New Perfume Review The 7 Virtues Santal Vanille- Way Ahead of the Curve

Trends come and go but I always look to who was there before it became one. When it comes to the whole “clean” and sustainable fragrance concept, one of the first was The 7 Virtues. Owned by Barb Stegemann whom I met in 2013. She laid out the principles back then which these movements have embraced in the last couple of years. What has become interesting to me is her style of perfume making has also evolved over the same time period. The first releases were simple soliflores highlighting the sustainable source of the keynote. I kind of lost touch with the brand but by the time I looked again in 2018 there had been a change. The perfumes were no longer simple while still featuring a sustainable ingredient. The latest, The 7 Virtues Santal Vanille carries on in this way.

Barb Stegemann

Ms. Stegemann has worked with only two perfumers Julie Pluchet and Angela Stavrevska. I presume one of them is behind this. When I tuned back in two years ago the one, I tried was called Vanilla Woods by Ms. Stavrevska. It was a gourmandy vanilla where the promised woods didn’t really show up. Santal Vanille seems like a reversal of words as Sandalwood Vanilla feels like it is the B-Side to that earlier release. The difference is in this case both ingredients show up.

In the early going the sandalwood takes the lead. This is from sustainable plantations in Sri Lanka. I enjoy this variety of sandalwood for a dryness that comes with it. It generally needs something to figuratively re-hydrate it. Here the ingredient that does that is myrrh. The resin flows into the spaces of this sandalwood adding depth and texture. Now the vanilla comes forward. This is less foodie in effect and more about the sweetness of it. It coaxes out the inherent creaminess of the sandalwood and amplifies it. This becomes an enjoyable abstract of sandalwood until one final ingredient sneaks in over the later stages. The first day I wore this I found myself noticing a change from sweet wood to something like suntan lotion. It is because the listed ingredient of coconut stealthily inserts itself. It makes the late stages kind of beach-like because of it. If you’re not a fan of coconut it is very subtle. This doesn’t even come close to becoming a gourmand.

Santal Vanille has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

When you’re ahead of the curve it allows for you to be more innovative when everyone else has caught up. Ms. Stegemann has done this admirably as Santal Vanille proves.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Redbrook Parfums Underground- The Joy of Partnership

If you want to know what video reviews looked like prior to YouTube you need to go back to 1977. That year a show on PBS called “Sneak Previews” featured two movie critics from rival Chicago newspapers debating a new movie and giving their opinion. What made it work was the difference in perspective about movies. Each of them had preferences they were happy to share even if the other disagreed. It is one of my favorite forms of criticism. Two opinions from different positions found in one place. That dynamic has continued into the world of video reviews on the internet.

Carlos J Powell, Jean-Claude Delville, Steven Gavrielatos (l. to r.)

One of the fragrance equivalents were the shared reviews of YouTubers Redolessence and Brooklyn Fragrance Lover, Steven Gavrielatos and Carlos J Powell respectively. They would travel back and forth to each other’s home studio and would provide reviews together. These are some of my favorite perfume video reviews because they both had different tastes which they would use to form their opinions. They also clearly enjoyed their partnership. There was a warmth which came through the screen when they were together. It is not surprising that they decided to extend their collaboration into creatively directing a perfume. To achieve this they worked with The Society of Scent and perfumer Jean-Claude Delville. Together they would distil the give-and-take of their perfume tastes into a satisfying fragrance called Redbrook Parfums Underground.

The name of the brand is a portmanteau of their YouTube channels. Underground represents the amount of train time spent traveling between their homes to achieve their vision. One of the videos about the creative process shows both Mr. Gavrielatos and Mr. Powell in the courtyard at The Society of Scent with lots of strips to smell. You can see a vigorous conversation happening between the two creative directors and the perfumer. I smiled at that thinking the creative tension would produce something memorable.

