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Behind the Scents: Join me in the Creative Process for Maher Olfactive and Chatillon Lux

One of my favorite parts of releasing a new perfume (after the actual composition process) is writing my Scent Notes column. I love pulling the curtain back and explaining my creative process. I believe in giving people credit for being intelligent information-seekers rather than trying to build a shroud of mystery. In all the art I love, there’s nothing that really enhances my appreciation than getting a direct conduit into the artist’s creative process and inspirations.

However, now that I have split the Chatillon Lux Parfums line into a new luxury house that caters to my desire to stretch my creativity to its fullest, Maher Olfactive, I wanted to create a place that I could not only keep my Scent Notes columns for both houses in one place, but also allows more more random musings about the world of perfumery. That will be both written and, hopefully in the near future, video blogs.

Keep checking back here and, more importantly, follow @MaherOlfactive and @ChatillonLux on social media. You can also sign up for both houses’ respective email lists at MaherOlfactive.com and ChatillonLux.com to find out new as it happens.

Treachery: This Is Not a Perfume

When working on this newest perfume, I wanted something comforting. My development began in the cold months of fall and winter, starting in 2019, but the final stages of development came during a stay-at-home order during the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was lucky enough to have not been as directly affected as many are (luckily working as a perfumer and a writer means that I am perfectly conditioned for isolated conditions and working alone), but it does wear on one’s mind to know that so much of humanity is suffering.

So I finished development of the perfume right as the pandemic began to take off in the United States, right before the launch of Maher Olfactive. I considered delaying the launch, but instead know that many could use perfume as a comfort much as I have been, exploring new ones and revisiting the comforting embrace of old favorites.

When naming the perfume, I considered the notes – tobacco, pipe tobacco, vanilla absolute, sweet almond, cocoa, whiskey, saffron, spices, davana and berries – and how these items are very tangible part of many of our everyday lives, but much like the famous painting by René Magritte, The Treachery of Images, states that “this is not a pipe” next to the image of a pipe, the same idea of the symbolic representation of an item created through olfactory art is not truly the item itself.

So I decided that the perfume would be called This Is Not a Pipe. Brilliant! So brilliant, of course, that Demeter had already released a perfume under this moniker. The Treachery of Images is a bit of a handful to fit on a label, so I moved to simply Treachery. And this made a lot of sense.

Many of the things that bring us pleasure also can bring harmful consequences. Smoking a pipe, pouring a couple fingers of a fine single-barrel bourbon, or even indulging in an exquisite meal. However, in moderation, these pleasures are worth the risk because our lives are finite, and what is the purpose of a life lived without pleasure? Would the extra time gained be worth it if completely devoid of pleasure? And with a pandemic reminding us of our own mortality, this idea of the treachery of hedonistic pleasures really resonated with me.

With that out of the way, we can discuss the composition and execution of this idea.

Tobacco, Vanilla, Bourbon and Cocoa

The idea began with this familiar combination of items. Nothing groundbreaking, but in part that is why it is so comforting. I wanted to begin with the familiar and make it new. So the perfume is centered around a big dose of tobacco absolute and vanilla absolute. The sweetness and booziness of the vanilla absolute made it a great bridge from this accord to the whiskey accord, which begins with a big dose of oakwood absolute, a scent of fine, barrel-aged bourbon, then is fortified by methyl octalactone (also known as the whiskey lactone) and guaiacol, a very boozy note in its own right. To add some more depth and fortify this bridge, I used Vanilys, a dirty vanilla note that makes me think of the stories of selecting the dirty vanilla absolute in the composition of Shalimar, along with ethyl vanillin.

In order to push the tobacco absolute into more of a pipe-type tobacco, I used the sweet almond and cherry-tinged notes of an accord headlined bypara toualdehyde. Then, considering the coumarin-type sweet hay notes of tobacco, I employed tonka bean, Coumarex (a richer coumarin note), then underneath that, an accord featuring natural ambergris and fortified by small doses of ambergris-type materials, ambrocenide and ambroxan. Finally, to give some weight and resinous depth to the accord, I used labdanum absolute, a Peru balsam accord, beeswax absolute and dark-aged patchouli.

Finally, notes of natural cocoa, cocoa aldehyde and chocovan added the powdery chocolate and cocoa sweetness to the accord. Not a thick, syrupy chocolate, but rather a crumbling bite of decdant dark chocolate or a comforting powdered cocoa.

Saffron, Spice, Berries and More

I really love a berry note with a rich, sweet note. It blends so smoothly. So I began with a variation of a berry and apricot accord that I originally made for Chatillon Lux’s Lamplight Penance, then added berryflor to give it some more vibrancy, then folded all of that into a big dose of davana essential oil, a fruity/berry floral that works well with tobacco notes in my experience. Finally, I used small doses of apricot essential oil and Cassifix, a cassis-type material

For the spice accord, I began with Kephailis, a spice that complements tobacco very well. However, that did not seem sufficient, so I began thinking more deeply on what kind of spice would work well. I realized that the leathery, rich spice of saffron was an ideal note. So I created an accord with Safranal, Safraleine, and Pyralone, among others. To help balance it, the cool spice of cardamom essential oil added another bridge to the main accord to offset the contrasting saffron accord, and then added some rosey, floral spice notes of pink pepper essential oil and red champaca absolute. And finally, tiny little sprinkles of Indian black pepper, black cumin (far more well behaved than the regular cumin I’ve experienced), cinnamon leaf essential oil and laurel leaf essential oil.

