New Perfume Review Mancera Red Tobacco- Not-So-Ugly Sweater

There are brands whose aesthetic I vibe with. There are brands whose aesthetic is something I struggle with. Then there are those maddening brands in the middle where when the right combinations are used the aesthetic is fun versus the times it just goes wrong. Whenever I receive samples from those brands it is like a jack-in-the-box as I have no idea what is going to spring out of the atomizer. For the Holidays the new Mancera Red Tobacco turns out to be on the fun side.

Mancera always comes off like a shadowy grey market brand because it is notoriously difficult to get reliable information from. They don’t disclose their perfumer. They seem to be associated with Montale sometimes and on other days they don’t. Distribution is hit-or-miss. Despite all that the brand has prospered by hewing to a particular exuberant aesthetic. When it works for me it really works as it does with Red Tobacco.

That exuberance comes out right in the first seconds as an accord around cinnamon apple opens things up. Now by itself that might sound simple; just wait a minute. In rapid succession incense, nutmeg, and oud crash on top of the baked apples. Right here is the essence of a Mancera perfume as this is not a traditional recipe for a cozy Holiday baked good. Yet in Red Leather it turns out baking some incense and oud into the pie works out. The resinous facets pick up on the tart of the apple and keep the cinnamon from tilting too far into candy red hots territory. Patchouli provides the intermission before the tobacco comes out. The base accord is a well-known mixture of vanilla and tobacco at its core. Amber provides a place for the spice notes to maintain their presence. A swirl of white musks are the finishing touch

Red Tobacco has 24-hour longevity and above average sillage.

One of the days I tested Red Tobacco it was the ugly sweater contest at work. I received a number of compliments on how good I smelled underneath my reindeer sweater; which I don’t think is ugly. Which is apt because Mancera can sometimes be less than pretty, but they manage to be as much fun as my not-so-ugly sweater. Red Tobacco is a twisted baked apple confection of a perfume perfect for the Season.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample from Mancera.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Grandiflora Boronia- In the Greenhouse

There are few creative directors with the intimate knowledge of flowers that Saskia Havekes of Grandiflora has. Ms. Havekes is one of the premier florists in the world; her creative designs have been seen internationally from her base in Sydney, Australia. Four years ago, she branched out into fragrance with a pair of interpretations of magnolia by perfumers Michel Roudnitska and the late Sandrine Videault. Over the next two releases jasmine and the queen of the night would provide the floral keynotes. Through these first four the brand lived up to its name grand floral perfumes. For the fifth release Grandiflora Boronia instead of blooms to display we go into the greenhouse where they are growing.

Saskia Havekes

Ms. Havekes re-teams with perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, with whom she created Queen of the Night, for Boronia. Boronia is a floral native to Australia. M. Duchaufour had experienced it on a previous trip to the country and had wanted the opportunity to explore it in a perfume. Ms. Havekes had grown up surrounded by the flower and to her it was just part of the surroundings. As a florist she understood the tiny flowers with the vivid scent were perfect as the keynote for a fragrance.

Bertrand Duchaufour

Together they take us inside a greenhouse humid with green and growing things over which the scent of the newly opened boronia flowers drift on top of. M. Duchaufour has been producing simpler constructs over the last year or so. Boronia is a break from that with return to his style of over-stuffed architecture which carries nuance instead of noise.

In the beginning of Boronia, you close the greenhouse door behind you and you smell the soil and the green stalks with only a bit of floral scent making its presence known through the artificial humidity. Before you get to work you brew a pot of black tea which provides a break from the smells of nature. As you pull on some leather gardening gloves you touch the delicate blooms of Boronia and they emit a faceted floral accord which carries rose, magnolia, geranium, and osmanthus. These all surround and support the Boronia keynote. The leather and tea blend in as a cozy mise-en-scene as you tend to the flowers. Over time it turns predominantly woody and balsamic with vanilla and caramel providing a diffuse gourmand base accord.

