New Perfume Review Jul et Mad Stairway to Heaven- White Musk Whispers

As new materials in perfumery are more widely used there are some which I become less fond of. The category of ingredients called white musks became omnipresent in the first decade of this century. Also called “laundry musks” these are the fresher analogs to the heavier versions which hew closer to the natural source. There are so many of the lighter musks because they have uses beyond perfume. They are the main ingredient in clothing detergent when it says, “spring fresh”. As perfumers began to use them more and more for their fixative properties, I would find they could give a kind of screechy quality to the final stages of perfumes. One of the best things about perfumery today is there are so many creative people looking to do something different. I am not sure when it happened, but it seems like around five or six years ago a few of them learned a curious truth. One white musk might be boring but if you layer a bunch of them together there are some almost supernatural effects to be found. Jul et Mad Stairway to Heaven finds the right set can take you to the roof of the world.

Julien Blanchard (l.) and Madalina Stoica-Blanchard

Jul et Mad are creative directors-owners Julien Blanchard and his wife Madalina Stoica-Blanchard. The brand is named after them because it represents their life as translated into fragrance. For Stairway to Heaven it is based on their trip to the Himalayas in Nepal. They would hike up to the Annapurna Base Camp the literal stairway to the highest heights a human can attain via walking. I’ve done my share of high-altitude hiking here in North America. In the press materials they describe the experience as “bowing before the beauty and the sumptuousness of this veritable sanctuary.” There is something spiritual about reaching as high as you are able. There is also a scent to that.

Cecile Zarokian

For Stairway to Heaven the Blanchards turned again to perfumer Cecile Zarokian, whom they worked with previously on Aqua Sextius. It seems like they all agreed that this was going to be a white perfume. Mme Zarokian is that kind of ingeniously curious perfumer that I have a feeling she had a cocktail of white musks she thought might work. The press release says the heart of Stairway to Heaven is a combination of eight white musks. It leads to a fantastic accord at the center of this perfume.

Before those white musks show up Mme Zarokian wants us to take a deep breath of cold air at altitude. She opens with a chilly whoosh of aldehydes; another maligned ingredient. Mme Zarokian uses a firm hand at keeping the balance refreshing instead of obstreperous. Now as we look out over the snow field rising to the sky the musks come together in a powdery snow accord which is kept traditionally powdery in the early moments by rose and iris. The musks get a firmer hold and now they are like shuffling through fluffy crunchy snow refreshing and soft. A skirl of meditative incense wafts over the musks in the final phases.

Stairway to Heaven has 24-hour plus longevity and average sillage to start before becoming a skin scent after 12 hours or so.

Stairway to Heaven is a wonderfully realized brief. Most of the time I laugh at what a perfume is supposed to remind me of. Not this time. Every time I had this on my skin it was like staring up at the majesty of nature. Only to have a mixture of white musks whisper back to me.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Jul et Mad.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Best Wine for Thanksgiving

Because I’m a wine snob my friends always ask me one question every year, “What wine should I serve for Thanksgiving?” Of all the things I get asked this is close to the easiest answer I give, “American Zinfandels”. They are the ideal partner to a stuffed turkey dinner.

For all that we know of the more popular grape varieties out of California, zinfandel were the first grapes to produce wine in the early part of the 20th century. It was almost the entirety of the grape crop prior to Prohibition. Once temperance became law almost all the vineyards uprooted their vines and switched to other crops. There were a few stubborn outliers who were able to make a living off selling wine to churches. For sacramental purposes only, of course. For the most part when you see the phrase “old vines” on a California Zinfandel it is one of these obstinate winery owner’s crops you’re drinking.

One of the reasons zinfandel was popular from a grower’s perspective is it is a sturdy grape. Not as affected by the whims of too much sun or too little rain and vice versa. That is one of its best selling points as a wine I recommend a lot. There are years which are better than others but there have been hardly any terrible years. I can just tell you to go find a zinfandel from California, Washington, or Oregon with assurance it will be a good bottle of wine.

What makes it the right wine for Holiday turkey dinners is it falls right in between the lighter pinot noirs and the heavier cabernet sauvignons. The former tends to get bulldozed by the spices in a typical Thanksgiving dinner. The latter do the bulldozing with their strong tannic profile overwhelming the food. Zinfandels fit right in providing a nice complement to the typical fall spices, even pumpkin spice. It also provides a rich counterbalance to the turkey whether you like white or dark meat.

