New Perfume Review Areej Le Dore Inverno Russo- Hidden Objects

When I received my Areej Le Dore sample set of the most recent four releases I knew these were perfumes I was going to have to spend time with to try and write about them. I was introduced to the brand via blogger Kafkaesque which had me ordering a sample set of the new releases as soon as I could. I initially wrote about Flux de Fleur in November 2017. Having read the review from Kafkaesque and having a different experience I chalked it up to being such a dense construction you can get fixated on a different set of ingredients than another experiencing the same perfume.

With the bitter cold temperatures of the end of the year I thought I’d give the one named after winter a try, Inverno Russo. One of the things perfumer Russian Adam does with these perfumes is use the most individual of ingredients. Thanks to Kafkaesque he has shared those ingredients. It is also why these are kind of like vintage wines. Russian Adam may make it again but whether the co-distillates or the oud obtained can be replicated probably makes each unique to its batch. For clarity this review refers to the release in October 2017.

What I notice first upon wearing Inverno Russo is the co-distillate of peach blossom and osmanthus absolute. It forms a pivot point around which rose otto and gardenia form a unique floral accord. There is the fruity nature of the co-distillate followed by the spicy rose and the indolic white flower. Spices come along to give the rose a bit more prominence. Then the musk arrives. This is real musk, legally obtained by Russian Adam. It is probably the first time many who try this will encounter the real thing. I have always noticed a kind of fattiness to the real musk grains I have. Russian Adam takes that and uses synthetic civet, tonka, along with a mixture of ouds to provide an animalic chocolate accord. It is musky, but it is also bizarrely gourmand simultaneously. The chocolate begins to fade with the woods and the musk remaining throughout the last hours.

Inverno Russo has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

As I read through the other reviews of Inverno Russo it again seems like we are all wearing a different perfume. I link to Kafkaesque’s as an example. Then I think I’ve finally hit on why that is so. One of my favorite games to play on my tablet is what is called “hidden object”. You are given a scene and asked to find a list of things within it. Based on where your focus is that is the order you fill out your list. Inverno Russo was kind of a perfume version of that where I “found” the peach blossom and osmanthus co-distillate first before finding the rest. I am guessing others found other things first. These are fabulously dense architectures within which you can get lost; just leave a thread of hidden objects behind you so you can return to where you started.

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

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur 2018 Hopes and Wishes

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As always, on this last day of 2017 I look forward to some things I hope happen next year.

Who is ready for Perfumer Two-in-One?

Can I get two for one?- Last year I started out asking for Vero Kern to release something new. (She did) 2017 was a bumper crop from my favorite indie perfumers. One thing I have noticed is when they infrequently collaborate there has been some real magic. Bruno Fazzolari and Antonio Gardoni on Cadavre Exquis or Sam Rader and Josh Meyer on Dasein Winter Nights are my best examples of how this works. Both of those were 2016. For 2018 I’d like to see a couple new collaborations as creative as the 2016 ones.

Mosaic by Carl and Sandra Bryant of Showcase Mosaics

A Masterpiece of Deconstruction– 2017 saw deconstruction become all the rage except I felt it mostly missed the potential. With all the isolates of the most familiar perfume ingredients available. There is a perfumer who can produce something which adds the figurative olfactory grout within the deconstructed note to create something we haven’t seen before. There has been some tiptoeing up to this, but I need a few of the resident risk takers to embrace this. As much to make deconstructed meaningful; not just a synonym for transparent and safe.

The Pied Piper of Niche?

Keep expanding niche….everywhere– I have been excited to see consumers reacting to the difference between niche and mainstream perfumes. Much of this is happening because Sephora has steadily been increasing their offerings. Paired with this they have been featuring smaller brands which maybe aren’t niche but which are different than the big brands near them on the shelf. It seemed to me just in my local malls Sephora displayed a lot of niche brands for Holiday shopping season. If the sales bear it out this could be my long hoped-for bridge to the mainstream consumer. I’ve always believed if they are side-by-side a consumer can decide if they see a difference. I hope 2018 gives more consumers the chance to do this.

If just a couple beauty editors would do this

I want a crossover indie perfume– There are times I wonder if I am just part of a perfume lovers’ echo chamber. When I get that way an e-mail or two from someone who tried something new shows up to remind me that the word sometimes escapes the chamber. Tauer L’Air du Desert Marocain was the perfume which shone the big media spotlight on the independent perfumers. Since then the number of people doing it has skyrocketed but none of the perfumes themselves have found the same celebrity. The perfumers can just keep doing the great work they continue to do. This wish is up to a beauty editor, or two, at a big magazine to look outside the samples from the big brands and open their eyes.

