Olfactory Chemistry: Polycyclic Musks-What Clean Smells Like

One of the best things about science is it is always evolving and chemistry is no different. As a synthetic chemist I am always looking for the next new reaction that will allow me to easily make the next new molecules I am interested in. What is true for me as a medicinal chemist was also true for the chemists who worked in the fragrance industry. In the post-World War 2 economy there were a lot of chemical by-products being formed and clever chemists were using them to develop new plastics and pharmaceuticals and, yes, aromachemicals. Along with new chemical techniques allowing a chemist to make another ring of atoms fused to the same ring used in the nitro musks the polycyclic musks were born.

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In 1951, the first polycyclic musk was synthesized by Kurt Fuchs and it was called Phantolide. It didn’t have a very strong odor but it had incredible stability and ability to stay concentrated even in water it became a natural to be added to detergents as this would stick to the clothes after washing. This was the main use of polycyclic musks for many years until 1965 and the synthesis of Galaxolide by M.G.J. Beets at International Flavors and Fragrances. As you can see above Dr. Beets used the new synthetic methods to take the two groups on the right and cyclize them. His hypothesis was if he kept the oxygen in a similar spacing as it was in in Phantolide he might make an improvement, and he did. Galaxolide retained the stability and properties that made it a good detergent additive but it now also had a more concentrated odor profile and could also be used in perfumery. Perfumer Sophia Grojsman would end up using it in a 21% concentration in her masterpiece Lancome Tresor in 1990.

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This would open the door for other chemists to find other polycyclic musks and when you make the simple change of making the five-membered ring on the left of Phantolide a six-membered ring you get Fixolide. When you completely change the ring on the right-hand side of Phantolide you get Cashmeran. If you want to smell what these three molecules smell like together The Body Shop’s White Musk contains all of these. If you do that you will understand why these are referred to as the “clean” musks as they evolved from their beginnings as laundry detergent odorants to key components of the “clean and fresh” movement in perfume.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Jazmin Sarai Otis & Me, How You Love, Neon Graffiti, and Led IV- Songs in the Key of Scent

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One of my favorite things which happens in the background of my writing about perfume is one of the great reasons why I do it. I am often approached to try a young independent perfumer’s creations and to give my opinion. I am thrilled to offer any assistance I can especially to those who choose to try this on their own. This is how Dana El Masri and I have struck up an ongoing conversation on the perfumes she was working on. Her idea was to take a musical inspiration and turn it into a perfume. After her training at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery she knew the work necessary to see her ideas through to a finished product and it is very pleasing to see her dreams become reality. Her line is called Jazmin Sarai and she has assembled a very strong debut playlist.

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Dana El Masri

Otis & Me is inspired by Otis Redding’s “Cigarettes and Coffee” from 1966. Ms. El Masri wanted to capture an imaginary conversation between the wearer and Otis in a diner in the wee hours of the morning in a time when smoking was still permitted. What she has done quite brilliantly is to make a fragrance which rasps, like Mr. Redding’s voice, with a world-weary omniscience. It is surrounded with the richness of coffee and the haze of smoke. She blends black pepper, cardamom, and bergamot into a spicy grittiness which opens into a Turkish rose coated with incense over a rich coffee base. All of this is perhaps a bit too grand for a diner but one can’t be faulted for imagination, can they?

How You Love is inspired by Sade’s “It’s Only Love That Gets You Through” from 2000. This is the yin to Otis & Me’s raspy yang as How You Love is the smooth soulful voice that plumbs unexpected depths that Sade provides to her singing. Ms. El Masri uses cardamom again but this time a greener version of it and pairs it with grapefruit as we start on the high end of the olfactory scale. The heart notes drop an octave as Moroccan rose and Indian jasmine swirl together with a soulful harmony. The base notes drop into those low notes that become a trademark of Sade as How You Love uses sandalwood and musks but the really excellent choice is to capture it in a substrate of beeswax still redolent of the honey that recently surrounded it. This is the vocal range of Sade from high to delightful low.

