Dead Letter Office: Tom Ford Private Blend Lavender Palm- Too Contemporary?

Ever since its debut in 2007 the Tom Ford Private Blend collection has been one of the most successful expansions of luxury niche perfumery into the marketplace. They represent one of the defining brands of that style. They were the first perfumes I would review where I would be asked, “Are they worth it?” The answer to that is always an individual choice. What was undeniable was the collection was representing some of the best-known ingredients in high quality forms where the difference was noticeable.

Tom Ford

Tom Ford and Karyn Khoury creatively directed each perfume to provide a singular luxurious experience. That so many of them are on “best of” lists show their success. They have been so successful that there is debate to whether they should even be referred to as niche anymore. I think they still retain a niche aesthetic while having a wider distribution than most other fragrances referred to with that adjective. Over the first three years of existence they cemented their style over 21 releases. Then 2011 happened.

Karyn Khoury

This is conjecture on my part, but it seems like they had tired of hearing how “safe” they were. If you were to try the three releases from 2011 it feels like they wanted to have the word contemporary be part of the lexicon when describing Tom Ford Private Blends. Jasmin Rouge, Santal Blush, and this month’s Dead Letter Office entry Lavender Palm succeeded. What separated them from the rest of the collection was they took the keynote in their name off in very different new directions. All three have been among my favorites within the entire line. For some reason Lavender Palm was discontinued after only two years. I’ll provide my hypothesis for that later.

Yann Vasnier

Lavender Palm was released early in 2011 as an exclusive to the new Beverly Hills Tom Ford boutique followed by wider release a year later. Perfumer Yann Vasnier was asked to capture a Southern California luxury vibe. He chose to use two sources of lavender wrapped in a host of green ingredients.

The top accord uses the more common lavandin where M. Vasnier adds citrus to it. The whole opening gets twisted using lime blossom which teases out the floral nature of the lavender while complementing the citrus. This is an opening with snap. The heart coalesces around lavender absolute. Here is where things take that contemporary turn. M. Vasnier uses clary sage, aldehydes, moss, and palm leaves to form a lavender accord that is at turns salty and creamy. It seemingly transforms minute-by-minute. It remains one of the most unique lavender accords I have experienced. A soft resinous base is where this ends.

Lavender Palm has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

Lavender Palm became widely available in the beginning of 2012 and was discontinued by the end of 2014. I think the reason might be this was the only one of the three 2011 releases which unabashedly altered the previous style of the collection. There aren’t many Tom Ford Private Blend releases to be found in the Dead Letter Office; Lavender Palm might have got there by being too contemporary.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Weil Kipling- Actions and Reactions

There are shelves in the Dead Letter Office which contain too many from the same brand which are amazing. The Weil shelf is one of those. The brand itself was one of the earliest brands of modern perfumery. Created by three brothers, in 1927, they came to fragrance as an accessory to their main business of selling fur coats. Their first perfumes were meant to be worn on their fur coats to camouflage the smell of the skins. When I’ve smelled Zibeline from this period it is hard to see it as masking much of anything. It seemed like it would amplify the furry quality. They would graduate to making perfume to be worn as perfume. That ended abruptly as World War 2 broke out and they fled their factory for the US. The family would return post-war and pick up the pieces. The best of that time period was Antilope.

That was the extent of my personal knowledge of Weil until my reader who gifted me with the box of discontinued samples appeared. As part of what was sent there was almost an entire set of Weil releases. I finally got to experience Weil de Weil and Eau de Fraicheur. As I mentioned every one of these perfumes are on a shelf in the Dead Letter Office. As part of my treasure trove I ran across a Weil I hadn’t heard of previously; Kipling. I was always going to write about Weil and this group of perfumes which have been discontinued. The four I mentioned to start are the acknowledged gems. I will probably return to them another time for future columns. As I learned of the current history of the brand Kipling felt like a good representative.

