The Story of Dasein Winter Nights- Sam Rader and Josh Meyer Light a Creative Bonfire

Being an independent perfumer is by design a solitary existence. Especially since each of the individuals behind your favorite brand must do it all. They are no less a perfume lover than any of us who spend time wearing their creations. There are some rare times when the community does find the time to get together. One date on the calendar since 2014 has been the annual The Art & Olfaction Awards. This past year for the third edition the founder of the awards, Saskia Wilson-Brown, also had a two-day curated event called the AIX Scent Fair at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Talking to those who were chosen to participate it was a fabulous opportunity to share their unique perspective on fragrance with a different audience. If it was just the camaraderie which was produced it would have been enough. Except I think it is improbable to believe a room full of creative minds wouldn’t find ways to collaborate. This is what happened when Sam Rader of Dasein and Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors met there. Six months after the meeting the two of them have produced one of my favorite perfumes of the year Dasein Winter Nights. I was so interested in how their collaborative process led to Winter Nights that they graciously answered a bunch of questions I sent them via e-mail. It is a story of two imaginative fragrant minds working on a similar wavelength; amplifying each other’s strengths.

aix scent fair

AIX Scent Fair 2016

I started by asking if they had ever met prior to AIX, both had not. Which lead me into the follow-up about Ms. Wilson-Brown having AIX be this opportunity for collaboration. Ms. Rader exclaimed, “That is genius.  I never really thought about Saskia’s big picture plan…I always imagined it was a way to introduce independent perfumers to the public.  Saskia is a buddy of mine and of course that would be her agenda.  She is so good at witchy community building skills.” Mr. Meyer opined on the value of AIX to him as well, “You're very right, Saskia is able to curate a tone of creativity that's pretty unparalleled, and last year’s AIX fair was unlike anything I've ever been a part of, it was incredible how much fun and vibrancy there was with all the great lines and people involved.”

Sam+Rader+of+Dasein+Fragrance

Sam Rader

With that sense of community firmly in place Mr. Meyer was looking to meet others, “Mark, honestly, it may have been a Colognoisseur post or two that put me on to Sam's projects. We also share some outstanding stockists, Twisted Lily in Brooklyn, Beam & Anchor here in Portland, and a handful of others, I feel like it didn't take too long for me to start following along when Dasein started putting perfumes out there. I was super excited to meet Sam when I saw her setting up at AIX.” When Ms. Rader walked past Mr. Meyer she recounts him reaching out to her this way, “I had only heard of Imaginary Authors and had never smelled them until the AIX.  I was walking by Josh’s table and he called out to me—“Are you the chick from Dasein?  I love your stuff!  Let’s talk.”

Josh-Meyer

Josh Meyer

Talk they did as Ms. Rader describes the meeting, “We later made time to powwow and discovered we were both self-taught indie perfumers, both only interested in avant-garde unisex scents, also both serious foodies.  We rattled off our favorite LA and Portland restaurants (Jon & Vinny’s, Clyde Common) as I sniffed and fell in love with his line.  We vowed to stay in touch.” Mr Meyer also responded to the easy chemistry that was evolving, “We're both small business owners in a niche world that's pretty specific, so we had a lot in common immediately, we had a lot to chat about and simply just got along really well really quickly. I think the idea stemmed from my inserting that she should continue the Dasein line with new projects, and it wasn't long before a flood of  ideas were flowing between us just as an easy conversation.” 

That conversation would begin the process which would produce Winter Nights. It came together as they communicated after returning home. Ms. Rader talks about those early conversations, “Over several texts and phone calls Josh proposed the idea of a reimagining of each season so that I could expand my line while staying true to the initial concept.  He came up with the concept of WINTER NIGHTS, and we were both super jazzed.  As I went into the preparations for the new scent, Josh and I continued our virtual friendship and decided it would be really fun to create the scent as a collaboration.”

cali-winter-bonfire

Together they came up with the brief for Winter Nights. Mr. Meyer remembers the process this way, “I always felt like WINTER was the fragrance of a winter down in Southern California, I grew up down there in Hermosa beach as a little kid, and feel like the winter I experience up the coast, here where I’m at now, in Portland has a darker feel to it. So, as we chatted we came up with the idea of using a Northern California winter beach bonfire as the inspiration. Sort of a meeting spot between us… It was my idea to add a touch of smoke and resin to the project.”

