The Painterly Palette of PK Perfumes (Part one)
The one-man show known as PK Perfumes has been quietly making inroads into the American indie perfume scene, and the small company has gained wider recognition with several prestigious industry nominations and awards in an impressively short span of time. Perfumer Paul Kiler has a unique and somewhat quirky viewpoint, and after testing the full range of fragrances and a draft of an upcoming launch, it is easy to see why this brand is gaining a loyal following. These fragrances are composed in the classic manner with a high percentage of natural materials, but the results can be quite unexpected.
One of the most talked-about perfumes in the lineup is Red Leather, and when I first tried it, I really thought I hated it. The opening is blunt and tarry, and it seemed as though it was going to be one of those coarse, greasy leather and patchouli scents that only the bravest men would ever wear. Much to my surprise, this effect did not last very long, and after the smoke cleared a different animal appeared. I have never smelled leather paired with the astringency of buchu leaves, rhubarb and pink grapefruit before but this is a genius move that turns Red Leather into a streamlined modern leather like no other. Civet and castoreum in the base keep it anchored and some florals peek through on occasion, but this one is all about the contract between funk and zing, and it works wonderfully. I ended up liking it a lot with its sporty vibe that brings to mind Italian leathers such as Trussardi, and it is ideal for men (and women) who want to make a memorable impression.
Gold Leather is very different from its sibling, but it also gets its character from an unusual combination of notes. To my nose the dominant impression is of “pocketbook” leather overlaid with a bitter cherry/almond accord, which happens to be one of my favorite things in perfumery (see DSH Perfumes Antiu), and softened with fruits and sumptuous white flowers – lily, tuberose, gardenia, honeysuckle, jasmine and more. It is sweet but not overly so, and the leather is always in the forefront. Herbal notes and oakmoss make for an earthy yet sunny drydown that seems to last forever. This is my kind of leather scent; since I am an ardent fan of vintage Balmain Jolie Madame, who hides a huge bouquet of creamy white florals under her leather catsuit, I appreciate that Gold Leather fills a need for today's perfume lovers seeking a wearable feminine leather that will also appeal to men. This one goes on my wish list for sure.
We are still not done with leather, and Zaffran is yet another original take on the theme – leather with saffron, and lots of saffron at that. Zaffran is quite somber, with no discernible sweetness, and even cardamom, clove bud, cinnamon and kaffir lime can't brighten the mood created by the leather embellished with tobacco, patchouli and costus root. It has a distinctly masculine aura, and although many women might like it I would rather smell it on a man than wear it myself. It is actually too subdued for my taste and I wish it had a little more brightness, but it's as smooth as one could want and elegantly understated.
Another fragrance in the line that has a unisex appeal is Ginger Zest de Citron, which was inspired by the idea of cooling summer drinks. The concept is deceptively simple; sure, just throw in some citrus and add ginger, how hard could it be? Not so fast – this is a well composed and interesting scent that hides an undercurrent of curry spice, musk and a hint of leather, with a dry, cool and rooty character that feels just like sitting in the shade of a tree on a hot day. It also lasts a lot longer on skin than one would expect for something in this style. Guys, please oh please wear this in summertime instead of those dreadful, faceless “bug spray” sporty masculines. You will be doing yourselves and the rest of us a huge favor.
Switching gears, the delightful duet of chocolate and violets provides an olfactory treat in Violet Chocolatier. It would be easy to dismiss it as a novelty but don't make that mistake. An initial burst of dew-dappled violets is quickly joined by a warm accord of gently spiced chocolate and a deliciously tangy fruit note of apricots. I can take all the apricot you can throw at me and more, and the fact that it is combined with so many of my other favorite perfume ingredients – violet, chocolate, rose, nutmeg, honey, gardenia, benzoin, jasmine and more – pretty much guarantees my thumbs-up vote on this one. As it dries down the round, juicy fruitiness sticks around accompanied by an earthy iris effect as the violet subsides, with lingering echoes of chocolate and amber, and it turns out to be a surprisingly sophisticated composition. Highly recommended.
While we are in gourmand territory, let's talk about Café Diem. This is another idea that could have gone wrong in less capable hands but it really works here in a boozy, smoky blend of coffee, absinthe, whiskey, warm spices, incense and vetiver. It's less foody than it sounds and one reason for that could be because of what's not in it; Mr. Kiler dislikes vanilla and does not use it in his perfumes. (Did I mention his quirky viewpoint? I believe I did.) One of the most popular materials in all perfumery is off the menu, and it's exactly one of the ingredients most perfumers would use in this kind of fragrance, but it suffers not all from its absence. Café Diem brings back memories of my younger self and good times spent at a local French bistro that had live jazz bands playing late into the evening. Liquor flowed freely, and the bar specialized in steaming hot coffee drinks featuring the addition of Drambuie, Bailey's Irish Cream and other cozy libations. Just one of those would keep me warm all the way home on a rainy winter night, and this comforting coffee scent would make a perfect winter perfume.
Next time I will review the rest of the PK Perfumes roster, so come back soon!
Image credits: Gold tooled floral pattern leather via kaneva.com . Rose and Violet chocolate creams via lakeland.co.uk
Disclaimer: I requested and received a sample set from PK perfumes for testing purposes.