Flanker Round-Up: Yves St. Laurent Black Opium Intense and Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb Night Vision

This month’s Flanker Round-Up sees an improvement on one of the most cynical mainstream perfume releases along with a great version of an underrated mass-market fragrance.

Yves St. Laurent Black Opium Intense

I think 2014’s Yves St. Laurent black Opium is one of the most cynically made perfumes of the last five years. A sterile construct of focus groups and marketing, it lacked soul. I’ve written the whole thing off. Then I received my box of samples from Sephora. There was a card with Black Opium Intense written on it. I sprayed it on a strip expecting to stifle a yawn. I didn’t exactly have my eyes popping out of my head, but this felt like an interesting take on a mainstream release.

The same team of four perfumers, Honorine Blanc, Olivier Cresp, Nathalie Lorson, and Marie Salamagne, worked on Black Opium Intense. What made me take notice was the adjective in the name felt relevant. That happens with a boozy licorice-laced absinthe and boysenberry top accord. The same jasmine and orange blossom as the original remain but this time the coffee is given more prominence. The bitterness is nice contrast to the floral. The base gets back to safer territory with an amber and sandalwood base. If they had released this first, I’d be feeling a whole lot better about a modern version of Opium.

Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb Night Vision

When I’m asked about the best mainstream men’s fragrances, one I always have on my list is Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb. I think it is one of the best spicy perfumes you can find at the mall. Spicebomb often feels like the hidden gem on the fragrance counter. The new flanker Spicebomb Night Vision stays true to its roots with a clever substitution of some different ingredients from the perfume spice cabinet.

Nathalie Lorson and Pierre Negrin step-in for the original perfumer team of Carlos Benaim and Olivier Polge. They create something different while still being Spicebomb. It starts with a nice citrus top accord of grapefruit and mandarin. The perfumers lace it with apple and cardamom providing a crisp framing effect. The spices come next; clove, sage, black pepper, and chili pepper. The last ingredient is the reminder of its more elevated position in the original. In Spicebomb Night Vision it plays a more supporting role to the other spices which all coat the green floral quality of geranium. The base has a toasty sweet quality with tonka bean and almonds over woods. I have admired every flanker to Spicebomb; Night Vision is another in that series.

Disclosure: this review is based on samples provided by the manufactuers.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Calvin Klein Obsession for Men- Where It Began

Everyone has their first. Like all firsts you never forget. It was fall of 1986 and I was in my local Macy’s men’s department shopping for work clothes. I had been in my first adult job for a couple years. I was shopping for new clothes because I felt I needed to find something more professional. I was in this mindset when I kept getting the hint of this wonderful smell. As I was flipping hangers on the rack there was a spicy scent in the air. On my way to the dressing room I noticed it was coming from a woman spraying a perfume on paper strips followed by spraying the air. As I was on my way to the register to pay, I detoured towards her. This was what I had been smelling. She offered me one of the strips. I fell down the rabbit hole. On my way to paying a bottle ended up with my new wardrobe. That perfume was what I consider to be my first “grown-up” perfume; Calvin Klein Obsession for Men.

Prior to that I mainly wore Ralph Lauren Polo but I had become tired of it; rarely reaching for the bottle on my dresser. That was a Christmas gift that even when I wasn’t tired of it, I wore mostly when going out, not daily. When I got Obsession for Men home it was what transformed me into a daily perfume wearer. It also transformed my shower as I bought the soap, too. I have worn Obsession for Men for over thirty years and I never have tired of it. Even today when I wear it, I feel as if I’ve come home.

When Obsession for Men was releases in 1986 it was meant to be the masculine counterpart to the very successful Obsession released a year earlier. The same perfumer for Obsession, Robert Slattery, worked on Obsession for Men. Both perfumes were riding the prevailing trend of Oriental perfumes prevalent at the time. What allowed Obsession for Men to stand out was Mr. Slattery used a lighter hand. Obsession for Men was never going to be described as a powerhouse masculine. This was a more refined take on what a man should smell like.

