My Favorite Things: Rhubarb

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We all have different natural smells which signal the change of seasons. Based on the sheer amount of perfume that gets released this time of the year most brands believe rose is the harbinger of spring. While that might be true for many; my signal scent for spring comes with one of the first things harvested; rhubarb. I always look forward to May because rhubarb and strawberries are ready to be eaten at the same time. Rhubarb as a perfume ingredient has a rooty vegetal quality along with a hint of tart citrus facets and a sulfurous undertone. It is not an easy ingredient for a perfumer to work with but sometimes it can create the sense of digging in the soil. Here are five of my favorite rhubarb fragrances.

My first experience with rhubarb in perfume came from Comme des Garcons Series 5 Sherbet: Rhubarb. Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour took rhubarb and displayed in all its tart vegetal glory. To stay true to the sherbet theme of the series M. Duchaufour adds in sweetness via lychee and vanilla. The whole effect is a creamy rhubarb ice cream. Beyond the use of rhubarb, it is just a fascinating deep freeze effect M. Duchaufour realizes.

Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena uses rhubarb with its most common partner grapefruit as his top accord for Hermes Hermessence Rose Ikebana. Hermessences have been likened to perfume haiku. The rhubarb and grapefruit are the five syllables of the first line here. Peony and rose provide the second line while honey and vanilla the final line. Rose Ikebana is all about the rose but it is the grapefruit and rhubarb which keeps me returning to this minimalist construct.

There was a part of me that wanted a perfumer to go all-out with the rhubarb and give it a chance to shine. M. Duchaufour would create a spring garden opening around not only rhubarb but tomato leaves, green apple, and strawberry in Aedes de Venustas. This is spring time digging in the dirt which patchouli represents before trailing to a warm amber. It is the perfume which showed me that rhubarb could be a star.

In Jul et Mad Terasse A St-Germain perfumer Dorothee Piot uses rhubarb as part of an elderflower accord. The rhubarb provides the tart aspect as along with grapefruit, freesia, and lotus flower the elderflower comes alive. It ends with a creamy sandalwood and patchouli base. This shows the potential of rhubarb as a versatile ingredient.

I was still wanting a rhubarb perfume which showed something artistic. I would get that from Hermes Eau de Rhubarbe Ecarlate. Perfumer Christine Nagel takes a fabulously complex rhubarb note then like tendrils of fog she ensnares it in a coating of white musks. Each new musk transforms the keynote displaying every facet that is there. It is a shifting study of rhubarb as the shadows and light alter constantly.

If you want to join me down in the dirt this early spring try one of my favorite rhubarb perfumes.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Arquiste 101- Five To Get You Started

Arquiste is another one of those perfume brands which I consider to be “mine”. The criteria to be considered “mine” is that it started about the time I started to get serious about writing on perfume. I’ve been trying to remember the first time I met Carlos Huber the owner/creative director of Arquiste. While I don’t remember the place Sr. Huber is one of the most genuine personalities in perfumery. He came to perfume from training as an architectural historian. Every Arquiste perfume starts with a brief which describes a place and time period. He then managed to find two perfumers with whom he has exclusively worked with by themselves and in tandem; Rodrigo Flores-Roux and Yann Vasnier. Together since their debut in 2011 they have created a brand aesthetic which now announces itself with each new release. Obviously, I think this is a fragrance collection worth checking out; here are the five to start with.

When you get around other perfume lovers and you both really like the same perfume there is a combination of sounds and facial expression which convey the emotions. A fluttering of eyelids over rolled back eyes. A low semi-guttural purr combined with a tilt of the head to one side. Long-time friend Ida Meister and I did this when we both tried one of the first Arquiste releases called Anima Dulcis. The fragrance was set in 1685 Mexico City as cloistered nuns developed their concoction of hot cocoa and chiles. M. Vasnier and Sr. Flores-Roux capture the simmering heat of the chiles in juxtaposition to the cocoa. Cinnamon, clove, jasmine, and sesame provide texture and detail to one of the best gourmands I own.

