New Perfume Review Shalini Fleur Japonais- A Vision of Cherry Blossoms

One of the joys of visiting an art museum is to see the world as interpreted by creative minds. I don’t go to see a subject captured in a realistic way. Artists look at the world and see it through a different lens. It is what makes the greatest pieces of art memorable. They give the viewer a new perspective on something simple.

Perfumery in the hands of the most creative people can do the same thing. There are plenty of perfumes which attempt to photo realistically re-create something from nature. Depending on the subject it is great to have that when I want it. But I prefer when perfume interprets a subject in a way that gives you something to think about as Shalini Fleur Japonais does.


This is the seventh perfume from the team of creative director/fashion designer Shalini and perfumer Maurice Roucel. They have formed one of the best collections of perfume because they aren’t trying to make a simulation. They are trying to look for deeper beauty.

Maurice Roucel

Fleur Japonais is inspired by the Japanese name for the cherry blossoms of every spring called “Sakura”. This year has seen a trend of cherry blossom centered perfumes. Almost all of them have tried to be transparent florals. That is not the kind of artistry I seek. What this creative team finds is the almost religious awe with which the Sakura are held in Japan. That doesn’t lend itself to opacity. It asks for something more profound. The solution is to place a weightier cherry blossom on a wooden altar surrounded by purifying incense.

The lighter cherry blossom is where this begins. M. Roucel weds it to a creamy magnolia. He isn’t content to have an ephemeral cherry blossom. This accord is like a hybrid cultivar of the two florals. It is mostly the sweetness of the Sakura, but it is given substance through the magnolia. It is not a breath of spring it is a reminder of Nature’s beauty.

The counterbalance is a fabulous silvery frankincense. This is an austere church-like version of the resin. It fits here because this is a fragrance which sees the Sakura as an object of worship. The frankincense takes you to that place as it surrounds the cherry blossom-magnolia duo. Together it forms a transcendental interpretation of cherry blossom. M. Roucel places it all in a shrine built of sandalwood.

Fleur Japonais has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage in its parfum concentration.

This is a fascinating perfume to wear as we transition from summer to fall. There are times it seems like a callback to the spring. Most of the time it feels like a sacred experience through an artist’s vision of cherry blossoms.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Shalini Vanille Reve- Tiare Twilight

This is the time of year I miss where I grew up the most. The weather hasn’t really turned to spring. The dregs of winter overstay their welcome. Until I left S. Florida I never experienced this. It was always warm enough for everything to grow no matter what the calendar said. The scent of tropical flowers at twilight were a signal the day was ending and the night beginning. That smell as the odd shading of twilight creates a unique light to experience it in is captured in Shalini Vanille Reve.


Shalini has been producing perfume since 2004. She has been building an impressive collection under her name. Last year’s release Iris Lumiere was my favorite new perfume of 2020. It is emblematic of the care she has taken in overseeing a perfume line. One of the reasons it has been so memorable is she has worked exclusively with perfumer Maurice Roucel. Ha also had a great 2020 because I named him Perfumer of the Year. What has set this collection apart is a sense of shading and texture which reminds me of an haute couture fashion collection. Which is appropriate since Shalini is that type of fashion designer. Vanille Reve displays all these characteristics.

Maurice Roucel

The inspiration for it comes from the island of Tahiti. I’ve never been but I suspect it is similar to my memories of S. Florida. The keynote which is used to summon the tropics is the tiare flower which is also called Tahitian gardenia. I have always enjoyed this variant of the better-known white flower. There is an inherent sparkle to it. By pairing it with vanilla they form a warm tropical embrace.

Before we get to that M. Roucel provides that shading and texture I was speaking of. He creates what I perceive as a twilight accord of anise and a pinch of cumin. The anise is full of that licorice-like quality. The cumin adds in the odd optics of the interface between day and night. It creates a beautiful accord to build from. The tiare comes next. It has less of the green of the traditional gardenia while being creamier in style. Some tuberose and jasmine are around to give depth to the tiare. This is that moment as you stand on the lanai smelling the night blooming flowers mix with the denizens of daylight. The anise adds dancing shadows among it all. As the sun sets the warmth of vanilla flows over it all, banishing the anise as it combines with the tiare. This becomes a creamy floral comfort scent over the final hours.

