New Perfume Review Parfumerie Generale Bouquet Massai- Don’t Call it a Remake

When it comes to movies I am not a big fan of the remake. The concept of when they take an older movie and take a modern look at it. Sometimes they will flip the genders of the central roles. Sometimes they will slavishly copy the original word for word. Which often displays how important an acting ensemble can be. Very rarely the remake can become more of a rework as the creative team decides to use the outlines but shade them differently. 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers turned a classic B-movie into a taut thriller which also contained a pointed commentary on the 1970’s yuppies.

In perfumery remakes are most often represented by flankers as the same basic story is told over and over again. Then there is independent perfumer Pierre Guillaume who has been releasing a set of perfumes called the Rework Collection within his larger Parfumerie Generale line. The perfumes in the collection each carry a number which is currently up to number 26. For the Rework Collection M. Guillaume has decided to return to earlier releases and rework them numbering them as X.1. What has been nice about the first four releases were they did not feel like flankers. They felt like M. Guillaume returning to the drawing board with a sketch already in place but this time it would result in a different end product.

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Pierre Guillaume

When I spoke with M. Guillaume in Florence at Pitti Fragranze last September I asked him what was next and he told me the rework of Aomassai 10. I have to say while I smiled outwardly; inside I shriveled up a little. I think Aomassai is one of the best perfumes ever made in the independent space. M. Guillaume took a unique perspective on the gourmand fragrance genre. This was like hearing someone was re-making the movie Casablanca in my mind. I was worried where this would go. In January I received the press release for Bouquet Massai 10.1. Now it was reality.

One of the things M. Guillaume has been exploring in these reworks is the concept that if you take the core accord and surround it with different things can you make something as compelling. For Bouquet Massai the central accord of coffee and Cashmeran from Aomassai is brought over; then immersed in floral notes of peony, magnolia, and karo karounde. What results is a much more defined version of that central accord in which the bitter qualities are enhanced and the roasted nature attenuated.

Bouquet Massai opens with the coffee and Cashmeran nucleus in place. It is rapidly hung with lei of the three main florals. I noticed peony first. The heady jasmine-like nature of karo karounde next. Finally, the magnolia. Each new floral serves to sharpen the bitter nature of the coffee. They gave it more bite. Where Aomassai was a smoother softer gourmand; Bouquet Massai has taken the softness away leaving a different feeling. Bouquet Massai comes together with a snap. Within that crispness I realized how versatile the coffee-Cashmeran accord is to anchor two disparate versions. Bouquet Massai finishes with some soothing sandalwood to take some of the sting out of things.

Bouquet Massai has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

As was done with Invasion of the Body Snatchers M. Guillaume has presented a rework which allowed me to see Bouquet Massai as a creation all its own.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Nature of Celebrity

I am fascinated with celebrity and how it is perceived. Why is one celebrity held up to more scrutiny than another? For the ones which somehow miscalculate an endless stream of paparazzi and TMZ gotcha quotes are in their future. What is also fascinating is once you are put into that category it never seems to go away. Even when you are no longer doing whatever it is that makes you famous. Britney Spears is long past her time at the top of the music world yet she is found on the front page of the celebrity tabloids. I wonder if she will ever escape that scrutiny. This is also something which happens disproportionately to females. Sure George Clooney, and Brad Pitt put up with much of the same insatiable reporting but there are a couple dozen female celebrities which have to deal with this.

I don’t include Madonna, Miley Cyrus, or Alec Baldwin in this category because they court the chaos. They choose to ride the bucking bronco of celebrity and hope they don’t get thrown off the horse. That takes a certain amount of confidence to try and harness the furor to your own ends. All three of the ones I mentioned have made careers out of it, including a few booking photos. They’ll protest their treatment only to be right back doing it within days.

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Adele

The harder trick to pull off is to be very famous but somehow never cause the sharks of popularity to get the scent of your blood in the water. Two young celebrities who I think are getting this right are singer Adele and actress Jennifer Lawrence.

