Olfactory Chemistry: Alicyclic Musks- Breaking the Cycle

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The most current iteration of musk molecules form the class known as alicyclic musks. In all of the previous versions of musks they were variants of the original nitro musks or they were synthetic counterparts to the natural molecule muscone. In the alicyclic musks these finally comprised a new class of molecule uninformed by previous musk molecules.

rosa and cyclomusk

The first alicyclic musk would be discovered in 1969 by scientists at International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF) and it was called Rosamusk. Even at a fragrance house like IFF, Rosamusk found no enthusiasm for its use despite its interesting rose and fruit character over musk. Rosamusk was so overlooked that older texts on the musk molecules will tell you that it was BASF’s molecule Cyclomusk, discovered in 1975, that was the first alicyclic musk. Cyclomusk gets the press because it is a muskier smelling molecule but it is the fruity floral aspects of Rosamusk which have become the defining characteristic of this class of molecules.

helvetolide romandolide

It wouldn’t be until the 1990’s that Firmenich would make the two molecules which have come to represent this class in perfumery; Helvetolide and Romandolide. If you look at the two molecules above you will notice how similar they are and how they were influenced by the molecules which came before. Helvetolide takes the two CH3, or methyl, groups from Cyclomusk and forms a hybrid with the basic structure of Rosamusk. Romandolide takes the structure of Rosamusk and adds on the same molecules at the end that are present in Helvetolide. These are good examples of what all synthetic organic chemists do to produce a desired effect. We look at what has come in the past and if the chemistry allows we will put these fragments together to see if we can make something more useful. What worked in the case of aromamolecules also works in drug discovery.

helvetolide analogs

Ref: Chemistry & Biodiversity, Vol. 1, pg. 1975 (2004)

As you see above the structures of these alicyclic musks differ in the nature of the group on the six-membered ring. It can be quite remarkable how just moving the groups around can have a significant effect on the odor profile. In the figure above there is a collection of derivatives of Helvetolide and Romandolide and you can see by the descriptions just how much removing or shifting a methyl group around the ring can have.

As I said these molecules have a stronger fruity and floral character than other of the synthetic musks. One of my favorite descriptions of Romandolide comes from perfumer Frank Volkl who in a 2012 article in Perfumer & Flavorist says, “It’s the marmalade within a fragrance. For me it’s the type of musk that adds a little bit of fun to the fragrance.” I think that is really the most striking aspect of the alicyclic musks as these are the “fun” musks. They still carry that identifiably musky quality but the fruity and/or floral facets make them lighter in both heft and intention. Perfumer Alberto Morillas uses a high concentration of Helvetolide in Lancome Miracle and Romandolide features in Rochas Absolu by perfumer Jacques Cavallier.

The whole story of the musk molecules is perhaps the best chemical story in all of perfumery as it illustrates the developments of synthetic aromamolecules for the last 100 years.

Mark Behnke

That Unattainable Object of Desire: Slatkin Absinthe- The Green Fairy

When writing this series many of the perfumes I will write about are small batch rarities by our best perfumers. The subject of this one is rare because most of it was removed from circulation due to a corporate takeover. Back in 2003 the home fragrance company Slatkin & Co. wanted to branch out into fine fragrance and beauty products. The original three releases in their foray into the world of perfume were simply named Mimosa, Muguet, and Absinthe. Perfumer Christian Truc was responsible for Muguet and Christophe Laudamiel would create the remaining two. These fragrances barely had any time to find an audience because Slatkin & Co. were acquired by the parent company of Bath and Body Works in 2005. The brand was acquired because of the home fragrance products and these perfumes were just an aberration. With no place for them to go they pretty much just disappeared after less than two years on the market.

slatkin absinthe bottle

I wish I could say I was smart enough to have discovered them back when they were released but that wouldn’t be true. I didn’t become acquainted with Slatkin Absinthe until my Editor-in-chief at CaFleureBon, Michelyn Camen, gifted me a large decant of it. What I have is one of the most treasured fragrances in my entire collection. M. Laudamiel was coming off a year when he had been part of the team behind two very recognizable fragrances, Abercrombie & Fitch Fierce and Ralph Lauren Polo Blue. The two briefs for Slatkin were his first opportunity to fly solo as a perfumer.

