I have admired the eponymous perfume line of Icelandic artist Andrea Maack because they have all been interesting takes of interpreting her vision into fragrance. I met Ms. Maack in 2012 at the Elements Showcase. From the very beginning she impressed me as someone who was doing this because she had something to say on an olfactory canvas. Over the past five years there have been releases on an irregular schedule. The latest, Andrea Maack Birch, has just arrived.
Ms. Maack has managed in some of her perfumes to dwell on her geographic identity. This is best exemplified by her 2014 release Coven which captures the lush damp soil of the spring thaw. Birch takes place six months later as the ground has just refrozen. Working with perfumer Alienor Massenet the first milder days of winter are captured.
As the winter winds blow more gently in the early days so does Birch open on a chilly breeze of bergamot, baie rose, and ginger. Mme Massenet does a nice job at melding this accord. The ginger gives that sense of the chilly bite of the breeze on bare skin. Bergamot represents the low-angled sun while the baie rose adds the intangible sense of far-off trees. The heart is where we get closer to those trees with a pairing of guaiac wood and cypriol. This has some sharp edges almost oud-like in nature. It is not surprising because cypriol is one of the main ingredients in many oud accords. Here it captures another roughhewn wood forming a birch accord. The cypriol also imparts a gentle wreath of smoke around it all. The base is an earthy patchouli enhanced with a few musks.
Birch has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
When I saw Birch attached to Andrea Maack I was expecting some penetrating rubbery tar construct similar to the power of Coven. What I found in the bottle was a more meditative style of perfume. On the days I wore Birch it imparted a very peaceful feeling upon me. Coming as it did, in between my testing of some other challenging fragrances, it was a welcome respite. Birch is an ode to the approach of winter.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Andrea Maack.
Perfume has been used as a bit of an olfactory magic carpet meant to transport you to far-off lands. That is why there are a significant number of travel inspired fragrances. They can be excellent guides to an exotic locale. They can also be a bit lazy as a perfume brand rounds up the usual suspects for each place. The latest brand to become world travelers is Carven.
Carven resurrected itself as a fragrance brand in 2013 with the release of Carven Le Parfum. Through the first six releases there was a clear desire for clean, crisp structures. When I think of the best travel scents there is a less clean and fresh nature to them as they capture some of the stronger smells of the place. The seven perfumes which make up the Carven La Collection are all given the name of Paris and a connected locale. The overall concept is to combine the Parisian perfume style with the other locale on the bottle.
I found it to be a frustrating group to test. It is wildly uneven with some having inexplicable connections. Does magnolia make you think of Florence, Italy? Vanilla the Middle East? Paris Seville is a serviceable neroli fragrance. Paris Sao Paolo also leans on orange blossom to connect with Brazil. Even when you go with the obvious there can still be something pleasant to be found as is the case with Paris Bangalore.
When you think of India the most famous perfume ingredient from the sub-continent is sandalwood. It is no surprise that perfumer Alienor Massenet uses that as the keynote. What makes Paris Bangalore work better than any other in Carven La Collection is the dichotomy of Paris and Bangalore show up more distinctly than in any of the others.
That dichotomy shows right from the start as pungent clove recalls Kreteks perfuming the air with their smoke on a nighttime walk on the Seine. This is matched with saffron providing a toasty golden contrast. This opening is what the entire collection should have been like. It drew me in to a heart of balsam sweetened with vanilla. It comes off as soothing arising from the clove and saffron. The vanilla significantly sweetens the balsam setting the stage for a sweet creamy sandalwood in the base. Tonka provides a warmer version of the vanilla while amber provides a spicy partner for the final moments.
Paris Bangalore has 8-10 hours longevity and moderate sillage.
I was disappointed in the Carven La Collection but Paris Bangalore showed the concept does have potential as long as they remember these perfumes are meant to be a tale of two cities.
Disclosure: this review is based on samples provided by Carven.
