Discount Diamonds: Nicole Miller for Men- Boozy Apple

Apple is one of my favorite top notes in perfumery. I like the crispness it usually adds. Early on in my fragrance journey I began searching out any fragrance with apple listed in its note list. This led me to Nicole Miller for Men.

Nicole Miller for Men was released in 2004 a year after the first fragrance for the brand Nicole Miller. These would be the only perfumes for the brand for a long time. By the early 2000’s Nicole Miller for Men was discontinued. This was where I first found it buying a bottle off someone looking to sell theirs. At this point it was most definitely not a Discount Diamond. The scarcity made it a desirable perfume to have. Then in 2006, Nicole Miller for Men returned and has stuck around ever since. Now it is widely available at the discount bargain bins and online for $10-15 a bottle; squarely in Discount Diamonds territory.

David Apel

As I mentioned I was drawn to it for the apple. Perfumer David Apel floats it on top of a beautifully constructed boozy accord. I am always reminded of a green apple martini when I first spray it on. What always makes me enjoy this is the shift from fun-loving cocktail to dark leather and oakmoss in the heart. Mr. Apel again puts together a compelling leather accord which is given a green shadow courtesy of the oakmoss. It sticks here for a few hours before developing into a warm amber and sandalwood base.

The current version available at the discounters is slightly different than my first bottle. The biggest change is the oakmoss has less of a presence in the heart. Mr. Apel has altered the leather accord to give it a slightly rougher texture to make up for the loss of full-spectrum oakmoss. The other noticeable change is less longevity. It is my belief they reduced the amount of perfume oil because it lasts about half the time of my older bottle.

Nicole Miller for Men in its current formulation has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Even with the caveats on the current formulation this is a great bargain for the price. I will always enjoy this boozy apple.

Disclosure: this review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Armani Prive Orangerie Venise- Not Your Typical Neroli

Ever since its beginning in 2004 the exclusive line for Giorgio Armani fragrance, Armani Prive, has been a love it or yawn at it proposition. I have some of my favorites in the distinct bottles with the faux-stone top on them. There are others I couldn’t remember their name unless I looked it up. It does make for an interesting time whenever I receive a new sample. Turns out the latest, Armani Prive Orangerie Venise, is a love it one.

Someone is going to have to explain to me why there have been so many good neroli perfumes over the last couple of years. I wonder if there has been a new source or just a general drift towards similar themes. Whatever the explanation I have greatly increased the neroli section of my perfume collection. One of my favorites was last year’s neroli and cumin combination in A Lab on Fire And The World Is Yours. Perfumer Dominique Ropion has made one of the most indelible neroli perfumes I own. When I discovered he was the perfumer for Orangerie Venise I suspected I would get the flip side of that earlier perfume, something more genteel. Orangerie Venise does fit that description but it does not mean it doesn’t contain its own compelling moments.

Dominique Ropion

M. Ropion uses bitter orange to focus the top accord with hints of other citrus, grapefruit and lemon mostly, to provide a rounder top accord. The neroli arises out of that with a gorgeous luminescence that M. Ropion amplifies with the remnants of the citrus. Then instead of using cumin M. Ropion contrasts the neroli with the sticky green of buchu leaves. Buchu has a deeply verdant scent profile which adheres to the green quality inherent in the neroli. It offers significant push against the floral beauty of the neroli. M. Ropion further tunes this green by using moss to add shadows to this accord. All together this is a vibrant neroli accord which is where Orangerie Venise spends most of its time. It eventually moves on to a base of cedar and ambrox.

Orangerie Venise has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

The joy of this perfume is that M. Ropion has taken another difficult ingredient, buchu, and made it find a place with the neroli. It makes it not your typical neroli.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Neiman Marcus.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Perris Monte Carlo Jasmin de Pays- Fields of Jasmine

In May of 1897 writer Mark Twain was in London he had a hospital stay which lead to reports that he died while there. When contacted by a reporter friend he was said to respond, “the rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated.” I’ve been thinking about this in relation to perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena. It seems like the reports of him having retired after he left as in-house perfumer at Hermes have also been greatly exaggerated, too. M. Ellena certainly could’ve never made another perfume. Except I think creative director at Perris Monte Carlo, Gian-Luca Perris, offered him an opportunity to come full circle.

