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

Under the Radar: Aramis JHL- The Scent of Class

When I was a child I looked up to the adult men around me for the cues that would help me become like them. Besides my father another influential figure in my childhood was my Uncle Harvey. He was the white-collar flip side to my blue-collar father. Uncle Harvey was a South Florida defense lawyer. He wore a suit and tie. Although when I would see him the tie was loosened and the top button opened showing he wasn’t that fond of the tie part of the uniform. I enjoyed spending time with him because he was an early adopter back in the 1960’s. He had the first color TV. Later, he had the first remote control for that TV. He leased a new Cadillac Coupe de Ville every year which exposed me to the latest in new automotive advances. There was a scent to all of this for me too. Uncle Harvey was an Aramis man. Aramis was the scent of Uncle Harvey to me. I received an Aramis soap on a rope for some occasion and I was surrounded by the smell in my daily shower for a month or so. It imprinted on my forming scent personality that this was what a professional classy gentleman smelled like.

Now fast forward to 1984 as I am assembling my first professional wardrobe and accessories in my first job. As I was looking through the perfumes at the men’s fragrance counter in Macy’s I saw a familiar name Aramis but now there were four versions. The original, Aramis 900, Devin, and JHL. I knew I wanted to be my own man so Aramis was never in the running. But the moment I smelled JHL I knew this was going to join Polo on my dresser.

Joseph and Estee Lauder

The story behind JHL is it is the initials of Estee Lauder’s husband Joseph Harold Lauder. Ms. Lauder wanted a fragrance which captured him. For this she turned to perfumer Josephine Catapano. What they developed was a modern streamlined version of Aramis.

JHL opens with a more pronounced herbal mixture pushing against citrus. It is a very classic pairing but Ms. Catapano shapes the herbs with a set of spices; cinnamon, allspice, and clove. This provides a soft warmth for a spicy rose to take the lead in the heart with. The woods come next; fir and sandalwood married to patchouli and oakmoss. Incense and vanilla finish the development.

JHL has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I still wear JHL as one of my suit and tie fragrances. There has always been a palpable scent of class to it along with a memory of Uncle Harvey.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Montale Blue Amber- Beauty in Power

One way for a perfume to fly under the radar is to be part of a small brand which is what makes up the bulk of this column. In rarer cases a perfume can fly under the radar because there are so many other fragrances on the screen in some brands. This is the case with Montale.

Montale has released 100 fragrances over the last 16 years. There are so many entries on the Montale radar screen a poor perfume traffic controller has to work hard to pick out the ones which need some attention. As I mentioned when I did my Perfume 101 on Montale the brand was one of the first to bring oud to the West. There are many great oud perfumes in the collection but my favorite is not one of those it is one of the best amber perfumes I own, Blue Amber.

As Montale really began to rev themselves up starting in 2008 there were three out of that voluminous early set of releases which stood out; Black Aoud, Red Vetyver, and Blue Amber. They all still hold up over time but the first two have more notoriety and Blue Amber has lost some altitude.

Until the release of last year’s So Amber, Blue Amber was the only amber perfume in the collection. I’ve always thought when you nail it on the first try there was no need to take another try. Pierre Montale succeeded because he chose a near-perfect set of notes to complement the amber at the heart of this perfume.

Blue Amber opens with one of my favorite geranium uses in any fragrance. There is one thing M. Montale does not traffic in and that is subtlety. As a result, there is a whopping amount of geranium in the top of Blue Amber. To this he adds an equally potent amount of coriander which accentuates the green facets of the geranium which are more apparent because of the concentration. Then the amber arrives in a spicy wave picking up on the coriander. Patchouli and vetiver provide a fantastic foundation for this amber to react to. It all comes together rather quickly and lingers there for hours.

Blue Amber has 18-24 hour longevity and above average sillage.

There are times I want a perfumer to go all out. With Blue Amber M. Montale does exactly that. The hazard is at that volume flaws are much more apparent. The upside is if it is done well that kind of power carries a rough beauty hard to find in fragrance. Blue Amber is that kind of fragrance and deserves to be on your radar screen.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: The Party in Manhattan- Chypre Mash-Up

I’ve been having more real-time conversations about perfume lately over social media. Sometime last month I was part of one where we were talking about our favorite skanky perfumes. For those who don’t know the term it first cropped up on the Perfume Posse blog back in the beginning to describe a perfume full of animalic musks and indoles. In other words, all the filthy dirty ingredients of perfumery. When it comes to skank you either love it or hate it unless you’re unable to smell some of the musks then you might just be wondering what all the fuss is. I associate skankiness with a certain style of perfumery as it was practiced back in the early days in the 1920’s and 30’s. It is the perfume equivalent of a throwback jersey with a garish design in provocative colors. It is so ugly it is beautiful.

