Dead Letter Office: R de Capucci- Summer Chypre

When I was regularly posting on Basenotes there was one member “hirch_duckfinder” who had in his signature the following: “Wear R de Capucci”. Because I respected his posts it was a sure thing I would eventually find some. When I did, I found a summer-weight chypre that seemingly was ahead of its time in anticipating the advent of clean in perfumery. This entry in the Dead Letter Office is probably there because nobody knew what to do with a perfume that had no contemporary.

Roberto Capucci is an Italian fashion designer who was known for his “sculptural” style of couture. He eschewed the catwalks to show his clothing off in museums. Fragrance was part of the brand throughout. The first fragrance releases were in 1963: Parce Que! and Graffiti. There would be a new release every three or four years. By 1985 R De Capucci was the seventh release. It came just as Sig. Capucci had handed over the day-to-day operations in 1980. It is hard to know what the new leadership thought of how fragrance fit but they released three from 1982-1988. It is hard to know because these perfumes were not widely distributed. Which would be the major reason almost the entire line is in the Dead Letter Office.

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Francoise Caron

R De Capucci was composed by Francoise Caron early in her career. I think it shows Mme Caron in an experimental mood. I think her brief may have been as simple as “we would like a masculine fragrance”. What Mme Caron delivered is a hybrid of fougere on top and chypre on the bottom. Except the whole thing is cleaned up as all of the rough edges of both styles are removed. It makes for a stylistic tour de force.

R de Capucci opens on a green-hued lavender combined with sprightly citrus. It is a top accord of clean lines which will continue to elongate throughout the development. The fougere quality is striking when captured in this way. It is almost hyperfocused on the lavender and citrus as the green provides the clarity. The heart notes provide the transition to the chypre part as clove, thyme, and geranium pick up the green and connect it to the base. In the base Mme Caron leaves out the oakmoss and replaces it with a birch-based leather accord. She keeps that leather on a short leash but it supplies most of what oakmoss provides in a traditional chypre accord. The rest of the accord comes from the customary list of sandalwood, patchouli, and musk. A bit of incense skirls through the later dry down.

R de Capucci has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

The beauty of what Mme Caron has created here is a chypre which can be worn on the hottest of days. It can be worn because Mme Caron has cleaned it up so it has the sturdy lines that will overwhelm masculine perfumery within ten years. It is like a crystal ball into the future. Unfortunately, most consumers weren’t able to find it to have the opportunity to share this vision. Nowadays it is still equally difficult to find. It shows up on the auction sites for a reasonable price but that is about it for finding it. I know my bottle only has a few summers left in it.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: L’Artisan Parfumeur Verte Violette- Short-Term Goldilocks

L’Artisan Parfumeur was one of the earliest niche perfume lines. Started in 1978 by Jean-Francois Laporte it was meant to be a riposte to the larger brands’ offerings. For nearly forty years the brand has had its ups and downs but it has never stopped taking risks. If there in any legacy M. Laporte would be proud of I would imagine it is that.

Throughout the lifetime of the brand they have identified some of the best perfumers working and given them budget and freedom to realize a vision. The very best of the line are some of the masterpieces of niche perfumery. That doesn’t mean they are immune to sending some miscalculations to the Dead Letter Office. One of those miscalculations was the 2001 release Verte Violette.

Perfumer Anne Flipo had made her name with L’Artisan with her release Mimosa pour Moi. It was a greener version of mimosa tinted that color with violet leaf. If there was a consistent criticism of that perfume it was that the violet was too sharply green; closing in the mimosa. In 2001 when Mme Flipo was asked to create two more fresh florals I think she wanted to revisit a green violet. What results is a classic Goldilocks perfume where the perfumer takes the keynote and tries not to make it too green or too sweet. In the case of Verte Violette Mme Flipo would strike this balance near perfectly. While I think the Goldilocks approach was not the right tack to take with niche consumers who wanted something different it probably wasn’t the main reason for its discontinuation.

