New Perfume Review Nest Sunkissed Hibiscus- South Florida Reverie

Growing up in South Florida I knew our climate was different. I never really understood those who had need for more than the two seasons of spring and summer we had. We lived in the tropics where the sun shone all day and the flowers bloomed all around us. In our yard we had this beautiful bush which grew dark red flowers with a stiff yellow rod tipped with pollen sticking out from the middle. I spent a lot of days watching the pollinating insects dipping down inside to return with nectar. The flower has this lovely sweet scent. There have been a few perfumes which have tried to capture this; Nest Sunkissed Hibiscus does it well.

Laura Slatkin

Nest has been releasing well-done florals since their inception. Creative director-owner Laura Slatkin has had a clear vision right from the start with Amazon Lily. Another tropical inspired floral. Sunkissed Hibiscus hearkens back to those beginnings. The perfumer is not named for this perfume but there is a lushness to it which reminds me of a previous Nest release, Wisteria Blue. The perfumer for that one was Rodrigo Flores-Roux and I wouldn’t be surprised to know he was behind Sunkissed Hibiscus.

Whoever the perfumer is they can’t use hibiscus essential oil; they must construct an accord. In this case they rely upon four other tropical floral ingredients to create an abstraction of hibiscus. Those four pieces are frangipani, orange blossom, tuberose, and gardenia. It forms a vividly floral accord which carries the signature humidity of the tropics. The remaining ingredients are meant to reinforce that. First is coconut in its slightly musky off-kilter sweet way. Second is a warm amber to provide the sun kissed part of the name. The amber feels like the warmth of sunset cutting across the hibiscus as the bees make their last run of the day.

Sunkissed Hibiscus has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I spent a lot of afternoons on the steps of my home watching the insects climbing in and out of the hibiscus. I would close my eyes and let the sun kiss my cheek in a South Florida reverie. Sunkissed Hibiscus does the same thing.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Atelier Cologne Love Osmanthus- What It Is

Especially with perfume brands I know well I have expectations. Fair or unfair my favorites have an extra criterion to live up to. I’ve always realized that, but it was brought front and center with Atelier Cologne Love Osmanthus.

Those who have followed me over the years know I think of Atelier Cologne as one of those brands which are “mine”. It Is because we both started doing our respective things at the same time. Back when Atelier Cologne was just a stand in a section of the Bergdorf Goodman a little over ten years ago to the huge worldwide brand they’ve become. They have been my favorite example on the difference between mainstream and niche perfumes. When they started being offered in Sephora it was my stock answer to send readers in to give them a try and see if they detected the difference. Most of them did. This fragrance form of cologne absolue pioneered by founders Sylvie and Christophe Cervasel has been influential in ways big and small. Love Osmanthus is the forty-second release. Here is where things became difficult for me.

Christophe and Sylvie Cervasel

Another thing longtime readers know is I adore osmanthus. So to say I was psyched for an Atelier Cologne osmanthus was obvious. Except when I received the bottle this wasn’t an osmanthus fragrance. It is listed as an ingredient, but I’ve spent weeks in search of it. It is not there. Although I have other favorites the combination of wood and citrus is maybe the signature of Atelier Cologne. That is what Love Osmanthus is. What it isn’t is the best of that style within the brand. On my Atelier Cologne shelf there are many of these types of perfumes and I wear them all. It is just with forty-two Atelier Cologne choices Love Osmanthus is not my favorite. There is my conundrum. It is where I am taking my disappointment in no osmanthus being present along with it being a different iteration of woody citrus. Those are the extra criterion I was mentioning.

Then I had to ask myself is it fair? If this was the first Atelier Cologne I had encountered would I have thought it was good? Despite the name being misleading taken against the rest of the world and not the high bar within the brand is it good? Faced with my own bias I think the answer is yes.

Love Osmanthus is extremely simple a bitingly bright lemon over clean, slightly green, woods of cedar. There is this fleeting creamy floral which is buried deep. It doesn’t smell like any osmanthus I’ve encountered. If I was identifying it, I would call it magnolia because that is creamy and woody. The balance is ideal, and the lemon and cedar go all day.

