Colognoisseur Holiday Perfume Buyer’s Guide 2018 Part 1- At The Mall

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As we approach Thanksgiving in the US it is the demarcation of the beginning of the Holiday shopping season. As soon as the last bite of pie and the last dish is loaded in the dishwasher on Thanksgiving; shopping begins. It starts with overnight bargain hunting into what is known as Black Friday.

Fragrance is a popular gift. There is even a beautiful commercial for a department store about a blind husband knowing his wife by her perfume. I think buying a perfume for someone is a big risk because it is such an intimate gift. I do have a suggestion on how to do it in a more intimate way at this link.

Even so I know many will still be buying fragrance this Holiday season. For my Buyer’s Guide I do Part 1 with a list of perfume you will most likely find at any mall or department store. Tomorrow, before Small Business Saturday, Part 2 will focus on independent brands found at local brick and mortar perfume store.

The list of perfumes below is meant to give a breadth of choice to anyone looking for a specific style. Links to the full review are in the names.

Atelier Cologne Iris Rebelle– This is a transparent rooty iris instead of the usual powdery version. If you ever wanted to see the other face of iris, here it is.

Britney Spears Prerogative– Britney Spears was one of the early successes of the celebuscent wave of the last few years. Leave it to her, as the trend has diminished, to remind me that it still can be quite good. Perfumer Honorine Blanc produces a fruity gourmand perfume.

Buberry Her– Of all the transparent style of perfume I encountered in 2018 perfumer Francis Kurkdjian created a crowd-pleaser. A fruity airy bubble that you float in happily.

Cartier Carat– This is what I consider to be the best mainstream perfume of 2018. Perfumer Mathilde Laurent composes a kinetic prismatic transparent floral. It is like a constant motion machine of floral jewels.

Commodity Velvet– The entire brand is a great choice and 2018 was a great year for it. The reason they have been so good is they allow a perfumer to bring a niche aesthetic to the mall. It results in some stunning efforts. Velvet is Jerome Epinette’s rose floating on top of a pool of vanilla. Simple and gorgeous.

Gucci Bloom Nettare Di Fiore– Gucci is making a fragrant statement again. Both of this year’s flankers of Gucci Bloom were excellent but it is the spicing up of the core accord of Bloom which is what makes Nettare Di Fiore ideal for fall and winter.

Jo Malone Jasmine Sambac & Marigold– Jo Malone is another brand which had an outstanding 2018. Jasmine Sambac & Marigold was the bellwether for that. This is an unusual pairing for jasmine as the green of marigold creates a unique floral harmonic.

Nest Cocoa Woods– Is an austere dry mixture of sandalwood and sequoia coated in cocoa powder. If you enjoy woody perfume this adds a gourmand style on top of that.

Terre D’Hermes Eau Intense VetiverChristine Nagel produces her version of the classic Terre D’Hermes. Her choice is to take vetiver from the background of the original and move it out in front of the dry synthetic woods. It is a perfume which I think more of the longer I spend time with it.

I wish all my US readers a Happy Thanksgiving and let me be the first to wish all my readers a Happy Holidays. Now…..Ready……Set……Shop!

Disclosure: I received samples of all of the perfumes mentioned in this article from the manufacturers.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review L’Artisan Parfumeur Mont De Narcisse- Climbing a Mont

We all have perfume ingredients we adore which are less admired by perfume lovers in general. Two of my favorites in this category are narcissus and immortelle. Both are oddly scented polarizing ingredients. For those who are in search of something different in their fragrance these deliver that. I wouldn’t have thought a perfume brand would put both in a perfume; L’Artisan Parfumeur Mont de Narcisse does.

Mont de Narcisse is another entry in the Les Paysages collection which is meant to cover specific geographical regions of France. This is inspired by the narcissus covered fields in Auvergne at the height of the summer. Despite that description this is not a summery perfume. This is a composition of strong ingredients in search of harmony. The perfumer who has the task is Anne Flipo.

Anne Flipo

It is a difficult balancing act using the deeply vegetal green of the narcissus with the maple syrup-like quality of immortelle alongside a birch tar leather accord. There are a couple of moments where Mme Flipo grinds some gears climbing this Mont.

