Discount Diamonds: Sean John Unforgivable- The Exception

Those who have followed my reviews over the years know I think most celebrity scents are cynical. They use the name of the person on the bottle while that person has no idea what is in the bottle. I’ve been told of many celebrities who don’t smell the perfume until their first publicity experience. It irritates me that a fan of the celebrity coughs up their money for a product which has nothing from the person they admire.

Those who have read my reviews over the years know I am not a fan of multi perfumer teams. It may not be true, but it always reeks to me of focus groups and compromises. That the perfumes designed by committee also seem to have no soul anecdotally proves my point.

To everything there is an exception. Sean John Unforgivable manages to prove both of my thoughts incorrect.

Unforgivable was released in 2006 as the first fragrance from Sean Combs aka P.Diddy’s Sean John clothing line. He certainly found a dream team of creative people to work on this. Evelyn Lauder and Karyn Khoury would be co-creative directors overseeing a team of four perfumers; David Apel, Aurelien Guichard, Pierre Negrin, and Caroline Sabas. There isn’t a name I just listed that I don’t admire the heck out of. I just carried my usual skepticism over too many perfumers at the organ serving too many managers. However it happened Unforgivable turned out way better that I thought it would.

It opens with a burst of citrus as lemon and grapefruit add a tart initial impression. A smart use of Calone takes the melon-like quality of it as a lighter fruitiness underneath along with its fresh sea spray scent. It shifts to a fougere-like heart of iris, lavender, and herbs. Clary sage is the most prominent but there are some other green herbal pieces here too. It ends with a light sandalwood focused base accord given some warmth through amber and tonka bean.

Unforgivable has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

When it comes to perfume by committee celebrity scents Unforgivable stands out as one of the best. It can be found for less than $20 at almost any discount fragrance seller.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Tom Ford Black Orchid Parfum- Parfum for Assignations

During the holiday season of 2006 a new perfume hit the shelves which had the perfume forums buzzing. It was the first time there would be a mass discussion of a mainstream fragrance targeted to women which appealed to a lot of men who smelled it. Even so recently the idea of a man wearing a woman’s perfume was worth discussion. The perfume which set this off was Tom Ford Black Orchid. The idea of unisex, or shared, styles was not really embraced. It put a mass-market brand in a bind, especially if you had something that would appeal to a fragrance lover not a gender. The original Black Orchid was that kind of perfume. It helped it was in a black bottle so a guy could keep it on his dresser. As he has done throughout his time overseeing fragrances Mr. Ford would expand the boundaries.

Karyn Khoury

As much as I admire the original my favorite is the version released for the fall nine months later, Black Orchid Voile de Fleur. It has been discontinued for a long time, now. The only other flanker of Black Orchid was an Eau de Toilette release in 2015. In 2020 we have the latest Tom Ford Black Orchid Parfum.

David Apel

The original perfumers David Apel and Pierre Negrin have been the noses behind all the Black Orchids. Karyn Khoury has been the creative director overseeing them. Each iteration has illuminated an aspect of the original. Black Orchisd Parfum the press release tells me is the original but more. While that is true there is a sensuality which runs throughout which is new. This version feels as if it is designed for after hours.

Pierre Negrin

The signature keynote of Black Orchid is black truffle. This is a like a variant of patchouli carrying earthiness and gourmand-like qualities. In Black Orchid Parfum the perfumers pair it with a full-bodied ylang-ylang. It becomes deeper as plum picks up the truffle and the black orchid accord meshes with the ylang-ylang. What I am describing is a fruity floral on the surface. Except it is something much deeper than that as all the ingredients resonate in the bass section of the olfactory scale. There is depth which sems to know no end. It is taken another level down with patchouli and rum in the base. I never realized it, but Black Orchid was begging for a boozy ingredient because the rum here pushes this to new heights (lows?). As this all comes together it is fantastic.

Black Orchid Parfum has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

Black Orchid Parfum embraces its shared style this time not asking to be seen as one gender or the other: that’s progress. It is also the kind of perfume seemingly intended for close encounters of the sensual kind. Which means either or both could wear it. I now have a new favorite in this collection. It is also the best mainstream release of 2020 so far.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Amouage Interlude Man Black Iris- Now! With Iris Added!

