Dead Letter Office: Dinner By Bobo- Sensual Gingerbread

The early years of the naughts were a fascinating time for independent perfumery. It was the beginning of what would become a special piece of modern perfumery. Like all new things it drew an eclectic group of entrepreneurs. In that kind of environment it was inevitable that some great perfumes would fail because of inexperience. Dinner By Bobo is one of those stories.

Anne and Alexis Hardouin-Finez

In a lot of ways spouses Anne and Alexis Hardouin-Finez made a lot of the right choices when they started their line, By Bobo. They began by working with perfumer Sylvie Jourdet for their first release in 2002. On the perfume side of the equation they made a great decision to work in the gourmand style. It was a type of perfume which had only just become popular. They correctly believed there was a lot of space for creativity. Dinner By Bobo finds that by adding in a sexy skanky underpinning to all the sweet foodie accords surrounding it. This was the very raison de etre for niche perfumery. To take risks by not smelling like anything else.

Sylvie Jourdet

That desire to stand apart is where Mme Jourdet begins by using cumin. This is all the things which makes cumin divisive among perfume lovers. It has that clean human sweat profile. Right next to it is a Holiday fruitcake of intense facets of dried fruits. The balance achieved is remarkable as both accords have equivalent presence, and they go together delightfully. The heart is another interesting exercise in balance. One of my favorite gingerbread accords in all of perfumery is given a sensual twist through ylang-ylang and indolic jasmine. As if a buttery rich gingerbread man is being propositioned by the sexy florals. In the same way that the cumin finds purchase among the fruitcake the skanky florals do the same to the gingerbread. It develops in a slow burn to a base of incense, musk, and patchouli. Continuing the dichotomy of sweet and skanky.

Dinner By Bobo has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I treasure my tiny bottle because I own nothing else like it. Almost twenty years on nobody has managed to replicate this balancing act. As to why it ended up in the Dead Letter Office I have been told the name was one reason. A perfume called Dinner By Bobo did not inspire elegant thoughts in consumers. I also think that the early successes of niche perfumery were different but not too different. Dinner By Bobo might have been just different enough to be unable to find an audience. It could even be simpler than that. New entrepreneurs just couldn’t get their perfume in front of enough buyers. I don’t have a definitive answer and parts of all three conjectures might be the truth.

Dinner By Bobo is one of the reasons I see such potential in gourmand perfumes. It shows what a perfumer who is willing to seek balance between the foodie and the sensual can make something gorgeous.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Jo Malone Nutmeg & Ginger- The Original Niche Holiday Perfume

As we approach the completion of the first twenty years of this century I have been peeking backward. It reminds me of the days when I was cycling, and I would start pedaling up a gradual grade. After some time I would glance over my shoulder in surprise at how far I had climbed. Because I am focused on the newest things, I need something to make me look back to see how far niche perfumery has come. Even though they are famous brands today they all started at the bottom of a hill they didn’t know if they could climb. Which is why I want to mention some of the first releases in those lines in this column. Jo Malone Nutmeg & Ginger could be said to be the first Holiday Limited Edition niche perfume.

Anyone who knows perfume knows about Jo Malone. They were one of the first big niche perfume brands to have large-scale success. Where they started in 1990 was someplace quite different.

Jo Malone was an aesthetician working in London. In appreciation for her first 20 clients she decided to make a special fragrant present. A Festive Season treat built around the spices of nutmeg and ginger. Even thirty-plus years ago the word got around and in 1990 she would release the first Jo Malone perfume, Nutmeg & Ginger. In so many ways right from the start the brand aesthetic was in place. It is quite amazing to realize how this simple perfume doesn’t feel outdated. It feels just like it did in the beginning, a scented Holiday treat.

It is a perfume built around the two named ingredients each filled out into accords. Ginger is flanked by lemon and neroli. They provide a softening effect to ginger which can be too zingy. They add a citrusy floral wreath around it. The nutmeg is given cinnamon and clary sage as its partners. The cinnamon and nutmeg conjure up Holiday cookies while the sage gives a green holly-like effect. A lovely creamy sandalwood wraps it all up in a sweet creamy woody embrace.

Nutmeg & Ginger has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

I know Jo Malone as a brand is not Under the Radar, but I suspect few of you have thought of Nutmeg & Ginger for a while. That makes it worthy of being given some current attention. Especially if you’re looking for a good fragrance to wear during the Holidays. Just like it was created for thirty years ago.

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

Mark Behnke

Pierre Benard Challenge Continued: The Beginning of The Season of Scent

Anyone who knows me understands the time from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day is my favorite time of the year. The food, the friends, the music; everything. A few years ago I began giving this time of year a name in my head, “the season of scent”. Of all the things I mentioned above it also has a distinct evolving profile of pleasant smells throughout. I don’t think I would love it as much if it didn’t smell so damn good.

