The Sunday Magazine: Firefly

I don’t think you can be a card-carrying geek if you don’t have something you are very passionate about that the rest of the world is not quite as passionate about. Coupled with this is an often Quixotic need to tilt at the vox populi windmills trying to find people to join you. For many geeks my age our first quest to resurrect Star Trek saw success beyond our imagination. Once Star Trek took off we mostly found a world where things geekly were more accepted. Even so there were still pockets of resistance. I decided that there was a little show called Firefly which I wanted to champion.

Firefly

Firefly is a story of how a broadcast network sometimes just doesn’t understand what they bought. Fresh off of producing Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel the Fox network picked up Joss Whedon’s next series. The series was pitched as a western in space. Following a band of space cowboys who worked on the fringe of the known universe and the legal system. Mr. Whedon created a rich universe and nine well-drawn characters. With Mr. Whedon’s television series there is a build up throughout the run of episodes which leads to a crescendo. It is slow building at first. That slow build was not appreciated by the overseers from Fox. They insisted on showing episodes out of order. Getting viewers to watch a serialized science-fiction show is tough asking them to fill in missing pieces that they hadn’t had the opportunity to see was not a recipe for success. Firefly could not be rearranged as if it was a police procedural with a crime of the week. Mr. Whedon’s universe was more intricate than that. To show you how bad it was the pilot episode the one which introduced the relationships between our nine characters was shown as the eleventh (!) episode. It wasn’t until it was released to DVD that we were able to watch the episodes in the correct order.

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Then a funny thing happened once people had the chance to watch this quirky little series of fourteen episodes in one sitting it started to thrive. In what was a forerunner of binge watching a series Firefly was just short enough to reward a few nights of watching. All of a sudden our little corner of the universe was getting more populated. It got so populated that Universal the studio that produced the series took a chance on a movie version just two years after it was canceled. That movie called Serenity was unable to make enough money to break even at the box office. It showed that even though there were more fans there weren’t enough to sustain a movie franchise.

Since Firefly many of the creative people involved have gone on to greater success. Nathan Fillion who played Captain Mal has found his niche playing detective fiction author on Castle. Joss Whedon of course is the director and writer of the two Marvel’s The Avengers movies. Morena Baccarin who played Inara was in three seasons of Homeland. Adam Baldwin would take much of his Jane personality to his five season stint on Chuck. That’s just a few credits. The cast regularly talks about how much fun and camaraderie was present on the set. They have also embraced the fans called Browncoats. There are none of them who shy away from the fan community and that makes all of us band together more tightly.

If you’ve run out of things to watch in your streaming queue give Firefly a try and if you want to come be a Browncoat, you know where to find me.

Mark Behnke

Christian Dior La Collection Privee 101- Five to Get You Started

Christian Dior was late to the trend of creating an exclusive niche line of fragrances apart from their mainstream offerings. They really didn’t jump into it wholeheartedly until 2010. Prior to that there was a collection of three fragrances only available at Dior Homme boutiques. In 2010 Francois Demachy took two of those perfumes and added seven new perfumes he composed to create the La Collection Privee. In just five years the collection has grown to 20 perfumes. This is one of the great underpublicized collections in all of perfumery. If you haven’t tried any of them here are five to get you started.

Bois D’Argent by perfumer Annick Menardo is probably my favorite honey perfume of all time. After smelling this I made a special trip to Las Vegas to buy a bottle. Mme Menardo keeps a light tone throughout as she starts with a transparent incense into a fabulous heart of orris, honey, and myrrh. It all ends with a soft leather and patchouli base. The whole composition is so opaque it defies the weight of the components.

Eau Noire by perfumer Francis Kurkdjian is one of the more fascinating studies of immortelle on the market. M. Kurkdjian uses it as the spine of Eau Noire. Clary sage on top turns it herbal and incense-like. Lavender enhances the floralcy of it in the heart. In the base vanilla brings out the inherent maple syrup sweetness. Immortelle can be a hard note to love but Eau Noire makes sure you experience everything immortelle can bring to a perfume.

