New Perfume Review Memo French Leather- Before Sunrise

I don’t know why I am having such strong evocations of some of my favorite movies as I smell new perfumes lately. Get ready the latest release from Memo called French Leather has me seeing a particular movie every time I wear it. The seeds of the connection were planted when I was speaking with John Molloy, the co-founder of Memo, at Pitti Fragranze in September. He only had enough for me to test on a strip and a bit of skin. As we spoke we came up with the idea of a young Parisienne walking along the Seine late at night in a leather skirt holding a rose she received earlier in the evening. French Leather was the scent of a young sophisticate who has things to say while looking equally as fashionable. Even as I sniffed at my wrist throughout the day at Pitti I knew there was someone in my memory banks trying to claim this fragrance as her own. It wasn’t until I actually had a sample and wore it for a day that it finally made itself clear to me. French Leather is the scent of Celine of Art Linklater’s 1995 movie “Before Sunrise”.

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Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) in "Before Sunrise"

For those unfamiliar with the movie an American, Jesse, and Celine meet on a train. Jesse is heading to Vienna to fly back to the States. Celine is returning to Paris to continue her university studies. Jesse convinces her to stay with him in Vienna, until his flight leaves the next morning, and they spend the night walking and talking. Actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy portray two adults still trying to figure out what their future holds for them. Both of them speak as only a scriptwriter can provide for them. Even so the actors are so charming it has always been a favorite movie of mine. Celine is a young woman who enjoys her youth while still holding on to a romantic ideal of what her future might be. French Leather is that mix of the insouciance of youth over the development of a sophisticated adult. Creative Director Clara Molloy and perfumer Alienor Massenet have made a rose and leather perfume that exudes playfulness and elegance in equal measures.

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Alienor Massenet

Few notes will do a better job of providing a bit of fun than the lime note which opens French Leather. After speaking with M. Molloy lime was not what I expected to be the first thing I smelled. Mme Massenet’s lime is that quirky smile from a smart woman who clearly has a sense of humor. It is made even more vibrant by the addition of juniper berry and pink pepper. They provide the intelligence underneath the laughter. The heart is the passion of our imaginary young woman as a full-blooded rose wears itself on its sleeve. It is very extroverted as it is expansive and for a good while it is the rose which you smell. Eventually you find a bit of herbal green quality which comes from clary sage. The sage is an announcement that the leather is on its way.  Mme Massenet uses a refined leather accord, the kind which would be used to make an article of clothing like a skirt. She then uses styrax, vetiver, and musk to provide textural contrast. The rose is still going strong as the leather accord takes some time to resolve itself and eventually stand tall. The last few hours are the smell of the rose and leather together.

French Leather has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Memo is one of my favorite perfume lines because Mmes Molloy and Massenet have formed a fabulous partnership which has created one of the standout collections in all of perfumery. French Leather is another excellent addition to the brand.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine- Hallmark Channel Countdown to Christmas

One of the really wonderful things about this time of year is I think even the most Scrooge-y of us allow the opportunity for hope to catch a foothold. People smile more freely at each other. Because I wear a Santa hat from the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas I might get a few more of those than others. One of the things that happens during the season that has stealthily found a foothold in my heart is something else which takes place from Thanksgiving through Christmas, the Hallmark Channel Countdown to Christmas.

Starting on the weekend after Thanksgiving the Hallmark Channel shows made-for-tv movies about Christmas 24/7. The movies are all sweet fables about the season with happy endings and I find myself shedding a tear or two more often that I’d readily admit. These are as schmaltzy as ugly Christmas sweater contests but they carry that unfashionable emotion so unapologetically it makes it cool.

There are many common themes which crop up in multiple movies. There are lots of department stores in trouble but because they understand the meaning of Christmas they persevere and thrive by the time the end credits roll. Santa is trying to pass on the family business to his son and his progeny has to leave the North Pole to find his happiness so he can take over for Dad. He does and Christmas is saved. Many city dwellers are thrust into rustic surroundings with equally charming Holiday traditions which make the fish out of water character flail about helplessly until one of the townspeople, of the opposite sex, shows them the magic of Christmas. Love is what Christmas is all about. The non-believer being made to believe. Besides Santa’s son a few elves make their way into the world to share North Pole wisdom. There are angels aplenty helping spread joy. There are at least two movies which represent each of those descriptions I listed above. Originality is not the goal; feeling good is; and familiarity helps make that happen a little easier.

