Dead Letter Office: Trussardi Python- A Fine Chocolate

I’m starting this edition of Dead Letter Office a little bit differently. In the almost four years I’ve been writing on my own at Colognoisseur I am very happy that certain columns connect with specific readers. This usually leads to delightful conversations via e-mail or chat. One big fan of this column has decided to move beyond that. Over the past year I can count on seeing a chat pop-up the next morning after a Dead Letter Office piece. This reader has a crazy collection of discontinued fragrances. At the beginning of the summer I was asked how many more Dead Letter Offices I had in me. I responded that I was getting to the end of my list that I own. I was asked for my address and a few weeks later the most amazing surprise arrived; a box full of samples of discontinued gems. There was a little note which accompanied it, “this should keep you busy”. I’ve asked, I’ve pleaded, I’ve begged for the reader to allow me to name them. I feel like I should be able to call this the “Person’s Name Collection” when I write about it. For now, it will remain an anonymous random act of kindness.

Louise Turner

When you get something like this there is a giddy moment of colognoisseur in the rare perfume store. I wanted to try everything. As the temperatures were cooling there was one which I had heard about which was purported to be a “perfect chocolate gourmand”. I felt like that was where I wanted to start, with Trussardi Python.

Trussardi is an Italian fashion design house which began by selling leather goods in 1911. Over the next seventy years the brand would expand into accessories of all kinds. In an interesting turnabout the fragrances which bore the brand name came before the clothes. In 1982 they would release their first branded fragrance; the women’s ready-to-wear collection would come a year later. The rest of the 1980’s would see a dramatic worldwide expansion for all things Trussardi.

Nathalie Gracia-Cetto

As they reached the turn of the century they decided to jump on the fledgling gourmand perfume trend with Python. At this point in time Thierry Mugler Angel had spawned multiple follow-ons. To stand out perfumers Louise Turner and Nathalie Gracia-Cetto decide to create a photorealistic chocolate accord and serve it up on a sandalwood platter. It turns out to be all of that.

The perfumers raise the curtain with a raucous fanfare of orange, jasmine, and rose. It is loud and proud to be on your skin. Soon enough the chocolate comes forward as it seems to kick the florals to the curb while embracing the orange. The perfumers pull a neat effect by using plum to add depth to the chocolate. This then allows cardamom and nutmeg to gently spice the overall accord. The base is all sandalwood in overdose. It is sweet and creamy and kept there with a little vanilla.

Python has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

The chocolate in the heart of Python is not an abstraction in any way. The perfumers successfully present the smell of a fine chocolate bar. Evidently the abstract fireworks of Angel were preferred by the segment of consumers who wanted to buy a gourmand perfume. Which meant Python would join many other early gourmands in the Dead Letter Office.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample supplied by a reader.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Carolina Herrera Good Girl-High Tack

I have a very dear friend who has a favorite term for the gloriously tacky; tacky so bad it is good. She calls it “High Tack”. In perfume terms, there are many examples of High Tack bottles. It is rare that what is inside those bottles is as interesting as the container. I have actually wanted a perfume which was unafraid to embrace the tacky nature of the bottle and go for the same over-the-top style with the fragrance. At the end of last year, I got my wish with Carolina Herrera Good Girl.

Carolina Herrera has been producing perfume since 1988. As a mainstream designer brand, they have been above average overall. When it comes to the bottles they’ve been typical cylinders and rectangular shapes. They had a series that looked like big capsules earlier in 2016 but nothing that had come before prepared me for a black stiletto heel shaped version. Good Girl? This looks like what a very not good girl would be wearing. Was there an arch sense of humor here? Was the perfume inside going to be another generic mismatch to the High Tack on the outside? The answer is perfumer Louise Turner embraces all of this and produces a giant tuberose and tonka gourmand.

