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

Dead Letter Office: Gucci Rush for Men- Tom Ford’s Incense

As the calendar changed over to 2000 as a society we were warned of doomsday prophecies along with the collective meltdown of our computer infrastructure’s inability to deal with the changeover to Y2K. As we look back from the safety of fifteen years later without having lost the ability to look up Nostradamus via Google it is clear that the fin de siècle also had effects on different creative pursuits. It encouraged risk taking because there might not be another chance. At this time there was no bigger risk taker than Tom Ford.

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Tom Ford

Mr. Ford had made a leap of faith when he joined Gucci in 1990 as the women’s ready-to-wear designer. That would be the start of meteoric rise as Gucci went from has-been to have-to-have all under Mr. Ford’s savvy direction. He dramatically expanded the brand into every sector of fashion and style. It is also where he would begin his fragrance career. In 1997 he would release Gucci Envy followed a year later by Gucci Envy for Men. They were typical Floral and Oriental fragrances of the time period and there was little of the signature style Mr. Ford would bring to fragrance. That would come with the next set of releases.

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Gucci Rush Advertisement

In 1999 with the release of Gucci Rush Mr. Ford used his trademark mix of danger and sexuality for the first time in fragrance. The sexuality came courtesy of model Liberty Ross tinted red with a look of open-mouthed pleasure underneath the crimson. The danger came from the bottle which looked like an anonymous VHS rental tape box which would most commonly hold a pornographic movie. All of this is tame compared to what Mr. Ford has evolved into but it is all on display in its earliest incarnation. With Gucci Rush for Men the other thing Mr. Ford will become known for also displays itself for the first time; the use of an ingredient which would set the standard for fragrance from that point on. That ingredient in Gucci Rush for Men was incense.

Incense? Really incense hasn’t always been a thing? Incense had been used in perfumery as an accent note but very rarely as the focal point. In a mainstream designer fragrance? Not at all. Mr. Ford worked with perfumers Antoine Maisondieu and Daniela Andrier to create a typical masculine woody structure infused with a significant amount of incense.

Rush for Men opens with the light woodiness of cypress matched up with lavender. Cedar makes the woody quality cleaner while a very light application of patchouli tries to mar those sterile lines. This all transitions quite rapidly into the foundation of sandalwood, cade wood, and incense. The sandalwood is boosted with a suite of milky lactones so that it provides a creamier woody foil. I am guessing this was to allow the incense to not become too astringent in this first use of it. The result is the incense comes in with a translucent quality while also becoming the focal point.

Rush for Men has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

When you smell Rush for Men now it seems like a child’s version of an incense perfume. It is similar to what Mr. Ford would do with oud when he used it in YSL M7. You have to dole out the unusual in small doses before really letting them have it. Just as M7 would launch a thousand ouds; Rush for Men paved the way for the incense prominent perfumes, especially on the masculine side.

Based on the research I was able to do I was unable to find a reason for the discontinuation. Rush for Men sold quite well especially in the first couple of years. It was a viable alternative for the other styles of the time on the masculine side. The only reason I have found in a couple of places is purely anecdotal and sort of tin-foil hat conspiracy theory. The idea is Gucci was decisively cleaving itself from the Tom Ford era by discontinuing as much of it as they could after he left in 2004. Of course there is no hard evidence of this. Over time many have come to realize what a trailblazer perfume Rush for Men was and the price of a bottle has climbed pretty steeply over the past few years.

If you get the opportunity to try some it is really a time capsule capturing the early influences of Mr. Ford as well as showing the Y2K era as well.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Fendi Theorema- When Perfection Fails

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There are times when the why of how a perfume ends up in the Dead Letter Office escapes me. In doing my research for this article I can see that others who have written about this month’s perfume are equally perplexed. This month’s story is about a designer fragrance which came out at the height of the designer’s popularity. The perfumer was on her sixth fragrance but everything that has made her a star is on display for, arguably, the first time. It was on trend for the time as it married the qualities of fruity floral on an oriental base. What happened? I don’t have a clue. The perfume’s name? Now that I know, Fendi Theorema.

