Back in the mid 1990’s when every new perfume was trying to be a fresh aquatic, one brand went a different way. In 1994 when Calvin Klein ck One hit the scene it focused on defining a different take on fresh which had nothing to do with an aquatic. It was a brilliant call by the creative team. As much as any of the aquatics it is also a defining perfume of those times. Now while I praise that decision, every year since has seemingly had an aquatic style flanker with summer in its name. Calvin Klein Defy represents the brand’s efforts to create an alternative to the current transparent trend.
One of the ways they seemingly approached the design it to make a perfume for a man who only has a few, or one, bottles on their dresser. The difficulty comes in being a fragrance that can cross from office to gym to date night. It is one thing that this lighter style plays very well into. Perfumers Loc Dong, Anne Flipo and Pascal Gaurin team up to put it together.
This is as simply constructed a perfume as it gets. A bit of citrus and lavender tangle together at the start. This is that masculine more herbal lavender popular in this sector. The difference is as an older wearer of perfume I like this combination to be more burly. Defy goes in the opposite direction. The citrusy floral is as gentle as a far-off breeze. The transition in the back half comes as vetiver in its greener grassier aspect connects with a synthetic amber in the base which dries things out while keeping it opaque.
Defy has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I don’t think this is as big a difference as was apparent back in the 90’s. I do believe it is a perfume designed to sell to a casual fragrance wearer. In that regard I think it hits the desired target right in the bull’s eye of today’s trends.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample supplied by Calvin Klein.
To conclude my overview of Scents of Wood I am going to do quick reviews of the remaining five samples I received. Owner-creative director Fabrice Croise has shown this collection can be more than just making wood more woody. The four I reviewed the last two days are my favorites. These five are also worth trying if the description piques your interest.
Oud in Oak by Celine Barel– There had to be oud you just knew it. This one takes the classic pairing of oud and leather. Mme Barel finds all of the joy in that combination. A little safrron adds texture. Some spices add heat. The oak-aged alcohol adds an interesting veneer to the oud.
Oud in Acacia by Yves Cassar– In comparison tto the other oud above this is where you see the effect of the different wood-aged alcohol. This is a lighter version of oud and rose. Which the acacia-aged alcohol gives some lift to. Immortelle and Orris provide different floral interrogators for the oud before Amberwood dries it out over the final stages.
Cedar in Acacia by Pascal Gaurin– By the end of the summer this may become my favorite of the collection because it is so good in the warmth. M. Gaurin uses cypriol to form the core. The acacia-aged alcohol adds some expansiveness, Which then gets turbocharged by ginger while being made resinous through olibanum. This is a perfume for the dog days of summer.
Cypress in Oak by Mackenzie Reilly– If you wonder if this type of concept can be made to be clean and fresh. Ms. Reilly answers in the affirmative. This is a beach where the cypress tress are the landward edge of the beach. Close enough to get the sea spray on them. This is full of all the tropes inherent in that most ubiquitous of fragrance styles. Yet it is made just different enough through the oak-aged alcohol along with the ethereal beauty of the cypress.
Vetiver in Oak by Celine Barel– Vetiver is probably the tailor-made keynote for this idea of making perfume. The green and the woody faces find a resting place in the oak-aged alcohol. Mme Barel adds the freshness of lime and baie rose. This forms another one which will be at its best in the summer sunshine.
I want to thank M. Croise for taking the time to speak with me and send me the samples of the different alcohols. They were great help in understanding the delicate effect they add. He has executed his vision pretty impressively so far.
Disclosure: this review is based on samples provided by Scents of Wood.
The way owner-creative director of Scents of Wood, Fabrice Croise chose to engage me was to send me three mystery samples. It worked. I was interested enough to want to know more. One of the three stood out because instead of wood the keynote was orange. After receiving other samples it seems as if the use of fruit is where M. Croise’s concept really rises. Both Scents of Wood Orange in Chestnut and Plum in Cognac show it off.
