New Perfume Review Aerin Cedar Violet- Escape to the Mountains

As we enter the last week of the dog days of summer I turn to one of my favorite summer ingredients for succor. Regular readers will know what it is. I have an odd craving for a big cedar-centric fragrance the hotter things get. What is nice is I usually get a new one to enjoy just at the right time. This year’s version is Aerin Cedar Violet.

Aerin Lauder

Aerin Lauder has found her groove at this brand named after her. Over the last four years I have been appreciative of the work it took to get there. Each successive release is a new mainstream take on a floral ingredient. This has become another line I have become comfortable recommending because while it might not do as much as others, what it does is good. One of the amusing things about Cedar Violet is that the floral isn’t the one on the bottle but gardenia.

It begins with the silvery green of violet leaf. It is matched with the freshness of muguet. This is a summery type of top accord that eschews citrus for a more verdant alternative. The cedar comes next. What makes me enjoy cedar in the warmer weather is first its cleanliness. In the good ones there is also a raw green woody thread which runs through it. This is what happens here as the top notes and the cedar all align on a green axis. This is where gardenia appears and attaches its green underpinning to the same continuum. This concludes with an austere sandalwood spiced up with amber.

Cedar Violet has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

In the press materials Ms. Lauder said this was inspired by the Adirondack Mountains. On the days I wore this I came to realize that hiking among the trees is just as much a summery scent as anything inspired by the beach. For the reminder of this year’s dog days if I need to escape to the mountains, Cedar Violet is here.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Ouai Dean Street- Happy to be Enjoyed

The last few years have seen perfume brands spring up from unusual sources. YouTube reviewers have brands. Visual artists have brands. They all have varying degrees of success. There is one section where I see more success. That is when someone who writes about beauty decides to try their hand at fragrance. I have found these to be surprisingly good. They also have an extra added benefit of not trying so hard. These creative directors seem to want to make nice perfumes which smell good. There is nothing that will be groundbreaking or aesthetically exciting. Their raison de etre is to make the wearer happy they are wearing perfume. Ouai Dean Street put a smile on my face.

Jen Atkin

Ouai was founded by Jen Atkin. She found her fame through doing hair and writing about it. She formed Ouai (pronounced “way”) at first to do what she knew, hair products. A couple years ago she decided to expand into perfume with a four-fragrance collection. I received samples of the entire collection which confirms my assessment as them being an easy-to-wear style. Dean Street is the first addition to the original four.

Each perfume is named after a street in a famous city. In this case the place where New Romanticism took root in late 1970’s, Soho in London. I like the convention, but I haven’t found any of the five perfumes to have a particular connection which makes my mind go there. They are amiable fragrance companions I am happy to have along.

Dean Street is a simple summery fruity floral. I like the choice of apricot and citrus as the fruit piece. The apricot keeps the citrus from being quite as irrelevant as it can be. It adds a juicier foundation to it. Which is ideal for the magnolia and rose waiting in the heart. The apricot and the florals create a breezy fruity floral accord. It gets a little spicier and warmer as amber and some musks provide the base accord.

Ouai Dean Street has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

For those of you who want fragrance to be something which is more casual I think you might want to check out the Ouai collection. Even for someone who smells a lot I enjoyed a perfume which is well put together that doesn’t ask more than just to be enjoyed.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Azman Two Minutes After the Kiss- Familiarity Breeds Beauty

When it comes to modern perfumery there are some classical combinations. They are the ones you will encounter repeatedly the more fragrance you encounter. When I receive samples, I’ll look at the ingredient list and inwardly say, “Not another fill-in-the-blank”. Most of the time my antipathy is rewarded with something that just trod the same well-worn path. Rarely I receive a sample of a perfume which seeks to take that familiarity and turn it into an asset. That is achieved by having a deep understanding of the materials being used. It also comes by going beneath the surface to add depth and texture. Azman Two Minutes After the Kiss does all of that for rose and oud.

