The Sunday Magazine: Theater or Sofa?

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When I first started going to the movies as a young boy in the 1960’s there was nothing better than going to the theater. The smell of popcorn. The beam of the projector onto a giant 70mm screen. Heroes larger than life, literally. I remember reading about celebrities who had a movie theater in their homes. More than having a fancy car, diamonds, or money; having a personal movie theater was how I knew someone was wealthy.

Crest Theater in Sacaramneto, CA

Fifty years later we all have a movie theater in our home. When I look at my big flat screen tv now, it feels as big as the smaller screens which proliferated when theaters were retrofitted into multi-screen showcases. Not only do we have our own widescreen, we have access to libraries of movies. Not every single movie but close. That I can think of an older movie I would like to see and in a matter of minutes it is playing. That is wild.

It has led to a conversation about where a movie should be seen. Whether where it shows first even defines whether it is a movie. With Netflix again having movies in the Best Picture race for the 2020 Oscars it is only going to continue. Both of those movies, “The Irishman” and “A Marriage Story” worked better for me on my television in the dark of my living room. They were character studies which rely on the writing and performances more than the spectacle of it all.

Two of the other movies nominated for Best Picture I wouldn’t have wanted to see on my television the first time. “Ford v Ferrari” was one of the best car racing movies I’ve seen in many years. Part of it was the ability to get cameras into the claustrophobic places of the driver. Simultaneously having them attached to the car to give the feeling of the speed. I would never have gotten that if I wasn’t watching it on a big screen at my theater where I could be immersed in the visuals.

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” also is best on a larger screen. It is because of the cinematography of it all. Director Quentin Tarantino has used cinematographer Robert Richardson for all his movies after 2003’s “Kill Bill”. As much as there is a Tarantino style of plot and dialogue, Mr. Richardson supplies the signature look to these movies. Great cinematography does not translate even onto my largest flat screen tv. Only in a movie theater can the feeling of 1969 color and movement be communicated which creates the stage for the rest of the movie to take place in.

While the dream of having a movie theater in my home has mostly been achieved. It means the majority of movie watching takes place on my sofa. There are still movies which require a trip to the theater to see them as big as you can. For now it seems like a good place for movies to be.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: La Via del Profumo Tabac- Take a Breath

Perfume has multiple positive effects. One of the most important to me is the way some fragrances provide a calming effect. I have many perfumes which I use as ways to soothe when things begin to feel too hectic. There is one perfumer who I have used his creation for this more than once. Dominique Dubrana aka Abdes Salaam Attar has been one of the foremost natural perfume educators we have. He also believes in the power of ethical perfumery. It is a collection which shows it with every one of the perfumes within it. I have one of his perfumes for every season to provide the psychic grounding they give me. For the winter La Via del Profumo Tabac is my choice.

La Via del Profumo is another of the early all-natural perfume lines which displayed the full potential of fragrance made this way. When these perfumes were released there was a canard that all-natural perfumes were somehow less than those which used synthetics. Every perfume here proves the inaccuracy of that. Abdes Salaaam Attar approaches his perfumes from understanding the source of your materials. It allows him to coax all the nuance available out of what he uses. Tabac is a great example of this.

Abdes Salaam Attar

Many tobacco scents draw me into their deeply narcotic embrace. This is done by amplifying the sweeter parts of tobacco. Tabac goes a different way. While things start off in that typical vein they transform to a drier version of tobacco that is different than most any other version out there.

In the early going that expected sweetness is what comes forth. It is a rich sweet leafy tobacco. It is kept that way with vanilla and tonka bean. The change is signaled by a spicy mélange which begins to dry out that tobacco while pulling back on the sweetness. A deeply warm amber completes the process revealing a dry herbal version of tobacco lurking underneath.

Tabac has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

That shift from deeply sweet to desiccated leaf is what makes Tabac such a meditative perfume for me. I can flow with the changes until I find a place where I take a breath filling my senses with Tabac. If you have never tried any of the La Via del Profumo perfumes, they should be on your radar especially if you are interested in all-natural perfumes.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Crivelli Citrus BatiKanga- Hot Citrus

Citrus perfumes are for hot weather is as much an axiom as not wearing white after Labor Day. To any informal rule there are reasons as well as exceptions. The reason for the citrus rule is most perfumes which feature it have a chilly overall feeling. Ideal to wear on a hot day. The exceptions are when a perfumer decides to find the deeper quality to these inherently sunny ingredients. That is what occurs with Maison Crivelli Citrus BatiKanga.

Thibaud Crivelli

Maison Crivelli was founded by Thibaud Crivelli at the end of 2018 with the release of a debut collection of five. Citrus BatiKanga is the first addition since then. I was interested in this brand initially because M. Crivelli spoke about how he wanted to make fragrance with texture. The first five all lived up to that. For Citrus Batikanga, working with perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, it continues that aesthetic.

