One silver lining about being at home is I’ve had more substantial perfume conversations than I have in a while. The connectivity of the online messaging world provides the mechanism for it. When I posted my review of Byredo Tobacco Mandarin I got a message asking if it was different enough from the rest of the line. It led to a discussion of the Byredo expansively minimal aesthetic, my words versus transparently bland, his words. I’m sure I didn’t change his mind. What it did for me was to make me think about why this type of opacity appeals to me. The latest release Byredo Mixed Emotions offers me a chance to write about it.
It seems like a good place to do it since Mixed Emotions is the 50th release since the brand began in 2007. One of its strengths is the relationship between creative director Ben Gorham and perfumer Jerome Epinette. Together for all 50. This seems like one of those collaborations where both men were interested in what you could do with a minimalist mindset. Over the years the answer has been to create expansive versions of ingredients known for their weight. It is that quality which draws me to this collection.
Mixed Emotions is an on-point example because of the way birch is used here. Usually the foundation of a leather accord. In this perfume it is given a quite different profile. M. Epinette turns it into something delightfully airy.
It starts with a smoky fruity accord. Combining blackcurrant bud and two teas, black Ceylon and mate. Blackcurrant bud can be a problematic note when concentrated. Used in a more open way it just carries a lilting berry scent. The two teas rise up in steaming spirals to surround the fruit. The black tea adds the hint of smokiness. The mate adds back some of the green the blackcurrant bud would have displayed if denser. As an accord it is an abstraction which allows for a desired effect to be achieved. Papyrus and violet leaf add back some deeper shading to the green. Then we come to the birch. I am not sure how he did it, but this is not the biting proto-tar of most birch in fragrance. It is the scent of birch trees in winter carrying a slightly mentholated quality with the clean woodiness. I don’t recall finding a birch displayed in a perfume in this way. It is what makes this great.
Mixed Emotions has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Mixed Emotions is everything Byredo does well just refined after having done it 49 previous times. The name may portray ambivalence, I don’t share it. Mixed Emotions is an ideal reason why Byredo remains one of my favorite perfume brands.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Byredo.
Every niche perfume brand thrives on its evolved aesthetic. When they want to color outside the lines their recourse is to release a new collection. In 2015 Byredo creative director Ben Gorham wanted to make a set of perfumes which had more presence in an extrait de parfum concentration. The Night Veils collection was born. Byredo Tobacco Mandarin is the seventh member.
Much of Byredo’s general aesthetic is built on a more expansive scaffolding. What sets the Night Veils releases apart is they are much more compact. That leads to fragrances which feel like a more personal experience from the brand. Perfumer Jerome Epinette can translate the aesthetic he has helped build with Mr. Gorham into something which simmers. Tobacco Mandarin is a riff on the spiced citrus style popular in the fall. M. Epinette wraps it in tobacco and oud.
The spiced citrus is the titular mandarin along with coriander at first which gives it some initial life. That doesn’t last long as cumin comes around to blunt that. The cumin here carries that dirty sweat scent profile. With the fruit and coriander it forms a slightly odd version of a clove orange. I smell the cumin and coriander when I pay attention, but they also do a creditable imitation of clove when I’m not focused on it. The tobacco comes next in its extraordinarily rich narcotic form. It must be this way because the spicy citrus needs an equal to stand up to it. To give the dried leaf some support M. Epinette tunes an oud accord towards the slightly medicinal profile of oud. A resinous woody base comes through olibanum and sandalwood.
Tobacco Mandarin has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Tobacco Mandarin was a great choice for me to wear on these early chilly mornings. The spiced citrus accord and frost on the pumpkin seem made for each other. There is also that contained feel which is quite appealing as well. Tobacco Mandarin feels like a perfume equivalent of a comfy wool sweater, one that is a little scratchy.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from Byredo.
I was asked recently how I manage to keep trying rose perfumes when I complain about them so much. I admit that of any perfume ingredient rose is the one which most often provokes a yawn. Despite that the new ones keep coming. Byredo Lil Fleur is one which caught my attention because of the desired effect they were trying for.