L’Etrog is another co-production by M. Vasnier and Sr. Flores-Roux. It is at the cologne end of the spectrum as the perfumers imagine the scent of 1175 Calabria, Italy as the local species of citron known as Etrog provides the early citrus brightness. In the background are the very light smells of the flowers around the Calabrian milieu. Vetiver provides the green contrast in the base.

For Boutonniere No. 7 Sr. Huber asked Sr. Flores-Roux to imagine a group of young men at fin de siècle France in the lobby of the Opera-Comique in Paris. Their lure is the gardenia in their lapel. Sr. Flores-Roux captures the gardenia as it scents the air to capture attention. Using lavender to evoke the cologne the dandies would be wearing then a perfectly balanced gardenia accord, lush and green. It all ends on an expertly formed accord of a freshly ironed suit. Boutonniere No. 7 is a fabulously different take on gardenia.

The Architect’s Club is the Arquiste which most acts as a time machine. Set during 1930 Happy Hour at an elegant Mayfair club of the same name in London. Some of the Lost Generation burst into the room livening up the stuffy atmosphere. It opens with spice and wood paneled drawing room accords before M. Vasnier unleashes the gin-toting wild things into the mix. Things just pick up steam from there. M. Vasnier keeps the frivolity under control to make The Architect’s Club the best party in town.

Nanban is an East meets West fragrance set on a Japanese sailing ship in 1618 returning from their first contact with Mexico. Sr. Flores-Roux and M. Vasnier create a construct where osmanthus pushes against the spices of the New World. Myrrh and sandalwood provide serenity which is disrupted by coffee and leather. It ends as the ship sails into the harbor of home as the fir trees and frankincense welcome the crew home.

Arquiste is one of the best new brands of the last few years well worth the time to explore. Start with these five.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Is Perfume an Aspirational or Signature Purchase?

I read an interesting piece on The NPD Group website called “How the Aspirational Purchase Has Shifted”. The basic thesis of the article is in to the mid-2000’s there was a significant number of consumers who would shell out for a particular set of expensive items in the effort to give off the sense of wealth these brands would impart. The author now hypothesizes that over the last decade or so that has changed. Now it is about finding that great item at a thrift store. The rise of YouTube videos which extol just that shows it to be a particularly enjoyable effort of that Facebook Live group of consumers. The author also believes if you are going to spend you will do it for a “signature item”. These could include an artisanal made leather briefcase or a coat from an obscure designer made to order. They are the pieces which help define the person who has them. They also hope to have them be singular to their circle of friends and family.

As I read through this I could see perfume acting as part of both categories. I still think the popularity of the major design houses in the department store can be ascribed to the aspirational type of consumer. I suspect that the bottle of perfume with Chanel, Dior, Hermes, Cartier, Prada, or Armani on its label is often the only thing from the brand in most homes. It speaks to the power of fragrance to be able to impart the brand aesthetic through scent which the best of these manage to do successfully.

Created by Pressfoto – Freepik.com

I think the signature purchase has also always been there in those who buy perfume. How many words have been written about finding a “signature fragrance”? I also think it is part of what has driven the expansion of the niche perfume market over the same time the author of The NPD Group article describes as when signature began to win out over aspirational. It has allowed a perfume lover to find a perfume that is not going to be as widely available as those typically found at the mall.

The final thing I realized is there is also a fragrance group which combines both. Chanel Les Exclusifs, Dior La Collection Privee, Hermes Hermessences, Cartier Les Heures, Prada Olfactories, and Armani Prive live in both worlds. The perfumes are often sold in upscale department stores or exclusively in the designer boutiques with price tags multiples greater than the mass-market line.

This allows perfume to inhabit that sweet spot where the Venn diagram of aspirational and signature overlap. It also probably allows it to be that affordable luxury which even the younger generation sees as “worth it” to filling whatever aspect they are looking for from their fragrance purchase. It probably means that fragrance will continue to be a significant part of the beauty economy for years to come.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: M. Micallef Yellow Sea- First Impressions Lost

When I look back over the perfumes which have been discontinued to add to the list of future Dead Letter Office columns sometimes I am a little sad. Most of the time that emotion arises because the first perfumes that connected me to a brand are no longer being made. Those first impressions are what made me look forward to every future release. One of the reasons those fragrances end up here is because they were also part of the brand evolving their aesthetic. A good example of this is the M. Micallef Seas Collection.

