Discount Diamonds: Nicole Miller for Men- Boozy Apple

Apple is one of my favorite top notes in perfumery. I like the crispness it usually adds. Early on in my fragrance journey I began searching out any fragrance with apple listed in its note list. This led me to Nicole Miller for Men.

Nicole Miller for Men was released in 2004 a year after the first fragrance for the brand Nicole Miller. These would be the only perfumes for the brand for a long time. By the early 2000’s Nicole Miller for Men was discontinued. This was where I first found it buying a bottle off someone looking to sell theirs. At this point it was most definitely not a Discount Diamond. The scarcity made it a desirable perfume to have. Then in 2006, Nicole Miller for Men returned and has stuck around ever since. Now it is widely available at the discount bargain bins and online for $10-15 a bottle; squarely in Discount Diamonds territory.

David Apel

As I mentioned I was drawn to it for the apple. Perfumer David Apel floats it on top of a beautifully constructed boozy accord. I am always reminded of a green apple martini when I first spray it on. What always makes me enjoy this is the shift from fun-loving cocktail to dark leather and oakmoss in the heart. Mr. Apel again puts together a compelling leather accord which is given a green shadow courtesy of the oakmoss. It sticks here for a few hours before developing into a warm amber and sandalwood base.

The current version available at the discounters is slightly different than my first bottle. The biggest change is the oakmoss has less of a presence in the heart. Mr. Apel has altered the leather accord to give it a slightly rougher texture to make up for the loss of full-spectrum oakmoss. The other noticeable change is less longevity. It is my belief they reduced the amount of perfume oil because it lasts about half the time of my older bottle.

Nicole Miller for Men in its current formulation has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Even with the caveats on the current formulation this is a great bargain for the price. I will always enjoy this boozy apple.

Disclosure: this review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar Comme des Garcons Blue Santal- Push and Pull

When perfume nerds get to talking about the most influential brand of the niche age of perfume; I have a very strong opinion. My choice is Comme des Garcons. From its beginnings in 1993 it would help define and refine what a niche aesthetic was in fragrance. It has been overseen by one incredible creative director in Christian Astuguevieille for the entire time. That longevity and consistency should not be taken for granted. Many of the early niche pioneers have lost their way. It seemed like it was part of the natural process. Keeping a high level of creativity was just not something that should be sustainable. Especially as we entered the second decade of the 2000’s it was happening with frustrating regularity. Comme des Garcons had seemingly fallen prey to the same issue with a streak of one mediocre release after another in 2012. I was thinking this was the final exclamation point on the first age of niche perfumery. Then M. Astuguevieille showed me in 2013 that the previous year was just an anomaly. Comme des Garcons bounced back with a new set of perfumes which recalibrated their aesthetic to be relevant for the now. At the center of these releases was Comme des Garcons Blue Santal.

One of the things which Comme des Garcons has done well is to have releases for the wider mass-market next to the more exclusive releases. Blue Santal was one of a trio of the former released in the summer of 2013. The other two Blue Cedrat and Blue Encens have been discontinued leaving Blue Santal as the only reminder of the sub-collection.

Antoine Maisondieu

Perfumer Antoine Maisondieu would compose a perfume which creates a push and pull between the green of pine and the dry woodiness of sandalwood. It is the kind of perfume I wear on a warm day because of that vacillation between cool pine and warm sandalwood.

Blue Santal opens with the terpenic tonic of that cool pine. M. Maisondieu adds in the sharp gin-like acidity of juniper berries as the bridging note. The base is one of the early uses of the sustainable Australian sandalwood. It is one of the first fragrances to accentuate the drier character of this newer source of sandalwood. It still carries the sweetness with the creamier character less prominent. It presents the right counterweight to the pine. Then over the hours it lasts on my skin it is like a set of scales with the pine on one side and the sandalwood on the other pivoting on a fulcrum of juniper berries.

Blue Santal has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

You might think it unusual to choose a release from such a well-known brand as Comme des Garcons as an Under the Radar choice. From a brand pushing towards a collection of one hundred releases I think it is easy for even the best ones to fall off the radar screen. I thought it was time to put Blue Santal back on it.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Monsillage Eau Fraiche- Summer Splash

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The amount of perfume in the Colognoisseur Home Office is ridiculous; I admit it. Yet like Gollum I look at all of it and think “my precious”. One cool thing about it all is discovering something in the back of the closet and reacquainting myself with it all over again. It is part of the reason for this column. The last ten years, especially, has seen so much good perfume it shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle. This year literally against the wall of the perfume vault I found a bottle of Monsillage Eau Fraiche. It has been a joy catching up with it this summer.

For those who are unfamiliar with Monsillage and the independent perfumer Isabelle Michaud behind it, a little recap. Mme Michaud released her first perfumes in 2010. She sold them exclusively in Canada, at first. By 2011 when I discovered them, I was impressed with all of them and eventually purchased all three.

