Christopher Marlowe would opine of Helen of Troy, “Was this the face that launched a thousand ships?” In 1882 the synthesis of a single molecule was the scent which launched modern perfumery. The molecule was coumarin which had been identified as the primary molecule in the isolation of tonka bean. Because of the synthetic source, it freed perfumer Paul Parquet to use as much as he wanted for a specific effect. It created the abstraction of nature that was the first of its kind, Fougere Royale. Ever since the art of perfume has been closely intertwined with the chemistry behind the ingredients. The perfume brand Nomenclature has featured those molecules ever since its inception. Now it is time to focus on that alpha-molecule in Nomenclature Psy_Cou.
Carlos Quintero (l.) and Karl Bradl
The most common synthetics are usually prized for their consistency of profile. Coumarin has a sweet hay-like scent. A perfumer can choose to surround it with a choir of ingredients which can go towards the sweet or the hay-like. Under the creative direction of Karl Bradl and Carlos Quintero perfumer Frank Voelkl chooses the latter for this version of coumarin perfume.
If you’ve ever smelled hay just as it is being baled the early moments of Psy_Cou will remind you of that. Mr. Voelkl uses cardamom to capture the slight green of fresh harvested hay which has a little of that quality before completely drying out. Psy_Cou moves into modern perfumery abstraction with the introduction of a high-low combo of juniper berry and palo santo wood. The acerbic bite of juniper berry finds the soothing tones of palo santo in contrast as the coumarin acts as a fulcrum in between. It is a contemporary riff on coumarin. As the palo santo tilts the see-saw to its side, saffron adds a golden glow. A bit of oud adds a last bit of modern to Psy_Cou.
Psy_Cou has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Coumarin is the “Helen of Perfume” molecule, having launched thousands of perfumes. Psy_Cou shows that 138-years later it still retains its ability to define the current state of modern perfumery.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Nomenclature.
My childhood in the mid to late 1960’s in S. Florida was wonderful. The best part of that statement is I recognized it at the time. Living in Miami as it was absorbing two sets of refugees from Cuba and Haiti was a treasure of new experiences depending on which part of town I steered my bicycle. If I headed to Little Havana, I could go play dominos while the adult men puffed on their cigars. I always enjoyed the smell of those cigars but never more than when they were unlit. You’ve seen the caricature of a cigar lover running an unlit cigar under their nose and breathing deeply, that’s the way I felt for real. I would learn every family that made cigars had a secret blend handed down through generations. My nose wasn’t attuned well enough to pick up those nuances.
When I headed into Little Haiti it was always about the food and the music; mostly the food. When I would sit with the newly arrived Haitians I would have them tell me stories of their island. When I spoke to the older men, they were always sipping this viscous brown liquid. When I asked what it was, they always laughed and told me to come back when I was older. That was because the liquid was rum from Haiti. When I did become old enough one of my Haitian friends introduced me to Barbancourt Rum. This is not your typical rum it is a gorgeous liquor you sip and roll around in your mouth as it reveals its flavors. In the aged versions there is an opulent caramel-like flavor as if the sugar cane was on its way to molasses and stopped for a minute or two. It is one of my favorite things to do at a dinner party to end it with the 15-year aged reserve just to see the way people react to it.
Fabrice Penot and Eddie Roschi
Which means if you ask me for a single scent to represent the Cuban community in Miami, I would pick a fine cigar. It the same question was added for the Haitians it would be dark Barbancourt Rum. Not that creative directors Fabrice Penot and Eddie Roschi would have asked me what they should consider for their Miami City Exclusive, Le Labo Tabac 28, it turns out they asked perfumer Frank Voelkl to make a perfume which combines the cigar and rum in one exemplary avatar of Miami.
Tabac 28 takes a fine cigar out of its case and holds it under my nose. Mr. Voelkl makes an inspired choice by using the sticky green version of cardamom. If there was a nuance of freshly rolled cigars it was of the slightly green leaf used as the wrapper. This green cardamom adds that grace note to the rich tobacco. The same inspiration happens with the rum. This is that dark slightly caramel-like rum I remember. Mr. Voelkl adds a subtle veil of smoke via a judicious use of oud. It is as if that cigar has been lit and as you reach for your glass of rum it passes through the smoke on the way to your lips. All of this is spectacularly balanced. The only bad part is it ends up on an all too typical cedar based woody accord which hardly lives up to the rest of the perfume.
