New Perfume Review Jo Malone Jasmine Sambac & Marigold- Jasmine Dawn

Over the last couple of years Jo Malone creative director Celine Roux has been doing an outstanding job at expanding the overall aesthetic at Jo Malone. Last year’s English Oak collection. The previous Bloomsbury Collection and the recent English Fields collection have all shown her penchant at pushing beyond what you think of when the brand is spoken of. Of course, that kind of risk taking will naturally appeal to me. It can’t go on unabated which is why Mme Roux has sprinkled in several classically designed Jo Malone florals in between the collections.  While those were steeped deeply in the brand aesthetic I was wondering if the more adventurous spirit might make it into that side. I think Jo Malone Jasmine Sambac & Marigold is my answer.

Celine Roux

Jasmine Sambac & Marigold are part of the Cologne Intense collection within Jo Malone. I think this is one of the more underappreciated group of perfumes in the niche sector. I own most of them because they have always seemed to reach for a slightly more artistic vibe from the beginning. With Mme Roux overseeing some more adventurous attempts in the main brand it is not surprising that Jasmine Sambac & Marigold fits right in.

Mathilde Bijaoui

Mme Roux has been collaborating extensively with a perfumer for a few months lately. We are currently in the middle of her partnership with perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui. They have been producing some memorable perfumes starting with the Holiday release, Green Almond & Redcurrant, and the aforementioned English Fields set of five. Those all had subtle takes on a gourmand style. That is not the goal here. This is meant to capture the beauty of spring in full bloom as heralded by the two flowers on the label.

Marigold, also called tagete, is one of my favorite flowers in perfume meant to evoke spring. It has a pungent green aroma which also carries a fruity character along with it. It always reminds me of green growing things pushing up through the dirt. Mme Bijaoui starts this with the marigold out front given some depth with ylang-ylang. That is what allows it to stand up to the jasmine in the heart. The jasmine here Is lush without fully deploying its indoles. They are there but attenuated. Mme Roux was inspired by jasmine fields she saw at dawn in India. Mme Bijaoui threads through a watery accord to capture dew speckled petals of jasmine. The marigold is an excellent contrast forming an enjoyable duo for those spring mornings which start cold and end warm. It all settles on a cozy benzoin and amber base.

Jasmine Sambac & Marigold has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Mme Bijaoui and Mme Roux are having one of those serendipitous collaborations which produce special results. I don’t know what comes next, but I’ll spend my spring in Jasmine Sambac & Marigold awaiting it.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from Nordstrom.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Olfactive Studio Woody Mood- The High Priest of Resins in the Sequoias

I have jokingly referred to perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour as the “High Priest of Resins” for the number of amazing perfumes he has made with that as the keynote. It coincided with my initial deep dive into niche perfumes as it seemed like he was producing one new riff on incense-based perfumes after the other. That I have an entire shelf of these perfumes plus that they are some of my all-time favorites is indicative of the quality. M. Duchaufour has proven to be much more than a one-trick perfumer with another shelf containing his non-resinous perfumes which also contain many I adore. It still doesn’t mean I don’t want him to don his robes and take up his censer to create something new. Olfactive Studio Woody Mood heralds that return.

Redwood Alien by Roger Steffens (1973)

Olfactive Studio is the brand owned and creatively directed by Celine Verleure. The creative process is triggered from a photograph as opposed to something written. It has been one of the most successful at marrying the visual with the olfactory. For Woody Mood the brief comes from photographer Roger Steffens 1973 composition called “Redwood Alien”. It is a striking picture of refracted light through the redwood trees. Before I knew the title, it felt like an outdoors version of the poster for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. The creative team would use this visual as the starting point for creating a soaring perfume in a cathedral of sequoias.

