The Sunday Magazine: The Wicked + The Divine

What if Taylor Swift, Beyonce, and Katy Perry were immortal gods who would burn out in two years? That is the center of the story being told in the comic series The Wicked + The Divine created by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. It is a story of power, of all kinds. At its most interesting it waonders at the hold of pop music It is never less than fascinating.

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The story begins with our heroine Laura attending a performance by Ameratsu. Ameratsu is one of the twelve members of The Pantheon. Each member of which is a normal human who has merged with a powerful deity. The bodies have a finite ability to contain the power but for a short time they are all-powerful. The things which makes this stand out is they are also pop music superstars. A different kind of fleeting immortality.

Laura at the concert is invited to meet the rest of The Pantheon. As she is slowly drawn in by her guide, Lucifer, we start to wonder if Laura is destined to be a member. The first five issues of the series are that story. The connection between fans worshiping musicians or are they worshiping the gods is blurred quite cleverly.

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The next six issues are the story of whether Laura will rise to become the twelfth member of The Pantheon. This is about Laura’s desire to attain godhead and whether she does. As with the first arc the creators draw a number of parallels between pop music stardom and whether that is a form of divinity.

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The next arc of six issues will be released next week. I have been reading this series as each volume of collected issues comes out. My version of binge watching a comic book. With this series I think I would have been very frustrated if I was following month by month. It is a slow build up to the final climaxes in both of the first two arcs. It reminds me of television shows like “Game of Thrones” where all of the threads snap together at the end. If you want to read it month by month Issue #18 is due in April of 2016 so you have some time to catch up.

The Wicked + The Divine has quickly become one of the best ongoing comic series on the market. Much like the similarly praised Saga by Brian K Vaughn they are doing groups of issues as arcs with a little break in between. I like this because I think it keeps the creative team fresh and also gives them some flexibility to produce the best story they can. The results are there on the page to be seen.

The best part of it all is I watch the current generation of pop stars with a different perspective.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Lavender

As we head into the days of the year when spring is close enough to hope for but winter still holds sway I turn to perfume for my jolt of the coming warmer weather. Lavender is a quintessential warm weather fragrance. Conjuring up purple fields at the height of summer just prior to harvest. Lavender in perfumery has been around since the very beginning. My favorites are the ones which show off both the sweet floralcy and the herbal nature. Here are five of my favorites.

Guerlain Jicky was one of the first modern perfumes, created in 1889, and lavender provided the focal point. Aime Guerlain would lay down the formula for the fougere that would last the next one hundred or so years. He married lavender with rosemary in the top. The rosemary is the key as it brings out the herbal almost medicinal nature of lavender. It heads to a heart of geranium before settling on a vanilla base characteristic of Guerlain. That you can still buy this, 127 years after it was created, tells you what a classic it is.

In 1934 perfumer Ernest Daltroff would create the template for the masculine lavender in Caron pour Un Homme. The concept of men wearing floral perfumes was a tough sell. M. Daltroff makes it work by taking a large amount of vanilla to go along with the lavender. This one almost entirely hides the non-floral character. A bit of amber and musk butch things up so any man can be caught wearing this.

The last of the traditional lavenders is Caldey Island Lavender by perfumer Hugo Collumbien, released in 1959. This is the version where the herbal character is displayed at the expense of the floral. That is done by using a mix of amber and musk. With no vanilla around to tilt one’s senses towards the sweet this is the most like the smell you get from picking actual lavender and smelling your hands afterward.

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There are two modern interpretations of lavender by two of the best modern perfumers which show how far perfumery has come since Jicky was released.

Serge Lutens Encens et Lavande was released in 1996 composed by perfumer Christopher Sheldrake. Opening on a rosemary and juniperberry top accord it is the heart where the name comes to life. Lavender is buttressed by clary sage and an austere silvery frankincense. They provide a chilly effect that carries an icy beauty. A healthy amount of amber thaws things out. Incense and lavender go together like peas and carrots.

Hermes Hermessence Brin de Reglisse is what happens when you take the herbal side of lavender to its fullest effect. Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena uses licorice as lavender’s partner. This is one of the most unique lavender perfumes out there because with all of the intensity of these two notes it is the addition of orange blossom and hay which round things out into an opaque masterpiece.

