Discount Diamonds: Sean John Unforgivable- The Exception

Those who have followed my reviews over the years know I think most celebrity scents are cynical. They use the name of the person on the bottle while that person has no idea what is in the bottle. I’ve been told of many celebrities who don’t smell the perfume until their first publicity experience. It irritates me that a fan of the celebrity coughs up their money for a product which has nothing from the person they admire.

Those who have read my reviews over the years know I am not a fan of multi perfumer teams. It may not be true, but it always reeks to me of focus groups and compromises. That the perfumes designed by committee also seem to have no soul anecdotally proves my point.

To everything there is an exception. Sean John Unforgivable manages to prove both of my thoughts incorrect.

Unforgivable was released in 2006 as the first fragrance from Sean Combs aka P.Diddy’s Sean John clothing line. He certainly found a dream team of creative people to work on this. Evelyn Lauder and Karyn Khoury would be co-creative directors overseeing a team of four perfumers; David Apel, Aurelien Guichard, Pierre Negrin, and Caroline Sabas. There isn’t a name I just listed that I don’t admire the heck out of. I just carried my usual skepticism over too many perfumers at the organ serving too many managers. However it happened Unforgivable turned out way better that I thought it would.

It opens with a burst of citrus as lemon and grapefruit add a tart initial impression. A smart use of Calone takes the melon-like quality of it as a lighter fruitiness underneath along with its fresh sea spray scent. It shifts to a fougere-like heart of iris, lavender, and herbs. Clary sage is the most prominent but there are some other green herbal pieces here too. It ends with a light sandalwood focused base accord given some warmth through amber and tonka bean.

Unforgivable has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

When it comes to perfume by committee celebrity scents Unforgivable stands out as one of the best. It can be found for less than $20 at almost any discount fragrance seller.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Caron Le Troisieme Homme- Lavender Power

One of the ongoing tragedies in fragrance is the slow marginalization of Caron. When I slid down the perfume rabbit hole Caron was one of the first brands I connected with. Recently it has become more difficult to find because of the slow contraction of places to buy them. One of the most well-known is Caron Pour un Homme. If there is a place where my enjoyment of lavender fragrances began it is probably here. As much as that classic is near perfect. In 1985 Caron wanted to make a modern version called Le Troisieme Homme.

This came about when the brand was acquired by new owners. They wanted a new masculine lavender perfume. Perfumer Akiko Kamei was asked to deliver a fragrance that felt current to 1985. These were the days of fougere powerhouses. Mme Kamei wanted to explore other sources of intensity using lavender as the keynote.

Akiko Kamei

It begins with a more substantial citrus accord headed by lemon. This isn’t sunlight through the trees but more focused through a magnifying glass. Waiting for it is the floral heart of geranium and lavender. These are florals which can trend towards the green part of the spectrum. Mme Kamei enhances that trend with tarragon and coriander. Then comes the ingredient that will likely make or break one’s enjoyments of this, clove. She layers in a significant amount of it. Enough that the lavender and geranium have some work to do to keep from being pushed aside. Mme Kamei finds the balance with the clove in the lead. The final bit of intensity comes via oakmoss and vetiver rolling out a soft green carpet to finish with.

Le Troisieme Homme has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is a perfume of its time to be sure. It is no wallflower. Your tolerance for this will be another factor in your enjoyment of it. I wear it every summer and really enjoy it as fall approaches. Caron is one of those brands who seems to be fading off the radar screen. Le Troisieme Homme is one of many reasons that shouldn’t happen.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Versace Man Eau Fraiche- A Rougher Freshie

When it comes to this column there are a couple of brands which consistently land in my discount bins. One of them is Versace. What puzzles me a bit is what ends there is among the better offerings from the department store shelves where they once resided. While I am happy to get good perfume at a great price, I always wonder why it doesn’t sell. Versace doesn’t seem to be bothered by it as they keep producing new releases. On my last visit to the local discounter before quarantine happened, I picked up a bottle of Versace Man Eau Fraiche.

The name tells you everything “fresh water”. It is a typical fresh fragrance. What I have admired about many of the Versace releases is they take something which is overexposed and give it a different texture. For Eau Fraiche perfumer Olivier Cresp chose to rough up things, just a bit. This “freshie” gets knocked around a bit.

Olivier Cresp

It opens with a very delineated lemon which if left by itself would be reminiscent of furniture polish. M. Cresp rescues this by adding the light effect of rosewood to it. It is further taken into a cleaner woodiness through cedar. Instead of allowing the cedar to impart its fresh profile clary sage and tarragon convert the cedar to a rawer type of wood. This is like a split piece of green cedar given a jagged edge through the herbs. The wood used in the base is oak which has its own rough edges. It is still fresh wood but one with some olfactory splinters. Some amber and musks come along to smooth those rough edges over the final hours.