In the mid 1980’s there was a fear of making a male-marketed perfume too femme-y. That translated to floral ingredients being very limited. Lavender was one of the acceptable ones. Mr. Slattery would use the slightly herbal nature of lavender to construct a spicy heart accord around. The keynote was nutmeg which was the leader of the spice squad which consisted of clove, sage, and coriander. This was what caught my attention from across a sales floor. It is what makes me happy every time I wear it. Mr. Slattery forms a traditional Oriental base of amber, patchouli, myrrh, vetiver, and sandalwood.

Obsession for Men has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I am on the final sprays of my third bottle of Obsession for Men. I have found reformulation has not exacted a toll on it. With all classic perfumes which have lasted this long it is a Discount Diamond. I’ve picked up new bottles for less than $25. That’s a good price for one of the best masculine perfumes ever made. Of course that’s what I would say about my first.

Disclosure: this review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Kinski- The Reality of Depravity

As I spend my days trying new perfume there are typical parameters the great majority of them fall within. Only rarely do I come across a perfume which gleefully colors outside the lines. It will never be a fragrance which imparts comfort or prettiness. It is a perfume meant to confront the wearer’s idea of what perfume is meant to do. If it succeeds at doing this it almost by definition is going to be Under the Radar; this month’s choice Kinski is an example of that.

Kinski was released by perfumer Geza Schoen in 2011. He timed it to coincide with the 20th anniversary of actor Klaus Kinski’s death. Klaus Kinski was a towering personality which transferred to his acting where he portrayed larger-than-life characters. He was loved by the media because he enjoyed displaying an engaging kind of oddness. His most famous quote is a good indication, “One should judge a man mainly from his depravities. Virtues can be faked. Depravities are real.” When it came to be designing a fragrance to represent that personality Hr. Schoen came up with a larger-than-life enchantingly odd celebration of fragrance depravity.

Geza Schoen

Kinski is one of Hr. Schoen’s most densely constructed fragrances of his career. It starts with deep accords and spends the next few hours diving deeper. Any perfume which opens with castoreum in the top accord should give you a sense of that.

Besides castoreum there is schinus molle, juniper berry, and blackcurrant bud. Each of these pungent pieces are balanced into a fantastic top accord. The near urinous aspect of blackcurrant buds the gin-like aspect of juniperberry and the herbal-ness of schinus molle combine into a swaggering effect. As it moves to a heart of familiar florals a marijuana accord finds Kinski toking in the flower garden. By the time the base of costus, patchouli, benzoin, and styrax over woods arrive we are knee-deep in something depraved.

Kinski has 24-hour longevity and average sillage.

Kinski is a perfume of strong emotions. It is probably why it isn’t mentioned more often. It is one of the most unique creations in Hr. Schoen’s career. So much that I wonder whether this is him telling us some truth about what is “real”.

If you are a fan of bold perfume Kinski should be on your radar.

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

Mark Behnke

Dominique Ropion 201

One of my favorite columns to write during my first five years was Perfume 101. By looking at a brand while trying to pick five perfumes which represent it was most often illuminating. The only problem was there was a finite list which deserved that kind of scrutiny. After 41 editions of Perfume 101 I thought it was time to matriculate to a more advanced level. For the foreseeable future I am going to focus on the career of a perfumer in what I’m calling Perfumer 201.

One of the perfumers who has most benefited from the niche perfume expansion is Dominique Ropion. M. Ropion was there at the beginning of it; allying him to Editions de Parfum Frederic Malle right at the start. If I wanted to be lazy, I could just list the perfumes he has done for that brand; modern masterpieces like Carnal Flower or Portrait of a Lady among them. As you’ll see I chose something different. M. Ropion excels within the Oriental genre of perfumery. Many of his best fragrances fall within that category. He isn’t a one-trick pony especially more recently as my choices will reflect. Here are five perfumes by Dominique Ropion which are worth seeking out.

Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant (1996)- M. Ropion collaborated with perfumer Jean-Louis Sieuzac and creative director Celine Verleure at the cusp of niche perfumery. This is where M. Ropion would develop a style of soft Oriental which would show up time and again over the next twenty-plus years. He would take some of the most difficult to tame ingredients and find a nonabrasive application. It shows in the opening of L’Elephant where cumin and cardamom set the stage for clove, licorice, ylang-ylang, and mango to set up a vanilla amber base. This is still one of the very best vanilla and spice perfumes I own.

Editions de Parfum Frederic Malle Vetiver Extraordinaire (2002)- One of the innovations of niche perfumery was to encourage overdose of ingredients. This was done to find something unique in that kind of concentration. Creative director Frederic Malle encouraged M. Ropion to do that with one of the stalwart ingredients of modern perfumery, vetiver. Choosing to make it 25% of the composition. M. Ropion would frame it in woods and smoke. This is the best modern vetiver perfume ever. It is why this was the choice from M. Ropion’s incredible portfolio for this brand.

Costume National Homme (2009)- Lots of brands wanted to stake out the space of “avant-garde”. Costume National creative director Ennio Capasa was one of them. When he asked M. Ropion to make a masculine perfume he got the twist he was looking for. What this means is M. Ropion’s by-now signature sandalwood, spices, and resins become coated in a synthetic oily accord which is a slightly sweet oleaginous effect. It smells much better than it sounds.

Starck Paris Peau de Soie (2016)- There is a point in every perfumer’s career where I want them to speak to me with a whisper. Working with Philippe Starck, M. Ropion has made a perfume which feels like a bubble which should pop at any moment. Instead Peau de Soie takes iris which encloses synthetic musks and woods. They expand the iris to a powdery translucent globe which enthralls with its fragility.

A Lab on Fire And The World Is Yours (2018)- If there is an abiding theme of the five perfumes I’ve chosen it is creative directors who know how to give a perfumer space to be creative. Creative director Carlos Kusubayashi is another who has found this leeway is a recipe for success. And The World Is Yours brings this list full circle as cumin plays an important role in the top accord. This time there is no softening instead it is used as divider between orange blossom and neroli. As the florals shift to rose and hyacinth the pungent cumin persists until splashdown in a balsamic pool of vanilla and sandalwood. Over the past year I have come to see And The World Is Yours as the spiritual flip side to Kenzo Jengle L’Elephant. Which makes it the right place to end this list.

Disclosure: I purchased bottles of each perfume mentioned.

Mark Behnke

Why I Don’t Layer

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There is a popular activity among perfume lovers I don’t participate in. There are whole perfume brands built around this activity. I ignore it. The activity I am writing about is layering. The name is self-evident. The concept is to combine a couple of favorite perfumes spraying one on top of the other. I know it is popular because I have received many queries on whether I have layered this perfume with that one. The first sentence tells you my response.

I don’t do it because I think it is some ridiculous idea. I can see the fun in finding a new experience through layering. The first I remember seeing it was when I was visiting the new Jo Malone section at Saks over a decade ago. They still sell layering kits where they combine three of their perfumes they think go together. Whenever I receive a press release for a new perfume there are layering suggestions in the last paragraph. On that day I was first asked to layer things by trying some different combinations suggested by the sales associates; I found it annoying. What all the different attempts on my forearms felt like to me was a layer of static over the perfume I really wanted to smell.

Image from Scent Compass

Like anything I kept trying for a few years after that to find a pair of perfumes which I enjoyed more together than apart. It always felt like one interfered with my enjoyment of the other. I generally scrubbed off the layers and then sprayed the one which I was enjoying more free of static.

It wasn’t true when I started my brief layering experiment; but the result provided a new perspective. My feeling over time has become more confidently assured about the thesis that the best perfume is an art form. The way that impacts my hesitancy to layer now is why should I try and alter the creative team’s vision. I enjoy wearing a perfumer’s efforts without interference. I rarely think while wearing a new release that there is another perfume on the shelf that will make it better.

Perfume is such a personal experience my aversion to layering shouldn’t impact anyone else’s enjoyment. I just wanted to give a fuller explanation to any future question on whether I’ve layered this with that. My answer will be shorter than the preceding paragraphs, “No.”

Mark Behnke

Thank You: Colognoisseur’s Fifth Anniversary

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I’m not a big believer on looking backward. I’d rather keep moving forward. One thing that I learned when I was cycling regularly was how gratifying it was to look back over my shoulder as I crested a big hill. You could take pleasure in the work it took to get there by seeing the sloping path behind you. Today I’m choosing to look back at the five years of doing this blog with pleasure.

When I hit publish on February 1, 2014 I wasn’t sure I could write one new piece on perfume every day. I had a 90-day plan on that day; to find out that extended to an 1,826-day plan is that path I am writing about. I haven’t missed one day in five years. The biggest reason is the readers. To extend the cycling analogy it was the people who read Colognoisseur who cheered me on as I kept pedaling up the hill. Today I’d like to thank the readers by sharing a few stories.

One of the stories which has generated some of the loveliest e-mails has been my “How to Give Perfume as a Gift”. I’ve had a couple who chose a perfume for their 50th wedding anniversary. I’ve had a bride and groom use it for their wedding day scents. My very favorite was the e-mail I received from a father and his daughter as they used it to find a perfume for her Sweet Sixteen. The daughter has worn the perfume they chose, Chanel Coco Mademoiselle, ever since. It is one of the most popular posts on Colognoisseur which provides me with real evidence that the words I write can make perfume a part of people’s lives.

The other e-mail I receive which pleases me is when I review a new independent perfumer followed by a reader who seeks the perfume out. Part of what I wanted to do was to make sure Colognoisseur would give positive exposure to these artists who work outside the mass-market. Most of the time the readers find something to enjoy, as I did. Sometimes I do get e-mail wondering if there is something wrong with my nose. I am thankful for those communications, too. They are reminders that what I write is one man’s opinion, not meant to represent anything more than that.

One part of doing the blog for this long is the responses I get to my The Sunday Magazine pieces. That is where I allow my non-perfume passions to peek out from behind the bottles. The readers seem to enjoy debating those things. None more so than my enjoyment of Twin Peaks: The Return. I think there are still some who think I have lost it over that.

I’ve received amazing random acts of kindness from readers who send me things which I mention in my writing. I’ve gotten perfume. I’ve also received recipes for gingerbread as well as a new way to make plum rum. All because I’ve written about a perfume. All because Colognoisseur has become a part of people’s reading.

Thank you is such a small phrase to carry as much weight as it does. To every person who has read Colognoisseur over the past five years; Thank you.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Tea

As we are firmly in the middle of winter where I need something to lift my spirits I turn to a hot cup of tea. I think I enjoy it because it carries a fragrant quality to the different types. Tea perfumes emulate that. One thing which always allows me to enjoy tea perfumes is the ingredient is not able to be extracted as an essential oil. That means this is another ingredient where a perfumer must construct their own signature tea accord. Here are five of my favorites.

Bvlgari Eau Parfumee au The Vert is the beginning of the tea trend in perfume. It is also remarkable for being one of the first releases where perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena’s style emerges in finished form. Today we take both for granted; in 1993 they were groundbreaking. M. Ellena forms a citrusy floral transparency through which tendrils of smoky green tea swirl. It is one of the all-time great perfumes.

Another perfumer known for her transparent style is Olivia Giacobetti in 2001’s L’Artisan Parfumeur Tea for Two she would create her own version. She chose to make a lapsang souchong accord which is where the fragrance begins. The scent of wood smoke dried black tea is gorgeously realized. Mme Giacobetti then adds some cinnamon followed by a veil of honey in the base. Among the best perfumes by one of the best perfumers.

Another take on the lapsang souchong accord came from independent perfumer Mandy Aftel in Aftelier Vanilla Smoke. Ms. Aftel constructs a pine wood dried version of the black tea accord. It adds the perfect amount of counterbalance to the vanilla. The real linchpin is an interstitial saffron which provides the spacing between the vanilla and the tea. This is another example of Ms. Aftel’s ability to find the most out of her accords.

The creative directors of Masque Milano, Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi, wanted to create a Russian tea ritual in a snowy St. Petersburg square. Perfumer Julien Rasquinet intersperses mint and smoke through his black tea accord before using a brilliantly conceived immortelle. That maple syrup quality transforms Russian Tea into the best tea perfume of the last few years.

Parfum D’Empire Osmanthus Interdite is one of those jasmine tea flowers which unfurl in a clear teapot. Perfumer Marc-Antoine Corticchiato uses jasmine and Osmanthus as floral components to a green tea accord which melds seamlessly with the florals. This is the fragrance equivalent of watching that jasmine tea rose languorously unfold in the tea pot.

If you’re looking for a little warmth this winter try wearing a cuppa perfume.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Spazio Krizia Donna- Left Behind

As we entered the new millennium the trend of niche perfumery was taking hold. Throughout the mid-1990’s there was this segment of perfume producers re-writing the rules. Pushing back against the commercial with a vision that perfume could be something more. I write over and over about those founding brands of the style of fragrance which changed the way things were done. What gets lost is there were some brands who were also looking to find their audience while never surviving. These were the putative failures. Except they really weren’t. There were equally great ideas at the brands which got left behind. This month I look at one of those with Spazio Krizia Donna.

Mariuccia Mandelli

Mariuccia Mandelli and her husband Aldo Pinto founded Krizia as a ready-to-wear Italian brand in 1954. Sig. ra Mandelli was a trendsetter as one of the mothers of the short shorts known as “hotpants” her most well-known innovation. As the 1990’s began Sig. ra had begun the diversification that every successful fashion brand had undergone. They had started making perfume in 1980 with their debut release K de Krizia by perfumer Maurice Roucel. They would follow that with four other perfumes. All five of those perfumes were nicely done. In 1991 is seems like Sig. ra Mandelli had decided she wanted the perfumes which carried the Krizia name to have something to say. By collaborating with perfumer Dominique Ropion she wanted to lead the way with her fragrance collection as she had with her fashion. With the release of Krazy Krizia she succeeded. For the next fifteen years she would keep making interesting niche-style perfumes. My favorite is Spazio Krizia Donna.

Christine Nagel

Spazio Krizia Donna was released in 1998 it was the “donna” version of the “uomo” version released five years earlier. Beyond the name there is no comparison Spazio Krizia Uomo is a crazy herbal vetiver in a moss-covered ocean cave. Spazio Krizia Donna was composed by Christine Nagel which confirms Sig. ra Mandelli’s eye for talent. It is best described as a floral gourmand a term which had not ben coined in 1998.

Spazio Krizia Donna opens with a spicy rose floating on a cup of slightly bitter brewed coffee. There have been quite a few floral coffee releases the last year or so. This is more floral than coffee, but the roasted contrast is a nice companion. Mme Nagel uses an ingredient which is not used very much these days, cascarilla bark. The essential oil from the distillation of this wood is a kind of allspice effect. If you smell it by itself you will think you are smelling a blended perfume of pepper, nutmeg, and green herbal-ness. In the case of this perfume it elicits a response from the spicy core of the rose. Paradise seed is also present providing a nutty cardamom piece. This is such an interesting accord as Mme Nagel uses alternative sources for specific spice effects. It gives it a lighter feel than it probably would have if the regular ingredients were used. The base accord covers the florals in a sticky coating of honey which is warmed by amber and musk.

Spazio Krizia Donna has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

The collection of Krizia releases from 1991-2006 contain some great examples of the early days of niche perfumery. They continued to be available until three or four years ago. The brand was sold in 2014 and it was soon after the fragrance collection was contracted to just four perfumes; none from the time period I mentioned above. The scions of niche perfumery are well-known. If you want to find the creative brands which couldn’t thrive you have to visit the Dead Letter Office.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I received from a reader.

Mark Behnke

Flanker Round-Up: Dolce & Gabbana The Only One and Prada L’Homme Absolu

January is a time for me to clean up loose ends from my desk. This month’s Flanker Round-Up allows me to tie off a couple of those; Dolce & Gabbana The Only One and Prada L’Homme Absolu.

