The Pierre Benard Challenge Introduction

Those who are close to me know I am not one for these “challenges” which spring up on social media. Thankfully, they also know me well enough not to tag me as someone to keep the challenge going. It has been an easy thing to ignore. Until there was a challenge that I did find interesting.

When I was part of the original team at CaFleureBon editor-in-chief Michelyn Camen gave Pierre Benard of OSMOART the opportunity to create a piece for the blog. I did not know M. Benard back in 2010 when his first piece was published. I would become an enthusiastic fan of his ability to tie scent, emotion, and art together in personal ways. Whenever I see there is a new piece from him, I always go right to it. It always provides a unique perspective on scent.

Starting at the end of April, with Ms. Camen, M. Benard challenged each person tagged to “post ten smell, perfumes or posters that infused your life”. Ms. Camen has dutifully tagged people who have tagged people and so on. Some of the best part of my Facebook feed has been seeing what various friends in the social media fragosphere have answered. Some I kind of knew and others were total surprises. None bigger than this time, for the only time, I wanted to play.

Then I remembered I have a blog. I also have only been receiving a trickle of new perfumes to consider for review because of the pandemic. Instead of doing posts about the best perfumes of the decade or something like that. I’m going to spend the next ten days doing the challenge with one post per day. Because I have a blog I can be as wordy, or nerdy, as I like. Join me on Monday for Day 1.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Grandiflora Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine- Beginnings and Endings

Unlike many when I desire a spring floral I tend to run away from rose in search of other parts of the garden. One flower which has become synonymous with spring is magnolia. Some of that comes from my grad school days in Georgia where it becomes one of the first scented flowers to pop after winter recedes. It also comes from owning some excellent perfumes which feature it. One of those is Grandiflora Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine.

Saskia Havekes

Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine was released at the beginning of 2014. It was one of two debut fragrances for the brand. Grandiflora was begun by Australian floral artist Saskia Havekes. For her first two perfumes she invited two perfumers to interpret the same flower, magnolia. One was composed by perfumer Michel Roudnitska called Magnolia Grandiflora Michel. The other perfumer was Sandrine Videault and hers was named Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine. Each of them is excellent interpretations of magnolia. M. Roudnitska’s appeals to me in the colder weather when I want a fuller floral. Mme Videault’s take is to find magnolia just as it bursts from its bud.

Sandrine Videault

What she noticed when spending time with the natural source was an inherent green that read as “chypre” to her. Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine is a fragrance which takes that in a different direction by the end.

At the beginning we get grapefruit and pepper. This is such a spring morning accord. The slightly sulfurous grapefruit and the pepper picks up the dewy green and damp soil of dawn in the garden. The magnolia appears next as if it has just peeked out from its bud. This is where that significant green Mme Videault noticed is given some space. I always expect it to get greener. Mme Videault has other ideas. The flower comes more clearly out, giving a velvety floral quality taking the lead from the green. Now that the sun has risen, and the dew has burned off, the afternoon breeze of white musks expand and lift the magnolia up to be appreciated. A subtle suite of dry woods provides the base accord.

Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine has 18-24 hour longevity and above average sillage.

This perfume represents a beginning and an end. It was the beginning of Mme Havekes Grandiflora perfume brand. She has gone on to add three more floral perfumes to the original two. All of them show the creativity she is known for in her floral designs.

It was also the last perfume made by Mme Videault as she passed away soon after finishing it. There are many who consider other perfumes she made as her best. I think Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine holds that honor.

If you have never heard of Grandiflora or Sandrine Videault they both should be on your radar now.

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

Mark Behnke

My Perfume of Spring: Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle En Passant

As we approach May 1 it is one of those days where perfume has a moment. It is centered around the perfumes which focus on muguet or lily-of-the-valley. On May Day it is tradition to wear a sprig, or two, in celebration of spring. From Dior Diorissimo to Annick Goutal Le Muguet or Guerlain’s yearly release of Muguet on May 1 the perfume version is an option. I think all those perfumes are fantastic, but I never equated lily-of-the-valley with spring. My spring flower is bit different as is the perfume which represents it.