The second half of each name is the type of wood-aged alcohol used to host the perfume oil featuring the keynote from the first half. In both of these cases that extra layer of scent adds a lot. Another thing that has an effect are the perfumers M. Croise chose. They clearly had fun employing this alcohol as part of their design.
Orange in Chestnut by perfumer Carlos Benaim– This would have been on my Top 25 list of last year if I knew what it was. It’s likely to be on it for this year. What is so appealing is M. Benaim takes an uber-orange accord and contrasts it with a very dry woody accord. In between the two is the chestnut-aged alcohol.
That orange accord is made up of bigarade, neroli, and orange blossom. This is a lush mostly citrus given softness through the floral components. Early on that subtle chestnut reminds me of the trunk of a summer-warmed orange tree. In counterpoint are austere ingredients of cedar and amber xtreme. The latter can just obliterate everything else in a perfume. M. Benaim keeps it on a tight leash. Turning the the wood accord into a hot desert wind cutting through the orange grove.
Plum in Cognac by perfumer Pascal Gaurin– This is the one which really shows off the possibilities of this approach to making fragrance. This isn’t truly a woody perfume. It is a syrupy boozy gourmand with wood highlights. M. Gaurin uses the cognac wood-aged alcohol as a piece of the boozy pool upon which his fruit floats.
This opens with a rum-infused plum. It has a fruity narcotic scent profile. In the early moments a spicy swirl of cinnamon forms a spiced fruit cocktail. The rum has a richness to it which I am ascribing to the presence of the cognac wood-aged alcohol. This is full-bodied perfume making. It finishes with a warm accord of vanilla and vetiver.
Both have 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
It was these two perfumes which removed my thoughts of M. Croise’s idea being a gimmick. These are some of the best perfumes I’ve smelled this year or last. I didn’t know that fruity woody was what I desired until now.
Tomorrow I will do a set of quick reviews of the remaining samples I have.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples supplied by Scents of Wood.
When flankers come out of what I consider the pillars of masculine marketed perfume I look closely. These can be signposts of how the mass-market brands view the current market. They count on the affection for the original to get a consumer to try a new version. This is the reason for the existence of flankers. This month I am going to look at the new flankers Ralph Lauren Polo Cologne Intense and Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb Nightvision EDP.
Ralph Lauren Polo Cologne Intense is the latest flanker to the masterpiece Polo released in 1978. The brand has not been shy about releasing flankers of this. There are years where there are multiples. The quantity makes it a hit-or-miss effort. Polo Cologne Intense is a hit.
Perfumers Carlos Benaim, who did the original and Pascal Gaurin take the strong herbal woody leather of the original and interpret in a lighter form. Even though it is labeled “cologne intense” this is a classic cologne construct using the ingredients from the original which fit the theme. What that means is a citrus top of grapefruit. It means an herbal piece of clary sage and thyme. It ends on the modern equivalent of woods ambroxan. This is a nice warm weather version of Polo without slavishly nodding to it.
Polo Cologne Intense has 12=14 hour longevity and average sillage.
While I know calling Polo a masterpiece finds wide agreement, I am not sure how many thinks 2012’s Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb is. I think it is the 21st century equivalent to Polo. The brand here has been much more judicious in releasing flankers. When they released the Eau de Toilette (EDT) version of Spicebomb Nightvision in 2019 I was disappointed. This was a lighter version, but it lost a lot of the DNA of the original. This recent Spicebomb Nightvision Eau de Parfum (EDP), by perfumers Pascal Gaurin and Nathalie Lorson finds the middle ground closer in style to the original.
Spicebomb Nightvision EDP retains the spicy core of the original as the hot pepper is part of that. In this case it is used to coalesce around grapefruit. The differences come in an herbal lavender meshing with all the spices and a mixture of balsamic notes in the base in place of the leather. This all adds up to a darker shaded version of the original which is a nice change of pace without straying too far astray.
Spicebomb Nightvision EDP has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Disclosure: this review is based on samples provided by the manufacturers.
