Elizabeth and James Nirvana Bourbon and Rose

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Time of death: September 9, 2015. “The celebrity party is over,” WWD pronounced, citing the $100 million drop in celebrity fragrance sales between 2011 and 2015. It’s time for the afterparty, a more exclusive gathering of celebrities who made smarter decisions about their fragrance lines. At the top of the guest list are the Olsen twins, those plucky slow lorises behind Elizabeth and James.

Downright uncanny.

Nirvana Bourbon and Rose are the latest in a long line of shrewd choices over at Elizabeth and James. Rather than flooding the market with flankers after the huge success of the original Nirvana fragrances, the Olsens took a respectable three years to develop the next pair. The happy result: two solid-quality fragrances that actually surpass the originals.

Nirvana Bourbon is the clear breakout star of the duo. It’s a sheer, woody vanilla, closely related to niche vanillas like Arquiste The Architects Club and Le Labo Vanille 44. This is very good stuff, especially for the price ($25 rollerballs are yet another smart Olsen decision). Nirvana Rose is an elegantly musty rose; think warmer and less fresh than Stella McCartney Stella. I prefer Nirvana Bourbon for myself, but I respect the creative risk behind Nirvana Rose. Young American customers tend to be suspicious of rose notes, and while Nirvana Rose certainly isn’t heavy, it’s not a light, fresh rose, either.

That’s the secret to the Nirvana fragrances’ success, I think. They’re not lowest common denominator scents. They respect our intelligence. The nosedive in celebrity perfume sales is a lesson to brands who insult the customer’s intelligence by slapping a celebrity’s name on increasingly awful juice. You can’t get away with that anymore. Party on, Olsens!

Disclaimers: This post is not sponsored and does not contain affiliate links. I tested Nirvana Bourbon and Rose at my local Sephora.

Elizabeth and James Nirvana Black

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“We didn’t want to do another very average commercial fragrance where it could be anybody’s name on the bottle,” Mary-Kate Olsen declared in a WWD interview. Even if “better-than-average commercial fragrance” is not exactly a hard-won title these days, I’m happy to reassure MK that Nirvana Black, one of the two debut fragrances in the Olsen twins’ Elizabeth and James line, definitely qualifies.

The official notes for Nirvana Black are violet, sandalwood, and vanilla. I get no violet, or really any top notes to speak of. Nirvana Black is a sweet, creamy sandalwood fragrance from beginning to end. Perfumer Pierre Negrin claims that Nirvana Black contains “a good-grade sandalwood from Australia,” and it’s true that the fragrance never feels scratchy or thin. I’m basing this review on a rollerball (Sephora Beauty Insider reward, run don’t walk y’all), so I can’t speak to projection, but the lasting power is surprisingly good.

I like the Olsen twins, with their plucky little fashion careers and their slow loris eyes, and I like Nirvana Black just fine. I just can’t help thinking that Kate Walsh did it better with Boyfriend in 2011. Boyfriend had that same golden vanilla dry down, but the plum and myrrh notes made it significantly more complex. But seeing as Boyfriend has been dropped by Sephora, it’s nice to see another surprisingly good celeb scent on the market (especially one that comes in rollerball form).

The lost Olsen.
The lost Olsen.