Colognoisseur 2019 Hopes and Wishes

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I close out 2018 with a look for what I am hoping and wishing for in 2019.

I’m still coming to grips with the loss of independent perfumer Vero Kern. For 2019 I am hoping that a new independent perfumer who embodies Fr. Kern’s indefatigable spirit paired with her love of perfume making appears. I’ve heard nature abhors a vacuum; let’s see if that is true.

I wish for my favorite niche brands to push the edges of their aesthetic a little bit more. It is perverse that I have asked over the last few years for an expansion of niche brands. I’ve largely seen that come true. The price seems to have been a 2018 where those brands stayed right in the center of what they do best. This produced good perfume without inspiring me. The creative teams behind all these brands have already shown they can produce wonderful innovative perfumes before. Let 2019 show that spirit again.

American Perfumer in Louisville, Kentucky

I have a very selfish wish for the success of a single store; Dave Kern’s shop dedicated to American independent perfume in Louisville, Kentucky called American Perfumer. I generally wish every small brick and mortar store which sells niche and independent perfumes in their local community success; that hasn’t changed. Mr. Kern is exclusively working with the American indies who have had one of the best years in 2018 I can remember. It seems like with that as a start supplemented with exclusive limited editions, he should hopefully have a successful 2019.

I really wish that the Arquiste Esencia de El Palacio collection could be made available outside of Mexico. The eight perfumes in this collection are examples of the best niche perfumery has to offer. It comes from a place deep within the hearts of creative director Carlos Huber and perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux. I am sure there are exclusivity contracts which prohibit this, but this is a list of wishes not business realities. In that spirit I’ll add one more; maybe they could be available in an Arquiste boutique.

My final wish is for a continuation of the exceptional creativity I saw in 2018 in the indie perfumes and young brands. I think a lot of it is because the ones I am talking about have been around long enough that they are secure in their business plan allowing for their artistic plan to flourish. If that hypothesis is correct this is probably the one wish which will definitely be realized in 2019.

As always, I want to wish all the readers of Colognoisseur a Happy New Year. My thanks for spending a little time reading my blog over the past year. Let’s see, together, what 2019 will bring.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: My Favorite Non-Perfume Things of 2018

After all that writing about perfume it is time to list off my favorite non-perfume things of 2018. One thing I realized as I considered my choices was 2018 was a year where I turned to things to help give me a break from the stresses of day-to-day life. Perfume is a large part of that so are the things here.

Favorite Movie: Black Panther– As the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was heading towards the conclusion of its first 10-year story with the release of the Avengers films; there was a legitimate doubt. Who would become the anchor for the next ten years? When I walked out of the theatre in March of this year director Ryan Coogler had shown me the cornerstone to the future of the MCU. That it is going to be coming from the fictional African nation of Wakanda is another piece of creativity. If Chadwick Boseman can embrace being Black Panther the way Robert Downey Jr. did Iron Man, I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Favorite TV Show: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina– It was at New York Comic-Con a few years ago when I met this guy sitting behind a table as I was waiting in line to do something else. His name was Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and he was selling a horror twist on the Archie Comics universe called “Afterlife with Archie”. When I sat down to read it later, I was hooked on his vision. The film noir part has made it on to the TV show “Riverdale”. With The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, he has found a place to show the horror part. Having it on Netflix allows for it to be just enough graphic to power the chills. Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa’s love of classic horror is scattered throughout in ways big and small. The second half of the season returns in April; you’ll find me on the couch binging my way through.  

Favorite album: Hell-On by Neko Case– There is a section of my iTunes playlist called “Strong Women”. There are only a few curated choices I add to that. One of the charter members of the list is Neko Case. Her 2006 album “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” is one of the best albums of the 21st century. She released her last solo album in 2013. In the meantime she continued her time recording as part of the group The New Pornographers and as part of a trio with k.d.lang and Laura Viers. At the end of the summer Hell-On was released. It seems like a much more collaborative album than in the past. What remains are Ms. Case’s distinctive vocals and lyrics. More than enough to add a few tracks to the playlist.

Favorite Single: Nobody by Mitski– I spend a lot of time channel hopping on my satellite radio. Over Thanksgiving weekend, I stumbled into this singer doing an a cappella version of her single. I had not heard of Mitski or her music. When I pulled into the driveway, I downloaded her album “Be The Cowboy” and put the song I heard, “Nobody”, into my personal heavy rotation. Mitski’s ability to wring different emotion and intonation from the three syllables of the word “nobody” in the chorus is amazing. It has been firmly lodged in my brain for the last month.