Husen Khan

Azman is a new fragrance brand founded by Husen Khan. He grew up in India and now resides in Dubai. In between his job took him all over the world. He has an aesthetic we’ve heard before, to mix Arabian and European perfume. On paper it sounds like things I read too many times which never understand what they mean. Mr. Khan is one of those who did his homework resulting in a perfume that does exactly what he desires. Part of that is choosing Cristiano Canali as perfumer. If you give the brief of Arabian-European rose oud to him it won’t be checking off boxes.

Cristiano Canali

When you are making a rose and oud perfume the first question is which rose and which oud. There is a spectrum of choices. In this case the rose is a Turkish version. The oud is Laotian. Of all the oud oils I own my favorite is the Laotian version. It appeals to me because there is a slight floral piece of the profile. The other reason is it is smokier resinous without tripping over into a dirtier profile that other ouds have. The Turkish rose is probably my favorite rose because of the spicy core of it. This is a rose I think of as a passionate rose. Sig. Canali gives them the space to evolve with a stellar cast of supporting ingredients.

It begins with both keynotes right away. A large amount of cardamom is used as the first modulator. This is a greener version of the ingredient. It has a more intense presence which is necessary to break through the keynotes. Now a smoky Omani frankincense swirls through amplifying the same parts of the oud. Some pepper finds the spicy piece of the rose in the same way. Both ingredients act as catalysts to bring the subtle threads forward. The softer resin of myrrh finds harmony in both.

Now the perfume enters an earthy only slightly animalic phase. It begins with the unique animalic source of beeswax. It grows deeper in that direction with a leather accord. An austere sandalwood along with patchouli and vetiver form an earthen contrast to the leathery piece of the base accord. Over time it ends as it began with the rose and oud on top.

Two Minutes After the Kiss has 24-hour longevity and average sillage.

This is a remarkable rose oud fragrance. It is going to be one of my all-time favorite ones. It comes about because the creative team allows the familiarity to breed beauty.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Paco Rabanne Phantom- The Sum of Fractions

One of my favorite moments of my perfume blogging life happened about 10 years ago. I was invited to Robertet. As I sat there, they introduced me to the idea of fractionation as it applied to perfume ingredients. Because I am a chemist, I understood the process immediately. The idea is when you are distilling an essential oil you collect it, as an example, over a ten-degree range. That’s the full spectrum stuff. The question that was asked was what if you took smaller pieces of that temperature range. Collect only the first two degrees, then the next two, and so on. They showed me what that looked like for ylang-ylang. I was blown away. There was a fraction which smelled like lily, another which was intensely fruity, it was like seeing the layers of fragrance nature used to create the scent.

Ever since I’ve been fascinated with the use of fractions of all the main perfume ingredients. Each of them can smell entirely different than the parent. When I received the new Paco Rabanne Phantom there were three fractions which show off the best part of why you use them. Luc Dong, Anne Flipo, Juliette Karagueuzoglu, and Dominique Ropion form the team of perfumers working on their fractions.

It begins with the brightness of lemon. The perfumers use the old-school synthetic ingredient styrallyl acetate to add fruity green to the citrus. This is where the first fraction appears. It is from patchouli, and it carries an apple piece of its scent profile. This finds its partner in the synthetic green which also has an apple piece to it. It forms a hinge point where the lemon sits between.

The next fraction arrives, and it is one of vetiver. This captures all the green freshness with only a hint of the deeper woodiness of the full version. It adds another hinge point as there is a slight woodiness to the patchouli fraction. What comes to sit in between those two pieces is a fraction of lavender. This has a stronger green profile closer to the grassiness of the vetiver than the herbal-ness of the full extract. The perfumers add back small amounts of lavender to create an echo of it. It is as if the floral-herbal piece is coming from a distance. Some vanilla adds depth and warmth to the smooth lavender accord.

