New Perfume Review Yves St. Laurent Wild Leather- Mme Bal’s Giant Handbag

My mother had her pleasures in life. One of them was oversized leather handbags. There was so much stuff in those giant bags it was like a magic trick. Need a pen? She could offer you color options. Cough drops, gum, hard candy? You had a choice of flavors. I don’t know why she felt the need to own large handbags. What I do remember is going shopping with her for new ones. These weren’t designer luxury handbags. These were utilitarian pieces of apparel. I enjoyed going with her to the small shop in Coral Gables because the smell inside was divine. I was reminded of it when I received my sample of Yves St. Laurent Wild Leather.

Wild Leather is part of the “La Vestiaire” collection. This has aspired to be the luxury fragrance collection for the brand. It has been more misses than hits due to an unformed aesthetic to the collection. What that means is it takes a perfumer rising above to create one which catches my notice. Perfumer Fanny Bal has done that with Wild Leather.

Fanny Bal

I mention often that a leather accord can be like a perfumer’s signature in scent form. That’s because creating one frees the perfumer to decide what type of leather they are going for. In this case the leather accord Mme Bal forms is a densely pleasing one somewhere between patent and finely grained leather.

Before we get to that the early moments also have some interesting aspects. The top accord is the green of geranium and the spiciness of black pepper. This has a rough texture which works. It becomes a little less rough as lavender and orange blossom apply a floral balm. Thyme adds back a little of the texture.

Now Mme Bal brings out her leather accord. When I would go handbag shopping with my mother, I always thought the store smelled a little like licorice. This is one of the pieces of the accord along with saffron, patchouli, and amber. She crafts something which has some density without being overwhelming. Some gaiac wood and vanilla form the base.

Wild Leather has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

While I was wearing Wild Leather I kept returning to my memories of my mother’s giant handbag. I realized the leather accord is a perfumer’s analog to that. Lots of disparate pieces inside of a big accord. Wild Leather is Mme Bal’s giant hanbdbag.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Neiman-Marcus.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Givenchy Irresistible Eau de Toilette- The Other Mod

When a perfume is being developed it goes through an iterative process. The perfumer presents their interpretation of their instructions. Usually more than one. The client who has hired the perfumer gives input. The perfumer goes back altering those initial attempts based on the notes. Back and forth until they get to a final decision point. Each vial along the way is called a mod, short for modification. There is no magic correct number to get the best result.

One of the things I’ve often thought is that mainstream perfumes make their initial choice. Perhaps from two different styles. There are times when a few months later another version of fragrance with the same name appears smelling entirely different. I have no way of knowing of course but I snarkily think this was “the other mod” or the path not taken. This is what Givenchy Irresisitible Eau de Toilette made me think of.

One of these leads to the other mod

Irresistible Eau de Parfum was released last year about this time. It was not what I enjoy. It was an overwhelming fruity floral at volume. I remember thinking this flies in the face of the current trend towards transparent florals. It was so loud the strip on my desk overpowered things. I had to remove it from the office. When I heard Irresistible Eau de Toilette was heading towards me I was expecting something lighter.

The same perfume team of Fanny Bal, Anne Flipo, and Dominique Ropion worked on both. That is where the similarity ends. Every place where the Eau de Parfum was gratingly loud the Eau de Toilette is enticingly discrete. This is all done with an entirely different set of ingredients.

It begins with blackcurrant buds showing off the fruity side of its scent profile. This can be a sticky green effect a lot of the time. Here it is a fizzy cassis floating on top of a pool of rose water. This is a typical fruity floral pairing given some life through a lighter hand. This extends to the clean cedar which provides the woody foundation.

Irresistible Eau de Toilette has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

This Eau de Toilette version is so different in temperament it feels like it had to be “the other mod”. It is a much better version of a spring transparent fruity floral than last year’s version.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Nordstrom.

