I have a book genre I enjoy reading. It is a non-fiction story of a person from a different culture going to live in a faraway place with different customs. “A Year in Provence” by Peter Mayle is the best-known probably. When done by a talented author it provides insight into both sides of the culture gap and how to build a bridge. The most recent entry in my tiny bibliography is “The Only Gaijin in the Village” by Iain Maloney.
The culture change comes when Scotsman Mr. Maloney and his Japanese wife Minoru move from the Japanese city to the rural countryside. They had spent ten years in Japan, so the language was not a barrier. Other things would provide the differences.
Both were anomalies within the village. Mr. Maloney because he was the only Caucasian the “gaijin” from the title. His path was going to be the one of learning to fit in. More interestingly was his wife’s experience. The youth of the rural parts of Japan have mostly abandoned the country for the cities. She had some fitting in to achieve as well.
Mr. Maloney has an affable style of writing littered with amusing similes. They might be too much for some readers, but I found them endearing. He uses their life in the village to comment on the world at large. It was funny to realize there was a comment on US politics which popped up and then moved on. There is a bit of stand-up comedian timing to the way he writes. Set up and punch line. He even skewers the idea of the “this is my first year in a new culture” stories.
When I finished, I felt like I had leaned a little more about the stresses undergoing Japanese society. While also enjoying the amusing life of Iain and Minoru in this small village life.
Disclosure: this review is based on a copy I purchased.
I wonder if every successful independent perfumer has a checklist of styles they want to make. I often deride the commercial brands for checking boxes. The difference with independent perfumers doing it is there is more chance of a different spin. It seems as if Tauer Phtaloblue is Andy Tauer’s take on the aquatic genre.
Hr. Tauer has been one of the most influential indies because he has always managed to find something different in the most generic of styles. I have commented that I think there must be a set of new materials within this genre. Prior to a couple years ago an aquatic almost always was constructed around the aromachemical Calone. Recently a different breed of aquatic has sprung up eschewing Calone. It has helped reinvigorate the imaginations of perfumers. I have begun to look forward to new iterations because an artist like Hr. Tauer has something to show me. Phtaloblue kind of follows the classic eau de cologne recipe but instead of an Alpine meadow we get a rocky Mediterranean strand.
The early moments of lavender and lemon will make you think “cologne”. It is that sunny high-altitude accord associated with it. Then he gives it a twist with fennel. The fennel through its licorice tinted herbal-ness acts as a simulacrum for a rocky tide pool. The salty accord arrives at the same time as it. A floral transition of orange blossom and geranium adds a freshness. The base takes a fascinating turn towards a toasted nuttiness. One part of it is tonka bean the other seems like a praline accord. It is a sweet nutty scent arising from the briny pool. A bit of clean cedar completes it.
Phtaloblue has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is a version of aquatic as only a perfumer like Hr. Tauer could come up with. At turns cologne-like to end on a gentle gourmand nutty phase. It is Andy’s Aquatic.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from Tauer Perfumes.
The prevalence of weighted blankets has taken off. The idea is the feeling of light pressure underneath a soft blanket is comforting. It is the weight itself which adds the security. There is something to the hypothesis that heavier is more soothing. The same holds true for perfume. When you think to yourself which perfumes provide a cozy feeling they are centered around the heavier perfume notes. The latest from independent perfumer Shawn Maher, Maher Olfactive Treachery, explores this.
I think for the first time the name has nothing to do with his St. Louis home. In his Scent Notes column he says the name came from the painting by Rene Magritte; “Treachery of Images”. That piece is the depiction of a pipe with the phrase “this is not a pipe”. Mr. Maher wanted to name this perfume that, but it had already been used by another perfume. He ended up going back to the name and just using Treachery. I don’t think the name does it justice. In his column about Treachery he says, “I wanted something comforting” That is a better introduction to the perfume in the bottle.
He starts with two of the most classic perfume ingredients known for being comfortable, vanilla and tobacco. He uses a rich tobacco absolute which captures you in its narcotic embrace as vanilla absolute soothes your brow. Whenever I cook with vanilla, I am struck by the boozy scent of it. Mr. Maher amplifies that with a barrel-aged whisky accord to pick that up. He then changes the tobacco from the dried leaf in the barn to a fruit-flavored version from the tobacconist. An infusion of berries creates a pouch of decadence. This gets pushed even further in that direction with a cocoa powder to dust the entire thing. This is the slightly bitter analog to Dutch Process Cocoa used to bake with. At this point you are enveloped in pipe tobacco, vanilla, a glass of whiskey, and a bar of chocolate. My kind of comfort. There are some woods later on, but they mainly provide framing.
Treachery has 24-hour longevity and above average sillage.
