Discount Diamonds: John Varvatos Cologne- Best in Class

Designer fragrances are a dime a dozen; most ending up not being worth a dime. It is why when there is a designer collection which stands out it really stands out. That is the case with the fragrance side of John Varvatos.

John Varvatos is an American fashion designer known for his rock and roll aesthetic. In 2004 he wanted to branch out into fragrance. From here the story usually goes this way; brand name turns over creative control to big cosmetics brand who produce an insipid fragrance. When there are successes within the designer area of perfume it almost always comes because the name on the bottle gets involved in the creative process. Mr. Varvatos was one of those. That would lead to some other anomalies to the way John Varvatos developed as a brand. The most important is he worked with the same perfumer, Rodrigo Flores-Roux, exclusively for the first fifteen perfumes. This kind of partnership is common in the niche community; much rarer in mainstream. Over the years they have developed one of the very best fragrance collections you can find at the department store. They have been at it so long that the early releases are now easily found in the discount bins. While I whole heartedly recommend almost everything released by Mr. Varvatos and Sr. Flores-Roux for this month’s Discount Diamonds I’m going to start at the beginning with John Varvatos Cologne.

John Varvatos

At that time for men’s fragrance they made a couple of interesting choices. One to eschew all the fresh and clean competition. Second to work with some unusual ingredients. In that first press release they would tout four ingredients being used for the first time.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux

John Varvatos Cologne opens with the sweet dried fruitiness of medjool dates. This provides a unique kind of sweetness which is kept from getting to be too much by using rosemary and tamarind leaves to wrap it up in notes of herb and vegetal forms of green. The herbs continue into the heart with clary sage, coriander, and thyme. At this point there is a lot of similarity to the stewed fruit accord which would become popular in niche perfumery. In the base they use a couple of woody synthetics, Eaglewood and Auramber. This gives an intensely woody accord with an amber finish.

John Varvatos Cologne has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

What you see above would be repeated time and again as Mr. Varvatos and Sr. Flores-Roux seemingly improved release after release. It has been one of the most remarkable collaborations in all mainstream perfume.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Carner Barcelona Fig Man- Realistic Fig

One of my favorite warm weather styles of perfume are the Mediterranean ones. Working from the obvious inspiration I have found the combination of fruit and green with just a whiff of the ocean to be the kind of perfume ideal for summer. One of the classic building blocks for this style is fig. Most of the time a perfume will choose to go with the richer fruit or the creamier leaves; but not both. Which was why I it was nice to see Carner Barcelona Fig Man take the route less traveled.

Sara Carner

Fig Man is part of a trio of Mediterranean inspired perfumes released by Carner Barcelona. The other two Bo-Bo and Salado plumb the same thematic territory as Fig Man with less variation. Creative director Sara Carner claims the inspiration for Fig Man is the illustration “Homme Fig” by artist Salvador Dali. If you read that and are thinking surrealist fig; think again. This is one of those times where I never get the connection the press release tries to impart on me. This is far from a surrealistic experience. I could claim it is the opposite a more realistic version. The brand has not revealed the perfumer, but I will update when I find out.

One of the clever twists in Fig Man is the choice to lead with the fruit instead of the fig leaves. The reason why is it allows for a very nice interaction between the ripe fig and cardamom. The fig has this richness which is uplifted by the cardamom. It takes the lush quality and gives it a freshness more like picking the fruit right from the tree and eating it. In the heart the fig leaves come forward with a lot of presence. This is the creamy slightly green version of this ingredient. It takes in the cardamom and fig with a warm embrace. As you luxuriate in the uber-fig accord from far off an ocean breeze swirls through. The base accord brings you down to earth with patchouli sweetened by tonka bean.

Fig Man has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Fig Man is a perfume for people who love fig fragrances. It is like having an all-you-can-smell version of the ingredient. Wearing this in the early summer it just my kind of thing. This realistic fig is a beauty.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Nomenclature fluo_ral- New Life for an Old Nemesis

Everyone who loves perfume has at least a few ingredients they are not fond of. Some of it can just be that the ingredient just doesn’t smell great to you. I would venture to guess most of it is when an ingredient becomes overused. When it feels like every new release you pick up has it in it. What once might have been special has become trite. By the early 2000’s that ingredient was Calone for me. It was the keynote which launched the aquatic perfume genre in the 1990’s. As everyone scrambled to make their own, Calone was the keynote over and over and over. As much as I adored the early aquatics, I came to hate the ingredient over time. With this as background you will understand why I groaned inwardly when Nomenclature fluo_ral was going to feature Calone as the keynote synthetic.

Carlos Quintero (l.) and Karl Bradl

I have generally enjoyed the efforts Nomenclature creative directors-owners Karl Bradl and Carlos Quintero featuring some of the finest synthetic perfume ingredients in new ways. But Calone? Seriously? What were you going to show me here? Working with perfume Nathalie Feisthauer they did find a new angle which allowed me to appreciate this maligned ingredient from a different perspective.

Nathalie Feisthauer

How this is achieved is they return to the origins of Calone and when it was called watermelon ketone. Instead of seaside they went for a garden. Using a set of three vegetal notes to tease out that watermelon inside Calone.

Right from the start the Calone is there. Mme Feisthauer pairs it with baie rose in those early moments to set the stage for the green ingredients to come. The herbal-ness of the baie rose attenuates some of the wateriness. Then rhubarb, blackcurrant buds, and tomato leaves obliterate that beachy aspect in favor of the smell of the garden. Rhubarb provides an acerbic slightly sour contrast. The blackcurrant buds find a sticky green of dense foliage. While the tomato leaf provides the main contrast to the Calone with its vegetal quality. Once this comes together you will find the beach has been replaced by a lovely watermelon growing among the green things. It is a remarkable transformation. The base accord swirls some smoky frankincense and clean cedarwood among the vegetation to complete fluo_ral.

Fluo_ral has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I have found fluo_ral an ideal summer companion for its evocation of the garden milieu. I must commend the creative team for allowing me to find a new way to embrace an old nemesis.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Farewell to iTunes

I remember when the iPod was announced in 2001. A digital music player which held hundreds of songs which fit in a shirt pocket. The dream of being able to carry every bit of music I owned with me had begun to come true. I was not an Apple computer person so I couldn’t join in until the second edition of iPod was released which was compatible with Windows. Right away I found about the big draw back to being a Windows user of an iPod. The horribly clunky music management program called “MusicMatch”. I watched my Apple compatible friends using this thing called “iTunes” which was so much easier. So much easier I almost became an Apple computer person. Thankfully after about a year there was an iTunes for Windows. Ever since that day all the music I have ever owned has been in an iTunes library. Which made the news of last week that Apple was phasing out iTunes unexpectedly sad to me. It wasn’t that my music still wouldn’t have a home. It made me think what an impact iTunes had on music in such a short time.

As iTunes was released there was a lot of music pirating going on using new file sharing services. The record companies had no idea how to fight the internet buccaneers allowing for their content to be downloaded for free. You didn’t have to pay for a compact disc anymore you just joined a file sharing site and downloaded it for free. The hitch was you had to burn your own copy on a blank CD. The iPod was about to change that. Now those files could just go right into the player. There was a legitimate worry nobody would buy music again.

Then Steve Jobs took advantage of this climate and opened the “iTunes store” as an adjunct to the main program. He would convince the record companies that if it was sold for a reasonable price people would legally choose to download music. Then Mr. Jobs used the timing to make a bold move. All songs, every single song, would cost 99 cents. No exceptions. Unsurprisingly many, but not all, signed on the dotted line. This would be the move which would beat the free file sharing services because 99 cents were exactly the right price. Even for me. I chose to buy new music on iTunes often because that worked for me.

iTunes has been my own personal top 40 countdown as I am able to look back and see what my most played songs are ever. I can see my own trendlines when I search by dates. None of this is going away it will just be called Apple Music from now on and the video and podcasts now have their own home. All things change but I will miss my giant iTunes library and the history it represents.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar Thirdman Eau Contraire (Eau Nomade)- Midsummer Refresher

It should not come as a surprise that a blog named Colognoisseur has an affection for cologne. As I began writing about perfume there was a concurrent re-interpretation of the lowly cologne. Over the last ten years the style has been given new life by many brands and many talented creative teams. One of the earliest brands to re-imagine cologne was Thirdman.

When Thirdman came onto the scene in 2012 they wanted to create a sense of mystery to go along with their colognes. Creative director Jean-Christophe le Greves centers the campaign around the first three releases with the query; “Who is the Thirdman?” I along with many others lauded the first three releases and wondered who the perfumer was. Thankfully M. le Greves gave up that secret with the release of the fourth Thirdman perfume Eau Nomade. The perfumer behind it all was Bruno Jovanovic. Before we get too much further, I must clear up the confusion on the name. When it was released in 2013 it was called Eau Nomade. Some years later it was changed to Eau Contraire which is how you will find it available now. With either name on the bottle it is the same cologne inside.

Bruno Jovanovich

The Thirdman aesthetic was to stick to the classic citrus and spice cologne recipe but to use higher quality ingredients. For Eau Contraire the choice was blood orange and cardamom. There are a couple of other ingredients, but this is a cologne primarily about those two. It provides a cologne of the desert much as its original name portended.

It opens with lemon providing the sun high in the sky. This sets the stage for a high concentration of cardamom to take its place. There is a clever shift of actual citrus fruit to the lemon-tinged spice in the early moments. Blood orange comes next. In most fragrances the blood orange can get lost. When it is the featured player it gives it the opportunity to show off its richer facets. It creates a fantastic harmonic with the cardamom. In the base a set of white musks create a more expansive accord over the final development.

Eau Contraire has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

Eau Contraire has become my midsummer Mad Dogs and Englishmen cologne. I keep a small decant in the refrigerator as a fragrant refresher. I’m not sure why M. le Greves hasn’t followed up with a new perfume in over four years. Because of that it is easy to understand why Thirdman Eau Contraire is Under the Radar.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Parle Moi de Parfum Gardens of India 79- Not So Simple Balance

It wasn’t that long ago that a minimalist perfume was perceived as flawed. They were considered cheap. Over the last twenty years that changed mainly because of a group of perfumers who knew how to get the most out of a few ingredients. What they produced were perfumes which found hidden accords within the overlaps. They displayed a precision of balance to find just the right amount of each ingredient. I’ve remarked in the past that this might be the most difficult type of construction to pull off. One poorly chosen ingredient or too much of one at the expense of others and it all falls apart. When a perfumer who has shown the ability to achieve this not so simple balance time and again, I look forward to their latest release; as I did with Parle Moi de Parfum Gardens of India 79.

Michel Almairac

Parle Moi de Parfum is the brand begun by perfume Michel Almairac in 2016. The entire ethos of the collection is simple minimalism. I have enjoyed the entire line so far because M. Almairac has lived up to that standard beautifully. With Gardens of India 79 he has chosen to take the three perfume ingredients emblematic of that country; jasmine, tuberose, and sandalwood. He joins them in a joyous celebration of all three.

Jasmine comes first. M. Almairac chooses an absolute of jasmine buds which impart a more innocent scent that jasmine can carry. Tuberose arrives in all its indolic glory. This is the kind of balance I speak of that is difficult to attain. The jasmine could easily be overwhelmed by the tuberose. M. Almairac uses the freshness of this version of jasmine as foil to the blowsy aspects of tuberose. It makes the familiar something to admire again. If this was a true perfume of India the sandalwood used would be Mysore. M. Almairac, or anyone else, must use the sustainable varieties. In this case the New Caledonian version. This sandalwood provides a creamy sweet woodiness which meshes perfectly with the jasmine and tuberose.