Vanille Reve has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Twilight is a part of the day where it feels like magic is possible. It seems as if Shalini and M. Roucel must be composing perfume at that time of day. Vanille Reve is another magical addition to the collection.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Margiela Replica Matcha Meditation- Chocolate Tea

When it comes to my morning hot beverage of choice, I am an equal opportunity imbiber. We have shelves filled with loose teas and bags of coffee beans. It generally isn’t until I am standing in front of the cabinet that I make my choice. I have found I have seasonal preferences. One is for the green teas as the transition from winter to spring happens. To stand on the porch while the poodles run with a cup steaming in my hand is my idea of a good morning.

Tea inspired perfumes are also a significant piece of the perfumery landscape. I haven’t noticed a seasonal inclination to my wanting to wear those. I do own quite a few of them. It is often because some of the best perfumers create some of their best work around a tea-centric concept. That continues with Maison Margiela Replica Matcha Meditation.

Maurice Roucel

I have found this Replica collection to be one of the best in mainstream fragrance. The reasons for it are top perfumers given a focused brief along with some room to realize it. In the case of Matcha Meditation perfumer Maurice Roucel is asked to interpret “Zen scents of matcha tea” which he does. It is a fabulous curveball thrown in over the later stages that turns this into something memorable.

It opens with a tea accord of green tea and matcha. The combination tamps down the bite of the matcha while still allowing it to provide more depth to the accord. It is joined by orange blossom and jasmine. For those familiar with jasmine green tea balls there is a similar scent to this part of Matcha Meditation. M. Roucel allows the floral to float on top of the tea accord. He also chooses to add in cedarwood given more oomph with oakmoss. It all flows in an homage to green tea. What happens next sneaks in on little cat’s feet. An unctuous cacao oozes in underneath. This is waxy chocolate as if a square were on the saucer next to your teacup. Despite the unexpectedness it fits in a gourmand way the entire construction prior to it.

Matcha Meditation has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

The addition of the chocolate to the end of this is what makes this so good. It adds a different type of grounding to the tea accord. It is so good to my nose I am going to reach into the chocolate drawer to have a chunk next to the next cup of green tea I brew. M. Roucel’s choice forms a gourmand tea of excellence.

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

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur Best of 2020 Part 2: Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, and Brand of the Year

After yesterday’s broad overview, in Part 2 I get very specific naming the best of the year in four categories.

Perfume of the Year: Shalini Iris Lumiere One of the joys of writing about perfume for over a decade is I’ve been able to watch brands develop. My favorite is when a creative director and long-time collaborator find that magic moment when all their hard work produces a transcendent perfume. Shalini has been making fragrance since 2004. In 2020 it made my Perfume of the Year, Shalini Iris Lumiere.

Iris Lumiere is the fifth perfume from fashion designer Shalini and master perfumer Maurice Roucel. I have enjoyed the other four releases a lot. Iris Lumiere took a quantum leap over those. It achieved that by showing me a different version of iris. As mentioned yesterday I write a lot about the powdery or rooty nature of the ingredient. Iris Lumiere showed me something I had never experienced before, an intensely greener version.

It has always been one of M. Roucel’s strengths to find new ways to showcase well-known ingredients. His choice to use galbanum and muguet as green interrogators of orris formed something captivating. It was if a fresh green rhizome had been harvested with moisture dripping off it. Months away from being the dried version we are familiar with. By using the overdose of galbanum it creates a sparkling set of jeweled facets among the irises. The final piece is to shine silvery moonlight on it using frankincense.
M. Roucel has been making perfume for decades this is among his best perfumes ever and not just the Perfume of the Year for 2020.

Perfumer of the Year: Maurice Roucel– It was clear to me heading into the fall that my Perfumer of the Year was going to have the initials MR. Throughout the year it seemed like Maurice Roucel and Mackenzie Reilly kept having a competition in my head. They both worked creatively across every sector. What tipped the balance is M. Roucel did make my Perfume of the Year.

Besides that he also did an artistic composition in NEZ Hong Kong Oolong. Monique Lhuiller was an entirely different version of the mainstream fresh floral.  A Lab on Fire A Blvd. Called Sunset is a fabulous dry leather via California car culture.

I could’ve written a similar resume for Ms. Reilly as her year was also impressive. They say you are judged by who it is you competed against. M. Roucel was pushed all year by one of the most impressive new perfumers we have. In 2020 it was the old master who is the Perfumer of the Year.

Runner-Ups: Fanny Bal, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Josh Meyer, Mackenzie Reilly, and Cecile Zarokian.

