New Perfume Review Masque Milano Times Square- One Dollah, One Dollah, One Dollah

The evolution of big cities is a fascinating thing to observe. There is no more compelling history than the transformation of Times Square from one of the worst neighborhoods in New York City to the place where the most selfies on the planet are taken. I started visiting New York City regularly in the late 1980’s. Thankfully I am a big guy and so I was able to walk fearlessly through the porn theatres, drug dealers, and peep shows with their barkers calling out, “girls, girls, girls, one dollah, one dollah, one dollah”. No bigger lie was being told than that one. By the time I started working in the NYC Metro Area in 1994 the current Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, in association with Disney began an aggressive campaign to evict all the gritty qualities to provide a family-friendly heart of Manhattan. Over twenty years later you have to know where to look to see the few holdovers from the dangerous times.

Riccardo Tedeschi (l.) and Alessandro Brun

The creative directors for Masque Milano, Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi, have decided to revive that last gasp of “Times Scare” circa 1993 in their newest release Times Square. They chose perfumer Bruno Jovanovic to collaborate with on this project. Each perfume in the Masque Milano line is part of their fragrant drama and carry an act and scene number. Times Square is the fourth and final scene of Act 1. This is a bold dynamic fragrance where the team captures the garishness of Times Square just before the scrub brushes arrive.

Photo by Gregoire Alessandrini

When I walked into Times Square for the first time the neon was what dazzled me. It was a bit like visual overload. It carried my eyes to the bright colors and motion. The opening moment of Times Square is much like that. It is so strong I suspect that, like many tourists who made the trip to the edge of the area, a lot will run away. If you have the desire to step into the intensity you will find cheap lipstick, blowsy florals, steam, leather, and rubber all coming together to form a decadent beauty.

Bruno Jovanovic

Times Square opens with a resounding pop of violet, iris, and hazelnut. M. Jovanovic captures the gritty nature with intensity. I loved it because it captures that “girls, girls girls” quality. That really comes out as the iris sorts itself into a lipstick accord to go with tuberose providing the over-perfumed aura of the hip-cocked streetwalker sizing you up. Osmanthus and styrax provide the leather and latex of the BDSM shop as you pick up your pace before you instead follow a desire to step inside. As you cross the street steam billows up from the manhole covers as the barkers call from behind you, “one dollah, one dollah, one dollah”. You reach the safety of your hotel room as the sandalwood provides a soothing island for your jangled psyche.

Times Square has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I have congratulated Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi, in the past, for their ability to follow their vision while finding perfumers to realize it. Times Square might be the best example of this. It is the most artistic perfume in the Masque Milano collection. It sets out to capture the grainy 9mm film world of Times Square in 1993 and succeeds. It is an unsettling fragrance as that place and time were if you traveled through it. Wearing it for a whole day I spent more time with the fragrance than I ever did in the actual location. With the fragrance, I discovered that given time garish neon, over-perfumed hookers, and leather and latex carry an odd kind of beauty. This is a perfume one should try; some will run away but others will find the same things I did. So “girls, girls, girls, one dollah, one dollah, one dollah, Masque Milano Times Square ovah heah!”

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

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur 2016 Year-End Review Part 2- Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, & Brand of the Year

As I mentioned in Part 1 2016 is the beginning of a generational shift in perfumery. The winners I am going to highlight next are all emblematic of that kind of change.

Perfume of the Year: Masque Milano L’Attesa– One of the emerging initiatives over the course of 2016 has been the confidence owners and creative directors have placed in young perfumers. For a brand, it is safer to round up one of the more established names. It takes a bit of faith to place the success of your business in the hands of an emerging artist. The team behind Masque Milano, Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi, have taken on this philosophy wholeheartedly. Particularly over the last four releases since 2013; Tango by Cecile Zarokian, Russian Tea by Julien Rasquinet, and Romanza by Cristiano Canali, began the trend. This year’s release L’Attesa by Luca Maffei took it to a new level.

Riccardo Tedeschi, Luca Maffei, and Alessandro Brun (l. to r.)

I spent time with the creative team when they unveiled L’Attesa at Esxence 2016. I think when you do something creative you have a sense when you have done great work. That day in Milan all three men radiated that kind of confidence; with good reason. Sig. Maffei would combine three sources of iris to provide a strong core of the central note. Early on there is a champagne accord that is not meant to be the bubbly final product but the yeasty fermentation stage. It turns the powdery iris less elegant but more compelling for its difference. Through a white flower heart to a leathery finish L’Attesa is as good as it gets.

