New Perfume Review Couteau de Poche Fumabat- Modern Moss

One of the things which makes each new independent perfumer interesting is how they will approach a fragrance which will have their name on it. When it is a modern artist who is branching out I look to their art and see if it somehow appears in their perfume. Brooklyn artist Parid Cefa created Couteau de Poche Fumabat in a way that hews true to his contemporary aesthetic by using a vintage ingredient.

When I read about this perfume prior to ordering a sample the three notes listed in the top of green tea, mint, and galbanum almost made me not add it to my order. Mint is a tricky ingredient for trained perfumers to get right. I was skeptical a neophyte would use mint absolute appropriately. It turns out the entire note list was something which didn’t necessarily appear. Mr. Cefa turned Fumabat into a very green perfume with moss as its keynote.

One of the things which I like about moss when it is given a chance to be out front is it has a sharp quality. This is where Mr. Cefa begins as the moss interacts with galbanum. This forms an accord befitting a brand which translates to “pocket knife”. I detected no tea or mint just the galbanum and moss. Pine comes along to add a different shade of green before carnation adds a slightly powdery veneer. There is a point about an hour in where this smells like a luxurious moss-scented hand-milled soap. It eventually transitions into a base where vetiver provides a fuller green tinged with subtle smoky accents. Leather and patchouli provide the foundation from which all of this sits on top of.

Fumabat has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is a perfume for those who enjoy their scents green. It also carries a vintage style to it because of the amount of oak moss which is present. It was such an important ingredient of those bygone fragrances that experiencing it in this concentration can’t help but make it feel older. By using the moss as the axis of Fumabat Mr. Cefa does make something modern out of something old.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Tom Ford Private Blend Vanille Fatale- Sans Tobacco

In 2007 when the first dozen Tom Ford Private blend perfumes arrived they were a sensation. Tom Ford working with Karyn Khoury would create something unique within the niche perfume sector. So many of those originals were such groundbreaking constructs it was maybe too much to expect the Private Blend collection to keep up that kind of creativity over the long run. As we begin 2018 and a second decade of Private Blends it is fair to say the collection has become an elder statesman of the luxury fragrance sector. You might notice I left off niche because as the brand has matured it has also become less adventurous. Particularly over the past year or so there has been an emphasis on using top notch ingredients within familiar constructs. The latest release, Vanille Fatale, is a good example.

As the collection becomes safer the PR copy becomes ever more impenetrable. Here is a bit from the press materials for Vanille Fatale:

“Vanille Fatale is a force of nature personified. A beguiling tempest that takes over like a rush of blood to the head. The impossible becomes real, too good to be true becomes true. Her – or his – unrelenting hold is fixed, refined yet raw, polished yet primal.”

All of that for a fragrance which is a nicely formed vanilla perfume using a great source of the titular note.

Yann Vasnier

Perfumer Yann Vasnier uses saffron as an exotic opener which might give you the idea something more unique is coming. It isn’t. What is coming is one of the Givaudan proprietary Orpur ingredients. The Orpur version of Madagascar vanilla is as good as raw materials get. It has power and nuance. The green nature of the orchid runs through the sweetness like stringy veins. M. Vasnier chooses olibanum and myrrh to provide resinous contrast and depth. It all rests on a soft suede accord in the base. There are some floral notes and coffee listed in the ingredient list but over a couple days of wearing this none of those came through. This is primarily saffron-vanilla-incense-leather.

Vanille Fatale has 16-18 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

It is hard to not try a new Tom Ford Private Blend containing vanilla and not be reminded of one of those early trendsetters in the debut collection; Tobacco Vanille. I’ve heard many tell me the tobacco is too much in that one. For those, Vanille Fatale is Tobacco Vanille avec tobacco. This is a very luxurious high-quality vanilla perfume for which I think vanilla lovers will die for because of the Orpur vanilla. I fall in between wanting there to be some of the adventurousness of the early Private Blends but accepting an elder statesman needs to show some decorum. Vanille Fatale is a decorous vanilla perfume.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Christian Dior Dior-Dior- Roudnitska Overture

Whenever I go to see a musical on the stage one of my favorite moments is the overture. Just prior to the curtain rising on Act 1 Scene 1 the orchestra lays down a preview of the musical themes which will appear during the musical to come. I’ve always found it a fascinating kind of audio foreshadowing. After I’ve seen the production it can be a short reminder of the event.

