Dead Letter Office: M. Micallef Yellow Sea- First Impressions Lost

When I look back over the perfumes which have been discontinued to add to the list of future Dead Letter Office columns sometimes I am a little sad. Most of the time that emotion arises because the first perfumes that connected me to a brand are no longer being made. Those first impressions are what made me look forward to every future release. One of the reasons those fragrances end up here is because they were also part of the brand evolving their aesthetic. A good example of this is the M. Micallef Seas Collection.

Martine Micallef

I became aware of M. Micallef and the Seas Collection through my participation on the Basenotes forums. They sounded interesting and through the generosity of other members I swapped for the first two; Black Sea and Red Sea. They were two distinct points in my discovery of the difference between European and American aesthetics. Even in the early 2000’s Americans were continuing with clean and fresh. When I tried Red Sea there was the fresh and clean but creative director Martine Micallef and perfumer Jean-Claude Astier added in cumin which added in the body odor character that ingredient is known for. Black Sea would provide a contrast as it added in a prominent saffron note which I found to be the best representation of that particular note I had tried at that point in my perfume testing. I came away from trying those two wanting to try more from the brand and went on an acquisitional spree. What I found was the other perfumes by Mme Micallef and M. Astier were very different; they had an ineffable French-ness to them. That quality is what would define the brand but they weren’t done with the Seas at this point. When Yellow Sea was released in 2008 that Gallic sense of style was added to a sunny plush citrus fragrance.  

Jean-Claude Astier

The early moments are sunny lemon and bergamot which then is transformed by one of the best uses of castoreum to provide the sweet muskiness as contrast. Unlike the earlier Seas this time the stronger note added into the mix works very well. Patchouli and incense provide a richly resinous heart but it is pitched at a much more transparent level than you normally get from the rest of the brand. The base is a clean cedar framing with a bit of amber and benzoin adding some length to the resinous tail from the heart.

Yellow Sea has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

None of the M. Micallef Seas is like anything else the brand has released. It seems clear that consumers were more interested in the different aesthetic being presented in the other releases; Note Ambree is a good example of that which was released contemporaneously with Yellow Sea. I miss the loss of my first impressions of M. Micallef but the brand has mostly delighted me over the years even if I wanted more of what ended up in the Dead Letter Office.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review M. Micallef The No. 2- Josie and the Micallefs

There are certain brands which just go deeper with more ease than others. One brand for whom I have an outsized affection for their deeper darker releases is M. Micallef. This is a brand which thrives in the shadows of the perfumer’s palette. Ouds, gourmands, white flowers, and animalic musks; my favorites are the ones represented in that list. The creative direction of the brand has been via Martine Micallef and her husband Geoffrey Nejman. They have done what all brands aspire to in creating a definitive identity for their fragrances. For their most recent release they looked for creative direction from an interesting place; one of the people who sells their fragrances.

Martine Micallef and Geoffrey Nejman

Osswald NYC is one of the US points of sale for M. Micallef perfumes. If you’ve ever visited the store you have likely met Josie Alycia Plumey who is there to help guide you through the products on sale. Ms. Plumey is one of those infectiously enthusiastic personalities within perfume sales. I’ve watched her interact with experienced perfume lovers and those who have wandered in from the hotel across the street not knowing anything. Her success is due in large part to her ability to pay attention. A little over a year ago, M. Micallef produced an exclusive perfume for Osswald NYC called The No. 1. When I tried it on a visit I thought to myself the sweet vanilla and oud was nice but I wanted something darker. Evidently Ms. Plumey also shared that desire and communicated that to M. Nejman. At which point he gave her the creative directorship for the next Osswald NYC exclusive called The No. 2.

Josie Alycia Plumey

I have long sneered at consumer focus groups as a means to design perfume but a single observer like Ms. Plumey is different than that. She would provide to M. Nejman a brief where she asked for The No. 2 to be the nighttime counterpart to The No. 1. What that meant practically was reversing the ratio of vanilla to oud in favor of the latter while fine-tuning some of the other complementary notes.

The No. 2 opens on the same oud accord as The No. 1 but this time the components are given the opportunity to expand a bit becoming less constricted than in the previous fragrance. Early on plum and saffron provide the harmonies. Saffron is one of those choices which seems to meld intrinsicatly with oud. The plum is pitched at the right volume to not overwhelm the delicacy of the saffron. The heart is the traditional rose and oud pair that is a classic. It is expertly composed because of M. Nejman’s long experience with working with oud for the brand. It isn’t until very late that the vanilla makes its appearance and this time it is there to provide subtlety not equivalence.

