On the rare occasion I am asked about the most influential perfume brand I have a definitive answer. The earliest niche perfume brands were founded in the 1970’s and 80’s. it is my belief it was twenty-five years ago when the fragrance brand which would come to define much of what niche means came into being; Comme des Garcons. From the very beginning creative director Christian Astuguevieille has influenced many of the larger trends by being one of the first to execute them. If I had to, I could learn all I needed to know about the last quarter century of fragrance from the Comme des Garcons collection alone. I was wondering if they were going to commemorate the length of this sustained excellence. Right at the end of the summer I learned there would be a set of new releases to mark the anniversary. The one which had me most interested were the three perfumes in the Series 10: Clash collection.
Starting in 2000 with Series 1 each set of perfumes have explored something specific. They have been among the most adventurous perfumes within the overall collection. For Series 10 M. Astuguevieille asked three perfumers to find beauty in the confrontation between two dissimilar ingredients. Each perfume displays why Comme des Garcons still pushes at the boundaries of perfume.
The first is Celluloid Galbanum by perfumer Domitille Bertier. Each of the Clash entries is meant to capture a collision of sorts. Celluloid Galbanum is that of technology and nature. Mme Bertier takes the sweet plasticky smell of cellophane and wraps the deep green of galbanum in it. Mme Bertier uses jasmine to modulate the sweetness of her celluloid accord while lemon adds a sharper edge to the galbanum. It forms an engineered green behind a barrier of plastic which is fascinating. It ends on a base of synthetic woods.
Chlorophyll Gardenia is the least confrontational of the three Clash perfume. Perfumer Caroline Dumur uses a set of green notes to coax out the green quality inherent within gardenia infusing the white flower with a verdant glow. The inquisition of the gardenia begins with its presence from the start. Mme Dumur threads galbanum, spearmint, the synthetic Cosmofruit, and baie rose through the creamy floral. As each of those ingredients come forward, they find a complement in the similar scent deep within gardenia. As they each add to it the gardenia begins to shade green before it glows in an almost neon abstraction. A set of white musks whisper through the glimmering flower.
My favorite of the three is Radish Vetiver by perfumer Nathalie Gracia-Cetto. The reason I like this so much is it is what the Comme des Garcons Series perfumes have done so well over the years. They create a perfume around an unusual ingredient like radish. If you’ve ever sliced fresh radishes for a salad you will know what Mme Gracia-Cetto’s radish smells like it has an acerbic earthiness. She sets that against the grassy woodiness of vetiver. At first the softer quality of vetiver gently caresses the radish before the rootier nature finds a kindred spirit. Mme Gracia-Cetto cleverly uses the patchouli analog Akigalawood to provide an unusual piece of ground for these roots to find purchase in. The base is made woodier with guaiac adding to the Akigalawood.
All three Clash perfume have 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
For those who are less adventurous Chlorophyll Gardenia will be most to your liking. For the others who have followed where Comme des Garcons and M. Astuguevieille have led us for the past twenty-five years I suspect Celluloid Galbanum and/or Radish Vetiver will be part of your collection. I can’t wait for what comes next.
Disclosure: this review is based on samples supplied by Dover Street Market.
Once the big perfume producers get ahold of a brand they usually find a way to ruin it for me. The first step is to take something kind of exclusive and release a bunch of by-the-numbers releases. The fragrances which have Alexander McQueen on the bottle were in that exclusive category of reflecting the influential designer’s aesthetic via scent. Even 2016’s McQueen Parfum managed to feel like it belonged with the earlier releases of Kingdom and My Queen from a decade earlier. One reason that McQueen Perfume worked was that Sarah Burton, the creative director of Alexander McQueen, took an active hand in developing it. She worked with Pierre Aulas as a consultant. When I received the press release announcing eight new releases called the McQueen Collection I worried that the moneychangers had overrun the temple again. The McQueen Collection is eight mostly soliflore style fragrances from eight different perfumers. Overseen by Ms. Burton and M. Aulas I hoped for the best.
This is one of the rare collections where there are far more hits than misses. I will be reviewing many of these over the next few weeks. It should not be surprising to regular readers that the one I was most interested in was Sacred Osmanthus.
The perfumer behind this is Domitille Bertier. The entire McQueen Collection works as a set of simple constructs. Mme Bertier surrounds osmanthus with a gorgeous set of supporting notes. She uses ingredients to accentuate the two faces of osmanthus; apricot and leather.
The perfume opens with the apricot character pushed forward. Mme Bertier cleverly uses petitgrain as a figurative magnifying glass upon the apricot quality. In the first few moments I wondered if there was some apricot itself in the formula. The next two ingredients transform the apricot over to the leather face. First smoky Lapsang Souchong black tea steams up through the apricot. There is a moment it feels like an apricot jam pot is next to a cup of fresh brewed tea. The note which really captures the leather facet is the use of the botanical musk of ambrette seed. Ambrette seed has this vegetal animalic nature which is an ideal complement to the botanical leather of osmanthus. This is where Sacred Osmanthus captured me completely. Cashmeran finishes this off with a lightly woody effect.
Sacred Osmanthus has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Sacred Osmanthus is not as bold a fragrance as the original Alexander McQueen perfumes. If you’re looking for that kind of aggressive aesthetic it won’t be found in any of these new perfumes. Sacred Osmanthus is a more delicate style of perfume. Which is as it should be in soliflore perfumes. Sacred Osmanthus is a study of the two faces of osmanthus which is more than enough.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Alexander McQueen.
One of the things that can be tough to watch is when a perfume brand loses its way. This more frequently happens within the designer mainstream sector. As creative direction at the fashion house changes direction it will eventually trickle down to the ancillary products like fragrance. Balenciaga has recently undergone one of these changes. In 2012 Alexander Wang took over from Nicolas Ghesquiere at Balenciaga. For my tastes the perfumes that were released under M. Ghesquiere’s tenure like Florabotanica and Balenciaga Paris did not live up to the heritage of a brand which produced Le Dix back in the 1950’s. I was interested to see in what direction M. Wang would choose to take the perfume side of Balenciaga. The first data point has arrived with the release of B. Balenciaga.
One of the things I like about M. Wang is he very much wants to integrate the perfumes which carry the Balenciaga name with the couture that name represents. He used B. Balenciaga to scent the Spring 2015 runway show in Paris. The B. Balenciaga bottle is meant to remind you of the marble floor in the Balenciaga flagship store in Paris. The runway carried the same pattern. Beyond aesthetics the photo of Gisele Bundchen by photographer Steven Klein is a visual example of M. Wang’s desire to break Balenciaga free of the past. On the perfume side M. Wang partnered with perfumer Domitille Bertier to create B. Balenciaga.
From the first moment I sniffed B. Balenciaga I was drawn in by a steamy vegetal accord. When I saw the list of notes there it was right on the page, edamame accord. Mme Bertier has constructed a very green accord which is suffused with steam and humidity. She tempers some of the ability to feel like you are being made to figuratively eat your olfactory vegetables by using violet leaf and muguet to give a floral place to orient oneself. I found all of this quite fascinating and it lasts for a couple of hours this way on my skin. After that it proceeds pretty normally through a finish of cedar and cashmeran.
B. Balenciaga has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
After his predecessor’s habit of playing it safe with a collection of bland florals I am pleased to see M. Wang seems to be trying something different. B. Balenciaga is a floral but that edamame accord makes it anything but bland. I am looking forward to what comes next at Balenciaga.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample of B. Balenciaga I received at Sniffapalooza Fall Ball.