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Change is inevitable. When it happens to the great perfume brands it doesn’t mean the end of things it has often created an entirely new creative phase. When it is one of the seminal niche perfume brands where this is taking place the first new release attracts a lot of scrutiny. We are looking for hints of the future. This is where Amouage Interlude Man Black Iris falls.

Renaud Salmon

Amouage became one of the premier artistic perfume brands under the creative direction of Christopher Chong. He left a little over a year ago. His replacement is Renaud Salmon. I will say when I was introduced to him via press release as the “Chief Experience Officer” I smirked at the concept. Really what the heck is that? Are you trying to avoid being compared to the past? Might as well call yourself Creative Director because you can call yourself Minister of Scent and you’re still gong to be compared. It might be unfair, but you are stepping into big shoes. My suggestion is for you to own it. Create your version of Amouage for better or worse. Stop hiding behind a silly fabricated sobriquet.

Pierre Negrin

If I read M. Salmon’s words in that press release correctly, he is still learning the brand. He is looking for the space where his creative imprint can be seen. For his first release he decided to create a flanker of 2012’s Interlude Man. It is an interesting choice to take one of the more popular releases and make it over as your introduction. The original perfumer of Interlude Man, Pierre Negrin, was asked to work on Interlude Man Black Iris.

The name of the perfume pretty much says it all this is Interlude Man with iris added. It reminds me of the old 1960’s commercials when they would say “Same Great Taste! Now! With Mint Added!” This is the same thing as applied to Interlude Man.

Interlude Man Black Iris opens with the same herbal green top accord as rosemary replaces oregano and pimento. It moves into the classic incense and amber heart which is where the iris appears. It is a nice addition to this resinous heart. It is the promised “black iris” so many perfumes promise but fail to deliver. It ends in the same oud and sandalwood base as before with just a bit of vanilla amplifying the sweetness in sandalwood.

Interlude Man Black Iris has 18-24 hour longevity and average sillage.

To use a music metaphor Interlude Man Black Iris is a Renaud Salmon remix of a Christopher Chong chart-topper. What does this say about the future? Hard to say. If M. Salmon is going to spend his time doing remixes of the past, ie. flankers, at least they are high quality versions. If that is the next phase at Amouage then maybe Chief Experience Officer will be apt. There will be no real creativity as he will choose to live off the past. I am more hopeful that M. Salmon will grow into a creative director with his own distinct aesthetic. For now while Interlude Man Black Iris is a nice flanker it is just a luxurious flanker with nothing new to say.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Amouage Opus XI- Orientalist Oud

One of the things I’ve enjoyed when looking at older paintings is these were the social media of the day. There were no photographs to convey what far-off lands and peoples looked like. Western civilization saw the rest of the world through the interpretations of a painter. One movement which began in fin de siècle 18th century is grouped as the Orientalist paintings. These were fascinating because there were artists who would make the arduous journey to the Middle East and paint from experience. Then there were others who would create from the tales told to them without ever leaving home. Creative director at Amouage Christopher Chong was interested in converting this dichotomy into a perfume; Opus XI.

Christopher Chong

In the press release he likens the Orientalists who never visited the country as the first example of “fake news”. How do you turn that into a perfume? The answer is you get perfumer Pierre Negrin to do the same trick with perhaps the most Middle Eastern perfume ingredient there is; oud.

Pierre Negrin

In perfumery there is an Orientalist separation of real oud and oud accord. Real oud speaks for itself. Oud accords represent themselves as “real” oud in many fragrances. Instead they are comprised of a few well-known ingredients which create an oud accord without ever using a drop of real oud. The purpose of making an accord is you don’t have to work around the more irascible qualities of the real thing. In Opus XI M. Negrin juxtaposes authentic oud with an oud accord.