Mark Behnke

The Perfumers Who Saved Christmas

Back in March when I wrote an editorial on “Perfume in the Time of Coronavirus” I was enjoying the quarantine. I expected it to end in a few months. I was taking the opportunity to enjoy my favorite perfumes with abandon. Each one gave me a shot of needed joy.

As we got to the summer and I was still inside I needed a different kind of booster through fragrance. That came as I spent ten days participating in the Pierre Benard Challenge. This was a big change in perspective for me as I hadn’t examined my connection to scent as deeply. I’m always looking for new things to try. For two weeks I stopped and smelled the world.

Then we got to the fall and the end was not in sight. It was wearing on my mental state. I felt like things would never return to normal. Then a magical thing happened courtesy of some of my favorite independent perfumers. They got me out of my funk because their new releases connected with great memories of my past. I was no longer hemmed in by the four walls of my house.

Frassai El Descanso reminded me of my first cross-country drive as I experienced the wheat fields of the prairie.

DSH Perfumes Tea and Charcoal brought me back to when I discovered a coping mechanism as a child.

Aether Arts Perfume Dia de Muerto had me trick or treating on a tropical S. Florida night.

Maher Olfactive Orris Forest had me hopping over rocks on a hike through the forest.

DSH Perfumes Adrenaline and Scorched Earth put me back on the hiking trail in Yellowstone.

Maher Olfactive Tempo Rubato reminded me of a music lesson in a St. Louis jazz club.

Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque Madeleine had me sitting at a tearoom with cakes and hot chocolate.

Imaginary Authors A Whiff of Wafflecone had me in a specialty ice cream shoppe

DSH Perfumes Couverture d’Hiver had the Florida boy remembering his first New England snowstorm.

All of these and more took me out of my quarantine and into the world through the trigger of perfume. It isn’t the design of a perfumer to make their customer find joy through memory. Although it isn’t an undesired side effect.

Now that we do see the beginning of the end, I am full of hope for the next year. If it weren’t for Irina Burlakova, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Amber Jobin, Shawn Maher, Fanny Bal, and Josh Meyer this would have been a dreary Holiday season. They were the perfumers who saved Christmas for me.

I extend my wishes to all my readers for a Merry Christmas. That I have you is another reason this Season remains merry for me.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque Madeleine- Tuberose-filled Confection

When I was invited to the online premiere of Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque Madeleine I was excited for a few reasons. One is just because Creative directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi have rarely disappointed me. Two is because one of my favorite young perfumers was collaborating with them, Fanny Bal. Finally after nibbling around the edges of making a gourmand perfume for Masque Milano, Madeleine goes all in.

Just this year the two previous releases in the Le Donne di Masque collection used doughy gourmand accords as featured parts. Dolceaqua had a flaky croissant while Petra featured a deep-fried dough. Because of that I wanted Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi to go for something exclusively gourmand. In Mme Bal they found a partner who imagined that a gourmand fragrance isn’t for the taste buds but the nose.

Mont Blanc Pastries

The inspiration was a tearoom Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi visited when they were in Paris. Named Angelina they are known for their hot chocolate and their signature Mont Blanc pastry. The latter is filled with chestnut cream to rival the hot chocolate. What Mme Bal has done with Madeleine is to make her own filled olfactory pastry. She uses rich gourmand accords to encase an equally opulent tuberose.

Fanny Bal, Alessandro Brun, and Riccardo Tedeschi (l. to r.)

Those of us at the premiere event were given the two accords to smell. The tuberose is that creamy sultry version which has appealed to so many over the years. The confectionary accord is chestnut and chocolate. It is like imagining your nose bites down on the sweet outside to find a floral center. It is as delightful as it sounds.

