Perfumer Rewind: Bertrand Duchaufour “The High Priest of Resins” 2002-2007

Throughout the early years of the 2000’s there was a perfumer who I dubbed The High Priest of Resins. Over five years and seven perfumes perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour would make seven perfumes with significant incense accords in them. By the time he hit the seventh, 2007’s Amouage Jubilation XXV, he would have perfected his touch with these ingredients to produce a perfume I consider a masterpiece. As I look back it was definitely a process which spread across work for three brands; Comme des Garcons, L’Artisan Parfumeur, and Eau d’Italie. Each of the perfumes created for those brands allowed him to test the limits of the resinous side of his palette.

It started in 2002 with the release of Comme des Garcons Series 3 Incense Avignon & Kyoto. For those fragrances M. Duchaufour constructed two disparate incense accords. For Avignon it was the stony chill of a cathedral made of ancient stone. It carries the weight of the centuries as you feel the slightly metallic tang of the incense over the aged wood of the pews. Kyoto, as its names portends, was a Japanese minimalist aesthetic. Clean woods matched with the sweeter resins make for a truly meditative harmonious, soothing incense accord. Both of these fragrances are still among my favorites but they really were the foundation of where M. Duchaufour would start to refine the accord.

In 2004 it was his work for the original Eau d’Italie fragrance which would show the light use of incense and L’Artisan Parfumeur Timbuktu the deeper darker side. With Eau d’Italie M. Duchaufour puts in an ethereal gauzy incense veil over the opening moments of a perfume that will turn very green and floral. It was a bit of ingenious sleight of hand as just as you think you’re headed in one direction off you go in an entirely different one. He had found a way to take the lighter accord of Kyoto and now make it float like a feather. Avignon’s incense accord is so astringent it has sharp edges to it. With Timbuktu M. Duchaufour decided to add some attenuating resins in myrrh and benzoin to soften those edges without sacrificing the impact.

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Bertrand Duchaufour

By 2006 he was looking for ways to take incense and match them with florals. L’Artisan Parfumeur Dzongkha would have a heart of chai tea, incense, and orris. This incense is the exact middle ground between the previous lighter style and the weightier version. It has a presence without being overwhelming. In Dzongkha combined with a chai accord and orris it forms a heart of one of the most underrated perfumes in M. Duchaufour’s vast portfolio. Eau d’Italie Paestum Rose has always been considered to be one of his finest creations as he replaces the orris of Dzongkha with a redolent Turkish rose. He returns to the heavier incense accord but uses elemi, opopanax and benzoin to smooth the rough edges. It gives an uplifting foundation and at this point I thought this was the pinnacle of M. Duchaufour’s incense perfumes.

Late in 2007 Amouage Jubilation XXV would prove to me there was one perfume left to draw all of this together. Throughout Jubilation XXV the experience with these notes comes back to coalesce into something transcendent. It starts with that gauzy lilting incense on top before heading into a floral and incense heart. The heart of Jubilation of XXV is a model of precision as M. Duchaufour also dusts it all with spice. By the time the deeper incense accord is on display in the base M. Duchaufour has determined it is myrrh and opoponax which provide the perfect partners to his austere frankincense.

Every one of these perfumes I have mentioned is among my favorites but it is this sense of feeling, as a perfumista, that I am following the development of an artist as he learns to fine tune his use of materials which makes this so interesting. M. Duchaufour has done this over the years as he has perfected his leather accord and rum accord over the course of many releases all leading to one which brings all of it together. It is what makes him one of the most fascinating perfumers working today and forever, in my mind, The High Priest of Resins.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Penhaligon’s Tralala- Bertrand’s Retro Nouveau Perfume

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If there is anything one can say about perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour it is he is prolific. Sometimes that profligacy has the unfortunate effect of feeling a like a “new” release is made up of parts of older releases. As a result when trying a new perfume by M. Duchaufour the mental rolodex of his past fragrances is spinning madly while I try it. While there are moments of familiarity in the new Penhaligon’s Tralala this is the first time that I feel M. Duchaufour has aggressively gone for a vintage feeling modern perfume. It is his first attempt at a Retro Nouveau fragrance.

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Three looks from the Meadham Kirchoff Fall 2014 Fashion Show

That Tralala goes for that vibe is probably due to the creative direction from fashion design duo, Meadham Kirchoff. Their Fall 2014 collection was a modern riff on pre-war fashion and while this kind of reaching to the past to form a foundation for the contemporary has become common in the fashion world, it hasn’t in perfumery. Penhaligon’s has used one of their existing perfumes to accompany previous Meadhgam Kirchoff shows and for the Fall 2014 runway show they wanted a new fragrance to match the designs. M. Duchaufour took this challenge and has created something wholly original within his portfolio.  

