How To Trust Your Perfume Reviewer

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I feel fortunate that I have been writing about perfume long enough that I don’t think my motives are suspect to others. I have been concerned about some of the tough criticism that many of the young video reviewers have been receiving lately. There seem to be some common themes which recur. Many of them boil down to, “How can I trust this person?” I’d like to address the biggest thing people seem to be annoyed/worried about. Hopefully it will help.

That issue is the receipt of free perfume. If you work hard at giving yourself a presence eventually you will form a relationship with perfume brands. There is a difference between an independent perfumer who is working for themselves versus the large beauty companies. One is by nature more personal while the other is just publicity. With an independent brand you can find the fragrance creators out in the community. With the large brands you must keep knocking on the door until they let you in. It means that most of the reviewers in their early days spend their own money on the large brands while they might receive a free sample from an independent brand because they can make a more personal introduction. The biggest drive of commenting on perfume is content, having enough to make a video or blog post on. The more you do it the more you will start seeing brands reach out to you. This leads to the most important thing you must do; reveal the source of the perfume you are reviewing.

I believe this simple effort is the most important piece of building trust between reviewer and audience. Each person will decide on the style of their content. The fantastic thing is there is a reviewer out there who closely reflects a viewer’s perspective on perfume. I’ve seen a lot of people comment, “the reviewer got it for free they are just a shill.” I can see why that kind of comment makes people shy away from mentioning where the perfume they are talking about came from. It shouldn’t. First rule of doing anything; you can’t please everyone. Second rule; you shouldn’t tie yourself up in knots trying to.

The best reviewers come to it from a deep love of fragrance. That quality is obvious the more time you do it. Once you believe that, it shouldn’t matter where the perfume came from. As long as you share the source with them. That piece of information allows the audience to make up their own mind about whether you are influenced by something given to you for free. If you are genuine the audience will respond by sticking around. It takes a lot of hard work. Nobody builds an audience overnight.

Everyone who makes that first step should know it will get better the more you do it. If you feel like you have something to say about perfume you will be happy to find there are others out there who want to hear you. To build the trust you will need; be passionate, be honest, and have fun. If the reviewer you are watching is doing that. I think you can trust them.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Jovoy Psychedelique- Sea of Brown Paisley

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I’ll admit that the line-up for future Under the Radar columns comes from my standing in front of the shelf of perfumes I am currently wearing. As I look over that shelf, I think that one needs some exposure. January has always been a month where I break out my patchouli heavy hitters. I don’t know what it is, but I have come to like my patchouli-focused scents coming out of the Holidays. I think part of it is as a tonic to the deluge of spring rose perfumes that will be arriving soon. Many perfume lovers look to avoid some of the deeper shades of patchouli. I understand that. The beauty of modern perfumery is perfumers have such an expanded palette of patchouli-based materials there is a patchouli out there for most tastes. Right now I just want a patchouli perfume unafraid to lay it all out there. To draw me into its depths. That perfume is Jovoy Psychedelique.

Francois Henin

Currently the name of Jovoy and its founder Francois Henin are well-known among those who look for contemporary perfume. M. Henin has been one of the most committed promoters of the independent perfume movement. Opening stores in Paris to display the best of this sector of fragrance. To play it safe he decided he needed his own brand to make sure he had one he knew he could count on. Jovoy was founded in 2011 with an initial collection of six, five of which are still in production today.  I own three of them. Private Label was my first introduction to perfumer Cecile Zarokian. Amber Premier is one of the warmest ambers I own. Psychedelique is the one I spend the most time with; my eyes closed breathing in with a smile.

Jacques Flori

Psychedelique was composed by perfumer Jacques Flori. M. Flori uses a rich source of patchouli as the center of his fragrance. It can make it seem like Psychedelique is a brown paisley pattern where the supporting ingredients lighten or deepen the patchouli in the middle of it all. It is that sense of motion which makes Psychedelique stand apart.

Patchouli has two main aspects to its scent profile; a deep earthiness and a chocolate-like one. M. Flori shifts between the two as the perfume develops. At first it is that earthy quality, but it is kept at a slightly lighter level. A lovely flare of citrus provides points of light amidst the brown. The citrus turns to a dried fruit accord while the patchouli exerts its chocolate nature. This is the part of patchouli that doesn’t get used as much lately. I feel as if I’m sliding across a giant fondant. The earthiness returns for the base. This time it carries the slightly mentholated nature patchouli can show at higher concentrations. Amber and vanilla come to dry things out over the final stages.