Opus XI opens with the real oud as M. Negrin particularly enhances one of those difficult aspects of its scent. To do this he uses the unusual perfume ingredient of marjoram which has a soft green herbal-ness. It acts as a magnifier of the medicinal qualities of the real oud used in Opus XI. There is a richness to it while the medicinal effect is made prominent. Now that you’ve traveled to the real source M. Negrin then creates a parallel oud from styrax and a Firmenich exclusive Woodleather. The latter comes from a suite of recently synthesized molecules designed to have an oud-y scent profile. This is the real oud scrubbed of its problematic medicinal facets. Leaving behind a dry oud-like woodiness. To add back a metered amount of the rougher edges is where the styrax comes in. M. Negrin roughs up the Woodleather to a facsimile of the marjoram and real oud. What you get is a compelling perspective on oud as the two versions harmonize.

Opus XI has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I’m not sure but this might be the shortest ingredient list for an Amouage perfume. It is no less interesting for that. The idea of having a discussion of Orientalism through perfume via oud is outstanding. I have spent many weeks enjoying and thinking about Opus XI. If you love oud this perfume is one you must try.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Moschino Toy 2- Looking for Fun In All The Right Places

I sometimes need a reminder to lighten up. To have fun. To stop taking things so seriously. I am such a believer in the art and creativity of perfume I can become a humorless drone in it’s pursuit. What I need is a perfume that just wants to be a solid commercial perfume. Paired with an equally fun bottle. For these dreary waiting for spring days of the end of winter Moschino Toy 2 brought some fun back to perfume.

Alberto Morillas

Creative director Jeremy Scott is known for wanting to make Moschino and fun synonymous. The clothing and the fragrance arm reflect that. Toy 2 as you might surmise is the sequel to 2014’s Toy. That perfume was housed inside a teddy bear with a classically structured citrus perfume. It isn’t ground-breaking. It is a light-hearted perfume asking you to enjoy the combination of bear bottle and bright perfume. Like the best sequels Toy 2 doesn’t alter that script overmuch.

Fabrice Pellegrin

The bear bottle is back but in a frosted glass version hugging the clear flacon. It really is just the right side of campy. Before I even sniffed the perfume, I was in a better mood. Perfumers Alberto Morillas and Fabrice Pellegrin switch from citrus to fresh floral without losing the plot.

Toy 2 opens with mandarin reminding me of the original. White currant and apple provide a crisp fresh effect around the citrus. The heart is one of the synthetic jasmines expansive as a blue sky. Magnolia adds a subtle creaminess while peony continues the freshness from the top accord. The creamy version of sandalwood holds the center of a base accord swathed in fresh musks.

Toy 2 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

A fresh citrus floral is hardly an original idea. Toy 2 isn’t meant to be enjoyed with that kind of mindset. It is more like a walk down the carnival midway. Eating cotton candy or funnel cakes trying to figure out if the ring toss is rigged so you can win the giant pink teddy bear. Or you can spray on some Toy 2 for a similar fun effect. I’ll be back to reviewing with a more critical eye tomorrow for today I’m just looking for a little fun in all the right places.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Amouage Imitation Woman and Imitation Man- Two Bites of The Big Apple in the 1970’s

I made my first trips to New York City in the 1970’s. I experienced a very different Big Apple. There was uptown and there was downtown. In between was the insanity of Times Square which was crammed with sex shops and porn theatres. You didn’t stop to take pictures bathed in neon back then. If you moved uptown there were the museums and upscale shopping. Downtown was the grungy counterpoint. The beginnings of punk rock were emerging in a place which embraced it. Moving between them was like traveling between two worlds. Anyone who experienced this carries an inward smile at how this has all been tamed with retconned history. While at the same time being turned into another roadside attraction. This was my experience as a young man.

Christopher Chong

The two new perfumes from Amouage, Imitation Woman and Imitation Man, are based on Creative Director Christopher Chong’s visit to New York City in the same time. It was the first time he would see snow. He observed the cultural melting pot as his family moved from uptown to downtown. In the press materials he says, “Imitation is a personal account of how one moment and one experience can alter a child’s perception of the world.” Working with perfumer Pierre Negrin for Imitation Woman and Leslie Girard for Imitation Man it fells like they encapsulate Mr. Chong’s reminiscence with two very different bites from The Big Apple circa the 1970’s

One thing about both perfumes is they function as a pair which felt to me as Uptown and Downtown. Except quite cleverly the perfumers made sure to put a little of the other in each. If Imitation Woman takes you to the Upper East Side it makes sure to thread a bit of the Bowery through it. The converse is true for Imitation Man.