party-in-manhattan

As we get to these first sub-freezing mornings there is something which draws me to the red-light district of the perfume vault where all the bad girls congregate. When I was having the conversation online I mentioned The Party in Manhattan was one of my favorites. Which was met with a lot of questions; which then made me realize it needed to be an Under the Radar entry. It also has a great backstory to go with the fragrance.

paolo-borgomanero

Paolo Borgomanero

When Acqua di Parma was sold to LVMH in 2007 one of the founders of that line was not ready to quit making perfume. Paolo Borgomanero moved on to found a new brand of which The Party in Manhattan was the first release. The stated purpose of the brand was “to appeal to the discerning customers who appreciate the luxury and charm of old times.” Sig. Borgomanero claims he was inspired by a specific perfume from the 1930’s. When you wear The Party in Manhattan you might wonder whether it was just one because if you love this style of perfume it is hard not to pick out aspects of many of the classics of the genre. It makes The Party in Manhattan just like a chypre party where everyone is invited.

The Party in Manhattan is like opening the double doors into a soiree where everything is already revved up to max. From the very first moments a spiced citrus courtesy of tangerine and sage lead the way into the party. Carnation provides the beginning of an ever-insifying garland of power hitting florals. Jasmine, rose de mai, ylang-ylang, and orris. In any other perfume one of these would be out front with the others in support. The jasmine is nominally the leader of this boisterous pack but the others are surely not wallflowers. Then the chypre accord comes together over a selection of filthy musks, vetiver, patchouli, and oakmoss. For all that the oakmoss should bite instead the musks take more of a leading role and the chypre accord curls its lip to show you its fangs without leaving marks.

The Party in Manhattan has 24-hour longevity and nuclear sillage. One spray is more than enough; seriously one spray.

As I mentioned above if you have a favorite chypre from the great houses of the early 20th century you will find something of them in The Party in Manhattan. Sig. Borgomanero wanted this to be the ultimate chypre conclave which is exactly what is delivered. If you are a skank, or chypre, lover The Party in Manhattan needs to be on your radar.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Neil Morris Fragrances Gotham- My Doppelganger

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We all have a doppelganger out there. A person who looks very much like us. When I was living in Boston I found mine who also happened to be a perfumer. I was introduced to Neil Morris by my friend and future colleague at CaFleureBon Ida Meister. I met him for the first time on a trip to New York City and as we got to know each other he showed me a bottle of one of his Signature fragrances called Gotham. From the first moment I smelled it, it has become one of my personal top fragrances.

Mr. Morris has been composing perfume since 2007. Ever since Ms. Meister brought him to my attention I have found many of his perfumes to be right where I like them. Gotham is as good example of his general aesthetic.

nmf-gotham

Mr. Morris is often inspired by what he sees as he walks around. On his website he says the inspiration for Gotham came from a Manhattan stroll one October night. According to the description, “It was a bit foggy and the atmosphere had a sense of mystery and of things hidden in the night.” One of the things I enjoy about Mr. Morris’ perfumes is the densely layered quality they have. It is like waiting for things to emerge from the different layers which makes it languidly dynamic over the time it is on your skin. I love this style of fragrance for that.

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Neil Morris (l.) and Me

Gotham opens with a fresh spicy blast of yuzu and black pepper. At least for the early moments there is no measured development it just sizzles with energy. I’ve always had this feel of something in the air when I am in NYC this does a nice job of capturing this. The metaphorical fog in Gotham comes from a narcissus heart bolstered by rose. This is a floral with presence. It arrives like a celebrity on a red carpet. Gotham is one of my favorite narcissus perfumes because Mr. Morris doesn’t trample it underneath a bunch of other notes. The base is a rough birch-laden leather accord. It reminded me of a leather sofa we had in the living room when I was growing up. As it heads into the foggy night leaving a trail of narcissus and leather.

Gotham has 14-16 hour longevity and above average silage.

Mr. Morris’ entire catalogue is under the radar but if you need a place to find out whether his style of fragrance is to your taste Gotham is as good as any of them to find out with.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Andrea Maack Smart- Interesting Intersections

Back in 2011 there were a number of visual artists taking a shot at expanding into fragrance. I can remember the great majority of these efforts to have a lot of vision and no juice. The visual inspiration piece was usually paired up with a ham-handed attempt at smelling different. They often eschewed using perfumers to their detriment. I had gotten to the point that when they started talking about being multi-disciplinary I wanted to tell them to stick to the single discipline they do well, which wasn’t perfume.

