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

My Father’s Lesson on What a Man Smells Like

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I often find that disparate influences converge to put me in a place where I stop and look back. My personality is to mostly look towards the horizon to find out what is around the next bend in the path. I believe it is that drive which makes me a good scientist. I definitely believe it is that desire to find something new that fuels my fascination with all things fragrant. Tomorrow is Father’s Day in the US and I have also been wearing DSH Perfumes Metropolis a lot in preparation to write my recent review. The confluence of the two events allowed me to consider the length of my perfumed path and where it all started.

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When it came to my father when I was a young boy he carried a few unmistakable aromas around with him depending on what day and what time you met him. He worked at The Miami Herald as a typesetter setting the plates which would be used to print the pages of each day’s edition of the newspaper. When he came home after work he smelled of ink and paper. It was mostly an unpleasant smell but I associated it with a job done well. A man smells of his own satisfaction with his life.

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Once my dad arrived home he would sit down in his recliner and pack a pipe full of different fragrant pipe tobaccos. As he lit up and smoked the living room would fill up with this pleasant smoke. A man smells of his favorite things.

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On Friday night my father would escort my mother out to do something. I would often “help” him as he shaved and got ready. He would spray some Noxema on my face and I would use my finger as a straight blade to scrape it off and flick it into the sink. At the end he would pick up this heavy square bottle with a huge chunky wooden top, Dana English Leather, and rub some into his hands and slap either side of his face, followed by mine. I liked the smell but at this age I didn’t understand the purpose of it. I got the tolerant smile that fathers know it will be all too soon that the boyish innocent that asked that question would disappear. What he told me was, “your mother likes the way I smell when I wear it and I like the way your mother smiles when I wear it.” A man chooses to smell good because the people he loves like him to smell good.

My father passed away in the summer of 1983 and at the viewing I made sure to have all of the things he taught me on hand. One of his co-workers gave me a fresh printed page with his obituary which smelled of fresh ink and paper. I had his pipe in my pocket which smelled of the cherry tobacco he had been smoking most recently. When I finished shaving you know I put on English Leather. Three very important life lessons were wrapped up in those scents and to this day those lessons have stuck even though I’m more likely to wear Metropolis than English Leather.

To all the fathers, and the sons and daughters, out there; Happy Father’s Day.

Mark Behnke

How to Prime Your Skin for Best Longevity of Your Perfume

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I am often asked why I include a sentence about longevity in all my reviews. One of the reasons is I think there are many who equate the length of time a perfume hangs around as a signal of quality. I don’t particularly subscribe to that sort of thinking but I understand where it comes from. Longevity is more closely related to perfume oil concentration as, probably, the biggest single reason a perfume lasts for many hours. When it comes to what’s in the bottle there is very little any of us can do about that. What we can do, is make our skin the best canvas it can be for our scent of the day.

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When a painter gets a raw canvas the first thing they do is coat it with a substance called gesso. It is meant to make the canvas more absorbent to the paint to be applied. It also has a secondary effect of adding a bit of texture for the oil or acrylic paint to “bite” on to the surface. This provides a uniform surface which allows for the best display of the artist’s materials.

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When it comes to applying fragrance there are two things you can do which similarly make your skin uniform to allow for the best chance at longevity. The first is to exfoliate the skin you apply your perfume to. I’m not suggesting you go out and buy some expensive beauty product. I am suggesting you use a loofah or a rough washcloth whenever you shower or bathe. That will remove the top layer of dead skin cells and allow for a clean uniform skin surface. Now you need to help the perfume “bite” on to your skin and for that you need to moisturize prior to applying perfume. The idea is that by adding a layer of unscented moisturizer your skin is busy absorbing that, instead of the perfume you will be applying after that. If you just remember to exfoliate and moisturize you should see a marked improvement in the time your perfume hangs around.

If you want to take it one step further I’m going to share one of my secrets to perfume application which again is based on a painting technique. After a painter has gessoed their canvas they will often add a monochromatic covering called a colored or toned ground. The idea is this basic light color can be used to add subtle shading in the spaces underneath the primary application of the paints.

I’ve come up with my own method for creating a toned ground for my skin. When I get ready to moisturize after my shower I take a small paper cup and add a palm sized amount of my unscented moisturizer. Then I take my perfume for the day and give it two good sprays. I then take a finger and swirl it around mixing in the perfume with the moisturizer. Then I apply it to my arms, neck, and chest which is where I apply my perfume every day.

