What Comes Next at Amouage?

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For those of us who love perfume there was a significant bit of news earlier this month; Christopher Chong was leaving his post as Creative Director at Amouage. Over this past decade of top tier perfumery Amouage was right at the top of the list because of the artistic direction of Mr. Chong. His vision also helped to establish the ultra-luxe perfume sector. Amouage was worth the extra expense because there was extra effort going into making the perfumes. I’ve always thought Amouage was perfume made for those who really want to find artistry within smelling good. I will have more to say about Mr. Chong when I review his last (?) duo of perfumes for Amouage next week. What this column is about is what comes next at Amouage.

As of the end of June 2019 there has been no official announcement of a replacement for Mr. Chong at Amouage. We talk about the difficulty of replacing in-house perfumers but there are only a few brands where the vision was so strongly communicated from the creative director as at Amouage. Whomever would be asked to step into this post would find it very challenging to follow the decade of perfume Mr. Chong oversaw. Which means we might not see a replacement at all. Maybe Amouage stays with the collection they have and continue on. I think that would be fine.

My concern comes from another well-known ultra-luxe brand which went the cynical route; Clive Christian. For those who don’t know Clive Christian was purchased by EME Investments in 2016. They then proceeded to flood the market with new Clive Christian releases at the same price point. They dumped a torrent of mediocre to poor product with tenuous connections to the previous perfumes under the old regime. It killed everything Clive Christian represented as a brand. It would be a crime if the same thing happened to Amouage. If we had inflicted upon us Jubilation XXV Intense or Opus V Legere. It would do what happened to Clive Christian and destroy what Amouage stands for.

I have no special insight to know anything about the decisions made at Amouage. Which means everything above is pure speculation. What has me worried most is when a true artist leaves without any mention of what comes next. That’s where we are right now. Hopefully in the not too distant future we will hear what Amouage plans to do.

Mark Behnke

Am I An Influencer?

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For all that I miss not attending Esxence this year for once I was okay with it. Avengers: Endgame and Game of Thrones took priority over perfume in the Colognoisseur home office. That didn’t mean I wasn’t aware of what was happening in Milan. When I am not able to be there, I have a lively conversation over the internet with those who are. The previous times this has happened the back and forth has been entirely about perfume. This year it changed. Based on some of the other reports and videos coming out a week later this was something which seemed to show up largely, for the first time, this year; “the influencer”.

For those unfamiliar with the term an influencer is a person who does videos and/or writes on a subject in such a way that their audience is energized to seek out the product being featured. In the larger worlds of fashion, video games, cooking, and motherhood there are acknowledged people who have an effect on their audiences. Which of course means brands seek these people out because they have proven themselves. It is where the term was coined as brands called them influencers. What has happened more recently is anyone who posts a video or writes a blog post calls themselves an “influencer”. They are probably not. This year at Esxence the behavior of some of the self-named “influencers” was horrendous bordering on unethical.

Because I Say So!

I heard of many of them only agreeing to meet with brands if they would give them a full bottle. This was the least of it. One brand had a price list shoved in their face over what they would get for what they were charged. As I was reading texts the whole exercise seemed like a giant scavenger hunt to see who could score the most free stuff. That impression has only been reinforced by early videos highlighting just how much perfume they came home with. I will note that in a couple of the videos there isn’t even a mention about the perfume just the glee at having scored a full bottle.

When the brands asked me what to do, I told them to make them prove their audience listened to them. Tell any of them as a start to ask their audience to e-mail the brand and they would receive a sample. If that showed the brand there was a level of support, they could discuss where to move from there. When the price list “influencer” was given this as a proposal they walked away. That is the crux of the problem very few of the self-named influencers know if they have any impact at all. They assume it but they have never measured it.

I have never measured any supposed influence I have because I don’t care. I write about perfume because it is fun. I have an audience of readers who share that with me. I have never asked a brand for a full bottle of anything. I only request samples because that is enough for my needs. I have received bottles because there are brands who are that generous. As a reader you know when that happens because everything I have ever written has a Disclosure line above my signature at the end where I mention the size and source of the perfume I am writing about.

This does not mean that there are not people in the perfume world who I don’t think are influencers. In general those aren’t the people who have to tell you they are. Those are the people who have proven over time through their actions that they are. The fragosphere is better for their participation. If you have to tell someone you’re an influencer you’re probably not.

I am on the flip side of that I am not an influencer and happy to be just a writer about perfume.