Martine Micallef

I became aware of M. Micallef and the Seas Collection through my participation on the Basenotes forums. They sounded interesting and through the generosity of other members I swapped for the first two; Black Sea and Red Sea. They were two distinct points in my discovery of the difference between European and American aesthetics. Even in the early 2000’s Americans were continuing with clean and fresh. When I tried Red Sea there was the fresh and clean but creative director Martine Micallef and perfumer Jean-Claude Astier added in cumin which added in the body odor character that ingredient is known for. Black Sea would provide a contrast as it added in a prominent saffron note which I found to be the best representation of that particular note I had tried at that point in my perfume testing. I came away from trying those two wanting to try more from the brand and went on an acquisitional spree. What I found was the other perfumes by Mme Micallef and M. Astier were very different; they had an ineffable French-ness to them. That quality is what would define the brand but they weren’t done with the Seas at this point. When Yellow Sea was released in 2008 that Gallic sense of style was added to a sunny plush citrus fragrance.  

Jean-Claude Astier

The early moments are sunny lemon and bergamot which then is transformed by one of the best uses of castoreum to provide the sweet muskiness as contrast. Unlike the earlier Seas this time the stronger note added into the mix works very well. Patchouli and incense provide a richly resinous heart but it is pitched at a much more transparent level than you normally get from the rest of the brand. The base is a clean cedar framing with a bit of amber and benzoin adding some length to the resinous tail from the heart.

Yellow Sea has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

None of the M. Micallef Seas is like anything else the brand has released. It seems clear that consumers were more interested in the different aesthetic being presented in the other releases; Note Ambree is a good example of that which was released contemporaneously with Yellow Sea. I miss the loss of my first impressions of M. Micallef but the brand has mostly delighted me over the years even if I wanted more of what ended up in the Dead Letter Office.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Calvin Klein Eternity- Bridal Lilies

When I make my monthly run through the local discount store fragrance bins I have mixed feelings when I see what I consider to be a great perfume in there. On one hand, it gives that fragrance the chance to be re-discovered by a consumer for whom $20-25 is what they can spend to add a new bottle to their dresser. The flip side is the look how far this once lauded perfume has fallen. From the bright lights of the department store beauty counter to a giant “Bin O’ Perfume”. I must admit that I was surprised to see Calvin Klein Eternity there in the last couple of months.

Calvin Klein Eternity was released in 1988 as the follow-up to their extremely successful launch of Obsession three years earlier. At this time in the 1980’s Calvin Klein was a brand which had attained the highest levels of exposure a designer brand could aspire to. Much of that had come on being provocative in a sexual way, Calvin Klein was the latest examples of the old adage “sex sells”. Which was why when the press release for Eternity came out it used as its inspiration Mr. Klein’s 1986 marriage to Kelly Rector. This was a pivot to the purity of love which by itself was interesting. Ann Gottlieb was responsible for the creative direction and she chose perfumer Sophia Grojsman to work with on Eternity.   

Sophia Grojsman

Mme Grojsman was in the middle of a twelve-year run at the beginning of her career from 1978’s White Linen through to her masterpiece Lancome Tresor in 1990. Eternity falls in the middle of that run temporally as well as aesthetically. There is a cleanliness reminiscent of White Linen and the fully rounded rose of Tresor was just beginning to take shape as she worked the same with muguet for Eternity.

Ann Gottlieb

Eternity opens with a fresh top accord of mandarin and freesia. This is some of the fresher aspects that was so prevalent during this time in fragrance. The lily of the valley comes forth and it rumbles forward with power. This kind of floral intensity will become a hallmark of many of Mme Grojsman’s constructs; Eternity is one of the earliest examples. How she builds the intensity is by also adding in smart supporting ingredients. In this case marigold to amplify the green parts with narcissus doing the same for the white flower aspect of the lily of the valley. It is supported by a sturdy sandalwood foundation as the final piece of Eternity.

