New Perfume Review Zara Rain Collection- What If?

In comic books there is a tradition of “what if?” stories. Things like what if Bruce Wayne’s parents were not killed in front of him, or at all? It is fun to consider the changes that would make. I can’t say perfumery lends itself to this except maybe one is playing out in the Zara Rain Collection.

I continue to say the best kept secret at the mall are the fragrances being sold in Zara stores. They have really been expanding their offerings over the last couple of years. Collaborating with top perfumers on their releases. One of the best of these has been the one with Jo Malone since 2019. This is the perfumer who founded the brand not the brand itself. Which brings me to the “what if?” part of things.

Jo Malone

Ms. Malone sold what was one of the first success stories of independent perfumery to Estee Lauder in 1999. She would stay on in a creative capacity until 2006. In 2011 she would create a new independent perfume brand called Jo Loves. Zara contacted her in 2019 to create new perfumes for them. The reality is the existence of the original brand and the sequel has been a win-win for perfume lovers who enjoy the style of perfume she makes. Which is where the Rain Collection comes in. More than anything she has done previously this made me think of it as a “what if she was still the creative director at her first brand?”

One of the things which has come around again is an appreciation for transparent type of fragrance. Especially by the younger generation of consumers. The four perfumes in the Rain Collection made me think of how Ms. Malone’s initial way of making perfume is just what this perfume buyer is looking for. I’m going to do hot takes on all four.

No. 1 Rose Petal Drops– This is a crisp fruity floral of blackcurrant and rose. Around it, Ms. Malone weaves tendrils of baie rose, lychee, amber, and vanilla. The lychee is the part of this which gives the rainy quality with its humid sweetness in between the keynotes.

No. 2 Bergamot & Leather Spritz– iris infused leather has become a popular accord in perfumery. Ms. Malone’s version sandwiches it between lavender and an oud accord. The latter is tuned ideally not to overwhelm but to add subtle texture to everything.

No. 3 Citrus Meze– This is a classic citrus mixture of grapefruit and neroli. It is refreshing and floral in all the right places. What livens things up is the use of the biologically degraded version of patchouli called Akigalawood. It has all the spicy aspects of the parent material without the earthiness. Here it adds just the right amount of zest to the citrus.

No. 4 Amber & Fig Cashmere– The center here is a mixture of fig ingredients to give an accord of the green leaves and the creaminess of the fruit. Ambrox provides a dry woody counterpoint. This is really all there is to this. The best thing about it is the ambrox never takes over the whole thing. The fig pushes back from beginning to end.

If you’re starting to venture out shopping again add a stop at Zara to your list of places to check out. Inside you will find surprisingly good perfumes. And a great “what if?” story in the Rain Collection.

Disclosure: this review is based on samples provided by Zara.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: AP Bio

This week is the time of the year when the major US broadcast networks reveal their fall line-up of shows. It is also when beloved shows with decent audiences have campaigns to try and get that show another season. One thing which has made that part of the process go a little easier is all the networks have relationships with a streaming service. As an example two shows which draw an audience of about 6 million viewers weekly on CBS, “SEAL Team” and “Clarice” are not canceled but are going to show new episodes on the streaming service Paramount+. On broadcast 6 million makes you a straggler. On a streaming service that’s a big audience. The other advantage this has is to allow an audience who maybe heard good things the chance to catch up on their own schedule. AP Bio is one of those success stories.

AP Bio began airing on NBC in March of 2018 and was renewed for a second season in NBC the next year. It averaged around 3 million viewers over the two seasons. As NBC began putting together their own streaming service, Peacock they decided to add some new exclusive content. A third season of AP Bio was there on day one of the new service.

I had a good friend who really liked the show. Mrs. C and I are fond of Patton Oswalt who is one of the main characters. We decided to give it a try. Three days later we were new fans. Others also joined us as season 4 will be coming in a few months.

The show revolves around Jack Griffin who lost his job as a Harvard philosophy professor in a way that made him unable to be hired by another university. It forces him to return to his hometown of Toledo, Ohio to take a job teaching AP Bio to his old high school’s current honor students. The humor of the show revolves around Jack’s far-fetched plans to get back his fame and leave town. The fun is those plans never work out with Jack being a human Wile E. Coyote.

Jack played by Glenn Howerton is a prototypical unlikable protagonist. He is a jerk and happy to be one. The people around him seem to allow him his misanthropic attitude while merrily living their own odd lives. It is satisfying when his plans go awry leaving him as the one who gets had.

The best episode of the series is one which revolves around the annual celebration of “Katie Holmes Day”. It happens yearly on the day that local actress got her first break when she was cast on the TV series “Dawson’s Creek”. The town re-enacts the casting call as the centerpiece of the day. It involves the entire AP Bio cast doing their part to make the day happen. Except Jack who wants to find a way to mock it. It all works because at this point the characters have also become defined.

In the new economy of television there are going to be more shows like AP Bio which find new life on the streaming services. Which seems like a good thing.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Brands Chris Collins African Rooibos- You’ve Reached Your Destination

The worst part of any long road trip is listening to the GPS tell you that you are almost there. You’ve done all the driving and you are close to being where you want to be. Then you hear that neutral voice tell you 45 minutes until your destination. New perfume brands also must travel a similar path. As a reviewer I have a good feeling about the early work of some new brands. I like what they seem to stand for while feeling they aren’t quite there. The owners don’t hear my voice but I’m thinking you’re one perfume away. Chris Collins African Rooibos has reached its destination.

Chris Collins

Chris Collins will be known to many of you as one of the models who became a face for Ralph Lauren fashion. Mr. Collins would pick up a knowledge of how to market luxury through his association. He also was interested in fragrance. One trip to Paris he decided to go visit Grasse and see what he could learn. The result of that was his first collection of three perfumes in 2018 dubbed the Harlem Renaissance Collection. All three were good. They also showed an aesthetic of opulent luxury. After trying that initial sample set, I thought this was a fragrance line to pay attention to. He would return a year later with a four-perfume collection called Dark Romance. These were all at extrait strength and that didn’t do them any favors. They didn’t shimmer on the skin they kind of diffused into a pleasant-smelling close wearing perfume. The dedication to high quality was still evident it just needed to be dialed back some. When I received my sample of African Rooibos, I knew form the first sniff this was the culmination of the last three years of learning.

Sidonie Lancesseur

Mr. Collins has worked with some of the best perfumers, for this he collaborates with Sidonie Lancesseur. Together they create a perfume which evokes the Fynbos region of South Africa where rooibos is grown for use in herbal teas. The name translates to “fine bush” and the plant from which the tea leaves are harvested is part of the broom family. What they create is a fragrance of the bush country of South Africa.

It begins with a cool citrusy breeze of cardamom winding its way through the landscape. It picks up the dry ground though the kick of black pepper. As the breeze curls around a rooibos bush it also finds some orris there. The rooibos has a slightly smoky toasty scent profile. The orris first adds a sprinkle of powder before the carrot-like quality finds a vegetal sweetness to the rooibos leaves. Immortelle comes next in all its rugged floral maple syrupy presence. It meshes with the heart accord beautifully creating something even more engaging. Tonka bean amplifies the smokiness in a gentle way through the coumarin inherent within. Clean slightly green cedar provides a frame for it all.

African Rooibos has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

This was the perfume I expected Mr. Collins was eventually going to make. It pulls together all that he wants his eponymous brand to stand for. African Rooibos has completed that trip.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Panouge Absinthe Gaiac and Patchouli Figue- Syrupy and Ripe

Following up yesterday’s reviews of Datura Amaretti and Rose Agathe with the remaining two entries in the Matieres Libres collection, Panouge Absinthe Gaiac and Patchouli Figue.

Absinthe Gaiac is exactly what I expected. Which is the outlier of these four releases. The other three presented such different interpretations of their inspirations. The reason perfumer Patrice Revillard maybe felt he didn’t have to push too hard for something different is the absinthe accord in this is marvelous. One of the things perfumers miss, is the viscosity of absinthe as you pour it from the bottle. M. Revillard creates a wormwood laden version which oozes throughout the composition.

Patrice Revillard

That accord is what opens things. It has a thickness to it that is very appealing. He uses violet leaf to add a bitter corona around it all. What I often refer to as a “rose in a fisted glove” accord comes next through leather and rose. This is equal parts both ingredients. What I enjoyed is the absinthe coats both forming a goth night vibe. It goes more deeply in that direction as amber and patchouli form the base.

There is a point at the end of every summer where a fleeting moment happens. It is when the fruit on the trees has been harvested and there are a few left. Those are verging on overripe. At this moment they are giving off their natural scent in pulsing waves. Underneath it all is just a hint of the coming rot which will cause it to fall off the branch. I adore this moment of fecundity. Perfumer Marie Schnirer captures it in Patchouli Figue.

Marie Schnirer

She uses two very pronounced iterations of fig and pear. Usually perfumers work with a greener version of both. Mme Schnirer goes the other way mimicking my on the verge of decay version I get in real life. Both are right out in front. This is a soft fig which is oozing through breaks in the skin. The pear is full of sweet juice which flows in rivulets. Together they form a potent fruity accord. I’m not usually fond of this kind of fruity intensity. In this case I want to roll around in it. A little thread of rhubarb tries to bring things back into balance only to have cocoa and patchouli sending it off on a delightfully Willy Wonka detour. As it coalesces it feels like a decadent dessert served at a farm table with the last fruit off the trees.

Both perfumes have 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

I am going to finish where I started with praise for creative director Rania Naim. She gave these two perfumers as much freedom to create as they could ask for. It results in a collection which pushes at expectations. If you’re in the mood for something different from your perfume this collection delivers.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Panouge.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Panouge Datura Amaretti and Rose Agathe-Liqueur and Metal

One of the things I have attempted to do as long as I have been writing about perfume is to give credit to creative direction. As I began my learning curve on the way fragrance was created, I learned the person in that position is critical to a brand’s success. There are many of them for whom the brand and the creative director are synonymous in my head. I can’t think of one without the other. Then there are a rare few who do it across multiple brands with varying aesthetics in each case. One of my favorites is Rania Naim.

Rania Naim

Mme Naim is working again for the brand Panouge as she oversees the Matieres Libres collection. The name translates to “materials in freedom”. It also shows the faith Mme Naim has in talented perfumers. In this four-perfume collection she turned to perfumers Patrice Revillard and Marie Schnirer to each create two. I am going to review all four today and tomorrow starting with Datura Amaretti and Rose Agathe.

Patrice Revillard

Those who read my Sunday column know I enjoy making cocktails. One of my favorites is a mixture of two liqueuers Cherry Heering and Amaretto called “Cherry Pie”. The interplay of sweet cherry and boozy almond as the scent of it is part of the appeal when I make it. M. Revillard was thinking of poison flowers and De Medicis as he composed this. We may not have been seeing things the same way, but Datura Amaretti is fun.

The way it comes together is through a syrupy cherry the slightly boozy datura and the toastiness of almond. It is this which creates the central accord. He uses cedar as a foundation but the pleasure of this is all in that cherry pie cocktail for my nose.

Marie Schnirer

I am beginning to believe that if a rose fragrance has rose oxide in it that I’m going to enjoy it more. Rose Agathe has a lot of it, and I really like it. What Mme Schnirer does is to start with that metallic variant of rose as her nucleus. In the early going she embraces the chrome-ness of it all as if this is a metal rose. Elemi and black pepper provide a reflective surface for the rose to encounter. It changes as the base goes leathery. She uses that accord almost as if this is a rose brooch on a jacket. She then completes this with a stony accord of damp rocks. Bringing this around again to metal and stone in a fascinating scented rondo.

Both perfumes have 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Tomorrow I will review Patchouli Figue and Absinthe Gaiac.

Disclosure: this review is based on samples provided by Panouge.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum- The Affordable Vintage Experience

One of the things new perfume lovers discover is vintage perfumes are held in high esteem. These are older formulations of existing perfumes which contain currently proscribed ingredients. It also refers to discontinued perfumes of a particular style usually from the first half of the 20th century. In the last year I have received a couple of interesting questions from readers asking me to describe a vintage-type perfume. Because of the difficulty of finding them I tried to come up with a good answer. Except it eluded me.

What kept running through my head was these are what are frequently called “old lady perfumes”. That kind of description is lacking in many ways. What makes them interesting is these are the opposite of today’s lighter offerings. These are the fragrances which left a trail behind the wearer, for better or worse. That power is part of the appeal as well as the reason some turn their nose up at them. I kept wondering if there was a good example that might come from the Discount Diamonds section. After a year of thinking about it, Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum might be the affordable vintage experience.

Mon Parfum was released in 1984 by Sra. Picasso. She had a career designing jewelry before giving perfumery a try. Her goal was to create a perfume which hearkened back to the earlier part of the century. Working with perfumer Frank Bocris they would create a multi-layered floral over an animalic base which snarled.

It begins with a citrusy green top accord. Lemon is surrounded by coriander and angelica giving the contrast. The floral heart is headed up by a duet of jasmine and hyacinth, but it is so much more. M. Bocris adds in the freshness of muguet, the lushness of rose, the fleshiness of ylang-ylang, the powderiness of mimosa and the opulence of orris. This is what those early florals were all about a recognizable leader with a parade of others adding nuance and depth. The fun of this is if you concentrate you will notice all the flowers I mentioned. They don’t just become flower soup they are a filigreed bouquet.

As much as I enjoy the floral heart what makes this amazing is the animalic base. In my original bottle M. Bocris used all of them. There are times I wondered if it wouldn’t sprout hair on my shelf. That isn’t the version you can purchase today. Those animalics have been significantly changed or banned. Whomever oversaw the current reformulation did a great job. While this might not roar as loud it still shows its fangs in as fully an animalic base as can be achieved today. That turns this into a sultry sexy perfume.

Mon Parfum has 16-18 hour longevity and gigantic sillage. Trust me a drop or two will do.

I recommended to my correspondents to go pick up a bottle online. Once they did, we had a really nice conversation using Mon Parfum as a starting point on vintage perfume. If you want to see if vintage-type fragrances are for you here is the most cost-effective way I can think of to start.

Disclosure: This review is based on an original bottle and a new bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Creed Viking Cologne- Is It As Good As?

I wonder how frustrating it must be as a perfume brand to always have to be compared to one perfume you released years ago. For the last ten years anytime I have reviewed a fragrance from Creed I get a bunch of messages. All of them the same. They ask me, “Is it as good as Aventus?” If I get it as a reviewer, I must believe every point of sale is asked the same thing every day. The oversized affection for Aventus has reduced all other releases to afterthoughts, which is unfair.

The brand itself tried to answer it with the 2017 release of Viking. It was a nicely executed spicy rose. Which when the inevitable question came my way, I replied it was a different, more spicy style of fragrance. In many ways it has become the underachieving sibling to its ultra-successful forerunner. It looks like they are trying again with Creed Viking Cologne.

Olivier Creed

First this is an entirely different construct than the original Viking. I am not sure why they are even calling it this. There is almost no relationship to the earlier release. Second this also seems like an attempt to appeal to a younger perfume wearer who enjoys lighter styles. Olivier Creed delivers a classic citrus cologne.

The opening of this is the sunny brilliance of lemon and petitgrain. This is a rich version of this opening. It has a little more bite because the petitgrain gets precedence over the lemon. In traditional colognes what should follow is herbal. Which is what comes next through rosemary and sage. Then lavender completes the classic recipe. This is where it changes from something familiar into something Creed. A silvery frankincense coats things. Patchouli and sandalwood provide the opulent base without becoming too heavy. This is when Viking Cologne finds its own way

Viking Cologne has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Let me say this; Aventus is a once in a generation perfume for Creed. It is unlikely to be supplanted anytime soon. Which doesn’t mean the other things from the brand are not worthwhile. It would be nice to see the question change from “is it as good as?” to “is it any good?” In the case of that last question in regard to Viking Cologne the answer is yes.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Byredo Open Sky- Spring Green?

Now that we have hit the middle of May in the US, this is when I observe a shift in spring. The early days are about new growth rising out of the soil. As we move through April into May that growth is mostly green. For all that spring is associated with florals I think of it as two halves. The back half from mid-May through June is when the flowers sing. Right now it is the vegetation which has the lead. Byredo Open Sky is a perfume of that first half of spring.

Ben Gorham

Byredo has been one of the success stories of independent perfumery since its inception in 2007. Over the last fourteen years founder and creative director Ben Gorham along with perfumer Jerome Epinette have formed a distinct brand aesthetic. The evolution of that through the longtime collaboration of just two people is something I appreciate. They’ve not kept things at a static level. Over the years they have responded to changing trends with their own interpretations. Open Sky feels like their response to the idea that a spring fragrance should also be floral.

Jerome Epinette

Mr. Gorham nods to the effects of being quarantined during the pandemic has had for our desire to be out in the open sky again. I get that but this feels closer to grass between my toes rather than blue skies overhead.

It begins with a textured citrus and black pepper. This has become one of those accords I am encountering a lot in this spring of 2021. I like it a lot, but I wonder why it has started to be used by so many different fragrances. M. Epinette’s version is the tart grapefruit roughened up by the pepper. It at times reminds me a bit of rhubarb. The source of green is two-fold. The first is hemp. This is not the scent of marijuana or cannabis. If you’ve ever picked up the stalk of a hemp plant and shredded it then smelled your hands this is the green at the core of Open Sky. It is a fibrous green scent profile thick with vegetal facets. To pair with it, vetiver is used. This is the sharp grassy vetiver which softens some of the green stridency while simultaneously sharpening other aspects. As the vetiver and hemp find an equilibrium I am reminded of my own backyard as it exists today. A soothing woody palo santo provides the foundation.

Open Sky has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

This is a very nuanced homage to the part of spring which hasn’t had the flowers bloom. I’m not sure what to call it. Maybe a spring green? It is a different way of embracing spring as a perfume.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Joss Whedon

There is an adage about meeting your heroes which inevitably leads to disappointment. I think that applies because we can sometimes hold them to unaccountably lofty standards. I have been lucky enough to have met many of my heroes. I have enjoyed those meetings and walked away thinking how much I like the person. This was the case in December of 2007 when I met Joss Whedon.

For those unfamiliar with the name you probably know his TV shows and movies. He created the television version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer along with its spinoffs. He made the jump to movies and was the director of the first Marvel’s The Avengers and its sequel. He has been known for creating roles which feature strong female characters. From 1997 until 2015 Mr. Whedon was a geek mainstay while being considered one of the most creative members of it all.

Joss Whedon

I met him when he came to Boston in the early days of Hollywood Writers Strike. Writers were fanning out to different cities to lead protests. On this cold day in Boston he would lead a march around Harvard Square. As we walked, he would fall in step with different groups and chat with us. He has as quick a wit in person as his characters do on a page. As it was with every fan panel, I ever saw the discussion turned to why he chose to write stories about women who exhibited a pronounced sense of who and what they were. I don’t remember his exact answer, but it is a riff on this I heard him say many times, “I do it because I’ve only ever had those types of women around me.” On that day I walked away thinking this particular hero had lived up to his impression in my head.

Which is why the recent news about Mr. Whedon has been so distressing. Starting with actor Ray Fisher who Mr. Whedon worked with on the “Justice League” movie. It would become more than one angry actor as others who had worked with Mr. Whedon would begin to tell their stories. All of them were of him unmercifully berating the people he was working with. It has come to light he enjoyed tearing down the people who worked for him, especially it seems the women.

What bothered me personally was the way he touted his belief in women being more than equals in public. Only it turns out to be something far different in private. Now I felt like I had been had by a con man. Which to some degree remains my primary emotion.

To help give me some context I went back and watched some of my favorite pieces of tv and movies he has been responsible for. The stories being told are still of empowered heroines doing heroic things. That part doesn’t change. That I know there was emotionally manipulative efforts by Mr. Whedon bothers me. Yet I believe the work stands on its own.

Despite being created by a con man closet misogynist the stories are worth being seen. Hopefully to inspire future generations to be able to stand up to bullies like Mr. Whedon.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Amouage Interlude 53- More, More, More

There are certain perfumes where my inner Billy Idol sings to me “more, more, more”. They are full of ingredients that I think I would like to have more of. At this point I know it isn’t as easy as just putting more of everything into a bottle. Sometimes it dissolves into a fallen souffle as everything great about the original collapses under the weight. I was interested to see if Amouage Interlude 53 would hold up.

Renaud Salmon

The new creative director at Amouage, Renaud Salmon made a really interesting decision at the beginning of his new job. Instead of immediately jumping in and designing new perfumes he chose to take one from his predecessor and create a couple of flankers. Out of everything that came before I do not know what made him choose Interlude Man as the place he would begin. Just over a year ago the first new release under his review was Interlude Man Black Iris. It was recognizably Interlude Man with iris skillfully woven into it. I thought it was a luxurious flanker that fans of the original would really enjoy.

Pierre Negrin

At that time it wasn’t obvious if M. Salmon was going to strike out on his own or make flankers. It has turned out that he has his own vision which appeared at the end of last year and is coming this year with two new releases. I no longer have the concern about Amouage under his stewardship becoming a flanker operation.

Which makes me kind of sheepish to admit this second flanker really appealed to me. Perfumer Pierre Negrin who did the original and the flanker is also behind Interlude 53. The 53 represents 53% as in that’s the amount of perfume oil in the formula. That’s a whopping amount of perfume oil. My inner Billy Idol curls his lip in appreciation. I adored the original for its quirky development. Once things get more concentrated one of the biggest surprises was how that smoothed out the transitions.

It again opens with herbs as allspice and oregano form the top accord. In the original this was fresh and vegetal. In this deeper version it is denser leaving the freshness behind. It also shows some of the grace notes inherent in all the ingredients. The oregano and allspice show off subtle sweet nuances. The biggest change was in the heart of amber and frankincense. In the original it was cool and austere. At 53% it is diffuse and warm. It was so much fun switching arms back and forth to really experience this difference. The oud and sandalwood base are the piece where they are both identical although Interlude 53 does have more depth because of the strength.

Interlude 53 has 24-hour plus longevity and average sillage.

I enjoy this much more than the original because it is “more, more, more”. To be fair I still think this is for someone who enjoyed the original even though it is different. I’m not sure higher concentration will convert new admirers. If you are a fan of the original and Billy Idol whispers to you when you wear Interlude Man, then you should let yourself try Interlude 53…..with a Rebel Yell.

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

Mark Behnke