New Perfume Review Stora Skuggan Moonmilk- Sandalwood Spelunking

One of my most memorable experiences was going spelunking. When I was in graduate school there was a nearby cave system and the school organized regular trips with appropriate professors to turn the adventure into a teachable experience. As we got deeper and deeper into the mountain there were so many sensorial experiences. For the first time I learned what dark was when we stood in one of the open galleries and turned off our headlamps. It seemed like it carries weight and motion. A black light showed us the veins of minerals running through what seemed monolithic stone. The final experience was walking into a wide-open field of limestone stalactites. The elongated hazards of every movie which ends up in a cave were all slowly dripping water into a pool underneath. Each drop was saturated with the limestone making it look like a pond of milk. When we emerged hours later back into the light the intensity of it all remained. Stora Skuggan Moonmilk is inspired by those milky stalactites and provides its own intense experience.

With its first two releases the brand was alternatively amateurish and intriguing; Silphium being the latter. With Moonmilk as the third data point I was wondering which face I would see. It turns out it is sort of in between as the early going feels amateurish before perfumer Tomas Hempel uses a firmer creative hand to outline the contours of his cavern.

Tomas Hempel

The opening of Moonmilk is a grating lime and black tea accord which set my teeth on edge. It is made slightly worse as black pepper adds even more irritating screechiness. It is like having to squeeze into a very narrow crack scraping your skin along the wall. Once you get past it what is left is inspirational. This cave is an overdose of sandalwood. Mr. Hempel uses this as the basis to construct the rest of the fragrance upon. As I look towards the entrance a last breeze of fresh air comes in the presence of cardamom. Then in what really makes Moonmilk stand out Mr. Hempel uses lily-of-the-valley as the predominant contrast to the creamy wood. All my previous annoyance is soothed by this combination. As we go deeper, leather provides the animalic sense of darkness. Because of the high concentration of sandalwood it never rises to equality it provides the same kind of detail as the lily-of-the-valley.

Moonmilk has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Moonmilk is a 90% fabulous sandalwood perfume if there was anyway I could spelunk my way past the opening I would do it every time. Others may not find it as off-putting as I did. What I am urging is to make sure you work your way into this sandalwood cave there is a lot to see once you’re inside.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Chanel Coco Mademoiselle Intense- A Warm Hug from Coco

Over the last two years it has been an enjoyable experience watching Olivier Polge take over as in-house perfumer from his father Jacques at Chanel. In this early part of his tenure he has stamped his own signature upon the well-known Chanel aesthetic. Over the first releases it has seemed as if he has an eye on a younger generation of perfume consumers who like things lighter and more transparent. When I received the press release for Coco Mademoiselle Intense I realized it was going to be something entirely different.

I could make an argument that Coco Mademoiselle is the best designer perfume of the 21st century. It sits in a place where it exemplifies everything I think is important about the Chanel fragrance empire. To compose an intense version Olivier Polge was going to invite direct comparison to his father. I also wondered how intense this would be. It turns out that in both cases Coco Mademoiselle Intense succeeds better than I might have imagined.

Olivier Polge

One of the things which concerned me prior to smelling the perfume was the press release which promised an overdose of patchouli. If there is anything which makes Coco Mademoiselle soar it is the precise balance of orange, rose and patchouli which make it so good. Telling me one part of that is about to become unbalanced was worrisome. What M. Polge does is to only nod to the other two Mademoiselle ingredients while also amplifying a couple supporting notes from the original.

Coco Mademoiselle Intense opens with a whisper of orange and rose before the patchouli rises to the forefront very quickly. The first time I wore this the rapidity with what made the original special to me was dispensed with irritated me a little bit. It felt pushy but that is probably just me. This is a fabulously sophisticated patchouli which helps ameliorate my bruised desires. Tonka comes next providing its toasty nutty warmth. This is where I bought into Coco Mademoiselle Intense as this turned into a warm comfort scent. This only deepened as vanilla provided more warmth. With the concentration of patchouli the vanilla never turns treacly; it is in balance.

