New Perfume Review Andrea Maack Birch- Ode to the Approach of Winter

I have admired the eponymous perfume line of Icelandic artist Andrea Maack because they have all been interesting takes of interpreting her vision into fragrance. I met Ms. Maack in 2012 at the Elements Showcase. From the very beginning she impressed me as someone who was doing this because she had something to say on an olfactory canvas. Over the past five years there have been releases on an irregular schedule. The latest, Andrea Maack Birch, has just arrived.

Andrea Maack

Ms. Maack has managed in some of her perfumes to dwell on her geographic identity. This is best exemplified by her 2014 release Coven which captures the lush damp soil of the spring thaw. Birch takes place six months later as the ground has just refrozen. Working with perfumer Alienor Massenet the first milder days of winter are captured.

Alienor Massenet

As the winter winds blow more gently in the early days so does Birch open on a chilly breeze of bergamot, baie rose, and ginger. Mme Massenet does a nice job at melding this accord. The ginger gives that sense of the chilly bite of the breeze on bare skin. Bergamot represents the low-angled sun while the baie rose adds the intangible sense of far-off trees. The heart is where we get closer to those trees with a pairing of guaiac wood and cypriol. This has some sharp edges almost oud-like in nature. It is not surprising because cypriol is one of the main ingredients in many oud accords. Here it captures another roughhewn wood forming a birch accord. The cypriol also imparts a gentle wreath of smoke around it all. The base is an earthy patchouli enhanced with a few musks.

Birch has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

When I saw Birch attached to Andrea Maack I was expecting some penetrating rubbery tar construct similar to the power of Coven. What I found in the bottle was a more meditative style of perfume. On the days I wore Birch it imparted a very peaceful feeling upon me. Coming as it did, in between my testing of some other challenging fragrances, it was a welcome respite. Birch is an ode to the approach of winter.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Beaufort London Iron Duke- Charge!

One of the more interesting new brands has been Beaufort London. Founder and Creative Director Leo Crabtree spent the first five releases, called the “Come Hell or High Water” Collection, interpreting the scent of the time when the British Empire ruled the waves. What made this stand out was Mr. Crabtree unflinchingly captured all parts of that. That included Tonnerre (initially released as 1805) which vividly captured the smells of naval battle. I wasn’t fond of it when I wrote my review because it seemed too realistic of a vision as not only the gunpowder but also the blood made it into the perfume. It was disturbing in its intensity. I have since spent some more time with it over the past two years coming around to the view that it was exactly what Mr. Crabtree wanted to achieve. Now Beaufort London wants to find the traditional battlefield with a new collection Revenants and the first release Iron Duke.

Revenants is going to be perfumed impressions of British historical figures. Iron Duke is based on Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington (1769-1852). Duke Wellington oversaw the British forces in the Battle of Waterloo versus Napoleon. It is this part of Duke Wellington’s career that Iron Duke interprets. Mr. Crabtree continues his collaboration with perfumer Julie Dunkley with whom he has worked on all the previous perfumes.

Leo Crabtree

As in Tonnerre it is the scent of battle that is being captured. This time it is that of a cavalryman atop his horse riding through the battle. It is that sense of being less isolated within the chaos of war which makes Iron Duke a more enjoyable perfume.

Ms. Dunkley opens with the same gunpowder accord she previously used in Tonnerre. Except this time, it is joined by the smell of saddle leather which is what leavens it from being completely acrid. This is still a top accord more gun fight than fox hunt, but those genteel elements make it less neve jangling. There is then a musky animalic funk reminiscent of the sweaty steed underneath the saddle. There are also a hint of soapy musks, too, which is as if the saddle soap is rising up from the perspiration of the horse. This all finally comes to rest on a soft tobacco and coumarin foundation. It is after the battle and the hay has been given to the horse while the Duke puffs on a pipe.