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Mitzah by perfumer Francois Demachy is a fabulous resinous rose Oriental. M. Demachy uses a spice swathed rose as foil to a very concentrated frankincense. A bit of vanilla and patchouli add some nuance but this is the rose and incense show all the way.

New Look 1947 also by M. Demachy takes an expertly balanced heart of three of the heaviest floral notes and makes something powerfully heady. Jasmine, Turkish rose, and tuberose form a heart that one can get lost inside of. A pinch of baie rose on top and some benzoin and vanilla in the base provide some contrast.

Oud Ispahan also by M. Demachy takes the classic rose and oud combination and gives it a Dior spin. This is a Western version of that classic Eastern staple. M. Demachy keeps it simple. Allowing the rose and oud to carry on throughout the development. They are pitched at a much lighter level than most of the other ouds on the market and it allows for the labdanum, patchouli, and sandalwood to provide some texture to the power duo.

As I mentioned this is not the easiest of collections to find. If you do find it the five choices above are great places to start.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Le Galion Cuir- Vanina’s Leather

There are so many leather perfumes out there it is a challenge to stand out among them. Unlike single floral notes though leather perfumes have a bit of an advantage because the smell of leather in a perfume is an accord. An accord is as close as we get to an olfactory signature from a perfumer. I really like having the opportunity to compare the use of a leather accord by a perfumer when I can get a couple of new releases within a few months of each other. In the case of perfumer Vanina Murraciole it was her two recent releases for Le Galion which gave me an opportunity to examine her perfumed John Hancock.

Le Galion has begun to evolve away from being a heritage perfumery by moving away from re-creating Paul Vacher’s original releases into creating new perfumes based on the style of those early releases. Owner and creative director Nicolas Chabot has made a wise decision to do this. In Mme Murraciole he has found a perfumer who can capture that retro vibe and splice it onto something more modern. In my review of Aesthete I felt that one skewed so contemporary that it is the most modern of the line. For the other new one composed by Mme Murraciole, Cuir, this feels more akin to the originals with a very retro feeling to it. Both perfumes have Mme Murraciole’s leather accord in use. In Aesthete it is used as foundation for the other notes. It has a supple quality by being used at a lower concentration. In Cuir, as the name suggests, it is not part of the ensemble it is the star of the show with its name up in lights, or at least on the bottle. This transforms the leather into something less soft, more intriguing, and much more present.

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Vanina Murraciole

Cuir opens up with bergamot and elemi. Mme Murraciole uses a lot of elemi and the lemon-tinted resin complements the bergamot. The opening is very reminiscent of many of the classic men’s fragrances of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. The leather accord comes next and it does nothing to break Cuir out of that time period. The leather accord smells like that well-worn biker jacket lovingly oiled and cared for. What I like about this leather accord is there is a strong oily character within which really makes it different for me. That aspect adds a slightly funky quality which might not be to everyone’s taste. I found myself drawn to it each time I wore Cuir. Mme Murraciole takes her accord and drapes it over a chair made of sandalwood where you can smell the sweaty body that had it on. The final notes of musk and sandalwood again return to feeling like they are directly from a perfume fifty years older.

Cuir has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

I found it interesting how well Mme Murraciole’s leather accord was able to be soft when used in support and to roar when it was the keynote. If you like your leather loud and uncomplicated Le Galion Cuir is one to add to your list.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Le Galion at Esxence 2015.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Atelier Cologne Rose Anonyme Extrait- Shadow Play

The whole concept of Cologne Absolue, that the brand Atelier Cologne is built around, is a story of concentration. By taking a cologne architecture and increasing the perfume oil concentration to greater than 15% they removed one of the most commonly mentioned drawbacks to cologne, the longevity. That Creative Director Sylvie Ganter-Cervasel has changed that particular characteristic has been one of the reasons that Atelier Cologne has flourished.