Coco Mademoiselle Intense has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

M. Polge also provides a precise balance of three ingredients like his father did with the original. His choice was to do it with traditional base notes. It is what makes this intense. Most time intense in the name of a perfume means blaringly so. Instead, Coco Mademoiselle Intense is a warm hug from Chanel.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Floraiku My Shadow On The Wall- Every Syllable Counts

The more compact the art form the greater importance each component takes on. The poetry known as haiku is a good example. A Japanese style of poetry with a precise structure; three lines of five syllables, seven syllables and five syllables. While the structure can be restrictive, the writer is released from rhyming or meter conventions allowing for freer choice of subject matter. What it does emphasize is in a haiku every syllable counts. Perfumers who work in a minimal style of just a few ingredients often have their fragrances described as fragrant haiku. Like the written kind these kinds of perfumes also place a premium upon each ingredient.

John and Clara Molloy

The husband and wife team, John and Clara Molloy, behind Memo Paris embraced this kind of perfumery with a collection released exclusively to Harrods last year called Floraiku. It just arrived in the US at Saks. The Molloys worked with their longtime collaborator on Memo, perfumer Alienor Massenet as well as perfumer Sophie Labbe on the original eleven debut releases. I was very excited to try the collection, but I would find like a haiku almost all of them had a syllable or two out of place. I thought the grapefruit, mate, and vetiver trio of Between Two Trees was going to be very appealing, but it started sour and never recovered. Sound of a Richochet was a treacly vanilla syrup. I See the Clouds Go By just overwhelmed with one syllable of cassis along with all the unfortunate character that ingredient provides when left hanging out all alone. If there was a consistent set of feedback throughout ten of the eleven Floraiku releases it was one ingredient took over, washing away any chance at development or character. There was one that made wading through the collection worthwhile; My Shadow On The Wall. Mme Massenet was the perfumer for this one. In this case she more precisely balanced her three ingredients. It allowed for a haiku-like feeling which I found lacking elsewhere in this collection.

Alienor Massenet

The first line of My Shadow On The Wall is five syllables of violet leaf. Here the watery and grassy nature is put forward. There is also a shimmery metallic nature like silver threads running through the green. Mimosa provides the seven-syllable second line starting with its fresh floral nature and the slightly powdery feel filling that piece. This is an ideal partner to the violet leaf as it feels like a natural progression from that start. The final line is rich sandalwood, creamy and deep. It takes what has been lighter and allows the two first lines to cast a shadow upon it.

My Shadow On The Wall has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

If this line holds any interest I would encourage you to give all of them a try because the haiku nature of them might be more appealing to a different nose. I was happy to find one of them worth spending some time with where every syllable counted.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Bottega Veneta Knot Eau Absolue- Shoulder Season Slipknot

Designer brands which stay true to their roots are preferable to the ones where the connection gets lost completely. Tomas Maier the Creative Director of Bottega Veneta wants to have a fragrance collection which is as luxurious as the leather goods they are known for. Since they started releasing perfume in 2011 I would say the overall collection has lived up to that. Over the last few years there have been two of my favorite designer releases of their respective year; 2017’s Eau de Velours and 2014’s Knot. The latter embraced the idea of the leather weaves characteristic of the Bottega Veneta purse of the same name. Now the second flanker to Knot has arrived; Knot Eau Absolue.

Tomas Maier

Perfumer Daniela Andrier, who did the original, has returned for Knot Eau Absolue. This is a deeper style of luxury as Mme Andrier goes for luxury with only a few ingredients each of which provide a twist in this olfactive knot.

Daniela Andrier

The fragrant signature of Knot is the combination of lavender and neroli. In the previous releases they were freshened up with partners who made them lighter in style. For Knot Eau Absolue Mme Andrier decides to give them the top accord all to themselves. She also decides to use them in higher concentrations. I have always liked this floral combination and the early going here confirms why I do. The lavender is more floral than herbal while the neroli is more white flower with the green quality also in the back ground. What comes through are two florals singing lead while the herbal and green nature of each ingredient provide backing vocals. After some time, a real diva, jasmine, arrives and the floral amplitude rises. Knot Eau Absolue rests upon this trio of floral ingredients entwining in a knot of beauty. The deep leather of the purse this is named after is provided by myrrh. Mme Andrier allows it to slowly build until a noticeable warmth is simmering underneath the flowers.