The No. 2 has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

The No. 2 is that darker version of The No. 1 I desired. It seems Ms. Plumey has the right stuff when it comes to creative direction.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review M. Micallef Osaito- French Citrus

One of my favorite perfumes brands is M. Micallef. In this case the reasons are very easy to explain they feel French to me. This is a brand which has always exuded a Gallic sense of style from the day I first smelled Gaiac through to the present day. The founders and creative directors Martine Micallef and Geoffrey Nejman are French. The perfumer, Jean-Claude Astier, who has worked on all of the releases is also French. So maybe it is in the blood. Or maybe it is something else.


Martine Micallef and Geoffrey Nejman

When I say these smell French to me I mean they carry an undeniable elegance above the everyday. There may be no country which wears its elegance on its sleeve more effortlessly than France. M. Micallef also display an effortless elegance. These have always felt like perfumes to be worn when I want to project my own personal sophistication. Even if I am wearing an M. Micallef fragrance under one of my ever-present Hawaiian shirts in my mind I see it as elevated because of its presence. The latest release Osaito has become one of my favorites within the entire line because it takes one of the most pedestrian styles of perfume, citrus, and infused it with this indigenous grace.


Jean-Claude Astier

Osaito is the follow-up to last year’s Akowa but it is diametrically different. I found Akowa to be a delightfully overstuffed expression of olfactory ideas. Osaito is minimalist in comparison. Throughout the development of Osaito the very familiar is infused with something more. Mme Micallef was the creative director in charge of Osaito and with M. Astier they have made a fantastic citrus.

Osaito opens with a very typical Mediterranean accord of grapefruit, lemon, along with Calone and ozonic notes. The first few moments are not going to prepare you for the rest of the development. You might even stifle a yawn. Then M. Astier adds in immortelle and myrtle. This combination is a rich riff on typical citrus developments. Immortelle adds a treacly maple syrup which the top accord is happy to ride on top of. The myrtle applies a variation where an herbal aspect is twinned to a floral. This has also been a staple of Mediterranean inspired fragrances. With the immortelle it sheds that common quality for something more sophisticated as it is allowed to breathe a little more freely in Osaito. As in Akowa there is a “secret ingredient” which is a wood. I would describe it as mahogany-like. Deeper than a lighter cypress or cedar. Sandalwood adds in the familiar. Taken together it is a luxurious woody foundation.

Osaito has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Osaito is one of the best citrus perfumes I have tried in the last couple of years. When I tried it at Esxence it didn’t impress me as much as it has when given the opportunity to be the sole focus of my attention. Since my return I keep wanting to go back and revise my 10-best list from the show. Osaito belongs on it. It is an elegant French citrus which is no surprise considering the brand from which it comes from.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I received at Esxence 2016.

Mark Behnke

Perfume 101: M. Micallef- Five to Get You Started

There are perfume brands which wear their country of origin on their sleeve. One of the brands which carries its French origins in an impeccably sophisticated style is M. Micallef. Since their first release in 2002 owners and creative directors Martine Micallef and her husband Geoffrey Nejman have worked exclusively with perfumer Jean-Claude Astier. Together over greater than 65 releases they have fashioned a particularly elegant brand which is full of amazing fragrances. If you’ve never tried the brand here are the five I would suggest you start with.


Martine Micallef and Geoffrey Nejman

If you want an example of what I mean by a very French brand all you need to do is to try 2004’s Aoud which has been now renamed Homme. M. Astier takes the classic rose-oud combo and stuffs it with spices. Cinnamon, saffron, and clove primarily. They fill a gap between the spicy core of the rose and the resinous core of the oud. Together they sing La Marseillaise in three-part harmony. Patchouli and sandalwood provide the bass line.

The first M. Micallef perfume I ever tried was 2005’s Gaiac. After a lilting floral opening of jasmine suffused with clove it transitions into one of the best uses of gaiac wood in a fragrance. M. Astier brackets the gaiac with vetiver to bring out the greenish cedar-like quality and vanilla to enhance the underlying sweet quality. The gaiac sits perched atop those two notes precisely balanced. One of the best light woody perfumes I own.

2009’s Mon Parfum is most likely the crown jewel of the entire collection. In other brands I would hesitate to recommend what I consider to be the best because those usually carry some unique aspects not ideal for discovering something new. Mon Parfum is not that kind of masterpiece. It is the essence of being French and wearing perfume. Equal parts sophistication, glamor, and passion. M. Astier starts with a citrus top accord into a passionfruit and vanilla heart accord. The base is patchouli, musk and a bit of caramel. Mon Parfum moves confidently through its paces like a Parisienne. Just sit back and admire its haughty walk.


Jean-Claude Astier

2012’s Ylang is another treatise on how to take a particular floral focal point and drape it in the French flag. M. Astier uses a couple of herbal notes in rosemary and sage to spice up the citrus. This leads into a heart of ylang-ylang surrounded by geranium, muguet, magnolia, and rose. The first two pick out the green parts of ylang-ylang. Magnolia the slightly woody nature. Rose provides complimentary floralcy. Amidst all of this is a tiny bit of mint to capture and allow the bit of camphoraceous quality to be noticed. This heads into a base of sandalwood, moss, musk, and vanilla. A classic soliflore.

