My Favorite Things: Camphor

One of the things I enjoy about writing on fragrance is how one perfume makes me view previous releases differently. One of the more recent examples was Cadavre Exquis by Bruno Fazzolari and Antonio Gardoni. The keynote was the use of camphor which opened my eyes to its versatility. Which then sent me back to try some of the fragrances on my shelf which contain it. I’d have Cadavre Exquis on the list, but it is a sold-out limited edition. Instead here are five of my other favorites which feature camphor.

Perfumer James Heeley wanted to turn the liniment Tiger Balm into a perfume which he does in Heeley Esprit du Tigre. The camphor is amplified by mint and wintergreen before clove and vetiver close the loop on the desired accord. It is medicinal, but it is also refreshing in an odd way especially on a hot day.

Camphor doesn’t have to dominate the opening which Diptyque Oud Palao shows. Perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin constructs an oud accord which he doses a bit of camphor in to mimic that quality in some of the younger natural ouds. This is an example of what camphor can do to complete an accord.

It can also be used to tease out a facet within an overdosed ingredient as it does in Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Carnal Flower. Perfumer Dominique Ropion uses the camphor to draw attention to the underlying green vein within tuberose. Without its presence the tuberose would have lost much of its carnality.

It also amplifies that kind of mentholated quality, if it is present, as it does in Comme des Garcons x Monocle Scent One: Hinoki. That titular note is given the sheen of fresh-cut cedar when perfumer Antoine Maisondieu uses it in the top accord leading to the eventual presence of the wood itself.

Just as with Carnal Flower, Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle serves up camphor and tuberose. Except this time more of the former and a bit less of the latter. Perfumer Christopher Sheldrake turns the sultry white flower into something with a bit more malice courtesy of the camphor.

If you need a little something bracing from your perfume give these five camphor perfumes a try.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Tory Burch Just Like Heaven- Putting My Inner Snob in Time Out

I am a horrible perfume snob; I admit it. Especially when it comes to mainstream releases. There are brands which I know can break out of the ocean of mediocrity that exists in this sector. I was on a recent trip to the mall to pick up samples of things to try from those. I have come to trust the different people I associate with to acquire my samples one of them asked me if I had tried the new Tory Burch. I must have made a face because without saying a word she said, “I’ll take that as a no.” She then followed up with “I think its pretty good probably the best of the tory Burch perfumes.” The snob was in full obsequious mode in my head, “Oh wow the best of Troy Burch perfume it must be faaaantastic….not!” This time I kept a better poker face as she handed me the blotter. Then I sniffed it and the snob in my head was being told to sit down and be quiet for a while.

Alexis Dadier

If I had to give a short description to the previous nine Tory Burch perfume releases since 2013 it would be “fresh florals”. Sometimes there was some fruit for “fresh fruity florals” but it was consistent. It has always felt like a missed opportunity since the fragrance part of the brand has been under the creative direction of Karyn Khoury since it started. But there has been kind of creeping sameness about the output. What sets Tory Burch Just Like Heaven apart is it has an off-kilter green around a single floral. Perfumer Alexis Dadier was seemingly given some latitude to color outside the lines of the previous Tory Burch aesthetic.

It shows right away with rhubarb the core of the top accord. Rhubarb has been used more lately for the vegetal green paired with a kind of grapefruit character. M. Dadier uses petitgrain to focus the citrus part of the rhubarb and mandarin to provide a bit of juicy sweetness in contrast. The keynote floral is heliotrope which is given some depth by ylang-ylang and hyacinth. M. Dadier uses the hyacinth as the “fresh” component so as not to scare off previous Tory Burch enthusiasts. But then he threads the peppery earthy angelica root through the florals extending the effect of the rhubarb from the top accord. To provide a comforting finish, tonka and ambrox give a sweet woody hug.

