I love Scandinavia. I have travelled all over the region, mostly on business, though the two trips to Stockholm last year were exceptions to this rule. One of my best work trips ever was to Trondheim and Alesund in Norway. I will never forget the seven hour coach trip between the two. I couldn't understand a word of the driver's commentary, though I managed to infer what was happening from other passengers' behaviour. There appeared to be a toilet stop in one town, a stop to change drivers in Molde, and we may even have taken a car ferry at one point, though it was very dark by then. I was the last passenger left on the coach at Alesund, and on production of my hotel address, the driver nodded solemnly and proceeded to negotiate the narrow lanes of the town to bring the bus as close as he possibly could to the hotel, rather than leave me stranded at the terminus at one o'clock in the morning. That's service for you!
So, being a bit of a Scandophile - or its charmingly improbable synonym "Septentrionalist" - I was more than glad to try the new men's fragrance, Kristiansand New York. My thanks are due to Britt Hovde Ross and Elisabeth Steen for sending me a sample, and to my good friend Lovethescents for pointing me in their direction.
Kristiansand New York - the name of the house and its eponymous fragrance - came about when these two women (Britt Hovde Ross is a former model and Elisabeth Steen an actress) met at a Soho store opening. Britt had harboured a dream to create a fragrance since she was a child, while Elisabeth had a marketing background in the beauty industry.
The pair teamed up with Drom Fragrances' perfumer Pierre Constantin-Gueros, who created the scent in Drom's Tribeca studio. The brief was to create a men's fragrance, which captured aspects of their adopted city of New York as well as their Norwegian homeland.
In an interview published in "Norwegian American Weekly", Pierre elaborates on the inspiration for the fragrance: "Kristiansand New York embodies the modern, cosmopolitan and fashion-forward New York lifestyle while paying tribute to the founders' native Norway, a rather quiet place with a lifestyle much closer to nature."
What Pierre has created is in fact more of a unisex scent than an outright masculine. In a recent press release he points out how until the middle of the 18th century there was no real difference between male and female perfumes. In his view, we should detach the scent from its marketing trappings, namely the bottle and ad campaign. Without those visual cues, it becomes difficult to determine whether a scent is masculine or feminine.
I do agree with him up to a point, though there are some pungent fougeres or citrus or ozonic colognes from the "Saddam Hussein School of Perfumery" to quote Tania Sanchez's?? glorious phrase, which I don't believe I would mistake for a feminine even if I was blindfolded. There is, however, a larger grey area than that officially designated as "unisex", where, in my opinion, a fragrance could indeed swing either way.
So what are the notes in this gender bending, cultural fusion of a scent?
Crisp greens, mandarin, exotic spices, white lavender, clary sage, smoky woods, golden amber.
This is my third day of wearing Kristiansand New York, and I can confirm its unisex credentials. It is very, very soft and muted on me, and to be honest I don't get the greens or the mandarin particularly, but a fuzzy combination of all the notes pretty much from the off. This may be due to the tricky tendency of scents to go "SPLAT" on my skin at the moment (or from now on?), as documented elsewhere.
Allowing for this blurry aspect, K NY reminds me of a cross between Kenzo Power and L'Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme. If we were talking about voices here, Power would be a tenor and L'Instant de Guerlain pour Homme would be a bass, making....da-dah!....K NY a baritone, as it fits somewhere between the two. Power has a more pronounced bergamot note and a higher pitched peppery note over its woody amber base, while L'Instant de Guerlain is richer and borderline sticky sweet, but there is an echo of K NY in its very specific woody base. For the record Divine L'Homme Sage I would also characterise as a tenor (though not like this - it is too aromatic).
Britt explained to me: "We wanted something light and sexy but still with depth", and I feel this is exactly what they have achieved. Kristiansand New York smells unique to me (not that I am a huge connoisseur of men's fragrances) and very wearable.
Dare I report what Mr Bonkers made of it? (I have not yet managed to test this on my more receptive male friends, though one has expressed an interest in trying K NY.)
Mr Bonkers' initial response was that K NY made his eyes sting, but that is pretty much his default reaction to fragrance of any kind at the moment, so we can set that aside straight away. Some hours later, I approached with caution and gingerly presented my wrist for a second sniff. "It's better now - in fact I'd even say it's a bit gay." Decoding this apparently un-PC comment, what Mr Bonkers really means is that, far from smelling like something from the Saddam Hussein / Hairy Chest Wig School of Perfumery, the founders of Kristiansand New York have come up with an urbane, sexy and subtle woody-ambery scent that smells equally great on men and women...and for once, I find myself agreeing with him!