The Sunday Magazine: HBO’s Game of Thrones Season 6

One of my earliest The Sunday Magazine pieces was in praise of the visual adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series in HBO’s Game of Thrones. When I wrote about it back then the television series was using what was on the printed page and putting it on screen with the assistance of Mr. Martin who was writing an episode per season. Through five seasons what I viewed was what I had read but now we have one of the more interesting occurrences with the adaptation of a sprawling high fantasy epic as the current sixth season has passed the books by.

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George R.R. Martin

In every other visual adaptation of a science-fiction or fantasy written series the books have been completed prior to their conversion to the screen. When it was announced that HBO was going to start Game of Thrones before the books were completed I had a selfish thought, “Good it will prod Mr. Martin into writing a bit faster.” I thought that he would do anything to make sure he got to the finish before the television series did. The fifth book “A Dance with Dragons” was released a few months after the end of season 1 in 2011. Since then the next book “The Winds of Winter” has remained unfinished while “Game of Thrones” consumed all of the plot Mr. Martin had written. I thought Mr. Martin would move heaven and earth to get “The Winds of Winter” out before season 6 began showing. That was clearly Mr. Martin’s goal as he posted in his blog on January 2, 2016 when he admitted he would not succeed in achieving it. Which leaves the fans of this series in a fascinating place. The television series is going to finish the story before the author.

game of thrones promo

Mr. Martin, in the same blog post, answered the question will the show spoil the books. “Yes and no” was what he said. He has also said the final destination of both is the same but the path will be different enough.

It has made watching this current season very different for me. In the past I knew what was going to happen and it was fun to know when the big twists were coming. Now we are all learning without foreknowledge together, book reader and viewer. After four of this season’s ten episodes have aired there is a definite feel to the pace being accelerated towards the endgame. In the books there have been assumptions about certain characters coming together but those are not quite there. So far in season 6 those changes are happening at a fairly rapid clip. The chessboard that is Game of Thrones has seemingly swept the board clear of pawns leaving the major pieces in play. Fan theories have been confirmed and dashed as the story moves along.

There are a number of readers of the books who have sworn off watching the series until the books are finished. They feel Mr. Martin should be the one who finishes the story for them. I admire their patience but I am willing to let the showrunners of Game of Thrones, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, tell me the ending. I am looking forward to going back to this fork in the road and taking Mr. Martin’s route when it is published.

Mark Behnke

Santa Maria Novella 101- Five to Get you Started

One way I hope these Perfume 101 posts get used by the readers is when they find a line they’ve never heard of before. Hopefully they will find these articles on their smartphone and they’ll dive in. One brand which is somewhat difficult to find just anywhere is Santa Maria Novella. When you do find it you are faced with a collection which numbers almost fifty bottles staring back at you. This is one of the most underrated collections out there. There are incredibly beautiful compositions covering nearly every style of fragrance. In the end you have to start somewhere; here are the five I think are good choices.

Santa Maria Novella was founded in the 13th century by Dominican friars starting with soaps. In those days it took a few hundred years for word to spread. Eventually people started to travel to Florence for the friars’ products. At some point the evolution to producing perfume occurred. Many of the perfumes on sale today purport to be made with the same recipe and care as they were a few hundred years ago. There is a definitive classic, some might call it old-fashioned, style to the ones which are traced back to the beginning. One of the best examples of this is Iris. The Florentine Iris is to this day one of the most sought after and precious raw materials in perfumery. The friars perfected the formation of an iris concrete which is the star of Iris. It is a very straightforward presentation moving from citrus, some lighter florals before the iris comes out. This is the perfume that taught me the best iris does not just smell of powder it smells of earth, too. Hay, oakmoss, and amber provide the base accord for the iris to shine like a precious jewel upon.

