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.
One of the most genuine people in the perfume business is Ulrich Lang. Mr. Lang has promoted the greater cause of independent perfumery by co-founding the Elements Showcase and being someone who believes there is a significant place for it. He is so passionate about those themes you might not know he is the creative director of a brand which carries his name; Ulrich Lang New York.
One of the reasons you might have overlooked these perfumes is since the debut of Anvers in 2003 there have only been a total of six releases. Mr. Lang has worked exclusively with perfumer Frank Voelkl over that time. A brand which is not constantly churning out new releases is almost by definition going to fly under the radar. Over the years there has been one of these six perfumes which has become one of my spring staples, Lightscape.
When you think of fresh fragrances a perfume featuring violet and iris is unlikely to be something you might describe like that. Violet has a metallic sharpness while iris can be powdery. Even just that would seem to be a recipe for a construction akin to a head-on collision. Mr. Lang and Mr. Voelkl take some impressive measures to not put these notes against each other; instead finding a way to make them harmonize in a fresh way.
The way they go about this is two-fold. For violet Mr. Voelkl instead of using the actual essential oil of the flowers he instead creates a violet accord. That allows him to tune out those metallic aspects. It also allows the powdery nature that is also a part of the violet flower to be modulated, as well. For the iris, he chooses to use a high-quality orris which doesn’t have as much of the powderiness of iris in favor of a more grounded earthy character.
Lightscape opens with a snappy duet of lemon and galbanum. An attention-grabbing zesty green citrus. To go along with it Mr. Voelkl adds in violet leaf. This adds more green to the galbanum. Then the orris and violet accord appear. I am always so surprised at how uplifting the combination comes off here. It is why I reach for it every spring because it is green and fresh. Cedar brings it back to earth with a wood-based foundation tempered by the botanical musk of ambrette seed.
Lightscape has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I can say all six of the Ulrich Lang New York perfumes are Under the Radar gems. They are worthy of being put on your to-try list. If you need one to start with Lightscape is a spring perfume which is a fresh purple fragrance of violet and iris.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
Drug discovery and perfumery share a similarity in the scientific approach to trying to improve on what is known. In both fields, it is down to the chemists in each discipline to find a new molecule which does the same thing but better than what is currently on the market. In pharmaceuticals, it is a little easier to define “better”. In perfumery “better” is more often in the hands of the perfumer using the newer material. Which is why the Nomenclature brand is so much fun for me to wear. The brand creatively directed by Carlos Quintero and Karl Bradl seeks to highlight the new aromachemical raw materials as the key components in the perfumes they oversee. The first collection of four did an excellent job of this. Which is why when I received my sample of the fifth release lumen_esce I was ready to be introduced to another aromachemical.
Carlos Quintero (l.) and Karl Bradl
For lumen_esce the new aromachemical is called Violettyne. Violettyne was discovered by chemists at Firmenich who were looking to improve the violet leaf molecules which were typically esters attached to triple-bonded carbons. The chemists replaced the esters with chains of carbon which did and did not have some double bonds. Violettyne was the structure which added a five-carbon chain containing two double bonds in place of the ester. The effect was to enhance the galbanum-like qualities of violet leaf while also adding a grace note of fruitiness. Perfumer Frank Voelkl was asked to incorporate this molecule in to lumen_esce.
The typical use of these kind of substances is as top notes and so Mr. Voelkl sets up his top accord as a “compare and contrast” between Violettyne and violet leaf itself. The Violettyne provides a much greener quality than the violet leaf. In this case Mr. Voelkl tunes the violet leaf to give off the slightly metallic nature which it seems Violettyne uses as a conductor on which to come to life upon. This all develops through a freesia and jasmine heart. The green intersects with the florals cutting through them. Then in the base Mr. Voelkl introduces another modern innovation in raw materials Patchouli Prisma. This is a sort of reconstruction of patchouli after it has been fractionated via distillation. By combining a few of the fractions back together you get a patchouli which has been broken down as if it has been shined through a prism. The effect is to make the patchouli cooler which makes it a better partner for the Violettyne. In lumen_esce it provides a place for that violet leaf energy to ground itself. Over time the warmer facets of patchouli become more prominent as lumen_esce comes to an end on my skin.
