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

Dead Letter Office: Jean Patou Ma Liberte- The Kerleo Years

Those who have followed me over the years know there is a special section in the Dead Letter Office for the perfumes of Jean Patou. Much of their reputation rests on the creations of perfumer Henri Almeras from 1925-1946. The only remaining evidence of the glorious history of the brand is the evergreen best-seller Joy. This is not to say there haven’t been numerous attempts to bring the brand back to life. Perfumer Jean-Michel Duriez oversaw one of the more confusing transitions through the turn of the century. Most recently perfumer Thomas Fontaine has been re-formulating the original collection the best that he can with modern substitutions. In between there was another short creative spurt overseen by perfumer Jean Kerleo from 1972-1995.

M. Kerleo’s tenure has provided one of those rarest of unicorn fragrances, Patou pour Homme, in 1980. It lives up to every bit of the hype. Lost within this group of Patou perfumes done by M. Kerleo is one I admire just as much; Ma Liberte.

Jean Kerleo

Throughout this time M. Kerleo seemed to enjoy using lavender as a keynote. It would show up in both Patou pour Homme and Patou pour Homme Prive as well as Voyageur. Ma Liberte was another example of the flexibility of lavender in the hands of an artist.

In the beginning of Ma Liberte M. Kerleo chooses to contrast the lavender with tart citrus which is ameliorated with the lighter nature of heliotrope. Jasmine will become the note in the heart which picks up the lavender and allows it to flower more fully. Then the other hall mark of M. Kerleo’s time at Patou is his use of spices. He swirls in cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove to create this swirling warm shimmer covering the florals. It leads to a rich cedar and sandalwood base.

Ma Liberte has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.

If there is a question which has perplexed me; it is how the Jean Patou collection never caught on beyond Joy. I’ve never seen a reliable explanation on why they never were commercially successful but that is the reason they populate my favorite corner of the Dead Letter Office.

For those of you who look at the prices for Patou pour Homme and Patou pour Homme Prive on the auction sites and just groan at the prices you are who this version of this column is for. Ma Liberte is as good as either of those and it can be found on the same auction sites for much, much, less. If you have given up on obtaining the Patou pour Hommes give Ma Liberte a try.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Cartier Declaration Parfum- Defining Stronger

One of Jean-Claude Ellena’s early landmark perfumes was 1998’s Cartier Declaration. It was a surprising retort to all the clean and fresh masculine perfumes of the day. M. Ellena created a top accord which many describe as “sweaty curry”. It was not clean or fresh but if it appealed it was something amazing. It was also a primer on themes which would reverberate throughout the remaining years of M. Ellena’s career. Declaration is one of the best releases in the entire Cartier line.

When I received my sample of the new Cartier Declaration Parfum I was not sure what to expect. The current Cartier in-house perfumer Mathilde Laurent was going to make a more concentrated version of Declaration. It is a rare moment when I spray on a flanker wondering what will appear.

Mathilde Laurent

Mme Laurent’s choice was to accentuate the deeper bass tones of the original Declaration while stripping out the perspiration and the curry. She turns up the volume on the woods and adds in her own leather accord as her signature.

The original Declaration had a tight citrus flare before the spices arrived. Mme Laurent brings the spices out from the beginning, jettisoning the citrus entirely. This is a warm comforting spicy accord.  If the original is the dirty side of spice. Mme Laurent wraps you in a blanket of the snuggly side of spices. Cedar was the keynote in the original composition and it is present here but there are some balsams which again remove the cleaner edges of cedar softening and amplifying the woodiness in the overall heart accord. The leather accord in the base is the smell of a Cartier leather handbag. Amber is also present to keep things on the intimate side. Declaration Parfum smells rich in every meaning of the word.

Declaration Parfum has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

If you’re expecting Declaration Parfum to be a stronger version of Declaration you will have to define what you mean by that adjective. If by stronger you mean more spices and more sweat that is not what Mme Laurent delivers. If by stronger you mean lasts a long time and projects off the skin. It isn’t that either. It lives up to its Parfum description and wears closer to the skin the longer you have it on. If by stronger you also mean deeper then Declaration Parfum should be a winner. Mme Laurent has composed a perfume which epitomizes the Cartier sophistication and style. I’m not sure which version of stronger will be yours, but mine is the one which is in the bottle.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Saks Fifth Avenue.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review: Sana Jardin Berber Blonde and Sandalwood Temple- Sustainability In Front

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There has been an initiative for niche perfume brands to display the sustainability of their ingredients as the reason for purchasing the fragrance. Sometimes that leads to releases which are just whatever ingredient there is to be featured; and little else. I always feel like these brands miss the opportunity to show the difference in quality their sustainably sourced ingredient can bring to a perfume. Of course, that takes a creative team and a perfumer to work together. I was sent a sample set from a new brand, Sana Jardin, which does it correctly.