Man Eau Fraiche has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Man Eau Fraiche is that easy wearing summer tote bag kind of perfume. What gives it a tiny bit of difference is some of those recalcitrant pieces M. Cresp adds in. It makes it a rougher freshie.

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

Mark Behnke

Flanker Round-Up: Yves Saint Laurent L’Homme Le Parfum and Ralph Lauren Polo Red Eau de Parfum

Flankers have their own trends, too. The “parfum” version seems to be this year’s model. In a lot of ways it can be the easiest path to pleasing fans of the original. Because when you see “parfum” on the label you are expecting a higher concentration of what you liked about the original. It isn’t as straightforward as just upping the concentration there does have to be a rebalancing of things. If it works, it can deliver what is promised. This month’s Flanker Round-Up looks at two which do.

Yves Saint Laurent L’Homme Le Parfum

The original L’Homme released in 2006 has been a perennial best seller. It falls squarely in the woods with a sharp crease category. While not one of my favorites it does do that style well. YSL has churned out many flankers most retaining the crispness of the original. L’Homme Le Parfum differs by taking some of the starch out of it.

Where it hews closest to its parent is in the early going with a citrus and sea spray opening. Cardamom comes along to provide a bit of softening. The heart is centered on geranium also softened via violet leaves and mint. The synthetic woody base remains with cashmeran adding a less strident finish.

L’Homme Le Parfum has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Ralph Lauren Polo Red Eau de Parfum

Unlike YSL L’Homme I did not care for 2013’s Polo Red. I thought it a thin irrelevant fragrance. Polo Red Extreme is the one I like best. But it is entirely different from its previous incarnation. Polo Red Eau de Parfum is recognizably similar to the original. What makes it better is in this higher concentration version is the thin quality I disliked before has been given more heft. It makes for a better Polo Red.

All the way through each phase is deeper. It starts with the fruity combo of grapefruit and cranberry given energy through ginger. This is the kind of presence I approve of. Lavender and clary sage remain from the original but here they are more balanced finding a harmony I didn’t experience before. Same sweet woody base is here with some benzoin to give more depth; matching the other phases.

Polo Red Eau de Parfum has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by the manufacturers.

Mark Behnke

The Pierre Benard Challenge Continued: Coppertone

For every Baby Boomer who grew up near a beach there is one scent which will immediately conjure childhood summers: Coppertone. Coppertone was the leading suntan lotion/sunscreen throughout the 1960’s and 70’s. As far as I can tell it remains #1 in 2020. Which makes me wonder if it will be as indelible to the current generation.

My first memories of going to the beach was as a five-year old. We made the short drive out to Cape Florida State Park. I was ready to go. I wanted to run into the crashing surf. Before that could happen, my mother took out the brown plastic bottle of Coppertone and applied it all over my exposed skin. Putting an extra layer on nose and cheekbones. I share the experience with millions who grew up in this time.

I have read that Coppertone spent a lot of time refining the scent of their product. To find something which would mask the chemical smell of what performed the protective reason for wearing it. What they settled on was an orange blossom focused accord. The interesting part is the chemical part blends with that to form something still pleasant while being completely unique. The smell of Coppertone was part of my wardrobe for most of my life in S. Florida. In a lot of ways it felt like a more solid version of the Florida Water which scented our home. I should probably consider making Coppertone the answer to the question of what my first fragrance was.

It is such a unique scent, perfume has not allowed it to pass by. There are two that I own which capture it dead to rights. One is Bobbi Brown Beach where perfumer Claude Dir also mixed in a healthy dose of Calone to put some sand and surf into the bottle.

CB I Hate Perfume Day at the Beach 1966 is the closest to capturing that childhood memory I have. Perfumer Christopher Brosius’ Coppertone accord is so good it feels photorealistic. He chooses to create his beach accord without relying on Calone which makes it closer to what I remember.

There are few scents which can immediately call to mind a specific product. Coppertone is hard wired into my memory of the beach.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet- My Inner Tom Wolfe

One reason for this column is to remind myself of the early releases of some great perfume brands. Usually that means looking back only a few years. This month’s Under the Radar choice I had to go all the way back to 1902 for Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet.

