New Perfume Review Ralph Lauren Polo Red Extreme- The Anti-Red

Most of the time flankers have a clear relation to the other perfumes within a brand for which it shares its name. It is a pleasant surprise when I receive a new flanker which has almost nothing to do with the previous releases. This was the case when I tried the new Ralph Lauren Polo Red Extreme.

One of the reasons I probably looked sideways at my sample of Polo Red Extreme was because I am not a fan of the original Polo Red, released in 2013. Perfumer Olivier Gillotin did a by-the-numbers lemon, lavender, and cedar perfume. When the first flanker, Polo Red Intense was released two years later, it was a bit unfocused as M. Gillotin shoehorned some extra notes like cranberry, saffron, and leather into the basic Red architecture. It was not an improvement on the original.

When I sprayed my sample of Polo Red Extreme I was so surprised at how much M. Gillotin had changed the pyramid I had to go find the other two just to make sure my memory was accurate. Polo Red Extreme goes for a much deeper style of fragrance which is more a gourmand than the woody versions the first two were.

Olivier Gillotin

The citrus changes for Polo Red Extreme to blood orange and if it was just that it would be similar enough to what has come previously. Instead he goes a bit more tropical with ginger and pineapple providing contrast. It still is mostly the citrus but the other two notes provide a very different fruity opening moment. The one note which is the connecting tissue between all three Red fragrances is clary sage in the heart. It is a supporting note in all three cases. What it does in Polo Red Extreme is to provide that 3AM in the diner roughness to the coffee at the heart of this new release. There is a kind of coffee found only in the wee hours of the morning which is just the right side of burnt and that is the accord M. Gillotin constructs here. It goes from straight black coffee to a mocha as cocoa flavors it in the base along with amber, and ebony wood. This isn’t an intense gourmand but it is a pleasantly different take for a mainstream perfume.

Polo Red Extreme has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

It is a low bar, for me, but Polo Red Extreme is my favorite of the Polo Red collection. It can be different within the department store offerings around it even though it is so unlike its siblings it should have been called The Anti-Red.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from Ralph Lauren.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review: Maison Francis Kurkdjian Aqua Celestia- Mimosa Cirrus

Before coming in to write this review I was looking at the high wisps of cirrus clouds in an otherwise cloudless sky. They are so high and thin it is easy to see them as inconsequential to the more substantial cumulus clouds. Today I was struck by the beauty of the white brushstrokes upon the blue sky. I then realized what I was wearing was like those cirrus clouds as a perfumer has performed delicate wispy brushstrokes of fragrance on a persistent background. That perfume is Maison Francis Kurkdjian Aqua Celestia.

The brand was also thinking along the same lines as their press release describes Aqua Celestia as forming, “a seamless bond between the blue of the sky and the blue of the sea.” Aqua Celestia is the third in the Aqua series for Maison Francis Kurkdjian. Aqua Universalis was part of the debut collection in 2009 and Aqua Vitae followed in 2013. Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian designed this series to be very expansive and light. It is no surprise to me that Aqua Universalis is one of the best sellers within the brand. It is exactly what M. Kurkdjian does quite well. By anchoring Aqua Universalis in a familiar version of synthetic musk like those used in laundry detergent it allows for someone to latch on to the familiar while giving them something different with a very green muguet to go with it. It is simple but brilliant in tone. Aqua Celestia shares all of that.

Francis Kurkdjian

For Aqua Celestia M. Kurkdjian chose a different kind of white musk as his source of the sky. It is still a fresh musk like what you experience with a freshly laundered piece of clothing. There is a reason these kinds of musks are so ubiquitous because of their tenacious pleasant quality. What M. Kurkdjian does is to elevate them above the mundane which is what happens in Aqua Celestia.

Aqua Celestia opens on a bracing combination of lime, cassis, and mint. You might think that smells like a cheap version of a mojito but instead this carries a much more ethereal quality. The notes have a presence but they also seem less sharp than they could be. The real star of Aqua Celestia comes next as mimosa becomes the keynote with which the musk will pair. This is an expansive mimosa which sits upon the overarching presence of the musk like those cirrus clouds. The musk is what you experience but these wisps of mimosa peek through delicately. It is like pulling a clean shirt out of the dryer and holding it to your nose.

