My Father’s Lesson on What a Man Smells Like

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I often find that disparate influences converge to put me in a place where I stop and look back. My personality is to mostly look towards the horizon to find out what is around the next bend in the path. I believe it is that drive which makes me a good scientist. I definitely believe it is that desire to find something new that fuels my fascination with all things fragrant. Tomorrow is Father’s Day in the US and I have also been wearing DSH Perfumes Metropolis a lot in preparation to write my recent review. The confluence of the two events allowed me to consider the length of my perfumed path and where it all started.

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When it came to my father when I was a young boy he carried a few unmistakable aromas around with him depending on what day and what time you met him. He worked at The Miami Herald as a typesetter setting the plates which would be used to print the pages of each day’s edition of the newspaper. When he came home after work he smelled of ink and paper. It was mostly an unpleasant smell but I associated it with a job done well. A man smells of his own satisfaction with his life.

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Once my dad arrived home he would sit down in his recliner and pack a pipe full of different fragrant pipe tobaccos. As he lit up and smoked the living room would fill up with this pleasant smoke. A man smells of his favorite things.

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On Friday night my father would escort my mother out to do something. I would often “help” him as he shaved and got ready. He would spray some Noxema on my face and I would use my finger as a straight blade to scrape it off and flick it into the sink. At the end he would pick up this heavy square bottle with a huge chunky wooden top, Dana English Leather, and rub some into his hands and slap either side of his face, followed by mine. I liked the smell but at this age I didn’t understand the purpose of it. I got the tolerant smile that fathers know it will be all too soon that the boyish innocent that asked that question would disappear. What he told me was, “your mother likes the way I smell when I wear it and I like the way your mother smiles when I wear it.” A man chooses to smell good because the people he loves like him to smell good.

My father passed away in the summer of 1983 and at the viewing I made sure to have all of the things he taught me on hand. One of his co-workers gave me a fresh printed page with his obituary which smelled of fresh ink and paper. I had his pipe in my pocket which smelled of the cherry tobacco he had been smoking most recently. When I finished shaving you know I put on English Leather. Three very important life lessons were wrapped up in those scents and to this day those lessons have stuck even though I’m more likely to wear Metropolis than English Leather.

To all the fathers, and the sons and daughters, out there; Happy Father’s Day.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review DSH Perfumes Metropolis- The Refined Animal

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When it comes to the perfumes I find that are supposedly targeted to me as a man I am very disappointed. With Father’s Day coming my trips to the mall have been especially dispiriting as the reps are spraying these aggressively overloaded woody fantasias or citrus cocktails more suited to the bar than my skin. I know woody or citrus is what I as a man should desire but it isn’t what defines me as a man. What I want is a fragrance that exemplifies my modern exterior but never forgets underneath there is an uncultured beast who wants to be let out from time to time. Those fragrances are few and far between and no mass-market perfume brand is going to be interested in selling something like that these days. Which is why I am always thankful for the community of independent perfumers as they don’t have to hew to the popular and can let their imagination and creativity hold sway. Dawn Spencer Hurwitz is one of my very favorite indie perfumers and her latest creation, under her DSH Perfumes label, for men called Metropolis is a spectacular example of what I want in a men’s fragrance.

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Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

On her website Ms. Hurwitz sets out what she wants Metropolis to be, “Modernism. Minimalism. An abstract masculine design with notes of brushed steel, glass, and motor oil.” She achieves all of that as Metropolis has a very modern glossy feel to it at first but later on there is a steady beat of a strong human heart beneath all of the contemporary trappings.

The brushed steel is represented by a combination of bergamot and aldehydes; a bunch of aldehydes. Very often in this kind of concentration they give off a hairspray aspect but Ms. Hurwitz chose her grouping well and it is the metallic aldehydes which are dominant. The bergamot is like the afternoon sun glinting off the surface with a single point of brightness diffused across the metallic surface. Geranium and oakmoss adds a greenish tint to it all like you’re looking at it through sunglasses. Then the glossiness gives way to something more primal as castoreum, patchouli, leather, and musk take Metropolis into something human. Ms. Hurwitz wanted this to be a motor oil accord and there are times I get a hint of that but I am more enchanted by the animalic ingredients separately and so the petroleum products never coalesce for me and I prefer it this way.

