My Favorite Things: Narcissus

Thanks to the prompting of a reader I was reminded I hadn’t done one of these columns on one of my favorite perfume ingredients. I think the reason I held off on doing my favorite narcissus perfumes is because that keynote is not widely enjoyed. It is an acquired taste. Even as much as I enjoy it, I feel pretty safe in saying I own all the good versions. Because there just aren’t that many. Two of the best Penghaligons’ Ostara and DelRae Wit have been discontinued. It is a tough to love scent. If you do enjoy it this is the time of year to break it out. Its characteristic deeply vegetal greenness easily evokes digging in the early spring garden surrounded by all the green before the flowers bloom. Here are five of my favorites.

My first memory of recognizing narcissus came on a visit to the Caron store in NYC. As much as I was drawn to the other perfumes, I had come there for there was this other green siren calling to me. That was Caron Narcisse Noire by perfumer Ernest Daltroff in 1911. The narcissus is presented in a classic high-low combination with orange blossom. The narcissus is given textrure through vetiver while the orange blossom is made a little bit more of a white flower through jasmine. Musky sandalwood is the pedestal it perches upon. This is the early masterpiece version of the ingredient.

It would be a few years later when I would discover my favorite narcissus perfume. Neil Morris Gotham is a perfume I will never not own. Its one of my personal perfume touchstones. He builds it around the spiciness of black pepper and the juxtaposition of a cuir de Russie leather accord and the narcissus. This is a fragrance that reaches to my depths in all the best ways.

Early on when I was joking around about a perfume only I would like. I said it would have narcissus, immortelle, and a birch tar leather accord. I suspected that idea never to see the light of day until I got my first sniff of L’Artisan Parfumeur Mont de Narcisse. Perfumer Anne Flipo stands in the center ring with three snarling keynotes while managing to put them through their paces. Each of these ingredients is given the space to thrive. Much to my surprise it worked better in reality than I thought it would.

There are two spectacular post-modern narcissus perfumes. One of them is Masque Milano Romanza. Creative directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi work with perfumer Cristiano Canali on a perfume that allows the narcissus to expose all facets of itself as it interacts with absinthe, orange blossom, civet, and amber.

The other one comes from perfumer Bruno Fazzolari, Fzotic Au Dela Narcisse. Narcissus is such a difficult ingredient Mr. Fazzolari wondered what it would add to a chypre style. The answer is it transforms it into something truly noir. Full of shadows as spicy coriander, full spectrum oakmoss, amber, and orange blossom form the chypre of my narcissus filled dreams.

If you want a different spring perfume experience any of these five narcissus perfumes will provide that.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review The 7 Virtues Santal Vanille- Way Ahead of the Curve

Trends come and go but I always look to who was there before it became one. When it comes to the whole “clean” and sustainable fragrance concept, one of the first was The 7 Virtues. Owned by Barb Stegemann whom I met in 2013. She laid out the principles back then which these movements have embraced in the last couple of years. What has become interesting to me is her style of perfume making has also evolved over the same time period. The first releases were simple soliflores highlighting the sustainable source of the keynote. I kind of lost touch with the brand but by the time I looked again in 2018 there had been a change. The perfumes were no longer simple while still featuring a sustainable ingredient. The latest, The 7 Virtues Santal Vanille carries on in this way.

Barb Stegemann

Ms. Stegemann has worked with only two perfumers Julie Pluchet and Angela Stavrevska. I presume one of them is behind this. When I tuned back in two years ago the one, I tried was called Vanilla Woods by Ms. Stavrevska. It was a gourmandy vanilla where the promised woods didn’t really show up. Santal Vanille seems like a reversal of words as Sandalwood Vanilla feels like it is the B-Side to that earlier release. The difference is in this case both ingredients show up.

