New Perfume Review Parfums MDCI La Surprise- Modern Throwback

I think its obvious that the current mainstream trend of transparency has not fully engaged me. I leave it to the perfume brands who work the niche side of things to keep the alternative style going. One brand which seems to be doing a great job of this is Parfums MDCI. Creative Director Claude Marchal has let his perfumes become contemporary without giving in to transparency.

Claude Marchal

Lat year he released the first perfumes in “The Paintings” collection. They all had a way of evoking vintage styles in modern ways. My favorite was the unique watermelon leather Bleu Satin. It is exactly the dichotomy I am speaking of as perfumer Cecile Zarokian is particularly adept at achieving this. Which is why when I received Mme Zarokian’s latest Parfums MDCI La Surprise I was excited.

Cecile Zarokian

The inspiration piece here is part of Jean-Honore’s Fragonard “The Process of Love” series. La Surprise depicts that moment of first attraction. Mme Zarokian interprets that though a very green opening into a fulsome white floral that ends in the sensuality of musks. It is remarkable for the contrast between the modernity of the top accord and the vintage-like nature of the heart.

The top accord has a sizzle to it. Some of it is due to the use of the stickier green cardamom. Most of the time that ingredient carries a gentle citrusy breeze across an opening. In this case it feels rawer, less mannered. There are some other strident green ingredients which amplify that effect. It forms a sharp-edged green to contrast the heart. That heart is a white flower accord any perfume lover will recognize. Mme Zarokian mixes the usual suspects with peach and aldehydes. That’s the formula for lots of perfumes of the first half of last century. In this case the green top accord finds the inherent green threads within the creamy florals. It reminded me of a floral bouquet with veins of green running through the petals. A soft slightly animalic musk accord rounds things out.

La Surprise has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Mme Zarokian repeats the same feat she did with Bleu Satin. She reminds me of the classics while adding in a unique modern modifier. For anyone wanting an update to their white floral collection La Surprise is the kind of modern throwback that should delight.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Stephane Humbert Lucas 777 Isra & Miraj- Scent of the 7th Sky

There are a small group of perfumers who create fragrance on an entirely different level. All perfumers want to make something that people will want to interact with. The smaller group I am speaking of are the ones who want to find the frontiers of modern perfumery and move them outward. This is a fraught effort because sometimes the frontier pushes back. The attempt to expand things collapses under its own weight. What is best about these types of perfumers is they get back up and try again. One of those is Stephane Humbert Lucas. He has been doing this ever since I first met him when he was working at Nez a Nez. Seven years ago he began his own line Stephane Humbert Lucas 777. Now at the anniversary of that we have Stephane Humbert Lucas 777 Isra & Miraj.

Stephane Humbert Lucas

These perfumes have all been focused on the Orient as inspiration. These are not Oriental perfumes in that sense. M. Lucas wants to evolve into something more genuine. What is great is it doesn’t always succeed. It has been a few years since one of his releases has captured me the way Isra & Miraj has.

Isra & Miraj are the tale of a Night Journey by the prophet Muhammad. Isra is the trip to the mosque in Jerusalem. Miraj is his journey, escorted by the angel Gabriel, through the seven levels of Heaven. Each level contains a prophet for Muhammad to speak with until he finds Allah in the 7th Sky. It is a story of learning new ways of thinking.

Isra & Miraj is that Oriental-not-Oriental that has been the core of the 777 collection. As it is the symbology of the Night Journey which is expressed most clearly.

That comes in the opening accord as the Isra brings us to the mosque. A fabulously balanced citrus and spice version awaits. The contrast of the heat of cinnamon and the sweet of nutmeg are infused into tangerine. This is an opulently formed version of these ingredients. The angel Gabriel arrives with wings of osmanthus and heliotrope. The heliotrope provides a powdery sheen to the leather and apricot of the osmanthus. M. Lucas creates a lighter version of these two ingredients than I expected when I saw them on the note list. They find an equivalence with the top accord without either taking precedence. The final stage is the Miraj the rise through the seven levels of Heaven. M. Lucas imagines this with precise amounts of some of the most precious materials in perfumery. Briny ambergris, flows through leather and patchouli into a natural oud on top of Mysore sandalwood. It is all given the airiness of white musks creating the vault of Heaven.

