New Perfume Review Christian Louboutin Trouble in Heaven- A Single Spark

When an iconic designer attempts the jump to fragrance I think it looks easier than it is. When you see the name of a designer you admire on a bottle of perfume you should expect some of the creativity of that designer to find its way into the bottle. What becomes consistently frustrating is even when these designers work with some of the best perfumers they end up playing it safe. This year has seen several these projects come to fruition only to leave me wondering where the creativity went. The latest come from Christian Louboutin.

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Christian Louboutin

M. Louboutin is one of the premiere shoe designers in the world. He is one of a few who transformed the women’s shoe industry into an ultra-luxury enterprise. The brilliant piece of branding he achieved was all of his shoes have a signature red lacquered sole. When you see that you know she’s wearing a “Loubie”. The shoes are exquisite objects of beautiful design.

Now 25-years after opening his store in Paris he is expanding into fragrance. He employed two excellent perfumers to compose his debut collection of three perfumes. Olivier Cresp did one, Tornade Blonde. Pierre Negrin was responsible for the remaining two; Bikini Questa Sera and Trouble in Heaven. Two of the three play it extremely safe. Bikini Questa Sera is a big jasmine and tuberose over sandalwood and vetiver. Tornade Blonde is a slightly different floral riff as a bit of fruit leads in to gardenia, rose, and jasmine before going to a typical cedar and patchouli base. These are nice scents but they lack any flair or innovation. I have to admit as I tried the last one I was expecting more of the same utilitarian perfumery. Thankfully M. Negrin and M. Louboutin were willing to go for something different in Trouble in Heaven.

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Pierre Negrin

If there is an overriding design aesthetic to M. Louboutin it is his delight in taking the stiletto and embellishing it with unusual things. Trouble in Heaven takes a floriental construct and pierces it with an ozonic aquatic synthetic as embellishment.

That ozonic note, Cascalone is where Trouble in Heaven begins. Cascalone is a relative to Calone; very close in chemical structure. The difference is Cascalone removes the slightly low tide character of Calone. What remains is a chilly mist of sea spray expansive and briny. When I smelled the opening I expected the typical aquatic progression. Instead an earthy orris replaces the sea shore with the dual nature of powdery and rhizome. This orris is quite powdery and it flows nicely out of the Cascalone. Rose comes along to transform the heart into a fully floral accord. The base is a typical amber, patchouli, and tonka Oriental accord.

Trouble in Heaven has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This was a collection I was hoping would fire on all creative cylinders. At least in the case of Trouble in Heaven M. Louboutin and M. Negrin found the beginning of a spark which I am hopeful will translate to even better future releases.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Christian Louboutin Beaute.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Amouage Opus X- Rose Vibrato

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Spring is the time of year for roses. Happy blooming red flowers to signal winter is gone. Perfume follows this same trend. The parade of rose fragrances increases in the first part of the year. They also exhibit a sense of light-heartedness. There comes a point where one more pleasantly composed rose brings out my inner curmudgeon. I want to yell at my desk full of samples for these kids to get out of my sight. I was feeling extra salty about all of this when I received my sample of the new Amouage Opus X. I looked at the set of notes and saw rose. I sprayed some on a strip and the antidote to all my irritation was washed away in a deeply moving dark rose perfume.

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Christopher Chong

Christopher Chong the creative director at Amouage took the 1998 movie “The Red Violin” as his inspiration. The movie is the story of a red violin which is created in 1681 by a master violin maker. The red color comes from him mixing the blood of his wife, who dies in childbirth along with his child, in with the varnish. The movie then focuses on the violin as it shows up in 1793 Vienna, 1898 Oxford, 1968 Shanghai, and eventually present day Montreal. At each stop the violin plays a pivotal part as foretold by a tarot card reading at its creation. The Red Violin is a sweeping ambitious piece of storytelling and so is Opus X.