Neon Graffiti is inspired by M.I.A.’s “Sunflowers” from 2004. When she first gave me this to try in an early version she told me to think of neon on wet cement. In that early mod there wasn’t enough crackle of electricity and the cement felt a bit lifeless. What has emerged as the finished product has none of those issues as there is a palpable sizzle of humming neon over damp cement. Ms. El Masri accomplishes this by using cardamom and grapefruit again but chilling them out with mint and ivy. Jasmine, mimosa, and sunflowers form a burst of rainbow florals and they are made neon bright by adding in juicy mango. The cement accord is ambrox, cedar, and incense and it is very well executed. Neon Graffiti feels like the fusion of disparate energies the best hip-hop provides.

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Led Zeppelin

Led IV is inspired by Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California” from 1971. Led IV is my favorite of this set of four fragrances and it because Ms. El Masri has perhaps made the first perfume which really captures the heart of rock and roll. One of the reasons this works so well is Ms. El Masri keeps it simple and lets each note contribute to the olfactory band. Grapefruit and bergamot are Robert Plant’s vocals brilliant and high. Davana provides the boozy guitar of Jimmy Page. John Paul Jones plucks the mandolin as patchouli wafts from the crowd and underneath John Bonham keeps the beat with guaiacwood and musks. Together this creates a perfect moody rock vibe that is unforgettable.

All four Jazmin Sarai perfumes have 6-8 hour longevity and modest sillage.

I’ve sort of known about the talent Ms. El Masri has had and have been keeping it to myself. With the release of these four fragrances she is ripe for discovery by everyone who loves perfume and music. She truly gets it. Now when are you going to finish that Hendrix one?

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Jazmin Sarai.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Amouage Journey Woman and Journey Man- The First Steps of the Second Cycle

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My admiration for Christopher Chong has been writ large across numerous reviews of the Amouage fragrances he is the Creative Director for. His vision has made Amouage into one of the great perfume houses of this century. I believe this collection he is responsible for creating has only peers, and damn few of them. Throughout my time corresponding with Mr. Chong and the influences which motivate him I have come to “know” him, though we have never actually met. With last year’s release of Fate Woman and Fate Man “the first cycle of the Amouage narrative” came to an end. Now with the release of Journey Woman and Journey Man we begin the second cycle which will delve into Mr. Chong’s life and is subtitled ‘Portraits of a Life’.

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Christopher Chong

Mr. Chong was inspired by Shanghai Deco and Chinese film noir. The common thread to both of these is a weaving of distinctly western elements into an eastern undertaking. During the 1920’s and 30’s there were many striking examples of art deco buildings erected in Shanghai. When I look at this purely western form of architecture it is striking to me how well it meshes with its eastern surroundings. There seems to be no disconnection. The same can be said of Chinese cinema over the last 100 years as it has evolved by adding its own flair to traditional movie tropes and then, interestingly to me, these new interpretations find their way back into Hollywood releases. This is the theme of Journey Woman and Man the meshing of distinct western influences like noir and deco with a Chinese aesthetic to create something wholly unique. The perfumers Mr. Chong chose to help him bring this to life are Alberto Morillas and Pierre Negrin.

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Shanghai Park Hotel

Journey Woman feels very Deco inspired to me as it has jasmine tea, saffron, cypriol, and osmanthus provide the eastern details on the solidity of the western foundation of honey, cedar, and tobacco. When I asked Mr. Chong what it was about Deco that drew him to it he responded, “my reason for loving it is quite simple. I love the form, shape, and the period.” As a result Journey Woman is a fragrance which carries an unusual simplicity for Amouage but the “form” and the “shape” of this perfume is fascinating for those clean architectural lines.

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The Paramount in Shanghai

Journey Woman might have the softest opening of any Amouage fragrance to date, based on the opening moments I would bet many would not suspect it was an Amouage fragrance. The top notes of jasmine tea, nutmeg, apricot, and osmanthus provide luxuriance without heft. It lilts and draws you in with the intersection of so many beautiful notes precisely positioned. Honey and jasmine provides a bit more volume as Journey Woman begins to arise from the early delicacy and now begins to take more shape. The honey in particular provides a matrix for the osmanthus to blossom upon and the jasmine tea transforms into jasmine sambac in all of its full indolic glory. Cedar is used to start refining the emerging shape into eventual form. The base notes achieve the melding of west and east as tobacco, saffron, vanilla, and cypriol all flow together into a smooth montage of both sets of influences.

