Thanks to the prompting of a reader I was reminded I hadn’t done one of these columns on one of my favorite perfume ingredients. I think the reason I held off on doing my favorite narcissus perfumes is because that keynote is not widely enjoyed. It is an acquired taste. Even as much as I enjoy it, I feel pretty safe in saying I own all the good versions. Because there just aren’t that many. Two of the best Penghaligons’ Ostara and DelRae Wit have been discontinued. It is a tough to love scent. If you do enjoy it this is the time of year to break it out. Its characteristic deeply vegetal greenness easily evokes digging in the early spring garden surrounded by all the green before the flowers bloom. Here are five of my favorites.
My first memory of recognizing narcissus came on a visit to the Caron store in NYC. As much as I was drawn to the other perfumes, I had come there for there was this other green siren calling to me. That was Caron Narcisse Noire by perfumer Ernest Daltroff in 1911. The narcissus is presented in a classic high-low combination with orange blossom. The narcissus is given textrure through vetiver while the orange blossom is made a little bit more of a white flower through jasmine. Musky sandalwood is the pedestal it perches upon. This is the early masterpiece version of the ingredient.
It would be a few years later when I would discover my favorite narcissus perfume. Neil Morris Gotham is a perfume I will never not own. Its one of my personal perfume touchstones. He builds it around the spiciness of black pepper and the juxtaposition of a cuir de Russie leather accord and the narcissus. This is a fragrance that reaches to my depths in all the best ways.
Early on when I was joking around about a perfume only I would like. I said it would have narcissus, immortelle, and a birch tar leather accord. I suspected that idea never to see the light of day until I got my first sniff of L’Artisan Parfumeur Mont de Narcisse. Perfumer Anne Flipo stands in the center ring with three snarling keynotes while managing to put them through their paces. Each of these ingredients is given the space to thrive. Much to my surprise it worked better in reality than I thought it would.
There are two spectacular post-modern narcissus perfumes. One of them is Masque Milano Romanza. Creative directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi work with perfumer Cristiano Canali on a perfume that allows the narcissus to expose all facets of itself as it interacts with absinthe, orange blossom, civet, and amber.
The other one comes from perfumer Bruno Fazzolari, Fzotic Au Dela Narcisse. Narcissus is such a difficult ingredient Mr. Fazzolari wondered what it would add to a chypre style. The answer is it transforms it into something truly noir. Full of shadows as spicy coriander, full spectrum oakmoss, amber, and orange blossom form the chypre of my narcissus filled dreams.
If you want a different spring perfume experience any of these five narcissus perfumes will provide that.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
This year I tried 701 new perfumes. To keep that in perspective, it is about 30% of all new perfume released in 2018. The Top 25 below represents the best 3.6% of what I encountered this year
The Top 5 (Perfume of the Year Candidates)
5. Cartier Carat– The best mainstream release of 2018 it is a celebration of the skill of Cartier in-house perfumer Mathilde Laurent. It is simply described as a transparent formula. What Mme Laurent put in the bottle was a faceted floral jewel which changed as you looked at each facet. A kaleidoscopic perfume that helped me embrace the potential of the transparent trend which is here to stay in perfume.
4. Providence Perfume Co. Vientiane– Independent perfumer Charna Ethier fused a jasmine rice tincture to a tower of sandalwood. It resulted in a perfume which gave me new insight into one of the most venerable notes in perfumery. It also is a testament to Ms. Ethier’s skill to shine a light into those spaces.
3.April Aromatics Irisistible– This is the culmination of all of the efforts perfumer Tanja Bochnig has produced over the years for her April Aromatics brand. Each release over the last couple of years has been better than the last. Irisistible will be a perfume Fr. Bochnig will find difficult to top. A floral rainbow with a rooty iris as the most brilliant band of color.
2. Neela Vermeire Creations Niral– Neela Vermeire has successfully found the perfume place where her Indian and French sensibilities overlap. It has produced one of the best independent perfume collections on the market. Mme Vermeire has worked exclusively with perfumer Bertrnad Duchaufour. For Niral they undertook the concept of capturing Tussar silk as a perfume. It is something I think could only have been made by a creative director and perfumer who have been working together for years. Niral flows in shimmering silken waves of iris that slither through the air opulently.
Aftelier Alchemy– Mandy Aftel looked back to her beginning which allowed Alchemy to confirm her vision has never strayed.
aromaM Geisha Botan– Maria McElroy composed a spring floral featuring peony; I wish more did it like this.