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Pierre Negrin

For Opus X Mr. Chong collaborated with perfumers Pierre Negrin and Annick Menardo. Their concept was to create an olfactory red violin. There would be four distinct strings of rose and rose accords. A “red varnish” accord followed by the wood which makes up the body. The creative team really worked out how to create the different rose accords. As I wore it I was reminded of the fingering technique used when playing a violin called vibrato. A musician by using their fingertip to rapidly lengthen and release the string provides a vibrating effect which allows a single note to resonate as if it was two different notes milliseconds apart. In the best violin players’ hands it is used to stunning effect. In the hands of this creative team for Opus X there is a real sense of vibrato among the different rose “strings”.

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Annick Menardo

Opus X opens with those rose strings right away. Rose de Mai represents one of the strings. This classic rose of Provence provides the beauty. The rosebud accord imparts a delicacy. The “bloody rose accord” is the deeply rooted rose. Rose oxide provides a metallic rose which also represents the blood in the varnish. In the early moments it is just a straight bow across all of these notes as the rose ebbs and flows as the perfumers add vibrato and they begin to meld together. The next phase is going to be the challenging part for some to get through as the varnish accord is leavened a bit by geranium. This is a very heady varnish accord and it takes its place underneath the continued vibrating strings of roses. I was completely taken in by the imagery and the early notes that the varnish just kept the story evolving for me. If it becomes too prominent on some I can see it jarring you out of the mood. For me I found it fascinatingly different. The wood of the violin is made up of Laotian oud and the warm ambergris quality of the synthetic aromachemical Ambrarome. It adds in an exotic otherworldly aspect to the base accord which feels like the right place to end Opus X.

Opus X has 14-16 hour longevity and way above average sillage. This is one where you want to apply very conservatively.

I needed a rose fragrance which wasn’t willing to pander to the season. Opus X’s arrival gave me one. This is nothing like any of the other roses in the Amouage collection. It is as good as anything Amouage has produced.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Chantecaille Kalimantan- Desiccated Patchouli

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Great perfumes can be found in some surprising places. If there is one thing I want from this series is to help point out where some of these hidden beauties are to be found. This month’s entry is found at the luxury cosmetics counter of Chantecaille and is called Kalimantan.

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Chantecaille was founded by Sylvie Chantecaille in 1997 after she left Estee Lauder where she was responsible for the Prescriptives line of cosmetics there. As part of creating a complete beauty brand fragrance was included right from the start. Frangipane, Tiare, and Wisteria comprised the original collection. Over these early years the cosmetics caught on much more easily than the fragrances did. Mme Chantacaille was not ready to give up and in 1999 Darby Rose was released followed by 2004’s Le Jasmin. I only recently tried a sample of Le Jasmin, which is discontinued. Perfumer Frank Voelkl made an incredibly deep jasmine perfume which is beautiful for the materials he used in designing it. As you can tell Mme Chantecaille was not ready to give up on the perfume side of her brand. In 2010 she collaborated with perfumer Pierre Negrin on three more perfumes; Petales, Vetyver, and Kalimantan. All three are quite good but Kalimantan stands out among the three.

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Sylvie Chantecaille

Kalimantan is the Indonesian word for Borneo. It seems like any perfume which refers to Borneo must be a patchouli centered creation. Kalimantan lives up to this. M. Negrin designs a dry patchouli infused with incense and oud. It is powerful perfumery.

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Pierre Negrin

M. Negrin opens Kalimantan up with an herbal pair of rosemary and thyme. This very quickly picks up the central note of Indonesian patchouli. With the herbal notes in play that nature of the patchouli is what first comes up. Then as incense and labdanum provide resinous complement the patchouli morphs into something much more austere. It desiccates it. Only to have the oud splinter it into skanky fragments. This is one of the better uses of full throttle oud in a fragrance. It acts as a bit of a battering ram, in a good way; as it unsettles things. A woody foundation of cedar and sandalwood bring it all back together for the final stages.

Kalimantan has 20-24 hour longevity and way above average sillage.