Bertrand Duchaufour

The top accord is a lovely introduction of clary sage, ginger, and saffron. Taken together the saffron smooths out some of the spikier aspects of either herb. This is a highly refined opening from ingredients used in less refined ways more typically. The sequoia wood then rises upward. Instead of just allowing the wood to be the only thing M. Duchaufour makes two quirky choices. First a precise amount of spikenard adds a veil of smoke. This is exactly the right amount not obtrusive but in the distance. In the same vein black tea and styrax form a rubber accord. It is again off in the distance but as a way of keeping the middle part of the development from being all about the wood I found both to be charming in their oddity. The censer begins to swing as the incense rises in resinous waves. M. Duchaufour brings out a refined leather accord as underpinning. All of this comes together over a base of earthy patchouli.

Woody Mood has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

If you are a longtime fan of M. Duchaufour’s resinous creations Woody Mood is a must try. I think it finds its own space on his prodigious incense spectrum all its own. If you wonder about my “High Priest of Resins” sobriquet try Woody Mood. If you like it there is a whole world of discovery ahead. I know there will be another bottle on my shelf dedicated to M. Duchaufour’s resinous perfumes.

Disclosure: This review is based on a press sample provided by Olfactive Studio.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Paul Schutze Villa M- Architectural Digest

When I look at architecture I am often impressed by a grafting of modern building on rugged terrain. The idea of adding a contemporary footprint onto well-trodden terrain is usually visually arresting. A good example of this is the Villa Malaparte on the Italian island of Capri. Designed for writer Curzio Malaparte by architect Adalberto Libera it is a story of headstrong individuals in collaboration. There are many stories of which man got more of his vision translated into Villa Malaparte. The house speaks for itself with a set of exterior steps leading to a roof terrace with a free-standing spiral wall at one end. Sitting on a craggy outcropping into the Mediterranean it is something different in contrast. It would be a way I would also describe architecturally interesting perfumes; when a perfumer chooses to try something different on a well-known style. Perfumer Paul Schutze was inspired by the Villa Malaparte to produce Villa M which does this with the Mediterranean aquatic style of fragrance.

Villa Malaparte

Mr. Schutze is starting a new collection based on architectural inspirations. He released Cuadra at the same time based on architect Luis Barragan’s Cuadra San Cristobal. I liked both, but it was Villa M which stood apart for Mr. Schutze’s ability to bring something different to a well-known aesthetic.

Paul Schutze

What that is, is to add a green vegetal note which persists. Most aquatics go for a sanitized version of the seaside experience, none of the funky smell need apply. That is typical of most styles of fragrance based on natural themes. What makes Villa M interesting is Mr. Schutze titrates in enough “seaweed” to remind you there is something a bit dirty on the ocean.

The green “seaweed” accord is right up front. Mr. Scutze chooses to open with a wet vegetal version. This is what is floating freely on top of the waves. A bit of bite is provided by baie rose threading an herbal band through the damp greenness. The water beneath the seaweed is represented by the dewy floral nature of cyclamen and the briny aspect of ambergris. It forms a full spectrum oceanic experience. Mr. Schutze lets that predominate with only a gently lilting mimosa and sturdy cedar to provide any contrast.

Villa M lasts 10-12 hours and has average sillage.

If you’re concerned about my description of the top accord it doesn’t sit out there by itself; the rest of the aquatic spine comes together rapidly on my skin. Mr. Schutze has done an excellent job at looking at the aquatic style of perfume and finding a modern way of telling the same story. It is like the house which inspired it; a piece of contemporary perfume architecture.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Warren Zevon


There is a deep pleasure in my ability to go deep down any rabbit hole I find because of technology. One of the triggers for this is usually a song which comes out of my iTunes library when I put it on shuffle. My latest experience came after the song “Don’t Let Us Get Sick” by Warren Zevon played through my headphones. In what would be an eerily prophetic song for Mr. Zevon when it was released in 2000; foreshadowing his battle with cancer. It would lead to his death in September 2003. That would happen days after the release of his last album “The Wind”. That album contains what I consider the companion piece to “Don’t Let Us Get Sick”; “Keep Me In your Heart”.