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Anne Flipo

That reason was probably due to its longevity. Mme Flipo designed Verte Violette as a fragile veil meant to be a close wearing skin scent. Particularly at this point in the expansion of niche a perceived lack of longevity was going to be seen as a significant drawback. Verte Violette has almost no sillage and while it does stay on my skin for a long time it requires me to bring my nose close to detect it. What I detect when I do this is a slightly sweet fresh green floral.

Verte Violette opens with a similar riff that Mme Flipo used on Mimosa pour Moi; violet leaves and raspberry. The green of the violet leaves is only slightly sweetened be the fruit. This is the typical sharp green quality of that note. A slew of ionones make up Mme Flipo’s violet accord in the heart. It is a densely layered construct meant to convey a weight between transparent and full-throated. As I mentioned Mme Flipo finds a really beautiful balance here. The violet accord grows deeper over time as rose and orris provide some strength but not too much. Cedar provides the woody frame for the florals to exist within.

Verte Violette has 8-10 hour longevity but almost zero sillage.

Verte Violette was discontinued after just ten years on the market in 2011.

I have always enjoyed Verte Violette for that Goldilocks quality Mme Flipo managed to create. I am not surprised that others did not share that feeling. The longevity and lack of sillage is something I have never cared about but I understand those who do. The combination of fleeting and just right makes Verte Violette a Short-Lived Goldilocks. At least in this case I am that Goldilocks.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Jo Malone Black Vetyver Café- Decaffeinated

When it comes to the Dead Letter Office there are entries which come from a brand trying to strike out in a new direction. One which their customers are not interested in following. For some of the longer lived brands there comes a moment after a few years of success with a very specific aesthetic they will take a risk on something different. This was where Jo Malone London was at in 2002.

Jo Malone London was the early success story of independent perfumery. Ms. Malone had grown her business starting in 1994 with the release of Nutmeg & Ginger into something Estee Lauder would acquire in 1999. Part of the deal allowed Ms. Malone to continue on as creative director where she remained until 2006. The upside of the acquisition was expanded distribution which would see the heretofore difficult to find fragrances in the US begin to expand into the luxury department stores in the first five years of the new century. As part of this expansion there would be new releases to put a new shine on the previous collection.

If there was something that was frequently commented on with those early releases it was they were light. Maybe too light. There were lots of people who would criticize the longevity of the line; feeling it needed to be re-applied in an hour or two. The early releases fell into two categories either citrus or floral. As Jo Malone was starting life as part of a big company it seems the powers that be decided it was time for a change.

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Jean-Claude Delville

There were four new releases between 2002-2003. Three of them have been discontinued. One has remained as part of the collection. The four were Wild Fig & Cassis, Stephanotis & Cassia Café, Orange Blossom, and Black Vetyver Café. Which one do you think survived the Dead Letter Office? Of course it was Orange Blossom. The other three represented a different take as they went with assertive themes around keynotes which were not light. In the long run they would prove to be too different none more so than Black Vetyver Café.

Black Vetyver Café was released in 2002 by perfumer Jean-Claude Delville. The gourmand style of perfume was just gaining traction. At that point almost all of them were sweet. For Black Vetyver Café M. Delville wanted to focus on coffee as the keynote. The version he used as the focal point was the roasted whole bean. If you’ve ever opened a fresh bag of roasted coffee beans you will know the coffee being used here. It has a nutty character along with a tiny amount of sour oiliness. That is what you smell right from the moment it hits your skin. The heart is a mix of nutmeg and coriander used to pick up those nutty and oliy qualities. Turning it much richer. The woods come next and the coffee reasserts its core character. Then the promised vetiver swathes it in green. A very transparent incense skirls throughout the final drydown.

