New Perfume Review Armani Prive New York- Modern Transparency

When it comes to Armani Prive I am starting to realize there is a trend which I can begin to apply to this extremely inconsistent collection; if there is an iris keynote it is likely to be good. It might have something to do with the fact that iris was said to be one of Sig. Armani’s favorite flowers. it might also be that the corporate creative team overseeing each perfume is doing a good job of hiring talented perfumers and it is coincidence that they do their best work with iris. The perfume which has made me conceive of this rule is Armani Prive New York.

New York was released in fall of 2017 as a city exclusive to Bergdorf Goodman. When I finally got to the store to try it recently I was surprised to find a completely modern composition. I was very curious to find out who the perfumer was behind it. When I was able to search on my phone I found out it was Fanny Bal. Ms. Bal is another of the young perfumers who are working to create perfumes for their generation. With only a few perfumes to her name, so far, she is an exciting artist to keep an eye on. Her signature in these early releases is for a light style of composition managing to take an ingredient like iris and find a way to make it modern.

Fanny Bal

New York opens on an attention getting trio of white pepper, neroli, and aldehydes. If I read that to you and you think piquant citrus hair spray that might be what you find with a different perfumer. Mme Bal uses the pepper as the focal point while taking the green aspect of the neroli to provide contrast, using just enough aldehydes to give some fizz to it all. It is all done with a delicate touch. The iris comes forward and is tilted towards its powdery side via peony. Ambrette provides a light muskiness while tea floats throughout the heart accord. This is like a silk scarf with iris and tea airbrushed upon it. The base goes for a similarly transparent incense and woods to finish New York.

New York has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

New York is the most modern perfume within the entire Armani Prive collection. If it can be positioned to be seen by the younger perfume lovers I think it has much of what they seem to want in a fragrance. As for Mme Bal it is another data point perhaps foreshadowing her ability to be the perfumer who best knows what her contemporaries want; modern transparency.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from Bergdorf Goodman.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Bogue NOUN- Navigating Traffic

When I write my pieces, there are times when the final thoughts come together so easily. Then there are times like it seems like I can’t string two coherent sentences together to form a concluding paragraph. Mary Poppins “well begun is half done” is an axiom which still means the remaining half might require some effort. I think there are several independent perfumers who are serial good beginners but have difficulty on the path to the finish. The latest release from Bogue, NOUN, is an example of this.

Bogue is the brand of independent perfumer Antonio Gardoni. He has approached perfume from a self-taught mixture of analysis and inspiration. When it comes together in releases like MAAI or Aeon 001 all the concepts flow together in a compelling current of creativity. Last year with the release of MEM the lavender beginning was brilliant only to get caught up in a floral traffic jam on the way to the finish. NOUN suffers from some of the finishing problems evident in MEM but it navigates the traffic more smoothly.

Antonio Gardoni

Sig. Gardoni has been redefining the thought of gourmand being a sweet perfume ever since his collaboration with Bruno Fazzolari on Cadavre Exquis. He is working diligently to show that the savory notes existent in perfume are also edible and can also be delightful.

Sig. Gardoni has developed a near-signature set of accords which populate NOUN. Early on a mixture of citrus of which yuzu sticks out the most is coated in benzoin to create a trapped in resin effect to the fruit. It creates a barrier between the citrus which also attenuates it. Then Sig. Gardoni layers in herbs, a lot of them. According to the description on Luckyscent it as a proprietary blend of Sig. Gardoni’s. In the early moments as it builds in the foodie notes of rosemary, basil, and mint form a fascinating counterpoint to the benzoin. Then the herbal traffic starts to build and there is the beginning of the same effect which I was not fond of in MEM. Just as I am on the verge of wanting to look for an exit to get off this freeway NOUN finally shifts gears with a bit of a clunk as patchouli and incense build in to take this into a different less crowded direction. The herbs get moving with more support and it becomes like a great spice mélange. It all comes to an end on a set of complimentary woods focused on sandalwood.