I wouldn’t say it is common in perfume for something to be an overture. As I finally acquired enough of 1976’s Christian Dior Dior-Dior it was hard not to think of it as a retrospective overture of perfumer Edmond Roudnitska’s portfolio at Dior.

Edmond Roudnitska

By 1976, M. Roudnitska had created five previous Dior releases. The Dior style was defined in those singular perfumes many of them masterpieces of the perfumed art. By this point in his career he was fully embracing simple constructions. He was a precise artist using only the least amount of ingredients to achieve his desired effect. The apex of this style might have been the two releases which preceded Dior-Dior; Diorella and Eau Sauvage. It is their influence which is most noticeable in Dior-Dior.

The early part of the overture carries the lemon and hedione aspects of Eau Sauvage. They provide the same expansiveness so recognizable from that previous perfume. Then the strings provide the lilt of melon from Diorella. In Diorella the melon is on the verge of being overripe. In Dior-Dior it comes from the day before that, as it is lighter in degree. The lily of the valley from Diorissimo provides a strong green and floral aspect. This is all finished off with some oakmoss and woods to make it chypre-like.

Dior-Dior has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Something which carries many of the best parts of the Roudnitska Dior partnership should have been a big seller. It didn’t last long and was sent to the Dead Letter Office surprisingly quickly. Granted M. Roudnitska had been making Dior perfumes since 1948 and perhaps the time for his style has passed. That seems unlikely based on the continued popularity of those previous Dior perfumes. Which is where I return to my overture analogy. Dior-Dior is like an appetizer when you can have the entrée of Eau Sauvage, Diorella, or Diorissimo. I understand that after having the opportunity to experience this now. After wearing Dior-Dior I just wanted to hear the full versions because I know they are there. I wonder if Dior-Dior was an actual overture from which the three perfumes it reminds me of followed whether it would have had greater success. When the overture comes at the end of the musical I think it is easy to understand why it is in the Dead Letter Office.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Marlou D’Ambiguite- Acquired Tastes

In any sensorial experience there are parts of it which are “acquired tastes”. What that phrase generally identifies is something that is going to challenge most who participate in said sensorial experience. Perfume is no different and if there are two ingredients which are widely accepted as acquired tastes it would be cumin and castoreum. Cumin when used as a keynote smells like unwashed armpit. Castoreum is the secretions from the anal glands of a beaver. If you tell most people a perfume is going to start with armpits and anal glands I suspect, they will politely decline. Whenever I have shared the fragrances in my collection which feature these I have watched people recoil from the strip. I love them. These are some of my favorite perfumes in my collection there is a vitality to them which burrows deep inside as I surround myself with the scent of life.

Cumin Seeds

Marlou is a small artisanal brand based in Grasse, France. The perfumer has not been identified but they have released two perfumes in the last year or so. Last spring L’Animal Sauvage felt like it was going to offer me what I craved. When I received my sample, there was some impressive animalic aspects but it felt like it was just a more concentrated version of other musky perfumes. I felt like if the Marlou team let it all hang out they would have something that would make some beautiful music. That perfume is D’Ambiguite.

Picture from [Emt]snopes

D’Ambiguite is cumin and castoreum in full throated harmony laying down a bass line. As you might already have guessed a well-blended version of just those two notes would have pleased me. Except D’Ambiguite layers on another challenging ingredient, costus. We’ve had a couple corpse flower bloom nearby and we visited. I was struck that it is an overwhelming waxy and fatty smell. Costus is like that but subtler. By subtler I mean ball peen hammer versus sledgehammer. As this fatty meat encased in wax intersperses itself between the armpit and the anal glands I was in my glory.

D’Ambiguite has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

When I say this is an acquired taste I really mean it. If you have any interest, please make sure you get a sample and try it first. You’re as likely to think it smells like a dirty diaper pail as something gorgeously animalic. It was exactly what I wanted to spend a couple of weekend days in the New Year with.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Rundholz Parfums Feb. 14, 1912- The Root of the Matter

There are particular brands that state their reason for being early on. To their credit Rundholz Parfums was one. A hip fashion design house owned and creatively directed by brother and sister Carsten and Lenka Rundholz. From a distinctly stated aesthetic attached to a contemporary clothing designer has been a successful niche perfume formula. When I received my first samples a couple years ago there was a story about how the designers loved incense and it would be the keynote to their perfumes. And through the early release it was. The incense they chose as an ingredient was great. But the perfumes were derivative of so many other incense-centric it was disappointing. They weren’t trying to be as different in fragrance as they were with fashion. As a result, I’ve not kept a close eye on the brand recently. When I was looking to order some samples, I noticed a new release Feb. 14, 1912 which had no incense listed in the note list. That was enough to make me wonder if this was what I was looking for from Rundholz.

