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

1

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

Under the Radar: Vicky Tiel Ulysse- Found Treasure

My relationship with the perfume industry has evolved over the years. My desire to learn more has widened at the same pace my reach has. I don’t really look back to the early days of my perfume self-education wishing for a return engagement; except for one tiny part.

Those of you who live in the US know these perfume stores. They have kitschy punny names in a small storefront or kiosk. The boxes of perfume are stacked upon each other making you look behind each one hoping to find something worth digging out of the clutter. I always joked it was my version of walking the beach with a metal detector hoping to find gold. The successful perfume salvage missions are the ones I remember. There were more examples of finding something which turned out to be a bottle cap. This month’s Under the Radar choice, Vicky Tiel Ulysse, is one of those exhumed treasures which still shines today.

I was in a store in South Florida digging through the boxes hoping to find something. The owner was hovering nearby and he smelled good. It probably took an hour before I asked him what he was wearing. He pointed at a box which said Vicky Tiel Ulysse on it. When he told me how cheap it was ($15/100mL ~15 yrs ago) that sounded like a decent blind buy. Ulysse has turned out to be one of my evergreen bottles which I have replaced twice. It is a fresh style Oriental full of weird nuances and ingredients. Every time I wear it I am reminded how good it is. It is one of my fall stalwarts which means it is a good time to bring this on to peoples’ radar screens.

Vicky Tiel

Vicky Tiel was a cult fashion designer before that was really a thing. She would be the costume designer on Woody Allen’s “What’s New Pussycat?” in 1965. From there she would become part of the jet set hobnobbing with Liz and Dick, dancing at Maxim’s and making the scene what it was. Over time she would eventually start her own fashion line. Ms. Tiel is probably a designer whose name you are reading for the first time but if you’ve seen the movie “Pretty woman” the dress Julia Roberts’ character wears to the opera is a Vicky Tiel. Ms. Tiel’s memoir “It’s All About the Dress” covers a life painted in the splashiest of colors. This verve carries through to Ulysse.

Hugh Spencer

The perfumer she chose to work with on her early perfumes was also a free-spirit within the perfume world; Hugh Spencer. I would have enjoyed sitting in the room as Ulysse came to be. I have to think the phrase “It has to be bigger” was said a few times. I also think the phrase “make it fresh” was also tossed around. Together they did achieve the desired fresh Oriental.

Ulysse opens with the fresh part firmly in citrus territory as yuzu is the tart core. It is cleverly supported with linden and neroli adding in their floral nuanced lime and orange. It is fresh in a way I wish more perfumes would attempt. The floral quality becomes more pronounced with lavender becoming the dominant note. It is joined by cardamom and nutmeg keeping the herbal nature of lavender in the foreground. The Oriental base is formed from the classic components of patchouli, benzoin, vanilla, and musk. It is a sturdy version of this classic base which paired with the fresh and floral phases leading to it make the whole very good.

Ulysse has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This has been one of my personal favorites from day one that I have owned it. It deserves to be on the radar screen.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: 10 Corso Como- Rose Sandalcense

They say everything old is new again. In other words, live long enough and everything you own is eventually on trend. One of the trends that has begun taking hold in fragrance is that of the simple combination of three or four ingredients. I think that this style of perfume while simple is not facile. The perfumer must be very precise to get the correct balance. When there are so few notes each one carries more weight. Because of this I started thinking back on which perfumes from the past might have become new again. As soon as I began this process one jumped right to the front of my thoughts, 10 Corso Como.

When 10 Corso Como came out in 1999 it became a cult fragrance. Initially only available in Europe it began to be as desired as Coors beer used to be East of the Mississippi. I can’t remember when I finally tried it but I certainly saw it spoken of in the early perfume forums. I do remember being fascinated at how this simple perfume was so compelling. It was one of those early perfumes which seemingly affixed my wrist to my nose.

Carla Sozzani

10 Corso Como is named after the fashion line overseen by Carla Sozzani. Sig.ra Sozzani wanted to add a fragrance to her fashion boutique in Milan. She turned to perfumer Olivier Gillotin to produce that. What they came up with was a triad of sandalwood, incense, and rose.