Tabac 28 has 12-14 hour longevity; with over half of it firmly in the rum and tobacco piece of development, to go with average sillage.
I had not considered how these two distinct scents of my youth would find a place of congruency where it brings Cuban and Haitian worlds together. It is what makes Tabac 28 more emotional for me than others. Removing the emotion if you are looking for a perfume which fuses rich tobacco and gourmand-like boozy rum Tabac 28 should be on your list of “to try” perfumes.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
Growing up in S. Florida I saw my share of thunderstorms. One of my favorite natural scents was the way the air smelled after the storm had passed. I couldn’t put a name to it until I started writing about perfume. One of the chemists at IFF clued me in when he gave me some geosmin to try. From that moment on it fascinated me. I wrote a column on it in the Olfactive Chemistry series. I found an incredible story in The Atlantic from 2015 about a village in India that essentially harvested this as a natural perfume source called petrichor. In the hands of a few perfumers it has been part of some outstanding fragrances. I never expected it to succeed as the feature note in a soliflore. Leave it to Le Labo to prove me wrong with Baie 19.
Fabrice Penot and Edouard Roschi
Creative directors Fabrice Penot and Edouard Roschi could have just ordered up some petrichor and labeled it Petrichor 1. Instead they did something more difficult.They asked for an accord which smells like petrichor. This is what modern perfumery is meant to be; an interpretation of nature instead of a replica. I don’t know who the perfumer is (UPDATE: the perfumer is Frank Voelkl) but whomever did this succeeded. What works so well by using an accord, instead of the actual material, is it allows things to build like a thunderstorm then after it breaks you’re left with the scented aftermath.
Baie 19 opens with the gathering ozone ahead of the storm front. Juniper berry and an assortment of green leafy notes represent the stiff breeze through the bushes crackling with kinetic energy. An aquatic accord captures the downpour itself. As the rain stops that watery effect soaks an earthy patchouli. Where this all comes together is the perfumer’s use of precise amounts of cade oil and Ambrox to complete the petrichor accord.
Baie 19 has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Baie 19 is one of those perfumes which captures my attention because it is a true abstraction of nature. The technical aspects make me dissect every nuance. It takes me time to just revel in the after the storm beauty of Baie 19. It is an incredible petrichor soliflore.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Le Labo.
I get a lot of e-mail informing me of the latest new trend in selling beauty products online. I get enough that I can’t imagine what a real make-up blogger receives. Most of them are easily ignored by me because perfume is not part of the offerings. One I received at the end of the year caught my attention because they did offer perfume. Even then I still would have passed until they mentioned the name of the perfumer they were using. That got me interested enough to obtain a sample set of the first three perfumes. One of those three stood out for its quality; Beauty Pie Brazilian Lime, Fig Leaves, & Tea.
Beauty Pie is a new way to sell beauty products by asking people to pay a monthly membership which gets them deep discounts on the products they buy. As an example, on the perfume side you can buy any of the Beauty Pie perfumes without a membership for $125. If you join with a three-month minimum, at various levels, you can buy one of the bottles of perfume for about $21. I don’t have a great handle on the economics of it all and I may have oversimplified it.
What caught my attention on the perfume side is they asked perfumer Frank Voelkl to produce the three perfumes. They allowed him to go in whatever direction he wanted to. What has resulted is three perfumes which all felt like a step up from typical department store fragrance. Red Apple, White Peony & Cashmere Wood is an expansive fresh fruity floral. Petals, Heliotrope, & Ambrette is a fun musky white flower style of fragrance. The third is Brazilian Lime, Fig Leaves, & Tea.
What helps set this apart is Mr. Voelkl uses a Brazilian orange to form the sweeter Brazilian lime accord. If you’ve ever had an authentic caiparinha cocktail you know what a Brazilian lime smells like as the lime gets crushed in the making of the drink. The first moments of this reminded me of sitting by the beach in Bahia with a caipirinha in my hand. Mr. Voelkl then allows a tendril of green ivy to wind around the citrus. It connects to the creamy feel of the fig leaves waiting in the heart. Mr. Voelkl throws leaves of black tea into the mix. It adds depth while still maintaining the leafiness of the ivy and the fig. within all this there are threads of violet to be found. This is the part which connected with me. This is a fantastically realized accord. It ends on a soft woody base of cashmere woods.