Lumen_esce has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
So far all the Nomenclature releases have been great examples of the versatility of chemistry as it pertains to perfume. Lumen_esce shows the energy a straight-chain can add to a molecule.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I received from Nomenclature.
Whenever I was on a big sailboat there was always this exhilarating moment when the sails get trimmed correctly and it vibrates with the energy of the wind being transferred into thrust. There was this delicious tension as the wind and the engineering of the ship were in a precarious balance. This really would hit home when we would be running downwind with the breeze coming from behind the boat; billowing spinnaker full of air. This was when the spray shot up over the side. It also took the most concentration from the helmsman because with all of Mother Nature’s windy horsepower behind us it was like mashing the gas pedal to the floor. There is a scent to all of this as the sea spray and the canvas of the sails along with the smell of the fresh air that was unique. I have smelled a lot of aquatic fragrances over the years but the recently released Tommy Bahama Maritime captured this accord with an added twist.
Tommy Bahama Maritime was overseen by Parlux creative director Jennifer Mullarkey working with perfumer Frank Voelkl on his second release for the brand. The Tommy Bahama brand is meant to stand for fun and most of the fragrances released over the past ten years or so have been predictable variations on well-known perfume genres. For instance, the first fragrance M. Voelkl did was last year’s Island Life for Her which was as straight forward fruity floriental as it gets. Maritime is something different as it is an aquatic where the sense of the ocean is set up by accords in the top and base but in the heart, he presents a fabulous floral intermezzo.
M. Voelkl cleverly uses lavender as his core note for the top accord. He wants to make sure it displays its herbal nature and so it is tilted towards that by the inclusion of baie rose and clary sage. This forms that breathy exhilaration of being on the deck sails full. Then he adds one more note which represents the snap of those sails in the wind, red apple. This never rises to such a level that it becomes fruity instead it is a note which provides an orthogonal whip-crack across the herbal mixture of the other notes. Then as much as I like the top this evolves into a floral heart of geranium and jasmine made greener by violet leaves and waterier with water lily. This is so much better than the notes portend. The geranium and the violet leaves form one half of the effect while jasmine and waterlily provide the complement. Maritime picks up speed again as we round the mark into the base accord. Here M. Voelkl matches that smell of the sun-warmed wood of the deck with the canvas in the sails. Cedar, sandalwood, and a few white musks provide that. The final addition is an accord of sun-warmed skin from ambrette and some of the lower octave musks.
Maritime has 16-18 hour longevity and average sillage.
I think this might be the most original perfume Tommy Bahama has ever released. Even saying that it is still at heart firmly a member of the aquatic fougere family. What makes it stand out for me is the intelligent use of different ingredients by M. Voelkl to achieve some of the more familiar beats in this type of perfume. I know this is going to be one I take out for a sail again sooner rather than later.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Tommy Bahama.
It is something to watch as a clothing designer makes the, seemingly, inevitable entry into fragrance. There are now many variations which have seen success or failure. At this point the trajectory a brand takes as they explore a new sector tells you as much about their brand as to how serious they are about fragrance. The fashion brand Rag & Bone took the collection route as they released eight new perfumes.
Per co-founder and creative director Marcus Wainwright they wanted to start each perfume with a focal point note and then essentially accessorize them in a Rag & Bone style. What that means in terms of the perfumes is that seven of the eight have an ingredient on the bottle and it is paired with something else. Like all collections it is hit or miss. Perfumer Daphne Bugey does a nice turn on musk and bergamot in Bergamot. Perfumer Ilias Ermenidis does a quirky boozy gourmand oriental with rum, plum, tobacco and amber in Amber. Of course, contrarian that I am the one which I really fell for is the one with a name which doesn’t have a raw material in it; Oddity.