At this point, the composition was very, very dense. And the final composition is still one that I would consider perhaps the most dense composition that I have made. However, using Iso E Super, Clearwood and Hedione, I added some airy notes that would support the tobacco and berry accord while creating space in which to really allow the scent to develop and bloom on the skin. And while this is not a scent begs to be worn on the skin, like Crystal Moon, it does unfold delightfully when reacting with body heat but also would be decadent when sprayed onto a scarf, coat or shirt. It also works great as a nice, fragrantic hug while staying at home.

Treachery will be available on Saturday, January 18 at 12pm Eastern through not only Maher Olfactive, but also American Perfumer, a retail shop featuring the best independent perfumers that work to further the new American fronteirs of perfumery, but also Sealed Essence, a retailer that curates perfumers worldwide who use the most exquisite and carefully selected raw materials.

La Petite Prairie from Chatillon Lux: A Multi-Generational Fresh Vetiver Citrus Fragrance

As much as I love perfume of all types, especially the experimental or wholly unique compositions from the wealth of modern independent perfumers, there are certain time-tested classics that I’ll always reach for. Whether it’s Eau Sauvage by Dior, Terre de Hermès or Vetiver by Guerlain, there’s a perfect balance in these between fresh notes and a vetiver underbelly that make it sing in harmony. With this type of classic structure in mind, I set out to find that perfect balance in my own signature style.

The result was a fresh prairie scent inspired by the roots of my little part of South Saint Louis City. 

In the early days of Saint Louis, beyond the main part of the city, there were many hamlets. One of those included Carondelet, which would evolve into South City and the history of which has inspired many of my compositions. However, Soulard is another historic part of this city’s history. The farmer’s market from the 18th century still thrives today, but it was the surrounding fields and farms that are now populated by my favorite restaurants, watering holes, concert venues and art galleries that are at the heart of this. 

Long-time followers of my work might remember Catalan’s Prairie, one of the first scents that I ever composed now almost six years ago. Catalan’s Prairie was the adjacent prairie and farmland to Carondelet, while La Petite Prairie was the farmland and prairie adjacent to Soulard, the French settlement just south of St. Louis proper. Soulard, which is right by the Anheuser Busch brewery, the Chatillon DeMenil mansion and, most relevantly, Chatillon Lux headquarters. It’s a beautiful, historic neighborhood that hosts the world’s second-largest Mardi Gras celebration. But more relevantly, the agricultural history and rolling prairies provide the perfect backdrop for this scent, created on the land where they once existed.

Laying the Foundation of Vetiver

First and foremost, this scent began with the construction of a vetiver base. I started off working with vetiver from Java, which is a little bit smoky and more on the woody end of the spectrum, alongside vetiver from Haiti. The Haitian vetiver is earthy, rooty and very tenacious. I enjoy using it in trace amounts in certain compositions (it’s a secret weapon in 88 Chestnut Eau de Cologne), and so in this vetiver base I used less than half the amount as I did the Javan vetiver.

However, that was just the beginning. In order to smooth out the rough edges of vetiver and make them seamlessly connect to what was meant to be a fresh, bright perfume, there was some work to do. I used a few materials to accomplish this, all analogs of a vetiver-type scent. I used vetiveryl acetate, both a Javanese-type and a Haitian-type, to emphasize the woody aspects, then combined them with Vertenex HC and vetival. However, the final touch was a material that I absolutely love, Vetikone, which has a vetiver and grapefruit type of aroma. Perfect!

And in order to fill out the gaps and add a touch more weight to the base, I used myrrh, styrax and elemi essential oils. These are deep and rich incense notes, perfect to supplement the facets of Javanese vetiver that I wished to bring out to anchor this composition. Finally, I also used the old standby, Iso E Super, to give some texture and air to the woody notes.

Florals…But not a Bouquet

When filling out the middle notes of this composition, I immediately sought to bring in the two classic floral notes for these types of perfumes: geranium and carnation.

In the carnation accord, I, of course, used a heavy dose of both benzyl salicylate, a balsamic note that goes very well with this type of vetiver base, as well as eugenol and dihydro eugenol. These notes are essential for these types of spicy floral accords, and many would perceive these as clove-type notes. However, I didn’t want to make this overly spicy, so I kept the eugenol low and added some laurel leaf essential oil and caryophyllene beta to make it a more subtle carnation accord. Finally, I put in a little touch of anisyl acetate and benzyl benzoate to help give it a more silky feel.

I began my geranium accord with my favorite geranium essential oil for use in a subtle way: South African essential oil. I also microdosed petitgrain sur fleur essential oil, a more woody version of the sharp petitgrain note. However, I also created a supplementary geranium accord that celebrates the fruity side of it, led by geraniol, citronellol, linalool, alpha pinene and geranyl acetate. However, I wanted to make this a fresh, crisp scent, so I dug out the more minty notes of geranium, specifically with methyl salicylate, a wintergreen-type note, in a small quantity. Finally, a bit of blue gum eucalyptus essential oil finished off the fresh, minty note that I was searching for.

Finally, in the tradition started with Edmond Roudnitska’s Eau Sauvage and carried on through countless fragrances in this vein, I used a big dose of hedione. That breezy, light note that is almost like jasmine, but a jasmine note in the same way that sparkling water has fruit flavoring. It’s definitely there, but it’s very transparent.

