Dead Letter Office: Nina Ricci Signoricci 2- Twin Sons of Different Mothers

One of the easier to explain reasons for a perfume ending up in the Dead Letter Office is a brand which fools with the names of their perfumes. There are many enduring lessons where the moral of the story is not to confuse the consumer. This month’s entry Nina Ricci Signoricci 2 is one of those tales.

If I was asked to make the case for a post-War perfume brand which has been lost in the shuffle of the Grand Maisons I could make a compelling case for Nina Ricci. L’Air du Temps is one of the great early perfumes to arise after World War 2 ended. If you judge this on the modern formulation I hope you have an opportunity to try an earlier version where the floral heart is among one of the most beautiful in all of perfume. The fragrance side of the brand was overseen by Robert Ricci for forty years which saw a signature style of sophisticated fragrances released. Many are also in the Dead Letter Office and the survivors have been reformulated into ghosts of themselves.

Robert and Nina Ricci

Most of the fragrances from this period were marketed to women. It wouldn’t be until 1966 that they entered the masculine market with Signoricci. It was primarily a citrus with a bitter green core which even for someone who enjoys green found it distracting in its intensity. Ten years later the sequel would arrive, Signoricci 2.

Signoricci 2 was composed by perfumer Raymond Chaillan. The first thing he seemingly chose to do was to retain the citrus style but to excise the overt green. M. Chaillan’s vision was to produce a sophisticated citrus with a much more understated green component.

Raymond Chaillan

The opening is a sharper version of lemon with petitgrain providing a more focused effect. The floral heart of carnation and jasmine is lifted by a set of expansive aldehydes. This creates space for a thinner green thread to snake through the perfume. Basil, vetiver, and moss take care of this. It becomes very warm as amber, patchouli, and tonka form a comfy base accord.

Signoricci 2 has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Signoricci 2 fell square into the mid 1970’s powerhouse men’s perfume style. I have treasured my bottle because I think it is one of the best “formal” citrus perfumes I own. It always seemed to me that Signoricci 2 should have had the opportunity to be reformulated to death as the rest of the brand had been.

Except they decided to choose to confuse their consumer. Soon after Signoricci 2 was released they decided to discontinue Signoricci. At the same time, they then decided to drop the “2” from Signoricci 2. Imagine how this worked over the next few years. Someone who finished a bottle of Signoricci who loved the intense green nature goes to the mall and sprays “Signoricci” on a strip sees the green is gone and walks away. The person who bought Signoricci 2 and enjoyed it, as I did, finishes their bottle. Goes to the mall to replace it only to find “Signoricci” minus the “2”. Walking away they wonder what happened to their sophisticated citrus. I have never understood these kinds of decisions because it leads right to the Dead Letter Office.

There is a part of me that would like to see the two descendents of both of the creatives; grandson Romano Ricci and son Jean-Marc Chaillan collaborate on Signoricci 3. Until then Signoricci 2 will do.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Philosophy Amazing Grace- Muguet For All

As we approach May Day and the traditional sprig of lily-of-the-valley (muguet) worn in celebration of spring becomes a natural theme for many perfumes. Most are limited editions, and most are kind of pricey. Like anything there are exceptions. One of the most economical perfumes which features muguet is Philosophy Amazing Grace which means it is an appropriate choice for this month’s Discount Diamonds.

Philosophy was founded in 1996, as a beauty brand, by Cristina Carlino. As the brand gained a foothold she decided fragrance should become part of it in 2004. That led to two debut releases Amazing Grace and Pure Grace. Amazing Grace was the one which featured muguet.

Cecile Hua-Krakower

Ms. Carlino founded Philosophy with a concept focused on skin care. By the time she turned to perfume she wanted her fragrances to be uplifting in style accompanied by its own credo on each bottle. For Amazing Grace it says, “in the end it all comes down to one word, grace” right on the bottle. For Amazing Grace, Cecile Hua-Krakower was the perfumer asked to create something which lived up to that. The result is a soft floral as the muguet is nestled within a bed of white musks.

