New Perfume Review Armani Prive Cuir Zerzura- Queen Nelly’s Oasis

If there is a single perfume which has always had me giving the benefit of the doubt to Armani Prive it is 2005’s Cuir Amethyste. It was among the first releases in this exclusive fragrance collection for Giorgio Armani. It remains one of my favorite violet and leather perfumes I own. Over the past fifteen years they have only rarely returned to releases with “cuir” in the name. With the latest release Armani Prive Cuir Zerzura they take another try.

Nelly Hachem-Ruiz

Perfumer Nelly Hachem-Ruiz works for the second time for the brand. She previously collaborated on 2015’s Sable Or with Sophie Labbe. Zerzura is the Saharan equivalent to El Dorado; a mythical city of treasure. It was also called the “oasis of little birds”. Mme Hachem-Ruiz creates a perfume which captures the scent of a movie hero in search of treasure the twist is I imagine this to be a leather jacketed woman with a rose in her hair.

Our perfume story begins with our heroine standing at the end of a valley looking at the parchment map that led her here. The valley is lined with orange trees. Mme Hachem-Ruiz uses a rich mandarin oil along with violet leaves and elemi to create this accord. This is the scent of fruit, leaf, and trunk. It is more concentrated giving off less sunniness than mandarin usually does. As she moves through the valley the gates to Zerzura beckon, a fresco of birds above the portal. She settles her jacket onto her shoulders giving the rose in her hair a final opportunity to release its floral beauty. This is a classic rose and leather accord. The difference here is she adds in some of the expansive synthetic florals for lift and transparency. It allows the rose to float above the leather jacket accord. That is the well-worn leather accord anyone who has owned a leather jacket for a long time will recognize. It isn’t animalic or refined, but something in between. Experienced perhaps? The final moments take place as our heroine reaches the soaring cedar gates. Somewhere inside the scent of vanilla greets her.

Cuir Zerzura has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is a perfume which took me to faraway places for fabulous adventures. It is the best Armani Prive with cuir in the name since Cuir Amethyste. Instead of King Solomon’s Mines I felt as if I was at Queen Nelly’s Oasis.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Thierry Mugler Angel Nova- How to Lighten Up

Since 2016 I have been watching the popular perfume brands come to grips with the current trend for lighter more transparent fragrances. Each of them has chosen their own path with varying degrees of success. At this point their choices have become evident. Thierry Mugler has made one of the more interesting choices. If you want to lighten up your perfumes you should also do it with a palpable smile. Thierry Mugler Angel Nova continues to achieve that.

Quentin Bisch

The original Angel is nobody’s idea of a light perfume although the spirit behind it was fun. In 2016 perfumer Quentin Bisch laid down the marker on the new Angel with Angel Muse. It has continued through two iterations of Angel Eau Croisiere and Eau Croisiere II. Those perfumes are made for nights on holiday. They are also intelligently designed perfumes. Angel Nova picks up on all of this with a team of M. Bisch, Louise Turner, and Sonia Constant collaborating.

Louise Turner

One of the hallmarks of this current generation of Angel flankers is they have been simple constructs. Angel Nova is three keynotes of raspberry, rose, and akigalawood. There are a couple of supporting ingredients which add to the complete piece, but it is predominantly those three.

Sonia Constant

It opens with a juicy raspberry given a syrupy finish through lychee. It made me think of opening a can of lychee and finding raspberries covered in the syrup. This is the kind of value added of a clever supporting note. It leads into a rich rose living up to its jammy adjective. I know you read this and think light, how could this be light. It is a remarkably transparent effect. It is capped with the spicy patchouli analog of akaigalawood adding an echo back to the original with its own patchouli inspired base. Some benzoin completes that base accord.