I suspect many are going to be surprised at this light Amouage perfume. I would encourage you to not try Journey Woman with prior expectations weighing you down. Embrace this new beginning of the second cycle and you will be heartily rewarded.

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Maggie Cheung as actress Ruan Lingyiu in "Centre Stage"

If you need something a little more “Amouage” to help you start the second cycle Journey Man will provide that transition. Journey Man feels very cinematic to me it could even have a logo “composed in Technicolor”. Mr. Chong has been a fan of Chinese movies for his entire life and he wrote to me, “I was brought up with all kinds of Chinese Cinema…for me it means entertainment and family time.” It is an almost universal thing to sit in a movie theatre watching larger than life images and losing yourself in the story unspooling from the projector behind you. Journey Man unspools in larger than life accords of Sichuan pepper, neroli bigarade, juniper berries, along with the tobacco and cypriol we saw in Journey Woman.

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Bruce Lee

The use of the Sichuan pepper in the top notes of Journey Man may feel like it is in living color but it is also very Chinese. It is also the smell of home cooking to Mr. Chong I suspect which makes it appropriate to be the opening note. It is stirred in with a very green cardamom and an incredible neroli bigarade. This creates an interplay of shadow and light flickering to life. Shadow wins for a while as juniper berries and incense take over. Geraniol and rose push back against the twilight while a haze of tobacco hovers above it all. Journey Man tells most of its story right here and it is where it lingers on my skin for many hours as the olfactory chiaroscuro continues to evolve throughout the day. The base notes are a fit denouement as tonka, cyrpriol, and ambrox finish things off.

Journey Man is much more typical of what many have come to think of as an Amouage fragrance. I found it very comforting despite the characteristic intensity. I definitely felt this biopic of Mr. Chong’s life come to reality on the olfactory silver screen.

Journey Woman had 12-14 hour longevity and Journey Man 10-12 hour longevity on me. The sillage for both was average.

I am so looking forward to the remainder of the fragrances in this second cycle. As Lao Tzu says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Journey Woman and Journey Man have taken two confident steps into this new journey of Mr Chong’s and Amouage.

Disclosure: This review was based on bottles of Journey Woman and Journey Man provided by Amouage.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: BBQ

All great food has an olfactory element to it, to be sure. For me the type of food which carries the greatest fragrant punch is BBQ. When you think about it using a dry rub and smoking the meat is akin to perfuming it and just as there are different styles of perfume there are different styles of BBQ.

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Shorty's Bar-B-Q in S. Miami, FL

I started my life in, and have recently returned to, the southeast part of the US and the BBQ I grew up on is most often referred to as “Carolina BBQ”. One of my favorite restaurants as a child was Shorty’s where I would valiantly try and put away a basket of ribs slathered in the characteristic vinegar-based tangy bbq sauce. I always remember breathing in deeply when the ribs were delivered to the table to smell the smoke and the spices cooked into the meat. Carolina BBQ is almost always pork based and besides the ribs, pulled pork is the other specialty of the region.

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Mesquite Charcoal

Texas BBQ is beef based and it is the brisket which is the cut of choice. There are beef ribs but it is the meatier brisket which makes Texas BBQ special. I always think of Texas BBQ as sauce and smoke, but it’s mostly the smoke. They pioneered the use of mesquite wood chips as part of the smoking process to add an extra layer of flavor. This has expanded to all kind of exotic hardwoods all adding a unique flavor to the meat. The 2014 World Championship Barbecue Cooking Championship is happening this weekend in Memphis, TN and I always look to see what woods the winners are using. Besides the stand-bys of hickory, oak, and mesquite; I’ve seen applewood, maple, mulberry, and my favorite, whiskey barrel. I am waiting for someone to take a shot with oud some year.

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Kansas City Style BBQ Sauce

Texas BBQ is sauce and smoke, Kansas City BBQ is all about the sauce. The base of it is ketchup and molasses but after that the variations are endless. This is the sauce the majority of people identify as BBQ sauce and what you find on your supermarket shelf. I like to add chipotle and a secret ingredient a friend told me about, tamarind paste. This gives my BBQ sauce a bit of citrusy top note over the sweet and spicy.

