New Perfume Review Shay & Blue Scarlet Lily- Intelligent Accord

It is a great thing when a good European-based brand finds its way to the US. I always root for the good ones to have as much coverage as they can. The English brand Shay & Blue is one of these. Started by creative director Dom De Vetta five years ago it was a UK exclusive for a long time. Mr. De Vetta founded Shay & Blue after a tenure at Jo Malone London. As he started Shay & Blue he had the freedom to be a little more creative which has become one of the brand hallmarks. He has worked exclusively with perfumer Julie Masse developing an effective partnership which also helps define the Shay & Blue aesthetic. The latest release is Scarlet Lily.

Julie Masse and Dom De Vetta

Lily is a hard note to feature in fragrance; in its most prevalent version it can have a sterility to it. What gets forgotten is there are other versions of lily instead of the white version seen at weddings and funerals. There is a tawdry pink version called the Stargazer Lily which has a spicy core to it which imparts a bit more life into things. It is that one which is featured in Scarlet Lily.

Mme Masse opens Scarlet Lily floating on a watery lotus. It is a lovely choice as the aquatic nature is burned away by the spicy lily as it rises over the lotus like the sunrise. To keep the spicy heart out in front Mme Masses uses red pepper to provide an opaque piquancy. To buff the floral parts a bit of muguet and ylang-ylang provide support. All together it forms a lively spicy lily accord which is where Scarlet Lily lingers for hours before descending into the warm embrace of amber at the end.

Scarlet Lily has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Scarlet Lily is yet another reminder of the top-notch collection Mr. De Vetta is compiling here. They are all simple constructs but each carries more heft than their simplicity would imply. Scarlet Lily is another which shines by forming a compelling accord intelligently.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Creed Viking- Nordic Lightning?

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There are many perfumes which have outsized reputations. One of those is Creed Aventus. Aventus has defined the masculine offerings from The House of Creed ever since it was released in 2010. There was a part of me that wondered if they would ever try and capture that lightning in a bottle again. I received an e-mail a few weeks ago answering that question as I was offered a preview sample of their new masculine perfume Creed Viking.

Viking is inspired by the voyages of the Viking longships as they discovered the new lands within their ability to sail there. Viking surprisingly coalesces around a rose heart. A spicy rose is a common theme for masculine florals. I wanted a bit more of the ocean here but there is nothing of that to be found. If Aventus is the perfume for date night; Viking is the perfume for the office. Perfumer Olivier Creed does an admirable job trying to follow up a sensation.

Olivier Creed

Viking opens with a focused charge of lemon. When lemon is done well it pops; in Viking it pops. Mr. Creed then uses the herbal baie rose to pierce that brightness. The first few minutes are full of energy. The rose in the heart starts to come forward. This is a Bulgarian rose which is very deep displaying the spicy quality this rose has within. Mr. Creed then brackets it with hot and cold. Pepper is the hot and peppermint is the cool. The pepper sinks into the spices inherent to the rose bringing them to the foreground. The peppermint exhales an icy breath across all of it. This is a nicely achieved rose heart accord. A bit of lavender begins the transition to the woods in the base. Sandalwood and vetiver provide the foundation. A rich patchouli carries the depth of the rose in the heart to the woody foundation.

Viking has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Let’s get the overarching question out of the way; is Viking as good as Aventus? No, but I think Aventus is one of the best perfumes Creed has ever made. Viking is not in that league. It is a Creed masculine in the same vein as their classic Green Irish Tweed. I think Viking will have a group of admirers of its spicy rose. It might be enough to even bring some admirers closer. Viking is a good Creed perfume it is not Nordic lightning.

Disclosure: This review is based upon a preview sample provided by Creed.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Raspberry

If there is one style of perfume I struggle with it is fruity floral. Part of that is because of the first word, “fruity”. It usually means intensely sweet which lives on the edge of my tolerance for that in a fragrance. There are many times I wish I could smell the version that didn’t make it into the bottle; where the fruit was cut in half. I had a realization a couple weeks ago when I was wearing one of my favorite hot weather colognes which has a prominent raspberry in it. As I was walking in the heat I realized this is a time when this should be at its worst for my sensibilities but it wasn’t. Which made me realize there are a few raspberry perfumes I really enjoy. Here are five of them.

