There is an exciting, bright new talent on the perfume scene, John Biebel, a man who reminds me a bit of Slumberhouse‘s Josh Lobb in his creative, bold, unusual, and very modern voice, a man who has quietly released two of the most accomplished and striking fragrances of 2017 and a third pretty one. They demonstrate a remarkably deft mastery of complex fragrance structures, an eye for good quality raw materials, and an innate talent but, above all else, his fragrances feel authentically original. Like Mr. Lobb (and also Serge Lutens), Mr. Biebel has the rare ability to combine unusual notes or aromas that might sound odd on paper but, thanks to his talent and skill, come across in the most interesting ways that leave you sniffing your arm again and again, wondering why no-one had thought of the idea before. At other times, though, he takes a classical composition and manages to make it feel modern and fresh but also dramatic. In both instances, I think that the result is bound to be somewhat polarizing, but then original, thought-provoking, impactful, and sometimes challenging fragrances usually are.
JOHN BIEBEL — THE STYLE, THE VOICE & THE AESTHETIC:
Like Josh Lobb, Mr. Biebel’s creations can be a little avant-garde, though I hesitate to use that word because I personally associate it with a style of perfumery which is filled to the rafters with almost nothing but nose-searing aromachemicals — and Mr. Biebel’s creations are most thankfully NOT like that. Nor are they are laden with the usual French, Franco-Arabic, or vintage influences. I would call them “American” in style only in so far as they can be unconventional, slightly quirky and, occasionally, challenging in a way which is bound to be a little disconcerting to people who are accustomed to the conventional or commercial European aesthetic. These fragrances do not follow the paths of old, nor do they pay the typical reverence to the Parisian legends of the past.
What they are, above all else, is artisanal — and I mean that in the best and happiest sense of the word: fragrances whose every detail and nuance have been toiled over for months, sometimes years, in the hope of creating the most perfected expression of its creator’s uniquely personal style as well as his heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears. It’s the perfumer as an artist but, perhaps more importantly, it is fragrance as the direct extension and embodiment of the person who made it. That’s something which radiates from every drop of the scents created by Antonio Gardoni, Liz Moores, Mandy Aftel, AbdesSalaam Attar, Vero Kern, Andy Tauer, and Josh Lobb — and it radiates here with Mr. Biebel as well.
Like those talented perfumers, Mr. Biebel has a unique voice and authenticity. He’s not copying the classics and merely producing them in richer form like some; there is a very personal vision at play here which, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I can only describe as fresh. I do not mean it in the terrible olfactory sense of freshness, thank god, but in the sense of a breath of fresh air, something which is so different that it engages you, makes you think, makes you sit up and pay notice. With Mr. Biebel’s work, just like some of the work of the other artisans, you may not always like the actual scent in question and it might even be too difficult, strange, or intense for your personal tastes but, by Jove, is it going to make you think! On many levels, these are intellectual fragrances, much like Mr. Gardoni’s and Mr. Lobb’s, not only because they’re the clear manifestation of a lot of thought but primarily because there seems to be some sort of intellectual or philosophical dialogue going on within the perfumer (either about a particular concept, a specific raw material, or something else) which is answered and concluded via the final product. In short, like many of the most intriguing, charismatic fragrances, his work is scent as intellectual apotheosis and artistic expression, and expression which, here, manifests itself in a completely modern, fresh, and sometimes rather unique way.
For me, each of Mr. Biebel’s fragrances was exciting and captivating from the very first sniff, not to mention a relief. I literally said “Oh, thank god!“, out loud, when I tried the first vial, happy and thankful to smell something striking, interesting, good quality and, above all else, good, after having dealt with a number of utterly sub-par, over-priced, and ridiculously synthetic new releases from several adored, famous niche houses, releases which had left me wishing I could unleash and sic The Hairy German on a few creative directors and noses. But not with Mr. Biebel’s fragrances; he’s quite, quite safe from those jaws and fangs of doom, and not once have I changed my mind about that in the months since I first tried his fragrances.
In total, there are four new January Scent Project (hereinafter simply referred to as “JSP“) fragrances, all eau de parfums that were released this year, but I was only sent the first three, not the one that was just released called Vaporocindro. What I was sent and will talk about today are:
- Smolderose, which is the primary, central focus of today’s review and a masterful, impressive work whose character is ably summed up by its name.
- Selperniku, which is not only one of the most original, creative fragrances that I’ve encountered in quite some time, but also a fragrance which is so unusual that it’s taken me multiple wearings to understand it properly, to recognize some of the more atypical materials and aromas layered within, and to see the full range of its many, subtle nuances. I’ve enjoyed it more and more with each wearing, and I’m considering buying a small bottle for myself.