What you first notice though is sparkling grapefruit for the first few minutes. This is a sunny citrus which sets up the appearance of the muguet. Muguet can be very green; Mme Hua-Krakower uses a set of other floral notes to dampen the green while amplifying the floral. Which means before the greener facets can be found jasmine, freesia, and orange blossom run interference. It makes the muguet slightly powdery. Mme Hua-Krakower then layers a number of white musks to form a downy foundation. I have always enjoyed this effect of these style of musks as they become softer than I would have anticipated. By the later stages it is this musk accord which is what remains.

Amazing Grace has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

Amazing Grace is one of those kinds of easy-to-wear perfumes I could describe as akin to your favorite t-shirt. Amazing Grace can be found in small bottles for around $20. If you want to wear some lily-of-the valley on your skin instead of pinned to your hair Amazing Grace is a muguet for all.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Bruno Acampora Musc- New Signal on the Musk Radar

I probably don’t say this enough, but I adore my readers. I’ve always wanted this blog to be a place to have a discussion. After my Discount Diamonds column on Kiehl’s Musk one reader contacted me through Facebook and asked if I’d ever tried Bruno Acampora Musc. I told her I had not. Then she put me in contact with the brand and they sent me a whole package of samples. It turns out she was absolutely correct about this being another perfume which should be known by those who love full-spectrum musk fragrances. Which means it was a natural to be this month’s Under the Radar choice.

Musc was the inaugural perfume in the Bruno Acampora brand. Founded in 1974 there has been a consistent output of new releases over time. Exploring a brand like this with forty-plus years’ worth of experience it allows me to see Sig. Acampora’s aesthetic through a time-lapse. It is interesting to notice that Musc turns out to be a sturdy platform from which the rest of the collection grows outward from.

Musc opens with not the fierce animalic musk I expected. Instead Sig. Acampora goes for one which evokes rich earth full of decaying humus.  This is a style of musk not often used because it is the furry and feral version which is seemingly more popular. It is a reason why Sig. Acampora’s version stands out. Then like a riotous early spring garden tiny shoots of rose and jasmine provide tiny floral highlights. Clove props up the forest floor aspect. An equally earthy patchouli doubles down on that vibe. A creamy sandalwood provides the base.

Musc has 12-14 hour longevity as a perfume oil. In that form it has little sillage almost entirely a skin scent.

Bruno Acampora is an example of why I want to do this column. A brand working within the independent sector with a definable aesthetic. This is the kind of excellent perfume which gets lost in the clutter of new brands. It shouldn’t. It took a reader to point out my musk radar screen had a new signal. I am extremely grateful to her for making sure I pulled Bruno Acampora Musc up from Under the Radar.

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

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Opoponax

I’ve probably put off doing this specific ingredient because I’m not fond of spelling it. An extra “p” here an “o” turns to an “a” there. Before I get done writing this I’ll probably correct a dozen or more misspellings. Opoponax is one of the linchpins of Oriental perfumes. It is one of the critical components of three of the classic perfumes of all-time; Guerlain Shalimar, Yves Saint Laurent Opium, and Dior Poison. They owe much of what makes them so special to opoponax. It is used extensively as an earthier more balsamic alternative to myrrh. It also carries with it a sizeable powdery component which makes it especially amenable to providing the grounding for those kinds of ingredients.

I would wager most who love perfume don’t know what opoponax smells like although there are probably multiple perfumes on the shelf which contain it. I’m starting this month’s list with three different versions of the ingredient surrounded by benzoin and sandalwood. Each of them is slightly tuned differently around the opoponax. The most straight-forward is Santa Maria Novella Opoponax the benzoin and the sandalwood provide subtle foundation. It is the most unadulterated version of these three. The benzoin rises to be a more equal partner in Les Nereides Opoponax. It ends up also tilting a bit sweeter because some vanilla leads it that way to give a warmly satisfying sweetly resinous hug. Von Eusersdorff Classic Opoponax adds a floral shine on top via rose and a bit of animalic purr via castoreum but it is still primarily opoponax, benzoin, sandalwood. Once you’ve introduced yourself to opoponax here are three more where it stands out.

