I am a long-time admirer of Celine Verleure. Her days as Creative Director at Kenzo perfumes produced fragrances that were trendsetters. Ever since she started her own brand, Olfactive Studio, in 2011 she has reaffirmed my belief that she is one of the elite Creative Directors in all of perfumery. She has practiced a particularly interesting form of artistic direction with Olfactive Studio. Instead of a brief for the perfumer consisting of words; she has chosen a photograph. It has resulted in one of the top niche perfume collections.
At the end of last year she tried something a little bit different in overseeing the three perfume Sepia Collection. She worked with the same photographer and the same perfumer. It has been one of the things which has made the brand so vibrant that it has been a different photographer and mostly a different perfumer. For the Sepia Collection she chose the photos of Martin Hill who along with his wife, Philippa Jones, create natural temporary sculptures out of the geography and what is available nearby. His photographs are all that preserves the work.
Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour is one of the most prolific independent perfumers we have. That amount of output naturally has its ups and downs. If there has been any pattern to his better perfumes, I would posit that a strong artistic vision from the brand which doesn’t compromise is the best barometer for success. In 2017’s Woody Mood Mme Verleure showed she could bring out the best in M. Duchaufour.
Photo by Martin Hill
I will eventually review all three Sepia Collection perfumes but as usual there was one which needed to be worn first, Leather Shot. If you look at Mr. Hill’s picture, above, used as the brief you will be surprised at what you find in the bottle. Leather Shot is a spicy iris leather construct.
It is the spice and iris where Leather Shot opens. This is the high quality rooty iris with its carrot-like earthiness ascendant. M. Duchaufour uses a high-low combination of spices as cardamom cools things down while cumin heats things up. This is a compelling opening which swirls with complexity. It requires an equally intricate leather accord to stand up to it. One of the things I have lauded M. Duchaufour for is the flexibility of his building block accords. His leather accord might be his most adaptive. In Leather Shot he lets the animalic roughness come from the cumin. The actual leather accord has a supple refinement while the cumin provides the bite. It settles down into a desiccated woody accord.
Leather Shot has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
All the Sepia Collection releases are extrait strength. In the case of Leather Shot the more constricted expansiveness is a plus. This is better for it being so concentrated. This arrived just at the right time as winter turned to spring. The cool mornings felt just right for Leather Shot.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Olfactive Studio.
Bertrand Duchaufour is one of the most prolific perfumers of the past ten years. That he is also among our best perfumes while being this productive is also something to admire. It is now getting to the point where it becomes difficult not to see pieces, or accords, of previous compositions within new ones. That could be seen as a flaw, but I don’t think it is as easy as picking one from Column A then B then C, et voila! I choose to see it more as a concept we use in drug discovery known as repurposing. When there is a new drug which works via a new biological mechanism there is an effort to see if there are older drugs which might combine with it to make it work better. M. Duchaufour is responsible for two of the three debut fragrances for a new line called Pont Des Arts. I received a sample of A Ce Soir in a subscription box. As I tried it out it was hard not to think that M. Duchaufour was repurposing some of his best accords to create a new effect.
Geraldine and Bernard Siouffi (via Pont Des Arts Facebook page)
Based on the website husband and wife, Bernard and Geraldine Siouffi, are designing fragrances meant to be Parisian in style. Which is why the brand is named after the famous bridge which until recently was covered in locks which represented lovers’ commitment to each other. They also want perfume to be a bridge of the senses as the Pont des Arts is the only dedicated pedestrian bridge over the Seine. They only used French perfumers for their debut collection which made M. Duchaufour almost a shoo-in to be asked.
I found it interesting that in the accompanying brochure in the subscription box that the writer describing A Ce Soir also found echoes of previous releases by M. Duchaufour calling out L’Artisan Havana Vanille and Penhaligon’s Ostara. Which makes it interesting to bring back pieces of those now-discontinued perfumes. There are similarities, but I found a stronger through line as I wore it which knitted this together more seamlessly than a collection of pieces.