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Racks of Ribs with Dry Rub on them

I may have grown up on Carolina BBQ but my favorite version is Memphis BBQ. That is mainly because through my love of perfume I have come to love spices, too. We are fortunate to have an outpost of Penzey’s Spices near where we live. Every visit there is as enjoyable as a visit to a perfume counter, for me. I spend time going through the ingredients looking for new things to cook with. By using a dry rub for Memphis BBQ you trim the fat off your rack of ribs and then rub in your spice mixture. The composition of the best dry rubs are as closely guarded as the formula of Coca-Cola. The final step after the meat has aged a few hours with the dry rub is to cook it in a smoker and then serve it off the grill right away.

I thought I would share my recipe for my dry rub with y’all if you are feeling adventurous:

Colognoisseur Coca-Cola Coffee Dry Rub

1 tablespoon ground coffee

1 tablespoon coca-cola

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

2 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika

2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder

1 teaspoon celery seed

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl it will have a slightly sticky quality due to the coca-cola and brown sugar. To a trimmed full rack of ribs rub it all over and coat both sides of the rack. Once you are done wrap it in plastic wrap and let it sit for four hours at room temperature. Then take them out and either grill them or bake them in the oven.

It shouldn’t surprise you that after I finish BBQ’ing I often look longingly at the spicy section of the perfume vault. Where I can add my own fragrant “sauce” to myself.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Davidoff Cool Water- Aquatic Alpha

The aquatic class of fragrance has been so overexposed it has become a caricature of itself. When a man asks for something “fresh and clean” at a department store counter today he is likely to be sprayed with an aquatic fragrance. By the late 1980’s it was time for a change from the hairy chested powerhouses which dominated men’s fragrance and the perfume which would change things for over twenty-five years, and counting now, was released. That scent was Davidoff Cool Water by perfumer Pierre Bourdon.

Davidoff-Cool-Water

Back in the late 1980’s at the nightclub the fragrance of choice for most men was either Calvin Klein Obsession for Men, Drakkar Noir, or Ralph Lauren Polo. All of these are great fragrances and hold their own place within perfume’s timeline. None of those would be defined as fresh or clean. It is why when Davidoff allowed Pierre Bourdon to try and capture the smell of cool water it was a huge risk. It turned out the timing was just right as Cool Water became a gigantic success. That success caught most perfume companies flat footed and it was almost a year before Cool Water began to see any competition. In the overcrowded field of fragrance that fresh and clean aquatic perfume occupies it is surprising to me how much this original template has been used. Even more amusing is that there are few aquatics which can stand up to the original and every time I wear it I am reminded of what a game-changer this was. Now it can be found for less than $25 in many places.

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Pierre Bourdon

Cool Water has one of my favorite openings of any fragrance I own. The first fifteen minutes is pure bliss for me as M. Bourdon takes a bracing lavender and twists it with coriander, rosemary, orange blossom, and peppermint. That inclusion of the last note has an effect of making the rest of it feel like an icy cold splash of water hitting you right between the eyes. It has a vibrational energy I just feel every time I spray it on. The heart notes are a variation on this, as green floral is again called for, but it is achieved differently as jasmine and oakmoss are the flower and the green. A bit of geranium bridges the floral and the green and sandalwood is made sweeter for the jasmine being present. If the top was fresh the heart is where clean comes into play and it has a less flamboyant way of making its point. The base notes are amber and musk and M. Bourdon keeps them very light in keeping with what has led to them. The first few time I wore Cool Water I kept expecting these notes to get more intense but M. Bourdon was once again creating the new trend.

Cool Water has 8-10 hour longevity on me and above average sillage.

