It’s not often that I experience love at first sniff, but in the case of Oak Wood, my immediate thought upon spraying it on my skin was “oh, I love this” and my secondary thought was “I’m going to wear the heck out of this”. Spoiler alert: I do and I did. But hold up, let’s talk a bit about this fragrance before we go right into the nitty gritty of whether I love it or not (I do, obv.). Sunspel is a luxury British clothing brand that focuses on high quality wardrobe staples and knitwear. Their aesthetic is very neutral and smart (and a little Scandi?). Oak Wood fits in nicely.

Sunspel tasked British perfumer Lyn Harris (formerly of Miller Harris, now of Perfumer H) to create their debut fragrance. The brand had previously created signature sweatshirts for Harris, featuring the names of two of her Perfumer H fragrances (I really want one of those, btw) so it feels like an organic partnership. Harris said she wanted to “create something that represented the beauty of the English countryside” because for her “that’s what really represents the brand, Sunspel”. The name Oak Wood was her working title for the fragrance.

When I review a scent I don’t just think about the words I want to use to describe it, I also consider how I’m going to capture the essence of the scent in the accompanying images. To photograph Oak Wood, I took a long walk with my husband and Pugsley, our pug. We ventured onto the thrift that is a short walk from our house and got lost in the winding paths that led us through the growing saplings that represent a forest in its infancy. We walked past reeds and brush, treading on gravel paths scattered with fiery leaves decaying in the autumn air. I was wearing Oak Wood and it felt so poignant in such a beautiful space. It all just felt right. These photographs represent Oak Wood and the feelings of that day.

“Perfumed escapism” – that’s what Nick Steward, founder of indie brand Gallivant, aims to bring to the world with his collection of city-inspired scents, and let’s be real, if there ever was a time when we needed to be transported elsewhere by perfume, now is it. With so many people under lockdown or working from home, and unable to travel, all because of the global Covid-19 pandemic, Gallivant provides virtual tours of faraway places, all through the medium of olfaction. Gallivant makes this big old world a much smaller and more accessible place, all with just one spritz of their transportive perfumes.

With their latest launch, Gallivant whisks us away to Uzbekistan and the noble city of Bukhara. This “fairytale city on the Silk Road”, as Gallivant puts it, is home to beautiful, colourful architecture, talented artisans, welcoming people and a melting pot of spices, fabrics and fruits. Gallivant worked with perfumer Ralf Schweiger (Lipstick Rose by Frederic Malle; Eau des Merveilles by Hermès, and so many more iconic scents) to distill the city of Bukhara into olfactory form. Together they chose the luxurious and elegant note of iris as Bukhara’s core material. To be honest, they had me at “orris”.

What perfume would the Mona Lisa wear? What would she smell like? What is behind that enigmatic smile? The popularity of the Mona Lisa is the fact that it leaves so much unsaid – for years people have wondered who she is (although it is now pretty much agreed who the subject of the painting is), what she was thinking and why this, of all paintings, is the most famous in the world. All good questions to ponder, if you ask me.

Niche brand Histoires de Parfums appear to have their curiosity piqued by Ms. Mona too, and they’ve taken the enigma that is the Mona Lisa and tried to capture her essence in perfume form. The name ‘7753‘ refers to the dimensions of the painting – “a hidden number for a hidden smile” as the brand puts it – and the scent aims to recreate the emotion of the subject. Whether that rings true or not, I can confirm (spoiler alert) that it is a cracking tuberose that I’ve been enjoying immensely!

Men should wear roses. This is a fact – a non-negotiable reality and I will not be considering any other viewpoint at this time. In truth, men do wear roses, especially in the Middle East, where such things are the norm however, over here I think there’s a touch of reluctance for many men to consider wearing something that leans feminine. Toxic masculinity’s a bitch, right? Anyway, Maison Francis Kurkdjian want to make rose-wearing acceptable for the menfolk – to give them the power to wear a rose – and their latest launch, L’Homme À la Rose is a great start on this noble quest for rosiness.

Created as a masculine counterpart to Kurkdjian’s popular À la Rose, L’Homme is described by the brand as a “free interpretation of rose“. It is not the brand’s first masculine rose (the first being Lumière Noire Pour Homme) but it’s perhaps their most intriguing, presenting the masculine rose in a fresh guise that does not shy away from being pretty. That’s right, gents can (and should) feel pretty too and I have a good feeling that L’Homme À la Rose may be just the scent to help with that.

The success of Coco Mademoiselle took CHANEL by surprise when it launched in 2001. Created to rejuvenate the ageing Coco, which had launched 17 years prior but aged double in that time, Coco Mademoiselle’s purpose was to keep the Coco name on the shelves, which it more than did. In reality, Coco Mademoiselle’s popularity isn’t that surprising, after all, it plays a familiar tune (fruity patchouli a la ANGEL) and does it well, all whilst bearing the name “CHANEL” on its bottle. That’s pretty much a recipe for success, if you ask me.

Coco Mademoiselle presented a chic, yet bombastic, blend of sticky citrus (orange, bergamot, mandarin), sweet rose and contrasting patchouli. It riffed on ANGEL, of course, but pushed everything in a more luxurious, less challenging direction becoming a fruitchouli for the masses. I cannot deny that it’s a great fragrance, it’s just one that I’ve never personally gelled with, but then again, as a 33 year old, bespectacled and slightly stocky gay man (OK really stocky), I’m hardly the target market (“Mademoiselle” I am not).

