The Expansion of the Perfumer’s Palette

Over the last year or so I have been fortunate to be given a bit of a crash course in new perfume ingredients. The chemist in me is fascinated with the structure of the molecules and the difference in effect moving bonds and atoms around has on a scent profile. Equally as fascinating is the way natural materials are extracted and then further separated via different physical techniques.

It is fun to meet a perfumer who is using a new raw material as they build a new perfume. There is a palpable enthusiasm at using something different. I wonder if the same kind of enthusiasm was present when new pigments expanded the options for the painters. I suspect any artist when given something new to consider they immediately begin to think of the places this could fit into their current imaginings.

I’ve also begun thinking about this because of the new wave of transparent minimal fragrances being released to appeal to the younger generation of perfume buyers. Since there is seemingly a market for minimalist constructions it provides an outlet for the different isolates of the cornerstones of perfumery to provide a different perspective.

What has been trending particularly this year is to use a particular isolate which is missing a characteristic part of the full-spectrum ingredient. For instance, the sandalwood used by perfumer Nicolas Beaulieu in Comme des Garcons Concrete is missing some of the austere woody character. The white flowers at the heart of Chanel Gabrielle can be dialed to a desired indole level by perfumer Olivier Polge. Daniela Andrier uses a specific less rooty version of iris in Tiffany & Co.

What is interesting is each perfumer adds in what is missing with a different ingredient providing an opaque abstraction of the keynote. M. Beaulieu uses rose oxide and its metallic nature to replace the desiccated wood. M. Polge uses a set of white musks to set off the small amount of indoles present. Mme Andrier lets patchouli provide a different earthiness.

This is what will drive this current generational shift in perfume styles. By having more options, the perfumers can more precisely find a desired effect. It is the definition of modern perfumery to take nature and interpret it through our sense of smell. With the cornucopia of new options, the expansion of the perfumer’s palette promises a creativity that fragrance has not seen before.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Tiffany & Co.- Holly Golightly 2017

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Tiffany’s has always stood as one of those cultural touchstones where the name is synonymous with luxurious things. Very few brands can be identified by just the color of the container but Tiffany blue indicates something beautiful, and expensive, inside. There are many other references spread throughout pop culture. One of the most famous is the 1961 movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” based on the short story by Truman Capote. The film is much more beloved because it contains a happy ending for the central character Holly Golightly who is portrayed by Audrey Hepburn. I was reminded of all of this as I received my press sample of the new Tiffany & Co. eau de parfum.

Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly looking in Tiffany's in the movie "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961)

This is not Tiffany’s first foray into the fragrance sector. Back in 1987 they would work with the Chanel creative team for six fragrances until 2003. Of those six, Tiffany and Tiffany for Men, were the stars. Perfumers Francois Demachy and Jacques Polge would design two classic fragrances which embraced the fragrance equivalent of the little blue box.

After 2003 they seemed to lose interest in fragrance and it was just those two first perfumes which were readily available for many years. I’m not sure when those disappeared from the stores but Tiffany has been without a branded fragrance for a few years, at least. When I received the press release in advance of the fragrance I was intrigued because this was going to be something very different from what had come before.

Daniela Andrier

One consistency was working with one of the best perfumers available; for Tiffany & Co. Daniela Andrier would begin the second phase of Tiffany fragrance. The major difference was for this to be a soliflore around iris. I have frequently described soliflores as perfume solitaires with that central note the radiant jewel. It seems appropriate for Tiffany and Mme Andrier to follow through on this analogy. Finally, this is part of the overall lightening of fragrance to appeal to a younger consumer. Tiffany & Co. is brilliant and sparkling in an opaque style.

Mme Andrier uses iris as her core note. This is not an iris which displays its rootier, earthy qualities. It instead is more focused on its higher register character with the powdery style more evident. Mme Andrier clearly wants to keep a firm hand on the powder quotient and so she surrounds the iris with a set of notes to hem that in. Early on it is an acerbic green mandarin providing a citrusy green contrast. To replace the earthiness lost, patchouli replaces a little bit of it providing a type of abstract iris accord. The rest is all fresh white musks providing lift and volume making the whole construct airy and light.

