DIS- connect: A Story of Strange Attractors

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For as long as I’ve been writing about perfume I have believed it to be an art form. This is a position I have to defend because of the sheer commercialism behind most manufactured fragrance. The advent of independent perfumery has allowed for fragrance to find places to shed the commerce in search of the truth that art points to. Over the last twenty years there have been more and more opportunities for scent to be seen through an artistic lens. The latest effort is called DIS- connect.

DIS- connect is a collaboration between Design Artist Francesca Gotti, Photographic Artist Francesco Romero, and Perfume Artist Omer Ipecki. Sig.ra Gotti is one of my favorite people I have ever met in perfumery. I have only met her a handful of times when I have been at the Italian fragrance expos. She creates sculptural enclosures for fragrance. Sig. Romero and I have never met but we have shared the perfume blogosphere for many years. I have been struck by his photography many times. Mr. Ipecki is the independent perfumer behind the brand Pekji. When we met in NYC his passion for life was obvious, he has turned that into scent.

These three wanted to create an exhibit where all three of the disciplines would come together. Except a worldwide pandemic got in the way. Speaking with Mr. Ipecki he said, “it really was meant to be an exhibit, an immersive experience. But now, aptly, they are all disconnected from each other.” This has resulted in a group of three pieces from each of them. A book of photographs by Sig. Romero, three scents by Mr. Ipecki, and a container to hold the perfume in by Sig.ra Gotti.

Since March I have been enjoying all of this in my own version of an “immersive experience”. I downloaded all the photos from the accompanying Instagram page onto a thumb drive which I streamed to my large TV. I was given the music playlist that inspired each piece of the exhibit. That was coming from the speakers. I sprayed myself with 20 sprays of each perfume. At the same time I have some samples of the material Glebanite which Sig.ra Gotti gifted to me. I had those in my hand twirling and flipping the pieces I had. I spent one day like this with each of the scents. As I watched the images flash by, I looked for the ones which came close to what I was feeling. The Glebanite revealed itself to me as I was within each sphere of fragrance. The music took me to a place where all these things had the space to make their mark.

Photo: Franceso Romero

DIS- 1: Decay

Music: The Trail of Tears by William Basinski

As I sat watching pictures while wearing DIS- 1 I began to think about the process of decay. It begins at the moment of inception. The rates are different, but the black balloon begins to fill. At the same time we build the mound of our life. As it gets higher, we get closer to meeting that growing orb of decay. Glebanite if you look at it seems like solid stone. Then you pick it up. It is as if the stone has hollowed itself out. An unlikely source of entropy.

The keynote of the fragrance is a CO2 extract of costus. Costus has always suggested the funk of putridity. Mr. Ipecki uses that as he weaves through it the pleasantness of jasmine, angelica, and saffron. That’s the good. The weight of the blackness descending comes with castoreum and a plastic doll head version of vanilla. The costus is the encroaching end but the things worth living for are still present.

Photo: Francesco Romero

DIS-2: Concrete

Music: Infinite Abstract by Erik Truffaz

The greatest sense of separation comes through the concrete edifices we have built. DIS- 2 seeks to emulate that pushback the solid walls we have built have created. This is where the look of the Glebanite is paramount as it represents these monoliths. The feel of it, the lightness recalls the fragility of these barriers. If we only have the courage to bring them down, the taxi is waiting to take us away.

Mr. Ipecki uses an amount of galbanum meant to confront to make one want to separate. It gets sharper from there violet, synthetic musks all put up their own concrete walls which make me want to turn away. Mr. Ipecki chooses to provide no relief. There is not a safe ingredient to hang on to. This is meant to drive a wedge.

Photo: Francesco Romero

DIS- 3: Paradox

Music: Stave Peak by Loscil

If you are truly disconnected there is a point where you begin to crave what is missing. The togetherness of yourself and the world. You can’t live inside your own head forever. You have to eventually step out. when that happens the antithesis of it all comes to be as everything crashes together in a big, concentrated pile. Which just might send you back to solitude. Grabbing for the faux-solidity of the Glebanite to leverage yourself away. Yet for one glorious moment the crush of the world is pleasing, until it isn’t.