- Eiderantler, which is described as an ivy fougère but whose primary emphasis on my skin was a warm, bright, sunny mix of lavender and pine/fir sap. This lavender hater liked Eiderantler quite a bit, thanks to the way it cheerfully layers its lavender with bucolic and rustic elements, Slumberhouse-style.
Not all the fragrances worked for me from start to finish or when taken as a whole but, in every single instance, it was always because of a note issue, a struggle with one or more ingredients that have always been personally difficult or challenging for me and which were heavily featured in the composition. It was never because of the fragrances themselves, because they are all, without question, extremely well executed and good quality. Today, I’ll look at Smolderose in detail because it is the most complicated and complex scent out of the three. Selperniku and Eiderantler will be covered in a more synopsis-style, broad strokes fashion. I’ll finish by discussing the company’s wide range of bottle options, general prices, samples, and the current Christmas sale.
JOHN BIEBEL & THE HISTORY OF SMOLDEROSE:
John Biebel is a painter, musician, artist, UX designer, a Fragrantica writer/contributor and, in my opinion, a genuinely nice chap. Communicating with him, he comes across as a quiet, thoughtful intellectual who is driven by olfactory curiosity and a desire to learn for its own sake more than for any commercial reason. A self-taught perfumer, like so many of the best taking over the artisan scene today, he began a number of years ago by experimenting with raw materials, and the roots of Smolderose lie in those experiments.
As Mr. Biebel explains in a blog post on his site, he became captivated by his first experience with cade, which is the oil extracted from burnt juniper trees and one of the materials by which perfumers recreate “leather” in fragrances. Mr. Biebel writes that he was fascinated by the unusual qualities of this “beautiful essential oil”:
It’s an oil extracted from burnt juniper wood, and as such, has undergone a literal trial by fire before it even enters a bottle. It is very much a bonfire; traces of its origins as juniper branches are still there in its complex bouquet. I was immediately pulled toward building an accord around this essential oil. How could “smoke” be rounder, sweeter, more full-bodied? It was a tremendous learning process and months were spent during a mild New England summer arranging the notes.
The answer was to “put a flower in amongst these embers of scent” like, for example, the roses that he loves. Like the cade oil, the roses also required months of study in order for him to fully understand their many complex “facets and faces.” Eventually, after much work, Smolderose Parfum Oil was born, fulfilling his vision of something “smoky, green, red, rosy, amber, milk-like, nutty and fading off into some dark berries, green and wood.”
It was released in 2015 and was a precursor to the EDP but, let me be quite clear, the Parfum Oil is a different fragrance and it has different ingredients. That said, the cade and rose play just as big of a role in the new creation, which is one reason why I’ve focused on Smolderose’s history. But, once again, if you see Smolderose Parfum on the JSP website, it does not smell like what I will describe below.
Sometime back in 2015, Mr. Biebel sent me a sample and asked for my thoughts. I can’t remember now if it was the finalized oil or an almost finalized mod, and I can’t find my notes on it, but I remember the scent quite well. I thought there were good bones there but, I’ll be honest, it wasn’t perfect and didn’t sweep me off my feet, in part because its geranium turned into citronella/anti-mosquito spray side on my skin. Again, I can’t recall if that was a mod or the final, released oil, but I tried to provide the most constructive feedback I could; things like, for example, the rose’s placement and role, or changing the geranium varietal to a Bourbon geranium rose. After that, Mr. Biebel worked and worked on the scent, continuously tweaking the materials and structure and seeking further feedback from his colleagues and friends. In total, I think he spent almost two additional years on the Smolderose concept in order to perfect it.
And perfect it he did. It’s a truly striking, symphonic work whose first half floods my senses every time I wear it and I say that as someone with a well-known aversion to rose fragrances. But Smolderose isn’t really a rose fragrance when one takes it as a whole, because it is the extremely long, intense second half which is both controlling and central to its character. So while the name might make you think that the emphasis is on the rose, it’s not; it’s on the SMOLDER. Though its comparatively short opening stage is an American twist on the classical rose chypre, the new Smolderose EDP is predominantly a foray into the heart of darkness, first from incense and then from cade leather which is augmented by a variety of other intense materials. At one stage, Smolderose speaks the same language as Guerlain‘s Habit Rouge Dress Code, only without the sweetness, but, for vast portions of its monster lifespan, it inhabits the same general universe as Tribute Attar and Ame Sombre 1 Attar. Smolderose does not smell like them, not by any means, but their worlds are built around the same themes, using a number of the same materials (or closely related ones).
SMOLDEROSE 2017 EAU DE PARFUM — THE SCENT:
Smolderose eau de parfum was released early this year. Mr. Biebel describes the fragrance and its notes as follows:
Smoke and rose perfume. Contains notes of Damask rose, bergamot, saffron, roasted seashells, frankincense, elder flower, patchouli, cade, agarwood [oud], and labdanum.