In the early going the sandalwood takes the lead. This is from sustainable plantations in Sri Lanka. I enjoy this variety of sandalwood for a dryness that comes with it. It generally needs something to figuratively re-hydrate it. Here the ingredient that does that is myrrh. The resin flows into the spaces of this sandalwood adding depth and texture. Now the vanilla comes forward. This is less foodie in effect and more about the sweetness of it. It coaxes out the inherent creaminess of the sandalwood and amplifies it. This becomes an enjoyable abstract of sandalwood until one final ingredient sneaks in over the later stages. The first day I wore this I found myself noticing a change from sweet wood to something like suntan lotion. It is because the listed ingredient of coconut stealthily inserts itself. It makes the late stages kind of beach-like because of it. If you’re not a fan of coconut it is very subtle. This doesn’t even come close to becoming a gourmand.

Santal Vanille has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

When you’re ahead of the curve it allows for you to be more innovative when everyone else has caught up. Ms. Stegemann has done this admirably as Santal Vanille proves.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Redbrook Parfums Underground- The Joy of Partnership

If you want to know what video reviews looked like prior to YouTube you need to go back to 1977. That year a show on PBS called “Sneak Previews” featured two movie critics from rival Chicago newspapers debating a new movie and giving their opinion. What made it work was the difference in perspective about movies. Each of them had preferences they were happy to share even if the other disagreed. It is one of my favorite forms of criticism. Two opinions from different positions found in one place. That dynamic has continued into the world of video reviews on the internet.

Carlos J Powell, Jean-Claude Delville, Steven Gavrielatos (l. to r.)

One of the fragrance equivalents were the shared reviews of YouTubers Redolessence and Brooklyn Fragrance Lover, Steven Gavrielatos and Carlos J Powell respectively. They would travel back and forth to each other’s home studio and would provide reviews together. These are some of my favorite perfume video reviews because they both had different tastes which they would use to form their opinions. They also clearly enjoyed their partnership. There was a warmth which came through the screen when they were together. It is not surprising that they decided to extend their collaboration into creatively directing a perfume. To achieve this they worked with The Society of Scent and perfumer Jean-Claude Delville. Together they would distil the give-and-take of their perfume tastes into a satisfying fragrance called Redbrook Parfums Underground.

The name of the brand is a portmanteau of their YouTube channels. Underground represents the amount of train time spent traveling between their homes to achieve their vision. One of the videos about the creative process shows both Mr. Gavrielatos and Mr. Powell in the courtyard at The Society of Scent with lots of strips to smell. You can see a vigorous conversation happening between the two creative directors and the perfumer. I smiled at that thinking the creative tension would produce something memorable.

It begins with a fresh top accord of citrus and ginger. Ginger has become the contemporary way to add fresh. The equally modern choice for herbal effect is baie rose which is also present in the opening of Underground. This is the appetizer of what is to come. Underground travels down parallel tracks for a bit as patchouli and vetiver runs next to a rich gourmand vanilla and chocolate. They come together through that overlap of the chocolate in patchouli. Together they sped on an express track right to its destination.

Underground has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

As many may know Mr. Powell would pass away just as Underground was on the verge of being released. I know what a personal dream it was for him to have this opportunity. To share it with his best friend added more to it. What remains is a fitting perfume which represents the joy of partnership between the two men and the perfumer who helped it happen.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle provided by Redbrook Parfums.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Memo Argentina- A Rose to Love

I get emails which ask me, “Why do you hate rose?’. Hate is a strong word. I would more describe it as bored. Bored of having the beginning of every year swamped by demure genteel rose perfumes. This is the style that typically brings tears of frustration to my eyes. What is truly more accurate is if you show me the grown-up rose, I am much more interested in that. Memo Argentina gives me that type of rose.

Clara Molloy

Argentina is the latest of the Art Land collection within the brand. Creative director Clara Molloy collaborates again with perfumer Alienor Massenet. When I see Argentina my mind wanders towards tango. It is unfair to think of a country as only one thing. It is also unfair to think every perfume which refers to the country must be inspired by the dance associated with it. This is a perfume of passion. Which is what a great dark rose can bring out.