Just Like Heaven has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Just Like Heaven should be a nice addition to someone’s summer floral rotation. If you’re having trouble trying a Tory Burch fragrance just do like I did and put your inner perfume snob in time out. I think he might be looking over his shoulder wondering what smells so good.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Bloomingdale’s.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Zoologist Hyrax- Hyraceum Happens

One of the reasons I find perfume so fascinating is it makes what you might think should smell bad something that smells good. Most of those smells originate from the anal region of different animals. One of the most unique is the ingredient hyraceum, or Africa Stone. Hyraceum is the petrified form of the excrement of a small rodent-like creature known as a Cape hyrax. It has been a seldom used ingredient, but I have generally enjoyed it. It provides a funky animalic aspect that the various musks do not.

Hyraxes!

My most memorable experience with the raw ingredient was at Pitti Fragranze in Florence a couple years ago. There I was given the opportunity to smell it in its unadulterated form. I gagged. It smelled like…um…excrement; concentrated excrement. Then I was shown how, as you dilute it, the gag-inducing turns into a rough leathery ingredient. It is this which gets used most often. When I received my sample of Zoologist Hyrax I had a feeling I would be smelling some hyraceum.

Victor Wong

The owner and creative director of Zoologist, Victor Wong, has been working with different independent perfumers ever since the beginning of his brand. For Hyrax he chose to collaborate with perfumer Sven Pritzkoleit. Mr. Pritzkoleit has his own brand, SP Perfumes, which has been in existence since 2016. I’ve tried most of his releases for that brand. The best is when he uses the animalic ingredients. Those are what he seems to have the keenest intuition about. With some creative direction I expected Hyrax would be pretty good. I was correct. The reason I like it so much is it embraces the animalic in a boozy embrace of whisky.

Sven Prtizkoleit

Hyrax opens with a huge shot of hyraceum. If you aren’t expecting it, you might be wanting to get your arm as far away as you can. It is like turning on the amplifier without noticing someone has pegged the volume. It is so strong it almost carries its own kind of distortion wave. Mr. Pritzkoleit goes to work turning the volume down. At first saffron and pink pepper start to tame the hyraceum. Then a fabulous shot of whisky does the job. Like the hyraceum is soaked in a glass of Jack Daniels. I fell for this each day I wore it. So much so that when the more pedestrian patchouli and amber arrive to finish this off I had a slight twinge of disappointment.

Hyrax has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Hyrax is the most animalic perfume released by Zoologist. It is a couple of levels stronger than Civet. For those who enjoy the brand you can use that as guidance for what your personal affinity might be for Hyrax. I have a special place in my perfumed heart for fragrances like Hyrax; always have. Which means I’m happy to shrug my shoulders and say “hyraceum happens” while spraying myself with more Hyrax.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Zoologist.

Mark Behnke

Is It the Same?

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I’m not always sure what causes certain e-mails to arrive close together. Over the first part of this year I have been receiving at least one a week inquiring if this perfume inspired by another more expensive perfume is the same. It reminded me of these aluminum cannisters I saw in the local drugstore as a child. They had on their label, “if you like Aramis you’ll love Artemis” with a $5.99 price tag. I think the idea of making a more affordable version of an expensive popular perfume has been around for decades. It has maybe gained more traction lately because of the popularity of some ultra-luxe priced perfumes.

Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh (1889)

For most of the year my answer to the e-mails was, “I haven’t tried any of them. You will have to trust your nose.” I still think that is the best response. Yet I admit because of the persistence of these e-mails I was curious. I perused the sites of some of the brands which do this. There are a small set of perfumes which I feel I am intimately familiar with. In searching I found imitation versions of some of these. I ordered four of them and have spent some time over the last few weeks doing some intense comparison. I still believe you should trust your nose but if you want to trust mine I am going to speak in some generalities I found.

