The Sunday Magazine: HBO’s Game of Thrones

The book is better than the movie is a truism most of us subscribe to. The corollary to that is the more complicated the book the more disappointing the movie is. When it comes to getting epic fantasy onto the screen it was very much a graveyard of good intentions and failed technologies for many years. Then Peter Jackson and his team were able to amazingly put a version of JRR Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” on the screen and by the time they finished they were lauded with awards, kudos, and not a whole lot of “The book was better than the movie” commentary. Mr. Jackson understood what was intrinsically necessary to tell the story and stripped away the fun, but extraneous, side journeys leaving the main threads of the tale intact. After this success I imagine Hollywood was busy optioning every epic fantasy series on the bookshelf.

If there is a modern successor to Tolkien’s masterwork in the genre it would be George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire”. Through five complete volumes with two left to come Mr. Martin has created a world as texturally complex as Middle-Earth but his characters are less easily segregated into “good guys” and “bad guys”. This series is about the way power, or lack of it, motivates people to the deeds they do on the page. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a character and through that narration the story progresses. Because of these storytelling conventions and a sprawling story with characters spread everywhere I would have expected this series to be among the last Hollywood would take a stab at.

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The people at HBO had a different idea and proposed that instead of turning it into a movie let’s turn it into a television series. Once that decision was made the showrunners and creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss undertook the casting and in March of 2011 the first episode of Game of Thrones appeared. One of the key things Mr. Benioff and Weiss did was to bring Mr. Martin on board. He has written one episode in each of the four seasons, and they have been the pivotal episodes in many of those seasons. Having the author of the source material writing material for the visual adaptation shows the commitment to getting this right.

Getting it right is exactly what Game of Thrones has done. As a reader of the books there was so much they could have done wrong but up to this point they have preserved every critical beat from the books and translated them to the television screen. The acting is superb from actors well known like Peter Dinklage, Sean Bean, and Lena Headley to newcomers Emilia Clarke, Maisie Williams, and Natalie Dormer. They inhabit these characters so fully that they convincingly deliver lines of dialogue that when said out loud could sound arch but in these actors’ reading sounds genuine.

The production values are sumptuous as all of the world of Game of Thrones comes to life and the crew films in Iceland, Ireland, Malta, Morocco, and Croatia. The locations used bring the fictional land of Westeros to life and the acting and words give it power.

If you haven’t tried this and enjoy these kind of stories you need to binge watch the first three 10-episode seasons. Season 4 has just started showing on HBO in the US. One caveat watch the series without reading the books first. Mr. Martin has made a world where anything can happen and one of the great joys of Game of Thrones is the number of “OMG did they just do that?” moments. There is a lot of television which relies on that but Game of Thrones might be the best at making those moments feel earned and truthful. I do know that there are a lot of epic fantasy properties in less adept hands who probably wish very fervently that this team had found their property first. I am very glad they didn’t and Game of Thrones will stand as a milestone in turning the page into visual where the visual is as good as the book.

Mark Behnke

Perfume Review Amouage Farah Attar- Gotta Collect ‘Em All

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When it comes to perfume I certainly have a few obsessive tendencies, which is stating the obvious. One of those is my desire to have everything in the lines I admire most. Amouage is one of those lines and I do own all of the releases most are aware of. Then in 2010 I was in a shop and noticed a much smaller bottle with the familiar Amouage logo. I asked what that was and the next words began a quest which only recently has successfully ended. What was in that bottle was Amouage Tribute Attar which I would find out was a follow-up to Homage Attar which was released the previous year. So I ended up buying both of those and erroneously thought I still had a complete Amouage collection. Then a correspondent from Oman told me about the 20 other attars in the Amouage flagship store. Now I had to try each and every one.

Over the last few years using all of the ways one can employ using the internet I have managed to collect samples, and bottles, of all but one of them. Then just after the New Year my final quarry was in sight and I captured my final Amouage Attar. The last one for me to try was, I believe, one of the first produced Farah Attar.

