Discount Diamonds: Aspen for Men- Fresh as Fir

One of the stock answers I provide to someone who doesn’t live near a place to buy fragrance is to go to their drugstore. When people think of the points of sale for fragrance, they often forget the local drugstore. These are very commercial economic choices. That does not mean poor. There are lots of the perfumes on those shelves that have made this column over the years. I’m going to add Aspen for Men to the roster.

Aspen for Men came out in 1989. It was part of the turning of the men’s fragrance tide towards fresh. All the companies were vying for their place within the category. As we know eventually the aquatic based ones would win the day. Back then that was still undecided. If there was a style that was giving those aquatics a run for supremacy it was the fresh woody. In most of those cases the fresh wood of choice was fir or pine. The terpenes which define the scent profile are refreshing which made it easy for perfumers to build around them. Harry Fremont was the man behind Aspen for Men. Just as it was with the competition the idea was to capture the sensation of mountain hillside under the sunshine.

Harry Fremont

Lemon with some mint form the high-altitude sunlight accord. This is typical of these open-air top notes. The fir trees come forth wreathed in the green of galbanum. This is like being surrounded by evergreens. Combined with the top notes it is a very pleasant experience. It finishes with oakmoss, amber, and musk to add in just a hint of that lumberjack aesthetic.

Aspen for Men has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

You can find a bottle of this for less than $10.00 right on the corner where you pick up your prescriptions. As I revisited this I wondered if I would have liked it as much on re-examination if it had won the fresh war of the 90’s. It didn’t. Thirty years later it is still fresh as fir.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Comme des Garcons ERL Sunscreen- Summer Abstract

If you’ve ever lived on or near a beach, there is a distinct scent to the dog days of summer. It is the amalgamation of the different sunscreens being used. Underneath it is either the chlorinated water of the pool or the salty breeze of the ocean. I can close my eyes and imagine walking around the pool or on the beach breathing it in. Comme des Garcons ERL Sunscreen captures this hazy scented milieu.

Eli Russell Linnetz

Eli Russell Linnetz has been refracting his childhood growing up in Venice, California into fashion since 2018. In those endeavors he uses his initials ERL. His clothing line has become a quiet sensation. It sells at the Comme des Garcons Dover Street Market stores. He is one of those prodigious creatives who does it all. Besides designing the clothes he also photographs the models wearing them. It ensures a purity of vision. This year he decided to expand into fragrance tapping into the long expertise of Comme des Garcons and creative director of parfum Christian Astuguevieille.

ERL wanted to dial up that same memory I have of sunscreen in the air and water below. He collaborates with perfumer Nelly Hachem-Ruiz. Together they create a perfume which matches the clothing, a distressed realism.

Nelly Hachem-Ruiz

Mme Hachem-Ruiz opens things with the citrus brightness of bergamot matched to the expansive ozonic notes to form a high noon accord. This is the brilliance of the sun in the middle of the day. Instead of using the typical freshening ingredients she chooses the green tinted muguet. This reminded me of the grass growing around the pool deck. Within the earlier ozonic notes comes a whisper of the sea.

The sunscreen accord begins to form around the trio of heliotrope, peach, and a coconut accord. The heliotrope and its slightly almondy profile connected to the creamy peach lactone forms the unctuousness of sunscreen. The piece which is all ERL is the choice to go with a coconut accord. This forms an accord which doesn’t represent the lotion just out of the bottle. It is that late in the day attenuated version where droplets of sweat have left trails through it. A humid musky accord adds that piece. It represents an abstraction of a memory.

ERL Sunscreen has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is the second perfume by Mme Hachem-Ruiz which has impressed me. She has become a new name for me to watch out for. When given the freedom to create she has shown an ability to run with it admirably. I am equally impressed by ERL’s ability to fulfill his fashion aesthetic so completely as a perfume. It seems as if they both know how to abstract the best of summer.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Comme des Garcons.

Mark Behnke

Editor’s Note: You will be unsurprised to know that completely unique packaging is also a product of ERL’s imagination. He also took the picture.

