New Perfume Review Prada Luna Rossa Black- Formal Sailing

I keep repeating this, but Prada is one of the best mainstream perfume collections. It has consistently released a broad spectrum of fragrance. That they have all been overseen by in-house perfumer Daniela Andrier provides an aesthetic connection which is now becoming synonymous with Prada the perfume brand.

In 2012 Mme Andrier created a new masculine pillar collection with the release of Luna Rossa. Based on the sailboats sponsored by the brand competing in the America’s Cup she would create atypical aquatics. Over the course of four flankers Mme Andrier explored the boundaries of an aquatic fougere in the mainstream sector. Upon receiving my sample of the latest flanker Luna Rossa Black I was ready to set sail on a breeze of lavender only to be met by something entirely different.

Daniela Andrier

If the previous members of the Luna Rossa collection were meant to capture the exhilaration of sailing; Luna Rossa Black is for the evening formal party after you’re back on shore. Gone are the fresh fougere beats replaced by an Oriental architecture of spice. Mme Andrier keeps it fresher then most other fragrances of this style which is as close as Luna Rossa Black comes to resembling any of its predecessors.

The perfume opens with the subtle peppery nature of angelica seed matched with the freshness of bergamot. Angelica seed carries an energetic spiciness which opens this with some gusto. The star of this perfume is Mme Andrier’s combination of patchouli and coumarin in the heart. In most Orientals the partner to patchouli is something heavier; resins or amber among a few. Mme Andrier’s choice of coumarin provides a lighter touch on an accord which is recognizably within the framework of the style.  It also allows for the angelica seeds to extend their presence into the heart where if something heftier had been used it would have been obliterated. The base is a suite of musk, again, freshened a bit by a synthetic ambergris.

Luna Rossa Black has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Sometimes you have to come ashore. Luna Rossa Black provides something for that man to wear while on shore.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Problem with Prequels

Coming home from the new Star Wars film “Solo” I realized why I enjoyed it yet there was something missing. Took me a minute but it is something that has been missing from most movies or television shows which go back to before we met the main characters. What it means is there is no chance of anything drastic happening to them before they get to that place where we met them. In “Solo” it isn’t really a problem because at heart it is a heist movie and those don’t usually have mortal consequences for any of the main characters either. Where it becomes an issue is in large sprawling sagas where there is so much ingrained history that the story is straitjacketed into a very narrow space.

A perfect example has been the two attempts at Star Trek television series designed as prequels to the original series. Star Trek: Enterprise showed the first voyages into deep space by Earth. If the writers had been content to leave it at that the show might have been better. Instead as happens all too often they begin to introduce things way before they are supposed to be known. This happened with so many things in Star Trek: Enterprise it became irrelevant. The latest series Star Trek: Discovery is doing the same thing by introducing a new character into one of the iconic characters’ family who should have been mentioned somewhere prior. This becomes especially egregious when this person plays pivotal parts of at least three key moments in Starfleet history; in the first season.

It isn’t just Star Trek; Gotham also struggles with the Batman story. Every villain ever is infesting Gotham City all while Bruce Wayne is a teenager. It is like “Teen Batman” but in typical DC fashion made gritty so it is PG-13 rated “Teen Batman”. There is zero dramatic tension between any of these characters. Why? Because we know every single one of them becomes older to bedevil Batman/Bruce Wayne at a later date. It doesn’t matter how dire the situation I know nothing permanent is happening to any of these characters no matter how it may seem.

Which really leads to the real problem. All of these are made for the particular fan base not for the general public. It is fan fiction done by professionals. They survive by filling themselves with inside jokes only a dedicated fan gets. So yeah am I interested to see something actually happen which was only explained in dialogue in the original? Turns out it is like visiting a museum exhibit. It can be fun, but it feels old.

As a fan these prequels are mostly enjoyable, but they really will never come close to the originals they are trying to fill in the backstory for.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Armani Prive Bleu Turquoise- Salt Tanned Skin

One of the more difficult things for me to do is to become excited for a new perfume within some of the most highly populated genres. It becomes tedious when I receive something new which reminds me of something very similar to it. One of the reasons that happens is the perfumer follows the existing recipe at the recommended concentrations. I have found that what it takes for me to lift something out of the pile is having something more than a tweak to it. The recent Armani Prive Bleu Turquoise shows how to do it.

