Under the Radar: Odin New York 11 Semma- Szechuan Cigar

I spent the weekend cleaning up the area around my desk and it is sort of like archaeological layers of perfume samples. On top is the most recent and on the bottom it turns out were samples I had received from last fall. If they make my desk it means I like them enough to want to write about them. Having the time to write about them, well there are sometimes where it seems perfume samples arrive in an avalanche and the fall is most definitely one of those times. Which means things get left behind; unless I notice them during infrequent clean-ups as I did with Odin 11 Semma.

odin semma

Odin 11 Semma is a classic case of an Under the Radar choice as it just got lost in the cascade of new releases at the end of 2013. Once I had the space to give it some more time to impress me I was amply rewarded. Odin New York is a men’s clothing store in NYC and brought out their first fragrance in 2009. Odin has had a pretty successful beginning to their perfume enterprise. 04 Petrana was widely praised as a masculine iris. 06 Amanu was formally praised as the first winner of The Fragrance Foundation Indie Perfume of the year in 2012. I like the overall line and always look forward to trying the new ones and so a little tardy here is my review of Odin 11 Semma.

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Corinne Cachen

Semma was composed by perfumer Corinne Cachen who had previously done 07 Tanoke for the brand. Semma was designed to be a warm spicy fragrance and Mme Cachen wraps her spices in a tobacco leaf impregnated with chili pepper. That chili pepper is what makes Semma interesting as it adds some restless energy to the smooth tobacco and spice.

Mme Cachen lays out her tobacco leaf and when I initially put this on it feels familiar until another familiar smell that of sliced Szechuan chili peppers arrives. The chili pepper can border on unpleasant but by cocooning it in the tobacco it surprisingly works. I think Mme Cachen probably spent a lot of time getting this balance right because a little too much pepper and this would be tough to wear. Now the more traditional spices of clove and cinnamon arrive and they also help in the continued taming of the chili pepper although both the clove and cinnamon add a fine-drawn kind of complementary heat themselves. The base notes are sweet myrrh, sandalwood, and tonka. Like a bit of sweet dessert at the end of a Szechuan meal these provide sweet solace at the end.

Semma has 8-10 hour longevity and moderat sillage.

I am sorry it took me so long to excavate Semma from the deepest layers on my desk, it deserved a better fate. The unfortunate thing is it is now back on the bottom layer. The silver lining is when I re-discover it again in a few months it will probably be perfect cool weather to wear it in again.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Odin New York. (I think)

Mark Behnke

Taking Notes

One of the many barriers to having fragrance breakthrough as an accepted art form is the need for a consistent vocabulary to evolve from the discussion of perfume. The perfume community doesn’t even have consensus on how to describe a specific fragrance. Consumers rely on the list of notes to help them decide whether they want to give a perfume a try. If they don’t like jasmine they are unlikely to try something as soon as they see jasmine in the list of ingredients. But should they? There are perfumes where the jasmine is used as a note of contrast and foundation never rising to noticeable levels. By just reading a note list a consumer might miss out on something they would really like because they see the note they don’t like in the list. The companies have become skilled in the art of describing accords in ever more flowery terms. There is one perfume I got the press materials for which called it “The Elixir of Love” accord. I have no idea what that means and depending on my interpretation it could go in so many different directions. In the end these descriptions are no more illuminating than a list of ingredients.

This has come to mind again as Chandler Burr has re-started his Untitled Series on Luckyscent. Mr. Burr is one of the most active proponents of making olfactory art something substantial. Towards that end he has used the language of other arts to describe those perfumes he considers worthy of being called olfactory art. Mr. Burr described specific “schools” of perfume and showed examples of each during his exhibit at the Museum of Arts and Design in NYC. Mr. Burr is also very steadfast in his insistence that fragrances should not be broken down into a list of its components when describing it. He likens it to looking at a painting and describing it only as the colors displayed on the canvas without describing the overall artistic display.