Angel Nova has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is another perfume full of joy. I keep looking forward to these Angel flankers because they all manage to find a way to have fun without becoming inane. Perhaps because they know the secret on how to lighten up their perfumes.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Atkinsons 44 Gerrard Street- Cologne for Perfume Snobs

I get all kinds of PR material surrounding every new release. I spend as much time reading between the lines as I do what is printed. Sometimes they are done with a self-deprecating humor that it makes me smile. When I received the latest text from the London-based brand Atkinsons they wrote they were celebrating over two centuries of “perfume snobbery”. This is done with that typical British charm like comedian Ricky Gervais delivers. You laugh but there is truth inherent within the joke. In celebration the new perfume, Atkinsons 44 Gerrard Street, is named after the location of their first shop back in 1799.

Mathieu Nardin

The press release goes on to say this will be a classic cologne structure. If there is something many self-proclaimed perfume snobs’ disdain it Is the lowly cologne. “It smells cheap”, is a regular commentary on the style. Atkinsons decided to take the opposite tack. Collaborating with perfumer Mathieu Nardin they asked him to use the exquisite Mane Jungle Essence ingredients in composing 44 Gerard Street. The snobs may have other issues but with these ingredients in use they won’t be calling it cheap.

As I say often the recipe is simple; citrus-herb-floral-woods. If you’re going to go for a new twist it can’t just be top shelf ingredients it also has to be something slightly different than the traditional. M. Nardin deploys his Jungle Essence ingredients to impressive effect. There is a depth which sets this apart.

The opening lays this out. Using green lemon as the citrus piece this is not the sunbeam version of the citrus it carries an unripe vegetal aspect. This leads into the keynote of the early going eucalyptus. This is a beautiful version of this ingredient. It is leafy, slightly woody, and mentholated. That first quality meshes with the green lemon ideally. If that isn’t enough energy for you it becomes supercharged with ginger. This is the turbocharged version of cologne. For the floral part jasmine takes the wheel with a similar energy. Through to this point this is as advertised. It was slightly disappointing to have the base be the same synthetic woods of Orcanox which have become so ubiquitous. The thrill ride ends on a banal note.

44 Gerrard Street has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

It seems likely the synthetic wood was added to ameliorate the other criticism of cologne, “It doesn’t last”. I wish they had the courage to overlook that criticism because the rest of the perfume puts to bed the cheapness debate. I think this does succeed at being a cologne for perfume snobs.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The New Normal for Geek Culture

It is a given once this worldwide virus is controlled everywhere, things will be different. We won’t be going back to normal but defining a new normal. There have been too many summers where I have spent part of my life in a convention center at a Comic-Con and/or gaming con. It is the geek version of summer camp; even when you’re 60. This weekend has given a preview of what these events might look like once things become virus-free.

If you are a fan of popular culture the middle of July means San Diego Comic Con (SDCC). Writers and artists of comic books mingle with stars of our favorite television and movies. This year the organizers had no choice but to cancel the live event. In its place for the past three days has been what they call SDCC @ Home. The same panels which would have taken place in Hall H are now happening over video meeting. All the things I would have eagerly waited to hear reports about I have been to watch live from my living room.

Concurrently if you are fan of mobile gaming and specifically Pokemon Go, July means Go Fest. In the US it took place in Chicago turning the city in to the epicenter of Pokemon Trainers. This year that was also not going to happen. What the game company behind it, Niantic, chose instead was a worldwide event. One where everyone could play if you bought a ticket. It turned what was an event for a few thousand people into something global. I spoke with other players from all over the world during my playing time. I played in cooperative events that were taking place in Tokyo, Johannesburg, London, and San Francisco. No longer just Chicago.

Here is the thing that ties this all together. I never left the house. All of this came to me using current technology. If I had been on my feet crossing convention centers while doing either of these, I’d normally be leg weary and dehydrated. Instead I’ve been safe at home as the world of geek culture comes to me. I feel certain the success of events like these will be the beginning of a new way for geek culture conventions to take place. Now that I am an old man, I am happier on my own sofa.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Clean Reserve Radiant Nectar- Seeds of Desire

It was the natural perfumers who brought my attention to the botanical musk of ambrette seeds. I loved the softness of this animalic scent from plants. The perfume version of plant-based meats. It is that less ferocious nature that makes it appealing. I have come to look forward to any perfume which uses it smartly. Clean Reserve Radiant Nectar joins that list.