Pierre Negrin

Imitation Woman opens on a blast of hairspray aldehydes over a floral trio of rose, orange blossom, and jasmine. It is the scent of perfectly coiffed society woman. Then M. Negrin sneaks in a bit of the Battery with a duet of licorice and blackcurrant bud. The latter is amplified to its sticky urine-like level while the licorice acts like a punk walking on Madison Avenue. It all returns to the wood paneled safety of sandalwood and patchouli.

There was a cocooned decadence which defined Uptown NYC in the 1970’s. It was over-the-top with no risk. Imitation Woman gets that as the exuberance is on display but within there is a reminder it isn’t as safe as you think.

Leslie Girard

Imitation Man is rough around the edges right away. Black pepper and nutmeg create a piquant reminder you aren’t Uptown anymore. You shrug your shoulders into your black leather jacket. Mme Girard infuses it with castoreum to make it seem like the snarl from any Punk waiting for a show in the Bowery. Then some of those Upper East Side “tourists” come slumming, trailing their floral smells of rose and powdery orris; trying to live life on the wild side for a night. The real scents of the area return with vetiver and patchouli leading the charge. Underneath it all is a simmering myrrh, a resinous bit of rebellion in progress.

At this point the Punks were just finding their footing as Downtown was about to put its Doc Martens footprint on the music scene. Imitation Man captures the burgeoning scene just before it is discovered.

I like both versions of Imitation, there is an authenticity which tracks with my memory of NYC in the 1970’s.

Disclosure: this review is based on press samples provided by Amouage.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Zegna Acqua di Neroli- Unexpected Cologne Nouveau

The fragrance part of designer Ermenegildo Zegna has not been a story of consistency. That might be changing. Over the course of the last year I have seen an uptick in the brand’s aesthetic. I would credit that to long-time creative director Trudi Loren. Ms. Loren took charge of the Zegna fragrance portfolio after Estee Lauder acquired the brand. In those first few years she upped the quality of the ingredients in the perfumes. They may not have been imaginative, but they were well-made. Last year there were two collections released; Essenze and Elements of Man. Now there was something in addition to quality ingredients; a contemporary interpretation of masculine tropes. In Zegna Acqua di Neroli Ms. Loren subverts the classic cologne architecture showing something more than just quality.

Trudi Loren

In the previous Acqua release, Acqua di Bergamotto, that was just a reiteration of the classic cologne recipe. This is an example of what I was describing above. Acqua di Neroli has the same cologne spine with perfumer Pierre Negrin filling it out with other ingredients to provide a new take on the venerable form.

Pierre Negrin

Acqua di Neroli opens on a citrus sunbeam focused through a magnifying glass. Using lemon and bergamot for the citrus, petitgrain provides the focusing effect. Just as it becomes a bit too intense a damp green accord douses it. This has a transforming effect to the citrus as it goes from brilliant point of light to something more diffuse. The green accord sets up rosemary as the predecessor to the neroli. The neroli carries both green and citrus facets with the floral aspects. It then takes an interesting turn as M. Negrin uses a light application of watermelon to form a fleeting fruity floral phase. Lavender drags it back to more typical cologne territory. It completely leaves cologne-land in the base as a cypriol and sandalwood accord combines with another green moss-like accord along with some mid-weight musks. This provides some heft to the typical lightness of a cologne.

