As I did in last month’s installment I am looking at two flankers of mainstream success stories. It is also another example of taking the original and going lighter or heavier as a flanker.
Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio Absolu
There is no doubt that the original Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio pour Homme is one of the great mainstream success stories. Perfumer Alberto Morillas created one of the landmark aquatic perfumes in 1996. Unlike many brands Giorgio Armani has been protective of overexposing the brand; Acqua di Gio Absolu is only the third flanker released. Another good thing about these flankers is they are distinctly different perfumes which capture pieces of the original formula without just replicating it with a new ingredient or two.
Sr. Morillas is again at the helm and he starts with the “acqua”, as a marine accord of sea and sand opens things up. It is then deepened with not the typical citrus notes but something sweeter. It then takes a very woody turn over the latter stages to become a mainly woody aquatic. For anyone who wanted a woodier version of Acqua di Gio, without the jasmine, Absolu will be your thing. If you want to grow your Acqua di Gio collection it is sufficiently different from the original, Acqua di Gio Essenza and Acqua di Gio Profumo to be worth a try.
Acqua di Gio Absolu has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Ralph Lauren Polo Ultra Blue
Ralph Lauren Polo is one of the alpha masculine mainstream perfumes since its release in 1978. Ralph Lauren has aggressively expanded the collection for a Polo Man as it has expanded into different colors, Black, Red, and Blue. The latter was its entry into the aquatic genre in 2002. It was a nicely done perfume but not one of my favorites in the Polo collection although it does have its fans. I will be interested to see what they think of Polo Ultra Blue because it is extremely light. It fits in with the current trends in mainstream fragrance but it might be so light it has become like ultraviolet light; hard to sense.
Original perfumer of Polo, Carlos Benaim, opens with a chilled lemon top accord. It is right here I wanted more. This is a veil which provides a momentary outbreak of goosebumps. It gets overtaken by sage with a bit of verbena picking up the lemon opening. The base has a stony ingredient providing a craggy coastline for Ultra Blue to crash upon. There was part of me thinking this would have been more appropriately named Polo Blue Sport but there already is one. I can see this being the ideal post-workout spritz because it is undeniably refreshing. I do have to warn those who value longevity and projection Polo Ultra Blue lacks in both categories.
Polo Ultra Blue has 4-6 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by the manufacturers.
There are times when I approach a new perfume with a lot of concerns. Sometimes it is the perfumer. Sometimes it is an ingredient. Sometimes it is an inconsistent brand. It isn’t often all three but Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Music For A While checks off all of them.
Over the past few years Editions de Parfums has become maddeningly inconsistent for me. This is a brand I think of as one of the pillars of all that I think is important in niche perfume. Many of those things innovated by M. Malle. Yet over the previous six perfumes I’ve found three of them to be forgettable. One of those was Eau de Magnolia which leads to the second cautionary expectation. Perfumer Carlos Benaim was responsible for Eau de Magnolia and was in charge for Music For A While. The third was the listing of pineapple as an ingredient. It seems like ever since pineapple became a thing it has popped up in mostly boring perfumes. All of this together, of course, means Music For a While turned out to be a charming perfume.
Music For A While is a composition in two movements. The pineapple leads the first one while a sweetened patchouli concludes this. M. Benaim makes some interesting choices throughout which was what engaged me on the days I wore it.
The pineapple is there from the first moments. It is a very juicy version almost closer to pineapple juice than the fruit. There are some hints of the green part of the fruit but there is more sweet than tart here. For the first few minutes I wasn’t very interested. Then some gorgeous lavender pushes back against the sweet with a fougere-like intensity. Once they reach an equilibrium it is the partner I never knew I wanted with pineapple. After some time, patchouli begins the second part of the development. This is a medium-weight patchouli which allows for vanilla to provide a rounding effect. It makes for a complementary style to the pineapple and lavender accord. As this all comes together these four notes from an unexpectedly warm final effect.
Music For A While has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I know I’ll be reaching for this as spring gets more of a foothold. I overcame my trepidation to allow for Music For A While to provide a pineapple crush which might be my favorite perfume featuring the note.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle.
There has been an initiative for niche perfume brands to display the sustainability of their ingredients as the reason for purchasing the fragrance. Sometimes that leads to releases which are just whatever ingredient there is to be featured; and little else. I always feel like these brands miss the opportunity to show the difference in quality their sustainably sourced ingredient can bring to a perfume. Of course, that takes a creative team and a perfumer to work together. I was sent a sample set from a new brand, Sana Jardin, which does it correctly.