Eternity has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

One of the reasons Eternity has probably fallen into the discount bins is that intensity it exudes. At the moment, it doesn’t seem to be congruent with current fragrance trends. In its heyday, Eternity was inspired by marriage which made it a popular wedding day perfume for many brides in the 1980’s and 1990’s. It is a great perfume from a great creative team and for the price it is hard to beat that marriage.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Byredo Pulp- The Un-Byredo

Once a perfume brand has matured, defined their aesthetic, it is interesting to look back to the beginning to see if the initial releases predicted how the brand would eventually grow. Byredo was founded in 2007 by Ben Gorham. Over the last ten years, working exclusively with perfumer Jerome Epinette, they have created a distinctive Byredo style. But when those first four bottles bearing the name were released there was one which was the figurative red-headed stepchild, Byredo Pulp.

Last fall it looked like I would be writing about Pulp as part of the Dead Letter Office series. It was rumored that it was going to be dropped from the brand. When I heard that news I wasn’t surprised because Pulp had its own twisted little following perhaps driven because it felt unlike every other one in the line. It seems the news of discontinuation was more rumor than fact. Which then shifted it to this column because it is so different I think those who might dismiss the Byredo collection as not being their kind of fragrance might join the group of us who enjoy the Un-Byredo-ness of Pulp.

What sets Pulp apart is it is a fragrance of fruit overload. I know the concept of overload for a Byredo is already outside normal service. In this case M. Epinette was going for the literal pulp of multiple fruits. What has always made this perfume stand out is there is so much here somewhere in all the overlap a rotten fruit accord develops. Some of life’s potentially disgusting smells have some underlying facets which are oddly pleasant smelling. What M. Epinette gets in Pulp whether by design or fortune is that right on the edge of sickly sweetness that rotting fruit emanates. It is what will make you pull Pulp close or push it away.

The fruit basket comes from grapefruit, fig, red apple, blackcurrant buds, and peach blossom. All of this roars out of the gate. It is seemingly chaotic but rather quickly all the fruit pieces settle into their lanes. In the early going it has a crisper quality than you might expect. As some greener notes begin to arrive in cardamom and cedar the beginning of the decay sets in. Eventually the sweetness is heightened following a collapse in to a praline accord in the base.

Pulp has 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I am happy that the rumors of Pulp’s demise were overstated. I think every brand needs something to show how far they’ve come. Pulp is that signpost as The Un-Byredo.

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

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Cardamom

Spring is here right on schedule. Also, right on schedule is the beginning of my rotation of spring favorites to the front of the perfume wardrobe. Most opt for florals and aquatics. I prefer spice perfumes for the cool nights and warm days. One of my favorite shoulder season spices is cardamom. Here are five of my favorite fragrances featuring cardamom.

I can’t be 100% sure but I think the perfume which made me a cardamom fan was 1996’s Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant. Composed by perfumers Dominique Ropion and Jean-Louis Sieuzac under the creative direction of Celine Verleure; Jungle L’Elephant features a rich creamy cardamom among the panoply of spice as clove, cumin, licorice mix with mango, vanilla and amber. Jungle L’Elephant has always been that perfect shoulder season perfume. The equivalent of a lightweight cashmere sweater. It is among my very favorite perfumes, period.

Perhaps one of the oddest cardamom perfumes I own is Heeley Esprit du Tigre. Perfumer James Heeley wanted a fragrance which evoked the classic liniment Tiger Balm. Not your typical inspiration leading to an atypical perfume. A strong camphor and mint opening leads into a strong cardamom, black pepper, and clove heart which recreates the herbal scent of Tiger Balm. Vetiver finishes it with a green flourish. I wear this on the spring mornings which are a little cooler and the days don’t get that warm.

With the new renaissance of colognes cardamom has become one of the more popular ingredients in this trend.

