Olfactory Chemistry: The Physics of Supercritical Fluid Extraction- It’s a Gas, Gas, Gas

For years the extraction of the essential oils from natural sources was done via extraction in hot ethanol and distillation of the resulting solution to collect the essential oil. This process due to the heat used for the extraction and the distillation causes loss of some of the ingredients which are heat sensitive or reactive with alcohol when it is heated to boiling this is called denaturing. What this means is the process does not get the whole spectrum of ingredients that come from the natural source. The only alternative to this steam extraction and distillation process was the very labor intensive enfleurage which would capture a fuller amount of the natural products but still not everything.

Then along came supercritical fluid extraction. This is a process where a solvent which exists at a gas at normal pressure and ambient temperature when placed under pressure and cooled, liquefies. If there is a source of essential oils covered by the cold liquid it extracts everything out of it. After the extraction is done the liquid is transferred into a vial where it is allowed to return to room temperature and pressure. This turns it back into a gas leaving behind the essential oil. Are your eyes glazing over yet? This is always where I see the light going out of the eyes anyone I have ever tried to explain this to. You know the whole adage about a picture being worth a thousand words? Well the video below which comes from Mane describing their Jungle Essence procedure is worth a million words as it is a beautiful way of showing how this is done.

The solvent used in the video is probably primarily butane, the gas used in cigarette lighters. When used as the solvent in supercritical fluid extraction it performs well. The first solvent used was carbon dioxide and those early essential oils were labeled CO2 to indicate that they were extracted with that. Now all of the aromachemical houses have worked to perfect different blends using other blends mostly using a high percentage of butane.

When I was at the Mane presentation at Pitti they showed the video above and they passed around examples of raw materials which were extracted the traditional steam distillation way, using carbon dioxide as a supercritical fluid, and using their Jungle Essence blend. It was striking to see how much more there was in the supercritical fluid extractions. The most striking was an extract of hot Szechuan pepper. A glass of the ground pepper pods was passed around followed by a mouillette of the Szechuan pepper Jungle Essence. If I was blindfolded I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. Petitgrain was also an interesting example because in that case the essential oil realized by steam distillation was only very slightly different than the Jungle Essence version. That showed me that supercritical fluid extraction is not always the best choice.

I hope that the video above especially helps you to understand the technique much better than my overly technical second paragraph and the next time you see a note which says something like sandalwood EO CO2 you’ll understand why it might smell a little different.

My thanks to Mane for the video I really do think it is very well done.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Clive Christian L for Women & L for Men- British Depth

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The ultra-luxe category of niche perfumery has been expanding, especially over the last year or so. Some of that expansion seems as ill-advised as the releases that carry the high price tag. Clive Christian was one of the original ultra-luxe perfume houses and they still hold the Guinness Book of World Records title of World’s Most Expensive Perfume for 2001’s No. 1 for Men & No. 1 for Women. One of the things I admire about the brand is their dedication to making sure the money is in the bottle instead of on the bottle. Clive Christian and his daughter Victoria Christian have dedicated themselves, as creative directors, to the brand which carries their name to also reflect their innate British style. It has been two years since the last new release by Clive Christian now for 2014 we have a new pair, L for Women and L for Men.

clive christian 1

Clive Christian

C stood for Clive and V stood for Victoria so what does L stand for? According to the press materials it stands for Love. As perfumes L for Women is a powerful fruity floral and L for Men is a spicy woody pastiche. Neither perfume is innovative about their structure. What differentiates them is the concentration of the raw materials which often shows subtlety to the note which can only be detected when such a high concentration is used. In both of the “L” perfumes it is this which makes them so enjoyable to wear.