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The movies cover a lot of time and they are fun because each one is a little time capsule. Just watching the evolution of cell phones over the course of watching the movies is a source of amusement. The hot young stars of the moment are the actors most often used. This leads to a game in our household where Mrs. C and I try and remember what show they were on when they were in the film. IMDB and Wikipedia are our arbiters on who remembered best.

Because this is Hallmark Channel they could be way more egregious in how they use their captive audience. So far this year I have only seen one clear cross-promotion. The little commercials about using a card to mark a special occasion with the tag line “Life is Special” are almost 60-second versions of the movies they are giving us a break from. I applaud Hallmark for getting that a viewer doesn’t need to be bombarded and keeping their merchandising low key.

Especially over the last two weeks leading up to Christmas I can say that Hallmark Channel is what we are watching if the television is on. It has become as much a part of my Holiday season as egg nog and mistletoe. When you need a break flip over to Hallmark Channel and take a two-hour break with an uplifting story about Christmas.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review CB I Hate Perfume M6 Do Not Ask Me Why- Opium Den

One of my favorite movies is Sergio Leone’s 1984 release “Once Upon a Time in America”. In the director’s cut version of the movie the lead character Noodles played by actor Robert De Niro retreats to an opium den after a tragedy. The final shot of the movie is of Noodles in that opium den with a smile on his face. One interpretation of the movie is everything we see in the movie from the point Noodles starts puffing on the pipe is his hallucination. The power of opium to inspire artistic endeavors is well-known. Perfumer Christopher Brosius was fascinated with how opium while destructive to the person using it might also inspire an open creativity. Jean Cocteau struggled with an addiction to opium throughout the 1920’s and that experience would inform much of his output for the rest of his life.  In the press materials Mr. Brosius asks the obvious question: “Why would an artist choose so destructive a medium to enable such visions no matter how fabulous or sublime? Why is a poet compelled to write or an artist to create? Cocteau himself best answered that question in the subtitle of his final work: Do not ask me why.” Mr. Brosius wanted to make a perfume which captures the reportedly “hauntingly beautiful” smell of opium smoke and it is the sixth entry in the Metamorphosis series M6 Do Not Ask Me Why.

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Christopher Brosius

Mr. Brosius is at his best as a perfumer when he chooses to try and interpret something as unusual as opium smoke. M6 Do Not Ask Me Why works as a simple construction of narcotic white flowers over spice and smoke. If opium smoke does carry a floral scent to it, and neither I nor Mr. Brosius has experienced the real thing, using white flowers seems almost logical. I refer to the depth of many of these as narcotic all the time. It is because they are strong but also mesmerizing in the way they display unseen levels beneath the obvious floralcy. By using a grouping of white flowers the central floral accord is never identifiable as just one. Instead it forms something it is difficult to tear your attention away from. I think that there is jasmine, narcissus, and tuberose in this accord. There might be more but this is what I think I detect. Mr. Brosius has balanced whatever the notes used so well it seems supernatural, almost its own opium dream of a hallucinatory flower. The remaining notes are a very ephemeral foundation of smoke and spice. After having this on my skin for a few hours like intermittent puffs the spicy smoke glides across the florals only to seemingly disappear again. Only very late in the development do they have enough presence to stick around on a more permanent basis.

M6 Do Not Ask Me Why as a water perfume has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Mr. Brosius has lived up to his self-imposed goal of making a “hauntingly beautiful” floral perfume. I don’t know if this is what opium smoke really smells like. I only know that this is something I do want to smell like. Do not ask me why.

