Olfactory Chemistry: Stemone- Find Your Fig Leaf

When I began really expanding my perfumed horizons one of my earliest discoveries were the fig-based fragrances done by perfumer Olivia Giacobetti.  Over the course of three fragrances: L’Artisan Premier Figuier, Diptyque Philosykos, and L’Artisan Premier Figuier Extreme. Though all three of these fragrances there was one aromachemical at the center of Mme Giacobetti’s compositions, Stemone.

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Stemone is an interesting class of chemical called an oxime. Oximes are defined by a double bonded nitrogen(N) which is also bonded to an alcohol(OH), highlighted in red. It is a derivative of the more common fragrance ingredients known as ketones. In the figure above you see Stemone next to the ketone from which it is synthesized, 5-methyl-3-heptanone. As I like to demonstrate in this series even a simple change like you see above has a dramatic effect on the scent profile. 5-methyl-3-heptanone has a sweet herbal scent at a concentration of 10%; at 100% it becomes citrusier. It is not a common fragrance ingredient and it found its uses more as a flavoring to bring that citrus aspect to food products.

When it is converted to Stemone it stops being herbal and goes very green. It is a lighter stand-in for galbanum. It can also be used at higher concentrations to form a fresh-cut grass presence. Its most common usage is as a leafy component so much so that it is called “leafy oxime” by many perfumers.

When it comes to making a fig accord Stemone stands front and center usually representing the fig leaves. It is then left to the perfumer to form the fruit part of the accord from a selection of different lactones depending on the ripeness level of the fig the perfumer is attempting to achieve.

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Olivia Giacobetti

The three perfumes by Mme Giacobetti are fabulous examples of how to tune this accord in different ways. In Premier Figuier the Stemone level is much higher and the lactone Mme Giacobetti employs is also creamier representing a ripe fig still on the tree. When she would move forward to Premier Figuier Extreme she adds to the lactones while pulling back on the Stemone; ripening her fig. For Philosykos she takes the Stemone down to a much more transparent level. This is the beginning of what will become Mme Giacobetti’s evolution to her signature style. It still smells like the fig leaf but an abstracted version. She again changes the lactones to less creamy versions elucidating a greener fig accord while keeping the volume at the same level as the Stemone.

Stemone has continued to be a key building block when a perfumer wants a green effect especially when looking for alternatives to the stronger green ingredients like galbanum. Fig leaves might have been the first clothing for Adam and Eve but in perfumery Stemone makes sure fig leaves have much more of a presence.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review 4160 Tuesdays Maxed Out- Hard Day’s Night

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After reviewing independent perfumer Sarah McCartney’s collaborative Zoologist Macaque yesterday, I thought I’d review one of her fragrances for her own brand 4160 Tuesdays.

Ms. McCartney has been making perfume for about five years now. The name of her brand comes from the idea that if you live to be 80-years old you will see 4160 Tuesdays. Ms. McCartney has admirably crated a brand which is eclectic in all the best ways that adjective can be applied. She has no hesitation to take risks which also allows for her to find really great combinations in the unexpected. I had fallen behind on her latest releases because she is a prolific perfumer, too. She kindly sent me a bunch of samples to catch me up. The one I liked best was last year’s Maxed Out.

Maxed Out is a tribute to Ms. McCartney’s friend Max Heusler a perfume vlogger from New York City. Mr. Heusler had allowed perfume to replace his hard partying days as a younger man. Ms. McCartney wanted to design a perfume which reminded him of those hard charging over-the-top nights. To that end she chose to make Maxed Out an overstuffed night out.

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Sarah McCartney

Maxed Out opens with a rum cocktail cut with coconut and lime. Ms. McCartney wanted Maxed Out to be decadent and right from the first moments she accomplishes this as the rum accord burns with intensity, what goes with a drink at the bar is something to smoke. Ms. McCartney provides both options as a honeyed tobacco mingles with cannabis accord. Like a snowball going downhill they pick up the rum and head for the base. There they are met with a piquant sweaty accord of musk, cumin, and black pepper. My favorite part is the final moment is a wonderfully sly wink of a coffee note to remind you of every cup at a diner just before the sun comes up.

Maxed Out has 10-12 hour longevity and as an extrait has low sillage.