Which is exactly how DIS-3 plays out. It seems like the closest to a typical independent perfume. It begins with a swirl of smokiness through nagarmotha and the floral rosiness of geranium. Patchouli and vetiver also seem like part of the wider world of perfumery. You are back where it is pleasant, it is normal. Then camphor upends it all. It drives those pleasant ingredients into hiding for a moment as it is all you smell. Over time they come back but they seem warier as if a glance from the camphor will send them running.

When I spoke to Mr. Ipecki he asked me if I found a relationship to everything. I told him they might be disconnected but they felt like they were in the same gravitational field. As I spent my time in my immersive experience, I realized gravity wasn’t the physical theory that described this, chaos theory was. Particularly one of my favorite parts of it, strange attractors. That says despite the desire of objects to want to stay apart they can’t help but be attracted to each other if only for an instant. The larger the differences the more interesting the moment of interaction. Throughout my time I would find the music and the perfume or the Glebanite and the picture holding my attention. The other pieces had flown away. Only to return to create new attractions.

As we emerge from a true DIS- connected event a reminder that we all can find out own strange attractors seems appropriate.

Disclosure: The perfumes were provided by Mr. Ipecki. The photos are all courtesy of Mr. Romero. The Glebanite was a gift from Sig.ra Gotti. The music courtesy of Spotify.

Mark Behnke

Farewell to a Guerlie Girl

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Those of us who love perfume have a story of where it began. As I’ve related in other stories of my life much of my appreciation of fragrance began with my mother. She was the opposite of me in that she only wore two fragrances, Guerlain Mitsouko and Guerlain Shalimar in the Eau de Cologne concentration. Her vanity always had the round bull’s-eye bottles with the green or red dot at the center.

She was a working mother. I was the only one of my friends who had a mother who worked outside of the home. Wearing her perfume was part of her daily attire. I knew she was out of the shower and getting dressed because the scent of one of her perfumes would reach the breakfast table. I knew I had to finish soon because she was almost ready to leave. I would be rinsing out my cereal dish only to have her hug me in a Guerlain embrace. There was a security in it that a child could rely upon.

There were days a little would rub off on me. It always made me feel as if Mom was with me even though she had dropped me off. The scent of Mitsouko or Shalimar has been synonymous with her my entire life.

As she tuned into her son’s interest in perfume, she always reminded me that she only wore two things. While I often responded I wore two things in a day. We had a fabulous fragrant field trip to a Guerlain boutique near her home in Florida.

I had pulled some of the few strings I have to make an appointment for us. I really wanted her to experience the other versions of her favorites. They were ready for us. We had iced tea and every concentration of Shalimar and Mitsouko was sniffed. It is one of my favorite memories. Between the sales representative and I we spun all the history of these two pillars of my mother’s perfumed life.

After all of this what made me laugh with delight was she still preferred her Eau de Cologne versions best. My mother knew what she liked. As I drove her back to her house, she asked me whether I ever wore them. I smiled at her and said I couldn’t they were her scent. I told her Freud would have a field day with me if I did.

A few years ago I heard the phrase “Guerlie Girl” to represent a woman who wore Guerlain. It immediately stuck to my mother in my mind. Earlier this week, a few days short of her 99th birthday she passed away. There wasn’t much perfume wearing these last few years. I imagine that my Guerlie Girl is sitting on a scented cloud. Happy to have her perfumes back in her life.

Mark Behnke

In the Perfume Kitchen with Geza Schoen on Escentric Molecules M+ Collection

Now that we have 20 years into the new century there is the opportunity for some perspective when looking back. The independent and niche perfume areas really exploded into growth just after we crossed Y2K. The first five years of this new era were where the rules were being written. Brands weren’t trying to find their way to the mall. They were trying to find their way to the aficionado. The ones who wanted more than function from perfume. This was a good description of myself at this time. I was eagerly absorbing as much information as I could.