Isabelle Michaud

One of the reasons Eau Fraiche returned from the back of the shelf is it uses a lot of verbena. When it comes to citrus perfumes verbena provides a lemon-green combination I find refreshing. Mme Michaud uses it in a classic Eau Fraiche

Eau Fraiche opens with that zing of verbena. Mme Michaud supports it with an herbal coterie of rosemary, thyme, and lavender. All of those provide more traction to the green quality of the verbena. Mandarin is present to make sure the lemony quality does not get lost. A dewy lilac transitions to a deep vetiver in the base. This is that summer vetiver which has made it such a popular perfume ingredient. A little white musk and cedar rounds it out.

Eau Fraiche has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

We have been in a heat wave for much of the last few weeks. Eau Fraiche has been my antidote to that. It is just the right perfume for this season. As I was learning to enjoy it all over again, I was thinking I could have called this column “Back of the Closet” but it is called “Under the Radar”. Monsillage and Eau Fraiche should be on your radar screens.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Ralph Lauren Polo- The All-American

It’s July 4th and in the US that means we celebrate Independence Day. A day of flag waving, picnics, and fireworks. I thought I’d do a special Fourth of July edition of Discount Diamonds on a fragrance I consider to be the All-American men’s cologne; Ralph Lauren Polo.

Polo the cologne was introduced in 1978. Ralph Lauren had taken the fashion world by storm in 1968 with his American fashion design. The logo was that of a polo player in full gallop. By the time they were going to branch out into fragrance it made sense to put that logo on a bottle and name a men’s fragrance after it. From the day Polo was released it has been a perennial best seller. Even though it has a dated style of leather powerhouse it can still be found almost anywhere that sells fragrance.

Carlos Benaim

When this came out perfumer Carlos Benaim wanted to capture that rugged vibe of the polo player. To do this he would start with an herbal top accord of thyme, basil, and coriander sitting among the branches of a spruce tree. It is a powerful green opening which even at the time of its release was on the upper end of intensity. That remains to the present day but after forty-plus years I find it oddly comforting. This all transitions to a foundation of leather, tobacco, oakmoss, and patchouli. As distinctive as the top accord is, when I think of Polo it is this base which comes to mind. That base has been the essential DNA of Polo and most of the flankers over the years.

Polo has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Polo has surprisingly survived the ravages of reformulation quite well. The brand has taken care to not lose what makes Polo, Polo. Polo is such a classic that if you are interested in trying the vintage formulations those bottles are also out there to be found.

A word of caution even though I write about this on a midsummer’s day this is not a warm weather fragrance. I’m not suggesting you wear some in celebration. On the other hand if you find yourself shopping over the weekend and find that gold polo player staring at you, you might want to pick up a bottle for the fall.

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

Mark Behnke

What Comes Next at Amouage?

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For those of us who love perfume there was a significant bit of news earlier this month; Christopher Chong was leaving his post as Creative Director at Amouage. Over this past decade of top tier perfumery Amouage was right at the top of the list because of the artistic direction of Mr. Chong. His vision also helped to establish the ultra-luxe perfume sector. Amouage was worth the extra expense because there was extra effort going into making the perfumes. I’ve always thought Amouage was perfume made for those who really want to find artistry within smelling good. I will have more to say about Mr. Chong when I review his last (?) duo of perfumes for Amouage next week. What this column is about is what comes next at Amouage.

As of the end of June 2019 there has been no official announcement of a replacement for Mr. Chong at Amouage. We talk about the difficulty of replacing in-house perfumers but there are only a few brands where the vision was so strongly communicated from the creative director as at Amouage. Whomever would be asked to step into this post would find it very challenging to follow the decade of perfume Mr. Chong oversaw. Which means we might not see a replacement at all. Maybe Amouage stays with the collection they have and continue on. I think that would be fine.

My concern comes from another well-known ultra-luxe brand which went the cynical route; Clive Christian. For those who don’t know Clive Christian was purchased by EME Investments in 2016. They then proceeded to flood the market with new Clive Christian releases at the same price point. They dumped a torrent of mediocre to poor product with tenuous connections to the previous perfumes under the old regime. It killed everything Clive Christian represented as a brand. It would be a crime if the same thing happened to Amouage. If we had inflicted upon us Jubilation XXV Intense or Opus V Legere. It would do what happened to Clive Christian and destroy what Amouage stands for.

I have no special insight to know anything about the decisions made at Amouage. Which means everything above is pure speculation. What has me worried most is when a true artist leaves without any mention of what comes next. That’s where we are right now. Hopefully in the not too distant future we will hear what Amouage plans to do.

