Dead Letter Office: Dolce & Gabbana By Man- A “Fresh” Look at Orientals

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As perfumery moved into the latter half of the 1990’s it seems perfume brands were willing to take a risk to attract new customers. There are many examples of a perfume from the late 1990’s which comes from a label now known for something entirely different. If I say Dolce & Gabbana to most perfume lovers they will think of the classic Light Blue and how that has become the standard bearer for not only the brand but aesthetically, as well. This is a bit of a no-win situation for a brand if you become so known for a style the consumer won’t let you branch out. Much like the actor known for an iconic role eventually you just give in and start signing autographs. Or in a perfume way start releasing flankers.

In 1998 Dolce & Gabbana was coming off the success of Dolce & Gabbana pour Homme; but oddly pour Femme would fail to win over consumers. It was three years away from Light Blue completely changing the brand’s fragrance image. Stefano Gabbana was trying to position the Dolce & Gabbana fragrance as something in the upper level of the prestige marketplace. A pair of fragrances were commissioned as the next attempt to find that position. By Man and By Woman were the names and both lasted barely six years before being discontinued. Light Blue would displace them from their shelf space as its popularity grew. By Woman has fairly sunk into the perfumed graveyard of perfumes not mourned for their absence. By Man is a different story.

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Alberto Morillas

Sig. Gabbana enlisted perfumer Alberto Morillas to compose By Man. M. Morillas delivered a spicy woody leather construction. It was against the prevailing wave of fresh and sport fragrances. It was also a calculated risk to see if men had become tired of those kind of fragrances and were ready to move on. They weren’t.

M. Morillas opens By Man with one of the best nutmeg openings of any perfume I own. He gives it some bite with pepper but it is really enhanced by a note called Hedione Elixir. The transparent expansive jasmine-like aromachemical is made a little less transparent, hence the elixir designation, and the spices seem to float suspended above the cloud of Hedione. In the heart M. Morillas gets more floral with lavender supported by artemesia. The Hedione Elixir persists into the heart adding its lift to the lavender as it did to the spices in the top notes. By Man finishes with base notes of primarily sandalwood and a leather accord. There is some Ambroxan to provide the same lift that the Hedione Elixir did over the early going. By using these very expansive aromachemicals I think M. Morillas was trying to make a “fresher” version of an Oriental. What he did was design one of the best spicy fougeres I own and something like no other in my collection.

Since its discontinuation in 2004 By Man has created a sort of holy trinity of discontinued men’s fragrances with Patou pour Homme and Guerlain Derby. I think it compares well with both of those and understand the affection. By Man carries a similar price tag to both of those if you can find a bottle for sale. If you get the chance to try By Man think about how different Dolce & Gabbana would have been if it became the signature fragrance success instead of Light Blue. This is the stuff of which parallel dimensions are made of.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: FlowerbyKenzo- Re-Thinking A Floral

When it comes to designer floral perfumes of the last two years it seems the style is to knock you over with a massive bouquet of floral notes. If that doesn’t do the trick then the perfumer loads it up with a bunch of fruit. The fresh floral perfume has been shunted aside. One of the earliest examples of the fresh floral was 2000’s FlowerbyKenzo composed by Alberto Morillas.

FlowerbyKenzo

In the late 1990’s into the early years of the 2000’s perfumers were actively experimenting with the floral perfume architecture. M. Morillas was one of the foremost innovators during this time. He would define numerous perfume styles which continue to this day. When it came to FlowerbyKenzo M. Morillas wanted to capture a crisper flower but he also wanted to capture the entire flower and the early moments are focused on the green stem and leaves. Then to make sure that the wearer doesn’t necessarily identify it as a specific flower M. Morillas uses a mix of synthetic and natural floral notes to create a hybrid perfumed flower which has never seen life in any greenhouse or garden. It is this supernatural flower which makes FlowerbyKenzo such an interesting example within its genre.

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Alberto Morillas

The first fleeting moments of FlowerbyKenzo are a fabulous green stemminess. It is the smell I associate with trimming the stems of cut roses to put them in a vase. I think this was M. Morillas’ intent to sort of let the wearer experience the stem before getting to the supernatural bloom on top. The natural ingredients are violet, hawthorn and rose. To this is added hedione and cyclosal the synthetic versions of jasmine and cyclamen respectively. Once these are all together in the heart of FlowerbyKenzo they form something which smells completely floral but a collage of the ingredients chosen by M. Morillas. It is another case where spending too much time analyzing the components destroys the effect trying to be created. After so many years wearing this I can now just let the floral accord make me smile without trying to pick it apart. The finale is a slightly soapy musk cocktail over amber and vanilla.

