The Sunday Magazine: The Super Bowl of Commercials

I’ve written about it a few times, but I am a fan of a well-done television commercial. My current favorite is the one for Progressive Insurance where we discover that Jaime, who has been the butt of jokes, has an amazing home life. The insurance companies have all stepped up their commercial games recently as not only Progressive, but Farmer’s and GEICO are also ones which make me laugh. My favorite overall recent series is the Allstate “Mayhem” ads. Those are the everyday ones. With the airing of the Super Bowl the other game besides the one on the field is to be named the best commercial of the game. It has become a crown worth seeking.

The commercials at the Super Bowl often debuted something new for the brand they were representing. It was where new soft drinks or beer would have their first exposure. The eternal fast food battle of McDonalds vs. Burger King has had Super Bowl skirmishes. The real turning point took place 35 years ago during Super Bowl XVIII.

It was partway through the third quarter of a game where the Los Angeles Raiders were handily beating the Washington Redskins. As the announcers sent us to break nobody knew what was coming. Over the next minute a commercial showing a female runner in red shorts and a white tank top running with a sledgehammer. As she is chased by the police, we realize this is the dystopia described in George Orwell’s 1984. The runner approaches the screen where Big Brother is speaking. As he says, “We shall prevail!” the runner throws the sledgehammer through the screen; exploding it. Only at the end do we see the tagline from Apple Computers saying, “you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984”.

That commercial was directed by Ridley Scott less than two years after he had done “Blade Runner”. In those days there were only a few VCRs and no internet to see it again. Over the next couple days it was as talked about as the game. Ever since brands have upped their game looking for that kind of buzz.

The commercials at the Super Bowl fall into a couple of categories; funny and heart-warming. The funny commercials have become such a recent trend that having the funniest Super Bowl commercial almost assures it will be voted the best commercial. If a funny commercial doesn’t win it is because there is an ad which is meant to make you go, “aww” while complaining about the dust in your eye. There hasn’t been a big spectacle ad like the Apple 1984 ad in a while.

I would give out a yelp of delight if Apple marked the anniversary with a new big-budget ad. I still expect to laugh and wipe a tear away in those four minutes of advertisement in between the game itself. Because that’s the other Super Bowl going on.

Mark Behnke

Why I Don’t Layer

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There is a popular activity among perfume lovers I don’t participate in. There are whole perfume brands built around this activity. I ignore it. The activity I am writing about is layering. The name is self-evident. The concept is to combine a couple of favorite perfumes spraying one on top of the other. I know it is popular because I have received many queries on whether I have layered this perfume with that one. The first sentence tells you my response.

I don’t do it because I think it is some ridiculous idea. I can see the fun in finding a new experience through layering. The first I remember seeing it was when I was visiting the new Jo Malone section at Saks over a decade ago. They still sell layering kits where they combine three of their perfumes they think go together. Whenever I receive a press release for a new perfume there are layering suggestions in the last paragraph. On that day I was first asked to layer things by trying some different combinations suggested by the sales associates; I found it annoying. What all the different attempts on my forearms felt like to me was a layer of static over the perfume I really wanted to smell.

Image from Scent Compass

Like anything I kept trying for a few years after that to find a pair of perfumes which I enjoyed more together than apart. It always felt like one interfered with my enjoyment of the other. I generally scrubbed off the layers and then sprayed the one which I was enjoying more free of static.

It wasn’t true when I started my brief layering experiment; but the result provided a new perspective. My feeling over time has become more confidently assured about the thesis that the best perfume is an art form. The way that impacts my hesitancy to layer now is why should I try and alter the creative team’s vision. I enjoy wearing a perfumer’s efforts without interference. I rarely think while wearing a new release that there is another perfume on the shelf that will make it better.

Perfume is such a personal experience my aversion to layering shouldn’t impact anyone else’s enjoyment. I just wanted to give a fuller explanation to any future question on whether I’ve layered this with that. My answer will be shorter than the preceding paragraphs, “No.”