As we enter 2018 I want to wish everyone who spends a little of their time reading Colognoisseur a Healthy and Happy New Year. I’m ready to see what surprises and perfumes 2018 will bring.

Mark Behnke

The Saturday Magazine: My Favorite Non-Perfume Things of 2017

The calendar be a cruel mistress. Usually I post my favorite non-perfume things of 2017 on the last Sunday of the year in my usual The Sunday Magazine column. Except this year Sunday is also the last day of the year when I post my column of perfume hopes and wishes for 2018. So, for this week only The Sunday Magazine becomes The Saturday Magazine while I share some of my favorite non-perfume things of 2017.

Favorite movie/TV show/ whatever you want to call it: Twin Peaks: The Return– My affection for this grows daily. It also has created some of my most consistent correspondence with readers. What I think is undeniable is David Lynch and Mark Frost pulled off one of the greatest continuations in media history. In something which could only have existed in the current way we watch stuff Twin Peaks: The Return existed exactly as Mr. Lynch wanted it to. That there is this debate as to whether it is a television series of movie is irrelevant; it is uncompromising storytelling. A day doesn’t go by where I don’t think about something that I saw. Oh yeah; Kyle McLachlan essentially held this all together in an acting performance of four different versions of the same character. If there is no Emmy for him my scream will match Laura Palmer’s.

Favorite Album: Melodrama by Lorde– When I went to see what the most played music of 2017 was on my iTunes playlist I was surprised to see this in my top 5 most listened to. I begin to think that is what Lorde’s second album is all about; sneaking up on you. Working with producer Jack Antonoff, Melodrama feels like the work of a much more seasoned musician. If the fun of Lorde’s first album “Royals” was this precocious talent then on “Melodrama” it is as if she has traveled through a time machine straight to experienced. It is an example of how to make electronic music for the pop music world without selling out.

Favorite Single: Bad Liar by Selena Gomez– I know this was not as big as some of the other hits of the year but this was always the most improbable. If the equation of Pop Tart + Talking Heads = Favorite Single doesn’t compute it’s because this should have fallen apart in so many ways. Instead Ms. Gomez takes the incredible Tina Weymouth bass line from Talking Heads “Psycho Killer”. In a restrained performance using finger pops and hand claps as percussion Ms. Gomez lays out that delicious tension of not wanting to let on how much you’re attracted to that person. That Talking Heads signed off to allow Ms. Gomez permission to use the bass line tells you that this is pop music on a different level. Is it wrong I want a mash-up?

Favorite Book: My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris– I read this graphic novel back in the spring; it has never fully left my consciousness. A semi-autobiographical story about a ten-year old girl in 1968 Chicago dealing with a mother stricken with cancer while a neighbor is found dead from a gunshot wound. The protagonist communicates her fears in pen crosshatch drawings in her composition book. The words in the margins take this right to the top of the literary world. Visually and intellectually stunning.

Favorite Spirit: Havana Club Anejo 7 Anos- Free trade with Cuba might mean cigars to many but for me it was the chance to try the full Havana Club line of rum. Usually by the time the frost is on the pumpkin the scotch is in the snifter. This year the honey and tobacco sweetness of this aged rum has been my sipper of choice.

Favorite Wines: 2015 Mendoza Malbecs and Maipo Valley Cabernet Sauvignons– In the expansion of wine regions there has been some amazing little pockets of excellent winemaking. The Argentinian Mendoza area and the Maipo Valley in Chile among the best. I have recommended these wines as best buys for ten years now. This year they are especially a fantastic bargain because the 2015 vintage which is just becoming available was the best, perhaps ever. These are the kind of nuanced red wines you usually get for over $100 which are commonly available for $20 or less. Drinkable now but will be even better in five to seven years.

These are some of the other things, besides perfume, which brightened my life in 2017.

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur 2017 Year-End Review Part 3- The Top 25 New Perfumes of the Year

This year I tried 678 new perfumes which once again keeps me below the 50% mark of all new perfumes released in 2017. When sniffing this many perfumes there tends to be a lot of background noise as many coalesce into a generic sameness. What is presented below are the perfumes which rise above that.

The Top 5 (Perfume of the Year Candidates)

5. DSH Perfumes Gekkou Hanami– Independent perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz never fails to surprise me in a given year. In 2017 she has had many releases worthy of high praise. I was completely blown away by this first in her Haiku Series. Ms. Hurwitz builds a perfume of delicacy around themes of life and death in the moonlight infused with cherry blossoms. Both of the other Haiku series released this year; Tsukiyo-en and Tsukimi were almost as good.