NOUN has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

NOUN is not as seamless as the best of the perfumes Sig. Gardoni has made. Especially throughout the middle part of the development there are times the gears never mesh, and you can hear the grinding of the effort Sig. Gardoni is going through to get to the next phase. I think it is worth the effort to stay with Sig. Gardoni as when he finally gets NOUN up to speed he finds the right conclusion.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Nest Wisteria Blue- The Garden District

If you do any traveling in the southeastern part of the United States, you will find that all the older cities have what are called Garden Districts. What that means is they are areas where the grand old Southern-style mansions are located. If you look at that name and expect manicured gardens it turns out to be different than that. The garden part is most often comprised of soaring trees draped with moss and lichen along with climbing vines with colorful flowers clinging to the wrought iron and pillars of the antebellum houses. One of the most common of the colorful climbing vines is wisteria. Nest Wisteria Blue is inspired by these old vines.

Laura Slatkin

Creative director of Nest Fragrances, Laura Slatkin, was on a walk in the Garden District of Charleston, South Carolina where she came across a house covered in blue wisteria vines. Her desire to make a perfume which captured that was born in that moment. She would turn to perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux to help achieve that. According to the press release Sr. Flores-Roux has an essence of wisteria extracted from the blooms at Marie Antoinette’s home at Versailles, Petit Trianon. The scent of the flower falls somewhere between lilac and freesia. It is a delicate smell that could easily get overrun by more powerful florals. In Wisteria Blue Sr. Flores-Roux makes sure his singular essence does not get lost.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux

Wisteria Blue opens on that lilting floral nature of the wisteria which in the early moments floats like a veil. Then a watery accord reminiscent of water dripping off the flowers after a hard rain. It provides a place for the wisteria to get a bit stronger in presence. That amplification continues as jasmine and rose uplift the wisteria on their shoulders. Sr. Flores-Roux keeps this in balance throughout which I don’t think is as easy as it is for me to write it.

Wisteria Blue has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Ms. Slatkin has realized her vision of a Garden District in a fragrance as Wisteria Blue captures a sunny stroll down a street where the flowers are clinging to the architecture.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Sephora.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Kai- Genial Gardenia

One of the things I would like to accomplish with this column is to remind those who love perfume that all great perfume is not new. Sometimes it is right there on the shelf every time you visit your favorite perfume store. That’s the story of this month’s choice Kai.

Kai was created in 1998 by a Malibu, California boutique owner; Gaye Straza. Ms. Straza had tired of the commercial offerings. She wanted a fragrance which captured her beloved Hawaii. This is how Kai came to be. In the early years she made small single batches but the word began to spread. Over time she would increase production until it is now available everywhere perfume is sold. Early on it was like when Coors beer finally made it East of the Mississippi, perfume lovers flocked to see what the fuss was about. Unlike the beer analogy the perfume lived up to the hype. Kai is one of the most generally beautiful gardenia perfumes you will find.

Gaye Straza

Ms. Straza took her independent spirit to a small fragrance house and developed Kai. In its first incarnation it was a perfume oil. In 2006 it was also released as an eau de parfum which is the version I prefer. As I’ve mentioned many times my grandmother’s house was surrounded by gardenia bushes. The smell of the flowers along with the green of the leaves on the bush are a cherished memory. Kai captures that mixture of floral and foliage expertly.

Kai is an example of how a simple construction can still carry power. In the earliest moments a burst of citrus opens the door for the gardenia surrounded by the green leaves. It is this which makes me enjoy Kai over and over. Ms. Straza found the right balance of floral and green which is where the first phase of Kai lingers. Over time the gardenia is clipped from the bush to radiate on its own. A set of white musks make it more transparent throughout the final hours.

Kai eau de parfum has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Gardenia as it has evolved over the years has become another of the coloratura white florals usually hitting the high notes. In Kai you find it running scales in a more muted key which is what makes it such a genial gardenia. Next time your eyes wander past it on the shelf stop and take a sniff.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Escada Sorbetto Rosso- Melon of the Sea

My family had a weekend place right at the southern end of Key Largo. On our way down, we would pass these roadside signs all in a row exhorting us to stop at “Theatre of the Sea”. A kind of busman’s Sea World we could see many of the attractions from the road as we drove past. It was cheesy, goofy fun which always seemed to have many cars in the parking lot. It existed for as long as I lived in S. Florida until it probably just faded away from lack of interest. Florida excelled in this kind of straightforward corny roadside attractions. When I was in the mood for them a trip through the Monkey Jungle or Gatorland held tacky pleasures all on their own. Even perfume can hold goofy pleasures which Escada Sorbetto Rosso does.