Olivier Gillotin

10 Corso Como opens with sandalwood paired with an incense accord made up of vetiver and oud. It is a fascinating choice by M. Gillotin. Straight frankincense would have been too austere against the sandalwood. Instead the vetiver-oud accord forms a softer version of incense which settles on top of the sandalwood. This combination is what made 10 Corso Como stand out early on. It provided an alternative to the church incense style which was becoming popular. The rose takes some time to insert itself into things. Again M. Gillotin adds some geranium to add a bit of green to it all which then accentuates the green within the vetiver. At this point as the vetiver decouples from the oud that note starts to provide a slightly medicinal contrast to the sandalwood. A few musks are sprinkled in at the end.

10 Corso Como has 4-6 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I have enjoyed 10 Corso Como for years because of its simplicity. If you are enjoying the current trend take a look back in time and under the radar for 10 Corso Como.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Divine L’Homme Sage- The Wise Man of Perfume

1

I don’t remember which store it was in New York I tried Divine L’Homme Sage for the first time. I feel like it was either Henri Bendel or Takashimaya but I don’t know with any certainty. What I do remember was I mentioned I liked spices and immortelle. The sales associate handed me a bottle from a brand I had never heard of prior to that day. Once I had some L’Homme Sage on a wrist; by the time I went to sleep I knew I would be buying a bottle. That would begin my discovery of this independent perfume brand from France.

Yvon Mouchel

Divine was begun in 1986 by owner-creative director Yvon Mouchel. Based in the town of Dinard in Brittany M. Mouchel would enlist a fellow artist from the same region; perfumer Yann Vasnier. M. Mouchel would give M. Vasnier his first brief for the debut of the brand with the self-named Divine. For seventeen years that was it. M. Mouchel believes “A great perfume is a work of art” and so it seemed he had accomplished his goal. Somewhere during those years, he decided there was more he had to say. Starting in 2003 he reunited with M. Vasnier and would produce nine new Divine releases until 2014.  

It was that day in New York which brought me to the Divine story somewhat in the middle. L’Homme Sage was the overall fifth release; coming out in 2005. Because of that I had no sense of a brand aesthetic I just knew this particular one appealed to me. As I would come to experience the rest of the collection I would come to realize this was as much a part of M. Mouchel’s vision as the other ones were.

Yann Vasnier

If you read the name L’Homme Sage and are expecting clary sage to be found in the perfume you will be disappointed. L’Homme Sage refers to the “wise man” with sage being the wise part of the name. The perfume is a classy spicy Oriental with the formation of three distinct accords.

L’Homme Sage opens with mandarin coated in syrup. The syrup is provided by lychee. It diffuses the citrus allowing for cardamom and saffron the opportunity to find some space to form a spicy sweet citrus top accord. A transitional use of immortelle bridges the top accord to the heart of patchouli, balsam, and incense. This forms a resinous heart accord which provides warmth. The base is cedar and guaiac combined with cistus and styrax which continues the warmth. The final ingredient it the subtle bite of oakmoss.

L’Homme Sage has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

The point of this column is to shine the light on some great brands which are still out there but do not keep up a consistent release rate. M. Mouchel very much lives the credo that his perfumes should be a “work of art”. That means they do not arrive on a timetable but on a creative schedule. That is the brand aesthetic which can be discovered if you try any of the Divine perfumes.

L’Homme Sage has always been a part of my perfume rotation because it is exactly what I look for.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Pretty Woman by Barbara Orbison- A.k.a Handsome Man

I was at Sniffapalooza Spring Fling 2010 and it was very late on day one. I really had sort of had enough until a stylish woman approached me and wanted to give me a sample of her perfume. I was happy to take the sample but upon looking at the name I didn’t have high hopes. On the card was printed Pretty Woman by Barbara Orbison. I was thinking this was going to be one of those perfumes I would sniff and forget. Since I am writing about it seven years later that was obviously not the case.

