Flanker Round-Up: Ralph Lauren Polo Cologne Intense and Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb Nightvision EDP

When flankers come out of what I consider the pillars of masculine marketed perfume I look closely. These can be signposts of how the mass-market brands view the current market. They count on the affection for the original to get a consumer to try a new version. This is the reason for the existence of flankers. This month I am going to look at the new flankers Ralph Lauren Polo Cologne Intense and Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb Nightvision EDP.

Ralph Lauren Polo Cologne Intense is the latest flanker to the masterpiece Polo released in 1978. The brand has not been shy about releasing flankers of this. There are years where there are multiples. The quantity makes it a hit-or-miss effort. Polo Cologne Intense is a hit.

Perfumers Carlos Benaim, who did the original and Pascal Gaurin take the strong herbal woody leather of the original and interpret in a lighter form. Even though it is labeled “cologne intense” this is a classic cologne construct using the ingredients from the original which fit the theme. What that means is a citrus top of grapefruit. It means an herbal piece of clary sage and thyme. It ends on the modern equivalent of woods ambroxan. This is a nice warm weather version of Polo without slavishly nodding to it.

Polo Cologne Intense has 12=14 hour longevity and average sillage.

While I know calling Polo a masterpiece finds wide agreement, I am not sure how many thinks 2012’s Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb is. I think it is the 21st century equivalent to Polo. The brand here has been much more judicious in releasing flankers. When they released the Eau de Toilette (EDT) version of Spicebomb Nightvision in 2019 I was disappointed. This was a lighter version, but it lost a lot of the DNA of the original. This recent Spicebomb Nightvision Eau de Parfum (EDP), by perfumers Pascal Gaurin and Nathalie Lorson finds the middle ground closer in style to the original.

Spicebomb Nightvision EDP retains the spicy core of the original as the hot pepper is part of that. In this case it is used to coalesce around grapefruit. The differences come in an herbal lavender meshing with all the spices and a mixture of balsamic notes in the base in place of the leather. This all adds up to a darker shaded version of the original which is a nice change of pace without straying too far astray.

Spicebomb Nightvision EDP has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

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

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Narcissus

Thanks to the prompting of a reader I was reminded I hadn’t done one of these columns on one of my favorite perfume ingredients. I think the reason I held off on doing my favorite narcissus perfumes is because that keynote is not widely enjoyed. It is an acquired taste. Even as much as I enjoy it, I feel pretty safe in saying I own all the good versions. Because there just aren’t that many. Two of the best Penghaligons’ Ostara and DelRae Wit have been discontinued. It is a tough to love scent. If you do enjoy it this is the time of year to break it out. Its characteristic deeply vegetal greenness easily evokes digging in the early spring garden surrounded by all the green before the flowers bloom. Here are five of my favorites.

My first memory of recognizing narcissus came on a visit to the Caron store in NYC. As much as I was drawn to the other perfumes, I had come there for there was this other green siren calling to me. That was Caron Narcisse Noire by perfumer Ernest Daltroff in 1911. The narcissus is presented in a classic high-low combination with orange blossom. The narcissus is given textrure through vetiver while the orange blossom is made a little bit more of a white flower through jasmine. Musky sandalwood is the pedestal it perches upon. This is the early masterpiece version of the ingredient.

It would be a few years later when I would discover my favorite narcissus perfume. Neil Morris Gotham is a perfume I will never not own. Its one of my personal perfume touchstones. He builds it around the spiciness of black pepper and the juxtaposition of a cuir de Russie leather accord and the narcissus. This is a fragrance that reaches to my depths in all the best ways.

Early on when I was joking around about a perfume only I would like. I said it would have narcissus, immortelle, and a birch tar leather accord. I suspected that idea never to see the light of day until I got my first sniff of L’Artisan Parfumeur Mont de Narcisse. Perfumer Anne Flipo stands in the center ring with three snarling keynotes while managing to put them through their paces. Each of these ingredients is given the space to thrive. Much to my surprise it worked better in reality than I thought it would.

There are two spectacular post-modern narcissus perfumes. One of them is Masque Milano Romanza. Creative directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi work with perfumer Cristiano Canali on a perfume that allows the narcissus to expose all facets of itself as it interacts with absinthe, orange blossom, civet, and amber.