4. Parfum D’Empire La Cri de La Lumiere– A spectrally transparent study of light as fragrance. Perfumer Marc-Antoine Corticchiato uses a trio of ambrette, iris, and rose to form a perfume which will define light when I speak of it in relation to this art form in the future.

3. Naomi Goodsir Nuit de Bakelite– The creative direction of Naomi Goodsir and Renaud Coutaudier matched with the virtuosity of perfumer Isabelle Doyen provided the best tuberose of 2017. Their choice to focus on the green stemmy quality by editing out the flower they found something within which reinvents tuberose.

2. Bruno Fazzolari Feu Secret– What do you do when you decide to make a perfume from one of the most expensive ingredients you can? If you’re independent perfumer Bruno Fazzolari you take orris butter and challenge it with “dirty” notes like turmeric, birch tar, and eucalyptus. They don’t harmonize, they confront. What orris butter has to say in response is what makes Feu Secret special.

1. Ineke Idyllwild– A more detailed reason can be found in Part 2. Idyllwild is a contemporary fougere that pairs expertise and artistry. Ineke Ruhland is back after five years in a big way.

Here are the rest of the Top 25 in Alphabetical Order

A Lab on Fire California Snow– A brilliant debut for perfumer Mackenzie Reilly that is more Palm Springs than Lake Tahoe.

Aftelier Velvet Tuberose– After smelling so many tuberoses the last one of the year was one of the best. Mandy Aftel found the softer texture within.

April Aromatics Pink Wood– Independent perfumer Tanja Bochnig created this dynamic rose perfume for a competition where she finished third! Simply inconceivable to me.

Arquiste Esencia de El Palacio Azahares– The best of the collection from creative director Carlos Huber and perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux produced for a Mexican department store. Orange blossom, lavender, and iris show Sr. Flores-Roux’s brilliance with floral ingredients.

Atelier Cologne Café Tuberosa– Creative director Sylvie Cervasel and perfumer Jerome Epinette pour a shot of rich esperesso over a full spectrum tuberose to fabulous effect.

Comme des Garcons Vogue 125– A mixture of Polaroid developer and cigarette smoke might not conjure the premiere fashion magazine in the world. That’s the genius of this perfume which never plays it safe while it makes sure both names on the label stand for innovation.

Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Sale Gosse– The other significant perfumer debut this year. Fanny Bal decides a perfume of youth should smell like violet chewing gum. Makes me smile every time I wear it.

Eris Parfums Mx.- Creative director Barbara Herman with perfumer Antoine Lie continue their successful collaboration with a perfume which shows unisex does not mean boring.

Etat Libre D’Orange Une Amourette Roland Mouret Creative director Etienne de Swardt along with fashion designer Roland Mouret get perfumer Daniela Andrier to unleash her most sensuous perfume in years.

Grandiflora Boronia– Creative director Saskia Havekes working with perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour capture an Australian greenhouse with an indigenous white flower providing the keynote.

Imaginary Authors O! UnknownJosh Meyer has gotten better and better; this is his best perfume. He finds a precise balance between a transparent tea accord and orris butter. Easy to write, much harder to realize.

John Varvatos Artisan Pure– Best mainstream perfume of the year. Rodrigo Flores-Roux adds to his legacy as the only perfumer for John Varvatos with a tableau of a summer hillside in Mexico.

Maison Kitsune X Heeley Note de Yuzu– Perfumer James Heeley channels the Maison Kitsune aesthetic and creates a salty broth of citrus which I just wanted to marinate in.

Masque Milano Times Square– HBO’s series “The Deuce” reminded us of 1970’s era Times Square. I had already had my memory revived with this perfume from creative directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi working with perfumer Bruno Jovanovic. A fantastic realization of this time period.

Memo Eau de Memo Creative director Clara Molloy and perfumer Alienor Massenet celebrated ten years of making perfume together by not looking back. Instead they launched the second decade with what they do best make some of the best niche perfume around.

Puredistance Warszawa– Creative director Jan Ewoud Vos was shown pictures of the Golden Age in Warsaw. Perfumer Antoine Lie turned this into the best Retro Nouveau perfume of 2017.

Sonoma Scent Studio Bee’s BlissLaurie Erickson made a perfume of rich viscous honey which enthralled me.

Vero Profumo Naja– Last year I made a wish for a new perfume from Vero Kern. Naja did not disappoint as it was an ever-developing tobacco focused construct. It was easily the perfume I have had the most fun dissecting this year.

Vilhelm Parfumerie Basilico & Fellini Creative director Jan Ahlgren continues to look to Hollywood for inspiration. Famed director’s Frederico Fellini’s love of basil was turned into a Nouveau Cologne by perfumer Jerome Epinette. Refreshing and innovative just like the name on the bottle.

