So much of the perfume I receive is designed to be a pleasant companion. Which is why when the few provocateurs in perfumery choose to go a different direction it is welcome. One of the premiere creative directors practicing this type of creativity is Etienne de Swardt of Etat Libre D’Orange. There are many things to say about the 15 years and 45 perfumes overseen by him. One is the belief that perfume can challenge the way you see the less pleasant pieces of the world. He has balanced this collection between the utter confrontation of Secretions Magnfiques to the modern gourmand standard bearer of Like This to the idea of the scent of popcorn heralding the apocalypse in La Fin du Monde. From the moment I received the press release for Etat Libre D’Orange The Ghost in the Shell I was expecting something equally interesting.
Etienne de Swardt
M. de Swardt is inspired by both the Hyperion novels of Dan Simmons which were the basis for the Japanese Manga of Masamune Shirow where the name comes from. The Manga version focuses on a cyberpunk world of the near future following a law enforcement group as they do their job. Ghost in the Shell was one of the first crossover successes in the US ad Shirow-san’s art painted in equally vivid hues paired to the dialog. For the perfume he asked Shirow-san to assist in the creative direction. Julie Masse was the perfumer who would work with both.
When I read the description, I was kind of hoping for a fragrance of chrome and electricity. When I read cyberpunk there is the scent of heated wiring and hot metal in my mind’s eye. When I sprayed it on I received a different vision. It made me think of the sci-fi concept of long-haul travelers exploring new planets. My imagination took me to the return of one of the explorers to the airlock as they re-entered their ship. The transition from sterile space suit back to the environment of the ship.
It begins as you break the seal on your helmet. The sharpness of aldehydes honed through tart fruits stings your nose on first breath. Mme Masse uses the synthetic Aqual and its slightly aquatic aldehydic profile along with a tart yuzu and the synthetic green apple of hexyl acetate. It marks the beginning of the transformation back to human.
As you peel the suit off the stretchy material clings to your skin. The scent of clean sweaty skin mixes with the jasmine soap you used. The material always has an odd scent of milk as you hang it to dry. Mme Masse uses jasmine as the floral focal point. It is in a higher concentration than my fanciful imagination intimates. What she does is give it an artificial sheen through Mugane along with some freshness. The set of skin musks and the milk accord slide pleasantly into the jasmine forming the heart accord.
As you pull on your regular clothing before re-entering the interior of the ship. The sweet scent of your body greets you. The base accord flows in a soft comforting construction of the slightly vanillic Vinyl Gaiacol, the dry musky woodiness of Orcanox, and the soft green of moss. With that you open the second door and walk into the ship.
The Ghost in the Shell has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
While it wasn’t what I expected what I received was better. I enjoyed imagining the way a futuristic explorer might smell after an expedition. I didn’t get Eau de Cyberpunk. I got something like Eau de Airlock, which I found more engaging.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Etat Libre D’Orange.
I’ve done this long enough to have seen many brands come and go. There are some which go because they are built upon an unfocused idea. I don’t miss those, usually. The ones I feel a little sad about are those which seem to have a good idea executed well. Which was why in 2019 when Commodity abruptly closed, I gave a sigh. This was a collection which I felt was one of those great bridges between mainstream and niche. The perfumes were simple without necessarily following trends. Instead offering the mall consumer something different at a modest price point. The reviews I made of the perfumes are some of my most read so I was kind of dumbfounded when it all disappeared. Then a white knight rode in to save the day.
The brand was acquired by the head of the fragrance distribution company Europerfumes, Vicken Arslanian. He believed the brand still had some life. One of the more interesting pieces of the buyout was Mr. Arslanian was also going to step up as creative director. I think someone who has been involved in the niche perfume business is an ideal person to oversee the making of new ones. I’ve been waiting to see what the first new release under new management would be like. The answer has arrived in Commodity Milk.
One of the earliest successes for Commodity was their odd gourmand Gold. It was also one of the most popular within the collection. For the comeback Milk is also a gourmand but it is a more traditional example of the style. Working with perfumer Christelle Laprade they produce a sweet comfort scent.
