Under the Radar: Bois 1920 Agrumi Amari di Sicilia- Embracing the Bitterness

One of the fun things of owning too much perfume is discovering something I haven’t worn in a while. It’s like finding something new all over again except since I bought it I must have liked it. This summer I reacquainted myself with Bois 1920 Agrumi Amari di Scicilia.

Bois 1920 is an Italian heritage brand. While the idea of heritage brands has expanded greatly in the last couple of years; in 2005 it wasn’t common. The story from the brand says Guido Galardi opened his perfumery in Florence in 1920. It was not a roaring success and would close just five years later. It also didn’t inspire Guido’s son Renato to want to give it a second try. That would take eighty years and the grandson of Guido and son of Renato, Enzo to attempt. He still had the old family perfume recipes and wanted to give it a go in this new world of niche perfumery.

Enzo Galardi

Bois 1920 opened with a debut collection of eight releases. In writing this I realize I own five of those eight. I was attracted to this Italian style of perfume making that Sig. Galardi was producing. It may not have succeeded in 1920 but in 2005 it was another reason for the expansion of niche perfumery.

Agrumi amari translates to bitter citrus. That is one of the things I never understood about citrus perfumes having grown up among citrus trees. They mostly exude a bitter fragrance. For Agrumi Amari di Sicilia Sig. Galardi embraces that bitterness.

That bitterness coalesces around a core of grapefruit. When you use grapefruit in a high concentration there is a slightly sulfurous quality present. Petitgrain provides guardrails for this grapefruit to travel down. Then what I love about the top accord here is the figurative pinch of cumin that is used. That elongates that sulfurous thread from the grapefruit as orange, and lime chime in to finalize the bitter citrus accord. The transitional note to the floral heart is blackcurrant buds in their sticky green incarnation. It is a bitter green all on its own. Lavender and jasmine make up the heart with the former on top. The base is a typical earthy patchouli and musk.

Agrumi Amari di Sicilia has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

Sig. Galardi has already made it further than his grandfather as the brand enters its fourteenth year. I want to not only bring Agrumi Amari di Sicilia from Bois 1920 onto your radar but those other four from the debut collection I own are also worth seeking out. Those are Real Patchouly, Sandalo e The, Sushi Imperiale and Vetiver Ambrato. Give them a try.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Providence Perfume Co. Moss Gown- Bayou Fairy Tale

I have too much perfume. I know it and there are things I own which get lost in the back of the shelf. Things I absolutely adore. A few weeks ago, while trying to excavate a bottle of something else I discovered my bottle of Providence Perfume Co. Moss Gown. When I know something has truly connected deeply is as soon as I saw the bottle I remembered the scent immediately. I was thinking if this had fallen off my radar since it got pushed to the back of the shelf it was time to give it some attention.

Providence Perfume Co. is the brand of all-natural perfumer Charna Ethier. Ms. Ethier is one of my favorite independent perfumers because of her attention to detail plus her delight in using unusual ingredients. The attention to detail comes from sourcing and producing some of them. Moss Gown is an education on doing this.

Charna Ethier

The name of the perfume came from a story by the same name Ms. Ethier read to her daughter at bedtime. It is at its core a Bayou re-telling of Cinderella. As I imagine any perfumer does when interacting with another art form she began to wonder what it smelled like. Which then propelled her to her studio to figure out how to realize it. What comes out of the finished product is one of the only perfumes I know which captures the smell of watery vegetation and wood in the height of the summer.

If you’ve ever spent time in the Everglades in Florida or the bayous of Louisiana or the Okefenokee Swamp on the Georgia-Florida line on a summer trip you will recognize Moss Gown from its first moments. Ms. Ethier uses sunflower essence as one of her keynotes. This has a bamboo-like watery quality. She supports it with chamomile. This gives the vegetal green part of the bayou accord. There is also a part of this milieu which is the scent of natural decay. Ms. Ethier uses boronia to capture this. Boronia Is not used often because of this character in Moss Gown it completes the stage for the appearance of our Bayou Cinderella. A duet of mimosa and rose crowned with cedarmoss provides the floral accord which captures the fairy tale in the swamp. It all finishes on a lovely creamy sandalwood.