As they moved into the actual composition part of the process they had to figure out a way to work while being separated geographically. Ms. Rader found their connection formed at AIX helped overcome any artificial barriers, “I have loved working with Josh because he has this infectious joie de vivre while also being totally strong and no nonsense.  There was a really great yin / yang balance of our energies in the process.  Mostly Josh came up with the ideas and did the initial sketches of things, and I would be receptive and fine tune the ratios to get the right cohesion.  We were like the band The Postal Service…we did all our blending via shipping each other formulas in the mail, and communicating via phone and email.  It was pretty easy to say yes to everything Josh sent me because he is a truly masterful nose.  We also seem to share an aesthetic vocabulary.  We always understood where the other was coming from, we agreed easily on where we wanted to get to, and had an almost effortless process of getting there.  I think this scent is by far the best of my collection, which I owe to Josh’s ingenuity and precision. I have never made a blend so fast and so painlessly.”

cadewood-essential-oil

I was curious if either of them thought there was a linchpin ingredient to Winter Nights. Mr. Meyer was more equivocal in his answer, “I wish I could say there was a single note or accord that makes it what it is, but I really feel it's different elements coming together to become more than the sum of the parts. The cade oil, the numerous pine elements, and resins… not to mention the underlying sweetness used in the first iteration that we used as a balancing point for the other notes really ties it together and makes it complete.” Ms. Rader was unequivocal in her answer, “Yes!  The cade oil.  Josh suggested it as the basis for our smoke accord.  It has a really beautiful authentic smell of woodsmoke.  So many other smoky oils and molecules have this sickening sweet hickory-ish smell that comes off like smoked meat.  Cade is a dark, rich, woody ashy fire smell.  And the best part is that cade oil is made from Juniper tree tar, and Juniper trees grow all along the coast of California.  So if we were making a bonfire in Big Sur there is a good chance we’d be using Juniper branches.  Pretty poetic, right?” I agree with Ms. Rader the cade oil feels like the keynote and even more so now that I know the story behind it.

After the success of Winter Nights I had to ask if there was a chance for more collaboration. Mr. Meyer replied, “I hope so! It is so much fun to work on fragrance creation, and working with others in a particularly solo creative environment is thrilling.” Ms. Rader is equally enthusiastic, “I would be delighted to work with Josh again.  I have no idea where the future of Dasein is headed, but I do have a feeling that Josh’s advice and input will have a great deal to do with the direction.  He’s become a fast friend and trusted advisor.  I am very lucky we met, thanks to Saskia and the AIX.” Based on what you both achieved with Winter Nights I would love to see more.

I want to thank both of these very busy people for taking the time to answer my questions so thoroughly. The behind-the-scenes story is as fascinating as the fragrance.

Mark Behnke

Editor's Note: Winter Nights is a limited edition of 400 bottles meant for the 2016 Holiday season.

The 2016 Tea Interval

In the test match which comprises a year in perfumery we’ve reached the Tea Interval. A time to sit back and consider all that has happened over the first half of the year. Also to think about what it means for the remaining six months.

millenials selfies

Millennials in the Driver’s Seat

2016 might go down as the pivot point when the Millennials finally take over the cultural zeitgeist from the Baby Boomers. In perfume there has been no more prevalent trend from the larger fragrance producers. Every major brand is trying to make the first perfume to be adopted by this generation. While it is clear to me that the companies were aware of the change coming it is also equally clear they are not sure what it is they desire in a fragrance.

The most common choice has been for what I would describe as a floral gourmand, mainly constructed around a sugared floral and a distinct gourmand note which is kept at an opaquer level. Examples include Dior Poison Girl, Thierry Mugler Angel Muse, and Derek Lam 10 Crosby 2AM Kiss.

I have spoken with many in the industry and they are very aware of this. The open question is who will make the breakthrough. Probably the most interesting mass market launch of the back half of 2016 is Chanel No. 5 L’Eau where the grand maison is expressly trying to make a version of the classic for the Millennials. As I sip my cuppa I can’t wait to see how this particular trend continues to evolve.

merger-acquisition

Acquisition is Still in Play

Estee Lauder has continued their insertion into the niche market by acquiring By Kilian in February. L’Oreal for fear of being left behind, perhaps, has joined the fray acquiring Atelier Cologne at the end of June. The niche market has been seen as a growth sector within fragrance which is why these large companies are cherry picking the top brands.