Isra & Miraj has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

My description of the final stages of this perfume do not do it justice. M. Lucas takes some of the most extroverted ingredients and transforms them into something humble and spiritual. If you look at that list it should be a train wreck. That it is not is why M. Lucas is such a special artist. He has the audacity to scent the 7th Sky.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Zadig & Voltaire Girls Can Be Crazy- The Pear Cola Experiment

When I receive mainstream releases, I am rarely challenged by what I find in the sample. They are searching for a broad audience, so they are not inclined to be groundbreaking. It is what marks the biggest separation between mainstream and niche. The later being where the envelope gets pushed. There are exceptions, the latest comes from Zadig & Voltaire Girls Can Be Crazy.

Thierry Gillier

Thierry Gillier has been making fashionable threads for cool young girls from Paris for over twenty years. The move into fragrance has been uneven, to be charitable. It veers between being insipidly simple to something enchantingly engaging. A good example is 2018’s Girls Can Do Anything which was a pear and orange blossom fougere. The opposite was last year’s Girls Can Say Anything which was the simpering peony that bores me to tears. Perfumer Quentin Bisch has been the perfumer for this “Girls Can” series. He returns for Girls Can Be Crazy, surprisingly living up to the name.

Quentin Bisch

The first two in the series were safe; the third is just odd. Using a cola accord as a keynote is unusual. You expect a pairing of the traditional flavored colas which exist as a beverage. M. Bisch wants to bottle a new cola flavor entirely, he chooses pear. It is not something which comes off the top of my head when I think of flavored cola.

It opens with that pear cola accord. The pear is the crisp version. The cola accord is more the flat syrup than the carbonated soda. Cola in that form has a caramel aspect that does find traction with the pear. But the brisk fruitiness tends to push against the syrupy cola finding contrast over harmony. M. Bisch adds some synthetic jasmine to add some expansiveness to the accord to keep it from becoming too heavy. As it becomes more expansive there is more space for the pear and cola to find. A twist of vanilla does create a vanilla coke moment before sandalwood picks up the sweetness of the cola in a woody embrace.

Girls Can Be Crazy has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

The pear cola accord is downright weird. Even as I have been smelling it on the strip while writing this, I am thinking I’m not communicating it adequately. It is hard to believe this is what the trendsetting Parisiennes will be wafting on the Seine this year. I would love to believe that could be the case because it might mean there would be more experimental perfumes to come from Zadig & Voltaire. I appreciate this pear cola experiment even if it is only a one season stand.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Zadig & Voltaire.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Chatillon Lux La Petite Prairie- The Scent of Wide-Open Spaces

It should be no secret at this point how impressed I am by independent perfumer Shawn Maher. Over the last year, or so, I have found each new release by him to be a joy to experience. Looking back I think there are two significant parts to his vision. One of them comes from where he lives. All his perfumes have come from the local history surrounding his home of St. Louis, Missouri. Mr. Maher has taken the classic tropes of modern perfumery and translated them through a Midwestern prism. The other component is his knowledge, and use of, his perfume ingredients. With each new release Mr. Maher allows anyone who is interested to understand the interaction and purpose of the pieces within the fragrance they have in their hand. In Chatillon Lux La Petite Prairie vetiver is given the chance to be re-conceptualized by Mr. Maher.

Shawn Maher

My first encounter with vetiver as a perfume had me swooning over the green grassy piece of the multi-faceted ingredient. It is an ingredient that also carries a specific profile due to where it comes from. It is also surrounded with a number of synthetic alternatives. It allows for a perfumer willing to experiment the opportunity to create a vetiver accord which carries a singular effect.

La Petite Prairie is named for a piece of rolling farmland and grasslands on the edge of the city. When I visited the great prairie on my cross-country drives, I was struck at how the grass smelled different. There was a sharper edge to the green along with a flintier earthiness. As I was thinking about La Petite Prairie, vetiver is an ideal ingredient to capture this quality of terroir indigenous to St. Louis. I again provide the link to Mr. Maher’s Scent Notes on this perfume for those who want to know more about its construction.

Mr. Maher constructs a vetiver base accord of Haitian and Javanese natural vetiver. He then titrates in precise amounts of synthetic vetiver sources. It creates what I would dub a “prairie accord”. More grassy then woody. It is evident from the first moments. In the top accord a citrusy rhubarb picks out the same quality in the natural vetivers. It acts like the reflection of sunlight off the prairie grass. The green is picked up by two green florals in geranium and carnation. I adored the contrast. It reminded me of the classic vetiver perfumes that define this style of fragrance. In the later stages that flinty earth is represented by Iso E Super over a resinous trio of elemi, myrrh, and styrax.