Treachery belongs to my “wall of scent” category. It doesn’t so much develop as erect a structure which holds together for hours. This is one of those perfumes that will stay with you for more than a day. It is a good thing that being surrounded by Treachery is the same as being under a weighted blanket, happy comfort.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Maher Olfactive.
My colleague and fellow founding writer at CaFleureBon, Ida Meister, found many places where we have similar enthusiasms. One of them is the song “Start Wearing Purple” by Gogol Bordello. She has been known to sing it to me when we see each other. When I received my sample of Hiram Green Vivacious I started vocalizing in my head to “start wearing purple”. Because we both love the song, I expected to see her use it in her review, which you can read here. She chose to go a different way. Which means I’m going to torture it as much as anything that I ever use.
When it comes to florals in perfumery two of my favorite are the purple ones, iris and violet. Iris has been a staple of perfumery. Violet has been used much less. Many of my favorite perfumes I own are centered around violet. Hiram Green decided to make violet the keynote of Vivacious along with an assist from iris.
Mr. Green has become one of the most remarkable perfumers working with an all-natural palette. He has coaxed extraordinary depths from his creations. Vivacious is no different. This is a gorgeously deep purple perfume.
A sparkling bergamot sets the stage for the violet. One of the things I enjoy most about violet is a kind of candied effect it carries. There are violet flavored candies covered in crystalline sugar. This is how the violet first appears. Carnation provides some pushback with its clove-like spicy profile. That clove at the heart of carnation; this is where a natural perfumer must understand their materials. Mr. Green uses the spice within the flower to re-define the violet from candied to something less sweet. When orris joins in it is its rooty carrot-like version. There is still the powdery iris you know but it is that tuberous scent which predominates. Again it is the subtle powder of the flower matched to the rhizome in precise concentration that creates the balance at the heart of Vivacious. This is where Gogol Bordello reaches full volume in my head. A comforting amber adds a shimmer of warmth over the final hours.
Vivacious has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Vivacious is another magnificent floral from Mr. Green. Every time I think he can’t outdo his previous perfumes he proves me wrong. The tagline he has provided for Vivacious is “zing your life”. I am changing it to “sing your life”, you know the tune by now.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Hiram Green.
One reason for this column is to remind myself of the early releases of some great perfume brands. Usually that means looking back only a few years. This month’s Under the Radar choice I had to go all the way back to 1902 for Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet.
Penhaligon’s qualifies as one of the more maddeningly frustrating perfume brands. In the recent past they can’t seem to decide what they stand for nor find a consistent aesthetic. It has resulted in some long dry spells. Back in the beginning there was no problem. Penhaligon’s was a perfume for the wealthy British patron. Blenheim Bouquet was a commission from the Duke of Marlborough. What always captures my attention when I wear a perfume from this time is these were the earliest days of modern perfumery. There was no template to adhere to. No focus groups to give input. In the case of this perfume there was a customer who wanted something different than the florals most men were wearing. Perfumer Walter Penhaligon delivered.
Blenheim Bouquet stands out because it is a classic summery citrus perfume while also carrying a slightly formal style to it. Whenever I wear it, I am reminded of the author Tom Wolfe who wore impeccable tailored white linen suits as his trademark style. It was a way of being casual and formal simultaneously. Blenheim Bouquet achieves the same feel.
It opens with a tart lemon given a slightly candied sweetness. Lavender sets up as an herbal floral to play against the citrus. A set of spices led by black pepper find places to resonate with the citrus or the lavender. This is where Blenheim Bouquet starts to put a little starch in its collar. The early moments are exuberant but as the heart notes come into play, things begin to regiment themselves. Mr. Penhaligon uses a fresh pine made animalic through musk as the base accord. This completes the formal feeling while keeping the freshness of a warm weather style perfume.
Blenheim Bouquet has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
I will never be cool enough to pull off a white linen suit a la Mr. Wolfe. When I wear Blenheim Bouquet I can at least smell like I could.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
As it gets hotter and I want a perfume which provides relief it is citrus fragrances I turn to. I have realized through the obviousness of which bottles are at lower levels I seem to prefer one over all the others. Those which feature lemon are the ones I go for when faced with a morning of high humidity and temperature. I think the reason is lemon is the most exuberant of the citrus choices. There is a sunniness which is at its height. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if that sun went supernova Nicolai Eau de Yuzu is here.
Patricia de Nicolai
It has been twelve years since Patricia de Nicolai has made a citrus fragrance, Cedrat Intense. That one was a lemon focused scent simmering with the energy of the fruit. This might be the lemon prior to the fireworks which appear in Eau de Yuzu. She doesn’t use regular lemon. She chooses the Japanese variety known as yuzu. It falls somewhere between lemon and grapefruit carrying some of the greener aspects of the latter. Mme de Nicolai brings it to life in a way I haven’t experienced before.
