New Perfume Review By Kilian Noir Aphrodisiaque- Hot Chocolate by Calice

I must start as I always do with city exclusive releases that I hate them as a concept, especially when they are good. The By Kilian brand has been doing some pretty good ones for their different boutiques as they open around the world. I spend some time chasing down one if there is something I think I’ll like. After the first of the year I heard about the Paris exclusive called Noir Aphrodisiaque.

One of the reasons I was so interested in Noir Aphrodisiaque was because it felt like it was going to be the finish of what I call perfumer Calice Becker’s hot beverage trilogy. She assayed a study of green tea with 2014’s Imperial Tea. Later that year she would follow that up with Intoxicated which was inspired by Turkish coffee. When I read Noir Aphrodisiaque was chocolate and cinnamon I realized this was hot chocolate. It turns out that Noir Aphrodisiaque is that steaming cup of flavored milk I was hoping it would be.

Calice Becker

I make my hot chocolate with Dutch Process Cocoa powder; no Swiss Miss nonsense for me. I can’t speak for Mme Becker but it seems she also uses something similar in her home. It is because she starts with the dry dusty powdery cocoa and then by adding a creamy accord she forms the steaming beverage with cinnamon sprinkled on top.

Noir Aphrodisiaque opens on that chocolate dust through which passes a bit of bergamot, cedrat, and jasmine. These three notes are all used in moderation more to act as contrast to the drier version of cocoa in the early going. Then Mme Becker adds a creamy gourmand accord as the warm milk covers the cocoa and now turns it luscious. It is exactly the smell of the kind of rich hot chocolate I make. Then like a garnish she adds a sprinkle of cinnamon which melds into the gourmand accord. The final ingredient after a long while is amber which revives the cinnamon a bit over the final moments.

Noir Aphrodisiaque has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I am a big fan of Intoxicated it is one of my favorite By Kilian fragrance within the entire collection. Noir Aphrodisiaque is every bit as good as that one. I am now hoping Mme Becker has another hot beverage she wants to transform in to perfume. For these final days of winter, I’m going to spray myself with Noir Aphrodisiaque and warm my hands on a mug of hot chocolate.

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

Mark Behnke

By Kilian 101- Five to Get You Started

There was a real inflection point for niche perfume in the years 2005-2008. There were several fully realized brands which sprang up during that time. The successful formula consisted of a consistent vision, beautiful packaging; in some cases, luxury pricing and if you could get it a personable spokesperson. One of the brands which checked off all of these boxes was By Kilian. Fronted by the scion of a famous cognac family, Kilian Hennessy, By Kilian led with a luxurious vibe. M. Hennessy also had a vision of deeper fragrant experiences which has played out throughout most of the collection. One reason for that coherence is he has worked with a small roster of perfumers and one, Calice Becker, has been a de facto in-house perfumer for the brand. Many of her best perfumes reside within the By Kilian collection. She has done such excellent work that all five of the perfumes I am recommending as starting points below are composed by Mme Becker.

Kilian Hennessy

From the initial collection of six perfumes the one which exemplifies the brand best is Love: Don’t Be Shy. One of the hallmarks of the brand is unique gourmand fragrances. Love set that in motion right from the start. Mme Becker recreated an accord of rose water infused marshmallow. Redolent of orange blossom in the heart before tailing off into a sensual caramel and musk finish.

Another hallmark is the use of oud resulting in a series of multiple oud fragrances. The second one released, Rose Oud, is the easiest to start with. Mme Becker takes the classic rose and oud pairing breathing new life into it by using an oud accord of cedar, cypriol, and saffron. By using an accord, it allows for a more approachable oud experience. Spicing it up with cardamom and cinnamon before allowing a Bulgarian rose to capture the oud accord makes this one of the most easygoing oud perfumes out there.

Calice Becker

The perfume which I think is the modern masterpiece within the collection is Back to Black. As with the oud in Rose Oud in Back to Black Mme Becker constructs an exquisite tobacco accord. In the early going you can detect the individual blocks as things like chamomile, cardamom, and coriander begin to be enveloped by other notes until like a magic trick a rich honeyed tobacco appears and stays for hours. Then over the last few hours it deconstructs on the skin leaving an amber and vanilla base as the final memory.

