Let’s talk numbers today: there are at least 360 niche perfume brands on the market presently, as opposed to about 100 less than 10 years ago, according to a press article published on the Reuters website in 2014.
The competition is getting hotter by the day and any newly launched brands would better have a very coherent and believable artistic statement behind and some damn good perfumes in order to establish a successful presence on the market. Brilliant customer service and an engaging online presence are playing an important part too.
Consumers are also getting more discerning thanks to the increasing amount of information available, especially the customers that are active buyers of niche perfumes, a term that I dislike for his pretentious connotations, but it’s sort of universally used and accepted so in lack of a better alternative it’ll have to do.
Suffice to say is a lot more difficult now than it was ten years ago to create an interesting and, at the same time, commercially viable niche perfume brand identity. Even for already old names in the game is getting increasingly challenging to maintain head above water.
In short, it’s too much of everything and the consumer’s attention span is stretched to the maximum with not so desirable consequences, the chief one being the fact we’re unable to concentrate any more. As a result, many turn backwards starting to chase vintages, after all there’s a lot less of them than new releases on the market, and others start to develop exclusivities towards certain brands that most appeal to their individual style. And others simply give up, focusing on what they already have. I’m somewhere between the last two categories, after only fours years down the rabbit’s hole. With sniffing and testing hundreds of perfumes I came to realize that only a very small part have something memorable to say, but it takes a lot of unproductive and unpaid work to sift through so many average, uninspired fragrances in order to find the one that’ll shake you out of general apathy and indifference.
I’m sure that relatively soon, less than 10 years from now, will witness a considerable slowdown of the market’s rhythm in terms of new, emerging brands, but until then there’s quite a few of them still popping about.
When it comes to investigating new lines, I certainly don’t have a logical approach. I act on a whim most of the time, sometimes prompted by an affordable sampling program and sometimes by the odd intriguing perfume review or both. New and old brands take note: please don’t make yourselves unapproachable by not offering cheap enough samples. Remember what I said about attention span? Well it’s getting shorter by the minute and if you don’t have a sample set that I could buy quickly without feeling that I’m being ripped off, then I’m going to promptly forget about you. And like me there are many.
Doing my usual rounds through the list of blogs I follow, I came across some interesting reviews about this new brand, Angela Ciampagna, freshly launched at Milan Exsence this year, and because the sample set was a decent €10 for 7 fragrances, I decided to give it a go. The shipping charges were a bit steep, €7.50 but considering you get a €20 voucher towards the purchase of a full bottle it still is a nice deal. The set arrived promptly and it comes with tester strips, the voucher I was talking about and product presentation sheets for each scent.
So far, so lovely. Numbers spring again to my mind though and can’t help thinking that 7 perfumes might be too high a number to be launching yourself with. From my limited experience this doesn’t seem to help. I think up to 5 is more than an enough for a new brand to make its entrance with and capture a relatively extended tastes palette. Hell, even one is enough if it’s exceptional, and from what I’ve noticed 2 or 3 seem to do the trick most of the time. I’m thinking here of Vero Profumo, Neela Vermeire, Aedes de Venustas, Naomi Goodsir, Jul et Mad and others that managed to break through with only a small handful of perfumes. In the end my impression was more or less right as I felt there were at least three fragrances in the lineup that could’ve been left out altogether.
In terms of artistic ethos, again so far, so lovely. It’s a very small scale, family run operation (Angela and Enrico, husband and wife), and it’s a very hands-on affair, the two being involved in absolutely every aspect of their business, with Angela overseeing the creation and Enrico the more technical and business oriented things.
Living in a small town in central Italy has proved an immense source of inspiration for Angela, who wants to reflect in her perfumes a sense of deep connection with nature, the artisanal traditions of her country and the down-to-earth attitude of the people.
This attempt of capturing one’s country landscapes and specific smells reminds a bit of Josh Lobb’Slumberhouse, but the Angela Ciampagna line has a more polished, cold feel.Strangely, more urban too. Or you could look at it from a different angle and say that it’s like a more rustic Comme de Garçons.
The first fragrance I tested it was Ducalis, which ended up being my least favorite. It’s the typical rose-oud-wood combination, layered over with a hint of salty, green freshness giving it an outdoorsy vibe. Nothing about it feels particularly memorable, natural or artisanal. It’s quite sharp and aggressive and it has an incredible longevity and throw, testament to the powerful synthetics used. Unoriginal and unnecessary in my view, but please bear in mind that I’m rose-ouded out. It’s a pairing that has never appealed to me that much in the first place, and the first fragrance in the genre that I’ve briefly considered buying was Tiziana Terenzi Gold Rose Oudh, an incredibly smooth and natural smelling one, with a lot of finesse and elegance. I’m completely baffled by the list of notes for Ducalis, as I can’t perceive not even half of them. What ylang-ylang, sandalwood, amber, leather, vanilla, nutmeg? I give up. I’ll move on.