Aqua Celestia has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I expect that eight years after the release of Aqua Universalis M. Kurkdjian has created the next iteration in Aqua Celestia. I also suspect it will become one of the best sellers for the brand because of it. There are times fragrance can be cirrus clouds and Aqua Celestia is one of them.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Hamilton Russell Winery

I really enjoy finding new wine regions to dive into. Last summer I discovered the South African Walker Bay region. At that time, it was through their chardonnays. As I’ve mentioned in the past I have issues with the way many American chardonnays go about tweaking their wines to accentuate the woodiness or the buttery and in the worst cases both. It is something which has become worse over the years. Which means I must look elsewhere to find balanced chardonnays in which the winemaker has the trust in the grape to let it be the balanced wine it can be. I complain about this so much that my local wine store invited me to a tasting of the new chardonnay releases from Walker Bay. I was bowled over as these hewed closer to French white burgundies than the American version. The Hamilton Russell Winery was the chardonnay I liked best. As I spoke to the store owner he mentioned that the pinot noir from Hamilton Russell was even better.

Anthony Hamilton Russell and Hannes Storm

Walker Bay is located on the south coast of South Africa. It is known primarily as one of the premiere whale watching sites in the world as Southern Right Whales gather there in the winter and spring. What it also does is provide a moderating warm sea breeze to the cooler air temperatures in the wine growing valley of Hemel-en-Aarde which is where Harrison Russell is located. The oversight of the vineyard has been kept in the family since its founding in 1979. Currently Anthony Hamilton Russell is the current owner-operator. He has been working exclusively with winemaker Hannes Storm since 2000. It is this partnership which has turned these wines into what they are.

The chardonnays carry a supernatural clarity and I recently found out the reason why. The oldest vines produce grapes which are most prone to picking up the woody aspects of being aged in barrels. Mr. Storm came up with a brilliant idea of aging those old vine grapes in clay amphorae made from the clay on the estate. It took some trial and error but the most recent three vintages have about 3% of the grapes used from these amphorae. It is this choice which adds the fresh quality to the chardonnays. It tones down the woody nature while they purposefully keep the malolactic fermentation down as well. It results in a chardonnay with crisp fruity openings. They all have this lovely apple and peach early phase before heading to a subtly creamy finish. The 2013, 2014, and 2015 vintages are all examples of this style of chardonnay.

When I was told the pinot noirs were better, based on the evidence on the recently released 2015, I have to agree. Just like the chardonnays the pinot noir is very like French Burgundy red wine. Mr. Storm chooses to rack the wine once which is the process of moving it using gravity from one barrel to the other. This technique is meant to open up a wine which the winemaker considers closed off from its aromatic potential. I can’t speak to what it was like prior to adding racking to the process because it began back in the 2010 vintage. What I can assess is the 2015 has reached the peak of its aromatic potential. What I also think it does is makes this wine very soft on the palate as the plummy red tea early taste deepens into a spicy toasted wood finale. This 2015 vintage is spectacular in its evolving complexity.

The Hamilton Russell wines are not best buys as they are generally available for about $30 for the chardonnay and $40 for the pino noir although I think they are great value for their price considering the cost of their Burgundian counterparts. If you’re looking for a nice bottle of wine for a special meal either of these are great choices.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Ineke Field Notes from Paris- A Warm Tobacco Sweater

It is a given I have too much perfume. There are some silver linings to it as I spend time moving seasonal appropriate things forward I sometimes bump into something which has fallen off my radar. Back in the fall when I was doing this I reacquainted myself with Ineke Field Notes from Paris.

