This summer, my scent strategy has me alternating between the energizing fresh-cut greens of Eau de Céleri by Canadian brand Monsillage and its newest cologne, Route du Quai. The latter is a borrowed memory from award-winning perfumer Isabelle Michaud of childhood summer trips to her family cottage in Kamouraska, Que. The dusty dirt road, dry tall grasses, damp earth clinging to roots and salty air are all in there.
Fragrance is the easiest way to make the sort of escape we’re craving right now, olfactory getaways that let you feel the sand of a Mediterranean beach between your toes, or see clean sheets billowing from a clothesline with waves crashing in the distance. The new fragrances reviewed here each try to take you somewhere new. And since you’re likely working – and vacationing – from home right now, you can spritz and dream with abandon.
Gardénia Antigua by Armani/Privé
One of the seasonal additions to Armani’s Les Eaux collection is billed as “a vaporous musky breeze.” But no matter how light-handed a perfumer’s attempt, there’s no such thing as a sheer gardenia scent. The note here may be watery but it’s a nonetheless voluptuous and symphonic floral: grandiose, milky and slightly sweet. Gardénia Antigua conjures the dangerous mood of author Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles in the 1940s. “It was definitely the stuff to get,” is how Chandler’s private eye, Philip Marlowe, describes the fictional gardenia scent in The Lady in the Lake. “One drop of that in the hollow of your throat and the matched pink pearls started falling on you like summer rain.” They seldom make ‘em like this anymore.
$165 for 50ml eau de toilette at select retailers (armani-beauty.ca).
Escentric 05 by Escentric Molecules
Perfumer Geza Schoen’s 2006 debut broke ground by making the Iso E Super molecule, which often appears as a component of other fragrances, shine on its own. Now, Schoen is riffing on another single ingredient, cashmeran, the common name for a chemical substance that is less pronounceable than the name of Grimes and Elon Musk’s baby. Perfume Molecule 05 is the cashmeran-only rendition, but its companion, Escentric 05, is meant to smell like “walking up from the sea through dry aromatic Mediterranean herbs and trees.” There are layers of succulent green fig and sprigs of pungent laurel and rosemary. A single whiff contains the nostalgia of the first sunburned shoulders of July and the cool, waning days of August.
$195 for 100ml eau de toilette at Etiket (etiket.ca).
Good Girl Fantastic Pink by Carolina Herrera
This reissue of the original Good Girl is “inspired by a cosmic, galactic heroine.” The nozzle sits atop a vertiginous glitter-dipped pump reminiscent of a fetishistic Christian Louboutin stiletto, but the gold dagger heel suggests its owner graduated from the Harley Quinn School of Girly. As you’d expect from this Jessica Rabbit of perfume atomizers, it’s an unabashedly feminine gourmand, sipping Starbucks chestnut praline latte between mouthfuls of gourmet candy floss.
$158 at Hudson’s Bay, Sephora, Shoppers Drug Mart and Jean Coutu (carolinaherrera.com).
Gucci Flora Emerald Gardenia
A limited-edition variation of Gucci Flora (which, itself, was originally inspired by the signature insect-and-bloom textile pattern the Italian house created for Princess Grace of Monaco in 1966), this version is based on “a snapshot of an early summer’s morning.” It begins innocently enough with sparkling lemon and airy lotus, though they don’t quite soften the blowsy blooms enough. There’s an indistinct bouquet of white flowers made slightly piquant with cedar and sweetened with watermelon. Overall, this retro scent confidently announces itself without being rude.
$95 for 50ml, at Hudson’s Bay, Sephora, Shoppers Drug Mart and other retailers (gucci.com).
Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Orange Soleia
The seasonal entry in the Aqua Allegoria eau de toilette collection is a translation of summer heat on Sicilian blood orange groves. This fragrance is the entire fruit, fresh-squeezed, including the pulp and even a bit of the bitter peel, and smells so juicy your fingers will feel sticky. What keeps the effervescence from being one-dimensional are powdery base notes, the so-called guerlinade – the historic French house’s signature, secret accord, present in all of its fragrances. If it lasted longer, this one would be less like the summer afternoon it evokes.
$92 for 75ml eau de toilette at Sephora, Holt Renfrew, Shoppers Drug Mart and other retailers (guerlain.com).
Queens & Monsters by Henry Rose
Launched by actor Michelle Pfeiffer last year, direct-to-consumer brand Henry Rose is a new model for celebrity scents, positioned as “clean” due to 90 per cent recycled glass bottles but also using (mostly) safe synthetics rather than botanical ingredients. Presumably a nod to Pfeiffer’s deliciously evil character Ingrith in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Queens & Monsters is a callback to the Body Shop perfume bar circa 1991 (specifically if you mixed Mostly Musk and Vanilla perfume oils). Several types of sandalwood and vanilla are on the ingredient list but what comes through is ethyl maltol, the caramelized sugar compound used in confectionery to enhance flavour.
$164 for 50ml through henryrose.com.
Hermès L’Ombre des Merveilles
In-house nose Christine Nagel’s addition to the various ambres, elixirs, and eaux of the Merveilles series is unisex, with “the deep radiance of a woody and oriental fragrance.” It’s wonderfully astringent thanks to black tea, with a lingering smoked incense and the honeyed tobacco of tonka bean that’s brightened with what I could swear is liquorice. The effect is flinty and at times metallic, but not the mineral sea air sort of smell of its precursor, Bleue. It’s more petrichor, the term coined by scientists to describe the distinct smell of rain on hot earth after a dry spell.
$136 for 50ml eau de parfum at Hermès, Holt Renfrew and other retailers (hermes.com).
Sunkissed Hibiscus by Nest
Nest’s striking illustrated packaging takes its cue from the botanical collages of 18th-century artist Mary Delany, and its latest floral is specifically inspired by the Voodoo Queen hibiscus flowers that bloom at founder Laura Slatkin’s Palm Beach home. It’s simple and straightforward, built around frangipani, one of those lush but understated tropical smells that reveals itself slowly. Orange blossom and amber linger, as does the hint of suntan lotion on warm skin, all together chanelling the feeling of watching a golden sunset, coconut daiquiri in hand.
$98 for 50ml eau de parfum at Sephora (nestnewyork.com).
Rose Prick by Tom Ford Private Blend
Rose Prick joins the alliterative hit (and I euphemize here), “Effing” Fabulous, and its follow-up Lost Cherry in cementing Tom Ford’s place as perfume-counter provocateur. When Rose Prick first landed at Holt Renfrew, it sold out in two days. The reason was surely the double entendre name, which makes more of an impression than the juice. There’s rose initially, and sweet-smelling tolu balsam, a resin, but what remains is a faint patchouli incense. This perfume by any other name would not smell as lucrative.
$405 for 50ml at Nordstrom, Sephora, Holt Renfrew, and Saks Fifth Avenue (tomford.com).
Moschino Toy Boy
Moschino creative director Jeremy Scott likes to dabble in postmodern kitsch. Here, the flacon is a cross between a jovial Honey Bear bottle and The Village People’s Leatherman. Its Tom of Finland-esque marketing campaign suggests Moschino has a specific customer demographic in mind, but this is a rose-dominant men’s fragrance that flouts gender roles. At first, it’s a little sour with bergamot peel, then vetiver, clove and nutmeg to complement the pear and magnolia, and finally a bite of spicy floral and incense rose. If all these ingredients were a menu item, you’d bypass the dish as a directionless mess, but this perfume has the makings of a sleeper hit.
$89 for 50ml eau de parfum, at Hudson’s Bay, Sephora and other retailers (moschino.com).