When it comes to iris in perfumery there are more than their share of excellent perfumes featuring the rooty wonder. There are so many great iris perfumes that doing a list of my top 5 for My Favorite Things has been almost impossible. The only thing that has remained constant on that ever evolving list is Stephane Humbert Lucas 777 Khol de Bahrein. Which made me realize that perfume has to be my Gold Standard when it comes to iris.
Stephane Humbert Lucas is one of my favorite perfumers working because I don’t think he is trying to make a bestselling perfume. I have described his perfumes as “art house” fragrances alluding to the idea that they appeal to those who expect more of the art form than just to smell good. Many of the perfumes he has composed for Nez a Nez, SoOud, and Stephane Humbert Lucas 777 are brilliantly realized bold artistic visions. If I had to pick one of his creations as one most likely to be widely appreciated it would be Khol de Bahrein. Continuing the movie analogy this is the art house hit that makes it to the multiplex. What I admire about Khol de Bahrein is M. Lucas makes a hypnotic perfume which draws you into its purple tinted gaze until you forget what you were doing.
Stephane Humbert Lucas
Khol is the dark eyeshadow made famous by the heavy application of it by Cleopatra. The darkness surrounding the eyes has a way of focusing one’s attention on the point of color represented by the irises. Which makes M. Lucas’ choice to make Khol de Bahrein an iris focused perfume amusing.
Khol de Bahrein opens with a different floral shade of purple as violet along with incense make up the top notes. The violet here is the violet that is rich and tinged with green. The incense seems to infuse the floral as if a joss stick was placed in a flower pot of violets. The heart is made up of a decadent amount of orris butter, sandalwood, and ambergris. This is a perfect marriage of ingredients as the orris sets itself up to be hugged by creamy sandalwood on one side and real ambergris on the other. Together this elevates the orris to bob along on a piece of driftwood floating upon the ocean. The base notes are musk and balsamic notes. The musk is that human skin accord made exotic by the presence of the balsamic notes.
Khol de Bahrein has 18-24 hour longevity and average sillage.
It has been only two years since Khol de Bahrein has been released but I consider it a new classic already. It is the best perfume by M. Lucas to date; which is saying quite a bit since I hold most of his perfumes to a high standard. When it comes to iris The Gold Standard is Stephane Humbert Lucas 777 Khol de Bahrein.
Disclosure; This review based on a bottle I purchased.
One of my favorite books is “The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test” by Tom Wolfe. It chronicles the adventures of Ken Kesey and his band of counterculture heroes The Merry Pranksters as they travel on their bus. They used LSD and other psychedelics to see what they could learn from the trip or “test”. One of the trio of debut fragrances from Malbrum called Psychotrope is its own version of a perfume “test”.
Creative director Kristian Hilberg and perfumer Delphine Thierry were interested in creating a very synthetic fragrance experience with Psychotrope. Mme Thierry combines some of the more expansive synthetic aromachemicals to evoke a mind-expanding experience. Through the first few months of 2015 I have been pleasantly surprised at the number of perfumes which are wearing their synthetic building blocks in an overt way. I have noticed in these perfumes that these synthetic materials provide a prominent post-modern feel. Psychotrope achieves this vibe by letting the synthetics fill up every available space leaving nothing else to experience.
Psychotrope opens with a powerful slug of cypress. There is no gentle warm-up as Mme Thierry lets it hit you with a woody rush swathed in pimento and elemi. You’ll have to hunt for those because the cypress really does push everything out of its way. Cashmeran forms the core of the heart and it also dominates the landscape. This time the other notes of incense and saffron find a way to shade the power down a couple notches. The saffron sometimes feels like a hallucination as it tends to flit in and out on my skin. When it is there it really completes the heart. Into the base Ambrinol and Timbersilk form a smooth woody foundation enhanced with a sandalwood synthetic. This is where the synthetics really feel like they are filling up every bit of the olfactory horizon. Mme Thierry manages to achieve this effect without letting these aromachemicals become so dominant it feels like a perfume chemistry project. On the contrary it seems once you have a certain amount of synthetics in a professional perfumer’s hands these intense notes find another softer form. This is the third perfume in the first six months of 2015 I have observed this effect with. These focused synthetics can form something unexpectedly delicate without forfeiting structure. It makes wearing these perfumes an interesting experience.
