Flanker Round-Up: Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio Absolu and Ralph Lauren Polo Ultra Blue

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As I did in last month’s installment I am looking at two flankers of mainstream success stories. It is also another example of taking the original and going lighter or heavier as a flanker.

Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio Absolu

There is no doubt that the original Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio pour Homme is one of the great mainstream success stories. Perfumer Alberto Morillas created one of the landmark aquatic perfumes in 1996. Unlike many brands Giorgio Armani has been protective of overexposing the brand; Acqua di Gio Absolu is only the third flanker released. Another good thing about these flankers is they are distinctly different perfumes which capture pieces of the original formula without just replicating it with a new ingredient or two.

Sr. Morillas is again at the helm and he starts with the “acqua”, as a marine accord of sea and sand opens things up. It is then deepened with not the typical citrus notes but something sweeter. It then takes a very woody turn over the latter stages to become a mainly woody aquatic. For anyone who wanted a woodier version of Acqua di Gio, without the jasmine, Absolu will be your thing. If you want to grow your Acqua di Gio collection it is sufficiently different from the original, Acqua di Gio Essenza and Acqua di Gio Profumo to be worth a try.

Acqua di Gio Absolu has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Ralph Lauren Polo Ultra Blue

Ralph Lauren Polo is one of the alpha masculine mainstream perfumes since its release in 1978. Ralph Lauren has aggressively expanded the collection for a Polo Man as it has expanded into different colors, Black, Red, and Blue. The latter was its entry into the aquatic genre in 2002. It was a nicely done perfume but not one of my favorites in the Polo collection although it does have its fans. I will be interested to see what they think of Polo Ultra Blue because it is extremely light. It fits in with the current trends in mainstream fragrance but it might be so light it has become like ultraviolet light; hard to sense.

Original perfumer of Polo, Carlos Benaim, opens with a chilled lemon top accord. It is right here I wanted more. This is a veil which provides a momentary outbreak of goosebumps. It gets overtaken by sage with a bit of verbena picking up the lemon opening. The base has a stony ingredient providing a craggy coastline for Ultra Blue to crash upon. There was part of me thinking this would have been more appropriately named Polo Blue Sport but there already is one. I can see this being the ideal post-workout spritz because it is undeniably refreshing. I do have to warn those who value longevity and projection Polo Ultra Blue lacks in both categories.

Polo Ultra Blue has 4-6 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by the manufacturers.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Off-White X Byredo Elevator Music- Fragrance White Noise

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When it was revealed a few months ago that designer Virgil Abloh of fashion brand Off-White and Ben Gorham owner of fragrance brand Byredo were going to collaborate I was fascinated to see what would come of it. Ever since Mr. Abloh’s fashion brand appeared in 2013 he has reached out in multiple endeavors with different collaborators. His release of “The TEN” sneaker collection with Nike last year was one of the buzziest. At this years Fall 2018 show in Paris the realization of his perfumed partnership was debuted Off-White X Byredo Elevator Music.

Virgil Abloh

The press release says the perfume was designed by Mr. Abloh and Mr. Gorham. There is no mention of longtime Byredo perfumer Jerome Epinette’s participation. If he didn’t work on Elevator Music Mr. Gorham has surely absorbed some of his proficiency from him.  

Ben Gorham (l.) and Virgil Abloh

Both designers wanted Elevator Music to be the fragrance equivalent of background noise or Muzak. Which means they wanted it to be there only when you decided to tune in to find it. It is an increasingly odd concept which has been cropping up in perfume releases lately; the desire to blend into the wallpaper. When I received my sample and wore it I admit I struggled with the idea. My idea of Muzak is a dumbed-down inoffensive version of a popular song. Elevator Music doesn’t seem dumbed-down, but it sure goes out of its way to be inoffensive but for one interesting design choice.

The opening chords of Elevator Music come via a pairing of bamboo and violet forming watery floral harmony. Ambrette provides a light musky veil with jasmine also lilting through. It is a lovely spring overall accord full of garden soil and flowers blooming. It is also incredibly transparent in the early moments easily capturing the “background noise” vibe the designers intended. The light citrus-tinted woodiness of amyris provides the base. If that was it this would be premier Muzak for the nose. Instead there is one subversive ingredient which snakes through subtly; wood smoke. It ends up being the handle through which I could orient myself to find Elevator Music while I was wearing it. Then I started to laugh to myself thinking if the smoke was there to warn me the building around the elevator was on fire.

Elevator Music has 8-10 hour longevity and below average silage.