There are two things I’d like to mention about that note list. First, in my opinion, the list is a nutshell summary rather than a complete inclusion of everything in the scent. What appeared on my skin would bear that out. I strongly believe that there is a rose geranium in this version of Smolderose, just as there was in the 2015 one. In addition, I think the fragrance also includes vetiver. It might even include a dash of myrrh, although that aroma might stem from choya instead.
That brings me to my second point: if you’re curious about the “roasted seashells” in the note list, it’s a reference to choya (or possibly choya nakh), the distilled essence of crushed, roasted seashells. It is typically used in natural perfumery, usually in incense compositions but also in some leathers and sometimes in chypres. I’ve seen a few people describe its aroma as “stinky.” Let me reassure you here and now that nothing in Smolderose stinks of fish or seafood on my skin. Nor is there anything salty or aquatic. White Lotus Aromatics‘ description might reassure you further:
Choya Nakh is a traditional destructive distillation of dry roasted seashells. The oil is brown in color with a smoky-oceanic, dry-mossy, woody bouquet and a sweet ambery undertone.
In natural perfumery it is used in Russian leather perfumes, forest bases, fougere, men’s colognes, leather accords, chypre, incense notes, temple perfumes.
So let’s move onto the scent itself. When looked at broadly and structurally, Smolderose develops on my skin like a play in three acts. Each of the first two emphasizes one half of the fragrance’s compound name. Act One features an orchestral symphony playing a single song composed around a prismatic rose. It is a comparatively shorter stage than Act Two which is split into three different sub-scenes, each of which is a different take on the “smolder” part of the equation. Act Three is the drydown. I liked Act One more than the Act Two, but both are well executed in the themes they seek to portray. I also liked Act Three, although, like most drydowns, it’s a calm, simple affair.
Act One opens with a head-turning, opulent bouquet that is tart, tangy, jammy, sour, boozy, spicy, smoky, and resinous. Heavily ornate, it’s a complex tapestry woven with threads of gold, green, and black. Front and center are the roses which smell to me like mix of damascena roses and rose geranium. To be precise, geranium bourbon or bourbon geranium (Pelargonium Rosat). If you’re unfamiliar with the smell, rose geranium has an aroma not only of the spicy, piquant, green fuzzy leaves of a geranium but also of lemons and roses. The bourbon type is richer, deeper, darker, even rosier, and also has a quiet booziness about it. From start to finish, through all its Acts, the floral component of Smolderose always smells on my skin like a mix of regular damascena roses and geranium bourbon “roses.” (I don’t think it’s a mere trick of the nose because, as mentioned earlier, the 2015 Smolderose oil had geranium, and bourbon geranium was one of the things I suggested to Mr. Biebel when he sent me a sample.)
The flowers are as thick as velvet and laden with honey, booze, tangy sourness, and rich, jammy fruits. The boozy note smells like a davana-style fruity liqueur but also like something more floral-herbal: elderflower cordial. It’s a creative cocktail which works beautifully with the jammy rose and the many ionones that I think were used here to give the flower its remarkable range of fruitiness: tart cherries, green apples, fresh strawberries, purple grapes, and tangy raspberries. The boozy note also works well with the rose geranium’s aromatic spiciness but it works best of all with the lemon, the rose’s main partner in the opening stage.
It’s a fantastic lemon, and I say that as someone who isn’t particularly enamoured by citrus notes as a general rule. But this one is as sweet as a Meyer’s lemon, as tart and lip-puckering as the greenest limes layered with sour green apples, as fragrantly refreshing as a jolt of ice on a scorching summer’s day, and as deep as all these things concentrated by the power of five. Something more than mere bergamot has to be at play here but, whatever the cause, it’s an exceptional citrus note, both in terms of actual scent and quality. Not only is it a good complement to the rose, but it’s also the perfect bridge to the greenness which surrounds it, a thicket of geranium which is piquant, spicy, leafy, and fragrantly aromatic. (In my opinion, I think there is smoky vetiver buried there as well, even if it’s not mentioned in the note list.)
The jammy, liqueured, fruity, green and lemony rose may be the floral centerpiece at Smolderose’s heart, but the fragrance wasn’t given that particular name for nothing and the other half of the tale — the “smolder” which looms on the horizon– is just as striking. I think it’s also the elevating touch which makes the fragrance stand out. The “smolder” changes often during the fragrance’s evolution, in prominence, in its individual parts, and in its overall scent. In Act One, it plays second fiddle to the rose but it’s nonetheless a bold, rich accord which, at this point, consists of: molten, treacly resins which smell like labdanum shot through with myrrh; earthy, chocolate-y, and spicy patchouli; smoky incense; dry woods; and cade.
