A few years back, I was enjoying cocktails with friends at an upscale, old-school hotel bar on Manhattan's Upper East Side, and I saw one of the "Olsen twins" seated nearby with two older male companions in suits. I was intrigued by the sight of this former child star evolved into a successful entrepreneur, this waif who swathed herself in layers of urban-bohemian black clothing for a meeting with two executive-looking men in such a traditional setting. Her eyeliner was generously applied, yet her demeanor was serious, even somber. It was an interesting set of contrasts.
I'm having a similar response to Nirvana Rose and Nirvana Bourbon, the two new fragrances from Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's Elizabeth and James brand. I liked Nirvana Black and Nirvana White, both launched in late 2013 (and followed by matching roll-ons, perfume oil, solid perfume compacts, body oil and dry shampoo), so I was curious about these latest offerings. I'm happy to report that Rose and Bourbon are two more smart fragrances that straddle the line between "grown-up" and "free-spirited."
Nirvana Rose, the one in the red bottle (which still reminds me of a vintage cigarette lighter) is "a seductive floral blend embodying the heart of a dark rose." Its "sultry, refined" composition includes rose de mai, geranium and vetiver. It's interesting that Elizabeth and James doesn't overload us with a long list of notes, and they really don't need to, in this case. Rose introduces itself with a bright hit of bergamot and a greenish edge of geranium leaf, but its heart is a slightly wine-y rose backed by a vetiver note that really smells like vetiver, with that distinctive earthy-grassy feeling that sometimes reminds me of chocolate-infused tobacco. The base has a dose of patchouli (not "clean," but not too "head shop," either). Overall, Rose has noticeable sillage and above average-staying power.
Despite all the pink-tinted "rose" flankers that appear every spring, it can be hard to find a decent rose perfume at Sephora. I usually recommend Stella by Stella McCartney for a modern ambery rose and Tocca Isabel for a pretty tea rose, but now I can add Nirvana Rose to the list if you're looking for something a little deeper and darker. It could also please fans of Byredo Rose Noir or Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady on the lookout for a more affordable spicy-rose fix.
Meanwhile, in the amber bottle, Nirvana Bourbon is "a bold, oriental-woody scent with intoxicating confidence" and a "provocative" blend of Bourbon vanilla, oakwood and tuberose. Like Rose, it diffuses nicely off the skin and lasts a good long while; also like Rose, it could probably be worn by open-minded men as well as women. It starts off almost boozy, with a sandalwood note and some slightly syrupy resins, and its dose of vanilla becomes more obvious after a half-hour or so. It's a sweet yet smoky vanilla, like a well-torched crème brûlée followed by a cigarette or two. It may intrigue anyone who misses being able to purchase Kate Walsh Boyfriend at Sephora or who is seeking a cheaper alternative to L'Artisan Parfumeur Vanille Absolument; it also reminds me of J. Crew + Arquiste No. 57, another pleasant surprise from a few years ago that seems to have been discontinued.
Basically, I'm happy to see Rose and Bourbon joining White and Black on the shelf at my local mall. As Kevin recently said of Sarah Jessica Parker's Stash SJP, they might not be experimental, but they're definitely not your typical celebrity scents. Come to think of it, SJP and the Olsens aren't typical celebrities, either. Thank goodness for that.
Elizabeth and James Nirvana Rose and Nirvana Bourbon are available at Sephora as 30 ($65) and 50 ml ($85) Eau de Parfum and in a travel-sized rollerball ($25).