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Christophe Laudamiel

What he created in Absinthe is not a literal interpretation of the wormwood flavored liquor. Instead it is a night at the Moulin Rouge complete with the bohemians of the time looking for The Green Fairy to inspire them.

Absinthe opens with the anise-flavored liquor on top. M. Laudamiel squeezes a fresh lime along with the tamarine citrus base and a sprig of mint. This is an exhilarating sinus clearing opening. It is like sipping from your glass of absinthe as you look up to take in the surroundings. The smell of the rose powder of the dancing girls, the slightly urinous character of honey, the sticky green quality of blackcurrant buds all form a heady accord of carnality to go with the absinthe. The base is a woody patchouli and M. Laudamiel made some interesting choices for his woods as there is cherry tree bark, candlewood, cashmere woods, maplewood and oakmoss. This woods accord with the patchouli makes up one of the more striking woody bases of any perfume I own. It is an early sign of M. Laudamiel’s intention to use more of the ingredients of his perfumer’s organ.

Absinthe has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I was already a fan of M. Laudamiel by the time I smelled Absinthe. It confirmed his incredible talents were present from his first moments as a perfumer. It is sad that the meager stock at the time of the acquisition was placed on discount shelves and that was it. Bottles show up very rarely on the auction sites. I have an alert for it and I would say on average two or three bottles will be available over the course of a year. Because it is such an oddity the prices are not worse than any new perfume you might purchase. I can say that if I was ever forced to pare down my voluminous collection to something much smaller there is no version which wouldn’t include Slatkin Absinthe.

Disclosure: This review is based on a decant which I received as a gift.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Penhaligon’s Tralala- Bertrand’s Retro Nouveau Perfume

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If there is anything one can say about perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour it is he is prolific. Sometimes that profligacy has the unfortunate effect of feeling a like a “new” release is made up of parts of older releases. As a result when trying a new perfume by M. Duchaufour the mental rolodex of his past fragrances is spinning madly while I try it. While there are moments of familiarity in the new Penhaligon’s Tralala this is the first time that I feel M. Duchaufour has aggressively gone for a vintage feeling modern perfume. It is his first attempt at a Retro Nouveau fragrance.

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Three looks from the Meadham Kirchoff Fall 2014 Fashion Show

That Tralala goes for that vibe is probably due to the creative direction from fashion design duo, Meadham Kirchoff. Their Fall 2014 collection was a modern riff on pre-war fashion and while this kind of reaching to the past to form a foundation for the contemporary has become common in the fashion world, it hasn’t in perfumery. Penhaligon’s has used one of their existing perfumes to accompany previous Meadhgam Kirchoff shows and for the Fall 2014 runway show they wanted a new fragrance to match the designs. M. Duchaufour took this challenge and has created something wholly original within his portfolio.  

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Bertrand Duchaufour

Tralala opens on a very vintage aldehydic moment carrying aspects of old hairspray along with the sparkly metallic sheen of other aldehydes. This is beautifully amplified with violet leaves and galbanum to turn this edgily green and the violet leaves pick up the metallic highlights of the aldehydes. To add some depth M. Duchaufour trots out his well refined boozy accord and lilting through all of this is a bit of eastern exoticism as saffron is also part of the early going. This opening reminds me of a 1950’s woman spraying her hair with Aqua Net whilst still in her slip, a highball glass on her dresser. It sets a very precise vibe. The vibe is carried further with powdery orris reminiscent of vintage cosmetics. Then M. Duchaufour uses two more of his perfected accords as leather and incense begin to add a darker deeper texture to Tralala. These are details which make for interesting juxtaposition. The base of Tralala is very dense as sweet myrrh is enclosed in an envelope of vetiver and patchouli at first. Then a sweetness manages to come to the fore very late as opoponax and vanilla join the myrrh to carry Tralala to a sweet ending.