A Ce Soir opens with a lens flare of lemon and mandarin. Then a slowly intensifying thread of green begins with bamboo providing the first hues. One of the things M. Dcuhaufour has become very good at is a boozy top accord. Here the rum slowly decants itself over the citrus. Cinnamon provides warmth to the alcoholic nature. The green is notched up another level via blackcurrant bud. This leads to a fantastically narcotic floral heart accord centered on narcissus. Narcissus is made more sensual by swirling in ylang-ylang. M. Duchaufour has made these kinds of carnal floral accords in the past; this is another one. Then like sharing a dessert after the carnality the base accord is all comfort as rich vanilla is used surrounded by benzoin and amber. Vetiver completes the green thread as it anchors the entire effect.
A Ce Soir has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I think you can focus on what A Ce Soir reminds you of from M. Duchaufour’s past. I think that does this a great disservice as M. Duchaufour has blended his past into something entirely new, well worth enjoying on its own terms.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample received in a subscription box.
One of the great success stories in independent perfume has been that of Neela Vermeire Creations. The success is borne from its namesake Neela Vermeire. As an Indian living in Paris the hallmark of her brand has been the fusion of a French and Indian aesthetic. Mme Vermeire has chosen to work exclusively with perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour. The original three releases, Trayee, Mohur, and Bombay Bling laid down this marker in 2012. Over the ensuing years it has become more assured in its execution. The latest release, Niral, is another outstanding perfume from this creative team.
Mme Vermeire looks for her inspiration this time to Sir Thomas Waddle. Sir Waddle was the first to figure out how to dye the silk harvested from the silkworms of India; known as Tussar silk. This silk was prized for its texture, but it was resistant to the typical dying procedures in the 1870’s. Sir Wardle would attend the Paris Exhibition, in 1878, with a full-spectrum of dyed Tussar silk. It was such a breakthrough Sir Wardle was not only knighted he was also appointed a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in France. Mme Vermeire evokes this colored textured fabric as a perfume in Niral.
M. Duchaufour uses a fantastic opening accord of spicy green angelica paired with a champagne accord. The champagne accord has a slight fizz of aldehydes which effervesce through the slightly musky green of the angelica. This captures that textural golden sheen endemic to Tussar silk. The raw material becomes dyed with iris and black tea. Every bit as compelling as the opening accord; the shimmery powdery iris crossed with the pungent tea is another textural pairing. M. Duchaufour uses one of his subtler leather accords to provide a transparent animalic effect underneath the heart notes. This all comes to rest on a woody base of cedar and sandalwood.
Niral has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is the most assured perfume for this brand to date. There is not a piece out of place. It flows like a bolt of fine silk over the skin. I have worn it three times and each time I find more nuance to admire. It is my favorite new perfume of 2018, so far. It is the culmination of everything Mme Vermeire and M. Duchaufour have been doing for the last six years.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Neela Vermeire Creations.
I have jokingly referred to perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour as the “High Priest of Resins” for the number of amazing perfumes he has made with that as the keynote. It coincided with my initial deep dive into niche perfumes as it seemed like he was producing one new riff on incense-based perfumes after the other. That I have an entire shelf of these perfumes plus that they are some of my all-time favorites is indicative of the quality. M. Duchaufour has proven to be much more than a one-trick perfumer with another shelf containing his non-resinous perfumes which also contain many I adore. It still doesn’t mean I don’t want him to don his robes and take up his censer to create something new. Olfactive Studio Woody Mood heralds that return.
Redwood Alien by Roger Steffens (1973)
Olfactive Studio is the brand owned and creatively directed by Celine Verleure. The creative process is triggered from a photograph as opposed to something written. It has been one of the most successful at marrying the visual with the olfactory. For Woody Mood the brief comes from photographer Roger Steffens 1973 composition called “Redwood Alien”. It is a striking picture of refracted light through the redwood trees. Before I knew the title, it felt like an outdoors version of the poster for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. The creative team would use this visual as the starting point for creating a soaring perfume in a cathedral of sequoias.