Is a perfume which becomes white noise a successful perfume? If it is the intent? I’ve struggled with that notion while getting ready to write this. Elevator Music is like wallpaper; only there if you focus on it. It is a collection of easy to like ingredients. Like an elevator music version of a song I like it is more likely to remind me of a spring earthy floral which is more original. As a conceptual endeavor Elevator Music succeeds. I’m not sure I want to hear the tune again even though I liked it.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I received from Byredo.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Goldfield & Banks Pacific Rock Moss- Down Under Aquatic

Starting in the late 1980’s there was a consistent stream of new musical acts hailing from Australia which formed a musical invasion of sorts. I wouldn’t label any of them as trendsetters within music but by incorporating Australian influences into existing rock music templates there was a discernable difference. I had a feeling of déjà vu as I experienced the sample set from a new brand out of Australia, Goldfield & Banks. A debut set of five perfumes deliver an Australian vibe to recognizable fragrance types.

Dimitri Weber

Part of what owner-creative director Dimitri Weber achieves is to highlight some of the perfume ingredients which are common to Australia. One of the most obvious is Australian sandalwood which has come to be the best sustainable natural source since the Indian woods were overharvested. In White Sandalwood and Wood Infusion that ingredient forms the cornerstone around which both fragrances are built by perfumer Francois Merle-Baudoin. White Sandalwood is more “soli-wood” while Woof Infusion matches it up with oud and iris in a more expansive style. The other two entries also revolve around wood, Blue Cypress and Desert Rosewood. Blue Cypress has a refreshing lung-filling accord around the light woody ingredient. Desert Rosewood goes for a more classical Oriental base. All of them are nicely executed examples worth checking out to see if any of them offer something different to add to your collection. The one which I chose to spend some time with was Pacific Rock Moss.

Francois Merle-Baudoin

There has been an admirable shift in aquatic perfume to go away from the suite of ozonic-fresh notes overused in the sector. Perfumers are now taking up the challenge of capturing sun, sea, and sand using different notes. One aspect of the beach milieu which I have been noticing more is a use of wet green vegetal accords. They are meant to evoke the kelp or algae growing in and around the seashore. M. Merle-Baudoin uses this to evoke a tidal pool surrounded by moss-covered rocks at midday.

To let you know the sun is high in the sky M. Merle-Baudoin shines a sunbeam of lemon down right at the start. This is a focused citrus which diffuses over time as a couple of greener notes in sage and geranium pave the way for the mossy rock accord to come forward. This is the smell of clean damp greenery. There is the hint of a mineralic facet which creates the tidal pool geology. I am guessing there is just a smidge of geosmin or something like it underneath the wet moss. Cedar comes forward as the tide rushes in to wash away the tidal pool until it recedes again hours later.

Pacific Rock Moss has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

This early collection from Mr. Weber is worth seeking out. He has a clear aesthetic from down under which works for all the releases. I just enjoyed it best when applied to an aquatic in Pacific Rock Moss.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample set I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Bruno Acampora Musc- New Signal on the Musk Radar

I probably don’t say this enough, but I adore my readers. I’ve always wanted this blog to be a place to have a discussion. After my Discount Diamonds column on Kiehl’s Musk one reader contacted me through Facebook and asked if I’d ever tried Bruno Acampora Musc. I told her I had not. Then she put me in contact with the brand and they sent me a whole package of samples. It turns out she was absolutely correct about this being another perfume which should be known by those who love full-spectrum musk fragrances. Which means it was a natural to be this month’s Under the Radar choice.

Musc was the inaugural perfume in the Bruno Acampora brand. Founded in 1974 there has been a consistent output of new releases over time. Exploring a brand like this with forty-plus years’ worth of experience it allows me to see Sig. Acampora’s aesthetic through a time-lapse. It is interesting to notice that Musc turns out to be a sturdy platform from which the rest of the collection grows outward from.

Musc opens with not the fierce animalic musk I expected. Instead Sig. Acampora goes for one which evokes rich earth full of decaying humus.  This is a style of musk not often used because it is the furry and feral version which is seemingly more popular. It is a reason why Sig. Acampora’s version stands out. Then like a riotous early spring garden tiny shoots of rose and jasmine provide tiny floral highlights. Clove props up the forest floor aspect. An equally earthy patchouli doubles down on that vibe. A creamy sandalwood provides the base.

Musc has 12-14 hour longevity as a perfume oil. In that form it has little sillage almost entirely a skin scent.