Tralala has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Despite the PR hiccup over the name the fragrance itself is very good. I really like that M. Duchaufour was pointed in a particular direction and he ran with the creative direction given him. I think many of his best fragrances have come when he has been under active creative direction. In the end Tralala is M. Duchaufour at the top of his game and that is a very good game indeed.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample of Tralala provided by Twisted Lily.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: HGTV Love It or List It

Many evenings in the Colognoissuer household are spent with me in my chair reading, testing perfume, or surfing the internet. While I do that my wife will often have the television on the cable network HGTV. Most of the time it is easy for me to tune it out and I’m only required to look up when Mrs. Colognoisseur asks me, “Do you like that?” Sadly for her the answer is often no. Over the past few months though there is one of these HGTV shows which has managed to penetrate my studied air of indifference, Love It or List It.

Love It or List It is a show where a current set of homeowners are given the opportunity to renovate their home, Love It, or find a newer improved home, List It. Most of the homeowners have begun to outgrow the home they bought years ago but have emotional reasons for not moving, or at least one of them does. Interior Designer Hilary Farr comes up with a plan to renovate the house using the budget the homeowners give her so they will want to stay. Working at odds with Hilary is realtor David Visentin who looks for a new home which has all of the things the homeowners want and might not be able to get. By the end of the hour with the renovations done and usually a perfect house found the homeowners have to make the decision to stay or go. I can’t explain it but I have so much fun trying to guess which way they will go.

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The show is formulaic as it can get but the personalities of Hilary and David as they interact with the homeowners makes it seem fresher than it should. The first part of every episode is the introduction to the couple who own the home and one of them who really wants to stay and one who really wants to move. Hilary and David do a home inspection with David snarking about the home and Hilary promising she can make magic happen. They sit down with the homeowners and get their respective budgets and “must haves” to stay or go. In the next two segments renovation gets underway and almost every episode a hidden issue is uncovered which eats up a chunk of the renovation budget forcing a choice on something to give up. Oh no Hilary is in trouble! Interspersed between that David takes the couple to two houses which also contain significant flaws and it seems as if he will need to find the impossible to satisfy these homeowners. Oh no David is in trouble! This leads to the final segment where Hilary pulls it all together despite the challenges and David finds the perfect home. Yay our heroes rally! After the new renovation is revealed the decision to Love It or List It is revealed. So far, through 118 episodes Love It leads List It 69 to 49.

Of course this is reality television and this is HGTV which has admitted other of their shows are less “real” than they might seem. I am sure Love It or List It is no different and much of the “conflict” is manufactured and the decision is pre-ordained from the moment filming begins. I don’t care as I am not expecting a documentary and it really is the way Hilary and David carry the show that makes it enjoyable for me. The real fun is the smile I get from Mrs. C when I put down the laptop, close the book, or lay down the perfume vials to pay attention because I have decided to Love, Love It or List It.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Shiseido Inoui

When it comes to discussions of the greatest perfumes ever Shiseido Nombre Noir has been claimed to be one of the top five fragrances of all-time. It is a funny thing though just like it is with Citizen Kane as it relates to being the best movie of all-time neither of these would be in my top ten all-time. I’m not even sure they make my top 25 all-time. In both cases I admire the budding auteurs Serge Lutens and Orson Welles and their precocious creations but neither resonates with me. I prefer Mr Welles’ second film The Magnificent Ambersons. When it comes to Shiseido I think 1976’s Inoui is a better perfume than Nombre Noir.

The mid 1970’s was a watershed moment for perfume and the way it was sold. Michael Edwards traces the tipping point to 1973’s Revlon Charlie as the moment perfume was marketed to this new demographic of the working woman. It also changed the perfume buying experience as these trailblazing women didn’t want to wait for a man to gift them with a perfume they wanted to go out and find one themselves. As the sales for Charlie took off many of the other perfume lines wanted to join in. In 1976 Shiseido released Inoui with the advertising line, “It’s not her that’s beautiful; it’s how she lives her life that’s beautiful”. Even on the Shiseido website they admit it was designed to “target the contemporary career woman”. What did Shiseido think this thoroughly modern woman wanted? A green balsamic chypre.

inoui advertisement

I have never been able to determine who the perfumer is behind Inoui. Serge Lutens had not arrived by 1976. It was supposedly created by a joint effort between the American, Italian and Japanese staffs of Shiseido. If this was a team effort I really would have liked to overhear the conversations as each mod was passed around to finally arrive at Inoui.

