The Sunday Magazine: La La Land

I always spend that time after Christmas trying to see all of the movies getting awards buzz. One reason is I like to have rooting interests in the categories on Oscar night. It is usually one of my favorite times of the year because I end up seeing a wide array of very good to great movies infused with laudable performances. Two years ago, I remember walking away from seeing Birdman and wondering what I was missing. It was winning awards left and right but I hated the movie; it was torture sitting through it. It was such a bad experience I almost did not go see the same director’s next movie last year’s The Revenant which I enjoyed much more.

So far this year I have caught up to almost everything I suspect will be nominated. I saved what I thought was going to be the best for last, La La Land. La La Land is a modern musical by director Damien Chazelle starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. It is the story of Mia (Ms. Stone) and Sebastian (Mr. Gosling) as they meet in current day Los Angeles. Mia is an aspiring actress and Sebastian is a musician whose affection for jazz is the most important thing in his life. Through four season-themed chapters the story follows the relationship of these two. There are big showy musical numbers like the one which opens the movies as the people stuck in an LA traffic jam break into song and dance while sitting still on the freeway. There are also some simple more personal numbers. Right there was my first issue.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land

When I name a musical, there is always a show-stopping tune that you remember. The adjective itself means a performance so amazing the entire story telling takes a moment to catch its breath before moving on. La La Land has none of that. The new songs are thematically and musically bland except for the very last one, “Audition”, which has killer lyrics but no tune. One reason for this is Ms. Stone and Mr. Gosling are not singers and so the songs have to be kept within their narrow vocal range hobbling them fatally. There is a part of me that would like to see a real musical actress like Idina Menzel give “Audition” a go. First flaw was this is a musical which has nothing I care to listen to after the movie.

Second flaw is the main characters themselves. I’m not sure if they are supposed to be Mr. Chazelle’s commentary on how shallow a personality you must be to chase acting or music. If that was his aim he succeeds at that because the two characters I’m supposed to root for to fall in love are so vapid I couldn’t ever invest in their relationship. Even as spectacularly staged production numbers tell me I should. The acting was the second flaw.

The final straw was the way the story was constructed. This over two-hour movie meanders along until the final 15 minutes or so. Then it is like hitting the fast-forward button everything that hasn’t been happening happens almost immediately. The whole final act felt like sloppy writing with an ending where Mr. Chazelle, who also wrote this, just couldn’t pull the trigger on the ending the characters had earned. Instead it is this stupid montage meant to evoke the idea that life is nothing but a variety of jazz riffs.

What I did like very much, and why I think this is getting all the award love, is the way the movie looks. Mr. Chazelle dresses everyone in primary colors against wide open backdrops. The sequence in the first chapter where Mia goes to a party is an example of bravura direction in getting these moving parts together. This is the one consistent high quality thing in La La Land.

I do now have my rooting interest and first and foremost I want a La La Land shutout. I know it will get the nominations but everything I’ve seen so far is so much better than this.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review L’Occitane L’Homme Cedrat Cologne- Violet Hued Aquatic

I own several L’Occitane fragrances. They have always been a solid line of fragrance which I think is a bit underrated. That is why I always check in when I’m at the mall. Over the Holidays when I stopped in I found something new a flanker to Eau de Cedrat released in 2015. That perfume was very straightforward as a clean citrus. It is typical for much of the brand’s offerings. The new flanker, L’Homme Cedrat Cologne, succeeds because it is not so typical.

Now don’t get me wrong this isn’t something so unique but perfumer Julie Masse does a nice job at adding in some atypical aspects to the traditional citrus perfume making it more interesting than its cousin. One of the things which made this stand out was the use of violet leaves to provide the aquatic accord. It has always been a part of the perfumer’s palette but I’ve noticed it being used more often in lieu of the more typical suite of ozonic notes. At its heart L’Homme Cedrat Cologne is a Mediterranean style fragrance.