A return to the gourmand comes in Intoxicated. The off-beat gourmand is on display as Mme Becker takes a Tuurkish coffee accord of cinnamon, nutmeg, and spun sugar over coffee and adds in a sticky green cardamom. It makes this an exotic coffee perfume.

There is also a collection which was meant to appeal to Eastern tastes. It was more austere and simply constructed than the rest of the line. Most of the time it concentrates on a single raw material. Sacred Wood is the best of these as Mme Becker again uses a Mysore sandalwood which she surrounds with carrot, cumin, elemi, and a hot milk accord. That latter piece truly makes the sandalwood creamy in every sense of the word.

By Kilian is a brand which has broken out of the niche pack by staying true to its vision, The five fragrances above are a good introduction to that.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Ralph Lauren Collection Lime- Lime Freeze

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It should come as no surprise that the Ralph Lauren fragrance business has decided to follow a number of their contemporaries into the luxury niche collection sector. Their initial foray consists of ten releases comprising simple soliflore constructions. Each perfume is named after the focal point of each three note perfume. Three perfumers were used; Carlos Benaim, Harry Fremont, and Calice Becker.

The Ralph Lauren Collection was the third large soliflore collection I have received in recent months. I’m not sure the source of the embrace of this particular style but there are going to be a lot of choices out there for the consumer. Like all large collections there are highs and lows. The highs of The Ralph Lauren Collection are Oud by M. Benaim which goes all in with the oud by bracketing it with smoky incense and the clean woodiness of guaiac. I also really enjoyed Sage by M. Fremont which is a modern fougere using a green fig and balsam to round out the herbal sage. The one which was hands down my favorite is Lime by Mme Becker.

Casino in Monaco. Night landscape. Monte Carlo.

Calice Becker

If there is one hallmark of Mme Becker’s career it is using lots of notes in the majority of her perfume she composes. Those notes are used as shading and texture around specific keynotes. They are what make me look forward to trying her new releases. With Lime this might have the shortest note list of her portfolio: lime, bergamot, and lavandin. These three notes are brilliantly chosen but this perfume succeeds because Mme Becker is able to use the proprietary Givaudan technology called Freeze Frame.

Freeze Frame is where a fruit is frozen in liquid nitrogen and then as it thaws a headspace isolation is done. Givaudan has done this with fruits along with roots like ginger. The lime here is from a Freeze Frame extraction. What it seems to do is to provide a source of lime that has much more of its tart bite intact. It also has more of the pithy quality of the rind present as well. I wouldn’t describe it as photorealistic but a more “whole fruit” experience containing more prominent parts of the entirety.

Lime has a simple evolution. The Freeze Frame lime appears right away. The bergamot provides a bit of a sunny twinkle while simultaneously shading the tartness of the lime. The lavandin is that species of lavender which carries a bit of camphor with it. In the case of Lime it almost gives the impression of the curls of frost off the surface of the frozen lime. Less prosaically the hint of camphor lifts the brighter citrus facets of the lime.

Lime has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

As a soliflore collection goes The Ralph Lauren Collection is overall very well done. It is definitely worth the time to track it down and try them all. The simple aesthetic which runs throughout all ten fragrances can be as appealing as the name on the label is to each person who tries them. Lime is the one I picked because Mme Becker showed me an icy globe of citrus perfection.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Ralph Lauren.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Tommy Hilfiger The Girl- Finding the Edge

Twenty years ago a perfumer displayed her early talent with the release of Tommy Hilfiger Tommy Girl. The perfumer was Calice Becker. I’ve always considered Tommy Girl to be one of the new classics of perfume. When I received my press sample and press release for the new Tommy Hilfiger The Girl I had a concern that we were seeing more reformulation trying to capture the Millennials. It didn’t take long for me to see that wasn’t the case. I am pretty sure Tommy Hilfiger The Girl is trying to entice the Millennials to give it a try but not by making some lighter version of Tommy Girl. This is different than that.

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Calice Becker

One difference is Mme Becker is not working alone as she is joined by her Givaudan colleague Rodrigo Flores-Roux for Tommy Hilfiger The Girl. I have never found it easy to determine which perfumer is responsible for what part of the construction. If I am guessing here the floral heart seems very Sr. Flores-Roux’s style. The sharp green top accord seems Mme Becker-like. This is just me trying to perhaps figure out something which is not even a thing. There is a sharpness to Tommy Hilfiger The Girl which has been different than the approach taken by other brands in trying to capture the younger generation.