Boronia has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Boronia is a lovely departure from the style of the previous Grandiflora releases while still retaining a grandiosity coalesced around flowers. It couldn’t be any other way with something overseen by Ms. Havekes and M. Duchaufour. The difference is this is the florist’s workshop wherein she spends time getting to know her flowers. As a perfume lover you will want to enter the greenhouse and get to know Boronia.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Star Wars Holiday Special

In just a few days I will continue a tradition I started forty years ago….in a galaxy far, far away. I have been at the first local showing of every Star Wars movie since the first one in May of 1977. On December 14th I have my ticket for the newest; Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Like many, Star Wars has been a big influence on my personal perspective. I’ll write about the new movie sometime after the New Year and after most have had the opportunity to see it. For now, this is the time of year when I write about Holiday-themed things at The Sunday Magazine. You might not know that there is something called The Star Wars Holiday Special. There is, and it was such a disaster that it only aired once and has never been released on any of the DVD extras in any Star Wars set. That’s how bad it was. It is an example of how so many people didn’t know what to do with Star Wars as it met The Carol Burnett Show and produced a misfit toy.

No one had seen anything like the phenomenon Star Wars had become which then became a line of people approaching creator George Lucas about what they’d like to partner with him on. I’m not sure why in mid-1978 when he was approached by CBS on doing a Holiday special it was agreed to. The studio told him it would promote the movie and the toys. With no blueprint to follow the green light was given. Then things took the first of many wrong turns.

They hired writers Pat Proft and Leonard Ripps, veterans of TV variety shows. Upon meeting with Mr. Lucas he gave them the idea of a holiday called Life Day and setting the special on the Wookie home planet of Kashykk with Chewbacca trying to get through the Imperial blockade to be home with his family. Which is the skeletal story frame of what the Holiday Special would become.

Bea Arthur jamming with the Cantina Band

The problem was CBS wanted a traditional assortment of stars to be added into the mix as you would find on any variety special. Which meant Art Carney, Diahann Carroll, The Jefferson Starship, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur. Each of these were central to typical sketch comedy acts within the show with Mr. Korman playing three different roles as he was accustomed to doing on his regular gig on The Carol Burnett Show. The writing team was supplemented by vets from that show to help “punch up” the comedy material. According to one story there was a moment when Mikhail Baryshnikov and Ann-Margaret were considered. I can only imagine what the segments featuring them would have been.

The Jefferson Starship as The Holographic Band

After a chaotic shooting schedule where the movie’s stars didn’t want to be caught “slumming” on television while the television stars didn’t understand a thing about the universe and story they were inhabiting. It all ended up being aired a week before Thanksgiving in 1978 on November 17.

That was the last time it officially appeared.

It was criticized on all sides. What was being thought of as a new Holiday perennial before it aired was quickly buried; but not forgotten. It has become that bit of Star Wars which gets shared on the down low among fans; usually with a knowing grimace. There is a ten-minute animated short within the special which introduces bounty hunter Boba Fett into the greater story. That was the only thing that felt like Star Wars on the night it aired. Everything else from Ms. Arthur singing to the aliens in the cantina to Mr. Korman’s slapstick antics just felt wrong.

If you want to see just how bad it is I include a YouTube link here.

My favorite piece of the bad parts is when the wookie family attempts to distract some stromtroopers with the musical stylings of The Jefferson Starship as The Holographic Band.

There is a reason this is lost to time even Mr. Lucas has said if he had the time he’d track down every copy and smash it with a sledgehammer. Even so I can’t completely hate it, but it is terrible. I watch it almost every Holiday season on my bootleg DVD.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Caron Nuit de Noel- The Ghost of Christmas Past

Just over my fifty-eight years of life I have watched the Holidays become more casual. Gone are the days of my youth when I wore a new suit for Christmas. Gone is going to Midnight Mass and seeing the congregation dressed up and sparkling in the church. It isn’t just the Holidays it is a general societal shift; one which I don’t truly disapprove of. Although I do sort of wish there was a day when we all agreed we would get dressed-up as one; like a grand Throwback Thursday. I think that is why I enjoy the older perfumes because they still feel like they want to be worn under formal clothing. This is especially true of the early Caron perfumes composed by perfumer Ernest Daltroff. One of them is meant to be that touch of elegance which is missing from modern-day Christmas; Nuit de Noel.