Black Vetyver Café has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

As far as I was concerned this new direction was fantastic. Black Vetyver Café was the first Jo Malone full bottle I owned. Unfortunately, I was not joined by others. Black Vetyver Café would be discontinued around 2012-ish. By that point Estee Lauder had come to realize what the Jo Malone customer desired and it wasn’t bold. It was more of the florals the brand had been founded on.

It is admirable that there was an attempt to try something different. Sometimes the perfumes which find their way into the Dead Letter Office are put there by the will of the consumer. In the case of Jo Malone those customers wanted to have their favorite brand decaffeinated.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Badgley Mischka- Deep Cuts

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Where does imitation begin and inspiration end? Of the many perfumes to end up in the Dead Letter Office the ones that try to mimic a popular style deservedly find their spot here. Even to this there are exceptions. Although the perfume which I think is the anomaly has also found its way into the Dead Letter Office; for maybe the same reason.

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Mark Badgley and James Mischka

In 2006 fashion designers Mark Badgley and James Mischka were riding high. They were one of the go-to designers, under their Badgley Mischka label, for the red carpet crowd. Their sleek silhouettes were made for the Hollywood elite to be seen in. Like so many other designers before them their expansion into fragrance was a fait accompli.

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Richard Herpin

They would partner with perfumer Richard Herpin on their first release, Badgley Mischka. The stated desire was to make a perfume which was glamorous and refined. Lots of perfumes want to achieve this. I was expecting the designers of clothing who seemingly effortlessly captured this aesthetic could find the same in a fragrance.

Bagley Mischka is labeled as a floral chypre in its own classification. Which is one part of the reason I think it failed. If you spray a strip of Badgley Mischka for anyone and ask them to describe it the first word out of their mouth will be “fruity”, this isn’t just fruity it is massively so. It is so strongly fruity that you have to go on a search party in the fruit bowl to find the florals. They are there and they are critical to the overall effect but they are not as prominent as floral chypre would lead you to believe.

The other reason I think Badgley Mischka faded was it was a greatest hits collection of other perfumes on the same counter. It contains a strong gourmand facet. It is a fruity floral. It is a modern chypre. The problem comes when the scions of those styles are sitting right next to the bottle on the same sales counter. Why not take the original over the mash-up?

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To extend my music analogy further, while M. Herpin was making a pastiche of popular styles what he used in Badgley Mischka were the album tracks that were not hits, the deep cuts. The fruitiness is so unrestrained it is a syrupy expansive version of that. The gourmand is that caramel confectionary accord also matched with a lactonic milkiness which reminded me of those caramels with a cream core. The chypre exists without the bite of the oakmoss but the patchouli makes up for it.

Badgley Mischka opens up on that fruity accord I have mentioned. Berries in abundance explode around me. I feel like someone who has gorged myself at a raspberry pie eating contest with the evidence all over my face. The caramel accord comes next with peach lactone providing the creaminess. This is the opposite of the other gourmands of the time, quieter; kept in check by the berries. The floral accord of jasmine, osmanthus, and peony provide an important pivot point. Each of the florals provide something different than usual. Overwhelmed by the fruit and caramel the jasmine seems more indolic, the osmanthus leatherier, and the peony more astringent. It is what is needed to transition to the chypre accord. That accord is primarily patchouli and sandalwood. Some white musks are there to provide the rest of the chypre effect.

Badgley Mischka has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I am usually dismissive of these kind of greatest hits perfumes. Except Badgley Mischka connects with me because while it is following the leader it is marching to its own beat. Clearly the perfume buying public did not share my sentiment. Badgley Mischka was sent to the Dead Letter Office a few years ago. It is not one of those highly sought after discontinued fragrances. You can find it for a modest price at the discounters and online auction sites. That is if you’re looking for a fruity gourmand chypre that reminds you of something else you own.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Guy Laroche Drakkar- Say Hi to the 70’s