The perfume that opened my thinking up is Carthusia Uomo. Carthusia is one of those perfume brands which is not very well-known but I think Uomo is one of the best colognes I own. Released in 1948 as part of the original set of Carthusia fragrances it is a raspberry, rosewood, and leather cologne. The raspberry is made very dry so that it lays itself like a veil over the soft rosewood which is supported by an even softer leather. This has been one of my favorite colognes ever since I tried it for the first time.

For the flip side the raspberry perfume I pull out when the weather turns colder is Tom Ford Private Blend Tuscan Leather. This has been what I have worn to many formal occasions. Tuscan Leather was one of the original Private Blend releases ten years ago. Perfumers Harry Fremont and Jacques Cavallier created a lovely mixture of fruit and animalic that works. The raspberry is surrounded with herbs and resins to keep it under control. As the leather rises the raspberry also meets it on its ascendancy. This is one of the best sellers in this very popular line. Wear it a few times and it is easy to understand why.

Shay & Blue Framboise Noire also finds the animalic is the right companion for raspberry. Perfumer Julie Masse uses musk as the companion in Framboise Noire. This also sits on a base of dark woods which provide a depth to the entire mix. If leather and raspberry don’t appeal musk and raspberry might.

When I tried Marc Jacobs Daisy the strawberry on top made me rush for the cosmetic wipes. You could have had me on the floor laughing if you told me replacing the strawberry with raspberry would change my opinion. Marc Jacobs Daisy Eau so Fresh did exactly that and you had to pick me up off the floor. Perfumer Alberto Morillas made that change but he also lightened and tightened up the entire construction from top to bottom. It is one of the few fruity florals I point to when I’m at the mall and asked for a recommendation.

Tauer Une Rose Vermeille is an example of what I would do if asked to conspire on a fruity floral. Andy Tauer uses raspberry as a note to fill in around the gorgeous rose at the heart of this perfume it is recognizably there but most of the time it is as part of a greater rose accord that I notice it. This gets richer with a vanilla and ambergris base. This is Hr. Tauer at his best finding the right notes to fill in the spaces.

If you’re a fan of raspberry and haven’t tried these see if they give you a different perspective on the little red fruit.

Disclosure: this review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Amouage Figment Man- Studying Serenity

There are several inspirations which crop up again and again in fragrance. One of the more common ones is the fictional city of Shangri-La from the 1933 book by James Hilton and the movie of the same name by director Frank Capra four years later. It is suggested that it is somewhere in the area adjacent to Tibet in the Kunlun Mountains. That’s from the book. There are many other places which claim to be the inspiration for Mr. Hilton. I am happy that there is no one earthly place which can be pinned down as the definitive source of Shangri-La. Shangri-La should always be a concept embracing the ability to find true serenity which doesn’t require a physical presence; the idea is enough.

Christopher Chong

Amouage creative director Christopher Chong recently visited Bhutan coming away with the inspiration for the latest duo of releases; Figment Man and Figment Woman. Don’t read “figment” as containing fig read it as figment of imagination. Much as seeing Shangri-La would be. I’ll be reviewing both but I’m going to start with Figment Man.

Annick Menardo

Mr. Chong collaborates with perfumer Annick Menardo for Figment Man. Figment Man is part of the “second cycle” of Amouage. Now that we have a few releases in this group there is beginning to be a developing aesthetic which seems to delight in developing large themes on a broad canvas. Some of this is the brand aesthetic of Amouage. Most of it is Mr. Chong’s desire to create fragrance with an operatic wingspan. I have been enjoying this overt style through the first few releases of the “second cycle”. Mme Menardo is fluent in this kind of design making her a good partner.

The nucleus of Figment Man is sandalwood. Sandalwood is one of those smells which I associate with meditation. It is the clean slightly sweet woody scent I use as my olfactory mantra as I breathe in and out in search of center. Mr. Chong and Mme Menardo are looking to make that search a bit more challenging. Requiring an inward examination of the air, the earth, and the body.