Nuit de Noel was the fourth perfume released under the Caron name by M. Daltroff. It was meant to be a Holiday perfume as the name suggests but every time I wear it I wonder what the Holidays were like in M. Daltroff’s world in 1922. Nuit de Noel is wall-to-wall elegance combined with the use of the Mousse de Saxe base M. Daltroff created. It is the sense of a party where the brightest young things in the world are celebrating the Season.

This Christmas Night opens with a starburst of jasmine; deeply floral and indolic. M. Daltroff blends rose as support. There are many times I consider this to be the star on top of the tree because what comes next is a sturdy trunk of sandalwood and amber. A creamy, slightly spicy, wood. This is where Mousse de Saxe arrives wrapping this fragrant tree in garland. This classic base is comprised of geranium, leather, licorice, and vanilla. It falls somewhere between chypre and leather itself; occupying a necessary middle ground especially in the early days. It is this base which makes Nuit de Noel the masterpiece that it is.

Nuit de Noel has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

In truth the entire Caron collection and M. Daltroff are emblematic of the concept of this Under the Radar column. If you love perfume you should make the effort to seek the brand out it remains one of the Grand Maisons in all of perfumery. When it comes to Nuit de Noel it does feel a bit like the Ghost of Christmas Past because this era of elegance at the Holidays doesn’t exist anymore. Even so, there is nothing wrong with having a drop under your ugly sweater or pajama top to remind you there was a different style a hundred years ago.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review DSH Perfumes Chataignes du Bois- Urban Christmas

It is this time of year when I get reminders of time passing by. Most of them come via those update letters which accompany Holiday cards as you find out the young child you last saw has graduated law school. A much more pleasant reminder of the passing days comes courtesy of independent perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. Every year since 2000 she releases a Holiday perfume; for 2017 the release is called DSH Perfumes Chataignes du Bois.

Chataignes are chestnuts and this perfume strongly reminded me of my first Holiday season running around Manhattan. In 1984 I had just started my first real job in September. One of my best friends from college was living in the City and I could go in and spend the weekend. It was an ideal situation for a young man. I was looking forward to the Season in the City because I knew there would be amazing things to see from Rockefeller Plaza to the Empire State building lit up in red and green. My friend and I drank it all in as I dragged him all over experiencing everything we could. If there was a scent to the city streets during those days, it was the street vendors roasting chestnuts. As we waited to cross streets or were running somewhere to catch something the predominant smell was chestnuts roasting. Whenever I smell it I am immediately transported in my mind to December on 5th Avenue. Which was exactly what happened when I sniffed Chataignes du Bois.

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

Ms. Hurwitz has become very textured within the accords she creates and the chestnut accord at the heart of Chataignes du Bois is one of her most accomplished. When I talk about smelling chestnuts on street vendor carts I am also talking about there being a charred undertone which goes with that. Ms. Hurwitz captures that by using the pure chestnut and wrapping it in burnt sugar which provides the char and the sweetener. The dual woods of cedar and sandalwood provide the promised bois in the name. Stitching it together is a gorgeous co2 frankincense and patchouli. It gives the scent of resins and earth for everything to grow in.

Chataignes du Bois has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

This year with Chataignes du Bois Ms. Hurwitz made me feel my age and remind me of my youth. A present wrapped in a perfumed bow of roasting chestnuts on an urban Christmas Day.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by DSH Perfumes.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Hilfiger Woman Candied Charms- Holiday Clafoutis

I write often in my The Sunday Magazine column how much I enjoy all the sweet goodies around the Holidays. One I haven’t written about is Clafoutis a kind of fruit infused version of flan baked in a pie dish. The first time I had it cherries were the fruit. Once I learned how to make it I decided I didn’t want to spend time pitting cherries and so in Poodlesville our Clafoutis is made with raspberries. It is that ridiculously sweet dish which only seems appropriate during the holidays. It seems like the Tommy Hilfiger fragrance brand wants to try the same thing with perfume in Hilfiger Woman Candied Charms.