They are both at the very pinnacle of their respective careers. They both began 2016 with huge moments as Adele released her third album “25”. Jennifer Lawrence received her fourth Oscar nomination in six years. While at the same team being the lead actress in the blockbuster “The Hunger Games” movie franchise. By every measure you could use both of these talented artists have defined their own success. They are rarely on the covers of the tabloids and they are rarely stalked by photographers. I think it comes down to one very definable reason for both of them. They allow the public to see the real them when they are on view, there is no insatiable desire to see what they are doing when the lights are off because we see the real them when they are on.

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Jennifer Lawrence

Examples of this are the two video segments Adele did for two talk shows. She participated in an audition for an Adele impersonator on BBC”s “The Graham Norton Show”. She also took a spin in Carpool Karaoke on “The Late Late Show with James Corden”. In both cases we saw the real woman underneath the celebrity while at the same time celebrating that same thing.

Jennifer Lawrence also has the ability to self-deprecatingly slalom through all of the publicity she does for her various movies. When she makes a promotional appearance promoting her upcoming projects they are never a moment when she sits down and just talks about that. Instead she looks like she is having fun joking about herself. Her actions on the red carpet at awards shows also show an actress who doesn’t find celebrity a chore but something to enjoy while you have it.

I know both women are probably just one bad experience from becoming overly guarded; which I hope never comes. They are both so refreshingly honest I want them to be examples of how incredible celebrity can also be equally genuine.

Mark Behnke

Fourteen Basic Perfumed Plots?

When it comes to fiction there is a thesis which says there are only a finite number of stories. Everything which comes from that is derivative of the original. The problem with this is there is no agreement on how many comprise the baseline. The number varies from three to twenty. Which says to me there is some flaw in the thesis. In perfumery though that might be more accurate than in prose.

What got me thinking about this is a couple of recent reviews, of a chypre and a cologne, elicited two different e-mails on how derivative they were. These are two of the oldest perfume forms there are. How different from 1917’s Chypre de Coty and Jean Marie Farina’s 1709 Eau de Cologne does it have to be? The outlines of chypre and cologne were set by those two perfumes that is why we remember them. The question becomes does everyone after just become a different form of flattering imitation? My correspondents believe that if it comes close enough then they are unworthy of being seen as original. Just as with the concept of a finite number of basic plots I believe it is what a creative team does with these forms which allows them to tell a similar story but not necessarily the same story.

copier

I would say that neither Chypre de Coty or Farina’s cologne would be lauded as the very best chypre or best cologne. In both cases I view them as the alpha with a lot more of the alphabet to come. The pinnacle comes when a creative team looks at these nascent forms and evolves them. The originals are still there within but the fragrance itself is different. That’s the easy case and not what my correspondents were talking about.

In both of these recent cases the question centered around whether changes have more to do with concentration changes on a classic form of chypre and cologne. If you upgrade the raw materials while making it stronger; is that different? I am more inclined to agree with my correspondents on this point. Although in the cases we were discussing I don’t agree with them that is what was going on. I feel the creative teams were going for something different and the similarity is more pronounced but not flat out copying. I absolutely see the counterpoint being offered. I just think these new perfumes did provide something different.

When I look at the classifications in Michael Edwards’ Fragrances of the World and see the entire perfume concordance broken down into fourteen categories I think perfumery is closer to living up to the thesis that there are fourteen basic olfactory stories. It is up to the creatives to make us forget that.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Aether Arts Perfume Reefer Madness- Midnight Movies

Before there were hundreds of cable television channels and the internet to amuse you late at night there were midnight movies. Back in the 1970’s on Friday and Saturday nights the local movie theatres showed a set of specific movies at midnight. None of these were current movies. They always fell into a category of very broad humor, adult animation, concert films, and one very strange public service announcement called Reefer Madness. All of these had the common thread of being even better if you were in an enhanced state of mind. Reefer Madness was particularly funny because the 1936, 68-minute film about the dangers of marijuana was so ridiculous it had become a comedy by the mid 1970’s. The tragic story of drug use gone bad was an overheated morality play. With that as background I had a big smile on my face when I received the fourth entry in Cannabis Series by independent perfumer Amber Jobin for her Aether Arts Perfume brand called Reefer Madness.

