Dead Letter Office: Comme des Garcons Play- Not Around Long Enough

I have written often how lack of longevity on skin has become inextricably entwined with quality in the consensus of the fragrance consumer. I can write until my fingers tire that the very notes which impart longevity are some of the cheapest and most synthetic; it falls as if a tree in a forest with no one around to hear. One of the reasons this has become a truism in perfume marketing is because in the mid-2000’s a number of brands put this to the test by releasing truly interesting short-lived perfumes. Almost all of them now occupy a shelf in the Dead Letter Office. One of the best examples is Comme des Garcons Play.

Christian Astuguevieille

By 2007 Comme des Garcons had emerged as one of the early pillars of the niche perfume sector. Overseen by Creative Director Christian Astuguevieille they would define many of the core principles of what it meant to be an artistic fragrance. Especially in these first years they were also the most willing to experiment. To their credit they still are. What that meant in 2007 was M. Astuguevieille wanted to see if the idea of longevity could be overcome with something truly avant-garde but fleeting.

The place within the Comme des Garcons brand where something like this might do well was the Play collection. On the clothing side Play was debuted in 2002 as a source of “casual luxury”. Which meant t-shirts and other casual wear done in the Comme des Garcons way. This brand generated one of the most iconic Comme des Garcons images. Shown above artist Filip Pagowski’s heart with eyes is as emblematic of the overall brand as it is for the sub-collection it was designed for. The Play collection were sold in these new outlets called Dover Street Market. To fill up the shelf space accessories were going to be hard on the heels of the clothing.

Aurelien Guichard

Five years on M. Astuguevieille collaborated with perfumer Aurelien Guichard for Play. It isn’t explicitly stated in any of the press materials that they were trying to make a short-lived fragrance. What is sure is Play is the Comme des Garcons aesthetic in short form.

It opens on a mixture of peppery citrus as black pepper and bitter orange provide a lively opening. It transitions quickly to an herbal heart of sage and thyme lifted on a cloud of aquatic notes like Calone. It sets up the truly odd accord that forms the base. If you ever spent time wiring stereo speakers in the old days before wireless made it irrelevant there is a smell of electronics in a wood cabinet. That is exactly what M. Guichard assembles out of patchouli, oakmoss. and musks for the final moments of Play. I’ve always thought of this as an electronic chypre.

Play has 4-6 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

The final accord is a classic odd Comme des Garcons example. It is unlikely that was the reason Play didn’t survive. The longevity was pointed out time and again whenever it was written about. It became a kind of baseline to compare other new releases to, “it lasts longer than Play”. Very quickly the decision came to pull the plug. It would be replaced by set of three perfumes Play Red, Play Green, and Play Black which would not make the same mistakes. What it comes down to is Play was not around long enough because it was not around long enough on a perfume lover.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Tom Ford Private Blend Sole di Positano- Mediterranean Light

2017 sees the tenth anniversary of the Tom Ford Private Blend collection. It has been one of the most important perfume collections of recent times. In May of 2007 I remember seeing this group of brown square bottles in my local Neiman-Marcus. It was an audacious attempt to capture this new thing known as a “niche perfume” market. Ten years on it is easy to say under the creative direction of Tom Ford and Karyn Khoury they hit every target, and then some, they probably aspired to. They’ve been so successful it has become an arguable point that Tom Ford Private Blend is no longer even “niche”.

Karyn Khoury

One of the best-selling entries in that first group was Neroli Portofino. Perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux presented a luxurious version of the lowly drugstore cologne. It made Neroli Portofino a standard bearer for the vibe the Private Blend collection was aspiring to. Neroli Portofino was so successful Mr. Ford and Ms. Khoury decided to create a sub-collection named after it, in 2014. They also changed the bottle color from brown to blue so to make it visually evident when there are new entries. Since 2014 there have been five more releases each continuing the examination of the Mediterranean Hesperidic style of perfume. The latest release is called Sole di Positano.