Mme Bal constructs her confectionary accord around chestnut, cream, vanilla, tonka and a very special ingredient to give it life, cumin. When I smelled this as an accord the cumin is what gave the gourmand ingredients vitality. It is likely if Mme Bal has not used it this would have laid flat. Instead it brightens the entire accord. Giving it an enticing scent that draws you in. As you do and crack through the shell you find a treat for the nose. Mme Bal uses the finest version of tuberose she can get at IFF, tuberose absolute LMR. The entire catalog of LMR ingredients is amazing. Interacting with this as the accord itself the nuances of the LMR version is obvious. She uses small amounts of geranium to set the glowing green thread in tuberose alight. She also uses cypress to find a foundation for the creamy floral to push back upon. As this oozes out of the center of the confectionary accord it doesn’t take over like most tuberose does. It finds itself in a supporting role which makes this all that much better.

Madeleine has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I’ve mentioned in the past that this gourmand genre is the place where any perfumer could innovate. This has become especially true of this new generation of perfumers of which Mme Bal is part of. It is also why it will be the innovative brands like Masque Milano who give them the opportunity to try. Madeleine is a gorgeous tuberose-filled confection for the nose which shows why it works.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Masque Milano.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Courreges 2060 Cedar Pulp- Cologne of Tomorrow

Colognes are one of my favorite fragrance forms. Over the last ten years they have been rescued from the poor reputation they had from the last decades of the previous century. Even now “too much cologne” isn’t a reflection on the genre but the person who is wearing too much fragrance.

What has revitalized colognes has been brands’ willingness to take the simple citrus-herb-floral recipe and tinker with it. Which was why when I received a press release for a new collection from Courreges called Colognes Imaginaires before I read another word, I wanted to try them. Especially because the stated purpose was to imagine the colognes of the future. I have had the collection for a short time and will write about all of them. But there is always one which stands out on first sniff. In this group it is Courreges 2060 Cedar Pulp.

Fanny Bal

Each of the four fragrances in the collection gets their own perfumer. For 2060 Cedar Pulp it is Fanny Bal. 2060 is the latest of the dates in the collection. I don’t know if that means Mme Bal was given more encouragement to explore the alternatives. The result is a traditional cologne which provides the foundation for something which feels like an evolution.

At the opening a sheer citrus accord is met by a strong herbal basil. Most traditional colognes have classic herbs. Mme Bal unleashes the basil in an aggressively green way. To add to that a pinch of cumin adds its pungency to it. To flesh out this accord green almond comes along. I mentioned this a year or so ago when this ingredient began showing up it reminds me of a nutty cedar. Here it inserts itself into the cumin tinted basil which is where the rawer green quality of it becomes more apparent to me. The floral part of the recipe comes through another sheer accord of neroli. A raw cedar is the keynote to the base. It fits in with the earlier accord ideally. There is an outré refreshing quality to all of it.

2060 Cedar Pulp has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I am engaged by this interpretation of cologne by Mme Bal. By using the herbal piece of the traditional construction, and blowing it up, she creates something different. I would be thrilled to think this is the cologne of tomorrow.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Courreges.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Costume National J- Sakura Shoji


There are a set of perfume brands which seem to have stopped making perfume only to surprise me after a long hiatus. This happened last year when I realized the fashion brand Costume National was releasing two new perfumes after having gone five years since their last new release. Costume National J is the one which caught my attention.

Fanny Bal

The two new fragrances were given the initials I and J. They stood for the two countries which influence the clothing, Italy and Japan. Creative director Ennio Capasa wanted to make a set of perfumes which captured the different senses of style. For I he turned to perfumer Julien Rasquinet who produced an ambrox-heavy powerhouse which overwhelmed me on testing. With J he asked perfumer Fanny Bal for something much lighter in tone. This is the canard of perfume for the Japanese market needing to be minimal and transparent. I have enough evidence to know that isn’t as true as it is taken to be. I also have found perfumes which do take that hypothesis as basis for design to make something great. Which is what happens with J.

Mme Bal chooses to work with the most iconic perfume ingredients associated with Japan, cherry blossom (sakura) and rice. What she fashions out of this is a perfume of delicate opacity like a scented sheet of rice paper in a shoji.