Maxed Out is of a class of perfume which is almost like tossing a kitchen sink worth of notes together. It takes a lot of patience to keep all of these notes working towards an effective cohesion. Ms. McCartney does make it happen seemingly effortlessly. Ms. McCartney is one of those recent additions to the ranks of independent perfumers who blazes her own path fearlessly. I continue to look forward to what comes next.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by 4160 Tuesdays.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Zoologist Macaque- Pushmi-Pullyu

One of the great things about independent perfumery is the ability of talented people to literally follow their nose; wherever it takes them. For the most part this method leads to incredibly unique compositions. On the other hand, I am a big supporter of the advantage an active creative director can bring to a final construct. This year I have received a number of disappointing releases from some of my favorite indie perfumers. I have been wondering if they have painted themselves into a corner which they can’t see. I have also been wondering if they could benefit from a strong voice which could maybe point out that they are in a corner while offering a path out. It is mostly a rhetorical question but there has been one brand which is displaying that once in a while having another person involved in the process might be beneficial. That is Zoologist.

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Victor Wong

Right at the new year founder and creative director of Zoologist, Victor Wong, provided one data point with the release of Bat where he worked with Ellen Covey. Mr. Wong and Dr. Covey formed a real partnership which lead to one of the best perfumes of this year. It was with great interest to see if Mr. Wong could do this again. The new release Zoologist Macaque shows he can.

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Sarah McCartney

For Macaque indie perfumer Sarah McCartney, who works under her own brand 4160 Tuesdays, she contacted Mr. Wong to see if she could add her own fragrance to the menagerie. As she and Mr. Wong discussed what it should be she went back to her fascination with primates as a child along with her study of primatology in college. In the end they decided to render the playful Macaque as their inspiration. This is a great choice because while Ms. McCartney’s work for her own brand is fun Mr. Wong elevates Macaque to a joyful piece of perfumery.

Macaques are often found nearby temples in Asia. The most solemn of ceremonies can be witnessed from the heights of the jungle canopy while the monkeys chew on a piece of fruit cadged from a tourist. All of that has made it into Macaque. Ms. McCartney has made a mixture of fruit, resins, woods, and teas which comes together in stages.

The first stage is the fruit as apple and red mandarin form the top accord. This is the snap of red apple matched with a tart juicy mandarin. Ms. McCartney uses cedar to help define both of the fruity notes. The green of the jungle is set up by galbanum while frankincense matched with jasmine tea forms the basis for the ceremonial. The tea note turns towards a more acerbic green tea while the cedar-like white oud recapitulates the cedar from earlier. It finishes with a furry musk as our monkeys move along to a different part of the temple.

Macaque has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

As I enjoyed my days of wearing Macaque I got to thinking about one of the fanciful creatures from Dr. Doolittle called a Pushmi-Pullyu. It is a creature with two heads at either end. While that might seem like it could end up as a stalemate; if both ends can trust the other to take charge for short periods of time real progress can be made. With Macaque it seems as if Mr. Wong and Ms. McCartney didn’t let the presence of two heads lead to inertia instead they used it to build up momentum as they both rose to the occasion with Macaque.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Kenzoair- Enter Maurice

Kenzo has been one of the most interesting brands I have followed since I started paying attention to the wider world of fragrance. They go through cycles of real originality followed by consolidation and safety. There is one big problem with this kind of fluctuation it is hard to create a brand identity. I believe if a brand fails at that it adds an extra level of difficulty in breaking through to the consumer. If I had to point to a reason why Kenzo has had so much of a problem doing this, it has been because they have never been clear what they wanted to be. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when Celine Verleure was creatively directing, until 1998, and co-directors Delphine Fossoyeux & Patrick Guedj took over after she left you could almost feel like they were going to be a challenger to Comme des Garcons as an early niche leader. They were using some of the current superstars of perfumery in their early days. Names like Ropion, Kurkdjian, Morillas, Cresp, and Menardo all made interesting releases but there was no focus. In 2003 Fossoyeux and Guedj decided it was time to bring to bring in a big star perfumer; enter Maurice Roucel.

M. Roucel was one of the first perfumers who had his name brought from out of the shadows by Frederic Malle. One of the earliest successes of the original Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle was M. Roucel’s Musc Ravageur. The thought at Kenzo was likely to ride this new wave of perfumers as auteurs. They asked him to design a perfume. M. Roucel had been busy making perfume for over twenty years at this point but surprisingly he had never done a vetiver centric fragrance. Kenzoair would check that box.

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Maurice Roucel

M. Roucel would look at the trends of clean and fresh especially in masculine releases. He would choose to find a way to make a vetiver opaquer going for a cleaner version of that very common masculine note. He would keep it simple to allow the transparent vetiver the space to shine.