San Francicsco-based Ineke Ruhland began her eponymous brand back in 2006 with four releases. Her concept was she was going to use the alphabet as the source of her names thus her first four releases were After my Own Heart, Balmy Days & Sundays, Chemical bonding and Derring-Do. That took care of A-D. From there the next four came out over the next few years with Hothouse Flower being the last in 2012. I know I & J are near completion and release but so far there has been nothing officially announced. Which means the brand has probably fallen off many perfume lovers’ radar. I think Ms. Ruhland has produced one of the best independent perfume collections and when the new releases are out I suspect these older releases will also be discovered all over again. If you’re in the mood to get ahead of the curve the 2009 release Field Notes from Paris is a good example of everything Ms. Ruhland does well.

Ineke Ruhland

The brief for Field Notes from Paris was, “sweet-scented Paris afternoons, life measured out in coffee spoons.” That phrase might lead you to believe this is a café au lait kind of perfume but that is not the case. This perfume is that cold afternoon where you put your sock-covered feet under a warm blanket on a leather sofa while wearing your favorite cashmere sweater with a humidor of tobacco nearby. I know that last part seems incongruous but this is how Ms. Ruhland works she takes something which should be a square peg in a round hole and finds a way to turn it into something which does fit.

Field Notes from Paris is constructed on an axis of orange blossom and tobacco. In the very early stages it is just the orange blossom paired with a very green coriander. The tobacco comes up right away and it is the coriander which performs the introductions. Ms. Ruhland has a skill at finding these kinds of notes which help two disparate ones find common ground. This all floats over a fantastic leather accord. It reminds me of the smell of a new leather sofa. There is a freshness to the leather prior to being broken in and that is the leather accord at the heart of Filed Notes from Paris. The base becomes all sweet vanilla comfort with tonka and vanilla in a beeswax matrix finishes this off.

Filed Notes from Paris has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Ever since finding Field Notes from Paris back in the fall this has functioned like my favorite perfume sweater throughout the colder months of this year. There are many joys to be found within the entire Ineke collection you just have to put it on your radar.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review D.S. & Durga Durga- The Tuberose Tiger

Tuberose is a wild beast of a fragrance ingredient. It can be so untamed with its overwhelming nature that many perfumers must go to great lengths to rein it in so it can be used without becoming too much. There is another technique in direct opposition to trying to tame it; jump on its back and try to ride it. That is what the new D.S. & Durga Durga does.

You might think the perfume is named after the nickname perfumer David Seth Moltz has given to his wife Kavi Moltz and which makes up the brand name with his first two initials. It turns out that this is instead more literal as they design a fragrance inspired by the Hindu Goddess Durga. She is a multi-limbed warrior goddess depicted riding on the back of a tiger brandishing a weapon form each of her multiple hands. Her keynote victory is over the Buffalo Demon. How this translates to the perfume bearing her name is that Mr. Moltz uses two fabulous sources of tuberose to which he piles on with most of the opulent floral materials in perfumery.

David Seth Moltz and Kavi Moltz

Mr. Moltz uses green tuberose as his opening note. Over the last couple of years, I have enjoyed seeing what different perfumers do with this version of tuberose where there is a more prominent green quality as well as making the camphoraceous heart of tuberose also stand out. The choice he makes to modulate this is a melon note in all its intense fruitiness. It is not an intuitive choice but it is one which I really took to and this is from someone who can find melon irritating. From here Mr. Moltz starts adding one floral note after the other. It starts with chrysanthemum freshening things up. Orange blossom takes the freshness and brings it back to white flower territory. A high percentage irone orris butter runs the danger of perhaps gilding the tuberose but it doesn’t. Ylang-ylang turns this creamy and lush. Then when most perfumers would try and cage the tiger Mr. Moltz drenches the base in tuberose absolute paired with jasmine sambac. This is a basso profundo finish as these two huge white flowers strut their indolic nature. Mr. Moltz accentuates the skanky quality with musk added in for that purpose.

