New Perfume Review Fragonard Pivoine- The Non-Rose

As the calendar flips to February my mailbox fills up with the current year’s spring releases. Way too many of them are sweet debutante-fresh rose perfumes. I like rose but there are other spring flowers which could be used in their place. Every year I hope for a ripple of rose resistance to show up. So far, every year I am still sniffing one rose after another. When I complain about this within earshot of a person instead of my computer screen I am often asked, “What other choices are there?” One of my stock responses is peony. It has the same dewy freshness of rose with a discernably different scent profile. Seems like the team at Fragonard might also feel the same way as their spring release for 2017 is called Pivoine; which is French for peony.

Peony is often mistaken for rose by many. One reason is peony in fragrance is an accord, as extraction of the petals does not result in an essential oil which can be isolated in quantity. Like the process which brings lilac into perfumes it is up to the creativity of the perfumer to furnish an accord which smells like the real thing. Even more important when your perfume is named after the flower. For Pivoine Fragonard invited perfumer Celine Ellena to take on the job. Mme Ellena has been one of my favorite perfumers who I wish worked a little more often. I was excited to see how she would take on the task of making a peony perfume.

Celine Ellena

Pivoine opens with a currant and rhubarb accord. Mme Ellena uses that tart nature of the rhubarb to keep the berries from being too saccharine. Right from the beginning these are spring milieu scents but not the typical ones. In the heart comes Mme Ellena’s peony accord. One thing which has kept people away from peony in fragrance is these accords can often be easily detected as the stitched together accumulation of aromachemicals that they usually are. Mme Ellena is also relying on the same suite of ingredients but she is also using a bit of olfactory plastic surgery in the use of mimosa and jasmine. What this forms is a spring fresh floral accord with a watery floralcy that is pleasing. The base is formed around iris, amber, and musk to warm up the sunny peony in the final stages.

Pivoine has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

When I am looking for an alternative to spring themed rose perfumes Pivoine is a good example of what I am talking about. It acts as the ideal spring non-rose which is one reason I enjoyed it so much. The other is Mme Ellena’s fine working of a peony accord which is as good as these kinds of effects get. All together if you want something that is not rose this spring give Pivoine a try.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: David Beckham Instinct- Bend It Like Cologne

My disdain for celebrity perfumes is well established. There are some good ones but it is a sector mostly populated with bad fragrance. The concept behind a celebrity perfume is the person whose name is on the box is someone you like and that affection will allow you to forgive the dreck in the bottle. For too many years this has been successful. I’ll even admit when I receive a sample from a celebrity I like I hope it will be better than I think. Then there are the ones which have names of celebrities I don’t care for; those I hope are bad because my childish impulse wants them to fail at something.

I have written in the past that I am a long-time supporter of Arsenal Football Club which means that there are some natural rivals whom I have a severe antipathy towards. One is Manchester United. From 1996-2003 the star player on those Man U teams was David Beckham. In 1999 he curled in a ridiculous goal in the FA Cup Final against Arsenal when he was able to “bend it like…..you know”. He would cause me heartburn a few more times over his career. While most of the world sees him as this elite athlete generally thought of as a nice guy; I see someone I dislike. When I saw he had decided to release a fragrance in 2005 I wanted it to be gasoline in a bottle. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. I actually liked David Beckham Instinct; darn it!

Beatrice Piquet

The early 2000’s was really the height of the celebrity fragrance boom. Anyone who had name recognition was going to produce a perfume. Because there was so much it is why the ones which have survived could rise above the noise. I have always surmised that the celebrity had little to do with the composition. I suspect their input was choosing between two or three finalists. The churlish part of me doesn’t want to give Mr. Beckham any credit but I have no idea his level of involvement. What I do know is perfumer Beatrice Piquet made an above average spicy citrus woody fragrance.