The green of the narcissus is where the trip begins. Mme Flipo uses black pepper and cardamom to add a spicy complement. The pepper is more prevalent while the cardamom makes the narcissus a bit cooler than it already is. The immortelle lays down a gourmand-like contrast with the maple syrup part of the scent profile out front. It warms the standoffish narcissus while adding a contrasting floral. The leather accord which makes up the base is formed around a smoky birch tar. It opens with a bit of a smudge pot quality because of that. This is one of those clunks I was speaking about. For a short period, the tar is overriding everything else. Once it pulls back into becoming a part of a leather accord the narcissus and immortelle infuse in different ways. Once all three notes are together Mont de Narcisse hits its stride.

Mont de Narcisse has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Mont de Narcisse is a perfume for people who love the ingredients. I am one of those. If you are not a fan of any one of them I think Mont de Narcisse is a hill you should travel around. Each of them is not only prominent but at levels which make it hard to overlook. Except for a couple of moments when all three come together I enjoyed it immensely. If you are a fan this is a Mont well worth climbing.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by L’Artisan Parfumeur.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Margiela Mutiny- The Hand of a Creative Director

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As the ideas of niche perfumery took hold in the first years of the 2000’s the designer houses were determined not to be left behind. What that meant were the imaginative creative directors of the designer houses took an active hand in the perfumes which bore the logo. In hindsight we look back and see that was a time where some of the best designer perfumes were produced.

John Galliano

I’ve never understood entirely why the brands seemed to step away from this after five or six years of making it an extension of the brand aesthetic. This turned into a concentration of safe trend following fragrance which felt engineered to elicit a response rather than inspired by emotion. In the last couple of years, the pendulum seems to be swinging back with the creative directors taking the reins of the fragrance side again. For Maison Margiela creative director John Galliano has stepped into the perfume game again with Mutiny.

Dominique Ropion

To show how this becomes more intricately entwined with the brand aesthetic Mutiny was debuted along with the Spring/Summer 2019 clothing collection at Paris Fashion Week at the end of September. Mr. Galliano spoke in an interview with Vogue about how he designed Mutiny in the same way he designs his clothing collections with distinct layers. Working with perfumer Dominique Ropion the idea was to make a transparent version of tuberose and leather to form the core.

What seems to have occurred is M. Ropion put together a tuberose accord from a number of modern sources. What it allows for is the chance to pick out the parts of tuberose you want to enhance while removing those you don’t. What M. Ropion chooses is an indole-free and menthol-free tuberose accord. If you are not fond of those aspects but really enjoy the fruity floralcy along with the creamy oleaginous quality, then M. Ropion chose the right ones.

Mutiny opens with a very wispy version of tuberose supported by citrus and orange blossom. M. Ropion is teasing out the fruit chewing gum character of tuberose. As it deepens with more layers of tuberose added it skips the things are missing to get to the fatty creamy nature also characteristic of this white flower. Also coming together is a fine leather accord using saffron, oud, and vanilla. This is also stripped of the more animalic aspects of a leather accord in favor of something refined. No rough edges here. Once both accords are in place that is where Mutiny lingers.

Mutiny has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Mutiny is done in the transparent style which seemingly is what younger perfume lovers desire. Under that qualification Mutiny is a complete success. I also like it more than others trying similar techniques because there is much more of a spine here instead of wisps of fragrance on the breeze. I also believe this isn’t a perfume that is trying to straddle the middle. They chose to go transparent and they succeeded. If you’re a fan of full spectrum white flower perfumes I suspect Mutiny is not for you. If you want a cleaner version of tuberose and leather Mutiny is a great version of that. As a beginning I see the hand of more creative direction from Mr. Galliano. I am hopeful for more because I think it is where something amazing might come.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Heeley Blanc Poudre- The Subtlety of the Mundane

If there is one place most people encounter fragrance in their daily life it is in their use in laundry products. You might choose a scent-free detergent and fabric softener but the people around you probably do not. It is true for many that the smell of the musks in laundry detergent is how they define clean through their sense of smell. Those laundry musks made the leap to perfumery when the consumer wanted a “clean” fragrance. Because they are reminiscent of laundry detergent they also get criticized as smelling “cheap”. It is one of the reasons that a niche perfumer might be reluctant to go towards this style of perfume. I think it takes a certain amount of belief that you can find something interesting to bring to something so common. Independent perfumer James Heeley has taken this challenge with Heeley Blanc Poudre.