Starry Night by Marjan Ugljevarevic

The first generality is all of the four that I tried are a bit like looking at a carnival fun house mirror. The ones which make a part of your body look slightly thinner or wider. All of these perfumes carry the same progression of accords from top to bottom except there was always one phase which didn’t track exactly. It was heavier in effect or maybe slightly sharper but there was always a section that was slightly off. It depends on if this particular part of the development is what attracts you to the original perfume these are imitating. As an example, if you love the creamy sandalwood base of a perfume in these duplicates there are more synthetic sandalwood used which has a bit of a different scent profile. That might be enough for you to think it is not the same.

Starry Night Pixelated

Which leads to the second generality the reason for the higher prices is the use of larger percentages of the natural source of the ingredients. If the duplicates used the natural sources too their prices would not be as modest. Which means they are made up of synthetic substitutes. Now there is a trick used by many perfumers which is to add a small percentage of an expensive natural ingredient to a much larger percentage of the synthetic analog. This works particularly well for the floral synthetics. I found the one which I purchased which was a floral was the one I thought was closest to the original.

The final generality is the performance on my skin was quite different. Because of the reliance on synthetics which linger on the skin longer the overall effect was elongated. That’s good if you want it to last longer no matter what. It wasn’t good for me because it felt like someone was singing a song and holding notes for too long here and there. It was this which I found the most distracting in my evaluation.

My answer to “is it the same?” is no. If you asked me if they are close, I’d say yes with this caveat. If you like a perfume or any piece of art would you like it the same if some of the colors were shifted? If cerulean blue was changed to sky blue? They’re both blue but there is a discernable difference. Which is what it comes down to; can you tell the difference if you’ve worn the original. I can, but you might like the change. Which returns me to my original response, “trust your nose”.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Di Ser Tsuki- Six Years Later

Back in January 2012 I was attending the Elements Showcase in New York City. Behind a stand manned by a number of Japanese people was one of my favorite finds at any perfume exposition I have attended. When I met the founder and perfumer, Yasuyuki Shinohara, of Di Ser on the first day I would keep returning to the stand to try more of the perfumes. The fragrances were so unique and beautiful I expected a deal for US distribution to arrive soon enough. I was so confident I used up my samples over the rest of the year. Then there was nothing. Because I wrote a review on Kaze at CaFleureBon I would get the occasional e-mail asking where it was available. My answer until recently was a trip to Hokkaido Island in Japan where Shinohara-san was based. It has taken six years but finally a set of Di Ser are available in the US. I ordered a sample set and was pleased to see that little had changed.

Yasuyuki Shinohara (photo from CaFleureBon at Pitti Fragranze 2016)

When it came to this set I decided to see how my memory had fared as Tsuki was one of the perfumes I tried back then. It was part of a collection capturing the four traditional Japanese elements; of which Kaze was a part of. Tsuki is the Moon and it was one of the greenest geranium perfumes I had encountered. In my notes after the exposition I wrote to myself “Herbal geranium” in my spreadsheet description. Having a new sample to experience reminded me why that description is accurate but incomplete.

What is remarkable about Di Ser as a brand is the way their raw materials are made. All hand-made botanical materials. This means the time is allowed for tinctures to gain appropriate strength. Hard to extract materials will have the time taken to achieve enough to use. This makes it among one of the best natural perfume lines in the world. Not only reconnecting with Tsuki but the other six available in the US reaffirm that statement. Over the course of the year I will review all of them, they are that good, but first let’s see how I feel six years later about Tsuki.

One thing I say often when I’m called an “expert”; I counter with the way I think of myself “experienced enthusiast”. My experience with the nuances of naturally produced ingredients has expanded tremendously in these six years. Which is why Tsuki is so enchanting to me. I can smell that authenticity more clearly now. Tsuki shows it off.

That geranium I remembered was right there as soon as I sprayed Tsuki on. The herbal part was also there as coriander and mint flank it. The coriander is extracted in such a way that the lemony nuance is amplified while the mint provides an expansiveness to the natural green of the geranium. I use the sobriquet “green rose” to describe geranium nowhere is that more evident than in the geranium in Tsuki. Then in a fabulous different turn Shinohara-san adds in juniper berry and fennel. The juniper berry combines with the coriander to form a gin accord but that is subtext. The fennel is what is writ large over the heart of Tsuki. The vegetal licorice scent of the herb provides a contrast to the floral green of geranium. Over time the geranium fades and the fennel is left to take root in a gentle earthy patchouli.