It begins with a delicate neroli and lime top accord. The citrus is feathered in with the neroli such that it picks up the green aspect of the neroli. This is isn’t that bright sunlight kind of citrus accord. It is the sun as shining through a pane of rice paper. The delicate sweetness of cherry blossom appears next. Mme Bal has fashioned a gorgeously delicate accord. It lilts in a soft breeze with puffs of fragile floralcy. The base provides the starchy contrast of rice. I giggled to myself it was a bit like cherry blossom sushi roll occasionally. It works to provide some structure to a fragrance which has been so transparent. Cashmeran adds in the woody crosspieces to this cherry blossom scented shoji.

J has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I have been enthralled with J since I got my sample a few weeks ago. It allowed me to experience the local cherry blossoms even though I couldn’t. I sat cross-legged on my tatami breathing in my sakura scented shoji.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Givenchy L’Interdit- Forget the Name

Someday I’m going to be able to sit down with a fragrance marketing person and get an explanation to a burning question. Why do big perfume brands use the name of a classic perfume for something that smells nothing like it? On one hand it is their own brand they are cannibalizing. At least they aren’t buying some other company and stealing a name form them. On the other they want to keep the name because they believe there is some recognition to it but when the perfume doesn’t match the memory isn’t that an issue? Clearly there isn’t an issue because it keeps happening. These are the times I wish I didn’t have knowledge of the vintage version because it is difficult to divorce the past from the present. It is also irritating when I think the new version is good but nothing like the old version. The 2018 version of Givenchy L’Interdit checks off everything I’ve just mentioned.

Fanny Bal

The original version of L’Interdit was released in 1957 in celebration of the relationship between fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy and actress Audrey Hepburn. Ms. Hepburn wore Givenchy clothing with most of her most iconic looks coming while wearing those designs. Perfumer Francis Fabron designed a stylish aldehydic floral. It was as elegant as its muse. For some bizarre reason in 2002 they released a version in celebration of the Givenchy 50th anniversary which smelled nothing like the original. No aldehydes. Different floral. No sandalwood in the base. This would be followed five years later with a celebration of the 50th anniversary of L’Interdit. This was better as perfumer Olivier Gillotin did a creditable effort with the thankless job replacing materials which were no longer allowed to be used.

Anne Flipo

We now come to 2018 and the creative forces at Givenchy think its time for another L’Interdit. They’ve assembled three perfumers to co-produce, Fanny Bal, Anne Flipo, and Dominique Ropion. They’ve again decided to make an entirely different perfume. Out of the five listed ingredients only one was in the original. If you’re looking for Audrey Hepburn or a floral aldehydic retro nouveau version; look away. Nothing to see here. What is here is a stripped down straightforward white flower perfume which is one of the better versions of this style.

Dominique Ropion

The perfumers open with orange blossom trailing a lightly indolic core along with it. Jasmine and tuberose join in for the rest of the white flower chorus. There is a nice balance here especially where the intersection of the florals forms a kind of fruity accord running underneath. Makes it a floral fruity kind of perfume without using any fruit. A lighter version of patchouli provides an earthy piece of the base accord while vetiver stands in as an alternative to the woods.

L’interdit has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

As I said above if the name has you hearkening back to a perfume you remember from your past; keep on walking. This will probably just annoy you at how different it is. If you never heard anything about the history and this is the first version of L’Interdit you’ve encountered, you will find a very good mainstream white floral. When I can forget the name, I focus on that.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Givenchy.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Masque Milano (homage to) Hemingway- The Old Man and The Vetiver

There are perfumes which are going to feel personal to me before I ever get the first sniff of it. This is true for Masque Milano (homage to) Hemingway. It starts with the brand because Masque Milano is one of my favorite niche perfume brands; Owners-Creative Directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi have done everything I think is important. It starts with their care to keep a distinct Masque Milano aesthetic over the ten perfumes they have released. What is more remarkable is they have done this while working with a roster of impressive young stars in perfumery. The roster is a who’s who of the best new faces. Fanny Bal is the nose behind Hemingway which continues this. The final ingredient is they are unafraid of taking risks. They seem to say through their perfumes that they aren’t trying to please everyone but if it pleases Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi there will be an audience. That has also been true in my case as the ones I enjoy are among the best releases of the last few years.