Look from Rag & Bone Spring/Summer 2017
Oddity is one of two done for this collection by perfumer Frank Voelkl; Rose is the other. I am speculating here but where the other seven fragrances do seem like variations on a theme much as the jeans which Rag & Bone are famous for; Oddity represents their runway shows. When Rag & Bone does their runway collection at Fashion Week Mr. Wainwright likes to do contemporary takes on classic British schoolboy uniforms. While there is an underlying coherence there is always a sense of asymmetry in the designs which gives them that outsider appeal. That same design aesthetic is apparent in the way Oddity develops under M. Voelkl’s hands. Each phase has something traditional made asymmetric by an orthogonal note.
M. Voelkl opens on a gentle breeze of cardamom which he intersects with Szechuan pepper. To make sure the spice has a bit of the upper hand here he also adds in angelica root. Which performs a neat juxtaposition as the cardamom starts on top only to be rapidly toppled by the pungency of the pepper. The spiciness continues as incense and leather arrive in the heart. This is a rougher leather and the incense complements it nicely. The orthogonal choice here is to use licorice underneath. This is the herbal throat lozenge version not the ones you eat at the movies. That herbal nature helps continue the connection that the pepper provided in the top. This all lands on a base of rich vetiver made even more so by amber. The amber also captures the spicy herbal nature of what has come prior. The final bit of contrast comes via the sweetness of vanilla.
Oddity has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I will say that the Rag & Bone collection, overall, is mostly well done and even the ones I wasn’t enchanted by are well executed. They are worth seeking out and trying. Oddity does prove one of my issues with receiving a big collection when there is one which I think is just on a different level it can leave the others feeling pale in comparison. That’s how much I liked Oddity.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Rag & Bone.
Le Labo is perfume brand which likes to keep its customers guessing with its naming. All Le Labo perfumes have a note followed by a number representing the number of ingredients. There are a few of them where that note is readily apparent. Most of them have the note named on the bottle in a discernable position within the fragrance framework but not the keynote. Then there are the ones I call the “bait and switch” releases where I believe the listed note is there but I never smell it. The newest release The Noir 29 is one of these.
Fabrice Penot (l.) and Edouard Roschi
These are certainly interesting times for the brand founded by Edouard Roschi and Fabrice Penot. It was almost a year ago it was announced this flagship niche brand was acquired by the Estee Lauder Group. There was a lot of written and said about that covering all possible reactions from happiness to rage. I fell in the middle with a “wait and see” attitude. While I imagine The Noir 29 was probably already in the pipeline prior to the acquisition it is going to be looked upon as the first data point. Which is why I admire Messrs. Roschi and Penot for deciding to go with a perfume that displays everything that is offbeat about Le Labo.
They worked again with perfumer Frank Voelkl who since 2009’s Oud 27 has composed eight of the eleven releases since then. M. Voelkl is definitely a perfumer who understands Le Labo as he has made releases in all the styles I mentioned in the first paragraph. For The Noir 29 it is about fig, smoke, and wood definitely not tea.
The Noir 29 opens with a healthy amount of bergamot and a similar amount of bay leaves. There was a moment in the very early moments where this smells like the old bay seasoning used in cooking. That seasoning then gets sprinkled on fig. This is what forms the top accord. As the fig gains more traction the bay leaves start to smolder with a smoky quality. The smoke is even further enhanced with a cigarette tobacco accord. Hay adds a needed bit of balancing grassy sweetness. It all comes to rest on a vetiver and musk base. The vetiver is defined more to its woodier aspects by adding in cedar. The musks provide some depth to what has been a pretty opaque development for most of the time.
