The process of releasing perfume flankers is an exercise in diminishing returns. Each successive release tends to remind you of how good the original was. By the time they get down the line it is difficult to even know what the purpose of naming it after the original is.
There are exceptions to this. The one that I have pointed to is the line of flankers of 1996’s Thierry Mugler A*Men. A*Men is one of the great perfumes of the last twenty-five years. That Thierry Mugler would want to make flankers is obvious. In 2008 when they released A*Men Pure Coffee they showed they were going to not phone it in. Pure Coffee would initiate a series of releases which made this the best flanker line ever. I own almost all of them. I admire almost all of them. The reason for that is because the original perfumer of A*Men, Jacques Huclier, kept finding new things to say within his original structure. Each new release would illuminate something about the original while also being different enough to warrant being produced. There was always a bit of the original A*Men to be found in these flankers. Which is why I have found the latest release Thierry Mugler A*Men Ultimate so confounding.
A*Men Ultimate is the first of these releases to not have even a tiny bit of the A*Men formula present. When I saw the note list, I guessed the “mochaccino” accord was going to provide the chocolate-coffee DNA of A*Men in a new way. Except there is no coffee and chocolate; A*Men Ultimate is a straightforward woody fragrance.
Ultimate is really just a simple construct of citrus, cedar, and fir. That’s it. There is nothing different from any other perfume with those ingredients. It would have been nice if that promised “mochaccino” accord arrived it might have been similar to 2014’s Pure Wood. I have become so used to this set of flankers being so good I am perplexed at how generic this has turned out to be.
A*Men Ultimate has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
With the rebranding and extension of the Thierry Mugler Cologne series added on top of this very common flanker of A*Men I am left shaking my head. I wonder if Thierry Mugler has finally succumbed to the law of diminishing returns when it comes to perfume.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Thierry Mugler.
Thierry Mugler is one of the most successful mainstream perfume brands ever. Starting in 1992 with the release of their first perfume, Angel, they invented the gourmand style of perfume. I looked back over my master list of all that I own and within the mainstream sector there is nothing that comes close to the number of Thierry Mugler bottles. I would say that the creative team at Thierry Mugler seems to have cracked the code on how to market challenging niche-type fragrances to the masses. Despite all that success when you are working with that mindset there are going to be times you don’t make the connection to the mass market. It took twelve years for the first miss to happen, B*Men.
As is obvious from the name B*Men is the sequel to A*Men. What is less obvious is this wasn’t meant to be alphabetical per se. Instead Thierry Mugler is a big comic book fan and these were meant to be the beginning of a team of perfume superheroes. The ad above from the release in 2004 gives you an idea of what the superhero looks like. The third member of the team would come along in 2007; Ice*Men.
B*Men was composed by a team of A*Men perfumer Jacques Huclier assisted by Christine Nagel. A*Men had been the masculine gourmand partner to Angel. B*Men was going to go in a more traditionally masculine direction building around citrus, spices, and woods. Which might be the beginning of why this didn’t succeed. The first four releases; Angel, A*Men, Innocent, and Mugler Cologne would never carry the adjective traditional. B*Men seemed to want to see if classic fragrance making with only slight Mugler tweaks could still appeal.
B*Men starts on a duet of tangerine and rhubarb. The rhubarb is used as a vegetal grapefruit surrogate. It adds green and tart to the sweeter tangerine forming a soft citrus top accord. The heart is a sturdy redwood which is surrounded by cardamom and nutmeg. The base veers away from any hint of gourmand as amber replaces the signature base accord of A*Men. That makes B*Men much less of a powerhouse than A*Men is.
B*Men has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Everything about B*Men, except for the rhubarb, is traditional masculine tropes. I think it is one of the better versions of this style of perfume. When I’m in the mood for this B*Men is one I consider. The rest of the world gave a collective shrug of the shoulders. The most consistent criticism was it wasn’t “as good as A*Men”; which shouldn’t be a disqualifier. I think it more likely a perfume brand which had conditioned its consumer for something different lost them with something so similar to other perfumes. It makes it one of the more interesting denizens of the Dead Letter Office. Sent there for being too normal.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
I think my distaste for flankers has been apparent from the first moment I started writing about perfume. The great majority of the time they are lazy, cynical fragrances with barely there differences. The reason for their existence is sales, as by putting another note or two into the composition its new enough to make someone buy a bottle all over again. Of course there has to be an exception to every rule. The exception to “all flankers are bad” is the variations Thierry Mugler has produced on the classic A*Men. There have been fourteen flankers to A*Men starting with 2006’s A*Men Summer Flash. Two years later the Pure Series would begin with A*Men Pure Coffee. The latest flanker is a continuation of that called A*Men Pure Tonka.