Metropolis has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I would pay a lot of money to arm a faux sales rep to stand next to the real ones in my local department store and spritz them with Metropolis. I think they wouldn’t get a lot of takers but for those few who did stop they would be entering a brave new world of perfume appreciation. I entered Ms. Hurwitz’s world many years ago and it is still one of my favorite places to visit. Metropolis, and Ms. Hurwitz, make my kind of men’s fragrance.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample of Metropolis provided by DSH Perfumes.

Mark Behnke

Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle 101- Five To Get You Started

When I speak with Michael Edwards on the beginning of niche perfumery he can accurately names L’Artisan Parfumeur in 1978 and Annick Goutal in 1980 as the first niche lines. When I think of when niche perfumery really managed to breakthrough I go back to 2000 when Frederic Malle released the first nine perfumes in his Editions de Parfums brand. These were the first perfumes to feature the name of the perfumer on the bottle. It really was the beginning of my starting to take a stronger interest in the people behind the perfume. Over the last fourteen years and 21 total releases I can say that this is one of the strongest collections of fragrances on the market. There is not a mediocre one in the whole group. A particular style might not be to your taste but the quality and creativity is always prominently displayed. This is one of the best places for anyone interested in niche perfume to start and here are the five I would suggest you begin with.

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Frederic Malle

There are a plethora of citrus colognes but Jean-Claude Ellena’s Bigarade Concentree is one that stands way above the fray. There is fantastic bitter orange (bigarade) surrounded by the most gentle aldehydes. The heart is rose, cardamom, and a bit of textural pepper to coax the spiciness from the rose. It finishes with a golden hay note over cedar. This fragrance re-invigorated my interest in citrus fragrances all by itself.

Lys Mediterranee by Edouard Flechier is one of the most luminous perfumes I own. M. Flechier weaves three sources of lily raw materials to render a larger-than-life composite as the core of this fragrance. He adds orange blossom, angelica, and musk as the perfect complements to the uber-lily. If you want lily in your fragrance here is one of the best.

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Maurice Roucel

Musc Ravageur by Maurice Roucel has a bit of a rakish reputation as a lady-killer if you believe the stories told on the perfume forums. That has died down over time and now what remains is a fantastic ambery musk by one of the great perfumers working. Starting with a flare of tangerine and lavender which are spiced up wiith clove and cinnamon we reach the base notes which form the ambery musky accord. I was well married by the time I found this but it is one of the few fragrances I wear which generates unsolicited compliments, so maybe its reputation is deserved.

For so many years the baseline tuberose perfume was Robert Piguet’s Fracas and nothing came close until Dominique Ropion’s Carnal Flower. M. Ropion chooses an eclectic company of complementary and contrasting notes for the tuberose. He uses eucalyptus to accentuate the mentholated quality a the heart of the flower. He adds coconut to provide an oily sweet contrast. A few other white flowers join in to create the other great tuberose fragrance.

Pierre Bourdon showed that he was more than the perfumer who created Cool Water when he made French Lover (aka Bois D’Orage). When I smelled this when it was released in 2007 it felt like a more sophisticated version of my old staple Calvin Klein Obsession for Men. It doesn’t smell anything like it but it was the one fragrance I continually chose over it once it was in my perfume cabinet. M. Bourdon uses the rich spiciness of pimento to lead into a finely balanced heart of iris and galbanum. It is a greener floral because of the presence of the galbanum and it keeps the iris from getting powdery. A musk and vetiver base finish this off. If I was still prowling the night looking for a connection French Lover would be one of my choices.