Amy Christiansen Si-Ahmed (center)
Sana Jardin was founded by Amy Christiansen Si-Ahmed and released their first seven perfumes in 2017. Her concept is to make Sana Jardin an “eco-luxe” brand. As a founder of the Beyond Sustainability Movement, Ms. Christiansen Si-Ahmed wants to reach out to the communities in the developing world who cultivate some of the most recognizable ingredients in perfume. Through her project she wants to teach the communities how to turn their tradition of growing a raw material into a local economy which can support many. She started in Morocco with a small group of women who harvest orange blossom. She has helped expand their horizons into other fragrance-containing products. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Moroccan orange blossom perfume oil makes it into two of the Sana Jardin perfumes; Berber Blonde and Sandalwood Temple.
M. Benaim takes the orange blossom keynote and works it in two different directions. He goes for a simple construct in Berber Blonde and it is here where the orange blossom is displayed more fully. In Sandalwood Temple it is part of a comfort scent style playing as part of the chorus instead of the diva.
One thing about orange blossom that people forget is that it is a white flower with its own indolic profile. When sourced as it is by Sana Jardin those indoles are more prominent which is what M. Benaim highlights in Berber Blonde by pairing it with musk. This ends up creating a simple harmonic which hums with depth.
For Sandalwood Temple the orange blossom is not doing all the work. Only in the beginning does it have the spotlight. Fairly rapidly the clean woodiness of cedar captures the inherent green quality while vanilla captures the nascent citrus aspect. It forms a creamy accord which is complemented by an equally smooth sandalwood. A bit of vetiver dials back the sweetness level so it doesn’t enter gourmand territory.
Berber Blonde and Sandalwood Temple have 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Both Berber Blonde and Sandalwood Temple display the promise of what Ms. Christiansen Si-Ahmed is working so hard to do. If she keeps along this same path there offers some opportunities for Sana Jardin to combine sustainability and great perfume.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Sana Jardin.
Many of the perfumes I recommend as Discount Diamonds are examples of a style of fragrance emblematic of the time frame they were released in. What I try to do is find ones which have overcome that limitation to still feel relevant today. As I look back at those scents it is the ones which tried to be slightly different from the prevailing winds by taking a different tack. 1982’s Antonio Puig Quorum went for a lighter version of the masculine powerhouses of the 1980’s.
The 1980’s were an era of men who bared their hairy chests draped with a few conspicuously chosen gold necklaces. The fragrances to accompany that were equally aggressive. Each subsequent men’s release seemed to be seeing if it could me more macho than its predecessors. Antonio Puig Quorum plumbed the other side of the question; can there be presence without so much power? Turns out the answer is yes.
A team of perfumers consisting of Carlos Benaim, Max Gavarry, and Rosendo Mateu were responsible for finding a way to the lighter powerhouse. They did it by staying true to the tropes of the day but not doubling down and using a suite of supporting notes to keep it all less severe.
It opens with a bit of bitter herbal green matched with citrus. Rosemary, artemesia and marjoram provide the green. Tangerine is the citrus but it is not what will draw your attention to it; as it is what keeps the green notes from going too deep. The spices arrive next; coriander, nutmeg, thyme, and clove capture the opening trio and notch the volume up a bit. But this time geranium and jasmine provide some relief. A lovely lilting leather accord is matched with a traditional chypre accord all wrapped up in a tobacco leaf.
Quorum has 10-12 hour longevity with average sillage.
I have an original bottle and one I purchased a month or so ago. The main difference is that the greener notes are more the focal point while the chypre has been a bit more toned down than it was in the 1980’s version. The words above refer to the newer bottle. I think Quorum has survived to the present day because it doesn’t feel like it just came out of a thirty-year time capsule. There are inevitable reminders of that time but it fits in the now just as easily.
Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle I purchased.
There is a conceit of movies and literature that when a pair of star-crossed lovers end up in a hay loft something sexual will happen. Not sure what it is about loose hay which gets the hormones flowing but the look of satisfaction paired with bits of dried grass stuck to their sweaty bodies and hair is a staple. There’s even the euphemism “a roll in the hay” to further the point. It is a funny thing that it took so long for a perfume to go for its own roll in the hay. With the release of Edward Bess La Femme Boheme we have one.
