New Perfume Review L’Artisan Parfumeur Onde Sensuelle- Icy Hot

When you are prolific a perfumer as Bertrand Duchaufour it is hard to keep turning out great fragrances. The double edged sword of that profligacy is that some clunkers will get released but also some that are truly fabulous will also see the light of day. While sometimes it seems like M. Duchaufour needs an evaluator who can give him appropriate feedback. There are times when left to follow his own muse, without filter, something really special arises. This is perfectly illustrated by the three fragrances recently released by M. Duchaufour for the L’Artisan Parfumeur Explosions D’Emotions collection. Haute Voltige feels like a by the numbers fruity floral as the core duet of peony and pomegranate never catch fire. It commits the cardinal perfume sin of being boring. Rappelle-Toi is an interesting experiment of taking gardenia and crossing it with Szechuan pepper. I expected this to work better than it did. Instead of using the contrast to illuminate they collide against each other with neither note the better for the contact. It made it an annoying experience. I appreciate the creativity on display and I know from past experience that this theme will return another day in more memorable form. The third fragrance, Onde Sensuelle, is why M. Duchaufour is such a great perfumer.

Bertrand Duchaufour

Bertrand Duchaufour

Onde Sensuelle translates to “sensual wave” and it captures the heat of passion combined with the delicious chilly thrill of release. Throughout the development of Onde Sensuelle there are moments where I felt my breath should steam and others where a bead of sweat should be wiped away. This is not a trivial effect to accomplish and it is executed with delicate precision here.

The chill predominates in the early going as grapefruit, juniper, and cardamom provide the frost. The balance here is perfect a little too much of any of these three notes would tilt this in a far different direction. What is here is like an icy rim. The heart provides the heat through a trio of spices; ginger, cumin, and saffron. As with the top notes the balance achieved here is critical. If M. Duchaufour had missed on the grapefruit and the cumin, as an example, this would have been a sulfurous sweaty mess. What is here is a gentle back and forth between the ice and heat. The dynamic tension as they sway back and forth culminate in a base of oud, a macrocyclic musk cocktail, and castoreum. This is the smell of passionate bodies entwined and it is exactly where Onde Sensuelle should come to a close.

Onde Sensuelle has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

For the three new Explosions D’Emotions M. Duchaufour bats one for three. Onde Sensuelle, though, is a massive home run. This is why he is such a fascinating perfumer to follow because I know when he puts it all together there is magic to be found.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples purchased from Surrender to Chance.

Mark Behnke

The Gold Standard: Sport Fragrances- Guerlain Habit Rouge Sport

The advent of Sport Fragrances began in 1972 with Estee Lauder Aliage Sport Fragrance and based on today’s market you might be surprised to know it was made for “active women”. It wasn’t until 1987 with the release of Boss Sport that the Sport Fragrance business started to shift to the guys. The fragrance which would start the men’s sports fragrance snowball rolling was 1993’s Polo Sport. Perfumer Harry Fremont really ran with the idea of a fragrance for an active man as he set the formula for many masculine sport fragrances to follow. Citrus on top followed by light florals made more manly with spices; finishing with woods and musk. The use of Sport in the name was supposed to make it easier for a man to want to buy fragrance, and it worked. Polo Sport immediately became a best-seller and is still one to the present day.

habit rouge sport

Over the last twenty years there have been many, many sport fragrances released and most of them are flankers of flagship fragrances for the particular brand. The unfortunate part of this is most perfume producers took the wrong lesson from the success of Polo Blue. They decided that Sport meant light almost to the point of insipidness. Most Sport fragrances are an embarrassment to the other name on the label as everything that makes something like Encre Noire great is gutted in Encre Noire Sport. With all of this you might think this is an odd subject for The Gold Standard but there is one which shows it can be done right while hewing to the template set down, Guerlain Habit Rouge Sport.  

jean-paul guerlain

Jean-Paul Guerlain

If there is any fragrance I would’ve thought would never be amenable to sportification it would be Jean-Paul Guerlain’s 1965 men’s fragrance Guerlain Habit Rouge. Habit Rouge is a citrus/spicy/leather with the signature Guerlinade. Habit Rouge would be in my conversation of greatest men’s fragrances of all-time. When I visited the Guerlain Boutique at The Breakers in Palm Beach in the summer of 2009 I probably recoiled when I was proffered the bottle of Habit Rouge Sport. What I should’ve done was realize M. Guerlain would not stoop to make a pale simulation of his classic. Instead he uses three key additions and an overall lightening of the core to create the best sport fragrance ever.

