That Unattainable Object of Desire: L’Air de Panache by Mark Buxton

After writing about the Wes Anderson movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel” in this week’s The Sunday Magazine I got a lot of questions about the fragrance inspired by the movie. To answer those questions not only have I smelled it but perfumer Mark Buxton gave me enough of a sample of it to wear. After wearing L’Air de Panache and seeing the movie I have to say that Mr. Buxton given the freedom of composing what amounts to a bespoke perfume delivered a true fragrance experience every bit as indie as the movie it is based upon.

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Gustave H''s Wardrobe

L’Air de Panache is the signature scent of the protagonist of the movie Gustave H., the concierge at The Grand Budapest Hotel. As played by Ralph Fiennes, Gustave H. is a consummate concierge and the master of his universe. L’Air de Panache is how people know Gustave H. and it consistently keeps appearing throughout the film.

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Mark Buxton (l.) and Nicolas Cloutier (Photo: makemylemonade.com)

When they were filming they, of course, used water. For the World Premiere Mr. Anderson wanted to turn L’Air de Panache into a reality to be given as a present to the cast and crew. For this very special project he would turn to the Paris fragrance boutique Nose to bring the fictional fragrance to life, in six weeks! Nicolas Cloutier would act as creative director to perfumer Mark Buxton as they sought to make a perfume which would live up to what we saw in the movie. Because this was a very small batch release, not intended for sale, it freed Mr. Buxton to use any ingredient on his perfumer’s palette. I would also comment that the short time frame forced Messrs. Cloutier and Buxton to trust their instincts and I think the end result is all the better for that. L’Air de Panache is a definite throwback cologne but, cleverly, throughout its development there are nods to the events of the film.

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Boy with Apple

Gustave H. is known for his excellent personal service to the aging, blonde they must be blonde, women who come to the hotel. The beginning of L’Air de Panache pays homage to them with a fleeting aldehyde opening which is the hairspray version of those ingredients. They dissipate as quickly as a cloud of Aqua Net to reveal underneath a rich citrus opening made modern by the addition of basil, instead of the more traditional rosemary. The other note is green apple and that nods to the McGuffin which propels the caper part of the film, a painting simply named “Boy with Apple”.  A stunningly complex jasmine sambac holds the heart of L’Air de Panache it is as elegant as Gustave H. as he strides the halls. This all gives way to a well-mannered jungle cat of a base as Mr. Buxton lets L’Air de Panache off the leash to growl with musk, castoreum, amber, oakmoss, and patchouli. This is Gustave H. behind a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the room of one of his paramours.

L’Air de Panache has 4-6 hour longevity and prodigious sillage. Which is why Gustave H. is always topping it up and everyone knows where he’s been.

For this series the fragrance I am writing about will truly be nearly impossible to find. In the case of L’Air de Panache I am hopeful this might not always be the case. To be clear right this moment there are only a few bottles of it in existence and they are all in the hands of the people who made the movie. Except if you find yourself in Paris and visit Nose they have a bottle for you to experience this quite amazing fragrance. Because of the top shelf ingredients used I suspect a bottle would carry a fairly hefty price tag but if it does come to pass that it is for sale one day I’ll be first in line to buy it. For now I have enough left to allow myself to feel like the master of my own universe for one day of my choosing; it is enough.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided to me by Mark Buxton.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Juicy Couture Dirty English-Claude Dir Brings Niche to Mainstream

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There are times I need a lot of encouragement to overcome an erroneous snap judgment I have made. One of those instances was back in 2008. On Basenotes there was a lively discussion about this new mainstream fragrance from Juicy Couture called Dirty English. Now this, at the time, nearly 50-year old man was not going to wear any perfume from Juicy Couture. I remember being quite vocal about it on the forum, too. All of this was without ever having tried it. Then I was in my local department store and a sales associate approaches me with a bunch of strips in her hand and hands one to me. As I sniff the strip picking out caraway, cardamom, leather, sandalwood, and oud. I was running through which niche house this could have come from. Then the rep told me what it was. Yes you guessed it this was Juicy Couture Dirty English and my jaw had disengaged itself from my face and was dusting the floor.

