Robert Piguet 101- Five To Get You Started

Right now, there are heritage brands springing up seemingly every month. I don’t know if Robert Piguet was the beginning of this trend because it never went entirely away. Something somewhat worse happened. The massive tuberose fragrance Fracas created in 1948 by Germaine Cellier would be re-formulated, as ingredients became prohibited, died a slow death. Then in 2006 perfumer Aurelien Guichard became the caretaker of Fracas and the brand overall. He brought back one of the greatest perfumes ever made to something that lives up to that description. Over the next few years M. Guichard would go the same for some of the earlier Robert Piguet compositions with the same care. Plus, the brand would also begin making new fragrances also under M. Guichard’s talented nose. For this edition of Perfume 101 I want to point out five other Robert Piguet perfumes you should try besides Fracas. Because everyone who loves perfume should try Fracas.

Aurelien Guichard

After taking care of Fracas M. Guichard spent the next five years doing the same kind of restoration to six other Robert Piguet originals. Three of them show what a creative brand this had been.

Bandit was the earliest perfume created by Mme Cellier for Robert Piguet. It foreshadows some of what will show up again in Fracas but for Bandit she constructs a white flower accord but she tempers it with a rich leather accord. The leather picks up on the indoles beautifully. It subsides onto a patchouli, vetiver, and oakmoss base. The current formulation is wonderfully faithful to the original.

Visa is the under the radar fragrance of the early Robert Piguet catalog. As M. Guichard presented the reformulation to me it was a radiant proto-gourmand. From a fresh peach and pear opening into an immortelle dominated heart down to an Oriental base of sandalwood, leather, and patchouli flavored with healthy amounts of vanilla. That picks up the maple syrup sweetness of the immortelle forming a gourmand accord.

Calypso is like the lost original Robert Piguet. It was one of a handful of perfumes released after Robert Piguet’s death in 1953. Perfumer Francis Fabron would compose the original formulation which M. Guichard modernized. This is the anti- white flower Robert Piguet what it retains of the past is the green vein of stemminess which is attached from galbanum through to the leather in the base. What comes between is a powdery orris, and rose heart. If the perfumes have sounded too much, so far, Calypso is much lighter in style.

In 2011 Robert Piguet would start releasing new fragrances. These would be designed with a less overtly floral nature to appeal to perfume lovers who wanted something more mannered.

Bois Bleu is a citrusy mix which segues into a fabulous violet heart which is paired with nutmeg. Clary sage and lavender provide underpinning but this is one of the best violet hearts of any violet perfume I own. A very straightforward woody base of cedar and sandalwood finishes things.

I had admired everything M. Guichard had accomplished but when I tried Knightsbridge at Esxence in 2013 I knew this was the modern masterpiece that was worthy of bookending Fracas. It was based on the simplest of briefs; “Imagine what Harrod’s smells like at 2AM.” M. Guichard’s interpretation are three phases of fabulously realized duets. Starting with rose and nutmeg to orris and sandalwood, ending on leather and tonka. Each harmonizes in distinctly engaging ways. One of my favorite perfumes of the last five years.

If all you knew of Robert Piguet was Fracas take another look at these five; there is much more to see here.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

By Kilian 101- Five to Get You Started

There was a real inflection point for niche perfume in the years 2005-2008. There were several fully realized brands which sprang up during that time. The successful formula consisted of a consistent vision, beautiful packaging; in some cases, luxury pricing and if you could get it a personable spokesperson. One of the brands which checked off all of these boxes was By Kilian. Fronted by the scion of a famous cognac family, Kilian Hennessy, By Kilian led with a luxurious vibe. M. Hennessy also had a vision of deeper fragrant experiences which has played out throughout most of the collection. One reason for that coherence is he has worked with a small roster of perfumers and one, Calice Becker, has been a de facto in-house perfumer for the brand. Many of her best perfumes reside within the By Kilian collection. She has done such excellent work that all five of the perfumes I am recommending as starting points below are composed by Mme Becker.

Kilian Hennessy

From the initial collection of six perfumes the one which exemplifies the brand best is Love: Don’t Be Shy. One of the hallmarks of the brand is unique gourmand fragrances. Love set that in motion right from the start. Mme Becker recreated an accord of rose water infused marshmallow. Redolent of orange blossom in the heart before tailing off into a sensual caramel and musk finish.

