Under the Radar: Mark Birley for Men- Pierre and Frederic’s Excellent Perfume

The fin de siècle of the past century was a time of transition in perfume, too. As the 1990’s gave way to the 2000’s the rise of niche and independent perfumery was shaking things up. If you look at the period just prior to this, you begin to see the elements we might take for granted twenty years later. At that time, they were riskier attempts to create something different for an audience that might not have existed with no internet to provide word-of-mouth. Many of the people who have become the standard bearers released some amazing perfumes which deserve to be known now when the concepts they represent have a receptive audience. This month in Under the Radar I introduce you to Mark Birley for Men.

Frederic Malle is much of the reason I write about the perfumers behind the fragrances. Prior to him putting their names on the bottles in his Editions de Parfum Frederic Malle brand they were ghosts. Now they are known personalities. M. Malle transitioned into creative direction after working at Roure Bertrand Dupont. He would collaborate with perfumer Pierre Bourdon on Mark Birley for Men. M. Bourdon was the unsung creative behind classics such as Creed Green Irish Tweed, Yves St. Laurent Kouros, and (in collaboration with Christopher Sheldrake) Shiseido Feminite du Bois. These two would create perfume which redefined masculine trends going for sophistication over the prevailing fresh and clean.

Frederic Malle

Mark Birley was a British proprietor of multiple members-only nightclubs throughout the 1960’s and 70’s. His was a name which conjured velvet rope elegance. When he put his name on a perfume that sense of private club sophistication was exemplified by not hewing to the popular trends. Messrs. Malle and Bourdon chose to subvert them instead.

Pierre Bourdon

The perfume opens with a very typical lemon top note. A sunny lens flare which is tamped down with subtle applications of pineapple and melon. The melon gives a smirking call back to the Calone used in M. Bourdon’s aquatics. The pineapple makes the lemon acerbic instead of tart. This falls into a floral heart accord of violet and iris. More violet than iris although a detectable powderiness does arise. Carrot seed provides a rooty sweetness in complement to the iris. The base eschews the sweetness working for a desiccated woodiness via sandalwood, vetiver, and patchouli overlaid with sharp silvery incense and green woody cedar.

Mark Birley for Men has 6-8 hour longevity and average silage.

The seeds of Frederic Malle’s brand were probably planted with Mark Birley for Men. M. Bourdon had the freedom to show off. Together Pierre and Frederic made an excellent perfume which deserves to be lifted from Under the Radar.

Disclosure: This review based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Bruno Acampora Musc- New Signal on the Musk Radar

I probably don’t say this enough, but I adore my readers. I’ve always wanted this blog to be a place to have a discussion. After my Discount Diamonds column on Kiehl’s Musk one reader contacted me through Facebook and asked if I’d ever tried Bruno Acampora Musc. I told her I had not. Then she put me in contact with the brand and they sent me a whole package of samples. It turns out she was absolutely correct about this being another perfume which should be known by those who love full-spectrum musk fragrances. Which means it was a natural to be this month’s Under the Radar choice.

Musc was the inaugural perfume in the Bruno Acampora brand. Founded in 1974 there has been a consistent output of new releases over time. Exploring a brand like this with forty-plus years’ worth of experience it allows me to see Sig. Acampora’s aesthetic through a time-lapse. It is interesting to notice that Musc turns out to be a sturdy platform from which the rest of the collection grows outward from.

Musc opens with not the fierce animalic musk I expected. Instead Sig. Acampora goes for one which evokes rich earth full of decaying humus.  This is a style of musk not often used because it is the furry and feral version which is seemingly more popular. It is a reason why Sig. Acampora’s version stands out. Then like a riotous early spring garden tiny shoots of rose and jasmine provide tiny floral highlights. Clove props up the forest floor aspect. An equally earthy patchouli doubles down on that vibe. A creamy sandalwood provides the base.

Musc has 12-14 hour longevity as a perfume oil. In that form it has little sillage almost entirely a skin scent.

Bruno Acampora is an example of why I want to do this column. A brand working within the independent sector with a definable aesthetic. This is the kind of excellent perfume which gets lost in the clutter of new brands. It shouldn’t. It took a reader to point out my musk radar screen had a new signal. I am extremely grateful to her for making sure I pulled Bruno Acampora Musc up from Under the Radar.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Czech & Speake No. 88- Shaver’s Rose

When it comes to the fragrance portion of the wetshaving forums I frequent there is a tendency to embrace the classic colognes and masculine aesthetics. What that means is lots of woods, citrus, and vetiver. Those are fine ingredients which make up the backbone of many good perfumes. Within those wetshaving forums I am always surprised at the popularity of an unabashed floral perfume; Czech & Speake No. 88.