Aurelien Guichard

In the aquatic genre I could spend a few days naming perfume with a “sea spray” accord. It is usually a focal point, but it is kept balanced. What captured my attention in Bleu Turquoise was perfumer Aurelien Guichard wasn’t interested in the sea spray but the smell of it evaporated on sun-warmed skin. M. Guichard keeps it exceedingly simple around the sea salt accord putting it forward as the keynote with only two significant supporting ingredients.

The perfume opens on a delicate frankincense drifting in soft puffs of slightly metallic beauty. Out of this comes the central accord. M. Guichard uses salt but adds in a musk or two to evoke tanned bare skin encrusted with the ocean’s brine. This is a familiar scent from many days lying on a beach towel as the sun dried off from my swim; leaving swirls of white on my chest, legs, and arms. The choice of vanilla in the base is also a nice twist as it is like applying a sweet-smelling suntan lotion over my sun-dried skin.

Bleu Turquoise has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Bleu Turquoise is a nice take on the aquatic genre. It isn’t going to change the style but if you want something different for the upcoming summer this is a good choice.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Juliette has a Gun Moscow Mule- Cocktails on the Deck

As I write this I’m getting ready for company here in Poodlesville for the traditional kickoff to summer, Memorial Day. One part of this is bringing out all my cocktail paraphernalia. The martini and margarita glasses are front and center. Tall julep glasses and absinthe goblets join them. Then there is my set of four copper mugs which find a place, too. I acquired those three summers ago when I discovered the cocktail known as a Moscow Mule. A mixture of lime juice, vodka and ginger beer served very cold. The copper mugs are reputed to keep it colder longer. Because of the heat capacity properties of copper. Not sure about that but I admit drinking them on the deck at Poodlesville as the sun shines down is an ideal summer cocktail. A new perfume is inspired by this refreshing cocktail Juliette has a Gun Moscow Mule.

Juliette has a Gun was founded in 2006 by Romano Ricci he began by being a hands-on creative director working with the perfumers. This was, in essence, his graduate school of perfumery as he supplemented what he had learned previously. M. Ricci has a proud name to live with as a double-edged sword as the great grandson of Nina Ricci. Like her he has forged a consistent identity for his brand. Over the past few years M. Ricci has begun to take the wheel as the perfumer for Juliette has a Gun. One set of ingredients he has a fondness for are the synthetic woody ingredients. Moscow Mule might be the most exuberant example of this aesthetic; half of the ingredients come from this class. In the case of Moscow Mule, they act as the figurative “copper cup” although it is woody instead of metallic. Inside is the cocktail.

Romano Ricci

M. Ricci squeezes a lime out at the top of Moscow Mule followed by a strong ginger. This smells very much like the cocktails I make. I smiled every time, from the memory, for the first few minutes. There is an alcoholic accord which represents the vodka which comes next. It carries a sharp focused accelerator to the ginger and lime. Then the woods begin their rise as they form the container. M. Ricci has become one of the masters at using these powerful ingredients. It reminds me a bit of being a wild animal trainer trying to get each one to behave without mauling the overall construct. For Moscow Mule it is a veritable honor roll of these ingredients; Amber Xtreme, Norlimbanol, Ambroxan, and Iso E Super. Those have been the backbone of hundreds of woody perfumes but because of their intensity they are rarely combined. M. Ricci gets them to not only behave but to form a fascinating solid woody accord I found I enjoyed. Some ambrettolide provides a bit of musk to the later stages but it is the woods which predominate.

Moscow Mule has near 24-hour longevity and average sillage.

If you are someone who is not fond of the synthetic woods in perfume stay far away from this; it is definitely not going to be a refreshing cocktail for you. If you are a fan M. Ricci has coaxed some interesting intersections within the overdose. I liked it because it reminded me of the smell of the deck I do most of my cocktail drinking on as the summer sun heats it up there is always a scent of heated wood around me. If this sounds good come join me on the deck for cocktails this summer.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle supplied by Europerfumes.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Commodity Nectar- Fun and Sun Neroli

There has been a quiet success story taking place at the mall. The brand is called Commodity. It started when Ash Huzenlaub and Konstantin Glasmacher decided they wanted to create a fragrance line which could stand on its own without needing all the PR trappings to find its audience. One thing they did very differently was they realized they were entrepreneurs not creative directors leading to a bold decision for a mainstream perfume; we’ll leave the creativity up to the perfumers we hire. They gave the perfumers a budget along with an ideal to keep it minimalistic; then turned them loose. It has formed a collection where the perfumers are able to push at certain mainstream tropes. One of the recent successes Is Commodity Nectar.