La Petite Prairie has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

For anyone who loves the classic vetiver perfumes of the past this is a must try. You will find aspects of many of them given a new perspective. It is a gift Mr. Maher has, to achieve this time and again. I also want to speak to the community of wetshavers out there, too. This is a fantastically bracing vetiver. The shaving line of this scent will be coming soon. I will definitely be adding it to my shaving cabinet. It is just the tonic I crave after shaving. It provides the scent of wide-open spaces.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Montale Bengal Oud- Eau de Villanelle

One of my favorite television shows is “Killing Eve”. It is a wild story about two women who are attracted to each other’s compulsions. One of the women is Villanelle who is a killer for a shadowy organization called The Twelve. She carries out hits as ordered. The Eve of the title works for British Intelligence and is responsible for tracking her down. In the recent third season there was a perfume moment which immediately made me laugh.

Villanelle has just come back to London planning to see Eve. She walks into a perfumery and asks the perfumer for something specific. She says, “I want to smell powerful. I want to make people gag with it….I want to smell like a Roman Centurion who’s coming across an old foe, who in battle once hurt him greatly. But since then, the Roman Centurion has become emperor, and is now powerful beyond measure.” The perfumer takes that in and drolly asks, “Maybe something more woody?”

It tickled me more than the average viewer because I imagine this conversation happening in marketing departments across perfumery. Then I began to think is there something which might fit Villanelle’s description. I want to smell powerful made me think powerhouse. Roman Centurion had me thinking sweaty leather. Something more woody felt like it had to be oud. So I was looking for a powerhouse leathery oud. It was sitting there right in my samples to be reviewed box, Montale Bengal Oud.

Montale has become known for the wide range of oud perfumes in its extensive collection. Bengal Oud fits into a continuum of many good leather ouds which came before. This is part of a house style which has served it well.

Bengal Oud opens with that smell of sweaty leather. The sweaty part of it comes from the early moments of the oud interacting with it. There is a fascinating intermezzo of rose, iris, and orange which breeze across the stronger ingredients. It is as if the new emperor is sitting in his old Centurion armor while surrounded with the genteel trappings of power. It takes a turn for the more woody as vetiver picks up the oud and escorts it to sandalwood and amber waiting in the base.

Bengal Oud has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage (not to the Villanelle desired gag worthy level though).

If you have other leather ouds from the brand Bengal Oud provides subtle, but significant, changes. It would be up to a perfume lover to know if they want more of a good thing. When I wore it imagining Villanelle wearing Bengal Oud when she caught up with Eve seemed perfect.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Margiela Replica Bubble Bath- A Moment of Soapy Zen

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When Mrs. C and I were house hunting for the future Colognoisseur HQ we had some things we wanted in our future home. One was we were hoping to find a master bathroom with a soaking tub. We found that. Which is where we live now. That soaking tub has gotten a lot of use in the time we’ve lived here. I look forward to lowering myself into a warm bubble bath especially when it is chilly outside. As the typical humid summer has arrived my desire to spend an hour in warm soapy water is not high on my list. It looks like I am at least going to be able to get a reminder through perfume in Maison Margiela Replica Bubble Bath.

Violaine Collas

The Replica series has been one of the most interesting mainstream perfume collections because the brand embraces the supposed unlikable. There are many who use the word “soapy” to describe a fragrance they don’t care for. I am not part of that demographic. I love a well-executed soapy accord. Much of the pleasure of a real bubble bath is the scent of the soapy scented water I am soaking in. Replica Bubble Bath doesn’t shy away from going all in on that. Perfumer Violaine Collas finds all the fun inherent in the inspiration.

Replica Bubble Bath opens with a hysterically accurate rendition of what happens every time I step into my freshly drawn bath. Some of the bubbles detach from the foamy surface and pop in tiny opalescent fireworks. Mme Collas uses a subtle suite of aldehydes to replicate that. It was guaranteed to put a smile on my face. The smell of the lanolin scented water comes next. This is a watery soap accord. It is just the scent of that warm water. The scent of the oils added to the bubble bath come next. A set of florals led by lavender. Then in another giggle inducing moment this bubble bath must have been acquired on a beach vacation because patchouli and coconut provide a tropical vibe. It ends with a gentle swoosh of white musks representing the slow dissipation of the bubbles on the surface.