Diptyque Eau Lente was one of the original releases from the brand in 1986. Perfumer Serge Kalougine wanted to create an opoponax perfume as they imagined it might have been used by Alexander the Great who scented his cloaks with the smoke from burning the resin. What M. Kalougine does is to take an equally fantastic cinnamon as a partner to the opoponax. The cinnamon heats up the opoponax making it less viscous that it is by itself. While being one of my favorite opoponax perfumes it is also one of my favorite cinnamon ones, too.

Carthusia Ligea unleashes the powdery nature of opoponax more fully. Perfumer Laura Tonatto transitions from a crisp citrus opening into softer mandarin which accentuates the powder in the opoponax. Over time patchouli and benzoin find and magnify the more balsamic elements.

Before perfumer Mona di Orio’s untimely passing she made several incredibly artistic perfumes; Mona di Orio Cuir is among the best of those. Mme di Orio uses opoponax in conjunction with castoreum to provide a thoroughly engaging base underneath a smoke-laden leather accord. One of the best examples of the chiaroscuro style of perfume Mme di Orio practiced.

If you love perfume you’ve definitely worn a perfume with opoponax; now try one of these to try a perfume which features it.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased of all the perfumes mentioned.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Geoffrey Beene Bowling Green- The Overlooked Sibling

One common theme in the Dead Letter Office is that when a designer creates a classic the poor fragrances that follow have a hard time breaking through. Like the younger sibling to the brilliant older one. You might be every bit as good, perhaps better for some, but you will never get noticed. That is the story of Geoffrey Beene Bowling Green.

The brilliant older brother is 1975’s Grey Flannel. That was the first perfume from the brand and it has become a classic. One I admire and recommend to those looking for something different from fresh for an economical price. Bowling Green was the follow-up released almost twelve years later. Like all neglected younger siblings much of the creative information has been lost. All I could find was something within the press release which mentioned it as being “developed personally by Mr. Beene”. Sounds like pr more than actuality especially since there is also no perfumer accredited. It is too bad because Bowling Green is a style of perfume which would be relevant in today’s fragrance world. It has many of the green trends along with being more transparent than most of the other 80’s masculines.

Geoffrey Beene

What strikes you right out of the bottle is a focused burst of verbena. The lemony quality combined with the green is kept tightly constrained. To that lavender and a bit of mint add some detail. The lemon becomes more present as some petitgrain teases it away from the verbena. The mint slides away in the face of more savory herbs like sage, basil, and rosemary. Over all of this crests a wave of cardamom recapitulating the lemon thread from the top. There is some pine to play around with a terpenic green contrast, but the middle part of Bowling Green is cardamom. As it recedes what remains is a mixture of synthetic woods representing sandalwood, fir, and cedar; most predominantly that last note. The cedar provides a clean woody foundation to close things out.

Bowling Green has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Bowling Green never came close to being the sales equal of Grey Flannel. To their credit the brand did not pull the plug quickly as it lasted well into the 2000’s before finally giving up. I think they just tired of promoting a perfume which was never going to catch on. I think Bowling Green is as good as Grey Flannel, but that opinion never found wide agreement which is how it ended up in the Dead Letter Office as the overlooked sibling.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Perry Ellis 360 Red for Men- Third Law Aquatic

Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion is, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. In mass-market perfume there is a lesser known law of motion, “for every bestseller there will be scores of imitators”. As we moved into the 21st century those bestsellers were almost uniformly aquatic. This was a style of perfume that didn’t really allow for a wide range of variation; not that it stopped anyone. One which chose to listen to Newton decided to push back against the fresh aquatic with something spicier and woodier was Perry Ellis 360 Red For Men.

In 1995 Perry Ellis released 360 For Men and it was just another fresh entry in a sea of them. Eight years later when the first flanker was imagined I am not sure who suggested going in a different direction, but it turned out to be a good idea. Perfumer Jean-Louis Grauby layers in spice and woods into the typical citrus and aquatic accords which are kept to the background.

Jean-Louis Grauby

The opening of 360 Red For Men is the typical citrus as lime is modulated by a bit of orange it is nothing so different from many other perfumes of the time. Once the cinnamon begins to warm things up instead of plunge into the water then you notice a change. Nutmeg keeps the cinnamon in check from smelling like red-hot candies. A very strong cedarwood provides its clean woodiness. It takes a while but through a skillful use of white musks there is an aquatic effect to be found but it is secondary to the spice and woods.