Czech & Speake pre-dated the niche explosion as British interior designer Frank Sawkins opened a boutique in the Belgravia district of London in 1978. It was a full-service men’s grooming brand along with luxury bathroom fixtures and furniture nodding to the interior designer expertise of Mr. Sawkins. In those early days Czech & Speake was purely a word-of-mouth phenomenon. Once the internet connected the rest of the world to Belgravia the story of No. 88 began to find wider renown.

No. 88 is based on a classic British cologne recipe from Elizabethan times. Updated with modern ingredients it is a great example of this style of perfumery. At its simplest description this is a rose and sandalwood fragrance.

The early moments are all rose. No. 88 starts with the lighter rose nature of geranium. A small amount of bergamot provides a subtle sparkle to the very early moments. The geranium intensifies into a full-spectrum rose. This is a spicy rose not the powdery debutante variety which is not unexpected. To provide an even deeper floral effect cassie and frangipani flesh out the rose into something exuberant. It is tempered by a base of primarily sandalwood. The wood is creamy and slightly sweet. The combination of rose and sandalwood is sublime; this is the core of No. 88. Vetiver provides a barbershop vibe in the later stages.

No. 88 has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

In 2018 the idea of woody roses has become more prevalent in the fragrance world. It is easy for those which led the way, like No. 88, to fall Under the Radar.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Costume National Homme- Cutting-Edge Comfort?

There have been many designers who have entered the niche perfumery category. They all looked to be the next Comme des Garcons. I can safely say that nobody has come close to that record of success. In the early 2000’s there was an interesting contender which had some similarities; Costume National.

Costume National was also a fashion line appealing to a young trendsetting clientele. The founder Ennio Capasa carried that slim silhouette from working in Japan at Yohji Yamamoto fusing it with Milan details. In 1986 it was a sensation which put it on the map. They would become known for a cutting-edge aesthetic which they wanted to spread out into accessories. Starting after the turn of the new century Sig. Capasa added fragrance to the brand portfolio. The very first release in 2002, Scent, was a brilliant encapsulation of the brand. Working with perfumer Laurent Bruyere they would follow that initial triumph with a collection of Scent with five flankers over the next three years. Each was interesting with Scent Intense being the best of the bunch. Just when it seemed Costume National was ready to accelerate they pumped the brakes. Releasing two new perfumes over the next four years. It is that 2009 release Costume National Homme which is my choice for this month’s Under the Radar.

Dominique Ropion

For this release Sig. Capasa changed perfumers from M. Bruyere who had done all the Scents to Dominique Ropion for Homme. I would also venture that Sig. Capasa had tired of being risky because while there are some hints of the aesthetic which runs throughout the Scent Collection it is greatly attenuated. If this column was on creativity it would be one of the Scents which was its topic. Instead it is about one of my favorite cold weather comfort perfumes.

M. Ropion has most of his recognizable signatures on display in Homme. Sandalwood, spices and resins do what you come to expect in one of his perfumes. The twist here is there is an odd synthetic oily accord which oozes through the familiar. That’s what ends up making it Costume National.

A brief flare of citrus via grapefruit and bergamot open things up then cardamom combines with cinnamon to provide a typical spicy top accord. It is here the oily accord appears. The best description I have seen of it was from a Basenotes reviewer “rogalal” who thinks it smells like fake movie theatre butter. I’m not fully in agreement but I don’t have a better shorthand for describing the accord. Once you get underneath that the labdanum, cloves and thyme add a spicy resinous accord which is very comforting. Patchouli and sandalwood are the base accord.

Homme has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Homme is much more comforting than a perfume from Costume National ought to be, except for the oily accord in the middle, it never challenges. Nevertheless, this has been a winter staple ever since I bought a bottle in 2009. If you’re looking for a new brand to explore or need a new cold weather comfort scent, try Costume National Homme.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Caron Nuit de Noel- The Ghost of Christmas Past

Just over my fifty-eight years of life I have watched the Holidays become more casual. Gone are the days of my youth when I wore a new suit for Christmas. Gone is going to Midnight Mass and seeing the congregation dressed up and sparkling in the church. It isn’t just the Holidays it is a general societal shift; one which I don’t truly disapprove of. Although I do sort of wish there was a day when we all agreed we would get dressed-up as one; like a grand Throwback Thursday. I think that is why I enjoy the older perfumes because they still feel like they want to be worn under formal clothing. This is especially true of the early Caron perfumes composed by perfumer Ernest Daltroff. One of them is meant to be that touch of elegance which is missing from modern-day Christmas; Nuit de Noel.

