There are brands which excel at being the one for those who only want one perfume on their dresser. Montblanc is one of these. They have made excellent interpretations of the current trends. Two years ago when they released Explorer it displayed everything the brand does well. I have been mentioning it when someone asks what’s a good choice for a man who doesn’t wear fragrance often. Which made me interested in the first flanker Montblanc Explorer Ultra Blue.
(l. to r.) Jordi Fernandez, Antoine Maisondieu, and Olivier Pescheux
All you have to see is “blue” in the name to know it will be an aquatic style fragrance. I was okay with that because I was thinking if they swapped out the heart of Explorer for an aquatic module this could be nice. It turns out the perfumers of the original, Jordi Fernandez, Antoine Maisondieu, and Olivier Pescheux do just that in Explorer Ultra Blue.
The top accord of the original is retained the baie rose and bergamot is a lively mixture of citrus sparkle and herbal. The quality of the baie rose used here is exceptional with more presence than it usually has. In the original it is the freshness of vetiver. Explorer Ultra Blue serves up the typical marine aquatic heart accord. Briny sea spray matched with expansive blue sky ozonics and the watery synthetics. This is as generic as it sounds. The top accord interacting with it keeps it from becoming too common. The base accord is what makes it interesting again.
The perfumers use the biologically fractionated patchouli called Akigalawood. It has a fantastic spicy scent profile. As it is used here it adds some texture to the banal oceanic nature. One of the synthetic ambrox analogs is also present which adds longevity and dries things out a little.
Explorer Ultra Blue has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
This brand does not break new ground, but they sure have a knack at tilling what exists. Explorer Ultra Blue is nothing new to anyone who has multiple bottles. For the man who doesn’t want more than one or two this is an ideal summer style fragrance.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Montblanc.
You are all probably sick of my bellyaching on the lack of originality in spring florals. It is because it seems like there is a whole lot of non-floral space which could be explored for spring, that isn’t. It always seems to me a flaw in imagination. Which is why Ferragamo Leather Intense offers that alternative.
You look at that name and see “leather” and think that must be too heavy. What has happened over the last few years is an opportunity for perfumers to construct lighter leather accords. They don’t have to all smell like motor oil or birch tar. Since it is an accord, any perfumer can choose to tune it to whatever effect they choose.
I have an old, weathered 20+-year old leather jacket. A couple of years ago I found this lighter grade jacket which allows me to keep wearing a lighter version of my old stand-by as the weather begins to warm up. What I think of when I wear the lighter version is how it still wraps me in leather without suffocating me by overheating. Perfumer Antoine Maisondieu does the same here.
The leather accord he has built is the core of Intense Leather. It is built of some of the less intense pieces of typical leather accords. I know it seems like a contradiction in terms. Yet M. Maisondieu builds a stolid accord on which to hang the rest of his ingredients.
It begins with an interesting fruity duo in orange and apple. For a little while the orange will be all you notice. The apple makes its presence known by inserting a tart crispness between the citrus and leather. A nicely balanced iris adds a floral layer over the leather. This is where the less intense leather is an asset. It allows the iris more space. An edgy clary sage connects to a green base accord which also finds some clean musks there, too.
Intense Leather has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is the kind of spring fragrance that I’d like to see more of. It has the freshness of the fruit and green along with a lightweight leather. Which makes this an ideal spring leather.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Macy’s.
If there is a masculine counterpart to the ubiquitous spring rose it is lavender. I have noticed that more of the spring men’s releases rely on this floral recently. I received two flankers where its addition is a positive.
Armani Code Eau de Parfum
Ever since its release Armani Code has acted as a cash cow for the brand. They would pump out releases which were uninspired copies. Something changed a couple years ago as the last couple of Armani Code flankers have been much more interesting. Some of that might have something to do with Antoine Maisondieu being involved or maybe being given the ability to color outside the lines. The New Armani Code Eau de Parfum benefits from whatever the reason is.