Psychedelique has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.

There will be a night, sometime soon, where after I’ve taken care of the Colognoiseur tasks for the day I will spray on some Psychedelique for the rest of the day and to sleep in. I’ll have dreams of being on a sea of brown paisley. If you want to join me put Jovoy Psychedelique on your radar.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Jovan Musk Oil for Men- Musk for the Masses

If you read my Christmas 2019 column you would know the first perfume that I owned was Jovan Musk Oil for Men. It’s been almost fifty years since I received that bottle and there is still a newer bottle on my shelf today. Jovan Musk Oil for Men is the very reason for this column. To let you know there are some terrific perfumes in the more economical places to purchase fragrance, like the drugstore.

When I was researching looking for the ad which made me desire a bottle, I found out some interesting background on how this perfume came to exist. It started when Barry Shipp was walking in Greenwich Village sometime in the late 1960’s. He saw a long line snaking out the door of a head shop and was curious what the commotion was about. He would discover it was for a vial of a fragrance called “musk oil”. The story goes the line had formed because the word was it made the opposite sex swoon while also being able to be worn by men or women. Mr. Shipp, then employed by Revlon, wanted to take advantage. He would partner first with Bernard Mitchell to develop a synthetic musk which would replicate the vial he had. Together they founded the French-sounding Jovan. Then he turned to a friend from the flavor industry, Murray Moscona, to act as perfumer. This was the team which assembled the perfume which would go in the bottle. What would go on the outside of the bottle that was all Mr. Shipp.

As you can see in the picture above the box itself was the come-on. Mr. Shipp would cleverly use the buzzwords to draw in his intended audience. I was one of those eager consumers who wanted what was laid out on that box. I wasn’t alone. In just the years of the 1970’s Jovan did about $1 Million in sales in 1971; the year before Jovan Musk Oil for Men was released. By the end of the decade that number had exploded to $85 million. The word-laden boxes of Jovan were seen everywhere. That’s the history of it all.

The perfume itself is also quite good. I haven’t been able to find much on Mr. Moscona other than he would do all of the Jovan perfumes in the 1970’s. He didn’t quit his day job as a flavorings chemist to take on the other work. There is a part of me that sees this as one of the early examples of American independent perfumery. Taking a singular vision of something and translating it into perfume outside of the traditional apparatus of the day.

Mr. Moscona’s lack of experience in perfume-making means he stuck to a tried and true formula. It starts with a little citrus then it transitions through carnation and lavender to head for the money note. Here is the funny thing the synthetic musk they developed wasn’t this animalic simulation of actual natural musk. They decided to seize on the sweetness of that vial of musk oil Mr. Shipp found. The synthetic musk at the base of Jovan Musk Oil for Men is more closely related to the white musks. It allowed for Mr. Moscona to add some synthetic woods which provided just enough texture to keep it from being too clean.

Jovan Musk Oil for Men has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

Jovan Musk Oil for Men still holds up for me even though I am no longer a teenager looking for a perfume to attract girls. I am a colognoisseur who thinks this is still a darn good perfume for a darn good price. In other words a Discount Diamond.

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

Mark Behnke

My First Perfume Christmas Gift

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It was only recently that I was reminded that the first perfume I owned was a Christmas gift. I’ve spoken, in previous Christmas Day columns, of my days as a child and the place perfume filled with my parents in the Holiday season. I thought this year it was time to talk about my first feelings towards perfume along with why I wanted a specific one under the tree for Christmas 1973.

In the fall of 1973 I had made the rite of passage of starting high school. I was still trying to figure it all out in those early days. Part of that was trying to come up with a personal style. One component were big flaring bell bottom jeans. Mine were so large you couldn’t see my feet when I was walking. There was a store in our local mall called The Jean Connection. I had them order me the biggest flared bell bottoms they could find. I still remember them as the most comfortable jeans I ever owned. My shirts were these popular pull over shirts from a brand called “Hang Ten”. I liked them because they had a lot of brightly colored stripes. Taken all together they were pieces of my aesthetic, all my own, while still being like what others were wearing.

