This is the time of year when I receive an overwhelming amount of rose perfumes. In the minds of the brands rose equals spring. It is seemingly such a lucrative market that if there isn’t something new to go that means finding a flanker to be ready. Most of what I receive are flankers. I could tell even if I didn’t know the original. When the name starts to get longer by a few words it almost inevitably is a flanker. For this month’s Round-Up these are the two rose flankers I liked the best out of this year’s crop.
Givenchy Live Irresistible Rosy Crush
Last year’s Givenchy Live Irresistible Blossom Crush was one of my top spring rose flankers. Perfumer Dominique Ropion follows a year later with Givenchy Live Irresistible Rosy Crush. This one is more in keeping with the other Live Irresistible releases as it goes back to being very sweet. M. Ropion hews more to the previous formula of opulent fruity floral. What set it apart was a very earthy base.
It opens with the classic fruity floral of berries and rose. It says it is goji berry in the ingredient list but that has always been tarter in other fragrances I’ve encountered it. This is a full-on sweet berry accord poised to accentuate the rose in the heart. This is that dewy spring rose with the berries teasing out a bit of the jamminess which is buried deep in these types of rose fragrances. The base is a rich earthy patchouli which feels like it wants to be a chypre but is just darkness to tint the bright berries and rose. Based on the last two years maybe Givenchy has this spring rose flanker thing figured out.
Issey Miyake L’Eau D’Issey Pure Petale de Nectar
I’ve lost count of how many flankers the classic 1992 perfume L’Eau D’Issey has launched. I couldn’t bring myself to count. What does happen is when you make so many a few manage to stand out. That’s the case for Issey Miyake L’Eau D’Issey Pure Petale de Nectar. The original defined the fresh aquatic floral. This current iteration honors that by finding a way of nodding back to the L’Eau D’Issey formula without being shackled to it.
Perfumer Dominique Ropion reprises the pear-honey-rose triad from last year’s L’Eau D’Issey Pure Nectar. This latest version has a much lighter overall effect which allows for synthetic woods and ambergris the opportunity to add in the “L’Eau” to the recipe. The use of the honey is what captured my attention as the way it is used as a thin film with the spring rose is really appealing on a spring day.
Disclosure: These reviews were based on samples provided by the manufacturers.
My favorite fougeres get most of their wears in the shoulder seasons of winter/spring and summer/fall. I like them because they project some power in the cool mornings before transitioning to something lighter as the day warms up. During the 1980’s the powerhouse fougere was a staple of masculine marketed perfumes. As perfume moved into the 90’s a wave of fresh and clean aquatics would wash them out to sea. One of the last of the great men’s fougeres is this month’s Discount Diamonds Choice; Van Cleef & Arpels Tsar.
Van Cleef & Arpels is one of those quietly successful perfume brands with a surprising number of excellent perfumes. They started in 1976 with one of Jean-Claude Ellena’s earliest perfumes; the aptly named First. Ever since they have continued to work with some of the best perfumers. They have become one of the most reliable brands I know. This was evident even in those early days.
Tsar was the fourth perfume released by the brand. Perfumer Philippe Bousseton was given a brief to create the “fragrance of a naturally elegant man.” What he did was to take a little of the power out of the powerhouse. It comes through a clever use of herbs and spices before a chypre-like base.
M. Bousseton opens with a rich lavender twisted with rosemary. This is a typical fougere top accord. What happens next was not typical. M. Bousseton sweeps that trite accord away with one of caraway and cinnamon. This is the perfume which put caraway on my internal map of favorite ingredients. Matched with cinnamon it creates that elegance the perfume was going for. Sandalwood comes forth to set up a chypre-ish base with oakmoss and vetiver.
Tsar has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Tsar has been through a couple reformulations with the oakmoss being the most prominent change. While my original bottle benefits from the bite of full-spectrum oakmoss. In the most current version I found the low-atranol version, minus the bite, gives the sandalwood and vetiver some lightness and space. I thought that the current version is probably more fitting for the perfume consumer today. I’ve seen it online for $20-40 a bottle.
