My Favorite Things: Lemon

Every spring I get overwhelmed by the number of new rose releases for spring which pile up on my desk. I have become openly grumpy about this and hope every year for something different to show up as the weather begins to warm up. Last year I realized I was wearing several specific perfumes as a palate cleanser versus those rose fragrances; lemon focused perfumes. I made sure to remember when this time came around this year to share my favorites. Here are five which I love.

One of my favorite summer treats is to take a cold lemon and cut it into wedges and coat it in sugar. Then I bite into the wedge for a cold sweet and sour treat. When I want the same effect, I turn to Fresh Sugar Lemon. Perfumer Cecile Krakower mixes two sources of lemon and adds it into a heart of orange blossom, lychee flower and ginger. Those three ingredients provide the sugar part of the equation. It is one of the interesting aspects of perfumery that I can tease apart the strands but it is when I stop doing that the sugary effect is balanced contrast to the lemon. The base is found in caramel tinged sandalwood. Sugar Lemon is an example of how simple can be very good.

Diptyque Oyedo is a true melange of all citrus; especially in the very early going. The lemon rises out of the crowd as the herbal green of thyme along with apricot lift it up above the other citrus ingredients. As it was with Sugar Lemon the base is a mix of wood and gourmand as cedar and a praline accord take on that role. Of all of the perfumes on this list this is the most dynamic.

It is a very rare thing where I think the flanker is way better than the original; Chanel Allure Homme Edition Blanche is one of those. The original Allure Homme was composed by Jacques Polge and Francois Demachy in 1998. Ten years later the same team of perfumers reworked the original formula by replacing the original softer citrus opening around mandarin with one centered on a burst of lemon. The heart is a sandalwood and tonka down to a very different base of vetiver, cedar, amber, and vanilla from the original as the latter two notes take over from the first two.

One of the best recent variations on lemon has been Atelier Cologne Citron D’Erable. Perfumer Jerome Epinette splice lemon onto a fabulously rich maple syrup accord. By trapping the exuberant citrus in the sticky syrup, he creates a true shoulder season citrus which is at its best on cold mornings followed by warm afternoons.

I finish with what I consider to be one of the greatest rich citrus perfumes ever and it is all about lemon; Balmain Monsieur Balmain. Originally composed by Germaine Cellier and brilliantly re-worked by Calice Becker in 1990 this is what I think a spring fragrance should be. Three styles of lemon are combined in the top with lemon, petitgrain, and verbena. They are given lift by a brilliantly restrained use of mint. Then herbal thyme, rosemary, and sage along with ginger and nutmeg swaddle a spicy rose which provides deeper harmonies for the bright top accord. It all ends on fabulously constructed light chypre accord.

If you want something to freshen up your days as things begin to thaw try these five lemon perfumes to provide some light.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Sisley Izia- Rose Soap on a Rope

As gimmicks to sell soap go I am a sucker for soap on a rope. One of my earliest fragrance related gifts was a bar of Aramis scented soap with a loop of braided rope sticking out of the side. I am sure this is a product which has almost all of its sales to men. As I got older I still liked having one hanging from my shower faucet. If there was something that I would use to describe the scent of the soap was that it was a lighter more transparent version of the parent. As we would cross over in to the 2000’s transparent design of the perfume itself became more common. There were also more perfumes which actively embraced being soapy. The new Sisley Izia reminded me of a transparent soapy rose that could have been on a rope.

Sisley is not one of those brands which seems to ride the wave of trends. They have released a total of 12 fragrances since the debut of Eau de Campagne in 1976.  At that pace, you have to work on more traditional structures. Which was why Izia surprised me a little bit because this was a contemporary rose fragrance from a brand where that is not one of the adjectives which springs to mind. Perfumer Amandine Clerc-Marie did a nice job at making Izia a spring rose with something different to say.