Victoria+Christian

Victoria Christian

L for Women opens with a densely green accord made up of a mélange of Black, Pink, and White Pepper. Davana supplies the strawberry preserves quality. This is one of those ingredients which is provided in overdose and that allows for the green and woody facets to be discerned. A green accord is also used to accentuate the green. The final result in the early going is like a pot of fine strawberry jam surrounded by ivy. The heart is a classic pairing of jasmine and Damask rose. This is a heady olfactory opiate. It is so powerful that at first it is hard to get close to it. Wait it out because once you allow yourself to settle into it the intensity contains hidden delights. For me it is the way the indoles of the jasmine suffuse the spicy core of the rose. The floral lightness abounds but it is the raw animalic center which fascinates. It all ends up on a woody base of vetiver, cedar, and musk.

L for Men is my favorite of the two which is maybe as it should be as after all I am a man. It also carries a rose in the heart but where L For Women is all about the rose in L for Men it mainly acts as a transitional note from the spicy opening down to the very woody base. This opens with a tart selection of citrus, mainly grapefruit and petitgrain. Then it is subsumed in a tsunami of spices. Cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, and probably others crash in a wave over the citrus. It makes for a very lively early development. It carries a vitality along with the depth. This opening really checked off all of my boxes. I was sort of sad to see it begin to attenuate as the rose acts as an attention getter before the base notes come forward. Vetiver forms a woody nucleus to which cedar, fir balsam, and oud are added. Just as with the spices on top the woody notes are all in high concentration and instead of being cacophonous they come together in a woody harmonic convergence and vibrate for hours on my skin.

L for Women & L for Men lasts for 14-16 hours on my skin with above average sillage.

As I mentioned above the money is in the bottle and both L for Women and L for Men show me the care in the use of the raw materials used to make these perfumes. The intensity and concentration of both of these could have led to a hot mess if done poorly. Instead they are studies in how deep you can go with a typical architecture like fruity floral or spicy woody. The answer as provided by L for Women and L for Men is it is nearly fathomless.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Clive Christian.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Aether Arts Pefume Burner Perfume No. 5: Incense Indica- Radical Self-Expression

The yearly festival known as Burning Man is a consistent source of inspiration for the participants. As one who attended the early Burning Man events out on the playa it is stunning to see that it has grown from a couple thousand to tens of thousands. Burning Man was always a moment for the participants to find out something about themselves as part of a temporary community. Even as it has become larger there are always signs that it still inspires on an individual basis. For evidence of that you need look no further than Boulder, Colorado based independent perfumer Amber Jobin and her Aether Arts Perfume line. Ms. Jonin creates a new perfume for each Burning Man she attends. For last year her Burner Perfume No. 4; John Frum was one of the best new perfumes of the year and it won one of the inaugural Art & Olfaction Awards in the Artisan Category. Ms. Jobin is one of the rising stars in independent perfumery and it was with interest I waited to see what this year’s Burner Perfume would be.

Amber Jobin's custom perfume offering at Burning Man, 2014

Amber Jobin at Burning Man 2014

Burning Man has a theme every year and Ms. Jobin designs her perfume to fit that theme. For 2014 the theme was “Caravansary: The First Information Highway”. Ms. Jobin was drawn to the idea of “Imagining all the precious and exotic cargo that passed along the Silk Road.” She realized this was a good opportunity to make an incense perfume. As she thought about it she wanted to make a different incense perfume. She chose an ingredient which is “a plant that shares many of the same components, cannabis.” All of this is what Burner Perfume No. 5: Incense Indica became. It seems like as marijuana has started to become legalized it has become more common as a perfume ingredient. Incense Indica is one of five cannabis based perfumes I received just in the last six weeks. That coincidence has also illuminated, to me, the versatility of it as a core note. Ms. Jobin does use it in place of a traditional frankincense in a typical incense perfumer design.

