Byredo is a brand which has a very distinctive aesthetic which has been in place from their very beginning in 2006. Founder and Creative Director Ben Gorham wanted to make understated fragrances which use top-notch raw materials. Over the past 10 years and 29 releases working with perfumer Jerome Epinette they have created a recognizable Byredo-ness for every new release. When faced with choosing five to start with it was a difficult choice. One reason is there might not be a line I’ve done Perfume 101 for which has entries which might be called Perfume 201 because they are very good but I think not good entry points. That group includes some of my favorites from the line: Pulp, M/Mink, and Black Saffron. They are impressive to me because while staying true to their desire to keep it lighter those have undeniable strength. Those are not where one should start. The five below are where I think you should begin.
Encens Chembur was one of the inaugural releases. M. Epinette was able to provide one of the most transparent incense-centered perfumes I own. Through a veil of lemon buttressed with elemi he combines a mannered ginger with an opaque frankincense. It all ends with a sheer amber and musk base. This is one of the few incense perfumes I wear in the summer.
Bal D’Afrique was inspired by a romanticized version of Africa as seen through Parisiennes of the 1920’s. The fragrance is also an impression as if M. Epinette watched a few National Geographic specials on Africa. A beautifully lilting neroli is contrasted with a shot of astringent marigold. Buchu leaves take up the case with the marigold turning it greener. Before this gets too strident a floral heart of jasmine, cyclamen, and violet bring things back to a floral heart. The base is vetiver and cedar classically framing this picture of Africa.
Baudelaire might be my favorite of all the perfumes M. Epinette has made. Inspired by the poet of the same name; M. Epinette compose a three stanza perfumed poem of his own. Starting with a fabulous duet of juniper berry and black pepper. The second verse is led by hyacinth caressed with incense and caraway. The final part is the beginning of a style which will reappear frequently in other Byredo releases as M. Epinette creates an arid desiccated accord of papyrus, patchouli, and amber.
When I first tried Sunday Cologne the name on the bottle was “Fantastic Man”. I laughed out loud at that name feeling like I should put my hands on my hips and jut my chest out while saying it. Thankfully Byredo also realized the name was silly and in less than a year changed it. The new name describes it perfectly; a cologne for a lazy Sunday. It is a classically constructed lavender cologne tuned to the Byredo transparency. Starting with a breath of cardamom into lavender and incense followed by patchouli and vetiver.
Bullion is another Byredo which takes one of my favorite notes, osmanthus, and shows how it can be made more interesting for having it used with a lighter hand. The osmanthus is the focal point. M. Epinette uses plum in the top notes to blend with osmanthus’ apricot nature. He then doubles down on the flower’s leather character by adding in even more. It all rests on another arid sandalwood foundation.
There are some who find the lightness of the line to be an issue. I appreciate it because it allows me to wear some of my favorite notes on the hottest of days. Give the five above a try and see what you think.
Disclosure: This review was based on bottles I purchased.
Guilty pleasures are things you know you shouldn’t like but are irresistibly pulled towards. When it comes to perfume I like complex, evolving, layered compositions. Which is why I am surprised at how much I like the new Byredo Super Cedar because it is as advertised; essentially a cedar soliflore.
Cedar is one of the most distinctive notes on the perfumer’s palette. Its clean woodiness was one of the first notes I could confidently pick out of a fragrance early on. It is easy to describe; most often as “smelling like pencil shavings”. In the press materials which came with Super Cedar creative director Ben Gorham mentions he was looking for, “Evocative of log cabins and Scandinavian furniture”. That line capture what I think is fascinating about Super Cedar. Perfumer Jerome Epinette moves away from the more obvious pencil shavings. Instead he channels his interior IKEA and captures the smell of a warehouse of disassembled blond wood shelving stacked high to the ceiling.
I am not sure what the sources of cedar M. Epinette used to build Super Cedar. I know Robertet has a full array of fractions and different extractions of cedar for him to consider. My belief is he must have spent a lot of time working with a number of those raw materials finding just the right balance to allow the cedar to be pulled all the way through the development. There are only a few grace notes which provide minimal contrast.