Mark Behnke

Experience not Expertise

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I’m not sure what has changed recently but since the first of the year I have been getting sent proposals to take on perfume jobs I don't feel qualified to do. The first line always has some variation in which they call me an “expert”. When it comes to that word there is only one area in which I consider myself an expert; the organic chemistry of drug discovery. I was trained to do it. I’ve spent my life doing it. I’ve been pretty good at it. Someone calls me an expert at that I thank them for the compliment. When I’m called that in relation to perfume, I try and correct the terminology. I have always considered myself an experienced enthusiast.

To my mind it means I have had no formal training. It means anything I think I know about perfume has come from personal experience. It means I am only as insightful as the extent of that.

I started writing about perfume as a member of the forums at Basenotes. Somewhere along the line I started writing a paragraph or two on my impressions on the Scent of the Day I was wearing. That started right around ten years ago give or take a few months. I enjoyed giving my opinion and expected I would stay there for years. Then as I became a writer for Fragrantica, followed by the managing editor at CaFleureBon, and then starting Colognoisseur; things changed slightly. The feeling of being an ambassador for the things I think are wonderful about fragrance is what makes me sit down and write every day.

You’ll notice nowhere in that timeline is I went to a perfume school. Nowhere in there is I attended a perfume class. I have received none of the training I believe to be an important part of being an expert.

What I have replaced it with is the amazing opportunities I have had to meet the people who make perfume. I have been given so many chances to ask questions. The answers lead me to new questions and different thoughts about perfume.

When people find out I write about perfume they can’t imagine there is enough to write about. I always think there are too many things I want to write about. The whole reason I started adding a couple paragraphs to my Scent of the Day is I wanted to share my enthusiasm for the perfume I was wearing. That has evolved into what I try to do at Colognoisseur every day. Share with my readers the things I think are cool about cologne. Just don’t call me an expert.

Mark Behnke

Why I Don’t Layer

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There is a popular activity among perfume lovers I don’t participate in. There are whole perfume brands built around this activity. I ignore it. The activity I am writing about is layering. The name is self-evident. The concept is to combine a couple of favorite perfumes spraying one on top of the other. I know it is popular because I have received many queries on whether I have layered this perfume with that one. The first sentence tells you my response.

I don’t do it because I think it is some ridiculous idea. I can see the fun in finding a new experience through layering. The first I remember seeing it was when I was visiting the new Jo Malone section at Saks over a decade ago. They still sell layering kits where they combine three of their perfumes they think go together. Whenever I receive a press release for a new perfume there are layering suggestions in the last paragraph. On that day I was first asked to layer things by trying some different combinations suggested by the sales associates; I found it annoying. What all the different attempts on my forearms felt like to me was a layer of static over the perfume I really wanted to smell.

Image from Scent Compass

Like anything I kept trying for a few years after that to find a pair of perfumes which I enjoyed more together than apart. It always felt like one interfered with my enjoyment of the other. I generally scrubbed off the layers and then sprayed the one which I was enjoying more free of static.

It wasn’t true when I started my brief layering experiment; but the result provided a new perspective. My feeling over time has become more confidently assured about the thesis that the best perfume is an art form. The way that impacts my hesitancy to layer now is why should I try and alter the creative team’s vision. I enjoy wearing a perfumer’s efforts without interference. I rarely think while wearing a new release that there is another perfume on the shelf that will make it better.

Perfume is such a personal experience my aversion to layering shouldn’t impact anyone else’s enjoyment. I just wanted to give a fuller explanation to any future question on whether I’ve layered this with that. My answer will be shorter than the preceding paragraphs, “No.”

Mark Behnke

The Name Is The Same But The Perfume Is Not

William Shakespeare’s Juliet asks, “What’s in a name?” Large perfume companies seem to disagree with the remainder of her line, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” That’s because they keep insisting on using the same name for a new perfume which has nothing to do with a perfume which has the same name from an earlier time.

If you need an example of what that does to consumers go read the comments on my review for the new Tiffany & Co. perfume. There is one after the other about how disappointed consumers are that this new perfume smells nothing like the previous Tiffany & Co. perfume. They are correct. In the review I pointed out that it was seemingly designed for a completely different perfume lover. The impassioned comments bear that out as the previous fans share their disappointment. Granted Tiffany is not a major perfume brand but the display of annoyance I think is one that goes underreported. What I worry about is the perfume consumer who only has a couple of perfumes on their table becomes a not consumer because of this.

I mentioned this again in the recent review of Givenchy L’Interdit where the choice was to do something completely different from the original perfume. The original was designed for Hubert de Givenchy’s muse, Audrey Hepburn. I couldn’t find a shred of Ms. Hepburn in this new version. I liked it, but it isn’t the L’Interdit I have a bottle of. The cynic inside tells me that the typical perfume consumer has no knowledge of historical perfumes. Which means only a tiny percentage of fragrance wonks like me care.