FlowerbyKenzo has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

FlowerbyKenzo in its very elegant glass cylinder which looks like a poppy can be found at most discount perfume sites for less than $30/oz. I think it is one of the forgotten trailblazers of perfumery and if you’re looking for a different kind of floral than what you’re finding in the current marketplace give FlowerbyKenzo a try I think it will be the alternative you’re looking for.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review S-Perfume Musk-S- Sacre Nobi’s Second Fragrance Period Begins

One of my favorite early niche perfume lines was one called S-Perfume which came straight out of the DUMBO art collective in Brooklyn. The creative director behind the brand was Nobi Shioya who is also known as sculptor Sacre Nobi. In 2000 he became fascinated with fragrance and worked with perfumers Alberto Morillas and Thierry Wasser to add scent to his sculpture. This would lead to a one-off project where he assigned one of the Seven Deadly Sins to a perfumer. Back in 2002 this was the roster he attracted, besides Messrs. Morillas and Wasser, Annie Buzantian, Jacques Cavallier, Ilia Ermenidis, Annick Menardo, and Harry Fremont. I would say that my little sample set of these Seven Deadly Sin perfumes was one of the earliest moments where I seriously began to consider the idea of olfactory art. Each perfume was challenging and the perfumers were encouraged to push the boundaries of perfume making. I can’t say any of them are anything I crave to wear but I do pull them out from time-to-time to appreciate them as artistic statements. Sacre Nobi would go on to produce two perfumes which would be sold in stores 100% Love by Sophia Grojsman and S-ex by Christophe Laudamiel released in 2007 and 2006 respectively. These were and are amazing fragrances I do wear and they are among the very best of both perfumer’s collection.

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Nobi Shioya aka Sacre Nobi

Sacre Nobi would say in 2008 that he was phasing out of his “fragrance period” and for a while that seemed to be the case. 100% Love and S-ex continued to be produced intermittently and the brand was never completely gone. In 2011 I heard Sacre Nobi was back and working on a new fragrance line A Lab on Fire. A Lab on Fire held all of the same principles that S-Perfume had giving perfumers wide latitude to create without commercial pressure. It has been one of my favorite new niche perfume houses of the last few years. Then a few months ago I received a press release announcing the return of S-Perfume with new bottles and four new perfumes added to the original two. Of the four new perfumes there was one I was zeroed in on right from the start Musk-S.

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Carlos Beniam

One of the very first S-Perfume compositions was an attempt to create the perfect sheer skin musk. Alberto Morillas created S-Perfume to be that back in 2000. Ever since Sacre Nobi has encouraged the perfumers to tweak that original formula trying to perfect it. Perfumer Carlos Benaim is the latest hand to evolve the original formulation and the result is Musk-S. I am not sure if perfection has been reached but it is getting much closer.

 M. Benaim uses chestnut flower as the top note. In the original formulation this was around in much greater quantity as a method of discomfiture for the wearer. For those unfamiliar with the raw ingredient chestnut flower smells like semen. The higher the concentration the easier it is to make the connection. For Musk-S M. Benaim uses it in a much modulated form more as a nod to the original than anything else. A continued light mix of vanilla and bourbon add a bit of sweet booziness of the barroom. Once these preliminaries are out of the way we get down to the base note collection of synthetic musks. The original S-Perfume came off smelling more like a money shot from a pornographic movie. It was interesting but it felt miles away from where Sacre Nobi wanted it to be. This was also because M. Morillas had a lot of synthetic musks to use but not nearly the arsenal M. Benaim would have 14 years later. That is the key difference as M. Benaim has taken many of the more modern synthetic musks and layered them in to one of the most compelling synthetic musk skin accords I have smelled. There are still a few rough edges here and there which disrupt the illusion but they are slight and require attention to notice them. If I let my analytical mind take a nap they are really unnoticeable.

Musk-S has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I am thrilled that Sacre Nobi has decided to start a second “fragrance period” the freedom he grants the perfumers he works with is unrivaled in the niche perfume business. Musk-S serves as a perfect first fragrance to kick off this new era as it borrows from the past to create a current spectacular synthetic musk perfume.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Intertrade Europe at Pitti Fragranze.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review A Lab on Fire Oxymusc-White Musk Redux

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There are perfumers I just enjoy seeing what they will do next. Alberto Morillas is one of those who straddles every aspect of perfume making. He has been creating perfume since 1983 and he has seen trends come and go all while adapting and innovating with the times. M. Morillas has been so prolific he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from The Fragrance Foundation. His body of work is so broad it is difficult to say he is known for a single thing. One thing he is known for is the first use of the so-called white musks in 2001. Over the last thirteen years he has continually shown that he has an ability to make these very ubiquitous materials seem less common. A Lab on Fire Oxymusc shows there is still something new to discover from the white musks.