If you have never tried any of these lavenders because you think lavender is boring give it a second look I think these five will change that opinion.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Rituals Fleurs De L’Himalaya- Jasmine from the Roof of the World

I kvetch about this constantly but nothing makes my heart sink more than opening an envelope and having a bunch of samples tumble out. Once the number gets higher than four or five the weariness descends. Right after the New Year I received an envelope containing the eight new releases from Rituals. It was too early in the year for me to just pass over them. Especially since in the previous releases No. 19 Sandalwood & Patchouli is one of my favorite compositions by perfumer Fabrice Pelligrin. There is quality to be found within the deluge. This was the case with these eight new releases as Fleurs De L’Himalaya stood out.

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Elise Benat

One of the reasons Fleurs De L’Himalaya captured my attention was because perfumer Elise Benat used some of the most recognizable synthetic aromachemicals and from them fashioned a fantastic tableau matching the name on the bottle. This overall collection from Rituals is meant to capture an Eastern aesthetic. When it is at its best it does this effortlessly. Fleurs De L’Himalaya is undeniably Eastern as it is inspired by the Valley of Flowers in the Himalayas. Imagine a field of flowers growing surrounded by some of the grandest peaks in the world. There is something transformative about one’s senses at high altitude. Vision seems sharper, hearing more keen, tastes are cleaner, and smells have a preternatural effect. I have never been to this part of the world but I have been in a field of flowers at high altitude. In Fleurs De L’Himalaya, Mme Bernat captures what a patch of jasmine might smell like way up there.

Fleurs De L’Himalaya opens with a clear blue sky of sparkling lemon. It is joined by a gentle green tea note sweetened with a peach. The first synthetic Mme Benat employs is Calone. This is not the Calone of thousands of marine fragrances. Here Mme Benat uses it as the stiff breeze that has traversed the snowpack to reach the valley. This is a case where all of the clean ozonic qualities of Calone are displayed beautifully. On that breeze comes jasmine deepened with peony. The peony replaces the natural depth indoles would provide. It is a clean form of jasmine which is then lifted by Hedione until it fills the entire metaphorical valley. In the base the massive mountains are represented by an accord of Norlimbanol, Ambrox, and patchouli. It is woody to be sure but the patchouli provides a grounded quality which pulls your senses up to the top of the surrounding massifs.

Fleurs De L’Himalaya has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Mme Benat has crafted an outstanding scentscape in Fleurs De L’Himalaya. Let it take you away to a field of jasmine at the Roof of the World.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Yves Rocher Cuir Vetiver- Brains over Budget

One of the most reasonably priced fragrance lines is Yves Rocher. Sold only through their website it is often a bit of a gamble to try one of the fragrances blind. If you buy anything they are very generous with their samples which can help make a choice a little less sightless. Like many of the modestly priced brands it takes a bit of trial and error to find the ones which stand out. The first Yves Rocher release of 2016, Cuir Vetiver, is one which stands out.

One thing which made me interested in Cuir Vetiver was the shape of the bottle. One of the very best releases by Yver Rocher was 2013’s Ambre Noir. Cuir Vetiver comes in a similar looking container with the same font. Sonia Constant is the perfumer behind it all. On the website Mme Constant states, “I imagined a leather fragrance with bright facets…” What I like about that statement is a perfume named Cuir Vetiver you might imagine being very heavy. Mme Constant does brighten it up quite a bit while still having enough cuir and vetiver to make the name still have meaning.

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Sonia Constant

The brightness comes right away with a lively bergamot. As a partner Mme Constant adds a bit of lavender. The lavender is the more floral form of the ingredient. It provides a contrast to the heart notes of cedar and vetiver. The very strong lines of both notes provide the framework for the leather accord to appear. This leather accord is composed of amyris, patchouli, and tonka. It’s not quite refined enough to remind me of suede nor is it animalic enough to be a rawer version of leather. It seems to sit closer to the suede side of the spectrum. It definitely has the brightness and lift Mme Constant described. The base is amber and vanilla; a sweet warm comfort.

