Like many perfume lovers as the weather warms up there are certainly styles of perfume which get pushed to the back of the shelf. As a writer on perfume I don’t always have the luxury of adhering to that completely. I have to take what comes no matter what the weather. It was a mixed blessing when I received my sample of Marc-Antoine Barrois Ganymede. That was because last year’s debut perfume Marc-Antoine Barrois B683 was a gorgeous refined leather perfume. Ganymede was said to be using the same leather accord. What I found was something delightfully different in both style and weight.
Quentin Bisch (l.) and Marc-Antoine Barrois (Photo: Fred Zara)
Marc-Antoine Barrois and perfumer Quentin Bisch were the creative team behind B683 and continue into Ganymede. I described B683 as the scent of luxurious leather. Ganymede is a lighter version of the same leather among an entirely different set of supporting notes. The name comes from the largest moon of Jupiter. This planet has captured the imagination because it has a large frozen salt-water ocean, a magnetic field, and traces of oxygen in its atmosphere. For the purposes of the perfume version Messrs. Barrois and Bisch imagine what would a frozen aquatic smell like over their leather accord.
Ganymede opens with a vibrant mandarin providing sunny citrus energy. Saffron provides a corona around the mandarin as a diffuse glow. The same leather accord of B683 comes in with a stealthy step. It almost infuses itself underneath the top accord. Then immortelle is used as the center of that “frozen ocean” accord. Immortelle is most often described as having a maple syrup-like scent profile. M. Bisch attenuates that in favor of the dried grass aspect it also contains. It is used to create that concentrated salinity you might imagine Ganymede the planet smelling like. Contrasted with the subtle vitality of the leather accord this is out of this world.
Ganymede has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Ganymede is a very transparent leather perfume. I rarely pull out my leather perfumes on a summer day. Ganymede will not fall in that category. I will happily wear this out on a midsummer’s evening. I am not sure if there is a trilogy of leather scents to be completed in the future from this creative team. I selfishly hope so. I also am quite curious to see what they might come up with in a non-leather style of perfume. If they can pull off a summer-weight leather it seems there is nothing out of their reach.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
If there is a disappointment, I have in most of the designer perfumes it is that they don’t connect as strongly to the clothing side as I would wish. There are so many innovations the great couture designers have made with the use of fabric I want some perfumes to mimic that. This is not a never seen kind of thing it is mostly a rarely seen event. Yves Saint Laurent Grain de Poudre tries to be one.
Grain de Poudre is part of the Le Vestiaire de Parfums collection launched in 2015. Each perfume is inspired by some aspect of Yves Saint Laurent’s fashion life from design to studio. It has produced seventeen previous perfumes to Grain de Poudre. My overwhelming reaction has been safe perfume extoling a visionary designer. These do not do justice to the aspects of M. Saint Laurent’s life they are inspired by. They have mostly been about producing a varied collection of common styles of perfume. Grain de Poudre doesn’t stray too far outside those lines.
Grain de Poudre is named after the wool and mohair blend used by M. Saint Laurent in his blazers. The classic Le Smoking tuxedo jacket with which M. Saint Laurent revolutionized the concept of women wearing a tuxedo was made of grain de poudre fabric. It is a sleek kind of wool with a tactile density attached to it. Perfumer Quentin Bisch was asked to make a perfume based on it in Grain de Poudre.
Good woolen fabrics have the same kind of animalic scent as leather does. It is different, a little more funky than the more acceptable cowhide scent. M. Bisch chooses to use a leather accord in the base of Grain de Poudre to stand in for that quality. What comes before adds a texture to it all.
Grain de Poudre opens on a combination of violet leaves and black pepper. This is a top accord M. Bisch has used previously in Ex Nihilo Cuir Celeste. There he kept it light. In Grain de Poudre it is rougher. The black pepper rasps across the silvery violet leaves. It turns a sticky shade of green as coriander and sage add even more texture to this opening. Some animalic musks precede the suede leather accord in the base. This is the sleek feel of grain de poudre fabric made funkier by the other ingredients.
Grain de Poudre has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Grain de Poudre is still like most of the other La Vestiaire de Parfums entries in that it never veers outside of safe boundaries. It is better than most everything else in the collection because M. Bisch does try to get a little wooly bully without knocking things over.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Neiman Marcus.