Right away Super Cedar opens with a sotto voce version of cedar. It doesn’t carry that intensity that cedar usually imparts to a fragrance. A tiny bit of rose floats through but it is left way in the background. Over the next hour the cedar accord slowly forms gathering intensity as I suspect each new cedar raw material adds itself to the mix. This all leads to a pure cedarwood accord which I found compelling. It is here where Super Cedar holds for quite a while. Eventually a bit of vetiver and white musks become apparent but it really is the cedar accord holding together for hours which predominates.
Super Cedar has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
The engineering of the central cedar accord is what elevates Super Cedar from just being a flat cedar perfume. It is as densely engineered as a piece of IKEA furniture. As I was wearing it I could almost see one of those pictorial assembly instructions in my head as each new piece of cedar was added. Super Cedar is both super and cedar, if you like the latter I think you will also find it pretty good.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Byredo.
Byredo has been one of those niche brands with a very consistent aesthetic. Creative Director Ben Gorham and perfumer Jerome Epinette have collaborated successfully in creating that distinct brand identity. For that reason, I was interested when in the Fall of 2015 Byredo announced a collection of three extrait de parfums called the Night Veils collection. The concept was to focus on three separate floral notes in an extrait formulation. This is noteworthy because the main Byredo collection has a very expansive opaque quality to it. Extraits are the opposite of that as they are much more closed up and wear very close to the skin.
Ben Gorham (photo: Andreas Ohlund via Wall Street Journal.com)
The three perfumes released were Casablanca Lily which is a plum and lily focused perfume; Reine de Nuit explores the intersection of rose, saffron, and blackcurrant buds. Both were nice but neither really intrigued me enough to wear them for a couple of days. The third one, Midnight Candy had me from the beginning as it combines four of my favorite floral notes; orris, jasmine, violet, and osmanthus into a sultry seductive stunner of an extrait.
Midnight Candy felt unlike the other two Night Veils releases because M. Epinette worked each phase of development in well-chosen pairs of notes. I particularly like when M. Epinette does this because at its best it adds unique harmonies to notes. In Midnight Candy it is all made into a creature of the night.
The first pair to be noticed is a rooty duet of carrot and orris. This has been used before but in this case M. Epinette does accentuate the rooty quality of both ingredients. The vegetal sweetness of the carrot keeps the powdery nature of orris well in hand. In the heart violet come to the fore with jasmine hurrying to catch up. In all of the Night Veils extraits each phase builds and encapsulates the previous one. In Midnight Candy it means that the orris and carrot provides a candied aspect to the violet. This is them given depth with the late arriving jasmine. In truth I was already thrilled with Midnight Candy. M. Epinette added a figurative cherry on my fragrant sundae with osmanthus as the final floral. The leathery -apricot quality provides a faux animalic effect which is sweetened a bit with vanilla. Once this all assembles it feels like a candied violet rooted in the ground at midnight.
Midnight Candy has 12-14 hour longevity and low sillage.
Midnight Candy has provided a successful departure from the perfumes which have defined Byredo for the last nine years. I have enjoyed its dark take on violet immensely.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Barney’s.
I always find it amusing when I am conversing with other perfume lovers and they exclaim, “Please not another oud!” The source of my smile is rose perfumes are equally abundant as oud perfumes but I’ve never heard “Please not another rose!” It probably has more to do with the nature of both notes than anything else. Rose is pretty on its worst day and oud is not so pretty even on its best days. One point of comparison between the two notes is where it comes from and how it has been harvested and extracted can make a lot of difference in the way it is displayed. A perfumer should only take the best ingredient if they are planning on making either note a focal point. The newest release from Byredo called Rose of No Man’s Land is an example of a beautifully sourced rose being allowed to shine brilliantly in a minimal construction.
Ben Gorham (l.) and Freja Beha Erichsen
Ben Gorham the owner and creative director of Byredo wanted to do a perfume inspired by the World War I nurses who served on the front lines where the space in between the armies was dubbed “no man’s land”. A song sung by the soldiers of the time called these nurses the “rose of no man’s land”. Mr. Gorham once again turned to the only perfumer this brand has ever known Jerome Epinette of Robertet. One thing I learned from M. Epinette in previous conversations is he enjoys taking one of the best raw materilas from Robertet and to have the opportunity to turn it into a perfume. Byredo is a brand which has allowed him to do this more often, I think, than others he works with. For Rose of No Man’s Land he is using a Turkish rose as the olfactory solitaire to which he feels he only needs to add a few notes to coax all of the nuance inherent in this particular version of rose.
