New Perfume Review Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Rose & Cuir- Ellena Evolves

When I heard perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena was retiring from being in-house perfumer at Hermes I was sad. I felt like one of the most distinctive voices in perfumery was going to enjoy life without the grind of being the face of the fragrance line of an important brand. He had certainly earned it. In his time at Hermes he created an identifiable aesthetic wherein he found beauty from simplicity. If the source of my sadness was that M. Ellena would make perfume no more; this past year has put the end to that line of thought. He has been behind five different releases for four different brands.

Jean-Claude Ellena

If there is something common to these new perfumes it is the focus on floral ingredients. In the past M. Ellena’s perfumes have been likened to scented watercolors. The delicacy was part of the appeal. These latest perfumes step things up a notch or two. I might call these acrylic pastels. Less transparent while still retaining a minimalist ingredient list. The best example of this is Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Rose & Cuir.

Frederic Malle

M. Ellena returns to the groundbreaking brand by M. Malle sixteen years after his last fragrance; L’Eau D’Hiver. A year later he would be at Hermes. When I heard about Rose & Cuir I was excited to see what M. Ellena would produce for his fifth perfume. Even within this collection Rose & Cuir feels like a new step taken.

I have recently been reminded the soul of modern perfumery is not to slavishly replicate nature. Instead it is meant to interpret nature using scent. Rose & Cuir lives up to this as there is no rose and there is no leather. What replaces them is geranium and isobutyl quinoline. M. Ellena uses them to create a bitter green facsimile of the titular notes.

Rose & Cuir opens with a cousin to Szechuan pepper called Timut pepper from Nepal. This rare pepper has a scent profile of citrus and flowers. It is what comes off my skin in the early moments. The green begins to take form as geranium comes forth. This is a lush geranium, at first, which is given a few thorns as the sharpness of blackcurrant bud complements it. Now comes the leather surrogate, isobutyl quinoline. This ingredient was Germaine Cellier’s response to all the birch tar leathers of the day as she overdosed this ingredient in Robert Piguet Bandit. It created a leather of the tannery with bitter facets front and center. M. Ellena does not overdose the isobutyl quinoline. He adds just enough to provide a precise counterweight to the geranium. This allows the acerbic leathery-ness just enough room to provide the same alternative to a birch tar leather as it did in the past. This all finishes with vetiver elongating the green atop cedar.

Rose & Cuir has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I have had my sample of Rose & Cuir for about a month. I have spent most of that time dissecting it to find the overlaps. What I found is the evolution of M. Ellena as he looks for a less opaque way to create modern perfume.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle.

Mark Behnke

Book Review: Perfume Legends II by Michael Edwards

I was busy queuing up my Labor Day weekend binge viewing when a delivery truck arrived. Little did I know the next two weeks I would be binge reading what was in the box.

For perfume to be fully embraced as the art form I believe it to be we need to have the history of modern perfumery chronicled somewhere. I have always known it existed within the mind of Michael Edwards. Having had the fortune to hear him speak as well as spend time with him he has been the conduit to much of what I understand about the art of modern perfumery. I have spent hours listening to him and always left wanting more. He has now granted my wish by publishing “Perfume Legends II”.

Michael Edwards

If you are wondering where “Perfume Legends I” is you missed it, most likely. Mr Edwards published the first edition in 1996. It came out right as the independent niche perfume trends were arriving. Publishing “Perfume Legends II” twenty-three years later has allowed for the perspective of that growth of independent perfumery to also be included. All the content from the first edition has been further researched and elaborated upon. Along with the addition of the more recent legends.

“Perfume Legends II” covers the entire history of modern perfumery from the first modern perfume 1886’s “Fougere Royale” through to 2010’s “Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Portrait of a Lady”. Sandwiched in between are fifty more perfumes. Each chapter covers the time of when the perfume is released, the composition of the perfume, and the creation of the bottle as well as the reason it is a legend.

It is a remarkable collection of the history of perfume in one place. Each chapter feeds off what came before. It displays the evolution of perfume as a commercial product as well as a reflection of society. One of the most fascinating parts of the book was the history of the bottle. I have said many times I don’t care about the bottle just give me the perfume. After finishing the book I have a new appreciation for the container.