As I mentioned earlier, cade is one of the materials by which perfumers create the sense of “leather” in perfumery but it’s not frequently used, which may be why I’ve always found it to be more interesting and striking than the more typical birch tar. To me, cade is more complex in its nuances and range than birch, which is fairly straightforward. I find that it’s significantly stronger, tarrier, smokier, woodier, and more intense than birch and, as a result, its “leather” comes across as more butch and muscular. Here, it’s a gorgeous touch because it goes beyond smoky leather and wood smoke to also incorporate cade’s crisp juniper berry/gin-like undertone, as well as its resinous, piney ones. Clearly, Mr. Biebel opted for a top-grade distillation with a lot of facets. Quality aside, the cade’s aromatic, juniper, pine, and resin undertones work beautifully with the tangy, tart, lemon-lime citrus note as well as the boozy, herbal, liqueured, jammy, and geranium-laced rose.
Each note is smells fantastic on its own but, together, they create something so much more in Act One, something that goes beyond an opulent smoldering rose on my skin or even a “rosePLUS” bouquet. There is real artistry and finesse in the calibration of the many notes here, in their layering, and their harmonizing; each one flows seamlessly into the next, accentuating it, amplifying it, and actually improving on it what the note would smell like by itself. Their interaction reminds me of a grand orchestra in its sweep and complexity. In point of fact, and as you’ll see in a moment, Smolderose continuously set off music in my head during both Act One and Act Two, each one a grand classical piece where scores of musicians play in perfect sync to create something larger than themselves, music that fills the senses and gives one soul a lift.
Smolderose’s first half is very prismatic, which is one of my highest compliments for a fragrance. I use the term for complex compositions which have dozens and dozens of tiny details, layered one upon another to create a scent whose specifics and nuances change not only from moment to moment but sometimes even from one wearing to the next. Having said that, Smolderose always follows the same general pattern in its broadest brush strokes. It starts off as a lemony, jammy, green rose that transitions into a modern neo-chypre marked by delicate oriental accents which gradually, step by step, gain in force and darkness. It’s a sign of what lies ahead; they build and build until, suddenly, 3.5 hours in, they crash like thunder on the scene, triggering Act Two and the fully smoldering part of the fragrance.
In Act Two, Scene I, the emphasis is on incense which coats everything in darkness. The rose not only slips into a supporting role but it also changes in character, turning dusty, spicy, dry, and withered. In Act Two, Scene II, however, the darkness changes: it now smells primarily of oud-case leather laced with smoky, leathery vetiver; the incense weaves in and out of the background; and a river of treacly, spiced blackened resins runs through the base. (The official note list may not mention vetiver but my skin wafts something very much like it, in addition to the aforementioned geranium. On top of that, it also smells to me as though there is some myrrh in the base, although maybe that’s the choya.) The rose initially returns to share the center stage, but the other notes beat their drum with increasing strength, growing in crescendo until they trigger Act Two, Scene III when they drown the rose in waves of smoke, leather, and darkness.
The best way I can convey to you not only how Smolderose feels but, more importantly, how it develops is to share with you two very different musical clips. The first represents Act I, the fragrance’s rose half, and is a 2 minute clip of the prelude to Carmen. Take note of the rapidity of the musicians’ movements, their enormous precision, the music’s moments of daintiness which are counteracted by occasional bursts of something darker from the drums, and how seamlessly everything fits together. Like Smolderose’s first half, it’s a mix of bright cheerfulness, vibrancy, sweetness, and zingy zest, all in a sweeping movement that has a certain romanticism to it:
The fragrance’s second half, though, its “smolder” side, is perfectly represented and paralleled by Carl Orff’s O Fortuna, the overture to Carmina Burana. I love O Fortuna, though I know that, like Smolderose, it is too intense to appeal to everyone. In it, a foreboding Grecian chorus announces from the very first note the darkness which is to come. Then, their voices drop, turning quieter but moving in steps, building one upon the other, their Latin words giving the music a medieval and contemplative quality which is just like one part of Act Two. It’s a darkness which build up to a crashing, almost cacophonic orchestral wave of cymbals, violins, drums, and the deepest, most leathery baritones, just like the second part of Act Two with its focus on smoky cade-oud leather, smoky vetiver, and incense. For me, at its fundamental core and for the majority of its extremely long life, Smolderose is O Fortuna‘s olfactory, symbolic parallel in both feel and movement.