Iron Duke has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

It is the inclusion of the horse and the deletion of the blood which makes me enjoy Iron Duke better than Tonnerre. Mr. Crabtree is one of the very few producing challenging perfumes which smell like nothing else available. Iron Duke starts off a new collection with a fabulously full-throated, “Charge!”

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Tauer Attar AT- Resolve Rewarded

I have mentioned what an innovator independent perfumer Andy Tauer has been. In many ways the template for doing business as an indie was pioneered by Hr. Tauer. His perfumes have been equally adept at pushing at the fringes of what an independent perfume business can successfully cover. I have also mentioned that perhaps my greatest perfume regret was missing out on his limited edition of Tauer Orris when he first released it. He very politely explained to me it would never return because he used materials in small quantities he wasn’t sure he could replicate. There was one resolution I made to myself that if Hr. Tauer ever released a limited edition again I would not dilly dally a second time. Just a few weeks ago the release of Tauer Attar AT tested my resolve.

I had indirectly been hearing about Attar AT ever since early in the year when Hr. Tauer went on tour with a traveling selection of perfumes only available during his appearances. I heard from many that there was an “oud attar” he was showing which might or might not be released. I wanted to try this ever since, believing Hr. Tauer could do something special with the concept of an indie attar. When I received my first notification of Attar AT along with the mention it was a small-batch limited edition; I ordered a bottle.

Andy Tauer

Hr. Tauer was inspired by a trip to the Saudi Arabian desert where he got into a discussion of oud attars indigenous to that region. By the time he returned home to Switzerland that seed had grown into a compulsion to create his version of an attar. He began to assemble a grouping of some of the most precious materials to create his “modest” attar. What he has accomplished is a very close to the skin perfume oil which is an indie perspective on a classic attar.

It isn’t listed as a note but in his blog Hr. Tauer mentioned that he was gifted an authentic oud oil while on his Saudi Arabian trip. I suspect that it is in here but in a tiny quantity. The reason I feel confident of that assessment is the very first moments when I dab Attar AT on. There is what I call a “dirty socks and cheese” smell which my collection of straight oud oils has. In Attar AT that ghosts across the early going before a pungent birch tar appears. It has the effect of providing a sticky matrix for this pinch of oud to reside in. As the birch tar arises it becomes intensely rubbery in effect before a lush jasmine provides a floral juxtaposition. Traditional attars use rose but Hr. Tauer’s use of the jasmine works better as the indoles in the jasmine fall right in line with the pungency already here. Hr. Tauer then alleviates it with Mysore sandalwood, vetiver, and cistus. It turns the latter phase into a creamy woody comfort.

Attar AT has 8-10 hour longevity and very little sillage as it is a perfume oil.

If there is one thing I love about Orris it is the way Hr. Tauer altered the European tradition of perfumery by turning an indie eye upon it. By amplifying certain things while drawing back on others he created one of the best perfumes I have ever smelled. Attar AT is taking the Arabic tradition and filtering it through the same lens. I am still in my early days with Attar AT and I am not ready to say it is on the same level as Orris. What I am ready to say is Hr. Tauer has once again released an indie version of a classic architecture that only could have come from him.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Une Nuit Nomade Memory Motel- Sag Harbor Sabbatical

I have mentioned before that I spent some time as part of a summer share in a house on Shelter Island, NY. It was a beautiful serene respite from the hustle and bustle of the urban day-to-day. Nestled between the terminal North and South Forks of Long Island we were a ferry ride away from the rarified air of the Hamptons. I always got a weird vibe from our visits there as it felt like some of the worst parts of the city had found a beach home. Which is why I enjoyed being out there in the fall with most of the houses boarded up and only a few hardy people walking the dunes in the chilly air. In the hotel I would stay at during these visits the common room always greeted me with a roaring fire, leather chairs, and vases of fresh flowers. When I received my sample of the new perfumes from Une Nuit Nomade based on the Montauk area of Long Island; it was Memory Hotel which reminded me strongly of these autumn getaways.