It is funny that the perfumer who was responsible for one of the last powerhouse fougeres would make multiple flankers of Cool Water. M. Bousseton knew when to change lanes. If you want one of the best of the last powerhouse fougeres this current shoulder season give Tsar a try.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
When I got to Boston and was looking for the places I could find perfume; I asked around. One place which was on everyone’s list was a tiny storefront in Harvard Sq. called Colonial Drug. The owner, Cathy, would stand behind the counter explaining these European brands she had exclusively. If there was any single place I visited, in my early days, which was responsible for putting many brands on my radar it was Cathy. Those were the days when Harvard Sq. hadn’t been converted into an outdoor version of a suburban mall. (Don’t get me started) I could even say she is the inspiration behind the existence of this column. This month I’m going to focus on a release from one of the brands I discovered at Colonial Drug; Comptoir Sud Pacifique Coco Figue.
Comptoir Sud Pacifique was founded in 1975 and has gone through several different creative directors and owners. Despite all that turnover there has been an intent to retain that “South Pacific” tropical attitude to their perfumes. This kind of exuberance is not for everyone. It also can be a bit of a variation on a theme. Coco Figue is a slight variation on Coco Extreme; which came first. If there is something which permeates the aesthetic it is a sense of beach holiday to many of the releases. Which is part of why I enjoy Coco Figue this time of year. If I can’t be on a beach, I want to smell like I am.
Comptoir Sud Pacifique asked Pierre Bourdon to compose Coco Figue. If there is something that is missing from that name it is the French word for milk; “lait”. This is a milky style of perfume mostly around aromatic coconut milk.
The coconut milk accord is what comes first. M. Bourdon takes coconut milk sweetening it with vanilla and fig. This is a classic suntan lotion accord when it comes together. What M. Bourdon does next is to up the milkiness while adding in a slight dusting of cocoa powder. Fig leaves provide some green to pick up on those aspects of the coconut milk while almond adds a nutty piece to it all. There are moments in the middle of this like I feel like I’m drinking hot chocolate made with coconut milk. It sounds delightful to me which is why I enjoy Coco Figue.
Coco Figue has 6-9 hour longevity and average sillage.
If the idea of coconut milk and vanilla without the cocoa and fig sounds more appealing, then Coco Extreme might be a better choice from the brand. In the last couple years select Comptoir Sud Pacifique have turned up at the mall fragrance counters. They have become easier to put on your radar if you’re wanting to find that vacation state of mind while sitting at home.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
One of the aims of this series will be to allow me the opportunity to put the spotlight on perfumers I think are underrated. Sidonie Lancesseur has been releasing perfume since 2006. She is one of my favorite perfumers because she can create special effects within her perfumes. What I mean by that is she creates accords which do things any perfume lover is familiar with. What sets it apart is she does it while bending ingredients you don’t normally think of as having that characteristic. The brand which exposed her name to me, and most others, is By Kilian. She is another perfumer where I could use her work just for that brand to write this column. I limited myself to one because her work for other creative directors is also worth knowing about. Here are five perfumes which I think represent Sidonie Lancesseur.
By Kilian Cruel Intentions (2007)- I remember being in New York City trying the perfumes in the debut collection of Kilian Hennessy. M. Hennessy was debuting a collection of luxury niche perfume. I was enticed by all of them but there was one I kept going back to; Cruel Intentions. What struck me was Mme Lancesseur managed not to go overboard with the oud. At that point in time it seemed like perfumes were in a race to see who could have the oudist oud. Mme Lancesseur used it so the other ingredients could interact with that. What it means is violet, rose, sandalwood, vetiver, and castoreum can find space. Each tease out different pieces of the oud. Cruel Intentions was my favorite By Kilian on day one and remains so to this day.