I wanted to add perfume to it all. My father wore all the standard men’s fragrances of the day. He had Dana Canoe, English Leather, and Hai Karate. I wore them a bit, but I had decided if I was going to wear something it was going to be my own thing. That’s when I saw the advertisement below in a magazine.

I’ll happily admit the lines about arousing female “animal desires” was not lost on my adolescent mind. Although it was the line on the back of the box which really sold me on it; “A no-nonsense scent all your own”. I wasn’t going to smell like my father. I was going to have my own, wait for it, signature scent.

When it came time to be making a list for Christmas, Jovan Musk Oil for Men was at the top. I got a little bit of pushback. Dad told me I could use any of his colognes I wanted. Mom thought I was growing up too fast, “why do you want to start wearing perfume, honey?”. I was 14 damnit! Not that I said it out loud. I used my subtle persuasive ways to push that it was the main thing I wanted. I went into Christmas morning confident I had succeeded.

When we woke up and gathered by the tree each person had their presents in a pile. Mine was a pyramid of larger rectangular boxes on the bottom, clothes. A few flat squares on top of that, records. A couple of smaller rectangles, books. On top like my own personal glittery Christmas star was a tiny rectangular box wrapped in red paper with a gold ribbon around it. When it was my turn to open my present, I snatched it off the top. As soon as I unwrapped the ribbon one peek underneath the paper showed the orange color of the box within. Yes!

From that day until today I have always owned a bottle of Jovan Musk Oil for Men. Did it get me girls? I don’t think so. I did have many of the girls I dated say I smelled nice. I think it was doing what perfume should do; add to one’s personal style. It is perhaps as close as I’ve come to having a signature scent as we define it. Ten years on I would be down the rabbit hole and the bottles on my dresser would begin to multiply. For the years prior it was pretty much a bottle of Musk Oil for Men which was my scent. For my parents it was another sign I was closer to leaving home. It was probably a bittersweet moment amidst my excitement at having the gift I wanted. It was another step towards forming the adult I wanted to eventually become. All of that happened on Christmas morning 1973.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Hugo Boss Deep Red- The Simple Gingerbread

I love gingerbread; it is one of my favorite parts of the Holidays. It was one of the first My Favorite Things columns I did after starting Colognoisseur. All the ones I chose were higher priced brands. I received an e-mail a year later asking if there was a less expensive gingerbread perfume choice. Because I enjoy the scent, I have a lot of them. I looked at the shelf where they are all clustered and I noticed a tall red bottle that I thought might fit the bill. It is a great choice for a Discount Diamonds column at the beginning of the Season. That fragrance is Hugo Boss Deep Red.

Of course large perfume brands being large perfume brands Deep Red was released in the middle of the summer in 2001. It also came out when ginger was not as commonly used in perfumes, especially mainstream ones. A trio of perfumers Alain Astori, Nathalie Lorson, and Beatrice Piquet decided to take that ginger and transform it into gingerbread.

Deep Red has a seasonal feel right from the top accord. The perfumers take the rich tartness of blood orange and give it a more intense fruitiness via cassis and clementine. It is like that orange potpourri which scents many homes this time of year. The ginger appears first in its most recognizable energetic version. Ambrette adds in a subtle muskiness before the ginger gets folded into a gingerbread accord as vanilla and sandalwood make a soft gourmand base accord. It gets softer as cashmeran and musks form a pillowy foundation for it.

Deep Red has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Deep Red is available from most discounters for less than $25. If you are similar to me and want to be swathed in gingerbread; Deep Red offers a modest way to achieve that.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Hermes Elixir des Merveilles- Holidays with Jean-Claude

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I have a whole set of perfumes I wear during the Holiday season of Thanksgiving through the New Year. This is the time of year which seems a natural fit for the gourmands in my collection to make their appearance. As I begin to sort them to the front of my shelves, I am reminded of those that helped define the genre in the early days. This year I looked at the tilted round bottle of Hermes Elixir des Merveilles and thought this might be a Holiday gourmand that flies Under the Radar.

Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena spent over ten years as in-house perfumer at Hermes. His earliest creations of the first Hermessences, the first two “Un Jardins” and Terre D’Hermes would set the aesthetic which would be refined throughout his tenure. Tucked in this same time period is Elixir des Merveilles. It never felt like part of that minimalist aesthetic. As a guess it always felt to me as if it was M. Ellena’s response to the bombast of the alpha gourmand; Thierry Mugler Angel. While Elixir des Merveilles doesn’t get quite as transparent as the other perfumes M. Ellena made for Hermes it is more than a few notches less effusive than Angel.