The Hemingway Creative Team: (l. to r.) Fanny Bal, Alessandro Brun, Riccardo Tedeschi

The other half of this being personal for me is the subject matter. Growing up in South Florida it was only natural we would end up in Key West visiting the museum that Hemingway’s house has become. What drew me in as a young child were the six-toed cats which roamed the grounds. Ernest Hemingway was gifted a six-toed cat from a sailor friend in the 1930’s. The genetics which produce the extra toes has continued to this day and if you visit you will find descendants of the original cat. Mr. Hemingway was among the first adult novels I read; The Old Man and The Sea. It was one of my first books and it is one which I return to read every few years. The story of Santiago and his fishing trip resonates deeply within me as one who grew up on the ocean. I have read the rest of Hemingway’s writing but it is this which remains most personally affecting.

Hemingway has been the inspiration for many perfumes. Those tend to focus on the cigars he smoked, the rum he drank, and the leather jacket he wore. What I like about Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi is they found a different perspective. Hemingway wrote and lived up to an ideal of rugged masculinity which was at its zenith in the first half of the 20th century. Hemingway the Masque Milano perfume is also interested in exploring that ideal but with a different kind of keynote, vetiver.

Mme Bal used several ingredients from the Laboratoire Monique Remy (LMR) in her formula. Every oil house has a special set of crown jewels; the LMR series is the IFF version. LMR has also continued to innovate in finding new ways to isolate ingredients. Mme Bal relies on three LMR versions of vetiver to create the heart of Hemingway.

Hemingway opens with a richer ginger then I usually encounter. I wasn’t surprised to find out it was an LMR version. Ginger can be a bit like the Road Runner of Looney Tunes cartoons; racing by with velocity. This LMR ginger is more the syrup used in ginger ale. There is a heft to it which sticks around. Mme Bal then uses rhubarb as the connection to the beginning of the vetiver. It is such an interesting choice because I’ve never noticed the vetiver-like nature that lurks as an undercurrent. It is teased out here as the first version of vetiver comes out. This is a distillation where the “heart” is isolated. It is greener the upper registers of the full vetiver without the woodiness underneath. Next comes a Haitian vetiver. This is the sunny Caribbean vibe. It is contrasted with a smoky Javanese vetiver. This rumbles with portent as if Krakatoa was rumbling off to the east. When it all comes together it forms a rugged masculine vetiver accord that I enjoyed immensely. A kind of six-toed cat of vetiver. Through this is threaded a subtle leather accord. It eventually finds an earthy landing spot with patchouli in the final stages.

Hemingway has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

If you are a vetiver fan Hemingway is something you need to try. The trio of vetiver ingredients being used are worth the effort to find it to sample. The creative team has found a sweet spot where the three versions form an uber-vetiver accord that is compelling.

I have read The Old Man and The Sea through every stage of my life. Now that I am living up to the first part of the title when Santiago speaks of his age it rings more truly. Like him I wake up every day and go out into the world hoping there is still a place in it for me. I think on the days I need some inspiration (homage to) Hemingway will be there to remind me of that.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Masque Milano.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Armani Prive New York- Modern Transparency

When it comes to Armani Prive I am starting to realize there is a trend which I can begin to apply to this extremely inconsistent collection; if there is an iris keynote it is likely to be good. It might have something to do with the fact that iris was said to be one of Sig. Armani’s favorite flowers. it might also be that the corporate creative team overseeing each perfume is doing a good job of hiring talented perfumers and it is coincidence that they do their best work with iris. The perfume which has made me conceive of this rule is Armani Prive New York.

