New Perfume Review Bogue Profumo MEM- Words Fail Me

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Occasionally, I am exposed to a perfume which questions what I believe about fragrance. It comes around and taxes my ability to describe it in words. I also know that others are having very different experiences with the same fragrance. There are some reasons which I think this is happening and I wonder whether it is deliberate or indicative of something else. I have spent a lot of time with Bogue Profumo MEM and I will try to describe my experience with it.

The independent perfumer behind Bogue Profumo is Antonio Gardoni. Sig. Gardoni has come to perfumery from a self-taught perspective. It has allowed him to make his own set of principles of composition which hew only to his artistic vision. Maai was his most successful fragrance because he started with a vintage aesthetic which he transformed into something dramatically different. One of the things that is different about MEM is it seems he started with a well-known ingredient, lavender, and again wanted to transform the recognizable into something unique. Sig. Gardoni was also going to feature uncommon sources of lavender from different isolates and species. He says in the description of MEM there are four lavenders in MEM. The one that appears first is the most interesting and is part of the most fascinating part of the development of MEM. The others end up becoming foils for other stronger statements but more in support than as the focal point. I’m going to describe my experience with MEM and then follow that with some mentions of other reviews and what I think it says about MEM when taken together.

Antonio Gardoni

I like lavender but as I have smelled it more and more I really enjoy a source of lavender which accentuates the herbal nature over the air freshener character. The source of lavender at the beginning of MEM is wonderful as it is not only herbal but also earthy. It conjures up a vision of sprigs of purple covered in dark topsoil. Then fascinatingly Sig. Gardoni decides to give it a beer as it becomes malted which matches the earthiness of the lavender. I kept thinking during these early stages this was some kind of craft lavender summer ale. There are hints of citrus on the periphery of the early moments but it is this unique lavender which carries the day. Which makes the transition into the floral heart so disappointing is it becomes an overwhelming bouquet of everything but lavender. If there was something about the lavender used here it was subsumed by rose, muguet, jasmine, and ylang-ylang. Then it switches to a truly animalic base of civet and musk which again swamps the lavender. It was frustrating for me because I could detect it but it was like it was banging on the glass trying to get in.

MEM has 16-18 hour longevity and average sillage.

I recommend two other reviews to read and I am going to mention some of what they wrote to make a larger point about MEM. In Kafkaesque’s review Kafka also mentions the early going reminding Kafka of a summer ale. Kafka also gets a much subtler development throughout the hours. Kafka corresponded with Sig. Gardoni and he claimed there are 86 ingredients in MEM.

Lauryn Beer reviewed MEM for CaFleureBon she experienced all the nuance of the different lavenders Sig. Gardoni employed comparing it favorably to one of the baseline lavenders, Guerlain Jicky. These are two reviewers in whom I respect their views. So why the difference? I have a hypothesis.

Also in the Kafkaesque review, it was mentioned Sig. Gardoni sent out an early version of MEM to some. Kafka thought its evolution into the current version was for the better. Based on Kafka’s words it sounded like it was a simpler version which set out to display the different lavenders more distinctly. There is a habit of the most artistic independent perfumers not to know when to stop tinkering. There can be a moment when they keep adding to the basic concept until they hit 86 ingredients. For me, in the case of MEM, that was probably fifty or sixty too many. Especially because the early moments are amazing only to get lost as the olfactory traffic jam builds up.

I think MEM is an almost fascinating Rohrshach test of a perfume because in all of the online reviews no two people have described it the same way with the only overlap happening in the early stages. In the end, I want to embrace MEM but at this moment my admiration and my words fail me.

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

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur 2016 Year-End Review Part 1- Overview

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2016 will probably go down as a pivotal year in the perfume business. As an observer of much of the field this year I have seen change in almost every place I can see. Which leads me to believe it is also taking place behind the scenes where I am not able to know the entire story. Change like this can be unsettling which has made for some worrying trends but overall I think it has contributed to another excellent year. I smelled a little less this year than last year; 680 new perfumes versus 2015’s 686. Surprisingly the amount of new releases has also plateaued with 1566 new releases in 2016 versus 1676 last year. Maybe we have defined the amount of new perfume the market can bear. Over the next three days I will share my thoughts on the year coming to an end.

We are told in Ecclesiastes, or by The Byrds if you prefer; “To every thing there is a season” and so it is in perfume as the season of the Baby Boomers has ended and the Millennials have taken over. This younger generation is now larger, has more discretionary income, and is spending more on perfume than the Boomers are per multiple sources. While the public at large was made aware of it this year the industry could see the change coming a year, or more, prior. What that meant for 2016 as far as fragrance went was every corporate perfume entity was on a fishing expedition to see if they could be the one who lured this group of consumers towards them. The drive for this is huge because lifelong brand loyalties can be formed right now within this group. Certainly, the enduring trends of the next few years in fragrance will be determined by where they spend their money. All of that has made 2016 fascinating because at the end of the year that answer is no clearer than it was at the beginning. The prevailing themes, based on what was provided to them, is they want lighter in sillage and aesthetic, gourmand, and different. That last category is the ephemeral key I think. The brand which can find them in the place where they Periscope, Snapchat, and Instagram is going to have an advantage.

