One common theme in the Dead Letter Office is that when a designer creates a classic the poor fragrances that follow have a hard time breaking through. Like the younger sibling to the brilliant older one. You might be every bit as good, perhaps better for some, but you will never get noticed. That is the story of Geoffrey Beene Bowling Green.
The brilliant older brother is 1975’s Grey Flannel. That was the first perfume from the brand and it has become a classic. One I admire and recommend to those looking for something different from fresh for an economical price. Bowling Green was the follow-up released almost twelve years later. Like all neglected younger siblings much of the creative information has been lost. All I could find was something within the press release which mentioned it as being “developed personally by Mr. Beene”. Sounds like pr more than actuality especially since there is also no perfumer accredited. It is too bad because Bowling Green is a style of perfume which would be relevant in today’s fragrance world. It has many of the green trends along with being more transparent than most of the other 80’s masculines.
What strikes you right out of the bottle is a focused burst of verbena. The lemony quality combined with the green is kept tightly constrained. To that lavender and a bit of mint add some detail. The lemon becomes more present as some petitgrain teases it away from the verbena. The mint slides away in the face of more savory herbs like sage, basil, and rosemary. Over all of this crests a wave of cardamom recapitulating the lemon thread from the top. There is some pine to play around with a terpenic green contrast, but the middle part of Bowling Green is cardamom. As it recedes what remains is a mixture of synthetic woods representing sandalwood, fir, and cedar; most predominantly that last note. The cedar provides a clean woody foundation to close things out.
Bowling Green has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Bowling Green never came close to being the sales equal of Grey Flannel. To their credit the brand did not pull the plug quickly as it lasted well into the 2000’s before finally giving up. I think they just tired of promoting a perfume which was never going to catch on. I think Bowling Green is as good as Grey Flannel, but that opinion never found wide agreement which is how it ended up in the Dead Letter Office as the overlooked sibling.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion is, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. In mass-market perfume there is a lesser known law of motion, “for every bestseller there will be scores of imitators”. As we moved into the 21st century those bestsellers were almost uniformly aquatic. This was a style of perfume that didn’t really allow for a wide range of variation; not that it stopped anyone. One which chose to listen to Newton decided to push back against the fresh aquatic with something spicier and woodier was Perry Ellis 360 Red For Men.
In 1995 Perry Ellis released 360 For Men and it was just another fresh entry in a sea of them. Eight years later when the first flanker was imagined I am not sure who suggested going in a different direction, but it turned out to be a good idea. Perfumer Jean-Louis Grauby layers in spice and woods into the typical citrus and aquatic accords which are kept to the background.
The opening of 360 Red For Men is the typical citrus as lime is modulated by a bit of orange it is nothing so different from many other perfumes of the time. Once the cinnamon begins to warm things up instead of plunge into the water then you notice a change. Nutmeg keeps the cinnamon in check from smelling like red-hot candies. A very strong cedarwood provides its clean woodiness. It takes a while but through a skillful use of white musks there is an aquatic effect to be found but it is secondary to the spice and woods.
360 Red For Men has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
360 Red For Men is an aquatic for cooler days. The spice and woods give you some pop in the morning and the aquatic peeks out as the day warms into the afternoon. This is one of those great bargains which can be found for less than $20/100mL. It is a discount diamond because it managed to try and be an opposite reaction to the aquatic trend of the early 2000’s.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
When it comes to the fragrance portion of the wetshaving forums I frequent there is a tendency to embrace the classic colognes and masculine aesthetics. What that means is lots of woods, citrus, and vetiver. Those are fine ingredients which make up the backbone of many good perfumes. Within those wetshaving forums I am always surprised at the popularity of an unabashed floral perfume; Czech & Speake No. 88.
Czech & Speake pre-dated the niche explosion as British interior designer Frank Sawkins opened a boutique in the Belgravia district of London in 1978. It was a full-service men’s grooming brand along with luxury bathroom fixtures and furniture nodding to the interior designer expertise of Mr. Sawkins. In those early days Czech & Speake was purely a word-of-mouth phenomenon. Once the internet connected the rest of the world to Belgravia the story of No. 88 began to find wider renown.
No. 88 is based on a classic British cologne recipe from Elizabethan times. Updated with modern ingredients it is a great example of this style of perfumery. At its simplest description this is a rose and sandalwood fragrance.
The early moments are all rose. No. 88 starts with the lighter rose nature of geranium. A small amount of bergamot provides a subtle sparkle to the very early moments. The geranium intensifies into a full-spectrum rose. This is a spicy rose not the powdery debutante variety which is not unexpected. To provide an even deeper floral effect cassie and frangipani flesh out the rose into something exuberant. It is tempered by a base of primarily sandalwood. The wood is creamy and slightly sweet. The combination of rose and sandalwood is sublime; this is the core of No. 88. Vetiver provides a barbershop vibe in the later stages.