Carsten (l.) and Lenka Rundholz

I don’t know the reason for the perfumes having the dates they do. So, I have no idea if there is a deeper connection to an early 20th century Valentine’s Day than just a date. What I did find when trying this perfume was the opposite of the incense constructs which came before. The perfumer Arturetto Landi composed something focused around two roots and leather. Where the incense fragrances had an austerity to them Feb. 14 is full of earthy life which is what makes it stand apart.

Arturetto Landi

The first root is fennel which is the focal point of the top accord. Fennel has a strong licorice character and Sig. Landi amplifies it by using licorice and star anise. When I say amplify it he takes the subtle licorice scent you get from cutting fennel in half and blows it sky high. What is quite attractive is the green vegetal quality provides a supporting contrast which reminds you this is a root. From out of that the second root, orris, arises. The best orris eschews the powder in favor of the rhizomal earthiness. Sig. Landi by setting the stage with the fennel accord makes this easy to accomplish. As the orris pushes back against the fennel accord there is a delightful balance which is achieved. Sig. Landi uses carrot seeds as a soft source of earthy sweetness to lead into the leather accord at the base. This is a refined leather accord which wraps the roots in an animalic embrace.

Feb. 14, 1912 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Feb. 14 was more like what I was expecting from a design house like Rundholz. The use of the fennel is going to be polarizing especially at the concentrated licorice level it achieves. This is the perfume of someone who wears Rundholz clothing, not the safe incense ones of before. When you get down to the root of the matter I hope Rundholz Parfums decides to continue further in this direction.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: A Year with Jackson


Mrs. C and I have had standard poodles in the house for nearly twenty years now. All of them have been adopted from rescue agencies. I have loved every one of them to the fullest extent of that emotion. All our previous family members came to us with physical deformities, mostly. There might be some lingering effects of abuse but that was small. A year ago, we picked up our latest rescue, Jackson, and he was full of emotional deformities. Over the past year it has been one of my favorite times with any of our poodles watching him slowly realize he had a family who loved him.

It wasn’t that way at the start. We picked him up on January 2, Gotcha Day. We had been out to visit him the week before to see whether he would be a fit with our other poodle, Henry. Our vet came along to let us know what other physical issues we might face. Jackson’s foster mother warned us he was not fond of men. I was told to leave my hat at home along with any expectations he would warm to me. On that first visit he and Henry played together. Mrs. C and our vet got him to come to them. What I received was a look that would be familiar for the next few weeks; eyes rimmed with white, cut to the side, while panting. To even lay a hand on him I had to lay on the ground while our vet gently moved him towards me. On the way home we decided Jackson would come join us at Poodlesville.

Jackson on the ride home on Gotcha Day

When we picked him up a week later the only one he trusted enough to get in the car with was Mrs. C and only in the backseat. You can see what that looked like above. For the first night in his new home Jackson wanted nothing to do with me. I was always on his radar and whenever I got close enough he moved away. It took remembering that he did relax into my hand once I got him close to me on our previous visit to believe it would eventually work out.. I just had to let him decide when that was going to be.

Jackson and Henry

It didn’t take long, a week or two, for the fear to be breached. When I wake up in the morning I grab my iPad and read the news while sitting against the headboard. Our dogs are welcome in our bed, but Jackson had not availed himself of it. Which was why I was surprised to feel him jump up on the bed. As I looked up over my iPad he began something which gets repeated most mornings. He commando crawled up to my crossed legs and laid his head down in my lap. On this first morning I froze. I wasn’t sure what to do. I kept reading and slowly laid a hand on his head, scratching the ear closest to me. Then amazingly he sighed and fell into a deep sleep as I felt the dead weight of his head settle onto my legs. Mrs. C woke up soon after and he jerked his head up jumped off the bed and looked back at her like, “You didn’t see that.” Later that same morning there was still the same keeping his distance from me which had become familiar.

Jackson and I on Gotcha Day + 1 year

From that beginning day-by-day, step-by-step, scratch-by-scratch Jackson and I have built up a typical relationship I have had with my poodles. We now play, tugging on toys, and fetch. He will bark at me when he wants to play. My heart swelled the first time that happened. Deep inside there are still scars and sometimes if I let out a whoop at something, I see the white-rimmed eyes of nervousness. What is different is he shakes it off and returns to me easily.