Christine Nagel (l.) and Olivier Polge

There was also generational change taking place at two of the most prestigious perfume brands, Hermes and Chanel. The new in-house perfumers for both took full control in 2016. Christine Nagel released Hermes Eau du Rhubarbe Ecarlate and Galop D’Hermes. Olivier Polge released Chanel Boy and Chanel No. 5 L’Eau. This shows both talented artists know how to take an existing brand aesthetic and make it their own.

Cecile Zarokian, Quentin Bisch, Luca Maffei (l. to r.)

The next generation of perfumers exemplified by Cecile Zarokian, Quentin Bisch, and Luca Maffei loomed large this year. Mme Zarokian did thirteen new releases in 2016 all of them distinctively delightful from the re-formulation of Faths Essentials Green Water to the contemporary Oriental Puredistance Sheiduna. M. Bisch brilliantly reinvented one of the masterpieces of perfume in Thierry Mugler Angel Muse. Sig. Maffei released ten new fragrances with Masque Milano L’Attesa, Laboratorio Olfattivo MyLO, and Jul et Mad Secrets du Paradis Rouge showcasing his range. 

There were also fascinating collaborations this year. Antonio Gardoni and Bruno Fazzolari contributed Cadavre Exquis an off-beat gourmand. Josh Meyer and Sam Rader conspired to create a Northern California Holiday bonfire in Dasein Winter Nights. Victor Wong the owner and creative director of Zoologist Perfumes was able to get the most out of independent perfumers like Ellen Covey in Bat and Sarah McCartney in Macaque.

Some of the independent perfumers I look to surprisingly released perfumes which did not please me. Thankfully there were new ones who stepped up to fill in the gap. Lesli Wood Peterson of La Curie, Ludmila and Antoine Bitar of Ideo Parfumeurs, and Eugene & Emrys Au of Auphorie did that. Chritsti Meshell of House of Matriarch made an ambitious economic move into Nordstrom while producing two of my favorites from her in Albatross and Kazimi.

The mainstream sector had another strong year as the mall continues to have diamonds hidden amongst the dross. In 2016 that meant Elizabeth & James Nirvana Bourbon, Alford & Hoff No. 3, SJP Stash, Prada Infusion de Mimosa, Thierry Mugler Angel Muse, and Chanel No. 5 L’Eau were there to be found.

If the beginning of the year was all about rose the overall year was a renaissance for neroli perfumes. Jean-Claude Ellena’s swan song for Hermes; Eau de Neroli Dore. The afore mentioned Green Water along with Jo Malone Basil & Neroli and Hiram Green Dilettante showed the versatility of the note.

The acquisition of niche brands continued with Estee Lauder buying By Kilian and L’Oreal doing the same with Atelier Cologne. The acquisitions of Frederic Malle and Le Labo, two years ago, seem to have been positive steps for both brands. Especially seeing Le Labo in my local mall getting such a positive reception made me believe that if the good niche brands can become more available the consumer will appreciate the difference.

Tomorrow I will name my Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, and Brand of the Year

The next day I will reveal my Top 25 New Releases of 2016.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review: Bruno Fazzolari & Antonio Gardoni Cadavre Exquis- Franken-gourmand

Over the past two years or so there have been a number of collaborations within the independent perfume community. I have likened it to when two musicians meet at a festival and start jamming together backstage to find there is some artistic commonality to work from. Perfume is not quite as easy as that but when a couple of perfumers get together and start discussing collaboration it is always exciting to see it actually happen. Such is the case with perfumer Bruno Fazzolari and Antonio Gardoni of Bogue Profumo.

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Bruno Fazzolari

Mr. Fazzolari has been one of the most interesting independent perfume stories. I only really had the pleasure of trying his entire collection in the last year. He has that outsider mindset which most often goes wrong. For him it allows for a way of thinking about perfume by melding it with his color sense as a painter that has resulted in one of the great indie collections.

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Antonio Gardoni

Sig. Gardoni came at his independent perfume career from a different place; a more classical one. He acquired a perfumer’s laboratory from the 1940’s. After spending time with each of the materials he had, he began to compose starting with a recipe that came with the bottles. His brand has evolved since then and he has made some of the best retro nouveau perfumes of the last two years.

