There are so many things I wish I knew that I found out later. One of those things is the knowledge that independent perfumers Sarah Horowitz-Thran and Dawn Spencer Hurwitz began their careers in a small DIY perfume shop on Newbury St. in Boston called Essence from 1989-1994. I blissfully walked past the shop not knowing two of the perfumers I would come to appreciate were steps away. Each of them was laying the foundation for their futures. In Ms. Horowitz-Thran’s case it was the formation of a nascent aesthetic encapsulated in her early perfume, 1999’s Perfect Veil. It is one of the best evocations of clean skin fresh from a shower. It was my introduction to her style of perfumery. I would eventually collect all the different “Perfect” perfumes. Each of them showed a perfumer defining the way she saw fragrance. They continue to be one of the best examples of an artist’s vision expressed through scent.
She has continued to evolve and the idea of “Perfect” has been left behind for new aesthetics to emerge. She remains one of the best independent perfumers we have. When I received an e-mail from the owner of American Perfumer, Dave Kern notifying me that a Holiday limited release with Ms. Horowitz-Thran was on its way. I was excited. These limited editions have seen Mr. Kern work with an impressive roster of the best of the best in the independent perfume world. It was only a matter of time before this creative collaboration would happen. It has led to Sarah Horowitz-Thran for American Perfumer Tapestry.
One of the emerging themes of this collection is Mr. Kern asks his perfumers to bottle a memory. This is a common inspiration, yet in these cases there is a difference. That comes because these are small batch limited editions allowing them a wide-open palette to create from. For Tapestry she chooses to look homeward to Holiday family gatherings. This perfume weaves a story of the love at the center of this Season.
The first threads set in place are the seasonal scents of cinnamon and clove, they are the weave. The weft is a fascinatingly crisp green apple providing lift to the spices preventing them from becoming too heavy. The cross of ingredients continues as pine needles and jasmine add the next row. The terpenic nature of the pine strums the indoles in the heart of the jasmine. It produces a Holiday-like pine swag hung on the walls effect. The fireplace is represented with the smokiness of cade. Ms. Horowitz-Thran splices it through as a subtle presence with amber representing the glowing coals in the grate. The final piece is what sews it together as tobacco and vanilla spiral through all of it tying off the knots of this tapestry.
Tapestry has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
I thought Ms. Horowitz-Thran had moved past her early collection. As I was wearing Tapestry the last few days it is so emblematic of a cozy family gathering that maybe it is the latest of her early perfumes. Call it Perfect Moment.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by American Perfumer.
Editor’s Note 1: This is a limited edition of 50 bottles that will go on sale Saturday December 18, 2021 via lottery. To be entered send an e-mail to: email@example.com by Midnight on Friday December 17, 2021.
Editor’s Note 2: If you have any interest in those early days of Ms. Horowitz-Thran and Ms. Hurwitz back in Boston. Mr. Kern did a podcast with them. It can be found here on Apple: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/american-perfumer/id1439938731 or under the American Perfumer podcast series wherever you download your podcasts.
One of the best parts of the independent perfumers is they aren’t making metric tons of fragrance. The opposite is true. They can take a precious ingredient of which there is only enough for a limited edition and let it out into the hands of perfume lovers. Some of my favorites are introductions to heretofore unknown ingredients or specially aged or distilled versions of more common ingredients. In the hands of a perfumer who is sharing this kind of gift you hope for the best. Mandy Aftel goes far beyond that in Aftelier Perfumes Joie de Vert.
Any regular reader knows I am an aficionado of green scents. Just the name, translated as Joy of Green led me to believe this was going to be something I was destined to enjoy. Ms. Aftel uses as the focal point of this perfume a twenty-year old artisanal batch of anise hyssop essential oil. This is a deeply licorice-like material. For those looking for a reference it is more Ricola than Twizzlers.