In 2012 there was an entire collection of cologne nouveau from The Different Company all created by Emilie Coppermann with the creative direction of Luc Gabriel. I liked all of them but the one I wear the most is Sienne D’Orange. Mme Copperman uses a greener version of cardamom to go with orange in the top accord. She brilliantly uses carrot as the bridge to orris before finishing with a suede leather accord. This is exactly what imagination can provide to staid archetypes.

The same can be said for Thirdman Eau Contraire which was called Eau Nomade when I purchased it in 2013. Owner-Creative Director Jean-Christophe le Greves wanted a collection which pushed the envelope on cologne architecture. Working with perfumer Bruno Jovanovic this was an impressively realized collection of which Eau Contraire was my favorite. In this case M. Jovanovic used a hefty amount of cardamom to provide contrast to lemon and orange. A very technically adept mixture of various musks provide the development around this trio. This has been one of those perfumes which makes me smile broadly when I wear it.

As mentioned above a greener version of cardamom was beginning to be used by perfumers and I was wanting someone to really go all in with that ingredient. My wish was granted in 2014’s By Kilian Intoxicated as Calice Becker working with creative director Kilian Hennessy made a cup of strong spice infused Turkish coffee. Mme Becker formed a nucleus of strong rich coffee to which she added the green cardamom in a significant quantity so it could stand up to the coffee. It almost has a sappy stickiness in this concentration. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and caramel finish this off. Intoxicated is one of my favorite coffee fragrances but it is the green cardamom which makes that true.

If you’re looking for something to add to your spring fragrance rotation give these cardamom perfumes a try.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Xerjoff 101- Five to Get You Started

The ultra-luxe sector of perfume really came into being in the early years of the 2000’s. Brands with high price tags were usually comprised of artistic bottles and high-quality raw materials. When I was first considering whether consumers would see perfume as being this kind of commodity I concurrently wondered which of these brands would last for ten years. The answer is that there are consumers who gravitate to this kind of ultimate fragrant luxury. There are also some which have lasted for over ten years. One of them is Xerjoff.

Sergio Momo

It was early in my blogging efforts that I was sent a sample set. I thought the early fragrances were elegant simplicity. Owner and creative director Sergio Momo had his best success in the early collection with simple floral-focused constructs. Working with perfumer Jacques Flori for much of the collection it is only in recent years that the brand has begun using other perfumers. Throughout Sig. Momo has had a clear vision for his brand and it has not wavered for more than ten years, now. If you are looking for some suggestions about where to start here are five good entry points to Xerjoff.

When the first three fragrances were released there was Elle, Homme, and the shared XXY. The first two were a little too overstuffed and the best parts of each of Elle and Homme could get lost in the traffic.

XXY was different and for the most part provided the template for which Sig. Momo would use to build his brand going forward. XXY was at the time what I felt was a gold-plated fruity floral. M. Flori used grapefruit and peach as the fruit to contrast with powdery iris, unctuous ylang-ylang, and indolic jasmine. A lush sandalwood, patchouli, and vetiver base complete the perfume.

When the follow-up perfumes showed up a couple years later Irisss was the standout. As you can impute from the name it is an iris soliflore. Except it is a crazy good iris at the heart as M. Flori uses iris butter. This source really keeps the powder at bay while bringing forth the earthiness of the root that iris, as a raw ingredient, is isolated from. Starting with the off-kilter sweetness of carrot seed the iris comes to the foreground. This iris butter glitters like a fine jewel set off with some grace notes of violet and jasmine. This is all framed by a cedar and vetiver combination.

If there is a single ingredient many would associate with Xerjoff it is oud. There are a lot of different flavors of oud in the collection but Kobe was one of the earliest. Here M. Flori goes with the classic floral contrast to the rough-edged oud. Except instead of using the traditional rose he uses a fantastic neroli. The green facet present in high-quality neroli is a better complement to oud than the more typical rose. That is mainly what Kobe provides with some styrax and tonka to sweeten up the oud in the final stages.