One other point is to be made before the moneychangers all begin to believe there is easy money in the perfumed temple. Every single one of these acquisitions over the past two or so years has been the result of brands which have created a distinct identity within this overcrowded market. As hard as it is to make a memorable perfume I believe it is even more difficult to create an indelible brand. I think it is a combination of perfume and brand which is driving these purchases.

rose barbie

The Roses of 2016

If there is any note I have smelled too much of so far this year it is rose. I have smelled so much of that fresh debutante rose I just want to take her out and muss her perfect hair up. One silver lining to a crush of insipid Barbie-style roses is the ones which aspire to more, stand out. So far this year that means Amouage Opus X, Maria Candida Gentile Rrose Selavy, and Annick Goutal Rose Pompon.

aix scent fair

Indie Perfumery is Thriving in 2016

There is so much to celebrate within the indie sector it is hard to pick a place to start. The diversity on display at the Art and Olfaction Awards and the connected AIX Scent Fair attached to it showed this off. If there is a place which embraces the water park of Xyrena Dark Ride and the glorious osmanthus of Auphorie Miyako it must be healthy.

The co-creation between Bruno Fazzolari and Antonio Gardoni, Cadavre Exquis, has proved to be one of the more fascinating releases of the entire year.

Indie still needs a perfume to make the crossover to the mall for it to really explode. The latest to take up this challenge is Christi Meshell as her House of Matriarch fragrances are currently being sold in Nordstrom.

2013 best of pics106

The Odd is Becoming Commonplace

Usually there are just a few releases which stand out because they take a risk in using an unusual material or two. 2016 has shown creative directors in a particularly adventurous state of mind as they let the perfumers they work with use something different. The best examples come from two of the perfumes which I consider to be the best of 2016 so far.

Masque L’Attesa employs a champagne accord that is not about the bubbly finished product. Instead it is about the yeasty flat, slightly sour, fermenting wine. Perfumer Luca Maffei and creative directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi decided to use this accord as the foundation for iris to float upon.

Creative Director Victor Wong and perfumer Ellen Covey conspired to bring a dank cave full of flying rodents to life in Zoologist Bat. To make that more appealing than it sounds they worked hard to find a balance between realism and impression. Bat succeeds so well because it mixes the wet soil of geosmin with an animalic accord for the realistic part. Myrrh, sandalwood, and leather provide an impressionistic version of the bat.

My tea is finished. Time to return to the game for 2016. I hope the remaining innings are as good as the early ones have been.

Mark Behnke

When Victor Met Ellen- How Zoologist Bat Took Flight

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One of the more interesting independent brands to spring up has been Zoologist Perfumes. Owner and Creative Director Victor Wong evolved from perfume lover into perfume creator. One thing I have remarked upon is in all of the releases Mr. Wong has been choosing some of the best independent perfumers to work with. I was considering this had to be a unique relationship as most of these perfumers are used to working on their own. How different was it for them when taking input from a creative director? I had the opportunity to explore this with Mr. Wong and the independent perfumer Dr. Ellen Covey on their collaboration for the fifth Zoologist release, Bat.

Victor Wong

Victor Wong

The story begins in April 2015 when Dr. Covey approached Mr. Wong to ask if he was interested in pursuing a “Bat” perfume. Dr. Covey is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Washington. Mr. Wong had not included bat on his list of animals for Zoologist. Dr. Covey’s enthusiasm and knowledge of the animal convinced him to add it in. Then they went to work.

Ellen-Covey

Ellen Covey

Dr. Covey told me, “First off, I would like to say that Victor has been a joy to work with from start to finish. He gave me free rein to initially develop the basic direction of the fragrance as I would have for my own line, with modifications thereafter, in collaboration. He did not give me a budget, so I was able to use the materials I needed, like real sandalwood.”

Mr. Wong was thinking about the concept in general, “But what should Bat smell like? Metallic notes of "blood" and gothic roses came into my mind. Dr. Covey disagreed, "What I envision for Bat is not a 'bright and cheery' fruit salad, but rather a dark musky fruity note that's like the bats' own odor (which is pleasant to humans) along with damp, earthy-mineral limestone caves and tropical vegetation scents. There might also be just a hint of the ganja smoke that I associate with observing bats in Jamaica.  I'm not into doing yet another American pop mythology goth-girl perfume. There have been more than enough of those.”