Knot Eau Absolue has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

I really like Knot Eau Absolue especially now with chilly mornings and warm afternoons. It seems a delightful shoulder season choice. The original will be better as things get warmer but in the months before and after those days Knot Eau Absolue will be more enjoyable.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Vilhelm Parfumerie Poets of Berlin- Fruity Woods

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My least appreciated style of perfume is the fruity floral. If you ask me to only have one half of that I would have said give me the floral. It isn’t that there aren’t fruity perfumes which retain interest, but it sometimes becomes difficult for a creative team to keep it from smelling like candy. Which is a shame because fruity notes offer some of the same promise that their floral partners do. The latest Vilhelm Parfumerie release, Poets of Berlin, shows how that is done.

Creative director of Vilhelm Parfumerie, Jan Ahlgren, has done a fantastic job of using musicians as inspiration but I must confess this time the connection has passed me by. In the press copy it says Poets of Berlin is inspired by David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy of albums. I will leave it to better minds than mine to make the connection between a fruity woody perfume and Bowie’s Berlin portfolio. Once again M. Ahlgren calls on his collaborator on the entire collection to date, Jerome Epinette, to find a way to add something to fruity fragrance.

Jerome Epinette (l.) and Jan Ahlgren

The choice that is made is to take a combination of sweet and tart fruit ingredients and let them open with a crystalline sweetness before slowly adding in woody ingredients from light to heavy to provide unexpected depth to the fruit.

The two fruits M. Epinette uses are lemon and blueberry. When they first hit my skin, they project predominantly as sugary sweet reminding me a bit of those sugar-coated jelly candies. Then the M. Epinette uses the green tinged woodiness of bamboo to turn my attention to the tart underneath the sugar. That green thread is picked up and amplified with vetiver which also notches the woodiness up a level, too. This is where the sweetness of the fruit returns to the foreground pushing back against the woods. Sandalwood and vanilla comprise the base accord creating depth to both the sweet and the woods.

Poets of Berlin has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Poets of Berlin is an excellent spring fragrance. I wore it on an unexpected warm day and it really sang on my skin. It is surprising that I am happier wearing fruity rather than floral on a warm day, but Poets of Berlin has made me crave fruity woods.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Vilhelm Parfumerie.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Atelier Cologne Iris Rebelle- Ralf’s Rebellion

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It has been almost exactly eight years since I first met Sylvie Ganter-Cervasel in New York City. She was showing me her new brand Atelier Cologne. The first question out of my mouth was, “does it last?” She then explained the concept behind the bottle was to create a new version called “cologne absolue”. On that day, and ever since, Atelier Cologne has been at the forefront of the 21st century re-interpretation of cologne. One of those first releases showed the possibilities within the concept, Orange Sanguine. That simple fragrance took the traditional citrus cologne adding depth and nuance along with longevity and projection. It is the perfume I send many to seek when I want to display why a niche perfume might be worth a little more. Mme Ganter-Cervasel has continued to collaborate with the perfume behind Orange Sanguine, Ralf Schwieger; their latest is called Iris Rebelle.

Sylvie Ganter-Cervasel

The current fragrance customer is in flux with a seeming desire for a lighter style of fragrance. For a brand there must come adaptations with that. I have been wondering whether Atelier Cologne must also bend towards this trend. One release is not a direction but Iris Rebelle is the most transparent Atelier Cologne released to date. Having Hr. Schwieger on hand to translate the original concept into something more on trend for the present day makes sense. What has been produced is a floating iris-colored veil on a breeze.

Ralf Schwieger

Hr. Schwieger cleverly uses a very rooty iris as his keynote. This is the iris which I prefer over the more traditional powdery style. By accentuating the earthiness, it also allows for it to not become an overbearing puffball. In the early going orange blossom combines with the iris to form an incredibly grounded accord. There is a slightly sweet carrot-like nature which comes forward which is very pleasing. Hr. Schwieger then uses a judicious amount of lavender to add a hint of floral quality so that you are reminded that iris is more than a root. Rose also provides a slightly more intense floral underpinning, too. This settles onto a base accord of guaiac wood continuing to keep the mood light along with some white musks and a bit of patchouli.

Iris Rebelle has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

It will be interesting to see how Iris Rebelle is received by long-time admirers of the brand. It is so much more transparent than anything else in the collection it stands out. As one of those I feel like it upholds that original ethos laid out eight years ago from a different perspective. I like it. What is still to find is does Iris Rebelle create new consumers. David Bowie says in “Rebel Rebel”, “You love bands when they're playing hard”. What happens when they play a little softer?