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Sylvie Ganter-Cervasel

Another reason is the willingness of the brand to boldly redefine what a cologne can be constructed of. What I consider to be the inflection point where Mme Ganter-Cervasel truly proved to me Atelier Cologne was going to change things came with the simultaneous release in Fall 2012 of Vetiver Fatal and Rose Anonyme. Perfumer Jerome Epinette created two examples of light and dark which allowed me to consider what makes up a cologne. That these have been consistently two of the more popular entries in the line shows how this has resonated with consumers as well.

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Jerome Epinette

With that background I was extremely interested to receive the press release for Rose Anonyme Extrait. I was wondering what M. Epinette would do as he reworked his original for an even greater concentration. The answer is in upping the concentration from 18% in the original to 22% in the extrait it throws interesting shadows. In those shadows some new interactions come to the foreground.

Rose Anonyme Extrait begins near identically with bergamot and ginger on top. One of the first shadows is the presence of baie rose which is noticeable in this concentration while still being in the background. What is great about that subtle spiciness is that it opens the door for the rose to arise. The source of the rose in this perfume is from the Robertet rose fields in Turkey called Rose Petals Natural. This is one of the best rose raw materials I have ever come in to contact with. Used in higher concentration the spicy core which was apparent in the original is now made deeper and more luminous. Especially as the incense is also a much stronger presence in the higher concentration too. Together these provide a heartbeat to the extrait. Patchouli, papyrus, and vetiver provide an earthy grounding of the extrait as they did in the original. Vetiver substitutes for benzoin in the original and it has the effect of making it woody as well as earthy.

Rose Anonyme Extrait has overnight longevity and moderate sillage.

Rose Anonyme Extrait has everything the original had. It also contains more space for the difference in concentration to provide fascinating shading to a perfume you know well. Those shadows are worth seeking out especially if you are a an of the original. I expect the Rose Anonyme Extrait is going to become my preferred version when the weather turns colder, the days shorten, and the shadows lengthen.

Disclosure: this review was based on a press sample provided by Atelier Cologne.

Mark Behnke

Olfactive Chemistry: Indole- The Sour Inside

In the middle of the movie America Hustle one of the characters has this quote, “It’s like that perfume you love, that you can’t stop smelling even when there’s something sour in it.” Of course I have no idea exactly what she is referring to but in my mind while watching there was only one perfume ingredient which fit this description, indole.

Indole is the “bad girl” of perfumery. Cue Donna Summer. They are found naturally in the group of floral notes dubbed “white flowers”. Jasmine is the leader of that family and in the specific species of jasmine called jasminum sambac you will find the highest amount of natural indole. It is why the synthetic jasmines exist, to remove the indole, to get a brighter fresher version of jasmine. I very often make the distinction in reviews with the essential oil being a little more experienced and the synthetic being a scrubbed-fresh debutante. Both have their place on the perfumer’s palette.

indole skatle

Indole gets a bad rep because of the methyl-substituted version of indole known as Skatole. As you can see above there is only the addition of one methyl group different between Indole and Skatole. Skatole is the smell of feces and it is what many associate with the word indole. Indole by itself in high concentration smells more like mothballs. What is particularly magical is what happens as you dilute indole down in alcohol solutions. When you have a 10% solution of indole in alcohol it smells like an old closet. Dilute it in half to 5% and you get that dirty skin smell. Dilute it again in half to 2.5% and now a subtle kind of decaying sweetness becomes evident. Take it to 1.25% and an almost floral-like quality comes out. Reduce it finally to 0.5% and you have a building block to work with.

Indole is easily synthesized in metric ton quantities and is one of the more cost-effective perfume materials to use. Once you get used to handling it in its different iterations depending on the concentration. It allows a perfumer on a budget to take synthetic jasmine and a bit of indole to create a simulation of jasminum sambac.