Mark Behnke

Thank You: Colognoisseur’s Fifth Anniversary

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I’m not a big believer on looking backward. I’d rather keep moving forward. One thing that I learned when I was cycling regularly was how gratifying it was to look back over my shoulder as I crested a big hill. You could take pleasure in the work it took to get there by seeing the sloping path behind you. Today I’m choosing to look back at the five years of doing this blog with pleasure.

When I hit publish on February 1, 2014 I wasn’t sure I could write one new piece on perfume every day. I had a 90-day plan on that day; to find out that extended to an 1,826-day plan is that path I am writing about. I haven’t missed one day in five years. The biggest reason is the readers. To extend the cycling analogy it was the people who read Colognoisseur who cheered me on as I kept pedaling up the hill. Today I’d like to thank the readers by sharing a few stories.

One of the stories which has generated some of the loveliest e-mails has been my “How to Give Perfume as a Gift”. I’ve had a couple who chose a perfume for their 50th wedding anniversary. I’ve had a bride and groom use it for their wedding day scents. My very favorite was the e-mail I received from a father and his daughter as they used it to find a perfume for her Sweet Sixteen. The daughter has worn the perfume they chose, Chanel Coco Mademoiselle, ever since. It is one of the most popular posts on Colognoisseur which provides me with real evidence that the words I write can make perfume a part of people’s lives.

The other e-mail I receive which pleases me is when I review a new independent perfumer followed by a reader who seeks the perfume out. Part of what I wanted to do was to make sure Colognoisseur would give positive exposure to these artists who work outside the mass-market. Most of the time the readers find something to enjoy, as I did. Sometimes I do get e-mail wondering if there is something wrong with my nose. I am thankful for those communications, too. They are reminders that what I write is one man’s opinion, not meant to represent anything more than that.

One part of doing the blog for this long is the responses I get to my The Sunday Magazine pieces. That is where I allow my non-perfume passions to peek out from behind the bottles. The readers seem to enjoy debating those things. None more so than my enjoyment of Twin Peaks: The Return. I think there are still some who think I have lost it over that.

I’ve received amazing random acts of kindness from readers who send me things which I mention in my writing. I’ve gotten perfume. I’ve also received recipes for gingerbread as well as a new way to make plum rum. All because I’ve written about a perfume. All because Colognoisseur has become a part of people’s reading.

Thank you is such a small phrase to carry as much weight as it does. To every person who has read Colognoisseur over the past five years; Thank you.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Margiela Replica Under the Lemon Trees- The Perfect Lemon

In the South Florida neighborhood I grew up in there was a small citrus grove. Run by Mr. Meeks he realized in the neighborhood kids he had a labor force when he needed to harvest. Our parents encouraged it because it kept us busy and outside. I would say my love of citrus came from climbing ladders while filling a crate with ripe fruit. It is also one of the reasons I am so fond of citrus fragrances. It does give them a higher bar to clear to catch my admiration. Most citrus perfumes will go for an abstraction. There are a few which will attempt a photorealistic re-creation. For those to receive my approbation they have an even higher degree of difficulty to clear; Maison Margiela Replica Under the Lemon Trees does.

Maison Margiela began the Replica collection in 2012 it has overall been one of the more coherent selection of fragrance on the market. They each choose a place and a year allowing the perfumer the opportunity to interpret with a lot of freedom. It is one of the reasons for the success of the collection. Which is why I am so frustrated to not be able to tell you the perfumer behind Under the Lemon Trees. This is a fantastic piece of perfume construction which deserves to have the artist behind it named. I am sure I will eventually find out and I’ll update when I do.

The Replica collection has quite a few of the photorealistic type of perfumes within it. I don’t think any of them have done it as well as Under the Lemon Trees. Intelligent choices throughout coalesce into a perfect composition which does what it says on the label.

The lemon source is an accord of petitgrain, which comes from bitter orange, and lime. This is realized as the sweetness of the petitgrain provides the right balance to the tart of the lime. The first time I sprayed this on a strip it was like picking a yellow ripe lime off Mr. Meeks’ tree. There is a cool breeze of cardamom which flows through the early moments. The perfumer clearly wants to capture the green leaves of the trees. The choice is unconventional as they achieve it through green tea and mate tea with coriander. The bitterness of mate tea mixed with the less confrontational green tea comes together to form the scent of those sharp green leaves. The smart perfume making continues in the base as a set of white musks soften a green cedar to the right density to capture the trunk of the tree. Once it all comes together it is exactly like sitting under a lemon tree.