So since 2001 we’ve had Coco Mademoiselle Eau de Toilette (2002) and the Eau de Parfum Intense (2018) (which I liked more than the original). Now we have Coco Mademoiselle L’Eau Privée, a lighter, more sheer fragrance that is meant to be worn at night time. The mood is very much satin sheets and silk lingerie in a blush shade of pink. Perfect for spritzing on when you’re wearing your flannel PJs and bunny slippers from Primark, I say. Let’s sniff.

It was my Olfiction colleague and Fume Chat co-host, the iconic Nick Gilbert, that introduced me to Maison Crivelli, and I am so glad he did. This is a brand that strikes me as being carefully considered, right from the beautiful, simplistic and luxurious aesthetics, to the intriguing, unexpected fragrances, much in the same way that Frederic Malle fragrances are. But the most intriguing thing about Maison Crivelli is the way they speak about perfume – they talk in impressions and experiences, moving us away from notes to craft a relatable olfactory language that is universal.

The fragrances in the collection are inspired by raw materials and each appears to present a new twist on the notes or ingredients that we are familiar with. It’s almost as if Maison Crivelli is inviting us to rethink our experiences of these materials – we think we know them, but Maison Crivelli shows us that there are still unexpected ways to experience the things we are so familiar with. For me, that’s incredibly exciting and makes Maison Crivelli one of the few new niche brands to watch.

Papyrus Moléculaire is the one of the latest launches from the brand and it takes inspiration from the brand founder, Thibaud Crivelli’s encounter with papyrus powder and women smoking cigarillos. The result is a subversion of the usually spicy and warm material presented as something much fresher, more transparent and powdery. As with all scents in the collection Papyrus Moléculaire is entirely genderless, with Maison Crivelli describing it as “rebellious” and “highly contrasting”.

Let’s talk about Atelier Cologne. For me they are a brand that very much fits into the category of ‘mainstream niche’, which means they are a niche, exclusive brand that has a sort of mainstream appeal and is on the more accessible side of the luxe fragrance world. You won’t find anything particularly challenging there, but you will find quality and luxury. Juliette Has a Gun is another example of a mainstream niche brand, but we’re not here to talk about them.

What I love about Atelier Cologne is that they are successful in their mission to create enjoyable, long-lasting colognes, and it would be fair to say that they do citrus fragrances better than anyone. Scents like Orange Sanguine (basically a shower of juicy oranges – cover me in it now, please), Bergamot Soleil (the closest you’ll ever get to an Earl Grey scent) and Pomelo Paradis (unf, so good) show just how euphorically beautiful and long-lasting citrus can be.

Their latest fragrance isn’t actually a citrus cologne (well, it kinda is but we’ll get there), instead it’s a sunny floral called Love Osmanthus. Inspired by the story of love in a secret garden, Love Osmanthus shines a spotlight on the unique flower from Asia, playing up its fruity, peach-like aroma into a fragrance that creates the impression of an “exotic garden under the moonlight”. Colour me intrigued….

Jean Paul Gaultier’s iconic and mischievous little sailor, Le Mâle, is 25 this year. If that doesn’t make you feel old, then I don’t know what will (it certainly made me feel rather ancient, I tell you). That’s a quarter century’s worth of men soaking themselves in far too much of Le Mâle’s distinct and devilish minty barbershop beauty. I can say that, because for 15 of those 25 years, I have been one of them. I still wear it now and I still love it, and for me, Le Mâle will never go out of style.

The success of Le Mâle is really unrivalled in the world of mainstream masculine perfumery and it’s due, perhaps, to the distinct nature of the juice, but also to the marketing which managed to be unashamedly queer enough to set the gays into a frenzy (the advertising heavily references the Fassbinder movie Querelle) whilst also butch enough not to put the straight boys off (they weren’t in on the joke, but they loved its macho nature anyway). So the beauty of Le Mâle really is the fact that it has been worn by all kinds of men (and women, actually) whether they identify as femme, masc or neither of these things. Long may this mighty Mâle reign – that’s what I say!

To celebrate 25 years of sailor shenanigans, Jean Paul Gaultier is treating us to Le Mâle Le Parfum, which appears as a richer, warmer and more intense version of the original. If you think of Le Mâle as the fresh-faced rookie then Le Parfum is the weather-worn captain, but like Le Mâle, he’s still buff af (the rock hard abs and pert bottom on the bottle remain as tight as ever) and very, very hot. So, let’s jump on board and take a good look at this incredibly sexy fragrance that definitely deserves his promotion to admiral of the fleet.

Colonia Futura

Colonia Futura is a perfume that comes with a loud message of sustainability. This is no surprise, of course, as over the last two years or so, consumers have been demanding more sustainability from their products, and perfume is no exception. There are two key elements to consider when thinking of sustainable perfume; the juice itself, and the packaging – Colonia Futura aims to address both.

So, how exactly is this new cologne from the historic Italian brand sustainable and eco conscious? Acqua di Parma are billing Colonia Futura as their “declaration of love for nature” and in that vein, it contains 99% ingredients from a natural origin. The packaging has also changed to fit this new drive of friendliness towards nature – the traditional Bakelite cap has been replaced with one made from recycled and recyclable plastic, whilst the bottle (excluding the spray mechanism, which can be removed) can also be recycled. Perhaps the coolest innovation is the label on both the bottle and box, which is fashioned from scrap dust from marble quarries. That’s pretty neat if you ask me.