Creative Director of the Year: Victor Wong, Zoologist Perfumes– There is no better story in independent perfumery than that of Victor Wong and his Zoologist Perfumes brand. 2019 was an extraordinary year for Mr. Wong including Squid being named the Fragrance Foundation Perfume Extraordinaire at this year’s awards. He entered 2020 with a dilemma. He chose to re-invent one of the flagship perfumes of the brand with a new perfumer. The 2020 version of Bat shows why I hold Mr. Wong in such high esteem. Working with perfumer Prin Lomros they created a different species of bat as the environment was shifted from cave to jungle. It was every bit as enjoyable. He would follow-up with three new releases Sloth, Koala, and Musk Deer. The latter is an expectation shattering take on musk. It is that ability to take chances that makes Mr. Wong my Creative Director of the Year for 2020.

Runner-Ups: Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi of Masque Milano, Carlos Kusubayashi of A Lab on Fire, Natalia Outeda of Frassai, Renaud Salmon of Amouage, and Celine Verleure of Olfactive Studio.

Brand of the Year: Masque MilanoAlessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi are always looking for ways to evolve their successful enterprise. In 2020 this involved creating a new collection called Le Donne di Masque. They re-invented the first two releases of Petra and Dolceaqua before adding Madeleine at the end of the year. This provides a new way of looking at Masque Milano. Just to make sure we didn’t forget the old way Ray-Flection joined the Opera collection. This was another fantastic year for one of the premier brands in artistic perfumery which is why they are Brand of the Year for 2020.

Runner-Ups: Amouage, DSH Perfumes, Frassai, Imaginary Authors, and Zoologist.

My broad overview of 2020 can be found in Part 1 here.

The Top 25 perfumes of 2020 will come tomorrow.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review A Lab on Fire A Blvd. Called Sunset- Roucel Unplugged

Back in the early days of cable when MTV played music there was a series called Unplugged. The concept was to take a music artist and ask them to play music in an acoustic setting. It was an interesting experience to watch musicians slow things down to the bare minimums. It turned songs into different entities. Most of that was due to the softening of the instruments. There was no turning up to 11. What was left was lyrics and musicianship in an intimate setting. I felt like I received a perfume version of Unplugged from one of our greatest perfumers in A Lab on Fire A Blvd. Called Sunset.

Maurice Roucel

Maurice Roucel is the perfumer I am speaking of. M. Roucel has been one of the best perfumers of the last 40 years. He has a list of masterpieces the rival of any of his contemporaries. Unlike many of them he never sought out a position as an in-house perfumer or started his own brand. He has been happy to work within the traditional paradigm of client and perfumer. When I heard he was the perfumer for A Blvd. Called Sunset I thought to myself this is as close as I will get to experiencing a perfume created by M. Roucel without a lot of oversight. The hallmark of A Lab on Fire is creative director Carlos Kusubayashi gives his perfumers the opportunity to go where they desire. What was produced is an intimate fragrance which feels unplugged.

As the name intimates this is based on the famous Los Angeles location of Sunset Boulevard. It is meant to capture a summer day when the Santa Ana winds are blowing their warmth through the city. You are to imagine yourself in a convertible on your way to the end of the street where the Pacific Ocean awaits. M. Roucel interprets this with a suite of dry ingredients to mimic the Santa Ana along with the leather upholstery of the car.

It opens with an astringent bitter almond. This isn’t the comfy toasted version, this has a hint of rawness. Violet reaches out and pulls it into its candied embrace. Adding a sweet floral shell. A fabulous dry leather accord comes next. If you’ve ever got into a car with leather upholstery after it has sat on a hot day you will recognize this. There is an expansiveness as the warm waves of tanned animal hide rise to the violet and almond. One of the very dry sustainable sources of sandalwood forms the base which has some of the severity ameliorated with vanilla and tonka bean. That last ingredient feels as if it closes the circuit with the almond from the beginning.

A Blvd. Called Sunset has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

One thing which occurred to me while I was wearing this was it felt like an updated version of the leather powerhouses of forty years ago. It might be where I got some of my impression of this feeling like a softer version of something. What you will find in A Blvd. Called Sunset is a master perfumer asking you to draw closer so he can tell you a story unplugged.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Shalini Iris Lumiere- Iris by Moonlight

I have always enjoyed being outdoors late at night when the moon is effulgent. The silvery moonlight changes the way things look. It provides a new perspective over the light of day. Just walking around my yard seeing what is illuminated by the moon is fun. There are lots of perfumes which also want to capture this effect. Most of them miss something. Shalini Iris Lumiere gets it just right.