The other one comes from perfumer Bruno Fazzolari, Fzotic Au Dela Narcisse. Narcissus is such a difficult ingredient Mr. Fazzolari wondered what it would add to a chypre style. The answer is it transforms it into something truly noir. Full of shadows as spicy coriander, full spectrum oakmoss, amber, and orange blossom form the chypre of my narcissus filled dreams.

If you want a different spring perfume experience any of these five narcissus perfumes will provide that.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: The Beautiful Mind Series Vol. 1 Intelligence & Beauty- Belle Brilliant

Even I need to be reminded of things which have fallen off my radar screen. When I was speaking with perfumer Geza Schoen about his recent Escentric Molecules M+ Collection I took the opportunity to ask about a different project, The Beautiful Mind Series. In 2010 and five years later Hr. Schoen worked with the creative direction of precocious non-perfume intellects. I was thinking we were overdue for a third volume. He told me that he is just waiting for the right muse. Which sent me to find the earlier releases. When I found The Beautiful Mind Series Intelligence & Beauty Vol.1 there was a gorgeous spring floral waiting.

The beautiful mind he collaborated with was Grandmaster of Memory, Christiane Stenger. She achieved that status at age 12. The brief they came up for the perfume is, “an ode to summer and its memories”. The structure was a floral built around magnolia and tiare. I remember remarking at the time that it was only the second time I had encountered tiare in a perfume. What a difference a decade makes. Even then there is a sparkling presence to this South Pacific gardenia. By pairing it with a creamy woody magnolia it is a study in contrasts They are provided depth through osmanthus and rose. I know they want summer, but this feels very spring-like to me. The tiare is the crown on top of the floral heart. A soft woody base accord around sandalwood and cedar adds in the final flourish

Intelligence & Beauty Vol. 1 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Hr. Schoen would release Vol.2 with ballet dancer Polina Semionova. They produce one of the more interesting fruity florals I own which ends on an animalic accord. Both perfumes are unlike much of what Hr. Schoen has made for other brands. They celebrate the beauty of intelligence which is as good as perfume gets.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Prada Amber pour Homme- In the Beginning

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I’ll make a little admission. I sometimes go back and read the first reviews I did on Basenotes. I don’t think they are bad. They also show some of the things you can still see almost fifteen years later. As I began writing reviews the fashion designers all seemed to be discovering fragrance as part of their brand. I like to remind myself where they started too. For this month’s Discount Diamonds I go back to the beginning for Prada with Prada Amber pour Homme.

In 2006 Miuccia Prada wanted to get into perfume. She would start by releasing pairs of perfumes for each gender. The first effort was around amber at least that was what the label said. When it came to Amber pour Homme the dirty little secret was there was no amber. Perfumer Daniela Andrier began her long tenure as perfumer for Prada by throwing a curveball. This should have been called Myrrh pour Homme. Myrrh is one of those malleable resins which can seemingly be hammered into any shape. One which always surprises me is how it can be made to smell soapy. This is where Mme Andrier starts.

Daniela Andrier

Right from the open the myrrh is there. When I say soapy it reminds me of scented dryer sheets. There is also cotton-like cloth under it. In the early going labdanum slides it in a sweeter direction. Geranium and vetiver pull it back with their greenness. It goes back to being slightly sweeter as orange blossom and sandalwood assert their presence.

Amber pour Homme has 14-16 hour longevitry and average sillage.

Because it has been around so long, I found it regularly in my rack store bins. It is also on most of the discount sites and stores. It is always within the price range to qualify for this column.

These first perfumes by Mme Andrier would begin to form what would recognizably become the Prada fragrance aesthetic. I have always thought of her as a classical designer of perfume. Revisiting the earliest effort at Prada reinforces that thinking.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Tiffany and Tiffany for Men- License Expired

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If there was ever a column that was destined to be written by popular demand it is this one. Every blog has their most commented on post. Far and away the one which has the most comments is my review of 2017’s Tiffany & Co. perfume. The bulk of the 84 and counting comments is a lament for the loss of the originals done for the luxury jewelry store. I realized the reason Tiffany and Tiffany for Men are both in the Dead Letter Office is also a story of how the licensing business in fragrance worked then and now.