I don’t have any large pool of data to rely upon to say whether this works for everyone. What I can say is that everyone I have told to do this, when asked about perfume longevity, has reported back to me that it helped.

One final note is there are now a few commercial skin primers saying that they extend the longevity of a perfume. On the surface the claim is true they do work in making a perfume last longer on anyone’s skin. The price you pay is it alters the development of the perfume distorting the normal progression of the pyramid. It causes some notes to stay longer than the perfumer intended and it causes some of the heavier base notes from appearing until much later than the perfumer intended. Bottom line on these primers is if you just want the smell to last longer they will do the trick but it will be like looking at the fragrance in a fun house mirror; recognizably similar but fatter in some places and thinner in others. It is up to you if added longevity is worth the different profile.

Like everyone who loves perfume we all want it to stay around as long as possible. I think if you use the simple suggestions above you’ll find you get a little more time to spend with your favorite fragrances.

Mark Behnke

My Scent Memory: Fairchild Botanical Gardens 1969- Anya’s Garden Fairchild

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It is a common experience of most who love perfume that certain fragrances conjure up strong memories. Sometimes it is the scent of a specific place or an occasion and the fragrance you wore to it. When fragrance works on this level it is about its ability to truly lodge itself within your conscience. One of my favorite fragrances which does this for me is Anya’s Garden Fairchild.

Fairchild was inspired by the Fairchild Botanical Gardens in South Florida. Ms. McCoy has magically created a steamy summer day at these gardens perfectly. My review for CaFleureBon can be found here. Every time I wear it I think of these gardens. There is also one special memory which almost always comes to mind when I wear Fairchild. It was of a late August day in 1968 as my grandfather taught me not to be afraid of change and to judge people by their actions and not their appearance.

Mark L. Harned

Mark L. Harned in 1969

I am named after my grandfather Mark Harned and he had returned to South Florida after his retirement. One of our favorite activities was to walk through Fairchild Botanical Gardens and enjoy the beauty of all the tropical foliage and the smell of the ocean brought to us by the sea breeze. Granddaddy Harned would always punctuate these walks with tales of his travels all over the world. I blame these talks for my wanderlust which has taken me from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego in this hemisphere. One thing he never spoke about was his time in World War II. Until this day late in the long hot summer of 1969.

That summer was a moment of tumultuous American history as protests against the Vietnam War and long simmering racial divides finally boiled over in many US cities. Miami wasn’t an epicenter of this kind of activity but there was a moment where the African-American sections of the city set some fires and threw some things at passing cars it was mild compared to what was going on in Chicago or Berkley. As a precocious 9-year old I was a little unsettled especially because I was going to be sharing school with children of another skin color as desegregation was starting with my grade school. I was nervous about what the new school year would bring. My grandfather sensed it and after asking me I told him I was worried “they” wouldn’t be like me. That was when he launched into the only story he ever told me about his service in World War II.

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Map of Ledo Road (in bright green)

My grandfather was a civil engineer in the Army Corps of Engineers and he was flown to India in the Far Eastern Theatre to begin the work on building what would come to be known as the Ledo Road. The Allies needed an alternative overland supply line to the more well-known Burma Road which was in Japanese controlled hands. If the Allies were going to engage they would have to build their own supply line. Construction began in December of 1942 and in just under two years it would be finished and all war materiel would flow down the Ledo Road.

What my grandfather told me next was what was important for me to learn as a young man. Almost all of the labor that worked on the Ledo Road were African-American. My grandfather told me of the construction work performed by these soldiers. He told me of the pride in their work as the progress they made was faster than the commanders had expected. He told me how the work was in brutal heat and brutal cold as they were working at mountainous altitude and then down in tropical jungles in the valleys. I asked him if there were problems like what we were seeing. He looked at me with a smile and said to me something I have always remembered “Marcus always judge a man on his heart and soul, never on the color of his skin. Good and bad exist beneath the skin not because of it.”