It begins with a fresh top accord of citrus and ginger. Ginger has become the contemporary way to add fresh. The equally modern choice for herbal effect is baie rose which is also present in the opening of Underground. This is the appetizer of what is to come. Underground travels down parallel tracks for a bit as patchouli and vetiver runs next to a rich gourmand vanilla and chocolate. They come together through that overlap of the chocolate in patchouli. Together they sped on an express track right to its destination.

Underground has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

As many may know Mr. Powell would pass away just as Underground was on the verge of being released. I know what a personal dream it was for him to have this opportunity. To share it with his best friend added more to it. What remains is a fitting perfume which represents the joy of partnership between the two men and the perfumer who helped it happen.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle provided by Redbrook Parfums.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Memo Argentina- A Rose to Love

I get emails which ask me, “Why do you hate rose?’. Hate is a strong word. I would more describe it as bored. Bored of having the beginning of every year swamped by demure genteel rose perfumes. This is the style that typically brings tears of frustration to my eyes. What is truly more accurate is if you show me the grown-up rose, I am much more interested in that. Memo Argentina gives me that type of rose.

Clara Molloy

Argentina is the latest of the Art Land collection within the brand. Creative director Clara Molloy collaborates again with perfumer Alienor Massenet. When I see Argentina my mind wanders towards tango. It is unfair to think of a country as only one thing. It is also unfair to think every perfume which refers to the country must be inspired by the dance associated with it. This is a perfume of passion. Which is what a great dark rose can bring out.

Alienor Massenet

The beginning sets the tone. A top accord of baie rose and the botanical musk of ambrette capture the sensuality to come. The rose appears from out of this. This is the Turkish version which contains a spicy core. The baie rose tweaks it with an herbal effect. Jasmine is used to take the rose and give even more depth. At this point it is almost like a rose soliflore. It changes as oud appears.

Oud and rose have become a classic combination. Mme Massenet manages to create a gentler version of the obstreperous wood. There is some real oud because there are nuances that only come from the real thing. I think it is lifted by an oud accord which allows for a more precise tuning. It meshes with the rose without clubbing it into submission. Over time it goes from intense to a skin scent memory of the night before.

Argentina has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Argentina is so appealing because it is so full of the beauty of rose. By allowing the grown-up out to play this becomes a perfume of adult passion. This is a rose to love, and I do.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample supplied by Memo.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Tom Ford Private Blend Soleil Brulant- Try, Try Again

I know the creative process behind any perfume is an intricate process. When I’ve been given a peek behind the scenes it has shown me how delicate the effort is. I likened it to a real tall Jenga tower as you try to add that last piece. Use too heavy a hand and it all comes tumbling down. This usually doesn’t play out in public.

Karyn Khoury

Starting in 2016 Tom Ford began releasing perfumes with “Soleil” in their name. They seemingly wanted to capture a fragrance based on a brief of suntan lotion and sun. They veered all over the place trying to get things just right. Through the four previous releases they stubbornly clung to that suntan lotion vibe. When I was told the fifth “Soleil” was on its way I was wondering what this one would attempt. Turns out creative director Karyn Khoury decided to rip up that previous script and start over with Tom Ford Private Blend Soleil Brulant. This time the focus was just the “soleil” as the warmth of summer sunlight is what comes through. Perfumer Daniela Andrier is behind this as she undertakes her first brief for Tom Ford.

Daniela Andrier

The first surprise comes with an herbal citrus top accord around baie rose. The intensity of the pink pepper adds in a green underneath the luminosity of the orange. The citrus becomes warmer as it melds with a heart of orange blossom and honey. This is so different than any of the previous “Soleils”. This smells like an abstraction of bronze skin with a sheen of honey perspiration. That deep warmth is enhanced with amber and incense creating the base accord. This adds in a more complex depth which completes things.

