About once a month I take a field trip to the local mall and stroll through the fragrance counters at the major department stores. It is a valuable experience for me to find out what is selling, to see the influence of trends, and to try whatever is new since my last visit. The department store fragrance counter has become a fairly monolithic collection of fruity florals and sport fragrances. The sales associates are pretty used to my blank stare as I am handed a strip and smell the tropes that are endemic to this segment of the market. It is because of this sameness to the fragrances being sold which makes something different stand out. So when I went on my field trip at the beginning of this month I was surprised to find the new Kenneth Cole Mankind is one of those which separates itself from the crowd.
Perfumer Claude Dir under the creative direction of Jennifer Mullarkey has somehow created a department store fragrance which trends towards being as quirky off-beat as any niche entry. If I handed you this note list: cardamom, pineapple, ginger, cinnamon, tarragon, sandalwood, vetiver, oakmoss, tonka bean, and musk; I would bet the department store isn’t where you would look first. Ms. Mullarkey is one of the more accomplished creative directors in the masstige area because she isn’t afraid to take risks in a risk averse situation. For Mankind she collaborated with M. Dir on a top notch fragrance that feels like an oddity with its weird green quality and spice.
Mankind follows the blueprint of many commercial fragrances to grab you with the top notes. M.Dir using cardamom and ginger, while not common, has shown up here and there. The pineapple is what really makes the opening feel not quite as boring as most of its neighbors on the fragrance counter. The cardamom persists and the cinnamon intensifies the spiciness and then the tarragon completely transforms Mankind. It adds a really deep herbal green quality which along with the spices turns the middle development into a different shade of green than you normally find here. This stays on my skin like this for a long while and it seems to have a number of subtle qualities which are nudged along by vetiver and oakmoss for a while. It finally settles down into that typical combo of musks and woods typical in this sector.
Mankind has all day longevity but the interesting parts last for about 4-6 hours. The sillage is above average.
Mankind is a surprising department store fragrance and worth a try. It is definitely one of the best new things I’ve tried an all of my field trips for this year, so far. Next time you’re in your local mall give it a try I think you might be surprised at what you find.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Macy’s
There are times I need a lot of encouragement to overcome an erroneous snap judgment I have made. One of those instances was back in 2008. On Basenotes there was a lively discussion about this new mainstream fragrance from Juicy Couture called Dirty English. Now this, at the time, nearly 50-year old man was not going to wear any perfume from Juicy Couture. I remember being quite vocal about it on the forum, too. All of this was without ever having tried it. Then I was in my local department store and a sales associate approaches me with a bunch of strips in her hand and hands one to me. As I sniff the strip picking out caraway, cardamom, leather, sandalwood, and oud. I was running through which niche house this could have come from. Then the rep told me what it was. Yes you guessed it this was Juicy Couture Dirty English and my jaw had disengaged itself from my face and was dusting the floor.
There have been a few valiant attempts to bring a niche aesthetic to the department store counter, Dirty English was the attempt for 2008. So far there has not really been a breakout success for any of these and this is why Dirty English is easy to find at the discount fragrance purchase points. I have regularly found it for less than $30 for a 3.4 oz. bottle.
Claude Dir was the perfumer behind Dirty English and this was in keeping with his very mainstream career to this point in 2008. He had made one of my favorite mainstream fragrances, Zaharoff pour Homme a few years earlier. Later on in 2008 he would start working on the niche side of the street when he composed Bond No. 9 Andy Warhol Lexington Avenue (now just called Lexington Avenue). With hindsight one can look back at Dirty English as the real start of M. Dir’s niche values.
Dirty English mixes pepper, cardamom, and caraway. The caraway adds an exotic tenderness to the spices and again I wonder out loud why this isn’t used as a substitute for bergamot more as a top note. All of the spice dusts the light woodiness of cypress. M. Dir then uses a leather accord called Santal Fatal which uses sandalwood, vetiver, and cedar to form the leather accord. M. Dir makes a fascinating choice of using marjoram as an herbal contrast to the Santal Fatal. He then uses the combination of nagarmotha and patchouli to make an oud accord and right here with the combination of all of these components you would be hard pressed not to feel this was a top of the line niche fragrance. In the end a very close-wearing musk finishes this one off.
Dirty English has about 4-6 hour longevity and above average sillage. This makes it an ideal evening out scent.
I was, and continue to be, impressed with the choices M. Dir made for Dirty English. If he was less disciplined with the choices he made this could have easily turned into a mess. Instead he turned out a fragrance I still look to wear for an evening out. I still can’t believe there is a Juicy Couture anything I like as much as this.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle of Juicy Couture Dirty English I purchased.
There are few perfume houses as prolific as Laurice Rahme’s Bond No. 9. Since she founded it with sixteen fragrances based on New York City neighborhoods in 2003 there are currently over 70 Bond No. 9 fragrances to choose from. I am going to suggest five of those to start your exploration of this uniquely New York perfume house. Bond No. 9 has some exclusives for Saks Fifth Avenue and Harrod’s and I’m not including any from those collections because of their exclusivity. The main collection Bond No. 9 fragrances are some of the most accessible niche perfumes to be found and they should be easier to find than many other niche brands.
Chinatown is arguably the best perfume in the entire line. Perfumer Aurelien Guichard was a rising star in 2005 and his modern chypre underneath a soft fruity floral opening is incredible. If I was making a list of the best perfumes released post-2000 Chinatown would be near the top.
New Haarlem was one of two perfumes by perfumer Maurice Roucel for Bond No. 9, the other is Riverside Drive. M. Roucel creates an abstract version of a coffee gourmand fragrance. There is definitely coffee at the core but he adds in things no barista would think of like lavender and patchouli. The latter is really what turns New Haarlem into one of the better gourmand fragrances on the market.
2010’s High Line by perfumer Laurent LeGuernec is inspired by the recaptured railroad line turned into urban green space in downtown New York. M. LeGuernec composed a fragrant sonnet to springtime and growing things. The opening freshly cut grass accord is joined by a fresh bouquet of spring flowers most notably tulips. This is all laid over a base accord of sun warmed concrete after a spring shower. The smell of nature in a big city setting makes High Line one of my favorite spring fragrances.
In 2007, Aurelien Guichard created Silver Bond (aka Andy Warhol Silver Factory) it is a sheer incense fragrance with a metallic twinge throughout. It opens with a very sheer citrus, lavender, and incense opening. A combination of violet and iris are used to enhance their sharper more metallic facets which adds the sort of weirdly artistic flourish to what could be a straightforward incense fragrance without it. The base notes go towards a much deeper incense vibe.
Success is the Essence of New York (aka Andy Warhol Success is a Job in New York) is a grown-up version of Calvin Klein Obsession for Men. Perfumer Claude Dir takes a softly spicy opening centered on cardamom into a floral accord of tuberose, rose, jasmine, and orris to fashion a depth form those notes without becoming cloying. The warm base of amber, vanilla, and patchouli serves to round this out.
If you’ve been itching to take a perfumed tour of New York courtesy of Bond No. 9; grab the olfactory subway and make your first stops on the five suggestions above.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of these fragrances I purchased.