Discount Diamonds: Versace The Dreamer- Oriental Barbershop

One of the concepts of this series is to point out there is a lot of great perfume available for modest prices. When I set out to do it my list included the bargains I had run across myself which is what populated the early versions of this column. What has become a nice by-product is readers will sometimes write me and say, “did you know this can be found for some nice price?” A few months ago, I got one of these about Versace The Dreamer. It went right to the top of the list of future subjects.

When I tried Versace The Dreamer at my local mall for the first time it was different from most of its brethren on the men’s fragrance counter. There were angles, edges, and spines sticking out of a classical architecture. In 1996 this was dangerous territory and I can remember people dropping the strip on the counter with a grimace. What made this perfume designed by Jean-Pierre Bethouart interesting was the most obstreperous facets were right there out in front. It was early days of the internet and there was significant love it/hate it divide on the perfume internet bulletin boards. I remember thinking The Dreamer would wake up and disappear because of its difference. Except those in the “love it” camp supported it giving it more time to gather new fans; which it has. Now that it has been around for over twenty years it has found some space on the perfume discount shelves. After re-acquainting myself with it in 2017 it doesn’t read as odd. It still carries a sharp early edge but there are others who also share this quality. The rest of the perfume is an exquisitely constructed Oriental accord that is why The Dreamer is a Discount Diamond.

Jean-Pierre Bethouart

The opening is the place where The Dreamer is at its most challenging. It is a post-modern riff on a classic lavender barbershop accord. M. Bethouart then uses a combination of tarragon and clary sage to provide a rough herbal envelope for the lavender. This is where many of the sharp elbows can be found. The people who don’t like it will say “too synthetic”. Those who like it realize this is a new type of lavender accord. It leads to a soothing geranium and rose heart which feels more expansive for having arisen from the spiky top accord. The base accord is raw tobacco also containing some rough edges. Most tobacco notes go for a deep narcotic effect. M. Bethouart goes for the effect of a green tobacco leaf partway through drying. There is some sappy greenery over the restrained aspect of the more familiar tobacco smell. It smooths out eventually with the warmth of tonka.

The Dreamer has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Smelling The Dreamer again has made me realize that it is more than a Discount Diamond it is a New Classic well worth the cheaper price it can be found at.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Jul et Mad Mon Seul Desir- Osmanthus Warp, Oud Weft

1

Mrs. C is a cross-stitcher which means she is a lover of the textile arts. Which further means I’ve spent my share of museum time looking at tapestries. It is an art form which I have come to appreciate for the subtle effect just a few strands of different colors have overall. The ability to get close and see these strands is like getting close to a color television and seeing the pixels. You have a better experience standing back and taking it in its entirety; not in its micro form. Perfumery has its own way of practicing the weaving of notes into their own olfactory tapestry. Jul et Mad Mon Seul Desir is inspired by a famous tapestry while also weaving its own magic.

"La Dame a la licorne"

The latest three perfumes from Jul et Mad have been using famous works of art as part of their brief. For Mon Seul Desir the tapestry “La Dame a la licorne” (“The Lady and the Unicorn”) in the Musee national du Moyen Age in Paris. It is the final piece in a series of six tapestries where the first five each depict a lady accompanied by a lion and a unicorn in interpretations of each of the five senses. In the final tapestry, the lady stands under a canopy with the words “mon seul desir” on it. The words mean “my sole desire”. Creative directors Julien Blanchard and Madalina Stoica-Blanchard collaborated with perfumer Stephanie Bakouche.

Madalina Stoica-Blanchard and Julien Blanchard

For Mon Seul Desir the perfume is primarily an osmanthus and oud construction. I have come to appreciate this pairing more than the more classical rose and oud. The dual nature of osmanthus’ fruit and leather finds a way of making oud leatherier itself which is where Mon Seul Desir spends most of its time.

Stephanie Bakouche

Mon Seul Desir is begun by building a frame of nutmeg, baie rose, and coriander. The baie rose provides an herbal component which the nutmeg and coriander gives a kind of faux woodiness to. Then Mme Bakouche gets down to weaving as the osmanthus warps itself over the weft of oud. Always the osmanthus is on top the apricot quality floating above the leathery. The oud picks out the leather threads and attaches to them as it keeps to the background. It all evolves into a final weave of amber, benzoin, and musk; warm and comforting.

Mon Seul Desir has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

In tapestry, the warp covers the weft. It is the same effect here as the osmanthus is the focal point while the oud supports in the background. You can get close enough to pick out the threads but it as an accord that it appeals. Mme Bakouche shows she can handle the fragrant loom to get the most out of her threads making Mon Seul Desir as beautiful as its inspiration.