When I was a child if there was a scent I associated with success and power it was leather. Whenever we visited family and friends who I perceived as successful the smell of leather was everywhere. In the furniture we sat on. In the pair of driving gloves worn as we drove in a big car. A leather covered desk in a wood-paneled office. This became hardwired into my developing mind as even now I still must overcome the impulse. What it does mean is when there are perfumes which go for this it brings me back to a childhood where the smell of leather is a pure luxury. Marc-Antoine Barrois B683 is one which reminds me of all of this.
Marc-Antoine Barrois is a menswear designer in Paris. He works on bespoke creations for his clientele. He decided he wanted a perfume to scent his store. For him he also shared the same childhood memories of leather as luxury. It turns out perfumer Quentin Bisch is another who also feels this way. When M. Barrois and M. Bisch came together it became obvious this was the style of perfume they would collaborate on.
Quentin Bisch (l.) and Marc-Antoine Barrois (Photo: Fred Zara)
When a leather accord is constructed it can go in many directions. Based on my experience the refined version is the most difficult to achieve. As a perfumer pulls together the pieces, I think rough spots frequently show up requiring a more precise construction. What is achieved in B683 is that high degree of difficulty leather accord achieving the desired effect.
The opening of B683 is a surprising spice mélange of black pepper, nutmeg, saffron, and Szechuan pepper. I have extolled the use of the last material a lot recently. In the hands of a perfumer like M. Bisch it still can impress in new ways. In this case M. Bisch teases out a green thread and uses the nutmeg and saffron to make it more pronounced. As much as I like the leather which comes next this top accord is compelling. The leather does come next. This is that refined supple style of leather that only seems to be attached to luxury items. It is bracketed by softly resinous labdanum and green violet leaves. The violet leaves pick up that green thread from the top accord and passes it along to the oakmoss in the base. The foundation of B683 is sandalwood, patchouli, and ambroxan. This forms a very dry woody accord as the ambroxan is used to tamp down the less arid aspects of patchouli and sandalwood.
B683 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
The star of B683 is the leather accord at its heart which lives up to its brief. It is a gorgeous example of this. For me it is the top accord which was my favorite part. Somewhat like the opening act overshadowing the headliner. The entire experience of B683 is one of leather as the epitome of luxury.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
I think when we look back at this current time in modern perfumery it is going to become known for the refinement of the gourmand style of fragrance. When you look back at any time in the past there are a few perfumers who seem especially inspired to do some of their best work. If I am correct it is still early to make those kinds of assertions. If I am correct one of the perfumers who seems to be enjoying evolving the gourmand perfume is Quentin Bisch. His latest effort is L’Artisan Parfumeur Mandarina Corsica.
Mandarina Corsica is part of the Les Paysages collection which is interpreting geographical areas of France. Corsica is the subject of this perfume. According to the press release it is known for the scent of citrus in summer. Reading that you would suspect Mandarina Corsica to be a Mediterranean-style cologne. This is far from what is in this bottle. Instead of a summery scent this is a deeper citrus gourmand which combines with another flower from Corsica.
Caramel is where the entire gourmand sector was born just over twenty years ago. If there has become an overused note in this style it is that one. M. Bisch finds a way to lighten it up while surrounding it with some interesting choices.
It opens with the promised oranges but not the airy zephyr version. Think instead of the candied jelly version of orange. It has a crystalline focus around an intense orange. I can almost feel the sugar crystallizing on my skin. The pivot point for this perfume is the use of immortelle in the middle. Immortelle has the scent of maple syrup over a straw-like undercurrent. It is especially appropriate in a perfume of Corsica as it is the flower which grows in the maquis. It is one of my favorite ingredients in perfume. M. Bisch uses it to head into a caramel “lite” accord around brown sugar and tonka bean. The coumarin of the tonka connects with the immortelle to pull everything together.
Mandarina Corsica has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
When it all comes together it reminds me of Brach’s orange caramels. This is the kind of citrus perfume which finds a different weight by being the filling within M. Bisch’s caramel accord. It is another expansion of what a gourmand perfume can be.
