Many artists have “periods” when an aesthetic seemingly animates their output for a time. It hasn’t been as obvious when it come to perfumers, but I think Jean-Claude Ellena is in the midst of one. Ever since he left Hermes as in-house perfumer. They called it retirement, but it doesn’t feel like he has done that. Mainly because there has been a consistent output by him. He seems to be enjoying making solitaires focused on a single ingredient. He has assayed the flowers of his home in Grasse for Perris Monte Carlo. He has also done similar work for Laboratorio Olfattivo under the creative direction of Roberto Drago. What comes through is his desire to display the keynote in an ideal perfume setting. Laboratorio Olfattivo Bergamotto and Limone are the latest additions to his “Solitaire Period”.
Both are part of the “Viaggio in Italia” collection begun last year with Mandarino. The idea is these are the scents of a summer road trip in Italy. I said at the end of last year I would ride anywhere with M. Ellena. This year I’m calling shotgun as we make two stops.
Bergamotto features that character actor in almost every other perfume. Bergamot is the fresh complementary ingredient to thousands of top accords. That isn’t an exaggeration it is thousands, I looked it up. I only have a few perfumes which allow it to be the focal point. It has always made me wonder why it isn’t more frequently used this way. In the press release M. Ellena points out that it is the only citrus which came from Italy when a botanist crossed a lemon tree with a bitter orange tree. That allows bergamot to have this sweet spot which seemingly goes with everything. M. Ellena gives it the star treatment.
When I spray it the intensity of the bergamot surprises and delights me. Making me wonder anew why it isn’t featured more. There is the freshness of lemon, but that bitterness of the orange is different than the tart of straight lemon. It doesn’t add a lip-pucker as much as an engaging depth. Twin breezes blow over the bergamot. One is the lemon-tinged zephyr of cardamom. It floats across the keynote while kicking up a kind of lemon aerosol off the bergamot. White musk is the other trade wind as this adds some softness to the bitterness. Acting as a gentle simoon adding in a layer of dryness.
Bergamotto has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
We get back in our car and head to the Amalfi Coast for Limone. According to the press notes the cliff roads there have the ocean on one side and terraces of lemon trees on the other. M. Ellena captures the lemon at the peak of its summery ripeness.
The lemon here is so faceted I suspect there are multiple sources. It isn’t just the astringent type we associate with it most familiarly. There is also a hint of the pulp and especially of the rind as a noticeable green runs throughout the early display of the lemon. This is a lemon which is full spectrum. To that ginger adds its vivacious kineticism. Acting as a catalyst to give this more zing as we drive on the edge of the cliff road. He again uses white musk but in this case, it is as a way of adding expansiveness. As you drive on the edge of the world with sea below and lemon trees above the whole world seems to be in front of you. So step on the gas.
Limone has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
I have enjoyed all the perfumes from M. Ellena’s “Solitaire Period” so far. I hope there are more yet to come. I’m ready to go on another road trip. Just remember I call shotgun.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples I purchased.
I’ve mentioned in the past that there are cornerstone ingredients in perfumery. These are widely used keynotes across all sectors of the art. They are beloved by those who wear fragrance. Vanilla is one of these because it imparts a sense of fun when it is on its sweet side. It is also a snuggly warm ingredient made for comfort. I have come to enjoy the opportunity to be reminded of its tropical origin as an orchid. The latter has only come as newer extraction techniques have appeared. Laboratorio Olfattivo Vanagloria displays that.
It has been eleven years since I discovered the brand for the first time. Owner-creative director Roberto Drago has always had an experimental vision for his “olfactive laboratory”. Over the years when it is at its best it uses a keynote in different ways. For Vanagloria he asked perfumer Dominique Ropion to tinker with vanilla.
The core of Vanagloria is a CO2 extraction of vanilla by Laboratoire Monique Remy (LMR). This way of extraction has been around many years now. How it works is you take a raw material and immerse it in liquid carbon dioxide at high pressure. Unlike other extractions using heat and organic solvents this way captures a more nuanced version of the material. In this case there is a leatheriness which you don’t usually encounter with vanilla. This is what M. Ropion uses to design his perfume around.