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Traditional Attar Distillation Apparatus called Degs

For those unfamiliar with attars they are extremely concentrated perfumes where the distillate, usually of a flower, usually rose; is added directly to an oil base of sandalwood and/or oud. That’s it there is no alcohol or water added to dilute it. Attars are like the fine wine of perfumery as they actually age and the attar evolves over time. I’ve only owned my attars for a few years so I take that last bit on faith but it makes sense to me. What I do know through my own experience is attars are the most revelatory experiences within perfumery. Because these are combinations of unadulterated oils as close to being “fresh from the still” there is a vitality to the attars that I find nowhere else in fragrance.

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Modern Attar Distillation apparatus

Farah Attar is about as traditional an attar as it gets as all of the key ingredients are here; rose, oud, and sandalwood. Even if it was just that it would be wonderful but what makes the Amouage Attars stand out is there is always a bit of a twist to add even more complexity. While this could be gilding the lily it actually works to soften the focal points and to allow the wearer the opportunity to approach them from a different perspective. In Farah the group of extra notes are saffron, amber, and a spice mélange. They add depth and grace to the traditional trio that form the spine of Farah Attar.

All attars have multi-day longevity from just a drop but they are very much skin scents. When I wear one it is one drop to the hollow of my throat and it is really only for my enjoyment for the next couple of days.

One of the reasons I wanted to write about Farah Attar was because it looks like these attars might be the first casualty of the IFRA/EU regulations. Kafkaesque covers the issues on her blog post at this link. At this moment it seems like the attar factory in Oman is not operating and all that is out there to be purchased is the remainder of the stock. I hope this turns out to have another reason behind it but Kafkaesque’s research seems to indicate otherwise.

These Amouage Attars are among the most priceless jewels in my perfume collection and the thought that other perfume lovers will not get the chance to experience them is heartbreaking to me. So if this has made you want to go exploring you will need to get moving before your quarry is extinct. I now sit with the satisfaction of having captured all of them. My little box of attars will provide pleasure for as long as I love perfume.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample of Amouage Farah Attar I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review By Kilian Sacred Wood & Imperial Tea- Mysore Sandalwood and Jasmine Tea Simulations

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It seems like it was only a few days after I editorialized about the failure of perfume lines at cracking the Eastern aesthetic that I received the two latest attempts from By Kilian. I was not a fan of the three previous Asian Tales fragrances and will admit I was expecting more watered down ideas masquerading as perfume. They say there is an exception to every generality and it seems as if Sacred Wood and Imperial Tea are going to make me eat some of my words as perfumer Calice Becker takes on sandalwood and tea, respectively.

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Calice Becker

One of the assumptions is that Asian tastes want fragrances similar to their architecture with clean lines and simple construction. If you are going to work in that direction there are probably few better choices to take as a focal point than sandalwood and that is what Mme Becker chooses as the wood in Sacred Wood.

All of the great sandalwood perfumes of the past contained a version of sandalwood from the Indian region of Mysore. Unfortunately human nature and developing nation economics led to the over-harvesting of Mysore sandalwood and there is no longer anymore being produced from Mysore. As a result perfumers have searched for more renewable sources of sandalwood but none of those had the complexities of Mysore sandalwood. Which has then caused the perfumers to take these newer sandalwood sources and try to “Mysore” them up by trying to add in what is missing. It is from Mme Becker’s attempts to do this that Sacred Wood sprung to life. It was her intent to create a sandalwood base she could use on her perfumer’s palette that would allow her to add her engineered Mysore sandalwood to anything she was working on. Except when she was done she realized it was pretty good all on its own and creative director Kilian Hennessy agreed.