As Dr. Covey would recall the distance between Washington and Toronto became an issue, “The biggest difference in working with a creative director in another city was the long lag time as each round of mods were shipped and slowly made their way through customs before I could get his feedback. When I’m working on my own, this feedback process happens immediately and almost unconsciously.”

 zoologist bat bottle

Upon receiving the first trials Mr. Wong relates, “I received my first "mods", or perfume mockups in little 5ml sprayer bottles. I think there were 5 or 6 of them; while they all smelled interesting, none of them struck me as I was smelling a "Bat" perfume. Well, except mod #5. When I first sniffed it, I literally laughed out loud, because it smelled exactly like a cave. The olfactive association was so startling that I almost lost it: a scary hollow cave that's earthy, vegetal, moist and full of minerals. Wow. I told Ellen I really loved #5, but I worried that no one would want to wear it. My friends who also had smelled it thought it was interesting but no one would want it. But I trusted my gut instinct that I had something really unprecedented and unique that was worth developing further. (I might add that Zoologist is such a small indie perfume house it should take some risks.)”

Focusing on Mod # 5 the ebb and flow of ideas continued. Dr. Covey was open to showing Mr. Wong what effect some suggested changes could have, “I’m sure Victor won’t mind my saying this, but a few of his suggestions resulted in my sending “caricature” mods to show what would happen if I implemented them in a literal way, thus subtly nudging him in the direction that I thought things should go. He did have many excellent suggestions, all of which I happily implemented.”

One of these ideas from Mr. Wong was to make it darker which would be the final suggestion which pulled Bat together, “At one point I told Ellen that the revisions lacked "darkness", and the vetiver in the base was the last scent to go away and it smelled very fresh, which I thought was not very bat-like. We had some discussions of what ingredients could be added to make it smell "darker". At the end, we added myrrh, which complemented the earthiness of the perfume, some leather and furry musk to make it more animalic, and suddenly the scent came alive.”

Of course coming to a decision that you are done is always difficult and both Dr. Covey, “By the time we got to the last set of mods, I felt like any further suggestions would lead to muddying of the fragrance at worst, and diminishing returns at best. In formulating any fragrance, the trick is to know when to declare it finished. I’m glad we could both agree on when that point had been reached.” And Mr. Wong, “I will be honest with you, deciding which revision is the final product is the hardest thing to do. It is particularly hard when Bat is nothing like anything out there. The decision finally came easy when I told Ellen that I found a particular mod "addictive". I just couldn't stop sniffing it. We both agreed, and I launched that scent on New Year's Eve of 2016.”

The final word on this collaboration comes from Dr. Covey as in a few words she answers the question I posed at the beginning of this, “In the end, I was pleased with the result, and I think Victor was, too. It’s hard to say how different the fragrance would have been if I had done it on my own, because now I can’t envision it any other way. I had fun working on Bat and feel as if I’ve gotten to know Victor as a friend even though I’ve never met him in person.”

My thanks to Victor Wong and Dr. Ellen Covey for being so gracious in allowing me a look behind the curtain at the work it took to create Zoologist Perfumes Bat.

Mark Behnke

The Phases of Mandy Aftel’s Bergamoss

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When it comes to physics there are three phases of matter: liquid, solid and gas. In perfumery there are two phases solid and liquid. Almost all new perfumes are made as liquids. There are very few brands which make solid perfume versions of their liquid perfumes. Even rarer is the perfumer who composes with a solid formulation as their preferred form. One perfumer who has always considered the form her perfumes will take as part of the creative process is Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes.

Ms. Aftel and I had an e-mail conversation sparked by her sending me a sample of her Eau de Parfum version of Bergamoss at the end of last year. Bergamoss in its solid form was one of the perfumes I considered for Perfume of the Year. It is a shimmering modern chypre revolving around a unique focal point of flouve absolute. When translated to a liquid form Bergamoss becomes more expressive. Instead of shimmering it feels more like a sunbeam of focused light and energy. The flouve, so mobile in the solid formulation, feels more like a pivot point in the EdP as the bergamot switches to the chypre. I was interested in Ms. Aftel’s take on how, as a perfumer, she approached a solid versus a liquid perfume. The conversation provided a unique insight into Ms. Aftel’s considered creative process.

Mandy working on Bergamoss

Ms. Aftel at work on Bergamoss

To start I wanted to know in the most basic way how Ms. Aftel viewed her solid perfumes and her liquid versions. She related to me, “I started making solid perfume over twenty years ago and they were the first perfumes that I made. They have a very special place in my heart. I always carry one with me in my purse and use it when I am out. In the beginning of my career, there was no overlap between my solid and liquid perfumes, in other words, a perfume I created was either a solid perfume or a liquid perfume. Whenever I am creating a fragrance the form and carrier of the fragrance are a part of my creative process and I create for something to be in a specific form.”