Amandine Clerc-Marie

The soapiness for Izia comes from a selection of aldehydes which combine to form a fine French-milled soap accord. When I get a really fine soap and open it for the first time there is this wonderful moment as the pent-up scent rises off the cake and fills the room as if on an invisible soap bubble. The aldehydes in Izia do the same for the rose. The aldehydes serve to give a diffuse quality to the rose making it softer. To that Mme Clerc-Marie adds a pinch of pink pepper, some pear, and bergamot. These provide detail without distracting from the soapy rose. That effect gets stronger in the heart as freesia, angelica, and peony make Izia fresher but no less soapy. The base is a very clean cedary musk.

Izia has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

If you do not like your perfume soapy Izia should be avoided it is one of the more prominent soapy perfumes I have tried in some time. Prior to wearing Izia I would have numbered myself in that group. What Izia made me see was if the soap is given something on which to actively make transparent it can be a refreshing change from the other dewy spring roses on the shelf this time of year. If you have overlooked Sisley, Izia is enough of a change that you might want to give it a chance to make a new impression.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Nordstrom.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Armani Prive Iris Celadon- Split Personality Iris

When it comes to the private collection fragrance lines from the major designers there is none more frustrating for me than the Armani Prive collection. When it comes to mainstream designer perfume Giorgio Armani also shares this inconsistency. My hypothesis is since the Armani line of fragrances is not overseen by a single set of creative directors it has suffered for not having a singular defining brand aesthetic. Which translates to these pendulum swings in quality. There are many in the line which I think are as great as I consider others to be poor. In the past, I’ve said their success rate is about 50%. What I’ve also come to realize is that when they are good they are very good as is the new Armani Prive Iris Celadon.

Iris Celadon is the thirty-second release in the Armani Prive collection. Perfumer Marie Salamagne is composing her fifth within the group. I found this quote, by Giorgio Armani, attached in the press materials interesting; “The color celadon is neither blue, green, nor grey. It’s an indefinable color, and one that I find fascinating.” That quote could be applied to the use of iris in perfume as it can be powdery, floral, or earthy without being completely any one of those. Which is one reason I like iris as a perfume ingredient because it allows the perfumer to define the nature of it by what they use along with it. Mme Salamagne tries to show all these faces of iris in Iris Celadon.

Marie Salamagne (Photo: Jerome Bonnet)

The powdery quality of iris comes surrounded by a cloud of aldehydes and cardamom. These are not the hairspray aldehydes instead they are more like wispy cirrus clouds of aldehydes adding some lift to the powdery face of iris. Mme Salamagne uses mate to bring a green focal point to the development into the heart while also shaping the powdery into the more floral. There is a good few minutes where it feels like the mate is chiseling away the powder to find the flower underneath. When the floral character does arise, she sprinkles it with a delicate coating of cocoa powder. It is an interesting transition from flowery powderiness to a gourmand version of the same effect. She finally plants the rootiness of iris deep in a fertile base accord of patchouli and ambrette. Now the powder and the floralcy recedes to leave something which reaches deep into the earth.

Iris Celadon has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Few perfumers embrace the spilt personality of iris as well as Mme Salamagne does in Iris Celadon. It makes for fragrance which has a dynamic development seemingly in motion no matter when you check in with it. I like my perfumes to be mutable even if I don’t get to spend as much time on one phase over the other. Iris Celadon is one of the Armani Prive releases which works because it doesn’t sit still.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Hidden Figures

Later today the Oscars will be handed out for movies released in 2016. Part of the fun of watching the ceremony is having rooting interests. I’ve already mentioned my ambivalence towards favorite “La La Land” as well as my enthusiasm for “Arrival”. As much as I’d like to see the latter win Best Picture and the former to get shut out completely there is one movie which I think has a shot at blocking “La La Land” from the Best Picture Award; “Hidden Figures”.

Hidden Figures is the story of three African-American women who worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It takes place in 1961 as the United States were beginning the Space Race in competition with the USSR. Each country trying to outdo the other by being the first to do something in space. By 1961 the Russians had placed the first satellite, Sputnik, and the first human, Yuri Gargarin. At the Hampton, Virginia NASA facility was where the mathematicians and physicists were gathered to come up with the scientific foundation necessary to have the US catch-up. When it comes to efforts like this the prevailing prejudice of the day is tamped down in the desire for success. So, it was for the women at the heart of this movie.

