New Perfume Review A Lab on Fire A Blvd. Called Sunset- Roucel Unplugged

Back in the early days of cable when MTV played music there was a series called Unplugged. The concept was to take a music artist and ask them to play music in an acoustic setting. It was an interesting experience to watch musicians slow things down to the bare minimums. It turned songs into different entities. Most of that was due to the softening of the instruments. There was no turning up to 11. What was left was lyrics and musicianship in an intimate setting. I felt like I received a perfume version of Unplugged from one of our greatest perfumers in A Lab on Fire A Blvd. Called Sunset.

Maurice Roucel

Maurice Roucel is the perfumer I am speaking of. M. Roucel has been one of the best perfumers of the last 40 years. He has a list of masterpieces the rival of any of his contemporaries. Unlike many of them he never sought out a position as an in-house perfumer or started his own brand. He has been happy to work within the traditional paradigm of client and perfumer. When I heard he was the perfumer for A Blvd. Called Sunset I thought to myself this is as close as I will get to experiencing a perfume created by M. Roucel without a lot of oversight. The hallmark of A Lab on Fire is creative director Carlos Kusubayashi gives his perfumers the opportunity to go where they desire. What was produced is an intimate fragrance which feels unplugged.

As the name intimates this is based on the famous Los Angeles location of Sunset Boulevard. It is meant to capture a summer day when the Santa Ana winds are blowing their warmth through the city. You are to imagine yourself in a convertible on your way to the end of the street where the Pacific Ocean awaits. M. Roucel interprets this with a suite of dry ingredients to mimic the Santa Ana along with the leather upholstery of the car.

It opens with an astringent bitter almond. This isn’t the comfy toasted version, this has a hint of rawness. Violet reaches out and pulls it into its candied embrace. Adding a sweet floral shell. A fabulous dry leather accord comes next. If you’ve ever got into a car with leather upholstery after it has sat on a hot day you will recognize this. There is an expansiveness as the warm waves of tanned animal hide rise to the violet and almond. One of the very dry sustainable sources of sandalwood forms the base which has some of the severity ameliorated with vanilla and tonka bean. That last ingredient feels as if it closes the circuit with the almond from the beginning.

A Blvd. Called Sunset has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

One thing which occurred to me while I was wearing this was it felt like an updated version of the leather powerhouses of forty years ago. It might be where I got some of my impression of this feeling like a softer version of something. What you will find in A Blvd. Called Sunset is a master perfumer asking you to draw closer so he can tell you a story unplugged.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by A Lab on Fire.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Shalini Iris Lumiere- Iris by Moonlight

I have always enjoyed being outdoors late at night when the moon is effulgent. The silvery moonlight changes the way things look. It provides a new perspective over the light of day. Just walking around my yard seeing what is illuminated by the moon is fun. There are lots of perfumes which also want to capture this effect. Most of them miss something. Shalini Iris Lumiere gets it just right.

Shalini

Shalini is an Indian-born fashion designer who entered the fragrance game back in 2004. Her first perfume, Shalini, remains one of the best tuberose interpretations I own. She worked with perfumer Maurice Roucel and has continued the partnership with Iris Lumiere representing their fifth fragrance together. Through all the pieces of this collection there has always been an haute couture sensibility with which Shalini has found a willing interpreter in M. Roucel. Iris Lumiere represents the pinnacle of their collaboration.

Maurice Roucel

Iris Lumiere is a luxurious version of the named flower. So often a perfumer chooses the powdery part or the rooty part of this dual-faced ingredient. M. Roucel discovers a new face by interrogating his iris with two intensely green questioners. What they wring out of iris is unique.

Iris Lumiere opens with a large overdose of orris absolute. Before it can dissolve into powder or become earthy an equal amount of galbanum appears. The intense crystallinity of that encases the iris causing it to have to rise up to be noticed. In that early struggle there is that new face of iris. This seems to me like the smell of what a freshly harvested rhizome of iris would smell like. The green leaves are what you notice because the root needs months of drying to transform itself into the perfume ingredient. If the galbanum was allowed to stand alone this would have become strident. M. Roucel adds in a softening source of green in muguet. It smooths out the rough edges polishing the galbanum to a glittering shine. It also imparts a slight chill. This gets picked up as the moon rises and its representative frankincense covers it in silvery light. The resin adds waves of argent moonbeams. It is an ideal compliment as it adds a soft light to the iris encased in green crystal. It forms an amazing accord that lasts.

