Flanker Round-Up: Boss Bottled Infinite and Givenchy Gentleman Cologne

As much as I spend the first few months of the year complaining about the avalanche of new spring rose perfumes; I’ve been asked if there is a men’s corollary. The answer is, kind of. As Father’s Day in the US gets closer, I get a significant increase in colognes from the big perfume brands. The reason it doesn’t bother me as much is there are more variations within a cologne architecture. Most of them are flankers of established best sellers which try to freshen and lighten things up. Boss Bottled Infinite and Givenchy Gentleman Cologne are two recent examples.

Boss Bottled Infinite

Hugo Boss has surely milked the popularity of 1998’s Boss Bottled. Boss Bottled Infinite is the thirteenth flanker. I was not one of the fans of the original. I felt perfumer Annick Menardo overloaded things. I was in the minority as it has been a consistent best seller. Usually a flanker keeps much of the original formula while adding in a couple new ingredients. Which is a description of most of the Boss Bottled flankers. What made me give Boss Bottled Intense a second look was that it went in the opposite direction by stripping it down to the essential keynotes. Mme Menardo was again behind the wheel for the new flanker.

For this new version the top accord is simplified to mandarin and apple, with the citrus out front. Cinnamon and sage form the heart with some lavender as underpinning. This is more spicy than previous versions without becoming heavy. The significant change is olive wood for sandalwood. What that adds is less dry woodiness. It has a richer quality which complements the early accords nicely. If you’re a fan of the original I believe this will be a nice summer alternative.

Givenchy Gentleman Cologne

The Givenchy Gentleman released in 1974 is one of the masterpieces of that decade of perfume. When Givenchy decided to release a new perfume with that name in 2017, they did it in Eau de Toilette concentration. I was not happy it shared nothing of the sophistication of the original; it was a mess. A year later they released an Eau de Parfum version. This felt like the heir to the original I was looking for. When Givenchy Gentleman Cologne arrived it fell in the middle but closer to the Eau de Parfum side.

Perfumers Olivier Cresp and Nathalie Lorson continue to design the new Givenchy Gentleman collection. They keep it simple, too. In the Eau de Toilette there was a pear note on top that really turned me off. For Cologne the top note is a brilliant lemon in high concentration. It is a summery blast of sunlight. Some rosemary provides the herbal component of the cologne recipe. The perfumers substituted iris for the more typical lavender. It is a fantastic choice. The early moments are as good as it gets. My only drawback is a high concentration of synthetic woods. It lands like a sledgehammer. The lemon and iris nearly get obliterated holding on by a thread. If there was a bit better balance to the base, I would have liked this as much as the Eau de Parfum. Whether it is for you will come down to your tolerance for the synthetic woody in high concentration.

Disclosure: These reviews are based on samples from the manufacturers.

Mark Behnke

Experience not Expertise

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I’m not sure what has changed recently but since the first of the year I have been getting sent proposals to take on perfume jobs I don't feel qualified to do. The first line always has some variation in which they call me an “expert”. When it comes to that word there is only one area in which I consider myself an expert; the organic chemistry of drug discovery. I was trained to do it. I’ve spent my life doing it. I’ve been pretty good at it. Someone calls me an expert at that I thank them for the compliment. When I’m called that in relation to perfume, I try and correct the terminology. I have always considered myself an experienced enthusiast.

To my mind it means I have had no formal training. It means anything I think I know about perfume has come from personal experience. It means I am only as insightful as the extent of that.

I started writing about perfume as a member of the forums at Basenotes. Somewhere along the line I started writing a paragraph or two on my impressions on the Scent of the Day I was wearing. That started right around ten years ago give or take a few months. I enjoyed giving my opinion and expected I would stay there for years. Then as I became a writer for Fragrantica, followed by the managing editor at CaFleureBon, and then starting Colognoisseur; things changed slightly. The feeling of being an ambassador for the things I think are wonderful about fragrance is what makes me sit down and write every day.

