For those of you who put up with my annual grumpiness over the deluge of spring rose perfumes it would probably surprise you to know one of my very favorite perfumes is an unabashed rose perfume. I would further mention that you might expect it isn’t a typical rose perfume which I would hold in such high esteem. It is also typical that it would come from a small niche brand along with being composed by one of my favorite perfumers. All the above means it is a perfect choice for this column. The perfume I am describing is Majda Bekkali Mon Nom est Rouge.
Mon Nom est Rouge was released in 2013 as part of the second set of releases for the brand. Majda Bekkali was working with many established names in the early days. The perfumer for Mon Nom est Rouge was a young woman, Cecile Zarokian, who used the opportunity to create one of the most memorable perfumes I own.
The name comes from the novel by Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk. The story takes place with the miniaturists in the Ottoman Empire. The story is also one of those fractured narratives where dead people narrate and others are imperfect witnesses. The perfume reflects all of that as even though it is one of her earliest perfumes it is also one of Mme Zarokian’s most precise constructs. It also is a fractured rose perfume where it isn’t just presented as a pretty piece of fragrance. In Mon Nom est Rouge it passes away only to arise again.
The perfume opens with a fantastic accord of aldehydes wrapped around a shiny metallic accord. The hair spray quality of the aldehydes fits right in with the chrome-like accord. Out of this arises a Turkish rose as if it is chrome covered itself. This is followed by the heat of spices as Mme Zarokian precisely uses cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, baie rose, pepper, and ginger to scour that chrome off the rose to lay bare the flower itself. It then combines with tobacco, incense, sandalwood, and musk for the base accord.
Mon Nom est Rouge has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Mon Nom est Rouge is the perfume I turn to when the deluge of spring rose perfumes has me at my grouchiest. It reminds me that in the hands of a skilled artist like Mme Zarokian rose still has relevance. If you need a reminder of that Mon Nom est Rouge needs to be on your radar screen.
Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle I purchased.
William Shakespeare’s Juliet asks, “What’s in a name?” Large perfume companies seem to disagree with the remainder of her line, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” That’s because they keep insisting on using the same name for a new perfume which has nothing to do with a perfume which has the same name from an earlier time.
If you need an example of what that does to consumers go read the comments on my review for the new Tiffany & Co. perfume. There is one after the other about how disappointed consumers are that this new perfume smells nothing like the previous Tiffany & Co. perfume. They are correct. In the review I pointed out that it was seemingly designed for a completely different perfume lover. The impassioned comments bear that out as the previous fans share their disappointment. Granted Tiffany is not a major perfume brand but the display of annoyance I think is one that goes underreported. What I worry about is the perfume consumer who only has a couple of perfumes on their table becomes a not consumer because of this.
I mentioned this again in the recent review of Givenchy L’Interdit where the choice was to do something completely different from the original perfume. The original was designed for Hubert de Givenchy’s muse, Audrey Hepburn. I couldn’t find a shred of Ms. Hepburn in this new version. I liked it, but it isn’t the L’Interdit I have a bottle of. The cynic inside tells me that the typical perfume consumer has no knowledge of historical perfumes. Which means only a tiny percentage of fragrance wonks like me care.
The biggest evidence of this is the use of the name Joy by Dior for their new mainstream release. They were able to do it because they bought the brand which previously used the name, Jean Patou. Seemingly solely so they could do this. The sad part is this is the case which compares a masterpiece of the past to something less so. Dior of course is the brand which in 2011 did one of the most inexplicable name changes as they changed the name of Miss Dior Cherie to just Miss Dior. The perfume named Miss Dior Original was the old Miss Dior. Miss Dior Cherie disappeared completely. Follow that? I continue to receive e-mail where I straighten this out for those who have finished a bottle of Miss Dior Cherie and can’t find it. I wonder if the sales associates know this? Or does a consumer walk away disappointed?
The bottom line is the large perfume companies have decided the name and brand loyalty mean little to them. They are more interested in providing new product even when wrapped in old names. Alas fair Juliet I don’t think these impersonal companies see perfume as poetry; just product.