Ben Gorham of Byredo is a creative director who has defined the brand aesthetic from day one. Along with perfumer Jerome Epinette I would describe it as sophisticated simplicity. Which was why the description of Lil Fleur seemed out of place. I am told this it is meant to be “a modern scent, that evokes all the ups and downs of teenage years”. I don’t have an easy description for that, but sophisticated simplicity is not one which comes to mind. They succeeded in making an anomaly for the brand, but it never feels young; it mostly just feels brash trending towards loud.
That undesired volume comes with the tangerine and cassis this opens with. The citrus and the green crunch against each other like the growing pains of an adolescent. They are both at higher concentrations, so it can’t be ignored. Rose comes out quickly but it doesn’t soothe things it makes it more dynamic. This early part feels like an olfactory temper tantrum. It isn’t until a subtle leather inserts itself that things take a turn for the better. The refined accord wraps all the discord in a soft embrace. It all smooths out and becomes more pleasant. The base also keeps things on the calm side with light woods and vanilla adding in the final pieces.
Lil Fleur has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Lil Fleur seemingly succeeds at its desired goal. It is a rollercoaster kind of perfume from highs to lows. I wonder how many perfume lovers want to go through a reminder of their growing pains because that is what Lil Fleur is.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Byredo.
As we enter midwinter my black leather jacket begins to get used a lot. I’ve owned this jacket for well over twenty years. It is beyond broken-in it has become a tame cowhide over the use of decades. Of all the leather pieces of clothing I own the scent of my leather jacket is one that pleases me most. The reason is that smell has become as soft as the leather itself. Instead of the oily strong typical leather odor, I now have something much subtler. Byredo Sellier also wants to be this kind of soft leather.
Sellier is part of the Night Veils collection. It is the seventh release within the collection. It follows the last three released in 2016 all of which had a leather keynote as well. I own a bottle of La Botte because it captures a sexy leather boot. In that fragrance long time collaborators creative director Ben Gorham and perfumer Jerome Epinette designed a leather of sharp lines. Sellier moves in a more diffuse direction.
That effect of diffusion comes right at the start with a top accord of black tea and cashmeran laid over the leather accord. The cashmeran flows across the leather while the tea provides a tannic complement. Tobacco provides a multiplier for the sweetness at the heart of any good leather accord. M. Epinette is using these complementary notes to expand the leather effect. A figurative breaking-in of his leather accord. In the base he adds an accord made up of birch and oakmoss. The birch gives back the bite to the low-atranol oakmoss. It also provides echoes of the birch tar it could become as if a cuir de Russie was off in the distance. When it is all together it is a soft leather spreading out.
Sellier has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Sellier is an extrait strength perfume. I think this wouldn’t have been as pleasant if it was at a lower concentration. The way it is now makes it more personal just like my well-loved leather jacket.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Byredo.
The ritual of the school dance is where most of us have our first close encounter with someone we are attracted to. It was 1971 and I was attending my first junior high dance. I had decided not to be one of those who sat in the bleachers; I wanted to dance with someone. The girl who had caught my attention had done so for the most pedestrian of reasons, her shampoo. If you grew up in the 1970’s the scent of Clairol Herbal Essence shampoo was amazing. Even 50-years later I still lean into a woman who walks by wafting it from her hair.
In 1971 it was brand new and there was only one girl in our school who used it. I had decided I was going to ask her to dance. Once the music started, I waited for a song I thought I could move somewhat gracefully to. I walked over to the group of girls. In a firm voice I asked Debbie if she would like to dance. She smiled and said, “yes”. It broke the ice in her group and soon we were all on the dance floor. One fast song after another we were having a great time. Then the DJ changed things up as “How Do You Mend A Broken Heart?” by the Bee Gees came on. A slow dance! I looked at Debbie and reached out. She responded by putting her arms around my neck. As we swayed and twirled in a small circle, we progressively got closer until she rested her head on my chest. This was the moment of human contact which remains so precious. Byredo Slow Dance wants to capture that magic in a perfume.