Acqua di Neroli has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

We are living in a time of some excellent re-interpretations of cologne into a Cologne Nouveau style for the 21st century. I wouldn’t have expected Zegna to be a brand to enter into that. Zegna Acqua di Neroli indicates I am mistaken as this belongs next to the others in this New Cologne Revolution.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Michael Kors Sexy Ruby- Know Your Lane

There is a current phrase which has become overused; “stay in your lane”. What it means is for you to keep traveling in the direction you are currently going without trying to move outside of the “lane” you’ve created for yourself. There are places where that is good advice. There are other times where that is counterproductive. In perfumery, it depends on what a brand is looking to be. If you’re an artistic independent niche brand you probably should never find a lane. If you’re a mainstream brand your success probably depends on finding a lane which your consumers like and traveling within it as long as you can. One fragrance brand which has known its lane for a long time is Michael Kors. The most recent release Sexy Ruby shows how well they understand this.

The Michael Kors fragrance collection has been around since 2000. Fairly quickly it did find its place on the department store shelf. It followed the major trends of the time. They were streamlined versions of those trends; often a little lighter in presence than others in the same sector. The collection was perfume for the person who wanted to smell nice without taking risks. If I said it was a collection of office-ready fragrance that is not damning with faint praise it is actual praise. For those of us who love perfume and have delved into every corner of the fragrant universe Michael Kors doesn’t necessarily offer that much interest. Although maybe it should.

Pierre Negrin

What Michael Kors in their fragrance offerings has done more than a few times is to find a little space in their well-traveled lane. When that happens, I can find something pleasant in something familiar. Sexy Ruby is a beautifully done fruity floral chypre by perfumer Pierre Negrin.

I really have a problem with the overuse of raspberry in the plethora of fruity floral fragrances out there. It is usually thick overdosed sickly sweet. M. Negrin goes entirely the other way as he takes shimmering source of raspberry which acts opaque. To provide a bit of depth apricot replaces the overt saccharinity that would have been present if he had just upped the concentration of the raspberry. It also does the same with the floral part as jasmine is the central floral note. The raspberry acts as a veil which shrouds the jasmine. A bit of rose helps deepen the jasmine as the apricot did for the fruity keynote. The domesticated chypre base is made up of green aromachemical Crystal Moss, the woody aromachemical Cashmeran, and Vanillin. This is a tame chypre meant to provide a foundation and not to realty stick its head up above the fruity floral opening.

Sexy Ruby has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

What drew my attention to Sexy Ruby was the decision by M. Negrin to not clobber me with the fruit and the floral components. It is that overpowering nature of too many fruity florals which turns me off to the style. Sexy Ruby shows there is some give even when you know your lane.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Christian Louboutin Trouble in Heaven- A Single Spark

When an iconic designer attempts the jump to fragrance I think it looks easier than it is. When you see the name of a designer you admire on a bottle of perfume you should expect some of the creativity of that designer to find its way into the bottle. What becomes consistently frustrating is even when these designers work with some of the best perfumers they end up playing it safe. This year has seen several these projects come to fruition only to leave me wondering where the creativity went. The latest come from Christian Louboutin.

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Christian Louboutin

M. Louboutin is one of the premiere shoe designers in the world. He is one of a few who transformed the women’s shoe industry into an ultra-luxury enterprise. The brilliant piece of branding he achieved was all of his shoes have a signature red lacquered sole. When you see that you know she’s wearing a “Loubie”. The shoes are exquisite objects of beautiful design.

Now 25-years after opening his store in Paris he is expanding into fragrance. He employed two excellent perfumers to compose his debut collection of three perfumes. Olivier Cresp did one, Tornade Blonde. Pierre Negrin was responsible for the remaining two; Bikini Questa Sera and Trouble in Heaven. Two of the three play it extremely safe. Bikini Questa Sera is a big jasmine and tuberose over sandalwood and vetiver. Tornade Blonde is a slightly different floral riff as a bit of fruit leads in to gardenia, rose, and jasmine before going to a typical cedar and patchouli base. These are nice scents but they lack any flair or innovation. I have to admit as I tried the last one I was expecting more of the same utilitarian perfumery. Thankfully M. Negrin and M. Louboutin were willing to go for something different in Trouble in Heaven.

PierreNegrin

Pierre Negrin

If there is an overriding design aesthetic to M. Louboutin it is his delight in taking the stiletto and embellishing it with unusual things. Trouble in Heaven takes a floriental construct and pierces it with an ozonic aquatic synthetic as embellishment.

