New Perfume Review Clique by Roble-Cooking up a Fragrance

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Haute Perfume and Haute Cuisine are natural partners as great food is often accompanied by great smells. It is the scent of a dish that heightens our anticipation for what we will be tasting. Ever since the advent of gourmand fragrances in 1992 with the introduction of Thierry Mugler Angel this genre of perfume has been evolving. Which makes it a natural for a chef to be a creative director for a gourmand fragrance. One of the newest of these collaborations comes courtesy of Chef Roble Ali and is called Clique by Roble.

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Chef Roble Ali

Chef Roble Ali is the owner of the catering company Roble & Co. in New York City. His business was the subject of a reality show called “Chef Roble & Co.” on the cable network Bravo. He had been dubbed the “hip-hop chef” a label he has resisted but with initiatives like the “Food Tang Clan” which made Rap parodies like “Grubbin’ Problems” he probably protesteth a bit too much. What is exciting about Chef Roble is that he is an energetic personality looking for different ways to combine his love of the culinary arts with other art forms. With Clique by Roble he teamed with an unnamed perfumer, although we are told it is a “world-renowned perfumer”. (UPDATE: The perfumer has been revealed to be Frank Voelkl) What they created was a gourmand fragrance which opens with cocktail hour moves to an entrée of rich floral notes and finishes with a decadent dessert accord.

honey chocolate

The cocktail they are trying to create in the top notes is a blood orange margarita and while that is the inspiration that never really comes together on my skin. What does come together is much less ambitious and much more pleasant. The blood orange is very prominent and the tartness of that citrus is enhanced with a wedge of lime and a sprinkle of smoky chipotle pepper. Those three notes work wonderfully together and I really enjoy the choice to go for spicy and tart with a bit of smoke. The note list promises tequila and triple sec but on the days I wore this I never found those notes. The heart is made up of iris, jasmine, violet, and tuberose. This is a recipe for heady floralcy and it arises out of the top notes with a restrained intensity at first and then blossoms to life as the tuberose and the iris take the lead. After that dessert needs to be even more luscious and honey and chocolate provide that opulent aspect as they are bracketed by a doughy accord which is called “Challah bread” in the note list and piquant cinnamon which recalls the chipotle pepper in the top notes. The final moments of Clique by Roble are true blue gourmand and it manages to keep its sweetness under control and it never became too much on the days I wore it.

Clique by Roble had 6-8 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I have my favorite gourmands in my collection and usually I find the more recent releases to be working the same territory over and over. Clique by Roble has some of that familiarity in the use of the chocolate and honey in particular but the choice of things like chipotle pepper and blood orange shows a little more imagination than usual. It is that which makes Clique by Roble a gourmand worth seeking out if you are a fan of this style.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided to attendees at Sniffapalooza Spring Fling 2014.

Mark Behnke    

New Perfume Reviews Jazmin Sarai Otis & Me, How You Love, Neon Graffiti, and Led IV- Songs in the Key of Scent

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One of my favorite things which happens in the background of my writing about perfume is one of the great reasons why I do it. I am often approached to try a young independent perfumer’s creations and to give my opinion. I am thrilled to offer any assistance I can especially to those who choose to try this on their own. This is how Dana El Masri and I have struck up an ongoing conversation on the perfumes she was working on. Her idea was to take a musical inspiration and turn it into a perfume. After her training at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery she knew the work necessary to see her ideas through to a finished product and it is very pleasing to see her dreams become reality. Her line is called Jazmin Sarai and she has assembled a very strong debut playlist.

dana el masri

Dana El Masri

Otis & Me is inspired by Otis Redding’s “Cigarettes and Coffee” from 1966. Ms. El Masri wanted to capture an imaginary conversation between the wearer and Otis in a diner in the wee hours of the morning in a time when smoking was still permitted. What she has done quite brilliantly is to make a fragrance which rasps, like Mr. Redding’s voice, with a world-weary omniscience. It is surrounded with the richness of coffee and the haze of smoke. She blends black pepper, cardamom, and bergamot into a spicy grittiness which opens into a Turkish rose coated with incense over a rich coffee base. All of this is perhaps a bit too grand for a diner but one can’t be faulted for imagination, can they?