For most of my life I have had lilac bushes growing near the places I have lived. As the winter has receded enough for me to open my windows. It was the scent of lilacs which let me know the season had profoundly changed. I look forward to this every year. One thing which also seems to happen annually is one of those proverbial April showers comes through. After the rain has passed there is one of my favorite natural mixtures of scent; green leaves, wet soil and lilac. Perfumer Olivia Giacobetti has bottled this in one of the greatest perfumes of the last twenty years; Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle En Passant.

Olivia Giacobetti

En Passant was part of Frederic Malle’s groundbreaking inaugural collection in 2000. For the first time the heretofore anonymous perfumer’s names were right there on the label. All the perfumes would make their perfumers something to be celebrated.

In the years before the release of En Passant Mme Giacobetti had been refining a transparent aesthetic. En Passant was where it reached perfection. She became expert in forming opaque accords without sacrificing impact. In En Passant she had to walk the fractious line lilac presents a perfumer. If you construct your accord with too much you run the risk of reminding the wearer of aerosol air freshener. Too musky and it loses any hint of spring freshness. The accord she constructs finds the perfect balance through translucent lilac. It is then given the wet soil accord through the ingenious combination of cucumber and wheat. The green comes though the acerbic quality of orange leaves.

En Passant has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I consider En Passant to be the best perfume of this century. It is a fragrance which manages to succeed at being photorealistic and impressionistic simultaneously. Mme Giacobetti was years ahead of her time when it came to this style of perfumery. There are many who think a perfume needs to shout to be great. En Passant asks whether it can whisper of spring showers in a garden of lilacs instead. Give me the quiet beauty of it all.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: White Shoulders- Reformulation for a New Generation

Anyone who is of the Baby Boomer generation likely had a woman in their family who wore White Shoulders. It featured the white flowers of gardenia, tuberose and jasmine in a heady cocktail. It was a perennial best-seller for years. Then in the 1970’s it began a process of being sold to different brands each who would tweak the formula a little bit. Trying to make it more profitable. The original is a classic of its time which any perfume lover of white flower types of fragrance would enjoy. The current formulation of White Shoulders is a much lighter replica of that original perfume. It is the rare occasion where a formulation might have coincided with finding the current trend.

The original White Shoulders formulation was the epitome of what younger perfume lovers called “old lady” perfume. It was chock full of essential oils along with sandalwood, oakmoss, and civet. The white florals reeked of indoles to go with it. It is a perfume from a different era. The small bottle I have of that White Shoulders is just what I adore of perfumes from that time. It is a take no prisoners floral perfume. Not so the current formulation.

In the current version all the ingredients which were essential oils have been replaced by low-cost synthetics. Along with the problematic oakmoss and civet which have also been removed. In its current formulation it is like a classic Rolls-Royce has been entirely refurbished with everything being replaced with modern car parts. As much as I like the original, I also like the version it has been altered into.

This reformulation begins with tuberose, gardenia, and jasmine. Except these are the indole-free synthetic versions. These were created by perfume houses to give a floral lift. As used here they are much more expansive. Which works well with the aldehydes which have carried over from the original. This version now feels like a spring morning as the flowers are just scenting the air. Because the civet and oakmoss are gone the sandalwood has more work to do here. A less sweet synthetic version tries to put back some of the bite missing. It provides a nice woody grounding effect.

White Shoulders has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

For anyone who loved the original White Shoulders this is different enough that it is not going to remind you of it. You might come to like it or miss what is gone. For any younger perfume consumer who is looking for a lighter spring floral this current reformulation of White Shoulders should be ideal. It is right on trend. That it can be bought for around $20US almost anywhere makes the current version a Discount Diamond.

Disclosure: This review based on bottles of White Shoulders I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Chanel Allure Homme Edition Blanche- Shoulder Season Standout

This is the time of year referred to as shoulder season. Not quite full spring with reminders of winter still present. Just as you wear a sweater or jacket in the morning only to be carrying it on your arm in the afternoon. There are a select few perfumes I enjoy wearing on these variable days. They are among the best constructed perfumes I own because they must be versatile enough to handle the variability of the day. From the moment it was released in the spring of 2008 Chanel Allure Homme Edition Blanche has epitomized the ideal shoulder season perfume.