Finally, I used the fresh laundry musk of Galaxolide and Mahoganate, a fresh woody note, to ensure that fresh, breezy feel that I wanted to work in spite of the minty, spicy notes. To further that feel, Sichuan pepper essential oil worked out very nicely in the way that it adds a sparkle and bright spice, as opposed to its more staunchy black pepper counterpart.

Citrus Selection

Finally, the top notes. A citrus note works so well with vetiver already, especially with the grapefruit tinge that Vetikone brings out of a vetiver accord. However, I wanted to balance it out, so I began with Rhubofix in a large dose. This rhubarb note has a strong grapefruit type undertone and really works to make the top notes almost tea-like. Additionally, a mandarin accord and green mandarin essential oil keep building the subtle citrus, while Amarocite adds a juicy punch of biting into a slice of pink grapefruit with the juice dribbling down your chin. It’s a small dose, but important.

Next, I added a natural pineapple essential oil from Robertet. It is not like the candy pineapple used in so many fragrances, but a natural, juicy note that smells like the entire fruit. Very natural, but not overly sweet.

However, I wanted to keep with the prairie vibe so I made a little bit of a green undertone with some green citrus type notes. First of all, litsea cubeba essential oil has some lemongrass and citrus notes, but it also has a rich, herbaceous undertone that adds some gravity to a citrus accord. Additionally, stemone added a watery green leafy note to the accord, French lavender essential oil a silkiness and oakmoss absolute (IFRA compliant) gave it an anchor.

The result of all of this is an immensely wearable fragrance that will appeal to fragrance aficionados and those who want an easy perfume to wear alike. It’s office-friendly, but also versatile enough to wear on a night out, a day in the sun or even a formal event after this pandemic passes.

I am proud to put my own stamp on this grand tradition of perfumery and excited to share it with you. The fragrance will release on June 13, but the shaving products will be more tentative due to supply chain and labor issues related to COVID-19. I also hope to have a limited amount of the EdT samples available shortly, so keep an eye on social media or sign up for the mailing list to stay up to date on all the latest news.

Video Scent Notes: Crystal Moon

I am not much for being on camera. At all. But since we’re all stuck at home and many of us, including myself, are enjoying perfume as a way to bring beauty into these difficult times, I wanted to take the opportunity to talk.

Hopefully I will make some more and get better…and remember to pick up that bag off the floor while not accidentally revealing how old I am. There’s only room for improvement. But without further ado:

Crystal Moon by Maher Olfactive: Osmanthus Absolute Told in a Fantastical Myth

When I was composing the initial new release for the Maher Olfactive launch, I wanted it to be the most indulgent perfume that I could imagine. Something that was both daring and familiar, luxurious yet imaginative, comforting yet kind of cold.

This led to the initial inspiration, a material that I’ve long wanted to put at the center of a perfume, but one that would require my utmost creativity: osmanthus absolute. There were two obstacles for me to overcome. One was creating a surrounding perfume as interesting as the material itself, which is quite complex. It’s simultaneously warm and fuzzy while also being bright and uplifting. A floral with facets of stone fruits and tea, but also with an almost leathery note.

And while I do love osmanthus perfumes that so often emphasize the leather, warm aspects of the material, I challenged myself to go in the other direction. Find the bright, fruity and tea-like aspects of the material to both exalt and complement.

The Legend

As I was working on some early accords for this perfume, I was researching osmanthus in culture. I found a legend that really helped me finalize the feeling that I was trying to reach. That is where the idea of making this feel like living on the moon in a crystal palace.

There was a legend of Chang’e, a princess who was banished to live on the moon in a crystal palace. Also living there was a type of Sisyphean character named Wu Gang, who worked continually trimming a giant osmanthus tree from overtaking the palace. No matter how much he swung his ax, the tree kept healing.

Giant, uncontainable osmanthus combined with a shimmering palace in the soft, lunar light? That did the trick.  

Priming the Osmanthus

First, in order to bring out the aspects of osmanthus absolute that I wanted to highlight in this perfume, I added a few modifiers meant to not be noticed, but rather guide the spotlight. The rooty, orris notes of irival and sweetness of heliotropyl acetate, and just the slightest tobacco-flower touch of liatrix absolute added a backbone to the floral tea aspect of osmanthus.

To enhance to stone-fruit aspect, I employed a small dose of peachy gamma-undecalactone (see Guerlain’s Mitsuko for reference), apricot essential oil and a fresh, clean berry accord of mine that is also used more prominently in Lamplight Penance, strawberry glycidate, dimethyl benzyl carbonate (a dry plum/tobacco note) and a blackberry tincture that I made from dried blackberries. Finally, I created a raspberry accord that began with raspberry ketone so it would not be overly tart, but a deferential sweetness that blended seamlessly with the fortified osmanthus.

Finally, to round everything out, elemi essential oil and galbanum resinoid create a sticky incense undertone just below the surface, while anisic aldehyde and aurantiol pull out the rich, blossomy notes of osmanthus.

Finding Complements to Osmanthus

While I so often try to find stark contrasts in my perfume compositions, Crystal Moon relies more on complementary notes. The first and foremost is the use of lavender flowers. This is an essential oil made solely from the purple flowers of lavender with none of the green stems or leaves. This eliminates the camphorous, spicy green notes of lavender. What remains is the smooth, silky and sweet lavender notes that add a plush vibe to the osmanthus.

