There is an unfortunate hubris among many independent perfumers to decide they can re-create, re-invent, re-interpret, even re-vitalize a masterpiece of the past. They are almost always wrong. It compares very unfavorably. It also has another blowback of just trying to make the same masterpiece perfume of the past with different materials. Like a paint-by-numbers picture where you choose to change the colors called for and them stand next to it going, “Voila!” If you have talent, and experience, you can do this as a singular study for yourself to learn how those classics were built. The commercial impulse usually finds a way to expose these silly comparisons as it has with Fort & Manle Meraki.
Rasei Fort has been almost maddeningly inconsistent in the perfumes he has released. Earlier this year Kolonya was one of the first perfumes I reviewed in 2019 and it remains one of the best releases of 2019. It shows all the promise of the independent mindset creating something new. Kolonya stands out for its originality. Meraki stands out because it attempts to be something it is not. Mr. Fort says on his website that Meraki is inspired by the unicorn masterpiece of Serge Lutens and Jean-Yves Leroy; Shiseido Nombre Noir. He further states that he owns a sealed box of Nombre Noir but that he has never opened it to smell it. He also says he is not trying to re-create it. Followed immediately by saying, “based on the notes, I endeavoured to create a vintage-inspired white floral”. Based on that Meraki is a new perfume inspired by a list of ingredients of a vintage perfume Mr. Fort has never smelled. It’s ridiculous. Here is the real punchline Meraki is a good perfume on its own merits without inane callbacks to something it doesn’t resemble in any way. As part of Mr. Fort’s recent portfolio it is another beautiful floral centered on the duality of osmanthus.
Meraki opens with a strong cocktail of aldehydes atop a fuzzy peach. It is a nice textural top accord. Osmanthus rises to use its apricot side to meet with the peach. Rose adds deeper floral tones while honey converts the fuzziness of the peach to a sticky golden viscosity. As the leathery nature of osmanthus is teased out with patchouli an intense sandalwood completes the base accord.
Meraki has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Also on the website there is a definition for “meraki” as “to put something of yourself into your work”. Mr. Fort has done that with this perfume. This is of a continuity of what came before which feels wholly of Mr. Fort’s creativity. If you’ve liked the previous darker perfumes within the collection, you’ll like Meraki. If, on the other hand, you’re drawn in by the comparisons to Nombre Noir; don’t bother. Mr. Fort is not able to come within any distance of the creativity of that perfume. It is a cynical commercial ploy. From that perspective Meraki is Nombre Not!
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
When you exchange gifts during the Holidays there is an occasional moment when you receive an unexpected present. It’s nice because it reminds you there is still a magic to this time of year in its ability to surprise you. The crusty perfume reviewer is having his own overflowing desk of presents this Holiday season. There has been an increased amount of new releases in these final weeks of the year. It makes me want to find the ones which are easy to dismiss. Except a week or so ago I got my own perfume surprise package in a sample of Victoria’s Secret Bombshell Holiday 2019.
Victoria’s Secret has been selling fragrance next to their lingerie for thirty years. It has always been a brand which follows trends. They are a classic example of safe fragrance meant to be purchased as an impulse while shopping in their stores. Ever since the launch of Bombshell in 2010 they’ve been releasing seasonal flankers two or three times a year. I’ve always categorized them as good functional perfumes. This year they decided to release their first Holiday edition. This is still a fruity floral, but it has a much different personality than any other Victoria’s Secret perfume I’ve ever tried. I don’t know who the perfumer is, but I am going to keep trying to find out because they did a fantastic job.
The fruit being used is pomegranate. It is given an icy chill to the point that it reminded me of having a pomegranate snow cone. The coolness complements the tartness of the fruit nicely. There is a much more transparent version of jasmine providing a floral veil instead of the usual strident presence I’m used to finding. It is like the pomegranate can radiate through the jasmine. The base is the very unusual choice of birch. Most of the time these perfumes end on a clean woody accord of synthetic woods and cedar. That the slightly acrid birch is allowed to finish this off is against nearly everything that has come before. This is another winter-like wood effect. The birch has a bitter woodiness which is allowed to pick up the cold tart of the pomegranate to create a gorgeous Holiday harmonic.
Bombshell Holiday 2019 has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
I know that I never expected my surprise package this Holiday to be from Victoria’s Secret. Bombshell Holiday 2019 has reminded me how much fun it can be to be surprised.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Victoria’s Secret.
