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.

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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.

Villa la tana 2

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.

Villa la tana 1

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.

how-to-not-stink-at-finding-the-right-cologne

(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.

english leather

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.

preparing-canvas-for-oil-paint

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.

how-to-heal-dry-skin

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