Top notes: Nutmeg, Geranium, Salted chord
Middle notes: Rose, Lily of the valley, Cyclamen, Ylang-Ylang, Acacia, Cedarwood
Base notes: Sandalwood, Rosewood, Leather note, Amber, Musk, Vanilla
Next is Kanat. Now this is a little intriguing one. It’s basically a fruity floral with a musky vanilla base. But it smells unusual and a touch odd. It starts a with zesty saffron vibe, than moves into peach-apricot territory with strange glue and bitter almonds facets. It’s sweetly warm and a bit musky and powdery and somehow it gives off a subtle suede impression. It slowly gets freaky though, as it starts smelling a tad like bloodied surgical bandages, or like Band-Aids, something that reminds me vaguely of Le Labo Oud 27’s opening. This development is more evident on paper than skin, where it lands straight onto the vanillic drydown. The catalysis for this hospital corridor smell could be the interaction between the sweet fruity notes, musk and the signature accord of the brand which seems to be a sort of salty floral. Interesting work for sure, and you can detect different nuances better on the paper strip. I wore it on skin too, but I was a bit disappointed as it seemed that I could only smell an ultra simplified version of it.
Top notes: bergamot, peach, apricot, blackcurrant, saffron
Middle notes: salt, Lily of the valley, cyclamen, ylang-ylang, acacia.
Base notes: musk, vanilla, patchouli.
All you liquorice crazed fanatics, please pay attention now as Liquos is your version of a wet dream. Liquorice through and through with few embellishments: a sprinkle of sweet and sour star anise, a touch of salty greenness (I blame the violet leaf) for good measure and a very natural and warm smelling hay note supported by an appealing nuttiness in the base. At the same time dense and transparent, this scent feels dark yet translucent, the sensation of a warm summer breeze while laying on soft, fragrant haystacks under a starry sky. Copious snacking on black Panda liquorice sticks it’s compulsory. Good stuff, but not my cup of tea, as I prefer eating my liquorice rather than wear it on skin.
Top notes: lavandin, violet, lemon
Middle notes: anise, licorice, straw, coumarin
Base notes: incense, vetiver, tonka
Hatria is a very strong, sweet rose nectar on a woody base. Intoxicating, spicy, honeyed with a very discreet oud vibe.Too bad there’s a clean musk undercurrent which gives a laundry soap dimension to the fragrance. You know when you open a bag of detergent powder by pulling its sides because you’re not patient enough to look for the scissors and then end up inhaling a bit of the finer dust that got shook out by this more violent opening technique? Well it smells a bit like that finer dust caught in your nostrils, this time powerfully scented with roses. Good if you don’t mind the clean, soapy vibe. For me unfortunately this is a deal breaker. Again great longevity and sillage. Nuclear stuff.
Top notes: saffron, cloves, davana, jasmine
Middle notes: rose, caramel, gurjun balsam, oud
Base notes: patchouli, sandalwood, labdanum, guaiac, musk, nagarmotha
Rosarium is the closest to my tastes. A clear, lemony incense with a limpid feel, which gets the vanilla and iris treatment, so it’s sweet, friendly, nostalgic. Reminds me of old dusty rooms but with windows wide opened to let the honeyed summer air and the delicate smell of Sunday mass incense get in. Similar in feel to Sideris by Maria Candida Gentile. Again that obnoxious laundry musk threatens to spoil things for me here but it’s still a lovely fragrance!
Top notes: Honey, Tobacco flowers, Carrot seeds
Middle notes: Juniper berries, Iris wood, Violet, Celery seeds
Base notes: Musk, Vanilla, Cedarwood, Vetiver, Incense
Aer really has a lovely beginning, sweetly fresh with a delicate minty swirl and a touch of juniper. It smells naturalistic and invigorating. Soon the grassy accords of vetiver come through and all the notes spin around in a merry harmony.nUnfortunately it dissipates rather quickly into a polite, boring vetiver with not much else apart from a subtle woody undertone.
Top notes: Lemon, Mint, Yellow Grapefruit
Middle notes: Juniper berries
Base notes: Elemi, Vetiver, Patchouli
Nox is the darker counterpart for Aer. Whereas Aer is the dizzying light of day, Nox is the clearing breeze of the night. It is dark, somewhat harsh woods and a bit of that salty, aqueous floral thing going on with some herbal aspects too. Would work better as room fragrance I think, as a personal fragrance it is a bit boring and unremarkable.
Top notes: Bergamot, May lily, Cyclamen, Ylang-Ylang, Acacia
Middle notes: Salt, Rose, Pink pepper, Artemisia, Hinoki
Base notes: Cedarwood, Patchouli, Vanilla, White musk
Final impressions about the line? It’s a commendable effort, with some interesting bits, and an atmospheric quality that might attract loyal followers. It doesn’t attract me though. It feels too cold, modern and detached for my tastes. It definitely lacks sensuousness and the human, warm element. The fragrances supposed to embody the olfactory equivalent of looking at nature through pagan eyes and soul, on the contrary, have too much of a laboratory vibe about them. They feel remote and soulless, and I think this is partially caused by some powerful synthetic materials that help with longevity and throw but kill the subtler effects. Liquos, Rosarium and Kanat (no surprises here, after all they’re the warmer, friendlier offerings) would be my main choices, with Ducalis completely redundant and the others in need of more work. I still believe a streamlined, focused approach on just 2 or 3 perfumes would’ve been better.
The packaging looks superb, I haven’t seen the bottles in real life, but from the photos they are simply amazing. I love the wheel type element on the caps, which is also the design symbol of the brand. It actually represents the rose window of the small cathedral in Atri, the town in which Mrs. Ciampagna and her husband live and work. Kudos for the lovely sample set (all samples are the spray type which is great) and prompt service.
Only time will tell if the line will be a success, I hope it’ll be and I wish the team behind it the best of luck.
*Image belonging to the Angela Ciampagna brand and website.