When I took my first sniff of Vanagloria I thought we were headed towards pina colada territory. M. Ropion uses a pineapple accord which reminds me of pineapple juice. Not sugary and more representative of the fruit itself. The idea of cocktails is swept aside as saffron teases out that leathery facet of this vanilla. It acts as a fleeting paso doble as the saffron and the leather piece move back and forth. What breaks them apart are swirls of incense which finds that sweetness so familiar to vanilla lovers. This combination of resin and vanilla has come to be among my favorite iterations. Here it has a hushed sacred effect. That is transformed through the coumarin of tonka bean. This forms that golden glowing comforting version of vanilla. Now it hugs you like an old acquaintance. A final addition of musk rounds out everything.
Vanagloria has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
What is achieved here is a perfume which finds ways to display all the lovely nuance of this LMR vanilla. It gives anyone who enjoys the ingredient the chance to learn new things about an old friend.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle provided by Laboratorio Olfattivo.
When Jean-Claude Ellena retired as in-house perfumer at Hermes it seems he didn’t understand the term. Particularly over the last eighteen months he has been as prolific as he has ever been. There is also enough data on the type of fragrances he is making these days to think he has entered a new phase. Lately he has been composing perfumes which focus on a single keynote which is tied to a geographic location. The results have been some remarkable solitaires of perfume ingredients put into settings where they shine. The newest of these is Laboratorio Olfattivo Mandarino.
Mandarino is the second perfume M. Ellena has done for the brand. Last year’s Baliflora was orange blossom and Bali within this new oeuvre. Mandarino is the start of a new collection called Viaggio in Italy. It is meant to capture a trip around the country. Mandarino is a summery stop in a grove of mandarin oranges somewhere in Italy.
Creative director Roberto Drago has been one of the earliest influencers in this new Renaissance of Italian perfumery. He has helped refine this style through the years at Laboratorio Olfattivo. In asking M. Ellena to find Italy in its indigenous ingredients he is evolving the brand yet again.
Mandarino opens with a huge amount of mandarin. I am not sure if this is a single source or a mixture of different types. What I experience in the first few moments is a full spectrum sweet citrus. The tartness of the rind, the sweet juice, and the squishy pulp all are represented. It is a citrus lovers dream. The first ingredient to be added is blackcurrant which provides a different type of fruity contrast. I think there might be some blackcurrant bud here too because there is a subtle green harmonic which thrums underneath the fruits. The berry provides the setting for the mandarin to glitter within. A set of white musks are then used to add a lot of expansiveness. In the early going the concentration of the mandarin might feel claustrophobic to some. In a short period of time the white musks provide a lot more space for it to exist in.
Mandarino has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
For those who are looking for a long-lasting citrus perfume Mandarino is one of the more tenacious ones I’ve tried. Mandarino is a gorgeous example of the beauty a single keynote can provide. I am not sure what the next destination in their trip of Italy is. I only know I want to ride wherever Sig. Drago and M. Ellena want to take me. I’ll even ride in the back seat.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
Back in 2010 when I discovered the new perfume line Laboratorio Olfattivo I got the impression that the man who was behind the brand also loved perfume. When I met that creative director for the brand, Roberto Drago, my suspicion was confirmed. The time I spend speaking with Sig. Drago when I travel to the Italian perfume expositions is never the typical blogger trying to get more information on new releases. We have spoken at length about ways to broaden the audience for niche perfumery, the crowded marketplace, and our favorite new releases. Sig. Drago believes in the potential of perfume as much as I do.
Throughout the ten years that Laboratorio Olfattivo has been releasing fragrances it has also become a place where independent perfumers can create a little more freely. One perfumer for whom this freedom has been very good for is Cecile Zarokian. Mme Zarokian is another with whom I have spent many hours talking about perfume making. Nerotic is the third fragrance Mme Zarokian has collaborated with Sig. Drago on. Nerotic is the first release in a new sub-collection named “Laboratorio in Nero” where the clear bottle is replaced with a black one. This collection is going to be characterized by more “complex formula(s)”.
Nerotic is meant to be a portmanteau of neurotic and narcotic. What I found interesting about the way Mme Zarokian interpreted that combination was to create deep accords around which a textural note flits in and out making a wearer wonder if it is truly there. The hide and seek nature of these notes didn’t necessarily make me neurotic but it was interesting to experience.
