New Perfume Review Bottega Veneta Knot Eau Absolue- Shoulder Season Slipknot

Designer brands which stay true to their roots are preferable to the ones where the connection gets lost completely. Tomas Maier the Creative Director of Bottega Veneta wants to have a fragrance collection which is as luxurious as the leather goods they are known for. Since they started releasing perfume in 2011 I would say the overall collection has lived up to that. Over the last few years there have been two of my favorite designer releases of their respective year; 2017’s Eau de Velours and 2014’s Knot. The latter embraced the idea of the leather weaves characteristic of the Bottega Veneta purse of the same name. Now the second flanker to Knot has arrived; Knot Eau Absolue.

Tomas Maier

Perfumer Daniela Andrier, who did the original, has returned for Knot Eau Absolue. This is a deeper style of luxury as Mme Andrier goes for luxury with only a few ingredients each of which provide a twist in this olfactive knot.

Daniela Andrier

The fragrant signature of Knot is the combination of lavender and neroli. In the previous releases they were freshened up with partners who made them lighter in style. For Knot Eau Absolue Mme Andrier decides to give them the top accord all to themselves. She also decides to use them in higher concentrations. I have always liked this floral combination and the early going here confirms why I do. The lavender is more floral than herbal while the neroli is more white flower with the green quality also in the back ground. What comes through are two florals singing lead while the herbal and green nature of each ingredient provide backing vocals. After some time, a real diva, jasmine, arrives and the floral amplitude rises. Knot Eau Absolue rests upon this trio of floral ingredients entwining in a knot of beauty. The deep leather of the purse this is named after is provided by myrrh. Mme Andrier allows it to slowly build until a noticeable warmth is simmering underneath the flowers.

Knot Eau Absolue has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

I really like Knot Eau Absolue especially now with chilly mornings and warm afternoons. It seems a delightful shoulder season choice. The original will be better as things get warmer but in the months before and after those days Knot Eau Absolue will be more enjoyable.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Nordstrom.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Vilhelm Parfumerie Poets of Berlin- Fruity Woods

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My least appreciated style of perfume is the fruity floral. If you ask me to only have one half of that I would have said give me the floral. It isn’t that there aren’t fruity perfumes which retain interest, but it sometimes becomes difficult for a creative team to keep it from smelling like candy. Which is a shame because fruity notes offer some of the same promise that their floral partners do. The latest Vilhelm Parfumerie release, Poets of Berlin, shows how that is done.

Creative director of Vilhelm Parfumerie, Jan Ahlgren, has done a fantastic job of using musicians as inspiration but I must confess this time the connection has passed me by. In the press copy it says Poets of Berlin is inspired by David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy of albums. I will leave it to better minds than mine to make the connection between a fruity woody perfume and Bowie’s Berlin portfolio. Once again M. Ahlgren calls on his collaborator on the entire collection to date, Jerome Epinette, to find a way to add something to fruity fragrance.

Jerome Epinette (l.) and Jan Ahlgren

The choice that is made is to take a combination of sweet and tart fruit ingredients and let them open with a crystalline sweetness before slowly adding in woody ingredients from light to heavy to provide unexpected depth to the fruit.

The two fruits M. Epinette uses are lemon and blueberry. When they first hit my skin, they project predominantly as sugary sweet reminding me a bit of those sugar-coated jelly candies. Then the M. Epinette uses the green tinged woodiness of bamboo to turn my attention to the tart underneath the sugar. That green thread is picked up and amplified with vetiver which also notches the woodiness up a level, too. This is where the sweetness of the fruit returns to the foreground pushing back against the woods. Sandalwood and vanilla comprise the base accord creating depth to both the sweet and the woods.

Poets of Berlin has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Poets of Berlin is an excellent spring fragrance. I wore it on an unexpected warm day and it really sang on my skin. It is surprising that I am happier wearing fruity rather than floral on a warm day, but Poets of Berlin has made me crave fruity woods.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Vilhelm Parfumerie.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Atelier Cologne Iris Rebelle- Ralf’s Rebellion

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It has been almost exactly eight years since I first met Sylvie Ganter-Cervasel in New York City. She was showing me her new brand Atelier Cologne. The first question out of my mouth was, “does it last?” She then explained the concept behind the bottle was to create a new version called “cologne absolue”. On that day, and ever since, Atelier Cologne has been at the forefront of the 21st century re-interpretation of cologne. One of those first releases showed the possibilities within the concept, Orange Sanguine. That simple fragrance took the traditional citrus cologne adding depth and nuance along with longevity and projection. It is the perfume I send many to seek when I want to display why a niche perfume might be worth a little more. Mme Ganter-Cervasel has continued to collaborate with the perfume behind Orange Sanguine, Ralf Schwieger; their latest is called Iris Rebelle.