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It was a powerful moment for me and it was these words which drove me to start talking to Rodney whose desk was next to me in Mrs. Dundee’s Fifth Grade class. I realized very quickly that Grandaddy Harned was correct as Rodney and I would team up on the basketball court and watch each other’s back at dodgeball. When I got off my bike in the morning I was as happy to see Rodney as I was the friends I had been in school with previously. Our parents, unfortunately, were less evolved and we were never invited to each other’s house. Although in the spring of 1970 Granddaddy Harned chaperoned a field trip and I introduced him to Rodney. My grandfather shared one of those special smiles with me as I introduced him which told me he thought I might just have learned something.

Everytime I wear Anya’s Garden Fairchild I am back in Fairchild Gardens with Granddaddy Harned filled with pride to share his name.

Mark Behnke

Boot or Reboot: Patou pour Homme 1980 & 2013- Taking on a Classic

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The world of movies and television is full of what are called reboots where a beloved older property is given a fresh interpretation by a new set of creative minds. An excellent example of this is the television series of the 60’s Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry and the fantastic re-imagining of that universe in 2009 by J.J. Abrams and the movie version of Star Trek. Both retain the essential soul of the creation but each set of artists imparts their own sense of style to things. Particularly over the past few years the perfume world has seen a number of cherished “out of print” vintage fragrances get a modern reboot. Sometimes the results are similar to the Star Trek experience where both retain the essential soul but differ in fascinating ways. Other times one is clearly better than the other and not always in the original’s favor. In this series I am going to examine both the original (boot) and the reformulated version (reboot) and give you my opinion on both of them.

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Jean Kerleo

Of all the purely masculine marketed fragrances to have ever been released 1980’s Patou pour Homme by the perfumer Jean Kerleo is one of those Holy Grail type fragrances. When the discussion of what the best masculine fragrances ever created are I have never not seen Patou pour Homme not make the short list of contenders and is often the winner of many of these olfactory beauty contests. It has created a hunger for the vintage bottles which show up on auction sites and estate sales with bottles fetching between $500-1000 regularly. For me personally it is not just Patou pour Homme but the entire output of Jean Patou which is priceless and they are the most prized parts of my perfume collection as I think they are the very pinnacle of what perfume can be. Patou pour Homme is just one of those which sits very high in my personal esteem.

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Thomas Fontaine

Over the past fifteen years I have watched as numerous business entities have taken a run at reviving the house and reformulating these classic fragrances. All throughout the process I was simultaneously rooting for its success and fearing the worst. Finally in 2013 Jean Patou was bought from Proctor & Gamble by a British firm Designer Parfums, Ltd. They hired perfumer Thomas Fontaine to oversee the resurrection of these perfumes. In the second half of 2013 they released their first three recreations, Chaldee, Eau de Patou, and Patou pour Homme.

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Patou pour Homme 1980 was groundbreaking for its day as Jean Kerleo used a mix of pepper, lavender, clary sage and tarragon to create a shimmering heat at the beginning. Patchouli, cedar, and vetiver took the traditional triptych of men’s fragrances and moved it up the pyramid into the heart. The finish was a lavish amount of oakmoss, labdanum, and sandalwood. The synergies and interplay has always made this one of the most fascinating fragrances that I have ever worn and M. Kerleo’s skill at keeping this as kinetic as a kaleidoscope is not to be underestimated. This is a fragrance which lives up to its hype.

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Patou pour Homme 2013 has a couple of difficulties for M. Fontaine right from the start. First he has to comply with IFRA restrictions and so the oakmoss is out. The shimmering heat effect also was going to be difficult to replicate. M. Fontaine consulted with M. Kerleo and worked from the original recipe as he composed this modern version. The top notes are much brighter as bergamot and lemon partner the tarragon and galbanum is added to the top notes to try and create that shimmery effect. The effect it gives is a deeper richer citrus accord but the stunning piquancy of the original is gone. Instead of having a two-step of very intense notes M. Fontaine crafts an intermezzo of jasmine, violet, and rose which partner the top notes quite pleasantly. The base is clearly a bit of inspired perfumery as since he can’t use oakmoss he goes for a raw leather accord, olibanum, patchouli, and ambergris. While it misses that “je ne sais quois” of the original it really works at the end of the brighter less extreme lead up of this modern version.

I think it is obvious that the winner of this battle is the original Patou pour Homme but that really is unfair to the newer version. M. Kerleo had a fuller palette to work with than M. Fonatine did and he used that to his advantage. The fragrance that M. Fontaine has created is very good and maybe the real disservice is calling it Patou pour Homme. If it was named Patou pour Homme II I think many would think it was much better than they are going to with it having the same name. If you have never tried the original, the new Patou pour Homme is very good without being compared to one of the great perfumes of the last 35 years. If you’re looking for that experience you’ll still need to haunt the internet and auctions to get your fix.