Creative director Ben Gorham and perfumer Jerome Epinette collaborate once again. This is a fragrance where the meeting of two people on a dance floor comes through.
It opens with the gorgeous invitation offered by opopanax. It is the hand offered to the potential dance partner. The remainder of Slow Dance is a juxtaposition of a feminine accord of flowers and a masculine accord of patchouli. The floral accord is geranium and violet supported by labdanum. It isn’t Herbal Essence shampoo but it is a compelling accord all its own. The patchouli fraction, which is the earthier musky version, is sweetened with a little vanilla. Together these two accords sway their way through the night entwined with each other.
Slow Dance has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is a beautiful fragrance just right for the upcoming fall days. If the name and the perfume can take you back to a dance floor of your youth all the better.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Byredo.
If you’ve lived on either coast of the US, you have a boardwalk somewhere near you. Situated at the top of a strand of beach it has souvenir shops, arcades, and food places on one side. The beach and the ocean on the other side. I have spent many a summer day walking the boardwalk with a snow-cone, ice cream cone, or some other sweet confection in my hand as the sun shone overhead. I hadn’t thought a lot about it, but this is an ideal milieu for the current trend of transparent floral gourmands. It looks like Byredo Sundazed is going to tread the boards first.
When I received my sample and press materials this seemed like a brand who would know just what to do with a concept like this. Creative director Ben Gorham and perfumer Jerome Epinette have spent the last twelve years defining the Byredo minimalistic aesthetic. Over the past few releases a higher level of transparency has also begun to incorporate itself into the brand identity. For Sundazed it is that endless summer on a boardwalk they are attempting to capture.
It is a simple set of accords. On top is the sunshine as represented by citrus. M. Epinette uses primarily lemon given some juicy sweetness with mandarin. The lemon is that sun in a clear blue sky. The mandarin is the set-up for the sweet to follow. That comes in a heart accord of jasmine and neroli. The neroli picks up on the citrus in the top while the jasmine provides the bulk of the flower sweetness. What is also nice about this heart accord is the very subtle presence of the natural indoles present in the flowers. They give that tiny nod to sweaty skin. Then we get to the base where cotton candy is paired with white musks. Ethyl maltol is the usual ingredient to give the cotton candy effect. I’m not sure if M. Epinette is not using some new analog here because it doesn’t carry the heaviness ethyl maltol usually does. Whatever the source of the cotton candy some of the white musks expand it into an airy effect of gentle sweetness instead of sugar crystals crunching between your teeth. The other white musks give that sun-tanned skin effect.
Sundazed has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Sundazed is one of the first of the transparent floral gourmands to really engage me. I’ve thought Byredo could excel in this type of fragrance. With a mid-summer trip to the boardwalk Sundazed shows I was correct.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Byredo.
As I come to know a brand I have an expectation of how each new perfume will fit into what came before. This is especially true of brands which have a long-time association between creative director and perfumer. It is something I think can be critical to creating the defined aesthetic for any perfume brand. Many of my favorites fall into this category. Because of that it can be soothing to get a new release from one of them because it can be an antidote to a bunch of samples from brands just beginning to figure it all out. Except for 2018, Byredo has been seemingly exploring the far edges of their well-known style.
Earlier this year creative director-owner, Ben Gorham, along with longtime collaborator perfumer, Jerome Epinette, worked with Off-White designer Keith Abloh on Elevator Music. For a brand known for a lighter style of fragrance this was out on the edge of that. Now the second release for 2018, Eleventh Hour, goes the other way as Mr. Gorham and M. Epinette make the darkest release for the brand.
The name stands for the final hour of existence. The press copy is a bit arch even, “Eleventh Hour is an exploration around the smell of things ending, a journey to the end of time, the last perfume on Earth.” You’re a better person than me if that gives you any idea what the perfume should smell like. I was half-expecting something that smelled like metal, scorched electronics, and smoke. That is not what is in the bottle. Eleventh Hour is more about how you might face the eleventh hour if you weren’t planning on sticking around.