Favorite Comic Book: Rogue and Gambit– Superhero comic books are like television shows in that they want to create couples who love each other but they don’t want them to be happy in the long run. Even so there are usually small periods of time where they give them a kind of happy ending. This five-issue series, by Kelly Thompson and Pere Perez, does that for two of the longest running X-Men characters; Rogue and Gambit. That the happiness of the ending has, so far, carried over to the main story in the X-Men is all the better. Although I fear 2019 will find some way to derail that. For now, I’m just going to enjoy seeing these two beloved characters allowed to be in love.

Favorite Novel: An Easy Death by Charlaine HarrisCharlaine Harris knows how to create woman characters who kick ass. In this first novel of a new series Lizbeth “Gunnie” Rose lives in an America which fell apart after FDR was assassinated. She exists in a twisted version of the American West as a bodyguard. Who hires her and what happens sets up another satisfying world of urban fantasy. The next book is due in 2019 if its as good it might be on this list a year from now.

That puts a final bow on 2018. To everyone who enjoys this column thanks for reading all year.

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur Best of 2018: Part 3- The Top 25 New Perfumes of the Year

This year I tried 701 new perfumes. To keep that in perspective, it is about 30% of all new perfume released in 2018. The Top 25 below represents the best 3.6% of what I encountered this year

The Top 5 (Perfume of the Year Candidates)

5. Cartier Carat– The best mainstream release of 2018 it is a celebration of the skill of Cartier in-house perfumer Mathilde Laurent. It is simply described as a transparent formula. What Mme Laurent put in the bottle was a faceted floral jewel which changed as you looked at each facet. A kaleidoscopic perfume that helped me embrace the potential of the transparent trend which is here to stay in perfume.

4. Providence Perfume Co. Vientiane– Independent perfumer Charna Ethier fused a jasmine rice tincture to a tower of sandalwood. It resulted in a perfume which gave me new insight into one of the most venerable notes in perfumery. It also is a testament to Ms. Ethier’s skill to shine a light into those spaces.

3. April Aromatics Irisistible– This is the culmination of all of the efforts perfumer Tanja Bochnig has produced over the years for her April Aromatics brand. Each release over the last couple of years has been better than the last. Irisistible will be a perfume Fr. Bochnig will find difficult to top. A floral rainbow with a rooty iris as the most brilliant band of color.

2. Neela Vermeire Creations NiralNeela Vermeire has successfully found the perfume place where her Indian and French sensibilities overlap. It has produced one of the best independent perfume collections on the market. Mme Vermeire has worked exclusively with perfumer Bertrnad Duchaufour. For Niral they undertook the concept of capturing Tussar silk as a perfume. It is something I think could only have been made by a creative director and perfumer who have been working together for years. Niral flows in shimmering silken waves of iris that slither through the air opulently.

1. Arquiste Esencia de El Palacio GuayabosThere is a much longer explanation in Part 2 of the Best of 2018 posts. For this list I’ll keep it short; the best Arquiste along with the best perfume by Rodrigo Flores-Roux.

The Rest of the Top 25 in Alphabetical Order

4160 Tuesdays Freeway– Sarah McCartney had an incredibly creative 2018. Her evocation of LA was the best one.

A Lab on Fire And The World Is Yours– This combination of neroli and cumin captures the morning after when the rising sun signals the end of the party.

Aftelier AlchemyMandy Aftel looked back to her beginning which allowed Alchemy to confirm her vision has never strayed.

aromaM Geisha Botan– Maria McElroy composed a spring floral featuring peony; I wish more did it like this.

Avon Velvet– Best Bang for the Buck perfume on the list. Perfumer Gabriela Chelariu proves it’s the perfumer and not the ingredients in a lush fig-rose-patchouli perfume that smells like it belongs on the top shelf.

Blackbird Y06-S– Nicole Miller produced an envelope-pushing skanky jasmine and banana fragrance which I can’t forget.

Commodity Nectar– This brand has become the most reliable economical brand by allowing perfumers the freedom to create as they wish. Mathieu Nardin used that to create a summery neroli

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz for American Perfumer Colorado Dave Kern commissioned two limited editions for his new American Perfumer store. This one by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz captures the slope of the Rockies right outside Ms. Hurwitz’s door.