Phantom has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Phantom is a fun summer fling. What makes it engaging is the sum of its fractions.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: A Master of Djinn by P. Djeli Clark

I do love the readers of this column. You are an endless source of discovery for me. A few weeks back I wrote about how I enjoy the kind of fiction which combines a whodunit in a fantasy setting. A reader wrote to me to tell me about a version of a whodunit set in a steampunk world. I looked it up and soon after downloaded “A Master of Djinn” by P. Djeli Clark. It didn’t disappoint.

This is the first novel featuring Mr. Clark’s characters who work at the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities in 1912 Cairo. He had written three previous short stories with these characters. A Master of Djinn is the first novel-length adventure. Agent Fatma, who is the narrator, is assigned to the case when a secret brotherhood is killed. The group was dedicated to Al-Jahiz who opened the way to the magical realms. This is a great detective story as Fatma works her way through the case.

As with all stories in this genre there is a memorable cast of supporting characters. One of them is Agent Hadia who is assigned to help on the case. She is the ostensible rookie assigned to the grizzled vet. Her job is to ask the questions the reader has so Fatma can answer them. Too often an author just lets that happen. Mr. Clark broadens Hadia’s story enough that she feels like these books going forward should be called “Fatma and Hadia Casefiles”.

The other part of this is setting the book in Egypt. Most steampunk takes place in more recognizable settings. The better to enjoy the differences of the steam-powered contraptions. Mr. Clark has much more fun putting most readers at the disadvantage of not knowing ancient Cairo very well. He is an historian in his non-fiction life. That shows throughout the book as the Colonialism of the time is a considerable presence.

If you need a fun read over this last part of the summer take yourself to steampunk Cairo.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier Route du Vetiver- The Beginnings of Niche

Now that I’ve been writing about perfume for over a decade, I’ve accepted brands come and go. Most of the time if it is one I’ve written about I am a little melancholy. If a brand has made the effort, I am hopeful it can find its audience. It is especially tragic when it is a brand which taught me a lot about niche perfumery in my early days of exploring everything that smelled good. This was the case when Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier sharply contracted their distribution a few years ago. They weren’t discontinued but they might as well have been. What was important about the brand was the founder and perfumer Jean-Francois Laporte was creating his second independent brand ten years after founding L’Artisan Parfumeur. M. Laporte is one of the fathers of niche/independent perfumery. As any perfume lover understands L’Artisan is still well-known today. Now the Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier collection is getting a second chance. I’ll focus on one of my favorite summer vetivers from the brand Maitre Parfumeuer et Gantier Route du Vetiver.

Route du Vetiver was a part of the debut collection in 1988. After reading about these perfumes online in the early 2000’s I sought them out on a trip to NYC. I spent an entire day trying all that was there in the little shop. It was summertime and the one which I wanted to take home in the heat and humidity was Route du Vetiver. It has been a part of every summer since for almost twenty years.

Jean-Francois Laporte

This perfume is a celebration of the green freshness of vetiver. It begins with a vegetal green top accord as leafy green ingredients are combined with blackcurrant buds. This creates a sticky sap-like effect. A set of aldehydes lighten things up. It reminds me of a breeze through a dense set of vines.

The vetiver used here is a gorgeous grassy version. It has a citrus-tinted freshness which is what makes vetiver such a natural for warm weather. M. Laporte entwines strands of slightly indolic jasmine through the vetiver. It adds a bit of rough texture and floral depth. This rests upon a base accord of creamy sandalwood and animalic musks. The latter twins to the indoles in the jasmine.

Route du Vetiver has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I tried a sample of the recent formulation and compared to my older one. The most significant difference is in the sandalwood. Back then it was a different source than it is now. To me it adds a sharper focus on the base accord in the 2021 version over the older bottle. The current version is still amazing.

To my mind Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier remains one of the great perfume brands, even today. In these resurrections Bahiana and Iris Bleu Gris are also fantastic examples of the beginnings of niche. I am thrilled that the brand is back in the air so any perfume lover can find it on their radar. When you do be prepared for a treat.

Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle I purchased, and a sample of the current formulation provided by Neiman-Marcus.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Thierry Mugler Alien Goddess- Adept Adaptation

In 1945 author HG wells wrote a truism, “adapt or perish”. He was talking about bacteria changing to resist antibiotics. I’ve always thought of it as I’ve watched perfume brands make their choice. One brand which has gone wholeheartedly for “adapt” is Thierry Mugler. They readily understood the change to transparent styles was not just a fad but a trend which would last. They have been modernizing their line one pillar at a time. Right from the start with Angel Muse in 2016 they’ve been designing to meet the desires of the younger generation of perfume lovers. Thierry Mugler Alien Goddess continues this.

Nathalie Lorson

While this has Alien in the name it feels more kinship to the series of recent summer flankers of Angel. This also has a tropical cocktail aesthetic like those do. Perfumers Nathalie Lorson and Marie Salamagne were given the task to design an Alien for gen-z. The overall effect is a fragrance which knows how to have fun.

Marie Salamagne

The fun gets going right away as coconut and tropical fruits over an aquatic accord put you smack-dab at the tiki bar. A little citrus adds to it all. A fresh indole-free jasmine and heliotrope add a floral breeze. This does remind me of lots of summer nights drinking pina coladas under the flicker of torches. It turns significantly sweeter as vanilla and light woods complete things. At this point it reminds me of a frozen cocktail most of all.

Alien Goddess has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is another sure step into the trend of transparency for a brand which has become adept at adaptation.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Thierry Mugler.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Chronotope Spite Eau de Parfum- Choose Your Own Adventure

There are moments when I receive a sample and I am not sure what to think. It generally comes from an independent perfumer. It also transcends the concept of smelling good. Now here comes the tricky part. Is the odd smelling piece intended or a mistake? I tend to spend too much time trying to figure out which it is. I’ve struggled for months with Chronotope Spite Eau de Parfum (EdP). I think I have an answer.

I learned about Chronotope at the end of last year. Indie perfumer Carter Weeks Maddox showed his desire to make one think what fragrance should be. Of the three early releases Spite, as an eau de toilette was perhaps the most straightforward. In some ways it was the baseline to prove that Mr. Maddox could make something more accessible. The other two were delightfully the other way. He used different ingredients which have an unpleasant scent profile and found intriguing harmonies, nonetheless. Because of these I was willing to go where Spite EdP would take me.

Carter Weeks Maddox

Mr. Weeks had informed me this was coming, and it really wasn’t a flanker despite the same name and different concentration. His idea was to explore the different concepts of the emotion of spite. It is a completely different construct. It is much more like the other two non-Spite fragrances than the one which it shares a name with.

Amusingly the original Spite got its name when Mr. Maddox had difficulty with composing a vintage rose accord. As a result there was no rose in it. Spite EdP is the opposite. The early stages are all rose. It isn’t a vintage rose. It is a thicket of thorny rose vines on a trellis. He layers in multiple sources of rose along with jasmine and tuberose. It creates a florid floral. To pull back on that comes a set of green foliage pieces. There is the density of rose leaves. Vetiver and galbanum amplify the green. There is a non sequitur fruitiness which crops up like it doesn’t belong. This was one of those moments where I spent some of my time wondering about intent.

The other place was his use of spikenard in the base. This is a difficult material to balance. It has a scent profile of unpleasant dirtiness. It is not my favorite essential oil on its own. In most perfume uses it is at low concentration to add depth or texture. Here there is enough to make sure I know it is here. It turns the later stages of Spite EdP sour. The sandalwood helps keep it from going too far in that direction.

