Flanker Round-Up: Dolce & Gabbana The Only One and Prada L’Homme Absolu

January is a time for me to clean up loose ends from my desk. This month’s Flanker Round-Up allows me to tie off a couple of those; Dolce & Gabbana The Only One and Prada L’Homme Absolu.

Dolce & Gabbana The Only One

I have been very critical about the number and quality of flankers of the original 2006 Dolce & Gabbana The One. Almost annually I received an example of why flankers are held in such low esteem. This year with The Only One I received something which broke that trend; mainly by following one of the prevailing fragrance trends.

Perfumer Violaine Collas was not working off the blueprint from Christine Nagel’s original. Mme Collas was designing a perfume for the current day. That meant she came up with a floral gourmand.

The Only One opens with a zippy citrus top accord. It gives way quickly to the heart accord where violet and coffee form the floral and the gourmand components. The violet is a slightly candied version which contrasts with a similarly shaded bitter coffee. It adds some vanilla cream to the mix before patchouli brings things to a close. If you are enjoying the floral gourmand style The Only One is a good addition to that genre.

Prada L’Homme Absolu

Perfumers sometimes fall in love with a set of notes or accords. You see it crop up again and again. For Prada in-house perfumer Daniela Andrier it is the triad of neroli, iris, and cedar. It has been hard to improve upon her original Infusion D’Iris. When L’Homme Prada came out in 2016 she returned to this and I wasn’t impressed. Prada L’Homme Absolu is also another interpretation but by enhancing the spices I liked it better.

The main alteration happens right at the start as cardamom and black pepper are given a more prominent place with the iris. I liked this change and it carries forward into the neroli and geranium joining in. The typical ambery cedar which is the traditional base accord is the end. I still haven’t found anything better than Infusion D’Iris but the added spiciness in Prada L’Homme Absolu will be appealing to someone looking for that.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by the manufacturers.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Paul Sebastian PS For Men- A Couple Guys From Jersey Make A Perfume

I’m used to people asking me what perfume I’m wearing. I very rarely ask the same question in return. While I was at a local Holiday party, I was making small talk with a new acquaintance. As he kept moving around, I was catching the scent of a really nice cologne. For a while I tried to see if I could place it as one of the current department store offerings. It had more of a throwback vibe to it for me to think it was that. It was made up of so many of the usual perfume suspects I was pretty sure it wasn’t a niche perfume. He didn’t seem like a guy who would be looking for indie fragrances. He definitely didn’t seem like a DIY fragrance person. I finally had to ask. He told me it was Paul Sebastian PS For Men.

Paul Sebastian is not an actual person. The brand name was created by using the middle names of two guys from New Jersey; Leonard Paul Cuozzo and Alan Sebastian Greco. Mr. Cuozzo lived near the plant of one of the major perfume oil producers. He would find the smaller perfume oil house of Fritzsche, Dodge, & Olcott in an adjacent Jersey town. Over a few years he worked with perfumers there to arrive at a formula which could be produced. This is where Mr. Greco enters the story. He was the business guy. A sales manager for a large national firm he had some ideas on a business plan. With a perfume formula, a business plan, and some seed money they produced their first bottles. Selling them at three local New Jersey men’s stores in 1979. Proximity to New York City must have had other men asking the same question I did. When they got the answer Messrs. Cuozzo and Greco began to expand their production and distribution. One of their early innovations was the “gift with purchase” first with teddy bears then small figurines. It all started with PS For Men.

It is easy to see that Mr. Cuozzo’s creative direction was to oversee a softer Oriental than the other masculine fragrance offerings in the mid-1970’s. As he worked through iterations with the perfumers at Fritzsche, Dodge, & Olcott I can imagine him asking for a lightening up of the style. It is what ends up in the bottle.

It opens with spice swathed lavender; nutmeg and clove predominantly. Those spices help keep the rose from getting too out of control. It is here where PS For Men finds its balancing point as spices and florals swirl around each other. A classic amber, patchouli, and musk base provides the finish.

PS For Men has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

If you’re looking for a lighter Oriental style perfume for the office PS For Men is a great choice. This is not a perfume where you will leave a vapor trail. As I’ve re-introduced myself to my well-hidden bottle, I am impressed at how timeless this feels. It doesn’t have a dated quality to it. This can be found for under $25 in multiple places. Not bad for a couple of guys from Jersey.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Rouge Bunny Rouge Embers- The Scent of a Smoky Eye

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Now that the holidays are past my winter fragrance selections shift a bit. I mainly wear resins and woods with some spice. As I was rearranging the perfume shelf to bring that group of perfumes to the front, I found an ideal candidate for this column; Rouge Bunny Rouge Embers.