How You Love is inspired by Sade’s “It’s Only Love That Gets You Through” from 2000. This is the yin to Otis & Me’s raspy yang as How You Love is the smooth soulful voice that plumbs unexpected depths that Sade provides to her singing. Ms. El Masri uses cardamom again but this time a greener version of it and pairs it with grapefruit as we start on the high end of the olfactory scale. The heart notes drop an octave as Moroccan rose and Indian jasmine swirl together with a soulful harmony. The base notes drop into those low notes that become a trademark of Sade as How You Love uses sandalwood and musks but the really excellent choice is to capture it in a substrate of beeswax still redolent of the honey that recently surrounded it. This is the vocal range of Sade from high to delightful low.

Neon Graffiti is inspired by M.I.A.’s “Sunflowers” from 2004. When she first gave me this to try in an early version she told me to think of neon on wet cement. In that early mod there wasn’t enough crackle of electricity and the cement felt a bit lifeless. What has emerged as the finished product has none of those issues as there is a palpable sizzle of humming neon over damp cement. Ms. El Masri accomplishes this by using cardamom and grapefruit again but chilling them out with mint and ivy. Jasmine, mimosa, and sunflowers form a burst of rainbow florals and they are made neon bright by adding in juicy mango. The cement accord is ambrox, cedar, and incense and it is very well executed. Neon Graffiti feels like the fusion of disparate energies the best hip-hop provides.

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Led Zeppelin

Led IV is inspired by Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California” from 1971. Led IV is my favorite of this set of four fragrances and it because Ms. El Masri has perhaps made the first perfume which really captures the heart of rock and roll. One of the reasons this works so well is Ms. El Masri keeps it simple and lets each note contribute to the olfactory band. Grapefruit and bergamot are Robert Plant’s vocals brilliant and high. Davana provides the boozy guitar of Jimmy Page. John Paul Jones plucks the mandolin as patchouli wafts from the crowd and underneath John Bonham keeps the beat with guaiacwood and musks. Together this creates a perfect moody rock vibe that is unforgettable.

All four Jazmin Sarai perfumes have 6-8 hour longevity and modest sillage.

I’ve sort of known about the talent Ms. El Masri has had and have been keeping it to myself. With the release of these four fragrances she is ripe for discovery by everyone who loves perfume and music. She truly gets it. Now when are you going to finish that Hendrix one?

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Jazmin Sarai.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Amouage Journey Woman and Journey Man- The First Steps of the Second Cycle

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My admiration for Christopher Chong has been writ large across numerous reviews of the Amouage fragrances he is the Creative Director for. His vision has made Amouage into one of the great perfume houses of this century. I believe this collection he is responsible for creating has only peers, and damn few of them. Throughout my time corresponding with Mr. Chong and the influences which motivate him I have come to “know” him, though we have never actually met. With last year’s release of Fate Woman and Fate Man “the first cycle of the Amouage narrative” came to an end. Now with the release of Journey Woman and Journey Man we begin the second cycle which will delve into Mr. Chong’s life and is subtitled ‘Portraits of a Life’.

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Christopher Chong

Mr. Chong was inspired by Shanghai Deco and Chinese film noir. The common thread to both of these is a weaving of distinctly western elements into an eastern undertaking. During the 1920’s and 30’s there were many striking examples of art deco buildings erected in Shanghai. When I look at this purely western form of architecture it is striking to me how well it meshes with its eastern surroundings. There seems to be no disconnection. The same can be said of Chinese cinema over the last 100 years as it has evolved by adding its own flair to traditional movie tropes and then, interestingly to me, these new interpretations find their way back into Hollywood releases. This is the theme of Journey Woman and Man the meshing of distinct western influences like noir and deco with a Chinese aesthetic to create something wholly unique. The perfumers Mr. Chong chose to help him bring this to life are Alberto Morillas and Pierre Negrin.

