The best independent perfume brands create and maintain a unique aesthetic. Over time it becomes as characteristic as the name on the bottle. In the case of Stefania Squeglia she has refined this for her brand Mendittorosa. For seven years she has been the creative direction behind one of the most eclectically artistic fragrance collections in the world. When I received my box of samples containing her newest, I could have closed my eyes and found it by following my nose to Mendittorosa Daymon.
Up until now her perfumes have belonged to one of two collections “Talismans” or “Odori d’Anima”. Daymon is the first to stand outside them on its own. Having tried all her previous perfumes I can see how this didn’t fit neatly into either of the collections. Working with perfumer Luca Maffei they have made a more playful fragrance than they have in the past. The press release says it is a perfume which “is love that we give and receive through animals”. That came through while I wore it.
I take my dogs for morning walks. We walk through a wooded area which has some wild jasmine growing. I like to go early. When we enter the trees the remnants of the night-blooming flower hangs on the fog while the green of the foliage takes over. This hits me in the early moments of Daymon. Jasmine floats above angelica root and neroli. The latter gives a hint of the rising sun through the fog. The earthiness of the woods is accentuated through orris and tonka. This is the rootier version of orris and the hay-like type of tonka. This flows to a gorgeously dry woody accord of sandalwood and ambroxan. Within that is the muskiness of Habanolide and incense.
Daymon has 16-18 hour longevity and is a skin scent as it is an extrait.
Daymon is the most lighthearted creations Sig.ra Squeglia has overseen. It is unmistakably her style while still feeling different than what has come prior. If you want an early morning walk through the woods Daymon can take you there.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
When we would spend time in the Florida Keys one of my favorite activities was to go fishing for bonefish. To do this we would take mt 17-foot open fisherman boat out to a region called “The Flats”. You could only boat right up to the edge. This was a shallow expanse of water where the sand was a few feet below the waterline. I would pull the engine up and use a pole to maneuver deeper inside. Because it was so shallow you could see the bonefish through the water. The sport was to take barbless hooks and lower weight test line to really use your skill to bring the fish to the boat. We would catch and release. The fish were inedible, the name speaks the truth on that score. This was completely a chess match between human and fish. On these days I would stand in the bow shirtless in a pair of shorts and boat shoes locked in battle. By the end of the day my brown skin would be encrusted in the evaporated sea spray. Carthusia A’mmare is the scent of those excursions.
Carthusia is one of those small brands without the widest distribution. I have always found them worth the effort to seek them out. Since 2017 they have used perfumer Luca Maffei as their exclusive composer. Sig. Maffei has done a great job at re-creating the Mediterranean aesthetic which has been part of the brand’s roots back in 1948. With A’mmare he takes us offshore for a day on a boat.
There is a deeper version of the classic sea spray accord used by lots of aquatic scents. It is called by a lot of different names. In this case Sig. Maffei calls it “salt crystal”. This is not the freshness of the briny mist, but the solid salinity of what evaporation leaves behind. It is a little sharper in scent. He uses rosemary and mint to add back that summery expanse of blue sky overhead. A typical aquatic water accord lets us know we are in a boat. The final stages are creating a sun burnished skin accord using musk and patchouli. This is accompanied by the sun-bleached woods of guaiac and cedar.
A’Mmare has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
After a day on the flats I always enjoyed the scent of the salt on my warm skin. A’Mmare recreates that memorably.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
Lots of perfumes are inspired by the passion between two human beings. Of all the parts that go into that the one precious moment you only get once in any romance is the first kiss. It is a beautiful thing when two people look at each other. Each giving the other permission to come closer. As you close your eyes and your lips touch it is magic. You can understand the power of a kiss in so many fairy tales. Isabey Prends-Moi is a perfume which wants to capture that magic.
Luca Maffei (l.) and Rania Naim
Creative director Rania Naim has shown the ability to translate perfumes of the past into today. Almost everything she has done with Jacques Fath is testament to that. Prends-Moi is the update to the original released in the 1930’s. I have never smelled the vintage, but I suspect this modern incarnation to be significantly re-worked. Mme Naim worked with perfumer Luca Maffei to find a contemporary version for the name from the past.