Aurelien Guichard

Ms. Khoury invited perfumers Aurelien Guichard and Olivier Gillotin to compose this latest entry. It is based on a quote from John Steinbeck Mr. Ford admires, “Positano is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone”. The challenge is to create a very light version of the Neroli Portofino aesthetic.

Olivier Gillotin

Sole di Positano opens on the twinkling of sunlight off the Mediterranean represented by lemon and petitgrain. To keep it from being too tart the perfumers use mandarin to smooth out that character. The green of the petitgrain is then connected with shiso to add a couple shades of verdancy to the citrus. Jasmine and ylang-ylang provide the floral heart. These are cleaner lighter versions of both of those notes. No indoles in the jasmine along with no oiliness in the ylang-ylang. The green returns with moss, along with sandalwood, in the base.

Sole di Positano has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

In the past year, there has been a lightening up of the Private Blend releases. I wonder if it is a calculation for the collection to transition to appealing to a younger consumer. Sole di Positano is the most floral of the Neroli Portofino collection since Fleur de Portofino.  If you like your Mediterranean perfumes on the lighter side Sole di Positano is going to please you.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.

Mark Behnke

Robert Piguet 101- Five To Get You Started

Right now, there are heritage brands springing up seemingly every month. I don’t know if Robert Piguet was the beginning of this trend because it never went entirely away. Something somewhat worse happened. The massive tuberose fragrance Fracas created in 1948 by Germaine Cellier would be re-formulated, as ingredients became prohibited, died a slow death. Then in 2006 perfumer Aurelien Guichard became the caretaker of Fracas and the brand overall. He brought back one of the greatest perfumes ever made to something that lives up to that description. Over the next few years M. Guichard would go the same for some of the earlier Robert Piguet compositions with the same care. Plus, the brand would also begin making new fragrances also under M. Guichard’s talented nose. For this edition of Perfume 101 I want to point out five other Robert Piguet perfumes you should try besides Fracas. Because everyone who loves perfume should try Fracas.

Aurelien Guichard

After taking care of Fracas M. Guichard spent the next five years doing the same kind of restoration to six other Robert Piguet originals. Three of them show what a creative brand this had been.

Bandit was the earliest perfume created by Mme Cellier for Robert Piguet. It foreshadows some of what will show up again in Fracas but for Bandit she constructs a white flower accord but she tempers it with a rich leather accord. The leather picks up on the indoles beautifully. It subsides onto a patchouli, vetiver, and oakmoss base. The current formulation is wonderfully faithful to the original.

Visa is the under the radar fragrance of the early Robert Piguet catalog. As M. Guichard presented the reformulation to me it was a radiant proto-gourmand. From a fresh peach and pear opening into an immortelle dominated heart down to an Oriental base of sandalwood, leather, and patchouli flavored with healthy amounts of vanilla. That picks up the maple syrup sweetness of the immortelle forming a gourmand accord.

Calypso is like the lost original Robert Piguet. It was one of a handful of perfumes released after Robert Piguet’s death in 1953. Perfumer Francis Fabron would compose the original formulation which M. Guichard modernized. This is the anti- white flower Robert Piguet what it retains of the past is the green vein of stemminess which is attached from galbanum through to the leather in the base. What comes between is a powdery orris, and rose heart. If the perfumes have sounded too much, so far, Calypso is much lighter in style.

In 2011 Robert Piguet would start releasing new fragrances. These would be designed with a less overtly floral nature to appeal to perfume lovers who wanted something more mannered.

Bois Bleu is a citrusy mix which segues into a fabulous violet heart which is paired with nutmeg. Clary sage and lavender provide underpinning but this is one of the best violet hearts of any violet perfume I own. A very straightforward woody base of cedar and sandalwood finishes things.

I had admired everything M. Guichard had accomplished but when I tried Knightsbridge at Esxence in 2013 I knew this was the modern masterpiece that was worthy of bookending Fracas. It was based on the simplest of briefs; “Imagine what Harrod’s smells like at 2AM.” M. Guichard’s interpretation are three phases of fabulously realized duets. Starting with rose and nutmeg to orris and sandalwood, ending on leather and tonka. Each harmonizes in distinctly engaging ways. One of my favorite perfumes of the last five years.