Sacred Wood is kin to other sandalwood “soliflores” like Diptyque Tam Dao but here the effect is to take it and allow the character of the sandalwood to slowly erode down to its most basic nature. On top Mme Becker adds a steamed milk accord to create the characteristic creamy quality of Mysore sandalwood. In the real thing that never leaves but in Sacred Wood it persists for a while. Carrot and elemi turn the cream into sweet but not sugar sweet. This is a sweetness of wood and vegetable; it works very well together. For me one of the hallmark characteristics of Mysore sandalwood is what I describe as an “ashy” quality in the heart of it. It smells to my nose like it has been through a fire and this is the remains of it. I think Mme Becker also smells this and so she uses cumin to add that quality to Sacred Wood. In the end cedar with all of its very straightforwardness turns Sacred Wood to just wood over the final few hours.

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Kilian Hennessy

Mme Becker’s very first signed fragrance was Tommy Girl and the combination of tea and florals was groundbreaking in 1996. Eighteen years later it is a little more common but Mme Becker wanted to create her version of a definitive tea fragrance. She chose jasmine tea as the target for her to create a perfume simulacrum of. My experience with jasmine tea is as dragon pearls where these tightly wound balls of tea unfurl upon exposure to hot water into floral looking blooms which release the tea within. It is this tea which is the sole reason we own a clear tea pot so I can watch the languid opening of the pearls as the tea steeps. This tea also has a fantastic smell of the jasmine rising through the humidity of the steaming liquid. In Imperial Tea Mme Becker has created that jasmine tea effect.

The key to Imperial Tea is using the right source of jasmine as the core. Mme Becker uses a lightly indolic version of jasmine sambac. It is absolutely the right choice. A clean non-indolic jasmine would have been too clean. A heavier indolic jasmine would have been jarring and lacked serenity. The jasmine sambac here is kept feather light. Mate provides the base of the tea and it is kept from being too grassy by the inclusion of guaiac to keep it more towards the tea side. There is a great violet note to prop up the jasmine and that is really it. Imperial Tea is as light as the steeped tea it is re-creating and that lightness might not be, ahem, everyone’s cup of tea. In my opinion it has to be this light and it is what allows it to succeed so well.

Sacred Wood has all day longevity and modest sillage.

Imperial Tea has 4-6 hour longevity and modest sillage.

Every generality needs a contradiction and in Sacred Wood and Imperial Tea By Kilian proves to me that a fragrance targeted to the Eastern markets doesn’t have to be uninspiring. As both sandalwood and tea fragrances they stand among the upper echelon in each of those categories.

Disclosure: This review was based on press samples provided by By Kilian PR in the US.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews David Jourquin Cuir de R’Eve & Cuir Altesse- The Women’s Leather

David Jourquin released his first two fragrances in 2011, Cuir Tabac and Cuir Mandarine. I only became aware of these fragrances in the middle of 2013. The main reason I sought them out is they were leather fragrances and I like leather fragrances. M. Jourquin asked for a pair of leather based fragrances for a man to wear, one for the day and one for the evening. Cuir Tabac was a well-composed straightforward leather and tobacco composition. Cuir Mandarine showed off a bit of insouciance. With the titular mandarin a fizzy champagne accord was added and if your nose didn’t tickle enough a bit of black pepper was added for good measure before leather and tobacco form the base again. Now three years later M. Jourquin has asked perfumer Cecile Zarokian for two more leather fragrances but this time for a woman and again one for daytime and one for nighttime. The daytime fragrance is called Cuir de R’Eve and the nighttime one is called Cuir Altesse.

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David Jourquin

Cuir de R’Eve is, I believe, Mme Zarokian’s first fruity floral and it opens with a load of fruit but before it gets too sweet Mme Zarokian takes clove and pink pepper to add a bit of orthogonal spice. The fruit is ascendant but the spices make it more interesting. The heart is a pairing of orris and patchouli; some heliotrope adds a bit of bright floralcy especially for a daylight fragrance. The leather arrives with running mates of vanilla and musk. The vanilla is an interesting counterpart to the tobacco in the previous fragrances as it adds a similar sweetness without the bass lines tobacco adds. There is a pleasant lightness throughout the construction which seems appropriate considering the brief.