Brazilian Lime, Fig Leaves, & Tea has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I’m not the desired customer for Beauty Pie to be sure. If they are going to give other perfumers the leeway they afforded Mr. Voelkl, or just ask him for more, I might join just for the perfume. Brazilian Lime, Fig Leaves & Tea has me figuring out if its worth it to join for one perfume.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample set I purchased.
One of the biggest shifts in music came in 1981 when MTV debuted on cable television. Twenty-four hours a day videos matched to the popular music of the day were shown. Whenever a song of that time period comes on the air, I can’t not see the accompanying visual. This was more succinctly summed up in the comic strip Bloom County by Berkeley Breathed below:
It shows the difficulty of crossing the streams of two art forms. The fragrance industry hasn’t shied away from it even so. One of the more recent attempts is the brand Art Meets Art. They lay out the difficulty right in the name. A little over a year ago they released their first five perfumes. When I received my samples, it wasn’t like they turned into exploding porpoises, but they also missed the energy. Nowhere was it wider of the mark than in the perfume named after the hit by Marvin Gaye; Sexual Healing. The stated goal was to capture the voice of the singer. What was in the bottle was a straightforward tobacco vanilla perfume. Whenever Sexual Healing pops up on my shuffle, I can promise you tobacco and vanilla will not be accompanying it.
The latest release takes on the classic song by Queen; Bohemian Rhapsody. There is a pop culture moment taking place around Queen and their front man Freddie Mercury. There is a new movie also titled “Bohemian Rhapsody”. That suffered from acting like a rock skipping over the rich pond of the subject. It was something which I felt would have been better as a six-episode series on one of the streaming services. The film lingers on the creative process within the band during a couple of passages. One is Bohemian Rhapsody. It is portrayed as the fever dream of Mr. Mercury that the rest of the band joyfully collaborates on. The perfume, composed by Frank Voelkl, does a better job of also capturing the variable influences within the song.
The top accord captures the lyric of “easy come, easy go, little high, little low”. The high is a sprinkling of metallic aldehydes. The easy come easy go is the cassis. The low is an herbal baie rose. It comes together in an affable come on just before everything turns operatic. M. Voelkl goes for the sopranos of perfumery as he rolls out the white flowers of jasmine and tuberose along with a baroque rose and fleshy ylang-ylang. This is the first time where an accord has felt connected to the musical inspiration in an Art Meets Art release. They make me want to sing “Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the fandango?” What comes next in the song is my favorite part as it shifts gear to full-on rock anthem. The perfume does the same with a lively base accord of patchouli taking the lead with a set of musks and vetiver backing it up. M. Voelkl really lets the patchouli loose; which works.
Bohemian Rhapsody has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
In this case Art Meets Art found a place where the perfume finally represented an appropriate companion to the music. I don’t think we’ll ever have to worry about perfume killing the radio star, but some nice fragrances can make it more fun. bohemian Rhapsody does this.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Saks.
I go to my local discount stores to get ideas for this column. As I dig through the bins, I am looking for something which wasn’t there before. Which means I miss the forest for the trees. In the search for buried treasure I fail to notice the silver coins on the beach. On my last visit I was digging while another shopper was next to me going through the testers. With my head down, a nice scent drifted down upon me. I looked up and asked what he had just sprayed. He held out a bottle with big blocky letters which read: Zirh Ikon.
Zirh is a men’s full-service skincare brand including perfume. It is particularly prevalent during the holiday shopping season because they sell gift sets where they mix and match many of their products, including fragrance. When it comes to the very modestly priced fragrance out there all the Zirh perfumes are great bang for the buck. I own Zirh Corduroy and Zirh Perfume as well as Ikon. For someone who wants an economical choice of perfumes for all seasons there are many worse options.
What the spritz of Ikon at the discount store reminded me of is that it is a simple triad of spices, incense, and woods. Perfumer Frank Voelkl works with an efficient style in Ikon to create something better than it should be for the price.
The opening is a mix of lemon and cardamom which primarily hold the foreground. There are hints of clove and cinnamon, but they are there to shade the top accord towards the cardamom. The incense steps forward with a sharpness to it. This is further refined as labdanum softens it. Cedar and vetiver provide a green woody base accord.
