When it comes to this column there are a couple of brands which consistently land in my discount bins. One of them is Versace. What puzzles me a bit is what ends there is among the better offerings from the department store shelves where they once resided. While I am happy to get good perfume at a great price, I always wonder why it doesn’t sell. Versace doesn’t seem to be bothered by it as they keep producing new releases. On my last visit to the local discounter before quarantine happened, I picked up a bottle of Versace Man Eau Fraiche.
The name tells you everything “fresh water”. It is a typical fresh fragrance. What I have admired about many of the Versace releases is they take something which is overexposed and give it a different texture. For Eau Fraiche perfumer Olivier Cresp chose to rough up things, just a bit. This “freshie” gets knocked around a bit.
It opens with a very delineated lemon which if left by itself would be reminiscent of furniture polish. M. Cresp rescues this by adding the light effect of rosewood to it. It is further taken into a cleaner woodiness through cedar. Instead of allowing the cedar to impart its fresh profile clary sage and tarragon convert the cedar to a rawer type of wood. This is like a split piece of green cedar given a jagged edge through the herbs. The wood used in the base is oak which has its own rough edges. It is still fresh wood but one with some olfactory splinters. Some amber and musks come along to smooth those rough edges over the final hours.
Man Eau Fraiche has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Man Eau Fraiche is that easy wearing summer tote bag kind of perfume. What gives it a tiny bit of difference is some of those recalcitrant pieces M. Cresp adds in. It makes it a rougher freshie.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
There is so much about modern perfumery that is loud and assertive. Ridiculous PR about overdosed ingredients in perfumes by genius level artists. I have found that the perfume from genuinely inspired artists takes place quietly. Far away from the perfume hubs of the world. There is probably nowhere further from my home than the northern island of Japan, Hokkaido. In that place is one of the most creative independent perfumers I know, Yasuyuki Shinohara. His latest release Di Ser Kurokami is but the most recent example.
Shinohara-san works with an all-natural palette of ingredients. He uses only his own hand-made botanicals. It is part of what sets his perfumes apart. The effort to create these allows for nuance only found in small quantities. He can massage an ingredient to an effect that only the most patient artists can do. I liken it to a painter who mixes colors looking for just the ideal shade to complete their picture. The perfumes of Di Ser are the better for Shinohara-san’s search for the right scent profile for each ingredient.
Kurokami translates to black hair. My Hollywood hobbled view of Japan makes me think of wealthy men with slicked back hair. I was surprised to find something different. Not the men but the long silken black hair of a woman which shimmers in waves of reflected light. Kurokami is more akin to that.
It begins with grapefruit. This is not the fleeting kind of citrus I usually encounter. Shinohara-san has made his version that shimmer of light I mentioned above. The grapefruit remains in this role atop the main floral pieces of rose and jasmine. Usually in a fruity floral like this the florals shove the citrus out of the way. In Kurokami they rise to the same level without becoming pushy. It creates a smooth floral quality given the sparkle of citrus. This is not a typical version of these ingredients. It is provided a woody support of rosewood and sandalwood. If the citrus is the shimmer, the woods are the depth of color within a fall of jet-black hair. It is complete with a distant joss stick skirling a strand of incense through the final moments.
Kurokami has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
There is a quiet perfection about the way Shinohara-san places his ingredients. I feel the intent behind each piece of the perfume. Kurokami shows how hand-crafted versions of well-known materials can form something singular.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
Once I fell down the perfume rabbit hole one of the first brands I focused a lot of energy on was Acqua di Parma. There was a classicism to the way this Italian brand made perfume that appealed to my developing palate. One of the earliest ones I tried was Colonia. I own almost all the ancillary shaving products from this. There is something about it that just gives my morning routine a jumpstart. Throughout the years they have updated the Colonia with multiple flankers. For 2020 Acqua di Parma Colonia Futura returns to its origins for a new future.
What that convoluted sentence means is the brand is reformulating Colonia with all-natural sustainable replacements. The press release talks about the number being 99% of these types of ingredients. It is an interesting exercise to see what effect newer materials will have on a fragrance first released in 1916. The advances in over 100 years are tremendous. Colonia Futura displays how they impact a classic formula.
The original is citrus top leading to a lavender, verbena and sage heart, finishing on vetiver and woods. It remains a perfectly balanced recipe. Colonia Futura plays out identically but for one very important substitution.
The top notes are the same brilliant burst of lemon and grapefruit which I am familiar with. If there is a difference to natural sources, I would characterize it as bit softer on the edges. Not direct sunlight but hidden behind some high clouds. The big change happens in the heart as baie rose replaces verbena as the partner to lavender and sage. This pairing has become quite prevalent over the last ten years because they go together so well. The herbal natures of all three and the subtle fruitiness of the baie rose goes with the floral character of lavender. The natural sources of baie rose have added to its nuance and it seems like a high-quality version has been used here. The vetiver has a very green presence early on before turning woody to greet the cedar in the base.