Psychotrope has 18-24 hour longevity and average sillage.
I don’t have a preference in the never-ending debate of synthetic v. natural. My preference is for interesting compositions and both deliver that experience to me. Psychotrope is another all-synthetic perfume which has opened my eyes to the real potential of what can be achieved in skilled hands. Mme Thierry and Psychotrope have expanded my perfumed mind.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Malbrum at Esxence 2015.
I love sushi and am an avid proselytizer when trying to get those reluctant to try eating raw fish to let me guide them through it. The one thing I warn all of them is my favorite final piece of any sushi outing is something only for those who really like sushi. I order sea urchin in a hand roll topped with a raw quail’s egg. The overall texture of this as sea urchin, or uni as it is called in Japanese, is very soft can be challenging. Combine this with the smell of fresh sea urchin which has a strong iodine component along with a distinct briny smell. I love the smell of fresh uni it feels like the living ocean to me. I can honestly say I never expected to find it in a perfume but now I have in the new Medittorosa Sogno Reale.
Stefania Squeglia is the owner and creative director at Medittorosa. Sogno Reale is the perfumed realization of a dream Sig.ra Squeglia had. She asked perfumer Amelie Bourgeois to create a fragrance which evoked her dream the trio of smells Mme Bourgeois had to work with was lemon, sea urchin, and leather. Sogno Reale has the feeling of a waking dream full of seeming contradictions which somehow make sense when lost in the subconscious.
Sogno Reale opens with that lemon as brilliant as you will find in a perfume. It provides stark contrast to the uni accord which Mme Bourgeois forms from iodine and ozonic notes. This captures that smell of fresh ocean and something living precisely. It is a very odd combination but it works for me. It is going to be too weird for some. If you can find something to enjoy, the next phase as Mme Bourgeois constructs her leather accord makes it worth it. First patchouli is used to lead into an unrefined leather accord. Mme Bourgeois takes olibanum, styrax, hyraceum, and sandalwood. This leather accord has a primitive quality to it. That matches the remainder of the uni accord perfectly. Very late in the drydown there is a boozy shimmering finish around rum and amber.
Sogno Reale has 8-10 hour longevity and very little sillage.
I always want perfume brands to take chances and Sig.ra Squeglia has done that with Sogno Reale. Like my finishing dish at the sushi restaurant Sogno Reale is not for those who like their perfumes safe. Sogno Reale is for the perfume lover who truly wants to try something very different. Sogno Reale is that kind of perfume. I was not able to wear it on a really hot day where I think it might be at its best. I did wear it on a trip to the beach and to the sushi restaurant afterwards. As I got ready to take a bite of my uni hand roll a slight whiff of it rose from my wrist. It was a perfect combination of two forms of uni.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Medittorosa.
If you haven’t figured it out previously it is obvious that I stay up way too late with the television on. The subject of late-night television might be the thing I’ve written most about for this particular column. As one who has enjoyed the form and the energy different hosts bring to their specific efforts we are currently in the midst of a seismic shift in the late-night landscape. By September 2015 only one of the major late-night shows, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, will have the same host they had on September 2010. I have really been enjoying the way the shifting of the shows has changed the energy.
As I’ve written before the kind of hosts like David Letterman and Craig Ferguson who actively made fun of the genre have been my favorites. With both gone I was wondering if there would be one who replaced that style. I think the answer is the man who replaced Mr. Ferguson with The Late Late Show with James Corden.
Mariah Carey and James Corden
James Corden took over the slot in late March of 2015 that Mr. Ferguson had made popular. Mr. Corden has a very different personality as he radiates puckish charm. That charm carries him far as his taped bits have started to become next-day watches on YouTube. The most successful of these bits is one called Carpool Karaoke. It is where he gets a well-known musical star to carpool with him to work while they do karaoke to the passenger’s hits. In between singing Mr. Corden interviews them. The stars open up in unusual ways and the whole idea has come off incredibly well.