Mr. Zevon was part of the Southern California singer-songwriter community of the 1970’s. I first learned of him through a song written by him done by another artist; Linda Ronstadt. One of her biggest hits off her 1977 album Simple Dreams was “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”. It was my favorite song on that album. One of my more clued-in friends asked if I had heard the original version. When he played Mr. Zevon’s version it was a revelation, to me, of a new artist. I was just in time to catch on with everyone else with his second album Excitable Boy in 1978.

Mr. Zevon’s more ironic, darker themes delivered in a hard-edged folk-based style was an alternative to the pop versions his peers were releasing. That they knew he was a unique talent who needed opportunity came when close friend Jackson Browne produced and invested in Mr. Zevon’s first two albums. Mr. Browne would then take him out on tour. That was where I saw him live for the first time.

I saw him live in a much more intimate setting the second time. When I was in graduate school in Athens, Georgia in 1984 it was a time when the music scene was exploding. One of the cool things about being there was other artists would come into town to collaborate. Through a whisper stream the word would go out that so-and-so was playing with this band at one of the smaller clubs under a fictitious name. When the rumor of Warren Zevon plus REM made it to me. I closed the lab for the night and headed out to see a band called Hindu Love Gods. I was treated to a night of covers plus new songs being worked on. In this setting I saw Mr. Zevon’s love of rock music as he clearly enjoyed being on stage with the other musicians. They closed the night with “Werewolves of London” his biggest hit but it was everything prior to that which was memorable.

The final year leading up to his death was about recording a final album with all his friends. Informed by his coming mortality it could have been a mess. Instead Mr. Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Don Henley, Mick Fleetwood, Joe Walsh, T Bone Burnett, and Emmylou Harris joined in over the songs on the album to produce a moving musical elegy.

There are few of us who can choose how we leave this world. Mr. Zevon did it with his music. Herd to ask for more than that.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Opoponax

I’ve probably put off doing this specific ingredient because I’m not fond of spelling it. An extra “p” here an “o” turns to an “a” there. Before I get done writing this I’ll probably correct a dozen or more misspellings. Opoponax is one of the linchpins of Oriental perfumes. It is one of the critical components of three of the classic perfumes of all-time; Guerlain Shalimar, Yves Saint Laurent Opium, and Dior Poison. They owe much of what makes them so special to opoponax. It is used extensively as an earthier more balsamic alternative to myrrh. It also carries with it a sizeable powdery component which makes it especially amenable to providing the grounding for those kinds of ingredients.

I would wager most who love perfume don’t know what opoponax smells like although there are probably multiple perfumes on the shelf which contain it. I’m starting this month’s list with three different versions of the ingredient surrounded by benzoin and sandalwood. Each of them is slightly tuned differently around the opoponax. The most straight-forward is Santa Maria Novella Opoponax the benzoin and the sandalwood provide subtle foundation. It is the most unadulterated version of these three. The benzoin rises to be a more equal partner in Les Nereides Opoponax. It ends up also tilting a bit sweeter because some vanilla leads it that way to give a warmly satisfying sweetly resinous hug. Von Eusersdorff Classic Opoponax adds a floral shine on top via rose and a bit of animalic purr via castoreum but it is still primarily opoponax, benzoin, sandalwood. Once you’ve introduced yourself to opoponax here are three more where it stands out.

Diptyque Eau Lente was one of the original releases from the brand in 1986. Perfumer Serge Kalougine wanted to create an opoponax perfume as they imagined it might have been used by Alexander the Great who scented his cloaks with the smoke from burning the resin. What M. Kalougine does is to take an equally fantastic cinnamon as a partner to the opoponax. The cinnamon heats up the opoponax making it less viscous that it is by itself. While being one of my favorite opoponax perfumes it is also one of my favorite cinnamon ones, too.

Carthusia Ligea unleashes the powdery nature of opoponax more fully. Perfumer Laura Tonatto transitions from a crisp citrus opening into softer mandarin which accentuates the powder in the opoponax. Over time patchouli and benzoin find and magnify the more balsamic elements.

Before perfumer Mona di Orio’s untimely passing she made several incredibly artistic perfumes; Mona di Orio Cuir is among the best of those. Mme di Orio uses opoponax in conjunction with castoreum to provide a thoroughly engaging base underneath a smoke-laden leather accord. One of the best examples of the chiaroscuro style of perfume Mme di Orio practiced.