You’ll notice nowhere in that timeline is I went to a perfume school. Nowhere in there is I attended a perfume class. I have received none of the training I believe to be an important part of being an expert.

What I have replaced it with is the amazing opportunities I have had to meet the people who make perfume. I have been given so many chances to ask questions. The answers lead me to new questions and different thoughts about perfume.

When people find out I write about perfume they can’t imagine there is enough to write about. I always think there are too many things I want to write about. The whole reason I started adding a couple paragraphs to my Scent of the Day is I wanted to share my enthusiasm for the perfume I was wearing. That has evolved into what I try to do at Colognoisseur every day. Share with my readers the things I think are cool about cologne. Just don’t call me an expert.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Givenchy Pi- A Different Tack

I remark often on how the gourmand style of perfume is one of the most exciting to me. One reason is it isn’t even thirty years old. It means unlike every other perfume genre it carries around much less history. I have found recent versions of gourmands very interesting because they are not following an existing set of rules. As it is in the third decade of the style the same was true of the very earliest entries, they were defining the boundaries. This month’s Discount Diamonds choice, Givenchy Pi, was one of those.

In 1998 the early gourmands had all gone with deep dense aesthetics. As Givenchy thought to enter the fray Creative Director Francoise Donche decided a different tack would be taken. Their gourmand would focus on one sweet note with less of a heavy presence. Perfumer Alberto Morillas would be given the job of creating Pi.

Francoise Donche

The idea was to make a gourmand focused on vanilla. The easy way would have been to use the synthetic source of vanilla, vanillin. One of the reasons to decide against it is vanillin is one of the most common ingredients in all of perfumery. It also can become overwhelming as the concentration gets to higher levels. M. Morillas made an intelligent choice to go with a vanilla accord made up primarily of tonka bean and benzoin. It turned out to be brilliant.

Alberto Morillas

Pi opens with a green prologue of rosemary, pine, and mandarin. It carries a freshness which will eventually be overwhelmed by the vanilla. That vanilla shows up subtly at first as tonka bean is the keynote in the heart. Tonka is a natural source of coumarin which has a kind of vanillic scent profile along with a sweeter hay-like component. By itself it would never become vanilla. M. Morillas uses benzoin to combine with the coumarin to form the sweet vanilla accord. What makes this so different from just using straight vanillin is it is a crisper form of vanilla. Most often vanillin diffuses until it becomes powdery. By using tonka bean and bezoin this doesn’t happen. Which means the vanilla lasts and lasts. The light woodiness of guaiac is the final piece of Pi.

Pi has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

If I were to ever write a column on the perfumes I wear which never fail to generate a compliment Pi would be one of the two no-brainers on that list. It is one of those perfumes which breaks through because of the way it is constructed. The advantage of being over twenty years old is it is easy to find bottles for less than $30. Because the ingredient list is so small it has easily weathered any reformulations. Gourmands might be all the rage currently, but Givenchy Pi was one of the first to try something new in the genre.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Gendarme- California Cologne

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One of two styles of perfume I have always found uninspiring is the “fresh and clean” style which dominated perfume for twenty-five years. I could argue niche perfume was a reaction to the prominence of this style in the department stores. Even though I am mostly dismissive there are some which have found a place on my shelf. Gendarme is one of those.

I discovered Gendarme in my early days on the internet. It was thrown in as a sample on a swap I was making for a perfume I wanted. I don’t remember that perfume, but Gendarme grew from a sample to a bottle. When I bought the bottle, I was surprised to see it wasn’t French it came from California. Through the mind of a raconteur named Topper Schroeder.

Mr. Schroeder wanted to wear cologne which didn’t irritate his skin. He couldn’t find one at the department store. His search was begun because previously he had used a test-market version of an early hypoallergenic cologne. When he ran out, he discovered it never made it to the shelf. Frustrated by not being able to find an alternative he decided to make his own. In 1983 Gendarme was born.