Xinu Monstera– Perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux found a kindred spirit in creative director Veronica Alejandra Pena. Monstera is the best of that collaboration as the scent of the leaves in the jungle slowly change into leather.

Zoologist Civet– First new perfume of 2017 was another triumph for creative director Victor Wong who had independent perfumer Shelley Waddington begin the year of tuberose with one of the most memorable. They fused it with animalic notes in the heart to create magic.

The Final Cuts (The Other 25 best perfumes of 2017)

Alber Elbaz par Frederic Malle Superstitious– Another successful collaboration between fashion designer and creative director via Dominique Ropion.

Beaufort London Iron Duke– A cavalry charge right into my perfumed heart.

Bottega Veneta Eau de Velours– Best fruity floral of the year

Bruno Fazzolari Ummagumma– The chocolate from Cadavre Exquis gets a starring role.

Cartier Baiser Fou– A fruit flavored lip gloss turned into perfume.

Comme des Garcons Concrete– The best example of making deconstructed mean something

Elizabeth & James Nirvana Amethyst– Best bang for your buck especially if you like tobacco.

En Voyage Figa Shelley Waddington finds beauty in superstition.

Escentric 04– Geza Schoen returns to his molecules with the best of the bunch.

Etat Libre D’Orange You or Someone Like You– Chandler Burr and perfumer Caroline Sabas made a better artistic statement on LA than “La La Land”

Fath’s Essentials Lilas Exquis– A fabulous lilac from perfumer Luca Maffei.

Gucci Bloom– There’s a new direction at Gucci; if there’s more like this it will be memorable.

Hermes Eau des Merveilles Bleue– Christine Nagel’s mineralic aquatic.

Homoelegans Paloma y Raices– Mamey and tuberose form a quirky fruity floral.

Jul et Mad Mon Seul Desir– A tapestry woven of osmanthus and oud.

L’Artisan Histoire D’ Orangers– A desert valley of orange trees.

Le Labo Mousse de Chene 30– Daphne Bugey shows that chypre is still alive and kicking.

Maison Francis Kurkdjian Oud Satin Mood Extrait– Francis Kurkdjian rearranges the notes from the original and makes it better.

Mancera Red Tobacco– A fever dream tobacco.

Mona di Orio Dojima– Perfumer Frederik Dalman continues the Monaesque aesthetic.

Parfumerie Generale 19.1 Neroli ad Astra– The first of the re-works to stand equivalent yet different from the original.

Parfums de Marly Delina– The best feminine perfume from the brand, ever.

Tauer Attar AT– A fantastic limited edition from Andy Tauer.

Tiffany & Co. The jeweler returns to perfume brilliantly.

Tom Ford Noir Anthracite– The most noir of any Tom Ford with that on its label.

That’s it for my look back at 2017.

If you missed them; Part 1 was my broad overview.

Part 2 was where I revealed my Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, and Brand of the Year.

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur 2017 Year-End Review Part 2- Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, & Brand of the Year

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Yesterday, in Part 1, I took a broad view of 2017. Today I take a very focused look at the year naming my best of the best.

Perfume of the Year: Ineke Idyllwild– I met independent perfume Ineke Ruhland in April 2009. My editor at the time Michelyn Camen would introduce me to her in the perfume department of Takashimaya in New York City. She had just made one of the best perfumes I had tried in Field Notes from Paris. I was doing a bit of fanboy gushing. She smiled, listened to my insensate gibbering; then after I calmed down we began to connect. Ms. Ruhland has been one of my very favorite indie perfumers ever since I discovered her Alphabet series. It is a near-perfect collection of perfume. She continually produced releases until 2012 and then nothing. Two years ago at Pitti in Florence she had a stand where she was showing the next two letters in the Alphabet Collection “I” & “J”. “I” was one of my favorites of the entire exposition. I excitedly waited to write about it when it was released. And I waited. And I waited. Almost exactly two years later Idyllwild was released.

Ineke Ruhland

Idyllwild is emblematic of why I admire Ms. Ruhland as she takes a classic perfume style, fougere, then transforms it into something contemporary. From the typical lavender and citrus opening through a pine tree heart to delicate tendrils of smoke this is expertly blended. Supporting notes of green cardamom, rhubarb tea, and a fabulously delicate oud accord for her smoke show her skill. Ms. Ruhland combines the technical expertise with the artist’s soul to make Idyllwild my Perfume of the Year.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux

Perfumer of the Year: Rodrigo Flores-Roux– I can’t remember the first time I met Sr. Flores-Roux but the one thing I know with certainty he was smiling. While I don’t remember the first time, my most memorable meeting took place in October 2012. Sr. Flores-Roux along with Arquiste creative director Carlos Huber were presenting the new brand at the Mexican Embassy’s Cultural Center. I have never forgotten the following quote from his remarks that night, “Maybe I can cite a Mexican poet, Carlos Pellicer, who always praised the beauty of the Mexican tropics: the Mexican people have two obsessions: we are interested in death and we are in love with flowers. And as a Mexican flower lover, I always like to put a bit of Mexico in every perfume I make. It's not an accident I studied biology, specifically botany, and understand the secret language of flowers. It's also my last name!”