Jean-Claude Ellena

The original Eau des Merveilles was an homage to ambergris. M. Ellena imagined Elixir des Merveilles to take that ambergris and float it on a chocolate ocean. Before we get there, a fabulous spiced orange accord begins things. Then the chocolate rises accompanied by warm balsamic notes, cedar, and ambergris. This is the amazing gourmand heart which engages me time after time. To give it that final Holiday twist M. Ellena creates a sugar cookie accord fresh from the oven.

Elixir des Merveilles has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

As I was thinking about writing this, I realized that while Elixir des Merveilles does not rise to the transparency of the current trend of gourmands it feels like a forerunner. I always facetiously imagine it is what the Holidays at Jean-Claude’s house must smell like. I’m sure I’m wrong but it is what the Holidays in Poodlesville smells like on the days I wear it.

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

Mark Behnke

Do You Want To Build A Perfume?

There have been several recent perfume vloggers moving from talking about perfume to making perfume. It is an interesting thing to watch as people so love perfume they want to participate beyond commentary. I think all the recent efforts have done things properly. Acting as creative director and not perfumer. They’ve all hired professional perfumers to collaborate with.

It is also a rewarding effort when your fragrance ideas connect with an audience. I know that Barbara Herman went from writing about vintage perfume on her blog to producing a fabulous collection which represents much of what she wrote about. Arielle Weinberg has also moved from her blog to shop owner to creative director. Her perfumes are recognizably extensions of her writing and experience behind the cash register. There are other success stories which point out that it isn’t a ridiculous idea.

While I look on in admiration for those who make this leap; I don’t want to do it. I feel a bit like Elsa in “Frozen” with people asking outside my closed door, “Do You Want to Build A Perfume?” It is an easy answer to say no.

The first reason is I don’t have a fantastic idea for a perfume. There isn’t something lacking in the fragrance world which I believe I have some unique perspective on. It is something I think is common to those who do take this step. They have something they want to express through fragrance based on their experience as a consumer/commentator. I once told a dear friend when asked about creating something, “I think I just want to sit and sniff.”

That’s the other big reason. I think if I tried to make a perfume, I would lose some of my enthusiasm for writing about it. Sitting at my computer sharing what I think I know about perfume gives me a great deal of joy; even after ten years of doing it. I always go to sleep at night with a sense of satisfaction that I have written a new post. I still find that every new perfume I receive adds more to my experience. I would hate to start looking at other perfumes as competition for my creations.

Which means when the world sings to me, “Do You Want To Build A Perfume?” I sit contentedly at my keyboard and reply, “No.”

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office Rochas Audace- A Quiet Chypre

In the history of modern perfumery perhaps the most influential outside event was World War II. Just as the great European perfume producers were hitting their stride everything changed. When peace was declared modern perfumery would be just another, albeit minor, thing which would need to be rebuilt. Of the brands which would make a mark post-war one would be Rochas with the release of Femme. It was one of the ways perfumery was able to say “I’m still standing”.

Femme would be the return to perfume for Rochas which prior to the war had sold three perfumes, Air Jeune, Avenue Matignon, and Audace. All three perfumes were never produced again after the war. Rochas would largely rely on Femme as the flagship fragrance for twenty-five years. By the late 1960’s Rochas wanted to get back into the fragrance game with attention getting perfumes. Monsieur Rochas and Eau de Rochas would signal that return. The perfume which was meant to cement it was the 1972 version of Audace.

Guy Robert

This version of Audace was not a reformulation as much as a reinterpretation by perfumer Guy Robert. The original Audace was said to be a full-bodied floral chypre. M. Robert, perhaps in a nod to changing trends, composed a version of Audace which I think of as a quiet chypre. This was the 1970’s so quiet is a relative term. If you were to compare Audace to the classic green chypres of twenty years earlier, it is much easier to see what I mean. Compare it to the modern chypres of today and quiet would probably not be the adjective which springs to mind. Even so I find the less extroverted style to be almost more engaging.