As I mentioned above the entire Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle line is consistently excellent. So start here but do yourself a favor and keep on going through the whole line it is a magical ride.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke  

New Perfume Review Keiko Mecheri Bois Satin- Vanillic Vision

It is difficult for me to believe that it has been fifteen years since I first tried Keiko Mecheri Loukhoum, her first fragrance. There might be no more emblematic first fragrance of a line than Loukhoum has been for Keiko Mecheri. In the years since Ms. Mecheri has continually explored all of the potential paths away from that original first release. I always visualize the entire line as a sort of fragrant family tree with Loukhoum as the sturdy trunk from which the other fragrances branch off of. Ms. Mecheri has found fertile ground and has tilled it incessantly turning out fascinating perfumes. The latest release Bois Satin is a little closer to Loukhoum than some of the more recent releases and as such feels like a cyclical return to the beginning and a start of a new creative cycle.

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Keiko Mecheri

Many of the best perfume lines have a signature note or accord and what ties Ms. Mecheri’s together is the use of vanilla. Vanilla is probably the ultimate comfort scent but Ms. Mecheri has displayed its multiple personalities ably over the years. Bois Satin is a vanilla fragrance made exotic by adding in saffron. Citrus, floral, and an ambery finish combine with the vanilla backbone to create a comforting unconventional vanilla fragrance.

Bois Satin opens with a bright mandarin adding citrus sparkle over the vanilla and saffron. The vanilla-saffron axis that Bois Satin spins around smells gourmand-like at first but fairly quickly it becomes soft spicy warmth. It stays this way for the duration. Jasmine, with rose in a supporting role, provide a sweet floral accord in the heart. This is my favorite part of the development and it lingers here for a long time. The base is amber and patchouli and it is more amber than patchouli. Together with the vanilla this is an olfactory soft pillow to finish on.

Bois Satin has 8-10 hour longevity and modest sillage.

Ms. Mecheri may have been one of the original indie perfumers but Bois Satin shows the development of her aesthetic since Lokhoum. It shows a creative director still finding new paths to explore. Long may she add more branches on to this family tree.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Keiko Mecheri at Esxence and another sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Odin New York 11 Semma- Szechuan Cigar

I spent the weekend cleaning up the area around my desk and it is sort of like archaeological layers of perfume samples. On top is the most recent and on the bottom it turns out were samples I had received from last fall. If they make my desk it means I like them enough to want to write about them. Having the time to write about them, well there are sometimes where it seems perfume samples arrive in an avalanche and the fall is most definitely one of those times. Which means things get left behind; unless I notice them during infrequent clean-ups as I did with Odin 11 Semma.

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Odin 11 Semma is a classic case of an Under the Radar choice as it just got lost in the cascade of new releases at the end of 2013. Once I had the space to give it some more time to impress me I was amply rewarded. Odin New York is a men’s clothing store in NYC and brought out their first fragrance in 2009. Odin has had a pretty successful beginning to their perfume enterprise. 04 Petrana was widely praised as a masculine iris. 06 Amanu was formally praised as the first winner of The Fragrance Foundation Indie Perfume of the year in 2012. I like the overall line and always look forward to trying the new ones and so a little tardy here is my review of Odin 11 Semma.

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Corinne Cachen

Semma was composed by perfumer Corinne Cachen who had previously done 07 Tanoke for the brand. Semma was designed to be a warm spicy fragrance and Mme Cachen wraps her spices in a tobacco leaf impregnated with chili pepper. That chili pepper is what makes Semma interesting as it adds some restless energy to the smooth tobacco and spice.

Mme Cachen lays out her tobacco leaf and when I initially put this on it feels familiar until another familiar smell that of sliced Szechuan chili peppers arrives. The chili pepper can border on unpleasant but by cocooning it in the tobacco it surprisingly works. I think Mme Cachen probably spent a lot of time getting this balance right because a little too much pepper and this would be tough to wear. Now the more traditional spices of clove and cinnamon arrive and they also help in the continued taming of the chili pepper although both the clove and cinnamon add a fine-drawn kind of complementary heat themselves. The base notes are sweet myrrh, sandalwood, and tonka. Like a bit of sweet dessert at the end of a Szechuan meal these provide sweet solace at the end.

Semma has 8-10 hour longevity and moderat sillage.