Carlos Huber (l.) and Rodrigo Flores-Roux at Mexican Embassy Cultural Center October 2012

That quote is an apt epigraph to sum up his 2017 perfumes where there was more than a little Mexico in them. It was literally a travelogue as no less than eight different perfumes had distinct Mexican inspirations. The three Arquiste releases for the Mexican department store El Palacio de Hierro were the best examples of his ability as a “Mexican flower lover”. Azahares is perhaps his best pure floral perfume ever. He would exercise his indie sensibility in the four perfumes he collaborated on for the small line called Xinu. Monstera is a raw green vegetal perfume which almost magically transforms to leather. This is the botanist at play. His final trip comes from the mainstream release, John Varvatos Artisan Pure. Here he uses a less complex palette to create the summer hillsides of Xalapa. That it is every bit as compelling as the other seven mentioned is a testament to the breadth of perfume he produced this year.

I’m not even including the three Carner Barcelona Black Collection perfumes, his continued work for Tom Ford Private Blend, and his three Palindromes for Santi Burgas. Every one of these confirms my choice.

I think Sr. Flores-Roux has been a runner-up every year I have made this choice. I am happy to name him Perfumer of the Year for wearing his love of Mexico in his perfume.

Runner-ups: Luca Maffei, Jerome Epinette, Bruno Fazzolari, Daniela Andrier, and Antoine Lie.

Jerome Epinette (l.) and Jan Ahlgren

Creative Director of the Year: Jan Ahlgren of Vilhelm Parfumerie– When I am asked, “What’s the brand nobody is talking about?” My answer for the last couple years has been Vilhelm Parfumerie. Ever since it’s founding in 2015 Jan Ahlgren has transformed his love of classic Hollywood, the places he loves in the cities he has lived in, and a generally contemporary aesthetic into a fantastic collection of nineteen perfumes. The 2017 releases of Do Not Disturb, Harlem Bloom, and Basilico & Fellini are some of the best in the collection he oversees with perfumer Jerome Epinette. That choice of working with a single perfumer has resulted in a creative ability to build upon each previous release. When I read the inspiration for a perfume in a press release I am way too frequently left scratching my head. That Mr. Ahlgren can translate his vision into a perfume which doesn’t do that is why he is the Creative Director of the Year.

Runner-ups: Frederic Malle (Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle), Etienne de Swardt (Etat Libre D’Orange), and Christian Astuguevieille (Comme des Garcons).

Brand of the Year: Comme des Garcons– If there is a pillar of the niche perfume sector it is Comme des Garcons. That they continue to innovate twenty three years after releasing their first perfume is amazing. In 2017 they opened with a reminder of their past as they released ten of their previous trendsetters in the Comme des Garcons Olfactory Library. I write Comme des Garcons is ahead of its time; the re-releases ask if time has caught up. The three new releases: Concrete, Andy Warhol’s You’re In, and Vogue 125 all show this is a brand which still has much to say. The past might have been amazing but the present is glorious which makes Comme des Garcons my Brand of the Year.

Runner-ups: DSH Perfumes, L’Artisan Parfumeur, Vilhelm Parfumerie, A Lab on Fire, and Parfums de Marly.

Part 1 was my broad overview of 2017

Part 3 is my Top 25 New Perfumes of 2017

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur 2017 Year-End Review Part 1- Overview

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2017 is a year which begins to clarify some of the shifting consumer dynamics. As companies look to create new brand loyalties from younger consumers they also continue to try to appeal to their longtime devotees. This is a more difficult task than it might seem for an ambitious brand. If there is one thing which became clear while sniffing the 678 new perfumes this year it was this divide. A year ago when I wrote this overview it wasn’t that obvious. Within the first quarter of 2017, when I get inundated with rose perfumes, that kind of concentration of data showed some trends.

