I've tried a few fragrances from niche house Vilhelm Parfumerie, and although I often enjoy their names and descriptions, the scents themselves have never quite hit the emotional sweet spot that makes me want to own them. However, Kevin and Robin have both praised recent releases from Vilhelm, so I'm back to try Harlem Bloom.
This fragrance is inspired by Manhattan's Harlem neighborhood and "depicts blossoms in an urban jungle, intertwined among the brownstone buildings that line upper New York City." (Um, or upper Manhattan, at least.) It includes notes of saffron, angelica leaf, violet, damask rose, ebony and "wild leather." I haven't been able to find out which perfumer developed it for Vilhelm, but I'm guessing it may have Jérôme Epinette, since he works closely with this brand. (I'll update if I learn more.)
When I sniffed Harlem Bloom on a paper blotter in a store, I noticed lots of saffron and some dry, dirtied-up rose. At home, wearing the fragrance on my skin, I notice that the saffron introduction fades out quickly, leaving room for lots of leather to wrap around the rose. Actually, now that I carefully inspect my little lab bottle of this fragrance, I can see that its original lab label (dated June 2016 and now covered by a newer Harlem Bloom label) reads "Leather Rose." Yep. The leather note pulls Harlem Bloom much closer to the traditionally masculine end of the spectrum. This leather isn't sweaty or smoky. Instead, it has more of a new-leather-jacket feel. I suppose it's more "wild" than the suede-d heart of Galop d'Hermès (another saffron-rose-leather combo) — everything is relative, of course. The florals stay subtle and gradually dissipate, while the leather keeps going strong with some amber-y warmth in the base. Harlem Bloom has moderate sillage and above-average staying power on my skin.
Vilhelm's Harlem Bloom isn't the first olfactory homage to Harlem: Bond no. 9 was there first, with 2003's New Haarlem, and Harlem Candle Company, founded in 2014, offers luxury candles inspired by the neighborhood's history and culture. I won't digress here about the ways that Harlem has changed during my lifetime; it's not really my story to tell, and it would take too much space in any case. Vilhelm Parfumerie's Harlem Bloom may be one perfumed interpretation of Harlem, but there's still plenty of room for others to come.
So, did Harlem Bloom win me over to Vilhelm? I'll admit a growing respect for this house. The fragrances never smell dumbed-down or cheap, and they offer enough variety within the line while maintaining a continuous sensibility. They're just not my style, in the same way that a tailored pair of trousers or an expensive menswear wristwatch just looks wrong on me. If, however, you've been enjoying Vilhelm's releases thus far or you're looking for an androgynous leathery scent with a hint of spicy rose, you should definitely "visit" Harlem Bloom.
Update: Harlem Bloom was renamed 125th & Bloom in 2018.