Of every perfume I wear Cool Water is the leader for eliciting unsolicited compliments. I have had both genders and all ages hand out the coveted “You smell good!” to me when I am wearing this. It is a true classic which has stood the test of time and was inducted into The Fragrance Foundation Hall of Fame in 2009. I could rue the scads of imitators it has spawned but I wouldn’t want to have a perfume collection which didn’t include Cool Water in it. As we approach the summer months here in the Northern Hemisphere it is Cool Water’s season to shine in. You can be sure it will be brightening up more than a few of my summer days. For $25 you not only get a Discount Diamond you also get one of the true masterpieces of perfume.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Jardins D’Ecrivains Junky- Tripping on a Scent

In the 1950’s America was coming to grips with its status in a post-war world and most were buying into the American Dream. The goal of this was to get a 9-to-5 job, a house in the new housing developments growing around the major cities, and to start a family. This drive to have all of these things has persisted to this day even though it is more difficult to achieve presently. Right from the beginning there was a group of artists who rebelled at this nascent straitjacket of conformity. One of the earliest groups of non-conformists was called The Beat Generation and one of its prominent members was author William S. Burroughs. His 1959 novel “The Naked Lunch” along with Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” and Alan Ginsberg’s “Howl” are the exemplars most cited as the works which capture this desire to break free of the confines of The American Dream. Perfumer Anais Biguine of Jardins D’Ecrivains has been releasing perfumes based on literary inspirations and she chose Mr. Burroughs’ earlier work Junky as the name of her newest release.

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William S. Burroughs (Photo: Evening Standard/Getty Images)

As a piece of literature Junky was an unflinching view of the life of an addict who in the most powerful passage in the book compares heroin addiction to “an inoculation of death”. This was a vivid contrast to the early hysteria over drug use typified by movies like “Reefer Madness”. Junky was succinct prose describing something unknowable to a non-addict. Mme Biguine when composing the fragrance named after this source material also chose to go for a spare construction with a burst of floral pleasure around slightly edgy and narcotic top and base notes.

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Anais Biguine

Junky opens on a fantastic combination of galbanum and hemp. The hemp gives the intense green quality of galbanum a viscous coating and creates an edgy nervous feeling to the early moments of Junky. The heart is the moment of euphoria as iris, violet, and gardenia form a heady triptych that shed the nervy opening for a moment of floral pleasure. I am partial to all three of these notes and Mme Biguine weaves them into a purely pleasurable moment of joy. That joy decays into a base of darker notes as vetiver, frankincense, myrrh, and cade bring you back to reality. I especially like the use of the cade here for recapitulating the green edginess of the top notes in an alternative way.

Junky has 8-10 hour longevity on my skin with modest sillage.

junky cover

Mme Biguine has not shied away from interpreting some of literature’s renegades in fragrant form. I have been impressed with all the fragrances she has produced to date but Junky has done the best at capturing the source material. Using a beloved and cherished source material like Junky sets it up to be disappointing to some if it fails to capture what each person believes is important about that work. I admit of all the things Mme Biguine has translated to fragrance this was the one I had the most personal feeling about. At least for me she nailed the feel of the book with a laconically slightly dangerous fragrance. Junky is everything I could’ve asked for in a fragrance with this name on the bottle.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Bottega Veneta Essence Aromatique-

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One thing I am certain of in the vast wasteland of designer fragrances if there is not a Creative Director who understands the “je ne sais quois” of the brand it is the first step to a poor perfume representing that name. One of the good examples of what to do right comes courtesy of Bottega Veneta and the Creative Director Tomas Maier. Hr. Maier has presided over the resurgence of this luxury brand after Tom Ford appointed him to this post in 2001 after Gucci bought it. His vision has consisted of four guiding principles of high-quality materials, timeless design, modern functionality, and extraordinary craftsmanship. Bottega Veneta does not use a logo but instead relies on a distinctive woven pattern which finds its way onto everything they produce. When it comes to the fragrance all of the four principles are on display and since 2011 with the release of Bottega Veneta this has been one of the more recent successes within the designer fragrance space. As his craftsman Hr. Maier has chosen perfumer Michel Almairac who has composed four of the five releases. The most recent release Essence Aromatique holds up the other three principles as they use the timeless design of a cologne, add in high-quality essential oils, and make this feel completely contemporary.

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Tomas Maier (Photo: Matteo Volta)

In the press material Hr. Maier explained that he wanted Essence Aromatique be “an unexpected crisp cologne that lingers like the essence of understated confidence” of whomever is wearing it. To create this cologne M. Almairac went for a traditional opening, a floral heart, and ends with a very modern “amber” to create what they call an “ambery cologne”. I have been pleasantly surprised at how well this works as I have enjoyed wearing this very much.