One part of that was trying to understand the ingredients which went into these perfumes. Like most my classroom was experiential. Through the forums I was collating my experience with others. One of the best ways I was able to learn came through one of those audacious gambles being taken then. Perfumer Geza Schoen would release Molecule 01 in 2005. It was just a single ingredient, the synthetic aromachemical Iso E Super. It was paired with another perfume where that synthetic ingredient was featured in a more traditional perfume called Escentric 01. This has been repeated with four other Molecules and led to four Escentrics to go with them.

Of all of them Molecule 01 has been the breakout star. It has been a perennial bestseller wherever it is sold. The reason is by itself it has a unique scent profile. It is one of those ingredients which creates a different scent profile and effect depending on its concentration. At 100% it is a wearable perfume all by itself.

Now sixteen years later Hr. Schoen is releasing a new set of perfumes called Escentric Molecules M+. The idea is to add another keynote to see how Iso E Super interacts with it. I had the pleasure a couple weeks ago of speaking with Hr. Schoen about these new fragrances.

Because he is also a trained organic chemist like me, I have always jokingly called him Herr Professor Doktor when he is teaching us through the Molecule and Escentric releases. About halfway through our conversation he said something which really encapsulated why Iso E Super has been so influential.

We were talking about the other Molecules and if any of those would be a candidate for this kind of effort. This was when he hit on something which resonated with me so strongly. He said, “It is the perfect basic kind of soup stock to cook the best soup with ever.”

Before we got to that he described how this all came about. It started with his partner Sophie asking him to make her a nice perfume from her favorite ingredient, iris. He thought it would go nice with Iso E Super and made that up for her to wear. She started getting asked what she was wearing. Even Hr. Schoen was able to know when she was nearby through the sillage she trailed behind her. It started with a lovely home meal made for a loved one by Chef Schoen.

He would come to realize there might be some other confections to be realized. He headed back into the kitchen to see what he would find. He told me he tried around a dozen different ingredients looking for the same synergy he found with iris. He mentioned that vanilla was “horrible”. That cake fell flat.

Over the time in the test kitchen he would find there were two ingredients which made the best recipes. They are mandarin and patchouli. The difference between all three of these perfumes Molecule 01 + Iris, or Mandarin, or Patchouli is they are a binary creation of Iso E Super and the plus. These aren’t as complex as Escentric 01. That seems like the entrée in retrospect. The three plus ones are more the courses leading up to it.

All three of these new fragrances are remarkably wearable. There is something compelling about the way Iso E Super acts within a perfume. I am going to review all three of Chef Schoen’s perfumes tomorrow. Each of them will illustrate why Molecule 01 produces “the best soup ever.”

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur Best of 2020 Part 3: The Top 25 New Perfumes of 2020 and One Extra Award

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To keep this list in perspective, I tried 634 new perfumes since January 1, 2020. That is about a third of all new releases. Nobody can try them all. I enjoy the winnowing down to produce this list. I usually make the hard decisions on which perfumes make the Top 25 without resorting to ties or other ways of expanding the list. Except 2020 presented me with a dilemma like no other. After struggling with how to resolve it I just thought I’d come up with a fun way of recognizing the problem. The list is going to start off with a new one-time only award.

Yaas Queen!

Perfume Queen of 2020: Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes– The pandemic affected the industry in such variable ways. In Ms. Hurwitz’s case it was the catalyst to a year of remarkable creativity. She released 32 new perfumes this year. I reviewed eight and I’m only hitting 25% just on her. She has always been prolific, but this year there was an extra inspiration in her collection. In my case she connected with me on an emotional level more consistently than anyone ever has. Read my reviews of Tea and Charcoal, Adrenaline and Scorched Earth, or Couverture d’Hiver to find examples. Her years of experience also translate into a familiarity with certain materials like iris. She released an Iris Trilogy of which I reviewed L’Or(ris) and Man Root. I never got around to writing about her Frida Kahlo inspired set or any of her Heirloom Elixirs. Each of them was worthy of it but it would have turned this blog into “DSH-onoisseur”. So consider this a cheat as you won’t find these perfumes in the list below, but they surely do belong. For 2020 DSH has her own category.