When taken to the extreme I agree with him; a simple listing of the notes does not convey anything special about the overall composition. Where I disagree is that notes have no place in the description of a fragrance I think is olfactory art. I would never write about Thierry Mugler Angel and not mention the use of ethyl maltol Olivier Cresp used to create the cotton candy smell within this game-changing perfume. You can’t talk about Chanel No. 5 without talking about the aldehydes or Lancome Tresor without considering Sophia Grojsman’s use of an overdose of galaxolide. The very use of these materials in unique ways, I believe, requires us as writers to point them out. It is the ingenuity of the perfumer and their intuitive way of taking a raw material into a heretofore unimagined direction which often sets apart a fragrance as something worthy of the label olfactory art.

Here is where it gets a little tricky though. There are some fragrances which are so intricately composed to create a desired effect that trying to pick it apart into its component notes is completely irrelevant. Calice Becker’s By Kilian Back to Black, Bertrand Duchaufour’s Sienne L’Hiver, and Marc-Antoine Corticchiato’s Parfum D’Empire Musc Tonkin are such amazing still lifes that I always just experience them on that level without overanalyzing the notes which bring these exquisite perfumes to life. This is where I and Mr. Burr are in complete agreement but this can’t apply to every fragrance.

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Where Next? by Edward Frederick Brewtnall (1846-1902)

Every writer has to make the decision on how best to communicate their experience with a perfume. I decided early on to plant my flag firmly in the middle. I always try to communicate the way a perfume makes me feel without relying overmuch on the individual notes. Then I usually spend the next paragraph exercising my analytical skills tearing it apart into the notes. This captures my two-sided love of olfactory art. I want to be transported by a great fragrance as any art lover does and hope to communicate that. The scientist wants to know how that was achieved and so that part of my psyche delves deep looking to figure out the inner workings of that which I admire.

Which is correct? I don’t think anyone can answer that for sure at the moment. What I can say unequivocally that the more conversation we have about the perfumes we think rise to the level of olfactory art the closer we will become to creating a uniform language of perfume. So to all who write about perfume whether on Facebook, a blog, or a forum pick the way you want to describe your favorite fragrances and add to the conversation; together we will create a language of perfume.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Vetiver

For those of us with more than one bottle of perfumer the change of the seasons signals a change in the perfumes we look forward to wearing. With Memorial Day in the rearview mirror for 2014 the summer days have begun and for the next three months my perfume tastes tilt towards the citrus, the colognes, and the vetivers. I wear vetiver fragrances all year round because it is one of the more versatile notes in perfumery but there is something about a hot day which elevates my favorite vetivers to something even more enjoyable. I thought I’d share my five favorite vetivers as I dust them off and move them to the front of the shelf for the summer.

sel de vetiver

The Different Company Sel de Vetiver might just be the perfect summer fragrance as perfumer Celine Ellena created a near perfect mix of vetiver and sea. Mme Ellena wanted to create an accord of “salt drying on skin after swimming in the ocean” and she does. Before getting to that a very grassy vetiver along with grapefruit and cardamom lead into that accord. Ever since trying this in 2006 it has been one of my summer staples.

For nearly as long another summer staple was Guerlain Vetiver but in 2012 Roja Parfums Vetiver Extrait supplanted it. Roja Dove takes the same spine found in that fragrance and turns it into something as brilliant as the noontime summer sun. The bergamot is bolstered by lemon. Jasmine and rose provide an amuse bouche for the vetiver main course. Vetiver is swirled in a sirocco of spices and woods. Nutmeg, pepper, and caraway match up with gaiac, cedar, and amyris. This carries a luminous inner glow all day and into the night.

Like I said I also use my colognes a lot during the summer and Atelier Cologne Vetiver Fatal checks both cologne and vetiver boxes. Perfumer Jerome Epinette uses a higher distilling fraction of vetiver which produces a much greener, less heavy, woody vetiver source. M. Epinette weaves it into a traditional cologne structure of citrus, orange blossom, and cedar. The unique raw material turns this Vetiver into an opaque vetiver breeze and because it is a cologne absolue this breeze blows all day long.

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If Sel de Vetiver has been my summer days Lalique Encre Noire, also released in 2006, has scented the nights. Perfumer Nathalie Lorson uses a simple structure of woods to coax out the woodier character of vetiver and turn it into a sultry night. Mme Lorson sandwiches her Haitan and Bourbon Vetiver with cypress and cashmere woods over a musky base. This is the scent of potential as you head out into the evening.

