New Perfume Review Francesca Bianchi The Black Knight- Knightly Valor

The whole idea of Medieval knights has been an object of personal interest for as long as I remember. I eagerly devoured stories of Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table. I would read histories about the real ones which made them a touch less noble, but their bravery was enhanced. The tragic story of the ascetic knight Lancelot from the King Arthur mythology was of a man pure of purpose transformed by love. The real knights were less likely to be moved off their chosen path. The famous ones all lived sparse lives committed to their cause.  One of those real-life knights is the inspiration behind Francesca Bianchi The Black Knight.

Francesca Bianchi

To most when you read Black Knight those are villains in stories. The actual Black Knight was Giovanni Dalle Bande Nere; that translates to John of the Black Bands. His oath was given to the Medici family of Florence, Italy. He lived his life as a Spartan in armor. He spent his time in the field instead of at court. Sig.ra Bianchi casts The Black Knight in its own minimal terms accentuating the camp life milieu of a soldier.

One of the reasons I sought The Black Knight out was Sig.ra Bianchi uses caraway as her top note. It is one of my favorite ingredients in all of perfumery Sig.ra Bianchi uses it beautifully. The caraway carries a freshness tinged with shadow. It is an interesting way of evoking the life of the knight. A more traditional knightly accord comes next with the scent of saddle leather. Sig.ra Bianchi uses beeswax to mimic the sheen of tack impeccably taken care of. This is a glossy leather scent cleverly supported with a touch of rose and iris. It makes me think a couple of favors given at the last joust were kept in his saddlebags. The florals provide a delicate effect in contrast to the leather. We then get to the campfire carried forth by smoky vetiver. The Black Knight closes with another ingredient I enjoy; the vetiver which has a significant smoky character. Sig.ra Bianchi uses patchouli and cedar to find the earth and trees surrounding the camp.

The Black Knight has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

It’s enough past Halloween I shouldn’t be playing make-believe. The Black Knight is such a nice perfume to wear on cool days it is hard for me not to get lost in a reverie of a valiant ascetic knight.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Hiram Green Voyage 2019- Octo-lotus

There is a bit of a quandary when an independent perfumer makes a limited edition. When they are as creative as Hiram Green is there is a very real feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out) when he releases one. Four years ago he released a remarkable leather homage to India. Specifically the Floating Palace on Lake Pichola. Most non-Indians learned of this marvelous piece of architecture in the James Bond movie Octopussy. That perfume was called Voyage and is one of my favorite leather perfumes I own. Mr. Green contacted me to tell me he was doing a sequel, Hiram Green Voyage 2019.

Hiram Green

Mr. Green is still inspired by the same locale. If I imagine the clever construction of his all-natural leather accord was the equivalent of the palace itself then Voyage 2019 is the water surrounding it. Mr. Green substitutes the national flower of India, lotus, for the leather. It changes the style from full blooded Oriental to something closer to a Floriental. There is much that remains from the first version, but Mr. Green re-adjusts some of the concentrations to assure a smooth experience.

One of the best parts of both versions of these perfumes is the spiced citrus top accord. It reminds me of a clove orange, but Mr. Green is piercing his orange with vectors of cardamom, caraway, and cumin. This creates an exotically spicy beginning. Then the big change happens as instead of going deeper into a leather accord Voyage 2019 becomes a floating flower. This is a slightly watery floral accord which is supported by some green effects to mimic the leaves surrounding the bloom. Voyage 2019 returns to a similar base accord as the prior version. This time there is a warmer overall effect as the amber and benzoin have a more prominent place over the vanilla that was the center of the previous base accord.

Voyage 2019 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I know I remark on it every time, but Mr. Green coaxes an unusual intensity from the natural ingredients he uses. The original Voyage was the leather prelude for what would become the brilliant Hyde. Voyage 2019 also feels like we are heading towards something else equally impressive. In the movies they say the sequel is rarely as good. In the Hiram Green collection Voyage 2019 is just as good.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample supplied by Hiram Green.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Arielle Shoshana Sunday- Next Level Gourmand

I keep waiting for new perfumes which are looking toward evolving the gourmand style. It is perhaps the final frontier where a perfume can truly do something different. It is why I am often disappointed when a new release doesn’t take advantage of all the creative space which exists in the genre. There are some which do find that novelty; Arielle Shoshana Sunday is one of them.