I have written before how much I like Richwood. I think it is the best of the entire Xerjoff line. M. Flori takes a limited quantity of Mysore sandalwood and then uses different notes like blackcurrant buds, rose, and patchouli to illuminate and explore every facet of this precious perfume ingredient.

Oud Luban can cheekily be described as Kobe 2.0 because the same neroli and oud is at the heart. Except it is made rougher through black pepper in the top. More resinous with silvery frankincense in the base and cleaner with cedar and vetiver in the base. Perfumer Christopher Maurice has produced my favorite of the recent releases.

If you’re wondering where you should start with a luxurious brand like Xerjoff the five above provide a good idea about what Sig. Momo’s vision is all about.

Disclosure: This review is based on decants I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Kate Spade Live Colorfully- Niche Me, Kate!

There have been several attempts to bring those who have been innovators in niche perfumery into the mainstream market. I would say they have been a mixed bag as far as success in the marketplace has gone. From the perspective of translating the creativity of niche that success has been more easy to discern. One of the earliest examples of this effort was Kate Spade Live Colorfully.

Kate Spade is a fashion brand established in 1993 selling handbags. Less than ten years later they were rapidly expanding in to other areas; one of which was fragrance. The first release in 2002, Kate Spade, was a pretty floral fragrance around muguet. It was discontinued about the same time the second fragrance, Twirl, was released in 2010. Twirl was an aggressive fruity floral which put me off for that forward nature.

Fabrice Penot and Edouard Roschi

Because of the uneven success of the first two releases the brand made a decision to try something different. For Live Colorfully the two creative directors from Le Labo, Fabrice Penot and Edouard Roschi, were joined by putative “lipstick queen” Poppy King. Working with perfumer Daphne Bugey they together worked on a mainstream perfume that could carry some niche sensibilities along with the safer aspects. What they produced was a fragrance more recognizably mainstream than niche but in a couple of places the independent streak peeks out.

Daphne Bugey

Live Colorfully opens with a pairing of mandarin and star anise. Mme Bugey allows mandarin the lead role but the star anise adds an odd complementary sweetness. The real niche aspect comes in the floral which opens the heart; as waterlily is set afloat on a pond of coconut water. It is the kind of accord you find in niche regularly. Here it is an outré watery floral accord. The perfume quickly gets back into safer waters as orange blossom and gardenia form the floral accord which is where Live Colorfully spends most of its development. Mme Bugey finishes this with a warm amber and vanilla accord.

Live Colorfully has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Live Colorfully has become a standard presence on the discount perfume points of sale usually going for around $25. It is a good spring perfume at that price.

I would have liked to been in the room as the decision on the final form of Live Colorfully was decided. I would be surprised if there wasn’t one version which was more niche-like. The final decision probably came down to a brand which wanted the opportunity to create a tentpole fragrance which is what Live Colorfully has become spawning two flankers in the last two years. Even with that said Live Colorfully still has those moments of rebellion within its typical architecture.

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

Mark Behnke

Chandler Burr on Creative Directing Etat Libre D’Orange You or Someone Like You

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At last October’s Sniffapalooza Fall Ball Chandler Burr showed up with a surprise on Sunday. He revealed that he had been working as the creative director on a new fragrance and wanted to share a sneak preview. The new fragrance is Etat Libre D’Orange You or Someone Like You.

The press release for You or Someone Like You gives you an idea of what Mr. Burr was looking for:

“There is an Englishwoman who doesn’t exist. Her name is Anne Rosenbaum, and I created her in my novel “You Or Someone Like You.” She lives, with her movie executive husband, in a house high in the blue air of the Hollywood Hills, just off Mulholland Drive, overlooking Los Angeles above the 101.

I’m fascinated by LA, this strange dream factory that exists in its eternal, relentless present tense, its otherworldly beauty both effortlessly natural and ingeniously artificial. A movie that makes movies. Palm trees, the symbol of LA, aren’t natural there. They were imported, placed in the hills, “but then,” Anne observes to you, “so was I.”

