My Favorite Things: Whisky

One thing my rotation of different perfume styles based on the season has exposed that I do it for other things. I’ve been rearranging my liquor shelves too. The things I like to drink in the cooler months are the soliflores of the alcohol world. Whisky is one of them. There are also some great whisky perfumes in this month’s My Favorite Things looks at five whisky perfumes.

One of the most recent is Nasomatto Baraonda. Independent perfumer Alessandro Gualtieri returned to his flagship brand after a bit of a break with a bold whisky laden perfume. He hands you a snifter loaded with dried berries and synthetic musks. Sig. Gualtieri balances out all the rough edges into a smooth sipping fragrance.

One of the reasons I like Baraonda is it reminded me of the early releases from the brand. The same is true for By Kilian Single Malt. After a few years of going off in different directions Single Malt re-teamed creative director Kilian Hennessy and perfumer Sidonie Lancesseur. They created a beautifully constructed whisky accord which starts with plum slowly coming together via wheat, cedar, tolu balsam, and vanilla. Once it forms you have a fantastic whisky on your skin.

Thierry Mugler A*Men Pure Malt was the second flanker in what I consider the best flanker series in all of perfume. In these early releases original A*Men perfumer Jacques Huclier seemed to delight in adding in a new ingredient to show the versatility of the classic caramel, patchouli, and chocolate accord. In this case it is a whisky accord which teases out the caramel while amplifying the sweetness in all the best whiskies. I keep a little tin of high-quality caramel which I eat a bit of when I’m sipping whisky; it started here.

Another combination of sweet and whisky is present in Carolina Herrera CH Men Prive. Perfumer Christophe Raynaud uses whisky as contrast to the citrus opening of grapefruit, complement to the lavender in the heart and depth along with a black leather accord in the base. This is a rugged masculine perfume.

My final choice comes from a collaboration between independent perfumer David Seth Moltz (the D.S. in D.S. & Durga) and the scotch producer Glenlivet. Hylnds Spirit of the Glen wants to capture the bouquet of a Glenlivet 18. This is a complete experience of scotch in a perfume. Grassy fruity opening deepens into a hay and chamomile heart. When you get to the base with whisky malt and barley you are complete.

If you’re in a whisky mood but don’t feel like a drink, try these five perfumes instead.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Clove

Fall is coming. Which means it is time to start thinking about my favorite spicy perfumes. One spice carries a fantastic character when it is used in fragrance; clove. It is an ingredient which can be tuned to feel like a bit of incense or tilted to a rougher edge. When used well it is imparts something different from the typical spices you find. Here are five of my favorites.

There was a Diptyque boutique on Newbury St. in Boston. It was always an experience in what niche perfumery was all about. Diptyque as a brand did that right from the start with Diptyque L’Eau. Based on an old English potpourri recipe the clove is the linchpin for all the spices in the top accord before going to a rose and sandalwood base. One of my favorite Holiday scents but I also wear it in October.

My first experience with the smell of cloves was at the end of French clove cigarettes called Kreteks. I was always drawn to it especially since it seemed to be a symbol of personal rebellion for those puffing on them. The perfume which captures this best is Ava Luxe Tabak Kretek. Indie perfumer Serena Ava Goode uses clove, tobacco, cinnamon, and cardamom to produce the scent of a Kretek which doesn’t make me have to inhale smoke.

Clove tends to show up more often in indie releases. Perhaps the best use of it came in Charenton Macerations Christopher Street. Creative director Douglas Bender and perfumer Ralf Schwieger use it to provide a clove orange effect in the heart. Orange blossom and cinnamon round it out. The tobacco on top and the musks below make it one of my favorite fall perfumes.

One of my all-time favorite perfumes is Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant. During the mid-1990’s creative renaissance at Kenzo this was the best of all of them. Creative director Celine Verleure and perfumer Dominique Ropion produced a luxurious spicy perfume by adding in the oiliness of ylang-ylang to an olfactory spice rack. The clove is one of the most prominent notes in this. This perfume is very close to being my all-time Favorite Thing because it is so good. It is one of my rituals to greet the first chilly morning in fall wearing this.

Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur is one of the best Oriental fragrances perfumer Maurice Roucel has produced. It has one of those outsized reputations which it lives up to. M. Roucel also goes the spiced citrus route. By using equal amounts of clove and cinnamon to liven up tangerine it is the more compelling part of the development. The base is sweet vanilla and sandalwood with subtle musk attached. The colder it is the more I smell the clove and cinnamon; which is why it is a cold weather staple.

Looking to add some spice to your fall roatation? Give these five clove standouts a try.

Disclosure: I purchased a botlle of each perfume.

-Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Tar

When it comes to the scents of summer most of us think of beaches, fruits, and green growing things. I was reminded of another less referenced scent of summer with some road construction in front of my house; tar. Birch tar has been one of the key components of leather accords. Even though the overall effect is that of tanned cowhide when I wear these perfumes there is also a hint of country blacktop, too. Here are five of my favorite tar perfumes.

In 1927 Chanel perfumer Ernest Beaux would use birch tar as the key ingredient in his “Russian leather” accord. It would be the beginning of its widespread use for nearly the next 100 years. Cuir de Russie has been a part of the Les Exclusifs collection and it shows off a raw tanned leather as the name promises. M. Beaux tempers it with the use of aldehydes, jasmine, and sandalwood. Don’t kid yourself though this is all about the leather; gloriously so.

Two years before Cuir de Russie perfumers Francois Coty and Vincent Roubert produced an unabashedly straightforward leather fragrance, Knize Ten. The perfumers make one of the most full-bodied leather perfumes ever. Their accord reminds me of not only birch tar but the motor oil scent of a garage. It might sound unpleasant, but it is mesmerizing to me. A musky patchouli sandalwood base accord is the main complement to the uber-leather accord.

I leave it to Comme des Garcons to give me the exact scent of overheated asphalt. In 2004’s Series 6 Synthetic: Tar perfumer Nathalie Feisthauer accomplishes it. She uses birch tar as the nucleus but expertly weaves in styrax, castoreum, and opoponax. It is exactly what the road in front of my house smells like this month. It is this aesthetic which has elevated Comme des Garcons above so many of their contemporaries.

Just as Tar is emblematic of the creativity at Comme des Garcons the existence of Le Labo Patchouli 24 does the same for that brand. Perfumer Annick Menardo finds the intersection of birch tar and patchouli to create a fascinating pungency. That she adds in a bit of sweet vanilla as contrast to it only serves to delineate it all. Another great perfume from one of the true innovators of niche perfumery.

Even though it was the smell of summer road work which got me in to this column; Sonoma Scent Studio Winter Woods is how you use tar along with cade wood to create that winter haze of woodsmoke. Those two ingredients form one of the most intense woodsmoke accords I have. Independent perfumer Laurie Erickson spends the rest of the development taming the smoke with warm amber, clean cedar, green vetiver, and sweet sandalwood. It is among the best that this talented artisanal perfumer has produced.

As I look back over this list it might be the most imaginative list I’ve produced for this series. Every one of these perfumes are among the best of the brands and styles described. If you love perfume this is something to get on the road to try.

Disclosure: this review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Camphor

One of the things I enjoy about writing on fragrance is how one perfume makes me view previous releases differently. One of the more recent examples was Cadavre Exquis by Bruno Fazzolari and Antonio Gardoni. The keynote was the use of camphor which opened my eyes to its versatility. Which then sent me back to try some of the fragrances on my shelf which contain it. I’d have Cadavre Exquis on the list, but it is a sold-out limited edition. Instead here are five of my other favorites which feature camphor.

Perfumer James Heeley wanted to turn the liniment Tiger Balm into a perfume which he does in Heeley Esprit du Tigre. The camphor is amplified by mint and wintergreen before clove and vetiver close the loop on the desired accord. It is medicinal, but it is also refreshing in an odd way especially on a hot day.

Camphor doesn’t have to dominate the opening which Diptyque Oud Palao shows. Perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin constructs an oud accord which he doses a bit of camphor in to mimic that quality in some of the younger natural ouds. This is an example of what camphor can do to complete an accord.

