Discount Diamonds: Givenchy Pi- A Different Tack

I remark often on how the gourmand style of perfume is one of the most exciting to me. One reason is it isn’t even thirty years old. It means unlike every other perfume genre it carries around much less history. I have found recent versions of gourmands very interesting because they are not following an existing set of rules. As it is in the third decade of the style the same was true of the very earliest entries, they were defining the boundaries. This month’s Discount Diamonds choice, Givenchy Pi, was one of those.

In 1998 the early gourmands had all gone with deep dense aesthetics. As Givenchy thought to enter the fray Creative Director Francoise Donche decided a different tack would be taken. Their gourmand would focus on one sweet note with less of a heavy presence. Perfumer Alberto Morillas would be given the job of creating Pi.

Francoise Donche

The idea was to make a gourmand focused on vanilla. The easy way would have been to use the synthetic source of vanilla, vanillin. One of the reasons to decide against it is vanillin is one of the most common ingredients in all of perfumery. It also can become overwhelming as the concentration gets to higher levels. M. Morillas made an intelligent choice to go with a vanilla accord made up primarily of tonka bean and benzoin. It turned out to be brilliant.

Alberto Morillas

Pi opens with a green prologue of rosemary, pine, and mandarin. It carries a freshness which will eventually be overwhelmed by the vanilla. That vanilla shows up subtly at first as tonka bean is the keynote in the heart. Tonka is a natural source of coumarin which has a kind of vanillic scent profile along with a sweeter hay-like component. By itself it would never become vanilla. M. Morillas uses benzoin to combine with the coumarin to form the sweet vanilla accord. What makes this so different from just using straight vanillin is it is a crisper form of vanilla. Most often vanillin diffuses until it becomes powdery. By using tonka bean and bezoin this doesn’t happen. Which means the vanilla lasts and lasts. The light woodiness of guaiac is the final piece of Pi.

Pi has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

If I were to ever write a column on the perfumes I wear which never fail to generate a compliment Pi would be one of the two no-brainers on that list. It is one of those perfumes which breaks through because of the way it is constructed. The advantage of being over twenty years old is it is easy to find bottles for less than $30. Because the ingredient list is so small it has easily weathered any reformulations. Gourmands might be all the rage currently, but Givenchy Pi was one of the first to try something new in the genre.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Gucci Bloom Gocce di Fiore- Pothole Season

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If you live anyplace which gets significant snow, then you are familiar with pothole season. This happens as winter wanes and spring is coming in. The alternating freezing and thawing open up cracks in the pavement which become bigger and bigger potholes. They can crop up incredibly quickly. One day a smooth ride, the next giant axle-breaking craters you can’t avoid. I’ve never thought about a perfume brand having pothole season but the last six months from Gucci finishing with the recent release Gucci Bloom Gocce di Fiore sure feels like the axles have taken a beating.

Alessandro Michele

Ever since the creative director at Gucci, Alessandro Michele, took a hand in the fragrance side of the brand it felt like Gucci was getting its groove back. Gucci Bloom in the spring of 2017 laid down the first marker that Gucci was serious about perfume again. For the next year that impression was reinforced as a new aesthetic was seemingly being forged. Sig. Michele was working exclusively with perfumer Alberto Morillas; this seemed like a dream team in the making. The road ahead was smooth. Then the cracks began showing up.

Alberto Morillas

It started when I received a package heading into the Holidays containing the thirteen (!) perfumes in the Gucci: The Alchemist’s Garden. The press material mentioned this was meant to be a collection of accords which you could layer to grow your own garden. This is as much of a cynical kind of release as I can imagine. When I received a follow-up package with the fourteenth addition. I just looked at the entire mess as a speed bump. A giant fourteen bottle speed bump. Instead it was a warning shot because the pothole was coming.

The Present

I thought if there was anything which was going to get Gucci back on track it was a return to the Gucci Bloom Collection. The previous two flankers were part of what I saw as this creative resurgence. When I sprayed Gocce di Fiore I knew the pothole had opened wide beneath me.

The two previous flankers had taken the core ingredients of Bloom; honeysuckle, tuberose, jasmine, and iris and enhanced them with new ingredients added in. Gocce di Fiore doesn’t do that it instead tries to recalibrate the concentrations of the core four ingredients. What ends up in the bottle seems like a discarded version on the way to the original. It is a screeching white floral which overwhelms anything approaching subtlety. It made me want to go get the iris Alchemist’s Garden sample and see if I could make it better. When I thought things couldn’t have reached a lower level than The Alchemist’s Garden, Gocce di Fiore turns the cracks into a pothole.

