The Sunday Magazine: The Immortal Hulk

Like many others I am in the middle of enjoying the ongoing WandaVision tv series. I will have much more to say about it once it finishes up. What makes that tv show engaging is seeing these Marvel movie characters in a wildly different environment. It turns out the same formula works on the comic book page as the “The Immortal Hulk” series proves.

This was one of those series I ignored when it first appeared in 2018. It wasn’t until they incorporated the character into the Marvel mobile game, I play that I became a little more interested. One of the cross-promotions within the game is when a new character appears, they allow you to download a few issues to familiarize yourself with them. The in-game description was more enticing than the online one for the comic. I downloaded the first six issues. Then I downloaded all the rest of them.

Al Ewing has been the writer behind the series since issue 1. He has created a version of Hulk who is probably the most powerful iteration. The same Jekyll-Hyde struggle at the core of the character as Bruce Banner and the monster are often at odds. The same being chased by a version of the military for their own purposes is another constant piece to the Hulk mythos. It is the other part which adds the new stuff.

This Hulk comes from the netherworld. The extra oomph to his power also comes from the same place. As the title suggests he can’t be killed in Hulk form. What Mr. Ewing does with this is to examine the entire history of the Hulk. As Banner or Hulk run into things from their past which have more power to bring them down than the military chasing them.

Mr. Ewing has seemingly delighted in using deep cut characters a long-time fan will smile at. But he has effectively used the major nemeses from the canon to be the main antagonists. I like my villains with a history. The ones chosen here all have that.

Of all the Marvel comic series, Hulk was the first one which I slowly stopped reading. There just wasn’t anything new under the sun. Mr. Ewing has brought me back to being a regular reader by taking it to the underworld.

Mark Behnke

Pierre Benard Challenge Continued: Ice, Ice, Baby

1

It wasn’t until I was 22 that I first encountered ice through weather. I had lived in Florida my entire life until then. At grad school in Georgia I walked out to my car one morning. I started it up and turned on the windshield wipers to remove the dew on the windshield. Except it didn’t move the wipers skidded uselessly over it. Of course my Florida trained mentality leapt to the right conclusion. I thought someone had put white spray paint on my car window. As the edges began to melt the actuality came through. There was ice on my windshield. After almost forty years in the parts of the world where ice is a part of the natural order of things, I am more used to it. It has now evolved to the way the ice on my lawn and trees smells.

The smell of freezing precipitation has always fascinated me. just like a summer rainstorm presents itself in ozone and petrichor the colder version does the same. This past week we have had a lot of ice freezing on surfaces in Colognoisseur HQ. As I watched the dogs in the backyard the scent of the world was like a giant ice cube. A little more liquid as the icicles had a drop of water on the ends. What also stands out is the way the ice adds a barrier to all the other natural odors. The only thing I smell is this crystallized humidity.

We’ve also had some snow. That has a different profile to my nose. There is an apocryphal tale that Eskimos have 50-plus words for snow. When it comes to my perception of the world covered in snow there is just a chilly sterility with crunch. As I walk through it the auditory sound of my boots along with what I breathe in seem to go together. The snow doesn’t add as perfect a barrier as the ice. It allows some of the woods to join in.

There are two excellent perfume equivalents to the way I think of snow. One is Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle L’Eau d’Hiver by Jean-Claude Ellena. This is a breathy whisper behind mittened hands in the snow. The other is the more recent Maison Crivelli Absinthe Boreale by Nathalie Feisthauer. She captures the crunch of the snow as I sip absinthe while watching the aurora borealis.

It might be easy to think of snow as odorless. Reality and perfume have taught me differently.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Comme des Garcons x Stussy Laguna Beach- Return to Cali

A little over four years ago when Comme des Garcons collaborated with Gosha Rubchinskiy on a perfume I wondered aloud about it being made for a younger audience. It seemed on brand for Comme des Garcons to work with someone who came out of the skateboard culture if that was the intent. The releases over the intervening years have not seemed to be as interested in that demographic. Until I received my sample of Comme des Garcon x Stussy Laguna Beach.

Christian Astuguevieille

Back in the 1980’s when founder Shawn Stussy was selling his designs out of the back of his car, he hit a perfect alignment for his success. The surfers, skateboarders, punks, and hip-hop kids all wanted to wear his things. Over thirty years on it still retains that street cred even though you can buy it at the mall. Which makes the decision by Stussy to branch out into fragrance an interesting choice. If this is meant to aim at the twentysomethings it is the right brand to get their attention. Creative director Christian Astuguevieille knows how to make oddly unique perfumes. He asks perfumer Nisrine Grille to create it.