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Cecile Zarokian

Cuir Altesse kept reminding me of the old advertising tag line for Secret deodorant, “Strong enough for a man, made for a woman”.  Cuir Altesse was designed to be worn by a woman in the evening but this has everything in it this man could desire in a leather fragrance, from my first sniff I was smitten. Since wearing it a couple of times I am no less enamored of it. I think if I was ever to ask for a bespoke perfume from Mme Zarokian the structure of Cuir Altesse is where we would start. Cuir Altesse starts with cardamom bolstered with orange and pink peppercorn. The cardamom is what stands out and it leads down into a heart of mainly jasmine and cumin. The jasmine is indolic and the cumin is its usual pungent self. Together this should be a nightmare but instead all of these rough edges turn into a sweet dream. By using rose to pick up more of the floral character of jasmine and patchouli to blunt some of the sweatiness of cumin the heart of Cuir Altesse is alluring. Vanilla partners the leather again but this time benzoin and amber add a bit of resinous sweetness; oakmoss adds the final grace note to everything.

Cuir de R’Eve and Cuir Altesse have 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Mme Zarokian premiered many new fragrances at Esxence and what I am truly admiring is, as I get to know all of them in the weeks since the expo, her breadth of composition. The work she is doing for David Jourquin is a great example of her ability and the development of a very talented young perfumer.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by David Jourquin at Esxence 2014.

Mark Behnke

Etat Libre d’Orange 101- Five to Get You Started

One of the perfume lines which lives up to the ideals behind niche perfumery is Etat Libre d’Orange. There is almost no other niche brand which so fearlessly pushes the boundaries. Owner and creative director Etienne de Swardt is audacious in the perfumes he oversees for his label. Right from the first eleven fragrances released in the fall of 2006 he laid down a marker that Etat Libre d’Orange was going to be very different. In those first releases is the perfume widely regarded as the worst smelling perfume ever, Secretions Magnifiques. Just do a search and you will see videos of people pulling horrified faces and blog or forum posts plumbing new depths of verbiage trying to describe the experience. I, personally, think it is a masterpiece of perfumery but it is really only for those ready to approach it on its own terms instead of as a rite of passage.

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Etienne de Swardt

Because of Secretions Magnifiques there are many who are wary of exploring the other fragrances in the line and that is a shame because I believe Etat Libre d’Orange is one of the best niche lines on the market. There is not a boring fragrance in the collection and many of them are exciting for the singularity of their existence. If you’ve been wanting to give Etat Libre d’Orange a try and want to sort of slowly expose yourself to the aesthetic and attitude of the line I have five suggestions which might make things a little easier.

Fat Electrician was released in 2009 and was composed by perfumer Antoine Maisondieu. M. Maisondieu created a fantastically nutty vetiver by combining chestnut cream with the vetiver. It is bracketed by fulsome olive leaves on top and sweetly resinous myrrh and opoponax in the base. This is vetiver given a new twist.

Fils de Dieu was released in 2012 by perfume Ralf Schwieger. Hr. Schwieger created a Technicolor fragrance which pays homage to all things Southeast Asian. It percolates early with a palpable humidity which contains lime, ginger, shiso, cardamom, coconut and rice. By the end it turns into a sensual accord of leather, vetiver, and castoreum. One of my top 5 new fragrances in 2012.

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Like This was released in 2010 by perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui. Like This was Tilda Swinton’s celebuscent and she chose to collaborate with Etat Libre d’Orange. If every celebrity labeled fragrance was as good as Like This that segment of the market would be less looked down upon. Mme Bijaoui uses immortelle as the core of Like This and then proceeds to swaddle it in layers of ginger, tangerine, neroli, pumpkin, vetiver, and musk. This all comes together gloriously and Like This has been my Thanksgiving fragrance for the last three years.

Noel au Balcon was released in 2007 also by Antoine Maisondieu. Based on the name this is supposed to be for the Holiday Season but I wear it year-round because it is an easy to wear honey focused fragrance. M. Maisondieu uses the honey as a matrix to trap apricot and tangerine along with labdanum and cinnamon. It all eventually releases to vanilla, vetiver, and musk base.

