Discount Diamonds: Paco Rabanne Pour Homme- Fougere 2.0

I have received a few really good modern fougeres this year. While I was wearing them there was something about all of them which was reminding me of something. As it so often does it came to me while in the shower one morning. The classic 1970’s era fougere I was thinking of was Paco Rabanne Pour Homme. There have also been some recent releases which have hearkened back to that timeframe, as well. All of those chose to emulate the powerhouse nature of masculine fragrance at the time. As is true of almost any trend there will be a few who try to blaze a different path. Most of those end up as entries in my other series, Dead Letter Office, because of it. It makes Paco Rabanne Pour Homme all the more remarkable for having lasted for forty-plus years because it was different than the other fougeres of the time.

Paco Rabanne was a fashion designer who began his career in 1966. Many knew of him as the costume designer on the 1968 movie “Barbarella”. His fashion was similar to those sci-fi designs as he used lots of metal and plastic. He was one of the earliest flamboyant designers. Even now the very popular French singer-songwriter Mylene Farmer wears vintage Paco Rabanne clothes when she performs. As he began to move into fragrance his first release was sleek aldehydic floral named Calandre. You could almost imagine this is what Jane Fonda wore as she played Barbarella. It would be four years until Paco Rabanne Pour Homme joined Calandre.

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Sr. Rabanne worked with perfumer Jean Martel on Paco Rabanne Pour Homme. Their take was to add a lot of herbal notes to accentuate that character of the lavender. it also tints it much greener than the other fougeres that shared space on the fragrance counter with it. It was so green it came off as soapy until the final part of it goes deeper and more typical of those other fougeres.

Lavender sets itself up as the early focal point upon which herbal notes are layered upon. Tarragon, thyme, rosemary, and clary sage come first. They make lavender seem very cleanly green through all of that herbal overload. The heart uses geranium to continue the green theme but now a different suite of spices warm things up for the base accord to come. Cinnamon, cumin, and clove form a slightly leathery accord although the clove is most present. It now moves to a biting oakmoss softened with myrrh and tobacco.

Paco Rabanne Pour Homme has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Paco Rabanne Pour Homme has gone through multiple reformulations. The bottle I own is from the mid 1990’s. I went down to my local discounter and tried the current formulation and found it to be a degree or two lighter overall but still recognizably the perfume I have in my bottle at home. The lightening up might even make it a little more office friendly. If you enjoy some of the modern fougeres of the last few years go back and see when Fougere 2.0 began with Paco Rabanne Pour Homme.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Beaufort London Fathom V- Open Ocean

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Growing up in South Florida I spent a lot of time on boats as the captain. Powered by wind or by engine one of the most important things about steering a boat is understanding the conditions you are in. When I would set out into the Gulf of Mexico from our Florida Keys house the water was as blue as the sky on clear day. Shallower water meant less surprises from the waves and water beneath the hull. When I would head out into the Atlantic Ocean it was dramatically different. The water carried a deep dark blue color to it as the depth of it increased the further out I ventured. Once out of sight of land the swells carried the contained power of all that depth underneath. They could buck me off in a moment if I wasn’t alert to it. Despite that there was always an exhilaration to be out in the deep ocean on a sunny day. Just looking in to the dark blue water was mesmerizing. I would surmise Leo Crabtree the owner and creative director of Beaufort London has also spent time on the ocean in that same sense of engagement because his latest release Fathom V seems to capture that moment.

The Beaufort London line has been subtitled the “Hell or High Water” collection of which Fathom V is the fifth release. The title actually comes from a portion of “Ariel’s Song” from William Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest”. Despite the bibliographic reference my experience with Fathom V calls up dark depths. Perfumers Julie Dunkley and Julie Marlow have fashioned an unusual dark aquatic.

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The opening eschews the usual ozonic sea spray accord for one that evokes the ocean depths. The perfumers combine fig leaf, blackcurrant, and “earthy notes”. The latter is more of a damp soil accord but that provides the watery part. The fig leaf and blackcurrant combine for a green chord to lay on top. The green intensifies as thyme, cumin, black pepper and galbanum lead to a green lily. For the base accord the perfumers dive deeply as patchouli recapitulates the earthy notes from the beginning. Vetiver and moss do the same to the thread of green. A very prominent salt accord reminded me this was the deep seas I was sailing upon.