Tsuki has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I mentioned this in my previous review of Kaze. If you think you know what a Japanese perfume will smell like based on European interpretation of that aesthetic, Di Ser will prove you wrong. What stood out then and now is there is a Japanese precise arrangement which more accurately describes the Di Ser aesthetic. Every ingredient in its specific place for a specific effect. I could wish that was a more universal aspiration when designing fragrance. I am happy to see it still thrills me the same six years later.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review L’Iris de Fath- The Right Way

Almost every time I hear of one of the great perfumes of the past being re-made today, I groan inwardly. It can be especially painful when it is one of my personal favorites. In the spring of 2017, the Creative Director behind the current revival of Jacques Fath perfumes, Rania Naim, contacted me. As soon as she told me she was interested in making a new version of Iris Gris I am sure I made a face; which she couldn’t see because we were internet chatting. The main reason she was contacting me was she was looking for sources of the original to use as reference for making the new version. We would chat about the process she wanted to undertake and that she was reaching out to many people to get advice. By the time we were done I was feeling like this was being approached correctly if you were going to do it.

Rania Naim

As I thought about it I was reminded that Mme Naim had presided over another of my favorite re-creations in the 2016 release of Fath’s Essentials Green Water. What was important in that one was she didn’t skimp on the neroli. Even though it was expensive she didn’t supplement natural neroli with some synthetics and call it the same. It is why I love the new version as much as I do. This was going to be a concern in re-creating Iris Gris. The cost of materials was going to be high if it was going to be done right. From that perspective I wasn’t worried.

What was left was to choose the perfumer to work with. This was done in a way which had me back to worrying. I have been derisive in the extreme about perfumery by focus group. If perfume is art it should be a personal expression. Iris Gris is the apex of original perfumer Vincent Roubert’s career. It is a masterpiece of perfumery. By asking five different perfumers to individually produce a set of mods to a judging panel. Well luxury perfume via focus group didn’t sound like it was going to produce anything memorable either.

Patrice Revillard

By the time it was announced the new L’Iris de Fath would be debuted at Esxence 2018 I was waiting to see what this produced. I must have sent a hundred texts asking if my friends had tried it. I got a mixed response which trended to the positive. Mme Naim informed me my sample was on its way and I’ve had it since the end of April. In the past two months I’ve been my own one-man panel comparing to my samples of vintage Iris Gris. Looking at my notes after experiencing the Osmotheque version. All while wearing a bit of L’Iris de Fath. Because you’ve already waded through a lot of intro I’m going to cut to the chase before diving a bit deeper into my experience with the perfume. L’Iris de Fath is a fantastic perfume inspired by Iris Gris, it isn’t perfect, but it is close enough for me not to care.

Yohan Cervi

The perfumer chosen by the judges is Patrice Revillard. If you’re saying “Who?” you have a right to as M. Revillard is 25 and founder of his own independent perfume company, Maelstrom. Working with his in-house evaluator Yohan Cervi they would form their entry. This was a unanimous choice of the judging panel as the best version considering everything they had to compare it to.

Before I begin my description, there are a couple things I want to mention ahead of that. When we talk about vintage materials we spend a lot of time discussing what is no longer allowed to be used. One thing which isn’t mentioned is the efficiency of new processes of extraction of natural materials. Which means the modern version has a different scent profile than the same ingredient compared to the past. The other thing is when we smell vintage perfumes today the high percentage natural materials continue to evolve, or macerate, which provides a softening effect overall. This was very apparent to me when I tried the fresh Osmotheque version compared to my vintage sample. There is a clearer demarcation of ingredients in the Osmotheque version which is lost in any vintage bottle you will find. Both of these play a significant role in L’Iris de Fath.