Rien was released in 2006 by perfumer Antoine Lie. Of all of the very challenging Etat Libre d’Orange fragrances I think Rien is the most approachable. M. Lie created a dynamic intense fragrance which starts with the fizz of aldehydes which reveal a cumin and pepper-laced rose before ending on a leather and frankincense base. It is sharp and piquant and resinous and animalic and completely gorgeous. Of all of the first releases it was Rien which really sealed my enjoyment of the line.

M. de Swardt has a very arch sense of humor which plays itself out over the labels and names of the fragrances but if you can put aside your wariness because of Secretions Magnifiques and your raised eyebrows at the names and imagery an exploration of Etat Libre d’Orange is as good as it gets in niche perfume.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of these perfumes that I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review The Different Company Nuit Magnetique- Christine Nagel’s Magnetic Theory

I thought when I was reviewing the three new Jo Malone London Rain fragrances by perfumer Christine Nagel those were going to be the last new releases before she took up her new position at Hermes. It turns out that my assumption was in error. When I met Luc Gabriel owner and creative director at The Different Company I learned that Mme Nagel had one last fragrance to do before she started with Hermes. According to M. Gabriel the final version of her new fragrance for The Different Company, Nuit Magnetique was delivered on March 4th and she started her collaboration with Jean-Claude Ellena as co-in-house perfumers at Hermes two days later.

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Christine Nagel (Photo: Matthieu Dortomb)

For her first fragrance for The Different Company she wanted to create both magnetic attraction and repulsion throughout all of the phases of Nuit Magnetique. Mme Nagel explains it in the press release as, “I created this perfume thinking about the physical principle of the magnet. The raw materials that I chose get married by affinity and get repelled by contrast inside a magnetic field whose olfactory nucleus is an amber-woody accord.” It sounds a lot like typical PR copy but Mme Nagel actually pulls this off as the top and heart exemplify this dual magnetic push and pull before getting pretty normal with the promised amber-woody base.

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The attraction pair in the top notes is ginger and bergamot. Together there is a great vivacious quality which gets separated by a blueberry note that feels like it cleaves them apart. The blueberry has a slightly astringent nature to it which helps it split the happy couple up. The heart is a group of heavy hitter florals, jasmine, rose, and tuberose which Mme Nagel tames in her trademark way of not letting the more boisterous ingredients get out of balance. The orthogonal note here is prune in all of its concentrated dried plum glory. The use of dried fruit in fragrances has become more prevalent but in the use of prune as contrast to the florals it gives an atypical energy to it. Instead of weighing things down it adds a luscious underpinning which allow the florals something to push off of. The base is, as promised, a combination of amber, benzoin, and woods. It is so normal it almost doesn’t feel like it fits but that perhaps is the final bit of magnetic repulsion on display.

Nuit Magnetique has all-day longevity and above average sillage.

I didn’t get around to trying Nuit Magnetique until my last day at Esxence. I was so entranced with the ginger and blueberry along with the florals and prune I spritzed a little on my wrist for the plane flight home. It turned out to be a more delightful companion than my seatmate. I, like many others, are looking forward to what Mme Nagel will bring to Hermes. My expectation is she will be a smashing success because all of the broad creativity necessary to succeed in that position have been on display for many years now. With Nuit Magnetique she left us one final reminder of just how innovative she can be.

Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample provided by The Different Company at Esxence 2014.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Comme des Garcons + Stephen Jones Wisteria Hysteria- Fascinating Fascinator

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2013 was a comeback year for Comme des Garcons in my opinion. For what was seeming far too long they had not been the cutting edge fragrance house they had originally been. What I was most interested in was to see if they would continue the return. The first data point for 2014 was going to be a very challenging one. 2008’s Comme des Garcons + Stephen Jones, by perfumer Antoine Maisondieu, vies for the title of best Comme des Garcons fragrance ever, with Comme des Garcons 2. The new Comme des Garcons + Stephen Jones Wisteria Hysteria was going to have a mighty big atomizer to live up to.