I have loved all our rescue poodles but the transformation of Jackson over this past year feels like a blessing. It offered healing to both of us. It was a scar for me that I had papered over for far too long. A year with Jackson has left both of us in a better emotional place.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Bvlgari Black- Still Enough Edge

As the concept of perfumes which didn’t necessarily have to smell pretty took hold simultaneously with the rise of niche perfumery there arose several trendsetting fragrances. One of the boldest was a mainstream release for Bvlgari called simply Black.

When I came upon this sometime around its release in 1998 I remember the salesperson at the department store warning me, “It’s edgy!” Thinking to myself, “How edgy can it be?” The answer was quite a bit. Perfumer Annick Menardo created a fragrance reveling in the smell of rubber. It would be like going to S&M night at the local leather bar. Edgy, indeed.

Annick Menardo

Mme Menardo fashions a powdery rubber accord around black tea, musk, and sandalwood. In an odd juxtaposition jasmine is used as contrast. Leather intersperses itself and this is where it feels like a bar as smoke, rubber, leather, and a hint of floral combine for that milieu. For the first few minutes of wearing Black it is all of this. Then before it can get truly subversive Mme Menardo reels it all back into familiarity with the olfactory version of a safe word, vanilla. Lots and lots of vanilla. It doesn’t not work as the leather and rubber have sweet facets amplified by the vanilla. But it does turn something challenging into something vanilla.

Black has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

There has always been a part of me that was surprised at how successful Black has been. I would hazard a guess that it is because it allows perfume lovers a chance to walk on the wild side for a short period before going full comfort mode. I still think that opening 30-45 minutes is as good as perfume got back in 1998. Especially mainstream perfume. You can find the distinctive hockey puck shaped bottle for $20-25. Nowadays Black has become mainstream as all that was edgy back in 1998 is now almost quaint. It doesn’t mean its any less of a Discount Diamond it just means there is still enough edge remaining to make it memorable.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Frassai Blondine and Verano Porteno (Part 2)- Fairytale and Tango

Yesterday I introduced Natalia Outeda the creative director-owner behind the jewelry and fragrance brand Frassai. I also reviewed Tian Di. Today I am going to cover the remaining two releases from the debut collection Blondine and Verano Porteno.

Yann Vasnier

For Blondine Sra. Outeda collaborated with perfumer Yann Vasnier. The name of the fragrance refers to the heroine of a 1920’s French fairytale. I’m not familiar with the story but the musky floral gourmand Sra. Outeda and M. Vasnier have created reminds me more of Hansel and Gretel. As mouth-watering food elements draw you closer.

M. Vasnier opens with a walk among the flowers and trees with ashok flower and tiger lily giving spicy floral touches while pear leaves provide some green with hints of fruit. It isn’t a forest per se, but it is an outdoors floral accord. Then from a distance caramel and cocoa entice you towards a house that exudes a fabulous gourmand accord. M. Vasnier finds a nice balance in something that could have been overwhelming. This is a recurrent theme in the entire Frassai debut collection on not going as far as the ingredients will let you. Instead Sra. Outeda goes for an opaquer aesthetic. It works to the advantage of the gourmand heart in Blondine. The musks come forward and they provide an animalic contrast which works.

Blondine has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux

If there was one I was looking forward to from the press materials it was Verano Porteno by perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux. Sr. Flores-Roux is one of my favorite perfumers because of his passion. The idea of having him assay a summer evening in Buenos Aires was always going to be special. The keynote is a gorgeous Imperial Jasmine around which the other notes dance with gusto.

Sr. Flores-Roux again displays his deft touch with citrus as he blends bergamot, clementine, and cedrat. The clementine carries the focal point but the tart nature of the other two keep it from being as ebullient as it could, which I liked. A very green intermezzo of mate tea and cardamom transition from the citrus to the jasmine. This is an impressive jasmine kept light but not neutered as the indoles purr underneath. The base is the botanical musk of ambrette and woody vetiver.

Verano Porteno has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Natalia Outeda

I must compliment Sra. Outeda on the aesthetic she imposed upon her three perfumers. It produces a coherent collection of familiar ingredients used in a lighter way than expected. I think all three are worth sampling but I know it will be my sample of Verano Porteno which will be empty first.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Frassai Introduction and Tian Di (Part 1)- A Jeweler’s Eye


It is common for fashion designers to branch out into perfume. It happens so frequently it seems lacking if a big fashion house doesn’t have a perfume or two with their name on it. Jewelry designers are less likely to add fragrance to their portfolio. Yet many of the lines which have jewelers as their creative director also have an innate understanding of providing settings for all their ingredients to sparkle within.