Kalimantan is nothing like any of the other seven perfumes which carried the Chantecaille name. It is why it is so unheralded. If you have a Chantecaille cosmetics counter in a department store near you go and ask for this hidden gem.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Jo Malone Orris & Sandalwood- Just the Basics

There is perhaps no perfume brand which has thrived by keeping it simple more than Jo Malone. The names themselves tend to advertise the ingredients front and center. The Cologne Intense Collection within the brand has taken that concept a step further. The Cologne Intense releases tend to be comprised of more precious raw materials. The newest Cologne Intense, Orris & Sandalwood, is perhaps the best example of what this line within the line can achieve.

The Cologne Intense Collection has asked the perfumer chosen to take those notes on the label and present them in a pure almost unaltered way. This collection has been so successful because even though the perfumers adhere to that the choice of the minimal complementary notes can change the perception you might have based on the names. For Orris & Sandalwood perfumer Pierre Negrin made a couple of interesting choices when it came to orris and sandalwood. Orris is most known for being powdery but I like it best when the rootiness of the rhizome is allowed to be more prominent. With sandalwood there has always been this mania for having a Mysore-like sandalwood. I’ve actually come to enjoy the sustainably farmed versions which have become more common over the past few years. The source of the sandalwood used here isn’t named but I am guessing it is one of these newer versions because it has the austere slightly sweet woodiness I associate with those sources. By making the right choice of notes to partner the orris and sandalwood M. Negrin achieves something different from what you might be expecting.

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Pierre Negrin

When I read orris on the label I expect that to be the first thing I smell. M. Negrin thinks differently and violet is what first appears in Orris & Sandalwood. I think that choice is made so the violet can get ahead of the orris making sure it attenuates the powdery qualities. It is definitely the right choice because the orris when it does arrive is rich, opulent and definitely not powdery. The sandalwood if left alone could have provided a woody framing of the rooty orris. M. Negrin didn’t just want the sandalwood to be the delineating ingredient he wanted to warm things up. To achieve that effect a healthy dose of amber transforms the sandalwood into something much suppler. It is a really neat trick which comes together with the orris and violet to provide a fantastic synergy of iris roots drying in the sunshine.

Orris & Sandalwood has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Orris & Sandalwood is so rich that while wearing it I had to keep reminding myself this was a Jo Malone release. It carries the simplicity of the brand aesthetic with the luxury of the ingredients being allowed to shine in unique ways. If you are a fan of orris and/or sandalwood Orris & Sandalwood is a simple tale told well.

Dsiclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Jo Malone.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Amouage Sunshine Man- Sparkling Corona

One of my favorite new perfume releases of 2014 was Amouage Sunshine Woman. I admired it so much because it was sunshine as only Amouage and Creative Director Christopher Chong could imagine it. Mr. Chong has made it one of the hallmarks of his tenure to have his perfumers find ways of expressing ideas in fascinating ways. I recently received my sample of the masculine counterpart to Sunshine Woman called Sunshine Man.

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Christopher Chong

For Sunshine Man Mr. Chong chose to work with perfumers Fabrice Pellegrin and Pierre Negrin. M. Negrin is becoming a consistent participant as he has participated in the composition of every Amouage perfume since 2013 except Sunshine Woman. As with those previous works he is part of a team to realize Mr. Chong’s vision.

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Fabrice Pellegrin

That vision for Sunshine Man was to try and evoke an eclipse as darkness and brightness come together. That is a familiar trope for perfume composition. I was not surprised to see Mr. Chong push for the same kind of surprising brightness out of notes you don’t normally think of as bright. This was the same process used to create Sunshine Woman. The biggest difference is each phase of development does have a point of light to be eclipsed by a couple of other traditionally darker notes. It makes for an experience where the light and the dark are constantly exchanging places on my skin.

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Pierre Negrin

The perfumers use lavender as the point of light in the opening of Sunshine Man. What comes next is citrus but in an unusual way as an orange brandy accord provides the first part of the shadow. This is a rich boozy citrus accord and it sort of invites the lavender in for a drink, too. The real eclipse of the top notes happens as immortelle slides across the face of the other two notes. I love immortelle for its rich maple syrup-like quality. The perfumers here also remind me that it is a bright yellow floral and beyond the sweeter depth there is a bit of sunny floralcy. By having gone from light to dark the immortelle unexpectedly provides the beginning of the light again. In the heart bergamot provides the sunlight. It actually breaks through the top notes like a sunbeam. Then almost as rapidly clary sage and juniper berry cloak it in a green herbal and astringent fruit shade. The movement of bergamot into the heart from its more traditional place right on top makes for a feeling of an introverted pyramid. I think the perfumers were working for that sunbeam effect and the bergamot provided it. In the base the clean lines of cedar are where the light is found. Vanilla and tonka provide the sweet darkness.

Sunshine Man has 18-24 hour longevity and above average sillage.

If you’ve ever witnessed a real solar eclipse, or seen a picture, there is that moment when the moon completely covers the sun itself but surrounding the moon is a brilliant ring of light called a corona. As I wore Sunshine Man there were many times I felt that it was the perfumed equivalent of that darkness surrounded by brilliance. Sunshine Man is a worthy partner to last year’s release it shines just as brightly but differently.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Amouage Opus IX- The Ragged Edge of Control

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In music there is an elemental debate whether complete control and technical mastery is more important than a performance containing flaws but having more emotion. In jazz the mastery portion is represented by Wynton Marsalis and the emotion is exemplified by the late Dizzy Gillespie. One of my most treasured musical moments was seeing Wynton and Dizzy play at the Saratoga Jazz Festival together on Dizzy’s “A Night in Tunisia”. This was the two extremes brought into stark contrast as the technician and the emotive traded runs before coming together triumphantly. What I walked away from that night with was true emotion has to live on a ragged edge of control, unafraid to fall off. A recent perfume and its inspiration returned my thoughts to that as it pertains to perfume.

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Maria Callas as Violetta in "La Traviata" (1958)

Creative Director Christopher Chong of Amouage is a man of many passions but one of his most long-lived ones is that of opera. For the latest release in the Library Collection, Opus IX, he drew on that. Opus IX is inspired by one of the great opera singers of all-time, Maria Callas. Mme Callas was a top coloratura soprano in the first part of the Twentieth Century. She was more Dizzy than Wynton. Her performances were so imbued with visible emotions it would cause a fraying of some of the notes as she would reach for them. Derided by the traditionalists she was loved by audiences because of that primal connection which was made. Mr. Chong has chosen a specific performance by Mme Callas of La Traviata in Lisbon during 1958 to inspire Opus IX. The perfume is composed by Nathalie Lorson and Pierre Negrin. I use the word composed a lot when referring to a perfume but in the case of Opus IX this does feel like something which has three very distinctive phases, or acts, as the press material maintain.

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Christopher Chong

La Traviata is the opera composed by Giuseppe Verdi which tells the story of Violetta, the titular "fallen woman”. When we meet her in Act 1 she is one of the most famed courtesans in Paris. She throws a regular salon where the brightest lights of society attend. During the one depicted in La Traviata it is her first back after an illness. It is a room full of beautiful people harboring deep emotions. There is a duet between the young Alfredo and Violetta as he can for the first time try and show her the depth of his devotion. This song is called in English “Let’s drink from the joyful chalices”. The First Act of Opus IX feels very much like this duet to me. As Violetta represented by camellia is met on even terms by black pepper representing Alfredo. The camellia is also bolstered by jasmine to make it an incredibly heady floral. The perfumers have to use an equally intense amount of black pepper to find contrast. It is right up to the edge of being too much. Like Alfredo it runs the risk of taking its emotions too far. The perfumers are sure in their precision and it all stays brightly balanced like an operatic duet.nathalie lorson

 

Nathalie Lorson

Act 2 of the opera opens with Violetta and Alfredo happy living in the country outside of Paris. When Alfredo finds out Violetta is selling off her possessions to fund their country idyll. Events of the kind of missed communications rampant in most tragedies cause our lovers to end up at a party in Paris where their relationship is put to the figurative sword because of familial and societal pressures. It ends with Alfredo angrily throwing money at her feet in payment for her services. The early moments of idyll are shattered with naked emotions. The Second Act of Opus IX is a beautiful cacophony of notes delivered with all the messiness real emotions evoke. The perfumers employ gaiac wood, beeswax, and leather. These notes never seem to find a place to mesh appropriately. This kind of dynamism is going to be tough for some to take. It is very similar to the miscommunication of our protagonists. The smoke of the gaiac battles with a rich beeswax over a refined leather accord. The beeswax is the disruptor keeping apart the more easily paired gaiac and leather. It is the beeswax which maintains the separation.

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Pierre Negrin

In Act 3 of the opera Violetta is dying and Alfredo has been given the missing information he needs to understand all of her actions were because of her love for him. He rushes to her deathbed and arrives before it is too late. They sing another duet mourning the death of Violetta so young. For a moment it seems as if love, and song, has saved the day, only for Violetta to abruptly pass away. The Third Act of Opus IX has dispensed with the discord of the Second Act and now looks for new found harmony. The perfumers use ambergris and civet to represent our lovers at the end. The civet is full of deep animalic emotion and it overwhelms the leather and beeswax of the heart to bring the deeper aspects of the base into something more harmonious. The ambergris provides a fragile partner sometimes reviving only to falter under the civet. It is a deeply emotional place to finish our olfactory opera.

Opus IX has 14-16 hour longevity and way above average sillage.

If you can bring yourself to get lost in the emotion on display in Opus IX you will have a unique perfume experience. There are very few fragrances on the market that would dare this. It is not going to be universally loved, for this open sentimentality is not for everyone. As one who loves living on the ragged edge of emotion I can add Mr. Chong to Dizzy and Mme Callas as artists unafraid to fall only so that they can soar.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Elisire Elixir Absolu, Eau Papaguena, and Ambre Nomade

I am so happy to see a new perfume brand which manages to limit their first releases to only five, I realize how much things have changed. The latest collection of only five came from a brand called Elisire. The founder Franck Salzwedel spent a large part of his childhood in Asia before attending fashion school in France. He would go on from there to work on helping fashion designers navigate the world of fragrance. He would jump to New York where his career in the visual arts as a painter would take off. Like many who share the experience of painting and fragrance together M. Salzwedel sees fragrances as colors. The desire to capture that vision in a perfume led to the founding of Elisire. All five of the first collection are worthy of mention and I will do short reviews of all five over the next two days.

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Pierre Negrin

One of the perfumers M. Salzwedel chose to work with was Pierre Negrin who did two of the five fragrances. The prevailing color for one of them, Eau Papaguena, is undoubtedly green. M. Negrin opens on an herbal version of the color as tarragon and basil provide the pungent start. A well-balanced use of spearmint adds a bit of lift to the herbs. It leads to a really delicate orange blossom heart which shades the green a couple hues lighter. The colors deepen in the base with vetiver, cypress, and incense heading for the center of the color wheel. I really like the shift from transparent to something which has a bit more presence by the end. If you like green fragrances this should be on your test list.

The other one by M. Negrin shares a kinship to the other but Ambre Nomade is like a glowing ember of pulsing orange. This also starts with an herbal duet of rosemary and sage but they are joined by a crisp apple, an energetic ginger, and a green lavender. This forms that glowing warmth which is banked a bit by some ylang-ylang in the heart which provides a bit of yellow shading. The base truly pulses with contained energy as M. Negrin combines patchouli, olibanum, vanilla, and musks to form the glowing ember. There are so many perfumes with amber in the base which are too timid. Amber Nomade is a bold exploration of amber as good as any I’ve tried recently.

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Ilias Erminidis

Perfumer Ilias Erminidis has done some tremendous work on the mass-market fragrances he has contributed to. M. Salzwedel gives him the chance to work towards a more niche aesthetic. As a result M. Erminidis takes the opportunity to create an olfactory mosaic of some of the best florals in perfumery in Elixir Absolu. It all starts with a fairly usual citrusy bergamot opening. What comes next is less common as he layers floral after floral to create a heart which always seems in motion as another floral arrives. Freesia starts it, then orange blossom, tiare, magnolia, ylang ylang, jasmine, and rose. These florals form a cohesive accord that is beautifully constructed. From this fantasia M. Erminidis goes for vanilla and sandalwood forming a comforting base note. It is the collage of florals in the heart which makes this one memorable.

I’ll conclude tomorrow with the two perfumes composed by Alberto Morillas.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Osswald NYC.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Elizabeth and James Nirvana White and Nirvana Black- The Olsens Get it Right

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There are times I am just too stubborn. If there is anything which makes me dig my fragrant heels in it is celebrity perfume or as they are called, celebuscents. Too often they are quick creations heavily influenced by focus groups who are asked inane questions like, “Which one of these do you think smells like the name on the bottle?” This is not to say celebuscents are completely devoid of quality just 99% of them. You might glean from this why when I receive a new celebuscent it very quickly gets buried. I think when Elizabeth and James Nirvana White and Nirvana Black appeared in the spring I should have given them more than a cursory sniff. While cleaning up the pile of perfumes I came across my samples again. I guess I was in a more receptive mood and this time they connected.

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Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen

The template for a successful celebuscent was laid out by actress Sarah Jessica Parker, in 2005, as she collaborated closely with the perfumers behind her fist perfume for Coty, Lovely. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen did the same with perfumer Pierre Negrin. It took over two years for them to arrive at a final version which would become Nirvana Black. I would guess that process was a learning experience; because as they were putting the finishing touches on Nirvana Black they decided they wanted a second fragrance to go with it. This time the collaboration with perfumer Honorine Blanc went much quicker and Nirvana Black and Nirvana White were released in January of 2014.

What I like about both of these perfumes is that they are very simple and that simplicity captures the goth boho chic design aesthetic of the Elizabeth and James clothing and accessories. The three note structure of both makes it difficult; for the perfumer needs to make sure those three notes harmonize well together and in this case M. Negrin and Mme Blanc did a tremendous job.

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Nirvana White is the more boho of the two as it works with two fresh florals before ending on a beautiful soft musk. The top floral is peony and the peony source Mme Blanc employs is that spring garden fresh floral version. It is uplifting until the other floral, muguet, adds a significant green aspect. Together this is an elementary vernal floral accord. What is not elementary is the cocktail of musks Mme Blanc uses in the base. With white in the name you might expect the laundry-fresh musks but Mme Blanc decides to create an accord that runs the spectrum of synthetic musks. At the end this musk accord has a soft authenticity to it that feels like a bit of an illusion.

Nirvana Black is that boho girl heading out to her favorite Goth club in the evening. M. Negrin also uses primarily three notes for his fragrance but I can see why they took so long to find the right balance. The top note is violet and there are a variety of violets they could have chosen. The one which makes it into the bottle is a rich slightly candied version. It segues smoothly into a sandalwood heart and the synergy they hit is perfect as the candied facets are bolstered by the sweeter nature of sandalwood. Nirvana Black comes to an end with an austere less sweet vanilla.

Nirvana White and Nirvana Black have 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are to be commended for taking their time and being uncompromising in getting what they wanted. That dedication shows and it is why Nirvana White and Nirvana Black stand out from the rest of the celebuscent pack.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Elizabeth and James.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Avon Calling!

My first exposure to Avon was our local Avon Lady who visited our house regularly. There were commercials with the tag line “Avon Calling!” Many of those companies which sold door-to-door in the 1960’s and 1970’s were made obsolete by the internet. Avon has not only adapted they have thrived with $10 biliion in sales in 2013. They have managed to navigate the shifting fortunes and stake out a place for themselves. As I went through the box of fragrance supplied by my friend who is a current Avon Lady I was impressed with the consistency of the collection as a whole. Current Creative Director Isabel Lopes and her predecessors all understand how to make an appealing fragrance for their customers at a more than appealing price, around $20. The epitome of Discount Diamonds. Here are five more I think are worth giving a try.

Haiku Kyoto Flower by perfumer Pierre Negrin is the latest flanker to 2001’s Haiku, whose gauzy lilting green was also good. The newest member of the Haiku family is a little more outgoing. M. Negrin uses sharp violet made greener with blackcurrant. This is very much a recognizable opening from many niche perfumes but made more palatable by keeping it very light. The heart is peony and orange blossom, pretty and more pronounced then the top notes. It ends on sandalwood and a favorite in many of the feminine marketed Avon fragrances a cocktail of the cotton linen musks. This is very lovely green floral perfume.

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Avon Femme is by perfumer Harry Fremont. M. Fremont is one of the best mainstream perfumers working currently. He definitely knows how to interpret a brand’s character and capture it in a fragrance. Avon Femme is a crisp fruity musk perfume. It starts with the snappy pairing of grapefruit and pear matched with a bit of very clean jasmine. There will be no indoles here this is fresh and pretty. Magnolia is the floral keynote supported with a bit of peach. It ends with the sheer musk cocktail I mentioned above. For those who want a skank-free jasmine fruity floral Avon Femme is a good choice.

Avon does make fragrances for men and Avon Exploration by perfumer Laurent Le Guernec is a good example. As I mentioned yesterday the men’s fragrances hew to an aesthetic of bracing and woody, Avon Exploration does that. M. Le Guernec does choose to make Avon Exploration very bracing as he fashions an olfactory slap of cardamom, sage, and rosemary. This is a very concentrated opening and it is typical of the masculine Avon fragrances. It does settle down into a sandalwood, vetiver, and non-sheer musk which is less challenging. If you are a fan of powerhouse men’s fragrances Avon Exploration is a modern version.

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Far Away Gold by Calice Becker is a special warm floral. Mme Becker knows how to build a soft warm vanilla and sandalwood base even with the more cost-efficient materials and it is that where Far Away Gold ends. Prior to that osmanthus and peach lead to a jasmine and ylang-ylang heart. A wonderful comfort scent.

Avon does have their celebuscents and one of the more interesting collaborators is musician Bon Jovi. Part of the Bon Jovi collection is Unplugged for Her by perfumer Annie Buzantian. This was the most subtle fragrance of all of the ones I tried. It was very surprising since a rock star is associated with it, although it is unplugged. Mme Buzantian uses a very opaque application of ivy and plum to give a sheer green fruity opening. Rose carries the heart but this is a synthetic rose which carries the fresh floralcy and little of the spiciness or powdery facets. It keeps it on the light side for making that choice. A cocktail of soft woods and even softer white musks close this. Very easy to wear and a perfect office scent for those who work in close quarters and still want to wear perfume.

Now let me reiterate what I stated yesterday, perfume for $20 is not chock full of essential oils. There might be a pinch here and there but this is all synthetic versions of the notes I mentioned. As you can see there are very talented perfumers working for Avon and I think they do a tremendous job at making the most of a limited budget. Enough so that if you need an economical perfume fix contact your local Avon Lady…..Avon Calling!

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Avon.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Amouage Journey Woman and Journey Man- The First Steps of the Second Cycle

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My admiration for Christopher Chong has been writ large across numerous reviews of the Amouage fragrances he is the Creative Director for. His vision has made Amouage into one of the great perfume houses of this century. I believe this collection he is responsible for creating has only peers, and damn few of them. Throughout my time corresponding with Mr. Chong and the influences which motivate him I have come to “know” him, though we have never actually met. With last year’s release of Fate Woman and Fate Man “the first cycle of the Amouage narrative” came to an end. Now with the release of Journey Woman and Journey Man we begin the second cycle which will delve into Mr. Chong’s life and is subtitled ‘Portraits of a Life’.

CHRISTOPHER_CHONG

Christopher Chong

Mr. Chong was inspired by Shanghai Deco and Chinese film noir. The common thread to both of these is a weaving of distinctly western elements into an eastern undertaking. During the 1920’s and 30’s there were many striking examples of art deco buildings erected in Shanghai. When I look at this purely western form of architecture it is striking to me how well it meshes with its eastern surroundings. There seems to be no disconnection. The same can be said of Chinese cinema over the last 100 years as it has evolved by adding its own flair to traditional movie tropes and then, interestingly to me, these new interpretations find their way back into Hollywood releases. This is the theme of Journey Woman and Man the meshing of distinct western influences like noir and deco with a Chinese aesthetic to create something wholly unique. The perfumers Mr. Chong chose to help him bring this to life are Alberto Morillas and Pierre Negrin.

Shanghai_Park_Hotel_2007

Shanghai Park Hotel

Journey Woman feels very Deco inspired to me as it has jasmine tea, saffron, cypriol, and osmanthus provide the eastern details on the solidity of the western foundation of honey, cedar, and tobacco. When I asked Mr. Chong what it was about Deco that drew him to it he responded, “my reason for loving it is quite simple. I love the form, shape, and the period.” As a result Journey Woman is a fragrance which carries an unusual simplicity for Amouage but the “form” and the “shape” of this perfume is fascinating for those clean architectural lines.

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The Paramount in Shanghai

Journey Woman might have the softest opening of any Amouage fragrance to date, based on the opening moments I would bet many would not suspect it was an Amouage fragrance. The top notes of jasmine tea, nutmeg, apricot, and osmanthus provide luxuriance without heft. It lilts and draws you in with the intersection of so many beautiful notes precisely positioned. Honey and jasmine provides a bit more volume as Journey Woman begins to arise from the early delicacy and now begins to take more shape. The honey in particular provides a matrix for the osmanthus to blossom upon and the jasmine tea transforms into jasmine sambac in all of its full indolic glory. Cedar is used to start refining the emerging shape into eventual form. The base notes achieve the melding of west and east as tobacco, saffron, vanilla, and cypriol all flow together into a smooth montage of both sets of influences.

I suspect many are going to be surprised at this light Amouage perfume. I would encourage you to not try Journey Woman with prior expectations weighing you down. Embrace this new beginning of the second cycle and you will be heartily rewarded.

maggie cheung

Maggie Cheung as actress Ruan Lingyiu in "Centre Stage"

If you need something a little more “Amouage” to help you start the second cycle Journey Man will provide that transition. Journey Man feels very cinematic to me it could even have a logo “composed in Technicolor”. Mr. Chong has been a fan of Chinese movies for his entire life and he wrote to me, “I was brought up with all kinds of Chinese Cinema…for me it means entertainment and family time.” It is an almost universal thing to sit in a movie theatre watching larger than life images and losing yourself in the story unspooling from the projector behind you. Journey Man unspools in larger than life accords of Sichuan pepper, neroli bigarade, juniper berries, along with the tobacco and cypriol we saw in Journey Woman.

bruce lee

Bruce Lee

The use of the Sichuan pepper in the top notes of Journey Man may feel like it is in living color but it is also very Chinese. It is also the smell of home cooking to Mr. Chong I suspect which makes it appropriate to be the opening note. It is stirred in with a very green cardamom and an incredible neroli bigarade. This creates an interplay of shadow and light flickering to life. Shadow wins for a while as juniper berries and incense take over. Geraniol and rose push back against the twilight while a haze of tobacco hovers above it all. Journey Man tells most of its story right here and it is where it lingers on my skin for many hours as the olfactory chiaroscuro continues to evolve throughout the day. The base notes are a fit denouement as tonka, cyrpriol, and ambrox finish things off.

Journey Man is much more typical of what many have come to think of as an Amouage fragrance. I found it very comforting despite the characteristic intensity. I definitely felt this biopic of Mr. Chong’s life come to reality on the olfactory silver screen.

Journey Woman had 12-14 hour longevity and Journey Man 10-12 hour longevity on me. The sillage for both was average.

I am so looking forward to the remainder of the fragrances in this second cycle. As Lao Tzu says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Journey Woman and Journey Man have taken two confident steps into this new journey of Mr Chong’s and Amouage.

Disclosure: This review was based on bottles of Journey Woman and Journey Man provided by Amouage.

Mark Behnke