Licorice in perfume is at its best when it is intensely herbal. This anise hyssop oil is a softly herbal licorice that also contains a loamy forest floor green as part of its profile. From the first moments I smelled this I felt I was hiking through a deep forest. Glints of sunlight through the dense canopy come via orange. A woody herbalness vis coriander begins to form the trees. This sets the stage for a catalytic reaction as oakmoss, and fire tree oil exert themselves on the anise hyssop. The licorice-y piece never recedes but it does alter as the oakmoss adds a textural velvety greenness. The fire tree oil threads a slightly animalic facet into the green. This might be a forest but there are some things living out there. As this assembles itself there is a truly resplendent green in place.
Joie de Vert has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage. This wears quite close to the skin in a shimmery way.
If you are a fan of green ingredients in perfume this is something you must experience just to smell the anise hyssop oil. It is unlikely you will ever have another opportunity to try a 20 y.o. version again. It is the soul of natural perfumery of which Ms. Aftel has been a part of for decades now. Which brings me joy no matter what color it is in.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Aftelier Perfumes.
As we inexorably march to the longest night of the year the Florida Boy wilts just a little every day. As sunset gets earlier and earlier with sunrise getting later and later, I cling to the precious daylight. I’ve tried it all to alleviate some of the dread. One of the things I found helped whether in reality or because I wanted it to, was adding full spectrum light bulbs to a couple of lamps where I sit. The idea of adding sunlight to the short days was a way of trying to push back against the tide. I should have looked closer at hand. Many of the citrus-based perfumes I have described as sunlight in a bottle were waiting for me. It has turned out to be the best way for me to battle these seasonal blues. I have a new weapon to brighten my days, April Aromatics Wild Summer Crush.
Tanja Bochnig is one of the best natural perfumers in the world. Over the years she has become an artist where she fuses her spirituality and her technique. It is what has made this brand one of my favorites. There are many independent perfumers who claim to do this Fr. Bochnig is one of the precious few who does.
Wild Summer Crush is a perfume which wears its heart on its atomizer. It is inspired by a summer crush of her young life. Most of us go through these intense short-lived affairs in our youth. They blaze with passion for a few weeks to be snuffed out by Labor Day. To capture that she compiles a scent bursting with natural energy. It is an easy reminder of heady times when the sunlight lasts late into the day.
The very first seconds fizz with a grapefruit unlike any other I have encountered. This is the same scent I get when I slice open a real one for breakfast. The tartness of rind, oil, and pulp are all here. Then the technique Fr. Bochnig has become adept at, is shading this kind of intensity. If the grapefruit is so brilliant to verge on too much. Precise amounts of mandarin, green tea, and yuzu adds compelling threads which create a gentler accord while retaining the energy. A floral heart is designed around rose and neroli. The green inherent in the neroli spears the citrus accord as the rose covers it in a subtle veil. As this moves towards the base, she again shows her expertise with shading. A set of light woods are given some texture through the sweetness of coconut and most impressively a precise tobacco. I can’t remember the last time I’ve encountered a more subtly impactful use of this.
Wild Summer Crush has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
This year when I need to do battle with the encroaching darkness, I am throwing away the full spectrum light bulbs. Instead, I’m going to rely on the full spectrum perfume of Wild Summer Crush to do the job.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by April Aromatics.
I am inherently an impatient person. During the Holidays every gift under the tree which had my name on it was thoroughly analyzed. I wanted to know what was in the box…Now! I am no different at the other times of the year. Once I get an itch for something I want it to arrive yesterday. All this is meant to let you know that one of the worst four-letter words for me is, wait. Except the creative director at Puredistance instructed me to do just that when he sent me my sample of Puredistance No. 12.
Jan Ewoud Vos
Jan Ewoud Vos has given me advice throughout the years on the eleven previous Puredistance releases. All of it has been important to my understanding and enjoyment of the perfumes. When he sent me the box with No. 12 in it, he warned me it was going to get better if I could only wait. He advised waiting at least 30 days for it to settle into its best form. Well, I couldn’t do exactly as he suggested. I thought the opportunity to experience the maturation of a perfume was something I could not pass up. So, I peeked in weekly. Spraying some on a strip every Monday and some on skin. This began a fantastic experience as I really got to know this perfume from M. Vos and perfumer Nathalie Feisthauer as it evolved in the bottle.
