New Perfume Reviews Phoenix Botanicals Tempest Blossom & Bed of Roses- Natural Intimacy

I say it almost every time I review a talented independent perfumer’s wok but it bears repeating. Those who stand out from the crowd are those who spend real time with their raw materials. The best form a personal bond with these extracts and through their exploration when they are ready to compose a perfume using them they also know exactly how to make it shine. Natural Perfumer Irina Adam of Phoenix Botanicals is one of these intimate imagineers of natural perfume and her latest releases Tempest Blossom & Bed of Roses are another illustration of this.

I met Ms. Adam in 2012, she is a very soft spoken individual and after speaking with her she pressed some samples into my hand. It would be days later when I would come across those samples and I was very impressed. She has made a number of natural perfumes where the natural ingredients were displayed with a clarity and depth that is unusual. One of the things about Ms. Adam is she goes out and gathers her ingredients and compounds them herself. She recently spent some time in Hawaii and that trip and the materials she gathered have inspired a new spate of perfumes. At the recent Sniffapalooza Fall Ball I had the pleasure of introducing her and she presented her new perfumes.

irina adam

Irina Adam

Tempest Blossom is one of the most unique combinations Ms. Adam has created so far. She was inspired by walking through Hawaii after a wind driven rainstorm had passed. The scent of foliage uprooted and flowers bruised and releasing their fragrance from their crushed petals. Over all of this she wanted to capture the power of standing outside and watching the storm approach as the air gets heavier and nature rises up. What is so interesting is the two notes she chooses to capture this are tuberose and oud.

Tuberose and Oud? I can imagine you thinking this could be a roaring beast of two of perfumery’s most extroverted notes. This is where Ms. Adam’s dedication to making her own raw materials comes into play. Tuberose and Oud are definitely here but since she is responsible for making the raw material she has already shaped it, some, to be powerful but it is much quieter than other tuberose and oud you have run into. It opens with the wind picking up, wafting some smells from the citrus grove in the distance. Hints of some of the other flowers are also flowing on the freshening wind. As the storm crackles and passes overhead you walk out to find crushed tuberose everywhere releasing their perfume. The oud represents the moist earth and there is a bit of vetiver to help enhance this illusion. Tempest Blossom is like seeing what the storm has revealed after it has passed.

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It is a funny thing that Tempest Blossom enchanted me because of its unique duet. Bed of Roses I expected to be just another rose perfume. There are so many rose perfumes out there now it is hard to find something new to say. The name comes from a real life bed which had wild rose petals sprinkled on it and where Ms. Adam would lay her head after a day of harvesting. Bed of Roses has a beautiful rose core but Ms. Adam adds in the bed underneath as there is a hint of linen and wooden bedframe underneath this rose.

Bed of Roses opens with a blend of five roses and it must have been the smell that first hit her when she laid down as the rose petals gave up their fragrance. Underneath is the freshly laundered sheets carrying a slightly soapy accord consisting of violet, carnation, and neroli. The wood of the four posters is represented by vetiver and oakmoss. As with Tempest Blossom there is powerful delicacy on display in Bed of Roses.

Tempest Blossom and Bed of Roses have 6-8 hour longevity and almost zero sillage.

Ms. Adam has quickly risen to one of the natural perfumers from whom I eagerly await what comes next. It all starts with her very personal way of gathering her ingredients and ends in delightfully singular natural perfumes like Tempest Blossom and Bed of Roses.

Disclosure: this review was based on samples provided by Phoenix botanicals at sniffapalooza Fall Ball.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review: M Micallef Mon Parfum Gold- Different Elegance

I have to admit that it can be hard to work up any excitement over a new flanker. Which is why they often keep moving down my list of things to wear pushed out by something newer and shinier. This was the plight of the new M. Micallef Mon Parfum Gold. I have had a sample since Pitti Fragranze in September but there was always something more enticing. The one good thing about this time of year is there is some time to eventually get around to trying the things which kept getting displaced.