Gian-Luca Perris

M. Ellena is one of those perfumers we know a lot about. One of the things we know is he was born in the town of Grasse. He spent his childhood surrounded by the flowers made famous from that town, rose and jasmine. He has remarked how he spent his youth harvesting the flowers. Sig. Perris wanted a collection celebrating the rose and jasmine of Grasse. He also wanted M. Ellena to be the perfumer. The perfumes they produced are Perris Monte Carlo Rose de Mai and Perris Monte Carlo Jasmin de Pays. Both are remarkable but as readers know if given a choice I’m going to chose the jasmine over rose, every time. Which is why Jasmin de Pays gets reviewed first.

Jean-Claude Ellena

As part of the press materials M. Ellena reminisced on his days harvesting the jasmine. He would remark how over the course of the day the scent of the petals would change. From a transparent green while on the vine to a more floral scent in the middle of the day to its animalic essence by nightfall. M. Ellena weaves those three phases though this jasmine soliflore.

M. Ellena uses jasmine absolute as the jewel at the center of Jasmin de Pays. He then uses three ingredients to tease out the inherent scent profile of his jasmine absolute. To get the transparent green he uses tagetes to find that green vein running through the jasmine and isolate it. To capture the more floral aspect he uses clove as a spicy contrast. It has the effect of dampening down the indoles, so the floral quality rises more strongly. As the clove gives way a set of gentle animalic musks find the indoles and invite them to provide the finish.

Jasmin de Pays has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Jasmin de Pays feels more emotional than other perfumes by M. Ellena. There is a feeling of looking back to his youth from his current age to find a scent memory. I’m not sure if he succeeded to his satisfaction but I can imagine the fields of jasmine in Grasse every time I wear it.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Perris Monte Carlo.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Veronica Mars Season 4

One of the best parts of streaming services is they don’t have to program to the masses. They can have niche programs which capture a percentage of subscribers. They can be allowed to go further than they could on broadcast networks. They can also tell more serialized stories because we generally gulp these series down in a binge session or two. Which means you don’t have to resort to a “previously on” because you’ve just watched it. A final benefit is cult shows of the past has a new outlet. The current season 4 of Veronica Mars on Hulu is an example of that.

Veronica Mars began its story as a series on a tiny network in 2004. Each season had an overarching mystery which was slowly revealed. It introduced me to actress Kristin Bell who played the title character. The series took place in the fictional town of Neptune, California which had a group of rich Brahmins called the “oh-niners”. Veronica came from the other side of the tracks. The mysteries took place at the intersection of the two.

After three seasons it was canceled with an avid, but small, fan base supporting it. The fans were supportive enough to fund a Kickstarter campaign which led to a movie. While satisfying to see everyone again it left me wanting more. I wanted the long form mystery version.

Seems like Hulu also wanted that as they commissioned a season 4 picking up in the present day. It premiered a few weeks ago.

I wasn’t sure how it would be dealing with the characters as adults. Turns out creator and writer Rob Thomas knew exactly how to make it seem normal. From the first episode I was once again drawn into a mystery in Neptune with these characters. As it was before it is all held together by Ms. Bell’s indelible performance as Veronica.

This time around Mr. Thomas has a lot of fun with his storytelling. The central mystery of finding who is setting bombs around town is confounded with a Fargo-esque parallel plot. It all comes together over the final episodes with style.