I sort of knew I was going to like the show when at the beginning of his second week he ventured outside of the studio onto a surrounding residential street and found someone to allow them to film the show in their living room. Guests Jeff Goldblum and musician Beck sat on a real couch and performed. The episode ended with a visit by zookeeper Rick Schwartz as he brought the typical zoo animals into the house for a visit.
Since then he became a human piñata for Cinco de Mayo. He has visited a juice bar and a kosher market to give a regular employee a break while he takes over. But my very favorite bit is his send-up of the shows that talk about other television shows like Talking Dead. Ever since David Letterman went off the air in May the network has filled that slot with repeats of the crime procedurals that network shows. The Mentalist was that show for the first week of June and the cold open for the show that week was a bit called Talking Mentalist. They would send up all fo the conventions of these shows talking about shows you’ve just seen. They would have one of the bit part actors who only had one scene as part of the panel. The very best of all of this came on the night they had the man who hosts Talking Dead, Chris Hardwick, as a guest and they included him in that night’s Talking Hawaii Five-O.
I have always looked to the late-night shows to provide a pleasant funny companion for the wee hours of the morning. I am very happy to invite Mr. Corden to share that time with me on a regular basis.
There is another thing I’ve noticed about many of the most successful independent perfumers; they have a primary source of inspiration. That inspiration is as varied as the styles I find in this sector of perfumery. For Alexis Karl it is poetry.
I spent some real time with her on the day before last May’s Sniffapalooza Spring Fling talking about her way of making perfume. As we talked I could tell Ms. Karl loves the power of words. The way they sound as we speak them. The meanings they have both obvious and subliminal. The way they can form an intimate connection. She even has a perfume she will only let you smell if you pay the price of supplying her a piece of poetry. Her perfume brand, Scent by Alexis, represents the ongoing composition of a poem. With The Harmony of Being we have reached the third line. Here is what exists to date:
"A body made luminous,
a body secret, sacred, cyphered,
you are the harmony of being…"
The new perfume is that attempt to achieve harmony by just being. Ms. Karl has composed a fragrance of balance between light and dark. The constant necessity to find a point of balance between those is represented throughout the development of The Harmony of Being.
Ms. Karl starts off with the light of delicate florals as lilac and neroli combine with petitgrain sur fleur to form a shimmering opening. Shadows begin to arise as rose deepens the floralcy. A high concentration of muguet is a bit greener than I normally find which makes it more shaded into a deeper verdancy. The base is constructed on a matrix of beeswax into which Ms. Karl embeds labdanum, coffee flower, and ambergris. The final note and the true keynote for this perfume is black agarwood. This is another example of an ingredient only an independent perfumer can use because it can’t be sourced in massive quantities. This black agarwood has this fabulous amount of nuance which makes it sing in both light and shadow. There is a hint of a floral quality. There is an aged quality as if this was excavated from a tree as old as time. There is more than a little bit of a cocoa feel to this. The black agarwood does kind of cast the final shadow but it also has points of light so the dark contains the harmonizing qualities Ms. Karl is shooting for.
The Harmony of Being has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Ms. Karl has been steadily developing her perfumes, much as the poem they are based on is doing the same. With The Harmony of Being I feel like she really has composed her most assured perfume to date. There is a cognizant intelligence at play underneath it all. That is what truly makes The Harmony of Being represent the weight of words in all their myriad forms.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Scent by Alexis.
Ahoy Mateys, Captain Colognoisseur is here to invite you for a bit of perfumed grog. I am a big fan of boozy notes in my perfume and one of my favorites is when rum is the source of that effect. There aren’t a whole lot of rum perfumes out there as I realized once I started putting this list together. Even so these five perfumes are some of my favorites to wear when I want to go all piratical.
If there was ever a perfume that sold me on how good rum could be in a perfume it was 2005’s Idole de Lubin by Olivia Giacobetti. This modern version was a re-interpretation of the original from 1962. Idole de Lubin has Mme Giacobetti’s transparent aesthetic on display. That aesthetic is often compared to a silk scarf. This time the scarf has been doused with rum. What is underneath is saffron, ginger, sugar, leather and sandalwood.