Frapin L’Humaniste (2009)– This begins what I think of as the “sunlight trilogy” of Mme Lancesseur’s perfume portfolio. When you think of perfume ingredients which capture light it usually starts with citrus. In L’Humaniste she uses a palette of herbal notes wrapped around a gin and tonic core. This is a perfume that reminds me of sitting on the deck with a clear sweaty glass of gin and tonic as the sunlight reflects off the drops of condensation with the smell of freshly cut grass from the neighbor mowing their lawn. It is a staple summer perfume for me.
Olfactive Studio Lumiere Blanche (2012)- Creative director Celine Verleure would ask Mme Lancesseure to interpret a photograph by Massimo Vitali. The photo shows white sands reflecting off still water. Mme Lancesseur would translate the heat of the sun with a set of simmering spices. The whiteness of it all with a milky accord of iris and almond before warming it back up with sandalwood. All of this carries an intensity of summer sunlight via warm perfume notes. I return to this perfume often because of the sunny warmth it exudes.
Amouage Sunshine Woman (2014)– Under Christopher Chong’s creative direction Sunshine Woman is a perfume which lives up to its name. What is amazing is Mme Lancesseur does this with ingredients like almond, magnolia, patchouli, and cade. Cade is the ingredient most commonly used to add smoke; the furthest thing from sunlight. What she does here is she uses it as the far-off edge of a thunderstorm; the definition of the end of the sunlight. This is one of the most solidly constructed perfumes of her career.
Jul et Mad Nin-Shar (2015)– Creative Directors Madalina Stoica-Blanchard and Julien Blanchard wanted to take their brand in a darker direction. It is here where Mme Lancesseur shows she know the dark as well as the light. It opens with a fantastic accord she calls “rose liquor” that reflects a boozy powerful rose. She then throws in a very indolic jasmine into the mix to create even more depth. This might sound blaring and monotonic. It isn’t. there is so much to see here in the swirling darkness that this accord shifts like a wraith over the early hours. There are few perfumers who can make the dark kinetic in the way Mme Lancesseur does.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
The end of February always drives me to drink. I hate the colorless world which greets me at the end of winter. One of my favorite winter drinks is a snifter of fine cognac to sip. This is also the time of year when the perfume I own which has cognac in it find their time to shine. Here are five of my favorites.
Banana Republic Black Walnut was a perfume which challenged my perfume snobbery. By the time I walked in to the store at my local mall I expected to be underwhelmed. What I found was a simple mixture of cognac, tobacco, and cedar. Perfumer Harry Fremont could have named this “Cigar Bar” and it would have been as accurate.
A more creative version of cognac and tobacco comes from House of Cherry Bomb Tobacco Cognac. Independent perfumers Alexis Karl and Maria McElroy. This is the indie flip side to the commercial quality of Black Walnut. Tobacco Cognac does everything just a bit better and adds in the rare ingredients of ambergris, oud, along with a fabulously viscous honey accord. This is that secret hideaway where pleasures are more complex.
Pierre Guillaume Liqueur Charnelle is a pure cognac accord. I enjoy these perfumes where the pieces of the accord come forth individually until they all snap together. When Liqueur Charnelle does form the cognac accord it is a monument of the skill of perfumer Pierre Guillaume. I know how good it is because Mrs. C accused me of spilling cognac on myself while I was wearing it.
Krigler Established Cognac 66 is one of the most unique perfumes I own. Ben Krigler forms a rich cognac accord which he makes the nucleus of an outstanding gourmand style of fragrance. To do that he surrounds that boozy heart with apple, caramel and a fabulously odd banana. I am always reminded of having a decadent dessert prepared tableside with a whoosh of flaming cognac.
You might not think a cognac brand would also be a perfume brand. Frapin manages to straddle both worlds. It is no mistake that their first perfume, Frapin 1270, was an abstract version of what it smells like in the cellars where cognac is made. Perfume Sidonie Lancesseur creates the milieu from the sharp scent of the grapes, the woods of the barrel, a hint of the mustiness of the cellar. It carries a more transparent aspect of cognac as this is more what goes into it rather than the final product. I think this is one of Mme Lancesseur’s best perfumes of her career.