Replica Bubble Bath has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

If you are perfume fan who finds soapiness a detraction to your enjoyment Replica Bubble Bath is unlikely to change that attitude. If you want something as fun as making water fountain out from between squeezed hands in a bathtub this is something to seek out. It reminds me of the regular moment of soapy Zen I usually seek out in our bathtub.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Cartier Les Epures de Parfum Pur Kinkan- Enveiled in Citrus

One of the choices I made when doing the Pierre Benard Challenge last month was citrus. I feel confident that it would have been in there no matter what. Contemporaneously I was trying a new perfume which almost guaranteed its inclusion; Cartier Les Epures de Parfum Pur Kinkan.

One of the most unheralded in-house perfumers is Cartier’s Mathilde Laurent. I know this because in talking with some different people seeking my opinion, I have mentioned her twice since the first of the year only to be met with, “Who?” She has done what every great in-house perfumer has done in imagining an aesthetic that fits the brand. She has done this at Cartier for over a decade. The collection called L’Heures de Parfum is as audaciously beautiful as anything else done by anyone else. I look forward to every new release from her.

Mathilde Laurent

Except when I received the press release prior to the samples arriving for her latest, I was a bit more wary. I was informed about a new collection Les Epures de Parfum. Their intent is to capture “the pure and simple”. I was further told Mme Laurent would be using a mixture of “natural ingredients” and “those originating from research”. All that read transparent to me. Cartier Carat was the first great example that transparent did not have to mean insipid. Pur Kinkan might be the example which allows me to believe it can be great.

There are three parts of Les Epures de Parfum; Pur Magnolia, Pur Muguet, and Pur Kinkan. All of them treat their keynote as fragrance which whispers to you as if you are only encountering them from a distance. Which is why Pur Kinkan captured my attention so thoroughly. It is the scent of sitting in the limbs of a citrus tree surrounded by fruit.

Kinkan is the Japanese word for kumquat. This is the citrus Mme Laurent is evoking. Because of the lightness of it all I never felt it was as focused as a single type of citrus. That might have to do with the types of ingredients she uses. I believe there are other citrus sources besides kumquat. When they are all pitched at this opacity it isn’t necessarily obvious that it is one specific one or another. Pur Kinkan is a citrus perfume of thin glass overlaid atop each other in a shade of citrus.

For the initial moments there is just a hint of the leaves of a citrus tree. I think this is a tiny bit of neroli or orange blossom. It gives way to the rind of the fruit. If you’ve ever used a grater to make any citrus zest for use in cooking this is what this stage of Pur Kinkan reminded me of. The character of citrus is given bite though its skin. The final stages find the pulp but not as if you are eating it. It is more reminiscent of the scent on your fingers after you have done that. It carries the tartness of the kumquat I remember from my youth.

Pur Kinkan has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

This is the first really transparent perfume to ensnare me fully. I have usually found them easy to dismiss. Pur Kinkan was the opposite. Mme Laurent wrapped me up in whispers of citrus until I was fully enveiled. Never have I been happier to be so swaddled in beauty.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Goldfield & Banks Bohemian Lime- Summer Lovin’

Summer is the season of temporary obsessions. Things which seem perfect in the heat of July lose their impact after Labor Day. It spreads through every artistic endeavor. If it has summer before it that means fun comes before substance. Perfume doesn’t do enough of this. There should be more fragrances which reach for the fun factor. Goldfield & Banks Bohemian Lime is one which does this.

Amelie Jacquin

Owner and creative director Dimitri Weber have been staking out the fresh genre for the majority of Goldfield & Banks releases. The other imperative is to feature ingredients from his native Australia. Overall the collection has successfully lived up to those. Bohemian Line hews to both. Mr. Weber has been working with an interesting roster of perfumers. That also continues as perfumer Amelie Jacquin makes her first for the brand.

Dimitri Weber

The indigenous ingredient is finger lime. According to the press materials it grows on the beaches of Byron Bay; the easternmost area of Australia. Growing up in S. Florida we also had out own variant of lime called the key lime. While it was lime it also had a distinctively different taste profile. I suspect the finger lime is the Down Under version of that. That lime forms the center of Bohemian Lime.