If all you knew of Robert Piguet was Fracas take another look at these five; there is much more to see here.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Salvatore Ferragamo Uomo- Pick Me Up

Mrs. C and I became obsessed with the Italian dessert tiramisu a few years ago. We were still living in Boston and we traveled the North End comparing the different versions. From modern chefs to recipes handed down through generations. One of the things we learned during our tasty tour was that despite the origin of the dessert being attributed to the restaurant La Beccherie in Treviso, Italy in 1960 it was widely disputed. The dessert was seen as a layered version of the more classic dessert zuppa inglese. As we learned more I have come to agree with that assessment. Tiramisu roughly translates to “pick me up” The mixture of coffee, cocoa, mascarpone cheese and lady finger cookies is simple but can be made even more complex at whim. When we started making it we added coffee liqueur as a different kind of pick me up over the caffeine from coffee. When I heard the new release Salvatore Ferragamo Uomo was going to be a perfumed take on tiramisu from two of my favorite perfumers Alberto Morillas and Aurelien Guichard I was definitely interested.

Alberto Morillas

Salvatore Ferragamo as fragrance producer has been much more hit than miss for me. If not for the perfumers involved and the tiramisu theme my interest would have been tempered. Even with that, because the brand has been so uneven in the past my expectations were set low. Another reason was the burgeoning of this gourmand mainstream sector in the last year. The great majority of those have lacked focus replacing it with a giant slug of vanilla and ethyl maltol. When I finally got around to Uomo every one of those concerns disappeared. Messrs. Morillas and Guichard have turned in one of the more genial mainstream gourmands of the last few years.

Aurelien Guichard

The first moments of Uomo are a pick me up of a different sort as a snappy spiced citrus is the top accord. Bergamot is enveloped with cardamom and black pepper in a zesty first few minutes. Just as I am ready to ask, “where’s dessert?” here it comes. The mixture of cocoa and coffee is supported with some other sweet notes. I think a touch of maltol provides a bit of toasty sweetness but if not that something else is adding a warmth to the main ingredients. The tiramisu accord is balanced and delectable to experience. Another excellent choice is the perfumers choose tonka bean as the deeper sweet note in the base. Instead of overwhelming everything which came before with vanilla, the tonka picks up the coffee and cocoa transporting them to the final ingredients a cocktail of dry woody aromachemicals. These are the particularly austere versions and they provide a surprisingly good framing set of notes for the final moments of Uomo.

Uomo has 18-24 hour longevity and average sillage.

For a mainstream gourmand fragrance Uomo gets almost everything right. If you are a fan of this style of perfume this is one of the best. If you have shied away from gourmands in the past because the vanilla can become too much give this a try. I give credit to Messrs. Morillas and Guichard for their perfumed tiramisu recipe it has been a favorite Holiday pick me up this year.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Narciso Eau de Toilette- Civilizing the Musk

1

I thought 2014 was a fantastic year for designer perfumes. Part of that wellspring of mainstream fragrances was Narciso. Perfumer Aurelien Guichard used a creamy accord of big florals over what has become the signature note for the Narciso Rodriguez brand, musk. I really liked the way the musk sort of sprung out like something dangerous from among the gardenia and rose. When I received my press sample of the new Narciso Eau de Toilette I was wondering if making a lighter version of Narciso was going to be interesting.

M. Guichard was again asked to be the perfumer for Narciso Eau de Toilette. One of the things about the two fragrances is they share a description of the top, heart, and base notes. The description is “Tender Floral Accord”, “Sensual Musk Accord”, and “Assertive Woody Accord”. For Narciso I would have switched the adjectives in the top and the base. The florals in that fragrance were very assertive and the woods had a tender simplicity. For the Narciso Eau de Toilette M. Guichard does live up to the titles of the phases much more literally.

