New Perfume Review Fort & Manle Impressions de Giverny- Quick Learner

Self-taught perfumers are a mixed bag to be sure. By not knowing the “rules” they break them. The great majority of the time it leads to reinforcing why the “rules” exist. Much more rarely there is a new perspective revealed. On the plus side the more common result is time learning through trial and error leads to a true independent interpretation of the “rules”.

Towards the end of 2017 I was introduced to the line of perfumes done by self-taught perfumer Rasei Fort called Fort & Manle. Over seven releases the ups and downs of being self-taught showed throughout. There were nice glimmers throughout, but it seemed like the florals were the weakest entries in the group. Mr. Fort couldn’t seem to get the style right. When the follow-up Impressions de Giverny arrived, I wasn’t expecting much when I ordered a sample. Maybe it took the process of releasing some clunky florals previously but this time everything I found lacking is gone leaving a beautiful spring floral behind.

Rasei Fort

The name tells you Mr. Fort was inspired by Monet’s garden which was the muse to his paintings. Mr. Fort wanted to capture “Monet’s vision for a Japanese garden in the heart of Normandy”. This leads to layered effects which surprised me at every turn.

The opening duet of yuzu and red apple was my first indication this was going to be better than the previous florals. You might think that is odd but in the previous releases Mr. Fort would have an idea like this but unbalance it; not here. The tart citrus of the yuzu is contrasted with the crisp sweetness of the apple. Before heading into the floral heart, a watery green intermezzo provides a separation. The first layer of florals is led by a delicately sweet magnolia also supported by orange blossom. It is a transparent accord. Over time tuberose and rose add some structure to the lilt. Throughout there is a subtext of green herbal background vocals to all the florals. Hours in, this settles into an excellent benzoin and musk base accord.

Impressions de Giverny has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Impressions de Giverny is one of those perfumes which got much better in the trip from strip to skin. It became more expansive on the days I wore it. It was hard for me to wrap my mind around how much better Impressions de Giverny was versus all the previous florals. I kept waiting for the flaw to appear; it never did. I ended my first review of the brand believing better days were ahead. I didn’t count on Mr. Fort being such a quick learner that it would be the very next release.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Martin Margiela Replica Wicked Love- A Green Gremlin

My taste for rose perfumes has evolved over the years. I’ve gone from the classics through all the different phases and I have favorites within all of them. Currently though I like my roses weird. I want it paired with odd contrasts or unique amplifiers. There aren’t a lot of them. I also sometimes must decide to embrace the difference. It has taken me some time to come around to liking Maisom Martin Margiela Replica Wicked Love.

The Maison Martin Margiela Replica collection has been one of the unsung successes within the mainstream sector since 2012. It has worked while maintaining an artistic aesthetic. It has become a reliable brand I look forward to trying. Which was the case when I received samples for the most recent releases at the end of the summer. Music Festival was exactly what I expected it to be. Wicked Love had such an odd top accord I wasn’t immediately drawn in. Through the busy end of the year period it got sidelined easily. I was doing some cleaning up of my desk getting ready for the spring and Wicked Love was there. I remembered it being not to my liking. I sprayed it on a strip to confirm that. This time the oddness was exactly what I needed after a few months of straightforward roses. Perfumer Amandine Clerc-Marie’s unique opening finally broke through.

Amandine Clerc-Marie

That unique opening is made up of basil, green pepper, and watermelon. I imagine there are more internal expressions of disbelief in reading that than those who are thinking it sounds fab. It is the green pepper which has this slightly spicy, green vegetal quality that is fractious all by itself. Add in the strong herbal-ness of basil along with the sugar water effect of watermelon. First time I tried this I could not get past the green pepper it felt too weird. Months later it felt less so as the green pepper felt like a kind of fragrant gremlin asking me to follow it into the garden.