A Lab on Fire is becoming one of the most consistent niche brands on the market. For the last three years they have taken some of the most elite perfumers working and given them a platform to explore freely. What that has produced is a line of perfumes from recognizable perfumers who have taken their distinguishable aesthetic and pushed it. This has made the entire collection something which has always been nothing less than interesting. For Oxymusc M. Morillas is not only revisiting the white musks he pioneered but also the aquatic genre he helped create. In Oxymusc he has turned both genres into a fragrance that is as soft and ethereal as a cloud floating over an expanse of ocean.

albertomorrilasAlberto Morillas

M. Morillas knows how to construct an aquatic accord. In Oxymusc he is going for an aquatic accord similar to a watercolor. The contrast and texture is all about subtlety. When taken together it has a maximal impact. This aquatic accord is held up by three tentpoles of muguet, lavender, and thyme. Underneath the tent made by those notes is a couple of white musks. This creates a sea spray accord as when the wind carries the spray to you from afar. It is never strong but it persists at a very consistently pleasant level. The typical freshly ironed white musk vibe is present in the base. M. Morillas turns it into a set of well-loved sheets which are soft to the senses. Often these kind of mixtures of the larger macrocyclic musks can have a bit of bite to them. In Oxymusc M. Morillas has removed any hint of a rough edge. It goes perfectly with the sea spray accord and at the same intensity.

Oxymusc has 10-12 hour longevity but it is going to be a deceptive longevity on most. You will think it is gone after a few hours but find yourself smelling it again. When I say this is light, it is light but it is a fabulously fragile fragrance. Obviously the sillage is moderate on something as light as this.

We so often laud the perfumes that have the loudest voices. Oxymusc speaks to me in wisps of water vapor and whispers of the sea. Leaning in to experience it completely is well worth the effort.

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

Mark Behnke

Olfactory Chemistry: Macrocyclic Musks- A Whiter Shade of Musk

When it comes to musk it is not like we as chemists don’t know the chemical structure of the natural source. In 1926 Leopold Ruzicka isolated and chemically identified the molecule found in the musk deer which primarily gave musk its smell and he called it Muscone.

muscone exaltone

In the structure above what you see is a 15-membered ring of carbon and importantly the bold wedge attached to the CH3 represents a methyl group which is coming up from the plane of the page. If that wedge was dashed that would indicate the geometry was going behind the plane of the page this is how we show three-dimensional geometry on the page. This orientation is very important because if that wedge was dashed and the methyl group was oriented differently the odor profile of muscone is significantly lowered. It is exactly the difficulty of getting this geometry just right that gives synthetic chemists so much difficulty in making molecules easily. In 1926 Dr. Ruzicka didn’t even try because he discovered if you just leave the methyl group off and  synthesized the rest of the large ring you still had an acceptable musky profile. Thus was the first synthetic macrocyclic musk created, Exaltone.

musk graph

These all-carbon large rings were difficult to synthesize but if you replaced one of the carbons in the ring with oxygen or added additional oxygen, those were much easier to make. These molecules are called lactones and the smaller versions of these also play a large part in perfumery.  As you can see in the table above the same issue with the muscone still existed as if the methyl group was pointed away the odor profile was much more muted.

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Dr. Robert Grubbs and Nobel Prize

The big breakthrough for the all-carbon macrocyclic musks came in the 1990’s when Prof. Robert Grubbs published a technique called catalytic ring-closing metathesis. That’s a lot of words but what it comes down to is now there was a chemical reaction which allowed a synthetic chemist the ability to form almost any size carbon ring imaginable. This is one of the most powerful synthetic methodologies of the last thirty years and Dr. Grubbs received the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this work. It fired the imagination of chemists everywhere and in the fragrance industry it sparked a bit of a race into which firm could produce and patent the best synthetic musk.

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Alberto Morillas

As for the use of these macrocyclic musks these are the musks most commonly referred to as “white musks”. The term was coined by perfumer Alberto Morillas as he combined a number of these musks to create a “cotton and linen” accord for Emporio Armani White for Her in 2001 and called it a white musk accord in the press release. M. Morillas would use the same white musk cocktail in one of my all-time favorite fragrances Thierry Mugler Cologne later that year.

These musks are also the musks that some people are not able to discern in a fragrance. We term that as being anosmic to musk but that is far too general a term. These very large molecular weight molecules hold a special property that we don’t understand very well which causes certain people to not detect them. The same people who can’t detect these macrocyclic musks can often smell either of the polycyclic or nitro musks and anosmia to those is far less common.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Amouage Journey Woman and Journey Man- The First Steps of the Second Cycle

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My admiration for Christopher Chong has been writ large across numerous reviews of the Amouage fragrances he is the Creative Director for. His vision has made Amouage into one of the great perfume houses of this century. I believe this collection he is responsible for creating has only peers, and damn few of them. Throughout my time corresponding with Mr. Chong and the influences which motivate him I have come to “know” him, though we have never actually met. With last year’s release of Fate Woman and Fate Man “the first cycle of the Amouage narrative” came to an end. Now with the release of Journey Woman and Journey Man we begin the second cycle which will delve into Mr. Chong’s life and is subtitled ‘Portraits of a Life’.