As a longtime fan this was just what I wanted. If you’ve never checked it out the first three seasons plus the movie are on Hulu now as well. If you’re a long-time fan set aside some time because once Neptune reaches out it will keep you watching.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar Comme des Garcons Blue Santal- Push and Pull

When perfume nerds get to talking about the most influential brand of the niche age of perfume; I have a very strong opinion. My choice is Comme des Garcons. From its beginnings in 1993 it would help define and refine what a niche aesthetic was in fragrance. It has been overseen by one incredible creative director in Christian Astuguevieille for the entire time. That longevity and consistency should not be taken for granted. Many of the early niche pioneers have lost their way. It seemed like it was part of the natural process. Keeping a high level of creativity was just not something that should be sustainable. Especially as we entered the second decade of the 2000’s it was happening with frustrating regularity. Comme des Garcons had seemingly fallen prey to the same issue with a streak of one mediocre release after another in 2012. I was thinking this was the final exclamation point on the first age of niche perfumery. Then M. Astuguevieille showed me in 2013 that the previous year was just an anomaly. Comme des Garcons bounced back with a new set of perfumes which recalibrated their aesthetic to be relevant for the now. At the center of these releases was Comme des Garcons Blue Santal.

One of the things which Comme des Garcons has done well is to have releases for the wider mass-market next to the more exclusive releases. Blue Santal was one of a trio of the former released in the summer of 2013. The other two Blue Cedrat and Blue Encens have been discontinued leaving Blue Santal as the only reminder of the sub-collection.

Antoine Maisondieu

Perfumer Antoine Maisondieu would compose a perfume which creates a push and pull between the green of pine and the dry woodiness of sandalwood. It is the kind of perfume I wear on a warm day because of that vacillation between cool pine and warm sandalwood.

Blue Santal opens with the terpenic tonic of that cool pine. M. Maisondieu adds in the sharp gin-like acidity of juniper berries as the bridging note. The base is one of the early uses of the sustainable Australian sandalwood. It is one of the first fragrances to accentuate the drier character of this newer source of sandalwood. It still carries the sweetness with the creamier character less prominent. It presents the right counterweight to the pine. Then over the hours it lasts on my skin it is like a set of scales with the pine on one side and the sandalwood on the other pivoting on a fulcrum of juniper berries.

Blue Santal has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

You might think it unusual to choose a release from such a well-known brand as Comme des Garcons as an Under the Radar choice. From a brand pushing towards a collection of one hundred releases I think it is easy for even the best ones to fall off the radar screen. I thought it was time to put Blue Santal back on it.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review The House of Oud Keep Glazed- Fruit Tarty

I am usually interested when a perfume chooses to push towards the extreme of something. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes it just illuminates why you don’t take things that far. For lovers of those ingredients it can be a nose saturating smorgasbord of pleasure. The brand founded by perfumer Andrea Casotti has been doing that recently. The latest is to see how fruity you can get in The House of Oud Keep Glazed.

Ksenia Penkina

For their latest fragrances Sig. Casotti has been looking for creative directors from other disciplines. For Keep Glazed he asked Vancouver-based cake boss Ksenia Penkina of Canadian Patisserie. If you look at the picture of Ms. Penkina’s cake, above, and compare it to the picture in the header it is not too difficult to see why Sig. Casotti felt he found a kindred spirit. They mentioned they wanted to create a gourmand style perfume which smelled like the patisserie. I don’t think it gets the entire milieu but it sure does find a case full of exotic fruit tarts to emulate.

Andrea Casotti

Sig. Casotti co-creates Keep Glazed with perfumer Cristian Calabro. They make a smart choice to avoid all the typical berries finding a different assortment for Keep Glazed.

It opens with a bright lemon and mango painting. Mango has become one of my favorite perfume fruits. In this case the perfumers take the tropical juiciness of it and allow the lemon to provide a tart contrast. The only thing resembling a berry is their use of strawberry leaf in this top accord. It adds a green veneer to the fruits. Ginger arrives giving a boost to the lemon and mango without overwhelming them. If this is the fruit tart case I’m smelling; the filling underneath the lemon and mango is made of sweet coconut cream. A set of musks with a fruity scent profile add to the fruitiness while also beginning to ground the composition. Some wood finishes Keep Glazed off.