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Shanghai Park Hotel

Journey Woman feels very Deco inspired to me as it has jasmine tea, saffron, cypriol, and osmanthus provide the eastern details on the solidity of the western foundation of honey, cedar, and tobacco. When I asked Mr. Chong what it was about Deco that drew him to it he responded, “my reason for loving it is quite simple. I love the form, shape, and the period.” As a result Journey Woman is a fragrance which carries an unusual simplicity for Amouage but the “form” and the “shape” of this perfume is fascinating for those clean architectural lines.

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The Paramount in Shanghai

Journey Woman might have the softest opening of any Amouage fragrance to date, based on the opening moments I would bet many would not suspect it was an Amouage fragrance. The top notes of jasmine tea, nutmeg, apricot, and osmanthus provide luxuriance without heft. It lilts and draws you in with the intersection of so many beautiful notes precisely positioned. Honey and jasmine provides a bit more volume as Journey Woman begins to arise from the early delicacy and now begins to take more shape. The honey in particular provides a matrix for the osmanthus to blossom upon and the jasmine tea transforms into jasmine sambac in all of its full indolic glory. Cedar is used to start refining the emerging shape into eventual form. The base notes achieve the melding of west and east as tobacco, saffron, vanilla, and cypriol all flow together into a smooth montage of both sets of influences.

I suspect many are going to be surprised at this light Amouage perfume. I would encourage you to not try Journey Woman with prior expectations weighing you down. Embrace this new beginning of the second cycle and you will be heartily rewarded.

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Maggie Cheung as actress Ruan Lingyiu in "Centre Stage"

If you need something a little more “Amouage” to help you start the second cycle Journey Man will provide that transition. Journey Man feels very cinematic to me it could even have a logo “composed in Technicolor”. Mr. Chong has been a fan of Chinese movies for his entire life and he wrote to me, “I was brought up with all kinds of Chinese Cinema…for me it means entertainment and family time.” It is an almost universal thing to sit in a movie theatre watching larger than life images and losing yourself in the story unspooling from the projector behind you. Journey Man unspools in larger than life accords of Sichuan pepper, neroli bigarade, juniper berries, along with the tobacco and cypriol we saw in Journey Woman.

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Bruce Lee

The use of the Sichuan pepper in the top notes of Journey Man may feel like it is in living color but it is also very Chinese. It is also the smell of home cooking to Mr. Chong I suspect which makes it appropriate to be the opening note. It is stirred in with a very green cardamom and an incredible neroli bigarade. This creates an interplay of shadow and light flickering to life. Shadow wins for a while as juniper berries and incense take over. Geraniol and rose push back against the twilight while a haze of tobacco hovers above it all. Journey Man tells most of its story right here and it is where it lingers on my skin for many hours as the olfactory chiaroscuro continues to evolve throughout the day. The base notes are a fit denouement as tonka, cyrpriol, and ambrox finish things off.

Journey Man is much more typical of what many have come to think of as an Amouage fragrance. I found it very comforting despite the characteristic intensity. I definitely felt this biopic of Mr. Chong’s life come to reality on the olfactory silver screen.

Journey Woman had 12-14 hour longevity and Journey Man 10-12 hour longevity on me. The sillage for both was average.

I am so looking forward to the remainder of the fragrances in this second cycle. As Lao Tzu says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Journey Woman and Journey Man have taken two confident steps into this new journey of Mr Chong’s and Amouage.

Disclosure: This review was based on bottles of Journey Woman and Journey Man provided by Amouage.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Jardins D’Ecrivains Junky- Tripping on a Scent

In the 1950’s America was coming to grips with its status in a post-war world and most were buying into the American Dream. The goal of this was to get a 9-to-5 job, a house in the new housing developments growing around the major cities, and to start a family. This drive to have all of these things has persisted to this day even though it is more difficult to achieve presently. Right from the beginning there was a group of artists who rebelled at this nascent straitjacket of conformity. One of the earliest groups of non-conformists was called The Beat Generation and one of its prominent members was author William S. Burroughs. His 1959 novel “The Naked Lunch” along with Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” and Alan Ginsberg’s “Howl” are the exemplars most cited as the works which capture this desire to break free of the confines of The American Dream. Perfumer Anais Biguine of Jardins D’Ecrivains has been releasing perfumes based on literary inspirations and she chose Mr. Burroughs’ earlier work Junky as the name of her newest release.