Alienor Massenet

The beginning sets the tone. A top accord of baie rose and the botanical musk of ambrette capture the sensuality to come. The rose appears from out of this. This is the Turkish version which contains a spicy core. The baie rose tweaks it with an herbal effect. Jasmine is used to take the rose and give even more depth. At this point it is almost like a rose soliflore. It changes as oud appears.

Oud and rose have become a classic combination. Mme Massenet manages to create a gentler version of the obstreperous wood. There is some real oud because there are nuances that only come from the real thing. I think it is lifted by an oud accord which allows for a more precise tuning. It meshes with the rose without clubbing it into submission. Over time it goes from intense to a skin scent memory of the night before.

Argentina has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Argentina is so appealing because it is so full of the beauty of rose. By allowing the grown-up out to play this becomes a perfume of adult passion. This is a rose to love, and I do.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample supplied by Memo.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Tom Ford Private Blend Soleil Brulant- Try, Try Again

I know the creative process behind any perfume is an intricate process. When I’ve been given a peek behind the scenes it has shown me how delicate the effort is. I likened it to a real tall Jenga tower as you try to add that last piece. Use too heavy a hand and it all comes tumbling down. This usually doesn’t play out in public.

Karyn Khoury

Starting in 2016 Tom Ford began releasing perfumes with “Soleil” in their name. They seemingly wanted to capture a fragrance based on a brief of suntan lotion and sun. They veered all over the place trying to get things just right. Through the four previous releases they stubbornly clung to that suntan lotion vibe. When I was told the fifth “Soleil” was on its way I was wondering what this one would attempt. Turns out creative director Karyn Khoury decided to rip up that previous script and start over with Tom Ford Private Blend Soleil Brulant. This time the focus was just the “soleil” as the warmth of summer sunlight is what comes through. Perfumer Daniela Andrier is behind this as she undertakes her first brief for Tom Ford.

Daniela Andrier

The first surprise comes with an herbal citrus top accord around baie rose. The intensity of the pink pepper adds in a green underneath the luminosity of the orange. The citrus becomes warmer as it melds with a heart of orange blossom and honey. This is so different than any of the previous “Soleils”. This smells like an abstraction of bronze skin with a sheen of honey perspiration. That deep warmth is enhanced with amber and incense creating the base accord. This adds in a more complex depth which completes things.

Soleil Brulant has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Soleil Brulant succeeds where the previous releases had difficulties because they go in a different direction. By focusing on the sun instead of the SPF protection they produce something much more engaging. This is going to be a fantastic choice as temperatures warm up for those who would like just a teensy bit more heft to their spring and summer fragrances. It all happened because they chose to rethink the concept and try, try again.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Providence Perfume Co. Irisque- Roots Festival

1

Iris is one of my favorite perfume ingredients. The fluctuating scent profile has always drawn me in. Most of the time a perfumer will choose a couple of sources. One reason is the cost of the material itself. Iris/orris is one of the most expensive ingredients in perfumery. Which is why when it is used in a high concentration it has a striking effect. What if a perfumer decided to use five different sources of iris? What would you have then? According to the perfumer, Charna Ethier it is an “orris bomb”. I think Providence Perfume Co. Irisque is more like a festival of iris.

Charna Ethier

One of the most recognizable iris effects in a perfume is as a soft powdery layer. On its own it can also have a chilly feeling. Ms. Ethier wanted to go in a different direction focusing on the earthiness of her sources of iris. Each one is derived from the root or rhizome. Through a clever bit of layering she takes us down into the earth where the rhizome exists.

One other aspect of iris in its rooty form that often gets mentioned is it has a carrot-like scent. Ms. Ethier embraces that comparison through the opening stages. Using both iris pallida and iris germanica she lets carrot seed ground things right from the start. As much as I write about this face of iris the carrot seed pulls some of the inherent sweetness underlying it all. Over this Ms. Ethier adds an opaque gauzy tincture of the rhizome. It is a bit like gilding the iris, but it adds a lilting silken veneer over everything. Things take a deeper turn as orris butter and a resinoid of orris adds an opulence as it moves to something even more complex. To further add to the earthiness a carefully titrated amount of oud along with the botanical musk of ambrette appear. They create a moist black soil accord from which all these sources of iris can nestle within.