Creating milk accords has been a tricky thing. Some of them can have a funky scent profile that is distracting. Some can just feel like you’re coated in sweet cream. In between there is a version which is like the scent of milk slowly warming on the stove. That’s what the accord Mme Laprade creates here. It finds an engaging middle ground. To it some marshmallow is added. This also adds in a very subtle muskiness as the sweetness rises. Mme Laprade keeps everything balanced. The sweetness doesn’t overtake the milk accord it harmonizes with it.
Tonka bean provides a transition to the woody base where an interesting choice is made. A tendril of woodsmoke flits over the top. It is as if you’ve taken your mug of warm milk with marshmallows outside and the breeze brings a scent of a far-off fire burning. The comfort rises as benzoin along with the tonka begin to shift this to a warm blanket to snooze the winter night away under.
Milk has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Based on this first example it seems as if Commodity is back thanks to Mr. Arslanian. Which is a great sign that quality can still win the day.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
One of the joys of visiting an art museum is to see the world as interpreted by creative minds. I don’t go to see a subject captured in a realistic way. Artists look at the world and see it through a different lens. It is what makes the greatest pieces of art memorable. They give the viewer a new perspective on something simple.
Perfumery in the hands of the most creative people can do the same thing. There are plenty of perfumes which attempt to photo realistically re-create something from nature. Depending on the subject it is great to have that when I want it. But I prefer when perfume interprets a subject in a way that gives you something to think about as Shalini Fleur Japonais does.
This is the seventh perfume from the team of creative director/fashion designer Shalini and perfumer Maurice Roucel. They have formed one of the best collections of perfume because they aren’t trying to make a simulation. They are trying to look for deeper beauty.
Fleur Japonais is inspired by the Japanese name for the cherry blossoms of every spring called “Sakura”. This year has seen a trend of cherry blossom centered perfumes. Almost all of them have tried to be transparent florals. That is not the kind of artistry I seek. What this creative team finds is the almost religious awe with which the Sakura are held in Japan. That doesn’t lend itself to opacity. It asks for something more profound. The solution is to place a weightier cherry blossom on a wooden altar surrounded by purifying incense.
The lighter cherry blossom is where this begins. M. Roucel weds it to a creamy magnolia. He isn’t content to have an ephemeral cherry blossom. This accord is like a hybrid cultivar of the two florals. It is mostly the sweetness of the Sakura, but it is given substance through the magnolia. It is not a breath of spring it is a reminder of Nature’s beauty.
The counterbalance is a fabulous silvery frankincense. This is an austere church-like version of the resin. It fits here because this is a fragrance which sees the Sakura as an object of worship. The frankincense takes you to that place as it surrounds the cherry blossom-magnolia duo. Together it forms a transcendental interpretation of cherry blossom. M. Roucel places it all in a shrine built of sandalwood.
Fleur Japonais has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage in its parfum concentration.
This is a fascinating perfume to wear as we transition from summer to fall. There are times it seems like a callback to the spring. Most of the time it feels like a sacred experience through an artist’s vision of cherry blossoms.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Shalini.
I call brands out for names which have nothing to do with the perfume. I should equally laud those who have names which absolutely describe what the fragrance smells like. The Maison Margiela Replica collection means what it says when it names its releases. The most recent, Maison Margiela Replica Autumn Vibes provides exactly what you might expect.
The first twinges of fall have arrived at Colognoisseur HQ. Now on my morning walks there are some fallen leaves beginning to accumulate on the side of the path. In another couple of weeks with a stiff wind or two and a storm those piles of leaves add a distinctive scent to the season. It isn’t as pleasant as pumpkin spice, but it is characteristic of this time of year. It is a dry slightly spicy odor. It also has that oddly sweet sense of the early stages of decay. Autumn Vibes captures all of that.
It begins with a light bit of berries to provide that surrogate for the decay. Cardamom is that slightly chilly breeze of the season. This is an engaging opening where it draws you deeper into the woods. What you find there is that dry woody scent of the piles of dead leaves. There seems to be a cocktail of woody ingredients formed into this pile of leaves accord. For much of the time this is on my skin it is held at this slightly piquant woody phase. Over time moss softens this into a hazier woodiness.