Bloom Gocce di Fiore has at least two hours longevity. I don’t know how much more because I scrubbed it off. Sillage seemed average.

The Future?

Pothole season eventually gives way to paving season when the potholes are filled in and smoothed over as if they were never there. I hope Sig. Michele and M. Morillas do some roadwork and put Gucci back on the path it was on before the last six months because that was seeming like something worth looking forward to.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Gucci.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Moschino Toy 2- Looking for Fun In All The Right Places

I sometimes need a reminder to lighten up. To have fun. To stop taking things so seriously. I am such a believer in the art and creativity of perfume I can become a humorless drone in it’s pursuit. What I need is a perfume that just wants to be a solid commercial perfume. Paired with an equally fun bottle. For these dreary waiting for spring days of the end of winter Moschino Toy 2 brought some fun back to perfume.

Alberto Morillas

Creative director Jeremy Scott is known for wanting to make Moschino and fun synonymous. The clothing and the fragrance arm reflect that. Toy 2 as you might surmise is the sequel to 2014’s Toy. That perfume was housed inside a teddy bear with a classically structured citrus perfume. It isn’t ground-breaking. It is a light-hearted perfume asking you to enjoy the combination of bear bottle and bright perfume. Like the best sequels Toy 2 doesn’t alter that script overmuch.

Fabrice Pellegrin

The bear bottle is back but in a frosted glass version hugging the clear flacon. It really is just the right side of campy. Before I even sniffed the perfume, I was in a better mood. Perfumers Alberto Morillas and Fabrice Pellegrin switch from citrus to fresh floral without losing the plot.

Toy 2 opens with mandarin reminding me of the original. White currant and apple provide a crisp fresh effect around the citrus. The heart is one of the synthetic jasmines expansive as a blue sky. Magnolia adds a subtle creaminess while peony continues the freshness from the top accord. The creamy version of sandalwood holds the center of a base accord swathed in fresh musks.

Toy 2 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

A fresh citrus floral is hardly an original idea. Toy 2 isn’t meant to be enjoyed with that kind of mindset. It is more like a walk down the carnival midway. Eating cotton candy or funnel cakes trying to figure out if the ring toss is rigged so you can win the giant pink teddy bear. Or you can spray on some Toy 2 for a similar fun effect. I’ll be back to reviewing with a more critical eye tomorrow for today I’m just looking for a little fun in all the right places.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Mizensir Celebes Wood- Holiday Visitation

We are right at the cusp of the Holiday season in the US. It means this is the time of year where you call on friends and family. One of the scents of this time of year for me is as you walk into a home and breathe in you get a preview of what is coming. So many of the foods of the festive season are spice-based. As we sit in family rooms and dens visiting, we are surrounded by the smell of wood paneling and spice. Mizensir Celebes Wood reminds me of the season and the camaraderie.

Alberto Morillas

Mizensir is the brand founded by perfumer Alberto Morillas. It is his opportunity to work on a fragrance where he is both creative director and perfumer. It is unsurprising that this is a brand which has no duds in it. M. Morillas can expand the sensibilities which have served him so well as the best mainstream perfumer in the world into something a touch more adventurous. The way this has been most exemplified through the Mizensir line has been his use of new materials in ways which show them off. In Celebes Wood it is the patchouli substitute Clearwood.

Celebes Wood opens on one of my favorite spice notes in perfume; cardamom. This is the greener version of that ingredient which has become more common over the last couple of years. It is joined by the piquant heat of cinnamon and white pepper. It is like getting a breeze from the kitchen on your way to the family room. It picks up some of the sweets of the season as tonka bean, labdanum, and vanilla provide that. This all comes together on top of a foundation of musk and Clearwood. The advantage of Clearwood is that much of the dirty aspects of patchouli are removed without fractionation. What remains is a warm light woodiness. Riding a wave of musks it smells like a wood paneled den.

Celebes Wood has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I have a lot of Holiday perfumes, but I like the things Celebes Wood reminds me of. Which means I’m going to be doing some visiting in my mind while wearing it.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review By Kilian Dark Lord- Darth Kilian?

Names of things can be double edged swords. It can set your expectations higher than they maybe should be. They can also be an elegant intro to something surprising. As an avid Star Wars fan and reader of epic fantasy a perfume called Dark Lord conjures up Stygian depths swirling with portent from which Darth Vader strides with lightsaber glowing. Not sure any perfume can live up to that, but I found By Kilian Dark Lord to have some of that villain we love to hate lurking in it.

