There are materials in perfumery which are damned by a couple of words. When it comes to patchouli the phrase “head shop” is the one. It refers to the endemic scent of the shops which sold paraphernalia for smoking marijuana that popped up in the 1960’s. There are all kinds of anecdotal stories for why patchouli was so prevalent. It was used to mask the pot smell. It was used to mask the unwashed smell of the clientele. It smelled cool. There is no clear cut answer to why. The downside is patchouli has lost some of its panache when it is associated with the bohemian.
I admit I carried this prejudice with me when I first started my perfumed path. I wanted to wear fragrance to add a touch of class not have it be the perfume of the plebian. Over the years I learned how versatile patchouli was as an ingredient. At turns herbal, earthy, resinous while being playful or serious. There is a reason it shows up in so many compositions. When it comes to The Gold Standard the perfume I consider to be the baseline for patchouli is Chanel Coromandel.
Chanel Coromandel was released in 2007 as part of the Chanel Les Exclusifs collection. It was one of the inaugural releases in this collection. Chanel in-house perfumer Jacques Polge collaborated with perfumer Christopher Sheldrake in designing it. This was interesting because at this point M. Sheldrake had become the de-facto in-house nose at Serge Lutens. In that capacity he had recently designed in 2005 an intense chocolate patchouli gourmand; Serge Lutens Borneo 1834. That was a patchouli of darkness and mystery. Working with M. Polge on Coromandel the patchouli is less of an enigma. What makes Coromandel stand out is it embraces the bohemian and the chic nature of patchouli in one fragrance.
Coromandel opens with a bit of citrus and a bit of jasmine. It is a simple one-two before the patchouli arrives. When the patchouli does come in it is the non-head shop version. It is that cool green slightly camphoraceous version of patchouli. The perfumers add a little pine to frame these characteristics. This is a classical feeling vintage-ish perfume aesthetic. This is the patchouli I learned about smelling other perfumes. The base turns it into that head-shop accord as frankincense, benzoin and amber give anyone who lived in those times a flashback. Despite my dismissal of this as plebian previously; in Coromandel it has been elevated because it comes after the more refined heart accord. It makes it easier to enjoy the full patchouli experience the perfumers have provided.
Coromandel has 18-24 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I am usually critical of fragrances that try to have things both ways when it comes to designing around a specific material. It is a measure of why Coromandel is The Gold Standard for patchouli because it is one of the rare ones which succeeds at doing that.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
If you play perfume word association and I say “aldehydes” your response is likely to be “Chanel No. 5”. Certainly perfumer Ernest Beaux’s use of aldehydes in that iconic perfume was the bellwether for their essential use in perfumery for nearly one hundred years. The aldehydes are so integral to the success of Chanel No. 5 I suspect many would say that is their baseline for an aldehydic perfume. I have a different answer when it comes The Gold Standard for aldehydes although it comes from the same time period, Lanvin Arpege.
Arpege was created in 1927, six years after Chanel No. 5. Andre Fraysse the in-house perfumer for Lanvin would collaborate with Paul Vacher on Arpege. It was meant to be presented to Jeanne Lanvin’s daughter Marie-Blanche for her 30th birthday. It has become one of the classics of the time and Arpege has always been available. What I consider The Gold Standard is the 1993 reformulation overseen by Hubert Fraysse, Andre’s brother. What makes it my aldehydes reference standard is that in the 1993 reformulation they are very much more prevalent. They form a sharper presence to compensate for a slight attenuation in the floral character before heading to a defined vetiver base.