Back in the mid-1980’s Tiffany wanted to add an exclusive perfume for purchase at their stores. Most designer brands look for a fragrance company to license their brand to. This has been an ongoing eco-system in perfume for decades. Almost every designer fragrance you own is overseen by one of the huge beauty conglomerates. Which makes the choice made by Tiffany more remarkable. Instead of going with those proven successful entities they chose to collaborate with another exclusive luxury brand who also made fragrance, Chanel.

Francois Demachy

They chose to ask the in-house perfumer team at Chanel of Francois Demachy and Jacques Polge to design exclusive Tiffany branded perfumes. In 1987 they released Tiffany followed two years later by Tiffany for Men. I never knew they existed until I was in Tiffany with a friend and saw the bottles. Both were sophisticated styles which felt perfectly at home in the jewelry store.

Jacques Polge

Tiffany is a gorgeous, layered perfume made up of the best floral ingredients. Rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, orris and muguet form a heady central accord. Grace notes of citrus and berry flirt around the edges. It ends on that characteristically warm Chanel sandalwood and vanilla base.

Tiffany for Men is one of the greatest men’s perfume ever produced on a similar level to Patou pour Homme. The perfumers create a spicy citrus opening which turns greener through galbanum and oakmoss. It also comes to an end on a familiar Chanel accord this time it is an ambery sandalwood given some texture through black pepper.

About the time I learned that Chanel was the perfume house behind them I would learn soon after that Tiffany was not renewing the license, ending it in 2006. The remaining inventory would be depleted over the years following. Eventually the only place they lived on was in the Dead Letter Office.

The story picks up again ten years later. Tiffany wanted to get back into the fragrance game again. This time they would collaborate with one of the large beauty companies; licensing the brand to Coty. This seems to be an attempt to capture a new Tiffany audience. No more exclusivity. Sold everywhere. Looking to appeal to the current trends favored by the younger fragrance buying demographic. If you read my review of this newer version, I think they achieved what they were trying for.

This story is a tale of two different times and places for how Tiffany wanted to be interpreted as a perfume. 35 years ago it was exclusivity. Currently it is in search of a younger demographic by casting a wider net.

For all the commenters I hope this gives you some insight into why it is unlikely to ever see Tiffany or Tiffany for Men find their way out of the Dead Letter Office.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Elizabeth & James Nirvana French Grey- WandaScent

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One of the great collections of inexpensive fragrance is the one created by the twin celebrities Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. Starting in 2014 they released pairs of perfumes under the label of Elizabeth & James. Back then when I wrote about it, I mentioned the name came from the ladies’ younger, less famous, siblings. Revisiting that statement in 2021 the distaff side of the name is no longer the less anything to her sisters. Elizabeth Olsen has been a brilliant actor in the streaming series WandaVision. The twins turned out to have their own version of precocious vision as they moved into fashion and fragrance.

When it came to these perfumes the idea was to design simple easy-to-wear constructs. That isn’t an uncommon target for many modestly priced brands. What always seemed to set this collection apart was the choice of three tightly integrated keynotes. Each of the six releases are designed with this in mind. Elizabeth & James Nirvana French Grey was part of the lest set of two in 2017. Perfumers Nicole Mancini and Linda Song use lavender, neroli, and musk as the trio to build this with.

What all the perfumes do in this collection is to sandwich one multi-faceted ingredient between two others. Using the variability to move back and forth between the two it forms a more dynamic fragrance than you might expect from just three ingredients.

Lavender plays the part of the ingredient with facets. In French Grey it is sandwiched between neroli and musk. The herbal nature of the lavender resonates with the green floral scent of neroli. Early on you get a slightly green floral accord. As the lavender shifts towards the musk it shows off its powdery side. It creates a lightly powdered skin accord. Over the hours it stays on my skin the lavender seemingly pivots back and forth between the neroli and musk until it finally fades.