Instead of getting run over at the mall I spend the days immediately after Thanksgiving baking cookies. I really only am motivated to make cookies during the Holiday season. I have my favorites along with recipes I’ve optimized to my taste. The kitchen counter is cleared of all unnecessary things as it becomes my surface to make my cookies. As much as the cookies are fun to eat, I noticed a couple years ago what a lovely scent the ingredients provide as I am working. Vanilla, spices, fruits, the wood of the rolling pin, and the muskiness of the effort. I was thinking what a nice perfume this would make. It seems like Essential Parfums Divine Vanille is that fragrance.
Essential Parfums debuted last year with a set of five perfumes. It is an interesting brand aesthetic where the perfumer is given wide latitude to create. The only commandment is to use sustainable materials. It isn’t explicitly stated on the website but to keep it simple also seems to be important, too. I liked the original five quite a bit for their execution. Orange X Santal was my favorite but I felt they all would appeal to perfume fans who liked the ingredients named on the label. Perfumer Olivier Pescheux is given his opportunity with Divine Vanille.
The keynote sustainable ingredient is vanilla from Madagascar. M. Pescheux sets it up as the spine of this perfume. I bake with Madagascar vanilla. It always struck me as having a kind of boozy undertone to its scent in the bottle. M. Pescheux plays up that part of his ingredient which keeps this from becoming too food-like. The vanilla is there and M. Pescheuz surrounds it in cinnamon along with black pepper and clary sage. The cinnamon is the main player. It takes the sweet vanilla and gives it some verve. The clary sage teases out just enough green to remind you vanilla comes from an orchid. The black pepper acts like a bit of sizzle atop it all. As this moves to the heart the fruit takes over. The apricot nature of Osmanthus is combined with the fruity rose synthetic Pomarose. It gives a set of luscious fruitiness attenuated by the rose and leather dualities of the two. Cedar reminds me of the rolling pin nearby. Tonka bean adds a toastiness to the vanilla as we move to the base. Benzoin, patchouli and musk form a classic Oriental base. Which is the scent of myself under the blanket waiting for the timers to go off as the cookies bake.
Divine Vanille has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Divine Vanille is another simple construct from a brand which allows its perfumers to strike a different balance. It is an excellent addition to the collection particularly welcome for the Holidays.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
If you imagine the environment which might produce someone interested in scent Corsica would be one. The small island of France is known for its geography known as the Maquis. It is a mixture of scented herbs and flowers which give Corsica the sobriquet, “The Scented Isle”. One of the pioneers of modern perfumery, Francois Coty, was born there. One of the best current practitioners of modern perfumery, Marc-Antoine Corticchiato, is also from the island. He has released a few perfumes inspired by his home; Parfum D’Empire Immortelle Corse is the most recent.
M. Corticchiato picks out immortelle as the component of the maquis to feature here because that is what surrounds his place there. I adore immortelle on the rare occasions it is featured as a keynote. The reason it is rarely showcased, I presume, is it has a strong maple syrup-like quality which might not be pleasing to some. It is exactly that which draws me to it. As I’ve become more familiar with the ingredient, I’ve learned it is more than that syrupy scent. M. Corticchiato used it as a keynote in his take on an aquatic last year, Acqua di Scandola. It was one of the few times I found the immortelle distracting as it seemed forced to compete with a mineralic oceanic accord without finding any harmonic. In Immortelle Corse that is all dispensed with in a simple construct where the immortelle is featured in all its midsummer glory.
If its summer the sun is high in the sky. In a perfume of that time of year lemon evokes the sunshine which is where we start. A bracingly tart lemon is given a sweet patina. It reminds me of the sugar covered lemon wedges called lemon drops. The fruit changes to a more burnished gold as apricot takes over from the lemon. It is here where the immortelle makes its first appearance. The apricot embraces the syrupy nature. It makes the immortelle seem to be bursting at the seams. The thing that I’ve come to notice about immortelle is a hay-like quality underneath the sweetness. M. Corticchiato uses saffron to tease out that thread while amplifying it. It gives a wide-open space feel to Immortelle Corse. A final bit of velveteen moss adds a plush green base to finish this summer walk on the Maquis.
Immortelle Corse has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I’ve never been to Corsica but M. Corticchiato has been familiarizing me with the scent of place through his Corsica inspired perfumes. Of all the ones he has done it is wherever in the Maquis the immortelle blooms so fully to inspire Immortelle Corse I would want to visit first.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
It is fun for me to experience the evolution of independent perfumers. It becomes most interesting when their muse shifts dramatically. It is a way to see if a perfumer is more than their earlier work indicated. Dannielle Sergent is in the midst of having a conversation with a new inspiration. In the beginning of her brand, Cognoscenti, Ms. Sergent created fragrance around the interplay between two keynote ingredients. Then earlier this year she made a dramatic shift.