I am sorry it took me so long to excavate Semma from the deepest layers on my desk, it deserved a better fate. The unfortunate thing is it is now back on the bottom layer. The silver lining is when I re-discover it again in a few months it will probably be perfect cool weather to wear it in again.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Odin New York. (I think)

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Diptyque Geranium Odorata & Eau de Lavande- The Return of Fabrice and Olivia

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I tend to remember the fragrance which makes me sit up and notice a perfumer for the first time. Diptyque is responsible for two of those moments. When I tried Philosykos in the late 1990’s I had never considered fig to be something I would want in a perfume, Phiolsykos changed that. It was one of my earliest impulse buys because I couldn’t walk away from it. It wasn’t until years later that I found out the perfumer was Olivia Giacobetti. A similar encounter happened in 2003 at the same Diptyque counter as I tried Tam Dao and found one of my favorite sandalwood fragrances of all-time. Perfumers Fabrice Pellegrin and Daniele Moliere were the co-creators but this was the start of M. Pellegrin’s amazing run at Diptyque. It is really the work of these two perfumers, Mme Giacobetti and M. Pellegrin, that I consider to represent the continued artistic excellence of the Diptyque brand. It is why I was delighted to see that both of them were back at work each doing one of the two new releases from Diptyque, Geranium Odorata and Eau de Lavande.

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Fabrice Pellegrin

In Geranium Odorata M. Pellegrin returns to green themes he explored previously at Diptyque in 2006’s Eau de Lierre. That fragrance was the smell of ivy growing on a brick wall. Geranium Odorata is the smell of a geranium stem snipped away from the bush. M. Pellegrin combines the “green rose” quality of geranum with very different green notes on top and bottom. It has the same realistic aspect as the ivy in Eau de Lierre but there is also more artistic flair in how that is achieved in Geranium Odorata.

Cardamom is one of my favorite notes in all of perfumery and by pairing it with bergamot M. Pellegrin highlights the lemony and minty aspects of that raw material. The geranium arrives at first smelling a lot like rose before its characteristic green aspects begin to take hold. It is this rougher, rawer kind of rose that makes me like geranium as a perfume ingredient and here M. Pellegrin displays it beautifully. There is a bit of pink pepper to allow the spicy facets to not get lost. The last bit of green comes from a powerful Haitian vetiver. This vetiver leaps into a clinch with the geranium and together they dance a green tinted quickstep through to the finish.

Geranium Odorata has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

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Olivia Giacobetti

Mme Giacobetti’s trademark is the creation of perfumes that seem almost inconsequentially lightweight but have surprising structure and power for that fragility. I’ve always likened them to a soap bubble floating on the breeze. You can see through it as if it is clear but if you look closer there are all of the colors of the rainbow swirling on the surface. This is Mme Giacobetti’s gift and it is on full display in Eau de Lavande. Lavender Water is one of the earliest fragrances known but Mme Giacobetti also wants to do something different and she does so by combining the two major sources of lavender oil and infusing them with spices.

There is the more precious and expensive Lavender oil from the L. angustofolia species. Lavandin is the more plentiful L. x intermedia species. Because of the lower cost this is the smell of lavender in most laundry products and soaps. Mme Giacobetti uses almost equal amounts of each as the spine of Eau de Lavande. Early on she uses coriander seed and basil to create a haze of green to surround the lavender. In the heart cedar is used to accentuate the more familiar lavandin. This will give you a soapy moment but it is quickly removed form that by cinnamon and nutmeg and together they banish any thought of the laundry room that was beginning to form. The base is a beautifully composed mix of the lightest sandalwood and incense. This is where Mme Giacobetti always impresses me as when I read those notes I’m expecting something strong and instead I get delicacy, she does it to me nearly every time.

Eau de Lavande has 4-6 hour longevity and deceptive sillage. I often thought it was gone only to catch a sniff again.

Both perfumers have very different styles but their success at Diptyque has helped define the way I think about the brand. Geranium Odorata and Eau de Lavande both contribute to that history quite ably.