Ms. Jobin is based in Boulder, Colorado and I imagine with marijuana being legalized in the state it has opened up her ability to consider it as a versatile perfume ingredient. Reefer Madness carries the sub-title “A Narcotic Floral”. Ms. Jobin goes for a big overheated floral. It is an appropriate companion to the movie with which it shares its name.

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Amber Jobin

Ms. Jobin decides to collect a bouquet of indolic florals with which to contrast the natural funkiness of the cannabis flower. Early on honeysuckle opens Reefer Madness on a syrupy sweet chord. Gardenia and jasmine come next and these are full versions of both with the skanky indoles front and center. This provides an excellent platform for the cannabis flower to insert itself into. As I wore Reefer Madness there was this interesting transformation as the cannabis flower rose in presence. Cannabis flower has that dirty smell to it and it would seemingly rise out of the indoles. There is also a considerable sticky green character which also came out. Reefer Madness holds here and it is where it lives up to its sub-title as it draws you into its hypnotic spell. The final bit is some authentic castoreum adding real animalic to the indoles and cannabis.

Reefer Madness has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Thankfully Reefer Madness the fragrance doesn’t end in tragedy as the movie does. Ms. Jobin executes her desired goial of creating something narcotic out of a set of intense floral components. Her use of the cannabis flower amongst the other well-known florals works. I do have to admit I called up Reefer Madness on my streaming service late in the day when I was wearing this. In the end the perfume made me smile as much as the movie did.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Aether Arts Perfume.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Jazmin Sarai Solar’1- Growth Opportunity

There are emerging independent perfumers whom I have known for quite a while. As a writer it is fun for me to watch them evolve. As a scientist it is fun for me to watch them evolve. I often get to participate by critiquing early mods of what they are thinking of releasing. Then they take that bold step of releasing their perfumes to the world. I think one of the more difficult stages is building upon that first set of creations. For many indie perfumers it has taken years to get to the point where they release their first fragrance. Now they have to come up with a follow-up a little more quickly. This is also where those with the more developed skillset begin to separate themselves. It is why I look forward to the second release because it confirms rising talent.

One of those perfumers who has been on my radar for many years is Dana El Masri of Jazmin Sarai. She was always interested in the connection between music, fragrance, and color. Her first set of four releases, which came out about a year ago, were each inspired by a specific song. Her stated desire was to keep doing that. For her fifth release, Solar’1, she uses the song Africa by D’Angelo as her muse. The song is a soulful vocal contrasted with a staccato drum beat mixed at almost the same level. Ms. El Masri has composed an equally soulful perfume with its own bit of persistent rhythm.

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Dana El Masri

Ms. El Masri constructs Solar’1 with a precise percussive style. The first beat comes from ginger. She uses the ginger not in that energetic zippy way it usually appears. Instead she flattens the note out making it more transparent. I like this as the diffusion of that energy makes the ginger subtler. Osmanthus absolute is next. This is one of my favorite notes and, as with the ginger, in this form the osmanthus seems much more expansive. Unlike the ginger I wouldn’t describe this as transparent, it has much more presence. The next two pieces arrive as cocoa and allspice provide some depth to the osmanthus. The cocoa in particular allows for the leathery quality of the osmanthus to have something to interact with. This all comes to a glorious close with an ambery musk base accord. Those last soulful vocals underneath one final drum beat.

Solar’1 has 6-8 hour longevity and minimal sillage.

The improvement in Ms. El Masri’s abilities are clearly evident. Solar’1 is a fragrance of nuance which requires patience to get that balance correct. Ms. El Masri has developed into a perfumer capable of that. Which leaves me with a couplet from the song which seems appropriate, “everyday I see U grow/and remember what U already know”. Solar’1 is evidence of that growth.

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

Mark Behnke

Penhaligon’s 101- Five to Get You Started

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There are very few perfume brands which span the history of modern perfumery. If asked, I am pretty sure most of you reading this could name the usual suspects. I would be surprised if more than a few of you thought of Penhaligon’s.