What is nice is at every phase there is a substitute for the original. It starts as lemon replaces grapefruit. This is a very warm lemon instead of bright. The floral herbal piece of this Eau de Parfum version is lavender and rosemary. Each is a change from the original while still cutting close enough to feel like part of the family. The base accord has a higher concentration of tonka bean which adds in another warmer ingredient. Overall it confirms that warmth a parfum version would likely have. I also think this is a good choice for the spring and fall.
Armani Code Eau de Parfum has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Yves St. Laurent Y Le Parfum
I have been mostly disappointed in the last few years at YSL. The original release of Y Eau de Toilette is an example of fragrance by focus group. It works for people who don’t really like perfume. Just like Armani Code, YSL has cranked out multiple flankers all of which retained that lack of ingenuity. By featuring lavender among many other changes, perfumer Dominique Ropion has made the best version of Y yet.
The opening is a collision of tart fruit in grapefruit and green apple. The tartness is a nice opening for the lavender to walk through. The floral is kept more on its herbal side with a little sage making sure of that. It closes on a sweetly woody accord of cedar and tonka bean.
Y Le Parfum has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Disclosure: this review was based on samples provided by the manufacturers.
I sometimes get an e-mail from a reader asking me, “What’s the point of flankers?” Trust me when I receive them in the mail that is something I ask myself. The cynical answer is the large companies are trying to part consumers from their money who feel brand loyalty. It is probably closer to the truth. Yet I have observed there might be a more positive perspective to have on flankers.
When I give someone a perfume to try on a strip and they tell me they don’t like it; I ask why. The most frequent answer is there is one thing which doesn’t make them happy. Too floral. Not floral enough. Too sweet. Too strong. A flanker can address this by making the one small change which might bring in someone who was put off by something in the original. This was my frame of mind when I received the two latest flankers from Giorgio Armani.
Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio Profondo
To their credit Giorgio Armani has not overexposed Acqua di Gio by releasing a ton of flankers of the 1995 original. It is also commendable that they have been clearly different from each other. The original was one of the early uses of Calone as the source of the sea spray beachy quality. The big difference in Acqua di Gio Profondo is the use of an analog called Cascalone. This is a deeper version of the sea with a more concentrated effect. It is what perfumer Alberto Morillas uses in the opening moments. Lavender replaces jasmine from the original. The lavender goes well with the Cascalone in creating a slightly darker shade of fragrance. It ends with a mineralic accord in the base,
If you were someone who found the original Acqua di Gio too fresh and clean; Profondo is just a shade less of both.
Acqua di Gio Profondo has 8-10 hour.
Giorgio Armani Armani Code Absolu Gold
With Armani Code the brand doesn’t seem as protective; releasing nearly a flanker a year since its initial release. That kind of process leads to a cynical view. All the Armani Code flankers have been offshoots of the original’s woody Oriental construction. I had easily ignored them until last year’s Armani Code Absolu which did change things. I wasn’t fond of an odd boozy accord in the middle but I appreciated the effort to try something new. This year’s version Armani Code Absolu Gold makes a change which made me like it much more.
Perfumer Antoine Maisondieu was behind both of the Absolu versions. In Armani Code Absolu Gold the booze is replaced by a fantastic iris and saffron heart. This flows much more naturally from the crisp fruits of apple and tangerine on top into benzoin and tonka bean in the base. It is difficult to get the floral balance right in a perfume marketed to men. I think if you are looking for a subdued floral for a change of pace and you like the Armani Code DNA this is a good alternative.
Armani Code Absolu Gold has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Giorgio Armani.
Since my desk is currently covered in new perfume releases featuring rose it must be popular. I know I’m in the minority in wanting some other floral to represent spring. It is like grabbing onto a life preserver in a sea of rose essential oil if I get a sample of a new spring floral that isn’t rose. When they are good, I feel dutybound to point out these alternatives like Coach Dreams.