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Michel Almairac

The traditional opening is citrus matched with herbal and M. Almairac chooses bergamot and coriander as his pairing. I really like the choice of coriander as it adds a bit of bite to the bergamot and makes the opening bracing, as a good cologne should be. The heart is a well-chosen Turkish rose whose spicy undertones complement the coriander perfectly. Patchouli picks up where the coriander leaves off and it all leaves a very sophisticated rose accord in place. Sandalwood anchors the base and vanilla tilts it to the sweeter side. This is where Essence Aromatique gets modern as this is not a traditional cologne finish it has a little more depth and persistence than the traditional cologne base notes.

Essence Aromatique has 8-10 hour longevity but half of that is really the sandalwood vanilla base and how much you like that will inform your enjoyment of this cologne. I liked it quite a bit and so it worked well for me. The sillage is average.

As I’ve mentioned before we are in a Colognaissance and Essence Aromatique is another example of talented creative people taking a venerable form and finding a way to simultaneously honor it and, yet, adapt it for the present day. Essence Aromatique accomplishes this as well as holding up the cornerstone principles of the brand. This is why the Bottega Veneta fragrance line is a cut above their competitors on the department store shelf.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample of Essence Aromatique provided by Bottega Veneta.

Mark Behnke  

Tom Ford 101: Five to Get You Started

The idea for this series came when I took a friend to the Tom Ford fragrance boutique at Bergdorf-Goodman. His eyes began to spin and he looked at me with the silent plea of, “Where do I start?” I realized that, as I did that day, I could help others navigate the mega-collections that are out there.

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Tom Ford

Tom Ford, on the fragrance end, has been a mix of trendsetter and the ad campaigns have been provocative; needlessly provocative some would say. Do a search and you can make up your own mind on the PR side of things. On the fragrance side of things this is an overall very strong collection which is split into two different tiers. The Signature Collection comprises the mainstream releases and can be found at most of the masstige store chains. The Private Blend Collection is more exclusive and carries a price to match that exclusivity. There are currently 10 scents in the signature Collection and 29 Private Blends. Here is where I think you should start.

Black Orchid was the first fragrance release, in 2006, by the new Tom Ford Beauty. Tom Ford would join forces with Karen Khoury as Creative Directors on the fragrance side, a partnership which continues to the present day. Perfumers David Apel and Pierre Negrin perfected an exotic orchid accord at the heart. The top notes pierce it with a ray of citrus sunshine and it takes root in a base of incense, sandalwood, and patchouli. Marketed to women I have turned so many men onto this it is one of my favorite gender bender fragrances.

A year later the Private Blends would arrive and Tobacco Vanille would start a trend of ultra-rich tobacco fragrances. Perfumer Olivier Gillotin uses the leaves and the flower of tobacco to create a narcotic hypnotic heart. Spices pick up the dried leafy quality of the tobacco but a precision tuned vanilla paired with benzoin coaxes the sweet undercurrent to the foreground and makes this the ultimate comfort scent.

Harry Fremont

Harry Fremont

Grey Vetiver was released in 2009 as part of the Signature Collection and was composed by perfumer Harry Fremont. This might be the easiest to wear vetiver fragrance on the market. Citrus and sage opens into a floral heart of orris and nutmeg before vetiver, amber, and oakmoss combine for a fantastic finish. Grey Vetiver is one of my favorite suggestions for a workplace perfume as it is very interesting without being so extroverted to make people take unusual notice.

Perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux is one of the most amazing perfumers when to comes to taking a floral note you think you know well and illuminating things you’ve never noticed before. In 2011 he did this with jasmine in the Private Blend, Jasmin Rouge. M. Flores-Roux takes an unapologetically whole jasmine with all of its skanky indoles in place and surrounds it with clary sage, cardamom, and a gorgeous cinnamon. This transforms the jasmine into something completely different than I am used to wearing.  All of this is on a leather and vanilla foundation. This is as sophisticated as jasmine gets in a perfume.

There is no triter note in perfume than lavender it has been used and abused in too many cheap compositions. Perfumer Yann Vasnier completely rehabilitates that reputation with the Private Blend Lavender Palm. By using the two sources of lavender together and expertly blending them with clary sage, fizzing aldehydes, moss, and resins; Lavender Palm feels like that kid from the wrong side of the tracks who has become a big success. This has become my summer lavender staple since its release.