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Bertrand Duchaufour

Tralala opens on a very vintage aldehydic moment carrying aspects of old hairspray along with the sparkly metallic sheen of other aldehydes. This is beautifully amplified with violet leaves and galbanum to turn this edgily green and the violet leaves pick up the metallic highlights of the aldehydes. To add some depth M. Duchaufour trots out his well refined boozy accord and lilting through all of this is a bit of eastern exoticism as saffron is also part of the early going. This opening reminds me of a 1950’s woman spraying her hair with Aqua Net whilst still in her slip, a highball glass on her dresser. It sets a very precise vibe. The vibe is carried further with powdery orris reminiscent of vintage cosmetics. Then M. Duchaufour uses two more of his perfected accords as leather and incense begin to add a darker deeper texture to Tralala. These are details which make for interesting juxtaposition. The base of Tralala is very dense as sweet myrrh is enclosed in an envelope of vetiver and patchouli at first. Then a sweetness manages to come to the fore very late as opoponax and vanilla join the myrrh to carry Tralala to a sweet ending.

Tralala has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Despite the PR hiccup over the name the fragrance itself is very good. I really like that M. Duchaufour was pointed in a particular direction and he ran with the creative direction given him. I think many of his best fragrances have come when he has been under active creative direction. In the end Tralala is M. Duchaufour at the top of his game and that is a very good game indeed.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample of Tralala provided by Twisted Lily.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review L’Artisan Parfumeur Onde Sensuelle- Icy Hot

When you are prolific a perfumer as Bertrand Duchaufour it is hard to keep turning out great fragrances. The double edged sword of that profligacy is that some clunkers will get released but also some that are truly fabulous will also see the light of day. While sometimes it seems like M. Duchaufour needs an evaluator who can give him appropriate feedback. There are times when left to follow his own muse, without filter, something really special arises. This is perfectly illustrated by the three fragrances recently released by M. Duchaufour for the L’Artisan Parfumeur Explosions D’Emotions collection. Haute Voltige feels like a by the numbers fruity floral as the core duet of peony and pomegranate never catch fire. It commits the cardinal perfume sin of being boring. Rappelle-Toi is an interesting experiment of taking gardenia and crossing it with Szechuan pepper. I expected this to work better than it did. Instead of using the contrast to illuminate they collide against each other with neither note the better for the contact. It made it an annoying experience. I appreciate the creativity on display and I know from past experience that this theme will return another day in more memorable form. The third fragrance, Onde Sensuelle, is why M. Duchaufour is such a great perfumer.

Bertrand Duchaufour

Bertrand Duchaufour

Onde Sensuelle translates to “sensual wave” and it captures the heat of passion combined with the delicious chilly thrill of release. Throughout the development of Onde Sensuelle there are moments where I felt my breath should steam and others where a bead of sweat should be wiped away. This is not a trivial effect to accomplish and it is executed with delicate precision here.

The chill predominates in the early going as grapefruit, juniper, and cardamom provide the frost. The balance here is perfect a little too much of any of these three notes would tilt this in a far different direction. What is here is like an icy rim. The heart provides the heat through a trio of spices; ginger, cumin, and saffron. As with the top notes the balance achieved here is critical. If M. Duchaufour had missed on the grapefruit and the cumin, as an example, this would have been a sulfurous sweaty mess. What is here is a gentle back and forth between the ice and heat. The dynamic tension as they sway back and forth culminate in a base of oud, a macrocyclic musk cocktail, and castoreum. This is the smell of passionate bodies entwined and it is exactly where Onde Sensuelle should come to a close.

Onde Sensuelle has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

For the three new Explosions D’Emotions M. Duchaufour bats one for three. Onde Sensuelle, though, is a massive home run. This is why he is such a fascinating perfumer to follow because I know when he puts it all together there is magic to be found.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples purchased from Surrender to Chance.

Mark Behnke

When It All Goes Pear Shaped- The Case of Penhaligon’s Tralala

One of my favorite British terms is describing a situation as having gone “pear shaped” which means it has gone terribly wrong, usually from good intentions. This phrase is particularly apropos when it comes to the latest release from Penhaligon’s called Tralala.