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Rodrigo Flores-Roux

Tommy Hilfiger The Girl opens with a triad of sharp green leafy notes; violet leaves, fig leaves, and shiso leaves. In between all of the leafiness is a crisp green pear note. Despite the presence of the pear to try and help dull the cutting edge of both the violet and shiso leaves it never really succeeds. The shiso in particular seems to want to assert itself. This feels like a very niche aesthetic early on because of the aggressiveness of the green. The floral accord in the heart picks up the green and these notes do find a way to soften the edge. Jasmine is the keynote but it is surrounded by a couple of green hued ingredients in muguet and a synthetic from Givaudan called Karmaflor. These provide the green transition and the jasmine does the rest. It settles on to a pretty standard cedar and amber base accord.

Tommy Hilfiger The Girl has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Tommy Hilfiger The Girl is the first of the Millennial trending releases which hasn’t been afraid to show some edge. All of the earlier attempts by other brands seem to want to be crowd pleasers first and foremost. The creative team behind Tommy Hilfiger The Girl are placing their bets on something different. I like Tommy Hilfiger The Girl so it is a bet I can easily get behind and hope they are correct.

Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample from Tommy Hilfiger.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Yves Saint Laurent Caftan- Oriental Trapeze

There was a time when the seeing the name Yves Saint Laurent on a perfume bottle was a reason to smile. Over the last five or six years it has become a reason to frown in confusion as to how this groundbreaking brand could be turned into something so banal. The nadir of this was last year’s release of Black Opium. That was so flawed that I thought there was no hope. Then of course hope reared its head.

I received a press release at the end of last year announcing the release of a five fragrance collection called La Vestiaire des Parfums. This seemed like an attempt by Yves Saint Laurent to release an exclusive collection like many of their contemporaries. The inspiration was five trendsetting fashion styles associated with M. Saint Laurent. I think I was equal parts anticipation and dread when trying the samples. The majority of the collection felt like it was less inspired by the fashion of the past and more likely driven by the need to check boxes. One citrus, one white floral, one oriental, one woody, and one floriental. The same desire to play it safe permeates the collection. With all that, there was one which was pleasant enough to warrant wearing it for a couple of days.

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Satin Trapeze dress from the 1958 Dior collection

Caftan is inspired by M. Saint Laurent’s 1958 haute couture Trapeze Collection. Working as the successor to Christian Dior, M. Saint Laurent was inspired by the oriental caftan and adapted it into what would become the forerunner of the A-Line silhouette. The Trapeze dresses were constructed like caftans close to the shoulders that flared dramatically outward in an unstructured silhouette. As this evolved over time into the A-Line the volume of the flare reduced dramatically and narrowed considerably.

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Calice Becker

Caftan the fragrance mimics the idea of adapting oriental designs into western aesthetic. Perfumer Calice Becker produces a soft voluminous oriental to pay homage.

Caftan opens with a tart citrus and baie rose accord. This heads into a resinous heart of benzoin, styrax, and incense. Mme Becker has become expert at using these particular notes to a particular effect. In Caftan she is going for something more expansive and soft. She achieves this as this feels like the wide flaring fabric heading down from the fitted shoulders. It ends on a combination of labdanum and musks to give a skin scent accord to let you know there is a woman underneath all that fabric.

Caftan has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

Caftan is a nicely crafted oriental that doesn’t smell a lot different than many others out there. I feel like Mme Becker faithfully adhered to the brief but wonder if there were some other more interestingly constructed mods which were rejected. For a line of fragrance which celebrates all of the risk taking of M. Saint Laurent it feels contrary to that mindset. If you want a serviceable plush oriental fragrance Caftan would check that box.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Yves Saint Laurent.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews By Kilian Light my Fire, Smoke for the Soul, & Intoxicated- Kilian’s Smoke Shoppe

Photo via The GoodSmellas blog

Smoke ‘em if you got ’em. Smoke gets in your eyes. Smokin’. The thought of smoke, of all kinds, has saturated pop culture for decades. The swirling, curling tendrils of scent are a natural for a perfume collection. Creative Director Kilian Hennessy of By Kilian is in that frame of mind with his latest collection Addictive State of Mind. There are three debut releases; Light my Fire, Smoke for the Soul, and Intoxicated, in the line each touching on fragrant wisps.