Disclosure: this review was based on samples I purchased.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The FIFA World Cup

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When it comes to sports there is nothing like competing for your country at an elite level. Every athlete in any sport you can name strives to wear a uniform with their country’s flag sewn on it. My favorite quadrennial national competition is about to start this week, the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. For the next month the greatest football (soccer) playing nations on earth will compete to be named the World Champion. This is a magical moment as whole countries come to a stop when their national team is playing. As someone who has had the pleasure of attending the World Cup in 1986 and 1994 I have seen the emotion played out live. I also have treasured memories of traveling in a country on the day they are competing and sharing the experience with those countrymen.

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Manno Sanon agains Italy in the 1974 World Cup

My first experience of this kind was being in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti in June of 1974 at a crowded dockside bar as Haiti took on the mighty Italian team. At the end of the first half the score stood at 0-0. Then right at the beginning of the second half Manno Sanon scored the first goal against the Italians in 19 World Cup games. The bar exploded, people danced on the dock, and boats blew their horns. Then the tension really set in as everyone hoped against hope that Haiti could hold on for a famous victory. Six minutes later the score was tied at one and the Italians would add two more before the end of the game. This was the moment I fell in love with the World Cup as a sporting event.

I’ve been in an Italian-American club when Paolo Rossi scored three goals to lead Italy to a 3-2 victory over Brazil while grown men wept with emotion. In every city I’ve lived in the Brazilian community would have an impromptu car honking parade on Main Street after each victory. The World Cup captivates the entire world and it was why I wanted to experience it firsthand.

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In 1986 I spent the month of June crisscrossing central Mexico going from site to site to see games. The US had not qualified and I was this oddity, an American who knew something about the game. As a result I was adopted by one group of fans or another. The Brazilians welcomed me on to their conga drum line against Spain. The Spaniards taught me the cheers of their team a week later when they played Northern Ireland. Spending thirty days immersed in the madness made me long for the opportunity to be able to root for the US team. Eight years later it would happen.

In 1994 the World Cup came to the US. At the time I lived in Connecticut and was positioned within easy drives of three venues in Boston, New York, and Washington. I bought two tickets to as many matches as I could and I took a friend with me to every game. This time I had company as we drank Guinness with the Irish fans in NYC. Helped Spanish fans carry a coffin with Italy written on it into the stadium for their quarterfinal. I was introduced to salt licorice in the parking lot prior to a Norway match. I really enjoyed watching my friends become exposed to the fervor of the World Cup firsthand.

This year I will once again be highly distracted by the events taking place in Brazil. The US team has been drawn in to a very difficult group but like every fan I live in hope that the American lads will pull off a surprise or two. If you need to find me for the next month I’ll be at the bar watching with my new friends sharing in a world-wide experience.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Stephane Humbert Lucas 777 Oumma-Obsidian Oud

I think every young boy goes through a phase where they are fascinated by rocks and minerals. The texture of different types, the density, or unusual lightness, of something which looks so hard. I remember going to the store which sold pieces to trade in a gift certificate. From the moment I received the gift I knew with a certainty what I wanted; a piece of obsidian. I was enraptured by the different textures on display in the hunk I purchased. On one side it was smooth as glass and black as night, it felt like it was drawing me in to an alternate dimension. On the other side it was rough with whorls and sharp edges. Like a cloud I could stare at it for hours seeing shapes forming in the complexity of the lines and topography. Of the few things I still have from my childhood that piece of obsidian is one and it sits near my desk. When I received my bottle of Stephane Humbert Lucas 777 Oumma I realized almost immediately that it was my obsidian in olfactory form.

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Stephane Humbert Lucas

Stephane Humbert Lucas’ eponymous 777 line is one of the best new entries into the ultra-luxe perfume market. M. Lucas uses large quantities of high quality raw materials and this collection is heavily tilted towards Middle Eastern influences with many of them containing oud. Oumma has probably the highest concentration of oud in the entire 777 collection. It seems like almost every ingredient in Oumma is present in near overdose quantities. M. Lucas shows a precise hand in taking the disparate loud voices and finding a harmony that allows them all to sing in unison albeit at high volume. Prima facie Oumma is a typical woody rose oud combo and it is certainly that. It is also so intense it draws you in like that smooth surface of the obsidian into a dimension defined by the familiar but made unconventional by its energy. Once inside, the development abounds with remarkable textures which allow imagination free rein.