Prends-Moi is a tuberose perfume. It is a type where the tuberose doesn’t go all out obliterating everything around it. Nor is it part of that transparent trend where the qualities of tuberose are nearly lost. Sig. Maffei finds a lovely middle ground for a perfume ingredient which represents carnality. As the keynote for a perfume trying to represent a first kiss it feels like it is at just the right volume.
In the early moments it is like our couple is holding hands. Raspberry represents one of our lovers; baie rose the other. The raspberry finds the fruitiness hiding under the herbal green nature of the baie rose. as the two come closer a nice bit of tension is formed. As they look at each other a breeze of citrus-y cardamom ruffles their hair. They start to move towards each other as passion rises. Tuberose steps forward along with rose and iris. The iris captures the smell of lipstick and powder as you get close just before you kiss. The tuberose rises in enveloping swirls amidst all of this. As they move back lingering in the magic of the moment, a dry cocoa and sweet sandalwood represent our two lovers holding hands again. They walk with a different feeling now that the first kiss has passed.
Prends-Moi has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
As one who enjoys the fulsome tuberose perfumes Prends-Moi is better because of the restraint. The tuberose never felt like it was taking over. Sig. Maffei found a way to strike the correct balance to be able to imagine someone whispering “prends-moi (take me)” as a tuberose perfume.
Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle provided by Isabey.
Heritage perfume brands are an odd breed. It takes a well-thought out plan to revive it without trivializing it. There are not a lot of successful case studies. One which has succeeded is the revival of one of the first perfume brands; Houbigant. Ever since the Perris Group acquired the brand, they have treated it with respect. Elisabetta Perris has been the primary creative force for the Houbigant releases since 2010. In 2015, she began working with perfumer Luca Maffei. Together they have found the right balance of traditional and contemporary in the perfumes they have produced. The latest example is Houbigant Bois Mystique.
One of the ways to generate that balance is to have some throwback accord using contemporary materials. The range of the modern perfumer’s palette allows for combinations those at the beginning of modern perfumery could only dream of. What this means is there is a vintage sensibility fleshed out with the perfume version of CGI. Throughout the time I wore Bois Mystique I enjoyed Sig. Maffei’s twist on classic accords.
That starts right at the top with a modern extract of ginger surrounded by a classic set of spice notes in cinnamon, cardamom, and black pepper. Piercing the simmering heat is a shimmering incense. It provides a chilly foil to the heat of the spices. It also blazes a path for the subtle florals of iris and neroli. The florals flit around the open spaces left to them. This all heads to a completely comforting base accord. Soft woods of guaiac, cypress and cashmeran are suffused with the warmth of amber and myrrh. The final stages are a softening of the early heat but it appears like a natural decay from the spices to the wooded base.
Bois Mystique has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Bois Mystique has been the scent of my favorite scarf over the last week. It shines in the bitterly cold weather. Bois Mystique is a Retro Nouveau perfume which is modern in materials but classic in effect.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I received from Neiman-Marcus.
There are several heritage perfume brands, now. This effort has seen a mixed record of success. Most of them either concentrate on modern re-formulations of the past or new perfumes inspired by the past. Very few try to do both, although I think it is essential to attempt it. A brand can’t live entirely in the past and a brand can’t choose not to evolve. It has been what has kept many of the heritage brands from flourishing. One which has become one of the leaders in how to do what I’ve described is Jacques Fath under Rania Naim.
Mme Naim has looked back to the past beautifully recreating Green Water and Iris Gris; the great Jacques Fath perfumes of the past. The new versions have been overseen by someone who wants to get it as right as she can. Which I believe she has done. I cherish both new versions as I do the originals. She has also sought out young exciting perfumers on the new perfumes. For the Fath’s Essentials collection she has worked exclusively with Luca Maffei and Cecile Zarokian. They have delivered a series of fragrances which I have found true to the Jacques Fath heritage while also carrying the mark of Mme Naim and the perfumers. For the end of 2018 four new Fath’s Essentials have been released. Two by Sig. Maffei and two by Mme Zarokian. Today I am going to review the ones by Sig. Maffei followed by Mme Zarokian’s tomorrow.
Luca Maffei (l.) and Rania Naim
The two perfumes by Sig. Maffei were inspired by two fabrics used by Jacques Fath in his clothing designs. He takes that concept and creates two textural constructs.