Soleil Brulant has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Soleil Brulant succeeds where the previous releases had difficulties because they go in a different direction. By focusing on the sun instead of the SPF protection they produce something much more engaging. This is going to be a fantastic choice as temperatures warm up for those who would like just a teensy bit more heft to their spring and summer fragrances. It all happened because they chose to rethink the concept and try, try again.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Providence Perfume Co. Irisque- Roots Festival

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Iris is one of my favorite perfume ingredients. The fluctuating scent profile has always drawn me in. Most of the time a perfumer will choose a couple of sources. One reason is the cost of the material itself. Iris/orris is one of the most expensive ingredients in perfumery. Which is why when it is used in a high concentration it has a striking effect. What if a perfumer decided to use five different sources of iris? What would you have then? According to the perfumer, Charna Ethier it is an “orris bomb”. I think Providence Perfume Co. Irisque is more like a festival of iris.

Charna Ethier

One of the most recognizable iris effects in a perfume is as a soft powdery layer. On its own it can also have a chilly feeling. Ms. Ethier wanted to go in a different direction focusing on the earthiness of her sources of iris. Each one is derived from the root or rhizome. Through a clever bit of layering she takes us down into the earth where the rhizome exists.

One other aspect of iris in its rooty form that often gets mentioned is it has a carrot-like scent. Ms. Ethier embraces that comparison through the opening stages. Using both iris pallida and iris germanica she lets carrot seed ground things right from the start. As much as I write about this face of iris the carrot seed pulls some of the inherent sweetness underlying it all. Over this Ms. Ethier adds an opaque gauzy tincture of the rhizome. It is a bit like gilding the iris, but it adds a lilting silken veneer over everything. Things take a deeper turn as orris butter and a resinoid of orris adds an opulence as it moves to something even more complex. To further add to the earthiness a carefully titrated amount of oud along with the botanical musk of ambrette appear. They create a moist black soil accord from which all these sources of iris can nestle within.

Irisque has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Every time I wear this I feel as if I am in bare feet in a dark patch of soil digging up iris from the ground with my bare hands. There is a deeply satisfying harmony to what Ms. Ethier has composed. She may see it as a “bomb”. For me it is a roots festival featuring the inspiring scents of iris.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Providence Perfujme Co.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Ferragamo Intense Leather- Spring Leather

You are all probably sick of my bellyaching on the lack of originality in spring florals. It is because it seems like there is a whole lot of non-floral space which could be explored for spring, that isn’t. It always seems to me a flaw in imagination. Which is why Ferragamo Leather Intense offers that alternative.

You look at that name and see “leather” and think that must be too heavy. What has happened over the last few years is an opportunity for perfumers to construct lighter leather accords. They don’t have to all smell like motor oil or birch tar. Since it is an accord, any perfumer can choose to tune it to whatever effect they choose.

Antoine Maisondieu

I have an old, weathered 20+-year old leather jacket. A couple of years ago I found this lighter grade jacket which allows me to keep wearing a lighter version of my old stand-by as the weather begins to warm up. What I think of when I wear the lighter version is how it still wraps me in leather without suffocating me by overheating. Perfumer Antoine Maisondieu does the same here.

The leather accord he has built is the core of Intense Leather. It is built of some of the less intense pieces of typical leather accords. I know it seems like a contradiction in terms. Yet M. Maisondieu builds a stolid accord on which to hang the rest of his ingredients.

It begins with an interesting fruity duo in orange and apple. For a little while the orange will be all you notice. The apple makes its presence known by inserting a tart crispness between the citrus and leather. A nicely balanced iris adds a floral layer over the leather. This is where the less intense leather is an asset. It allows the iris more space. An edgy clary sage connects to a green base accord which also finds some clean musks there, too.

Intense Leather has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is the kind of spring fragrance that I’d like to see more of. It has the freshness of the fruit and green along with a lightweight leather. Which makes this an ideal spring leather.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Macy’s.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Estee Lauder Beautiful Magnolia- A Grilled Cheese with Tea

Regular readers know what I mean when I call a new fragrance a grilled cheese. For those new to the site it means something well-done and basic. There is little to comment upon as far as anything unique. It is a perfume you should seek out if the ingredients appeal to you. Around this time of year I’ve been sniffing a steady diet of debutante rose grilled cheese. Which is why when a mainstream brand offers me a different recipe it makes my day as Estee Lauder Beautiful Magnolia does.

