Discount Diamonds: Zirh Ikon- Soft Incense

I go to my local discount stores to get ideas for this column. As I dig through the bins, I am looking for something which wasn’t there before. Which means I miss the forest for the trees. In the search for buried treasure I fail to notice the silver coins on the beach. On my last visit I was digging while another shopper was next to me going through the testers. With my head down, a nice scent drifted down upon me. I looked up and asked what he had just sprayed. He held out a bottle with big blocky letters which read: Zirh Ikon.

Zirh is a men’s full-service skincare brand including perfume. It is particularly prevalent during the holiday shopping season because they sell gift sets where they mix and match many of their products, including fragrance. When it comes to the very modestly priced fragrance out there all the Zirh perfumes are great bang for the buck. I own Zirh Corduroy and Zirh Perfume as well as Ikon. For someone who wants an economical choice of perfumes for all seasons there are many worse options.

Frank Voelkl

What the spritz of Ikon at the discount store reminded me of is that it is a simple triad of spices, incense, and woods. Perfumer Frank Voelkl works with an efficient style in Ikon to create something better than it should be for the price.

The opening is a mix of lemon and cardamom which primarily hold the foreground. There are hints of clove and cinnamon, but they are there to shade the top accord towards the cardamom. The incense steps forward with a sharpness to it. This is further refined as labdanum softens it. Cedar and vetiver provide a green woody base accord.

Ikon has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

You can find 4oz. bottles of Ikon for around $10. They are $9.99 at the discount stores I shop at. I also mention the gift sets which will be popping up because you will find some of them also contain Ikon along with some skincare products.

One thing about Ikon which I should mention is when you read spice, incense, and woods you think of something with a large presence. One reason I like Ikon is M. Voelkl softens the overall effect to make it much more approachable. It is at its best in the cold weather. When I smelled it at the store the other day it was that which drew my attention the most. Reminding me to appreciate what was right in front of me.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Mizensir Celebes Wood- Holiday Visitation

We are right at the cusp of the Holiday season in the US. It means this is the time of year where you call on friends and family. One of the scents of this time of year for me is as you walk into a home and breathe in you get a preview of what is coming. So many of the foods of the festive season are spice-based. As we sit in family rooms and dens visiting, we are surrounded by the smell of wood paneling and spice. Mizensir Celebes Wood reminds me of the season and the camaraderie.

Alberto Morillas

Mizensir is the brand founded by perfumer Alberto Morillas. It is his opportunity to work on a fragrance where he is both creative director and perfumer. It is unsurprising that this is a brand which has no duds in it. M. Morillas can expand the sensibilities which have served him so well as the best mainstream perfumer in the world into something a touch more adventurous. The way this has been most exemplified through the Mizensir line has been his use of new materials in ways which show them off. In Celebes Wood it is the patchouli substitute Clearwood.

Celebes Wood opens on one of my favorite spice notes in perfume; cardamom. This is the greener version of that ingredient which has become more common over the last couple of years. It is joined by the piquant heat of cinnamon and white pepper. It is like getting a breeze from the kitchen on your way to the family room. It picks up some of the sweets of the season as tonka bean, labdanum, and vanilla provide that. This all comes together on top of a foundation of musk and Clearwood. The advantage of Clearwood is that much of the dirty aspects of patchouli are removed without fractionation. What remains is a warm light woodiness. Riding a wave of musks it smells like a wood paneled den.

Celebes Wood has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I have a lot of Holiday perfumes, but I like the things Celebes Wood reminds me of. Which means I’m going to be doing some visiting in my mind while wearing it.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Mizensir.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Starck Paris Peau de Nuit Infinie and Peau de Lumiere Magique- Twilight and Dawn

I’ve mentioned a few times that I am having some trouble fully embracing the transparency that seems to be the new trend in perfume. One of the things which keeps me hopeful is there have been some which have used the effect as something which to build upon. One of those brands is Starck Paris.

Designer Philippe Starck released three perfume in 2016, Peau d’Ailleurs, Peau de Pierre, and Peau de Soie. All three shared a quality of feeling like a translucent bubble of scent. Which felt appropriate for the brand of someone who grew up in his mother’s perfume shop. The aesthetic of those first three perfumes was to create these kinds of lighter constructs out of well-known material. I enjoyed the inherent fragility of all three.

