New Perfume Review Olfactive Studio Flash Back in New York- A Study in Contrasts

There are people in perfume who I want to see work together. It arises from the same impulse to see your favorite actors or other artists combine their talents into something you hope will be special. One of my favorite examples was when two of my favorite horror authors, Peter Straub and Stephen King, co-wrote “The Talisman”. It was a story which accentuated what both authors did in a memorable way. It was a case of two of the most popular genre authors combining into a kind of super duo. The latest release from Olfactive Studio, Flash Back in New York, brings together two of my favorite creatives in perfumery; Celine Verleure and Jerome Epinette.

Celine Verleure

Mme Verleure has been one of the best creative directors from the moment she launched Olfactive Studio in September of 2011. Her process of using a photograph as a brief for the perfumer she collaborates with has proven time and again to produce excellent perfumes. One reason is by using a visual instead of a written brief it accesses different ideas of what a new perfume might smell like.

Jerome Epinette

M. Epinette has become the man who can launch a brand. He has helped to define the aesthetic for no less than four brands. That they can be distinct yet different speaks to his skill. Yet, in its way once that aesthetic is defined it can keep you hemmed in by what you created. M. Epinette isn’t going to cut loose with something dramatically different he is going to find the edges of the frame he created and subtly push against it. The opportunity given to M. Epinette, by Mme Verleure, is to not have that frame to push against but a freedom to explore a theme.

Flash Back in New York photo by Vivienne Gucwa

That theme comes from a photo by New York-based photographer Vivienne Gucwa. I have followed Ms. Gucwa through her Instagram feed “travelinglens” and her website “New York Through the Lens”. If you look through her photos online, you will be unsurprised to find she just released a book called “New York in the Snow” which is a frequent topic of her photography. Mme Verleure chose one which captured New York in a blizzard.

The perfume which comes from this is a set of contrasts mirroring the view of the snow falling while warm inside. M. Epinette uses each phase to develop this effect in three parts.

Flash Back in New York opens on a pungent mixture of cumin and clary sage. I imagine if you are not a fan of these ingredients this will not be an ideal start. Hang in there because M. Epinette uses a couple of the linen musks to provide a cleaner contrast to the less clean cumin and sage. It works beautifully especially as saffron rounds it off after a few minutes more. The heart moves towards the floral as violet and jasmine provide that. The top accord begins to combine with a leather accord to set up the contrast of animalic and floral. The remains of the cumin evoke a bit of a sweaty leather jacket just after you’ve taken it off. Birch smoke swirls off the leather in lazy ascending spirals. A green accord first of papyrus but later joined by vetiver increases in intensity. As the saffron did in the top accord tonka bean provides the finishing touch to the base accord.

Flash Back in New York has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

While all the snow themed imagery is liable to induce PTSD rather than a flashback to my New York City readers that isn’t what the perfume is really about. It is a study in contrasts where at the crossroads the artists find beauty. That is what Flash Back in New York is all about.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle provided by Olfactive Studio.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: American Idol 2.0

I am not sure about the health of broadcast television. Based on the announcements of the new shows for next fall it seems like the current attitude is if it got big ratings in the past exhume it and put it back on the air. The cynic in me knows that if you can strum some nostalgic chords in even an older audience those are good enough ratings in this current television landscape. As much as it feels creatively bankrupt I admit I’ve watched with more enjoyment than not.

In a case where the absence was hardly long enough to miss it American Idol returned just two years after it was over. I planned on watching the first few episodes then leaving it alone until maybe the finale. Turns out the producers know a good formula and how to remind me of what it was I enjoyed about this singing competition.

For this revival the show changed networks from Fox to ABC. You might not see that as something worth noting except ABC is part of the Disney entertainment family. That means there were going to be no missed synergies throughout the season. In many ways American Idol is a reality version of the Disney theme “When You Wish Upon A Star”. Which leads to the other change; talent paired with heartwarming stories were accentuated in the audition rounds. There were the very occasional trolls and clueless divas but they were overwhelmed by the people who could sing. Which then made the second phase of the competition more fun to watch.

Because they allowed us as an audience to get to know more of the contestants when the Hollywood Week part where they cut down to a Top 24 I had rooting interests. This meant I felt sad when some of them succumbed to the pressure. It also gave me stronger attachments to the one who made it through.

(l. to r.) Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, Ryan Seacrest, and Luke Bryan

I want to talk about this year’s judging panel; Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie, and Katy Perry. They did a great job of finding a group of singers who filled all styles. They provided America an opportunity to vote for who and what style they liked best. They managed to also do this without becoming the focus of the show. That is my biggest problem with “The Voice” the panel are the stars not the singers. American Idol gets the balance right.