In 1998 Carrie Bradshaw on the HBO series Sex and the City was introducing women to the Fendi Baguette handbag. Fendi was one of the most desirable luxury brands at that time. They had been doing fragrance since 1985 but those early efforts were forgettable. In 1996 they would make a shift towards a fragrance which more clearly reflected the fashion designer aesthetic. The first pair of women’s and men’s fragrances were called Fantasia and Life Essence. These were much better than the earlier releases but still lacked something. As they got ready to make a new fragrance they would return to the perfumer responsible for Fantasia, Christine Nagel. I talk about inflection points in a perfumer’s career often. If you try Fantasia and Theorema I would bet most would have no idea it was the same perfumer. Fantasia is stock fruity floral over sandalwood. There is nothing unique about it. Two years on and Mme Nagel was beginning to get the hang of this.

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Christine Nagel

In Theorema, for maybe the first time, she would display what has sort of become her trademark. By taking a sturdy nucleus of notes and draping them in diaphanous accords which are transparent enough for you to reach through to that foundation. It is that duality which has made Mme Nagel one of the best perfumers currently working.

Theorema opens on a candied orange accord. If you ever had those orange jelly candies which are sprinkled with sugar that is the opening of Theorema. Rose provides rich floral contrast to finish the fruity floral opening. More florals await in the heart as Mme Nagel combines osmanthus and jasmine. Along with the rose this is the very floral heart of Theorema. Now it is when those transparent films start to overlay the florals. First she takes out some spicy veils as cinnamon and baie rose settle over the florals. A set of woody veils in the presence of gaiac wood and sandalwood are next. A high pitched white musk and a rich amber provide the last bits of adornment.

Theorema has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

As I await the first release from Mme Nagel in her new position as in-house perfumer at Hermes it was fun to go back to the beginning of her career to remind myself how good she has been for so long. Theorema should still be on the shelves as it has all the construction of a classic with nothing which feels dated. Everything was perfect for its success yet it failed.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office Mario Valentino Ocean Rain- Edmond Roudnitska’s Final Post

When we have the discussion of the best perfumer ever the name of Edmond Roudnitska is right at the center of that conversation. He released thirteen perfumes in his approximately 50-year career. One of the reasons he is so revered is that there are so many iconic game changing perfumes among that list. Even the great perfumers still manage to find their way to the Dead Letter Office. The final commercial release from M. Roudnitska came with the little known Mario Valentino Ocean Rain.

Ocean Rain is an odd confluence of events to come together for this perfume to even exist. First Mario Valentino has nothing to do with the more famous single name brand Valentino. Mario Valentino is a smaller fashion brand of clothing and accessories out of Italy. There was a time in the 1980’s where the label had some traction in the fashion marketplace and decided to make a men’s fragrance to extend the brand into fragrance. Edmond Roudnitska was somehow lured out of retirement at age 85 to create this perfume. His last perfume previously was 1976’s Dior Dior. I have never seen what convinced M. Roudnitska to give up his retirement in his garden in Calais for one more perfume. In 1990 the perfume would be released and almost promptly sink into obscurity.

For most people Mario Valentino sounded like some kind of weird knock-off like Chuckie Klein or Randy Lauren. Consumers just didn’t know the brand and that gave it a visibility problem. Especially when the more well-known Valentino would release Vendetta pour Homme a few months later. Brand conscious buyers never gave it a chance. In the 1990’s the cult of the perfumer had not sprung up yet. Only those in the industry knew who Edmond Roudnitska was. Like all perfumers he was a ghost as far as any perfumista was concerned. If someone unearthed a new creation in 2015 from M. Roudnitska’s notebooks it would be trumpeted with fanfare commensurate to one of the great perfumers. In 1990 that would have made zero impact. As a result Ocean Rain was discontinued quite rapidly. Because it was meant for mass-market release there was a lot of product floating around and it moved quietly into the discount perfume vendors.

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Edmond Roudnitska

I wouldn’t become aware of Ocean Rain until around 2004 and it was trivial to purchase a bottle for $25. When I finally tried this the first thing that struck me was that because this was a probably 100% synthetic perfume it had held up quite well to what had to have been well over 10-years of storage. It also struck me that M. Roudnitska had one final perfumed letter to send which felt like his response to the rapidly evolving aquatic trend which was just becoming prevalent.

With a name like Ocean Rain you would probably expect M. Roudnitska to work with both of the synthetics Calone and Hedione and they are both present. Surprisingly M. Roudnitska uses them mainly in the heart but for a perfume called Ocean Rain it comes off more like Mossy Mist.

Ocean Rain opens on a transitory citrus accord of lemon rounded out by tangerine and bergamot. Then the only trace of the ocean in the name appears with an iodine-laced ozonic accord supported but not consumed by both Hedione and Calone. Both of these notes have the ability to make a perfume more expansive. In Ocean Rain M. Roudnitska uses them to inflate his ocean accord. From here on Ocean Rain turns decidedly green and woody. Thyme and lavender begin an herbal transition into a base of cedar, oakmoss, and patchouli. By the final moments of Ocean Rain you’re deep in the forest.