I finish with Note Vanillee which was discontinued until the past year when it was brought back. On the shelf where the perfumes I wear instead of taking Prozac or having a drink; Note Vanillee sits right in front. It is one of my favorite comfort scents because M. Astier has composed one of the warmest vanilla perfumes I own. Opening on a citrus accord which has a bit of jasmine added in. The heart is a softly glowing honey accord which provides a burnished sweetness to compliment the vanilla to come. The vanilla arrives on a wave of sandalwood enhanced with just a bit of licorice. It is that licorice which adds yet another version of sweet as you experience the honey-vanilla-licorice triptych. This is vanilla perfume as good as it gets.

I think M. Micallef is one of the great underrated brands on the market. Give these five a try and see if you want to dive deeper.

Disclosure: This review was based on bottles of all five that I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review M. Micallef Akowa- Chromatic Perfumery

One of my favorite classical music composers is Gustav Mahler. While many consider Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to be the greatest ever written my vote would go to Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. My affection for Mahler comes from my time in Boston and attending the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) while under the direction of Seiji Ozawa. During that time period he turned the BSO into the premiere Mahler orchestra of the day. I also fell under the spell of Mahler’s music. I knew there was something different about it but I was not enough of a musician to know what it was I was hearing. It wasn’t until we went to a pre-concert talk prior to a performance of the fifth symphony that I got my explanation. Mahler used chromatic notes extensively. What that means is if you think of the normal diatonic scale of do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti most of us are familiar with from music class it leaves out five other notes in the available twelve notes. To compose in a chromatic style is to work with all twelve notes for the greatest amount of variations available. When Mahler started out he was heavily criticized for using this overstuffed method of composing. I always find it to be so vibrantly alive I would think making it lesser would have killed it. In perfumery there is no real parallel as there is no rigid amount of notes you need to put in a perfume. Nevertheless the latest release from Martine Micallef, M. Micallef Akowa seems very chromatic to me.


Martine Micallef (l.) and Geoffrey Nejman

Mme Micallef oversaw the collaboration between her husband Geoffrey Nejman and longtime perfumer for the brand Jean-Claude Astier. Akowa, so the press materials say, is the name of an African tribe in Gabon. From that part of the world a secret ingredient was sourced which M. Nejman discovered while traveling there. Upon his return he wanted to make that ingredient the centerpiece of a new perfume. The fun of Akowa is it seems like they weren’t sure what would be the best way to show off their new prize. As a result Akowa has a very chromatic personality as I experienced three distinct phases as if they decided we don’t have to stick to just one style of perfume.


Jean-Claude Astier (via: perfumowy blog)

In the early going Akowa wants to be a transparent fruity floral as bergamot and orange blossom open things up. Then the secret ingredient arrives which provides a very herbal aspect early on. This reminds me of a desiccated sage-like note. It takes that very pedestrian fruity floral opening and twists it into something much less common. Until after a couple hours it turns into a full out gourmand as fig and cacao provide the heart notes for something very rich. It feels like a fusion dessert at a fine restaurant where the chef has taken a chocolate covered fig and then added an herbal topping to it.  Another few hours on we get very earthy as patchouli and vetiver take the secret ingredient and bury it in the ground. This is a dark rooty finish until at the very end a rush of musks make it a little more animalic.

Akowa has 16-18 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Akowa is going to drive some perfume lovers crazy with its constant shifting of style. Others will feel like they got three perfumes in one as each phase lasted for hours on my skin. On both days I wore it Akowa was very much like a perfumed symphony in three distinct movements where the entire chromatic olfactory scale was being used. Akowa might be too jammed with concepts for some but if you want a full scale perfume there are few which have more to offer than Akowa.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by M. Micallef at Pitti Fragranze 2015.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review: M Micallef Mon Parfum Gold- Different Elegance

I have to admit that it can be hard to work up any excitement over a new flanker. Which is why they often keep moving down my list of things to wear pushed out by something newer and shinier. This was the plight of the new M. Micallef Mon Parfum Gold. I have had a sample since Pitti Fragranze in September but there was always something more enticing. The one good thing about this time of year is there is some time to eventually get around to trying the things which kept getting displaced.

Martine Micallef and her husband Geoffrey Nejman have been the owners and creative force behind M. Micallef Perfumes since 2002. They have worked exclusively with perfumer Jean-Claude Astier to create a very distinctive, very French, brand. 2009’s Mon Parfum was, perhaps, the culmination of everything M. Micallef stands for as it remains the flagship perfume for the brand. Last year the first flanker, Mon Parfum Cristal, was released and while it was good it somehow lost some of that elegance that the original Mon Parfum had to burn. I tried Mon Parfum Gold at Pitti and it didn’t really perform well on the strip. It seemed a little unfocused. Once it finally returned to my attention I found it was much better on my skin and over the last couple of weeks it has really been a great autumn perfume.