That green pepper is what I first encounter; it is not a typical ingredient I suspect it will never be listed as a crowd pleaser. Yet on the second look it came across as a substitute for the leafier green ingredients usually used. As the basil deepened the vegetal effect and the watermelon provides watery contrast it can be too much. The one thing I can say is after the top accord has done its thing the rest of the development is typical. A rich rose and jasmine in the heart down to vetiver and cedar in the base.

Wicked Love has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is something you must sample before considering purchasing. I think there are a segment of consumers who will enjoy this for not being a typical spring rose. If nothing else I suggest spraying this on a strip on your next visit to the mall. It might not be to your taste but there are no other top accords like this in the mainstream sector.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Maison Martin Margiela.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review: Nicolai Cap Neroli- Mediterranean Madness

As I began to expand my perfume horizons the first style I latched on to was the Mediterranean aesthetic. It was enough different than the plethora of fresh aquatics, which were crowding my department store counter, while allowing me to take small steps towards different. There are plenty in this style which play up the Sea they are named after. The best are a balance of herbs, citrus, and florals which capture everything about the place they are named after. Nicolai Cap Neroli is one of the latest to get this style right.

Patricia de Nicolai has been working with her son Axel recently on the new Nicolai releases. The collaborative mere et fils have shown an evolution of the Nicolai style. There is a freshening up of the aesthetic. It hasn’t always worked for me but the effort shows another Nicolai is ready to carry on the perfumed family name. In Cap Neroli this turn towards that effect pays dividends especially early on. A Mediterranean style perfume should be bright, and a precise top accord leads to the title note followed by a biting base accord.

Axel and Patricia de Nicolai

The perfume team’s choice is to use the bitter call of bigarade to open things. Orange sweetens the bitterness. The herbal nature of rosemary and mint capture the exhilaration of standing on a cliff looking down at the Mediterranean far below. They bring a hint of the water, but they mostly provide green complement to the citrus. It isn’t stated what the source of the neroli used here but it is a top quality one where both the floral and the green are prominent. Which means the bigarade meshes with the floral while the herbs combine with the green. This forms that fresh effect I mentioned earlier. It has the frisson of summer writ large. To prepare for a deeper base the Nicolais begin to add depth with jasmine and ylang-ylang. That’s so the oakmoss which arrives doesn’t startle. It is a bitingly green version to which a set of mid-weight musks provide amplification of those qualities.

Cap Neroli has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I’ve been watching a bit too much basketball this weekend. Wearing Cap Neroli while watching the March Madness tournament made me think of this as Mediterranean Madness; thrillingly so.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Marvel’s Optimism vs DC’s Nihilism at the Movies

I imagine over at the Warner Brothers DC offices there must be a lot of envy as another Marvel movie takes off. The latest release, Black Panther, must really sting because it took in as much money in the first weekend that the big team-up movie, Justice League, did in its entire run. I’ve been thinking about why this is so. I think I’ve figured out one part of it.

To start with I return to the comics themselves back in 1986. That was the year that DC was releasing two of the most lauded comics ever produced. They were part of the movement from comic books to graphic novels. One was “The Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller and the other was “Watchmen” by Alan Moore. They stood out for being different from the other titles surrounding them. One reason for that was they both had nihilistic protagonists more interested in winning than anything else. Collateral damage was just part of the job. Forget vigilante these heroes were the executioner when it was necessary. Now I adore both stories for giving that style to the comic book realm. Except it has become a pervasive infection, especially at DC. They would race to make ever darker grittier versions of their recognizable heroes. Retconning their origins if necessary. It was not a resounding creative success.

Director Zack Snyder would film an excellent version of “Watchmen” which captures much of its nihilistic charm. After that he would take over as the creative force of the DC movie universe hoping to create a similar series of films to what Marvel had done. There were expectations.

Marvel was taking a different path. During the same time as DC was trying out the darkness Marvel decided they needed a giant crossover event. Thus, was born Secret Wars which spanned 12-months from 1984-1985. The numerous different creators of all the main Marvel heroes agreed to have a universal battle where every hero would have their moments. There was lots of humor. The universe was saved with a smile and “Kapow”. Marvel would continue this lighter side of things without deciding to go all in on what their competitors were doing. Although there were some notable exceptions in series like Daredevil, for instance. For the most part there was a Marvel style which was not gritty.