Topper Schroeder

I’ve had trouble narrowing down who were the perfumer(s) who worked on Gendarme. Mr. Schroeder claims he went back to the original perfumer who had worked on the test-market cologne, Tom Slatery. The Fragrances of the World database list co perfumers, John Doyle and Nigel Priest. I don’t know what to make of that, but Gendarme isn’t a technological marvel it is a supremely functional fragrance.

Gendarme was designed to be a classic cologne. The perfumer(s) gathered the usual cologne ingredient list accentuating one specific part of the recipe; the herbs. Even now thirty-five years later there aren’t a lot of colognes which go in this direction. Which is one of the reasons it has been a favorite.

Verbena is used as the linchpin in the top. It sets up the green style right from the start. Some actual citrus along with ginger, basil, and thyme push the green. The safe masculine floral, lavender, comes next.  Lavender has an herbal character which is made apparent by the herbs from the top accord. A slight sweetness of vanilla finishes things off. If you ever see an ingredient list, it will list leather. If it is in here, I’ve never noticed it.

Gendarme has 4-6 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

There have been others prior to this who have mentioned that Gendarme has a soapy quality. It reminds me of the original Clairol Herbal Essence shampoo. It is a reminder not an imitation. The longevity is also typical for a cologne. If you’re going to wear this for a day bring some along to top things off after a few hours. This is one of the colognes I put a small atomizer of in the refrigerator during the summer. Spraying the cold mist is much more rejuvenating than water. The name may be French, but Gendarme is pure California Cologne.

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

Mark Behnke

Yann Vasnier 201

As I’ve been making my list of the perfumers, I want to cover in this column, I naturally trend towards my favorites. Yann Vasnier is certainly one of my favorites. He is a perfumer who has done some of his best work in partnership with Rodrigo Flores-Roux, Calice Becker, and Francoise Caron. He is unafraid to take risks which means some of his most daring work is discontinued. I could’ve made a list of Apothia L Apothia, Le Labo Aldehyde 44, Tom Ford Private Blend Urban Musk, Marc Jacobs Bang, and Tom Ford Private Blend Lavender Palm. If I had done that it would have been a column examining texture within perfume design. M. Vasnier is one of the few perfumers who is known to have designed an Axe spray; 2009’s Axe Essence. For this month’s Perfumer 201 I’m going to look at the development of M. Vasnier’s gourmand style over the years.

Divine L’Homme Sage (2005)- M. Vasnier’s first released perfume was 1986’s Divine with Yvon Mouchel who also came from M. Vasnier’s home of Brittany in France. M. Mouchel would work exclusively with M. Vasnier. L’Homme Sage has no sage in it. What caught my attention on the day I tried it was how it played with metamorphosizing syrup in the beginning and heart. It opens with mandarin encased in sweet lychee syrup. A beautiful use of the maple syrup quality of immortelle transitions that sweetness into a heart of resins and base of woods. It isn’t strictly a gourmand style of perfume but the early moments carry that feeling.

Keiko Mecheri Gourmandises (2004)- Keiko Mecheri wanted a perfume of the marketplace in Istanbul and its confections. Specifically rose rahat loukhoum. M. Vasnier chooses to eschew a photorealistic version in place of something abstract. He embeds a praline accord inside a jammy rose accord. Then he brilliantly attenuates the intense sweetness with the contrast of saffron. It turns it into something not of the bazaar but enticingly bizarre.

Parfums DelRae Panache (2010)- M. Vasnier has had one of his most creative partnerships with creative director DelRae Roth for her Parfums DelRae brand. Panache is a gorgeously dark rum top accord which flows into an equally rich floral heart of jasmine and ylang-ylang. Vetiver provides a support for the boozy florals. As in the previous two fragrances it is the viscous matrix of honey which makes Panache come alive. It oozes into the spaces left to it turning Panache into something lovely.

Arquiste The Architects Club (2014)- When Carlos Huber was starting his Arquiste brand of perfume he turned to two perfumers. M. Vasnier was one of them and his body of work here is among his finest. The Architects Club imagines a meeting between flappers and architects during 1930. The architects are represented by woods and vetiver. The flappers come in with gin martinis, citrus, and vanilla to liven things up. The gin accord is used as a disruptive force and it is one of the reasons, I enjoy this so much because of that energy. It is like The Wild Party goes on and on.