Sylvie Ganter-Cervasel

The current fragrance customer is in flux with a seeming desire for a lighter style of fragrance. For a brand there must come adaptations with that. I have been wondering whether Atelier Cologne must also bend towards this trend. One release is not a direction but Iris Rebelle is the most transparent Atelier Cologne released to date. Having Hr. Schwieger on hand to translate the original concept into something more on trend for the present day makes sense. What has been produced is a floating iris-colored veil on a breeze.

Ralf Schwieger

Hr. Schwieger cleverly uses a very rooty iris as his keynote. This is the iris which I prefer over the more traditional powdery style. By accentuating the earthiness, it also allows for it to not become an overbearing puffball. In the early going orange blossom combines with the iris to form an incredibly grounded accord. There is a slightly sweet carrot-like nature which comes forward which is very pleasing. Hr. Schwieger then uses a judicious amount of lavender to add a hint of floral quality so that you are reminded that iris is more than a root. Rose also provides a slightly more intense floral underpinning, too. This settles onto a base accord of guaiac wood continuing to keep the mood light along with some white musks and a bit of patchouli.

Iris Rebelle has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

It will be interesting to see how Iris Rebelle is received by long-time admirers of the brand. It is so much more transparent than anything else in the collection it stands out. As one of those I feel like it upholds that original ethos laid out eight years ago from a different perspective. I like it. What is still to find is does Iris Rebelle create new consumers. David Bowie says in “Rebel Rebel”, “You love bands when they're playing hard”. What happens when they play a little softer?

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Sephora.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: My Hero Looks Like Me

I love being a geek in this present time. For over forty years I have been a fellow traveler with my heroes as we journey to fantastic new places or protect the world from bad guys. For most of those years it was easy for me to see myself as Mr. Spock, Frodo, Bruce Wayne, or Peter Parker. They shared a skin color with me; I could pretend to be any of those. The first time I became aware of this was in high school as my social circle read J.R.R. Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings”. We all took alternate names from the books. I remember my friend Rodney, who was black, also played along. Except he chose a white character to take a name from because there wasn’t anyone who looked like him in the story.

Nichelle Nicols as Lt. Uhura on "Star Trek"

The other affirmation of the power of having someone who looks like you doing heroic things comes from actress Nichelle Nichols who played Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek. After the first season had finished she said to the creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, that she was going to leave the show. Soon after she was at an NAACP meeting and she met someone there who was a fan; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He told her how Star Trek was the only television show he let his young children watch because of her character. A black woman on the bridge seen as equal to everyone else there. She was there not to preach but simply to show that equality comes in funny guises. Ms. Nichols would be instrumental in recruiting female and non-white candidates to NASA as astronauts. It is what it means to see someone who looks like you, being heroic.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

In the last year there have been so many examples. The female centric heart of “Wonder Woman”. The new core of heroes in the new Star Wars trilogy. The spectacular re-imaging of the superhero through an African-American lens in “Black Panther”.

Poe, Rey, and Finn from "Star Wars"

That each movie was helmed by directors and writers, intent on making these visions seem normal without feeling like you’re being told it is special. As Diana Prince faces down the villain in the epic final act of Wonder Woman there is no thought that she is weaker. When Rey ignites her lightsaber she is every bit as formidable as anyone who has wielded one. Literally, the entire set of characters in Black Panther show strength of character is not the exclusive property of Caucasians.

The Cast of Black Panther

I have mentioned this in the past, but I use the cosplayers at Comic-Con as barometers of how far things have progressed. Last year there were a lot more Wonder Women and Reys walking around as women found new ways to represent themselves. I can’t wait for this October because I suspect Black Panther is about to have a similar impact.