Ocean Rain has 18-24 hour longevity and above average sillage.

It is my conjecture that M. Roudnitska meant to make his version of an aquatic with Ocean Rain. What I like so much about it is that it is only aquatic for a short time in the heart. The shift to the greener woodier moments are what makes Ocean Rain more special to me.

Ocean Rain can still be found online but people have become more aware of it. The prices are still in the $50-70 range based on a recent search. The nice thing is as I mentioned this is so synthetic the normal ravages of time will have almost zero effect on this fragrance.

There is a part of me that wanted M. Roudnitska’s last perfume to be more of a success. Then again these are the stories which make up the Dead Letter Office.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Gucci Nobile- Lost in Compromise

As I’ve mentioned the late 1980’s were a battleground for the masculine demographic at the department store counter. At one corner you had the powerhouse fougere Drakkar Noir. In the other corner the fresh aquatic Cool Water. The guys who saw themselves as men about town chose Drakkar. It was easily the most popular men’s going out fragrance of this time period. Cool Water was the choice for the rest of the day from the office to the gym. The other brands raced to make imitative versions of one or the other

Gucci had waited twelve years to commission a follow-up to 1976’s classic Gucci pour Homme by perfumer Guy Robert. That was a typical woody oriental which matched the majority of the other woody orientals on the fragrance counter at that time. Gucci had realized the fragrance trends were moving on and they needed something that would work for the late 1980’s man. Which way would they choose would they go powerhouse or fresh? The decision turned out to be trying to stake out an interesting middle-ground. Gucci Nobile would be a fougere but one made of the clean lines characteristic of the aquatics. Perfumer Kathy Gurevich decided the sweet spot in between would be tinted green.

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Mme Gurevich composed something with all of the touchstones of the fougere but so attenuated it was immediately identifiable as something different. This was a perfume that was made for the man who would have one perfume on his dresser that would go from office to the evening seamlessly.  That is what Gucci Nobile delivered. It was also what men didn’t think they needed. After years of languishing sales it would be discontinued. I know it didn’t make an impression on me until a perfume friend shared a sample with me long after it was discontinued. I felt this was a crisp green fougere that delighted me.

Gucci Nobile opens with an herbal flash. Mme Gurevich uses lavender but by surrounding it with sage and a cut grass accord she pulls the lavender towards it less displayed herbal character. My favorite lavender perfumes all manage to do this and it is the way I prefer lavender in my fougeres. Nobile gets this just right. The heart is held by that “green rose” geranium matched with galbanum to make sure the green outduels the rose. The base continues with vetiver and oakmoss providing the green there. Later on sandalwood and patchouli provide the final flourish.

Gucci Nobile has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Gucci Nobile was such a failure that it is still available in those deep discounted perfumer sellers you find in mall kiosks or outlets. You’ll have to dig for it as it is usually shoved all the way to the back of a shelf. It shows up on the auction sites for around $100/bottle. Nobile is worth the effort. This is a fougere that would thrive in 2015 as the perfume trends have finally caught up to it. It is too bad that the soul of compromise was cruelly ignored by the men of the 1980’s.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office Alexander McQueen Kingdom- The Vagina Monologues

One of the most cutting edge fashion designers of the last fifty years was Alexander McQueen. His was a life of vibrant imagery crossed with internal demons which would lead to him taking his own life in 2010 at the age of 40. Like many who have their brilliance tempered with something entirely the opposite it leaves behind a glittering trail like a shooting star across the sky.

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Alexander McQueen

Mr. McQueen by 2003 at the age of 34 had been named British Designer of the Year four times. Like all designers with that much success it was time to branch out into other areas. Of course one of those areas was fragrance. The first perfume was released in 2003, Alexander McQueen Kingdom. Of the many designers who release their first signature perfume Kingdom might have been the most emblematic of the fashion that the name on the bottle portended it to be.

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Jacques Cavallier

Mr. McQueen would team up with Chantal Roos, as Creative Directors, to perfumer Jacques Cavallier for Kingdom. Mr. McQueen was known for going for the dramatic on his catwalk shows. Kingdom was going to do the same. M. Cavallier while producing many mainstream fragrances was also having a creative streak with lots of different fashion designer brands. I think most of those fragrances in the latter category are part of the most impressively creative collection by a single perfumer. That most of them will be subjects of this series tell you they really were for only a precious few. Kingdom was no different M. Cavallier was creating a perfume that was meant to shock and the note he was going to use to shock and awe was cumin.

