My Favorite Things: Tonka

For the first part of my life if you said “tonka” to me I expected it to be a diecast truck for me to play with in my sandbox. Even when I left my sandbox behind and picked up a perfume bottle if you still said “tonka” I probably still would have thought about toys. It really wasn’t until the release of Thierry Mugler A*Men that I ever heard about this perfume raw material called tonka. Over the years since I have come to enjoy the perfumes which put it out in a prominent way so I can enjoy its sweet toasty warmth. Here are five of my favorite fragrances which have tonka out in front.

Tonka had existed from the beginning of modern perfumery as part of the classic fougere accord. But for me it was Thierry Mugler A*Men which showed me the way tonka could be used. Perfumer Jacques Huclier used it as a key component of the gourmand base which has become the DNA of nearly every subsequent A*Men flanker. This came full circle with last year’s A*Men Pure Tonka where M. Huclier put the tonka out in front in the recognizable accord. It is the “one thin mint” of tonka perfumes.

The best use of tonka’s sweeter effect comes in Givenchy Pi. Perfumer Alberto Morillas hard on the heels of the gourmand trend produced a perfume which many will incorrectly call a vanilla perfume. It is because tonka has a very sweet nature like vanilla but it has more warmth and a less aggressive sweetness. Which is why Pi is often the “vanilla” perfume for people who don’t like vanilla. Taking the tonka in the heart and surrounding it with herbal rosemary, pine needles, and benzoin this has become one of my favorite cold weather comfort scents.

Perfumer Geza Schoen would also find tonka a good running partner for balsam and incense in Ormonde Jayne Tolu. In this perfume that accord doesn’t arrive until after an herbal and floral interlude. It provides a different version of the same trio that was used in Pi by going even warmer.

The warmest most embraceable version of tonka appears in Guerlain Tonka Imperiale. Perfumer Thierry Wasser uses gingerbread, honey, tobacco, coumarin along with tonka. This is the perfume equivalent of a Snuggie.

Then there is the perfumer who looks to find some different way to display tonka. Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena in Hermes Hermessence Vetiver Tonka. M. Ellena takes traditional grain notes and matches them with dried fruits. Then where vetiver would provide a sharply green and woody counterpoint he softens the barb with tonka and hazelnut. The vetiver and the tonka go together beautifully and as with the other four perfumes above the wamth it provided the cooler vetiver really makes Vetiver Tonka stand out.

If you need the perfume equivalent of a warm blanket in front of a fireplace these five tonka fragrances cah provide that comfort.

Disclosure: this review based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Carolina Herrera Good Girl-High Tack

I have a very dear friend who has a favorite term for the gloriously tacky; tacky so bad it is good. She calls it “High Tack”. In perfume terms, there are many examples of High Tack bottles. It is rare that what is inside those bottles is as interesting as the container. I have actually wanted a perfume which was unafraid to embrace the tacky nature of the bottle and go for the same over-the-top style with the fragrance. At the end of last year, I got my wish with Carolina Herrera Good Girl.

Carolina Herrera has been producing perfume since 1988. As a mainstream designer brand, they have been above average overall. When it comes to the bottles they’ve been typical cylinders and rectangular shapes. They had a series that looked like big capsules earlier in 2016 but nothing that had come before prepared me for a black stiletto heel shaped version. Good Girl? This looks like what a very not good girl would be wearing. Was there an arch sense of humor here? Was the perfume inside going to be another generic mismatch to the High Tack on the outside? The answer is perfumer Louise Turner embraces all of this and produces a giant tuberose and tonka gourmand.

Louise Turner

Good Girl opens with that tuberose swaggering into view. It strides in as if on those stilettos. Ms. Turner chooses an interesting note to add some warmth to the big white flower, almond. The pale nutty quality tames the tuberose a bit. Iris and jasmine also provide a modulating effect. Then we get the other big note tonka. It arises out of the almond. At first I thought the almond was intensifying but it was the tonka arriving with a presence. Tonka is a note which I like in overdose. Ms. Turner takes all that tonka provides in this high concentration and uses it to fashion a gourmand base accord as she mixes in chocolate, vanilla, and sandalwood. It becomes a yummy sweet bomb matching the tuberose that came before.