Patchouli is also a formula from the friars. This was equally eye-opening to me. Whenever someone visiting speaks about patchouli smelling like a head shop this is one of the perfumes I present to them to change that thought. Patchouli like the Iris above really enhances the earthy nature of the material. It also uses a gentle application of rose and jasmine to add sophistication. Rosewood and sandalwood provide the woody base.

smn ginestra

The entire collection is full of perfumes with the name of a specific note on the bottle. All of them are well done studies. Ginestra is one which is probably unfamiliar to most. Ginestra is also known as broom. Broom in the wild has a honey-like floralcy. Ginestra captures that with a cross of hay and neroli. It forms a sweetgrass kind of accord. From the lightness Ginestra heads into the depths as oakmoss and birch form a biting base accord.

In 2006 Santa Maria Novella began working with perfumer Fabrizio Morgenni. The final two choices come from those he has added to the friars’ work.

Citta di Kyoto was the first Santa Maria Novella perfume I tried. Expecting some spare Japanese aesthetic I was faced with a lush iris and lotus. Sig. Morgenni opens with a bit of orange before allowing the iris and lotus to float serenely on a sandalwood base. This is Kyoto as seen by Florence.

Tabacco Toscano is the best of these modern releases. Sig. Morgenni opens with the animalic sweetness of refined leather which he pairs with a green tinted tobacco. This isn’t the dried narcotic leaf. This is the fresh picked version still carrying earthiness and sharp green facets as well as the nicotinic depth.

If you come across Santa Maria Novella I hope you have the chance to let these five introduce you to this brand.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews The Fragrance Kitchen A Rose with a View & Palm Fiction- Can You Smell What The Sheikh is Cooking?

When I attend the large perfume expositions I see lots of brands trying to position themselves for the Middle Eastern market. There is a seemingly insatiable desire for fragrance in that part of the world. Sheikh Majed al-Sabah decided to go a different way. As part of his retail business he decided to create his own line of fragrance. In 2012 he debuted The Fragrance Kitchen in Kuwait. I had scant opportunity to try the line but there were chances to try a couple of them here and there. It was surprising to me not to find the typical ingredients associated with Middle Eastern perfumery in the ones I tried. Since I am not a Sheikh I did not expect to be visiting Kuwait anytime soon to try more than the few I had. Turns out I didn’t have to as The Fragrance Kitchen has come to me.

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Sheikh Majed al-Sabah

In April of 2016 Sheikh al-Majed opened two US stores. One in New York City inside Bergdorf-Goodman and the other inside of Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills. Along with this Sheikh al-Majed designed two city exclusive releases. A Rose with a View is the NYC one which captured his time in New York as he had a room with a view of Central Park and a vase of roses. The Beverly Hills inspired one is called Palm Fiction and is inspired by the famous Martinique wallpaper of palm leaves which decorates The Beverly Hills Hotel. I was again pleased that both of these perfumes were designed with Western tastes in mind.

A Rose with a View is a spicy rose upon a patchouli sandalwood foundation. It opens with a Turkish rose right away. The spicy nature of this kind of rose blends prettily with violet in the heart. The violet modulates the rose towards a fuller floral character. Sandalwood forms the base accord with patchouli. Some musk and amber round out the final stages. A Rose with a View has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Palm Fiction is the one which really grabbed me. In the summer I want something which is light but not necessarily the typical fresh cologne construct. Palm Fiction is that kind of fragrance as it carries a great warm-weather vibe without being insipid. A bit of pink pepper leads into a floral heart of iris, jasmine, and rose. This is a fantastically balanced accord of these three florals which can be so distinctive and overbearing most of the time. in Palm Fiction they are combined in such a way that they never outstay their welcome. It is an odd thing to write but they are refreshing in their presentation here. The base here is a mixture of white musks over more transparent sandalwood and patchouli. Palm Fiction has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Both of these first entrees for the American market have made me more interested to delve further into the brand because I am definitely interested to smell what the Sheikh is cooking.

Disclosure: this review was based on samples provided by Intertrade Europe.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Mizensir Bois de Mysore- How to Build an Accord

I have been having multiple discussions lately on who the greatest living perfumer is. It is a silly debate with no clear-cut correct answer. Any perfumer in the discussion has the credentials to deserve the dubious accolade. It also brings out what qualities I see as important in my own personal assessment. One name I mention almost immediately is Alberto Morillas. For over thirty years M. Morillas has worked at every level of perfumery. If there was a sector where he hadn’t been quite as prolific it was niche. Which was why when I heard he was going to make perfume for the Swiss brand Mizensir I had to find out more.