If you love perfume you’ve definitely worn a perfume with opoponax; now try one of these to try a perfume which features it.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Elie Saab In White- Spring Wedding Scent

As the mass market perfume aesthetic seems headed towards an overall lightening I worry a bit that something will be lost. The gist of my concern is the stronger notes within the perfumer’s organ will be shunned. One of the things which is making me feel more optimistic is there have been a handful of mass market releases which are using lighter isolates of those notes. Now the perfumer has access to way more than just the essential oil. Those versions can be lighter accentuating only a couple of facets of the ingredient. Elie Saab In White is one which achieves this.

Elie Saab has been producing perfume since 2011 almost all of them done by perfumer Francis Kurkdjian. While the work he has done for the Essences and Cuirs collections I have enjoyed; the mainstream selections have left me unimpressed. Some of what has bothered me is M. Kurkdjian seems more restrained when it comes to the mass-market releases. They came off too safe for my tastes. When I received the sample for Elie Saab in White I was brought up short this was different from what has preceded it.

Francis Kurkdjian

What caught my attention was M. Kurkdjian was using a more expanded ingredient list while still retaining the transparency. It was also of interest to me that the base was kept to that style by using what I believe is a fresher patchouli isolate which really works here.

In the past the Elie Saab fragrances have relied on orange blossom as a keynote in the top. Elie Saab in White lets it mature into the citrus itself with orange holding the center. Light applications of pear and blackcurrant bud come together in a dynamic top accord. Jasmine has been the heart of nearly every one of this brand’s fragrances but usually in a obtrusive way. I think M. Kurkdjian is using one of the more expansive jasmine synthetics which provides an airiness to the middle part of the development. Then we get to the base where a patchouli which is almost herbal without carrying the heavier qualities is surrounded by a swirl of a few white musks. M. Kurkdjian is one of the perfumers who knows how to layer musks to gain exquisitely beautiful effects. This is what happens in the base here. The musks provide elevation as the fresher patchouli is lifted to the jasmine and orange.

Elie Saab in White has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Elie Saab in White, by the name, was designed with brides in mind. It would be a good choice for that, I think. It is also a good choice for those looking for a nice spring floral to wear to those upcoming seasonal weddings.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Sammarco Yael- Growing A New Branch

In science we talk of “family trees” where the professor who you studied under is the figurative “mother/father” and the person they studied under the “grandparent” and so on. Perfume doesn’t seem to be as collaborative. I have noticed a recent trend, though, of identifying new perfumers based on who they studied under. Because of my scientific background I like this and am hoping there is more of it. Most of the ones I am thinking of are the bigger name perfumers. There are fewer examples within independent perfumery but there are some. One of those has just resulted in the first release by the student; Sammarco Yael.

I first heard about Yael when it was premiered at Pitti Fragranze but I thought I was getting mistaken information. I was being told that brand owner/perfumer Giovanni Sammarco did not make Yael. It was a graduate student designing a perfume for her thesis; Beatrice Baccon. An interview by both Sig. Sammarco and Mme Baccon given to Fragrantica writer Sergey Borisov filled in many of the blanks. Mme Baccon created a perfume as part of her Master’s Degree studies. In the interview, her thesis was not only creating the perfume but also understanding the regulatory landscape affecting how to produce it. Throughout Sig. Sammarco was by her side to teach and guide her. The result is a perfume which feels part of the Sammarco collection but perhaps the introduction to a new one, too.

Beatrice Baccon (l.) and Giovanni Sammarco (photo via Fragrantica)

Yael is inspired by all the types of kisses we receive; mother’s, lover’s and friends’. That is how Mme Baccon constructed Yael, with an accord representing each one of those kisses.