Shalini is an Indian-born fashion designer who entered the fragrance game back in 2004. Her first perfume, Shalini, remains one of the best tuberose interpretations I own. She worked with perfumer Maurice Roucel and has continued the partnership with Iris Lumiere representing their fifth fragrance together. Through all the pieces of this collection there has always been an haute couture sensibility with which Shalini has found a willing interpreter in M. Roucel. Iris Lumiere represents the pinnacle of their collaboration.

Maurice Roucel

Iris Lumiere is a luxurious version of the named flower. So often a perfumer chooses the powdery part or the rooty part of this dual-faced ingredient. M. Roucel discovers a new face by interrogating his iris with two intensely green questioners. What they wring out of iris is unique.

Iris Lumiere opens with a large overdose of orris absolute. Before it can dissolve into powder or become earthy an equal amount of galbanum appears. The intense crystallinity of that encases the iris causing it to have to rise up to be noticed. In that early struggle there is that new face of iris. This seems to me like the smell of what a freshly harvested rhizome of iris would smell like. The green leaves are what you notice because the root needs months of drying to transform itself into the perfume ingredient. If the galbanum was allowed to stand alone this would have become strident. M. Roucel adds in a softening source of green in muguet. It smooths out the rough edges polishing the galbanum to a glittering shine. It also imparts a slight chill. This gets picked up as the moon rises and its representative frankincense covers it in silvery light. The resin adds waves of argent moonbeams. It is an ideal compliment as it adds a soft light to the iris encased in green crystal. It forms an amazing accord that lasts.

Iris Lumiere has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I have enjoyed all the perfumes Shalini has produced. Iris Lumiere is on its own level. It is the best perfume of the brand and among the very best perfumes I’ve smelled this year. Of all the florals iris is one of my favorites. I don’t remember having smelled anything like this before. To create a new way of seeing this floral the creative team just had to present iris by moonlight.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Shalini.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Monique Lhuiller- Violet Light

When fashion designers make the jump to putting their name on a perfume it works best when the scent reflects the fashion. I remember attending a Monique Lhuiller runway show at a New York Fashion Week a few years ago. The best designers have a flow to their collections. This show was all about diaphanous fabrics over slim silhouettes. It was so memorable it has stuck with me since I saw it. I look forward to looking at each season’s collection because of it. When I heard spring of 2020 was going to bring us the first Monique Lhuiller perfume I was hoping this would translate to fragrance.

Monique Lhuiller Spring 2020 RTW Look

Ms. Lhuiller chose Maurice Roucel as the perfumer she wanted to work with. Together they captured this aesthetic through a fresh floral. I went back and looked through the Spring 2020 collection for what I thought might be a companion piece to the perfume. The one above is the one which reminded me most of what I was smelling. It is a floral on top of a dark violet and patchouli base.

Maurice Roucel

It opens with a sheer floral effect through hyacinth and muguet. This is floral freshness given some grounding with blackcurrant bud. The inherent green of that finds harmony with the same quality of the muguet. All this flows in opaque waves. Freesia adds even more of a fresh floral quality. Rose and ylang-ylang are here to keep it from floating away like a cloud. The latter two flowers keep this from being too much the blushing bride. They give it an aura of sophistication. This leads to the slim silhouette represented by violet and patchouli. M. Roucel takes patchouli and tints it dark purple with the violet. It adds a gorgeous depth to all the floral lightness without overriding it. Some woods and musks round things out.

Monique Lhuiller has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is a spring floral of fresh flowers over a deep base accord. It is unlike any other new spring floral release this year because of it. It is this kind of perfume I wish for every spring. Monique Lhuiller is this year’s version. Ms. Lhuiller is known for her bridal gowns. I can see this being a big hit as a wedding day perfume under any designer’s wedding dress. The ineffable beauty of her fashion has been captured in a perfume of violet light.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review NEZ Hong Kong Oolong- Finding the Right Compromise

I am a big fan of the biannual perfume magazine NEZ. Run by Jeanne Dore and Dominque Brunel it has formed one of the best contemporary references for perfume lovers. I look forward to each new issue. When I ordered the latest issue, No. 8, I was given an option to have a perfume included. I clicked on that choice and received a 15mL bottle of perfume that is the beginning of a yearly perfume project for NEZ.

They are calling it 1+1 imagining one creative from outside the perfume world and a perfumer coming together for a limited edition. For this first release they chose Hong Kong designer Alan Chan and perfumer Maurice Roucel. Mr. Chan is known for his riffs on tea house designs. After talking with M. Roucel they decided on a perfume based on tea called NEZ Hong Kong Oolong.