As I mentioned above the Signature Collection can easily be found at upscale department stores. The Private Blends are more exclusive but still quite widely available.

Disclosure: I purchased bottles of all the fragrances mentioned.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review ERH1012 DeadofNight- Spectacular Sustainability

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I love being surprised and on the second day of Sniffapalooza Spring Fling I got a surprise when I stopped at MiN New York. Mindy Yang the co-owner of the apothecary asked me what I thought of the new DeadofNight. I admitted I didn’t know what that was and she handed me a roll-on to test it out with. I rolled it on my wrist and for the next twenty-four hours I rekindled my love of oud. I also spent that time learning about the entity behind DeadofNight, ERH1012.

Helena-Christensen

Helena Christensen

ERH1012 is a collaboration of Elizabeth Gaynes the founder of Gaia One. Gaia One is a company devoted to developing sustainable plantations to supply the flavors and fragrance industries. Borneo’s Balung River Plantation is the first of the Gaia One farms. From that farm the key ingredient of DeadofNight was harvested; a sustainable oud from planted agarwood trees. The harvesting of the oud will be like harvesting grapes at a vineyard as each year’s climatic conditions will lead to variations and will make for its use in each year’s small batch an evolving enterprise all around. The creative director for ERH1012 is supermodel Helena Christensen. Her friendship with Ms. Gaynes, her 20-year fashion career, and her work as photographer for Oxfam makes her ideal to guide the creation of DeadofNight. The perfumer she would be working with is Christophe Laudamiel. M. Laudamiel is one of the elite perfumers working today and can straddle the commercial and the artistic simultaneously. This is a team dedicated to making this inaugural fragrance something special and they do. (UPDATE: In an e-mail from Ms. Gaynes she let me know that perfumer Jacques Cavallier first worked with this oud oil and created the first mods for DeadofNight. M. Laudamiel used these as his starting point and attributes this as a co-creation of both perfumers.)

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Christophe Laudamiel

First choice was to make DeadofNight a perfume oil, very concentrated, and for this fragrance it is completely appropriate as a drop at a pulse point is all you want. DeadofNight is a personal olfactory journey and only those who are allowed close will share it with you. M. Laudamiel takes this new source of oud and combines the chill of violet leaf, a mere hint of floral notes and a woody musky amber at the base. Throughout the new oud preens like a precocious child.  

DeadofNight opens with the oud displaying its wares. As this is a new source of oud this has a less prickly quality as more aged versions of oud have. The oud oil used here was distilled multiple times to end up with a very concentrated fraction and that gives it power without the rough edges. M. Laudamiel uses the green character of violet leaf to pull at the rawer woody facets of oud. Early on in its development this has a plushness to it that I have rarely experienced in an oud-centric fragrance. As many of you know rose is oud’s natural partner and usually it is used as an equal in composition containing both of these. In DeadofNight M. Laudamiel hints at that as very modest applications of rose and jasmine whisper across the face of the oud. Some of my favorite oud oils have a latent floral character and this oud also has it and by using jasmine and rose as genteel complementary notes that floralcy is allowed to bloom. This phase of DeadofNight has an almost heartbreaking fragility that lasts for hours on my skin. It feels so tenuous that at any moment it will disappear but it lingers enticing me to pull my wrist to my nose again and again. Many hours after first applying DeadofNight the creamy woodiness of sandalwood signals a languid pace of development into the base as amber and white musk mix to form a sedately beautiful coda to a full day’s olfactory pleasure.

DeadofNight has 24-hour longevity and is a skin scent with no appreciable sillage.

The combination of new source of oud and master perfumer with Ms. Chrtistensen’s innate sense of style have all combined to create a singular beauty. DeadofNight exhibits beauty from head-to-toe much like Ms. Christensen continues to do. DeadofNight is oud as only M. Laudamiel can do it which means it is among the very best oud scents you can find anywhere.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle of DeadofNight I purchased.

