Thursday, June 4, 2009

Neil Morris new Vault fragrances: fragrance reviews

It's not customary for me to review several fragrances in one go, but seeing as I was sent some new Vault samples from the trismegista Ida/Chayaruchama and some others from a representative of Neil Morris, the temptation to group my thoughts on these was immense and I couldn't resist. Days of consecutive testing left me with the impression that people who are very much attuned to the richer, ambery and woody end of the spectrum in fragrance preferences should have no trouble at all finding something in the extensive Neil Morris portfolio to fall in love with. I found some surprising hits and some misses myself where I didn't expect to, so sampling is the only way to go (as if this needed further insisting upon). This last May they were celebrating their one year anniversary of the introduction of Vault fragrances and I am at a loss on how they could manage to have so many there already! (For what is worth I always loved the wondrously leathery Gotham from his Signature Collection)

But who is this ultraniche artisanal perfumer, Neil Morris? According to Where Magazine, he "takes the cake as Boston’s resident fragrance artiste” and I admit I can't think of anyone else hailing from this untraditional locale (which evokes universities and the rare urban deliquent or two to my mind). Can you? It might sound superficial, but knowing the good, trusty relationship that Ida has had with self-taught Neil over the years has feeling sympathetic to the man through reflection of Ida's wonderful warm personality, even though I don't even know him! I also appreciate the fact that in times of recession he's trying to accomodate perfumistos and reduces the size and accordingly the price of his creations. He's on top of a trend obviously and more people in the business should pay attention to their audience! And I love that I have been twice given the chance to sample compositions that were custom-made for a friend: first Le Parfum d'Ida which has entered the mainstay collection at the Vault (and it's highly recommended to sample this!) and then Rêve Foncé, translating as "dark dream", a leathery smooth potion containing no aldehydes to her specification.

The newest 2009 Vault fragrances have something for everyone it seems.
Rumi, inspired by the Persian mystic, poet and philosopher, literally took me by surprise with its warm rosiness and incandescent resinoids. I had decided not to read any notes before sampling so as to have my mind free of associations, but if the ouris in Muslim heaven wear this, the promised rivers of milk are guaranteed to run forever. It's so delectably ambery, with a powdery veil of golden warmth, its core vibrating with good rose absolutes that I stand corrected in not usually liking roses. I love this one! Considering I have been impressed by Andy Tauer's Une Rose Chyprée lately, it looks like I need to devote some airtime to rose fragrances in general.
In that vein Vanille Rosé was a posteriori another surprise: This one is taking the other road of rose, the traditional rose of yore, a Tudor rose so to speak. It reminded me of something my mother wore beautifully in the past, which I couldn't place, until I realised it was a simple but pretty rose essence she had received from South of France from a poet friend residing in Marseilles. There is a beautiful vanilla tonality that lasts well in the perfume and I detect a citrusy touch which highlights the more crystalline, fruity facets of the rose. While I am usually leery of roses which never quit, I satisfyingly wore this the whole day and with the leaping realisation we get when we catch ourselves in a mirrored door in the background: "Hey, stranger, who is this? Oh gosh, it's me!!"

Maria in her laconic Midnight Forest review stresses its "touch of magic, but no monsters" and I can't but agree. The initial blast of galbanum, bowlder-like bitter, has an intensely bell- pepper green aroma which took a couple of prisoners along the way and I admit I was hesitant, but the drydown is resinous woody with a delectable myrrh trail that provides a mystical touch of vielle église.

Red Sky begins with an intense, piquant lemongrass note that petters out to a resinous background, meant to evoke the Southewestern sky at sunset. Mystic Dragon on the other hand, inspired by a Chinatown walk during the Chinese New Year's celebration, utilizes a mixture of cocoa absolute ~which smells uncanningly like real melted chocolate (and will give you ideas, but sois sage!)~ and warm patchouli, its natural chocolate-y facets complimenting the absolute. Both fuse into an amalgamation of beckoning sweetness on the skin. A little too sweet for my personal tastes, but I can see it becoming popular with folks.
Mariner is a standard masculine around citrusy, rosey and woody notes, which is pleasant if not too distinctive and I would have liked it to be more wistful, like it fits those who go down the sea in ships.
In Vapor Neil Morris took a risk: The fragrance feels like a ball of almondy pastry suspended into an invisible veil of pincushions all around, its sharp opening tingling with frost, giving way to the resinous-ambery base that Neil Morris so loves.