Dsiclosure: This review was based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Parfums de Nicolai Cuir Cuba Intense- Memories of Domino Park

Growing up in Miami in the 1960’s was a wonderful experience for me. One of the big reasons was the Cuban exile community known as Little Havana was a bicycle ride from my front door. Once I would make the turn onto Calle Ocho it was like crossing an invisible border as the signs were all in Spanish and the people on the street weren’t speaking English. I was very slowly learning a hybrid of Spanish and English which allowed me to communicate. In South Florida it is called Spanglish and it developed into its own dialect similar to Creole French around New Orleans. My destination most days was Domino Park. Over the course of a few months I had been taught the game and developed an aptitude for it. I was given a nickname by most of the older men “El Joven”. As I became a better player I felt there was a real pride in the men who had been my teachers. A roar of laughter would go up when I slapped my final tile down with a cry of victory. As much as I enjoyed playing the game the smells of the park were equally as exotic. Many of the players smoked cigars. I always stopped to pick up a serving of flan. If you asked me to describe the smell of Domino Park I would say it was cigars and flan. Perfumer Patricia de Nicolai must have channeled my memories because her latest release Parfums de Nicolai Cuir Cuba Intense captures that mix of caramel dessert and freshly rolled cigars almost perfectly.

Mme de Nicolai has been creating perfume under her Parfums de Nicolai brand for twenty-five years. She is part of the Guerlain bloodline but she has forged her own distinctive identity almost from the start. One of those first releases, New York, is still one of my favorite perfumes of all-time. From that auspicious start she has created over 50 perfumes and it is a collection that has never been afraid to take risks. Mme de Nicolai, according to the press release, was inspired by the smell of a cigar box. That cigar box must have been close to a jar of licorice and caramels because Cuir Cuba Intense matches the tobacco with those gourmand facets for much of its development. The promised leather is only around in a very transparent way.

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Patricia de Nicolai

Cuir Cuba Intense begins with a double dose of licorice as Mme de Nicolai uses anise and licorice as the focal note for the top notes. Lemon and mint are around to add a bit of context but the early moments are all licorice. The list of notes show the heart to be full of floral notes but of all the ones listed magnolia is the most prominent. The burnt caramel accord is constructed of coriander, sage, hay, and liatrix. This is the smell of cooked caramel and it comes together in a mouth-watering way. Mme de Nicolai adds in a bit of orthogonal cumin. For me it is the smell of sweat on a S. Florida day. It is noticeable and if you are cumin averse it could pull you out of the spell Cuir Cuba Intense is weaving. Thr liatrix is a great choice to use as a raw material because it has a very high coumarin content and along with the other contents in the essential oil it also has a bit of tobacco character as well. Tobacco absolute forms that smell of freshly rolled cigars and patchouli adds depth to it. Musk and civet form the leather accord but it is a supporting player in this perfume not as prominent as you might expect from a fragrance with cuir in the name.

Cuir Cuba Intense has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

For the last twenty-five years Mme de Nicolai has been forging her own language of perfume. With Cuir Cuba Intense she has fused the worlds of French perfumery and Latin America charm into a delightful ride to my memory of Domino Park.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Guerlain French Kiss & Santal Royal- Ending 2014 with a Whimper

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Last week in one of the perfume groups I participate in one of the members listed the twenty releases from Guerlain in 2014. When I looked at it as a group it was startling to see the message those twenty releases sent. It showed that, at least for 2014, Guerlain and perfumer Thierry Wasser seemed to be interested in trying to cater to a much younger clientele. There were La Petite Robe Noire flankers. A Shalimar stripped of most of its challenging facets. L’Homme Ideal failed on almost every level. Teracotta Le Parfum was the lone bright point and a fantastic new addition. As the year wound down there were two last releases I had hope for. The latest addition to the Elixir Charnel series called French Kiss and Santal Royal. Both of these were examples of that which surrounded them this year and hewed to this less challenging aesthetic Guerlain seems to be courting.

French Kiss has been summed up in a simple surface one-liner as a niche version of La Petite Robe Noire. If it was, in fact, this I would have welcomed that. La Petite Robe Noire is a beautifully done mass-market perfume which Guerlain does well. I’m not sure it is deserving of the number of flankers it has been saddled with since its release five years ago. Then again neither does Shalimar. French Kiss is a little more daring than La Petite Robe Noire as I think M. Wasser understood he could add a little more. As a result the cherry becomes raspberry and it is paired with a super sweet lychee. This makes the opening moments very sweet. It will probably be a bit too much for some. The heart is a wonderful pairing of rose and violet which seem to imperiously sweep away that saccharine beginning. Iris broadens the floral heart and this is where French Kiss is at its most appealing. The finish is trademark Guerlinade. If French Kiss came from a different perfume company I would cut it a lot more slack but as a it comes from Guerlain it is disappointing for not pushing the envelope a little more. French Kiss has 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.