Incense Indica opens with opoponax, choya loban and cannabis all rolled together in a magnificent olfactory spliff. Ms. Jobin captures not only the narcotic depth of the cannabis but also the green sticky resinous quality, too. It is that combination which makes cannabis such an interesting note to build upon. The choya loban adds a cloud of smoke over the early moments. Often smoky notes can overwhelm. Ms. Jobin uses it as a distinct opaque haze. All of this turns decadent with honey as it picks up on the cannabis and sets it glowing. Myrrh adds to the sweetness quotient.. Then Ms. Jobin lets a fully indolic jasmine sambac out to search out all of the deeper skankier noes within the cannabis. The last stage is gorgeously animalic and greenly herbal on a cedar and sandalwood base.

Incense Indica has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Incense Indica shows cannabis to be a fully functional perfume ingredient and Ms. Jobin has used it well by skillfully using the right notes to fully explore all of the fragrant potential within. The jasmine and cannabis pairing is the one which really grabs ahold of my imagination. One of the principles of Burning Man is that of Radical Self-Expression with these series of Burner Perfumes Ms. Jobin lives up to that in all of the best ways.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Aether Arts Perfume.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Thierry Mugler A*Men Pure Wood- Soft Woods

The most successful line of flankers might be the Thierry Mugler A*Men series begun in 2008 with A*Men Pure Coffee. Over six successive releases spaced about a year apart perfumer Jacques Huclier has successfully added in the listed “Pure” ingredient all while staying true to his original A*Men from 1996. The variation in these perfumes comes in the opening two thirds of development. All of them end on the very familiar A*Men base of caramel, chocolate, and vanilla. That sort of composition can have a sameness to it over time. For the newest addition to the line, called A*Men Pure Wood, M. Huclier decides to make this the least unlike the original or any of the previous Pure releases.

Creative Director Pierre Aulas has overseen the entire line of flankers and he has done a tremendous job at guiding M. Huclier on how to add in a disparate ingredient into the existing A*Men framework. The only complete miss for me was 2011’s A*Men Taste of Fragrance which has waggishly been named Pure Chili because M. Huclier tried to add in spicy red pepper and it just didn’t feel like it belonged. When it works, with Pure Coffee or Pure Malt, the addition illuminates something different about A*Men. If there has been one consistent drawback for some it is the sheer power and projection of A*Men and its flankers. For those who have wished for an A*Men which is a little easier to wear and a little less prominent to those around you Pure Wood might fit the bill.

Jacques-Huclier

Jacques Huclier

M. Huclier keeps the composition of Pure Wood very simple and that works to its favor. The promised wood is an oak and cypress blend. I like the choice because the oak adds brawn while the cypress is a bit more blonde and fun. Early on coffee is the note which interacts with the woods. It is not as rich in character as you might expect. M. Huclier uses the oak as foundation and allows the cypress and coffee the space to become more expansive over the early going. Instead of going for the fully gourmand A*Men base M. Huclier dials it down a lot as he pairs vanilla with patchouli. For those who love that gourmand base the vanilla plus the patchouli form a sort of chocolate accord which makes it seem like a member of the A*Men family. I have to say while I was wearing it I kept sort of expecting the caramel and chocolate to come rushing in. The fact that M. Huclier left them out is what makes Pure Wood less extroverted than the rest of the line.

A*Men Pure Wood has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

Pure Wood goes to the top of the A*Men list to stand next to Pure Coffee and Pure Malt. It is the most different structurally from any of the other flankers and it is that difference which makes it interesting to me. If you’ve always wanted a lighter version of A*Men I think Pure Wood might be that perfume.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample of Pure Wood I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Aftelier Perfumes Palimpsest- Layers Upon Layers

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I love words. I love words which roll off my tongue carrying meaning. One of my favorite words is palimpsest. I was introduced to this word in the novel by astronomer Carl Sagan, “Contact”. In that novel an alien race sends a message to Earth on how to initiate first contact. The message is a palimpsest. A palimpsest is not a science fiction concept it was actually born of necessity during the beginning of the written word. Because paper was so precious when new parchment was needed often an old page with writing on it would be washed and the faded text written over. What would result is a piece of writing which would have hidden layers of older meaning underneath the surface. It also has an odd sort of intricate visual beauty to it. The page below is from The Archimedes Palimpsest on which a prayer text has been written over the words of ancient mathematician Archimedes. Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes must also like the word because her newest release is named Palimpsest and it also carries the same captivating power as The Archimedes Palimpsest.