Kilian Hennessy

Kilian Hennessy has enjoyed making perfumes which tend to the darker side of the fragrance spectrum. It is one reason the brand is successful because he has created a brand identity around embracing those styles. There have been so many of those it becomes a bit difficult to not be self-reverential to a previous release when working on a new one. Working with perfumer Alberto Morillas common themes of the past like rum, leather, and vetiver are re-combined into Dark Lord.

Alberto Morillas

M. Morillas has had some of his most successful collaborations in the niche world working with M. Hennessy. He produced Musk Oud and Eternal Oud in the Arabian Nights collection along with one of the best perfumes in the line in Good Girl Gone Bad. They know how to make perfume in the darkness.

I think regular readers must be tired of my pointing out the versatility of Szechuan pepper in perfumery. I am going to do it again because M. Morillas marries it to bergamot which brings out the fruity grace note in the pepper while also providing a shimmering warm effect, too. A fantastic leather accord comes next. This is not biker jacket leather. This is the leather jacket of a James Bond villain; smelling of wealth and refinement. A background of jasmine adds a bit of Luciferian contrast. Next comes a rich burnt sugar-like rum accord. The Kilian line of perfume has had a number of rum accords this one is scorched with a bit of brimstone to differentiate it. It all ends in a field of vetiver and patchouli as you strike a deal at the crossroads.

Dark Lord has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

As I said at the beginning Dark Lord has a name to live up to. It might not actually make me think of Darth Kilian but it does smell of dubious deeds agreed to in the darkness.

Disclosure; This review is based on a sample supplied by By Kilian.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Mizensir Coeur de Cologne- Say Hello to Liatrix

One of my favorite things about perfume is being able to look over the entirety of a perfumer’s career. I’ve said many times that the perfumer I think is the greatest mainstream perfumer ever is Alberto Morillas. There may seem like damning with faint praise but M. Morillas has innovated from that platform as much, or more, than any other perfumer you can name. If he always worked in that sector that would have been fine. Except I always wanted more. I wondered what he could do with a bit more of a less mainstream perspective working on a niche perfume. That response came about three years ago with the release of the first perfumes for his own brand Mizensir.

Mizensir has been one of those undeservedly quiet brands. There are no duds in any of the 26 perfumes they have released so far. What has been most fun is M. Morillas is allowing himself to use some of the different ingredients from his perfumer’s palette. This really stood out with the most recent three releases; all different riffs on the classic cologne architecture.

Alberto Morillas

In Cologne de Figuier. M. Morillas ramps up the green with the crushed fig leaves of stemone matched with a healthy dose of galbanum. The green is fresher than I expected, and it is matched with a set of synth woods and musk. Cologne du Mate also provides a green contrast using mate tea as the heart note adding a sharp herbal effect to the jasmine of Paradisone and tangerine on top. It also ends with synth woods and musk. These are beautifully realized but it is Coeur de Cologne which showed off M. Morillas’ skill with a new ingredient best.

Neroli has been having a bit of a renaissance as I have added more excellent neroli perfumes to my collection in the last two years than I can remember. Coeur de Cologne is a neroli perfume but it is also a perfume with a unique contrast to it; liatrix essence. Liatrix is the isolate of a plant called deer’s tongue. It has one of the highest amounts of coumarin, but it also has a green herbal character to go with the hay-like sweetness of coumarin. It is a fascinating ingredient that you won’t find in a mainstream fragrance. This is where M. Morillas can use it to a different effect.

Lemon provides the classic cologne citrus top note. Neroli is in high concentration and it comes right on the heels of the lemon. The neroli has a significant green facet. It is this which is picked out by the liatrix. The herbal part of the ingredient melds with that. The coumarin adds a sweet honeyed effect to the floral quality in the neroli. The lemon remains, adding in a shimmery effect. Then like a joss stick a swirl of incense intersperses itself into the mix. It adds more than I expected to the overall accord. A classic muscone base is where this finishes.

Coeur de Cologne has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I have enjoyed a summer of excellent cologne releases. Even saying that, it might be Coeur de Cologne is the one I remember most.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Mizensir

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Gucci Bloom Nettare di Fiori- Better and Better

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If Gucci is going to regain a prominence in designer fragrances it is going to require first and foremost, consistency. Ever since Tom Ford left the brand the fragrance aspect drifted in search of a new aesthetic. For a decade Gucci became an afterthought when it came to perfume. The naming of Alessandro Michele as creative director has, once again, provided someone who believes fragrance is an important piece of the Gucci aesthetic.