Delphine Lebeau-Krowiak and Philippe Starck

Two years later M. Starck is back with two new perfumes, Peau de Nuit Infinie and Peau de Lumiere Magique. If there was something I was not crazy about in the first collection was how hard the press copy tried to convince me these were something groundbreaking. That continues with the new releases. I’m going to cut to the chase as the perfumes represent night and day which is a better description than in the press release. I would further refine that that each perfume is meant to capture twilight and dawn. They both capture a moment when the dark or the light still has a little bit of the other present for just a moment.

Peau de Nuit Infinie is composed by Delphine Lebeau-Krowiak. The perfume opens with that dimming of the light as lemon and bergamot provide a citrus effect over a geosmin-like mineral accord. My favorite of the original three was Peau de Pierre which contained a wet river stone accord. Mme Lebeau-Krowiak goes for a drier mineral effect. The similarity comes in that it also shares the same opacity as in the previous perfume. It is wonderful to experience something as grounded as stone in an expansive bubble. The faint light of the citrus is extinguished by pepper and ginger. It leads to a leather accord which feels insubstantial until I realize it is still going strong hours later. There is some patchouli and vetiver to fully complete the transition into night.

Philippe Starck and Daphne Bugey

Peau de Lumiere Magique is composed by Daphne Bugey. In this case pepper represents the last tendrils of the night holding on as the citrus accord ascends. What it flows into is the promise of a floral morning as light airy versions of ginger flower and jasmine capture the coming day. The base is patchouli but a less earthy version which leads me to think a fractionation is being used. This is the spicy breeze of sunrise blowing across everything.

Peau de Nuit Infinie and Peau de Lumiere Magique have 10-12 hour longevity and little sillage. The entire Starck Paris collection seems to live up to the “peau” in their name as they are essentially skin scents.

I enjoy these perfumes as much as I liked the original three. I might be learning to embrace this diaphanous style of perfume if they are constructed as solidly as this collection has been.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Neiman-Marcus.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio

I was very fortunate to have a very good friend living in New York City when I got my first job in 1984 in Connecticut. It allowed me to explore one of the great cities of the world as a young man. Current events got me to thinking about one of my favorite experiences seeing a play in a theatre.

In 1987 Eric Bogosian produced a new play called “Talk Radio” for the New York Shakespeare Festival. Mr. Bogosian had made a name for himself with his one-man shows. They were series of monologues by different characters. They would attract the attention of the biggest Broadway producer of the era Joseph Papp who asked Mr. Bogosian for a new production for the NY Shakespeare Festival which Mr. Papp oversaw. This was the opportunity for Mr. Bogosian to have his play “Talk Radio” produced.

Eric Bogosian as Barry Champlain in "Talk Radio"

“Talk Radio” tells the story of one night in the life of talk radio personality Barry Champlain. The night the play takes place is the day before his show becomes syndicated nationally. Barry is shown early on as the master of his domain, toying with his callers. One encounter is with a caller named Josh who worries that international bank policies will harm the Third World. Visually over Mr. Bogosian’s shoulder there is a screen which shows the headlight of a train as he bores in on the caller. As he humiliates Josh for his inability to properly define Third World the picture of the train gets larger and larger until as it fills up on the screen he hangs up on the caller.

Another encounter takes place when a caller questions Barry’s ethnicity; suspecting him of being secretly Jewish. Barry tells a story of a visit to a concentration camp. As he walked through the camp, he recalls how he found a Star of David among the gravel. He wonders who it had belonged to. He then says he pocketed it and returned home with it. In fact, as he is talking to the caller, he is looking at it on his console. Except we as the audience see him looking at his glass of whisky not a Star of David. He then brutally takes down the caller before she hangs up on him.

Throughout the play the people in Barry’s life provide background as they step forward during commercial breaks to tell how they met him. Linda who also works at the radio station tells how she met him and eventually slept with him. She finishes her monologue with this line, “Barry Champlain is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.” The play ends with the realization that Barry is the creature behind the microphone; leaving it up to the audience to decide what that means.