Good Girl has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

If you’re looking for subtlety in any aspect; move along, nothing to see here. If you are sometimes in the mood for a perfume which glories in its exuberantly brash taste then grab a hold of this High Tack perfume and have fun.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Macy’s.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Nomenclature lumen_esce- Straight-Chain Violet

Drug discovery and perfumery share a similarity in the scientific approach to trying to improve on what is known. In both fields, it is down to the chemists in each discipline to find a new molecule which does the same thing but better than what is currently on the market. In pharmaceuticals, it is a little easier to define “better”. In perfumery “better” is more often in the hands of the perfumer using the newer material. Which is why the Nomenclature brand is so much fun for me to wear. The brand creatively directed by Carlos Quintero and Karl Bradl seeks to highlight the new aromachemical raw materials as the key components in the perfumes they oversee. The first collection of four did an excellent job of this. Which is why when I received my sample of the fifth release lumen_esce I was ready to be introduced to another aromachemical.

Carlos Quintero (l.) and Karl Bradl

For lumen_esce the new aromachemical is called Violettyne. Violettyne was discovered by chemists at Firmenich who were looking to improve the violet leaf molecules which were typically esters attached to triple-bonded carbons. The chemists replaced the esters with chains of carbon which did and did not have some double bonds. Violettyne was the structure which added a five-carbon chain containing two double bonds in place of the ester. The effect was to enhance the galbanum-like qualities of violet leaf while also adding a grace note of fruitiness. Perfumer Frank Voelkl was asked to incorporate this molecule in to lumen_esce.

Frank Voelkl

The typical use of these kind of substances is as top notes and so Mr. Voelkl sets up his top accord as a “compare and contrast” between Violettyne and violet leaf itself. The Violettyne provides a much greener quality than the violet leaf. In this case Mr. Voelkl tunes the violet leaf to give off the slightly metallic nature which it seems Violettyne uses as a conductor on which to come to life upon. This all develops through a freesia and jasmine heart. The green intersects with the florals cutting through them. Then in the base Mr. Voelkl introduces another modern innovation in raw materials Patchouli Prisma. This is a sort of reconstruction of patchouli after it has been fractionated via distillation. By combining a few of the fractions back together you get a patchouli which has been broken down as if it has been shined through a prism. The effect is to make the patchouli cooler which makes it a better partner for the Violettyne. In lumen_esce it provides a place for that violet leaf energy to ground itself. Over time the warmer facets of patchouli become more prominent as lumen_esce comes to an end on my skin.

Lumen_esce has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

So far all the Nomenclature releases have been great examples of the versatility of chemistry as it pertains to perfume. Lumen_esce shows the energy a straight-chain can add to a molecule.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I received from Nomenclature.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Little Deaths by Emma Flint

It seems like the mid 1960’s has become a fertile ground for storytellers recently. It was certainly a time of great social flux which makes for conflict to arise more readily. These stories have also become a way of looking back and assessing whether we have really advanced in the fifty-odd years. A debut novel by author Emma Flint, Little Deaths, provides one of the most recent examples of this.

Little Deaths is set in 1964 Queens during the summer. Single mother Ruth Malone puts her two children, five-year old Frankie Jr. and 4-year old Cindy, to bed only to wake up and find them missing. The first part of the book is the search for the children. The middle part is the mystery of whether Ruth was responsible. The final part is the culmination of tabloid reporter, Pete Wonicke’s investigation.

Little Deaths is not a spectacular mystery. It is quite obvious who committed the crime early on. The story is more about Ruth and how a single mother was viewed in 1964. Ms. Flint paints Ruth with a compassionate brush even though some of her life choices are reckless. It shows how there was no formula for a single mother to know what to do in those days. She was already under suspicion just for not having a father around.