archimedes-palimpsest

The Archimedes Palimpsest (Photo: Scientific American)

Ms. Aftel is one of the founders of independent perfumery and in particular independent natural perfumery. In science we refer to a family tree which springs from our graduate research advisors. When it comes to natural perfume Ms. Aftel’s family tree is a huge oak which spreads widely. I have always admired her passion at sharing her knowledge. Towards that end she has just finished a new book, “Fragrant, The Secret Life of Scent”. During her research she came across old texts which had palimpsest pages within. She “wanted to capture the richness that you feel when you experience the past as alive in the present, creating the gorgeous complexity of life.” Ms. Aftel has done an outstanding job at creating a perfumed page of differing layers which together create something as delightful as The Archimedes Palimpsest.

mandy aftel

Mandy Aftel (Photo: Handful of Salt)

The modern text on top of the fragrance is written in honey and citrus. Ms. Aftel uses yuzu and phenylacetic acid to combine the grapefruit-like quality of yuzu with the slightly honeyed character of phenylacetic acid. The honey effect is slight but it is persistent which will come into play later on. The heart is a floral scented love letter written in flowery notes of jasmine and ylang ylang made richer and creamier by the use of gamma- dodecalactone. The lactone is two carbons bigger than the well-known peach lactone and those two carbons impart an apricot and pear facet along with the peach, all suspended in a creamy matrix. This makes the heart of Palimpsest a luscious fruity floral. The base is an ancient text written in the aboriginal ingredient of firetree oil. Firetree oil is an indigenous ingredient used in the outback of Australia. The aboriginal people have used it for millennia medicinally and the flowers are edible. The oil is one of the more fascinating ingredients I have encountered in the last couple of years. It is almost a palimpsest all by itself as it moves from lightly floral, sugary sweet, a bit of leather and often it exudes a golden glow of honey. The latter allows the phenylacetic acid from the early development to come back into play closing the loop on the layers.

Palimpsest has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

There are few perfumers who could have set out to create an olfactory layer of styles and have them all mesh together so beautifully. Ms. Aftel has created an intricately crafted piece of perfumery that gives the wearer hours of layered development as it constantly evolves on the skin. Each layer reveals something in relation to the others making it a true palimpsest.

Dioisclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Aftelier Perfumes.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Serge Lutens L’Incendiaire- Uncle Serge Does Oud

Is a movement over when the last stalwarts capitulate and join the bandwagon? I found myself asking this a lot as I wore the new release from Serge Lutens, L’Incendiaire. Uncle Serge has steadfastly avoided jumping on the oud craze that almost every other niche line has happily embraced. I was eagerly looking to Serge Lutens return to the darker style of fragrance which has seemingly been replaced with perfumes pitched to a different market, which does not include me. L'Incendiare was described by the press materials as containing, “rare resins, saps, ambers, and tarmac”. I was excited to try something composed by perfumer Christopher Sheldrake which captured that snippet.

I have written that I thought that many of the recent releases by Serge Lutens have felt like they have played it safe looking to appeal to one specific segment of the perfume wearing audience. Those have mostly been lighter bodied compositions and I have finally come to grips with the concept that I am not part of that audience. I am the audience that “rare resins, saps, ambers, and tarmac” sounds divine to. I had expectations of something a bit avant-garde from Messrs. Lutens and Sheldrake. I was surprised upon sniffing it and wearing it for a few days that L’Incendiaire is still playing it safe but at least this time I enjoyed the effort.