The readers who wear makeup will immediately recognize the brand. Rouge Bunny Rouge is a successful cosmetic brand known for its fun attitude. What is much less known is the fragrance selections that were produced from 2012-2015. Founder and creative director Alexandra de Montfort decided to add fragrances to the repertoire at that time. Mme de Montfort created two collections the “Fragrant Confections” and the “Provenance Tales”. For all the perfumes that were produced she worked with excellent perfumers.

Alexandra de Montfort

The Provenance Tales collection was meant to be a selection of elemental perfumes. Embers is meant to represent fire. Working with perfumer Shyamala Maisondieu they came up with a fragrance which glows on my skin.

Shyamala Maisondieu

Embers opens with a top accord focused on clove. This is the kind of clove which trends towards an incense-like scent profile. Baie rose and nutmeg provide some support, but the clove carries most of the early moments until a steely eyed incense arises out of it. This forms an intense accord as the clove and incense combine. Mme Maisondieu shrouds it with fresh florals of jasmine and freesia to bank the roaring fire. What remains as the base accord comes in to play is the glowing embers. They are kept pulsing a gentle orange using sandalwood, styrax, and peru balsam. By these end stages Embers lives up to its name.

Embers has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

As I mentioned in the opening this is a perfume collection which flies under the radar because it generally is only found at the Rouge Bunny Rouge cosmetic counters. It is a shame because all six of the Provenance Tales are excellent choices for men. The only way they are going to find them is to be there with a woman in their life and notice the perfume bottles. To get the Rouge Bunny Rouge on your radar it might require you to brave the land of the smoky eye to find a scent which Is definitely worth that trip.

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

Mark Behnke

My Mother’s Christmas Present

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Last year’s Christmas post was triggered by smelling some vintage Guerlain Mitsouko. Writing that was like a fever dream which spilled out of me. In the days after I posted that my memory was jogged again about a Christmas Eve shopping trip with my father to buy my mother a present. It seemed like the appropriate follow-up to last year’s story.

The reason there is a cliché about men shopping on Christmas Eve is because there is some truth there. My father and I would get up every Christmas Eve to go shopping for gifts for my mother. I never thought there was any other way to do it. I don’t know this, but I suspect my mother enjoyed a bit of the lull before the storm by having us out of the house.

Downtown Miami Jordan-Marsh 1960-ish

I loved the shopping expedition because we went to the most elegant department store in Miami; Jordan-Marsh. This was when stores like this were wonderlands filled with the latest technology. I was fascinated with the glass room which contained the record players and sound systems. You would step into the soundproofed booth to be surrounded by stereo sound…stereo! I remember walking from one speaker to the other realizing I was hearing different things from each one. It was a modern marvel.

The housewares department was even more fantastic with the latest and the greatest. There was someone demonstrating non-stick frying pans. Look! Melted cheese slides right out! There was an ice cream parlor where we would have lunch. There were people buying wine in the Wine Cellar. It wasn’t sensory overload it was just enough to satiate my need for novel experiences.

We would look all around the store considering this new-fangled thing or that. I remember advocating for the non-stick frying pan one year. We ended up at the same place every year standing at the Women’s Fragrance counter.

My mother wore only two perfumes Guerlain Mitsouko and Guerlain Shalimar. When we got to the counter a nicely dressed woman would patiently greet the latest clueless males venturing into unknown territory. We would mention that those were the perfumes my mother wore. We would be offered paper strips with the latest perfume. “Straight from Paris” she would say.  My father and the saleswoman would begin to talk. I tuned them out as I smelled the strip. I tried to imagine my mother smelling like what was on the paper. I couldn’t. To me my mother simply smelled like Mitsouko or Shalimar. There was no alternative.

When my father asked me about the new perfume, I would reply I didn’t think Mom would like it. I think my Dad thought so too but he let me be the bearer of disappointing news to the saleswoman. He would ask for one of the two Guerlains and we had finished. We would go upstairs to gift wrapping and get an extravagantly intricate design.

On Christmas morning when I would hand my mother the gift from Dad and me; she undoubtedly knew what was inside. She would carefully undo the wrapping paper. Pulling out the box she would smile at Dad and I with the words, “My favorite!”

It wasn’t the perfect gift; whatever that might have been. It was a gift which told my mother we loved the way she smelled.

Mark Behnke

‘Twas the Practically Perfect Night Before Christmas

This is the ninth year I have done a variation on the classic “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore for my Christmas Eve post. For 2017 I was a bit inspired by another magical character Mary Poppins. I imagined Jolly Scent Nick as a Christmas version of the practically perfect nanny.

Here we are, 17 Poodlesville Lane. Home of Colognoisseur, Mrs. C, and the poodles Jackson and Henry. Looks like the winds from the east. What’s about to happen has happened before.