The same bigarade focused top notes are present but they are made brighter and the first key addition, bamboo, adds a fresh light woody note which transforms this into something recognizably Habit Rouge but also something new. The heart of neroli, patchouli, and cedar is the same. Then by dialing back the mélange of spices in the original to just one, pink pepper; and adding jasmine the heart is as easy to wear as that white t-shirt. The base is identical with leather over the amber and vanilla Guerlinade but as everything else in Habit Rouge Sport it is made less intense.

Habit Rouge Sport has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I wear Habit Rouge often but never in the warm weather; Habit Rouge Sport is what I wear these summer days. It may be faint praise to call this the best sports fragrance ever. Let me add to it Habit Rouge Sport is as good as the fragrance with which it shares its name.

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

Mark Behnke

Perfume Mythbusters: Vintage Perfume

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I’m not sure if there are distinct stages of being a perfume lover but there are many common experiences we all share. One of those is trying a “vintage” perfume. What I mean by that is an original bottle of a classic perfume that is over 10 years old and often is as old as 50-60 years. The moment of trying your first vintage perfume is usually followed with a statement along the lines of, “they just don’t make perfume like that anymore”. When it comes to certain ingredients that is definitely true especially now scarce to find authentic ambergris or real musk from the musk deer. There is also another part of the equation too as many who love vintage fragrances love the depth and subtle power inherent in these older bottles. There is then a belief that what they are smelling is somehow truer than a modern version, that is the myth I am here to bust this month.

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Coffee Flower Macerating in Jojoba Oil

When you are smelling an older bottle of perfume you have to take into account what has been going on over the years in that bottle. One thing that has been going on is continued maceration. When making a perfume which is high in natural ingredients there is a phase of the process called maceration. What this means is once the perfume concentrate is diluted in the desired solvent, usually alcohol, it is left to sit for a number of weeks at reduced temperature and away from light. What this allows for is these natural materials to reach a steady state where the perfume reaches consistency of odor profile. As I’ve mentioned in the past natural raw materials are not one molecule they are actually mixtures of often hundreds of different molecules. When these are combined with other natural raw materials and diluted there needs to be a settling out period. This is most often done on as large a scale as possible. The perfumer will check over time until the blend reaches a congruency from three or four different samples over different days. At this point it is transferred to a bottle. Now if the perfume is all synthetic this process is totally unnecessary as those are single molecules and need no settling out. While the early maceration is done on a large scale it does not stop once it is in the bottle. Especially when we are talking time frames of tens of years. Maceration is now a much more gradual process but when measured over many years it is still going on. This is what most often produces the softness many remark upon when trying a vintage perfume. Just like a fine Bordeaux wine a 1961 vintage is much smoother than a 2011 vintage. Time does smooth out all things. The continued maceration also accounts for the blurred less definitive transitions also found in vintage perfumes.

1950's shalimar

This sealed bottle from the 1950's was filled right to the neck when new, notice the gap now because of evaporation

Second is good old evaporation of the top notes. Top notes by their very nature are meant to be volatile and the idea that any of these still remain in a perfume that is ten years old stretches the concept of simple physics. Even if the bottle is sealed once the top notes begin to evaporate they are now in vapor form and if there is even the slightest gap out they will go. To my knowledge there is no vintage perfume which has been so meticulously sealed as to prevent this most basic of processes from happening. The effect this has when smelling a vintage perfume is you get right down to business and go straight for the heart and base notes. This is probably what gives the impression that vintage has more depth because you aren’t distracted for a second by any top notes because they are no longer there.

baccarat shalimar bottle

Vintage Baccarat Shalimar Bottle half-filled with air and clear to let light through

Third is if the bottle has been opened at all or exposed to sunlight for any period of time. Oxygen and sunlight are the natural predators of many perfume molecules converting them into all manner of things. Some of which still smell good and some which definitely don’t. It is either, or both, of these twin plagues which make a perfume go “off”. In the best case it can still leave something behind which smells good but anything like what it smelled like when it was put in the bottle, not likely.