If you’re going to go for the fragrance equivalent of those roadside attractions then all attempts at subtlety needs to be thrown out the window. Perfumer Richard Herpin was seemingly given that leeway and he gleefully forms a wacky fruity aquatic gourmand. I giggled at the press copy which babbles on about the Amalfi Coast and capturing La Dolce Vita. There seems to be too much sophistication there for a perfume which might be eating Eye-Talian food in It-ly.

Richard Herpin

M. Herpin takes Calone as his aquatic ingredient. Most perfumers look for ways to ameliorate the melon nature which many find lowbrow. M. Herpin goes the other way as he adds in a huge amount of watermelon. So much that the Calone does more to contribute to the sea spray than it usually does because the melon is busy getting jiggy with the watermelon. It comes off like a watermelon was found floating in the ocean. If this ended here it would be fine and it does linger like this for hours but late on you will notice a sneaky last bit of fun as a praline accord slips inside the melon giving a gourmand vibe to the very end of Sorbetto Rosso.

Sorbetto Rosso has 24-hour longevity and above average sillage.

Sorbetto Rosso is an extremely guilty pleasure but ever since I received my sample I’ve enjoyed it more than I should. So, while it isn’t a classy designer perfume it is the roadside attraction version; I’ll call it Melon of the Sea. Pull into the parking lot if you’re in the mood for some fragrant fun.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Gucci Guilty Absolute Pour Femme- Dreamy Blackberry

The designer perfume brands naturally go through up and downs. It usually depends on how important the Creative Director thinks fragrance is to the overall brand identity they want. When that Creative Director is invested in fragrance that is when some of the greatest designer perfumes arrive along with an overall collection coherence. At Gucci it seems like Creative Director Alessandro Michele is one of those.

Gucci Spring/Summer 2018

Sig. Michele has revived the fashion side of Gucci in just over two years. It has been impressive to see as he uses vintage inspirations to add detailing to modern silhouettes. Last year’s Gucci Bloom was the first fragrance release under his oversight. That it was one of the best designer releases of 2017 showed the interest in fragrance was back. Now it is time to see where Gucci is headed on the fragrance side with the second release under Sig. Michele’s creative direction Gucci Guilty Absolute Pour Femme.

Alessandro Michele

As he did with Gucci Bloom he collaborates with perfumer Alberto Morillas who also did last year’s Gucci Guilty Absolute Pour Homme prior to Sig. Michele taking over the fragrance creative direction. It allows for a real indication of where Sig. Michele is adding to the overall design. The Guilty Absolute Pour Homme rested upon a patchouli, leather, and cypress base. I wasn’t crazy about that combination. When I received the press materials and noticed that same base present I was worried. Here is where Sig. Michele’s vision comes to the fore. Also, in the press materials he says, “I wanted a blackberry note that would make you dream upon smelling it.” Right there is what makes Guilty Absolute Pour Femme excel as Sr. Morillas finds that. That dreamy blackberry is the exact counterweight needed for that base accord.

Alberto Morillas

That blackberry is where we start. This is so good I think it is going to sell a lot of perfume because those who like fruity florals are going to go crazy for this blackberry. I’ve spent a lot of time examining it. I think its dreaminess comes from a judicious use of blackcurrant to keep the sweetness of the blackberry leaner. It’s not listed as an ingredient but there is something keeping the blackberry from going all jammy. What does bring that aspect out is the rose and patchouli which come next. The rose does what it usually does with berries it encounters it deepens them. The patchouli adds an earthy aspect which then adds in the leather accord and cypress from Guilty Absolute Pour Homme.

Gucci Guilty Absolute Pour Femme has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I can’t overstate how much better Gucci Guilty Absolute Pour Femme is compared to Guilty Absolute Pour Homme. It all comes down to the choice of Sig. Michele to insist upon a dreamy blackberry over the same base. It is clear what the influence of active creative direction can have. A simple dreamy blackberry has me dreaming for even better days ahead for Gucci fragrance.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Atelier des Ors Musc Immortel- Third Iris Movement

While there are many independent perfume brand success stories who use many different perfumers; I am a big fan of the monogamous approach. When a creative director and a perfumer work together over the life of a brand I believe it helps create a definitive aesthetic. It also allows for explorations of different keynotes from altered perspectives. That in turn leads to some special subsets within a brand. This has been happening at Atelier des Ors as the latest release Musc Immortel provides a third look at iris.