Instinct opens with a crisp citrus accord comprised of orange, mandarin, and bergamot. Mme Piquet then uses cardamom and star anise to provide a spicy complement. It is this interaction which starts to raise Instinct above its competitors. What seals it is the use of very green vetiver with a darker patchouli. So many masculine fragrances go for the cedar-sandalwood duo as its woody base. Mme Piquet using vetiver and patchouli provides a clear difference to other mainstream fragrances of the time.

Instinct has 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Bottles of Instinct can regularly be found for less than $20 at almost any perfume discount point of sale. Today there are more mainstream perfumes which have traveled similar paths. Instinct is still one of the better versions even after all these years. I just wish I didn’t see a soccer ball bending into the top corner of the goal every time I wear it.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Providence Perfume Co. Heart of Darkness- The Smell of Fougere in the Morning

I am a firm believer in the adage that the book is better than the movie; most of the time. One exception is the movie “Apocalypse Now” based on the 19th Century fin de siècle novella “Heart of Darkness” by author Joseph Conrad. The original story was based on British Colonialism in the Congo. Director Francis Ford Coppola modernized the story bringing it forward to the Vietnam War in 1969. The plots are essentially the same as a good and upright man makes a journey into the jungle looking for a man who might have become something dark. In both stories our narrator completes his journey but he is changed by confronting the darkness of the soul. The reason I prefer the movie is the milieu of the Vietnam War and the slippery ethical reasons for being there are more easily understood by me than what were the similar concepts of 19th Century British conquest of foreign lands. What also draws me to “Apocalypse Now” is the clearer sense of the absurd captured within the brutality of a war. Of the few people, I know in my life who served in Vietnam they all say “Apocalypse Now” is the best depiction of their time in country.

Charna Ethier

Independent perfumer Charna Ethier seemingly is inspired by the story for her latest release Providence Perfume Co. Heart of Darkness. In her interpretation, she wanted to create “A classic fougere for men with a dark twist”. In essence she wants to take a fougere on a journey into the jungle to return with a shadow on it. Ms. Ethier has a particularly deft touch with these green leafy accords which she has shown numerous times in the past with fragrances like Moss Gown. Heart of Darkness is another as she adds a jungle on top of a fougere.

This story opens with lavender ready to travel. It adds on nutmeg and tonka to add an unusual sweet quality. It takes the lavender towards its more floral nature as opposed to the herbal facets. Here it really is the steadfast lavender about to step into the jungle. Ms. Ethier uses a very green, slightly camphoraceous, cedar and vetiver to begin the shading towards the dark. A mixture of oakmoss and coffee is where Ms. Ethier adds the darkness. She describes the coffee note as “espresso” I would offer an alternative description as whole roasted coffee bean. Something in here adds a bit of humidity reminiscent of the tropics. Labdanum is the final ingredient which returns our fougere back to its more traditional milieu but the journey has changed it.

Heart of Darkness has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Heart of Darkness is another of these green triumphs from Ms. Ethier. On the days I was wearing it I wanted to paraphrase a character from “Apocalypse Now” as I applied it each day. “I love the smell of fougere in the morning.” Especially when it is done in such an original way as it is in Heart of Darkness.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Coolife Le Sixieme Parfum- Inward Iris

There are times when a new perfume brand arrives and it fails to make an impression on me. Over the first three releases of the brand Coolife this was my experience. Founders and creative directors Carole Beaupre and Pauline Rochas, working with perfumer Patricia Choux, made some workmanlike well-made fragrances which failed to stand out from the crowd. This initial collection is based on The Seven Chakras with one release for each Chakra. It wasn’t until the fourth release, Le Quatrieme Parfum, where their inspiration and the fragrance began to connect with me. Now we are up to the latest release, Le Sixieme Parfum, which repeated the overall experience the creators were going for.