(l. to r.) Janelle Monae, Taraji P. Henson, and Octavia Spencer

The women are part of the “computers” team who assist all over the facility as needed. They are segregated in to their tiny cramped office overseen by supervisor Dorothy Vaughn, played by Octavia Spencer. Ms. Vaughn is not given the title even though she does the same work as her boss Vivian Mitchell, played by Kirsten Dunst. Two of her staff are brilliant and are given assignments where those skills can be used. Kathryn Goble, played by Taraji P. Henson, is added to the group which is doing the calculations for the first manned flight. The challenges of being the first “colored” member of the team is what her story entails. The other story we follow is that of Mary Jackson, played by Janelle Monae, who is assigned to the capsule design team. Her white supervisor encourages her to fight for her right to attend an all-white school to take the course she needs to continue her education and become an engineer.

Director Theodore Melfi who also co-wrote the screenplay doesn’t take Hidden Figures any place you can’t see coming from a mile away. Which didn’t matter to me because the actresses embody their roles so seamlessly while each story provides a different angle on the state of race and gender relations in 1961 America. Even though I know the story will have a happy ending the journey to it is so entertainingly told it was a joy to spend a couple hours in the dark watching it.

Over the Holidays I try and see as many of the Oscar candidates as I can. I saw Hidden Figures on the same day I also saw “La La Land”, the movie which has resonated since that day is Hidden Figures which is why I am hoping when they open the envelope for Best Picture that’s the title on the card inside.

Mark Behnke

What Do We Know and When Do We Know It?

1

I have just completed my job as shortlisting judge for The Art and Olfaction Awards Independent Category. I spent a month evaluating a few entries at a time each day. The process was blind as all the fragrances were in identical glass vials. I put some on a strip and some on a patch of skin and worked my way through all of them. Just like last year sniffing perfume stripped of context was an interesting exercise. I put down a score for each entry before I read the supplied description. I would then sniff it again and what was funny was with that bit of information my perception was changed a bit. Over the month, I was struck by the impact the words could have on my perception. The scores I handed in were the blind ones but there were several moments where what I thought I had perceived turned out to be something else. One of the things I love about science and scientists is these questions can be shown to exist, or not, by a properly constructed study.

That study was published in September 2016 from the team of Dr. Camille Ferdenzi at the Lyon Neuroscience Research Center in France. (Camille Ferdenzi et.al.; Chemical Senses, 2016; bjw098 DOI: 10.1093/chemse/bjw098 ) In her study she was looking for cultural and semantic links. To achieve this, she gathered two sets of 20 subjects (10 men/10women) from Quebec and France. That was the cultural part French speaking groups from North America and Europe. After being connected to many devices to determine their physical reactions the group was given a set of six essential oils. Two of each which were hypothesized to be culturally relevant to each group and two which were culturally neutral. They smelled each set one time without being told what they were and another time after identifying each oil. They smelled them for 60 seconds each from the same distance. The choices were for Canada-specific: maple and wintergreen; for France-specific: lavender and anise; the neutral choices were strawberry and rose.

Dr. Camille Ferdenzi

The cultural component had some interesting results. Wintergreen was seen as pleasant by the Canadians reminding them of candy; for the French it reminds them of medicinal products. Anise was identified as such by the French but the Canadians called it licorice and again associated it with candy because in North America that is the most prevalent example of anise. The maple was more favorably rated by the Canadians as was the lavender by the French but not by big margins. The rose and strawberry achieved similar scores from both groups. These are interesting preliminary findings on the cultural aspect.

What I found most interesting was the effect knowing what it is you’re smelling had on all the subjects.  In the unlabeled experiment the subjects sniffed much more deeply; taking in more sniffs. Once the oils were identified that process was significantly curtailed as the subjects now had a name on which to thang that smell. The researchers mention that once identified there needed to be less information gathering via smell. The other physical reaction was a decrease in heart rate between the two samplings. The researcher’s hypothesis is the desire to identify the unlabeled samples causes an increase to the autonomous nervous system which is reflected by the increased heartbeat. Once the subjects knew what they were smelling they relaxed into enjoying the pleasant smells reducing their heart rate.