Mathieu Nardin

The perfumer chosen for Nectar is Mathieu Nardin. M. Nardin has shown a deft touch when given latitude to explore a specific keynote. For Nectar that focal point is neroli. Neroli has an inherent scent profile of green tinted floral citrus. It is why it has been a versatile complement throughout the history of perfumery. In the past few years neroli has been stepping into the spotlight as perfumers have been using it more often as a keynote.

Nectar opens with a zippy trio of citrus; pomelo, tangerine, and bergamot. It produces a tart, pulpy top accord. It is a bit of summer sunshine right from the start. The neroli begins to take charge soon after. M. Nardin uses a decent concentration of it which allows for all the multi-faceted appeal to be displayed. To accentuate the floral, honeysuckle provides the support. For the green M. Nardin first uses the green woodiness of cedar to pick the thread out, then with vetiver develop it into something distinct down into the base. He finally swathes it in a swirl of white musks providing lift to the overall effect.

Nectar has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

As the official start of summer is rapidly approaching Nectar is the kind of perfume which could live at the beach. It provides a genial fragrant companion which shares all the fun and sun of the season.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Giorgio Armani Sensi- Can We do Niche?

I have no idea if this first paragraph carries a grain of truth but in hindsight I think it might. As fragrance crossed into the 21st century the uprising of interesting perfumes willingly marching out-of-step with the mainstream were creating a movement. The large corporations behind the mainstream had to be looking at this wondering how they could turn this to their ends. I don’t think they were any more successful at identifying and defining niche than I can twenty some years on. It still makes me think that at some boardrooms there was a conversation which began with the question “Can we do niche, too?” I think this led to a lot of poorly thought out perfume, but here and there that concept found its place. That mainstream audiences weren’t ready for that is why Giorgio Armani Sensi is this month’s Dead Letter Office subject.

Harry Fremont

Giorgio Armani began their fragrance line in 1982. It would become incredibly successful with the back-to-back releases of Acqua di Gio and Acqua di Gio pour Homme in 1995 and 96 respectively. They became exemplars of the prevailing trends on the men’s and women’s fragrance counters of the day. To this day they remain big sellers. By 2002 Armani wanted to release another pair of perfumes. The men’s one was Armani Mania pour Homme which was a typical masculine woody. Sensi would be released six months later and it was not typical.

Alberto Morillas

Perfumers Harry Fremont and Alberto Morillas collaborated on Sensi. What they produced is a fragrance of nuance which charms because of its complexity. They used some interesting ingredients which give textural effects not usually found at the mall. Which might be why its no longer for sale.

Sensi opens with a laser beam of lime. It is focused, delineated, and clean. It is an attention getter before the florals arrive. The floral accord is primarily jasmine and mimosa. It is a gorgeous accord with some of the indoles present instead of being scrubbed away. Then the first bit of texture arrives with barley providing a “grain” to the florals. It comes off as a slightly toasted almond effect which meshes with the florals in a fascinating way. Throughout this phase it is like there is a kinetic accord subtly shifting moment by moment. This moves to a kind of gourmand-like vanilla and benzoin accord. I say gourmand because the barley also interacts with these to form something which feels gourmand. Except as it also interacts with the florals it provides a warming depth. As it moves into this phase I am again met with a perfume which continually shifts. Some palisander wood provides a woody base for this to end upon.

Sensi has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

Even now there are almost no perfumes in the department store which display the subtle charms of Sensi. It never caught on with consumers. Although those who did find it have become fanatic about it. It is one reason you see the bottles go for high prices on the auction sites.

So if there is any accuracy to my first paragraph the answer to the question “can we do niche?” was answered with an enthusiastic “Yes!” by Sensi. That it was received somewhat less enthusiastically by the buying public is why it is in the Dead Letter Office.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Eau D’Italie Fior Fiore- Summer at La Sireneuse

Eau D’Italie was another of the early brands which helped define the broad outlines of niche perfumery. The brand is overseen by owners, co-creative directors, husband and wife; Marina Sersale and Sebastian Alvarez Murena. All of it inspired by their hotel La Sireneuse in Positano, Italy. Especially in the most recent releases there has been an attempt to capture the carefree style lakeside in Positano in the warmer months. The latest release Fior Fiore is that gentle companion for warm days at the shore.