Alan Chan (l.) and Maurice Roucel

Within the accompanying magazine there is a lengthy article on the entire design process. What caught my attention was the desire of both men to capture the history of China as it is faced with evolving in the 21st century. By choosing oolong tea they capture the contrasts apparent in balancing the past and the present.

The perfume opens with the oolong in place. Oolong is the compromise tea for those who don’t want bitter matcha or intensely smoky lapsang souchong. Oolong is the middle ground with a hint of the bite and smoke. M. Roucel constructs an oolong accord that captures that. In the early moments it is a strongly spiced version of oolong as cinnamon, clove, and cardamom combine with the tea. These can coax out the greener face of the oolong accord. As we transition to the heart a lilting veil of jasmine also finds the greener nature of the accord. The smoke gets its chance as leather and incense find those aspects while giving them life. It finds a sweet creamy contrast in the base with sandalwood and tonka adding a bit of warm woody sweetness to the final composition.

Hong Kong Oolong has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

One of the things I admired most was that the perfume found its own compromise between the transparent trend and full-bodied styles. Like the tea it emulates Hong Kong Oolong thrives in the middle ground.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds Nautica Voyage- Fall Aquatic

Ever since I moved away from S. Florida I have come to enjoy the northern beaches in the early fall. Gone are the sunscreen and fruity drinks. Instead I walk the boardwalks in a sweater while the ocean carries more weight. For the most part the aquatic genre of fragrance wants to trend towards the summer party than the dour days of fall. There are exceptions, Nautica Voyage is one of them.

Nautica is one of the better discount lines of perfume. There are more than a few interesting takes on the aquatic genre. I have happily picked up many Nautica bottles out of my local discount shop without disappointment. One of the reasons I think they do a better than average job is they use some of the best perfumers. They allow them to move in unique directions. For Voyage it is perfumer Maurice Roucel at the wheel.

Maurice Roucel

If you’ve spent time on a New England beach in autumn, you will know there is a deep green scent to it. M. Roucel captures that in the early going as he has a green accord match with what is listed as a “sailcloth accord”. It reminds me of the canvas awnings of the boardwalk shops as a stiff breeze fills them from off the water. Instead of the typical suspects to create the water-like accord M. Roucel uses lotus and mimosa. This is the grey swells of the ocean after the summer crowds have left. It is a weightier water scent. Voyage finishes on a warm amber accord with hints of the green from on top in cedar and moss.

Nautica Voyage has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Voyage is a nice iteration of a popular fresh aesthetic. M. Roucel makes it enough different without completely breaking with the form. We are headed to the beach next weekend for the first weekend of fall. Nautica Voyage will be in my overnight bag.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Shalini Paradis Provence- Thyme for Lavender

I write about soliflores, where a single ingredient is highlighted, as being difficult to have that be compelling. It is much easier to find a pair of perfume ingredients which can provide all the complexity you desire. I say it is easy but, finding that balance to give both the space to shine individually and in harmony is also difficult. I was reminded of what it is like when done well with Shalini Paradis Provence.


Paradis Provence is the fourth fragrance overseen by fashion designer Shalini for her fragrance brand. As before, she collaborates with perfumer Maurice Roucel. It is meant to evoke the special scent of Provence in France. For Shalini she wanted to feature the “golden light of thyme”. I’m not sure who had the idea to marry lavender to it, but it is an inspired choice.

Maurice Roucel

One of the things I enjoy about high-quality lavender is the tripartite scent profile it exudes. The obvious floral quality is matched by a green herbal-ness over a subtle woodiness. In the hands of M. Roucel the concept is to find other ingredients which can accentuate all three parts.

Right away the lavender appears with the floral and herbal qualities on display. The thyme rises by first teasing out the herbal quality seeking it as a complement. It gives the early moments a vegetal green field accord. The floral quality is matched with orange blossom containing its own green to match the lavender and the thyme. The thyme achieves that “golden light” as the orange blossom arises. It ends with olive wood and the woody part of the lavender comprising the base.

Paradis Provence has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I was so intrigued with the lavender-thyme combination I visited my local lavender farm to see what the real things smelled like together. Not as good as Paradis Provence. It was a reminder of what modern perfumery is meant to do; interpret nature through an artistic vision of scent. Paradis Provence lives up to that high minded ideal beautifully.

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

Mark Behnke