The Noir 29 has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I am pretty sure The Noir 29 does not provide the tea leaves necessary to know what Le Labo will look like under the Estee Lauder umbrella. The Noir 29 feels like part of the family which came before it. I believe Messrs. Roschi and Penot wanted to make sure all those who were worried would see things weren’t changing. I think The Noir 29 is really going to appeal to those who loved M. Voelkl’s Santal 33 from 2011. This is a different kind of woodiness entirely complimentary to that perfume. There may not be any black tea in The Noir 29 but the smoky figgy woods more than make up for it.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Le Labo.
Let me admit this up front; I am the bullseye on the target audience for the new fragrance brand Nomenclature. Any perfume which is going to be bottled in a stylized Erlenmyer flask and feature a specific synthetic aromachemical has my full attention. When I was at Pitti Fragranze this brand was high on my list to experience.
When I finally worked my way to the booth where co-founders and creative directors Karl Bradl and Carlos Quintero were displaying the four debut releases I was delighted with what they are attempting to do. Working with perfumers Frank Voelkl and Patricia Choux, who each composed two of the initial four, each Nomenclature shows off the beauty of chemistry in perfume. Over the next few weeks I will eventually review all four because not only are all pretty good but they will be good jumping off points for a couple of Olfactory Chemistry columns. I am going to start with my favorite Efflor_esce.
The featured aromachemical in Efflor_esce is Paradisone. Paradisone is the culmination of thirty years of research at Firmenich in trying to improve one of the most important materials in all of perfumery Hedione. If you are interested in the chemistry you can read my Olfactory Chemistry post from a few months ago. Hedione is used primarily because of the diffusive jasmine-like quality it adds to a fragrance. Paradisone is like Hedione on steroids as it is orders of magnitude stronger on every level. If Hedione is candlelight, Paradisone is a halogen spotlight. In point of fact it can become too much of a good thing as it can muscle out everything around it in a poorly constructed fragrance. Just sticking it an alcohol base and exclaiming “Voila!” is not going to make a perfume. Mr. Voelkl had to find some complementary and contrasting notes which displayed Paradisone to its fullest without becoming overbearing. Efflor_esce does this extremely well.
For the opening of Efflor_esce it has a sunny citrus vibe as bergamot and bitter orange provide the sunshine. As the Paradisone begins to make its presence known it takes those citrus notes and allows them to ride on the expanding bubble of the expansive synthetic. If you wonder what I mean when I write about the expansiveness of a synthetic aromachemical the early moments of Efflor_esce are as good an example as I could mention. As the Paradisone expands until that imaginary bubble pops it releases two other florals captured inside as tuberose and osmanthus now combine with it. The tuberose is all complement as it amplifies the intense floral quality. Osmanthus provides contrast with its apricot and leather nature providing a lighter application of dried fruit and animalic facets. This is where Efllor_esce spends the majority of its time on my skin.
Efflor_esce has greater than 24 hour longevity as Paradisone is one of the more tenacious synthetics out there. It also has above average sillage.
If you have enjoyed previous perfumes which featured synthetic ingredients the entire Nomenclature line is going to scratch the same olfactory itch. As I said at the beginning for the chemist all of these lift me to different levels of bliss. Efflor_esce takes me the highest of all of them.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Nomenclature at Pitti Fragranze 2015.
When it comes to celebrity fragrances there are few that make the grade. One of the most obvious reasons is the name on the bottle has little or nothing to do with it. Depending on the situation that can free a creative team to take chances but more often it leaves them to just knock off an imitation of something already on the market. The celebuscents which I admire have almost always had the celebrity intimately involved in the creative process. The first perfume to prove this principle to me was Sarah Jessica Parker Lovely. This was the debut perfume for Ms. Parker when she was at the heights of her Sex and the City fame. The whole process was covered in Chandler Burr’s book The Perfect Scent. What came across was a woman who wanted the perfume which carried her name to be something better than mediocre. It was and still is a successful perfume on the market. I think Lovely is a great perfume but I like the second perfume Ms. Parker collaborated on better; called Covet.
