My Favorite Things: Cognac

The end of February always drives me to drink. I hate the colorless world which greets me at the end of winter. One of my favorite winter drinks is a snifter of fine cognac to sip. This is also the time of year when the perfume I own which has cognac in it find their time to shine. Here are five of my favorites.

Banana Republic Black Walnut was a perfume which challenged my perfume snobbery. By the time I walked in to the store at my local mall I expected to be underwhelmed. What I found was a simple mixture of cognac, tobacco, and cedar. Perfumer Harry Fremont could have named this “Cigar Bar” and it would have been as accurate.

A more creative version of cognac and tobacco comes from House of Cherry Bomb Tobacco Cognac. Independent perfumers Alexis Karl and Maria McElroy. This is the indie flip side to the commercial quality of Black Walnut. Tobacco Cognac does everything just a bit better and adds in the rare ingredients of ambergris, oud, along with a fabulously viscous honey accord. This is that secret hideaway where pleasures are more complex.

Pierre Guillaume Liqueur Charnelle is a pure cognac accord. I enjoy these perfumes where the pieces of the accord come forth individually until they all snap together. When Liqueur Charnelle does form the cognac accord it is a monument of the skill of perfumer Pierre Guillaume. I know how good it is because Mrs. C accused me of spilling cognac on myself while I was wearing it.

Krigler Established Cognac 66 is one of the most unique perfumes I own. Ben Krigler forms a rich cognac accord which he makes the nucleus of an outstanding gourmand style of fragrance. To do that he surrounds that boozy heart with apple, caramel and a fabulously odd banana. I am always reminded of having a decadent dessert prepared tableside with a whoosh of flaming cognac.

You might not think a cognac brand would also be a perfume brand. Frapin manages to straddle both worlds. It is no mistake that their first perfume, Frapin 1270, was an abstract version of what it smells like in the cellars where cognac is made. Perfume Sidonie Lancesseur creates the milieu from the sharp scent of the grapes, the woods of the barrel, a hint of the mustiness of the cellar. It carries a more transparent aspect of cognac as this is more what goes into it rather than the final product. I think this is one of Mme Lancesseur’s best perfumes of her career.

Instead of drink the winter away join me in sniffing it away.

Disclosure: This is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Tea

As we are firmly in the middle of winter where I need something to lift my spirits I turn to a hot cup of tea. I think I enjoy it because it carries a fragrant quality to the different types. Tea perfumes emulate that. One thing which always allows me to enjoy tea perfumes is the ingredient is not able to be extracted as an essential oil. That means this is another ingredient where a perfumer must construct their own signature tea accord. Here are five of my favorites.

Bvlgari Eau Parfumee au The Vert is the beginning of the tea trend in perfume. It is also remarkable for being one of the first releases where perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena’s style emerges in finished form. Today we take both for granted; in 1993 they were groundbreaking. M. Ellena forms a citrusy floral transparency through which tendrils of smoky green tea swirl. It is one of the all-time great perfumes.

Another perfumer known for her transparent style is Olivia Giacobetti in 2001’s L’Artisan Parfumeur Tea for Two she would create her own version. She chose to make a lapsang souchong accord which is where the fragrance begins. The scent of wood smoke dried black tea is gorgeously realized. Mme Giacobetti then adds some cinnamon followed by a veil of honey in the base. Among the best perfumes by one of the best perfumers.

Another take on the lapsang souchong accord came from independent perfumer Mandy Aftel in Aftelier Vanilla Smoke. Ms. Aftel constructs a pine wood dried version of the black tea accord. It adds the perfect amount of counterbalance to the vanilla. The real linchpin is an interstitial saffron which provides the spacing between the vanilla and the tea. This is another example of Ms. Aftel’s ability to find the most out of her accords.

The creative directors of Masque Milano, Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi, wanted to create a Russian tea ritual in a snowy St. Petersburg square. Perfumer Julien Rasquinet intersperses mint and smoke through his black tea accord before using a brilliantly conceived immortelle. That maple syrup quality transforms Russian Tea into the best tea perfume of the last few years.