When director Jon Favreau laid the first brick in the Marvel movie universe, 2008’s Iron Man, he brought with him that same humorous style. Robert Downey Jr. inhabited a hero unafraid to laugh while also throwing a punch. He looked like he was enjoying being a hero. That is what the essence of Marvel movies have been; the characters understand the responsibility while also showing a joy at having these powers.

Mr. Snyder would take the darkness and shroud the DC movies in it. For a character like Batman that has always been part of the undercurrent. For a character like Superman it was not. Yet he was turned into a killer who destroyed a city at the end of his movie. This nihilism is the glue which holds the DC universe together except for one which doesn’t; Wonder Woman. One reason is the director Patty Jenkins didn’t see her heroine as anything but noble she used humor and optimism to power it to the biggest DC universe movie to date. Inclusive, funny, and heroic instead of exclusionary, grim, and nihilistic.

Compare this to Marvel’s latest releases; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther. Three different filmmakers who stamped their movies with their perspective while also never losing the optimism which binds the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is why there is much more faith in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War which will blend 20+ heroes over the disastrous Justice League which couldn’t pull off the same trick with six.

I think nihilism only appeals to a very small slice of the moviegoing public. Mr. Snyder is an embodiment of that as a creative concept and seems unable to see the DC universe in anything but shadows. I wonder what it would look like with Ms. Jenkins in charge?

The fun optimistic world which the Marvel universe inhabits shows time and again where people want to spend two hours in a movie theatre. It is a lot more fun to feel like part of a positive universe than one which seems intent on reveling in what is bad.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Geoffrey Beene Bowling Green- The Overlooked Sibling

One common theme in the Dead Letter Office is that when a designer creates a classic the poor fragrances that follow have a hard time breaking through. Like the younger sibling to the brilliant older one. You might be every bit as good, perhaps better for some, but you will never get noticed. That is the story of Geoffrey Beene Bowling Green.

The brilliant older brother is 1975’s Grey Flannel. That was the first perfume from the brand and it has become a classic. One I admire and recommend to those looking for something different from fresh for an economical price. Bowling Green was the follow-up released almost twelve years later. Like all neglected younger siblings much of the creative information has been lost. All I could find was something within the press release which mentioned it as being “developed personally by Mr. Beene”. Sounds like pr more than actuality especially since there is also no perfumer accredited. It is too bad because Bowling Green is a style of perfume which would be relevant in today’s fragrance world. It has many of the green trends along with being more transparent than most of the other 80’s masculines.

Geoffrey Beene

What strikes you right out of the bottle is a focused burst of verbena. The lemony quality combined with the green is kept tightly constrained. To that lavender and a bit of mint add some detail. The lemon becomes more present as some petitgrain teases it away from the verbena. The mint slides away in the face of more savory herbs like sage, basil, and rosemary. Over all of this crests a wave of cardamom recapitulating the lemon thread from the top. There is some pine to play around with a terpenic green contrast, but the middle part of Bowling Green is cardamom. As it recedes what remains is a mixture of synthetic woods representing sandalwood, fir, and cedar; most predominantly that last note. The cedar provides a clean woody foundation to close things out.