DSH Perfumes Summer Cologne– Ms. Hurwitz was also equally creative for her own line as this tomato leaf twist on the classic eau de cologne was the best version of this form in 2018.

Frassai A Fuego Lento– This brand creatively directed by Natalia Outeda debuted in 2018. A Fuego Lento by Rodrigo Flores-Roux is a jasmine-leather stunner.

Hermes Hermessence Cardamusc– In-house perfumer Christine Nagel makes the Hermessence collection her own with an oil formulation of cardamom, in overdose, and musks.

Hiram Green HydeHiram Green puts together a birch tar all-natural leather perfume that grabs you and does not let go.

Jo Malone Jasmine Sambac & Marigold– Creative director Celine Roux has overseen a creative rebirth at Jo Malone. Jasmine Sambac & Marigold, by perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui, is the best example of that in 2018.

Jovoy Remember Me– If you need evidence that gourmand perfumes can be amazing this is it. Perfumer Cecile Zarokian melds delicate florals over strong black tea.

L’Iris de Fath– Creative director Rania Naim believed she could re-formulate Iris Gris. The proof of that belief is in the bottle.

Maison Rebatchi Joyeux OsmantheMohamed Rebatchi is the creative director of a new brand making a splash. Working with perfumer Maurice Roucel osmanthus stands up to tuberose; gorgeously.

Maria McElroy for American Perfumer Desert Flower The second limited edition from Dave Kern and the American Perfumer store. Maria McElroy weaves a story of youth and adulthood on the edge of the desert. All using rare Arabian oils.

Pekji Zeybek– The best new brand of 2018 goes to Pekji from Omer Ipecki. A strong debut collection of five perfumes is headed by this abstract perfume vision of the horse barn.

strangeloveNYC lostinflowers– Creative director Elizabeth Gaynes came home from a trip to India with a champaca extract called “joy oil”. When she asked perfumer Christophe Laudamiel to use it in a perfume it gave me a lot of joy.

Zoologist Tyrannosaurus Rex– There is a part of me that thinks creative director Victor Wong and perfumer Antonio Gardoni came up with the idea of a prehistoric jungle on fire as a joke. The perfume is no joke. It is a completely original perfume.

An extra 3.5%; or the 23 perfumes which just missed being on the list above

A Lab on Fire Hallucinogenic Pearl– the De Laire bases return in a violet and iris perfume.

Acqua di Parma Chinotto di Liguria– Another classic Mediterranean style cologne

Aether Arts Perfume The AI Series– A set of fiercely intelligent perfumes which invaded my thoughts

Blocki Sanrovia– Sandalwood from a heritage brand with an eye on the future.

Britney Spears Prerogative– Best celebrity perfume of 2018

Bruno Fazzolari Fontevraud– A deconstructed chypre that actually was

Chanel 1957– A gleaming glass and metal tower of white musks

Diptyque Tempo– Thoroughly modern patchouli

Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Music For A While– Who knew I wanted lavender to go with pineapple.

Fath’s Essentials Red Shoes– One of perfumer Cecile Zarokian’s best.

Gucci Bloom Nettare di Fiori– Best flanker of 2018

Heeley Blanc Poudre– The smell of laundered warm cotton

Imaginary Authors Whispered Myths– Josh Meyer tries something different.

L’Artisan Parfumeur Mont de Narcisse– A leather, narcissus, and immortelle beauty.

Louis Vuitton Nouveau Monde– The leather I wanted from LV.

Masque Milano (homage to) Hemingway– A full-spectrum vetiver

McQueen Collection Sacred Osmanthus– Transparent osmanthus soliflore

Terre d’Hermes Eau Intense Vetiver– Christine Nagel brings the vetiver forward

Molton Brown Muddled Plum– Boozy fruity gourmand

Nest Cocoa Woods– A perfume that lives up to both nouns in its name.

Providence Perfume Co. Lemon Liada– A citrus perfume where lemon is front and center with no lemon being used.

Tom Ford Private Blend Lost Cherry– First Private Blend which felt like the early days of the brand.

Zoologist Hyrax– Funkiest, in a good way, perfume of 2018.

That’s it for 2018.

Part 1 Overview of 2018

Part 2 Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, and Brand of the Year

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur Best of 2018: Part 2- Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, and Brand of the Year

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Part 1, yesterday, was my look back at the year in broad terms. Today in Part 2 I get specific naming the best of the year in four categories.