James Heeley

When the name was first released without any detail there were some who thought the “white powder” referred to in the name might be something more illicit. When the press release followed it says Mr. Heeley was “inspired by the bone pale fineness of French porcelain.” Mr. Heeley has put together a perfume of pale fineness, but porcelain isn’t what I think of while wearing Blanc Poudre. Instead it is that moment I open the dryer and get that wave of warmth carrying the scent of my “spring fresh” dryer sheet on top of warm cotton.

The white powder in Blanc Poudre is a beautifully restrained rice powder. It is not an obvious piece of the perfume because it is paired with the more prominent cotton linen ingredient. This is that smell of fresh linen given a very transparent overlay of powder. It is easy to lose it in the background of the linen, but it is one of those grace notes in a perfume which makes a difference. In the same kind of deftly placed style Mr. Heeley threads through some of the synthetic florals. These are the florals which exude their floral nature minus anything, like indoles, which would distract. It is a classic representation of a commercial spring flower scent  In the hands of someone clumsily adding this to a perfume it would come off trite. Mr. Heeley uses the florals and the rice powder to create a weave of fragile filaments over the linen. The final prominent note is the use of those laundry musks in the base. Together they give off that warmed fabric accord. Just he did with the other ingredients it is precise uses of sandalwood and vanilla which add texture to the overall construct.

Blanc Poudre has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I know it will be easy to dismiss Blanc Poudre as something that smells like laundry. If you do that you will miss out on one of the most cleverly constructed perfumes of 2018. Not everything has to be full of bombastic portent. Mr. Heeley has dared to show the beauty found in the subtlety of the mundane.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Stan Lee

There is a saying that says, “you should never meet your childhood heroes.” The idea behind that is that what you perceived with childlike affection will wither in the sunlight of maturity. There are many people who I would put on a list of childhood heroes which upon learning more about their life some of the adulation wore off. Near the top would be Stan Lee the man who created the Marvel superhero universe. He just passed away earlier this week and it has taken me a few days to process my feelings about my childhood hero.

I’ll start with the childhood hero part. My father read comic books and his favorites were the DC heroes of Batman and Superman. As his son I read them, but I wasn’t as excited about them. On my sixth birthday I was given my first allowance; $2.00. I had looked at the rotating wire rack of comic books before and was curious about this “Spider-Man”. The issue that was on sale was #29 where Spider-Man battles with The Scorpion. Right there on the splash page were the names of two men who would influence my entire life through their creation; Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. They created Spider-Man and they created an entirely different style of storytelling. Their characters lived in the world I lived in. They had some of the same day-to-day problems I had. They just had to use their special powers for good. The credo given to Peter Parker by his Uncle Ben, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Is true whether it comes from a radioactive spider or something lest fantastical. This is what created my enduring love for stories told in comic book format.

Over time as I became more immersed in the comic book community, I began to hear that Mr. Lee was not the one responsible for the creation of the Marvel Universe. It was the artists; Steve Ditko on Spider-Man and Jack Kirby on Fantastic Four who were the real creative minds and Mr. Lee was taking undue credit. In these pre-Internet days it was through going to comic book conventions that I would interact with the people who made my favorite comic books. It was also in those days when I could sit down with them and have them tell me their story of working in the comics. At least from the artists point of view Mr. Lee took more credit than he should have. It led to times when Mr. Ditko and Mr. Kirby would stop working for Marvel only to return. What I was able to piece together as a reader was that Mr. Lee did provide something special to the story he was taking credit for. When Mr. Ditko or Mr. Kirby were on their own the art was still vibrant, but the story was less so. What I believe now is the Marvel Universe needed all three of them to come to life.