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Christopher Chong

Mr. Chong was inspired by Shanghai Deco and Chinese film noir. The common thread to both of these is a weaving of distinctly western elements into an eastern undertaking. During the 1920’s and 30’s there were many striking examples of art deco buildings erected in Shanghai. When I look at this purely western form of architecture it is striking to me how well it meshes with its eastern surroundings. There seems to be no disconnection. The same can be said of Chinese cinema over the last 100 years as it has evolved by adding its own flair to traditional movie tropes and then, interestingly to me, these new interpretations find their way back into Hollywood releases. This is the theme of Journey Woman and Man the meshing of distinct western influences like noir and deco with a Chinese aesthetic to create something wholly unique. The perfumers Mr. Chong chose to help him bring this to life are Alberto Morillas and Pierre Negrin.

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Shanghai Park Hotel

Journey Woman feels very Deco inspired to me as it has jasmine tea, saffron, cypriol, and osmanthus provide the eastern details on the solidity of the western foundation of honey, cedar, and tobacco. When I asked Mr. Chong what it was about Deco that drew him to it he responded, “my reason for loving it is quite simple. I love the form, shape, and the period.” As a result Journey Woman is a fragrance which carries an unusual simplicity for Amouage but the “form” and the “shape” of this perfume is fascinating for those clean architectural lines.

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The Paramount in Shanghai

Journey Woman might have the softest opening of any Amouage fragrance to date, based on the opening moments I would bet many would not suspect it was an Amouage fragrance. The top notes of jasmine tea, nutmeg, apricot, and osmanthus provide luxuriance without heft. It lilts and draws you in with the intersection of so many beautiful notes precisely positioned. Honey and jasmine provides a bit more volume as Journey Woman begins to arise from the early delicacy and now begins to take more shape. The honey in particular provides a matrix for the osmanthus to blossom upon and the jasmine tea transforms into jasmine sambac in all of its full indolic glory. Cedar is used to start refining the emerging shape into eventual form. The base notes achieve the melding of west and east as tobacco, saffron, vanilla, and cypriol all flow together into a smooth montage of both sets of influences.

I suspect many are going to be surprised at this light Amouage perfume. I would encourage you to not try Journey Woman with prior expectations weighing you down. Embrace this new beginning of the second cycle and you will be heartily rewarded.

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Maggie Cheung as actress Ruan Lingyiu in "Centre Stage"

If you need something a little more “Amouage” to help you start the second cycle Journey Man will provide that transition. Journey Man feels very cinematic to me it could even have a logo “composed in Technicolor”. Mr. Chong has been a fan of Chinese movies for his entire life and he wrote to me, “I was brought up with all kinds of Chinese Cinema…for me it means entertainment and family time.” It is an almost universal thing to sit in a movie theatre watching larger than life images and losing yourself in the story unspooling from the projector behind you. Journey Man unspools in larger than life accords of Sichuan pepper, neroli bigarade, juniper berries, along with the tobacco and cypriol we saw in Journey Woman.

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Bruce Lee

The use of the Sichuan pepper in the top notes of Journey Man may feel like it is in living color but it is also very Chinese. It is also the smell of home cooking to Mr. Chong I suspect which makes it appropriate to be the opening note. It is stirred in with a very green cardamom and an incredible neroli bigarade. This creates an interplay of shadow and light flickering to life. Shadow wins for a while as juniper berries and incense take over. Geraniol and rose push back against the twilight while a haze of tobacco hovers above it all. Journey Man tells most of its story right here and it is where it lingers on my skin for many hours as the olfactory chiaroscuro continues to evolve throughout the day. The base notes are a fit denouement as tonka, cyrpriol, and ambrox finish things off.

Journey Man is much more typical of what many have come to think of as an Amouage fragrance. I found it very comforting despite the characteristic intensity. I definitely felt this biopic of Mr. Chong’s life come to reality on the olfactory silver screen.

Journey Woman had 12-14 hour longevity and Journey Man 10-12 hour longevity on me. The sillage for both was average.

I am so looking forward to the remainder of the fragrances in this second cycle. As Lao Tzu says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Journey Woman and Journey Man have taken two confident steps into this new journey of Mr Chong’s and Amouage.

Disclosure: This review was based on bottles of Journey Woman and Journey Man provided by Amouage.

Mark Behnke