Under the Lemon Trees has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

We’re still a few months way from when Under the Lemon Trees is really going to be at its best. That it still made me feel the sun on my face in an orchard grove in the middle of winter tells you how good it is.

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

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Tea

As we are firmly in the middle of winter where I need something to lift my spirits I turn to a hot cup of tea. I think I enjoy it because it carries a fragrant quality to the different types. Tea perfumes emulate that. One thing which always allows me to enjoy tea perfumes is the ingredient is not able to be extracted as an essential oil. That means this is another ingredient where a perfumer must construct their own signature tea accord. Here are five of my favorites.

Bvlgari Eau Parfumee au The Vert is the beginning of the tea trend in perfume. It is also remarkable for being one of the first releases where perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena’s style emerges in finished form. Today we take both for granted; in 1993 they were groundbreaking. M. Ellena forms a citrusy floral transparency through which tendrils of smoky green tea swirl. It is one of the all-time great perfumes.

Another perfumer known for her transparent style is Olivia Giacobetti in 2001’s L’Artisan Parfumeur Tea for Two she would create her own version. She chose to make a lapsang souchong accord which is where the fragrance begins. The scent of wood smoke dried black tea is gorgeously realized. Mme Giacobetti then adds some cinnamon followed by a veil of honey in the base. Among the best perfumes by one of the best perfumers.

Another take on the lapsang souchong accord came from independent perfumer Mandy Aftel in Aftelier Vanilla Smoke. Ms. Aftel constructs a pine wood dried version of the black tea accord. It adds the perfect amount of counterbalance to the vanilla. The real linchpin is an interstitial saffron which provides the spacing between the vanilla and the tea. This is another example of Ms. Aftel’s ability to find the most out of her accords.

The creative directors of Masque Milano, Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi, wanted to create a Russian tea ritual in a snowy St. Petersburg square. Perfumer Julien Rasquinet intersperses mint and smoke through his black tea accord before using a brilliantly conceived immortelle. That maple syrup quality transforms Russian Tea into the best tea perfume of the last few years.

Parfum D’Empire Osmanthus Interdite is one of those jasmine tea flowers which unfurl in a clear teapot. Perfumer Marc-Antoine Corticchiato uses jasmine and Osmanthus as floral components to a green tea accord which melds seamlessly with the florals. This is the fragrance equivalent of watching that jasmine tea rose languorously unfold in the tea pot.

If you’re looking for a little warmth this winter try wearing a cuppa perfume.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Ermenegildo Zegna Essenze Madras Cardamom- Out of the Woods

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It is easy to commend the perfume brands which develop their aesthetic and stick to it. Those are the minority. The majority are made up of brands which never find their identity. This means a perfume with that name on the bottle comes to stand for nothing. Then there comes a moment when it seems like things start to coalesce from the chaos. It’s still a little early to be sure but Ermengilido Zegna Essenze Madras Cardamom might be a further signal this brand is finding its character.

Trudi Loren

Ermengilido Zegna got into the fragrance game in 2003. They were a trend follower in those early days looking for their own version of the popular styles of the time. After a few years of doing this Estee Lauder assigned one of their best creative directors Trudi Loren to revitalize the brand. It was better but still frustratingly unfocused. There were individual releases which were good without creating a Zegna style of fragrance. There was one collection which showed something approaching a unified perspective; the Essenze Collection.

Marie Salamagne (photo: Jerome Bonnet)

Launched in 2012 there were sporadic releases which all showed a similar style in highlighting a keynote without becoming soliflore-like. I’m not sure what the reasoning is but Ermengilido Zegna has decided to bring back five of the original Essenze releases along with one new one. That is Madras Cardamom.