I was more impressed overall by City Rain, the first tentative drops on the hot pavement and the creosote slowly becoming an enveloping sensation when you think you're in a viridian whirlwind travelling at God-speed towards a hidden cool colliery where the sun only tentatively shines. And if that whirlwind accidentally gushes you in a terrain where exotic blossoms raise their heads from enchanted pits that whisper to you to lean and see the darkness up close, then you're face to face with Prowl which is as prowl-worthy as its name. The soiled white-floral ache is meowing through the tall grasses.

Regarding Neil Morris for Takashimaya, Chandler Burr described it as "luxury retro with power and a high-gloss, premodernist effect. The scent is purplish fruit, big pinot noir and dark ripe plum, plus the scent of a 1930s boudoir: the fragrances of the old-fashioned creams and makeup and the scarlet velvet drapes thrown in". The fragrance is full of dark fruits drenched in pear eau de vie and is intended for the hedonists among you.

Notes for Neil Morris Vanille Rose: Orange blossom, heliotrope, green tea, red rose, dark vanilla, musk.
Notes for Neil Morris Rumi: Ylang ylang, rose, benzoin, patchouli, amber.
Notes for Neil Morris Midnight Forest: Galbanum, redwood, dark musk, nagarmotha, oak, myrrh, and myrtlewood.
Notes for Neil Morris Mystic Dragon: Jasmine, amber, patchouli, smoke, cedar, chocolate.
Notes for Neil Morris Mariner: Italian bergamot, Damask rose, geranium, white musk, cedar, sandalwood. Notes for Neil Morris Red Sky: Lemongrass, lavender, narcissus, delphinium, oakmoss, amber, black musk.
Notes for Neil Morris Vapor: Aldehydes, water lily, tonka bean, heliotrope, frankincense, amber, musk.
Notes for Neil Morris City Rain: Green tea, ozone, heliotrope, honeysuckle, blue musk, green patchouli, earth note, golden musk.
Notes for Neil Morris Prowl: Black pepper, honeysuckle, jasmine sambac, tuberose, patchouli, oakmoss, amber, civet.

The Neil Morris Vault fragrances can be purchased directly
on the official site , 70$ for 1oz/30ml and they ship internationally. They also offer generous samples for 5$ each.
More info: Neil Morris Fragrances, 221 massachusetts avenue, suite 501, boston, ma 02115 tel 617.267.2315

Joseph Mallord William Turner painting Peace via Illustration Voyager by Chris Moore via Pic of Neil Morris and client via his site


  1. It seems I went about this the wrong way. I tried some of his signature scents and didn't find anything I'd wear, although some were nice. After that experience, I never ventured further and tried any of the vault creations. After your review, it seems like an oversight now.

  2. Thank you, E- for your careful perusal and sniffage !
    It's so generous of you...

    There are several surprises, I think; it is easy to overlook the Vaults, if you've smelled only his signature line.

    Ines- it took some convincing for Neil to release his Vault scents.
    I think that many of them hit perfumistas in "all the right places".

    Sometimes one has to take a risk.
    When Neil takes risks, i truly believe he does some of his finest work...

  3. Well now I am intrigued by Vapor and Rose Vanille.

  4. Ines,

    I think the Vaults are overall better. Give them a whirl ;-)

    (wait, let me send you a couple of samples)

  5. My dearest I,

    I have you to thank for your generosity! People who have you as a friend are deeply honoured. So how could I not devote some time and attention to what you consider worth them in the first place? :-)

    I do think it's good of Neil to take risks, it's a side of artisanal perfumery which I like a lot. If I could gripe a bit, it would be that perhaps there are so many on the site that one gets confused a little bit.

  6. Jen,

    I think you'd like both!
    Vapor is in the same vein as No.23 by AL which I believe you like? It starts very differently though, but it dries down in a similar style (that aubepine, honeyed, powdery tone).

  7. Fiordiligi17:14

    Thank you both, dearest E and Chaya! I am a big fan of Gotham in particular and admire Neil's dedication and artistry, even if I don't love all his fragrances.