Tiffany & Co. has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

As I wore Tiffany & Co. I easily imagined a current day Holly Golightly wafting this. Mme Andrier has captured the Tiffany style in a different way than what came before. Probably a more contemporary way which will appeal to this generation who dream of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Disclosure: This review is based on a press sample provided by Tiffany & Co.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Comme des Garcons Concrete- Sandalwood Skyscraper

With the re-release of the Comme des Garcons Olfactory Library plus last year’s Blackpepper, which felt like a Series style fragrance, I was excited for all the wrong reasons when I saw the new release was named Concrete. I was expecting an exploration of the smells of fresh concrete. Especially since it was inspired by “urban cityscapes”. Then I read further to find out this was the opposite of what I thought. It was meant to be a “deconstructed sandalwood” fragrance.

Nicolas Beaulieu

I was still interested because I have had some access to the incredible number of different sandalwood isolates for a perfumer to use. If the perfumer, Nicolas Beaulieu, chose well he could use those different sandalwood sources leaving spaces for other ingredients to fill in. This is what I thought of as I experienced Concrete. The sandalwood used is like the steel infrastructure of a skyscraper. Not in the way it smells but in the way it provides the framework from which other ingredients can fill out the rest of the structure. Under the ever-present creative direction of Christian Astuguevieille he and M. Beaulieu form a sandalwood edifice.

Christian Astuguevieille

From the first moments, the sandalwood presents itself. I would dearly love to know which sandalwood ingredients he is using for sure. What I experience is one where the austere elements are removed while the sweeter woodiness is enhanced. The creaminess is also attenuated but not as much as the desiccated qualities. Then a spice trio of cardamom, clove, and cumin begin to add to the sandalwood structure. The cardamom is the greener version contrasting the amplified sweetness. Clove complements the same quality while cumin provides a bit of the sweat of the construction crew, but just a tiny bit of that. Besides the sandalwood the other keynote in Concrete is rose oxide. I always think of rose oxide as sci-fi rose because it feels like the rose a robot would produce. It has a geranium-like rose effect shot through with metallic threads. This turns it into a perfect partner for the sandalwood here. It inserts an industrially pretty floral right in the heart. A little jasmine provides some lift to the upper stories of our skyscraper. The base uses cedar to provide a cleaner woody partner to the sandalwood while some musk, as the cumin did before, adds some humanity to the final moments.

Concrete has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is an excellent addition to the Comme des Garcons collection. It might not have been a riff on the smell of poured concrete; but after wearing it for a few days I have come to prefer Concrete as produced by Messrs. Astuguevieille and Beaulieu. I am extremely happy to ride the elevators in my sandalwood skyscraper all-day long.

Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample provided by Comme des Garcons/ Dover Street Market.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Antonio Puig Quorum- Powerhouse Light

Many of the perfumes I recommend as Discount Diamonds are examples of a style of fragrance emblematic of the time frame they were released in. What I try to do is find ones which have overcome that limitation to still feel relevant today. As I look back at those scents it is the ones which tried to be slightly different from the prevailing winds by taking a different tack. 1982’s Antonio Puig Quorum went for a lighter version of the masculine powerhouses of the 1980’s.

The 1980’s were an era of men who bared their hairy chests draped with a few conspicuously chosen gold necklaces. The fragrances to accompany that were equally aggressive. Each subsequent men’s release seemed to be seeing if it could me more macho than its predecessors. Antonio Puig Quorum plumbed the other side of the question; can there be presence without so much power? Turns out the answer is yes.

A team of perfumers consisting of Carlos Benaim, Max Gavarry, and Rosendo Mateu were responsible for finding a way to the lighter powerhouse. They did it by staying true to the tropes of the day but not doubling down and using a suite of supporting notes to keep it all less severe.

It opens with a bit of bitter herbal green matched with citrus. Rosemary, artemesia and marjoram provide the green. Tangerine is the citrus but it is not what will draw your attention to it; as it is what keeps the green notes from going too deep. The spices arrive next; coriander, nutmeg, thyme, and clove capture the opening trio and notch the volume up a bit. But this time geranium and jasmine provide some relief. A lovely lilting leather accord is matched with a traditional chypre accord all wrapped up in a tobacco leaf.

Quorum has 10-12 hour longevity with average sillage.