Greg Black

One of the things creative director Greg Black wanted out of this collection was to become a trendsetter within the field of transparent fragrances. It seemed like the trends finally bent to where Clean has always been. With Clean Reserve Mr. Black has turned my initial skepticism completely around. Now every Clean Reserve release has my attention. They still have an irksome habit of not letting me know who the perfumer is. It bothers me because the work has been of such a high quality, I’d like to give credit. I will eventually find out and update it but for now I don’t know who made this.

It revolves around a top accord of ambrette seeds and pear. I usually am not a fan of the juicy version of pear used here. The ambrette makes it much more palatable as it wraps soft musky tendrils around the ebullient fruit. What really sold me on this perfume is what comes next. A combination of carrot seed, iris, and tobacco flower. This is a transparent style of fragrance so what you get are opaque versions of all three. It is an intelligent accord which lets the carrot seed provide an alternate soft sweetness to the pair while also harmonizing with the ambrette seeds. The iris and tobacco flower provide silky veils of each. It ends on a synthetic woody base.

Radiant Nectar has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is an ideal perfume for midsummer especially if you’ve tired of the colognes. Radiant Nectar offers a soft alternative though the seeds of desire at its heart.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Francesca Bianchi Sticky Fingers- Rock-and-Roll Gourmand

As we undergo the definition of the gourmand style of perfume there is still much to come from the ingredients which launched the genre. Dark deep patchouli can be the source of chocolate in a fragrance. I think it is easy to believe that there is nothing new to find. I found Francesca Bianchi Sticky Fingers had something to add.

Francesca Bianchi

Francesca Bianchi has become an independent perfumer I have begun to pay closer attention to. Last year’s The Black Knight was one of my favorite perfumes of 2019. She has a refreshing perspective on traditional perfume conventions. When I received my sample of Sticky Fingers I was taken, by the name, to where she wanted. The 1971 album of the same name by The Rolling Stones. I was expecting a rock-and-roll black leather perfume inside the vial. In this case the titular digits are sticky from dipping them in chocolate. There is leather here along with some other clever choices, but the star of this perfume is patchouli in all its gourmand-like glory.

Before the patchouli shows up Sig.ra Bianchi creates a spicy tobacco with cinnamon dusting the dried leaf. This on its own carries a gourmand feel to it. The cherry-almond like facets of heliotrope tilt things more firmly in that direction. This is a rich fruit scented tobacco accord. Now the patchouli reaches its treacly paws into this and coats it in chocolate. It is subtle at first, increasing in intensity over time. As it begins to take precedence that rock-and-roll leather comes out. The final stoke is to add the carrot-y nature of orris butter. Another odd gourmand choice which works. The patchouli takes over completely just in time for castoreum to turn the leather a bit more dangerous, a bit more subversive. Sandalwood provides the woody foundation of all of it.

Sticky Fingers has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

I adore this perfume even in the heat of midsummer for its rock-and-roll gourmand style. I suspect once I try the last of my sample out in the fall it is going to be even better. If you think you’ve tried a chocolate patchouli allow Sig.ra Bianchi to show you differently.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Perris Monte Carlo Lavande Romaine- Lavender Jelly

Of any ingredient in perfumery the one I am becoming most knowledgeable about is lavender. That increase in understanding has come through a local lavender farm. I have become an itinerant pest to them full of questions. One day they asked me if I wanted to come back that night to watch them distill the oil. I think they needed an extra pair of hands, but I was good with that. As the lavender was extracted and distilled the little shed filled up with a scent I would describe as lavender jelly. It was a humid scent hanging in the close quarters of the room. I have encountered it again in Perris Monte Carlo Lavande Romaine.

Gian-Luca Perris

I am not sure how Gian-Luca Perris was able to cajole “retired” perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena into making perfumes based around the flowers of Grasse. Last year the first two of the Les Parfums de Grasse collection were released, Jasmin de Pays and Rose de Mai. Both were based on the days M. Ellena spent as a child working on the harvest. The same concept informs the two newest, Mimosa Tanneron and Lavande Romaine. He is using a variation of the minimalistic style he is known so well for. In these perfumes the floral at the heart is given depth through two or three ingredients. In the case of Lavande Romaine it is just a couple.