Next, jonquil absolute pulled the rich, fruity notes out a little bit more while adding a deeper anchor to the overall floral composition. To add a counter balance, I found that juniper berry essential oil staked its ground firmly between the sultry sweetness of the jonquil and the velvet sweetness of the lavender, finding common ground but adding some uplifting light to each. This airy, cosmic bent was further ratcheted up with hinoki wood essential oil, a Japanese cypress plant that is a soft, green resinous wood that adds to that ephemeral quality.

Finally, I had been looking for a way to create a bridge from these notes to the base notes. It finally hit me one morning as I was enjoying my favorite way to start the day: a meticulously brewed cup of coffee from my neighbor and (in my biased opinion) the best coffee roaster in the world, Sump Coffee. This was from the Yirgacheffe region of Ethiopia, known for fruity, floral and juicy varietals of beans. From a processor called Mystic Valley, no less, which fit in perfectly with the thematic elements of the scent story. This coffee featured notes of juicy stone fruit, jasmine and other florals. Perfect! So I created a coffee tincture to add an acidic coffee note, far different from the rich, roasty and chocolate notes of the dark roast coffee you may find at your favorite doughnut store.

The Lunar Base

When thinking about movement on the moon, it’s slow, deliberate and weightless. So with the base, I worked to do the same. I create a resinous amber note that included vanilla, bicyclononalactone and beeswax absolute with a lot of labdanum absolute and even more clearwood, a light, woody note slightly reminiscent of patchouli without the earthiness adds a ton of space to what would be a very dense composition. This accord is more noticeable in its effect than to the nose, creating a very long lasting base note that extends the fragrance and really smooths everything over, creating a hazy lunar surface glow to everything.

The floral composition was further anchored with ethylene brassylate, as well, creating more depth and stateliness. At the same time, a dose of vetikone (think of the more citrus-y elements of vetiver) emphasizes the fruity tea notes.

I believe this is the type of perfume that really both tells the story and creates a true reflection of the story’s setting. The subtlety required is often much more difficult to pull off, especially with a material like osmanthus absolute. But I believe this is a worthy chapter in a storied note in the history of perfume: osmanthus.

Crystal Moon Eau de Parfum will be available on April 28, 2020, when Maher Olfactive launches. I am very excited to share this story with you.

Scent Notes: Madame Chouteau from AMERICAN PERFUMER®, created by Shawn Maher

This is the first Scent Notes column that I get to write for something that I’ve composed to be released by another brand. Over the past year, I’ve gotten to know and eventually become friends with Dave Kern, who has undertaken a really exciting project called AMERICAN PERFUMER®, based in Louisville, Kentucky. It seeks to highlight the best of American independent perfumers, and so I am uniquely honored to not only be featured on the shelves next to some of the pioneers of the American independent fragrance, but also to be selected to create a fragrance for AMERICAN PERFUMER. 

This fourth release from the AMERICAN PERFUMER series is in rarefied air and set a very high bar for me in order to live up to the sky-high standard that those before me have set. The series has included Colorado by the incomparable Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, which garnered the Art and Olfaction Award for the best independent perfume of 2019. The first release was from Maria McElroy, Desert Flower, which is a breathtaking composition in its own right. Most recently, Hans Hendley, whose work is some of my favorite that I’ve experienced recently, composed Bloodline, not only a great fragrance that has been all over best of 2019 lists, but also one of the best cedarwood fragrances I’ve ever smelled, with a focus on a red cedar oil distilled by the perfumer’s father from a tree from the family property.

So when planning out this fragrance, I first of all knew that I had to pull out all of the stops when it came to selecting materials. I began to seek out some of the finest materials that I’ve always wanted to use. Additionally, I knew that I had to find a great story that found that common ground that Dave and I both had for love of our Midwestern river cities named after King Louis, and how interesting the history of a river city is due to the confluence of different cultures coming together and creating something new.

Introducing Madame Chouteau 

Therefore, when speaking with Dave, I brought up the story of Marie-Thérèse Bourgeois Chouteau, known to history as Madame Chouteau, the uncredited co-founder of Saint Louis. Left by her husband to raise their children on her own, she left her native New Orleans to go up the river and find a new life in a nascent trading hamlet. Though she claimed to be a widow in order to gain some semblance of rights in society (as a widow she was restricted, but as a married woman whose husband was not there she would have practically none), she never changed her name nor actually lived with her new love and Saint Louis cofounder, Pierre Laclede Liguest. When they founded Saint Louis, the credit due to Madame Chouteau went to her son, Augustus Chouteau, though the matriarch of Saint Louis deserves recognition for her perseverance and vision. As time went on she grew her fortune in the avenues afforded to her (with help from Pierre Laclede) and her husband tried to return to reap the fruits of her arduous labor to overcome the obstacles that he himself imposed, but the influence of the Lacledes and Chouteaus in the territory helped influence the New Orleans authorities to delay her husband’s ability to travel to Saint Louis until he eventually passed away due to old age.

The Composition: Apricot and Fruit

The composition of Madame Chouteau was meant to honor this amazing woman in a way that she deserved but was not able to celebrate in her time. The top begins with a ripe apricot skin, composed using natural apricot essential oil from the classic French distilling house Robertet. It is given a shimmering opulence through the use of a peach aldehyde, as well as damascenone total and damascene beta, two monstrously rich and vibrant materials that give certain rose varietals their rich fruitiness. The richness of this note is further enhanced by very small doses of davana essential oil, derived from a plant with rich citrus and floral undertones, along with pyroprunat, a material that I consider to be one of my signatures, with its fruit-skin scent with a touch of juiciness underneath.