Nisrine Grille

A perfume named after a California beach is almost by necessity an aquatic. What makes it Comme des Garcons is the use of some synthetic expansive florals over that. Those take things in a different direction.

The opening is a salty ozonic marine accord which is commonplace. Mme Grille captures that sea air on the open beach. What comes next seems like a layered effect of some synthetic expansive florals. The current trend for younger perfume fans is to keep it transparent. Most perfumes accomplish that with a synthetic expansive version of a well-known floral. Hedione does this for jasmine as the best example. Mme Grille seemingly adds multiple versions of these types of materials. It has one advantage in making the floral accord not as opaque as it usually is. It also creates a soap bubble which has whirls of different floral sources on its surface. The sea breeze accord gently nudges this fragile orb along. In the base cedar adds a woody foundation. It has a more pronounced green quality as if it is raw wood being cut.

Stussy Laguna Beach has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

It has taken four years for Comme des Garcons to return to Cali and the skateboarders. Just as before they offer something different to an age group that doesn’t usually experience it in their fragrances.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review NEZ Ambre A Levres- Memories of our Families’ Lipstick

One of the best things to come out of 2020 was a new perfume series from the magazine NEZ. At the beginning of the year they began what they call the 1+1 series. The idea is to take an artist from outside of the fragrance business and pair them with a perfumer. Both of last year’s editions made my best of the year list. Watching to see the perfume result of two artists in collaboration is even better than it sounds. The third 1+1 is here in NEZ Ambre a Levres.

Marjane Satrapi

In the first two cases I was unfamiliar with the artist asked to be creative director. Not this time. Marjane Satrapi was the artist and writer behind the graphic novel “Persepolis”. It is an autobiographical story of her early life surviving in Iran after the Islamic Revolution. Mme Satrapi pulls the reader in through sharply drawn black-and-white panels to tell her story. It is one of the great graphic novels of all time. The final sentence has always stayed with me “Freedom has a price.” It was with great anticipation I awaited what she and perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui would come up with.

Mathilde Bijaoui

Where it began was the memory of Mme Satrapi’s aunt. She had a wide array of beauty products. The one which drew the attention of the 6-year-old Mme Satrapi were the lipsticks. The concept of perfume inspired by lipstick is nothing new. The question is how you can add an interpretation which gives it new life.

As Mme Bijaoui and Mme Satrapi began to work together they homed in on the nature of the lipstick accord. No rose. Only a specific ionone instead of all of them. And iris. What sealed the collaboration was a combination of Mme Satrapi’s current use of amber perfumes. Mme Bijaoui presented a leathery amber accord for the lipstick to rest upon. Once the pieces were there all that was left to bring them together in Ambre a Levres.

In the early moments this reminds me of the perfume on a stylish lady’s vanity and not the lipstick. It is because iris is out in front carried by a set of aldehydes. There was a mélange of scent from the different cosmetics on my mother’s vanity. The very first moments remind me of that. Then methyl-ionone comes forward. Because it comes from iris it is almost as if the rhizome exudes only the one specific version. The lipstick accord attains a waxiness as the intensity increases. Now the second half comes.

My grandmother kept her lipsticks in a leather cosmetics bag. As much as I associate violet with lipstick, I also think of leather from the bag they were kept in. The inclusion of Suederal has more to do with Mme Satrapi’s enjoyment of its leathery ambery quality. Before it comes into play in Ambre a Levres vanilla connects the lipstick accord to the Suederal. A suite of musks add an animalic diffusiveness to the final stages.

Amber a Levres has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is a fantastic interpretation of the lipstick accord given new life through the vanilla and amber in the base. Both Mme Satrapi and I have the fragrance we need to remember our family members for whom the right lipstick was essential.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: i Profumi di Firenze Brezza di Mare- Aquatic from the Flood

When I started widening my fragrance horizons, I had some stupid rules. One of them was I didn’t want to try any aquatics. Through the nineties and early oughts that seemed to be the only masculine style mainstream brands were interested in. During these early days I became a regular at the perfume purveyors in Boston. One of my favorite sales associates was Roberto at the Copley Place Barney’s New York. I liked him because he paid attention while also nudging me towards things I wanted to ignore. He also knew I liked hearing the stories behind the brands. One afternoon he showed me i Profumi di Firenze Brezza di Mare and my dopey rules became moot.