Fathom V has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

The five fragrances to date from Beaufort London have shown a marked willingness to stay true to Mr. Crabtree’s vision without compromising. Fathom V could have been another insipid aquatic if he was that kind of creative director. Instead he has continued to work outside the conventional. Fathom V is an example of the promise that can be found in even the most overexposed fragrance styles if you are unafraid to set sail for the open ocean.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Beaufort London at Tranoi Parfums NY 2016.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Ex Nihilo Amber Sky- Do Robots Dream of Amber Skies?

I have been interested in the brand Ex Nihilo from when I first became aware of them a little over a year ago. The concept is they make a perfume and through the use of an instrument they call an Osmologue they add in a specific note of the buyer’s request. It creates a personalization similar to having a bespoke perfume made. As I tried all of the perfumes in the line I have always enjoyed the baseline perfume so much that the idea of adding something to it was not appealing. Even when visiting the brand outpost in Bergdorf-Goodman in NYC I tried the variations on some of my favorites in the line; always preferring the basic model. When I received my sample of the twelfth release Amber Sky I think I’ve found one that I might want to try adding something to it.

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Ex Nihilo Creative Team

Amber Sky is the third perfume by Olivier Pescheux under the Ex Nihilo creative team of Benoit Verdiere, Sylvie Loday, and Olivier Royere. It must be an interesting process to create a perfume made to be tailored at the final step to a personal taste. One of the reasons I haven’t been interested in changing from the perfume as bottled is all of the previous releases have distinct top, heart, and base accords I liked. Amber Sky is the first one which seems to have a missing top accord opening up the opportunity to add something in. The heart and base are lovely and so the opportunity to tune this perfume to taste really explores the entire Ex Nihilo hypothesis.

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Olivier Pescheux

Amber Sky opens with a full geranium showing its greener qualities to their fullest. M. Pescheux support it with a couple of spices in coriander seeds and nutmeg. The nutmeg does a nice job of making the geranium softer; it adds a definite presence. The advertised amber arrives in the base lifted up by a duet of woods in cedar and sandalwood. This starts very dry until tonka and vanilla act, as the nutmeg did previously, as a softener of the amber-centric base accord.

Amber Sky has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I enjoyed what was here but I did really want more of a floral presence in the early going. This is where the Osmologue might be able to help me out. Of the choices that are available I would really like to see Amber Sky with orange blossom, rose, and jasmine added. When I visit NYC at the end of the month I am going to try it out and see. Amber Sky on its own is a simple amber perfume well-executed and if that is appealing you might not need anything added. I am interested in allowing the robot to dream of amber skies.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Billy Joel

When I’ve written about perfume brands which I have known since their earliest days I refer to them as “mine”. As in they will always belong to me because I knew them before everyone else. This attitude did not start with fragrance. It started with music. One of the first popular artists who I considered “mine” was Billy Joel.

When Mr. Joel had released his first big studio album “Piano Man” he had modest success mostly based on the title track. In the mid to late 1970’s the storyteller singer-songwriter was in vogue. The song Piano Man was one of the better examples of the form.

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Where I became possessive of Mr. Joel came during the next few years as he worked hard putting out two more albums “Streetlife Serenade” and “Turnstiles”. During this time period he toured but there were two sections of the country which fully embraced him. His home town of New York City and Long Island along with South Florida. Because he was so beloved in South Florida I saw him often. Most of the time when he played in Miami he did so in a beautifully intimate Art Deco theatre called Gusman Hall which had been transformed from an old single-screen movie theatre called The Olympia. The hall has been renamed after that theatre these days. Gusman Hall was a perfectly attuned concert hall with the best acoustics in South Florida at the time. Seeing any act there was a treat. Mr. Joel turned it in to his home away from home.