The final piece to the equation is most zinfandels sit in the magic price zone of $10-20 per bottle. You can spend a touch more and if you are a regular wine drinker appreciate the added nuance you get. For most those zinfandels which sit in the more moderate price range will perform at the large family dinner just as well.

If you want a wine for Thanksgiving go find a nice zinfandel. Its as easy as that.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Hermes Elixir des Merveilles- Holidays with Jean-Claude

I have a whole set of perfumes I wear during the Holiday season of Thanksgiving through the New Year. This is the time of year which seems a natural fit for the gourmands in my collection to make their appearance. As I begin to sort them to the front of my shelves, I am reminded of those that helped define the genre in the early days. This year I looked at the tilted round bottle of Hermes Elixir des Merveilles and thought this might be a Holiday gourmand that flies Under the Radar.

Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena spent over ten years as in-house perfumer at Hermes. His earliest creations of the first Hermessences, the first two “Un Jardins” and Terre D’Hermes would set the aesthetic which would be refined throughout his tenure. Tucked in this same time period is Elixir des Merveilles. It never felt like part of that minimalist aesthetic. As a guess it always felt to me as if it was M. Ellena’s response to the bombast of the alpha gourmand; Thierry Mugler Angel. While Elixir des Merveilles doesn’t get quite as transparent as the other perfumes M. Ellena made for Hermes it is more than a few notches less effusive than Angel.

Jean-Claude Ellena

The original Eau des Merveilles was an homage to ambergris. M. Ellena imagined Elixir des Merveilles to take that ambergris and float it on a chocolate ocean. Before we get there, a fabulous spiced orange accord begins things. Then the chocolate rises accompanied by warm balsamic notes, cedar, and ambergris. This is the amazing gourmand heart which engages me time after time. To give it that final Holiday twist M. Ellena creates a sugar cookie accord fresh from the oven.

Elixir des Merveilles has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

As I was thinking about writing this, I realized that while Elixir des Merveilles does not rise to the transparency of the current trend of gourmands it feels like a forerunner. I always facetiously imagine it is what the Holidays at Jean-Claude’s house must smell like. I’m sure I’m wrong but it is what the Holidays in Poodlesville smells like on the days I wear it.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Dasein Winter Green- Creme de Menthe Christmas Tree

The first alcoholic drink I ever had was during Christmas in the mid 1960’s. I had always seen the adults sipping this brilliant green syrup out of small glasses. My mother would hold it up to my nose to smell and there was this wonderfully thick minty-ness. I don’t remember exactly my age when my mom decided it would be all right to pour me a sip or two of crème de menthe in the same tiny glass the other adults had. I remember sitting at the end of the couch taking tiny little tastes trying to make it last. The Christmas tree was right next to me. I remember thinking the tree and the mint smelled nice together. I haven’t thought about that for probably fifty-plus years; until I received my sample of Dasein Winter Green.

Sam Rader

Dasein is the perfume brand from independent perfumer Sam Rader. She first caught my attention during Christmas time 2014 with her first perfume Winter. Winter was a photorealistic Christmas tree perfume. Ms. Rader would follow up with the other three seasons all showing great attention to detail. When she took her brand to the AIX Scent Fair in Los Angeles she would meet fellow independent perfumer Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors. They hit it off and collaborated on the sequel to Winter; Winter Nights in 2016. That perfume was also built around the Christmas tree accord Ms. Rader had built previously but now was altered to represent a Christmas tree around a bonfire. Winter Nights is one of my favorite perfumes which I always wear every Holiday season.

Josh Meyer

As an early holiday present I heard there was going to be a new Winter perfume continuing the collaborative creativity of Ms. Rader and Mr. Meyer. I was excited enough to contact both to find out a bit about how Winter Green came together.

Ms. Rader remembers the name came first, “We started brainstorming what direction we might want to go in for the green note. We tried mixing the WINTER juice with grass, with basil, with vetiver. We eventually found that mint plays nicely with my already very conifer heavy blend” Mr. Meyer had already been doing a lot of work with mint, “We talked a lot about new options for what would be fun to work with and the idea of mint was strong on my mind from Saint Julep… after working on it for so long, and spending so much time with a lot of the mint materials, I was excited about making a different kind of mint.” Both wanted to make a mint perfume which stood apart.

Their working relationship involves sending mods back and forth via mail. Mr. Meyer believes it took twice as long to come together as Winter Nights did using the same process, “We sent a lot of perfumes back and forth, Sam even sent me an incredible candle for inspiration, then it was fragrant sketches back and forth, and then when we got close, we hovered around a few different formulations based on different accords in varying concentrations. Simply dialing in the right balance that we were both really excited about. “That balance was all centered on the mint as Ms. Rader recounts, “We used several different mint oils to achieve the accord. I wanted it to be very mint forward, but at the same time not too camphorous, more of a heart note. We supported the mint with some round florals and other magic molecules that helped marry the mint to the pine and spruce….we both knew we wanted a mint with tenacity that would last far into the dry down….We had to work some magic but I think we finally got there!”

Winter Green opens with the evergreen accord Ms. Rader has perfected matched with the mint. The early version of the mint is that very herbal version. It causes the mint to rise out of the needles of the pine. It does so on sparkles of citrus provided by the tartness of pomelo with the floral herbal aspect of baie rose. The mint turns thicker at the same time as the evergreen accord becomes stronger. A gorgeous breeze of jasmine wends its way between the mint and fir. It all snaps together on a matrix of beeswax as it adds sweetness to both tree and herb without becoming treacly. The whole perfume is so well-balanced.

Winter Green has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

These two creative minds need to work together more often. My final question to both was what took you three years to work together again? The answer from both is understandable; their lives are busy. As Mr. Meyer says, “We're just both so busy and both of the same mindset that all this perfume 'work' should be nothing but a ton of fun, so it's sincere joy working on a project together. “Ms. Rader needed that reminder, “I am grateful to Josh for continually infusing my company with new life.  It was awesome to put my creative hat back on this year and receive tons of USPS packages for sniffing as we constructed this beautiful complex scent together.”

This is another fabulous perfume in the Dasein Winter collection. I have been wearing it these early days of the Season and it complements my mood ideally. From a perfectly selfish standpoint I would love seeing what these two creative minds could do with any of the other three Dasein seasons. While I’m waiting, I’ll be sitting by the Christmas tree sipping crème de menthe luxuriating in Dasein Winter Green.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Floral Street Ylang Ylang Espresso- Bitter Floral

Back in August I received a discovery set of a new perfume brand, Floral Street. I was impressed by the overall set of perfumes. I felt like there were going to be a couple that would be better for me to try in colder weather. Floral Street Ylang Ylang Espresso turned out to be one of those.

The current trend of floral gourmands is producing surprising intersections of ingredients. Ylang ylang is one of those multi-faceted ingredients which practically begs for a similarly versatile partner. I wouldn’t have thought coffee would be that kind of ideal companion. In the hands of perfumer Jerome Epinette it is.

Jerome Epinette

It is my guess that M. Epinette is using a set of ylang ylang fractions in this fragrance. The reason is the inherent salicylates which tend to give a banana-like piece of the scent profile seem almost non-existent. Instead we are left with the floral sweetness which carries a subtle freshness with it. This is still the sexy ylang ylang I like just without the fruit salad hat. M. Epinette then contrasts it with a roasted coffee bean. This is a rich coffee scent given a healthy dose of bitterness capturing the oils on the surface of the roasted bean. Together these two ingredients rock back and forth in a pleasurable teeter totter. M. Epinete sweetens things up with a dusting of cocoa powder over light woods in the base.

Ylang Ylang Espresso has 12-14 hour longevity.

This is one of those style of perfumes you haven’t smelled everywhere. The balance of floral and coffee is exactly what I am hoping for as this floral gourmand trend continues to expand. It is these kinds of unusual pairs which will lead to this trend going far beyond its simplistic description. Ylang Ylang Espresso is one which is going to be a trendsetter for the trend.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Tauer L’Air des Alpes Suisses- High-Altitude Meadow

It has been almost fifteen years since independent perfumer Andy Tauer burst onto the scene with L’Air du Desert Marocain. He has become one of the longest lasting independent perfumers in the business. When I read in his newsletter that his newest was also going to be a “L’Air” I was looking forward to it. It turned out Hr. Tauer was going to take us from the desert of Morocco to the slopes of the Swiss Alps with Tauer L’Air des Alpes Suisses.

Andy Tauer

It is easy to conjure up snowy slopes when you read Swiss Alps. That is not what Hr. Tauer is going for. If you need a visual to get you in the right frame of mind think of the opening shot of “The Sound of Music” as Maria sings while she wanders through an Alpine meadow. That is the “L’Air” Hr. Tauer wants to turn into a perfume. As one who has done my share of hiking at altitude in the American mountains there is a scent to the summer slopes which is what L’Air des Alpes Suisses captures.