My all-time favorite vetiver fragrance is Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Vetiver Extraordinaire. The entire Frederic Malle collection was a sensation when it was released in 2002 and I remember trying it for the first time and it was Dominique Ropion’s smoky vetiver which exerted the strongest pull upon me. It was also the first bottle I purchased from the line. M. Ropion has made the perfect vetiver fragrance when I am wearing my linen ensemble at a summer outdoor event. It has a perfect casual sophistication for the season. What sets this apart is the “floral ozone accord” which energizes the vetiver in the heart. The vetiver here feels more virtually alive than in any other vetiver I own. All of this lands on a base of smoky resinous wood as myrrh, oakmoss, sandalwood, and musk complete this. I have always envisaged Tom Wolfe wearing this.

Enjoy the summer and get your vetivers out!

Disclosure: I purchased bottles of all of the fragrances mentioned above.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Issey Miyake Le Feu D’Issey

There are a number of fragrances which have been released and had a very short shelf life, for a variety of reasons. In the Dead Letter Office I want to take a look at these perfumes which are alternatively called “ahead of their time” or “colossal failure”. The reality is often found somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. What I can confidently say is that the perfumes I will profile in this series did not play it safe. In their daring they sometimes paved the way for better executed fragrances years later. Sometimes it was just proof there are some ideas which never should’ve been unleashed on the public. 1998’s Le Feu D’Issey is a fragrance which has been described as both ahead of its time and a colossal failure.

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Jacques Cavallier

In 1998 perfumer Jacques Cavallier was riding a wave of spectacular success especially with the two fragrances which defined Issey Miyake as a fragrance house; L’Eau D’Issey and L’Eau D’Issey pour Homme. Those two fragrances are still big sellers to the present day. He would design the third fragrance, Le Feu D’Issey, to be completely different to the aquatic pair he previously created. In that desire to be different M. Cavallier probably went a little too far especially as the pendulum was starting its swing firmly towards the “fresh and clean” era of fragrance. M. Cavallier had made a safe Woody Oriental in 1995 with YSL Opium pour Homme. As he sat down to compose Le Feu D’Issey he clearly wanted to make a new version within this style.

coconut

Le Feu D’Issey challenges right from the first moment as M. Cavallier creates a raw coconut milk accord. If you’ve ever been offered a coconut fresh off the tree, opened so you can drink the coconut water within, that is what the early phase of Le Feu D’Issey smells like. It carries a pungency which some have described as “rancid”. I don’t agree with that; it has a watery quality which also carries some of the husk of the coconut as well as the white meat. This right here is where Le Feu D’Issey probably went wrong as a commercial enterprise. I can imagine them handing out strips of this to passers-by and having them grimace and move on. That’s where they make a mistake because in the heart the next risk M. Cavallier takes actually works amazingly as he takes a milk accord and pairs it with jasmine. If the coconut water accord was off-putting the jasmine milk accord draws me in and fascinates me. This is the richness of whole milk which allows all the sweetness of jasmine to float on top like a floral crème. The base is pretty normal as a woody mix of sandalwood, cedar, and gaiac grounds this in safe territory at the end.

Le Feu D’Issey has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

When I wear Le Feu D’Issey I always find it to be a significantly different experience each time. I’m not talking about slight differences but phases which seem to come off very different and often not for the better. Especially the opening. There are times it is right on the verge of unwearable but once that heart accord comes together it is all of a sudden something special. As to how to classify it? I would call it a noble experiment. In the last few years we have seen the milk accord used to great effect in Jean-Claude Ellena’s Hermessence Santal Massoia and by Christine Nagel in Jo Malone Sweet Milk. So far the coconut water accord has not yet found the right fragrance for it to be featured in again. Le Feu D’Issey has found itself consigned to the Dead Letter Office for being too different at the wrong time.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle of Le Feu D’Issey I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Maria Candida Gentile Finisterre- An Aquatic of a Different Stripe