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

Outside of the melon, which works here, this is a collection of most of my favorite floral motes. Mr. Moltz does an impressive job at keeping all of this roaring at full speed but never flying off a cliff.  If you are a fan of the white flower powerhouse perfumes Durga is a contemporary interpretation which succeeds by being unafraid to allow the tiger that is tuberose the opportunity to range freely.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Art de Parfum Signature Wild- Well Begun

There are times when I receive a new perfume brand with multiple releases and it just takes me a long time to finally get around to writing about them. When I attended Tranoi back in September of 2016 I met the founder of Art de Parfum, Ruta Degutyte. I was in my typical drive-by mode and Ms. Degutyte gave me samples of her five debut releases. Very slowly over the past few months I have spent time with all of these perfumes.

One of the things I think Ms. Degutyte got right was to create a small group of perfumes as her introduction to the market. Working with perfumer Sofia Koronaiou they developed a broad collection of different styles. In Sea Foam they composed a stylish aquatic with typical fresh salt air and the grass on the dunes. Gin & Tonic provides what the name promises as there is astringent juniper, citrus, green cucumber and a nicely realized tonic accord. Excentrique Moi brings back the citrus only to send it deep through an unusual hibiscus and black tea heart accord before grounding itself in patchouli. Sensual Oud is one of those straight forward rose-oud combinations with saffron added it is a nice version of a classic fragrance style. The fifth one Signature Wild was the one which connected with me.

Ruta Degutyte

Signature Wild feels a bit like the culmination of much of what I experienced in the other four Art de Parfum releases. What made it stand out for me was there was more of a developmental trajectory as Mme Koronaiou moves it from boozy spice through floral to leather.

Signature Wild opens with a big slug of cinnamon. I enjoy an overdose of cinnamon especially when it stays more on the dusty spicy side versus reminding me of red hots candy. The cinnamon is matched with cardamom to bring some contrast. Davana provides a boozy undertone to all of it. A smooth transition from the top accord to the orange blossom heart is performed by a group of dried fruit transforming the spice into a delicate orange blossom. Signature Wild doesn’t linger there for too long because there is a sturdy leather accord which wants its presence felt. This is a leather handbag accord polished and rich. Vetiver, balsam, and labdanum modulate the leather throughout the later stages.

Signature Wild has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Ms. Degutyte has done an excellent job overseeing the premiere of her brand. There is a feel of coherence even though these five fragrances contain some diversity. There are connective aspects between two or three throughout them. Signature Wild was my favorite but all five are worth seeking out because it is a good example of a new brand which has gotten off to a great start.

Disclosure: this review was based on samples provided by Art de Parfum.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Lemon

Every spring I get overwhelmed by the number of new rose releases for spring which pile up on my desk. I have become openly grumpy about this and hope every year for something different to show up as the weather begins to warm up. Last year I realized I was wearing several specific perfumes as a palate cleanser versus those rose fragrances; lemon focused perfumes. I made sure to remember when this time came around this year to share my favorites. Here are five which I love.

One of my favorite summer treats is to take a cold lemon and cut it into wedges and coat it in sugar. Then I bite into the wedge for a cold sweet and sour treat. When I want the same effect, I turn to Fresh Sugar Lemon. Perfumer Cecile Krakower mixes two sources of lemon and adds it into a heart of orange blossom, lychee flower and ginger. Those three ingredients provide the sugar part of the equation. It is one of the interesting aspects of perfumery that I can tease apart the strands but it is when I stop doing that the sugary effect is balanced contrast to the lemon. The base is found in caramel tinged sandalwood. Sugar Lemon is an example of how simple can be very good.

Diptyque Oyedo is a true melange of all citrus; especially in the very early going. The lemon rises out of the crowd as the herbal green of thyme along with apricot lift it up above the other citrus ingredients. As it was with Sugar Lemon the base is a mix of wood and gourmand as cedar and a praline accord take on that role. Of all of the perfumes on this list this is the most dynamic.

It is a very rare thing where I think the flanker is way better than the original; Chanel Allure Homme Edition Blanche is one of those. The original Allure Homme was composed by Jacques Polge and Francois Demachy in 1998. Ten years later the same team of perfumers reworked the original formula by replacing the original softer citrus opening around mandarin with one centered on a burst of lemon. The heart is a sandalwood and tonka down to a very different base of vetiver, cedar, amber, and vanilla from the original as the latter two notes take over from the first two.