Nuit de Noel was the fourth perfume released under the Caron name by M. Daltroff. It was meant to be a Holiday perfume as the name suggests but every time I wear it I wonder what the Holidays were like in M. Daltroff’s world in 1922. Nuit de Noel is wall-to-wall elegance combined with the use of the Mousse de Saxe base M. Daltroff created. It is the sense of a party where the brightest young things in the world are celebrating the Season.

This Christmas Night opens with a starburst of jasmine; deeply floral and indolic. M. Daltroff blends rose as support. There are many times I consider this to be the star on top of the tree because what comes next is a sturdy trunk of sandalwood and amber. A creamy, slightly spicy, wood. This is where Mousse de Saxe arrives wrapping this fragrant tree in garland. This classic base is comprised of geranium, leather, licorice, and vanilla. It falls somewhere between chypre and leather itself; occupying a necessary middle ground especially in the early days. It is this base which makes Nuit de Noel the masterpiece that it is.

Nuit de Noel has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

In truth the entire Caron collection and M. Daltroff are emblematic of the concept of this Under the Radar column. If you love perfume you should make the effort to seek the brand out it remains one of the Grand Maisons in all of perfumery. When it comes to Nuit de Noel it does feel a bit like the Ghost of Christmas Past because this era of elegance at the Holidays doesn’t exist anymore. Even so, there is nothing wrong with having a drop under your ugly sweater or pajama top to remind you there was a different style a hundred years ago.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar Comme des Garcons X Monocle Scent One Hinoki- A Lemming is Born

One of the fun things about the gathering of perfume lovers that the internet spawned was when lemmings were spawned. The typical life cycle for this was for someone to stumble over a press release describing a perfume to come which sounded amazing. The next stage was a general amplification of desire as it was imagined what it would smell like. Then the first people would get the chance to try it. If they came back and reported it was as good, or better, the stampede was initiated, and we rushed headlong to the cliff…um…I mean the store. The final stage was a kind of post-coital languor as we all talked about how good it was. In 2008 one of the largest lemmings ever born was Comme des Garcons x Monocle Scent One: Hinoki.

Comme des Garcons had serious perfumista cred in 2008 as creative director Christian Astuguevieille had defined what it meant to be a niche fragrance. Merging that aesthetic with a non-fragrance brand was another interesting step. Monocle was a lifestyle magazine founded by Tyler Brule in 2007, Besides lifestyle there were also international affairs stories in between the sleek furniture and cutting-edge fashion. The sensibilities seemed like a good match.

Towards the end of 2007 it was announced that the first perfume from this collaboration was going to be called Scent One: Hinoki. Perfumer Antoine Maisondieu was going to bring the juice to life. Scent One: Hinoki was meant to evoke a soak in a hinoki wood tub amidst a pine forest in Japan. What was great about this perfume when we were in the imagining what it would smell like phase of the lemming cycle was the inclusion of this top note, turpentine. Turpentine? You mean mineral spirits? Lots of debate on whether that was going to be good or not. It, plus another challenging note, would become the acid test on whether it was worth the chase.

Antoine Maisondieu

That other note is camphor and along with the turpentine that is what you get at the start. It is challenging in a nose wrinkling kind of way. When I first tried it on a paper strip it put me off in a big way. When I finally put some on my skin it was completely different as the challenging aspects became more diffused on my skin. Then the camphor and turpentine turn into a raw wood accord. If you’ve ever worked with green wood this is the smell of that. As that fades a more finished wood appears; cypress and pine are the choices. Green is introduced via vetiver, thyme, and moss adding back some of the rawer character lost with the more refined woods ascension. In the base the incense burning just outside the tub swirls over it all.

Scent One: Hinoki has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

During 2008 I was tracking what the most reported scents in the Scent of the Day thread in the forum were. On the men’s forum Scent One: Hinoki was one of the top 5 for the year. The really final stage of a lemming is it is forgotten as the crowd chases the next one. Scent One: Hinoki is good enough it shouldn’t be forgotten or found Under the Radar.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Ginestet Botrytis- Wine Crush

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For me one of the smells of the fall is that of the annual wine crush. It is when all the harvested grapes are fed into the crusher-stemmer right around this time of year. It varies based on the weather. It has always surprised me that there are not more wine-inspired perfumes. So much of the pleasure of wine is associated with swirling in the glass and breathing deeply before sipping. Perhaps one of the reasons is because one of the earliest attempts at this was so good it is hard to compete against it. If you love wine and perfume Ginestet Botrytis needs to be on your radar.

