One of the earliest examples of independent perfumer thinking came through a set of perfumes by Comme des Garcons. Over a course of years, they released successive “Series” focused on a theme. The most well-known and revered is the Series 3: Incense collection. In 2002 they released five very different interpretations of incense perfumes. I own all these perfumes from every series because they are brilliant thoughts on a theme as expressed through scent. The most recent was 2019’s Series 10: Clash which I thought was another triumph within the series. My affection for these sometimes makes me try and imagine my own series. Two recent releases Comme des Garcons Marseille and Comme des Garcons Mirror X KAWS had me thinking about the laundry room.
Marseille is inspired by the soap called Savon de Marseille. Creative director Christian Astuguevieille asked perfumer Quentin Bisch to put this together. One of the things I find often causes a soapy scent to fall apart for me is it gets lost in the lather. Anyone who has opened a fresh bar of hand-milled soap knows it is akin to that new car smell, it is at its best before it is used. M. Bisch turns Marseille into that moment.
This soap is neroli scented. M. Bisch uses a greener version of neroli. It has a slightly vegetal undercurrent which reminds me of the vegetable oil used to make the soap. This is surrounded with a lanolin accord which forms the soapy piece. Right from the start the scent of a good bar of soap predominates. As you bring it close to your nose there is a powdery feel along with a slightly sweet and floral support for the neroli. There is also a slight muskiness present in the heart. This is that new bar of soap accord completed. I kind of wish this had stayed here. It ends on a lot of an ambrox analog which overwhelms the subtle joys which came before.
Marseille has 10-12 hour longevity although the great soapy piece is gone rather quickly and the majority of the development is just the ambrox offshoot.
Mirror X KAWS sees the return of KAWS to collaborate with the brand. He designed the bottle for Pharell Williams’ collaboration Comme des Garcons Girl. Now he takes a turn as creative director for this perfume. Along with perfumer Nicolas Beaulieu they create a scent which embraces clean linen.
It also uses neroli as its focal point. The difference is this neroli is much softer with barely a tint of the green which is more present in Marseille. M. Beaulieu then goes up the scale adding in a soft orange blossom along with a set of clean musks. At this point there is a strong reminder of fabric softener, The remainder of the development is the soft sheet the laundry product was used on. A base accord of Cashmeran, Benzoin, and the synthetic Sinfonide. The last ingredient adds a powdery sheen which reminded me of shaking out a freshly washed sheet to make my bed.
Mirror X KAWS has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
As I said it is a stretch to call these Series: Laundry Room but because I was wearing them a day apart, I went there. They both do what any of the Series fragrances of the past do; provide a perfume insight into the smells which surround us.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Comme des Garcons.
As I watch new brands begin to define their aesthetic some common themes come up. Most often a creative director will choose to work with a small set of perfumers, one to three to help in the early days. I am a proponent of this especially for new brands. Defined working relationships can lead to consistent results. What is surprising are the outliers. Creative directors with such clarity of vision they can work with any perfumer. The ability to coax exactly what you want from a perfumer is the essence of the best creative directors. In just a couple of years Thibaud Crivelli has shown he is one of these. Maison Crivelli Hibiscus Mahajad shows another side of his vision.
M. Crivelli from the beginning laid out his desire to have textural perfumes. Before I ever tried one, I was skeptical he could do it. Fromm the first set of five through to this, his eleventh he has achieved it. He has done it working with a variety of perfumers. Quentin Bisch who he collaborates with here is the eighth different nose in eleven releases. The other change is to create a fragrance at extrait strength. Working at new concentration and with a new perfumer should be difficult. The result makes it look easy.
Hibiscus Mahajad is inspired by “hibiscus tea in a gemstone market”. That description describes the idea trying to be realized. A floral steamy accord over harder glossier ingredients. It is achieved through two separate accords.
The choice to use a hibiscus accord is an interesting way to allow for the texture to be engineered through balancing the pieces. In this case three interesting ingredients comprise the accord. First is Ebelia which carries a dewy cassis-like scent profile. Also present is the lily surrogate Nympheal which also has a dewy floral quality more green than typical lily. The third piece is Rose NeoAbsolute this is a recent addition to the perfumer’s palette. It is achieved by taking the rose petals which have been distilled once for their essential oil and doing it a second time. It forms a fascinating rose with deeper facets. Together these are what forms the hibiscus accord. The dewiness is what will add the steam to form the hibiscus tea.