Disclosure: This review is based on a press sample provided by Jul et Mad.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Mona di Orio Dojima- Origami Shadows

When Mona di Orio passed away at the beginning of December 2011 it was reasonable to expect her style of perfume construction would pass with her. Sure, there were probably a couple of fragrances finished at the time of her death but if you had asked me if I’d be talking about Mme di Orio six years later; my reply would’ve been, “unlikely”. It is because of one person that the conversation has continued until today; Jeroen Oude Sogtoen.

Jeroen Oude Sogtoen

M. Sogtoen was Mme di Orio’s partner. When she was gone he refused to let her perfume brand and her chiaroscuro aesthetic go with her. He would release the last of her creations but he would also look to continue the brand. It took him a bit of time to find the new in-house perfumer Fredrik Dalman. That he was the right choice was confirmed by his first perfume for the brand Bohea Boheme. Much of the time I wear that it feels like a perfume which had to have been started by Mme di Orio for M. Dalman to finish. It isn’t. Which makes M. Dalman’s work more impressive. For this year there have been two new releases. For Suede de Suede, M. Dalman displayed more of his signature by taking his leather accord and modifying it throughout. When I first sniffed the other release, Dojima, I again felt the spirit of Mme di Orio as channeled by M. Dalman.

Fredrik Dalman

Dojima’s name comes from the Rice Exchange in 17th Century Japan. Dojima wanted to capture the powder version of the grain, which it does, but then M. Dalman in a Monaesque fashion shades that powder into something darker as the light fades and the shadows come out to play.

Dojima opens with that delicate rice powder floating like a cloud above it all. This is seemingly fragile accord only to see it stand up to the other notes which begin to appear. First, is a combination of clary sage and nutmeg as they provide a bit of fleeting duskiness. The rice powder becomes a bit more of a familiar powder as the iris creates a more typical powder accord. This all heads towards a base of sandalwood warmed with the botanical musk of ambrette seeds and labdanum.

Dojima has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Dojima is a seemingly fragile construct which always seems on the edge of being overrun by one ingredient or another. To M. Dalman’s credit it never happens. These notes interweave themselves through the powdery nature early on and along with the sandalwood towards the end. I was reminded of the Japanese art of origami where a beautiful piece of paper is transformed into an animal by a series of folds. Dojima is an example of taking a powdery heart and folding in deeper notes to create origami shadows.

Disclosure: this review is based on a press sample supplied by Mona di Orio.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Characters Who Live on TV

I have spent the last couple days looking over the preliminary schedule for the upcoming New York Comic-Con. It is part of the fun of going is to look over the upcoming panels and screenings and see which ones I’m most excited about. It becomes a way of my assessing the things I have at the top of my list against some things which have fallen.

In the latter category is the panel for the new Star Trek: Discovery. I looked at it on the list and was surprised I have little interest in it. Star Trek is why I am a 57-year old man on my way to Comic-Con but they have found a way to fatigue my interest. If I hear good things I suppose I’ll catch up but for the very first time I won’t be there for the first episode of something which has Star Trek in the name.

There are many other things I am looking forward to but right at the very top is the American Gods panel on Thursday and The Walking Dead panel on Saturday. Funnily enough the reason I am so fond of both series are characters who are very different from the printed page version.

Pablo Schreiber and Emily Browning in American Gods

In the Starz American Gods series, it is the duo of the leprechaun Mad Sweeney and Laura Moon. As portrayed by actors Pablo Schreiber and Emily Browning they are the reason I tuned in each week. What is crazy is in the book the characters exist but are small supporting characters. On TV, they are the best thing in American Gods.

Melissa McBride and Norman Reedus in The Walking Dead

In The Walking Dead, it is the characters Darryl Dixon and Carol Peletier portrayed by actors Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride. They also form a rough duo within the zombie apocalypse although the story separates them often. Darryl doesn’t exist in the comic book and Carol died a long time ago. On TV, they form the beating heart of the show. Despite many storytelling excesses these characters bring me back week after week.

Darryl and Carol are so popular that when writer Robert Kirkman talks about killing either of them you can almost feel the held breath in the room. I have been considering what it is that makes both characters so important to my enjoyment of this show. I think it is the uncertainty they bring as they don’t exist in the comic which means I have no idea what happens to them. It makes me invest more closely because of that. The other characters are great but because of the comic I know who is eventually going to die which maybe makes me keep them at arm’s length emotionally.

