Discount Diamonds: The Body Shop Black Musk- Mall Treasures

There comes a point when we evolve in our perfume tastes. As we do that we leave behind the places we first discovered perfume had the ability to be a part of our lives. Very few of us start with Chanel or Guerlain. Most of us start at one of the stalwarts of the mall. One of those is The Body Shop. When I go on my mall field trips I try to make it a priority to check in to The Body Shop a couple times a year. On my recent spring outing I found a new entry in their musk series, Black Musk.

black-musk-eau-de-toilette_l

When The Body Shop broke in to fragrance in 1981 White Musk was their signature scent for over ten years. I have always admired it as a benchmark of the clean linen kind of musk. I keep a bottle on hand because it is such a good example of that. In 2003 The Body Shop really expanded their fragrance offerings. Over the next few years there would be a number of solid White Musk flankers. Two years ago Red Musk entered the musk collection. This was a perfume which would be familiar to any niche perfume lover; pepper aldehydes, vetiver, and tobacco. A baby niche kind of perfume.

cecile matton

Cecile Matton

When I was in a few weeks ago I found the musk series had added a new member Black Musk. Composed by perfumers Cecile Matton and Ralf Schwieger, Black Musk is like a beginner’s gourmand with a mix of sweet notes fused with the darker synthetic musks.

ralf schwieger

Ralf Schwieger

Black Musk opens on a crisp pear note juxtaposed with pink pepper. You are not going to find anything here you haven’t seen elsewhere. Yet you will find perfume composition of commonly used ingredients employed well. Pink pepper has become one of those almost overused notes but I am liking it most when it is paired with a greenish fruity note. It seems to be a natural pairing. A cracking serving of licorice whips takes you into the vanilla and musk finale. The licorice is the sweet less herbal version. The vanilla is the sweeter baker’s version. The musk is one of the weightier ones less like laundry and more similar to its animalic origins. Together it forms a gourmand accord with nice depth.

Black Musk in the eau de toilette version has 6-8 hours longevity and average sillage.

The eau de toilette bottle goes for $23. There are oil and eau de parfum versions for a few dollars more. Not all Discount Diamonds are last year’s model sometimes there is something new to be found even at the mall. Next time you have a few minutes nip in to The Body Shop you might find a really good bang for your buck fragrance. Black Musk is a great place to start.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Atelier Cologne Bergamote Soleil- The Understudy Steps Forward

If you are attending a Broadway play and there is an announcement just before curtain rises that the star is being replaced by the understudy there is probably a little disappointment. Except just like in 42nd Street that understudy might be something special just getting a first opportunity to move from the chorus line to center stage. When it comes to the chorus line of perfumery there might not be any better team player than bergamot. Bergamot is used in the top accord of so many perfumes it would be difficult to imagine modern fragrance without it. The funny thing is it has become so much of a supporting player that it rarely gets the chance to make its own star turn. Unsurprisingly Atelier Cologne is rectifying this with the release of Bergamote Soleil.

Bergamore Soleil is an addition to the Collection Originale which has become the citrus standard bearers for Atelier Cologne’s cologne absolue formulations. One thing about this collection is almost every one of the Collection Originale is a citrus that lasts much longer than you might expect because of the concentration. 

ralf schwieger

Ralf Schwieger

Collection Originale is where one of the two perfumers, Ralf Schwieger, who collaborate with Sylvie Cervasel has done most of his work for the brand. Last year’s Pomelo Paradis was my spring and early summer choice for lazy weekend mornings. Hr. Schwieger has an affinity for this style of fragrance. With Bergamote Soleil he has delivered the brightest Atelier Cologne of them all. It is a high noon kind of experience with bergamot the shimmering heart.

Hr. Schwieger uses Calabrian bergamot as his source. He also uses a lot of it. Having the bergamot so amplified allows it to have an unusually outsized effect. Like that understudy who has found they like the front of the stage expanding their performance to new places. The bergamot is familiar but it also carries much more of the bitter rind and pulp. It makes it more nuanced. It also makes it more refreshing. The bergamot likes the attention so much it doesn’t fade to the back ground as Hr. Schwieger first adds a bit of ambrette and cardamom. Both add warmth, especially the ambreete. A floral heart of jasmine and lavender comes next. It forms a tableau of the sunny bergamot shining on the flowers. In the base oakmoss, vetiver, and white amber combine for this perfect foundation with some bite. It bookends the bitterness from early on with a nip of oakmoss and vetiver.