Cecile Zarokian with Puredistance Sheiduna

Perfumer of the Year: Cecile Zarokian– Majda Bekkali Mon Nom est Rouge, in 2012, was the first perfume by Cecile Zarokian which made me think she was something special. Over the years since then she has done some spectacular work but 2016 was an exceptional year. Mme Zarokian produced thirteen new releases for seven different brands. I chose her because of the breadth of the work she turned in over the year. I am reasonably certain that this kind of output has rarely been matched. The pinnacle of this group was her re-formulation of Faths Essentials Green Water. Mme Zarokian accomplished the near impossible by formulating a 2016 version which is as good as the original. She did this because she understood what made the original was its ridiculous concentration of neroli oil. She convinced creative director Rania Naim to spend the money for this now precious material to be replicated in the same concentration. This made Green Water amazingly true to its name.

She would recreate a Persian feast in Parfums MDCI Fetes Persanes. Picking up on some of the same themes she would infuse some of the gourmand elements into a rich oud in Making of Cannes Magie du Desert.  She modernized the oud in Hayari New Oud. In Uer Mi OR+Cashmere she creates a hazelnut rum cocktail. Laboratorio Olfattivo Nerotic goes for a more narcotic effect. Finally working with creative director Jan Ewoud Vos they conspired to reinterpret the Oriental creating a contemporary version in Puredistance Sheiduna.

Every perfume she made this year was worth smelling. As this next generation of perfumers moves into the next phase Mme Zarokian is going to be right there in the front pushing perfumery forward. For this joie de vivre about perfumery Cecile Zarokian is my Perfumer of the Year.

Runner-Ups: Luca Maffei, Quentin Bisch, Christine Nagel, Jerome Epinette, Rodrigo Flores-Roux, and Antonio Gardoni.

Creative Director of the Year: Victor Wong of Zoologist Perfumes- For the ten years plus I’ve been writing about perfume I have chanted a single mantra; embrace difference, don’t play it safe, stake out an artistic vision and stick with it. There are way too few who embrace this. Because it isn’t easy there is a graveyard of some who tried and failed. All of which makes what Victor Wong has been doing with his brand Zoologist Perfumes more admirable. Two years ago, he started Zoologist Perfumes making the transition from enthusiast to owner/creative director. He wanted to work with some of the most talented artisanal perfumers to produce his perfumes. What is so refreshing about this approach is he has been working with many of the most recognizable artisans providing them outside creative direction for one of the few times. What it has elicited from these perfumers is often among the best work they have produced. For the three 2016 releases Bat with Ellen Covey, Macaque with Sarah McCartney, and Nightingale with Tomoo Inaba this has been particularly true. Bat is one of the perfumes which was in the running for my Perfume of the Year. Macaque and Nightingale do not play it safe in any way. This makes for a perfume brand which does not look for the lowest common denominator but asks if there is something more beautiful in unfettered collaboration. For Victor Wong and Zoologist Perfumes 2016 answers this with a resounding yes which is why he is my choice for Creative Director of the Year.

Runner-Ups: Jan Ahlgren (Vilhelm Parfumerie), Ben Gorham (Byredo), Roberto Drago (Laboratorio Olfattivo), and Carlos Huber (Arquiste).

Brand of the Year: Hermes– In 2003 Hermes in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena would begin his tenure. Over the next thirteen years his overall collection for the brand has defined a modern aesthetic which now has become synonymous with the brand as much as silk scarves and fine leather goods. When it was announced two years ago, Christine Nagel would begin the transition to becoming the new in-house perfumer there was some concern. I was not one of those who had any worries. Mme Nagel felt like a natural evolution from M. Ellena. 2016 proved my surmise to be true as M. Ellena released his presumed final two fragrances for the brand, Eau de Neroli Dore and Hermessence Muguet Porcelaine while Mme Nagel released her first two, Eau de Rhubarbe Ecarlate and Galop D’Hermes. The passing of the torch could not have gone smoother. Hermes is in great hands as the next generation takes over. That this was accomplished so beautifully effortless is why Hermes is my Brand of the Year.

Runner-Ups: Byredo, Vilhelm Parfumerie, Tauer Perfumes/Tauerville, and Zoologist Perfumes.