Philippe Solas (top) and Alexandra Cubizolles

The creative directors behind Une Nuit Nomade are Alexandra Cubizolles and Philippe Solas who collaborate with perfumer Annick Menardo for Memory Motel. Mme Cubizolles and M. Solas met while traveling and together they decided to make a travel inspired perfume line. The first set of releases were based on their initial meeting in Bali. Now the latest two releases are meant to capture Montauk as fragrance.  Memory Motel refers to the place Andy Warhol bought out in the Hamptons. For the fragrance they wanted to capture the moment in time when the Rolling Stones set up shop there to record their album “Black and Blue”. This translates into a warm resinous perfume. Memory Motel is not the stage version of the Stones this is the idea of musicians working out their material behind the scenes. It is subtle with many of the best traits of Mme Menardo’s style on display.

Annick Menardo

It opens with an opaque incense swirling in curls of smoke. It has the slightly silvery essence of good incense. Through the opacity of the resins iris and carnation arise to form a second filter through which to experience this perfume. In the base is where we get the rock and roll as leather, patchouli, tobacco, and vanilla combine in the idea of the band sitting in a room figuring out their new material.

Memory Motel has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I must admit this never quite coalesces as a fragrance of rock and roll. I kept being reminded of my autumn trips to Sag Harbor which is more sabbatical than “Satisfaction”.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample purchased from Une Nuit Nomade.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Aroma M Geisha Marron Eau de Parfum- What Kind of Brown?

If you ever spend time with an artist one of the first things you will learn is colors cannot be simply described as one word. In my house if I say “blue”. Mrs. C looks at me with the unspoken question, “what kind of blue?” She is incapable of seeing the colors in the world in the reductionist way her scientist husband does. Which has taught me that there are more colors to be seen then red, green, blue and all the combinations those three can produce. When I hear one of my favorite independent perfumers is interpreting the color brown I am intrigued. Maria McElroy is the perfumer and her latest release is Aroma M Geisha Marron Eau de Parfum.

Geisha Marron was released a perfume oil a year or so ago, but Ms. McElroy has been re-interpreting those oils as eau de parfums. It is something which has been worth the effort because once transferred to the more expansive form there is a wider canvas on display. When I was wearing this version of Geisha Marron I was reminded of those dehydrated sponges that expand to three or four times their size in water. Geisha Marron EdP has that effect as everything within seems livelier because of the additional space.

Maria McElroy

Ms. McElroy has always seen Geisha Marron as a perfume of the autumn. Capturing the moment when the color of the leaves has turned to brown. It is only then that the natural shading of brown in nature can be seen. Geisha Marron is a perfume of shades which draw you in.

Ms. McElroy opens with the brilliance of a cloudless autumnal afternoon with the sun sparkling in the sky. A citrus triptych of mandarin, grapefruit, and bergamot provide the bright backdrop. Ms. McElroy mentions the smell of roasting chestnuts as a smell of the fall. I was expecting something with a gourmand bent. Instead she works with chestnut blossom; a different kind of white flower. This is a very subtle floral ingredient carrying some of the bombastic qualities of other white flowers but instead of indolic contrasts there is the hint of the chestnut it will mature into. This goes excellently with the Japanese magnolia, with which it is paired, as that carries a woody undercurrent which blends with the subtle nuttiness within the chestnut blossom. Muguet comes forward over time to tilt the heart accord in a more classically floral direction. The base accord is a lilting leather infused with musk which softly envelops the heart notes.