Mme Zarokian opens Nerotic with berries and citrus. A sweetly tart opening which seemed to settle in except saffron kept showing up and then leaving. I like saffron as a foil to fruity openings and when it holds itself in check it makes that common fruity opening more exotic. Mme Zarokian seemingly uses a smaller amount to give that in and out effect I am enjoying. The green rose of geranium is matched with a leather accord in the heart. The leather accord is the black leather version which the geranium contrasts nicely. The neurotic note here is a very green coriander which when it shows up it causes the geranium to pulse with vitality within the leather. It forms a fantastic heart accord. The base is sandalwood and one of the woody-amber aromachemicals. There is a nice bit of tension between the sweeter nature of sandalwood up against the sharp edges of the synthetic. The final touch is a lazy curl of smoke which wends its way through the woods as if they were warm enough to burst into flame.
Nerotic has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is the thirteenth new release composed by Mme Zarokian in 2016. It is testament to her ever-developing skills that each of these thirteen perfumes stand distinctly on their own. Sig. Drago’s freedom to create has allowed her to cap the year with Nerotic as lucky thirteen.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Laboratorio Olfattivo.
Now that the calendar tells me we have moved into autumn I look forward to that last gasp of warmth we call Indian Summer. Usually in the first few days of October after we have had some cold days and nights the weather provides a streak of a few days in a row where the temperature rises back up to near summertime levels. It is always an interesting confluence as the sun strikes down through the leaves changing color on the trees. Instead of running on the beach in shorts I shuffle through fallen leaves. It isn’t really summer and it surely is fall but they co-exist for a few days. Perfume tends to get shuffled into categories based on what I would wear based on the temperature outside. When I received the new Laboratorio Olfattivo Nun I found it to be a perfume which also wanted to live in those in-between times, too.
Owner/ Creative Director Roberto Drago works again with perfumer Luca Maffei on Nun. Their inspiration is not Catholic sisters. Instead it is the Egyptian word which refers to primordial water. The mythology says this water gave birth to the lotus. Sigs. Drago and Maffei wanted to make a perfume which celebrated the lotus and its cycle of sleeping at night only to open at the touch of the sun in the morning. Nun does capture the lotus but it is the inclusion of fantastically rich pear which makes Nun something different.
Luca Maffei (l.) and Roberto Drago
Nun opens with a flash of citrus from both lemon and bergamot. Next comes the pear. This is not that crisp pear that so often shows up in many fragrances. Sig. Maffei has fashioned a pear which is almost overripe. It carries a lactonic undertone making the fruit softer, lusher. Then floating on top is the white lotus which seems to enter on tip-toe. It becomes more defined by jasmine and ylang-ylang. What I like is that instead of being this meditative single bloom floating on a pool of still water. This heart accord is more akin to the lotus bursting open right as the rays of the sun touch it releasing all of the pent up scent in a kinetic burst. At the end there is a bit of an inspirational air as a grouping of lighter synthetic woods and white musks form the basenotes.
Nun has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
For all that this should be a watery summer perfume it really captures my ideal of Indian Summer. The bright notes within Nun are also matched by deeper richer counterparts. Taken together it creates a hybrid which I might think of as Egyptian Summer.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Laboratorio Olfattivo.
Lily focused perfumes have always been a problem for me. If you smell a living lily it is a wonderfully complex smell coming from the bloom. Too many perfumes go for a stripped down version which becomes a washed out version of the real thing more appropriate for the funeral home. This has become so common my eye probably begins to twitch when I start reading a description of a new lily perfume. So it was when I received the press release in advance of the new Laboratorio Olfattivo MyLO.
As I waited for the perfume to catch up to the e-mailed press release I thought that Laboratorio Olfattivo creative director Roberto Drago is not one to follow the crowd. If there is a trademark to Laboratorio Olfattivo it is that Sig. Drago asks some of the best young perfumers to work with him. This more often than not provides a fragrance that takes risks. One thing that had me excited to try MyLo was the perfumer Sig. Drago asked to compose it, Luca Maffei. Sig. Maffei has had an incredibly creative 18 months impressing me at nearly every turn. I should have been aloft with anticipation instead my eye was twitching.
The press release told me that the name came from Sig. Drago calling the fragrance My Laboratorio Olfattivo which was shortened to MyLO. I have had the opportunity to meet Sig. Maffei quite a bit over the last year. One quality that I like is he becomes quite passionate about the perfumes he makes. Every creative director who works with him comments on his drive to produce something special. Sig. Maffei leaps fearlessly into his designs.