 Jasmine and Jonquil 

Underneath these rest jasmine and jonquil, two flowers that I consider to be both very powerful and very feminine. The jasmine notes that I used include three absolutes, one jasmine sambac along with a jasmine grandflorum from Egypt and another from India. I enhanced the diffusiveness of these notes with kharismal, a more citrus-forward derivative of hedione, a jasmine-type material used ubiquitously in perfumery so that it would fold into the apricot note well. The jonquil absolute is from France, and the richness of anisyl acetate and anise aldehyde, just enough to amplify the raspiness of the two rich floral notes, as well as a touch of orange blossom absolute and carrot seed absolute to fill out the note with some extra depth and fullness.

 Tobacco and Mousse de Saint Louis

Next, a tobacco note comes from liatrix absolute, a tobacco flower that has a more honeyed bent than a straight tobacco absolute would. I find this connects the previously mentioned notes with what I call Mousse de Saint Louis, a modification on the classic Mousse de Saxe base created by the house of DeLaire that was used frequently in the golden age of perfumery nearly 100 years ago. It translates to moss base, which includes leather, moss, geranium,  vanilla and ionones, a type of molecule found often in powdery compositions.

The Mousse de Saint Louis is perhaps a little less forward, more subdued, just as any well-mannered and polite Midwesterner would be. Instead of vanilla or vanillin, I used vanilys, a more dirty vanilla note, inspired by the perfume legend of Guerlain in their golden age when they were said to select their supplier’s discarded vanilla because they wanted a dirtier vanilla note for Shalimar. Additionally, I used an atranol-free oakmoss absolute so in order to avoid any irritation possibilities and reinforced it with an elemi essential oil from Robertet to add some backbone to the oakmoss lost in removing the atranol. Instead of the more forceful geranium note, I used the dusty and transparent Rose Verte accord that I created for Rose Santal, dihydro ionone beta (for its woody characteristics compared to the more powdery ionones) and an orris tincture from France. Finally, for the leathery parts of the accord, I dialed back on the isobutyl quinoline, a forceful green bitter leather note, and added 6 methyl quinoline, which is smoother and more nutty, and then added strawberry furanone, which is somewhat more phenolic than fruity, beeswax absolute and just the slightest microdose of rectified cade oil.

 Sandalwood, Oud and the Base Notes

Finally, the opulent base notes include sandalwood essential oil from Mysore, India, and sandalwood essential oil with high levels of the desirable santalol beta that is sustainably harvested in conditions meant to replicate the growing conditions in Mysore during its heyday. Additionally, I added a Thai oud that paired very well with the Mousse de Saint Louis, and rich musks of globanone and cosmone, which add a deep-throated purr to the woody accord. This is all supported with small doses of various classic musk recreations and resins, as well as some creamy notes to fill out the sandalwood and give it that classic character that makes it so buttery smooth.

Overall, I can’t say how honored I was to be selected to be part of such a great project. AMERICAN PERFUMER has an incredible vision and Dave is tirelessly dedicated to carrying it out and raising the profile of the amazing visionaries and tradition-breaking creativity that is available throughout the American independent fragrance scene. I think Madame Chouteau is a character who exemplifies that pioneering artistic spirit that is captured throughout the curated collection at American Perfumer, and this composition is meant to honor that wonderful history and so many daring olfactive artists.

Madame Chouteau Parfum will be available on Saturday, February 25 at American-Perfumer.com. Only 25 bottles will be available through AMERICAN PERFUMER. Make sure to follow AMERICAN PERFUMER on social media to get information on this release and all of the amazing work that they are doing.

And with this as my first experience releasing something with my own personal name, not simply the Chatillon Lux brand name, this will be leading to an upcoming announcement about a new structure going forward. I will be providing more information about this soon. Stay tuned!  

2019 Awards Wrap-Up

Hey all, while my overly Midwestern modesty resists doing this kind of thing, the awards that I won in 2019 were so gratifying that I wanted to share, especially because it would not have happened without your support. 

First of all, CaFleureBon’s editors named their best of 2019 lists. Weinstrasse appeared on the list for Michelyn Camen and Lauryn Beer. Additionally, our Side Project Series release, Biblio, popped onto Gail Gross’ best-of list

In the annual awards from Mark Behnke, Weinstrasse was named the best perfume of the year, which is really quite an honor considering how many amazing fragrances came out this year. Additionally, I received an honorable mention as perfumer of the year and perfume house of the year. It’s a who’s who of fragrance even in the honorable mentions so I’m honored. In his follow up posts, Mark named Admiral in his top 25 of the year and even mentioned my Scent Notes columns as something he wishes would become a more widespread practice in 2020. 

Thanks to not only the reviewers but also you for all the encouraging words. The bar has been set and so I know I have to work extra hard in 2020 in order to keep raising the standards. 

I have some big plans that will be announced soon, and some that I’ve already announced. It’s going to be a great year. 

Scent Notes: Nonaginta is the 90s-tastic Chapter of the Side Project Series

The 90s are now a distant memory, or not even a memory for some at this point, but this was the decade that left the biggest impact on me, for better or worse (and in retrospect, mostly worse). So naturally, when I was commissioned to created fragrance inspired by that decade, particularly those citrus aquatics in the style of L’Eau d’Issey, but with luxury, high-end materials, I was on board. Now, however, that private commission is now going to be available to the public today at 12pm Eastern, with notes of citrus, bergamot, verbena, aquatics, green tea, geranium, and sandalwood.