william s burroughs

William S. Burroughs (Photo: Evening Standard/Getty Images)

As a piece of literature Junky was an unflinching view of the life of an addict who in the most powerful passage in the book compares heroin addiction to “an inoculation of death”. This was a vivid contrast to the early hysteria over drug use typified by movies like “Reefer Madness”. Junky was succinct prose describing something unknowable to a non-addict. Mme Biguine when composing the fragrance named after this source material also chose to go for a spare construction with a burst of floral pleasure around slightly edgy and narcotic top and base notes.

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Anais Biguine

Junky opens on a fantastic combination of galbanum and hemp. The hemp gives the intense green quality of galbanum a viscous coating and creates an edgy nervous feeling to the early moments of Junky. The heart is the moment of euphoria as iris, violet, and gardenia form a heady triptych that shed the nervy opening for a moment of floral pleasure. I am partial to all three of these notes and Mme Biguine weaves them into a purely pleasurable moment of joy. That joy decays into a base of darker notes as vetiver, frankincense, myrrh, and cade bring you back to reality. I especially like the use of the cade here for recapitulating the green edginess of the top notes in an alternative way.

Junky has 8-10 hour longevity on my skin with modest sillage.

junky cover

Mme Biguine has not shied away from interpreting some of literature’s renegades in fragrant form. I have been impressed with all the fragrances she has produced to date but Junky has done the best at capturing the source material. Using a beloved and cherished source material like Junky sets it up to be disappointing to some if it fails to capture what each person believes is important about that work. I admit of all the things Mme Biguine has translated to fragrance this was the one I had the most personal feeling about. At least for me she nailed the feel of the book with a laconically slightly dangerous fragrance. Junky is everything I could’ve asked for in a fragrance with this name on the bottle.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Bottega Veneta Essence Aromatique-

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One thing I am certain of in the vast wasteland of designer fragrances if there is not a Creative Director who understands the “je ne sais quois” of the brand it is the first step to a poor perfume representing that name. One of the good examples of what to do right comes courtesy of Bottega Veneta and the Creative Director Tomas Maier. Hr. Maier has presided over the resurgence of this luxury brand after Tom Ford appointed him to this post in 2001 after Gucci bought it. His vision has consisted of four guiding principles of high-quality materials, timeless design, modern functionality, and extraordinary craftsmanship. Bottega Veneta does not use a logo but instead relies on a distinctive woven pattern which finds its way onto everything they produce. When it comes to the fragrance all of the four principles are on display and since 2011 with the release of Bottega Veneta this has been one of the more recent successes within the designer fragrance space. As his craftsman Hr. Maier has chosen perfumer Michel Almairac who has composed four of the five releases. The most recent release Essence Aromatique holds up the other three principles as they use the timeless design of a cologne, add in high-quality essential oils, and make this feel completely contemporary.

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Tomas Maier (Photo: Matteo Volta)

In the press material Hr. Maier explained that he wanted Essence Aromatique be “an unexpected crisp cologne that lingers like the essence of understated confidence” of whomever is wearing it. To create this cologne M. Almairac went for a traditional opening, a floral heart, and ends with a very modern “amber” to create what they call an “ambery cologne”. I have been pleasantly surprised at how well this works as I have enjoyed wearing this very much.

Parfumeur_Michel_Almairac

Michel Almairac

The traditional opening is citrus matched with herbal and M. Almairac chooses bergamot and coriander as his pairing. I really like the choice of coriander as it adds a bit of bite to the bergamot and makes the opening bracing, as a good cologne should be. The heart is a well-chosen Turkish rose whose spicy undertones complement the coriander perfectly. Patchouli picks up where the coriander leaves off and it all leaves a very sophisticated rose accord in place. Sandalwood anchors the base and vanilla tilts it to the sweeter side. This is where Essence Aromatique gets modern as this is not a traditional cologne finish it has a little more depth and persistence than the traditional cologne base notes.