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Penhaligon’s is a venerable old school English perfume line and in the last five years or so has really reclaimed a vital spot in the niche world. Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour has been creating new perfumes and reformulating some of the historical ones. It is in my estimation a great success story but the latest release is a good example of when a brand forgets what makes it special and attempts to reach out for a different audience.

For Tralala Penhaligon’s wanted to up their hipster credibility and the first step to doing that was asking fashion designers Meadham Kirchoff to act as creative directors. Penhaligon’s has scented their runway shows at London Fashion Week and so they had some familiarity with the line. The latest collection for Fall 2014 recalled prewar Parisian fashion. M. Duchaufour has a way with Retro Nouveau fragrances. Seems like a team made for success, except for the name. The name is where it all begins to go south.

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Jennifer Jason Leigh as Tralala in Last Exit to Brooklyn

In an article in Cosmopolitan announcing the fragrance Meadham Kirchoff alluded to the name being taken from the character in the movie “Last Exit to Brooklyn”. For those unfamiliar with that movie or the character Tralala, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, ends up in a horrific plight and it is something nobody would want to associate with perfume. If you need to know more check out the Wikipedia entry for the novel and under synopsis read the description for Tralala. This is where the attempt to reach for that desired hipster credibility fell apart around them. I am pretty sure they just saw a picture of Tralala like the one above and thought “Yeah there’s our poster girl.” Until people started mentioning this after the Cosmopolitan article came out. On both Now Smell This and Basenotes, Matthew Huband of Penhaligon’s PR department went into spin mode and released this statement; "Hello all, I’m the head of marketing at Penhaligon’s, We’d just like to clarify that the name Tralala is simply an innocent and musical expression which reflects the fragrance. The perfume is rich, whimsical and nostalgic in Penhaligon’s best tradition, as you’d expect.”

Except I’ve smelled the fragrance and “rich, whimsical, and nostalgic” doesn’t accurately describe it. The adjectives I would use are “dangerous, edgy, and retro”. Which is where the disconnect happens; this fragrance clearly is going for this danger as whisky, leather, and patchouli are not the ingredients of nostalgic whimsy. They are exactly as was stated the milieu of Tralala, the fictional character.

This is what happens when a brand forgets about its brand identity and heads off into uncharted territory. All too often a trap door is lurking and everyone involved falls through looking foolish. The most successful perfume brands know that too many missteps like this turn their customers off and I’m pretty sure Tralala will disappear with as little notice as can be managed. I hope that the next time someone at Penhaligon’s wants to go for hipster cred they just remember that isn’t where their success lies.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Naomi Goodsir Parfums Or du Serail- Texture Above All

One of the most anticipated stops I made at this year’s Esxence was my very first one. Last year at Esxence I had the pleasure of meeting Naomi Goodsir and Renaud Coutaudier the Creative Directors behind Naomi Goodsir Parfums. I was drawn in with their passion for creating fragrance which has a texture to it. Ms. Goodsir is a milliner and she creates some of the most amazing hats and accessories and all of them contain fabulous textural details. She would explain to me that she has the same desire to do that with perfume. As I walked toward Ms. Goodsir I saw a third bottle on the counter and was excited to try the new release, Or du Serail.

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Naomi Goodsir

Ms. Goodsir and M. Coutaudier chose perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour to collaborate with them on Or du Serail. The plan was to take a golden tobacco heart and attach various detailed notes to it thereby creating unusual tangents to follow down with your senses before returning to the core tobacco. There were many iterations as everyone involved searched for the right combination to achieve something much easier to say than to actually produce. At the end they have created a multi-layered fragrance full of fascinating olfactory nooks and crannies which reward the wearer who explores every facet offered.

Right from the start a complete golden tobacco accord is in place. This is the smell of the dried leaf hanging in the curing barn. It is so rich it exerts a hypnotic pull into its depths. M. Duchaufour has used this accord before but this time it seems to carry more substance than it has in the past. Once the tobacco has you under its spell M. Duchaufour starts adding to it with each new note adding a new texture. It starts with a bit of sage and the dried quality of herbal leaf and tobacco leaf form a desiccated texture. Next is a dried fruit accord and it adds a veneer of concentrated sweetness carrying you into a sticky phase. Mate returns you full circle to another dried leaf as the strong tea character overlays the tobacco with a bit of an edge. That edge is honed by amber to turn this shiny and modern at the end.

Or du Serail has overnight longevity and average sillage.