Figment Man opens with a cleansing breath of lemon, baie rose, and geranium. This is that deep breath on a cool morning you feel it all the way to the base of your soul. The sandalwood then appears holding the center; focusing my attention. Vetiver covers it with a grassy veil which takes my focus elsewhere. Then Mme Menardo uses what is described as an “animalic note”. It is surely not a single note but a mixture of modern synthetic musks. It resolves into a clean skin accord which brings me inward. Next, I am drawn in the opposite direction as Mme Menardo creates an “earthy accord” this is a wet soil accord carrying the after the rain quality of geosmin. It intertwines with the animalic forming a duet of earth and soul on a sandalwood focal point. This is a fabulous point in the development and where Figment Man spends most of its time on my skin. After many hours guaiac wood comes along to allow me to re-establish the woody focus I started with.

Figment Man has 24-hour longevity and above average sillage.

Figment Man is everything that I respect about the current version of Amouage. Mr. Chong directs his perfumer collaborators to push to the edges of what it means to design perfume. It means Amouage is nothing less than fascinating. Figment Man uses the idea of the fictional serenity of Shangri-La to ask a perfume lover to study their idea of what an olfactive version might entail. I might not find the mythical city but the reality of Figment Man will allow me to study serenity anytime I want.

Disclosure: this review was based on a press sample provided by Amouage.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Mona di Orio Suede de Suede- Leather Eclipse

Leather perfumes are some of the most interesting perfumes I try. One reason is that every perfumer must construct their own leather accord. There is no leather essential oil to take down off the shelf. Nope, each artist must create their own recipe which they can then tweak for every effect leather can have. Refined and silky on one end of the spectrum to raw and animalic at the other end. Choose your ingredients correctly and they can be adjusted to create anything along that continuum. Every time a perfumer takes on a leather focused perfume I look forward to acquainting myself with their version. Perfumer Fredrik Dalman decided to give me two visions of his leather accord within one perfume; Mona di Orio Suede de Suede.

Jeroen Oude Sogtoen

M. Dalman has been handpicked by Mona di Orio owner and creative director Jeroen Oude Sogtoen as the in-house perfumer to continue Mme di Orio’s legacy. Some of the greatest perfumes of this century were created by Mme di Orio therefore M. Dalman has a weighty responsibility to live up to. M. Sogtoen has accepted his job as protector of the realm, as it were, which makes his choice of M. Dalman as in-house perfumer apt. I have believed M. Dalman understands the concept of “Monaesque”. Suede de Suede is one of two new releases. It is the one where I see M. Dalman on display and Mme di Orio is much more a directing influence. The other, Dojima is the opposite way which I’ll discuss in a future review of that.

 

Fredrik Dalman

The name Suede de Suede seems like a purposeful duplication purporting leather of leather. This is not exactly what I experienced. Instead it was one kind of leather early on which became eclipsed by a different one later. This goes back to how M. Dalman constructs his leather accord. He can go from the refined end of the spectrum to the raw end of the spectrum all in one fragrance.

Suede de Suede opens with the suede leather accord on display. Early on a clever mixture of fruit and spice provide an interesting enhancement and contrast. The fruit is called a cloudberry which provides a sweet berry effect which complements those facets of refined leather. Sichuan pepper is there to remind you of the raw place where this refined leather came from. Osmanthus provides a floral counterpart along with a limpid green nature courtesy of strawberry leaves. This is the beginning of the metamorphosis of the suede back to rawhide. Patchouli coats it in a dark earthy haze removing the outer edges of the suede. It takes the use of castoreum and some other musks to fully eclipse the genteel and bring out the animal which is where Suede de Suede finishes.

Suede de Suede has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Suede de Suede felt like a leather eclipse on my skin as the very bright and refined suede eventually gets covered up by the rawer nature of leather in its unrefined state. Because this is so dependent on M. Dalman’s leather accord this is probably the most personal Mona di Orio fragrance he has made. Mme di Orio is here as well with her love of olfactive shadow play because no bigger shadow is created than when something eclipses another.

Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample provided by Mona di Orio.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: It Is Not a Documentary

Back during the holidays in 1978 I went to the movies with a group of friends to see Superman : The Movie. This was Christopher Reeve in the movie which advertised “You’ll believe a man can fly”. At the end of the movie Superman flies quickly around the Earth in the opposite direction of the natural spin to reverse time. When we were at a local diner one of the group said about this, “You know that wouldn’t work. It would just throw everyone in to space.” There was a bit of silence and I internally thought,” So you bought a flying invulnerable Superman with no problem but reversing the spin of the Earth to reverse time; that’s a bridge too far?”

Superman reversing the spin of the Earth

I’m not sure what it is about popular entertainment which brings out a group of people who must criticize the reality of the fantastical. It has existed from that moment after Superman: The Movie to today. What I really find irritating is when scientists have an insatiable need to point out that fantasy is not real.

Shh! Dr. Tyson says this is impossible.

One of my favorite scientists from whom I derive a great deal of pleasure listening to on subjects of actual science is extremely guilty of this. Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson just couldn’t help himself after Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out. The well-known astrophysicist just had to be a buzzkill pointing out the fighters shouldn’t be making noise in space. A weapon which absorbs the power of a sun should vaporize itself.  Finally, the small ball shaped robot which rolls everywhere would skid on sand uncontrollably. I am sure he felt better after correcting all the errors in the documentary that was presented on a galaxy far, far, away. Except Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not a documentary it is a science-fiction, notice the word after the hyphen Dr. Tyson, fantasy. You probably should look up the definition of that word too Dr. Tyson. There are so many important scientific questions which could use your expertise to spend time acting like the Star Wars universe is real science is beneath you.

How Fast Do You Fly Little Raven?

This past week has seen my internet filled up with many people who have also mistaken the sixth episode of the current season of Game of Thrones as a documentary, too. In a series where a woman has stood in a fire while everything around her burns not once, but twice, without her hair burning up got no comment. In a series where dragons exist right next to ice zombies, that’s okay. People are resurrected by a Red God, no problem. And assassins can change the shape of their bodies and voices just by putting on a mask; sure. All of a sudden, this week has been spent debating the relative running speed of one character, the flying speed of a raven, and the airspeed of dragons because of an improbable sequence in which our heroes are rescued from certain death. As this debate became more ridiculous I thought back to the scene between The Bridgekeeper and King Arthur in “Monty Python and The Holy Grail”

What is the air-speed of a Northbound dragon with a girl on its back?

The Bridgekeeper asks, “What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?. Arthur replies, “What do you mean? An African or European swallow?” The Bridgekeeper says, “Huh? I don’t know that.” Just before being flung into the abyss. For every person who can’t sit back and watch a piece of fiction and just be entertained I wish you the fate of The Bridgekeeper except I want every channel on your television and every screen at your movie theatre to be full of documentaries then those pesky inconsistencies in fiction will cease to be bothersome.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Thierry Mugler B*Men- Too Normal

Thierry Mugler is one of the most successful mainstream perfume brands ever. Starting in 1992 with the release of their first perfume, Angel, they invented the gourmand style of perfume. I looked back over my master list of all that I own and within the mainstream sector there is nothing that comes close to the number of Thierry Mugler bottles. I would say that the creative team at Thierry Mugler seems to have cracked the code on how to market challenging niche-type fragrances to the masses. Despite all that success when you are working with that mindset there are going to be times you don’t make the connection to the mass market. It took twelve years for the first miss to happen, B*Men.

As is obvious from the name B*Men is the sequel to A*Men. What is less obvious is this wasn’t meant to be alphabetical per se. Instead Thierry Mugler is a big comic book fan and these were meant to be the beginning of a team of perfume superheroes. The ad above from the release in 2004 gives you an idea of what the superhero looks like. The third member of the team would come along in 2007; Ice*Men.

Jacques Huclier

B*Men was composed by a team of A*Men perfumer Jacques Huclier assisted by Christine Nagel. A*Men had been the masculine gourmand partner to Angel. B*Men was going to go in a more traditionally masculine direction building around citrus, spices, and woods. Which might be the beginning of why this didn’t succeed. The first four releases; Angel, A*Men, Innocent, and Mugler Cologne would never carry the adjective traditional. B*Men seemed to want to see if classic fragrance making with only slight Mugler tweaks could still appeal.