Cuir Vetiver has 4-6 hour longevity and below average sillage.

For those who consider longevity something important in the fragrances you buy Cuir Vetiver like most of the Yves Rocher releases has some of the lowest amount of longevity. On the other hand, they are so modestly priced that I have never had a problem reapplying in the middle of the day.

Cuir Vetiver is another really good perfume in the Yver Rocher collection. Mme Constant pulls off an interesting take on leather and vetiver while keeping the cost down. Cuir Vetiver feels like a triumph of brains over budget.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I received from Yves Rocher with purchase.

Mark Behnke

That Unattainable Object of Desire: Lanvin Scandal- Crack the Whip

One of the saddest byproducts of incessant reformulation is it trivializes the past. There are brands which have continued to sell perfume for almost one hundred years. The problem lies as each iteration and new flanker appears that glorious history becomes trampled underneath mediocrity. One of the great contemporary early perfume brands is Lanvin. During the 1930’s it was the equal of Guerlain or Chanel. Where the latter two brands have taken that history and created a legacy; Lanvin has not. Which makes the original releases all that much harder to find.

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UPDATE: One of the best things about writing these pieces is I sometimes get more information than I could find on my own. Nicolas Chabot of Le Galion Perfume contacted me to let me know that Paul Vacher was the in-house perfumer at Lanvin at the time Scandal was released. Andre Fraysse was Jean Lanvin's nephew and was working as M. Vacher's assistant. Paul Vacher would leave Lanvin in 1935. The release date is still not clear I have found sources which list 1931, 1932, 1933, and 1935. M. Chabot has documentation which says 1933. The paragraph below has been changed to reflect this new information.

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Paul Vacher

Lanvin’s in-house perfumers' follow-up to Arpege was called Scandal. Perfumer Paul Vacher and his assistant Andre Fraysse who pioneered the use of aldehydes in Arpege would now go for their own take on leather with Scandal. As we moved into the 1930’s leather based perfumes had become the rage. Each of the brands was working on their own version. This interpretation was to wrap it in a fantastic floral cape. That intense heart is what makes Scandal stand out.

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Andre Fraysse

Scandal opens with a shot of clary sage. The original note list has a set of citrus notes but in the three different vintage samples I have acquired those notes have not survived. What does remain is mostly the clary sage carrying an herbal bite. A very demure neroli begins the floral transition as orris and rose combine in the heart. These two florals are enhanced to their highest levels. The orris is opulent velvet. The rose is decadently spicy. Together they are amazing and then the perfumers unleash their leather accord. I used to own a well-cared for and oiled genuine bullwhip. I would take it down from time to time and swing it about my head; snapping it with a satisfying crack. The more I did it the more the leather gave off this heated by friction leather smell. That is the leather accord at the heart of Scandal. I have never smelled one like it in any other leather fragrance. Together with the florals the heart of Scandal reeks of danger ahead. Those hazards are delightfully animalic as Scandal uses civet as a core to coalesce vetiver, oakmoss, and benzoin around. The civet is ferocious and the complementary notes do nothing to tame that. They instead herd it towards the leather leaving the final hours of Scandal to consume you.

Scandal has 18-24 hour longevity and way above average sillage.

Scandal was discontinued in the early 1970’s. It has become very difficult to find. I have only come into my samples due to the generosity of people who have supplied me with samples from the bottles they probably paid a lot of money for.

When I smell these leather perfumes of the 1930’s I imagine attending a soiree where the women are wearing these fragrances. I think the one wearing Scandal is the one who would have my full attention.

Disclosure: This review is based on three samples of Scandal which were given to me.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Reminiscence Patchouli Blanc- A Whiter Shade of Patchouli

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December is always a difficult month for me as a perfume blogger. I try to make sure I squeeze in reviews of all of the fragrances I haven’t yet written about that I am considering for year-end honors. Which means other new samples get short changed a bit as I am very focused on that task. That’s why I am thankful for the quiet of January. It allows me to give some of those late arriving perfumes some attention. One of the casualties of the end of year triage is if a brand hasn’t been as interesting lately that new release is likely to be delayed in my trying it out. Reminiscence Patchouli Blanc is the beneficiary of that delay.