Arpege opens on a tiny bit of bergamot and neroli before the aldehydes start popping like fireworks. When I’ve tried a vintage version of Arpege the aldehydes are mostly long gone. In the reformulation not only are they there, they form a sparkling halo which overlays the transition into the floral accord in the heart. Primarily composed of orris, rose, and ylang the use of clove and coriander enhance the spicy facets within those florals. In the early moments the aldehydes fizz through everything like pixie dust drifting down among the petals. Arpege holds this kineticism for a good long while. This is where the reformulation differs from the vintage. I think the cost of the florals got prohibitive and the compensation was to up the aldehyde content. Usually this would not be something I would think positively upon. In this case I like this 1993 version of Arpege better than the original. The base of vetiver, patchouli, and sandalwood, tinted slightly sweet with vanilla reminds me of a lot of some of the classic masculine powerhouse bases of the 1980’s.
The 1993 Arpege has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Luca Turin in Perfumes: The A-Z Guide writes that “Arpege supports the theory that perfumes become more masculine over time.” That is something which I consider in my affection for the reformulated version of Arpege. I might not be the target audience but it sure does speak to me. In any case the ability to acquire a fresh bottle with the aldehydes intact is one good reason why this reformulation is my The Gold Standard for aldehydes.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
When it comes to iris in perfumery there are more than their share of excellent perfumes featuring the rooty wonder. There are so many great iris perfumes that doing a list of my top 5 for My Favorite Things has been almost impossible. The only thing that has remained constant on that ever evolving list is Stephane Humbert Lucas 777 Khol de Bahrein. Which made me realize that perfume has to be my Gold Standard when it comes to iris.
Stephane Humbert Lucas is one of my favorite perfumers working because I don’t think he is trying to make a bestselling perfume. I have described his perfumes as “art house” fragrances alluding to the idea that they appeal to those who expect more of the art form than just to smell good. Many of the perfumes he has composed for Nez a Nez, SoOud, and Stephane Humbert Lucas 777 are brilliantly realized bold artistic visions. If I had to pick one of his creations as one most likely to be widely appreciated it would be Khol de Bahrein. Continuing the movie analogy this is the art house hit that makes it to the multiplex. What I admire about Khol de Bahrein is M. Lucas makes a hypnotic perfume which draws you into its purple tinted gaze until you forget what you were doing.
Stephane Humbert Lucas
Khol is the dark eyeshadow made famous by the heavy application of it by Cleopatra. The darkness surrounding the eyes has a way of focusing one’s attention on the point of color represented by the irises. Which makes M. Lucas’ choice to make Khol de Bahrein an iris focused perfume amusing.
Khol de Bahrein opens with a different floral shade of purple as violet along with incense make up the top notes. The violet here is the violet that is rich and tinged with green. The incense seems to infuse the floral as if a joss stick was placed in a flower pot of violets. The heart is made up of a decadent amount of orris butter, sandalwood, and ambergris. This is a perfect marriage of ingredients as the orris sets itself up to be hugged by creamy sandalwood on one side and real ambergris on the other. Together this elevates the orris to bob along on a piece of driftwood floating upon the ocean. The base notes are musk and balsamic notes. The musk is that human skin accord made exotic by the presence of the balsamic notes.
Khol de Bahrein has 18-24 hour longevity and average sillage.
It has been only two years since Khol de Bahrein has been released but I consider it a new classic already. It is the best perfume by M. Lucas to date; which is saying quite a bit since I hold most of his perfumes to a high standard. When it comes to iris The Gold Standard is Stephane Humbert Lucas 777 Khol de Bahrein.
Disclosure; This review based on a bottle I purchased.
When Thierry Mugler created the gourmand category of fragrance with 1992’s Angel with its signature chocolate heart it fired the imagination of others. Where else could one go with notes that smelled of food? One of the early answers was to make a coffee centered fragrance. 1996’s Thierry Mugler A*Men would be the first on the market but over the nearly twenty years since the release of A*Men there have been almost two hundred coffee inspired perfumes.
I love the smell of coffee. I start everyday with an espresso and even before I take my first sip I breathe deeply taking in the rich aroma. I think I own a virtual Starbucks worth of coffee perfumes and can serve up any style one would like. When I am playing olfactory barista for myself there is one coffee perfume which rises above them all, Bond No. 9 New Haarlem.