Where I left off in the brand history was as the family returned to Paris post-war. They would continue to make perfume until the early 1960’s. Then would begin a merry-go-round of different owners. Each owner wanted to capture the glorious past, but their vision was less assured when it came to new perfumes. When it hit; as in 1971’s Weil de Weil it was great. When the next owners took over, they wanted to put their stamp on the brand. Through the last part of the 20th century the brand always seemed to be a tiny step behind sometimes seeming like a reactive brand instead of a trendsetter. Weil de Weil was released soon after Chanel No. 19 as an example.

When the chairs stopped in 1986 Fashion Fragrances oversaw Weil. These were the latter days of the masculine leather fougere powerhouses. There seemed to be a desire to do a fuller version of that style. Kipling was going to be a reaction that upped the elegance of the style. Perfumer Jean-Pierre Mary oversaw realizing that brief.

When I smell Kipling now it seems part of that period in masculine perfumery. By itself I didn’t rate it as something different. It wasn’t until I pulled some of its contemporaries off the shelf that what M. Mary did was more evident. The trend in the late 1980’s for this kind of perfumes was to be drier. For Kipling, M. Mary added back something more rounded.

That shows right away with a mixture of lavender, juniper, and artemisia. The latter two ingredients accentuate the herbal-ness of the lavender. The licorice quality of the artemisia meshes beautifully. A green intermezzo of basil and pine leads to a heart dominated by geranium. M. Mary adds in a tiny amount of clove to accentuate that part of geranium’s scent profile. It lands on a classic base of leather supported by oakmoss, and patchouli. Both of those elevate M. Mary’s leather accord.

Kipling has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

Why did Kipling end up on the Weil shelf in the Dead Letter Office? The ownership wheel spun again. As had been done during other changes last in was first to go. There was a market for this kind of stepped-up spicy leather fougere. Weil just didn’t have the stable ownership invested enough in making Kipling one of those. As before the reaction instead of the action ends up in the Dead Letter Office.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample sent to me by a reader.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Donna Karan Chaos- Twice Canceled

One of the familiar refrains of this column is the perfume being profiled was ahead of its time. That is inevitably followed by the conjecture on whether it would have succeeded at a different time; after trends caught up to it. There aren’t many that are given that second chance only to end up back in the Dead Letter Office. Donna Karan Chaos owns this distinction.

Donna Karan is one of the most successful designer perfume brands on the market. Her namesake fragrances plus the DKNY branded ones are classic mass-market perfumes. It didn’t start out that way. Ms. Karan released her first branded perfume in 1992. Over the next ten years she would release another five perfumes. Taken as a collection they were an impressive group of fragrances staking out their own territory. Using those perfumes it seems like Ms. Karan was attempting to create her own niche-like character. That five of the six, Cashmere Mist the exception, are all in the Dead Letter Office tells you how successful they were in the marketplace.

In the realm of the senses where being different is lauded; that group of six were delightful for that. I own all of them because of their unabashed desire to do their own thing. They are examples of what mass-market can aspire to. Each of them was contemporaneous to emerging trends from niche brands.

Jean-Claude Delville

In 1996 the style of spiced dried fruit Oriental perfume was just beginning. Working with perfumer Jean-Claude Delville; Ms. Karan and her co creative director Jane Turker made one of the earliest versions of this.

What is fascinating about Chaos is it accomplishes this fruitiness without a single fruit ingredient in the note list. This would become common; in 1996 it was still infrequently seen. M. Delville would form an axis of coriander, saffron, and sandalwood. On to that he would adhere precious woods, resins, and spices. This is a gorgeously realized opulent Oriental ahead of its time.

Chaos has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Chaos was discontinued in 2002 after failing to capture consumers’ attention. This is where I say Chaos was ahead of its time and that’s why it is in the Dead Letter Office. Except the powers that be at Donna Karan must have thought that time had arrived in 2008 when they re-issued Chaos onto the market. Along with two of the other original six Donna Karans which also seemed to be too early for perfume lovers.