Throughout the 1970’s I attended many shows there as he refined his sound and stage presence. Slowly adding in the members who would become part of the permanent band who still play with him today. What I remember seeing was a musician who loved being a musician. Even back then a sense of jadedness was creeping in to the music business; not for Mr. Joel. His concerts were parties which felt private in the small confines of Gusman Hall and I was one of the attendees. This made him “mine”.

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Billy Joel

It would all take off in 1977 when he released the album “The Stranger”. Now everyone knew and loved Mr. Joel. As his fame grew he never forgot the support he received from his fans in Florida. As he began his tour supporting “The Stranger” and was selling out arenas everywhere he did something different when he came back to Miami. Instead of playing the local arena he played a string of shows at Gusman Hall over a few consecutive nights. I was there for one of those shows and it was a wonderfully sincere thank you to this group of fans. Before he launched in to his final encore he said as much to the audience.

I own every album he has released and his music has always been special to me mainly because I knew him when he was starting out. Now he is “mine” and many other’s one and only Piano Man.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Neil Morris Fragrances Gotham- My Doppelganger

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We all have a doppelganger out there. A person who looks very much like us. When I was living in Boston I found mine who also happened to be a perfumer. I was introduced to Neil Morris by my friend and future colleague at CaFleureBon Ida Meister. I met him for the first time on a trip to New York City and as we got to know each other he showed me a bottle of one of his Signature fragrances called Gotham. From the first moment I smelled it, it has become one of my personal top fragrances.

Mr. Morris has been composing perfume since 2007. Ever since Ms. Meister brought him to my attention I have found many of his perfumes to be right where I like them. Gotham is as good example of his general aesthetic.

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Mr. Morris is often inspired by what he sees as he walks around. On his website he says the inspiration for Gotham came from a Manhattan stroll one October night. According to the description, “It was a bit foggy and the atmosphere had a sense of mystery and of things hidden in the night.” One of the things I enjoy about Mr. Morris’ perfumes is the densely layered quality they have. It is like waiting for things to emerge from the different layers which makes it languidly dynamic over the time it is on your skin. I love this style of fragrance for that.

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Neil Morris (l.) and Me

Gotham opens with a fresh spicy blast of yuzu and black pepper. At least for the early moments there is no measured development it just sizzles with energy. I’ve always had this feel of something in the air when I am in NYC this does a nice job of capturing this. The metaphorical fog in Gotham comes from a narcissus heart bolstered by rose. This is a floral with presence. It arrives like a celebrity on a red carpet. Gotham is one of my favorite narcissus perfumes because Mr. Morris doesn’t trample it underneath a bunch of other notes. The base is a rough birch-laden leather accord. It reminded me of a leather sofa we had in the living room when I was growing up. As it heads into the foggy night leaving a trail of narcissus and leather.

Gotham has 14-16 hour longevity and above average silage.

Mr. Morris’ entire catalogue is under the radar but if you need a place to find out whether his style of fragrance is to your taste Gotham is as good as any of them to find out with.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Le Galion Sang Bleu- Ring my Bell

As one who fully embraced the disco culture of the 1970’s there was one thing I loved about the music; the vocal hooks. All of the great disco anthems had one or two lyrics repeated many, many times usually over a smoking bass line. Disco was about dancing not contemplation. If I list, the name of many of those songs you wouldn’t remember anything but the title like an earworm. The art of a memorable hook is what sets apart the perfumers of the past who have passed the test of time. If I list those esteemed artists, they also all had very distinct olfactory hooks within their perfumes. The great Paul Vacher was no different as the new Le Galion Sang Bleu confirms.

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Nicolas Chabot

When Nicolas Chabot oversaw the resurrection of the perfume brand Paul Vacher built he also found some recipes which had not been produced; Sang Bleu is one of those. M. Vacher was working on this in the 1970’s while also working on Eau Noble. Eau Noble was mix of citrus floral and leather in a very refined cologne architecture; as such it was contrary to prevailing trends. Sang Bleu was M. Vacher setting sail with the prevailing trend winds filling the sails of this Le Galion as Sang Bleu is a powerhouse chypre. As you can see in the ad campaign for this release M. Chabot enthusiastically embraces Sang Bleu as a perfume of the era it was created in. M. Vacher forms an intricate line dance of many notes into something great.

