The fin de siècle of the past century was a time of transition in perfume, too. As the 1990’s gave way to the 2000’s the rise of niche and independent perfumery was shaking things up. If you look at the period just prior to this, you begin to see the elements we might take for granted twenty years later. At that time, they were riskier attempts to create something different for an audience that might not have existed with no internet to provide word-of-mouth. Many of the people who have become the standard bearers released some amazing perfumes which deserve to be known now when the concepts they represent have a receptive audience. This month in Under the Radar I introduce you to Mark Birley for Men.
Frederic Malle is much of the reason I write about the perfumers behind the fragrances. Prior to him putting their names on the bottles in his Editions de Parfum Frederic Malle brand they were ghosts. Now they are known personalities. M. Malle transitioned into creative direction after working at Roure Bertrand Dupont. He would collaborate with perfumer Pierre Bourdon on Mark Birley for Men. M. Bourdon was the unsung creative behind classics such as Creed Green Irish Tweed, Yves St. Laurent Kouros, and (in collaboration with Christopher Sheldrake) Shiseido Feminite du Bois. These two would create perfume which redefined masculine trends going for sophistication over the prevailing fresh and clean.
Mark Birley was a British proprietor of multiple members-only nightclubs throughout the 1960’s and 70’s. His was a name which conjured velvet rope elegance. When he put his name on a perfume that sense of private club sophistication was exemplified by not hewing to the popular trends. Messrs. Malle and Bourdon chose to subvert them instead.
The perfume opens with a very typical lemon top note. A sunny lens flare which is tamped down with subtle applications of pineapple and melon. The melon gives a smirking call back to the Calone used in M. Bourdon’s aquatics. The pineapple makes the lemon acerbic instead of tart. This falls into a floral heart accord of violet and iris. More violet than iris although a detectable powderiness does arise. Carrot seed provides a rooty sweetness in complement to the iris. The base eschews the sweetness working for a desiccated woodiness via sandalwood, vetiver, and patchouli overlaid with sharp silvery incense and green woody cedar.
Mark Birley for Men has 6-8 hour longevity and average silage.
The seeds of Frederic Malle’s brand were probably planted with Mark Birley for Men. M. Bourdon had the freedom to show off. Together Pierre and Frederic made an excellent perfume which deserves to be lifted from Under the Radar.
Disclosure: This review based on a bottle I purchased.
One of the things about the Holidays is it is one of the times of the year when fragrance is placed front and center at points of sale. I was reminded of this when standing in line to check out. There always seemed to be a display of perfume minis near the cash register. I spent a lot of time looking at the selection of perfumes in those plastic packages. I thought about how I had written about almost all of them over the three years of doing Discount Diamonds. That time was well-spent because there was one which I haven’t written about and it is sort of the epitome of what this column is all about: Zino Davidoff.
In 1988 the Davidoff brand ensured its place in the perfume hierarchy with the release of Cool Water. Two years earlier Zino Davidoff was released and it is the polar opposite of Cool Water. Named after the man who steered the Davidoff tobacco enterprise from 1912 until his death in 1994. It isn’t clear why in 1980 they entered the luxury goods market from their position as tobacco purveyors. Fragrance was one of the earliest parts of that expansion.
Zino Davidoff was the second fragrance release between the now-discontinued Davidoff and Cool Water. I knew about the perfume before I knew about the man behind the name. What I find interesting is a brand which was founded in tobacco has never released a tobacco perfume. Zino Davidoff is a powerhouse Oriental. The perfume was composed by a trio of perfumers; Jean-Francois Latty, Michel Almairac, and Pierre Bourdon. It was kept simple but each phase is excellently done.
Zino Davidoff opens with a particularly prominent bergamot opposite lavender. This is a classic top accord and the lavender matches the bergamot precisely. The heart is rose made a shade greener by geranium followed by patchouli. Again, patchouli and rose is not an unheard-of combination but it is executed professionally here. It all comes to an end with sandalwood, amber, and musk.
Zino Davidoff has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Zino Davidoff is collection of accords you’ve smelled previously. What sets it apart is the perfumers mange to put them together in a way which makes it feel classically new. Even now thirty years on it doesn’t smell dated. You can find it as a mini for $5 which is a great deal. A full bottle is easily found for around $20. This is a fragrance which glitters as bright as any of the previous Discount Diamonds.
Disclosure: this review was based on a bottle I purchased.
Music in the 1980’s, especially as applied to the so-called hair bands, was an assemblage of how many powerful guitar chords you could link together. Those power chords were known more for their volume and the way they were played with gusto by the various guitarists. Perfume in the 1980’s especially men’s perfume was also reliant on power chords too. Amped up fougeres or colognes dominated sales on the masculine fragrance counter. A change was coming as the decade came to an end as Cool Water would soon drown out the powerful perfumes underneath its clean wave. I always find it interesting that one of the last-gasp powerhouses was done by the same perfumer who did Cool Water, Pierre Bourdon. Maybe he realized what he had set in motion and wanted one more time to go out with a flurry of lustily played power. It is certainly what he did with Joop! Homme.
At the time of release of Joop! Homme the brand was known as a contemporary clothing brand. They introduced Americans to the fragrances as they had their first runway show at New York Fashion Week. The fashion was very late 1980’s-early 1990’s and has been forgotten. The fragrances have become the primary association with the brand. Early in the 2000’s Coty would slice the fragrance portion away and acquire it.
Back in 1989 Joop! was looking for a partner to their first fragrance Joop! Femme. M. Bourdon would make a masculine elaboration of the jasmine, orange blossom, sandalwood, and vanilla Michel Almairac used in Joop! Femme. M. Bourdon was not looking for subtlety or clean lines he was ready to take center stage and amplify those notes.
Joop! Homme opens with that vigorous down stroke as M. Bourdon hits a power chord of jasmine, orange blossom, cinnamon, and bergamot. Which is rapidly matched as he returns the down with an upward movement of sandalwood, vetiver, tobacco, and vanilla. Together this is a loud spiced woody accord. Only much later does it soften a bit as some honey and tobacco add a bit of golden glow. Very late on there is an appearance of the clean musks; maybe it is M. Bourdon’s way of sending out a warning that this style of fragrance’s influence is about to wane.
Joop! Homme has 24 hour longevity. It also has atomic sillage. no more than two sprays or you will be playing your fragrant boom box for everyone around you.
Joop! Homme can be found at most perfume discounters for less than $20 for 4.2oz. It is so predominantly synthetic that it hasn’t been reformulated significantly
Just like I get in the mood for a little Twisted Sister or Poison Joop! Homme also satisfies that need to say the heck with subtle smelling perfume, “We’re not gonna take it anymore!”
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
When I speak with Michael Edwards on the beginning of niche perfumery he can accurately names L’Artisan Parfumeur in 1978 and Annick Goutal in 1980 as the first niche lines. When I think of when niche perfumery really managed to breakthrough I go back to 2000 when Frederic Malle released the first nine perfumes in his Editions de Parfums brand. These were the first perfumes to feature the name of the perfumer on the bottle. It really was the beginning of my starting to take a stronger interest in the people behind the perfume. Over the last fourteen years and 21 total releases I can say that this is one of the strongest collections of fragrances on the market. There is not a mediocre one in the whole group. A particular style might not be to your taste but the quality and creativity is always prominently displayed. This is one of the best places for anyone interested in niche perfume to start and here are the five I would suggest you begin with.
There are a plethora of citrus colognes but Jean-Claude Ellena’s Bigarade Concentree is one that stands way above the fray. There is fantastic bitter orange (bigarade) surrounded by the most gentle aldehydes. The heart is rose, cardamom, and a bit of textural pepper to coax the spiciness from the rose. It finishes with a golden hay note over cedar. This fragrance re-invigorated my interest in citrus fragrances all by itself.
Lys Mediterranee by Edouard Flechier is one of the most luminous perfumes I own. M. Flechier weaves three sources of lily raw materials to render a larger-than-life composite as the core of this fragrance. He adds orange blossom, angelica, and musk as the perfect complements to the uber-lily. If you want lily in your fragrance here is one of the best.
Musc Ravageur by Maurice Roucel has a bit of a rakish reputation as a lady-killer if you believe the stories told on the perfume forums. That has died down over time and now what remains is a fantastic ambery musk by one of the great perfumers working. Starting with a flare of tangerine and lavender which are spiced up wiith clove and cinnamon we reach the base notes which form the ambery musky accord. I was well married by the time I found this but it is one of the few fragrances I wear which generates unsolicited compliments, so maybe its reputation is deserved.
For so many years the baseline tuberose perfume was Robert Piguet’s Fracas and nothing came close until Dominique Ropion’s Carnal Flower. M. Ropion chooses an eclectic company of complementary and contrasting notes for the tuberose. He uses eucalyptus to accentuate the mentholated quality a the heart of the flower. He adds coconut to provide an oily sweet contrast. A few other white flowers join in to create the other great tuberose fragrance.
Pierre Bourdon showed that he was more than the perfumer who created Cool Water when he made French Lover (aka Bois D’Orage). When I smelled this when it was released in 2007 it felt like a more sophisticated version of my old staple Calvin Klein Obsession for Men. It doesn’t smell anything like it but it was the one fragrance I continually chose over it once it was in my perfume cabinet. M. Bourdon uses the rich spiciness of pimento to lead into a finely balanced heart of iris and galbanum. It is a greener floral because of the presence of the galbanum and it keeps the iris from getting powdery. A musk and vetiver base finish this off. If I was still prowling the night looking for a connection French Lover would be one of my choices.
As I mentioned above the entire Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle line is consistently excellent. So start here but do yourself a favor and keep on going through the whole line it is a magical ride.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
The aquatic class of fragrance has been so overexposed it has become a caricature of itself. When a man asks for something “fresh and clean” at a department store counter today he is likely to be sprayed with an aquatic fragrance. By the late 1980’s it was time for a change from the hairy chested powerhouses which dominated men’s fragrance and the perfume which would change things for over twenty-five years, and counting now, was released. That scent was Davidoff Cool Water by perfumer Pierre Bourdon.
Back in the late 1980’s at the nightclub the fragrance of choice for most men was either Calvin Klein Obsession for Men, Drakkar Noir, or Ralph Lauren Polo. All of these are great fragrances and hold their own place within perfume’s timeline. None of those would be defined as fresh or clean. It is why when Davidoff allowed Pierre Bourdon to try and capture the smell of cool water it was a huge risk. It turned out the timing was just right as Cool Water became a gigantic success. That success caught most perfume companies flat footed and it was almost a year before Cool Water began to see any competition. In the overcrowded field of fragrance that fresh and clean aquatic perfume occupies it is surprising to me how much this original template has been used. Even more amusing is that there are few aquatics which can stand up to the original and every time I wear it I am reminded of what a game-changer this was. Now it can be found for less than $25 in many places.
Cool Water has one of my favorite openings of any fragrance I own. The first fifteen minutes is pure bliss for me as M. Bourdon takes a bracing lavender and twists it with coriander, rosemary, orange blossom, and peppermint. That inclusion of the last note has an effect of making the rest of it feel like an icy cold splash of water hitting you right between the eyes. It has a vibrational energy I just feel every time I spray it on. The heart notes are a variation on this, as green floral is again called for, but it is achieved differently as jasmine and oakmoss are the flower and the green. A bit of geranium bridges the floral and the green and sandalwood is made sweeter for the jasmine being present. If the top was fresh the heart is where clean comes into play and it has a less flamboyant way of making its point. The base notes are amber and musk and M. Bourdon keeps them very light in keeping with what has led to them. The first few time I wore Cool Water I kept expecting these notes to get more intense but M. Bourdon was once again creating the new trend.
Cool Water has 8-10 hour longevity on me and above average sillage.
Of every perfume I wear Cool Water is the leader for eliciting unsolicited compliments. I have had both genders and all ages hand out the coveted “You smell good!” to me when I am wearing this. It is a true classic which has stood the test of time and was inducted into The Fragrance Foundation Hall of Fame in 2009. I could rue the scads of imitators it has spawned but I wouldn’t want to have a perfume collection which didn’t include Cool Water in it. As we approach the summer months here in the Northern Hemisphere it is Cool Water’s season to shine in. You can be sure it will be brightening up more than a few of my summer days. For $25 you not only get a Discount Diamond you also get one of the true masterpieces of perfume.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.