Dolce & Gabbana The Only One

I have been very critical about the number and quality of flankers of the original 2006 Dolce & Gabbana The One. Almost annually I received an example of why flankers are held in such low esteem. This year with The Only One I received something which broke that trend; mainly by following one of the prevailing fragrance trends.

Perfumer Violaine Collas was not working off the blueprint from Christine Nagel’s original. Mme Collas was designing a perfume for the current day. That meant she came up with a floral gourmand.

The Only One opens with a zippy citrus top accord. It gives way quickly to the heart accord where violet and coffee form the floral and the gourmand components. The violet is a slightly candied version which contrasts with a similarly shaded bitter coffee. It adds some vanilla cream to the mix before patchouli brings things to a close. If you are enjoying the floral gourmand style The Only One is a good addition to that genre.

Prada L’Homme Absolu

Perfumers sometimes fall in love with a set of notes or accords. You see it crop up again and again. For Prada in-house perfumer Daniela Andrier it is the triad of neroli, iris, and cedar. It has been hard to improve upon her original Infusion D’Iris. When L’Homme Prada came out in 2016 she returned to this and I wasn’t impressed. Prada L’Homme Absolu is also another interpretation but by enhancing the spices I liked it better.

The main alteration happens right at the start as cardamom and black pepper are given a more prominent place with the iris. I liked this change and it carries forward into the neroli and geranium joining in. The typical ambery cedar which is the traditional base accord is the end. I still haven’t found anything better than Infusion D’Iris but the added spiciness in Prada L’Homme Absolu will be appealing to someone looking for that.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by the manufacturers.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Paul Sebastian PS For Men- A Couple Guys From Jersey Make A Perfume

I’m used to people asking me what perfume I’m wearing. I very rarely ask the same question in return. While I was at a local Holiday party, I was making small talk with a new acquaintance. As he kept moving around, I was catching the scent of a really nice cologne. For a while I tried to see if I could place it as one of the current department store offerings. It had more of a throwback vibe to it for me to think it was that. It was made up of so many of the usual perfume suspects I was pretty sure it wasn’t a niche perfume. He didn’t seem like a guy who would be looking for indie fragrances. He definitely didn’t seem like a DIY fragrance person. I finally had to ask. He told me it was Paul Sebastian PS For Men.

Paul Sebastian is not an actual person. The brand name was created by using the middle names of two guys from New Jersey; Leonard Paul Cuozzo and Alan Sebastian Greco. Mr. Cuozzo lived near the plant of one of the major perfume oil producers. He would find the smaller perfume oil house of Fritzsche, Dodge, & Olcott in an adjacent Jersey town. Over a few years he worked with perfumers there to arrive at a formula which could be produced. This is where Mr. Greco enters the story. He was the business guy. A sales manager for a large national firm he had some ideas on a business plan. With a perfume formula, a business plan, and some seed money they produced their first bottles. Selling them at three local New Jersey men’s stores in 1979. Proximity to New York City must have had other men asking the same question I did. When they got the answer Messrs. Cuozzo and Greco began to expand their production and distribution. One of their early innovations was the “gift with purchase” first with teddy bears then small figurines. It all started with PS For Men.

It is easy to see that Mr. Cuozzo’s creative direction was to oversee a softer Oriental than the other masculine fragrance offerings in the mid-1970’s. As he worked through iterations with the perfumers at Fritzsche, Dodge, & Olcott I can imagine him asking for a lightening up of the style. It is what ends up in the bottle.

It opens with spice swathed lavender; nutmeg and clove predominantly. Those spices help keep the rose from getting too out of control. It is here where PS For Men finds its balancing point as spices and florals swirl around each other. A classic amber, patchouli, and musk base provides the finish.

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

If you’re looking for a lighter Oriental style perfume for the office PS For Men is a great choice. This is not a perfume where you will leave a vapor trail. As I’ve re-introduced myself to my well-hidden bottle, I am impressed at how timeless this feels. It doesn’t have a dated quality to it. This can be found for under $25 in multiple places. Not bad for a couple of guys from Jersey.

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

Mark Behnke