When it comes to Mad Sweeney and Laura it is much easier to pinpoint the reason; the actors. On American Gods, these two actors have created a chemistry which does not exist on the page. These characters were never as alive until Mr. Schreiber and Ms. Browning breathed new life into them. This presents a problem for the writers for season two as I am far from the only one who feels this way. How they will find ways to use the two characters when there is precious little left on the page for them to do is going to be key to a successful run.

I am looking forward to these actors talking about their roles and answering questions in a few weeks. Seeing and hearing from them is the reason I want to be in NYC the first week of October.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Bottega Veneta Eau de Velours- Authenticity Is Not Easy

There is nothing so frustrating for me as a fragrance line which carries a designer name seeming disconnected from the brand aesthetic. I am aware that fragrance is often an undiscovered country for many brands when they decide to make the move to expand into it. I have observed that a creative director who really takes the time to understand the design concepts behind fragrance can then successfully translate them into liquid form. One of those is Tomas Maier of Bottega Veneta.

Tomas Maier

Hr. Maier would lead the expansion into perfume with the simply named Bottega Veneta in 2011. The seemingly facille decision to create a leather artisan shop’s accord with some flowers growing just outside the window captured the essence of hand-made luxury. It was one of the best perfumes of 2011 and the best designer release of that year. They have continued to release some excellent mainstream designer perfumes ever since. Bottega Veneta Eau de Velours is another one.

Michel Almairac

If the original was a floral leather chypre the new one is a fruity floral leather. Perfumer Michel Almairac collaborates with perfumer Mylene Alran in this evolution of the original which M. Almairac was responsible for. The original had a lovely lilting plum blossom amidst the leather and oak. For Eau de Velours the blossom has become the fruit and no longer lilts; it leads the way. There is also an intent to simplify some of the lines of the original to give more prominence to the fruit, the floral, and the leather.

Mylene Alran

That design intent is evident from the beginning as the ripe plum has moved to the front of the line. It has some support from bergamot and baie rose but this is a plum just as it ripens. It is not sugary sweet but that mix of restrained sweetness tempered by a bit of tart freshness. It is that latter effect the baie rose sharpens the focus upon. Then very deep Damascene rose pairs with the plum in a classic fruity floral accord. The inherent spiciness of this breed of rose is lovely contrast to the plum. It gets better as the leather accord begins to weave itself within it. It is like tendrils of smoke as the first few strands start to become detectable. Over time they eventually weave a complete leather enclosure around the fruity floral. This effect is ably abetted by patchouli slowly adding to the volume of the leather accord.

Eau de Velours has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

I again give a hat tip to Hr. Maier for retaining his vision of how fragrance represents the brand. Eau de Velours shows authenticity might not be easy but it is worth the effort.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Aramis Modern Leather- What Powerhouse Means Today

When I was growing up in the 1960’s many of the men around me wore perfume which had a central leather component. If I had so desired I could have easily concluded that leather is what a man smells like. I can joke about it but there is a bit of truth underneath the humor. The mid 1960’s well into the 1970’s was the age of the powerhouse cologne marketed primarily to men. Because men were the target audience perfumers would have to sneak some notes, like flowers, considered feminine underneath the more stalwart suspects. One of the exemplars of this style of perfumery was 1965’s Aramis composed by perfumer Bernard Chant.

Aramis was a powerhouse leather mostly supported by herbs and spices led by thyme and clove. My very stylish uncle was an Aramis man. As I would begin to expand my fragrance horizons I would discover there was an entire collection under the Aramis name. As the niche explosion arrived the brand has been having some difficulty staying relevant. It was why when I received the press materials around the new release Aramis Modern Leather I was more interested than normal.

Celine Barel

According to the press materials Aramis Modern Leather was meant to be a modern re-telling of the original Aramis. I was wondering what the team at Aramis thought a twenty-first century powerhouse smelled like. The name clued me in that it was leather. What else did perfumer Celine Barel think makes a modern powerhouse? She returns to the herbal notes of the original but she also believes men are more comfortable with a floral heart fifty years later.

Mme Barel opens with thyme as the original started with. The main difference is basil overtakes it rapidly as if making the case for being the modern man’s herb of choice. Where the original dove deep into spices Modern Leather constructs a proper floral heart accord around geranium and orange blossom. Mme Barel uses some violet leaves to constrain the florals from becoming too expansive. The base contains the leather. Mme Barel’s leather accord is refined leather; very modern compared to the leather accord in Aramis. This one in Modern Leather is supple luxuriousness. The only attempt to put a tiny amount of edge into it comes from some vetiver and labdanum but they never really lay a hand on it.