Givaudan-Aurelien-GuichardAurelien Guichard

For Narciso Eau de Toilette the gardenia has been replaced with peony. In the original the gardenia carried an intense green tinted floralcy. The peony is one of those fresh florals and the green is nowhere to be found. Rose again provides some foundation but it is secondary to the peony. The musk in the heart has been changed for Narciso Eau de Toilette. This time M. Guichard has added some of the higher register white musks to the deeper more animalic musks. This still retains the sensuality of the animalic but with the addition of the cleaner musks it seems tamer. The base notes return to cedarwood and vetiver but for Narciso Eau de Toilette it is a much more transparent accord. The vetiver in particular has less presence than in the original but it provides a more diffusive green veil to the clean lines of the cedar in keeping with the lighter tone throughout.

Narciso Eau de Toilette has 6-8 hours longevity and average sillage.

If I was forced to choose only one I would opt for the original Narciso because I like my musk a little more feral. Narciso Eau de Toilette civilizes it a bit too much for my taste. Even so if you found the original a bit too much to bear the Narciso Eau de Toilette quite possibly is pitched at the right volume for you. It is a worthy follow-up to the original as M. Guichard made some significant changes to the eau de parfum formulation of a year ago without losing the plot.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Ex Nihilo Cologne 352 & Jasmin Fauve- Architecture & Design

If you go to the Ex Nihilo website and read the bios of the three founders; Olivier Royere, Sylvie Loday, and Benoit Verdier you might notice one commonality. They all share a desire to understand the underlying design of things. The very architecture of the world around them. In two of the perfumes for their brand Ex Nihilo you can see their love of the classical with Cologne 352 and Jasmin Fauve.

Jacques-Huclier

Jacques Huclier

Cologne 352 is named after the address of the flagship store on the Rue Saint-Honore in Paris. On the website it is said that Cologne 352 is “the olfactory signature” of that address. There is another description on the website more on point, “Parisian cologne”. Cologne 352 is the sophisticated take on one of the very first perfume architectures, eau de cologne. Perfumer Jacques Huclier has taken that classic form and given it a Parisian makeover.

Cologne 352 opens in the cologne style with a brilliant lemon and petitgrain blazing like a sunbeam. M. Huclier chooses a vegetal crushed leaves accord and juniper berry to put some sunglasses on the top notes. The crushed leaves accord substitutes for the more traditional herbal component. The heart takes orange blossom, a usual component of eau de cologne, and brackets it with rose and muguet. As with the top notes the addition of the rose and muguet take Cologne 352 into different territory. The heart is more floral than a cologne is usually but M. Huclier balances it expertly so that it never gets too expansive. It stays buttoned down and compact. This is what creates an aura of floral sophistication which really drew me in when I wore Cologne 352. Those florals persist into the base where a set of clean woods and cleaner musks provide the foundation. Cologne 352 is not an eau de cologne it is at eau de parfum strength and therefore lasts 10-12 hours with average sillage.

Givaudan-Aurelien-Guichard

Aurelien Guichard

Jasmin Fauve is described as a “poisonous leather flower” on the website. Perfumer Aurelien Guichard takes one of the most interpreted florals in jasmine and wraps it in a raw leather. The love of leather is not surprising because two of the three founders of Ex Nihilo mention shoes as a passion and it’s not the woman. M. Guichard creates a fantastic soliflore presented on a swatch of fresh leather.

Before we get to the jasmine M. Guichard pulls in muguet and lily. This doubles down on the green floral quality each of those notes possess. It is an appetizer for the main course of white flowers. Jasmine is in the name and jasmine is the leader of the pack in the heart. M. Guichard adds in orange blossom and tuberose as white flower wingmen. Jasmine is in front but the other two are also present. Finally a raw new piece of unrefined leather is rolled out for these white flowers to be portrayed upon. Ambox makes sure the leather never goes supple and refined and instead stays raw and primal. This mixture of powerhouse florals over leather is a lot of fun to wear. Jasmin Fauve has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I like where the creative team has taken these early efforts to keep them recognizable but also contemporary. Both of these perfumes exemplify classic architecture and embrace modern design.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples I purchased from Surrender to Chance.