Two Calla Lily on Pink (1928) by Georgia O'Keeffe
When I finally smelled MyLO I was more than pleased, I was amazed. When it comes to lilies my frame of reference isn’t the chill of the funeral parlor. It is the deep colors and lines of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings of calla lilies. When I would stand in front of these in a museum I didn’t smell the wan polite lily. I would smell a lily holding the natural spice of the pollen on its pistil thrusting out from the middle of the petals. The creamy lines of those petals on the canvas don’t smell polite they promise carnality. Sig. Maffei does this with MyLO.
The early going of MyLO is pretty standard citrus and baie rose. This has become the opening to so many perfumes lately the first moments were not promising. The floral heart warms things up. The lily is there fairly quickly rising from out of the citrus. It is beautifully demure until Sig. Maffei uses three other floral notes to create something much more realistic. An indolic jasmine adds a bit of an animalic growl to things. A spicy rose provides the natural spice that the pollen of the real thing provides. Finally, a fully powdery orris acts as if that pollen has transformed to a sweet cloud. This floral accord is so accomplished and balanced. On the days I wore MyLO it was so good I stopped often throughout the day to enjoy it. In the base Sig. Maffei uses benzoin and vanilla to give a sweetly resinous foundation.
MyLO has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
MyLO is immediately one of my favorite lily perfumes. There are so few perfumes which embrace the spicy sexy quality of lily that MyLO stands out for that reason. This goes with Daimiris and Kashnoir as the best this very good brand has produced. If you are tired of cleaned up near-sterile lilies MyLO will offer a different perspective.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Laboratorio Olfattivo.
I am not sure what it is about the Caribbean island of St. Barth’s but there are a number of creative directors who want to capture the smell of it. One of those is former 1970’s model Jacques Zolty. M. Zolty after his modeling and acting career had cooled down decided to retreat to St. Barth’s as his permanent home. He has lived there for over 25 years now and is as much a native as those who were born there. In 2006 he decided he wanted to start a perfume which captures the smells of his island. He would partner with Roberto Drago to create the line.
Sig. Drago’s vision for the Jacques Zolty line was to create an intermediate line between mainstream and niche. The line would represent something different from what you could find at your local mall but not so unusual as to create a barrier for a consumer to have to leap over. I have admired the restraint of the perfumes in this line. I think Sig. Drago’s vision is clear and the perfumes execute them more than capably. Last year’s release Van-ile was a good example of this aesthetic. For 2015 the latest release Flowersea jumps on the revival of the aquatic fragrance ongoing.
For the previous five releases in the Jacques Zolty line they purposefully stayed away from going for the sea and sand vibe. In Flowersea Sig. Drago asks perfumer Marie Duchene to finally go for it with a suntan lotion component thrown in for good measure.
Flowersea opens with a calone-based marine accord but it is also fortified with a healthy dose of ozonic notes to give the freshness a more open air quality. Together this is like looking at the horizon over an expanse of turquoise water. So there is the sea. For the flower part Mme Duchene uses frangipani, jasmine, and peony to create a rich tropical flower accord. The rougher edges of the indoles are removed leaving only the prettiness of the flowers to mix with the sea part. As you’re walking this flower laden beach you need some sunscreen and Mme Duchene uses coconut flower and a whole lot of white musk to create the oiled sun warmed skin accord. It all ends on clean woods of cedar and sandalwood.
Flowersea has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Flowersea is the most niche-like of the Jacques Zolty fragrances so far. I wonder if Sig. Drago has just decided to start transitioning the line a little more towards niche. Time will tell on that. What I like about Flowersea is that it is yet another modern aquatic that is grabbing my interest in a perfume sector I thought was tapped out. Maybe it just needed some new perspective from somewhere in-between mainstream and niche.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Jacques Zolty at Esxence 2015.
For those of us who love niche perfume we have to be hopeful that the number of people interested in it continues to grow over time. For most who fall down the rabbit hole of artistic perfumery it happens through being introduced to the world from an avid perfume lover who will share. Or you might stumble across a boutique carrying brands you’ve never heard of and fall in love with one. That way requires expansion through word of mouth or chance. Over the past few years we have seen niche brands expand outward by ingenious partnerships with other more populist brands. Sephora has begun to offer some niche brands on their fragrance shelves again. The hard thing is that sometimes making the jump to something so different, from the mainstream, is a big leap. Sometimes it seems like if there was a bit of an intermediate step offered it might help make the transition a bit easier.