In this case I would say Boot is the winner but the Reboot deserves its own amount of attention because M. Fontaine has made me believe he is the right person to oversee this revival of Jean Patou.

Disclosure: Thie review was based on a bottle of Patou pour Homme (1980) that I purchased and a sample of Patou pour Homme (2013) I received from Aus Liebe zum Duft.

Mark Behnke

Welcome to Colognoisseur!

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Hi I am Mark Behnke and this is my brand new solo blog. For those of you who have followed me over here from my previous stint as Managing Editor at CaFleureBon, thanks for your support and you can skip the rest of this paragraph because you already know most of this. I have been a lover of perfume for almost thirty years now. From my first bottle of Jovan Musk for my thirteenth birthday, I thought it would make me more attractive, to my favorite perfume of 2013 Knightsbridge de Robert Piguet, which just makes me smell fantastic, I have been fascinated with everything about the liquid in the bottle. My day job is as a research chemist working on rare and neglected diseases in the public sector. That training as a chemist makes me more than a little interested in the things that go into making perfume, both synthetic and natural. Five years ago Michelyn Camen came and plucked me off the perfume forum Basenotes where I had happily been contributing reviews under my nom de blog Somerville Metro Man. Over the past five years, most of it at CaFleureBon, she has been both mentor and collaborator and if this blog is a success a large part of the credit will come from all that she taught me. The name of this blog also came from a discussion on Basenotes on what to call a male perfume fanatic, perfumista seems feminine, even though it is genderless. One of the forum members, who goes by Quarry, came up with the mash-up combination of Cologne and Connoisseur to get Colognoisseur. I’ve always thought it was a great name and even before Michelyn stoked my writing fires I reserved it for this very day when I might be ready to strike out on my own.

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The Wall of Minis at Osswald NYC (Photo courtesy: Osswald NYC)

Colognoisseur will focus on reviews of the newest perfume releases primarily. There will always be at least two new reviews on Monday and Friday of each week. When the pace picks up in the fall I’ll probably be using a third day to keep you informed of the best new fragrances that are out there. This is also a good place to talk about my review philosophy. You won’t see a negative review from me. That doesn’t mean I like everything, far from it. Here is what it means. In 2009, when I started doing this, I sniffed 256 new perfumes. In 2013 I sniffed 514. The number has doubled in five years and one of my biggest regrets is that this tsunami of fragrance is overwhelming for everyone. That’s one reason I think blog reviews are important in helping to notify a reader of something they might like to try in a world where over a thousand new perfumes get released. Every review you will read is the result of wearing the perfume on my body on two different days. If you do the math with 365 days in a year the very most I could review would be 182 new fragrances. Because of that limitation if I try a new fragrance on a paper strip and a bit of skin and it doesn’t seem like it is worth my spending two days with it, that’s the end. The ones I like get put on my bathroom vanity to be worn over the next week or so. I could write that something I didn’t like smelled like a feral cat but that really isn’t giving it a fair shake if all I have done is very peripherally experienced it, especially compared to the fragrances I do write about. The result is you won’t see out and out negative reviews. If you read this blog, and have read me in the past, I think my words convey when I really, really like something over just liking something.

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The Lenox Globe map with the phrase Hic Sunt Dracones (Here be Dragons) to designate the unknown

What I’m going to fill the other five days up with is still up in the air on this first day. I know I want to write a bit about the molecules that have defined whole sectors of perfumery; aldehydes and Chanel No.5 is an example but I’m going to go for some that are maybe less familiar to most. I promise to not turn it into chemistry class. I want to touch on some older fragrances because I think we are in the second Golden Age of Perfumery and many of the classics that will be talked about in a hundred years should be pointed out. I definitely will continue to delve into the people behind the perfume and give you some insight into how important the entire team behind a fragrance is. I’ll editorialize a tiny bit about subjects I think are important.

Like anything I’ve started Colognoisseur will evolve as a cooperative enterprise between myself and, you, the reader. Please let me know what you like, in these early days especially, so I have an idea of what my readers are interested in.

Above all come join me on my latest adventure as together we explore the World of Fragrance.

Mark Behnke