I did not have any monitoring of my vital signs while judging this year but I would not be surprised to see similar results if I had been. What this brings up is the way we use note lists as perfume lovers. Those become the identifiers for us to relax and look for as we experience a new fragrance. After judging this year and now considering the study above I think what we know and when we know it influences how much we enjoy a new perfume.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Thierry Mugler A*Men Kryptomint- Mint Is My Kryptonite

Since 2008 the series of flankers in the Thierry Mugler A*Men Pure series have shown one important thing. The basic foundation created by perfumer Jacques Huclier in 1996 with the original A*Men is tremendously versatile. Over the past nine years the eleven previous releases have showcased this characteristic as M. Huclier has grafted almost every kind of note on to his original.

Two of the more interesting entries in the series was 2013’s A*Men Pure Energy and 2015’s A*Men Ultra Zest. Pure Energy used mint, white pepper, and cardamom as the variants. Ultra Zest used a mélange of orange citrus sources with ginger, mint, and black pepper. On paper, I would have suggested these were going to be a bridge too far for this series. Both fragrances showed fresher accords worked with the A*Men DNA. Even with that success my ambivalence towards mint had me approaching the new A*Men Kryptomint with some trepidation.

My reason for having issues with mint is too often it reminds me of mouthwash or toothpaste. In my mind, it is so tightly bound with those kind of products it takes something different to make me leave that behind. Kryptomint succeeds for most of the time but there is one rocky transition for me which calls up the things I dislike about mint perfumes.

Kryptomint opens with peppermint out in front. It is joined by a beautifully selected geranium. The geranium has the effect of making the mint more mentholated and herbal. This is that sense of when I eat a peppermint candy and the effect goes from my tongue through to my sinuses. It is how the first phase of the development of Kryptomint goes and I was delighted. Then to match up to the sweet A*Men base the geranium recedes the herbal quality disappears and out pops that dental product mint. This is my problem and for those who don’t have my issues the transition is nicely executed it is just something I personally don’t care for. The A*Men base here is mostly the patchouli and tonka portions which is the right choice because Kryptomint recovers quite a bit as those notes become more prominent.

A*Men Kryptomint has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I mentioned the two other fresher flankers of A*Men above if you’re looking for something to compare Kryptomint to it is closer in style to Pure Energy. Kryptomint is another well-done flanker in this series and if you like mint in your perfume it might be a favorite for you. If like me mint is your kryptonite you might want to sample first.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review M. Micallef The No. 2- Josie and the Micallefs

There are certain brands which just go deeper with more ease than others. One brand for whom I have an outsized affection for their deeper darker releases is M. Micallef. This is a brand which thrives in the shadows of the perfumer’s palette. Ouds, gourmands, white flowers, and animalic musks; my favorites are the ones represented in that list. The creative direction of the brand has been via Martine Micallef and her husband Geoffrey Nejman. They have done what all brands aspire to in creating a definitive identity for their fragrances. For their most recent release they looked for creative direction from an interesting place; one of the people who sells their fragrances.

Martine Micallef and Geoffrey Nejman

Osswald NYC is one of the US points of sale for M. Micallef perfumes. If you’ve ever visited the store you have likely met Josie Alycia Plumey who is there to help guide you through the products on sale. Ms. Plumey is one of those infectiously enthusiastic personalities within perfume sales. I’ve watched her interact with experienced perfume lovers and those who have wandered in from the hotel across the street not knowing anything. Her success is due in large part to her ability to pay attention. A little over a year ago, M. Micallef produced an exclusive perfume for Osswald NYC called The No. 1. When I tried it on a visit I thought to myself the sweet vanilla and oud was nice but I wanted something darker. Evidently Ms. Plumey also shared that desire and communicated that to M. Nejman. At which point he gave her the creative directorship for the next Osswald NYC exclusive called The No. 2.

Josie Alycia Plumey

I have long sneered at consumer focus groups as a means to design perfume but a single observer like Ms. Plumey is different than that. She would provide to M. Nejman a brief where she asked for The No. 2 to be the nighttime counterpart to The No. 1. What that meant practically was reversing the ratio of vanilla to oud in favor of the latter while fine-tuning some of the other complementary notes.