Perfume can sometimes be a veritable time capsule. A creature of its time. Once that time has passed so has the perfume. In the 1970’s western society was in flux. Women were entering the workplace. Disco was king. Leisure Suits were in style. Forty years on we look back at all of that almost quaintly. Many of the fragrances marketed during this time were looking to take advantage of what they saw as new marketing opportunities. Guy Laroche wanted a masculine follow-up to 1966’s Fidji. This would lead to the release of Drakkar.

guy laroche drakkar advert

Of course Drakkar Noir is one of the great classic perfumes of all time and ever since its release in 1982 it has stood the test of time. Drakkar was less timeless. If you look at the advertisement above, they wanted you to think crashing waves. When you try Drakkar and know what the aquatic marine perfumes will smell like, two decades later, it is hard not to smile. That advertisement shows the conflict in how to design this perfume. They also wanted to be a hairy-chested, shirt unbuttoned down to your waist, gold chain wearing fragrance, too. They wanted Drakkar to be the fragrance you smelled when you were doing The Hustle. As so many of the denizens of the Dead Letter Office have shown conflicting concepts lead to problematic marketing.

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Guy Laroche

Drakkar was sold in upscale men’s department stores often right next to Guy Laroche Homme clothing. The problem was the man who was drawn to M. Laroche’s clothing was not that disco dancing player Drakkar was supposed to entice. Drakkar was largely ignored while Fidji was widely acclaimed.

Drakkar opens with very fresh lemon matched up with galbanum. At a time when green was not as in vogue in men’s fragrances Drakkar starts off with galbanum. I think this was their idea of being crashing wave fresh. This all descends into a heart of sage, rosemary, and thyme adding herbal greenness. The base is a mix of patchouli, sandalwood, and vetiver. Those three notes are where you would find that 1970’s swinger peeking out.

Drakkar has 8-10 hour longevity and way above average sillage.

If you’re looking for early insights into how Drakkar would compare to Drakkar Noir the overlap is lemon on top and the same base but in the case of Drakkar Noir the addition of oakmoss. As wrong as they got the marketing on Drakkar they completely got it right for Drakkar Noir. Plus, it is a better perfume in all respects. Drakkar is something to wear when I want to look back to my Saturday Night Fever days and say hi to the 70’s.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Balenciaga Ho Hang- Powerhouse Alternative

If there was one thing about the 1970’s and men’s perfume it was that subtlety was not celebrated. If you were wearing a fragrance to go with your shirt unbuttoned down to your waistband, gold chains on neck and wrist, while wearing your platform shoes; yeah subtlety would get lost. Those days were the polar opposite of today as the powerhouses ruled the clubs of the day. The Dead Letter Office is loaded with really great perfumes which tried to buck the trend. One which actually staked out a decent enough market share while not feeling oppressively garish was 1971’s Balenciaga Ho Hang.

Ho Hang was a return for Balenciaga as a fragrance brand of sorts. From the 1950’s through the 1960’s it was Le Dix and Quadrille which kept the Balenciaga name on perfume shelves. It was interesting to find that a brand which had made two dynamic feminine fragrances which helped define what it meant to be a Balenciaga fragrance decided to make their comeback on a men’s release. That they then doubled down and further committed to making an alternative to the prevailing perfume trend was even more intriguing.

The perfumers responsible for Ho Hang were Raymond Chaillan and Jacques Jantzen. Most of these men’s powerhouses were fougeres. The perfumers also wanted Ho Hang to be a fougere. Their approach was to keep it cleaner in a 1970’s kind of way not a 2000’s kind of way.

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The perfume may be subtle but the ads were not

Ho Hang opens with the traditional fougere opening of bergamot, lavender, and basil. The citrus-floral -herbal accord is a classic. Because the perfumers wanted to keep this tilted away from taking over the room they added in coriander and geranium to tint this greener without upping the overall strength profile. The clean part of Ho Hang comes with the use of cedar and rosewood in the heart. The clean defined lines of cedar given a little less definition by the rosewood is a nicely sophisticated riff on the presence of woods in men’s perfumes. Patchouli and sandalwood bring Ho Hang a little more in line with the other perfumes sharing counter space with it. I have a feeling the perfumers just couldn’t allow themselves to have Ho Hang take that much risk. The sandalwood is sweetened with tonka and vanilla for a very temperate final accord.