Inoui is a fantastic green fragrance and its beauty is in the uncompromising way it develops from a galbanum heavy opening into a pine heart to finish on an oakmoss and civet base. It is a near perfect green perfume.

Inoui starts with the galbanum, juniper, and a bit of cypress. There is a green accord that adds texture to the galbanum and just when all of this green might be a little much an imaginative use of peach turns it into a softer sweeter beginning. The pine grows right down the middle of Inoui oozing sap and throwing off green facets as it strengthens. A bit of green cardamom and thyme add spice to the pine. Then just like the peach in the top notes jasmine adds softness and sweetness before we hit the big chypre finish. Myrrh adds its opulent resinous quality and then oakmoss and civet bring Inoui to a close on a feral green accord.

Inoui in the eau de parfum version has 10-12 hour longevity and very close sillage as would befit that career woman it was marketed to.

Inoui was a failure as it was pulled off shelves in less than ten years. It was never able to find traction with those early career women as they clearly wanted the florals of Charlie over the anti-floral green of Inoui. Was it ahead of its time? I don’t think so I actually think it is quite a good example of the kind of perfume making going on in the late 1970’s. I think it was a case of not finding the right target demographic to market it to.

Inoui can be found on eBay but people are catching on and its price has been rising steadily over the last few years.

Finally I want to end on a personal note. My discovery of Inoui was through one of those people that make our perfume community so wonderful. Linda Beth Ross and I would spend random hours on Facebook chatting about old vintage perfumes and after a discussion of how much I like green perfumes she sent me a sample of Inoui. Earlier this year she passed away after a long battle with cancer and every time I wear, or think, about Inoui I also remember my friend in fragrance.

Disclosure; this review is based on a bottle of Eau de Parfum I purchased.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Irving Penn

When the discussion about whether perfume can be considered an art form comes up I am often reminded that photography wasn’t really considered an art form until the 1970’s. The mythical gatekeepers that consider “What is art?” finally gave way under the volume of work that could not be ignored. One of the modern photographers who I most admire, Irving Penn had one of my favorite quotes about the power of his works. He said, “A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart, and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it; it is in one word, effective.” I read this on a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago just before I entered the gallery containing some of his photographs. Mr. Penn is much more than just effective his portraits and still lifes do what any art form does as it communicates the mundane on a subliminal level of beauty.

elsa schiaparelli irving penn 1948

Mr. Penn’s rise began as he started working at Vogue Magazine in 1947. Throughout 1948 he would take a series of pictures of some of the famous people who came through the Vogue offices. He posed them in a narrow “V” of plywood which was made apparent by the larger framing to allow you to see the room around the artificial confinement. The picture of Elsa Schiaparelli above is one of my favorites because it shows the fashion designer could not be contained by any artifice at all. Each subject used the narrow space differently.

jacques fath irving penn

Jacques Fath had a pair of shears with which he was trying to cut his way out.

georgia o'keeffe irving penn

Georgia O’Keeffe squeezed herself as far back as she could and Mr. Penn pulled the camera back further on that shot than any other in the series.

spencer tracy irving penn

Spencer Tracy looked at ease. This was Mr. Penn’s gift to use something as simple as a restricted space to display differences in personality.

harlequin dress irving penn

He would meet his wife while at Vogue, model Lisa Fonssagrives. She would become the subject of many of his fashion shots the most striking of which is the Harlequin Dress seen above.

3 Chanel Products Irving Penn

The other large part of his artistic collection was still lifes of objects placed exactly so. The picture of the 3 Chanel Products is a perfect example of this style.

leggy nude new york irving penn

By the 1990’s he shot some spectacular nudes of which my favorite, “Leggy Nude, New York” is seen above.

Mr. Penn always shot what he loved and what moved him and that emotion is apparent in every one of the photographs. In the end I believe art is all about connecting to our emotional core and if something can reliably do that there should be no question about whether it is art. I believe perfume has its Penns and Adamses who will also eventually create a volume of work that will be undeniably art, it just takes time. Thankfully Mr. Penn’s time arrived before his death in 2009 so he could see his creations lauded for their artistic value.

All images by Irving Penn found on the Art Institute of Chicago website.