Mark Behnke  

New Perfume Review Narciso- Hidden Dangers

As the year comes to an end I start organizing my desk looking to make sure I’ve reviewed all of the perfumes that have come out this year before the calendar turns over. Without fail I find at least one or two which kept getting pushed down the pecking order because of timeliness or some other seemingly more important reason. The one I found a few days ago and reacquainted myself with was Narciso.

I have a very fond spot for Narciso Rodriguez the fashion designer. I remember sitting gobsmacked at one of his earliest shows at New York Fashion Week. It was no surprise to me that his star would rise hot and fast so that barely five years later he would be named the Best Designer for 2004 & 2005 by the CFDA. Contemporaneously with being at the pinnacle of the fashion world he also would produce a pair of perfumes, Narciso Rodriguez for Her and Narciso Rodriguez for Him. Both of these sit in my mythical Designer Perfume Hall of Fame. They showed that mainstream wasn’t synonymous with mediocre. Both of them were centered on a sensuous musk which does not pander to the lowest common denominator. In the years since the perfume line of Narciso Rodriguez has not been as successful as the fashion line. Flankers that were uninspiring and yearly limited editions that were indistinguishable. I received a press release over the summer and it mentioned that Mr. Rodriguez was going to take a more active creative direction in the next release. I thought that was a good thing and once I had a sample that was confirmed.

milk bath

Narciso was signed by Aurelien Guichard and visually it is striking as the juice has a milky cast to it. Even before spraying it you expect a creamy center. M. Guichard starts with florals floating on the surface of a milk bath in a cedar wood paneled spa room. It is simple but underneath it all is a very untamed musk, hidden, waiting to pounce.

Narciso opens with a florid gardenia note. Very expansive and also very green. A bit of rose is used to temper the green but it doesn’t really do as good a job as it might, for which I am thankful. That green gardenia is perfect prelude to the creamy ambery heart. The creaminess comes from a cocktail of white musks that M. Guichard layers one upon the other to create a plush sensuality. What becomes striking is partway through the musk accord begins to become a bit more animalic as it transforms from safe to sort of dangerous. There is a point, about two-thirds of the way through the development, on my skin that this less well-behaved musk hearkens back to the earlier perfumes. The base provides an austere framing of cedar which provides stalwart woody simplicity in contrast to the luminous muskiness.

Narciso has 8-10 hour longevity on my skin. It starts off with above average sillage but once the florals have disappeared the musky woody finish has very minimal sillage.

As I am starting to look back over the year I am surprised at the number of mainstream designer perfumes I have liked this year. Narciso is another one to add to that list.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Narciso Rodriguez.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Gardenia de Robert Piguet- Partnership’s End

Robert Piguet is one of the grandest, and probably least recognizable, perfume brands. Any brand which boasts Fracas as part of its history will always be looked upon favorably. Since 2006 when, after returning Fracas to the jewel it has always been, Creative Director Joe Garces and perfumer Aurelien Guichard formed a partnership which has defined this latest phase of Robert Piguet. Early on the challenge was to reformulate the original perfumes in the line. Then in 2011 a change took place as the first new perfume carrying the Robert Piguet name, Douglas Hannant de Robert Piguet, was released. That success has led to thirteen more new perfumes from Mr. Garces and M. Guichard. If there has been a common theme to the contemporary compositions it has been for them to carry modern aspects along with a very elegant style that feels like it came from decades earlier. The last of these collaborations between Mr. Garces and M. Guichard has been released, Gardenia de Robert Piguet.   

Aurelien and Joe Piguet

Aurelien Guichard (l.) and Joe Garces

Gardenia as a focal point has many of the same qualities that tuberose does. It would have been very easy to take gardenia and surround it with a lot of complementary notes a la Fracas. M. Guichard goes for a more restrained approach as he uses only five other notes to accompany the gardenia. This runs a risk if your central raw material is not up to carrying the entire perfume it can lead to a flat spot in the development. There is one of those in the evolution of Gardenia de Robert Piguet and I think it is a stylistic choice which for some it will work but for me it created a noticeable flaw every time I wore it.