Bowling Green has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Bowling Green never came close to being the sales equal of Grey Flannel. To their credit the brand did not pull the plug quickly as it lasted well into the 2000’s before finally giving up. I think they just tired of promoting a perfume which was never going to catch on. I think Bowling Green is as good as Grey Flannel, but that opinion never found wide agreement which is how it ended up in the Dead Letter Office as the overlooked sibling.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Areej Le Dore Walimah Parfum- Union of Dualities

As I’ve come to know the perfumes of independent perfumer Russian Adam through his Areej Le Dore brand I have consigned them to my “wall of scent” category. What I mean by that is they are solid constructs of ingredients only an independent distiller could source. These kinds of materials have nuances and grace notes not experienced in more industrial isolations. It is what makes the Areej Le Dore perfumes stand apart. Because of that, balance is sometimes less apparent because the volume is so turned up. It is like listening to punk rock turned up to maximum volume; the pleasure is all in the intensity not necessarily the precision. In the group of fragrances, I put in this category there is always an anomaly where the perfumer chooses to show me there is an ability to play at a lower volume, if not necessarily something I’d call soft, while also displaying a subtler hand in putting together things. That is how I view Areej Le Dore Walimah Parfum.

Before we go any further this is a review of the Parfum version of Walimah. Russian Adam released an attar version of Walimah as well. That is so different from the Parfum I am going to give it its own review. This is also where I’ll mention that this is a review based on the version released in February 2018. I also need to thank Kafkaesque for all the information on Walimah contained below.

Photo: Heather Kincaid

Walimah was inspired by Russian Adam’s marriage at the end of 2017. He describes it as, “the beautiful union of two souls from different corners of the globe”. Walimah is an evocation of the Russian groom and the Indonesian bride as there is a suite of ingredients which represent each. For the bride it is tropical flowers. For the groom it is genuine musk, rare oud, and vetiver. What captured me throughout the development of Walimah was the interlacing of complementary notes in celebration of this union.

It opens with the bride swathed in a silky dress of magnolia. The magnolia used here has a creamy floral nature underscored with its woody nuance. The groom is dressed in an authentic musk tuxedo. The depth of the musk provides a solid platform for the magnolia to drape itself upon. The ceremony complete, the first kiss is of white flowers and oud.  Tuberose and gardenia form the bouquet. The oud is described as coming from “incense-grade wood” from Bengal. As the magnolia and musk settle into the floral indoles and oud it forms an exquisite accord which captures this ceremony. Russian Adam uses a special Champaca distillation which rains down upon the happy couple. It has an interesting tempering effect to the white flowers. The same is achieved with a ribbon of tobacco which tames the musk and oud. Just as many of the Areej Le Dore begin to ramp up in intensity Walimah finds a plateau where it remains until the end. Through the final phase there are more ribbons to tie onto the heart accord. Cocoa passes through accentuating the chocolate vibe of the oud. Saffron adds a happy glow to the champaca. Cinnamon provides spicy contrast to the musk. Once this all moves along to the base it is a rounded vetiver accord which uses labdanum and Peru balsam to make the vetiver a smooth closing effect.

Walimah has 16-18 hour longevity and average sillage.

I like my perfume “loud” and when I do the Areej Le Dore perfumes are where I often look for that. Walimah will not be on this list because it is a union of dualities made whole with a kiss.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Givenchy Live Irresistible Blossom Crush- Bitter Rose

I must say that as I’ve now received most of the spring releases it looks like one of my wishes has come to be; less rose perfumes for the beginning of the year. I have reviewed several mass-market releases which have left rose on the shelf without leaving behind the seasonal vibe. It just means there are alternatives to rose not that they stopped making rose perfumes for spring. For me to find a rose, at this time of year, of any interest I have to see something a bit different; Givenchy Live Irresistible Blossom Crush manages to achieve this.

Givenchy started the Live Irresistible in 2015 with an Eau de Parfum composed by perfumer Dominique Ropion. That was a fall-themed pineapple, rose, amber grating megaphone of all three notes. Almost a year later M. Ropion did enter the spring rose sweepstakes with, Eau de Toilette, another grating fruity floral where pear and raspberry accentuated the debutante rose. Then last year with Delicieuse M. Ropion thought we’d like some cake with our rose in a misguided gourmand. My expectation that Blossom Crush would be enjoyable was near zero. Except M. Ropion puts his bullhorn away in favor of something much less aggressive along with a modulating note cleverly chosen.