Ho Hang has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Ho Hang hung in there staying on shelves for over thirty years. While Balenciaga drifted in creativity they managed to keep many of their best available. This would all come to an end when Coty acquired the license. Despite one of the strongest perfume heritages of any brand Coty decided the past was meant to be discontinued while they released new Balenciaga perfumes for the 2000’s.

Because Ho Hang was around for so long it isn’t ridiculously hard to find a bottle. I have noticed over the last year that the price has steadily risen to over $100 US. One caveat there is also a Balenciaga flanker called Ho Hang Club. Do not buy that as it is nothing like Ho Hang.

Balenciaga was smart enough to present an alternative to the powerhouses and allow it to always be there for many years.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Chopard Madness- Christine Nagel’s Fever Dream

Early in a perfumer’s career there are moments when the style they would become known for has not completely formed. I have found that in those places you can find something very interesting about a specific perfumer. One of my favorite perfumers Christine Nagel is on the verge of releasing her first fragrance as in-house perfumer for Hermes, Eau de Rhubarbe Ecarlate. I expect it to adhere to her wonderfully transparent lilting style of the last few years. Although it would be a wonderful surprise if she returned to a style she really only did once back in 2001 with Chopard Madness.

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Christine Nagel

There has rarely been a perfume more aptly named than Madness. It feels like a perfume Mme Nagel came up with during a fever dream. It opens with a wild fruity floral fusillade and only gets more frenetic from there. This is not a perfume for anyone who likes smooth transitions or gentle caresses of scent. Madness slaps you across both cheeks and then continues the sweet barrage all the way until the end.

That opening smack comes with an unusual fruity floral pairing of kumquat and lychee added to rose. Mme Nagel then adds a wallop of baie rose. This all comes together with a roiling strength. The maelstrom continues into the heart with a sueded floral accord of hibiscus and leather. The top notes have all made the journey into the heart and now it feels on the edge of spinning out of control. Except it all holds together better than you might suspect. It ends with a beautifully realized rosewood focused base accord including a bit of incense and magnolia bridging the floral intensity to the woods. If you’re looking for any sign of Mme Nagel’s current style this is where you find it but you have to ride the whirlwind before arriving at it.

Chopard Madness has 16-18 hour longevity and way over the top sillage.

chopard madness

Chopard Madness was launched in the last quarter of 2001; weeks after the tragedies of September 11th in New York City. The ad campaign was actress Selma Hayak with a city skyline behind her. In a less chaotic time Madness might have found some traction. With this timing a perfume as challenging as Madness was never going to do well. People wanted soothing and comforting not the thousand-yard stare of Madness. It was quickly relegated to Chopard boutiques exclusively, within a year, and was removed from those within a couple of years. This is one of those perfumes which has been added to the Dead Letter Office due to its timing. Bottles can be found online for as little as $20. It is definitely worth the price of admission to see one of our most precise perfumers take a walk on the wild side.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: La Nuit de Paco Rabanne- Perfumed Shoulder Pads

I think there are times that a perfume so perfectly characterizes its time that when things move on that fragrance ends up in the Dead Letter Office. One of those examples is La Nuit de Paco Rabanne.

La Nuit was the fourth perfume released by Paco Rabanne in 1985. In 1985 we were at the height of the nighttime television soap operas of Dallas and Dynasty. In America it was a race to see how much one could acquire. That attitude would peak in 1987 with Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in the movie “Wall Street” where he would proclaim “greed is good”. It also was a time when fragrance for the final time in the 20th century would also go for it with its own “greed is good” mentality. La Nuit is one of the best examples of this time period.