Audace opens on an acerbically green duet of juniper berry and pine needles. M. Robert finds a stained-glass effect of refracted light through these two ingredients. As the oakmoss rises so does a combination of florals headed by carnation. M. Robert uses a judicious amount of galbanum to extend the green effect from the top accord downward to join the oakmoss and the florals. The choice of the lightly spicy carnation gives the florals some ability to push back against the green without becoming overwhelming. Sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver and musk are all waiting for the oakmoss to complete the chypre base accord. M. Robert’s ability to keep this at a middle level of intensityis impressive.

Audace has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage in its extrait version. 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage in its Parfum de Toilette version.

Audace was released with great fanfare by Rochas in 1972. It spawned a dress and a hairstyle at the same time. It was removed from the market six short years later. It seemingly did not find an audience for its subtle beauty.

As I look back at Audace it makes me think about walking in to an imaginary party where all the mid-century chypres were there. As much as the more flamboyant extroverts draw the eye the quite elegant one on the edge of the circle is the one which makes the biggest impact by being the quiet chypre.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample of the extrait I received from a generous reader and a bottle of the Parfum de Toilette I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Paco Rabanne 1 Million- Seasonal Spice

This column is often dictated by my digging through the discount bins while Mrs. C is shopping elsewhere. While digging a few weeks a go I ran across some gold bars in the bin. Those bottles meant to look like gold ingots is Paco Rabanne 1 Million. Especially for this time of year it is a real Discount Diamond.

Paco Rabanne has been making perfume since 1969. Prior to the 2000’s those early perfumes were some of the best of their kind. After we entered the new century Paco Rabanne became a more aggressive mass-market fragrance producer. A pillar perfume followed by multiple flankers. While most of the flankers are easy to dismiss the pedigree of the brand shows up in the pillars. In 2008, 1 Million was the new pillar which illustrates the point. 1 Million was the fall release for the year. A team of three perfumers, Michel Gerard, Olivier Pescheux and Christophe Raynaud would combine for a rich Oriental style.  

1 Million opens with a chilled citrus accord composed of mandarin and spearmint. The mint is where the frost comes from. It is given a blast of spicy heat as cinnamon removes that icy coating. The cinnamon citrus accord is deep and satisfying. The perfumers then add in rose and leather. The leather is a soft driving glove type. It creates a trapezoid of animalic floral spicy citrus. This is where 1 Million smells as good as the name promises. It fades to a typical vanilla sweetened amber base accord.

1 Million has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

1 Million is the kind of fragrance that shines in the colder weather. It is versatile while adding a classic Oriental aesthetic to any dresser. If you come across a bottle in your local discount bin it is worth its weight in….well you know.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Knize Ten- My Old Leather Jacket

We’ve just had our first cold mornings here. Which means I reached into the closet for my leather jacket. I’ve owned it for over twenty years. I don’t remember exactly when I purchased it, but it is old and I’m happy it still fits. When I slip it on the first time two things always happen. I smile at the history that jacket and I have lived through. Then I walk back to the perfume collection and find my bottle of Knize Ten.

Knize Ten is the one of the original leather perfumes, created in 1925. Joseph Knize was a Viennese tailor who had royalty for clients. He wanted to offer a fragrance for his male clients which was not the typical floral constructs favored by the dandies of the day. He enlisted perfumers Vincent Roubert and Francois Coty to formulate that alternative. They landed on leather as the style of perfume they would create. This time in modern perfumery it was the birch tar laden Cuir de Russie-type leathers which were in vogue. Messrs. Roubert and Coty had a different vision while creating Knize Ten. What they made was a mannered leather fit for Hr. Knize’s clients.

Knize Ten opens with a bracing citrus focused top accord around petitgrain. The perfumers use tarragon and rosemary as herbal interrogators of the green within petitgrain. It turns decidedly spicy as cinnamon and clove enter the picture. All of this is prelude to the leather accord. At first it has a powdery effect enhanced by iris. It is an interesting part of the development. It seems like the perfumers maybe wanted to entice the dandies in with iris before unloading with a full leather. That full leather comes next. Early on I read someone’s description of this as the smell of an oil change in a garage. Every time I wear it, I see this. There is a greasiness to the early stages of the leather. It continues to intensify at the same time sandalwood arrives. As it settles in for the long haul it is the scent of my well-worn leather jacket.

Knize Ten has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

I have always considered Knize Ten as a timeless leather perfume. Almost one hundred years after it was first released it still holds up. Just like my leather jacket.

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

Mark Behnke