Part 1 was my broad overview of the year yesterday.

Part 3 tomorrow will be my Top 25 new perfumes of 2016.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Masque Milano L’Attesa- The Long-Tailed Iris

One of the most exciting trends at Esxence 2016 was the work from the younger generation of perfumers. For any art form to remain vital there needs to be a steady flow of new visions from younger frames of reference. This has led to each of these perfumers finding their own stylistic method. With perfumer Luca Maffei I am beginning to believe he has a desire to source new raw materials and use them. He is like a painter given a new color to work with as he realizes where it might fit. In his first perfume for Masque Milano called L’Attesa this shows.

For this latest act of the ongoing perfumed opera creative directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi take us to Act III Scene I. L’Attesa is the beginning of the grand romance which will evolve into Act III Scene IV otherwise known as the previous release Tango. Tango is that moment when the passion spills over. L’Attesa is the time where that passion is born in the intense wash of first love. The concept was to make an iris perfume where the axis of iris would remain throughout the entire development. This is not an easy effect to achieve. It is costly as it takes a lot of expensive iris raw materials. Too much of any one ingredient has the possibility of overwhelming anything else. The solution they hit upon was to use three different sources of iris and to stack them upon each other. This allowed for an evolving iris effect throughout the time I wore L’Attesa emphasizing different parts of iris as a raw material. That is the clever technical effect. Sig. Maffei’s new toy is a CO2 extract of beer. He uses it as the linchpin of a fermenting champagne accord that is an ideal match for the iris in the early stages.

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Riccardo Tedeschi, Luca Maffei, Alessandro Brun (l. to r.)

L’Attesa opens with the very familiar powdery iris effect bolstered with some neroli. The champagne accord follows right away. When I say champagne accord you’re probably thinking fizzy aldehydes, a bit of alcoholic bite, maybe a little tonka. The finished product. Sig. Maffei instead wanted to capture the champagne at an earlier stage; when it was fermenting. While it was flat, a little sour, and yeasty. If you think that sounds unpleasant you won’t once you try L’Attesa. The beer extract provides the sourness of hops and the bread-like yeastiness. The rest of it is coming up with a flat white grape effect. The fermenting champagne accord turns out to be a compelling partner for the powdery orris. Pulling it in a less pretty direction; no less interesting for that. It then sets up the use of the more precious solid iris extracts in the heart and base. Once you move to something like orris butter the powdery is dialed way down in favor of the root and rhizome orris is actually compounded from. As L’Attesa moves into the heart this earthier iris sets up shop alongside tuberose and ylang ylang. It provides a traditional floral heart, extremely decadent, as these three blustery florals achieve a balance. The base continues the deepening of the earthiness vibe of the iris to which a refined leather accord is added. This is the beginning of the tango as the iris and leather begin to approach each other knowing they are in the early stages of love.

L'Attesa has 12-14 hour longevity with moderate sillage.

I have spent a couple of days just luxuriating in the long-tail iris that is L’Attesa. It is a perfume tailor made for those days when you want to loll around the house. Sig. Brun and Sig. Tedechi are trusting their brand to many of the best young perfumers working. L’Attesa shows that faith has been rewarded again. Sig. Maffei has created a signature perfume which exemplifies all of his best qualities as a perfumer.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample from Masque Milano at Esxence 2016.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Masque Milano Romanza- Before the Fall

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I would suggest that every perfume lover has a note which they like that others are not as fond of. One of those notes for me is narcissus. It clearly is not in fashion in the current perfumery trends. In the last two years there have only been 28 perfumes released which contain narcissus. Think about that. There have been over 3,000 new perfumes and less than 1% contain narcissus. It is why the few perfumes I own which feature it I covet. I don’t have a hypothesis for why this is so. Narcissus is far from the only heady floral note in use.

alessandro mark riccardo

Alessandro Brun, Mark Behnke, Riccardo Tedeschi (l. to r.)

While my narcissus collection is definitely my smallest section it is also the most personally compelling. When I walked up to the creative directors of Masque Milano, Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi, at Pitti Fragranze they passed me a strip with the newest release Romanza. Even before the strip got underneath my nose the unmistakable presence of narcissus rose to greet me.

cristiano_canali

Cristiano Canali

Romanza is Act 2-Scene 3 in the ongoing olfactory opera Masque Milano is weaving. It is the aria where a lover sings about that feeling just before they fall head over heels in love. That moment when another person has found someone who they can’t stop thinking about. The person who just might be that missing piece to completeness. The beginning of a lifelong affection. Working with nose Cristiano Canali they decided narcissus was the perfect embodiment of this moment.