The Top 10 (Perfume of the Year Candidates)

10. Amouage Meander– Young perfumer Mackenzie Reilly showed she could be one of the new noses for the new Amouage under creative director Renaud Salmon.

9. Frassai El Descanso– Creative director Natalia Outeda releases a series of perfumes of her native Argentina. This fragrance of wide-open wheat fields is like nothing else this year.

8. Puredistance Rubikona- Creative director Jan Ewoud Vos wanted a perfume expression of red. Perfumer Cecile Zarokian made one with a faux-gourmand accord in the base which was amazing.

7. Hiram Green VivaciousHiram Green has added violet to his impressive collection of all-natural florals. Another standout from a line replete with them.

6. Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque MadeleineAlessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi asked perfumer Fanny Bal to create their favorite Paris tearoom as a perfume. She returned a confection with a tuberose center.

5. Rasei Fort Cielito LindoRasei Fort laid down an audacious marker to the best gourmand of 2020 early on. Nobody risked more within the genre. Nobody reaped the rewards of taking those chances more.

4. Aftelier Violet AmbrosiaMandy Aftel adds violet to an aged version of broom flower. The result is like nothing I’ve tried featuring this floral.

3. April Aromatics Lotus RisingTanja Bochnig also broke out her special materials with two sources of aged lotus. It formed the lushest floral of the year.

2. A Lab on Fire Freckled and Beautiful– I’ve been waiting for the first great transparent floral gourmand. Perfumer David Apel has set the standard for the future.

  1. Shalini Iris LumiereThe longer explanation can be found in Part 2. The simple one is it is the best iris perfume of a year which had a lot of excellent ones.

The Rest of the Top 25 in Alphabetical Order

Abel Cyan Nori– Perfumer Isaac Sinclair wraps soft musk in a sheet of nori.

Berceuse Allegretto 7.2Antonio Gardoni finds the rhythm.

Cartier Pur KinkanMathilde Laurent makes a fragile citrus bubble which is compelling because of it.

Estee Lauder Beautiful AbsoluMackenzie Reilly boldly edits the original Beautiful into a modern version.

Gallivant BukharaRalf Schwieger puts iris under his magnifying glass.

Imaginary Authors A Whiff of WaffleconeJosh Meyer makes a high-quality salted caramel ice cream treat.

Jazmin Sarai FayoumDana El Masri made one of the most unique accords of the year as she takes you into a pottery shop at the oasis.

L’Artisan Couleur Vanille– The first salt air and vanilla release of the year.

Maher Olfactive Tempo Rubato– Shawn Maher shows off his near limitless potential in a perfume of changes built around iris.

Maria McElroy for American Perfumer Desert Rouge– One of two releases for Dave Kern’s American Perfumer store. Maria McElroy returns to the desert and her childhood memories of pastry.

Nishane Nanshe– Perfumer Cecile Zarokian puts on a masterclass on how to construct a powdery accord.

Roberto Greco Porter sa Peau– Not for the faint of heart. I didn’t know I wanted a perfume which captured the post-coital milieu. Rodrigo Flores-Roux gave it to me.

Shawn Maher for American Perfumer Madame ChouteauShawn Maher told a glorious story of his hometown history in bold perfumed calligraphy strokes.

Stephane Humbert Lucas 777 Isra & Miraj– This is a perfume that should be a train wreck. Stephane Humbert Lucas gave me a spiritual experience instead.

Zoologist Musk Deer– Everyone wanted a skanky musk. Victor Wong and Pascal Gaurin throw a cleverly evolving soft pillowy musk in its place. They made the right choice.

The Rest of the 2020 Short List

4160 Tuesdays Dark QueenSarah McCartney gloriously colors outside her boundaries.

A Lab on Fire A Blvd. Called Sunset– A dry leather on a Santa Ana wind.

Aether Arts Perfume Dia de Muertos– Tropical trick or treating.

Beaufort Terror and Magnificence– An old church full of smoke and history.