Carole Beaupre and Pauline Rochas

The Chakra inspiration for Le Sixieme Parfum is Ajna, which “allows us to access the inner guidance which springs from the depths of our being.” I take it as that ability to look inward to find some serenity. Perfume has always been a large part of that process for me so a perfume which would enhance that form of meditation could be great. For this perfume, perfumer Luca Maffei was asked to compose this contemplative fragrance.

Luca Maffei

Sig. Maffei chose a fabulously opulent orris concrete as the key note. The best orris versions recall the fact that the fragrance is extracted from the roots and not the flowers. It can make it much less powdery than other iris fragrances while literally grounding it with the earth these roots rest in. This is the material at the heart of Le Sixieme Parfum acting as a fragrant focal point.

Le Sixieme Parfum opens with pink pepper. In this case Sig. Maffei enhances the herbal nature of this ingredient providing a citrus contrast with lemon to uplift the pink pepper somewhat. Then the orris concrete comes forward. As I mentioned above this has a different quality than the typical powdery versions more commonly encountered. The partner Sig. Maffei uses for this is an equally rich osmanthus. Early on the apricot nature of osmanthus makes this a bit of a dried fruit and root accord. Then over time the leathery nature comes forward which really enhances that rootiness. The osmanthus’ dual nature makes it an ideal companion because both sides of its nature work flawlessly with this version of orris. As Sig. Maffei moves into the base the botanical leather of osamnthus evolves into a full on soft leather accord. Concurrently patchouli in its darker earthier form also carries the orris forward into the base where a clean woody frame of cedar and musks complete this.

Le Sixieme Parfum has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

In choosing Sig. Maffei to formulate Le Sixieme Parfum I think he was an inspired choice for a “Third Eye Chakra” because he is one of the more instinctual perfumers working. He is one who I think relies on his sense of what feels right to him. It is probably one of the reasons he has stood out among this next generation of perfumers. In Le Sixieme Parfum he has created an iris which asks you to look deeply inward where you will find that fragrance can unlock your third eye.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Rumours by Fleetwood Mac

When I was in High School I listened to everything when it came to music. Even as I searched for the alternative I was still drawn to the mainstream. Which mimics the way I thought about fragrance in my early days. Forty years ago today, one of the albums which would be on my personal top 10 was released; Rumours by Fleetwood Mac.

I had “discovered” Fleetwood Mac a couple years earlier when they released an album titled “Fleetwood Mac” I thought this was their first album only to have a friend of mine show me the nine(!) previous albums they had released.  The name of the band comes from the names of the two founding members drummer Mick Fleetwood and bass guitarist John McVie. From 1968 until 1974 the band was a blues driven outfit which like all long-time bands had a fluctuation in their membership. In 1969 Christine McVie, wife of John, would be added. In 1974 the next line-up change would be the one which shot the band into the spotlight. Guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and his girlfriend vocalist Stevie Nicks were added. They released the album I mentioned earlier “Fleetwood Mac” in 1975. This time the music was very different. The band had been evolving into a more guitar driven sound before Mr. Buckingham’s arrival but he took it up a few notches. The addition of Ms. Nicks’ ethereal vocals beside Ms. McVie’s soulful version gave different outlets for the song writing to take advantage of. That 1975 album put them on the map with three top 10 singles and their first album Number One. The band was on its way.

Except the cost of success was the relationships within the band. By the time they got together to record the follow-up album the McVie’s were splitting up and Mr. Buckingham and Ms. Nicks were also doing the same as Mr. Fleetwood’s marriage also disintegrated. Musicians are at their most insightful when they reflect their personal into the music. As they began to record, the songs that were being written were all about this emotional turmoil. Lots of bands would have pushed it to the background. This band chose to use the genuine emotion to make one of the greatest albums ever, Rumours.