Bergamote Soleil has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Bergamote Soleil is an understudy turned scene stealer. It is a standout among one of the stronger overall collections within Atelier Cologne. I know this is going to be my weekend perfume for the next few months.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar X-Ray Profumo Amnesia- The Tide is High

The very essence of this series is that as diligent as I can be I can’t try everything. It is one of the reasons the large perfume expos like Esxence offer me a second chance to find something I overlooked. At the most recent version this happened when I walked up to the X-Ray Profumo booth to meet owner and creative director Ray Burns. In 2012 the line had debuted five new releases exclusively in Barney’s. I remember trying it at the time but one of my colleagues at CaFlureBon wrote about it first. Then as so often happens with brands that are exclusive to a store I forgot about it.

x-ray amnesia

Photo via Fragrantica

I was drawn to the booth by this turquoise colored liquid. Mr. Burns presented to me the perfume he released in the spring of 2014 called Amnesia. Amnesia was inspired by the Mediterranean island of Ibiza. Ibiza is a summer paradise which is as known for its nightlife as it is for its beaches. Amnesia is meant to capture that mix of beachside fun Ibiza is known for. Mr. Burns employed perfumer Ralf Schwieger to help him capture this. In a year of new twists on the aquatic perfume style Amnesia steps up and produces yet another one.

rayburns

Ray Burns

One of the things very admirable about Hr. Schwieger is he can take an accord which smells unpleasant on its own and magically transform it into something that is unforgettably beautiful. In Amnesia the accord he uses as the focal point is a sea salt and seaweed accord. By itself it smells exactly as it sounds, like low tide. There is a strong damp vegetal component matched with the smell of clean sea spray. By itself this is nothing anyone would want to wear. Placed at the center of a perfume called Amnesia it gives it a depth and texture unobtainable without it.

ralf schwieger

Ralf Schwieger

Amnesia opens with a fresh water bouquet of water lily floating on a pond. It is a very opaque floral accord which is also quite watery. A mix of salicylates remind us we are at the beach as they form a suntan lotion accord. Then the tide goes out and the sea salt and seaweed accord arrives. The salicylates do quite a lot to ameliorate the more pungent aspects. Violet wood and clove also help twist it from full-on low tide into something more abstract. As if you were trying to remember the smell of the beach after you had forgotten it. This wonderfully effective aquatic accord is where Amnesia spends most of its time on my skin. When it moves into the base it is a woody base of sandalwood, cedar, and ambrox along with a white musk cocktail to form a skin accord.

Amnesia has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I’m not sure why the aquatic style of perfume has suddenly attracted the creative talents of so many perfumers recently. I can only enjoy each new version as they give me something new to consider. I know that Amnesia is another one of these and it will take a real case of amnesia for met to forget Hr. Schwieger’s creation.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by X-Ray Profumo at Esxence 2015.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Atelier Cologne Cedre Atlas & Figuier Ardent- Atelier Cologne 2.0 (Part 2)

Continuing my reviews of the new Atelier Cologne Collection Azur I take a look at Cedre Atlas and Figuier Ardent. One of these has become one of my favorites in the entire line.

cedre atlas picture

Cedre Atlas is composed by perfumer Jerome Epinette and it is going to be a personal litmus test on how much you like cedar. M. Epinette uses an overdose of cedar in the heart of Cedre Atlas making me feel like I was standing in a lumber mill slicing up cedar planks. Before I got to that heart a fleeting application of citrus flies by as quick as a matador’s cape evading the onrushing wooded bull. The note list claims lemon and blackcurrant but all I really detect is lemon and it is in a hurry to get out of the way. In what seems like seconds the cedar lands with an all-encompassing thud. The first time I wore this it was too much. Cedar has a distinctive profile most often described as pencil shavings. This felt like being trapped in a pencil sharpener. It was aggressive and borderline irritating. After about four hours I started noticing there was this beautiful fruity floral woody fragrance coming from the places where the cedar had previously been pushing me away from. That accord would further improve as vetiver and papyrus added a watery green tint to the final stages. The last few hours of Cedre Atlas were a real joy to wear. The first couple of hours taught me how much I like cedar; not as much as I thought. Cedre Atlas has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