In Le Loden he takes the heavy woolen fabric known for its use in coats and uses three sources of vetiver as his olfactory equivalents to the fabric. He opens with Haitian vetiver in the background of a top accord focused on the energy ginger adds. This makes the Haitian vetiver a bit greener in effect which is kept that way by using baie rose’s herbal quality along with a green mandarin teasing out the citrus quality of this style of vetiver, too. In the heart the traditional Bourbon vetiver steps to the foreground. Some geranium picks out the floral quality. Juniper berry and raspberry leaves find the more obvious citric nature of this kind of vetiver. In the base the earthy Java vetiver uses patchouli to add to that quality while a bit of smoke seeps in around the margins. I found the intelligent use of the “heavy” vetiver ingredients similar to the way M. Fath took the heavy woolen Loden in creating something contemporary.
If there is a fabric M. Fath is known for it is velvet. Many of his iconic evening gowns were made of this material. I’ve always loved the tactile feel of the material it has always felt plush to me. Sig. Maffei, in Velours Boise, wants the same feeling for his “wooden velvet”. The wood he chooses to mimic velvet is one of the newer sustainable sandalwood extracts from New Caledonia. These have always struck me as softer than the original Mysore variety, but velvet-y is not how I would describe them. Sig. Maffei takes the sandalwood and finds a way to turn it into the fabric he’s trying to emulate.
It opens with the sandalwood in the central position. In the top accord Sig. Maffei chooses a couple of ingredients to sharpen the woodier nature with mate tea and davana. The softening process begins with a clever pairing of immortelle and carrot seed. These botanically sweeter ingredients flow across the creamy woody nature of the sandalwood. This is where the velvet effect comes to life. Over the base accord Sig. Maffei adds some whisky for a boozy contrast which retains the warmth. Some amber further deepens that. I have a scarf which I’ve turned into woody velvet by spraying it with a lot of Velours Boise.
Le Loden and Velours Boise have 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I’ll finish tomorrow with the two by Mme Zarokian.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Jacques Fath.
One of the debates I remembered having with my friends who liked jazz was over trumpet player Wynton Marsalis. There was general disdain among some over the precision of his playing. The thesis was jazz needs to be more spontaneous. Wynton was so precise it couldn’t be contemporaneous at the same time. I was always on the other side of this argument. I appreciated the ability to pick out each piece of a greater whole as it was being put together. When you attempt to be as close to perfect as you can be in any artistic effort it can come off as cold. I find this kind of effort exhilarating because a single flaw can cause it to fall apart. There are perfume equivalents as Perris Monte Carlo Cedro di Diamante shows.
At the end of the summer Perris Monte Carlo released the “Italian Citrus Collection”. Creative director Gian-Luca Perris collaborated with perfumer Luca Maffei on all three perfumes in the collection. Two of the three, Bergamotto di Calabria and Mandarino di Sicilia, were surprisingly good. The third, Cedro di Diamante was amazing. One reason was Sig. Maffei worked with some of the more modern ingredients to create a citrus perfume which comes together into a brilliantly precise tower of perfume.
It starts with a CO2 extraction of the titular Italian version of citron. It enhances the floral spicy nature under the tart lemon. Sig. Maffei uses another CO2 extraction of lemon verbena. This provides a shimmering green-citrus effect over the early accord. The spicy part of the cedro is enhanced with ginger, cardamom, Szechuan pepper, and CO2 extraction of baie rose. When I speak of precision this heart accord and the way it interacts with the top accord is Exhibit A. I have spoken of how mutable Szechuan pepper is. Sig. Maffei wanted it to behave in a specific way. To get that, it is the other three spices which essentially tune it to what he wants. The ginger pulls the fresh aspect. The baie rose finds the green herbal-ness. The cardamom, particularly, finds the thread of citrus and uses it to attach to the top accord. This continues in the base as cedar, oakmoss, and white musks form a solid foundation for this tower to rest upon.
Cedro di Diamante has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
There may be some who find Cedro di Diamante such a shiny surface it is hard to embrace. I’m not there. It is easy for me to swoon over the beauty in precision this perfume exemplifies.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I received from Bloomingdale’s.