For all that I’ve prattled on about natural materials and maceration one of the most important ingredients in Iris Gris and L’Iris de Fath is Peach Lactone aka aldehyde c-14. What has always drawn me to Iris Gris is the gauzy peach overlaying the strong rooty orris. The first moments of L’Iris de Fath is just that as if the perfume is showing me a beautiful piece of orris concrete wrapped in a peach-colored sheer silk scarf scented with the hue. There is no skimping on orris butter in here. This is the smell of high-concentration orris. The effect is critical to my enjoyment and it is here. It is also like a more vital version compared to my vintage samples. There is a verve to the orris not mellowed over time. This is a younger livelier version of the same ingredient that hasn’t aged for decades. As the perfume unfolds here is the main point of departure for me. In the original there is a lily of the valley green vein which threads its way through the orris and peach. In L’Iris de Fath M. Revillard uses violet leaf to provide the green. Violet leaf can have a scalpel sharp green effect and M. Revillard uses that to dramatic effect. It is also bolstered by a modern isolation of carnation which is rich and doesn’t carry as much of the proscribed materials of older isolates of carnation. This is where I found the alteration more pleasant. The bite of the carnation was attenuated. The overall effect gave more space to the iris and peach which I enjoyed. In the base all of the animalic musks of the original had to be replaced but that has not become an impediment anymore. The base does what the original base did and provide a foundation for the heart of the perfume to rest upon.

L’Iris de Fath has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Despite my reservation outlined above I must commend Mme Naim on the care taken to produce L’Iris de Fath. I do not think there are many who would have been willing to make the decisions necessary to succeed; Mme Naim did.

In my final analysis L’Iris de Fath is capable of being compared side-by-side with Iris Gris without complaint. I am happy to have a fresh version to wear with more abandon instead of marshaling my precious drops of the vintage. L’Iris de Fath succeeds because Mme Naim insisted on things being done The Right Way.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Jacques Fath.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Why Art? by Eleanor Davis

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Technology is a wonderful thing. One thing I marvel at is the ability to read the comic books I want to read on my tablet. It also allows for the service I use to recommend new releases for me. I usually know about the superhero ones before they are recommended. What has been great is the small one-shot stand-alone graphic novels which I look at to see what might be interesting. A few months ago, a title popped up which intrigued me enough to see what it was about. It has turned out to be one of the more thought provoking pieces of writing I’ve read. The book is “Why Art?” by Eleanor Davis.

The title of the book is a question asked by many. As a society we have to decide how to value art while also deciding what it provides to it. What makes this version of answering that question is Ms. Davis is how “Why Art?” starts as one thing and ends somewhere completely unexpected.

The first part of the book is a guidebook on doing art. It is clever in that the drawings are in black-and-white but they are labeled with lettering which tells you what color they should be. She believes each reader can effectively project their version of the color to fill in the white space. The guidebook starts you down the path of projecting your color into the pages. It was so successful for me that for the one colored section I was jarred for a second. Ms. Davis suggests color is how we effectively describe emotion over how we describe the shade of an object. Throughout the first half the spare prose along with the drawings asking of me to participate I am drawn into making my own art of the imagination. This is all technique in the end even if it is taking place in my own head.

The switch comes with the introduction of Dolores who is an artist. The back half is a more traditionally told story focusing on Dolores. When we meet her, she has had success but is trying something new. Those who liked her previous work have trouble letting go. Dolores feels the answer to the titular question is one which includes her personal evolution being seen in her art. Then society collapses. The drawings describing this is one of the places where our mental work in the guidebook pays off. The drawings are still black-and-white but I don’t see them that way. There is the palette of my mind overwriting the white. As part of rebuilding society art is seen as a critical building block of that process.

The thing I’ve taken away from “Why Art?” is the viewer is critical to its existence. Ms. Davis doesn’t want art to be passively taken in but actively collaborated with. Even if it is only in your mind’s eye. It has had an effect on my viewing of art as the thoughts from the book were rippling through my consciousness at my last gallery stroll.