Instead of drink the winter away join me in sniffing it away.
Disclosure: This is based on bottles I purchased.
Upon the death of Karl Lagerfeld earlier this week I began considering what was a fitting tribute to him and his impact on perfume. I spent a few days reminding myself of the perfumes he released under his own name. If there was something which surprised me was, outside of a few, there was a lack of a recognizable aesthetic. All the perfume releases under the Karl Lagerfeld brand tended to veer from one trend to the other without necessarily being the one at the leading edge but the fast follower. Which is why many of them are in the Dead Letter Office. In looking back I found one which best sums up the iconoclastic designer; Lagerfeld for H&M Liquid Karl.
In 2004 clothing store H&M wanted to start collaborating with the biggest fashion designers in the world on affordable couture. They thought, if successful, this could become a regular event. For their first collaboration they went right to the top convincing Karl Lagerfeld to kick this concept off. Mr. Lagerfeld wanted a full-service collection, including a fragrance. He had founded his own perfume brand in 1978 making it an easy extension for the H&M collaboration.
The perfume was called Lagerfeld for H&M Liquid Karl. He worked with a team of three perfumers; Pascal Gaurin, Bruno Jovanovic, and Sandrine Malin. What they produced is one of the best of the early gourmand perfumes because it went in such a different direction.
Liquid Karl starts with the smell of baking bread. The perfumers build that doughy sweet scent of every bakery. In the early moments there are hints of some of the other bakery spices. This opening shows where gourmand perfumes will go. Then as cocoa and frangipani add to the bread the entire effect goes from savory to sweet. From bread to bread pudding; sort of. Maybe bread to chocolate pudding is closer to accurate. The base is a set of clean woods given depth from oakmoss.
Liquid Karl has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
When the collection was released in November of 2004 it sold out immediately. This is an occurrence which happens yearly as H&M has partnered with another high-end fashion brand every year since on an anticipated capsule collection. Many of them contain a perfume because of Mr. Lagerfeld’s inclusion of one at the beginning.
Liquid Karl is not well-known because it was produced in limited quantities as part of the H&M collaboration. This is in the Dead Letter Office because it was a limited edition not through business reasons. You can find bottles frequently on the online auction sites.
I chose Liquid Karl as a way of honoring the vision of Mr. Lagerfeld because of any perfume he made it displayed his sense of the coming trend. His fashion set the trends. His perfumes not as much. Looking back on that fragrance portfolio Liquid Karl was another case of Mr. Lagerfeld charting the course which others would eventually follow.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
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.
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.
As I spend my days trying new perfume there are typical parameters the great majority of them fall within. Only rarely do I come across a perfume which gleefully colors outside the lines. It will never be a fragrance which imparts comfort or prettiness. It is a perfume meant to confront the wearer’s idea of what perfume is meant to do. If it succeeds at doing this it almost by definition is going to be Under the Radar; this month’s choice Kinski is an example of that.
Kinski was released by perfumer Geza Schoen in 2011. He timed it to coincide with the 20th anniversary of actor Klaus Kinski’s death. Klaus Kinski was a towering personality which transferred to his acting where he portrayed larger-than-life characters. He was loved by the media because he enjoyed displaying an engaging kind of oddness. His most famous quote is a good indication, “One should judge a man mainly from his depravities. Virtues can be faked. Depravities are real.” When it came to be designing a fragrance to represent that personality Hr. Schoen came up with a larger-than-life enchantingly odd celebration of fragrance depravity.
Kinski is one of Hr. Schoen’s most densely constructed fragrances of his career. It starts with deep accords and spends the next few hours diving deeper. Any perfume which opens with castoreum in the top accord should give you a sense of that.
Besides castoreum there is schinus molle, juniper berry, and blackcurrant bud. Each of these pungent pieces are balanced into a fantastic top accord. The near urinous aspect of blackcurrant buds the gin-like aspect of juniperberry and the herbal-ness of schinus molle combine into a swaggering effect. As it moves to a heart of familiar florals a marijuana accord finds Kinski toking in the flower garden. By the time the base of costus, patchouli, benzoin, and styrax over woods arrive we are knee-deep in something depraved.