The following 2:35-minute clip from the film, Excalibur, which used O Fortuna as its theme, is a good visual representation of the fragrance’s dark atmospherics, its feel, its movement, and the way its intense, powerful, masculine dark notes (the smolder) are interspersed with occasional moments of feminine sweetness (the rose) and mossy greenness. The analogy works best if, every time you glimpse either Excalibur, swords, knightly armour, or silver/white clothing, you visually substitutes black smoke of both the incense-y and cade-woody variety:
So, that’s the fragrance’s general outline, but let’s talk about the olfactory specifics of Act Two. Act Two, Scene I begins roughly 3.5 hours in when the frankincense barrels onto center stage, pushing away the other notes to grab the jammy, green rose tightly in its arms and enveloping it in waves of smoke. With every gust, the once-juicy, fresh, and vibrant rose withers a little more, its petals curling up, drying, and turning brown-black. They fall onto ground that is now earthy from patchouli, spicy from saffron, leathered from cade, and green-black from geranium laced with vetiver. Covering them all is a fine veil of dust from the frankincense (and probably the choya).
Frankincense and I have an extremely iffy relationship when it acts in a starring role, so this part of Smolderose is a challenge for me but I think it shows Mr. Biebel’s deft hand and the care which he has taken with the scent. Quite a few dusty, spiced incense roses skew into potpourri territory, but this one stops short of that. I think the lingering traces of tart-sour bergamot (or is it the rose geranium?) are one reason why. Another is the incense which is just as smoky as it is dusty. This is not a purely liturgical or churchy incense aroma because there is enough saffron, labdanum amber, earthy patchouli, cade leather, and greenness to keep it in oriental territory. The end result conjures up images of a rose pressed and dried alongside vetiver, saffron, and a citrus peel within the pages of an old book in a quiet church library where clouds of dusty incense billow through the air. There is something quite meditative about the scent as well as a little melancholy, although the latter is probably a projection of my personal feelings about incense and dried flowers. Still, there is no denying that the rose’s earlier freshness, vividness, and boldness have dissipated into something meditative. It’s not my thing on an olfactory level, there is a quiet beauty and serenity to it.
Like O Fortuna, however, the quietness is broken up by signs of a looming darkness, a small, soft beating of leather drums which gradually builds up to a crescendo that sets off Act Two, Scene II, roughly 6.25 to 6.5 hours into the fragrance’s development, though sometimes a little later in a few tests. It’s a completely different sort of “smolder” now than there was before. The rose returns as a strong element, only this time it’s paired with dark, smoky oud-cade leather. The incense slips back to being a supporting player, this time on the sidelines. The rose is no longer jammy or lemony, but smells entirely like a geranium rose: brisk, cool, dark, and framed with fuzzy, spicy, pepper leaves. There is a ghostly whisper of liqueured, wine-like herbaceousness about it as well, perhaps from the elderberry. The darkness which envelops them all has changed as well, and there is nothing meditative, introspective, or churchy about it. It’s a mixed leather accord created out of cade layered with oud. The latter has finally risen from the base, wafting a smoky, dry, and musky leatheriness.
For me, cade has always been a slicker, more intensely butch sort of leather than its birch brother, and those things hold true here as well, but it works well here, even if it’s a challenge for me personally. I think the cade’s aromatic facet pairs well with the rose’s geranium side while its blackened, leathery smokiness complements the incense (as well as the vetiver that I’m convinced is included in the scent). I also like how the cade’s resinous quality mirrors the labdanum which now runs through the base like a fast-moving freight train. The cumulative result is a slick, lacquered, and intensely macho leather that is enveloped in different types of smoke. Threads of rose, moss, dark earth, dark spices, and dark amber woven throughout, but they’re minor, heavily muted, and growing increasingly difficult to detect. There is no question that smoky cade leather is the star of the show with the oud in second place and smoky vetiver/mossy greenness coming in third.
It’s a smooth, deep, powerful bouquet that is surprisingly polished for something so laden with testosterone and muscles, although I think there is a definite snarl to its leather. That may be why, for me, it gives off such punk-rock vibe, evoking Joan Jett in shiny black leather pants singing “I Love Rock and Roll” as Billy Idol snarls his way through “White Wedding.” I love the attitude and vibe of Smolderose’s “song,” even though a number of its notes (pun intended) are not my personal cup of tea or style.
Having said that, I think it will have a number of fans. When I consider this part of the scent in addition to the other stages, I think it’s the sort of fragrance which would appeal to a man (or woman) who wanted: a tougher, more leather-driven, non-tobacco-y and greener twist on Tribute or Ame Sombre attars; a butch-er, more macho, more intense, and incense-green twist on SHL 777‘s Oumma; or a drier, darker, unsweetened, and more intensely smoked counterpart to Habit Rouge Dress Code with oud, geranium, incense, and cade in lieu of caramel, vanilla, and abrasive woody-amber-leather aromachemicals.
Act Two, Scene III begins roughly 11.5 hours into Smolderose’s development. Basically, the scent has dissolved into dry, slightly dusty black smoke, and the notes infused within are quite amorphous. There are impressionistic suggestions of cade charcoal leather and charred woods, vetiver, oud, dusty frankincense, and ash. Something has quite a medicinal, almost camphorous, bite to it, as well as a dry, woody earthiness. I don’t know if it’s the cade, the choyo, possibly some myrrh, or a mix of elements. Whatever the source, I can’t say I find the combination of medicinal camphor, smoke, dryness, and dustiness to be the most enjoyable thing to wear.