When Bond No. 9 released its first set of perfumes in 2003 Creative Director and Owner, Laurice Rahme’s fragrant tour of New York was an instant hit. It was so successful that many were wondering what the follow-up would be. In 2004 she would oversee what I think are two of the flagship perfumes for the brand in Wall Street and New Haarlem. For New Haarlem Ms. Rahme would collaborate again with perfumer Maurice Roucel. They had worked together on Broadway Nite and Riverside Drive in the inaugural collection. This time they would serve up the quintessential to-go cup of coffee for that New Yorker on the move.
What sets New Haarlem apart for me is that too many of the early gourmands tried to imitate A*Men’s power. That all too often turned them into cloying miasmas that made you feel as if you were one of the misbehaving children in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. M. Roucel made one of the first gourmands with restraint. There is never a moment where the coffee smell is not apparent but the exquisite balance he achieves throughout is what makes New Haarlem special.
From the moment I spray it on the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee rises to my nose. The first movement is a green, slightly herbal, contrast. It has the effect of making the early moments a little more coffee bean than coffee drink. The green reminds me of the natural oil which covers a whole bean. The heart is where the coffee really gets brewing. Again M. Roucel makes a wonderfully balancing choice of framing the deeply redolent coffee with cedar. Those clean woody lines delineate and amplify the central note. The base is where he adds a shot of flavor to our coffee. M. Roucel uses amber, vanilla, and tonka bean to create a hazelnut accord. It is a well-chosen accompaniment as the nuttiness is tinted with a little sweet. A great patchouli recalls some of the herbal beginning as the final ingredient is added.
New Haarlem has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
As I already mentioned it is the incredible balance M. Roucel achieves which makes New Haarlem the Gold Standard for coffee perfumes. Head out and grab a bottle, to-go.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
When I look at the way too many bottles of perfume that I own it is interesting to see where there are concentrations of multiple bottles. One node within my collection is formed around sandalwood. One problem with the way I started my sandalwood perfume experiences was with Crabtree & Evelyn Extract of Mysore Sandalwood. It is like starting to drink champagne by having Dom Perignon. I have the very slight remains of a bottle of this remaining and it is gorgeous but it is what it says on the label an extract of Mysore sandalwood. To be a Gold Standard my choice has to be a perfume with the sandalwood as the most prominent note. There are many great sandalwood perfumes and if you want to see others that I considered, read My Favorite Things- Sandalwood article of last year. I said in that piece that Xerjoff XJ 17/17 Richwood is the best sandalwood perfume I own, which makes it my Gold Standard for sandalwood.
Richwood benefits from owner and creative director Sergio Momo’s fanatical desire for the finest natural ingredients to be used in his fragrances. There are a number of Xerjoff fragrances which use these unique notes, in the hands of a talented perfumer, and display them as the singular beauties that they are.
For Richwood perfumer Jacques Flori was given a supply of Mysore sandalwood to work with to compose Richwood. M. Flori studied his central raw material and then surrounded it with complementary notes which would point the wearer’s senses towards all of the fantastic depth inherent in Mysore sandalwood.
Richwood starts with the sticky green quality of blackcurrant buds and grapefruit. It is a slightly sulfurous attention getter and as it glazes over the sandalwood it exposes a bit of a harsh edge that Mysore sandalwood has, especially in the early moments. Rose is the partner for the heart of Richwood and it gives a floral underpinning for the more wood part of sandalwood. These two phases develop fairly rapidly down to where Richwood lingers. The base is at first patchouli along with the sandalwood and this turns it creamy and smooth. M. Flori later on adds in coumarin and vanilla to pull out the sweet facets and finish Richwood as a comfort scent.
Richwood has 24 hour longevity and prodigious sillage.