Another hallmark is the use of oud resulting in a series of multiple oud fragrances. The second one released, Rose Oud, is the easiest to start with. Mme Becker takes the classic rose and oud pairing breathing new life into it by using an oud accord of cedar, cypriol, and saffron. By using an accord, it allows for a more approachable oud experience. Spicing it up with cardamom and cinnamon before allowing a Bulgarian rose to capture the oud accord makes this one of the most easygoing oud perfumes out there.

Calice Becker

The perfume which I think is the modern masterpiece within the collection is Back to Black. As with the oud in Rose Oud in Back to Black Mme Becker constructs an exquisite tobacco accord. In the early going you can detect the individual blocks as things like chamomile, cardamom, and coriander begin to be enveloped by other notes until like a magic trick a rich honeyed tobacco appears and stays for hours. Then over the last few hours it deconstructs on the skin leaving an amber and vanilla base as the final memory.

A return to the gourmand comes in Intoxicated. The off-beat gourmand is on display as Mme Becker takes a Tuurkish coffee accord of cinnamon, nutmeg, and spun sugar over coffee and adds in a sticky green cardamom. It makes this an exotic coffee perfume.

There is also a collection which was meant to appeal to Eastern tastes. It was more austere and simply constructed than the rest of the line. Most of the time it concentrates on a single raw material. Sacred Wood is the best of these as Mme Becker again uses a Mysore sandalwood which she surrounds with carrot, cumin, elemi, and a hot milk accord. That latter piece truly makes the sandalwood creamy in every sense of the word.

By Kilian is a brand which has broken out of the niche pack by staying true to its vision, The five fragrances above are a good introduction to that.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Le Labo 101- Five to Get You Started

Two years ago, Le Labo was acquired by Estee Lauder. The brand started in 2006 by Fabrice Penot and Edouard Roschi had grown into such a presence within the niche sector it wasn’t really a surprise. Le Labo made a mark in the burgeoning niche market by being unafraid to do something daring. The name of each perfume has a note and number. The digits represent the number of different ingredients. The note; well sometimes it is what you smell and other times it is just a supporting player. This is a brand which I have enjoyed from the moment I first tried them ten years ago, the distribution of Le Labo is beginning to expand a bit because of the new partnership with Lauder. Thus, I thought because they are going to become more readily available it was time to let you know which five should get you started.

Before I start the list I am not going to include the city exclusives. Le Labo has perfumes which they only sell in a particular city. The Tokyo release Gaiac 10 would have been a cinch to be on this list but because of the exclusivity I am not going to add it.

Ambrette 9 composed by perfumer Michel Almairic is sometimes called Baby Ambrette 9 because it is so pure and simple it could be used on a baby. This time the botanical musk of ambrette is front and center. It was my experience with this perfume which opened my eyes to the soft beauty of ambrette. M. Almairic uses pear and other synthetic white musks to get up to nine. When they call something baby soft this a fragrance which exemplifies it.

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Iris 39 by perfumer Frank Voelkl is an example of where the other 38 notes create something quite different than a perfume named Iris 39 should smell like. M. Voelkl wanted to remove the powder and accentuate the rootiness. The main ingredient he uses for this is patchouli. The full-bodied patchouli provides the earth that the iris rhizome is buried in. A bit of lime brightens the early moments while a mix of civet and musk take Iris 39 deep into the topsoil. If powdery iris has always turned you off let Iris 39 provide a fresh perspective.

Santal 33 also by perfumer Frank Voelkl is one of the flagship perfumes of the brand. It was meant to evoke the rugged Marlboro Man of the cigarette ad campaign of the 1970’s. It is a primary mixture of leather and sandalwood. Ambrox and cedar pull the woody aspects. Iris, cardamom, and papyrus layer the leather. By the end, it is the Ambrox and sandalwood which remains. Santal 33 is a perfect example of what Le Labo Is all about.

Lys 41 also composed by M. Voelkl is not a lily fragrance it is a duet around jasmine and tuberose. Most of the lily character comes from the inclusion of Tiare which has the ability to twist the boisterous white flowers into a simulacrum of lily. The base accord is built around a very comforting vanilla surrounded by woods. There are other stronger florals within the line Lys 41 is the gateway to discovering them.