A*Men Pure Tonka is the eighth release in the Pure Series. One thing which has made this set of flankers rise above is that the original perfumer behind A*Men, Jacques Huclier, has been the man behind all of the flankers. What that has helped with is M. Huclier knows the nuances of his A*Men foundation. Instead of shoehorning a note or two in the Pure Series he has done on overall fantastic job of adding in a few new materials. This allows you to re-examine the A*Men you generally know so well. A*Men Pure Tonka is focused a bit on the coffee from the original. It also adds another bean in the tonka. There is a roasted quality to both beans which help give a new perspective on the A*Men foundation.
Pure Tonka starts with a naked lavender. In the original A*Men lavender is but a component of the top accord. In Pure Tonka it is out there all by itself. I am a big fan of lavender so I didn’t miss the aldehydes and mint that are present in the original. The lavender is pitched at a moderate level which allows the herbal quality to slightly take the lead. Roasted coffee has always been part of the A*Men formula. In Pure Tonka it is much more pronounced. Patchouli is paired with it in the heart which allows for it to feel like its parent without being entirely derivative. Then the tonka arrives. When tonka is around in quantity there is a combination of toasted nuttiness as well as a subtle hay-like quality. Both of those are on display in Pure Tonka. Together with the coffee the middle part of the development, where the two beans are out in front, is very good. I was worried that the chocolate and caramel of A*Men were going to come along and crash the party. Instead M. Huclier just adds a bit of vanilla to up the sweetness quotient without turning it completely deeply gourmand.
A*Men Pure Tonka has 16-18 hour longevity and way above average sillage. Very easy to spray too much.
M. Huclier has once again deconstructed his creation and found new places to elucidate by allowing some of the parts of the A*Men ensemble the chance to solo a bit. The lavender, coffee, and tonka take advantage of the spotlight. This is another winner in the Pure Series while being different enough to justify owning it.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Thierry Mugler.
At this time of year I get a lot of questions about what perfume I would suggest to give someone as a gift. First I frown on fragrance as a gift and my method for giving it as a gift can be found at this link. Even when I say that people still want an answer and not wanting to be a snobby Grinch I have a couple of suggestions in my back pocket. One of my favorites is Zirh Corduroy.
Zirh is a maker primarily of men’s skin and hair products. They have a small selection of four branded fragrances. In 2001 they released Zirh by perfumer Delphine Terry which was a safe traditional lavender focused fougere. Corduroy was the second release in 2005 by perfumers Jacques Huclier and Rodrigo Flores-Roux. Corduroy was meant to be the yin to Zirh’s yang as it was designed to be a darker oriental. I’m not sure of this but I am thinking Corduroy was meant to be the cold weather complement to Zirh. I know I tend to wear it in the colder months.
Corduroy opens with a surprisingly sophisticated citrus top accord. Mandarin is the nucleus for the perfumers to build upon with grapefruit, cardamom, and lavender. There is another listed ingredient called aquacoral but I have never been able to consciously detect it. It sounds like it should add some kind of aquatic character but that is not what I experience in the opening of Corduroy. What I get is citrus combined with an herbal lavender and cardamom. The spice cohort changes fairly rapidly as cinnamon eventually rises up. The presence of nutmeg is what eventually becomes the more extroverted note and it lies over a very delicate application of a suede accord. Corduroy eventually heads to a woody base of sandalwood, cedar, gaiac; sweetened with a bit of vanilla.
Corduroy has 14-16 hour longevity but very low sillage for a commercial release. It is that restraint which is part of the reason I recommend it as a gift.
Corduroy really is one of the best bang for your buck perfumes out there you can regularly get 100 or 125 mL size for under $15. I bought my 125 mL for $9.99 at a local discounter. If you need a stocking stuffer or you just want a little something extra for the perfume cabinet Corduroy is an excellent choice.