Essence Aromatique has 8-10 hour longevity but half of that is really the sandalwood vanilla base and how much you like that will inform your enjoyment of this cologne. I liked it quite a bit and so it worked well for me. The sillage is average.

As I’ve mentioned before we are in a Colognaissance and Essence Aromatique is another example of talented creative people taking a venerable form and finding a way to simultaneously honor it and, yet, adapt it for the present day. Essence Aromatique accomplishes this as well as holding up the cornerstone principles of the brand. This is why the Bottega Veneta fragrance line is a cut above their competitors on the department store shelf.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample of Essence Aromatique provided by Bottega Veneta.

Mark Behnke  

New Perfume Review ERH1012 DeadofNight- Spectacular Sustainability

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I love being surprised and on the second day of Sniffapalooza Spring Fling I got a surprise when I stopped at MiN New York. Mindy Yang the co-owner of the apothecary asked me what I thought of the new DeadofNight. I admitted I didn’t know what that was and she handed me a roll-on to test it out with. I rolled it on my wrist and for the next twenty-four hours I rekindled my love of oud. I also spent that time learning about the entity behind DeadofNight, ERH1012.

Helena-Christensen

Helena Christensen

ERH1012 is a collaboration of Elizabeth Gaynes the founder of Gaia One. Gaia One is a company devoted to developing sustainable plantations to supply the flavors and fragrance industries. Borneo’s Balung River Plantation is the first of the Gaia One farms. From that farm the key ingredient of DeadofNight was harvested; a sustainable oud from planted agarwood trees. The harvesting of the oud will be like harvesting grapes at a vineyard as each year’s climatic conditions will lead to variations and will make for its use in each year’s small batch an evolving enterprise all around. The creative director for ERH1012 is supermodel Helena Christensen. Her friendship with Ms. Gaynes, her 20-year fashion career, and her work as photographer for Oxfam makes her ideal to guide the creation of DeadofNight. The perfumer she would be working with is Christophe Laudamiel. M. Laudamiel is one of the elite perfumers working today and can straddle the commercial and the artistic simultaneously. This is a team dedicated to making this inaugural fragrance something special and they do. (UPDATE: In an e-mail from Ms. Gaynes she let me know that perfumer Jacques Cavallier first worked with this oud oil and created the first mods for DeadofNight. M. Laudamiel used these as his starting point and attributes this as a co-creation of both perfumers.)

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Christophe Laudamiel

First choice was to make DeadofNight a perfume oil, very concentrated, and for this fragrance it is completely appropriate as a drop at a pulse point is all you want. DeadofNight is a personal olfactory journey and only those who are allowed close will share it with you. M. Laudamiel takes this new source of oud and combines the chill of violet leaf, a mere hint of floral notes and a woody musky amber at the base. Throughout the new oud preens like a precocious child.  

DeadofNight opens with the oud displaying its wares. As this is a new source of oud this has a less prickly quality as more aged versions of oud have. The oud oil used here was distilled multiple times to end up with a very concentrated fraction and that gives it power without the rough edges. M. Laudamiel uses the green character of violet leaf to pull at the rawer woody facets of oud. Early on in its development this has a plushness to it that I have rarely experienced in an oud-centric fragrance. As many of you know rose is oud’s natural partner and usually it is used as an equal in composition containing both of these. In DeadofNight M. Laudamiel hints at that as very modest applications of rose and jasmine whisper across the face of the oud. Some of my favorite oud oils have a latent floral character and this oud also has it and by using jasmine and rose as genteel complementary notes that floralcy is allowed to bloom. This phase of DeadofNight has an almost heartbreaking fragility that lasts for hours on my skin. It feels so tenuous that at any moment it will disappear but it lingers enticing me to pull my wrist to my nose again and again. Many hours after first applying DeadofNight the creamy woodiness of sandalwood signals a languid pace of development into the base as amber and white musk mix to form a sedately beautiful coda to a full day’s olfactory pleasure.

DeadofNight has 24-hour longevity and is a skin scent with no appreciable sillage.