Good examples of indolic perfumes are naturally the jasmine-focused ones. Serge Lutens A La Nuit and Diptyque Olene really wear their indole on their sleeve. One which is composed of indoles and synthetics is the original Calvin Klein Eternity which not only sports a high concentration of indole but also Iso E Super, and Galaxolide. Eternity is one of the best-selling perfumes of all time. While the time period is not right it is the perfume I think best represents the quote I began this with.  

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Dasein Summer- Cilantro Crush

If New York is the center of American Perfumery for the big firms then the West Coast is the hub for independent perfumery. It seems there is a gathering momentum of collaboration and creativity coming from there. Which makes it all the more interesting to try the new brands as they produce their first perfumes. I became aware of Sam Rader and her brand Dasein towards the end of 2014. She has been methodically working through the seasons as she started with Winter and Spring and now we have Summer.

I mention this a lot when referring to independent perfumers like Ms. Rader. They have a particular affinity with making unusual notes work. There are times when it can be refreshing. There are times when it can be downright confounding. I have to confess Summer started out confounding for me before becoming refreshing. The cause of the divergence in my opinion was Ms. Rader’s use of cilantro as a keynote. Just as it does when used in food it has a quite powerful green herbal effect. Just because I wanted to know I looked up how many times cilantro has made it into a perfume listed in the Fragrances of the World database. That search produced 30 entries all since 2001. I would have to suspect that it must be difficult to work with and balance. This is where an independent mindset works wonders as Ms. Rader takes this very powerful note, finding an ensemble that harmonizes with the booming presence of the cilantro.

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Sam Rader (Photo: via Dasein blog)

Summer opens with the cilantro and only the cilantro. It is an unusual note and I think having looked at the note list prior to trying it I expected the grapefruit to be more prominent. The cilantro carries a variegated greenness which seems impossibly deep. Over time the grapefruit does make its entry via the more sulfurous facets of the citrus matching up with the similar facets in the cilantro. As the grapefruit rises in presence it provides a more familiar fragrance note to ground me. The very first time I wore this I badly needed it. The second and third times it was more harmonic as well as anticipated. Summer eventually transforms into a jasmine and orange blossom floral but the cilantro is still there providing leaf and stem along with the flowers. This is where Summer lingers for most of the time on my skin.

Summer has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I have to warn you that the cilantro is a bit of a prickly note to embrace, especially on first sniff. I would really encourage you to give Summer a second chance especially if you like herbal green fragrances. Ms. Rader is working out on the frontier here but it is something perfumery needs from time to time. Third time I wore this was on the first truly scorching hot day of summer and the cilantro really worked in the extreme heat as well as my beloved vetiver did. Everything that is great about the West Coast perfume scene is on display here in Summer.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Memo Ilha Do Mel- Floral Honey

There are times that my perfumed wishes do come true. From the first moments I became acquainted with the perfumes of Memo Paris I have wanted them to be available in the US. In the spring of 2015 my wish was granted as they were now found in select stores and online. What I have admired so much about this brand is the longtime collaboration between Creative Director Clara Molloy and perfumer Alienor Massenet. Theirs has been an ever evolving creative journey which I have been happy to follow along with.

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Clara Molloy

For the seventeenth release Mmes Molloy and Massenet add to the Graines Vagabondes collection with a follow-up to last year’s Kedu. Much of the inspiration for all of the Memo perfumes comes from a specific place. The Graines Vagabondes goes even deeper by attempting to evoke the actual smell of the place. The new addition is called Ilha Do Mel.

Ilha Do Mel is a Brazilian island off the south coast. It is accessible only by ferry and there are no cars allowed on the island with most of it being an ecological preserve. The name of the island translates to Honey Island. The name comes from the intensely deep smell of the indigenous flowers which release their scent into the air. Mme Molloy wanted to capture this and Mme Massenet constructs her vision.