Moss Gown has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

One of the reasons I pulled Moss Gown off the shelf is it has been a while since we’ve seen a new release from Ms. Ethier. Doing my research to make sure Moss Gown was still available I found there was a new release I missed, Vientiane. Which goes to show even perfumers I admire can fall off my radar. Take the opportunity to put Providence Perfume Co. on your radar you will be delighted to find one of the best independent natural perfumers we have. If you need proof get a sample, or bottle, of Moss Gown.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Huitieme Art Manguier Metisse- Ripe Mango

I have received a couple of new perfumes featuring a ripe mango ingredient. I have enjoyed this when it is used because that is how I remember the mangos I picked off the tree in our yard as a child. I’m not sure it is the beginning of a trend, but it reminded me of the first time I encountered it in a perfume; Huitieme Art Manguier Metisse.

In 2010 independent perfumer Pierre Guillaume had become fascinated with all of the new isolation techniques which were opening up new design possibilities. To fully explore them he created a new brand, Huitieme Art, which would feature one of these as the keynote in a minimalist form. These weren’t necessarily soliflore-like because M. Guillaume found notes which more often formed an accord with the featured ingredient. Manguier Metisse created a mango tree with ripe fruit hanging from the branches.

Pierre Guillaume

Prior to Manguier Metisse when mango was listed it was a greener tarter version. What was shown in Manguier Metisse for the first time was a ripe juicy mango. M. Guillaume uses the new mango extract as the nucleus around which a few well-chosen notes literally flesh it out into a pulpy lush accord.

The mango is there from the first second to the last one, hours later. Frangipani provides tropicality by adding an exotic vibe. M. Guillaume uses black tea, rose, and patchouli in small judicious amounts. Each of these provide depth and texture. Within minutes I am surrounded by the smell of ripe fruit bursting with juice.

Manguier Metisse has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Manguier Metisse has remained one of my favorite perfumes by M. Guillaume because he so successfully re-created the smell of many summer afternoons tearing into a ripe mango. If the Huitieme Art collection has fallen under your radar I highly recommending obtaining a sample set. I especially think the original eight releases show M. Guillaume’s prescience at which new isolates would find new creative uses. If you need to try one before diving in start with Manguier Metisse.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Mark Birley for Men- Pierre and Frederic’s Excellent Perfume

The fin de siècle of the past century was a time of transition in perfume, too. As the 1990’s gave way to the 2000’s the rise of niche and independent perfumery was shaking things up. If you look at the period just prior to this, you begin to see the elements we might take for granted twenty years later. At that time, they were riskier attempts to create something different for an audience that might not have existed with no internet to provide word-of-mouth. Many of the people who have become the standard bearers released some amazing perfumes which deserve to be known now when the concepts they represent have a receptive audience. This month in Under the Radar I introduce you to Mark Birley for Men.

Frederic Malle is much of the reason I write about the perfumers behind the fragrances. Prior to him putting their names on the bottles in his Editions de Parfum Frederic Malle brand they were ghosts. Now they are known personalities. M. Malle transitioned into creative direction after working at Roure Bertrand Dupont. He would collaborate with perfumer Pierre Bourdon on Mark Birley for Men. M. Bourdon was the unsung creative behind classics such as Creed Green Irish Tweed, Yves St. Laurent Kouros, and (in collaboration with Christopher Sheldrake) Shiseido Feminite du Bois. These two would create perfume which redefined masculine trends going for sophistication over the prevailing fresh and clean.

Frederic Malle

Mark Birley was a British proprietor of multiple members-only nightclubs throughout the 1960’s and 70’s. His was a name which conjured velvet rope elegance. When he put his name on a perfume that sense of private club sophistication was exemplified by not hewing to the popular trends. Messrs. Malle and Bourdon chose to subvert them instead.

Pierre Bourdon

The perfume opens with a very typical lemon top note. A sunny lens flare which is tamped down with subtle applications of pineapple and melon. The melon gives a smirking call back to the Calone used in M. Bourdon’s aquatics. The pineapple makes the lemon acerbic instead of tart. This falls into a floral heart accord of violet and iris. More violet than iris although a detectable powderiness does arise. Carrot seed provides a rooty sweetness in complement to the iris. The base eschews the sweetness working for a desiccated woodiness via sandalwood, vetiver, and patchouli overlaid with sharp silvery incense and green woody cedar.

Mark Birley for Men has 6-8 hour longevity and average silage.

The seeds of Frederic Malle’s brand were probably planted with Mark Birley for Men. M. Bourdon had the freedom to show off. Together Pierre and Frederic made an excellent perfume which deserves to be lifted from Under the Radar.