The No. 2 opens on the same oud accord as The No. 1 but this time the components are given the opportunity to expand a bit becoming less constricted than in the previous fragrance. Early on plum and saffron provide the harmonies. Saffron is one of those choices which seems to meld intrinsicatly with oud. The plum is pitched at the right volume to not overwhelm the delicacy of the saffron. The heart is the traditional rose and oud pair that is a classic. It is expertly composed because of M. Nejman’s long experience with working with oud for the brand. It isn’t until very late that the vanilla makes its appearance and this time it is there to provide subtlety not equivalence.

The No. 2 has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

The No. 2 is that darker version of The No. 1 I desired. It seems Ms. Plumey has the right stuff when it comes to creative direction.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Osswald NYC.

Mark Behnke

Robert Piguet 101- Five To Get You Started

Right now, there are heritage brands springing up seemingly every month. I don’t know if Robert Piguet was the beginning of this trend because it never went entirely away. Something somewhat worse happened. The massive tuberose fragrance Fracas created in 1948 by Germaine Cellier would be re-formulated, as ingredients became prohibited, died a slow death. Then in 2006 perfumer Aurelien Guichard became the caretaker of Fracas and the brand overall. He brought back one of the greatest perfumes ever made to something that lives up to that description. Over the next few years M. Guichard would go the same for some of the earlier Robert Piguet compositions with the same care. Plus, the brand would also begin making new fragrances also under M. Guichard’s talented nose. For this edition of Perfume 101 I want to point out five other Robert Piguet perfumes you should try besides Fracas. Because everyone who loves perfume should try Fracas.

Aurelien Guichard

After taking care of Fracas M. Guichard spent the next five years doing the same kind of restoration to six other Robert Piguet originals. Three of them show what a creative brand this had been.

Bandit was the earliest perfume created by Mme Cellier for Robert Piguet. It foreshadows some of what will show up again in Fracas but for Bandit she constructs a white flower accord but she tempers it with a rich leather accord. The leather picks up on the indoles beautifully. It subsides onto a patchouli, vetiver, and oakmoss base. The current formulation is wonderfully faithful to the original.

Visa is the under the radar fragrance of the early Robert Piguet catalog. As M. Guichard presented the reformulation to me it was a radiant proto-gourmand. From a fresh peach and pear opening into an immortelle dominated heart down to an Oriental base of sandalwood, leather, and patchouli flavored with healthy amounts of vanilla. That picks up the maple syrup sweetness of the immortelle forming a gourmand accord.

Calypso is like the lost original Robert Piguet. It was one of a handful of perfumes released after Robert Piguet’s death in 1953. Perfumer Francis Fabron would compose the original formulation which M. Guichard modernized. This is the anti- white flower Robert Piguet what it retains of the past is the green vein of stemminess which is attached from galbanum through to the leather in the base. What comes between is a powdery orris, and rose heart. If the perfumes have sounded too much, so far, Calypso is much lighter in style.

In 2011 Robert Piguet would start releasing new fragrances. These would be designed with a less overtly floral nature to appeal to perfume lovers who wanted something more mannered.

Bois Bleu is a citrusy mix which segues into a fabulous violet heart which is paired with nutmeg. Clary sage and lavender provide underpinning but this is one of the best violet hearts of any violet perfume I own. A very straightforward woody base of cedar and sandalwood finishes things.

I had admired everything M. Guichard had accomplished but when I tried Knightsbridge at Esxence in 2013 I knew this was the modern masterpiece that was worthy of bookending Fracas. It was based on the simplest of briefs; “Imagine what Harrod’s smells like at 2AM.” M. Guichard’s interpretation are three phases of fabulously realized duets. Starting with rose and nutmeg to orris and sandalwood, ending on leather and tonka. Each harmonizes in distinctly engaging ways. One of my favorite perfumes of the last five years.