Ms. Flint also really understands the New York City psychology of living in a borough that is not Manhattan but yet close enough to see the skyscrapers. I know Ms. Flint is British but I have to assume she spent some time in Queens to portray this so well on the page.

Pete Wonicke while not as vividly depicted as Ruth is present to provide the look at tabloid journalism fifty years ago. The same tactics of innuendo, morality, and sensationalism as part of a journalistic rush to judgement hasn’t really changed; just moved to cable TV. Pete is one who realizes there might still be a criminal out there when the sideshow which has decided the harlot was guilty has moved on.

I found Little Deaths to be a real page turner and I was through it very quickly. It shows a real skill at character building by this first-time author. If she is going to stay in the mystery genre I would advise she spends some time improving that aspect of her plotting. Come to read Little Deaths not for the mystery but for the sharply written characters. Ms. Flint may find it easier to get to Manhattan than Ruth if she gets better from here.

Mark Behnke

By Kilian 101- Five to Get You Started

There was a real inflection point for niche perfume in the years 2005-2008. There were several fully realized brands which sprang up during that time. The successful formula consisted of a consistent vision, beautiful packaging; in some cases, luxury pricing and if you could get it a personable spokesperson. One of the brands which checked off all of these boxes was By Kilian. Fronted by the scion of a famous cognac family, Kilian Hennessy, By Kilian led with a luxurious vibe. M. Hennessy also had a vision of deeper fragrant experiences which has played out throughout most of the collection. One reason for that coherence is he has worked with a small roster of perfumers and one, Calice Becker, has been a de facto in-house perfumer for the brand. Many of her best perfumes reside within the By Kilian collection. She has done such excellent work that all five of the perfumes I am recommending as starting points below are composed by Mme Becker.

Kilian Hennessy

From the initial collection of six perfumes the one which exemplifies the brand best is Love: Don’t Be Shy. One of the hallmarks of the brand is unique gourmand fragrances. Love set that in motion right from the start. Mme Becker recreated an accord of rose water infused marshmallow. Redolent of orange blossom in the heart before tailing off into a sensual caramel and musk finish.

Another hallmark is the use of oud resulting in a series of multiple oud fragrances. The second one released, Rose Oud, is the easiest to start with. Mme Becker takes the classic rose and oud pairing breathing new life into it by using an oud accord of cedar, cypriol, and saffron. By using an accord, it allows for a more approachable oud experience. Spicing it up with cardamom and cinnamon before allowing a Bulgarian rose to capture the oud accord makes this one of the most easygoing oud perfumes out there.

Calice Becker

The perfume which I think is the modern masterpiece within the collection is Back to Black. As with the oud in Rose Oud in Back to Black Mme Becker constructs an exquisite tobacco accord. In the early going you can detect the individual blocks as things like chamomile, cardamom, and coriander begin to be enveloped by other notes until like a magic trick a rich honeyed tobacco appears and stays for hours. Then over the last few hours it deconstructs on the skin leaving an amber and vanilla base as the final memory.

A return to the gourmand comes in Intoxicated. The off-beat gourmand is on display as Mme Becker takes a Tuurkish coffee accord of cinnamon, nutmeg, and spun sugar over coffee and adds in a sticky green cardamom. It makes this an exotic coffee perfume.

There is also a collection which was meant to appeal to Eastern tastes. It was more austere and simply constructed than the rest of the line. Most of the time it concentrates on a single raw material. Sacred Wood is the best of these as Mme Becker again uses a Mysore sandalwood which she surrounds with carrot, cumin, elemi, and a hot milk accord. That latter piece truly makes the sandalwood creamy in every sense of the word.

