Discount Diamonds: Burberry London for Men- Drydown to Die For

The more invested one becomes in perfume the more one probably tends to be on the lookout for the next greatest thing. I am certainly guilty of that even though it is a large part of what makes me enjoy writing about fragrance. Now that I have my own blog I want to take some time to look back at some of my favorite fragrances from the past. In this series I am going to focus on those fragrances which are widely available for less than $50US. While you probably wouldn’t want a real diamond at discount prices these fragrances shine as brightly as others many times their price.

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Antoine Maisondieu

Perfumer Antoine Maisondieu is one of my favorite perfumers and his recent 2013 output for Comme des Garcons Blue Santal and Monocle Scent Three: Sugi, Bottega Veneta pour Homme, and Tom Ford Private Blend Shanghai Lily show the diversity of his aesthetic. My introduction to him as a perfumer came with my discovery of the first Etat Libre D’Orange releases back in 2006. M. Maisondieu, Antoine Lie, and Nathalie Feisthauer were the three perfumers behind the original eleven with M. Maisondieu composing five including Jasmin et Cigarette and Encens & Bubblegum. While those are amazing perfumes it is his other release in 2006 which is the Discount Diamond, Burberry London for Men.

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Burberry London for Men is one of my favorite cold weather fragrances it reminds me at the beginning of hot spiced mulled wine and while that is good by itself it is the drydown which makes this stand out for me. Whenever I answer an online poll about “your favorite drydown” Burberry London for Men is always one of my answers.

Burberry London for Men starts with a phase of lavender and bergamot which is quickly pushed aside by cinnamon, pepper, orange, and wine. I always see an imaginary warmed bowl of red wine with orange slices and cinnamon sticks floating on top when I wear this. A really nice leather accord signals the beginning of the transition to the basenotes. Tobacco, sweet and narcotic, is joined by guaiac wood, opoponax, and oakmoss. This combination just strums all of my pleasure centers and M. Maisondieu balances them precisely. It is in this last phase where Burberry London for Men lingers for the majority of the time I am wearing it.

Burberry London for Men has about 6-8 hours of longevity and below average sillage.

As I mentioned earlier this is one of my favorite sweater scents as it seems to really blossom underneath the wool covering as my body heat amplifies it. Burberry London for Men can be found for around $25US/ounce at a number of discounters.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle of Burberry London for Men I purchased.

Mark Behnke

The Gold Standard: Rose- Guerlain Nahema

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One of the more frequent questions I get is, “What’s your favorite ______ fragrance?” In the beginning I used to give an answer like there are too many of those fragrances for me to have a favorite. Over the past couple of years I’ve realized that isn’t entirely true. I realize when I have a truly great fragrance in front of me I am consciously comparing it to another fragrance I think is the best of that note or class. With The Gold Standard I am going to answer the question on my favorite fragrance of a particular note or style. With Valentine’s Day coming up at the end of the week it seems like Rose is a good place to start.

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I think from the moment I smelled Guerlain Nahema, sometime in the 1980’s, it became my baseline rose fragrance. In those days I didn’t have the right description but the advance of technology has given me the exact descriptor for Nahema; High Definition Rose. I remember right after HD came out and I went out and got my first HD television and I watched the BBC series Planet Earth It all seemed so lifelike and there was depth in that clarity. That is exactly what Nahema feels like to me. It is HD in olfactory form.

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Nahema was released in 1979 and after a prodigious advertising campaign it never caught fire with the perfume buying public. There have been a number of post-mortems on that claiming Nahema to be “avant-garde”, “ahead of its time”, or just plain “too weird”. In that time and place all of those criticisms were probably valid. Most of the popular rose fragrances we laud have happened since 2000. In 1979 rose was considered to be an “older woman’s” choice. Jean-Paul Guerlain clearly was trying to bring rose back to the younger demographic but in 1979 they clearly weren’t interested.

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I remember smelling it in the Guerlain boutique at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida and being captivated by the complex rose I was encountering. It had the silky smooth core with the green of the stem and thorn lurking in the background. It was as close to a reconstruction of a single rose handed to us by M. Guerlain as could be. When I broke it down hyacinth added a dewy quality to the top notes before the rose comes to the forefront like a tight bud blooming right in front of me. A few balsamic notes, some tonka and a bit of vanilla soften the subtle green woody aspects which coincide with the rose. I had always assumed M. Guerlain used a high quality rose oil as his core, or did he?

In the book “Perfumes: The A-Z Guide” by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez; Mr. Turin makes the provocative claim, in his 5-star review of Nahema, that M. Guerlain used no rose at all in its composition. What!? After reading this I pulled out my bottle and sprayed it on trying to detect the threads of this rose accord. I was unable to find a thread to start pulling on which would make this accord unravel to my analytical probing. If M. Guerlain was able to pull off this best of all rose fragrances without using rose that would be incredible. I hope someday someone at Guerlain will let us know the truth of this story.