Martine Micallef and her husband Geoffrey Nejman have been the owners and creative force behind M. Micallef Perfumes since 2002. They have worked exclusively with perfumer Jean-Claude Astier to create a very distinctive, very French, brand. 2009’s Mon Parfum was, perhaps, the culmination of everything M. Micallef stands for as it remains the flagship perfume for the brand. Last year the first flanker, Mon Parfum Cristal, was released and while it was good it somehow lost some of that elegance that the original Mon Parfum had to burn. I tried Mon Parfum Gold at Pitti and it didn’t really perform well on the strip. It seemed a little unfocused. Once it finally returned to my attention I found it was much better on my skin and over the last couple of weeks it has really been a great autumn perfume.

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Martine Micallef and Geoffrey Nejman

Team Micallef wanted to make Mon Parfum Gold a real Oriental while retaining the soft floral nature of the original. M. Astier cleverly uses a trio of more boisterous florals in his heart but there is much greater depth throughout the development and it makes Mon Parfum Gold an interesting extrovert.

Mon Parfum Gold opens on a fruity accord centered upon plum and mandarin. This is where there is an identifiable aesthetic that is M. Micallef. There are a lot of plum and mandarin openings out there. Here M. Astier lets the mandarin stand out front and then adds in the plum to add a fruity lower octave. There is a beautiful harmony that seems different from others which use the same notes. This all leads into a heart of mostly tuberose supported by jasmine and orange blossom. This is a complete tuberose from slightly green mentholated facets straight through to its indolic floral beauty. The jasmine is used to as modifier and I really only caught it as a singular note at odd times throughout the days I wore this. It finally ends on a base of vanilla and musk. There also seems to be a bit of really fine frankincense swirling through the final stages.

Mon Parfum Gold has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Mon Parfum has always been my idea of a perfume for a woman planning to engage her lover. Mon Parfum Gold is the perfume for that same woman who is at a party and every eye in the room tracks her movement because she has such an understated elegance.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by M. Micallef at Pitti Fragranze.

Mark Behnke

Olfactory Chemistry-Damascones

Part of the purpose of this series is to illustrate how the most simple of changes can have dramatic effects on not only the odor profile but even the stability of the molecules themselves. The class of molecules known as Damascones portray both of these qualities.

ionone damascone

As you can see the Damascones are closely related with the only structural difference being the reversal in position of the C=O and double bond. As I wrote in the installment on Ionones those molecules all carry a variation on iris and woods. The Damascones are one of the key natural products which make up rose oil. The name itself comes from the Damask rose from which it was isolated and the structure determined. These molecules impart a dark rose or fruity quality when used.

beta ionone damascone

The other difference is the stability of the molecules. Ionones are a work horse molecule in perfumery and are used far and wide. The Damascones were used and, because of their nature, a little goes a long way but they are much more prone to degradation. In a paper presented at the 2000 meeting of The International Federation of Essential Oils and Aroma Trades (IFEAT) Dr. Robert Bedoukian showed this difference. Beta-ionone and beta-Demascone were left open to the air in a clear glass flask for 24 days taking samples at day 6, day 17, and day 24. Dr. Bedoukian was looking for a common oxidation product which forms called a peroxide and measured the levels of peroxide. Beta ionone showed values of 20, 60 and 85 mmol/I of peroxide on days 6,17, and 24. Beta-Damascone showed levels of 45, 130, and 150 mmol/l over the same time points. You can see that the rate of decomposition is more than twice as fast for the damascone than the ionone.

Even with all of that Damascones are the key ingredient in three of the most important fragrances ever made. One of its earliest uses was in Guerlain Nahema in 1979 it gave texture and depth to the central rose in Nahema that makes it to my mind the best rose perfume ever. Damascones also played a part in Christian Dior Poison in 1985 and in the perfume considered the “best ever”, 1981’s Shiseido Nombre Noir. None of these have survived reformulation unscathed as IFRA called out the Damascones as sensitizers and the possibility of being reactive. The levels of Damascone able to be used was reduced to less than 0.02%. Which especially for Poison and Nombre Noir, which used the damascones in overdose, forced a significant effort to reformulate in the case of Poison and Nombre Noir was simply discontinued.