Mark Behnke

Flanker Round-Up: Tom Ford Private Blend Fleur de Portofino Acqua and Sole di Positano Acqua

There has been an interesting trend among the Tom Ford Private Blend collection; flankers.  In what has been one of the, arguably, most influential perfume collections the recent choice to release flankers stands out. In most of the cases it has been to make “intense” or “eau” forms indicating darker or lighter. The ones they’ve chosen to do that with allow for a choice between styles with similar construction at different volumes. The sub-collection which has seen the most flankers are the blue bottled Neroli Portofino collection. These flankers have had “acqua” appended to their name. While it might seem natural to think this means aquatic it generally doesn’t. It means a subtle shifting of ingredients. It makes it a true kind of flanker. This month’s Flanker Round-Up covers the two most recent additions to the neroli Portofino sub-collection.

Tom Ford Private Blend Fleur de Portofino Acqua

What I enjoyed about the original Fleur de Portofino was it was the most floral of the Neroli Portofino collection. It was an exuberant floral collage that remains a favorite. For Fleur de Portofino Acqua the exuberant florals remain but they are shifted in concentration to create a similar style as in the original.

The same summery citrus mélange is back in all its glorious tart juiciness. The difference is violet leaf is given more presence which teases out the green undercurrents inherent within the citrus accord. The key combination in the original was the honey nuance of acacia attached to honey in the base. For Fleur de Portofino Acqua, orange blossom joins with the acacia in equal presence. It provides a clearer connection to the citrus on top through to the honey in the base.

Fleur de Portofino Acqua remains a fantastic summer floral like the original.

Tom Ford Private Blend Sole di Positano Acqua

Sole di Positano is more emblematic of the overall Mediterranean aesthetic which runs through the Neroli Portofino collection. Especially with the classic citrus-floral-woody axis upon which many of this type of fragrance spins upon. Sole di Positano Acqua doesn’t disrupt this but it adds a little more to the bones of the original.

Sparkling lemon and bitter orange open the new version with an enhanced amount of shiso leaf. The sharp green quality of the shiso finds purchase among the brilliant tartness of the lemon. It accentuates the sunniness of the citrus. In the original I mentioned I liked the use of the lighter versions of jasmine and ylang-ylang. In the new one, versions of both florals which have a slight tint of the indoles inherent in both are used. It works because of the presence of the higher concentration of the shiso. It all coalesces into a sandalwood base with some moss growing on it.

Sole di Positano Acqua is an overall greener version than the original.

Disclosure: this review was based on samples provided by Nordstrom.

Mark Behnke

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

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

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

My Favorite Things: Ambrette

The sources of most musks in perfumery are derived from animal sources. Those musks have a presence to them which sets them apart. There is a source of musk in fragrance which does not come from animals. It comes from the seeds of the ambrette plant. Particularly over the past few years it has become one of the more interesting musks to use. One reason is it can be used as part of a top accord. It can substitute for the heavier musks when a lighter touch is needed in a base accord. It also is the musk I most enjoy wearing in warm weather because it is lighter. Here are five of my favorites.

The perfume which probably put ambrette on the map is 2007’s Chanel No. 18. A mixture of ambrette and iris this is one of the most lilting Chanel perfumes. One of the interesting aspects of ambrite is it has tinges of green and fruit to its scent profile. Perfumers Christopher Sheldrake and Jacques Polge take advantage of all the nuance available from the ambrette as they wrap it around a luxurious iris. Most perfume lovers had never heard of ambrette prior to this. After this I never forgot about it.

The reference standard musk perfume is 2009’s Serge Lutens Muscs Koublai Khan. Most people remember it for the combination of rose and the animalic musks. What few people realize is perfumer Christopher Sheldrake uses a high concentration of ambrette as the interstitial tissue between the rose and animalic musks. The ambrette is what makes this the king of musk perfumes.

One of perfumer Christine Nagel’s last perfume for Jo Malone was 2014’s Wood Sage & Sea Salt. Working with creative director Celine Roux they wanted to make a different aquatic. Mme Nagel uses ambrette in the top accord in place of the typical ozonic notes of most aquatics. It is the ambrette that brings the fresh to push back against the briny mineralic accord. This is a great example of how flexible ambrette is in the hands of perfumers.

In 2017’s Parfum D’Empire Le Cre de la Lumiere perfumer Marc-Antoine Corticchiato uses ambrette as the sole ingredient in the top. He takes advantage of that by teasing out the threads of subtlety he wants to use. Most importantly a powdery aspect which entwines around a similarly styled iris. This forms the most beautiful opaque globe of light musk and iris which get a rose tint before it is done. A gorgeous fragile piece of perfume.

In 2017’s Frassai Verano Porteno creative director Natalia Outeda asked perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux for a perfume of summer nights in Buenos Aires. The opening is a beautifully realized air of night flowers on the breeze. In the base he uses ambrette to form a lighter musk accord by combining it cleverly with mate tea. It is just the right partner to add some edge to the ambrette without it taking over.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased of each perfume.

Mark Behnke