Last summer I dove in blind to pick up a bottle of Eau de Gingembre. Since I posted that review I have acquired all the subsequent releases. If there is an emerging aesthetic it is that of M. Morillas fusing high quality natural ingredients with high impact synthetics. The entire line has the feel of an ongoing masterclass in how to get the most out of both sides of the perfumer’s palette. The latest release, Bois de Mysore, is an example of how to build an accord to replace an endangered species.

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Alberto Morillas

Mysore sandalwood was so overharvested for its qualities that the Indian government had to step in and regulate it to protect it. There is no other source of sandalwood which provides the nuance and depth of genuine Mysore sandalwood. Perfumers have turned to other sources from other countries. These are all great sandalwoods but they lack the grace notes of the Mysore version. This leaves a perfumer in the position of having to create an accord to replace the unobtainable. In Bois de Mysore it feels like M. Morillas is presenting his version of a Mysore sandalwood accord.

Bois de Mysore is not meant to be just a sandalwood soliflore. M. Morillas wants to create a complete perfume; it is only in the final half of the development where the sandalwood accord is most prominent. Before that Bois de Mysore opens with a breezy mix of mandarin and neroli. It makes a very enticing first impression. Jasmine holds the heart picking up both of the top notes to form a citrusy floral opening. Now M. Morillas begins to assemble his pieces. First are green cardamom and violet leaf. One of the things I always remark on in Mysore sandalwood is there is a bit of a raw green underpinning. The cardamom and violet leaf provide that to the Sri Lankan sandalwood M. Morillas uses here. As the sandalwood rises the green notes fall into line behind the wood. There is another quality I associate with Mysore sandalwood and it what I call an “ashy” character. It is almost a mineral kind of effect but not quite. M. Morillas uses the synthetic musk ingredient Vulcanolide to provide this. When this all comes together it is a beautiful reminder of what an expertly constructed accord can do.

Bois de Mysore has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Throughout my days wearing Bois de Mysore that final part of the development always was on my mind as I would enjoy the slow build to the complete accord. Just one more data point when having that discussion about great perfumers.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Jo Malone Black Vetyver Café- Decaffeinated

When it comes to the Dead Letter Office there are entries which come from a brand trying to strike out in a new direction. One which their customers are not interested in following. For some of the longer lived brands there comes a moment after a few years of success with a very specific aesthetic they will take a risk on something different. This was where Jo Malone London was at in 2002.

Jo Malone London was the early success story of independent perfumery. Ms. Malone had grown her business starting in 1994 with the release of Nutmeg & Ginger into something Estee Lauder would acquire in 1999. Part of the deal allowed Ms. Malone to continue on as creative director where she remained until 2006. The upside of the acquisition was expanded distribution which would see the heretofore difficult to find fragrances in the US begin to expand into the luxury department stores in the first five years of the new century. As part of this expansion there would be new releases to put a new shine on the previous collection.

If there was something that was frequently commented on with those early releases it was they were light. Maybe too light. There were lots of people who would criticize the longevity of the line; feeling it needed to be re-applied in an hour or two. The early releases fell into two categories either citrus or floral. As Jo Malone was starting life as part of a big company it seems the powers that be decided it was time for a change.

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Jean-Claude Delville

There were four new releases between 2002-2003. Three of them have been discontinued. One has remained as part of the collection. The four were Wild Fig & Cassis, Stephanotis & Cassia Café, Orange Blossom, and Black Vetyver Café. Which one do you think survived the Dead Letter Office? Of course it was Orange Blossom. The other three represented a different take as they went with assertive themes around keynotes which were not light. In the long run they would prove to be too different none more so than Black Vetyver Café.