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Thierry Wasser

Santal Royal is just something that misses the mark by a mile. The press release says Santal Royal will be a deep dark oriental of sandalwood and oud. It is supposed to be “shrouded in mystery”. Instead it is all too obvious in construction and pedestrian. It opens on a whisper of jasmine and neroli which strengthens into a solid note of rose paired with cinnamon. It leads to a very common leather accord which is matched up with the sandalwood and the oud. This felt so much like “perfume by numbers” as there is absolutely nothing here which is special. It is not terrible but it is just so lacking in any imagination that it is surprising. The other thing about this is it lasts much less that I expected on my skin only getting about 8 hours out of my morning application with modest sillage.

I don’t think we will be looking back at 2014 as a watershed year for Guerlain as the last two releases were as uninspiring as the previous seventeen except for Terracotta Le Parfum.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle The Night- Please Allow Me To Introduce Myself…

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Ever since oud was introduced to the west a little over fifteen years ago it has become one of the most used ingredients in perfumery over that time. Especially over the last five years there has been a virtual wave of oud perfumes. The funny thing is most people who have worn those perfumes have never smelled the real thing. Most often it is either one of the synthetic ouds or cypriol/nagarmotha as a substitute in those perfumes. The real oud is so expensive to source, and create, the real stuff is difficult to find. I have spent a lot of time over the past few years buying direct from Asian sources to acquire a little of the real thing. Real oud is one of the most fascinating substances a perfumer can use. What region it comes from, how old the tree being harvested is, how long the oil has aged, all have an effect on its profile. For those of you who want to try real oud the opportunity has arrived with the release of the new Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle The Night by perfumer Dominique Ropion.

The Night is purported to contain an “unprecedented” amount of oud from India. M. Ropion only adds in two other notes, Turkish rose and amber. From the moment I opened my sample there was no doubt in my mind this was indeed real oud. When I, and others, write about oud we remark on it with unflattering adjectives like medicinal, band-aid-y, cheesy, dirty gym socks. Those don’t inspire one to want to put something like that on their body. The funny thing it is the combination of all of those derogatory aspects which make real oud so much fun to wear. I would also be the first to admit that it is an acquired taste. If you let the more confrontational character of oud push you away you will miss something sublime. In The Night M. Ropion clearly understands this and so keeps the perfume simple.

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Dominique Ropion

When I put The Night on for at least two hours it is nothing but the Indian oud. It smells like any of the oud oils I own. Indian oud tends to tilt towards the dirty bandage side of the oud spectrum. There is also a bit of cheese here too but it predominantly is the medicinal oud on display. These first two hours you might feel like this perfume is wearing you instead of the other way around. Because I knew what was coming I had a chance to mentally brace myself for the onslaught. There was still a bit of struggle but this Indian oud is an excellent choice to use because it really does display the quirky nature of pure oud. When the Turkish rose does finally make an appearance hours after first application it probably takes another couple of hours for it to even begin to make an impression with the oud. Once it does happen you can really appreciate why rose has been the historical yin to oud’s yang. The Turkish rose used here has an enhanced spicy core and it is that which allows it to gain some traction. The rose feels like it is the chaperone in bringing real oud to a western audience. Amber is used as an opaque shimmer of finishing but The Night is all about the oud and then the rose and the oud.

The Night has ridiculous longevity of over 24 hours. It also has significant sillage. This is a perfume to wear and appreciate around others who enjoy fragrance.

The Night is going to cause a lot of commotion once it makes its way to the usual Editions de Parfums stockists next year. There are many who are going to learn what they always thought was oud was something else. I kept hearing Mick Jagger singing the opening line of “Sympathy for the Devil” imagining these reactions. The ones who persevere will be rewarded with an experience of oud unlike anything they have tried before.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Richard Luscher Britos Terroir Perfumes (Part 2) 44oN03oE, 14oS48oE & 46oN08oE- The Magic of Pine

As I mentioned in Part 1 of my reviews of the Richard Luscher Britos Terroir Perfumes Collection two of the fragrances were really a family affair. The creative team of Malvin Richard, Lukas Luscher and Serena Britos wanted to let some other perfumers in on the idea of designing perfume with all-natural ingredients from a specific place. For 44oN03oE, 14oS48oE & 46oN08oE the creative team asked Andy Tauer, Vero Kern, and Jean-Claude Gigodot to interpret their version of perfume terroir.