Christine Nagel

B*Men starts on a duet of tangerine and rhubarb. The rhubarb is used as a vegetal grapefruit surrogate. It adds green and tart to the sweeter tangerine forming a soft citrus top accord. The heart is a sturdy redwood which is surrounded by cardamom and nutmeg. The base veers away from any hint of gourmand as amber replaces the signature base accord of A*Men. That makes B*Men much less of a powerhouse than A*Men is.

B*Men has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Everything about B*Men, except for the rhubarb, is traditional masculine tropes. I think it is one of the better versions of this style of perfume. When I’m in the mood for this B*Men is one I consider. The rest of the world gave a collective shrug of the shoulders. The most consistent criticism was it wasn’t “as good as A*Men”; which shouldn’t be a disqualifier. I think it more likely a perfume brand which had conditioned its consumer for something different lost them with something so similar to other perfumes. It makes it one of the more interesting denizens of the Dead Letter Office. Sent there for being too normal.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Atelier Cologne Café Tuberosa- White Flower Crema

Among all the things in my life of which I am a snob about coffee ranks right up there. Growing up in S. Florida I became enamored of the super sweet, super strong Cuban coffee. Espresso freshly made in a pot on the stove was the finish of every family dinner. The spread of the Seattle coffee craze nationwide exposed me to all the different ways to drink it. My favorite way to drink it straight became as a ristretto shot. When I am served my order in a small cup there is a bit of froth which floats on top called crema. It has a nutty slightly dark chocolate scent to it. I’ve always wanted a perfume to capture that. What I didn’t know was I wanted that crema to float on top of tuberose. That is what I got with Atelier Cologne Café Tuberosa.

Over the years I have admired the ability of creative director Sylvie Ganter- Cervasel to expand the notion of what the structure of cologne is. It is particularly interesting when they work with notes like coffee and tuberose which should never be in anything called a cologne. One reason this can be achieved is perfumer Jerome Epinette has been a part of this re-definition ever since the first releases from the brand. They have navigated the contradiction of powerful notes and cologne before. I’m not sure if it has ever been as interesting previously as it is here.

Jerome Epinette

The only thing which will remind you, from an ingredient perspective, of old school cologne is the citrus sunburst of tangerine and bergamot which opens Café Tuberosa. M. Epinette then sweeps it away on a sirocco of cardamom which ushers in a rich tuberose. This is not a shy tuberose it is a grande dame version dominating the room. After a while she introduces her friend rose and the florals hold in position for a while. Then M. Epinette pours his ristretto shot over the top. As the rich coffee accord comes forward I imagine a bloom of tuberose stained brown with the espresso. It is fabulous different combination. Dark cacao comes along to give the espresso more traction against the tuberose. Patchouli completes my desired crema accord.

Café Tuberosa has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Café Tuberosa is part of the Avant Garde collection within Atelier Cologne. I have taken that to mean these are the ones where we push the envelope on what it means to be a cologne. Café Tuberosa is the most envelope pushing of anything which carries the Atelier Cologne name. I think there will be some who find this a bit too much. For me M. Epinette and Mme Ganter-Cervasel have pitched this just right; giving me my fragrance version of crema on a white floral backdrop.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Michael Kors Sexy Ruby- Know Your Lane

There is a current phrase which has become overused; “stay in your lane”. What it means is for you to keep traveling in the direction you are currently going without trying to move outside of the “lane” you’ve created for yourself. There are places where that is good advice. There are other times where that is counterproductive. In perfumery, it depends on what a brand is looking to be. If you’re an artistic independent niche brand you probably should never find a lane. If you’re a mainstream brand your success probably depends on finding a lane which your consumers like and traveling within it as long as you can. One fragrance brand which has known its lane for a long time is Michael Kors. The most recent release Sexy Ruby shows how well they understand this.