In 1987 talk radio was in its infancy. It is still amazing to me how right Mr. Bogosian would be as the future of the form was syndication. These voices in the dark spread from their town to the nation at large. Because I saw this prior to that I have always imagined every talk radio personality as a version of Barry. Which means I take all of them with a huge grain of salt because I am not sure when they are actually holding a Star of David or talking to a glass of booze. I suspect that like Barry it is all about being entertaining enough to your audience without stressing out too much about accuracy. It is why I never see them as purveyors of truth but entertainers. It also means I can listen to any of them because I don’t take them seriously.

“Talk Radio” would become a movie a year after it was produced, directed by Oliver Stone. In just that short time a Denver talk radio host Alan Berg was shot by a listener. They would graft some of Mr. Berg’s life onto the play to produce the movie which has a different ending. At the time I found the movie ending to be unrealistic. Recent times have shown me that might be a false assumption.

Of all the memories I have of New York City the night I saw Eric Bogosian perform “Talk Radio” is among my favorite and long-lasting ones.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Majda Bekkali Mon Nom est Rouge- My Kind of Rose

For those of you who put up with my annual grumpiness over the deluge of spring rose perfumes it would probably surprise you to know one of my very favorite perfumes is an unabashed rose perfume. I would further mention that you might expect it isn’t a typical rose perfume which I would hold in such high esteem. It is also typical that it would come from a small niche brand along with being composed by one of my favorite perfumers. All the above means it is a perfect choice for this column. The perfume I am describing is Majda Bekkali Mon Nom est Rouge.

Mon Nom est Rouge was released in 2013 as part of the second set of releases for the brand. Majda Bekkali was working with many established names in the early days. The perfumer for Mon Nom est Rouge was a young woman, Cecile Zarokian, who used the opportunity to create one of the most memorable perfumes I own.

Cecile Zarokian

The name comes from the novel by Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk. The story takes place with the miniaturists in the Ottoman Empire. The story is also one of those fractured narratives where dead people narrate and others are imperfect witnesses. The perfume reflects all of that as even though it is one of her earliest perfumes it is also one of Mme Zarokian’s most precise constructs. It also is a fractured rose perfume where it isn’t just presented as a pretty piece of fragrance. In Mon Nom est Rouge it passes away only to arise again.

The perfume opens with a fantastic accord of aldehydes wrapped around a shiny metallic accord. The hair spray quality of the aldehydes fits right in with the chrome-like accord. Out of this arises a Turkish rose as if it is chrome covered itself. This is followed by the heat of spices as Mme Zarokian precisely uses cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, baie rose, pepper, and ginger to scour that chrome off the rose to lay bare the flower itself. It then combines with tobacco, incense, sandalwood, and musk for the base accord.

Mon Nom est Rouge has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Mon Nom est Rouge is the perfume I turn to when the deluge of spring rose perfumes has me at my grouchiest. It reminds me that in the hands of a skilled artist like Mme Zarokian rose still has relevance. If you need a reminder of that Mon Nom est Rouge needs to be on your radar screen.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Burberry Her- Fruity Musk Meringue

1

Whenever I make my periodic field trip to the local mall, I sometimes see how out of step I am with the typical perfume consumer. I had already gone in and collected a bunch of strips of the new releases. I then play a little game. I can sit in a comfortable sofa just outside the entry to the fragrance department to a big department store. From there I watch the stream of people taking strips from the sales reps handing them out. The other thing which is next to me is a garbage can which is the first opportunity for anyone walking to discard the strip if they don’t like it. This becomes my very unscientific research on what new fragrances are making an impression. When I sit down having smelled the offerings for the day, I make my choice on which I think will not end up in the garbage can. Over the past year or so I have seen a distinctive trend towards lighter airier constructs being the strips which keep getting sniffed. On this recent trip it was one of the lightest of the day which I was surprised was the winner; Burberry Her.