I have been really interested in the many ways Szechuan pepper has been used in perfumery especially over the last year or so. It is becoming a new top to middle ingredient which seemingly can be tuned to multiple effects. Eleventh Hour is another example of this versatility.
The top accord of Eleventh Hour is Szechuan pepper and fig. A green fig is what I smell first. The Szechuan pepper acts to cleave the fruit into a piquant pulpy accord. M. Epinette also uses carrot seed as an earthy sweetness to further elaborate this top accord. On the night I first smelled this I thought maybe this was going to be a new style of a Mediterranean kind of fragrance. Except M. Epinette pours some rum over the top. It turns it into a decadent boozy fig dessert which is where this lingers. Woods and tonka bean eventually form the foundation in the later hours.
Eleventh Hour has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
This stands out from most of the Byredo brand for its darker aesthetic. It fits right in because of Mr. Gorham and M. Epinette know how to take the aesthetic they’ve created while finding a way to define the limits. Eleventh Hour finds the darkness on the edge of town.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Byredo.
When it was revealed a few months ago that designer Virgil Abloh of fashion brand Off-White and Ben Gorham owner of fragrance brand Byredo were going to collaborate I was fascinated to see what would come of it. Ever since Mr. Abloh’s fashion brand appeared in 2013 he has reached out in multiple endeavors with different collaborators. His release of “The TEN” sneaker collection with Nike last year was one of the buzziest. At this years Fall 2018 show in Paris the realization of his perfumed partnership was debuted Off-White X Byredo Elevator Music.
The press release says the perfume was designed by Mr. Abloh and Mr. Gorham. There is no mention of longtime Byredo perfumer Jerome Epinette’s participation. (UPDATE: M. Epinette is the perfumer) If he didn’t work on Elevator Music Mr. Gorham has surely absorbed some of his proficiency from him.
Ben Gorham (l.) and Virgil Abloh
Both designers wanted Elevator Music to be the fragrance equivalent of background noise or Muzak. Which means they wanted it to be there only when you decided to tune in to find it. It is an increasingly odd concept which has been cropping up in perfume releases lately; the desire to blend into the wallpaper. When I received my sample and wore it I admit I struggled with the idea. My idea of Muzak is a dumbed-down inoffensive version of a popular song. Elevator Music doesn’t seem dumbed-down, but it sure goes out of its way to be inoffensive but for one interesting design choice.
The opening chords of Elevator Music come via a pairing of bamboo and violet forming watery floral harmony. Ambrette provides a light musky veil with jasmine also lilting through. It is a lovely spring overall accord full of garden soil and flowers blooming. It is also incredibly transparent in the early moments easily capturing the “background noise” vibe the designers intended. The light citrus-tinted woodiness of amyris provides the base. If that was it this would be premier Muzak for the nose. Instead there is one subversive ingredient which snakes through subtly; wood smoke. It ends up being the handle through which I could orient myself to find Elevator Music while I was wearing it. Then I started to laugh to myself thinking if the smoke was there to warn me the building around the elevator was on fire.
Elevator Music has 8-10 hour longevity and below average silage.
Is a perfume which becomes white noise a successful perfume? If it is the intent? I’ve struggled with that notion while getting ready to write this. Elevator Music is like wallpaper; only there if you focus on it. It is a collection of easy to like ingredients. Like an elevator music version of a song I like it is more likely to remind me of a spring earthy floral which is more original. As a conceptual endeavor Elevator Music succeeds. I’m not sure I want to hear the tune again even though I liked it.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I received from Byredo.