Disclosure; This review is based on a sample supplied by L’Artisan Parfumeur.
My first leather jacket was a brown bomber jacket. It was for my tenth birthday and I wore it constantly; in the South Florida heat. For the year or so I wore it, until I outgrew it, it had a unique combination of sweat and leather as scent. I remember thinking it was interesting how the overlap occurred in a sweet place. It turns out a more grown-up version of that bomber jacket is the inspiration for Ex Nihilo Cuir Celeste.
Olivier Royere, Sylvie Loday, and Benoit Verdier (l. to r.)
Cuir Celeste is the first perfume in the Visionnaires collection. The idea is to work with another artist on a perfume. For this first one the team at Ex Nihilo: Sylvie Loday, Olivier Royere, and Benoit Verdier asked photographer Mathieu Cesar to take over the creative director duties. M. Cesar wears a classic bomber jacket and wanted a perfume with this as the brief. Working with perfumer Quentin Bisch they came up with a nice interpretation of their inspiration.
Quentin Bisch (l.) and Mathieu Cesar
This is an interesting trip which starts with a green kick. M. Bisch uses black pepper, galbanum, and violet leaves for the top accord. If that sounds intense you should look at the second word in the name; celeste or light blue in English. This is not meant to be something heavy but a more expansive style of fragrance. It is evident in that top accord as M. Bisch uses the violet leaves to provide a less spiky version of both the pepper and the galbanum. This is more like light green in effect. Before the leather comes M. Bisch treats me to a brilliant accord of the botanical musk of ambrette seed crossed with osmanthus. This is that sweaty body inside the jacket but after that sweat has dried inside the jacket. It is the memory of yesterday’s labors. The osmanthus is an ideal partner as its leather leads into M. Bisch’s leather accord. He uses cypriol, akigalawood, and a couple of musks to produce an opaque unrefined leather accord. It is an interesting choice because it feels like Cuir Celeste is always headed deeper, but it never stops being light blue.
Cuir Celeste has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is one of my favorites of the Ex Nihilo collection overall. I’m not sure I’ll wear it as much as my adolescent bomber jacket, but I am sure I won’t grow out of, or tired of, it.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Ex Nihilo.
Whenever Mrs. C and I are out looking at art we have a conversation which goes like this, “Isn’t that piece incredibly done?” I reply, “Yes but I wouldn’t want to live with it every day.” I find myself having this internal conversation about perfume more frequently. One part of the reason for that is there are a lot of fragrances being made for, and marketed to, a demographic decades younger than me. It is a normal thing, but I now get new perfumes which I have to try and figure out whether it is what that consumer wants. I end up paying more attention to the construction because I understand that. This struggle was front and center on Zadig & Voltaire Girls Can Do Anything.
When Thierry Gillier founded Zadig & Voltaire in 1998 he was looking to dress the cool girl of Paris. He believed that style would find acceptance word-wide. Twenty years on it appears he was correct. The clothes are simple designs modernized with modern tailoring and detailing. When M. Gillier made the move to fragrance it was a bit of a bumpy ride. He partnered with the founders of Le Labo to create two perfumes in 2009 and 2012. They were both Orientals of a similar style that seemed to fall somewhere between the Le Labo and Zadig & Voltaire aesthetic. It didn’t work.
Two years ago, M. Gillier was ready to give it a try again. This time he was the creative director providing a clear vision of what the brand stood for. The most obvious change was a streamlined style with fragrances of a few ingredients mostly dominated by a single keynote. Reacquainting myself with them they are typical designer perfumes.
For Girls Can Do Anything there is a similar aesthetic at work. Except this time the supporting ingredients have more of an obvious effect. Perfumer Quentin Bisch took the style of the brand of tailoring and detail and transformed it to a fragrance.
Girls Can Do Anything starts with a crisp pear which is given a soft green shimmer via a fern accord. Tonka bean provides a toasty sweet nuttiness which M. Bisch floats a veil of orange blossom over. Vanilla and ambrox provide a dry sweet woody base accord.