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Andy Tauer

Andy Tauer takes us to the south of France in the Midi-Pyrenees to St. Rome de Cernon with 44oN03oE. This area of France is known for its wild mountain lavender. Hr. Tauer takes this mountain lavender and forms a singular lavender essential oil which carries with it all of the beautiful floralcy of lavender. There is also a bit of a citrus aspect and of course the herbal nature all of the best lavender essential oils have. This one has that herbaceous quality in abundance. Also growing around the lavender fields are majestic black pines and juniper. Hr. Tauer takes a fantastic pine resin and uses the very astringent juniper berry to create a craggy mountainside accord. The lavender has not fallen by the wayside as it still is present in and among the pines and juniper. This is one of the best lavender accords I have smelled in a very long time. There are times when I often think I am “over” a note. Thankfully talented perfumers like Hr. Tauer are there to show me new things. 44oN03oE finishes with smooth nutty sweetness courtesy of chestnut and vanilla. 44oN03oE is one of Hr. Tauer’s best compositions of the last few years and he has had a very good last few years so that is saying something. 44oN03oE lives up to exactly what the idea of Terroir Perfume should do by sweeping you to a mountainside in France via perfume.

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Vero Kern

Vero Kern whisks us away to the ylang-ylang plantations of Ambunja, Madagascar in 14oS48oE. Fr. Kern’s plantation is right on the edge of the tropical rainforest ringed by evergreens. By using those evergreens to blunt the usually extroverted ylang-ylang. It sets up a delightful tension between the woods and the flowers. As we move deeper in the forest pink peppercorn and mimosa add to the evergreen and ylang-ylang. As with the other perfumes in this collection there is a real moment in the heart of each which is breathtaking. The one which Fr. Kern has constructed for 14oS48oE is the most mesmerizing of all of them. Every time I’ve worn this about an hour and a half in it nearly stops me in my tracks with its beauty. The base evokes the harvest and distillation of vanilla and vetiver as they provide the foundation for this perfume. The press release mentions a roasted corn note but I have not found it to be present on my skin. The base is green acerbic vetiver leavened by rich vanilla. It is so rare to find a perfect accord which demands your attention but Fr. Kern has accomplished that and more with 14oS48oE.

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Jean-Claude Gigodot

Jean-Claude Gigodot takes us to 46oN08oE which is in the Parco Naturale dell’Alta Valle Antrona on the Italian-Swiss border just east of Zermatt. We find ourselves among the windswept pines on the Val d’Anniviers at 2000m of altitude. M. Gigodot has also found and sourced a fantastic pine essential oil to open 46oN08oE. All three of these perfumes I am reviewing today have significant coniferous contributions but the one M. Gigadot uses has the most depth and nuance to it. Because of that he lets it have the opening moments all to itself. Also because of the quality of this pine oil he wisely adds in only a few complementary notes. A bit of oakmoss to capture the lichems growing on these woody sentinels. A dollop of woodsmoke like a fireplace in the distance is hanging among the pines. M. Gigadot keeps this simple because all of his natural ingredients are so good they bring their own inherent complexity without needing extraneous notes to draw you to them. 46oN08oE is the most linear of the five Terroir Perfumes but it is also probably the single best ingredient of all five, too.

44oN03oE, 14oS48oE & 46oN08oE have 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

The three perfumes today show how the creative team at Richard Luscher Britos is ready to invite other perfumers into their family adventures. Like the best of guests on an adventure they only add to the story in extraordinary ways; Hr. Tauer, Fr. Kern, and M. Gigadot have advanced the concept of Terroir Perfume brilliantly.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Richard Luscher Britos Terroir Perfumes (Part 1) 04oN74oW & 38oN16oE- Family is its Own Terroir

I first became aware of the term terroir in regards to wine making. The great wine estates in Bordeaux believed that each vineyard produced their specific version of wine because of the unique combination of geography, geology, and climate. Many saw this as a marketing ploy when it was first used. Over time there have been more scientific studies which seem to back up the idea that where something grows is as important as what is being grown. From wine this concept has spread to other comestibles like coffee, chocolate, tea and cheese. As one who has been skeptical of the concept it was with great interest when I heard of perfume collection which was being designed based on the concept of terroir.