Mark Behnke

Perfumer Rewind: Olivia Giacobetti’s 1996- L’Artisan Parfumeure Drole de Rose & The Pour un Ete + Diptyque Philosykos

Olivia Giacobetti is one of my very favorite perfumers because of that transparent style she imparts to things that shouldn’t have that lightness of being. Many of the most striking fragrances I own, for that sheer fragility, are signed by Mme Giacobetti. Her style has now been refined that it almost deserves its own adjective, Giacobettiesque. There have been other perfumers who are able to make perfume that is Giacobettiesque but it is her creations which stand the test of time.

Olivia-Giacobetti

 

Olivia Giacobetti

When I looked back for the year where this style began to coalesce I found 1996 to be a good year to observe this. In that year Mme Giacobetti would release two fragrances for L’Artisan Parfumeur, Drole de Rose & The Pour un Ete. Both of those were perfumes where the style was still a work in progress. The third release in 1996 is one of Mme Giacobetti’s enduring masterpieces Diptyque Philosykos as all the elements that make her a great perfumer come together for the first time.

drole de rose

The two fragrances for L’Artisan were her third and fourth for the line. Drole de Rose is a much lighter rose but here Mme Giacobetti lays down a layer of powdery notes as the heart note of orris turns this closer in style to iris-scented lipstick. The skeletal concepts of Mme Giacobetti’s style come with the honeyed leather in the base. It is the base which I think is the best part of Drole de Rose as once the powder is figuratively blown away what is left is this opaque sweet leather. Mme Giacobetti would find a rose scent which did fit her style with the discontinued Opone for Diptyque in 2001.

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The Pour un Ete was meant to be a jasmine green tea fragrance as if it was being served in a chilled glass dripping with condensation on a summer day. The Pour un Ete is perhaps too simple for its own good. It starts with a sprig of mint and lemon floating on top of the jasmine tea accord all of it resting on a cedar and sandalwood coaster. The Pour un Ete feels like the axis of a great fragrance was here but by not adding in contrapuntal notes it just sits there like that proverbial glass of tea watching the beads of water slide down the glass monotonously. Tea would become the focus of another of Mme Giacobetti’s best compositions L’Artisan Tea for Two, which is one of my all-time favorite tea perfumes.

philosykos

As I mentioned above it seems at this point in her career it took two tries for Mme Giacobetti to really find her voice on a particular note. In 1994 she had done Premier Figuier for L’Artisan and it was a fig fragrance centered on the creamy ripe qualities as she used almond and coconut milk to enhance that aspect. It is beautiful but it wears sort of heavily. By the time she took a second stab at fig in Philosykos she wanted to go greener as this time not only the fruit but also the leaves and the tree itself were meant to be represented. She tilts the fig greener with galbanum early on. Then the leaves pick up the green and this time she uses only coconut milk as a complementary source of the ripening pulpy inside of the fig. She finishes off Philosykos with a breeze of benzoin and cedar.

Mme Giacobetti is now one of the most reliable perfumers functioning and both for her Paris exclusive line IUNX and the rare commissions she takes her style is unmistakable, Back in 1996 it was just coming together,

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of all of the fragrances I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Bogue Profumo Maai- Engagement Distance

I have often heard Michael Edwards offer the advice to new perfumers, especially indie ones, that they should take the time to study the great perfumes and perfumers of the past. What if you had the good fortune to instead come into the possession of forty bottles of essences and bases from a perfumer’s laboratory circa sometime in the 1940’s? If you were an aspiring perfumer and could study those materials what insights and influences would that bring to your own perfumery? Those previous questions are what perfumer Antonio Gardoni has used to found his Italian indie perfume line, Bogue Profumo.

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The old essences Sig. Gardoni used for Cologne Relaoded

Sig. Gardoni did indeed come into a treasure trove of incredibly well-preserved bottles of an unnamed perfumer’s ingredients. After living with them he chose to reproduce one of the recipes on the bottle and released it as Cologne Reloaded. What Sig. Gardoni recreated was a cologne with an intensely animalic base of castoreum. This truly smelled of the classic barbershop cologne right down to the leather strop for sharpening the straight razor. Eau d’E would be the second release and this was a more modern take on the same cologne idea. Sig. Gardoni takes a very intense lavender and pairs it with the classic herbal citrus cologne accord. If Cologne Reloaded felt like an artifact Eau d’E felt like a modern extrapolation of that. The thing that I liked best was Sig. Gardoni’s choice to explore the unusual aspects of lavender looking to accentuate the less floral aspects. Both of these were preparation for Sig. Gardoni’s new release, Maai, wherein he combines many of the lessons learned and creates one of the finest Retro Nouveau fragrances I have ever smelled.