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Stephen Jones

Stephen Jones is a world-renowned milliner, or hat maker, who is known for his unique aesthetic and the technical expertise necessary to accomplish his vision. Mr. Jones even has a quote about the relationship between perfume and hat making, “Millinery, I think, is closer to fragrance than fashion. A hat, like a perfume, is an evocation of something nebulous, ephemeral, and other-worldly.”

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Nathalie Feisthauer

How there came to be a Stephen Jones + Comme des Garcons has sort of become a tale of chance meeting leading to collaboration. The story goes Mr. Jones ran into Comme des Garcons designer Rei Kawakubo in the Anchorage, Alaska airport and struck up a friendship which turned into an alliance. Somewhere along the line Mr. Jones was introduced to Christian Astuguevieille, the fragrance creative director for Comme des Garcons and the first Comme des Garcons + Stephen Jones fragrance was born. For the sequel the same creative team wanted to have something a little more multimedia. For the perfumer they chose Nathalie Fesithauer. To create a visual to go along with the fragrance they asked Henry Pincus to film a short clip. All of this was debuted at London’s SHOWstudio in March 2014.

The fashion film “depicts a woman discovering a new side of herself all while clad in L’Wren Scott and Stephen Jones.” The film depicts a classic set of contradiction as both the dark and light sides merge together by the end. For the fragrance Mme Feisthauer was also going for a struggle between light and dark but in the case of the fragrance the darker notes serve to define the lighter notes and while they never pull entirely free of the heaviness there is an off-kilter lightness of being that makes Wisteria Hysteria a fascinating perfume to wear.

The top notes of Wisteria Hysteria are a mélange of stimulating choices. Pepper, clove, and mate leaf form the opening accord and the mate is the keynote of the early going. The pepper and clove serve as framing notes to allow for the mate to display its fresh grass kind of character but the clove and pepper will make their presence known underneath the pastoral tableau. The heart is the promised wisteria but not anywhere near what I would call hysterical levels. Instead the wisteria is balanced with rose to create a spring fresh floral accord. To that Mme Fesithauer adds a silvery frankincense which adds a metallic edge to the florals. The base is a mix of white musks as sheer as the fascinator worn by the protagonist in the film. To ground them Mme Fesisthauer uses benzoin and amber.

Wisteria Hysteria has all-day longevity and average sillage.

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The Author avec Fascinator

I’ve had about a month to spend wearing Wisteria Hysteria and each successive wearing has allowed for me to appreciate the subtleties throughout its design. This is not a fragrance that will immediately display its charms to you. Like a hat I had to wear it a bit and break it in but once it found that sweet spot it is a perfume which rewards those with the patience to let it find the right balance between light and dark. Based on Comme des Garcons + Stephen Jones Wisteria Hysteria I think Comme des Garcons’ 2014 on the fragrance side is off to a fantastic beginning.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle of Wisteria Hysteria from SHOWstudio.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files

Besides being a Colognoisseur I am also a full-fledged geek. Which means when I am not thinking about the world of medicinal chemistry or perfume you can be sure my mind is on a planet in another galaxy or fighting the supernatural on this planet. For the last twenty years it really has been a world where being geeky is more of a badge of honor than something to be hidden away. The fact that I love perfume as much as I do is probably thought to be stranger than my reading a comic book. As an avid reader of serial fiction within the mystery/thriller, epic fantasy, and urban fantasy genres I always take advantage of the summer months to pick up a new series of novels to binge read while spending time at the beach. I still haven’t made up my mind for this summer as it will either be Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series or Stacia Kane’s The Downside Ghosts series. If you’re looking for a series to binge read I have one to suggest you load onto your e-reader or pick up at the bookstore.

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If you’re not familiar with urban fantasy as a genre it is usually set in the modern world where supernatural creatures and magic exist. The original series in this genre is Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter followed soon after by Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series. The third leg of the foundation of urban fantasy is the series I want to recommend, Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files.