What happened was I sprayed some on a strip later back in my hotel room. I thought, “not bad”. Then I put it on my wrist followed by a different thought, “wow”. I can’t remember for sure but I think I was expecting a perfume inspired by the movie and song of the same name to be a fruity floral. What I encountered was a spicy floral resinous perfume which I have become very fond of.

Barbara Orbison

Barbara Orbison headed to California when she was designing her perfume. She worked closely with the independent perfume community. I have seen Mandy Aftel and Sarah Horowitz connected to the birth of Pretty Woman but I have no explicit confirmation that they did anything more than consult. I would say no matter who Ms. Orbison took advice from the reason Pretty Woman did not turn out to be a fruity floral is because she let the independent spirit guide her.

Pretty Woman opens on a Turkish rose, stargazer lily, and carnation all of which are floral notes with spicy components. The perfume brings those to the foreground. This all comes in the wake of one of the more distinct bergamot openings I have. Patchouli and amber provide warmth followed by incense and vanilla to complete the base accord.

Pretty Woman has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Pretty Woman has one problem in my estimation; the name. This is so much a unisex fragrance that the name can be a problem for a man when asked why he smells so good. Which is why when I am asked that question I say I am wearing “Handsome Man”.

When I say Pretty Woman is Under the Radar I mean it. You can only purchase it from the website. I am not sure how consistent the sales are but it has always been available there. I know I’ve turned many on to the fragrance and have sent many Pretty Women, and Handsome Men, there to add it to their collection.

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

Mark Behnke

Under The Radar: Ulrich Lang New York Lightscape- Fresh Purple

One of the most genuine people in the perfume business is Ulrich Lang. Mr. Lang has promoted the greater cause of independent perfumery by co-founding the Elements Showcase and being someone who believes there is a significant place for it. He is so passionate about those themes you might not know he is the creative director of a brand which carries his name; Ulrich Lang New York.

One of the reasons you might have overlooked these perfumes is since the debut of Anvers in 2003 there have only been a total of six releases. Mr. Lang has worked exclusively with perfumer Frank Voelkl over that time. A brand which is not constantly churning out new releases is almost by definition going to fly under the radar. Over the years there has been one of these six perfumes which has become one of my spring staples, Lightscape.

Ulrich Lang

When you think of fresh fragrances a perfume featuring violet and iris is unlikely to be something you might describe like that. Violet has a metallic sharpness while iris can be powdery. Even just that would seem to be a recipe for a construction akin to a head-on collision. Mr. Lang and Mr. Voelkl take some impressive measures to not put these notes against each other; instead finding a way to make them harmonize in a fresh way.

Frank Voelkl

The way they go about this is two-fold. For violet Mr. Voelkl instead of using the actual essential oil of the flowers he instead creates a violet accord. That allows him to tune out those metallic aspects. It also allows the powdery nature that is also a part of the violet flower to be modulated, as well. For the iris, he chooses to use a high-quality orris which doesn’t have as much of the powderiness of iris in favor of a more grounded earthy character.

Lightscape opens with a snappy duet of lemon and galbanum. An attention-grabbing zesty green citrus. To go along with it Mr. Voelkl adds in violet leaf. This adds more green to the galbanum. Then the orris and violet accord appear. I am always so surprised at how uplifting the combination comes off here. It is why I reach for it every spring because it is green and fresh. Cedar brings it back to earth with a wood-based foundation tempered by the botanical musk of ambrette seed.

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

I can say all six of the Ulrich Lang New York perfumes are Under the Radar gems. They are worthy of being put on your to-try list. If you need one to start with Lightscape is a spring perfume which is a fresh purple fragrance of violet and iris.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Byredo Pulp- The Un-Byredo

Once a perfume brand has matured, defined their aesthetic, it is interesting to look back to the beginning to see if the initial releases predicted how the brand would eventually grow. Byredo was founded in 2007 by Ben Gorham. Over the last ten years, working exclusively with perfumer Jerome Epinette, they have created a distinctive Byredo style. But when those first four bottles bearing the name were released there was one which was the figurative red-headed stepchild, Byredo Pulp.