Amy Christiansen Si-Ahmed (center)

Sana Jardin was founded by Amy Christiansen Si-Ahmed and released their first seven perfumes in 2017. Her concept is to make Sana Jardin an “eco-luxe” brand. As a founder of the Beyond Sustainability Movement, Ms. Christiansen Si-Ahmed wants to reach out to the communities in the developing world who cultivate some of the most recognizable ingredients in perfume. Through her project she wants to teach the communities how to turn their tradition of growing a raw material into a local economy which can support many. She started in Morocco with a small group of women who harvest orange blossom. She has helped expand their horizons into other fragrance-containing products. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Moroccan orange blossom perfume oil makes it into two of the Sana Jardin perfumes; Berber Blonde and Sandalwood Temple.

Carlos Benaim

M. Benaim takes the orange blossom keynote and works it in two different directions. He goes for a simple construct in Berber Blonde and it is here where the orange blossom is displayed more fully. In Sandalwood Temple it is part of a comfort scent style playing as part of the chorus instead of the diva.

One thing about orange blossom that people forget is that it is a white flower with its own indolic profile. When sourced as it is by Sana Jardin those indoles are more prominent which is what M. Benaim highlights in Berber Blonde by pairing it with musk. This ends up creating a simple harmonic which hums with depth.

For Sandalwood Temple the orange blossom is not doing all the work. Only in the beginning does it have the spotlight. Fairly rapidly the clean woodiness of cedar captures the inherent green quality while vanilla captures the nascent citrus aspect. It forms a creamy accord which is complemented by an equally smooth sandalwood. A bit of vetiver dials back the sweetness level so it doesn’t enter gourmand territory.

Berber Blonde and Sandalwood Temple have 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Both Berber Blonde and Sandalwood Temple display the promise of what Ms. Christiansen Si-Ahmed is working so hard to do. If she keeps along this same path there offers some opportunities for Sana Jardin to combine sustainability and great perfume.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Sana Jardin.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy

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Makeover shows have been a staple of the high numbers on the cable television channel list for many years. They all tend to work on the same principle, ambush someone who is clueless about their way of dress and show them a different way. The great majority of these are for women subjects which is why the 2003 debut of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” was so different.

The Origianl Queer Eye Fab 5

Queer Eye was a show with five openly gay men, dubbed The Fab 5, would drop in on a slovenly guy and show him not only how to dress better, but also how to cook a nice meal, grooming tips, social niceties and decorating. Each member of The Fab 5 had a specialty and would spend a part of each episode with their straight guy giving him a new perspective on these things. It also gave those who watched the show a perspective that there wasn’t “gay culture” there was just culture. The episodes were sweet in the way they would develop. It was also a refreshing change from the mean-spirited reality shows which delighted in making fun of those who were different. Queer Eye always attempted to keep the quirky aspects of each of their subjects while improving the parts which needed the assistance.

The 2018 Version of The Fab 5

Queer Eye was a surprising success. It also garnered its share of blowback for reinforcing stereotypes. I think it succeeded despite that because it showed everyone participating was working from a genuine place. After the show was canceled in 2007 many of the original Fab 5 went on to further careers in their respective fields. I thought it was a concept which had found its time but had done its job.

I was surprised when I was cruising Netflix looking for the things coming up that there was a new season of Queer Eye coming in 2018. I was really wondering if this would succeed eleven years later. I’ve only watched the first two episodes, but I think it is going to be as good as it used to be.

There is a new Fab 5 and they are all enjoyable to watch. The biggest difference in this new version is instead of taking place in the Tri-State area of New York City, as the first one did, this time all eight episodes are taking on subjects in Georgia. It changes the dynamic when the suggestions of the Fab 5 are transported from the Northeast corridor to the Deep South. It adds new subtext to some of the conversations which have me looking forward to watching the final six episodes of the new Queer Eye.