Frassai Blondine (2017)- Natalia Outeda also used M. Vasnier to create one of her debut perfumes for Frassai. Blondine was an early example of the transparent floral gourmand trend which has taken off in the last eighteen months. M. Vasnier takes an expansive floral accord. Then he precisely adds caramel and cocoa until they reach a place where they do not overwhelm the floral but make a sticky platform for them to rest upon. This is one of my favorites of this early floral gourmand style.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Sage

As we reach the end of March it is time to start digging in the dirt. Before the flowers begin to scent the air in Poodlesville it is the herbs which have the honor of providing the smell of spring. We have a patch of wild sage growing in a corner. It is always one of the earliest things I detect in the spring. Sage in perfume is more of a character actor ingredient. Happy to be part of an ensemble of herbal notes most of the time. It is used a lot because it is one of the more versatile herbal ingredients. This month I pick five perfumes which display that.

Tom Ford Private Blend Moss Breches is still one of the most striking of this collection. Perfumer Stephen Nilsen creates one of the most compelling earthy green perfumes available. In the heart of it all is sage as part of a group of herbal notes. They act as the harbinger for the patchouli and moss in the base.

When I first discovered D.S. & Durga one of the first bottles I purchased was Cowboy Grass. Perfumer David Seth Moltz takes every dusty showdown on a movie Western Main Street and makes a fragrance. It has a dryness imparted by many herbs but it is that sage brush tumbleweed which rolls through the center of it all which turns it from desert to cowboy.

One of the most unique uses of sage comes in L’Artisan Parfumeur Caligna by perfumer Dora Baghriche. The top accord is a vibrant combination of fig and sage. When it sinks into the jasmine marmalade accord in the heart it sets Caligna apart. This is my favorite L’Artisan release of the last few years.

Thirdman Eau Inexplicable took its time to grow on me. The reason I’ve come around to enjoying it as much as I do is the sage at the heart of the perfume. Creative director Jean-Christophe le Greves and perfumer Bruno Jovanovic have made one of the edgier Cologne Nouveaus. It has a spiky top half of baie rose, sage, and geranium. The sage is the star before sandalwood and vetiver in the base finish things up. It is a perfume which is a little aloof but if you give it a chance you might warm to its charms.

Jo Malone Wood Sage & Sea Salt is one of the recent spate of aquatic perfumes which look for a different beach milieu. Creative director Celine Roux and perfumer Christine Nagel, in one of her last for the brand, took a trip to the English seaside in Cornwell. What that turned into as a perfume is a mineralic mixture of sun and dunes with the sage standing in for the grass growing on those. This has become one of my favorite shoulder season aquatics.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Donna Karan Chaos- Twice Canceled

One of the familiar refrains of this column is the perfume being profiled was ahead of its time. That is inevitably followed by the conjecture on whether it would have succeeded at a different time; after trends caught up to it. There aren’t many that are given that second chance only to end up back in the Dead Letter Office. Donna Karan Chaos owns this distinction.

Donna Karan is one of the most successful designer perfume brands on the market. Her namesake fragrances plus the DKNY branded ones are classic mass-market perfumes. It didn’t start out that way. Ms. Karan released her first branded perfume in 1992. Over the next ten years she would release another five perfumes. Taken as a collection they were an impressive group of fragrances staking out their own territory. Using those perfumes it seems like Ms. Karan was attempting to create her own niche-like character. That five of the six, Cashmere Mist the exception, are all in the Dead Letter Office tells you how successful they were in the marketplace.

In the realm of the senses where being different is lauded; that group of six were delightful for that. I own all of them because of their unabashed desire to do their own thing. They are examples of what mass-market can aspire to. Each of them was contemporaneous to emerging trends from niche brands.

Jean-Claude Delville

In 1996 the style of spiced dried fruit Oriental perfume was just beginning. Working with perfumer Jean-Claude Delville; Ms. Karan and her co creative director Jane Turker made one of the earliest versions of this.