Perfumer Marie Salamagne creates a sweet Oriental featuring cardamom which is where the perfume starts. The cardamom is a strong presence. So strong it took me some time to notice the other ingredient in the top accord. That ingredient was a cleverly placed coffee note. Don’t come to Madras Cardamom looking for a rich coffee presence. What Mme Salamagne does with it is to use it as a focusing element of the citrus parts of cardamom. Like pulling a thread I was enjoying the cardamom and started focusing on the citrus character only to find a roasted nuttiness at the end of that thread. It is very subtle which continues into the heart as cedar takes the lead with vetiver playing the same behind the scenes role. This is a green cedar which matches the cardamom. It is very clean. Mme Salamagne uses vanilla to sweeten the final stages.

Madras Cardamom has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

The work by Ms. Loren, over the last two years especially, maybe portends Ermengilido Zegna has finally found its way out of the woods. If that’s so Madras Cardamom might be remembered for being the fragrance which signaled that.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Chanel Chance Eau Tendre Eau de Parfum- Crowd-Pleasing 101

There are very few brands which reach a significant size without finding a way to balance innovation and popularity. That is especially true for the ones which pride themselves on being the leading edge. If done well a smart brand will follow behind the more lauded creativity with something which is meant to please the masses. I doubt there are many who have done it better than the fragrance side of Chanel.

Throughout the 1980’s and 90’s into the 2000’s perfumers Francois Demachy and Jacques Polge re-wrote the concepts of masstige perfume making. By 2002 they would release Chance Eau de Toilette. As Chanel has done brilliantly over the years, they wanted to make a fragrance which would appeal to a younger demographic. Anecdotally they succeeded as Chance was easily the most commonly worn perfume on my travels. I smelled it everywhere. That continues until today. Chance is a monument on how to make a crowd-pleasing perfume.

Olivier Polge

Now seventeen years later Jacques Polge’s son Olivier Polge has succeeded him as in-house perfumer. It is his turn to make a crowd-pleasing perfume for the latest young demographic. Olivier Polge would approach this in an interesting way by making a more concentrated version of a flanker of Chance that his father and M. Demachy composed. It shows its past as there are previous ingredients which hew to the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” school. Olivier Polge also finds a way to make his own prominent contribution on top of that foundation which is the “if it ain’t broke give it a new coat of paint” school. If that sounds like damnation with faint praise you would be mistaken. Chanel Chance Eau Tendre Eau de Parfum is praiseworthy for the perfume in the bottle.

M. Polge approaches this Eau de Parfum counterpart to the earlier version by simple variations at every stage. It starts when he adds the herbal quality of baie rose to the signature top accord of Chance; grapefruit and quince. That herbal-ness finds the tarter qualities inherent in both fruits. What surprises is M. Polge also lightens up the top accord. If you’re going to make things tart you don’t want them to slap you in the face. The biggest change is the removal of iris and hyacinth as the partners for the heart jasmine with rose. This is that lighter debutante rose which gives some gentility to the more prominent jasmine. There is still a powdery effect from the rose but much more attenuated than in the original. The warm base accord of white musks and amber carries over with M. Polge choosing to add a hint of vanilla along with patchouli to provide sweetness and earthiness around that core accord.

Chance Eau Tendre Eau de Parfum has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

By releasing Chance Eau Tender Eau de Parfum just in time for Valentine’s Day and spring I expect that Chanel will have another best-selling crowd-pleaser. I should expect nothing less from the brand which could teach the class on crowd-pleasing 101.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I received from Sephora.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Best Picture v. Popular Picture

The Oscar nominations were released this past Tuesday. I was particularly interested in the nominees for Best Picture. Over the past few years it seems like if you were a film which made money at the box office that excluded it from winning, or even being nominated, for the big award. The Oscars had become about saluting the best movie which had the least audience. There became this unspoken rule that the popular moneymaking movies didn’t need the publicity an Oscar nomination brings. Better to nominate movies which could use the spotlight. It made it seem like if your movie makes money the box office position is enough notice.