Mark Behnke

Title Image: Shattered Rose by 8manderz8

New Perfume Review Narciso- Hidden Dangers

As the year comes to an end I start organizing my desk looking to make sure I’ve reviewed all of the perfumes that have come out this year before the calendar turns over. Without fail I find at least one or two which kept getting pushed down the pecking order because of timeliness or some other seemingly more important reason. The one I found a few days ago and reacquainted myself with was Narciso.

I have a very fond spot for Narciso Rodriguez the fashion designer. I remember sitting gobsmacked at one of his earliest shows at New York Fashion Week. It was no surprise to me that his star would rise hot and fast so that barely five years later he would be named the Best Designer for 2004 & 2005 by the CFDA. Contemporaneously with being at the pinnacle of the fashion world he also would produce a pair of perfumes, Narciso Rodriguez for Her and Narciso Rodriguez for Him. Both of these sit in my mythical Designer Perfume Hall of Fame. They showed that mainstream wasn’t synonymous with mediocre. Both of them were centered on a sensuous musk which does not pander to the lowest common denominator. In the years since the perfume line of Narciso Rodriguez has not been as successful as the fashion line. Flankers that were uninspiring and yearly limited editions that were indistinguishable. I received a press release over the summer and it mentioned that Mr. Rodriguez was going to take a more active creative direction in the next release. I thought that was a good thing and once I had a sample that was confirmed.

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Narciso was signed by Aurelien Guichard and visually it is striking as the juice has a milky cast to it. Even before spraying it you expect a creamy center. M. Guichard starts with florals floating on the surface of a milk bath in a cedar wood paneled spa room. It is simple but underneath it all is a very untamed musk, hidden, waiting to pounce.

Narciso opens with a florid gardenia note. Very expansive and also very green. A bit of rose is used to temper the green but it doesn’t really do as good a job as it might, for which I am thankful. That green gardenia is perfect prelude to the creamy ambery heart. The creaminess comes from a cocktail of white musks that M. Guichard layers one upon the other to create a plush sensuality. What becomes striking is partway through the musk accord begins to become a bit more animalic as it transforms from safe to sort of dangerous. There is a point, about two-thirds of the way through the development, on my skin that this less well-behaved musk hearkens back to the earlier perfumes. The base provides an austere framing of cedar which provides stalwart woody simplicity in contrast to the luminous muskiness.

Narciso has 8-10 hour longevity on my skin. It starts off with above average sillage but once the florals have disappeared the musky woody finish has very minimal sillage.

As I am starting to look back over the year I am surprised at the number of mainstream designer perfumes I have liked this year. Narciso is another one to add to that list.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Narciso Rodriguez.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Xerjoff Blue Hope & Red Hoba- Be Careful What You Wish For

There are so many times when a perfume brand plays it safe and we ask for something different. What happens when a brand listens to that desire and produces a perfume which is an example of not playing it safe but in going for that it doesn’t necessarily come together completely. The two latest releases from Xerjoff, Blue Hope & Red Hoba have me pondering this.

Xerjoff, as a brand, has been primarily about luxury and precious materials over making artistic statements. Many of my favorite perfumes from the line like Iriss or Richwood are exceedingly simple perfumes centered on iris and sandalwood respectively. There were some more adventurous exploits within last year’s Join The Club collection but those didn’t stray far from the Xerjoff brand DNA, really. It seems like creative director Sergio Momo gave a little more freedom to the perfumers to maybe redefine that brand characteristic and try and change the overall perception of Xerjoff. Both of these new perfumes tried to do this with different amounts of success.