As we move into the latter half of this decade we are now approaching the moment when many of the early niche brands begin to hit ten-year anniversaries. These are occasions which should be celebrated. All one must do is to look at what brands never made it past a couple of years. If a brand does make this kind of anniversary I would say it shows they have found an audience which has followed it for those years. Memo Paris is observing their ten-year anniversary in 2017. What creative director Clara Molloy and perfumer Alienor Massenet have created over those years is wonderful example of what niche perfumery is all about. Perfume for someone who wants something more. In celebration of this milestone they have released Eau de Memo.
The Raison de Etre for the brand has always been Ms. Molloy’s desire to have perfume become a magic carpet to another place. Together with Mme Massenet I have globetrotted from my desk with a spray of perfume on skin my passport. Memo has been one of my favorite brands because of this. For Eau de Memo there is no distinct destination. Eau de Memo is also no greatest hits collection of the best accords from previous releases. Instead Ms. Molloy and Mme Massenet create something which serves as shining example of ten years of their mutual passion. Eau de Memo evolves from a tea accord into a floral heart down to a leather accord. Each phase illustrates why the brand had thrived.
Eau de Memo opens with lemon and bergamot providing a tart snap. Underneath a slightly bitter green tea accord arises. There are times when working with green tea some perfumers try and soften the inherent bitterness. Mme Massenet allows it to join the lemon and bergamot to form something that put a smile on my face each day I wore this from the first moment. The heart is centered upon jasmine. It is a well-mannered version of that ingredient which allows orris and saffron to find some space next to it. The saffron is a particularly interesting choice as it acts as if it is gilding the jasmine in its copper colored coils. It is that addition which elevates a normal floral into something more compelling. In the base Mme Massenet provides a fully animalic leather accord. It is refined but not so much so that you forget this is a processed animal hide. Moss and an array of white musks provide support.
Eau de Memo has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
From the moment, I tried my first Memo Paris perfume I hoped that this was a brand in it for the long haul. As they celebrate this anniversary it is apparent that they are. That they are also ready for the next ten years is also apparent. Eau de Memo is one of my favorites within the entire collection. I also think it is an excellent introduction into how Memo continues to be one of the stalwarts in all artistic perfumery.
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample provided by Memo Paris.
I eat too much fast food, so my cardiologist informs me. I am intimately familiar with the offerings on the menu. A few years ago, I learned of the secret menu that exists off the board. While standing in line at McDonalds I heard the patron in front of me order a McKinley Mac. As I scanned the board above our head looking for this burger. It wasn’t there. When I got to the cash register I asked what the McKinley Mac was and was told it was a Big Mac but the regular all-beef patties were replaced with quarter pounder patties. Mmmm bigger, better more to love. My cardiologist is now yelling at his computer screen. I learned every fast food restaurant offers these kind of off the board variations.
It was only recently that I learned Memo Paris has their own secret menu. Every fall they release a kind of mash-up of one of their previous fragrances transformed by the addition of a new ingredient or tweaking of the existing pyramid. It has been going on since 2013 but I only tried them this past fall. Creative director Clara Molloy as always working in collaboration with perfume Alienor Massenet are the designers of these combinations. For 2016, the perfume was called Moon Leather.
One of the current collections within the brand is the Cuirs Nomades where more earthly locations are used to form different kind of interpretations of leather. Moon Safari was released in 2009 to commemorate the moon landing forty years earlier. That fragrance was a sharply green citrus vetiver on top of a rough market leather. For Moon Leather, it feels like Mme Massenet is imagining an interplanetary Cuirs Nomades as she modifies the citrus and vetiver components of Moon Safari and adds in a much more refined leather accord.
The very early moments of Moon Leather are all sunlight and citrus as lemon, grapefruit and bitter orange provide a tart beginning. This time the green is much less aggressive as Mme Massenet uses lemon verbena and neroli as a floral interstitial stage to a clary sage note which picks up and amplifies the green undercurrents from both the verbena and neroli. Vetiver shades the green a deeper hue before the leather arrives. This is an expensive briefcase leather accord with elegance out front and the animalic hiding behind that civilized veneer. Tonka provides a soft sweetness in the later stages. Mmmm bigger, better more to love.