The top accord is a lovely introduction of clary sage, ginger, and saffron. Taken together the saffron smooths out some of the spikier aspects of either herb. This is a highly refined opening from ingredients used in less refined ways more typically. The sequoia wood then rises upward. Instead of just allowing the wood to be the only thing M. Duchaufour makes two quirky choices. First a precise amount of spikenard adds a veil of smoke. This is exactly the right amount not obtrusive but in the distance. In the same vein black tea and styrax form a rubber accord. It is again off in the distance but as a way of keeping the middle part of the development from being all about the wood I found both to be charming in their oddity. The censer begins to swing as the incense rises in resinous waves. M. Duchaufour brings out a refined leather accord as underpinning. All of this comes together over a base of earthy patchouli.
Woody Mood has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
If you are a longtime fan of M. Duchaufour’s resinous creations Woody Mood is a must try. I think it finds its own space on his prodigious incense spectrum all its own. If you wonder about my “High Priest of Resins” sobriquet try Woody Mood. If you like it there is a whole world of discovery ahead. I know there will be another bottle on my shelf dedicated to M. Duchaufour’s resinous perfumes.
Disclosure: This review is based on a press sample provided by Olfactive Studio.
There are few creative directors with the intimate knowledge of flowers that Saskia Havekes of Grandiflora has. Ms. Havekes is one of the premier florists in the world; her creative designs have been seen internationally from her base in Sydney, Australia. Four years ago, she branched out into fragrance with a pair of interpretations of magnolia by perfumers Michel Roudnitska and the late Sandrine Videault. Over the next two releases jasmine and the queen of the night would provide the floral keynotes. Through these first four the brand lived up to its name grand floral perfumes. For the fifth release Grandiflora Boronia instead of blooms to display we go into the greenhouse where they are growing.
Ms. Havekes re-teams with perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, with whom she created Queen of the Night, for Boronia. Boronia is a floral native to Australia. M. Duchaufour had experienced it on a previous trip to the country and had wanted the opportunity to explore it in a perfume. Ms. Havekes had grown up surrounded by the flower and to her it was just part of the surroundings. As a florist she understood the tiny flowers with the vivid scent were perfect as the keynote for a fragrance.
Together they take us inside a greenhouse humid with green and growing things over which the scent of the newly opened boronia flowers drift on top of. M. Duchaufour has been producing simpler constructs over the last year or so. Boronia is a break from that with return to his style of over-stuffed architecture which carries nuance instead of noise.
In the beginning of Boronia, you close the greenhouse door behind you and you smell the soil and the green stalks with only a bit of floral scent making its presence known through the artificial humidity. Before you get to work you brew a pot of black tea which provides a break from the smells of nature. As you pull on some leather gardening gloves you touch the delicate blooms of Boronia and they emit a faceted floral accord which carries rose, magnolia, geranium, and osmanthus. These all surround and support the Boronia keynote. The leather and tea blend in as a cozy mise-en-scene as you tend to the flowers. Over time it turns predominantly woody and balsamic with vanilla and caramel providing a diffuse gourmand base accord.
Boronia has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Boronia is a lovely departure from the style of the previous Grandiflora releases while still retaining a grandiosity coalesced around flowers. It couldn’t be any other way with something overseen by Ms. Havekes and M. Duchaufour. The difference is this is the florist’s workshop wherein she spends time getting to know her flowers. As a perfume lover you will want to enter the greenhouse and get to know Boronia.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Grandiflora.
When the discussion turns to what the first niche perfume was it has some different answers depending on who you ask. While the early pioneers started in the late 1970’s-early 1980’s I would say that niche perfume became defined in the 1990’s. I would further aver that one of the brands which did that was Comme des Garcons.