I finish with the other flagship scent of the brand Rose 31 by perfumer Daphne Bugey. I hesitated to include this because Rose 31 is a masterpiece of perfumery but it is not as welcoming as the other four on this list. I decided to include it because there is no Le Labo perfume which captures the brand aesthetic better. I like describing Rose 31 as an English Tea Rose who falls in with a group of bad influences which leave that rose taking a walk of shame the next morning. Mme Bugey opens with that dewy rose until cumin, oud, and vetiver invite her out for a spin. By the time she returns home she has transformed in to a Bulgarian rose trailing the spices of the night before as she stumbles in the door. Rose 31 is one of the great perfumes of this century which is why you should allow it to be one of the perfumes which opens the door to the brand.

Take these five out for a sniff when you see them on a shelf near you.

Disclosure: This review was based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Ormonde Jayne 101- Five to Get You Started

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British perfumery has a long distinguished history. It makes England one of the great perfume-making countries in the world because of it. Like everywhere else in the world the beginning of niche perfume also had its early pioneers in the UK. One of those brands was Ormonde Jayne.

Ormonde Jayne was started in 2002 by Linda Pilkington. Ms. Pilkington left her career in the agrochemical business to start her fragrance career. As she put together the brand she also found the perfumer that she has worked with for the entirety of the Ormonde Jayne collection, Geza Schoen. Many of the Ormonde Jayne fragrances are among the best that Hr. Schoen has composed. Here are the five I would suggest you start exploring the brand with,

My introduction came from Ormonde Man. It was the overall sixth release from the brand in 2004. When I first tried it this was one of the first perfumes which really brought home to me why niche was different. This was one of the most sophisticated masculine perfumes I had ever smelled at that time. Hr. Schoen would take a spicy top of cardamom, coriander, baie rose, and juniper berry segueing into a heart of hemlock and oud before alighting on a sandalwood and musk base. To this day this is one of those perfumes which I wear for formal occasions. It always makes me feel like the kind of man I want to see myself as.

ormonde-jayne-orris-noir

The sophisticated style of the house would continue with the release of Orris Noir in 2006. Iris is used as a powdery foil to several darker notes as myrrh, patchouli, incense, and coriander swirl around it. Orris Noir is a study in contrasts beautifully played over three acts on my skin.

One of the things Ms. Pilkington has made part of her brand DNA is sourcing great versions of raw materials. Nowhere is that more evident than in the 2009 release Tiare. This is as close as Hr. Schoen is going to come to a soliflore as he allows the sparkling tiare form the central accord supported by jasmine and iris. Lime on top; sandalwood and patchouli on the bottom set the titular note out to be admired.

Ta’if was released at the same time as Ormonde Man in 2004 but it took me a few years to give it a try. Here Hr. Schoen makes a great floriental using saffron, broom, and peach as contrast to Turkish rose and orange blossom heart. The real star here is the stewed fruit sweetness of dates providing depth to the florals.

In 2014 Black Gold was a return to the style of Ormonde Man but this is a more casual version. Here Hr. Schoen starts with an herbal citrus top accord. The floral heart of carnation is one of the best I have ever encountered. The base is sandalwood and the botanical musk of ambrette. Labdanum brings this all home. Black Gold shows how much Ormonde Jayne has evolved over the past 14 years.

If you never explored Ormonde Jayne here are the five you should start with.

Disclosure: This review was based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Heeley 101- Five to Get You Started

One of the fantastic things about observing perfume over the last few years has been the rise of the auteur independent perfumer. They are intuitive about making perfume without formal training. One of these whom I have followed since 2006 is James Heeley. Mr. Heeley came to perfume making after attaining a degree in Philosophy and Aesthetics from King’s College, London University. Both of those disciplines has led to the simple brand Heeley having the aesthetic of being free to create. That’s because Mr. Heeley’s philosophy is ever evolving when it comes to perfume. This is a perfume line that is all the more interesting because of it. Here are five to get you started exploring Heeley.

James_Heeley

James Heeley

Cardinal was the perfume which introduced me to the brand it was the fifth release in 2006 although the brand debuted in 2004. It is one of my very favorite incense perfumes because while the incense heart accord is photorealistic the top accord of aldehydes and the base accord of vetiver and patchouli provide some abstraction. If you love incense fragrances Cardinal is one you need to try.