Jean-Philippe Clermont

Jean-Philippe Clermont has chosen to work exclusively with perfumer Marie Salamagne since the founding of Atelier des Ors in 2015. In the original collection Aube Rubis was a fabulous warm iris which was supported by vetiver and patchouli. In 2016 they would continue using the same trio with Iris Fauve. Musc Immortel takes it in a new direction. This time the patchouli becomes the primary counterweight to the iris through the heart before sinking into the titular notes.

Marie Salamagne (Photo: Jerome Bonnet)

The citrus and herbal duet of grapefruit and clary sage announce the arrival of the iris. As it was in the previous two releases this is the rhizomal version of iris; earthy instead of powdery. It is my preferred version of iris in perfume. The same heart accord as existed in Iris Fauve makes a return in Musc Immortel but the concentrations have changed. In Iris Fauve the vetiver has the upper hand with the faux-oud of cypriol. In Musc Immortel those two notes appear first but the patchouli builds into a wave which eventually rises over the iris near exclusively. This is where the base accord becomes critical. Left with iris awash on a sea of patchouli this becomes less interesting. Mme Salamagne uses immortelle to capture the iris in a lifesaving embrace as the earthiness has the maple syrup quality of immortelle to stick to. It holds fast forming a deeply pleasing accord. A mixture of botanical and synthetic musks carry this to softly a animalic finish.

Musc Immortel has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Musc Immortel has been around as an exclusive at Harrod’s since early 2017; it is now ready to expand to where Atelier des Ors is sold. I think it is great that this is getting a wider distribution because it fits so well within the Atelier des Ors Collection. If you’ve been a fan of Aube Rubis or Iris Fauve I suspect you will enjoy Musc Immortel. I look forward to the fourth movement of the iris-vetiver-patchouli symphony because the third movement was so inspiring.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Atelier des Ors.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Blocki Sanrovia- Evolutionary Heritage

Heritage can do one of two things, it can shackle you to the past or it can inspire you to add your own imprint. This is equally true when speaking of heritage perfume brands which have been springing up. Some decide to try and slavishly re-create. The ones I find more interesting are those who look to bring the style of the heritage into the present. Very quietly one of the latter success stories at doing this continues to evolve with the release of Blocki Sanrovia.

Blocki released a set of three perfumes in the fall of 2015 to revive the brand. Under the stewardship of Tyler Delabar and Tammy Kraemer, Mr Kraemer did his great grandfather John Blocki proud. These were all fantastically contemporary perfumes with vintage brushstrokes. The other part of this team which has made it work so well is perfumer Kevin Verspoor. Mr. Verspoor and I have spoken about perfume making. If there is something which I know is he is a student of the past so that he can translate it to the present day. That the creative directors and the perfumer are all on the same page is a reason why this has been a successful collaboration.

Kevin Verspoor

On a visit to a trade show in the fall of 2016 Ms. Kraemer shared with me the fourth perfume which would be released. It is one of that hazards of smelling something like that at a trade show when it is by far my favorite thing of the day and I am not allowed to speak of it. Now that Sanrovia has been released that restriction has been removed.

The original version of Sanrovia was released in 1911 out of Mr. Blocki’s Chicago shop. It was inspired by trips of Mr. Blocki to an Italian village. As the original Sanrovia was an interpretation of Italy through American eyes the current version does the same thing with the similarity being the prominent use of sandalwood.

Many Mediterranean perfumes choose to open with a blast of the citrus groves. Sanrovia starts here, too. Mr. Verspoor starts off with lemon structured to be as cool as it is tart. Orange comes along to mellow both effects. The heart is a floral two-step of paired floral accords. The first is lavender and geranium. They combine into a green tinted floral where the lavender does most of the floral lifting. This progresses into the second pair of jasmine and rose. The rose is an oil from Jacques Cartier roses which are a hybrid of Damask and China varieties. It has all the complexity of a typical rose otto but there is also more space for the jasmine to find some footing. The rose is on top but not as much as usual in accords like this. The star of the show arrives after this as Mr. Verspoor uses Australian Sandalwood. I would wonder if Mr. Blocki used Mysore Sandalwood back in 1911. By using the version available in 2018 Mr. Verspoor plays to its strengths as the modern sandalwood is more desiccated he uses vetiver and labdanum to enhance that.