There are new brands that just feel like they are built for long-term success. There are some things I look for which help buttress that intuitive thought. One of them is a clear vision of what you want to be. When I received my sample set of Maison d’Etto last year there was a clear coherence to the collection. It came from founder Brianna Lipovsky. She decided to base her perfumes on horses she had known. It translated into fragrance which moved as if on horseback. It had my attention. I was curious to see what direction she would take with her next fragrance. Maison d’Etto Noisette provides some clues.
If the first collection was about the horses this new one is about where you end up while riding them. It is called “Connection to Nature”. The memory she had in mind was when she and her husband were attending a wedding in France. She found some time to go riding because that’s what horse people do. She found Noisette at a local farm. Her ride would take her up into the Pyrenees Mountains. She would remember the scent of the lavender all around her.
When she met perfumer Pascal Gaurin, she mentioned this to him. They had decided to collaborate then. When they came back together M. Gaurin showed he a new version of lavandin from the IFF labs. Created organically through enfleurage it was produced with an eye towards enhancing the relaxing quality of lavender. it is this ingredient which is the star of Noisette.
The beauty of this lavender comes through its airy balance between the herbal and floral nature of it. It is the horse this perfume rides in on. In the early moments, a creamy magnolia draws your attention to the floral part. A rich orris concrete in the heart then takes you over to the herbal side. Ambrette reminds you through the botanical musk that you’re on a horse. An expansive set of notes provide the vault of the sky and the moist green of the ground.
Noisette has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
The clarity of Ms. Lipovsky’s vision is apparent once again. I can feel the moment of looking up at the sky as the horse beneath rests in a field of lavender. I don’t know where Ms. Lipovsky intends to take me riding next. I only know I want to be along for the ride.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Maison d’Etto.
Back in 2013 when Victor Wong founded Zoologist Perfumes, he was an anomaly. Here was a guy making the leap from perfume lover to owner- creative director of his own line. As he started, he said all the right things about making a perfume brand which would be innovative. Although the very smartest thing he might have done in the beginning was to name them after animals. Drawings of cute creatures got people to pick up the tester. They would find that Mr. Wong was keeping his promise. Over the last seven years he has grown into one of the best creative directors in perfumery. He has frequently worked with the independent perfumers, bringing out some of their best work. More recently he has begun bringing in some of the professionals from the big houses. What is quite remarkable about Mr. Wong is there is a consistency to his vision that comes through every time. The latest release Zoologist Musk Deer does it again.
For Musk Deer Mr. Wong partnered with perfumer Pascal Gaurin. There will be fans of the brand who will be looking for some big animalic powerhouse. What they get instead is a different vision from Mr. Wong. Instead of skankfest he imagined the animal wandering through a winter wood marking the trees with his musk trying to attract a mate. What that means in a perfume is a very plush musk. There are animalic facets but Mr. Wong and M. Gaurin render them in subtle hues.
It opens with a spicy rose composed of calamus and cardamom among the petals. The cardamom imparts a bit of a chill to set the wintery milieu. The musk comes next. Because they are using a botanical source in ambrette this has a smoother scent profile. As the musk appears it is quiet. It comes up through the spices to take its place on top. As it does M. Gaurin uses a set of ingredients to tune the botanical musk into an abstract version of the real thing. He does this with the indoles of jasmine, the earthiness of patchouli, the rootiness of orris, and the intensity of oud. As it forms a more animalic version of musk it never crosses the line into skankiness. This is gorgeously well-mannered. It is a musk to wear when you don’t want to provoke. It ends on a woody base of sandalwood and cedar framing the musk accord.
Musk Deer has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I remain impressed that after seven years and 26 perfumes Mr. Wong is still capable of throwing me a change. I expected something huge. The subtle pillowy musk that I got is sublime. It is going to be living on a couple of my winter scarves because it is such a fascinating perfume. Musk Deer is another triumph for Mr. Wong.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I received from Zoologist.