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

The bottom line is Love Oemanthus is another very good citrus woody from a brand which excels at them. If you focus on what it is and not on what it is not, I think you’ll like it.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Aether Arts Perfume Gunsmoke & Roses- In A Western Town

One of my favorite movie genres is the Western. One of the reasons I like Star Wars so much is George Lucas described it as “Wagon Train among the stars”. The recent “The Mandalorian” confirmed the Western milieu of that galaxy far, far, away. I enjoy Westerns because of the plots where righteous gunfighters find their resolution on the streets of the town in a gunfight. Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for the spaghetti westerns he scored with Clint Eastwood as the star is one of those things I play when I feel the need for inner strength. It was why when independent perfumer Amber Jobin told me her new release, Aether Arts Perfume Gunsmoke & Roses, was a Wild West perfume I was hooked.

Amber Jobin

The description on the website calls it a masculine floral. It is that. Except while I was wearing it, I was reminded of one of my favorite modern Westerns; 1995’s “The Quick and the Dead”. In that story Sharon Stone plays “The Lady” who comes to town to enter a single elimination gunfighting tournament. As with all these movies she is in town to settle scores along the way. Which she does in a smoky haze of dynamite and bullets. As much as Gunsmoke & Roses is meant to be a masculine floral it also reminded me strongly of The Lady who combined being a woman with some tough as nails gunfighting skills.

I enjoy some odd real smells. One of them is the scent of gun oil. I’ve been around family members and friends who own guns. The smell of the gun cabinet is not gunpowder and brass; it is the sheen of gun oil on every piece of metal. It has a rich slightly sweet smell. Ms. Jobin finds that right from the start. Its as if The Lady is taking care of her pistol after the first round of the tournament. There is the precise faint gunpowder accord Ms. Jobin adds in here. This is subtle and it reminded me strongly of the way a weapon smells after it has been put away after use. The promised roses come next. These are not your typical opulent rose, hence the masculine floral descriptor. It is a rose with a gin-soaked bite via juniper. As The Lady looks down at the rose in one hand and the bottle of gin in the other, another round of the tournament plays out on the street below. The smell of smoke rises to her window. Ms. Jobin uses choya ral, birch tar, and patchouli to capture the gunsmoke accord. The Lady does a slow clap for the victor; tossing the rose to him while toasting with the bottle of gin before she takes a swig.

Gunsmoke & Roses has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Ms. Jobin has spent the last year or so in high-concept perfumes which appealed to me for their audacious attempts to reach for the frontiers of what independent perfumery could be. Gunsmoke & Roses hearkens back to a different frontier in more realistic terms. You might not want to smell like High Noon in Dodge City but I sure do.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Aether Arts Perfume.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Long Bright River by Liz Moore

Not often, there are times where I finish a book where I am shaken and stirred emotionally. I close my iPad down and think “Wow! What did I just read?” The first book I read in 2020 did that to me; “Long Bright River” by Liz Moore.

Liz Moore has been an author I have followed since her debut novel “The Words of Every Song” in 2007. She is part of that damningly inexact genre known as “literary fiction”. I’m not fond of the term because I don’t know what it stands for. Novels written on a higher plane? Or to a higher purpose? Or to do something different with a known genre? It seems critical and praising in the same two words. For perhaps the first time Ms. Moore makes it seem praiseworthy by answering yes to my questions above.

Liz Moore

Long Bright River tells the story of two sisters, Mickey and Kacey, from Philadelphia. Mickey has grown up to become a cop. Kacey has become an addict. Mickey is the narrator of the story. The book moves like a police procedural as Mickey is drawn back to the Kensington neighborhood, she and Kacey grew up in. By moving back and forth in time Mickey tells of their childhood and how they ended up on two different paths. In the current day Kensington there is a serial killer preying on the addict community living in the abandoned buildings of their old neighborhood. Mickey pursues the case because she is worried Kacey could be in danger. As these two divergent paths find their way to intersection is what drives the plot.