Back to the childhood hero part. As a kid there were things I liked others tried to make me feel bad for. That I had stacks of comics in my bedroom was pointed out in a derisive way many times by my friends and family. I was asked constantly, “when are you going to stop reading those funny books?” The answer is not yet. One of the things which made me even more attached to them was a column that was in every month’s issues of Marvel comics called “Stan’s Soapbox”. In a little yellow box Mr. Lee told me I was part of a large community of people who read comic books. He called me “true believer” and he encouraged me in his signature of “Excelsior!”. Even though I was the only one of my friends who read comic books; once a month I was told I was not alone. It is a powerful thing. It was the community of the Internet decades before it existed. Mr. Lee used his monthly Soapbox to speak out about things like racism. The column below came out in December of 1968. Mr. Lee created a Marvel community which stood for something more than just selling funny books.

For the final phase of my remembrance it was the joy that was evident in his cameos in the movies which make up the Marvel cinematic universe. If there was a Marvel logo which preceded the movie you knew that somewhere in the movie Mr. Lee would show up with a one-liner. I guess we have director Bryan Singer who cast him as a by-stander on the beach in the first X-Men movie to thank for that. I remember being in the theater and giggling delightedly. I still giggle whenever he shows up. Although when I see his final cameo sometime next year, I think it will be a more wistful smile which greets that one.

Thank you, Stan for a lifetime of stories.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Alexander McQueen Amber Garden and Dark Papyrus- The Fall Ones

I received the eight perfumes in the McQueen Collection just after Labor Day. As I recounted in my review of Sacred Osmanthus these were different than the previous fragrances from Alexander McQueen. The creative team of Sarah Burton and Pierre Aulas had a vision of eight soliflore-like perfumes composed by different perfumers. My first impression was favorable to most of the eight. As the weather turned cooler, I was drawn towards two of them; Amber Garden and Dark Papyrus.

Yann Vasnier

Amber Garden was created by perfumer Yann Vasnier. The keynote for this is benzoin. Benzoin is one of the perfume ingredients I frequently describe as warm. In Amber Garden M. Vasnier chooses to enhance that effect with spices and resins.

Benzoin has an inherent sweetness to it which is part of what contributes to its coziness. M. Vasnier wraps another layer of that around it as saffron, nutmeg, cardamom, and cinnamon provide a set of spices which each provide a different version of warm. The benzoin pulses like a glowing heart as the spices settle upon it. Labdanum and frankincense add resinous depth without overriding the benzoin. As this part of the perfume developed on my skin it felt a bit better defined.

Amber Garden has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Amber Garden has been the fragrance equivalent of a warm scarf for me this fall. This is how a soliflore is meant to function by cleverly burnishing the note on display.

Christophe Raynaud

Dark Papyrus was created by perfumer Christophe Raynaud. The focal point here is in the name; papyrus. Papyrus is a light green-tinted woody ingredient. For Dark Papyrus M. Reynaud makes an interesting choice to use blackcurrant buds as the harmonizing note. That ingredient is one which can easily get out of control. M. Reynaud makes sure that doesn’t happen. What comes through is an enhancement of the green with the fruity character conjoining with the woody part of papyrus. Ginger and cardamom are also present to pick up the leas prominent spicy character of papyrus. The final ingredient is a synthetic wood which keeps everything drier.

Dark Papyrus has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I don’t think I’ll be reviewing the other five from the McQueen Collection, but they all share the same aesthetic of a single note at the center. If you see a favorite ingredient in the name, I would suggest picking up a sample because all of them are well done. If you are looking for more immediate gratification give the two designed for fall weather a try.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Alexander McQueen.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Marc-Antoine Barrois B683- Leather as Luxury

When I was a child if there was a scent I associated with success and power it was leather. Whenever we visited family and friends who I perceived as successful the smell of leather was everywhere. In the furniture we sat on. In the pair of driving gloves worn as we drove in a big car. A leather covered desk in a wood-paneled office. This became hardwired into my developing mind as even now I still must overcome the impulse. What it does mean is when there are perfumes which go for this it brings me back to a childhood where the smell of leather is a pure luxury. Marc-Antoine Barrois B683 is one which reminds me of all of this.

Marc-Antoine Barrois is a menswear designer in Paris. He works on bespoke creations for his clientele. He decided he wanted a perfume to scent his store. For him he also shared the same childhood memories of leather as luxury. It turns out perfumer Quentin Bisch is another who also feels this way. When M. Barrois and M. Bisch came together it became obvious this was the style of perfume they would collaborate on.