What is fascinating about Chaos is it accomplishes this fruitiness without a single fruit ingredient in the note list. This would become common; in 1996 it was still infrequently seen. M. Delville would form an axis of coriander, saffron, and sandalwood. On to that he would adhere precious woods, resins, and spices. This is a gorgeously realized opulent Oriental ahead of its time.

Chaos has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Chaos was discontinued in 2002 after failing to capture consumers’ attention. This is where I say Chaos was ahead of its time and that’s why it is in the Dead Letter Office. Except the powers that be at Donna Karan must have thought that time had arrived in 2008 when they re-issued Chaos onto the market. Along with two of the other original six Donna Karans which also seemed to be too early for perfume lovers.

By 2008 Chaos was not an oddity there were many other perfumes going for two to three times the price in the same style. This was the time for Chaos to thrive. Except it didn’t. It would be discontinued for a second time in 2013.

As much as I want to believe every perfume has the right time to find its audience Donna Karan Chaos stubbornly refutes that hypothesis by finding its way to the Dead Letter Office; twice.

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

Mark Behnke

Flanker Round-Up: Givenchy Live Irresistible Rosy Crush and Issey Miyake L’Eau D’Issey Pure Petale de Nectar

This is the time of year when I receive an overwhelming amount of rose perfumes. In the minds of the brands rose equals spring. It is seemingly such a lucrative market that if there isn’t something new to go that means finding a flanker to be ready. Most of what I receive are flankers. I could tell even if I didn’t know the original. When the name starts to get longer by a few words it almost inevitably is a flanker. For this month’s Round-Up these are the two rose flankers I liked the best out of this year’s crop.

Givenchy Live Irresistible Rosy Crush

Last year’s Givenchy Live Irresistible Blossom Crush was one of my top spring rose flankers. Perfumer Dominique Ropion follows a year later with Givenchy Live Irresistible Rosy Crush. This one is more in keeping with the other Live Irresistible releases as it goes back to being very sweet. M. Ropion hews more to the previous formula of opulent fruity floral. What set it apart was a very earthy base.

It opens with the classic fruity floral of berries and rose. It says it is goji berry in the ingredient list but that has always been  tarter in other fragrances I’ve encountered it. This is a full-on sweet berry accord poised to accentuate the rose in the heart. This is that dewy spring rose with the berries teasing out a bit of the jamminess which is buried deep in these types of rose fragrances. The base is a rich earthy patchouli which feels like it wants to be a chypre but is just darkness to tint the bright berries and rose. Based on the last two years maybe Givenchy has this spring rose flanker thing figured out.

Issey Miyake L’Eau D’Issey Pure Petale de Nectar

I’ve lost count of how many flankers the classic 1992 perfume L’Eau D’Issey has launched. I couldn’t bring myself to count. What does happen is when you make so many a few manage to stand out. That’s the case for Issey Miyake L’Eau D’Issey Pure Petale de Nectar. The original defined the fresh aquatic floral. This current iteration honors that by finding a way of nodding back to the L’Eau D’Issey formula without being shackled to it.

Perfumer Dominique Ropion reprises the pear-honey-rose triad from last year’s L’Eau D’Issey Pure Nectar. This latest version has a much lighter overall effect which allows for synthetic woods and ambergris the opportunity to add in the “L’Eau” to the recipe. The use of the honey is what captured my attention as the way it is used as a thin film with the spring rose is really appealing on a spring day.

Disclosure: These reviews were based on samples provided by the manufacturers.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Van Cleef & Arpels Tsar- Last of the Powerhouse Fougeres

My favorite fougeres get most of their wears in the shoulder seasons of winter/spring and summer/fall. I like them because they project some power in the cool mornings before transitioning to something lighter as the day warms up. During the 1980’s the powerhouse fougere was a staple of masculine marketed perfumes. As perfume moved into the 90’s a wave of fresh and clean aquatics would wash them out to sea. One of the last of the great men’s fougeres is this month’s Discount Diamonds Choice; Van Cleef & Arpels Tsar.

Van Cleef & Arpels is one of those quietly successful perfume brands with a surprising number of excellent perfumes. They started in 1976 with one of Jean-Claude Ellena’s earliest perfumes; the aptly named First. Ever since they have continued to work with some of the best perfumers. They have become one of the most reliable brands I know. This was evident even in those early days.

Philippe Bousseton

Tsar was the fourth perfume released by the brand. Perfumer Philippe Bousseton was given a brief to create the “fragrance of a naturally elegant man.” What he did was to take a little of the power out of the powerhouse. It comes through a clever use of herbs and spices before a chypre-like base.

M. Bousseton opens with a rich lavender twisted with rosemary. This is a typical fougere top accord. What happens next was not typical. M. Bousseton sweeps that trite accord away with one of caraway and cinnamon. This is the perfume which put caraway on my internal map of favorite ingredients. Matched with cinnamon it creates that elegance the perfume was going for. Sandalwood comes forth to set up a chypre-ish base with oakmoss and vetiver.

Tsar has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Tsar has been through a couple reformulations with the oakmoss being the most prominent change. While my original bottle benefits from the bite of full-spectrum oakmoss. In the most current version I found the low-atranol version, minus the bite, gives the sandalwood and vetiver some lightness and space. I thought that the current version is probably more fitting for the perfume consumer today. I’ve seen it online for $20-40 a bottle.

It is funny that the perfumer who was responsible for one of the last powerhouse fougeres would make multiple flankers of Cool Water. M. Bousseton knew when to change lanes. If you want one of the best of the last powerhouse fougeres this current shoulder season give Tsar a try.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Comptoir Sud Pacifique Coco Figue- Where’s My Lait?

When I got to Boston and was looking for the places I could find perfume; I asked around. One place which was on everyone’s list was a tiny storefront in Harvard Sq. called Colonial Drug. The owner, Cathy, would stand behind the counter explaining these European brands she had exclusively. If there was any single place I visited, in my early days, which was responsible for putting many brands on my radar it was Cathy. Those were the days when Harvard Sq. hadn’t been converted into an outdoor version of a suburban mall. (Don’t get me started) I could even say she is the inspiration behind the existence of this column. This month I’m going to focus on a release from one of the brands I discovered at Colonial Drug; Comptoir Sud Pacifique Coco Figue.

Comptoir Sud Pacifique was founded in 1975 and has gone through several different creative directors and owners. Despite all that turnover there has been an intent to retain that “South Pacific” tropical attitude to their perfumes. This kind of exuberance is not for everyone. It also can be a bit of a variation on a theme. Coco Figue is a slight variation on Coco Extreme; which came first. If there is something which permeates the aesthetic it is a sense of beach holiday to many of the releases. Which is part of why I enjoy Coco Figue this time of year. If I can’t be on a beach, I want to smell like I am.

Pierre Bourdon

Comptoir Sud Pacifique asked Pierre Bourdon to compose Coco Figue. If there is something that is missing from that name it is the French word for milk; “lait”. This is a milky style of perfume mostly around aromatic coconut milk.

The coconut milk accord is what comes first. M. Bourdon takes coconut milk sweetening it with vanilla and fig. This is a classic suntan lotion accord when it comes together. What M. Bourdon does next is to up the milkiness while adding in a slight dusting of cocoa powder. Fig leaves provide some green to pick up on those aspects of the coconut milk while almond adds a nutty piece to it all. There are moments in the middle of this like I feel like I’m drinking hot chocolate made with coconut milk. It sounds delightful to me which is why I enjoy Coco Figue.

Coco Figue has 6-9 hour longevity and average sillage.

If the idea of coconut milk and vanilla without the cocoa and fig sounds more appealing, then Coco Extreme might be a better choice from the brand. In the last couple years select Comptoir Sud Pacifique have turned up at the mall fragrance counters. They have become easier to put on your radar if you’re wanting to find that vacation state of mind while sitting at home.

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

Mark Behnke