One of the best recent variations on lemon has been Atelier Cologne Citron D’Erable. Perfumer Jerome Epinette splice lemon onto a fabulously rich maple syrup accord. By trapping the exuberant citrus in the sticky syrup, he creates a true shoulder season citrus which is at its best on cold mornings followed by warm afternoons.

I finish with what I consider to be one of the greatest rich citrus perfumes ever and it is all about lemon; Balmain Monsieur Balmain. Originally composed by Germaine Cellier and brilliantly re-worked by Calice Becker in 1990 this is what I think a spring fragrance should be. Three styles of lemon are combined in the top with lemon, petitgrain, and verbena. They are given lift by a brilliantly restrained use of mint. Then herbal thyme, rosemary, and sage along with ginger and nutmeg swaddle a spicy rose which provides deeper harmonies for the bright top accord. It all ends on fabulously constructed light chypre accord.

If you want something to freshen up your days as things begin to thaw try these five lemon perfumes to provide some light.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Sisley Izia- Rose Soap on a Rope

As gimmicks to sell soap go I am a sucker for soap on a rope. One of my earliest fragrance related gifts was a bar of Aramis scented soap with a loop of braided rope sticking out of the side. I am sure this is a product which has almost all of its sales to men. As I got older I still liked having one hanging from my shower faucet. If there was something that I would use to describe the scent of the soap was that it was a lighter more transparent version of the parent. As we would cross over in to the 2000’s transparent design of the perfume itself became more common. There were also more perfumes which actively embraced being soapy. The new Sisley Izia reminded me of a transparent soapy rose that could have been on a rope.

Sisley is not one of those brands which seems to ride the wave of trends. They have released a total of 12 fragrances since the debut of Eau de Campagne in 1976.  At that pace, you have to work on more traditional structures. Which was why Izia surprised me a little bit because this was a contemporary rose fragrance from a brand where that is not one of the adjectives which springs to mind. Perfumer Amandine Clerc-Marie did a nice job at making Izia a spring rose with something different to say.

Amandine Clerc-Marie

The soapiness for Izia comes from a selection of aldehydes which combine to form a fine French-milled soap accord. When I get a really fine soap and open it for the first time there is this wonderful moment as the pent-up scent rises off the cake and fills the room as if on an invisible soap bubble. The aldehydes in Izia do the same for the rose. The aldehydes serve to give a diffuse quality to the rose making it softer. To that Mme Clerc-Marie adds a pinch of pink pepper, some pear, and bergamot. These provide detail without distracting from the soapy rose. That effect gets stronger in the heart as freesia, angelica, and peony make Izia fresher but no less soapy. The base is a very clean cedary musk.

Izia has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

If you do not like your perfume soapy Izia should be avoided it is one of the more prominent soapy perfumes I have tried in some time. Prior to wearing Izia I would have numbered myself in that group. What Izia made me see was if the soap is given something on which to actively make transparent it can be a refreshing change from the other dewy spring roses on the shelf this time of year. If you have overlooked Sisley, Izia is enough of a change that you might want to give it a chance to make a new impression.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Armani Prive Iris Celadon- Split Personality Iris

When it comes to the private collection fragrance lines from the major designers there is none more frustrating for me than the Armani Prive collection. When it comes to mainstream designer perfume Giorgio Armani also shares this inconsistency. My hypothesis is since the Armani line of fragrances is not overseen by a single set of creative directors it has suffered for not having a singular defining brand aesthetic. Which translates to these pendulum swings in quality. There are many in the line which I think are as great as I consider others to be poor. In the past, I’ve said their success rate is about 50%. What I’ve also come to realize is that when they are good they are very good as is the new Armani Prive Iris Celadon.