Jean-Claude Ellena

Lavender of Provence has a pronounced herbal quality. It is the same variety that grows at my local farm. M. Ellena takes it and marries it to blackcurrant bud. This is an ingredient that is seemingly difficult to use as there are many perfumes where it becomes unpleasant at higher concentration. M. Ellena has apparently found a partner in lavender which tempers that. Almost immediately these two ingredients combine into that lavender jelly scent I remembered. What I mean by that is it has more substance than the typical floral lavender. There is an olfactory viscosity that comes through the blackcurrant bud. This isn’t the typical lavender scent profile. It is marvelously different. Some white musks provide lift and expansion over the latter stages but it holds at that thicker lavender stage for hours.

Lavande Romaine has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is a delightfully unique take on a well-known floral. By asking M. Ellena to access his memories of the lavender harvest of Grasse we are rewarded with another fantastic perfume.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Christian Dior Oud Rosewood- A Berry on Top

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When it comes to the perfume brands which comprised the pillars of my perfume foundation recent years have found them decaying before my eyes. It makes the arrival of each new release an exercise in dashed expectations. Dior has been one which has been on a particularly destructive trajectory. Their mass-market releases have been terrible. The place I turn to for hope is their exclusive collection Maison Christian Dior. They changed the name two years ago and promptly did what they’ve done with the mainstream releases dumped a collection of 18 mostly mediocrities. Thankfully for my battered psyche perfumer Francois Demachy has returned to the previous exclusive release pattern of two a year. The one for the back half of 2020 is Maison Christian Dior Oud Rosewood.

Francois Demachy

M. Demachy has made some memorable oud perfumes for the exclusive line. 2010’s Leather Oud and Oud Ispahan two years later remain a couple of my favorites from this collection. Oud Rosewood provides the third point of an oud triangle which stakes out new ground. While I am usually not a fan of berry notes it seems I like them when used with stronger base notes. Oud Rosewood gives me that.

That berry note is what begins things. A tart raspberry one maybe harvested a little early comes forth. It finds the slightly fruity quality of rosewood awaiting it. This is a lovely accord which sometimes reminded me of a cola accord. There were times I was looking for my glass. It takes a turn for darker depths as the oud comes to the foreground. This is that more restrained oud carrying less of the barnyard quality it often can. A little leather picks up for what is missing. M. Demachy then adds in sandalwood to create a woody triptych that carries itself with confidence.

Oud Rosewood has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I enjoyed Oud Rosewood as much as I did the previous oud releases. Together they make an excellent sub-collection within Maison Christian Dior. It is funny to say but I wouldn’t have liked Oud Rosewood as much without the berry on top. It is the contrast which exposes the woody power to come.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Maison Christian Dior.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque Petra- Freeing Imaginations

Over the years since 2013 besides consistently excellent perfume there is another thing Masque Milano has become known for. Creative Directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi have worked with many of the most talented young perfumers in the business. In many cases their work for Masque Milano is part of their earliest work. Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi have an undeniable eye for talent. The list of perfumers who have collaborated with them is a roster of young talents at the beginning of their careers. I think the results have been so good because these young artists are given an unusual opportunity to free their imaginations early in their career. They are just beginning to delve into their potential. One of the first of these returns for Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque Petra.

Riccardo Tedeschi (l.) and Alessandro Brun

That perfumer is Cecile Zarokian. In 2013 when she did Tango for the first of the Opera collection, I had only known her for one previous release, the spectacular metallic rose of Majda Bekkali Mon Nom est Rouge. I had already thought of her as something special. Tango would reinforce that with a sultry summer night in Buenos Aires doing the dance of love. This was one of the perfumes, when I tried it, help erase the memory of the earlier versions of Dolceaqua and Petra. I had a hard time reconciling the boldness from these perfumes in contrast to the blandness of the first two. For this reinterpretation of Petra Mme Zarokian pushes the envelope in a genre I think she is beginning to make her own.