There have been a few valiant attempts to bring a niche aesthetic to the department store counter, Dirty English was the attempt for 2008. So far there has not really been a breakout success for any of these and this is why Dirty English is easy to find at the discount fragrance purchase points. I have regularly found it for less than $30 for a 3.4 oz. bottle.

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Claude Dir

Claude Dir was the perfumer behind Dirty English and this was in keeping with his very mainstream career to this point in 2008. He had made one of my favorite mainstream fragrances, Zaharoff pour Homme a few years earlier. Later on in 2008 he would start working on the niche side of the street when he composed Bond No. 9 Andy Warhol Lexington Avenue (now just called Lexington Avenue). With hindsight one can look back at Dirty English as the real start of M. Dir’s niche values.

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Dirty English mixes pepper, cardamom, and caraway. The caraway adds an exotic tenderness to the spices and again I wonder out loud why this isn’t used as a substitute for bergamot more as a top note. All of the spice dusts the light woodiness of cypress. M. Dir then uses a leather accord called Santal Fatal which uses sandalwood, vetiver, and cedar to form the leather accord. M. Dir makes a fascinating choice of using marjoram as an herbal contrast to the Santal Fatal. He then uses the combination of nagarmotha and patchouli to make an oud accord and right here with the combination of all of these components you would be hard pressed not to feel this was a top of the line niche fragrance. In the end a very close-wearing musk finishes this one off.

Dirty English has about 4-6 hour longevity and above average sillage. This makes it an ideal evening out scent.

I was, and continue to be, impressed with the choices M. Dir made for Dirty English. If he was less disciplined with the choices he made this could have easily turned into a mess. Instead he turned out a fragrance I still look to wear for an evening out. I still can’t believe there is a Juicy Couture anything I like as much as this.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle of Juicy Couture Dirty English I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Welcome to the Colognaissance!

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One of my favorite pop culture terms is the one used to refer to actor Matthew McConaughey’s reinvention of his acting career which lead to him winning the Best Actor Oscar, for Dallas Buyer’s Club, a month ago. The term for the winning streak he has been on is “McConaissance”. I like it because it succinctly describes how this lightly regarded romantic comedy actor more known for being People’s Sexiest Man alive in 2005 has become this respected dramatic actor without really changing much of anything but the acting roles he has chosen.

As I was walking around Esxence 2014 I began to realize there is a sort of a fragrance equivalent going on. It started to hit me after spending time with Luc Gabriel of The Different Company talking about the seven fragrances which make up the L’Esprit Cologne Series. It became a little more solid while chatting with Jean-Christophe Le Greves of Thirdman. It finally became a fully formed idea when Etienne de Swardt of Etat Libre D’Orange showed me his new release titled simply Cologne. Yes I’m going there; we are in the midst of a Colognaissance.

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For far too many years cologne was seen as the perfume equivalent of wine in a box. No discerning lover of fragrance would be caught wearing a cologne. Those were the out-dated smells of our fathers who likely wore too much of something like Faberge Brut or Dana English Leather. The cologne was turned into a trifle and a punchline and it pretty much stayed that way for forty years in the US. Even Mr. McConaughey was enlisted as the celebrity face behind Stetson Cologne. This devaluing of cologne never seemed to take place anywhere else in the world. Things got so bad that cologne became synonymous with cheap fragrance. What was needed was a group of creative minds to turn this around.

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Christophe Cervasel and Sylvie Ganter

Just as Mr. McConaughey found a way to be cast in roles with more heft Creative Directors and owners of Atelier Cologne, Sylvie Ganter and Christophe Cervasel, created a “new” version called cologne absolue. The cologne absolue was a higher concentration version, pushing 20% perfume oil. What this addressed was one of the perceived issues around colognes, their lack of longevity on the wearer’s skin. By upping the oil percentage and finding a way to retain the cologne architecture and balance Atelier Cologne rapidly began to pick up converts. Atelier Cologne has continued to push the envelope on what a cologne can be, even choosing heavier keynotes like leather or amber and still managing to make a fragrance identifiably a cologne.