Also part of conceptualizing a solid perfume is the very different way it is applied. The very act of dragging a finger through the solid and applying it to my skin provides what I consider a unique tactile experience. Ms. Aftel also feels this adds to a perfume in its solid form as she says, “I think of my solid perfumes as simpler, denser, and easier to layer.  I also see them in my mind’s eye traveling with my customer to various and sundry parts of his or her life and bringing some beauty and comfort there. I love the different ways that you can apply perfume, to dab, spray or smooth on a solid perfume. To me these ways of application are intimately connected to the total experience of the perfume on the body. I always think about how a person will experience putting on a perfume of mine and this impacts how I create the perfume and how I package it.” 

I was very interested in the concept of creating for a specific form and asked her to use her two most recent releases, Bergamoss and Vanilla Smoke, as examples to clarify this, “Bergamoss was intended to be a solid perfume because I liked the way that the soft heaviness of the oakmoss revealed itself in a base of wax and oil.  I think of solid perfumes as better for layering.  The drydown on Bergamoss felt like a beautiful foundation upon which to layer liquid perfumes. Vanilla Smoke needed the lift of the high proof perfume alcohol to spread out into and reveal the different levels of wood and smoke and vanilla.”

bergamoss solid

With that in mind I had to know why release Bergamoss as an Eau de Parfum. Ms. Aftel said, “I always thought Bergamoss would make a beautiful liquid perfume — perhaps more beautiful than the solid version — but I wanted it to be a solid perfume. The richness and history of vintage chypres called out to me have the substance of a solid perfume —  and I liked the shimmering aspect of the solid on the skin. But when the holiday came around I wanted to offer another version and was concerned that perhaps it wouldn't make the leap from solid to liquid form with grace. I knew it would be much lighter and brighter and was relieved to find that it still has the substance of the forest coming alive at dusk.”

Ms. Aftel sees Bergamoss as a solid perfume and as such the Eau de Parfum is a limited edition which will be discontinued in February 2016. Her reasoning for offering it as a liquid at all is, “My solid perfumes are expensive and I wanted people to have a chance to experience Bergamoss without having to purchase a solid case.  I love having a small line of perfumes and will stop offering a perfume even when it is selling well and in demand.  It has to do with my interest, as an artist, in the whole of my perfume line being coherent to me and not growing too large. I think of my fragrant offerings as chapters of a book that should create a whole.”

I had to finish our conversation about Bergamoss asking Ms. Aftel to describe this particular chapter in her compendium of perfumes, “My book of perfumes is ever changing with the introduction of new perfumes and the phasing out of old ones. It is something I do intuitively: There is a beautiful and alive “rightness” that I strive for in the whole of the offerings of Aftelier Perfumes.  I don’t want any perfume in my line to be too close or repeat a creative idea that is central in another perfume.” When pressed on Bergamoss EDP she chose a quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, “Bergamoss EDP is a brief character — “that struts and frets its hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.”

I want to thank Ms. Aftel for taking the time to answer my questions so thoroughly. It is always interesting to hear an artist find a way to describe something which is at heart an intuitive process.

Mark Behnke

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas The Scent Awakens

My tradition on Christmas Eve for the last five years as a blogger has been to give Clement Clarke Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas a fragrant spin. This year I have been inspired to do something slightly different. You will recognize the plot below as somewhat similar to Mr. Moore’s Holiday classic except this time there have been some other influences mashed up with it.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

Episode VI

The Scent Awakens

It is Christmas Eve in Poodlesville. Colognoisseur has finished trying to find the mythical perfume Eau de Chandelier for another year. The magical extrait said to be a collaboration between, Beaux, Almeras, Guerlain, and Coty has not been seen for over one hundred years. Colognoisseur is headed to bed……

With a sigh I got up from the desk. As I walked through the house all I noticed was the silence. I looked at the stockings on the chimney, hung so neatly, as I turned off the lights on the Christmas tree. The poodle was curled up tight, breathing easily, completely asleep.  I was smiling at Mrs. C as she settled her kerchief. I had just doffed my fedora still thinking about Eau de Chandelier when an incredible racket was heard outside.