One final piece of my enjoyment of this year’s installment was the advancement of contestants who could sing. That meant a drag queen named Ada Vox made the Top 10. A young lesbian wife of a servicewoman made Top 7. The show was unafraid to put these out to America and allow them to decide if that was what their American Idol looked like.

Going into tomorrow’s final America wasn’t quite ready for that much change but the three contestants remaining have been among my favorites from the first weeks. I am going to have a difficult choice to see who gets my vote based on their performance.

Maybe bringing back the old isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Mark Behnke

Flanker Round-Up: Marc Jacobs Daisy Love and Thierry Mugler Alien Flora Futura

As I finish clearing my desk of the spring releases of 2018 I wanted to mention a couple of the flankers which were better than most of the others released in these early days of 2018.

Marc Jacobs Daisy Love

If there has ever been a brand which has overplayed a flanker, it is Marc Jacobs and Daisy. The original released in 2007 is one of the top tier mainstream perfumes. The thirty-two flankers in the last eleven years are mostly forgettable. Some flankers even spawned their own flankers. It became easy to ignore the entire mess. I wanted to write about Daisy which made me pick up flanker thirty-two, Daisy Love. It turned out there was some connectivity back to the original which made it better than most of the other Daisy flankers.

First connection was perfumer Alberto Morillas returning to make a variation on the original he created. The original was a strawberry fruity floral; for Daisy Love M. Morillas fashions a less fulgent strawberry by using raspberry and cloudberry to result in a greener, almost unripe, strawberry. It is tart more than sweet. M. Morillas then actually uses the title floral to provide a lighter floral effect than in most of the collection. It all ends on generic synthetic woods and musks. I wouldn’t throw over the original for this but it does enough different, without throwing out the whole playbook, that it could be a nice companion for the summer.

Daisy Love has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

Thierry Mugler Alien Flora Futura

Thierry Mugler has only been a touch less aggressive in producing flankers to 2005’s classic Alien. Thierry Mugler has delighted in producing perfume which engenders “love it-hate it” responses. Alien is an excellent example. One could even say that the 21 flankers since its release are attempts to convert the “hate it” crowd. For Alien Flora Futura it lightens up some of the heavier aspects for the set of people who found it too heavy.

Perfumers Dominique Ropion and Jean-Christoophe Herault make this lighter by switching the ingredients while still retaining the Alien vibe. It starts very un-Alien-like using a bright sparkling citron. Citron has a fuller feel to me than lemon although they are similar. The real alteration comes in the heart as the perfumers substitute jasmine with cereus flower, also known as the queen of the night. Cereus has a similarity to jasmine but also a fresher quality. It works nicely with the citron. It eventually slides into the Alien amber focused base accord but in keeping with everything else a touch lighter. If you love Alien I imagine this will feel like Diet Lemon Alien to you. If you hated Alien because it was overwhelmingly aggressive Alien Flora Futura might turn you into a lover.

Alien Flora Futura has 14-16 hour longevity an average sillage.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by the manufacturers.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Histoires de Parfums Prolixe- Gourmand-Not-Gourmand

There are a lot of brands which come to mind as the standard bearers of the niche perfume movement. I would bet that if I asked most of you to list the ones which were there from the beginning Histoires de Parfums wouldn’t be on a lot of them. Starting in 2000 founder Gerald Ghislain has quietly put together a solid collection of fragrance which exemplifies what it means to be a niche perfume brand.

Gerald Ghislain

In the early days the risks were more profoundly evident; there wasn’t much to lose. As time moved on and Histoires de Parfums established itself as one of the brands which succeeded there was a bit less experimentation. The one exception was the occasional release under the Editions Rare collection. These are the perfumes which I think represent the high point of the last 18 years. At the end of 2017 M. Ghislain announced a new smaller collection called En Aparte. En Aparte translates to “an aside”. This collection feels like that, something which sprang from the previous Editions Rare into something else. There are three perfumes in the collection and I will eventually review them all but as with any collection there is always one which captures my attention first. For this group that was Prolixe.

Julien Rasquinet

Prolixe according to the press release is defined as “that which is widely diffused”. I have no idea why that was chosen as the name because this perfume is anything but diffuse. M. Ghislain collaborated with perfumer Julien Rasquinet to create a spicy full-throated Oriental which in the overlap of non-gourmand ingredients finds a gourmand accord deep within.