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Thirdman Cologne

Perfumer Emilie Coppermann working under Luc Gabriel’s creative direction took some of the finest ingredients never found in colognes previously and throughout the seven L’Esprit Cologne Series showed they could be turned into luxurious luminous compositions. Jean-Claude Ellena at Hermes has added four new Eau de Colognes to the original Eau de Orange Verte. Each of these explore a specific duality of two notes and are among some of the best work M. Ellena has done while at Hermes. One of the most recent lines to join the Colognaissance has been Thirdman, under the creative direction M. Le Greves, which has made completely modern colognes meant to be splashed on liberally and often. I kept my bottle of Eau Monumentale in the refrigerator so I could catch a cool splash in the summer.

All of these lines are worth exploring if you have not tried them up until now. I have all of them on permanent rotation once the mercury soars as they all refresh the spirit as a good cologne should do. What is nice is that along with the refreshment there is also a wonderful spread of styles and aesthetics to choose from. As we finally leave winter behind start thinking about joining the Colognaissance the choices have never been better.

Mark Behnke

Perfume Mythbusters Love Potion No. 9?

One of the more pervasive fallacies when it comes to fragrance is the idea that there is a magic elixir that when worn will cause the object of your desire to fall madly in love with you, or in lust with you. I can’t say I am immune to the sentiment as the first bottle of perfume I owned was Jovan Musk. Why? Because at the age of thirteen the ads intimated that women were crazy about men who wore musk. Of course Hai Karate intimated I would need a black belt to fend off the women if I wore that. What I found out pretty quickly was it wasn’t the way I smelled that lead to success with women it was a lot of other things of which fragrance was just a component.

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For many years this always seemed like a concept held exclusively by men, and women were above this kind of simplistic thinking but the recent release of Le Premier Parfum changes that. Le Premier Parfum allows the chakra associated with sex to open and in their press materials they flat out say, “Le Premier Parfum is not merely a fragrance, but an aphrodisiac.” So much for the more evolved gender. The two women behind the brand have been giving interviews urging women to, “wear it responsibly.” I guess that is their version of safe sex. This is as nonsensical as the idea of Creed Aventus causing women to lose their senses and drape themselves on the man wearing it.

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The truth of this is there is not one scientific study which has ever shown any particular scent to immediately cause the object of one’s desire to go weak in the knees and let their chakras do the talking. A lot of the confusion comes from the idea of pheromones. In the insect world pheromones have been well studied and proven to exist. These substances are used to convey a lot of specific primal information from alarm, to a trail to follow back to food, and yes, sex. So because the bees do it the suggestion is so should we humans. Except there has never been any human pheromone identified to do what it does in the insect kingdom. Of course that doesn’t stop perfumes from claiming they have the magical non-existent pheromone in their fragrance. The bottom line is there has been no unequivocal scientific proof that a human pheromone exists and there are certainly none in the fragrances which claim to have them in them.

When it comes to scent and how we perceive others there have been some interesting studies which show when a woman wears grapefruit fragrances she is perceived as much younger. A very recent study has shown the smell of cedar has the opposite effect when it comes to men with people seeing a man as older than his age when wearing a cedar fragrance. The real point is that fragrance does have the ability to shape our opinion of others but not to cause them to go all googly eyed and become one’s fawning acolyte for a night. That is why when searching for the mythical Love Potion No. 9 instead look for the fragrance which complements your personal style. It is the complete package which is the real attraction between people and your fragrance is part of that package but most of the rest of the work is up to you.

Mark Behnke

Boot or Reboot: Yohji Homme 1999 & 2013

It seems like some of the greatest discontinued fragrances have been reformulated in the last twelve months. Much like the reformulation of Patou pour Homme I approached the new version of Yohji Homme with some concern.

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The original Yohji Homme was released in 1999; it was signed by Jean-Michel Duriez just at the moment Proctor & Gamble had acquired Jean Patou. When I smelled Yohji Homme I was swept away with this spicy licorice and lavender concoction. It was clearly not a success as it would disappear from shelves within three years. In that endless internal conversation about the best masculine perfumes ever Yohji Homme is right there in the mix. Late in 2013 the newly reformulated Yohji Homme was released with perfumer Olivier Pescheux taking on the task. He consulted with M. Duriez but this was a difficult task because a few of the ingredients had been restricted by IFRA regulations and a couple others were from the resources M. Duriez had while at Patou.