Julie Masse

L’Homme Cedrat Cologne opens with the title note in place from the very first moment. Then Mme Masse surrounds the tart citrus with a lively selection of spices; ginger, black pepper, and chilly mint. That last note is there to begin the transition to the aquatic phase of the violet leaves. The mint is that sensation of cooling sea spray on your face. The violet leaves provide the expansiveness and wateriness of being on the water. In the heart lavender uses both halves of its dual nature as the herbal side picks up the spices while the floral nature provides a new vector. The base is back to generic as it is cedar and white musks an appropriate, if not terribly exciting, finishing accord.

L’Homme Cedrat Cologne has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

As I mentioned above I like the overall L’Occitane fragrance collection quite a bit. The best of them do provide something a little different which is exactly what L’Homme Cedrat Cologne does.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by L’Occitane.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Neela Vermeire Creations Rahele- India Through French Eyes

During the 17th century the explorers were the seafaring adventurers unafraid to sail over the horizon to see what was there. I get a thrill stepping off a plane to visit a new country; imagine what that would be like after being at sea for weeks? Without a travel guide to help you translate. The concept of that kind of exploration has always been a source of wonder for me. What generally happened when they returned was the stories of their travels were told. Of course, these tales were told through the lens of their culture which meant the first glimpse of Asia and the East came through this process. The new perfume from Neela Vermeire Creations called Rahele got me thinking about that.

Neela Vermeire

Neela Vermeire has imposed an Indian vision on European-style perfumery through her first six fragrances. It was as if France was being interpreted by Indian eyes. Rahele reverses that process. It is clearly intentional because Rahele was inspired by the voyages of three French explorers; Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, Francois Bernier, and Jean Thevenot during the 17th century. They came back and translated what they saw through their French prism. Mme Vermeire working once again with perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour has also done this with Rahele. The keynote for Rahele is a fabulously fulgent osmanthus. It becomes the heart of this story of travel to exotic places.

Bertrand Duchaufour

The opening of Rahele is the story of spices which were brought back as proof of the voyage. M. Duchaufour uses cardamom and cinnamon as if he was offering it as verification. Handing it out among the listeners. He then uses violet leaves to begin the transition into the fantastical part of the narrative. That is where the osmanthus comes out. Boy, does it arrive. This is where India comes alive. It is wrapped up in rose, magnolia, orris, and violet. This is where the audience leans in to experience more. This heart accord is where Rahele soars. Then a leather accord appears before the patchouli, sandalwodd, and oakmoss triptych of chypre provides the French vision. The floral accord becomes enmeshed, translated, by this accord. It becomes ascendant as the French overtakes the Indian.

Rahele has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Rahele was eye opening for me because it feels like a logical evolution for Mme Vermeire’s brand. It succeeds in feeling like a first-rate tale told well.

Disclosure: this review was based on a smaple provided by Neela Vermeire Creations.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Boris Bidjan Saberi 11- The Technician’s Leather

Geza Schoen is one of my favorite perfumers because he shares my perspective of seeing the molecules behind perfumery. Where we differ is I couldn’t put those molecules together into anything resembling a finished perfume; Hr. Schoen has proven over and over that he thrives at this. Hr. Schoen is so technically proficient with using his molecules that when he works on his own it can come off as austere. Because I enjoy that style, especially from a perfumer like Hr. Schoen, I find it gives me insight into the places where he sees these building blocks fitting in a larger scheme. When he is working under the creative direction of a brand owner there is, by necessity, a shaping of that austerity into something which represents the brand. In Hr. Schoen’s latest release Boris Bidjan Saberi 11 there is a feeling that a middle ground has been reached between the two styles.

Boris Bidjan Saberi

Boris Bidjan Saberi is a Barcelona-based fashion designer born in Germany. His fashion is heavily influenced by skate culture and street wear. His ready-to-wear line is called “11” which is what this perfume is meant to be part of. Hr. Saberi is known for his leather work which he tans using all vegetal sourced materials. The fragrance is meant to capture Hr. Saberi after he has been about his workday.