Bertrand Duchaufour

M. Duchaufour uses an interesting counterbalance to the citrus; red chili. Hot oily red chili. I wasn’t sure what this would be. Turns out a little heat for my citrus is good.

Citrus BatiKanga opens with bergamot, pomelo, and orange forming the citrus accord. M. Duchaufour supports this with a bit of rhubarb and cardamom. It creates a less effulgent citrus. It still seems sunny but more similar to sunset than high noon. This is where the chili oil comes in. There is this quality of repressed heat in the chili oil used here which forms that textural contrast M. Crivelli desires. Red sunlight and red chili oil work together nicely. Vetiver uses its citrus-like grassy high harmonics to bring the fiery citrus down into the its woody embrace. It finishes with the soothing sweet resins of myrrh acting as if to quench the fire.

Citrus Batikanga has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Citrus BatiKanga is a great cooler weather citrus scent. I wore this on warmer than normal winter days and it didn’t seem like it was struggling to be sniffed. I think on those cool spring mornings coming up this is going to be just the ticket.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Parle Moi de Parfum Mile High 38- Some Maple Syrup on that Pineapple?

Immortelle is one of my favorite perfume ingredients. It doesn’t get used as much as I’d like because it is a tricky ingredient to use. It has a unique scent profile I compare to maple syrup. A perfumer must use care because it can become an overwhelming note. Which is why in many perfumes which feature immortelle there is a set of spices to act as a contrast. It was why Parle Moi de Parfum Mile High 38 interested me as it took an entirely different approach.

Michel Almairac

Parle Moi de Parfum is the brand owned by perfumer Michel Almairac. Ever since 2016 he has been producing perfumes which highlight a minimalist aesthetic. As part of the current transparency trend I have found the fragrances in this collection to hit the right balance of opacity and uniqueness. Mile High 38 continues that. It is especially impressive that it is achieved using a note like immortelle.

Another unique aspect to his perfume is the use of pineapple as the other keynote. When I saw that I was thinking this was going to go way too sweet. M. Almairac has proven over time that those concerns I have on paper evaporate once I have the finished product in hand.

That pineapple is what I first smell on application. This is not the kind of greener less restrained pineapple I was expecting. This was a big juicy wedge of pineapple with the liquid dripping off it. The immortelle starts combining with it rapidly. I expected this was going to spiral out of control into a sweet mess. The immortelle is held in abeyance by the pineapple. The fruitiness finds a harmony with the immortelle where they come together in a beautiful accord. The maple syrup nature goes so well I almost want to try pouring a little bit on a pineapple ring to see if it tastes as good as it smells. A dark patchouli adds in a faux-chocolate sweetness while tonka bean creates a toasty warmth in the final stages.

Mile High 38 has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I think I must quit being grumpy about pineapple as a perfume ingredient. What I need to do is enjoy what can be created in the hands of a perfumer looking to do something different with it. To that end M. Almairac showed me there is a new way for me to enjoy my immortelle; on a top of a juicy pineapple.

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

Mark Behnke

The Decline of Les Grandes Maisons de Parfum

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I received an e-mail from a reader after the end of year “Best of” lists. I had asserted that 2019 was the best year for independent perfumery ever. The condensed reader’s response was that the great perfume brands no longer care about being good. My instinctual response was to think, “Nonsense!” Then I tried to reply without using one word. It was then I realized without having explicitly thought about it; I agreed with the reader. It has been circulating in my thoughts for the last month. I thought it was time to put it out there.

When I first started reading the perfume groups and blogs, around 2002, I was introduced to the great perfume brands. This was paired with the beginnings of a vital independent perfume community forming. Because I was in that rapid learning and acquisition phase I was getting bottles from what were the perfume brands which helped found modern perfumery. They have been called Les Grandes Maisons de Parfum; The Great Perfume Houses. Chanel, Guerlain, Dior, Yves St. Laurent, and Creed were the old guard. Hermes, Gucci, Prada, and Acqua di Parma were the second-generation. The early independent upstarts were building their own modern architecture as Tom Ford, Serge Lutens, Comme des Garcons, and Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle added some new blood. These were the crème de la crème of perfume brands throughout the first decade of the 2000’s.

There are thirteen brands in that last paragraph. Only Chanel of the old guard seems to still care about being innovative. Olivier Polge has taken the brand into the current day without losing that Chanel-ness. Dior has become a running joke as focus groups rule the day. Guerlain has become a massive machine pumping out overwhelming amounts of mediocrity. They released 25 perfumes in 2019. Embruns D’Ylang was a perfume worthy of the heritage. The rest? Flankers and functional fragrance packaged in beautiful bee bottles. YSL has been in decline for years. They’ve tried with Le Vestiaire des Parfums most recently, but they mostly remind me of what they used to be. Creed has seemingly been swept away with trying to replicate the success of Aventus; releasing two flankers and another attempt to capture the same popularity with Viking.

The second-generation brands fare only a little better. Hermes is doing well under Christine Nagel. Gucci is showing signs of life under creative director Alessandro Michele. Prada and Acqua di Parma seem to have become content to circle in endless holding patterns recycling the ideas of the past.

Comme des Garcons and Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle have shown the way on how to consistently re-invent yourself. Tom Ford and Serge Lutens are starting to fall into parodies of themselves. Tom Ford used to provoke with the perfume now it is the name which seemingly captures all the creativity; in a juvenile way. Serge Lutens lost the plot when they began pumping out the ridiculous Eaus. Now they are so bereft of new ideas they just cannibalize the past making Frankenstein-like perfumes made up of pieces of the earlier great perfumes.

Is independent perfumery having its moment because the original innovators have given up? Once I was forced to think about it the answer seems to be “Yes!”

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Etat Libre d’Orange 500 Years- Edible Rose

It’s the beginning of February and my desk is awash with this year’s crop of the new spring rose perfumes. As they are most years it is an unremarkable collection of fragrance. I usually end up finding a rose perfume less interested in being innocent to cleanse my palate towards the end of spring. Also to remind me that rose doesn’t have to be this bland. I thought for 2020 I’d change things up by beginning the process with a rose perfume that is exactly what I look for, Etat Libre d’Orange 500 Years.

Etienne de Swardt

One of the mysteries of the way rose is currently being used is that it isn’t being featured in more gourmand style fragrances. The best roses have an inherent sweet depth that is often described as jam-like. My favorite rose perfumes have a gourmand undercurrent even if it only comes from the rose. If there is one gourmand ingredient which perfumers have not been reluctant to use it is chocolate. Taking the rich depth of good cacao with a similarly deep rose is a natural pairing. For 500 Years creative director Etienne de Swardt and perfumer Cecile Matton take this to a joyful extreme.

Cecile Matton

500 Years starts with the keynote Turkish rose in place from the start. In the early going it has that silky velvet quality which bergamot and cardamom breeze over the top of. Saffron begins to find that jamminess while amplifying it. It is like the rose transforms from crushed textural material into rich gooey jelly. Rarely does a textural shift seem so natural as it does here. Mme Matton then layers on the cacao. There is a fattiness to this cacao and it really meshes well with the rose because of it. A tiny smidge of oud is what completes the chocolate rose accord. A dark patchouli helps to accentuate the cacao over the later stages as some leather finishes things.

500 Years has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

While it is still cooler out is the ideal time to be wearing 500 Years. It will be overwhelmed by the pile of new releases on my desk soon enough as the temperature warms up. Until then bite down on this gorgeous gourmand rose.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Violet Nuee Bleue- A Blue Cloud, Indeed

As the number of heritage brands continues to expand there is a burgeoning road map on how to succeed. The best path is to apply a modern sensibility to the aesthetic of the heritage perfume. That is the one chosen by Paul Richardot, Victorien Sirot, and Anthony Toulemonde with Maison Violet. That they learned about the brand while in perfume school gives them a little more freedom to experiment. Many of the heritage brands are in descendant’s hands making it feel like a family decision. The Maison Violet team was driven by their own vision of what a modern heritage perfume should be. Throughout the first four releases there was an admirable attempt to provide a vintage-y undercurrent. Maison Violet Nuee Bleue is a flag planted firmly in the 2020 world of modern perfumery.

(l. to r.) Paul Richardot, Anthony Toulemonde, and Victorien Sirot

As the trend towards transparency has taken hold, I have been most interested in perfumes which take classic sets of ingredients while imposing this new aesthetic upon them. Perfumes from the time of Maison Violet’s previous heyday were not delicate. Nuee Bleue is something much opaquer, suitable for the present day.

Nathalie Lorson

Perfumer Nathalie Lorson is again behind the composition of Nuee Bluee; as she was for the previous four new releases. Working with the creative directors it took them over two years to finalize a formula, according to the website. The original Nuee Bleue was the last release of Maison Violet before it disappeared. The new version is the last release looking back towards the origins of Maison Violet. As such it signals a new direction.

Mme Lorson uses iris and orange blossom as the heart of Nuee Bleue. If there is anything which has a callback to the past perfumes it is the way she uses lemon as a whetstone to sharpen the iris into a silvery floral scalpel. There was a time when this kind of sharp iris was all the rage. Mme Lorson takes that sharp iris and softens those edges by making it more expansive. A series of white musks don’t allow those edges to cut. It creates a lightness to it all which is immensely appealing to me. The airy citrus tinted iris cloud lives up to the translation of the name, blue cloud. A sturdy sandalwood keeps the cloud from drifting away.