New Perfume Review Montale Oud Pashmina- Caging the Beast

There are lots of perfume ingredients which are notoriously difficult to work with. Most in this category are bulldozers. They can just appear in a fragrance and take over everything. It can sometimes be disappointing when I perceive an attempt to cage the rambunctious ingredient, only to watch it break free and take over. Montale Oud Pashmina is an example of completing the enclosure.

Montale is the brand of record in bringing actual oud into perfume lover’s homes. Black Aoud was the introduction of real oud in concentration to many. Over the last twenty years they have displayed every shade there is of oud. If there is a type of oud you desire, there is probably a Montale to satisfy it. Oud Pashmina is part of that continuum. It is a typical rose-oud pairing. What I enjoyed is the other ingredients form a gilded cage around that classic duo. One of the effects of that is to soften the scent profile of the oud. It forms a more accessible oud.

It begins with the oud and rose together. There is a reason this is a classic they smell sophisticated without doing anything else. The cited source of the oud is Nepal. In my little collection of oud oils I don’t have one of those. It seems to be woodier in profile with hints of that bandage scent underneath. The floor of this cage is an earthy patchouli another frequent partner to oud. The bars begin to be built as saffron, incense, and leather begin to close it in. Each of these attenuates some of the rougher edges of the oud. The final pieces to the cage come from musk and vanilla. The musk used here is not a growling animalic nor is it an expansive white. This is in between, slightly shaded towards the animalic. It also forms a harmonic with the vanilla. They form the top of the cage. Once it is all together you have the rose-oud surrounded by patchouli, musk, and vanilla.

Oud Pashmina has 24-hour plus longevity and above average sillage.

Twenty years on I think Oud Pashmina is a gentler introduction to oud than Black Aoud was. All it took was finding a way to cage it.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Trussardi Eau de Parfum- Wake Up the Echoes

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Due to a generous reader I was able to experience the earliest days of Trussardi. From 1993-2004 the brand put out a series of perfumes which were taking advantage of the new freedom beginning to show up in modern perfumery. I suspect it was a little bit ahead of the curve as none of these perfumes were commercial successes. I think if they had been released a decade later, they would have been lauded instead of left behind. Over the years since, the brand went the other way producing more consumer-friendly fragrances which have seemingly had better sales. One of my readers asked if I had tried Trussardi Eau de Parfum (EDP).  I would get it in an envelope of samples a few days later. The correspondent was right this was new ground for the brand.

Violaine Collas

What is frustrating with perspective is to realize the Trussardi of the 90’s was artistically sound and chronologically adrift. What I realized as soon as I tried Trussardi EDP was this was a perfume firmly anchored in the current modern trends. Perfumers Violaine Collas and Julie Masse create an opaque summertime floral which is constructed of gauzy layers which add up to something substantial.

Julie Masse

The first layer is a sharply delineated neroli. The perfumers soften it with mandarin giving the citrusy parts of the flower some volume. A smart use of tomato leaf picks up that characteristic green in neroli with a slight vegetal twist. This is a like a white scarf with a silk screen of oranges and tomato vines.

The heart uses jasmine as the keynote. It is surrounded by the powder of lavender and the intensity of dahlia. It forms a deeper hued accord of flowers. The top accord settles right into it. Violet comes along to stitch it all together. It ends on a base of suede and patchouli which is way lighter than it sounds. The soft leather accord comes across in whispers. The patchouli also has a similar lighter presence. The earthy and animalic find a pleasant harmony.

Trussardi EDP has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I have not explicitly followed the most recent efforts from Trussardi but the ones I have tried still seemed safe to me. Trussardi EDP works its magic inside the current contemporary state of perfumery with panache. It just might be the harbinger of waking up the echoes of those glory days of the 90’s.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review L’Artisan Parfumeur 25 Obscuratio & 63 Crepusculum Mirabile- Tropics and Twilight

Five years ago L’Artisan Parfumeur released a six-fragrance collection called Natura Fabularis. All the perfumes were composed by perfumer Daphne Bugey without active creative direction. Her only brief was to make them “whimsical”. That opened multiple interpretations of simple three-keynote compositions. I found it a solid effort which I enjoyed the more Mme Bugey pushed the envelope of her compositions. They have released two new additions 25 Obscuratio and 63 Crepusculum Mirabile.