That ozonic note, Cascalone is where Trouble in Heaven begins. Cascalone is a relative to Calone; very close in chemical structure. The difference is Cascalone removes the slightly low tide character of Calone. What remains is a chilly mist of sea spray expansive and briny. When I smelled the opening I expected the typical aquatic progression. Instead an earthy orris replaces the sea shore with the dual nature of powdery and rhizome. This orris is quite powdery and it flows nicely out of the Cascalone. Rose comes along to transform the heart into a fully floral accord. The base is a typical amber, patchouli, and tonka Oriental accord.

Trouble in Heaven has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This was a collection I was hoping would fire on all creative cylinders. At least in the case of Trouble in Heaven M. Louboutin and M. Negrin found the beginning of a spark which I am hopeful will translate to even better future releases.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Christian Louboutin Beaute.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Amouage Opus X- Rose Vibrato

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Spring is the time of year for roses. Happy blooming red flowers to signal winter is gone. Perfume follows this same trend. The parade of rose fragrances increases in the first part of the year. They also exhibit a sense of light-heartedness. There comes a point where one more pleasantly composed rose brings out my inner curmudgeon. I want to yell at my desk full of samples for these kids to get out of my sight. I was feeling extra salty about all of this when I received my sample of the new Amouage Opus X. I looked at the set of notes and saw rose. I sprayed some on a strip and the antidote to all my irritation was washed away in a deeply moving dark rose perfume.

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Christopher Chong

Christopher Chong the creative director at Amouage took the 1998 movie “The Red Violin” as his inspiration. The movie is the story of a red violin which is created in 1681 by a master violin maker. The red color comes from him mixing the blood of his wife, who dies in childbirth along with his child, in with the varnish. The movie then focuses on the violin as it shows up in 1793 Vienna, 1898 Oxford, 1968 Shanghai, and eventually present day Montreal. At each stop the violin plays a pivotal part as foretold by a tarot card reading at its creation. The Red Violin is a sweeping ambitious piece of storytelling and so is Opus X.

PierreNegrin

Pierre Negrin

For Opus X Mr. Chong collaborated with perfumers Pierre Negrin and Annick Menardo. Their concept was to create an olfactory red violin. There would be four distinct strings of rose and rose accords. A “red varnish” accord followed by the wood which makes up the body. The creative team really worked out how to create the different rose accords. As I wore it I was reminded of the fingering technique used when playing a violin called vibrato. A musician by using their fingertip to rapidly lengthen and release the string provides a vibrating effect which allows a single note to resonate as if it was two different notes milliseconds apart. In the best violin players’ hands it is used to stunning effect. In the hands of this creative team for Opus X there is a real sense of vibrato among the different rose “strings”.

annick-menardo

Annick Menardo

Opus X opens with those rose strings right away. Rose de Mai represents one of the strings. This classic rose of Provence provides the beauty. The rosebud accord imparts a delicacy. The “bloody rose accord” is the deeply rooted rose. Rose oxide provides a metallic rose which also represents the blood in the varnish. In the early moments it is just a straight bow across all of these notes as the rose ebbs and flows as the perfumers add vibrato and they begin to meld together. The next phase is going to be the challenging part for some to get through as the varnish accord is leavened a bit by geranium. This is a very heady varnish accord and it takes its place underneath the continued vibrating strings of roses. I was completely taken in by the imagery and the early notes that the varnish just kept the story evolving for me. If it becomes too prominent on some I can see it jarring you out of the mood. For me I found it fascinatingly different. The wood of the violin is made up of Laotian oud and the warm ambergris quality of the synthetic aromachemical Ambrarome. It adds in an exotic otherworldly aspect to the base accord which feels like the right place to end Opus X.

Opus X has 14-16 hour longevity and way above average sillage. This is one where you want to apply very conservatively.

I needed a rose fragrance which wasn’t willing to pander to the season. Opus X’s arrival gave me one. This is nothing like any of the other roses in the Amouage collection. It is as good as anything Amouage has produced.

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

Mark Behnke