Covet came out two years after Lovely. The same creative director Ann Gottlieb was helping Ms. Parker and perfumer Frank Voelkl was picked to compose the perfume. Because of the success of Lovely I think the creative team felt they had a bit of leeway in trying something different with Covet. They would take that latitude and make something quite atypical for the state of the department store market circa 2007. Covet is like a mob of unruly kids all vying for the wearer’s attention. That amount of manic overly nuanced exposition wore most people out. I found it exhilarating. At the time it was the only thing in the mall that didn’t smell like everything else.
Time, and the consumer, has not been kind to Covet and it was discontinued about two years ago. Even though it has been discontinued it has been viewed as such a disappointment that you can find full bottles for less than $20 at almost any place that sells discount perfume. Which is why it is a Discount Diamond.
Covet opens on one of those unruly moments I mentioned. M. Voelkl takes lemon, lavender, geranium, a watery green leafy accord, and chocolate and turns them loose. It sounds like so many conflicting ideas it should just collapse. I’ll admit it comes close but I find this highly saturated opening fabulous. It never quite completely veers off course although I will admit it does drive on the wrong side of the road from time to time. This chaotic opening is what put many off because it is so weird, even eight years later it is still pretty weird. For the rest of the development Covet is relatively more straightforward as the heart is muguet and magnolia. The base is vetiver, woody notes and amber.
Covet has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Covet has been consigned to being the red-headed stepchild of Ms. Parker’s brand meant to be forgotten and unloved. If you are willing to take a chance on something great and for the price why wouldn’t you? Give Covet a try you might find something that is a real diamond in the rough.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
One of my very favorite perfumes in my collection is the discontinued Brioni which came out in 2009. It was one of the few perfumes which I completely fell in love with from almost the first moment I put it on my skin. It was based on the Italian luxury men’s suit line of the same name. I have never owned a Brioni suit but the perfume I have worn over and over again. I don’t speak about it often because it is discontinued and I might be the only person left who remembers it.
I was very excited to see an article in Women’s Wear Daily in October announcing the release of a new Brioni fragrance. In the original fragrance the perfumer and creative direction behind it was unknown in this new version two of my favorite people would be involved. Brendan Mullane the creative director of Brioni would also collaborate with Raymond Matts as they asked perfumer Frank Voelkl to bring their ideas to fruition. There was one quote by Mr. Mullane, in the article, which gave me a lot of hope for this new fragrance, “we didn’t want it to smell like a best seller”. That is a promise I have seen broken over and over again as I end up smelling something all too derivative. In this case the entire creative team lived up to Mr. Mullane’s aspirations.
When I walk into a tailor to buy a suit I really enjoy the smell of the fresh pressed fabric with a hint of wood and leather underneath. That would have been the easy way to go in constructing a perfume based on a line of men’s clothing. The only one of those scents M. Voelkl tries to re-create is that of the crisp pressed fabric. The rest of the perfume is as unique as the brand with which it shares its name.
Brioni opens on a brilliant mix of lemon tinted with lime. The first few minutes is all about the lemon. The lime adds a bit of tart along with blackcurrant buds adding a shade of green. This is a lively opening which leads to a floral heart. The core of that heart is magnolia with its woody floralcy. M. Voelkl chooses to complement it with violet, orris, and juniper berry. The magnolia soars and expands with the other three notes adding texture as it opens up over a few hours. Brioni ends on a fresh pressed fabric accord. Cedar forms the foundation of this accord but it is the other notes which make it stand out as Laotian oud, saffron, and licorice come together to form one of the cleanest richest fabric accords I have ever encountered.
Brioni has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Even with the excellent creative team behind this new version of Brioni I expected to like it; but not as much as I did the original. I am very surprised to like it every bit as much as that older version. I am also very happy it is an entirely new creation bearing little similarity. It means that both of them can be part of my regular rotation. Brioni is as unique and beautiful as the suits which also carry the same name.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample I received at Sniffapalooza Spring fling 2015.