Last fall it looked like I would be writing about Pulp as part of the Dead Letter Office series. It was rumored that it was going to be dropped from the brand. When I heard that news I wasn’t surprised because Pulp had its own twisted little following perhaps driven because it felt unlike every other one in the line. It seems the news of discontinuation was more rumor than fact. Which then shifted it to this column because it is so different I think those who might dismiss the Byredo collection as not being their kind of fragrance might join the group of us who enjoy the Un-Byredo-ness of Pulp.

What sets Pulp apart is it is a fragrance of fruit overload. I know the concept of overload for a Byredo is already outside normal service. In this case M. Epinette was going for the literal pulp of multiple fruits. What has always made this perfume stand out is there is so much here somewhere in all the overlap a rotten fruit accord develops. Some of life’s potentially disgusting smells have some underlying facets which are oddly pleasant smelling. What M. Epinette gets in Pulp whether by design or fortune is that right on the edge of sickly sweetness that rotting fruit emanates. It is what will make you pull Pulp close or push it away.

The fruit basket comes from grapefruit, fig, red apple, blackcurrant buds, and peach blossom. All of this roars out of the gate. It is seemingly chaotic but rather quickly all the fruit pieces settle into their lanes. In the early going it has a crisper quality than you might expect. As some greener notes begin to arrive in cardamom and cedar the beginning of the decay sets in. Eventually the sweetness is heightened following a collapse in to a praline accord in the base.

Pulp has 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I am happy that the rumors of Pulp’s demise were overstated. I think every brand needs something to show how far they’ve come. Pulp is that signpost as The Un-Byredo.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Ineke Field Notes from Paris- A Warm Tobacco Sweater

It is a given I have too much perfume. There are some silver linings to it as I spend time moving seasonal appropriate things forward I sometimes bump into something which has fallen off my radar. Back in the fall when I was doing this I reacquainted myself with Ineke Field Notes from Paris.

San Francicsco-based Ineke Ruhland began her eponymous brand back in 2006 with four releases. Her concept was she was going to use the alphabet as the source of her names thus her first four releases were After my Own Heart, Balmy Days & Sundays, Chemical bonding and Derring-Do. That took care of A-D. From there the next four came out over the next few years with Hothouse Flower being the last in 2012. I know I & J are near completion and release but so far there has been nothing officially announced. Which means the brand has probably fallen off many perfume lovers’ radar. I think Ms. Ruhland has produced one of the best independent perfume collections and when the new releases are out I suspect these older releases will also be discovered all over again. If you’re in the mood to get ahead of the curve the 2009 release Field Notes from Paris is a good example of everything Ms. Ruhland does well.

Ineke Ruhland

The brief for Field Notes from Paris was, “sweet-scented Paris afternoons, life measured out in coffee spoons.” That phrase might lead you to believe this is a café au lait kind of perfume but that is not the case. This perfume is that cold afternoon where you put your sock-covered feet under a warm blanket on a leather sofa while wearing your favorite cashmere sweater with a humidor of tobacco nearby. I know that last part seems incongruous but this is how Ms. Ruhland works she takes something which should be a square peg in a round hole and finds a way to turn it into something which does fit.

Field Notes from Paris is constructed on an axis of orange blossom and tobacco. In the very early stages it is just the orange blossom paired with a very green coriander. The tobacco comes up right away and it is the coriander which performs the introductions. Ms. Ruhland has a skill at finding these kinds of notes which help two disparate ones find common ground. This all floats over a fantastic leather accord. It reminds me of the smell of a new leather sofa. There is a freshness to the leather prior to being broken in and that is the leather accord at the heart of Filed Notes from Paris. The base becomes all sweet vanilla comfort with tonka and vanilla in a beeswax matrix finishes this off.

Filed Notes from Paris has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Ever since finding Field Notes from Paris back in the fall this has functioned like my favorite perfume sweater throughout the colder months of this year. There are many joys to be found within the entire Ineke collection you just have to put it on your radar.

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

Mark Behnke