By 2008 Chaos was not an oddity there were many other perfumes going for two to three times the price in the same style. This was the time for Chaos to thrive. Except it didn’t. It would be discontinued for a second time in 2013.

As much as I want to believe every perfume has the right time to find its audience Donna Karan Chaos stubbornly refutes that hypothesis by finding its way to the Dead Letter Office; twice.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Lagerfeld for H&M Liquid Karl- Gourmand by Karl

Upon the death of Karl Lagerfeld earlier this week I began considering what was a fitting tribute to him and his impact on perfume. I spent a few days reminding myself of the perfumes he released under his own name. If there was something which surprised me was, outside of a few, there was a lack of a recognizable aesthetic. All the perfume releases under the Karl Lagerfeld brand tended to veer from one trend to the other without necessarily being the one at the leading edge but the fast follower. Which is why many of them are in the Dead Letter Office. In looking back I found one which best sums up the iconoclastic designer; Lagerfeld for H&M Liquid Karl.

 

Karl Lagerfeld

In 2004 clothing store H&M wanted to start collaborating with the biggest fashion designers in the world on affordable couture. They thought, if successful, this could become a regular event. For their first collaboration they went right to the top convincing Karl Lagerfeld to kick this concept off. Mr. Lagerfeld wanted a full-service collection, including a fragrance. He had founded his own perfume brand in 1978 making it an easy extension for the H&M collaboration.

Pascal Gaurin

The perfume was called Lagerfeld for H&M Liquid Karl. He worked with a team of three perfumers; Pascal Gaurin, Bruno Jovanovic, and Sandrine Malin. What they produced is one of the best of the early gourmand perfumes because it went in such a different direction.

Bruno Jovanovic

Liquid Karl starts with the smell of baking bread. The perfumers build that doughy sweet scent of every bakery. In the early moments there are hints of some of the other bakery spices. This opening shows where gourmand perfumes will go. Then as cocoa and frangipani add to the bread the entire effect goes from savory to sweet. From bread to bread pudding; sort of. Maybe bread to chocolate pudding is closer to accurate. The base is a set of clean woods given depth from oakmoss.

Liquid Karl has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

When the collection was released in November of 2004 it sold out immediately. This is an occurrence which happens yearly as H&M has partnered with another high-end fashion brand every year since on an anticipated capsule collection. Many of them contain a perfume because of Mr. Lagerfeld’s inclusion of one at the beginning.

Liquid Karl is not well-known because it was produced in limited quantities as part of the H&M collaboration. This is in the Dead Letter Office because it was a limited edition not through business reasons. You can find bottles frequently on the online auction sites.

I chose Liquid Karl as a way of honoring the vision of Mr. Lagerfeld because of any perfume he made it displayed his sense of the coming trend. His fashion set the trends. His perfumes not as much. Looking back on that fragrance portfolio Liquid Karl was another case of Mr. Lagerfeld charting the course which others would eventually follow.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Spazio Krizia Donna- Left Behind

As we entered the new millennium the trend of niche perfumery was taking hold. Throughout the mid-1990’s there was this segment of perfume producers re-writing the rules. Pushing back against the commercial with a vision that perfume could be something more. I write over and over about those founding brands of the style of fragrance which changed the way things were done. What gets lost is there were some brands who were also looking to find their audience while never surviving. These were the putative failures. Except they really weren’t. There were equally great ideas at the brands which got left behind. This month I look at one of those with Spazio Krizia Donna.

Mariuccia Mandelli

Mariuccia Mandelli and her husband Aldo Pinto founded Krizia as a ready-to-wear Italian brand in 1954. Sig. ra Mandelli was a trendsetter as one of the mothers of the short shorts known as “hotpants” her most well-known innovation. As the 1990’s began Sig. ra had begun the diversification that every successful fashion brand had undergone. They had started making perfume in 1980 with their debut release K de Krizia by perfumer Maurice Roucel. They would follow that with four other perfumes. All five of those perfumes were nicely done. In 1991 is seems like Sig. ra Mandelli had decided she wanted the perfumes which carried the Krizia name to have something to say. By collaborating with perfumer Dominique Ropion she wanted to lead the way with her fragrance collection as she had with her fashion. With the release of Krazy Krizia she succeeded. For the next fifteen years she would keep making interesting niche-style perfumes. My favorite is Spazio Krizia Donna.