Sanrovia has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

From the moment I got a sniff of this I felt like this would be my favorite of the Blocki releases to date, which it is. This never feels like a vintage perfume or even a Retro Nouveau. The only ingredient which carries that vibe is the Jacques Cartier Rose and it is more restrained than, I am guessing, if a full Damascene rose had been used. The citrus top accord is so often forgettable in most perfumes. In Sanrovia it is a bracing cool breeze. The florals cavort as if they were on holiday while the sandalwood stands to the side with stolid strength. This is a triumph of the Kraemers and Mr. Verspoor. If there is an afterlife which can see the present I have to believe John Blocki would be proud of the evolutionary heritage they have achieved.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Narciso Rodriguez Santal Musc- Staying the Course

One of my favorite perfume brands has been the Narciso Rodriguez line. One reason I enjoy them is right from the start, in 2003, the decision that this was going to be a collection which would be focused on musk. Throughout the years some of the perfumers best known for using musk in creative ways laid the foundation for Narciso Rodriguez to become synonymous with the ingredient. Late last year the most recent installment in this collection was released Narciso Rodriguez Santal Musc.

Sonia Constant

Santal Musc is the latest entry in the Oriental Musc Collection after Amber Musc from 2013 and Rose Musc in 2016. For This latest perfumers Caroline Sabas and Sonia Constant team up. What they have produced is classic spicy Oriental base accord featuring the two notes on the bottle.

Caroline Sabas

The spice comes from cardamom in the beginning. Early on it seems like it is the lemon tinted refined cardamom. Over time it seems like some of the rawer green cardamom also arrives. At the same time ylang-ylang also comes up. For a moment the stickier cardamom inserts itself into the slightly oily ylang-ylang. It is an interesting combination. Which is when the musk comes to the fore. I like the way the slightly animalic nature harmonizes with the fatty floral. Now this might sound heavy but the perfumers mange to create something lighter in tone by using some of the expansive musks to add lift. Then an equally opaque sandalwood completes the Oriental effect. This all comes together rapidly which maybe makes the overall effect seem linear. I found it enjoyable while I was wearing it with out becoming inured to it.

Santal Musc has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

This is a lovely take on a musky Oriental. I’m not sure it creates new ground within the genre. Saying that it does create new space for the Narciso Rodriguez brand as it is the most Oriental of the three Oriental Musc Collection. What I admire is even on the thirtieth version of a musk perfume Narciso Rodriguez Santal Musc is staying the course started fifteen years ago beautifully.

Disclosure: This review is based on a smaple provided by Narciso Rodriguez.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review The House of Oud Crop 2017- Event Horizon

Among the many ingredients which sharply divide perfume lovers, licorice and oud would rank high on that list. I am that contrarian which enjoys both. I like the sharply herbal darkness of licorice. I adore the medicinal tinted ouds; like smelling a bandage on my finger. When these notes are combined in a perfume you might expect an obstreperous off-putting composition; which it might be for some. I found the perfume which does this, The House of Oud Crop 2017, exactly the combination I was looking for.

I became acquainted with The House of Oud last year. Founded by perfumer Andrea Casotti and oud distiller Mohammed Nashi. One of the things they are doing is creating yearly limited editions which feature a specific oud called Crop. The first one Crop 2016 was built around a green Kalimantan oud that was compelling. I was curious to see what Crop 2017 would bring.

Andrea Casotti

This vintage works with a traditional oud full of those medicinal aspects I enjoy. It is not as unique as the oud in Crop 2016. For Crop 2017 it seems as if Sig. Casotti wanted to explore the depth of how dark you could take an oud. Instead of lightening it up he drives it even deeper with licorice.

Crop 2017 does not have a pyramid as much as everything sort of appears. Very early the herbal pure licorice of a throat lozenge is dunked in a glass of absinthe. What this creates is souped-up wormwood accord with the licorice maxed out. Before I get much time to enjoy this the oud rumbles in like a rhino into a china shop lifting the licorice accord up and slamming it down on top of itself. This is where Crop 2017 hovers and if the idea of acerbic herbal boozy bandages makes you go “oooh!” then, like me, you will be in bliss. I enjoyed this so much that I almost was disappointed when the sandalwood began to find its way in. It was so normal I was irritated with its presence.

Crop 2017 has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I am reasonably sure if I asked many oud lovers whether they like Crop 2016 or 2017 most of them would choose 2016. Not me. Crop 2017 is one of those reasons I enjoy niche perfumery. Everything doesn’t have to be made for the masses. Sometimes it can be made for us who want to hang out on the event horizon of licorice and oud.

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

Mark Behnke