Parfum D’Empire Osmanthus Interdite is one of those jasmine tea flowers which unfurl in a clear teapot. Perfumer Marc-Antoine Corticchiato uses jasmine and Osmanthus as floral components to a green tea accord which melds seamlessly with the florals. This is the fragrance equivalent of watching that jasmine tea rose languorously unfold in the tea pot.

If you’re looking for a little warmth this winter try wearing a cuppa perfume.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Chestnut

It isn’t Christmas without Nat King Cole singing “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” If you’re walking in New York City the smell of roasting chestnuts from the street vendors is part of the cold weather milieu. When it comes to chestnut being a keynote in a fragrance there are not a lot of them. Although I do have five which can be my scented companion to the smooth vocals of Mr. Cole.

There are two chestnuts roasting perfumes on this list. The first is Maison Martin Margiela Replica: By The Fireplace. Perfumer Marie Salamagne keeps the cade wood smoke to a minimum while weaving a cozy accord of chestnut warmed with clove and vanilla. It comes together as a fragrance equivalent of a snuggly cashmere blanket.

The other one is DSH Perfumes Chataignes du Bois which was Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s Holiday perfume in 2017. She produced a full-spectrum chestnut effect as she combined multiple sources to form an uber-chestnut accord. What endears it to me is there is a burnt sugar accord underneath it all which takes me back to winter nights running around NYC.

Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour has used chestnut in two different perfumes for L’Artisan Parfumeur.

Mechant Loup was one of M. Duchaufour’s earliest perfumes for the brand in 1997. The core of this perfume is a nutty accord of chestnut and hazelnut coated in honey. It was one of the first nutty perfumes I fell for although I was resistant to its charms at first. The nuts and honey are powerful but if you give it time a gorgeous use of myrrh turns the Big Bad Wolf into a puppy.

Twenty years later M. Duchaufour returned to chestnut with Noir Exquis. Meant to capture a café encounter in Paris over coffee and pastries the chestnut is candied to represent the baked goods. The coffee is nicely realized. What makes this different is his use of a maple syrup accord which makes it all sweeter than I expected. There are days I want to slow down for a pastry and a coffee, Noir Exquis allows me to do it in a decaffeinated low-calorie way.

Etat Libre D’Orange Fat Electrician is the most interesting use of chestnut in a perfume. Perfumer Antoine Maisondieu wanted this to be a different interpretation of vetiver. To achieve that he used chestnut to amplify the nutty facets of vetiver. This is one of my favorite vetiver perfumes because of how successful he was. He takes that nuttier vetiver and wraps it in vanilla and myrrh for a completely unique vetiver fragrance because of the chestnut.

If you want some chestnuts on your skin instead of the fire these five will do the job.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Beeswax

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There are certain ingredients in perfume which have such a multi-faceted character I enjoy smelling the absolute on its own. Beeswax absolute is one of those. Created by extracting hives which have been around for years. Depending on where those hives are from each version has its own scent profile. What is common is a musky honey infused with the pollen harvested from whatever indigenous plant life surrounds the hive. While the absolute is great by itself it is even better when used in a perfume here are five of my favorites.

Chanel Antaeus pour Homme was my first experience with beeswax in perfume although I didn’t know it at the time. It was part of my early expansion of my perfume collection. It provides a bit of animalic muskiness underneath the sage, patchouli, and labdanum spine. I was attracted to it because of that.

I talk about inflection points by perfumers all the time. Ineke Field Notes From Paris was that for independent perfumer Ineke Ruhland. The beeswax brings home a gorientalmand base stitching together tonka bean, vanilla, and amber. Prior to that is the smell of a Paris day.

Rubini Fundamental is one of the most original perfumes of the last few years. The creative team of Andrea Bissoli Rubini, Ermano Picco, and perfumer Cristiano Canali created a perfume capturing Verona in 1937 with the actors, in greasepaint, taking a break underneath the grape arbor. It is beeswax which provides the linchpin to the greasepaint accord mixed with the grapes in the heart of Fundamental. If you’re looking for something completely different this is where you should go.