Nirvana French Grey has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

All six Elizabeth & James fragrances qualify as Discount Diamonds they are that good. Nirvana French Grey is just the best choice for these early spring days. If you are enjoying Elizabeth’s acting, you should see the vision her twin sisters bring to perfume.

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

Mark Behnke

Pierre Benard Challenge Continued: Ice, Ice, Baby

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It wasn’t until I was 22 that I first encountered ice through weather. I had lived in Florida my entire life until then. At grad school in Georgia I walked out to my car one morning. I started it up and turned on the windshield wipers to remove the dew on the windshield. Except it didn’t move the wipers skidded uselessly over it. Of course my Florida trained mentality leapt to the right conclusion. I thought someone had put white spray paint on my car window. As the edges began to melt the actuality came through. There was ice on my windshield. After almost forty years in the parts of the world where ice is a part of the natural order of things, I am more used to it. It has now evolved to the way the ice on my lawn and trees smells.

The smell of freezing precipitation has always fascinated me. just like a summer rainstorm presents itself in ozone and petrichor the colder version does the same. This past week we have had a lot of ice freezing on surfaces in Colognoisseur HQ. As I watched the dogs in the backyard the scent of the world was like a giant ice cube. A little more liquid as the icicles had a drop of water on the ends. What also stands out is the way the ice adds a barrier to all the other natural odors. The only thing I smell is this crystallized humidity.

We’ve also had some snow. That has a different profile to my nose. There is an apocryphal tale that Eskimos have 50-plus words for snow. When it comes to my perception of the world covered in snow there is just a chilly sterility with crunch. As I walk through it the auditory sound of my boots along with what I breathe in seem to go together. The snow doesn’t add as perfect a barrier as the ice. It allows some of the woods to join in.

There are two excellent perfume equivalents to the way I think of snow. One is Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle L’Eau d’Hiver by Jean-Claude Ellena. This is a breathy whisper behind mittened hands in the snow. The other is the more recent Maison Crivelli Absinthe Boreale by Nathalie Feisthauer. She captures the crunch of the snow as I sip absinthe while watching the aurora borealis.

It might be easy to think of snow as odorless. Reality and perfume have taught me differently.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: i Profumi di Firenze Brezza di Mare- Aquatic from the Flood

When I started widening my fragrance horizons, I had some stupid rules. One of them was I didn’t want to try any aquatics. Through the nineties and early oughts that seemed to be the only masculine style mainstream brands were interested in. During these early days I became a regular at the perfume purveyors in Boston. One of my favorite sales associates was Roberto at the Copley Place Barney’s New York. I liked him because he paid attention while also nudging me towards things I wanted to ignore. He also knew I liked hearing the stories behind the brands. One afternoon he showed me i Profumi di Firenze Brezza di Mare and my dopey rules became moot.

The story behind the brand is fabulous whether it is true or not. The tale begins with the once in a century 1966 flood of the Arno River in Florence. After the waters receded brand founder and perfumer Dr. Giovanni di Massimo began looking through the wreckage. He found in a sealed basement the perfume recipes of Caterina de Medici from the 16th century. Dr. di Massimo would take one of those recipes and release the first perfume named after Sig.ra de Medici. For over twenty-five years the brand has been making excellent fragrances.

Brezza di Mare managed to break through my resistance to the aquatic genre despite using one of the keynotes of it. Dr. di Massimo overwhelms that Calone in enough other attention getting notes I didn’t mind its presence.

One of the hallmarks of my favorite aquatics is a heavier concentration of the ozonic sea spray notes. Growing up on the beach the scent of my sun-warmed skin with a crust of salt from the dried sea water is where I want a perfume to go. Brezza di Mare begins with that. It always makes me smile when I wear it because of it. The Calone comes next but not by itself. A full bouquet of white flowers come along for the ride. Calone usually has a strong watery melon quality. Because of the white flowers that is swept up in their exuberance. It attenuates the things I am not fond of while letting the things I do predominate. From here it takes a warm turn with vanilla and white musk forming the base. This is what really makes this so appealing. As the vanilla finds the white flowers it turns those typical aquatic pieces into something cozier. It isn’t so deep as to become gourmand-like. It is just enough different sweetness to resonate with the florals.