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By the time I got my opportunity to try Kingdom that cumin note was all anyone was talking about. Remember in 2003 the predominant perfume aesthetic was the fresh and clean. Cumin was not fresh and clean it was filthy dirty. When I was talking about it with a couple of other perfume lovers they told me it was disgusting that it smelled like, as they lowered their voices, “a vagina”. This became a pervasive label for Kingdom and it is at least partially responsible for its demise. It was out of step with the current trends and the whisper campaign did it no favors.

I love cumin in perfume and one of my most favorite Ditpyques, L’Autre, was loaded with cumin. It was also one of the perfumes I had to be careful to choose my moments on when to wear it. Hearing Kingdom was similar had me smiling in anticipation. So imagine my surprise when I finally get a bottle that the first thing I smell is orange. M. Cavallier takes bergamot, neroli, orange blossom, and mandarin to create this gauzily beautiful citrus opening. It is gorgeous and it is shredded in the next phase as a spicy rose and indolic jasmine form the layers that the cumin would perch between. the indolic jasmine was the perfect floral to go with the cumin to form a deeply human accord. The rose is not as prevalent as you might think as it creeps in and out with a waxing and waning effect. This all finishes on a base of Copahu balm, sandalwood and myrrh. After the heart this serves to soothe the nerves set jangling with the confrontational heart.

Kingdom has 12-14 hour longevity in the EDP concentration and above average sillage.

This is one of my most cherished bottles because I think the entire creative team achieved the perfume they wanted to make. That they had the fortitude to release it into a world which, at the time, was not ready for it was also impressive. I end many of these by saying if it was released today it would find its audience. Not in this case. Kingdom was a unique evocation of a particular designer’s aesthetic written in bold olfactory strokes. This was never going to be a commercial success. It is a spectacular piece of olfactory art that I have continued to enjoy for many years now.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Salvador Dali Le Roy Soleil- Two Great Minds, One Lost Perfume

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In previous entries of this series I’ve told the story of perfumes which have failed because they couldn’t find their audience. This time I’m going to tell you about a perfume which had two opportunities separated by 50 years to try and find its audience. That it was the product of two of our greatest creative minds, Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dali, makes it all the more noteworthy.

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Le Roy Soleil c.1947

The story of the perfume called Le Roy Soleil starts in 1947 as Mme Schiaparelli wanted to celebrate the end of World War II with a perfume which paid homage to Louis XIV. For the bottle she turned to her collaborator of over ten years, Salvador Dali. As you can see in the picture above the bottle was housed in a hinged seashell which contained a bottle topped with a sun containing a face etched onto it. This was released in a limited edition of 2000. The bottle was produced by Baccarat. It will surprise nobody that the bottle has become one of the most desired for perfume collectors. The disappointing part of all of this is the perfume inside the bottle is an afterthought. I can find no record of the perfumer who worked on it. It is described as “luxurious”, “regal”, and “devastating”. I did buy some of the juice in a 1946 bottle from the person who won an auction for it. It had clearly been exposed to the air and sunlight too long as all that remained was a muzzy vanilla and musk.

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Fifty years later, in 1997, the perfume line which carried M. Dali’s name announced the release of Le Roy Soleil. According to the press release it was based on the original as re-interpreted by perfumer Philippe Romano. This is the version I first experienced. Le Roy Soleil in 1997 was all about pineapple in the early going. M. Romano could have tried to show some restraint but instead he turned the top notes into a fruit fiesta as papaya, apricot, and lemon join the party. These top notes reflect the incredible brilliance of those fruits exploding to life. To turn down the sunshine cinnamon and clove grab ahold of it and shade it a tiny bit. Rose and jasmine add a bit of different shading. Pineapple is one of those odd perfume notes which is far too easy to make syrupy and overwhelming. M. Romano finds a way to avoid that making it light and bright. The base notes are a set of transparent musks over vanilla and sandalwood. This part shares some similarity to what I smelled in the 1947 spoiled sample.

Le Roy Soleil has 8-10 hour longevity and prodigious sillage.