Ms. Sergent decided to start creating a new perfume not from the choice of two ingredients but the interpretation of her own paintings. She called her two inspiration pieces “Dark Lovelies”. Earlier this year Warrior Queen was the first to be released. It was a maximal style of perfume composition as Ms. Sergent layered florals into a satisfying portrait. The companion piece has now arrived; Cognoscenti Wild Child.
When I looked at the inspiration piece, above, the first thing I noticed was all the black space. It looked to me like there were tendrils of green and florals attempting to pierce that darkness. It is an apt description of Wild Child as Ms. Sergent sets up a dark accord which has a primary green antagonist. Once Wild Child completely comes together it displays the tension of that struggle fully.
The blackness is represented by a fabulous licorice accord. This is not sweet Twizzlers-like licorice this is the herbal original version. It carries a darkness like a black hole with an herbal event horizon. It drew me in with its depth. To make sure I don’t get subsumed completely a lifeline of green strands begins to assemble. Tarragon provides the central filament. It resonates against the herbal quality of the licorice Braided around that tarragon is vetiver, cedar, and moss. As I grab hold a deep rose provides a floral direction for me to climb. Once clear I fall into an earthy dark patchouli my journey complete.
Wild Child has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Wild Child is a fitting companion to Warrior Queen although it is more introverted in its construction. Wild Child is given the ability to find the darkness through a green contrast. I am unsure if this is a complete change in direction for Ms. Sergent. I have thoroughly enjoyed both the Dark Lovelies. They show a confident perfumer evolving her aesthetic. I’d like to see more.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Cognoscenti.
I have always found the days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day to be the most hectic of the year. Until we are a day or two into 2020 it is time to go, every moment of every day, to stuff in everything. I used to get terribly run down on these weeks leading to a bad head cold for the first part of the new year. I learned an important lesson that it was critical to take a little time for myself to sit quietly. What that means is I make something warm to sip while I watch the poodle run around the backyard just after dawn. The early morning I have found is that place where the demand for your time is almost non-existent. The loss of an hour, or so, of sleep is well worth it. On these mornings I am sitting next to our Christmas tree with a vase of roses somewhere nearby. The cup in my hand can be a chai latte. The smell of tree, rose and chai is therapeutic it re-charges me. I don’t really need the reminder to capture some quiet time but if I do Ineke Jaipur Chai will certainly do so.
Independent perfumer Ineke Ruhland is one of the best artists creating perfume out there. Her last release, Idyllwild, was my Perfume of the Year for 2017. I own a bottle of her entire collection. She works at her own pace in a deliberate manner. Each perfume begins with an ordinal letter of the alphabet. As of 2019 we have reached “J”. Ms. Ruhland describes Jaipur Chai as her first gourmand. I would agree with that but as I spent time with Jaipur Chai I was more focused on an Oriental kind of structure; which the spices early on enhance. It doesn’t fully come together as the chai latte part until later. It is a comforting change.
Jaipur Chai opens on the mélange of spices inherent in chai. There is the moisture of the black tea hydrating the dry spices of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, clove, and black pepper. This is the smell as you plunge your measuring spoon into the chai. Ms. Ruhland designs a spicy confluence which forms an accord of serenity instead of one less smooth. To that moment she adds a rose. This is a full bloom rose exuding the peak of its scented beauty. The spice accord swirls around it seemingly attaching itself to the dewy petals. Ms. Ruhland frames this with cedar to provide clean delineation. Just in time for the steamed milk to bubble up. A subtly sweet milk accord given a golden glow with honey along with the odd sweetness of a suede leather accord. This is where the chai latte, and my quiet morning, converges. The scent of the spices with the sweet milk as the scent of a rose and the wood of the tree fall into each other create the final tableau.
Jaipur Chai has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Jaipur Chai is a perfume of subtlety that I worry many will miss the intricacy of it all. To have all this flow so seamlessly is not easily achieved. It is what sets Ms. Ruhland apart. If this Holiday season gets too hectic I might just spray some Jaipur Chai as a substitute for my quiet morning.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Ineke.