There are times when a new release comes out and it is just the wrong time of year to be fully appreciated. In October of 2013 one of these instances occurred when I tried the new fragrance Maria Candida Gentile Finisterre. I met Sig.ra Gentile at Twisted Lily as she debuted Finisterre. She shared with me some of the raw materials and accords she used. Every so often I have the opportunity to smell one of these accords which just illustrate what skill a master perfumer brings to their art. As Sig.ra Gentile passed me the marine accord she used in Finisterre I was struck by how photorealistic it was. Finesterre refers to Cape Finisterre a rocky peninsula in the Galicia region of Spain. Finisterre is a way station for pilgrims on the Way of St. James. They traverse the path along the water with the waves crashing against the cliffs. The marine accord Sig.ra Gentile is the smell of brine and wet rock as the ocean water sluices out of the honeycomb of rocks in between waves striking the cliff face. This single accord is turbulent and earthy. Even now over six months after encountering it I pull my little envelope of the strip with it on it to regularly re-experience it.

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Cape Finisterre

Sig.ra Gentile wanted Finisterre to represent the worshiper’s journey along the coastline. To the marine accord she adds immortelle and pine to evoke the trees and brush growing on the path. All together this is an Atlantic seaside olfactory pastiche, it could be a still life in smell of this milieu. There is a spirituality and humanity I rarely find in a fragrance.

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Maria Candida Gentile

Finisterre opens up with those waves crashing against the cliff face. There is a mix of ozonic notes, a hint of the seaweed left hanging on the wall, the fizz of the foam, and finally the mineral feel of the rock. This is unquestionably an aquatic accord but it is like no aquatic accord I have tried previously. Instead of sea breeze this is the power of waves and stone in constant opposition. From here the immortelle adds its unique character to the construction. If it wasn’t listed I would probably have thought this note was genet but once clued in the characteristics of immortelle are there to be experienced. Then the pine trees on the landward side of the path make their presence known as the sea breeze soughs through the branches. It is gently green adding a tinge of pine instead of a more focused version. The base is a mix of ambergris and sandalwood as we return to the ocean for the final moments.

Finisterre has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

finisterre

There has been no fragrance I have been looking more forward to wearing once the weather got hot than Finisterre. Over this past weekend I finally had the chance to do just that. As I suspected on a hot day Finisterre explodes to life, it was good in the winter but in the summer it is glorious. If you tried Finisterre back when it came out last fall make it a point to give it another try now in the season it was really made to be worn in. You will find what I think is the best aquatic fragrance released in the last five years.

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

Mark Behnke

Perfume Mythbusters: Olfactory Fatigue and Coffee Beans

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You see them on every perfume sales point counter, a small glass container full of coffee beans. Why are they there? Ostensibly they are supposed to provide an olfactory palate cleanser and help stave off olfactory fatigue. Except all of that is Perfume Myth of the highest degree as the nature of olfactory fatigue and whether coffee beans have any effect on the supposed saturation of your smell receptors is just nonsense.

Sniffathon

Let’s deal with Olfactory Fatigue first. Olfactory Fatigue actually has a high falutin’ name, Olfactory Habituation. Olfactory Habituation is the ability of your olfactory system to take any initially strong, and here is the important part consistent, smell and deal with it by taking it in as part of your normal background. It is why when you wear your scent of the day once it has settled down to the long-lasting consistent basenotes it has now started to attain that level that it gets pushed to the background. The larger molecular weight molecules especially seem prone to this and this is also why someone might say you smell nice at a point in the day you think your fragrance is gone. This has components of psychology as well as biology attached to it as well. Therefore Olfactory Fatigue probably does happen during the course of a day wearing one particular fragrance.

But when you are out sniffing new perfumes or on a sniffathon with friends you are producing stimuli left and right but they are different stimuli. Your nose has the ability to perceive infinitely and when you are sniffing things there is no limit to what you can sniff from a biological standpoint. From a psychological standpoint it is more akin to the kid in the candy store syndrome as you have a bounty of options and you just don’t feel like smelling one more strip. You can be psychologically fatigued but your nose is ready to go if you want to try one more fragrance.