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"Cadavre Exquis" (1927) by Man Ray, Joan Miro, Yves Tanguy, and Max Morise

When the two met they decided on a very unique version of a perfume collaboration. They wanted to do a fragrant version of the 1920’s artists parlor game cadavre exquis. The way that game went was a group of artists, four usually, would collaborate by each drawing on a page and after finishing cover up their contribution. The next artist would then add to the drawing and cover up their contribution and so on until all four had gone. There are examples of the work in museums all over the world. The example above hangs in MoMA in NYC and was done in 1927 by artists Man Ray, Yves Tanguy, Joan Miro, and Max Morise. It is sort of an artistic Frankenstein which manages to lurch into life. Mr. Fazzolari and Sig. Gardoni wanted to do the same and they gave their perfume the same name, Cadavre Exquis.

They further decided that the genre they wanted to work in was the gourmand. The way they played the game was starting with Sig. Gardoni they sent vials back and forth as each added something to it. Not quite as blind as the artist’s game but still each new addition was going to inspire the next. The resulting perfume is as completely original as you might expect.

Right from the beginning of Cadavre Exquis you can see the idea of experimentation. In the booklet which comes with the perfume one of the perfumers mentions his take on how he sees this gourmand. “Think about a potion from 100 years ago….sold by a magician, a “doctor”….a power-food, a love elixir with an almost disturbing smell….think…CAMPHOR!” It is this which greets you upon spraying on Cadavre Exquis it is contrasted with the more usual citrus notes of bergamot and blood orange. I love this opening the camphor immediately lets you know this is an experiment. The heart is dominated by a rich cacao absolute which wraps up the camphor in an embrace and doesn’t let go. This camphoraceous chocolate accord is the beating heart of Cadavre Exquis. Over the next few hours the sense of cadavre exquis the game is most apparent as different floral and herbal notes are used to change this outré gourmand accord. The unctuous nature of ylang ylang oozes across it. The acerbic nature of tagetes pierces it. Star anise amplifies it. Finally, stewed fruit adds an alternative sweetness; a kind of decaying almost rotted version. That degree of decay is what leads in to the base accord centered around the animalic ingredients of civet and castoreum. They add the entropy to the cleaner sweet woodiness of cypress, benzoin, and vanilla.

Cadavre Exquis has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Cadavre Exquis the perfume is a much more complete artistic vision than the visual pieces from the 1920’s. That is not surprising because the perfumers didn’t work as completely uninformed.  Even so the melding of the classic and the synesthetic works in a much more satisfying way that I could have imagined. Cadavre Exquis is a Franken-gourmand which is delightfully alive.

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

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur Esxence 2016 Final Wrap-Up Part 1- People, Trends, and Teases

Esxence is always a joy for the opportunity to spend some time with my fragrant friends in real life. One of the early joys of Esxence 2016 was the time I spent with my fellow judges of The Art & Olfaction Awards. The conversations I had with Antonio Gardoni of Bogue Profumo and Sherri Sebastian of Sebatian Signs were mentally stimulating. We are all dedicated to helping these awards be the best they can be. It makes these opportunities when we can get together and talk all the more valuable.

I was once again the roving reporter for the Esxence 2016 video. It is an interesting perspective from which to observe the exposition. I had the opportunity to meet attendees from every continent on the planet. It showed me the breadth of communication fragrance can have without barriers of language or culture.

I also had the opportunity to meet someone I have wanted to for a long time. The more I do my Dead Letter Office columns the more I realize creative director Chantal Roos was ahead of her time. To finally have the opportunity to speak with her was a personal highlight for me.

Another personal highlight was meeting Dr. Marlen Elliot Harrison who was attending as Managing Editor of Fragrantica. In his earlier incarnations as the male perfume critic at Now Smell This in 2005 until he founded one of the first solo fragrance blogs by a man, The Perfume Critic, he was an inspiration as I was just starting to write about perfume. It is rare to get the opportunity to thank one of those who inspired me to start writing.

Esxence 2016 entryway

When it came to trends at Esxence 2016 it seems like the Arabian market must be booming because there were multiple brands dedicated to appealing to it. The only problem is the great majority of these brands are using oud-centric fragrances. There has to be a real effort made to differentiate themselves. As I was going through the scent strips I brought home with me I had a hard time figuring out from a quick sniff which brand was which. This kind of anonymity by ubiquity does not bode well for these brands unless there is an insatiable appetite in the Middle East for these kind of fragrances.

The leather trend I noticed at Pitti last September seems to be continuing onward as there were a number of leather based new releases. This mini-trend of new gourmands was also showing up a little more.

I end as I always do with some blind items where I share some sneak previews coming later this year or next year missing some critical information.

-Snap! Crackle! Pop! One brand will be getting down with the Marquis de Sade.