I said Deconstructed not DEVO

One of 2017’s favorite descriptors was “deconstructed”. What this meant was taking a version of a keynote and using one of the different isolates which removed or diminished the “problematic” part. Think indoles being removed from white flowers and you get the idea. It had the effect of making these perfumes lighter in style. When used just for that effect those perfumes were generally not that interesting. In fact by deconstructing they also removed some of the interesting character. When perfumers took those new spaces and filled them in with different alternatives it provided both the lighter style and something interesting. Comme des Garcons Concrete is an excellent example of this. Perfumer Nicolas Beaulieu used different sandalwood sources where it was hollowed out. Into that space he added a different rose source in rose oxide. You’ve smelled sandalwood and rose many times but deconstructed this way it felt different. If this style can become popular it has the opportunity of appealing to perfume lovers of all generations.

Note of the Year

Every year Pantone surveys the colors used by fashion designers and names a “Color of the Year”. Nobody does that for perfume but based on my sample the “Note of the Year” was tuberose. This follows on with the deconstruction trend as there were now tuberose sources for a perfumer to use which did remove those problematic indoles, or attenuate that overt floral nature with more green. It ended up being a renaissance for this ingredient as there were multiple takes on it released. They covered ground as divergent as the green stemmy version of Naomi Goodsir Nuit de Bakelite to the coffee drenched interpretation of Atelier Cologne Café Tuberosa. I was constantly impressed at the number of excellent tuberose perfumes I tried.

Last year I genially grumped that my favorite independent perfumers let me down. This year was the opposite as Laurie Erickson, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Bruno Fazzolari, Shelley Waddington, Josh Meyer, Mandy Aftel, Vero Kern, Ineke Ruhland, Andy Tauer, and Tanja Bochnig reminded me how critical these very singular voices are.

Fanny Bal (l.) and Mackenzie Reilly

There were two new exciting voices I am looking forward to seeing what the future will bring. Perfumer Fanny Bal produced Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Sale Gosse and Mackenzie Reilly who composed A Lab on Fire California Snow. Both were stunning debuts which hopefully are harbingers of things to come. I know Mme Bal is working on a new Masque Milano which confirms her potential based on working for a brand which has one of the best track records of discovering young perfumers. It is already high on my list of most looking forward to in 2018.

At the halfway point of the year I was unimpressed by the offerings within the mainstream sector. The back half of 2017 was a different story. Thierry Mugler Aura and Chanel Gabrielle both provided new pillars for their brands. Gucci Bloom was another of the better tuberose interpretations. John Varvatos Artisan Pure was a Mexican hillside in summer. Tiffany & Co. re-invented the fragrance brand of the jeweler into 2017 relevance. Elizabeth & James Nirvana Amethyst continues that brand’s winning streak. While Tom Ford Noir Anthracite and Valentino Uomo Noir Absolu gave me flankers I liked much more than the originals.

I have enjoyed the diversity of releases over the year which makes my revelation, over the next two days, of my Best of the Year so much fun.

Tomorrow I name my Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, and Brand of the Year

The next day I reveal my Top 25 New Releases of 2017

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Hibiscus

Having grown up in South Florida I was not wishing for a White Christmas. I was happy with brightly colored flowers instead of snow. I recently saw a picture of a hibiscus wreath which reminded me how we took the traditions and gave them a tropical tweak. Hibiscus as an ingredient is not one of the most popular choices. It has a similar sweetness to jasmine which makes it a frequent partner to that flower. It also is most commonly encountered as hibiscus tea which has been mimicked, too. This month’s My Favorite Things looks at five perfumes which show off hibiscus at its best.

Hibiscus Holiday Wreath

Acca Kappa Hibiscus is as close as there is to a hibiscus soliflore. Released in 2004 it takes the sweet floral keynote and supports it with magnolia, citrus, and heliotrope. Amber comes along to warm things up at the end. This is a great casual scent which is when I use it.

Demeter Hibiscus Tea does what perfumer Mark Crames does so well; create a perfumed simulacrum of the name on the bottle. The hibiscus is carried to your nose on steamy clouds of green tea. It is simply beautiful.

As I mentioned hibiscus is used along with jasmine. My favorite version of this is Costume National Scent. Perfumer Laurent Bruyere uses equivalent amounts of jasmine and hibiscus in the heart. It is laid on top of sheer woods and amber. Scent is a luminous floral perfume. Interestingly, M. Bruyere will take the same ingredients and alter the concentrations to make a darker version called Scent Intense. The hibiscus is more secondary in that one but that is also one of my favorites.

The most unambiguously tropical version of hibiscus comes in Creed Virgin Island Water. Most focus on the pina colada quality of the lime, rum, and coconut. But what seals the drinks with umbrellas vibe is the floral accord of hibiscus and jasmine reminding you that it is the Virgin Islands you’re in.

The most artistic use of hibiscus comes from perfumer Olivia Giacobetti and her IUNX No. 4 L’Eau Azteque. The botanical musk of ambrette comes from hibiscus seeds. Mme Giacobetti combines ambrette and musk into a foundational sun-warmed skin accord over which she lays hibiscus and pear. This is a fantastic fruity floral which captures indolent days in the sun.