sidonie-lancesseurSidonie Lancesseur

Light my Fire is composed by perfumer Sidonie Lancesseur and is inspired by Monte Cristo cigars. I have to say before trying Light my Fire I thought it was not a good idea to have another tobacco fragrance in a line which contains Back to Black which I think is one of the best tobacco scents ever. Mme Lancesseur works a different angle as her tobacco in the cigar is sweetened with vanilla and honey. It adds a fragrant sweetness to the tobacco to start before eventually ending up on an amber foundation. Light my Fire is a lighter take on tobacco and very different from Back to Black so that I think it will find its fans.

fabrice-pellegrin-firmenichFabrice Pellegrin

Smoke for the Soul is signed by Fabrice Pellegrin and is inspired by cannabis. Smoke for the Soul get this just right. If you have ever opened up a container with sticky buds of cannabis in it you will know exactly what this smells like. The notes M. Pellegrin used to create the cannabis accord are grapefruit, green cardamom, mate, eucalyptus, and tobacco. This is the cannabis counterpart to Back to Black as M. Pellegrin opens Smoke for the Soul with the cannabis accord in place and over the next few hours it slowly starts to fray and decompose until you are left with a woody base of birch and cashmere woods. Smoke for the Soul is beautifully realized by M. Pellegrin and I enjoyed it immensely.

calice beckerCalice Becker

Intoxicated is formulated by Calice Becker and is inspired by Turkish coffee. Maybe it is because coffee is my choice among these three addictions but Mme Becker’s take on strong dark coffee is my favorite of the three. Mme Becker brews her coffee accord and it comes out redolent and steaming from the first moments and the green cardamom she pairs the coffee with makes an exotic mix that has never been seen in a Starbucks. The lemon tinged spice made more sappy because of the greenness is, as the name promised, intoxicating. From there Mme Becker swirls in some more spices in nutmeg and cinnamon but they are not as interesting as the cardamom. This all rests on a woody foundation at the end.

All three perfumes have 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

The Addicitve State of Mind Series feels like the sequel to the L’Oeuvre Noire series that M. Hennessy started the By Kilian line with. Unlike most sequels these three new fragrances are as good as any in that collection. If you have taken a break from By Kilian because Asian Tales and In the Garden of Good & Evil were different then I suggest you tune back in as I think these three will make you feel like things have returned to the older aesthetic. I am happy to spend some time in Kilian’s Smoke Shoppe and breathe in all of the wonderful smells.

Disclsoure: this review was based on samples provided by By Kilian.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Avon Calling!

My first exposure to Avon was our local Avon Lady who visited our house regularly. There were commercials with the tag line “Avon Calling!” Many of those companies which sold door-to-door in the 1960’s and 1970’s were made obsolete by the internet. Avon has not only adapted they have thrived with $10 biliion in sales in 2013. They have managed to navigate the shifting fortunes and stake out a place for themselves. As I went through the box of fragrance supplied by my friend who is a current Avon Lady I was impressed with the consistency of the collection as a whole. Current Creative Director Isabel Lopes and her predecessors all understand how to make an appealing fragrance for their customers at a more than appealing price, around $20. The epitome of Discount Diamonds. Here are five more I think are worth giving a try.

Haiku Kyoto Flower by perfumer Pierre Negrin is the latest flanker to 2001’s Haiku, whose gauzy lilting green was also good. The newest member of the Haiku family is a little more outgoing. M. Negrin uses sharp violet made greener with blackcurrant. This is very much a recognizable opening from many niche perfumes but made more palatable by keeping it very light. The heart is peony and orange blossom, pretty and more pronounced then the top notes. It ends on sandalwood and a favorite in many of the feminine marketed Avon fragrances a cocktail of the cotton linen musks. This is very lovely green floral perfume.

avon calling

Avon Femme is by perfumer Harry Fremont. M. Fremont is one of the best mainstream perfumers working currently. He definitely knows how to interpret a brand’s character and capture it in a fragrance. Avon Femme is a crisp fruity musk perfume. It starts with the snappy pairing of grapefruit and pear matched with a bit of very clean jasmine. There will be no indoles here this is fresh and pretty. Magnolia is the floral keynote supported with a bit of peach. It ends with the sheer musk cocktail I mentioned above. For those who want a skank-free jasmine fruity floral Avon Femme is a good choice.