Moon Leather has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
When I tried all the previous secret Memo mash-ups there wasn’t one which I liked more than the original. Moon Leather breaks that streak because I like the smoother evolution from top to bottom than in the original Moon Safari. Even though this came out in the fall it is a fabulous spring citrus choice which really blossomed in the cool mornings and warm afternoons. Secret menus can take some effort to discover but Moon Leather is worth it to find at your local Memo stockiest.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Memo Paris.
Of all the accords perfumers construct my favorite is leather. One reason is there are so many different variations on the theme. Soft suede, rich Corinthian, black biker jacket, or equestrian saddle; they all require a perfumer to put together a group of other ingredients to create the accord. The first leather accords used birch tar and were often referred to as “cuir de Russie” or Russian Leather. It had a roughhewn quality more emblematic of the tack of the draft horse than the elegance of an equestrienne. It was so popular that this is the kind of leather accord the general populace is most familiar with. Those of us who love perfume have our favorites; the cuir de russie version is mine because I like that rawer quality to it.
When I heard that the newest release in the Memo Cuir Nomades collection was going to be named Russian Leather I was excited to try it. I was interested to see how creative director Clara Molloy and perfumer Alienor Massenet would interpret it. They also thought of draft animals but they were high up on the steppes with reindeer in harness. They themselves described Russian Leather as a “frozen fougere”. There is never a point where I thought fougere. Instead I was greeted by a cavalcade of green leading me to the tack room adjacent to the reindeer stable.
For the beginning of Russian Leather Mme Massenet wants to create that sense of the frozen tundra. She accomplishes this with a neat trick of camphoraceous materials namely lavandin and mint. Lavandin carries a decent amount of camphor in tis natural essential oil. The mint picks that up and amplifies it. The mint also begins the march of green notes; basil, coriander, and clary sage start it off with a strong aromatic herbal trio. It modulates somewhat as cedar leaves, rosemary, and nutmeg rein things in. Next comes the leather accord and it is that smell of well-worked leather that has been well-worn through constant use. It doesn’t have as much of the birch tar bite as the old ones do. For that Mme Massenet turns to pine. The pine provides a sappy green roughness which complements the herbal fusillade from before. Over the final stages patchouli and tonka bean provide a fitting foundation.
Russian Leather has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I enjoyed the choice made by Ms. Molloy and Mme Massenet to go green and let that become the birch tar substitute at the end. It made me feel like this perfume was less cuir de russie and more cuir de vert. Russian Leather is another excellent interpretation of leather in a very strong collection within Memo.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Memo.
As I survey my desk filled with samples it is amusing to remember a time when that was not the case. As recently as four years ago I was using every connection I had to source a full set of samples from Memo Paris. Back then it was not a sure thing to get European-only releases. Over those four years Memo Paris has become available everywhere. I have also met the husband and wife team behind the brand. John Molloy takes care of the business side of things and Clara Molloy takes care of being the creative director for the brand. Mme Molloy has worked exclusively with one perfumer throughout the entire Memo Paris collection, Alienor Massenet. Over their collaboration they have designed a brand aesthetic while branching out into three collections within the brand. Memo Paris is one of my favorite brands there aren’t any which I have not enjoyed. If you have seen the display of the collection and wanted to know where to start here are my five suggestions.
John and Clara Molloy
The very first Memo Paris fragrance I tried was Inle. When I first reviewed Inle I described it as a tea dyed osmanthus. The creative team uses a focused tea accord, right down to a sprig of mint, to float osmanthus upon. It is framed out in clean lines of cedar and white musk. So often a perfume works to enhance the apricot leather duality of osmanthus. Inle decides to just let it be.