Spite EdP has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

This falls right in line with what seems to be the nascent Chronotope aesthetic. It asks a perfume lover to find the unlikable, likable. In the early tests I was on the unlikable side of the equation. It wasn’t until I tried it on a warm day that it began to change towards likable. I kind of thought of this as a “choose your own adventure” perfume. There is an opportunity to find a way to enjoyment. You just need to keep at it.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Les Soeurs de Noe Call Me Iris- Meditation Iris

Now that there has been about five years of this trend of transparency, I have some preferences. I still have issues with a fragrance designed to be so light it is barely present. Those always seem like perfume made for people who don’t like perfume. There is a level where things become just a little opaquer. As difficult as it has been to embrace this style it is these types of constructs which I can find some pleasure in. Les Soeurs de Noe Call Me Iris fits right into what I like.

Nadia Benaisa

I discovered Les Soeurs de Noe two years ago with their debut release of five fragrances. Founder-creative director Nadia Benaisa wanted to design perfumes which reflected her Belgian and Moroccan world where she grew up. The first releases were smart combination of Eastern and Western influences. She worked with perfumers Jerome Epinette and Pierre Wulff to create one of my favorite discoveries of 2019. The same creative team is in place for Call Me Iris.

Pierre Wulff (l.) and Jerome Epinette

The Eastern and Western pieces here are frankincense and iris. I have lots of perfumes which have these two ingredients as their nucleus. What makes Call Me Iris different is the transparency without becoming ephemeral. Here those two ingredients knot them selves together like two silk scarves as the wind blows underneath.

Orris and frankincense come together immediately. In the early going it is as if the incense is coated with a fine dusting of iris powder. I’m not usually a fan of the powdery part of orris. In this case the opacity works to make it more interesting. A lemon zephyr blows in adding a hint of citrus luminescence. Baie rose asks for that rhizomal side of orris to come out. As that happens the frankincense also slightly shifts from soft to a silverier scent. The base has vanilla waiting to interact with the orris and fir balsam to add to the frankincense. As this comes together, they add an extra layer to both keynotes.

Call Me Iris has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I am quite pleased to see that Mme Benaisa has returned with all the things which made me so happy about her first releases. Call Me Iris has been a wonderful companion on these summer days because it is as transparent as it is. I have found myself closing my eyes and letting the scent take me to a different place. It has become my meditational iris.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review DSH Perfumes Violettes de L’Aube- Purple Dawn

There are many things about Colognoisseur HQ which make me happy. One of them is a patch of wild violets which grow along the property line for about ten yards. When I let the dogs out in the morning, I often follow them on their morning ablutions. In the summer I tend to head back towards the violet patch. Since our poodles tend to like to wake me up around dawn, I will be observing a shade of different purples spotted with dew. DSH Perfumes Violettes de L’Aube captures this in a stunning violet solitaire.

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

This is one of independent perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s “Violet Trio”. Of the three it is the one which wants to be the most realistic. There are few solitaires which attempt to get this real. Ms. Hurwitz captures the flower, the dew, and the dirt it grows in. She achieves it through a series of intricate accords.

Violettes de L’Aube painted by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

It begins with a humid summer morning as she mixes the green of clover, a set of ozonic notes, and ambrette. This is the scent of daybreak. The ambrette provides a little humidity. The clover is a smart surrogate for grass. The rest is that hazy morning light.

This brings us to the violet accord. She uses a lot of violet, but I think there is almost as much iris. Together they make a hyper-real violet scent. She then uses petrichor to coat it in droplets of dew. Violet leaf and vetiver form a green underpinning of leafiness.

The base accord is the slightly damp dirt they grow in. The iris helps here as the rhizome meets the use of geosmin to form the accord of dark soil. As all three accords come together it is what my patch of violets smells like first thing in the morning.

Violettes de L’Aube has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage in the Voile de Parfum concentration I tested.

I usually try not to compare other perfumes but this one constantly had me thinking of another dewy floral; Olivia Giacobetti’s En Passant. She captures lilac after a spring rainstorm right down to the ground it grows in. Violettes de L’Aube is its contemporary. In this case Ms. Hurwitz produces a spectacular purple (D)awn. (pun intended)

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by DSH Perfumes

Mark Behnke