There are a few brands which seem to preternaturally stay out of the limelight. Brands which make some nice perfumes. One of those is the Italian brand Carthusia. Carthusia Uomo has been a summer staple for me since I first discovered it over a decade ago. There is a consistent Mediterranean aesthetic which defines the brand. There is also a kind of vintage-like feel to many of the perfumes as they have been reformulated. They have not consistently released new perfumes preferring to rest on the collection of timeless standards. I was interested to hear about a year ago that was going to change.
I received a press release announcing the pending release of two new perfumes working with perfumer Luca Maffei. One, Gelsomini di Capri was a re-formulation of an original 2009 release. If you want a prime example of what I am talking about with the Mediterranean aesthetic Gelsomini di Capri is a good one. It is It is sunny citrus, sultry florals led by jasmine, finishing on a musky woody base. I like it, but I admit I was much more curious to see what Sig. Maffei could do if he brought his innovative style to a brand like Carthusia. The second new release, Terra Mia, is what I was looking for.
If you’ve ever traveled in this part of the world and are fortunate enough to have a balcony with a water view you might remember the scent of the morning. On the only occasion I had to experience this there was an orange grove in the distance and a rose garden right below. I would breathe in while my latte was sitting on the small breakfast table. It was just right. Sig. Maffei captures that as he delicately mixes in a couple of gourmand ingredients into the Mediterranean formula.
Sig. Maffei opens with a high concentration of bergamot matched with baie rose. This is like a “dawn accord” with the bergamot sparkling off the water far below. The baie rose captures the greenery waking up to the sun. It moves into a floral heart of neroli, orange blossom and rose. This captures the green of the baie rose and intensifies it through the neroli. The orange blossom provides a lilting contrast to the slightly dewy rose. From here is where we take a gourmand turn. Sig. Maffei pours a cup of coffee next to a sweet hazelnut-flavored pastry. This slides in under the florals as if serving them up on its own platter. It heads to an ambroxan focused base which captures a bit of the ocean off in the distance right at the end.
Terra Mia has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Sig. Maffei has done a fantastic job finding the space within the Mediterranean to insert the gourmand accords. It makes everything richer and deeper. On the days I wore Terra Mia I was on a Mediterranean balcony in the morning.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
Abstract is a word which gets used a lot in relation to perfume. At its root, it is accurate as most perfume is an abstraction of using fragrance ingredients to re-create something in nature. Of late it has come to mean transparent. As fragrance has shifted to a lighter style “abstract” has become the favored adjective to describe that aesthetic. Accurate, I suppose, but it lacks intent. A recent collection from the Histoires de Parfums brand seems to want to bring some relevance back to the concept.
Gerald Ghislain has been one of the best creative directors in the niche perfume sector because he has been willing to push the perfumers he works with to achieve his vision. For the This Is Not A Blue Bottle collection M. Ghislain is having some fun as his artistic inspiration was surrealist Rene Magritte. The perfume name is a riff on the 1964 Magritte painting “This Is Not an Apple”. The first release now relabeled This Is Not A Blue Bottle 1.1 was composed by Julien Rasquinet and released a couple years ago. The two new releases 1.2 and 1.3 are done by perfumers Luca Maffei and M. Rasquinet, respectively. 1.3 feels like an evolution of 1.1 and as such I found it a bit derivative. 1.2 showed me something different.
Sig. Maffei forms a wall of climbing ivy bursting with flowers that never are found within that milieu. It is a surreal floral fragrance honoring Magritte as inspiration.
Sig. Maffei lays down a solid wall of green ivy which is given an herbal edge through baie rose. Besides green real ivy also has an acerbic green edge which is what the baie rose adds in. Then out of the green pops muguet which doesn’t feel so odd as the green foundation within muguet nestles among the ivy. Lilac and ylang-ylang do feel like party crashers. The lilac lilts over the muguet turning it more floral. Ylang-ylang provides that unctuous mixture where methyl salicylate is more prominent. The sweet salicylate is paired with vanilla in the base along with a creamy sandalwood. A flurry of white musks finish things.