The series is set in Chicago and Harry Dresden is a “Wizard for Hire”. At the beginning of the first book in the series, Storm Front, Harry is under investigation by the agency overseeing the responsible use of magic The White Council. He gets hired to find a woman’s missing husband who she thought was an amateur magician but now believes he might have been more and so a wizard is needed to track him down. Storm Front does what any good first book in a series should do. It introduces you to the rules of this particular fictional world’s magic. It creates a continuing cast of characters around the central protagonist. Finally, it sets up an overarching mythology meant to stretch over multiple books. Besides all of that The Dresden Files books do the best job of fusing hardboiled detective narration with a supernatural milieu. Mr. Butcher’s prose wouldn’t feel so strange if it was coming out of Philip Marlowe’s mouth all while keeping Harry Dresden a true original. You can read the first chapter of Storm Front at this link for a sample of the style.

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Jim Butcher

The Dresden Files has now reached fifteen books with the upcoming publication of Skin Game. One of the things I applaud Mr. Butcher for doing is once he lays down something in one book that is meant to be resolved in a future book the reader is not left waiting for three or four books before returning to that loose thread. I think it is that attention to driving the overall story onward that makes The Dresden Files such an entertaining read as each entry pushes the story forward significantly and that is not always the case in serial fiction of any genre.

As you’re starting to get your beach chair and sunglasses out of their winter hibernation don’t forget to add a few books to your beach bag. If you add The Dresden Files to your summer reading list I think you’ll have a great time standing by Harry Dresden as he shouts, “Forzare!”

Mark Behnke

How Do We Honor Our Own?

Just as there is awards season for the performing arts we are smack dab in the middle of awards season for the olfactory arts. On Thursday night the French Fragrance Foundation awards were handed out and the following day in New York City The Fragrance Foundation announced their finalists and the winner of the Indie Perfume of the Year. There is an organization of French bloggers who give out the Olfactorama Awards. The new kid on the red carpet is the Los Angeles-based The Institute for Art and Olfaction Awards.

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Each of these awards have their own personality and the winners can be schizophrenic and you wonder how, in the case of the French Fragrance Foundation, Jour D’Hermes (Best Feminine Fragrance in Selective Distribution) shared a podium with Invictus by Paco Rabanne (Best Masculine Fragrance in Selective Distribution). The Expert’s Award choices, from a committee of people from throughout the industry, honored Comme des Garcons Black and Tom Ford Private Blend Tobacco Oud. This kind of dichotomy gave rise to the Olfactorama Awards as a group of French bloggers thought they could do better and here is the list of perfumes they honored: Serge Lutens La Fille de Berlin, Hermes L’Eau de Narcisse Bleu, Vero Profumo Mito Voile D’Extrait, and Le Labo Ylang 49.

I look at those winners and can say that each list of winners represents its organization’s view point and as it is with the performing arts I am happy there are writer’s awards as there are industry-based awards. In my opinion the French Fragrance Foundation Expert’s Award is the one I respect the most because they really go the extra kilometer to gather a representative panel who all work very hard to come to consensus. The last two years has seen them honor fragrances I think would not have received any accolades at all.

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Which comes to the independent perfume movement particularly in the US. Ever since I have published a yearly Top 25 new perfumes list there have never been less than five indie perfumers represented on that list. The Fragrance Foundation made an attempt to recognize that community but through three iterations of that award it has gone, respectively, to Odin 06 Amanu, By Kilian Amber Oud, and this year to By Kilian Playing with the Devil. I like all of these perfumes but The Fragrance Foundation and I have very different ideas about what an indie perfume is. Which is why I am excited about the new The Institute for Art and Olfaction Awards which will name their winners on April 25, 2014. They have two categories with ten finalists in each. The Independent Category which honors privately-owned brands operated with the owner’s direct oversight and often employing professional perfumers.  Included in this year’s nominees are brands: Neela Vermeire Creations, Charenton Macerations, Friedemodin, and Yosh. The Artisan Category honors a perfumer-led business where the perfumer does everything from A-to-Z. The nominees are again another fine list which include Olympic Orchids, April Aromatics, Aether Arts, Imaginary Authors, and Mikmoi. All of the nominees are finally going to receive some attention that has been a long time in coming. The entire list of nominees can be found here.