360 Red For Men has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

360 Red For Men is an aquatic for cooler days. The spice and woods give you some pop in the morning and the aquatic peeks out as the day warms into the afternoon. This is one of those great bargains which can be found for less than $20/100mL. It is a discount diamond because it managed to try and be an opposite reaction to the aquatic trend of the early 2000’s.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Czech & Speake No. 88- Shaver’s Rose

When it comes to the fragrance portion of the wetshaving forums I frequent there is a tendency to embrace the classic colognes and masculine aesthetics. What that means is lots of woods, citrus, and vetiver. Those are fine ingredients which make up the backbone of many good perfumes. Within those wetshaving forums I am always surprised at the popularity of an unabashed floral perfume; Czech & Speake No. 88.

Czech & Speake pre-dated the niche explosion as British interior designer Frank Sawkins opened a boutique in the Belgravia district of London in 1978. It was a full-service men’s grooming brand along with luxury bathroom fixtures and furniture nodding to the interior designer expertise of Mr. Sawkins. In those early days Czech & Speake was purely a word-of-mouth phenomenon. Once the internet connected the rest of the world to Belgravia the story of No. 88 began to find wider renown.

No. 88 is based on a classic British cologne recipe from Elizabethan times. Updated with modern ingredients it is a great example of this style of perfumery. At its simplest description this is a rose and sandalwood fragrance.

The early moments are all rose. No. 88 starts with the lighter rose nature of geranium. A small amount of bergamot provides a subtle sparkle to the very early moments. The geranium intensifies into a full-spectrum rose. This is a spicy rose not the powdery debutante variety which is not unexpected. To provide an even deeper floral effect cassie and frangipani flesh out the rose into something exuberant. It is tempered by a base of primarily sandalwood. The wood is creamy and slightly sweet. The combination of rose and sandalwood is sublime; this is the core of No. 88. Vetiver provides a barbershop vibe in the later stages.

No. 88 has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

In 2018 the idea of woody roses has become more prevalent in the fragrance world. It is easy for those which led the way, like No. 88, to fall Under the Radar.

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

Mark Behnke

Roll, Baby, Roll

I rarely comment on the cost of perfume. Mainly because I’m more interested in whether it is good than economical. As I’ve received more access to the mass-market brands I have come to appreciate one specific thing about their marketing; the 10ml rollerball.

The  cynic says they are the equivalent of candy in the grocery checkout line. Small enough and cheap enough to encourage an impulse purchase. Certainly at the mall stores this is the practice. The perfume lover in me thinks it great that I can buy half a dozen new fragrances for the price of a bottle. Which is a great way to try new things.

One of the reasons I think this is so positive is it is a low-risk way of buying blind. If you’ve never heard of a brand like Bastide you are more likely to give it a try at 10ml than invest at 100ml. I have no way of being sure but I suspect that 10ml eventually turns into 100ml for more than just a few.

Most of the time I mention when niche sensibility crosses over to mass-market. Outside of a very few examples this is something which might cross over in the reverse direction.

This is especially true for niche brands with slightly odd aesthetics. There might be a perfume to be found within a quirky collection but finding it via full bottle blind buys is no way to go about it. A recent example of allowing for individual exploration of a brand like this came from Areej Le Dore. With the latest four releases owner-perfumer Russian Adam offered a sample set of all four plus a bonus sample of an attar version of one. It was a fraction of the price of any single bottle.

What it allows for is someone who is interested to see if there is something which appeals to them in a brand which is not made to please the masses. I would aver that it might be more important in these cases. Trying five new choices versus one blind seems obvious.

Except in the place which needs the most opportunity to connect with a consumer it is made difficult because of no smaller options. I especially think sample sets of new collections really make sense. Trudon offered buyers the same sample set they sent me for review which I think is a great way to introduce a new perfume brand.