Black Vetyver Café was released in 2002 by perfumer Jean-Claude Delville. The gourmand style of perfume was just gaining traction. At that point almost all of them were sweet. For Black Vetyver Café M. Delville wanted to focus on coffee as the keynote. The version he used as the focal point was the roasted whole bean. If you’ve ever opened a fresh bag of roasted coffee beans you will know the coffee being used here. It has a nutty character along with a tiny amount of sour oiliness. That is what you smell right from the moment it hits your skin. The heart is a mix of nutmeg and coriander used to pick up those nutty and oliy qualities. Turning it much richer. The woods come next and the coffee reasserts its core character. Then the promised vetiver swathes it in green. A very transparent incense skirls throughout the final drydown.

Black Vetyver Café has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

As far as I was concerned this new direction was fantastic. Black Vetyver Café was the first Jo Malone full bottle I owned. Unfortunately, I was not joined by others. Black Vetyver Café would be discontinued around 2012-ish. By that point Estee Lauder had come to realize what the Jo Malone customer desired and it wasn’t bold. It was more of the florals the brand had been founded on.

It is admirable that there was an attempt to try something different. Sometimes the perfumes which find their way into the Dead Letter Office are put there by the will of the consumer. In the case of Jo Malone those customers wanted to have their favorite brand decaffeinated.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Grace by Grace Coddington- CdG Rose?

There is an adage which says you should never meet your idols; you’re bound to be disappointed. I’ve had that opportunity a few times and I can say I have had more live up to my expectations rather than live down to them. On the perfume front I have been sorely disappointed by many of the perfumes of the people I consider most inspirational in fashion. The latest perfume to try and break this streak is Grace by Grace Coddington.

Most people became aware of Ms. Coddington through the 2009 documentary “The September Issue” which chronicled the production of the September 2007 issue of Vogue. Ms. Coddington had been creative director at Vogue during that time. In the movie Ms. Coddington has her work removed from the issue by Anna Wintour. In the clip from the movie above she mentions how hard it is to see your work removed and to move on. As of January of this year Ms. Coddington has moved on to doing her own thing while still retaining the title of Editor-at-Large at Vogue. For Grace by Grace Coddington she turned to Comme des Garcons as her collaborator to bring her vision to life.

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Christian Astuguevieille

Ms. Coddington worked with Christian Astuguevieille who was co-creative director for the fragrance. Ms. Coddington wanted a light rose. M. Astuguevieille wanted to give that rose the Comme des Garcons twist. Emilie Coppermann was the perfumer they chose to see things through. Together they succeeded in their aims.

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Emilie Coppermann

Despite Ms. Coddington’s affection for the English Tea Rose the rose source chosen for Grace by Grace Coddington is the Moroccan version. The reason for this is I think the Comme des Garcons aesthetic was going to arrive in the form of herbal notes of mint and basil. A more delicate rose would have been steamrolled by the herbs. In the early moments it is rose and peach in a perfectly respectable fruity floral opening. Then the mint and basil come in. The basil is a great choice to partner the mint as it provides some ability to temper the more common aspects of mint. Mme Coppermann strikes the right balance and the green pushing back against the peachy rose is very nice. I ended up being a bit disappointed in the generic nature of the base accord which is a combo of cashmeran, a few white musks, and a pinch of amber. It keeps things soft but it is so pedestrian.

Grace by Grace Coddington has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Grace by Grace Coddington is definitely a Grace Coddington inspired creation with a Comme des Garcons flair. I liked it but on the days I wore it I kept wondering if it couldn’t have been something more. I also wondered if my admiration of Ms. Coddington was tinting that perception. I also wonder if the virtual avalanche of light rose releases in the last few months also added to that. Of all of that light rose noise which has ended up on my desk Grace by Grace Coddington has enough signal to rise above. I think this is much more a perfume to recommend to those who can’t get enough rose than it is to Comme des Garcons fans.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Ex Nihilo Sweet Morphine- Addicting Floral

The new perfume brand Ex Nihilo definitely likes exploring the field of powerhouse florals. In the first set of releases three of them explored some of the more common florals; Rose Hubris and Jasmine Fauve along with Fleur Narcotique. The naming of the last one might give you to think founders and creative directors Benoit Verdier, Olivier Royere, and Sylvie Loday see florals as something which are happily habit-forming. With one of their two newest releases, Sweet Morphine, this belief has further confirmation.