Dominique Ropion

In the ever lightening of fragrance overall and especially at the department store Blossom Crush is an example of where it is an asset. M. Ropion keeps it completely simple with a dewy rose matched to a mid-weight musk. That is common, this time M. Ropion chooses to use a gourmand note in a precise way to give an unusual effect to the rose which allows for the musk to pick it up in a different way.

In the first moment and for a few minutes beyond that this is that dewy rose that crowds the fragrance counters. In this case it is made a bit fresher with peony. Then the use of cocoa is what sets this apart. Like a needle slowly entering within the floral accord a subtle bitterness tunes the floral sweetness. If there was a common complaint from me on the earlier Live Irresistible releases, they were way too sweet. In Blossom Crush the cocoa works to remove some of the natural floral sweetness. What I found really smart was to never allow the cocoa to become gourmand-level strength. It acts as only as a background effect. It also bridges the floral to musk which is not so fresh but one which also has a few bitter facets for the cocoa to attach to.

Live Irresistible Blossom Crush has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

At the end of the day Blossom Crush is mostly a typical spring rose but if you’re looking for a new one for 2018 there are much more banal choices. Give the bitter rose of Blossom Crush a chance.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Macy’s.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Perry Ellis 360 Red for Men- Third Law Aquatic

Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion is, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. In mass-market perfume there is a lesser known law of motion, “for every bestseller there will be scores of imitators”. As we moved into the 21st century those bestsellers were almost uniformly aquatic. This was a style of perfume that didn’t really allow for a wide range of variation; not that it stopped anyone. One which chose to listen to Newton decided to push back against the fresh aquatic with something spicier and woodier was Perry Ellis 360 Red For Men.

In 1995 Perry Ellis released 360 For Men and it was just another fresh entry in a sea of them. Eight years later when the first flanker was imagined I am not sure who suggested going in a different direction, but it turned out to be a good idea. Perfumer Jean-Louis Grauby layers in spice and woods into the typical citrus and aquatic accords which are kept to the background.

Jean-Louis Grauby

The opening of 360 Red For Men is the typical citrus as lime is modulated by a bit of orange it is nothing so different from many other perfumes of the time. Once the cinnamon begins to warm things up instead of plunge into the water then you notice a change. Nutmeg keeps the cinnamon in check from smelling like red-hot candies. A very strong cedarwood provides its clean woodiness. It takes a while but through a skillful use of white musks there is an aquatic effect to be found but it is secondary to the spice and woods.

360 Red For Men has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

360 Red For Men is an aquatic for cooler days. The spice and woods give you some pop in the morning and the aquatic peeks out as the day warms into the afternoon. This is one of those great bargains which can be found for less than $20/100mL. It is a discount diamond because it managed to try and be an opposite reaction to the aquatic trend of the early 2000’s.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review DSH Perfumes Shimotsuki- Moonlit Snow

Independent perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz has such a diverse imagination I am always impressed when I receive a new package of her latest releases. Within are usually three very different types of perfume. I must admit for the past year one of the seasonal releases has been more anticipated than the other. Last spring Ms. Hurwitz began her Haiku Series with Gekkou Hanami capturing the cherry blossoms of spring under the moonlight. Since then with Tsukiyo-en and Tsukimi she has provided similar moonlit vistas for summer and autumn. Which meant winter had to be coming. When my package arrived, I opened it and looked for the vial with the Japanese name, what I found was called Shimotsuki.

I have mentioned in my previous reviews within this series how much I have come to appreciate Ms. Hurwitz’s Japanese aesthetic. Of any of the four Haiku releases Shimotsuki might be the most equivalent to the actual poetic inspiration. Shimotsuki is meant to capture the diffuse light of a full moon on the snow. The way moonlight interacts out in the Maryland countryside has always been an enjoyment as I spend time on my back porch during full moons. The winter version on a snowfall is special as the moonlight is doubled by the reflection off the white stuff. It is the ultimate light diffuser and amplifier. It is also coming in the depths of winter when the smell of the outdoors is scrubbed clean of all that vegetal green floral interference. The light comes with a diffuse cleanliness. This is all captured in Shimotsuki.

