The Sunday Magazine: Old Town Road by Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus

Of the many changes I’ve seen in popular music none has made me smile more than that for the single “Old Town Road” by rapper Lil Nas X with Billy Ray Cyrus. It is the no doubt song of the summer for 2019. It has reigned atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart for a record seventeen weeks, and counting. That success is a story of how music has changed for young artists now.

The song began coming together in Lil Nas X’s mind at the end of last year. It started with purchasing the beat from producer Young Kio for $30. That line was built upon a snippet from Nine Inch Nails’ song “34 Ghosts IV”. At this point Lil Nas X introduced the song as a solo by creating the #Yeehaw challenge encouraging fans to submit videos of themselves as a cowboy or cowgirl with the song as a soundtrack. It is the seed of a pop hit much like the way Carly Ray Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” became a hit when teams lip synched to it.

I wasn’t aware of any of that. I became aware of it when Billy Ray Cyrus joined in for an April 2019 remix. I downloaded that version and it has been my summer soundtrack ever since. Mr. Cyrus adds in his own twangy verse which is part of the appeal to me. When the rap star talks about “ridin’ on a tractor” while the country star is “ridin’ down Rodeo in my Maserati sports car” there is a clever twist being applied here.  It is a catchy earworm of a song with singable lyrics that made me want to wear a cowboy hat to the beach.

One final part of the creative genesis of this song is that Lil Nas X came out as gay during Pride Month in June. That makes “Old Town Road” a country rap song by a gay hip-hop artist and a straight country singer. If that doesn’t represent America well “you can’t tell me nothin’”

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Carine Roitfeld Kar-Wai- Hong Kong Vetiver

The debut set of seven perfumes by Carine Roitfeld is quite good. She calls it her “7 Lovers” collection giving each perfume a name to represent a place. Many of them have engaged me by using interesting sets of keynotes. None represents that more than Carine Roitfeld Kar-Wai.

Carine Roitfeld

Mme Roitfeld tapped three perfumers to make her fragrances. For Kar-Wai it is perfumer Pascal Gaurin she collaborates with. I knew this was going to be the next I reviewed because of the vetiver in it. Vetiver is one of those perfume ingredients which is a summer standard. What intrigued me so much about Kar-Wai are the two ingredients which lead to that vetiver; tea and osmanthus. Those two are what seem to be the nod to Hong Kong which is the city Kar-Wai is meant to represent.

Pascal Gaurin

Kar-Wai opens on a smoky tea note with cardamom breezing over the top. This is a tea note which at turns seems opaque and then more solid. As the osmanthus pairs up with it the tea recedes a little. The osmanthus used here is that leathery version with a hint of fruit underneath. In Kar-Wai that effect serves to create a peach tea underpinning. Almost as if the osmanthus was dyed with peach tea. M. Gaurin gives it all a golden glow with saffron providing a halo. Now the stage is set for the vetiver to arrive. This is a high-quality vetiver which leads with its cooler green grassy character. Then it intensifies further as the woody depth becomes more apparent. The osmanthus and tea accord lays on top of it all, serenely floating on the breeze. Some white musks add a starched collar crispness to the final composition.

Kar-Wai has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Kar-Wai is an exceptional vetiver perfume because of the osmanthus and tea along with it. I have worn out my sample this summer because it is so good.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample set supplied by Carine Roitfeld.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Olfactive Studio Chypre Shot- Keeping Chypre Alive

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When the restrictions on oakmoss absolute were announced a few years ago I thought to myself that was the end of the chypre. It has turned out to be as inaccurate a prediction as I could have made. What the loss of full spectrum oakmoss has done is to give a few perfumers the challenge of making a modern chypre without the oakmoss. They have some help because there is a version of oakmoss where the problematic component, atranol, has been greatly reduced. This low-atranol version caries much of the mossy softness of oakmoss. The only thing I find lacking is the bite. Of course it is that bite which defines a good chypre to me. Which means if you’re going to make a modern chypre for my tastes you need to find a way of restoring that. If there is one perfumer who has excelled at this, it is Bertrand Duchaufour. His collaboration with creative director Celine Verleure adds another chypre to his portfolio with Olfactive Studio Chypre Shot.

Celine Verleure

Chypre Shot is part of the three fragrance Sepia Collection which was released at the end of the winter this year. Having a collection of three perfumes all at once is a departure for Olfactive Studio. It is even more difficult when all three are good. Chypre Shot captures everything that is great about M. Duchaufour’s examination of creating modern chypres.

Bertrand Duchaufour

Chypre Shot opens with a strong cardamom gust flanked by the golden aura of saffron. It leads to a fascinating interlude of black tea, coffee, and peony. This is like floating a fresh floral on top of a cup of half tea half coffee. The coffee begins to provide some of the bite I want with an oily bitterness. The real purveyor of that comes as the oakmoss arrives. Black pepper infuses itself throughout the low-atranol oakmoss. It sets up the last part of the chypre accord, patchouli, to come forward and complete the effect. Some amber warms things up in the late going but it is that modern chypre accord which holds the focus for most of the time.