Arielle Weinberg

I am so fortunate to have as my local perfume boutique, Arielle Shoshana, run by Arielle Weinberg. Ms. Weinberg has grown from blogger to store owner to creative director over the last few years. She is one of those people who reaches for what she wants. I admire her for this tenacity which has proven to lead to success in her ventures. Two years ago when she wanted to be the creative director on her first perfume, Arielle Shoshana Saturday, she had a desire to make a perfume around passion fruit. Working with perfumer Cecile Hua they produced one of the best perfumes of the year because they worked with something different. This same creative team returns for Sunday with the same mindset.

Cecile Hua

For Sunday they wanted to focus on a specific tea drink called matcha horchata. Matcha is a version of green tea. Horchata is a Mexican drink made of warm rice milk flavored with cinnamon and rice milk. When I went to the World Cup in Mexico it was horchata I drank almost every morning. I still look forward to finding it on the menu of any Central American restaurant. This recent gourmet brunch version adding in the almost bitter matcha is also enjoyable. Ms. Weinberg and Ms. Hua were going to take us to a fancy Sunday brunch.

Sunday opens with the rice at first. There is a humid rice effect I’ve only experienced a couple of times. Ms. Hua uses that as a steamy introduction to Sunday. The sharp green tea of matcha seeds that cloud of rice. It gains more coalescence as the steam condenses into a milky liquid which the matcha contrasts. Cinnamon and vanilla provide the traditional horchata accoutrements. It snaps together into an opaque gourmand accord which is engaging in every way. Languorously like the day it is named for the final stages of the perfume turn warmly woody with amber and sandalwood forming the base accord.

Sunday has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is exactly the kind of gourmand I would like to see more of. Ms. Weinberg and Ms. Hua found their own quiet spot to create a next level gourmand in Sunday.

Disclosure: My sample was from participating in the Kickstarter campaign which funded the production of Sunday.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Le Labo Tabac 28- The Cuban-Haitian Congruency

My childhood in the mid to late 1960’s in S. Florida was wonderful. The best part of that statement is I recognized it at the time. Living in Miami as it was absorbing two sets of refugees from Cuba and Haiti was a treasure of new experiences depending on which part of town I steered my bicycle. If I headed to Little Havana, I could go play dominos while the adult men puffed on their cigars. I always enjoyed the smell of those cigars but never more than when they were unlit. You’ve seen the caricature of a cigar lover running an unlit cigar under their nose and breathing deeply, that’s the way I felt for real. I would learn every family that made cigars had a secret blend handed down through generations. My nose wasn’t attuned well enough to pick up those nuances.

When I headed into Little Haiti it was always about the food and the music; mostly the food. When I would sit with the newly arrived Haitians I would have them tell me stories of their island. When I spoke to the older men, they were always sipping this viscous brown liquid. When I asked what it was, they always laughed and told me to come back when I was older. That was because the liquid was rum from Haiti. When I did become old enough one of my Haitian friends introduced me to Barbancourt Rum. This is not your typical rum it is a gorgeous liquor you sip and roll around in your mouth as it reveals its flavors. In the aged versions there is an opulent caramel-like flavor as if the sugar cane was on its way to molasses and stopped for a minute or two. It is one of my favorite things to do at a dinner party to end it with the 15-year aged reserve just to see the way people react to it.

Fabrice Penot and Eddie Roschi

Which means if you ask me for a single scent to represent the Cuban community in Miami, I would pick a fine cigar. It the same question was added for the Haitians it would be dark Barbancourt Rum. Not that creative directors Fabrice Penot and Eddie Roschi would have asked me what they should consider for their Miami City Exclusive, Le Labo Tabac 28, it turns out they asked perfumer Frank Voelkl to make a perfume which combines the cigar and rum in one exemplary avatar of Miami.