Sig. Canali uses absinthe as an alcoholic green attention getter. It is like the besotted lover is using the green fairy to try and break the approaching fever. Orange blossom reminds them that there is beauty in the possibility of love. A little angelica adds some botanical musk as the humanity of it all is winked at. Try though they might the lover is consumed in a narcotic floral maelstrom of narcissus supported by hyacinth and violet. This heart accord is named “Hedonist’s Bouquet” and it is an accurate description. It is a powerfully narcotic mixture. It is where you will also either fall in love with Romanza or decide to break it off early. I fell completely in love with the Hedonist’s Bouquet and dove headlong into its pleasures. What I enjoy about narcissus, as opposed to tuberose, is that for all of its power there is an acerbic green edge to it. Sig. Canali uses violet to hone that edge in Romanza. Just as Bryan Adams sings, “Now it cuts like a knife/But it feels so right”. I like this phase so much I just want to luxuriate in it for days. The final part of Romanza is a “human skin touching” accord. Sig. Canali uses amber, civet, and woods to fashion that moment of human skin-to-skin contact infused with emotion. It is a lovely passionate way to finish Romanza as only head over heels in love could be next.

Romanza has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

When I received my first sample of Romanza in Florence it cracked and when I went to sleep that night the room smelled of Romanza. It was a beautiful lullaby to accompany my dreams. As beautiful as that was; having worn it on my skin it comes more alive especially the final skin accord. There have been few perfumes in 2015 which have burrowed as deeply into my emotions as Romanza.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Masque Milano at Pitti Fragranze 2015.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Masque Milano Russian Tea- St. Petersburg Tea

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One of the more interesting presentations at Pitti Fragranze was the one for the new release from Masque Milano. When I walked through one of the aisles I was met with a stand which had a Russian samovar as its centerpiece. When I focused a little more I saw Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi, the Crative Directors for the brand, standing behind it. I knew that the promised fifth fragrance from Masque Milano called Russian Tea was ready to be tried.

masque pitti fragranze

Masque Milano display at Pitti Fragranze 2014 (Photo: Fragrantica)

Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi had visited Russia and were treated to a Russian Tea Ritual while in a snowy Saint Petersburg. They wanted to capture in a perfume not only the tea ritual but also the journey of the tea leaves by train across Siberia to their eventual location. As they would tell me, before giving me some to try, Russian Tea when being transported by train is kept dry by wood burning fires underneath. This causes the tea leaves to take on a smoky character. Another component of the transportation is the use of mint to also modulate the smokiness of the fires and keep the tea fresh. Once the tea is presented as part of the ritual a teaspoon of raspberry preserve is added. To encompass the journey from tea leaves to samovar, perfumer Julien Rasquinet was asked to bring this to life. For M. Rasquinet this would be his last independent perfume before taking a job with IFF. He would deliver this perfume on December 31, 2013 and on January 1, 2014 he would destroy his lab to take on his new duties. As a final nod to his independent career M. Rasquinet goes out on a high note.

riccardo and alessandro

Riccardo Tedeschi (l.) and Alessandro Brun

The opening of Russian Tea is all of the things around the tea ritual. There is a hint of mint as the leaves are prepared. The raspberry preserves are placed in a pot on the table. The leaves give off a piquant aroma carried by a pinch of black pepper in the top notes. The tea then begins to brew, thick and savory, in the olfactory samovar. M. Rasquinet uses a very intense black tea accord and to keep it from being too dark he cleverly uses immortelle to temper the strength. It is really a quite brilliant choice as the maple syrup feel of immortelle adds just the right amount of contrasting sweetness to make the black tea comforting. As the cup is placed before you the steam arises carrying all the scents of the journey as birch and leather form a smoky duet. Incense wafts across the base notes as a wonderfully eccentric grace note.

Russian Tea has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

When I drink tea I enjoy it dark and smoky. Russian Tea serves me up a fragrance that is not only dark and smoky it is also full of all the splendor of the Russian Tea Ritual throughout. This is a perfume which is as comforting as a cup of strong dark tea on a winter’s day in St. Petersburg.   

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Masque Milano at Pitti Fragranze.

Mark Behnke