Perfume of the Year: Arquiste Esencia de El Palacio GuayabosArquiste Creative Director Carlos Huber and perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux began their exclusive collection for luxury Mexican department store El Palacio de El Hierro in 2016. As of the end of 2018 they have released eight perfumes exploring the botany of Mexico in a set of “tree stories”. Both creative minds behind this collection have always put a little bit of their homeland of Mexico in every Arquiste release they have collaborated on. Saying that, this collection feels like there is heart and soul, along with the country, within each of these excellent perfumes.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux (l.) and Carlos Huber

During the summer I received Guayabos which immediately connected with me. I have worn this weekly since I received it. I’ve sprayed my bed with it. The poodles have inadvertently ended up smelling like it. It is one of the very best perfumes ever made by Sr. Flores-Roux.

I scheduled a call with him at Givaudan to find out how this came together. The concept was to create a guava perfume which captured the ripe guava in his house as child. As an adult the perfumer had to undertake headspace analysis of green guava, ripe guava, and guava blossom. This would lead to a layered effect which captured the esencia of guava. Jasmine and osmanthus provide the perfect floral companions over a clean woody base accord.

Guayabos is my perfume of the year because it was an obra de amor (labor of love) for Srs. Flores-Roux and Huber.

Charna Ethier

Perfumer of the Year: Charna Ethier– 2018 is going to be memorable for the excellent independent perfumer releases. The independent perfumer who had the strongest year was Charna Ethier of Providence Perfume Co. She has been one of the most consistently innovative perfumers I encounter. 2018 is the year where that quality overflowed in three spectacular releases. The first was Vientiane a study in sandalwood which was elevated by a jasmine rice tincture. Next came Lemon Liada an abstraction of lemon eau de cologne with no lemon used as an ingredient. Sedona Sweetgrass captures the scent of the American desert southwest in a photorealistic manner.

The breadth of these three perfumes is not only testament to why the indies rocked 2018 but more specifically why Charna Ethier is my Perfumer of the Year.  

Runner-Ups: Rodrigo Flores-Roux, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Maria McElroy, Cecile Zarokian, and Sarah McCartney

Rania Naim

Creative Director of the Year: Rania Naim– How about this for a to-do list for 2018? Take on the reformulation of one of the great historic perfumes. While doing that create four new contemporary perfumes honoring that history. That would sink most creative directors. That Rania Naim succeeded makes her the easy choice as Creative Director of the Year.

The first part of the year was given over to completing the new formulation of Jacques Fath Iris Gris. Mme Naim oversaw a painstaking effort to achieve something amazing in L’Iris de Fath. She would end up trusting a young creative team to accomplish this; which succeeded spectacularly. The decision to trust in young creative perfumers extends to the Fath’s Essentials releases where perfumers Cecile Zarokian and Luca Maffei produced two perfumes each under Mme Naim’s direction. All four exemplify the creativity still able to be found in the niche sector.

Capturing the past while living in the present means the future is all that is left to Rania Naim; my choice for Creative Director of the Year.

Runner-Ups: Carlos Huber (Arquiste), Victor Wong (Zoologist Perfumes), and Celine Roux (Jo Malone)

Brand of the Year: A Lab on Fire– If other brands weren’t going to show me something different Carlos Kusubayashi allowed perfumer Dominique Ropion to capture “The Morning After” winning an Academy award in And The World Is Yours. A long night into day encapsulated by neroli and cumin. This was followed up by perfumer Emilie Coppermann combining violet along with the De Laire base of Iriseine in a gorgeous purple flower melody called Hallucinogenic Pearl. Mr. Kusubayashi has never been afraid to release what comes of giving perfumers the space to create freely. In 2018 it makes A Lab on Fire my Brand of the Year.

Runner-Ups: DSH Perfumes, 4160 Tuesdays, Arquiste, Jacques Fath, and Jo Malone

Part 1 was my broad overview of 2018

Part 3 is my Top 25 New Perfumes of 2018.

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur Best of 2018: Part 1- Overview

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2018 was a year in which the perfume companies more firmly tuned their fragrances towards a younger generation. I tried 701 new perfume releases this past year. If there was one dominant trend it was towards transparent styles; especially in the mainstream sector. It also meant simpler constructs using three to five ingredients. The difficulty I had with this is the great majority of these perfumes fell apart with any scrutiny. Too often transparent minimalism could be summarized succinctly as insipid. Slightly more charitable it was a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes as the brands tried to sell more and more “nothing there” product. The best (worst?) example was the twenty-five releases, at one time, from clothing brand H&M. They didn’t even disguise their attempt to push out a wave of poorly made fragrance. It was a bad joke which made me wish I had only tried 676 new perfumes this year.