Frank Voelkl

Tabac 28 takes a fine cigar out of its case and holds it under my nose. Mr. Voelkl makes an inspired choice by using the sticky green version of cardamom. If there was a nuance of freshly rolled cigars it was of the slightly green leaf used as the wrapper. This green cardamom adds that grace note to the rich tobacco. The same inspiration happens with the rum. This is that dark slightly caramel-like rum I remember. Mr. Voelkl adds a subtle veil of smoke via a judicious use of oud. It is as if that cigar has been lit and as you reach for your glass of rum it passes through the smoke on the way to your lips. All of this is spectacularly balanced. The only bad part is it ends up on an all too typical cedar based woody accord which hardly lives up to the rest of the perfume.

Tabac 28 has 12-14 hour longevity; with over half of it firmly in the rum and tobacco piece of development, to go with average sillage.

I had not considered how these two distinct scents of my youth would find a place of congruency where it brings Cuban and Haitian worlds together. It is what makes Tabac 28 more emotional for me than others. Removing the emotion if you are looking for a perfume which fuses rich tobacco and gourmand-like boozy rum Tabac 28 should be on your list of “to try” perfumes.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Jul et Mad Stairway to Heaven- White Musk Whispers

As new materials in perfumery are more widely used there are some which I become less fond of. The category of ingredients called white musks became omnipresent in the first decade of this century. Also called “laundry musks” these are the fresher analogs to the heavier versions which hew closer to the natural source. There are so many of the lighter musks because they have uses beyond perfume. They are the main ingredient in clothing detergent when it says, “spring fresh”. As perfumers began to use them more and more for their fixative properties, I would find they could give a kind of screechy quality to the final stages of perfumes. One of the best things about perfumery today is there are so many creative people looking to do something different. I am not sure when it happened, but it seems like around five or six years ago a few of them learned a curious truth. One white musk might be boring but if you layer a bunch of them together there are some almost supernatural effects to be found. Jul et Mad Stairway to Heaven finds the right set can take you to the roof of the world.

Julien Blanchard (l.) and Madalina Stoica-Blanchard

Jul et Mad are creative directors-owners Julien Blanchard and his wife Madalina Stoica-Blanchard. The brand is named after them because it represents their life as translated into fragrance. For Stairway to Heaven it is based on their trip to the Himalayas in Nepal. They would hike up to the Annapurna Base Camp the literal stairway to the highest heights a human can attain via walking. I’ve done my share of high-altitude hiking here in North America. In the press materials they describe the experience as “bowing before the beauty and the sumptuousness of this veritable sanctuary.” There is something spiritual about reaching as high as you are able. There is also a scent to that.

Cecile Zarokian

For Stairway to Heaven the Blanchards turned again to perfumer Cecile Zarokian, whom they worked with previously on Aqua Sextius. It seems like they all agreed that this was going to be a white perfume. Mme Zarokian is that kind of ingeniously curious perfumer that I have a feeling she had a cocktail of white musks she thought might work. The press release says the heart of Stairway to Heaven is a combination of eight white musks. It leads to a fantastic accord at the center of this perfume.

Before those white musks show up Mme Zarokian wants us to take a deep breath of cold air at altitude. She opens with a chilly whoosh of aldehydes; another maligned ingredient. Mme Zarokian uses a firm hand at keeping the balance refreshing instead of obstreperous. Now as we look out over the snow field rising to the sky the musks come together in a powdery snow accord which is kept traditionally powdery in the early moments by rose and iris. The musks get a firmer hold and now they are like shuffling through fluffy crunchy snow refreshing and soft. A skirl of meditative incense wafts over the musks in the final phases.

Stairway to Heaven has 24-hour plus longevity and average sillage to start before becoming a skin scent after 12 hours or so.