Girls Can Do Anything has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
As I wore Girls Can Do Anything I appreciated the details M. Bisch provided around the keynotes. They are tuned to provide a specific effect which I could admire. This is where the second half of my internal conversation takes place as this perfume is not meant for me. I asked a couple of young women I know what they thought, and they seemed to like it. Maybe it is that group who wants this style. I can admire the tailoring and detail, but I will never be a cool girl on the Seine.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Zadig & Voltaire.
If you’re reading this review and feel like you have read it before; you have. Bottega Veneta has been one of the better designer brands to make the transition to mainstream perfumes. Two years ago, they decided to release a different collection called Parco Palladiano.
Creative director Tomas Maier was inspired by Italian architect Andrea Palladio’s 16th century villa in Vicenze called La Rotonda. Parco Palladiano is meant to be a collection featuring one of the things growing around the villa. Over nine releases that desire to make a soliflore has been pushed to a literal extreme as most of the collection is just what the bottle promises and nothing else. There might be a few different extracts layered together but overall most of the collection never moves beyond that. The only one which captured my attention from the first nine was Parco Palladiano V because besides sage it also had laurel and rosemary to help make the sage a soaring aromatic.
When I received the six newest additions to the collection I felt the same way I had when experiencing the others. X is a woody olive tree. XI is woody chestnut. XII is woody oak. Sense a theme yet? XIII is the smell of grass. XIV is pomegranate. That is all there is with nothing else. If you like those smells and want a perfume which never changes while you are wearing it; they are well-done just terribly boring to me for not allowing supplementary ingredients to show off the keynote.
In what is an odd bit of symmetry I am again drawn to only one of these new releases XV Salvia Blu. It is also meant to be a soliflore of sage. It is also bracketed by two supplementary notes which provide a softer presence than in V. Perfumer Quentin Bisch makes a soliflore which has more to it than the central ingredient.
As it was in V the sage is present right away, but its greener aspects are more muted for a fresher aromatic scent. Lavender complements and amplifies this effect as its dual nature of herbal and floral meshes with the sage. As this is happening on one side a spicy rose is also arriving on the other side. As the florals appear the sage becomes more extroverted pushing the florals to the background. This is where XV stays for hours.
Parco Palladiano XV has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Fifteen entries in I am guessing I am not the intended audience and there is a desire for this kind of single ingredient perfumery. As the only two which I enjoyed also had to contain something besides the sage keynote. Just goes to support my hypothesis from the first Parco Palladiano review; soliflores aren’t easy.
Disclosure: this review is based on samples provided by Bottega Veneta.
As the weather gets warmer there also comes with it a desire for simplicity. It is the time of year my linear style of perfumes receives the most use. It is generally because once it gets hot the simple beauty of a great ingredient done well is just the right choice. Van Cleef & Arpels Neroli Amara uses neroli in just this way.
This kind of style of perfume has become a staple of the Van Cleef & Arpels Collection Extaordinaire. When it gets it correct these become perfume still lifes featuring a single ingredient. For Neroli Amara perfumer Quentin Bisch was asked to do this with neroli.
The name of the perfume and the brief is inspired by the real-life Princess of Nerola. In 1675 when she married to the Prince of Nerola she found the province north of Rome covered with Amara Orange trees. The story goes that the Princess scented her clothes with orange blossom, adding them to her gloves. The scent would become so entwined with her it would become the etymology of the perfume ingredient neroli. M. Bisch captures a regal version of neroli in Neroli Amara.
Neroli Amara opens on a top accord of citrus. It is as if M. Bisch wanted to have every citrus note pay court to the princess to come. Then like an announcement trumpet a bit of baie rose commands the citrus to calm down. Over the next few minutes the neroli rises in presence. The princess has arrived. M. Bisch has black pepper and petitgrain escort her to the throne. The neroli chosen is all of what I enjoy in the ingredient; a soft citrus-like floral atop an astringent green underpinning. The use of the petitgrain, in particular, focuses the neroli more towards the floral but the green is also a presence. Much later on there is a bit of light woody cypress but by then the princess has retired to the palace.
Neroli Amara has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is one of the least complex perfumes I have encountered by M. Bisch. That’s not a bad thing it just means if you have come to expect something innovative from him Neroli Amara isn’t that. It is a perfumer showing off his still life of Princess Neroli; in this case that is more than enough.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Van Cleef & Arpels.