Penhaligon’s is one of the original perfume brands from England. Started in 1872 by barber William Penhaligon his first scent was called Hammam Bouquet to reflect the hammam which was next door. The line would last for almost 100 years until in 1976 it started creating new releases again. Sheila Pickles would begin the revitalization of Penhaligon’s overseeing the creative direction from 1976- 1999. Current creative director Nathalie Vinciguerra took over in 2008. Both of these women made sure Penhaligon’s continued to evolve throughout the years. It is an underrated brand. If you have never tried them here are the five I would suggest you begin with.

Hammam Bouquet is where Penhaligon’s began but it is the third release Blenheim Bouquet which I think is better. Wiiliam Penhaligon uses lemon and lavender in what would define that as a classic combination. The use of black pepper was way ahead of its time. It would be nearly a century before it showed up prevalently. Here it is an accent note to the woody pine and a few other spices. This is a perfume from 1902 which has no problem being relevant in 2016.

In 1999 Love Potion No. 9 for Men would provide a counterpoint to Blenheim Bouquet. Perfumer Christian Provenzano designed a spice-laden soft Oriental. It opens with rosewood and citrus underpinned with some green. The heart is where cardamom, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, and rosemary form a downy soft spicy core. The base is all warm amber, sandalwood and patchouli. In an era when the masculine oriental was on trend this was, and still is, one of the best.

penhaligon's elixir

One hallmark of Ms. Vinciguerra’s creative influence was she brought some of the best perfumers working to create at Penhaligon’s the next three choices reflect that.

Elixir, released in 2008, was created by perfumer Olivia Giacobetti. It seems unlike most of what Mme Giacobetti was releasing around this time. I think it is why Elixir appeals to me so much. She works in three distinct phases. Top is a spicy mix enhanced with a pinch of eucalyptus. One of my favorite opening to any of Mme Giacobetti’s perfumes. A lilting floral intermezzo of orange blossom leads to a base of incense, sandalwood, and vanilla. One of my favorite perfumes for colder weather.

When you think of English products perfume may not be high on the list but tailoring and men’s suits surely is. Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour captures the smell of a Savile Row tailor expertly in 2010’s Sartorial. M. Duchaufour moves from accord to accord capturing the smell of the fabric, the leather of the showroom, and the steam of the iron. A fragrant still life of the tailor’s milieu.

A ballet studio might not be seen as especially English either. Perfumer Alberto Morillas in 2013’s Iris Prima uses Hedione and Paradisone to create an expansive jasmine heartbeat around which orris, leather, and sandalwood finish the fragrance. One of my favorite perfumes of the last few years.

If you’ve resisted trying Penhaligon’s because you thought it might be old fashioned let these five try to change that opinion.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Nobile 1942 Sandalo Nobile- Sandalwood Data Point

It is refreshing to see a longtime brand make an effort to strike out in new directions. To be sure it can be a risky effort. You might alienate current customers while not adding new ones. For the Italian brand Nobile 1942 that change occurred in the fall of 2014. For 25 previous releases they had all been composed by perfumer Marie Duchene. It definitely provided a brand identity. When I first encountered the brand five years ago it was as a fully formed aesthetic played out over the twenty or so perfumes which had just been released in the US. I don’t know what made creative directors Massimo Nobile and Stefania Giannino decide to move in a new direction with new perfumers. It has almost re-invented what a Nobile 1942 fragrance is. The former aesthetic is gone and in its place is an attempt to seemingly take classical architectures and contemporize them. It has been an uneven effort but I am interested in trying each new release these days to see how the experiment is progressing. The latest data point is Sandalo Nobile.

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Henri Bergia

Sandalo Nobile is the follow-up to last year’s Fougere Nobile. Fougere Nobile is one of these less successful efforts as the attempt to modernize made it murkier and less delineated than I cared for. Sandal Nobile is a success for the same reason Fougere Nobile didn’t resonate with me. I want Sandalo Nobile to have a bit of murky mystery. Perfumer Henri Bergia provides that for me.