The story behind the brand is fabulous whether it is true or not. The tale begins with the once in a century 1966 flood of the Arno River in Florence. After the waters receded brand founder and perfumer Dr. Giovanni di Massimo began looking through the wreckage. He found in a sealed basement the perfume recipes of Caterina de Medici from the 16th century. Dr. di Massimo would take one of those recipes and release the first perfume named after Sig.ra de Medici. For over twenty-five years the brand has been making excellent fragrances.

Brezza di Mare managed to break through my resistance to the aquatic genre despite using one of the keynotes of it. Dr. di Massimo overwhelms that Calone in enough other attention getting notes I didn’t mind its presence.

One of the hallmarks of my favorite aquatics is a heavier concentration of the ozonic sea spray notes. Growing up on the beach the scent of my sun-warmed skin with a crust of salt from the dried sea water is where I want a perfume to go. Brezza di Mare begins with that. It always makes me smile when I wear it because of it. The Calone comes next but not by itself. A full bouquet of white flowers come along for the ride. Calone usually has a strong watery melon quality. Because of the white flowers that is swept up in their exuberance. It attenuates the things I am not fond of while letting the things I do predominate. From here it takes a warm turn with vanilla and white musk forming the base. This is what really makes this so appealing. As the vanilla finds the white flowers it turns those typical aquatic pieces into something cozier. It isn’t so deep as to become gourmand-like. It is just enough different sweetness to resonate with the florals.

Brezza di Mare has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

If you also are down on aquatics give this a try. I would also urge anyone who is intrigued by the history of the house I described to also put it on your radar. It is one worth spending some time with.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Hermes H24- Steamy Masculine

I have resisted the comparisons between current Hermes in-house perfumer, Christine Nagel and her predecessor, Jean-Claude Ellena. Mainly because I believe Mme Nagel has formed her own aesthetic at Hermes which doesn’t resemble what came before. Which is what I was hoping for. Although there was probably going to be an inescapable comparison when she would try and design a new mainstream cologne. 2006’s Terre d’Hermes by M. Ellena is an acknowledged game-changing cologne. It introduced most of the world to the synthetic woody ingredient Iso E Super. The time has come for Mme Nagel to face up to this as she releases Hermes H24.

The name comes from the men’s ready-to-wear collection at Hermes. Mme Nagel spent time with the menswear creative director Veronique Nichanian as she was thinking about H24. What she came away with was an idea of making a textural fragrance equivalent to the fashion of Mme Nichanian. There was also one other part of their collaboration which will come to be the signature of H24.

H24 is a simple construction around herbs and woods with a rich floral sandwiched between. Mme Nagel sends it all in a different direction with a unique ingredient in perfumery.

Christine Nagel

H24 opens in classic masculine fragrance territory with a very sharp clary sage. For almost fifty years this has become one of the keynotes of mainstream men’s fragrance. It persists because it also has a freshness to it which allows it to surf the wave of any popular trend. In H24 Mme Nagel brings it into stark focus as the herbal nature is enhanced. She pairs it in the early going with narcissus. When I saw narcissus in the ingredient list, I was expecting a powerful rooty version. Mme Nagel has somehow softened the nature of the narcissus. Where I expected a deeply colored floral, she has diluted the effect in a way that allows the clary sage to also find some space within it. This is where H24 begins to part ways with the other mainstream men’s choices. It is followed by the use of rosewood as the woody piece of the triad. This is one of the least used woody ingredients and I have never understood why. Here it provides a woody balance to the sage and narcissus that other woods are incapable of. Rosewood has a nuanced scent profile with a hint of what the name portends. It folds itself into the sage and narcissus in a compelling nucleus.

Now comes the ingredient which will change how H24 is thought of. While Mmes Nagel and Nichanian were visiting the tailoring shop they smelled the steamy chemical being used on the fabrics. Mme Nagel wanted to incorporate that into H24. She would settle on the synthetic molecule sclarene as her surrogate. If you’ve ever spent time at a dry cleaner or tailoring shop, there is that scent of metallic chemical humidity which hovers in the air. Sclarene is the scent of that. When Mme Nagel inserts it into H24 it doesn’t make me think so much of a tailor as it does of a futuristic aesthetic. It adds a steamy metallic piece to the original trio. It is as surprising and enjoyable as it was when I tried Terre D’Hermes for the first time. It just feels unique.