By Kilian Straight to Heaven by Sidonie Lancesseur is a Spice Islands tableau of rum, nutmeg, jasmine, patchouli, and vanilla. Mme Lancesseur combines everything into this darkly decadent perfume. This is the complete antithesis to Idole de Lubin in strength as Straight to Heaven is like taking a swig straight from the bottle.
Amouage Opus V by Jacques Cavallier shows a more delicate side of rum. M. Cavallier combines his rum with rich orris butter. The richness of the orris unexpectedly highlights some of the deeper sweeter facets of the rum. The orris and rum opening of Opus V gives way to a jasmine and oud finish but it is that opening which is hard to forget.
Frapin Speakeasy by Marc-Antoine Corticchiato is M. Corticchiato capturing the speakeasies of Prohibition-era America. This is the smell of smuggled liquor and cigars. The party goers and the polished wood of the bar. It is one of my favorites in the Frapin line for once again capturing a moment in time through a spritz from an atomizer.
I am an unabashed fan of almost all of the Olfactive Studio line of perfumes. I realized when putting this list together that I just don’t give enough love to Still Life. It is probably because it was one of the original releases and it just got lost in the shuffle, but it shouldn’t. Perfumer Dora Arnaud interpreted Frederic Lebain’s picture as a modern cocktail. It consists of a twist of lemon, a dash of pepper, a splash of anisette and a full shot of rum. Mme Arnaud uses a fully heated up Szechuan pepper and it sets the boozy ingredients aflame. Maybe it takes a fire to get my attention.
If you’re busy mixing mojitos or daiquiris on the back deck or poolside and you want to complement the cocktails with a bit of perfume here are five that will go well.
Disclosure: I have purchased bottles of all five of these perfumes.
There are times when I get a sneak preview of an upcoming fragrance from a perfumer that I just count the days until it is released. When I was at Pitti Fragranze last September Pierre Guillaume showed me his idea of a fun in the sun perfume. I sprayed a little on that day and it was easily one of the best things at the entire expo but it wasn’t to be released yet. Flash forward seven months to Esxence and the same sequence as the perfume now had a name Mojito Chypre and it would be the fifth fragrance released in Collection Croisiere. My waiting is over and Mojito Chypre has now been released.
Having grown up in South Florida musician Jimmy Buffet was a Native Son and Partier-in-Chief especially in the Florida Keys where we had a weekend place. There were way too many nights we sang at the top of our lungs, “wasting away in Margaritaville!” with Mr. Buffett. There was a smell to warm liquor infused nights on the outside deck. Mojito Chypre captures that sense of carefree fun except the drink of choice is the rum and mint concoction called a mojito. M. Guillaume adds in a strawberry to his perfumed cocktail which definitely makes everything even more fun.
The first half of Mojito Chypre is that party. The rum is flowing the lime, mint, and strawberry are being muddled and releasing their flavors along with their scents. There are so many boring strawberry-themed mass-market perfumes out there. I want to grab them by the collar and have them smell this and see how it is done. There is never any moment in the opening hours, when the mojitos are flowing, when this perfume becomes too sweet, too fruity, or too much. M. Guillaume has mixed a perfect cocktail. If Mojito Chypre was just this it would be wonderful. M. Guillaume does not forget the second half of the name and there is this moment when the bottles are empty and you’re just left with the smell of late night woods and water. That is represented by a shift to patchouli and veitver as they provide the foundation for the oakmoss to rest upon. All together it makes for an excellent chypre accord. Just to make sure all the fun hasn’t disappeared M. Guillaume adds a bit of vanilla as a reminder there was a party going on here.
Mojito Chypre has 10-12 hour longevity with above average sillage.
I’m having a lot of fun describing Mojito Chypre with lighthearted terms. What I don’t want to get lost is what an accomplished perfume this is from M. Guillaume. There were so many ways this could have gone wrong. Instead it has gone deliriously right. I know I will be humming a lot to myself this summer, “wasting away in mojitoville” as I wear Mojito Chypre.