If you’re looking for a mental trip to the tropics as we head further into the colder temperature months give these five a try.

Disclosure: This review is based on botlles which I own.

Mark Behnke

The Scent of Christmas Past

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One of the things those of us who love perfume talk about are “scent memories”. The concept that a smell can connect with a memory and bring an entirely personal subtext to fragrance. One ingredient which does this for me is gardenia. My grandmother had fresh-cut gardenias floating in bowls of water spread throughout her gardenia bush-surrounded Florida pine house. I can’t smell a good gardenia without hearing her voice and seeing her face.

Then this summer, as part of a project I am working on, I was going through vintage formulas of different Guerlains. When I hit the late 1950’s version of Mitsouko Eau de Cologne I had something more than a memory wash over me. I was transported fifty years backward so strongly it felt like a virtual reality had settled over me. What I was remembering so vividly was getting ready to go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve sometime in the late 1960’s. It was so vital I stopped what I was doing and wrote it all out before it faded away. Even thought it was the middle of July I realized I had written my Christmas Day 2017 post.

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I stood at the doorway to my parent’s bedroom. In my hand was my first real tie. My excitement on attending Midnight Mass was making my fingers fumble the perfect Windsor knot. As I looked in my mother was seated at her dressing table. She had some candles lit while she peered into the halo of electric light around her mirror. For a moment I was watching her without her knowing. My mother was always one of the most assured people I knew. She made decisions without ambivalence. She also stood up and took responsibility for poor choices. As I had a few seconds to look at her I felt like she was thinking deeply about something. She was coming to a conclusion about something. Before the process completed she looked up.

All children will tell you the smile of a parent happy to see you is a joyous thing. On Christmas Eve that smile feels like a gift. As I received this present I held out my hand with the tie. The smile widened a bit and she said, “Let me finish here and I’ll help you.”

She was still in her pink terrycloth robe and I had caught her at the end of her preparation. All that was left was adding her perfume. My mother only wore two perfumes for as long as I’ve known her. Guerlain Shalimar and Guerlain Mitsouko. She owned the round “bull’s-eye” bottles; red for Shalimar and green for Mitsouko. They had crystal pointed stoppers which were picking up the candlelight behind them. As she reached for the one with the green circle she tipped it, so it would get some on the stopper. She pulled the stopper. On the end was a drop of liquid picking up facets of flame and filament. She drew it to the hollow of her neck where that drop spread onto her skin. She rubbed the stopper against both wrists then returned it to its resting place in the neck of the bottle. She closed her eyes while taking a breath. When they opened a smile accompanied it. She beckoned me over.

She sat me on a stool in front of her chair as we looked into her vanity mirror. She leaned forward as we drew the tie around my upturned collar. I was surrounded by the love of my mother and the scent of Mitsouko. My turn to close my eyes and breathe in.

My mother could have tied the tie for me but instead she carried me through it with her voice. I got it right on the first try. With a final smile at me in the mirror she sent me off to wait for her to finish getting dressed. While I was waiting I realized a bit of the Mitsouko from her wrist had made it onto the tie. It seemed perfect.

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That’s what came from my Mitsouko fever dream. I loved going to Midnight Mass with my family. The smell of the incense off the censers. The fanfare from the trumpets. The Latin words said in such a rhythm I knew what was being said without knowing the language. Underneath it all I would be sitting on my knees in the pew under my mother’s arm surrounded by Mitsouko most of all.

This is what makes me continue to love perfume.

Mark Behnke

‘Twas The Night Before Christmas: The Last Flacon

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My Christmas Eve tradition over the last eight years has been to put a perfumed point atop Clement Clarke Moore’s “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”. Two years ago, I was inspired by the recent Star Wars release to make a kind of quest out of it. This year I am again inspired by this most recent Star Wars entry and imagine a perfume to be the spark which lights the fire.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

Episode VIII

The Last Flacon

It is Christmas Eve in Poodlesville.

Colognoisseur has lost his mojo.

He has found his inspiration in scented things to be at an all-time low. He knows he is just one brilliant perfume away from finding the way back to his joy. As he looks to the skies with a silent plea he heads to bed….

Walking through the silent house I looked at the stockings, hung so neatly. As I turned off the bubble lights on the Christmas tree I smiled at the poodles curled up, breathing deeply. Mrs. C sleepily adjusted her kerchief. I had just removed my fedora wondering if there was something out there which would return my passion to me; when an incredible racket was heard outside.