They have decided to re-name the entire collection La Botanique. Mme Bugey is back to work in the same way she did before. An explanation of the number before the name, it represents the number of mods she made before the final one.

Daphne Bugey

25 Obscuratio is what I mean about pushing at the borders. It is meant to be a perfume of the canopy of the tropical rainforest. The three keynotes are ylang-ylang, patchouli, and vanilla. It was one of those rare times when I correctly predicted the positioning of the ingredients. What I didn’t anticipate were the three partnering notes which altered each of them.

In the opening the ylang-ylang is here in all its tropical glory. What adds to it is the freshness of freesia. Now that could have just lightened up the lusty floral. It also portrays the dense humidity underneath the trees. The patchouli renders the rich earthy scent of the floor of the rainforest. To it some cedar adds in the woodiness of the trees. Next comes the vanilla. This is the version of the pod that comes from the orchid not the confectioners. There is a hint of vegetation to which a clever smidge of a synthetic amber adds in a subtle spiciness.

63 Crepusculum Mirabile is meant to evoke that moment at twilight when the night-blooming jasmine just begins to scent the air. In this case the three keynotes are jasmine, sandalwood, and tonka bean. In the dusky failing of the light jasmine acts as the harbinger of the end of the day. This is a perfume which represents that.

It opens with the jasmine. She keeps it reined in for a few moments. In that early phase the piquancy of cumin finds the hint of indoles in the jasmine. It feels like the scent of honest work as you put away the implements of the day. Tuberose intensifies the jasmine without raising it to suffocating levels. Sandalwood and tonka bean form a sweet woody counterbalance to the jasmine and tuberose. A gentle give-and-take with which to watch the sunset.

Both perfumes have 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I enjoyed both and am hoping I won’t have to wait another five years for more from Mme Bugey. For now I’ll just enjoy alternating between the tropics and twilight.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Mizensir Blue Gin- As Fresh as Jeans and Gin

Smelling as much new perfume as I do each year it is frustrating to smell the amount of repetition I do. When a brief calls for a “fresh” perfume the brand rounds up the usual suspects. That this style of fragrance has remained popular for thirty years is proof that the tried and true has an audience. Part of what makes independent perfumery interesting is when those brands hear “fresh” it seems like they exclude those usual suspects. In these fragrances “fresh” is a starting point for diversity. That’s what I found in Mizensir Blue Gin.

Mizensir is the brand owned by perfumer Alberto Morillas. If there has been a consistent aesthetic, I would say it has to do with M. Morillas displaying a couple of synthetic ingredients per release. He shows that when these maligned ingredients are given some space, they are equally compelling to any of the essential oils.

Alberto Morillas

In Blue Gin, the featured components are Irone Alpha and Cetalox. Irone Alpha is one of the molecules present in natural iris. When isolated it has a more diffuse presence than when joined by its other isomers. Cetalox is another of the molecules which are used in laundry detergents. The concept of Blue Gin is of clean denim accompanied by a gin and tonic.

Juniper berry is the keynote throughout. In the early going a bit of mandarin provides the lime substitute. Szechuan pepper and cardamom provide fuller profile for the juniper berry. Finally the freshwater analog of Calone, Cascalone provides the tonic, sans fizz. That comprises the gin half of things.

The denim half comes from the expansive powderiness of Irone Alpha and the laundry fresh Cetalox. Together they form that scent of clean cotton. Hidden within is a just a bit of tonka bean which uses its inherent coumarin to make the jeans lived in, just a bit.

Blue Gin has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Mrs. C and I spend a lot of summer evenings sipping on a gin and tonic. Some of those evenings the fabric softener scent can be carried to us on the deck. This is a lot of what Blue Gin reminded me of. As might be expected this is a fantastic fragrance for the summer. This is a different version of “fresh”; one which comes through jeans and gin.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from Mizensir.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Sour by Olivia Rodrigo

As I was watching the February 20, 2021 episode of Saturday Night Live I realized I no longer know what’s going on across the music spectrum. It began with the musical guest Bad Bunny. I thought both songs were great and spent some time learning more about it. That’s not that unusual there have been many acts I’ve seen for the first time on SNL. What killed me was a skit in the show.