Chypre Shot has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage. All the Sepia Collection releases are extrait strength making them closer wearing.

One of the reasons Chypre Shot delights me so is M. Duchaufour continues to show he will not be limited by ingredient restrictions. He has continued to lead the way in making sure chypres remain a vital perfume style, no matter what.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Panah Icy Citrus- Placebo Effect?

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In my day job as a drug discovery scientist I am fascinated by the placebo effect. It is amazing what the power of suggestion can achieve even with health care conditions. The placebo effect is seen in clinical trials where some patients are getting the drug being investigated and others are getting a placebo which has no drug. While the group getting the drug sees the effect; quite interestingly the group getting the placebo also sees a percentage of patients respond because they believe they are getting a treatment. That is the serious side of it. On the more plebian side most products in the beauty department thrive on the placebo effect. Telling consumers that snake venom, gold flakes, cayenne pepper, yada yada yada; has some effect. For the percentage who buy into the hype and see a change they have a customer for life. I hadn’t thought there would be a perfume equivalent until I received my sample of Panah Icy Citrus.

Kedra Hart

Panah was founded in London in 2016. They say their goal is to combine “valuable aroma chemicals” with “high quality natural oils”. The spend a lot of time on that “valuable aroma chemicals” part of the equation. To date I have found their perfumes to be credibly designed gourmand, floral, or citrus style perfumes. Icy Citrus caught my attention because they claim the icy part comes from a new technology, “skin friendly cooling micro spheres”. I was quite curious to see what this was all about. As has been the case with all the previous Panah releases perfumer Kedra Hart is the nose.

Icy Citrus is mainly a classically designed citrus. Ms. Hart combines a group of citrus notes in the early going to give that typical bright opening. Then I detect a set of the sea breeze ozonic notes which provide some lift to the citrus. Is this what is meant by the cooling effect? There are some herbs and spices of which it seems mint is part of. That also provides a cooling effect. It transitions rapidly to a solid woody base sweetened with some vanilla.

Icy Citrus has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

I can’t say I experienced the technological cooling breakthrough promised in the press release. I instead found a combination of expansive ingredients paired with mint providing the icy part I detected. Icy Citrus is a nice citrus as all the others in the Panah collection are. As for new icy tech; that might be a placebo effect.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review By Kilian Love: Don’t Be Shy Rose & Oud- Kilian Mash-Up

I am a fan of the musical form known as the mash-up. It is where they take two disparate songs and combine them into something entirely new. It turns pop songs I think banal into something I play over and over. When it comes to perfume those who layer their fragrances are essentially doing the same thing. I don’t think a brand has consciously done it until I received my sample of By Kilian Love: Don’t Be Shy Rose & Oud.

Kilian Hennessy

When Kilian Hennessy made his entrance on the fragrance shelves in 2007 he was selling a unique luxurious version of perfume. Especially his first set of releases which were all memorable. One of those was Love: Don’t Be Shy which was a wonderful floral gourmand based around a fantastic accord of marshmallow water. I think of it as one of the forerunners of this style becoming the current trend. Three years later M. Hennessy would branch out with the first of his oud focused fragrances, Rose Oud. This is still one of my very favorite uses of oud in perfume. Both perfumes were composed by perfumer Calice Becker.

Calice Becker

Working with Mme Becker, M. Hennessy seemingly wanted the marshmallow water accord of the original Love and the titular notes of Rose Oud to come together in a perfume mash-up. It does give me new thoughts on these accords.

This perfume opens with the fabulous marshmallow accord Mme Becker thrilled me with twelve years ago. It has a sugary floral quality underpinned by a watery orange blossom. All that returns. In the original Love that became sweeter over time. In this case Mme Becker slowly brings the rose and oud into play. She has a careful balancing act here because the marshmallow accord is way opaquer than either rose or oud.  In the early moments of detecting the rose and oud is where this fragrance is at its most intriguing. Over time the rose and oud do take over but there is a decent amount of time where the three components are beautifully singing in harmony.

Love: Don’t be Shy Rose & Oud has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

One thing I thought, and proved to myself, you can’t get the same effect by layering the two scents which are brought together here. This is a purer attempt to find the places where these three things can co-exist. Especially in the middle as the marshmallow accord holds its own with the rose and oud, I find this to be a decadent floral gourmand. I would’ve like that to hold on for longer. But just as in musical mash-ups they have to give both songs the time to shine. Love: Don’t Be Shy Rose & Oud does this very well.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Lancome Figues & Agrumes- Another Good Mediterranean

I am not sure what has caused this coincidence within the perfumed universe but 2019 has seen several good new Mediterranean style fragrances. It has always been one of my favorite summer types of perfume to wear in the heat. It has as simple an architecture as classic cologne with many of the same simple pleasures when done well. The latest is Maison Lancome Figues & Agrumes.