That started in 1994 when Comme des Garcons founder Rei Kawakubo had Christian Astuguevieille oversee the foundation of the fragrance section of the brand. From that moment M. Astuguevieille has developed what has become one of the most influential niche brands in the industry which continues to be influential today. One of the things that twenty-three years of perfume making offers is a chance for perspective. It is easier to know which perfumes within the collection have been those signposts.
Why I am writing about this is Comme des Garcons is bringing back those early releases back to the market under the name of the Comme des Garcons Olfactory Library. As of June 19, 2017, you will be able to find ten releases of these seminal perfumes in the niche sector.
First and foremost, in the ten re-releases is the very first Comme des Garcons Eau de Cologne from 1994. Perfumer Mark Buxton would be one of the first to take a traditional fragrance architecture and turn it inside-out. What really blows me away is it still smells relevant today. This is no anachronism.
Three of the truly ground-breaking Series 6: Synthetic scents are part of this as Garage, Soda, and Tar make their return. When this was released, in 2004, it was marketed as “anti-perfume to the extreme”. What it asked was is there room in this new branch of artistic-minded perfumery for exploring real smells. All three of these are answers to that question.
The remaining six are two choices each from Series 1: Leaves, Series 2: Red, and Series 7: Sweet. Calamus from the Series 1: Leaves is one of perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour’s best green perfumes. He would return for Series 2: Red Sequoia with a booze-infused redwood forest; also included in this retrospective. Perfumer Nathalie Feisthauer did both Tar and Soda but if you want to see one of the forerunners of the gourmand style of fragrance Series 7: Sweet Sticky Cake provides that.
I’m leaving out expanding on Series 2: Red Palisander and Series 1: Leaves Lily and Series 7: Sweet Nomad Tea each of which also defined Comme des Garcons in the years of 1994-2005. Throughout there is the sure hand of M. Astuguevieille guiding Comme des Garcons to remain one of the leaders in a sector it helped broaden..
The overall concept of the Olfactory Library is for Comme des Garcons to continue to bring back the past in consistent sets of releases going forward. There are some amazing perfumes in that history to be given the opportunity to be discovered by this generation of perfume lovers.
There are certain inspirations which seem to resonate with specific perfumers. It is not necessarily the only thing which get them excited but it seems when they can match that inspiration to a project it often produces something worthwhile. In numerous interviews perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour has mentioned his fascination with Japan. The creative team behind Nomenclature, Karl Bradl and Carlos Quintero, give him the opportunity to explore green from a Japanese perspective in Shi_so.
Carlos Quintero (l.) and Karl Bradl
The place where Mr. Bradl and Mr. Quintero start every Nomenclature perfume with, is a specific aromachemical. For Shi_so the choice is Glycolierral. The most predominant use of Glycolierral has been as a green vegetal component reminiscent of ivy. It has the colloquial name of “ivy dioxolane”. By itself it reminds me of crushed sharp green leaves. I have never found it reminiscent of ivy so much. When I saw, it was being used as the focal point in Shi_so I realized I found it closer to the shiso leaves I use to cook with. By itself Glycolierral is probably too sharply green to be pleasant. M. Duchaufour’s task is then to surround it with modulators to enhance the shiso vibe while making it wearable. What comes out is an evolutionary interpretation of Eau de Cologne where the traditional citrus-floral-herbal tripod is replaced with green, greener, greenest.
Shi_so opens with a combination I didn’t expect to work well when I saw it listed, cardamom and spearmint. The green cardamom here is becoming my favorite version of the ingredient because it adds this significant green character to the freshness inherent to it. Spearmint often adds an oily fresh sweetness that I thought would obliterate the subtlety. M. Duchaufour enhances that green in the cardamom I like so much by keeping the spearmint on the herbal side of its spectrum. The spearmint provides only a hint of its cool minty face. That hint is the way Glycolierral is drawn into the mix. There is a chilly component of the aromachemical which the spearmint bridges to. The base accord is the sticky green of blackcurrant bud matched with verbena. These amplify the Glycolierral into a sparkling emerald jewel.