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Patricia de Nicolai

For me one of the most eye-opening experiences to this phenomenon was when Patricia de Nicolai of the Osmotheque exposed me to the versions of some of my favorite older perfumes from the Osmotheque. Through the help of the perfume companies the Osmotheque has original formulae for many of the classic perfumes and makes fresh new batches of them for their library. As I experienced these fragrances in their complete glory with top notes intact and lively paired with the heart and base notes in the vitality of their youth I realized these were the real vintage perfumes. We had a group experience of this at Esxence as we had an Osmotheque version of Edmond Roudnitska’s classic Rochas Femme. Everyone was surprised at how different it was to any version they had tried previously. If you love vintage perfume you must go to the Osmotheque and really smell the vintage perfumes you love it will give you a whole new appreciation for them.

I am not saying vintage perfumes are not lovely in their own right.  They are also not really anything like the original fragrance put in the bottle you own either. That is the myth of vintage perfume.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things-Wear Sunscreen

There are many things that are not perfume which smell great to me. One of those things is sunbaked skin coated in suntan lotion. The Coppertone my mother slathered on me before allowing me to make sandcastles. The Bain de Soleil the European women wore poolside at the Fontainebleau Hotel on South Beach. As much as the salt and the sand it is the smell of the tanning products that evoke the beach. The five fragrances listed below all remind me of lotion coated tan skin glinting in the sunlight.

jean-patou-cosmetics-1930-huile-de-chaldee

Jean Patou Chaldee began its first incarnation as Huile de Chaldee an actual sun tanning product which was mostly castor oil which Patou perfumer Henri Almeras added orange blossom, narcissus, and vanilla to make it smell better. They knew they had a hit when they found women wearing it at night as a fragrance. Perfumer Thomas Fontaine has re-formulated Chaldee and in that reworking has hewed closer to its suntan lotion beginnings, which I really like.

coppertone

CB I Hate Perfume At The Beach 1966 is constructed around a central “Coppertone” accord. Coppertone was the suntan lotion of my youth exactly in 1966. The suntan lotion used an overdose of coconut to attempt to disguise the medicinal sunblocking agent. It turned into a pleasant smelling tropical laboratory accord. Christopher Brosius gets this picture perfect and he places it in a beach milieu full of drift wood, crashing surf, and sand. It is a time machine in a bottle for me.

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If I wasn’t on the beach I was spending time by the humongous pool at the Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach. This was where I came into contact with Europeans using this tube of orange gel called Bain de Soleil as their lotion. In Bond No. 9 Fire Island perfumer Michel Almairac captures that odor plus the sun warmed skin underneath. I can almost see the row of chaises and smell the breeze blowing this to my nose. It is another perfect rendition of a scent memory for me.

Bikini in action

The more modern takes on the smell of less scented sun products come from two of the great fragrance producers. Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess is a very close wearing fragrance which takes the warm skin accord in the base and over the top of it adds magnolia and tiare. Perfumer Alberto Morillas turns out a summer perfume which is all about living in the sun.  

The final suggestion is the new Guerlain Terracotta Le Parfum 2014. Guerlain in-house perfumer Thierry Wasser takes the same sparkling tiare flower and sandwiches it with coconut milk and bergamot on top and the signature Guerlinade of vanilla on the bottom. This is a limited edition only available for 2014 and it is as good a mass release as Guerlain has done in years. It is perfect for the summer.

I am not recommending wearing perfume instead of sunscreen as you head out this summer. If you want to carry the day into the night any of these five will keep the summer vibe going into the wee hours.