Whenever I see a pile of gold in the movies it always seems to be kissed by flames somewhere in the vicinity. There is a reason for that because flame seems to make the cold metal glow. The flicker causes shadow to flit across the metallic surface. It takes something static and turns it into something languorously kinetic. I hold my wedding ring up to the fireplace to be caught by the same effect. Puredistance Gold does the same thing as a perfume.
Jan Ewoud Vos
Puredistance creative director Jan Ewoud Vos has always been inspired by art for his perfumes. M. Vos was captivated by a black, white, and gold Mondrian-like visual. He had previously released Black and White. Now it is time for Gold to complete the picture. He collaborates with the same perfumer behind the previous two, Antoine Lie. This is the larger squares of gold as the perfume has a large presence. It uses big keynotes given shadow by the complementary ingredients surrounding them.
Gold starts with the tart citrus of green mandarin. This is a powerful fruity start which M. Lie uses three spices to give texture to. The herbal floral quality of baie rose, the green rosemary and the piecing scent of clove. It forms an elegant version of the Holiday staple of a cloved orange. This is a dynamic opening. It shifts to a floral heart dominated by jasmine. For this M. Lie dusts the white flower with cinnamon and swirls of labdanum. This is those flickers of heat atop the floral foundation. The base gets green at first as vetiver and patchouli form the nucleus. M. Lie then adds in shadows of sweet with vanilla and myrrh contrasted with styrax and benzoin. This forms a simmering Oriental base which gets more animalic as castoreum becomes apparent.
Gold has 24-hour plus longevity and moderate sillage due to being at extrait strength.
Gold combines the tobacco warmth of Black with the exuberant floral quality of White to provide the large space in between with a persistent golden glow.
Disclosure: This review is based on a press sample provided by Puredistance.
The Holidays are all about the traditions. In other words the expected. In my family if there is something missing it can cause heartburn. Additions are welcome though. Holiday traditions can grow bigger just don’t make them smaller. There is a comfort to those things we are used to. The same is true of perfume. I generally am happy to see a perfume which shows me something different. There are fragrances which just want to execute a classic style; Ciro Columbine is one of those.
Ciro is another of those resurrected heritage brands from the first half of the last century. Overseen by owner-creative director Rainer Diersche it is choosing the path of new perfumes with heritage names. Since only a charmed few will have ever heard of a brand which stopped making perfume in 1961 those names shouldn’t carry too much weight. Hr. Diersche is not new to the fragrance game. He has also been the creative force behind Linari since 2008. He began Ciro last year with an initial collection of six. Columbine is the first I’ve tried but based on it I am going to seek out the others.
When I saw Columbine I was thinking the flower. Hr. Diersche was thinking about the heroine of Italian Commedia dell’Arte. The lover of the more well-known Harlequin. Hers was to provide honesty through lines which pierced while also engaged in the seduction of Harlequin. She was beloved for her truth and beauty. Hr. Diersche collaborates with perfumer Alexandra Carlin to capture this multi-faceted character.
Columbine opens with a mixture of genial mandarin and acerbic tagete; capturing the playful sharp tongue of its inspiration. Baie rose and neroli come next. The neroli creates a floral version of the mandarin while the baie rose finds the tagete and gives it an herbal contrast. Columbine begins to shift as tobacco and osmanthus provide the next layer. This is a balanced pairing as the leatheriness of the osmanthus and the narcotic sweetness of the tobacco find an amplified richness. It gives way to a straight suede leather accord which gives a slight animalic tinge to things. Musks give that tinge a deeper shade. The sweetness of benzoin provides the finishing touches.
Columbine has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
I like the idea of a heritage brand making contemporary versions of classic styles. Columbine does a great job of this. Sometimes I just want a perfume done well. Columbine exceeded my expectations.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
Perfume can be a personal statement by the creative team. That’s not most of the world of fragrance but it is truer in the independent community. One of those who looks to create a new boundary seemingly every time he releases a new perfume is Antonio Gardoni. His Bogue Profumo is one of the most creative collections available. Usually Sig. Gardoni has more than enough percolating in his mind he just has to work into translating it into a perfume. For his latest release, Bogue Profumo Douleur!, he had a collaborator; Freddie Albrighton.
Mr. Albrighton and Sig. Gardoni met through the community of perfume lovers over five years ago in London. Their love of perfume along with their disdain for the commercial functional fragrances created a bond. Mr. Albrighton finally asked Sig. Gardoni if they could work on a perfume together. I heard about this through the various perfume groups I am a member of. One thing I knew about Mr. Albrighton was his love for huge florals. I expected Douleur! to be that style as translated through the lens of Sig. Gardoni. What I didn’t know was both men had a fondness for the synthetic ingredient rose oxide; wanting that to be the keynote in their perfume. Instead of a vintage-style blowsy floral Douleur! is a pedal to the metal synthetic symphony.