By Kilian is a brand which has broken out of the niche pack by staying true to its vision, The five fragrances above are a good introduction to that.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Arquiste Esencia De El Palacio Azahares- Mexican Flower Power

When I first moved to the Washington DC area I had the opportunity to attend a fantastic event at the end of October 2012. There was a reception for two of the men behind the perfume brand Arquiste; owner-creative director Carlos Huber and perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux, at the Mexican Embassy. The night was about how these proud Mexicans love to add a little of their home country to every perfume they collaborate on. That sentiment is best represented by a quote from Sr. Flores-Roux on that night, ““Maybe I can cite a Mexican poet, Carlos Pellicer, who always praised the beauty of the Mexican tropics: the Mexican people have two obsessions: we are interested in death and we are in love with flowers. And as a Mexican flower lover, I always like to put a bit of Mexico in every perfume I make. It's not an accident I studied biology, specifically botany, and understand the secret language of flowers. It's also my last name!”

Carlos Huber (l.) and Rodrigo Flores-Roux at the Mexican Embassy October 2012

Ever since that night I have always looked for that bit of Mexico in the perfumes Sr. Huber and Sr. Flores-Roux have composed for Arquiste. At the end of last year Sr. Huber told me of a new collection Arquiste was releasing in conjunction with an upscale department store in Mexico; El Palacio de Hierro. Three perfumes all composed by Sr. Flores-Roux. This was something I very much wanted to try but I couldn’t buy it off the website. I then had to cast a wide net to find someone who could bring me back a bottle of the one I was most interested in, based on the description, Esencia de El Palacio Azahares. I was successful towards the end of the year with the bottle arriving soon after the New Year.

The concept behind the perfumes was for them to represent the past, present, and future of Mexico. For more about that you can follow this link to the website in Spanish. Magnolio is meant to be the past. Vetiveres is the future. Azahares is meant to be modern-day Mexico. The concept is nice and I have no idea about the success of the other two at evoking the desired feel. I do know that Azahares is a fabulous contemporary floral full of the flora of Mexico.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux (l.) and Carlos Huber collaborating in the lab

Sr. Flores-Roux is an extremely versatile perfumer and I believe he can make a perfume out of paste, vinegar, and yeast; if he had to. Yet as the quote I used above illustrates there often seems to be a more intimate style of composition when he works with flowers. Azahares is Sr. Flores-Roux working at the top of his game with the ingredients of a “Mexican flower lover”.

Azahares is made up of three phases all with a floral at the core of the accord. In the top it is orange blossom which he swaddles in a blanket of lemon balm, orange, and lemon leaves. The citrus is present without becoming overwhelming. This allows the orange blossom a chance to peek out and assert a bit of its indolic core. Also, a bit of its green which the lemon leaves amplifies a bit. As Azahares transitions to the heart cassis forms the connection as the green facets from the top are carried forward to a deep lavender. That floral is accentuated with clary sage which with the cassis provides a stronger green but as with the citrus in the top Sr. Flores-Roux makes sure the flower does not get obliterated. The final accord is a deeply beautiful iris which Sr. Flores-Roux grounds in a botanical musk accord of ambrette and angelica. That natural musk opens up the earthy quality of the iiris.

Azahares has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

As I wore Azahares I realized that it is the culmination of the pride of two Mexican artists which has overflowed into a beautiful representation of the country they love.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review David Jourquin Cuir Venitien- A Night in Venice

When I made my first trip to Italy with Mrs. C we spent our time in Florence and Venice. When we got to Venice I knew what I wanted to have as a memory of the visit; a Venetian Mask. I had seen these masks in the movies. I had read about them in literature. I was fascinated with being in the city at Carnival and walking around in one of these elaborate masks. They hang on a wall in our living room and they make me smile whenever I look at them. It isn’t often a perfume reminds me of them but the new David Jourquin Cuir Venitien does.

David Jourquin

By the name itself you can tell M. Jourquin was also inspired by Venice. It is in the press release where Cuir Venitien carries the tag line; “An all-night party in a rose-colored palace”. Cuir Venitien tells that story through scent. The perfumer for it is Anne-Sophie Behaghel.

Anne-Sophie Behaghel

Cuir Venitien opens on the canals of Venice with a water accord which captures the smell of the water lapping the side of a gondola. As we ascend the steps the night blooming jasmine wafts through to us. The jasmine complements the humidity of the top accord nicely. Then the main floral note of Rose de Mai comes out. It is tilted to be a little powdery which is then used as contrast to Mme Behaghel’s use of the classic Prunol base to provide a fruity component which is deepened with plum to make the Prunol even more expansive. Prunol gets used a lot in small amounts but in the few fragrances which feature it I really would like to see it used more often where it stands out. It is the keynote within Cuir Venitien. With the Rose de Mai this is an effusive fruity floral combination. Next comes a sturdy leather accord framed in cedar all supported by a few white musks.

Cuir Venetien has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

M. Jourquin is quietly assembling a pleasantly coherent collection of leather-based perfumes. Cuir Venetien is in the upper tier of that collection.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Bulgari Aqua Pour Homme Atlantique- Warm Woody Aquatic

Bulgari Aqua Pour Homme is one of the best aquatic perfumes I own. Released in 2005 by perfumer Jacques Cavallier this was an attempt to add something more to the fresh and clean aquatic by adding something a little less so. With a heart of chamomile and seagrass there was something here that wasn’t so readily available in the other blue bottles in the department store. As it is their wont to do Bulgari had M. Cavallier spin out numerous flankers over the years. Some are recapitulations of the original formula with a note or two added. Those are uninspiring and have never matched the original. In the examples of 2008’s Aqua Pour Homme Marine and 2013’s Aqua Pour Homme Amara M. Cavallier could continue to evolve this particular vision of the aquatic genre. It was in the latter case where he added a warm base of patchouli and olibanum as foundation to the traditional citrus and sea spray. As I spent time with Amara I was wondering what it would be like if M. Cavallier married the heftier aquatic accord of the original with the warmth of the base in Amara. The new Bulgari Aqua Pour Homme Atlantique is my answer.

Jacques Cavallier

I’m not sure who writes the press copy but the idea of a perfume which will be “exploring the most powerful ocean in the world” makes me giggle a little more than this kind of press copy usually does. As one who spent a lot of time in a boat on the Atlantic it just doesn’t exactly fit. Especially because the perfume that goes with it is so brilliant in its citrus opening before heading into its warmth in the base.

M. Cavallier retains the lemon-focused opening but this is lemon instead of the petitgrain used in the original. It provides a sparkly quality to go on top of the oceanic aquatic accord in the heart. The first few minutes are this glimmering zestiness. Then ambrox acts as a stand-in for ambergris. It subtracts the brininess but streamlines the rest. Then in the base sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver, and benzoin form a warm and woody base accord. The sparkle of the early notes still twinkle like lens flares on the periphery of the base but this transitions to almost entirely woody by the end.

Aqua Pour Homme Atlantique has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Atlantique is my favorite of the flankers because it isn’t a straightforward flanker. It is instead more inspired by the original than something in a direct line. In this case that is a good thing because Atlantique can stand on its own.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample from Macy’s.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Thierry Mugler Hot Cologne- A Cup of Coffee To Go

When it comes to Thierry Mugler fragrances it seems that I look most forward to the flankers. It isn’t that they aren’t producing new non-flanker perfumes it is just that they have always seemed to be so straightforward without any of the verve the best of the brand has in other fragrances in the collection. A good example of what I am talking about is the Les Exceptions Collection.

Les Exceptions were released in 2014 as a set of five co-produced by perfumers Olivier Polge and Jean-Christophe Herault. They had cute names like Chyprissime, Fougere Furieuse, and Oriental Express. What was somewhat disappointing considering the talented artists was all five of the initial releases were just what they said; a chypre, a fougere, and an Oriental with no Mugler twist. Maybe it is unfair to ask a brand to always live up to that but the best Thierry Mugler fragrances have not only had a twist but one which sometimes would be influential. The subsequent two Les Exceptions also suffered with this, as well. When I received my sample of the new Hot Cologne I expected a nice cologne, which I got, but the Mugler twist was also here.