Fleetwood Mac in 1976

The songs were direct shots right at the heart of the target; standing right next to them. Mr. Buckingham tells Ms. Nicks she can “Go Your Own Way”. Ms. Nicks looks to the future on “Dreams” which became the biggest single on the album. Ms. McVie sings about her new boyfriend in “You Make Loving Fun”. There are songs for love lost Ms. McVie’s plaintive “Songbird”. “Gold Dust Woman” refers to the cocaine use which was also fueling some of the band’s interpersonal problems. Despite all the songs which highlighted the things that were driving them apart my favorite song on the album is “The Chain” which is about what kept them together in the band.

The Chain is the only song which is credited to the entire band. It was assembled from different pieces of other songs. Because of that each member of the band shines. The basic structure is a piano verse section by Ms. McVie. The bass-laden bridging sections is Mr. McVie at his most inventive. Mr. Fleetwood, who I consider to be one of the greatest rock drummers, provides the heartbeat with a steady metronomic drum beat. It all leads to Mr. Buckingham’s guitar driving the final section. Over all of it are the lyrics and vocals of Ms. Nicks who “damn your love, damn your lies” knows “I can still hear you saying, you would never break the chain” as the song ends with the knowledge that the “Chain, keep us together/running in the shadows”.

The Chain encapsulates the experience of overcoming the personal to stay together for the music. Rumours is a great album because these five artists were able to do that brilliantly.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Aramis JHL- The Scent of Class

When I was a child I looked up to the adult men around me for the cues that would help me become like them. Besides my father another influential figure in my childhood was my Uncle Harvey. He was the white-collar flip side to my blue-collar father. Uncle Harvey was a South Florida defense lawyer. He wore a suit and tie. Although when I would see him the tie was loosened and the top button opened showing he wasn’t that fond of the tie part of the uniform. I enjoyed spending time with him because he was an early adopter back in the 1960’s. He had the first color TV. Later, he had the first remote control for that TV. He leased a new Cadillac Coupe de Ville every year which exposed me to the latest in new automotive advances. There was a scent to all of this for me too. Uncle Harvey was an Aramis man. Aramis was the scent of Uncle Harvey to me. I received an Aramis soap on a rope for some occasion and I was surrounded by the smell in my daily shower for a month or so. It imprinted on my forming scent personality that this was what a professional classy gentleman smelled like.

Now fast forward to 1984 as I am assembling my first professional wardrobe and accessories in my first job. As I was looking through the perfumes at the men’s fragrance counter in Macy’s I saw a familiar name Aramis but now there were four versions. The original, Aramis 900, Devin, and JHL. I knew I wanted to be my own man so Aramis was never in the running. But the moment I smelled JHL I knew this was going to join Polo on my dresser.

Joseph and Estee Lauder

The story behind JHL is it is the initials of Estee Lauder’s husband Joseph Harold Lauder. Ms. Lauder wanted a fragrance which captured him. For this she turned to perfumer Josephine Catapano. What they developed was a modern streamlined version of Aramis.

JHL opens with a more pronounced herbal mixture pushing against citrus. It is a very classic pairing but Ms. Catapano shapes the herbs with a set of spices; cinnamon, allspice, and clove. This provides a soft warmth for a spicy rose to take the lead in the heart with. The woods come next; fir and sandalwood married to patchouli and oakmoss. Incense and vanilla finish the development.

JHL has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I still wear JHL as one of my suit and tie fragrances. There has always been a palpable scent of class to it along with a memory of Uncle Harvey.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Clean Reserve Sel Santal- The New Clean

Back in 2003 there were a great number of people looking to find a way to catch a ride on the rising fragrance tide. One opportunity was for independent brands to provide alternatives to the bigger brands. Randi Shinder was one of those who took the chance on marketing her perfume which evoked the smell of being freshly showered called Clean. Clean was a big success story eventually being picked up by Sephora. Over the next twelve years the brand would make many, many variations on fragrances which matched the name on the bottle. These were perfumes for people who wanted fragrance on the down low; unobtrusive and unchallenging. Then in 2015 Ms. Shinder decided she wanted to try something different and the Clean Reserve collection was born. Over that first year there were nine Clean Reserve releases and I could feel the creative team looking to diverge from the long-time Clean fragrance formula. There seemed to me to be a hesitation to really embrace the change. Of those 2015 releases, there was always a part of the development where it would touch base with the brand DNA. There was one, Smoked Vetiver, where it tried with a very warm base of myrrh, vetiver, and amber that came close but the early moments were crisp citrus and cotton accords. At the end of 2016 two more were added to the Clean Reserve line and this time Sel Santal managed to finally break away.