The Michael Kors fragrance collection has been around since 2000. Fairly quickly it did find its place on the department store shelf. It followed the major trends of the time. They were streamlined versions of those trends; often a little lighter in presence than others in the same sector. The collection was perfume for the person who wanted to smell nice without taking risks. If I said it was a collection of office-ready fragrance that is not damning with faint praise it is actual praise. For those of us who love perfume and have delved into every corner of the fragrant universe Michael Kors doesn’t necessarily offer that much interest. Although maybe it should.

Pierre Negrin

What Michael Kors in their fragrance offerings has done more than a few times is to find a little space in their well-traveled lane. When that happens, I can find something pleasant in something familiar. Sexy Ruby is a beautifully done fruity floral chypre by perfumer Pierre Negrin.

I really have a problem with the overuse of raspberry in the plethora of fruity floral fragrances out there. It is usually thick overdosed sickly sweet. M. Negrin goes entirely the other way as he takes shimmering source of raspberry which acts opaque. To provide a bit of depth apricot replaces the overt saccharinity that would have been present if he had just upped the concentration of the raspberry. It also does the same with the floral part as jasmine is the central floral note. The raspberry acts as a veil which shrouds the jasmine. A bit of rose helps deepen the jasmine as the apricot did for the fruity keynote. The domesticated chypre base is made up of green aromachemical Crystal Moss, the woody aromachemical Cashmeran, and Vanillin. This is a tame chypre meant to provide a foundation and not to realty stick its head up above the fruity floral opening.

Sexy Ruby has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

What drew my attention to Sexy Ruby was the decision by M. Negrin to not clobber me with the fruit and the floral components. It is that overpowering nature of too many fruity florals which turns me off to the style. Sexy Ruby shows there is some give even when you know your lane.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Le Labo Mousse de Chene 30- Building a 2017 Chypre

There are many fragrance styles which have taken hits due to the ingredient restrictions handed down by the European oversight agencies. The one ingredient which has caused the biggest change is that of oakmoss. Full oakmoss has been proscribed from being used in perfumes. When something like this happens in perfumery it initiates a two-pronged approach; one scientific and one creative. The scientific part is to find ways of making synthetic alternatives. The creative way is to create accords which give the same effect as oakmoss. Le Labo Mousse de Chene 30 is an example of both coming together.

Fabrice Penot and Edouard Roschi

Mousse de Chene 30 is the city exclusive for Amsterdam. Like all the other city exclusives don’t strain yourself looking for a connection; it might require an advanced yoga pose to find the right perspective for that. Despite that many of the city exclusives are among the best perfumes with Le Labo on the label. For Mousse de Chene 30 perfumer Daphne Bugey with creative directors Edouard Roschi and Fabrice Penot want to make a “neo-chypre”.

Daphne Bugey

The loss of oakmoss was a blow to the chypre style of perfume; being one of the main ingredients. Over the last ten years I have seen many good versions without oakmoss in them. Mousse de Chene 30 is another of them. In this case two prominent synthetics from Firmenich, Clearwood and Crystal Moss, are used with low-Atranol oakmoss and patchouli to form an evolutionary chypre.

Before we get to the meeting of synthetic and natural we start with a spicy flare of cinnamon, baie rose, and bay leaf. This is a curtain raiser to the main event. Low-Atranol oakmoss caries the green but the loss of the Atranol takes some of the “bite” out; to get that back Crystal Moss is used. I find it is like the effect Ambrox brings to woods. Crystal Moss is a spiky green synthetic which has to be used in moderation or that sharpness can overwhelm. Mme Bugey uses it well in Mousse de Chene 30 it returns the bite to the oakmoss accord. The patchouli when paired with Clearwood, itself a patchouli derivative, enhances the woody nature of the patchouli while attenuating the deeper aspects. Together they create a fresher patchouli accord for the oakmoss accord to interact with. As they come together at first it creates a more expansive type of chypre which over time contracts to a denser version as the synthetics begin to outlast the naturals.

Mousse de Chene 30 has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

Mousse de Chene 30 shows science employed by a top-notch creative team can build a 2017 chypre which is compelling as any other modern version of that style.

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

Mark Behnke