The Sunday Magazine: Strong Women in Pop Culture

In 2006 writer-director Joss Whedon received an award from Equality Now. His acceptance speech is one of the funnier things I’ve read. In it he talks about going on press junkets and being asked the same question over and over, “Why do you write these strong women characters?” Over the course of answering the question multiple times in the speech it is his final answer that was most telling of the way things were in 2006, “Because you’re still asking me that question.”

In 2006 characters like Mr. Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the women on his show Firefly were anomalies. Now in 2017 we are a week removed from a movie which featured the original pop culture strong woman, Wonder Woman. Which was directed by a female director, Patty Jenkins; becoming the biggest box office opening for a female directed movie.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

In the eleven years since 2006 there has been a steady increase in women taking on starring roles in some of our biggest pop culture mediums. Besides Wonder Woman the character Rey in the new Star Wars movies is as big as any hero in any movie coming out in 2017. The heroine of the storybook television show Once Upon a Time is the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming. Supergirl has her own show. In comics, a woman wields Mjolnir as Thor. The most interesting thing is I could keep going on and on with examples. In 2006, I would have had trouble writing a paragraph as long.

Daisy Ridley as Rey in Star Wars

What changed? I don’t think anything changed. What I think happened is a generation of creative minds were influenced by the opportunity to work in the unexplored territory of writing for strong women. If you’re going to tell the tale of the Hero’s Journey why not make it the Heroine’s Journey and claim it for your own? Which is why we have this growing sector of strong women in pop culture. It is also why this will be an enduring change because it has emerged in a natural way driven by the writers, directors, and artists looking for their story to tell.

In 2006, I think we were just beginning to take the first steps to rounding the corner. In 2017, I think we are almost at the point that the change is complete. Which means the question of “Why do you write these strong women characters?” will disappear sooner rather than later.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Tauer L’Eau- Swiss Veranda

When you do anything, there are foundational elements which are necessary to build upon. When it comes to perfume, cologne would be one of those cornerstones. It is why almost every perfumer eventually releases their version. Independent perfumer Andy Tauer had released an all-natural version three years ago called Cologne du Maghreb. That was a very traditional architecture what stood out was doing it with an all-natural set of ingredients. Hr. Tauer has decided to take a second look at cologne with the latest release Tauer L’Eau.

The original cologne by Jean Marie Farina was the product of a walk in the mountains capturing the smells he encountered. For L’Eau Hr. Tauer didn’t go for a walk instead he sat on his Zurich veranda and breathed deep of the lemon tree in bloom. Just like M. Farina did in the beginning Hr. Tauer wanted L’Eau to be reflective of the moment in the morning where you step outside and inhale.

Andy Tauer

Unlike Cologne du Maghreb Hr. Tauer had his full arsenal of perfume ingredients to use for L’Eau. That allowed for him to make a Tauer-style cologne. What that becomes is the traditional citrus opening transitions through a richer floral into a unique, for cologne, ambergris-focused base accord.

L’Eau starts with a mixture of lemon, bergamot, and orange. It is a display of all the facets of citrus as all three ingredients harmonize in a reliable way. Then Hr. Tauer puts his imprint on the venerable form. It starts in the heart with lemon blossom bringing his tree next to the veranda to life. Then in a bit of inspiration he uses a powdery iris to go with that. The contrast of soft powder with transparent floral is compelling. The base accord is even more fascinating as ambergris is the core which Hr. Tauer surrounds with several white musks. This is another great choice as this forms an expansive version of ambergris which allows the lemon blossom and iris floral accord to float on the cloud it provides. Then very late on Hr. Tauer’s trademark Tauerade peeks out almost impishly.