The citrus accord at the top plays in tandem with the aquatic accord. There are natural distilled essential oils (in order to be as skin-friendly as possible, including lime and sweet orange, as well as a yuzu essential oil. There is also a juicy grapefruit note, sweeter than the expressed essential oil, which comes from the peel and is more harsh and bitey, followed by orange blossom absolute. This is all grounded by vetikone and vetiveryl acetate, two vetiver-type materials that have citrusy lemongrass vibes going on. 

As a bridge to the aquatic accord, there is a healthy dose of calone, a melon-type material that was a powerhouse in L’Eau d’Issey. It is enhanced by a touch of watery citrus headlined by dihydromyrcenol (just a touch, because a 90s aquatic would not be complete without it), as well as the citrus-tinged water lily of bourgenal. There is an era appropriate use of hedione, a jasmine-type note associated with fragrances like Acqua di Gio and Tommy, but with newer derivatives that I prefer, hedione HC and kharismal. 

The green tea accord is also a 90s staple, and this is recreated with a trifecta of naturals that I sought out specifically to recreate this accord in the most luxurious way possible (seeing a theme?) from across the globe. It includes yerba mate absolute (a tea commonly imbibed in South America), hinoki (a Japanese cypress wood) and clary sage (this one’s provenance right here in America). Those notes are supported by a favorite of mine, sagecate, a citrusy sage note, as well as palmarosa from India. 

The incense accord is subtle and low in the mix, but it does add a spiciness to the green tea. It is headlined by frankincense (boswellia serrata) from Oman, black pepper and nutmeg from India, and Russian coriander. 

Supporting everything is a sandalwood essential oil, sustainably grown and harvested, that is supported by a few notes to enhance the creaminess of the sandalwood note. Beyond that, Romanolide, a clean laundry musk, supports the whole thing, along with a touch of the nutty ambrettolide, a safe recreation of ambrette seed. 

Of course, there is much more in the composition, but I don’t want to bore you with all the microdosing and whatnot. It’s probably best to simply enjoy it. There will be a small amount of these available just in time for the holiday season. Hope you enjoy the latest chapter of the Side Project Series and have a great holiday season! 

Scent Notes: Weinstrasse is History Repeating Itself, but only Vaguely

For those of you who have been around a while, you know I’ve had a few fougères in my past. La Forêt de Liguest was meant to echo the rich forests of the bend in the Mississippi River that would become Saint Louis, a rich, dense and sweet fougère. Sylva, however, was bright, green and sharp, the smell of a clearing on a hot summer morning where the sun visciously beating down on the dew brings out the most bright green notes.

Now, with the third visit to the fougère genre, I have created a fougère that contradicts the traditional, classic fougère with a new take on it. Which is only fitting since Weinstrasse is an homage to the Missouri Rhineland, where Germans emigrated because the fertile soil along the banks of the Missouri River was so reminiscent of the Rhineland they left behind, and where they started a new life and built a new Weinstrasse. The Missouri Rhineland is a new start, a reimagined take on a historic region, just like Weinstrasse both recreates and reimagines the classic fougère.

My maternal family was part of this population, and so history repeats itself in three aspects in this third fougère, one that I believe will be the one I want to leave etched into the history of Chatillon Lux.

Wine on the Vine

At the top of the fragrance is a white grape note. The star of this note is green cognac essential oil, a tart, crisp white grape note that is reminiscent of a bite of a grape off the vine. This is complemented by black currant bud absolute, a note that is also tart but less mouth-puckeringly so. There is also a touch of leaf alcohol, a green, freshly cut grass note. But not the smell of grass in the air. Rather, if you get down on your hands and knees to smell the still-wounded-and-oozing blades after they’ve been cut back down to size. Finally, the sweet, juicy green of violet leaf absolute rounds out this accord.

A Green, Honeyed Bouquet

While in a traditional fougère you would often expect to find geranium as featured floral, in Weinstrasse it takes a back seat to the honeyed bouquet that really sets this fragrance apart. The main accord is composed of helichrysum absolute, a complex floral note that has an inkling towards honeyed tobacco. To offset that, I created a honeysuckle accord that is only somewhat similar to the one I created for Gloria, with this honeysuckle accord taking a cue from the berry and fruity notes of damascenone that isn’t normally associated with honeysuckle. Since honeysuckle can be considered a distant relative to rose, and in order to juxtapose the note with helichrysum, I injected this curveball into the mix to add some fruitiness to the honeyed floral bouquet. Throughout St. Louis, all summer long, I smell honeysuckle in bloom, and I wanted to express more of the ambient smell that I found in the mornings, when the dew is still fresh and the scent is most robust.

This is another area in which I find the black currant bud absolute really helps balance out the accord, with its tart fruitiness, in addition to pyroprunat, a favorite of mine for microdosing to impart its dried-fruit/stone-fruit vibe. Adding in the sweet, silky iris accord riding on a mélange of inones, heliotrope and orinox (a somewhat floral, somewhat resinous note) developed expressly for this fragrance further adds to the sweet symphony of this bouquet.