Francis Kurkdjian

Burberry Her is another of the recent new releases to go after a more transparent fruity gourmand. Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian was asked to compose this perfume. M. Kurkdjian is one of the perfumers who understands the use of all the musks at a perfumer’s disposal to create the effect he wants. For Burberry Her he uses a successive layering of musks to provide an expansive meringue-like lightness to which he adds a bounty of berries. The official note list mentions florals here but I have to say that if there is jasmine here it is one of the synthetic expansive versions which becomes part of this airy transparent bubble at the center of Burberry Her.

The opening of Burberry Her is those berries. If you are a fan of berries in perfume almost all of them are here. If M. Kurkdjian was not going to lighten them up this would rapidly become too much. What keeps that from happening is this expanding transparency courtesy of the musks. Just as the berries begin to concentrate into something strident the musks spread them out increasing their opacity. There is a point where I would have liked to have the opportunity to stop this effect from going as far as it does. That is when the fruit still has a presence with the musks inflating them. It is only for a short time as the eventual end point is a shimmering globe of light berries which is where this stays for the duration.

Burberry Her has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

On my afternoon at the mall Burberry Her was the runaway winner as I observed people handing the strip to others they were walking with. My guess is there is a market for this style of perfume among more casual perfume wearers. Within those boundaries Burberry Her is one of the better ones.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Burberry.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Etat Libre D’Orange I Am Trash- Or A Fruity Floral

1

There are a few brands which I look forward to what comes next. Etat Libre D’Orange is one of those as owner-creative director Etienne de Swardt has redefined the idea of what a perfume can be. The one perfume which has always stood for that was one of the earliest releases Secretions Magnifique. A masterpiece of perfume because it captures the smells of blood, sweat and other bodily fluids through a set of brilliant accords.

Etienne de Swardt

When I received the press release for the newest release, I Am Trash, I was excited by the name. Also, this from M. de Swardt, “Les Fleurs du Déchet represents a passage to the adulthood of Sécrétions Magnifiques. It is a counter-revolution for Etat Libre d’Orange, still noisy and disruptive, but ultimately functional.”

Daniela Andrier

What could that portend? A perfume of dumpster diving, perhaps? Working with perfumer Daniela Andrier it is not that. What they are using is a unique group of Givaudan materials which they call “upcycling”. This is a process in which the residue of a prior extraction process is re-extracted. I think of it like getting a second cup of tea out of a single tea bag. Three of these upcycled ingredients; apple, rose, and cedar form the core of I Am Trash. What I think I understand about this process is what you are going to extract is most of the heavier molecules from your natural source. That might provide a deeper scent profile. I have spent a lot of time smelling my sample trying to understand more about these upcycled materials without any degree of certainty what I just wrote is true but it is what I think is the case as I wore I Am Trash.

If you’re looking for something along the lines of a perfume which artistically interprets trash this is not it. The trash here is the re-use of the upcycled perfume materials. Despite different scent profiles they still smell like apple, rose, and cedar which makes I Am Trash a fruity floral.

The upcycled apple tilts more toward a tarter version of the ingredient. Despite that the fruity complements of tangerine and strawberry bring a typical juicy fruity top accord to lead into a floral heart. Waiting there is the upcycled rose. This is like the last day of a cut rose in a vase prior to discarding it. It has the floral quality but only the wisps of it.  There is also a greener quality as well. It forms an elegiac counterpoint to the livelier fruity accord. The base is a mixture of the upcycled cedar, sandalwood, and akigalawood. This is where I have the least feel for the difference in the upcycled material because there are so many powerful woody ingredients around it.

I Am Trash has 16-18 hour longevity and average sillage.

I don’t agree with M. de Swardt that I Am Trash represents the adulthood of Secretions Magnifiques. It seems to represent the opposite as a fruity floral comes off as more adolescent. The ingredients are different and provide a different experience, but this is a style of perfume which is overexposed. If you’re a fruity floral fan looking for a new perspective, I Am Trash will provide that.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Etat Libre D’Orange.

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

New Perfume Review Parle Moi de Parfum Papyrus Oud 71- Take 2?