Louise Turner

Good Girl opens with that tuberose swaggering into view. It strides in as if on those stilettos. Ms. Turner chooses an interesting note to add some warmth to the big white flower, almond. The pale nutty quality tames the tuberose a bit. Iris and jasmine also provide a modulating effect. Then we get the other big note tonka. It arises out of the almond. At first I thought the almond was intensifying but it was the tonka arriving with a presence. Tonka is a note which I like in overdose. Ms. Turner takes all that tonka provides in this high concentration and uses it to fashion a gourmand base accord as she mixes in chocolate, vanilla, and sandalwood. It becomes a yummy sweet bomb matching the tuberose that came before.

Good Girl has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

If you’re looking for subtlety in any aspect; move along, nothing to see here. If you are sometimes in the mood for a perfume which glories in its exuberantly brash taste then grab a hold of this High Tack perfume and have fun.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Stella McCartney Pop- Light ‘Em Up, Up, Up

I took my quarterly filed trip to the huge mall nearby to do some observation. For the second time this year I was keenly aware of the perfumes which are being marketed to Millennials and I was curious to see if any of them were hitting the mark. Back in March it wasn’t obvious if they were or not. On this latest trip while standing in line getting my coffee there was a group of women in my target demographic talking in front of me. Most surprising they were actually talking about perfume. Part of the reason was the large Sephora in this mall is right next to the coffee place. The gist of the conversation was one of the women had found, “the perfect office perfume, it’s like I’m the only one who can smell it.” This is one of the current beliefs that the big perfume brands have when catering to this generation; they want it light. Naturally I followed them into the store to see what the identity of this perfume was. This time I kept my distance so I couldn’t hear the conversation but I definitely could see which bottle was being sampled. Turns out it was one of the same perfumes I particularly wanted to try as well, Stella McCartney Pop.

stella mccartney

Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney has created a thriving fashion and fragrance empire since she started her eponymous brand in 2001. Since 2003 she has released fragrances and Pop is the 21st release from the brand. As mass-market consumer brands go I would place her in the upper percentile of that sector. She certainly kept to a particular formula of sensual florals with presence. The one time she strayed from this formula was 2012’s L.I.L.Y. where she went for a modern chypre. It never caught on and was pretty quickly discontinued. Since then she has stayed true to her early aesthetic.

stella-mccartney-pop-advert

The Pop Crew (l. to r.) Lola Leon, Grimes, Amandla Sternberg, and Kenya Kinski-Jones

When I was reading about Pop the short description from the brand reads, “Pop is a spirit. It’s about celebrating that exciting time when you are coming into your own. It’s about freedom, and starting your life away from judgments or labels.” To go with this Ms. McCartney gathered four young creative Millennials to be the faces of the advertising campaign: Grimes, Lola Leon, Amandla Sternberg, and Kenya Kinski-Jones. All of this seemed to be exactly the kind of buzzwords and campaign designed to entice the target audience. It surely had worked with my test group from the coffee bar.

Louise Turner

Louise Turner

It was when I saw what the key notes were that my interest was piqued. Pop was described as a tuberose and sandalwood perfume composed by perfumer Louise Turner. Ms. Turner is one of the best perfumers in the mass-market category as she knows how to get the most out of her budget. But tuberose and sandalwood? Really? Tuberose is one of those derided “old lady” notes and sandalwood trends more masculine. Neither of these seemed like something that would appeal. Except for my little focus group. As they walked towards the cash register with two of them buying the rollerball version I approached the shelf with the tester.

When I sprayed it on a strip I got exactly what was promised, tuberose and sandalwood. Except these are not full-blooded essential oil versions, these are the cleaned-up synthetic versions. Ms. Turner has cleverly found a tuberose which has all of the “old lady” scrubbed out of it. Indoles, and intense floralcy are replaced by a well-mannered floral. The sandalwood synthetic is one that is so cleaned up it might as well be cedar. A few clean linen white musks and you have Pop.

Pop has 8-10 hour longevity and low sillage.

Pop shares a similarity to pop music as it doesn’t really want to challenge anything. It wants to be a pleasant fragrant companion which never offends. Depending on how you feel about those goals will likely color your feelings about Pop. The other thing that is most obvious about Pop is it is pitched so light that it is perfume nobody else but the wearer can smell. Which going back to my pop music analogy might be exactly what the Millennials want. Nobody knows just yet but maybe Fall Out boy has it right and when it comes to fragrance this generation wants to “Light ‘em, up, up, up” until you barely know they are there. At least with four young women Pop is a rousing success on all fronts.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Sephora.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Glow by J Lo- This is Where Clean Begins

It is easy with hindsight to look backward and find the perfumes which were responsible for trends. Any visit to the fragrance counter in the department store will tell you that “clean” fragrances occupy a large share of the fragrances being offered. Like all of these trends the one which launched it is usually a pretty good perfume. When it comes to this “clean” trend Glow by J Lo is the one.

In 2002 the idea of celebrity based perfumes, or celebuscents, was pretty much a tiny market share and not many of the more recognizable celebrity names were interested. Jennifer Lopez aka J Lo aka Jenny from the Block was going to change that. Her evolution from a Fly Girl on the television show In Living Color to superstar would take seven years. Wanting to parlay her success, and celebrity, into a lot of different ventures Ms. Lopez would display her business smarts matched her acting and singing talents. When I say in 2016 a celebrity is doing a fragrance you say, “Of course.” As Ms. Lopez began to design Glow by J Lo she wanted to make a perfume which would live up to her vision of “Fresh, sexy, clean”. Working with perfumer Louise Turner, Glow by J Lo would define that phrase for years to come.

glow by j lo

Glow by J Lo opens with the snap of grapefruit softened with neroli. This is the promised “fresh”. The heart is where the beginning of “clean” begins. Ms. Turner uses a selection of synthetic aromachemicals for the floral appearance of iris, jasmine, and rose. The advantage of using these is that you can clean the jasmine up of its indoles; the rose up of its spicy core, and attenuate the powderiness of the iris. This is the clean version of three of the biggest floral powerhouse notes out there. Ms. Turner’s heart accord is brilliantly achieved. This sets up her mixture of synthetic musks to make the soapy accord for these florals to rest upon, completing the effect, as Glow by J Lo smells like clean skin after using a floral soap. A bit of sandalwood and vanilla provide a final bit of sweet creamy woods.

Glow by J Lo has 18-24 hour longevity and average sillage.

Even from the beginning Glow by J Lo was an inexpensive fragrance. Nowadays you can pick up 100mL for under $20 US. Ms. Lopez used her star power to promote it and by the end of its second year it was the bestselling perfume in the US. In 2016 it still sells very well but it has lots of competition from ever more celebrities putting their names on bottles. I tip my hat to Ms. Lopez and Ms. Turner for getting this right when there wasn’t a formula to be followed.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Ex Nihilo Rose Hubris and Musc Infini- Haughty or Powdery Rose

As I mentioned in yesterday’s review Ex Nihilo has opened an in-store boutique at Bergdorf-Goodman in New York City. One of the interesting concepts behind Ex Nihilo is the ability to personalize any of the nine perfumes by adding one of six raw materials via the Osmologue. The six materials are iris, orange blossom, sandalwood, vanilla, Rose de Mai, and jasmine. I was skeptical about this process but on my recent visit some of those concerns were allayed a bit. My favorite of the first five Ex Nihilo fragrances I tried was Vetiver Moloko and I’ve worn it enough to know it well. In the boutique we added three of the six ingredients for me to try; orange blossom, sandalwood, and vanilla. Each ingredient was approved of by the perfumer as being able to blend well with the perfume in its unadorned state. What I found was the orange blossom brightened up what is a shadowy fragrance in Vetiver Moloko. The vanilla turned it into a delicious creamy gourmand reminiscent of the A Clockwork Orange moloko. The sandalwood made the vetiver pop as it brought it to an even greater level. I still think I prefer my Vetiver Moloko as the perfumer created it but the idea works.

I am going to finish up my reviews of the Ex Nihilo debut fragrances with two rose fragrances, Rose Hubris and Musc Infini.

olivier pescheux

Olivier Pescheux

Rose Hubris was composed by perfumer Olivier Pescheux. In my review of Oud Vendome I liked the way he pushed the envelope making the most structurally interesting of the Ex Nihilo perfumes. Rose Hubris is a little less adventurous but the opening moments do provide something different in a rose perfume.

Those early moments are where M. Pescheux trots out fenugreek and lychee as his top accord. Fenugreek is one of those perfume ingredients I would like to see used more often. It has an odd dichotomy of earthiness and syrupy sweetness. I think of it as kindred to immortelle in that department. In Rose Hubris being paired with the lychee it thrusts the sweeter character to the foreground but that earthy quality adds a really unique underpinning. A fabulously beautiful Rose de Mai is the rose in the heart. It really does carry a haughty air as it powers through the fenugreek and lychee to take over. It is a more giving partner to the base notes of patchouli and oakmoss where it settles down into more typical rose fragrance patterns.

I adore the opening phases of Rose Hubris and that makes me more forgiving of it becoming a little more traditional in the back half of the development.

Rose Hubris has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Louise Turner

Louise Turner (Photo: Rui Camilo Photography)

Musc Infini was composed by Louise Turner. Ms. Turner is one of those perfumers who does not make an impression on many perfume lover’s list of favorite perfumers. She should as she has made some of the best mass-market perfumes to be found. For Ex Nihilo she is afforded the opportunity to have some more latitude in constructing Musc Infini. What she does is to take a very powdery rose and sandwich it between a couple of synthetic musks to form an uber powdery floral perfume.

Musc Infini opens with the botanical musk provided by ambrette seeds leavened with a pinch of citrus. This quickly transitions into a soft powdery rose. This rose is turned even softer as two synthetic musks embrace it and form this incredibly silky smooth puff cloud of powder. Very late on a bit of vanilla cuts the powder but not for a long while.

Musc Infini is for those who love their florals powdery. This is the one perfume of the collection where I would like to see what the addition of iris would do to it. Would it add another layer of powder or shift it into something else? I know on my next visit that is the experiment I want to try.

Musc Infini has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I am impressed with this initial collection of Ex Nihilo it shows a breadth of styles along with a new way to personalize the perfume to what you like. Definitely worth a visit next time you are in NYC.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Martin Margiela Replica At the Barber’s- Shave and a Haircut

I’ve been using an old-fashioned double edge razor to shave for a little over ten years now. I finally kicked the habit of the multi-blade monstrosities and have never looked back. In truth my morning shave is where I get my first fragrance stimuli of the day. I don’t have as many shaving creams as I do perfume but there is a whole cabinet stacked high with little pots of different scented creams. I can say that before my shave I might be considering one perfume for the day and after my mood has entirely changed. The smell of shaving products and hair products remind me of my trips to the barber’s with my father to get a crew cut. I invoke the barber shop description when describing fougeres quite often. All of this had me very interested in the new Maison Martin Margiela Replica At the Barber’s.

Louise Turner

Louise Turner (Photo: Rui Camilo)

The Maison Martin Margiela Replica line is all about re-creating a specific place and time. This particular barber shop is in Madrid circa 1992. I’m not sure I get the Madrid part but the barber shop is completely realized by perfumer Louise Turner. The hot towels, the herbal shaving cream, the lavender water, and the sweet hair wax are all here. Ms. Turner captures each of the facets to create a virtual barbershop accord.

At the Barber’s assembles itself very rapidly and I would say it doesn’t really have a development so much as an assembling of the parts of the accord. Ms. Turner keeps it very simple and At the Barber’s is all the better for it. Basil and lavender are what I first notice and within minutes there is a hot cotton accord of white musks followed by the coumarin-laden sweetness of tonka bean. Each of these calls out to a specific part of the environment named but together they form a delightfully realistic accord.

At the Barber’s has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Of any of the Replica line, so far, At the Barber’s is the most straightforward replication of the name on the bottle. As I said I don’t get the Madrid and I’m not sure you couldn’t have chosen any year because this is just the smell of a classic barber shop no matter what the year. At the Barber’s is a true replica of my barber shop experience as a child and I’ll always insert Miami 1966 when I wear it. If you are a fan of old style fougeres it will cost you a bit more than two bits for this shave and a haircut but it is well worth it.

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

Mark Behnke