Kinski has 24-hour longevity and average sillage.
Kinski is a perfume of strong emotions. It is probably why it isn’t mentioned more often. It is one of the most unique creations in Hr. Schoen’s career. So much that I wonder whether this is him telling us some truth about what is “real”.
If you are a fan of bold perfume Kinski should be on your radar.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
One of my favorite columns to write during my first five years was Perfume 101. By looking at a brand while trying to pick five perfumes which represent it was most often illuminating. The only problem was there was a finite list which deserved that kind of scrutiny. After 41 editions of Perfume 101 I thought it was time to matriculate to a more advanced level. For the foreseeable future I am going to focus on the career of a perfumer in what I’m calling Perfumer 201.
One of the perfumers who has most benefited from the niche perfume expansion is Dominique Ropion. M. Ropion was there at the beginning of it; allying him to Editions de Parfum Frederic Malle right at the start. If I wanted to be lazy, I could just list the perfumes he has done for that brand; modern masterpieces like Carnal Flower or Portrait of a Lady among them. As you’ll see I chose something different. M. Ropion excels within the Oriental genre of perfumery. Many of his best fragrances fall within that category. He isn’t a one-trick pony especially more recently as my choices will reflect. Here are five perfumes by Dominique Ropion which are worth seeking out.
Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant (1996)- M. Ropion collaborated with perfumer Jean-Louis Sieuzac and creative director Celine Verleure at the cusp of niche perfumery. This is where M. Ropion would develop a style of soft Oriental which would show up time and again over the next twenty-plus years. He would take some of the most difficult to tame ingredients and find a nonabrasive application. It shows in the opening of L’Elephant where cumin and cardamom set the stage for clove, licorice, ylang-ylang, and mango to set up a vanilla amber base. This is still one of the very best vanilla and spice perfumes I own.
Editions de Parfum Frederic Malle Vetiver Extraordinaire (2002)- One of the innovations of niche perfumery was to encourage overdose of ingredients. This was done to find something unique in that kind of concentration. Creative director Frederic Malle encouraged M. Ropion to do that with one of the stalwart ingredients of modern perfumery, vetiver. Choosing to make it 25% of the composition. M. Ropion would frame it in woods and smoke. This is the best modern vetiver perfume ever. It is why this was the choice from M. Ropion’s incredible portfolio for this brand.
Costume National Homme (2009)- Lots of brands wanted to stake out the space of “avant-garde”. Costume National creative director Ennio Capasa was one of them. When he asked M. Ropion to make a masculine perfume he got the twist he was looking for. What this means is M. Ropion’s by-now signature sandalwood, spices, and resins become coated in a synthetic oily accord which is a slightly sweet oleaginous effect. It smells much better than it sounds.
Starck Paris Peau de Soie (2016)- There is a point in every perfumer’s career where I want them to speak to me with a whisper. Working with Philippe Starck, M. Ropion has made a perfume which feels like a bubble which should pop at any moment. Instead Peau de Soie takes iris which encloses synthetic musks and woods. They expand the iris to a powdery translucent globe which enthralls with its fragility.
A Lab on Fire And The World Is Yours (2018)- If there is an abiding theme of the five perfumes I’ve chosen it is creative directors who know how to give a perfumer space to be creative. Creative director Carlos Kusubayashi is another who has found this leeway is a recipe for success. And The World Is Yours brings this list full circle as cumin plays an important role in the top accord. This time there is no softening instead it is used as divider between orange blossom and neroli. As the florals shift to rose and hyacinth the pungent cumin persists until splashdown in a balsamic pool of vanilla and sandalwood. Over the past year I have come to see And The World Is Yours as the spiritual flip side to Kenzo Jengle L’Elephant. Which makes it the right place to end this list.
Disclosure: I purchased bottles of each perfume mentioned.