H24 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I think there will be a lot of debate about the way the sclarene feels to different noses. I can see some people focusing in on the synthetic nature of it. As a chemist who has worked with it, I thought I would do the same. Except Mme Nagel has integrated it with the other ingredients that it truly isn’t that synthetic feeling. As I have worn H24 I am not sure if I feel the textural more than I feel the balance of ingredients making a compelling cologne.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Hermes.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Molton Brown Lily & Magnolia Blossom Eau de Parfum- Let the Right One In

There are opportunities to sometimes let a single fragrance answer multiple questions I get. One of them is one I get at the beginning of every year. My well-known grouchiness over rose being the only flower most perfume brands seem to think represents spring. I get asked what alternatives are there? There are lots and this review is going to reveal two of them. A more nuanced question is when someone asks does a single ingredient really make a difference? Molton Brown Lily & Magnolia Blossom Eau de Parfum answers both.

Both titular florals should be equivalent to rose when it comes to spring florals. Lily of the Valley is the flower of May Day for Heaven’s sake. Magnolia is a scrubbed clean version of the powerful white flowers. Just as innocent as any debutante rose. That Molton Brown has given them an opportunity to show this makes me happy.

The other part comes because Molton Brown has released two version of Lily & Magnolia Blossom an Eau de Toilette (EDT) and the Eau de Parfum (EDP). They are identically constructed except for one major difference. Pear is added to the mix in the EDP. It adds as a catalyst enlivening everything around it. There is a part of me that thinks the EDT is the brand playing it safe as the fresh floral quality is typical of the season even without using rose. The addition of pear to the EDP creates something more appealing.

I have been enjoying the recent releases from the brand. They have been using a set or regular perfumers, one who is probably behind this. I will update when I find out. That is because whomever is behind this should be recognized for the work.

The Lily & Magnolia Blossom EDP opens with a typical citrus flare of mandarin. It is rapidly followed by the magnolia and the pear. Magnolia is a more innocent white flower. It also has a more prominent woody character. Violet leaves are used to amplify the floral quality. Then the pear comes in. This is that ripe pear that retains its crispness. It has a tart and juicy scent. It adds an insouciant contrast to the floral. Then the lily of the valley appears with its fresh green tinged quality. And the pear ties them together in a springtime trio of promise. A lovely creamy sandalwood is where this all ends.

Lily & Magnolia Blossom EDP has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Next time you see both on a shelf make sure to compare them. You will find there is more to spring than rose as well as the value of letting the right ingredient in.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Molton Brown.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Planet Earth by Duran Duran Turns 40

When I was living in South Florida at the beginning of 1981 I was fully immersed in my weird musical world. I was a punk rock kid. I was a disco dancin’ dude. You can see the conflict. S. Florida was a place where disco thrived. If that was my mood on a weekend, I had options. It was different if I wanted to go clubbing for my other half. There were two choices, The New Wave Lounge in Ft. Lauderdale, or Top of the Colony on South Beach. It was rare that my two worlds touched except for a weekend in the spring of that year.

A bunch of us drove up to The New Wave Lounge on a Friday night. It was this tiny little club in a rundown Lauderdale hotel. It was just the right vibe. The DJ was always right on the edge of any new band coming. That night this song with amazing bass, drums, and synths came out of the speakers surrounding the dance floor. As soon as it was over, I went to the booth and asked what it was. I was told it was Planet Earth from a new band, Duran Duran. It was instantly memorable, and it buzzed in my head on the drive home.

The next night it was time to put on my dancing shoes and I headed to one of the larger discos in the area. It came late in the night as things were headed towards last call. I guess the DJ thought he could sneak something less popular on the turntable because that song in my head from the night before was playing again. I got up and locked into the bass line while I whirled around the dance floor. I looked like I was plugged in when I told this group of friends the name of the song.

I remember thinking what a different kind of song this was that it worked in a crowd of punks or disco dancers. Of course Duran Duran would become one of the huge bands which came out of their MTV exposure a few years later. Some of that success was finding a sweet spot where their music appealed to multiple types of fans.

While I was listening to the current alternative music station, they mentioned that it was the 40th birthday of Planet Earth at the beginning of the month. I cued up the song again and reminded myself what a nearly perfect debut single it was.

