Of all the questions I am asked about perfume, “What is your favorite book on perfume?” is one of the most frequent. My answer has always been Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins. I’m not going to recap the plot except for one thing, there are lots of beets. I’ve been waiting for a long time for a perfume that gives beets their due. Diptyque Kyoto is it.
Diptyque is pulling out all the stops celebrating this 60th anniversary year. For the fall they are releasing a limited-edition Grand Tour collection. Along with Kyoto, Venise is the other. A lot of times when perfume brands go all out for their anniversaries, they can lose what made them last so long. Creative director Myriam Badault has overseen a set of releases this year which have done a great job of showcasing what makes Diptyque remain relevant as they get their AARP card.
Kyoto is inspired by Japan. As of late inspired by Japan has become equivalent to rolling out cherry blossoms. It has almost become a perfume caricature. Which was why I was pleased to see perfumer Alexandra Carlin go in an entirely different direction.
I’ve never visited Japan. If I use the last thirty years of perfume inspired by it there is an efficiency which sets apart the best. Kyoto is an example. Mme Carlin uses three keynotes in rose, vetiver, and incense. The fourth ingredient is beetroot. It acts as a catalyst pulling together the three ingredients through a unique scent profile.
A spicy Turkish rose opens things. This is a sultry swoosh of piquant petals. Vetiver comes next with its green grassiness out front. It adds a significant amount of freshness keeping the rose from becoming too overbearing. The final keynote, incense skirls through the rose and vetiver in austere silvery spirals. For a few minutes these pieces are present but nothing special. Then the beetroot changes everything.
Beetroot is a fascinating scent profile. It has a soil-like earthiness akin to geosmin, but way less intense. It also has that sweetness that beet sugar comes from. This is also markedly sweet but also much lighter than other choices. Here the sweetness grabs the rose adding texture to the floral. It also coaxes the earthy part of patchouli out from behind the grassiness. The incense just adds a resinous veil throughout.
Kyoto has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Diptyque has been one of the brands which has been consistently doing transparent without becoming boring. Now in their 60th year the rest of the perfume world has caught up. I’ve been waiting for a perfume to use beetroot in this way. I wonder if I should let Mr. Robbins know?
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Nordstrom.
I laud perfume brands for taking risks. For pushing at the boundaries of what artistic perfumery can be. That’s an aspirational effort, taken on by the minority. Most fragrances are just trying to make pleasantly scented things. Nothing wrong with that. What can be nice is when a brand decides to take that approach while working with a bit more focus on the keynotes. Creative director David Benedek at BDK Parfums has seemingly decided this is the way he wants to do business. Over the last five years he has produced perfumes like BDK Parfums Velvet Tonka which are simple studies of compelling ingredients.
Tonka bean is the ingredient which launched modern perfumery. It is the natural source of coumarin which started this age of fragrance. I like when it is used as a core ingredient. The coumarin has a hay-like dried grass sweetness along with a vanilla piece of its scent profile. Over the last few years it has become a staple in gourmand style perfumes. For Velvet Tonka perfumer Alexandra Carlin serves up a nice gourmand version of tonka.
She chooses to make a marzipan accord using tonka and almond. This is a great choice as it keeps it from becoming too sweet and treacly. The almond adds in a nuttiness which lightens it up. It comes together as a realistic accord of the confection it is portraying. It is this which holds throughout the time I was wearing it. What is nice about the BDK way of doing things is that they add in complementary grace notes which add to the main accord. Here orange blossom appears first as a light floral complement. Tobacco coaxes out the hay part of tonka in a way that reminds you that it is there without becoming predominant. The slight spiciness of amber and the woodiness of amyris add the finishing touches.
Velvet Tonka has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I’ve tried all fourteen of the perfumes Mr. Benedek has released. I don’t think there is a dud in the bunch. They are straightforward no-nonsense perfumes which expertly feature a couple of ingredients. Velvet Tonka is a great example of when that is more than enough.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
The Holidays are all about the traditions. In other words the expected. In my family if there is something missing it can cause heartburn. Additions are welcome though. Holiday traditions can grow bigger just don’t make them smaller. There is a comfort to those things we are used to. The same is true of perfume. I generally am happy to see a perfume which shows me something different. There are fragrances which just want to execute a classic style; Ciro Columbine is one of those.
