New Perfume Review Thierry Mugler A*Men Ultimate- Diminishing Returns

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The process of releasing perfume flankers is an exercise in diminishing returns. Each successive release tends to remind you of how good the original was. By the time they get down the line it is difficult to even know what the purpose of naming it after the original is.

There are exceptions to this. The one that I have pointed to is the line of flankers of 1996’s Thierry Mugler A*Men. A*Men is one of the great perfumes of the last twenty-five years. That Thierry Mugler would want to make flankers is obvious. In 2008 when they released A*Men Pure Coffee they showed they were going to not phone it in. Pure Coffee would initiate a series of releases which made this the best flanker line ever. I own almost all of them. I admire almost all of them. The reason for that is because the original perfumer of A*Men, Jacques Huclier, kept finding new things to say within his original structure. Each new release would illuminate something about the original while also being different enough to warrant being produced. There was always a bit of the original A*Men to be found in these flankers. Which is why I have found the latest release Thierry Mugler A*Men Ultimate so confounding.

Jacques Huclier

A*Men Ultimate is the first of these releases to not have even a tiny bit of the A*Men formula present. When I saw the note list, I guessed the “mochaccino” accord was going to provide the chocolate-coffee DNA of A*Men in a new way. Except there is no coffee and chocolate; A*Men Ultimate is a straightforward woody fragrance.

Ultimate is really just a simple construct of citrus, cedar, and fir. That’s it. There is nothing different from any other perfume with those ingredients. It would have been nice if that promised “mochaccino” accord arrived it might have been similar to 2014’s Pure Wood. I have become so used to this set of flankers being so good I am perplexed at how generic this has turned out to be.

A*Men Ultimate has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

With the rebranding and extension of the Thierry Mugler Cologne series added on top of this very common flanker of A*Men I am left shaking my head. I wonder if Thierry Mugler has finally succumbed to the law of diminishing returns when it comes to perfume.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Ella K Cri du Kalahari- A Tree in the Desert

There were a few years where I spent a lot of time hiking in the desert southwest of the US. Those days and nights in the supposed barren wasteland of the sand taught me that beauty truly was in the eye of the beholder. One of the best things about that time were the moments of contrast when there were little outposts of greenery amidst the sand. I remember the scent of vegetation laid over the dusty mineral sand as the buried feel of the underground water feeding it all burbled below. It is a fascinating thing to see life where none should be able to survive. It seems like other deserts in the world have this same natural contrast based on Ella K Cri du Kalahari.

Sonia Constant

Ella K is the brand founded by perfumer Sonia Constant two years ago. Ella K is a fictional heroine based on the real-life women travelers of the past like Karen Blixen or Ella Maillart. The perfumes are meant to capture the fictional Ella K’s travels. At the end of 2019 her wanderings have brought her to Africa.

Baobab tree in the Kalahari

Cri du Kalahari is named after the large desert which covers most of Botswana. What sets this desert apart is the presence of massive baobab trees. That these trees can grow so large in the middle of a large desert is impressive. Mme Constant wanted to capture the dichotomy of the trees versus the sand of the desert. I imagine Ella K leaning against the trunk of one of the baobabs while sketching one nearby. Cri du Kalahari is what she might be smelling in the air.

It opens with top accord of green pepper and cedar. The pepper provides that vegetal piece of the green growing by the tree. Cedar is its typical clean woody self. In a perfume meant to capture the arid desert climate it seems ideal. A silvery frankincense adds texture to this. The frankincense is similarly austere as the cedar is. It descends to a base of sandalwood and patchouli. The sandalwood provides some release to the austerity that came first. It softens the woodiness. The patchouli adds some earthiness to it all in more subtle way that it usually appears. The patchouli acts like the subterranean sources of water covered up but detectable.

Cri du Kalahari has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Mme Constant captures the contrast of life in difficult environments. In Cri du Kalahari a tree grows in the desert.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Byredo Sellier- Soft Leather

As we enter midwinter my black leather jacket begins to get used a lot. I’ve owned this jacket for well over twenty years. It is beyond broken-in it has become a tame cowhide over the use of decades. Of all the leather pieces of clothing I own the scent of my leather jacket is one that pleases me most. The reason is that smell has become as soft as the leather itself. Instead of the oily strong typical leather odor, I now have something much subtler. Byredo Sellier also wants to be this kind of soft leather.