There are designer labels that just can’t seem to find their way in the fragrance world. One of those would be Fendi. As a brand they had two distinct eras of trying to become a successful perfume provider. The first era ended in 2004. That was despite producing one of the best perfumes of the last 25 years in Fendi Theorema. That it was a previous entry in this column shows the struggle Fendi had. After 2004 they pulled back and rethought their approach.
If the originality of something like Theorema was not going to draw consumers maybe there was a different tack. When the brand returned to making perfume in 2010, they put Francois Demachy in the position of fragrance creative director. Then they seemingly decided that originality was not going to be a priority. Instead they became a fragrance version of a greatest hits record. All the perfumes with Fendi on the label from 2010-2015 were made up of successful accords and tropes from other best-selling perfumes. The idea seemed to be if we can just take a little bit from the other perfumes on the perfume counter, we will find an audience. That I put a date up there to the end of this era is a giveaway to how successful it was.
Fendi is far from the only brand happy to mash-up the kind of accords which consumers desire. It is a too common way to produce perfume. The thing is if they pick the hits you like the most you will probably enjoy the tune even if it reminds you of other things. For me the right set of tunes showed up in Fan di Fendi pour Homme.
M. Demachy chose to work with a team of perfumers for all the Fendi releases in this second era; Benoist Lapouza and Delphine Lebeau-Krowiak. Usually this is my recipe for success with a consistent creative team. The strength here was they were all on the same page just figuring out how to balance the styles they were combining into something nice. For Fan di Fendi pour Homme they hit the right accords.
It opens on a mixture of herb and spice with basil and cardamom mixed with citrus. It is a sturdy opening; one which will remind you of many other perfumes. It switches to the men’s style of florals as geranium provides the heart. It picks up the green parts of the herb and the spice. It ends with a leather accord made deeper with patchouli before cedarwood provides the woodiness necessary in a “pour homme” perfume.
Fan di Fendi pour Homme has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
I like Fan di Fendi because it fills in on a day when I don’t want to wear one of the many perfumes, of which I smell pieces of, within it. It has become a reliable weekend fall choice. It has just been recently discontinued so this, and any of the second era Fendi perfumes, are still out there to be found.
Fendi has now failed in two different approaches to fragrance. Will there be a third? Is there a path between originality and greatest hits? It will be interesting to see the answer if there is a return in a few years. The Dead Letter Office has two relics of the first two eras whether they are the final representatives of the Fendi fragrance output will only be seen with time.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
There are certain ingredients in perfume which have such a multi-faceted character I enjoy smelling the absolute on its own. Beeswax absolute is one of those. Created by extracting hives which have been around for years. Depending on where those hives are from each version has its own scent profile. What is common is a musky honey infused with the pollen harvested from whatever indigenous plant life surrounds the hive. While the absolute is great by itself it is even better when used in a perfume here are five of my favorites.
Chanel Antaeus pour Homme was my first experience with beeswax in perfume although I didn’t know it at the time. It was part of my early expansion of my perfume collection. It provides a bit of animalic muskiness underneath the sage, patchouli, and labdanum spine. I was attracted to it because of that.
I talk about inflection points by perfumers all the time. Ineke Field Notes From Paris was that for independent perfumer Ineke Ruhland. The beeswax brings home a gorientalmand base stitching together tonka bean, vanilla, and amber. Prior to that is the smell of a Paris day.
Rubini Fundamental is one of the most original perfumes of the last few years. The creative team of Andrea Bissoli Rubini, Ermano Picco, and perfumer Cristiano Canali created a perfume capturing Verona in 1937 with the actors, in greasepaint, taking a break underneath the grape arbor. It is beeswax which provides the linchpin to the greasepaint accord mixed with the grapes in the heart of Fundamental. If you’re looking for something completely different this is where you should go.
Maria Candida Gentile released a trio of perfumes in 2014 called “Flight of the Bumblebee”. Within that she used three different sources of beeswax. It was Leuco and its powdery French beeswax which was my favorite. It was the counterweight to a keynote of tuberose. The beeswax provided a muffling effect while also adding a shimmering effect over the top of it all. Leuco is my favorite of al of Sig.ra Gentile’s perfumes.