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Paul Vacher

Sang Bleu opens with that herbal citrus mixture so common in those 70’s powerhouses. All of the usual suspects are present; lemon, orange, rosemary, and tarragon. M Vacher ups the ante with a fascinating push-and-pull of eucalyptus and artemesia. These two whirl on that dance floor provided by the citrus and herbs. The floral heart is primarily geranium and violet. To keep it from getting too feminine M. Vacher throws in a fistful of clove and galbanum. This turns everything a satisfying shade of green to set up the chypre finish. That comes courtesy of sandalwood, patchouli, cedar, and vetiver. I am fairly certain the original recipe had real oakmoss as an ingredient but the vetiver and cedar make an adequate substitute.

Sang Bleu has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.

One of the nice things about M. Chabot’s bringing Le Galion back is we get to experience M. Vacher’s portfolio all together. When doing that you see what an accomplished perfumer he was. Sang Bleu was one of the last recipes he would write down prior to his death. It is very fitting way to remember his style with a chypre powerhouse last dance.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Le Galion

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Aedes de Venustas Grenadille D’Afrique- Alberto’s Ebony

There are a few perfumers who always capture my attention no matter what they do. One of those is Alberto Morillas. He has been responsible for some of the greatest mainstream perfumes of the last 30 years. Before I knew who he was I knew him through his perfumes that I owned. In those days knowing who it was who had made the perfume was unheard of. Since 2000 that has changed and it allows M. Morillas the opportunity to be seen as the artist that he is. The overwhelming majority of his perfume making still takes place in the mainstream sector. Except over the past few years he has been making some forays into the niche space. 2016 looked like it was going to come to an end without that happening. Then I received my sample of the new Aedes de Venustas Grenadille D’Afrique.

Karl Bradl and Robert Gerstner

Karl Bradl and Robert Gerstner

Starting in 2012 the owners of the New York City boutique Aedes de Venustas, Karl Bradl and Robert Gerstner, have been creatively directing a compact collection bearing the store name. Grenadille D’Afrique is the seventh of these. Working with M. Morillas for the second time, after last year’s Palissandre D’Or, they return to woody themes. This time they describe the new perfume as “a tribute to ancient ebony”. While it does get up to that concept, especially in the base, the early going is all modern fougere territory.

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Alberto Morillas

The opening is that fougere accord. M. Morillas uses juniper berry, lavender, and violet. They form a gin-tinted set of purple flowers. The violet works to keep the lavender from hewing too close to its herbal nature because the juniper berry surely tries to accentuate this. M. Morillas balances this perfectly as it achieves a contemporary lavender effect. Now that promised ebony wood shows up. M. Morillas mixes some of the cleaner woods, like cedar, with a particularly lively vetiver. That vetiver provides the sappy nature that the creative direction called for making it feel as if the wood is straight from the tree. The final phase is a lilting smoky vanilla over a few musks. It provides a soothing ending to a brisk woody fougere.

Grenadille D’Afrique has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Grenadille D’Afrique is a great example of everything I think makes M. Morillas stand out. As a perfumer who has probably made dozens and dozens of fougeres he still manages to find new areas to explore. The final “ebony accord” shows his way at intricately constructed chords. His accords are so layered that they always seem to be subtly in motion while still retaining the overall effect. I am very happy that M. Morillas found his way back to the niche side of the street before the end of the year. Grenadille D’Afrique is another triumph for him.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Aedes de Venustas.

Mark Behnke

The Thousandth Cut

There is a quote from the American writer Robert Breault which goes like this, “So often the end of a love affair is death by a thousand cuts, so often its survival is life by a thousand stitches.” I was reminded of this as I received the latest release from Guerlain, Neroli Outrenoir. I have spent every day since I received it looking for something which reminded me why I love Guerlain. I fear it is the thousandth cut.