It is this accord where the perfume opens. Added to it is a sprig of herbal spearmint and a stick of cinnamon. These coax out some of the greener and spicy subtleties lurking in the hibiscus accord. Which allows for the second half of this to come together.
Vanilla leads the way adding just the right amount of sweet counterbalance to the top accord. Ambrette forms a bridge to the leather accord waiting. A warm amber comes along with the leather to create that glossy surface. Prodded by the description I was thinking about topaz as I wore this. A deeper colored gemstone to complete the initial vision.
Hibiscus Mahajad has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Having this at extrait concentration is an added benefit. All of what I described isn’t propelled off your skin. It rises in undulating waves like swirls of steam off the cup of tea as you look at a topaz through a loupe. Because it is concentrated it is going to be a great floral choice for the upcoming colder months. It will be enough to tide me over until M. Crivelli is ready to give me something new.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
We have had about five years of the big perfume brands assessing what the new younger demographic wants. There are some trends which are beginning to take a firmer hold. The most important is for a lighter perfume experience. The biggest sellers among this group of consumers are all transparent. There does seem to be a threshold. You can’t become so ephemeral to be invisible.
There is an experiment I would like to run among these types of perfume lovers. I’d like to see their reaction to the original Thierry Mugler Angel. This is the beginning of gourmand style perfumes, but it is miles away from opaque. This is an unrelenting aesthetic which was part of the Thierry Mugler fragrance DNA for a decade or more. My suspicion is these new perfume users would back away slowly. Which is why what the brand has done since 2016 has been so remarkable.
Starting with 2016’s Angel Muse they took that DNA and turned it into something more on trend. Perfumer Quentin Bisch would lay down the path to be followed. Keep the gourmand but make lighter substitutions up and down the pyramid. It has begun a winning streak which has seen Angel Eau Croisiere, Angel Eau Croisiere 2, and Angel Nova follow at the beginning of every summer. Angel Iced Star is the latest addition to that.
M. Bisch is joined by perfumer Louise Turner behind this. I have spoken a lot about the lightness but there is one more essential ingredient to these, fun. There hasn’t been an annual release which has done a better job of that vibe of being on holiday drinking cocktails with umbrellas in them. Angel Iced Star adds pina colada to the drink selection.
Frozen pina coladas are one of my favorite beach chair cocktails. The opening of this captures it as icy coconut and pineapple are slurried together. There is a frostiness that is refreshing in the warm temperatures. Part of this recent success has been not to abandon the Angel DNA but to update it. What it means is the praline part and the patchouli piece of the original remain. Except the perfumers have some more leeway with both. The patchouli is a less intense fraction one where the chocolate-like quality is toned down. The praline gives that caramel a doughier scent profile. It means that chocolate caramel is still there but in different guises. It is what has made these current Angel evolutions so good.
Angel Iced Star has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
It seems like this might become an every year beginning of summer tradition. Angel Iced Star belongs in your beach bag to take away for your weekend getaway. It is the ideal way to get your mind in the right place to have fun.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Thierry Mugler.
Those who read me regularly know I enjoy a sense of brand aesthetic developed over time. The easiest path is to have a pairing of creative director and perfumer over multiple releases. It allows for both to create at atmosphere which becomes identified with the brand. Until now I would’ve said that was all that is necessary. Marc-Antoine Barrois B683 Extrait has made me consider if there is another piece to that kind of success.
Creative director-owner Marc-Antoine Barrois and perfumer Quentin Bisch have been working with the same central leather accord. In 2017 in B683 they produced the most luxurious version of that leather. Two years later in Ganymede it was an opaquer version that gave new insight by making it more expansive. In B683 Extrait it goes the other way as they add in some rough edges while also making it more intimate. M. Bisch stretches and forms his leather accord into another form entirely.