The most fascinating of these was the fraught creation of the bottle for YSL Opium in 1982. Bottle designer Pierre Dinand would be challenged to accommodate changes requested by Yves St. Laurent as they were nearing release. Once you read the story you will never look at a bottle of Opium the same way. It is true of most of the bottles written about. I still care more about the perfume but I have newfound respect for the bottle.

If there is a drawback it is that the volume is focused on French perfumes. It really isn’t one because Mr. Edwards is able to make his larger point within the smaller dataset. It also becomes less French and more global as the Legends reach the 1970’s and beyond because of the global reach of the brands.

I presume anyone reading this blog is a perfume lover. You need to put a copy of “Perfume Legends II” on your bookshelf. It will give you a deeper belief in the artistry behind modern perfumery.

Disclosure: this review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Shalini Paradis Provence- Thyme for Lavender

I write about soliflores, where a single ingredient is highlighted, as being difficult to have that be compelling. It is much easier to find a pair of perfume ingredients which can provide all the complexity you desire. I say it is easy but, finding that balance to give both the space to shine individually and in harmony is also difficult. I was reminded of what it is like when done well with Shalini Paradis Provence.

Shalini

Paradis Provence is the fourth fragrance overseen by fashion designer Shalini for her fragrance brand. As before, she collaborates with perfumer Maurice Roucel. It is meant to evoke the special scent of Provence in France. For Shalini she wanted to feature the “golden light of thyme”. I’m not sure who had the idea to marry lavender to it, but it is an inspired choice.

Maurice Roucel

One of the things I enjoy about high-quality lavender is the tripartite scent profile it exudes. The obvious floral quality is matched by a green herbal-ness over a subtle woodiness. In the hands of M. Roucel the concept is to find other ingredients which can accentuate all three parts.

Right away the lavender appears with the floral and herbal qualities on display. The thyme rises by first teasing out the herbal quality seeking it as a complement. It gives the early moments a vegetal green field accord. The floral quality is matched with orange blossom containing its own green to match the lavender and the thyme. The thyme achieves that “golden light” as the orange blossom arises. It ends with olive wood and the woody part of the lavender comprising the base.

Paradis Provence has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I was so intrigued with the lavender-thyme combination I visited my local lavender farm to see what the real things smelled like together. Not as good as Paradis Provence. It was a reminder of what modern perfumery is meant to do; interpret nature through an artistic vision of scent. Paradis Provence lives up to that high minded ideal beautifully.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Strangelove NYC fallintostars- Quality Over Quantity

I admire purity of vision in all the arts. One of the ways that manifests itself is producing that art on the artist’s time scale. It exists in perfumery as it does elsewhere. It happens when a new brand releases too many perfumes in a debut collection. As a result muddling their aesthetic. It happens when a new brand rushes their next releases after a successful introduction. They forget those first perfumes came from an extended time of development. Changing that will lead to compromises. Then there are the outliers. The creative teams who have faith in their process. One of those teams is the one behind Strangelove NYC. Founder Elizabeth Gaynes, creative director Helena Christensen, and perfumer Christophe Laudamiel have produced one of the best collections in all of perfumery because they don’t stray from their core principles. The latest example is Strangelove NYC fallintostars.

Elizabeth Gaynes (l.) and Helena Christensen

The first of these principles is to use high quality natural materials as the keynotes. Ms. Gaynes has proven to have an outstanding instinct about which ones to feature. In many ways fallintostars comes full circle back to the first release, deadofnight. Their commonality comes from the use of real oud as the heart note. deadofnight was a modern version of the classic oud-rose duet. fallintostars returns to the oud while surrounding it with a new ensemble of supporting ingredients.

Christophe Laudamiel

When M. Laudamiel is left to his own devices he will find every rough edge within oud and amplify it. Ms. Christensen provides the direction to allow for him to go just far enough with as fractious an ingredient as oud.