Reminiscence is one of those brands which seems to sporadically produce a really good perfume. Their original Patchouli, released in 1970, is one of the great patchoulis as well as being one of my favorites. Over the ensuing 45 years this has been a brand with some real diamonds among the trivial. Many of them have been different interpretations of patchouli. Perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin made the last Reminiscence perfume I really liked Vanille, in 2012. Which made me happy to see M. Pellegrin as the perfumer behind Patchouli Blanc.

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Fabrice Pellegrin

According to the press materials Patchouli Blanc is meant to be a collection of “white” raw materials. I know many see different raw materials as different colors but only the opening and closing keynotes are anything I would describe as white. What I liked about Patchouli Blanc was M. Pellegrin’s effort to soften the patchouli into something more approachable.

Patchouli Blanc opens with a roar of aldehydes. This is something I would consider white. The star anise that M. Pellegrin adds to the aldehydes does not read white to me. Because of the licorice quality I think of it as black. Which actually sets it up as a nice counterbalance to the aldehydes. M. Pellegrin chooses hawthorn as the heart note to arise from among the aldehydes and anise. To keep this from being too strident he begins the softening effect with a mixture of synthetic ionones adding a powdery effect. Again this doesn’t read white it comes off more similar to pink. Where the white does return is in the use of one of the fractional patchouli distillates. This fraction has removed many of the earthier qualities of patchouli. Using distillation to clean it up from its head shop reputation. This patchouli fraction is a continuation of the softness started with the ionones.  A bit of sandalwood provides some woody depth but it is the ionones and the patchouli fraction which form the very soft foundation of Patchouli Blanc.

Patchouli Blanc has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

M. Pellegrin does a very creditable job in cleaning up and softening the character of a note as well-known as patchouli. Patchouli Blanc is definitely a whiter shade of patchouli.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I received from Reminiscence.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Histoires de Parfums Fidelis- Cardamom Alloy

I think when you look out at fragrance industry that produces so many new fragrances it is easy to become a bit jaded. I know one of the things which keeps that from happening to me is watching the younger generation of perfumers begin to develop what will become their signature style. One of those younger perfumers who I am enjoying watch evolve is Julien Rasquinet. It Is early on in his career but one of the things which I am finding he is particularly adept at is forming a specific accord as a focal point for many of the perfumes he composes. His latest for Histoires de Parfums is called Fidelis and it shows this.

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Gerald Ghislain

Another thing I have admired about M. Rasquinet is his ability to collaborate with creative directors. Gerald Ghislain has been the creative director behind Histoires de Parfums since its inception in 2000. His vision for what makes an entry in his brand has been remarkably consistent over that time. Fidelis is the seventh perfume in the Editions Rare line, following the two trilogies of Ambrarem, Petroleum, Rosam and Veni, Vidi, Vici. Fidelis stands on its own.

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Julien Rasquinet

The Editions Rare releases are set to the theme of different types of gold. Fidelis is meant to be pink gold. Pink gold is actually an alloy of about 20% copper and 80% gold. The alloy has an unusual beauty as it seems like the yellow gold provides a warmth to the copper producing pink. M. Rasquinet also goes for a similar effect in Fidelis taking the well-known oud and rose combination and adding a cardamom laced spice accord to ensnare it.

Fidlelis opens on a fabulous rich cardamom. I relished the first few moments every time I wore Fidelis. As a cardamom lover this is so good I want M. Ghislain to just release the cardamom. That is not what makes a whole composition and M. Rasquinet takes this cardamom and wraps it up with saffron and cumin. This is the accord building I am speaking of which is becoming a characteristic of M. Rasquinet. The saffron provides a shimmery warmth to the cool cardamom. The cumin adds a more primal element to the accord. Together this is a deeply satisfying cardamom accord. The note list mentions coffee but it never came out on my skin. The heart is rose with a bit of raspberry accentuating the sweet over the spicy as the top accord is persisting into the heart and carries the spice quotient. All of this rests on a base of oud, amber, and patchouli. Here the cumin comes full circle and pulls the patchouli into the spice accord. The oud harmonizes with that accord as the amber and the rose fill in the spaces.