L’Incendiaire is a pretty simple perfume to describe in a few words; it is a smoky oud. Now it is a smoky oud as envisioned by M. Sheldrake which makes it good. It just feels like a throwback to some of the early oud perfumes from other luxury brands where the oud was there front and center and a few dancing partners were added. These perfumes were mostly ways of showing oud to a western audience. L’Incendiaire acts like it is introducing oud to an audience that is most likely overwhelmed by oud at this point.

Christopher-Sheldrake

Christopher Sheldrake

L’Incendiaire starts off with a mix of wood smoke along with a hint of sharp acridness. The opening seemed to promise what the snippet had implied. Before L’Incendiaire can get too far afield it is firmly pulled back to the middle of the road by the presence of the oud. Myrrh is present also in what has become one of oud’s favorite perfume partners. Here is where I would have hoped for something different to skew this fairly common combination. M. Sheldrake lets the myrrh and oud smolder for hours before fading away.

L’Incendiaire has 10-12 hour longevity and very modest sillage. It is a pure parfum strength which accounts for the longevity and the sillage.

Am I happy that I got a new darker Serge Lutens? Yes I am. Am I happy it is an oud fragrance? Yes I am. Do I wish for a little more risk taking? Yes I do.

The bottom line is L’Incendiaire is an oud perfume that fully lives up to the Serge Lutens aesthetic. It just seems that other perfume houses got to this one first and did it as well or better. I am happy to have a small decant of it but this is not one that will join the other bell jars in my collection. If you like smoky oud fragrances I think you will like L’Incendiaire.

Disclosure: This review was based on a decant I purchased.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Saturday Night Live

By the time this publishes tonight I will be sitting in front of my television set watching the opening show of the fortieth season of Saturday Night Live (SNL). I have been thinking that watching SNL has been a fixture in my life from my teen years right through to my AARP card carrying years. The cast members have seemed to evolve and change along with me. There is always some part of a given show which makes me laugh. That SNL is still standing is testament to one man Executive Producer Lorne Michaels.

SNL_Original_Cast

When I talk about the importance of clear creative direction in perfumery it is no different in the visual arts. If there is not a clear vision on top the effort is doomed to failure or ennui leading to boredom, and cancellation on television. Mr. Michaels has continued to refresh the cast over forty years adding in fresh faces and arguably being the biggest star making show of the past forty years. Just think about the movies you love and chances are an SNL alumni has something to do with many of them. That is also some of the joy of watching SNL as you see a comedic performer grow from unknown to superstar.

lorne-michaels

Lorne Michaels

The other thing I take great joy from watching is taking on the catchphrases into my own daily life. “Candygram!” when I’m trying to be deceptive. “Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead” when talking about something obvious. Although when using it in a meeting of young scientists who were not born when SNL premiered I had to explain it and simultaneously feel my age. When we go shopping my wife rolls her eyes every time I pick up the package of meat substitute Seitan and channel the Church Lady. My all-time favorite line came from Billy Crystal’s impersonation of Fernando Lamas, “It is better to look good than to feel good” I was also a big fan of “You look mahvelous.” I could go on but you get the idea.

So as I get set to sit down and watch Chris Pratt host tonight’s episode I wonder who from this cast will be the next big star and what line will become the next part of my lexicon. I’ll know very soon.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Jo Malone Wood Sage & Sea Salt- A Farewell to Summer & Christine Nagel

When I lived in Boston my favorite time to visit Cape Cod was at the end of September or early October. As someone who had grown up on the beaches of South Florida where beach season never really ends it was different living in the Northeast. By this time of year the colors of fall are starting to sneak into the leaves and I always wanted to go spend one last weekend near the ocean, while I could. I always found it to be a sort of melancholy farewell to summer. I also noticed a shift in the smells of the surf and sand, too. It also carried a sense of endings coming. The latest release from Jo Malone, Wood Sage & Sea Salt captures all of this. It is also fitting as this perfume marks a farewell of sorts for perfumer Christine Nagel from being de-facto in-house nose for the brand as she leaves to take up a new position at Hermes.