The combination of new source of oud and master perfumer with Ms. Chrtistensen’s innate sense of style have all combined to create a singular beauty. DeadofNight exhibits beauty from head-to-toe much like Ms. Christensen continues to do. DeadofNight is oud as only M. Laudamiel can do it which means it is among the very best oud scents you can find anywhere.

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

DeadofNight can be purchased exclusively at MiN New York or via the ERH1012 website.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Atelier Cologne Blanche Immortelle & Santal Carmin

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There are few brands I admire more for understanding both their brand identity and their customer than Atelier Cologne. In just four years the Owners and Creative Directors, Sylvie Ganter and Christophe Cervasel, have shown an innate knowledge of how to stay true to a vision and allow an audience to come to meet that vision. For those who are unfamiliar with that vision in 2010 they created a perfume formulation that they dubbed “cologne absolue”. The concept was to take classic cologne architecture and to increase the perfume oil concentration for a longer lasting experience. By doing this they also turned the idea of cologne from something fleeting and ephemeral to something with foundation and depth. Throughout the thirteen releases they have explored all manner of keynotes and how to create a cologne of lightness or darkness. There is no perfume line which I look more forward to trying what is next than this one because of this dedication to their ideals.

Jerome-Epinette

Jerome Epinette

I just spent the last week wearing the two new releases from Atelier Cologne, Blanche Immortelle and Santal Carmin. Both of these display all of the strengths of a brand operating at the top of its game. I also like that one is a crowd pleaser and the other takes a note that is less loved but both succeed brilliantly. Perfumer Jerome Epinette contributes his ninth and tenth compositions for Atelier Cologne and I believe that is another strength as M. Epinette intrinsically gets the concept of cologne absolue and executes it flawlessly.  

Blanche Immortelle is as the name promises White Immortelle. M. Epinette creates a softly glowing immortelle fragrance. Immortelle is a divisive note among perfume lovers as its characteristic maple syrup-like quality can be treacly and cloying in overdose. I am one who likes his immortelle as intense as he can get it but I was looking forward to seeing what M. Epinette would do. Immortelle is one of those notes that is fractious to work with because it is so easy for it to get out of balance. M. Epinette places it as a central pivot between a sunny group of top notes and a rich woody grouping of base notes and keeps it positioned perfectly as to intensity.

Blanche Immortelle opens with a burst of summertime light as bergamot, mandarin, and mimosa flare to life. This is as traditional a cologne opening as you could ask for. The immortelle arises and shreds tradition. Immortelle by itself often is too thin a note and it needs support from other floral notes it is that support which often makes it too sweet for many. M. Epinette uses jasmine and Turkish rose to support the immortelle but yet not so much that it ever becomes heavy. The immortelle darts in and out amongst the bright top notes like a buzzing bee with a bit of the same energy as that metaphorical bee. Here is where Blanche Immortelle remains for many hours on my skin. Very slowly vetiver, patchouli, and sandalwood exert their influence and turn Blanche Immortelle from sunny day into cool twilight.

Sylvie-Ganter-Christophe-Cervasel

Christophe Cervasel and Sylvie Ganter

Santal Carmin is a pure crowd pleaser of a fragrance as M. Epinette takes a heart of sandalwood and as he did with Blanche Immortelle open with bright top notes and closes with deeper base notes. The difference is sandalwood as a cologne ingredient is better known. That means M. Epinette needs to add a bit of a twist to the phases that surround that more familiar heart.

Bergamot and limette comprise the first notes of Santal Carmin and then M. Epinette adds saffron which entwines itself among the citrus and turns it into something wholly exotic. He also does this without sacrificing the traditional bracing opening of cologne it just feels like something rare and precious. The sandalwood used in Santal Carmin is the variety harvested in New Caledonia and I like it for its desiccated quality over some of the creamier aspects of other sources of sandalwood. M. Epinette adds a white musk to define the aridity of the wood at the heart of Santal Carmin. The sweeter facets require some coaxing out and the use of vanilla in the base does bring out the inherent sweetness of the sandalwood and papyrus adds a bit of green to go along with the sweet which helps attenuate the extreme dryness of the wood.