Ben Gorham

Sellier is part of the Night Veils collection. It is the seventh release within the collection. It follows the last three released in 2016 all of which had a leather keynote as well. I own a bottle of La Botte because it captures a sexy leather boot. In that fragrance long time collaborators creative director Ben Gorham and perfumer Jerome Epinette designed a leather of sharp lines. Sellier moves in a more diffuse direction.

Jerome Epinette

That effect of diffusion comes right at the start with a top accord of black tea and cashmeran laid over the leather accord. The cashmeran flows across the leather while the tea provides a tannic complement. Tobacco provides a multiplier for the sweetness at the heart of any good leather accord. M. Epinette is using these complementary notes to expand the leather effect. A figurative breaking-in of his leather accord. In the base he adds an accord made up of birch and oakmoss. The birch gives back the bite to the low-atranol oakmoss. It also provides echoes of the birch tar it could become as if a cuir de Russie was off in the distance. When it is all together it is a soft leather spreading out.

Sellier has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Sellier is an extrait strength perfume. I think this wouldn’t have been as pleasant if it was at a lower concentration. The way it is now makes it more personal just like my well-loved leather jacket.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Beaufort London Terror & Magnificence- A Personal Review

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I’m going to start this review the way I usually end them with a disclosure statement. This is going to be a lengthy disclosure statement instead of the usual single line. The reason is one of my first friends in fragrance has finally done what I suggested would happen over ten years ago.

Pia Long

Back when I decided to stop lurking on the Basenotes forums in 2008 I began to gravitate toward a group of like-minded perfume lovers. It is the way all the forums I post in work. You find the people you enjoy sharing conversations with. One of these was a woman who went under the nickname Nukapai. Besides perfume we found we shared other interests. A confirmation of found camaraderie. As I began to start posting reviews on Basenotes; Nukapai aka Pia Long made the brave leap to enter the fragrance industry from the ground level. She began working for LUSH. From there she had the courage to walk up to one of the founders of the brand with her own blend. The owners then sponsored her perfume education while making her a “trainee perfumer”. She told us on the forums what was going on. She would write about it on a feature article on Basenotes. (http://www.basenotes.net/features/454-study-notes-back-to-school) We had an exchange where I told her, “one day I am going to write a review of a perfume you’ve made for someone.” Today is that day as she is the perfumer behind Beaufort London Terror & Magnificence. She sent me a sample at the end of the year. She has done her job; now it’s my turn. End of Disclosure.

Leo Crabtree

Beaufort London is the brand overseen by creative director Leo Crabtree. Terror & Magnificence is the third volume of the Revenants series where British historical figures are used as inspiration. This time it is architect Nicholas Hawksmoor who designed in the Baroque style in the first half of the 18th century. He is known for his churches. The one seen below is an example. Mr. Crabtree has developed a Beaufort style wherein the perfumes are darker stories told in broad strokes. Ms. Long delivers on that established aesthetic with a perfume of old church walls and the resins within.

Christ Church in Spitalfields in London Borough of Tower Hamlets England, UK is an Anglican church built between 1714 and 1729

If you’ve ever visited an old church of this time period they often smell like the smoke of countless braziers of incense and candles have been impregnated into the stone of the walls. So many church incense styles of fragrance keep it much cleaner. Mr. Crabtree and Ms. Long embrace the history that smoke represents.

So many perfumers when going for a smoke effect pull out the cade oil. Ms. Long turns to a more classic source of olfactory smoke, birch tar. This is just as fallible to become a sledgehammer in untrained hands. Ms. Long can use it subtly while still retaining presence. She cleverly adds black pepper to the smoky tar which adds in that scent of aged timbers amidst the smoke. She then uses a set of resins to form the incense part. Starting with Somalian incense which carries its own smokiness in its scent profile she adds in the Egyptian kyphi. Kyphi adds a contrasting resinous sweetness. Tobacco and myrrh extend the sweeter resins while benzoin and labdanum do the same to the Somalian incense. This ends with a base accord of stone and vetiver. This is where I broke into a big smile. Ms. Long creates an accord which smells of the stone walls which have bits of green moss growing on them as the vetiver establishes the green while re-establishing the spicy woodiness from the top accord. Once it all comes together it is a real church incense perfume.

Terror & Magnificence has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

Ms. Long is a partner in her own independent oil house, Olfiction, these days. Back in those Basenotes days I doubt either of us imagined we would end up where we have found ourselves in 2020. Finally I got to write a review about a perfume made by my friend, Nukapai. You did great. This is only the beginning. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Disclosure: Read the first two paragraphs.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Tom Ford Private Blend Rose Prick- Diva-Off

There is a Beavis and Butthead laugh track to some of the recent names of Tom Ford Private Blend. I hear their insane giggle when I see a perfume named Fucking Fabulous, “I know I am Beavis, hee hee hahaha.” Lost Cherry, “go help her find it Butthead, mmm mmmm hah hee.” Now we can add Tom Ford Private Blend Rose Prick to those, “You said prick heh heh heh.”

The names are part of Tom Ford’s penchant for provocation which has done well for his brand. The thing is the perfumes choose to be less so. Although Lost Cherry is a fantastic take on that fruit as the center of a perfume. Rose Prick falls into the same category as Fucking Fabulous did. Taking excellent materials to make something not as interesting as it could have been.

Karyn Khoury

The same creative team is on hand as Karyn Khoury creatively directs perfumer Guillaume Flavigny. This time the quality is in using the three primary natural rose ingredients in Rose de Mai from France with Turkish rose, and Bulgarian rose. These are the richest roses you can use. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like they find harmony in Rose Prick.

Guillaume Flavigny

The opening of Rose Prick is the best part as M. Flavigny uses Sichuan pepper and turmeric. It provides the herbal fruitiness of the pepper as the earthy glow of the turmeric creates a halo effect around it. This descends onto the mixture of roses. Each of these roses have distinctive personalities and they seem to be pushing against each other rather than trying to find a greater harmonic. When I was wearing Rose Prick it was like a diva-off between the roses. Each wanted the stage to herself while trying to shove the others out of the way. It makes for a kinetic floral heart which might work for some. This time I found it distracting. I just wanted one of the roses to win. I was glad when the patchouli and tonka in the base came around so that I had something else to focus on instead of the extroverted florals.

Rose Prick has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Rose Prick falls into the same ground as Fucking Fabulous; both average styles of perfume with excellent ingredients. Those quality materials help make them stand apart. If you are a real rose lover, I suspect the jostling character of the rose divas in the heart will appeal. If you aren’t, Rose Prick might be one diva too many.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Christian Dior Rouge Trafalgar- A Fun Fruitchouli

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One of the styles of perfume I enjoy least is the fruity floral. Only in a few cases does it not end up as a fruit salad overturned on a vase of flowers. What I find funny is I like them by themselves just fine. I have lots of floral perfumes I enjoy. I have lots of fruity perfumes I like. Especially the class given the portmanteau “fruitchouli”. If you give me fruit salad and overturn onto an earthy patchouli it turns out I find that pleasant to wear. Which is why Maison Christian Dior Rouge Trafalgar tickles my fruitchouli bone.

It was two years ago when the Dior Collection Privee re-branded itself as Maison Christian Dior. I didn’t have an issue with the name change. It was the simultaneous release of 18 new perfumes; all but a couple of them mediocre and forgettable. Ever since the regrettable perfume dump the brand has seemingly gone back to the two new releases a year formula which was what we had prior. It has also lifted itself out of the doldrums as the fall release of Spice Blend was better than the 18 perfumes released before it. Rouge Trafalgar finds a way to also be better than those.

Francois Demachy

All the Maison Christian Dior come from Francois Demachy. Rouge Trafagar is no exception. M. Demachy has shown the ability to take trite styles and find something different. Rouge Trafalgar isn’t quite as interesting as M. Demachy can be. He does manage to produce a better than average fruitchouli.

Rouge Trafalgar opens with the sweetest of the red berries; strawberry and raspberry. Just for extra red fruit emphasis M. Demachy layers in a cherry. It reminds me of those squishy fruit candies which have a liquid center, so it squirts when you chew it. Rouge Trafalgar squirts with juicy fruits when you spray it. M. Demachy then attenuates that with three great choices. First grapefruit can be its tartest semi-sulfurous self. Blackcurrant buds provide a sticky green contrast. The key to my enjoyment of it all is M. Demachy’s use of violet leaf. It carries a sharp slightly sweet green piece. The violet leaf is the linchpin which turns it into a nicely balanced fruit salad just waiting to be overturned on the patchouli. That patchouli is an earthy classic type of that ingredient. Once it is all together this is a fun fruitchouli.