Christine Nagel

Spazio Krizia Donna was released in 1998 it was the “donna” version of the “uomo” version released five years earlier. Beyond the name there is no comparison Spazio Krizia Uomo is a crazy herbal vetiver in a moss-covered ocean cave. Spazio Krizia Donna was composed by Christine Nagel which confirms Sig. ra Mandelli’s eye for talent. It is best described as a floral gourmand a term which had not ben coined in 1998.

Spazio Krizia Donna opens with a spicy rose floating on a cup of slightly bitter brewed coffee. There have been quite a few floral coffee releases the last year or so. This is more floral than coffee, but the roasted contrast is a nice companion. Mme Nagel uses an ingredient which is not used very much these days, cascarilla bark. The essential oil from the distillation of this wood is a kind of allspice effect. If you smell it by itself you will think you are smelling a blended perfume of pepper, nutmeg, and green herbal-ness. In the case of this perfume it elicits a response from the spicy core of the rose. Paradise seed is also present providing a nutty cardamom piece. This is such an interesting accord as Mme Nagel uses alternative sources for specific spice effects. It gives it a lighter feel than it probably would have if the regular ingredients were used. The base accord covers the florals in a sticky coating of honey which is warmed by amber and musk.

Spazio Krizia Donna has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

The collection of Krizia releases from 1991-2006 contain some great examples of the early days of niche perfumery. They continued to be available until three or four years ago. The brand was sold in 2014 and it was soon after the fragrance collection was contracted to just four perfumes; none from the time period I mentioned above. The scions of niche perfumery are well-known. If you want to find the creative brands which couldn’t thrive you have to visit the Dead Letter Office.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I received from a reader.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Penhaligon’s Elixir- Casualty of the Reset Button

The longer a brand is around the usual trajectory is a solidifying of a brand aesthetic. If there are some swings, they usually come early in their existence. In the case of perfume brand Penhaligon’s I could make the case they have never been able to figure out what they’re all about. For a brand over a hundred years old you might think they’ve figured it out. You would be wrong. Penhaligon’s has gone through so many distinctly different eras and styles it is hard to keep track. One benefit of all that uncertainty is there was bound to be a time of creative apotheosis. That happened in the years between 2006-2013. Perfumers like Mathilde Bijaoui, Bertrand Duchaufour, Olivier Cresp and Alberto Morillas had a freer hand under creative director Nathalie Vinciguerra. Too many of these have found their way to the Dead Letter Office including the one I think is the best of them all; Penhaligon’s Elixir.

Nathalie Vinciguerra

Mme Vinciguerra kept up her trend of working with the best perfumers as she asked Olivia Giacobetti to compose Elixir. She would come forward with one of her trademark transparent structures which has become one of my Holiday Season staples.

Olivia Giacobetti

By 2008 when Elixir was released the trend towards more transparent constructs was only being practiced by a few perfumers. Mme Giacobetti was one of the earliest and most creative working on these kinds of fragrances. She is one of the reasons I have some issues with many of the modern transparent creations now that the pendulum has swung so firmly in this direction. She showed me that transparency can have tremendous beauty in fragility. Elixir is a good example of how spices, florals, and woods can form an opaque Oriental.

Elixir opens with an accord of three spices; cinnamon, cardamom, and clove. I jokingly think of them as the “3C’s”. Mme Gicaobetti finds an ideal balance of all three so that they form this shimmering spicy accord. In an ingenious flourish she takes eucalyptus to provide mentholated lift to those spices. This is one of my favorite top accords by Mme Gicaobetti, ever. When I wear Elixir, I sometimes refresh it a few hours after the first sprays because I like it so much. What comes after is also quite good, but the beginning is brilliant. It moves through a floral phase led by a lightly indolic orange blossom paired with a subtle incense. This is another diaphanous accord which doesn’t sacrifice the soul of its ingredients. It finishes on a fabulous guaiac wood and sandalwood clean woody foundation.