The biggest evidence of this is the use of the name Joy by Dior for their new mainstream release. They were able to do it because they bought the brand which previously used the name, Jean Patou. Seemingly solely so they could do this. The sad part is this is the case which compares a masterpiece of the past to something less so. Dior of course is the brand which in 2011 did one of the most inexplicable name changes as they changed the name of Miss Dior Cherie to just Miss Dior. The perfume named Miss Dior Original was the old Miss Dior. Miss Dior Cherie disappeared completely. Follow that? I continue to receive e-mail where I straighten this out for those who have finished a bottle of Miss Dior Cherie and can’t find it. I wonder if the sales associates know this? Or does a consumer walk away disappointed?

The bottom line is the large perfume companies have decided the name and brand loyalty mean little to them. They are more interested in providing new product even when wrapped in old names. Alas fair Juliet I don’t think these impersonal companies see perfume as poetry; just product.

Mark Behnke

Independent Perfumery 2018

When I was really starting my descent into perfumed obsession in the early years of the 2000’s it started with the discovery of niche perfumes. What that meant to me were small brands with distinctive artistic aesthetics. Those early years of this century saw the rapid expansion of this style of perfume. Presenting themselves as an alternative to what was available at the mall. It was, and remains, part of the reason I enjoy perfume.

Then in 2006 on the blogs I follow there was mention of this new perfume from Switzerland. A young artist by the name of Andy Tauer had released a perfume called L’Air du Desert Marocain. My perfume world changed again. I discovered there was another world of fragrance makers who worked on their own; independent perfumers. It would be the acclaim for L’Air du Desert Marocain that pointed those who love perfume to a new place.

Every year I am struck by how vital this community is. What spurred me to write this column was my editorial calendar for the next week. One of many important lessons I learned from my Editor-in-Chief at CaFleureBon, Michelyn Camen, is the importance of keeping an editorial calendar. That means I have all the different days subjects planned out in advance. Sometime when I look at my white board I can see patterns which arise out of the list. Looking over next week’s list I saw six wonderful perfumes from six different established independent perfumers. It made me think about where we are now.

One of the things I write about a lot is the concept of a brand aesthetic. It should be easier when an independent perfumer is the only voice in the room. From experience I can tell you it is not. I try a dozen or so new independent brands a year. I provide private feedback which is just between the perfumer and I. One of the more common sentences I write is, “What are you trying to achieve besides smelling good?” The brands which have succeeded have almost always had a personal answer to that. The ones who ask me “What do you mean?” is probably a reason why they don’t succeed.

Proof this has succeeded is there is a part of Hr. Tauer’s perfumes which has been dubbed a “Tauer-ade”. There is a scented fingerprint which says where this perfume came from. The same can be said for Charna Ethier of Providence Perfume Co. or Maria McElroy of Aroma M. I feel if I was handed any of these, and others, perfumes they are identifiable because of this. Independent perfumers can refine a personal vision over every release.

Mandy Aftel

Another more fractious aspect of independent perfumery is very few of them have any formal training. Like all artistic efforts there are the precocious few who are blessed with innate talent. For those the years spent making their perfumes provides its own kind of training; learning through trial and error. That same effort is also rewarded for those who learn entirely from that. Time can be a great leveler. Some of the early founders have become the teachers for those who are drawn to make their own perfume. Mandy Aftel has produced great perfume, under he Aftelier Perfumes label, and a wave of students from her California studio. AbdesSalaam Attar does the same in Europe.

One of the most important aspects of the current state of independent perfumery is the ability of the perfumers to use small batches of amazing ingredients. Particularly over the last few years there have been releases which are made from materials that have been gone from mainstream and niche perfumery due to the difficulty of sourcing enough to produce hundreds of bottles. The independent perfumer can produce tens of bottles if they desire. A good example are the perfumes of Russian Adam under his Areej Le Dore brand. He can source actual musk from the animal through a license he has. Other independent perfumers create their own tinctures, botanical hydrosols, co-distillates, or enfleurage. Each of these create magic. The botanicals sourced by Yasuyuki Shinohara from his home island of Hokkaido, Japan for his Di Ser line are what makes those perfumes unique.