Blanche Immortelle and Santal Carmin have 12-14 hour longevity on me and average sillage.

I suspect that Santal Carmin will be the more popular of these two new Atelier Cologne releases and it is a great cologne as the summer approaches. For me I am really looking forward to wearing Blanche Immortelle as I won’t have to wait until fall to enjoy one of my favorite notes. In any case if you have been a fan of Atelier Cologne they continue producing high quality perfumes. If you want a place to start this pair is a good place to discover a brand that has never wavered from their quality and their ideal.

Disclsoure: This review was based on press samples provided by Atelier Cologne.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Cartier La Panthere- Stalking A Chypre

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When it comes to the luxury designer perfume houses the public is well acquainted with Jacques Polge and his fragrances for Chanel or Jean-Claude Ellena and his for Hermes. In my opinion there is another, less well-known, perfumer for a luxury brand who has posted a stronger resume of perfume over the last three years and that is Mathilde Laurent for Cartier. My infatuation for their exclusive Les Heures de Cartier collection is well documented and if that was all she was doing that would be fine. But at the same time she has also been making the mainstream releases with the same panache I find with the Les Heures. The latest mainstream release is called La Panthere.

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Jeanne Toussaint

La Panthere refers to the nickname given Cartier jeweler Jeanne Toussaint who created sparkly objets d’art all which contained a slinky panther within the design. Some were very obvious and others were more abstract. Because of the prominence of the panther, in 1987, perfumer Alberto Morillas created Panthere de Cartier. That fragrance was almost too mannered to capture the fierce intelligence which created these jewelry designs. It has taken nearly thirty years for a similarly fierce intellect in Mme Laurent to assay the idea of La Panthere in fragrant form again.

La Panthere is described as a “feral floral” by Cartier and that promises a bit more animalic character than is on display. If pressed to keep to a feline theme I would describe it as a “stealthy chypre”. La Panthere transforms from fruity floral to chypre over the course of a few hours and that trip is akin to a panther slinking its way from tree to tree stalking its prey.

cartier panthere ring

Cartier Panthere Ring

The early moments of La Panthere fall firmly into fruity floral territory with the fruit most prominent a sort of dried fruit accord paired with peach and some tart components. While this is well trodden ground Mme Laurent infuses this with the sparkle of a gemstone under a light. There is a palpable glow to the early moments of La Panthere. Gardenia is the keynote in the heart but this is not the overt narcotic gardenia often encountered. Mme Laurent seems to be capturing the final throes of the gardenia as its petals start to turn brown. It has the effect of making this seem very contemporary as the gardenia almost seems like an abstraction of itself. From this arises the most traditional chypre ingredients of moss, patchouli, leather, and musk. Mme Laurent turns this into a downy soft version of a chypre. As I mentioned above it seems to all of a sudden just pounce from out of the fruits and florals and stand there in all of its muted intensity.

La Panthere has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

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Mathilde Laurent

La Panthere is a gentle primer for those who would like to experience a chypre for the first time. It will bring you to it by first sharing the fruity floral you are most likely familiar with before giving you a new experience. I worry that those who are big aficionados of either fruity florals or chypres might find La Panthere trying to have its cake and eat it too with both of those camps. I found the construction of La Panthere and its distinct unfurling of two different styles to show the ingenuity of Mme Laurent. La Panthere stalks the wearer from fruity floral to chypre with the intensity of a big cat on the prowl.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Andrea Maack Coven- Playing in the Dirt

When we are children we generally love to dig in the earth. A good day of play was accompanied by muddy appendages. When I also search back through my olfactory scrapbook it is that smell of dirt which has to be pretty close to my first scent memory. As we grow up getting down in the dirt is accompanied by gardening tools but the same primal smell remains. I am surprised that more perfumers don’t make the effort to capture this in a fragrance. The recent release from Andrea Maack, Coven is all centered on rooting around in the ground to see what can be found.  

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Andrea Maack

Andrea Maack is a graphic artist from Reykjavik, Iceland and Coven is her seventh release. There has been a steady progression from her first three releases and with 2012’s Coal this line really began to establish its own identity. The creative direction is a co-production between Ms. Maack and Renaud Coutaudier. I was unable to find out the perfumer responsible for Coven but the direction given by Ms. Maack and M. Coutaudier must have been very specific because what has made it into the bottle is the smell of soil.