The set-up is a bunch of guys are playing pool. One of them asks them to play a particular selection on the jukebox. What comes on is this very pop song which the guys all sing along to. This happens as they all say liking the song doesn’t reflect poorly on their manliness. As the skit went on, I had zero idea what the song was. I went to Twitter to find out it was “Drivers License” by Olivia Rodrigo and was the current number one pop song. It was a super catchy song once I knew it existed.

Olivia Rodrigo on SNL May 2021

She would be the musical guest three months later. The first song was her doing “Drivers License”. It was the second song she performed “Good 4 U” which made me pay attention. This wasn’t a song about teenage heartbreak this was a song about teenage rage. She stomped around the stage supplying a perfect pop punk vocal to a backing band all in with her. Suddenly, I was interested in what her forthcoming album “Sour” might sound like.

What I found was a group of songs split between the sadness of breakups interspersed with that pop punk personality I saw. After listening to it a lot this summer I’m admiring of the punky part. I also admire the songwriting across the board. She can alternate her voice between pop princess and angry young girl effortlessly.

Right from the first track “Brutal” the former Disney star confounds expectations. If they thought this would be an album of Drivers License-like pop this song sets them straight. It isn’t until the later stages of things that she gets back behind the piano to sing of heartbreak. None of it feels forced or cynical. It is just the type of musician she wants to be.

That second song from SNL “Good 4 U” is still my favorite on the album. I even have a mash-up with “Misery Business” by Paramore. Where the two songs tell a complete story. Ms. Rodrigo and Hayley Williams have a similar style of singing. That Ms. Rodrigo holds her own shows her potential.

The reason I know less of the popular music is because on Satellite Radio I can narrow cast to my preferred alternative music. What made me incredibly pleased was to hear “Brutal” played on that station. It fit right in. If I were still ignorant, I would have thought she was a new alternative act.

Ms. Rodrigo is a talent I am looking forward to watching grow. If you’ve never heard of her, it is worth making the effort to give her a listen.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Montblanc Explorer Ultra Blue- Akigalawood Aquatic

There are brands which excel at being the one for those who only want one perfume on their dresser. Montblanc is one of these. They have made excellent interpretations of the current trends. Two years ago when they released Explorer it displayed everything the brand does well. I have been mentioning it when someone asks what’s a good choice for a man who doesn’t wear fragrance often. Which made me interested in the first flanker Montblanc Explorer Ultra Blue.

(l. to r.) Jordi Fernandez, Antoine Maisondieu, and Olivier Pescheux

All you have to see is “blue” in the name to know it will be an aquatic style fragrance. I was okay with that because I was thinking if they swapped out the heart of Explorer for an aquatic module this could be nice. It turns out the perfumers of the original, Jordi Fernandez, Antoine Maisondieu, and Olivier Pescheux do just that in Explorer Ultra Blue.

The top accord of the original is retained the baie rose and bergamot is a lively mixture of citrus sparkle and herbal. The quality of the baie rose used here is exceptional with more presence than it usually has. In the original it is the freshness of vetiver. Explorer Ultra Blue serves up the typical marine aquatic heart accord. Briny sea spray matched with expansive blue sky ozonics and the watery synthetics. This is as generic as it sounds. The top accord interacting with it keeps it from becoming too common. The base accord is what makes it interesting again.

The perfumers use the biologically fractionated patchouli called Akigalawood. It has a fantastic spicy scent profile. As it is used here it adds some texture to the banal oceanic nature. One of the synthetic ambrox analogs is also present which adds longevity and dries things out a little.

Explorer Ultra Blue has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This brand does not break new ground, but they sure have a knack at tilling what exists. Explorer Ultra Blue is nothing new to anyone who has multiple bottles. For the man who doesn’t want more than one or two this is an ideal summer style fragrance.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Curionoir Orpheus Incarnate- New Zealand Carnation

There has been so much that has changed over the last twenty years in perfumery. One of those is the expansion of where it is made. Until recently it was mostly the US and Europe. The rise of independent perfumery as well as the ability to get the word out has allowed the rest of the world to participate. It is particularly interesting when an indigenous independent perfumer embodies the creative energy of their home. When I received my sample set of Curionoir this was very apparent to me.

Tiffany Witehira

The brand was founded in New Zealand by independent perfumer Tiffany Witehira. I only became aware of it when it showed up here. Over the years she has made ten fragrances. I was able to try all ten though her sample sets. What I found was a collection where I couldn’t tell the early releases from the more recent ones. It indicates to me that Ms. Witehira had put in the work to understand the materials she wanted to work with. I was impressed at the overall quality. As is usual when trying a large collection new to me there was one which I gravitated to, Curionoir Orpheus Incarnate.

What drew me to it was the use of carnation as the keynote. This spicy floral is not featured enough for me. She has made a version of it that is unique. Carnation is so compelling because it has a clove-like core. Think of it as similar to the indoles in white flowers. It isn’t to everyone’s taste. Ms. Witehira takes that character and uses it to combine in beautiful ways with different partners.

In the early moments fig is carnation’s dancing partner. This is that green slightly creamy fig which provides a contrast to the spiciness. Tobacco comes next and this is where the clove comes to life. If you know of the clove cigarettes, Kreteks this is what the middle part of this reminds me of. It then turns herbal as licorice slides into view. The base is the powderiness of orris along with the hay-like tonka bean over musk. This gives the carnation a different profile than what has gone before settling into a place where the floral quality is on top.

Orpheus Incarnate has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage as it is an extrait concentration.

There are a couple others in this collection I want to revisit once the weather becomes cooler. I expect I’ll write about them then. I congratulate Ms. Witehira on proving that New Zealand produces great perfume too.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Violet Compliment- The Epitome of Balance

One of the characteristics which separates a great perfume from a good perfume is balance. When every ingredient used is part of a delicate construction built upon a keynote that is modern perfumery at its best. A recent heritage brand, Maison Violet has been showing their desire for fragrances which are like this. The creative team of Paul Richardot, Victorien Sirot, and Anthony Toulemonde have been behind the rebirth of this heritage brand. What they have achieved through the first five releases is re-imagining of the idea of translating vintage to contemporary. Maison Violet Compliment is the culmination of this effort.

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

Since the resurrection of the brand they have been exclusively working with perfumer Nathalie Lorson. She has collaborated on a blueprint for how to keep a vintage brand from feeling old. Throughout the releases they have understood this is 2021. Which means they take the intense ingredients that typified early 20th century perfumery and modernize them. Most of that comes through working on an opaque template. These perfumes are relevant because they hew to the current trend of transparency. They do this without becoming so ephemeral as to be unmemorable. These have just a couple extra pounds of weight. Which is why Compliment is such a beauty because the keynote is one of those hallmarks of the early days of modern perfumery, tuberose.

Nathalie Lorson

Tuberose is one of those gigantic white flowers. It can be a narcissistic scene stealer if you’re going to make that less obstreperous you have your work cut out for you. Mme Lorson does it by using smart choices to tease out parts of the tuberose to make a dynamic fragrance.

The tuberose is here throughout. The one she has chosen is light on the indoles and high on the creamy quality it displays. In the opening she uses orange blossom as a complement to that. Eucalyptus acts as an activator for the green streak inherent to tuberose. She adds it in and like a sputtering filament of green neon the floral’s hidden piece peeks out. Two sources of jasmine come next; this is the pivot upon which Compliment moves. The jasmine confronts and harmonizes with the tuberose. With ylang-ylang pushing the rotation it arrives at a base of vanilla and benzoin. The sultry quality of tuberose has found a place to smolder on the resinous sweet base accord.

Compliment has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is the best perfume this brand has produced so far. It is such a marvel of placing each piece of the formula in just the right place. It also is a summer weight tuberose which are rare. I wore this on hot days expecting to find it difficult. It is at such a level that it was fantastic in the warmth. That’s what you get when you prioritize balance.

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

Mark Behnke