Ikon has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
You can find 4oz. bottles of Ikon for around $10. They are $9.99 at the discount stores I shop at. I also mention the gift sets which will be popping up because you will find some of them also contain Ikon along with some skincare products.
One thing about Ikon which I should mention is when you read spice, incense, and woods you think of something with a large presence. One reason I like Ikon is M. Voelkl softens the overall effect to make it much more approachable. It is at its best in the cold weather. When I smelled it at the store the other day it was that which drew my attention the most. Reminding me to appreciate what was right in front of me.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
I don’t know if others have the same kind of perfume preferences as I do during the summer months. I’m reasonably sure colognes and light florals are constants. One of the things I have found over time that I really enjoy when the heat is at its most oppressive is a simple clean light woody perfume. As summer 2018 arrives I think Commodity Bois is going to be this year’s addition to my rotation.
It is also another example of why Commodity has been consistently succeeding. It is a mainstream brand where the owners are allowing the perfumers a freer hand to design. Their only limitations are budget and aligning with the minimalist aesthetic the brand wants to be known for. What this produces are simple constructs where the perfumer’s choices can have a maximal impact on a minimalist aesthetic.
For Bois the perfumer is Frank Voelkl. Since Bois translates to “wood” he started with a duo of cedar and sandalwood. The ingredient which helps turn that from generic to something more than that is baie rose.
Bois opens with that baie rose out front. Baie rose is a versatile top note because it has many facets for a perfumer to tease out. What M. Voelkl chooses to accentuate is the peppery nature of the ingredient which is also known as pink pepper. To do this angelica is used which also has a peppery character. Together they form a textural piquant accord. It acts as a kind of figurative perfumer’s sandpaper as it roughs up the cedar and sandalwood by adding a peppery overlay on the woods. The baie rose is what really sealed the deal on my enjoyment of Bois. Some vanilla comes in without becoming cloying as I wore Bois on days where it was in the high 90’s on the thermometer.
Bois has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I can’t know who shares my summer affection for woody perfume. If you do, Bois is one you should add to fill that space. I think there are few better warm weather woods out there especially in mainstream.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Commodity.
If there is anything the dream machine that is Hollywood does best, it makes subversive safe for general audiences. I would get great enjoyment at watching the “dangerous streets of Miami” depicted in many Hollywood productions. I probably first became aware of it as they co-opted the hippie movement of the late 1960’s even building a cop show around the concept of disaffected youth called “The Mod Squad”. They were just a little too clean and a lot too establishment; except when the plot needed them to get a little uppity.
Carlos Quintero (l.) and Karl Bradl
When it comes to perfume the most recognizable ingredient associated with hippies is patchouli. It was the smell of head shops everywhere which also made it a problematic ingredient in perfume. Many consumers associated it with also being cheap. Perfumers love patchouli because it is such a mutable ingredient that they would work through that impression. The chemists behind the scenes also were working on “cleaner” versions of patchouli through technology and chemistry. One of the best innovations around patchouli was the Firmenich ingredient called Clearwood. The scientists found a way to strip out all the dirty character leaving behind something still recognizable as patchouli but not so hippie-like.
In the latest perfume from the Nomenclature line overseen by Karl Bradl and Carlos Quintero they feature Clearwood in their latest release holy_wood. Working with perfumer Frank Voelkl they were after a 1970’s Hollywood vibe. I couldn’t help thinking of The Mod Squad’s advertising slogan, “one black, one white, one blonde” as I experienced holy_wood. In this M. Voelkl combines one rose, one patchouli, one leather into a perfume version of The Mod Squad. While that might sound like a perfume combination you’ve smelled many times when it gets reformed using modern cleaner synthetics it provides a contemporary overall effect.
holy_wood opens with a synthetic rose from Firmenich called Rose Petal Nature Print which is meant to replicate a headspace extraction of rose. It has an airiness rose usually doesn’t carry. Early on a bit of pink pepper adds some of the missing green back in. Then the Clearwood arrives and what this shows most of all is a light woodiness coupled with warmth. As the two ingredients interact I found myself expecting the missing pieces to show up until I stopped. Then I began to appreciate what was on my skin. holy_wood is an example of what synthetics can bring to a well-known combo like rose and patchouli. This is all tied up in a suede leather accord to complete The Mod Squad.
holy_wood has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
One of the things Nomenclature has been doing well is displaying some of the more novel synthetic ingredients to their fullest potential. holy_wood might be patchouli-rose-leather as only Hollywood could imagine them; safer and cleaner. I still want to spend time with this modern Mod Squad.