Nuee Bleue has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Nuee Bleue is a remarkable re-interpretation of that classic vintage iris and orange blossom heart of many perfumes of the early 1900’s. The creative team has modernized it by hewing to the current trend for opacity while keeping it from falling into insipidness. Lots of time I think the name of a perfume has nothing to do with the liquid inside the bottle. This time the perfume allows to me ride on a scented blue cloud all day.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Root Beer

I am not a soda drinker. I prefer iced tea, lemonade, or water as my cold beverages. If I do drink a soda, I usually order root beer. I grew up on the same ones those of my generation did, Hires, A&W, or Dad’s. The reason I liked it best was it wasn’t as bland as the other sodas. Root beer had some depth to it. We now live in an age where even the simplest foods are made in extraordinary ways. Root beer has not escaped that. There are small batches of root beer brewed at most beer microbreweries. There are also different kinds of places where all they do is small-batch root beers. I had the opportunity to learn more about the soda. I ended up thinking it has a lot to do with many of the same things perfume deals with.

Root beer was originally made by the Native Americans from sassafras roots. In those days it was used as a medicine or flavoring as it came in a thick syrup form. Sometime in the mid-19th century someone got the good idea to add it to soda water. Modern root beer was born. It would have its coming out when Hires Root Beer made its debut at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Pittsburgh. It would spread in popularity from there.

The similarity to perfumery comes in 1960 when the main ingredient of sassafras, safrole, was found to cause liver damage in high concentrations in lab animals. The FDA would ban it. Just as happened with oakmoss in the chypre perfumes; chemists created a sassafras extract without safrole. Then those who made root beer had to decide how to put back the flavor of the safrole. They would have to create a sassafras flavor accord.

Brewers have used the following ingredients to achieve that: licorice, birch, spruce, dandelion, allspice, cinnamon, clove, or mint. Doesn’t that sound like a fabulous perfume? When in the hands of a skilled brewer you get root beer.

When I drink this version of root beer I get a bit of that original medicinal quality the original syrup had. The smaller batch versions are so rich they are like the wine of soda. I enjoy trying to pick out the flavors as much as I do trying to understand a new perfume.

If you want to try this style of root beer Virgil’s is sold in small four-packs nationally. I would suggest going to your best local microbrewery. I have found the majority of them also bottle their own root beer with the same creativity that goes into their beer.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Dior Homme Eau de Toilette- Shaking My Head 2.0

In the early 2000’s it was so interesting to watch the mainstream brands try and incorporate some of the independent perfume aesthetic into their releases. One of the greatest successes was 2005’s Dior Homme. Perfumer Olivier Polge and creative director Hedi Slimane collaborated on what might be the most successful masculine floral ever released. By taking iris and wrapping it up in cacao, amber, leather, and patchouli they made florals appropriate for even the alpha males. It is a modern masterpiece which Dior treated as such in the subsequent flankers which weren’t called Dior Homme Sport. There hasn’t been a Dior Homme release since 2014’s Dior Homme Parfum.

The current state of Dior has been chronicled extensively as a brand which has replaced class with crass. It seems every move they make is saturated in cynicism. When I heard there was going to be a new Dior Homme Eau de Toilette early in 2020 I wondered what it would be like. Would this regain the classicism of the Dior Homme releases of the past? Or would it take its place on the shelf next to Joy by Dior as a bottle of functional fragrance meant to appeal to people who don’t like perfume?  

Francois Demachy

My hope was raised by the participation of Francois Demachy who had been responsible for Dior Homme Parfum and a couple other of the flankers. I was worried because M. Demachy phoned it in with Joy by Dior. Unfortunately Dior Homme Eau de Toilette left me shaking my head in sadness in the same way Joy by Dior did.

Dior Homme broke barriers as a masculine floral. Dior Homme Eau de Toilette wants to smell like every other woody fragrance designed for blockheads. I laughed at the PR description of “a new, masculine sensuality”. There is nothing new here. The original Dior Homme was the antithesis to bland things like Dior Homme Eau de Toilette. This is the same Iso E Super, patchouli, and vetiver in hundreds of other perfumes marketed to men.

Dior Homme Eau de Toilette has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I can’t explain the choice at Dior to just give up on creativity in their fragrance offerings. It is like they are actively trying to push away those of us who love the history of Dior fragrance. Things like Joy by Dior and Dior Homme Eau de Toilette are made for people who desire bland inoffensive fragrance. Now when I tell someone that Dior Homme is one of the best perfumes of the last twenty years I’m going to have to put in a disclaimer. I walk away shaking my head at the ongoing decay of the House of Dior.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Dior.

Mark Behnke