Stairway to Heaven is a wonderfully realized brief. Most of the time I laugh at what a perfume is supposed to remind me of. Not this time. Every time I had this on my skin it was like staring up at the majesty of nature. Only to have a mixture of white musks whisper back to me.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Jul et Mad.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Dasein Winter Green- Creme de Menthe Christmas Tree

The first alcoholic drink I ever had was during Christmas in the mid 1960’s. I had always seen the adults sipping this brilliant green syrup out of small glasses. My mother would hold it up to my nose to smell and there was this wonderfully thick minty-ness. I don’t remember exactly my age when my mom decided it would be all right to pour me a sip or two of crème de menthe in the same tiny glass the other adults had. I remember sitting at the end of the couch taking tiny little tastes trying to make it last. The Christmas tree was right next to me. I remember thinking the tree and the mint smelled nice together. I haven’t thought about that for probably fifty-plus years; until I received my sample of Dasein Winter Green.

Sam Rader

Dasein is the perfume brand from independent perfumer Sam Rader. She first caught my attention during Christmas time 2014 with her first perfume Winter. Winter was a photorealistic Christmas tree perfume. Ms. Rader would follow up with the other three seasons all showing great attention to detail. When she took her brand to the AIX Scent Fair in Los Angeles she would meet fellow independent perfumer Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors. They hit it off and collaborated on the sequel to Winter; Winter Nights in 2016. That perfume was also built around the Christmas tree accord Ms. Rader had built previously but now was altered to represent a Christmas tree around a bonfire. Winter Nights is one of my favorite perfumes which I always wear every Holiday season.

Josh Meyer

As an early holiday present I heard there was going to be a new Winter perfume continuing the collaborative creativity of Ms. Rader and Mr. Meyer. I was excited enough to contact both to find out a bit about how Winter Green came together.

Ms. Rader remembers the name came first, “We started brainstorming what direction we might want to go in for the green note. We tried mixing the WINTER juice with grass, with basil, with vetiver. We eventually found that mint plays nicely with my already very conifer heavy blend” Mr. Meyer had already been doing a lot of work with mint, “We talked a lot about new options for what would be fun to work with and the idea of mint was strong on my mind from Saint Julep… after working on it for so long, and spending so much time with a lot of the mint materials, I was excited about making a different kind of mint.” Both wanted to make a mint perfume which stood apart.

Their working relationship involves sending mods back and forth via mail. Mr. Meyer believes it took twice as long to come together as Winter Nights did using the same process, “We sent a lot of perfumes back and forth, Sam even sent me an incredible candle for inspiration, then it was fragrant sketches back and forth, and then when we got close, we hovered around a few different formulations based on different accords in varying concentrations. Simply dialing in the right balance that we were both really excited about. “That balance was all centered on the mint as Ms. Rader recounts, “We used several different mint oils to achieve the accord. I wanted it to be very mint forward, but at the same time not too camphorous, more of a heart note. We supported the mint with some round florals and other magic molecules that helped marry the mint to the pine and spruce….we both knew we wanted a mint with tenacity that would last far into the dry down….We had to work some magic but I think we finally got there!”

Winter Green opens with the evergreen accord Ms. Rader has perfected matched with the mint. The early version of the mint is that very herbal version. It causes the mint to rise out of the needles of the pine. It does so on sparkles of citrus provided by the tartness of pomelo with the floral herbal aspect of baie rose. The mint turns thicker at the same time as the evergreen accord becomes stronger. A gorgeous breeze of jasmine wends its way between the mint and fir. It all snaps together on a matrix of beeswax as it adds sweetness to both tree and herb without becoming treacly. The whole perfume is so well-balanced.

Winter Green has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

These two creative minds need to work together more often. My final question to both was what took you three years to work together again? The answer from both is understandable; their lives are busy. As Mr. Meyer says, “We're just both so busy and both of the same mindset that all this perfume 'work' should be nothing but a ton of fun, so it's sincere joy working on a project together. “Ms. Rader needed that reminder, “I am grateful to Josh for continually infusing my company with new life.  It was awesome to put my creative hat back on this year and receive tons of USPS packages for sniffing as we constructed this beautiful complex scent together.”