The friends’ kiss is meant to be that of young people looking forward to an evening out. Mme Baccon uses ginger for its energetic effect. The zippy ginger is modulated by a bit of pink pepper providing herbal spiciness as complement. The lover’s kiss is represented by that classic flower of romance, rose. A deep spicy rose connects back to the top accord. If there is a bit of a young perfumer’s stumble it comes in the use of raspberry which takes over at the expense of everything else for some time. I would have liked it better if the rose was given the predominant position over the fruit. Once the berry begins to recede the best part of the perfume is revealed; the mother’s kiss. Mme Baccon uses a comforting mixture of sandalwood and orris. It forms a smooth slightly powdery hug to which a few musks are swirled in, providing that human connection. The orris is a bit of a lipstick style iris, the sandalwood is like warm cookies in the oven. The musks are intelligently used to keep it comforting without becoming confrontational.

Yael has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Other than the moment in the middle where the raspberry is overwhelming Yael shows a perfume student listening to her teacher and finding her own way. Time will tell if this is the beginning of the Baccon branch from the Sammarco family tree. I hope it is.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Gucci Bloom Acqua di Fiori- Smell Your Greens!

When I was child I heard one phrase a lot at dinner, “Eat your greens!” I found a way to nibble around the edges of what ever was on my plate while eating the other things. It is far from an uncommon experience. Green in perfume is also a difficult sell to most consumers. If there is one significant difference between niche and mainstream it that niche is happy to go green. There are plenty of examples of well executed green mainstream releases which failed. It’s like at the mall the sales associates are trying to get people to “smell your greens!”. Which makes me interested when a brand takes another attempt at trying to break through. Gucci Bloom Acqua di Fiori is the latest to step up.

Alessandro Michele

If there were “glory days” for the Gucci fragrance line it was probably between 1997-2004. Tom Ford was hands-on with creative direction in all aspects of the brand during that time. Once he left the creative direction was mostly left up to the corporate team at P&G. That resulted in what you would expect, safe crowd-pleasing releases. What has me excited about Gucci again is the new creative director Alessandro Michele also seems to share Mr. Ford’s ethic of being involved in the fragrance as well as the fashion. In Sig. Michele’s early days both Gucci Bloom and Gucci Guilty Absolute pour Femme show a new intriguing creative direction in fragrance. When I received the press materials for Bloom Acqua di Fiori I noticed that two of the more prominent green ingredients, galbanum and blackcurrant buds, were top of the ingredient list. Perfumer Alberto Morillas was going to have his hands full adding those into a transparent white flower original.

Alberto Morillas

The green is right there from the beginning. Sr. Morillas pushes them to a moderate level. The overall effect is a slightly bitter sap accord. There is more strength to it overall which makes Bloom Acqua di Fiori a slightly less transparent perfume than the original. Sr. Morillas then reprises the tuberose and jasmine from the original which are similarly opaque. The new addition is lily of the valley to provide a floral with a significant green quality to connect to the top accord. It ends with a lightly woody base accord of sandalwood and white musks.

Bloom Acqua di Fiori has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I am looking forward to my next visit to my local mall so I can watch first reactions to this perfume. Sig. Michele is trying to see if a new perfume generation will “smell their greens!”. The verdict will take a year to find out. In the meantime, Sig. Michele has again signaled the corporate thought process has been removed from Gucci fragrance. He has a hold of the wheel and is going off-road; Gucci Bloom Acqua di Fiori continues that journey.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Mizensir Poudre D’Or- Sopranos and Tenors

I am not the most educated consumer of opera. One of my more misguided attempts to try and learn more was to buy tickets to the 1989 version of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at NYC’s Metropolitan Opera. I jumped into the deep end of the pool; and drowned. If there was anything which I took away from that was the way vocals combine in ways which transcend language. Beauty represented by the comingling of specific musical notes coming from the throats of trained professionals. It is layered in a way which allow both voices their space coming together in harmony. Perfume can also do that. It also takes trained professionals to pull it off. The latest from perfumer Alberto Morillas for his own brand Mizensir is called Poudre D’Or and it a great example of what I am writing about.