The great mass of us geeks are often referred to as “fanboys” and as recently as five years ago that was accurate. With the inclusivity of heroes who look like more of the world I think we’re going to have to find another word.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Berdoues Hoja de Cuba- Caribbean All-Stars

I was fortunate as a child to be able to visit almost all the Caribbean Islands. I am probably stretching a point but one of the great things about arriving on a different island was each had its own scent. There were things which grew more abundantly on each different destination. There was some significant overlap but when I smell certain ingredients I have a specific memory of an island come to mind. The latest reminder is one which combines three specific ingredients into a kind of all-star perfume, Berdoues Hoja de Cuba.

Hoja de Cuba is part of the Grand Cru collection which is all about capturing the scent of a place. They have tended to be simple styles of three or four ingredients. As I’ve mentioned in the past if one of those ingredients doesn’t work well it tends to cause the entire perfume to fall apart. In the case of Hoja de Cuba perfumer Ane Ayo spent some time in Cuba taking in the smells of the tobacco fields which is one of the three notes in the fragrance. She also must have been based in Santiago de Cuba on the southeast shore of the island because the other two ingredients come from Jamaica to the southwest and Haiti to the east.

Ane Ayo

The Jamaican contributor is allspice. For those who cook with a jerk seasoning this is one of the ingredients. In perfume it has a warm nutty quality along with the spice mélange promised in the name. Mme Ayo pushes the allspice out in the early moments and allows it to display its style. Haiti adds in the well-known vetiver as the woody character matches to the nutty part of the allspice. It also provides the vegetal greenery indigenous to every tropical island. When the tobacco arrives as the final note it provides a dried sweet narcotic wrapper to embrace everything into a lovely perfume cigar.

Hoja de Cuba has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I know the middle of February is the time of year many of us wish we were in the Caribbean for a long weekend. Hoja de Cuba can at least provide the scent of a mid-winter trip to the islands.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Sephora.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Nomenclature holy_wood- The Mod Squad 2018

If there is anything the dream machine that is Hollywood does best, it makes subversive safe for general audiences. I would get great enjoyment at watching the “dangerous streets of Miami” depicted in many Hollywood productions. I probably first became aware of it as they co-opted the hippie movement of the late 1960’s even building a cop show around the concept of disaffected youth called “The Mod Squad”. They were just a little too clean and a lot too establishment; except when the plot needed them to get a little uppity.

Carlos Quintero (l.) and Karl Bradl

When it comes to perfume the most recognizable ingredient associated with hippies is patchouli. It was the smell of head shops everywhere which also made it a problematic ingredient in perfume. Many consumers associated it with also being cheap. Perfumers love patchouli because it is such a mutable ingredient that they would work through that impression. The chemists behind the scenes also were working on “cleaner” versions of patchouli through technology and chemistry. One of the best innovations around patchouli was the Firmenich ingredient called Clearwood. The scientists found a way to strip out all the dirty character leaving behind something still recognizable as patchouli but not so hippie-like.

Frank Voelkl

In the latest perfume from the Nomenclature line overseen by Karl Bradl and Carlos Quintero they feature Clearwood in their latest release holy_wood. Working with perfumer Frank Voelkl they were after a 1970’s Hollywood vibe. I couldn’t help thinking of The Mod Squad’s advertising slogan, “one black, one white, one blonde” as I experienced holy_wood. In this M. Voelkl combines one rose, one patchouli, one leather into a perfume version of The Mod Squad. While that might sound like a perfume combination you’ve smelled many times when it gets reformed using modern cleaner synthetics it provides a contemporary overall effect.

holy_wood opens with a synthetic rose from Firmenich called Rose Petal Nature Print which is meant to replicate a headspace extraction of rose. It has an airiness rose usually doesn’t carry. Early on a bit of pink pepper adds some of the missing green back in. Then the Clearwood arrives and what this shows most of all is a light woodiness coupled with warmth. As the two ingredients interact I found myself expecting the missing pieces to show up until I stopped. Then I began to appreciate what was on my skin. holy_wood is an example of what synthetics can bring to a well-known combo like rose and patchouli. This is all tied up in a suede leather accord to complete The Mod Squad.

holy_wood has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

One of the things Nomenclature has been doing well is displaying some of the more novel synthetic ingredients to their fullest potential. holy_wood might be patchouli-rose-leather as only Hollywood could imagine them; safer and cleaner. I still want to spend time with this modern Mod Squad.