Randi Shinder

One thing about the Clean Reserve collection is they are working with some excellent perfumers. For Sel Santal, Patricia Choux was the perfumer. Mme Choux was very familiar with the brand having made three previous Clean fragrances. Sel Santal is the most different perfume that has ever had Clean on the bottle. It is a gourmand heart over an Oriental base. On the bottle it calls itself a “Green Oriental”. Not sure where the green comes from because it isn’t particularly green.

Patricia Choux

Sel Santal opens on a rich nutmeg paired with mandarin leaves. The latter is the only green in the entire perfume and it is more used as a contrast to the nutmeg than a primary focal point. The heart of Sel Santal is where this gets different as hazelnut and fig combine into a ripe fig coated in Nutella. A sugared violet along with iris provide lovely floral shading. The one thing which is true to the Clean brand is even though this might sound heavy Mme Choux keeps it much lighter than that set of notes might sound like. This goes to a sandalwood base where amber, styrax, and musk complete the Oriental base accord.

Sel Santal has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

There is a place for traditionally heavy genres to be made lighter, less intrusive. In other words if Clean Reserve can Clean them up there is the early building blocks of a collection which can fill a spot in the fragrance counter spectrum. Sel Santal is a great start towards that.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maria Candida Gentile Lankaran Forest- Azerbaijan Tour

I say it incessantly but one of the things I love about independent perfumers is their willingness to make their own raw materials. The ability of someone who is working for themselves to make the effort to create the perfect ingredient. One of the best at doing this is perfumer Maria Candida Gentile. When I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with her she usually has a vial or two of the accords she is using in the latest release. I was unable to attend Pitti Fragranze this past September but ever since receiving a sample of Maria Candida Gentile Lankaran Forest I realized I missed the opportunity to try another amazingly realized accord.

Lankaran Forest was actually released in 2015 as a limited edition at the 2nd Buta Festival of Azerbaijani Arts in London. It was used as the scent of a gallery within which was an artist’s depiction of the forests near the Azerbaijan city in the name of the perfume. To prepare for this Sig.ra Gentile took a trip to the place in the name. While there she was taken by the immense ironwood trees. She would also go visit a citrus orchard and a tea plantation nearby. Together she used all of these inspirations to create the new fragrance.

Maria Candida Gentile

It is those citrus orchards which come out early on. Bitter orange and petitgrain form a tart accord which is given energy by the addition of ginger. For a perfume with forest in the name this felt more like the beach. It begins to get a little more arboreal with the arrival of a black tea accord. Lankaran black tea is renowned for its floral nature over the deepness of the tea leaves. That mix of floralcy and dried tea leaves is an interesting transition from the brighter top notes. Then we finally arrive at the edge of the forest looking up at the ironwood trees and here is where Sig.ra Gentile’s touch with an accord comes into play. She creates a mélange of dry woods with hints of moist lichen clinging to it. There are also grace notes of moist soil here too. It is complex with lovely subtleties I discovered on every day I wore this.

Lankaran Forest has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Most of the time when you see forest in a fragrance name you are expecting soaring woods, big balsamic notes and lots of green. Lankaran Forest is none of that. It is less focused on the forest and more on the whole of a city named Lankaran from orchard to tea to tree. It is one of Sig.ra Gentiles most nuanced perfumes which drew me in even further as I wore it. I believe if I ever make it to Lankaran I already know how it will smell.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Maria Candida Gentile.

Mark Behnke