“Why Art?” answers the question by challenging you to believe it is because you are always part of it.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Coty L’Aimant- The Fourth Coty

As I mentioned back in the fall a very generous reader sent me a box of discontinued samples because they enjoy this particular column. It has allowed me to try some older perfumes I never had the chance to previously. One was what I call “The Fourth Coty”; L’Aimant.

The history of Francois Coty as one of the original artists of modern perfumery is well-known. Once I began to want to understand the history of this art form I was going to track down the original trio of perfumes by M. Coty; L’Origan, Chypre de Coty, and Emeraude. I thought I had covered the early history of Coty as a brand. Then I was told there was a fourth early Coty release called L’Aimant. Because of my reader’s generosity I have completed my education.

One of the reasons I was so interested is this was a collaboration between M. Coty and perfumer Vincent Roubert. M. Roubert is responsible for two of my very favorite perfumes; Jacques Fath Iris Gris and Knize Ten.

As always when approaching a vintage perfume, I know that any citrus notes will be long gone. They are listed in the top notes but when I tried this sample I got the other ingredient exclusively. That other ingredient is a full-throated roar of aldehydes. In 1927 aldehydic top notes were all the rage and in L’Aimant Messrs. Coty and Roubert seemingly used all of them. I had heard L’Aimant was a soft floral the first few minutes were hard aldehydes. I wonder if the citrus notes were present if they wouldn’t have softened the edges; probably. The soft floral was on its way as rose pierces the cloud of aldehydes. Along with the rose, jasmine brings along some indoles to match up with the spicy rose core. Ylang-ylang provides an oleaginous floral fruity effect. Together this produces the lush soft floral I had been told about. It begins to turn quite powdery as the rose gains ascendancy. It finishes on vetiver and vanilla with some civet.

L’Aimant has 24-hour longevity and above average sillage.

L’Aimant lasted well into the 1960’s before fading away as far as I can tell. It was resurrected in 1995 for a short time. That one I understand falling; right in the middle of the desire for fresh and clean perfume L’Aimant is not that.

I am happy to have closed the loop on my experience with early Coty releases there is a reason L’Aimant is not as highly spoken of as the other three. It has a kind of brassy take no prisoners style which sometimes turns into the perfume wearing me than vice versa. I at least feel like I can close the book on this part of perfume history.

Disclosure: This review based on a sample provided by a generous reader.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Strangelove NYC silencethesea- Advanced Aquatic

From its inception in 1988 with Davidoff Cool Water and for twenty years after the aquatic style of perfume has become a cliché. It was caused by the desire for consumers for more of this fresh and clean style along with the desire of brands to give it to them. For a couple decades that was good enough. I was bored with the genre long before that with only a few continuing to be found in my consistent rotation.

Then as we crossed in to the 2010’s there seemed to be a re-thinking of the aquatic aesthetic. It wasn’t all beach milieu there were other kinds of scenes which could inspire a fragrance. In the last few years there has been a conscious transfer to more rocky coasts for the metaphorical waves to crash upon. These kinds of aquatics have reinvigorated my enjoyment of the style. When I received Strangelove NYC silencethesea I had another one to add.

Elizabeth Gaynes (l.) and Helena Christensen

In previous reviews of Strangelove NYC releases I have lauded the creative team and the vision behind it. Co-Creative Directors Elizabeth Gaynes and Helena Christensen have collaborated with perfumer Christophe Laudamiel. One of the things which allows the brand to stand out is they are only produced by using the best natural raw materials as their keynotes. Every release has one at its heart. For silencethesea that ingredient is ambergris.

Christophe Laudamiel

Any perfume lover is familiar with ambergris because it is part of the base accord of too many to count perfumes. Except as it is with oud, ambergris is often a clever manipulation of other ingredients to form a facsimile. When you smell real ambergris there are nuances which never appear in a constructed accord. It is a challenge because with an accord a perfumer can tune for a specific effect. When dealing with the actual version you have to find a way to allow the odd-smelling aspects to also have their part to play. M. Laudamiel does just this with the ambergris in silencethesea.

