Colognoisseur 2016 Year-End Review Part 2- Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, & Brand of the Year

As I mentioned in Part 1 2016 is the beginning of a generational shift in perfumery. The winners I am going to highlight next are all emblematic of that kind of change.

Perfume of the Year: Masque Milano L’Attesa– One of the emerging initiatives over the course of 2016 has been the confidence owners and creative directors have placed in young perfumers. For a brand, it is safer to round up one of the more established names. It takes a bit of faith to place the success of your business in the hands of an emerging artist. The team behind Masque Milano, Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi, have taken on this philosophy wholeheartedly. Particularly over the last four releases since 2013; Tango by Cecile Zarokian, Russian Tea by Julien Rasquinet, and Romanza by Cristiano Canali, began the trend. This year’s release L’Attesa by Luca Maffei took it to a new level.

Riccardo Tedeschi, Luca Maffei, and Alessandro Brun (l. to r.)

I spent time with the creative team when they unveiled L’Attesa at Esxence 2016. I think when you do something creative you have a sense when you have done great work. That day in Milan all three men radiated that kind of confidence; with good reason. Sig. Maffei would combine three sources of iris to provide a strong core of the central note. Early on there is a champagne accord that is not meant to be the bubbly final product but the yeasty fermentation stage. It turns the powdery iris less elegant but more compelling for its difference. Through a white flower heart to a leathery finish L’Attesa is as good as it gets.

Cecile Zarokian with Puredistance Sheiduna

Perfumer of the Year: Cecile Zarokian– Majda Bekkali Mon Nom est Rouge, in 2012, was the first perfume by Cecile Zarokian which made me think she was something special. Over the years since then she has done some spectacular work but 2016 was an exceptional year. Mme Zarokian produced thirteen new releases for seven different brands. I chose her because of the breadth of the work she turned in over the year. I am reasonably certain that this kind of output has rarely been matched. The pinnacle of this group was her re-formulation of Faths Essentials Green Water. Mme Zarokian accomplished the near impossible by formulating a 2016 version which is as good as the original. She did this because she understood what made the original was its ridiculous concentration of neroli oil. She convinced creative director Rania Naim to spend the money for this now precious material to be replicated in the same concentration. This made Green Water amazingly true to its name.

She would recreate a Persian feast in Parfums MDCI Fetes Persanes. Picking up on some of the same themes she would infuse some of the gourmand elements into a rich oud in Making of Cannes Magie du Desert.  She modernized the oud in Hayari New Oud. In Uer Mi OR+Cashmere she creates a hazelnut rum cocktail. Laboratorio Olfattivo Nerotic goes for a more narcotic effect. Finally working with creative director Jan Ewoud Vos they conspired to reinterpret the Oriental creating a contemporary version in Puredistance Sheiduna.

Every perfume she made this year was worth smelling. As this next generation of perfumers moves into the next phase Mme Zarokian is going to be right there in the front pushing perfumery forward. For this joie de vivre about perfumery Cecile Zarokian is my Perfumer of the Year.

Runner-Ups: Luca Maffei, Quentin Bisch, Christine Nagel, Jerome Epinette, Rodrigo Flores-Roux, and Antonio Gardoni.

Creative Director of the Year: Victor Wong of Zoologist Perfumes- For the ten years plus I’ve been writing about perfume I have chanted a single mantra; embrace difference, don’t play it safe, stake out an artistic vision and stick with it. There are way too few who embrace this. Because it isn’t easy there is a graveyard of some who tried and failed. All of which makes what Victor Wong has been doing with his brand Zoologist Perfumes more admirable. Two years ago, he started Zoologist Perfumes making the transition from enthusiast to owner/creative director. He wanted to work with some of the most talented artisanal perfumers to produce his perfumes. What is so refreshing about this approach is he has been working with many of the most recognizable artisans providing them outside creative direction for one of the few times. What it has elicited from these perfumers is often among the best work they have produced. For the three 2016 releases Bat with Ellen Covey, Macaque with Sarah McCartney, and Nightingale with Tomoo Inaba this has been particularly true. Bat is one of the perfumes which was in the running for my Perfume of the Year. Macaque and Nightingale do not play it safe in any way. This makes for a perfume brand which does not look for the lowest common denominator but asks if there is something more beautiful in unfettered collaboration. For Victor Wong and Zoologist Perfumes 2016 answers this with a resounding yes which is why he is my choice for Creative Director of the Year.