Disclosure: I purchased botlles of all the perfumes mentioned.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Dior La Collction Privee Cuir Cannage- Throwback Leather

All of the great design houses have their exclusive luxury line of perfumes and certainly Cartier, Chanel, Hermes, and Tom Ford have represented the names on their bottles admirably. Consistent creative direction has ensured this success. For my money there is a designer line which has produced better fragrances over the past five years and it is tied directly to the moment the current creative director took charge. The line I am speaking of is Dior La Collection Privee and the creative director/perfumer is Francois Demachy. The latest release Cuir Cannage is a terrific example of the creativity and vision M. Demachy has brought to Dior fragrances.

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Francois Demachy

In 2009 when M. Demachy took the reins of the La Collection Privee at Dior he immediately produced an impact with Ambre Nuit. One year later he would add seven new La Collection Privee fragrances. All seven of these were excellent and three of them, New Look 1947, Mitzah, and Leather Oud were among the best perfumes of that year. M. Demachy has captured the brand genetics of Dior with this collection as they all carry a sophistication and willingness to challenge a perfume wearer without making it confrontational. This line is Dior’s best kept secret and every Sniffapalooza I take a few people over to experience the line for the first time and I always get the response, “I didn’t know about these.” Over the fifteen fragrances in the line there is something for every perfumista.

Cuir Cannage shows off everything great about the Dior La Collection Privee. M. Demachy wanted to make a modern floral leather fragrance which would evoke the scent of a Dior leather handbag and some of the things you might find in there, particularly the cosmetics. So you get a grouping of floral notes which harmonize delightfully before the leather of the handbag comes forward. M. Demachy wanted to go for a real old-fashioned leather accord and therefore uses healthy amounts of cade and birch tar to construct it. This is what I speak of when saying M. Demachy likes challenging a perfumista. The florals have structural beauty familiar and comforting which are juxtaposed with the leather full of powerful smells and managing to envelop the florals without extinguishing them. It leaves a lifeline for the wearer to grab ahold of and ride the leather rollercoaster in safety.

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Dior Mini Cannage Dinner Bag (2012)

M. Demachy opens with orange blossom in full measure. Orange blossom is the most delicate of the common perfume white flowers. When a perfumer allows it to act more like an indolic white flower and less like a pretty accessory is when I am happiest. M. Demachy allows the orange blossom to stand alone throughout the early moments. He then lets jasmine form an indole-heavy duet with the orange blossom. Rose and ylang-ylang form a complementary higher pitched floral pair. Together they create a full octave of floralcy. Then in thick viscous bubbles the birch tar picks up the indoles and the cade adds texture and intensity. In what seems like a moment it all forms a classic heavy leather accord as the desired new handbag springs to life. The floral notes are all still there but they are now enclosed in the metaphorical purse.

Cuir Cannage has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Cuir Cannage feels like a modern re-telling of the classic leather fragrances of the early 20th century. It is an unusual move because most modern leathers go for the lighter more refined accord. M. Demachy reaches back and creates an accord which reminds you this is the hide of a living thing no matter how refined. I am delighted that M. Demachy is making fragrances with an artistic viewpoint unmatched by few others at the big houses. Cuir Cannage is one of my very favorite new fragrances of this year.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Dior and a sample purchased from Surrender to Chance.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Songs of Summer 2014

When it comes to summer for some reason it is the season when we allow ourselves to enjoy multiple guilty pleasures. Summer seems to give us permission to go see the new Transformers movie and wallow in the explosions and robots. The books we read are page-turners, India Drummond’s Caledonia Fae series is my beach companion this year, meant to entertain instead of provoke thought. The fragrances we wear are meant to be lighter, cleaner, less challenging; summer is cologne season. Underneath all of this is each year’s soundtrack of music. It seems every summer has a song to remind me of it. Whenever I hear it I am back in the sun-drenched time and place I heard it. In 1977 it was Sheena is a Punk Rocker by The Ramones. The aptly named The Boys of Summer provided the backbeat to 1984. Len’s Steal my Sunshine had me pounding on my steering wheel in 1999. Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie fueled 2006 and Katy Perry’s California Gurls took 2010. Of course Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines was last summer’s infectious beat.