One of the other interesting aspects of Ex Nihilo is that they are choosing different perfumers to achieve the floral effect they desire. For Sweet Morphine they asked perfumer Nathalie Gracia-Cetto to create a fragrance with iris as that nucleus to build around. Mme Gracia-Cetto uses orris butter as the keynote. Surrounding the fantastic raw material are variations on green.

Nathalie Gracia-Cetto

Nathalie Gracia-Cetto

Mme Gracia-Cetto chooses lily as the top note. This version of lily has much of the greener qualities pushed forward. It keeps the lily from being cloying. Then the orris arrives. This is a richer iris effect with much of the lighter powderiness overridden by the concentration and the lily. This is the iris source I like best because it eschews the powder for the rooty earthiness of the rhizome. To keep that beat going patchouli supports it. Vetiver bookends the green from the lily in the top but this time in a sharper way. Any tiny trace of delicacy gets pushed aside by the vetiver. The final note is vanilla to provide the promised sweet in the name. Its presence is a nice way to change things up over the last phase of the development.

Sweet Morphine has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

In a perfume market where lighter and fresher seems to be the prevailing trend it is nice to see a brand going in a different direction. Sweet Morphine makes it a fourth addition to the cabinet of addicting florals being produced by Ex Nihilo.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Two of my favorite forms of literature are the hardboiled crime novel exemplified by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. This form shows a corrupt society where a hero needs to function with his own set of rules. The other favorite is cyberpunk. The science-fiction genre which deals with near-future timeframes where it is slightly dystopian and all technological. Our heroes also have to follow their own specific code (pun not intended) to survive cyberspace. The basic foundation should be a perfect match for a clever author to combine the two. It seems like it is easier said than done. The best example is the 2002 book Altered Carbon by author Richard K. Morgan.

altered carbon cover

Mr. Morgan introduces us to a classic locked room mystery set in the morally ambiguous cyberpunk milieu. Our hero and narrator is Takeshi Kovacs. Before the prologue is over we are quickly introduced to a world where physical death is not the end. Everyone has a digital stack at the place where the spinal cord meets the cranium. In that stack is everything that makes you a person. It updates regularly and when you die that data is transferred to a new body. The bodies are referred to as sleeves. The only true death is to hold a gun directly on the stack and destroy that. The richest have lived for hundreds of years this way and are called Meths, short for Methuselah. One of the longest lived Meths is presumed to have committed suicide by putting a gun to his stack; in a locked study. When he wakes up in his new sleeve the last 48 hours are missing. He believes he was murdered and hires Takeshi Kovacs to find out the truth.

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Richard K. Morgan

Mr. Morgan moves effortlessly between the two genres. Mr. Kovacs is the first person narrator with a style that could come from San Francisco of the 1940’s as easily as Bay City of the indeterminate future. The concept of immortality as a function of digitizing our consciousness is a classic cyberpunk theme. Live forever in the digital stream.

The story moves to a satisfying conclusion which lives up to both hardboiled and cyberpunk traditions.

I was very excited to hear that Netflix has ordered a 10-episode series adapting the book.

As we approach the beginning of the beach reading season if you want a well-done combo platter grab a copy of Altered Carbon.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Auphorie Miyako- Glorious Osmanthus

There are perfumes that I believe are only achievable by a small independent perfumer. The raw materials can only be sourced in small batches. They can push concentrations to higher levels. Frankly, they can take the risk of failing. Because if they miss their vision there’s always the next idea. When they come together they reach into different places than most other perfumes. Many of the perfumes I write about from the independent perfume community are emblematic of this style of derring-do. Another prime example is Auphorie Miyako.

Auphorie is the line of Eugene and Emrys Au based in Malaysia. The Aus have a stated goal of producing perfumes that are difficult to mass produce. On top of that they are scavengers of exotic raw materials which they use in their compositions. Miyako was one of their first releases. The brief was to imagine walking through the ancient city of Miyako during the height of the osmanthus flower season. As you stroll by the flowers their bouquet arises. The Aus have made one of the most intensely satisfying osmanthus fragrances I have tried.

eugene and emrys au

Eugene and Emrys Au

Osmanthus is one of my favorite perfume raw materials because of its dual nature of having very distinct apricot and leather facets with the floral sweetness. It makes it a perfume all on its own. Except in the case of Miyako the Aus decide to go all in by doubling up on the fruit and leather allowing the osmanthus to pivot through its phases buttressed by similar notes enhancing the experience.