Quentin Bisch (l.) and Marc-Antoine Barrois (photo: Fred Zara)
The leather accord at its base level is a drier version than most others. It is not the birch tar Cuir de Russie so familiar to many. This accord has a refined austerity which seemingly plays into M. Bisch’s ability to tune it to different effect.
The leather appears from the first minute and remains until the end. In the early moments, the effort to roughen it up begins. At first the crisp tart snap of green apple is a complement. That changes as cumin applies the first irregular piece. M. Bisch allows it to run against the grain of the leather accord with a sweaty humanity. The next bit of unevenness comes through the sharpness of violet leaf as it cuts through the accord. Next comes the olfactory sandpaper of strong medicinal oud. This is an ingredient which finds as much to harmonize with as to oppose. There is a moment here when the leather accord has the feel of newly tanned cowhide. That impression is given some depth through an earthier patchouli fraction. The base is meant to provide some relief with the vanilla-laden sweetness of sandalwood.
B683 Extrait has 16-18 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
The perfume oil amount here is at extrait concentration which adds to that sense of intimacy I’ve mentioned. Of the three perfumes so far released by Marc-Antoine Barrois this one is the most emotionally satisfying. Each of them has their own personality but this is the one I would choose if I only had to own one. What it has made me think about is maybe having a signature accord is another piece of creating a successful niche brand.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
A couple years back the perfume buzzword was deconstruction. Throughout most of that time I heard Inigo Montoya saying, “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.” Or maybe more accurately their idea of deconstruction didn’t match my perception of what it should be. What I wanted was a perfume that took a well-known ingredient and using other ingredients to form an accord without any of it present. When it has been done in that style it provides a different perspective on the what it is imitating. Essential Parfums Bois Imperial does exactly this for sandalwood.
Essential Parfums is a unique brand in the way they give the perfumer the freedom to create as they wish. Because of that they also put the name of the perfumer right on the label. This is becoming a small vital piece of the niche perfume sector. Giving talented perfumers the chance to go their own way. The only restriction is that can only use sustainable materials.
That last is particularly apt when it comes to sandalwood as over harvesting severely damaged it in some places in the world. Perfumer Quentin Bisch has decided not to worry about that as he forms his deconstructed interpretation in Bois Imperial.
The core piece of this is the biological degradation of patchouli called Akigalawood. I have written about this in the past as a more versatile fraction of patchouli where a spiciness reigns over a lighter earthiness. It is an ideal foundation to build upon. In the early going he uses two Asian herbs in Timut pepper and Thai basil. Both carry a noticeable citrus piece to their scent profile of grapefruit and lemon, respectively. Those provide a bit of sparkle, but it is the spiciness of the pepper and green of the basil which begin to flow into the Akigalawood. He uses a Givaudan muguet synthetic analog called Petalia to add a fresh green to things. When I first notice it, I am not sure what part it will play. The remainder of the deconstructed sandalwood comes through vetiver and another woody synthetic Ambrofix. The latter is a less monolithic version of the well-known Ambrox. As these notes blend in the Petalia reveals its reason for being here. The grassiness of vetiver and the woodiness of Ambrofix need something to push back against their sharper edges. The Petalia is that. Once it is all together it is a fresher version of sandalwood than anything you can find in nature.
Bois Imperial has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
This perfume is one of the best deconstructions I have encountered all without anyone on the creative team using the word. The next time I do hear someone use it I’m going to point at Bois Imperial as how you construct a deconstructed perfume.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
1995’s Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male is one of the great perfumes because it redefined a style of fragrance for a generation. Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian composed a true classic. It has also been a veritable cash machine for the brand where they have released flanker after flanker. If you have ignored those because of their ubiquity that would be normal. Many of them were lesser than the original. The problem is within that steady flow of product they manage to sneak in something worthy of attention. That brings us to Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male Le Parfum.
Quentin Bisch, Nathalie Gracia-Cetto, Louise Turner (l. to r.)
When you look at that name you might think this is just a parfum version of the original. You would be half right as it uses the keynotes of Le Male. Where it differs is the team of perfumers; Quentin Bisch, Nathalie Gracia-Cetto and Louise Turner add depth befitting a parfum with something different.