In Cuir Pleine Fleur the opposite occurs as an abstract version of leather is seen through a floral haze. The florals of acacia flowers, rose, mimosa, hawthorn provide a blooming riot of an accord. The leather delicately intercalates itself within these boisterous blooms. Then Mr. Heeley burnishes it with glowing drizzles of honey, some cinnamon, and cedar. All before finishing on a real animalic high as castoreum makes the leather stand up and be noticed.

heeley-sel-marin

By 2008 the idea of another aquatic was about as welcome as a case of sunburn. I had become exhausted with the banality of the form. Sel Marin is a good example of how Mr. Heeley can transform the common into something worth trying. The way he achieves it is to have really well-chosen partners to the tried and true. So the sunny lemon is made green by beech leaves. The ozonic briny accord is made greener by a seaweed accord. Finally, the clean cedar and vetiver finish is roughed up by birch. If you think aquatics are boring this will change your perspective.

When it comes to patchouli many perfumes struggle with trying to elide the “head shop” vibe out of it. With the appropriately named Hippie Rose Mr. Heeley embraces it and makes it elegant. He does this by sandwiching that patchouli between moss, rose, vetiver, and incense. It could be the Summer of Love in a bottle.

Last year’s Chypre 21 is a great example on how to construct a modern chypre without the full-fledged oakmoss. Start with rosemary and lemon, then bring in a Bulgarian rose. Lay all of that on top of a nouveau chypre accord of patchouli, sandalwood, low-atranol oakmoss, white musks and dust all of it with saffron. One of the better versions of extrapolation of a venerable form to the current day.

If you have not tried the Heeley perfume line these five will give you a great idea of what Mr. Heeley’s philosophy and aesthetics of fragrance are all about.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Memo Paris 101- Five To Get You Started

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As I survey my desk filled with samples it is amusing to remember a time when that was not the case. As recently as four years ago I was using every connection I had to source a full set of samples from Memo Paris. Back then it was not a sure thing to get European-only releases. Over those four years Memo Paris has become available everywhere. I have also met the husband and wife team behind the brand. John Molloy takes care of the business side of things and Clara Molloy takes care of being the creative director for the brand. Mme Molloy has worked exclusively with one perfumer throughout the entire Memo Paris collection, Alienor Massenet. Over their collaboration they have designed a brand aesthetic while branching out into three collections within the brand. Memo Paris is one of my favorite brands there aren’t any which I have not enjoyed. If you have seen the display of the collection and wanted to know where to start here are my five suggestions.

john and clara molloy

John and Clara Molloy

The very first Memo Paris fragrance I tried was Inle. When I first reviewed Inle I described it as a tea dyed osmanthus. The creative team uses a focused tea accord, right down to a sprig of mint, to float osmanthus upon. It is framed out in clean lines of cedar and white musk. So often a perfume works to enhance the apricot leather duality of osmanthus. Inle decides to just let it be.

The perfume which made me mad for desire to acquire all of them was Shams Oud. The opening is a spicy glow of the sun setting on the desert. Ginger, saffron, and pepper form that dry desert breeze. As the oud becomes more apparent the three spices find their spot and form a fabulous oud chord. Later on it transitions through a green phase of papyrus and vetiver before letting birch and balsam provide the final notes. Shams Oud is still one of my very favorite oud perfumes.

Aliénor Massenet 2

Alienor Massenet

Manoa is the iris fragrance for the brand. Starting with ginger and citrus a powdery iris sets itself upon a foundation of opoponax, vanilla, and labdanum. Probably the most simply constructed perfume in the entire collection it still carries that Memo Paris vibe.

Quartier Latin also trends a bit simpler in architecture too. It reminds me of walking outside of a nightclub passing through a group smoking Kretek clove cigarettes straight into a wood-paneled room. Mme Massenet chooses clove leaves instead of just clove to add a bit of green which threads itself through the very dry woods of cedar and sandalwood. The desiccated quality is relieved a bit with tonka and amber. The balance in Quartier Latin shows off what a fine technician Mme Massenet is.