For fallintostars M. Laudamiel created a special cocktail of different sources of oud. It is like a kaleidoscope in the way it subtly shifts as it is on my skin. I don’t know how many ouds are here, but I suspect four or five because I believe I detect at least four. M. Laudamiel masterfully combines them into an uber-oud accord. It is present right from the first moments. Early on he gives it a sunny glow via saffron and ginger. The ginger flits through the early moments like a will of the wisp. It sets up the floral contrast which is jonquil nectar. This adds a honeyed jasmine-like floral to the oud. It oozes over the top of the oud, filling in spaces. It is complete when the green vein within jonquil seals this with an almost audible click. The base is a mixture of Peru balsam and benzoin. This gathers up the resinous character of the oud and gives it a warm foundation.

fallintostars has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Over five releases Ms. Gaynes, Ms. Christensen, and M. Laudamiel have created perfume of the highest quality. There is not one misstep within this collection. They have remained true to their core artistic beliefs. Which means fallintostars is another example of how quality wins over quantity, every time.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Hendrick’s Gin

When it comes to spirits gin is my favorite. One reason is it comes closest to perfume in its use of botanical ingredients. Even in its dry form gin has an aroma of juniper, coriander, and citrus. Over the last ten years there has been a rapid expansion in small-batch distilleries featuring Old Tom gin containing a higher quantity of botanicals. I have lots of them and use them in all kinds of different gin-based cocktails. All of these new gins to discover have had the same effect new perfume does; it pushes to the rear of the cabinet the originals which formed the foundation of my affection. Towards the end of this past summer I was reminded of the first botanical gin which started all of this; Hendrick’s Gin.

Hendrick’s was the British response to the dry gin so popular for decades. The founders wanted to make a gin that oozed British garden parties. They decided to add cucumber and rose petals to the distillation process. That process is two-stage. The first producing the typical dry gin while the second adds in the unique botanicals.

I became aware of Hendrick’s when the mixologist at my local bar asked me if I wanted to try something new in my pre-dinner martini. When I lifted it to my nose and caught the scent of roses I was intrigued. The taste which hit my tongue was totally different. I would spend that summer trying it in different gin cocktails learning the advantages to having a botanical gin as the main ingredient.

As I mentioned the sexy new bottles on the block eventually eclipsed the elegant black bottle on my spirits shelf. Until I was reminded a few weeks ago it is every bit as good as these contemporary interlopers.

It started when I forgot my cocktail box on a long weekend trip to a friend’s beach house. At first, I was annoyed at myself. We stopped at a liquor store on our way but the only botanical gin they had on their shelf was Hendrick’s. I was a touch disappointed, but I knew it was a good gin.

What happened over the next few days was I reacquainted myself with the original botanical gin. I was reminded that latest does not necessarily mean better. Hendrick’s was more than a stand-in it was the star of the weekend. I was surprised at how many had never tried it. When I served them their gin and tonic with a cucumber instead of a lime, I got a quizzical look until they took a sip.

It is another reminder to look back to the originals because they are where trends begin.

Disclosure: I purchased the bottle written about.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Ariana Grande Thank U, Next- Next!

As one who tends to sneer at celebuscents you would be interested to know how much I was looking forward to the release of Ariana Grande Thank U, Next. The reason for that anticipation was that last year’s Ariana Grande Cloud impressed me by interpreting the transparent gourmand trend in a compelling way. I would have been interested to see where this would go in any case. When I found out perfumer Jerome Epinette was involved my interest was further piqued.

Jerome Epinette

Thank U, Next is named after the song by Ms. Grande after her recent break-up. Not someone who follows the ins-and-outs of her life I am not sure if I can find an overlap between song and fragrance. What I do find is another different transparent gourmand than Cloud which is equally as good.

I’m not sure if this is intentional or not but Thank U, Next has a similar trio of pear, coconut, and white musks as Cloud does. M. Epinette tunes them to different effects than in Cloud yet there is enough similarity this could be a flanker of Cloud.

That pear is paired with raspberry to give a sweet fruity top accord. Just as it was in cloud this is kept at such an opaque level it is appealing instead of overpowering. The heart accord is coconut cream leavened with a fresh rose. This is a contrast of the fresh floral with the more substantial coconut cream. It is like finding an exotic dessert of rose petals atop a coconut custard. If you are left thinking of that dessert M. Epinette places a coconut macaroon right next to it as a sweet dough-y complement. It all ends with a clean cocktail of white musks to add lift to it all.