Edward Bess (Photo: Ruven Afanador)
Edward Bess is the precocious originator of his own eponymous makeup and hair line. He started when he was 20. This year he celebrated turning 30 and his tenth year in business by making the expansion in to fragrance. The perfumer he chose to work with for his foray into fragrance is perfumer Carlos Benaim. It could be argued that M. Beniam is the most successful mainstream perfumer ever. He rarely comes over to do a niche perfume. In those rare appearances, he has also taken the opportunity to use the extra budget to make similarly memorable niche fragrances with a populist’s aesthetic. The three perfumes he produced for Mr. Bess are stripped down crowd pleasers. Genre is a perfume where M. Benaim’s leather accord meshes with an austere frankincense on top of furry musks. Spanish Veil takes the toasted sweetness of tonka and amplifies it with the woody sweetness of sandalwood all framed by the cleanliness of guaiac wood. La Femme Boheme is also seemingly equally unembellished but as I wore it I found within the trio of primary notes M. Benaim also had some grace notes hiding underneath which only peeked out later.
La Femme Boheme opens with the hay accord formed by combining amber and honey. The honey takes the hay up a few levels of sweet but the amber counterbalances the overall effect so it doesn’t just become honey. The honey also uses its sometimes less pleasant nature to help add the sense of sweaty bodies amidst the hay. The final piece of M. Benaim’s tryst in the hay loft is a rich indolic jasmine. M. Beniam turns it loose in all of its skanky glory to really represent the physical act itself. The notes aren’t listed but there are times I get a bit of tobacco along with a bit of stale alcohol. I noticed it both days I wore it so I am pretty sure they are really there but it could just be a trick of the indoles playing off of the amber or honey too.
La Femme Boheme has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
There are so many perfumers to whom Mr. Bess could have turned. I am very happy that Mr. Benaim was the one who brought Mr. Bess’ vision of perfume to life.
Disclosure; This review was based on samples provided by Edward Bess.
The first step on my fragrant path was getting Jovan Musk for my thirteenth birthday. The second step was moving up to Ralph Lauren Polo when I was in college. While I really only look at my bottle of Jovan Musk these days there is always some time when I want to wear Polo. That affection has always made me interested when a new flanker of Polo is released. It has been an uneven experience over the years but there is a nice little collection of similarly shaped bottles on a shelf in my closet which indicates there have been some hits. What I have found when I look closer is that most of those were composed by Carlos Benaim who did the original Polo. Which now makes me look forward to any new Polo he produces.
2015 has seen the Polo flankers move into something called a “Supreme” series where they feature a specific note. The first release, in the beginning of the year, was Polo Supreme Oud. M. Benaim along with Clement Gavarry were responsible and they used the cypriol oud accord but nothing about that felt like Polo to me. It had the name but it didn’t have the essence. For the last part of the year the second release is Polo Supreme Leather. This one feels like it has both the name and the essence.
Two of my favorite versions of Polo are Crest and Modern Reserve. One of the reasons I like them is M. Benaim tweaks the spices on top in both cases. Basil is in Polo, rosemary in Crest, and cardamom in Modern Reserve. The entry spice for Polo Supreme Leather is nutmeg and even though it is different it is somehow similar enough to make it feel like a Polo. The rest of the construction is also made up of very different notes from Polo. Because the leather is being featured M. Benaim can particularly get away with changing things up in the foundation.
Polo Supreme Leather opens with a soft breath of cardamom and bergamot before the nutmeg steals that breath away. Saffron and sage provide the next additions to the nutmeg. It provides a nicely constructed triangle as all three notes form a lively accord. Rose is the floral at the heart of Polo Supreme Leather and it fills up the space within that triangle beautifully. By having it framed in those spices it keeps it from becoming too rosy. It does a fine job of butching up the rose but it is the next note which really takes care of that. Suderal is a synthetic leather aromachemical which smells like the most expensive suede leather. The leather in the traditional Polo base is fused to woods. In Polo Supreme Leather there are no woods. It is just the supple sweet leathery smell of Suderal. M. Benaim uses Tonka and a honey accord to amp up the sweeter refined quality of the Suderal. This is where Polo Supreme Leather remains for hours and hours.
Polo Supreme Leather has 16-18 hour longevity and average sillage.
This was a much more successful attempt to feature an ingredient than the first Supreme. Polo Supreme Leather gets all of the things right that I want in a Polo flanker. A spicy opening, an herbal floral heart, and a leathery base. The suede is so interesting I never noticed that the woods weren’t there until the second time I wore it. I believe my Polo bottles will be getting a new addition very soon.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Bloomingdale’s.