It took nine weeks for my nose not to detect a difference between two consecutive wearings. In each of those peeks I experienced a maturation as it became more expansive and fuller. In the first couple of weeks the focal point powderiness was far less than it would be weeks later. The Ambrox in the base was much more prominent in the first weeks, enough so that I feared it was going to deleteriously shape my opinion of the entire scent. By the end it becomes an integral part of it all. One of the few times where it provides the briny surrogacy of ambergris it was created to be. As the powderiness expanded and intensified, the Ambrox receded and supported to comprise a fantastic new composition.
The opening never changed very much as the combination of cardamom and coriander gave a fresh herbal beginning. The descent towards the powdery floral starts with a fleshy duo of narcissus and ylang-ylang. This was another part which was much more evident in the early weeks. By the time I got to the end they are more subtle setting a stage for the heart. That heart is constructed around orris, heliotrope and orange blossom as the powdery warhead of No. 12. Some vintage-like contrast is present in rose and osmanthus. This was another set of two ingredients which changed over the weeks. Early on they were less present than they would be later. That’s because Hedione is used to turn this into a cloud of powder. A glorious fog of iris tinted with the rose and Osmanthus which add complementary sparkles inside the cloud. This is such a fun piece of this perfume. It was like waiting for a ticking clock to strike the hour when this finally came fully together.
The base is meant to be a chypre. For the first couple of weeks, I was dubious because the Ambrox was being its overbearing self. I could detect the pieces down there under the monolith, but I didn’t think they were going to be allowed out. This was the most dramatic part of waiting. Each week that chypre became more pronounced. The sandalwood, vetiver, oak moss, and patchouli slowly formed despite the Ambox. Then on week seven a funny thing occurred. As the powderiness reached its apex it reveled a briny aspect of the Ambrox. It transformed the base accord into a compelling briny chypre.
Puredistance No. 12 has 24-hour longevity and average sillage in its extrait form.
The last couple of months I’ve spent watching No. 12 unfold has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done as a perfume writer. I’ve never felt the vividness of the development of a perfume more clearly. All I had to do was to follow M. Vos’ advice and wait for it.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Puredistance.
There are so many things in perfumery which have started since the first number in the calendar year changed to 2. If there is an ingredient of the last 21 years which encapsulates the changes in Western fragrance it is the rise of oud from 2002 to the present day. To fragrance fans in the East oud is what many of them encounter in everyday life. For those of us who knew nothing of it the revelation was immediate. The craving for more almost insatiable, and so the brands gave us what we wanted. There was a time when it seemed every new release claimed oud in its ingredient list. In most of those cases it was an oud accord made up of less expensive materials given some texture with a tiny amount of the real thing. As perfume consumers became more sophisticated there were places to go encounter authentic oud essential oils. Once you smelled your first of those you could become lost in the pursuit of different varieties. One of my most prized perfume possessions is a little wooden box containing thirty single-sourced oud oils. I was one of those forever enchanted with the world of oud.
The unfortunate side effect is there are those who will claim to use real oud, who do not. Because relatively few have ever smelled the real thing most don’t know they aren’t. It has been something I have seen become more common in recent years. I’ve wanted to be able to point those who love oud to something where they can experience the real thing. Phoenecia Perfumes has given me that opportunity with the release of Oud Elegance Rose and Oud Elegance Incense.
Phoenecia Perfumes is the brand of independent perfumer David Falsberg. Ever since discovering his fragrances in 2013 he has been a perfumer who uncompromisingly brings his vision to life. Part of that is it takes time. He releases new things as they feel right to him. He also must find the right sources for the ingredients which complete his scents. What comes out of this process are perfumes which provide an emotional response as well as an olfactory one.
For both new ouds he chooses classic pairings oud and rose, oud and incense. They are excellent choices because it makes it easy to compare to all the other versions of these duos out there. It allows anyone the opportunity to compare an authentic experience. One of the smart things he does is the alcohol used in both extrait strength fragrances is prepped with a tincture of Africa stone or hyraceum. It is an invitation into a deeper world of oud.