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Andrea Maack

That was my frame of mind when I received the initial collection of Icelandic artist Andrea Maack. Ms. Maack had a press release full of multi-disciplinary verbiage. I was expecting to be bored. Instead her initial three fragrances showed a remarkable degree of polish. The reason was she chose to work with Renaud Coutaudier as her co-creative director and they used perfumer Julien Rasquinet very early in his career. Of the initial three I liked Craft and Sharp but Smart is the one which I purchased a bottle of.

julien rasquinet

Julien Rasquinet

Ms. Maack’s visual art at this time was fluid geometrics. It is a style which appealed to me. This aesthetic managed to make it into her initial three perfumes as all of them had bold lines which intersected in unusual ways. The creative team and M. Rasquinet were always looking to establish contrasts within intersections. Smart is a good example of this.

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Renaud Coutaudier

Smart opens with the metallic tang of violet leaves. This is a top note which imparts a uniquely contemporary vibe almost turning it industrial. Before it can go too far in that direction a sweetly floral vector overlays itself consisting of jasmine and vanilla. The vanilla is a greener version as if of the orchid carrying more green facets along with the sweet. The jasmine picks that up and as it coats the metallic violet leaves it forms an appealing duet. M. Rasquinet then lays down a strong through line of sandalwood. The sandalwood is its very typical creamy woody version. As the sandalwood settles in a final animalic arc arrives with a leather accord and musk. M. Rasquinet balances these four strong lines skillfully so at their intersection there is much to enjoy.

Smart has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Ms. Maack would end up adding four more to the original three. Of those Coal and Coven were my favorites. This is a line worth checking out not only for the fragrances but also as a place where rising star perfumer M. Rasquinet was developing his skills. There is much to admire of his work for the brand. If you’re looking for something multi-disciplinary Andrea Maack Smart is one of the few which promise that, which also delivers.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Fresh Cannabis Santal- Pot Brownies

There is not a whole heck of a lot of perfumes which feature a cannabis accord. There are more in the last couple of years but it is still a tiny subsector of fragrance. This month’s Under the Radar pick carries the name cannabis in its name but it isn’t really that prominent. Fresh Cannabis Santal is a lush chocolate and patchouli gourmand more than an illicit hit in the dark.

cannabis_santal

Cannabis Santal was released in 2006, Fresh had been releasing fragrance since 1996 and most of them were riffs on sweetness. They were sort of taking the idea represented by Aquolina Pink Sugar and expanding it in all directions. Most of the name of the perfumes were “Sugar fill in the blank”. They had a much less distributed collection called the Index line where they still explored sweet fragrances but they were more interesting than the Sugar line. When I lived in Boston there was a Fresh boutique in town which allowed me to work my way through the many Fresh perfumes. I remember walking in on a fall day and smelling something which stood out among all of the sugar. It stood out because there was a richness to it. I was drawn to it more than anything I had ever smelled in the store previously.

Caroline Sabas

Caroline Sabas

Perfumer Caroline Sabas was given some leeway to break outside the sugar shack; which she used. Her composition is mainly orange, chocolate, rose, and patchouli. There is some cannabis in there and it shows up like a bit of a jack-in-the-box when I wear Cannabis Santal. If you’re looking for a pot connection it is more similar to if you made a batch of pot brownies using orange and rose water to flavor them.

Cannabis Santal opens with a deep orange given that depth by the use of plum. Very rapidly patchouli, rose, and chocolate rise to cover the orange. Very often I talk about patchouli not having that head shop vibe; not here. It actually combines with the chocolate and the rose to sort of dirty things up. It keeps the sweetness from being innocent. It gives the impression these brownies might have more underneath that you suspect. A woody finish which is more vetiver than santal completes the illusion of the label.

Cannabis Santal has 12-14 hour longevity and extremely potent sillage. When I said I smelled it from the door of the Fresh boutique it is not an exaggeration.

Fresh has discontinued much of its line of fragrances with only about a dozen left for sale. Cananbis Santal is one of those survivors. I think it is one of the top tier of gourmands released during that time when there were many of them being released. If you’re looking for that hit off of a joint don’t look for it here. Instead slice off a brownie and wonder why you are smiling so much.

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

Mark Behnke