This is another fabulous perfume in the Dasein Winter collection. I have been wearing it these early days of the Season and it complements my mood ideally. From a perfectly selfish standpoint I would love seeing what these two creative minds could do with any of the other three Dasein seasons. While I’m waiting, I’ll be sitting by the Christmas tree sipping crème de menthe luxuriating in Dasein Winter Green.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Floral Street Ylang Ylang Espresso- Bitter Floral

Back in August I received a discovery set of a new perfume brand, Floral Street. I was impressed by the overall set of perfumes. I felt like there were going to be a couple that would be better for me to try in colder weather. Floral Street Ylang Ylang Espresso turned out to be one of those.

The current trend of floral gourmands is producing surprising intersections of ingredients. Ylang ylang is one of those multi-faceted ingredients which practically begs for a similarly versatile partner. I wouldn’t have thought coffee would be that kind of ideal companion. In the hands of perfumer Jerome Epinette it is.

Jerome Epinette

It is my guess that M. Epinette is using a set of ylang ylang fractions in this fragrance. The reason is the inherent salicylates which tend to give a banana-like piece of the scent profile seem almost non-existent. Instead we are left with the floral sweetness which carries a subtle freshness with it. This is still the sexy ylang ylang I like just without the fruit salad hat. M. Epinette then contrasts it with a roasted coffee bean. This is a rich coffee scent given a healthy dose of bitterness capturing the oils on the surface of the roasted bean. Together these two ingredients rock back and forth in a pleasurable teeter totter. M. Epinete sweetens things up with a dusting of cocoa powder over light woods in the base.

Ylang Ylang Espresso has 12-14 hour longevity.

This is one of those style of perfumes you haven’t smelled everywhere. The balance of floral and coffee is exactly what I am hoping for as this floral gourmand trend continues to expand. It is these kinds of unusual pairs which will lead to this trend going far beyond its simplistic description. Ylang Ylang Espresso is one which is going to be a trendsetter for the trend.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Tauer L’Air des Alpes Suisses- High-Altitude Meadow

It has been almost fifteen years since independent perfumer Andy Tauer burst onto the scene with L’Air du Desert Marocain. He has become one of the longest lasting independent perfumers in the business. When I read in his newsletter that his newest was also going to be a “L’Air” I was looking forward to it. It turned out Hr. Tauer was going to take us from the desert of Morocco to the slopes of the Swiss Alps with Tauer L’Air des Alpes Suisses.

Andy Tauer

It is easy to conjure up snowy slopes when you read Swiss Alps. That is not what Hr. Tauer is going for. If you need a visual to get you in the right frame of mind think of the opening shot of “The Sound of Music” as Maria sings while she wanders through an Alpine meadow. That is the “L’Air” Hr. Tauer wants to turn into a perfume. As one who has done my share of hiking at altitude in the American mountains there is a scent to the summer slopes which is what L’Air des Alpes Suisses captures.

This begins with that green of mountain foliage growing out of the stone beneath. The top accord forms a sharp green over a subtle stoniness with a set of lung-filling ozonic notes. The green softens while also turning slightly spicy while we walk through a field of wildflowers perfuming the air in the sunlight. It creates a floral accord contrasted with the green. The green continues into a set of woody notes to capture the scraggly trunks of the trees which grow on the escarpment.

L’Air des Alpes Suisses has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

In so many ways Hr. Tauer has been a breath of fresh air to the world of perfumery. L’Air des Alpes Suisses is a perfume of fresh floral greens and woods. It is the contentment of a high-altitude walk through a meadow.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Masque Milano Love Kills- Memory of Passion

As much as I grumpily exclaim, “Oh look another rose perfume.” every time I receive a new one there is a reason to sniff them. For all that rose is the undisputed champion of fragrance my lack of enthusiasm stems from the fact that too often it is just another generic version. The reason I try every one is because rose as an ingredient has so much potential in the right creative team’s hands. When that happens, I am drawn deep into the complexity of its beauty. It is that experience I had with Masque Milano Love Kills.