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

The chill is provided by yuzu and a familiar Hurwitz ingredient, rice. In the past when she has used rice it is accompanied by steam or powder. In Shimotsuki it is accompanied by the citrus making it seem frozen in place. The moon is represented by artemisia which is named after the goddess of the moon. Ms. Hurwitz adds seaweed underneath the sage-lite nature of artemisia to provide a light green patina. Out of that arises the slightest hint of the spring to come as a lilting hawthorn arrives along with the sturdiness of hinoki wood. As the moon moves across the sky allowing the light to dim and fade with the dawn sandalwood, orris, and white musk combine to form an accord heralding the changing of the light.

Shimotsuki has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

There are only a few perfumers from whom I would want a bespoke perfume from; Ms. Hurwitz is one of them. If you had asked me when I first discovered her fragrances I would have desired something spicy and floral. Now after this final Haiku I realize I would desire something Japanese-inspired and simple. Shimotsuki is as good a closing of the loop of the Haiku series as I could have imagined; austere perfumery which leads to beauty.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by DSH Perfumes.

-Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review A Lab On Fire And The World Is Yours- The Morning After Success

There is something voyeuristic about photographs of celebrities. Certainly, there is a cottage industry of poorly taken “gotcha!” photographs taken by paparazzi. Those I have little interest in. The ones which capture my attention are the ones where well-known professional photographers have the opportunity to shoot during a particular time in a celebrity’s career. One of the more memorable pictures in that category was one taken by photographer Terry O’Neill in 1977. His subject was actress Faye Dunaway sitting by the pool at The Beverly Hills Hotel at 6AM the morning after she won her Best Actress Oscar for “Network”. Looking like she still hadn’t been to bed (she had) Mr. O’Neill captured the moment after you’ve won an Academy Award with the newspapers headlines of your win at your feet and your trophy on the table considering what’s next. It is an iconic picture for so many reasons; the early morning light, the Old Hollywood vibe, and a spectacular actress in her prime. I don’t know if this begged to have a perfume made from its inspiration but it has arrived; A Lab On Fire And The World Is Yours.

Faye Dunaway as photographed by Terry O'Neill (March 1977)

The perfumer hired by creative director Carlos Kusubayashi to take this on is Dominique Ropion. M. Ropion had converted a classic Hollywood photograph into a perfume two years previously with one of Douglas Kirkland’s photos of Marilyn Monroe. The opening to that was gorgeous but an overly aggressive musky gourmand base put me off. With And The World Is Yours that problem does not exist this is a stunning companion to the inspiration. What is especially pleasing about And The World Is Yours is that M. Ropion is not playing it safe which is apropos of an actress who won her Academy Award by also taking risks.

Dominique Ropion

What I so expected in the early moments of And The World Is Yours was a sparkly bergamot-y dawn sun kind of opening. M. Ropion embraces the “morning after” vibe instead. As the dawn signals the end of the night not the beginning of the day. M. Ropion deploys neroli and orange blossom in a weary evocation of daybreak. There is no sparkle but there is a banked luminosity to them maybe as you close your eyes to the rising sun. You also catch a whiff of yourself which is where M. Ropion uses cumin to cleave the floral duet. I adore when perfumers are unafraid to use cumin as an effective contrast as it is here. The cumin really deepens the sense of a long night’s day. It persists through a heart of rose and heliotrope. This ends on a mixture of tolu balsam and sandalwood sweetened by tonka bean and vanilla. The sweet smell of success.

And The World Is Yours has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is one of my favorite perfumes from A Lab On Fire ever. It is near-perfect as M. Ropion never puts a foot wrong for my tastes. That being said, if you find cumin a problem in perfume I think there is little chance you will be as enthusiastic about this as I am. If you can get past it, or embrace it, what is to be found is the smell of the morning after success.

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

Mark Behnke