Ms. Moore writes a novel which poignantly describes the loss of middle-class urban neighborhoods. Kensington is its own character as you see it in happier days before its tragic present. She writes a novel of the damage of addiction. Mickey and Kacey end up in Kensington under the care of their grandmother because their mother overdosed. In reaction you either become an addict or push it away vehemently. Mickey and Kacey represent that. Finally this is a police procedural. Mickey is following the clues to uncover the serial killer. Just as with any mystery novel I’m trying to figure it out, too. Most times a novel of three such disparate tracks would fall apart under its pretensions. Ms. Moore keeps it all together each piece growing in an unforced way from the other.

By the end Ms. Moore has asked tough questions which have revealing answers. The joy of reading this novel lies in the surprising resolutions of everything.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review The 7 Virtues Blackberry Lily- Jammy Lily Caramelly

I feel like I’m spending these first few weeks of 2020 catching up to perfume brands I covered before and subsequently lost touch with. At Sniffapalooza, in 2013, I met Barb Stegemann who was starting her new perfume brand; The 7 Virtues. Ms. Stegemann wanted to create a perfume brand using free trade materials from the developing world. In those early days she was focused on Afghanistan and Haiti. The perfumes she featured back then were Orange Blossom and Rose from the former and Vetiver from the latter. Working with perfumer Angela Stavrevska they were nicely constructed soliflores featuring the ethically sourced ingredient on the bottle. I liked them. I admired the ethos of Ms. Stegemann. I forgot about them until the end of last year. That was when I got a sample set called The 7 Virtues Peace Blend Box. Inside I found an evolution of the brand over the five years as these were now fuller constructs then the linear soliflores of the beginning. Within that set the one which captured my attention was Vanilla Woods. Ms. Stegemann collaborating with perfumer Julie Pluchet created a nice fruity floral gourmand. It had sat in my “to be reviewed box” for months. To start 2020 the same team decided to try a different version of fruity floral gourmand. This time The 7 Virtues Blackberry Lily got put on the review schedule.

Barb Stegemann

The sustainable ingredient in the case of Blackberry Lily is the vetiver from Haiti. Instead of using the classic vanilla gourmand ingredient the creative team pairs vetiver and caramel in a surprisingly tasty accord. Before we get there, we go through a thick jammy accord of blackberry supported by a rose exuding the same quality. This is a familiar fruity floral accord done well. It recedes just enough for the green tinted floral of lily to find space. I like the choice here to allow lily to carry the floral piece instead of just expanding the rose into it. The lily wraps the berry in clean floral lines deepened with cedar. Then we get this grassy green vetiver which arises from the lily. Just as those two begin to find a harmony caramel oozes over it all. This is when the woody part of vetiver comes forward. Patchouli adds a chocolate-like complement to the caramel accord. When this all comes together in jam, lily, and caramel it is very nice.

Blackberry Lily has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Ms. Stegemann is a brand owner of uncommon drive. I am not sure what made her re-think the types of perfume she wanted to make. It has resulted in something which is evolving to something I am much more interested in like Blackberry Lily.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Shawn Maher for American Perfumer Madame Chouteau- St. Louis Sister

If there was one thing I wanted from a store dedicated to American independent perfumery it was limited editions. When owner Dave Kern contacted me two years ago to announce he was opening American Perfumer in Louisville, KY it was the first thing I asked him. He politely replied it was in his plans but first he had a store to open. It didn’t take long. By the end of 2018 he had released two limited editions from Dawn Spencer Hurwitz and Maria McElroy. Ms. Hurwitz’s perfume, Colorado, won the 2019 Art & Olfaction Award for best independent perfume. Hans Hendley followed with last year’s ode to his Texas home, Bloodline. One commonality of all three was the use of a special rare ingredient. Long time readers know how much I enjoy the aspect of independent perfumery where a one-of-a-kind ingredient leads to a singular perfume. The oil Ms. McElroy used to build her entry Desert Flower let her connect the desert near Marrakech and the one she grew up near in Utah. All these first three releases were perfumes tied deeply to the perfumer’s heritage and location. Of the newer American independent perfumers Shawn Maher of Chatillon Lux has been designing his entire brand around his roots in the St. Louis, MO community he lives in. Mr. Maher has been one of the most exciting new perfumers I have encountered in years. You can imagine my excitement when just after the New Year Mr. Kern and Mr. Maher contacted me to announce the upcoming release of Shawn Maher for American Perfumer Madame Chouteau.