Coach is one of those mass-market brands which makes solid, usually unremarkable, fragrances. They have been making perfume since 2007. They tend to discontinue their older releases fairly brutally. Allowing them to remain on the shelves for a few years before moving on. Almost all of them are created via a committee of perfumers. I would love to observe this process. I try to imagine Nathalie Gracia-Cetto, Antoine Maisondieu, Shyamala Maisondieu, and Olivier Pescheux sitting in a board room discussing what goes into Coach Dreams. I wonder if they started designing this one with the premise of a different floral than rose for spring. It is what they ended up with.
Dramatic Re-Enactment of the Design Process for Coach Dreams
Coach Dreams opens with an interesting pairing of bitter orange and pear. This is a crisp slightly unripe pear matched to a tart orange. As a citrus top accord it carries a green freshness under the fruit which is nicely realized. Instead of rose the perfumers chose gardenia as the focal point floral. This is not that narcotic indolic heady gardenia. This is a version meant to appeal to a younger demographic who want their florals cleaner. This is a gardenia which is similar to the fresh debutante rose in almost every other spring floral out there. It is a nice version of gardenia where the greener aspects have the chance to find some space. It works especially well with the fruit from the top. A fresh green ingredient deepens the gardenia a touch. It is called “Joshua tree” in the ingredient list but it comes off as a dried herbal green not anything like a Joshua tree. It ends with the typical dried woodiness of Ambrox.
Dreams has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
If you are looking for an alternative to rose as a spring floral Coach Dreams asks, “How about some gardenia?” It is a good choice if that is what you are looking for.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Ulta.
When perfume nerds get to talking about the most influential brand of the niche age of perfume; I have a very strong opinion. My choice is Comme des Garcons. From its beginnings in 1993 it would help define and refine what a niche aesthetic was in fragrance. It has been overseen by one incredible creative director in Christian Astuguevieille for the entire time. That longevity and consistency should not be taken for granted. Many of the early niche pioneers have lost their way. It seemed like it was part of the natural process. Keeping a high level of creativity was just not something that should be sustainable. Especially as we entered the second decade of the 2000’s it was happening with frustrating regularity. Comme des Garcons had seemingly fallen prey to the same issue with a streak of one mediocre release after another in 2012. I was thinking this was the final exclamation point on the first age of niche perfumery. Then M. Astuguevieille showed me in 2013 that the previous year was just an anomaly. Comme des Garcons bounced back with a new set of perfumes which recalibrated their aesthetic to be relevant for the now. At the center of these releases was Comme des Garcons Blue Santal.
One of the things which Comme des Garcons has done well is to have releases for the wider mass-market next to the more exclusive releases. Blue Santal was one of a trio of the former released in the summer of 2013. The other two Blue Cedrat and Blue Encens have been discontinued leaving Blue Santal as the only reminder of the sub-collection.
Perfumer Antoine Maisondieu would compose a perfume which creates a push and pull between the green of pine and the dry woodiness of sandalwood. It is the kind of perfume I wear on a warm day because of that vacillation between cool pine and warm sandalwood.
Blue Santal opens with the terpenic tonic of that cool pine. M. Maisondieu adds in the sharp gin-like acidity of juniper berries as the bridging note. The base is one of the early uses of the sustainable Australian sandalwood. It is one of the first fragrances to accentuate the drier character of this newer source of sandalwood. It still carries the sweetness with the creamier character less prominent. It presents the right counterweight to the pine. Then over the hours it lasts on my skin it is like a set of scales with the pine on one side and the sandalwood on the other pivoting on a fulcrum of juniper berries.
Blue Santal has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
You might think it unusual to choose a release from such a well-known brand as Comme des Garcons as an Under the Radar choice. From a brand pushing towards a collection of one hundred releases I think it is easy for even the best ones to fall off the radar screen. I thought it was time to put Blue Santal back on it.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
One of the ingredients which defines perfume of the mid-20th century is aldehydes. From their appearance in Chanel No. 5 they were prevalent in many of the great floral perfumes which followed. It was so entwined with that era in perfume it also came to represent it. It also is the one ingredient which elicits the damning reaction, “oh that perfume is for someone older than me.” It is the keynote of the dreaded descriptor “old lady perfume”. This has kept it from being used very often in new perfumes. Tom Ford Metallique is going to try to change that.