This Is Not A Blue Bottle 1.2 has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Of all the perfumes in this collection I found 1.2 the truest to the concept laid out by M. Ghislain. This Is Not A Blue Bottle 1.2 but it is a very green perfume.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
Growing up in the south one of my favorite expressions was describing a formidable woman as a “steel magnolia”. The words are meant to convey a woman who is a combination of femininity and strength of character to withstand all that life throws at them. It means that even if the world was falling apart around them their outward appearance and courtesy was flawless. The phrase became more widely known after the movie of the same name was released in 1989. It may be parochial but that movie never captures the combination of gentility and grit the actual steel magnolias I met had.
La belle ferronniere by Leonardo da Vinci (c. 1490-1496)
The new releases for the Jul et Mad Les Whites collection reminded me of this because one of them was inspired by the Leonardo da Vinci “La belle ferronniere” Ferronniere translates to iron worker and so the picture is iron worker’s woman. The perfume inspired by this is called Bella Donna with creative direction by Madalina Stoica-Blanchard and Julien Blanchard working with perfumer Luca Maffei. All three of the made a trip to the Louvre, where it hangs, prior to beginning work on Bella Donna. They would decide Bella Donna would be a contrast of the rigidity seen outwardly matched by the warmth of the passion underneath. That passion is symbolized by a central floral accord shaped around magnolia.
Luca Maffei, Julien Blanchard, and Madalina Stoica-Blanchard (l.to r.) getting inspired at the Louvre
Bella Donna opens with a zingy ginger and mulberry top accord. It is an energetic fleeting accord which I would have liked to have stick around a tiny bit longer. The florals are in a rush to get here and so they run over it with magnolia leading the charge. Magnolia can be a heady floral and most of the time perfumers choose to bring it down a notch by using woods to rein it in. Sig. Maffei is going the other direction turning it loose to form the nucleus of the heart of Bella Donna. He delicately powders it with iris and rose, adds heft with ylang-ylang, and uses jasmine to expand it all. Once it is all together this is a huge floral accord combining beauty and presence. The base is the warmth of benzoin, opopanax, and sandalwood.
Bella Donna has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Bella Donna expertly captures the idea that within femininity can also lie iron; or steel. Which makes Bella Donna the perfume of a Ferronniere Magnolia.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Jul et Mad.
The idea of visiting Africa is one of those bucket list items I have yet to cross off. Ever since seeing Born Free in 1966 the idea of the wide-open spaces of Africa have held my fascination. Alas it seems my experience will remain through documentaries and writings. Like many one of the most vivid descriptions comes from Karen Blixen’s book “Out of Africa” which should not be confused with the movie of the same name. The movie focused on Ms. Blixen’s romantic entanglements against an African backdrop. The book tells of the day-to-day lessons she learned while operating a coffee plantation in Kenya. The stories related there have an authenticity of someone who lived there while trying to understand that which was surrounding her. The new perfume Olibere Savannah’s Heart reminded me of the book.
Marjorie Olibere began her fragrance brand in spring 2015 with five releases. I’ve only recently spent some time with those early releases. My favorite of those was perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour’s Balinesque. A mixture of spice, bamboo, ocean, flowers, and woods. It is a fast-moving aquatic Oriental. Mme Olibere showed within the debut collection her desire to give her creative team a lot of freedom. When it works there is much to admire and when it doesn’t quite come together it is a noble attempt to not be like everything else.
For Savannah’s Heart Mme Olibere collaborates with perfumer Luca Maffei. Sig. Maffei forms a fragrance which captures the way my imagination thinks the coffee plantation from “Out of Africa” smells like.
Savannah’s Heart opens on a strong combination of labdanum through which rhubarb provides an equally strong contrast. The rhubarb comes off as slightly sour and less earthy than in other applications. That acerbic nature sets the stage for the focal note of Savannah’s Heart, Arabica coffee Jungle Essence. I have spoken in the past about the supercritical fluid extraction technique used by Mane for their Jungle Essence raw materials. In this case it is like a laser cut version of coffee. Strong, slightly oily, a bit sour, and very rich. To add an even sharper perspective Sig. Maffei surrounds it with Norlimabnol. The dry woody aromachemical lifts up the coffee while making it more diffuse. It rests on a sandalwood and vanilla foundation. Both provide some alternative to the sour facets which had preceded them.
Savannah’s Heart has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I applaud Mme Olibere and Sig. Maffei for finding a unique take on the African experience that it could have easily been called Blixen’s Heart too.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Olibere.