Eau de Yuzu opens on a set of grassy oximes. As if I am walking barefoot on a great greensward. As I glance up the sun seems to be pulsing. The yuzu shines in a compact ball to start. A bit of grapefruit keeps it more compact. The energy is hard to contain as the sizzle of black pepper and the acerbic scent of juniper berry warns something might be up. The classic petitgrain lights the fuse that a set of white musks use to explode the citrus into a giant yellow firework. I just close my eyes and let the intensity settle upon me. As my senses begin to recover, I feel the dirt my toes are digging in and the tree I’m holding onto as gaiac wood and patchouli ground things.
Eau de Yuzu has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
All apologies to the band Oasis but the days I wore this I kept singing to myself, “someday you will find me/caught beneath the landslide/ in a yuzu supernova/ a yuzu supernova in the sky”. This is the kind of joyous perfume that makes you want to sing while you wear it. Nothing better on a hot summer day.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
Mrs. C and I tend to find middle ground on most things. One place we diverge significantly is in the ripeness of a pear. I prefer a crisp version, one which has a snap when I bite into it. She likes it when the fruit gets soft and very juicy. As we come into pear season in our farm community, we each have our own bowl for our way of enjoying pears. This preference carries over into perfume. When pear is used as a fragrance ingredient, I want it to be the same way I eat it. In Providence Perfume Co. Basil & Bartlett I get what I want.
Perfumer Charna Ethier has been releasing a summer cologne for the last few years. One of the things she has held to is keeping fidelity with the origins of the form. The original cologne was fruit-herbal-floral-wood. It is simple in concept. When a talented artist like Ms. Ethier takes it on it finds new dimensions.
In the traditional recipe the fruit is citrus. Here as the name portends it is Bartlett pear. The herb is usually rosemary or sage. Again as advertised it is basil for this one. The remainder of the formula is equally inventively tweaked to form a cologne all its own.
Right from the start B&B surge to the front. The herbal aromaticity of the basil finds a contrast in the focused fruit of the Bartlett. In the note list the fruit is listed as “pear accord”. I think Ms. Ethier has modified a traditional pear with some ingredients to form a more compact version. There is a concentrated effect I haven’t experienced when pear is usually present. That specificity of effect really finds its place with the basil. Ms. Ethier goes for a heavier floral effect than most colognes have as she pairs two from the cooler at the flower shop, lily and chrysanthemum. There is a slightly cool green to their presence. They fit in well with the herb and fruit from on top. At this point there is a richness to this cologne you normally don’t find. It moves to a gorgeous sandalwood base kept on the lighter side so it doesn’t shove its way into things. It slides in quietly until the sweet dry woodiness seems to appear from out of the blue.
Basil & Bartlett has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is a true cologne in that it developed on my skin rapidly over a short period. The upside of that is another spray in the afternoon can let me enjoy the ride for a second time in a day. I think I’ll be wearing this when I head to my local orchard to pick up my order of pears.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Providence Perfume Co.
In the half a decade I’ve been listening to popular music there are two things which have never changed. Good lyrics paired with a great hook are an equation for a great song. The test for that is always after I hear something for the first time what manages to linger with me after the sound is turned off. Is it a clever turn of phrase or a bass line to die for. One band which regularly gives me both is Haim. Their new album Women in Music Part III is full of these moments.
Musicians and the way they release new material is becoming something different. For Haim they had released six videos of the 16 songs on the album every few months starting a year ago. That first song “Summer Girl” is the three sisters who make up the group walking the streets of LA shedding their winter clothing followed by their own saxophonist. It felt like their take on Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side”. When I read they had given him a songwriting credit for the track I realized it was intentional. I knew it was going to be an eclectic album if this was the first song.
Each new video showed a band playing with genres. I mentioned it as my favorite single of 2019 when “Hallelujah” came out at the end of the year. It is based on Alana Haim’s loss of her friend along with the bond between the sisters. The emotion of this song would be replicated in multiple tracks on the album as each sister opens up about their own personal tribulations. Each of these tracks come from a genuine place of emotion as each woman finds her voice to speak about it.
One of the best tracks is “Man From the Magazine” where in a very folky Joni Mitchell-esque way they skewer the misogyny they deal with. This album is full of tonal shifts from track to track. That they don’t come off gimmicky probably speaks to the respect the sisters have for the genres they are working in.
I know we are in a time where sitting down and listening to sixteen songs by one artist seems quaint. The beauty of queuing up Women in Music Part III is you’ll hear a self-shuffled playlist from a single artist.
Disclosure: This review is based on a copy I purchased.
I finish my examination of Scent Trunk with two inspired by wine and terroir.