Alex Lee

Maison Lancome has been a collection which celebrates those simple pleasures of a couple well-chosen keynotes interacting in harmony. I have enjoyed all the releases since this collection started in 2016. I don’t think there is a poor perfume in the entire fifteen bottle collection. This isn’t where I turn for deep kaleidoscopic development. It is where I turn when I want to smell good.

Patricia Choux

Figues & Agrumes fits in with its collection mates. As advertised, it is a fig and citrus scent composed by perfumers Alex Lee and Patricia Choux. It is a time-tested orange, fig, and jasmine Mediterranean construct. The perfumers do have a couple tiny frills up their sleeves, but this is a perfume predominantly about those three notes I mentioned.

Figues and Agrumes opens with the juicy citrus of mandarin. One of those frills I mentioned is the use of the sticky green of blackcurrant buds to provide some texture. It keeps it from being just orange. Orange blossom begins the floral connection to the jasmine sambac in the heart. It forms a summer floral water type of accord with the mandarin. The creamy fig inserts itself here providing a bridge down to the woods in the base. In this case a clean cedar leavened by some white musks and made a bit less austere with tonka.

Figues & Agrumes has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

I’m not sure how many Mediterranean style perfumes are too many to own. I do know I’m starting to test where that limit might be. I will be adding Figues & Agrumes because I still have room for one more good Mediterranean.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Guerlain Embruns d’Ylang- This Year’s Model

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There are a few of the major perfume brands which have just lost me over the past few years. They’ve gone in a direction where I don’t care to follow. It bothers me that the perfume houses which sparked my passion have lost my interest. The grandest perfume maison of them all, Guerlain, kind of fits this description. Except my irritation with them is a torrent of mediocre product every year. My negative feelings also increase because every year there is one of those voluminous releases which reminds me why I love Guerlain. This year’s model is Guerlain Embruns d’Ylang.

Embruns d’Ylang is part of the L’Art et la Matiere collection. This has been one of the best group of perfumes within Guerlain over the past few years. One reason for that is this seems to be the one place left within Guerlain where they are willing to take a step outside of the very comfortable boundaries, they usually produce perfume within.

Thierry Wasser

In-house perfumer Thierry Wasser wanted to place his ylang-ylang keynote on a beach just as a squall line approaches. The sense of the wind blowing through the flowers as the storm nears with the hint of crackle in the air. This is what Embruns d’Ylang captures.

Embruns d’Ylang opens with a remarkable aquatic accord M. Wasser calls a “salt crystal note”. All perfume lovers are familiar with the common suite of ozonic notes which usually make up the sea breeze. This accord is much more compact, and perversely, dry. If you’ve ever stood on a beach watching a line of thunderstorms approach you will know there is this moment when the air goes dry and the wind in front of the storm intensifies as it rushes towards the shore. It carries a deeper brininess. This is what this “salt crystal note” reminds me of.  M. Wasser takes that and lets it crash into a fleshy ylang-ylang. It is a gorgeous duet of contrasts as the desiccated gale off the water dives into a deep sweet floralcy. M. Wasser adds a spicy frisson as clove acts as St Elmo’s Fire around the ylang and salt accord. As the storm passes a soft floral accord of iris and jasmine join the ylang on top of a rich earthy patchouli.

Embruns d’Ylang has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I am as enthralled with Embruns d’Ylang because it is so different than everything else Guerlain has released this year. I’m learning to live with the notion that once a year Guerlain will remind me why it is still a grand maison de parfum. For 2019 that will be Embruns d’Ylang.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Elementary

The character of Sherlock Holmes has always been a part of my life. From reading the original stories by Arthur Conan Doyle to watching the different visual interpretations. If I’m told a book, tv show, or movie has a connection I am generally enticed to watch it. I have realized, as it is coming to its end, that the version being shown on CBS called “Elementary” has become one of my favorite versions.

Elementary was created by writer Rob Doherty. Mr. Doherty decided to set it in the present day with a Sherlock who has fled London for New York City. His father hires Dr. Watson as a sober companion for his recovering son. Besides the change in locale Dr. Watson is a woman in this version. From the very beginning Mr. Doherty promised that there would be no romantic tension and he has kept that promise. What that has opened is a different relationship to their cases. It has allowed Watson to achieve more of an equal status than in almost any other interpretation of Sherlock. Throughout the series there are winks and nods back to the original source material. The show has a particularly original take on the romance with Irene Adler and the way that ties to his great nemesis Moriarty.