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Jean-Michel Duriez

The 1999 version of Yohji Homme started with one of the best lavenders I have ever encountered in a fragrance it is so close to the real lavender that grows outside my house. It pushes right to the edge of being unpleasant because of its strength. M. Duriez then wraps this intense lavender in strands of black licorice. It is a bold beginning and it becomes even bolder as coriander and cinnamon are joined by geranium and carnation to form a spicy floral heart which slithers underneath the lavender and licorice insinuating itself within the slight olfactory space available to it. After about an hour on my skin these notes combine to produce a singular accord like nothing else in my experience. If that was all there was Yohji Homme would have been great but the base adds in a rum-soaked leather and things take a quantum leap forward. It never fails to be a fascinating ride and a perfume which delivers time and again.

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Olivier Pescheux

M. Pescheux in the 2013 version of Yohji Homme is really trying to do this with one hand tied behind his back while jumping on one foot. Because of the lack of availability of the restricted and proprietary ingredients M. Duriez used in the original, M Pescheux was forced into Hobson ’s choice time and again. When it comes to the lavender used it is in no way close to the quality from the original, the same goes for the licorice. The leather is tamed instead of wild. The cinnamon lacks the same bite. The same progression as the original is there but the new version sort of lurches through its transitions. I almost smell an audible clunk as the less strident lavender and licorice seem to just get out of the way of the spice and florals in the heart. By the time the base notes of leather and rum show up they seem too polite. This new version feels like recreating the Eiffel Tower in wood. It looks like the same thing but it lacks in majesty and power.

It is obvious that the Reboot comes nowhere near the Boot and that’s a shame because it feels like in 1999 the perfume world was not ready for Yohji Homme but in 2013 it is less of an outlier. If you had never tried the original I think many will be enchanted by the new version as all of the important beats are there and it is still a unique fragrance. M. Pescheux did a great job considering the straitjacket he was bound in. One other difference between the two is the original is a powerhouse which lasts all-day the new one barely made it through the workday. The new Yohji Homme has been exclusive to Selfridge’s in the UK and is expected to be released wider by the end of 2014.

Disclosure: This review was based on bottles of both versions of Yohji Homme I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Creed 101- Five To Get You Started

The House of Creed is one of those perfume producers which elicits strong opinions for and against. What is not up for debate is it is one of the best-selling niche fragrance houses in the world. Creed is many perfumista’s entrée to the world of niche perfume and it instills an unusual loyalty to those who admire the brand. One of the things detractors point to is the reliance on the celebrated history of the Creed brand and unashamedly talking about the trendsetters who have supposedly worn the brand over the years. Olivier Creed is the current head perfumer the sixth generation to have that position. He is also currently training his son, Erwin, to become the seventh generation, assuring the continuance of the brand for years to come.  Creed perfumes are easy to find but because of their popularity there are many counterfeits out there. If you are going to dip your nose into Creed it is best to start by trying from a reputable source.

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Olivier and Erwin Creed

Green Irish Tweed was released in 1985 and could be said to be the fragrance which would begin this current phase of popularity Creed enjoys. It really lives up to the green in its name especially in the early phases of development as lemon, verbena, and violet leaves combine to form a clover soft accord. The heart is a much understated orris which is more opulent than floral. This leads to what is pretty much a signature base note accord to many Creed fragrances with ambergris and sandalwood. Green Irish Tweed is a quiet fragrance and often when wearing it I will think it is gone only to have someone comment on how nice I smell. Of anything I own Green Irish Tweed is one of those few which elicits spontaneous compliments.

In 1987 Bois du Portugal was released and it is one of my very favorite woody lavender perfumes I own. Creed says in their press release that this was Frank Sinatra’s signature fragrance. Whenever I wear it I always get a very 60’s vibe to it. In my imagination this is the fragrance I expect Don Draper of “Mad Men” to be wearing. It is simple as bergamot and lavender are the opening notes and the Creed ambergris and sandalwood base is tweaked with a healthy addition of vetiver. Bois du Portugal is a great perfume and very close to my favorite in the line.