It starts on Thanksgiving morning with stuffing preparation and pie baking. The first thing that goes in the oven are the pies. Usually apple and pecan. While the doughy spicy pie baking accord wafts from the oven I am chopping herbs. The Scarborough Fair grouping of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. The cornbread of a couple days ago awaits crumbling itself carrying a hint of the buttermilk used to make it.

After the turkey is stuffed and prepared it is placed in the oven. I drink my first cup of coffee. The bitter bite a contrast to all the sweetness in the air. Now it is time to prepare the au gratin potatoes. I know most people are not fond of peeling potatoes. There is something about the scent of freshly peeled potatoes I find soothing. This surrounds me as I slice the peeled potatoes in the mandolin slicer. After layering the casserole dish I grate the aged cheddar cheese to use for the sauce. Warm cheese has an unctuous quality that someone needs to make a perfume of. I pour the sauce over the potatoes and leave them to go in the oven later.

Over the next few hours the scents of cooking foods fill up the house. It is part of the joy of the Holiday season because I think it provides a comforting sense of place. I sit drinking another cup of coffee breathing in the mingled aromas.

As everything eventually makes it to the kitchen counter ready to be served it forms the coziest feeling of the year. All because of its scent.

To those in the US celebrating Thanksgiving today I wish you a home full of your scents of the season.

Mark Behnke

The New Amouage

I have always mentioned Amouage as advanced style perfumery. Under the creative direction of Christopher Chong the perfumes were bold creative efforts. I was along for the ride with most all of them. They were complex, sensually satisfying fragrances. I could spend weeks dissecting a new release because there was something there to be pored over. I was the desired audience. The question I had was how big a group I was part of. A perfume like Myths Woman was a triumph of finding something compelling within the clash of discordant ingredients. It sang to me. But how many others?

Renaud Salmon

At about the same time there was a release called Lilac Love. It felt like this was a way to bring a more familiar style of perfume done in the Amouage way. I applauded it for the effort because I thought it would be a better starting point for a perfume lover to start their Amouage journey. As I’ve spent the week enjoying the new Amouage perfumes overseen by new creative director Renaud Salmon. I was able to crystallize some of my thoughts around what Amouage really means to me.

First it means excellently constructed perfumes. I have always returned to these because there is that feeling of great architecture underneath. M. Salmon showed that is also something he values. In Overture Woman he successfully matches Mr. Chong’s architecture. It works through similar shifts with the same kind of delight in them.

I also want some intensity. Crimson Rocks cinnamon honey tinted rose delivers that. So do the early parts of Enclave. Even that quibble on my part might be another’s idea of intensity as the AmberXtreme takes over.

Interlude Man Black Iris in hindsight now feels like M. Salmon giving people an invitation to return. If that is correct you can’t then serve up something contextually challenging. You must give them something which extrapolates from that invitation.

Mackenzie Reilly

Which is what the two perfumes M. Salmon worked on with Mackenzie Reilly provides. Ashore is a daydream-like walk along a sandy strand twirling a bit of jasmine. It feels as big as the sky with an expansive smile. This is not something Amouage is known for. Yet Ashore feels every inch like one. Even with a more genial embrace.

Which brings me to the last point. I don’t want to lose the awesome complexity of Amouage. If you read through the above, you might think I’m damning with praise of being more accessible. Let me be very clear; I am not. These are all good perfumes that are well worth seeking out. Things are different but the signature rose, incense , and sandalwood are still there. They aren’t as recognizable as a Guerlainade but they do identify Amouage a lot of the time.

Which is why Meander is such a perfect example of what the new Amouage can be. If I want a perfume where I can happily spend my time picking through a complex accord or two, it is right here. I also think because it is built around a carrot, iris, and incense heart it is easily accessible to someone who just likes a good iris perfume.

Therefore I think M. Salmon is going to be a good influence on the future of Amouage. He has a clear-eyed vision which seems to be to bring the brand back to those who might have drifted away. If that’s you there are six new perfumes overseen by M. Salmon to take a sniff of and see if they appeal. My verdict is he has given me faith that he is the right person to create a New Amouage.

Mark Behnke

Amouage Makes a Change

November and December are the most valuable real estate for Colognoisseur. It is when I am trying to squeeze in all the perfume I have left to try for the year and must figure out when to write about it. I don’t consider it a problem it just forces some decisions to be made. For the first time I am going to spend some of that time on a single brand because I think it is important enough to do it. The brand is Amouage.

Christopher Chong

As we end the first twenty years of the 21st century I’ve been thinking about the brands which have helped define this new era of independent and niche perfumery. Right at the top of my list is Amouage. I would meet the brand in 2007 with the twin releases Jubilation 25 and Jubilation XXV. The latter has stood the test of time as one of my all-time favorites. This was the first year then creative director Christopher Chong began his time with the brand. Until last year he oversaw what I consider perfume for those who love perfume. Mr. Chong’s love of classical music and opera were translated into perfumes with a similar grand sweep. The perfumes he helped conceive were worth spending time with.