Retro Nouveau constructions almost by definition have to be accomplished by independent perfumers. These need to be small batch production runs. They need to be unafraid to push certain aspects right to the edge of being unpleasant. Finally, they need to fuse the present with the past without letting either dominate. When I asked Sig. Gardoni the origin of the name Maai he told me, “it is a Japanese word used in the martial art of Kendo that I practice from many years. The meaning is actually quite difficult to render but more or less it means "interval/space in between" and it's the relationship between space and time between two opponents a sort of "engagement distance" it defines the exact position/time from which one opponent can strike the other”. Maai the perfume is that interval between the Retro and the Nouveau and the “engagement distance” is precisely balanced to produce a singular perfume effect.

antonio gardoni

Antonio Gardoni

Maai takes the animalic themes Sig. Gardoni explored in Cologne Reloaded and creates a fascinating musky base upon which to build the rest of his new fragrance. This is what I was speaking of in the previous paragraph; there isn’t just castoreum in this base he adds in civet and hyraceum along with a bunch of other musks. All together this has an incredible depth and texture it feels as if Maai has a pounding heartbeat. It also isn’t for the faint of heart. One other aspect I really enjoy with this is when these animalic notes reach this level of concentration they also carry a honey-like sweetness which rides along on the crest like a surfer riding a monster wave.

The modern aspect Sig. Gardoni applies to Maai is by using the same technique he used in Eau d’E and taking a well-known floral and finding a more contemporary read on that note. For Maai the note is tuberose and the choice Sig. Gardoni takes is to use a deeply green tuberose as the co-focal point. What this does is provide an indolic foil to the animalic base while also producing a nascent white flower character. The tuberose never explodes into its show stopping floralcy. Sig. Gardoni captures the tuberose just shy of it bursting to life and it is a mannered tuberose but there is a suppressed energy lurking behind. This is the buzz of potential reined in as the tuberose stays poised on a precipice without falling into empty space.

There are a slug of soapy aldehydes in the top notes before the tuberose begins to impose its presence. Labdanum contains the tuberose by amplifying the green early on. A bit of rose and jasmine help to remind you there is a flower here in the heart. The indoles, from the tuberose, are the perfect bridge to the beginning of the animalic base. Sig. Gardoni swirls in a few different resins which add details like olfactory grace notes. Then the full potential of the animalic accord settles into place and cradles the tuberose within its embrace. The “engagement distance” is now down to zero, right where it should be.

Maai has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Maai is the perfect Retro Nouveau fragrance in my opinion; Sig. Gardoni has pulled off a clever bit of perfumery that is much more accomplished than it should be. It feels like it could have come from a long-lost bottle found deep in a cabinet and it feels like it could be found on a small boutique counter next to present day brands. Maai is as good as modern independent perfumery gets.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Bogue Profumo.

Mark Behnke

In Praise of the Doyenne of the Perfume Counter

I realize that I am becoming the prototypical old man when I see things changing and wish for them to stay the same. I have been exchanging e-mail with one of my earliest perfume acquaintances who has recently retired. Back in the late 1980’s I was really just starting to broaden my fragrance horizons. In those days of yore there was no such thing as smartphones and the internet to look things up at the speed of your data connection. What passed for that resource was the Senior Sales Associate at your favorite department store. Carolyn was that Doyenne of the Perfume Counter for me.

Carolyn presided over her fragrant space with grace and patience. She would explain and then give me strips to illustrate the difference between chypre and fougere. As we carried on an almost thirty year affair she knew what I liked and what I probably wouldn’t. I would often go in on a weekday just to have a little more time to chat. We started out as eager student/teacher and finished as peers. Nothing made me happier than to receive an e-mail from her on one of my latest reviews. I valued her opinion and was thrilled that she came to value mine. She was the one who taught me that even if the bottle has bows and flowers on it if I liked it I should wear it.