Geza Schoen

What drew Hr. Saberi to Hr. Schoen is Escentric Molecule 01. The perfume which was pure Iso E Super had become Hr. Saberi’s signature scent. After making contact he found Hr. Schoen was interested in collaborating on the debut perfume. Because this perfume is meant to capture the smell of Hr. Saberi they already knew the base was going to be Iso E Super. Then the idea was to add ten other ingredients to bring it to a total of eleven. It took two years of work to finally agree on a finished product.

What is so interesting about 11 is that when you hear leather you expect something dense and animalic. Surprisingly that is not what they produced. Instead 11 is more green and woody than leathery. It makes it one of lighter leather-focused fragrances out there.

11 opens on a freshly cut grass note which I suspect is cis-3-hexenol. This provides that slightly moist green thread that Hr. Schoen will use throughout. I think about half of the 11 ingredients must be there in the leather accord. That accord also has several green vegetal effects to evoke Hr. Saberi’s tanning process. The last part of the heart is beeswax to give a kind of industrial glue aspect. The final note is the promised Iso E Super.

Boris Bidjani Saberi 11 has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

These two artists have created a unique leather perfume. The use of the green contrast throughout along with the choice to go for a lighter leather accord is what makes this stand out. I think Boris Bidjani Saberi 11 is an example of where the technician and the artist are on display in equal parts.

Disclosure: My sample was provided by the New York City Boris Bidjan Saberi store.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Vivienne Westwood Anglomania- Ropion on the Record

As I became more interested in all things punk during the mid 1970’s I learned there were two sort of puppet masters behind the scenes. One was Malcolm McLaren who was the impresario behind the formation of The Sex Pistols. The early look of the punk movement came from his partner Vivienne Westwood. Ms. Westwood would create the look of a movement spearheaded by the earliest purveyors of the music. 

Vivienne Westwood

This would be the beginning of a successful fashion designing career where she would always display that early punk sensibility throughout. Even the uniforms she designed for Virgin Atlantic airlines in 2014 has a bit of that with flight attendants in high collars and bright red.

Ms. Westwood has always been one of those I am intensely interested in. So, when she expanded in to fragrance in 1998 I was ready to be impressed. That first release was called Boudoir and it is a provocative kaleidoscopic floriental. Surprisingly that perfume has continued to be available since its release. The best perfume that has ever been released by the brand, Anglomania, was sent to the Dead Letter Office two short years after its release in 2004. Despite it being a dirty leathery rose which fits her aesthetic way better than Boudoir.

Dominique Ropion

Anglomania was composed by perfumer Dominique Ropion under Ms. Westwood’s creative direction. What is odd about a perfume named Anglomania is there is so little Anglo to be found inside as early on it seems more like a Japanese tea room, then a floral record store, and finally a leather jacket. None of that screams British to me but as a fragrance it sure works well.

Anglomania opens with a snappy coriander and cardamom pairing. To this M. Ropion provides a steaming cup of green tea to which he also adds nutmeg. As I said this reminds me of something Asian inspired which continues in the heart. There instead of the traditional English rose M. Ropion trots out a boisterous Bulgarian rose grabbing ahold of the spices and folding them within its petals. Then comes the vinyl accord which inserts itself into the rose. This is the smell of an old vinyl record as you opened it for the first time. It turns this into a post-modern rose as the needle drops on this fragrant record. The base is a leather jacket accord full of animalic charm and sweaty musks.