As a special bonus those who read my The Sunday Magazine column know I like making cocktails. This seems like the place to share my Strawberry Mojito recipe.
½ fresh lime
Six leaves of mint
1 ½ sliced strawberries
2 oz of white rum
2 oz club soda
In a large glass place squeeze the lines and place the limes in the glass. Add in the sliced strawberries, and the mint. Use a muddler to crush all of them together. Add in ice, the rum and the club soda and give it a stir.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Pierre Guillaume.
When it comes to celebrity fragrances there are few that make the grade. One of the most obvious reasons is the name on the bottle has little or nothing to do with it. Depending on the situation that can free a creative team to take chances but more often it leaves them to just knock off an imitation of something already on the market. The celebuscents which I admire have almost always had the celebrity intimately involved in the creative process. The first perfume to prove this principle to me was Sarah Jessica Parker Lovely. This was the debut perfume for Ms. Parker when she was at the heights of her Sex and the City fame. The whole process was covered in Chandler Burr’s book The Perfect Scent. What came across was a woman who wanted the perfume which carried her name to be something better than mediocre. It was and still is a successful perfume on the market. I think Lovely is a great perfume but I like the second perfume Ms. Parker collaborated on better; called Covet.
Covet came out two years after Lovely. The same creative director Ann Gottlieb was helping Ms. Parker and perfumer Frank Voelkl was picked to compose the perfume. Because of the success of Lovely I think the creative team felt they had a bit of leeway in trying something different with Covet. They would take that latitude and make something quite atypical for the state of the department store market circa 2007. Covet is like a mob of unruly kids all vying for the wearer’s attention. That amount of manic overly nuanced exposition wore most people out. I found it exhilarating. At the time it was the only thing in the mall that didn’t smell like everything else.
Time, and the consumer, has not been kind to Covet and it was discontinued about two years ago. Even though it has been discontinued it has been viewed as such a disappointment that you can find full bottles for less than $20 at almost any place that sells discount perfume. Which is why it is a Discount Diamond.
Covet opens on one of those unruly moments I mentioned. M. Voelkl takes lemon, lavender, geranium, a watery green leafy accord, and chocolate and turns them loose. It sounds like so many conflicting ideas it should just collapse. I’ll admit it comes close but I find this highly saturated opening fabulous. It never quite completely veers off course although I will admit it does drive on the wrong side of the road from time to time. This chaotic opening is what put many off because it is so weird, even eight years later it is still pretty weird. For the rest of the development Covet is relatively more straightforward as the heart is muguet and magnolia. The base is vetiver, woody notes and amber.
Covet has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Covet has been consigned to being the red-headed stepchild of Ms. Parker’s brand meant to be forgotten and unloved. If you are willing to take a chance on something great and for the price why wouldn’t you? Give Covet a try you might find something that is a real diamond in the rough.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
Independent perfumer Irina Adam of Phoenix Botanicals has been one of my favorite of the young natural perfumers working currently. What sets her apart in my mind is her very keen curiosity on finding new materials to base her perfumes around. For her latest Ella it took a friend who had some vintage essences from around the 1920’s-1940’s.
Picture of a couple of the actual vintage essences found in Ella
In the description on her Etsy site of Ella Ms. Adam tells of her friend artist Anne Arden McDonald who shared three vintage essence with her to use in a perfume. For Ella these were vetiver, hay, and hyacinth. The last note would be the keynote to build Ella around. Ms. Adam introduced Ella at the Sunday lunch of the recent Sniffapalooza Spring Fling where she brought tiny samples of all three vintage essences. Besides this being a special experience I also got to share smelling these raw materials with perfumer Christophe Laudamiel and Michael Edwards of Fragrances of the World. The three of us remarked on how all of these typical perfume ingredients had gained a lot of depth with nearly one hundred years of age. They were exceptional ingredients to build a perfume around. Ms. Adam is definitely one who is up to this challenge and she uses one of each vintage essence in each phase of Ella.