Colonia Futura has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
As I compared Colonia Futura to its predecessor what I notice most about the use of natural ingredients is the softer quality. If I use Colonia in the morning for a bracing start to the day; Colonia Futura would be what I turn to at the end of the day to soothe me. It is a fragrance which has brought the past to the present as it looks to the future.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample supplied by Sephora.
It is a different summer when I think of the music I have been listening to. In a typical year, my mega summer playlist would have been on constant shuffle. I looked at my stats and it has been over three weeks since the last time I cued it up. This summer has been less about a song of the summer than a group of four albums which have helped provide the contours for this year.
One of those is Haim’s “Women in Music Part III” I spent a whole column on it a few weeks ago. But I find the songs “Don’t Wanna”, “The Steps”, and “Gasoline” add some pop to the summer days.
I have always felt Taylor Swift was underestimated as a songwriter. It is easy to dismiss her because she seemingly aims her music at a younger demographic. It wasn’t until a few different musicians decided to do acoustic versions of her songs that the smart lyrics became evident to me. Underneath the cotton candy was a woman with something to say. The recent album “Folklore” is her attempt to do that without the glitzy pop trappings.
She shows off her ability to capture the current zeitgeist. Nowhere does that come out than in “epiphany” which is about the frontline workers dealing with the pandemic. I find it uplifting there is a real feel of the enormity of the job we are asking these people to do. Through the album there is a three-song story of a love triangle from each participant’s perspective. “cardigan”, “august” and “betty” form a tale of summer lovin’ with the sweet and bittersweet on display. This is a great piece of musicianship which reminds me there will be a world of emotion to return to. For now I’ll let Ms. Swift invite me to hers.
My final two are full bore dancehall discs. Even by myself I just want to dance and swing my arms around. Lady Gaga and Dua Lipa both dropped their latest just as things closed down. Both women harness the energy of dance floor beats from past time. Dua Lipa’s “Future Nostalgia” goes right back to the era of 1970’s disco given a new spin. She doesn’t look down upon disco she exalts it. The first single “Don’t Stop Now” had a little time to rule the dancefloor. The rest of the songs are just as hook laden and fun.
Lady Gaga’s “Chromatica” has the song which I think would’ve ruled the roost in a normal summer; her duet with Ariana Grande “Rain on Me”. For all that Gaga has embraced other musical forms her return to what put her on the map shows it is where she thrives. “Chromatica” slips into gear with the first track “Alice” and then accelerates from there. Her other collaboration “Sour Candy” with K-Pop girl group Blackpink is another standout. “Chromatica” reminds us no matter how far Gaga moves away from the dance floor she is just one step away.
I hope you are finding some music to lift your spirits this odd summer.
Disclosure: I purchased all the music reviewed.
Flankers have their own trends, too. The “parfum” version seems to be this year’s model. In a lot of ways it can be the easiest path to pleasing fans of the original. Because when you see “parfum” on the label you are expecting a higher concentration of what you liked about the original. It isn’t as straightforward as just upping the concentration there does have to be a rebalancing of things. If it works, it can deliver what is promised. This month’s Flanker Round-Up looks at two which do.
Yves Saint Laurent L’Homme Le Parfum
The original L’Homme released in 2006 has been a perennial best seller. It falls squarely in the woods with a sharp crease category. While not one of my favorites it does do that style well. YSL has churned out many flankers most retaining the crispness of the original. L’Homme Le Parfum differs by taking some of the starch out of it.
Where it hews closest to its parent is in the early going with a citrus and sea spray opening. Cardamom comes along to provide a bit of softening. The heart is centered on geranium also softened via violet leaves and mint. The synthetic woody base remains with cashmeran adding a less strident finish.
L’Homme Le Parfum has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Ralph Lauren Polo Red Eau de Parfum
Unlike YSL L’Homme I did not care for 2013’s Polo Red. I thought it a thin irrelevant fragrance. Polo Red Extreme is the one I like best. But it is entirely different from its previous incarnation. Polo Red Eau de Parfum is recognizably similar to the original. What makes it better is in this higher concentration version is the thin quality I disliked before has been given more heft. It makes for a better Polo Red.
All the way through each phase is deeper. It starts with the fruity combo of grapefruit and cranberry given energy through ginger. This is the kind of presence I approve of. Lavender and clary sage remain from the original but here they are more balanced finding a harmony I didn’t experience before. Same sweet woody base is here with some benzoin to give more depth; matching the other phases.
Polo Red Eau de Parfum has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by the manufacturers.