L'Eau has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

I really enjoyed Hr. Tauer’s Cologne du Maghreb but after wearing L’Eau it almost feels like that earlier fragrance was a primer on cologne composition. If that was the case Hr. Tauer came away with an inspiration to make a Tauer cologne which is as imaginative as it is invigorating. Much like a spring morning on a Swiss veranda.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Pretty Woman by Barbara Orbison- A.k.a Handsome Man

I was at Sniffapalooza Spring Fling 2010 and it was very late on day one. I really had sort of had enough until a stylish woman approached me and wanted to give me a sample of her perfume. I was happy to take the sample but upon looking at the name I didn’t have high hopes. On the card was printed Pretty Woman by Barbara Orbison. I was thinking this was going to be one of those perfumes I would sniff and forget. Since I am writing about it seven years later that was obviously not the case.

What happened was I sprayed some on a strip later back in my hotel room. I thought, “not bad”. Then I put it on my wrist followed by a different thought, “wow”. I can’t remember for sure but I think I was expecting a perfume inspired by the movie and song of the same name to be a fruity floral. What I encountered was a spicy floral resinous perfume which I have become very fond of.

Barbara Orbison

Barbara Orbison headed to California when she was designing her perfume. She worked closely with the independent perfume community. I have seen Mandy Aftel and Sarah Horowitz connected to the birth of Pretty Woman but I have no explicit confirmation that they did anything more than consult. I would say no matter who Ms. Orbison took advice from the reason Pretty Woman did not turn out to be a fruity floral is because she let the independent spirit guide her.

Pretty Woman opens on a Turkish rose, stargazer lily, and carnation all of which are floral notes with spicy components. The perfume brings those to the foreground. This all comes in the wake of one of the more distinct bergamot openings I have. Patchouli and amber provide warmth followed by incense and vanilla to complete the base accord.

Pretty Woman has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Pretty Woman has one problem in my estimation; the name. This is so much a unisex fragrance that the name can be a problem for a man when asked why he smells so good. Which is why when I am asked that question I say I am wearing “Handsome Man”.

When I say Pretty Woman is Under the Radar I mean it. You can only purchase it from the website. I am not sure how consistent the sales are but it has always been available there. I know I’ve turned many on to the fragrance and have sent many Pretty Women, and Handsome Men, there to add it to their collection.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Arielle Shoshana- The High Dive of Passion Fruit

People like to talk about what they want to do. Far fewer actually do what they want to do. Over the past year I have had the opportunity to watch a colleague in writing move toward what she wanted to do.

Arielle Weinberg

I first met Arielle Weinberg in New York at a Sniffapalooza. It was great to put the real person behind the writer of the blog Scents of Self. Ms. Weinberg provided a different perspective on fragrance. Her blog was started while she was a student in college. Her enthusiasm for fragrance was evident in her words but even more so in person. She had one of those personalities which drew people into a conversation. After she graduated she decided to create a career in the business. To that end she spent some time in New York working in a few places learning the customer service side of the business.

Having grown up in the Washington D.C.-area she knew there was no dedicated niche fragrance store in the metro area. As she gained experience in New York her eye was on returning home and founding a store. Which she did in the Fall of 2015; Arielle Shoshana opened in the Mosaic District of Fairfax, VA. I had the opportunity on a few occasions to be in the store on a regular day and observed Ms. Weinberg use all of what she learned to carry a new consumer through the niche perfume world. A year and a half later the store has created a presence for niche perfume in the D.C. area.

Cecile Hua-Krakower

You might think all of that would be enough but Ms. Weinberg also had a creative impulse which needed to find an outlet. Shortly after the one-year anniversary Ms. Weinberg began to work with perfumer Cecile Hua-Krakower on a fragrance for the store which has now come to pass as Arielle Shoshana can now be found on the shelf in the store of the same name.

The core of Arielle Shoshana is passion fruit. In the press release Ms. Weinberg says, “The first time I saw a passion fruit opened, I screamed. It’s such a bizarre-looking fruit……I wanted the fragrance to capture the experience of that first passion fruit: the shock of the unexpected, closely followed by delight.” Mme Hua-Krakower turned out to be as fascinated as Ms. Weinberg. Together they would fashion the central passion fruit accord around which Arielle Shoshana is built.