Disclosure: this review based on a sample from Nomenclature.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Christian Dior La Collection Privee Souffle De Soie- A Silken Caress

If there is a predominant emotion I have when seeing the name of a perfume it is bemusement. Sometimes I am happy that the name matches what’s in the bottle. In very rare cases the name has nothing to do with the ingredients, but it completely captures the fragrance. The latest addition to the Christian Dior La Collection Privee, Soufflé De Soie, is one of those.

Soufflé De Soie translates to “breath of silk”. When I read that I envisioned a soft transparent construct which has the inherent strength of silk. I am not surprised at the transparent aspect because in the perfumes Francois Demachy is composing for Dior recently he has been working on the opaquer side of things. What I was quite interested in was how M. Demachy would transform three powerhouse florals; jasmine, tuberose, and rose into something delicate.

Francois Demachy

The opening whisper of breath is a gorgeous trio of lemon added to the herbal notes of basil and tarragon. I adore the tart citrus over the green. This is a veil which whispers across my senses. Clove is used as piquant transitory note to take you into the floral heart. This is a bit of the kind of alchemy I find appealing from M. Demachy. Jasmine comes out first along with some peach underneath. In a typical perfume this would slowly climb in volume. In Souffle De Soie what happens is the tuberose and rose come in at the same intensity. Just as this seems like a typical fruity floral accord costus provides a funky depth without making it stronger. The costus is joined by a set of musks to finish the effect.

Souffle De Soie has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

There has seemingly been a race to see who can make the least obtrusive, or noticeable perfume. Most of the time that transparency is equivalent to insipidness. Soufflé De Soie is the first of these which is anything but that. There were times while I was wearing it I felt as if I was trying to catch a will o’ the wisp with my nose. Because of the quality here that was not as frustrating as it has been for other perfumes designed in this style. In this case it was a positive as I wanted to chase this silken sprite throughout the day. In the end it disappeared with a silken caress after hours of enjoyment.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Christian Dior.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Jean Patou Ma Liberte- The Kerleo Years

Those who have followed me over the years know there is a special section in the Dead Letter Office for the perfumes of Jean Patou. Much of their reputation rests on the creations of perfumer Henri Almeras from 1925-1946. The only remaining evidence of the glorious history of the brand is the evergreen best-seller Joy. This is not to say there haven’t been numerous attempts to bring the brand back to life. Perfumer Jean-Michel Duriez oversaw one of the more confusing transitions through the turn of the century. Most recently perfumer Thomas Fontaine has been re-formulating the original collection the best that he can with modern substitutions. In between there was another short creative spurt overseen by perfumer Jean Kerleo from 1972-1995.

M. Kerleo’s tenure has provided one of those rarest of unicorn fragrances, Patou pour Homme, in 1980. It lives up to every bit of the hype. Lost within this group of Patou perfumes done by M. Kerleo is one I admire just as much; Ma Liberte.

Jean Kerleo

Throughout this time M. Kerleo seemed to enjoy using lavender as a keynote. It would show up in both Patou pour Homme and Patou pour Homme Prive as well as Voyageur. Ma Liberte was another example of the flexibility of lavender in the hands of an artist.

In the beginning of Ma Liberte M. Kerleo chooses to contrast the lavender with tart citrus which is ameliorated with the lighter nature of heliotrope. Jasmine will become the note in the heart which picks up the lavender and allows it to flower more fully. Then the other hall mark of M. Kerleo’s time at Patou is his use of spices. He swirls in cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove to create this swirling warm shimmer covering the florals. It leads to a rich cedar and sandalwood base.

Ma Liberte has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.

If there is a question which has perplexed me; it is how the Jean Patou collection never caught on beyond Joy. I’ve never seen a reliable explanation on why they never were commercially successful but that is the reason they populate my favorite corner of the Dead Letter Office.

For those of you who look at the prices for Patou pour Homme and Patou pour Homme Prive on the auction sites and just groan at the prices you are who this version of this column is for. Ma Liberte is as good as either of those and it can be found on the same auction sites for much, much, less. If you have given up on obtaining the Patou pour Hommes give Ma Liberte a try.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Cartier Declaration Parfum- Defining Stronger

One of Jean-Claude Ellena’s early landmark perfumes was 1998’s Cartier Declaration. It was a surprising retort to all the clean and fresh masculine perfumes of the day. M. Ellena created a top accord which many describe as “sweaty curry”. It was not clean or fresh but if it appealed it was something amazing. It was also a primer on themes which would reverberate throughout the remaining years of M. Ellena’s career. Declaration is one of the best releases in the entire Cartier line.