Love in White was released in 2005 and the very first bottle was gifted to then-First Lady Laura Bush; the current occupant of the White House, Michele Obama, is also said to wear this. This is a fresh bouquet of three of the best floral ingredients of orris, jasmine, and rose. They are kept light and not as bold as they can be in other fragrances. The base is, again, the Creed ambergris/sandalwood signature with a bit of vanilla and cedar to complete this variation.

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Millesime Imperial was released in 1995 as aquatic perfumes were ascendant. Millesime Imperial shows a pedestrian genre like aquatics can be infused with a bit of class. The citrus opening of Millesime Imperial is lemon and orange and each of these notes is distinct in the way they display themselves. The overplayed ozonic notes, which exemplify the aquatic, is swathed in a decadent orris. It could have come off like putting designer lipstick on a pig; instead it is like draping a tuxedo jacket over a t-shirt elevating the common to something less so. The base is the same as the others before but with a bit of musk to add a bit of animalic growl to the signature sandalwood and ambergris.

In my opinion Creed has been on a bit of a roll over the last three years or so. With the release of Aventus in 2010 that roll was just beginning. Meant to evoke the life of Napoleon Bonaparte, Aventus has a unique progression of notes. An unusual fruity opening of blackcurrant, apple and surprisingly prominent pineapple are combined in a very pleasant olfactory fruit salad without ever getting out of control. The heart of jasmine rose, birch, and patchouli twist the floral stalwarts with traditional woody contrast. The base is not the Creed signature as ambergris is there but this time oakmoss and musk round out the final phase. Aventus breaks the Creed mold in every way and that has continued over the last few releases.

Creed is such a popular house becase the great majority of their perfumes smell great and whether you buy the PR or not I know I always feel a little more elegant when I’m wearing Creed.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of these perfumes I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Wetshaving: The Three T’s

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Every morning I go through three levels of fragrance. The first is the soap or shower gel I use. Knowing what perfume I am planning to wear influences what I choose in the shower as I try to match one of the base notes of my upcoming scent of the day. The second level of fragrance comes between my shower and applying my perfume.

Around ten years ago I made switch away from the commercial multi-blade shavers and returned to the traditional double-edge shaver my dad taught me to shave with. As I discovered the joys of what is called wetshaving I also embraced the joy of adding a new fragrant phase to my morning routine with the shaving cream I would use.

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Part of what I like about wetshaving is the reminder to slow down a bit in the morning and take care of yourself. Even though I can go pretty fast now it still takes longer to make four passes with my single edged blade than it would to do one pass with a multi-blade razor. I have learned to relax and breathe in the scent of my shaving cream and enjoy the feel of the brush lathering up my face.

When it comes to which shaving creams to use there is a simple rule to start with, “go with the three T’s”. Just like midtown New York perfume shoppers know the three B’s; Bergdorf’s, Barney’s, and Bendel’s; wetshavers usually start with the creams of Geo F. Trumper, Taylor of Old Bond St., and Truefitt & Hill. I have three that I use in heavy rotation although all of the creams from these three producers are great places to add a bit of extra fragrance to your day.

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Geo F. Trumper Violet Shaving Cream is probably my favorite of all the creams I own. It is a deep purple solid in the pot which lathers to the very faintest tinge of lavender as I apply it to my skin. The smell of violets surround me and it is as good as any violet fragrance in a perfume bottle. It wasn’t until Atelier Cologne Sous le toit de Paris that I found a fragrance which matched this perfectly. When I want to have a violet day it is this pair which is my go to combo.

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Taylor of Old Bond Street Avocado Shaving Cream is one of the most uniquely smelling shave creams I own. One characteristic of all Taylor’s shaving creams is their exceptional lathering ability. With the Avocado version it is so rich I often think I’m slathering white guacamole on my face. I use this as a companion to a lot of my lighter fragrances and as a base to slumberhouse Pear + Olive, the connection is sublime.