Passion fruit has significant tartness along with a deep tropical fruitiness. Capturing that balance is where Arielle Shoshana starts. The tart is ascendant early before the sweet tropical character slowly nudges it aside. Helping in that is the imaginative use of saffron. Saffron usually has a dry spicy floral quality when on its own. In combination with the passion fruit it trends more to its floral side allowing the spice aspect to act as a grace note providing textural detail. The saffron and passion fruit is where Arielle Shoshanan lingers for hours only much later does sandalwood provide the base.

Arielle Shoshana has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage. I have likened taking a step into something you want to do like diving off of a high dive. What Ms. Weinberg has done is more akin to the cliff divers of Acapulco. Most admirably after successfully leaping off the cliff once in opening her store she has scaled the heights and done it again with Arielle Shoshana the fragrance. It is how passion, and passion fruit, can take you to the top.

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

Mark Behnke

Editor's Note: This Saturday June 10, 2017  from 7-9 PM at Arielle Shoshana ( 2920 District Ave #145, Fairfax, VA 22031) there will be a debut party for the new perfume. If you live in the Washington D.C.-area come join the celebration.

New Perfume Review Xinu Monstera- Rodrigo y Veronica’s Laboratorio (Part 3)

In Part 1 of these series of reviews on the Mexico City-based perfume brand Xinu I posited that the perfumes might have represented what it might have looked like if perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux began his career as an independent perfumer in Mexico. There are moments within the other three I’ve written about but it is the brand-new release Monstera which really put this idea in my head.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux

The biggest divergence between independent perfumery and niche perfumery is in the former there is a much more personal vision on display. In niche perfume, there is a more business-like approach to what is released. Which is what can give independent perfumes their vividness. There are more than a few occasions where niche and independent priorities can mesh. Monstera is one of those times.

Monstera deliciosa

Monstera refers to the giant leafy fruit-bearing plant of Central America. Its botanical name is “monstera deliciosa” The giant leaves are the “monstera” part. The “deliciosa” part is the ripe fruit which is a variation of pineapple when ripe; a little tarter but as sweet. I ate a lot of them during my time and they are deliciosa. What this means for the fragrance named Monstera is Sr. Flores-Roux has created a magnificent perfume of tropical greenery and fruit which almost magically transforms into leather by the end.

If you have spent time in the tropics there is a smell to the dense green leafy things in the high humidity. It has a weighty vegetal quality. Sr. Flores-Roux captures that in the early moments of Monstera. The vegetation is dense and moist the fruit is tropical and slightly tart. This is the monster plant accord beautifully realized. Then over the course of an hour or so that vegetation slowly turns leathery. I had never considered how close densely vegetal is to raw unrefined leather. As Monstera makes that transformation it is something that becomes as plain as the nose on my face. This slightly verdant leathery accord is where Monstera stays for hours.

Monstera has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

After trying these initial four releases from Xinu I must commend Veronica Alejandra Pena in realizing her vision of capturing the botanical bounty of the Americas. By allowing Sr. Flores-Roux to be her partner it has also seemingly allowed him more latitude to compose in some different ways. Monstera is certainly one of the best perfumes Sr. Flores-Roux has made. I am hoping that Rodrigo y Veronica will spend many more years in their Mexico City Laboratorio.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Xinu Copala and OroNardo- Rodrigo y Veronica’s Laboratorio (Part 2)

Soon after I discovered the existence of Mexico City-based perfume brand Xinu I was busy exploring their website. One of the things which interested me was the layout of the boutique. Dominated by a long central table filled with sculptural interpretations of fragrance and botany. As you can see below it looks like a steampunk botanist’s laboratory. As I tried the fragrances this image was floating in my head as I imagined owner Veronica Alejandra Pena and perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux discovering new ways to extract and combine those oils into unique perfumes. As I continue reviewing the first releases from Xinu I take on Copala and OroNardo.