American Perfumer in Louisville, KY

Mr. Maher when left to his own vision has delved deeply into the history of his hometown. As he spoke with Mr. Kern they remarked they both live in cities named after French King Louis. There is a pervasive French style underpinning this area of the country the US had to eventually purchase from France. Madame Chouteau pays homage to one of the founders of the city of St. Louis with a perfume which calls back to the classic French origins of modern perfumery through an American perspective.

Shawn Maher

Madame Chouteau would co-found the trading post which would be the cornerstone of the city with Pierre Laclede Liguest. She lied about being a widow so she could have the standing in male society it provided, which was little. It was enough for her to use what she had to get what she wanted.

Mr. Maher releases a Scent Notes column on his website for most of his releases. The one on Madame Chouteau, linked here, mentions how he would construct a perfume using ingredients he was using for the first time. It is a fabulous peek behind the curtain for those who want to know more.

Madame Chouteau opens with an exquisite apricot accord. Most of the time apricot appears as a dried fruit in perfume. Mr. Maher rehydrates his apricot with the use of the aromachemicals which provide rose their depth, damascenones. This turns the early moments into a photorealistic apricot. This is the American perspective on the French traditions I mentioned. This is an apricot which is full of life instead of abstractly desiccated. Jasmine provides the floral counterweight as Mr. Maher combines three natural sources with a Hedione analog for lift. It is the expansiveness from that which gives the jasmine a weightlessness that allows them to float above the apricot while still retaining the complexity of the natural oils. The French-American collaboration reaches its zenith in what Mr. Maher calls his “Mousse de Saint Louis” base. Inspired by the classic Mousse de Saxe base. To go from Saxe to Saint Louis he adds a dirtier vanilla to act like the muddy Mississippi running through the atranol-free oakmoss with orris and leather completing it. The final ingredient is genuine Mysore sandalwood in all its gorgeous glory providing the proper pedestal for Madame Chouteau to stand upon.

Madame Chouteau has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I was such a lazy writer that my reviews of the previous American Perfumer limited editions came after they were sold out. Not this time. At 3PM EST this Saturday February 15 the 25 bottles of this amazing perfume will go on sale. It is another outstanding entry in this series.

As I learned more of Madame Chouteau, Annie Lennox’s voice through the Eurythmics song “Sisters are Doin’ it for Themselves” played in my head. I especially heard the couplet, “Standin’ on their own two feet/And ringin’ on their own bells”. The perfume in her name does just that. With a French accent and an American fist in the air Madame Chouteau was a St. Louis Sister doin’ it for herself.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Masaki Matsushima mat; homme- Concrete Garden

For those of you who have never participated on the perfume forums there is one thing you miss out on. There is an international sense of community paired with the desire to want to share. When you start talking about something you like in a perfume, others will chime in with ones you should try. Often that was followed by an envelope containing a sample arriving a few days later. Even better would be the chance to buy or swap a bottle for the perfume in question. One day on Basenotes I was chatting about the idea of a Japanese aesthetic saying I wanted a perfume which smelled like a Japanese garden. A few days later a sample of Masaki Matsushima mat; male showed up. It was just what I was looking for. I would swap for that bottle a year or so later. I would find others from the brand at the long-gone NYC department store Takashimaya. Ever since it closed, I haven’t tried a new release from the brand. Which was why I was very happy to receive an e-mail telling me about their latest release Masaki Matsushima mat; homme. A few days later a sample arrived.