When I received my sample of the new Cartier Declaration Parfum I was not sure what to expect. The current Cartier in-house perfumer Mathilde Laurent was going to make a more concentrated version of Declaration. It is a rare moment when I spray on a flanker wondering what will appear.

Mathilde Laurent

Mme Laurent’s choice was to accentuate the deeper bass tones of the original Declaration while stripping out the perspiration and the curry. She turns up the volume on the woods and adds in her own leather accord as her signature.

The original Declaration had a tight citrus flare before the spices arrived. Mme Laurent brings the spices out from the beginning, jettisoning the citrus entirely. This is a warm comforting spicy accord.  If the original is the dirty side of spice. Mme Laurent wraps you in a blanket of the snuggly side of spices. Cedar was the keynote in the original composition and it is present here but there are some balsams which again remove the cleaner edges of cedar softening and amplifying the woodiness in the overall heart accord. The leather accord in the base is the smell of a Cartier leather handbag. Amber is also present to keep things on the intimate side. Declaration Parfum smells rich in every meaning of the word.

Declaration Parfum has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

If you’re expecting Declaration Parfum to be a stronger version of Declaration you will have to define what you mean by that adjective. If by stronger you mean more spices and more sweat that is not what Mme Laurent delivers. If by stronger you mean lasts a long time and projects off the skin. It isn’t that either. It lives up to its Parfum description and wears closer to the skin the longer you have it on. If by stronger you also mean deeper then Declaration Parfum should be a winner. Mme Laurent has composed a perfume which epitomizes the Cartier sophistication and style. I’m not sure which version of stronger will be yours, but mine is the one which is in the bottle.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Saks Fifth Avenue.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review: Sana Jardin Berber Blonde and Sandalwood Temple- Sustainability In Front

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There has been an initiative for niche perfume brands to display the sustainability of their ingredients as the reason for purchasing the fragrance. Sometimes that leads to releases which are just whatever ingredient there is to be featured; and little else. I always feel like these brands miss the opportunity to show the difference in quality their sustainably sourced ingredient can bring to a perfume. Of course, that takes a creative team and a perfumer to work together. I was sent a sample set from a new brand, Sana Jardin, which does it correctly.

Amy Christiansen Si-Ahmed (center)

Sana Jardin was founded by Amy Christiansen Si-Ahmed and released their first seven perfumes in 2017. Her concept is to make Sana Jardin an “eco-luxe” brand. As a founder of the Beyond Sustainability Movement, Ms. Christiansen Si-Ahmed wants to reach out to the communities in the developing world who cultivate some of the most recognizable ingredients in perfume. Through her project she wants to teach the communities how to turn their tradition of growing a raw material into a local economy which can support many. She started in Morocco with a small group of women who harvest orange blossom. She has helped expand their horizons into other fragrance-containing products. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Moroccan orange blossom perfume oil makes it into two of the Sana Jardin perfumes; Berber Blonde and Sandalwood Temple.

Carlos Benaim

M. Benaim takes the orange blossom keynote and works it in two different directions. He goes for a simple construct in Berber Blonde and it is here where the orange blossom is displayed more fully. In Sandalwood Temple it is part of a comfort scent style playing as part of the chorus instead of the diva.

One thing about orange blossom that people forget is that it is a white flower with its own indolic profile. When sourced as it is by Sana Jardin those indoles are more prominent which is what M. Benaim highlights in Berber Blonde by pairing it with musk. This ends up creating a simple harmonic which hums with depth.

For Sandalwood Temple the orange blossom is not doing all the work. Only in the beginning does it have the spotlight. Fairly rapidly the clean woodiness of cedar captures the inherent green quality while vanilla captures the nascent citrus aspect. It forms a creamy accord which is complemented by an equally smooth sandalwood. A bit of vetiver dials back the sweetness level so it doesn’t enter gourmand territory.

Berber Blonde and Sandalwood Temple have 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Both Berber Blonde and Sandalwood Temple display the promise of what Ms. Christiansen Si-Ahmed is working so hard to do. If she keeps along this same path there offers some opportunities for Sana Jardin to combine sustainability and great perfume.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Sana Jardin.

Mark Behnke