Autumn Vibes has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
One of the things I appreciate about this was the choice not to add any woodsmoke-like piece. I found it made for a purer experience to focus on the dead leaves over the fireplace. Much like the poodles I walk with, I suspect Autumn Vibes is going to be a pleasant companion throughout the season.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Maison Margiela.
One of the things I’ve noticed over time is brands begin to reach middle-age and settle for a consistent aesthetic over anything else. It makes me a bit sad when a brand which began with fresh ideas and directions reaches this stage. They begin to look like that person who doesn’t realize they’re not young and hip anymore. There are exceptions some of the seminal brands which provided the foundations of niche perfumery have managed to not lose their youthful vision while getting their senior citizen discount.
One which has lived up to keeping it going has been Diptyque which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. It has been a reminder of what this brand has stood for. Diptyque Venise is emblematic of this.
Creative director Myriam Badault wanted to capture the gardens of Venice. If you’ve ever visited a private residence in the Italian city behind the walls are these gorgeous gardens/courtyards. When I’ve visited sitting outside hearing the water traffic while sipping wine among the flowers is as good as life gets. Mme Badault wasn’t thinking of a flower garden for her Venetian fragrance. She was thinking about what an Italian might grow to use in their kitchen. Working with perfumer Cecile Matton they create just that. This results in a very green and vegetal perfume.
It begins with a green Bell pepper accord. If you’ve ever sliced a green pepper, there is a pungency as you slice through it. Mme Matton captures the entirety of that. A citrusy accompaniment adds an extra bit of sharpness. The heart of Venise is tomato particularly the vines they grow on. Tomato leaf has become a popular ingredient. Here it is given more room to spread out intertwining with the green pepper on the vine next to it. Through it all runs an herbal thread of basil. This is the garden part.
The water part comes in the presence of vetiver. There are vetiver fractions which have a subtle aquatic undertone. I am guessing that is what Mme Matton uses here. The grassy green of vetiver softens some of the sharper edges of the garden trio. While that subtle watery aspect reminds you where you are.
Venise has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Venise is the sixth release in this anniversary year. It is an ideal place for Mme Badault to take a curtain call on her ability to keep things relevant for this long.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Nordstrom.
I am continually struggling with the current trend of designing transparent fragrances. While I fully understand the consumer market desires this style. It reminds me of the days when everything was “fresh and clean” twentysomething years ago. If the needle gets too stuck in a single direction mediocrity sets in. There is no room for innovation just minute iterations upon a singular theme. Which is why I am probably splitting ever diminishing hairs when I try and make a distinction to make some releases more palatable.
The way I think about it is there is “transparent”. That’s where everything is so volumized the fragrance is ephemeral, barely there. There is an “emperor’s new clothes” aspect where I wonder if these are even perfumes. I know they are but in some cases the level of lightness makes it seem as if these are made for someone who likes the idea of wearing perfume without really wearing it. This is the heart of my struggle which I suspect will never fully resolve.
The other category is “diffuse”. These have just a touch more presence. They have some nice phases of development while they stick around. They are still very light, but I enjoy them more because it feels closer to my concept of perfume. One of the latest I received in this category is Le Labo Cedrat 37.
Fabrice Penot and Edouard Roschi
Cedrat 37 is the latest city exclusive from the brand for the Berlin stores. Creative directors Fabrice Penot and Edouard Roschi haven’t actually tried to have these releases approximate their cities. Tabac 28 was one of the exceptions. When I think of Berlin the idea of citrus doesn’t exactly spring to mind. What is in the bottle is an example of a diffuse citrusy fragrance.