Elixir has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Elixir has made it to the Dead Letter Office because of the schizophrenic nature of the Penhaligon’s brand. They hit the reset button early and often sending too many good perfumes off to oblivion. The nice thing is bottles of Elixir can still be found reasonably at many of the fragrance resellers.

Elixir has been one of my favorite perfumes by Mme Giacobetti I marvel at how well it stands up to cold weather as I wear it during the Holidays. It shows a sturdiness belied by its presence. The only thing which it couldn’t survive was the reset button.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Fan di Fendi pour Homme- Picking the Hits

1

There are designer labels that just can’t seem to find their way in the fragrance world. One of those would be Fendi. As a brand they had two distinct eras of trying to become a successful perfume provider. The first era ended in 2004. That was despite producing one of the best perfumes of the last 25 years in Fendi Theorema. That it was a previous entry in this column shows the struggle Fendi had. After 2004 they pulled back and rethought their approach.

Francois Demachy

If the originality of something like Theorema was not going to draw consumers maybe there was a different tack. When the brand returned to making perfume in 2010, they put Francois Demachy in the position of fragrance creative director. Then they seemingly decided that originality was not going to be a priority. Instead they became a fragrance version of a greatest hits record. All the perfumes with Fendi on the label from 2010-2015 were made up of successful accords and tropes from other best-selling perfumes. The idea seemed to be if we can just take a little bit from the other perfumes on the perfume counter, we will find an audience. That I put a date up there to the end of this era is a giveaway to how successful it was.

Benoist Lapouza

Fendi is far from the only brand happy to mash-up the kind of accords which consumers desire. It is a too common way to produce perfume. The thing is if they pick the hits you like the most you will probably enjoy the tune even if it reminds you of other things. For me the right set of tunes showed up in Fan di Fendi pour Homme.

Delphine Lebeau-Krowiak

M. Demachy chose to work with a team of perfumers for all the Fendi releases in this second era; Benoist Lapouza and Delphine Lebeau-Krowiak. Usually this is my recipe for success with a consistent creative team. The strength here was they were all on the same page just figuring out how to balance the styles they were combining into something nice. For Fan di Fendi pour Homme they hit the right accords.

It opens on a mixture of herb and spice with basil and cardamom mixed with citrus. It is a sturdy opening; one which will remind you of many other perfumes. It switches to the men’s style of florals as geranium provides the heart. It picks up the green parts of the herb and the spice. It ends with a leather accord made deeper with patchouli before cedarwood provides the woodiness necessary in a “pour homme” perfume.

Fan di Fendi pour Homme has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

I like Fan di Fendi because it fills in on a day when I don’t want to wear one of the many perfumes, of which I smell pieces of, within it. It has become a reliable weekend fall choice. It has just been recently discontinued so this, and any of the second era Fendi perfumes, are still out there to be found.

Fendi has now failed in two different approaches to fragrance. Will there be a third? Is there a path between originality and greatest hits? It will be interesting to see the answer if there is a return in a few years. The Dead Letter Office has two relics of the first two eras whether they are the final representatives of the Fendi fragrance output will only be seen with time.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office Macassar by Rochas- The Twilight of the Powerhouse

I’ve written about a lot of perfumes in this column which were discontinued because of bad timing. I’ve never looked back, but I suspect that is close to the most common reason for a perfume to be put in the Dead Letter Office. There are a few which lived a healthy life cycle emblematic of the trends of their time followed by being discontinued when things changed. A good example of that is Macassar by Rochas.