Chanel has always been blessed with incredible in-house perfumers. Enough that it would be difficult to parse which is better. When it comes to a set of masculine perfumes it would be hard to argue that Jacques Polge and Francois Demachy set the standard for twenty years at Chanel. Allure Homme Edition Blanche would add the exclamation point to this era.

Allure Homme Edition Blanche succeeds by being what I call a high-low style of perfume. Something which starts out light and ends up deep. The original Allure Homme was a soft fresh citrus woody perfume. Even though it shares the name Allure Homme Edition Blanche is entirely different.

It is apparent right away with one of my favorite lemon top accords. This is bright sunshine for a spring, or fall, day. Sun hanging lower in the sky still brilliant but a little softer around the edges. This lemon infuses the perfume with energy which carries into the heart where sandalwood and tonka await. The sweet of both ingredients cover the lemon. Adding more depth without completely overwhelming the citrus. The base uses vetiver and vanilla to provide the final rounding. Vetiver takes the sandalwood to a more traditional woody direction. The vanilla harmonizes with the tonka for a comforting accord. All while the lemon pulses in the middle of it all.

Allure Homme Edition Blanche has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

While I am lauding this for being perfect in spring or fall it is also just as good in the summer as an alternative citrus cologne. There are few better men’s fragrances out there than this. If you’ve come to Chanel because of Bleu de Chanel; Allure Homme Edition Blanche should be another bottle from the brand you add to your radar screen, or dresser.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Eau D’Italie Jardin du Poete- Herbal Spring

With some time I can look back and point at some incredible perfumery. One of the things new independent perfume brands did a lot of in the mid-2000’s was to rely on one perfumer to help refine the desired aesthetic. Spouses Sebastian Alvarez Murena and Marina Sersale wanted to create perfumes based on their hotel La Sireneuse on the Amalfi Coast of Italy. They turned to perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour to help create their line of perfume. From 2004-2011 he created the eight perfumes which would set the template for the brand to thrive. Those eight perfumes when seen together show the artistry of the entire creative team. I own all of them and they are pinnacles of what independent perfumery stands for. It is this kind of perfume brand I like to highlight in this Under the Radar column. Today I will focus on the last of the perfumes M. Duchaufour did for the brand Eau D’Italie Jardin du Poete.

Regular readers will not be surprised to know the scent I associate with spring has nothing to do with rose. I am a fan of the greener herbal perfumes for this season. Jardin du Poete is one of those with a fantastic pivot at the end that I never tire of experiencing. Jardin du Poete captures a springtime dawdle in a garden near La Sireneuse.

Bertrand Duchaufour

It opens with a typical Mediterranean cocktail of citrus. In this case M. Duchaufour captures the bitter side of these fruits. Using grapefruit and bitter orange this is isn’t the juicy ripe citrus of a summer scent. It is more closed in as the sulfurous quality of the grapefruit and the bitterness of the orange create a citrus accord of fruit not quite ripe enough to eat. M. Duchaufour then adds in an overdose of basil. This pungent green herbal note accentuates the greener qualities of the citrus. Baie rose adds in more herbal support. The basil and baie rose form an abstract tomato leaf accord over time on my skin. Then the pivot I spoke of happens as the maple syrup scent of immortelle flows over the herbal nature. Immortelle can dominate the fragrances it is used in. M. Duchaufour uses it here in one of the most transparent ways I have encountered it. It forms a rugged green garden accord as the immortelle reminds me more of broom flower or hay as the basil provides the green beneath. A grassy vetiver brings it all full circle.

Jardin du Poete has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

These early perfumes of Eau D’Italie are all worthy of being on your radar. If you need to find one appropriate for spring Jardin du Poete is a good place to start.

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

Mark Behnke

Perfume in the Time of Coronavirus

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I am a generally happy person. The current coronavirus pandemic has worn away at that. I like to be informed but this time the more I learned the bluer I felt. Over the last few days I’ve unplugged from the news streams except for watching the local and national news for an hour. It has helped. The other thing that has helped is my love for perfume.

To fill up the time I’ve been working in the perfume vault. I am surprised at how much beauty there is to be found. I shouldn’t be, I write about it every day. On those shelves are history lessons, trips to faraway places, exceptional artistic visions; all of which are fascinating. I’ve been allowing myself the luxury of letting scent take me away.