I ran to the picture window and looked outside on the moonlit night to see something amazing. A sleigh being pulled by eight flying reindeer. Could it be? Was this really Scent Nick? Just as the thought formed he began to call to his coursers, “Now Mitsouko! Now, Joy! Now No. 5 and Polo! On Kouros! On Fracas! On Diorissimo and Femme! Head for the roof!”

As I heard the hooves on the roof I looked towards the fireplace. With a cedary whoosh Scent Nick was standing in front of me. He was dressed in a red coat and pants with a white fur collar and trim. I could hear the tinkle of delicate bottles in the bundle on his back. His eyes sparkled like the finest bergamot. His dimples were as merry as a luscious vanilla base note. His cheeks resembled Rose de Mai. His nose was as red as a raspberry. There was a sly smile surrounded by a snow white beard.  

He pulled the pipe from his mouth and let out the most infectious belly laugh. It sounded almost like he was saying “eau, eau, eau.” I had to join in. As his eyes met mine I could feel the magic in the air coalescing. Without speaking a word, he reached into his pack and held out a bottle half full of an amber elixir topped with an ornate brass stopper.

eau de chandelier

Eau de Chandelier?

I was gobsamcked. There it was! Eau de Chandelier! He carefully transferred a few drops into a vial. I could swear there were sparkles surrounding the liquid as it was added drop by drop. Scent Nick dropped the vial in the stocking which read “Colognoisseur”.

I realized we hadn’t said a word and before I could ruin it he laid his finger aside of his nose and he was gone. I heard him whistle and the reindeer sprang off the roof. I ran out into the night to watch them fly away. It was then that he spoke his only words to me, “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

As I come near to finishing my second year of Colognoisseur I want to wish all of my readers the most magical of Holiday seasons. If you find yourself needing a little scented magic keep an ear peeled as you are falling asleep this Christmas Eve. It is in those moments where Scent Nick and Eau de Chandelier exists.

Mark Behnke

I’m not a Candle Guy

There is an e-mail exchange which takes place after I’ve reviewed a perfume which has a companion candle. I am asked how the candle compares to the perfume. My answer is always the same, “Sorry, I’m not a candle guy.” My fellow editor when I was writing at CaFleureBon, Tama Blough, found candles as compelling as the liquid she wore. We had many e-mail exchanges and because I respected her so much I burned way more than I would have on my own.

It seems like every winter I decide that maybe this one will open my eyes. Then it doesn’t move me to light it again. There is a shelf of many candles with burnt wick and hardly any of the candle burned down. I’ve sent a lot of them away without a thought. I get much more Gollum-like when it comes to mailing away a bottle. They are beautifully displayed and they contain a scent I generally like enough to have my whole house smell like it. So why am I unmoved?

perfumed-candles

I think it took a discussion with an artist friend who passed on some insight into my appreciation of art I hadn’t considered. We were at a recent opening and I was mesmerized by these motion sculptures the artist had displayed in the center of the gallery. The artist had also done some paintings which hung on the wall. I gave them a quick walkthrough and then I was back with the motion sculptures. When we were out getting something to eat afterward my friend asked me about the paintings and I admitted I gave them a cursory examination. He chuckled in that knowing way of a good friend and said, “Of course you did.” When I asked for clarification he related to me that it was his observation that I am always drawn to art which has some kind of aspect which allows me to walk around it in a state of constant analysis. It was his opinion that things in motion are more appealing to me than things which are fixed.

I think that is the reason I’m not a candle guy. When I wear perfume it is in constant development on my skin changing, challenging me as it develops to follow along with it. Candles are static they ask me to enjoy the same experience but as something concentrated into a consistent continuous experience. Based on the recent observation by my friend I think I might be incapable of truly appreciating that.

I am still open to the opportunity for some candle to change my opinion. But I suspect my answer will continue to be, “I’m not a candle guy.”

Mark Behnke

Taking the First Step- Colognoisseur’s 1st Anniversary

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You will find this quote by Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” What you won’t find no matter how many times you read the Tao Te Ching is the hidden second line to that saying, “That first step is the hardest step you will ever take.” I used this in my introductory remarks at last October’s Sniffapalooza Fall Ball. Everyone I was introducing that day had not only found a way to take that first step into the world of perfume but then to take a few more and create something. One year ago today I took my first public step as a solo perfume blogger. If I was to say I wasn’t terrified I would be lying.