Avon does make fragrances for men and Avon Exploration by perfumer Laurent Le Guernec is a good example. As I mentioned yesterday the men’s fragrances hew to an aesthetic of bracing and woody, Avon Exploration does that. M. Le Guernec does choose to make Avon Exploration very bracing as he fashions an olfactory slap of cardamom, sage, and rosemary. This is a very concentrated opening and it is typical of the masculine Avon fragrances. It does settle down into a sandalwood, vetiver, and non-sheer musk which is less challenging. If you are a fan of powerhouse men’s fragrances Avon Exploration is a modern version.

avon updated

Far Away Gold by Calice Becker is a special warm floral. Mme Becker knows how to build a soft warm vanilla and sandalwood base even with the more cost-efficient materials and it is that where Far Away Gold ends. Prior to that osmanthus and peach lead to a jasmine and ylang-ylang heart. A wonderful comfort scent.

Avon does have their celebuscents and one of the more interesting collaborators is musician Bon Jovi. Part of the Bon Jovi collection is Unplugged for Her by perfumer Annie Buzantian. This was the most subtle fragrance of all of the ones I tried. It was very surprising since a rock star is associated with it, although it is unplugged. Mme Buzantian uses a very opaque application of ivy and plum to give a sheer green fruity opening. Rose carries the heart but this is a synthetic rose which carries the fresh floralcy and little of the spiciness or powdery facets. It keeps it on the light side for making that choice. A cocktail of soft woods and even softer white musks close this. Very easy to wear and a perfect office scent for those who work in close quarters and still want to wear perfume.

Now let me reiterate what I stated yesterday, perfume for $20 is not chock full of essential oils. There might be a pinch here and there but this is all synthetic versions of the notes I mentioned. As you can see there are very talented perfumers working for Avon and I think they do a tremendous job at making the most of a limited budget. Enough so that if you need an economical perfume fix contact your local Avon Lady…..Avon Calling!

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Avon.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Tom Ford Private Blend Mandarino di Amalfi & Costa Azzurra- Summer Tableaux

The Tom Ford Private Blend collection is one of the more successful luxury collections on the market. One thing about it though is the fragrances which make it up would hardly be described as light. Outside of 2007’s Neroli Portofino and 2010’s Azure Lime this is not a collection I reach for during the summer. The two newest additions to the Private Blend line, Mandarino di Amalfi and Costa Azzurra, are going to change that.

As they did last year with the Oud Collection, Creative Directors Tom Ford and Karen Khoury are creating another collection of three by adding two new partners to an existing entry. This time the prior release is Neroli Portofino and the two new ones are packaged in the same blue glass bottle to signal they belong together. Both of them are being released at the perfect time as these are warm weather fragrances made for summer fun.

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Calice Becker (l.) and the Author

Mandarino di Amalfi is composed by Calice Becker and it is Mme Becker at her absolute finest. When Mme Becker really hits a home run with me is when she takes what seems an almost impossible number of raw materials and fashions something subtle and complex. Mandarino di Amalfi takes the very common trope of a citrus fragrance and by adding in herbs, spice, flowers, resins and musk she twists the normal into something almost paranormal as some of these notes flit through like fast moving poltergeists.

Mme Becker places her luminous mandarin in place and then like an olfactory version of a clove orange she pierces it with all manner of herbs and spices. A spear of tarragon, a javelin of blackcurrant bud, a lance of coriander, an arrow of spearmint, and a stiletto of basil stab through the citrus each adding a particular kind of energetic contrast. By the end of the early going you have well spiced herbal mandarin standing by itself. This wonderfully aromatic phase is caressed by a floral touch of jasmine and orange blossom. The jasmine is the smell of humid summer nights and a bit of shiso adds a green foundation to the florals. Vetiver and labdanum make things a little greener but not overwhelmingly so. Finally a bit of civet and musk end with a flash of animalic sensuality. On its surface Mandarino di Amalfi is an orange perfume but underneath Mme Becker adds in layers of pleasures to discover as the day unfolds.

Mandarino di Amalfi has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage, it is pitched perfect for a summer fragrance.