Riccardo Tedeschi (l.) and Alessandro Brun

Over the last six years the creative directors at Masque Milano, Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi, have proven to be one of the smartest in all of independent niche perfumery. Usually when I hear a brand I admire is bringing out a rose soliflore I am usually underwhelmed. A reason I felt differently about Love Kills is because Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi have an unmatched record at using young talented perfumers early in their careers. They also have a reputation for allowing them an opportunity to spread their creative wings. This is not usually afforded younger perfumers on their earliest briefs. It is one of the reasons I believe Masque Milano has stood out among its competitors.

Caroline Dumur

For Love Kills they collaborated with perfumer Caroline Dumur. Mme Dumur has landed on my radar screen with a flourish. She was behind two of the recent Comme des Garcons releases, Chlorophyll Gardenia and Odeur du Theatre du Chatelet. I hesitate to look for too much in a scant few data points but Mme Dumur has shown a deft touch with overtly synthetic ingredients which provide an odd contemporary effect by the end. In Love Kills this is inverted. Starting with a synthetic opening it ends on an elegiac accord for a floral queen.

The synthetic opening is a combination of the light muskiness of ambrette and the metallic floral quality of rose oxide. What turns this is the addition of lychee with its syrupy mustiness. It coats those shiny surfaces with treacly viscosity. In the heart a traditional lush rose pushes back against that modernity. It is classically paired with dark patchouli. This is the deep passionate rose that draws so many admirers. As contrast to that modern top accord it asks which you prefer. I find the question has been provocatively asked by Mme Dumur. The final part of Love Kills is the desiccation of that rose using the synthetic ambergris analog ambrarome and austere cedar. Like the silica in a drying jar it leaves a dusty rose over the final phase of development.

Love Kills has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

As much as I enjoyed the classic v. modern tussle on top of Love Kills it is the final portion which has stayed with me. There is a tragic feel of love which has, indeed, killed. It leaves only the memory of passion in the scent of a dusty rose.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Aerin Rose Cocoa- A Lighter Shade of Gourmand

The recent trend of transparent floral gourmands has had me wondering. Could a perfume which takes some of the traditionally less transparent ingredients find a way to offer a lighter fragrance experience. Secondarily would I miss the extra depth lost to the airiness. Turns out Aerin Rose Cocoa helps answer some of these thoughts.

Aerin Lauder

Rose Cocoa is the Holiday release for 2019. When it comes to seasonal releases gourmands have long been staples. They have been spice-laden sweet concoctions which tread the line of being almost too sweet. Transparent was not going to be an adjective for these types of fragrances. Which is a reason I was interested to see how Aerin Lauder navigated her first gourmand perfume for a brand which has become one of the best at getting the transparency right.

Olivier Cresp

Ms. Lauder chose to collaborate with perfumer Olivier Cresp. They wanted to have the heart of this perfume be what was in the name; rose and chocolate. There are a couple of paths that can be taken. You can coat the floral in a thick chocolate shell eventually overwhelming it. Or the path taken in Rose Cocoa which is to imagine a rose dusted with a healthy dose of powdered cocoa. This gives both ingredients some space to shine.

It opens on an airy spice accord of cinnamon and orange. This is a common Holiday perfume top accord. M. Cresp makes it much lighter than I usually experience. It has the effect of enhancing the citrus over the spice. The converse is usually the case. The title notes come forward quickly as a spicy rose finds itself coated in dry cocoa powder. This creates an arid floral gourmand heart accord. To keep it from being too dry M. Cresp rehydrates it with iris and vanilla. Judicious amounts of both to retain the opacity but to keep it from being sharply desiccated. It ends on a woody amber base of long-lasting synthetics.

Rose Cocoa has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

One of the reasons I have been enjoying the transparent floral gourmands is I sometimes don’t want to be coated in a foodie accord. Every once in a while, I would like to have it be a lighter shade of gourmand. Rose Cocoa does that for me.

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

Mark Behnke