I have no idea what the band is up to these days, but I’ll always bounce around the living room when the song is on. Even though my pogo has less hop and my hustle is a little less sharp.; “This is Planet Earth”.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Boss Number One- A Perfume Blazer

When I got my first job in 1984, I wanted to upgrade my wardrobe. One piece of clothing I always wanted was a great fitting blazer. I wanted that male version of a little black dress which I could wear on any occasion. When I went shopping, I found a Hugo Boss version which was just what I was looking for. That blazer traveled everywhere with me for years until the lining began to fall apart.  It was as much a part of my wardrobe as my current Hawaiian shirt and fedora are now.

This was also the early moments of the expansion of my perfume collection. I was in Macy’s one day in the mid 1980’s waiting for something. I was killing time at the men’s fragrance counter. The sales associate brought over a new one called Boss Number One. When I sniffed it, I realized this was in line with the scents I was trending towards in those days. I felt it had to be the cologne which would go with my blazer. Back in 1986-ish I just like the way it smelled. I now know a little more about why I liked it so much.

Pierre Wargnye

One of those reasons is it was perfumer Pierre Wargnye’s second perfume after the amazing success of Drakkar Noir. I was never one of those who gravitated towards that even though I recognized its quality. There were too many people wearing it I wanted something different. Boss Number One was a more nuanced style of fougere over his first one. He would add in a lot of grace notes through a central axis of herbs, honey, and tobacco.

The top accord seems to be the perfume version of one of those spice blends. I can pick out rosemary, cardamom, sage, and nutmeg most prominently. There are others on the edges, but it is those which form a green opening. A thread of rose winds its way though which is followed by the sweetness of honey. There is a lot of honey here and it is in the amount where on some people it will smell urine-like. On me it is all slightly animalic sweetness. The tobacco waiting to join it makes a satisfying duet. In my old bottle, a real chypre accord of patchouli, oakmoss, and vetiver form the foundation. For this review I got a small current tester, and it is here where the chypre has been mostly replaced with a cedar, patchouli, and vetiver accord which is an acceptable substitute.

Boss Number One has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Almost as much as my Hugo Boss blazer my bottle of Boss Number One was in my travel bag. That’s because it was as versatile as my jacket.

Disclosure: this review is based on my original bottle and a newer one purchased this year.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Frapin Bois Blanc- Towering Woods

When I get asked the silly question about if you could only have one perfume or one brand, I have an answer that surprises. I have mentioned over and over that Frapin Caravelle Epicee is my answer to the one perfume question. It has never failed to do everything I can ask for a perfume. It wasn’t until last year upon the release of R.K. that I realized I own bottles of every perfume produced by the brand. Not only that but those bottles are at lower levels of many others. I have now become cognizant when I am conflicted about what to wear on a day my eye always looks at the shelf of Frapin bottles. Which is why the arrival of Frapin Bois Blanc put a smile on my face.

David Frossard

I think I need to give more credit to creative director David Frossard than I have in the past. I’ve been looking back over the fifteen perfume they’ve release since 2006. What I found was a creative director who knows how to communicate a brand aesthetic to some of my favorite perfumers. For Bois Blanc he renews his partnership with perfumer Anne-Sophie Behaghel. This is the third perfume she has done for the brand after Nevermore and R.K.

Anne-Sophie Behaghel

I am noticing a resurgence in the category of rugged woody perfumes on my desk lately. This is a style which offers a lot of flexibility to a clever creative team because the perfumer’s palette is loaded with choices. Mme Behaghel puts some of those familiar woody ingredients in different places.

The opening accord is a citrus and herb mixture. Orange is greened through rosemary and eucalyptus. The entire thing becomes turbocharged through ginger. Then in what I expected to become a flaw ambroxan began to arise. That ingredient too often becomes an impenetrable monolith Mme Behaghel uses it as a spine for this, without it becoming overbearing. As it inserts itself into the top accord the dry woodiness of it fits ideally. The heart forms around a rich cedar given texture through sage and violet leaf. There is a green freshness to good cedar. The complementary ingredients pull that out as the ambroxan provides a foundation for it. In the base another problematic ingredient cade wood holds prominence. Just as with the ambroxan Mme Behaghel uses just the right amount to display its smoky charms. This is again with just the right amount so that quality does not become annoying. A lighter guaiac wood completes the trunk of this perfume tree.

Bois Blanc has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Bois Blanc is the kind of woody perfume which finds its uniqueness in the precision of its design. By the time it is complete it is a towering example of the form.

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

Mark Behnke