The New Amouage

I have always mentioned Amouage as advanced style perfumery. Under the creative direction of Christopher Chong the perfumes were bold creative efforts. I was along for the ride with most all of them. They were complex, sensually satisfying fragrances. I could spend weeks dissecting a new release because there was something there to be pored over. I was the desired audience. The question I had was how big a group I was part of. A perfume like Myths Woman was a triumph of finding something compelling within the clash of discordant ingredients. It sang to me. But how many others?

Renaud Salmon

At about the same time there was a release called Lilac Love. It felt like this was a way to bring a more familiar style of perfume done in the Amouage way. I applauded it for the effort because I thought it would be a better starting point for a perfume lover to start their Amouage journey. As I’ve spent the week enjoying the new Amouage perfumes overseen by new creative director Renaud Salmon. I was able to crystallize some of my thoughts around what Amouage really means to me.

First it means excellently constructed perfumes. I have always returned to these because there is that feeling of great architecture underneath. M. Salmon showed that is also something he values. In Overture Woman he successfully matches Mr. Chong’s architecture. It works through similar shifts with the same kind of delight in them.

I also want some intensity. Crimson Rocks cinnamon honey tinted rose delivers that. So do the early parts of Enclave. Even that quibble on my part might be another’s idea of intensity as the AmberXtreme takes over.

Interlude Man Black Iris in hindsight now feels like M. Salmon giving people an invitation to return. If that is correct you can’t then serve up something contextually challenging. You must give them something which extrapolates from that invitation.

Mackenzie Reilly

Which is what the two perfumes M. Salmon worked on with Mackenzie Reilly provides. Ashore is a daydream-like walk along a sandy strand twirling a bit of jasmine. It feels as big as the sky with an expansive smile. This is not something Amouage is known for. Yet Ashore feels every inch like one. Even with a more genial embrace.

Which brings me to the last point. I don’t want to lose the awesome complexity of Amouage. If you read through the above, you might think I’m damning with praise of being more accessible. Let me be very clear; I am not. These are all good perfumes that are well worth seeking out. Things are different but the signature rose, incense , and sandalwood are still there. They aren’t as recognizable as a Guerlainade but they do identify Amouage a lot of the time.

Which is why Meander is such a perfect example of what the new Amouage can be. If I want a perfume where I can happily spend my time picking through a complex accord or two, it is right here. I also think because it is built around a carrot, iris, and incense heart it is easily accessible to someone who just likes a good iris perfume.

Therefore I think M. Salmon is going to be a good influence on the future of Amouage. He has a clear-eyed vision which seems to be to bring the brand back to those who might have drifted away. If that’s you there are six new perfumes overseen by M. Salmon to take a sniff of and see if they appeal. My verdict is he has given me faith that he is the right person to create a New Amouage.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Amouage Ashore and Meander- The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship?

I am an advocate for a creative director to foster a long-term collaboration with a perfumer. My reasoning is as each comes to understand their strengths it leads to a fragrant synergy. I frequently think about a creative team having a good rapport based upon a string of good perfumes. At Amouage creative director Renaud Salmon asked perfumer Mackenzie Reilly to collaborate on two of the perfumes in the Renaissance Collection; Amouage Ashore and Amouage Meander.

Renaud Salmon

Ashore is inspired, like the other Renaissance Collection, by Omani geography. This time it is the beach on the eastern shore. You might think this would translate to a modern aquatic but there isn’t really any hint of the sea spray endemic to that style. Instead Ashore is more like a stroll on the sand away from the water where you’re enjoying the warmth.

Ms. Reilly begins with a fabulous sunny accord. It is composed of a set of slightly aldehydic and ozonic ingredients identified as a “solar accord”. What she uses to shade her sunlight is what makes this. Turmeric leaves have a spicy-woody scent which matches with the coolness of cardamom and the herbalness of baie rose. Ms. Reilly has a deft touch at evoking open spaces with her perfumes. This is another example. She adds in a lilting full spectrum jasmine sambac followed by sandalwood dusted with incense. As it all comes together it is like walking the beach twirling a bit of jasmine in your hand.

Ashore has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Mackenzie Reilly

Meander is my favorite of the six perfumes I’ve reviewed this week. It is inspired by a mountain fog which appears during monsoon season. This is where Ms. Reilly gets to show she is as skilled in a more compact style of composition. I’ve been caught in this kind of fog and it is easy to lose your bearings. Meander turns it into a pleasant experience.