Guerlain was the first perfume brand I ever knew; because my mother exclusively wore Mitsouko and Shalimar. The bottles were staples on her vanity. I have a hard time wearing either perfume myself because they are so ingrained as what my mother smelled like.

As I began to appreciate perfume I sought out Guerlain and discovered Vetiver and Habit Rouge. I could easily have followed my mother’s lead and happily used those two for the rest of my life. Except the genie was well out of the bottle and there were other brands to explore. I was never going to be a two bottle kind of guy.

Which was great because it made more room for all of the other Guerlain fragrances out there to find a home; which they have. Part of my founding Colognoisseur was the opportunity to write about those earlier perfumes from this Grand Maison de Parfum.

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Except that brings us to the present day. In the last ten years Guerlain has released 154 perfumes. Some of them are re-issues of older perfumes. Some of them are re-packaging of a perfume with a different name as La Petite Robe Noire 2 turned into Mademoiselle Guerlain. Way too many of them are flankers of the great pillars of the brand. Rarely are there standout perfumes which would stand up to what had come previously.

I have to say when I did the search and saw this roster of mediocrity over this short time span my heart sank. Right in front of my face was the cynical belief that the brand was all-important.

Even so within those 154 there were some which managed to remind me of what Guerlain means to me. Habit Rouge Sport is one of the very few flankers of any brand of which I own a bottle. Arsene Lupin Voyou is another exploration of spices, woods, and rose which Guerlain does so well. Two years ago Terracotta Le Parfum actually called forth the echoes of greatness. It was certainly the best of the last ten years.

Guerlain has been not on a downward spiral but a holding pattern at 20,000 feet. Circling endlessly right in the middle. Seemingly afraid to soar. Churning out massive amounts of product all meant to be bought by that consumer dazzled by the name over the perfume.

Which brings me to Neroli Outrenoir. If there has been any spark of the Guerlain ingenuity it has flared up most often in the Exclusives collection of which this is a part of. In a year which has seem some brilliant neroli perfumes released Neroli Outrenoir is not one of them. It is as if they were trying but it goes all wrong in the heart as the smoky black tea upsets the balance as it crushes the neroli. Myrrh does little to save this. I so wanted to like this I wanted to believe it was going to be the beginning of something new. Instead it was the thousandth cut.

I am hopeful that somewhere in the future the beginning of the thousand stitches to bring it back to life is forthcoming.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Nicolai Incense Oud- The Unfamiliar Familiar

There are many perfect perfume notes which go together like peanut butter and jelly or as Forrest Gump would say, peas and carrots. These perfume combos then have to be surrounded by something unusual to allow them to stand out. As the number of versions keeps increasing it becomes more difficult for a brand to find that space where they provide a new experience. Most of the time a perfume brand won’t even try very hard. They’ll take the tried and true add something else and start up the publicity machine. Over the last few years as the popularity of oud has soared in fragrance there has come to be some pretty traditional pairings with that ingredient. One of my favorites is oud and incense. It is really a pairing of two types of resins. It is also a kind of juxtaposition of the dirty essence of oud against the almost sterile austerity of frankincense. By themselves they are a perfect pairing. Even though I own a lot of the incense oud perfumes that have been released I am always ready for a new one. The most recent one I received is Nicolai Incense Oud.

Over the past year and a half, or so, Patricia de Nicolai the perfumer behind Nicolai has been exploring these different oud pairings. She has shown that she is a perfumer who can find that unique interstitial space and exploit it with a well-chosen grouping of ingredients. In Incense Oud those supporting notes are absinthe, cedar, patchouli, leather and castoreum to delineate the sustainably harvested Cambodian oud and the Omani Frankincense.