Metallique is part of the more widely available Signature Collection. As much as we write about the Private Blend collection the Signature Collection is equally as impressive. Creative director Karyn Khoury makes sure any fragrance with Tom Ford on the label lives up to the reputation the brand has built. For Metallique she partners with perfumer Antoine Maisondieu.
The name is appropriate for the way aldehydes present themselves within a fragrance. In those classic perfumes it was described as smelling like “Aqua-Net” hairspray. M. Maisondieu has found a way to lighten up the aldehyde accord he uses here. This is a much more restrained effect overall.
Metallique opens up with the aldehydes springing to life. M.Maisondieu rather quickly brings in bergamot and petitgrain to give some sparkle. It is a smart way of balancing out the metallic quality. It allows baie rose to add a green herbal quality further softening the aldehydes. In the past the florals would be the heavy hitters. M. Maisondieu goes for a less powerful trio of aubepine, heliotrope, and muguet. The green of the baie rose connects to the green of the muguet then expanding into the heliotorope and aubepine. M. Maisondieu then uses the botanical musk of ambrette and the warmth of balsam to provide the foundation.
Metallique has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
What makes Metallique stand apart from those classic aldehydic florals is this modern version does not fill the room. Ms. Khoury and M. Maisondieu have designed a version which is much less extroverted even though it retains the aldehyde-floral-musk spine. It still has some verve without becoming overwhelming. I will be curious to learn if they have found the path for aldehydic florals to appeal to a new audience with Metallique.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.
I write a lot about what I think it takes for a perfume brand to succeed. When it comes to designer brands, I have always extolled the influence of the brand creative director on the fragrance side. If that person can give even a little bit of time to the perfume side of the business, it usually turns out for the better. If the brand just signs their name away to a big cosmetics brand, things usually turn out generic. Unfortunately an example of this for the worse is Bottega Veneta Illusione for Him and Illusione for Her.
In 2011 when Bottega Veneta entered the designer fragrance world the then creative director Tomas Maier had a direct hand in the perfumes. It had been that way until he was replaced last year by Daniel Lee. The collection under Hr. Maier was one of the best designer fragrance ones we had. There were clear through lines to the history of the brand with the releases always being among the best mainstream releases of any given year. I was wondering what part fragrance would play in Mr. Lee’s vision for Bottega Veneta. Based on these two first releases it seems like the answer is to give it over to the licensee without giving it another thought.
Illusione for Him was composed by perfumer Antoine Maisondieu. This is a perfume that is exactly what its note list promises. Citrus top accord of orange and lemon, woody heart accord of cedar and base accord of tonka bean with a dollop of vetiver. It smells like everything else on the men’s fragrance shelf which was not the case before.
Illusione for Her was a team effort by Amandine Clerc-Marie and Annick Menardo. It starts with a pedestrian bergamot and fig leaves top with orange blossom at the heart and wood sweetened by tonka bean in the base. This is what commercial perfumery smells like; pretty and bland.
Both perfumes are pitched on the more transparent side probably because that is the current trend. Inexplicably to me both perfumes have some of the worst longevity I have encountered for a mainstream release; barely 6-7 hours.
I am saddened to see this happening to a designer brand I regularly pointed to as how it can be done. It looks like that will no longer be the case as long as Mr. Lee is creative director. I just hope they don’t discontinue the previous releases.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Bloomingdale’s.
One of my favorite department store men’s perfumes to recommend as an office-ready scent is Montblanc Legend. It is an example of a mass-market release done right, without pandering, while intelligently choosing popular trends to include. I have no idea whether this is true, but this seems less perfume by focus group with more directed design at play instead. They followed that up with Montblanc Emblem in 2014. It again was nothing especially original put together in a solid crowd-pleasing way. When I went to my local mall for my unscientific crowd watching, the newest perfume for the brand was being displayed; Montblanc Explorer.