One of the stalwarts of men’s perfumes for over thirty years has been Ralph Lauren Polo. That perfume composed by Carlos Benaim has stood the test of time. It has, deservedly so, found its place in the metaphorical perfume Hall of Fame. Like all mass-market perfumes it has spawned a number of flankers with a mixed record of success. The general rule of thumb is the closer it hews to the original the more likely it is to sell well. I am guessing that rule was first brought home with the release of the first flanker in 1992 Polo Crest.
By 1992 Polo had become one of the most successful men’s fragrances of all time after fourteen years on the market. It was so successful that Ralph Lauren decided it was time to make a companion ostensibly for the warmer months. The concept was a version of Polo that was lighter. If the original Polo was men’s drawing room full of tobacco and wood; Polo Crest was going to be more like being at a polo match in the sunshine and fresh air. Carlos Benaim was asked to re-interpret his original composition with this in mind. What M. Benaim would do is call up more of the fresh cut grass smell of the polo field and the sweaty players. It ends up feeling like a more sophisticated version of Polo.
The original Polo opens with a strongly herbal beginning of basil and thyme over pine. M. Benaim retains the herbal facets and embellishes them as both the basil and thyme are present but for Polo Crest he lets rosemary take the lead. This is a much smoother opening with both the thyme and basil dialed way back. The really brilliant addition is a tiny amount of cumin which gives that tiny bit of sweaty polo player. Where Polo Crest really diverges is in the heart. As M. Benaim brings back the pine but this time he adds in two floral notes of geranium and jasmine. This is an interesting choice as at this time florals for men were not yet big sellers and the florals are more than just nodded at. They stand up with the pine to be counted. I felt like it captured that feel of a well-manicured greensward when taken as an accord but it is easy to detect the components separately. The divergence is over as Polo Crest moves into the base as the leather, patchouli, and oakmoss which will eventually become the signature Polo accord are here. The biggest difference is the tobacco is gone replaced with olibanum. The other difference is M. Benaim pushes the oakmoss into a more prominent position, as well.
Polo Crest has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I was a wearer of the original Polo but I don’t think I ever saw a bottle of Polo Crest appear at my local department store. It is my conjecture that the floral nature of the heart made Ralph Lauren unsure of how to market it. I also think they went right back to the drawing board and in a little more than a year Polo Sport would arrive. That Polo Sport is still available and Polo Crest is discontinued tells you which generated more sales. Aesthetically I think Polo Crest is the best of the Polo flankers. I don’t think it could be released today because I suspect the oakmoss levels are too high. Lack of sales and lack of interest cause many perfumes to end up in the Dead Letter Office. Polo Crest was a casualty of both.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
One of my favorite early niche perfume lines was one called S-Perfume which came straight out of the DUMBO art collective in Brooklyn. The creative director behind the brand was Nobi Shioya who is also known as sculptor Sacre Nobi. In 2000 he became fascinated with fragrance and worked with perfumers Alberto Morillas and Thierry Wasser to add scent to his sculpture. This would lead to a one-off project where he assigned one of the Seven Deadly Sins to a perfumer. Back in 2002 this was the roster he attracted, besides Messrs. Morillas and Wasser, Annie Buzantian, Jacques Cavallier, Ilia Ermenidis, Annick Menardo, and Harry Fremont. I would say that my little sample set of these Seven Deadly Sin perfumes was one of the earliest moments where I seriously began to consider the idea of olfactory art. Each perfume was challenging and the perfumers were encouraged to push the boundaries of perfume making. I can’t say any of them are anything I crave to wear but I do pull them out from time-to-time to appreciate them as artistic statements. Sacre Nobi would go on to produce two perfumes which would be sold in stores 100% Love by Sophia Grojsman and S-ex by Christophe Laudamiel released in 2007 and 2006 respectively. These were and are amazing fragrances I do wear and they are among the very best of both perfumer’s collection.
Nobi Shioya aka Sacre Nobi
Sacre Nobi would say in 2008 that he was phasing out of his “fragrance period” and for a while that seemed to be the case. 100% Love and S-ex continued to be produced intermittently and the brand was never completely gone. In 2011 I heard Sacre Nobi was back and working on a new fragrance line A Lab on Fire. A Lab on Fire held all of the same principles that S-Perfume had giving perfumers wide latitude to create without commercial pressure. It has been one of my favorite new niche perfume houses of the last few years. Then a few months ago I received a press release announcing the return of S-Perfume with new bottles and four new perfumes added to the original two. Of the four new perfumes there was one I was zeroed in on right from the start Musk-S.