Iris Celadon is the thirty-second release in the Armani Prive collection. Perfumer Marie Salamagne is composing her fifth within the group. I found this quote, by Giorgio Armani, attached in the press materials interesting; “The color celadon is neither blue, green, nor grey. It’s an indefinable color, and one that I find fascinating.” That quote could be applied to the use of iris in perfume as it can be powdery, floral, or earthy without being completely any one of those. Which is one reason I like iris as a perfume ingredient because it allows the perfumer to define the nature of it by what they use along with it. Mme Salamagne tries to show all these faces of iris in Iris Celadon.

Marie Salamagne (Photo: Jerome Bonnet)

The powdery quality of iris comes surrounded by a cloud of aldehydes and cardamom. These are not the hairspray aldehydes instead they are more like wispy cirrus clouds of aldehydes adding some lift to the powdery face of iris. Mme Salamagne uses mate to bring a green focal point to the development into the heart while also shaping the powdery into the more floral. There is a good few minutes where it feels like the mate is chiseling away the powder to find the flower underneath. When the floral character does arise, she sprinkles it with a delicate coating of cocoa powder. It is an interesting transition from flowery powderiness to a gourmand version of the same effect. She finally plants the rootiness of iris deep in a fertile base accord of patchouli and ambrette. Now the powder and the floralcy recedes to leave something which reaches deep into the earth.

Iris Celadon has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Few perfumers embrace the spilt personality of iris as well as Mme Salamagne does in Iris Celadon. It makes for fragrance which has a dynamic development seemingly in motion no matter when you check in with it. I like my perfumes to be mutable even if I don’t get to spend as much time on one phase over the other. Iris Celadon is one of the Armani Prive releases which works because it doesn’t sit still.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Giorgio Armani.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Hidden Figures

Later today the Oscars will be handed out for movies released in 2016. Part of the fun of watching the ceremony is having rooting interests. I’ve already mentioned my ambivalence towards favorite “La La Land” as well as my enthusiasm for “Arrival”. As much as I’d like to see the latter win Best Picture and the former to get shut out completely there is one movie which I think has a shot at blocking “La La Land” from the Best Picture Award; “Hidden Figures”.

Hidden Figures is the story of three African-American women who worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It takes place in 1961 as the United States were beginning the Space Race in competition with the USSR. Each country trying to outdo the other by being the first to do something in space. By 1961 the Russians had placed the first satellite, Sputnik, and the first human, Yuri Gargarin. At the Hampton, Virginia NASA facility was where the mathematicians and physicists were gathered to come up with the scientific foundation necessary to have the US catch-up. When it comes to efforts like this the prevailing prejudice of the day is tamped down in the desire for success. So, it was for the women at the heart of this movie.

(l. to r.) Janelle Monae, Taraji P. Henson, and Octavia Spencer

The women are part of the “computers” team who assist all over the facility as needed. They are segregated in to their tiny cramped office overseen by supervisor Dorothy Vaughn, played by Octavia Spencer. Ms. Vaughn is not given the title even though she does the same work as her boss Vivian Mitchell, played by Kirsten Dunst. Two of her staff are brilliant and are given assignments where those skills can be used. Kathryn Goble, played by Taraji P. Henson, is added to the group which is doing the calculations for the first manned flight. The challenges of being the first “colored” member of the team is what her story entails. The other story we follow is that of Mary Jackson, played by Janelle Monae, who is assigned to the capsule design team. Her white supervisor encourages her to fight for her right to attend an all-white school to take the course she needs to continue her education and become an engineer.

Director Theodore Melfi who also co-wrote the screenplay doesn’t take Hidden Figures any place you can’t see coming from a mile away. Which didn’t matter to me because the actresses embody their roles so seamlessly while each story provides a different angle on the state of race and gender relations in 1961 America. Even though I know the story will have a happy ending the journey to it is so entertainingly told it was a joy to spend a couple hours in the dark watching it.

Over the Holidays I try and see as many of the Oscar candidates as I can. I saw Hidden Figures on the same day I also saw “La La Land”, the movie which has resonated since that day is Hidden Figures which is why I am hoping when they open the envelope for Best Picture that’s the title on the card inside.

Mark Behnke