It can also be used to tease out a facet within an overdosed ingredient as it does in Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Carnal Flower. Perfumer Dominique Ropion uses the camphor to draw attention to the underlying green vein within tuberose. Without its presence the tuberose would have lost much of its carnality.

It also amplifies that kind of mentholated quality, if it is present, as it does in Comme des Garcons x Monocle Scent One: Hinoki. That titular note is given the sheen of fresh-cut cedar when perfumer Antoine Maisondieu uses it in the top accord leading to the eventual presence of the wood itself.

Just as with Carnal Flower, Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle serves up camphor and tuberose. Except this time more of the former and a bit less of the latter. Perfumer Christopher Sheldrake turns the sultry white flower into something with a bit more malice courtesy of the camphor.

If you need a little something bracing from your perfume give these five camphor perfumes a try.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: The Summer Perfume Playlist

As Memorial Day approached last week I was busy refurbishing my summer music playlist. The songs have to be light fun and made for singing at the top of my lungs in the car. It gets a little longer every year as a couple of songs from the previous summer are added to my evergreen collection of songs I associate with long sunny days. At about the same time I was arranging the perfume on my shelves to get the ones I like on my perfume playlist out in front. As I was looking at them I realized that there is also a group of five I like wearing every summer because they are part of what makes the season for me. I thought I’d share my summer perfume playlist in this month’s My Favorite Things.

It might be the alpha perfume, or more accurately the alpha cologne, but there is nothing I enjoy more than spraying myself with a healthy coating of Roger & Gallet Jean Maria Farina Extra Vieille. Reputedly the original cologne recipe: lemon, rosemary, and orange blossom. It lasts for a short time, but it refreshes just as much as any three-chord rocker like “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” by The Ramones. Gabba Gabba Hey.

When I want something as bright as the noonday sun I choose Chanel Allure Homme Edition Blanche. Perfumers Jacques Polge and Francois Demachy open with a fantastic shiny fanfare of lemon before heading to a lightly woody base. I seem to hum “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves when I wear this.

Summer isn’t summer unless you spend some time at the beach. The Different Company Sel de Vetiver captures the smell of salt water on skin matched with vetiver and grapefruit to capture the dune grass and the sun. Perfumer Celine Ellena makes a fragrant version of “Surfin USA” by The Beach Boys.

What might be the omega cologne, Thierry Mugler Cologne, is one of the best reinterpretations of a classic fragrance style that exists. Perfumer Alberto Morillas uses the same lemon and orange blossom seen in many colognes but by threading a lot of white musks through that duo he creates something brilliant. This is the summer perfume I wear when I want to smile like “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch.

I discovered Diptyque Philosykos near the end of a particular summer. It conjures end of season memories for me with perfumer Olivia Giacobetti’s transparent fig providing the coda to the summer before fall arrives. Just like “Boys of Summer” by Don Henley.

For the next three months all five perfumes and five songs will be on heavy rotation. See if you want to add them to your summer playlist.

Disclosure: Reviews based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Strawberry

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As I mentioned a year ago, when the subject of this column was rhubarb perfumes, this time of year has a natural partner to rhubarb; strawberry. By the time I write this column a month from now it is likely a strawberry-rhubarb pie will be cooling on the counter. Strawberry in perfume has a quality that sometimes can come off as adolescent in nature. There are a few which manage to take that ingredient and make something more sophisticated here are five of those.

Back in 2006 when Romano Ricci debuted his new perfume brand Juliette Has A Gun one of the two releases, Miss Charming, featured strawberry. Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian called it “wild strawberry’ which meant a strong green component to the sweet berry. It rests on top of a velvet rose where an interesting use of lychee tones down the typical flamboyance of rose. A swirl of musks finishes this off with an expansive air. This was one of the first times I noticed strawberry in a positive way in a perfume.