Disclosure: this review was based on a bottle I purchased.
One of the more successful line of flankers has been those which have descended from the 1996 classic Thierry Mugler A*Men. The perfumer behind that creation, Jacques Huclier, has spent every year since 2008 designing a new version enhancing or adding to the classic formulation. A*Men has been a powerhouse perfume since its inception and most of the original members of the “Pure” collection have been heavy hitters as well. Last year’s A*Men Pure Wood showed a different aesthetic as it was surprisingly, and delightfully, softer than any of the previous A*Men flankers. I was wondering if that was going to be a singularity or the beginning of a trend. The latest, A*Men Ultra Zest, provides an answer.
One of the reasons I think this set of flankers has been so successful is M. Huclier has been the perfumer behind all of them. His intimate knowledge of the construction of A*Men makes him the most qualified to alter it without harm. That has been accomplished quite efficiently with Pure Coffee and Pure Malt, my preferred versions of A*Men when I am in the mood. Even so they are powerful perfumes with equally powerful projection. They are not something I wear to work. Pure Wood was constructed such that not only have I wore it to work but it is almost an ideal work fragrance because the power is controlled as M. Huclier dials down the gourmand base. For Ultra Zest M. Huclier got some help from fellow Givaudan perfumer Quentin Bisch. Ultra Zest is in a bright orange bottle and that is the foreshadowing of the composition of the perfume inside. This could have been called Pure Orange and it wouldn’t be far off the mark.
The opening of Ultra Zest is all about the orange but not the typical juicy orange. The perfumers use blood orange to add a bit more tart added to tangerine to keep it sweet but not as sweet as a traditional orange. This is all placed on a rapidly moving flying carpet of ginger. This makes the opening moments go by almost too fast. The flying carpet lands at a coffee shop as the citrus is surrounded by rich coffee notes. There is cinnamon and spearmint listed on the note list but I never detected them. The heart felt like the coffee heart of most A*Men iterations. The base is very similar to Pure Wood as the perfumers again make a much softer chocolate accord consisting of patchouli and tonka bean. As I wore Ultra Zest I was always wondering if it was going to ramp up in power or settle into a comfortable hum. It was definitely the latter.
A*Men Ultra Zest has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I am not sure why Thierry Mugler has decided to rein in the powerful nature of A*Men but it makes Ultra Zest perhaps the most versatile in the line. It is light enough to be worn to the office. It has enough presence for a night out. It has enough bright citrus character to be worn in warm weather. There might be entries which do any one of those things better but none of them do all of them as well. A*Men Ultra Zest is one you should add to your A*Men collection if you’re a fan. It is also one to try if you maybe weren’t a fan of the original and the earlier flankers. It is my favorite of the flankers since 2012’s Pure Havane.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample I purchased.
If you go to the Ex Nihilo website and read the bios of the three founders; Olivier Royere, Sylvie Loday, and Benoit Verdier you might notice one commonality. They all share a desire to understand the underlying design of things. The very architecture of the world around them. In two of the perfumes for their brand Ex Nihilo you can see their love of the classical with Cologne 352 and Jasmin Fauve.
Cologne 352 is named after the address of the flagship store on the Rue Saint-Honore in Paris. On the website it is said that Cologne 352 is “the olfactory signature” of that address. There is another description on the website more on point, “Parisian cologne”. Cologne 352 is the sophisticated take on one of the very first perfume architectures, eau de cologne. Perfumer Jacques Huclier has taken that classic form and given it a Parisian makeover.
Cologne 352 opens in the cologne style with a brilliant lemon and petitgrain blazing like a sunbeam. M. Huclier chooses a vegetal crushed leaves accord and juniper berry to put some sunglasses on the top notes. The crushed leaves accord substitutes for the more traditional herbal component. The heart takes orange blossom, a usual component of eau de cologne, and brackets it with rose and muguet. As with the top notes the addition of the rose and muguet take Cologne 352 into different territory. The heart is more floral than a cologne is usually but M. Huclier balances it expertly so that it never gets too expansive. It stays buttoned down and compact. This is what creates an aura of floral sophistication which really drew me in when I wore Cologne 352. Those florals persist into the base where a set of clean woods and cleaner musks provide the foundation. Cologne 352 is not an eau de cologne it is at eau de parfum strength and therefore lasts 10-12 hours with average sillage.