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Malvin Richard, Serena Britos, Lukas Luscher (l. to r.)

Richard Luscher Britos Terroir Perfumes is the creative effort of Malvin Richard, Lukas Luscher and Serena Britos. These three childhood friends developed their idea of perfume terroir when they would join Malvin’s father, perfumer Jean-Claude Richard, as he would search for new raw materials to use. Through these trips the three friends came to believe there were “fragrance terroirs”. Their perfume collection was going to illustrate this by using only natural components. The first five perfumes created under this method have been released. As unconvinced as I am about the existence of terroir this debut collection is an exciting natural perfume collection from four different perfumers. I am going to spend the next two days reviewing all five because they are all worth writing about. I am going to start with the two perfumes composed by Jean-Claude Richard as it seems only fitting to not break up the family affair right away.

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Jean-Claude Richard

04oN74oW puts us directly in the middle of the Parque Nacional Natural Sumapaz in Colombia. M. Richard has brought together a riot of tropical blooms. It starts with a glacially restrained gardenia. In the press notes it calls this the gardenia which is found at the transition point on the hills of Fusagasuga where the cool winds sweep down from the Andes to clash with the humidity rising from the rain forest. The gardenia which evokes this is caught in a moment where its natural exuberance is tempered by a bit of chill. It makes it very focused as a perfume note without being as expansive as most gardenia notes are. You don’t have to wait long for a floral breakout because we descend into the rain forest and are surrounded by tropical flowers led by vanilla orchids, lilies, wild rose, and hyacinths. When you walk in a tropical flower garden there is a natural harmonic floral accord which nature provides. M. Richard manages the same kind of balance with his natural ingredients. This all ends with perhaps the crop Colombia is most known for, and which also claims its own terroir, coffee. Coffee when coming from a natural source has a thinner greener character than you might expect. In this composition that nature meshes perfectly with the florals in the heart. It feels like I am drinking some coffee from a Thermos while surrounded by the flowers of the jungle.

38oN16oE directs us to the Parco Nazionale dell’Aspromonte just east of Calabria, Italy. Calabria is known for growing the best bergamot in the entire world. That is what M. Richard wants to bring to the foreground with this perfume. Bergamot is so often an afterthought as it is present in the top notes of so very many perfumes. M. Richard allows bergamot to have the fragrant stage all to itself. The early moments of 38oN16oE are that bergamot providing a pervasive bright citrus shine. There is so much to enjoy here when not expecting to move along to the rest of the perfume. Here the bergamot develops slowly and in the heart the delicate bergamot blossom provides a very delicate floralcy underpinning the citric nature of the bergamot itself. This delicate interplay dominates the first couple of hours I was wearing 38oN16oE. Calabria has become a melting pot of cultures and the base notes of sandalwood and incense reflect that. M. Richard uses a precise hand so these do not overwhelm the bergamot but complement it as equals.

04oN74oW and 38oN16oE have outstanding longevity of 8-10 hours for a natural perfume. The sillage is modest.

These perfumes show that family is its own terroir where love, friendship, and adventure provides its own unique climate for creativity.

Tomorrow in Part 2 I’ll review the perfumes created by Andy Tauer, Vero Kern, and Jean-Claude Gigodot.

Disclosure: this review was based on samples I purchased.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Vince Guaraldi

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If I asked you to do a quick word association game and I said Christmas Music there are a number of responses I would expect. Bing Crosby and White Christmas, Elvis Presley and Blue Christmas, Eartha Kitt and Santa Baby among many. Each of those songs are as known for the artist behind them as the song. Another response I would likely get is Charlie Brown Christmas. If I asked who was the musician I bet that not many could name the man behind music which has become so entwined with the Holiday season. It wasn’t until I was an adult at a friend’s house and he was playing a song called “Cast your Fate to the Wind” that I discovered the answer myself. Like the Peanuts music it immediately captured my attention. I asked my friend who the musician was and he replied, Y’know the Peanuts guy, Vince Guaraldi.” I didn’t know but I quickly learned.