Richwood never fails to thrill me when I wear it. I feel as if I am swathed in an aura of sandalwood of the highest quality. There are many great sandalwood perfumes but Richwood is the one I think is The Gold Standard.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
This is going to be a version of The Gold Standard where some are going to disagree vehemently. The reason for that is there really are two versions of jasmine in perfumery. Which one you like best is all about your tolerance for the more vivid notes of unadulterated jasmine. Jasmine when it is extracted also carries a significant amount of a chemical class called indoles. Indoles are a very pungent chemical and some people, like me, love them; others run away. This is why you see jasmine in both forms in perfumes. There is the straight indolic jasmine and there are the cleaned-up greatly reduced in indoles jasmine. One is a child of the night and the other is a freshly scrubbed ingénue. My choice for The Gold Standard in jasmine is a perfume which not only proudly displays the indoles at the core of jasmine but doubles down with even more skank in the base. That perfume is Serge Lutens Sarrasins.
Sarrasins came out at the very end of 2007 and perfumer Christopher Sheldrake turns in one of his most simple compositions, ever, for Serge Lutens. There are five listed notes but each of them when used in their most natural form provide nuance to burn. It is instructional that if your raw materials are suitably complex you don’t need to gild the lily, or the jasmine, in this case.
Bergamot is listed as a note and it is sort of like a matador note as it is the only representative of the light in the entire development. As soon as you notice it is gone under one of the most indolic jasmines I’ve encountered in a perfume. It was exactly what I wanted as the sweet floral character is countered with a raw dirty accord. This jasmine has dirty smudges on her cheeks and her debutante days are well behind her and she is all the more interesting for it. Most perfumers would just let the indoles naturally carry the day but M. Sheldrake decides to add a slug of castoreum. It almost feels like the jasmine is growing fur as if it is a carnivorous flower in a Hogwarts greenhouse. A wonderfully redolent patchouli swaggers in and labdanum applies the last bit of intensity.
Sarrasins has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
It is almost ridiculous to say they don’t make them like they used to when I am referring to perfume made seven years ago. Sarrasins feels like a perfume which is out of step with current aesthetics and would’ve been at home on a counter containing the original Patou Joy and Chanel No. 5. For all of that it feels like a perfume unstuck from time, it also feels timeless in its uncompromising adherence to the style of Serge Lutens circa 2007. There is no other fragrance which exemplifies indolic jasmine better than Sarrasins.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
The advent of Sport Fragrances began in 1972 with Estee Lauder Aliage Sport Fragrance and based on today’s market you might be surprised to know it was made for “active women”. It wasn’t until 1987 with the release of Boss Sport that the Sport Fragrance business started to shift to the guys. The fragrance which would start the men’s sports fragrance snowball rolling was 1993’s Polo Sport. Perfumer Harry Fremont really ran with the idea of a fragrance for an active man as he set the formula for many masculine sport fragrances to follow. Citrus on top followed by light florals made more manly with spices; finishing with woods and musk. The use of Sport in the name was supposed to make it easier for a man to want to buy fragrance, and it worked. Polo Sport immediately became a best-seller and is still one to the present day.
Over the last twenty years there have been many, many sport fragrances released and most of them are flankers of flagship fragrances for the particular brand. The unfortunate part of this is most perfume producers took the wrong lesson from the success of Polo Blue. They decided that Sport meant light almost to the point of insipidness. Most Sport fragrances are an embarrassment to the other name on the label as everything that makes something like Encre Noire great is gutted in Encre Noire Sport. With all of this you might think this is an odd subject for The Gold Standard but there is one which shows it can be done right while hewing to the template set down, Guerlain Habit Rouge Sport.
If there is any fragrance I would’ve thought would never be amenable to sportification it would be Jean-Paul Guerlain’s 1965 men’s fragrance Guerlain Habit Rouge. Habit Rouge is a citrus/spicy/leather with the signature Guerlinade. Habit Rouge would be in my conversation of greatest men’s fragrances of all-time. When I visited the Guerlain Boutique at The Breakers in Palm Beach in the summer of 2009 I probably recoiled when I was proffered the bottle of Habit Rouge Sport. What I should’ve done was realize M. Guerlain would not stoop to make a pale simulation of his classic. Instead he uses three key additions and an overall lightening of the core to create the best sport fragrance ever.