Sandalo Nobile gives me something different right from the start. M. Bergia uses saffron and cumin as his openers. Most perfumes would use something to lighten up these divisive notes. Sandalo Nobile embraces them; displaying them front and center in all their pungent glory. I am a fan of both notes and this opening was fantastic to me. If either is a particular annoyance to you this is probably something to stay away from. If you want a slightly dirty spicy opening, spray away. M. Bergia goes for a complete change of pace that might have clunked but instead works incredibly well. The heart is orris, green fig, and gurjum. The gurjum slides in with the cumin. The orris and fig provide opulence and a tinge of green. It has become a little more refined but the rough edges are still present. This all gives way to a beautiful sandalwood full of all the things I look for. M. Bergia uses a bit of benzoin to highlight the sweeter aspects of the sandalwood. At this point the cumin the orris, fig and sandalwood form an accord which lasts all day.

Sandalo Nobile has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

It is an ongoing act of confidence in their ability as creative directors for Sig. Nobile and Sig.ra Giannino to steer Nobile 1942 into new territory. It might be a bumpy ride but it isn’t boring. Sandal Nobile is a successful step towards these goals.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample from Nobile 1942.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Agonist Nordic Noir- Too Real to Enjoy?

There is a small sub-category of niche perfumery which encompasses the ability to capture a scent from real life which might be unpleasant or harsh. These are hard perfumes to review because while I admire the technical effort and skill required to create the smell I struggle with seeing it as something I want to wear. The very few brands, which almost defiantly stride into this area; ask of a perfume lover to consider if something sort of difficult can eventually be something you would still find time to wear. One of those brands is Agonist and its latest release Nordic Noir fits into this category.

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Christine and Niclas Lydeen

I was first introduced to Nordic Noir at Pitti Fragranze in Florence last September. One half of the creative team behind Agonist, Niclas Lydeen, was there to tell me about it. He wanted Nordic Noir to represent that biting cold breath of air taken in extreme cold. The one where the frigid air interacts with the warm skin in your sinus passages. It stings a little. It can cause an uncomfortable pressure. It also smells incredibly clean. Not sterile; frostily clean. Mr. Lydeen and his wife Christine Lydeen again collaborated with perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin as they have for all of the eleven Agonist releases so far. M. Pellegrin gets this exactly right with it all being so true to life that I found it tripped over into unpleasant for me at first blush.

I left Florence with a sample and it has taken a few months for it to finally hit the shelves. That time allowed me to approach it in a much more cautious manner than most perfumes get from me. I loved the realism but wearing it for a couple of days? That would take some working up to. In the end I am happy I did wear it, funnily enough on one of the coldest days of the year with a blizzard to match and on a temperate winter day.

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Fabrice Pellegrin

M. Pellegrin chooses a very interesting pair of notes to open Nordic Noir; cardamom and rosemary. There has been a lot of the greener version of cardamom in use lately. M. Pellegrin returns to the less green version which has a chilly demeanor to it. The rosemary adds back the green with an herbal aspect. The bite of the ice comes courtesy of spearmint, ginger, and heliotrope. M. Pellegrin pushes the concentration of all three. They aren’t present in overdose but they surely are here to make an impression. Spearmint and ginger form the stinging core of which the heliotrope ups the intensity. It is this accord which is the one I have to almost steel myself for. Orris comes along to add a rooty earthy quality of frozen tundra. When I first tried this the mint was too much and the ginger just annoyed me. After some time, I grew to enjoy the stiff breeze they represent here. The blond Nordic woods are represented by a very strong cedar made slightly sweet by vanilla.

Nordic Noir has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Like almost everything which carries the Agonist name Nordic Noir is not a perfume for the faint hearted. The Lydeens have shown a real commitment to their brand aesthetic and it not being for everyone. What Agonist has come to represent is it is a brand which will give the person who tries them something unique. Nordic Noir does this with the icy blast of a Nordic snow field.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample from Intertrade Europe.

-Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Hinds

I am a sucker for all-girl rock bands or rock bands with a woman out front. I think there is something appealing to me hearing a woman with a barely suppressed sneer in her voice backed with driving guitars and drums. My current new band which I have on repeat airplay is Hinds.