M. Guichard gives the gardenia two very high quality floral running mates, lily and ylang-ylang, for the first half of the development. This is my favorite part of this perfume. All of my favorite gardenia perfumes have captured the subtle green quality that a real gardenia has. M. Guichard uses the lily to coax that green out of its corner and brings it more centrally into the composition. Ylang-ylang is present to modulate the exuberant sweetness of the gardenia and in so doing it allows the greener highlights the space to expand into. Now here is where Gardenia de Robert Piguet goes flat for me. The next thing is a leather accord. I really would have preferred a rich supple leather like what M. Guichard used in Knightsbridge. Instead M. Guichard chose to go with a dark leather accord which has some harsher animalic features. This phase always felt like it was two separate ingredients in search of some common ground. This is where I think this just might be a simple difference in styles; I wanted elegance and I think M. Guichard wanted something more brutal. The rest of the base is predominantly cashmeran made a bit sweeter with a touch of vanilla.

Gardenia de Robert Piguet has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Gardenia de Robert Piguet is not my favorite of the newer Robert Piguet releases. I think if you are a fan of rawer leather perfumes and wanted that in a blowsy white flower Gardenia de Robert Piguet might just be perfect. I think I wanted a modern bookend to Fracas to put an exclamation point to the teamwork of Mr. Garces and M. Guichard. In the end it is another good addition to the modern line of Robert Piguet perfumes.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I received at Sniffapalooza Fall Ball 2014.

Mark Behnke

Bond No. 9 101-Five To Get You Started

There are few perfume houses as prolific as Laurice Rahme’s Bond No. 9. Since she founded it with sixteen fragrances based on New York City neighborhoods in 2003 there are currently over 70 Bond No. 9 fragrances to choose from. I am going to suggest five of those to start your exploration of this uniquely New York perfume house. Bond No. 9 has some exclusives for Saks Fifth Avenue and Harrod’s and I’m not including any from those collections because of their exclusivity. The main collection Bond No. 9 fragrances are some of the most accessible niche perfumes to be found and they should be easier to find than many other niche brands.

laurice rahme

Laurice Rahme

Chinatown is arguably the best perfume in the entire line. Perfumer Aurelien Guichard was a rising star in 2005 and his modern chypre underneath a soft fruity floral opening is incredible. If I was making a list of the best perfumes released post-2000 Chinatown would be near the top.

New Haarlem was one of two perfumes by perfumer Maurice Roucel for Bond No. 9, the other is Riverside Drive. M. Roucel creates an abstract version of a coffee gourmand fragrance. There is definitely coffee at the core but he adds in things no barista would think of like lavender and patchouli. The latter is really what turns New Haarlem into one of the better gourmand fragrances on the market.

high line bottle

2010’s High Line by perfumer Laurent LeGuernec is inspired by the recaptured railroad line turned into urban green space in downtown New York. M. LeGuernec composed a fragrant sonnet to springtime and growing things. The opening freshly cut grass accord is joined by a fresh bouquet of spring flowers most notably tulips. This is all laid over a base accord of sun warmed concrete after a spring shower. The smell of nature in a big city setting makes High Line one of my favorite spring fragrances.

In 2007, Aurelien Guichard created Silver Bond (aka Andy Warhol Silver Factory) it is a sheer incense fragrance with a metallic twinge throughout. It opens with a very sheer citrus, lavender, and incense opening. A combination of violet and iris are used to enhance their sharper more metallic facets which adds the sort of weirdly artistic flourish to what could be a straightforward incense fragrance without it. The base notes go towards a much deeper incense vibe.

Success is the Essence of New York (aka Andy Warhol Success is a Job in New York) is a grown-up version of Calvin Klein Obsession for Men. Perfumer Claude Dir takes a softly spicy opening centered on cardamom into a floral accord of tuberose, rose, jasmine, and orris to fashion a depth form those notes without becoming cloying. The warm base of amber, vanilla, and patchouli serves to round this out.

If you’ve been itching to take a perfumed tour of New York courtesy of Bond No. 9; grab the olfactory subway and make your first stops on the five suggestions above.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of these fragrances I purchased.

Mark Behnke