Los Angeles’ smells mesmerize, the astringent mint/green of eucalyptus, wild jasmine vines unselfconsciously climbing the stop signs, catalyzed car exhaust, hot California sun on ocean water (although “You” contains no jasmine or eucalyptus; if you need to know what it’s made of, “You” is not for you).

When Etat Libre d’Orange approached me about creative directing, my perfumer Caroline Sabas and I created not a “perfume” — people in Los Angeles don’t wear perfume – but a specific scent, the scent someone like Anne would wear, an Angelino Englishwoman high in the hills in the blue air.”

I had the chance to get a little more information from Mr. Burr on the perfume he calls “You”. First, I asked the obvious why did he choose now to take on creative direction. He responded, “The moment I started at the New York Times I was frequently asked, "Are you going to creative direct/ create a scent/ collection of scents/ perfume brand?" The Times would have, correctly, forbidden it had I asked, but I had no intention — I was a critic. Frankly I didn’t have any interest. My focus was and is the scent artists. And for years I never wanted to creative direct a perfume. I was while working at the Times getting to know the Etat collection, which I found and find just extraordinary, along with the Comme des Garcons collection the most daring, aesthetics-forward, balls out art-centric scent works in the world. Tilda Swinton's agent called to say Tilda was interested in creative directing a scent, and Etienne was the instant and most natural person to put her in touch with. and I talked on and off about working together somehow. But then I was at the Museum of Arts and Design as a scent art curator, and for obvious ethical reasons it was still off the table that I'd direct a scent.

After I'd left MAD, Etienne called and said he's read my novel You Or Someone Like You, that he liked the title, and proposed we create a scent using the novel's title. That I creative direct it. The concept came instantly. My novel's narrator is a woman named Anne. She's an Englishwoman who long ago married an American guy, now a movie studio exec. They have one son, Sam. She has a Ph.D. in Romantic Literature and is a voracious reader. Anne is extremely private, reserved. She's perceived as a cool customer by most people, and she is with everyone not her husband and son. She lives in the Hollywood Hills — on Macapa Drive, if you want to google map it — above the 101 and overlooking the city. She lives in contemporary Los Angeles. What my (brilliant) perfumer Caroline Sabas has created is the scent Anne would wear.”

Mr. Burr has described fragrances throughout his career as belonging to different schools. When I asked what school, he was aiming for he said, “Luminism, Minimalism, and contemporary Romanticism. I started with exactly this aesthetic mix in mind.”  

This lead me to asking what perfumes inspired “You”, and you, in the process which lead into his long-held belief (one I disagree with) that discussing notes devalues the art, “Of course– Mugler Cologne, Calyx, Jardin sur le Nil are probably the most important. There are others, but their names mention raw materials, and I really–really–am not going to go anywhere near this fucking reductionism of scent works to their materials. It's extraordinarily stupid. You don't give a sense of a new musical work, say something by Max Richter, by saying "It's in D major, 4/4 time, it has among other instruments oboes and violins and violas and flutes, and the notes include D, E, F#, G, A, B♭, and C." That would be idiotic. We say, "It's contemporary Minimalism that draws on Glass and, more, Reich, but Richter is also strongly influenced by the minimalist Romanticism of Satie." If we're going to describe fragrances in a truly intelligent, sophisticated way rather than the reductionist "This building has cement, steel, glass, plastic", it's going to be by using intelligent analogies.”

I finished my interview with a question I am always interested in, how did he know they were finished? “"Finished" is equal to "perfect," which you rarely get to. The mod of "You" that we chose was one that Caroline, our Givaudan evaluator Audrey Barbara, Etienne, and others at Etat loved. My personal favorite was slightly different in one specific way. But we had a long conversation about it, and I trust them, so I decided that we'd go with that one. It doesn't bother me because, I don't know, I guess I just don't think in this case that my perception and taste is perfect and mandatory. Part of it was that Etienne really felt the mod we chose had an Etat aspect to it. He's the creative director of the collection, so that's a pretty compelling reason from my point of view.”

I am looking forward to wearing “You” and should have a review up soon. My thanks to Mr. Burr for taking the time to answer my questions.

Mark Behnke