Runner-Ups: Jan Ahlgren (Vilhelm Parfumerie), Ben Gorham (Byredo), Roberto Drago (Laboratorio Olfattivo), and Carlos Huber (Arquiste).

Brand of the Year: Hermes– In 2003 Hermes in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena would begin his tenure. Over the next thirteen years his overall collection for the brand has defined a modern aesthetic which now has become synonymous with the brand as much as silk scarves and fine leather goods. When it was announced two years ago, Christine Nagel would begin the transition to becoming the new in-house perfumer there was some concern. I was not one of those who had any worries. Mme Nagel felt like a natural evolution from M. Ellena. 2016 proved my surmise to be true as M. Ellena released his presumed final two fragrances for the brand, Eau de Neroli Dore and Hermessence Muguet Porcelaine while Mme Nagel released her first two, Eau de Rhubarbe Ecarlate and Galop D’Hermes. The passing of the torch could not have gone smoother. Hermes is in great hands as the next generation takes over. That this was accomplished so beautifully effortless is why Hermes is my Brand of the Year.

Runner-Ups: Byredo, Vilhelm Parfumerie, Tauer Perfumes/Tauerville, and Zoologist Perfumes.

Part 1 was my broad overview of the year yesterday.

Part 3 tomorrow will be my Top 25 new perfumes of 2016.

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur 2016 Year-End Review Part 1- Overview

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2016 will probably go down as a pivotal year in the perfume business. As an observer of much of the field this year I have seen change in almost every place I can see. Which leads me to believe it is also taking place behind the scenes where I am not able to know the entire story. Change like this can be unsettling which has made for some worrying trends but overall I think it has contributed to another excellent year. I smelled a little less this year than last year; 680 new perfumes versus 2015’s 686. Surprisingly the amount of new releases has also plateaued with 1566 new releases in 2016 versus 1676 last year. Maybe we have defined the amount of new perfume the market can bear. Over the next three days I will share my thoughts on the year coming to an end.

We are told in Ecclesiastes, or by The Byrds if you prefer; “To every thing there is a season” and so it is in perfume as the season of the Baby Boomers has ended and the Millennials have taken over. This younger generation is now larger, has more discretionary income, and is spending more on perfume than the Boomers are per multiple sources. While the public at large was made aware of it this year the industry could see the change coming a year, or more, prior. What that meant for 2016 as far as fragrance went was every corporate perfume entity was on a fishing expedition to see if they could be the one who lured this group of consumers towards them. The drive for this is huge because lifelong brand loyalties can be formed right now within this group. Certainly, the enduring trends of the next few years in fragrance will be determined by where they spend their money. All of that has made 2016 fascinating because at the end of the year that answer is no clearer than it was at the beginning. The prevailing themes, based on what was provided to them, is they want lighter in sillage and aesthetic, gourmand, and different. That last category is the ephemeral key I think. The brand which can find them in the place where they Periscope, Snapchat, and Instagram is going to have an advantage.

Christine Nagel (l.) and Olivier Polge

There was also generational change taking place at two of the most prestigious perfume brands, Hermes and Chanel. The new in-house perfumers for both took full control in 2016. Christine Nagel released Hermes Eau du Rhubarbe Ecarlate and Galop D’Hermes. Olivier Polge released Chanel Boy and Chanel No. 5 L’Eau. This shows both talented artists know how to take an existing brand aesthetic and make it their own.

Cecile Zarokian, Quentin Bisch, Luca Maffei (l. to r.)

The next generation of perfumers exemplified by Cecile Zarokian, Quentin Bisch, and Luca Maffei loomed large this year. Mme Zarokian did thirteen new releases in 2016 all of them distinctively delightful from the re-formulation of Faths Essentials Green Water to the contemporary Oriental Puredistance Sheiduna. M. Bisch brilliantly reinvented one of the masterpieces of perfume in Thierry Mugler Angel Muse. Sig. Maffei released ten new fragrances with Masque Milano L’Attesa, Laboratorio Olfattivo MyLO, and Jul et Mad Secrets du Paradis Rouge showcasing his range. 

There were also fascinating collaborations this year. Antonio Gardoni and Bruno Fazzolari contributed Cadavre Exquis an off-beat gourmand. Josh Meyer and Sam Rader conspired to create a Northern California Holiday bonfire in Dasein Winter Nights. Victor Wong the owner and creative director of Zoologist Perfumes was able to get the most out of independent perfumers like Ellen Covey in Bat and Sarah McCartney in Macaque.

Some of the independent perfumers I look to surprisingly released perfumes which did not please me. Thankfully there were new ones who stepped up to fill in the gap. Lesli Wood Peterson of La Curie, Ludmila and Antoine Bitar of Ideo Parfumeurs, and Eugene & Emrys Au of Auphorie did that. Chritsti Meshell of House of Matriarch made an ambitious economic move into Nordstrom while producing two of my favorites from her in Albatross and Kazimi.

The mainstream sector had another strong year as the mall continues to have diamonds hidden amongst the dross. In 2016 that meant Elizabeth & James Nirvana Bourbon, Alford & Hoff No. 3, SJP Stash, Prada Infusion de Mimosa, Thierry Mugler Angel Muse, and Chanel No. 5 L’Eau were there to be found.

If the beginning of the year was all about rose the overall year was a renaissance for neroli perfumes. Jean-Claude Ellena’s swan song for Hermes; Eau de Neroli Dore. The afore mentioned Green Water along with Jo Malone Basil & Neroli and Hiram Green Dilettante showed the versatility of the note.

The acquisition of niche brands continued with Estee Lauder buying By Kilian and L’Oreal doing the same with Atelier Cologne. The acquisitions of Frederic Malle and Le Labo, two years ago, seem to have been positive steps for both brands. Especially seeing Le Labo in my local mall getting such a positive reception made me believe that if the good niche brands can become more available the consumer will appreciate the difference.

Tomorrow I will name my Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, and Brand of the Year

The next day I will reveal my Top 25 New Releases of 2016.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Hermes Hermessence Muguet Porcelaine- Muguet Under Glass

It is a difficult endeavor to try and emulate a mentor. Even the greatest perfumers can get too caught up in trying to tread the fine line between homage and imitation. If you can get it right a little bit of both can add up to something memorable. Tilt too far to either side of the line and you compare unfavorably to what you are trying to use for inspiration. Even the most precise technicians can fail to find the right balance. It is how I feel about the new Hermes Hermessence Muguet Porcelaine.

As in-house perfumer for Hermes Jean-Claude Ellena begins to wind down his career I imagine there are some things he wants to check off his to-do list. As an artist inspired by Edmond Roudnitska; especially the muguet gold standard Diorissimo it was only a matter of time until M. Ellena tried his own version.

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Jean-Claude Ellena

As soon as I heard about this I know I expected sheer because that is what M. Ellena does. Except this time the transparency has the effect of keeping me at arm’s length. On the days I wore Muguet Porcelaine I was reminded of the first verse of the Emerson, Lake, & Palmer song Karn Evil 9:

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends

We’re so glad you could attend

Come Inside! Come Inside!

There behind the glass is a real blade of grass

Be careful as you pass

Move Along! Move Along!

If you substitute muguet for blade of grass this is how I felt about Muguet Porcelaine; similar to a museum exhibit well-executed but sterile.

Muguet Porcelaine opens on another variation of the green watery effect which M. Ellena has been employing quite liberally in his latest creations. I generally like it but in this case it was distracting as if it formed the first pane of glass. The muguet pushes its way through the green mist but what comes out the other side is so cleaned up it almost feels artificial. This again was the other pane of glass which sealed off the main note.

Hermes Muguet Porcelaine has 6-8 hours longevity and moderate silage.

Diorissimo is striking for its simultaneous effect of floral and animalic. Muguet Porcelaine is missing the animalic. I am sure Muguet Porcelaine is the perfume M. Ellena wanted to make. It just is so standoffish it is going to be easy to ignore. If you ever wanted a very clean muguet perfume Muguet Porcelaine should be just what you’re looking for.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Hermes Eau de Rhubarbe Ecarlate and Eau de Neroli Dore- Compare and Contrast

One of the more interesting perfume stories is the ongoing changing of the guard in the fragrance business at Hermes. Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena has been the in-house perfumer for over 10 years. Last year Christine Nagel was hired to eventually take over the reins when M. Ellena chooses to retire. I have been very interested to see Mme Nagel’s first perfume for Hermes and I’ve been kept waiting for over a year. Finally, at the end of January it was announced that there would be two new releases in the Les Colognes series. What was exciting was each perfumer would be responsible for one. As prime a compare and contrast moment as one could ask for.

This series is among the simplest fragrances from a perfume brand which has made minimalistic perfumes part of their aesthetic. Eau de Rhubarbe Ecarlate by Mme Nagel and Eau de Neroli Dore by M. Ellena don’t fully answer the question of how different Mme Nagel’s Hermes fragrances will be from M. Ellena’s. Yet I think there are some interesting observations to be found even within something as simple as these two perfumes are.

Christine Nagel 1

Christine Nagel

Mme Nagel composes Eau de Rhubarbe Ecarlate with two listed notes, rhubarb and white musks. Notice the “s” on that last ingredient. It gives some insight into how this perfume has much more than that note list might portend.

The rhubarb comes out from the very first second mixing that vegetal quality with a citrus-like quality. This is a very tricky note when hung out to be all on its own and it is for about 30-45 minutes. Either you will like it and be drawn in or it will annoy you enough you won’t notice what happens next. Like tendrils of fog Mme Nagel uses a selection of white musks to entwine themselves around the rhubarb. It was M. Ellena in Jour D’Hermes, who showed me how the right mix of multiple white musks could have a softening effect. Mme Nagel also knows this. The result is as the white musks increase in presence the rhubarb’s intensity is softened while being made much more transparent. So much so that when I thought this had worn off one of my co-workers commented on it. It is a perfume which shows the power of white musks to transform even the most obstreperous note. Eau de Rhubarbe Ecarlate has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

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Jean-Claude Ellena

M. Ellena’s entry Eau de Neroli Dore is equally short in notes; neroli and saffron. According to an article on Wallpaper M. Ellena’s affection for Neroli comes from his early days, “When I started out as a perfumer I learned to distill raw materials, including orange blossom. When you enter the world of stills, you are also immersed in a scent, impregnated with it, you become it. To reproduce this sensation, where normally one uses very little neroli in fragrances, I used it abundantly.” He further claims in the article that Hermes had to buy up half of the annual neroli crop from Morocco and Tunisia. Hyperbole or not this is a very concentrated neroli.

Eau de Neroli Dore opens with that neroli attempting to immerse you within it. Neroli is the only listed ingredient and it is so immersive that I feel like there might be some orange behind it all but I wonder if that is a trick of the concentration. Another aspect of having it in such high concentration is subtle green facets are apparent with nothing else to override them. The modulator for M. Ellena is to use saffron to take this neroli and evolve it. The saffron carries a dusty floralcy as well as a warm spicy glow. It adds a beating heart underneath the neroli. This never reaches the intensity of rhubarb in the Eau de Rhubarbe Ecarlate. Throughout it is a soft floral pitched at a volume just above a whisper. Eau de Neroli Dore has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Of course, I am going to look for signs of what is to come from these two perfumes. I think Mme Nagel shows that she has grasped the aesthetic M. Ellena has put into place while also showing she has some new ideas to explore. M. Ellena returned to an experience of his beginnings as a perfumer to create one of his final releases. Both perfumes are well worth seeking out and will be very good once summer arrives. I am excited to see what’s next from both of these talented perfumers.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample from Hermes.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Hermes Equipage Geranium- Green Rose in Focus

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When someone tells you they are retiring it usually means a slow winding down prior to their leaving. I guess it must be different in perfumery. Jean-Claude Ellena announced he would be eventually retiring, date unknown, as the in-house perfumer at Hermes in December of 2013. At the same time Christine Nagel was brought in to work with him and eventually take over. M. Ellena has been one of the singular artistic perfumers of the last few years. He would easily be one of the names in the debate over “greatest living perfumer”. As his tenure at Hermes draws to a close it feels like he wanted the opportunity to give a fresh take on some of the original Hermes releases. This starts with Bel Ami Vetiver in 2013 followed by Rose Amazone last year. For 2015 Equipage Geranium is the newest addition.

The original Equipage was released in 1970 by perfumer Guy Robert. It was a leather fragrance to pay homage to the Hermes saddles. In that original version there was birch tar and oakmoss galore creating a real feel of the tack room at a stable with all the leather hung up and oiled. Equipage would be re-formulated in 1992 by Jean-Louis Sieuzac who lacking the ability to use either the oakmoss or birch tar in the quantities M. Robert did, allowed some of the other notes to come to the foreground as the heart notes of carnation and pine follow a citrus opening. As was done for both Bel Ami and Amazone it feels like these recent versions are an attempt to update these classics for the 2010’s. I wonder if M. Ellena wants to make sure these are always relevant. Equipage Geranium is less about the tack room and more about the leather reading chair in the library next to a vase of geraniums.

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Jean-Claude Ellena

Equipage Geranium opens with a citrus flourish which is close in intensity to the 1992 Equipage reformulation. To make sure I don’t go too far down that path M. Ellena adds a sprig of mint to bring the geranium into focus. Geranium is a note I often refer to as “green rose”. For many people they would recognize geranium as just rose; as geranium is what passes for rose in almost every mass commercial product. In Equipage Geranium M. Ellena brings the geranium into hyper focus. When I want to introduce someone to geranium from now on this is the perfume I am going to use. The mint is the framing which first draws my attention to the greener subtleties under the floralcy. Some actual rose is used to deepen that floralcy. Once the focal point is assembled now the very light leather accord forms a platform for the geranium to rest upon. A swirl of gentle spices interacts to keep the geranium slightly spicy as well as fresher. After a while a sturdy sandalwood provides the final addition to Equipage Geranium.

Equipage Geranium has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

On the days I wore Equipage Geranium to work my younger co-workers asked me enthusiastically what I was wearing. I have shared my sample generously with them and I know it is on a couple of wish lists for the upcoming holidays. I brought in some 1970 Equipage and they all said that was too strong. This is the real innovation M. Ellena is achieving, intended or not, as these reworkings are attracting a different generation of perfume lovers. For those older perfume lovers, like me, the update makes it different enough, and good enough, that I want a bottle to stand next to my 1970 and 1992 bottle of Equipage.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Hermes.

Mark Behnke

The Different Company 101- Five To Get You Started

The primary goal of this series is to allow someone new to the fragrance world a starting place with many of the extensive lines out there. A secondary goal is to give some attention to great fragrance collections which might not be as well known, but should be. This month I am going to introduce some of you to The Different Company.

The Different Company was founded in 2000 by Thierry de Baschmakoff and Jean-Claude Ellena. In 2003 M. de Baschmakoff would work with perfumer Celine Ellena for the next year before giving way to current creative director and CEO of the brand, Luc Gabriel in 2004. Mme Ellena would continue the collaboration until 2010.  Since 2011, M. Gabriel has brought in Emilie Coppermann for the cologne collection and Bertrand Duchaufour has contributed to the Collection Excessive. These consistent partnerships between creative director and perfumer has led to a house style which has been in place from the very first perfume released. Here are the five I would suggest to get you started.

Bois D’Iris composed by Jean-Claude Ellena was one of the first releases of The Different Company. The name promises Iris Woods and that is exactly what M. Ellena delivers as orris is surrounded by cedar. With M. Ellena it is always the grace notes which make his perfumes memorable and for Bois D’Iris it is the narcissus, vetiver, and musk which make this one of the best florals ever made by M. Ellena.

TDC_90ml_Sel de Vétiver

Sel de Vetiver composed by Celine Ellena is one of my favorite vetiver perfumes. It might be the perfume I have written the most about over the ten years I’ve been writing about fragrance. The reason for that is Mme Ellena creates an accord of drying salt water on sun-warmed skin which is combined with three different vetiver sources. I have used this perfume as the introduction to vetiver for so many.Those who like it, like me, will never be without it.

De Bachmakov composed by Celine Ellena is a transparent fragrance of winter vistas. It was inspired by the tundra of M. de Baschmakoff’s Russian heritage. Mme Ellena captures the bite of winter air by using the sharply green shiso. Coriander, nutmeg, and cedar come together to form a frozen earth accord. This is one of the best examples of minimalist perfume composition that I own.

Aurore Nomade composed by Bertrand Duchaufour marked a different aesthetic at play. M. Duchaufour in contrast to Mme Ellena is not a minimalist. It could be said he is a maximalist very often as his perfumes can seem overstuffed. Aurore Nomade is one of those perfumes overflowing with ideas. To M. Duchaufour’s credit it holds together to form an accurate evocation of the Spice Islands. With spices like cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg along with a bit of tropical fruit cocktail all with a shot of rum swirling around; M. Duchaufour uses every bit of the potential of ylang-ylang as the central note in Aurore Nomade. It is over the top in a very good way.

Une Nuit Magnetique composed by Christine Nagel is a perfume of magnetic attraction and repulsion. Mme Nagel creates a fragrance which comes together only to be forced apart. In the top ginger and bergamot have their harmony disrupted by blueberry.  In the heart she uses prune to break up a collection of floral extroverts. The way that Une Nuit Magnetique is in constant flux on my skin has always magnetically drawn me in.

If you’re new to the brand these five will give you a good introduction to The Different Company.

Disclosure: this review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Hermes Le Jardin de Monsieur Li- Wistful Whispers

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I was just beginning to discover all that was going on behind my favorite perfumes in 2005 when I remember picking up the March issue of The New Yorker. Inside was an article by Chandler Burr on the creation of Hermes Un Jardin sur Le Nil by perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena. It was one of the most complete descriptions of the creation of a perfume I had ever seen. (If you’ve never read it here is the link) It was the second in the “Un Jardin” series of perfumes for Hermes and it is one of my favorites of the entire line. I have just received the fifth, and supposedly, final “Un Jardin” perfume by M. Ellena; it is called Le Jardin de Monsieur Li.

I am sure this is me projecting my own emotions at the idea of M. Ellena retiring and leaving Hermes in the hands of Christine Nagel but I found Le Jardin de Monsieur Li to have one of the most fragile architectures of any of M. Ellena’s creations in his time at Hermes. For this one he spent time in China in a tranquility garden. This fragrance has an incredible calming effect on my spirits when I wear it. I think it means M. Ellena really was finding that place of calm within while designing Le Jardin de Monsieur Li.

jce monsieur li

Jean-Claude Ellena

M.Ellena chooses kumquat as the place to begin his final Jardin stroll. For a Chinese garden walk this is particularly apt. Many who smell this fragrance will think this is lemon. Kumquat essential oil is made up mostly of limonene and if you let it glide by without notice that is what you will experience. The special quality of M. Ellena’s perfumes is the care with which each of a very few ingredients are chosen. This kumquat is a great example. If you take the time to zero in on it you will dive beneath the lemon and find a very subtle spiciness under the tart. A pinch of Szechuan hot pepper is added by M. Ellena to make sure this does not go by unnoticed. All of this is placed on a watery bamboo matrix. The bamboo adds a transparent woody green character. All three of these top notes seem so insubstantial that my mere notice seems enough to send them scattering. They manage to stand up, barely, to my scrutiny. The heart is jasmine and rose but these are meditative focal points and not blowsy distractions. The jasmine seems as fragile as fine porcelain. Finally Le Jardin de Monsieur Li ends by a pool of water where it splashes against the slate lining the pond. An aquatic stony accord that also exudes wet wood is the final movement.

Le Jardin de Monsieur Li has 6-8 hours longevity and average sillage.

I think Le Jardin de Monsieur Li is not going to be widely loved. The delicacy to its construction is going to be seen as a significant drawback by some. For me I am so often presented with perfumes as solid as Fort Knox this was a pleasure to experience. I really found myself drawn into the meditative vibe of this perfume. To really enjoy this I think it is almost a necessity to be in this frame of mind. If this is where M. Ellena really does end his Jardin series it is an appropriately wistful farewell, spoken in whispers.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Hermes.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Hermes Rose Amazone- Trying Not to Lose the Melody

I am a big fan of the singing competition American Idol. Every year at this part of the competition they reach the point where all those who made the initial cut at auditions come together in Hollywood so that the judges can further winnow them down to a final 24 contestants from around 200. One of the ways a contestant tries to stick out is to take a well-known song and re-interpret it. The bad ones destroy the song so it is unrecognizable and the good ones put a fresh spin on it. The judges will often remark after the performance that the singer did a good job of not losing the melody. The new re-interpretation of Hermes Amazone called Rose Amazone felt like in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena’s attempt to make a younger hipper version of the original, without losing the melody.

The original Amazone was released in 1974 and was composed by perfumer Maurice Maurin. That original version was meant to be a luxury alternative to Revlon’s Charlie for this nascent “working woman” who needed something to wear on the job. M. Maurin used the incredible green of blackcurrant buds with a healthy dose of raspberry. That it wore its fruit so unabashedly on its sleeve was different at that time. Fifteen years later M. Ellena would reformulate for a different time. Now he would really amplify the fruit throughout the design making the citrus zing and the berries boisterous. It lost some of the blackcurrant bud underneath all of that. The base notes were made creamier woody as a sandalwood played a more prominent role. These two versions are markedly different enough so that even a non-perfume lover who only wore Amazone noticed when her 1974 bottle was done and she bought a 1989 bottle. This would not be the first time I explained reformulation to a confused consumer. To maintain the singing analogy I would say the 1989 version of Amazone was sung out at the top of its lungs and if you like power ballads, it was like that.

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Jean-Claude Ellena

Even though Rose Amazone has a different name it really could be called Amazone 2015 because it definitely is constructed around the same melody. The stated objective is to appeal to a modern younger woman. The idea seems to be that this woman wants a perfume with a slower stripped down melody from the original. That is just what M. Ellena attempts to deliver.

Rose Amazone starts off with a much more pronounced citrus opening as the blackcurrant bud is moved into the heart leaving a very sparkly shiny opening. The grapefruit is the leader of this citrus pack but they’re all here. The rose comes out and this is a big change as the original has a lot more floral notes. Here M. Ellena leaves the rose to do the job by itself. The blackcurrant bud and the raspberry show up near simultaneously with the rose. This is where Rose Amazone slows the beat down so that you focus on these three keynotes of all three versions. I really liked this combination very much. The woodier base of the 1989 version of Amazone is what you finish on in Rose Amazone, as you return to the original melody.

Rose Amazone has 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I think M. Ellena has done a creditable job at making a more modern younger version of Amazone with Rose Amazone. He stayed true to the melody by going unplugged and letting the keynotes in the heart sing out beautifully.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Hermes.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Rochas Globe- The Best of Both Worlds

When it comes to many of the perfumes which find their way to the Dead Letter Office trying to create a demographic for a fragrance is one of the surest paths to discontinuation. When you look back over the history of perfume when there have been these perfumes which have served as pivot points for the industry; the years after that moment is a study in trying to catch up. In 1990, especially in the masculine category, Davidoff Cool Water had completely changed the game. Before Cool Water men’s perfumes were hairy chested powerhouses like Aramis for Men. By the 1990’s the men’s market supposedly wanted aquatics and fresh fragrances. Over at Rochas they had the thought to try and find a middle ground between the old and the new. That perfume would become Rochas Globe.

globe_ad

Rochas Globe had a big problem, who was it being made for? If the younger fragrance wearer was gravitating towards fresh aquatics while the older demographic wanted their powerhouses where did Globe fit? The answer was it didn’t. This would lead to its eventual market death within three years. The tragedy is Globe succeeded brilliantly at creating this kind of olfactory genetic splicing. The mad scientist behind this will surprise many of you, Jean-Claude Ellena. One of the most interesting periods of M. Ellena’s illustrious career was the period from 1988-1990. The five perfumes he signed during this time are some of the most unique in in his fragrant repertory. Globe fits right in.

jean-claude ellena

A Younger Jean-Claude Ellena

Globe opens with a juicy mandarin paired with a very sharp green leafy note. It was a few years until I was able to identify it as Boldo leaves. Boldo is a leaf used to make tea in some South American countries. It is most often used in a combination with yerba mate. I think M. Ellena knows this because that pungent leafiness runs right into a heart of geranium, rhubarb, basil, and mate. M. Ellena defines his version of fresh and allows the heart notes to become that. The base is very traditional vetiver and amber returning Globe to familiar masculine territory.

Globe has 10-12 hour longevity and prodigious sillage. This is one to definitely be cautious about spraying too much.

Looking back through the lens of twenty-five years it is easy to see Globe just had no audience in 1990. I would love to see this re-released now because it is such a fascinating combination of styles from a perfumer, in M. Ellena, who was at his most experimental. I have said Globe had trouble finding an audience but I am definitely someone for whom Globe was made for. It is too bad there weren’t more of us.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Hermes Hermessence Cuir D’Ange- A Flight of Fancy

There is no collection in perfumery which more fully captures my attention than the Hermessences. Composed by Hermes in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena these deceptively simple constructs have been called everything from perfumed haiku to olfactory watercolors. Without looking back I’ve probably used these terms to describe these perfumes as well. It is an unsatisfactory way to capture the beauty of the best of the Hermessence entries. When they work it provides some of the most heartbreakingly beautiful moments in all of olfactory art. The most recent release Cuir D’Ange is one of the best in the collection.

Cuir D’Ange translates to Angel’s Leather and it was inspired by a visit M. Ellena made to the vault where the leather used to make Hermes accessories is stored. This visit was made in 2004 when he first came on-board as in-house nose. He knew as he walked amidst the stacks of tanned skins he wanted to capture this essence. One of the things that makes capturing a specific leather essence is the perfumer has to create a leather accord as there is no single note which mimics leather. Most often the components of a leather accord are deep heavy things like birch tar as it was for the classic leathers of the early 20th century. For Cuir D’Ange M. Ellena found a fusion of floral notes to complement his leather accord which makes it smell as if it is a Hermes purse or wallet which has been handled by a woman wearing the most delicate floral perfume.

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Jean-Claude Ellena

M. Ellena uses hawthorn as his top note in Cuir D’Ange. Hawthorn is one of my favorite ingredients when used well as it imparts an indolic component along with the floral character. It is a great choice to start with as the indoles stick to the leather template which is also present from the first moments. The leather accord is that of a supple soft leather which smells of opulence. It is by turns dry and then voluptuous. In the early going it the dry aspect which matches up with the hawthorn. Then like the named angel unfurling its wings heliotrope arrives and Cuir D’Ange takes wing. The faux violet nature of heliotrope is perfect as it lifts the leather up and makes it feel luxurious, as a Hermes leather should feel. The final ingredient is a musk which evokes the smell of sun warmed skin. It is an especially apt finishing note as it becomes a duet of processed skin and living skin. It may sound a bit macabre but it is a fascinating study as it lingers on your skin.

Cuir D’Ange has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

One of the things which allows the Hermessence line to stand out is not just the construction but how M. Ellena is able to take a relatively few notes and be so expansive. Cuir D’Ange might be the most successful of all in this collection at providing transitional grace notes. Despite the notes I describe above each of those notes carries subtle undertones and at different points you will get a hint of iris or a suspicion of almonds. Cuir D’Ange is a perfume which allows all of my senses to soar to new heights.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by the Hermes boutique in Vienna, VA.

Mark Behnke