Cecile Zarokian

Based on the press release I think the brief for Le Donne di Masque Petra is the 1976 song by Al Stewart “Year of the Cat”. The accompanying description is just the first verse of the song. Mme Zarokian has been making some of the most interesting gourmands in the last few years. She seemingly has an affinity for the style while looking to evolve it. In Le Donne di Masque Petra she does it again with an unusual pastry accord at the heart.

Before we get there, she uses baie rose at a concentration where both its fruity and herbal facets are prominent. Some sparkle comes through citrus. The gourmand accord Mme Zarokian is attempting is of an Arabic dessert called luqaimat. I’ve never tasted it, but it looks like a more refined version of the carnival staple fried dough. This is what Mme Zarokian creates; a sweet doughy accord infused with fruits and florals. It is another in her recent string of successful experiments as it carries a lighter quality then my description of fried dough might imply. It turns towards a resinous base of incense and patchouli wrapped in a subtle leather.

Le Donne di Masque Petra has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

As it was with Tango Mme Zarokian is given the chance to free her imagination on Le Donne di Masque Petra. It results in another expansion of what a gourmand perfume can aspire to. That is thanks to Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi who know to trust in the precociousness of the young artist. It is a major reason why their brand is one of the best in the world.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque Dolceaqua- The Smell of Success

I am going to reveal a secret which I normally wouldn’t do. Except over the last eight years it has turned into such a happy ending. The first time I met Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi at Esxence I thought they were all show, no nose. I had previously smelled their two debut releases Petra and Dolceaqua. I thought they were poorly made. Plus this perfumer, Luca Maffei, who was he? When I saw them at their booth in 2013 and they were talking about operatic perfumes my eyes rolled back into my head. I asked for a sample set and left as quick as I could. It wasn’t until I returned home that I sat down with what I consider the real debut collection that my deep affection for this brand was kindled. Anyone who has read my reviews knows I believe they are one of the best independent perfume brands in the world. My initial assessment was all arrogance, no brains.

Alessandro Brun, me and Riccardo Tedeschi (l. to r.)

What has set them apart has been a willingness to push boundaries. To take younger less established perfumers and give them a freedom to explore their art. The initially maligned Sig. Maffei? Along with Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi they would produce my Perfume of the Year for 2016, L’Attesa. When I received a press release about a year ago from Masque Milano it said they were redoing those first two perfumes. Giving them new names and new perfumers. It has taken a long time for me to finally get an opportunity to try them. What I found is both are prime examples of everything Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi have done well. I am going to review both today and tomorrow. First up Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque Dolceaqua.

Delphine Thierry

I went back to find my sample of Dolceaqua to remind myself what it was. A generic jasmine and rose is the best I can do. Perfumer Delphine Thierry did Montecristo and Terralba from that set of releases after the first two. Asking her to reinterpret Dolceaqua seems natural. The inspiration is a roadside breakfast somewhere in the Mediterranean.

Le Donne di Masque Dolceaqua opens with a fabulously green floral and vegetal accord centered around muguet, ivy and marjoram. The muguet is the core of the opening but the green leafiness of the ivy and the slightly floral woodiness of the marjoram add beautiful facets like sunlight off the water down below. A breeze carries a hint of the ocean up to where we have stopped. This is a love story and it begins in earnest with ylang-ylang holding predominance in the heart. This is a sensual floral carrying a bit of the carnality inherent in the ingredient. Mme Thierry gives it a bit more innocence though the puffy powdery quality of mimosa and rose. We have stopped for breakfast and there is a croissant accord around almond blossom and saffron. This is a delicate gourmand accord cleverly achieved. Our lovers now look deep into each other’s eyes. The passion rises through an accord of benzoin, oakmoss, and cedar. A rich Oriental base to complete the tableau.

Le Donne di Masque Dolceaqua has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Le Donne di Masque Dolceaqua represents the best of what this brand has come to stand for. I have been looking for a smart version of the transparent floral gourmand. The early moments of this deliver it. It is part and parcel of the intelligence Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi have supplied to their brand. Le Donne di Masque Dolceaqua smells like success as a perfume.

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

Mark Behnke