Wild strawberry would return in Marc Jacobs Daisy in the fall of 2007. Perfumer Alberto Morillas uses it as part of a grapefruit-strawberry top accord. Violet leaves pick up the green more efficiently leading to a gardenia and jasmine heart while the violet flowers alongside them. A typical woody-vanilla base round it out. This has been one of the great mainstream successes of the last ten years and much of that is due to M. Morillas’ touch with the modern fruity floral.

My favorite straight out strawberry perfume is Montale Mukhallat. Done in the brand’s unabashedly bombastic style the strawberry is matched with almond, vanilla, and balsam. This is like a freight train with the strawberry in the cow catcher position. When I feel like catching a ride on the Strawberry Express this is what I reach for.

I adore the opening of slumberhouse Sadanne as it always smells of candy apples flavored with strawberry. This seems like perfumer Josh Lobb’s commentary on fruity floral fragrance. This becomes clearer in the heart as the florals are purposefully made somewhat sour so that they contrast with the sugary sweetness of the top accord. Then it heads to dirty musky territory which scares off all the fruit and flowers. One of my favorites from the brand.

Imaginary Authors Cape Heartache finds a unique partner for the strawberry, pine. Perfumer Josh Meyer shows that coniferous berries are the pairing I didn’t know I wanted. They each manage to attenuate the other leaving a middle harmonic which works. A bit of woodsmoke skirls through as if the smoke from a bonfire is caught in the boughs of the tree. It is a midnight in the forest scent with a bit of strawberry along for the ride.

Strawberry doesn’t always have to be childish these five show that to be true.

Disclosure: This review was based on bottles I purchased.

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

My Favorite Things: Cherry

There are some perfume notes which I think are problematically labeled as “cheap”. Cherry is one of those; the result of being the ingredient of too many plug-in air fresheners. It means more opportunity for perfumers to find gold within the dross. There aren’t a lot of cherry perfumes I own but the ones I do show the previous assertion is true. Here are my five favorites.

The People of the Labyrinths Luctor et Emergo– Before perfumer Alessandro Gulatieri would go on to found his Nasomatto line, he caught the attention of many perfume lovers with this gorgeous experimental fragrance. He at first uses a strong cherry but wraps it in an artificial cellophane accord. Then he embeds it in a Play-Doh casing for a different kind of artifice. One of the earliest groundbreakers in niche perfumery.

Serge Lutens Rahat Loukoum– Perfumer Christopher Sheldrake also uses cherry as a keynote in the top accord in this release to help further define the nascent gourmand style of fragrance. He takes a marzipan almond and matches it to a syrupy cherry liqueuer. Based on the Turkish Delight confection it eventually heads deeper into sweet confectionary territory, but it is always the cherry-almond opening which stays with me.

Ramon Monegal Cherry Musk– This is a perfume which simply lives up to its name as perfumer Ramon Monegal takes a concentrated cherry followed by a cocktail of white and animalic musks to provide a fascinating counterbalance. It is very strong and some days I’m not up for it; on the days I am spraying it on I like being swept away by it.

Beyonce Heat Rush– Within the celebuscent category Beyonce has produced a better than average collection since 2010. I liked the original Heat but the one bottle I own is the second flanker Heat Rush and it is all down to the cherry note. Perfumer Honorine Blanc re-works the fruity nature of Heat as she uses a top accord of cherry, passionfruit, and orange instead of the peach of the original. It turns this into a summer party.

Prada Candy Gloss– Perfumer Daniela Andrier completely leaves behind the formula from Candy for this flanker. It revolves on an axis of cherry, orange blossom, and vanilla. This is a transparent version of those usually heavy notes full of effervescence. I have come to like it better than the original.

Disclosure: These reviews based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Ylang-Ylang

Over my time of writing about perfume I have been given various samples of specific ingredients. To the point now I have a nice reference set of most of the major ingredients. There are only a few of them that have such dynamic scent profiles they are fascinating all on their own. One of those is ylang-ylang. Because of a visit to one of the major oil houses I not only have the essential oil but the different fractions of that oil. It has always struck me that when you take a complex ingredient like ylang-ylang and break it into fractions and each of those are different it speaks to the specialness of ylang-ylang as an ingredient. It is so versatile it is a supporting ingredient most of the time. There are some instances where it can star and here are five of my favorites.