Irisque has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Every time I wear this I feel as if I am in bare feet in a dark patch of soil digging up iris from the ground with my bare hands. There is a deeply satisfying harmony to what Ms. Ethier has composed. She may see it as a “bomb”. For me it is a roots festival featuring the inspiring scents of iris.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Providence Perfujme Co.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: WandaVision

I don’t know what is in the water over at the creative part of Disney Studios. Based on what they have been doing over the last sixteen months you almost have to believe a fairy godmother, or two are involved. They used The Mandalorian to re-invigorate Star Wars. Now they are doing it again with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). They are taking the opportunity provided by being able to tell stories in episodic fashion to add even more depth to the overall world building. With WandaVision the first of this new way of exploring the MCU they knocked it out of the park.

One of the things the movies have been a little light on is being able to delve into the consequences of the Marvel heroes’ actions. It is not ignored but it also isn’t given the depth it could be. Enter writer Jac Schaeffer who wanted to create a whole series around that theme. Together with director Matt Shakman they created WandaVision to be about one powerful person’s grief and how a person like that might express it. They use a brilliant device to achieve it.

They choose to pay homage to classic sitcoms. Many of the episodes are riffs on a popular sitcom of a decade. The first episode is based on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” of the 1950’s. To add extra authenticity to it they actually filmed it in front of a live studio audience. They also spent time with Dick Van Dyke to learn about how they approached the show back then. This attention to detail shows. Each subsequent episode takes on “Bewitched”, “The Brady Bunch”, “Full House/Family Ties”, “Malcolm in the Middle”, and “Modern Family”.

In each episode Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda and Paul Bettany as The Vision play their love story out against the backdrop of the sitcoms. As we move along, we come to realize there is something not quite right about it all. The reason for it all comes from the trauma of everything that has happened to Wanda. I am being especially obtuse because a huge part of the fun of WandaVision is figuring out what is going on. Mrs. C and I were talking back to the television through each new twist.

The one thing I want to mention is how amazing an actor Elizabeth Olsen is. She channels everyone of the sitcom moms she is asked to. The flightiness of Mary Tyler Moore as Dick Van Dyke’s wife to the documentary breaking the fourth wall of Julie Bowen’s Claire Dunphy from “Modern Family”. She has every little mannerism and way of delivering a line down to perfection. Once the sitcoms end and Wanda’s actions are revealed she is even better. As she lets us in to the towering grief which brought all of this on.

This is exactly what having the MCU on Disney+ is for. This is a story that needed to be told in this way. It could never have been shoehorned into a theatrical runtime. What is particularly exciting about this is it is clear that the Marvel executives are going to allow for this kind of very creative storytelling over and over. It just adds to the legacy of success of the last decade because WandaVision proves the vision that comes from the top is almost unerring.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: The Beautiful Mind Series Vol. 1 Intelligence & Beauty- Belle Brilliant

Even I need to be reminded of things which have fallen off my radar screen. When I was speaking with perfumer Geza Schoen about his recent Escentric Molecules M+ Collection I took the opportunity to ask about a different project, The Beautiful Mind Series. In 2010 and five years later Hr. Schoen worked with the creative direction of precocious non-perfume intellects. I was thinking we were overdue for a third volume. He told me that he is just waiting for the right muse. Which sent me to find the earlier releases. When I found The Beautiful Mind Series Intelligence & Beauty Vol.1 there was a gorgeous spring floral waiting.