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Alienor Massenet

Ilha Do Mel opens with a juicy mandarin tempered by a tart juniper berry. This lasts for a very short period before the florals start to assemble. It starts with a swish of genet providing its subtle floralcy before that gives way. Hyacinth begins to increase the floral volume before jasmine and gardenia take it over the top. Orange blossom and orris also add to the festivities. This is floral with a flair. The one thing I found interesting about this is when you have all of these florals together they do form a kind of honey accord. It doesn’t seem to me like there is a distinct source of honey in the perfume. Instead I think Mme Massenet has let her flowers become the honey much like it does on the real Ilha Do Mel. Much later vetiver leads into a vanilla and musk base.

Ilha Do Mel has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Ilha Do Mel has a lush floral character that is very reminiscent of the tropics. It is also fascinating for how there are interesting intersections among all of the floral notes in the heart. For long periods on my skin the heart would fluctuate through the floral notes present. It made it a perfume that was always showing me something different from hour to hour. If you’ve wanted to wander a sandy trail surrounded by flowers of all kinds spray on some Ilha do Mel and take that walk in your mind.

Disclosure; this review was based on a sample of Ilha Do Mel provided by Memo.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Matisse Cut-Outs

When an artist can seemingly create art from nothing it is seen as a supreme compliment. In perfume circles the creation of the iconic Rochas Femme under World War 2 conditions by Edmond Roudnitska is an olfactory example of this tenet. Ella Fitzgerald could take nonsense syllables and turn them into a special version of jazz known as scat singing. Great artists have an innate need to create. My favorite example of this comes from artist Henri Matisse and the final works of his career.

In 1941 M. Matisse was diagnosed with cancer and following successful surgery was left confined to a wheelchair. For most that would have been enough of a hurdle to their output that it would be understood of there was no more. M. Matisse instead turned back to the tools of childhood, scissors and paper. This work produced during this time are referred to as The Matisse Cut-Outs.

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Henri Matisse in his studio in Nice, France in 1952 (Photo: moma.org)

M. Matisse had learned about the techniques of paper patterns, pinning, and scissors from his childhood among weavers in his hometown of Bohain-en-Vermendois. To allow himself a palette of colors to work with he had his assistants color white paper with various gouaches. Then he would begin the process he himself referred to as “painting with scissors”. As he would cut things out he would lay them out with pins. Constantly moving them around on the wall of his studio until the desired effect was achieved. Then his assistant would affix them with glue to a surface.

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Blue Nude II by Henri Matisse (1952)

My first experience with them was at the very end of the massive Matisse retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1993. The final gallery contained these soaring blue silhouettes of a nude woman. I was immediately drawn to them but I also could feel there was something different. They weren’t painted. When I read the legends surrounding these I found out these were massive collages. When I got close you can see the lines of the sheets of paper overlapping. You can see the tiny pinholes as the paper was re-positioned on the wall before being finally glued down. The one pictured above Blue Nude II from 1952 is the one which clued me in to this phase of M. Matisse’s career.

Until his death in 1954 M. Matisse would create primarily with scissors and paper. He would design stained glass windows for churches. In one case he also designed the priestly vestments. The first set of works were collected in a book called “Jazz”. The original sets of colors M. Matisse chose to work with were the ones which would look good when translated to the printed page.

M. Matisse is quoted as saying, “Only what I created after the illness constitutes my real self: free, liberated.” I think that is why I am so enchanted by them because that sense of personal liberation seems so patently on display. M. Matisse found that freedom while in a wheelchair with paper and a pair of scissors.

Mark Behnke

Perfumer Rewind: Jacques Cavallier 1998-2004- Postmaster General of the Dead Letter Office

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For all of the series I have on Colognoisseur there is a long list of potential subjects which I choose from when I am ready to write a new entry. For the series called Dead Letter Office which is about discontinued perfumes which I think are incredible pieces of olfactory art I recently noticed an interesting thing. When I started the blog in February of 2014 I made up a list of discontinued perfumes and the perfumer for each. When I look over the list of about thirty there is one perfumer who is responsible for five of the entries. All of them were released from 1998-2004. All of them were composed by perfumer Jacques Cavallier who I now dub the Postmaster General of the Dead Letter Office.

Those five perfumes are Issey Miyake Le Feu D’Issey, Yves St. Laurent Nu, Yves St. Laurent M7 (co-created with Alberto Morillas), Alexander McQueen Kingdom, and Boucheron Trouble. If there is any similarity between the perfumes it is that they failed for being out of step with the prevailing perfume trends at the time of “fresh and clean” or fruity floral. None of these followed those trends and thus the marketplace rejected them to eventually be discontinued. If you think M. Cavallier himself was out of step that also isn’t the case as he is the perfumer behind Issey Miyake L’Eau D’Issey which could be said to be the standard bearer for “fresh and clean”.

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Jacques Cavallier

The reason M. Cavallier is associated with these discontinued perfumes is because the Creative Directors for each of them was willing to take a big risk. These are all perfumes which flew in the face of the market forces attempting to shift the trends onto something different. Those two visionary Creative Directors were Chantal Roos and Tom Ford who are responsible, in part or together, for the creative direction of all five. If there is anything I repeat over and over is I want a brand to take a chance on breaking away from convention; these perfumes do that.

M. Cavallier has provided truly unique aspects to each. The raw coconut milk accord of Le Feu D’Issey. The cumin based human musk of Alexander McQueen Kingdom. The fantastic green cardamom of YSL Nu.  The contrast from lemon meringue to wood infused vanilla in Boucheron Trouble. Finally, most famously, the first prominent use of oud in western perfumery in YSL M7.

This is the soul of creativity and what turns a perfume from fragrance to olfactory art. That M. Cavallier can seamlessly create mega-hits like L’Eau D’Issey and any of these five perfumes mentioned above shows how talented he is. Even if he does spend an inordinate amount of time in the Dead Letter Office.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of all of the fragrances which I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Malbrum Tigre du Bengale- The Tiger Sleeps Tonight

There are times when it is extremely difficult for me to stifle a laugh when talking to a new brand. Usually it centers around the marketing language. One brand I had a difficult time keeping a straight face with, at Esxence 2015, was Malbrum. It was even harder when hearing the words coming out of a Norwegian man who could give Thor a run for his money based on looks. It was hard to know if Creative Director Kristian Malbrum was having fun with his over the top marketing copy or if he was serious. It was the description for Tigre du Bengale which had me chewing the inside of my cheek. Here it is off of the website, “The Bengal tiger urinates on a pile of bark. The scent transmits highly complex messages to other tigers about its sex, size, and social status.” I had no idea what I was in for when I lifted the strip to my nose.

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Delphine Thierry

Mr. Malbrum worked with perfumer Delphine Thierry on all three of the Volume I fragrances and the diversity among this collection is admirable. I am happy to report that Mme Thierry did not produce a perfume that smells like urine and wood. Tigre du Bengale is a warm comforting gourmandy oriental fragrance.

Mme Thierry crafts a Coca-Cola accord to open Tigre du Bengale. She combines juniper, cardamom, and bergamot to fashion an accord that smells of the soda. It smells more like a version where the carbonation has all been gone as it has a slightly syrupy quality without any effervescent notes to evoke the fizz of the soda. This moves into an opulent heart of myrrh and labdanum. The Coke accord lingers to mix with the resinous heart notes and it provides a different kind of subtle gourmand phase. The base is another unusual coupling as Mme Thierry combines licorice and leather. The herbal licorice matches surprisingly well with the leather accord. Tigre du Bengale ends on a predominantly leather note. Leather which has had a soda spilled on it and a few black Twizzlers ground into it. Both of the unusual gourmand notes murmur softly in the background all the way until the end.

Tigre du Bengale has 10-12 hour longevity and below average sillage as this is at extrait strength.

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I am very happy that the promised randy tiger has stayed in the jungle. If there is a tiger here it is more like Hobbes of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. I found Tigre du Bengale to be a lot of fun to wear with the different accords Mme Thierry used throughout. I think it is one of the better leather fragrances I’ve tried recently.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I received at Esxence 2015.

Mark Behnke