A Rich, Full Base

I went into this knowing that I needed to make the most rich, full base in order to get the thick, lush vibe that I wanted out of Weinstrasse. Of course, in any fougère, there is a healthy dose of coumarin, a sweet note often associated with a tobacco and hay note with a touch of creaminess. This creaminess is enhanced with bicycolononalactone, another creamy note that I find adds sophistication and depth to coumarin, and a sandalwood accord used with the most creamy sandalwood molecule that I found worked within the accord: bacdanol, a beautiful note that is reminiscent of the highly coveted santalol beta, to complete the melance of woody creaminess. 

Additionally, for the oakmoss note I used veramoss, a soapy note that projects the higher frequency notes of oakmoss, in addition to a small dose of atranol-free, IFRA-compliant oakmoss absolute that adds the lush, musky greenery that only true oakmoss can provide without risking the skin allergies.

To further round out the base notes, an array of musks, used very sparingly, reinforce that traditional charge led by oakmoss. Dark-aged patchouli, a less sharp and more earthy, rich and full patchouli, is microdosed to exalt the ambrettolide, a nutty tobacco note; muscone, a sweet, somewhat animalic musk; and habanolide, a fresh musk with a twist that brings out the soapiness of oakmoss. It’s all further enhanced by the mushroom-type scent of a small dose of amyl vinyl carbinol.

Weinstrasse is finally the fouère that I always wanted to make but I had never found the key to unlocking my full inspiration until now. I am excited to bring the scent that CaFleureBon described as, “so startlingly different, so strangely beautiful, that my mind doesn’t quite know how to process it for a few moments.

Scent Notes: Admiral Introduces Art Deco to the River

For the most part, I make scents that I want to wear. Maybe it’s a riff off of an accord that I enjoy or a real-life scent that I want to incorporate, and sometimes I’m inspired to create something that I want to smell but never have. With Admiral, I found myself going down none of those paths. I am not really a fan of aquatic scents or many of the modern scents that are super popular. However, inspired by the Admiral, an art deco designed steamboat that modernized a St. Louis tradition, I decided to set sail on a course I’ve never explored…but with my own unique twist.

Admiral has aquatic notes, unsurprisingly considering that it’s named after a boat, but I wouldn’t consider it to be an aquatic scent. It’s a summer in St. Louis scent. Something that brings back nostalgia for the glee of visiting Laclede’s Landing and the riverfront, where the history went back hundreds of years, and the joyous sense of discovery on an iconic riverboat in the bright sunshine.

The notes include lemongrass, verbena, bergamot, aquatic notes, sage, black currant bud, riverboat smoke, tonka bean, musk

The Sunshine

For the sunshine brightness, I wanted to make an accord that felt bright but not overly citrus-y. Something kind of green without smelling grassy or earthy. The accord begins with a rectified Italian bergamot, which is not a sharp citrus, but one reminiscent of tea due to its inclusion in Earl Grey tea. Along with that, a Nepalese lemongrass essential oil, Moroccan verbena essential oil and orange flower ether add to the citrus with just the subtlest hint of a green.

Then to give it a bit more depth, a tart black currant bud absolute is evened out by a touch of raspberry ketone, which is below the level of perception but adds a jammy-ness to the currant. Underneath it all is a big slug of galaxolide, a fresh musk, in accordance with exaltolide, a note that I find really brings out the juiciness of a fruity accord (it is also found in the EdT version of Yuzu/Rose/Patchouli). Finally, a sage accord composed of clary sage along with clarycet to bring out the frutiness of the note, and a few other micro-doses of fruity notes round out the sunshine portion of the scent.

Aquatic Notes

While many aquatic notes rely heavily on dihydro myrcenol, a note found prominently in many of the most famous aquatic fragrances, Admiral makes very sparing use of this. The primary notes are ambroxan (one of the most popular notes in modern men’s fragrances, this adds an amber anchor to the accord), calone (a watery, melon type of scent), helional (shimmery and sparkling), iso e super (another note essential to modern fragrance), seaweed absolute and bourgenol (a watery floral note) compose the rest of this sweet and subtle aquatic accord. It was designed to be less deep and easier to navigate than many aquatic accords, more of a river than an ocean.

The Riverboat Smoke

This accord uses just a touch of rectified cade oil, meant to replicate the rich smoke. It is complemented by a large dose of vanilla, ebanol (deep, thick and sticky, often used in sandalwood accords), and strawberry furfural, a caramel, phenolic note with only the slightest hint of strawberry. Finally, just the slightest hint of a sweet, slightly leather accord finish off this portion of the scent.

The Base Notes

In order to give a sturdy base to the accord, a tonka bean note, used sparingly, helps emphasize the softer side of the smoke. Pink pepper has a sharper edge, and is fairly decently dosed but manages to slide into the periphery in how it melds with the smoke notes, but it is important to the feeling of modernity found in this scent. Finally, cashmeran simultaneously gives the impression of wood, steel and musk to add to the fresh-yet-deep feeling found in the base.

It may not be something I ever intended to create, but it was exciting to step out of myself to bring a new approach to the art of fragrance. It did help me gain a new appreciation for a whole new world of techniques that I had never experienced and allowed me to find a new way to put my unique voice into a whole new genre.

Scent Notes: Queen Nefertiti and Miles Davis, Defying Tradition

In creating Nefertiti, I began contemplating how to create a scent that reflected the composition of Miles Davis, a Saint Louis-area native who got his start filling in on trumpet when Billy Eckstine’s band (featuring Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker) for a horn player who fell ill when they arrived in Saint Louis. The song of the same name “Nefertiti” is not only one of my favorites ever, but it also became the impetus of the post-bop genre, one of many times Miles Davis changed the landscape of jazz. The recording on the album of the same name is actually the second take, because the tape was not running when the legendary first take was played.