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The Triple A by Naomi Goodsir

As I mentioned this was my first stop on my first day at Esxence. The success at achieving the textural concept behind Or du Serail was borne out as over the next twelve hours I would keep returning to the strip to find it recognizably different every time. Once I wore this over two days what I experienced on the strip was amplified. I was constantly entertained by this kaleidoscopic construct. For anyone looking for a different fragrance experience I recommend Or du Serail as something to savor for the achievement of realizing a concept so brilliantly.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Naomi Goodsir Parfums at Esxence 2014.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Ann Gerard Parfum Rose Cut-Brilliance & Depth

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Often when I am at an exposition like Esxence with so much to experience there is a real concern I might miss something worthwhile. For the first two days I was at the most recent version of Esxence I kept walking by Ann Gerard making a mental note to stop and try her newest release, Rose Cut, but every time I was near I was heading to an appointment. On Saturday morning I received an e-mail from Lila Das Gupta of Basenotes as she was waiting to catch a flight home. She told me she was wearing Rose Cut and she loved it. That was enough for me to make my next appointment with Mme Gerard and I duly walked over to introduce myself and have her present Rose Cut. To cut to the chase Lila was right but I’ll give you a little more detail.

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Ann Gerard

Rose Cut follows up the first three perfumes released in 2012, Ciel d’Opale, Cuir de Nacre, and Perle de Mousse. Mme Gerard worked with perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour on those and she rekindled the relationship for Rose Cut. The relationship between Mme Gerard and M. Duchaufour is a bit of a mutual admiration society as M. Duchaufour was a customer of Mme Gerard’s bespoke jewelry creations before he became her perfumer. As a result there is a more dynamic relationship between creative director and perfumer as Mme Gerard speaks in abstract ideas and M. Duchaufour translates them into perfume. There is a real affection between the two of them and the perfume they produce shows that connection.

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Rose Cut Diamond Ring

The name Rose Cut refers to a particular way to cut a diamond to allow the facets to reflect in such a way that it looks like a rose. As I learned more about the rose cut I found out it is a shallow cut so that it allows a maximum amount of light to refract off the symmetrical surfaces cut in to the stone. As I was wearing Rose Cut and reading about rose cut diamonds I could see M. Duchaufour composing a fragrance which captures the essential sparkle and concurrent depth a rose cut diamond displays. I also thought you could also interpret Rose Cut as the act of removing a rose from the bush at the peak of its blooming. Rose Cut the perfume encompasses both of these descriptions as M. Duchaufour has brilliance to spare throughout and depth of design all coalesced around a lush rose focal point.

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Bertrand Duchaufour

M. Duchaufour uses a magazine of aldehydes to create that opening brilliance along with a little bit of pink pepper. Then he brings in the rum accord he has perfected in the last few years and instead of turning this boozy it adds a louche depth against which the aldehydes shimmer upon. Out of this comes a classic rose and patchouli combination which forms the heart of Rose Cut. The rum gives an interesting bit of contrast and some peony keeps the rose on the fresh side of things. The base is assembled from comfort notes of vanilla, oak, and benzoin to finish Rose Cut with a slightly sweet coda.

Rose Cut has all-day longevity and way above average sillage.

I hope I would have eventually made my way over to Mme Gerard without Lila’s prompting but I am happy for the prodding because Rose Cut was one of the star fragrances of the entire show for me. As much as I liked the original three releases Rose Cut is a cut above them and really does the best job yet at capturing the sparkle of a diamond as a perfume. It is a sophisticated lively rose perfume that is as good as it gets.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Ann Gerard Parfum at Esxence 2014.

Mark Behnke

All Photos by Sabine Hartl & Olaf-Daniel Meyer except for the diamond ring photograph.

New Perfume Review Neela Vermeire Creations Mohur Extrait- Love the One You’re With

One of the things that can be very difficult for a writer on perfume is when you get a sample and you are told to wait until it is released before writing about it. Last March, at Esxence in Milan, Neela Vermeire of Neela Vermeire Creations, spritzed a little of her more concentrated version of Mohur, simply called Mohur Extrait on the back of my hand. I was a big fan of the “rose in a fisted glove” intensity of the original Mohur Eau de Parfum where perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour took us through a spicy opening before rose and leather combined for that incongruous connection. As it goes with the best of extrait level versions M. Duchaufour doesn’t just up the volume with higher concentration he also varies the tune so Mohur Extrait is a much more intimate experience.