Nicolas Mamounas

Macassar came out in 1980 as the second fragrance of four composed by Rochas in-house perfumer Nicolas Mamounas. Rochas was refreshing their perfumes from the classics released previously. They weren’t trying to re-invent the wheel. They looked around at the popular fragrances and tried to make their own version. In the masculine fragrance sector this was the time of the powerhouse colognes. These were the style of fragrance that gave fragrance a bad name. The caricature of the man with his hairy chest bared, draped in gold chains that was who Macassar was made for. I wasn’t exactly that guy, but I really enjoyed wearing the powerhouse masculines of the 70’s and 80’s. Macassar is one of my favorites from that time.

Macassar opens with a cocktail of green liquor and green woods as absinthe and pine form the top accord. The licorice-like quality of absinthe is a fantastic contrast to the camphor-like quality of pine. It is also softer than it might sound. The power begins to wind up as we move to the heart; geranium and carnation pick up on the herbal and the green from the top by amplifying those effects. Patchouli elevates all of it as the volume gets turned up. The base is where Macassar unbuttons its shirt right down to the navel as vetiver, oakmoss, and musk form the foundation for a powerful leather accord. This base accord is where things linger for hours, almost days.

Macassar has 24-hour plus longevity and way above average sillage.

Macassar had a good long shelf life as it would be another fifteen years until the demise of the powerhouse perfume in favor of clean and fresh. Macassar might have come around during the twilight of the powerhouse perfume but it was also one of its best.

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

-Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Suzanne Thierry Ondine- Niche Before Niche Existed

Niche perfumery became a thing right around 2000. There were some brands which were offering alternative styles of perfume that were recognizably niche in the 1990’s. Acceleration of the prominence of independent brands doing things differently happened in the new century. Anything has its beginnings even further back. Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s there were brands which created a single perfume as an alternative to what was the current trend. There was no name for them but in hindsight these were the earliest stirrings of what would become niche. One of the examples of this is Suzanne Thierry Ondine.

Not only is it a proto-niche perfume it is also a celebrity-inspired scent, as well. In 1954, actress Audrey Hepburn pulled off a rare double. She won a Tony for her Broadway performance in “Ondine”; co-starring with her future husband, Mel Ferrer. She would also win a Golden Globe and an Oscar for her star turn in the classic “Roman Holiday”.  Suzanne Thierry was inspired to create a perfume to capture Ms. Hepburn.

Suzanne Thierry

Mme Thierry was certainly the creative director for Ondine. My only question is was she also the perfumer? It seems unlikely. Which means she worked with someone to produce Ondine. I am interested to discover who this was because Ondine is a response to the big aldehydic florals of the day. Don’t get me wrong it isn’t something I would describe as transparent. It is a fresher composition then something like Madame Rochas which was released around the same time.

Suzanne Thierry selling Ondine

This freshening appears from the first moments as the aldehydes are kept on a firm leash. I have a feeling the choice of which aldehydes to use was something that took time. It is supported by a set of spices; cardamom, clove, and coriander are what I smell. The florals at the heart are the typical rose, jasmine, and ylang-ylang. If you pick up any of Ondine’s contemporaries you will smell an overpowering mixture of these obstreperous floral ingredients. It is a necessity to break through the clouds of aldehydes of those fragrances. In Ondine this is a style of floral accord that will become very popular in 35-40 years. Each floral ingredient is given room to expand into space without crowding the others. Even in a sample over 60-years old there is a still a reminder of what this must have smelled like fresh from the bottle. The chypre-ish base is patchouli and oakmoss. This is where Ondine does emulate its contemporaries as there is a heavier tone in the final stages.

Ondine has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Ondine was an example of making perfume which was an alternative to the other perfumes available at the time. It was relatively popular as Mme Thierry made publicity tours in the US into the late 1960’s. She would sit behind a table showing off her perfume. Sound familiar?