Bruno Acampora is an example of why I want to do this column. A brand working within the independent sector with a definable aesthetic. This is the kind of excellent perfume which gets lost in the clutter of new brands. It shouldn’t. It took a reader to point out my musk radar screen had a new signal. I am extremely grateful to her for making sure I pulled Bruno Acampora Musc up from Under the Radar.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Hermes Eau de Citron Noir- Cologne, Very Dry Please

There are things in life I like dry. My martinis are one of them. What that means is I want only a drop or two of vermouth in my chilled gin. That gives a more astringent effect as I sip my drink. There are many perfumes which also benefit from that same dry style. Foremost among them would be cologne. One of the more interesting explorations of cologne comes from the Hermes “Eau” collection. It has always provided the perfumer an opportunity to interpret this classical perfume architecture as a post-modern version. The latest release fits right in; Eau de Citron Noir.

Loomi a.k.a Black Lemon a.k.a. Citron Noir

When I saw the “noir” in the name I was wondering what might be going on. I then looked up “citron noir” and was introduced to the Persian cooking ingredient “loomi”. It is formed by drying limes after boiling them in salt water. They look like charred unappetizing black globes. As this material transferred from the Middle East to the Western world loomi became lemon and the color was obvious. So black lemon is “citron noir”.

Christine Nagel

Perfumer Christine Nagel follows up her first cologne for Hermes, Eau de Rhubarbe Ecarlate, with something different as she embraces the citrus origins of cologne with modern eyes. To recreate loomi as a perfume she blends multiple citrus ingredients before steeping them in black tea. It forms a spectacularly arid accord just like the material itself.

Mme Nagel uses lime as part of her citrus mélange, in a nod to reality, but here the black lemon accord is really made up of pieces of lemon-like ingredients: Lemon, lemon blossom, and Buddha’s Hand citron. It forms a swirly tart accord with almost no respite from that until she boils it in black tea. I don’t know what tea ingredient she uses but the effect is that of a smoky style akin to Lapsang Souchong. The tea accord also dries everything out. It wasn’t particularly juicy prior to this but now it is like a desert instead of a dessert. The slight smokiness is reinforced by the base note of cabrueva wood which provides a very light woody finish.

Eau de Citron Noir has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Eau de Citron Noir is another excellent entry into the Hermes “Eau” collection. Because I’ve been wearing it in these early days on unseasonably cold days there were times it never felt like it opened up as fully as it might a month or so from now. Even on these cooler days the skirl of a thin tendril of smoke through the very dry citrus was still enjoyable. I am looking forward to trying Eau de Citron Noir while sipping the drink I discovered looking it up for this article, iced loomi, later in the summer.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Elizabeth Arden Green Tea Fig- Darn Good

I was in Macy’s a few weeks ago and I was talking with the fragrance manager. In a not uncommon occurrence for me there were a group of three young women trying something on their skin. As the scent made its way to me I realized I liked it. Once the women moved on I asked what it was. When I read the name on the bottle I realized I had been ignoring a line of flankers I probably shouldn’t have been. Elizabeth Arden Green Tea Fig is going to fix that problem.

In 1999 when the original Elizabeth Arden Green Tea was released it was an example of what the brand does well. Catching a hold of a trend and making it fresh and sparkling. This was also one of perfumer Francis Kurkdjian’s early examples of the aesthetic we would come to know. Starting in 2001 there has been an annual flanker which has added a new ingredient into the mix. I can’t remember trying any of those. I had become a horrible niche snob by that point, so I probably turned my nose up at them and moved on to something I thought was more interesting. Until my recent visit to the mall.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux

Since 2008 perfumer Rodrogo Flores-Roux has overseen the annual Green Tea flankers. I can’t speak for what has been done previously but for Green Tea Fig the mention of the fig is not just a throwaway gesture in the name. In this case the fig stands up and makes this stand out.

Sr. Flores-Roux opens with the fresh citrus top accord like the original. The fig makes its presence known soon after. There are many types of fig accords in perfumery. The one used here is a green fig. It has more of the leafiness and less of the pulpy lushness of the riper accord. It is the right choice to harmonize with the green tea accord in the heart. This is what caught my attention across the fragrance counter. The unripe fig and the astringent green tea are lovely together. Sr. Flores-Roux adds in grace notes of almond and clary sage to provide a connection to the soft woody finish along with some musks.