Iris Lumiere has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I have enjoyed all the perfumes Shalini has produced. Iris Lumiere is on its own level. It is the best perfume of the brand and among the very best perfumes I’ve smelled this year. Of all the florals iris is one of my favorites. I don’t remember having smelled anything like this before. To create a new way of seeing this floral the creative team just had to present iris by moonlight.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Shalini.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Monique Lhuiller- Violet Light

When fashion designers make the jump to putting their name on a perfume it works best when the scent reflects the fashion. I remember attending a Monique Lhuiller runway show at a New York Fashion Week a few years ago. The best designers have a flow to their collections. This show was all about diaphanous fabrics over slim silhouettes. It was so memorable it has stuck with me since I saw it. I look forward to looking at each season’s collection because of it. When I heard spring of 2020 was going to bring us the first Monique Lhuiller perfume I was hoping this would translate to fragrance.

Monique Lhuiller Spring 2020 RTW Look

Ms. Lhuiller chose Maurice Roucel as the perfumer she wanted to work with. Together they captured this aesthetic through a fresh floral. I went back and looked through the Spring 2020 collection for what I thought might be a companion piece to the perfume. The one above is the one which reminded me most of what I was smelling. It is a floral on top of a dark violet and patchouli base.

Maurice Roucel

It opens with a sheer floral effect through hyacinth and muguet. This is floral freshness given some grounding with blackcurrant bud. The inherent green of that finds harmony with the same quality of the muguet. All this flows in opaque waves. Freesia adds even more of a fresh floral quality. Rose and ylang-ylang are here to keep it from floating away like a cloud. The latter two flowers keep this from being too much the blushing bride. They give it an aura of sophistication. This leads to the slim silhouette represented by violet and patchouli. M. Roucel takes patchouli and tints it dark purple with the violet. It adds a gorgeous depth to all the floral lightness without overriding it. Some woods and musks round things out.

Monique Lhuiller has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is a spring floral of fresh flowers over a deep base accord. It is unlike any other new spring floral release this year because of it. It is this kind of perfume I wish for every spring. Monique Lhuiller is this year’s version. Ms. Lhuiller is known for her bridal gowns. I can see this being a big hit as a wedding day perfume under any designer’s wedding dress. The ineffable beauty of her fashion has been captured in a perfume of violet light.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Monique Lhuiller.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review NEZ Hong Kong Oolong- Finding the Right Compromise

I am a big fan of the biannual perfume magazine NEZ. Run by Jeanne Dore and Dominque Brunel it has formed one of the best contemporary references for perfume lovers. I look forward to each new issue. When I ordered the latest issue, No. 8, I was given an option to have a perfume included. I clicked on that choice and received a 15mL bottle of perfume that is the beginning of a yearly perfume project for NEZ.

They are calling it 1+1 imagining one creative from outside the perfume world and a perfumer coming together for a limited edition. For this first release they chose Hong Kong designer Alan Chan and perfumer Maurice Roucel. Mr. Chan is known for his riffs on tea house designs. After talking with M. Roucel they decided on a perfume based on tea called NEZ Hong Kong Oolong.

Alan Chan (l.) and Maurice Roucel

Within the accompanying magazine there is a lengthy article on the entire design process. What caught my attention was the desire of both men to capture the history of China as it is faced with evolving in the 21st century. By choosing oolong tea they capture the contrasts apparent in balancing the past and the present.

The perfume opens with the oolong in place. Oolong is the compromise tea for those who don’t want bitter matcha or intensely smoky lapsang souchong. Oolong is the middle ground with a hint of the bite and smoke. M. Roucel constructs an oolong accord that captures that. In the early moments it is a strongly spiced version of oolong as cinnamon, clove, and cardamom combine with the tea. These can coax out the greener face of the oolong accord. As we transition to the heart a lilting veil of jasmine also finds the greener nature of the accord. The smoke gets its chance as leather and incense find those aspects while giving them life. It finds a sweet creamy contrast in the base with sandalwood and tonka adding a bit of warm woody sweetness to the final composition.

Hong Kong Oolong has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

One of the things I admired most was that the perfume found its own compromise between the transparent trend and full-bodied styles. Like the tea it emulates Hong Kong Oolong thrives in the middle ground.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds Nautica Voyage- Fall Aquatic

Ever since I moved away from S. Florida I have come to enjoy the northern beaches in the early fall. Gone are the sunscreen and fruity drinks. Instead I walk the boardwalks in a sweater while the ocean carries more weight. For the most part the aquatic genre of fragrance wants to trend towards the summer party than the dour days of fall. There are exceptions, Nautica Voyage is one of them.