This is a recent phenomenon. From 1940 through the win for “Annie Hall” in 1978; 90% of the Best Picture winners were also in the top-ten box office list. From 1979 through 2004 it became a less reliable indicator of Oscar glory as it broke 60-40 in favor of the box office winners. Since 2004 do you know the number of top-ten box office movies which have won an Oscar? Zero! I repeat, zero! That’s a problem.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognized the issue and tried to come up with a solution. In the summer of 2018 they proposed an award for “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film”. One reason is the TV ratings have been declining because the movies most of the television audience have seen are represented nowhere. I’m one of those people. I have watched the Oscars every year. I’ve only become bored recently because I have no rooting interest. I remember rooting for ET in 1983 only to see Gandhi win. I remember feeling the opposite when Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won in 2004. Too often over this fourteen-year run of small movie nominees, and winners, I have no rooting interest because these are niche movies made for a small segment of the audience.

This was why I loved the idea of Best Popular Movie. I would once again have the chance to root for something I had seen. Critics of the move hated the idea of two “separate but equal” awards. They worried that the Best Picture award would become ghettoized as the place for the small serious movie. The Academy caved to the pressure, but I don’t have to.

Using this year’s list of nominees I am going to break them down into two categories. My imperfect barometer for the Popular Film category is grater than $100M box office or if released in the last quarter of the year three consecutive weeks in the top 10 box office list.

Using that criteria the nominees for Popular Film would be: Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, and A Star is Born. Best (Artistic?) Film would be: BlacKKKlansman, The Favourite, Green Book, Roma, and Vice. In my fantasy world that means there would be two slots left to fill in the Popular Film category. One would certainly be Crazy Rich Asians. I’m going to give the fifth slot to Mary Poppins Returns although there are three animated choices in Incredibles 2, Ralph Breaks the Internet and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Let’s look at those lists again:

Best Film

BlacKKKlansman

The Favourite

Green Book

Roma

Vice

OR

Popular Film

Black Panther

Bohemian Rhapsody

Crazy Rich Asians

Mary Poppins Returns

A Star is Born

Now ask yourself how many of those movies have you seen? I’ve seen all five Popular Film nominees and three of the Best Film nominees. Now ask yourself which list you have more rooting interest in? Which movie do you most want to see win an award? Which list is it on?

I really hope the Academy reconsiders the idea of the Popular Film category. I think if a movie can get enough people to leave their house to go see it in a theatre to the tune of over $100M that is not a flaw. I continue to think that Popular and Best are not mutually exclusive but if the Academy voters need some help then two categories would be great.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Spazio Krizia Donna- Left Behind

As we entered the new millennium the trend of niche perfumery was taking hold. Throughout the mid-1990’s there was this segment of perfume producers re-writing the rules. Pushing back against the commercial with a vision that perfume could be something more. I write over and over about those founding brands of the style of fragrance which changed the way things were done. What gets lost is there were some brands who were also looking to find their audience while never surviving. These were the putative failures. Except they really weren’t. There were equally great ideas at the brands which got left behind. This month I look at one of those with Spazio Krizia Donna.

Mariuccia Mandelli

Mariuccia Mandelli and her husband Aldo Pinto founded Krizia as a ready-to-wear Italian brand in 1954. Sig. ra Mandelli was a trendsetter as one of the mothers of the short shorts known as “hotpants” her most well-known innovation. As the 1990’s began Sig. ra had begun the diversification that every successful fashion brand had undergone. They had started making perfume in 1980 with their debut release K de Krizia by perfumer Maurice Roucel. They would follow that with four other perfumes. All five of those perfumes were nicely done. In 1991 is seems like Sig. ra Mandelli had decided she wanted the perfumes which carried the Krizia name to have something to say. By collaborating with perfumer Dominique Ropion she wanted to lead the way with her fragrance collection as she had with her fashion. With the release of Krazy Krizia she succeeded. For the next fifteen years she would keep making interesting niche-style perfumes. My favorite is Spazio Krizia Donna.

Christine Nagel

Spazio Krizia Donna was released in 1998 it was the “donna” version of the “uomo” version released five years earlier. Beyond the name there is no comparison Spazio Krizia Uomo is a crazy herbal vetiver in a moss-covered ocean cave. Spazio Krizia Donna was composed by Christine Nagel which confirms Sig. ra Mandelli’s eye for talent. It is best described as a floral gourmand a term which had not ben coined in 1998.