As I sat in front of my computer screen on January 31 last year I took a deep breath before publishing the first piece on Colognoisseur. I started with the desire to publish one new piece every day. I had enough initial ideas for the first 90 days but what then? The actual work of publishing every day would I be able to do that? I have to thank my friend, and colleague in blogging, Ron Slomowicz who said to me, “If you don’t publish for a day it will be the end of the world.” Dramatic? Yes. Did I act like the silly comment was true? Yes. It motivated me as a kind of goofy mantra. It got me in front of the computer when I didn’t think I wanted to write. What I found was the act of writing every day was therapeutic. Yoga via keystroke.

Helping_Change

Over the past year I have had tremendous support from so many people. I was once told that I did too many things for people for free and they would never return the favor. This past year has definitively put the lie to that piece of prophecy. Every person I have turned to for help, advice, or assistance has come through with more than I asked. There is nothing quite as gratifying as seeing people delightfully assist me who only wanted to make sure I had the best opportunity to succeed. To all of those people, whom I have thanked privately, this is a public thank you. Colognoisseur would not exist without your help.

The other thing the last year has also illuminated for me is the intense connection a fragrance can make between people. I have had some fantastic e-mail conversations about all aspects of the industry. These conversations have taken place with readers in Brazil, Australia, France, and in the city next door Silver Spring, MD. Having a story spark an exchange is one of the best parts of being a blogger. Some of those inspired later stories.

Now a year later I have not only taken the first step but at least 364 more. I still have questions but I am much surer that the future will provide answers. To all the readers of Colognoisseur thanks for joining me for a step or two. I look forward to sharing more with you.

Mark Behnke

How-to Give Perfume as a Gift

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There is a common question I get throughout the year but I get it more frequently during the Holiday shopping season, “Can you recommend a perfume to give to my significant other or family member or BFF?” Early on when I got this question my stock answer was exceedingly simple, “I don’t think you should give perfume as a present. It is a very personal thing to give and you are likely to spend a lot of money on something the recipient won’t like.”

What bothered me about this answer was it seemed like there must be a way to do it well. When people asked me for wine recommendations I would give them suggestions on different varietals they might like. Then I would suggest they go to their local wine store for a tasting and see what they liked best. Then I realized maybe you could put together a bit of a perfume “tasting” to help find a perfume for the person.

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A few years ago when I was asked the question I gave a different answer for the first time. It has worked so well that I want to share it. If you really want to give a fragrant gift this Holiday season here is a way you can do it in a special way.

  1. Go to where they sell perfume near you or use one of the online sellers like Twisted Lily or Luckyscent
  2. Choose four or five perfumes you think the intended recipient might like.
  3. Request samples of each of them. From the online merchants this is easy. At the department store they sometimes might not have a sample of everything you are interested in. At Sephora, or smaller niche stores, they will accommodatingly make samples of anything you ask them to.
  4. Note the price of the perfumes you’ve picked out and purchase a gift card that covers the cost of a bottle of the most expensive of the samples.
  5. Wrap up the samples and the gift card with a little note that has a variation on this, “Happy Holiday, I chose these perfumes because I thought they fit your personality. I hope we can both see how they all smell when you put them on. Once you’ve picked your favorite you can use the gift card to buy the one you like best.”
  6. Share the experience of letting the recipient choose which one they like best.

I have given this advice numerous times and so far all of the feedback has been positive. What I like best about doing this is two of my friends call the perfume they chose this way as “their” perfume. I think it allows you to take the joy of gift giving a little bit further in the collaboration on picking which one is best.

The holiday shopping season is in full swing and I hope you find this useful if you are thinking of giving perfume as a gift.

Mark Behnke

Villa La Tana-That Which Inspires Simone Cosac Perfumes

There are multiple stories of the places that inspire creative directors and perfumers. I have always wanted to visit the specific place which inspired a perfume. On my recent trip to Florence, Italy for Pitti Fragranze that opportunity presented itself to me. I stayed in the Villa La Tana on the outskirts of Florence while attending the fair. This is where Simone Cosac Naify as the creative director and owner of Simone Cosac Perfumes lives, along with her family. It is also where Mme Cosac has looked to for inspiration when designing her perfumes.