Oud Elegance Rose is a duet of both the named ingredients. He uses two roses from Morocco and Persia. He blends four different ouds. In both fragrances he has sourced them from ethical and/or sustainable sources. I feel certain that if he just put the two roses and four ouds in a bottle this would have been quite good. He uses a set of complementary notes to bring out the best in both. The inherently spicy roses are given an herbal contrast through rosemary along with a leathery glow in saffron. The oud is given some cedar to remind us that it is a wood and some civet to amplify the animalic heart of these ouds. Mr. Falsberg uses cumin to stitch these two pieces together with amber to provide a warmth not unlike the braziers oud chips are burned in.
Oud Elegance Incense follows a similar path in its development. Although the incense does get a moment to stand on its own. He takes an austere olibanum swathing it in a citrusy floral veil. It is a lovely opening as Mr. Falsberg has another blend of five ouds with which he uses as the incense’s partner. This comes together more naturally because at the core both oud and olibanum are resins. The difference is oud also has a woody component and that is enhanced through sandalwood. It adds a comforting woodiness underneath the incense and oud. The animalic side of oud is less present than it is in Oud Elegance Rose. it is probably the biggest difference in the oud part of the experience between the two. Depending on what appeals to you that might be the best way to choose only one.
Both extraits have 24-hour longevity and wear very close to the skin. Because of that these are very personal perfumes which can be worn anywhere.
Mr. Falsberg is one of my favorite independent perfumers because he does not compromise. He asks perfume lovers meet him on his own terms. If you make the choice to do that a fantastic new world awaits.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Phoenecia Perfumes.
As I begin to sort through the new perfume, I receive at the end of the year there is a category that ties to the Holidays. Many of those which fall into this are designed to be so. They are limited editions carrying Holiday themes on their sleeves. There are always a couple that aren’t meant to be seasonal releases, yet they fall ideally into the themes of this time of year. I think of them as Festivus scents. Festivus is an alternative to the commercialism of Christmas popularized in a Seinfeld episode. It also doesn’t want to be part of the season while still being part of the season. Tauer Sundowner is in this category.
Independent perfumer Andy Tauer wants Sundowner to represent a sunset cocktail on the Nile River. If I received this perfume in June I could easily have been transported there. Receiving my sample in the middle of November this had me in a Holiday mindset from the first spray. Even though a tobacco centered scent is not necessarily seasonal, Sundowner is full of those type of accents around the focal point.
Right away the tobacco is present. It is a nice leafy slightly narcotic version. No sooner do you experience it then some carolers show up in the presence of orange peel and cinnamon. These are Holiday stalwarts which Hr. Tauer gives a significant presence. The orange peel is an especially intense version of the citrus carrying a bitterness to tamp down the inherent brightness usually present. The song these three notes sing is pleasant. Made even better when rose adds a floral harmony to it.
As it develops the tobacco begins to be steered in a slightly gourmand direction. He used cacao and patchouli to add a chocolate complement to the tobacco. This is not a gooey chocolate it is subtler. He finds those inherent candy facets in the tobacco and picks out those strands delicately with the cacao and patchouli. It never really turns fully gourmand. Which has me thinking there must have been a preliminary version where it was more chocolaty which was dialed back to what is in Sundowner.
It finishes on an accord of cypriol and sandalwood forming an oud-like woodiness. It is sweetened with tonka bean and vanilla. Again, there is the hint of a gourmand buried deep but Sundowner never takes that path.
Sundowner has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Sundowner is not meant to be a seasonal fragrance. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t. I know I’ll be wearing this a lot over the next weeks. It’s a Holiday perfume for the rest of us.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
Growing up in S. Florida I became certified to scuba dive as soon as I was able. With access to a boat there were lots of reefs easy to get to. I had a favorite one called Hens and Chickens. I spent a lot of early mornings motoring out there just after sunrise. By the time I would get anchored and into my gear the sun would just be above the horizon. This would give that effect you see in many photographs where there are shafts of light spearing through the clear water. I would dive down to the bottom and sit still. It would take a few minutes before all the denizens of the reef would return to their morning activities. I would add to their scavenging with a piece of bread I would break up. That brought many of them right in front of my mask for a show more colorful than the best cartoons. When I think back on many things of pleasure from my past there are distinct scents associated with them. Except for this. The only actual smell was the rubber of the mask and a bit of the ocean. It was a disconnect from the vibrant colors and life right in front of me. I’ve wondered what a perfumer would do if I asked them to interpret that as a scent? Somebody else had a similar thought which has led to Zoologist Seahorse.