Alessandro Michele

A year ago, with the release of Gucci Bloom the first perfume overseen by Sig. Michele showed a change. Even though Bloom was an extremely simple construct it found a way of combining jasmine and tuberose while providing a transparency with the substance of Kevlar. Over the past year the Gucci fragrance releases have made me look forward to each one as the consistency I was looking for was being built release by release. I was particularly impressed with the spring flanker Bloom Acqua di Fiori which took the simplicity of Bloom and covered it in green. By starting simple it meant that the flanker could be drastically changed with an overt choice to supply something different than the white flowers. This was why when receiving Bloom Nettare di Fiori, which is the fall flanker, I was curious to see what was next.

Alberto Morillas

So far in this mini revival of the Gucci perfume fortunes Sig. Michele has been working exclusively with perfumer Alberto Morillas. There are few who are as good as M. Morillas at creating pillars and flankers which are not cynical replays. If Bloom Acqua di Fiori was the greening of Bloom then Bloom Nettare di Fiori is the spicing up of Bloom. It is accomplished by adding in three key ingredients; ginger, osmanthus, and patchouli.

Just as the Bloom Acqua di Fiori opened with the green; Bloom Nettare di Fiore opens with the ginger. M. Morillas leads with a healthy dose of it. It is laid out to provide a spicy entry way to the floral Bloom DNA of jasmine and tuberose. Rose comes and provides an introduction before allowing the ginger, tuberose, and jasmine to mingle. M. Morillas finds a balance where the zing of ginger meshes with the lightly indolic white flowers. I am impressed anew with how M. Morilas manages to make a transparency which also projects strength. The base comes with a leathery osmanthus paired with an earthy patchouli. It provides a bit more heft than the previous two editions of Bloom but that’s what makes it a fall-style perfume.

Bloom Nettare di Fiore has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I don’t know what’s next for Gucci but through the six releases since Bloom, last year, they have become a designer brand which has returned to relevance. They are doing it by getting better and better with each release. Bloom Nettare di Fiore is another along that line.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Bvlgari Veridia- Sparkling Emerald

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It happens that there are just some brands that never breakthrough to my wanting to wear them, so I can review them. I’ll receive a sample set. Think somewhat positively of them. Put the sample in the “maybe” box but over time it just gets passed over. That is the story of the exclusive collection from Bvlgari called La Gemme.

Alberto Morillas

La Gemme was started in 2014 as Bvlgari’s attempt to make an ultra-luxe collection. They had Daniela Andrier behind the first dozen releases until 2016. Jacques Cavallier would do the next five through the end of last year. The simple concept was to use gemstones as inspiration. The simple result was nice perfumes. If there was a consistent nit I had to pick it was these never glittered like a gemstone does under light. When I look at a beautifully cut gem it is like peering into a kaleidoscope without the tube. The interior refraction of light feels like it is drawing me inside. A perfume based on that inspiration I’ve always felt should do the same thing. Until the recent releases La Gemme had not done that for me.

I received the latest three releases noticing a new perfumer behind all of them; Alberto Morillas. These were meant to capture sapphire, ruby, and emerald. As I tried them Nylaia which is the sapphire one had a nice duet of iris and jasmine warmed by benzoin. Rubinia which is the ruby is an interesting interpretation using sandalwood as the keynote. As with all of the previous La Gemme releases I liked them and they were heading into the “maybe” box. Then I got to the one which was inspired by the emerald, Veridia, that was not going into the “maybe” box.

Mrs. C laughs at me when I get a sample of something I like. I end up sniffing a strip and whatever patch of skin it occupies over the later parts of the evening. Veridia was right in the center of my forearm and I had my nose there for as long as it lasted. What captured me is M. Morillas uses a high concentration of galbanum as green but finds a unique ingredient to add the sparkle within.

Veridia lives up to its colorful name as it opens with an uppercut of galbanum. M. Morillas adds a bit of angelica seeds to provide a bit of texture to the impenetrable green ingredient. Then like a faceted gemstone held up to light a metallic-tinted incense infuses the galbanum. The shiny resin draws me in as it interacts with the galbanum; each intersection a point of verdant sparkle. I know how much I enjoyed this opening accord because the base accord of vanilla and patchouli form a nicely comforting contrast but I wanted more of the galbanum and incense.

Veridia has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Veridia is unlike any of the previous La Gemme releases because M. Morillas didn’t just create a gemstone perfume he produced a sparkling emerald.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Gucci Guilty Oud- Absolute pour Homme Take Two

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When I really started expanding my perfume horizons one of the brands which thrilled me was Gucci. This was during the time Tom Ford was in charge of Gucci as creative director for everything. Mr. Ford showed the power of cohesive creative control. When he left Gucci to form his own eponymous brand those principles have created one of the great success stories in fashion retail. What he left behind at Gucci descended into soulless corporate fragrance with few exceptions. There is a new creative director for all things Gucci again, Alessandro Michele, and he actually cares about the fragrances which carry the Gucci imprint. The proof of that has been the releases over the last eighteen months. The latest addition to the new era at the brand is Gucci Guilty Oud.