One of my first experiences with fragrance came during one of my summers sailing through the Caribbean. I don’t remember where but I found an oblong piece of sticky amber colored glassy material. I loved the texture of it and it became my worry stone in my pocket. I would notice my fingers always had a pleasant smell on them after rubbing the material. I would learn many years later it was most likely copal resin. It was used as incense is used for sacred ceremonies among the Mayan peoples. Sr. Flores-Roux uses copal as the focal point of Copala. One of the things about copal is like the natural material it has an amber glow to it as opposed to the silvery metallic sheen of good frankincense. Sr. Flores-Roux uses that pliability to make Copala a soft resinous perfume.

Copal Resin

In the opening, he uses baie rose to go with the copal resin. For Copala Sr. Flores-Roux enhances the herbal quality of baie rose to match the resinous heart of the copal. Mesquite wood provides an acerbic bite in contrast to the mellow opening. It returns to the mellow as fine Mexican vanilla forms a sweetly resinous final accord.

Copala has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Tuberose

I always think of Sr. Flores-Roux as a master of the floral perfume. His schooling in botany and growing up in Mexico has always made me feel it is in his blood. What is surprising is the flower most known in perfumery which comes from Mexico has not been interpreted many times by Sr. Flores-Roux. With OroNardo his mastery of the floral fragrance is front and center.

Tuberose is indigenous to Mexico and if you’ve ever spent a night in Mexico it is what you smell on the nighttime breezes. In Mexico, the flower is called nardo and thus OroNardo is gold tuberose. Sr. Flores-Roux combines five floral ingredients as he gilds the tuberose in gloriously decadent floralcy. OroNardo is the smell of the night-blooming flowers.

A deep full-spectrum tuberose in the nucleus of OroNardo. In includes the indoles, slight camphor-like green, along with the sweet floral nature. Mock orange is used as the first added floral. The pineapple tinted orange blossom makes this the right kind of opening. “Queen of the night” brings its jasmine-like nature to bear as it forms a sweet floral duet taking on the high notes. Marigold finds the green mentholated vein and exposes it. Oleander provides a gently powdery finish.

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

I thought this was where I was going to end but I was also sent a sneak preview of the newest Xinu release Monstera. So I am going to do Part 3 tomorrow reviewing that along with some closing thoughts on Xinu.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Xinu.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Xinu Aguamadera and Introduction- Rodrigo y Veronica’s Laboratorio (Part 1)

There was a time when the centers of perfumery were easy to name. While that history is the foundation of today it was very typically French, American or Italian. What is fantastic about the state of fragrance today is there are many more countries showing off their heritage, creativity, and aesthetic. This is the soul of artistic independent perfume in 2017. As one who has to keep track of all of this it does make my life somewhat difficult but then I find something which combines everything I find fascinating within the world of fragrance in one place.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux

I regularly search my favorite perfumers to see what their most recent releases are. On a January afternoon, I typed in Rodrigo Flores-Roux. As I scrolled through the list there were things I knew were coming but as I got to the bottom of the list I saw a brand with three releases from December I had never heard of, Xinu. After doing a search I found a Now Smell This announcement which linked the homepage of the brand. As I read through the website I became more and more interested in the Mexico City-based brand because much of what was written on the web page were things that Sr. Flores-Roux has spoken to me of when we talk about how he approaches perfume making.

Owner Veronica Alejandra Pena asked Sr. Flores-Roux to achieve their shared vision of, “a reflection of botanical richness, artisanal mastery, cutting edge design, and olfactory delight.” I want to point out that second phrase “artisanal mastery”. Sr. Flores-Roux has worked for all kinds of clients over the many years he has been a perfumer. For what might be the first time the collection of three perfumes he did for Xinu give me some insight into what path Sr. Flores-Roux might have taken if he was born twenty years later. I can see him starting his own independent perfume brand highlighting the best Mexico and Latin America has to offer. The collection for Xinu is much more polished than that but there is a bit of an indie perfumer vibe lurking in the background of these perfumes. I am going to review all three of the debut collection over the next two days. I will start with Aguamadera.