If there is one thing that gets an undeservedly bad rep in perfumery it is synthetics. There has never been a definitive statement of the Mizensir aesthetic. After 21 releases it seems to me like it is an opportunity for Sr. Morillas to explore the best synthetic ingredients in operatic ways. Poudre D’Or does this with two of the most widely used and recognizable synthetic ingredients; Paradisone and Exaltone.

Alberto Morillas

Paradisone is jasmine at the top of the octave; the figurative soprano in Poudre D’Or. Exaltone is the tenor, as a softly animalic musk.  Sr. Morillas allows both expansive ingredients the space to sing their duet in a full-throated way.

The performance starts with Paradisone going straight to High C in the key of jasmine. Paradisone has to be used intelligently, which Sr. Morillas’ experience in using it allows for him to achieve. It has explosive power to which Sr. Morillas adds a luminescence via tiare. It brings a constellation of light to the hard charging ingredient. As the Exaltone steps forward it provides an animalic musk which is designed to be easy. Sr. Morillas makes it more so by adding in some iris, the powder in the name, to provide a connective effect to the Paradisone. The two synthetics find a harmonious conjunction which is quite satisfying. It ends on a sweet woody base of sandalwood and vanilla.

Poudre D’Or has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

As a chemist I am already predisposed to not being wary of synthetics in my perfume. Sr. Morillas has been making a case, with the Mizensir collection, that those synthetics can be used for incredible effect. Poudre D’Or is an example of two of the most famous synthetics finding their voice unleashed.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Tom Ford Private Blend Eau de Soleil Blanc- Goldilocks’ Suntan Lotion

I sometimes ascribe intent to something when it doesn’t exist. Which means I overlay something that was never meant to be by the brand or the creative team. Part of that is I like looking for patterns and when I think I find one I want to write about it. One which crops up from time to time is when a version of a perfume is released, and it is derided as being “too light” or “too strong”. What often comes next is something in-between those perceived extremes. It is easy to see Goldilocks saying that one is “just right”. As a brand Tom Ford Private Blend has certainly releases sets of similar perfumes which run the gamut from “too light” to “too strong” and a few releases in the middle.

Nathalie Gracia-Cetto

Two years ago, the “too light” version of a suntan lotion style of perfume was released with Soleil Blanc. I enjoyed it for its almost extreme transparency. I am guessing I wasn’t joined by many. Six months later as part of the Tom Ford Signature collection I found Orchid Soleil to be the “too strong” version. It was stronger, and it had a deep gourmand base accord to boot. I’m not sure this was flying off the shelves either. Now Tom Ford Private Blend Eau de Soleil tries to satisfy Goldilocks.

Karyn Khoury

What sets it apart is a generally brighter tone as perfumer Nathalie Gracia-Cetto and Creative Director Karyn Khoury, who did Soleil Blanc, up the brightness. This is done by adding fresher alternatives to what came before which provides something more present without potentially overwhelming.

The freshening agent in the top accord is a set of citrus notes; cedrat, bitter orange, and petitgrain. It comes together like a focused beam of brightness as if you were focusing the sunlight through a magnifying glass. It becomes a bit fuzzier as cardamom and caraway provide some spicy underpinning. It is further ameliorated by the arrival of the floral heart still dominated by jasmine but in this formulation also matched by ylang-ylang. The latter ingredient provides a kind of unctuous floral effect which fits the whole suntan lotion vibe. What seals it into place is the coconut quality of Mme Gracia Cetto’s “Coco de Mer” accord. It is very reminiscent of many of the suntan lotions I smelled at the beach growing up in South Florida. It ends on a toasty accord of tonka and benzoin.

Eau de Soleil Blanc has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage. To give a reference if you thought Soleil Blanc was a skin scent and Orchid Soleil left a vapor trial this is exactly between those two.

I have liked all three of the Tom Ford interpretations of a suntan lotion style of perfume. If pressed to pick one I think the transparency of the original Soleil Blanc keeps me at arm’s length. The life of the party Orchid Soleil keeps me up too late. Like Goldilocks, Eau de Soleil blanc is “just right”.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I received from Tom Ford Beauty.

Mark Behnke