Jasmin Fauve is described as a “poisonous leather flower” on the website. Perfumer Aurelien Guichard takes one of the most interpreted florals in jasmine and wraps it in a raw leather. The love of leather is not surprising because two of the three founders of Ex Nihilo mention shoes as a passion and it’s not the woman. M. Guichard creates a fantastic soliflore presented on a swatch of fresh leather.
Before we get to the jasmine M. Guichard pulls in muguet and lily. This doubles down on the green floral quality each of those notes possess. It is an appetizer for the main course of white flowers. Jasmine is in the name and jasmine is the leader of the pack in the heart. M. Guichard adds in orange blossom and tuberose as white flower wingmen. Jasmine is in front but the other two are also present. Finally a raw new piece of unrefined leather is rolled out for these white flowers to be portrayed upon. Ambox makes sure the leather never goes supple and refined and instead stays raw and primal. This mixture of powerhouse florals over leather is a lot of fun to wear. Jasmin Fauve has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I like where the creative team has taken these early efforts to keep them recognizable but also contemporary. Both of these perfumes exemplify classic architecture and embrace modern design.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples I purchased from Surrender to Chance.
It has been seven weeks since I was in Florence for Pitti Fragranze and there is one perfume which has consumed my thoughts since trying it there. One of my favorite new lines I discovered at Pitti was Map of the Heart. Map of the Heart is a debut line from co-founders Sarah Blair and Jeffrey Darling. They have collaborated with perfumer Jacques Huclier on three perfumes. They also have brought in bottle designer Pierre Dinand to fashion heart shaped flacons. Map of the Heart Clear Heart v. 1 and Red Heart v. 3 are nicely executed aquatic and tuberose perfumes, respectively. They are good but the middle volume Black Heart v. 2 is something wholly unique, a perfumed journey into darkness that never compromises by letting in even a tiny sliver of light.
Black Heart v. 2 has been one of those perfumes which has been difficult for me to write about because I don’t think I am going to communicate what a completely consuming sensual experience it is. The creative team wanted M. Huclier to be inspired by the Australian brushfires from where Ms. Blair and Mr. Darling live. The quote from the press release is they wanted M. Huclier to capture “the moment the flames subside and the blackened tree trunks remain smoldering in a snow of white ash- the piercing sunlight slicing through.” The first part of that inspiration is expertly re-created. The sunlight not so much as there is not any light in this composition of smoke, spice, and the hope for renewal from near-complete destruction.
M. Huclier uses a trio of spices, in overdose, as cinnamon, cardamom, and black pepper add the black shroud to the early moments. Just to make sure the point is not missed a little bergamot and orange are consumed in the dark flames like a sorcerer’s spell of eldritch origin. Through the spices M. Huclier adds in a significant amount of eucalyptus which adds sharp green over a camphor-like effect. This is the smell of tree trunks detonated by the heat of the fire. A chilling reminder of natural immolation. Then M. Huclier begins to waft smoke first in gentle puffs and then as a pervasive fog. The smoke lies heavily on top of Australian sandalwood. I have found Australian sandalwood to have an almost ashy quality just on its own. In Black Heart v. 2 M. Huclier finds that same characteristic and enhances it so the sandalwood note feels like I am experiencing it after it has been burned through and through.
Black Heart v. 2 has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
When I spoke with Ms. Blair at Pitti she told me that there was an earlier mod she sought feedback on and one person told her it should be darker. I don’t know who that person was but I am so very happy that advice was adhered to. The best perfumes are those where the creative vision is realized without compromise. Black Heart v. 2 is a glorious paean to the art of not compromising. If you love dark smoky artistic perfumes you will find no new perfume for 2014 which delivers on all three qualities any better than Black Heart v. 2.
Disclosure: this review was based on samples provided by Map of the Heart at Pitti Fragranze.
The most successful line of flankers might be the Thierry Mugler A*Men series begun in 2008 with A*Men Pure Coffee. Over six successive releases spaced about a year apart perfumer Jacques Huclier has successfully added in the listed “Pure” ingredient all while staying true to his original A*Men from 1996. The variation in these perfumes comes in the opening two thirds of development. All of them end on the very familiar A*Men base of caramel, chocolate, and vanilla. That sort of composition can have a sameness to it over time. For the newest addition to the line, called A*Men Pure Wood, M. Huclier decides to make this the least unlike the original or any of the previous Pure releases.