The same bigarade focused top notes are present but they are made brighter and the first key addition, bamboo, adds a fresh light woody note which transforms this into something recognizably Habit Rouge but also something new. The heart of neroli, patchouli, and cedar is the same. Then by dialing back the mélange of spices in the original to just one, pink pepper; and adding jasmine the heart is as easy to wear as that white t-shirt. The base is identical with leather over the amber and vanilla Guerlinade but as everything else in Habit Rouge Sport it is made less intense.
Habit Rouge Sport has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I wear Habit Rouge often but never in the warm weather; Habit Rouge Sport is what I wear these summer days. It may be faint praise to call this the best sports fragrance ever. Let me add to it Habit Rouge Sport is as good as the fragrance with which it shares its name.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
One of the more frequent questions I get is, “What’s your favorite ______ fragrance?” In the beginning I used to give an answer like there are too many of those fragrances for me to have a favorite. Over the past couple of years I’ve realized that isn’t entirely true. I realize when I have a truly great fragrance in front of me I am consciously comparing it to another fragrance I think is the best of that note or class. With The Gold Standard I am going to answer the question on my favorite fragrance of a particular note or style. With Valentine’s Day coming up at the end of the week it seems like Rose is a good place to start.
I think from the moment I smelled Guerlain Nahema, sometime in the 1980’s, it became my baseline rose fragrance. In those days I didn’t have the right description but the advance of technology has given me the exact descriptor for Nahema; High Definition Rose. I remember right after HD came out and I went out and got my first HD television and I watched the BBC series Planet Earth It all seemed so lifelike and there was depth in that clarity. That is exactly what Nahema feels like to me. It is HD in olfactory form.
Nahema was released in 1979 and after a prodigious advertising campaign it never caught fire with the perfume buying public. There have been a number of post-mortems on that claiming Nahema to be “avant-garde”, “ahead of its time”, or just plain “too weird”. In that time and place all of those criticisms were probably valid. Most of the popular rose fragrances we laud have happened since 2000. In 1979 rose was considered to be an “older woman’s” choice. Jean-Paul Guerlain clearly was trying to bring rose back to the younger demographic but in 1979 they clearly weren’t interested.
I remember smelling it in the Guerlain boutique at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida and being captivated by the complex rose I was encountering. It had the silky smooth core with the green of the stem and thorn lurking in the background. It was as close to a reconstruction of a single rose handed to us by M. Guerlain as could be. When I broke it down hyacinth added a dewy quality to the top notes before the rose comes to the forefront like a tight bud blooming right in front of me. A few balsamic notes, some tonka and a bit of vanilla soften the subtle green woody aspects which coincide with the rose. I had always assumed M. Guerlain used a high quality rose oil as his core, or did he?
In the book “Perfumes: The A-Z Guide” by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez; Mr. Turin makes the provocative claim, in his 5-star review of Nahema, that M. Guerlain used no rose at all in its composition. What!? After reading this I pulled out my bottle and sprayed it on trying to detect the threads of this rose accord. I was unable to find a thread to start pulling on which would make this accord unravel to my analytical probing. If M. Guerlain was able to pull off this best of all rose fragrances without using rose that would be incredible. I hope someday someone at Guerlain will let us know the truth of this story.
The current formulation of Nahema, as the Eau de Parfum, is essentially unchanged from when I first encountered it. The extrait version is spectacular and is also worth seeking out especially if you are a rose lover.
Guerlain Nahema is the Gold Standard when it comes to rose fragrances to which I compare everything else to.
Disclosure: this review was based on a bottle of Nahema EdP I purchased and a sample of the Nahema extrait supplied by the Guerlain boutique in Palm Beach, Florida.