Why did the 1997 version fail? I was unable to find a reason in my research. It definitely wasn’t because the packaging wasn’t spectacular as you can see the 1997 bottle was also quite beautiful. I am going to speculate it is the pineapple which typical consumers don’t appreciate as much as I do. If I ever tried to make a list of top 10 pineapple perfumes ever I think I’d struggle mightily to fill that list up. It isn’t even the aesthetic as Le Roi Soleil Homme released a year later is still in production. As hard as it may be to believe Mme Schiaparelli and M. Dali couldn’t quite shake up the perfume world in the same way they did the fashion world.

Disclosure: This review based on a bottle of 1997 Le Roi Soleil I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Dolce & Gabbana By Man- A “Fresh” Look at Orientals

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As perfumery moved into the latter half of the 1990’s it seems perfume brands were willing to take a risk to attract new customers. There are many examples of a perfume from the late 1990’s which comes from a label now known for something entirely different. If I say Dolce & Gabbana to most perfume lovers they will think of the classic Light Blue and how that has become the standard bearer for not only the brand but aesthetically, as well. This is a bit of a no-win situation for a brand if you become so known for a style the consumer won’t let you branch out. Much like the actor known for an iconic role eventually you just give in and start signing autographs. Or in a perfume way start releasing flankers.

In 1998 Dolce & Gabbana was coming off the success of Dolce & Gabbana pour Homme; but oddly pour Femme would fail to win over consumers. It was three years away from Light Blue completely changing the brand’s fragrance image. Stefano Gabbana was trying to position the Dolce & Gabbana fragrance as something in the upper level of the prestige marketplace. A pair of fragrances were commissioned as the next attempt to find that position. By Man and By Woman were the names and both lasted barely six years before being discontinued. Light Blue would displace them from their shelf space as its popularity grew. By Woman has fairly sunk into the perfumed graveyard of perfumes not mourned for their absence. By Man is a different story.

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Alberto Morillas

Sig. Gabbana enlisted perfumer Alberto Morillas to compose By Man. M. Morillas delivered a spicy woody leather construction. It was against the prevailing wave of fresh and sport fragrances. It was also a calculated risk to see if men had become tired of those kind of fragrances and were ready to move on. They weren’t.

M. Morillas opens By Man with one of the best nutmeg openings of any perfume I own. He gives it some bite with pepper but it is really enhanced by a note called Hedione Elixir. The transparent expansive jasmine-like aromachemical is made a little less transparent, hence the elixir designation, and the spices seem to float suspended above the cloud of Hedione. In the heart M. Morillas gets more floral with lavender supported by artemesia. The Hedione Elixir persists into the heart adding its lift to the lavender as it did to the spices in the top notes. By Man finishes with base notes of primarily sandalwood and a leather accord. There is some Ambroxan to provide the same lift that the Hedione Elixir did over the early going. By using these very expansive aromachemicals I think M. Morillas was trying to make a “fresher” version of an Oriental. What he did was design one of the best spicy fougeres I own and something like no other in my collection.

Since its discontinuation in 2004 By Man has created a sort of holy trinity of discontinued men’s fragrances with Patou pour Homme and Guerlain Derby. I think it compares well with both of those and understand the affection. By Man carries a similar price tag to both of those if you can find a bottle for sale. If you get the chance to try By Man think about how different Dolce & Gabbana would have been if it became the signature fragrance success instead of Light Blue. This is the stuff of which parallel dimensions are made of.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Polo Crest- Second Time Is Not the Charm

One of the stalwarts of men’s perfumes for over thirty years has been Ralph Lauren Polo. That perfume composed by Carlos Benaim has stood the test of time. It has, deservedly so, found its place in the metaphorical perfume Hall of Fame. Like all mass-market perfumes it has spawned a number of flankers with a mixed record of success. The general rule of thumb is the closer it hews to the original the more likely it is to sell well. I am guessing that rule was first brought home with the release of the first flanker in 1992 Polo Crest.

By 1992 Polo had become one of the most successful men’s fragrances of all time after fourteen years on the market. It was so successful that Ralph Lauren decided it was time to make a companion ostensibly for the warmer months. The concept was a version of Polo that was lighter. If the original Polo was men’s drawing room full of tobacco and wood; Polo Crest was going to be more like being at a polo match in the sunshine and fresh air. Carlos Benaim was asked to re-interpret his original composition with this in mind. What M. Benaim would do is call up more of the fresh cut grass smell of the polo field and the sweaty players. It ends up feeling like a more sophisticated version of Polo.