Blue Agave Harvest

Aguamadera is a shank of summer fragrance centered around citrus and woods. The indigenous ingredient used in Aguamadera is agave. For those who drink tequila, which is distilled from agave, you have an idea of the bitter nature of it. What is missing in its essential oil incarnation is there is also a briny character as strong as the bitter part. It provides a different version of the aquatic sea spray accord without relying on the typical ingredients used to create that effect.

The opening of Aguamadera is tart astringent lime paired with the bitter salinity of agave. It gives the sense of walking a beach in the sunshine as the spray from the waves dampens your face. The woods used to frame the lime and agave are cedar and guaiac they continue that fresh feeling all the way until the end.

Aguamadera has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

I’ll be back tomorrow with reviews of Copala and OroNardo.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Xinu.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris

You know when you receive something you connect with that time stands still. The movie seems over before it has begun. You walk away from the sculpture or painting on display only to find that an hour has passed. You can’t sleep until you finish the book. It is why art is so important; this ability to draw on our innermost feelings taking them out for us to examine. In this age of storytelling the graphic form of it has become a new place to find something original. The new graphic novel My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris is a new height in this area.

Emil Ferris

The book is semi-autobiographical as Ms. Ferris who was making a living as an illustrator came down with West Nile Virus; paralyzing her from the waist down while making her unable to draw. Through laborious effort she trained herself to overcome the pain. Sometime during this came the story which she is now telling in My Favorite Thing is Monsters.

That story takes place in 1968 Chicago as we meet 10-year old Karen Reyes who has a mother fighting cancer. She projects her belief in a cure on the idea a monster, from her beloved monster comic books, will bite her mother turning her into a monster who will no longer have cancer. As she searches for these monsters she meets her upstairs neighbor Anka. When Anka is found dead in her bed after being shot in the heart Karen begins to look for real monsters as she investigates. She delves in to Anka’s past in Nazi Germany juxtaposed against the societal changes taking place in late 1960’s Chicago. The story is fascinating enough if it was just a novel. The graphic elements are what elevate it to something amazing.

Throughout high school and college I had contemporaries who drew with a ballpoint pen in a notebook using dense cross hatched lines to achieve their drawing. The graphic part of My Favorite Thing is Monsters is Karen’s notebook which is what we are reading with the prose interspersed. It is so perfect as the diary of a ten-year old. One of the devices used by Ms. Ferris is we see how Karen sees herself as one of the monsters, in a trenchcoat, in her view of herself among the illustrations. There are reproductions of horror comic book covers. There are portraits drawn with emotion of those Karen connects with. In the sample pages, you see here you get the idea.

Reading My Favorite Thing is Monsters reminded me of reading the first volume of Art Spigelman’s Maus or the first issues of Alan Moore’s Watchmen. It is what happens when a style of storytelling is beginning an evolution. Ms. Ferris is taking graphic novels to a better place.

Mark Behnke

Commes des Garcons Olfactory Library- The Return of the Trendsetters

When the discussion turns to what the first niche perfume was it has some different answers depending on who you ask. While the early pioneers started in the late 1970’s-early 1980’s I would say that niche perfume became defined in the 1990’s. I would further aver that one of the brands which did that was Comme des Garcons.

That started in 1994 when Comme des Garcons founder Rei Kawakubo had Christian Astuguevieille oversee the foundation of the fragrance section of the brand. From that moment M. Astuguevieille has developed what has become one of the most influential niche brands in the industry which continues to be influential today. One of the things that twenty-three years of perfume making offers is a chance for perspective. It is easier to know which perfumes within the collection have been those signposts.

Christian Astuguevieille

Why I am writing about this is Comme des Garcons is bringing back those early releases back to the market under the name of the Comme des Garcons Olfactory Library. As of June 19, 2017, you will be able to find ten releases of these seminal perfumes in the niche sector.