For a straightforward beeswax experience there is nothing better than Sonoma Scent Studio Bee’s Bliss. Independent perfumer Laurie Erickson created a perfume which captures the entire process of honey. Starting with mimosa as the flower harvested on top of a rich honey accord. The beeswax represents the hive along with vetiver representing the propolis which holds the cells together. It is a gorgeous abstraction of harvesting honey fresh from the hive.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
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.
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 is a type of perfume which attempts to capture a natural scent not in abstract ways but as a photorealistic composition. One of the most accomplished perfumers at doing that is Christopher Brosius. At the beginning of the niche perfume expansion he helped create this, first at Demeter before founding his own line in 2004; CB I Hate Perfume. The name is Mr. Brosius’ succinct raison d’etre. He has created over forty perfumes which do not smell like what most people think is perfume. Over the past few years he has not been as visible as he was. One of my favorite perfumes by him is Burning Leaves which I bring out every October.
On the website Mr. Brosius tells of his distaste of autumn raking as a child. The silver lining was the burning of the leaves after they were finished. Watching them go up in flames while breathing in the smoke is what is captured in the bottle.
What has always impressed me about these photorealistic perfumes by Mr. Brosius is they are constructed in such a complete fashion. Manty perfumes in this style allow you to feel the assembly of the accord as the different pieces fit together. Almost all of Mr. Brosius’ perfumes come out pre-assembled while maintaining their cohesion throughout the time on my skin.
In Burning Leaves that means a couple of things. First this is burning leaves not burning wood. That means a lighter scent of smoke. Not the cade oil sledgehammers you find in other smoky fragrances. It also means the leaves we are burning are maple leaves. Mr. Brosius adds in a thread of sweet dried leaves before they catch fire. There is an intriguing mixture of intensity and fragility throughout the time I am wearing Burning Leaves.
Burning Leaves has 6-8 hour longevity and wears close to the skin with little to no sillage. Burning Leaves comes in a water-based formulation. It generally has the effect of making these perfumes last a shorter time on my skin while also limiting projection.
Mr. Brosius is one of our most gifted independent perfumers. There isn’t anyone who does what he does in fragrance. If you haven’t discovered his perfume you are in for a treat. They definitely deserve to be on your radar. Burning Leaves is a great place to start.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
I’ve written about a lot of perfumes in this column which were discontinued because of bad timing. I’ve never looked back, but I suspect that is close to the most common reason for a perfume to be put in the Dead Letter Office. There are a few which lived a healthy life cycle emblematic of the trends of their time followed by being discontinued when things changed. A good example of that is Macassar by Rochas.
Macassar came out in 1980 as the second fragrance of four composed by Rochas in-house perfumer Nicolas Mamounas. Rochas was refreshing their perfumes from the classics released previously. They weren’t trying to re-invent the wheel. They looked around at the popular fragrances and tried to make their own version. In the masculine fragrance sector this was the time of the powerhouse colognes. These were the style of fragrance that gave fragrance a bad name. The caricature of the man with his hairy chest bared, draped in gold chains that was who Macassar was made for. I wasn’t exactly that guy, but I really enjoyed wearing the powerhouse masculines of the 70’s and 80’s. Macassar is one of my favorites from that time.
Macassar opens with a cocktail of green liquor and green woods as absinthe and pine form the top accord. The licorice-like quality of absinthe is a fantastic contrast to the camphor-like quality of pine. It is also softer than it might sound. The power begins to wind up as we move to the heart; geranium and carnation pick up on the herbal and the green from the top by amplifying those effects. Patchouli elevates all of it as the volume gets turned up. The base is where Macassar unbuttons its shirt right down to the navel as vetiver, oakmoss, and musk form the foundation for a powerful leather accord. This base accord is where things linger for hours, almost days.
Macassar has 24-hour plus longevity and way above average sillage.
Macassar had a good long shelf life as it would be another fifteen years until the demise of the powerhouse perfume in favor of clean and fresh. Macassar might have come around during the twilight of the powerhouse perfume but it was also one of its best.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle of Macassar I purchased.
One thing my rotation of different perfume styles based on the season has exposed that I do it for other things. I’ve been rearranging my liquor shelves too. The things I like to drink in the cooler months are the soliflores of the alcohol world. Whisky is one of them. There are also some great whisky perfumes in this month’s My Favorite Things looks at five whisky perfumes.