Lime is what you notice right away. I am not sure how to describe the difference. As a guess I would say it has a tarter scent than regular lime. That might be true. Or it might be the way the coriander which pairs with it modulates it. The coriander also has a woody part of its scent which sets up the back half of woods. Cedar, vetiver, and sandalwood form the base. The sandalwood is also from Australia. It is the dry version I associate with the source. The vetiver is the bridging ingredient capturing the green of the finger lime and the woodiness of the cedar and sandalwood.

Bohemian Lime has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is another fresh fragrance from the brand. There is nothing wrong with finding a lane and sticking with it. Bohemian Lime is the kind of perfume I will enjoy the heck out of this coming summer. I might not remember it after Labor Day, but it is going to make the season more fun.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Carner Barcelona Drakon- The Scent of Smaug

Ever since I picked up a copy of JRR Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” the fascination with epic fantasy was begun. That book introduced me to many of the non-human creatures which inhabit the genre. One of the most memorable from The Hobbit is the villain of the book; the giant dragon Smaug. An ancient creature who has spent so much time lounging on his pile of treasure it has clung to his scales forming a glittering armor over his belly. Smaug was one of the first creatures whose scent I imagined. The idea of smoke curling from his nostrils as the fire laid in wait to be called. When I received my sample of Carner Barcelona Drakon I was back in that cave.

Sara Carner

Drakon is part of a three-perfume subset called the Bestial Collection. Creative director Sara Carner wanted to create her own version of an epic fantasy through scent. For Drakon she worked with perfumer Jordi Fernandez.

Jordi Fernanadez

This is a perfume of three accords which capture their subject matter as Sr. Fernandez finds the dragon at rest. Only to be roused before too long. Some quite clever choices make this entire trip a lot of fun.

Those choices come right at the top as black pepper is given a keener edge through cypress and palm. Pepper evokes heat through its piquancy. Already provided the imagery through the name this felt like the curls of steam from the dragon’s nostrils. As the beast yawns I can see the glow of banked flame further down its throat. The scent of that comes from an oud accord of akigalawood and nagarmotha. This is a rough oud accord. Sr. Fernandez adds in a playful counterbalance with a healthy dose of orange blossom. I smiled as I imagined my dragon picking up a perfume bottle and eating it. The dragon having tired of my company now calls up his flame. As I run down the cave, I am pursued by an animalic leather accord surrounded by fir and sandalwood.

Drakon has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This was a perfume I was happy to get caught up in the flames of. I admire the effort not to go for the traditional smoky elements of perfumery. By choosing something more imaginative Drakon leaves a stronger impression. If you want to do battle with your own mythical beast Drakon will give you the opportunity.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Louis Vuitton California Dream- Sunset on Sunset

I am slowly coming around to the idea that perfumes which bear the name of Louis Vuitton do not have to be leather related. A year ago the first release of the LA collection, Cactus Garden, helped get me to that mindset. The latest addition Louis Vuitton California Dream continues my evolution.

“Sky Backdrop” by Alex Israel

California Dream is the fourth of the set of perfumes inspired by Los Angeles. Along with perfumer Jacques Cavallier, artist Alex Israel has been providing visuals to go with it. Mr. Israel’s vision has been inspired by California. The inspiration piece (shown above) is called “Sky Backdrop”. It is part of a series where he interprets a Cali sunset. M. Cavallier took the colors of this rendition and turned it into California Dream.

Jacques Cavallier

M. Cavallier looks for the same hazy layering of colorful effects. There is a simple progression which finds the soft interfaces between them as the colors do in the inspiration painting.

It opens with a blast of mandarin which I think represents that clear blue in the upper right of the painting. This is that sunny citrus effect so commonly found in this style of perfume. M. Cavallier uses a bit of pear to provide a softening effect. This is where that flows into the lighter shades of pink through the middle of the piece. Here the botanical musk of ambrette seed imparts the softer muskiness that this source provides. It ghosts through the mandarin. This moves towards the brighter pink in the bottom third of the painting. When I looked at it, I was thinking it looks like it is lit below by twilight neon. Which made me imagine this sunset was taking place over Sunset Boulevard. The base accord of vanilla infused benzoin has a bright sweetness of resin and confection. There are moments I felt like it might be pink neon.

California Dream has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I am a bit sorry to see the end of the LA phase of LV perfumes. I’ve enjoyed all of them. Maybe I’m finally just looking forward to the next perfume from Louis Vuitton as I enjoy this olfactory sunset.

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

Mark Behnke