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Truefitt & Hill Sandalwood Shaving Cream is the most fragrant of the three T’s especially the Sandalwood version. The creamy sweet woodiness feels like it seeps into my pores. Even when I’m rinsing it off I feel like it has lingered longer than most of the other shave creams I own. I always shave with this before wearing Diptyque Tam Dao or Chanel Bois des Iles. It lays down a bit of sandalwood foundation for those fragrances to build upon.

Even if you don’t want to go full wetshave and still want to use your modern multi-blade definitely meet the movement halfway by adding a tub of one of the three T’s and a shaving brush to your shaving routine. If you love fragrance it truly adds an extra bit of it to every morning.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Rochas Tocade- Maurice Roucel’s Turkish Delight

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Maurice Roucel is one of our greatest perfumers and he just as easily produces a fragrance for Victoria’s Secret, 2012’s Simply Gorgeous; as he does for Frederic Malle, 2000’s Musc Ravageur. There is a broad spread to the perfumes he makes. From a gourmand like 2004’s Bond No. 9 New Haarlem to a fruity floral like 2006’s Guerlain Insolence there is always a dashing sense of style underlying all that he creates. M. Roucel feels like one of the last of the old school perfumers just turning out things that smell good. One of my favorites by M. Roucel is also one of the best perfume bargains you can find, one of the best perfumes you can buy; Rochas Tocade.

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Maurice Roucel

M. Roucel created Tocade in 1994 and it was one of his earliest forays into what would eventually become the gourmand style of perfume. For Tocade which translates to “whim” he centers the perfume on two notes, rose and vanilla. Vanilla had been used in a more restrained way with rose in many previous fragrances but the change here was to really up the vanilla and that in turn makes Tocade feel like an olfactory version of Turkish Delight. It is a typical Oriental and in that way it carries a heft to it appropriate for the confection it imitates.

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Tocade opens with a bit of light green aspects from bergamot and geranium. It gives way to a transparent rose which is given some structure with iris as support. Through the first few moments, all of this is fairly traditional pretty rose. It all changes as the vanilla makes its presence known. M. Roucel pulls off a fabulous effect with his vanilla as it never tilts into a pedestrian kind of vanilla. It never seems to get sweet and buttery, or saccharine and sugary. Somehow it straddles a knife’s edge of balance between the two. Because of the translucence of the rose it comes off almost watery. It is difficult to say M. Roucel has a signature move but if there is one this watery sheer floral effect is probably it. Once the vanilla rises fully Tocade feels like a beautiful sticky piece of Turkish Delight. To further deepen the comfort aspects amber and benzoin add a softly sweet resinous complement while a bit of musk adds a twinge of animalic contrast.

Tocade has average longevity and above average sillage.

Tocade has survived the ravages of reformulation pretty much intact for twenty years. I picked up a 1Oz. bottle for $9.99 at my local TJ Maxx to compare to my original bottle and the only difference is in the very top notes as the new bottle feels a little brighter for those first few minutes; which is probably to be expected. Once Tocade gets down to its rose and vanilla business my mid 1990’s bottle and the 2014 bottle are identical on my skin. As I mentioned above this perfume is easily obtainable from a number of sources for less than $20/Oz. I think Tocade is one of the great perfumes of the last thirty years and the fact that it isn’t more well-known is a shame; the price certainly shouldn’t be a barrier. This is an example of a master perfumer fashioning a simple construction which contains subtle shadings and brushstrokes to take it far above being a simple rose and vanilla perfume. For $10 how can you go wrong?

Mark Behnke

Olfactory Chemistry: Ionones, Irones, and Methyl Ionones- Purple Rain

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Two of my favorite notes in perfumery are violet and iris. The molecules which provide the smell of both of these notes are from a family of closely related molecules called ionones and irones. As you can see below the structures are amazingly similar:

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By just adding the CH3 group (in red), what we call a methyl group, to the ring of ionone you get alpha-Irone. If you add the methyl group to the end of the string of atoms to the right of Ionone you get alpha-methyl ionone.