The current formulation of Nahema, as the Eau de Parfum, is essentially unchanged from when I first encountered it. The extrait version is spectacular and is also worth seeking out especially if you are a rose lover.

Guerlain Nahema is the Gold Standard when it comes to rose fragrances to which I compare everything else to.

Disclosure: this review was based on a bottle of Nahema EdP I purchased and a sample of the Nahema extrait supplied by the Guerlain boutique in Palm Beach, Florida.

Mark Behnke

Perfumer Rewind: Jean-Claude Ellena’s 1988- Maxim’s pour Homme & Balenciaga Rumba

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Some of our greatest niche perfumers have a fascinating history prior to the aesthetic we know them best for. In Perfumer Rewind I am going to look into some of my favorite current perfumer’s past creations and look for interesting moments of their development. The first perfumer to get this treatment is Jean-Claude Ellena and the year I am rewinding to is 1988 when he was responsible for two launches Maxim’s pour Homme and Balenciaga Rumba.

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Jean-Claude Ellena

Ask anyone today to describe a Jean-Claude Ellena fragrance and the words minimalist or luminous will likely be the two most common descriptors used. As the in-house nose at Hermes M. Ellena has perfected a style that speaks volumes with few notes. The “Un Jardin” series and the Hermessences are perfect examples of the style he has evolved into. The earliest complete signpost of that style was 1993’s Bvlgari Eau Parfumee au The Vert. What I find completely fascinating was in 1988, after a five year absence of releases, M. Ellena returns with two huge powerhouse fragrances that are as far from what anyone would describe as an Ellena style fragrance.

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Maxim’s pour Homme was done after Pierre Cardin had bought the rights to the French restaurant Maxim’s, in 1988, with the intention of turning it into a worldwide chain. What was even more interesting was the beginning of building this brand was going to be a men’s fragrance. Pierre Cardin contracted Givaudan to do the fragrance and they assigned M. Ellena. Maxim’s pour Homme begins with classic lavender and clary sage with some bergamot. The heart of Maxim’s pour Homme is where you get the hint of what will become a M. Ellena trademark as he combines geranium, muguet, and rose. Those three notes were often huge sledgehammers of scent in that era but in Maxim’s pour Homme they are so restrained they almost get lost between the top notes and the base notes. As a result the heart only lasts for a few minutes but it is like peering into a crystal ball of what will be as they are perfectly balanced to create an airy beautiful floral character. This character would get refined a lot over the years to become the core of many of M. Ellena’s creations almost twenty years later. The base is leathery musky chypre with patchouli, oakmoss, amber, musk, cedar, and vanilla. The base is classic 1980’s masculine perfume trope. M.Ellena probably didn’t want to rock the boat too much at this point in his career so he played it safe at the top and the base but if you pay attention to the heart you will see the indications of where his true aesthetic lies.

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Balenciaga Rumba was a co-creation of M. Ellena and Ron Winnegrad. Like Maxim’s pour Homme it is one particular phase that gives us the insight into M. Ellena’s evolving style. Rumba starts with a fusillade of fruit as peach, raspberry, and plum roar out of the atomizer. Fruity florals were just coming into style and so to go with all of that fruit a full set of florals including jasmine, magnolia, tagete, gardenia, and most prominently, tuberose. This opening is so heady and narcotic it is off-putting these days but in 1988 with Chrisitan Dior Poison the fragrance du jour it almost seems restrained. Then as if a light switch is thrown Rumba turns into this fantastic dry incense. Labdanum is the main resinous source with styrax playing a supporting role with its leathery quality. Amber and vanilla add a bit of warm sweetness to the arid resinous aspect. For those who love the Hermessence Ambre Narguile you will recognize the base of Rumba as the Neanderthal version of that fragrance. The drydowns of Rumba and Ambre Narguile are very similar with the tobacco of Ambre Narguile being the major difference as well as sixteen years added experience.

M. Ellena would continue with similar styles to Maxim’s pour Homme and Rumba with Hermes Amazone, Rochas Globe, and Jitrois Paris until that inflection point in 1993 with Bvlgari Eau Parfume au The Vert began the style we most commonly associate with M. Ellena.

Maxim’s pour Homme and Balenciaga Rumba are still available through a number of internet resellers and auction sites for pretty reasonable prices.

Disclosure: This review was based on bottles of Maxim’s pour Homme and Balenciaga Rumba I purchased.  

Mark Behnke

Serge Lutens 101- Five To Get You Started

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I’ve been doing this a long time and as new brands come, and go, I tend to be there at the beginning which allows me to grow along with the perfume house. I often wonder how somebody new to the world of niche perfumery deals with some of the larger lines that they hear so much about. When you are faced with trying to figure out a place to start you generally have to rely on your best guess at what will work for you. With this series I am going to take some of the larger perfume houses and suggest five introductory fragrances as a place to start your journey. First to get this treatment is Serge Lutens.