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Neela Vermeire

In the original EDP formulation the numerous ingredients all seemed very distinct and played their role to create a fantastic whole. In Mohur Extrait that is not the case. Now the carrot note is more prominent but as a modifier for the three rose sources used. In the EDP the spices breeze across the top leading to the rose. In the Extrait the rose is out in front with the carrot and it is very steadily changing on the periphery. The violet and the orris eventually take over turning things slightly powdery.

One of my favorite parts of the EDP was this almond milk accord M. Duchaufour uses which is sort of creamy and nutty at once. As in the EDP it is the bellwether to the arrival of the leather accord. One of the things about M. Duchaufour that has been fantastic to watch over the years has been his evolution of an accord. This leather accord he has been using recently is one of those where he has achieved a near perfect balance by itself and now depending on what it is paired with it feels like something new. If any single accord can be said to be a Bertrand Duchaufour signature this leather accord would have to be in the discussion. For Mohur Extrait it is very prominent and together the “rose in a fisted glove” is more nuanced while having greater depth. This is what I want in an extrait version and Mohur Extrait gives me all I could ask for.

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Bertrand Duchaufour

The final phase of Mohur Extrait is where you find some of the spices that were up front in the EDP paired with some amber and other resins along with a tiny pinch of oud. The backloading of the spices works very well in this extrait version because the Turkish rose used has a prominent spicy character which is more pronounced later in this extrait version. All together it adds an extraordinary amount of warmth to the final stages of Mohur Extrait.

Mohur Extrait has overnight longevity and very little sillage. It is very much a skin scent and only you and those you allow to get close are going to notice it.

Mohur Extrait is a limited edition of 450 bottles that are sadly only available to those in the EU. If you want a bottle you need to contact Neela Vermeire through her e-mail found at her website and request a bottle. The price is 340Euros for 50mL.

Mohur Extrait is another example of the pleasures a higher concentration can reveal about a fragrance you thought you knew well. I wore Mohur EDP a lot and while it is still a wonderful fragrance I am all about “loving the one you’re with” and when I want Mohur these days it is always the Mohur Extrait I reach for. It is a fantastic perfume and easily my favorite of all of the Neela Vermeire Creations to date.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample of Mohur Extrait provided by Neela Vermeire Creations.

Mark Behnke

Editor’s Note: Neela Vermeire Creations Ashoka is a finalist in the 1st “The Art and Olfaction Awards” in the Independent Category.

My Favorite Things: Incense

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I often get asked to name my top 10 fragrances and of all the questions I get asked this is probably the most difficult for me to answer. There are so many perfumes out there I admire and I always fret I’ll miss one when making any list of any kind. Now that I have my own blog I feel like I should try and sort of answer the question. So once a month I’ll share my favorite things and the five I think are the best examples of that note or style. For the first version I’m going to tackle incense fragrances.

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Frankincense

Saying incense fragrances can be problematic all on its own but what I mean are fragrances where the incense note is prominent throughout. The five choices below all hit the spot when I’m craving an incense perfume.

Amouage Jubilation XXV- I have facetiously named Bertrand Duchaufour the “High Priest of Resins” as over a five year period starting with 2002’s Comme des Garcons Series 3: Incense Avignon & Kyoto he would refine his incense accord until it all came together in this brilliant luminous incense fragrance, in 2007.

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Juozas Stakevicius (aka Joe Stat)- There are a number of perfumes which capture the church incense vibe with cold stone walls and smoky censers, none of them do it better than this one by perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin.

L’Artisan Parfumeur Passage D’Enfer– Most of my incense fragrances are on the heavier side and I rarely take them out as the weather turns warmer. Passage D’Enfer is the exception to that rule as perfumer Olivia Giacobetti turns in an incense that feels like it is miles away even though it is right underneath my nose. It is like an optical illusion as I expect it to get stronger every time I wear it but it just stays sheer and gorgeous.

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Serge Lutens Encens et Lavande- This was the Serge Lutens fragrance which made me find a way to get a bell jar flown back here to me. From the first moment I smelled the lavender, sage, juniper berry, rosemary, and incense core I was, and am continually, in love with Christopher Sheldrake’s ability to make all of that work.

Sonoma Scent Studio Incense Pure– Independent Perfumer Laurie Erickson has captured a cross between campfire and incense as Incense Pure has a glowing heart of frankincense, smoky cistus, and myrrh. This is the most comforting of my favorite incense fragrances and it immediately makes me feel better every time I wear it.

This is one of those categories where others could come up with their top five and it would be entirely different than mine and I would admire all of the choices in that list. If you need a place to begin your exploration the five above are a good place to start your own list of your favorite things.

Mark Behnke