Thankfully, Smolderose changes direction when its drydown or Act Three, the play’s finale, kicks off at the start of the 14th hour. (I told you, this fragrance has monster longevity!) Essentially, it’s a simple affair, a wood smoke-infused amber bouquet, but it’s very enjoyable. The fragrance has turned sweeter, softer, warm, and plush, thanks to the labdanum which has finally (finally!) become a central note. It drowns out and banishes everything but the cade which it encases in golden warmth, mellowing out its aromas, taming them, and leaving behind only woody smoke. The labdanum has a lovely patina of slightly burnt, mildly sweet, honeyed beeswax as well as a suede-like textural feel. As the hours pass, Smolderose turns into a golden blur of amber with beeswax and smoke layered within. In its final hours, all that’s left is a slightly sweet muskiness.
Smolderose had good projection, initially huge-to-big sillage that took time to turn soft, monster longevity, and a deep body. Using several sprays from an atomizer equal to 2 sprays from a bottle, the fragrance opened with around 4-5 inches of projection and about 9-10 inches of sillage, sometimes a little more. It had the power and presence of a powerhouse 1980s eau de parfum. (Always a good thing, in my books.) The bouquet itself was deep, rich, and almost heavy, but not dense or chewy. Let’s call it “loaded weightlessness.” 2.5 hours in, the projection dropped to about 1.5 to 2 inches and the sillage shrank to about 6 inches. 4.75 hours in, the projection hovered above the skin while the scent trail dropped to about 4 inches. At the start of the 9th hour, the scent trail clung close to the body, unless I moved my arms in which case it bloomed and left a tiny trail for five or ten minutes. In total, it took Smolderose 11.5 hours to turn into a skin scent but, even so, I could detect its scent without any effort if I put my nose on my arm. From start to finish, Smolderose consistently lasts 24 to 24+ hours on me with just a few sprays from January Scent Project’s atomizer sample. On Fragrantica, it receives top marks for longevity and very good ones for sillage.
On Fragrantica, the reviews for Smolderose EDP are generally very positive, but accounts of its bouquet vary quite a bit. For a number of people, the fragrance was a jammy, sour-sweet and green rose which eventually took on elements of incense, campfire smoke, dark woods, and/or leather. For “Br’eauDeCologne,” however, it was the scent of an old vintage book “that was packed away with rose petals pressed between every other chapter.” As a bookworm, that appealed to him. His experience sounds similar to what I’ve recounted in Act Two, Scene I, as does the review by “taindana” who wrote: “Sadly on me this is dried roses and incense. It’s sort of dusty. It’s fine, pleasant. But that’s it.”
The positive reviews are too long and detailed for me to quote even in part, so I’ll let you read them on your own and move onto another and larger point: I think Smolderose is a fragrance where skin chemistry and application quantities are going to really make a significant difference, even more than usual. There are simply too many dark notes, some of which can be a little intense, for that not to be the case. In addition, I noticed a few differences when I simply dabbed a light amount with the atomizer stick as opposed to applying 2 sprays. With a small, dabbed amount, the rose was intensely sharp and biting with during the first two hours — far too sharp for someone like myself with major rose issues. The incense was dustier, comparatively speaking, and the camphorous or medicinal nuances appeared sooner as opposed to the 12th hour. There was also a trace of dirtiness and/or dirty musk in the base, which I suspect stems from the oud. On top of that, I thought the bouquet had fewer nuances and details when taken as a whole. Finally, the fragrance had more noticeable synthetics the less juice I applied. This is a scent which shines brighter, unfurls itself more widely, and smells better when you apply a good dose.
Even so, I think that Smolderose will be challenging scent for many and that it is best suited to those who are hardcore lovers of both roses and incense/leather. Its fans seem to be men and women alike, so it is fully unisex.
SELPERNIKU & EIDERANTLER:
I had initially planned to write full reviews of Selperniku and Eiderantler in a separate post but, last night, I saw that January Scent Project has a small sale which will only last for a few more days, so I’ve rushed to cover Selperniku and Eiderantler here instead. That way you will have time to take advantage of the sale if you want to buy a bottle of one of these two instead of just a sample. Unfortunately, the discussion will have to be a pretty basic outline. Overly simplified nutshells are neither ideal nor my preference, but I wouldn’t be able to finalize and post two real, detailed reviews before Friday, which would only give you a few hours before the sale ends. Much of my time and attention these days have been taken up by my Teutonic Overlord who is, unfortunately, ailing badly, so it will have to be a nutshell overview and one extra-long post instead of a two-part series as I had originally planned.