Spazio Krizia Donna opens with a spicy rose floating on a cup of slightly bitter brewed coffee. There have been quite a few floral coffee releases the last year or so. This is more floral than coffee, but the roasted contrast is a nice companion. Mme Nagel uses an ingredient which is not used very much these days, cascarilla bark. The essential oil from the distillation of this wood is a kind of allspice effect. If you smell it by itself you will think you are smelling a blended perfume of pepper, nutmeg, and green herbal-ness. In the case of this perfume it elicits a response from the spicy core of the rose. Paradise seed is also present providing a nutty cardamom piece. This is such an interesting accord as Mme Nagel uses alternative sources for specific spice effects. It gives it a lighter feel than it probably would have if the regular ingredients were used. The base accord covers the florals in a sticky coating of honey which is warmed by amber and musk.

Spazio Krizia Donna has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

The collection of Krizia releases from 1991-2006 contain some great examples of the early days of niche perfumery. They continued to be available until three or four years ago. The brand was sold in 2014 and it was soon after the fragrance collection was contracted to just four perfumes; none from the time period I mentioned above. The scions of niche perfumery are well-known. If you want to find the creative brands which couldn’t thrive you have to visit the Dead Letter Office.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I received from a reader.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review St. Clair Scents Casablanca- Finding Her Groove

The path to independent perfumery has multiple paths to producing a perfume. One of the more unique journeys is Diane St. Clair’s. Ms. St. Clair is an elite provider of butter who has her aptly named Animal Farm in Orwell, Vermont. Her butter has been featured at some of the most exclusive restaurants in the US. She decided to add perfume making to her portfolio.

The unique part of the story is she received teaching and feedback over an online connection with DreamAir perfumer Eliza Douglas. After learning the basics of making perfume she began on her own fragrance line. Ms. Douglas acted as her evaluator throughout the process providing valuable real-time feedback.

Diane St. Clair (Photo: Caleb Kenna via sevendaysvt.com )

Back in the spring of last year Ms. St. Clair sent her debut collection out to the perfume community. What I experienced was a young perfumer who was gaining her feet. If there was something that I commonly felt; it was that I wanted Ms. St. Clair to go further. To take what was there and push it in a direction. There were so many signs of intelligent perfume design I was looking forward to what came next. What has come next is St. Clair Scents Casablanca.

The perfume is not inspired by the classic movie but the desire to be someplace warm while the snow falls in a Vermont winter. To Ms. St. Clair this means a lush floral heart reminiscent of a garden in full bloom. If I wanted Ms. St. Clair to go all in, Casablanca gives it to me.  

A warm citrus pairing of grapefruit and mandarin form a diffuse sunny accord. A sticky green blackcurrant bud prepares the way for the florals. Ms. St. Clair uses the white flower triad of orange blossom, jasmine, and tuberose. These are not the cleaned-up indole-free versions. This is a “Girls Trip” of rambunctious florals ready to flaunt those indoles. One of the things I noticed in Ms. St. Clair’s earlier releases is her ability in adding the right interstitial ingredient to pull together her accords. In Casablanca it is an oily ylang-ylang which chaperones the rowdy floral ladies. If the ylang-ylang was missing this just would have been an accord of loud flowers. By adding in the right piece to the puzzle it rounds out the edges smoothing the indolic heart into a memorable accord. The base accord is where Ms. St. Clair takes the snarling indoles and allows them to find some new beasts to cavort with in musks, civet, and Africa stone. As with the ylang-ylang in the heart, oakmoss is the linchpin in the base pulling the whole perfume together into a satisfying experience.

Casablanca has 24-hr. longevity and average sillage.

There were many times on the days I wore Casablanca I felt like I was wearing a classic perfume of sixty years ago. Despite saying that Ms. St. Clair is not mimicking those perfumes. She is creating her own style. I’m not sure what comes next but of the first four releases it is Casablanca I would like to see the next releases emulate. It seems to me like Ms. St. Clair might have found her perfume groove.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by St. Clair Scents.

Mark Behnke