Kenzoair starts with angelica root in a lighter concentration than you usually run in to. Often this comes off as very earthy and musky. M. Roucel uses bergamot to lighten it up. Vetiver comes next and M. Roucel uses anise to pull that nature of vetiver. I have rarely seen this pairing used and Kenzoair is a good example of why it should be. Herbs are used to pull the herbal nature of lavender all the time. The anise has a similar effect here on the vetiver. It pushes the greener facets to the background which is how M. Roucel does transform it into something less rigid. There is a mixture of woody aromachemicals to finish this off with a similar volume.

Kenzoair has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Kenzoair would have a very short shelf life. It seems the transparency which I find so compelling was not seen the same way by consumers. So much so that Kenzoair Intense was released within two years. Both would be discontinued not too much longer after that. This is the hazard of not forming a distinct brand identity. Kenzoair did not stand for anything but adventurous perfume composition to an uninterested audience.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Coolife Le Cinquieme Parfum- Herbal Kinetics

There is an inherent kinetic energy to the best herbal citrus perfumes. When they are done right the herbs provide a moving platform upon which the citrus can slide around on. As I’ve refined my personal taste over the years I have found I prefer this kind of style. I like having it carry me along with its exuberant nature throughout a day. The latest perfume to do this for me is Coolife Le Cinquieme Parfum.

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Carole Beaupre and Pauline Rochas

Coolife creative directors Carole Beaupre and Pauline Rochas are exploring chakras in their debut collection. For Le Cinquieme Parfum the chakra that is being interpreted is Visuddha which represents “the search for truer knowledge, beyond time and space.” I have not bought into the mysticism behind these perfumes for the most part. What I have bought into is the work perfumer Yann Vasnier has done for the brand as Le Cinquieme is his second composition for Coolife.

M. Vasnier has done some of his best work with the herbal section of his perfumer’s palette. Le Cinquieme Parfum fits that pattern. He also uses some of the higher flying musks to provide the necessary expansiveness and lift to send this fragrance soaring.

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Yann Vasnier

Le Cinquieme Parfum opens with a brilliantly sparkling bergamot which is supported with lemongrass to provide a green vector for the herbal notes to gravitate towards. The first to show up is a leafy mint which pops against the citrus. Then we get a run of juniperberry, sage, basil, and pepper. The keynote for all of this is the synthetic musk Serenolide which provides a sheer kind of lift which gathers up all of these herbal notes expanding their presence like an inflating balloon. Just as it reaches its maximum volume M. Vasnier punctures it with incense leaving behind a set of balsamic notes combined with labdanum.

Le Cinquieme Parfum has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Le Cinquieme Parfum flits around with considerable energy for much of its first few hours. As those herbal notes begin to coalesce only to be expanded upon by the Serenolide it makes for something which has kaleidoscopic development. I’m not sure that I found “truer knowledge” but I did find a new a new fragrance to wear out during the day.

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

Mark Behnke  

New Perfume Review Providence Perfume Co. Tangerine Thyme- Tincture de Cologne

There are many techniques that can only happen within the independent perfume community because of the time-intensive nature of using them. One of those is the process of creating a tincture. A perfumer will place a material into alcohol and allow it to extract the essence from it. The process will be repeated many times as the natural material is continually swapped out until the desired balance is achieved. That any perfumer still does this is to be commended. One perfumer who has made her tinctures the keynotes of many of her perfumes is Charna Ethier of Providence Perfume Co. Here latest release Tangerine Thyme shows off a new one.

Because of the process behind tincturing the ingredient itself is surely one-of-a-kind. It will be nearly impossible to get the exact same concentration back a second time; which is why Ms. Ethier’s tinctures usually are part of limited editions. Tangerine Thyme is no different as Ms. Ethier uses a tincture of a special kind of navel orange called a Cara Cara. Upon this she constructs a classic cologne architecture with typical herbal complements and a couple of unusual choices which help elevate Tangerine Thyme.

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Charna Ethier

The Cara Cara tincture is what opens Tangerine Thyme. Cara Cara oranges have a flesh which approximates the color of grapefruit but these oranges are a lot sweeter. Ms. Ethier captures that as she uses the Cara Cara tincture to represent the tangerine. Petitgrain and neroli are used to modulate the tincture so it carries a bit of pulpy gravitas. The promised thyme provides the herbal harmony. The other inspired choice Ms. Ethier makes is to also use marigold. It provides a different green floral character to the more traditional herbal green from the thyme. The base is a simple silvery frankincense as an austere contrast.