Avon Velvet– Best Bang for the Buck perfume on the list. Perfumer Gabriela Chelariu proves it’s the perfumer and not the ingredients in a lush fig-rose-patchouli perfume that smells like it belongs on the top shelf.
Blackbird Y06-S– Nicole Miller produced an envelope-pushing skanky jasmine and banana fragrance which I can’t forget.
Commodity Nectar– This brand has become the most reliable economical brand by allowing perfumers the freedom to create as they wish. Mathieu Nardin used that to create a summery neroli
DSH Perfumes Summer Cologne– Ms. Hurwitz was also equally creative for her own line as this tomato leaf twist on the classic eau de cologne was the best version of this form in 2018.
Frassai A Fuego Lento– This brand creatively directed by Natalia Outeda debuted in 2018. A Fuego Lento by Rodrigo Flores-Roux is a jasmine-leather stunner.
Hermes Hermessence Cardamusc– In-house perfumer Christine Nagel makes the Hermessence collection her own with an oil formulation of cardamom, in overdose, and musks.
Hiram Green Hyde– Hiram Green puts together a birch tar all-natural leather perfume that grabs you and does not let go.
Jo Malone Jasmine Sambac & Marigold– Creative director Celine Roux has overseen a creative rebirth at Jo Malone. Jasmine Sambac & Marigold, by perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui, is the best example of that in 2018.
Jovoy Remember Me– If you need evidence that gourmand perfumes can be amazing this is it. Perfumer Cecile Zarokian melds delicate florals over strong black tea.
L’Iris de Fath– Creative director Rania Naim believed she could re-formulate Iris Gris. The proof of that belief is in the bottle.
Maison Rebatchi Joyeux Osmanthe– Mohamed Rebatchi is the creative director of a new brand making a splash. Working with perfumer Maurice Roucel osmanthus stands up to tuberose; gorgeously.
Pekji Zeybek– The best new brand of 2018 goes to Pekji from Omer Ipecki. A strong debut collection of five perfumes is headed by this abstract perfume vision of the horse barn.
strangeloveNYC lostinflowers– Creative director Elizabeth Gaynes came home from a trip to India with a champaca extract called “joy oil”. When she asked perfumer Christophe Laudamiel to use it in a perfume it gave me a lot of joy.
Zoologist Tyrannosaurus Rex– There is a part of me that thinks creative director Victor Wong and perfumer Antonio Gardoni came up with the idea of a prehistoric jungle on fire as a joke. The perfume is no joke. It is a completely original perfume.
An extra 3.5%; or the 23 perfumes which just missed being on the list above
We all have perfume ingredients we adore which are less admired by perfume lovers in general. Two of my favorites in this category are narcissus and immortelle. Both are oddly scented polarizing ingredients. For those who are in search of something different in their fragrance these deliver that. I wouldn’t have thought a perfume brand would put both in a perfume; L’Artisan Parfumeur Mont de Narcisse does.
Mont de Narcisse is another entry in the Les Paysages collection which is meant to cover specific geographical regions of France. This is inspired by the narcissus covered fields in Auvergne at the height of the summer. Despite that description this is not a summery perfume. This is a composition of strong ingredients in search of harmony. The perfumer who has the task is Anne Flipo.
It is a difficult balancing act using the deeply vegetal green of the narcissus with the maple syrup-like quality of immortelle alongside a birch tar leather accord. There are a couple of moments where Mme Flipo grinds some gears climbing this Mont.
The green of the narcissus is where the trip begins. Mme Flipo uses black pepper and cardamom to add a spicy complement. The pepper is more prevalent while the cardamom makes the narcissus a bit cooler than it already is. The immortelle lays down a gourmand-like contrast with the maple syrup part of the scent profile out front. It warms the standoffish narcissus while adding a contrasting floral. The leather accord which makes up the base is formed around a smoky birch tar. It opens with a bit of a smudge pot quality because of that. This is one of those clunks I was speaking about. For a short period, the tar is overriding everything else. Once it pulls back into becoming a part of a leather accord the narcissus and immortelle infuse in different ways. Once all three notes are together Mont de Narcisse hits its stride.
Mont de Narcisse has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Mont de Narcisse is a perfume for people who love the ingredients. I am one of those. If you are not a fan of any one of them I think Mont de Narcisse is a hill you should travel around. Each of them is not only prominent but at levels which make it hard to overlook. Except for a couple of moments when all three come together I enjoyed it immensely. If you are a fan this is a Mont well worth climbing.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by L’Artisan Parfumeur.