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Jean Guichard

Paco Rabanne Fragrance was still looking for successors to the very popular Calandre and Paco Rabanne pour Homme. They had tried in 1979 with Metal to create a straightforward pretty floral. My impression was it was meant to be a softer version of Calandre. It was so similar to my nose that I think that caused its eventual demise. You just didn’t need to own both. By the time the creative team was ready for the fourth release they decided to go entirely in the other direction. They sat in the middle of the 1980’s which lead them to believe a full throated leather chypre would be the right choice. They enlisted perfumer Jean Guichard to come up with this.

Whenever I wear La Nuit I feel like I am putting on a pair of perfumed shoulder pads because this is a perfume which definitely wants to have it all. M. Guichard stuffs it with spice, florals and a tiny bit of fruit before one of the more strident leather chypre accords I know of kicks in. I often comment that there are perfumes that wear me instead of the other way around. La Nuit is one which epitomizes that kind of thinking.

La Nuit opens confidently with a bit of citrus flash before myrtle, artemisia, pepper, and cardamom really pick up the pace. This rolls, with a soft peach note providing the connection, into a heart of jasmine and rose. Now we have a full strut happening. The rose and jasmine carry a presence but the real power is on its way. At first cedar, oakmoss, and patchouli form the skeleton of the chypre. Then M. Guichard drops in a hugely powerful leather accord which makes that chypre become underpinning to it. As the base evolves it gets more and more animalic until at the end you are left with a pacing untamed beast stalking the scene; in shoulder pads.

La Nuit has 18-24 hour longevity and above average sillage.

La Nuit started out with strong sales for the first three or four years before seemingly going out of style along with those shoulder pads. About the time that fashion was seen as an example of deplorable excess La Nuit was also victim of an era which had passed it by.

La Nuit is a perfume which I seem to want to wear when there is a significant drop in the temperature. I think the grandiosity of it allows me to put on some perfumed shoulder pads underneath my sweater against the chill.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Montana Parfum D’Homme- The Montana Oriental

During the 1980’s there was another fashion designer who was as cutting edge as Thierry Mugler. His name was Claude Montana. You could even make the argument that from 1988 through 1992 he was the bigger fashion star. At that point he had just come off of designing the fashion collections for Lanvin and they were such artistic successes that he won the Golden Thimble award two straight years. Attendance at his runway shows were where you wanted to be in those days. Like M. Mugler, M. Montana excelled at twisting the power designs rampant in the 1980’s into things still powerful but also dangerous or sexual. As is common for a brand rising so fast it would spread out into fragrance.

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Claude Montana

The first release came in 1986 called Montana Parfum de Peau composed by Edouard Flechier. M. Flechier was on as much of a rise in perfume circles riding the wave created by his creation of Dior Poison a year earlier. Parfum de Peau will eventually receive its own Dead Letter Office entry because of it being M. Flechier’s follow-up to Poison. Three years later in 1989 M. Flechier would create Montana Parfum D’Homme.

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Edouard Flechier

Montana Parfum D’Homme was one of my first internet discoveries as I was spending my early days lurking in the Basenotes forums too timid to write anything. There were multiple threads about this amazing men’s fragrance which was chockfull of spices, incense and animalic notes. I began scouring mall kiosks looking for the Devil’s Tower shaped bottle. When I finally found it I was not disappointed. This was a fragrance which mirrored M. Montana’s aesthetic of adding a twist to the power suits of the 1980’s. Montana Parfum D’Homme would add an herbal and animalic detail to the classic masculine Oriental or as I like to think of it; a Montana Oriental.

Montana Parfum D’Homme opens with a matador’s wave of his cape leaving behind a trail of tart citrus. The spices follow right away with nutmeg forming the center of a triad with cinnamon and black pepper. M. Flechier takes that chord and moves it into a floral heart of geranium and jasmine. The spices form a tight swirl around the florals. It is all transformed in a snap by a fantastic use of clary sage. For many years I thought this was pine. With experience I realized what it was and the clary sage transforms this into a woody animalic fragrance. Sandalwood is the foundation for a precisely constructed base of civet, patchouli, labdanum, incense, and ambergris. This is a purring animalic which never gets too out of control which is what sets all of Montana Parfum D’Homme apart; this veneer of control.