Sebastian Alvarez Murena and Marina Sersale

The past twelve months has seen a revival of the use of ambrette. Many of them have gone for a classical vibe by using the botanical musk along with a floral or two to provide a soft effect overall. Working with perfumer Olivier Cresp the creative directors have made a kind of sequel to 2015’s Morn to Dusk. In that one it displayed lily-of-the-valley dew covered in the morning. M. Cresp captures the same floral but at twilight as the jasmine begins to unfurl under the moonlight. It is a soft gentle study of three ingredients.

Olivier Cresp

Fior Fiore opens with the lily-of-the valley front and center. M. Cresp uses the ambrette to blunt many of the sharper green aspects of the floral. For the first hour or so it is just these two notes like a gentle floral breeze. The jasmine languidly inserts itself in between. Using jasmine sambac, M. Cresp allows the indoles to take the ambrette into a deeper phase. The sweeter floral component raises up the lily-of-the-valley as the sun begins to set. Once all three notes are present Fior Fiore shimmers with facile beauty.

Fior Fiore has 10-12 hour longevity.

As I mentioned above over the last couple of years there has been a noticeable lightening of the Eau D’Italie aesthetic. Fior Fiore is the lightest perfume in the line. That is not a drawback by any means. I still find the same cheerful “lake life” smiling back at me. This is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a floral summer perfume which isn’t just stuffed with flowers and aquatic notes. Fior Fiore offers you a refreshing change of pace.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Olfactive Studio Flash Back in New York- A Study in Contrasts

There are people in perfume who I want to see work together. It arises from the same impulse to see your favorite actors or other artists combine their talents into something you hope will be special. One of my favorite examples was when two of my favorite horror authors, Peter Straub and Stephen King, co-wrote “The Talisman”. It was a story which accentuated what both authors did in a memorable way. It was a case of two of the most popular genre authors combining into a kind of super duo. The latest release from Olfactive Studio, Flash Back in New York, brings together two of my favorite creatives in perfumery; Celine Verleure and Jerome Epinette.

Celine Verleure

Mme Verleure has been one of the best creative directors from the moment she launched Olfactive Studio in September of 2011. Her process of using a photograph as a brief for the perfumer she collaborates with has proven time and again to produce excellent perfumes. One reason is by using a visual instead of a written brief it accesses different ideas of what a new perfume might smell like.

Jerome Epinette

M. Epinette has become the man who can launch a brand. He has helped to define the aesthetic for no less than four brands. That they can be distinct yet different speaks to his skill. Yet, in its way once that aesthetic is defined it can keep you hemmed in by what you created. M. Epinette isn’t going to cut loose with something dramatically different he is going to find the edges of the frame he created and subtly push against it. The opportunity given to M. Epinette, by Mme Verleure, is to not have that frame to push against but a freedom to explore a theme.

Flash Back in New York photo by Vivienne Gucwa

That theme comes from a photo by New York-based photographer Vivienne Gucwa. I have followed Ms. Gucwa through her Instagram feed “travelinglens” and her website “New York Through the Lens”. If you look through her photos online, you will be unsurprised to find she just released a book called “New York in the Snow” which is a frequent topic of her photography. Mme Verleure chose one which captured New York in a blizzard.

The perfume which comes from this is a set of contrasts mirroring the view of the snow falling while warm inside. M. Epinette uses each phase to develop this effect in three parts.

Flash Back in New York opens on a pungent mixture of cumin and clary sage. I imagine if you are not a fan of these ingredients this will not be an ideal start. Hang in there because M. Epinette uses a couple of the linen musks to provide a cleaner contrast to the less clean cumin and sage. It works beautifully especially as saffron rounds it off after a few minutes more. The heart moves towards the floral as violet and jasmine provide that. The top accord begins to combine with a leather accord to set up the contrast of animalic and floral. The remains of the cumin evoke a bit of a sweaty leather jacket just after you’ve taken it off. Birch smoke swirls off the leather in lazy ascending spirals. A green accord first of papyrus but later joined by vetiver increases in intensity. As the saffron did in the top accord tonka bean provides the finishing touch to the base accord.

Flash Back in New York has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

While all the snow themed imagery is liable to induce PTSD rather than a flashback to my New York City readers that isn’t what the perfume is really about. It is a study in contrasts where at the crossroads the artists find beauty. That is what Flash Back in New York is all about.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: American Idol 2.0

I am not sure about the health of broadcast television. Based on the announcements of the new shows for next fall it seems like the current attitude is if it got big ratings in the past exhume it and put it back on the air. The cynic in me knows that if you can strum some nostalgic chords in even an older audience those are good enough ratings in this current television landscape. As much as it feels creatively bankrupt I admit I’ve watched with more enjoyment than not.