Fidelis has 16-18 hour longevity and average sillage.

I am coming to categorize M. Rasquinet’s perfumes in my head based on their accords. Fidleis goes down as the “amazing cardamom, cumin, and saffron” one. If you are a fan of spices in perfume and cardamom in particular Fidelis needs to be on your list to try. It is my favorite of the Editions Rare.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Histoires de Parfums.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

As of September 2015 the late-night television landscape has finished its generational face lift. In just 24 months almost all of the late night, and late late night, shows changed their hosts. Jimmy Kimmel on ABC was the only exception on the major broadcast networks. The last one to join is The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

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One of the things I have liked about all of the new faces in the late night hours has been the different ways the hosts, and their staffs, have re-examined the tried and true tropes of late night. Stephen Colbert had been the host of the very successful The Colbert Report on Comedy Central prior to taking over as the host of The Late Show after David Letterman’s retirement. Mr. Colbert has brought some of the structure of the previous show while leaving behind the character he played on that show. Although there are some nights I’m not sure the studio audience knows it is a different show. The same chanting happens as Mr. Colbert takes the stage as it did on The Colbert Report.

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Mr. Colbert has made his monologue a cold open prior to the credits. I like this structure as it is usually a shorter much more highly focused suite of jokes. After the opening credits roll, from behind the desk, Mr. Colbert comments on the news and pop culture. This is the most obvious similarity to The Colbert Report. What is nice about this section is now that he is not playing a character we see the actual person doing commentary. I liked The Colbert Report but the character wore thin on me pretty quickly. I have to say that was my biggest fear about Mr. Colbert taking over The Late Show. It was unfounded as Mr. Colbert has turned out to be much more interesting to me as himself. He is the only one of the new breed of late night hosts not to have a sidekick to talk with. He dances a bit with his band leader Jon Batiste, who fronts the band Stay Human, but he hasn’t included him in bits or as a straight man. He has the faith to stand on the stage by himself.

He reminds me a lot of Dick Cavett who had a late night show on ABC from 1968-1974. Mr. Cavett frequently had newsier figures on his show. Mr. Colbert has done more of this than his competitors. It feels like he is staking out the territory of the “thinking person’s” choice to follow up their local news. He has had many of the 2016 Presidential candidates on. One of the great early moments for the show was when Republican Senator Ted Cruz was explaining his stance on same sex marriage and the audience began to boo. Mr. Colbert cut them off with, “However you feel, he’s my guest. Please don’t boo him.” It was an important early marker to lay down. His audience has been extremely respectful of all the guests since that moment. I think it is going to make The Late Show with Stephen Colbert a place where guests who cover the entire political spectrum will feel comfortable.

I believe this is the best lineup of shows in late night ever. Each host brings something different to the table which allows the viewer to gravitate to the one which does the best job at being the last thing they watch before sleeping. Mr. Colbert has become the final part of this Golden Age.

Mark Behnke

What’s in a Name?

The perfume brand which has always provided me the most pleasure is Jean Patou. Early on in my perfume acquisition stage I was shown the original fragrances composed by perfumer Henri Almeras from 1925-1946. In 1984 Jean Patou re-released all of these fragrances under the name Ma Collection. These were incredibly faithful to the original formulations. I have since compared them to vintage bottles and most of the differences can be attributed to the difference in age. Smelling these the first time was one of those perfumed coup de foudre moments. I set off on getting the best version of those Ma Collection bottles I could. They all hold a very cherished place in my heart.

For years I wanted Jean Patou to be as cherished a heritage brand as Chanel or Guerlain. In 1999, Jean Kerleo handed over the in-house perfumer reins to Jean-Michel Duriez. By making this change it seemed to indicate the future was bright. When Proctor & Gamble acquired them in 2001 I was very hopeful especially because they kept M. Duriez. The construction of a boutique in Paris made me believe a new era was near. Then nothing. I constantly asked anyone I thought might know, “Is there any news about Patou?” Only to get a negative response.