Disclosure: This review based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Bruno Acampora Musc- New Signal on the Musk Radar

I probably don’t say this enough, but I adore my readers. I’ve always wanted this blog to be a place to have a discussion. After my Discount Diamonds column on Kiehl’s Musk one reader contacted me through Facebook and asked if I’d ever tried Bruno Acampora Musc. I told her I had not. Then she put me in contact with the brand and they sent me a whole package of samples. It turns out she was absolutely correct about this being another perfume which should be known by those who love full-spectrum musk fragrances. Which means it was a natural to be this month’s Under the Radar choice.

Musc was the inaugural perfume in the Bruno Acampora brand. Founded in 1974 there has been a consistent output of new releases over time. Exploring a brand like this with forty-plus years’ worth of experience it allows me to see Sig. Acampora’s aesthetic through a time-lapse. It is interesting to notice that Musc turns out to be a sturdy platform from which the rest of the collection grows outward from.

Musc opens with not the fierce animalic musk I expected. Instead Sig. Acampora goes for one which evokes rich earth full of decaying humus.  This is a style of musk not often used because it is the furry and feral version which is seemingly more popular. It is a reason why Sig. Acampora’s version stands out. Then like a riotous early spring garden tiny shoots of rose and jasmine provide tiny floral highlights. Clove props up the forest floor aspect. An equally earthy patchouli doubles down on that vibe. A creamy sandalwood provides the base.

Musc has 12-14 hour longevity as a perfume oil. In that form it has little sillage almost entirely a skin scent.

Bruno Acampora is an example of why I want to do this column. A brand working within the independent sector with a definable aesthetic. This is the kind of excellent perfume which gets lost in the clutter of new brands. It shouldn’t. It took a reader to point out my musk radar screen had a new signal. I am extremely grateful to her for making sure I pulled Bruno Acampora Musc up from Under the Radar.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Czech & Speake No. 88- Shaver’s Rose

When it comes to the fragrance portion of the wetshaving forums I frequent there is a tendency to embrace the classic colognes and masculine aesthetics. What that means is lots of woods, citrus, and vetiver. Those are fine ingredients which make up the backbone of many good perfumes. Within those wetshaving forums I am always surprised at the popularity of an unabashed floral perfume; Czech & Speake No. 88.

Czech & Speake pre-dated the niche explosion as British interior designer Frank Sawkins opened a boutique in the Belgravia district of London in 1978. It was a full-service men’s grooming brand along with luxury bathroom fixtures and furniture nodding to the interior designer expertise of Mr. Sawkins. In those early days Czech & Speake was purely a word-of-mouth phenomenon. Once the internet connected the rest of the world to Belgravia the story of No. 88 began to find wider renown.

No. 88 is based on a classic British cologne recipe from Elizabethan times. Updated with modern ingredients it is a great example of this style of perfumery. At its simplest description this is a rose and sandalwood fragrance.

The early moments are all rose. No. 88 starts with the lighter rose nature of geranium. A small amount of bergamot provides a subtle sparkle to the very early moments. The geranium intensifies into a full-spectrum rose. This is a spicy rose not the powdery debutante variety which is not unexpected. To provide an even deeper floral effect cassie and frangipani flesh out the rose into something exuberant. It is tempered by a base of primarily sandalwood. The wood is creamy and slightly sweet. The combination of rose and sandalwood is sublime; this is the core of No. 88. Vetiver provides a barbershop vibe in the later stages.

No. 88 has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

In 2018 the idea of woody roses has become more prevalent in the fragrance world. It is easy for those which led the way, like No. 88, to fall Under the Radar.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Costume National Homme- Cutting-Edge Comfort?

There have been many designers who have entered the niche perfumery category. They all looked to be the next Comme des Garcons. I can safely say that nobody has come close to that record of success. In the early 2000’s there was an interesting contender which had some similarities; Costume National.

Costume National was also a fashion line appealing to a young trendsetting clientele. The founder Ennio Capasa carried that slim silhouette from working in Japan at Yohji Yamamoto fusing it with Milan details. In 1986 it was a sensation which put it on the map. They would become known for a cutting-edge aesthetic which they wanted to spread out into accessories. Starting after the turn of the new century Sig. Capasa added fragrance to the brand portfolio. The very first release in 2002, Scent, was a brilliant encapsulation of the brand. Working with perfumer Laurent Bruyere they would follow that initial triumph with a collection of Scent with five flankers over the next three years. Each was interesting with Scent Intense being the best of the bunch. Just when it seemed Costume National was ready to accelerate they pumped the brakes. Releasing two new perfumes over the next four years. It is that 2009 release Costume National Homme which is my choice for this month’s Under the Radar.