There have been four leather perfumes within the Cuirs Nomades collection. The one which you should try first is African Leather. This opens with a slightly different African breeze than Shams Oud. Using cardamom and cumin to go with the saffron this time it has a more primal energy to it. The leather accord in the heart feels as if it is alive and stalking you. Vetiver and patchouli provide a sunbaked earth accord for the base. This entire Cuirs Nomades have been good but African Leather is the current crown jewel.

This is a niche line which carries my highest recommendation. I think most perfume lovers will find one or more which speak to them. Try these five as a start.

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

Mark Behnke

Byredo 101- Five To Get You Started

Byredo is a brand which has a very distinctive aesthetic which has been in place from their very beginning in 2006. Founder and Creative Director Ben Gorham wanted to make understated fragrances which use top-notch raw materials. Over the past 10 years and 29 releases working with perfumer Jerome Epinette they have created a recognizable Byredo-ness for every new release. When faced with choosing five to start with it was a difficult choice. One reason is there might not be a line I’ve done Perfume 101 for which has entries which might be called Perfume 201 because they are very good but I think not good entry points. That group includes some of my favorites from the line: Pulp, M/Mink, and Black Saffron. They are impressive to me because while staying true to their desire to keep it lighter those have undeniable strength. Those are not where one should start. The five below are where I think you should begin.

ben gorham

Ben Gorham

Encens Chembur was one of the inaugural releases. M. Epinette was able to provide one of the most transparent incense-centered perfumes I own. Through a veil of lemon buttressed with elemi he combines a mannered ginger with an opaque frankincense. It all ends with a sheer amber and musk base. This is one of the few incense perfumes I wear in the summer.

Bal D’Afrique was inspired by a romanticized version of Africa as seen through Parisiennes of the 1920’s. The fragrance is also an impression as if M. Epinette watched a few National Geographic specials on Africa. A beautifully lilting neroli is contrasted with a shot of astringent marigold. Buchu leaves take up the case with the marigold turning it greener. Before this gets too strident a floral heart of jasmine, cyclamen, and violet bring things back to a floral heart. The base is vetiver and cedar classically framing this picture of Africa.

Baudelaire might be my favorite of all the perfumes M. Epinette has made. Inspired by the poet of the same name; M. Epinette compose a three stanza perfumed poem of his own. Starting with a fabulous duet of juniper berry and black pepper. The second verse is led by hyacinth caressed with incense and caraway. The final part is the beginning of a style which will reappear frequently in other Byredo releases as M. Epinette creates an arid desiccated accord of papyrus, patchouli, and amber.

Jerome-Epinette

Jerome Epinette

When I first tried Sunday Cologne the name on the bottle was “Fantastic Man”. I laughed out loud at that name feeling like I should put my hands on my hips and jut my chest out while saying it. Thankfully Byredo also realized the name was silly and in less than a year changed it. The new name describes it perfectly; a cologne for a lazy Sunday. It is a classically constructed lavender cologne tuned to the Byredo transparency. Starting with a breath of cardamom into lavender and incense followed by patchouli and vetiver.

Bullion is another Byredo which takes one of my favorite notes, osmanthus, and shows how it can be made more interesting for having it used with a lighter hand. The osmanthus is the focal point. M. Epinette uses plum in the top notes to blend with osmanthus’ apricot nature. He then doubles down on the flower’s leather character by adding in even more. It all rests on another arid sandalwood foundation.

There are some who find the lightness of the line to be an issue. I appreciate it because it allows me to wear some of my favorite notes on the hottest of days. Give the five above a try and see what you think.

Disclosure: This review was based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Roger & Gallet 101- Five to Get You Started

What if I told you there was a perfume brand which had some of the greatest perfumers designing fragrances for them. What if I further told you that brand would also be considered a Discount Diamond as the entire line can be had for $50 or less. You would think that brand would be front and center at the local mall. Instead that brand, Roger & Gallet, can be frustratingly hard to find. It is extensively available at multiple online sellers. If you’re looking for a great value perfume purchase here are five to start with.

Roger & Gallet was founded because they were the exclusive producer for the Eau de Cologne invented by Jean Marie Farina. Now called Jean Maria Farina Extra Vieille it is perfume history in a bottle as the original eau de cologne formula of lemon, neroli and rosemary is faithfully recreated. This is as close as you get to owning the alpha perfume.