Jerome di Marino

It seems like the brand is attempting to branch out again. That can be a terrible thing if they are using the fondness for the name to package forgettable perfumes. In this case the converse is true. Masaki Matsushima is following the same minimalist artistic aesthetic they always have. The biggest change is in the perfumer. In every prior release it was composed by Jean Jacques. For mat; homme Jerome di Marino takes the wheel.

If mat; male was what I wanted a Japanese garden fragrance to smell like, full of natural scents. mat; homme is a perfume of the concrete towers of the urban landscape. Delineated woods form the frame, except for a nod to nature, as even in a concrete canyon a tiny garden can find purchase.

Mr. di Marino uses the versatility of Szechuan pepper to create an accord of sunlight off the glass windows of the concrete towers. Lemon and elemi provide a bright citrus reflection off the Szechuan pepper. It has a nose squinching quality akin to squinting your eyes against the real thing. Lavender is the flower growing between the buildings. Mr. di Marino wreathes it in a halo of saffron as the reflected light reaches the only sign of life. It all comes together in clean woody lines given texture via labdanum and cinnamon.

mat; homme has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

As it has been with the previous Masaki Matsushima releases mat; homme is transparent in an Eastern aesthetic way. I wonder if the new direction is a nod to the current trends in perfumery matching that. Even if that is so mat; homme is a beautifully realized fragrance of the concrete garden within every big city.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Halston Z-14- Citrus Chypre

There are a lot of the men’s perfumes designed in the 1970’s that seem to be as dated as platform shoes. They have a way of reminding you of the caricature of the hairy chested Playboy man. There is a more charitable description as simple powerhouses. Which translates to very expressive fragrances. I believe it is these perfumes, and the men who wore too much of them, which have given fragrance a bad name to this day. I still like some of my favorites from those days, modestly applied. It is that lesser amount which shows which of them are better constructed than others. One which falls into that category is Halston Z-14.

By the mid-1970’s fashion designer Halston was the man who dressed the glitterati hanging out at Studio 54 in New York City. He became one of the most famous celebrity designers because he was photographed with Liza, Anjelica, Bianca, or Margaux wearing his designs on the dance floor. As the perfume industry was changing during this time so were the buying habits of American women. Prior to this time most perfume was bought by men for the women in their lives. With women entering the workforce women were now using the money they made to buy things for themselves. Cosmetics giant Max Factor wanted a name to draw those consumers to their own fragrance. They licensed the Halston name and in 1975 released Halston for Women. It was a huge success. Which meant in 1976 it was time for a men’s version called Halston Z-14.

Halston and Liza Minelli

Halston would creatively direct perfumer Vincent Marcello to create a spicy citrus chypre. It is that idea of bright citrus over a chypre base accord which keeps Z-14 still relevant today. Of course that original chypre accord has been altered due to the discontinuation of many of the ingredients. When I tried a current bottle of Z-14 I was surprised at how well it has evolved from its original form. I’m not sure who is overseeing the reformulation, but they have done a good job. The description below is of a new bottle I just purchased.

It opens brightly with the lemony green of verbena ushering in a fuller lemon. Cinnamon is the primary spice which pierces the tart citrus. Just the simple balance between hot cinnamon and sunny lemon feels great. The chypre accord has also been brightened since the original formulation. Most of the time I bemoan the loss of the bite of oakmoss in the current chypres. The chypre accord here is lighter in nature. In this current version of Z-14 I think it allows it not to fall into a dated parody of itself. Instead it helps make it feel a little closer to the current time.

Z-14 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Z-14 can be found for around $10 a bottle. Despite its age and origins it manages to be a Discount Diamond for being a bright citrus chypre.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review House of Matriarch Black Sheep- My Favorite Wool Sweater

As much as I would like to portray myself as “The All-Knowing Colognoisseur” there is no way to live up to that. Most of the time I try not to think about the perfume I am not smelling. I accept it is out there hopefully to be written about by some other perfume lover. The only time I feel a smidge of regret is when an independent perfumer whom I like is producing good perfume which I am unaware of because I am not paying attention. At the end of last year I checked the website of House of Matriarch, the brand by perfumer Christi Meshell. I started writing about her perfumes in 2010. She is one of those perfumers who really took off in 2012 with the twin releases of Black No. 6 and Coco Blanc. She would continue to make compellingly beautiful perfumes.

