Farewell to a Guerlie Girl

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Those of us who love perfume have a story of where it began. As I’ve related in other stories of my life much of my appreciation of fragrance began with my mother. She was the opposite of me in that she only wore two fragrances, Guerlain Mitsouko and Guerlain Shalimar in the Eau de Cologne concentration. Her vanity always had the round bull’s-eye bottles with the green or red dot at the center.

She was a working mother. I was the only one of my friends who had a mother who worked outside of the home. Wearing her perfume was part of her daily attire. I knew she was out of the shower and getting dressed because the scent of one of her perfumes would reach the breakfast table. I knew I had to finish soon because she was almost ready to leave. I would be rinsing out my cereal dish only to have her hug me in a Guerlain embrace. There was a security in it that a child could rely upon.

There were days a little would rub off on me. It always made me feel as if Mom was with me even though she had dropped me off. The scent of Mitsouko or Shalimar has been synonymous with her my entire life.

As she tuned into her son’s interest in perfume, she always reminded me that she only wore two things. While I often responded I wore two things in a day. We had a fabulous fragrant field trip to a Guerlain boutique near her home in Florida.

I had pulled some of the few strings I have to make an appointment for us. I really wanted her to experience the other versions of her favorites. They were ready for us. We had iced tea and every concentration of Shalimar and Mitsouko was sniffed. It is one of my favorite memories. Between the sales representative and I we spun all the history of these two pillars of my mother’s perfumed life.

After all of this what made me laugh with delight was she still preferred her Eau de Cologne versions best. My mother knew what she liked. As I drove her back to her house, she asked me whether I ever wore them. I smiled at her and said I couldn’t they were her scent. I told her Freud would have a field day with me if I did.

A few years ago I heard the phrase “Guerlie Girl” to represent a woman who wore Guerlain. It immediately stuck to my mother in my mind. Earlier this week, a few days short of her 99th birthday she passed away. There wasn’t much perfume wearing these last few years. I imagine that my Guerlie Girl is sitting on a scented cloud. Happy to have her perfumes back in her life.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Parfums MDCI L’Elegant- Fine and Dandy

If there is a historical precedent for the masculine wearing of perfume it is the “dandy”. For those unfamiliar with the term it described a type of man towards the end of the 18th century. The first were considered commentators on current mores by living and acting outside of them, with a plucky style. A piece of that was the wearing of large, scented flowers. Gardenias were found in the lapels of many of them. It was a statement that this man wasn’t afraid of smelling like a flower. Their existence has been the source of inspiration for many perfumes three centuries later. Parfrums MDCI L’Elegance uses a portrait of one as the starting point.

Claude Marchal

L’Elegance is the latest in “The Paintings” collection begun last year. The portrait of Pierre Seriziat painted in 1795 by Jacques-Louis David. This captures the prototypical dandy in all his insouciant demeanor. Looking on at all those sad members of society locked into their social straitjackets. All while flaunting the ability through dress to have escaped those bindings. Creative director Claude Marchal and perfumer Irene Farmachidi turn that into a perfume.

Irene Farmachidi

The top accord portrays the aloofness through an austere frankincense, black pepper, and cardamom. Incense can create that kind of sacred space. In the top accord Mme Farmachidi use that as a scented attitude. It becomes deeper in the heart as she coats iris in honey. This is the heart of a dandy, over-the-top sweet sticky floral. A set of spices are used to remind one there is a man under it all as cumin, cinnamon, and nutmeg coat the sticky floral matrix. A roughened-up sandalwood forms the base as she throws an oud accord, cistus, and tonka bean to give it more texture.

L’Elegant has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is the closest scent interpretation of the painting on the bottle so far in “The Paintings” collection. It isn’t hard to think the subject could smell something like this. I found this dandified perfume just fine and dandy.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Beso Beach Beso Pasion- My Kind of Mediterranean

As regular readers know I have lost patience with the aquatic style of perfume. Recently there have been some which have caught my attention, but most follow the same well-worn path. I’ve had readers ask me what it is I like in the summer months. What I reply is the Mediterranean style of perfume is what I look for. These are less beachy. The freshness is due to the expansiveness of the formula. I think they are every bit as clean as their aquatic counterparts. Beso Beach Beso Pasion is one which gets it right.

Beso Pasion is the fourth fragrance from the resort group of Beso Beach. In 2018 they released a set of three perfumes tied to each of their properties in resort areas. I have only become aware of them through this new release. According to their website the concept is to have the perfume allow you to take a bit of your vacation home with you. For Beso Pasion your travel agent is perfumer Jordi Fernandez.

Jordi Fernandez

One piece of a Mediterranean type of fragrance is the use of fig. This is the heart of this. Before we get there, Sr. Fernandez forms a summery top accord which immediately got me in vacation mode. Lemon, ginger, and cardamom have a party. Almost like the leader of a conga line asking you to join. It is fresh and enticing. Where it leads you is to a ripe fig heart. A lot of the time the greener fig is used. Here he uses a deeper more mature version. It is a contrast to the top accord as they circle around it. A swoosh of green tea turns this into a more gourmand-like scent for a few moments. The base is a combination I’ve been expecting to be great.

Sr. Fernandez used Akigalawood which is the biological degradation of patchouli. This has a spicy less earthy scent profile. Combining it with the green of Haitian vetiver is something I thought would go well together. As they combine here, they form a compelling spicy green accord that is not too heavy. Perfect in a warm weather fragrance.

Beso Pasion has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is my kind of Mediterranean. The riper fig and the akigalawood-vetiver base make me happy that top accord dragged me into this perfume conga line. It is hard not to smile while wearing this.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Shawn Maher for American Perfumer Benton Park- Nature Through Perfumery

I have always enjoyed the way my love of perfume has allowed me to see the natural world differently. It also flows the other way. This happened most remarkably when I encountered tuberose in its natural state. After all the mid-century perfumes which featured this overheated flower, I expected to smell it from yards away. Instead I found something that was much greener, almost mentholated. When I returned home and picked up a couple of those vintage classics that green thread leapt out to me. It was as if it took smelling the real thing to unlock the part of my mind that perceives tuberose. Shawn Maher for American Perfumer Benton Park searches for that natural scent of tuberose.

This is the second perfume Shawn Maher has composed for the limited editions of Dave Kern’s store American Perfumer. These perfumes have been some of my favorites every year. One is because Mr. Kern has found some of the best American independent perfumers and asked them to create without restrictions. For a creative mind this is a blessing. Benton Park was born from discussions around the way tuberose smells in the wild.

Shawn Maher

Mr. Maher always lets us into his creative process through his Scent Notes blog on his website. He mentions that he did some research to find out the headspace analysis for tuberose. This is the scent of the flower as analyzed scientifically to determine its composition.

The other piece of Benton Park is vetiver, Mr. Maher and Mr. Kern talked about how different vetiver’s scent profile is depending on which part of the world it comes from. Two different sources add in their differences as complement to the tuberose accord.

Benton Park opens with a sprightly green mixture around limonene and a set of mint-like ingredients. Regular readers know I have a bug about mint. Which is why I use mint-like to describe it. These are fresh green ingredients closer in scent to mint than anything else I can think of. When you smell natural tuberose there is a mentholated chill that fizzes through your nose. This accord captures that. Mr. Maher then rounds out the accord with some of the more recognizable pieces of tuberose. This is where using an accord rather than tuberose oil itself is a huge improvement. It allows for a precise tuning of the accord to a specific effect. Once it is together it is the natural inversion of the green over the narcotic floral.

Waiting for it is the vetiver accord. Mr. Maher takes a foundation of double distilled vetiver. To that he adds vetiver from India and Haiti. Vetiver has a sharp green grassy piece and an earthy woody piece. The Haitian version has the green out front while the Indian one has the woody part. As they interact with the foundational vetiver it forms a rounded vetiver accord which is ready to meet its tuberose partner.

When it happens the icy green of the tuberose adds a fall morning chill to the grassy green of vetiver. I almost checked to see if I could see my breath. It is a fascinating interaction. The chill felt great on a blazing hot day I wore this on. A set of musks provide the grounding the keynote accords need to complete things.

Benton Park has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is one of the most unique interpretations of tuberose I have encountered in perfumery. It is nature through perfumery.

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

Mark Behnke

Editor’s Note: These limited editions have proven to be extremely popular, selling out very quickly. Mr. Kern, to make it more equitable uses a lottery system. There are 25 signed and numbered bottles for sale. The lottery is scheduled for May 29, 2021. If you are interested you can send your name, phone number, and address to dave@american-perfumer.com to be entered. Or you can supply the same info on the Instagram page @theamericanperfumer via message.

New Perfume Review Amouage Boundless- Carrying On

As I’ve been watching the change in creative director at Amouage I had a question in the back of my mind. In the last nine months Renaud Salmon has set a new vector for this brand. If the previous regime was operatic M. Salmon operates on a different level; one of pop music. Amouage has stood for intensely layered fragrances for over twenty years. M. Salmon based on the early releases is looking to retain the layers while finding new sources of intensity. That left me wondering if I was going to continue to see deeply resinous compositions. In Amouage Boundless the answer is yes.

Renaud Salmon

As M. Salmon begins to shape his vision there is a definite shift to more modern inspirations. For Boundless it began with the 1985 song “Tarzan Boy” by Baltimora. He was thinking of the video where lead singer Jimmy McShane is running through a colorful jungle set giving off the song’s signature “oh-oh-oh-oh-ohs”. This would further refine itself to the real life “rainbow tree” which grows in vertical stripes of color. When you look at it you see a flow of multiple bandss creating a magnificent vision of chromatic layering. He would ask perfumer Karine Vinchon-Spehner to design it.

Karine Vinchon-Spehner

The same as its partner Material this is also focused on vanilla as a keynote. The version used here is a CO2 extraction of the prized Bourbon Vanilla. This form of extraction exposes a leathery aspect not so commonly attributed to it. Mme Vinchon-Spehner holds it back until it makes a spectacular entrance towards the end.

The opening is rich spicy citrus accord as blood orange, ginger, cardamom, and elemi add an energetic color. It has an unusual depth because the elemi holds it together. Benzoin, frankincense, and tobacco form a resinous heart accord which adds in a different stripe of color. Now is when the vanilla appears along with a wingman of myrrh. The myrrh finds that leathery piece of the vanilla, amplifying it. This is a deep jewel tone. The base is proto-gourmand chocolate as patchouli and vetiver are given a dusting of cocoa.

Boundless has 24-hour plus longevity and average sillage.

What I was wondering was if Amouage was still going to create resinous perfumes so enticing they are like the event horizons of black holes drawing you in. Boundless is one of these fragrances. It wraps me in layers of resinous colors so that I become a fragrant version of the rainbow tree. To fully answer my question I return to Mr. McShane at the end of a verse where he sings, “native beat that carries on”. M. Salmon has shown that beat will remain at Amouage.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Amouage Material- You Get What You Need

Every year my final post is of things I hope to see for the following year. On the last day of 2020 I hoped for more collaborations between my favorite perfume creative directors and perfumers. I even called out one by name asking for Amouage creative director Renaud Salmon and perfumer Cécile Zarokian to make a next-level gourmand. At the time I wrote that I couldn’t have defined what that looks like. Amouage Material helps find some clarity upon it.

Right after I posted I was told to stay tuned. A couple months later I would be told that my dream team was working on a perfume focused on vanilla. This sounded promising. Like what I was asking for. When I received Material, I was told one of the inspirations was the song “Material Girl” by Madonna. I was thinking about a line from the song “if they can’t raise my interest”.

Renaud Salmon

Which leads to what did I mean by a next-level gourmand. The way I perceive this style of perfume is it has been focused on the edible scents in overdose. It is the youngest of the perfume styles, so it is still defining all the boundaries. What I want is someone to go to the other extreme. Use recognizably sweet and savory notes not as a focus but as an equal. I have often tossed the name “foodie floral” in my head. Material is not that. It is along the same concept executed with more nuance than I could have expected.

Cecile Zarokian

Material is one of a pair of new Amouage perfumes to feature Madagascar vanilla absolute. M. Salmon encouraged Mme Zarokian to find what was within this source and display it. She has been one of a few perfumers who has been in the lead on re-thinking gourmand fragrances. This was an opportunity to take another step forward. To achieve this she uses no other discrete food-based note. Instead she adds to the vanilla other ingredients which form a fascinating kaleidoscopic version of this ingredient.

The vanilla absolute is the axis for the rest of this to spin upon. It is present right from the start. There is a leather aspect which verges on boozy which comes through in the very first minute or so. Right after I get what I might have desired as osmanthus creates that “foodie floral” concept. The apricot finds the vanilla to form a creamy fruit dessert while the leather of both vanilla and osmanthus create a new harmony. This is an amazing accord while it lasts. It moves forward on twin sets of resins, balsamic and incense. This adds a tendril of subtle smoke along with a warmth. This is a classic kind of deep resinous heart that this brand is known for. It moves towards an earthy animalic finish as oud and patchouli provide that. The vanilla inserts itself to find the sweet of patchouli and the smoky resinous heart of oud.

Material has 24-hour plus longevity and average sillage.

I’ve spent the last month asking myself if this is that next-level gourmand I asked for. My answer is I think so. I’m going to need some other perfumers and brands to take a chance on venturing away from the tried and true to be sure. As a marker until that happens, I believe it is next-level.

I am also reminded of a different song as it relates to what I thought I wanted back on New Year’s Eve. The Rolling Stones tell me “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. The second half of that lyric applies to how I feel about Material, “you just might find you get what you need”.

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

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Falcon and The Winter Soldier

As Marvel expands to the streaming universe on Disney+ it allows for exploration of thoughtful themes. In WandaVision it was about what grief can cause in someone who can change her reality. After seeing her arc in the movies we knew what she had lost. Now this longer form of storytelling allowed it to be elaborated upon. The same happens in the second streaming series The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.

Each hero in the title has something to face. Even though Steve Rogers/Captain America gave him the shield on the movie screen. Sam Wilson/The Falcon must face whether he is worthy to bear it. Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier is now living a life where he can no longer be turned into a mindless assassin. It leaves him in a world which he wonders if it can forgive him his past. The entire first episode deals with understanding where these characters are in a world where Thanos has been defeated and half the world has reappeared after five years.

Along the way the question for Sam evolves into the possibility that the world isn’t ready for a Black Captain America. Writer Malcolm Spellman explores that completely. It arrives in the place you expect it to by the end. It makes the decision for Sam to take up the shield the end of a process instead of being bequeathed to him by the previous owner.

For Bucky he needs Sam to believe in himself because it allows him to believe in redemption. The bookends on the series are Bucky’s connection to a relative of one of the people he killed on a mission. We know he will have to face this person by the end.

The villains are also given shades of gray. If half the world disappeared. What happens when they come back and displace those who spread out into the open spaces? The organization that feels the need to violently protest is called The Flag Smashers. They want the world to realize they need to be seen, too.

What also makes this series so much fun is the action sequences. This is a return to those set pieces with heroes and villains fighting in interesting places. The beginning of the series is a high-flying fight as The Falcon swoops through helicopters chasing someone he needs to save. Throughout the series director Kari Skogland shoots these with a great sense of focus.

There are lots of connections to other parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with surprising people showing up. I enjoyed everything about this series. Both first series are adding so much to what we know of this next generation of Marvel heroes. When they move back to the silver screen it will be with better feeling about all of them.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Scents of Wood Oud in Oak, Oud in Acacia, Cedar in Acacia, Cypress in Oak, and Vetiver in Oak- Lightning Round

To conclude my overview of Scents of Wood I am going to do quick reviews of the remaining five samples I received. Owner-creative director Fabrice Croise has shown this collection can be more than just making wood more woody. The four I reviewed the last two days are my favorites. These five are also worth trying if the description piques your interest.

Fabrice Croise

Oud in Oak by Celine Barel– There had to be oud you just knew it. This one takes the classic pairing of oud and leather. Mme Barel finds all of the joy in that combination. A little safrron adds texture. Some spices add heat. The oak-aged alcohol adds an interesting veneer to the oud.

Yves Cassar

Oud in Acacia by Yves Cassar– In comparison tto the other oud above this is where you see the effect of the different wood-aged alcohol. This is a lighter version of oud and rose. Which the acacia-aged alcohol gives some lift to. Immortelle and Orris provide different floral interrogators for the oud before Amberwood dries it out over the final stages.

Cedar in Acacia by Pascal Gaurin– By the end of the summer this may become my favorite of the collection because it is so good in the warmth. M. Gaurin uses cypriol to form the core. The acacia-aged alcohol adds some expansiveness, Which then gets turbocharged by ginger while being made resinous through olibanum. This is a perfume for the dog days of summer.

Mackenzie Reilly

Cypress in Oak by Mackenzie Reilly– If you wonder if this type of concept can be made to be clean and fresh. Ms. Reilly answers in the affirmative. This is a beach where the cypress tress are the landward edge of the beach. Close enough to get the sea spray on them. This is full of all the tropes inherent in that most ubiquitous of fragrance styles. Yet it is made just different enough through the oak-aged alcohol along with the ethereal beauty of the cypress.

Vetiver in Oak by Celine Barel– Vetiver is probably the tailor-made keynote for this idea of making perfume. The green and the woody faces find a resting place in the oak-aged alcohol. Mme Barel adds the freshness of lime and baie rose. This forms another one which will be at its best in the summer sunshine.

I want to thank M. Croise for taking the time to speak with me and send me the samples of the different alcohols. They were great help in understanding the delicate effect they add. He has executed his vision pretty impressively so far.

Disclosure: this review is based on samples provided by Scents of Wood.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Scents of Wood Orange in Chestnut and Plum in Cognac- Fruity Woody

The way owner-creative director of Scents of Wood, Fabrice Croise chose to engage me was to send me three mystery samples. It worked. I was interested enough to want to know more. One of the three stood out because instead of wood the keynote was orange. After receiving other samples it seems as if the use of fruit is where M. Croise’s concept really rises. Both Scents of Wood Orange in Chestnut and Plum in Cognac show it off.

Fabrice Croise

The second half of each name is the type of wood-aged alcohol used to host the perfume oil featuring the keynote from the first half. In both of these cases that extra layer of scent adds a lot. Another thing that has an effect are the perfumers M. Croise chose. They clearly had fun employing this alcohol as part of their design.

Carlos Benaim

Orange in Chestnut by perfumer Carlos Benaim– This would have been on my Top 25 list of last year if I knew what it was. It’s likely to be on it for this year. What is so appealing is M. Benaim takes an uber-orange accord and contrasts it with a very dry woody accord. In between the two is the chestnut-aged alcohol.

That orange accord is made up of bigarade, neroli, and orange blossom. This is a lush mostly citrus given softness through the floral components. Early on that subtle chestnut reminds me of the trunk of a summer-warmed orange tree. In counterpoint are austere ingredients of cedar and amber xtreme. The latter can just obliterate everything else in a perfume. M. Benaim keeps it on a tight leash. Turning the the wood accord into a hot desert wind cutting through the orange grove.

Pascal Gaurin

Plum in Cognac by perfumer Pascal Gaurin– This is the one which really shows off the possibilities of this approach to making fragrance. This isn’t truly a woody perfume. It is a syrupy boozy gourmand with wood highlights. M. Gaurin uses the cognac wood-aged alcohol as a piece of the boozy pool upon which his fruit floats.

This opens with a rum-infused plum. It has a fruity narcotic scent profile. In the early moments a spicy swirl of cinnamon forms a spiced fruit cocktail. The rum has a richness to it which I am ascribing to the presence of the cognac wood-aged alcohol. This is full-bodied perfume making. It finishes with a warm accord of vanilla and vetiver.

Both have 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

It was these two perfumes which removed my thoughts of M. Croise’s idea being a gimmick. These are some of the best perfumes I’ve smelled this year or last. I didn’t know that fruity woody was what I desired until now.

Tomorrow I will do a set of quick reviews of the remaining samples I have.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples supplied by Scents of Wood.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Scents of Wood Sandalwood in Oak and Oak in Oak- No Gilding Here

Towards the end of last year I was contacted by Fabrice Croise about his new fragrance line. He enticed me with a set of three mystery vials containing perfumes for his Scents of Wood brand. They were all interesting to me. I spent some time learning about the brand on the website. As I read there seemed to be a gilding of the lily effect they were describing. The concept was to use alcohol aged in different types of wood barrels as the carrier for the perfume oil. I liked my blind samples, but I really wanted to understand if the alcohol thing was a gimmick.

Fabrice Croise

M. Croise jumped on a videocall to explain it to me. He sensed my skepticism and sent me a set of just the different wood-aged alcohols and just the fragrance before being added to the alcohol. I also received a set of the perfumes with labels, too. With all three forms I was able to detect the effect these wood-aged alcohols give.

The fragrance concept is to take wood-focused perfume oils and add them to the wood-aged alcohols. Thus each name is a keynote of the oil first followed by the type of wood used to age the alcohol. I have spent most of the first part of the year enjoying what was sent to me. I was really waiting for warmer weather because with only a couple of exceptions I expected them to be best in warm weather.

M. Croise then took the next step of collaborating with a set of talented perfumers. This has resulted in a collection of fragrance for those who can’t get enough wood perfume in their life. Instead of just clobbering you over the head each scent is a layered effect beginning with the alcohol out of which the perfume oil can rise in waves. Over the next three days I am going to give reviews to most of the current releases.

I’ll start with the ones which really seemed like they were going to be overkill but turned out not to be.

Sandalwood in Oak by perfumer Mackenzie Reilly– Prior to trying any of the perfumes my biggest concern was they were going to be too heavy. It seemed like it was unavoidable. One of the things I have admired about Ms. Reilly’s career to date is her ability to create a sense of openness even with the strongest ingredients. This is another great example of that.

This is a gorgeous sandalwood dry and austere. The oak-aged alcohol provides a subtle texture. Places for her to hang things on. Early on it is a set of discrete smoke in a burnt sugar accord and smoked sage. This adds an engaging odd contrast. It leads to a carrot-like iris and vanilla adding vegetal and baker’s sweetness to the sandalwood. It is another perfume which shifts its mood as it evolves on my skin.

Oak in Oak by perfumer Celine Barel– When I spoke with M. Croise he told me this was coming. It was impossible not to think about overkill. Then he told me Mme Barel was going to be the perfumer. She has a fascinating way of plumbing the depths of her keynotes. I was wondering how far down she would take us into the oak tree.

The oak-aged alcohol probably does the least here of any other perfume it is used in. That’s because the oak at the center of this is so rich. It is the reason the natural scent is so prized. She enhances it using incense and saffron early. They add a silvery resin and a golden glow to the wood. This is where the oak feels less dense without sacrificing depth. A precise amount of cumin and orris add in a textured earthiness as if the roots of the oak are speaking up. It turns back towards warmth as tonka adds the final piece.

Both have 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I will continue these reviews tomorrow with two of the most interesting designs in the collection, Orange in Chestnut and Plum in Cognac.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample set provided by Scents of Wood.

Mark Behnke