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Patricia de Nicolai

Incense Oud opens without either of the title notes around. Instead Mme de Nicolai takes coriander, the botanical musk of ambrette seeds, and artemesia to form a sexy absinthe accord. It provides a swirl of alcoholic entry before the resins come to the fore. The oud and incense rise up together. This sustainable harvested oud has a kind of cedar undertone to it. Mme de Nicolai adds in cedar to emphasize that. It allows a cleaner version of oud to meet the silvery quality of the Omani frankincense. Together this is more incense than oud but it is because of the nature of the sustainable oud. Since I was missing a bit of that animalic character Mme de Nicolai gives it back to me with a leather accord accompanied by patchouli and castoreum. This actually does fill those spaces I spoke of as it seems to recognize the oud and try and make it a little dirtier.

Incense Oud has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This version of incense and oud really does a fine job of displaying the qualities of the newish sustainably harvested oud. Mme de Nicolai shows it off by allowing it to find its own space to expand in to while the frankincense steps up to it. It is a really beautifully realized example of creativity within heavily explored space by making the familiar seem unfamiliar.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Nicolai at Pitti 2016.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Aftelier Perfumes Memento Mori- Facing Loss

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It has been said that there is nothing certain except for death and taxes. Death is a certainty we all face to be sure. The entire experience of dealing with death in your personal circumstances might seem to be an odd choice to make a perfume about. Perfumer Mandy Aftel has chosen to take this uncertain path in her newest release Aftelier Perfumes Memento Mori.

Memento Mori translates from the Latin as “remember you have to die”. Memento Mori has also been used to describe types of funerary art or literature focused on death. In her press release Ms. Aftel was thinking of Memento Mori jewelry where a memento of a recently passed loved one was placed in something that could be worn. It was a tangible method to hold on to the memory of whomever had passed on.

For Memento Mori Ms. Aftel mentions, also in the press release, that she wanted to “capture the musk-like smell of skin”. If that was her goal she missed that completely for me. My experience with Memento Mori was much more personal than that. It touched me deeply evoking many different aspects of the loss in my own life. I didn’t quite go through the 5 stages of grief but some of those emotions did bubble up on the days I wore Memento Mori.

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Mandy Aftel

The top accord of Memento Mori is where Ms. Aftel wanted to create this skin accord. As I mentioned that was not my experience. The three notes she used butter, orris and phenylacetic acid provided something which evoked a deep sense of becoming unmoored as when a loved one passes away suddenly. The orris is not that comforting powdery friendly iris it is the desiccated root of the rhizome which the butter coats in an unctuous layer. On top of all of this the faux-animalic nature of phenylacetic acid carries a whiff of decay. This is a confrontational top accord which asks the wearer to examine their mortality. It is not pretty. It is an opening stanza in an olfactory memento mori. The second stanza is that attempt to try and build the piece of memento mori jewelry. Phenylethyl alcohol which carries with it the shadow of rose is paired with a full Turkish rose absolute. Here you have the real thing as represented by the absolute with phenylethyl alcohol representing the memory shadow. This simple duet within the heart of Memento Mori is that moment when you finally accept the loss. The final stanza carries this rose into the beta-ionone behind the smell of violets. To me it represented the beginning of life after loss. The violet performs a subtle transformation of the rose and its shadow into something which has more life to it washing away the elegiac tone. The rest of the base accord reaffirms that death may be inevitable but life goes on. Ambergris, ambreine, patchoulyl acetate and actual antique civet. When a perfume turns towards a more animalic tone I often describe it as being alive, growling perhaps. This is the moment of stepping forward from the shadows back into the light where life is moving along.

Memento Mori in parfum strength has 10-12 hour longevity and very little sillage. It is a perfume for you alone to meditate upon.

I had a hard time with Memento Mori because of the emotions it called up for me. There have been a lot of recent loss around me which might have had something to do with it. As I wore it for the second time this past week I realized Memento Mori had also been therapeutic in that it allowed me to reflect upon my personal thoughts about death. Which also makes me think of it as a companion to the literary memento mori which asked a reader to do the same.

Memento Mori as a perfume is a piece of artistic construction. It definitely creates separate phases which are expertly constructed to have a defined impact. It is a perfume that could only have been successfully completed by a few. Ms. Aftel has made her most complex perfume, to date. Which only seems appropriate considering the subject.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Aftelier Perfumes.

Mark Behnke