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Until in 2011 I got a different answer, “Patou has been sold to an English company, Designer Parfums, Ltd.” I had never heard of them but I was again hopeful. The new management again made an excellent choice as new perfumer in Thomas Fontaine. Right away they stated their intention to re-release the original Jean Patou fragrances as the Heritage Collection. This time I was a little less enthused because of the numerous restrictions on the use of keynote materials in all of those perfumes. M. Fontaine was going to be handicapped in trying to reconstruct similar accords with the modern equivalents.

I have touched on this difficulty in the articles I wrote comparing the original Patou pour Homme and Vacances with their Heritage Collection versions. M. Fontaine has done an admirable job but the Heritage Collection versions bear only a slight resemblance to their forerunners. At first I was sort of okay with this but now I am concerned that this is a little disingenuous.

I think all of the Heritage Collection fragrances are good to very good there is not one I consider poor. There is also not one which should share the name of the perfume it is imitating. I think it is confusing for the consumer. Someone who has read about Patou pour Homme being the greatest men’s perfume ever will unlikely walk away from the Heritage Collection version thinking that. There is where I wish they would do something different in the naming of these new versions. Patou pour Homme could become Patou pour Homme Moderne; Vacances could become Vacances Legere. In the case of Amour Amour they have made the name change to Deux Amours. I don’t know for sure but I am guessing Amour Amour is trademarked by something else and they weren’t given permission to use it. Although probably forced by legal reasons the name fits as a second version of the original.

It is probably too late for anything to be done in this case. I am hopeful that with the trend of resurrecting heritage brands we have seen over the past few years that if it is going to be a reinterpretation of the original it should also have its own name.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Parfums MDCI Les Indes Galantes- C&C Cupcakes

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For being one of the most recent sub genres of perfume the Gourmand sector has been in danger of becoming a cliché. It has gone from delightfully decadent to boringly banal in what seems record time. Too many releases throw together some fruit, some sugar, some spice, and drench it all in vanilla. Maybe one different ingredient, or two, but the result is the same; a seemingly endless assembly line of bland vanilla cupcakes. Thankfully Claude Marchal owner and creative director of Parfums MDCI does not believe in corporate constructed pablum. His vision is of a gourmand that is like a hand-made cupcake which makes the boring other ones seem even less appealing. That is what Les Indes Galantes achieves.

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Claude Marchal

The name comes from the ballet heroique composed by Jean-Philippe Rameau. One of the nice things about some of the names of perfume is I learn something new. This is a work and composer I am completely unfamiliar with. Wikipedia tells me he was the foremost French opera composer during the Baroque period and he played a mean harpsichord. There is nothing about the fragrance which connects to this in any way I can discern,

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Cecile Zarokian

M. Marchal collaborates again with perfumer Cecile Zarokian on their third fragrance for Parfums MDCI. This is the first Gourmand for MDCI and it is only the second in Mme Zarokian’s young career. That relative freshness at approaching a perfume like Les Indes Galantes might be the reason it feels so different to me. Many of the same familiar levels of this type of fragrance are present but M. Marchal and Mme Zarokian take a different tack throughout Les Indes Galantes.

Citrus and berries is a well-worn opening. Mme Zarokian takes the orange and the raspberry but she enhances the tartness of the orange with a good amount of bergamot. The raspberry is elided of much of its juicy berry character by the use of almond restraining that exuberance. This makes the top layer a tug of war between bitter and sweet. In the heart the spices arrive. The three Mme Zarokian chooses are cinnamon, clove, and coriander. In a lesser perfume the cinnamon would lead the way. Mme Zarokian inverts that thinking with the coriander and clove on top and the cinnamon providing a simmering warmth underneath. In the base here comes the vanilla and benzoin but Mme Zarokina turns it exotic with a set of unusual notes to turn the boring into beauty. Labdanum, leather, and heliotrope all provide contrast on top of the sweet.

Les Indes Galantes has 16-18 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

It is so striking when something different in an overextended sector comes along. Les Indes Galantes is like seeing gourmands with new eyes. I can only hope for another lovely cupcake from Claude & Cecile sometime in the future.

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

Mark Behnke