One of the most recent is Nasomatto Baraonda. Independent perfumer Alessandro Gualtieri returned to his flagship brand after a bit of a break with a bold whisky laden perfume. He hands you a snifter loaded with dried berries and synthetic musks. Sig. Gualtieri balances out all the rough edges into a smooth sipping fragrance.
One of the reasons I like Baraonda is it reminded me of the early releases from the brand. The same is true for By Kilian Single Malt. After a few years of going off in different directions Single Malt re-teamed creative director Kilian Hennessy and perfumer Sidonie Lancesseur. They created a beautifully constructed whisky accord which starts with plum slowly coming together via wheat, cedar, tolu balsam, and vanilla. Once it forms you have a fantastic whisky on your skin.
Thierry Mugler A*Men Pure Malt was the second flanker in what I consider the best flanker series in all of perfume. In these early releases original A*Men perfumer Jacques Huclier seemed to delight in adding in a new ingredient to show the versatility of the classic caramel, patchouli, and chocolate accord. In this case it is a whisky accord which teases out the caramel while amplifying the sweetness in all the best whiskies. I keep a little tin of high-quality caramel which I eat a bit of when I’m sipping whisky; it started here.
Another combination of sweet and whisky is present in Carolina Herrera CH Men Prive. Perfumer Christophe Raynaud uses whisky as contrast to the citrus opening of grapefruit, complement to the lavender in the heart and depth along with a black leather accord in the base. This is a rugged masculine perfume.
My final choice comes from a collaboration between independent perfumer David Seth Moltz (the D.S. in D.S. & Durga) and the scotch producer Glenlivet. Hylnds Spirit of the Glen wants to capture the bouquet of a Glenlivet 18. This is a complete experience of scotch in a perfume. Grassy fruity opening deepens into a hay and chamomile heart. When you get to the base with whisky malt and barley you are complete.
If you’re in a whisky mood but don’t feel like a drink, try these five perfumes instead.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
One of the more typical approaches to flankers it to lighten them up. The idea being that removing the stronger ingredients might allow for someone who is not appreciative of them to find a version to their liking. This month’s Round-Up looks at two of those.
Miu Miu Fleur D’Argent
2015’s Miu Miu is a good example of why I don’t give up on mainstream fragrances. There is still space for creativity and commerce to co-exist. Miu Miu introduced most of the world to the perfume ingredient Akigalawood; an enzymatic degradation of patchouli. Perfumer Daniela Andrier has been exploring the interactions of different floral ingredients with it through each new Miu Miu flanker. With Miu Miu Fleur D’Argent we have reached the white flowers.
Fleur D’Argent opens with a lilting orange blossom. It isn’t left alone for long as tuberose and jasmine join the white flower party. There is a restrained elegance to this bouquet which Mme Andrier keeps on a tight leash. Akigalawood has a distinct peppery facet. In Fleur D’Argent it is reduced in effect because of the presence of the white flowers. That peppery part has been a deal breaker for some I’ve introduced to the original. I’ll be curious to see if they like this one better.
Dolce & Gabbana The One for Men Grey
Among the mainstream releases which I think are very well done is 2008’s Dolce & Gabbana The One for Men. When I’ve recommended something available at the mall this is one which has been well-received. Perfumer Olivier Polge composed an elegant Oriental around a spine of basil, cardamom, and tobacco. It has been such a best seller the brand hasn’t really attempted to produce multiple flankers. The same is not true for Dolce & Gabbana The One. The new flanker Dolce & Gabbana The One for Men Grey goes for a different lighter effect mainly by removing the tobacco while finding a different style of herbal top accord.
Grey opens with the familiar swoosh of grapefruit and cardamom. As I lean in waiting for the basil I get a mixture of clary sage and lavandin. The entire top accord of the original is altered as the grapefruit takes more of a leading role lifting the herbs up to a higher plane. The base is also a fresher non-Oriental accord of vetiver and ambrox. Typical masculine woody accord. If the original was too heavy I think The for Men Grey is worth giving a try as it keeps much of what I liked from the original.
While I like the more full-bodied originals, in both cases. These are good versions of fresher constructs worth giving a try if you prefer that.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by the manufacturers.