Dominique Ropion

For this release Sig. Capasa changed perfumers from M. Bruyere who had done all the Scents to Dominique Ropion for Homme. I would also venture that Sig. Capasa had tired of being risky because while there are some hints of the aesthetic which runs throughout the Scent Collection it is greatly attenuated. If this column was on creativity it would be one of the Scents which was its topic. Instead it is about one of my favorite cold weather comfort perfumes.

M. Ropion has most of his recognizable signatures on display in Homme. Sandalwood, spices and resins do what you come to expect in one of his perfumes. The twist here is there is an odd synthetic oily accord which oozes through the familiar. That’s what ends up making it Costume National.

A brief flare of citrus via grapefruit and bergamot open things up then cardamom combines with cinnamon to provide a typical spicy top accord. It is here the oily accord appears. The best description I have seen of it was from a Basenotes reviewer “rogalal” who thinks it smells like fake movie theatre butter. I’m not fully in agreement but I don’t have a better shorthand for describing the accord. Once you get underneath that the labdanum, cloves and thyme add a spicy resinous accord which is very comforting. Patchouli and sandalwood are the base accord.

Homme has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Homme is much more comforting than a perfume from Costume National ought to be, except for the oily accord in the middle, it never challenges. Nevertheless, this has been a winter staple ever since I bought a bottle in 2009. If you’re looking for a new brand to explore or need a new cold weather comfort scent, try Costume National Homme.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Caron Nuit de Noel- The Ghost of Christmas Past

Just over my fifty-eight years of life I have watched the Holidays become more casual. Gone are the days of my youth when I wore a new suit for Christmas. Gone is going to Midnight Mass and seeing the congregation dressed up and sparkling in the church. It isn’t just the Holidays it is a general societal shift; one which I don’t truly disapprove of. Although I do sort of wish there was a day when we all agreed we would get dressed-up as one; like a grand Throwback Thursday. I think that is why I enjoy the older perfumes because they still feel like they want to be worn under formal clothing. This is especially true of the early Caron perfumes composed by perfumer Ernest Daltroff. One of them is meant to be that touch of elegance which is missing from modern-day Christmas; Nuit de Noel.

Nuit de Noel was the fourth perfume released under the Caron name by M. Daltroff. It was meant to be a Holiday perfume as the name suggests but every time I wear it I wonder what the Holidays were like in M. Daltroff’s world in 1922. Nuit de Noel is wall-to-wall elegance combined with the use of the Mousse de Saxe base M. Daltroff created. It is the sense of a party where the brightest young things in the world are celebrating the Season.

This Christmas Night opens with a starburst of jasmine; deeply floral and indolic. M. Daltroff blends rose as support. There are many times I consider this to be the star on top of the tree because what comes next is a sturdy trunk of sandalwood and amber. A creamy, slightly spicy, wood. This is where Mousse de Saxe arrives wrapping this fragrant tree in garland. This classic base is comprised of geranium, leather, licorice, and vanilla. It falls somewhere between chypre and leather itself; occupying a necessary middle ground especially in the early days. It is this base which makes Nuit de Noel the masterpiece that it is.

Nuit de Noel has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

In truth the entire Caron collection and M. Daltroff are emblematic of the concept of this Under the Radar column. If you love perfume you should make the effort to seek the brand out it remains one of the Grand Maisons in all of perfumery. When it comes to Nuit de Noel it does feel a bit like the Ghost of Christmas Past because this era of elegance at the Holidays doesn’t exist anymore. Even so, there is nothing wrong with having a drop under your ugly sweater or pajama top to remind you there was a different style a hundred years ago.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar Comme des Garcons X Monocle Scent One Hinoki- A Lemming is Born

One of the fun things about the gathering of perfume lovers that the internet spawned was when lemmings were spawned. The typical life cycle for this was for someone to stumble over a press release describing a perfume to come which sounded amazing. The next stage was a general amplification of desire as it was imagined what it would smell like. Then the first people would get the chance to try it. If they came back and reported it was as good, or better, the stampede was initiated, and we rushed headlong to the cliff…um…I mean the store. The final stage was a kind of post-coital languor as we all talked about how good it was. In 2008 one of the largest lemmings ever born was Comme des Garcons x Monocle Scent One: Hinoki.