One of the very first S-Perfume compositions was an attempt to create the perfect sheer skin musk. Alberto Morillas created S-Perfume to be that back in 2000. Ever since Sacre Nobi has encouraged the perfumers to tweak that original formula trying to perfect it. Perfumer Carlos Benaim is the latest hand to evolve the original formulation and the result is Musk-S. I am not sure if perfection has been reached but it is getting much closer.
M. Benaim uses chestnut flower as the top note. In the original formulation this was around in much greater quantity as a method of discomfiture for the wearer. For those unfamiliar with the raw ingredient chestnut flower smells like semen. The higher the concentration the easier it is to make the connection. For Musk-S M. Benaim uses it in a much modulated form more as a nod to the original than anything else. A continued light mix of vanilla and bourbon add a bit of sweet booziness of the barroom. Once these preliminaries are out of the way we get down to the base note collection of synthetic musks. The original S-Perfume came off smelling more like a money shot from a pornographic movie. It was interesting but it felt miles away from where Sacre Nobi wanted it to be. This was also because M. Morillas had a lot of synthetic musks to use but not nearly the arsenal M. Benaim would have 14 years later. That is the key difference as M. Benaim has taken many of the more modern synthetic musks and layered them in to one of the most compelling synthetic musk skin accords I have smelled. There are still a few rough edges here and there which disrupt the illusion but they are slight and require attention to notice them. If I let my analytical mind take a nap they are really unnoticeable.
Musk-S has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I am thrilled that Sacre Nobi has decided to start a second “fragrance period” the freedom he grants the perfumers he works with is unrivaled in the niche perfume business. Musk-S serves as a perfect first fragrance to kick off this new era as it borrows from the past to create a current spectacular synthetic musk perfume.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Intertrade Europe at Pitti Fragranze.
It happens to me a couple times a year there is a fragrance I have consigned to the “not going to review” pile because I am not fond of it. Then some of the perfumed voices I respect all start lauding it making me give it a second, or third, chance. The new Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Eau de Magnolia is one of these examples.
Eau de Magnolia from Frédéric Malle on Vimeo.
Based on the press release and the personnel I expected to be if not enchanted then at least interested in it. In the press release Creative Director Frederic Malle and perfumer Carlos Benaim talked about wanting to take the magnolia candle Jurassic Flower M. Benaim did for the line and turn it into a cologne/chypre hybrid. They literally talk about it in the video above. In the press materials there is also a section on how they used headspace technology to capture the magnolia raw material to be used in Eau de Magnolia. Headspace technology is, in a very simplified explanation, encasing the living bloom in an airtight container and while blowing an inert gas over the flower to release the aroma the container itself is cooled so that it will condense and be collected. It is a painstaking process which has produced some spectacular versions especially of floral raw materials. All of this was prelude to my receiving my sample a couple months ago, my expectations were high perhaps they were too high. Upon first sniff on a strip I got hit with a very spiky lemon containing none of the green and indolic nuances I associate with magnolia. I also got a way too green vetiver overwhelming any delicacy that was present. For the next few nights I kept spraying a strip and a bit of skin trying to find something I was missing. Finally I conceded this was the first Frederic Malle fragrance that just didn’t work for me.
Over the last few weeks I have been surprised to see how different my experience has been to other reviewers. Many of the most respected reviewers I know have raved over it and they certainly have given me more to think about. I read enough of this that I ordered another sample of Eau de Magnolia just on the possibility that my sample was off. I so wanted to like this that when I received the new sample I think I was almost chanting to myself as I pulled it out, “please be different”. Alas the juice that was in the purchased sample was identical to the review sample. I still had problems with it.
On my skin and to my nose the magnolia still seems sharp and it never seems to display the softer character that the more recent Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine captured so perfectly. Eau de Magnolia somehow takes the headspace magnolia and neuters it. Worse by using fractionated patchouli and vetiver coupled with cedar all of the raw materials seem like they are missing some of their vitality. Even the oak moss in the base meant to turn this chypre-like seems as if it has been wilted in the summer sun.
Eau de Magnolia has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
It wouldn’t be unheard of for me to eventually come around to appreciating Eau de Magnolia. It took me quite a few years to overcome the too-realistic Coty lipstick in a leather purse vibe of Lipstick Rose. For right now Eau de Magnolia feels like a perfume which has conformed instead of inspired.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle and one purchased from Surrender to Chance.