I had this exact conversation with Roberto Drago who is well-known in niche circles as the creative director of Laboratorio Olfattivo. Sig. Drago is well aware that having a line of perfumes which can be seen as transitional would be good for business. Towards that end he has a line, he also creative directs, which attempts to do that called Jacques Zolty. These are meant to be easily worn fragrances which show much of what makes niche perfume interesting without becoming so complex as to be aloof. One of the most recent releases for this line has straddled this line brilliantly and is called Van-Ile.
Vanilla is an ideal focal point for a perfume trying to complete this delicate kind of balancing act. Vanilla is a comforting familiar component to most who wear mainstream perfumes. Sig. Drago asked perfumer Cecile Zarokian to be the one to realize this. Mme Zarokian does a wonderful job of balancing this so that it carries widespread appeal to the longtime niche perfume lover and the person deciding to give something new a try.
Van-Ile is a very simple structure which opens with the figurative perfume version of “once upon a time” as citrus in the form of orange is what you encounter first. As Van-ile proceeds into the heart it uses jasmine as a safe haven but here is where Mme Zarokian offers a little something more as a nutty almond adds a toasty quality to the floral notes. It also is a great note to usher in the vanilla. The vanilla here is that of the vanilla orchid. Which means besides the immediately recognizable sweet vanilla there are also green flares throughout. Some oakmoss picks up and accentuates those green moments. It all finishes in a safe patchouli foundation.
Van-Ile last 8-10 hours with average sillage.
Van-Ile does exactly what it sets out to do as Mme Zarokian mixes the common with just a bit of uncommon. It allows someone who is familiar with mainstream perfumes to take a slight step towards the world of niche. For me I enjoy it for the simple good-natured companion it can be for a day of running errands because even someone who wears as much perfume as I do likes something a little less challenging once in a while.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Jacques Zolty at Pitti Fragranze.
Patchouli is one of the most common notes in all of perfumery. It is also one of the most widely-known notes by those who are not interested in perfume because it has been a fragrance associated with hippies and head shops, especially during the 1960’s and 70’s. The latter is an unfortunate association even though it makes it identifiable. I have always embraced the association as one of trying something different. As I’ve been exposed to more and more sources of really outstanding patchouli I have been reminded that the way patchouli became known to western noses was through the silk trade of the 18th and 19th centuries. Because patchouli was thought to be an insect repellent the rare silks were packed with patchouli leaves before being shipped to every royal court in Europe. The scent of patchouli on your silk was as good as a seal of authenticity. The smell of patchouli became associated with the noble classes and royalty during that time.
When I met Laoboratorio Olfattivo creative director Roberto Drago at Pitti Fragranze he spoke to me of wanting to create a patchouli perfume which captured both of these influences. To that end he asked perfumer Cecile Zarokian to create the new Patchouliful from a sketch he had done of a man wearing a crown, Hawaiian shirt, shorts and flip flops sitting on a throne. We laughed and I called it him the King of the Summer of Love. As Sig. Drago and I spoke further he related to me his desire to have a patchouli fragrance which was not so heavy he wanted something which would be as light-hearted as the sketch of his laid-back king. Mme Zarokian has a wonderful habit of listening to the creative directors she works with. She understood what Sig. Drago wanted and delivered a patchouli that is transparent and lilting while still having a real sense of the power of the title note.
Mme Zarokian starts Patchouliful off with a beautifully balanced spicy duet of cinnamon and clove. She keeps them floating on the surface of things and once you see underneath you are greeted by orris, frangipani and the expected patchouli. The clove, in particular, persists into the floral heart. The orris and frangipani form a slightly green floral bouquet. The patchouli is added in such a way that it seems to be playing hide and seek in among the spices and flowers. For quite a while it never seems like the patchouli will gain the upper hand. Later on in the development it does and it lands on a base of cedar, labdanum, and musk. Mme Zarokian leaves the ending as opaque as the middle phase of development was.
Patchouliful has 8-10 hours of longevity and average sillage.
All too often patchouli is used as a powerful presence in a perfume. Patchouliful shows there is also pleasure to be found by dialing back the power and allowing the user to come forward to the patchouli rather than the patchouli coming to them. The delicate hand used by Mme Zarokian to realize Sig. Drago’s vision makes for a memorable patchouli perfume. I have the Hawaiian shirt, short, flip flops and crown; whenever I find my throne Patchouliful will be my coronation day scent.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Laboratorio Olfattivo.