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: My Hero Looks Like Me

I love being a geek in this present time. For over forty years I have been a fellow traveler with my heroes as we journey to fantastic new places or protect the world from bad guys. For most of those years it was easy for me to see myself as Mr. Spock, Frodo, Bruce Wayne, or Peter Parker. They shared a skin color with me; I could pretend to be any of those. The first time I became aware of this was in high school as my social circle read J.R.R. Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings”. We all took alternate names from the books. I remember my friend Rodney, who was black, also played along. Except he chose a white character to take a name from because there wasn’t anyone who looked like him in the story.

Nichelle Nicols as Lt. Uhura on "Star Trek"

The other affirmation of the power of having someone who looks like you doing heroic things comes from actress Nichelle Nichols who played Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek. After the first season had finished she said to the creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, that she was going to leave the show. Soon after she was at an NAACP meeting and she met someone there who was a fan; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He told her how Star Trek was the only television show he let his young children watch because of her character. A black woman on the bridge seen as equal to everyone else there. She was there not to preach but simply to show that equality comes in funny guises. Ms. Nichols would be instrumental in recruiting female and non-white candidates to NASA as astronauts. It is what it means to see someone who looks like you, being heroic.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

In the last year there have been so many examples. The female centric heart of “Wonder Woman”. The new core of heroes in the new Star Wars trilogy. The spectacular re-imaging of the superhero through an African-American lens in “Black Panther”.

Poe, Rey, and Finn from "Star Wars"

That each movie was helmed by directors and writers, intent on making these visions seem normal without feeling like you’re being told it is special. As Diana Prince faces down the villain in the epic final act of Wonder Woman there is no thought that she is weaker. When Rey ignites her lightsaber she is every bit as formidable as anyone who has wielded one. Literally, the entire set of characters in Black Panther show strength of character is not the exclusive property of Caucasians.

The Cast of Black Panther

I have mentioned this in the past, but I use the cosplayers at Comic-Con as barometers of how far things have progressed. Last year there were a lot more Wonder Women and Reys walking around as women found new ways to represent themselves. I can’t wait for this October because I suspect Black Panther is about to have a similar impact.

The great mass of us geeks are often referred to as “fanboys” and as recently as five years ago that was accurate. With the inclusivity of heroes who look like more of the world I think we’re going to have to find another word.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Berdoues Hoja de Cuba- Caribbean All-Stars

I was fortunate as a child to be able to visit almost all the Caribbean Islands. I am probably stretching a point but one of the great things about arriving on a different island was each had its own scent. There were things which grew more abundantly on each different destination. There was some significant overlap but when I smell certain ingredients I have a specific memory of an island come to mind. The latest reminder is one which combines three specific ingredients into a kind of all-star perfume, Berdoues Hoja de Cuba.

Hoja de Cuba is part of the Grand Cru collection which is all about capturing the scent of a place. They have tended to be simple styles of three or four ingredients. As I’ve mentioned in the past if one of those ingredients doesn’t work well it tends to cause the entire perfume to fall apart. In the case of Hoja de Cuba perfumer Ane Ayo spent some time in Cuba taking in the smells of the tobacco fields which is one of the three notes in the fragrance. She also must have been based in Santiago de Cuba on the southeast shore of the island because the other two ingredients come from Jamaica to the southwest and Haiti to the east.

Ane Ayo

The Jamaican contributor is allspice. For those who cook with a jerk seasoning this is one of the ingredients. In perfume it has a warm nutty quality along with the spice mélange promised in the name. Mme Ayo pushes the allspice out in the early moments and allows it to display its style. Haiti adds in the well-known vetiver as the woody character matches to the nutty part of the allspice. It also provides the vegetal greenery indigenous to every tropical island. When the tobacco arrives as the final note it provides a dried sweet narcotic wrapper to embrace everything into a lovely perfume cigar.

Hoja de Cuba has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I know the middle of February is the time of year many of us wish we were in the Caribbean for a long weekend. Hoja de Cuba can at least provide the scent of a mid-winter trip to the islands.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Nomenclature holy_wood- The Mod Squad 2018

If there is anything the dream machine that is Hollywood does best, it makes subversive safe for general audiences. I would get great enjoyment at watching the “dangerous streets of Miami” depicted in many Hollywood productions. I probably first became aware of it as they co-opted the hippie movement of the late 1960’s even building a cop show around the concept of disaffected youth called “The Mod Squad”. They were just a little too clean and a lot too establishment; except when the plot needed them to get a little uppity.