I rushed to the picture window to see a silhouette pass across the full moon. I rubbed my eyes because it couldn’t be what I thought it was. All doubt disappeared as a hearty voice called to the reindeer pulling the sleigh. Scent Nick called out, “Now Shalimar! Now, Fracas! Now No. 19 and Chergui! On Rose 31! On Caravelle Epicee! On Mugler Cologne and Sel de Vetiver! Head for the roof!”

The Last Flacon

As I heard the hooves settle on the roof, I looked at the fireplace. Scent Nick whooshed into existence in front with a balsamic air about him. He was dressed as expected in a red coat and pants trimmed with white fur. The pack on his back seemingly was full of bottles as they tinkled against each other. His eyes sparkled like the finest jasmine. His dimples were as merry as lilacs in May. His cheeks were twin spots of Damascene rose. His nose a ripe raspberry. He looked at me with a smile surrounded by a beard as white as snow.

Hope was rising within my battered soul as he pulled the pipe from his mouth and let out a belly laugh which pulled from the tips of his toes to the top of his cap. He was saying “Ho, ho, ho!” but my ears were hearing “Eau, eau, eau!” As our eyes connected I could feel magic thickly swirling around us. He reached into his pack and pulled out a simple crystal flacon which hummed with potential. My eyes looked at it with hope.

Was this it? Was this The Last Flacon? The perfume to bring me back? He swiftly dashed the stopper off and poured it over my head. I was surrounded by hints of every perfume I’ve ever loved in a scented whirlwind of joy.

We hadn’t said a thing and before I could break the silence he was gone up the chimney. With a whistle the reindeer launched into the air. I watched them fly away. Then before he disappeared completely he exclaimed, “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” With a heart filled with joy I laid down next to Mrs. C happier than I had been in a long time.

First, there is nothing about the malaise in this story that is true. My daily writing for Colognoisseur continues to be one of the great joys of my life. My interactions with readers fill my heart on a near daily basis. As I finish my fourth year I am more grateful than I can ever express.

As always to everyone I wish all of you the most magical of Holiday seasons. If you’re finding yourself in need of a little lift keep an ear peeled for Scent Nick he might have a Last Flacon for you, too.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review John Varvatos Artisan Pure- Mexican Hillsides

When I was beginning to start thinking about writing perfume reviews I was deep in my “niche is best” phase. I would happily debate with those who would insist there was good perfume at the mall with a very pithy “Nuh-uh!” There would be a few which would shake my narrow world view. One of those was 2004’s John Varvatos. If there is a reason I make sure I survey the department store offerings the John Varvatos line is one of them.

John Varvatos

John Varvatos has been a successful men’s fashionwear designer since the mid 1980’s creating some of the most iconic styles for both Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein. He would begin his independent career with his own label in 2000. One of the things I like about Mr. Varvatos is we share a similar rock and roll musical taste. He used to do a radio show on SiriusXM where he would play some of his favorite songs. Plus, he is the current tenant of the storefront which was CBGB in NYC. Unlike many who put their name on the bottle it is clear to me that his is not a licensing deal but an active creative partnership.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux

That partnership has been with perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux. I think Sr. Flores-Roux also gets the Varvatos rock and roll aesthetic. He has translated it successfully over fifteen releases into what I would consider the best department store brand from top to bottom. Not only do they share passion, but Sr. Flores-Roux brings his artistic perspective even to the most modest briefs he receives. This is another reason the John Varvatos collection stands out among the other bottles on the counter. Artisan Pure is the most recent release.

Artisan Pure is the fourth member of the Artisan sub-collection. It was inspired by hillsides of Xalapa in Sr. Flores-Roux’s birthplace of Mexico. 2017 has been a year of Sr. Flores-Roux stepping forward with many looks at Mexico. Artisan Pure captures those hillsides when the orchards and coffee fields are in full bloom.

Artisan Pure opens with a citrus accord that rings with the clarity of pinging a finger off a crystal wineglass. Lemon, bergamot, and clementine form a juicy pulpy chord. Petitgrain provides the focus that turns it into a crystalline citrus accord. It also makes this one of the longer lasting citrus accords because of that. The green of the hillsides is captured by herbal notes of marjoram and thyme. Ginger provides a zingy intermezzo to a heart of orris root. This is the kind of non-powdery iris I find wonderful when paired with citrus. This is where Sr. Flores-Roux understands a little bit of an expensive ingredient helps lift the overall above the ordinary. The base accord is woods and amber over some musks.

Artisan Pure has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Artisan Pure is yet another example of why John Varvatos is the best of the department store. There are so many brands which phone it in at this point. That Mr. Varvatos and Sr. Flores-Roux continue to produce this kind of quality is remarkable.  

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

Mark Behnke