Selperniku, my favourite of the three, defies easy description and, in my opinion, is much, much more than its overly simplified official description of “salt, milk & fruit.” Its notes are listed as: “apricot, immortelle, butter, cardamom, petitgrain, chamomile, milk, cypress, juniper, tobacco, and sandalwood.”
What’s odd is that Selperniku opens on my skin with the clear scent of lavender. It’s not in the notes but I’ve tried this fragrance roughly eight times since September and it always opens the same way. To be specific, lavender licked by tendrils of campfire smoke, then dunked into a wooden bowl of milk drizzled with honey. About 30-40 minutes in, the lavender fades away, chamomile arrives, and knobs of osmanthus dried apricots start to bob around the bowl. At the same time, the milk itself changes: its honey gives way to immortelle’s maple syrup; fragrant cardamom and dance around the edges; the smoke grows stronger; and ghostly, elusive whispers of tobacco and the immortelle’s banana leaf/curry spice side occasionally pop up in the distant background.
After a few hours, the apricots take over and the milk retreats to the background. The fruits have turned from tart purée into something wizen and leathery, probably due to the smoky, tarry cade leather, though I continue to think that there is osmanthus in the fragrance. The way the apricots are here reminds me a lot of the osmanthus leather in Providence Perfume Company‘s Osmanthus Oolang. Laced within it is a touch of camphor, a tablespoon of immortelle curry spice, and a pinch of salt. It’s a savoury mix and, yet, it’s not really culinary and I don’t feel as though I’m wearing food. What it really is, at its heart and core, is smoky, leathery apricots set against a milky backdrop.
Eventually, Selperniku turns creamy and soft, its focus almost entirely on the fruits and milk. The wizen, leathery apricot turns back into tangy apricot purée, and it’s swaddled between layers of lactonic cream which now also has undertones of butter, coconut oil, and soft woods.
So, that’s Selperniku’s basic essence. While it sounds like an odd mix of notes, I think it works extremely well. The quirky pairing of some unexpected food elements with oriental notes continuously made me think of both Slumberhouse and Serge Lutens (in his pioneering days). In particular, Selperniku has the same vibe, feel, and childlike innocence as Slumberhouse’s Pear + Olive, only this one has apricots in it and it isn’t nauseatingly cloying, oily, or heavily sweet. I found it utterly fascinating, as well as a cozy, delicious scent which was more and more comforting each time I tested it. It’s the perfect bed-time scent and I’m considering buying a small bottle. The projection was okay, the sillage was good-to-moderate, and longevity clocked in between 12 and 13 hours with two sprays. One thing that I’ll add is that Selperniku (and, in fact, all three JSP fragrances) had more noticeable synthetics the less scent I applied.
You can read about other people’s experiences on Fragrantica if you’re interested. Many of the reviews are extremely positive, but not all. I think Selperniku is going to be one of those “Love It/Hate It/What The Heck Is This All About?” fragrances.
Eiderantler is described as an “ivy fougère” and its notes include lavender, green leaves, moss, pink pepper, lavandin, champa/magnolia leaf, ivy, elemi, fir cone, hay, oak wood, cashmere, vetiver, and musk.
The scent opens with lavender that is creamy, fruity, floral, spicy, herbal, fresh, and aromatic. On my skin, it is initially and once again dunked in bowl of milk which has syrup and fruit mixed in. The difference, though, is that, this time, the syrup is beautifully fragrant, sweet, Christmas-y pine/fir sap and the fruit is spicy, pink peppercorn berries. The notes are licked by wood smoke and then sprinkled with something that smells a lot like dried chamomile flowers on my skin. (Is it the champa leaf?) I continuously wonder if either Eiderantler or Selperniku started out as a mod for the other before it slowly morphed into its own thing, because there is a definite genetic connection between the two scents. Anyway, moving on, piquant, peppery ivy leaves frame the bouquet, while sweet hay, soft earth, sweet grasses, and golden Elemi resins run under it.
Eiderantler changes quickly and often. The sense of milk disappears after 10 minutes, though the lavender grows creamy enough to feel like ice-cream. 40-45 minutes in, the peppercorns disappear; the ivy grows weaker; the champa leaf expands and grows, wafting a magnolia-like aroma at times; and the gorgeous, sweet Christmas-y sap triples in strength, becoming the lavender’s main partner. Sweet hay and grasses grow all around, while smoky woods run below their feet. The woods are the one thing I dislike because something about them is surprisingly scratchy and grew even more so from the third hour until the 7th. It continuously irritated my throat when I smelt my arm for too long at a time, but you all know my sensitivities, so let’s move on. The drydown is enjoyable. Basically, Eiderantler turns into a blur of lavender-fir sap layered with creamy vanilla, honeyed sweetness, and herbaceousness. It ends as aromatic, sappy, honeyed, vanillic, and piney creaminess.