It is a simply constructed perfume based early on around the lemony scent of cedrat and the zinginess of ginger. A lot of time with the lemon citrus analogs there is a piercing level in the early going. In this case the cedrat is softer, hazier. I think there are some lighter musks creating this effect. The ginger has a transforming quality as we go from yellow haze to candied citrus. If you’ve ever eaten those jelly candies coated in crystals of sugar that’s what this reminds me of. It even has a kind of crunchiness of the sugar cracking between my teeth. While the sweetness level goes up the opacity stays constant. It is at a nice level without feeling inconsequential. It finishes on what is becoming a common woody musky base accord characteristic of the brand.
Cedrat 37 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I am probably searching for places to allow my sensibilities some traction. Cedrat 37 allows me to choose diffuse over transparent.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
Editor’s Note: As of the date of this post there is a week left in the annual September availability of the city exclusives worldwide.
Even though I retain my belief that perfume is not gendered I am not blind to others who think differently. There are brands which seemingly know they are popular with one gender over the other. One I would put in that category is Parfums de Marly. For the last decade they have been producing fragrances which resonate with the guys. Creative director Julien Sprecher has leaned into this popularity. One of the things it has resulted in has been a slow drift towards the desires of that audience. In the most recent releases there are pieces which seem intentionally designed to appeal to their main demographic, the guys.
What that has meant is when they design for a female audience there is some freedom to try things. The last two releases for this audience, Delina and Cassili exemplify this. The most recent feminine release Parfums de Marly Oriana continues this creative trend.
M. Sprecher works with a team of perfumers this time. Nathalie Lorson and Hamid Merati-Kashani combine to create a fun-loving gourmand. What I have always admired about this brand is M. Sprecher understands what a mainstream perfume lover might be looking for in trying to breakaway from the mall. Oriana displays this as it captures the current trends without seeming to hew to them too strongly.
Oriana opens with a fresh citrus top accord built around mandarin and grapefruit. This is a lively attention getter for what comes next. The brief was to create a fragrance around Chantilly cream. The heart is where this begins to come together. Raspberry and blackcurrant form an array of juicy berries. Orange blossom captures the citrus from the top and swirls it in a creamy spiral. The cream accord rises to this and is further elaborated through marshmallow water. This is a fully realized gourmand as it feels like a bowl of cream and berries drizzled with marshmallow water. A subtle musk through ambrette adds the final piece.
Oriana has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Oriana once again shows the creativity at the brand when allowed to have a little more leeway. I’m happy to wear these over the men’s designed ones because they are just more interesting. I guess it’s because girls just want to have fun.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Parfums de Marly.
I say this a lot, the names of perfumes confound me. My most recent example comes from Patricia de
Nicolai. Regular readers know powdery types of fragrances aren’t high on my list of favorites. When my sample of Nicolai Poudre de Musc Intense was headed my way, I saw everything in a name to set off my alarms. Translated into “musk powder intense” I was expecting a huge powderpuff made even bigger because it was intense. When I received it, the powder is muted, while the musk is where the intense sort of applies, and I really like it.
Patricia de Nicolai
I am unsure whether this is meant to be a sequel to 2012’s Musc Intense. It is certainly not a flanker since it shares few of the same notes. What it does share is a desire to explore musc as an ingredient when it is interrogated by fruit and floral. The predecessor was a full rose and pear accord wrapped around a sensual musk. This new creation still goes with fruit and flowers with an added idea of making it more expansive.
That concept flows from the first moments. Lemony petitgrain and raspberry form the fruity half while orange blossom is the floral antagonist. The petitgrain has its sharpness blunted with the juiciness of the raspberry. The orange blossom also retains its core of indoles reminding you it is a white flower. If you’re looking for powder it is here where the floral has the most presence. Things change rapidly after this.
Using hawthorn and aldehydes she agitates her fruity floral accord. The aldehydes add lift while the hawthorn strums the indoles in a gentle way. Then the animalic musk adds some slinkiness to it. Mme de Nicolai is not looking to unleash a musky skankfest here. She is trying to strike a balance between the deeper axis of hawthorn and musk with the fizz of the aldehydes and the brighter pieces prior to it. Over time the musk draws depth out of the fruity floral pieces. Where it ends on an ambery sandalwood base.