For a summer song I want something which allows me to play imaginary keyboards or slash at a drum set only I can see. I want it to have a chorus I want to sing at the top of my not American Idol quality voice with the sun roof open headed to the beach. It also needs to hold up to being on a short playlist set on permanent repeat without boring me. I am headed to the beach for the Fourth of July and here are the five new songs which will be added to my perpetual summer playlist.

Rather Be by Clean Bandit– I break out my air violin for the opening of this before switching to the catchy keyboard hook. The band enlists Jess Glynne to do the vocals over the tracks they lay down. It puts a happy skip into my step.

I Wanna Get Better by Bleachers– Bleachers is Jack Antonoff’s of Fun. solo project and it has the same catchy drum line as the best tracks of that band. Mr. Antonoff also adds in hook after hook until we get to the chorus where I am singing/yelling “I Wanna Get Better”. The last minute of this from the guitar solo straight through to the end is everything I want from a summer song.

Am I Wrong by Nico & Vinz– The guitar line in this one is infectious and it builds to a crescendo by the first chorus which powers this all the way throughout.

She Looks So Perfect by 5 Seconds of Summer– This Australian sort of boy band produces a power pop confection that is the very definition of guilty pleasure. It is so formulaic that it should be forgettable but there is a genuine joy in the performance which allows this to rise above that formula

Summer by Calvin Harris– If you name your song Summer you’re clearly angling to be put on people’s summer playlists. It is a good thing that Mr. Harris produces a synthesizer laden homage to the dog days.

I hope everyone is having a great summer and allowing yourself to enjoy the simple pleasures of this time of year. If you need me you’ll find me on the beach, headphones in, sunglasses on, nose buried in my book.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Lolita Lempicka Perfume- Lovely Licorice

Once the gourmand style of perfume had been created with the launch of Thierry Mugler Angel in 1992 a deluge of imitators followed. One common flaw to most of these was they all decided to work on the sweet shop side of the edible olfactory. That sort of slavish devotion to the candy floss character of Angel led to cloyingly overbalanced sugar bombs. As with every trend in perfumery it got to the point that I would steel myself for the onslaught of ethyl maltol every time I was told this was a new gourmand fragrance. It took five years for someone to try a different tack. Perfumer Annick Menardo would look to the candy aisle for inspiration too but she reached for a package of licorice when she composed Lolita Lempicka Perfume.  

lolita-lempicka-perfume

By 1997, when Lolita Lempicka Perfume was released, there were no fragrances which featured licorice previously. It would become a trendsetter in that respect and over the last seventeen years some of the most talented perfumers have produced their take on licorice but Mme Menardo was first. Licorice has a pronounced herbal character to it in its best forms and Mme Menardo enhances that especially in the early moments before allowing it to become a little more candy-like in the heart. All of this lies on an expertly chosen woody foundation.

annick-menardo

Annick Menardo

Lolita Lempicka Perfume opens with a vegetal green ivy note paired with aniseed. Together this is recognizably licorice but it is almost as intense as an herbal lozenge. Mme Menardo makes sure to keep this arid and delineated until she is ready to make the licorice sweeter. She accomplishes this with the addition of cherry which turns the licorice from black to more of a Twizzler red. Like those red whips of candy it is sweet but not overly so. As contrast a bouquet of iris and violet provide a floral component which synergizes extremely well. Lolita Lempicka Perfume lingers on this sweet tinged floral heart for many hours of wear. It is only after many hours that I notice that vetiver has crept in and brought a little vanilla and bezoin to allow the sweetness to resonate at a low frequency all the way through the woody drydown.