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(Illustration: Zohar Lazar via GQ)

Upon her retirement I inquired if she had trained a replacement and her answer was, “No.” Her department store was going to use an assortment of line representatives instead of having a permanent position in charge of fine fragrance sales. This seems to be the way things are evolving. Since I moved to the Washington DC area I haven’t found the counterpart to Carolyn here. I certainly did in Boston but I suspect once those Doyennes retire those positions will, as well.

Like landlines and compact discs the day of a single person curating a department store’s fragrance department is a quaint old-fashioned notion. The necessity in our immediate information gratification society is certainly reduced if it is just the facts you are after. What I think this generation of perfume lovers will miss is the opportunity to create a relationship around a common love for perfume. Now, to find the same interpersonal service, it requires you to have a small fragrance boutique in your city. The owners of those businesses are more interested in creating a long-time customer over a one-time sale.

With Carolyn’s retirement I realize it will be far too soon that I will have little reason to visit the department store fine fragrance department. All things change but it is human nature to wish that some of them might be immune to evolutions of style. I wish Carolyn the best of her retirement and her extra time with her grandchildren. Her child of the perfume counter will miss visiting with her.

Mark Behnke

Montale 101- Five To Get You Started

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If there was a perfume line I was thinking really needed a Perfume 101 Montale Paris would be top of the list. Since 2003 eponymous perfumer Pierre Montale has been producing a prodigious amount of fragrances. His line was one of the first to really explore oud in all of its myriad configurations. M. Montale’s fascination with that note continues to the present day. Oud is so connected to the perception of the line that many are unaware there are some pretty amazing fragrances within the collection that do not have a drop of oud. One warning about this line, it is not for those who like their fragrances light or subtle; M. Montale creates extroverted powerhouses. It is that pedal to the metal attitude which makes Montale Paris one of my favorite lines. Here are the five I would start with if you are new to the line.

Black Aoud was my introduction to the classic oud and rose combination. This is so classic that to get Forest Gump on you it goes together like peas and carrots. All of the rough edges of oud are consumed in an inferno of intense rose. There is some patchouli and musk here but the sheer power of the rose and oud overwhelm everything. This was also my introduction to Laotian oud and the hint of floralcy within that particular version makes Black Aoud the perfect duet.

When asked to name my favorite amber Blue Amber is the one I name. Unlike Black Aoud where M. Montale just let the magic happen between the core notes. In Blue Amber he spends time surrounding the core with notes that complement and contrast. Geranium supports the spicy core, coriander contrasts it with green edges. Vanilla sweetens the amber only for patchouli to take it darker. If you love amber and have never tried this one add it to your list.

red vetyver

Red Vetyver has been described as Terre D’Hermes on steroids and while I understand that as a surface description I would say there is more going on here than a more intense imitation. A very pungent grapefruit is on top and this is the full grapefruit with the slightly sulfurous aspects on display. M. Montale then adds elemi to allow its lemony cool to soothe and a slug of black pepper to provoke. This is the place where Red Vetyver becomes its own perfume and the cedar and vetiver finishes it on a clean and green accord. This is one of the few citrus based fragrances I wear in the winter because it has a heft unusual within the genre.

Sweet Oriental Dream is M. Montale’s take on a gourmand. He makes the choice to recreate a vanilla rosewater confection adding in honey and almond for good measure. Of all of the gourmands I own this one is the one which makes me hungry.

As I said M. Montale is renowned for his capacity to use oud in so many ways. I would also venture he is even more proficient with vanilla as that note shows up throughout the collection and he knows how to tune it for the effect he is looking for. Vanille Absolu is what he thinks a vanilla soliflore should smell like. He takes a rich vanilla heart and swirls cinnamon, clove, and sandalwood around it. This is what I want vanilla to smell like rich and spicy.

Montale Paris is a line which can intimidate just by the sheer number of fragrances in the collection. You shouldn’t let that stop you from discovering one of the perfume lines which truly reflects one perfumer’s aesthetic. It really is a journey worth taking and any of the five suggested are good places to take your first steps.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of these fragrances I purchased.

Mark Behnke