-One brand will be telling a family love story of a love at first sight encounter.

-One perfumer is glowing with anticipation over his next release.

-One Creative Director is looking to head to the Far East for her next brand.

-This brand is going to re-invent its past.

-One of my favorite young guns is about to step up to a major label release.

That’s it for Part 1. I’ll be back tomorrow with Part 2 where I name the 10 best new fragrances I tried.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Bogue Profumo Maai- Engagement Distance

I have often heard Michael Edwards offer the advice to new perfumers, especially indie ones, that they should take the time to study the great perfumes and perfumers of the past. What if you had the good fortune to instead come into the possession of forty bottles of essences and bases from a perfumer’s laboratory circa sometime in the 1940’s? If you were an aspiring perfumer and could study those materials what insights and influences would that bring to your own perfumery? Those previous questions are what perfumer Antonio Gardoni has used to found his Italian indie perfume line, Bogue Profumo.

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The old essences Sig. Gardoni used for Cologne Relaoded

Sig. Gardoni did indeed come into a treasure trove of incredibly well-preserved bottles of an unnamed perfumer’s ingredients. After living with them he chose to reproduce one of the recipes on the bottle and released it as Cologne Reloaded. What Sig. Gardoni recreated was a cologne with an intensely animalic base of castoreum. This truly smelled of the classic barbershop cologne right down to the leather strop for sharpening the straight razor. Eau d’E would be the second release and this was a more modern take on the same cologne idea. Sig. Gardoni takes a very intense lavender and pairs it with the classic herbal citrus cologne accord. If Cologne Reloaded felt like an artifact Eau d’E felt like a modern extrapolation of that. The thing that I liked best was Sig. Gardoni’s choice to explore the unusual aspects of lavender looking to accentuate the less floral aspects. Both of these were preparation for Sig. Gardoni’s new release, Maai, wherein he combines many of the lessons learned and creates one of the finest Retro Nouveau fragrances I have ever smelled.

Retro Nouveau constructions almost by definition have to be accomplished by independent perfumers. These need to be small batch production runs. They need to be unafraid to push certain aspects right to the edge of being unpleasant. Finally, they need to fuse the present with the past without letting either dominate. When I asked Sig. Gardoni the origin of the name Maai he told me, “it is a Japanese word used in the martial art of Kendo that I practice from many years. The meaning is actually quite difficult to render but more or less it means "interval/space in between" and it's the relationship between space and time between two opponents a sort of "engagement distance" it defines the exact position/time from which one opponent can strike the other”. Maai the perfume is that interval between the Retro and the Nouveau and the “engagement distance” is precisely balanced to produce a singular perfume effect.

antonio gardoni

Antonio Gardoni

Maai takes the animalic themes Sig. Gardoni explored in Cologne Reloaded and creates a fascinating musky base upon which to build the rest of his new fragrance. This is what I was speaking of in the previous paragraph; there isn’t just castoreum in this base he adds in civet and hyraceum along with a bunch of other musks. All together this has an incredible depth and texture it feels as if Maai has a pounding heartbeat. It also isn’t for the faint of heart. One other aspect I really enjoy with this is when these animalic notes reach this level of concentration they also carry a honey-like sweetness which rides along on the crest like a surfer riding a monster wave.

The modern aspect Sig. Gardoni applies to Maai is by using the same technique he used in Eau d’E and taking a well-known floral and finding a more contemporary read on that note. For Maai the note is tuberose and the choice Sig. Gardoni takes is to use a deeply green tuberose as the co-focal point. What this does is provide an indolic foil to the animalic base while also producing a nascent white flower character. The tuberose never explodes into its show stopping floralcy. Sig. Gardoni captures the tuberose just shy of it bursting to life and it is a mannered tuberose but there is a suppressed energy lurking behind. This is the buzz of potential reined in as the tuberose stays poised on a precipice without falling into empty space.

There are a slug of soapy aldehydes in the top notes before the tuberose begins to impose its presence. Labdanum contains the tuberose by amplifying the green early on. A bit of rose and jasmine help to remind you there is a flower here in the heart. The indoles, from the tuberose, are the perfect bridge to the beginning of the animalic base. Sig. Gardoni swirls in a few different resins which add details like olfactory grace notes. Then the full potential of the animalic accord settles into place and cradles the tuberose within its embrace. The “engagement distance” is now down to zero, right where it should be.

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

Maai is the perfect Retro Nouveau fragrance in my opinion; Sig. Gardoni has pulled off a clever bit of perfumery that is much more accomplished than it should be. It feels like it could have come from a long-lost bottle found deep in a cabinet and it feels like it could be found on a small boutique counter next to present day brands. Maai is as good as modern independent perfumery gets.

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

Mark Behnke