Renaud Salmon

When he stepped down as creative director, I had some concerns. I had seen one of Amouage’s contemporaries, Clive Christian, fall to pieces after this kind of change. I waited for news of who was taking over. It took some time, but the announcement of Renaud Salmon had me happy there was going to be someone else. But would he live up to what I believe the brand stands for?

My first impression was Interlude Man Black Iris where he oversaw a flanker of one of Mr. Chong’s creations. My worry spiked again because if Amouage was going to become a line of flankers I was not going to be pleased with that choice. After I said that in my review, I received a few e-mails telling me M. Salmon was not going to do that. He chose to do a flanker as a figurative “get to know you” between new creative director and consumers.

In the waning days of 2020 I have an unprecedented opportunity to weigh in on Amouage past and present. I have samples of six new perfumes with which to illuminate all that Amouage hopes to be. I am going to spend the next three days reviewing two new releases each day. On Friday I will come back and give my conclusions in a single place although I suspect it will become obvious as the week moves along.

Tomorrow I will review Mr. Chong’s next to last release Rose Incense and M. Salmon’s Overture Woman which is the distaff counterpart to last year’s Overture Man. It gives me the chance to compare the style of both side-by-side.

The next day I will do the first half of the new Renaissance Collection; Crimson Rocks and Enclave.

This will be followed by the remaining two; Ashore and Meander.

I hope you will join me for Amouage Week.

Mark Behnke

The Pierre Benard Challenge Continued: Burning Leaves

Ever since I started writing these pieces, I have been more attuned to the scents of the world around me. A couple nights ago as the poodles participated in the twilight bark, I observed a haze in the air. Once my nose caught up to my eyes, I knew someone was burning leaves nearby.

Burning leaves is a characteristic smell of autumn. Because nature provides the fuel. After you spend a few hours raking them up. The act of placing them in a fire pit to burn has a primal feel to it. When my neighbor does his burn, I usually end up chatting with him while the flames rise. Last year I realized this is one of the last shared moments of the year. The temperatures will get colder and we will most likely not spend time talking until spring returns.

What I enjoy about the smell of burning leaves is it doesn’t have the weight of a bonfire of wood. Woodsmoke bites. The scent of burning leaves has an inherent sweeter component. The smoke also seems less oppressive. There is something magical about watching the leaves rise on the thermals trailing sparks as they immolate. I usually get a reminder of the smell for a few days after as my sweatshirt holds the scent.

There is only one great perfume which gets the difference between woodsmoke and burning leaves. That is CB I Hate Perfume Burning Leaves. Perfumer Christopher Brosius is at his best in creating a perfume which captures the difference.

I expect I’ll be spending an evening with my neighbor in a few days. Looking through the flames to the Holidays and the New Year.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Kristiansand New York- One Man One Bottle

One of the frequent questions I get is from a man who doesn’t want to own a lot of colognes. He ideally wants a single bottle that is versatile enough for all occasions. Even someone like me for whom the idea of one bottle sends a chill down my spine can appreciate the request. I was recently reminded on Facebook of a great example of this style of perfume that debuted ten years ago, Kristiansand New York.

I met the co-founders Britt Hovde Ross and Elisabeth Steen both of whom are Norwegian. They wanted to make a perfume that would capture the dichotomy of Norway and New York City. Together with perfumer Pierre Constantin-Gueros they create something which reflects both inspirations.

Elisabeth Steen and Britt Hovde Ross

It begins in Norway with a back to nature top accord of sage and green pepper. It is that second ingredient which has made this stand out over the last ten years. M. Constantin-Gueros uses it to give a vegetal undertone to the stridency of the sage. There are a lot of herbal beginnings to colognes this is unlike most of them. It gets more recognizable with a lavender and cedar heart. This feels like the transition between sophisticated NYC and Norway with the slightly powdery lavender portraying the former and the cedar the latter. It goes full Big Apple with a white musk and amber base accord.

Kristiansand New York has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

As I mentioned this is one of those extremely good choices for everything from office to gym to clubbing. It is also a nice choice if you want a good cologne that few others have. When I say this is Under the Radar it is deeply hidden. As far as I can tell it is for sale at only two places: the Kristiansand New York website and Beverly Hills Perfumery. It is a great choice for someone in the upcoming Holidays. Especially if you have one man who wants one bottle.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Stetson- I Wanna Be a Cowboy

While I have never ridden a horse or worked a ranch I do own a Stetson hat and cowboy boots. When I wear them I am a poser. I’d probably faint from exhaustion if I ever tried to do an honest day’s work on a ranch. That doesn’t mean I can’t imagine myself trying. In the world of fragrance there have been many perfumes which have tried to channel the cowboy way as their inspiration. One of the best comes from the designer of the iconic cowboy hat, Stetson.