Shi_so has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
It has been a while since M. Duchaufour has produced a perfume which pushes the envelope as much as Shi_so does. It feels like he is offering his interpretation of Japanese green as a new style of cologne. It is a gorgeous summertime fragrance.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Nomenclature.
During the 17th century the explorers were the seafaring adventurers unafraid to sail over the horizon to see what was there. I get a thrill stepping off a plane to visit a new country; imagine what that would be like after being at sea for weeks? Without a travel guide to help you translate. The concept of that kind of exploration has always been a source of wonder for me. What generally happened when they returned was the stories of their travels were told. Of course, these tales were told through the lens of their culture which meant the first glimpse of Asia and the East came through this process. The new perfume from Neela Vermeire Creations called Rahele got me thinking about that.
Neela Vermeire has imposed an Indian vision on European-style perfumery through her first six fragrances. It was as if France was being interpreted by Indian eyes. Rahele reverses that process. It is clearly intentional because Rahele was inspired by the voyages of three French explorers; Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, Francois Bernier, and Jean Thevenot during the 17th century. They came back and translated what they saw through their French prism. Mme Vermeire working once again with perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour has also done this with Rahele. The keynote for Rahele is a fabulously fulgent osmanthus. It becomes the heart of this story of travel to exotic places.
The opening of Rahele is the story of spices which were brought back as proof of the voyage. M. Duchaufour uses cardamom and cinnamon as if he was offering it as verification. Handing it out among the listeners. He then uses violet leaves to begin the transition into the fantastical part of the narrative. That is where the osmanthus comes out. Boy, does it arrive. This is where India comes alive. It is wrapped up in rose, magnolia, orris, and violet. This is where the audience leans in to experience more. This heart accord is where Rahele soars. Then a leather accord appears before the patchouli, sandalwodd, and oakmoss triptych of chypre provides the French vision. The floral accord becomes enmeshed, translated, by this accord. It becomes ascendant as the French overtakes the Indian.
Rahele has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Rahele was eye opening for me because it feels like a logical evolution for Mme Vermeire’s brand. It succeeds in feeling like a first-rate tale told well.
Disclosure: this review was based on a smaple provided by Neela Vermeire Creations.
Even when one of my favorite perfumers is involved it is still painful to receive a ten-fragrance new collection from a neophyte creative director. The new collection by Vietnamese ex-Creative Director at Elite Modeling Agency in London, Phuong Dang, has all the earmarks of the worst of these endeavors. She gave an interview to a website called “girlboss” in which she revels in her lack of knowledge of perfume. Within the interview, she says she blended oils to help her as a source of comfort. As she got her MFA degree she concluded she wanted to match her visual art with perfume. Over time she had learned enough to find the name of Bertrand Duchaufour. She wrote him a letter on a whim asking him to help her with her idea; surprisingly he agreed. A few months ago, the Phuong Dang Collection was released; all ten of them.
M. Duchaufour was the perfumer behind nine of the ten; Marina Jung Allegret did the remaining one; Raw Secret. It is very difficult for me not to see this as the most cynical of perfumery. Liquid Red is the lipstick inspired entry. Leather Up wastes a perfumer who has made amazing leather perfumes on something where the leather is overwhelmed by almost everything else. There are two ouds, Obscure Oud and Untamed Oud, which present nothing new again from a perfumer who has produced oud perfumes much better than these. Chypre (Cryptic), Oriental (Craving), White Flowers (Raw Secret), Gourmand (The Calling), and Floriental (Vermillion Promise). Just check off the boxes as you go through the collection. It was all too easy to consign these to the forgettable file.