The most maligned perfume ingredient of all is probably patchouli. It mostly comes by its poor reputation because it was so closely associated with the smell of the hippies. There was a meme I saw which had as the definition of patchouli “filthy hippie”. During the Summer of Love, in 1969, there were probably many who ascribed to that in the rest of society. In scent, it is hard to shake an association once it resides in your memory. What is particularly sad about it is patchouli is one of the more versatile ingredients in perfumery. It has only become more varied in its use with the advent of fractionation and supercritical fluid extractions. Once the filthy hippie was treated differently new perspective on patchouli could be seen. One of the perfumers who has done wonders with the new versions of patchouli is Jerome Epinette. In his latest release for Byredo, called Velvet Haze, inspired by the 1960’s he has done it again.
Creative director Ben Gorham wanted Velvet Haze to be “inspired by the very evocative 1960’s music and cultural movement”. I must believe they tried very hard to license the name Purple Haze only to have to compromise on this. I find the change more apt. While I am not one who sees colors with my fragrance; if I was asked to word associate with patchouli “purple” would be one of the words. Because M. Epinette chooses a fraction as the keynote this patchouli is more velvet than purple. As has become the Byredo trademark Mr. Gorham and M. Epinette have collaborated on a lighter version of fragrance. It leaves it being like a faded memory of the 1960’s carrying a kind of elegiac beauty with it.
Velvet Haze starts with a brilliant accord which leans in towards the whole filthy hippie concept. M. Epinette takes the clean sweetness of coconut water and combines it with the botanical musk of ambrette seeds. This gives a kind of slightly sweet sweaty skin. Not filthy more like bronzed skin with rivulets of perspiration trailing down it. The patchouli comes up to meet this accord and for a while there is an accord of patchouli covering sweaty skin. I really like this part of the development as over time the patchouli becomes more focused. This fraction is a brighter version of patchouli it carries lesser aspects of the earthiness containing more of the herbal quality. Then the final ingredient provides a bit of alternative darkness as a dusting of fine cacao mixes with the patchouli for the final hours.
Velvet Haze has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Velvet Haze is an excellent modern patchouli perfume; another in an already impressive collection by M. Epinette. I appreciate that Mr. Gorham didn’t just go for an immersive 60’s experience. Instead by only reaching for a fraction of the past they have captured a modern piece of the 60’s.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Byredo.
Once a perfume brand has matured, defined their aesthetic, it is interesting to look back to the beginning to see if the initial releases predicted how the brand would eventually grow. Byredo was founded in 2007 by Ben Gorham. Over the last ten years, working exclusively with perfumer Jerome Epinette, they have created a distinctive Byredo style. But when those first four bottles bearing the name were released there was one which was the figurative red-headed stepchild, Byredo Pulp.
Last fall it looked like I would be writing about Pulp as part of the Dead Letter Office series. It was rumored that it was going to be dropped from the brand. When I heard that news I wasn’t surprised because Pulp had its own twisted little following perhaps driven because it felt unlike every other one in the line. It seems the news of discontinuation was more rumor than fact. Which then shifted it to this column because it is so different I think those who might dismiss the Byredo collection as not being their kind of fragrance might join the group of us who enjoy the Un-Byredo-ness of Pulp.
What sets Pulp apart is it is a fragrance of fruit overload. I know the concept of overload for a Byredo is already outside normal service. In this case M. Epinette was going for the literal pulp of multiple fruits. What has always made this perfume stand out is there is so much here somewhere in all the overlap a rotten fruit accord develops. Some of life’s potentially disgusting smells have some underlying facets which are oddly pleasant smelling. What M. Epinette gets in Pulp whether by design or fortune is that right on the edge of sickly sweetness that rotting fruit emanates. It is what will make you pull Pulp close or push it away.
The fruit basket comes from grapefruit, fig, red apple, blackcurrant buds, and peach blossom. All of this roars out of the gate. It is seemingly chaotic but rather quickly all the fruit pieces settle into their lanes. In the early going it has a crisper quality than you might expect. As some greener notes begin to arrive in cardamom and cedar the beginning of the decay sets in. Eventually the sweetness is heightened following a collapse in to a praline accord in the base.
Pulp has 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I am happy that the rumors of Pulp’s demise were overstated. I think every brand needs something to show how far they’ve come. Pulp is that signpost as The Un-Byredo.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.