Quentin Bisch (l.) and Marc-Antoine Barrois (Photo: Fred Zara)

When a leather accord is constructed it can go in many directions. Based on my experience the refined version is the most difficult to achieve. As a perfumer pulls together the pieces, I think rough spots frequently show up requiring a more precise construction. What is achieved in B683 is that high degree of difficulty leather accord achieving the desired effect.

The opening of B683 is a surprising spice mélange of black pepper, nutmeg, saffron, and Szechuan pepper. I have extolled the use of the last material a lot recently. In the hands of a perfumer like M. Bisch it still can impress in new ways. In this case M. Bisch teases out a green thread and uses the nutmeg and saffron to make it more pronounced. As much as I like the leather which comes next this top accord is compelling. The leather does come next. This is that refined supple style of leather that only seems to be attached to luxury items. It is bracketed by softly resinous labdanum and green violet leaves. The violet leaves pick up that green thread from the top accord and passes it along to the oakmoss in the base. The foundation of B683 is sandalwood, patchouli, and ambroxan. This forms a very dry woody accord as the ambroxan is used to tamp down the less arid aspects of patchouli and sandalwood.

B683 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

The star of B683 is the leather accord at its heart which lives up to its brief. It is a gorgeous example of this. For me it is the top accord which was my favorite part. Somewhat like the opening act overshadowing the headliner. The entire experience of B683 is one of leather as the epitome of luxury.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Art Meets Art Bohemian Rhapsody- Perfume Killed The Radio Star

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One of the biggest shifts in music came in 1981 when MTV debuted on cable television. Twenty-four hours a day videos matched to the popular music of the day were shown. Whenever a song of that time period comes on the air, I can’t not see the accompanying visual. This was more succinctly summed up in the comic strip Bloom County by Berkeley Breathed below:

It shows the difficulty of crossing the streams of two art forms. The fragrance industry hasn’t shied away from it even so. One of the more recent attempts is the brand Art Meets Art. They lay out the difficulty right in the name. A little over a year ago they released their first five perfumes. When I received my samples, it wasn’t like they turned into exploding porpoises, but they also missed the energy. Nowhere was it wider of the mark than in the perfume named after the hit by Marvin Gaye; Sexual Healing. The stated goal was to capture the voice of the singer. What was in the bottle was a straightforward tobacco vanilla perfume. Whenever Sexual Healing pops up on my shuffle, I can promise you tobacco and vanilla will not be accompanying it.

Frank Voelkl

The latest release takes on the classic song by Queen; Bohemian Rhapsody. There is a pop culture moment taking place around Queen and their front man Freddie Mercury. There is a new movie also titled “Bohemian Rhapsody”. That suffered from acting like a rock skipping over the rich pond of the subject. It was something which I felt would have been better as a six-episode series on one of the streaming services. The film lingers on the creative process within the band during a couple of passages. One is Bohemian Rhapsody. It is portrayed as the fever dream of Mr. Mercury that the rest of the band joyfully collaborates on. The perfume, composed by Frank Voelkl, does a better job of also capturing the variable influences within the song.

The top accord captures the lyric of “easy come, easy go, little high, little low”. The high is a sprinkling of metallic aldehydes. The easy come easy go is the cassis. The low is an herbal baie rose. It comes together in an affable come on just before everything turns operatic. M. Voelkl goes for the sopranos of perfumery as he rolls out the white flowers of jasmine and tuberose along with a baroque rose and fleshy ylang-ylang. This is the first time where an accord has felt connected to the musical inspiration in an Art Meets Art release. They make me want to sing “Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the fandango?” What comes next in the song is my favorite part as it shifts gear to full-on rock anthem. The perfume does the same with a lively base accord of patchouli taking the lead with a set of musks and vetiver backing it up. M. Voelkl really lets the patchouli loose; which works.

Bohemian Rhapsody has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

In this case Art Meets Art found a place where the perfume finally represented an appropriate companion to the music. I don’t think we’ll ever have to worry about perfume killing the radio star, but some nice fragrances can make it more fun. bohemian Rhapsody does this.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Zirh Ikon- Soft Incense

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

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

Frank Voelkl

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

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

Ikon has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

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

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

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Mizensir Celebes Wood- Holiday Visitation

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

Alberto Morillas

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Behnke