When a perfume brand has been around for awhile I begin to think I know what to expect, 99 times out of 100 I am correct. No brand has gone out of business by giving consumers variations of already successful releases. It is a fact of life in the mass-market sector. Which means when I get a sample of a new release from a brand like Chloe I expect a variation on fresh and floral. The latest spring release for 2018 showed me something different.
The new fragrance is called Chloe Nomade composed by perfumer Quentin Bisch. His aim is to produce a fruity chypre but before he can get there he also needs to nod to the fresh floral DNA of the brand. While doing that he also departs from the formula throughout the rest of Nomade to provide a different kind of Chloe experience.
Nomade is a simple construction where with a flare of citrus M. Bisch opens the perfume on a duet of plum and freesia. The freesia is that simple spring floral which is found throughout the Chloe collection. It is next to a rich plum fully faceted with skin, tart pulp and woody stone. M. Bisch takes the plum as an equal to the freesia for a short time before the plum emerges on its own. Then to fulfil the chypre part a low-Atranol oakmoss steps up, providing more green than bite. This is the legacy of using the modern version of oakmoss. What works in Nomade is the lush plum settles into the green mossy embrace seamlessly revealing a modern fruity chypre over the long run on my skin.
Nomade has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Nomade is a significant departure from the typical Chloe release. Once the freesia is gone the plum and oakmoss is as far from fresh and floral as you can get. It will be interesting to see if longtime Chloe fragrance aficionados like it. Also, whether those, like me, who think they know what a Chloe perfume smells like give it a chance to break through. That Chloe has taken a risk is laudable and I hope it pays off.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Sephora.
The first time I became aware of the word “chypre” came while I was reading the classic detective novel “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett. One of the habits I had when reading was if I ran across a word that I didn’t know I’d try to infer it from context followed by opening the paperback dictionary I carried with me. The very last sentence in the paragraph which described the character Joel Cairo was, “The fragrance of chypre came with him.” In my mind I pronounced it ki-per while the context made me think it was perfume. The entry in the dictionary said it was “a non-alcoholic perfume containing oils and resins”. While the pronunciation instructed me to say sheep-ra. Years later as I truly became fascinated with perfume I would think back to how inadequate that definition is.
Chypres have been one of the most interesting style of fragrance from the moment I began to care about understanding more. They have evolved, and every great perfumer has their version of it. The new generation has been working with material restrictions while creating innovative new chypre accords. Occasionally the young guns get the chance to go back and try and make a chypre like they used to. For Ex Nihilo French Affair perfumer Quentin Bisch takes his opportunity.
Ex Nihilo Team (l. to r.) Olivier Royere, Sylvie Loday, Benoit Verdier
M. Bisch wears his love of perfumery out in the open. There is no doubt that he adores everything about its history and his part in the future of it. I would have enjoyed hearing the conversation when creative directors Sylvie Loday, Olivier Royere, and Benoit Verdier asked him for an old-fashioned chypre for the “new Dandies” of the 21st century. Which is what the brief for French Affair seems to be. M. Bisch decided the base was going to be as traditional a chypre accord as he could produce. Where he would innovate is in the top and heart accords leading to that base.
If there is an ingredient which is becoming a bit of a M. Bisch fingerprint it might be lychee which he uses to add some off-kilter sweetness to the more typical bergamot. It still has that lens flare kind of quality but through a kind of musty sweet. I like it a lot as it is a contemporary twist on that most pedestrian citrus opening. Slicing through the sweetness like a razor is violet leaves which cut straight through to a lush rose in the heart. Its dewy floral depths hold the focus until the patchouli, oakmoss, and vetiver which form M. Bisch’s chypre accord rise up. The rose and violet leaves fall right in line as the earthy patchouli, the bitter oakmoss, and the sharp woody green of vetiver combine into a classic chypre accord. This is perfume classicism at its best.
French Affair has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage. It could get you a line in a novel if you wear too much.
M. Bisch’s enthusiasm is contagious and given the opportunity with French Affair he delivered his version of classic chypre brilliantly. So much so that if there is a remake of The Maltese Falcon in 2018 San Francisco this is the perfume that Joel Cairo should be wearing.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Ex Nihilo.