Anglomania has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Anglomania was a shooting star in its short time on sale. The reason for the discontinuation is the benign neglect Ms. Westwood showed all the fragrances in her line. There has never been a very active attempt to get these perfumes out in to the public eye. A perfume like Anglomania needed some buzz to give it a jump start but it got none of that. Which is how it ended up in the Dead Letter Office.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review J Lesquendieu Lesquendieu Le Parfum- Tea Dyed Leather

The pace of resurrecting heritage perfumeries is beginning to rival that of re-animating the deceased on The Walking Dead. The pace of success in this endeavor is compounded by trying to follow decades old recipes with ingredients no longer available or proscribed by law. The smart play is to take the ones which can be reformulated with the least amount of change while attempting a few new releases in what is meant to be the “house style”. The latest heritage house to be rebuilt along these lines is that of J. Lesquendieu.

According to the website, and on the bottle, J. Lesquendieu was a Parisian perfumerie founded in 1903. The man whose name is on the bottle, Joseph Lesquendieu, was responsible for the compositions. If you read the bio on the website it seems like M. Lesquendieu was an original artisanal perfumer for whom the quality of the material was paramount. He apparently had two peaks of success in the 1920’s and again in the 1950’s. I can only really glean that from a few very spread out breadcrumbs on the brand so it might be overextrapolation on my part. M. Lesquendieu passed away in 1962 with the brand soldiering on for an indeterminate amount of years before also having the same fate.

Joseph Lesquendieu

In 2015 the grandson Jerome Lesquendieu decided he wanted to bring his grandfather’s brand back to life. It was made easier because his grandfather had spent the final years of his life committing the recipes and perfume-making techniques to paper; probably hoping a subsequent generation would pick up the torch. With the younger M. Lesquendieu at the helm now he made the decision to reformulate three classics and create two new ones. Bonne Fortune, Feu de Bengale, and Glorilis are the three reformulations. Without seeing the original ingredient list all three feel like they are lacking in a certain power that perfumes of that time had. This could be a business decision to pull back on that intense kind of perfumery for fear it will not sell well in the current market.

The two new compositions, Lilice and Lesquendieu Le Parfum, are kept lighter. Lilice is a very typical powdery iris and rose fragrance. It doesn’t particularly stand out from the many other perfumes featuring that combination. Lesquendieu Le Parfum, on the other hand, does give the Oriental a nice twist by making a transparent leathery version.

Lesquendieu Le Parfum starts with a nod to classical perfumery by using birch combined with black tea to provide an acerbically interesting opening. The birch provides a strong contrast to the leafiness of the black tea, together it smells like a tar smoked cuppa. If that was done at high concentration it would be off-putting. In Lesquendieu Le Parfum it is kept at an opaquer shade allowing it to entice instead of push away. The heart is all about finding a floral support for that opening with jasmine and labdanum the choices. The jasmine helps refine the rougher edges of the top accord as the labdanum converts the smoke from tar to incense. Eventually it all snaps together in to a leather accord infused with tea. This all settles on to a typical Oriental amber, vanilla, and cedar base. Yet again it is all kept very transparent as everything prior has done.

Lesquendieu Le Parfum has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

These initial five releases have built up enough goodwill that I am interested to see what the young M. Lesquendieu will choose to do next. I am hoping for more similar to Lesquendieu Le Parfum.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Twisted Lily.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Abercrombie & Fitch First Instinct- Second Look

I definitely carry my biases. There are brands where they get my patience throughout many derivatives of their best sellers. While there are others who don’t get the same amount of tolerance. The perfumer of malls everywhere Abercrombie & Fitch is one of the latter. The fact that anytime I visit the mall when I walk by the storefront that I will be engulfed in a cloud of Fierce is enough to engender my attitude. That they have spun out seemingly infinite flankers since its release in 2002 also doesn’t help. Back at the end of the summer of 2016 I received a bottle of the brand’s attempt to branch out called First Instinct. I looked back at my notes and had labeled it as “good try maybe next time”. Then as I was talking with some in the vlogging community they kept asking me what I thought because it was showing up on a lot of year-end “best of” lists. It was enough to make me give First Instinct a second chance and I’m glad I did.