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Yann Vasnier

Yann Vasnier takes Costa Azzurra in a completely different direction. Costa Azzurra is the perfume of the beachcomber walking the beach at midday among the driftwood and the seaweed with the waves crashing nearby. I grew up in South Florida and spent many afternoons looking to see what the ocean left behind as the tide receded. M. Vasnier captures all of that in Costa Azzurra.

Costa Azzurra opens with a fresh cologne top note trio of lemon, lavender, and basil. The first sniff feels so familiar only to have a wave crash and the marine setting comes alive. M. Vasnier uses a bit of ambrette seed, myrtle, and algae to create his ebb tide tableau. This leads to a heart of woody notes to create his driftwood accord. Cypress, cedar, oak, and a pinch of oud all combine to create that unique sun-bleached wood accord which also shimmers with the heat of the sun beating down on it. This all lays over the marine accord from the top to truly create the beach landscape in fragrant form. The base takes us back to the comfort of incense, vanilla, and labdanum in a green tinted resinous finish. It is the driftwood at the heart of Costa Azzurra which is the star here as M. Vasnier captures it perfectly.

Costa Azzurra has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Neroli Portofino was never my favorite of the Private Blends but these two new companions are much more interesting to me and already they have proven to be good summer company. I will be wearing my samples down to their last drops over the next few months.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Tom Ford Beauty.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review By Kilian Sacred Wood & Imperial Tea- Mysore Sandalwood and Jasmine Tea Simulations

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It seems like it was only a few days after I editorialized about the failure of perfume lines at cracking the Eastern aesthetic that I received the two latest attempts from By Kilian. I was not a fan of the three previous Asian Tales fragrances and will admit I was expecting more watered down ideas masquerading as perfume. They say there is an exception to every generality and it seems as if Sacred Wood and Imperial Tea are going to make me eat some of my words as perfumer Calice Becker takes on sandalwood and tea, respectively.

calice becker

Calice Becker

One of the assumptions is that Asian tastes want fragrances similar to their architecture with clean lines and simple construction. If you are going to work in that direction there are probably few better choices to take as a focal point than sandalwood and that is what Mme Becker chooses as the wood in Sacred Wood.

All of the great sandalwood perfumes of the past contained a version of sandalwood from the Indian region of Mysore. Unfortunately human nature and developing nation economics led to the over-harvesting of Mysore sandalwood and there is no longer anymore being produced from Mysore. As a result perfumers have searched for more renewable sources of sandalwood but none of those had the complexities of Mysore sandalwood. Which has then caused the perfumers to take these newer sandalwood sources and try to “Mysore” them up by trying to add in what is missing. It is from Mme Becker’s attempts to do this that Sacred Wood sprung to life. It was her intent to create a sandalwood base she could use on her perfumer’s palette that would allow her to add her engineered Mysore sandalwood to anything she was working on. Except when she was done she realized it was pretty good all on its own and creative director Kilian Hennessy agreed.

Sacred Wood is kin to other sandalwood “soliflores” like Diptyque Tam Dao but here the effect is to take it and allow the character of the sandalwood to slowly erode down to its most basic nature. On top Mme Becker adds a steamed milk accord to create the characteristic creamy quality of Mysore sandalwood. In the real thing that never leaves but in Sacred Wood it persists for a while. Carrot and elemi turn the cream into sweet but not sugar sweet. This is a sweetness of wood and vegetable; it works very well together. For me one of the hallmark characteristics of Mysore sandalwood is what I describe as an “ashy” quality in the heart of it. It smells to my nose like it has been through a fire and this is the remains of it. I think Mme Becker also smells this and so she uses cumin to add that quality to Sacred Wood. In the end cedar with all of its very straightforwardness turns Sacred Wood to just wood over the final few hours.

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Kilian Hennessy

Mme Becker’s very first signed fragrance was Tommy Girl and the combination of tea and florals was groundbreaking in 1996. Eighteen years later it is a little more common but Mme Becker wanted to create her version of a definitive tea fragrance. She chose jasmine tea as the target for her to create a perfume simulacrum of. My experience with jasmine tea is as dragon pearls where these tightly wound balls of tea unfurl upon exposure to hot water into floral looking blooms which release the tea within. It is this tea which is the sole reason we own a clear tea pot so I can watch the languid opening of the pearls as the tea steeps. This tea also has a fantastic smell of the jasmine rising through the humidity of the steaming liquid. In Imperial Tea Mme Becker has created that jasmine tea effect.