From start to finish, the fragrance inhabits the same worlds as Slumberhouse’s early creations and speaks the same language, even if the actual aromas are quite different. Eiderantler has the same rustic echoes, the same sort of nature-oriented or countryside genetics. The first half occasionally made me think of Sova, though in style not actual scent. Eiderantler recreates a country farm, except this is a crisp Swiss alpine one from the Heidi children’s books and features lavender ice cream, champa/magnolia leaf, fir-and-pine sap, vetiver, a chamomile-like herbaceousness, and a handful of hay. It’s not a warm, bucolic farm where vats of malt, caramel, beeswax, hops, and vanilla bubble away next to bales of hay. The second half reminded me nonstop of Pear + Olive, only in lavender-pine sap form and, again, not nauseatingly sweet, cloying, or heavy.
In point of fact, Eiderantler is not only airy and light but also a little quiet. It’s the quietest of the three on my skin and, to my surprise, it turned discreet at the end of the 2nd hour and start of the third. The fragrance typically becomes a skin scent on me anywhere between 3.25 to 4.5 hours, depending on whether I applied 2 sprays from the atomizer or three. Eiderantler usually lasts around 8 or 9 hours on my skin.
On Fragrantica, Eiderantler has the highest overall score out of the three. Almost everyone loves this one. A lot. I’m not surprised. It’s extremely pretty and, if it weren’t for that scratchy wood note and my sensitivities, I would definitely want a bottle. It’s the fir sap which is the real knock-out part; it’s utterly gorgeous and addictive. Its prominence and eventual co-starring role (on many people’s skin, not just mine) are a big reason why I think Eiderantler would appeal even to lavender-phobes. Trust me, fellow haters, this one won’t send you running for the hills.
In short, Eiderantler is the easiest, most approachable, and most versatile fragrance out of the three. I think it’s bound to be a best-seller for the brand.
BOTTLE SIZES, SETS, PRICES & THE CHRISTMAS SALE:
JSP fragrances come in a wide variety of options and formats. (See the Details section at the very end for the complete run-down and for retail links.) Mr. Biebel clearly knows the common lament of hardcore perfumistas and collectors about fragrances rarely coming in small sizes, because he was/is one himself, which is why he offers a 30 ml option. In fact, he goes a step further by offering a trio set of 30 mls, your choice of scents, and it even comes with a lower per-bottle price. He also offers two different sample sets. Bless him. I wish more brands followed his approach.
Not only are there a slew of ways in which you can try his fragrances but they’re all affordably priced. I mean, really and truly affordably priced! The 30 mls start at $65 while the 100 mls are $125. I confess, I blinked hard when I first saw the $65 price tag and stared with what amounted to befuddlement. Clearly, I’ve spent far too much time with fragrances, attars, and oils that are priced between $500 to $3500, but Mr. Biebel’s pricing is modest even by regular niche and indie standards. It’s even more exceptional when one takes the quality of the fragrances into consideration. While Smolderose is the hulking beast out of the trio (the others are softer, lighter, airier, not so powerful, and not so insanely long-lasting), all of them have a quality and character that exceeds their price tag.January Scent Project currently has a small sale that lasts until the end of Friday, December 15th. One aspect pertains to shipping being waived on purchases over $100, even for overseas/international sales, but the thing which caught my eye was the 30 ml Trio set. Its price has been temporarily slashed from $150 to $120 (which is roughly €100 or £105). That’s $40 a bottle. With free worldwide shipping. Wow.
It was the 20%-off Christmas reduction on this set which made me change all my plans and decide to cover four separate things (the three fragrances and John Biebel himself) in one monster review. I know that this has been long — even for me — but I wanted to give anyone who might be interested in JSP the maximum time possible to do further research (into these three but also the brand new, just-released Vaporocindro) and to make up their minds before the sale ended.
My hope with this article was two-fold: to introduce you to the fragrances but, really and ultimately, to introduce John Biebel to you as a perfumer. Some of you may know him from his Fragrantica posts, but I doubt many of you know him as the talented perfumer which he so clearly is. I’m genuinely and truly impressed by him — and regular readers know that I’m not easily impressed and that half my posts are scathing reviews that flay the skin off people and fragrances. But Mr. Biebel’s work is a breath of fresh air, and I really think that he will be mentioned one day in the same breath as the other highly acclaimed artisanal perfumers whom I referenced at the start of this post. These three fragrances show me that quite clearly. They won’t work for everyone and I suspect that they’ll be quite polarizing, but the talent… the talent is unquestionable, in my opinion, and something to be admired. So is Mr. Biebel’s technical skill, knowledge, and the clearly meticulous care with which he crafts his fragrances.
Mr. Biebel, I give you the Vulcan salute.
Disclosure: My samples were provided courtesy of the company. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.