M. Rasquinet opens with the sticky green blackcurrant bud. It is a prickly choice to open this perfume with that note. In this strength it verges on unpleasant, not quite but close. The heart accord improves things immensely. M. Rasquinet uses an indolic orange blossom which is coated in saffron and cardamom. This is where things begin to transition to a gourmand style of perfume. The heart accord reminds me of an abstract version of a spiced orange. I can concentrate and pick apart the pieces but when just wearing it I always smelled spiced orange. A deep patchouli and sandalwood combine into a milk chocolate accord. This is set upon a black leather accord to finish things.

Prolixe has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

M. Rasquinet has put together a fascinating perfume of gourmand-not-gourmand ingredients to form a gourmand style of Oriental. It was one of those cases where when I was focused I saw every piece, but it was better when I just let it flow without intricate analysis.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Guerlain Meteorites Le Parfum- Violet Bubbles

My conflicted feelings towards Guerlain have been enumerated a lot over the past couple of years. I believe they have settled for a sustained level of mediocrity which allows for the name on the bottle to do more of the heavy lifting than the liquid in the bottle. Considering how much my love of perfume stems from the classic pillars of this Grand Maison de Parfum it is always with a sense of apprehension I approach receiving a new sample. I expect to feel aggravated at yet another fragrance living off a reputation.

Thierry Wasser

There have been some exceptions. One of my favorite Guerlain releases of the past five years was Terracotta Le Parfum. In-house perfumer Thierry Wasser interpreted the well-loved makeup collection as a perfume. It was one of my favorite perfumes of 2014. One recent release which piqued my interest was Mon Guerlain. It felt like M. Wasser was throwing off some of the shackles of the past eschewing with the brand DNA Guerlinade; fashioning something lighter. The latest exception turns out to be a combination of both; Meteorites Le Parfum.

Guerlain Meteorites Powder Pearls (via rachelnicole.co.uk)

Meteorites Le Parfum is also based on a famous Guerlain cosmetics product. Meteorites are little pastel colored pearls of powder which carry a delicate violet scent. M. Wasser adapts the transparent style of Mon Guerlain to that fragile violet to create something delicate. Before I get started describing the new perfume if you are a fan of the discontinued Meteorites; move along. This is a completely different perfume in texture and intensity. The only real intersection is the violet.

Meteorites Le Parfum opens on a crisp fruity flare of citrus and apple. The apple makes it focused while also making it a bit tarter. This carries a shimmery veil-like quality which sets the stage for the violet to arrive in a similar opaque way trailing a powdery effect in its wake. This is a compelling transparent fruity floral effect. The final stage is to allow this accord to settle upon a soap bubble of white musks which expands over the length of time it spends on my skin. As you look on the surface of the bubble you see the violet and citrus swirling there. It eventually pops leaving behind a lightly woody base accord.

Meteorites Le Parfum has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is a gorgeous summer-weight floral which feels uplifting to wear in the heat. I also note the absence of the Guerlinade which again makes me wonder if for fragrance marketed to a younger generation that is the future of Guerlain. If you want a transparent fragile violet spritz for the summer, you cant go wrong blowing violet bubbles in Meteorites Le Parfum.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Dolce & Gabbana Dolce Garden- Transparent Colada

I have been enjoying watching the large perfume brands search for the styles of fragrance which will connect with the Millennials. The one piece of agreement based on what crosses my desk is more transparent. After that there seems to be less congruency. One of the styles I’ve commented on in the past which seems to be near the front of the pack is a floral gourmand. I keep rooting for this to be the one which catches hold. One main reason is this is not a style of perfume which has been done to death. Another reason is by making this as a lighter construct it keeps it from becoming cloying. My final piece of hope comes from a place that there is not a great floral gourmand, yet. Which means if it comes, that is when this style could really take off. Which makes my interest in each new one to see if it shows progress towards that goal. The latest data point came from Dolce & Gabbana Dolce Garden.

Stephane Demaison

One reason I was interested in Dolce Garden was it was new Shiseido Group Olfactory Creative Director Stephane Demaison’s first oversight on a Dolce & Gabbana release. M. Demaison has an accomplished career where he has been an active trend watcher. He chose perfumer Violaine Collas to refresh the “Dolce” collection which started in 2014 and in two subsequent flankers basically stood for fresh floral perfumes. In what has become the fate of most of the Dolce & Gabbana fragrances they are forgettable; by any audience. The previous aesthetic has been thrown out as Dolce Garden dives into being a floral gourmand; for the better.