Ciro is another of those resurrected heritage brands from the first half of the last century. Overseen by owner-creative director Rainer Diersche it is choosing the path of new perfumes with heritage names. Since only a charmed few will have ever heard of a brand which stopped making perfume in 1961 those names shouldn’t carry too much weight. Hr. Diersche is not new to the fragrance game. He has also been the creative force behind Linari since 2008. He began Ciro last year with an initial collection of six. Columbine is the first I’ve tried but based on it I am going to seek out the others.
When I saw Columbine I was thinking the flower. Hr. Diersche was thinking about the heroine of Italian Commedia dell’Arte. The lover of the more well-known Harlequin. Hers was to provide honesty through lines which pierced while also engaged in the seduction of Harlequin. She was beloved for her truth and beauty. Hr. Diersche collaborates with perfumer Alexandra Carlin to capture this multi-faceted character.
Columbine opens with a mixture of genial mandarin and acerbic tagete; capturing the playful sharp tongue of its inspiration. Baie rose and neroli come next. The neroli creates a floral version of the mandarin while the baie rose finds the tagete and gives it an herbal contrast. Columbine begins to shift as tobacco and osmanthus provide the next layer. This is a balanced pairing as the leatheriness of the osmanthus and the narcotic sweetness of the tobacco find an amplified richness. It gives way to a straight suede leather accord which gives a slight animalic tinge to things. Musks give that tinge a deeper shade. The sweetness of benzoin provides the finishing touches.
Columbine has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
I like the idea of a heritage brand making contemporary versions of classic styles. Columbine does a great job of this. Sometimes I just want a perfume done well. Columbine exceeded my expectations.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
As I was walking back to my hotel room in Milan during Esxence 2016 I ran into Joseph Quartana in the lobby of the hotel. Mr. Quartana was co-founder of one of my favorite independent brands Six Scents where they took up-and-coming fashion designers and paired them with perfumers. The results were never less than fascinating as the fashion designers and the perfumers came up with their olfactory designs. I asked him if there was going to be more. He shook his head negatively. He told me he was doing something else. I stopped to sit down and hear about it. Mr. Quartana told me he was developing a line based on poisonous flowers. He had some for preview in Milan but I just couldn’t make it over to the hotel where he was at during the show. I followed up on our return to the US and received sample of all nine of the new line called Parfums Quartana Les Potions Fatales.
Mr. Quartana decided to work with the very deep roster of perfumers at Symrise. Each of the nine has a different perfumer. This is in keeping with the way Six Scents also operated. I am a big proponent of the idea that a single collaboration between creative director and perfumer produces the best results. Except Mr. Quartana keeps providing me with data points which are in conflict with that hypothesis. For Les Potions Fatales it makes each one of these first perfumes feel like its own discovery with the concept being the connective tissue rather than an aesthetic or particular style. I am going to spend most of this week introducing you to this very good collection of perfumes. Today I start with Bloodflower.
Bloodflower is most known as the preferred food of Monarch butterfly larvae. In the places where bloodflower grows its sap is used to poison the arrows of the indigenous primitive peoples who live there. I knew this history so I was surprised that the perfume based upon it was something quite different. Perfumer Alexandra Carlin and Mr. Quartana wanted to go for a “haute Goth” style of fragrance. The nod to the plant was to mimic the transformation of the larvae into the butterfly having a metamorphosing style throughout. It does capture what they wanted.
Bloodflower opens with the first syllable, a blood accord. I have always loved the description of the smell of freshly spilled blood as smelling of freshly sheared copper. That imparts the concept of a chilly metallic accord. Mme Carlin assembles just that. The early moments have a clean metallic edge to them, almost like a used scalpel would smell like. The first transformation occurs as the blood changes into a licorice laden mix meant to emulate Sambuca liqueur. As with the top accord Mme Carlin also captures the sugary sweet quality of the liqueur as well as its viscosity as it feels like this oozes over the blood accord. In the base the flower part shows up as a very deep rose is made even deeper with clove and patchouli. This is a Goth black rose to finish upon.
Bloodflower has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I will be repeating myself a lot over the next few days but Mr. Quartana did a fantastic job as creative director. Bloodflower shows how he was unafraid to move away from slavish devotion to the name of the collection with a willingness to end up someplace different. Bloodflower is a great example of everything that is good about this collection.
Tomorrow I am going to review Venetian Belladonna and Midnight Datura.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Parfums Quartana.
Editor’s Note: Mr. Quartana plans on producing and directing original videos for all of the perfumes within the collection. Bloodflower is one of the ones which already has one. You will see Mr. Quartana has a similar adventurous nature in his filmmaking as in his perfume making. The link is here.