Colognoisseur 2017 Hopes and Wishes

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As we put 2016 to bed it is time to look forward to 2017. I like to end every year with some things I am anticipating and/or hoping for to happen in the next twelve months.

C'mon Vero, Pretty Please?

A new perfume from Vero Kern. It has almost been three years since the release of Rozy. Vero has teased us a little bit that the next one is going to be a tobacco focused fragrance. I know it will come out when she feels it is ready but my inner five-year old is getting ready to wail if I lead off this piece in twelve months with the same wish.

I would like new brands to put fragrance over marketing. I went back and looked; 2016 was no worse for the number of brand debuts sporting upwards of six perfumes. What did seem to be worse was the pricing for perfumes where the money did not seem to be in the bottle. Please if you’re a brand-new brand focus on the perfume; make it great. Try and only do three or four perfumes. Don’t rush to the market.

Le Labo Counter at Tyson's Corner Mall in Virginia

More Le Labo, more places. There was a lot of worry over Estee Lauder’s acquisition of Le Labo. One of the things I have thought is necessary for niche perfume to really expand is more access. In my local mall, they installed a Le Labo counter in the local Nordstrom’s. When it first opened in April it was busy on every visit but nothing like it was on my Holiday visit. Le Labo is one of the exemplars of what it means to be a niche perfume. Estee Lauder taking it to the mall shows that consumers will gravitate to quality if it is right in front of them. I am hoping that this will be rolled out across the country in places where niche is not readily available.

I want a masterpiece from Perfumers: The Next Generation…all of them. Quentin Bisch, Cristiano Canali, Luca Maffei, Julien Rasquinet, and Cecile Zarokian are this set of next generation perfumers I think of as the next set of rule-breakers. They have all consistently stepped up their game over the last couple of years. I want 2017 to have a release from each of them that makes my choice for Perfume of the Year the most difficult it has ever been. Make it so!

I hope we found the ceiling. For the first time since I’ve been writing about perfume the number of new releases were about the same in 2016 as they were in 2015. I always believed there was a number where the market could not continue to expand beyond. 2017, if it stays about the same, can be the third data point which confirms this.

Can this Spring be about something other than rose? The last two years I have been buried by fresh clean rose perfumes for Spring. I can hope that maybe a new floral can take center stage. Jasmine, perhaps?

On this final day of 2016 I want to wish every single reader the Happiest and Healthiest of New Years. Colognoisseur has grown beyond the goals I set for myself back when I started almost three years ago. For that I must thank everyone who spends a couple minutes here reading my writing. I hope 2017 brings us even more perfumed joy.

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 Etat Libre D’Orange Attaquer Le Soleil Marquis de Sade- The Lash of Cistus

Marquis de Sade is a historical figure who suffers from the titillation aspect of his life having too much influence on his stature. People tend to focus on the sexuality which has been derived from his name. The thing I learned about de Sade when reading his writings is he was a proponent of the freedom to do everything. The term for that was “libertine”. His belief was you become a deeper human being by experiencing as much as you can. This includes facing the things we are not fond of, on an abstract level. If you face what you believe is unpleasant you might find something illuminating within the experiment. Despite the focus on the fetishism M. de Sade’s philosophy is as embraced by extreme sports people who dive off mountains in flight suits as those who explore their sexuality through the dichotomy of pain and pleasure.

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Etienne de Swardt

If I was going to tell you that a perfume brand was going to use M. de Sade as an inspiration I would expect many wouldn’t go too far down their list of possibilities before naming Etat Libre D’Orange. Creative Director Etienne de Swardt is known for his brand using sexuality as part of its image. You might think a perfume based on M. de Sade from Etat Libre D’Orange would be all slap and tickle with a sly wink. Instead one should also be reminded that the brand has the ultimate fragrance which asks a perfume lover to face the unpleasant, Secretions Magnifique, and perhaps find the beauty. I know I have probably spent large amounts of time with this specific fragrance. Through that study I have probably learned as much about perfumery as any other. For this new fragrance called Attaquer Le Soleil (Attack The Sun) M. de Swardt tasked one of the most talented young perfumers working today to take on an ingredient they find unpleasant while using it in a fragrance. Perfumer Quentin Bisch took on this brief by choosing to make a perfume based on cistus.