It is the top accord which captures me again. Here she uses carrot seed as her core. She flanks it with baie rose and black pepper. This delineates the rootiness of the carrot while simultaneously intensifying its effect. A precise amount of frankincense swirls through with an insouciant wave. Then a fabulous rooty orris finds its partner in the carrot seed. This forms a harmonic off the orris that is enchanting. This is where I am happy to stumble around in this carrot, iris, and incense fog. Almost as a reminder to not get lost vetiver and sandalwood ground the later stages.

Meander has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

The last line of the classic movie “Casablanca” is, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” It is tough to make a sweeping statement with two perfumes to their names. Yet, Ashore and Meander make me wonder if this is a beginning of something between M. Salmon and Ms. Reilly.

Tomorrow I wrap up with my overview of this new direction for Amouage.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples supplied by Amouage.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Estee Lauder Beautiful Absolu- Editing a Big Floral

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When I began my personal learning about perfume I asked lots of people for advice. One excellent piece I got was to go to the mall and spray a strip of all the classic perfumes. Then I would take that strip and put it in a small zip-lock bag. I was then able to take the masterpieces home with me to examine them more leisurely. I remember spraying Estee Lauder Beautiful Eau de Parfum as an afterthought one day. It turned out to be the strip I spent the most time trying to understand.

Created in 1985 Beautiful EdP was a big floral. That adjective should maybe be in all caps to accurately describe it. What fascinated me was within all that power there were distinctly recognizable strands. It was one of the earliest experiences I had in writing down what I thought I smelled. I still think of it as one of the great examples of this type of perfumery.

For it’s 35th anniversary we are getting a new flanker Estee Lauder Beautiful Absolu. When I received the press release at first, I thought this was going to be another riff on the original. Instead it was something quite different. It is as if the creative team imagined what Beautiful would be if it were being designed in 2020. That meant some editing was necessary. That all caps big had to be reduced to small caps or removed altogether. It results in a version which is just right for today.

Mackenzie Reilly

I was unable to find out who undertook this task of editing the perfume made by Chant, Grojsman, Benaim, and Gavarry. I hope they step forward because it is a nicely done effort. (UPDATE: Perfumer Mackenzie Reilly is the person resposible)

If there is a floral which stands out in the original, it is tuberose. There it is turned up to high volume. In Beautiful Absolu it is dialed way back. It enhances the creaminess of it. What is lost in bringing it back is the intense green which shows up at overdose. In this case of Beautiful Absolu lily is used as a softer surrogate. It forms a gentler tuberose accord. Then instead of the entire floral shelf of perfumer ingredients a small curated group of marigold, rose, jasmine, and ylang-ylang provide more flower power. It ends with the same sandalwood and vetiver base of the original but with the same care to keep it lighter.

Beautiful Absolu has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I am fascinated to see how accepted this will be by today’s fragrance consumer. It has all the things which made the original Beautiful live up to its name. Except this version makes it much lighter. I like to think a new generation can be drawn to one of the great florals even if it has been edited a bit.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Macy’s.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Ignacio Figueras Palm Beach- Fragrance of Field-Side

I loved growing up in South Florida. I think that’s why I start a lot of reviews with a story of my youth. This will be another one. When I was in college I had heard of the polo matches which took place about an hour north of us in Palm Beach. I was told you could park right next to the field and watch the game. I convinced some of my friends to take a drive up one January day.

Ignacio "Nacho" Figueras

When we entered the grounds I asked the man directing me where I could park by the field. He looked at me and asked, “Do you mean the field-side tickets?” I nodded as he pointed me towards another gate. When I got there, we paid what was asked and we drove into this flat area where I was directed to a spot between a Rolls-Royce and another fancy car. It would be the first time I learned what a Bentley was. As we got out, we were warmly greeted by the people in those posh automobiles. Just at it goes at any sporting event fans like to welcome in new ones. Our new acquaintances explained the game to us. I got into it. The thunder of the horses the whip of the mallets as the cane used in the shaft twanged. It all happened yards from where we sat on the hood of my car. These joy rides became the well-kept secret of a few of us as we would disappear for a few winter Saturdays to enjoy the matches field-side. I remember the scent of those days. The new perfume Ignacio Figueras Palm Beach reminds me of it.

Mackenzie Reilly

Ignacio “Nacho” Figueras is one of the more known faces of polo. Besides being an elite player he also has been the model for Ralph Lauren Polo since 2000. It is not a surprise that he might want to try and get into the fragrance game himself. In December 2019 he released a collection of six perfumes based on the nomadic lifestyle of a polo player representing the places they spend time throughout the year. Five of the six are done by Carlos Benaim the sixth, Palm Beach, is done by perfumer Mackenzie Reilly.

The main scent of field-side is, well, the field. The wide grassy plain which extended from the hood of our car. Ms. Reilly does a smart thing by not reaching for the typical grassy ingredients. Instead she uses sage as her green. It has the bite of the grass as it is churned up by the horses’ hooves. An orange zephyr reminds us we are in Florida. The green and the citrus is extended by neroli. The neroli green grabs the sage softening it. It reminded me of when the spectators would be invited to go divot stomping between chukkas. As we covered up the dirt the green scent became softer. The neroli does the same to the orange in the top as it diffuses it into something lilting. It all finishes on a synthetic woody base which reminded me of the cane shafts in the polo mallets.

Palm Beach has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

When I received my sample set it was obvious, I was going to go for Palm Beach first. Little did I know it was going to be the fragrance of field-side on a winter Saturday at the polo grounds.  

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Bergdorf-Goodman.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison d’Etto Macanudo- This Is Not a Cigar

When I receive new perfumes I often get images in my mind from the names. I think that is normal. It can be fun to be surprised once I spritz some onto a strip to find something completely different. This was what happened when I received my sample set of the new brand Maison d’Etto. I was attracted to the brand because of young perfumer Mackenzie Reilly. Naturally when I saw the name of the perfume she contributed to the collection, Maison d’Etto Macanudo, I thought tobacco perfume is on its way. This is not a cigar fragrance this is inspired by something else.

Brianna Lipovsky

The inspiration for Maison d’Etto comes from its founder Brianna Lipovsky. Ms. Lipovsky is an equestrian who has also worked in the beauty business. After being around those who make perfume as part of her job, she had always had the idea to combine her love of horses with a perfume collection. Late last year she would complete her vision releasing five perfumes inspired by five horses she has known throughout her life. The consistent aesthetic through all five is being on horseback. Each perfume finds a different way to interpret the vitality of a horse in motion.

Mackenzie Reilly

One of the things which causes Macanudo to stand out from the rest of the collection is its exuberance. I have never ridden a horse except when guided by someone experienced. I do have friends who are riders. I have observed a joyful grin on their faces when they are with their horse in a full-tilt gallop. There seems to be this thrill to be together as they fly through the world. I have no way of knowing this but as a guess I am thinking Macanudo was a horse Ms. Lipovsky rode as a youth. Macanudo has the feel of a teenager riding through the world without a care.

Ms. Reilly assays this by what is being churned up by the horse’s hooves; grass and earth. It is where Macanudo begins with the smell of grass and soil. Ms. Reilly uses that as the race-course through which Macanudo travels. First it races past some tart citrus groves of grapefruit as the sunlight glistens off the mane. It makes a turn through a field of narcissus and hay. Here the deeply redolent flower finds a warmer partner in the hay-like coumarin. Finally it comes to rest at the barn as vetiver captures the scent of the grass and the wood of the clapboard on the barn. Sandalwood deepens the woodiness along with just enough musk to remind you of the horse you’ve been riding.

Macanudo has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I tip my hat to Ms. Lipovsky for realizing what she wanted. The entire Maison d’Etto collection is like choosing which horse you want to take for a ride today. I know I will choose Macanudo just for the thrill of throwing my head back with joy.  

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review A Lab on Fire Hossegor- Setting Talent Free

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Anyone who has read my writing knows how excited I get when a new perfumer catches my nose. At the end of 2017 I learned about Mackenzie Reilly with her first perfume release A Lab on Fire California Snow. She showed an uncommon skill to shift from dry to moist through precisely measured accords. I finished that review waiting to see what came next. It’s been more than a year but the release of A Lab on Fire Hossegor is that perfume.

Mackenzie Reilly

I mention in nearly every A Lab on Fire review that the creative freedom given the perfumers by creative director Carlos Kusubayashi has resulted in some great things. To allow a senior perfumer working on her first commercial releases the opportunity to bring her vision to life in this environment must be a dream for Ms. Reilly. With Hossegor she repays that faith with another perfume of distinct phases.

Hossegor, France

Hossegor is the French surf town in the southern part where the waves from the Bay of Biscay provide a mecca. Ms. Reilly wanted to capture this sense of the coastal surf village. Her vision is of walking through a forest to reach the beach. As you stand at the interface of sand and trees the waves beckon you with an aquatic come-on. You dive in watching the horizon for a swell to ride. As she did in California Snow everything I described is realized as Hossegor develops.

It starts in that seaside forest. Ms. Reilly uses as the source of her pine tree scent the resin known as lentisque. It has a pine-like smell with resinous diffusion. It isn’t sharp, it is soft. Juniper berry is used to further add some tone to the pine-y top accord. As you emerge from the forest the smell of the ocean arrives with the bite of black pepper on the breeze. This turns the overall scent into a resinous aquatic. It turns subtly as olibanum and clary sage pick up on the resin and spice. The base does the same kind of switch from arid to moist as you get closer to the water. Ms. Reilly assembles an accord of mineralic ingredients to capture the water-soaked rocks. There is the breeze of white musks off those rock walls bringing a tiny thread of green from the moss. Time to stop looking and dive in.

Hossegor has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Hossegor is a fascinating perfume of different emotional moments stitched together through the intelligent use of precise materials. I said I couldn’t wait to see what was next for Ms. Reilly; thanks to Mr. Kusubayashi her precocious talent was set free on a surf beach in France.

Disclosure: This review is based upon a sample provided by A Lab on Fire.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review A Lab on Fire California Snow- Palm Springs Twilight

One of the most striking cities I’ve visited is Palm Springs, California. Post-World War 2 it became the place for Los Angelinos to have a second home and many of the Hollywood stars would spend time there. Because of this the architecture of the bigger homes in the area carry that modernist style of the late 1950’s into the 1960’s. They all have swimming pools beyond the typical rectangle. Besides the architecture there is also the geography as it sits squarely in the Sonoran Desert surrounded by Joshua Tree National Park to the east, San Bernadino National Forest to the north, the Salton Sea to the south and Mount Saint Jacinto State Park to the east. This means the scents of the desert combine with the scents of the manicured gardens of the houses just as twilight falls; A Lab on Fire California Snow captures that.

Frank Sinatra's Palm Springs home, Twin Palms

Creative director for A Lab on Fire, Carlos Kusubayashi, has created a brand where he has delighted in allowing the perfumers wide latitude to make their perfume. Until now those have all been perfumers whom have had a portfolio. For California Snow he is giving that freedom to a new perfumer from IFF, Mackenzie Reilly. When reading the bio on the A Lab on Fire website I was struck with this passage where she describes where her minimalist style comes from, “Sophia Grojsman taught me: know the ingredients you love and work with them over and over – it won’t make you boring; it will make you good!” I think this is a laudable approach to take to perfume design. It also explains why California Snow is such a striking debut.

Mackenzie Reilly

One of the things that struck me about Palm Springs is all of the glass in the architecture. It has a clarity to it which makes it feel like a crystal city. Ms. Reilly spends the early moments of California Snow interpreting that kind of transparency with a focused set of ingredients that captures the setting of the sun. By the time we pass through the sunset things cool off and the smell of the earth and the florals arise. Finally the breeze brings the smells of the nearby forest and a relaxing neighor.

California Snow opens with a very arid sage note this is made a little less astringent by using some coumarin to give that kind of hay-like sweetness to the sage. A small amount of chamomile provides the harbinger of the rose to come in the heart. Early on this is as focused a rose as the sage is on top. Over time it starts to become less delineated. The coumarin is still here to provide some of that effect. Vetiver heralds the final cooling off as a damp soil accord around patchouli takes over. In the final stages a warm breeze of musks carry the scents of the cedar trees in the forests and the smell of the neighbor smoking a joint.

California Snow has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I like the progression from warm and dry to cool and moist that happens throughout the development of California Snow. Ms. Reilly shows a deftness at making this set of transitions without it seeming abrupt. This is a remarkable first impression. I will be very interested to see what comes next as her follow-up. In the meantime I’ll sit poolside breathing in the scent of twilight in Palm Springs.

Disclosure: This review based on a sample from A Lab on Fire.

Mark Behnke