Lolita Lempicka Perfume has 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Even seventeen years later Mme Menardo’s creation still feels contemporary and different. The licorice would become a bit of Lolita Lempicka fragrance DNA. Mme Menardo has made eighteen more Lolita Lempicka fragrances and every one of them has a nod to licorice in some way. It is a brilliant stroke to brand the perfume brand with a particular note. That is the advantage of being first it allows for a perfumer to make something their very own. When it comes to licorice I always think back to Lolita Lempicka Perfume every time I smell it in a new fragrance and it still stands up favorably to the comparison. This Discount Diamond can regularly be found for less than $30/oz.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Carner Barcelona El Born- The Soul of the City

In every big city in the world when I visit I do like most tourists and go visit the things in the city that all visitors want to see. That approach reduces these cities to a large open-air museum. They give you a glimpse into the history of the city being visited and a superficial experience with the actual things which make those cities special. I always try and make a point of spending time in a real neighborhood for most of a day when traveling. It is these moments when I actually gain some insight into the soul of the city. Carner Barcelona has been taking perfume lovers on a fragrant stroll through the city of Barcelona and each of the four releases since 2010 have exposed another aspect of Creative Director Sara Carner’s home. The fifth fragrance continues this trend, El Born, which is named after the Barcelona neighborhood of the same name.

Jacques-Huclier

Jacques Huclier

Based on the description in the press materials El Born is an old area of the city dating back to medieval times but now it has become a narrow warren of boutiques, restaurants, and wine bars at street level. Above on the open air balconies you see the citizens of El Born enjoying the day as they look out over the neighborhood. As part of the creative direction Sra. Carner took the perfumer, Jacques Huclier, down to El Born to take a sniffing tour as inspiration. In the end the brief for El Born influenced by the experiential walk would be to create a complex gourmand.

El Born uses lemon and bergamot to start and M. Huclier adds in angelica and honey and while I definitely can pick those notes apart together they form a really lovely licorice accord. When I smelled El Born for the first time at Esxence I fully expected to see licorice as a note. Instead the very herbal nature of angelica is wrapped in the honey and it creates a strand of herbal-tinged licorice. M Huclier then takes a fabulous ripe fig redolent of the soft pulp inside. Together with the licorice this is as good as it gets for a gourmand fragrance beginning. The heart offers a floral intermezzo of jasmine attenuated by heliotrope so it lilts instead of overpowers. The base notes are dessert as a chocolate accord of vanilla absolute, peru balsam and sandalwood provides a traditionally sweet final lagniappe finishing this walk through El Born.

El Born has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

sara carner

Sara Carner

Sra. Carner has shown an admirable attention to detail in this perfume brand which carries her name. This has led to a reliable quality for each new release and El Born lives up to its predecessors’ pedigree. I have never been to Barcelona but Sra. Carner will have sufficiently prepared my nose for the day I finally do visit. My first stop will be to spend a day in El Born; until that day this fantastic perfume will have to tide me over.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Carner Barcelona.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Hermes Bel Ami Vetiver- The DJ JCE Remix

One of the things I like about music is when a talented DJ takes a song and applies their style to it and often makes me see something different in the original song. These remixes when done right will be my preferred version over the original because the DJ will lay down extra rhythms or add in other samples. In the end it is the song I know and like but with added things which make it better. When I received my sample of Hermes Bel Ami Vetiver I had to say I was imagining Hermes in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena as the olfactory DJ taking the original 1986 Hermes Bel Ami by perfumer Jean-Louis Sieuzac and producing a hipper modern dance remix. Bel Ami Vetiver definitely has some added beats to it and it feels more like a fragrance I want to wear while doing something active.

The original Bel Ami ranks right up there with the best leather fragrances ever. M. Sieuzac captured a textural leather by using cardamom, orris, civet, and vanilla to create the figurative grain to his leather accord. When I received the press release announcing Bel Ami Vetiver I was extremely curious to see what M. Ellena would do besides add the promised vetiver.