No. 88 has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
In 2018 the idea of woody roses has become more prevalent in the fragrance world. It is easy for those which led the way, like No. 88, to fall Under the Radar.
Disclosure: Thise review is based on a bottle I purchased.
I rarely comment on the cost of perfume. Mainly because I’m more interested in whether it is good than economical. As I’ve received more access to the mass-market brands I have come to appreciate one specific thing about their marketing; the 10ml rollerball.
The cynic says they are the equivalent of candy in the grocery checkout line. Small enough and cheap enough to encourage an impulse purchase. Certainly at the mall stores this is the practice. The perfume lover in me thinks it great that I can buy half a dozen new fragrances for the price of a bottle. Which is a great way to try new things.
One of the reasons I think this is so positive is it is a low-risk way of buying blind. If you’ve never heard of a brand like Bastide you are more likely to give it a try at 10ml than invest at 100ml. I have no way of being sure but I suspect that 10ml eventually turns into 100ml for more than just a few.
Most of the time I mention when niche sensibility crosses over to mass-market. Outside of a very few examples this is something which might cross over in the reverse direction.
This is especially true for niche brands with slightly odd aesthetics. There might be a perfume to be found within a quirky collection but finding it via full bottle blind buys is no way to go about it. A recent example of allowing for individual exploration of a brand like this came from Areej Le Dore. With the latest four releases owner-perfumer Russian Adam offered a sample set of all four plus a bonus sample of an attar version of one. It was a fraction of the price of any single bottle.
What it allows for is someone who is interested to see if there is something which appeals to them in a brand which is not made to please the masses. I would aver that it might be more important in these cases. Trying five new choices versus one blind seems obvious.
Except in the place which needs the most opportunity to connect with a consumer it is made difficult because of no smaller options. I especially think sample sets of new collections really make sense. Trudon offered buyers the same sample set they sent me for review which I think is a great way to introduce a new perfume brand.
I am hoping that I see as many rollerballs in niche outlets in the future as I see at the mall.
There are some perfume notes which I think are problematically labeled as “cheap”. Cherry is one of those; the result of being the ingredient of too many plug-in air fresheners. It means more opportunity for perfumers to find gold within the dross. There aren’t a lot of cherry perfumes I own but the ones I do show the previous assertion is true. Here are my five favorites.
The People of the Labyrinths Luctor et Emergo– Before perfumer Alessandro Gulatieri would go on to found his Nasomatto line, he caught the attention of many perfume lovers with this gorgeous experimental fragrance. He at first uses a strong cherry but wraps it in an artificial cellophane accord. Then he embeds it in a Play-Doh casing for a different kind of artifice. One of the earliest groundbreakers in niche perfumery.
Serge Lutens Rahat Loukoum– Perfumer Christopher Sheldrake also uses cherry as a keynote in the top accord in this release to help further define the nascent gourmand style of fragrance. He takes a marzipan almond and matches it to a syrupy cherry liqueuer. Based on the Turkish Delight confection it eventually heads deeper into sweet confectionary territory, but it is always the cherry-almond opening which stays with me.
Ramon Monegal Cherry Musk– This is a perfume which simply lives up to its name as perfumer Ramon Monegal takes a concentrated cherry followed by a cocktail of white and animalic musks to provide a fascinating counterbalance. It is very strong and some days I’m not up for it; on the days I am spraying it on I like being swept away by it.
Beyonce Heat Rush– Within the celebuscent category Beyonce has produced a better than average collection since 2010. I liked the original Heat but the one bottle I own is the second flanker Heat Rush and it is all down to the cherry note. Perfumer Honorine Blanc re-works the fruity nature of Heat as she uses a top accord of cherry, passionfruit, and orange instead of the peach of the original. It turns this into a summer party.
Prada Candy Gloss– Perfumer Daniela Andrier completely leaves behind the formula from Candy for this flanker. It revolves on an axis of cherry, orange blossom, and vanilla. This is a transparent version of those usually heavy notes full of effervescence. I have come to like it better than the original.
Disclosure: These reviews based on bottles I purchased.
Those who have followed me over the years know there is a special section in the Dead Letter Office for the perfumes of Jean Patou. Much of their reputation rests on the creations of perfumer Henri Almeras from 1925-1946. The only remaining evidence of the glorious history of the brand is the evergreen best-seller Joy. This is not to say there haven’t been numerous attempts to bring the brand back to life. Perfumer Jean-Michel Duriez oversaw one of the more confusing transitions through the turn of the century. Most recently perfumer Thomas Fontaine has been re-formulating the original collection the best that he can with modern substitutions. In between there was another short creative spurt overseen by perfumer Jean Kerleo from 1972-1995.