M. Micallef Ylang in Gold is one of the best straight ylang perfumes you will find. Martine Micallef working with perfumer Jean-Claude Astier take the kaleidoscopic floral and gild it with sandalwood, vanilla, bitter orange. Throughout everything which makes ylang-ylang unique is displayed. My all-time favorite ylang-ylang perfume.

One of the odder facets of ylang-ylang is a ripe banana character which can be seen sometimes. In Hermes Hermessence Vanille Galante perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena relies on it to add a fruity tint to the lily and vanilla keynotes. It is one of the more divisive uses of ylang because of the ripe banana. It is one of my favorite tropical vibe perfumes.

Ylang-ylang was one of the great ingredients during the beginning of modern perfumery. As we have seen the rise of heritage brands; one of those Grossmith Hasu-No-Hana gives you a feel of what that was like. The modern team of Amanda and Simon Brooke oversaw a reconstruction where the ylang soars, paired with iris, as the floral heart headed to a chypre base. This is how they used to do it.

Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian would dabble with the animalic side of ylang with MDCI Enlevement au Serail. When he started his own brand, he would turn it into the fulcrum for the most sensually dynamic perfume of the 21st century Maison Francis Kurkdjian Absolue Pour le Soir. This is a celebration of all that is deep and dark in perfume with ylang right in the center.

Perfumer Frank Voelkl would also find the voluptuous side of ylang in Le Labo Ylang 49. While lighter than my previous choice it is still a femme fatale just dressed up in brighter shades of citrus and gardenia. A daytime version of sensuality.

If you’ve never explored ylang-ylang on its own these five will give you and idea of its special nature.

Disclosure: this review is based on bottles of which I have purchased.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Hibiscus

Having grown up in South Florida I was not wishing for a White Christmas. I was happy with brightly colored flowers instead of snow. I recently saw a picture of a hibiscus wreath which reminded me how we took the traditions and gave them a tropical tweak. Hibiscus as an ingredient is not one of the most popular choices. It has a similar sweetness to jasmine which makes it a frequent partner to that flower. It also is most commonly encountered as hibiscus tea which has been mimicked, too. This month’s My Favorite Things looks at five perfumes which show off hibiscus at its best.

Hibiscus Holiday Wreath

Acca Kappa Hibiscus is as close as there is to a hibiscus soliflore. Released in 2004 it takes the sweet floral keynote and supports it with magnolia, citrus, and heliotrope. Amber comes along to warm things up at the end. This is a great casual scent which is when I use it.

Demeter Hibiscus Tea does what perfumer Mark Crames does so well; create a perfumed simulacrum of the name on the bottle. The hibiscus is carried to your nose on steamy clouds of green tea. It is simply beautiful.

As I mentioned hibiscus is used along with jasmine. My favorite version of this is Costume National Scent. Perfumer Laurent Bruyere uses equivalent amounts of jasmine and hibiscus in the heart. It is laid on top of sheer woods and amber. Scent is a luminous floral perfume. Interestingly, M. Bruyere will take the same ingredients and alter the concentrations to make a darker version called Scent Intense. The hibiscus is more secondary in that one but that is also one of my favorites.

The most unambiguously tropical version of hibiscus comes in Creed Virgin Island Water. Most focus on the pina colada quality of the lime, rum, and coconut. But what seals the drinks with umbrellas vibe is the floral accord of hibiscus and jasmine reminding you that it is the Virgin Islands you’re in.

The most artistic use of hibiscus comes from perfumer Olivia Giacobetti and her IUNX No. 4 L’Eau Azteque. The botanical musk of ambrette comes from hibiscus seeds. Mme Giacobetti combines ambrette and musk into a foundational sun-warmed skin accord over which she lays hibiscus and pear. This is a fantastic fruity floral which captures indolent days in the sun.

If you’re looking for a mental trip to the tropics as we head further into the colder temperature months give these five a try.

Disclosure: This review is based on botlles which I own.

Mark Behnke