One of the recurrent themes within perfumery are pairs of ingredients which seem tailor-made for each other. One of the pairs which has always evolved from the earliest days is iris and musk. The reason is the evolution of musks over the years.As the chemists have produced more and more of them perfumers are given the ability to take a different perspective on a classic pair. By Kilian Rolling in Love does this with iris and musk.
Creative director Kilian Hennessy’s vision was as a “skin musk” with textures of “white”. In the case of Rolling in Love that translates to a perfume of florals and musks by perfumer Pascal Gaurin.
That concept is where it opens. M. Gaurin uses a mixture of almond milk and ambrette seeds to nod to both. The almond milk has a creamy nuttiness which the botanical musk of ambrette is added like a flavor swirl. The heart is the powdery iris which M. Gaurin enhances with supporting florals; rose, orange blossom, and tuberose. Those three are kept at low doses such that they add a richness to the iris without the heart becoming a more varied bouquet. The skin musk returns with the synthetic musks that represent the scent of warm skin all together. In a reverse of the top accord M. Gaurin adds a sweet flavor swirl of tonka and vanilla. This all comes together as rapidly as it takes you to read this paragraph. What it means is there is a predominant duet of iris and musk given some depth and texture by the other ingredients.
Rolling in Love has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Iris and musk are not an original pairing. What is different in Rolling in Love is turning it into a deep powdered skin scent. It is a well-executed version of that.
Disclosure: this review is basedo n a sample provided by By Kilian.
The debut set of seven perfumes by Carine Roitfeld is quite good. She calls it her “7 Lovers” collection giving each perfume a name to represent a place. Many of them have engaged me by using interesting sets of keynotes. None represents that more than Carine Roitfeld Kar-Wai.
Mme Roitfeld tapped three perfumers to make her fragrances. For Kar-Wai it is perfumer Pascal Gaurin she collaborates with. I knew this was going to be the next I reviewed because of the vetiver in it. Vetiver is one of those perfume ingredients which is a summer standard. What intrigued me so much about Kar-Wai are the two ingredients which lead to that vetiver; tea and osmanthus. Those two are what seem to be the nod to Hong Kong which is the city Kar-Wai is meant to represent.
Kar-Wai opens on a smoky tea note with cardamom breezing over the top. This is a tea note which at turns seems opaque and then more solid. As the osmanthus pairs up with it the tea recedes a little. The osmanthus used here is that leathery version with a hint of fruit underneath. In Kar-Wai that effect serves to create a peach tea underpinning. Almost as if the osmanthus was dyed with peach tea. M. Gaurin gives it all a golden glow with saffron providing a halo. Now the stage is set for the vetiver to arrive. This is a high-quality vetiver which leads with its cooler green grassy character. Then it intensifies further as the woody depth becomes more apparent. The osmanthus and tea accord lays on top of it all, serenely floating on the breeze. Some white musks add a starched collar crispness to the final composition.
Kar-Wai has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Kar-Wai is an exceptional vetiver perfume because of the osmanthus and tea along with it. I have worn out my sample this summer because it is so good.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample set supplied by Carine Roitfeld.
Upon the death of Karl Lagerfeld earlier this week I began considering what was a fitting tribute to him and his impact on perfume. I spent a few days reminding myself of the perfumes he released under his own name. If there was something which surprised me was, outside of a few, there was a lack of a recognizable aesthetic. All the perfume releases under the Karl Lagerfeld brand tended to veer from one trend to the other without necessarily being the one at the leading edge but the fast follower. Which is why many of them are in the Dead Letter Office. In looking back I found one which best sums up the iconoclastic designer; Lagerfeld for H&M Liquid Karl.
In 2004 clothing store H&M wanted to start collaborating with the biggest fashion designers in the world on affordable couture. They thought, if successful, this could become a regular event. For their first collaboration they went right to the top convincing Karl Lagerfeld to kick this concept off. Mr. Lagerfeld wanted a full-service collection, including a fragrance. He had founded his own perfume brand in 1978 making it an easy extension for the H&M collaboration.