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Quentin Bisch

Cistus is the main ingredient of that more commonly known raw material labdanum. Labdanum is the resin that forms on the plant. It has a very green resinous quality often compared to a balsamic nature. M. Bisch has never used the material as a focal point because he disliked it. For Attaquer Le Soleil he decided to not just go for the resin. Givaudan has extracted almost every part of the cistus plant and M. Bisch took these different variations combining them into Attaquer Le Soleil.

This makes Attaquer Le Soleil, in essence, a labdanum soliflore which is supported by the rest of the plant. By having the other sources of cistus, leaves, branches, and flower it has the effect of making it more intense while also making it kinetic in scope. Early on it smells more like a pine tree. It warms into a balsamic simmer that eventually becomes leathery in character. It all converges on the more familiar labdanum by the final hours.

Attaquer Le Soleil has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Much like M. Bisch whether you like Attaquer Le Soleil will come down to how much you like labdanum. Labdanum is an ingredient I like which allowed me to just relax and enjoy Attaquer Le Soleil experiencing the pleasure of a resinous soliflore. If you want to embrace your inner libertine while experiencing labdanum and cistus in all of its glory, then allow M. Bisch to lash you with cistus.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Etat Libre D’Orange.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Martin Margiela Replica Soul of the Forest- M. Bisch’s Chypre

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There are so many young talented perfumers working within the industry now it makes it an exciting time for me to be writing about them. One of the more fascinating things to watch is as they begin to interpret classical perfume architectures. The one style which allows a perfumer to break new ground is in designing a modern chypre. Due to restrictions on the traditional materials any perfumer approaches the design of a new chypre thinking about how to design accords which can approximate the proscribed materials. Thus, it gives a perfumer wide latitude to do their thing. Quentin Bisch is one of those young stars I admire. With the release of Martin Margiela Replica Soul of the Forest we see M. Bisch’s version of a chypre.

Chypres are all about the namsake base. That base is composed of oakmoss, patchouli and musk. That accord provides a bitingly woody earthy base to contrast with whatever bright notes were used in the top accord. The only problem is in current times oakmoss is restricted to using the version which has had atranol removed. Musks have also undergone multiple restrictions over the years also requiring a perfumer to find ways to put back what regulators have removed. Or a perfumer can make up their own accord using entirely different materials. That is what M. Bisch has chosen to do with Soul of the Forest.

Quentin Bisch

Quentin Bisch

Soul of the Forest is what would be described as a fruity chypre. M. Bisch uses a mixture of blackcurrant buds and pimento beries. They are unusual choices but they do provide an alternative to the more ubiquitous citrus or berry infused chypre openings. The combination of blackcurrant buds and pimento form a faux-cherry accord which reminds me of ripe cherries on the tree. It is a fleeting accord as M. Bisch wants to get to building his chypre accord. He chucks both the oakmoss and the musks out the window. Instead he retains the patchouli using that as the nucleus to form the base. The complementary notes include balsam, cistus, and atlas cedar. All three of those provide components of the familiar chypre but it is the choice of an intense Somalian frankincense which seals the deal. M. Bisch uses this to bring the bite; helped significantly with the cedar providing a shoulder to lean upon. This comes together in a magnificent resinous rush.

Soul of the Forest has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Soul of the Forest is lighter in nature than the classic chypres. That lightness is one part of what makes it appealing to me but if a chypre must carry a certain kind of intensity it might not measure up for other aficionados of the style. I have spent much of 2016 lost in the imaginative constructs of young perfumers. Soul of the Forest allowed me to see M. Bisch’s chypre.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample from Maison Martin Margiela.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Thierry Mugler Angel Muse- Gourmand 2.0

In 1992 Thierry Mugler Angel invented the gourmand fragrance category. Composed by young perfumer Olivier Cresp it was almost a creation that could only come from a precocious talent still discovering his own boundaries. Since the massive success of Angel the gourmand sector has grown every year. If there is a quarrel I have with it, and it is a small one, there is a tendency for new releases to tilt towards bombastic sweetness. That is probably as much a nod to the concept that they are trying to woo Angel lovers to something similarly as intense as anything else. Now in 2016 we see the original innovator return to the gourmand scene with an equally precocious talent with Thierry Mugler Angel Muse.