It opens with the same cardamom which is part of the best Le Male flankers. Then what the perfumers do is allow the complementary original note of artemisia more agency in the perfume. It elongates the cardamom with a slightly licorice bite. It gives it the same herbal green of the original without using mint. The heart is made up of lavender given the same additional depth using iris. Here it is to give an earthier floral to enhance the herbal part of the lavender. It gives top and heart accord a connection through that. The biggest difference comes with vanilla in the forefront of the base. There are still the woods from before, but they are given the warmth of vanilla to add to it.
Le Male Le Parfum has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
As I wore Le Male Le Parfum I kept thinking this was the dress-up version of Le Male. If the original was the carefree casual one. Le Parfum is the one gussied up for the evening. Maybe that is all that is needed for a successful flanker the opportunity to dress up a classic.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Jean Paul Gaultier.
Since 2016 I have been watching the popular perfume brands come to grips with the current trend for lighter more transparent fragrances. Each of them has chosen their own path with varying degrees of success. At this point their choices have become evident. Thierry Mugler has made one of the more interesting choices. If you want to lighten up your perfumes you should also do it with a palpable smile. Thierry Mugler Angel Nova continues to achieve that.
The original Angel is nobody’s idea of a light perfume although the spirit behind it was fun. In 2016 perfumer Quentin Bisch laid down the marker on the new Angel with Angel Muse. It has continued through two iterations of Angel Eau Croisiere and Eau Croisiere II. Those perfumes are made for nights on holiday. They are also intelligently designed perfumes. Angel Nova picks up on all of this with a team of M. Bisch, Louise Turner, and Sonia Constant collaborating.
One of the hallmarks of this current generation of Angel flankers is they have been simple constructs. Angel Nova is three keynotes of raspberry, rose, and akigalawood. There are a couple of supporting ingredients which add to the complete piece, but it is predominantly those three.
It opens with a juicy raspberry given a syrupy finish through lychee. It made me think of opening a can of lychee and finding raspberries covered in the syrup. This is the kind of value added of a clever supporting note. It leads into a rich rose living up to its jammy adjective. I know you read this and think light, how could this be light. It is a remarkably transparent effect. It is capped with the spicy patchouli analog of akaigalawood adding an echo back to the original with its own patchouli inspired base. Some benzoin completes that base accord.
Angel Nova has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is another perfume full of joy. I keep looking forward to these Angel flankers because they all manage to find a way to have fun without becoming inane. Perhaps because they know the secret on how to lighten up their perfumes.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Thierry Mugler.
When I receive mainstream releases, I am rarely challenged by what I find in the sample. They are searching for a broad audience, so they are not inclined to be groundbreaking. It is what marks the biggest separation between mainstream and niche. The later being where the envelope gets pushed. There are exceptions, the latest comes from Zadig & Voltaire Girls Can Be Crazy.
Thierry Gillier has been making fashionable threads for cool young girls from Paris for over twenty years. The move into fragrance has been uneven, to be charitable. It veers between being insipidly simple to something enchantingly engaging. A good example is 2018’s Girls Can Do Anything which was a pear and orange blossom fougere. The opposite was last year’s Girls Can Say Anything which was the simpering peony that bores me to tears. Perfumer Quentin Bisch has been the perfumer for this “Girls Can” series. He returns for Girls Can Be Crazy, surprisingly living up to the name.
The first two in the series were safe; the third is just odd. Using a cola accord as a keynote is unusual. You expect a pairing of the traditional flavored colas which exist as a beverage. M. Bisch wants to bottle a new cola flavor entirely, he chooses pear. It is not something which comes off the top of my head when I think of flavored cola.
It opens with that pear cola accord. The pear is the crisp version. The cola accord is more the flat syrup than the carbonated soda. Cola in that form has a caramel aspect that does find traction with the pear. But the brisk fruitiness tends to push against the syrupy cola finding contrast over harmony. M. Bisch adds some synthetic jasmine to add some expansiveness to the accord to keep it from becoming too heavy. As it becomes more expansive there is more space for the pear and cola to find. A twist of vanilla does create a vanilla coke moment before sandalwood picks up the sweetness of the cola in a woody embrace.