If I was comparing these awards to those given out for motion pictures I would do it this way. The US Fragrance Foundation Awards are the Oscars. The French Fragrance Foundation Awards are the BAFTA’s. The Olfactorama Awards are The Golden Globes. The Institute of Art and Olfaction Awards are the Spirit Awards. What I believe is this kind of breadth of attention paid to the best of olfactory art Is a good thing and every perfume on any of the nomination lists as well as the winners should bask in the glow of the recognition of a jury of aficionados finding their perfume to be among the best of 2013. Just as it is with the movie awards I have my favorites I am rooting for but 2014 is the first year where every perfume I think was award worthy had a place where that could actually come true. That makes the entire perfume community winners.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Tom Ford Velvet Orchid- The TF All-Stars Make a Fragrance

I’ve always wondered how a perfume with multiple perfumers attached to it actually comes to be. I’m not talking about a collaboration of two that I think I understand. There are a number of fragrances which seemingly take a village to create. The latest fragrance to have me considering this is the new addition to the Tom Ford Signature Collection, Velvet Orchid.

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The TF All-Stars (Clockwise from upper left: M. Vasnier, Mme Becker, Mme Maisondieu, M. Maisondieu)

Karyn Khoury is in her accustomed position as creative director and she decided to convene a supergroup of perfumers to compose this flanker to the original Tom Ford Signature Fragrance, Black Orchid. My weird imagination even sees them on a stage, as The TF All-Stars, introducing themselves. On top notes we have Calice Becker, holding down the heart notes it’s Yann Vasnier and covering the base notes we have The Maisondieus, Shyamala and Antoine. I am pretty sure this kind of perfume by committee is not accomplished by doling out phases but I do wonder how all of these very competent perfumers managed to come together and make pretty darn good perfume worthy of being added to the Tom Ford Signature Collection.

The original Black Orchid is one of those fragrances that, when it was released in 2006, was a true gender bender as there were many men who wore it even though it was primarily marketed to women. I am one of those men as the central orchid accord in Black Orchid is surrounded by a very restrained floral followed by patchouli and sandalwood in the base. For Velvet Orchid The TF All-Stars were asked to create a “corporeal flower accord” to complement the original orchid accord. This group doesn’t just stop there as on top a fantastic rum and in the base vanilla take on prominent roles with the familiar notes from Black Orchid. It makes Velvet Orchid a traditionally pretty floral fragrance which is very good.

The same mandarin that was present in the original is on top in Velvet Orchid but now it is drizzled with honey and doused with a rum note called succan absolute. This makes for a sweetly boozy opening and one I really enjoyed. It leads to the same orchid accord that made up the heart of Black Orchid. Here is where The TF All-Stars decided to really turn this Velvet Orchid into a power ballad of florals as on top of the orchid comes a series of floral duets starting with Moroccan and Turkish rose, hyacinth and heliotrope, jasmine and jonquil. Throughout the heart of Velvet Orchid it is like trying to follow three simultaneous guitar solos which are miraculously also harmonizing. For much of Velvet Orchid it remains in this powerful floral refrain. Over a few hours a very subtle sweetness begins to swirl into the melody. First myrrh and sandalwood start off; a very refined suede and peru balsam rough it up a little but it sets the stage for a perfect vanilla note to provide the finish. It adds up to a decadent sweetness to leave one wanting more.

Velvet Orchid has all-day longevity and above average sillage.

I have always admired the Tom Ford Signature Collection for pushing the envelope in the mainstream fragrance space. It is why Velvet Orchid is a bit surprising in how it displays itself as very traditionally floriental. It isn’t groundbreaking or unusual but in its nod to the traditional The TF All-Stars manage to find a way to leave their very talented impressions in all the small moments throughout. Even though you might have heard this tune before this supergroup of perfumers have found a way to make it feel new again.  

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.

Mark Behnke