Anne Flipo

Beautiful has been one of the brand’s pillars since 1985. Over the last fifteen years it has been a collection of flankers. They have mostly been good versions of Beautiful without completely losing the beauty of the original. Things took a different turn with last year’s Beautiful Absolu. It was a refreshing of the original formula for today’s perfume lover. Beautiful Magnolia also is looking for that same demographic. Perfumers Anne Flipo and Laurent Le Guernec turn magnolia into the type of spring floral it should always have been.

Laurent Le Guernec

This opens on a version of magnolia just after a spring shower. There are watery droplets on top of a lilting fresh magnolia. Over a short period of time the magnolia shakes off the dampness and fully blooms. There is an appealing creaminess matched to a woody undertone. Some rose and gardenia help amplify the floral part of things. What happens now is unexpected as a sharp green note of mate tea pierces things. This is an unusual choice for a mainstream release because this is an acerbic quarrelsome ingredient. It provides a spiky contrast which alone sets it apart from other new spring florals. I liked it a lot. Yet Mrs. C commented on one of the days that the perfume I was wearing was “very sharp”. I asked her if it was unpleasant, and she said she thought she might like it as a change of pace. This all settles on a typical cedar base.

Beautiful Magnolia has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

The presence of that mate tea note maybe should elevate this from my grilled cheese category but overall it is a pretty, safe spring floral. Just not a rose. Maybe this is a grilled cheese with a cup of tea.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review A Drop d’Issey- Get the Feu Out of Town

One of the more famous unicorns in perfumery is 1998’s Le Feu d’Issey. It is such an original fragrant statement it has become mythological in its reputation. I think it is one of the great perfumes because it used coconut milk and milk as accords to build upon. There has been nothing like it since it was discontinued. That doesn’t mean those of us who admire it aren’t hoping for another audacious attempt at something different. Which puts an unrealistic burden on each new release from Issey Miyake especially if one of the ingredients says “milk”. The new A Drop d’Issey tries to live up to the past.

Another thing I want to mention is Issey Miyake has been a brand which has regularly taken more risks with their spring floral releases. In 2009 A Scent by Issey Miyake was a great green perfume around jasmine. All of this is introduction to another perfume which chooses to take an alternative path than either of these.

Ane Ayo

Perfumer Ane Ayo builds A Drop d’Issey around lilac. It is one of my favorite spring florals which does not get used enough. Ms. Ayo works on a transparent palette creating an exceptional example of the floral gourmand style.

It opens with that powdery delicate green of lilac. It flits in and out as other pieces form around it. A creamy almond is given some sweetness through orange blossom. An equally creamy jasmine finds star anise providing an herbal licorice contrast. Through the early going it is that anise which is the linchpin to everything. It melds the creaminess and the flowers in licorice whip stitching. Vanilla now is carried in on a carpet of ambrox. The latter could have been just a little lighter because it does overwrite some of the early nuances once it shows up. What is left is still good but you lose some of the fine detail.

A Drop d’Issey has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is the best of the mainstream spring florals I’ve tried this year. It is going to be great for anyone looking for something new for the upcoming warmer days. It also shows Issey Miyake is still taking bold chances on its own path. What is left for people like me is to stop making comparisons and get the Feu out of town.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Macy’s.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Grandiflora Saskia- An Exclamation Point

I admire artists who know when to stop. There is always the opportunity to do more. To create more. The question becomes do you have more to say? Or do you realize you’ve completed your conversation? It seems as if Saskia Havekes the owner of Grandiflora flower shop has arrived at the end of her fragrant discussion with Grandiflora Saskia.

Saskia Havekes

Ms. Havekes began her perfume brand in 2014 where she took two perfumers and asked them for their interpretation of magnolia. For those the first name of the perfumer; Michel (Roudnitska) and Sandrine (Vidault) were on the label. The artistic direction which someone who works with flowers as a vocation provided a new perspective. Together they created a compelling diptych of magnolia. In the ensuing years it seemed like Ms. Havekes was only interested in releasing a fragrance when she had something she wanted to express through perfume. Each release would explore Madagascan Jasmine, Queen of the Night, or Boronia. Each sought out the full profile of the floral on the label. There was also a grandiosity to these. They filled my room with floral gaiety. I should be sad that she announced her sixth release would be her last. Except something as exuberant as Saskia can’t help but make one smile.