The final thing which has made independent perfumery so important is it lives outside the geography of France, the US, Italy or Great Britain. For over 100 years that was where the perfume we knew came from. Independent perfumery takes place everywhere with the influences of location finding its way into the bottle. All four of the countries where modern perfume was born have their share of independent perfumers who have things to say about that history in their new perfumes. The perspective that comes from elsewhere is invaluable.

If you need the best argument for the importance of independent perfumer in 2018 follow along next week as the perfumes speak for themselves.

Mark Behnke

The State of Perfume Criticism 2018

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It has been a few weeks since the new edition of Perfumes: The Guide by Tania Sanchez and Luca Turin was published. Within the perfume community the book was received with the same amount of glee and teeth gnashing the original volume got ten years ago. Once the debate on the actual rating of specific perfumes died down another conversation appeared. One which focused on where perfume criticism exists today.

One of the often-repeated phrases I heard was that there is so little frank negative perfume writing that the sharpest barbs sunk even deeper. Ms. Sanchez and Mr. Turin can slice a perfume to shreds in, seemingly, less than 280 characters. When I agree, there is a sense of validation. When I disagree, there is a curiosity about why I perceive the same fragrance so differently. One of the things about The Guide which has happened on both publications is the perfumes at the extremes 1-star or 5-star were what I re-examined.

Which leads to the current landscape of perfume blogs and vlogs. In 2018 we now have a perfume way of communicating for every taste. I have spent some time randomly sampling some of the wider vlog reviewers beyond the handful I watch regularly. There was a wider ranging style than I suspected. There are nearly all perspectives being covered by a vlog or two. The one thing I didn’t find was anyone who had an actively negative component. I could see all the videos going back for over a year when I searched up a particular vlogger and I looked for a title which indicated content which was less than positive. Even those were not that hard on the specific perfume being discussed.

Blogs are almost no different; including me. There are a few more blogs where the writer has a more critical eye and expresses that opinion freely. They are some of the more popular blogs which means it connects with readers who want this kind of discussion about perfume.

I’m not interested in actively joining their ranks. I’ve mentioned this previously. I do not see myself as a perfume expert. I see myself as an experienced enthusiast. The more I learn the more questions I have. Writing about fragrance comes from a place of joy within. I’ve never enjoyed tearing something down. Which is why there are few pieces which carry a negative critical perspective. If you read between the lines you can find my opinion of some perfumes I don’t care for, but it isn’t given its own review for me to expound upon.

Where does that leave us as it applies to The Guide and those of us communicating about perfume on YouTube and WordPress? I would answer that all of us are inviting a reader/subscriber to come along with us as we take our trip through the perfumed world. That journey is informed with the intentionality of the author. I don’t think it has to be negative to have value. I don’t think it has to be positive to have value. I think it must come from a genuine desire to communicate about perfume. After a few weeks of actively looking I think that is exactly where we find perfume criticism in 2018

Mark Behnke

Is It the Same?

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I’m not always sure what causes certain e-mails to arrive close together. Over the first part of this year I have been receiving at least one a week inquiring if this perfume inspired by another more expensive perfume is the same. It reminded me of these aluminum cannisters I saw in the local drugstore as a child. They had on their label, “if you like Aramis you’ll love Artemis” with a $5.99 price tag. I think the idea of making a more affordable version of an expensive popular perfume has been around for decades. It has maybe gained more traction lately because of the popularity of some ultra-luxe priced perfumes.

Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh (1889)

For most of the year my answer to the e-mails was, “I haven’t tried any of them. You will have to trust your nose.” I still think that is the best response. Yet I admit because of the persistence of these e-mails I was curious. I perused the sites of some of the brands which do this. There are a small set of perfumes which I feel I am intimately familiar with. In searching I found imitation versions of some of these. I ordered four of them and have spent some time over the last few weeks doing some intense comparison. I still believe you should trust your nose but if you want to trust mine I am going to speak in some generalities I found.

Starry Night by Marjan Ugljevarevic

The first generality is all of the four that I tried are a bit like looking at a carnival fun house mirror. The ones which make a part of your body look slightly thinner or wider. All of these perfumes carry the same progression of accords from top to bottom except there was always one phase which didn’t track exactly. It was heavier in effect or maybe slightly sharper but there was always a section that was slightly off. It depends on if this particular part of the development is what attracts you to the original perfume these are imitating. As an example, if you love the creamy sandalwood base of a perfume in these duplicates there are more synthetic sandalwood used which has a bit of a different scent profile. That might be enough for you to think it is not the same.