The key to Imperial Tea is using the right source of jasmine as the core. Mme Becker uses a lightly indolic version of jasmine sambac. It is absolutely the right choice. A clean non-indolic jasmine would have been too clean. A heavier indolic jasmine would have been jarring and lacked serenity. The jasmine sambac here is kept feather light. Mate provides the base of the tea and it is kept from being too grassy by the inclusion of guaiac to keep it more towards the tea side. There is a great violet note to prop up the jasmine and that is really it. Imperial Tea is as light as the steeped tea it is re-creating and that lightness might not be, ahem, everyone’s cup of tea. In my opinion it has to be this light and it is what allows it to succeed so well.

Sacred Wood has all day longevity and modest sillage.

Imperial Tea has 4-6 hour longevity and modest sillage.

Every generality needs a contradiction and in Sacred Wood and Imperial Tea By Kilian proves to me that a fragrance targeted to the Eastern markets doesn’t have to be uninspiring. As both sandalwood and tea fragrances they stand among the upper echelon in each of those categories.

Disclosure: This review was based on press samples provided by By Kilian PR in the US.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Tom Ford Velvet Orchid- The TF All-Stars Make a Fragrance

I’ve always wondered how a perfume with multiple perfumers attached to it actually comes to be. I’m not talking about a collaboration of two that I think I understand. There are a number of fragrances which seemingly take a village to create. The latest fragrance to have me considering this is the new addition to the Tom Ford Signature Collection, Velvet Orchid.

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The TF All-Stars (Clockwise from upper left: M. Vasnier, Mme Becker, Mme Maisondieu, M. Maisondieu)

Karyn Khoury is in her accustomed position as creative director and she decided to convene a supergroup of perfumers to compose this flanker to the original Tom Ford Signature Fragrance, Black Orchid. My weird imagination even sees them on a stage, as The TF All-Stars, introducing themselves. On top notes we have Calice Becker, holding down the heart notes it’s Yann Vasnier and covering the base notes we have The Maisondieus, Shyamala and Antoine. I am pretty sure this kind of perfume by committee is not accomplished by doling out phases but I do wonder how all of these very competent perfumers managed to come together and make pretty darn good perfume worthy of being added to the Tom Ford Signature Collection.

The original Black Orchid is one of those fragrances that, when it was released in 2006, was a true gender bender as there were many men who wore it even though it was primarily marketed to women. I am one of those men as the central orchid accord in Black Orchid is surrounded by a very restrained floral followed by patchouli and sandalwood in the base. For Velvet Orchid The TF All-Stars were asked to create a “corporeal flower accord” to complement the original orchid accord. This group doesn’t just stop there as on top a fantastic rum and in the base vanilla take on prominent roles with the familiar notes from Black Orchid. It makes Velvet Orchid a traditionally pretty floral fragrance which is very good.

The same mandarin that was present in the original is on top in Velvet Orchid but now it is drizzled with honey and doused with a rum note called succan absolute. This makes for a sweetly boozy opening and one I really enjoyed. It leads to the same orchid accord that made up the heart of Black Orchid. Here is where The TF All-Stars decided to really turn this Velvet Orchid into a power ballad of florals as on top of the orchid comes a series of floral duets starting with Moroccan and Turkish rose, hyacinth and heliotrope, jasmine and jonquil. Throughout the heart of Velvet Orchid it is like trying to follow three simultaneous guitar solos which are miraculously also harmonizing. For much of Velvet Orchid it remains in this powerful floral refrain. Over a few hours a very subtle sweetness begins to swirl into the melody. First myrrh and sandalwood start off; a very refined suede and peru balsam rough it up a little but it sets the stage for a perfect vanilla note to provide the finish. It adds up to a decadent sweetness to leave one wanting more.

Velvet Orchid has all-day longevity and above average sillage.

I have always admired the Tom Ford Signature Collection for pushing the envelope in the mainstream fragrance space. It is why Velvet Orchid is a bit surprising in how it displays itself as very traditionally floriental. It isn’t groundbreaking or unusual but in its nod to the traditional The TF All-Stars manage to find a way to leave their very talented impressions in all the small moments throughout. Even though you might have heard this tune before this supergroup of perfumers have found a way to make it feel new again.  

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.

Mark Behnke