The perfume was called Lagerfeld for H&M Liquid Karl. He worked with a team of three perfumers; Pascal Gaurin, Bruno Jovanovic, and Sandrine Malin. What they produced is one of the best of the early gourmand perfumes because it went in such a different direction.
Liquid Karl starts with the smell of baking bread. The perfumers build that doughy sweet scent of every bakery. In the early moments there are hints of some of the other bakery spices. This opening shows where gourmand perfumes will go. Then as cocoa and frangipani add to the bread the entire effect goes from savory to sweet. From bread to bread pudding; sort of. Maybe bread to chocolate pudding is closer to accurate. The base is a set of clean woods given depth from oakmoss.
Liquid Karl has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
When the collection was released in November of 2004 it sold out immediately. This is an occurrence which happens yearly as H&M has partnered with another high-end fashion brand every year since on an anticipated capsule collection. Many of them contain a perfume because of Mr. Lagerfeld’s inclusion of one at the beginning.
Liquid Karl is not well-known because it was produced in limited quantities as part of the H&M collaboration. This is in the Dead Letter Office because it was a limited edition not through business reasons. You can find bottles frequently on the online auction sites.
I chose Liquid Karl as a way of honoring the vision of Mr. Lagerfeld because of any perfume he made it displayed his sense of the coming trend. His fashion set the trends. His perfumes not as much. Looking back on that fragrance portfolio Liquid Karl was another case of Mr. Lagerfeld charting the course which others would eventually follow.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
If a perfume is going to carry the name of someone I admire I expect it to live up to that. For the past four years one brand has tried mightily to disappoint me; Diana Vreeland. When I tried the debut collection of five I was crushed at their lack of originality. A perfume carrying the name of the woman who said, “Style, all who have it share one thing: originality” should above all be original. Unfortunately, it seems like that genetic spark has missed her grandson Alexander Vreeland who is the creative director behind the brand. It became more apparent over time as I received each subsequent release wondering where the soul of DV was in these limp perfumes. I keep hoping to find her. When I received the sample for the fifteenth release, Staggeringly Beautiful, it seemed like there might have just been a tiny bit of her there.
One of the things Ms. Vreeland was known for as Editor-in-Chief at Vogue was finding originality in the oddest places. Every morning she began the day by sending a memo to her editors. Mr. Vreeland, before he picked up the perfume business, collected all of them in a book. One in the summer of 1967 shows this as she writes, “I am extremely disappointed that no one has taken the slightest interest in freckles on the models…” She then urged her photo editors to make sure the applied freckles did not “look like black holes instead of pale red freckles”. It was her ability to see style in the perceived flaws; transforming them into fashion in the pages of her magazine. What drew me to Staggeringly Beautiful is I detected some freckles on this perfume that were not black holes.
Mr. Vreeland has been working with excellent perfumers; as he does this time with Pascal Gaurin. For Staggeringly Beautiful he chooses to use the classic Mediterranean mixture of fig and citrus. Where the figurative freckles appear is in the choice of daffodil as the floral component.
The perfume opens with a flare of stemone for the fig leaves. M. Gaurin tempers it with some other green notes. A ripe fig accord emerges through the green along with a bit of bergamot. At this point I was not impressed. Then the daffodil shows up in a significant concentration. Daffodil is a version of narcissus but not quite as narcotic. It is a smart choice by M. Gaurin because it captures the green theme while tilting it to a slightly less heady floral nature. Daffodil is not used often in perfume but as a partner to a full fig accord it comes together in a very pleasant way.
Staggeringly Beautiful has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Staggeringly Beautiful is still not the kind of originality I would like to see from a perfume carrying Ms. Vreeland’s name. It is the most original of the fifteen releases to date; which is faint praise. At least this time I was able to see a bit of DV in the fragrance.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample supplied by Neiman Marcus.