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There is no easing into a fragrance like Oumma, M. Lucas tosses you into the deep end of the pool and you are floating in a bath of jasmine and rose. It inhabits every receptor in your nose and then as you break the surface you take a deep breath of oud. It is so prominent in all of its schizophrenic glory. The woodiness, the odd medicinal quality, the subtle floral aspect, the smoke; it forms its own fragrant whorls and ridges to let one decide where they want to place their attention. The source of the oud is a Burmese oud which also carries a significant peppery character and M. Lucas takes that and ups the ante by adding in cade. It makes everything that can be fractious about oud even more cantankerous in quality. This ridge is so sharp it could cut if you’re not careful. The base is a cocktail of tolu and Peruvian balsams which are also very strong but they are the easiest thing to cling to throughout the entire torrid development.

Oumma has 24 hour longevity, and then some. It also has prodigious sillage a little goes a very long way.

There are many oud fragrances on the market and there are even many woody rose oud fragrances on the market. None of them approach the mesmerizing intensity of Oumma. It feels as ageless as my piece of obsidian swallowing all of the surrounding light in its inky beauty. If you like oud dive in to the Stygian depths and breathe deeply there are rewards in excess.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Parfumerie Generale 7.1 Grand Siecle Intense- Wearing Lemon-colored Shades

Pierre Guillaume is always worth paying attention to because he is always exploring the limits of his perfume composing abilities. When a perfumer does this it grabs my attention because in this “play it safe” world of fragrance M. Guillaume takes risks. As a result I find everything he does captures some part of my imagination. For 2014 M. Guillaume has begun the Signature Collection wherein he returns to some of the original fragrances from his Parfumerie Generale line and give a new spin to them. Earlier this year Coze, Cuir Veneum, and L’Eau Rare Matale were the first three to get this treatment. I enjoyed them but there wasn’t one I preferred over the original and it wasn’t close. At least in those cases M. Guillaume was picking a part of the fragrance to alter which I preferred he left alone. Even now I had to go back and look at my notes to remind myself about them. The newest Signature Collection, Parfumerie Generale 7.1 Grand Siecle Intense, will share neither of those issues as I definitely think it is better than the original and I won’t be needing a mental nudge to remember this one.

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Pierre Guillaume

I have held a fond space for 07 Cologne Grand Siecle which was released in 2005 because M. Guillaume made one of the most realistic lemon accords I’ve ever smelled. He also did this using almost exclusively all-natural ingredients. All together the juice in the bottle represents the fleshy pulp, the slightly green rind, and the tart juiciness of a lemon fresh off the tree. I would stack the first 15-30 minutes of Cologne Grand Siecle up against anything I own and it would be a competition. Even just revisiting it for this review I am once again in love with this olfactory lemon. But there is a problem for all that the lemon is as good as it gets it is also pretty much all that is there. I said I’d stack up the first 30 minutes against anything else because after that it is pretty much gone. That’s on me whose skin actually holds even the most transient of fragrances for hours. Cologne Grand Siecle is almost undetectable after an hour. I have always been left wanting M. Guillaume to go back and add a heart and base to that lemon note worthy of it. In 7.1 Grand Siecle Intense he turns the intensity of the original lemon into a more diffuse brilliance while losing none of the captivating subtleties. He then adds in depth with a real warm heart and a fabulous green base.

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The combination of bergamot, bigarade and lemon leaves create the lemon accord of the original but this time it has a gauzy quality to it. By which I mean instead of blinding you with its light it is like experiencing it behind sunglasses. Because it is more easily experienced it allows for a slightly closer examination and that is worth doing. The lemon leaves add a bitter green character that truly stitches together the bigarade and bergamot into the key accord. A really well-chosen minty flare of green draws your attention to the earthier smells of hay and tobacco. The base continues with the green as vetiver and oakmoss dominate the final phase. This time the lemon is present throughout the entire development over many hours.

Parfumerie Generale 7.1 Grand Siecle Intense has 6-8 hour longevity and modest sillage. It is an Eau de Parfum concentration and that also contributes to its longevity and sillage.