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Dr. Alexis Grosofsky (Beloit College)

This is where the coffee beans supposedly come in. The sales person will hand them to you and tell you they will prepare you to enjoy the next fragrance after “resetting” your nose. Without any science to back it up does that even make any sense? A whiff of strong coffee beans “resets” your nose. What if I just smelled Thierry Mugler A*Men Pure Coffee wouldn’t having snorted some coffee beans distort that scent? Thankfully Dr. Alexis Grosofsky of Beloit College’s Department of Psychology has provided some science to prove that coffee beans have no effect on cleansing your olfactory palate. (The abstract of her research can be found here) She exposed subjects to three different drugstore fragrances. Then they either smelled fresh air, coffee beans or lemon slices. Then they were given the same three scents plus one new one and their task was to identify the new one. The result was the group of subjects that smelled fresh air or lemon slices had a near identical success rate of those who smelled coffee beans. Proof that coffee beans are a prop which carry no value whatsoever.

So what should one do when out sniffing and one wants to “reset” their nose? The answer is right in front of you and in the second paragraph. You are always performing Olfactory Habituation to your own natural smell. That ability to push your natural smell to the background sets the baseline against what any other olfactory stimuli has to compete against. If you want to reset your nose take a deep breath of a patch of, unperfumed, skin. This is the technique I use and if you’ve ever been with me I have an almost OCD ritual of sniff the strip, stick my nose in the crook of my elbow, and sniff the strip over again; repeat as desired. I have done this at some of the biggest perfume events and have sniffed as many as 50 scents in a day and the only thing I weary of is smelling bad perfume.

Next time you are out and about remember coffee is for drinking not for perfume plate cleansing.

Mark Behnke

Olfactory Chemistry: Polycyclic Musks-What Clean Smells Like

One of the best things about science is it is always evolving and chemistry is no different. As a synthetic chemist I am always looking for the next new reaction that will allow me to easily make the next new molecules I am interested in. What is true for me as a medicinal chemist was also true for the chemists who worked in the fragrance industry. In the post-World War 2 economy there were a lot of chemical by-products being formed and clever chemists were using them to develop new plastics and pharmaceuticals and, yes, aromachemicals. Along with new chemical techniques allowing a chemist to make another ring of atoms fused to the same ring used in the nitro musks the polycyclic musks were born.

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In 1951, the first polycyclic musk was synthesized by Kurt Fuchs and it was called Phantolide. It didn’t have a very strong odor but it had incredible stability and ability to stay concentrated even in water it became a natural to be added to detergents as this would stick to the clothes after washing. This was the main use of polycyclic musks for many years until 1965 and the synthesis of Galaxolide by M.G.J. Beets at International Flavors and Fragrances. As you can see above Dr. Beets used the new synthetic methods to take the two groups on the right and cyclize them. His hypothesis was if he kept the oxygen in a similar spacing as it was in in Phantolide he might make an improvement, and he did. Galaxolide retained the stability and properties that made it a good detergent additive but it now also had a more concentrated odor profile and could also be used in perfumery. Perfumer Sophia Grojsman would end up using it in a 21% concentration in her masterpiece Lancome Tresor in 1990.

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This would open the door for other chemists to find other polycyclic musks and when you make the simple change of making the five-membered ring on the left of Phantolide a six-membered ring you get Fixolide. When you completely change the ring on the right-hand side of Phantolide you get Cashmeran. If you want to smell what these three molecules smell like together The Body Shop’s White Musk contains all of these. If you do that you will understand why these are referred to as the “clean” musks as they evolved from their beginnings as laundry detergent odorants to key components of the “clean and fresh” movement in perfume.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Davidoff Cool Water- Aquatic Alpha

The aquatic class of fragrance has been so overexposed it has become a caricature of itself. When a man asks for something “fresh and clean” at a department store counter today he is likely to be sprayed with an aquatic fragrance. By the late 1980’s it was time for a change from the hairy chested powerhouses which dominated men’s fragrance and the perfume which would change things for over twenty-five years, and counting now, was released. That scent was Davidoff Cool Water by perfumer Pierre Bourdon.