Nautica is one of the better discount lines of perfume. There are more than a few interesting takes on the aquatic genre. I have happily picked up many Nautica bottles out of my local discount shop without disappointment. One of the reasons I think they do a better than average job is they use some of the best perfumers. They allow them to move in unique directions. For Voyage it is perfumer Maurice Roucel at the wheel.

Maurice Roucel

If you’ve spent time on a New England beach in autumn, you will know there is a deep green scent to it. M. Roucel captures that in the early going as he has a green accord match with what is listed as a “sailcloth accord”. It reminds me of the canvas awnings of the boardwalk shops as a stiff breeze fills them from off the water. Instead of the typical suspects to create the water-like accord M. Roucel uses lotus and mimosa. This is the grey swells of the ocean after the summer crowds have left. It is a weightier water scent. Voyage finishes on a warm amber accord with hints of the green from on top in cedar and moss.

Nautica Voyage has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Voyage is a nice iteration of a popular fresh aesthetic. M. Roucel makes it enough different without completely breaking with the form. We are headed to the beach next weekend for the first weekend of fall. Nautica Voyage will be in my overnight bag.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Shalini Paradis Provence- Thyme for Lavender

I write about soliflores, where a single ingredient is highlighted, as being difficult to have that be compelling. It is much easier to find a pair of perfume ingredients which can provide all the complexity you desire. I say it is easy but, finding that balance to give both the space to shine individually and in harmony is also difficult. I was reminded of what it is like when done well with Shalini Paradis Provence.

Shalini

Paradis Provence is the fourth fragrance overseen by fashion designer Shalini for her fragrance brand. As before, she collaborates with perfumer Maurice Roucel. It is meant to evoke the special scent of Provence in France. For Shalini she wanted to feature the “golden light of thyme”. I’m not sure who had the idea to marry lavender to it, but it is an inspired choice.

Maurice Roucel

One of the things I enjoy about high-quality lavender is the tripartite scent profile it exudes. The obvious floral quality is matched by a green herbal-ness over a subtle woodiness. In the hands of M. Roucel the concept is to find other ingredients which can accentuate all three parts.

Right away the lavender appears with the floral and herbal qualities on display. The thyme rises by first teasing out the herbal quality seeking it as a complement. It gives the early moments a vegetal green field accord. The floral quality is matched with orange blossom containing its own green to match the lavender and the thyme. The thyme achieves that “golden light” as the orange blossom arises. It ends with olive wood and the woody part of the lavender comprising the base.

Paradis Provence has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I was so intrigued with the lavender-thyme combination I visited my local lavender farm to see what the real things smelled like together. Not as good as Paradis Provence. It was a reminder of what modern perfumery is meant to do; interpret nature through an artistic vision of scent. Paradis Provence lives up to that high minded ideal beautifully.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Juicy Couture Palm Trees Please- Summer Green

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I’ll admit that there are samples which arrive here at Colognoisseur HQ I expect little of. These are brands which are content with their derivative aesthetic and their share of the market. I never expect anything more than a competently designed perfume I’ve smelled many times before. When one confounds those expectations, according to Mrs.C, I double check it by re-spraying on a new strip. I also pick up the press materials looking with more intent. What is almost always the result is I am experiencing a perfume which is much different from expectations; usually done by a perfumer allowed some latitude to have fun. All of that happened when I tried my sample of Juicy Couture Palm Trees Please.

Alienor Massenet

The reason I continue to want to try each new release from Juicy Couture is because the third fragrance they released, Dirty English, is high on my list of best mainstream releases ever. It let me know that whenever they are in the mood to try something different it can result in something wonderful. Palm Trees Please is the fifth release in the “Rock the Rainbow” collection. The previous four are riffs on common fragrance tropes. It was what I expected from Palm Trees Please. What I found was this amazing chilly green floral which was ideal for the last days of summer.

Maurice Roucel

As I mentioned one of the reasons for a deviation from the norm is sometimes down to the perfumer. In the case of Palm Trees Please it is two of the best, Alienor Massenet and Maurice Roucel, working together. From the moment I discovered the perfumers much of the creativity present became evident. That they were given the leeway to be this creative is more surprising.