Coven digs deep right from the start as the smell of freshly turned earth comes out right away. This is accomplished with an assortment of green notes, galbanum most prominent amongst them. A slight swirl of spices adds in the authenticity of what it smells like to have your shovel bite into the ground and turn it over. They are precisely balanced and they keep themselves in the background behind the greens. Tolu balm adds a balsamic foundation to the green and this is what really seals in the earthy quality Coven is attempting. Once this happens Coven lingers like playtime in a hole dug especially for that purpose. Despite Coven having this potentially heavy quality there is a lightheartedness that overtook me every time I wore it. It could be just my fond memories but I also think the perfume manages to keep from being ponderous and that is to its credit. Once we clean the dirt off we are left with patchouli and woods which carry enough of the remains of the day to remind you of where you’ve been.

Coven has 8-10 hour longevity and modest sillage.

You might not be enthused at the idea of smelling like dirt but Coven makes you not care. For those of you who love incense fragrances I think you might find Coven resonates in some of the same places as one of those perfumes. For those looking for a fragrance experience rarely seen Coven delivers very highly on the uniqueness scale. I found it captured my inner child in a muddy embrace that I never wanted to end.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample of Coven provided by Andrea Maack.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Sonoma Scent Studio Yin & Ylang- Harmony of Collaboration

One of the reasons independent perfumers are often independent perfumers is they want to do everything from concept to cologne. It is always interesting when these very singular people collaborate with anyone on a new fragrance. Sometimes it allows everyone involved to gain new insights into the creative process. For the latest release from Sonoma Scent Studio, Yin & Ylang, two of my favorite people in perfumery combined to create something true to both of their aesthetics but the combination is something multiplicative rather than additive.

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Michelyn Camen

Michelyn Camen, my editor-in-chief when I worked at CaFleureBon, approached Laurie Erickson the woman behind Sonoma Scent Studio with a concept and a name to go with it. Ms. Camen wanted to see ylang-ylang have a starring role in a fragrance and she wanted to call it Yin & Ylang. The yin she wanted to mirror “soft skin comfort” and the yang to carry “bold sensuality”. Ms. Erickson would take this brief and accept the challenge of working with an ylang-ylang keynote and also capturing the ancient meanings of yin and yang. The result is something I hope both women are very proud of as it really exemplifies the strengths both of them can bring to the creative process. (For more about that creative process here is the link to the article on CaFleureBon where they describe the back and forth which eventually produced the fragrance)

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Laurie Erickson (Photo: Avis Mandel)

Yin & Ylang opens with a bit of misdirection as Ms. Erickson combines blood orange and aldehydes which give a bit of off-kilter luminosity but it feel neither yin nor yang nor ylang. Patience is rewarded as they move into the ylang-ylang heart. An organic ylang-ylang complete oil is the ylang source. By using this as the ylang note Ms. Erickson both added some difficulty but also gave herself more inherent texture to hang other notes off of to create a desired effect. Since this was supposed to reflect yin, and soft, the ylang is swathed in jasmine and tuberose. These notes add support while simultaneously softening some of the earthier aspects. She adds a bit of lactone and beeswax to add another layer of pliancy to the yin. The ylang is also still around to form the yang part of things as we move into the base where we find sandalwood, oakmoss, patchouli, and leather. Those earthy aspects that were subdued in the heart arise in the base to create the bold sensuality asked for in the brief.

Yin & Ylang has 6-8 hours of longevity and modest sillage.

After working with Ms. Camen for five years to say she is always creating new concepts is underselling her ability to cut to the truth of what she wants. I’ve known Ms. Erickson for almost as long and her brand DNA is strong in almost everything she creates. Yin & Ylang is an accurate reflection of both women’s collective inventiveness. I can only hope that they continue to work together from time to time as this certainly seems like the beginning of a beautiful working relationship.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Sonoma Scent Studio.

Mark Behnke