M. Kerleo’s tenure has provided one of those rarest of unicorn fragrances, Patou pour Homme, in 1980. It lives up to every bit of the hype. Lost within this group of Patou perfumes done by M. Kerleo is one I admire just as much; Ma Liberte.
Throughout this time M. Kerleo seemed to enjoy using lavender as a keynote. It would show up in both Patou pour Homme and Patou pour Homme Prive as well as Voyageur. Ma Liberte was another example of the flexibility of lavender in the hands of an artist.
In the beginning of Ma Liberte M. Kerleo chooses to contrast the lavender with tart citrus which is ameliorated with the lighter nature of heliotrope. Jasmine will become the note in the heart which picks up the lavender and allows it to flower more fully. Then the other hall mark of M. Kerleo’s time at Patou is his use of spices. He swirls in cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove to create this swirling warm shimmer covering the florals. It leads to a rich cedar and sandalwood base.
Ma Liberte has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.
If there is a question which has perplexed me; it is how the Jean Patou collection never caught on beyond Joy. I’ve never seen a reliable explanation on why they never were commercially successful but that is the reason they populate my favorite corner of the Dead Letter Office.
For those of you who look at the prices for Patou pour Homme and Patou pour Homme Prive on the auction sites and just groan at the prices you are who this version of this column is for. Ma Liberte is as good as either of those and it can be found on the same auction sites for much, much, less. If you have given up on obtaining the Patou pour Hommes give Ma Liberte a try.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
Whenever I talk about where my perfume story begins I always say it started with a bottle of Jovan Musk for my thirteenth birthday. The ads told me it made the girls go wild. While I can surely attest the girls in middle school did not fall at my feet they did notice I “smelled good”. Which, to be honest, was good enough. Along the way I would always be looking for more and more musk in my fragrance and when I found Serge Lutens Muscs Koublai Khan that search ended. There was one stop along the path from Jovan Musk to Muscs Koublai Khan; it is perhaps the perfect compromise between those two perfumes; Kiehl’s Musk.
I’m not sure what it is about musk which prompts a brand to promise it to be love potion no. 9 but Kiehl’s was not immune to it. The story reads like this on the label of my bottle: “Believed to be created in the 1920s at the Kiehl's apothecary, this scent was later discovered there in the 1950s in a vat labeled "Love Oil." It would be released in 1963 and has been available at Kiehl’s stores worldwide for over fifty years. It really is a Goldilocks “just right” blend of musk which makes it one of the most versatile fragrances to feature it. One of the reasons is while it retains some of the dirtier facets of musk it is dressed in a grouping of cleaner ingredients to add some respectability.
The perfumer behind “Love Oil” has been lost to time but whomever put this together realized a suite of florals which could stand up to the musk was the right choice to mellow its more carnal qualities. To start orange blossom is what I first smell, the musk arrives with rose and neroli on each arm. The musk wants to get a bit randy, but the florals surround it and cover it in a floral blanket of kisses. Eventually the musk finds the upper hand. Early on this is that musk of sun-warmed skin which in a slow evolution it does find its way to its sexy character where a little bit of tonka helps keep it from going completely feral.
Kiehl’s Musk has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I don’t wear Jovan Musk very often, but Kiehl’s Musk gets a few wears every year. It is because it gives me enough of what I love in musk without being at full volume. It is just at the limit of my $50 per bottle limit for Discount Diamonds but it is a classic nonetheless. I can’t vouch for it being “Love Oil” but it is a damn fine musk perfume.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
One of the things I would like to accomplish with this column is to remind those who love perfume that all great perfume is not new. Sometimes it is right there on the shelf every time you visit your favorite perfume store. That’s the story of this month’s choice Kai.
Kai was created in 1998 by a Malibu, California boutique owner; Gaye Straza. Ms. Straza had tired of the commercial offerings. She wanted a fragrance which captured her beloved Hawaii. This is how Kai came to be. In the early years she made small single batches but the word began to spread. Over time she would increase production until it is now available everywhere perfume is sold. Early on it was like when Coors beer finally made it East of the Mississippi, perfume lovers flocked to see what the fuss was about. Unlike the beer analogy the perfume lived up to the hype. Kai is one of the most generally beautiful gardenia perfumes you will find.