I have spent some of my time getting lost in my favorite perfume house, Patou. The Art Deco bottles seem appropriate as we enter this century’s own 20’s. The great Joy was created in 1925. I was struck by the way that perfume seems timeless. It is what a floral perfume should be at any time.

I turned to the Japanese inspired perfumes by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz for serenity. My favorite perfume by one of my favorite perfumers is her Bancha. I usually demur when asked to name a single perfume when asked what is the one I like best. Bancha is one which is unequivocal in my affection. I always wear Bancha on the first day of spring. The same sense of tranquility and hope descended upon me with each breath I took as it does every year. It is especially appropriate now.

Alessandro Brun, Me, Riccardo Tedeschi (l. to r.)

I hadn’t thought about what a great collection the Masque Milano perfumes have become until I spent an afternoon with them covering different patches of skin. It is such a varied collection that I smelled like a pile-up on the perfume interstate. Yet there is a real sense of vision now that there are several perfumes to examine. Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi are in the midst of creating perfume which will stand the test of time. To spend this time with them has been illuminating.

I decided to go around the world while sitting at my desk. Perfumes took me to every continent all while never leaving the house.

I’ve never had the best answer when asked why I have so much perfume. Maybe I was just waiting for a time when all that I enjoy can be there as emotional support. I think those days have arrived. Perfume in the time of coronavirus will be what gets me through.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Bvlgari Eau Parfumee Au The Vert- First Haiku

As my closet is testament to, if you wait long enough every trend eventually comes back into style. As I wrote that I gazed at the perfume vault and realized the same thing holds there. As perfume trends go the 1990’s was one of the most vital at creating new genres and styles. Despite it being all the rage today, transparency was one of those. It was also a time where perfumers who were behind-the-scenes artists had some latitude. It would be another ten years before their names were as known as the brands they worked for. The first star perfumer is probably Jean-Claude Ellena. The perfume which probably defined the style he would refine for the next 25 years is Bvlgari Eau Parfumee Au The Vert.

To perfume lovers if you speak M. Ellena’s name they think of their favorite minimalist perfume from his time as in-house perfumer at Hermes. Many are surprised when I show them that style was apparent in 1993 with Au The Vert.

Jean-Claude Ellena

The simple brief given him was to create a perfume evoking a Japanese tea ceremony. He took this to heart considering the minimalist aesthetic of Japan. His thought was to streamline the composition down to a few essential ingredients. To keep the focus on the tea as you would at an actual tea ceremony. What comes to life is a vibrant perfume in just a few well-chosen notes.

The opening is the soft floral citrus of orange blossom. It is given definition using coriander and cardamom. The cardamom gives lift to the citrus character. The coriander captures the green undertone of the flower. The floral nature is given some depth with jasmine. This brings us to the green tea. It is a bit bitter. It is also very transparent. It rises in tendrils of steam through the top accord. Underneath it all is a light application of smoky woods as if the brazier the tea was heated on enters the scene.

Au The Vert has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

At the time this was released it was a best seller because there was nothing like it on the market. It was a perfume which wasn’t as forthright in its charms as the others on the department store fragrance counter. It is entirely on trend for today’s perfume customers. The nice thing is it falls into my Discount Diamonds cutoff as you can find bottles available for right around that $40 limit. I can tell you there are few perfumes out there which are better.

As M. Ellena would evolve the style begun here his creations would be called “Perfume Haiku”. Au The Vert was the first of those verses.

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

Mark Behnke

Flanker Round-Up: Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio Profondo and Armani Code Absolu Gold

I sometimes get an e-mail from a reader asking me, “What’s the point of flankers?” Trust me when I receive them in the mail that is something I ask myself. The cynical answer is the large companies are trying to part consumers from their money who feel brand loyalty. It is probably closer to the truth. Yet I have observed there might be a more positive perspective to have on flankers.

When I give someone a perfume to try on a strip and they tell me they don’t like it; I ask why. The most frequent answer is there is one thing which doesn’t make them happy. Too floral. Not floral enough. Too sweet. Too strong. A flanker can address this by making the one small change which might bring in someone who was put off by something in the original. This was my frame of mind when I received the two latest flankers from Giorgio Armani.

Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio Profondo

To their credit Giorgio Armani has not overexposed Acqua di Gio by releasing a ton of flankers of the 1995 original. It is also commendable that they have been clearly different from each other. The original was one of the early uses of Calone as the source of the sea spray beachy quality. The big difference in Acqua di Gio Profondo is the use of an analog called Cascalone. This is a deeper version of the sea with a more concentrated effect. It is what perfumer Alberto Morillas uses in the opening moments. Lavender replaces jasmine from the original. The lavender goes well with the Cascalone in creating a slightly darker shade of fragrance. It ends with a mineralic accord in the base,

If you were someone who found the original Acqua di Gio too fresh and clean; Profondo is just a shade less of both.

Acqua di Gio Profondo has 8-10 hour.

Giorgio Armani Armani Code Absolu Gold

With Armani Code the brand doesn’t seem as protective; releasing nearly a flanker a year since its initial release. That kind of process leads to a cynical view. All the Armani Code flankers have been offshoots of the original’s woody Oriental construction. I had easily ignored them until last year’s Armani Code Absolu which did change things. I wasn’t fond of an odd boozy accord in the middle but I appreciated the effort to try something new. This year’s version Armani Code Absolu Gold makes a change which made me like it much more.

Perfumer Antoine Maisondieu was behind both of the Absolu versions. In Armani Code Absolu Gold the booze is replaced by a fantastic iris and saffron heart. This flows much more naturally from the crisp fruits of apple and tangerine on top into benzoin and tonka bean in the base. It is difficult to get the floral balance right in a perfume marketed to men. I think if you are looking for a subdued floral for a change of pace and you like the Armani Code DNA this is a good alternative.

Armani Code Absolu Gold has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Giorgio Armani.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Halston Z-14- Citrus Chypre

There are a lot of the men’s perfumes designed in the 1970’s that seem to be as dated as platform shoes. They have a way of reminding you of the caricature of the hairy chested Playboy man. There is a more charitable description as simple powerhouses. Which translates to very expressive fragrances. I believe it is these perfumes, and the men who wore too much of them, which have given fragrance a bad name to this day. I still like some of my favorites from those days, modestly applied. It is that lesser amount which shows which of them are better constructed than others. One which falls into that category is Halston Z-14.

By the mid-1970’s fashion designer Halston was the man who dressed the glitterati hanging out at Studio 54 in New York City. He became one of the most famous celebrity designers because he was photographed with Liza, Anjelica, Bianca, or Margaux wearing his designs on the dance floor. As the perfume industry was changing during this time so were the buying habits of American women. Prior to this time most perfume was bought by men for the women in their lives. With women entering the workforce women were now using the money they made to buy things for themselves. Cosmetics giant Max Factor wanted a name to draw those consumers to their own fragrance. They licensed the Halston name and in 1975 released Halston for Women. It was a huge success. Which meant in 1976 it was time for a men’s version called Halston Z-14.

Halston and Liza Minelli

Halston would creatively direct perfumer Vincent Marcello to create a spicy citrus chypre. It is that idea of bright citrus over a chypre base accord which keeps Z-14 still relevant today. Of course that original chypre accord has been altered due to the discontinuation of many of the ingredients. When I tried a current bottle of Z-14 I was surprised at how well it has evolved from its original form. I’m not sure who is overseeing the reformulation, but they have done a good job. The description below is of a new bottle I just purchased.

It opens brightly with the lemony green of verbena ushering in a fuller lemon. Cinnamon is the primary spice which pierces the tart citrus. Just the simple balance between hot cinnamon and sunny lemon feels great. The chypre accord has also been brightened since the original formulation. Most of the time I bemoan the loss of the bite of oakmoss in the current chypres. The chypre accord here is lighter in nature. In this current version of Z-14 I think it allows it not to fall into a dated parody of itself. Instead it helps make it feel a little closer to the current time.

Z-14 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Z-14 can be found for around $10 a bottle. Despite its age and origins it manages to be a Discount Diamond for being a bright citrus chypre.

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

Mark Behnke