figuier ardent picture

Figuier Ardent is composed by perfumer Ralf Schwieger and is one of the best fig perfumes of the last five years. Fig is one of those ingredients which has been interpreted in so many ways and I wasn’t expecting to find Hr. Schwieger’s version to be so compelling. He focuses on a green fig hanging on the tree not yet ripe enough to be picked. He places that fig in the center of a sirocco of spices chosen to enhance the central note. Bergamot and anise form the early moments of Figuier Ardent. Within an hour a fig leaf note carrying vegetal facets announces the arrival of the fig itself. This is a fig which is greener and a lot less pulpy than the riper version many perfumers tend to prefer. Cardamom is used to enhance the un-ripened nature of the fig as it complements the green. Black pepper is used as contrast to the almost salty character this young fig has. Then like a time lapse photo as Figuier Ardent moves into the base the green fig ripens into a mature fig. Hr. Schwieger uses iris and tonka bean as ripening agents. They transform the immature into the experienced over the course of hours. It is a fabulous olfactory illusion and it all finishes on a very lightly woody cedar foundation. Every day I have worn Figuier Aredent I have been more and more impressed at the effect Hr. Schwieger has accomplished here. This is a great fig perfume. Figuier Ardent has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

As I said in Part 1 yesterday the whole Collection Azur feels like the culmination of five years of experience by the Creative Directors/Owners Sylvie Ganter and Christophe Cervasel. They have applied that knowledge and are still taking Atelier Cologne in new directions. Figuier Ardent is proof that those journeys can end in paradise.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Atelier Cologne.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Atelier Cologne Pomelo Paradis- Creating a Hybrid

I met Sylvie Ganter in the spring of 2010 at Bergdorf Goodman as she presented the original five fragrances which make up the Atelier Cologne Collection Originale. Mme Ganter wanted to revolutionize cologne by taking it places cologne had never gone before. Along with her husband, Christophe Cervasel, they have made Atelier Cologne the leader in transforming the way we view cologne. All Atelier Colognes are called Cologne Absolue by upping the perfume oil in their fragrances they produce. They took the architecture that was cologne and made it recognizably cologne but also pushed the boundaries of what that design could bear. Over the last five years it has been a distinct delight to observe where Atelier Cologne would choose to go. Five years after their beginning they have chosen to return to the Collection Originale and release a new one, Pomelo Paradis.

ralf christophe and sylvie

Ralf Schwieger, Christophe Cervasel, and Sylvie Ganter (l. to r.)

Pomelo Paradis was composed by perfumer Ralf Schwieger. Hr Schwieger was responsible for what is perhaps now considered the flagship of the brand Orange Sanguine. It was this perfume which displayed all of the, now realized, potential of Cologne Absolue. Hr Schwieger has been an integral part of the process as all of the Atelier Cologne fragrances, since the originals, have been signed by him or Jerome Epinette. I think it is this consistency of creative direction and perfumer which has made Atelier Cologne one of the best new brands of the last five years.

Citrus_grandis_-_Pomelo

Pomelo

Pomelo Paradis returns Atelier Cologne back to its citrus roots. Many are going to smell Pomelo Paradis and exclaim grapefruit and they will be right but they will also be wrong. Almost all of the more common citrus fruits are hybrids. It is a trait common to the family and it is why you can have so many different varieties of limes or lemons. Nature is its own experimentalist creating new varieties based upon what pollen can combine. Scientists now believe all citrus fruit came from four basic fruits, citron, mandarin, papeda, and pomelo. Grapefruit comes from the natural hybridization of pomelo and mandarin. It then occurred to me that Atelier Cologne is also a hybrid of its own as pure parfum and cologne have formed Cologne Absolue.

Hr. Schwieger chooses to re-create nature’s work in the top notes of Pomelo Paradis by taking pomelo and mandarin and combining them to create a grapefruit accord. This is an important distinction as Hr. Schwieger could have just chosen to take grapefruit and start this perfume with that. By combining pomelo and mandarin it creates a nuanced grapefruit accord that would not have been easily achievable otherwise. Together the two pieces give a grapefruit with real heft without being overwhelming. A very judicious use of blackcurrant bud by Hr. Schwieger tunes the grapefruit accord further. Grapefruit has a bit of a sulfurous quality. The blackcurrant bud adds that in while also adding some green sturdiness. The heart is why Ateleier Cologne has succeeded, in this re-imagining of cologne, as a floral bouquet of rose and orange blossom cut by mint take this very traditional opening and move it off in a new direction. Mint has to be used very carefully. Hr. Schwieger knows how to keep it as a participant without overwhelming. The mint in Pomelo Paradis is like a sprig of mint added to your morning grapefruit as it adds contrast but in small quantity. This all settles down onto a traditional bed of vetiver and amber.

Pomelo Paradis has 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Pomelo Paradis is a delightful circling back to the very roots of Atelier Cologne and is also an equally delightful hybrid of all that the brand stands for. As much as I have been enjoying wearing Pomelo Paradis I know it will be right at the front of my summer rotation. Pomelo Paradis is everything that Atelier Cologne does right and that is almost everything.

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

Mark Behnke

Etat Libre d’Orange 101- Five to Get You Started

One of the perfume lines which lives up to the ideals behind niche perfumery is Etat Libre d’Orange. There is almost no other niche brand which so fearlessly pushes the boundaries. Owner and creative director Etienne de Swardt is audacious in the perfumes he oversees for his label. Right from the first eleven fragrances released in the fall of 2006 he laid down a marker that Etat Libre d’Orange was going to be very different. In those first releases is the perfume widely regarded as the worst smelling perfume ever, Secretions Magnifiques. Just do a search and you will see videos of people pulling horrified faces and blog or forum posts plumbing new depths of verbiage trying to describe the experience. I, personally, think it is a masterpiece of perfumery but it is really only for those ready to approach it on its own terms instead of as a rite of passage.

etienne_de_swardt

Etienne de Swardt

Because of Secretions Magnifiques there are many who are wary of exploring the other fragrances in the line and that is a shame because I believe Etat Libre d’Orange is one of the best niche lines on the market. There is not a boring fragrance in the collection and many of them are exciting for the singularity of their existence. If you’ve been wanting to give Etat Libre d’Orange a try and want to sort of slowly expose yourself to the aesthetic and attitude of the line I have five suggestions which might make things a little easier.

Fat Electrician was released in 2009 and was composed by perfumer Antoine Maisondieu. M. Maisondieu created a fantastically nutty vetiver by combining chestnut cream with the vetiver. It is bracketed by fulsome olive leaves on top and sweetly resinous myrrh and opoponax in the base. This is vetiver given a new twist.

Fils de Dieu was released in 2012 by perfume Ralf Schwieger. Hr. Schwieger created a Technicolor fragrance which pays homage to all things Southeast Asian. It percolates early with a palpable humidity which contains lime, ginger, shiso, cardamom, coconut and rice. By the end it turns into a sensual accord of leather, vetiver, and castoreum. One of my top 5 new fragrances in 2012.

Tilda-Swinton-ELO

Like This was released in 2010 by perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui. Like This was Tilda Swinton’s celebuscent and she chose to collaborate with Etat Libre d’Orange. If every celebrity labeled fragrance was as good as Like This that segment of the market would be less looked down upon. Mme Bijaoui uses immortelle as the core of Like This and then proceeds to swaddle it in layers of ginger, tangerine, neroli, pumpkin, vetiver, and musk. This all comes together gloriously and Like This has been my Thanksgiving fragrance for the last three years.

Noel au Balcon was released in 2007 also by Antoine Maisondieu. Based on the name this is supposed to be for the Holiday Season but I wear it year-round because it is an easy to wear honey focused fragrance. M. Maisondieu uses the honey as a matrix to trap apricot and tangerine along with labdanum and cinnamon. It all eventually releases to vanilla, vetiver, and musk base.

Rien was released in 2006 by perfumer Antoine Lie. Of all of the very challenging Etat Libre d’Orange fragrances I think Rien is the most approachable. M. Lie created a dynamic intense fragrance which starts with the fizz of aldehydes which reveal a cumin and pepper-laced rose before ending on a leather and frankincense base. It is sharp and piquant and resinous and animalic and completely gorgeous. Of all of the first releases it was Rien which really sealed my enjoyment of the line.

M. de Swardt has a very arch sense of humor which plays itself out over the labels and names of the fragrances but if you can put aside your wariness because of Secretions Magnifiques and your raised eyebrows at the names and imagery an exploration of Etat Libre d’Orange is as good as it gets in niche perfume.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of these perfumes that I purchased.

Mark Behnke