Transparent New Clothes for The Emperor

I have had some problems embracing the whole trend because I believe its success requires a very skilled perfumer. Proof of that would come early in the fall with the release of Cartier Carat as in-house perfumer Mathilde Laurent produced a magnificently kinetic transparent floral. It would be followed by the McQueen Collection of soliflore-like constructions employing some of the best perfumers to show the potential of this style of perfume making.

Another emerging trend is the rise of gourmand style perfumes. This might be the last genre of fragrance which has not been terribly overexposed. It means it is fertile ground for brands to make a statement. It also is a style which adapts well to the transparency. Jovoy Remember Me by perfumer Cecile Zarokian was an audacious attempt to push the form forward. I think we will see a spectacular contemporary gourmand soon.

If the perceived banality of the mainstream releases was getting me down the independent perfumers were here to rescue me. They were ready to give me the jump start I needed to throw off my malaise.

Victor Wong of Zoologist Perfumes would oversee the funk of Hyrax with perfumer Sven Pritzkoleit and the prehistoric jungle fire of Tyrannosaurus Rex by perfumer Antonio Gardoni.

Nicole Miller of Blackbird sent out the skanky banana of Y06-S and the oddly compelling plum gourmand Anemone.

Amber Jobin of Aether Arts Perfume created The AI Series which was experimental perfumery of the highest order.

Hiram Green produced a birch tar overload in Hyde a complete opposite of the enticing tobacco and honey of Slowdive.

Of course, 2018 ended with the loss of one of the great independent perfumers, Vero Kern. As that happened, I was reminded of the old saying “when a door closes a window opens”. The window might be looking toward Turkish perfumer Omer Ipecki and his Pekji brand. Mr. Ipecki like Fr. Kern took years to perfect his perfumes before releasing them. He listened to his own artistic vision while displaying an independent swagger. I know I’m laying a large burden on Mr. Ipecki’s shoulders I am hopeful he will bear it with good humor.

If there was a disappointment it was from the niche brands. Many of them safely stayed within their well-trodden lanes. I feel somewhat churlish for saying this because there were many I liked, but very few of them tried anything different. As I looked back it seemed like too many of the brands found a successful space which they continued within. As I think will become apparent over the next two days there were few which stood out.

I still retain my excitement about perfume as it exists in 2018. As I reveal my Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director and Brand of the Year tomorrow and the Top 25 new perfumes the day after these are the reasons why I feel that way.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Arquiste Esencia de El Palacio Vainillas, Resinas, and Nardos- Aromas del Otoño

When it comes to perfume the cities of Paris, Milan, or New York have all the fun as it is where perfume is debuted. That has become less true over the last few years as other cities are joining in by having their own special perfume character. Mexico City is one of those. It arises from a partnership between the luxury department store El Palacio de Hierro and the creative director Carlos Huber and perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux of the brand Arquiste. Two years ago, they released a trio of perfumes under the Arquiste Esencia de El Palacio name.  2017 has seen the spring release of Guayabos and Limoneros now followed by the release of three more for the end of the year; Vainillas, Resinas, and Nardos.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux (l.) and Carlos Huber

The concept of these perfumes are meant to capture the indigenous botany of Mexico. Both Srs. Huber and Flores-Roux have used this collection to shine a fragrant spotlight on their Mexican heritage. All three of these perfumes display Mexican twists to well-known perfume ingredients.

One of those ingredients is vanilla. Did you know that vanilla originated in the Papantla region of Veracruz? The Aztecs were the first to use it as a flavoring. Once Cortez took it back home it spread all over the world. The Papantlan version of vanilla is used in Vainillas.

The vanilla is partnered with a tart citron in the top accord. The citrus adds contrast to the vanilla. Sr. Flores-Roux tells me Papantlan vanilla is called “blackened vanilla” by flavorists. It seems like he wanted to create a fragrance version of that. The vanilla accord here comprised of Papantlan and Madagascan versions in overdose have a darker edge than most vanilla in perfume. As it progresses Sr. flores-roux sticks to those darker tones with benzoin, amber, and the animalic musk of civet. It is this darkness on the edge of the usually sweet vanilla which makes Vainillas stand apart.  

