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

Under the Radar: Rouge Bunny Rouge Embers- The Scent of a Smoky Eye

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Now that the holidays are past my winter fragrance selections shift a bit. I mainly wear resins and woods with some spice. As I was rearranging the perfume shelf to bring that group of perfumes to the front, I found an ideal candidate for this column; Rouge Bunny Rouge Embers.

The readers who wear makeup will immediately recognize the brand. Rouge Bunny Rouge is a successful cosmetic brand known for its fun attitude. What is much less known is the fragrance selections that were produced from 2012-2015. Founder and creative director Alexandra de Montfort decided to add fragrances to the repertoire at that time. Mme de Montfort created two collections the “Fragrant Confections” and the “Provenance Tales”. For all the perfumes that were produced she worked with excellent perfumers.

Alexandra de Montfort

The Provenance Tales collection was meant to be a selection of elemental perfumes. Embers is meant to represent fire. Working with perfumer Shyamala Maisondieu they came up with a fragrance which glows on my skin.

Shyamala Maisondieu

Embers opens with a top accord focused on clove. This is the kind of clove which trends towards an incense-like scent profile. Baie rose and nutmeg provide some support, but the clove carries most of the early moments until a steely eyed incense arises out of it. This forms an intense accord as the clove and incense combine. Mme Maisondieu shrouds it with fresh florals of jasmine and freesia to bank the roaring fire. What remains as the base accord comes in to play is the glowing embers. They are kept pulsing a gentle orange using sandalwood, styrax, and peru balsam. By these end stages Embers lives up to its name.

Embers has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

As I mentioned in the opening this is a perfume collection which flies under the radar because it generally is only found at the Rouge Bunny Rouge cosmetic counters. It is a shame because all six of the Provenance Tales are excellent choices for men. The only way they are going to find them is to be there with a woman in their life and notice the perfume bottles. To get the Rouge Bunny Rouge on your radar it might require you to brave the land of the smoky eye to find a scent which Is definitely worth that trip.

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

Mark Behnke

My Mother’s Christmas Present

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Last year’s Christmas post was triggered by smelling some vintage Guerlain Mitsouko. Writing that was like a fever dream which spilled out of me. In the days after I posted that my memory was jogged again about a Christmas Eve shopping trip with my father to buy my mother a present. It seemed like the appropriate follow-up to last year’s story.

The reason there is a cliché about men shopping on Christmas Eve is because there is some truth there. My father and I would get up every Christmas Eve to go shopping for gifts for my mother. I never thought there was any other way to do it. I don’t know this, but I suspect my mother enjoyed a bit of the lull before the storm by having us out of the house.

Downtown Miami Jordan-Marsh 1960-ish

I loved the shopping expedition because we went to the most elegant department store in Miami; Jordan-Marsh. This was when stores like this were wonderlands filled with the latest technology. I was fascinated with the glass room which contained the record players and sound systems. You would step into the soundproofed booth to be surrounded by stereo sound…stereo! I remember walking from one speaker to the other realizing I was hearing different things from each one. It was a modern marvel.

The housewares department was even more fantastic with the latest and the greatest. There was someone demonstrating non-stick frying pans. Look! Melted cheese slides right out! There was an ice cream parlor where we would have lunch. There were people buying wine in the Wine Cellar. It wasn’t sensory overload it was just enough to satiate my need for novel experiences.

We would look all around the store considering this new-fangled thing or that. I remember advocating for the non-stick frying pan one year. We ended up at the same place every year standing at the Women’s Fragrance counter.

My mother wore only two perfumes Guerlain Mitsouko and Guerlain Shalimar. When we got to the counter a nicely dressed woman would patiently greet the latest clueless males venturing into unknown territory. We would mention that those were the perfumes my mother wore. We would be offered paper strips with the latest perfume. “Straight from Paris” she would say.  My father and the saleswoman would begin to talk. I tuned them out as I smelled the strip. I tried to imagine my mother smelling like what was on the paper. I couldn’t. To me my mother simply smelled like Mitsouko or Shalimar. There was no alternative.

When my father asked me about the new perfume, I would reply I didn’t think Mom would like it. I think my Dad thought so too but he let me be the bearer of disappointing news to the saleswoman. He would ask for one of the two Guerlains and we had finished. We would go upstairs to gift wrapping and get an extravagantly intricate design.

On Christmas morning when I would hand my mother the gift from Dad and me; she undoubtedly knew what was inside. She would carefully undo the wrapping paper. Pulling out the box she would smile at Dad and I with the words, “My favorite!”

It wasn’t the perfect gift; whatever that might have been. It was a gift which told my mother we loved the way she smelled.

Mark Behnke

‘Twas the Practically Perfect Night Before Christmas

This is the ninth year I have done a variation on the classic “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore for my Christmas Eve post. For 2017 I was a bit inspired by another magical character Mary Poppins. I imagined Jolly Scent Nick as a Christmas version of the practically perfect nanny.

Here we are, 17 Poodlesville Lane. Home of Colognoisseur, Mrs. C, and the poodles Jackson and Henry. Looks like the winds from the east. What’s about to happen has happened before.

I was letting the poodles in from their final patrol of the moonlit Christmas Eve yard. I looked at the stockings, hung so neatly. Mrs. C had just fallen asleep with two poodle balls of cuteness snuggled next to her. While I was out, I felt the wind shift; wondering if that was for good or ill. Then answer came when an incredible racket was heard in the sky. I knew it must be magic because Mrs. C and the poodles continued to dream oblivious to the noise I heard.

I ran to the picture window to see a silhouette flit across the full moon. It looked like a sleigh being pulled by eight reindeer. I heard the driver shout out their names; Now Coco! Now Jacques! Now Jean and Francois! On Robert! On Yves! On Annick and Estee! Head for the roof!

Eau de Family

As I heard the hooves above me a noise from the fireplace drew my attention. With a whoosh Scent Nick was there. A slight scent of amber accompanied his appearance. An ahem preceded him observing, “close your mouth we are not codfish”. He was dressed as the last time I had seen him; red coat and pants trimmed with white fur. The delicate tinkle of crystal in the bag over his shoulder let me know it was full of bottles. His eyes sparkled with mischief. His dimples radiated joy. His cheeks were matching roses. The nose? That was a cherry. He gazed upon me with a smile surrounded by a beard white as snow.

Scent Nick had always made Christmas brighter for me. He let out a belly laugh which I always heard as “Eau, Eau, Eau” instead of the more traditional laugh he was known for. I asked excitedly what he had for me in the bag. He said to me, “Why complicate things that are really quite simple? Close your eyes and breathe in.”

As I did the scents of home washed over me. The cookies Mrs. C had cooling. The poodle’s sweet muskiness. Even the woodsmoke smell Scent Nick had stirred up upon his arrival. I heard a whisper in my ear, just before I opened my eyes, “Anything can happen if you let it.”

As I looked around, I heard Scent Nick whistle followed by the sound of the reindeer launching into the air. As I watched them fly away, he said “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night”. My heart filled with joy I turned from the window to see a delicate crystal flacon. The label on its side read “Eau de Family”.

The wind has shifted again with the departure of Scent Nick. The denizens of 17 Poodlesville Lane slept with a contented soul. Until it happens again a year from now.

I could easily have found a flacon labeled “Eau de Readers”. This year has brought me a great deal of joy sharing my thoughts about perfume. Part of that has been the interactions I have with many of you. To everyone who visits here I wish you the most magical of Holiday seasons. I think Scent Nick has some other stops to make.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Penhaligon’s Elixir- Casualty of the Reset Button

The longer a brand is around the usual trajectory is a solidifying of a brand aesthetic. If there are some swings, they usually come early in their existence. In the case of perfume brand Penhaligon’s I could make the case they have never been able to figure out what they’re all about. For a brand over a hundred years old you might think they’ve figured it out. You would be wrong. Penhaligon’s has gone through so many distinctly different eras and styles it is hard to keep track. One benefit of all that uncertainty is there was bound to be a time of creative apotheosis. That happened in the years between 2006-2013. Perfumers like Mathilde Bijaoui, Bertrand Duchaufour, Olivier Cresp and Alberto Morillas had a freer hand under creative director Nathalie Vinciguerra. Too many of these have found their way to the Dead Letter Office including the one I think is the best of them all; Penhaligon’s Elixir.

Nathalie Vinciguerra

Mme Vinciguerra kept up her trend of working with the best perfumers as she asked Olivia Giacobetti to compose Elixir. She would come forward with one of her trademark transparent structures which has become one of my Holiday Season staples.

Olivia Giacobetti

By 2008 when Elixir was released the trend towards more transparent constructs was only being practiced by a few perfumers. Mme Giacobetti was one of the earliest and most creative working on these kinds of fragrances. She is one of the reasons I have some issues with many of the modern transparent creations now that the pendulum has swung so firmly in this direction. She showed me that transparency can have tremendous beauty in fragility. Elixir is a good example of how spices, florals, and woods can form an opaque Oriental.

Elixir opens with an accord of three spices; cinnamon, cardamom, and clove. I jokingly think of them as the “3C’s”. Mme Gicaobetti finds an ideal balance of all three so that they form this shimmering spicy accord. In an ingenious flourish she takes eucalyptus to provide mentholated lift to those spices. This is one of my favorite top accords by Mme Gicaobetti, ever. When I wear Elixir, I sometimes refresh it a few hours after the first sprays because I like it so much. What comes after is also quite good, but the beginning is brilliant. It moves through a floral phase led by a lightly indolic orange blossom paired with a subtle incense. This is another diaphanous accord which doesn’t sacrifice the soul of its ingredients. It finishes on a fabulous guaiac wood and sandalwood clean woody foundation.

Elixir has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Elixir has made it to the Dead Letter Office because of the schizophrenic nature of the Penhaligon’s brand. They hit the reset button early and often sending too many good perfumes off to oblivion. The nice thing is bottles of Elixir can still be found reasonably at many of the fragrance resellers.

Elixir has been one of my favorite perfumes by Mme Giacobetti I marvel at how well it stands up to cold weather as I wear it during the Holidays. It shows a sturdiness belied by its presence. The only thing which it couldn’t survive was the reset button.

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

Mark Behnke