Comme des Garcons had serious perfumista cred in 2008 as creative director Christian Astuguevieille had defined what it meant to be a niche fragrance. Merging that aesthetic with a non-fragrance brand was another interesting step. Monocle was a lifestyle magazine founded by Tyler Brule in 2007, Besides lifestyle there were also international affairs stories in between the sleek furniture and cutting-edge fashion. The sensibilities seemed like a good match.

Towards the end of 2007 it was announced that the first perfume from this collaboration was going to be called Scent One: Hinoki. Perfumer Antoine Maisondieu was going to bring the juice to life. Scent One: Hinoki was meant to evoke a soak in a hinoki wood tub amidst a pine forest in Japan. What was great about this perfume when we were in the imagining what it would smell like phase of the lemming cycle was the inclusion of this top note, turpentine. Turpentine? You mean mineral spirits? Lots of debate on whether that was going to be good or not. It, plus another challenging note, would become the acid test on whether it was worth the chase.

Antoine Maisondieu

That other note is camphor and along with the turpentine that is what you get at the start. It is challenging in a nose wrinkling kind of way. When I first tried it on a paper strip it put me off in a big way. When I finally put some on my skin it was completely different as the challenging aspects became more diffused on my skin. Then the camphor and turpentine turn into a raw wood accord. If you’ve ever worked with green wood this is the smell of that. As that fades a more finished wood appears; cypress and pine are the choices. Green is introduced via vetiver, thyme, and moss adding back some of the rawer character lost with the more refined woods ascension. In the base the incense burning just outside the tub swirls over it all.

Scent One: Hinoki has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

During 2008 I was tracking what the most reported scents in the Scent of the Day thread in the forum were. On the men’s forum Scent One: Hinoki was one of the top 5 for the year. The really final stage of a lemming is it is forgotten as the crowd chases the next one. Scent One: Hinoki is good enough it shouldn’t be forgotten or found Under the Radar.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Ginestet Botrytis- Wine Crush

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For me one of the smells of the fall is that of the annual wine crush. It is when all the harvested grapes are fed into the crusher-stemmer right around this time of year. It varies based on the weather. It has always surprised me that there are not more wine-inspired perfumes. So much of the pleasure of wine is associated with swirling in the glass and breathing deeply before sipping. Perhaps one of the reasons is because one of the earliest attempts at this was so good it is hard to compete against it. If you love wine and perfume Ginestet Botrytis needs to be on your radar.

This overlap became the source of conversation when Christian Delpeuch the Managing Director of Ginestet Wine Merchants met perfumer Gilles Toledano. They decided to collaborate on three perfumes which capture the great wines of Bordeaux. Le Boise evokes the smell of the barrels used to age the wine right down to the slightly sweet nature of the wood used to make them. Sauvignonne is an elegant translation of a sauvignon blanc with the snap of grapefruit to the luscious fruit represented by peach. I like both but neither of them really make me think “Wine!” Botrytis does.

Christian Delpeuch

The name refers to the mold which grows on late harvest grapes which helps to remove the water from the grape increasing the concentration of sugars within. This is the kind of grape which is the foundation of many of the sweeter wines on the shelf. What M. Toledano and M. Delpeuch capture here is the moment when these grapes are converted to that sweet nectar. As their inspiration they used perhaps the greatest dessert wine in the world; the Sauternes of Chateau d’Yquem.

The perfume opens on a rich accord of honey and quince forming a densely sweet opening. This is the concentrated sugar of the harvested grape. Botrytis is one of my favorite honey perfumes because of this opening. Over time M. Toledano adds in other dried fruits as you can almost feel the mold drying out the grape. Just when it begins to approach the level of becoming cloying M. Toledano cuts it all with a fantastic accord built on pain d’epice. The French spice bread is here with the yeasty doughy feel infused with a mélange of spices. It breaks the sweetness as you can imagine the fermentation process beginning to take place. The final part of this is a combination of jasmine and tuberose adding an indolic exhalation across the entire construction.

Botrytis has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

There have only been a couple of perfumes which have expertly captured the place where perfume and wine intersect. Botrytis is the best of them all.

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

Mark Behnke