Maria Candida Gentile released a trio of perfumes in 2014 called “Flight of the Bumblebee”. Within that she used three different sources of beeswax. It was Leuco and its powdery French beeswax which was my favorite. It was the counterweight to a keynote of tuberose. The beeswax provided a muffling effect while also adding a shimmering effect over the top of it all. Leuco is my favorite of al of Sig.ra Gentile’s perfumes.

For a straightforward beeswax experience there is nothing better than Sonoma Scent Studio Bee’s Bliss. Independent perfumer Laurie Erickson created a perfume which captures the entire process of honey. Starting with mimosa as the flower harvested on top of a rich honey accord. The beeswax represents the hive along with vetiver representing the propolis which holds the cells together. It is a gorgeous abstraction of harvesting honey fresh from the hive.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Whisky

One thing my rotation of different perfume styles based on the season has exposed that I do it for other things. I’ve been rearranging my liquor shelves too. The things I like to drink in the cooler months are the soliflores of the alcohol world. Whisky is one of them. There are also some great whisky perfumes in this month’s My Favorite Things looks at five whisky perfumes.

One of the most recent is Nasomatto Baraonda. Independent perfumer Alessandro Gualtieri returned to his flagship brand after a bit of a break with a bold whisky laden perfume. He hands you a snifter loaded with dried berries and synthetic musks. Sig. Gualtieri balances out all the rough edges into a smooth sipping fragrance.

One of the reasons I like Baraonda is it reminded me of the early releases from the brand. The same is true for By Kilian Single Malt. After a few years of going off in different directions Single Malt re-teamed creative director Kilian Hennessy and perfumer Sidonie Lancesseur. They created a beautifully constructed whisky accord which starts with plum slowly coming together via wheat, cedar, tolu balsam, and vanilla. Once it forms you have a fantastic whisky on your skin.

Thierry Mugler A*Men Pure Malt was the second flanker in what I consider the best flanker series in all of perfume. In these early releases original A*Men perfumer Jacques Huclier seemed to delight in adding in a new ingredient to show the versatility of the classic caramel, patchouli, and chocolate accord. In this case it is a whisky accord which teases out the caramel while amplifying the sweetness in all the best whiskies. I keep a little tin of high-quality caramel which I eat a bit of when I’m sipping whisky; it started here.

Another combination of sweet and whisky is present in Carolina Herrera CH Men Prive. Perfumer Christophe Raynaud uses whisky as contrast to the citrus opening of grapefruit, complement to the lavender in the heart and depth along with a black leather accord in the base. This is a rugged masculine perfume.

My final choice comes from a collaboration between independent perfumer David Seth Moltz (the D.S. in D.S. & Durga) and the scotch producer Glenlivet. Hylnds Spirit of the Glen wants to capture the bouquet of a Glenlivet 18. This is a complete experience of scotch in a perfume. Grassy fruity opening deepens into a hay and chamomile heart. When you get to the base with whisky malt and barley you are complete.

If you’re in a whisky mood but don’t feel like a drink, try these five perfumes instead.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Clove

Fall is coming. Which means it is time to start thinking about my favorite spicy perfumes. One spice carries a fantastic character when it is used in fragrance; clove. It is an ingredient which can be tuned to feel like a bit of incense or tilted to a rougher edge. When used well it is imparts something different from the typical spices you find. Here are five of my favorites.

There was a Diptyque boutique on Newbury St. in Boston. It was always an experience in what niche perfumery was all about. Diptyque as a brand did that right from the start with Diptyque L’Eau. Based on an old English potpourri recipe the clove is the linchpin for all the spices in the top accord before going to a rose and sandalwood base. One of my favorite Holiday scents but I also wear it in October.

My first experience with the smell of cloves was at the end of French clove cigarettes called Kreteks. I was always drawn to it especially since it seemed to be a symbol of personal rebellion for those puffing on them. The perfume which captures this best is Ava Luxe Tabak Kretek. Indie perfumer Serena Ava Goode uses clove, tobacco, cinnamon, and cardamom to produce the scent of a Kretek which doesn’t make me have to inhale smoke.

Clove tends to show up more often in indie releases. Perhaps the best use of it came in Charenton Macerations Christopher Street. Creative director Douglas Bender and perfumer Ralf Schwieger use it to provide a clove orange effect in the heart. Orange blossom and cinnamon round it out. The tobacco on top and the musks below make it one of my favorite fall perfumes.

One of my all-time favorite perfumes is Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant. During the mid-1990’s creative renaissance at Kenzo this was the best of all of them. Creative director Celine Verleure and perfumer Dominique Ropion produced a luxurious spicy perfume by adding in the oiliness of ylang-ylang to an olfactory spice rack. The clove is one of the most prominent notes in this. This perfume is very close to being my all-time Favorite Thing because it is so good. It is one of my rituals to greet the first chilly morning in fall wearing this.

Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur is one of the best Oriental fragrances perfumer Maurice Roucel has produced. It has one of those outsized reputations which it lives up to. M. Roucel also goes the spiced citrus route. By using equal amounts of clove and cinnamon to liven up tangerine it is the more compelling part of the development. The base is sweet vanilla and sandalwood with subtle musk attached. The colder it is the more I smell the clove and cinnamon; which is why it is a cold weather staple.

Looking to add some spice to your fall roatation? Give these five clove standouts a try.

Disclosure: I purchased a botlle of each perfume.

-Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Tar

When it comes to the scents of summer most of us think of beaches, fruits, and green growing things. I was reminded of another less referenced scent of summer with some road construction in front of my house; tar. Birch tar has been one of the key components of leather accords. Even though the overall effect is that of tanned cowhide when I wear these perfumes there is also a hint of country blacktop, too. Here are five of my favorite tar perfumes.

In 1927 Chanel perfumer Ernest Beaux would use birch tar as the key ingredient in his “Russian leather” accord. It would be the beginning of its widespread use for nearly the next 100 years. Cuir de Russie has been a part of the Les Exclusifs collection and it shows off a raw tanned leather as the name promises. M. Beaux tempers it with the use of aldehydes, jasmine, and sandalwood. Don’t kid yourself though this is all about the leather; gloriously so.

Two years before Cuir de Russie perfumers Francois Coty and Vincent Roubert produced an unabashedly straightforward leather fragrance, Knize Ten. The perfumers make one of the most full-bodied leather perfumes ever. Their accord reminds me of not only birch tar but the motor oil scent of a garage. It might sound unpleasant, but it is mesmerizing to me. A musky patchouli sandalwood base accord is the main complement to the uber-leather accord.

I leave it to Comme des Garcons to give me the exact scent of overheated asphalt. In 2004’s Series 6 Synthetic: Tar perfumer Nathalie Feisthauer accomplishes it. She uses birch tar as the nucleus but expertly weaves in styrax, castoreum, and opoponax. It is exactly what the road in front of my house smells like this month. It is this aesthetic which has elevated Comme des Garcons above so many of their contemporaries.

Just as Tar is emblematic of the creativity at Comme des Garcons the existence of Le Labo Patchouli 24 does the same for that brand. Perfumer Annick Menardo finds the intersection of birch tar and patchouli to create a fascinating pungency. That she adds in a bit of sweet vanilla as contrast to it only serves to delineate it all. Another great perfume from one of the true innovators of niche perfumery.

Even though it was the smell of summer road work which got me in to this column; Sonoma Scent Studio Winter Woods is how you use tar along with cade wood to create that winter haze of woodsmoke. Those two ingredients form one of the most intense woodsmoke accords I have. Independent perfumer Laurie Erickson spends the rest of the development taming the smoke with warm amber, clean cedar, green vetiver, and sweet sandalwood. It is among the best that this talented artisanal perfumer has produced.

As I look back over this list it might be the most imaginative list I’ve produced for this series. Every one of these perfumes are among the best of the brands and styles described. If you love perfume this is something to get on the road to try.

Disclosure: this review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Camphor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: The Summer Perfume Playlist

As Memorial Day approached last week I was busy refurbishing my summer music playlist. The songs have to be light fun and made for singing at the top of my lungs in the car. It gets a little longer every year as a couple of songs from the previous summer are added to my evergreen collection of songs I associate with long sunny days. At about the same time I was arranging the perfume on my shelves to get the ones I like on my perfume playlist out in front. As I was looking at them I realized that there is also a group of five I like wearing every summer because they are part of what makes the season for me. I thought I’d share my summer perfume playlist in this month’s My Favorite Things.