christine nagel and celine roux

Christine Nagel (l.) and Celine Roux on the beach in Cornwall

In an interview with The Moodie Report I was interested to learn that Mme Nagel took a trip to Cornwall with Jo Malone Creative Director Celine Roux. Mme Roux said, “Traditionally, when you think of a beach, you think of sun, warmth, bikinis. It wasn’t like that (in Cornwall)! It was rainy and windy, with big waves and rugged cliffs – so refreshing and exhilarating. It felt like an escape from real life, but in a good way.” She wanted Mme Nagel to experience this, “Most of the world’s perfumers are French, and they are not familiar with the British beach. We went in March; it was super windy and we got salt in our hair. It was exactly what I wanted Christine to experience.” She also directed Mme Nagel, “I told her I wanted a fragrance that represented the English coast, but which wasn’t an aquatic, I wanted something mineral, and also something green.” It is exactly this kind of creative direction which can lead to something that rises above the crowd. Wood Sage & Sea Salt does just that.

Mme Nagel opens the perfume with a two pronged approach as she takes the sea salt accord and mineralic raw materials to give the earth and spray aspect. Concurrently she matches this with a unique pairing of ambrette seed and buchu leaves. The ambrette adds a freshness while buchu adds a slightly minty herbal aspect. A pinch of plum is used to smooth any roughness that might arise. Together they capture that milieu of green things growing in the dunes whipped by the wind and sea spray. Eventually you notice the drying driftwood in the presence of guaiac wood and the promised sage again adding Mme Roux’s desired green to go with the mineral.

Wood Sage & Sea Salt has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

Over the past year I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of new takes on the aquatic genre of perfumery. I think it is due to creative direction from people like Mme Roux who are pushing for something different than the typical midsummer ozonic lightness and instead push for something with a little more weight. Wood Sage & Sea Salt serve as the perfect farewell to summer and Mme Nagel. The best part is both summer and Mme Nagel will return in time.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Maria Candida Gentile Kitrea, Synconium, & Leuco- Mind Your Beeswax

Over the last couple of years I have had the opportunity to sit down with perfumer Maria Candida Gentile as she takes me through the raw ingredients in her perfumes. Her method of seeking out unique materials and crafting a fragrance around them is the epitome of what independent perfumery is all about. At Pitti Fragranze I got another master class from the master perfumer on the terroir of a particular raw material. For her latest collection of three fragrances, Kitrea, Synconium, and Leuco she has grouped them as her “Flight of the Bumblebee” (Il Volo del Calabrone) collection. Which makes sense because the linchpin ingredient in all three is beeswax with the accompanying honey. Sig.ra Gentile chose a specific source from a different country for all three perfumes. What I find particularly interesting is the beeswax sources are not interchangeable and each of these fragrances were constructed from the foundation of the particular beeswax.

beeswax

Kitrea uses an Italian beeswax which Sig.ra Gentile found to have an aromatic balsamic character. From that she builds a structure of citrus and ocean. Kitrea opens with a brilliant flare of lemon and bergamot which softly settle down onto the foundation of honey and beeswax. The balsamic tinged quality forms a perfect pivot point for Sig.ra Gentile’s aquatic base. As it was with Finesterre her deftness with her marine accord gives Kitrea a wave tossed finish. Kitrea is a skillful mix of citrus and ocean all encased in a honeycomb.