Christi Meshell

For some silly reason unknown to me I stopped paying attention around three years ago. It was after she released a gorgeous rose perfume called Kazimi. I wore that to a Holiday event, receiving multiple compliments. Mrs. C pays attention when others say I smell nice. On the way home she asked me about the perfume. I went on in my typical way about it. She then asked me what Ms. Meshell had done recently. It was right at that moment I realized I had no idea. I also felt dumb for not knowing. I remedied that when we got home. When I got to the website, I was greeted with the notice for the release of a new limited edition, House of Matriarch Black Sheep. An order was placed followed by the arrival of a sample a few days later.

One of the things which caught my attention right away in the website description was Black Sheep was a “natural costus” perfume. Costus is one of those textural ingredients in perfumery which can make a perfume. Ms. Meshell’s intent was to accentuate the wooly scent profile it has. To that end it says on the website she made a tincture of actual wool from a black sheep. Once this all comes together it is a perfume which feels like your favorite wool sweater.

Black Sheep opens with the costus present right away. In the early going a suite of spices tease out the faint peppery quality of good costus. A soft green also comes from clover. That wooliness is now enhanced with the cereal grain, barley. It intersects with the green of the clover while simultaneously causing the costus to get fuzzier. There is also a kind of lanolin-like soapiness which I presume is the wool tincture’s effect. Labdanum and copal provide the rest of the accord acting like knitting needles for a cable stitch sweater.

Black Sheep has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Black Sheep is just like my favorite Irish wool sweater. I snuggle within its soft fuzzy folds while breathing in deeply.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Nicolai Angelys Pear- A Different Fruity Floral

As I say nearly every time, I review a perfume like this, I am not a fan of fruity florals. I guess I think it is a kind of preparation for my approval of a fragrance which belongs to a genre I don’t gravitate towards. The exceptions always tend to be from the independent perfume community. It is probably because they are listening to their vision instead of trying to be the next bottle lying on the shelf at the mall. What that tends to provide is a perfume which succeeds because it will be different. Nicolai Angelys Pear is the latest fruity floral from an independent brand to do this for me.

Patricia de Nicolai

In the “What If?” alternate dimension there has always been the thought of what would Guerlain be like today if Patricia de Nicolai had been chosen to be the perfumer at the house she was born into. I used to think that. If it had come to pass, I wonder if she would have been buffeted by the same winds of commercialism that seemingly drives all the large perfume brands. Instead for the last thirty years Mme de Nicolai has been left to her own creativity to make the best perfume she can. She has stood on her own with an artistic integrity to be admired. Angelys Pear is another excellent addition.

Pear has two faces in perfumery. A greener crisp version or a juicy riper one. In Angelys Pear it is the latter. Of the pear perfumes I own it is the former version I like better. Mme de Nicolai shows me an alternative which is just as delightful.

It opens with the grassy oximes and a sunny flare of citrus. This is a midsummer afternoon accord. The pear steps forward with a juiciness that could get too sweet. To keep it in line, but not overwrite it, Mme de Nicolai uses the sweet tart of blackcurrant to nudge it back away from the sugary abyss. Jasmine and rose come up on either side to form the central fruity floral accord of Angelys Pear. There is an appealing harmony in the balance attained. Mme de Nicolai finishes a with modern chypre accord. I assume she is using the low-atranol oakmoss. She manages to find something I can’t put my finger on to give back the velvety bite that the lack of atranol takes away. I don’t know what it is, but it is fantastic. She uses patchouli and musks to complete her chypre accord. This velvety green accord latches on to the fruity floral to finish this off in style.

Angelys Pear has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Angelys Pear is going to be a great alternative to all the boring spring debutante roses about to come out. It has an artistic intent to it those commercial perfumes have no concept of. Mme de Nicolai has made a perfume for those who want a different fruity floral.

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

Mark Behnke