I was letting the poodles in from their final patrol of the moonlit Christmas Eve yard. I looked at the stockings, hung so neatly. Mrs. C had just fallen asleep with two poodle balls of cuteness snuggled next to her. While I was out, I felt the wind shift; wondering if that was for good or ill. Then answer came when an incredible racket was heard in the sky. I knew it must be magic because Mrs. C and the poodles continued to dream oblivious to the noise I heard.

I ran to the picture window to see a silhouette flit across the full moon. It looked like a sleigh being pulled by eight reindeer. I heard the driver shout out their names; Now Coco! Now Jacques! Now Jean and Francois! On Robert! On Yves! On Annick and Estee! Head for the roof!

Eau de Family

As I heard the hooves above me a noise from the fireplace drew my attention. With a whoosh Scent Nick was there. A slight scent of amber accompanied his appearance. An ahem preceded him observing, “close your mouth we are not codfish”. He was dressed as the last time I had seen him; red coat and pants trimmed with white fur. The delicate tinkle of crystal in the bag over his shoulder let me know it was full of bottles. His eyes sparkled with mischief. His dimples radiated joy. His cheeks were matching roses. The nose? That was a cherry. He gazed upon me with a smile surrounded by a beard white as snow.

Scent Nick had always made Christmas brighter for me. He let out a belly laugh which I always heard as “Eau, Eau, Eau” instead of the more traditional laugh he was known for. I asked excitedly what he had for me in the bag. He said to me, “Why complicate things that are really quite simple? Close your eyes and breathe in.”

As I did the scents of home washed over me. The cookies Mrs. C had cooling. The poodle’s sweet muskiness. Even the woodsmoke smell Scent Nick had stirred up upon his arrival. I heard a whisper in my ear, just before I opened my eyes, “Anything can happen if you let it.”

As I looked around, I heard Scent Nick whistle followed by the sound of the reindeer launching into the air. As I watched them fly away, he said “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night”. My heart filled with joy I turned from the window to see a delicate crystal flacon. The label on its side read “Eau de Family”.

The wind has shifted again with the departure of Scent Nick. The denizens of 17 Poodlesville Lane slept with a contented soul. Until it happens again a year from now.

I could easily have found a flacon labeled “Eau de Readers”. This year has brought me a great deal of joy sharing my thoughts about perfume. Part of that has been the interactions I have with many of you. To everyone who visits here I wish you the most magical of Holiday seasons. I think Scent Nick has some other stops to make.

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

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

Flanker Round-Up: Dior J’Adore Absolu and Bottega Veneta L’Absolu

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This month’s round-up looks at two flankers of what I think are some of the best mainstream perfumes ever. Usually when you see “absolu” as the name on a flanker what I have come to expect is a warmer more intimate version of the original. What is interesting about both of this month’s choices is they went for the intimacy without going deeper.

Dior J’Adore Absolu

I know I’m going to sound like a broken record but her we go again with Dior and names. J’Adore was released in 1999 immediately becoming a best-seller within the fruity floral style of perfume. It is one of my all-time favorite mainstream perfumes. In the nearly twenty years since there have been multiple flankers most of them typical tweaks to the original formula. Including in 2007 J’Adore L’Absolu which was the typical absolu flanker described above. Now in 2018 they are releasing J’Adore Absolu which is one letter away from the other perfume which is still on the market. Dior seems to be a brand which excels at trying to confuse the consumer with its names. Despite this nonsense the new J’Adore Absolu is very different than any other J’Adore flanker.

In-house perfumer Francois Demachy says he wanted to create a “floral nectar” which I get. J’Adore Absolu is overall a floral dripping with honey. I found it the most sensual of any of the flankers released so far.

M. Demachy takes a set of floral absolutes as his keynotes. The J’Adore DNA is defined by jasmine, rose, and tuberose. All of those are here. The two additions are magnolia and orange blossom. Through the early moments the magnolia is out in front followed by the jasmine and rose. There is a pause while the tuberose sets up a bassline to the other florals. What makes this perfume take off is the use of orange blossom which provides a sparkle to things just before honey oozes over everything. This comes together as a bright set of sunny florals captured in viscous honey. It is intimate but not as warm as something with absolu in the title might indicate. Which makes it a uniquely good flanker.

Bottega Veneta L’Absolu

In 2011 leather goods designer Bottega Veneta entered the fragrance market with an eponymous mainstream perfume. Designed by creative director Tomas Maier and perfumer Michel Almairac it was a fragrance which captured the leather of the company fused with jasmine and patchouli. It was my favorite mainstream release of that year and remains a favorite now. Hr. Maier has gone on to oversee a coherently excellent mainstream collection of Bottega Veneta fragrances. There have been flankers but not a ton of them for each of the pillar lines for the brand. Bottega Veneta L’Absolu is just the second flanker of Bottega Veneta. These have all been correctly described as dry leather woody fragrances. I was expecting something similar but perhaps a bit less dry for a L’Absolu. M. Almairac had something else in mind creating the driest version yet for the L’Absolu.