It might be the alpha perfume, or more accurately the alpha cologne, but there is nothing I enjoy more than spraying myself with a healthy coating of Roger & Gallet Jean Maria Farina Extra Vieille. Reputedly the original cologne recipe: lemon, rosemary, and orange blossom. It lasts for a short time, but it refreshes just as much as any three-chord rocker like “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” by The Ramones. Gabba Gabba Hey.

When I want something as bright as the noonday sun I choose Chanel Allure Homme Edition Blanche. Perfumers Jacques Polge and Francois Demachy open with a fantastic shiny fanfare of lemon before heading to a lightly woody base. I seem to hum “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves when I wear this.

Summer isn’t summer unless you spend some time at the beach. The Different Company Sel de Vetiver captures the smell of salt water on skin matched with vetiver and grapefruit to capture the dune grass and the sun. Perfumer Celine Ellena makes a fragrant version of “Surfin USA” by The Beach Boys.

What might be the omega cologne, Thierry Mugler Cologne, is one of the best reinterpretations of a classic fragrance style that exists. Perfumer Alberto Morillas uses the same lemon and orange blossom seen in many colognes but by threading a lot of white musks through that duo he creates something brilliant. This is the summer perfume I wear when I want to smile like “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch.

I discovered Diptyque Philosykos near the end of a particular summer. It conjures end of season memories for me with perfumer Olivia Giacobetti’s transparent fig providing the coda to the summer before fall arrives. Just like “Boys of Summer” by Don Henley.

For the next three months all five perfumes and five songs will be on heavy rotation. See if you want to add them to your summer playlist.

Disclosure: Reviews based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Strawberry

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As I mentioned a year ago, when the subject of this column was rhubarb perfumes, this time of year has a natural partner to rhubarb; strawberry. By the time I write this column a month from now it is likely a strawberry-rhubarb pie will be cooling on the counter. Strawberry in perfume has a quality that sometimes can come off as adolescent in nature. There are a few which manage to take that ingredient and make something more sophisticated here are five of those.

Back in 2006 when Romano Ricci debuted his new perfume brand Juliette Has A Gun one of the two releases, Miss Charming, featured strawberry. Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian called it “wild strawberry’ which meant a strong green component to the sweet berry. It rests on top of a velvet rose where an interesting use of lychee tones down the typical flamboyance of rose. A swirl of musks finishes this off with an expansive air. This was one of the first times I noticed strawberry in a positive way in a perfume.

Wild strawberry would return in Marc Jacobs Daisy in the fall of 2007. Perfumer Alberto Morillas uses it as part of a grapefruit-strawberry top accord. Violet leaves pick up the green more efficiently leading to a gardenia and jasmine heart while the violet flowers alongside them. A typical woody-vanilla base round it out. This has been one of the great mainstream successes of the last ten years and much of that is due to M. Morillas’ touch with the modern fruity floral.

My favorite straight out strawberry perfume is Montale Mukhallat. Done in the brand’s unabashedly bombastic style the strawberry is matched with almond, vanilla, and balsam. This is like a freight train with the strawberry in the cow catcher position. When I feel like catching a ride on the Strawberry Express this is what I reach for.

I adore the opening of slumberhouse Sadanne as it always smells of candy apples flavored with strawberry. This seems like perfumer Josh Lobb’s commentary on fruity floral fragrance. This becomes clearer in the heart as the florals are purposefully made somewhat sour so that they contrast with the sugary sweetness of the top accord. Then it heads to dirty musky territory which scares off all the fruit and flowers. One of my favorites from the brand.

Imaginary Authors Cape Heartache finds a unique partner for the strawberry, pine. Perfumer Josh Meyer shows that coniferous berries are the pairing I didn’t know I wanted. They each manage to attenuate the other leaving a middle harmonic which works. A bit of woodsmoke skirls through as if the smoke from a bonfire is caught in the boughs of the tree. It is a midnight in the forest scent with a bit of strawberry along for the ride.

Strawberry doesn’t always have to be childish these five show that to be true.

Disclosure: This review was based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke