New Perfume Review Penhaligon’s Portraits Roaring Radcliff- Ne’er Do Well Done Well

As I noted in my recent review of Penhaligon’s Portraits Much Ado About The Duke the brand is undergoing another of its metamorphoses. The current version of the brand wants to make perfume inspired by an absurdist version of Downton Abbey. The perfumes are gathered under an umbrella called Penhaligon’s Portraits. Based on the first four releases each is meant to stand for a particular character in this perfumed serial.

No good story of the classes is complete without the patriarch of the family fathering an illegitimate heir which is what the two latest releases are meant to portray. Both Clandestine Clara and Roaring Radcliff represent the mistress and the bastard child. Clandestine Clara was composed by Sophie Labbe. It is an interesting mixture of rum, vanilla, cinnamon, and amber. This is one of those perfumes that I kept feeling I should have liked more but never connected with. I guess unlike Lord George I was unmoved by Clara’s charms. Radcliff was another matter, though.

Daphne Bugey

Roaring Radcliffe was composed by Daphne Bugey and she captures the reckless nature of the son who will never be recognized but secretly indulged by the father who shall not be named. Mme Bugey captures the scent of an eccentric ne’er do well living fast.

The scented thread which runs through Lord George, Clara and Radcliff is rum. Each perfume has a part of that note. In Roaring Radcliff it is the core upon which the entire fragrance is built. The top accord is an over spiced gingerbread as Mme Bugey uses a bit of cinnamon to amplify the warmer facets. It adds a nice twist to an otherwise normal gingerbread accord. Honey sweetens the mix and sets the stage for the silver flask of rum to make its appearance. The rum accord here is made quite rich, a well-aged version carrying a veil of smoke. That smoke deepens into a full-on tobacco. Early on the narcotic qualities of tobacco are well-balanced with the rum. Then vanilla repeats the use of sweetness to ameliorate the boozy narcotic mixture. It all settles down as the night of cake, cigars, and rum comes to an end.

Roaring Radcliff has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

I will give Penhaligon’s some credit here at least through these first six Portraits releases they seem to have as firm an idea, and how to execute upon that, that they have ever had. Mme Bugey does a nice job here. She has evoked the case of the ne’er do well and his devil may care attitude quite capably.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Penhaligon’s.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Kate Spade Live Colorfully- Niche Me, Kate!

There have been several attempts to bring those who have been innovators in niche perfumery into the mainstream market. I would say they have been a mixed bag as far as success in the marketplace has gone. From the perspective of translating the creativity of niche that success has been more easy to discern. One of the earliest examples of this effort was Kate Spade Live Colorfully.

Kate Spade is a fashion brand established in 1993 selling handbags. Less than ten years later they were rapidly expanding in to other areas; one of which was fragrance. The first release in 2002, Kate Spade, was a pretty floral fragrance around muguet. It was discontinued about the same time the second fragrance, Twirl, was released in 2010. Twirl was an aggressive fruity floral which put me off for that forward nature.

Fabrice Penot and Edouard Roschi

Because of the uneven success of the first two releases the brand made a decision to try something different. For Live Colorfully the two creative directors from Le Labo, Fabrice Penot and Edouard Roschi, were joined by putative “lipstick queen” Poppy King. Working with perfumer Daphne Bugey they together worked on a mainstream perfume that could carry some niche sensibilities along with the safer aspects. What they produced was a fragrance more recognizably mainstream than niche but in a couple of places the independent streak peeks out.

Daphne Bugey

Live Colorfully opens with a pairing of mandarin and star anise. Mme Bugey allows mandarin the lead role but the star anise adds an odd complementary sweetness. The real niche aspect comes in the floral which opens the heart; as waterlily is set afloat on a pond of coconut water. It is the kind of accord you find in niche regularly. Here it is an outré watery floral accord. The perfume quickly gets back into safer waters as orange blossom and gardenia form the floral accord which is where Live Colorfully spends most of its development. Mme Bugey finishes this with a warm amber and vanilla accord.

Live Colorfully has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Live Colorfully has become a standard presence on the discount perfume points of sale usually going for around $25. It is a good spring perfume at that price.

I would have liked to been in the room as the decision on the final form of Live Colorfully was decided. I would be surprised if there wasn’t one version which was more niche-like. The final decision probably came down to a brand which wanted the opportunity to create a tentpole fragrance which is what Live Colorfully has become spawning two flankers in the last two years. Even with that said Live Colorfully still has those moments of rebellion within its typical architecture.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Penhaligon’s Portraits Much Ado About the Duke- The Reset Button

For as long as I have been following perfume one of the most confounding brands has been Penhaligon’s. I learned of them early on in my perfume exploration days. My first impression was they were a heritage British brand with perfumes like Hammam Bouquet and Belnheim Bouquet. Then in the late 1990’s they seemed to be going for fun and sassy with LP No. 9. They shifted gears again in 2008-2013 as they collaborated with some of the best perfumers working to make some of the best perfumes of those years. Releases like Elixir by Olivia Giacobetti, Amaranthine, Sartorial and Vaara by Bertrand Duchaufour and Iris Prima by Alberto Morillas. They made a truly tragic foray into hipster fashion with Tralala working with fashion designers Meadham Kirchoff. I adore many perfumes with the name Penhaligon’s on the bottle but this is a brand which hits the reset button early and often. And so, we are again entering a new evolution of the brand this time embracing its heritage of the past as shown on television.

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Daphne Bugey

The latest releases are a four-fragrance collection known as Penhaligon’s Portraits. Each of the perfumes represents a character in an interlocking story. Starting with the patriarch in The Tragedy of Lord George perfumer Alberto Morillas composes a boozy homage to the wood paneled drawing room. The scheming matriarch is represented by The Revenge of Lady Blanche composed by Daphne Bugey as a very green floral. Their daughter is the Coveted Duchess Rose composed by Christophe Reynaud who is a woody rose. For these three perfumes, they hearken back to the heritage of the brand while each of them has a contemporary twist worthy of Downton Abbey. They are straightforward representations of what they are meant to do. There was only one which I felt took a bit of a different tack and that one was the one which represented the ambiguously sexual husband of the Duchess called Much Ado About the Duke also composed by Mme Bugey.

What set this apart was Mme Bugey captures the foppish nature of the Duke and his apparently loveless marriage. What this kind of parlor room literature usually imparts is a man who drinks too much while hiding his secret. All the while the flower in his lapel and the slightly off-kilter mannerisms make it no secret at all. What this means in a perfume is a rich floral married to an alcoholic heart all twisted up in an unexpected spice.

Much Ado About the Duke opens with that rose in his lapel which he brings to his nose to smell. Except while doing that the strong smell of his sweaty underarms also comes forward. For that Mme Bugey uses cumin. Because she is using a Turkish rose the cumin slides over the top of the inherent spicy core of the rose itself. I like Much Ado About the Duke because Mme Bugey pulls off this difficult duet so nicely. The cumin gives way and the rose becomes fresher in nature before a chilly juniper and coriander form the gin accord of the drink in the Duke’s hand. This goes with the rose extremely well and much later the cumin makes a faint return like an echo.

Much Ado About the Duke has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

It is my understanding that these first four perfumes are but Episode 1 in the Portraits story. Like all good serials, I tend to have a favorite character and at the end of the first stanza it is the Duke I want to spend the most time with.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Penhaligon’s.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review ALTAIA Ombu- A Tree Grows in Rome

There are all kind of fabricated romance in perfume PR. It is nice when you meet the real thing and it leads to beautiful fragrance. Since 2004 Marina Sersale and Sebastian Alvarez Murena have been the creative directors behind the Eau D’Italie brand. That collection successfully goes for landscapes as perfume. A year ago, the two of them started a new line ALTAIA which stands for “A Long Time Ago In Argentina”. Doing a bit of genealogical digging Sig.ra Serale and Sig. Murena learned there were connections going back a few generations where their families connected in Argentina. The first three releases covered each of the great-grandfathers in Argentina and the early days of Sig.ra Sesale and Sig. Murena’s romance. The fourth release has just arrived, Ombu, and it is a love letter from Sig.ra Sersale to Sig. Murena.

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Sebastian Alvarez Murena and Marina Sersale

When I met Sig.ra Sersale in Florence at Pitti 2015 as she was introducing ALTAIA I asked her how difficult it was working on such personal stories with a perfumer. Her response was that perfumer Daphne Bugey understood the emotion behind the briefs immediately. In the first three releases and now with Ombu, Mme Bugey is in full understanding of what is wanted in these fragrances.

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Daphne Bugey

Ombu is the name of a giant spreading evergreen found on the Pampas of Argentina. It is underneath these shade trees where working Gauchos escape the sun. In another coincidence, there is a single Ombu growing in their hometown of Rome, Italy at the foot of Capitoline Hill. Ombu is a giant shade tree of a fragrance capturing the wide-open spaces of the Pampas, the spirit of the Guachos and a man who represents both to Sig.ra Sersale.

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Ombu Tree

Pink pepper has become one of those almost too ubiquitous notes over the last year or so. It also gets used unartfully, often in overdose. For the beginning of Ombu Mme Bugey uses pink pepper which she pairs with sage. This forms an open grasslands accord. The sage provides most of the structure but the right amount of pink pepper creates a more expansive green. A springy Virginia cedar is the trunk of the tree. The soft earth at the base of the tree is re-created with amber and benzoin. A place to take a soothing nap to escape the midday sun.

Ombu has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

ALTAIA is a departure from the Eau D’Italie line because it carries more authentic humanity than a lot of perfumes. Sig.ra Sersale and Mme Bugey have made a fitting representation of Sig. Murena. Now turnabout is only fair to expect so I hope Sig. Murena and Mme Bugey are capturing Sig.ra Sersale for the next release.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by ALTAIA.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review L’Artisan Parfumeur 2 Violaceum & 18 Glacialis Terra- The Spirit of Jean Laporte

When it comes to the creation of the niche sector of perfume there are no greater innovators than Jean Laporte. In 1976 he created L’Artisan Parfumeur and beginning with the debut releases M. Laporte would be one of the catalysts that has led to the current state of the sector. If there has been one thing which has worried me was I felt the brand was losing that sense of innovation M. Laporte brought to the enterprise. It had been since 2013’s Caligna where I really felt like there was some of that old magic in a L’Artisan bottle. When I received the press release for the new sub-collection Natura Fabularis there was some of the same sentiment I expressed as the brand also wanted to capture the sense of exploration so integral to L’Artisan.

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Jean Laporte

To do this they asked perfumer Daphne Bugey to come up with “whimsical” fantasies. To also free Mme Bugey even further there was no creative director overseeing the process. She was free to follow her muse. What this has resulted in is a collection of six perfumes which for the most part takes unusual paths with traditional ingredients. Each perfume has a number associated with the name which I am told is the number of mods Mme Bugey made before settling on the final formula. I can understand why 60 Mirabilis was the most labor intensive as Mme Bugey matches an austere incense with two powerhouse synthetics, Ambrox and Vulcanolide. I had a hard time with it because the Ambtox has such an overbearing presence. I think if you like ambrox this might be something you will fall for. 9 Arcana Rosa is the safest of these six; spicy rose cocooned with oud and cade to make it all smoky. 32 Venenum is a faithfully realized take on chai tea, bread, and sandalwood to form an Indian milieu I enjoyed. 26 Tenebrae mixes a pine sap accord with incense as the two resins intertwine with each other to form a greater whole. One for resin lovers to be sure. The two I am going to cover were the two which felt the most like they could have come from M. Laporte; as if Mme Bugey was channeling him while composing them.

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Daphne Bugey

2 Violaceum is hard to believe it only took two tries to get this balance so right. Mme Bugey uses an earthy violet which I believe uses a bit of orris to enhance the rooty quality while also powdering it slightly. To that violet accord Mme Bugey uses the sweet warmth of carrot and the exoticness of saffron to transform the violet into something a little more vital. To finish the effect a leather accord wraps all of this up together. I am always going to like a violet and leather perfume but it is those additions of carrot and saffron which are the truly inspired choices to elevate this to new heights.

18 Glacialis Terra is I believe going to be the most polarizing fragrance in this collection as Mme Bugey makes a perfume so chilly it will give your nose frostbite. There is that moment where you breathe in on a snowy subzero day. Your lungs fill with a tingling breath of air which causes some pins and needles in your lungs. The first few minutes of Glacialis Terra is like this. Mme Bugey uses what she calls an “iced accord”. What I detect are some of the high octave aldehydes matched with a suite of ozonic notes finished off with a pinch of eucalyptus. It took my breath away when I tested it on a strip and it was even more distinct on the days I wore it. From here Mme Bugey could have just looked to warm things up but instead she wanted to keep this on the sharper side embracing the cold. Towards that she uses absinthe and vetiver to provide that continued frosty nature throughout the development of Glacialis Terra.

All the six perfumes in the Natura Fabularis collection have 10 hours-plus longevity and moderate sillage.

I must applaud whoever gave Mme Bugey the greenlight to indulge her creativity. As a collection this is better than most all of the ones I tried this year. In the case of 2 Violaceum and 18 Glacialis Terra they show the spirit of M. Laporte is still alive and well at L’Artisan.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples I received from L’Artisan.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Starck Paris Peau de Soie, Peau D’Ailleurs, & Peau de Pierre- Semi-Avant Garde

I must admit I am amused when I receive press packets full of fancy imagery and wordsmithing meant to convey something unique. In just ten years of writing about perfume I can honestly say I have not encountered a new perspective on fragrance within the press release. Sometimes the harder the brand works with all the campaign imagery it is often meant to cover-up something less than groundbreaking. Sometimes, thankfully, I get to try a perfume before getting all the overcooked puffery. This was a good thing for the new collection from designer Philippe Starck and his new brand Starck Paris.

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Philippe Starck

I tried the debut three perfumes when I attended Tranoi Parfums in NYC in September. I had read about them in a couple of trade publications and my interest was piqued by the perfumers M. Starck chose to work with; Dominique Ropion on Peau de Soie, Annick Menardo on Peau D’Ailleurs, and Daphne Bugey on Peau de Pierre. Trying them that day I was interested to wear them because they all had very interesting evolutions on the piece of skin I had them on. Sniffing those patches over the train ride home had me ready to wear them over the next few days. As I did I was fascinated on the delicacy of the work each of these perfumers produced under the creative direction of M. Starck.

M. Starck was inspired to create perfume because his mother owned a perfume shop and he spent many childhood hours there. It was where his appreciation for the impact scent could have blossomed; leading to this collection. That is a beautiful story and I wish the press stopped there because it is enough to explain why and how the collection is designed. Instead there is a tedious slog through pseudo-intellectualist claptrap. Lot of talk about being intellectual and anti-marketing. The new perfumes are not as out there as M. Starck presumes. Also, the idea of not releasing a note list is also not so revolutionary as he thinks. It made me think that these perfumes were different because of the fragile interplay but the components; those I’ve smelled before and in these combinations. Which maybe makes this all semi-avant garde.

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Dominique Ropion

Peau de Soie translates as “silk skin”. The brief M. Starck gave M. Ropion was to wrap a traditional masculine with a feminine covering. It is a fabulous combination of musk and wood to represent that male component which is where Peau de Soie opens. Then M. Ropion wraps it in a powdery iris while simultaneously piecing it with a greenish vector to allow the musk and wood the chance to peek out. As I mentioned above this all holds together like a house of cards that feels like a puff of wind will knock it down; except it is sturdier than that lasting for hours.

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Annick Menardo

Peau D’Ailleurs is harder to translate sort of “skin even more so”. Mme Menardo’s brief was to make this the most androgynous of the three. It isn’t clear to me how much the three perfumers collaborated but based on the structure of Peau D’Ailleurs I am going to assume that Mme Menardo knew some of what her compatriots were doing. That’s because there is a recapitulation of the woods from Peau de Soie and the mineral elements from Peau de Pierre. Mme Menardo spins them on an axis of amber and musk. This all comes together to form a kind of dirt accord but one done with so much finesse it is delightful.

DaphneBugey

Daphne Bugey

Peau de Pierre which translates to “stone skin” is my favorite of the three. This is meant to be the flip side of Peau de Soie as the feminine evolves the masculine. Not sure I’m there with that because the entire perfume is stolidly in smoky woody territory. I am not sure what the feminine is supposed to be represented by as Peau de Pierre opens with a cleverly composed wet stone accord, definitely some geosmin here, but there is also something else keeping it more expansive. It is like a hologram of river stones. Mme Bugey then adds smoke and vetiver again in a very opaque way. What I enjoyed so much about Peau de Pierre is despite the name it is not as solid as a rock instead it is as ephemeral as a breeze.

All three Starck Paris perfumes have over 10 hour longevity and almost zero sillage; they are skin scents, as advertised.

If I discard all of M. Starck’s pretentiousness and return to him as a child sitting in his mother’s perfume shop I see the genesis of this collection. Imagining translucent spheres of scent traveling above his head intercalating themselves into his vision as they expanded and popped that would have prepared me for the gorgeous set of perfumes which make up this debut collection.

Disclosure; This review was based on samples provided by Starck Paris.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review ALTAIA Yu Son- Love Among the Oranges

Two of my favorite people in perfume are the husband and wife team behind Eau D’Italie; Sebastian Alvarez Murena and Marina Sersale. As the owners of the hotel her family founded, La Sireneuse; they have created perfumes which capture the history around their property. Because they are interested in the past Sig.ra Sersale decided to dig a little bit into her ancestry. When she finally traced back her lineage to a great-great-grandfather who was in Argentina looking for business opportunities she found something extremely interesting; the great-great-grandfather of Sig. Murena was part of their story. In a perfumed version of the television show “Who Do You Think You Are?” they decided to make perfumes to capture not only the history of both families but the contemporary love of the two people who met all these years later.

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Sebastian Alvarez Murena and Marina Sersale

The line is called ALTAIA which is an acronym for “A Long Time Ago in Argentina”. There are three fragrances in the inaugural releases. By Any Other Name is the story of Sig.ra Sersale’s ancestors and is a lovely rose themed perfume. Don’t Cry for Me is the one for Sig. Murena’s family and it is a beautifully fresh floral. The one which captured my attention from the first moment I smelled it was Yu Son which is meant to evoke an early moment in the relationship of Sig.ra Sersale and Sig. Murena.

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Daphne Bugey

All three of the ALTAIA perfumes were composed by Daphne Bugey. When I spoke with Sig.ra Sersale at Pitti Fragranze she said it was clear Mme Bugey really felt the inspiration behind the briefs she was given. I definitely agree that the perfume she produced has plenty of emotion behind it. Yu Son represents that moment in a relationship when you feel sure you’ve found your lover and your best friend. For our lovers this took place in an orange grove in Italy and Yu Son is meant to capture that evening as the air cools in the orange grove.

Mme Bugey uses mandarin as the source of her orange in the top notes. Paired with it is a lilting green tea accord which is almost like the lovers sitting on a cloth underneath the trees sipping cups of tea. It is a lovely fragile opening. It evolves into a passionate mix of orris and orange blossom. This is what sold me on Yu Son. Mme Bugey uses just the right concentration of orris. The orange blossom also stands up a little more than it might against a note like orris. Together there is the partnership of two halves forming a fabulous whole. Mme Bugey again keeps it light in the base as gaiac and amber provide a very simple frame to contain the floral duet in the heart.

Yu Son has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Orris and orange blossom are a not unheard of combination but there is something special about the particular balance Mme Bugey struck. I really feel the combining of two different influences into something new and greater than either. Very much like the life, and perfumes, Sig.ra Sersale and Sig. Murena have produced over the past eleven years.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample from ALTAIA I received at Pitti Fragranze 2015.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Eau D’Italie Graine de Joie- Vivacious Pomegranate

It seems like every trendy thing eventually finds its way into fragrance. For that reason it should be no surprise that pomegranate seems to be showing up in a few 2014 fragrances I’ve tried. There’s nothing wrong with that and it is interesting to see how different perfumers choose to use it. For the eleventh fragrance from Eau D’Italie, Graine de Joie, the creative directors Marina Sersale and Sebastian Alvarez Murena asked perfumer Daphne Bugey to create a fragrance to “conjure(s) up the irresistible light-headedness of when you fall in love.” Mme Bugey decided that pomegranate was the keynote to create this feeling.

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Sebastian Alvarez Murena and Marina Sersale

I always hesitate to describe a fragrance in terms of age but Graine de Joie seems like a bubbly ingénue laughing at the world and joyous at having found love. Mme Bugey assembles an array of fruits along with a critical linchpin of praline before ending on a soft sheer white musk. Graine de Joie is effervescent in its joie de vivre.

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Daphne Bugey

Mme Bugey trots the pomegranate out right away but in truth pomegranate does not have the heft to really carry off a fruity opening by itself. Therefore Mme Bugey adds apple as a framing note to help define the unusual fruitiness and to add foundation. As the fruitiness attenuates a breezy, slightly watery freesia arises to combine with the pomegranate. The combination is like a sunny smile and it here where Graine de Joie really comes together. The next transition is really the most interesting part of Graine de Joie. At first I think I’m detecting wood but then it turns into a nutty quality and then there is a dusting of cocoa. Finally it all coalesces into a praline accord as Graine de Joie takes on a very unusual gourmand aspect for just a short period of time. Eventually it ushers in cedar and a collection of white musks to impart a soft sheer musk accord to the final moments.

Graine de Joie has 6-8 hour longevity and below average sillage.

For most of the first fragrances of Eau D’Italie there was almost a seriousness that belied the passion behind the brand. Starting with 2012’s Un Bateau Pour Capri there has been a noticeable lightening in tone. Graine de Joie is the most ebullient example of this lighter tone and it is that which makes it so easy to wear. I think when one says a fragrance is easy to wear it also becomes easy to dismiss and in the case of Graine de Joie that would be an error. That praline transition in the heart definitely rises above a fragrance that just wants to smell good. Mme Bugey’s skill at adding that into a fruity floral construction without making it intrusive was more impressive each time I wore it. I know for me I experience something much larger than a grain of joy every time I wear Graine de Joie.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Eau D’Italie at Esxence 2014.

Mark Behnke