Rose of No Man’s Land is a case of M. Epinette taking his rose note and then asking it to interact with one note in each phase of development. The top phase asks baie rose to be the partner. Turkish rose has an inherent spiciness in its core. The baie rose serves to elicit those qualities from among the more floral ones. The note listed in the heart is called raspberry blossom. I am not sure what it is entirely. What I smell is an attenuated berry note which also has an equivalent green component. If this was just berry it would’ve felt like traditional fruity floral territory. The greenness pulls at those same aspects in the rose while the berry enhances the sweetness. Papyrus is what combines in the base and it adds a translucent watery green to replace the leafier one from the raspberry blossom. A mix of white musks provide the late finishing touches.
Rose of No Man’s Land has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
If a rose perfume is going to make an impression it is going to be the rose raw material itself which is going to grab my attention. Rose of No Man’s Land fulfills that requirement and then sets it up as if a precious jewel twinkling under the attention. If you have room for another rose perfume this is one worth considering.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Byredo.
When you are watching a movie or television show and there is a momentary effect as if a point of light intensifies and then elongates across the screen that is called a lens flare. If you need an object example watch a bit of Director J.J. Abrams “StarTrek” movie. Lens flares were prevalent on the television series and when Mr. Abrams did the reboot he paid homage to the style of filming in the 1960’s. There is an interesting arresting luminescence to the effect. When I was wearing the new Byredo Oliver Peoples I was thinking it was a perfume full of lens flares which seems appropriate.
Oliver Peoples is a designer brand of fashion eyewear. The creative director of that brand David Schulte reached out to Ben Gorham to be co-creative directors on a perfume. Mr. Schulte was very interested in trying for a perfume that would be emblematic of synesthesia. Synesthesia is the joint perception of senses. It is most commonly described in fragrance circles as those who see smells as colors. True synesthetes are rare, around 1 in 2,000 people can do this. I am one of 1,999 who do not have this enhanced perspective of the world. Mr. Schulte and Mr. Gorham wanted to help us try and feel that through outside cues. Working with regular Byredo perfumer Jerome Epinette they asked him to create a perfume of distinct colored phases of development; green, indigo, and champagne. The bottles would carry one of those colors and they would be accompanied by a pair of eyeglasses with the same colored lenses.
While I definitely experienced three distinct phases of development while wearing Oliver Peoples I was unable to really match the colors with the phases they wanted me to. Early on my first day of wearing it I stopped trying and instead enjoyed these three distinct lens flares of development as they happened.
M. Epinette uses lemon as the bright flare and then he elongates it with juniper berry as it adds in its acerbic quality. This is really what a lens flare is all about as it burns brightly and then stretches out into something totally different. I guess this was supposed to be green but if I was putting a color to it I would call it sunshine yellow. The heart does the same thing as iris provides the flare and M. Epinette uses a less earthy fraction of patchouli combined with immortelle. This was my favorite part of Oliver Peoples as the very rooty iris is transformed into the patchouli and immortelle over time. If I was giving the heart a color it would be purple. The base is musk up front and then what M.Epinette calls a “sand accord” provides the elongation. The sand accord is the smell of hot sand; sort of mineralic and chalky supporting the musk. This would be reminiscent of beige if I was naming it as a color.
Oliver Peoples has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
While I was probably a failure at stimulating my latent synesthesia I really enjoyed Oliver Peoples as a warm-weather perfume. The very distinctive development made for a long lasting story evolving on my skin over the day. In the end any perfume that can make me interested enough to keep revisiting throughout the day is pretty good.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I purchased.
When I was hiking in the Desert Southwest of the US my favorite time of the day was just before the sun would come up. With false dawn providing a bit of diffuse light the desert never smelled so alive. This probably has something to do with it being the coolest part of the day. Before the sun and the harsh conditions bake everything to a crisp; in the hour just before sunrise the scent on the air reminds you that there is lots of life in the seeming lifelessness. Creative Director of Byredo Ben Gorham asked perfumer Jerome Epinette to make a perfume based on one of those flowers which survive in the desert, the Ghost Flower (Mohavea Confertiflora). The perfume is fittingly called Mojave Ghost.