As we hit August even when sheltered at home it is the time of year when watermelon is served often in Poodlesville. Because of the local lavender farm there are a lot of lavender bunches around, too. I hadn’t associated the two as the scent markers for this time of year until I tried Parle Moi de Parfum Haute Provence 89.
Perfumer Michel Almairac has produced one of the best perfumer-owned fragrance lines. Ever since he opened his store in 2016, he has been keeping to an aesthetic which has produced an outstanding collection. It is best summed up in three words “keep it simple”. M. Almairac has made an attribute of using four or five multi-faceted ingredients and allowing them to find their levels. One of the interesting aspects of the names for the perfumes is the number at the end represents the number of mods used to arrive at the final product. The collection has some single digit versions and some triple digit ones. Haute Provence is at the upper end of the collection in terms of this numerator. I have no way of knowing but it is probably because M. Almairac chose to work with Calone, or a close analog. To get the balance right here definitely took effort. Haute Provence 89 was meant to capture summer trips that M. Almairac took to this part of France. He wanted to capture the lavender and watermelon days of the end of summer.
It opens with an expansive lavender given prominence to its herbal nature. It is joined by the Calone-like ingredient. Calone is the ingredient which launched the aquatic genre. It is well-known for having a melon scent within the sea spray. The reason I think this might be a Calone analog is it seems inverted as the melon has the lead and the sea spray is found underneath. What this does is turn the ingredient to an airier sweet fruitiness reminiscent of watermelon. The lavender and the watermelon go together in a beautiful reminder of midsummer. As much as I enjoyed this M. Almairac had one last piece to add which made this perfume even better. The rich dark floral of narcissus slides underneath the lavender and watermelon. It adds an end of day sunset vibe grounding the openness of the early going.
Haute Provence 89 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
If you are one who despises Calone because of its melon note I can tell you this is not going to be your cup of tea. If on the other hand you are curious to see a different use of it to entirely unique effect Haute Provence 89 should be on your test list. It captured the late days of summer at my house when lavender and watermelon are the indigenous scents.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
When I lived in Boston there was a place I went to escape the summer heat out in the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts. It was an easy hike up to a stand of birch trees on the edge of an overlook where I could revel in the coolness of the place. As I would eat my lunch among the trees, I always marveled at how the birch smelled. Especially when I was familiar with it as its perfumery use as birch tar. It is that ingredient which makes up many leather accords. I would sit among the real thing and think there was a different woody freshness like a heftier cedar. I have often wondered why there haven’t been fragrances which attempted to use this face of this ingredient. Olfactive Pharmacy Betula shows how to do it.
Olfactive Pharmacy is a new brand which just released their first three fragrances. Founded by two brothers who are pharmacists in Cologne, Germany: Oliver and Holger Dubben. They wanted their brand to represent the perfume ingredients which are also reputed to have therapeutic uses. Betula represents the birch. The Dubbens chose to collaborate with perfumer Mark Buxton to achieve their vision. Mr. Buxton forms a fragrance of wood and leaf finding a balance between the two.
It opens with a citrus flare of sunlight via citron. The use of citron instead of lemon allows for the green undercurrent of that to mesh with the set of green vegetal notes representing the leaves of a tree. This reminded me of looking up at the sunlight through the canopy of birch leaves. The woodiness becomes a bit more prevalent as we move forward. It seems that Mr. Buxton diluted birch tar down until it comes closer to the bark of the tree. The green leafiness also rises in volume to match the woods. Over the base there is a slightly watery earthiness as vetiver takes its woody green nature as a foundation for Betula.
Betula has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Betula is a version of birch you haven’t found in perfumery much. It is a perfect midsummer fresh alternative to the vetiver and cedar stalwarts. Betula makes a grand debut for die bruder Dubben. I look forward to what the future holds.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
There is a trend in niche perfumery I find very irritating; the city exclusive. It is even more troublesome when I see a note list from a brand I like in a city I have no way of getting access to. Which was how I learned of By Kilian Lemon in Zest.
In 2014 creative director owner Kilian Hennessy began to open stand alone boutiques all over the world. For each opening there was a corresponding city exclusive to be sold only at that store. All of them were based on alcoholic beverages indigenous to the city the store was in. New York. Moscow, Paris, Doha, and London I had ways of getting a sample of those. As I managed to try all of them Lemon in Zest remained the stubborn outlier I couldn’t source. It was at the boutique in Lugano, Switzerland. Lugano is on the Swiss-Italian border and is not a large metropolis. I just couldn’t manage to pull the strings I needed to get a sample. Now it seems as if all the city exclusives have become available more widely. I got my sample of Lemon in Zest a little over a month ago.
What had me interested from afar was that it was based on the Italian liqueur limoncello. It also had perfumer Alberto Morillas as the perfumer. I had liked the previous city exclusives for their booziness. I was thinking that M. Morillas could make a limoncello perfume with the bite it would need. I wasn’t wrong.