That talent is Quentin Bisch who, like M. Cresp was in 1992 at Quest, is in the early days of his career with Givaudan. He is one of that coterie of creatives I think of as Young Guns. Incredibly talented, honing his talents by working in all sectors from bargain to high-end niche. M. Bisch has already created a portfolio of memorable perfumes. With Angel Muse he has perhaps provided a path to a modern gourmand aka gourmand 2.0.

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Quentin Bisch

Angel is a powerhouse. Most of the flankers of Angel have worked less to attenuate the presence; instead looking to explore facets hidden deep beneath all of the chocolate and patchouli. Angel Muse is something much less powerful. It definitely has presence. It also has a comfortable geniality to it that I would never describe Angel as having. Angel asks you to take it or leave it on its own terms. Angel Muse sidles up next to you asking you, politely, to pull it closer. M. Bisch completely transforms the pyramid of Angel while still reminding me that this is a blood relative.

Angel Muse starts with a sly wink to the original as a flare of ethyl maltol imparts the cotton candy smell it is known for. It goes away as M. Bisch begins a savorier exploration of sweet. The first two notes are called “raspberry jam” and “strawberry jam”. What this means is M. Bisch takes raspberry ketone and the strawberry aromachemical aldehyde c14 and ensnares them in a matrix which contains their natural exuberance. These notes fill up rooms when used in high concentration. I am guessing in Angel Muse M. Bisch is using a smaller percentage, just enough to know they are there but not so much to be cantankerous. This is what makes them jammy instead of just raspberry and strawberry. It is also the initial indication Angel Muse is all about affability instead of confrontation. Then Angel Muse makes its biggest change as M. Bisch jettisons the chocolate and patchouli for creamy hazelnut and vetiver. In many of the niche gourmand perfumes that have followed Angel, vetiver has been found to be a good partner to sweeter accords. M. Bisch has used that information to create the new gourmand power duo. The hazelnut is softer. The nutty quality is just right embedded in a creamy cocktail of lactones. Vetiver provides the green woody contrast which makes the cream and the nuttiness stand out. Later the hazelnut transforms to something similar to a praline as the nutty and the woody predominate over the final hours.

Angel Muse has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage but not the nuclear sillage of Angel.

There seems to be a thought out there that millennials are looking for a gourmand fragrance to call their own. Much like Angel did in the 1990’s Angel Muse could become the perfume for this new generation of perfume lovers. If that is the case, you can count me as one for whom that would make happy. Gourmand is a perfume style which seems ripe for innovation. I can hope the other Young Guns might also take a shot at the same style. I know that M. Bisch has defined gourmand 2.0 in Angel Muse. It is hopefully the beginning of a new era for gourmands.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Etat Libre D’Orange Hermann A Mes Cotes Me Paraissait Une Ombre- Me and My Shadow

There are many fragrances which speak about capturing shadows in fragrant form. What that means most of the time is the weaving of dark notes within brighter ones. But is that a shadow? A shadow is an indistinct reflection of something which light shines upon. The latest release from Etat Libre D’Orange, Hermann A Mes Cotes Me Paraissait Une Ombre (from here on out just Hermann), got me thinking about shadows and perfume.

The incredibly long name of Hermann comes from a Victor Hugo poem entitled “What Two Horsemen Were Thinking in the Forest”. The specific line cited translates to “by my side, Hermann seemed to me like a shadow”. The press materials ask if your perfume might be your shadow. As I wore Hermann I found that it was a shadow of itself throughout its development.

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Etienne de Swardt

Perfumer Quentin Bisch was invited to collaborate with creative director Etienne de Swardt for the second time. His first brief, as a perfumer, was for La Fin du Monde two years ago. Hermann is a very different kind of fragrance from that. Over the past year it seems M. Bisch has been enjoying using many of the Givaudan captive molecules seeing what the newest materials can bring to a fragrance. Hermann is no different as he employs four distinct synthetics. What I think he does very cleverly is to allow each synthetic to provide a shadow to another note. Sort of like one horseman is looking at the other from distance as they travel through the development.