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Carlos Benaim

The original Polo opens with a strongly herbal beginning of basil and thyme over pine. M. Benaim retains the herbal facets and embellishes them as both the basil and thyme are present but for Polo Crest he lets rosemary take the lead. This is a much smoother opening with both the thyme and basil dialed way back. The really brilliant addition is a tiny amount of cumin which gives that tiny bit of sweaty polo player. Where Polo Crest really diverges is in the heart. As M. Benaim brings back the pine but this time he adds in two floral notes of geranium and jasmine. This is an interesting choice as at this time florals for men were not yet big sellers and the florals are more than just nodded at. They stand up with the pine to be counted. I felt like it captured that feel of a well-manicured greensward when taken as an accord but it is easy to detect the components separately. The divergence is over as Polo Crest moves into the base as the leather, patchouli, and oakmoss which will eventually become the signature Polo accord are here. The biggest difference is the tobacco is gone replaced with olibanum. The other difference is M. Benaim pushes the oakmoss into a more prominent position, as well.

Polo Crest has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I was a wearer of the original Polo but I don’t think I ever saw a bottle of Polo Crest appear at my local department store. It is my conjecture that the floral nature of the heart made Ralph Lauren unsure of how to market it. I also think they went right back to the drawing board and in a little more than a year Polo Sport would arrive. That Polo Sport is still available and Polo Crest is discontinued tells you which generated more sales. Aesthetically I think Polo Crest is the best of the Polo flankers. I don’t think it could be released today because I suspect the oakmoss levels are too high. Lack of sales and lack of interest cause many perfumes to end up in the Dead Letter Office. Polo Crest was a casualty of both.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Estee Lauder Metropolis- Liza Explains It All?

After this past year’s buying spree of niche brands Le Labo and Frederic Malle it is hard to imagine a time when Estee Lauder was not a powerhouse company. That time was the mid 1980’s as the brand labored to understand the shifting beauty demographic. They were having so much trouble figuring out what a 1980’s woman wanted they thought they might enter the masculine perfume sector of the market. They were no better prepared for that either.

el metropolis ad

In 1987 creative directors Evelyn Lauder and Karen Khoury hired perfumer Pierre Wargnye to compose Metropolis. The marketing was all geared to the “greed is good” generation. Metropolis wasn’t about getting the girl. It was about getting the money that would get you the girl. Metropolis was all about “the irresistible possibility of success”. M. Wargnye was on a creative roll having created 1982’s Guy Laroche Drakkar Noir and followed that up with 1985’s Boss Number One. He had created two memorable takes on fougeres and Metropolis was going to go in a slightly different direction. The problem with Metropolis was the timing and the promotion. By the time Metropolis reached the department store in 1987 the concept of conspicuous consumption was beginning its eventual death spiral. The tastes of men were turning to fresher aquatics as Davidoff Cool Water would make a splash months after the release of Metropolis. In the most confounding move Estee Lauder hired Liza Minnellli to be the exclusive spokesperson for Metropolis for a year for the then unheard of $1 million. She was in a disastrous television commercial where she was filmed around New York City while singing “City Lights” before delivering the tag line, “Wear it and you own the world”. As Metropolis was rolled out in November of 1987 she made in-store appearances which were less about the fragrance and more about her signing autographs, for exactly one hour at each store. So there it is Metropolis was a casualty of shifting priorities, shifting tastes, and shifting societal priorities. Whew! It would be gone by 1992.

When I bought my bottle during that November of 1987 I fell in love with it right away. I was wearing Calvin Klein Obsession for Men and Metropolis offered something completely different. M Wargnye would take liberties with his successful fougeres and make Metropolis more woody shrouded in greens and leather.

Metropolis opens upon an herbal and lavender pairing. The best lavender has a significant herbal character. I didn’t know this at the time but I do now. The more I’ve learned the more I appreciate the top notes as M. Wargnye adds sage and basil to pull out the herbalness of the lavender. It allowed Metropolis to have a safe floral character that a man would wear. The heart is a fantastic spiced and incense affair. Cinnamon, bay leaves, and clove mix with incense. If there was a “money” accord in Metropolis it was this. The base notes are a leather accord of vetiver, patchouli, and oakmoss combined with sandalwood and amber.

Metropolis has 14-16 hour longevity and powerhouse level sillage.

Metropolis is not one of these highly sought after discontinued perfumes and you can find it for very reasonable prices. I think it is a better perfume than either of M. Wargnye’s more well-known creations. I still wear Metropolis to work a couple times a year. While it may not make me feel like Gordon Gekko, thankfully, it does make me smell pretty damn good.

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

Mark Behnke