7.1 Grand Siecle intense has taken the original and made it a complete composition. In computer lingo when you name something X.1 it generally represents a slight upgrade. 7.1 Grand Siecle Intense feels like a whole new olfactory operating system and should be called 8.0 except Intrigant Patchouli already has that number. Know this, 7.1 Grand Siecle Intense is no mere iteration it is the realization of the brilliant single phase of the original into a beautifully complete perfume.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample purchased from Luckyscent.

Mark Behnke

Taking Notes

One of the many barriers to having fragrance breakthrough as an accepted art form is the need for a consistent vocabulary to evolve from the discussion of perfume. The perfume community doesn’t even have consensus on how to describe a specific fragrance. Consumers rely on the list of notes to help them decide whether they want to give a perfume a try. If they don’t like jasmine they are unlikely to try something as soon as they see jasmine in the list of ingredients. But should they? There are perfumes where the jasmine is used as a note of contrast and foundation never rising to noticeable levels. By just reading a note list a consumer might miss out on something they would really like because they see the note they don’t like in the list. The companies have become skilled in the art of describing accords in ever more flowery terms. There is one perfume I got the press materials for which called it “The Elixir of Love” accord. I have no idea what that means and depending on my interpretation it could go in so many different directions. In the end these descriptions are no more illuminating than a list of ingredients.

This has come to mind again as Chandler Burr has re-started his Untitled Series on Luckyscent. Mr. Burr is one of the most active proponents of making olfactory art something substantial. Towards that end he has used the language of other arts to describe those perfumes he considers worthy of being called olfactory art. Mr. Burr described specific “schools” of perfume and showed examples of each during his exhibit at the Museum of Arts and Design in NYC. Mr. Burr is also very steadfast in his insistence that fragrances should not be broken down into a list of its components when describing it. He likens it to looking at a painting and describing it only as the colors displayed on the canvas without describing the overall artistic display.

When taken to the extreme I agree with him; a simple listing of the notes does not convey anything special about the overall composition. Where I disagree is that notes have no place in the description of a fragrance I think is olfactory art. I would never write about Thierry Mugler Angel and not mention the use of ethyl maltol Olivier Cresp used to create the cotton candy smell within this game-changing perfume. You can’t talk about Chanel No. 5 without talking about the aldehydes or Lancome Tresor without considering Sophia Grojsman’s use of an overdose of galaxolide. The very use of these materials in unique ways, I believe, requires us as writers to point them out. It is the ingenuity of the perfumer and their intuitive way of taking a raw material into a heretofore unimagined direction which often sets apart a fragrance as something worthy of the label olfactory art.

Here is where it gets a little tricky though. There are some fragrances which are so intricately composed to create a desired effect that trying to pick it apart into its component notes is completely irrelevant. Calice Becker’s By Kilian Back to Black, Bertrand Duchaufour’s Sienne L’Hiver, and Marc-Antoine Corticchiato’s Parfum D’Empire Musc Tonkin are such amazing still lifes that I always just experience them on that level without overanalyzing the notes which bring these exquisite perfumes to life. This is where I and Mr. Burr are in complete agreement but this can’t apply to every fragrance.

Brewtnall_Edward_Where_next

Where Next? by Edward Frederick Brewtnall (1846-1902)

Every writer has to make the decision on how best to communicate their experience with a perfume. I decided early on to plant my flag firmly in the middle. I always try to communicate the way a perfume makes me feel without relying overmuch on the individual notes. Then I usually spend the next paragraph exercising my analytical skills tearing it apart into the notes. This captures my two-sided love of olfactory art. I want to be transported by a great fragrance as any art lover does and hope to communicate that. The scientist wants to know how that was achieved and so that part of my psyche delves deep looking to figure out the inner workings of that which I admire.

Which is correct? I don’t think anyone can answer that for sure at the moment. What I can say unequivocally that the more conversation we have about the perfumes we think rise to the level of olfactory art the closer we will become to creating a uniform language of perfume. So to all who write about perfume whether on Facebook, a blog, or a forum pick the way you want to describe your favorite fragrances and add to the conversation; together we will create a language of perfume.

Mark Behnke