In a case where the absence was hardly long enough to miss it American Idol returned just two years after it was over. I planned on watching the first few episodes then leaving it alone until maybe the finale. Turns out the producers know a good formula and how to remind me of what it was I enjoyed about this singing competition.

For this revival the show changed networks from Fox to ABC. You might not see that as something worth noting except ABC is part of the Disney entertainment family. That means there were going to be no missed synergies throughout the season. In many ways American Idol is a reality version of the Disney theme “When You Wish Upon A Star”. Which leads to the other change; talent paired with heartwarming stories were accentuated in the audition rounds. There were the very occasional trolls and clueless divas but they were overwhelmed by the people who could sing. Which then made the second phase of the competition more fun to watch.

Because they allowed us as an audience to get to know more of the contestants when the Hollywood Week part where they cut down to a Top 24 I had rooting interests. This meant I felt sad when some of them succumbed to the pressure. It also gave me stronger attachments to the one who made it through.

(l. to r.) Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, Ryan Seacrest, and Luke Bryan

I want to talk about this year’s judging panel; Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie, and Katy Perry. They did a great job of finding a group of singers who filled all styles. They provided America an opportunity to vote for who and what style they liked best. They managed to also do this without becoming the focus of the show. That is my biggest problem with “The Voice” the panel are the stars not the singers. American Idol gets the balance right.

One final piece of my enjoyment of this year’s installment was the advancement of contestants who could sing. That meant a drag queen named Ada Vox made the Top 10. A young lesbian wife of a servicewoman made Top 7. The show was unafraid to put these out to America and allow them to decide if that was what their American Idol looked like.

Going into tomorrow’s final America wasn’t quite ready for that much change but the three contestants remaining have been among my favorites from the first weeks. I am going to have a difficult choice to see who gets my vote based on their performance.

Maybe bringing back the old isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Mark Behnke

Flanker Round-Up: Marc Jacobs Daisy Love and Thierry Mugler Alien Flora Futura

As I finish clearing my desk of the spring releases of 2018 I wanted to mention a couple of the flankers which were better than most of the others released in these early days of 2018.

Marc Jacobs Daisy Love

If there has ever been a brand which has overplayed a flanker, it is Marc Jacobs and Daisy. The original released in 2007 is one of the top tier mainstream perfumes. The thirty-two flankers in the last eleven years are mostly forgettable. Some flankers even spawned their own flankers. It became easy to ignore the entire mess. I wanted to write about Daisy which made me pick up flanker thirty-two, Daisy Love. It turned out there was some connectivity back to the original which made it better than most of the other Daisy flankers.

First connection was perfumer Alberto Morillas returning to make a variation on the original he created. The original was a strawberry fruity floral; for Daisy Love M. Morillas fashions a less fulgent strawberry by using raspberry and cloudberry to result in a greener, almost unripe, strawberry. It is tart more than sweet. M. Morillas then actually uses the title floral to provide a lighter floral effect than in most of the collection. It all ends on generic synthetic woods and musks. I wouldn’t throw over the original for this but it does enough different, without throwing out the whole playbook, that it could be a nice companion for the summer.

Daisy Love has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

Thierry Mugler Alien Flora Futura

Thierry Mugler has only been a touch less aggressive in producing flankers to 2005’s classic Alien. Thierry Mugler has delighted in producing perfume which engenders “love it-hate it” responses. Alien is an excellent example. One could even say that the 21 flankers since its release are attempts to convert the “hate it” crowd. For Alien Flora Futura it lightens up some of the heavier aspects for the set of people who found it too heavy.

Perfumers Dominique Ropion and Jean-Christoophe Herault make this lighter by switching the ingredients while still retaining the Alien vibe. It starts very un-Alien-like using a bright sparkling citron. Citron has a fuller feel to me than lemon although they are similar. The real alteration comes in the heart as the perfumers substitute jasmine with cereus flower, also known as the queen of the night. Cereus has a similarity to jasmine but also a fresher quality. It works nicely with the citron. It eventually slides into the Alien amber focused base accord but in keeping with everything else a touch lighter. If you love Alien I imagine this will feel like Diet Lemon Alien to you. If you hated Alien because it was overwhelmingly aggressive Alien Flora Futura might turn you into a lover.

Alien Flora Futura has 14-16 hour longevity an average sillage.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by the manufacturers.

Mark Behnke