The construction is much simpler for L’Absolu. It is stripped down to pink pepper, jasmine, leather and ambroxan. There is very little else in here. The pink pepper provides an herbal lift to the jasmine before the same delicate leather accord from the original arrives. Then using ambroxan the entire composition is dehydrated. Leaving a desiccated effect that is really compelling, only ameliorated by a pinch of vanilla and an equally small amount of patchouli. Those latter ingredients are critical to keeping L’Absolu from becoming too sharp. What is left is like looking at a leather memory book and finding a dried jasmine flower in its pages.

Disclosure: this review is based on samples provided by the manufacturers.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Zirh Ikon- Soft Incense

I go to my local discount stores to get ideas for this column. As I dig through the bins, I am looking for something which wasn’t there before. Which means I miss the forest for the trees. In the search for buried treasure I fail to notice the silver coins on the beach. On my last visit I was digging while another shopper was next to me going through the testers. With my head down, a nice scent drifted down upon me. I looked up and asked what he had just sprayed. He held out a bottle with big blocky letters which read: Zirh Ikon.

Zirh is a men’s full-service skincare brand including perfume. It is particularly prevalent during the holiday shopping season because they sell gift sets where they mix and match many of their products, including fragrance. When it comes to the very modestly priced fragrance out there all the Zirh perfumes are great bang for the buck. I own Zirh Corduroy and Zirh Perfume as well as Ikon. For someone who wants an economical choice of perfumes for all seasons there are many worse options.

Frank Voelkl

What the spritz of Ikon at the discount store reminded me of is that it is a simple triad of spices, incense, and woods. Perfumer Frank Voelkl works with an efficient style in Ikon to create something better than it should be for the price.

The opening is a mix of lemon and cardamom which primarily hold the foreground. There are hints of clove and cinnamon, but they are there to shade the top accord towards the cardamom. The incense steps forward with a sharpness to it. This is further refined as labdanum softens it. Cedar and vetiver provide a green woody base accord.

Ikon has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

You can find 4oz. bottles of Ikon for around $10. They are $9.99 at the discount stores I shop at. I also mention the gift sets which will be popping up because you will find some of them also contain Ikon along with some skincare products.

One thing about Ikon which I should mention is when you read spice, incense, and woods you think of something with a large presence. One reason I like Ikon is M. Voelkl softens the overall effect to make it much more approachable. It is at its best in the cold weather. When I smelled it at the store the other day it was that which drew my attention the most. Reminding me to appreciate what was right in front of me.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Majda Bekkali Mon Nom est Rouge- My Kind of Rose

For those of you who put up with my annual grumpiness over the deluge of spring rose perfumes it would probably surprise you to know one of my very favorite perfumes is an unabashed rose perfume. I would further mention that you might expect it isn’t a typical rose perfume which I would hold in such high esteem. It is also typical that it would come from a small niche brand along with being composed by one of my favorite perfumers. All the above means it is a perfect choice for this column. The perfume I am describing is Majda Bekkali Mon Nom est Rouge.

Mon Nom est Rouge was released in 2013 as part of the second set of releases for the brand. Majda Bekkali was working with many established names in the early days. The perfumer for Mon Nom est Rouge was a young woman, Cecile Zarokian, who used the opportunity to create one of the most memorable perfumes I own.

Cecile Zarokian

The name comes from the novel by Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk. The story takes place with the miniaturists in the Ottoman Empire. The story is also one of those fractured narratives where dead people narrate and others are imperfect witnesses. The perfume reflects all of that as even though it is one of her earliest perfumes it is also one of Mme Zarokian’s most precise constructs. It also is a fractured rose perfume where it isn’t just presented as a pretty piece of fragrance. In Mon Nom est Rouge it passes away only to arise again.

The perfume opens with a fantastic accord of aldehydes wrapped around a shiny metallic accord. The hair spray quality of the aldehydes fits right in with the chrome-like accord. Out of this arises a Turkish rose as if it is chrome covered itself. This is followed by the heat of spices as Mme Zarokian precisely uses cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, baie rose, pepper, and ginger to scour that chrome off the rose to lay bare the flower itself. It then combines with tobacco, incense, sandalwood, and musk for the base accord.

Mon Nom est Rouge has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Mon Nom est Rouge is the perfume I turn to when the deluge of spring rose perfumes has me at my grouchiest. It reminds me that in the hands of a skilled artist like Mme Zarokian rose still has relevance. If you need a reminder of that Mon Nom est Rouge needs to be on your radar screen.

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

Mark Behnke