Keep Glazed has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

As much as the description above might make you think this is a sillage monster; it is not. It wears quite close. Mrs. C only noticed it on the days I tested it when I sat right next to her. It really is like leaning into the fruit tart case and breathing deep.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Gucci Memoire d’une Odeur- A Commercial Risk

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Ever since creative director at Gucci, Alessandro Michele, has taken a hand in the fragrance side of the brand it has been, mostly, a good thing. Outside of a couple of missteps I have believed Gucci perfumes have been on an upward trajectory because of Sig. Michele’s involvement. For the most part that success has come through giving typical fragrance styles clever twists through ingredient choice. What I have been hoping for is for Sig. Michele to make a fragrance which is different than those typical mass-market styles. It was what set Gucci apart when Tom Ford was the last overall creative director to get involved with the perfume side. It seems like Gucci Memoire d’une Odeur is an attempt to do that.

Alessandro Michele

Sig. Michele has been working almost exclusively with perfumer Alberto Morillas since he got to Gucci. That partnership remains for Memoire d’une Odeur. I have to comment that the press release is a touch irritating because it claims that this is the first perfume to feature chamomile as a keynote. Any quick search of any perfume database will show that is a bit of exaggeration. They are making a point, though. Chamomile has a different scent profile than most things featured in mass-market perfumes. It carries a strong green herbal-like foundation which also carries a fruity component. For Memoire d’une Odeur they are using Roman chamomile which has a granny smith apple to match with the green herbal-ness. This is a challenging ingredient to put on top of a new commercial release.

Alberto Morillas

Yet when you spray on Memoire d’une Odeur that is what you first notice. M. Morillas adds a bit of soft lift with a white musk, or two, but it doesn’t blunt the sharper edges of the chamomile. This is a vegetal green given some texture though the apple quality within. This is the kind of opening which is often seen in a niche perfume. not so often at the mall. With all of that in play for the top accord the remainder of the development spools out in a more recognizable fashion. Jasmine holds the heart with a more traditional floral scent. The base is even more recognizable as a series of white musks wrap around a clean cedar.

Memoire d’une Odeur has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I am really looking to my next field trip to the local mall to observe how consumers are reacting to Memoire d’une Odeur. I think it is going to be a tiny step too far as the top accord provides a prickly character that will be difficult to embrace. Although if you are a more experienced perfume fan that prickliness is what might get you to take a second sniff. I am happy that Sig. Michele is willing to take some commercial risks as he continues to breathe life back into Gucci perfumes.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Moschino Toy Boy- Fun For Awhile

As the days of summer begin to dwindle there is a desire to make the most out of them. Make sure you get in those last things which make this time of year fun in the sun. When it comes to fragrance I still want to find some light-hearted fun in a bottle too. Thankfully Moschino Toy Boy showed up just in time to extend the party for awhile.

Back in February I found the same fun in the earlier release of Moschino Toy 2. That fragrance embodied the aesthetic Moschino creative director Jeremy Scott wants to create. Toy 2 was a trifle of a citrus fresh floral which just wanted to be a scent you could hang out with; leaving expectations behind. Toy Boy does the same thing from a more masculine perspective.

Yann Vasnier

Yann Vasnier is the perfumer behind Toy Boy and he does present an interesting thought for a perfume marketed to men by making a spiced up fruity floral. I found it to be an entertaining twist on the typical men’s fragrance tropes.

Toy Boy opens with a common pear and berries top accord. In the first few seconds you wouldn’t be off base to be expecting a typical fruity floral accord. M. Vasnier helps rough it up a bit by using elemi as a citrus surrogate to attenuate the fruits. A set of spices in nutmeg and clove also keep those fruits in check while also providing a spice-laden partner to the rose in the heart. Through to this part of the development I really was taken with what M. Vasnier was up to. Unfortunately it all goes away as a tide of Ambermax and Sylkolide crush it in a monolith of woods and white musk. It isn’t surprising to see a mass-market release end on this kind of base accord but it is frustrating to see it destroy what came before.