Creative Director Pierre Aulas has overseen the entire line of flankers and he has done a tremendous job at guiding M. Huclier on how to add in a disparate ingredient into the existing A*Men framework. The only complete miss for me was 2011’s A*Men Taste of Fragrance which has waggishly been named Pure Chili because M. Huclier tried to add in spicy red pepper and it just didn’t feel like it belonged. When it works, with Pure Coffee or Pure Malt, the addition illuminates something different about A*Men. If there has been one consistent drawback for some it is the sheer power and projection of A*Men and its flankers. For those who have wished for an A*Men which is a little easier to wear and a little less prominent to those around you Pure Wood might fit the bill.
M. Huclier keeps the composition of Pure Wood very simple and that works to its favor. The promised wood is an oak and cypress blend. I like the choice because the oak adds brawn while the cypress is a bit more blonde and fun. Early on coffee is the note which interacts with the woods. It is not as rich in character as you might expect. M. Huclier uses the oak as foundation and allows the cypress and coffee the space to become more expansive over the early going. Instead of going for the fully gourmand A*Men base M. Huclier dials it down a lot as he pairs vanilla with patchouli. For those who love that gourmand base the vanilla plus the patchouli form a sort of chocolate accord which makes it seem like a member of the A*Men family. I have to say while I was wearing it I kept sort of expecting the caramel and chocolate to come rushing in. The fact that M. Huclier left them out is what makes Pure Wood less extroverted than the rest of the line.
A*Men Pure Wood has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
Pure Wood goes to the top of the A*Men list to stand next to Pure Coffee and Pure Malt. It is the most different structurally from any of the other flankers and it is that difference which makes it interesting to me. If you’ve always wanted a lighter version of A*Men I think Pure Wood might be that perfume.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample of Pure Wood I purchased.
In every big city in the world when I visit I do like most tourists and go visit the things in the city that all visitors want to see. That approach reduces these cities to a large open-air museum. They give you a glimpse into the history of the city being visited and a superficial experience with the actual things which make those cities special. I always try and make a point of spending time in a real neighborhood for most of a day when traveling. It is these moments when I actually gain some insight into the soul of the city. Carner Barcelona has been taking perfume lovers on a fragrant stroll through the city of Barcelona and each of the four releases since 2010 have exposed another aspect of Creative Director Sara Carner’s home. The fifth fragrance continues this trend, El Born, which is named after the Barcelona neighborhood of the same name.
Based on the description in the press materials El Born is an old area of the city dating back to medieval times but now it has become a narrow warren of boutiques, restaurants, and wine bars at street level. Above on the open air balconies you see the citizens of El Born enjoying the day as they look out over the neighborhood. As part of the creative direction Sra. Carner took the perfumer, Jacques Huclier, down to El Born to take a sniffing tour as inspiration. In the end the brief for El Born influenced by the experiential walk would be to create a complex gourmand.
El Born uses lemon and bergamot to start and M. Huclier adds in angelica and honey and while I definitely can pick those notes apart together they form a really lovely licorice accord. When I smelled El Born for the first time at Esxence I fully expected to see licorice as a note. Instead the very herbal nature of angelica is wrapped in the honey and it creates a strand of herbal-tinged licorice. M Huclier then takes a fabulous ripe fig redolent of the soft pulp inside. Together with the licorice this is as good as it gets for a gourmand fragrance beginning. The heart offers a floral intermezzo of jasmine attenuated by heliotrope so it lilts instead of overpowers. The base notes are dessert as a chocolate accord of vanilla absolute, peru balsam and sandalwood provides a traditionally sweet final lagniappe finishing this walk through El Born.
El Born has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Sra. Carner has shown an admirable attention to detail in this perfume brand which carries her name. This has led to a reliable quality for each new release and El Born lives up to its predecessors’ pedigree. I have never been to Barcelona but Sra. Carner will have sufficiently prepared my nose for the day I finally do visit. My first stop will be to spend a day in El Born; until that day this fantastic perfume will have to tide me over.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Carner Barcelona.