Tangerine Thyme has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

Most of the time a citrus herbal cologne is not something I would wear in the colder weather. As I was wearing Tangerine Thyme over the past week one of the mornings had the first frost of the season. It stood up really nicely. I suspect this is going to be a favorite scarf spray throughout the fall. The effort Ms. Ethier puts in to creating her tinctures is only surpassed by her creativity in employing them in her fragrances. If you need proof pick up Tangerine Thyme.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Providence Perfume Co.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

When it comes to storytelling I am a fan of the kind which respects my intelligence by just tossing me inside their reality and letting me figure it out as I go along. Even more I like it when there are things for me to notice which have nothing to do with anything but go by in a flash for a laugh. I know this is not the preferred choice for many but for those who share my enthusiasm for this kind of storytelling I have a new TV show for you.

When I was at New York Comic-Con they previewed the first episode of the new BBC America series Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. The story comes from the universe created in the two novels by author Douglas Adams of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame. Mr. Adams books are notoriously difficult to bring to life visually because on the printed page they careen around throwing off plot and whimsy simultaneously. It takes a special talent to do this correctly and Max Landis who wrote all eight episodes seemingly has done it; based on the evidence of the first episode.

If you are a fan of Mr. Adams’ Dirk Gently books you’ll be pleased to know that Mr. Landis isn’t adapting either. Instead he has crafted an entirely new third adventure for the Holistic Detective. In the first episode Mr. Landis’ script gets the spirit of the manic fun of the novels spot on. Emphasis on manic as the plot moves fast. This is not a television show to watch while doing something else. There is so much to see that taking your eyes off of the screen means you will miss something.

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The first episode opens with a crazy tableau in a hotel room of carnage from something not quite natural. As the camera tracks through the scene it is one of those moments when you see lots of things which will eventually be explained but not right away. After the credits have rolled we meet Todd Brotzman, played by Elijah Wood, who wakes up to someone using a hammer to bash up his car. From there his day spirals into lunacy as Dirk Gently shows up to make sure that degeneration accelerates. Dirk Gently is played by Samuel Barnett who finds all of the nuances of the character. He can be a stream of consciousness but when it chooses to form an eddy for a moment it calms into real tenderness. There is a scene where he meets Todd’s sister Amanda where this momentary island of serene perception is at its best. Another standout is actress Fiona Dourif who plays a Holistic Assassin. She is the dark to Dirk Gently’s light. Ms. Dourif alternates really menacing with comedy extremely well.

Of all of the new things I saw at this year’s New York Comic-Con this is the one I am most excited to see more of. It premieres October 22, 2016 on BBC America.

Mark Behnke

Where is the Great Sci-Fi Perfume?

I spent last weekend at New York Comic-Con. As I walked around the show floor looking at everything for sale my mind wandered to my other avid interest. Despite the stereotype of the typical Comic-Con attendee as some unwashed misanthrope; as I was pressed way too close to many people I caught trails of many of the more popular fragrances out there. Which got me wondering why there is no niche perfume inspired by the numerous sci-fi sources out there.

There are the cheap knockoffs as both Star Wars and Star Trek perfumes based on characters from the perfumes. I know that a perfume named Jedi shouldn’t smell of waterlily. Furthermore, a fragrance called Shirtless Kirk should swagger instead of be a pedestrian woody citrus. Both of these are real releases from the brands Star Wars Perfumes and Genki Wear. They count but they really don’t because these have the same craftsmanship as a typical Axe body spray. So why hasn’t one of the creative minds behind perfume taken a sci-fi movie or book and turn it into a brief.

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Can't We Do Better?

The answer might be simple as the rights fees are unavailable or exorbitant. If that is the case, then it makes sense. For the purposes of this though I am going to assume that you could get the permission and propose some of my favorite sci-fi sources I think could provide a place to start.

I’ll start with a book which has always had its own internal scent track as I read it: Dune by Frank Herbert. If a story where the struggle over a substance called spice is not a natural. The reliance on water on a desert planet matched with the rubber of the suits could provide something fascinating like a cross between Bvlgari Black and Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb.

The material called “ice-nine” from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle is another thing which I smell in my imagination. Ice-nine is a form of water which can immediately freeze water around it. Whenever I smell the perfumes which give off an icy quality I wonder what it would be like if a perfumer really went for broke with a perfume which would freeze my sinuses.

The world brought to life in The Matrix movies also feels like it could inspire a fragrance of circuits juxtaposed with animalic facets.

What about an Inception perfume with layers within layers?

For a really weird inspiration I point towards Robert Sheckley’s novel Crompton Divided where the protagonist has become the premiere composer of “psychosmells”. Perfume which strums the pleasure centers.