First and foremost, in the ten re-releases is the very first Comme des Garcons Eau de Cologne from 1994. Perfumer Mark Buxton would be one of the first to take a traditional fragrance architecture and turn it inside-out. What really blows me away is it still smells relevant today. This is no anachronism.

Three of the truly ground-breaking Series 6: Synthetic scents are part of this as Garage, Soda, and Tar make their return. When this was released, in 2004, it was marketed as “anti-perfume to the extreme”. What it asked was is there room in this new branch of artistic-minded perfumery for exploring real smells. All three of these are answers to that question.

The remaining six are two choices each from Series 1: Leaves, Series 2: Red, and Series 7: Sweet. Calamus from the Series 1: Leaves is one of perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour’s best green perfumes. He would return for Series 2: Red Sequoia with a booze-infused redwood forest; also included in this retrospective. Perfumer Nathalie Feisthauer did both Tar and Soda but if you want to see one of the forerunners of the gourmand style of fragrance Series 7: Sweet Sticky Cake provides that.

I’m leaving out expanding on Series 2: Red Palisander and Series 1: Leaves Lily and Series 7: Sweet Nomad Tea each of which also defined Comme des Garcons in the years of 1994-2005. Throughout there is the sure hand of M. Astuguevieille guiding Comme des Garcons to remain one of the leaders in a sector it helped broaden..

The overall concept of the Olfactory Library is for Comme des Garcons to continue to bring back the past in consistent sets of releases going forward. There are some amazing perfumes in that history to be given the opportunity to be discovered by this generation of perfume lovers.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Vilhelm Harlem Bloom- Craving Relief

It is a funny thing how when you have a steady diet of something you begin to crave something the opposite. Just think of after you eat some chocolate the idea of some crunchy salty chips sounds good. As we get to May of every year after having smelled numerous fresh spring rose perfumes I begin to want a rose perfume with less fresh and more power. I know it is coincidence but just as I really start to need a perfume like this one arrives in my mailbox. This year it came from Vilhelm Harlem Bloom.

I am not sure what the creative process is between Vilhelm creative director-owner Jan Ahlgren and perfumer Jerome Epinette is. What I do know is Harlem Bloom is the seventeenth release from a brand which has stood out as one of the best new brands of the last two years. There is not a dud in the entire collection. It is also an impressively broad collection which I believe is testament to the breadth of M. Epinette. Which allows Mr. Ahlgren the opportunity to go anywhere his creativity desires.

Jerome Epinette (l.) and Jan Ahlgren

Harlem Bloom is based on the neighborhood Mr. Ahalgren calls home when he is in New York City. Just in my thirty years of visiting New York City regularly I have seen the transformation of this historical part of the city. Long gone are the days where you were warned not to go above 125th Street. Now it is one of the most vibrant areas in Manhattan. Harlem has indeed bloomed. For the fragrance Mr. Ahlgren envisioned a deep rose-centered fragrance to represent the brownstone he lives in. M. Epinette adds in five specifically chosen notes to bring that rose to life.

The rose M. Epinette chooses is a rich Turkish rose. This is the rose which carries a spicy character among the petals tilting it away from powder and more towards decadent. In Harlem Bloom M. Epinette uses those five notes to enhance that vivacious nature. First it is the peppery woodiness of angelica seeds and the toasty spiciness of saffron. These insert themselves into the rose to create a sumptuously spicy rose. There is also some violet that becomes apparent after some time which almost seems like the signal for the base combination of ebony wood and leather to come out. This is a more animalic leather which matches the rose for power. The dark wood is the foundation for these two accords to interact upon.

Harlem Bloom has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

If you’re still enjoying you fresh spring rose fragrances; continue on. When you have that craving for a rose with something more to it give Harlem Bloom a try; it will scratch that itch.

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

Mark Behnke