Geisha Marron has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

So, you might think this doesn’t sound very brown to which I would reply that is the point. If I wanted to describe Geisha Marron in different browns I would call the top accord “Amber”, the middle accord “Tan”, and the base accord “Kobicha”. It isn’t that it is just one shade it is many which answers the real question; Geisha Marron is a fantastic floral perfume for the autumn.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review D.S. & Durga Vio-Volta- Twin Peaks: The Violis

Those of you who read my The Sunday Magazine columns know how much I enjoyed the recent Twin Peaks: The Return. One of the reasons was giving an auteur like David Lynch the freedom to realize exactly the vision he had. It wasn’t for everyone. It was meant to challenge assumptions. It wasn’t ever meant to make you comfortable and there was no happy ending, but it was an earned ending. Mr. Lynch was also responsible for the sound editing and throughout the 18 episodes electricity hummed through high-tension wires, crackled and popped, and provided otherworldly illumination. It was perhaps the most consistent motif within the show.

Within days of the final episode I received my sample of D.S. & Durga Vio-Volta. With everything still swirling in my mind here was a perfume which could have leapt off the screen as David Seth Moltz creates an uncomfortable electric fragrance.

David Seth Moltz

Vio-Volta is the latest in a series of new releases which feel like modern art. This is also an auteur’s vision which means it is not a perfume for everyone. I had people I work with on the days I was wearing it ask me “what the hell are you wearing?”. I also found it to be a bit wearying to wear over a full day. I have spent more time with it in shorter time periods without fatigue. All of that as prelude Vio-Volta is every bit as good as Twin Peaks: The Return was.

Mr. Moltz claims Vio-Volta was him fooling around with new ingredients to evoke something purple. The two ingredients which are the keynotes are Violis which He describes as a “really weird candy rhubarb” and Amber Xtreme.

The opening is that odd version of rhubarb from Violis. There is an oddly metallic vibe which runs throughout the crystalline vegetal rhubarb. It reminded me of chewing on tin foil. Early on it is sort of fun then it begins to hurt. Before the hurt gets to be too much the Amber Xtreme crashes over the top with a woody tsunami. Once the Violis pops back to the surface it is joined by some less artificial ingredients as incense and patchouli become proverbial life preservers to cling to. Over time the violet nature of Violis become more prominent but that crackle of electricity thrums underneath all of it.

Vio-Volta has 24-hour longevity and above average sillage. Besides being confrontational it lasts forever and everyone around you will smell it.

It seems I have been writing this a lot recently but perfume like Vio-Volta is something that can only come from our independent perfume community. You might hate it. you might love it, you might appreciate it, you might admire it; but you should try it.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by D.S. & Durga.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Parfum D’Empire Le Cri de la Lumiere- Defining Light

Light is one of those words I use a lot to describe perfumes. Sometimes I mean the strength of the composition. There are certainly many new releases for whom this applies, especially recently. I use light to often describe those accords and fragrances which feel sunny; citrus, aquatics, or fougeres can all be full of light. Then you encounter a perfume which has as its stated goal to explore light in fragrance and in that experience, realize all those previous ideas of light didn’t tell the whole story; Parfum D’Empire Le Cri de la Lumiere is that one.

Parfum D’Empire is one of the most successful independent perfume brands because of the creative force behind it, Marc-Antoine Corticchiato. M. Corticchiato is not the most prolific perfumers but each of his releases are among the best of the year they are released. Le Cri de la Lumiere qualifies as that for 2017. The name translates roughly into “Cry of Light”. If you look at that you might think the perfume carrying that name would be a full-throated olfactory scream. M. Corticchiato instead works with a minimalist’s efficiency using only four ingredients to create this. It places a burden on those ingredients to not have any rough edges when coming together with the others. In this case, with this perfumer, that is hardly a problem. Each ingredient is chosen such that it provides its own part of the spectrum that become Le Cri de la Lumiere.

Marc-Antoine Corticchiato

The opening moments are dominated by ambrette seeds. These are the most commonly used botanical musk. As a result, they are almost always blended with other notes which tend to cover up the nuances inherent in this ingredient. If you smell ambrette essential oil you will get a definitive vegetal and pear undercurrent. In Le Cri de la Lumiere M. Corticchiato gives the early going exclusively to the ambrette and both of those aspects rise to be noticed. In this form it can focus the musky parts into something less diffuse. In the press materials it is described as “crystalline” but I kept thinking “laser pointer”. There is also a subtle powdery quality which provides the transition to iris in the next phase. You might not think of iris as a “light” note but here it is the powderiness which expands into a bright globe of particles illuminated by the ambrette. Just as it seems this can’t get better Turkish rose appears in a transparent concentration as it colors the pink a deeper shade of red. Once this all comes together it is a lightness I’ve never experienced previously. There is a bit of woods, in the base, but it is this ambrette-iris-rose accord which is the story.

Le Cri de la Lumiere has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Le Cri de la Lumiere is another brilliant creation from M. Corticchiato which has given me new things to think about in my definition of light as it pertains to perfume.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from Parfum D’Empire.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Valentino Uomo Noir Absolu- The Exceptional Exception

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If there is something I feel very sure of is that when a perfume I didn’t care for in its first release reaches its fourth iteration; I am not going to feel any differently. Of course, I wouldn’t be starting with that sentence if I hadn’t found an exception. This exception is particularly noteworthy because the version that was released just a few months before it was particularly wretched. This exceptional exception is Valentino Uomo Noir Absolu.

Valentino began their Uomo collection in 2014 with a particularly pedestrian interpretation of the masculine iris fragrance. Last year was an equally uninspired Uomo Intense. At the beginning of this summer Uomo Acqua was described in the press release as evoking the “fading grandeur” of an Italian palace. This had nothing grandiose about it as it was a harsh mixture of aromachemicals that was repellant. When I received my sample of Uomo Noir Absolu I remember thinking, “It couldn’t be worse.” I was right; it was amazing because they chose to go for a real Oriental instead of the faux attempts which preceded this.

Sophie Labbe

Perfumer Sophie Labbe has been responsible for the Uomo collection after Olivier Polge did the original. Mme Labbe breaks through with Uomo Noir Absolu because she actually goes for a darker opulent style of perfume which is diametrically opposed from any other perfume with Valentino Uomo on the bottle. This works by diving straight away to the essence of an Oriental, the base accord.

A spicy duet is the opening movement as Mme Labbe combines cinnamon and black pepper. They are combined in an accord which has presence while also conveying a simmering heat. Incense swirls through this as it is particularly good with both top notes. I’ve always found the combination of black pepper and incense to work together but the cinnamon is also lifted by the resin as well. The iris, which is the connective tissue within the collection, shows its face here as the rootier less powdery version. It is not a focal point but it is also not a complete background player either. It rests on a rich woody base of sandalwood lightened with guaiac wood.

Valentino Uomo Noir Absolu has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Uomo Noir Absolu is one of the best mainstream fragrances of 2017. It is the ideal perfume for scarves and sweaters as the air turns colder. I should have been able to ignore this collection but Mme Labbe has turned out an exceptional exception of a fragrance.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Valentino.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review By Kilian Woman in Gold- Glittering Klimt

Of the many things I learned working with Michelyn Camen, the EIC of CaFleureBon, was an appreciation of how visual art intersected with olfactory art. Her addition of just the perfect choices of visual cues to match the words of the writers who worked for her has made that one of the signatures of CaFleureBon. One of the things I enjoyed most was when she would give me some deep cuts in artists I thought I knew well. One of those was Gustav Klimt. I knew of the famous “The Kiss” but there were others from his “Golden Phase” which I would learn of. One was a portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer which has been called the Austrian Mona Lisa. They are paintings which feel like naturals to be paired with fragrance. Kilian Hennessy also must believe that too as they become the latest inspiration for the newest collection from By Kilian; From Dusk to Dawn. The one called Woman in Gold is the one attached to the painting  of Adele Bloch-Bauer below.

Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt (1907)

M. Hennessy collaborates again with his most frequent perfumed muse Calice Becker. They were looking for “the contrasts between shadow and light”. I would also remark they were looking for the golden glow of Hr. Klimt’s paintings, too.

Kilian Hennessy

Mme Becker opens with a rich bergamot oil to give off a golden sunburst. This is not the typical opening as the bergamot has a shimmery quality which reveals a multi-faceted rose underneath. This is where the shadows reside in Woman in Gold. Geranium pairs with the rose to provide a translucent green lens to observe it through. The whole construct turns warm with vanilla as it infuses the floral heart. Then Mme Becker takes the patchouli bio-isolate Akigalawood to provide a slightly spicy version of patchouli which bridges the rose while contrasting the vanilla. It settles in to a powerful accord of all three in perfect harmony.

Woman in Gold has 12-14 hour longevity and above average siilage. This is one to be cautious in spraying, a little goes a long way.

Calice Becker

This is a cold weather rosy vanilla it reminds me a lot of another rose creation in the brand Rose Oud. In both cases the keynotes are given the room to shine. In the case of Woman in Gold I guess I should say it glitters.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by By Kilian.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Mendittorosa Talismans Osang- The Shape of Ashes

A few years ago, I went to the museum to see one of the more macabre exhibitions I have attended. From the moment archeologists began to excavate the city of Pompeii covered under the ash of the volcano Vesuvius’ explosion in 79 AD they discovered the bodies were preserved in a protective shell of ash. If they cautiously poured plaster inside that delicate framework they could create something solid from the ashes. To see the results of this work gathered in exhibition is to see a snapshot of death. Besides that, there was much to discover from these plaster casts which continues to the present day. Just a couple years ago they used 3-D techniques to determine the people of Pompeii were remarkably healthy some of them with “perfect teeth”. I remember having it inhabit my thoughts for days afterward thinking how death becomes an historical document through the shape of ashes. I was reminded of these thoughts by Mendittorosa Talismans Osang.

The creative director Stefania Squeglia grew up in Naples with Vesuvius able to be seen on the horizon. The name Osang comes from the annual San Gennaro festival in the city during which the dried blood of the saint is presented to the public. If it liquifies all will be well but if it stays dried….well Vesuvius is waiting. This is in keeping with the Talismans collection where the perfumes are inspired by artifacts which ward off the bad things in life.

Stefania Squeglia

Sig.ra Squeglia has created a very personal fragrance to the point that she does not reveal the perfumer she worked with on it. Osang is what she promises it to be except instead of it liquefying into the blood of San Gennaro Osang comes closer to representing the ashes portended by the blood staying dried. It leads to some very odd choices of ingredients which successfully accomplish the effect of a sky full of ashes.

The keynote to Osang is a fenugreek extraction being used in overdose. It appears right away and in the first moments it is sort of a watery vegetal effect which strengthens rapidly into a urine-like pungency. That effect is enhanced by using honey which also can feel urinous. The other note in the early going which provides the breath of fire is Szechuan pepper. This ingredient has been used a lot over the last couple of years but the use here comes closest to mimicking the real thing. It imparts a heat while also adding a kind of choking mustiness. This all transitions into a set of resins and balms in the base accord. Benzoin, styrax, incense, and peru balsam combine to form its own sort of ashy burn. Sandalwood seemingly provides some comfort, until oud joins it, charring even that short respite.

Osang has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I admire Sig.ra Squeglia’s dedication to her vision. Osang is an expertly constructed piece of perfumed art which achieves its stated goals. On that level it succeeds. On the level of “do I smell good?” it is more problematic. Because of the nature of the perfume I found it wasn’t comforting but that it put me on edge the days I wore it. Even smelling it on a strip to remind myself of it while writing this I can feel it provoking some of those feelings again. Which leads to a greater question about the art of perfumery. I think Osang is as good as it gets in realizing its artistic ambitions. It is just not something I would want to wear often. It is similar to my visit to the exhibition of the Pompeii plaster casts; the shape of ashes are disturbing but you can’t look away. Osang is great art within a delicate shell of ashes and death.

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

Mark Behnke