What I love is that when you listen to the raw studio take, you can hear Miles exclaim, “No solos!” That is because the traditional roles of each instrument in the arrangement were redefined, with the trumpet and saxophone repeating a dirge-like, hauntingly sweet refrain. As they slowly become disjointed, playing in a round, the rhythm section becomes more and more frenetic, serving as the soloists while the wind instruments provide the glue, as the rhythm section normally would.

As I thought about interpreting this concept into a fragrance, I realized the multi-layered way to approach this scent as I was interpreting an interpretation of Queen Nefertiti. It hit me that beyond her renowned beauty, Nefertiti reversed traditional roles as she defied tradition in her reign just as Miles did in his song. And then as I researched more, I learned that she was known to have worn a perfume composed of honey and orchid leaf.

And that is how I began. Of course, over time the concept changed drastically, maybe even more so than others I have composed, because I had a feeling that I wanted to evoke just as much as a particular scent, and so I had to find a way to tap into both worlds. For this Scent Notes, I want to take a look at the accords in this fragrance that are most apropos to the story.

Honey and Orchid Leaf

First and foremost, a particular type of honey note was essential for three reasons: it was an important component of Nefertiti’s perfume, it is also an important component of kyphi incense (more on that later), and simply how it would evoke the silky, warm trumpet tone of the song’s sweet melody.

The biggest component of the honey accord, unsurprisingly, was beeswax absolute. Furthermore, I added some sweet and some floral notes to give it more of the feeling of wild honey. This is also where I would talk about the jasmine accord, even though it was not a component of Queen Nefertiti’s perfume, as I find this sultry white flower is both a great complement to a honey note, with the timbre of a raspy, deliberate trumpet.

Finally, the orchid leaf accord is one of three fantasy accords, which means they are idealized versions of this scent. Kind of like poetic license, one of my favorite parts of the olfactory arts is that you often paint things as they should be instead of how they are. There are so many ways to translate a note (although sometimes you do want a photorealistic note).

This orchid leaf features the essential oil from the leaf of a Kaffir lime tree, combining the citrus of lime zest with a bright green note, which plays so well in contrast to the jasmine and honey. There is also a slight touch of bourgeonal, a citrus/lily of the valley note, orange blossom absolute and green mandarin essential oil. These elements work together to create a shimmering beauty representative of the song’s melody or even Nefertiti herself.

Kyphi Incense

This is another fantasy accord in part because kyphi incense communicates its scent as it burns, also because I wanted to represent the elements that go into the incense…not to mention the fact that they worked so much better with the overall mood I wanted to set if I used them in this manner. Additionally, some of the traditional items are not able to be extracted or unsafe to be used in a fragrance that is meant to be worn on skin or skin-adjacent.

At first I worked on a kyphi recipe recorded on a temple wall that dated to the era of Queen Nefertiti’s reign. However, after performing more research, I came across a theory that explained that the recipe fluctuated through eras and regions because some temples used the recorded recipes more as shopping lists and therefore only listed ingredients that could not be sourced locally.

In this accord, I included grape and prune notes to represent the wine and the raisins used in the maceration stage of kyphi, frankincense frerena, myrrh, juniper tree (not the berries), sweet birch, green ruh khus (like a rich vetiver), pinyon pine, and cypriol (taken from the cypress tree) and black currant bud absolute.

Jazz Cigarette Accord

The final fantasy accord is this one, obviously. You can’t smell like weed in public. Well, you can but it might not end well, especially on the job. This is definitely a fantasy accord, although it does use terpenic notes that you might find in the real thing. In fact, my starting point was to look up the terpenic content of strains recommended to enhance creativity according to various Colorado-based businesses. However, these terpenes are also commonly found in many other things, like limonene (citrus, especially lemon), nerolidol (citrus, especially bitter orange), linalool (lavender and bergamot), and alpha pinene (citrus and pine).

Additionally, the hemp essential oil is not as sour or dark as the recreational stuff, but rather brighter and more citrusy with a touch of spice to it. I enhanced it with carrot seed oil and leaf alcohol, a watery green note commonly used in green and fougère fragrances. This, along with a silky lavender absolute, creates a smoother, richer note and one that will not make people wonder whether you are baked as a cake.

Base Notes That Grab Attention

The bombastic hum from the rhythm section in the song Nefertiti crescendos as the song unfolds and the melodic line begins to split open. In the same way, the opening melody of the fragrance dissolves into the base notes in a slow and subtle way, with the honey transforming into immortelle absolute (a flower with strong honey and tobacco notes) and Cambodian oud, a rich and honeyed oud wood oil. The citrus sparkle found in the orchid leaf and in the jazz cigarette accord dissolve into a crisp, light vetiver note, while the resinous notes give way to a light touch of dark-aged patchouli and musks that would be of the time of Nefertiti: castoreum, civet and ambrette seed (all three synthetic replacements in order to both avoid animal cruelty and any skin irritation possibilities). This leads to a dramatic finale.

The official note listing is honey, orchid leaf, jasmine, kyphi incense, cannabis, immortelle, oud, vetiver, musk. The extrait will be a permanent addition to the Parfums line, and there will also be a limited-edition, one-time-only run of soap in the Icarus base from Declaration Grooming, as well as our own aftershave and toner.