DeadofNight can be purchased exclusively at MiN New York or via the ERH1012 website.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Atelier Cologne Blanche Immortelle & Santal Carmin

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There are few brands I admire more for understanding both their brand identity and their customer than Atelier Cologne. In just four years the Owners and Creative Directors, Sylvie Ganter and Christophe Cervasel, have shown an innate knowledge of how to stay true to a vision and allow an audience to come to meet that vision. For those who are unfamiliar with that vision in 2010 they created a perfume formulation that they dubbed “cologne absolue”. The concept was to take classic cologne architecture and to increase the perfume oil concentration for a longer lasting experience. By doing this they also turned the idea of cologne from something fleeting and ephemeral to something with foundation and depth. Throughout the thirteen releases they have explored all manner of keynotes and how to create a cologne of lightness or darkness. There is no perfume line which I look more forward to trying what is next than this one because of this dedication to their ideals.

Jerome-Epinette

Jerome Epinette

I just spent the last week wearing the two new releases from Atelier Cologne, Blanche Immortelle and Santal Carmin. Both of these display all of the strengths of a brand operating at the top of its game. I also like that one is a crowd pleaser and the other takes a note that is less loved but both succeed brilliantly. Perfumer Jerome Epinette contributes his ninth and tenth compositions for Atelier Cologne and I believe that is another strength as M. Epinette intrinsically gets the concept of cologne absolue and executes it flawlessly.  

Blanche Immortelle is as the name promises White Immortelle. M. Epinette creates a softly glowing immortelle fragrance. Immortelle is a divisive note among perfume lovers as its characteristic maple syrup-like quality can be treacly and cloying in overdose. I am one who likes his immortelle as intense as he can get it but I was looking forward to seeing what M. Epinette would do. Immortelle is one of those notes that is fractious to work with because it is so easy for it to get out of balance. M. Epinette places it as a central pivot between a sunny group of top notes and a rich woody grouping of base notes and keeps it positioned perfectly as to intensity.

Blanche Immortelle opens with a burst of summertime light as bergamot, mandarin, and mimosa flare to life. This is as traditional a cologne opening as you could ask for. The immortelle arises and shreds tradition. Immortelle by itself often is too thin a note and it needs support from other floral notes it is that support which often makes it too sweet for many. M. Epinette uses jasmine and Turkish rose to support the immortelle but yet not so much that it ever becomes heavy. The immortelle darts in and out amongst the bright top notes like a buzzing bee with a bit of the same energy as that metaphorical bee. Here is where Blanche Immortelle remains for many hours on my skin. Very slowly vetiver, patchouli, and sandalwood exert their influence and turn Blanche Immortelle from sunny day into cool twilight.

Sylvie-Ganter-Christophe-Cervasel

Christophe Cervasel and Sylvie Ganter

Santal Carmin is a pure crowd pleaser of a fragrance as M. Epinette takes a heart of sandalwood and as he did with Blanche Immortelle open with bright top notes and closes with deeper base notes. The difference is sandalwood as a cologne ingredient is better known. That means M. Epinette needs to add a bit of a twist to the phases that surround that more familiar heart.

Bergamot and limette comprise the first notes of Santal Carmin and then M. Epinette adds saffron which entwines itself among the citrus and turns it into something wholly exotic. He also does this without sacrificing the traditional bracing opening of cologne it just feels like something rare and precious. The sandalwood used in Santal Carmin is the variety harvested in New Caledonia and I like it for its desiccated quality over some of the creamier aspects of other sources of sandalwood. M. Epinette adds a white musk to define the aridity of the wood at the heart of Santal Carmin. The sweeter facets require some coaxing out and the use of vanilla in the base does bring out the inherent sweetness of the sandalwood and papyrus adds a bit of green to go along with the sweet which helps attenuate the extreme dryness of the wood.

Blanche Immortelle and Santal Carmin have 12-14 hour longevity on me and average sillage.

I suspect that Santal Carmin will be the more popular of these two new Atelier Cologne releases and it is a great cologne as the summer approaches. For me I am really looking forward to wearing Blanche Immortelle as I won’t have to wait until fall to enjoy one of my favorite notes. In any case if you have been a fan of Atelier Cologne they continue producing high quality perfumes. If you want a place to start this pair is a good place to discover a brand that has never wavered from their quality and their ideal.

Disclsoure: This review was based on press samples provided by Atelier Cologne.

Mark Behnke