Alessandro Michele

Sig. Michele has again turned the brand into a forward-thinking fragrance one. An aspect of the early phase is he has chosen to work almost exclusively with perfumer Alberto Morillas. As I remark upon frequently this kind of creative director-perfumer partnership has a positive effect; especially when trying to design a brand aesthetic. Just a few perfumes into this collaboration there are the outlines of what that might be for Gucci 2018 and beyond.

Alberto Morillas

One thing I have been enjoying is Sig. Michele is not signing on to the “lighter and transparent is better” bandwagon. He is defining something which has much more presence than the other masstige brands he is competing with. It is too early to see if consumers share his vision. I am hoping that there is room for something beyond lighter and transparent in the current landscape. Guilty Oud will be one which helps let us know if there is.

Guilty Oud is really a flanker of Gucci Guilty Absolute pour Homme.  I was not a fan of that perfume. Guilty Oud is almost take two on that perfume. It uses some of what I really liked about the earlier release this year of Guilty Absolute pour Femme; the blackberry. That perfume was an effusive fruity floral. Guilty Oud is not that but the blackberry along with some other similar ingredients improves greatly on Guilty Absolute pour Homme.

It is that blackberry which opens Guilty Oud. In this perfume it is a quick fleeting bit of fruit. I like it for that kind of effect; here then gone. It moves into a patchouli and rose heart which has been the Guilty DNA. Here it is made to stand out without too much support. The oud comes from using a small amount of natural oud within a larger oud accord. One thing which I found to be a nice touch was using a cypress extract called Goldenwood to provide a blonde wood counterweight to the oud accord. It smooths out the entire fragrance providing an overall sophistication.

Guilty Oud has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

These are exciting times at Gucci perfume. Guilty Oud gives me more reason to believe we are at the beginning of something great again.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Giorgio Armani Sensi- Can We do Niche?

I have no idea if this first paragraph carries a grain of truth but in hindsight I think it might. As fragrance crossed into the 21st century the uprising of interesting perfumes willingly marching out-of-step with the mainstream were creating a movement. The large corporations behind the mainstream had to be looking at this wondering how they could turn this to their ends. I don’t think they were any more successful at identifying and defining niche than I can twenty some years on. It still makes me think that at some boardrooms there was a conversation which began with the question “Can we do niche, too?” I think this led to a lot of poorly thought out perfume, but here and there that concept found its place. That mainstream audiences weren’t ready for that is why Giorgio Armani Sensi is this month’s Dead Letter Office subject.

Harry Fremont

Giorgio Armani began their fragrance line in 1982. It would become incredibly successful with the back-to-back releases of Acqua di Gio and Acqua di Gio pour Homme in 1995 and 96 respectively. They became exemplars of the prevailing trends on the men’s and women’s fragrance counters of the day. To this day they remain big sellers. By 2002 Armani wanted to release another pair of perfumes. The men’s one was Armani Mania pour Homme which was a typical masculine woody. Sensi would be released six months later and it was not typical.

Alberto Morillas

Perfumers Harry Fremont and Alberto Morillas collaborated on Sensi. What they produced is a fragrance of nuance which charms because of its complexity. They used some interesting ingredients which give textural effects not usually found at the mall. Which might be why its no longer for sale.

Sensi opens with a laser beam of lime. It is focused, delineated, and clean. It is an attention getter before the florals arrive. The floral accord is primarily jasmine and mimosa. It is a gorgeous accord with some of the indoles present instead of being scrubbed away. Then the first bit of texture arrives with barley providing a “grain” to the florals. It comes off as a slightly toasted almond effect which meshes with the florals in a fascinating way. Throughout this phase it is like there is a kinetic accord subtly shifting moment by moment. This moves to a kind of gourmand-like vanilla and benzoin accord. I say gourmand because the barley also interacts with these to form something which feels gourmand. Except as it also interacts with the florals it provides a warming depth. As it moves into this phase I am again met with a perfume which continually shifts. Some palisander wood provides a woody base for this to end upon.

Sensi has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

Even now there are almost no perfumes in the department store which display the subtle charms of Sensi. It never caught on with consumers. Although those who did find it have become fanatic about it. It is one reason you see the bottles go for high prices on the auction sites.

So if there is any accuracy to my first paragraph the answer to the question “can we do niche?” was answered with an enthusiastic “Yes!” by Sensi. That it was received somewhat less enthusiastically by the buying public is why it is in the Dead Letter Office.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by a generous reader.

Mark Behnke