I am pretty sure if this perfume crossed my desk at any other time of the year I would have dismissed it. Arriving just as Thanksgiving hit its timing was perfect. The flankers of 2010’s Hilfiger Woman have been steadily moving towards a sweeter style Candied Charms might be the end of that evolution as it is the sweetest of the bunch. Perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux goes full-on gourmand which turns out to be just the right choice. It is a fruity floral clafouitis fragrance.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux

Sr. Flores-Roux takes a crisp pear and mandarin as a fruity attention getter before dunking it in heavy cream scented with jasmine. It is the creamy aspect which predominates as the jasmine swirls throughout. The sweetness intensifies over time. A bit of fig provides some respite but only fleetingly. There seem to be a full suite of salicylates floating throughout adding more depth to the sweetness. Vanilla eventually adds in the final amount of gourmand-y fun.

Hilfiger Woman Candied Charms has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Having spent time with Sr. Flores-Roux I can almost feel his infectious laugh bubbling through Candied Charms. This is a real perfume but composed with the fun of baking in an olfactory kitchen. If sweet or gourmand are not your style, then this is something to avoid. On the other hand, if you want some sweet foodie perfume that is probably not good for you spray some Candied Charms on and join the party.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Room 1015 Hollyrose- Eau de Penny Lane

There are many times where I am introduced to a new brand and it doesn’t come together for me, but I am rooting for them. This is the case for the Room 1015 brand. I’ve met the owner Michael Partouche a.k.a. Dr. Mike a few times over the past two years since he founded the brand. On the first visit he explained how this was meant to be a brand inspired by 1970’s rock and roll. The name itself refers to the infamous room at the Continental Hyatt hotel on Sunset Boulevard where Rolling Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards flung a television out the window in 1972. As one who was growing up on the music in this period there was a glorious DIY mentality as everyone was trying to figure out how to keep this gig rolling. All while secretly believing it was going to end tomorrow so live for tonight.

Michael Partouche a.k.a. Dr. Mike

When Dr. Mike laid this out as the aesthetic he wanted I was excited to try a collection of power chords and anarchy. Which was the opposite of what I got from the three debut fragrances. They were nice, but they were not 1970’s rock and roll. They were American Top 40 as perfume. Over the next two releases I began to think that was what Dr. Mike wanted. I thought the perfume I wanted from Room 1015 was not going to come. Then I received my sample of Hollyrose and got what I was waiting for.

Kate Hudson as Penny Lane in the movie "Almost Famous"

For Hollyrose Dr. Mike was inspired by the groupies who became secondary stars to the rock stars they hung out with. Because they were sources of information the writers for the earliest publications covering the industry used them for that. This was a time when the rules were being written; with none set in stone. The leather jacket-clad ladies would be hanging around as the band made their stop where they lived. To capture this Dr. Mike works with perfumer Jerome Epinette for the first time. They deliver a rose in a black leather fisted glove which captures those Band-Aids and their world.

Hollyrose opens with a nose tickling accord of black pepper and sticky green blackcurrant bud. Blackcurrant bud can verge on the unpleasant; M. Epinette keeps it safely away from that but there are moments it feels like it might break out. The rose comes through as M. Epinette puts it into a well-cared for black leather jacket accord. This is the smell of rock and roll women throughout the 70’s. A bit of patchouli reminds you that the hippie aesthetic still lilts through it all.

Hollyrose has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

As I wore Hollyrose I kept thinking about the groupie portrayed by Kate Hudson named Penny Lane in the movie “Almost Famous”. This seems like what she would smell like. Which means Dr. Mike finally found the 70’s vibe I was hoping for.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Room 1015.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review A Lab on Fire California Snow- Palm Springs Twilight

One of the most striking cities I’ve visited is Palm Springs, California. Post-World War 2 it became the place for Los Angelinos to have a second home and many of the Hollywood stars would spend time there. Because of this the architecture of the bigger homes in the area carry that modernist style of the late 1950’s into the 1960’s. They all have swimming pools beyond the typical rectangle. Besides the architecture there is also the geography as it sits squarely in the Sonoran Desert surrounded by Joshua Tree National Park to the east, San Bernadino National Forest to the north, the Salton Sea to the south and Mount Saint Jacinto State Park to the east. This means the scents of the desert combine with the scents of the manicured gardens of the houses just as twilight falls; A Lab on Fire California Snow captures that.