I am hoping that I see as many rollerballs in niche outlets in the future as I see at the mall.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Cherry

There are some perfume notes which I think are problematically labeled as “cheap”. Cherry is one of those; the result of being the ingredient of too many plug-in air fresheners. It means more opportunity for perfumers to find gold within the dross. There aren’t a lot of cherry perfumes I own but the ones I do show the previous assertion is true. Here are my five favorites.

The People of the Labyrinths Luctor et Emergo– Before perfumer Alessandro Gulatieri would go on to found his Nasomatto line, he caught the attention of many perfume lovers with this gorgeous experimental fragrance. He at first uses a strong cherry but wraps it in an artificial cellophane accord. Then he embeds it in a Play-Doh casing for a different kind of artifice. One of the earliest groundbreakers in niche perfumery.

Serge Lutens Rahat Loukoum– Perfumer Christopher Sheldrake also uses cherry as a keynote in the top accord in this release to help further define the nascent gourmand style of fragrance. He takes a marzipan almond and matches it to a syrupy cherry liqueuer. Based on the Turkish Delight confection it eventually heads deeper into sweet confectionary territory, but it is always the cherry-almond opening which stays with me.

Ramon Monegal Cherry Musk– This is a perfume which simply lives up to its name as perfumer Ramon Monegal takes a concentrated cherry followed by a cocktail of white and animalic musks to provide a fascinating counterbalance. It is very strong and some days I’m not up for it; on the days I am spraying it on I like being swept away by it.

Beyonce Heat Rush– Within the celebuscent category Beyonce has produced a better than average collection since 2010. I liked the original Heat but the one bottle I own is the second flanker Heat Rush and it is all down to the cherry note. Perfumer Honorine Blanc re-works the fruity nature of Heat as she uses a top accord of cherry, passionfruit, and orange instead of the peach of the original. It turns this into a summer party.

Prada Candy Gloss– Perfumer Daniela Andrier completely leaves behind the formula from Candy for this flanker. It revolves on an axis of cherry, orange blossom, and vanilla. This is a transparent version of those usually heavy notes full of effervescence. I have come to like it better than the original.

Disclosure: These reviews based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Jean Patou Ma Liberte- The Kerleo Years

Those who have followed me over the years know there is a special section in the Dead Letter Office for the perfumes of Jean Patou. Much of their reputation rests on the creations of perfumer Henri Almeras from 1925-1946. The only remaining evidence of the glorious history of the brand is the evergreen best-seller Joy. This is not to say there haven’t been numerous attempts to bring the brand back to life. Perfumer Jean-Michel Duriez oversaw one of the more confusing transitions through the turn of the century. Most recently perfumer Thomas Fontaine has been re-formulating the original collection the best that he can with modern substitutions. In between there was another short creative spurt overseen by perfumer Jean Kerleo from 1972-1995.

M. Kerleo’s tenure has provided one of those rarest of unicorn fragrances, Patou pour Homme, in 1980. It lives up to every bit of the hype. Lost within this group of Patou perfumes done by M. Kerleo is one I admire just as much; Ma Liberte.

Jean Kerleo

Throughout this time M. Kerleo seemed to enjoy using lavender as a keynote. It would show up in both Patou pour Homme and Patou pour Homme Prive as well as Voyageur. Ma Liberte was another example of the flexibility of lavender in the hands of an artist.

In the beginning of Ma Liberte M. Kerleo chooses to contrast the lavender with tart citrus which is ameliorated with the lighter nature of heliotrope. Jasmine will become the note in the heart which picks up the lavender and allows it to flower more fully. Then the other hall mark of M. Kerleo’s time at Patou is his use of spices. He swirls in cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove to create this swirling warm shimmer covering the florals. It leads to a rich cedar and sandalwood base.

Ma Liberte has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.

If there is a question which has perplexed me; it is how the Jean Patou collection never caught on beyond Joy. I’ve never seen a reliable explanation on why they never were commercially successful but that is the reason they populate my favorite corner of the Dead Letter Office.

For those of you who look at the prices for Patou pour Homme and Patou pour Homme Prive on the auction sites and just groan at the prices you are who this version of this column is for. Ma Liberte is as good as either of those and it can be found on the same auction sites for much, much, less. If you have given up on obtaining the Patou pour Hommes give Ma Liberte a try.

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

Mark Behnke