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Carlo Ribero

The perfumer behind Blue Hope is Carlo Ribero who is signing his fourth perfume for the label. Blue Hope is a weirdly compelling combination of jasmine, saffron, and cedar. These are not notes which find harmony they mostly convey dissonance and they seem to circle each other like three gunfighters in a Mexican standoff. After a simple bergamot and mandarin opening the three protagonists take their equally placed spaces. The cedar the good guy full of clean lines. The saffron the local exotic guide knowledgeable about the indigenous ways. The jasmine the bad guy who exudes a dirty core of indolic malice. Throughout the long middle period of development it is like these three notes sit on my skin waiting for the other two to blink to take over. Instead they stay perched in equilibrium. Here is the funny thing I like this tension in small doses. For the first hour or so it was interesting but as it wore on for a few more hours it became a bit tedious. I welcomed the castoreum and vanilla base notes just to break up the tension.

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Cecile Zarokian

Cecile Zarokian was the perfumer who composed Red Hoba. This seems to Mme Zarolkian’s take on a contemporary Oriental. When she gets this modernizing of a familiar architecture right it can be joyous. In Red Hoba it is undeniably Mme Zarokian adding different beats to the traditional Oriental melody but they cause it to lurch a bit in a noticeable way. The early moments of Red Hoba are right up my alley as cardamom and cinnamon rise off my skin in a spicy sussurus, whispering of things to come. The heart opens with orris, patchouli, and jasmine fulfilling that promise. Then Mme Zarokian adds smoke, a lot of smoke, probably too much smoke as it overwhelms the evolving accord of the other three heart notes. For a significant time the smoke buries everything and is the only thing I smell. By the time it recedes it leaves behind a wonderfully animalic base of castoreum framed with cashmeran. Red Hoba is so close to being something very good before it all goes up in smoke.

Blue Hope has 10-12 hour longevity and average silage. Red Hoba has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I am one of those who ask creative directors to take a risk and now Sig. Momo has done just that. I admire that Sig. Ribero and Mme Zarokian were given a little more latitude to color outside of the lines and they did just that. I think there will be a few who absolutely love these perfumes for their differences from the norm. I should have been one of them. In the end I am reminded of the old proverb, “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.”

Disclosure: This review was based on samples purchased from Twisted Lily.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Killers’ Christmas Songs

The Holiday season is full of uniquely personal traditions big and small. One of the small traditions I use as the kickoff for the musical portion of the festivities is the release of The Killers new Christmas song to benefit Project (RED).

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The Killers are a rock band which got their start in Las Vegas. Since 2001 they have put out four albums. The band has never been one to crank out new music every year. They work at their own pace and I believe they are one of the best bands in this time span. I look forward to every release.

Project (RED) was formed in 2006 to raise money to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa. Over the past few years there have been many (RED) branded products which donate their proceeds to the initiative.

A-Great-Big-Sled

The Killers agreed to be part of the inaugural year of events and released a Christmas song called “A Great Big Sled” to benefit Project (RED). From a band who has made music that really connects with me this song has become my sing-along anthem to the holidays. Most sing Frosty or Rudolph you’ll catch me in my car singing lyrics like, “but little boys have action toys for brains, I’m living proof it can last a long time”.

Happy_Birthday_The_Killers

Since that first song The Killers release a new Christmas song during the first week of December to coincide with World AIDS Day on December 1. I consider the collection of eight songs over the last few years to be the band’s “fifth” album. Over the eight songs 2009’s “Happy Birthday Guadalupe” is about the hope for simple love on Christmas Day. Last year’s “Christmas in LA” is all about spending the holiday away from family because you chose to follow your dreams. 2008 saw Elton John and Neil Tennant join in for “Joseph, Better You than Me” which explores the faith inherent in the man who would be baby Jesus’ earthly parent. This song resonates more with me than traditional hymns as the song asks, “Will my faith stand still or run away”. The band indulges in a silly little ditty for 2011’s “The Cowboy Christmas Ball”.

What sets these songs apart from other artists who release Holiday songs is these feel more like songs really considered over the year between releases. As a result the songs stand on their own more surely and don’t lend themselves to becoming a musical time capsule more emblematic of the time period it was released.