Violaine Collas

It opens with a nicely executed neroli and mandarin top accord. This is exactly like the trend calls for, a gauzy version of the top accord. The press materials mention this is supposed to be a “Sicilian garden” the heart makes me think it is not Sicily which is where this island garden is located but somewhere in the Caribbean. A tropical floral duet of ylang-ylang and frangipani holds the heart. Then what ends up feeling like a pina colada accord Mme Collas uses coconut, almond, milk, and vanilla. Except in many other cases this comes off as too sweet. Dolce Garden works by playing to a lighter style. Sandalwood provides the base accord picking up the sweet and creamy aspects of the gourmand accord.

Dolce Garden has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

I would be surprised if Dolce Garden is the floral gourmand which sets the world on fire. I do think it is better than what has come prior to it. I’m also hoping that M. Demaison’s influence might also reinvigorate the creativity of Dolce & Gabbana which could use it. For now, Dolce Garden is an excellent floral gourmand which will be nice for the summer.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Dolce & Gabbana.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Jo Malone Tropical Cherimoya- Summer Beach Bag Spritz

I write often about how growing up in South Florida in the 1960’s and 70’s was such an advantage. As a melting pot of many different Latin American cultures it also was a gateway for me to experience culinary delights from the region, too. Most of that came through my friends’ mothers who would serve us different snacks when visiting. When I was at my friend Herbie’s home his mother, Sra. Lopez, brought out this hard-looking scaly fruit. I was too young to make the comparison at the time but as an adult it looked a bit like one of the dragon eggs from Game of Thrones. Sra. Lopez cut it in half and scooped out the flesh. The taste was amazing. Sweet, tart and a hint of milkiness. It is that latter quality which gives it the name of “custard apple”. Whenever they show up in my local market I always buy a couple because there is nothing like it.

Celine Roux

I was very interested when I received my sample of Jo Malone Tropical Cherimoya if they could capture the kind of multi-sensorial taste of cherimoya in a perfume. Creative director Celine Roux teams up with perfumer Sophie Labbe to make the attempt.

Sophie Labbe

The perfume opens with a very crisp and green pear. It captures the tartness of cherimoya. A set of sweet fruity notes provide the main cherimoya accord in the top. Mme Labbe uses a thread of passion flower to pick up both the green and to accentuate the tropical character. The base opens with a bit of tonka bean standing in for the “custard” although it feels more toasted on my skin. it all ends on a soothing copahu balm base.

Tropical Cherimoya has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I enjoyed this perfume interpretation of cherimoya quite a bit. I thought Mme Labbe succeeded by not trying to make a photorealistic recreation but by using a set of ingredients to form a similar set of layers as in the real thing. Tropical Cherimoya is going to be an ideal summer beach bag spritz.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Nasomatto Nudiflorum- Iced Jasmine

Perfume is bound up in its own rules of etiquette and manners. It is one of the things which can keep people from embracing fragrance as part of their life. One of the great pieces of the rise of independent perfumery was the addition of the creatives who had no patience or respect for these norms. If they wanted to join the party, they wanted to tip things over on their way inside. Some of them wanted to stand outside and moon everyone inside. One of those who stuck his tongue out at the perfume establishment was Alessandro Gualtieri.

Sig. Gualtieri started his own brand Nasomatto just so he could give perfume lovers his version of what perfume can be. From 2008-2014 he released a set of perfumes which lived up to his stated principle of, “I want my perfumes to have an intelligence of their own, not just be slaves to my meaning.” In multiple interviews he has spoken of how the process he uses is about losing control and allowing inspiration to pull him in directions. It has led to perfumes which have an active intelligence matching the one who is blending the ingredients.

Alessandro Gualtieri from the documentary "The Nose"

In 2014 we were told Blamage was going to be the final Nasomatto. In 2016 that turned out not to be correct. Sig. Gualtierei released Baraonda and it reminded me of what I was missing from not having the brand around; a gleeful pinch of anarchy. Now two years later we have a new bit of commotion; Nasomatto Nudiflorum.

When I saw the name, I thought it might be based on a variety of jasmine which carries the common name of “winter jasmine”. It turns out that the common name of Jasminum nudiflorum prepared me for what Nudiflorum was going to present as; an icy jasmine.

Nudiflorum opens with a set of icicle sharp chilly ingredients. Hard to be sure but I am guessing a mixture of aldehydes and ozonic notes. These are then tinted green with a galbanum-like ingredient. I kept thinking of these as fine frozen green needles when I wore Nudiflorum. The jasmine seems to be encased in the ice as it is kept at a distance. A set of musks swirl about the frozen accord. The final stages of Nudiflorum marry some smoke and leather as if they were trying to defrost the floral from its icy armor. It doesn’t ever really open the jasmine up fully, but it sure tries.