The perfume which made me mad for desire to acquire all of them was Shams Oud. The opening is a spicy glow of the sun setting on the desert. Ginger, saffron, and pepper form that dry desert breeze. As the oud becomes more apparent the three spices find their spot and form a fabulous oud chord. Later on it transitions through a green phase of papyrus and vetiver before letting birch and balsam provide the final notes. Shams Oud is still one of my very favorite oud perfumes.
Manoa is the iris fragrance for the brand. Starting with ginger and citrus a powdery iris sets itself upon a foundation of opoponax, vanilla, and labdanum. Probably the most simply constructed perfume in the entire collection it still carries that Memo Paris vibe.
Quartier Latin also trends a bit simpler in architecture too. It reminds me of walking outside of a nightclub passing through a group smoking Kretek clove cigarettes straight into a wood-paneled room. Mme Massenet chooses clove leaves instead of just clove to add a bit of green which threads itself through the very dry woods of cedar and sandalwood. The desiccated quality is relieved a bit with tonka and amber. The balance in Quartier Latin shows off what a fine technician Mme Massenet is.
There have been four leather perfumes within the Cuirs Nomades collection. The one which you should try first is African Leather. This opens with a slightly different African breeze than Shams Oud. Using cardamom and cumin to go with the saffron this time it has a more primal energy to it. The leather accord in the heart feels as if it is alive and stalking you. Vetiver and patchouli provide a sunbaked earth accord for the base. This entire Cuirs Nomades have been good but African Leather is the current crown jewel.
This is a niche line which carries my highest recommendation. I think most perfume lovers will find one or more which speak to them. Try these five as a start.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottles I purchased.
I am drawn to perfume because there are so many times and places in my life where the smell of a place is as much a part of the experience as anything else. One of the places where I have very distinctive memories of a smell is camping while the desert is in bloom. This usually takes place around this time of the year often reaching its peak right now. It is such a contrast to the red rocks and sand to see color where it usually isn’t. As far as I know none of these flowers have been used as is in a perfume. They certainly transform the smell of the desert from its spicy mineralic baseline into something more genteel. Harsh turns to colorful fantasia. Rocky turns to floral. There are a number of perfumes which have attempted to capture this accord. The new Memo Marfa comes as close to getting it right as I have tried.
Marfa is the first in a new collection within the brand called Art Land. The name comes from the town in West Texas of the same name. It is a city of approximately 2,000 of which a disproportionate amount are artists. It sits on the edge of the desert at the crossroads of US 90 and US 67 north of Big Bend National Park. If you are a movie fan it was used as a location for the movies, Giant, Fandango, There Will Be Blood, and No Country for Old Men. I have never been to the city, except through these films, but it is part of the same high desert of the American Southwest I am familiar with. Creative director Clara Molloy along with her longtime collaborator perfumer Alienor Massenet set out to capture the city. For me they captured the desert surrounding it while in bloom.
The floral mix Mme Massenet settles upon is one of tuberose absolute and orange blossom absolute. Marfa is primarily a tuberose perfume. Except there are bits of the desert underneath which remind you of what will remain when the flowers are gone.
Marfa opens on orange blossom which is quickly joined by tuberose. The orange blossom attenuates the tuberose. It also reminds you that it is the subtler of the white flowers. The balance Mme Massenet strikes is very nice. With the florals the first reminder we are in the desert comes with a sharp green “agave accord” it has a sort of spikiness to it which makes it an interesting contrast to all that is going on with the florals. It has the added effect of opening up the camphoraceous nature of the tuberose more fully. If you’ve ever taken a deep breath of arid desert air it feels a lot like that sinus clearing breath. The final part of the development of Marfa is the dried out wood left behind later in the summer. Cedar, sandalwood, and a few white musks form that accord as the desert reclaims its ground although the tuberose stays around even when the woods take over.
Marfa has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I will not be actually spending this spring anywhere near the desert. Thankfully Marfa is going to take me there when I want to imagine I am there.
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample provided by Memo.