Penhaligon’s qualifies as one of the more maddeningly frustrating perfume brands. In the recent past they can’t seem to decide what they stand for nor find a consistent aesthetic. It has resulted in some long dry spells. Back in the beginning there was no problem. Penhaligon’s was a perfume for the wealthy British patron. Blenheim Bouquet was a commission from the Duke of Marlborough. What always captures my attention when I wear a perfume from this time is these were the earliest days of modern perfumery. There was no template to adhere to. No focus groups to give input. In the case of this perfume there was a customer who wanted something different than the florals most men were wearing. Perfumer Walter Penhaligon delivered.

Tom Wolfe

Blenheim Bouquet stands out because it is a classic summery citrus perfume while also carrying a slightly formal style to it. Whenever I wear it, I am reminded of the author Tom Wolfe who wore impeccable tailored white linen suits as his trademark style. It was a way of being casual and formal simultaneously. Blenheim Bouquet achieves the same feel.

It opens with a tart lemon given a slightly candied sweetness. Lavender sets up as an herbal floral to play against the citrus. A set of spices led by black pepper find places to resonate with the citrus or the lavender. This is where Blenheim Bouquet starts to put a little starch in its collar. The early moments are exuberant but as the heart notes come into play, things begin to regiment themselves. Mr. Penhaligon uses a fresh pine made animalic through musk as the base accord. This completes the formal feeling while keeping the freshness of a warm weather style perfume.

Blenheim Bouquet has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

I will never be cool enough to pull off a white linen suit a la Mr. Wolfe. When I wear Blenheim Bouquet I can at least smell like I could.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Calvin Klein Eternity for Men- Casual Classic

There was a time in the 1980’s-90’s that Calvin Klein was one of the best brands in perfumery. Those days were kind of their moment in the spotlight. The perfumes from that time also carry a reminder of the changes that were taking place in consumer trends within perfumery. By 1989 Calvin Klein’s fragrance creative director Ann Gottlieb was looking to catch on to the wave of fresh scents that were just beginning their moment. Calvin Klein Eternity for Men is one of those.

Ann Gottlieb

Part of the appeal of this fresh tend in men’s fragrance was they also carried a casualness. It was meant to be the perfume equivalent of a white t-shirt. Ms. Gottlieb would ask perfumer Carlos Benaim to turn Eternity for Men into that.

Carlos Benaim

M. Benaim is an interesting choice because he had defined a type of powerhouse masculine woody ten years earlier with Ralph Lauren Polo. Eternity for Men feels as if he wanted to try and do the same with fresh and clean.

It opens on a fresh suite of herbs lifted with citrus. When you smell this now it is generic, but this was one of the earlier examples. M. Benaim adds an expansiveness that is the opposite of what he did with Polo. Geranium is the floral heart note used here in its traditional green rose role. The herbs provide a deepening of the floral while retaining that fresh quality. Vetiver is used in its typical summery way. The grassier citrus-like aspects are picked up by the herbs as well. It ends on a light woody accord of sandalwood.

Eternity for Men has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

I forgot how well this achieved its goals. It is a great casual fougere ideal for wearing out for a day of chores. Perfume would come to perfect this casual vibe over the next few years. Eternity for Men is one of the first. It is available in most discount bins I dig around in as well as almost every online discounter for under $25US. A true Discount Diamond.

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

Mark Behnke

The Pierre Benard Challenge Continued- Fireworks

Ever since I began paying more attention to everything about perfume, I also started noticing the less pleasant smells around me. There is a perverse part of my nature that there are smells I like which many would classify as unpleasant. I think it is different for each of us. I was thinking about this while I was also figuring out what I wanted to write about for Fourth of July. It was as obvious as it could be.

Every few summers while I was growing up, we made the obligatory Miami to New York road trip to see my grandmother. It was a three-day affair to get up there. On the return trip there was always an obligatory stop at a giant roadside attraction/hotel called “South of the Border” in Dillon, SC. If you’re an east coast child who took road trips in the 1960’s and 70’s you saw the billboards full of silly puns along with how many miles it was until you reached it. We stopped because it was where we could legally buy fireworks.

When we stepped into the store the smell of gunpowder in its unburnt form perfumed the air. It had a slightly metallic odor over the sulfur it was made up of. We would buy a big shopping cart full which I could dip into with permission. While that was its own interesting scent the one, I like comes at the other end of the process.

Whenever I would light off a string of firecrackers, I would step into the smoke cloud left behind. Here the sulfur is much more pronounced. Plus I would cackle like a demon in a cloud of brimstone. As much as the flashbang was the purpose for most the smoke was almost as good to me. Walking through Chinatown during Chinese New Year was my adult version.

I remember attending a Fourth of July fireworks show when the wind made a sudden shift. It brought the clouds of smoke from the big fireworks barge billowing over the viewing area. I was having my cake and eating it too. Watching the giant spheres of color on a cloud of gunpowder.