I have an original bottle and one I purchased a month or so ago. The main difference is that the greener notes are more the focal point while the chypre has been a bit more toned down than it was in the 1980’s version. The words above refer to the newer bottle. I think Quorum has survived to the present day because it doesn’t feel like it just came out of a thirty-year time capsule. There are inevitable reminders of that time but it fits in the now just as easily.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Carolina Herrera Confidential Bergamot Bloom- Jasmine Supernova

There are times when I receive a collection that there is one which is so much better than the others it sucks all the air out of the room. I have always seen it as a double-edged sword. One edge is having produced something memorable is great. The other edge is the remaining members wither by comparison; maybe unfairly so. It is made worse when I pick the outlier from the group first so that the others become afterthoughts. This was the situation when I received a collection of six Eaux de Toilettes comprising the newest Carolina Herrera Confidential releases.

The Confidential collection debuted in 2015 with a collection of six perfumes designed to be combined with a companion set of three perfume oils. Those first releases were uniformly average; they were well done but presented nothing new. I can’t speak to the effect adding in any of the oils to them would have had because none of them stood out enough for me to care to explore that. Now two years later the new collection goes for a set of light volume perfumes designed for wearing during the summer. As before the collection is well executed. The difference this time is there is one which is more than that; Bergamot Bloom.

Alberto Morillas

Don’t let the name fool you Bergamot Bloom has almost nothing to do with bergamot. Perfumer Alberto Morillas has made a fabulously expansive jasmine which has a corona of citrus, ginger, baie rose, vetiver and patchouli.

The core of Bergamot Bloom is jasmine as represented by the aromachemical Paradisone. When Paradisone is used it can run roughshod over everything else in the perfume. The skill of Sr. Morillas is he knows how to use the right partners to ride the dramatic expansiveness of something like Paradisone. In the early moments, it is lemon and ginger providing the brilliance of a corona. Later, baie rose, vetiver and patchouli provide the warmth. All while the jasmine explodes like a supernova.  To provide the final bit of ignition Ambrox doubles down obliterating all but the jasmine in its path as the jasmine collapses around the synthetic woody ingredient.

Bergamot Bloom has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Ingredients like Paradisone and Ambrox are like wild bucking broncos which can be hard to control. It is why Sr. Morillas is the perfumer he is because he knows it isn’t just about the heat of the core but the corona is what makes it beautiful; which is what happens in Bergamot Bloom.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Ormonde Jayne White Gold- Finishing Strong

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I have long been a fan of Ormonde Jayne but I had feared their best days had passed them by. In 2014 with the release of Black Gold that hypothesis was shattered by one of the best perfumes in the entire collection. It was followed up in 2016 with Rose Gold which was a luxurious rose bridging Arabic and European aesthetics. When I received the press materials for the final release in the Gold Trilogy I thought the new one, White Gold, would be hard pressed to be as good as the other two. It isn’t; it’s better.

Linda Pilkington

Creative Director Linda Pilkington has really outdone herself overseeing her longtime collaborator Geza Schoen on White Gold. Now that there are three releases it is easier to see the central axis upon which all three were constructed upon. The top accord was citrus combined with clary sage. The heart accord was a carnation, jasmine, and orchid triad which would be accentuated with other florals. The bases all contain ambrette seeds and their botanical musk. As I’ve now had the opportunity to compare them side-by-side it shows the precision of Hr. Schoen to take that spine and choosing different support and keynotes make it very different on a macro level while remaining the same on a micro level. Once I recognized the commonality it was hard not to notice it upon subsequent wearings of all three.

Geza Schoen

For White Gold, we begin with mandarin as the citrus source for the herbal clary sage to wrap around. The herbal quality will be enhanced using baie rose and a green leafy aromachemical. The effect is of trying to find a ripe fruit among the leaves. What makes it fun is as you search through those leaves what appears is jasmine. For White Gold jasmine is a keynote; more than just a component of the central spine. This is a gorgeous source of jasmine fully fleshed out with all its many facets on display. Hr. Schoen brings a bit of orris in to refine the effect. The base is a fabulous duet of botanical and synthetic musks as the ambrette seeds are met by some of the white musks from the laboratory. They rapidly find some common ground which cedar, vetiver, and tonka provide a sweet woody finishing flourish.