Until 1990 Jean Marie Farina Extra Vieille was the only real fragrance the brand produced. There were a couple of attempts in the !970’s and 1980’s but it wasn’t until 1990 when the fragrance arm was really expanded. In 2003 Eau de Gingembre was released by perfumer Jacques Cavallier. This is a natural follow-on to Extra Vieille as it is the cologne structure fused with the gourmand note of gingerbread. When you first smell it the neroli is very cologne-like and then the bake shop where the gingerbread is cooking comes in behind that. Ambrette seeds provide a very light botanical musk to finish it. This is one of those early gourmand experiments which works on every level.

r&g bambou

Bambou was released in 2007 by perfumer Alberto Morillas. It is also another one which builds upon the cologne ancestry of the brand. M. Morillas works a different set of ingredients as grapefruit segues into the green damp woodiness of the bamboo accord before turning more aggressively green with vetiver in the base. Bambou is a fresh woody perfume ideal for warmer days.

My favorite perfumes by perfumer Dominique Ropion are many of his more intense compositions. Which was why I was shocked to find out he was responsible for 2009’s Bois D’Orange. M. Ropion fashions a cheery voluptuous citrus fragrance. It is very reminiscent of the smell of the orange orchard as it captures the fruit the leaves and the trees. A fun perfume from a perfumer who is not necessarily thought of that way.

The most recent release is 2013’s Fleur de Figuier by perfumer Francis Kurkdjian. M. Kurkdjian wanted to also capture the entire fruit tree experience. This time it was fig. One of the reasons I enjoy this perfume so much is he uses caraway instead of bergamot with his citrus in the top notes. I have long thought caraway could be a great substitute for bergamot. In Fleur de Figuier it shows how good it can be as a replacement. This leads to a fig accord of the still-ripening fruit on the tree amidst the leaves. M. Kurkdjian in fact lets the fig leaves dominate for much of the middle part of the development enhancing the green of the unripened fig. This gives way to a creamy woody effect as cedar stands in for the trunk of the tree. I still think this is one of the best perfume bargains out there as it is some of M. Kurkdjian’s best work of the last few years at a very affordable price.

As I mentioned above these fragrances can be difficult to find but when you do these five will make the reward worth the hunt.

Disclosure: I purchased bottles of all the perfumes reviewed.

Mark Behnke

Santa Maria Novella 101- Five to Get you Started

One way I hope these Perfume 101 posts get used by the readers is when they find a line they’ve never heard of before. Hopefully they will find these articles on their smartphone and they’ll dive in. One brand which is somewhat difficult to find just anywhere is Santa Maria Novella. When you do find it you are faced with a collection which numbers almost fifty bottles staring back at you. This is one of the most underrated collections out there. There are incredibly beautiful compositions covering nearly every style of fragrance. In the end you have to start somewhere; here are the five I think are good choices.

Santa Maria Novella was founded in the 13th century by Dominican friars starting with soaps. In those days it took a few hundred years for word to spread. Eventually people started to travel to Florence for the friars’ products. At some point the evolution to producing perfume occurred. Many of the perfumes on sale today purport to be made with the same recipe and care as they were a few hundred years ago. There is a definitive classic, some might call it old-fashioned, style to the ones which are traced back to the beginning. One of the best examples of this is Iris. The Florentine Iris is to this day one of the most sought after and precious raw materials in perfumery. The friars perfected the formation of an iris concrete which is the star of Iris. It is a very straightforward presentation moving from citrus, some lighter florals before the iris comes out. This is the perfume that taught me the best iris does not just smell of powder it smells of earth, too. Hay, oakmoss, and amber provide the base accord for the iris to shine like a precious jewel upon.

Patchouli is also a formula from the friars. This was equally eye-opening to me. Whenever someone visiting speaks about patchouli smelling like a head shop this is one of the perfumes I present to them to change that thought. Patchouli like the Iris above really enhances the earthy nature of the material. It also uses a gentle application of rose and jasmine to add sophistication. Rosewood and sandalwood provide the woody base.

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The entire collection is full of perfumes with the name of a specific note on the bottle. All of them are well done studies. Ginestra is one which is probably unfamiliar to most. Ginestra is also known as broom. Broom in the wild has a honey-like floralcy. Ginestra captures that with a cross of hay and neroli. It forms a sweetgrass kind of accord. From the lightness Ginestra heads into the depths as oakmoss and birch form a biting base accord.