One of the things I wonder about is when a perfumer moves to their own brand, do they ever revisit a previous perfume they made. They produce so many mods in pursuit of a final formula for a client is there one they liked more than what was marketed? The creative director is probably the final word but without a place to release it the discarded versions never see the light of day. One thing I know is perfumer Michel Almairac was the perfumer behind some of the greatest mainstream perfumes ever. The question is was there another version of one of those that could have also been as influential. The new release from his Parle Moi de Parfum brand, Papyrus Oud 71, might answer that.

Michel Almairac

If there was a particularly fertile creative partnership for M. Almairac it was with Tom Ford when he was overseeing the Gucci fragrances.  Starting with Gucci Rush in 1999 they would make a memorable trilogy ending with Gucci pour Homme in 2003. That perfume has been discontinued for a few years but I, and many others, consider it to be one of the best. When I saw the name Papyrus Oud it was hard not to make a leap because papyrus was a keynote in that earlier fragrance. It turns out that it is less than that; which in the end makes it more.

The aesthetic M. Almairac has employed at his own brand is one of simple constructs which create their impact where they intersect. It has been one of the reasons I have enjoyed many of the releases, so far. Papyrus Oud is another piece of that continuum.

The papyrus appears right away, but rather quickly a delineated frankincense marries itself to it.  This reminds me of ancient Egyptian scribes writing on papyrus scrolls as a stick of incense smolders nearby. This is a gorgeous duet. It is a dynamic match as the resinous incense slides across the lightly green papyrus. The oud appears as an accord. M. Almairac can tune that accord such that it provides a supporting role to the other two ingredients. This is finished off with a set of the more animalic musks.

Papyrus Oud 71 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is not Gucci pour Homme Take 2. The presence of the papyrus and incense are going to lead many to make that comparison. Papyrus Oud 71 is more emblematic of current minimalistic perfume trends, thankfully so. Was this an early mod that Mr. Ford rejected? I doubt we’ll get an answer to that question although I could see this being a very early mod showing how papyrus and frankincense work together. The bottom line is Papyrus Oud 71 stands on its own upon pillars of papyrus and frankincense.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Parle Moi de Parfum.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Juliette Has a Gun Liquid Illusion- This Is Not the Rave You’re Looking For

Usually the press release accompanying a new perfume is just something to be ignored. The exception is when it contorts itself into a pretzel trying to make itself too cool. This usually happens when the brand wants to reach out to younger consumers hoping they will find their product an indispensable piece of their lifestyle. When it comes to perfume it happened with the press release for Juliette Has a Gun Liquid Illusion.

Romano Ricci

The press release goes out of its way to mention that the ingredient heliotropin is present in ecstasy. Then it goes on to mention that Liquid Illusion is meant to put you in a trance. Okay this is what I read, and laughed at, wondering what would be in the sample I received. When it arrived, and I put some on a strip my laughter turned into outright guffaws. I don’t know where it is that creative director perfumer Romano Ricci hangs out where he has encountered ecstasy but based on Liquid Illusion it might be at the bottom of his grandmother’s cosmetics case. Liquid Illusion is a gourmand tinted Coty lipstick accord fragrance. Its not what I’ve experienced the very few times I’ve been around a rave. Perhaps in Europe its different. Here is the thing, once I put aside all the nonsensical verbal frippery the perfume is good.

The use of heliotropin in perfumery is interesting because it is one of those ingredients which provides a variable effect depending on concentration and what surrounds it. Used with intent it can have a dramatic effect. M. Ricci has intent, even if it is misguided, as he sets the concentration of heliotropin such that its almond nature prevails over the cherry part. In the early moments’ hints of the cherry work nicely with the main modulator of violet. The almond comes off delicately powdery. That powder sifts itself onto a rich orris and tuberose. This is that Coty lipstick accord given a nutty veil. Benzoin and tonka comes forth to switch the gourmand aspect from almond to vanilla. It provides a warming effect for a large amount of ambrox in the base.

Liquid Illusion has 16-18 hour longevity and average sillage.

If you take Liquid Illusion for what it is, you will find an unusual take on a lipstick accord. If you’re looking for a perfume which puts you in a haze of ecstasy, EDM, and swirling lights; this is not the rave you’re looking for.

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

Mark Behnke