Palm Trees Please opens on a fresh, cool, green accord. The perfumers use a juicy nectarine as the core of the top accord. They surround it with lemon blossom, matcha tea, blackcurrant buds, and ivy. Somewhere in the interaction of all that a compelling chill settles across the fruit as if the green ingredients place it in a deep freeze. I spend every summer going through one “fresh” accord after another only to discover something truly fresh in the most unexpected place. The remainder of the development evolves in a straightforward manner as jasmine emerges from the top accord to eventually settle on a lightly musky base with sandalwood.

Palm Trees Please has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

If you’re looking for something to give a new type of fresh to your final days of summer give Palm Trees Please a try.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I received from Juicy Couture.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Rebatchi Joyeux Osmanthe- The Two Floral Divas

One of the great joys of attending the large perfume expositions is the opportunity to discover a new brand. I have been unable to attend the last two years which means I live vicariously through the tweets of my friends who are there. What I like about that is that many of them don’t know each other. What that means is if I start hearing about a new brand from more than a couple of them, it is one I want to try. This past Pitti Fragranze the new brand which was standing out in my electronic whisperstream was Maison Rebatchi.

Mohamed Rebatchi

The brand was founded by Mohamed Rebatchi who describes himself as a “self-taught perfumer and passionate”. He wanted to translate the northwestern region of Africa, known as the Maghreb, into fragrance. Something I admire is for being a self-taught perfumer he relied on professional perfumers as his collaborators for the first four releases. What he knows about materials allowed him to probably participate in a more focused manner with the four different perfumers he worked with on his debut collection. I think this is one of the stronger debut collections I’ve encountered recently. M. Rebatchi maintained a coherent focus throughout.

Maurice Roucel

The one perfume of the four I was most anxious to try was Joyeux Osmanthe. M. Rebatchi worked with perfumer Maurice Roucel to create an effulgent duet of osmanthus and tuberose. It washed away the whole trend of transparent fragile perfumes of this year in a wave of floral beauty.

First thing is Joyeux Osmanthe is more a tuberose perfume than an osmanthus one. It is like a duel of high-spirited floral divas which tuberose eventually wins. That give-and-take in the heart is what sets this apart.

The perfume opens with a transparent top accord of spiced fruits combined with a green leafy ingredient. It acts as a curtain-raiser as tuberose struts on stage. This is the creamy slightly mentholated version of the white flower. The green from the top accord is used as a marker to pick up those green aspects of the tuberose. It serves as a reminder there are subtler harmonics than a big blowsy flower. As osmanthus comes on stage the fruits from the top fall right into line pushing that aspect of it to the front. As the divas get warmed up it is the green of the tuberose and the fruitiness of the Osmanthus which interact. As things move forward the indolic core of tuberose and the botanical animalic leather-like nature of Osmanthus also find a nice balance before the overwhelming floralcy of the tuberose finally emerges on top. M. Roucel has become adept at mixing the synthetic woody ingredients into something with more character; which is what happens here. It is easy for those woody ingredients to overwhelm. In this case they provide the floorboards of the stage for our two floral stars to take a bow upon.

Joyeux Osmanthe has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.

One of my text correspondents sent me this, “I just smelled the perfume I am 100% sure you would have named best in show if you were here”. Not sure if that would have been true. What is true is Joyeux Osmanthe is one of my favorite new perfumes of 2018. I am certain I will be reviewing the other three after the New Year. Until then, the two floral divas will keep me company.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples supplied by Maison Rebatchi.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Shalini Jardin Nocturne- Modern Pyramids

When you look around the world to witness change over the last 20 years there is nothing to rival Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. In just two decades the skyline in the city has sprouted skyscrapers one after the other with the 2,722-foot-tall Burj Khalifa, the tallest man-made structure in the world, the biggest. These are the modern versions of the ancient pyramids to the northwest in Egypt. While bigger might be better I like a bit of a twist in my design which I find literally in the 90-degree twist of Cayan Tower. I also like a bit of twist in my perfume pyramids too.

Burj Khalifa (l.) and Cayan Tower at night

Indian-born fashion designer Shalini released her first perfume, Shalini, back in 2004. That perfume was a collaboration with perfumer Maurice Roucel. It was a magnificent study in how to take tuberose and create haute couture out of it. M. Roucel considers it one of his best which I have no argument with. When I heard there was a new perfume to come from the same team I was interested to see what the second act would smell like.

Shalini

Shalini Jardin Nocturne is based on the nighttime air in Dubai. The idea is you’re driving through the city as night-blooming flowers and a scented haze of oud form the background to the lit-up skyline. One thing which has been interesting is Shalini has encouraged M. Roucel to use high concentrations of exquisite sources of the keynotes in these perfumes. For Jardin Nocturne this means an Indian Jasmine absolute in overdose along with a significant amount of real Assam oud. While both of those notes provide the height M. Roucel adds in a few complementary notes to add a twist to the overall architecture.

Maurice Roucel

The ride begins awash in the smell of jasmine. This is a ton of jasmine which displays everything about jasmine at full volume, including the indoles. It is that skanky core of this white flower which makes people gravitate to the cleaner synthetic versions. In Jardin Nocturne the depth of a high-quality absolute puts the jasmine in sharp focus. Then M. Roucel adds the first twist as he uses saffron to warm up the jasmine smoothing out the rougher edges. As we move along the oud begins to permeate the indoles. It almost comes as a surprise because it seems to rise out of the indoles. One moment it is indolic the next moment it is the resinous oud ruling at the heart of the jasmine. This is what the central accord of Jardin Nocturne is; balanced and compelling in its strength. What is particularly enjoyable is the Assam oud M. Roucel uses has a floral aspect which becomes apparent over time. Which means as the accord evolves it becomes more floral and the more challenging parts of the oud and jasmine get pushed to the background. The final twist is to find a complement for the oud in its final stages; M. Roucel uses Mysore sandalwood to round out the edgy woodiness of the oud. To make sure it doesn’t get too safe some musks arrive to make sure there is still a hint of indolic depth to the very end.

Jardin Nocturne has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Shalini has said Jardin Nocturne is the middle piece of a planned perfume trilogy with M. Roucel. I am very interested to see where this all ends. Jardin Nocturne is the perfume equivalent to these modern pyramids comprising the skyline of Dubai. It is sleekly constructed glowing with illumination.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Shalini.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Kenzoair- Enter Maurice

Kenzo has been one of the most interesting brands I have followed since I started paying attention to the wider world of fragrance. They go through cycles of real originality followed by consolidation and safety. There is one big problem with this kind of fluctuation it is hard to create a brand identity. I believe if a brand fails at that it adds an extra level of difficulty in breaking through to the consumer. If I had to point to a reason why Kenzo has had so much of a problem doing this, it has been because they have never been clear what they wanted to be. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when Celine Verleure was creatively directing, until 1998, and co-directors Delphine Fossoyeux & Patrick Guedj took over after she left you could almost feel like they were going to be a challenger to Comme des Garcons as an early niche leader. They were using some of the current superstars of perfumery in their early days. Names like Ropion, Kurkdjian, Morillas, Cresp, and Menardo all made interesting releases but there was no focus. In 2003 Fossoyeux and Guedj decided it was time to bring to bring in a big star perfumer; enter Maurice Roucel.

M. Roucel was one of the first perfumers who had his name brought from out of the shadows by Frederic Malle. One of the earliest successes of the original Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle was M. Roucel’s Musc Ravageur. The thought at Kenzo was likely to ride this new wave of perfumers as auteurs. They asked him to design a perfume. M. Roucel had been busy making perfume for over twenty years at this point but surprisingly he had never done a vetiver centric fragrance. Kenzoair would check that box.

maurice_roucel

Maurice Roucel

M. Roucel would look at the trends of clean and fresh especially in masculine releases. He would choose to find a way to make a vetiver opaquer going for a cleaner version of that very common masculine note. He would keep it simple to allow the transparent vetiver the space to shine.

Kenzoair starts with angelica root in a lighter concentration than you usually run in to. Often this comes off as very earthy and musky. M. Roucel uses bergamot to lighten it up. Vetiver comes next and M. Roucel uses anise to pull that nature of vetiver. I have rarely seen this pairing used and Kenzoair is a good example of why it should be. Herbs are used to pull the herbal nature of lavender all the time. The anise has a similar effect here on the vetiver. It pushes the greener facets to the background which is how M. Roucel does transform it into something less rigid. There is a mixture of woody aromachemicals to finish this off with a similar volume.

Kenzoair has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Kenzoair would have a very short shelf life. It seems the transparency which I find so compelling was not seen the same way by consumers. So much so that Kenzoair Intense was released within two years. Both would be discontinued not too much longer after that. This is the hazard of not forming a distinct brand identity. Kenzoair did not stand for anything but adventurous perfume composition to an uninterested audience.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke