Can Guerlain Mitsouko and Chanel No. 5 Tell the Future?

Over the past few months I’ve been having a lot of conversations about where the perfume industry goes after this current pandemic is resolved. Thankfully, I had a place to look for some answers. It has been said, “History does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” The book Perfume Legends II by Michael Edwards gives me some clues from the past to think about the future.

Michael Edwards (Photo by Gary Heery)

Perfume Legends II is ostensibly a book about the greatest French feminine perfumes. It covers the story of modern perfumery from 1882’s Fougere Royale through to 2010’s Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Portrait of a Lady. One of the unique aspects of the book is how author Mr. Edwards presents each entry through the words of the creators. Over the past 30 years he has interviewed the creators, perfumers and designers behind each legend. When those responsible for creation are no longer living, his research uncovered their words from interviews and press statements. Each chapter covers the creative process behind the perfume and the bottle. There is plenty to enjoy if you just focus on the juice and the flacon. What struck me as I have read through the book is how it is also a societal history of the beauty industry. I looked toward the book to reveal what happened the last time the world was affected by a pandemic.

That was in 1918 with the onset of the Spanish Flu. It was at its peak during the fall of that year. When I turn to the subsequent years in Perfume Legends II, I find two of the most iconic perfumes of all time; Guerlain Mitsouko and Chanel No. 5.

Mitsouko was released in 1919. Jacques Guerlain had been working on the Guerlain version of a chypre for seven years. In these early days of modern perfumery women wore mostly floral based perfumes. Mitsouko was going to provide them with an alternative. In this chapter it chronicles one of the first changes in the social status of women. 1918 also saw the end of World War I. Women had been stepping into traditionally masculine roles. This was why they weren’t looking for flowers anymore. They wanted a perfume with the same confidence they had found in themselves. Mitsouko was waiting for them.

It is too early to know what changes are happening with social roles in the current situation. Mitsouko tells us there is likely a perfume waiting to embrace that change.

One of the women who embraced the change back then was Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. The longest chapter in Perfume Legends II tells the story of the woman, her fashion sense, and her perfume. The book tells how in the summer of 1920 while summering in Cannes with her friends Misia and Josep Maria Sert she got the idea for a perfume. Mr. Edwards has revealed this story for the first time. It displays the forward thinking of Coco for which she is lauded.

The perfumer behind No. 5, Ernest Beaux, was also a man recovering his life. He had made perfume prior to the war and the pandemic. Afterward he would pick up the pieces of what remained. There is a popular myth that the creation of No. 5 was a mistake born out of pique. Anyone who reads the section on his process will realize something quite different. No. 5 is one of the great pieces of perfume architecture with each piece meticulously placed. Mr. Edwards lays out each step of the process. M. Beaux left nothing to chance.

By the time he was ready to show it to Mlle. Chanel she immediately knew what she had. She also realized that the perfume was the star and asked for a simple bottle to contain it. Throughout the book the stories of the bottles contain some of the most interesting views on the times they were created. Coco wanted No. 5 to stand on its own in the now iconic bottle known the world over.

No. 5 would be the beginning of one of the great perfume collections of our time. It is not hard to think there is a creative mind out there now considering their first move into the fragrance world. It is not hard to believe there is a perfumer out there with some new ideas. Once this pandemic comes to an end maybe they will find each other and create something which rhymes with the past.

Perfume Legends II is full of the rhythms of the history of modern perfumery.

Disclosure: I was compensated by the publisher for this.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: A Very Special Christmas

In 1987 an album of Christmas music was released called “A Very Special Christmas”. Produced by Jimmy Iovine he gathered some of the biggest music stars of the day for a project to benefit Special Olympics. I generally enjoy my pop star Holiday tunes to be original but all of the tracks on this are on my Xmas playlist.

The reason is Mr. Iovine got some of the most distinctive voices to provide their own spin on classic songs. Madonna’s “Santa Baby” is just what you’d expect as she slinks through it all. Bono does his part on the U2 version of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”. Chrissie Hynde leads The Pretenders through “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. Alison Moyet does “The Coventry Carol”.

My two favorite versions of classics done by divas are Eurythmics’ “Winter Wonderland” and Stevie Nicks doing “Silent Night”. On an album which includes Whitney Houston doing “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Annie Lennox and Ms. Nicks slay their songs. If you need some confirmation of the latter’s talent after discovering her on TikTok recently this “Silent Night” will give it to you.

The song the album is most known for is the only original on it. Run-DMC were at the height of their fame as one of the first black music stars to break through on MTV back then. They wanted to create the first rap Christmas song. “Christmas in Hollis” is what they came up with. It was built on the classic rap rhythms about spending the Holidays in Hollis, Queens. Each verse is its own story of Christmas cheer. It ends with them getting a new turntable and microphones from Santa to wish us Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

This remains one of the most popular Holiday albums of all-time as each year it makes it back on to the charts as new fans learn of it. It has earned its longevity.

Disclosure: this is based on a copy I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Dinner By Bobo- Sensual Gingerbread

The early years of the naughts were a fascinating time for independent perfumery. It was the beginning of what would become a special piece of modern perfumery. Like all new things it drew an eclectic group of entrepreneurs. In that kind of environment it was inevitable that some great perfumes would fail because of inexperience. Dinner By Bobo is one of those stories.

Anne and Alexis Hardouin-Finez

In a lot of ways spouses Anne and Alexis Hardouin-Finez made a lot of the right choices when they started their line, By Bobo. They began by working with perfumer Sylvie Jourdet for their first release in 2002. On the perfume side of the equation they made a great decision to work in the gourmand style. It was a type of perfume which had only just become popular. They correctly believed there was a lot of space for creativity. Dinner By Bobo finds that by adding in a sexy skanky underpinning to all the sweet foodie accords surrounding it. This was the very raison de etre for niche perfumery. To take risks by not smelling like anything else.

Sylvie Jourdet

That desire to stand apart is where Mme Jourdet begins by using cumin. This is all the things which makes cumin divisive among perfume lovers. It has that clean human sweat profile. Right next to it is a Holiday fruitcake of intense facets of dried fruits. The balance achieved is remarkable as both accords have equivalent presence, and they go together delightfully. The heart is another interesting exercise in balance. One of my favorite gingerbread accords in all of perfumery is given a sensual twist through ylang-ylang and indolic jasmine. As if a buttery rich gingerbread man is being propositioned by the sexy florals. In the same way that the cumin finds purchase among the fruitcake the skanky florals do the same to the gingerbread. It develops in a slow burn to a base of incense, musk, and patchouli. Continuing the dichotomy of sweet and skanky.

Dinner By Bobo has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I treasure my tiny bottle because I own nothing else like it. Almost twenty years on nobody has managed to replicate this balancing act. As to why it ended up in the Dead Letter Office I have been told the name was one reason. A perfume called Dinner By Bobo did not inspire elegant thoughts in consumers. I also think that the early successes of niche perfumery were different but not too different. Dinner By Bobo might have been just different enough to be unable to find an audience. It could even be simpler than that. New entrepreneurs just couldn’t get their perfume in front of enough buyers. I don’t have a definitive answer and parts of all three conjectures might be the truth.

Dinner By Bobo is one of the reasons I see such potential in gourmand perfumes. It shows what a perfumer who is willing to seek balance between the foodie and the sensual can make something gorgeous.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Jo Malone Nutmeg & Ginger- The Original Niche Holiday Perfume

As we approach the completion of the first twenty years of this century I have been peeking backward. It reminds me of the days when I was cycling, and I would start pedaling up a gradual grade. After some time I would glance over my shoulder in surprise at how far I had climbed. Because I am focused on the newest things, I need something to make me look back to see how far niche perfumery has come. Even though they are famous brands today they all started at the bottom of a hill they didn’t know if they could climb. Which is why I want to mention some of the first releases in those lines in this column. Jo Malone Nutmeg & Ginger could be said to be the first Holiday Limited Edition niche perfume.

Anyone who knows perfume knows about Jo Malone. They were one of the first big niche perfume brands to have large-scale success. Where they started in 1990 was someplace quite different.

Jo Malone was an aesthetician working in London. In appreciation for her first 20 clients she decided to make a special fragrant present. A Festive Season treat built around the spices of nutmeg and ginger. Even thirty-plus years ago the word got around and in 1990 she would release the first Jo Malone perfume, Nutmeg & Ginger. In so many ways right from the start the brand aesthetic was in place. It is quite amazing to realize how this simple perfume doesn’t feel outdated. It feels just like it did in the beginning, a scented Holiday treat.

It is a perfume built around the two named ingredients each filled out into accords. Ginger is flanked by lemon and neroli. They provide a softening effect to ginger which can be too zingy. They add a citrusy floral wreath around it. The nutmeg is given cinnamon and clary sage as its partners. The cinnamon and nutmeg conjure up Holiday cookies while the sage gives a green holly-like effect. A lovely creamy sandalwood wraps it all up in a sweet creamy woody embrace.

Nutmeg & Ginger has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

I know Jo Malone as a brand is not Under the Radar, but I suspect few of you have thought of Nutmeg & Ginger for a while. That makes it worthy of being given some current attention. Especially if you’re looking for a good fragrance to wear during the Holidays. Just like it was created for thirty years ago.

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

Mark Behnke

Pierre Benard Challenge Continued: The Beginning of The Season of Scent

Anyone who knows me understands the time from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day is my favorite time of the year. The food, the friends, the music; everything. A few years ago I began giving this time of year a name in my head, “the season of scent”. Of all the things I mentioned above it also has a distinct evolving profile of pleasant smells throughout. I don’t think I would love it as much if it didn’t smell so damn good.

It starts on Thanksgiving morning with stuffing preparation and pie baking. The first thing that goes in the oven are the pies. Usually apple and pecan. While the doughy spicy pie baking accord wafts from the oven I am chopping herbs. The Scarborough Fair grouping of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. The cornbread of a couple days ago awaits crumbling itself carrying a hint of the buttermilk used to make it.

After the turkey is stuffed and prepared it is placed in the oven. I drink my first cup of coffee. The bitter bite a contrast to all the sweetness in the air. Now it is time to prepare the au gratin potatoes. I know most people are not fond of peeling potatoes. There is something about the scent of freshly peeled potatoes I find soothing. This surrounds me as I slice the peeled potatoes in the mandolin slicer. After layering the casserole dish I grate the aged cheddar cheese to use for the sauce. Warm cheese has an unctuous quality that someone needs to make a perfume of. I pour the sauce over the potatoes and leave them to go in the oven later.

Over the next few hours the scents of cooking foods fill up the house. It is part of the joy of the Holiday season because I think it provides a comforting sense of place. I sit drinking another cup of coffee breathing in the mingled aromas.

As everything eventually makes it to the kitchen counter ready to be served it forms the coziest feeling of the year. All because of its scent.

To those in the US celebrating Thanksgiving today I wish you a home full of your scents of the season.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Chatillon Lux Confluence- When Three Become One

I have a whole list of favorite words that I like using. One of them is confluence. I use the phrase “confluence of events” a lot. Maybe too much, I’ll have to ask Mrs. C. I like the flow of the word in my mouth as the hard first syllable flows into the other two. Which means when I received my sample of Chatillon Lux Confluence I was hooked already.

Shawn Maher

Shawn Maher the independent perfumer behind Chatillon Lux has always used his St. Louis home base as inspiration. For Confluence he uses its reason for being as the place where the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers come together. This is the definition of confluence as two flowing water sources merge into one. One of the most memorable ones I have encountered was while rafting the Grand Canyon. Where the Little Colorado River meets the Colorado River there is a fascinating effect. The bright turquoise water of the tributary plumes outward into the dark green of the main artery. The place of meeting is a kinetic experience. Mr. Maher makes Confluence brim with that same energy.

As he says in his Scent Notes post on his website, he was looking to marry incense and conifers. He does this through a series of scented confluences as two primary sources of each become one. It makes Confluence a perfume of hard and soft syllables finding a flow.

It first comes to life with an energetic citrus accord. The “con” syllable. Mr. Maher uses ginger to tap the citric tuning fork of his ingredients. It forms an accord with a buzzing harmonic. The “flu” syllable comes through a set of two types of frankincense. To allow them to come together he uses elemi to smooth the transition. It also allows it to connect to that citrusy first syllable. “Ence” comes from a mixture of woods mainly black spruce and fir balsam. Juniper is the chaperone at the conjunction of both. Again it helps to call back to the previous two syllables. After they are all together citrus, resins, and woods form their own confluence.

Confluence has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Mr. Maher has made everything about this perfume the definition of its name. Each accord flows into itself until they all form a beautiful whole. That’s what happens when three become one.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Van Cleef & Arpels Oud Blanc- Into the Smoke

The origin of the name perfume as derived from the Latin “per fumus” has always seemed right to me. The history of adding scent to a person came through capturing the smoke in your clothing. We no longer must stand over a brazier to add fragrance to our lives. I am atavistically attached to the concept. When a perfume attempts to evoke it, I am happy to experience it; Van Cleef & Arpels Oud Blanc achieves this.

Anne Flipo

Oud Blanc is part of the Collection Extraordinaire subset of the brand. It is a companion to the earlier release this year of Santal Blanc. In that case the wood was surrounded by white linen as the source of “blanc”. Perfumer Anne Flipo chooses a set of white musks for her “blanc”.

Oud comes to the perfume world from the practice of burning it in Middle Easter households. It has become a more familiar scent to Western audiences through its use in perfume. Most of the time it doesn’t try to go back to its original use. Mme Flipo wants that to be the oud she represents here.

The opening is a dried fruit ingredient of dates. Mme Flipo uses it so that it feels like it has a scented chewiness to it. It also is a fruit indigenous to the region where oud has come from. The oud comes next in persistent waves of smokiness. Oud can have some rough edges. In this case Mme Flipo has rounded off many of the sharper ones. It leaves something which moves in slow waves across the dates. Then the white musks and aldehydes appear to blow things up. They add an expansiveness to the oud. Simultaneously vanilla partners the dates to create a sweet gourmand-like baseline underneath the cloud of oud.

Oud Blanc has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

I enjoyed this interpretation of oud quite a bit. I think it is because Mme Flipo took me into the smoke as it was in the beginning.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Neiman-Marcus.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Tahite Sel_Vanille- Does Three Make a Trend?

Regular readers know I enjoy looking for trends in perfumery. They also know I really enjoy it when a new type of perfume architecture begins to show up. I have enjoyed the growth of the gourmand fragrances over the past few years because it is one of the genres which has a lot of room for innovation. One part of that is taking other styles and fusing them to a gourmand sensibility. The current trend of floral gourmands has grown out of that. Over the last year there might be a new fusion beginning to emerge. Maison Tahite Sel_Vanille might be the confirmation of that.

Maison Tahite is a new brand which is committed to supporting sustainability with their fragrances. It seems based on the first collection they will feature a single keynote interpreted in different ways. For these first five that choice is vanilla. If you are someone who enjoys vanilla perfumes this entire debut collection is worth sampling. There is an inherent comfort to it which makes it easy to enjoy any of them.

David Maruitte

Sel_Vanille caught my attention because it is an aquatic gourmand. The third I have tried in roughly the last fifteen months. I find the contrast of the overused aquatic palette has been given some new energy when paired with gourmand ingredients. The savory or sweet contrast to that ocean spray is something I didn’t know I wanted. David Maruitte is the perfumer behind Sel_Vanille. He forms a savory crème brulee served oceanside.

The earliest moments are the classic but trite through overuse seaside accord. There are the ozonic notes paired with the salt spray of the waves crashing. Jasmine completes what has become so familiar. What comes next changes everything. First a very herbal sage comes out with a deep rich vanilla. It forms a savory-sweet combination. As it inserts itself into the beach mise en scene it becomes buoyed by the lift which comes as part of the aquatic accord. I kept thinking of this as a sage infused crème brulee. Some cedar forms the base and the clean lines of the wood provide a nice frame for everything.

Sel_Vanille has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Ever since wearing this I’ve been asking myself does three different perfumes from different brands make a trend? Probably not. It likely means that I am hoping it might eventually become one. If it does, I will look back to Sel_Vanille as one of those that was there at the start.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Trial of the Chicago 7

One of the best things about the number of streaming services is movies I think would have had little chance to get made are finding an audience. If a writer or director has a passion piece within them there is now a place for them to have it seen. The other great part is these are movies that only would have played art house cinemas in larger cities. Now it is available to anyone with a subscription. Netflix has been the most aggressive about giving the go ahead to these kinds of projects. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is one of them.

I would have watched this for one reason, Aaron Sorkin. He has one of my favorite voices in movies and tv. I find the rhythm of his dialogue effortlessly captures me more than any special effect. Not only does Mr. Sorkin write it he also directs it. He then gathered a top-notch cast of actors to play it out.

The story is based on the real-life Chicago 7. They were a group of anti-Vietnam protesters who were at the Democratic National Convention in August 1968. They were arrested for rioting during their protests. Nothing happened until after Richard Nixon was sworn in after the election that year. His Attorney General John Mitchell indicted eight of the protesters with federal crimes. The movie is about that trial.

Mr. Sorkin uses this material to comment on the importance of protest at any time. As the movie plays out the forces who are against the change being pushed by the defendants do what they must to “save” the country. That’s what they think. The Chicago 7 themselves make the equally compelling case that the very act of protest is what will “save” the country. The movie lets that struggle come to a climax as the trial proceeds.

The cast is full of great performances but there are two which are the heart of the movie. Eddie Redmayne who plays Tom Hayden and Sacha Baron Cohen who is Abbie Hoffman. The latter is brilliant as the instigator who wants to make it clear who and what he is protesting. Mr. Redmayne is the intellectual face of the same argument. Mr. Sorkin gives them the words to make it clear.

I believe this movie is going to be competing for many of the year-end movie awards and I’m glad I was able to watch it from my sofa.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Bortnikoff Oud Loukoum- Simple is Better

One of the current trends in independent perfumery is that of the artisanal distiller as nose. An interesting group of these came to the forefront about three or four years ago. Like many I was enchanted by discovering the new materials they were bringing out. These were small-batch completely unique ingredients. I am susceptible to falling under the spell of a new ingredient. It took me about a year but because of the amount that was being released I began to form a hypothesis. That while they were gifted distillers, they weren’t necessarily perfumers. Over the past few years I’ve still been impressed at the ingredients they produce but they don’t rise to what I would categorize as perfume.

That’s very broad. What I have noticed is when they overstuff things with too many ingredients it becomes like static. It adds an olfactory hiss which is distracting. The simpler they keep things the closer they get to being a perfume. Bortnikoff Oud Loukoum is one which manages to do this.

Dmitry Bortnikoff

Dmitry Bortnikov is the man behind the brand. He has been producing fragrance from his base in Thailand since 2018. In just two years he has released 25 limited editions. All of them have at their heart something unique. Which is the appeal. For Oud Loukoum he is inspired by the Turkish confection of the same name.

Loukoum is also known as Turkish Delight. It is a chewy sweet exotic candy. I prefer the ones which have nuts as their main flavoring but there are many varieties. Oud Loukoum is a full-on gourmand style of fragrance which captures this.

It opens with a stewed fruits accord which is very appealing, especially in the cooler weather. Ylang-ylang acts as the floral contrast. The flower has an oiliness which adds a richer depth to the fruits. It is here where a selection of ouds forms the gourmand accord. If they were left to themselves it wouldn’t have come together. A slightly fruity tobacco pulls the fruit and oud together into a perfume version of loukoum. It remains in its candied form for hours with only some balsam sliding in later.

Oud Loukoum has 24-hour longevity and average sillage.

This is not an indicator of a change in aesthetic. The other nine perfumes from 2020 all have the same things which keep me from embracing them fully. I still would love to bring these distillers and their materials into partnership with my favorite perfumers. I believe there would be something amazing which could come of that. Until then when they do make something like Oud Loukoum I can appreciate it for what it is.

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

Mark Behnke