This begins with that green of mountain foliage growing out of the stone beneath. The top accord forms a sharp green over a subtle stoniness with a set of lung-filling ozonic notes. The green softens while also turning slightly spicy while we walk through a field of wildflowers perfuming the air in the sunlight. It creates a floral accord contrasted with the green. The green continues into a set of woody notes to capture the scraggly trunks of the trees which grow on the escarpment.

L’Air des Alpes Suisses has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

In so many ways Hr. Tauer has been a breath of fresh air to the world of perfumery. L’Air des Alpes Suisses is a perfume of fresh floral greens and woods. It is the contentment of a high-altitude walk through a meadow.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Masque Milano Love Kills- Memory of Passion

As much as I grumpily exclaim, “Oh look another rose perfume.” every time I receive a new one there is a reason to sniff them. For all that rose is the undisputed champion of fragrance my lack of enthusiasm stems from the fact that too often it is just another generic version. The reason I try every one is because rose as an ingredient has so much potential in the right creative team’s hands. When that happens, I am drawn deep into the complexity of its beauty. It is that experience I had with Masque Milano Love Kills.

Riccardo Tedeschi (l.) and Alessandro Brun

Over the last six years the creative directors at Masque Milano, Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi, have proven to be one of the smartest in all of independent niche perfumery. Usually when I hear a brand I admire is bringing out a rose soliflore I am usually underwhelmed. A reason I felt differently about Love Kills is because Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi have an unmatched record at using young talented perfumers early in their careers. They also have a reputation for allowing them an opportunity to spread their creative wings. This is not usually afforded younger perfumers on their earliest briefs. It is one of the reasons I believe Masque Milano has stood out among its competitors.

Caroline Dumur

For Love Kills they collaborated with perfumer Caroline Dumur. Mme Dumur has landed on my radar screen with a flourish. She was behind two of the recent Comme des Garcons releases, Chlorophyll Gardenia and Odeur du Theatre du Chatelet. I hesitate to look for too much in a scant few data points but Mme Dumur has shown a deft touch with overtly synthetic ingredients which provide an odd contemporary effect by the end. In Love Kills this is inverted. Starting with a synthetic opening it ends on an elegiac accord for a floral queen.

The synthetic opening is a combination of the light muskiness of ambrette and the metallic floral quality of rose oxide. What turns this is the addition of lychee with its syrupy mustiness. It coats those shiny surfaces with treacly viscosity. In the heart a traditional lush rose pushes back against that modernity. It is classically paired with dark patchouli. This is the deep passionate rose that draws so many admirers. As contrast to that modern top accord it asks which you prefer. I find the question has been provocatively asked by Mme Dumur. The final part of Love Kills is the desiccation of that rose using the synthetic ambergris analog ambrarome and austere cedar. Like the silica in a drying jar it leaves a dusty rose over the final phase of development.

Love Kills has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

As much as I enjoyed the classic v. modern tussle on top of Love Kills it is the final portion which has stayed with me. There is a tragic feel of love which has, indeed, killed. It leaves only the memory of passion in the scent of a dusty rose.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Aerin Rose Cocoa- A Lighter Shade of Gourmand

The recent trend of transparent floral gourmands has had me wondering. Could a perfume which takes some of the traditionally less transparent ingredients find a way to offer a lighter fragrance experience. Secondarily would I miss the extra depth lost to the airiness. Turns out Aerin Rose Cocoa helps answer some of these thoughts.

Aerin Lauder

Rose Cocoa is the Holiday release for 2019. When it comes to seasonal releases gourmands have long been staples. They have been spice-laden sweet concoctions which tread the line of being almost too sweet. Transparent was not going to be an adjective for these types of fragrances. Which is a reason I was interested to see how Aerin Lauder navigated her first gourmand perfume for a brand which has become one of the best at getting the transparency right.

Olivier Cresp

Ms. Lauder chose to collaborate with perfumer Olivier Cresp. They wanted to have the heart of this perfume be what was in the name; rose and chocolate. There are a couple of paths that can be taken. You can coat the floral in a thick chocolate shell eventually overwhelming it. Or the path taken in Rose Cocoa which is to imagine a rose dusted with a healthy dose of powdered cocoa. This gives both ingredients some space to shine.

It opens on an airy spice accord of cinnamon and orange. This is a common Holiday perfume top accord. M. Cresp makes it much lighter than I usually experience. It has the effect of enhancing the citrus over the spice. The converse is usually the case. The title notes come forward quickly as a spicy rose finds itself coated in dry cocoa powder. This creates an arid floral gourmand heart accord. To keep it from being too dry M. Cresp rehydrates it with iris and vanilla. Judicious amounts of both to retain the opacity but to keep it from being sharply desiccated. It ends on a woody amber base of long-lasting synthetics.