Rouge Trafalgar has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I’m still not sure if Maison Christian Dior will find its way back to the great perfumes prior to the name change. If they don’t at least releases like Rouge Trafalgar don’t make me wish they had stopped making an exclusive collection.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Maison Christian Dior.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Ignacio Figueras Palm Beach- Fragrance of Field-Side

I loved growing up in South Florida. I think that’s why I start a lot of reviews with a story of my youth. This will be another one. When I was in college I had heard of the polo matches which took place about an hour north of us in Palm Beach. I was told you could park right next to the field and watch the game. I convinced some of my friends to take a drive up one January day.

Ignacio "Nacho" Figueras

When we entered the grounds I asked the man directing me where I could park by the field. He looked at me and asked, “Do you mean the field-side tickets?” I nodded as he pointed me towards another gate. When I got there, we paid what was asked and we drove into this flat area where I was directed to a spot between a Rolls-Royce and another fancy car. It would be the first time I learned what a Bentley was. As we got out, we were warmly greeted by the people in those posh automobiles. Just at it goes at any sporting event fans like to welcome in new ones. Our new acquaintances explained the game to us. I got into it. The thunder of the horses the whip of the mallets as the cane used in the shaft twanged. It all happened yards from where we sat on the hood of my car. These joy rides became the well-kept secret of a few of us as we would disappear for a few winter Saturdays to enjoy the matches field-side. I remember the scent of those days. The new perfume Ignacio Figueras Palm Beach reminds me of it.

Mackenzie Reilly

Ignacio “Nacho” Figueras is one of the more known faces of polo. Besides being an elite player he also has been the model for Ralph Lauren Polo since 2000. It is not a surprise that he might want to try and get into the fragrance game himself. In December 2019 he released a collection of six perfumes based on the nomadic lifestyle of a polo player representing the places they spend time throughout the year. Five of the six are done by Carlos Benaim the sixth, Palm Beach, is done by perfumer Mackenzie Reilly.

The main scent of field-side is, well, the field. The wide grassy plain which extended from the hood of our car. Ms. Reilly does a smart thing by not reaching for the typical grassy ingredients. Instead she uses sage as her green. It has the bite of the grass as it is churned up by the horses’ hooves. An orange zephyr reminds us we are in Florida. The green and the citrus is extended by neroli. The neroli green grabs the sage softening it. It reminded me of when the spectators would be invited to go divot stomping between chukkas. As we covered up the dirt the green scent became softer. The neroli does the same to the orange in the top as it diffuses it into something lilting. It all finishes on a synthetic woody base which reminded me of the cane shafts in the polo mallets.

Palm Beach has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

When I received my sample set it was obvious, I was going to go for Palm Beach first. Little did I know it was going to be the fragrance of field-side on a winter Saturday at the polo grounds.  

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Bergdorf-Goodman.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review DSH Perfumes Lautrec- Memories of Artists

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Just about ten years ago I joined Michelyn Camen as one of the first writers at a blog called CaFleureBon. The four years I would spend there were like blogging graduate school. Ms. Camen is brilliantly inventive about everything that goes into communicating about perfume. Our first year often felt like we were a fledgling bird learning to fly. We were so happy to reach the end of that first year Ms. Camen wanted to celebrate with a perfume made to recognize that. She turned to independent perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz who produced DSH Perfumes Lautrec under Ms. Camen’s creative direction. Lautrec has been re-released as part of the Heirloom Elixir Series.

Michelyn Camen

For those who have read CaFleureBon over the past ten years you will know one of the signatures of it is the art direction of Ms. Camen. Working as creative director with Ms. Hurwitz they chose the painting “Woman with Black Boa” by Toulouse-Lautrec. The perfume was meant to evoke the Bohemian scene in France at the end of the 19th century that Toulouse-Lautrec was so pivotal in exposing to the masses through his art. It means it was meant to have a vintage feel to its construction. Where it gets its contemporary twist is the gourmand base which lifts it all towards the end.