Jean-Christophe Herault

Hot Cologne was handed out at last October’s Spring 2017 Thierry Mugler Fashion runway show. Just by the name I worried it was going to suffer in comparison with the modern masterpiece Thierry Mugler Cologne. M. Herault, working on his own, wisely decides to go off in a very different direction. The only similarity is the cologne architecture. For Hot Cologne like all the other Les Exceptions it is pretty uninspiring early on but after a half an hour or so it transforms courtesy of one ingredient, green coffee.  

Hot Cologne opens with a set of citrus notes led by petitgrain supported by some other citrus like lime, bergamot, and grapefruit. The lime is the most prominent of the supporting cast and it makes the tartness of the petitgrain more focused. Then a really high quality neroli comes out this is one of those full-spectrum nerolis which carries a bit of the orange, a bit of the indolic floralcy, and a bit of the green leaves. I am a big fan of this kind of neroli and it goes very well with the citrus notes that preceded it but it surely isn’t unique. What comes next does make this unique, green coffee. If you’ve ever smelled a bag of coffee beans prior to roasting this is the note being used here. There is an astringent oiliness along with the rich coffee scent. When it comes out in Hot Cologne it is as if the citrus is next to a steaming cup of coffee with a sprig of neroli in a vase nearby in some warm weather vacation destination. Hot Cologne stays perched like this for the entirety of its duration.

Hot Cologne has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

It is really amazing what a difference one well-chosen ingredient can have on a perfume. The green coffee in Hot Cologne takes this from “Meh” to “Wow” all for the simple addition of a cup of coffee.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Floris 1962- Soho Creativity

Heritage brands are a current trend in perfumery as defunct brands spring back to life. The attraction of something old-new tends to obscure the earlier brands which also have as much heritage they just didn’t go out of business. Floris began producing new perfume at a greater pace, in London, during the niche expansion after having been founded in 1730. The first fragrances were based on old recipes from that time but right from the beginning they were making new perfumes. I discovered Floris as I began wetshaving as Limes and JF were highly lauded in the community of online shaving aficionados. Those two plus the shaving soap to accompany Limes have been a staple but I never paid attention to anything else released.

Until two years ago, when I tried Honey Oud which is part of the Private Collection. This was a beautifully realized riff on rose and oud but drenched in honey. The current creative team of perfumers Nicola Pozzani and Penny Ellis along with in-house nose Edward Bodenham made something that made me want to pay attention to Floris again.  When I visited Tranoi in New York City last fall there was a new set of releases for the Private Collection each named after a specific year; they are 1962, 1976, and 1988. I found all three fragrances interesting but the one which I had to spend some time with was 1962.

Edward Bodenham

The brief the team worked from for 1962 was to imagine being in the Soho section of London in 1962 just south of Carnaby Street. At that point in time it was one of the epicenters for the blooming Mods and Hippies. Mary Quant was dreaming of miniskirts while the Stones were performing their first gig at The Marquee Club. Who knew how influential this all would become? Their interpretation as a perfume is to capture that buzz in the air when big changes are happening and you’re right in the center of it. How they see this is to have a very kinetic woody citrus.

1962 opens with a tart green mandarin as the focal point but she chooses to spear it with clove and mint. These provide a set of notes at odds as the coolness of the mint opposes the warmth of the clove. It is a top accord where things are moving. The transition to the heart is performed by a very green basil which segues into muguet. As in the top the basil provides a mobile contrast to the muguet. The base opens with cedar combined with amber and musk. This is very traditional woody base accord territory. It fits but I would’ve liked one more note to add some energy as occurred in the early development.

1962 has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

I must give the current creative team a bow for really moving Floris forward without sacrificing its history. If nothing else the last couple of years are beginning to show the future might be as bright as the past.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Floris.

Mark Behnke