoction off my forearm. What that exercise confirmed is each of these are doing just one thing and doing it well.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples sent by AllSaints.