Not sure why this is but the metallic floral of rose oxide is having a moment. This is the fourth new perfume of 2019 to feature it. None of them has as much rose oxide in it as Douleur! does. The transformation into an incredibly outré gourmand is one of the most fascinating transitions of the year.
As I said the opening moments are the metallic rose of rose oxide. This is going to be challenging for many. Even for me, when I was ready for it on successive wearings, it is like chewing tin foil. Pleasant and irritating in almost equal quantity. For one of the rare occasions I welcomed the presence of mint to tone down the rose oxide. I’m glad because the real fun comes in the heart as we go from irritating to the carnival midway. They came up with a fantasy cotton candy accord that is awesome. If you’ve ever seen them making cotton candy in those heated giant aluminum containers as the strings of sugar are captured on a paper spindle. That’s what is here. There is the heated metallic and the classic maltol; what turns this crazy good is the use of a technicolor strawberry ingredient. As a guess I am thinking Aldehyde C-16 or one of its analogs. This is like sticking your nose in the aluminum drum as sugar and strawberry form a crystalline confection. It picks up a chewiness as benzoin appears later to thicken things up.
Douleur! has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Douleur! is like nothing else in the Bogue collection. It is wonderful while also being completely odd. I am appreciative of where Mr. Albrighton got Sig. Gardoni to go with Douleur! This is what great collaborations do; create incredible perfume.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
About halfway through the year I wondered if Comme des Garcons was going to do anything to celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary. For a brand which has been so influential I thought it would be a shame for this milestone to go by without something new. Right about the time I was going to ask I received an e-mail announcing the end-of-year plans. Six new perfumes along with a stand-alone fragrance store in Paris. I have reviewed the other five perfumes for this anniversary, but I’ve left the best one for last; Comme des Garcons Copper.
One of the things about the current popularity of transparent perfumes is it too often produces linear fragrances without a top-down development. It is that development which has always attracted me to my favorite perfumes. It is not that a linear perfume can’t be beautifully interesting. It is the ones which act like chameleons shifting colors as the hours pass that keep me engaged more fully. I think of those perfumes like classical music; evolving in movements. The best perfumes will have phases that have distinctly different rhythm and flow just as a symphonic piece has. Copper does all of this.
As he has for the entire twenty-five years of Comme des Garcons fragrances creative director Christian Astuguevieille has overseen Copper. He chose to work with perfumer Alienor Massenet for the first time. In my press package I was told Copper was “inspired by the idea of lying in the grass next to someone wearing excessive suntan lotion”. I have no idea what that means in relation to the perfume inside the bottle. If you expect Copper to be another of these suntan lotion perfumes it is not even close. It wasn’t until I got a different description that I was satisfied; “fiery red metal; cool to the touch.” That describes it much more closely except the cool comes before the fire.
Copper opens with an overdose of galbanum. Overdose is almost too gentle for how much galbanum is here. This is so much galbanum it has rough edges around its emerald-like crystallinity. Before it gets to be too much, Mme Massenet adds in a precise amount of baie rose. It pierces that sharpness of the galbanum creating a gorgeous dried herbal accord. Then a dynamic transformation occurs upon a flying carpet of slightly metallic aldehydes. It whisks us away to a gentler movement of ginger and violet at first. A lot of the time ginger is a buzzy kind of ingredient. In Copper it is allowed to be at rest as the violet shades it in purple hues with grains of subtle powder. This becomes sweeter through dried tobacco leaf wrapping it up like a cigar. The interplay between violet, ginger, and tobacco is compelling. Then like an usher tonka bean takes this accord, by attaching itself to the tobacco, to the waiting embrace of amber. The base accord turns completely cozy. Vanilla and myrrh provide different vectors of comfort. A cleverly subtle use of labdanum stitches it all together into a warm place to spend the rest of the day.
Copper has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I have said it before over these past twenty-five years of perfumery there has been no brand more influential than Comme des Garcons. M. Astuguevieille sets the trends that others emulate. Back in 1994 M. Astuguevieille collaborated with a talented perfume, Mark Buxton, to redefine Orientals with an opening of galbanum. The same can be true of Copper as he now asks Mme Massenet to create the new version of green for the next quarter century. Copper is the best of what perfume can be.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Comme des Garcons.