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When I met Mme Cosac, nearly two years ago in New York, she presented her perfumes to me while showing sketches of the beautiful villa she had renovated after purchasing it. With her words she painted a picture of bucolic serenity. She spoke of the history of Villa La Tana as the home of Bianca Cappello consort to Frederic I de Medici in the 16th Century. She felt like Bianca spoke to her as she walked the gardens. Mme Cosac needed to enlist a perfumer to help realize her internal conversations with Bianca. She would invite Sonia Constant to spend some time at Villa La Tana. During her stay Mme Cosac and Mme Constant would traverse the gardens speaking of Bianca and what a perfume which would embody her would smell like. From those discussions and walks they would collaborate to produce Trama and Trama Nera.

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I believe it has to be walking through the rose garden above that Trama was conceived. By the edge of fall there were only a few roses left on the bushes but as I walked around the path I imagined what this would smell like on a midsummer’s day with all of the bushes in full bloom. I can imagine Bianca standing in the center of that garden looking up at Frederico who had ridden out from the city to see her. Trama the fragrance captures the bouquet of myriad rose sources but it also carries the greenery of the bushes and the gravel of the path. Mme Constant captures the riot of this rose garden, with Bianca standing fulgently in the center, a queen among the roses.

Alessandro_Allori_capelloBianca Cappello by Alessandro Allori

Trama Nera was meant to capture the beauty and intelligence of Bianca as a woman capable of holding her place in a Medici court. Beauty would be a given but to survive there would have to be more to Bianca than that. Besides romantic rendezvous I could feel that Villa La Tana was where Bianca could consult with Frederico on how to navigate the intrigues and real dangers of court. I imagined them walking the paths in the morning as the flowers would scent the planning between the lovers. There would always be a thread of real danger in place. Mme Constant weaves a dark thread throughout Trama Nera from saffron on top through orris and violet in the heart down to oud and patchouli in the base. Around the axis of intrigue softer notes of bergamot, jasmine, rose, sandalwood, and amber place a soft façade hiding the steel underneath. Bianca was a beauty but she was nobody’s fool.

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The time I spent at Villa La Tana gave me insight into how a sense of place can create a distinct aesthetic which can carry as much impact as the people behind the perfume. The best part of this story is Villa La Tana, Mme Cosac, and Mme Constant have new tales to tell with three new perfumes Ose, Sublime, Peccato. I know as I wear these it will be impossible for me to not be transported back to the garden paths and hospitality of Villa La Tana.

Mark Behnke

In Praise of the Doyenne of the Perfume Counter

I realize that I am becoming the prototypical old man when I see things changing and wish for them to stay the same. I have been exchanging e-mail with one of my earliest perfume acquaintances who has recently retired. Back in the late 1980’s I was really just starting to broaden my fragrance horizons. In those days of yore there was no such thing as smartphones and the internet to look things up at the speed of your data connection. What passed for that resource was the Senior Sales Associate at your favorite department store. Carolyn was that Doyenne of the Perfume Counter for me.

Carolyn presided over her fragrant space with grace and patience. She would explain and then give me strips to illustrate the difference between chypre and fougere. As we carried on an almost thirty year affair she knew what I liked and what I probably wouldn’t. I would often go in on a weekday just to have a little more time to chat. We started out as eager student/teacher and finished as peers. Nothing made me happier than to receive an e-mail from her on one of my latest reviews. I valued her opinion and was thrilled that she came to value mine. She was the one who taught me that even if the bottle has bows and flowers on it if I liked it I should wear it.

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(Illustration: Zohar Lazar via GQ)

Upon her retirement I inquired if she had trained a replacement and her answer was, “No.” Her department store was going to use an assortment of line representatives instead of having a permanent position in charge of fine fragrance sales. This seems to be the way things are evolving. Since I moved to the Washington DC area I haven’t found the counterpart to Carolyn here. I certainly did in Boston but I suspect once those Doyennes retire those positions will, as well.

Like landlines and compact discs the day of a single person curating a department store’s fragrance department is a quaint old-fashioned notion. The necessity in our immediate information gratification society is certainly reduced if it is just the facts you are after. What I think this generation of perfume lovers will miss is the opportunity to create a relationship around a common love for perfume. Now, to find the same interpersonal service, it requires you to have a small fragrance boutique in your city. The owners of those businesses are more interested in creating a long-time customer over a one-time sale.

With Carolyn’s retirement I realize it will be far too soon that I will have little reason to visit the department store fine fragrance department. All things change but it is human nature to wish that some of them might be immune to evolutions of style. I wish Carolyn the best of her retirement and her extra time with her grandchildren. Her child of the perfume counter will miss visiting with her.

Mark Behnke