Sometime this week I will get my annual e-mail that the new The Killers Christmas song has been released and I will be downloading as fast as the internet will allow me to. Then I’ll begin humming my way through December into the New Year.

Mark Behnke

How-to Give Perfume as a Gift

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There is a common question I get throughout the year but I get it more frequently during the Holiday shopping season, “Can you recommend a perfume to give to my significant other or family member or BFF?” Early on when I got this question my stock answer was exceedingly simple, “I don’t think you should give perfume as a present. It is a very personal thing to give and you are likely to spend a lot of money on something the recipient won’t like.”

What bothered me about this answer was it seemed like there must be a way to do it well. When people asked me for wine recommendations I would give them suggestions on different varietals they might like. Then I would suggest they go to their local wine store for a tasting and see what they liked best. Then I realized maybe you could put together a bit of a perfume “tasting” to help find a perfume for the person.

perfume-as-xmas-gift

A few years ago when I was asked the question I gave a different answer for the first time. It has worked so well that I want to share it. If you really want to give a fragrant gift this Holiday season here is a way you can do it in a special way.

  1. Go to where they sell perfume near you or use one of the online sellers like Twisted Lily or Luckyscent
  2. Choose four or five perfumes you think the intended recipient might like.
  3. Request samples of each of them. From the online merchants this is easy. At the department store they sometimes might not have a sample of everything you are interested in. At Sephora, or smaller niche stores, they will accommodatingly make samples of anything you ask them to.
  4. Note the price of the perfumes you’ve picked out and purchase a gift card that covers the cost of a bottle of the most expensive of the samples.
  5. Wrap up the samples and the gift card with a little note that has a variation on this, “Happy Holiday, I chose these perfumes because I thought they fit your personality. I hope we can both see how they all smell when you put them on. Once you’ve picked your favorite you can use the gift card to buy the one you like best.”
  6. Share the experience of letting the recipient choose which one they like best.

I have given this advice numerous times and so far all of the feedback has been positive. What I like best about doing this is two of my friends call the perfume they chose this way as “their” perfume. I think it allows you to take the joy of gift giving a little bit further in the collaboration on picking which one is best.

The holiday shopping season is in full swing and I hope you find this useful if you are thinking of giving perfume as a gift.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews A Lab on Fire Paris*LA & Made in Heaven- Have a Coke and a Smile

There are fragrances created where there is no middle ground. The accords or notes used are so divisive as to one’s own personal idea of where beauty resides that one either loves it or hates it; not a lot of “meh” heard here. The Brooklyn-based perfume house overseen by Carlos Kusubayashi, A Lab on Fire, seems to really enjoy making perfumes that generate these kind of polar opposite responses. The latest two releases, Paris*LA and Made in Heaven, are the brand’s take on gourmands of a different stripe.

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Laurent Le Guernec

Paris*LA is meant to be what Los Angeles looks like to a Parisienne and perfumer Laurent Le Guernec has decided that Coca-Cola and macarons capture this dichotomy. Right there I can already hear people thinking, “Eww! Coke and a macaron.” To be candid I have to admit that was my reaction when reading the notes. M. Le Guernec does a fine job of capturing the brilliance of LA and a Parisienne looking for something to remind her of home.

The opening note of Paris*LA is a bright blast of key lime. It is like stepping off the plane and the sun hits you square between the eyes. The key lime is an olfactory attention getter and it burns off pretty rapidly. The coca-cola accord comes next and it is a combination of fizzy aldehydes, ginger, and caramel. The fizz of the aldehydes are fine tuned to not trip over into their more provocative nature and here provide more effervescent background than anything. Next comes the macaron accord vanilla and almond out front. Then because all the best macarons are flavored M. Le Guernec adds in subtle hints of neroli, coriander, and thyme. They take the dessert-y accord and add some texture to it. The coca-cola accord has persisted and by the final hours this is a mix of sweet and sweeter as the cola and macaron accord combine to form a fragrant sugar rush. You can put me firmly in the love it category as both the cola and macaron accords work really well on my skin. I think for those who are not fond of sweet gourmands this will raise different emotions.