That somebody else is Victor Wong the creative director-owner of Zoologist. He has become one of the best creative directors in independent perfumery because he asks questions like what does a reef smell like? It all must be based on what you think bright colors smell like. For Seahorse he asked perfumer Julien Rasquinet to collaborate on this idea. The result is an extremely clever mix of abstract and realism.
When you see the colors of the fish on the reef you see neon yellows, flaming pink, deep azures, and outrageous orange. For Seahorse M. Rasquinet translates those into cardamom, tuberose, clary sage, and neroli. They are the imagined tropical fish darting around.
He places them in a fantastically realized oceanic accord of fennel, ambrette, ambergris, and seaweed. This is the water the fish swim through. The use of the fennel is particularly inspired as it is what M. Rasquinet seemingly uses as the linchpin for his oceanic accord.
Seahorse comes out of the bottle fully formed on my skin. The sun-streaked ocean is filled with vibrantly scented colors. It always felt as if I was noticing the “fish” at different times throughout the days I was wearing this.
Seahorse has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is another exceedingly smart aquatic from Mr. Wong. Squid was an aquatic of the ocean depths. Seahorse is one which represents the shallower part of the ocean. The Technicolor riot of the tropical reef.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle provided by Zoologist.
One of the things which most interests me about perfumery is watching its evolution. Probably my favorite perch is observing the continuing expansion within the gourmand genre. It is the newest genre of perfumery which means it is the least bound by tradition and history, which makes it fertile ground for those who want to think outside of the box. The easy gourmand is to take vanilla give it a sugary boost to make a fragrant sugar cookie then add a topping of fruit or nuts. Even though this has now become a standard I find I haven’t become bored with it, yet. If the genre is truly going to take its place with the other historical types it is going to need to become broader then just the bakery or the candy shop. Alternatively, it can think about exporting those experiences into previously unimagined places as Sarah Baker Loudo does.
Sarah Baker the London-based artist is the creative director behind her eponymous brand. What I have admired ever since she arrived in 2016 is the immersiveness of the style of fragrance which represent her. She is happy to move to the other end of the spectrum of the current transparency trend. It makes receiving a sample a reminder there is still beauty in weightier fragrance subjects. Because I have become so interested in the gourmand genre, I spend a lot of time talking to perfumers about it. One of the things I ask is why isn’t oud used more as an evolution from the way patchouli was employed in the earliest ones. Some of it is expense. Some of it is the difficulty of sourcing one which will behave the way a creative team wants it to. If patchouli is the perfect house guest, oud is the one you call a cab to the airport for. Ms. Baker had to select a perfumer well-versed in disciplining the delinquent. Her choice for Loudo is perfumer Chris Maurice.
The source of oud comes from two places. My favorite native version from Laos is one. The other is an agarwood tincture hand-made by Mr. Maurice. My understanding of tincturing is it allows a specific scent profile to be dialed in. What I experience in Loudo is a complex oud full of nuance without many of the off-putting aspects it has become known for. This carries a chewy resinous energy he uses to build the rest of the fragrance around.
The oud is present right from the start. Early on it is given a floral contrast through neroli. It is used to pick up the similar piece of the scent profile of Laotian oud. What happens next is a chocolate cordial accord is built in parallel to the oud. Using cherry, chocolate, vanilla, and orange blossom to construct it. Once it forms besides the oud a fabulously different type of gourmand comes forth. Some amber adds warmth to the final stages.
Loudo has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage which is impressive for an extrait concentration.
Loudo expands the gourmand genre by taking a cherry cordial out for a walk in a Laotian forest. For those looking for a new type of gourmand you should take a trek with Loudo.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Sarah Baker.
Some of my favorite interactions with perfumers begins with them telling me about a cool ingredient they are using for the first time. In the creative mindset the shuffling of concepts a new vector creates is powerful. Many of these discussions are the perfumer realizing what new combos can be realized. It is more vital the more talented the artist. Independent perfumer Shawn Maher is one of the best. When he discovered a new ingredient, it lead to Maher Olfactive Sagan Dalya.