Montana Parfum D’Homme has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Claude Montana would be fired from Lanvin because while his designs were artistic successes they were financially disastrous. M. Montana would never really recover and his own line would declare bankruptcy in 1997. As part of that the fragrances were acquired and were not seen as potential money makers. It was an easy decision for the accountants to discontinue it. It is a sad thing because within the Montana line of perfumes it is one of many excellent fragrances. Bottles come up on auction sites regularly and still close at around $100USD. It isn’t too difficult to get. I also wouldn’t be surprised if there are still a box or two in some mall kiosks. One caveat this review is for the Montana Parfum D’Homme in the red box. There is a Montana Homme in a blue box with a clear version of the Devil’s Tower bottle which was created by perfumer Olivier Cresp. It is good but it is a very classical citrus. Montana Parfum D’Homme in the red box is the one you want to resurrect first from the Dead Letter Office.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Penhaligon’s Amaranthine- Which Doesn’t Belong and Why?

Over the last year and a half I have often received an anguished e-mail after an entry in this series. It goes like this, “Noooo! Why did you have to send me on another quest for a bottle of perfume that will be so hard to find.” I feel your frustration so this time I am going to write about a perfume which has only recently been discontinued. I also think it is among the very best perfumes Bertrand Duchaufour has created.

Penhaligon’s Amaranthine was released in 2009 and discontinued earlier this year. When it was released the press release described it as a “corrupted floral oriental…..reminiscent of the scent of a woman’s thigh”. Right there is the reason I think this perfume was discontinued. There is a child’s game called “Which Doesn’t Belong and Why?” You show a child something like a duck, a goose, and a lifejacket. They answer the lifejacket doesn’t belong because it is not a bird. Amaranthine never belonged as part of Penhaligon’s well burnished aesthetic. Even upon its release M. Duchaufour did such a fantastic job of living up (down?) to the press release it never felt like a bottle which should read Penhaligon’s on it. The tragedy here is it is one of the most sensual perfumes on the market.

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Bertrand Duchaufour

M. Duchaufour starts this off with an exotic spicy vibe. He uses banana leaf and green tea to throw a gauzy green veil over the early moments. Then he uses a precise mix of coriander and cardamom to create a human body odor accord. What is particularly notable is he could have used cumin and I would be surprised if he didn’t in a lot of the early mods. I would also suspect that it was overpowering. The body odor he wanted here is that sweet post-coital smell of sweat beaded skin. To get that right he had to not use the easy note. Instead he had to form a different chord of spices. This woman still vibrating from the aftermath of passion gathers jasmine and orange blossom and crushes them to her bosom. This is where the corrupted floral part shows up. This is also where for the first time I really experienced ylang-ylang as a fleshy floral. Carnation and clove provide more decay around the floralcy. The base is what happens as that sweat dries on the skin leaving a salty residue. This is that accord of sun-warmed skin except M. Duchaufour adds a twist with the addition of a milk note. This turns the clean skin into something less pure and once again more carnal. It is almost like Amaranthine is looking over its shoulder, with a crooked smile, asking you if you want another round.

Amaranthine has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Amaranthine is one of the most unabashedly sexy perfumes I own. Which is why it is gone. Sexy, carnal, Penhaligon’s…..which doesn’t belong and why? Penhaligon’s seems to make a regular foray off into the truly different from the rest of their brand. What is amusing is they are often very good perfumes which the brand doesn’t know how to market next to their other more very stiff upper lip entries. As of this writing Amaranthine is still available at most stockists of Penhaligon’s. If you want a bottle it is out there to be had for its normal price. It is well worth getting it before it becomes a legend years from now.

Disclosure: this review was based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke