New Perfume Review Mark Buxton Perfumes Message in a Bottle- Sending Out an SOS

There is no perfumer I admire more than Mark Buxton. He would be on my very short list of greatest perfumers of the last 50 years. One of the reasons he is so esteemed, by me, is because his compositions most often have a way of making me see something about perfume differently. In 2008 he finally struck out on his own to create a line of perfume under his own name, Mark Buxton Perfumes. The perfumes in the line all have names which refer to different rock songs. The latest release, Message in a Bottle, is inspired by the song of the same name by The Police, from 1979.

I think The Police are my favorite rock band of all-time. They certainly cemented their place in my affections when they played a concert in South Florida in May of 1979 just after they had released their first album Outlandos D’Amour. They were playing in a hole-in-the-wall bar called Fat Cat’s which would be hosting the finest cover bands in the area the next night. That night there were twenty people waiting to see The Police. I don’t know how discouraging it had to be to look out and see twenty people who paid to see you. What I do know is the band came out and rocked the house. All twenty of us were dancing in front of the stage and singing at the top of our lungs. You know how you go to a movie theatre and you’re the only one in the theatre on a weekday matinee. This was the same thing but with a band. On their next album Message in a Bottle would be released and it wasn’t much of a big hit in the US. Over time it has become the signature song of the band. I saw them on their reunion tour and they had Fenway Park singing out the chorus of “sending out an SOS”. There were a lot more than 20 people there this time. But it still felt like that night almost exactly thirty years earlier. Mr. Buxton captures that early feel of The Police as they fused punk and ska together to form their sound. Mr. Buxton takes a traditional white floral and sets it adrift as a message in a bottle floating upon the ocean.

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Mark Buxton

Message in a Bottle opens on a bright guitar riff of ylang-ylang and magnolia upon a bass line of neroli. This is a gentle slightly translucent white floral effect. It shimmers almost like floral pulses over the first moments on the skin. A truly fantastic jasmine sambac takes the composition deep into white flower territory as the guitar riffs turn into driving slashes across the strings. This is unadulterated jasmine full of indolic goodness sweeping away the opacity of the opening with an imperious gesture. The base is the driving drum beat of the surf as ambergris, sandalwood, labdanum, and civet form the ocean accord upon which the white floral message bobs upon looking for a recipient. The civet in conjunction with the indoles from the jasmine makes for a particularly sublime mixture of the castaway looking on the horizon for an answer.

Message in a Bottle has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Message in a Bottle is the best of the new Mark Buxton Perfumes collection. Its combination of the aquatic and the floral is accomplished in a uniquely engaging way. A perfume full of big bold notes should be a bit too boisterous. In the hands of Mr. Buxton it is the yearning of that solitary figure sending out an SOS only to be rewarded by finding “a hundred million bottles washed up on the shore”. I really hope a lot of people get Mark Buxton Perfumes Message in a Bottle.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Babalu.

Mark Behnke

Comme des Garcons 101-Five to Get You Started

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When you ask the question about where niche perfume started there are historical time-based answers. If you ask me when niche started I would answer it began in 1994 with the release of Comme des Garcons. For the last twenty-one years Comme des Garcons has continued to be the trendsetter within the niche perfume sector. A very large reason for this is the same Creative Director, Christian Astuguevieille, has over seen every fragrance with Comme des Garcons as part of its name. Part of what makes his approach so successful is he also seeks out interesting co-collaborators to add fresh new vision leading to unique perfumes. If you think about many of the long-standing trends in the independent/niche perfume area Comme des Garcons and M. Astuguevieille were there first. It is why every new release is anticipated for the possibility that the beginning of what is next has arrived. It is a huge line of nearly 100 releases. Here are five which will give you an idea of what this brand is all about.

Perfumer Mark Buxton did the original Comme des Garcons in 1994. Five years later he would compose Comme des Garcons 2, which I believe to be one of the greatest perfumes of the last 50 years. Mr. Buxton took the set of aldehydes deemed unpleasant. By placing those in a matrix of equally quirky notes he created a perfume equivalent of “Revenge of the Nerds”. The ear wax smelling aldehydes, cumin, coriander, mate, and angelica. These unloved notes came together in an accord of intense beauty. A swirl of spices as cinnamon, nutmeg, and bay leaf transition to a base of dark notes meant to convey a feeling of inkiness. In 2015 this seems like a normal set of notes. In 1999 it was an act of bravado by Messrs. Astuguevieille and Buxton. If I am right about niche starting in 1994 with Comme des Garcons it was Comme des Garcons 2 which displayed its potential to be something amazing.

Throughout the Naughts Comme des Garcons released series exploring themes and by 2007 they wanted to do an exploration of “luxe”. Luxe: Patchouli by perfumer Antoine Maisondieu is the best of this. M. Maisondieu chooses to explore every facet of patchouli. Early on a collection of vegetal notes, fenugreek and parsley, enhance the herbal nature. Oak and opoponax the slightly resinous facet. Finally a base of sandalwood and vetiver take it into the deep woods of high quality patchouli. I dare anyone to say this reminds them of Woodstock ’69.

Christian-Astuguevieille 

Christian Astuguevieille

Over the last few years M. Astuguevieille has reached out to all manner of collaborators to create perfume co-productions. Early in 2008 he collaborated with Monocle publisher Tyler Brule to oversee Commes des Garcons X Monocle Scent One: Hinoki. Perfumer Antoine Maisondieu created the perfect Japanese aesthetic of a meditative perfume. Hinoki is really a study of woods of all kinds. From freshly cut pines releasing a camphor-like scent into the air. Clean hinoki wood provides a lilting heart before a sturdy base of vetiver and incense. All of this is kept transparent and incredibly engaging for being so light. I liked it fine when I first tried it but it has risen greatly in my estimation over the years and is another huge artistic success for the brand.

As much as I like Hinoki later in the same year Commes des Garcons X Stephen Jones by Antoine Maisondieu, yet again, would be even better. The press materials described it as “a violet hit by a meteorite”. That kind of description is made for eye rolling and derision. Instead M. Maisondieu not only realizes it but he makes one of the best modern violet perfumes ever. This is a perfume of accords. A hot mineral accord to evoke the meteorite. The smell of burning plastic and wood to evoke the house it has crashed into; and a ridiculous abstract violet accord at the heart for all of this to cling to.

M. Astuguevieille wanted to make a perfume which captured the British fashion icon Daphne Guinness. Ms. Guinness was a friend of the late Alexander McQueen. M. Astuguevieille would ask perfumer Antoine Lie to capture this bigger-than-life personality as a perfume called Daphne. This was the beginning of the Retro Nouveau trend and Daphne is right there at the leading edge of it. M. Lie mixes bitter orange and incense into a heart of rich orris and tuberose. The base uses oud, patchouli and vanilla. When I first tried Daphne it felt like a perfume from 70 years ago but it also smelled like a perfume from today too. This is what Retro Nouveau means.

An exploration of the Comme des Garcons perfumes is almost a perfume education all by itself. I think it is almost required reading if you love perfume. The five above are a great place to start.

Disclosure: I purchased bottles of all the perfumes mentioned.

Mark Behnke

That Unattainable Object of Desire: L’Air de Panache by Mark Buxton

After writing about the Wes Anderson movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel” in this week’s The Sunday Magazine I got a lot of questions about the fragrance inspired by the movie. To answer those questions not only have I smelled it but perfumer Mark Buxton gave me enough of a sample of it to wear. After wearing L’Air de Panache and seeing the movie I have to say that Mr. Buxton given the freedom of composing what amounts to a bespoke perfume delivered a true fragrance experience every bit as indie as the movie it is based upon.

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Gustave H”s Wardrobe

L’Air de Panache is the signature scent of the protagonist of the movie Gustave H., the concierge at The Grand Budapest Hotel. As played by Ralph Fiennes, Gustave H. is a consummate concierge and the master of his universe. L’Air de Panache is how people know Gustave H. and it consistently keeps appearing throughout the film.

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Mark Buxton (l.) and Nicolas Cloutier (Photo: makemylemonade.com)

When they were filming they, of course, used water. For the World Premiere Mr. Anderson wanted to turn L’Air de Panache into a reality to be given as a present to the cast and crew. For this very special project he would turn to the Paris fragrance boutique Nose to bring the fictional fragrance to life, in six weeks! Nicolas Cloutier would act as creative director to perfumer Mark Buxton as they sought to make a perfume which would live up to what we saw in the movie. Because this was a very small batch release, not intended for sale, it freed Mr. Buxton to use any ingredient on his perfumer’s palette. I would also comment that the short time frame forced Messrs. Cloutier and Buxton to trust their instincts and I think the end result is all the better for that. L’Air de Panache is a definite throwback cologne but, cleverly, throughout its development there are nods to the events of the film.

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Boy with Apple

Gustave H. is known for his excellent personal service to the aging, blonde they must be blonde, women who come to the hotel. The beginning of L’Air de Panache pays homage to them with a fleeting aldehyde opening which is the hairspray version of those ingredients. They dissipate as quickly as a cloud of Aqua Net to reveal underneath a rich citrus opening made modern by the addition of basil, instead of the more traditional rosemary. The other note is green apple and that nods to the McGuffin which propels the caper part of the film, a painting simply named “Boy with Apple”.  A stunningly complex jasmine sambac holds the heart of L’Air de Panache it is as elegant as Gustave H. as he strides the halls. This all gives way to a well-mannered jungle cat of a base as Mr. Buxton lets L’Air de Panache off the leash to growl with musk, castoreum, amber, oakmoss, and patchouli. This is Gustave H. behind a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the room of one of his paramours.

L’Air de Panache has 4-6 hour longevity and prodigious sillage. Which is why Gustave H. is always topping it up and everyone knows where he’s been.

For this series the fragrance I am writing about will truly be nearly impossible to find. In the case of L’Air de Panache I am hopeful this might not always be the case. To be clear right this moment there are only a few bottles of it in existence and they are all in the hands of the people who made the movie. Except if you find yourself in Paris and visit Nose they have a bottle for you to experience this quite amazing fragrance. Because of the top shelf ingredients used I suspect a bottle would carry a fairly hefty price tag but if it does come to pass that it is for sale one day I’ll be first in line to buy it. For now I have enough left to allow myself to feel like the master of my own universe for one day of my choosing; it is enough.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided to me by Mark Buxton.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Grand Budapest Hotel

When I was a child going to the movies was an event. You had to buy tickets in advance, you had assigned seating and there were intermissions. These were for the special movies shot in CinemaScope or Cinerama and projected on massive curved screens. It was the great-grandfather of IMAX. During those days the movies had multiple stars in them and the movie posters would have pictures of all of their faces. Movies like ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World’ or ‘Grand Prix’ are examples of this kind of event movie full of popular stars. As I walked by the poster for the new movie by director Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel, I was reminded of those days.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel tells the story of Monsieur Gustave H. during the year 1932 in the titular edifice located in the fictional country of Zubrowka. Ralph Fiennes plays Gustave as a man completely in control of everybody and everything in the hotel. Young Zero asks to become The Lobby Boy and it is through his narration, as an older man, the events of the movie unfold through a number of chapters. One of the best things about Gustave is he has a signature fragrance he wears called L’Air de Panache. It crops up throughout the movie as people use it to know that Gustave has recently walked by and in my favorite scene the only thing he really gets upset about not having at hand after an incarceration.

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The movie shows Gustave as a companion to elderly women who also must be blonde. The movie revolves around one of these; Madame D, played by Tilda Swinton almost unrecognizable under the makeup used to age her. After her latest visit she passes away after she returns home. Gustave finds out at the reading of the will she has bequeathed him a valuable painting ‘Boy with Apple’. Fearing the family will not let him have this he takes the painting and leaves. This starts the caper aspects of the bulk of the film as the consequences of taking the painting play themselves out. Throughout the movie there is a very breezy frenetic feel which does seem a lot like those old wide-screen comedies of my youth as another current actor makes a cameo and leaves. What sets it apart is the framing sequence where an author hears the story from the older Zero in which we see The Grand Budapest Hotel itself, in 1968, as an aging blonde dowager. No matter how successful Zero’s life has been he cannot let go of this original love of his no matter whether she is showing her age.

Wes-Anderson

Wes Anderson

I found The Grand Budapest Hotel to be a return to those old caper comedies. But through the lens of a very talented filmmaker in Mr. Anderson who allows a bit of pathos in the end to draw a tear, while wearing a smile, it has a very modern indie feel to it. To use a perfume analogy it is like the Nouveau Retro creations we are getting of defunct perfume houses. Completely feeling like a throwback but with modern flourishes.

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As for the perfume spoken about within the movie it didn’t really exist until a few months ago for the premiere. Perfumer Mark Buxton created L’Air de Panache and it was given to the cast and those at the World Premiere of the movie. When I sniffed it at Esxence it also felt like something one of the better dressed gentlemen at those event movies of my youth might have worn.

Mark Behnke