If all you knew of Robert Piguet was Fracas take another look at these five; there is much more to see here.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review The Perfumer’s Story by Azzi S&X Rankin- Tasteful Nudes

Sex Sells! It is a truism in product promotion. Nobody has ever gone broke by cloaking their product in provocative sexy imagery. That image runs the gamut from tastefully subtle to provocatively blunt. When it comes to perfume the latter is exemplified by much of the Tom Ford fragrance ads of a few years ago. The tastefully done is a little less common but the new release from The Perfumer’s Story by Azzi called S&X Rankin is one of those.

Azzi Glasser

Azzi Glasser debuted her brand, The Perfumer’s Story by Azzi, in 2015. Ms. Glasser was part of the creative team behind one of my favorite offbeat sensual perfumes, Illamasqua Freak. As I heard that she was going to work with photographer Rankin on a new release I was interested. Rankin is a British photographer who has been featured in fashion magazines and directed music videos. One of his recurring motifs is a focus on lips and tongues. There is a carnality to lips parted in invitation that I am drawn to; Rankin’s photographs mostly capture that. In a companion video he directed along with the release (link here) there is also a focus on lips and tongues again. As Ms. Glasser has become the perfumer in her story it has been an interesting transition. With S&X Rankin she has made her best perfume for her brand so far.

Rankin

When it comes to fragrances which want to wear their sexiness on their sleeve I expect certain ingredients. Ms. Glasser doesn’t disappoint as leather and castoreum play prominent parts in the later stages but what she and Rankin have concocted prior to that makes S&X Rankin much less obvious.

S&X Rankin opens on a typical bergamot but as part of an Earl Grey tea accord. It provides some shading for pepper and elemi. This is a come-hither look, the parted lips of someone asking a question without words. The collision of bodies comes with a fully indolic jasmine crashing into a dark leather accord. There is an ongoing tussle throughout the middle stage of development. A woody duet of magnolia and guaiac carry this onto a base in which the castoreum revels in its animal nature. Patchouli and a blend of white musks bring this together in an accord reminiscent of tangled sweaty sheets and damp sated bodies.

S&X Rankin has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Ms. Glasser seemed inspired by Rankin allowing that collaboration to create a tasteful nude of a sexy fragrance.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review The Sum The Mauve- Foggy Lavender Morning

There is a great amount of collaboration within the independent perfume community. A lot of it is happening on the West Coat of the US. One of the nodes of creativity is up in the Pacific Northwest. It often takes me a while to find some of the smaller brands. One which I was motivated to track down were the perfumes done for the Portland, Oregon based store The Sum. The reason I wanted to try these was because of perfumer Josh Meyer.

Mr. Meyer is responsible for one of the best independent perfume brands, Imaginary Authors. Working with The Sum he was asked to work towards small-batch ethically resourced compositions. There is a bead of sterling silver in each bottle for its “healing and balancing” qualities. When Mr. Meyer is working on his own brand he sometimes lavishly uses some of the synthetic area of his palette. His work for The Sum has seemingly taken that part out of play. This results in some of the softest perfumes Mr. Meyer has made. When it came to the first three releases I felt like there was also something missing, besides the power, from each. The Black was focused on oud but it needed a contrasting note. In The White Mr. Meyer’s deft touch with smoke is a little less precise which doesn’t allow the iris enough presence. The Red came closest with what felt like a base accord of amber, saffron, and sandalwood. I was wondering if Mr. Meyer would deliver something else for the brand after these first three. Just after the New Year I received my bottle of The Mauve. This time it all comes together.

Josh Meyer

Most of the time the press copy seems so far off the mark but in the case of The Muave it is described as, “The first serene light peeking through a fog”. As I’ve already mentioned these are Mr. Meyer’s most subtle compositions to date. The Mauve is like looking out over a field of lavender dampened by the fog as the sun lurks behind the foggy veil.

To create the humidity of the fog Mr. Meyer employs tea leaves to provide rich leafiness paired with dewiness. This is then further elaborated upon with the lavender which provides a typical herbal tinted floralcy characteristic of the ingredient. It finishes with a sturdy woody base of oak.

The Mauve has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

With the Mauve Mr. Meyer shows he can talk through fragrance in sotto voce. I hope he continues to collaborate with The Sum because I think in a perfumer of his talents there is something very good that can come of this. The Mauve is evidence that even better could be coming.

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

Mark Behnke