January 2020 by Miss Layla
When it comes to wine, I have enjoyed the expansion of it from the traditional centers of France, Italy, and the US. The same is true of perfume. As more independent perfumers bring their own parts of the world to life. One of the new centers of wine is New Zealand. They have undergone a steep learning curve producing some spectacular wines. Miss Layla a foodie turned perfumer has thought about the reason for that. She concludes it is the region itself, known as terroir. She further mentions it is because compared to other vinicultural areas its relative youth means it is still evolving. In January 2020 she wanted to make a perfume which captures a terroir in flux.
The keynote for January 2020 is truffle. It is a natural for someone who came from the culinary world to gravitate towards this. As she points out in the press notes it is not an easy ingredient to work with. There is a narrow band where it can be used. She finds the sweet spot enough to realize her vision.
The earthy slightly acrid truffle appears at the start. Blackcurrant bud is paired with it. This is a meeting of two querulous ingredients as the truffle and blackcurrant bud have a lively give and take. Moss provides a velvet carpet for them to circle each other upon. A hint of alcoholic wine comes through cognac and black olive. As a few herbs appear this is reminiscent of the nose of a New Zealand Pinot Noir. It goes very woody over the latter stages with oak given some support with leather and ambergris. January 2020 has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
February 2020 by Spyros Drosopoulos
Dr. Drosopoulos takes his wine inspiration from perhaps the most famous of all, Champagne. There is a sense of opulence that goes with the wine used to celebrate special occasions. Dr. Drosopoulos decides to explore the Chateau where it is made.
His keynote is black currant. It is immediately consumed in a bubbly champagne accord. There is a nose-tickling quality to the best versions of this wine. Dr. Drosopoulos creates an accord which fizzes over a deeper fruitiness from the black currant. I have often had raspberries added to a flute of champagne and this early part reminded me of that. The perfume takes a turn to the introspective as he evokes the paper incense of Papier Ambre along with a wisp of smoke which curls off the smoldering parchment. It ends on a note of perfume opulence as orris, patchouli, and pine form the scent of a cozy study with a flute of champagne on one corner of the desk and a censer of Papier Ambre on the other. February 2020 has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Closing Thoughts on Scent Trunk
I thoroughly enjoyed all six samples I was sent. It reinforces my belief that independent perfumers are the best choice for a monthly service. When given a truly blank canvas to create upon these perfumers all stepped up to their own vision. It is why this does seem like a perfumer’s paradise where creativity is ascendant.
Disclosure: This review is based upon samples sent to me by Scent Trunk.
As I continue my exploration of the new iteration of Scent Trunk I look at their first two monthly offerings.
November 2019 by Tyler Monk
One of the themes I will touch on consistently through these reviews is the choice of keynote. Mr. Monk launched his own independent brand called Luvandus five years ago. I have not tried any of them. I don’t know whether November 2019 is an outlier or more of the same. What I do know is it is a perfume which reminds me of my morning gardening duties.
During the midsummer days, all my gardening takes place soon after sunrise. There is a pleasure to digging in the dirt to begin the day. November 2019 captures that with pennyroyal as the keynote. Readers will know of my aversion to mint in perfume. Pennyroyal is a relative of spearmint. Except it is not. It is the dirty punk cousin of spearmint who maybe hasn’t had a shower. There is the herbal aspect of mint but there are way rougher scented edges that I am not thinking of dental products when I smell it. Mr. Monk centers his perfume around that.
That punk spearmint shows up at the start. Mr. Monk begins to develop what will become a gradual increase in the earthiness overall with the addition of carrot seed. It acts as a social worker to the pennyroyal trying to clean up its act a bit using some orange soap. Anise provides its herbal licorice which finds a lovely harmony with the pennyroyal. This is where November 2019 hits its high point. That earthiness I spoke of becomes more pronounced through the base accord of tobacco, chestnut, and oud. This is that moist dirt I dig through in the morning. As the pennyroyal, anise, and tobacco find their stride November 2019 soars. November 2019 has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
December 2019 by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz
If I were going to guess a perfumer who would be part of this it would be Ms. Hurwitz. She has always been excited to stretch her boundaries under different circumstances than her own DSH Perfumes brand. She has always been one of my favorites because I have seen the experimentation lead to something amazing. I suspect a part of December 2019 will be seen again in a future composition.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz
The keynote she builds this perfume upon is coriander. Coriander is one of those bifocal spices, piquant and woody. Ms. Hurwitz expands upon both. Early on using hemlock, sage, and cardamom the spiciness is on top. It forms an accord of dense green foliage. Once you push through you find a heart of rose and orris adding a soft floral effect. The base coalesces around labdanum as leather, tobacco, and musk provide a partner to the woody part of coriander. December 2019 has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I’ll conclude my look at Scent Trunk with the other two samples sent to me and some closing thoughts tomorrow.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Scent Trunk.