One of the things I truly appreciate is when there is a long-term marriage of creative director and perfumer. It is not the usual state of affairs for a fragrance brand as the majority of them have a number of different perfumers they work with. What I like about the more monogamous fragrant relationship is there is a real sense of evolution as you move along with the brand. I was thinking about that as I tried the new Memo Paris African Leather.
Memo Paris started as a brand in 2007 with four releases. Co-owner Clara Molloy provided the creative direction and her partner in perfume for the last eight years has been perfumer Alienor Massenet. I wouldn’t discover the line until a few years later. One of the first Memo perfumes I owned was Moon Dance a perfume described as “an imaginary safari on the moon”. In that first collection from 2007 there was a perfume called Lalibela which was inspired by the Ethiopian city of the same name. In both of these cases these were the early versions of leather and Africa from the line. As Mme Molloy and Mme Massenet returned to these grander inspirations for African Leather there is very clear evidence of how much they have grown together as a creative team as African Leather is perhaps the best perfume in the entire Memo Paris line.
This time the safari is more literal as African Leather is reminiscent of the smell of wide open savannahs stretching to the horizon. Lalibela used incense and tobacco to create the exotic; African Leather uses a fantastic trio of spice notes to convey the same impression. Put together it just feels like the culmination of a fruitful creative partnership resulting in a fantastic fragrance.
One of the things which really allows African Leather to stand out is that Mme Massenet employs molecular distillations of the natural materials. These versions allow for a specific fraction of the entire essential oil to be isolated resulting in a different scent profile. This effect is used nicely by Mme Massenet as she employs each ingredient for the desired effect.
African Leather opens with a trio of spices; cardamom, saffron, and cumin. They provide a warm breeze as if the mid-day wind is sweeping the smell of the open plains to your nose. I wasn’t able to find out the source of the saffron Mme Massenet used here but it has one of the more pronounced combinations of warmth and shimmer I think I have noticed in saffron in a perfume. It floats above the entire perfume for almost all of its development giving this interesting textural quality. The heart is the molecular distillation of geranium where the greener facets have been stripped away by the process leaving the floral aspects. I have often called geranium a “green rose”. This fraction puts the lie to that description as once the green is removed, via a physical process, the floral is much more expansive. It needs to be because the leather accord is what makes up the other half of the heart. This is that animalic smell that feels alive. Like just over that hill there is a herd of wildebeest that your nose picks up before your eyes do. The base is another example of molecular distillation as patchouli with its earthy qualities enhanced is mixed with vetiver with its greener grassier qualities upgraded. This is the smell of grass and sun-baked earth. It is the savannah come to life. Mme Massenet finishes it with a mixture of white musks which manage to uplift the saffron back into my conscience again.
African Leather has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
African Leather is easily one of my favorite new perfumes of 2015. If it isn’t my favorite Memo fragrance it is pretty close. A little more time and perspective is required for that I suspect. Every time I wore this I can feel the evolution of the collaborative effort between these two extraordinary artists. African Leather is an example of how familiarity breeds excellence.
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample from Memo.
There are times that my perfumed wishes do come true. From the first moments I became acquainted with the perfumes of Memo Paris I have wanted them to be available in the US. In the spring of 2015 my wish was granted as they were now found in select stores and online. What I have admired so much about this brand is the longtime collaboration between Creative Director Clara Molloy and perfumer Alienor Massenet. Theirs has been an ever evolving creative journey which I have been happy to follow along with.
For the seventeenth release Mmes Molloy and Massenet add to the Graines Vagabondes collection with a follow-up to last year’s Kedu. Much of the inspiration for all of the Memo perfumes comes from a specific place. The Graines Vagabondes goes even deeper by attempting to evoke the actual smell of the place. The new addition is called Ilha Do Mel.
Ilha Do Mel is a Brazilian island off the south coast. It is accessible only by ferry and there are no cars allowed on the island with most of it being an ecological preserve. The name of the island translates to Honey Island. The name comes from the intensely deep smell of the indigenous flowers which release their scent into the air. Mme Molloy wanted to capture this and Mme Massenet constructs her vision.