Except a talented perfumer like M. Duchaufour probably can’t help but produce one out of nine which rises above. Believing was the one which hit a single for me because it was one which tried for something slightly different. It still carries some of the flaws of the rest of the collection but I found more memorable moments than not while wearing it.
Believing is the citrus fresh floral check box and so it begins with fruit. Grapefruit, yuzu, and mandarin are all here to represent the spectrum of citrus. A mixture of red and green berries adds a bit of lushness to the citric overload. Hyacinth comes on the scene to lead you in to a floral fusillade in the heart of primarily rose but significant amounts of jasmine, champaca, and freesia also crowd in to the mixture. This is one of those flaws I am speaking of as nearly all the perfumes would have been better if at least one phase was slimmed down a bit to allow the entire composition to breathe a little bit. Instead Believing is as overstuffed as the others but in this case M. Duchaufour strikes a balance. It still has a lot of presence but I didn’t mind it as much. The base continues in the “more is better” vein with myrrh, patchouli, vetiver, musk, and sandalwood forming a gigantic foundational block which also managed to strike the right balance, surprisingly.
Believing has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Mme Dang in that girlboss interview states her personal credo is to “Push boundaries.” This first collection of perfume is no example of that kind of thinking. It is firmly inside the lines with nothing which even flirts with coloring outside of them. As I mentioned I think it is hard for a perfumer like M. Duchaufour to go zero for nine but at least for me he only went one for nine;with Believing being that one.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Barney’s.
One of the reasons I fell in love with hiking in the desert is despite what many might think there is so much to see. One of the things which has always drawn me is the number of things that happen for relatively short time in the desert milieu. In the spring it is the riot of color as the desert in bloom shows swathes of color on top of the barrenness. After we get through the heat of high summer there is a call back to that earlier time but it is only for the tine of one night. The Cereus cactus only blooms for one night usually from mid-September through October in the high desert. I remember one hike in the fall one year as I was stargazing with my binoculars. There was this wave of intensely vanillic smells which were coming from just outside the campsite. Interspersed with the smell of the desert at night it distracted me from the heavenly beauty above. As I got my flashlight and moved towards the smell I found a little cluster of cactus with these amazing fragile white blooms. I was amazed that it was just these few flowers that were producing this amount of scent. As I extinguished my light I leaned against a nearby boulder and went back to looking at the stars surrounded by this fantastic floral scent. These flowers, I found out later, only last for one night. I took for granted my fortune in being in the right place at the right time.
Because of this experience I was very interested in the fourth fragrance Owner/Creative Director Saskia Havekes was releasing for her Grandiflora brand called Queen of the Night after this Cereus cactus flower. I was also pleased to see she was collaborating with perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour. M. Duchaufour has a nifty skill at creating specific accords. In Queen of the Night this is shown as it really is a dance of three accords; one for the sand and stone of the desert, another for the cooling air of the desert night, and an accord to evoke the flower itself.
Because it is all about the flower that is what makes its presence known first. The Queen of the Night accord is primarily formed around a core of orange blossom. M. Duchaufour weaves other white flowers, tuberose and gardenia, in to amplify the indolic effect. Then he adds vanilla to finish this accord which is a creditable simulation of the real thing. Now he needs to add in the vault of the desert sky at night with the grounding element of the surface. For the desert night sky accord he uses a set of the more expansive aldehydes this adds a cooling transparency which overlays the Queen of the Night accord. Then from below the sand and stone thrust their way into things. Here M. Duchaufour takes incense and clove while surrounding them with some spices a bit of galbanum, patchouli, and sandalwood. It provides a craggy foundation for the other two accords to interact with.
Queen of the Night has 10-12 hour longevity about the same as the real bloom. The sillage is average.
M. Duchaufour under the direction of Ms. Havekes has done a very nice job of capturing a rugged terrain at a moment where it shows off a more pleasant side. The desert has always been about the power impermanence has in that unforgiving climate. Queen of the Night is also about that same effect.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle provided by Grandiflora.