Stetson was launched in 1981. This was the time of rugged masculine perfumes. In a few years they would be buried under a wave of fresh and clean aquatics. When Stetson debuted it was right in line with the other types of fragrances of the time. Perfumer Maureen Brooks would fashion a floral spicy woody classic.

The opening is a bright blend of citrus and lavender. The floral is given some depth, but it is the green of lavender caught in the sunniness of the lemon and bergamot. A set of spicy ingredients are combined with patchouli. Sandalwood and vetiver provide the woody component. It ends on a warm foundation of amber, vanilla, and balsam.

Stetson has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

I hadn’t thought about Stetson for a long time until I was in line at my local drugstore. I smelled the tester and found it to retain the appeal it had back when I first encountered it. It is an ideal fall choice. It also allows me to add one more piece to my “I Wanna Be a Cowboy” ensemble.

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

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Cinnamon

I thought I had covered all my favorite perfume ingredients in this column. Last weekend’s Pierre Benard Challenge showed me I had missed cinnamon. It is one of those spicy ingredients which seem made for fall. Which makes this a great time to share my favorite cinnamon centric perfumes.

Estee Lauder Cinnabar is the first example I found of the classic cinnamon and clove pairing. It will be mentioned again below. In 1971 perfumers Josephine Catapano and Bernard Chant would use this duo as a retort to the uber-popular Opium. After a fizzy aldehydic opening the spices simmer over a base of sandalwood, patchouli, and incense.

Clove and cinnamon, you say? Perhaps the pinnacle of this comes in Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur. This takes the spices with tangerine to form a spiced citrus accord that is ready to stand up to a fantastically balanced base accord of sandalwood, vanilla, and musk. The spices particularly sing in the cooler weather. One of perfumer Maurice Roucel’s best perfumes.

Aramis JHL was a part of the burly masculine cologne tradition of the early 1980’s. Perfumer Bernard Chant would make a cinnamon centric version of that. When I wear this as the fruits spices and woods come together, I channel my inner wild and crazy guy. It can feel anachronistic but in the cooler temperatures of this time of year it feels timeless.

Comme des Garcons Jaisalmer is the least mentioned of the great Series 3: Incense collection. Perfumer Evelyn Boulanger created the quietest of the five resinous perfumes. She spreads the spices out to form a layered opaque accord which is given more expansiveness through gaiac wood. It is so on trend for 2020 I think if these were released today it would be the biggest seller of them all. This is one of my favorite perfumes to spray on a scarf because it is at just the right volume.

Hermes Hermessence Ambre Narguile is one of my seasonal staples for the end of the year. Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena composed this haiku in syllables of tobacco, cinnamon, honey, and vanilla. Another one on the lighter side which revels in its delicate balancing act.

Disclosure: I purchased bottles of all the perfumes mentioned.

Mark Behnke

The Pierre Benard Challenge Continued- Cinnamon

Ever since I started the Pierre Benard Challenge back in May it has renewed my awareness of the scents around me. That might sound odd from someone who enjoys writing about perfume, but I tend to focus on the perfume under my nose. That leads to me missing the ambient world of odors around me. One thing this effort has done is to make me look up from the bottle and breathe in more consistently. Earlier this week after being outside in the early fall weather with the dogs I entered the house to the comforting smell of cinnamon. It completed a connection which I had not explicitly understood as this being the scent of autumn.

The reason the house smelled of cinnamon is a lot of our fall pastry cooking requires lots of it. If I were writing this twenty years ago there would just be cinnamon. Except I discovered there are many varieties of cinnamon all of which have their own flavor and scent profiles. We have four different kinds in our kitchen: Vietnamese, Ceylon, Indonesian, and Chinese. Just like the perfume ingredient oud, terroir seems to make a difference.

When it comes to apple pie the Chinese cinnamon is our choice. We tend to use the tarter apples in our pies, so this sweeter type of spice is used to take some of that edge away. For cinnamon rolls we want the strongest flavor we can get and that is the Vietnamese type.  For my beloved snickerdoodle cookies it is the Indonesian cinnamon I mix with sugar to coat the dough in. For everyday use on my oatmeal or cocoa the mellow Ceylon cinnamon gives me just the bit of flavor I desire.

When I walked into the house this week there were two apple pies cooling. A cinnamon roll was waiting for me to have with my morning coffee. I thought this is the essence of autumn the humid scent of cinnamon from baking.

The perfume which gives me the same thrill is Estee Lauder Cinnabar. It has always been a fall favorite because of its cinnamon and clove heart.

I know for many it is the pumpkin spice mélange which provides the demarcation of summer into fall. In out house it is cinnamon which does it.

Mark Behnke