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

Reacquainting myself with this perfume I smile inwardly at the difference nine years of perspective has added. In my original review I only give a passing thought to the floral fruitiness of orange blossom and passionfruit. In 2020 I take more notice of the interplay between the richness of both. The same boozy keynote which held my fascination prior, absinthe, comes forward again. This time I think I detect a finer hand in the tincture of wormwood used for the absinthe. This version of Lautrec has a more brilliant Green Fairy as the keynote. A gorgeous fulsome floral bouquet of rose, jasmine, and ylang-ylang provide a lively gaiety appropriate to the time period. Then we get this magnificent gourmand shift to chocolate and resins meant to capture the Green Fairy in a cage of fondant surrounded by flowers. It completes a night out in the Moulin Rouge, painting the scene with fragrance.

Lautrec has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Lautrec reminds me of artists then and now. Toulouse-Lautrec’s way of bringing the hidden society out to the rest of the world. Ms. Camen’s creation of a place where the art of perfume is comingled with the visual arts. Ms. Hurwitz’s growth as a perfumer into one of the premier artists in all independent perfumery. Together Lautrec is an homage to the memory of artists.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Floris Vert Fougere- Smoky Green Fougere

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Of all the classic styles of perfume it is the fougere which seems to best reflect the times it is made in. It was there at the beginning of modern perfumery and has represented itself ever since. The original fougeres were slightly sweet lightly green perfumes. They have developed along with the new ingredients perfumers have added to their organs. It makes for an interesting timeline of perfumery if you examine fougere through the decades. As we move into 2020 Floris Vert Fougere provides the latest data point.

Edward Bodenham

Floris creative director Edward Bodenham has enlisted a new in-house perfumer, Nicola Pozzani, to update this venerable English brand. It seems like with Vert Fougere they are showing the ability to honor the history of perfumery while adding modernity into it. In this case it is done with a blast of green and a swirl of smoke.

Nicola Pozzani

That blast of green is the fanfare of galbanum that leads the way in Vert Fougere. Galbanum in this quantity has a spiky edginess to it. M. Pozzani wisely blunts it with grapefruit. The citrus adds a tart shade of green while also eliding the sharper facets of the galbanum. It results in an intensely fresh green top accord. The classic lavender and neroli floral pair of many fougeres flow around the sparkly green accord. M. Pozzani adds some sizzle to all of this with a swoosh of ginger. The final piece of newness cones as smoke skirls through the florals and over the crystalline galbanum. It ends on a warm ambery woody base accord.

Vert Fougere has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Floris is one of those brands which could use an update. Based on Vert Fougere it sems like Messrs. Bodenham and Pozzani are ready to take Floris into the modern age.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from Floris.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Armani Prive Jasmin Kusamono- Perfumed Kusamono

The Aramni Prive collection is so interestingly inconsistent I always look forward to trying what is new. It is because at its best it produces some of my favorite perfumes. Last summer was one of those high points with the release of Orangerie Venise. Perfumer Dominique Ropion provided a fascinating riff on a neroli soliflore. To begin 2020 M. Ropion returns to do the same with Armani Prive Jasmin Kusamono.

Dominique Ropion

Jasmin Kusamono is one of four new additions to the “Les Eaux” collection. Gardenia Antigua, Rose Milano, and The Yulong, are the others. This has been a series of perfumes highlighting a single ingredient with unique contrasting counterweights. The other part of the name, kusamono, gives an idea of what M. Ropion is attempting. Kusamono is a Japanese compound word of “grass” and “thing”. It is an artistic floral arrangement meant to capture a specific season. It tries to also evoke a specific kind of natural milieu. M. Ropion seems to be looking toward spring on the ocean.

One of the trends of 2019 I liked a lot was this idea of deep-water aquatics. None of the sea spray freshness but a deeper briny quality. It is that unique contrast to the jasmine that M. Ropion weaves into his composition.

The perfume starts with a mix of pear and pink pepper. This is a nice way to add some texture to a juicy pear. The saltiness of the ocean begins to leak into the scent as the jasmine seems to float upon it. This is fresh but not “fresh!”. What I mean is there is a cleanliness to the fruity floral atop the deep-sea swells without going into generic fresh territory. This is also a very light perfume. It has a feeling of delicacy to it in these early moments. As it evolves there is a stronger saltiness which begins to crystallize on the floral. It finds it’s footing on a base of cedar and sandalwood. Again, not in a heavy way.

Jasmin Kusamono has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

I have been looking for perfumes which are part of the popular transparency trend that I can embrace. Jasmin Kusamono is one which I can happily hug to me. M. Ropion has practiced his own form of kusamono via perfume.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Giorgio Armani.

Mark Behnke