Resinas also takes a traditional ingredient of Mexico and combines it with sources from other places more known for it. A perfume called “resins” is going to be a festival of incenses. Sr. Flores-Roux wanted an accord which captured the resin of the Ocote pine used for fire-starting. He wanted to find the clean quality along with a bit of the burnt.

Resinas opens with the ocote alongside Peru and Tolu balsams. A classical Middle Eastern frankincense joins in. this forms a very dry incense accord. The hint of smoke keeps it from going too far in that direction. Myrrh and patchouli add even more depth pulling away from that early austerity. Overall I found Resinas to provide the kind of perfume experience most often described as a “church incense”. It has been a great companion over the Holidays for that quality.

If there is a scent I associate indelibly with Mexico it is tuberose. Called “nardos” it was inevitable that this collection would also have an entry called Nardos. Tuberose is one of the keynotes of floral perfumery. My experience of nardos flowers were sitting outside in the evening drinking while enveloped in the heady scent of the blooms. The perfume version manages to also find some tuberose a seat at the bar to create a memorable version of this white flower.

In the early going of Nardos the outsized creamy slightly mentholated tuberose is all that is on display. It is a gorgeous version of tuberose but far from unique. That happens next as the swagger of a boozy escort intersperses itself into things. The accord is called “essence of cognac” but Sr. Flores-Roux told me it actually comes from an essence distilled from the residue of wine-making called “lees”. There is an earthiness which exists as an undercurrent to the alcoholic nature. Sr. Flores-Roux uses sugar cane to tilt the wine residue back towards the top shelf liquor it is trying to emulate. This forms an intoxicated, and intoxicating, tuberose accord. If this was all there was, I would have enjoyed Nardos; but there is more. One thing about tuberose is it is so expansive it tends to overwrite almost anything else in the perfume. What can happen is after a few hours of wearing a high concentration tuberose perfume like Nardos you get something entirely different over the last few hours. As the tuberose loses its intensity immortelle provides its maple syrup-like sweetness. As much as I liked the rowdy tuberose of the first part this immortelle pairing is near-perfect. The syrupy quality of the immortelle adds a compelling contrast. It becomes even more enjoyable as castoreum and oak provide wood and animalic to the final stages. It is this part of Nardos which elevates it.

All three perfumes have 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Srs. Huber and Flores-Roux have continued their story of Mexico told in perfumed chapters by spending the three latest based on the scents of autumn or more appropriately, “aromas del otoño”.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples supplied by Arquiste.

Mark Behnke

My Mother’s Christmas Present

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Last year’s Christmas post was triggered by smelling some vintage Guerlain Mitsouko. Writing that was like a fever dream which spilled out of me. In the days after I posted that my memory was jogged again about a Christmas Eve shopping trip with my father to buy my mother a present. It seemed like the appropriate follow-up to last year’s story.

The reason there is a cliché about men shopping on Christmas Eve is because there is some truth there. My father and I would get up every Christmas Eve to go shopping for gifts for my mother. I never thought there was any other way to do it. I don’t know this, but I suspect my mother enjoyed a bit of the lull before the storm by having us out of the house.

Downtown Miami Jordan-Marsh 1960-ish

I loved the shopping expedition because we went to the most elegant department store in Miami; Jordan-Marsh. This was when stores like this were wonderlands filled with the latest technology. I was fascinated with the glass room which contained the record players and sound systems. You would step into the soundproofed booth to be surrounded by stereo sound…stereo! I remember walking from one speaker to the other realizing I was hearing different things from each one. It was a modern marvel.

The housewares department was even more fantastic with the latest and the greatest. There was someone demonstrating non-stick frying pans. Look! Melted cheese slides right out! There was an ice cream parlor where we would have lunch. There were people buying wine in the Wine Cellar. It wasn’t sensory overload it was just enough to satiate my need for novel experiences.

We would look all around the store considering this new-fangled thing or that. I remember advocating for the non-stick frying pan one year. We ended up at the same place every year standing at the Women’s Fragrance counter.

My mother wore only two perfumes Guerlain Mitsouko and Guerlain Shalimar. When we got to the counter a nicely dressed woman would patiently greet the latest clueless males venturing into unknown territory. We would mention that those were the perfumes my mother wore. We would be offered paper strips with the latest perfume. “Straight from Paris” she would say.  My father and the saleswoman would begin to talk. I tuned them out as I smelled the strip. I tried to imagine my mother smelling like what was on the paper. I couldn’t. To me my mother simply smelled like Mitsouko or Shalimar. There was no alternative.