Bogue Douleur!2– I hated it. I admire it to death.

Maher Olfactive TreacheryShawn Maher goes really big.

Courreges 2060 Cedar PulpFanny Bal’s 21st century cologne.

DS & Durga Jazmin Yucatan– A night with the Aztecs

Etat Libre D’Orange Exit the King– Soapy and uniquely so.

Ignacio Figueras Palm Beach– An afternoon watching the polo ponies

Laboratorio Olfattivo Mandarino– A joyful interpretation of mandarin.

Lazarus Douvos Rose 1845– The most interesting rose of the year.

Maher Olfactive Orris Forest– Stepping stones to iris.

Maison D’Etto Macanudo– The exhilaration of being on horseback

Maison Sybarite 720– The best of a new brand.

Maison Tahite Sel_Vanille– Another new brand working on a salt air and vanilla construct.

Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque Dolceaqua– Another intelligent transparent floral gourmand

Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque Petra– This is the first Masque gourmand perfume.

Masque Milano Ray-flection– Mimosa puffballs on a river of honey.

Monique Lhuiller– Best mainstream floral of 2020

NEZ Hong Kong Oolong A history lesson told through tea.

NEZ Folia– The smell of wet cardboard isn’t supposed to be appealing.

Olfactive Pharmacy BetulaMark Buxton’s interpretation of birch is fabulous.

Olfactive Studio Iris Shot– The best of the three Sepia Collection releases this year.

Zoologist Koala– Hanging out in an Australian treetop munching eucalyptus leaves.

That’s a wrap for 2020.

You can find my overview of the year here.

You can find who I named Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, and Brand of the Year.

Thanks to everyone involved in allowing me to keep writing this entire year.

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur Best of 2020 Part 2: Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, and Brand of the Year

After yesterday’s broad overview, in Part 2 I get very specific naming the best of the year in four categories.

Perfume of the Year: Shalini Iris Lumiere One of the joys of writing about perfume for over a decade is I’ve been able to watch brands develop. My favorite is when a creative director and long-time collaborator find that magic moment when all their hard work produces a transcendent perfume. Shalini has been making fragrance since 2004. In 2020 it made my Perfume of the Year, Shalini Iris Lumiere.

Iris Lumiere is the fifth perfume from fashion designer Shalini and master perfumer Maurice Roucel. I have enjoyed the other four releases a lot. Iris Lumiere took a quantum leap over those. It achieved that by showing me a different version of iris. As mentioned yesterday I write a lot about the powdery or rooty nature of the ingredient. Iris Lumiere showed me something I had never experienced before, an intensely greener version.

It has always been one of M. Roucel’s strengths to find new ways to showcase well-known ingredients. His choice to use galbanum and muguet as green interrogators of orris formed something captivating. It was if a fresh green rhizome had been harvested with moisture dripping off it. Months away from being the dried version we are familiar with. By using the overdose of galbanum it creates a sparkling set of jeweled facets among the irises. The final piece is to shine silvery moonlight on it using frankincense.
M. Roucel has been making perfume for decades this is among his best perfumes ever and not just the Perfume of the Year for 2020.

Perfumer of the Year: Maurice Roucel– It was clear to me heading into the fall that my Perfumer of the Year was going to have the initials MR. Throughout the year it seemed like Maurice Roucel and Mackenzie Reilly kept having a competition in my head. They both worked creatively across every sector. What tipped the balance is M. Roucel did make my Perfume of the Year.

Besides that he also did an artistic composition in NEZ Hong Kong Oolong. Monique Lhuiller was an entirely different version of the mainstream fresh floral.  A Lab on Fire A Blvd. Called Sunset is a fabulous dry leather via California car culture.

I could’ve written a similar resume for Ms. Reilly as her year was also impressive. They say you are judged by who it is you competed against. M. Roucel was pushed all year by one of the most impressive new perfumers we have. In 2020 it was the old master who is the Perfumer of the Year.

Runner-Ups: Fanny Bal, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Josh Meyer, Mackenzie Reilly, and Cecile Zarokian.