What has made the show so watchable has been the actors in the two lead roles. Jonny Lee Miller has portrayed a Sherlock in battle with his demons throughout. Mr. Miller has a wonderful way of showing his inner battles wordlessly. The stories allow him the opportunity to explore his negative feelings and where they take him. He still has his misanthropic streak intact it just shows in alternative ways.

Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson

Dr. Watson has been portrayed by Lucy Liu. Ms. Liu has developed the character throughout the seasons. In the early going as she makes the shift from sober companion to assistant; she really sells her fascination with the way Sherlock operates. As Sherlock realizes he has a partner it is where Ms. Liu has shone. She has become more confident in her own instincts and there is much less of Sherlock showing her to be incorrect. It is one of the biggest changes between Elementary and almost every other version. This Watson becomes more of a colleague instead of a chronicler. It has proven to be a more interesting choice to follow over the seasons.

Elementary will be finishing their final season on August 15. At that point Mr. Miller and Ms. Liu will have portrayed Holmes and Watson for 151 episodes. The longest of any actors to ever play the roles. It has been a joy to spend that time with them.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume review Aerin Limone di Sicilia- Deep Lemon

One of my favorite drinks during the summer is lemonade. At its heart it is simple: water, sugar, and lemons. Nothing wrong with that version. Except that the chemist in me couldn’t resist tinkering with it. Honey was substituted for the sugar that added a more syrup-like sweetness. I make lavender water by steeping some lavender buds in water. Finally I add some basil for some herbal bite. These are the ingredients for basil lavender lemonade at Chez Colognoisseur. It takes something simple and adds more depth. The same is true about Aerin Limone di Sicilia.

Aerin Lauder

Limone di Sicilia is the fifth fragrance in the Premiere Collection meant to highlight a specific ingredient. It has been one of the quiet triumphs of the Aerin line. The same creative team of creative director Aerin Lauder and perfumer Honorine Blanc returns from last year’s Eclat de Vert. I really liked the way that perfume captured the lazy days of summer sitting under a tree. Limone di Sicilia is the lemonade waiting on the porch when I come home.

Honorine Blanc

One of the things that Mme Blanc does with her bright lemon keynote is to do what I did with my lemonade. She makes it deeper, floral, and more herbal.

That lemon is like a ball of sunlight right away. Mme Blanc banks some of the intensity by using baie rose to provide an herbal counterweight. Muguet provides a green clean floral contrast in the early going as well. Jasmine becomes the main floral partner to the lemon. This is clean mostly indole-free jasmine which adds lift to the lemon. The final bit of bite comes with the use of oakmoss supported by the dry woodiness of Ambrox.

Limone di Sicilia has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Just as Eclat de Vert did last summer Limone di Sicilia also provides an ideal dog days style of citrus perfume. It succeeds because the creative team took their lemon into some deeper places.

Disclosure; this review is based on a sample provided by Aerin.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Tom Ford Metallique- The New Aldehyde

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One of the ingredients which defines perfume of the mid-20th century is aldehydes. From their appearance in Chanel No. 5 they were prevalent in many of the great floral perfumes which followed. It was so entwined with that era in perfume it also came to represent it. It also is the one ingredient which elicits the damning reaction, “oh that perfume is for someone older than me.” It is the keynote of the dreaded descriptor “old lady perfume”. This has kept it from being used very often in new perfumes. Tom Ford Metallique is going to try to change that.

Karyn Khoury

Metallique is part of the more widely available Signature Collection. As much as we write about the Private Blend collection the Signature Collection is equally as impressive. Creative director Karyn Khoury makes sure any fragrance with Tom Ford on the label lives up to the reputation the brand has built. For Metallique she partners with perfumer Antoine Maisondieu.

Antoine Maisondieu

The name is appropriate for the way aldehydes present themselves within a fragrance. In those classic perfumes it was described as smelling like “Aqua-Net” hairspray. M. Maisondieu has found a way to lighten up the aldehyde accord he uses here. This is a much more restrained effect overall.

Metallique opens up with the aldehydes springing to life. M.Maisondieu rather quickly brings in bergamot and petitgrain to give some sparkle. It is a smart way of balancing out the metallic quality. It allows baie rose to add a green herbal quality further softening the aldehydes. In the past the florals would be the heavy hitters. M. Maisondieu goes for a less powerful trio of aubepine, heliotrope, and muguet. The green of the baie rose connects to the green of the muguet then expanding into the heliotorope and aubepine. M. Maisondieu then uses the botanical musk of ambrette and the warmth of balsam to provide the foundation.

Metallique has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

What makes Metallique stand apart from those classic aldehydic florals is this modern version does not fill the room. Ms. Khoury and M. Maisondieu have designed a version which is much less extroverted even though it retains the aldehyde-floral-musk spine. It still has some verve without becoming overwhelming. I will be curious to learn if they have found the path for aldehydic florals to appeal to a new audience with Metallique.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.

Mark Behnke