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Back in 1965 when the producer of the Charlie Brown animated specials, Lee Mendelson, heard the same song he called Mr. Guaraldi to score “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. The Vince Guaraldi Trio with Mr. Guaraldi on piano, Fred Marshall on bass, and Jerry Granelli on drums would record the soundtrack. In a vacuum without seeing them accompanying the antics of the Peanuts gang as they discover the meaning of Christmas these are beautiful jazz compositions that more than stand on their own. Combine them with one of the most beloved cartoons of all time and it transcends itself. The song which plays in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” when all of the gang is dancing is called “Linus and Lucy”. It has no obvious Christmas tone except for the visual which goes along with it but there is nobody who doesn’t immediately think Christmas when they hear it.

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Vince Guaraldi

The music of Mr. Guaraldi is probably some of the most widely heard jazz music ever. Think about that. Mr. Guaraldi has very likely been heard by more people than those that are easily seen as jazz greats. I think Mr. Guaraldi is extremely underrated when it comes to discussions about those jazz greats. He didn’t sell out to do this music he stayed true to his jazz roots. Listen to his later compositions for the less well-known Peanuts specials and they all have his indelible style but if you didn’t know they were the score for a cartoon you would just appreciate them for the music on its own terms.

Another reason for Mr. Guaraldi not receiving the accolades I believe are due him is he passed away at the age of 47 in 1976. Coincidentally he had just finished his score for “It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown” in the afternoon. That evening he would be struck by a heart attack and die.

As you listen to your Holiday music this year when the music of A Charlie Brown Christmas plays give a thought to the man who made that music. He deserves to be as well-known as Bing, Elvis, or Eartha.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Pino Silvestre- A Sturdy Fir

At this time of year one of my favorite smells of the season is that of the Christmas tree and the associated pine roping and wreaths which decorate, and scent, everything. It is this natural perfume which will always find me having a real tree in my house. The smell of a fir tree simply means Christmas to me. For twenty years I have owned a perfume that is the perfect Christmas tree fragrance, Pino Silvestre.

I discovered Pino Silvestre soon after I moved to Boston in 1994. I had heard of this little bandbox of a perfume shop in Harvard Square called Colonial Drug. Furthermore it had European perfumes you couldn’t find anywhere else. I was very early in my days of becoming a Colognoisseur and so I approached the doorway with a bit of trepidation. Similar to going to a fancy French restaurant and being handed a menu in French I was worried I would look like a rube. At Colonial Drug I needn’t have worried because as I crossed the threshold I was greeted by the proprietor Cathy. After some discussion with me she handed me a pine cone shaped perfume bottle and said, “I think you’ll like this one.” The pine tree perfume was Pino Silvestre and it was my personal entry to European perfume brands I had never heard of. Cathy made a wise choice and it also made me a lifelong customer for all the years I lived in Boston. There were a lot of days where I was in the store and I saw her hand the little glass pine cone to another new customer only to see a sale being made minutes later. It showed the versatility of the green glass pine cone.

pino silvestre

For those of you who grew up in Europe Pino Silvestre is similar to Old Spice or English Leather in the US. What that means is your father probably wore it. Pino Silvestre was released in 1955 and was composed by perfumer Lino Vidal. For most of the next 25 years Pino Silvestre and its ancillary products like shampoo and bubble bath would be a part of a typical household. The fresh pine scent would evoke memories of home to that generation. As I said, for me, it has always reminded me of Christmas trees.

The opening moments of Pino Silvestre are a drive-by of bergamot and citrus. They are there so fleetingly it is almost disingenuous to mention them. The more you spray on the more likely you are to notice them. The business of Pino Silvestre is pine and that’s what comes next. Sig. Vidal cloaks it in herbal notes of sage and thyme. A pinch of tart juniper berry and the richness of clove all combine to round out the synthetic source of pine and make it feel almost supernatural in its photoreality. It all ends with clean cedar and amber.

Pino Silvestre has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage, although you probably project a little more than is apparent to you while wearing it.

I wanted Pino Silvestre to be the first Discount Diamond because the quality for the price is really incredible but I also wanted to wait for Christmas, too. You can find it any number of places for $20 for a 125mL bottle. You will not find a better bargain perfume. It is also a great example of mid-20th century Italian perfumery. For something almost 60 years old it never seems dated to me. Like a classic Christmas tree is deserves to be brought at least once a year.

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

Mark Behnke