Poudre de Musc Intense has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
For all that the name made me cautious the perfume has delighted me. It has been a great choice on these first cool days of the fall. This is going to be an ideal shoulder season fragrance choice. Just don’t let the name fool you.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
I receive a box of samples from Sephora every two or three months. For many consumers this store is the interface between them and perfume. When I first started paying attention to fragrance one of the attractions of going in the store was, they would make samples of anything on the shelf. Twenty years ago the mainstream was found on those shelves. What was going on in the independent niche perfumery world was unseen. In 2021 that is not the case. There are new releases which show how much influence niche has had on the fragrances for the mass-market. In my most recent box of samples I found Kayali Invite Only Amber 23 which solidified these thoughts I’ve been having.
Huda Beauty is the brand begun by sisters Huda and Mona Kattan. As the brand has expanded across the beauty sector the sisters have divided and conquered the different pieces. When it comes to fragrance it is Mona Kattan who creatively directs that piece. In 2018 she created the Kayali brand with a debut collection of four. This year there have been three releases of which Invite Only Amber 23 is the fall release.
The influence of niche shows in the number at the end of the name. It represents the number of mods before they finally reached the one in the bottle. There are many independent brands who have allowed the consumer inside the creative process through a simple number. As long as you know what it represents.
What’s in the bottle is perhaps the greatest representation of how niche has influenced things. If I said to someone at the mall, I’d like a woody gourmand with hints of oud. They probably would have given me directions to the food court. Today they might likely hand you Invite Only Amber 23.
Ms. Kattan works with perfumer Ilias Ermenidis to create this. One thing I’ve enjoyed about the Kayali releases to date is they are not as transparent as most of their contemporaries. Ms. Kattan seemingly believes a little weight is not a bad thing in a perfume.
The perfume opens with a cherry-flavored tobacco accord. Mr. Ermenidis makes this more tobacco than fruit, but it is the presence of the cherry which makes it. Hazelnut flavored chocolate adds a gourmand layer under the tobacco. This results in an appealing gourmand accord.
The base is where the influences of the last twenty years also appear. Oud has become one of the most used ingredients in perfumery. It has an exotic quality on its own. In this case Mr. Ermenidis constructs an oud accord. This allows him to create a piece which is less edgy than oud itself. Because that is kind of sterile, he makes a smart choice to add in a tiny amount of the real stuff. This catalyzes the whole construct to add a potent woody contrast to the gourmand half.
Invite Only Amber 23 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
The world of perfumery has changed so much. That in twenty years a perfume like Invite Only Amber 23 exists at the mall is a testament to what niche has wrought.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Sephora.
There is a hazard to naming a perfume “Imagination”. Should a fragrance lover expect something unique and different? Or does the name point out a lack of it? With Louis Vuitton Imagination I can make a case that two-thirds of it lives up to its name.
Longtime readers know I have struggled with the fragrances under the Louis Vuitton brand. I have desired leathery variations. Perfumer Jacques Cavallier-Belletrud who has been the perfumer of all 28 perfumes released over the last five years wants a broader collection. One part where he has begun to stake out some interesting territory is in the fresh style of fragrance. Even though they are the opposite of the leather I want I am coming around to enjoying these types of entries within the collection. Imagination falls into this group.
The opening is a juicy orange given some shadow and texture through tea. M. Cavallier-Belletrud turns the orange from the sunlight surrogate into something a little less bright. I found it an appealing alternative.
The heart is a soapy mixture of neroli and ginger. When it first appears it is as if you’ve just unwrapped a fine milled soap. It takes over for a short period before the citrus accord comes back. A slight sizzle of cinnamon completes this part of the perfume. Right here is a nice take on a fresh summer fragrance.
What happens next is something which happens all too often, ambrox blots out the sun. It eclipses everything that came before in a dry woody torrent. I’ve got enough examples to know it doesn’t have to be this way. There are more restrained uses of ambrox which can be appealing. I continue to believe that it is used in this quantity, so the perfume lasts a long time which is prized by some consumers.
Imagination has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Combination of luxurious soap and shadowed citrus did show some of what the label promised. Too bad the final stages are the antithesis of that.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Louis Vuitton.