Martine Micallef and Geoffrey Nejman

Team Micallef wanted to make Mon Parfum Gold a real Oriental while retaining the soft floral nature of the original. M. Astier cleverly uses a trio of more boisterous florals in his heart but there is much greater depth throughout the development and it makes Mon Parfum Gold an interesting extrovert.

Mon Parfum Gold opens on a fruity accord centered upon plum and mandarin. This is where there is an identifiable aesthetic that is M. Micallef. There are a lot of plum and mandarin openings out there. Here M. Astier lets the mandarin stand out front and then adds in the plum to add a fruity lower octave. There is a beautiful harmony that seems different from others which use the same notes. This all leads into a heart of mostly tuberose supported by jasmine and orange blossom. This is a complete tuberose from slightly green mentholated facets straight through to its indolic floral beauty. The jasmine is used to as modifier and I really only caught it as a singular note at odd times throughout the days I wore this. It finally ends on a base of vanilla and musk. There also seems to be a bit of really fine frankincense swirling through the final stages.

Mon Parfum Gold has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Mon Parfum has always been my idea of a perfume for a woman planning to engage her lover. Mon Parfum Gold is the perfume for that same woman who is at a party and every eye in the room tracks her movement because she has such an understated elegance.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by M. Micallef at Pitti Fragranze.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Parfums M. Micalef Art Collection Puzzle No. 1 & Puzzle No. 2

Back when I was a child and distractions came in less technological forms there was always a jigsaw puzzle on a card table in the house. Everyone in the family would spend time adding pieces until we were finished. I was always intrigued by the shapes of the pieces I had my own terminology for them. There was always a full sense of completion when we all finished a puzzle and sat there looking at the completed puzzle as all of the many fragments came together to make something pleasant to look at.

Martine Micallef also has her own perspective on jigsaw puzzles, “A jigsaw puzzle is a game of patience and enigma like the love between two beings building their life together.” The two latest releases from Parfums M. Micallef are part of the Art Collection and are called Puzzle No.1 and Puzzle No. 2. Geoffrey Nejman and Jean-Claude Astier worked together on both fragrances. As I wore both of these they reminded me of the names I used to give my jigsaw puzzle pieces and each one came to represent a specific piece in my mind.


The piece you see above I used to call “two-head” I always saw it as two heads and the shoulders that support them connected in the middle. Puzzle No. 1 reminds me of this as it has a heart consisting of two “heads” in osmanthus and jasmine. The top notes are the shoulders which support the osmanthus enhancing the apricot character of it. The base notes make sure the jasmine is sweeter and more demure keeping the indoles in check. Together there is a definite division of two distinct phases.

Puzzle No. 1 opens with a fuzzy peach and berry fruitiness; lemon and orange add a bit of citrus foundation but the early moments are peach and berry. I notice the apricot character of osmanthus first as it fits in with all of the fruit on display once the rest of the osmanthus joins in the soft leather quality continues the plush beginning. Then the jasmine arises and at first I notice the indolic core but it is rapidly overtaken by vanilla which keeps it sweet and floral. Tonka, and bezoin add some texture to that sweetness in the final phase of development.


The piece above I called “spade square” because I thought the corners looked like spade symbols on playing cards. Puzzle No. 2 feels like it is made up of those two spades vectoring in different directions. The first vector is blackcurrant, citrus, and geranium. It is bright with a sense of green sticky earthiness and for well over an hour it stays that way. Then jasmine, patchouli, vetiver, and musk build up a much darker accord very different from the opening.

Grapefruit sparkles and blackcurrant leaf is present to tease out some of the sulfurous facets of grapefruit. Not too much and it always stays light. The blackcurrant itself follows the leaves and geranium comes along to keep the green nature of the leaves front and center. Puzzle No. 1 seems to linger here for a very long time it is easily an hour or two before the jasmine starts to signal some progression and it is a slow bit of development until the jasmine is ascendant. Once it is patchouli comes along and the herbal facets accentuate the indolic jasmine. Musk doubles down on the sensual nature. Vetiver finishes it off with the same tinge of green the geranium provided earlier.

Puzzle No. 1 and Puzzle No.2 have 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Putting together a fragrance must be a little like putting together a jigsaw puzzle as you keep putting pieces together until they start to fit. Once you have them all together and they have formed a whole fragrance there should be immense satisfaction. Especially when a perfumer can look down upon such a pretty picture as Puzzle No. 1 and Puzzle No. 2, there should be smiles all around.

Disclosure: This review was based on press samples provided by Parfums M. Micallef.

Mark Behnke