Ilha Do Mel opens with a juicy mandarin tempered by a tart juniper berry. This lasts for a very short period before the florals start to assemble. It starts with a swish of genet providing its subtle floralcy before that gives way. Hyacinth begins to increase the floral volume before jasmine and gardenia take it over the top. Orange blossom and orris also add to the festivities. This is floral with a flair. The one thing I found interesting about this is when you have all of these florals together they do form a kind of honey accord. It doesn’t seem to me like there is a distinct source of honey in the perfume. Instead I think Mme Massenet has let her flowers become the honey much like it does on the real Ilha Do Mel. Much later vetiver leads into a vanilla and musk base.
Ilha Do Mel has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Ilha Do Mel has a lush floral character that is very reminiscent of the tropics. It is also fascinating for how there are interesting intersections among all of the floral notes in the heart. For long periods on my skin the heart would fluctuate through the floral notes present. It made it a perfume that was always showing me something different from hour to hour. If you’ve wanted to wander a sandy trail surrounded by flowers of all kinds spray on some Ilha do Mel and take that walk in your mind.
Disclosure; this review was based on a sample of Ilha Do Mel provided by Memo.
I don’t know why I am having such strong evocations of some of my favorite movies as I smell new perfumes lately. Get ready the latest release from Memo called French Leather has me seeing a particular movie every time I wear it. The seeds of the connection were planted when I was speaking with John Molloy, the co-founder of Memo, at Pitti Fragranze in September. He only had enough for me to test on a strip and a bit of skin. As we spoke we came up with the idea of a young Parisienne walking along the Seine late at night in a leather skirt holding a rose she received earlier in the evening. French Leather was the scent of a young sophisticate who has things to say while looking equally as fashionable. Even as I sniffed at my wrist throughout the day at Pitti I knew there was someone in my memory banks trying to claim this fragrance as her own. It wasn’t until I actually had a sample and wore it for a day that it finally made itself clear to me. French Leather is the scent of Celine of Art Linklater’s 1995 movie “Before Sunrise”.
Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) in "Before Sunrise"
For those unfamiliar with the movie an American, Jesse, and Celine meet on a train. Jesse is heading to Vienna to fly back to the States. Celine is returning to Paris to continue her university studies. Jesse convinces her to stay with him in Vienna, until his flight leaves the next morning, and they spend the night walking and talking. Actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy portray two adults still trying to figure out what their future holds for them. Both of them speak as only a scriptwriter can provide for them. Even so the actors are so charming it has always been a favorite movie of mine. Celine is a young woman who enjoys her youth while still holding on to a romantic ideal of what her future might be. French Leather is that mix of the insouciance of youth over the development of a sophisticated adult. Creative Director Clara Molloy and perfumer Alienor Massenet have made a rose and leather perfume that exudes playfulness and elegance in equal measures.
Few notes will do a better job of providing a bit of fun than the lime note which opens French Leather. After speaking with M. Molloy lime was not what I expected to be the first thing I smelled. Mme Massenet’s lime is that quirky smile from a smart woman who clearly has a sense of humor. It is made even more vibrant by the addition of juniper berry and pink pepper. They provide the intelligence underneath the laughter. The heart is the passion of our imaginary young woman as a full-blooded rose wears itself on its sleeve. It is very extroverted as it is expansive and for a good while it is the rose which you smell. Eventually you find a bit of herbal green quality which comes from clary sage. The sage is an announcement that the leather is on its way. Mme Massenet uses a refined leather accord, the kind which would be used to make an article of clothing like a skirt. She then uses styrax, vetiver, and musk to provide textural contrast. The rose is still going strong as the leather accord takes some time to resolve itself and eventually stand tall. The last few hours are the smell of the rose and leather together.
French Leather has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Memo is one of my favorite perfume lines because Mmes Molloy and Massenet have formed a fabulous partnership which has created one of the standout collections in all of perfumery. French Leather is another excellent addition to the brand.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Memo.