Modern Leather has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Modern Leather posits the hypothesis that a modern powerhouse smells like this. It is a good version to see if there is a market for a fragrance like this. I can find a spot for it right next to its original stable mate.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Acqua di Parma Colonia Pura- This Old Colonia

There comes a moment for perfume brands to examine when it feels right to design to a younger generation of perfume lovers. The last two years have seen many of the original niche houses making different choices about when to make their play for the new demographic. For Acqua di Parma they have decided to go back to the beginning to try and capture the future with Colonia Pura.

Acqua di Parma has become a successful niche brand by using the seed of the original Colonia created almost a one hundred years ago. As the brand became a player in the 21st century they gave that Colonia architecture to some of the greatest perfumers working to develop their versions. It has been a mostly successful collection overall. Starting in 2014 perfumer Francois Demachy became the creative force behind the new versions of Colonia. During this time, he has been focused mainly on adding in a particular note or accord and adapting the existing formula so it fits. With Colonia Pura M. Demachy is re-imagining Colonia for today.

Francois Demachy

Colonia Pura opens on the classic citrus except orange and petitgrain are given a lighter feeling. This allows a sea breeze accord to lift them up in an expansive way. M. Demachy is seemingly trying for a transparent version of Colonia; the early moments are the bellwether for this. The floral heart is completely different. Remarkably M. Demachy can take the usually very deep power of narcissus absolute and turn it into something less substantial. The technique used is to have jasmine provide an underpinning which like the ozonic notes in the top provide a similar expansiveness. As patchouli and cedar begin to form the base accord I expect this to get a little more grounded but M. Demachy unleashes a suite of white musks to again lift and expand over the final hours.

Colonia Pura has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

There is a television show called “This Old House” where a team of workers completely re-do an old classic home of around a hundred years old. As I wore Colonia Pura this felt like M. Demachy was making a perfume version, “This Old Colonia”. Where he takes the venerable old mansion that is Colonia and spruces it up so a new fragrance fan can be lured to Colonia Pura.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Acqua di Parma.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Diptyque Vetyverio Eau de Parfum- Back to Earth

Vetiver is one of the more common perfume ingredients. It is hard to find new perspectives when designing a vetiver-centric fragrance. It is one of my favorite ingredients because it displays a wide versatility; which should be obvious if it is used so often. One of the more interesting studies of vetiver was in 2010’s Diptyque Vetyverio.

Perfumer Olivier Pescheux took a solid axis of vetiver and on three different levels spun three sets of notes to shape the vetiver as it developed on the skin. At the time I first wrote about this I mentioned this was a lighter version than most vetivers where the higher harmonics were emphasized over the deeper ones. Vetyverio is one of those that is made for the warmest of days when fragrance verges on becoming an irritant no matter what. It has never made my personal top list because I have come to prefer my vetiver with some more pop to it. Apparently, I am not alone as there is a more concentrated version just released Vetyverio Eau de Parfum.

Olivier Pescheux

Befitting the overall style, the original was released in eau de toilette concentration. M. Pescheux returned to oversee the increase in concentration. As I say every time I review a different concentration it just can’t have the original ingredients modified to fit the new concentration. To be faithful to the original the perfumer must make some important decisions. In this case M. Pescheux has decided to strip the formula down to its essence. The original had twelve listed notes; the Eau de Parfum just four. If pushed to describe the original in a few words I would have said citrus-rose-grass. This time M. Pescheux changes the third part to earth as patchouli is used to take the same Haitian vetiver used before and ground it.

Vetyverio Eau de Parfum uses grapefruit as the citrus on top. The citrus was bright in the original. Here the grapefruit can display some of its sulfurous quality before the same rose as in the previous formulation picks it up. In a lighter formulation, you take rose and lift it up with pother florals. In this formula, you let the rose alone allowing it to radiate in all its Damascene glory. The vetiver concentration being upped means the woodier quality of the Haitian vetiver has more presence. Adding in patchouli drags it away from the fresher greener grassier elements and down towards the ground. This duet changes the comparison between what came before and now.

Vetyverio Eau de Parfum has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

The original formula was never going to really resonate with me because of the lightness of it all. Vetyverio Eau de Parfum does connect because it takes the vetiver and brings it back to earth.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Mizensir Elixir de Musc- The Musks of Summer

When a perfumer begins their own line you get to see some of the personality unaltered by creative directors or PR campaigns. When designing for themselves they can be indulgent. The brands which succeed understand the difference between that and self-indulgent. It is what makes the Mizensir fragrance collection by Alberto Morillas such an interesting experience.