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Quentin Bisch

M. Bisch opens Hermann with a fanfare of green galbanum matched with black pepper. This provides one bookend. The next stage of development is a strong blackcurrant bud note. It is sticky green and concentrated fruit. The last note is Calypsone providing the indistinct replica of the blackcurrant bud. Calypsone is an ozonic melon note. M. Bisch keeps its presence at a whisper because it is meant to be just a shadow of the fruit. The same takes place with rose and the synthetic Petalia. Petalia provides a fruity peony-like shadow to the rose, again modulated to be the lesser of the two notes. Geosmin’s earthy quality gives frankincense a grounded simulacrum. Pepperwood provides the spicy, weaker, twin to patchouli; to provide the other bookend to the black pepper on top. In the final stages Ambroaxan brings this to its finish.

Hermann has 24-hour longevity and above average sillage. You will leave a shadow of scent if you spray too much.

M. Bisch composed a study of olfactory point-counterpoint as for each focal point there was a note meant to reflect it as a shadow does. Hermann is not a particularly dark fragrance in tone. I think I’ll be able to wear it year-round. I think in the summer it might even be more pronounced in its pairs of notes. Walking the beach, me and my perfumed shadow.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle from Etat Libre D’Orange.  

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Missoni Eau de Parfum- Slashes of Color

One of my favorite early fashion brands was Missoni. During the 1970’s the brightly colored knitwear was among the most popular fashion of the day. Angela Missoni took over from her founder mother Rosita in 1998. The brand has been extremely consistent; in some years being the only reliable splash of color and pattern on the runway. Missoni has also had a very proud perfume tradition.

Angela+Missoni

Angela Missoni

It started in 1981 with their debut fragrance named Missoni composed by Bernard Chant. It was a rich floral chypre. In 2006 perfumer Maurice Roucel would make his version of Missoni as it evolved into a floriental dunked in chocolate. Now in 2015 they are releasing the third Missoni Eau de Parfum. Angela Missoni chose to turn to one of the best young perfumers currently working Quentin Bisch. This iteration is a classic fruity floral.

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Quentin Bisch

One thing I have admired about M. Bisch, in these early days as a perfumer, as he takes on each new brief he is taking the opportunity to work with every different facet of the exclusive raw materials Givaudan has. In the case of Missoni Eau de Parfum M. Bisch has taken down Petalia and Mahonial. Petalia is an aromachemical which smells like a hybrid of rose and muguet. It has an assertive floral character with the greenness of the muguet providing a bit of counterbalance. Mahonial is the jasmine and muguet counterpart to Petalia. It is these two ingredients which make up the floral heart of Missoni Eau de Parfum.

M. Bisch opens crisply with citron and pear. The citron is tart and the pear adds a snappy fruitiness to that. Fairly rapidly the Petalia and Mahonial arrive. The overriding effect of these two in combination is the jasmine is ascendant. That might be because there is some actual jasmine presence or it might just be Mahonial is more tenacious than Petalia. In any case in Missoni Eau de Parfum it is the jasmine that you will notice at first. The rose and muguet qualities become more apparent as the citron and pear begin to become noticeable again. Once everything began to harmonize on my skin Missoni Eau de Parfum reminded me of the vertical stripes of color characteristic of a Missoni garment. The slash of yellow green for the fruit. A band of pink with a thin band of green underneath. The base note band of brown is all Ambroxan enhanced with some sandalwood and tonka to give it a sweet woody foundation.

Missoni Eau de Parfum has 18-24 hour longevity and average sillage.

I think M. Bisch has assuredly followed in the footsteps of M. Chant and M. Roucel creating a Missoni fragrance which stands as an excellent example of the current times and the fruity floral trend.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Van Cleef & Arpels Ambre Imperial- Crème Brulee for the Soul

There is a popular series of books called “Chicken Soup for the Soul” where editors Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen collect inspirational essays. The title is obvious as chicken soup is a well-known curative straight from a family recipe. In my family we had nobody who was adept at making chicken soup. What I had was dessert makers and when I needed something from the kitchen to pick me up it was a dessert. One of my favorites was, and is, crème brulee. It is still how I judge a great restaurant; if they can’t cap off my dinner with an exceptional version then it will always be lacking in my book. There are not a lot of perfume versions of the dessert but the new Van Cleef & Arpels Ambre Imperial might be the best.

Creme-Brulee

Ambre Imperial is part of the Van Cleef & Arpels Collection Extraordinaire and is the tenth release for this exclusive collection. If I have had an issue with this collection it is that it has played it a bit too safe. The quality of ingredients has been there but they are often put to very standard uses. Orchidee Vanille was my favorite because it was a perfect evocation of freshly made vanilla ice cream straight from the churn. The sheer beauty of the vanilla matched with the floralcy of the orchid it comes from is what I wanted from a collection labeled extraordinary. Amber Imperial asks perfumer Quentin Bisch to create a different type of vanilla, something classic. Ambre Imperial is that crème brulee with a solid shell of amber lying on top of it.

Quentin Bisch

Quentin Bisch

M. Bisch opens Ambre Imperial with a typical flourish of bergamot made piquant by the presence of baie rose. It is nothing more than a momentary fillip towards the real business of Ambre Imperial which comes with a warm deeply satisfying amber accord. M. Bisch then uses benzoin to turn it into that hard fluid shell which coats the top of any good version of crème brulee. The vanilla comes to the foreground and while the amber and benzoin still have the floor it creates a caramel accord which eventually transitions into a solid vanilla base. The vanilla is supported by the toasty quality of tonka bean. The tonka reminds me of the black flecks of real vanilla pods I see in the best things featuring vanilla. It adds a sense of depth with its presence.

Ambre Imperial has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Amber Imperial is probably the most straight forward composition of M. Bisch’s career so far. Which is a good thing because while I appreciate his sense of adventure there is a point at the end of the day that I want my favorite sense-based artists to soothe me with something simple but rich. With Ambre Imperial M. Bisch has crafted crème brulee for my soul.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Thierry Mugler A*Men Ultra Zest- Orange is the New Mugler

One of the more successful line of flankers has been those which have descended from the 1996 classic Thierry Mugler A*Men. The perfumer behind that creation, Jacques Huclier, has spent every year since 2008 designing a new version enhancing or adding to the classic formulation. A*Men has been a powerhouse perfume since its inception and most of the original members of the “Pure” collection have been heavy hitters as well. Last year’s A*Men Pure Wood showed a different aesthetic as it was surprisingly, and delightfully, softer than any of the previous A*Men flankers. I was wondering if that was going to be a singularity or the beginning of a trend. The latest, A*Men Ultra Zest, provides an answer.

Jacques-Huclier

Jacques Huclier

One of the reasons I think this set of flankers has been so successful is M. Huclier has been the perfumer behind all of them. His intimate knowledge of the construction of A*Men makes him the most qualified to alter it without harm. That has been accomplished quite efficiently with Pure Coffee and Pure Malt, my preferred versions of A*Men when I am in the mood. Even so they are powerful perfumes with equally powerful projection. They are not something I wear to work. Pure Wood was constructed such that not only have I wore it to work but it is almost an ideal work fragrance because the power is controlled as M. Huclier dials down the gourmand base. For Ultra Zest M. Huclier got some help from fellow Givaudan perfumer Quentin Bisch. Ultra Zest is in a bright orange bottle and that is the foreshadowing of the composition of the perfume inside. This could have been called Pure Orange and it wouldn’t be far off the mark.

Quentin Bisch

Quentin Bisch

The opening of Ultra Zest is all about the orange but not the typical juicy orange. The perfumers use blood orange to add a bit more tart added to tangerine to keep it sweet but not as sweet as a traditional orange. This is all placed on a rapidly moving flying carpet of ginger. This makes the opening moments go by almost too fast. The flying carpet lands at a coffee shop as the citrus is surrounded by rich coffee notes. There is cinnamon and spearmint listed on the note list but I never detected them. The heart felt like the coffee heart of most A*Men iterations. The base is very similar to Pure Wood as the perfumers again make a much softer chocolate accord consisting of patchouli and tonka bean. As I wore Ultra Zest I was always wondering if it was going to ramp up in power or settle into a comfortable hum. It was definitely the latter.