Disclosure: this review based on a sample from Nomenclature.
When fashion designers I admire make the move to fragrance it is interesting to see how much of the runway aesthetic makes it to the perfume. Designer Jason Wu is the latest to make this leap. Mr. Wu has been a fashion wunderkind showing his first collection at New York Fashion Week in 2007 a year out of school. Two years later he would dress the new First Lady Michelle Obama and his career skyrocketed. If there is a phrase to describe Mr. Wu’s aesthetic it is understated sophistication. Except in nearly every collection there is a vibrant floral print among the other more solid colored offerings.
For the perfume Mr. Wu collaborated with perfumer Frank Voelkl. To start Mr. Voelkl exposed Mr. Wu to the building blocks of scent. According to the press materials they went through 100’s of materials before Mr. Wu settled on the key note. Befitting the fashion style, he chose jasmine sambac to be the floral print part of the perfume. He also spoke of it because it reminded him of his youth where a neighbor’s wall was covered in jasmine. The final part of the Wu style was to keep the whole fragrance light. It is light. It is so light that it might be too sheer but in that transparency, there is a gauzy beauty I found enjoyable.
Mr. Voelkl opens with a veil of baie rose and fig. These are especially good versions of these ingredients which are used in the lightest way possible. There can be a tendency to expect the phases of Jason Wu to pick up some volume but it stays very sheer. Which sometimes left me mentally chasing after this opening because I thought it was so nice. I cheated a bit and literally soaked a tissue with sprays so I could get more traction in understanding what is here. It was a fruitful exercise because once I noted everything in overdose it was much easier for me to track down the veils with a more modest application. The jasmine sambac then comes out and it has a bit more weight but it never rises to anything too heavy. It lilts and flows through the rest of the development. Towards the end a set of sheer woods and white musk provide the final veil.
Jason Wu has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
The entire time I was wearing Jason Wu I kept thinking, “I like this but it is so light.” While thinking about how to review it; that can’t be dismissed. It pushes the envelope about how sheer is too sheer. What is fascinating is the perfume here is transparently compelling. I am so interested to see how this does in the market. Tastes are in the midst of change and Jason Wu could be right there for it.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Jason Wu.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the month I believe the Ulrich Lang New York collection is underrated. Turns out I should have been speaking to myself as Hr. Lang contacted me after that piece and asked whether I had smelled his most recent release, Apsu. I had come to realize during the writing of the Under the Radar piece that I was pretty sure I hadn’t. When I went to my master spreadsheet it turns out I had smelled it on a strip but left a note to request a sample; which I never did. Then Hr. Lang made sure to rectify that and sent me a bottle of Apsu. It probably turned out okay because Apsu is a perfume of late spring early summer. Wearing it a couple times it seemed like a mirror version of the world becoming greener around me.
Hr. Lang once again collaborates with perfumer Frank Voelkl. If there has become an Ulrich Lang aesthetic it has been for transparent to opaque constructs. It has really stood out as the brand doesn’t knock you over it wraps you up in silk. Apsu is one of those as I believe Mr. Voelkl worked with a few new isolates of time-honored notes. What results is a perfume which reminds me of the beginning of the second verse of The Beatles “Yellow Submarine”; “So we sailed up to the sun/Until we found the sea of green.” If you are a fan of the smell of dew covered grass and foliage that is what Apsu delivers.
Mr. Voelkl uses a host of green notes in the early moments. Most of these seem like different isolates or molecules of the typical aromachemicals which are used for fresh-cut grass. It gives it an abstract interpretation of dewy grass which seems more alive despite its not perfectly resembling it. One note on the list that stands out is cilantro which provides a bit of an edge to the overall effect. The moist garden theme is deepened with orris and jasmine in the heart. They are joined by a faint tea and water lily duet. The florals do not override the green in the top but act more as support while making the watery nature more present. The base is clean woods with dry frankincense.
Apsu has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage. Apsu reflects the natural as seen through a perfumer’s lens. It doesn’t represent the actual so much as form a figurative “sea of green”. If you want a lightweight green perfume for summer set your Yellow Submarine for Apsu.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle of Apsu supplied by Ulrich Lang New York.