This is a departure for Mr. Maher who has delighted in telling fragrant stories of his home town of St. Louis. It has given his scents an unusual perspective. For Sagan Dalya he becomes enthralled with the essential oil of Siberian rhododendron. In the accompanying Scent Notes blog post you can find here he talks about why. In short it is because of the unique scent profile. What he found so interesting is a crisp fruitiness meshed with an evergreen pine-like terpenic foundation. If you read his blog post, you see where it sent his imagination.
His first thought was to take the Siberian rhododendron and combine it with marigold absolute. This is another dual faced ingredient with a crisp apple over an astringent herbal greenness. He accentuates the apple to form a more balanced duet with the rhododendron. It might be the time of year, but this reminded me of the early part of the holidays as we have a lot of fresh apples and an equally new Christmas tree. I hadn’t made this connection until the day after Thanksgiving as we were placing our tree in the stand as we brought in the bags of apples from our local orchard. It took me a minute to figure out where I had experienced it previously.
He takes this a level deeper with immortelle and tobacco. These are the same type of partners the rhododendron and marigold are. They have similar profiles where their differences complement each other. They add a wonderful richness without overwhelming the fruity Christmas tree on top.
It finishes with a snuggly warm ambery base of two types of labdanum, essential oil and absolute. Mr. Maher cleverly uses a couple of ingredients to delineate the lines between the two to form a distinct base accord.
Sagan Dalya has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
In the blog post Mr. Maher mentions this needs to be experienced on skin. I completely agree. This perfume smells entirely different on paper and skin. It is much more expansive in its warmth.
While I was wearing Sagan Dalya I kept thinking how appropriate it is for the Holidays. He isn’t marketing that way, but I kept thinking this was Shawn’s perfume Holiday card for 2021. Maybe St. Louis made it into it after all.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Maher Olfactive.
I have a close friend who has a thermidor of fine cigars. She doesn’t smoke. She has them so she can take one out to feel the texture on her fingers, the smell through her nose. She has a quite a collection of tobacco perfumes which I have helped her grow over the years. I don’t share her love of tobacco, but I have a similar attitude towards marijuana. Now that there are legal dispensaries I really enjoy going in and smelling the different offerings. The deeply herbal green sappy scent of the different breeds of cannabis all has their own scent profile. They also have a sticky tactile touch when you buy a spiky bud and roll it in your fingers. That leaves a different scent on my fingers. There are many perfumes which have sought to capture this. The latest is Comme des Garcons Ganja.
Over the last three decades Comme des Garcons and creative director Christian Astuguevieille have sought to give fragrance enthusiasts a different perspective. Their appreciation for finding the beauty in the unusual is what has made this brand the premier creative perfume brand of this time period. Ganja is another example of that. Perfumer Caroline Dumur was tasked with the job of realizing it.
What has always made this brand so interesting is they rarely try to create just a photorealistic recreation of their focus. They also don’t go into a fully abstract rendering where the wearer is filling in the blanks in their perception of it. Their signature is to find a middle ground between reality and imagination for their perfumes to reside in. Ganja might be the best they’ve ever done at this.
It opens with a funky sappy green accord consisting of cumin, mate tea, black pepper, and mastic resin. This is the reality of that scent I get when opening a container of cannabis buds at the dispensary. Mme Dumur finds a fabulous balance of the sweatiness of cumin, the sharp green edges of the mate, the tickle of the black pepper and the sap of the mastic resin. This could have been a perfume with just this. Except that is not where this brand exists.
The base is that abstraction of marijuana to act as contrast. Here she uses frankincense, patchouli, and guaiac wood. The richness of the resin and patchouli form an imaginative bud where the guaiac wood and some of the elements of the earlier accord provide the sticky sap.
Ganja has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I haven’t enjoyed a cannabis inspired perfume like this in many years. The journey from real life to abstraction is fascinating. It is everything I have come to expect from the perfumes of Comme des Garcons.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I received from Comme des Garcons.