Gino Percontino

One of the things I appreciate about First Instinct is they veered away from the Fierce architecture. Even though First Instinct is described as a fougere, like Fierce, it really isn’t. Two perfumers, Gino Percontino and Philippe Romano, gove First Instinct a distinctly aquatic heart; but one which is comprised of some different ingredients than the typical ozonic sea air suite normally found in that genre. It gives it a fresher effect overall than a traditional fougere.

Philippe Romano

First Instinct opens on what the note list calls a “gin and tonic accord”. I definitely get the gin, as juniper is very prominent. But the drink I get is some version of a melon martini as the perfumers use melon with a hint of almond to construct this olfactory cocktail. There is a real playfulness to this to provide some fun. Violet leaf provides the aquatic vibe in the heart and it is made more expansive with a series of citrus notes to give it that effect. A very nice use of Szechuan pepper provides some atypical spiciness to the overall cleanliness of the heart accord. Up until now First Instinct has been clean and fresh, in the base it gets warm with a mixture of cashmeran, amber, and some of the warmer musks. It is a shift of mood which works without feeling like First Instinct is grinding its gears making the transition.

First Instinct has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

While First Instinct wouldn’t have made any of my year-end lists I understand why it has appealed to many. This is not Fierce but it is Abercrombie & Fitch. Despite my best try to lump it in with Fierce it is better than that and worth giving a try if you’ve been avoiding it for the reasons I was.

Disclosure: this review was based on a bottle I received from Abercrombie & Fitch.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Nix by Nathan Hill

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I miss bookstores. When I got my first job I used to go to my local bookstore every Thursday when the new releases would arrive. I would read the description on the dust cover and decide if it was something I wanted to read. The bookseller would learn my tastes and would recommend something they thought I would like. I no longer have that weekly visit because the internet keeps me updated in real time. My authors are on a list and the moment their new book is released I get an alert. Which is great. What I miss is that chance of holding a book by an author I have never heard of. Eventually liking that debut effort so much they would be added to my list of writers I read. The other problem with that is I feel like I am out of touch with the best new authors.

This all came together at the end of the year and I was looking at the various Top 10 fiction lists. As I looked I realized that I now had barely read a third of the books that were being lauded. The main reason was 2016 seemed to be a year where first-time authors were really making a mark. As I looked at these books there was one which leapt to the top of my list; The Nix by Nathan Hill.

The Nix is the story of Samuel Anderson in 2011 an English professor who once published a novel which allowed him to have a moment but that moment had seemingly passed. That is until 2011 and the mother, Faye, who abandoned him becomes a media sensation for an act of civil disobedience. Asked to do a biography of her Samuel realizes it is his opportunity to even the score for her leaving him at 11 years old. The story leapfrogs from 1968 to 2011 making stops in between as Faye recounts her story to her son. It all comes together in a moment of elegant storytelling

Mr. Hill can follow an acerbically witty passage with one that touches depths of emotions. I would go from wiping away tears of laughter to doing the same with emotional versions a few pages later. The Nix is one of those disjointed narratives that can be frustratingly aloof to get in to. Mr. Hill’s prose especially early on doesn’t draw you in as effectively as it might. But once The Nix get to the heart of its story I found it hard to stop reading. This is a book where I urge you to get past page 200 before giving up. What happens in the last two thirds makes up for the too careful construction of the plotline.

If, like me, you miss finding new authors at the local bookstore let me be your guide this time. Mr. Hill looks to be a major new talent and The Nix shows why.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Montale Blue Amber- Beauty in Power

One way for a perfume to fly under the radar is to be part of a small brand which is what makes up the bulk of this column. In rarer cases a perfume can fly under the radar because there are so many other fragrances on the screen in some brands. This is the case with Montale.