A*Men Ultra Zest has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I am not sure why Thierry Mugler has decided to rein in the powerful nature of A*Men but it makes Ultra Zest perhaps the most versatile in the line. It is light enough to be worn to the office. It has enough presence for a night out. It has enough bright citrus character to be worn in warm weather. There might be entries which do any one of those things better but none of them do all of them as well. A*Men Ultra Zest is one you should add to your A*Men collection if you’re a fan. It is also one to try if you maybe weren’t a fan of the original and the earlier flankers. It is my favorite of the flankers since 2012’s Pure Havane.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Ex Nihilo Fleur Narcotique & Venenum Kiss- Searching for Quentin Bisch

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In everything that I am passionate about I am always looking for the next new talent. In perfumery one of those who has caught my eye, and many others, is Quentin Bisch. I think like most people I became aware of him through the three part BBC Perfume documentary. (If you want to see his introduction here is the link to the episode https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cz3_tY6Ld5I M. Bisch’s introduction happens at the 11:20 mark) What came through on the screen was this was a person who wore his passion for perfume openly. There was not a calculating bone in his body when it comes to perfume. Ever since that documentary I have waited for M. Bisch to start to produce his body of work. As a result I keep track of what he releases. Late last year I found out he had done a perfume for a new perfume brand in Paris, Ex Nihilo. At the time they did not have samples and I could only impatiently wait. Now the decant site Surrender to Chance offered five samples and two of them were the ones signed by M. Bisch, Fleur Narcotique and Venenum Kiss.

Ex-Nihilo-Team

Ex Nihilo Team (l. to r.) Olivier Royere, Sylvie Loday, Benoit Verdier

Ex Nihilo from the latin for “out of nothing” is owned and creatively directed by Olivier Royere, Sylvie Loday, and Benoit Verdier. Their backgrounds are not from classically trained beauty backgrounds. In a quote from their website they acknowledge this, “Our references come as much from perfumery as from design or architecture.” This belief allows them to take in a precocious young talent like M. Bisch and turn him loose. For his first two efforts for Ex Nihilo he has produced a fruity floral and a woody oriental.

Fleur Narcotique is described on the website as a “floral overdose” and while it is aggressively floral I am not sure if I ever felt close to an OD. I found it to be a study in subtlety as very often just when I thought I had a handle on things something new would change that opinion. Fleur Narcotique had an appealing olfactory restlessness which makes it fascinating to wear.

In the opening moments you are greeted with bergamot and peach; pretty standard fruity floral territory. Except for two things. First the fruit is not amped up to bludgeoning levels it is kept much more transparent than the typical fruity openings. The second is M. Bisch’s use of lychee to add an exotic twist to the mundane. Great lychee has a syrupy kind of musty quality. Paired with the peach, especially, it makes for an opening to a fruity floral which had me wanting to see what floral was coming. The answer was peony bolstered by orange blossom and jasmine. The fresh quality of the peony was an excellent foil to the peach and lychee. Most of the time while wearing a fruity floral I can pretty much ignore it after an hour or so because besides a few woods or musks that will be it. Fleur Narcotique has those woods and musks, along with some moss. M. Bisch brings them forward so they interact with the fruit and the florals instead of waiting for them to disappear before emerging. These base notes provide a languid transformation over the last few hours that I wore Fleur Narcotique. Fleur Narcotique has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Quentin Bisch

Quentin Bisch

Venenum Kiss is described as “opulent and poisonous” which I found appropriate. M. Bisch works the classic spicy sandalwood rose axis of Oriental perfumes and gives his own interpretation. If Fleur Narcotique was restless, Venenum Kiss is indolent. It carries a relaxed comfortable vibe which makes one just want to stay in and enjoy the smell.

M. Bisch chooses nutmeg and saffron as the spices. I like the way these two spices interact with each other as the familiarity of the nutmeg is crossed with the exoticness of saffron. The heart is rose which is partnered with neroli. The neroli is really the bridging note between the spices on top and the rose in the heart. Sandalwood comes to the fore and it is joined by davana which picks up the rose and carries it down into the base. A bit of styrax and vanilla add a bit of sweetness to the late stages. Venenum kiss has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

These two perfumes show two different sides of M. Bisch’s style and what I can see and smell makes me want more.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples I purchased from Surrender to Chance.

Mark Behnke