In 2006 Santa Maria Novella began working with perfumer Fabrizio Morgenni. The final two choices come from those he has added to the friars’ work.

Citta di Kyoto was the first Santa Maria Novella perfume I tried. Expecting some spare Japanese aesthetic I was faced with a lush iris and lotus. Sig. Morgenni opens with a bit of orange before allowing the iris and lotus to float serenely on a sandalwood base. This is Kyoto as seen by Florence.

Tabacco Toscano is the best of these modern releases. Sig. Morgenni opens with the animalic sweetness of refined leather which he pairs with a green tinted tobacco. This isn’t the dried narcotic leaf. This is the fresh picked version still carrying earthiness and sharp green facets as well as the nicotinic depth.

If you come across Santa Maria Novella I hope you have the chance to let these five introduce you to this brand.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Maison Francis Kurkdjian 101- Five to Get You Started

Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian is one of the elite perfumers working currently. He burst upon the perfume scene in 1995 as one of the perfumers behind Jean-Paul Gaultier Le Male. His career would only trend upwards from there. M. Kurkdjian has made a large number of perfumes I think rank among the very best. In 2009 he started his own line, Maison Francis Kurkdjian. From the initial seven releases to a collection which now numbers twenty-seven fragrances it is one which has always had my attention. I have realized over the last couple of years that it is with this brand where I will start somebody off who is dipping their toe into the niche perfume sector. The perfumes which make up the collection carry a baseline classicism which I think is why they are such appropriate entry level choices into niche. These are the five perfumes I usually take someone through when introducing them to this brand.

One of the first seven releases Aqua Universalis lives up to its tag line of a “A scent for all things”. This is the best clean musk perfume I own. M. Kurkdjian uses a selection of citrus matched to lily of the valley as his come-on. The base has a few sheer woods along with a blend of white musks that M. Kurkdjian has become known for. In Aqua Universalis it all comes together. When I am showing this brand to someone new to niche this is the bottle that most often is purchased.

The masterpiece within the Maison Francis Kurkdjian collection is Absolue pour Le Soir. That is not where someone new to the brand should start. Instead the precursor release Cologne pour Le Soir is a great introduction to themes which will be intensified in the later release. Absolue pour Le Soir is an animalic feral beast with honey. Cologne pour Le Soir is a domesticated feline with honey. From a spicy opening into a lilting incense heart down to cedar sweetened with vanilla. In the original seven this was the one which captured my attention the most.

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Francis Kurkdjian

In 2012 the oud craze had reached its heights. Every time I saw oud in a new release I inwardly said, “Please no more”. The problem was the early oud fragrances were using oud as something to represent exoticism. 2012 would see the end of that as some of the best perfumers began to use oud in constructs which showed its versatility. The simply named Oud was one of those. M. Kurkdjian has a way of tweaking something classic and making it seem contemporary. With Oud he was able to take a note which had usually been used as a wrecking ball, transforming it in to something less pulverizing. By using saffron, cedar, and patchouli along with a Laotian oud which imparts a more delicate profile; containing interesting grace notes which M. Kurkdjian teases out. Oud will make you believe the wrecking ball has become a brilliant fragile crystal ball.

Masculin Pluriel is the best example of M. Kurkdjian’s way of re-interpreting classical styles. Here he takes the fougere and makes it his own. It starts with a single source of lavender that is herbal and green as well as floral. It is so good M. Kurkdjian keeps the rest of the development simple. Cedar, patchouli, and vetiver are the usual fougere components. The fabulous leather accord also present is not. It is that which contemporizes Masculin Pluriel.

When I tried the original 2013 release Aqua Vitae I wanted it to have more heft. Two years later M. Kurkdjian granted that desire with Aqua Vitae Forte. A fabulous mixture of spices, citrus, orange blossom, sandalwood, and vetiver. It is as easy to wear as an old pair of jeans. As I have only had a year to introduce this to people when I take them through Maison Francis Kurkdjian it seems like Aqua Vitae Forte is finding as many admirers from the novice niche users as Aqua Universalis.

These five are where I think you should start but this brand has many more advanced delights once you delve deeper. It is one of the stronger collections currently on the market.

Disclosure: This review was based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke