‘Twas The Night Before Christmas: The Last Flacon

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My Christmas Eve tradition over the last eight years has been to put a perfumed point atop Clement Clarke Moore’s “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”. Two years ago, I was inspired by the recent Star Wars release to make a kind of quest out of it. This year I am again inspired by this most recent Star Wars entry and imagine a perfume to be the spark which lights the fire.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

Episode VIII

The Last Flacon

It is Christmas Eve in Poodlesville.

Colognoisseur has lost his mojo.

He has found his inspiration in scented things to be at an all-time low. He knows he is just one brilliant perfume away from finding the way back to his joy. As he looks to the skies with a silent plea he heads to bed….

Walking through the silent house I looked at the stockings, hung so neatly. As I turned off the bubble lights on the Christmas tree I smiled at the poodles curled up, breathing deeply. Mrs. C sleepily adjusted her kerchief. I had just removed my fedora wondering if there was something out there which would return my passion to me; when an incredible racket was heard outside.

I rushed to the picture window to see a silhouette pass across the full moon. I rubbed my eyes because it couldn’t be what I thought it was. All doubt disappeared as a hearty voice called to the reindeer pulling the sleigh. Scent Nick called out, “Now Shalimar! Now, Fracas! Now No. 19 and Chergui! On Rose 31! On Caravelle Epicee! On Mugler Cologne and Sel de Vetiver! Head for the roof!”

The Last Flacon

As I heard the hooves settle on the roof, I looked at the fireplace. Scent Nick whooshed into existence in front with a balsamic air about him. He was dressed as expected in a red coat and pants trimmed with white fur. The pack on his back seemingly was full of bottles as they tinkled against each other. His eyes sparkled like the finest jasmine. His dimples were as merry as lilacs in May. His cheeks were twin spots of Damascene rose. His nose a ripe raspberry. He looked at me with a smile surrounded by a beard as white as snow.

Hope was rising within my battered soul as he pulled the pipe from his mouth and let out a belly laugh which pulled from the tips of his toes to the top of his cap. He was saying “Ho, ho, ho!” but my ears were hearing “Eau, eau, eau!” As our eyes connected I could feel magic thickly swirling around us. He reached into his pack and pulled out a simple crystal flacon which hummed with potential. My eyes looked at it with hope.

Was this it? Was this The Last Flacon? The perfume to bring me back? He swiftly dashed the stopper off and poured it over my head. I was surrounded by hints of every perfume I’ve ever loved in a scented whirlwind of joy.

We hadn’t said a thing and before I could break the silence he was gone up the chimney. With a whistle the reindeer launched into the air. I watched them fly away. Then before he disappeared completely he exclaimed, “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” With a heart filled with joy I laid down next to Mrs. C happier than I had been in a long time.

First, there is nothing about the malaise in this story that is true. My daily writing for Colognoisseur continues to be one of the great joys of my life. My interactions with readers fill my heart on a near daily basis. As I finish my fourth year I am more grateful than I can ever express.

As always to everyone I wish all of you the most magical of Holiday seasons. If you’re finding yourself in need of a little lift keep an ear peeled for Scent Nick he might have a Last Flacon for you, too.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Stetson Sierra- Christmas Tree Shopping

There is that moment every Holiday season soon after Thanksgiving I find myself in a Christmas tree lot. The act of picking out a tree is one of the pleasures of the season. Part of that is the simple smell of the scene. The rows of trees with sap coating the cut at the end on a cold night, breath steaming, is intrinsic to my scent memory of Christmas. The reason I have a real tree is to transport this smell, in a small way, back home. There are lots of great choices out there to capture this as a perfume. I thought for this month’s Discount Diamonds I might remind you of one hiding at the back of your drugstore fragrance case; Stetson Sierra.

Sierra was the fourth release from Stetson in 1993. It was the follow-up to two of the most popular drugstore perfumes, the Original Stetson and Preferred Stock. There was a sense that this brand was trying to be an all-American style full of masculine tropes emblematic of the cowboy who wears a Stetson hat. In these early days creative director Elizabeth Marrone really had an idea of what a “Stetson Man” should smell like. She would work with perfume Rene Morgenthaler to create a fragrance which is, “a breath of fresh air that takes you to Big Sky.”

Rene Morgenthaler

M. Morgenthaler goes for an herbal accord as the primary accompaniment to the fir balsam keynote. It captures the scent of the needles on the trees as rosemary, sage, allspice, thyme, and cumin are artfully blended into a rough accord which captures both the rawness of the sap with the softness of the pine needles. Right here is the smell of lots of pine trees leaning against saw horses with price tags affixed to them. It is subtler than most drugstore styles. The subtlety is removed in the later phase as a load of synthetic woody aromachemicals mix together in a typical base accord.

Stetson Sierra has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

If you find yourself stuck in line at your local drugstore on an emergency Holiday run; look at that fragrance case. If you see a green bottle for about $15 with Stetson Sierra on it. Grab it and make believe you’re out shopping for Christmas trees instead of waiting in line.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Caron Nuit de Noel- The Ghost of Christmas Past

Just over my fifty-eight years of life I have watched the Holidays become more casual. Gone are the days of my youth when I wore a new suit for Christmas. Gone is going to Midnight Mass and seeing the congregation dressed up and sparkling in the church. It isn’t just the Holidays it is a general societal shift; one which I don’t truly disapprove of. Although I do sort of wish there was a day when we all agreed we would get dressed-up as one; like a grand Throwback Thursday. I think that is why I enjoy the older perfumes because they still feel like they want to be worn under formal clothing. This is especially true of the early Caron perfumes composed by perfumer Ernest Daltroff. One of them is meant to be that touch of elegance which is missing from modern-day Christmas; Nuit de Noel.

Nuit de Noel was the fourth perfume released under the Caron name by M. Daltroff. It was meant to be a Holiday perfume as the name suggests but every time I wear it I wonder what the Holidays were like in M. Daltroff’s world in 1922. Nuit de Noel is wall-to-wall elegance combined with the use of the Mousse de Saxe base M. Daltroff created. It is the sense of a party where the brightest young things in the world are celebrating the Season.

This Christmas Night opens with a starburst of jasmine; deeply floral and indolic. M. Daltroff blends rose as support. There are many times I consider this to be the star on top of the tree because what comes next is a sturdy trunk of sandalwood and amber. A creamy, slightly spicy, wood. This is where Mousse de Saxe arrives wrapping this fragrant tree in garland. This classic base is comprised of geranium, leather, licorice, and vanilla. It falls somewhere between chypre and leather itself; occupying a necessary middle ground especially in the early days. It is this base which makes Nuit de Noel the masterpiece that it is.

Nuit de Noel has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

In truth the entire Caron collection and M. Daltroff are emblematic of the concept of this Under the Radar column. If you love perfume you should make the effort to seek the brand out it remains one of the Grand Maisons in all of perfumery. When it comes to Nuit de Noel it does feel a bit like the Ghost of Christmas Past because this era of elegance at the Holidays doesn’t exist anymore. Even so, there is nothing wrong with having a drop under your ugly sweater or pajama top to remind you there was a different style a hundred years ago.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Montblanc Legend Intense- Second Bite of the Pineapple

On my latest scavenger hunt at the discount store I was surprised to see the subject of this month’s column, Montblanc Legend Intense, on the shelf. I had always seen this perfume as correcting all the flaws I found in the original Montblanc Intense which deservedly has been in the discount bin for years. Most of the times flankers are either cynical seasonal editions or complete re-workings. Montblanc Legend Intense was something different.

Montblanc Intense was released in 2011 by perfumer Olivier Pescheux. It was a wan attempt at a fruity fougere using pineapple and apple. The whole composition felt thin like it was missing something in support. It wasn’t anything I was going to remember until a couple years later while walking through the mall and being handed a strip. As I sniffed I thought this is very good, I asked the sales rep and she showed me the Montblanc Legend Intense bottle. I realized that this was the new and improved version of Legend. Now all the empty spaces were filled in to create something to remember.

Olivier Pescheux

In the original the opening of pineapple was given no help by the addition of coumarin and verbena. For Legend Intense M. Pescheux switches those out for cardamom and Pepperwood. What these notes do is lift up the pineapple into a crispness which was never apparent in the original. For the heart apple is again the keynote. This time M. Pescheux again goes for a crisp effect around the fruit using cedar, and the rose-apple aromachemical Pomarose. Everything about the opening is better it has clear delineated structure around a set of two fruit notes. The base is even better for the changes. This time M. Pescheux goes all in with a mixture of the most powerful woody aromachemicals mixing a potent cocktail of Ambroxan, Karanal, and Okoumal. These combine to form a long-lasting woody foundation.

Legend Intense has 16-18 hour longevity and average sillage.

I always think of Legend Intense as M. Pescheux’s second bite of the pineapple. I certainly believe it is a much better perfume in every way that I can quantify that statement. I had thought it to be a perennial best-seller but perhaps its days at the mall have passed. So much the better because it makes Legend Intense a Discount Diamond.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar Comme des Garcons X Monocle Scent One Hinoki- A Lemming is Born

One of the fun things about the gathering of perfume lovers that the internet spawned was when lemmings were spawned. The typical life cycle for this was for someone to stumble over a press release describing a perfume to come which sounded amazing. The next stage was a general amplification of desire as it was imagined what it would smell like. Then the first people would get the chance to try it. If they came back and reported it was as good, or better, the stampede was initiated, and we rushed headlong to the cliff…um…I mean the store. The final stage was a kind of post-coital languor as we all talked about how good it was. In 2008 one of the largest lemmings ever born was Comme des Garcons x Monocle Scent One: Hinoki.

Comme des Garcons had serious perfumista cred in 2008 as creative director Christian Astuguevieille had defined what it meant to be a niche fragrance. Merging that aesthetic with a non-fragrance brand was another interesting step. Monocle was a lifestyle magazine founded by Tyler Brule in 2007, Besides lifestyle there were also international affairs stories in between the sleek furniture and cutting-edge fashion. The sensibilities seemed like a good match.

Towards the end of 2007 it was announced that the first perfume from this collaboration was going to be called Scent One: Hinoki. Perfumer Antoine Maisondieu was going to bring the juice to life. Scent One: Hinoki was meant to evoke a soak in a hinoki wood tub amidst a pine forest in Japan. What was great about this perfume when we were in the imagining what it would smell like phase of the lemming cycle was the inclusion of this top note, turpentine. Turpentine? You mean mineral spirits? Lots of debate on whether that was going to be good or not. It, plus another challenging note, would become the acid test on whether it was worth the chase.

Antoine Maisondieu

That other note is camphor and along with the turpentine that is what you get at the start. It is challenging in a nose wrinkling kind of way. When I first tried it on a paper strip it put me off in a big way. When I finally put some on my skin it was completely different as the challenging aspects became more diffused on my skin. Then the camphor and turpentine turn into a raw wood accord. If you’ve ever worked with green wood this is the smell of that. As that fades a more finished wood appears; cypress and pine are the choices. Green is introduced via vetiver, thyme, and moss adding back some of the rawer character lost with the more refined woods ascension. In the base the incense burning just outside the tub swirls over it all.

Scent One: Hinoki has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

During 2008 I was tracking what the most reported scents in the Scent of the Day thread in the forum were. On the men’s forum Scent One: Hinoki was one of the top 5 for the year. The really final stage of a lemming is it is forgotten as the crowd chases the next one. Scent One: Hinoki is good enough it shouldn’t be forgotten or found Under the Radar.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Trussardi Python- A Fine Chocolate

I’m starting this edition of Dead Letter Office a little bit differently. In the almost four years I’ve been writing on my own at Colognoisseur I am very happy that certain columns connect with specific readers. This usually leads to delightful conversations via e-mail or chat. One big fan of this column has decided to move beyond that. Over the past year I can count on seeing a chat pop-up the next morning after a Dead Letter Office piece. This reader has a crazy collection of discontinued fragrances. At the beginning of the summer I was asked how many more Dead Letter Offices I had in me. I responded that I was getting to the end of my list that I own. I was asked for my address and a few weeks later the most amazing surprise arrived; a box full of samples of discontinued gems. There was a little note which accompanied it, “this should keep you busy”. I’ve asked, I’ve pleaded, I’ve begged for the reader to allow me to name them. I feel like I should be able to call this the “Person’s Name Collection” when I write about it. For now, it will remain an anonymous random act of kindness.

Louise Turner

When you get something like this there is a giddy moment of colognoisseur in the rare perfume store. I wanted to try everything. As the temperatures were cooling there was one which I had heard about which was purported to be a “perfect chocolate gourmand”. I felt like that was where I wanted to start, with Trussardi Python.

Trussardi is an Italian fashion design house which began by selling leather goods in 1911. Over the next seventy years the brand would expand into accessories of all kinds. In an interesting turnabout the fragrances which bore the brand name came before the clothes. In 1982 they would release their first branded fragrance; the women’s ready-to-wear collection would come a year later. The rest of the 1980’s would see a dramatic worldwide expansion for all things Trussardi.

Nathalie Gracia-Cetto

As they reached the turn of the century they decided to jump on the fledgling gourmand perfume trend with Python. At this point in time Thierry Mugler Angel had spawned multiple follow-ons. To stand out perfumers Louise Turner and Nathalie Gracia-Cetto decide to create a photorealistic chocolate accord and serve it up on a sandalwood platter. It turns out to be all of that.

The perfumers raise the curtain with a raucous fanfare of orange, jasmine, and rose. It is loud and proud to be on your skin. Soon enough the chocolate comes forward as it seems to kick the florals to the curb while embracing the orange. The perfumers pull a neat effect by using plum to add depth to the chocolate. This then allows cardamom and nutmeg to gently spice the overall accord. The base is all sandalwood in overdose. It is sweet and creamy and kept there with a little vanilla.

Python has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

The chocolate in the heart of Python is not an abstraction in any way. The perfumers successfully present the smell of a fine chocolate bar. Evidently the abstract fireworks of Angel were preferred by the segment of consumers who wanted to buy a gourmand perfume. Which meant Python would join many other early gourmands in the Dead Letter Office.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample supplied by a reader.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Yardley English Lavender- Embracing the Transitory

One of the most important sentences I write in every review is that which contains the longevity and sillage of the perfume I am writing about. I tried leaving it out and the vox populi let me know it was missed; a lot. It is an interesting set of statistics and I worry that it carries too much importance but the readers and the customers should have the information they want. Which makes it difficult for me to write about fragrances which last less than four hours. Although if it is a Discount Diamond it might go down a little easier especially since you can get 100 ML of this month’s choice, Yardley English Lavender, for around $10.

I like these short-lasting perfumes because they can be worn for just a morning, or an afternoon, or in the evening. When it comes to Yardley English Lavender it is my raking leaves perfume. I spray myself liberally and go out and rake leaves on a couple of chilly fall afternoons. By the time I come in and take a shower it is gone but not forgotten.

Yardley English Lavender is one of the original perfumes of the late 19th century opening the new age of modern perfumery. Created in 1873 it has been re-formulated twice in 2010 and 2015 by perfumers Paul Fraysse and William A. Poucher. It was one of the perfumes my grandmother wore which I always associated with her. Lavender has become one of my favorite florals over the years and I re-visited English Lavender right before the end of the 20th century. It quickly became a favorite choice for a quick boost of fragrance on a busy day or night. It is a simple construct designed to accentuate all the facets of lavender.

It opens with bergamot providing an amplification of the fresher nature of lavender. It transitions to clary sage bringing out the herbal nature. It is joined by a very crisp cedar which brings out the slight camphor-like undertone in lavender. A bit of musk reminds me that there is an animalic heart deep inside the purple spear.

English Lavender has 3-4 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

The biggest difference I have noticed in my versions is the musk used in the base. The earliest versions have a more animalic one. It has given way to a typical white musk in the latest version I tried. English Lavender is an example of the enjoyment that can be gained from embracing the transitory.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

What Has Happened to Clive Christian?

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There have been several acquisitions of some of the founding brands of niche perfumery. For the successful brands which have been acquired by the experienced cosmetics companies it has turned out to see expansion of availability and greater visibility. Of the brands acquired over the last few years; Le Labo, Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle, Atelier Cologne, By Kilian among them it has been a positive. I can say I had worries about the brands losing what made them stand out enough to warrant being acquired. So far, the creative teams have remained in place and the biggest change has been finding new points of sale. Three years on from the first of these I would say any concern has been misplaced because they all have continued to be niche while part of a conglomerate.

In hindsight I can say the experience in marketing and distribution a big beauty brand brings to the partnership makes sense. If you want to see what happens when those who know nothing about the beauty sector decide there is money to be made you just have to look at the acquisition of Clive Christian by a consortium of investment houses led by EME Investments. One big difference is that the brand had fallen into debt and needed an infusion of capital to stay afloat. This is when EME came along with three other investors and bought the brand.

Prior to the acquisition Clive Christian was one of the first ultra-luxe perfume brands. Starting in 2001 they positioned themselves at exclusive stores around the world touting the quality of their ingredients as part of the reason they were so highly priced. For many years they had that part of the new niche sector all to themselves. As the years went by there was more competition for what had to be a limited consumer base.

From 2001 until 2014 they released six pairs of perfumes one each for men or women. Overall, they were a collection which stood for a specific aesthetic centered on luxury and exclusivity which made the modest release schedule part of the larger strategy. Within those twelve releases over thirteen years; one of them, C for Men, is one of my all-time favorites.

Now with the new owners Clive Christian has released 26 (!) new releases since June of 2016. I’ll do the math 26 releases over 15 months. At the same ultra-luxe prices for the most part. There is no reputable perfume brand which would ever take that level of release rate if there was an experienced beauty company behind it. I cannot imagine there is more support for an additional 26 Clive Christian perfumes than there was for the prior twelve.

Worse the whole enterprise cheapens the brand. We can argue about the merits of the perfumes but the way they cultivated their exclusivity and quality matched their aspirations. What does 26 new perfumes communicate? Avon released 25 new perfumes over the same time frame for a tenth of the price…or less. It certainly isn’t exclusivity or quality.

There have been several financial people who have convinced themselves that there are profits to be found in the niche sector. They seemingly misunderstand how much part of the brand reputation plays into the desire to own it. You can’t just say, “look luxury and lots of it” the truth must be in the bottle. In the current collection of 26 these are as cynical a group of perfumes as you can imagine. There is not a single one of them I would want on my skin for any extended period of time.

The answer to “what happened to Clive Christian?” is the moneychangers entered the temple armed with spray paint and covered it with graffiti.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Ginestet Botrytis- Wine Crush

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For me one of the smells of the fall is that of the annual wine crush. It is when all the harvested grapes are fed into the crusher-stemmer right around this time of year. It varies based on the weather. It has always surprised me that there are not more wine-inspired perfumes. So much of the pleasure of wine is associated with swirling in the glass and breathing deeply before sipping. Perhaps one of the reasons is because one of the earliest attempts at this was so good it is hard to compete against it. If you love wine and perfume Ginestet Botrytis needs to be on your radar.

This overlap became the source of conversation when Christian Delpeuch the Managing Director of Ginestet Wine Merchants met perfumer Gilles Toledano. They decided to collaborate on three perfumes which capture the great wines of Bordeaux. Le Boise evokes the smell of the barrels used to age the wine right down to the slightly sweet nature of the wood used to make them. Sauvignonne is an elegant translation of a sauvignon blanc with the snap of grapefruit to the luscious fruit represented by peach. I like both but neither of them really make me think “Wine!” Botrytis does.