I don’t know if there is a deeper meaning to this other than many, I talk with have an odd scent they enjoy that make others turn away. It is a human thing to be attracted to the unusual. That includes scent.

To all my American readers I wish you a Happy Fourth of July. may you find a bit of scented happiness on the day.

Mark Behnke

The Pierre Benard Challenge Continued- Chanel Antaeus

I really enjoyed my ten days of the Pierre Benard Challenge last month. One thing I realized is I wanted to keep doing it. To that end I am going to write about perfumes which connect to an emotional time in my life. I am starting with the summer of 1983 Fort Lauderdale, Florida. There is one perfume I associate with that time.

In 1983 I was heading into my last year of graduate school at the University of Georgia. By the time it came time for me to head back to S. Florida for a couple weeks I was burned out. The research was going poorly. I was taking my frustration out on everyone around me. As I pointed the Camaro south from Athens, Georgia I needed a mental break. Being back in S. Florida would always be that tonic.

The cassette player was loaded with sing out loud anthems as I made the day-long drive. One fun thing about being home is I never really got to spend much time before a friend contacted me. My mother thought it was funny that I thought I could have a quiet day to myself. Especially when the phone would start ringing the morning after I returned.

The first call was my friend Adam. He asked me if I wanted to go dancing that night. I loved going dancing with Adam because our destination was the largest gay bar in the area The Copa. I always found the act of dancing was part exercise but part de-stressing. I could just go dance my heart out. Which is what I did. The other reason I enjoyed it was the music. The DJs at The Copa were always weeks to months ahead of the radio. By 1983 The Weather Girls’ “It’s Raining Men” had been released the year before. At any of the straight clubs “Flashdance” was the song of that summer. Not at The Copa, they had embraced the new bands like Yaz, Thompson Twins, and The Human League. I even heard this single from a new singer “Holiday” by Madonna. Every song, with every thumping beat made my cares go away.

That dance floor at The Copa also had a scent in 1983; Chanel Antaeus. I had seen the commercials but had not connected this scent with that until I asked. I would buy a bottle a few years later as I was just beginning to add more to my dresser. It is still a great powerhouse. It was the second perfume of Jacques Polge’s time as in-house perfumer.

Antaeus is a product of its time as a strong leather chypre. It goes through the same herbal citrus top accord prevalent back then. It also uses clary sage, basil, thyme, and coriander as the herbal contrast. It has always been that which captures my attention. It moves towards a leather accord given a hint of sweaty insouciance through castoreum and musk. This all goes on the traditional oakmoss-laden chypre base.

Of those early Chanel masculines I wear Egoiste and Pour Monsieur Concentree most often. When I need to dance it out then I spray myself down with Antaeus and turn the music up.

Disclosure: Based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Goutal Bois d’Hadrien- Summer Woods

I am guessing my first introduction to Annick Goutal perfumes is the same as many, Eau d’Hadrien. That perfume was a perfect summer refresher built around lemon. I went through three bottles before other new brands spoke to me with different lemon voices. I recently realized I hadn’t replaced it. I then remembered that a couple years ago it was a different Hadrien which has taken over; Goutal Bois d’Hadrien.

I enjoy cedar fragrances when the temperature rises. There is a freshness which counters the heat which appeals to me. Eau d’Hadrien was first released in 1981 and has been one of the flagship perfumes of the brand. It remains a great lemon option for the summer. I expected Bois d’Hadrien to be the version for the cooler weather. It turned out that it was better in the warm than the cold.

Isabelle Doyen (l.) and Camille Goutal

Creative director Camille Goutal and perfumer Isabelle Doyen teamed up again for Bois d’Hadrien. The copy on the website mentions they are trying to capture twilight in Tuscany. I guess that might be it for some. What it reminds me of were the days I would hide from the Florida sun among the sentinel pines of the nearby forest. The trees would capture the cooler air underneath the canopy. That is what Bois d’Hadrien smells like.

It opens with a reversal of the top notes of Eau d’Hadrien. Now cypress is the keynote with lemon playing a supporting role. The heart is incense and pine. This is the smell of the pine trees I remember with the incense evoking the drops of sap on the bark. There is a coolness to this accord I didn’t expect. The fresh cedar holds the center in the base with a musk that reminded me of sweat sheened skin.

Bois d’Hadrien has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

I know that Goutal is not one of those brands that necessarily would be considered Under the Radar. I picked Bois d’Hadrien because I think its more well-known relative keeps it on the down low. That’s why I wanted to make sure those who are looking for a summer woody choice can put Bois d’Hadrien on their radar.

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

Mark Behnke