Miyako opens with a fruity trio of peach, yuzu, and apricot. The early moments are the fuzzy peach and tart yuzu before the apricot persists. By having apricot as a note on its own it allows the osmanthus to sort of rise up out of it. What arrives with the osmanthus is a lilting green tea note which floats along as the apricot begins to modulate towards the leather. To further that transition the Aus add in their own leather accord. This is black motorcycle jacket leather. It has a bit of oiliness to it which matches the floral source of the more transparent leather. There is a moment about an hour or two in where the osmanthus is laid bare with all of its character splayed out and enhanced when Miyako is at its pinnacle. Eventually things must move on. Hinoki and sandalwood provide the woody aspect of the base accord; patchouli and musk come along a little later to finish things.

Miyako is extrait strength and has 14-16 hour longevity but moderate to no sillage.

Miyako is a perfume which could have gone off the rails if the Aus had added even a smidge more apricot or leather. Instead Miyako stands as an example of why independent perfumery can so often get it gloriously correct.

Disclosure; This review is based on a sample I received from Auphorie.

Mark Behnke

Editor’s Note: Auphorie Miyako was a winner in the Artisan category at the 2016 Art and Olfaction Awards.

New Perfume Review Christian Dior La Collection Privee La Colle Noire- Rose de Mai Overdose

If there is any one perfumer who could break me out of my first half of 2016 funk over the amount of pretty, demure roses it would be Francois Demachy. Certainly the sugar coated Rose de Mai he did which was Poison Girl offered me something different than everyone else was doing this year. I have to admit though when I saw the description for the latest Christian Dior La Collection Privee was meant to be a paean to the “flower queen, Rose de Mai.” I was prepared for La Colle Noire to be disappointing. When I finally got the chance to try it when visiting the boutique at Bergdorf Goodman during Sniffapalooza Spring Fling the first sniff did not draw me in. Except the longer I held the card the more I kept coming back to it. La Colle Noire was a pretty, demure rose that was growing on me. After wearing it for a couple of days it finally broke through my general level of disdain for this style of perfume, this year.

The name La Colle Noire comes from the chateau Christian Dior purchased in 1951 not far from the rose fields of Grasse. Grasse is where the Rose de Mai is cultivated. It has become the standard bearer for pretty florals everywhere. There is a part of me that sees its overuse as devaluing what makes it special. M. Demachy wanted to remind me why this particular rose is so prized as a raw material. To do that Rose de Mai is used in overdose and it is practically all you smell for a very long time. La Colle Noire does eventually evolve but if you aren’t a rose lover I don’t think you’ll have the patience to get to where things eventually change.

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Francois Demachy

La Colle Noire feels almost like a linear rose perfume for about an hour on my skin. It is nothing but Rose de Mai. I suspect there is some other source of rose, otto or centifolia, underneath it all. There are moments where there were some facets not generally present in Rose de Mai. Or maybe this is just what you get when there is so much and there is nothing else to distract. At this concentration Rose de Mai loses a little bit of its politeness. Reminded me a bit of a Southern Belle saying, “bless your heart”. It sounds mannered but there is a definitive edge. Eventually the mix of sandalwood and white musks find some traction and begin to add some much needed harmonies. The sandalwood is typical woody contrast. The white musks provided some softening of the overall effect. For much of the last hours I wore La Colle Noire it was much less pronounced than earlier on.

La Colle Noire has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage especially early on.

In the end I feel La Colle Noire is a fragrance primarily for the rose lovers out there. M. Demachy’s presentation of one of the finest sources of rose is worth it for those who can’t get enough rose. It would also be a really fine choice for someone who wanted an excellent representation of Rose de Mai. La Colle Noire stands out for me for the sheer extroverted quality M. Demachy brings to the fore. It took an overdose to get me interested again.   

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample from Bergdorf Goodman.

Mark Behnke