The vintage hyacinth is what predominates throughout all of the development. I am a big fan of hyacinth and this vintage version has layers to it I have never experienced previously. Ms. Adam wisely uses a bit of galbanum as green contrast before allowing the floral bouquet of the heart to bear the hyacinth up on to their shoulders. Those florals are ylang ylang, honeysuckle, gardenia, and jasmine. In other circumstances the hyacinth would be trampled by those florals. This vintage version never lets that happen as it stays on top all the way through this phase. Next is a human skin accord constructed around the vintage hay mixed with tobacco, botanical musks, and clove. This accord is where Ella snaps into brilliant focus for me. As the hyacinth continues to ring out the hay forms a shimmering human skin accord underneath it all. It is something very special. The base notes provide the concept of this all being kept in a timeless curio cabinet. Sandalwood and moss combine with the vintage vetiver. The vintage vetiver on its own is so smooth and deeply woody it was nearly unrecognizable. As part of Ella there are enough other notes to sort of resurrect the green familiar qualities but they seem like whispers of its normal volume.
Ella has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
I have been impressed by Ms. Adam’s technical abilities for a while now but they have never been displayed as conspicuously as they are in Ella. Given exquisitely precious ingredients she has produced an exquisite perfume. This is obviously a limited edition because of the ingredients and it is going to be one of the top perfumes of 2015. This is one you will be sorry if you miss it.
Disclosure: This review based on a sample provided by Phoenix Botanicals.
One of the great things about Facebook is the anticipation it builds in me for upcoming perfumes from many of my favorite independent perfumers. Early this month Mandy Aftel posted a picture with the caption “Working at my organ on a new chypre perfume!” In a response to one of the comments she promised, “it has all the “real” stuff in it.” It would be barely a week later when Ms. Aftel contacted me to let me know a sample of her new solid perfume for Aftelier Perfumes, Bergamoss, was on its way.
Picture from Mandy Aftel's Facebook page of her working on Bergamoss
Ms. Aftel often releases her perfumes as solids versus liquid applications. The biggest difference I notice is how wearing a solid perfume might be the most intimate experience one can have in perfume. The act of taking a finger and dipping it into a pot and choosing where to apply it only adds to that feeling.
Bergamoss is indeed a chypre with all of the “real” stuff. It is also a chypre made personal which is a side effect of it being produced in a solid form. By making it in this form Ms. Aftel takes something well-known and transforms it into something more transparent. Because it has all of the appropriate components it makes one lean in looking for more. Bergamoss makes me take what it is willing to give. Once I stopped chasing and actually accepted the level of engagement it became much more compelling than it was on first sniff. By the time I had worn this a couple more times it was all about the compulsion to bring it closer.
Botanical drawing of flouve
Bergamoss opens with the promised “berg” of bergamot. The citrus quotient is doubled with orange added which provides a juiced up “berg” to start things. The heart is where things really come together. Ms. Aftel employs a particularly juicy peach in combination with citronellol and nutmeg for the heart. Nutmeg has a wonderful spiced sweetness which opens up the sweeter qualities of the citronellol and peach while also providing necessary grounding effects. After the first two acts we finally get to the “real” stuff. The base of Bergamoss is the “amoss” from the name and much more. The note which leads you into the base is called flouve absolute. Ms. Aftel says in the press release it is from the tops of French sweet grass. She also says it can be chameleon-like in a fragrance and the base of Bergamoss does have a seemingly shifting frame of reference and I am going to chalk that up to the flouve. The core of the base is real oakmoss and antique civet. Coumarin provides a bridge between the muskiness and the woody green. That leaves the flouve to provide the grace notes which it does throughout the great majority of time Bergamoss is on my skin. It goes from narcotic sweetness to intense greenness. This makes Bergamoss feel in constant motion.
Bergamoss lasts 6-8 hours and has almost no sillage to speak of.
Bergamoss is going to be one of those perfumes where my already high estimation of it only climbs higher the more I become familiar with it. Ms. Aftel has put the “real” stuff in a really excellent perfume. Dip your finger in and find your personal olfactory bliss in its intimate excellence.
Disclosure; this review was based on a sample provided by Aftelier Perfumes.