    Hmm yes - Vanille Rose and Vapor both sound worth a sniff; I already have City Rain and a couple of the others. Lovely!

  8. I must confess that I never heard about that guy nor the fragrances. Sometimes the world overwhelms me.

  9. Mike Perez23:01

    Two of the vault scents I love (not mentioned) are Burnt Amber & Dark Earth. I can't say they're easy to wear - but, you know my taste for edgy fragrances.

    Nice to see Neil getting more recognition.

    We've been tooting our horns over at Basenotes about him for years now.

  10. Oh, I love your take on Prowl, E. You captured it perfectly. It's not for the timid, but ideal for anyone who can pull off a sexy, mature floral.

    I actually found Midnight Forest rather sweet, though not at all sugary or cloying. It's a close cousin to Moss Breches and Ava Luxe Moss.

    Mystic Dragon does seem like a real crowd-pleaser, but it was too chocolate-y for me until it had an hour or more to fade. I thought the end of the dry down was a nice velvet patchouli.

  11. D,

    why doesn't it surprise me we both love the G?? And CR?
    I think Vapor is challenging at first, with its cold tingling, but it's very smooth then and definitely "easy". You should try it!!

  12. Oh L,

    it's quite an overwhelming world for me too, so MANY things to keep track of. I try my best, but don't know if I succeed.
    NM is very niche, people in this community know him, but he's not the same as Dior. Which is good, come to think of it!

  13. M,

    thanks honey!

    I know, I've been quite late in writing up something about NM, even though I have tested some of his frags long time ago. You do a fine job over at BN in creating buzz and desires to sample, though!
    These newest Vaults gave me the opportunity to address the topic and since they're new I am providing (hopefully) non-tired material.

    Morris's Dark Earth is one of my favs in his Signature collection as well, it's quite deep and as if you're stepping on liquid sand, something engulfs you! Maybe it deserves it own little review (are you up for the challenge?) ;-)

  14. M,

    thanks my darling!
    It's a very seducing floral, quite the vamp! ;-)
    Loved your take on MF (obviously) and I am intrigued you liken it to TF MB, I should give that one another chance. I do like the AL!

    I think Neil has a good hand in mixing patchouli, his patchoulis are very smooth, silky and quite gourmand (like MD).

  15. Hi El, funny you shine your wonderful light on Neil Morris now, as I've just discovered Gotham in NY, having appreciated a sample of Fetish someone sent me, but not really loved the other scents of his I just sniffed in NY. It sounds like The Vault is for me! Rumi, Prowl, City Rain and Midnight Forest all sound so intriguing, and Dark Earth too!

    So sorry I'm such a neglectful reader, writer & blogger, I find the world a bit overwhelming too, but I'm trying to catch it by the tail this summer, wish me luck ; ) OXOXOX

  16. My dear Wendy,

    how lovely to "see" you again!! How are you? I know you must have had a lot of things to do and it's not always easy to catch up as I'm all to painfully aware myself! Will be dropping you a line soon so we can discuss this a little bit more, if you like.

    Isn't Gotham incredible? I have liked it very much. I don't recall Fetish, I'm not sure I have tried that one, but will check on it. The Vault certainly has some worthwhile surprises. Rumi is really very well-composed and it;s beautiful from start to finish; then so are those others you mention.
    Hope you get to experience more of them!

  17. It's lovely to be seen! I could really take lessons on accomplishment from YOU, let's do be in touch ; )

    Yes I loved Gotham, but didn't grab it, since I seem to be undergoing a seasonal and also biochemical change toward cooler feeling scents, away from my usual dark rich ones...... it sounds like there are a few of them there for me even now ; ) I look forward to being able to explore!

    Bon weekend, XXX

  18. W,

    thanks honey, you flatter me :-)
    Done deal, will do!!

    This is what I have heard from another lady, saying she is going into cooler scents lately, and it's not only seasonal. Interesting how tastes and moods change, isn't it. I find myself in a reverse scenario this summer, I want some warmer stuff contrary to my usual "cool florals and bitter chypres" for the heat.

  19. I'm looking forward to it!

    I've had that happen to me, although probably not for the next few years ; ) Cravings and yens are interesting, aren't then?

    Today I'm wearing Saveur D'Arichaut, which has an artemisia note, which I love. That after Kai, so go figure!


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