Ms. Straza took her independent spirit to a small fragrance house and developed Kai. In its first incarnation it was a perfume oil. In 2006 it was also released as an eau de parfum which is the version I prefer. As I’ve mentioned many times my grandmother’s house was surrounded by gardenia bushes. The smell of the flowers along with the green of the leaves on the bush are a cherished memory. Kai captures that mixture of floral and foliage expertly.
Kai is an example of how a simple construction can still carry power. In the earliest moments a burst of citrus opens the door for the gardenia surrounded by the green leaves. It is this which makes me enjoy Kai over and over. Ms. Straza found the right balance of floral and green which is where the first phase of Kai lingers. Over time the gardenia is clipped from the bush to radiate on its own. A set of white musks make it more transparent throughout the final hours.
Kai eau de parfum has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Gardenia as it has evolved over the years has become another of the coloratura white florals usually hitting the high notes. In Kai you find it running scales in a more muted key which is what makes it such a genial gardenia. Next time your eyes wander past it on the shelf stop and take a sniff.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
Over my time of writing about perfume I have been given various samples of specific ingredients. To the point now I have a nice reference set of most of the major ingredients. There are only a few of them that have such dynamic scent profiles they are fascinating all on their own. One of those is ylang-ylang. Because of a visit to one of the major oil houses I not only have the essential oil but the different fractions of that oil. It has always struck me that when you take a complex ingredient like ylang-ylang and break it into fractions and each of those are different it speaks to the specialness of ylang-ylang as an ingredient. It is so versatile it is a supporting ingredient most of the time. There are some instances where it can star and here are five of my favorites.
M. Micallef Ylang in Gold is one of the best straight ylang perfumes you will find. Martine Micallef working with perfumer Jean-Claude Astier take the kaleidoscopic floral and gild it with sandalwood, vanilla, bitter orange. Throughout everything which makes ylang-ylang unique is displayed. My all-time favorite ylang-ylang perfume.
One of the odder facets of ylang-ylang is a ripe banana character which can be seen sometimes. In Hermes Hermessence Vanille Galante perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena relies on it to add a fruity tint to the lily and vanilla keynotes. It is one of the more divisive uses of ylang because of the ripe banana. It is one of my favorite tropical vibe perfumes.
Ylang-ylang was one of the great ingredients during the beginning of modern perfumery. As we have seen the rise of heritage brands; one of those Grossmith Hasu-No-Hana gives you a feel of what that was like. The modern team of Amanda and Simon Brooke oversaw a reconstruction where the ylang soars, paired with iris, as the floral heart headed to a chypre base. This is how they used to do it.
Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian would dabble with the animalic side of ylang with MDCI Enlevement au Serail. When he started his own brand, he would turn it into the fulcrum for the most sensually dynamic perfume of the 21st century Maison Francis Kurkdjian Absolue Pour le Soir. This is a celebration of all that is deep and dark in perfume with ylang right in the center.
Perfumer Frank Voelkl would also find the voluptuous side of ylang in Le Labo Ylang 49. While lighter than my previous choice it is still a femme fatale just dressed up in brighter shades of citrus and gardenia. A daytime version of sensuality.
If you’ve never explored ylang-ylang on its own these five will give you and idea of its special nature.
Disclosure: this review is based on bottles of which I have purchased.
By mid-January 2014 I was busy planning the first 90 days of Colognoisseur. I felt like I had to start with the first 90 articles lined up if I was going to get into a rhythm that would allow me to post a new article every day. As I put that schedule together I was excited to be able to write about all the things I ever wanted to write about. I ran across my 90-day plan just after the New Year. I was pleased to find that the original concept has largely survived through today.
I then began to think about whether I realistically thought I’d still be as excited as I neared the end of my fourth year of Colognoisseur. I had some reader number targets but those were all for the end of 2016. I thought thinking beyond that date was of the wishful variety. Yet, I find myself just as excited as I was four years ago.
I don’t plan things out for 90-days anymore, but I do keep a rolling 21-day schedule. That it is currently full of perfume I am happy to write about is also great. I think it is easy to become jaded about anything after doing it for over ten years. I started considering why I had escaped that pitfall.
The answer came via the mail both electronic and traditional. In my physical mailbox I received a package from a new independent perfumer. Inside was an amazing debut, something different to my nose. It is something only an instinctual artist could create. It is why every package like this is a new discovery.
In my e-mail box I got another testimonial on my “How to Buy Perfume as a Gift”. A man went to the mall and put together my little basket of samples along with a gift card. After giving it to his girlfriend they eventually settled on a perfume which at that time was their special perfume. They just got married on New Year’s Eve and the bride wore “their” perfume.
It is both the opportunity to give some exposure to the new perfumer while sharing a way to make perfume a part of someone’s life which are more than enough to keep my internal flame burning bright.