Christian Delpeuch

The name refers to the mold which grows on late harvest grapes which helps to remove the water from the grape increasing the concentration of sugars within. This is the kind of grape which is the foundation of many of the sweeter wines on the shelf. What M. Toledano and M. Delpeuch capture here is the moment when these grapes are converted to that sweet nectar. As their inspiration they used perhaps the greatest dessert wine in the world; the Sauternes of Chateau d’Yquem.

The perfume opens on a rich accord of honey and quince forming a densely sweet opening. This is the concentrated sugar of the harvested grape. Botrytis is one of my favorite honey perfumes because of this opening. Over time M. Toledano adds in other dried fruits as you can almost feel the mold drying out the grape. Just when it begins to approach the level of becoming cloying M. Toledano cuts it all with a fantastic accord built on pain d’epice. The French spice bread is here with the yeasty doughy feel infused with a mélange of spices. It breaks the sweetness as you can imagine the fermentation process beginning to take place. The final part of this is a combination of jasmine and tuberose adding an indolic exhalation across the entire construction.

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

There have only been a couple of perfumes which have expertly captured the place where perfume and wine intersect. Botrytis is the best of them all.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Comme des Garcons Play- Not Around Long Enough

I have written often how lack of longevity on skin has become inextricably entwined with quality in the consensus of the fragrance consumer. I can write until my fingers tire that the very notes which impart longevity are some of the cheapest and most synthetic; it falls as if a tree in a forest with no one around to hear. One of the reasons this has become a truism in perfume marketing is because in the mid-2000’s a number of brands put this to the test by releasing truly interesting short-lived perfumes. Almost all of them now occupy a shelf in the Dead Letter Office. One of the best examples is Comme des Garcons Play.

Christian Astuguevieille

By 2007 Comme des Garcons had emerged as one of the early pillars of the niche perfume sector. Overseen by Creative Director Christian Astuguevieille they would define many of the core principles of what it meant to be an artistic fragrance. Especially in these first years they were also the most willing to experiment. To their credit they still are. What that meant in 2007 was M. Astuguevieille wanted to see if the idea of longevity could be overcome with something truly avant-garde but fleeting.

The place within the Comme des Garcons brand where something like this might do well was the Play collection. On the clothing side Play was debuted in 2002 as a source of “casual luxury”. Which meant t-shirts and other casual wear done in the Comme des Garcons way. This brand generated one of the most iconic Comme des Garcons images. Shown above artist Filip Pagowski’s heart with eyes is as emblematic of the overall brand as it is for the sub-collection it was designed for. The Play collection were sold in these new outlets called Dover Street Market. To fill up the shelf space accessories were going to be hard on the heels of the clothing.

Aurelien Guichard

Five years on M. Astuguevieille collaborated with perfumer Aurelien Guichard for Play. It isn’t explicitly stated in any of the press materials that they were trying to make a short-lived fragrance. What is sure is Play is the Comme des Garcons aesthetic in short form.

It opens on a mixture of peppery citrus as black pepper and bitter orange provide a lively opening. It transitions quickly to an herbal heart of sage and thyme lifted on a cloud of aquatic notes like Calone. It sets up the truly odd accord that forms the base. If you ever spent time wiring stereo speakers in the old days before wireless made it irrelevant there is a smell of electronics in a wood cabinet. That is exactly what M. Guichard assembles out of patchouli, oakmoss. and musks for the final moments of Play. I’ve always thought of this as an electronic chypre.

Play has 4-6 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

The final accord is a classic odd Comme des Garcons example. It is unlikely that was the reason Play didn’t survive. The longevity was pointed out time and again whenever it was written about. It became a kind of baseline to compare other new releases to, “it lasts longer than Play”. Very quickly the decision came to pull the plug. It would be replaced by set of three perfumes Play Red, Play Green, and Play Black which would not make the same mistakes. What it comes down to is Play was not around long enough because it was not around long enough on a perfume lover.

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

Mark Behnke