Gardens of India 79 has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Gardens of India 79 is a masterclass in balance and minimalism. At every turn these three Indian ingredients delighted me with their not so simple balance.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Elie Tahari- Perfume Power Suit

When a fashion designer launches their first perfume I am always curious to see what direction they take. For Elie Tahari if it was going to be inspired by his designs there were two possibilities. It could be a throwback to the emergence of his line in the 1970’s when his dresses were seen on many disco dance floors. It could also be an homage to the women’s power suits he championed in the 1980’s where his fashion found its place along with the women who wore them in a business milieu. If I’m going to say what I think Elie Tahari, the perfume, hews closest to it is those power suits with a bit of Mr. Tahari’s travels thrown in for good measure.

Elie Tahari

He couldn’t have chosen a better team of perfumers in Nicole Mancini and Rodrigo Flores-Roux as his partners for his debut fragrance. Mr. Tahari wanted a fragrance which “reminds me of my summers past”. The perfumers translate that into a fruity floral design.

Nicole Mancini (l.) and Rodrigo Flores-Roux

The perfumers open with a fulsome pear kept in check by using the silvery green of violet leaves. This is a more refreshing accord than I usually experience with pear focused beginnings. The heart is where I was connected as the perfumers balance creamy magnolia, green figs, and tea blossoms. They find that creamy overlap between the magnolia and the figs which benefits from the tea blossom adding contrast as it intersperses itself between the two. It finishes with a mixture of woods, amber, and musks providing a warm base accord.

Elie Tahari has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Elie Tahari perfume is an above average fruity floral mainly because of the different choices in floral ingredeients in the heart. This should be an all-season kind of perfume; much like Mr. Tahari’s power suits.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Macy’s

Mark Behnke

Antoine Lie 201

There are only a few perfumers who ask those of us who wear perfume whether it must smell nice. As one who believes perfume is an art form my answer is obviously no. One perfumer who has asked that question more than most is Antoine Lie. From his first perfume for niche brand Etat Libre D’Orange he has made perfumes which color outside the lines.

When Etienne de Swadt was creating his niche line Etat Libre D’Orange, in 2006, he wanted the first perfume for the brand to be one only a few would like. He turned to M. Lie to create Secretions Magnifiques. The resulting perfume captures a panoply of human fluids none of which are pleasant smelling. What it does is also challenge the notion of perfumery. M. Lie makes a fragrance which has stood the test of time as one of the great masterpieces of perfume.

In 2010’s Comme des Garcons Wonderwood M. Lie, under Christian Astuguevieille’s creative direction, would ask the question, “can there be too much wood?”. M. Lie would describe Wonderwood as a mixture of five real woods, two woody notes, and three synthetic woods. This came out at the height of the popularity of the synthetic wood. M. Lie showed that even pushed to the extreme there was wonder to be found within that much wood.

Nu_Be (One of Those) Oxygen was part of the debut collection of this elemental line. M. Lie chose to interpret oxygen in its supercooled liquid form. For Oxygen he blended many of the ingredients within perfumery one would describe as “sharp” to create that chilliness. The mixture of aldehydes, vetiver, and white musks can be too cool for many. I find it one of M. Lie’s most compelling creations.

Jan Ewoud Vos wanted Puredistance Black to convey a mysterious effect. Asking M. Lie to create it turns out to be a brilliant choice. Black is a perfume of darkness with tendrils of fog swirling throughout. M. Lie combines accords to form that stygian depth. I get lost in its enveloping effects every time I wear it.

Barbara Herman went from blogger to creative director for Eris Parfums Night Flower. When Ms. Herman wanted to create a line of perfume which re-captured vintage ingredients in contemporary ways M. Lie was her choice as the perfumer she wanted to do that with. Night Flower is the most successful at doing that by taking three ingredients of classic perfumery; birch tar, leather, and tuberose. Together they make Night Flower one of the best Retro Nouveau perfumes to be made.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Chanel Paris-Riviera- Mediterranean Chanel

All perfumers who take their place as an in-house perfumer at a prestige brand they must think of two main things. First, don’t screw it up. Second, how do I make it my own. Over the three years since Olivier Polge took over as in-house perfumer at Chanel, he has certainly achieved the first. The second seems to still be a work in progress. There are some definite trendlines forming; Chanel Paris-Riviera affirms many of those.