White Gold has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

The jasmine in White Gold is so beautiful that there are times it seems like it is a soliflore but that is an olfactory illusion. It is more that it is the most compelling ingredient in the room and it is difficult to remove your attention from it. You should because what surrounds it is every bit as good. The three perfumes which make up the Gold Trilogy are among the very best Ormonde Jayne has to offer and the best of those three is White Gold which finishes the effort strongly.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: HBO The Defiant Ones

I grew up with rock & roll. It existed from the moment I could recognize music on the radio until today. I listen to music every day. It is astonishing that there is over fifty years of music and styles for me to choose from now. I have always enjoyed finding out the history and background of the story behind the music. There isn’t a lot of it shown anymore but the recent four-part series on HBO called The Defiant Ones spanned the fifty years of popular music through the stories of two men; Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre.

The series begins with their triumphant moment when they sell their Beats brand speakers and headphones to Apple for $3 billion in May of 2014. The deal was agreed to on a Friday with Apple asking the men to be quiet and allow them to make the announcement in the following week. Only to have Dre and Tyrese post a video, after partying, leaking the deal late Saturday night. The next 48-hours were both men worrying if it would cause Apple to renege. That they didn’t turn on each other shows the bond which had formed.

Jimmy Iovine (l.) and Dr. Dre

What struck me throughout the series were that both men were successes because they never stopped hustling. By the time they became partners there was nothing these two couldn’t achieve.

Mr. Iovine’s story is of working from cleaning up at the legendary Record Plant recording studio to finding a seat behind the mixing board. He works with some of the most influential musicians of the 1970’s. Throughout he never lost the drive to keep earning his seat in the studio. Dr. Dre started off as a DJ on the club scene in South Central LA constantly hustling until he uses the small studio behind one of the clubs to begin forming the sound that would become west coast hip-hop. Just like Mr. Iovine his drive would take him up the ladder always earning respect at each level because of his work ethic.

That’s just Part 1. The remaining episodes chronicle their rise before combining their talents when Mr. Iovine folded Death Row Records into his Interscope label along with Dr. Dre. Together the two men realized their shared vision of the music business could transform it. The remainder of the series tells that story through the roster of artists they championed.

If you are a fan of rock music The Defiant Ones is going to remind you of the DIY mentality that the best who operate in that world bring to it. The Defiant Ones proves if you never stop hustling there are no limits.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: 10 Corso Como- Rose Sandalcense

They say everything old is new again. In other words, live long enough and everything you own is eventually on trend. One of the trends that has begun taking hold in fragrance is that of the simple combination of three or four ingredients. I think that this style of perfume while simple is not facile. The perfumer must be very precise to get the correct balance. When there are so few notes each one carries more weight. Because of this I started thinking back on which perfumes from the past might have become new again. As soon as I began this process one jumped right to the front of my thoughts, 10 Corso Como.

When 10 Corso Como came out in 1999 it became a cult fragrance. Initially only available in Europe it began to be as desired as Coors beer used to be East of the Mississippi. I can’t remember when I finally tried it but I certainly saw it spoken of in the early perfume forums. I do remember being fascinated at how this simple perfume was so compelling. It was one of those early perfumes which seemingly affixed my wrist to my nose.

Carla Sozzani

10 Corso Como is named after the fashion line overseen by Carla Sozzani. Sig.ra Sozzani wanted to add a fragrance to her fashion boutique in Milan. She turned to perfumer Olivier Gillotin to produce that. What they came up with was a triad of sandalwood, incense, and rose.

Olivier Gillotin

10 Corso Como opens with sandalwood paired with an incense accord made up of vetiver and oud. It is a fascinating choice by M. Gillotin. Straight frankincense would have been too austere against the sandalwood. Instead the vetiver-oud accord forms a softer version of incense which settles on top of the sandalwood. This combination is what made 10 Corso Como stand out early on. It provided an alternative to the church incense style which was becoming popular. The rose takes some time to insert itself into things. Again M. Gillotin adds some geranium to add a bit of green to it all which then accentuates the green within the vetiver. At this point as the vetiver decouples from the oud that note starts to provide a slightly medicinal contrast to the sandalwood. A few musks are sprinkled in at the end.