The ionones, irones, and methyl ionones are arguably the second set of synthetic molecules to mark the beginning of modern perfumery. The use of synthetic coumarin in Fougere Royale in 1882 is the acknowledged beginning of modern perfumery. The three molecules above would be isolated in 1893 and have formed the building blocks of many of the synthetic aromamolecules in the 121 years since their discovery.

The olfactory differences in these three molecules are dramatic considering the tiny change in their structure. Alpha-Ionone gives off a woody violet quality with a bit of raspberry to it. Alpha-Irone is the smell of iris. Alpha-Methyl Ionone is softer and imparts the powdery quality to iris. If it was just these three molecules that would be more than enough but the reality is far richer as you can see below by just moving the double bond in the lower half of the molecule you create a new set of molecules called beta or gamma-Ionones and the analogous irones and methyl ionones.

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Beta-Ionone has a fruitier and woodier quality compared to the alpha-Ionone. Gamma-ionone is the standard violet you find as an aromachemical.

This all leads to a discussion I had on one of my Facebook perfume groups. One of the members asked about the difference between orris and iris when listed in the perfume notes. The difference is orris is a natural source of irones. Orris is the dried root of iris and contains six of the Irone variations described above. The idea is that the combination of all six naturally occurring Irones present in the root together forms that complex iris effect so prized by perfumers. Because of the need to dry the root for five years after harvest makes orris one of the costliest ingredients in all of perfume. This is why you will usually only see it on the more expensive niche brands note lists. It provides a singular effect but at a high cost. As a result when a perfumer wants a bit of iris character in their fragrance without breaking the budget they will turn to the isolated synthetic molecules like alpha-irone and use that as it is much less costly than orris concrete or orris butter.

In the past thirty years these molecules have been the starting point for the discovery of numerous synthetic molecules which have seen widespread use like Norlimbanol and Iso E Super.

So when you smell a bit of purple in your fragrance it is likely due to one of the molecules related to the ionones, irones, or methyl ionones.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Incense

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I often get asked to name my top 10 fragrances and of all the questions I get asked this is probably the most difficult for me to answer. There are so many perfumes out there I admire and I always fret I’ll miss one when making any list of any kind. Now that I have my own blog I feel like I should try and sort of answer the question. So once a month I’ll share my favorite things and the five I think are the best examples of that note or style. For the first version I’m going to tackle incense fragrances.

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Frankincense

Saying incense fragrances can be problematic all on its own but what I mean are fragrances where the incense note is prominent throughout. The five choices below all hit the spot when I’m craving an incense perfume.

Amouage Jubilation XXV- I have facetiously named Bertrand Duchaufour the “High Priest of Resins” as over a five year period starting with 2002’s Comme des Garcons Series 3: Incense Avignon & Kyoto he would refine his incense accord until it all came together in this brilliant luminous incense fragrance, in 2007.

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Juozas Stakevicius (aka Joe Stat)- There are a number of perfumes which capture the church incense vibe with cold stone walls and smoky censers, none of them do it better than this one by perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin.

L’Artisan Parfumeur Passage D’Enfer– Most of my incense fragrances are on the heavier side and I rarely take them out as the weather turns warmer. Passage D’Enfer is the exception to that rule as perfumer Olivia Giacobetti turns in an incense that feels like it is miles away even though it is right underneath my nose. It is like an optical illusion as I expect it to get stronger every time I wear it but it just stays sheer and gorgeous.

encens et lavande

Serge Lutens Encens et Lavande- This was the Serge Lutens fragrance which made me find a way to get a bell jar flown back here to me. From the first moment I smelled the lavender, sage, juniper berry, rosemary, and incense core I was, and am continually, in love with Christopher Sheldrake’s ability to make all of that work.

Sonoma Scent Studio Incense Pure– Independent Perfumer Laurie Erickson has captured a cross between campfire and incense as Incense Pure has a glowing heart of frankincense, smoky cistus, and myrrh. This is the most comforting of my favorite incense fragrances and it immediately makes me feel better every time I wear it.

This is one of those categories where others could come up with their top five and it would be entirely different than mine and I would admire all of the choices in that list. If you need a place to begin your exploration the five above are a good place to start your own list of your favorite things.

Mark Behnke