Last summer Chanel launched the “Les Eaux de Chanel” collection. They are meant to represent the connection of Coco Chanel and the specific city in the name. The collection is also meant to be an off-shoot group within the Les Exclusifs available at the boutiques. The first three Les Eaux defined their own space within that Les Exclusif oeuvre. As M. Polge has been doing throughout his tenure he has been giving the fragrances he has produced a more pronounced lightness. This is pushed to its extreme with the Les Eaux. Not to an extreme within lighter fragrances just an extreme within Chanel as these are the lightest Chanel perfumes. Which captures the idea of Coco Chanel on vacation exuding an air of sophisticated insouciance. Paris-Riviera continues in that style.

Olivier Polge

The inspiration is Coco Chanel’s home “La Pausa” built on the Cote d’Azur in the 1920’s. this would be where she would entertain others vacationing on the French Riviera. When M. Polge looked at photographs of the time he noticed a lightheartedness to Coco when surrounded by friends. To capture that M. Polge creates a Mediterranean style perfume with Chanel bloodlines.

This begins with a focal point of sun kissed citrus as orange is given delineation by petitgrain. This is a sunny flare typical of summery fragrances. This continues into a heart of jasmine and neroli. I like this combination and M. Polge finds a nice lighthearted balance. The green tinted neroli finds a slightly indolic jasmine an ideal partner. The hint of indoles impart that sunny skin scent usually provided by musks. This ends on a lovely softly comforting benzoin and sandalwood base accord that is pure Chanel.

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

M. Polge has been assiduously lightening the Chanel fragrance aesthetic. In the Les Eaux de Chanel collection I think he is refining that thinking with precision. Paris-Riviera is a laughter filled Mediterranean perfume which feels completely Chanel.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Carine Roitfeld George- Punk Chypre

There are a lot of creative people within the fashion industry I would like to see take the creative direction over a perfume line. Near the top of that list is the former editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris, Carine Roitfeld. Her sense of artistic direction for the magazine was so clear during her time in the post from 2001-2011 it would be interesting to see what she would do in the world of fragrance. Having worked closely with both Karl Lagerfeld and Tom Ford she would have a good idea on what kind of perfume should have her name on it.

Carine Roitfeld

Mme Roitfeld has debuted a line of seven perfumes called the “7 Lovers” collection. Even though each perfume carries a man’s name they really are perfumes of place. For this collection the press materials say she has worked eight years on it. She certainly chose three talented perfumers to work with; Aurelien Guichard, Pascal Gaurin, and Yann Vasnier. I’ve had a sample set for a month, and I am happy to report that Mme Roitfeld did not disappoint I like all seven of her “lovers”. I will be giving full reviews to Aurelien, Kar-Wai, and Sebastian over the next few weeks. Of course there always must be one which rises above; which for me it was Carine Roitfeld George.

Yann Vasnier

George was composed by M. Vasnier meant to capture London and its punk rock aesthetic. The perfume is a floral heart sandwiched between two compellingly green accords one very contemporary and the other as classic as it gets in perfume.

The contemporary green accord is where George begins. M. Vasnier employing the Givaudan ScentTrek process to create a fabulously sticky green cannabis accord. This is that sappy green scent you smell from a container of high-quality marijuana buds. He tunes it with a couple of other green ingredients, galbanum and violet leaf. M. Vasnier finds just the right side of illicit over vegetal with this top accord. Jasmine provides a floral contrast as if someone found a few blooms among the buds. The indolic quality of the jasmine fits right in with the cannabis. Then we turn towards classic perfumery as M. Vasnier fashions a leathery chypre base. This is a modern chypre with animalic bite the perfect complement to the top accord.

George has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

So many perfumes have attempted to capture the punk vibe of London only to miss the mark. George finds it by using a perfumer’s punk mentality at re-inventing a chypre. In the doing they connect like few have before them.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample set supplied by Carine Roitfeld.

Mark Behnke