This overlap became the source of conversation when Christian Delpeuch the Managing Director of Ginestet Wine Merchants met perfumer Gilles Toledano. They decided to collaborate on three perfumes which capture the great wines of Bordeaux. Le Boise evokes the smell of the barrels used to age the wine right down to the slightly sweet nature of the wood used to make them. Sauvignonne is an elegant translation of a sauvignon blanc with the snap of grapefruit to the luscious fruit represented by peach. I like both but neither of them really make me think “Wine!” Botrytis does.

Christian Delpeuch

The name refers to the mold which grows on late harvest grapes which helps to remove the water from the grape increasing the concentration of sugars within. This is the kind of grape which is the foundation of many of the sweeter wines on the shelf. What M. Toledano and M. Delpeuch capture here is the moment when these grapes are converted to that sweet nectar. As their inspiration they used perhaps the greatest dessert wine in the world; the Sauternes of Chateau d’Yquem.

The perfume opens on a rich accord of honey and quince forming a densely sweet opening. This is the concentrated sugar of the harvested grape. Botrytis is one of my favorite honey perfumes because of this opening. Over time M. Toledano adds in other dried fruits as you can almost feel the mold drying out the grape. Just when it begins to approach the level of becoming cloying M. Toledano cuts it all with a fantastic accord built on pain d’epice. The French spice bread is here with the yeasty doughy feel infused with a mélange of spices. It breaks the sweetness as you can imagine the fermentation process beginning to take place. The final part of this is a combination of jasmine and tuberose adding an indolic exhalation across the entire construction.

Botrytis has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

There have only been a couple of perfumes which have expertly captured the place where perfume and wine intersect. Botrytis is the best of them all.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Vicky Tiel Ulysse- Found Treasure

My relationship with the perfume industry has evolved over the years. My desire to learn more has widened at the same pace my reach has. I don’t really look back to the early days of my perfume self-education wishing for a return engagement; except for one tiny part.

Those of you who live in the US know these perfume stores. They have kitschy punny names in a small storefront or kiosk. The boxes of perfume are stacked upon each other making you look behind each one hoping to find something worth digging out of the clutter. I always joked it was my version of walking the beach with a metal detector hoping to find gold. The successful perfume salvage missions are the ones I remember. There were more examples of finding something which turned out to be a bottle cap. This month’s Under the Radar choice, Vicky Tiel Ulysse, is one of those exhumed treasures which still shines today.

I was in a store in South Florida digging through the boxes hoping to find something. The owner was hovering nearby and he smelled good. It probably took an hour before I asked him what he was wearing. He pointed at a box which said Vicky Tiel Ulysse on it. When he told me how cheap it was ($15/100mL ~15 yrs ago) that sounded like a decent blind buy. Ulysse has turned out to be one of my evergreen bottles which I have replaced twice. It is a fresh style Oriental full of weird nuances and ingredients. Every time I wear it I am reminded how good it is. It is one of my fall stalwarts which means it is a good time to bring this on to peoples’ radar screens.

Vicky Tiel

Vicky Tiel was a cult fashion designer before that was really a thing. She would be the costume designer on Woody Allen’s “What’s New Pussycat?” in 1965. From there she would become part of the jet set hobnobbing with Liz and Dick, dancing at Maxim’s and making the scene what it was. Over time she would eventually start her own fashion line. Ms. Tiel is probably a designer whose name you are reading for the first time but if you’ve seen the movie “Pretty woman” the dress Julia Roberts’ character wears to the opera is a Vicky Tiel. Ms. Tiel’s memoir “It’s All About the Dress” covers a life painted in the splashiest of colors. This verve carries through to Ulysse.

Hugh Spencer

The perfumer she chose to work with on her early perfumes was also a free-spirit within the perfume world; Hugh Spencer. I would have enjoyed sitting in the room as Ulysse came to be. I have to think the phrase “It has to be bigger” was said a few times. I also think the phrase “make it fresh” was also tossed around. Together they did achieve the desired fresh Oriental.

Ulysse opens with the fresh part firmly in citrus territory as yuzu is the tart core. It is cleverly supported with linden and neroli adding in their floral nuanced lime and orange. It is fresh in a way I wish more perfumes would attempt. The floral quality becomes more pronounced with lavender becoming the dominant note. It is joined by cardamom and nutmeg keeping the herbal nature of lavender in the foreground. The Oriental base is formed from the classic components of patchouli, benzoin, vanilla, and musk. It is a sturdy version of this classic base which paired with the fresh and floral phases leading to it make the whole very good.