Hinds is a Madrid, Spain based quartet which formed in 2011. In 2015 they began to travel outside of Europe and that got them more exposure. I first became aware of them when their single Bamboo went into rotation on the SiriusXM Satellite radio station Alt Nation. They released their first album in January of this year called “Leave Me Alone”. They are part of the lo-fi style where the production values are kept to a minimum. It allows for the guitars to be fuzzier, the drums more muffled, and the voices of lead singers Carlotta Cosials and Ana Garcia Perrote to feel more authentic.

To get a feel for the band check out the “unofficial” official video for the song “San Diego” above. It shows four women living the indie rock life on the road. Even though all videos are just commercials for the band I like the energy that these four young women give off. I think this comes through in the music they produce. The songs on the first album go from hooky pop in the song “Warts” to fuzzed out indie with “Bamboo”. In between the band plays what they want and for a first release it is solid top to bottom.

While I have been listening to this I started considering how far my ability to discover new bands has come. When I became fascinated with Punk Rock in the 1970’s my ability to find the records or to hear it anywhere on commercial radio were slim to none. There was buying vinyl albums imported from Europe for often double the price of a traditional act. Finding a radio show which played anything interesting was also difficult in South Florida. We had exactly two places where you could hear alternative music. One was a public broadcasting station which gave over the 1-3AM slot once a week to Radio Free Miami. The other was the overnight show on the rock station in Fort Lauderdale called WSHE. They gave their longtime late-night DJ the freedom to play whatever he wanted and he ran with it. During a time of my life where I was driving around in the wee hours it was where I would hear something which drove me to the record store to buy another import.  

Now I have all the power of finding others who share my tastes on the internet. There are satellite radio stations playing nothing but the kind of music I want to listen to 24/7. YouTube has taken the place of MTV from thirty years ago if a band wants to put out something visual, that’s not too abysmal.

It makes for interesting musical times and for bands like Hinds to find its audience; even an old man living in Maryland.

-Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Guy Laroche Drakkar- Say Hi to the 70’s

Perfume can sometimes be a veritable time capsule. A creature of its time. Once that time has passed so has the perfume. In the 1970’s western society was in flux. Women were entering the workplace. Disco was king. Leisure Suits were in style. Forty years on we look back at all of that almost quaintly. Many of the fragrances marketed during this time were looking to take advantage of what they saw as new marketing opportunities. Guy Laroche wanted a masculine follow-up to 1966’s Fidji. This would lead to the release of Drakkar.

guy laroche drakkar advert

Of course Drakkar Noir is one of the great classic perfumes of all time and ever since its release in 1982 it has stood the test of time. Drakkar was less timeless. If you look at the advertisement above, they wanted you to think crashing waves. When you try Drakkar and know what the aquatic marine perfumes will smell like, two decades later, it is hard not to smile. That advertisement shows the conflict in how to design this perfume. They also wanted to be a hairy-chested, shirt unbuttoned down to your waist, gold chain wearing fragrance, too. They wanted Drakkar to be the fragrance you smelled when you were doing The Hustle. As so many of the denizens of the Dead Letter Office have shown conflicting concepts lead to problematic marketing.

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Guy Laroche

Drakkar was sold in upscale men’s department stores often right next to Guy Laroche Homme clothing. The problem was the man who was drawn to M. Laroche’s clothing was not that disco dancing player Drakkar was supposed to entice. Drakkar was largely ignored while Fidji was widely acclaimed.

Drakkar opens with very fresh lemon matched up with galbanum. At a time when green was not as in vogue in men’s fragrances Drakkar starts off with galbanum. I think this was their idea of being crashing wave fresh. This all descends into a heart of sage, rosemary, and thyme adding herbal greenness. The base is a mix of patchouli, sandalwood, and vetiver. Those three notes are where you would find that 1970’s swinger peeking out.

Drakkar has 8-10 hour longevity and way above average sillage.

If you’re looking for early insights into how Drakkar would compare to Drakkar Noir the overlap is lemon on top and the same base but in the case of Drakkar Noir the addition of oakmoss. As wrong as they got the marketing on Drakkar they completely got it right for Drakkar Noir. Plus, it is a better perfume in all respects. Drakkar is something to wear when I want to look back to my Saturday Night Fever days and say hi to the 70’s.

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

Mark Behnke