When I received my press materials for this perfume that I expected to be about the desert there was listed an ingredient from the tropics which really upped my anticipation. This ingredient was Jamaican Naseberry or as it is called elsewhere, Sapodilla. I loved eating Sapodilla as a kid as it had the taste of brown sugar and cinnamon on a flesh which was apple-like. I always thought it was like getting cooked cinnamon apples off of a tree. When I would split the flesh of a sapodilla that mix of spicy sweet would meet my nose as I took my first bite. M. Epinette really enjoys using the entire arsenal of natural raw materials he has access to from Robertet and in Mojave Ghost he makes this tropical ingredient fit his desert milieu.
If you have spent any time at all in the desert there is an indigenous slightly spicy smell to it. The closest I can compare it to is cinnamon but so ethereal as to be a ghost of it. This is where the sapodilla plays its part as the brown sugar and cinnamon quality are right on top and M. Epinette adds in ambrette seeds to give a natural muskiness underneath the spiciness. This is very close to that smell I get from the desert. The heart moves into a bit of astringent floralcy with magnolia and violet over sandalwood. M. Epinette keeps this very sheer keeping it wraith-like in nature as it almost feels insubstantial only to coalesce again and gather some more presence. The base is cedarwood, amber, and clean white musk. All of the base notes are also kept on the ethereal side as well.
Mojave Ghost has 8-10 hour longevity but it is so sheer you might think it has worn off when it hasn’t. Sillage is moderate as you might expect.
Mojave Ghost is such a transparent perfume that I think for those who aren’t fans of this kind of opaque construction it might be frustrating. I am a big fan of a perfume which acts as a ghost flitting in and out of my consciousness ever floating on the periphery. Mojave Ghost is that beautiful moment just before the sun explodes over the horizon in an orange fireball in the high desert except the perfume lasts well into the light of day.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Byredo.
As we move into March you begin to feel like winter is on the run and just up ahead is spring. Along with spring comes the new floral perfume releases. For a spring floral to resonate with me it has to have a great amount of sheer floral quality. I want a lot of flowers but I don’t want to be consumed by them. Insert “Little Shop of Horrors” joke here. I want my spring florals to mimic that moment when I step out and it feels like everything is blooming. Last March perfumer Jerome Epinette provided that for me with his lily of the valley creation for Byredo called Inflorescence. Now one year later he is following that up with another amazing spring floral for Byredo called Flowerhead and this time the central note is jasmine sambac.
Ben Gorham is the owner and Creative Director at Byredo and he wanted Flowerhead to speak to his mother’s, and his, Indian heritage. According to an interview in Cosmetics Business he related the story of giving his cousin away at a traditional Indian wedding. This is what he said he wanted Flowerhead to represent, “This fragrance was about capturing that idea of an Indian bride, rather than just the wedding and I called it Flowerhead, because it was really the fictional memory that I can imagine from my own Indian wedding. The idea of marrying someone you don't know was very interesting. There's anxiety and excitement. And I described this person as a 'flowerhead', because the bride is completely covered in floral hair arrangements.” Flowerhead captures that sense of heady anticipation as you cover yourself in floral garlands of jasmine, rose, and tuberose.
M. Epinette starts Flowerhead off with a tart combination of lemon, cranberry, and ligonberry. Citrus and berries is not unusual fruity floral territory; these three notes together are. They provide a lip puckering pop to the initial moments that I wish would last a little longer, but we have a wedding to get to. Now M. Epinette starts adding the floral lei to Flowerhead. The jasmine sambac is the star of the perfume and it is a complete jasmine fully displaying its indolic nature. With all of that the skank is more hinted at than allowed to become too pronounced. Part of the reason is the other two lei of rose and, in particular, tuberose amplify the sweeter floral nature. The indoles add depth and hint at the bride underneath all of the flowers. The base of Flowerhead sneaks up on you with a soft suede leather and an even softer and warmer amber. Together they add a refined filigree to the base notes to go with all of the fruity floral pyrotechnics previously.
Flowerhead has all-day longevity and above average sillage.
Like most I look to the return of the robins and the appearance of green buds on the trees to let me know spring is here. Now, for the second year in a row M. Epinette has provided another signal for me to look for as Flowerhead is a perfect perfume for new beginnings.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I received from Barney’s New York.