Natalia Outeda

When I was contacted by Natalia Outeda the founder and creative director of Frassai I was happy to hear she was a jewelry designer as well as a perfume designer. Based in Buenos Aires and New York Sra. Outeda she also had a background in fine fragrance which made this a real fusion of her experience. She chose three of the best perfumers in the business; Olivier Gilltoin, Yann Vasnier, and Rodrigo Flores-Roux to compose her debut collection of three perfumes Tian Di, Blondine, and Verano Porteno. I liked all three enough to want to write about them over the next two days. I’ll start with Tian Di and finish tomorrow with the other two.

Olivier Gillotin

Tian Di was a collaboration between Sra Outeda and M, Gillotin meant to evoke a contemporary Oriental. To stretch the jewelry analogy, it was like re-setting a vintage piece in a modern way. M. Gillotin would produce an Oriental with less heaviness and more kinetic energy than the form usually provides.

That starts with a fascinating accord around ginger and peach. Both are so frequently used it is difficult to find life in the pairing, yet M. Gillotin does. It happens because the ginger can act as a wave upon which the peach floats on top of. When it crashes what arises from the spray is a compelling heart accord of orris and incense. Here M. Gillotin uses both ingredients as the central gemstones of different “colors”. The orris has a deep amethyst hue while the incense is onyx. It shades things dark but more dusky than full night. Sandalwood provides the platinum setting for these jewels to nestle in. When all put together it is recognizably Oriental but given a fresh new setting.

Tian Di has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

It might just be confirmation bias, but Tian Di does feel like the jeweler’s eye of Sra. Outeda was asking for M. Gillotin to place each ingredient just so. In Tian Di it results in a jewel of a perfume.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Frassai

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Costume National Homme- Cutting-Edge Comfort?

There have been many designers who have entered the niche perfumery category. They all looked to be the next Comme des Garcons. I can safely say that nobody has come close to that record of success. In the early 2000’s there was an interesting contender which had some similarities; Costume National.

Costume National was also a fashion line appealing to a young trendsetting clientele. The founder Ennio Capasa carried that slim silhouette from working in Japan at Yohji Yamamoto fusing it with Milan details. In 1986 it was a sensation which put it on the map. They would become known for a cutting-edge aesthetic which they wanted to spread out into accessories. Starting after the turn of the new century Sig. Capasa added fragrance to the brand portfolio. The very first release in 2002, Scent, was a brilliant encapsulation of the brand. Working with perfumer Laurent Bruyere they would follow that initial triumph with a collection of Scent with five flankers over the next three years. Each was interesting with Scent Intense being the best of the bunch. Just when it seemed Costume National was ready to accelerate they pumped the brakes. Releasing two new perfumes over the next four years. It is that 2009 release Costume National Homme which is my choice for this month’s Under the Radar.

Dominique Ropion

For this release Sig. Capasa changed perfumers from M. Bruyere who had done all the Scents to Dominique Ropion for Homme. I would also venture that Sig. Capasa had tired of being risky because while there are some hints of the aesthetic which runs throughout the Scent Collection it is greatly attenuated. If this column was on creativity it would be one of the Scents which was its topic. Instead it is about one of my favorite cold weather comfort perfumes.

M. Ropion has most of his recognizable signatures on display in Homme. Sandalwood, spices and resins do what you come to expect in one of his perfumes. The twist here is there is an odd synthetic oily accord which oozes through the familiar. That’s what ends up making it Costume National.

A brief flare of citrus via grapefruit and bergamot open things up then cardamom combines with cinnamon to provide a typical spicy top accord. It is here the oily accord appears. The best description I have seen of it was from a Basenotes reviewer “rogalal” who thinks it smells like fake movie theatre butter. I’m not fully in agreement but I don’t have a better shorthand for describing the accord. Once you get underneath that the labdanum, cloves and thyme add a spicy resinous accord which is very comforting. Patchouli and sandalwood are the base accord.

Homme has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Homme is much more comforting than a perfume from Costume National ought to be, except for the oily accord in the middle, it never challenges. Nevertheless, this has been a winter staple ever since I bought a bottle in 2009. If you’re looking for a new brand to explore or need a new cold weather comfort scent, try Costume National Homme.

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

Mark Behnke