I’ve mentioned this before; my way of telling whether a new perfume will be popular is the garbage can extrapolation. I set myself up near the closest waste receptacle to where the sales associates are handing out strips. I keep a count of how many people get rid of the strip as quick as they can versus continuing to sniff it while they walk. A good score I’ve found is around 60% retention of the strip. On this visit Explorer had an 85% retention rate. It motivated me to get a sample and find out more.
(l. to r.) Jordi Fernandez, Antoine Maisondieu, and Olivier Pescheux
Anne Duboscq has been the creative director for Montblanc since the release of Legend. It seems like she has clear vision of the market the brand wants to serve. For Explorer she used a trio of perfumers; Jordi Fernandez, Antoine Maisondieu, and Olivier Pescheux. What I found interesting when receiving the press release is this set of Givaudan perfumers liberally laced a set of proprietary company ingredients throughout Explorer. Orpur versions of bergamot and vetiver along with Akigalawood. I always refer to the Orpur collection as the crown jewels of the company. As the creators of Akigalawood the Givaudan perfumers have more experience in using it. It adds a kind of high-class niche veneer to a mass-market fragrance.
The perfumers open with a lot of Orpur bergamot and pink pepper. What the pink pepper does is to provide an herbal contrast to the sparkle of the bergamot making for a tart green top accord. The green is intensified with the Orpur vetiver along with sage in the heart. The base is woody ambrox and the altered version of patchouli that is Akigalawood. The akigalawood adds in a spiciness to the ambrox to keep it from being as monolithic as it can sometimes be.
Explorer has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Besides my garbage can census another reason I predict Explorer will be a success is in a few steps I watched two men stop talking; turn around and each buy a bottle. This is not a perfume for those who have a diverse collection of niche perfumes. You will already have a better version of anything you might be drawn to in Explorer. What I saw on a Saturday afternoon in February is for those men who want an office-ready perfume Explorer is going to end up on a lot of dressers.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Montblanc.
When there is a brand as long-lived and influential as Tom Ford Private Blend has been it is inevitable there are some discontinued perfumes. One of my favorites which is no longer available is 2012’s Lavender Palm which was released as a store exclusive to their Beverly Hills Tom Ford boutique. It stands out because it was a fantastic contemporary example of a lavender perfume which did not remind you of a barber shop. I don’t know why it was discontinued but it seems like the brand wants to take another attempt at a non-barbershop lavender in Tom Ford Private Blend Beau de Jour.
For this new perfume longtime creative director Karyn Khoury collaborates with perfumer Antoine Maisondieu. What they produce is a perfume of lavender encased in green.
When you smell lavender in fragrance the most common version is called lavandin. Lavandin has the more floral quality associated with functional lavender products like soaps. If a lavender perfume is referred to as soapy it is most likely this source. What M. Maisondieu does is to use another source of lavender. From the Provence region of France it is dried in the fields before extraction and distillation. This provides a lavender which has a much deeper herbal quality. This herbal-ness is always around in a natural lavender extract. This version used in Beau de Jour is more pronounced. It must be because M. Maisondieu has some partners which require it.
Beau de Jour opens with the layering of the Provence lavender and lavandin. M. Maisondieu finds a balance of fresh floral and herbal. The Provence version becomes the focal point as a set of four green ingredients tease out the herbal nature. They are rosemary, basil, geranium, and oakmoss. It is like each ingredient find a spot and pulls. The rosemary and geranium do it in a gentle manner. The basil and oakmoss exert more strength. The oakmoss becomes the most prominent over time. As the oakmoss and the lavender hit their stride it is where Beau de Jour comes off as a nouveau chypre. It finds grounding in an earthy patchouli matched with ambroxan. The patchouli dovetails with the chypre vibe. The ambroxan gives it a modern bit of polish.
Beau de Jour has 12-14 hour longevity.
I think Beau de Jour is a more accessible lavender than Lavender Palm. My guess is this will become one of the more popular Private Blends because of that.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.