August 31, 2016
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, photo by Beatrice de Gea for the New York Times
Think of celebrity fragrances and you may experience an involuntary shudder. There have been more ghastly fruity florals, fetid fruitchoulis and tropical-coconut shipwrecks than anyone who frequents department store scent counters should ever have inhaled. But then there are the stars who take a genuine interest in the scents that bear their name: Alan Cumming’s collaborations with Christopher Brosius, Sarah Jessica Parker’s with perfumers from IFF like Frank Voelkl and Pharell’s Girl with Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garcons, to name some standouts. Enter the Elizabeth and James Nirvana line from Elizabeth and James, owned by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, who prove once again that they not only have an expert eye for fashion but a keen nose for perfume.
Look from Elizabeth and James Fall 2016 collection, photo Neiman Marcus
Nirvana, part of the Elizabeth & James label, launched in 2014 with Black and White two thoroughly grown-up, well-crafted and sophisticated scents. Nirvana perfumes are built around three notes, so the quality of the ingredients and harmony of interplay are front and center. In Black, the stars are violet, sandalwood, and vanilla; White is airy with peony, muguet and musk. Rose, launched alongside Bourbon, centers on a dark rose de mai, geranium and vetiver. In their gorgeous, luminous vintage cigarette case bottles, each creation looks and smells expensive, the kind of niche scent you’d expect to sell for hundreds of dollars on the exclusive counters of Bergdorf rather than at shrewdly accessible prices in Sephora.
Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen Met Gala 2016
Elizabeth and James is the Olsens’ ready-to-wear line of retro-tinged urban chic and these perfumes fit exactly with that ethos – classically refined with retro twists and wearable anywhere. All four are beautifully conceived, from the quality of the ingredients to the glamorous bottles. But Bourbon is the standout. It is a riff on a classic oriental perfume, but, in keeping with the credo of its namesake fashion line, is pared down and elegant. You might expect Bourbon to head down the same path of so many other mainstream vanillas and go edible with the sticky sweetness of pastry, or, given its name, veer boozy and heavy. But Bourbon avoids these clichés and instead offers a warm, elegantly dry vanilla balanced against aged oak, with a scintilla of creamy greenness from the tuberose.
Circle of Friends Black oak trees, Yosemite, photo by Scott Walton
Bourbon develops quickly, the vanilla and oak twining around each other in the opening, deftly complementary. Vanillin, which in low concentrations is found in oak, gives aged bourbons their characteristic sweetness, so its choice is a harmonious pairing with vanilla, off-sweet and mellow. Vanilla is used with great finesse here, smelling more like a cut vanilla bean with its ashy, vinous quality than vanilla extract. Its almost petrol-y richness is deepened and balanced by smooth sepia oak. Tuberose is the sleeper in Bourbon as its presence is uncharacteristically subtle. Rather than taking over the fragrance, as this sex siren of flowers is apt to do, it rounds out the other notes with a sappy greenness that keeps Bourbon well away from cookiedom.
Christy Turlington, photo by Patrick Demarchallier for Harper’s Bazaar US, 1992
With its ember-like warmth and intimate sillage, Bourbon is like enveloping yourself in a favorite camel cashmere coat – effortless, comforting and deliciously chic.
Disclosure: Bourbon kindly provided by Elizabeth and James Nirvana. Opinions are my own
— Lauryn Beer, Sr. Contributor
Thanks to the generosity of Elizabeth and James Nirvana, we have a 1.7 oz bottle of Bourbon for a registered reader in the CON US. To be eligible please leave a comment with what you enjoyed about Lauryn’s review of Bourbon and if you have tried a Elizabeth and James perfume before or if you have a favorite celebuscent. Draw closes September 3, 2016
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