Ulysse has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This has been one of my personal favorites from day one that I have owned it. It deserves to be on the radar screen.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: 10 Corso Como- Rose Sandalcense

They say everything old is new again. In other words, live long enough and everything you own is eventually on trend. One of the trends that has begun taking hold in fragrance is that of the simple combination of three or four ingredients. I think that this style of perfume while simple is not facile. The perfumer must be very precise to get the correct balance. When there are so few notes each one carries more weight. Because of this I started thinking back on which perfumes from the past might have become new again. As soon as I began this process one jumped right to the front of my thoughts, 10 Corso Como.

When 10 Corso Como came out in 1999 it became a cult fragrance. Initially only available in Europe it began to be as desired as Coors beer used to be East of the Mississippi. I can’t remember when I finally tried it but I certainly saw it spoken of in the early perfume forums. I do remember being fascinated at how this simple perfume was so compelling. It was one of those early perfumes which seemingly affixed my wrist to my nose.

Carla Sozzani

10 Corso Como is named after the fashion line overseen by Carla Sozzani. Sig.ra Sozzani wanted to add a fragrance to her fashion boutique in Milan. She turned to perfumer Olivier Gillotin to produce that. What they came up with was a triad of sandalwood, incense, and rose.

Olivier Gillotin

10 Corso Como opens with sandalwood paired with an incense accord made up of vetiver and oud. It is a fascinating choice by M. Gillotin. Straight frankincense would have been too austere against the sandalwood. Instead the vetiver-oud accord forms a softer version of incense which settles on top of the sandalwood. This combination is what made 10 Corso Como stand out early on. It provided an alternative to the church incense style which was becoming popular. The rose takes some time to insert itself into things. Again M. Gillotin adds some geranium to add a bit of green to it all which then accentuates the green within the vetiver. At this point as the vetiver decouples from the oud that note starts to provide a slightly medicinal contrast to the sandalwood. A few musks are sprinkled in at the end.

10 Corso Como has 4-6 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I have enjoyed 10 Corso Como for years because of its simplicity. If you are enjoying the current trend take a look back in time and under the radar for 10 Corso Como.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Divine L’Homme Sage- The Wise Man of Perfume

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I don’t remember which store it was in New York I tried Divine L’Homme Sage for the first time. I feel like it was either Henri Bendel or Takashimaya but I don’t know with any certainty. What I do remember was I mentioned I liked spices and immortelle. The sales associate handed me a bottle from a brand I had never heard of prior to that day. Once I had some L’Homme Sage on a wrist; by the time I went to sleep I knew I would be buying a bottle. That would begin my discovery of this independent perfume brand from France.

Yvon Mouchel

Divine was begun in 1986 by owner-creative director Yvon Mouchel. Based in the town of Dinard in Brittany M. Mouchel would enlist a fellow artist from the same region; perfumer Yann Vasnier. M. Mouchel would give M. Vasnier his first brief for the debut of the brand with the self-named Divine. For seventeen years that was it. M. Mouchel believes “A great perfume is a work of art” and so it seemed he had accomplished his goal. Somewhere during those years, he decided there was more he had to say. Starting in 2003 he reunited with M. Vasnier and would produce nine new Divine releases until 2014.  

It was that day in New York which brought me to the Divine story somewhat in the middle. L’Homme Sage was the overall fifth release; coming out in 2005. Because of that I had no sense of a brand aesthetic I just knew this particular one appealed to me. As I would come to experience the rest of the collection I would come to realize this was as much a part of M. Mouchel’s vision as the other ones were.

Yann Vasnier

If you read the name L’Homme Sage and are expecting clary sage to be found in the perfume you will be disappointed. L’Homme Sage refers to the “wise man” with sage being the wise part of the name. The perfume is a classy spicy Oriental with the formation of three distinct accords.

L’Homme Sage opens with mandarin coated in syrup. The syrup is provided by lychee. It diffuses the citrus allowing for cardamom and saffron the opportunity to find some space to form a spicy sweet citrus top accord. A transitional use of immortelle bridges the top accord to the heart of patchouli, balsam, and incense. This forms a resinous heart accord which provides warmth. The base is cedar and guaiac combined with cistus and styrax which continues the warmth. The final ingredient it the subtle bite of oakmoss.

L’Homme Sage has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

The point of this column is to shine the light on some great brands which are still out there but do not keep up a consistent release rate. M. Mouchel very much lives the credo that his perfumes should be a “work of art”. That means they do not arrive on a timetable but on a creative schedule. That is the brand aesthetic which can be discovered if you try any of the Divine perfumes.

L’Homme Sage has always been a part of my perfume rotation because it is exactly what I look for.

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

Mark Behnke