Christophe Laudamiel

The brief for this final fragrance is her Sydney, Australia flower shop. The scent of walking inside and breathing deeply. She collaborates with perfumer Christophe Laudamiel. Together they evoke the artistry of Ms. Havekes as florist and perfume creative director.

Right from the start they impress. Whenever I step into a flower shop there is a chilly wateriness which is the first scent I detect along with the greenery. This is before I ever notice the blooms. The opening of Saskia is this. Using the rainstorm ingredient of petrichor and violet leaves it creates that accord. Simultaneously baie rose and hyacinth drag my nose towards the flowers awaiting. And they are magnificent. The primary nucleus of the floral accord is gardenia given extra heft through boronia leaves. It is always there but the other flowers in the shop have their moment, too. A lush ylang-ylang and a shy mimosa are given a summer hillside twist through immortelle. It as if your nose encounters something new at every turn. Just as if you were in the shop.

Saskia has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

If this is going to be Ms. Havekes’ last word through fragrance it provides an exclamation point to what has been an outstanding conversation.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Atelier Materi Narcisse Taiji- The Next Step

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One of my enjoyments about writing on perfume is to watch a young brand develop. It is similar to music. An artist will spend a lot of time and effort producing their first release(s). Letting the public see what they are doing. I look at these debut collections seeking a nascent aesthetic.

Veronique Le Bihan

I received my sample set of the first five releases of Atelier Materi at the end of last year. Creative director-owner Veronique Le Bihan wanted to feature the sustainably sourced ingredients from in and around Grasse. Those first releases did that a little too literally for my taste. They were good but there wasn’t anything for me to assess beyond the notes that were on the label. Except for one, Poivre Pomelo. Perfumer Marie Hugentobler took a much different approach in that one. Creating a dynamic blend of the pepper and grapefruit over a bed of sharp green. This was exactly the kind of perfume I enjoy. As I awaited what would come next, I hoped for more of that. Atelier Materi Narcisse Taiji is here to answer that.

Marie Hugentobler

Narcissus isn’t used as often in perfumery as I would like. It is one of my favorites. One reason is the expense. It is similarly laborious to harvest and extract as orris is. Just like that more well-known counterpart the effort is worth it. Narcissus forms a much darker scent profile. Inky green with animalic overtones. It is not an easy ingredient to work with as it will overwhelm most of what comes near it. Mme Le Bihan sourced her narcissus absolute from the Aubrac Mountains about a six-hour drive north from Grasse. The quality of it leaps off my skin. As she did with Poivre Pomelo, Mme Hugentobler embraces the intensity while finding odd harmonics in unexpected complements.

It starts with a fascinating curveball to interpret the green of the narcissus. She takes the crispness of pear, that green streak of tuberose, and the zestiness of ginger as her way of exploring that. The pear forms a lush fruity floral. The tuberose adds the creamy more typical floral quality but that green streak pulses to the beat of the narcissus. The ginger just adds a spicy applique of energy keeping it from going too dark. Before that does happen an accord of hay and bran absolute adds a grainy clean barnyard milieu to those animalic aspects of the narcissus. It is a harbinger of what is to come. That is a base of leather and patchouli. Mme Hugentobler finds the precise balance in these three without tripping over the edge into mawkish shadow. That same liveliness the ginger provided early on the patchouli adds to the later stages. By the end, the animalic parts of narcissus happily curl up in a furry ball with the leather and patchouli.

Narcisse Taiji has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is an exceptional narcissus perfume. It will be joining my shelf of my other favorites narcissus perfumes. Narcisse Taiji seems to be the next step towards the aesthetic promised by Poivre Pomelo. If that is the case this will be a brand to be noticed.

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

Mark Behnke