From the moment I sprayed silencethesea the ambergris was there. It is apparent throughout the time it exists on my skin. M. Laudamiel then spends the rest of the development adorning it with specific ingredients. First is angelica which as it interacts with the ambergris provides a flinty accord. The earthiness comes from a truffle accord. It reminds me of particularly rich loamy soil for a bit. Three florals, narcissus, jasmine, and tuberose provide deep indolic complement to the briny quality of ambergris. It works better than I thought it would on paper. The tuberose and its slightly mentholated green vein was the big surprise in how well it fit in. A rough leather accord of oud and frankincense is the last part of silencethesea.

Silencethesea has 12-14 hour longevity in the Eau de Parfum concentration and moderate sillage.

It is funny how the boy who grew up in South Florida has left that kind of beachy perfume behind in preference for a rocky strand where the waves crash instead. Silencethesea is that kind of advanced aquatic.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Strangelove NYC.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Chanel Paris-Venise, Paris-Deauville & Paris-Biarritz- Traveling with Coco

Just as it has been over at Hermes watching the changeover from a long-time in-house perfumer to a new artist is fascinating. When Olivier Polge took over he has presided over a lightening up of Chanel. What he has excelled at has been achieving it without losing the Chanel fragrance aesthetic. One thing left to show is whether M. Polge would bring this to the Les Exclusif line. His first release was the Les Exclusif Boy. It heralded the lighter direction, but it has been the releases since which solidified that. With the announcement of the Les Eaux de Chanel collection of three perfumes we would get a better idea of where the exclusive fragrance line at Chanel was going.

Olivier Polge

There are three new perfumes within Les Eaux de Chanel; they are meant to represent the ties between Coco Chanel and three different cities. I am going to write about all three because I have found them to be a coherent collection which is Chanel but also M. Polge’s modern vision of what that means.

Paris-Venise is described as being inspired by traveling on the Orient Express from Paris to Venice. That description makes you think a full-on Oriental is on its way. Here is where M. Polge chooses to go towards something less obvious by using the more transparent aesthetic to his advantage.

It starts with playful citrus and neroli top accord. This is that laugh of starting off a trip. The floral heart of iris modulated by geranium is also kept opaque although a bit of powder sneaks in. The base is M. Polge’s version of an Oriental base done with insouciance. Using cedar, amber, and vanilla these are the components of Oriental of the past. In Paris-Venise they are pitched at whisper level as it hints at the end of the trip.

Paris-Venise has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Paris-Deauville is meant to be a trip to the country for the weekend. What that meant for M. Polge was to imagine a cologne style which captures that vibe.

To do that there is what becomes the theme for this collection a joyful citrus accord. Comprised of orange zest and petitgrain there is a green undercurrent which is picked out with basil. Using rose and jasmine it turns floral but a lighter version of that. A patchouli fraction which is stripped of much of the heavier qualities is the base note.

Paris-Deauville has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

The last one Paris-Biarritz captures Coco’s love of the beach. Which translates to M. Polge’s aquatic interpretation.

This opens with a classic sea salt accord matched with the citrus of grapefruit and mandarin. This is not particularly interesting to start. It becomes more so as muguet begins to transform the heart into a greener effect. Vetiver provides a grassy kind of effect which makes a “dunes accord”. A set of white musks recapitulate the airiness of the opening sea salt accord.

Paris-Biarritz has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

These are not going to be my favorite perfumes of M. Polge’s time at Chanel. For the first time he has gone a little too light for my taste. That being said there is a consistent thought which shows up in all three, of the joy of heading out of the city towards something else. I think that will mean if you really like one you’re going to also like the others. At least for me it felt like taking a Trip with Coco on the days I wore each of the Les Eaux.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples I purchased.

Mark Behnke