Limoncello is made from the rind of the lemon and not the pulpy fruit itself. Those rinds are marinated in alcohol for days before being combined with simple syrup. It is served ice cold from the freezer carrying the bite of cold matched to the alcohol and the tart lemon. Limoncello is best drunk as the sun sets on a summer day. M. Morillas makes his own limoncello.
It begins with that tartness of the rind of lemon. Besides the lemon there is a subtle green underneath which is very appealing. These early stages are photorealistic lemon perfume at its best. Then he takes it and adds it to the sweet alcohol. The note list calls it “orange liqueur”. There is a hint of orange, but it is there as a surrogate for the simple syrup adding in some sweet. The alcohol here has that kind of bite I was hoping for. This isn’t a warm comfy cognac or whisky accord. This is a bracing shock to the system full of lemon energy. The same experience a shot of cold limoncello makes in my mouth. It ends as it does for me in real life as I look out over my back yard in summer twilight. Vetiver gives an earthy feel through a judicious use of patchouli. It is an ideal base accord for this.
Lemon in Zest has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
I admit that once I got my sample, I was motivated to make some limoncello. I also put my sample in the refrigerator. About a week ago I took both out to enjoy the fireflies and the comet visible overhead from my deck. It felt like I was living my best limoncello life inside and out.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
If there is anywhere where the resurrection of the Gucci fragrance fortunes can be found it is in Gucci Bloom and its flankers. Ever since overall creative director at Gucci, Alessandro Michele, has taken a hand in the fragrance side things have noticeably improved. Gucci Bloom in 2017 was the first marker that things were going to be different under Sig. Michele. The fifth flanker Gucci Bloom Profumo di Fiori continues the ascending trajectory.
Since Sig. Michele has taken over perfumer Alberto Morillas has become his exclusive creative partner. There is a wonderful new Gucci aesthetic which is coming from this. One thing about it which sets it apart is it isn’t going along with the transparent trend so many other brands are following. When Bloom debuted it decided to go with a substantial floral core of tuberose and jasmine. That has been the starting point for every successive version as M. Morillas finds a new partner for his keynote florals. For Bloom Profumo di Fiori it is ylang ylang.
I adore the version of that floral M. Morillas uses here. There is a fresher ylang ylang fraction which gets used a lot by those fragrances seeking opacity. The one here is that fleshy sensual version which finds a couple of willing partners in tuberose and jasmine.
The jasmine and tuberose come to life immediately along with the green vegetal Rangoon creeper adding a bit of contrast. This is the essential DNA of Bloom from past to present. One of the things I admire about this line is they don’t scrub the indoles away. They are kept to a more modest effect, but they add a lot of character to these perfumes. This is where the full spectrum ylang ylang finds harmony as the carnal floral dances a pas de deux with the indolic parts of tuberose and jasmine. If you like sexy florals this is your accord. M. Morillas adds a bit of rooty orris to connect to a sandalwood, benzoin, and musk base.
Bloom Profumo di Fiori has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Even though this review is coming out in midsummer Bloom Profumo di Fiori is a post-Labor Day fall floral. It is one of the best new releases for the upcoming season. Once again Sig. Michele and M. Morillas have added to their winning record. It all comes down to adding a fleshy floral to everything.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Gucci.
1995’s Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male is one of the great perfumes because it redefined a style of fragrance for a generation. Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian composed a true classic. It has also been a veritable cash machine for the brand where they have released flanker after flanker. If you have ignored those because of their ubiquity that would be normal. Many of them were lesser than the original. The problem is within that steady flow of product they manage to sneak in something worthy of attention. That brings us to Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male Le Parfum.
Quentin Bisch, Nathalie Gracia-Cetto, Louise Turner (l. to r.)
When you look at that name you might think this is just a parfum version of the original. You would be half right as it uses the keynotes of Le Male. Where it differs is the team of perfumers; Quentin Bisch, Nathalie Gracia-Cetto and Louise Turner add depth befitting a parfum with something different.
It opens with the same cardamom which is part of the best Le Male flankers. Then what the perfumers do is allow the complementary original note of artemisia more agency in the perfume. It elongates the cardamom with a slightly licorice bite. It gives it the same herbal green of the original without using mint. The heart is made up of lavender given the same additional depth using iris. Here it is to give an earthier floral to enhance the herbal part of the lavender. It gives top and heart accord a connection through that. The biggest difference comes with vanilla in the forefront of the base. There are still the woods from before, but they are given the warmth of vanilla to add to it.
Le Male Le Parfum has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
As I wore Le Male Le Parfum I kept thinking this was the dress-up version of Le Male. If the original was the carefree casual one. Le Parfum is the one gussied up for the evening. Maybe that is all that is needed for a successful flanker the opportunity to dress up a classic.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Jean Paul Gaultier.