New York was released in fall of 2017 as a city exclusive to Bergdorf Goodman. When I finally got to the store to try it recently I was surprised to find a completely modern composition. I was very curious to find out who the perfumer was behind it. When I was able to search on my phone I found out it was Fanny Bal. Ms. Bal is another of the young perfumers who are working to create perfumes for their generation. With only a few perfumes to her name, so far, she is an exciting artist to keep an eye on. Her signature in these early releases is for a light style of composition managing to take an ingredient like iris and find a way to make it modern.

Fanny Bal

New York opens on an attention getting trio of white pepper, neroli, and aldehydes. If I read that to you and you think piquant citrus hair spray that might be what you find with a different perfumer. Mme Bal uses the pepper as the focal point while taking the green aspect of the neroli to provide contrast, using just enough aldehydes to give some fizz to it all. It is all done with a delicate touch. The iris comes forward and is tilted towards its powdery side via peony. Ambrette provides a light muskiness while tea floats throughout the heart accord. This is like a silk scarf with iris and tea airbrushed upon it. The base goes for a similarly transparent incense and woods to finish New York.

New York has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

New York is the most modern perfume within the entire Armani Prive collection. If it can be positioned to be seen by the younger perfume lovers I think it has much of what they seem to want in a fragrance. As for Mme Bal it is another data point perhaps foreshadowing her ability to be the perfumer who best knows what her contemporaries want; modern transparency.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from Bergdorf Goodman.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Sale Gosse- Precocious or Obnoxious


It was a few years ago when Mrs. C and I were having dinner in an Asian-themed restaurant. A couple of tables away were two parents who had a very active young boy with them. He was having trouble staying seated, silverware was hitting the floor, and he was loudly babbling nonsense words. It all culminated in him taking the silver topper off a rice bowl and pitching it like a frisbee. It ended up at my feet. I picked up the object to hand back to the father. The son had followed him over and was peeking at me from behind his dad. There was such an air of innocent mischievousness it was hard not to smile. This is that fine line that young children straddle between obnoxious and precocious. They probably oscillate back and forth every day. The latest release from Editions de Parfums Sale Gosse tries to find that balance in a perfume inspired by this.

Frederic Malle

Sale Gosse translates to “dirty brat”. It is the first niche composition by Dominique Ropion protégé Fanny Bal. Mme Bal has been a name I’ve heard about as another of the young next generation of perfumers. This is the first opportunity I’ve had to try a perfume she has had the responsibility for composing. M. Malle asked his perfumer to create an eau de cologne which represents childhood. Mme Bal took this brief and created a combination of the classic cologne recipe and candy. Depending on your tolerance for either, especially the latter, will decide your impression of Sale Gosse.

Fanny Bal

Mme Bal probably produced the traditional eau de cologne recipe hundreds of time during her training at ISIPCA. She takes those ingredients; petitgrain, bergamot, neroli and rosemary producing the typical top half of a classic eau de cologne. Repetition makes for a lively version where it seems the petitgrain and rosemary are dosed a bit higher than in the tradition eau de cologne. It is the back half of Salle Gosse where Mme Bal shows her ability to move in new directions. The note list is Malabar and violet candies. For those who are not European, Malabar is the European version of Bazooka Joe bubble gum. Candied violets have been a staple of niche perfumery for many years. It is the Malabar accord which is exciting to experience. Bubble gum has a kind of odd sweetness and there is a powder which also covers each piece. It provides an attenuated type of candy accord. The violet is much more pronounced in its sweetness as I can almost feel the crystallinity of the sugar coating them. When it comes together it forms a different accord for me. There is a violet flavored chewing gum called C. Howard’s which was sold in my local drugstore as a kid. The latter phases of Sale Gosse are a dead ringer for that.

Sale Gosse has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage

If there was anyone wondering if being purchased by a big conglomerate would change Editions de Parfums; Sale Gosse is proof that it hasn’t. Particularly the candy accords show Mme Bal is another of the young perfumers to keep an eye on. Sale Gosse turns out not to be a dirty brat but a beatific devil of a perfume finding the right balance between precocious and obnoxious.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Editions de Parfums.

Mark Behnke