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Back in the late 1980’s at the nightclub the fragrance of choice for most men was either Calvin Klein Obsession for Men, Drakkar Noir, or Ralph Lauren Polo. All of these are great fragrances and hold their own place within perfume’s timeline. None of those would be defined as fresh or clean. It is why when Davidoff allowed Pierre Bourdon to try and capture the smell of cool water it was a huge risk. It turned out the timing was just right as Cool Water became a gigantic success. That success caught most perfume companies flat footed and it was almost a year before Cool Water began to see any competition. In the overcrowded field of fragrance that fresh and clean aquatic perfume occupies it is surprising to me how much this original template has been used. Even more amusing is that there are few aquatics which can stand up to the original and every time I wear it I am reminded of what a game-changer this was. Now it can be found for less than $25 in many places.

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Pierre Bourdon

Cool Water has one of my favorite openings of any fragrance I own. The first fifteen minutes is pure bliss for me as M. Bourdon takes a bracing lavender and twists it with coriander, rosemary, orange blossom, and peppermint. That inclusion of the last note has an effect of making the rest of it feel like an icy cold splash of water hitting you right between the eyes. It has a vibrational energy I just feel every time I spray it on. The heart notes are a variation on this, as green floral is again called for, but it is achieved differently as jasmine and oakmoss are the flower and the green. A bit of geranium bridges the floral and the green and sandalwood is made sweeter for the jasmine being present. If the top was fresh the heart is where clean comes into play and it has a less flamboyant way of making its point. The base notes are amber and musk and M. Bourdon keeps them very light in keeping with what has led to them. The first few time I wore Cool Water I kept expecting these notes to get more intense but M. Bourdon was once again creating the new trend.

Cool Water has 8-10 hour longevity on me and above average sillage.

Of every perfume I wear Cool Water is the leader for eliciting unsolicited compliments. I have had both genders and all ages hand out the coveted “You smell good!” to me when I am wearing this. It is a true classic which has stood the test of time and was inducted into The Fragrance Foundation Hall of Fame in 2009. I could rue the scads of imitators it has spawned but I wouldn’t want to have a perfume collection which didn’t include Cool Water in it. As we approach the summer months here in the Northern Hemisphere it is Cool Water’s season to shine in. You can be sure it will be brightening up more than a few of my summer days. For $25 you not only get a Discount Diamond you also get one of the true masterpieces of perfume.

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

Mark Behnke

Tom Ford 101: Five to Get You Started

The idea for this series came when I took a friend to the Tom Ford fragrance boutique at Bergdorf-Goodman. His eyes began to spin and he looked at me with the silent plea of, “Where do I start?” I realized that, as I did that day, I could help others navigate the mega-collections that are out there.

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Tom Ford

Tom Ford, on the fragrance end, has been a mix of trendsetter and the ad campaigns have been provocative; needlessly provocative some would say. Do a search and you can make up your own mind on the PR side of things. On the fragrance side of things this is an overall very strong collection which is split into two different tiers. The Signature Collection comprises the mainstream releases and can be found at most of the masstige store chains. The Private Blend Collection is more exclusive and carries a price to match that exclusivity. There are currently 10 scents in the signature Collection and 29 Private Blends. Here is where I think you should start.

Black Orchid was the first fragrance release, in 2006, by the new Tom Ford Beauty. Tom Ford would join forces with Karen Khoury as Creative Directors on the fragrance side, a partnership which continues to the present day. Perfumers David Apel and Pierre Negrin perfected an exotic orchid accord at the heart. The top notes pierce it with a ray of citrus sunshine and it takes root in a base of incense, sandalwood, and patchouli. Marketed to women I have turned so many men onto this it is one of my favorite gender bender fragrances.

A year later the Private Blends would arrive and Tobacco Vanille would start a trend of ultra-rich tobacco fragrances. Perfumer Olivier Gillotin uses the leaves and the flower of tobacco to create a narcotic hypnotic heart. Spices pick up the dried leafy quality of the tobacco but a precision tuned vanilla paired with benzoin coaxes the sweet undercurrent to the foreground and makes this the ultimate comfort scent.

Harry Fremont

Harry Fremont

Grey Vetiver was released in 2009 as part of the Signature Collection and was composed by perfumer Harry Fremont. This might be the easiest to wear vetiver fragrance on the market. Citrus and sage opens into a floral heart of orris and nutmeg before vetiver, amber, and oakmoss combine for a fantastic finish. Grey Vetiver is one of my favorite suggestions for a workplace perfume as it is very interesting without being so extroverted to make people take unusual notice.

Perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux is one of the most amazing perfumers when to comes to taking a floral note you think you know well and illuminating things you’ve never noticed before. In 2011 he did this with jasmine in the Private Blend, Jasmin Rouge. M. Flores-Roux takes an unapologetically whole jasmine with all of its skanky indoles in place and surrounds it with clary sage, cardamom, and a gorgeous cinnamon. This transforms the jasmine into something completely different than I am used to wearing.  All of this is on a leather and vanilla foundation. This is as sophisticated as jasmine gets in a perfume.

There is no triter note in perfume than lavender it has been used and abused in too many cheap compositions. Perfumer Yann Vasnier completely rehabilitates that reputation with the Private Blend Lavender Palm. By using the two sources of lavender together and expertly blending them with clary sage, fizzing aldehydes, moss, and resins; Lavender Palm feels like that kid from the wrong side of the tracks who has become a big success. This has become my summer lavender staple since its release.

As I mentioned above the Signature Collection can easily be found at upscale department stores. The Private Blends are more exclusive but still quite widely available.

Disclosure: I purchased bottles of all the fragrances mentioned.

Mark Behnke

When It All Goes Pear Shaped- The Case of Penhaligon’s Tralala

One of my favorite British terms is describing a situation as having gone “pear shaped” which means it has gone terribly wrong, usually from good intentions. This phrase is particularly apropos when it comes to the latest release from Penhaligon’s called Tralala.

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Penhaligon’s is a venerable old school English perfume line and in the last five years or so has really reclaimed a vital spot in the niche world. Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour has been creating new perfumes and reformulating some of the historical ones. It is in my estimation a great success story but the latest release is a good example of when a brand forgets what makes it special and attempts to reach out for a different audience.

For Tralala Penhaligon’s wanted to up their hipster credibility and the first step to doing that was asking fashion designers Meadham Kirchoff to act as creative directors. Penhaligon’s has scented their runway shows at London Fashion Week and so they had some familiarity with the line. The latest collection for Fall 2014 recalled prewar Parisian fashion. M. Duchaufour has a way with Retro Nouveau fragrances. Seems like a team made for success, except for the name. The name is where it all begins to go south.

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Jennifer Jason Leigh as Tralala in Last Exit to Brooklyn

In an article in Cosmopolitan announcing the fragrance Meadham Kirchoff alluded to the name being taken from the character in the movie “Last Exit to Brooklyn”. For those unfamiliar with that movie or the character Tralala, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, ends up in a horrific plight and it is something nobody would want to associate with perfume. If you need to know more check out the Wikipedia entry for the novel and under synopsis read the description for Tralala. This is where the attempt to reach for that desired hipster credibility fell apart around them. I am pretty sure they just saw a picture of Tralala like the one above and thought “Yeah there’s our poster girl.” Until people started mentioning this after the Cosmopolitan article came out. On both Now Smell This and Basenotes, Matthew Huband of Penhaligon’s PR department went into spin mode and released this statement; "Hello all, I’m the head of marketing at Penhaligon’s, We’d just like to clarify that the name Tralala is simply an innocent and musical expression which reflects the fragrance. The perfume is rich, whimsical and nostalgic in Penhaligon’s best tradition, as you’d expect.”

Except I’ve smelled the fragrance and “rich, whimsical, and nostalgic” doesn’t accurately describe it. The adjectives I would use are “dangerous, edgy, and retro”. Which is where the disconnect happens; this fragrance clearly is going for this danger as whisky, leather, and patchouli are not the ingredients of nostalgic whimsy. They are exactly as was stated the milieu of Tralala, the fictional character.

This is what happens when a brand forgets about its brand identity and heads off into uncharted territory. All too often a trap door is lurking and everyone involved falls through looking foolish. The most successful perfume brands know that too many missteps like this turn their customers off and I’m pretty sure Tralala will disappear with as little notice as can be managed. I hope that the next time someone at Penhaligon’s wants to go for hipster cred they just remember that isn’t where their success lies.

Mark Behnke