When my father asked me about the new perfume, I would reply I didn’t think Mom would like it. I think my Dad thought so too but he let me be the bearer of disappointing news to the saleswoman. He would ask for one of the two Guerlains and we had finished. We would go upstairs to gift wrapping and get an extravagantly intricate design.

On Christmas morning when I would hand my mother the gift from Dad and me; she undoubtedly knew what was inside. She would carefully undo the wrapping paper. Pulling out the box she would smile at Dad and I with the words, “My favorite!”

It wasn’t the perfect gift; whatever that might have been. It was a gift which told my mother we loved the way she smelled.

Mark Behnke

‘Twas the Practically Perfect Night Before Christmas

This is the ninth year I have done a variation on the classic “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore for my Christmas Eve post. For 2017 I was a bit inspired by another magical character Mary Poppins. I imagined Jolly Scent Nick as a Christmas version of the practically perfect nanny.

Here we are, 17 Poodlesville Lane. Home of Colognoisseur, Mrs. C, and the poodles Jackson and Henry. Looks like the winds from the east. What’s about to happen has happened before.

I was letting the poodles in from their final patrol of the moonlit Christmas Eve yard. I looked at the stockings, hung so neatly. Mrs. C had just fallen asleep with two poodle balls of cuteness snuggled next to her. While I was out, I felt the wind shift; wondering if that was for good or ill. Then answer came when an incredible racket was heard in the sky. I knew it must be magic because Mrs. C and the poodles continued to dream oblivious to the noise I heard.

I ran to the picture window to see a silhouette flit across the full moon. It looked like a sleigh being pulled by eight reindeer. I heard the driver shout out their names; Now Coco! Now Jacques! Now Jean and Francois! On Robert! On Yves! On Annick and Estee! Head for the roof!

Eau de Family

As I heard the hooves above me a noise from the fireplace drew my attention. With a whoosh Scent Nick was there. A slight scent of amber accompanied his appearance. An ahem preceded him observing, “close your mouth we are not codfish”. He was dressed as the last time I had seen him; red coat and pants trimmed with white fur. The delicate tinkle of crystal in the bag over his shoulder let me know it was full of bottles. His eyes sparkled with mischief. His dimples radiated joy. His cheeks were matching roses. The nose? That was a cherry. He gazed upon me with a smile surrounded by a beard white as snow.

Scent Nick had always made Christmas brighter for me. He let out a belly laugh which I always heard as “Eau, Eau, Eau” instead of the more traditional laugh he was known for. I asked excitedly what he had for me in the bag. He said to me, “Why complicate things that are really quite simple? Close your eyes and breathe in.”

As I did the scents of home washed over me. The cookies Mrs. C had cooling. The poodle’s sweet muskiness. Even the woodsmoke smell Scent Nick had stirred up upon his arrival. I heard a whisper in my ear, just before I opened my eyes, “Anything can happen if you let it.”

As I looked around, I heard Scent Nick whistle followed by the sound of the reindeer launching into the air. As I watched them fly away, he said “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night”. My heart filled with joy I turned from the window to see a delicate crystal flacon. The label on its side read “Eau de Family”.

The wind has shifted again with the departure of Scent Nick. The denizens of 17 Poodlesville Lane slept with a contented soul. Until it happens again a year from now.

I could easily have found a flacon labeled “Eau de Readers”. This year has brought me a great deal of joy sharing my thoughts about perfume. Part of that has been the interactions I have with many of you. To everyone who visits here I wish you the most magical of Holiday seasons. I think Scent Nick has some other stops to make.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Mary Poppins Returns

I am not sure if it was the first movie I went to see in a theatre. It certainly was one of the first movies I ever was taken to see. For my birthday in 1964 my mother took me to the Coral Theatre on Ponce de Leon Boulevard in Coral Gables. The Coral was a movie palace with a wrap around marquee. On that day in big red letters the title of the movie we were going to see was spelled out; Mary Poppins.

Mary Poppins was a movie I have seen throughout my life. It has always been a favorite. Even though it was highly fictionalized I found the 2013 movie “Saving Mr. Banks” about the making of Mary Poppins also entertaining. As I was learning to read, the Mary Poppins books were what I shared with my grandmother as after-dinner story time. I knew I had an affection for the material. As the promotional push for the new movie “Mary Poppins Returns” began I realized how much the “practically perfect nanny” meant to me. I became more excited to spend a couple of hours with the new version.