Ondine was discontinued sometime in the late 1970’s. It is still available here and there at the online resellers. It was interesting to see the concept of niche in one of its earliest incarnations even if it ended up in the Dead Letter Office.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Judith Muller Bat-Sheba- Dead Sea Scrolls

One of the things that so thrilled me when I received my box of perfume rarities from my anonymous benefactor was the opportunity to try things I have only read about. As I was categorizing the samples I found one I had heard of called Bat-Sheba. I was surprised to find the next vial labeled Bat-Sheba, too. At first, I thought my donor had double-packed but then I saw two letters after Bat-Sheba one had “WM” and the other has “EO”. I tried to figure it out on my own, “extrait original?” “woody masculine?” I got one of the words correct, but I had to get some clarification. Turns out the letters stood for “Woody Modern” and “Exotic Oriental”. This would begin a kind of perfume informational archaeology to try and learn all I could about Judith Muller Bat-Sheba.

Judith Muller in Paris

Judith Muller was born in Hungary in 1935. After surviving World War 2, her family settled in Israel. She would find herself in Paris learning about perfume in 1962. It brought her into the orbit of perfumer Ernest Shiftan and his young protegee Sophia Grojsman. Ms. Muller wondered if a perfume could be made from Biblical ingredients. They would put their heads together and come up with a prototype perfume called Bat-Sheba. This was seemingly produced in a very small batch and I can’t figure out if it was ever sold anywhere.

Sophia Grojsman

Ms. Muller would return to Israel, in 1965, with designs on being an Israeli luxury brand. A pillar of that desire was going to be Bat-Sheba perfume. In 1968 there would be two releases; Bat-Sheba Woody Modern and Bat-Sheba Exotic Oriental. As far as I can tell Woody Modern is close in formula to the original Bat-Sheba formulation. Exotic Oriental seems likely to have been a different mod on the way to the original. One reason I believe that is both perfumes converge on the same base accord. The trip there is quite different.

Judith Muller

Woody Modern opens incredibly green with galbanum and cardamom. The cardamom is used to take some of the edge off the galbanum. The heart is a gorgeous honeyed rose accord. It is kept on the soft side but there are some green facets also added to continue the top accord. The base is all chypre as sandalwood, vetiver, musk, oakmoss, and patchouli form a classic form of that accord. What is interesting about the way it wears on my skin it is like the vestiges of an ancient version of chypre with a kind of mineralic aspect I can’t identify. This felt like the perfume of the seductress this is named after.

Exotic Oriental goes in a spicy direction in the top accord. Cardamom, cinnamon, clove are all things I detect. Lavender is added to provide a fougere-like feel to the opening. Rose is still the keynote in the heart but this time the spices replace the honey. It accentuates the spicy core of the rose. This results in a less lush heart accord than in Woody Modern. The spices lead seamlessly into the exact same base accord as described for Woody Modern. In the case of Exotic Oriental because of the spices this felt more like a perfume of Biblical ingredients.

Ms. Muller would sell her perfumes from her Haifa, Israel store. Most others discovered it when it was presented as part of the duty-free offerings on El Al flights to and from Tel Aviv. Housed in pretty little ancient amphora-like bottles they became luxurious souvenirs of an Israeli trip in the 1960’s. Those bottles have made them highly sought after by those who collect perfume bottles. It is one reason there is not more of them in perfume lovers’ collections.

Ms. Muller would continue to produce perfume releases until her last collaboration with perfumer Pierre Bourdon. They created Hungarian Rhapsody No. 5 in 2005; meant to be a national fragrance of Hungary. She would pass away in 2012.

The reason Bat-Sheba Woody Modern and Exotic Oriental are in the Dead Letter Office is because they are victim of limited distribution. They were ideal perfumes of their time and even experiencing them now I especially think the green honeyed rose of Woody Modern would live up to the second word in its name.

I really enjoyed digging through the scraps of information that existed. I must credit the Cleopatra’s Boudoir blog with having the most extensive information on Ms. Muller and Bat-Sheba, if you’re interested to know more click on the link. At the end I felt like the story of Judith Muller Bat-Sheba was my own version of interpreting perfumed Dead Sea Scrolls.

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

Mark Behnke