Montale has released 100 fragrances over the last 16 years. There are so many entries on the Montale radar screen a poor perfume traffic controller has to work hard to pick out the ones which need some attention. As I mentioned when I did my Perfume 101 on Montale the brand was one of the first to bring oud to the West. There are many great oud perfumes in the collection but my favorite is not one of those it is one of the best amber perfumes I own, Blue Amber.

As Montale really began to rev themselves up starting in 2008 there were three out of that voluminous early set of releases which stood out; Black Aoud, Red Vetyver, and Blue Amber. They all still hold up over time but the first two have more notoriety and Blue Amber has lost some altitude.

Until the release of last year’s So Amber, Blue Amber was the only amber perfume in the collection. I’ve always thought when you nail it on the first try there was no need to take another try. Pierre Montale succeeded because he chose a near-perfect set of notes to complement the amber at the heart of this perfume.

Blue Amber opens with one of my favorite geranium uses in any fragrance. There is one thing M. Montale does not traffic in and that is subtlety. As a result, there is a whopping amount of geranium in the top of Blue Amber. To this he adds an equally potent amount of coriander which accentuates the green facets of the geranium which are more apparent because of the concentration. Then the amber arrives in a spicy wave picking up on the coriander. Patchouli and vetiver provide a fantastic foundation for this amber to react to. It all comes together rather quickly and lingers there for hours.

Blue Amber has 18-24 hour longevity and above average sillage.

There are times I want a perfumer to go all out. With Blue Amber M. Montale does exactly that. The hazard is at that volume flaws are much more apparent. The upside is if it is done well that kind of power carries a rough beauty hard to find in fragrance. Blue Amber is that kind of fragrance and deserves to be on your radar screen.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Atelier Cologne Clementine California- The Cologne Welcome Mat

If there has been one thing I have done the most over the time I’ve been running Colognoisseur it has been to recommend Atelier Cologne. One of the difficult things for me is to receive an e-mail from a reader letting me know they want to give this niche perfume world a try but they live outside of the major US cities. Most consumers want to know if they are going to pay more that they personally can tell, and appreciate, the difference between mainstream and niche. My answer has been, more often than not, to head to their local mall; go to Sephora, and get a sample of Atelier Cologne. Most of the time I receive a follow-up from those who do see the difference. There are some who have replied that they like what they smelled but it was “too strong”. Even when I show visitors niche perfumes that is a common refrain, as well.

What that means is a perfume brand needs a fragrance which acts as a welcome mat to allow a consumer to take a smaller step from the mainstream into a different style of perfumery. I think the most recent release from Atelier Cologne called Clementine California will be that perfume for the brand. One of the reasons I think this will become important is if the recent acquisition by L’Oreal comes with a plan to expand the availability even more; Clementine California can become the brand ambassador.

Sylvie Ganter-Cervasel and Christophe Cervasel

Clementine California is still the Cologne Absolue for which the brand started by Sylvie Ganter-Cervasel and Christophe Cervasel pioneered. Jerome Epinette is once again the perfumer. Clementine California is a sparkling citrus cologne. All of this is part of the brand DNA. What is different is this is, seemingly by design, the most easygoing Atelier Cologne ever.

To achieve this affability M. Epinette uses a very traditional cologne spine of citrus, spice, and woods. Only in a few places is there a different twist to that classic cologne recipe which is what makes it a small step towards niche.

Jerome Epinette

The opening is a sun-drenched citrus mix of clementine and mandarin. Then M. Epinette tints it green with juniper. This is the technique he will use throughout by adding a green facet to each accord. In the heart star anise and Szechuan pepper provide the spice component which is turned greener by basil. The base is sandalwood and cypress providing a woody alternative to the more commonly used cedar. M. Epinette adds vetiver for the last bit of green.

Clementine California has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

From the very first moment I smelled Clementine California I believed this is the cologne which can put its arm around your shoulder while you step over the threshold into a different fragrance world. I am looking forward to recommending this to the next person to send me an e-mail.

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

Mark Behnke