The basic story of Mary Poppins Returns still revolves around the Banks children at 17 Cherry Tree Lane in London. As the movie opens the two children from the original movie have grown up. Jack has just lost his wife becoming a single father to his three children. Jane is a single woman who retains her mother’s desire to fight for the rights of those who need it. When the children bring Mary Poppins home to her now grown-up charges, she says she has returned to take care of the Banks children. When the actual children say, “Us?” her reply of “Yes you, too.” sets the tone.

Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack

This is a beautifully done movie with respect for the artists who worked on the original movie. It shows in the main credits. One of the great Disney artists of the 1960’s Peter Ellenshaw painted many of the matte backgrounds for the movie. As the opening credits roll, with a true orchestral overture, some recently discovered work by Mr. Ellenshaw from Mary Poppins is blended with new art inspired by those paintings. It is a subtle way of taking us back to a different kind of movie. This kind of care is shot throughout the movie. If you loved the original there are many callbacks.

Most importantly the two leads of Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack the Lamplighter are perfect. Ms. Blunt captures the heart of Mary Poppins as she takes the next generation of Banks children on adventures. Mr. Miranda is along for the ride as the willing accomplice. The movie has another live-action and animation set piece which is done in the same style of hand-drawn animation as it was in Mary Poppins. From the moment the animated flowers started to swirl on screen I think my smile could not have been wider.

Mary Poppins Returns is an old-fashioned movie musical with a happy ending. It reminded me of the way movies have always been able to elevate my mood. I glided out of the theatre humming the tunes all the way home.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Chanel 1957- A Tower of White Musk

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When there are perfume ingredients I’ve become exhausted by, there comes a point where I can’t take one thin mint more. Even if it is wafer-thin. The set of synthetic musks given the sobriquet “white musks” had been one of those. Imparting a laundry fresh scent to the foundation of seemingly thousands of perfume; it was becoming too much for me. The fragrance oil producers were rapidly synthesizing bigger and fresher versions. An oxygen molecule here, a double bond there, and it was a new fresh muskiness in the latest perfume. I was more interested in the synthetic chemistry than the scent. Over the last twenty or so years the shelf of white musks has expanded rapidly.

In the last few years it turns out the solution to my boredom, perversely, was not to dial them back. Instead, in the hands of a skilled perfumer, it was to layer them. Overlap them. Building a tower of white musk which once it was erected formed this unexpected softness. Like diving into a pile of fluffy white down feathers. I’ve come to look forward to these kinds of perfumes. The latest of them is Chanel 1957.

Olivier Polge

In-house perfumer Olivier Polge was asked to create a new perfume for the Les Exclusifs collection to celebrate the re-opening of the Chanel flagship store in NYC on 57th Street. For now, it is only available there with wider release coming in Spring 2019. The name also refers to the year Coco Chanel was given the “Neiman-Marcus Fashion Award”. It seems an odd choice to highlight something like that. The press release follows that with this, “Now world-renowned for her creative talent she drew upon rare, carefully chosen ingredients to reveal and exalt them.” Part of that sentence is accurate when describing 1957; the part about exalting carefully chosen ingredients. The “rare” part especially when referring to white musk not so much. M. Polge has done a fabulous job of elevating the common white musks to something compelling.

1957 opens with a green herbal accord of baie rose and coriander. This acts as a palate cleanser setting up what is to come as it fades rapidly into the background. The first layers of white musk along with neroli begin to rise. In contrast to these clean white musks the indoles of the neroli stand out. It adds some grit to the overall effect. Iris adds a dash of powder as the white musk continues to intensify. There is a momentary sharpness within the white musks which the iris serves to soften. Then the tipping point is passed and now the plushness of a multi-layered white musk accord appears. M. Polge adds a thin veneer of sweet honey. It adds a dash of contrast as the indoles of the neroli did earlier. The tower is now complete and M. Polge flips the lights on providing an inner glow stoked by the neroli and honey. The final effect is gorgeous.

1957 has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is probably the most modern perfume released by the fragrance side of Chanel. It can be dismissed as another floral musky perfume. It can also be loved for the same quality. I appreciate the engineering effort of M. Polge to create his tower of white musk to overcome any kind of snap judgement.

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

Mark Behnke