The beautiful mind he collaborated with was Grandmaster of Memory, Christiane Stenger. She achieved that status at age 12. The brief they came up for the perfume is, “an ode to summer and its memories”. The structure was a floral built around magnolia and tiare. I remember remarking at the time that it was only the second time I had encountered tiare in a perfume. What a difference a decade makes. Even then there is a sparkling presence to this South Pacific gardenia. By pairing it with a creamy woody magnolia it is a study in contrasts They are provided depth through osmanthus and rose. I know they want summer, but this feels very spring-like to me. The tiare is the crown on top of the floral heart. A soft woody base accord around sandalwood and cedar adds in the final flourish

Intelligence & Beauty Vol. 1 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Hr. Schoen would release Vol.2 with ballet dancer Polina Semionova. They produce one of the more interesting fruity florals I own which ends on an animalic accord. Both perfumes are unlike much of what Hr. Schoen has made for other brands. They celebrate the beauty of intelligence which is as good as perfume gets.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Ferragamo Intense Leather- Spring Leather

You are all probably sick of my bellyaching on the lack of originality in spring florals. It is because it seems like there is a whole lot of non-floral space which could be explored for spring, that isn’t. It always seems to me a flaw in imagination. Which is why Ferragamo Leather Intense offers that alternative.

You look at that name and see “leather” and think that must be too heavy. What has happened over the last few years is an opportunity for perfumers to construct lighter leather accords. They don’t have to all smell like motor oil or birch tar. Since it is an accord, any perfumer can choose to tune it to whatever effect they choose.

Antoine Maisondieu

I have an old, weathered 20+-year old leather jacket. A couple of years ago I found this lighter grade jacket which allows me to keep wearing a lighter version of my old stand-by as the weather begins to warm up. What I think of when I wear the lighter version is how it still wraps me in leather without suffocating me by overheating. Perfumer Antoine Maisondieu does the same here.

The leather accord he has built is the core of Intense Leather. It is built of some of the less intense pieces of typical leather accords. I know it seems like a contradiction in terms. Yet M. Maisondieu builds a stolid accord on which to hang the rest of his ingredients.

It begins with an interesting fruity duo in orange and apple. For a little while the orange will be all you notice. The apple makes its presence known by inserting a tart crispness between the citrus and leather. A nicely balanced iris adds a floral layer over the leather. This is where the less intense leather is an asset. It allows the iris more space. An edgy clary sage connects to a green base accord which also finds some clean musks there, too.

Intense Leather has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is the kind of spring fragrance that I’d like to see more of. It has the freshness of the fruit and green along with a lightweight leather. Which makes this an ideal spring leather.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Macy’s.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Estee Lauder Beautiful Magnolia- A Grilled Cheese with Tea

Regular readers know what I mean when I call a new fragrance a grilled cheese. For those new to the site it means something well-done and basic. There is little to comment upon as far as anything unique. It is a perfume you should seek out if the ingredients appeal to you. Around this time of year I’ve been sniffing a steady diet of debutante rose grilled cheese. Which is why when a mainstream brand offers me a different recipe it makes my day as Estee Lauder Beautiful Magnolia does.

Anne Flipo

Beautiful has been one of the brand’s pillars since 1985. Over the last fifteen years it has been a collection of flankers. They have mostly been good versions of Beautiful without completely losing the beauty of the original. Things took a different turn with last year’s Beautiful Absolu. It was a refreshing of the original formula for today’s perfume lover. Beautiful Magnolia also is looking for that same demographic. Perfumers Anne Flipo and Laurent Le Guernec turn magnolia into the type of spring floral it should always have been.

Laurent Le Guernec

This opens on a version of magnolia just after a spring shower. There are watery droplets on top of a lilting fresh magnolia. Over a short period of time the magnolia shakes off the dampness and fully blooms. There is an appealing creaminess matched to a woody undertone. Some rose and gardenia help amplify the floral part of things. What happens now is unexpected as a sharp green note of mate tea pierces things. This is an unusual choice for a mainstream release because this is an acerbic quarrelsome ingredient. It provides a spiky contrast which alone sets it apart from other new spring florals. I liked it a lot. Yet Mrs. C commented on one of the days that the perfume I was wearing was “very sharp”. I asked her if it was unpleasant, and she said she thought she might like it as a change of pace. This all settles on a typical cedar base.

Beautiful Magnolia has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

The presence of that mate tea note maybe should elevate this from my grilled cheese category but overall it is a pretty, safe spring floral. Just not a rose. Maybe this is a grilled cheese with a cup of tea.

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

Mark Behnke