I consider Sr. Morillas the best perfumer in the mainstream sector of perfume. When he began Mizensir in 2015 I was interested to see what the direction of the brand would be. With these latest three releases, bringing the number up to 19, the data set is large enough to see patterns. One of the more obvious ones is Sr. Morillas could take some of his favorite notes and accords and push them a little further than the typical mainstream release is likely to tolerate. It is making the Mizensir collection a stepping stone to the niche perfume side of the fragrance aisle.

Alberto Morillas

Sr. Morillas is known for many things but if there is one note which lingers in my consciousness it is musk. He championed the use of white musks. He has been instrumental in delineating the uses of many of the popular synthetic versions. It was why when I got the press materials with my samples the one I was most interested to spend time with was Elixir de Musc.

Sr. Morillas wanted Elixir de Musc to represent sun-warmed skin, an accord he has done many times. The difference is he also wanted this to be more concentrated befitting the name, a true elixir of musks. As such there is no real pyramid here. Instead Sr. Morillas presents a brew of three of Firmenich’s finest synthetics: Cetalox, Limbanol, and Iris Concrete. Cetalox is a lighter version of the more well-known Ambox. Limbanol is the same kind of lighter version of the more ubiquitous Norlimbanol. Iris Concrete is a synthetic recreation of the precious natural ingredient orris concrete. Into this mixture Muscenone and Habanolide provide the musk component.

Form the first moment I sprayed this on it strongly reminded me of warm skin. It is the smell of a day at the beach as the breeze carries the smell of your skin to your nose. It is clean but the musk keeps it from being insipid. It is a gorgeously realized accord.

Elixir de Musc has 24-hour longevity and average sillage.

There is another thing Sr. Morillas is doing within the Mizensir line; he is showing the versatility of the synthetic ingredients available in 2017. Throughout the collection there are numerous examples of it but Elixir de Musc stands apart as the pinnacle of this kind of construction. In this case he has created a perfume of the musks of summer.

Disclosure: This review based on a sample from Mizensir.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Tom Ford Private Blend Fucking Fabulous- Is It?

A year ago, designer Tom Ford began pairing a perfume with his debut of the spring/summer fashion collection. Last year’s Ombre Leather 16 was a standout within the Private Blend collection. I wore it quite a bit during the fall and winter last year. I was excited to hear the same thing was happening this year with a new Private Blend tied to last week’s debut of the spring/summer 2018 collection called Fucking Fabulous. With a name like that the first question becomes, “is it?”

Tom Ford Spring/Summer 2018

The name itself has generated the typical buzz Mr. Ford revels in as he forced every beauty publication and reporter into figuring out how they were going to mention it. I have always had mixed feelings on Mr. Ford’s marketing style. It seems to work for him and just as with other aspects of other brands I’d rather focus on the perfume.

Tom Ford Spring/Summer 2018

For Fucking Fabulous if you look at the fashion collection which accompanied it you see Mr. Ford reaching back to the 1990’s for inspiration. There were padded shoulders, the return of a maillot paired with leather cargo pants, and millennial pink just so you know he knows what year it is. That shows through with Fucking Fabulous it is a luxury version of a department store powerhouse of the 90’s. The main difference is instead of relying on the synthetic version of the ubiquitous notes of the 90’s the perfumer, Shyamala Maisondieu, chose the more expensive options. For the most part, it works.

Tom Ford Spring/Summer 2018

It opens on a bitter almond oil. This carries a bit of a sting to it which is smoothed away by using tonka resinoid. In this version, the tonka pushes its warmer toastier aspects forward. These take that sharp nutty first few minutes and cover them in a jacket with big shoulders. The leather cargo pants show up carrying some clary sage in their pockets. The sage roughs the leather accord up a bit. This is also a lighter leather than in most Private Blends. A powdery orris adds that millennial pink shading. Cashmeran is that sleek woody maillot tying it all together.

Fucking Fabulous has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Is It? Not really. Within the Private Blend collection it isn’t close to being the most fucking fabulous of the line. What it is, is another clever comingling of Mr. Ford’s fashion and fragrance aesthetic along with his provocative PR. I like the luxury take on the powerhouse perfumes of the past but it’s not what it says it is.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle supplied by Tom Ford Beauty.

Mark Behnke