Brezza di Mare has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

If you also are down on aquatics give this a try. I would also urge anyone who is intrigued by the history of the house I described to also put it on your radar. It is one worth spending some time with.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Boss Number One- A Perfume Blazer

When I got my first job in 1984, I wanted to upgrade my wardrobe. One piece of clothing I always wanted was a great fitting blazer. I wanted that male version of a little black dress which I could wear on any occasion. When I went shopping, I found a Hugo Boss version which was just what I was looking for. That blazer traveled everywhere with me for years until the lining began to fall apart.  It was as much a part of my wardrobe as my current Hawaiian shirt and fedora are now.

This was also the early moments of the expansion of my perfume collection. I was in Macy’s one day in the mid 1980’s waiting for something. I was killing time at the men’s fragrance counter. The sales associate brought over a new one called Boss Number One. When I sniffed it, I realized this was in line with the scents I was trending towards in those days. I felt it had to be the cologne which would go with my blazer. Back in 1986-ish I just like the way it smelled. I now know a little more about why I liked it so much.

Pierre Wargnye

One of those reasons is it was perfumer Pierre Wargnye’s second perfume after the amazing success of Drakkar Noir. I was never one of those who gravitated towards that even though I recognized its quality. There were too many people wearing it I wanted something different. Boss Number One was a more nuanced style of fougere over his first one. He would add in a lot of grace notes through a central axis of herbs, honey, and tobacco.

The top accord seems to be the perfume version of one of those spice blends. I can pick out rosemary, cardamom, sage, and nutmeg most prominently. There are others on the edges, but it is those which form a green opening. A thread of rose winds its way though which is followed by the sweetness of honey. There is a lot of honey here and it is in the amount where on some people it will smell urine-like. On me it is all slightly animalic sweetness. The tobacco waiting to join it makes a satisfying duet. In my old bottle, a real chypre accord of patchouli, oakmoss, and vetiver form the foundation. For this review I got a small current tester, and it is here where the chypre has been mostly replaced with a cedar, patchouli, and vetiver accord which is an acceptable substitute.

Boss Number One has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Almost as much as my Hugo Boss blazer my bottle of Boss Number One was in my travel bag. That’s because it was as versatile as my jacket.

Disclosure: this review is based on my original bottle and a newer one purchased this year.

Mark Behnke

Flanker Round-Up: Armani Code Eau de Parfum and Yves St. Laurent Y Le Parfum

If there is a masculine counterpart to the ubiquitous spring rose it is lavender. I have noticed that more of the spring men’s releases rely on this floral recently. I received two flankers where its addition is a positive.

Armani Code Eau de Parfum

Ever since its release Armani Code has acted as a cash cow for the brand. They would pump out releases which were uninspired copies. Something changed a couple years ago as the last couple of Armani Code flankers have been much more interesting. Some of that might have something to do with Antoine Maisondieu being involved or maybe being given the ability to color outside the lines. The New Armani Code Eau de Parfum benefits from whatever the reason is.

What is nice is at every phase there is a substitute for the original. It starts as lemon replaces grapefruit. This is a very warm lemon instead of bright. The floral herbal piece of this Eau de Parfum version is lavender and rosemary. Each is a change from the original while still cutting close enough to feel like part of the family. The base accord has a higher concentration of tonka bean which adds in another warmer ingredient. Overall it confirms that warmth a parfum version would likely have. I also think this is a good choice for the spring and fall.

Armani Code Eau de Parfum has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Yves St. Laurent Y Le Parfum

I have been mostly disappointed in the last few years at YSL. The original release of Y Eau de Toilette is an example of fragrance by focus group. It works for people who don’t really like perfume. Just like Armani Code, YSL has cranked out multiple flankers all of which retained that lack of ingenuity. By featuring lavender among many other changes, perfumer Dominique Ropion has made the best version of Y yet.

The opening is a collision of tart fruit in grapefruit and green apple. The tartness is a nice opening for the lavender to walk through. The floral is kept more on its herbal side with a little sage making sure of that. It closes on a sweetly woody accord of cedar and tonka bean.

Y Le Parfum has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Disclosure: this review was based on samples provided by the manufacturers.

Mark Behnke