10 Corso Como has 4-6 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I have enjoyed 10 Corso Como for years because of its simplicity. If you are enjoying the current trend take a look back in time and under the radar for 10 Corso Como.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Elizabeth & James Nirvana Amethyst- Tobacco Trio

I don’t know this for a fact but I suspect that Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen have been successful because they have a clear vision of their brand. That vision seemingly is not compromised by anything as the women collaborate on a burgeoning fashion empire in which their celebrity is being replaced with a reputation for quality. I think, besides knowing what they want, they also get involved to insure it happens. This has been true for their fragrance brand Elizabeth & James.   

The name comes from their other two siblings; the less famous ones. Starting in 2013 they have released two previous pairs of Nirvana scents. The debut pair were Nirvana Black and Nirvana White followed by last year’s Nirvana Bourbon and Nirvana Rose. The brand style has been to feature a tight core of three keynotes. I have found the first four to be some of the best things to be found at Sephora. When I received my new Sephora box and found samples of Nirvana Amethyst and Nirvana French Grey they were the first thing I tried.

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen

Just as before I found another set of perfumes designed around three simple notes. I didn’t wear French Grey for the time necessary to review it but I found the mixture of lavender, neroli, and musk well done. I mentioned this in my review of Nirvana Bourbon that a simple construction like these fragrances are risky because they will fall apart if there is one part out of balance. French Grey shows the care necessary to pull this off.

Nirvana Amethyst was always going to be the one I gravitated to because tobacco was one of the notes. Honeysuckle and cedar provide a clean floral canvas upon which the rich narcotic tobacco can coat. This is where these notes must be so precisely chosen. The honeysuckle is kept at a medium volume while the cedar is a bit louder to provide a solid foundation. The tobacco is the trickster as it intersperses itself throughout the other two notes. As I focused on the honeysuckle the sweetness of the dried tobacco was apparent. The cedar brought out the darker facets as it contrasted the tobacco. Eventually it is all tobacco over the last couple hours.

Nirvana Amethyst has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

I have been unable to find who the perfumers that are behind the Elizabeth & James line; whomever they are they are doing excellent work. The entire Elizabeth & James line of fragrance is one of the very best bang for your buck brands. They are sold in an array of sizes including rollerballs that allow you to buy all six for the price of a normal bottle of another brand. The marketing is as smart as the perfume. I am going to be adding a bottle of Nirvana Amethyst to the other three I own.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Tom Ford Noir Anthracite- You Do Know What It Means!

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As soon as I see “noir” in the name of a fragrance I have learned to temper my expectations. I feel much like Inigo Montoya saying “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means”. If there was one offender I would consistently point at, it was the Tom Ford Noir collection. It was something which was a pleasant perfume but in no way “noir”. If I was to define “noir” I would want it to be a shifting style of perfume, innocent and dark, throughout its development. The literary and cinematic form which spawned the word are tales of moral ambiguity often accompanied by the corruption of innocence. So, imagine my surprise when the new flanker Tom Ford Noir Anthracite gets it correct.

Karyn Khoury

The time-tested creative direction of Karyn Khoury is combined with perfumer Honorine Blanc. This is the first Tom Ford fragrance by Mme Blanc. The concept on the website is to explore the “light in the dark”. I would say Noir Anthracite explores the struggle of light within the dark.

Honorine Blanc

Mme Blanc opens with the first bit of light as bergamot sparks Noir Anthracite to life. Then she uses Szechuan pepper to add in the dark. It would have been so easy to just use black pepper here. Szechuan pepper carries a different piquancy along with a kind of subtle muskiness. It works especially well here because Mme Blanc also uses ginger as a foil to the sunny bergamot too. This is a very different top accord from most of the other mainstream offerings which this will be next to on the fragrance counter. I enjoyed it a lot but I am curious if this is going to be generally accepted at the mall.  The heart is another unique accord as galbanum acts as an overarching green presence to which a light application of jasmine and tuberose are used to provide some lift to it. The galbanum is so powerful you might not notice the florals. This is what I mean as the scrubbed clean white florals never really overcome the green of the galbanum. The base is a straightforward sandalwood and cedar.

Noir Anthracite has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Noir Anthracite is quite different from the other Tom Ford Noir releases. I think if you are a fan of those you might not find Noir Anthracite as nice as I did. Although if you are looking for a perfume which calls itself noir, and means it; Noir Anthracite seems to know what the word means.

Disclosure: this review was based on a press sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.

Mark Behnke