Synconium uses a Spanish beeswax which carries a fabulously rich gourmand character of almond and vanilla. Sig.ra Gentile chooses to match a keynote of fig to go with this beeswax. This time the honey and beeswax are on top and they add a velvety smoothness. The gourmand qualities arise out of the treacle just in time for a very ripe fig accord to come forward. As the fig and the beeswax almost melt into one another it feels like Synconium is becoming a decadent fig tartine. Synconium stays right here for a very long time before allowing soft sandalwood to be the final addition. Synconium is a gourmand fig that is delicious and savory.

mcg in her studio

Maria Candida Gentile in her studio

Leuco uses French beeswax and this source imparts a powdery softness to the honey. This is a critical pairing because Leuco is a tuberose perfume. The French beeswax does a fantastic job of taming the tuberose; transforming it into a lush narcotic white flower which allows the wearer to come to it instead of the other way around. The honey and beeswax are on top again and the powdery aspect of the French beeswax also gives the honey a bit of unusual sweetness. The early going made me think of a pot of honey which was left next to a powder puff. The tuberose starts to meld with this and it does so brilliantly. Often when I start to smell tuberose I metaphorically plant my feet for the onslaught to come. I did the same the first time I smelled Leuco but the tuberose never became that all-encompassing floral note. Instead the French beeswax refines it and turns it into this shimmery white floral note. This has to be one of my favorite tuberose perfumes ever because of the unique way it is presented. Leuco is the best perfume Sig.ra Gentile has ever made; it is an example of a master perfumer, and an independent perfumer, working at the peak of her skill.

All three perfumes have 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Once again Sig.ra Gentile has opened my eyes to the potential of using just the right ingredient in the right place. All three perfumes are beautiful but Leuco is among the best new perfumes I’ve tried this year.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Maria Candida Gentile at Pitti Fragranze.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Masque Milano Russian Tea- St. Petersburg Tea

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One of the more interesting presentations at Pitti Fragranze was the one for the new release from Masque Milano. When I walked through one of the aisles I was met with a stand which had a Russian samovar as its centerpiece. When I focused a little more I saw Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi, the Crative Directors for the brand, standing behind it. I knew that the promised fifth fragrance from Masque Milano called Russian Tea was ready to be tried.

masque pitti fragranze

Masque Milano display at Pitti Fragranze 2014 (Photo: Fragrantica)

Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi had visited Russia and were treated to a Russian Tea Ritual while in a snowy Saint Petersburg. They wanted to capture in a perfume not only the tea ritual but also the journey of the tea leaves by train across Siberia to their eventual location. As they would tell me, before giving me some to try, Russian Tea when being transported by train is kept dry by wood burning fires underneath. This causes the tea leaves to take on a smoky character. Another component of the transportation is the use of mint to also modulate the smokiness of the fires and keep the tea fresh. Once the tea is presented as part of the ritual a teaspoon of raspberry preserve is added. To encompass the journey from tea leaves to samovar, perfumer Julien Rasquinet was asked to bring this to life. For M. Rasquinet this would be his last independent perfume before taking a job with IFF. He would deliver this perfume on December 31, 2013 and on January 1, 2014 he would destroy his lab to take on his new duties. As a final nod to his independent career M. Rasquinet goes out on a high note.

riccardo and alessandro

Riccardo Tedeschi (l.) and Alessandro Brun

The opening of Russian Tea is all of the things around the tea ritual. There is a hint of mint as the leaves are prepared. The raspberry preserves are placed in a pot on the table. The leaves give off a piquant aroma carried by a pinch of black pepper in the top notes. The tea then begins to brew, thick and savory, in the olfactory samovar. M. Rasquinet uses a very intense black tea accord and to keep it from being too dark he cleverly uses immortelle to temper the strength. It is really a quite brilliant choice as the maple syrup feel of immortelle adds just the right amount of contrasting sweetness to make the black tea comforting. As the cup is placed before you the steam arises carrying all the scents of the journey as birch and leather form a smoky duet. Incense wafts across the base notes as a wonderfully eccentric grace note.

Russian Tea has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

When I drink tea I enjoy it dark and smoky. Russian Tea serves me up a fragrance that is not only dark and smoky it is also full of all the splendor of the Russian Tea Ritual throughout. This is a perfume which is as comforting as a cup of strong dark tea on a winter’s day in St. Petersburg.   

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Masque Milano at Pitti Fragranze.

Mark Behnke