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Serge Lutens (l.) and Christopher Sheldrake (r.)

Serge Lutens was established in 1992 and for over twenty years Creative Director Serge Lutens and perfumer Christopher Sheldrake have been creating some of the best perfumes in the niche perfume space. With over 40 perfumes released under the Serge Lutens label it is a formidable task to figure out where to start. With Serge Lutens the best place to start is truly at the beginning.

Feminite du Bois was originally created under the Shiseido label but now is under the Serge Lutens imprint. I remember smelling Feminite du Bois for the first time and being absolutely fascinated that a fragrance with Feminite in the name had such a pronounced cedar heart. The real genius here is the pairing of violet with that cedar note. The core accord is bracketed by orange and a trio of spicy notes to create a vibrancy one rarely finds and it is a hallmark of Serge Lutens fragrances that will appear time and again. Feminite du Bois underwent a re-formulation when Serge Lutens acquired it from Shiseido but this is one of those which manage to keep the spirit of the original alive.   

In 2000 with the release of Ambre Sultan this style would become more refined with another inspired pairing of herbal notes with a warm amber. Bay leaves, coriander, oregano, and angelica root provide a feisty contrast to the languorous warmth of amber made even warmer with the additional resins of benzoin, styrax and a full suite of balsamic notes. This is often the fragrance which turns many into amber fanatics.

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Also in 2000 Sa Majeste La Rose shows M. Sheldrake’s adeptness with a simple rose soliflore. By using an opulent Moroccan Rose as his nucleus he then sends into orbit around it lychee, clove, and honey to impart a mobility to the rose which elevates it to something much more than just a soliflore. Sa Majeste La Rose is one of the most versatile entries in the entire Serge Lutens line perfect for a wide variety of uses.

One of the hallmarks of the Serge Lutens style is a “stewed fruit” accord which pops up frequently. In 2004’s Daim Blond it shows up swathed in cardamom, orris, and suede leather. You will swear there are dried apricots in the note list, they aren’t listed but they are there, and this is a good place to see if you like “stewed fruit” in your fragrance.

Five O’clock au Gingembre is my last choice as it shows the skill of M. Sheldrake with a gourmand in the Serge Lutens style. An exquisite tea accord leads to a mix of gingerbread, ginger, and cinnamon which have an unusual warmth that will make you think a tray of gingerbread cookies are cooling somewhere nearby. It slowly settles into a honeyed cacao and vanilla finish that manages to keep from turning into treacle and always stays terrific.

Serge Lutens is one of the perfume houses that really produces quality fragrances year in and year out and if you’ve been needing a place to dive in the five above make for a good place to introduce yourself to Uncle Serge.

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

Mark Behnke

Olfactory Chemistry: Ethyl Maltol- Angelic Candy Floss

I have always been fascinated with the synthetic molecules that go into my favorite fragrances. Very often the first use of these molecules form an inflection point from which many other fragrances spring from once it has been used successfully.

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The first molecule I want to talk about is Ethyl Maltol. It’s most famous use is in 1992’s Thierry Mugler Angel. Perfumer Olivier Cresp combined it with other synthetics, Hedione and Coumarin, to create an indelible piece of day-glo olfactory art. Angel is a love it/hate it fragrance for its exuberant nature and at the heart of that exuberance is Ethyl Maltol.

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Maltol (l.) and Ethyl Maltol (r.)

Ethyl Maltol by itself smells like a cotton candy machine running at full throttle at the state fair. It almost feels like the fumes are vaporized sugar floating in the air right on the verge or crystallizing. Prior to Ethyl Maltol’s synthesis perfumers used the natural form Maltol. As you can see from the two structures above there is only one small difference between Maltol and Ethyl Maltol. The addition of one more carbon and two more hydrogens leads to a significant difference. Maltol is a naturally occurring material which is used to add a note of coffee, caramel, or cocoa depending on the dilution. Ethyl Maltol does not occur in nature and is synthesized in a lab. The simple addition of one more carbon and its attending hydrogens increases the effect of Maltol by a tremendous amount and turns it into a powerhouse source of sweetness in a perfume. You have to dilute Ethyl Maltol many times more than Maltol to achieve a similar intensity.

It is exactly these kind of small molecular changes which lead to dramatic olfactory differentials which make this so intriguing to me. It also points up the difference in natural and synthetic sources of perfume materials as the synthetic conterparts to natural molecules generally carry a a bigger impact and intensity. This can be a reason for a perfumer to choose it especially for that over the top quality.

When you smell that intense cotton candy smell the next time you are trying a new fragrance, or revisiting Angel, now you know where it comes from.

Mark Behnke