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Pascal Gaurin

One of my favorite things to observe is when Mr. Kusubayashi hires a perfumer who has done the great majority of their work in the non-niche side of the business and allows them the freedom to create. Made in Heaven by perfumer Pascal Gaurin is what happens. M. Gaurin works for IFF and within the company there is a branch called Laboratoire Monique Remy (LMR) which is the group who produces unique natural absolutes using the latest scientific techniques. By their very nature these are expensive raw materials and most mainstream releases would use a tiny bit of one to stay within budget. M. Gaurin freed of the economic constraints uses five of these exquisite floral absolutes in Made in Heaven. One of the other remaining notes must have been an accord M. Gaurin has had on the shelf and been wanting to use because underneath the diaphanous flowers is a foundation of cereal.

Made in Heaven starts with magnolia absolute and this has lilting woody floral air to which M. Gaurin hangs mandarin and saffron upon it. The saffron provides an exotic effect while the mandarin adds citrus-y energy. While the magnolia is tender and fragile the heart notes stride into view with a brassy white flower confidence. Absolutes of jasmine, tuberose, and orange flower take over the heart of Made in Heaven. All three of these absolutes show off the flower in a pristine jewel-like spotlight. If you concentrate on it you can pick out each note individually. Together it is divine. The base is made up of the cereal accord and to my nose it smells the way a box of Cap’n Crunch smells when you first open the bag. Sugary vanilla sweetness rises through the flowers and mixes with them surprisingly well. The jasmine in particular seems to really take to the cereal. Much later on orris absolute starts to fill in as the orange flower fades. It adds a slightly powdery finish to it all. I really enjoy when perfumers are allowed to use the “good stuff”. The LMR absolutes are the “good stuff” and M. Gaurin has displayed them in a way to show why they are so special.

Paris*LA has 8-10 hour longevity and, except for the key lime blast on top, below average sillage. Made in Heaven has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Both Paris*LA and Made in Heaven continue to show why A Lab on Fire is one of the most exciting niche houses on the scene. Mr. Kusubayashi allowing the perfumers to have as much latitude to create as possible leads to perfumes you may love or hate but you will never be bored by them.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples I purchased from Twisted Lily.

Mark Behnke  

New Perfume Review Gardenia de Robert Piguet- Partnership’s End

Robert Piguet is one of the grandest, and probably least recognizable, perfume brands. Any brand which boasts Fracas as part of its history will always be looked upon favorably. Since 2006 when, after returning Fracas to the jewel it has always been, Creative Director Joe Garces and perfumer Aurelien Guichard formed a partnership which has defined this latest phase of Robert Piguet. Early on the challenge was to reformulate the original perfumes in the line. Then in 2011 a change took place as the first new perfume carrying the Robert Piguet name, Douglas Hannant de Robert Piguet, was released. That success has led to thirteen more new perfumes from Mr. Garces and M. Guichard. If there has been a common theme to the contemporary compositions it has been for them to carry modern aspects along with a very elegant style that feels like it came from decades earlier. The last of these collaborations between Mr. Garces and M. Guichard has been released, Gardenia de Robert Piguet.   

Aurelien and Joe Piguet

Aurelien Guichard (l.) and Joe Garces

Gardenia as a focal point has many of the same qualities that tuberose does. It would have been very easy to take gardenia and surround it with a lot of complementary notes a la Fracas. M. Guichard goes for a more restrained approach as he uses only five other notes to accompany the gardenia. This runs a risk if your central raw material is not up to carrying the entire perfume it can lead to a flat spot in the development. There is one of those in the evolution of Gardenia de Robert Piguet and I think it is a stylistic choice which for some it will work but for me it created a noticeable flaw every time I wore it.

M. Guichard gives the gardenia two very high quality floral running mates, lily and ylang-ylang, for the first half of the development. This is my favorite part of this perfume. All of my favorite gardenia perfumes have captured the subtle green quality that a real gardenia has. M. Guichard uses the lily to coax that green out of its corner and brings it more centrally into the composition. Ylang-ylang is present to modulate the exuberant sweetness of the gardenia and in so doing it allows the greener highlights the space to expand into. Now here is where Gardenia de Robert Piguet goes flat for me. The next thing is a leather accord. I really would have preferred a rich supple leather like what M. Guichard used in Knightsbridge. Instead M. Guichard chose to go with a dark leather accord which has some harsher animalic features. This phase always felt like it was two separate ingredients in search of some common ground. This is where I think this just might be a simple difference in styles; I wanted elegance and I think M. Guichard wanted something more brutal. The rest of the base is predominantly cashmeran made a bit sweeter with a touch of vanilla.

Gardenia de Robert Piguet has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Gardenia de Robert Piguet is not my favorite of the newer Robert Piguet releases. I think if you are a fan of rawer leather perfumes and wanted that in a blowsy white flower Gardenia de Robert Piguet might just be perfect. I think I wanted a modern bookend to Fracas to put an exclamation point to the teamwork of Mr. Garces and M. Guichard. In the end it is another good addition to the modern line of Robert Piguet perfumes.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I received at Sniffapalooza Fall Ball 2014.

Mark Behnke

That Unattainable Object of Desire Shiseido Nombre Noir- Exquisite Construction

Every ten years the British film magazine Sight & Sound asks a panel of critics to vote on the best movie ever made. For many years the film anointed as best of them all has been Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane”. Although in the most recent 2012 poll Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” nudged it down to number two on the list. The thing about lists like this is it reflects an extra level of scrutiny over whether the movie is interesting to watch. For my taste Vertigo is a much better film because I enjoy watching it more. Citizen Kane never emotionally engaged me. I admired all of the film techniques and the look of the film Mr. Welles pulled off. It was noteworthy because many of the camera techniques and framing were being done for the first time. In the end I have probably watched Citizen Kane four or five times. I’ve watched Vertigo dozens of times. When it comes to perfume I believe our equivalent to Citizen Kane is Shiseido Nombre Noir.

nombrenoir

Shiseido Nombre Noir was released in 1982 composed by Shiseido in-house perfumer Jean-Yves Leroy under the nascent creative direction of Serge Lutens. Messrs. Leroy and Lutens decided to go very big with their composition and at the core was a precious osmanthus and an overdose of damascones. Damascones are one of the key components of rose oil. In rose oil they are the molecules which impart that jammy aspect of the best rose oils. On their own as a raw material they explode with kinetic vibrancy and it took an equally unique osmanthus to hold this together. It causes the early part of Nombre Noir to smell like the most expensive lipstick accord ever as another equally inspired choice of orris sets up this rich floral opening. It eventually softens into a really silky honey-based accord by the end.

Nombre Noir was discontinued supposedly due to the cost of producing the bottle which was a strikingly different design for the time period. The truth was more likely the choice of using the damascones in overdose. These molecules are very light sensitive and decompose rapidly upon exposure to light. In reality, the true smell of Nombre Noir is probably only experienced from a sealed bottle for the first few times you wear it. That amount of fragility of the damascones truly make Nombre Noir an unattainable object because even if you find a bottle it is almost surely decomposed. Luca Turin declared Nombre Noir one of the five greatest perfumes ever in his book “The Secret of Scent”. Mr. Turin is the perfume equivalent of the Sight & Sound poll. Bottles turned up carrying hefty price tags and I cringed at what these buyers were getting.

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Nombre Noir is just like Citizen Kane for me as it never engages me emotionally. I am not sure something as full of stark planes of accords all intersecting in an abstract kind of snowflake is meant to be emotional. The engineering of balancing the notes and finding the right balance is admirable. There is beauty here but it is unapproachable for me. Ten years later M. Lutens would oversee a masterpiece for Shiseido which is both technically flawless and emotionally engaging in Feminite du Bois.

Disclosure: This review was based on multiple sample of Nombre Noir I purchased or had gifted to me.

Mark Behnke