Frank Sinatra's Palm Springs home, Twin Palms

Creative director for A Lab on Fire, Carlos Kusubayashi, has created a brand where he has delighted in allowing the perfumers wide latitude to make their perfume. Until now those have all been perfumers whom have had a portfolio. For California Snow he is giving that freedom to a new perfumer from IFF, Mackenzie Reilly. When reading the bio on the A Lab on Fire website I was struck with this passage where she describes where her minimalist style comes from, “Sophia Grojsman taught me: know the ingredients you love and work with them over and over – it won’t make you boring; it will make you good!” I think this is a laudable approach to take to perfume design. It also explains why California Snow is such a striking debut.

Mackenzie Reilly

One of the things that struck me about Palm Springs is all of the glass in the architecture. It has a clarity to it which makes it feel like a crystal city. Ms. Reilly spends the early moments of California Snow interpreting that kind of transparency with a focused set of ingredients that captures the setting of the sun. By the time we pass through the sunset things cool off and the smell of the earth and the florals arise. Finally the breeze brings the smells of the nearby forest and a relaxing neighor.

California Snow opens with a very arid sage note this is made a little less astringent by using some coumarin to give that kind of hay-like sweetness to the sage. A small amount of chamomile provides the harbinger of the rose to come in the heart. Early on this is as focused a rose as the sage is on top. Over time it starts to become less delineated. The coumarin is still here to provide some of that effect. Vetiver heralds the final cooling off as a damp soil accord around patchouli takes over. In the final stages a warm breeze of musks carry the scents of the cedar trees in the forests and the smell of the neighbor smoking a joint.

California Snow has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I like the progression from warm and dry to cool and moist that happens throughout the development of California Snow. Ms. Reilly shows a deftness at making this set of transitions without it seeming abrupt. This is a remarkable first impression. I will be very interested to see what comes next as her follow-up. In the meantime I’ll sit poolside breathing in the scent of twilight in Palm Springs.

Disclosure: This review based on a sample from A Lab on Fire.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Eris Parfums Mx.- Fluid Dynamics


I have written many times that I think the best perfumes arise from a creative dynamic between a creative director and a perfumer. A creative director with a clear vision paired with the ability to articulate it can give a perfumer the guidance they require to put together a memorable fragrance. It really is akin to a movie director getting the right emotional performance from the actors. A good perfume creative director does the same thing with the perfumer they work with. Most of the time I come to meet the creative director long after I have tried their perfumes. Except recently some of the people with whom I have shared the perfume blogosphere with have made the leap to creative direction of their own brand of perfumes. Now these are creative directors who have written many words about what perfume should be. As best as one can, I “know” them through their writing.

Barbara Herman

One who has done this is the writer of the blog “Yesterday’s Perfume” and the book “Scent and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume”; Barbara Herman. A little over a year ago she debuted her new brand, Eris Parfums, with three extremely well-done releases. Her creative direction was integral to achieving her fragrant vision. In perfumer Antoine Lie she found a collaborator who understood it. This is an easy thing to write; this is not an easy thing to achieve. Ms. Herman and M. Lie created a diverse collection capturing many of the principles Ms. Herman had written about. One of those is the idea that “scent is subversive”.

Antoine Lie

In a recent local appearance, she read from “Scent and Subversion” focusing on one of the dynamic ways scent works beneath the surface; as a commentary on the fluidity of gender. She, like me, gets lots of questions of whether this is a “woman’s” or “man’s” perfume. The correct answer is if it smells good on you it is “your” perfume. The first artificial constraint of designing a perfume, by deciding which gender it should appeal to, is already confining. After her reading was over Ms. Herman introduced us to her fourth release Mx.

Mx. is the non-gender title created in England during the 1970’s. It is meant to impart nothing about gender. With the current social dynamic in flux the term has come back to the fore. Ms. Herman and M. Lie chose it as the inspiration, and name, because as a perfume it is meant to capture that kind of flow as things shift without ever rising to being of a specific gender.

If the first three Eris Parfums were meant to be perfume the way they used to make them; Mx. represents the idea that this is the way we should make them now. The idea that something gender neutral means neutral in composition is discarded by Ms. Herman and M. Lie. Their thesis, in the guise of Mx., is true gender neutral must stand for something. In this case it is a sandalwood-centric construct from which they can elaborate upon in ways which hew to neither side of the gender divide.

Mx. opens on an accord of spice over the sandalwood. In the very first seconds a sizzling ginger fizzes across my consciousness drawing my attention to the sandalwood. As the ginger dies down what is left behind is a plush pillow of saffron and incense. Saffron has a softening effect which is what happens here. Out of that some black pepper provides some texture in the early moments. The spices and sandalwood take their time evolving towards the base accord but eventually vetiver heralds the transition to a base of patchouli. At first it is turned slightly gourmand with cacao before growing some claws with castoreum.

Mx. has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate silage.

One of the things Ms. Herman mentioned in her reading was the concept of the inoffensive office scent. Mx. is an office scent for those who are not interested in bland inoffensive perfume. It is a scent which plays subversive commentator on the societal fluid dynamics of whether a fragrance is a “woman’s” or a “man’s”. In the case of Mx. it is “mine” and that is all that matters to me.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Holiday Snickerdoodles

After unpacking the lights, ornaments, and trimming the next phase of getting into the holiday spirit is baking cookies. It usually means seasonal twists on things I already bake year around. Candy Cane kisses on thumbprint cookies or peppermint chips mixed in with the chocolate chips. The one cookie I only seem to make during the Holiday season probably has more to do with my odd sensibility because there isn’t anything particularly Christmas-like about snickerdoodles.

Snickerdoodles are the soft chewy version of a sugar cookie coated in cinnamon sugar prior to baking. I bake them this time of year and use green and red sugar in the place of regular sugar for the coating mixture. I got curious about their history and found out some interesting tidbits.

Snickerdoodles, by that name, are a purely North American creation. Although it is thought they are probably a variation on a German cookie called Schneckennudel, which translates to “snail noodle” the truth is probably more prosaic. They originated in New England and some baker liked the nonsense sound of the word. Because it seems like they first appeared in New England with the earliest mentions of them from that region. The earliest printed recipe is found from 1902 by a pair of Iowa housewives, Mrs. Barnum and Mrs. Delavan. The origin will probably never be fully uncovered.

There is another kind of debate about snickerdoodles. Do you like them soft or crisp? That comes down to the way you bake them more than any change to the basic recipe. The other unique piece of making a snicker doodle is the ingredient “cream of tartar”. It is a more critical addition if you like them soft because cream of tartar helps make things fluffier by activating some of the other ingredients. It is not a dealbreaker if you don’t have it on hand but the ones with it in the recipe are chewier.

The recipe is as simple as it gets:

½ cup room temperature butter

½ cup shortening

1 cup sugar

½ cup brown sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

2 ¾ cups flour

Mix the butter, shortening, sugar, brown sugar and eggs together with a beater until they form a smooth batter then add in the cream of tartar, baking soda, salt, and vanilla extract; beat until they are all mixed in. Then add in the flour a little at a time until it all forms a smooth mixture. Take a tablespoon out and roll into a ball. Then roll the ball through the coating mixture of 2 tablespoons of sugar and 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon.

Put the balls evenly spaced on a cookie sheet and cook for 8 minutes at 400 degrees.

After they are done transfer to a wire rack to cool. This recipe usually makes thirty or so cookies.

As I mentioned above I use a holiday sugar mix of red and green colored sugar with the cinnamon to give them a holiday theme.

Mark Behnke