Green Tea Fig has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

I need to keep reminding myself that in the more moderately priced sector in the department store there are some well-executed examples of perfume. They may not be trendsetters, or terribly original, but they can be darn good; Green Tea Fig is a reminder of that.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I received from Macy’s

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Vina Falernia Carmenere Reseva from Elqui Valley, Chile

I think my favorite part of drinking wine these days is discovering a new region for myself. It is like discovering a new perfume brand the exhilaration comes in the exploration. Like perfume it all starts with a sample. I was at my local store and asked about something to go with my Easter leg of lamb. I was asked if I’d tried the Chilean carmeneres, which I had. It didn’t seem like the best match, but I was told of a small region in Chile that takes the grape and treats it like they do for Amarone in Valpolicella, Italy. That got my attention because Amarone della Valpolicella is exactly what I would pair with lamb but for just a dinner at home I wanted something more moderately priced. Enter the Chilean version from the Elqui Valley; Vina Falernia Carmenere.

The Elqui Valley turns out to be one of the more unique vinicultural areas in the world nestled between the Atacama Desert and the Andes while being close enough to the Pacific to get the cooling sea breezes. It is also unique because there is almost no precipitation or below-freezing temperatures. The saturated sunlight matched with the altitude creates a singular terroir for wine.

Aldo Olivier (l.) and Giorgio Flessati

Vina Falernia was founded in 1999 as an off-shoot of the Olivier family’s production of table grapes and Pisco fortified wine. Aldo Olivier realized there was potential for winemaking. He hired winemaker Giorgio Flessati and they began. They planted predominantly Syrah and Carmenere grapes. Because of the climate Sig. Flessati thought it would be ideal to try and emulate the Amarone-style of harvest.

That style is to allow the grapes to dry out on the vines by leaving them there for up to two months past peak harvest. Sig. Flessati can shorten what takes four months in Valpolicella because of the intense sunlight and the moderate temperatures.

Falernia Vineyard in the Elqui Valley, Chile

The wine which follows the Amarone-style procedure is Vina Falernia Carmenere Reserva. The current vintage available in my area is the 2015. This vintage is made from 60% of the dried on the vine fruit with the remaining 40% made up of the grapes harvested earlier. It turns out to be a lovely stand-in for the much more expensive Italian version.

The 2015 vintage is a contrast to the aggressively herbal carmeneres from the rest of the Chilean viniculture areas. By using the dried fruit that seems to have been tamped down. What remains is a deeply satisfying mixture of cherries, chocolate, and cinnamon on the palate which are all also evident on the nose.

This turned out to be just what I was looking for as it was ideal with Easter dinner. In my area it goes for $14/bottle. Which is an outstanding value if you compare it to an Amarone.

I am going to seek out more of the Vina Falernia wines as I can. There is also one other vineyard in Elqui Valley called Mayu and is run by a cousin of Sig, Olivier. If they’re all as good as this one, it is yet another of the South American regions producing quality wines at moderate prices.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Diptyque Fleur de Peau- Axis of the Spring

There has been a refreshing new trend in spring florals this year; it has been more than rose. What has been amusing is several of this year’s seasonal releases have found a new choice, the classic ambrette-iris-musk axis upon which to have their perfume roll. The origins of this triad come from Chanel No. 18, for 2018 this has become the inspiration for many. One which takes it in a different direction is Diptyque Fleur de Peau.

It has been interesting to see new perfumes look for ways to make classic accords more transparent. I don’t think it works as much as it fails. What sometimes makes a classic accord has something to do with balance. If you’re going to re-interpret one you need to make sure you pay attention to that balance. Perfumer Olivier Pescheux takes this tack for Fleur de Peau.

Olivier Pescheux

One way to do that is to alter the botanical musk of ambrette with the synthetic musks in the base sandwiching the iris. M. Pescheux seemingly does this by reducing the concentration of the ambrette while adding in some fresher musks to the base. The iris in the heart is also a much opaquer version as well. Because M. Pescheux strikes the right proportions Fleur de Peau succeeds.

The opening reminds me of a fine milled soap as the ambrette is matched with baie rose. The baie rose picks up some of the slack for M. Pescheux backing off the concentration of the ambrette. The iris comes forward and it is a powdery version kept on the lighter side. It never intensifies to the Coty lipstick style of iris; it stays as a lighter dusting of floral. Some rose, again, picks up some of the heft for using a more expansive version of iris. It finally ends with the musks. There are some of the animalic musks but M. Pescheux also blend some of the linen musks in. It provides a cleaner accord without losing the growly musks entirely.

Fleur de Peau has 8-10 hour longevity with average sillage.