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DJ JCE aka Jean-Claude Ellena

M. Ellena chooses to begin with a pinpoint of citric light as bigarade opens Bel Ami Vetiver. He has used bigarade in the past as the focal point but here it is more like a lens flare. It is noticeable within the frame but it doesn’t dominate. What does dominate is a panoply of spices; cinnamon, cumin, clove, ginger, and pimento. This is M. Ellena’s particular genius in producing a memorable accord by precisely balancing these ingredients. Together they form a decadent deeply spicy experience and you can pick apart the different voices but it is the harmony of the choir that is really the point. Now the vetiver appears as green support to the spices before the woodier aspects begin to take over. Then the leather accord comes next. I don’t know this to be true but the leather accords for Bel Ami and Bel Ami Vetiver are identical to my nose when wearing them side-by-side I wonder if M. Ellena used M. Sieuzac’s version of a leather accord. What is a very characteristic effect of M. Ellena’s is the mix of tonka and incense which also accompanies the leather.

Bel Ami Vetiver has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Bel Ami Vetiver is another winner for Hermes in their mainstream, ie. Non-Hermessence, line. Over the past year M. Ellena has created some of the best fragrances of his very successful career. Bel Ami Vetiver is among the best of the fragrances he has created for Hermes. Like my music I think DJ JCE has taken a favorite perfume and remixed it into something more modern which has more of a beat and I can dance to it.

Disclosure: This review based on a sample provided by the Hermes Boutique in Vienna, VA.

Mark Behnke

Editor’s Note: Bel Ami Vetiver has been available in Europe since the beginning of the year but it is just ow available at Hermes boutiques and Saks Fifth Avenue in the US.

Olfactory Chemistry: Macrocyclic Musks- A Whiter Shade of Musk

When it comes to musk it is not like we as chemists don’t know the chemical structure of the natural source. In 1926 Leopold Ruzicka isolated and chemically identified the molecule found in the musk deer which primarily gave musk its smell and he called it Muscone.

muscone exaltone

In the structure above what you see is a 15-membered ring of carbon and importantly the bold wedge attached to the CH3 represents a methyl group which is coming up from the plane of the page. If that wedge was dashed that would indicate the geometry was going behind the plane of the page this is how we show three-dimensional geometry on the page. This orientation is very important because if that wedge was dashed and the methyl group was oriented differently the odor profile of muscone is significantly lowered. It is exactly the difficulty of getting this geometry just right that gives synthetic chemists so much difficulty in making molecules easily. In 1926 Dr. Ruzicka didn’t even try because he discovered if you just leave the methyl group off and  synthesized the rest of the large ring you still had an acceptable musky profile. Thus was the first synthetic macrocyclic musk created, Exaltone.

musk graph

These all-carbon large rings were difficult to synthesize but if you replaced one of the carbons in the ring with oxygen or added additional oxygen, those were much easier to make. These molecules are called lactones and the smaller versions of these also play a large part in perfumery.  As you can see in the table above the same issue with the muscone still existed as if the methyl group was pointed away the odor profile was much more muted.

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Dr. Robert Grubbs and Nobel Prize

The big breakthrough for the all-carbon macrocyclic musks came in the 1990’s when Prof. Robert Grubbs published a technique called catalytic ring-closing metathesis. That’s a lot of words but what it comes down to is now there was a chemical reaction which allowed a synthetic chemist the ability to form almost any size carbon ring imaginable. This is one of the most powerful synthetic methodologies of the last thirty years and Dr. Grubbs received the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this work. It fired the imagination of chemists everywhere and in the fragrance industry it sparked a bit of a race into which firm could produce and patent the best synthetic musk.

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Alberto Morillas

As for the use of these macrocyclic musks these are the musks most commonly referred to as “white musks”. The term was coined by perfumer Alberto Morillas as he combined a number of these musks to create a “cotton and linen” accord for Emporio Armani White for Her in 2001 and called it a white musk accord in the press release. M. Morillas would use the same white musk cocktail in one of my all-time favorite fragrances Thierry Mugler Cologne later that year.

These musks are also the musks that some people are not able to discern in a fragrance. We term that as being anosmic to musk but that is far too general a term. These very large molecular weight molecules hold a special property that we don’t understand very well which causes certain people to not detect them. The same people who can’t detect these macrocyclic musks can often smell either of the polycyclic or nitro musks and anosmia to those is far less common.

Mark Behnke