Toy Boy has 14-16 hour longevity, mainly due to the synthetics in the base, and average sillage.

Toy Boy is another perfume which loses all its originality when the synthetics take over. If you are one who enjoys these kinds of synthetics then the early part of Toy Boy will allow you to have some new fun on the way to that base accord. I would’ve liked to keep that early party going but just like summer it ends, too.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Molton Brown Geranium Nefertum- Summer Chypre

If there is a red-headed stepchild of perfume ingredients, geranium would be in the running. Used for the most part as a supporting element to rose it rarely gets a spotlight all its own. Which is a shame because some of my favorite perfumes are the ones which do feature it. Which was why I was excited to receive my sample of Molton Brown Geranium Nefertum.

One of the reasons I have been enjoying the recent releases from Molton Brown has been perfumer Carla Chabert. She has been consistently producing interesting perfumes based on the bath products the brand is most known for. Mme Chabert was the perfumer for Geranium Nefertum.

Carla Chabert

When I saw the name, I thought it was a variety of geranium. There are hundreds. Turns out Nefertum is the Egyptian god of perfume. The myth goes he was born from the blue lotus to rise with a wreath of those flowers upon his head. Mme Chabert modernizes that by thinking of a contemporary version who would be wreathed in geranium.

Geranium Nefertum opens on a fig accord comprised of leaf and fruit. The leaf adds a creamy green to the depth of the sweet fruit. As this is an eau de toilete it is an opaquer style. The geranium comes next with its minty rose-like scent which gives it the nickname “green rose”. When it is used in the perfume I like best the perfumer uses that green to create a different type of floral. Mme Chabert does just that as labdanum and oakmoss tease out the green and deepen it. This coalesces around a creamy sandalwood, recapitulating the fig accord from the beginning. It also creates a beautifully transparent chypre accord that was amazing in the hot weather.

Geranium Nefertum has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Mme Chabert has continued to impress me as she makes each new release a reason worth seeking out the fragrance section in Molton Brown. If you’re looking for a summer chypre search out Geranium Nefertum.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Molton Brown.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Tory Burch Knock On Wood- Change Is Good

As long as I’ve been writing about perfume I have general impressions of brands. When I see a new release I kind of know what will be in the sample. There is nothing wrong with creating a brand aesthetic and sticking to it. It allows your consumers to know what they are getting when they pick up your fragrance. This was true for Tory Burch fragrances. The first nine released since 2013 were all “fresh florals”. They were typical for that style without standing apart in any way. Then with last year’s release, Just Like Heaven, that formula was thrown away. An off-kilter green floral greeted me and impressed me. It left me with a question. Was this a one off or was this the beginning of change for the brand? Tory Burch Knock On Wood is here to answer that.

Yves Cassar

Knock on Wood is composed by perfumer Yves Cassar. It is also the first woody perfume for the brand, thus the name. What really sets it apart is the use of a lot of vetiver to go with the floral component. This blurs that “fresh floral” aesthetic in good ways.

From the start the vetiver is present as a green grassy presence. M. Cassar uses the tartness of blood orange to give a different citrus partner to the vetiver. A swoosh of cardamom breezes over the top accord. Rose provides the central floral part of Knock On Wood. It is a spicy rose which pairs with those similar facets of vetiver nicely. The sweetness of carrot and the sticky green of blackcurrant buds provide some contrast and texture to the heart accord. The deep woodiness of vetiver is made even more prominent by clean cedarwood in the base.

Knock On Wood has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is marketed as a women’s fragrance but if you are a fan of vetiver masculine fragrances and like rose you might want to walk over to women’s fragrance on your next trip to the mall. As far as my question up top. Knock On Wood is another successful departure for the Tory Burch brand with another excellent perfume. I know change can be scary but in this case change is good.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample supplied by Bloomingdale’s.

Mark Behnke