In the end all makeover shows are like fairy tales where the rough edged sincere hero is turned into a prince. Even in 2018 it turns that a Queer Eye can still lead to happily ever after.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Clean Reserve Hemp & Ginger- A Clean Dirty

It is gratifying to see a well-known perfume brand take some risks with their overall aesthetic and succeed. Clean, when it was established, wanted to live up to that adjective. For twelve years the perfumes which had Clean on their label were straightforward fragrances of linen, or soap, or fresh cleaned skin, or rain, they were as advertised. In 2015, a new collection with the name of Clean Reserve was developed. Early on it was just deeper versions of earlier releases Rain and Skin. Within a year Reserve was collaborating with some great perfumers in a new direction. The first releases had trouble fully letting go of the Clean aesthetic. Last year with the second set of Clean Reserve releases there was more of a separation with Sel Santal standing out for being quite different. Because of this I was surprised when I was cruising Bloomingdale’s and found a new set of six Clean Reserve releases.

Pierre Negrin

This a sub-collection dubbed Avant Garden which is an interesting concept for a brand which has very much not been about being avant-garde. Just as before there is still a little reluctance to let go of what Clean does well and so Galbanum & Rain, Muguet & Skin, and White Amber & Warm Cotton feel like Clean fragrances in both brand and adjective. The other three are intent on carving a different path. Saguaro Blossom & Sand grafts green succulent into a traditional floral. Sweetbriar & Moss lets the green come through a citrus and floral opening via vetiver and moss. The last one was the one I took home as a sample Hemp & Ginger.

There is little information to be found on this collection at this point and so I was not able to track down the perfumer (UPDATE: The perfumer is Pierre Negrin). Which is a shame because whomever composed this did a fantastic job at creating a hemp accord in the heart of this which deserves to be recognized.

The ginger shows up in the beginning matched with bergamot for a typical top accord featuring that ingredient. In the heart the hemp accord is made up of two ingredients a sticky green Guatemalan cardamom and Sichuan pepper. Hemp has a slightly stinky green quality when dried out. The green cardamom provides the green and the Sichuan pepper provides the slightly stinky quality along with a mustiness which completes the accord. The ginger is a great choice as foil to the hemp accord which is where this lingers for quite a while. When it moves onto the base an oud accord and saffron are waiting.

Hemp & Ginger has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

For the first time there is a Clean fragrance which is a little dirty. Don’t get me wrong this is not a skankfest, in any way, but it does show the Reseve Collection is willing to see if there is a Clean way to get dirty.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Bloomingdale’s

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Paco Rabanne Invictus Aqua 2018- A Quick Return

The perfume business is a strange beast. Here’s the latest exhibit. Paco Rabanne’s fragrance releases have been solid mainstream offerings over the past few years. For my tastes I keep finding myself drawn to one of the flankers over the original pillars. One of those flankers was Invictus Aqua which was released at the beginning of 2016. Composed by perfumer Anne Flipo this was a nice take on the masculine aquatic which stood out among the other choices at the mall. Then inexplicably it was removed off the perfume counter in 18 months. I was fascinated to find out why because I wanted to use the story as a Dead Letter Office column subject. As I shot off emails and made phone calls trying to ascertain the reason; I was contacted by the PR company representing the brand. I was told Invictus Aqua was going to be re-released early in 2018 followed by the offer of a press sample. I took them up on it and waited for my opportunity to review it; which is here.

Invictus Aqua 2018 Perfume Team

Before we go too far I will say that Invictus Aqua 2018 is overall fresher than Invictus Aqua 2016. I do think they are similar enough that you probably don’t need both in your collection as they both cover enough of the same ground it would likely seem redundant. Besides the scent profile the perfume was composed by a trio of perfumers who joined Mme Flipo; Nicolas Beaulieu, Juliette Karagueuzoglu, and Dominique Ropion. It seems like a lot of firepower for the slight difference on display.

The biggest difference I found shows up in the first few moments. Aqua 2016 opened on a sunny citrus mix before the typical ozonic aquatic accord arrived. Aqua 2018 opens with that set of aquatic notes making the first few seconds slightly sharper. When the grapefruit comes forward in Aqua 2018 it begins to dovetail with the previous version more closely. From here until the finish the two perfumes are on the same track but when wearing them side-by-side the Aqua 2018 always felt a little cleaner and a little lighter than Aqua 2016. So, the green violet leaves, the light woods, and the synthetic amber are close enough.

Invictus Aqua 2018 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage. The sillage is another difference from the Aqua 2016 version; 2018 has a bit less of it.

I think Invictus Aqua 2018 takes its place on the department store counter in the same place it was when it left as one of the better aquatics in that sector.

Disclosure: This review is based on a press sample provided by Paco Rabanne.

Mark Behnke