Rose Cocoa has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

One of the reasons I have been enjoying the transparent floral gourmands is I sometimes don’t want to be coated in a foodie accord. Every once in a while, I would like to have it be a lighter shade of gourmand. Rose Cocoa does that for me.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Stephen King

1

In the summer of 1980 I discovered an author who I have spent the last nearly four decades alone in my head. I picked up a copy of “Salem’s Lot” by Stephen King beginning the relationship where he writes books and I read them.

In that summer of 1980 my friends and I had discovered the horror genre of novel. At that point Mr. King was already at the top of the heap. As I started to back fill from “Salem’s Lot” I would find two novels which rank among my all-time favorites; “The Shining” and “The Stand”. I would finish reading “The Shining” a couple days before the movie adaptation by Stanley Kubrick was released. When we went to see it on opening night, I was that cranky moviegoer with “the book was way better” on my lips. It took me a decade to appreciate the movie for what it is.

Stephen King

Which is something that is not common for most of Mr. King’s books. I always felt drawn to his stories while thinking this would make a great movie. So many of them have, that the thought is proven over and over.

I think it is something that is never appreciated fully. When any artist can create content which connects with a large audience it is met with suspicion instead of support. Mr. King was always so genial about his place in the literary firmament. He would speak about his writing with humility.

What I found very interesting was even he was curious if he had become a brand or was he talented. He would write books under the pseudonym Richard Bachmann from 1977 to 1984. Without any fanfare or publicity he still found an audience. I laughed after the ruse was exposed. My local bookstore had recommended this new book “Thinner” by Richard Bachmann because I was such a fan of Mr. King.

There seems to be a turning point in Mr. King’s personal life which has impacted his writing since 1999. In June of that year he would be struck by a car while walking near his home in Maine. Since his recovery there has seemed to be a pleasure in writing that was enhanced. He was able to complete his “The Dark Tower” series. A set of seven books which are among the very best fantasy series ever written.

Somewhere along the line of doing that he has begun to connect the rest of his novels to the world revealed within “The Dark Tower”. Sometimes subtle sometimes overt each time there is another connection I smile as it comes off the page.

He has produced a “crime novel” trilogy which has also become one of my favorites of all that I have read by him.

Unlike in 1980 I am looking forward to the movie adaptation of his sequel to “The Shining”, “Doctor Sleep”. This time after the movie I will still probably say “the book was way better” but it will be tempered by the time I have spent reading Mr. King for all these years.

Mark Behnke

Do You Want To Build A Perfume?

There have been several recent perfume vloggers moving from talking about perfume to making perfume. It is an interesting thing to watch as people so love perfume they want to participate beyond commentary. I think all the recent efforts have done things properly. Acting as creative director and not perfumer. They’ve all hired professional perfumers to collaborate with.

It is also a rewarding effort when your fragrance ideas connect with an audience. I know that Barbara Herman went from writing about vintage perfume on her blog to producing a fabulous collection which represents much of what she wrote about. Arielle Weinberg has also moved from her blog to shop owner to creative director. Her perfumes are recognizably extensions of her writing and experience behind the cash register. There are other success stories which point out that it isn’t a ridiculous idea.

While I look on in admiration for those who make this leap; I don’t want to do it. I feel a bit like Elsa in “Frozen” with people asking outside my closed door, “Do You Want to Build A Perfume?” It is an easy answer to say no.

The first reason is I don’t have a fantastic idea for a perfume. There isn’t something lacking in the fragrance world which I believe I have some unique perspective on. It is something I think is common to those who do take this step. They have something they want to express through fragrance based on their experience as a consumer/commentator. I once told a dear friend when asked about creating something, “I think I just want to sit and sniff.”

That’s the other big reason. I think if I tried to make a perfume, I would lose some of my enthusiasm for writing about it. Sitting at my computer sharing what I think I know about perfume gives me a great deal of joy; even after ten years of doing it. I always go to sleep at night with a sense of satisfaction that I have written a new post. I still find that every new perfume I receive adds more to my experience. I would hate to start looking at other perfumes as competition for my creations.

Which means when the world sings to me, “Do You Want To Build A Perfume?” I sit contentedly at my keyboard and reply, “No.”

Mark Behnke