Girls Can Be Crazy has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
The pear cola accord is downright weird. Even as I have been smelling it on the strip while writing this, I am thinking I’m not communicating it adequately. It is hard to believe this is what the trendsetting Parisiennes will be wafting on the Seine this year. I would love to believe that could be the case because it might mean there would be more experimental perfumes to come from Zadig & Voltaire. I appreciate this pear cola experiment even if it is only a one season stand.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Zadig & Voltaire.
If there is anything I associate as the scent of luxury it is leather. Leather always seems like an upgrade. Ricardo Montalban would tell me soft Corinthian leather was part of the luxury of the automobile he was hawking. The pieces of leather I’ve owned all seem like some of the most high-end things I own. Part of that is the smell of leather. There is something primal and opulent about it.
Leather has been a staple of modern perfumery since the 1927 release of Chanel Cuir de Russie by perfumer Ernest Beaux. Here is the thing there is no such thing as leather essential oil. When you smell leather in a perfume it has to be a created accord by the perfumer to smell like leather. When I learned this I realized whenever I smelt leather in a perfume, I was encountering a perfumer’s signature.
Because there is no one recipe every perfumer creates their own version of the accord. M. Beaux would use one of the materials used to tan leather, birch tar, as the foundation for the one in Cuir de Russie. Ever since, each perfumer has had the opportunity to evolve the making of their accord as more and more ingredients became available.
This has resulted in perfume with differing leather effects. They can be subtle as a driving glove to as robust as that original saddle leather. Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour would make different leather accords for different compositions. He combined styrax and birch tar for the classic leather vibe. Frankincense, davana, cistus, and saffron form a piquant version. Angelica seed, blackcurrant bud, and tomato leaf form a raw untanned scent. My favorite is his combination of castoreum and ambergris. There is just the right balance of refined and animalic that is near perfect.
Quentin Bisch (l.) and Marc-Antoine Barrois
A recent pair of releases shows the difference ways a leather accord can be tuned to very different styles of perfume. Perfumer Quentin Bisch working with Marc-Antoine Barrois. Released their first perfume based on a leather accord called Marc-Antoine Barrois B683. This is that luxurious leather accord I spoke of at the beginning. This leather caresses and envelops me in all the things which make leather great. They would return a year later with Marc-Antoine Barrois Ganymede. This time the leather accord is used in a near transparent way allowing immortelle to tease out the ambergris I am pretty sure is there. This makes it that kind of salty animalic that I enjoyed so much by M. Duchaufour.
Leather is one of the most important accords in all of perfumery. It also allows the perfumers an opportunity to append a scented signature to their works. This is why I adore it.
When a brand offers their long-time consumers a change it is interesting to see how that works. For mass-market fragrance releases the best way to know the new direction went well is a follow-up. Two years ago Chloe Nomade marked a significant departure from the Chloe fresh aesthetic for a fruity chypre. I thought it was one of the best mainstream releases of 2018. Apparently, consumers and the powers at Chloe also saw the results they wanted because Chloe Nomade Absolu de Parfum has arrived.
Perfumer Quentin Bisch harnessed a gorgeous plum and freesia duo to go with his modern chypre base. For the flanker he has decided to take the remnants of the brighter Chloe DNA and soften them while adding depth. It makes for a much more satisfying experience.
The plum remains from the original, but it is secondary to a cherry ingredient. The plum can be too sweet. The cherry adds just the right amount of tart to offset that. This is a rounding off of a corner which might have been seen as too saccharine in the original. Freesia supplied that fresh floral in the predecessor. M. Bisch uses Davana which is the antithesis of freesia. It has a real depth to it. This is the kind of warmth that makes this version very different. The chypre base this time has more of the oakmoss than before. This provides a velvety cushion for this all to rest upon.
Nomade Absolu de Parfum has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I am delighted that Chloe allowed M. Bisch to push what they did with Nomade to a more intense place. I like this version much better than the original; and I liked that one a lot. It seems as if they were willing to believe by rounding off the corners for a cozier experience, they would retain the audience they built. Time will tell if there is another version in a couple of years. I am rooting for that if it is as good as this.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Sephora.