Carlos Quintero (l.) and Karl Bradl

When it comes to perfume the most recognizable ingredient associated with hippies is patchouli. It was the smell of head shops everywhere which also made it a problematic ingredient in perfume. Many consumers associated it with also being cheap. Perfumers love patchouli because it is such a mutable ingredient that they would work through that impression. The chemists behind the scenes also were working on “cleaner” versions of patchouli through technology and chemistry. One of the best innovations around patchouli was the Firmenich ingredient called Clearwood. The scientists found a way to strip out all the dirty character leaving behind something still recognizable as patchouli but not so hippie-like.

Frank Voelkl

In the latest perfume from the Nomenclature line overseen by Karl Bradl and Carlos Quintero they feature Clearwood in their latest release holy_wood. Working with perfumer Frank Voelkl they were after a 1970’s Hollywood vibe. I couldn’t help thinking of The Mod Squad’s advertising slogan, “one black, one white, one blonde” as I experienced holy_wood. In this M. Voelkl combines one rose, one patchouli, one leather into a perfume version of The Mod Squad. While that might sound like a perfume combination you’ve smelled many times when it gets reformed using modern cleaner synthetics it provides a contemporary overall effect.

holy_wood opens with a synthetic rose from Firmenich called Rose Petal Nature Print which is meant to replicate a headspace extraction of rose. It has an airiness rose usually doesn’t carry. Early on a bit of pink pepper adds some of the missing green back in. Then the Clearwood arrives and what this shows most of all is a light woodiness coupled with warmth. As the two ingredients interact I found myself expecting the missing pieces to show up until I stopped. Then I began to appreciate what was on my skin. holy_wood is an example of what synthetics can bring to a well-known combo like rose and patchouli. This is all tied up in a suede leather accord to complete The Mod Squad.

holy_wood has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

One of the things Nomenclature has been doing well is displaying some of the more novel synthetic ingredients to their fullest potential. holy_wood might be patchouli-rose-leather as only Hollywood could imagine them; safer and cleaner. I still want to spend time with this modern Mod Squad.

Disclosure: this review based on a sample from Nomenclature.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Christian Dior La Collection Privee Souffle De Soie- A Silken Caress

If there is a predominant emotion I have when seeing the name of a perfume it is bemusement. Sometimes I am happy that the name matches what’s in the bottle. In very rare cases the name has nothing to do with the ingredients, but it completely captures the fragrance. The latest addition to the Christian Dior La Collection Privee, Soufflé De Soie, is one of those.

Soufflé De Soie translates to “breath of silk”. When I read that I envisioned a soft transparent construct which has the inherent strength of silk. I am not surprised at the transparent aspect because in the perfumes Francois Demachy is composing for Dior recently he has been working on the opaquer side of things. What I was quite interested in was how M. Demachy would transform three powerhouse florals; jasmine, tuberose, and rose into something delicate.

Francois Demachy

The opening whisper of breath is a gorgeous trio of lemon added to the herbal notes of basil and tarragon. I adore the tart citrus over the green. This is a veil which whispers across my senses. Clove is used as piquant transitory note to take you into the floral heart. This is a bit of the kind of alchemy I find appealing from M. Demachy. Jasmine comes out first along with some peach underneath. In a typical perfume this would slowly climb in volume. In Souffle De Soie what happens is the tuberose and rose come in at the same intensity. Just as this seems like a typical fruity floral accord costus provides a funky depth without making it stronger. The costus is joined by a set of musks to finish the effect.

Souffle De Soie has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

There has seemingly been a race to see who can make the least obtrusive, or noticeable perfume. Most of the time that transparency is equivalent to insipidness. Soufflé De Soie is the first of these which is anything but that. There were times while I was wearing it I felt as if I was trying to catch a will o’ the wisp with my nose. Because of the quality here that was not as frustrating as it has been for other perfumes designed in this style. In this case it was a positive as I wanted to chase this silken sprite throughout the day. In the end it disappeared with a silken caress after hours of enjoyment.

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

Mark Behnke