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.
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.
Ever since the introduction of oud into western modern perfumery I have been interested in how it is used in the Middle East. According to what I have read oud chips are placed in braziers and allowed to add their scent to rooms as they burn. As a perfume ingredient it is one of my favorites because of the complexity of the scent profile. I have spent years buying small vials of different sources of oud. My wooden box which contains the vials is one of my most cherished fragrant possessions. While I am pretty sure Mrs. C would frown upon me ordering some oud chips and setting them on fire in a brazier in Poodlesville. I think I’ve found the next best thing in Louis Vuitton Nuit de Feu.
In a touch over two years the luxury leather brand Louis Vuitton has jumped feet first into fragrance. Nuit de Feu is the fifteenth release of this collection. Perfumer Jacques Cavallier has been the perfumer behind all of them. This has been an uneven collection with hits and misses but more in the squishy middle of they’re okay. Until I got my hands on a sample, I expected Nuit de Feu to be one of the latter.
Nuit de Feu translates to “night of fire” I wouldn’t call this a dark style of fragrance. M. Cavallier provides a more transparent framing that the ingredients might lead you to believe. All three keynotes are pitched at a lighter level than I usually encounter them.
It opens with the smoky austere resin of Somalian incense. This always feel like tendrils of fragrant smoke whenever it shows up in a perfume. No different here. It is this which sets the idea of a brazier burning. Over the next few minutes a classic refined leather accord worthy of Louis Vuitton meshes with oud. If you’re expecting powerhouse dial it back by half. It isn’t ethereal but it isn’t bowl you over either. As these three keynotes come together it is how I imagine a brazier in the Middle East to smell. It ends with a gentle suite of animalic musks picking up on all three of the keynotes.
Nuit de Feu has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I think some will be disappointed that an incense-leather-oud fragrance isn’t a sledgehammer. If you give it a chance you might come to find the same joy in a subtler combination of the same notes. M. Cavallier does a nice job in providing an alternative. I am just happy I can imagine myself spending a night at the brazier while wearing it.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Louis Vuitton.
After my birthplace, the place I have spent most of my life is in the Boston, Massachusetts area. I loved living there it was a town which fed my interests daily. One of those was a vibrant local perfume lovers’ community. Using the internet we would find time to meet-up. During one of those events I met Sandy Carr. I moved away nine years ago but Ms. Carr has caught up to me again, this time as an independent perfumer. She has gone to study in Grasse and returned to Boston to create her brand Bluehill Fragrances. She has released three debut perfumes. I am going to review two of them Bluehill Fragrances Back Bay and Bluehill Fragrances Metrogarden. The third is a nice aquatic rose called Beach Rose and is worth trying if you are a fan of that style of fragrance.
My very first experience of this city was on an interview trip. I was housed in a hotel at the corners of Mass Ave and Commonwealth. Between me and the Public Garden was this amazing walking path down the middle of the street flanked by enormous brownstones. On the night before my interview I went for a walk through the Back Bay as this part of town is called. It is a curious mixture of old stone building, asphalt, massive trees, and flowers. It is the oft spoken of urban oasis. Ms. Carr captures it all in Back Bay.
It opens with a Revolutionary War-like fusillade of florals. Ms. Carr shows her technical ability right from the start as she balances a half dozen floral ingredients. None of them particularly leap to the forefront. Instead she forms a floral accord of equals. This is given the sparkle of sunlight through the canopy of trees over the boulevard via bergamot. The heart takes this in a decidedly vegetal direction with basil and galbanum. The crystalline verdancy of the latter acts as its own deeper sparkle in complement to the citrus earlier. For the final stages, the stone of the buildings and the wood of the trees provide the scent. Ms. Carr finishes with as accomplished an accord as she began with. The stone accord feels old. The earth that the trees are rooted in feels slightly damp and sandalwood and cedar provide the woods.
Back Bay has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Once we bought our home in Somerville one of the reasons was because it had a tiny bit of yard. In that small space we turned one part of it into a raised bed to grow vegetables. It was just the right size for me to enjoy. Any bigger and it would have been a chore. My postage stamp garden was a source of joy for all the years we lived there. Throughout the Boston area there are many tiny gardens in backyards and parks areas set aside for it. Metrogarden captures an afternoon digging in the dirt surrounded by the city.
Petitgrain provides that mid-morning sunlight that would greet me. Ms. Carr then recapitulates her skill with floral ingredients I mentioned above. This time she asks iris and narcissus to be the surrogates for the garden. Both ingredients are made from the root and not the bloom. The rhizome for iris and the bulb for narcissus. It gives them an inherent earthiness in the right hands. She then allows tendrils of rose and violet the chance to grow within this floral milieu. As she did with Back Bay the base accord is a reminder of the city. This comes through a slightly smoky vetiver, peru balsam, and a set of white musks. It reminded me of the smell of the clapboard on the side of the house underneath the sun as it glints off the windows.
Metrogarden has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I fully admit when I hear a story like Ms. Carr’s of deciding to convert hobby into independent perfumer my skepticism is high. In this case she has captured the town we know so expertly it erased any qualms. There is a clear understanding of ingredients and accords which will serve her well moving forward. For now she has provided a fragrant companion for Dropkick Murphys “Shipping Up to Boston” when I miss my old home.
Disclosure: This review was based on bottles supplied by Bluehill Fragrances.
If there is a single perfume which has always had me giving the benefit of the doubt to Armani Prive it is 2005’s Cuir Amethyste. It was among the first releases in this exclusive fragrance collection for Giorgio Armani. It remains one of my favorite violet and leather perfumes I own. Over the past fifteen years they have only rarely returned to releases with “cuir” in the name. With the latest release Armani Prive Cuir Zerzura they take another try.
Perfumer Nelly Hachem-Ruiz works for the second time for the brand. She previously collaborated on 2015’s Sable Or with Sophie Labbe. Zerzura is the Saharan equivalent to El Dorado; a mythical city of treasure. It was also called the “oasis of little birds”. Mme Hachem-Ruiz creates a perfume which captures the scent of a movie hero in search of treasure the twist is I imagine this to be a leather jacketed woman with a rose in her hair.
Our perfume story begins with our heroine standing at the end of a valley looking at the parchment map that led her here. The valley is lined with orange trees. Mme Hachem-Ruiz uses a rich mandarin oil along with violet leaves and elemi to create this accord. This is the scent of fruit, leaf, and trunk. It is more concentrated giving off less sunniness than mandarin usually does. As she moves through the valley the gates to Zerzura beckon, a fresco of birds above the portal. She settles her jacket onto her shoulders giving the rose in her hair a final opportunity to release its floral beauty. This is a classic rose and leather accord. The difference here is she adds in some of the expansive synthetic florals for lift and transparency. It allows the rose to float above the leather jacket accord. That is the well-worn leather accord anyone who has owned a leather jacket for a long time will recognize. It isn’t animalic or refined, but something in between. Experienced perhaps? The final moments take place as our heroine reaches the soaring cedar gates. Somewhere inside the scent of vanilla greets her.
Cuir Zerzura has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is a perfume which took me to faraway places for fabulous adventures. It is the best Armani Prive with cuir in the name since Cuir Amethyste. Instead of King Solomon’s Mines I felt as if I was at Queen Nelly’s Oasis.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Giorgio Armani.