Nudiflorum has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

Nudiflorum contains much of what makes Nasomatto a stand out even within the independent landscape. Sig. Gualtieri trusts that there are those who will enjoy following him on his journey. Nudiflorum is another opportunity to find out who is ready to join Sig. Gualtieri at blowing raspberries at the safe corporate fragrance industry. I am happy to be one who is ready to wear Nudiflorum and do just that.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

It gets hard to know when the hype has something behind it. Most of the time it is exactly what that word indicates, overblown expectations for something quite ordinary. I have boxes of hyped debut novels which are from authors never heard of again. Then there are the extremely rare occasions where the book exceeds expectations. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is one of those.

The plot of this new book is set in the West-African country of Orisha. Our entry into the world is through the eyes of Zelie who has the white hair which designates her a maji; a wielder of magic. The King of Orisha wants to eradicate magic; mostly by killing the maji. Zelie’s mother was one of the casualties. This sets her on the classic heroine’s path to restore her legacy against the oppression of the King.

Tomi Adeyemi

What sets this apart is we meet the children of that King; Princess Amari and Prince Inan. As the Marvel movies have done so well lately, their perspective provides a reason behind the brutality visited upon the maji. This is what makes a great story when the evil is not just cackling garden variety kind but one with a goal that is rooted in a flawed reason. The Prince and Princess cross paths with Zelie and the story takes off across Orisha leading to an epic cliffhanger.

 I know little about Ms. Adeyemi, but I was impressed at the level of detail in her magic system. This is sometimes a throwaway part of a fantasy series and it can set my teeth on edge when it is. Not here. From the first pages to the last the rules are adhered to. Magic McGuffins don’t appear to save the day.

Just as Black Panther did in comic books and movies; Ms. Adeyemi opens new avenues of myth to be mined for story by turning to Africa. As I read through the book I could feel the pride of Ms. Adeyemi for these myths being transformed into something new. These are completely new perspectives for me to delve into which make this a joy to read because I am learning as I go.

If you need a beach read for the upcoming summer add Children of Blood and Bone to your list.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Elizabeth Taylor Passion for Men- The Scent of a Man La Liz Style

The branding of perfume by celebrities was not as common as it is today. It wasn’t until the late 1980’s where celebrity and perfume became the brand instead of the promotion. One of the earliest to step up with a celebrity brand was actress Elizabeth Taylor. Prior to Ms. Taylor’s entry the results were mixed. After the success of her third fragrance White Diamonds there was a line of celebrities wanting to put their names on a bottle. I became acquainted with the brand through their first masculine release Passion for Men in 1989.

Ms. Taylor was one of the earliest celebrities writ large often referred to as La Liz. In a day when there was no internet every move she made was scrutinized and reported upon. Her love life, the jewelry, the movie set contretemps, and her fashion. I was always enthralled by her eyes with their one-of-a-kind violet color. Seeing them on a 70mm movie screen they were mesmerizing. The color became one of Ms. Taylor’s hallmarks as she used violet throughout her life. When she released her first perfume Passion in 1987 it was in a violet colored bottle. I had a close friend who wore Passion from nearly the first day it was released, it was her signature scent for twenty years. When I smell it I automatically think of her. Because she knew I liked perfume she gifted me a bottle of Passion for Men in 1989. It would remain in my small early rotation of perfume until I discovered niche over ten years later.

Rene Morgenthaler

Passion for Men was composed by perfumer Rene Morgenthaler who was a stalwart perfumer in the commercial sector at this time. M. Morgenthaler was a technician working on the familiar perfume templates. Passion for Men was going to be a masculine Oriental except there was a fabulous little indicator of where men’s perfume would head more firmly twenty years later. M. Morgenthaler would design a spicy woody version of the classic architecture.

Elizabeth Taylor in 1985

Passion for Men begins with bergamot supported by ginger. This begins to be subsumed by spices as clove, cardamom and primarily nutmeg carry things forward. Vetiver sets itself up as the nucleus in the heart. This is a woodier version of vetiver. M. Morgenthaler really pushes it to the foreground to mesh with the nutmeg. The bit of innovation here is he adds in a vector of vanilla at the same time patchouli comes up. This tilts in a kind of gourmand style, years before that would come to be a thing.

Passion for Men has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I still wear Passion for Men at least once a year, it has classical style which does not feel dated. This can be had for $10-15 at most of the perfume discounters. Its longevity has really turned it into a Discount Diamond.

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

Mark Behnke