Starry Night Pixelated

Which leads to the second generality the reason for the higher prices is the use of larger percentages of the natural source of the ingredients. If the duplicates used the natural sources too their prices would not be as modest. Which means they are made up of synthetic substitutes. Now there is a trick used by many perfumers which is to add a small percentage of an expensive natural ingredient to a much larger percentage of the synthetic analog. This works particularly well for the floral synthetics. I found the one which I purchased which was a floral was the one I thought was closest to the original.

The final generality is the performance on my skin was quite different. Because of the reliance on synthetics which linger on the skin longer the overall effect was elongated. That’s good if you want it to last longer no matter what. It wasn’t good for me because it felt like someone was singing a song and holding notes for too long here and there. It was this which I found the most distracting in my evaluation.

My answer to “is it the same?” is no. If you asked me if they are close, I’d say yes with this caveat. If you like a perfume or any piece of art would you like it the same if some of the colors were shifted? If cerulean blue was changed to sky blue? They’re both blue but there is a discernable difference. Which is what it comes down to; can you tell the difference if you’ve worn the original. I can, but you might like the change. Which returns me to my original response, “trust your nose”.

Mark Behnke

Up In The Air

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There is an increase in stories in the news about people who wear perfume in the same way people talk or play music too loud; as if the world wants to share in their magnificent taste. The latest story comes from a poll on the travel site Expedia. In their annual Airplane and Hotel Etiquette Survey here were the top five annoying travel behaviors:

The Seat Kicker- 51%

The Aromatic Passenger- 43%

The Inattentive Parent- 39%

Personal Space Violators- 34%

Audio Insensitive- 29%

I winced when I saw the number two response.

Image via Quora.com

One of the reasons I was dismayed is because it is exactly this kind of insensitivity to others by perfume wearers which allows for office-space bans. In any enclosed space if you’re going to wear perfume you should be considering the same thing you do when you fire up your music player or take a phone call in a shared space.

I love perfume, but I do not wear it while traveling because I don’t know if the person sitting next to me will be as enthralled with the effervescent citrus woody perfume I am wearing. What I do is choose something from my group of smaller travel sizes or samples of perfumes I own. Put them in a zip-lock bag. Keep them in my carry-on. When I hit the restroom at my final destination then I give a single spray to the base of my throat. I have never found the occasion where wearing perfume onboard a plane is a necessity. I’ve actually found when flying overnight flights my single spray can be a bit of a tonic after the long flight.

I think this is not done in a conscious way by many whom this critique is named for. I think they apply what they normally apply without thinking they are going to be in a plane for a few hours with others. This dovetails with the correlation between strong sillage equals quality to a lot of fragrance consumers.

I’m asking all of us who wear perfume to think about whether wearing it while traveling is a necessity. So many flights are only a few hours it isn’t that much of a sacrifice. I am hoping that the 43% number can be reduced over time because I know I don’t want to be an “Aromatic Passenger” up in the air.

Mark Behnke

Roll, Baby, Roll

I rarely comment on the cost of perfume. Mainly because I’m more interested in whether it is good than economical. As I’ve received more access to the mass-market brands I have come to appreciate one specific thing about their marketing; the 10ml rollerball.

The  cynic says they are the equivalent of candy in the grocery checkout line. Small enough and cheap enough to encourage an impulse purchase. Certainly at the mall stores this is the practice. The perfume lover in me thinks it great that I can buy half a dozen new fragrances for the price of a bottle. Which is a great way to try new things.

One of the reasons I think this is so positive is it is a low-risk way of buying blind. If you’ve never heard of a brand like Bastide you are more likely to give it a try at 10ml than invest at 100ml. I have no way of being sure but I suspect that 10ml eventually turns into 100ml for more than just a few.

Most of the time I mention when niche sensibility crosses over to mass-market. Outside of a very few examples this is something which might cross over in the reverse direction.

This is especially true for niche brands with slightly odd aesthetics. There might be a perfume to be found within a quirky collection but finding it via full bottle blind buys is no way to go about it. A recent example of allowing for individual exploration of a brand like this came from Areej Le Dore. With the latest four releases owner-perfumer Russian Adam offered a sample set of all four plus a bonus sample of an attar version of one. It was a fraction of the price of any single bottle.

What it allows for is someone who is interested to see if there is something which appeals to them in a brand which is not made to please the masses. I would aver that it might be more important in these cases. Trying five new choices versus one blind seems obvious.

Except in the place which needs the most opportunity to connect with a consumer it is made difficult because of no smaller options. I especially think sample sets of new collections really make sense. Trudon offered buyers the same sample set they sent me for review which I think is a great way to introduce a new perfume brand.

I am hoping that I see as many rollerballs in niche outlets in the future as I see at the mall.

Mark Behnke