Thank U, Next has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

For everyone who was a fan of Cloud Thank U, Next should be next to try. It has everything that made that perfume stand out while having its own personality. I am again quite amazed at how well this creative team is doing in this new fragrance space. It has me in my own way saying, “thank you, next!”

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from Ulta.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Acqua di Parma Osmanthus- The Fruit to Leather Pivot

Soliflores are hard. You’ve heard me say that before. When I received my samples of the new Acqua di Parma Signatures of the Sun collection it seemed like they were following the recent trend of luxury soliflore collections. What I was pleased to find was a group of perfumes which might only have one ingredient name on the label but were much more than that.

Signatures of the Sun is a ten-fragrance collection consisting of one ingredient on the label. All ten were composed by perfumer Francois Demachy. Instead of a group of single keynote fragrances each perfume uses the titular note as a large piece of a greater whole. I am still working my way through the complete collection but as usually happens one leapt out at me from my initial assessment; Acqua di Parma Osmanthus.

Francois Demachy

As osmanthus is one of my favorite ingredients it is unsurprising that it would make an impression. What really made it rise is a single ingredient which is used in overdose. It turns this into a fantastic perfume study of this flower.

When I sprayed the perfume what I first notice is deep neroli supported by baie rose. The herbal slightly fruity nature of the baie rose provides the bridging note to the osmanthus in the heart. The neroli and baie rose tease out the apricot character creating a unique fruity floral accord for the early moments. Eventually the leathery nature of osmanthus also appears. What speeds that process along is the use of ambrette butter in the base. Ambrette is the botanical source of musk, it usually has a dry presence. In this case it has a lusher feel with more depth than I usually experience from ambrette. A small amount of patchouli adds some earthiness to the ambrette. It allows for the osmanthus to pivot from fruit to leather as Osmanthus develops.

Osmanthus has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I am generally impressed with the Signatures of the Sun collection and I’m sure I’ll review a couple more. None of them will be better than Osmanthus.

Disclosure: this review is based on samples provided by Acqua di Parma.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Byredo Slow Dance- First Contact

The ritual of the school dance is where most of us have our first close encounter with someone we are attracted to. It was 1971 and I was attending my first junior high dance. I had decided not to be one of those who sat in the bleachers; I wanted to dance with someone. The girl who had caught my attention had done so for the most pedestrian of reasons, her shampoo. If you grew up in the 1970’s the scent of Clairol Herbal Essence shampoo was amazing. Even 50-years later I still lean into a woman who walks by wafting it from her hair.

Ben Gorham

In 1971 it was brand new and there was only one girl in our school who used it. I had decided I was going to ask her to dance. Once the music started, I waited for a song I thought I could move somewhat gracefully to. I walked over to the group of girls. In a firm voice I asked Debbie if she would like to dance. She smiled and said, “yes”. It broke the ice in her group and soon we were all on the dance floor. One fast song after another we were having a great time. Then the DJ changed things up as “How Do You Mend A Broken Heart?” by the Bee Gees came on. A slow dance! I looked at Debbie and reached out. She responded by putting her arms around my neck. As we swayed and twirled in a small circle, we progressively got closer until she rested her head on my chest. This was the moment of human contact which remains so precious. Byredo Slow Dance wants to capture that magic in a perfume.

Jerome Epinette

Creative director Ben Gorham and perfumer Jerome Epinette collaborate once again. This is a fragrance where the meeting of two people on a dance floor comes through.

It opens with the gorgeous invitation offered by opopanax. It is the hand offered to the potential dance partner. The remainder of Slow Dance is a juxtaposition of a feminine accord of flowers and a masculine accord of patchouli. The floral accord is geranium and violet supported by labdanum. It isn’t Herbal Essence shampoo but it is a compelling accord all its own. The patchouli fraction, which is the earthier musky version, is sweetened with a little vanilla. Together these two accords sway their way through the night entwined with each other.

Slow Dance has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is a beautiful fragrance just right for the upcoming fall days. If the name and the perfume can take you back to a dance floor of your youth all the better.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Byredo.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Jardins D’Ecrivains Orlando- Shoulder Season Staple

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For most people their perfume choices are split into warm-weather and cold-weather fragrances. A perfume dork like me has to create more categories than that. One part of the year I look forward to is what I call “shoulder season”. This comprises the transition between summer-fall and winter-spring. More practically it means days which start out cool become pleasantly warm at midday to return to cool after sunset. I have a group of perfumes which have a dynamic evolution on my skin which makes them ideal shoulder season perfumes. One of those is Jardins D’Ecrivains Orlando.

In 2013 Anais Biguine debuted her new brand Jardins D’Ecrivains, garden of writers, with five singular perfumes based on famous authors, or their works. The original debut collection of five is exceptional in the way Mme Biguine successfully realized her vision. This wasn’t a brand which played it safe as each fragrance had a few twists and turns to them which made them stand out. Orlando was perhaps the twistiest of the original releases.

Anais Biguine

Based on the novel by Virginia Woolf and further made familiar by the 1992 movie starring Tilda Swinton it tells a story of gender roles. Elizabethan Lord Orlando falls asleep only to wake up as Lady Orlando a century later. Book and movie have lots to say about the fluidity of gender which seems particularly apt today. Mme Biguine produced a perfume which captures her subject matter in three accords.

The top accord is a vibrant concoction of ginger, baie rose, and orange. This is an unsettled opening much like the protagonist it is meant to portray. The perfume leans into its inspiration as each ingredient pinballs off the other not finding a harmony. It is something I find unusually beautiful when I wear Orlando. The heart is amber and patchouli containing a touch of clove which represents our Elizabethan Lord in act two. The final act of lighter woods transforms it into something more contemporary with gaiac, musk, and peru balsam. As our heroine wakes up in a new time.

Orlando has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

Orlando is a bit of an acquired taste, but it is my favorite of the Jardins D’Ecrivains perfumes. Especially in my shoulder season. If Orlando sounds a bit too challenging for you there are others within the collection worth exploring that are less experimental. In any case this is a brand that deserves to be on any perfume fan’s radar.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Masque Milano Kintsugi- Reconstructing Chypre

There are times when the name of a perfume describes what is in the bottle perfectly. This is the case with Masque Milano Kintsugi. Kintsugi is the Japanese art form where broken pottery is repaired with lacquer infused with precious metals. It takes something which was ruined and reconstructs it with valuable materials making for an improvement. If there was an analogous effort to be made in perfumery it would be in having a chypre without oak moss. Could a creative team reconstruct chypre using unique materials to bring new life to the form?

Riccardo Tedeschi (l.) and Alessandro Brun

If I was asked which creative teams I would like to see take this on, surely one of my top answers would be Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi of Masque Milano. They have been one of the top creative directors in all of fragrance especially over the last few years. They mix an unapologetic willingness to take risks while using young rising perfumers who also want to push at the boundaries. For Kintsugi that ascending star is perfumer Vanina Muracciole. What they have achieved is to take the wreckage which is oak moss-free chypre and put it back together with unique materials for a completely modern chypre.

Vanina Muracciole

It starts off in the depths of creamy magnolia and powdery Rose de Mai. This forms a rim of the bowl etched with these flowers intertwined. It transitions through an ambery suede accord in the heart. This provides the canvas upon which to assemble the pieces for a nouveau chypre. The heart of the accord will be the heart fraction of patchouli. This is the concentrated earthiness of this well-known ingredient. It has become a favorite fraction because of the feeling of putting my nose in the dirt and inhaling. Mme Muracciole then uses violet leaves and raspberry leaves to add back the greener facets of the patchouli while adding in a shimmer of metal and hint of leather, respectively, to elongate the leather in the heart through to the base. Ambrinol adds the briny muskiness of an ambergris substitute. Benzoin provides the bite of a good chypre accord while a touch of vanilla smooths it all out.

Kintsugi has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Kintsugi is a monument to everything right about the philosophy behind Masque Milano and why they are one of the best perfume brands in the world. They are fearless in taking a shattered form, like chypre, and gluing it back together into a thing of new beauty.

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

Mark Behnke