Fleur de Peau takes the axis of the past and transforms it into an axis of the spring. I’d much rather ride in this car than most of the other rose perfumes this year. If you’re looking for a fresh spring floral Fleur de Peau is worth a spin.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Neela Vermeire Creations Niral- Silken Flow

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One of the great success stories in independent perfume has been that of Neela Vermeire Creations. The success is borne from its namesake Neela Vermeire. As an Indian living in Paris the hallmark of her brand has been the fusion of a French and Indian aesthetic. Mme Vermeire has chosen to work exclusively with perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour. The original three releases, Trayee, Mohur, and Bombay Bling laid down this marker in 2012. Over the ensuing years it has become more assured in its execution. The latest release, Niral, is another outstanding perfume from this creative team.

Neela Vermeire

Mme Vermeire looks for her inspiration this time to Sir Thomas Waddle. Sir Waddle was the first to figure out how to dye the silk harvested from the silkworms of India; known as Tussar silk. This silk was prized for its texture, but it was resistant to the typical dying procedures in the 1870’s. Sir Wardle would attend the Paris Exhibition, in 1878, with a full-spectrum of dyed Tussar silk. It was such a breakthrough Sir Wardle was not only knighted he was also appointed a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in France. Mme Vermeire evokes this colored textured fabric as a perfume in Niral.

Bertrand Duchaufour

M. Duchaufour uses a fantastic opening accord of spicy green angelica paired with a champagne accord. The champagne accord has a slight fizz of aldehydes which effervesce through the slightly musky green of the angelica. This captures that textural golden sheen endemic to Tussar silk. The raw material becomes dyed with iris and black tea. Every bit as compelling as the opening accord; the shimmery powdery iris crossed with the pungent tea is another textural pairing. M. Duchaufour uses one of his subtler leather accords to provide a transparent animalic effect underneath the heart notes. This all comes to rest on a woody base of cedar and sandalwood.

Niral has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is the most assured perfume for this brand to date. There is not a piece out of place. It flows like a bolt of fine silk over the skin. I have worn it three times and each time I find more nuance to admire. It is my favorite new perfume of 2018, so far. It is the culmination of everything Mme Vermeire and M. Duchaufour have been doing for the last six years.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Neela Vermeire Creations.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Strangelove NYC lostinflowers- Joy Oil

There are a few perfume brands which I enjoy because of a certain combination of elements. Strangelove NYC is one which I admire for its creative team paired with its ability to release perfumes only when they find a signature element to build upon.

Elizabeth Gaynes (l.) and Helena Christensen

The creative team begins with owner Elizabeth Gaynes who has a philosophy of quality over quantity for Strangelove NYC. In my e-mail conversations with her there is a passion for doing perfume which comes through. She partners with supermodel Helena Christensen to create the brief for perfumer Christophe Laudamiel. M. Laudamiel when presented the opportunity to use a unique ingredient for this brand has yet to disappoint. The latest release lostinflowers is another excellent member of the collection.

Christophe Laudamiel

Ms. Gaynes discovered a red champaca otto essential oil on her travels. Called “joy oil” in India it provides the unusual aspect which seems to have become the signature for the brand. In the hands of M. Laudamiel under their direction they build outward from that nucleus to live up to the name.

The star of the show is displayed prominently early on as the champaca comes forward. Champaca often seems like it is itself an accord, as it is a multi-faceted ingredient. To get one of such quality allows for M. Laudamiel to pick what to expand upon. The core champaca is a fruity honeyed floral. M. Laudamiel chooses two flowers to harmonize with it; tagetes and gardenia. The tagetes provide an acerbic pushback to the joy oil. The gardenia comes by way of enfleurage which makes it softer than the oil. M. Laudamiel allows both to swirl upward encircling the chmampaca until you are lost in the scent of these florals. This is not a heavy-handed effect it is much more restrained. I wouldn’t call it transparent, but it isn’t overwhelming, either. There is a lushness to the floral accord which allows for the fruity and musky aspects of champaca to peek out from among the petals. Saffron adds a shimmering glow over the surface of this. Oud provides a grace note deepening the overall accord without taking over.

Lostinflowers has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage as the perfume oil, as the eau de parfum it has average sillage.

Lostinflowers comes in two concentrations; perfume oil and eau de parfum (EdP). I was introduced to Strangelove NYC through their first release deadofnight as an oil. It is one of the rare cases where I prefer the oil formulation over the EdP. The EdP seems to make these constructs more expansive when I prefer just burying my nose in a closely held comfort. I can see the appeal of maybe making the floral heart a little more voluminous as an EdP but not for me.

I am once again impressed with the perfume produced by Ms. Gaynes, Ms. Christensen, and M. Laudamiel. I know it will probably be a while before the next release but the joy oil that is lostinflowers will be good company until then.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples I purchased.

Mark Behnke