I am by no means a creative director but I want someone who is or an independent perfumer to take up my challenge and find a piece of sci-fi which you can make into a great perfume. Give me something to wear to next year’s Comic-Con.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Byredo Unnamed- Figure It Out

As I think is apparent for those who read me regularly I am all about the perfume. I rarely comment on the bottle or the marketing campaign because I am all about what I wear on my skin. So far the PR or the bottle have never managed to make it out the door with me. Most of the time it is white noise to me. Except sometimes it is so precious it makes me cringe a bit. This was how I approached the new Byredo Unnamed.

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Ben Gorham

Byredo Unnamed is meant to represent the tenth anniversary of the brand. For this occasion, owner and creative director Ben Gorham decided it would be interesting to leave the name off and give those who purchase a bottle a sheet of stick-on letters so you can give it your own name. There is a page on the Byredo website with pictures of the various names people have put on their bottle. It looks like a deranged Pinterest page of narcissists. The concept was so irritating I wanted to skip the whole thing; but the perfume inside the nonsense is really good around a heart of two of my favorite notes orris and violet.

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Jerome Epinette

Mr. Gorham once again works with perfumer Jerome Epinette. This is a culmination of this unbroken partnership which has spanned 32 fragrances making Unnamed the thirty-third. They have produced some truly beautiful perfumes. Byredo is a place where M. Epinette often has the chance to display a new isolation of a natural source. It is what has made me enjoy so many of these releases over the last few years. Unnamed continues this trend.

Usually when one celebrates you pop a bottle of champagne. Apparently around the Byredo offices gin must be the alcohol of choice for celebrations because that is where Unnamed begins. M. Epinette provides a chilly gin accord matched with some pink pepper floating around. The gin pops like a dry martini. This then leads to the heart where M. Epinette uses a full spectrum violet joined with an orris fraction called “orris stem”. This is a powder-free isolate focused on the earthy rooty quality with a fascinating green thread running through it. With a more florid violet it provides a foundation for that exuberance to expand upon. The base is a leather accord made up of balsamic components, moss, cashmeran, and musk. It provides a bit of rough-hewn leatheriness to finish things.

Unnamed has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Unnamed is a fitting exemplar of what Byredo has done well the past ten years. It also feels like a nice congratulatory pat on the back between Mr. Gorham and M. Epinette. I like it quite a bit. As for a name? I’ll let others figure it out.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Heeley Eau Sacree- Cardinal Part II

When I did my Perfume 101 on Heeley a few weeks ago I mentioned that my introduction to the brand came through a fragrance named Cardinal. Cardinal is one of my very favorite incense fragrances I own because at its heart it is a very delineated and present frankincense around which perfumer James Heeley uses a selection of notes to abstract that very realistic incense heart. In my book as incense perfumes go it is as good as it gets. Because I think Cardinal is such a well-executed fragrance I was a bit worried to hear about the new Heeley Eau Sacree which seemingly would travel the same ground. It is much the same way I feel when I hear about a sequel to a movie I also admire. If the same people are involved it can be good but experience has told me that it is often not the same thrill. That was my mindset as I tried Eau Sacree.

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James Heeley

Eau Sacree is the fifth release in the Extrait de Parfum collection. These are, as the name implies, meant to be of a higher concentration. Right there is what allows Eau Sacree to stand apart from its older sibling. At this concentration even though some of the same beats from Cardinal are here they are evolved into something different due to that. Where Cardinal is full of very delineated phases Eau Sacree is something less focused with the lines between the notes made more malleable.

Like Cardinal, Eau Sacree opens with the frankincense there from the first moments. The fine lines are present but Mr. Heeley uses labdanum to blunt some of the sharper qualities. It provides a warmth to what would have been an austere incense without it. That warmth is extended as a flurry of spices flow into the resinous core. Myrrh provides the last bit of warmth as it adds its own nature to that which had come before. Amber repeats some of the spiciness and musk provides more soft intensity.

Eau Sacree has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Eau Sacree is, to continue my movie analogy, like the best sequels. It manages to be different while still using everything that made you like the first one. Eau Sacree is that kind of companion to Cardinal. Cardinal is a bright composition. Eau Sacree plumbs deeper pools than Cardinal, brilliantly. This is going to be fantastic as I pull my sweaters off of the shelf. If you are a movie fan you know one of the most lauded sequels ever was The Godfather Part II. Eau Sacree is Cardinal Part II.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample from Heeley.

Mark Behnke