Creative Director of the Year: Victor Wong, Zoologist Perfumes– There is no better story in independent perfumery than that of Victor Wong and his Zoologist Perfumes brand. 2019 was an extraordinary year for Mr. Wong including Squid being named the Fragrance Foundation Perfume Extraordinaire at this year’s awards. He entered 2020 with a dilemma. He chose to re-invent one of the flagship perfumes of the brand with a new perfumer. The 2020 version of Bat shows why I hold Mr. Wong in such high esteem. Working with perfumer Prin Lomros they created a different species of bat as the environment was shifted from cave to jungle. It was every bit as enjoyable. He would follow-up with three new releases Sloth, Koala, and Musk Deer. The latter is an expectation shattering take on musk. It is that ability to take chances that makes Mr. Wong my Creative Director of the Year for 2020.

Runner-Ups: Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi of Masque Milano, Carlos Kusubayashi of A Lab on Fire, Natalia Outeda of Frassai, Renaud Salmon of Amouage, and Celine Verleure of Olfactive Studio.

Brand of the Year: Masque MilanoAlessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi are always looking for ways to evolve their successful enterprise. In 2020 this involved creating a new collection called Le Donne di Masque. They re-invented the first two releases of Petra and Dolceaqua before adding Madeleine at the end of the year. This provides a new way of looking at Masque Milano. Just to make sure we didn’t forget the old way Ray-Flection joined the Opera collection. This was another fantastic year for one of the premier brands in artistic perfumery which is why they are Brand of the Year for 2020.

Runner-Ups: Amouage, DSH Perfumes, Frassai, Imaginary Authors, and Zoologist.

My broad overview of 2020 can be found in Part 1 here.

The Top 25 perfumes of 2020 will come tomorrow.

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur Best of 2020 Part 1: Overview

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That 2020 has been an unusual year would be an understatement. None of the fragrance expos. No trips to NYC for perfume events. Instead it turned out to be a different kind of exploration. I’ve been hovering around 650-700 new perfumes tried every year since I started Colognoisseur nearly seven years ago. If you asked me in May if I would be close to that I would’ve been skeptical. Yet when I look at the last line on my 2020 spreadsheet the number reads 634.

One of the reasons it is close to a normal year is I reached out to some new lines for samples. Over the course of the year I was able to delve into new independent perfumers; Jorum Studios, Libertine, Baruti, Christele Jacquemin, and Chronotope. It was a great experience which allowed me to see developing aesthetics in one piece. It was brands like these which provided that fun of finding something new which usually comes from Esxence or Pitti.

One of the trends that seemed to expand dramatically was that of reviewers becoming creative directors of their own perfumes. Most of these were as cynical as the mainstream releases using focus groups to design their fragrances. They just tried to decide what their readers/subscribers liked best based on measured response and made something to reflect that. That’s just a focus group in a different costume. There is a fantastic template for anyone serious about doing this. Just look at Victor Wong of Zoologist. He has gone from Facebook to the Fragrance Foundation Perfume Extraordinaire Award this year. He makes perfumes he likes while trusting there is an audience. So far, he has been right.

Renaud Salmon of Amouage

Amouage went through a big change as new creative director Renaud Salmon took charge. Over the course of the last half of the year M. Salmon reassured me that this important brand is going to do well as it moves in a different direction. I believe it will continue to be one of the key creative brands in perfumery.

This was also a year for some truly odd accords for perfumes to be built upon. One which repeated over and over was the scent of horse. Maison D’Etto’s entire collection is based on horses from creative director Brianna Lipovsky’s life. Ignacio Figueras Palm Beach and Sarah Baker Bascule also brought some thoroughbreds to the party.

Wet cardboard was the centerpiece of Nez 1+1 Folia. Clay pottery formed the nucleus of Jazmin Sarai Fayoum. Freddie Albrighton and Antonio Gardoni challenged me with one of the most difficult fragrances of the year in Douleur!2. It walks right on the edge of unpleasant, which was its intent.

The gourmand style of perfume continues to evolve as 2020 was bookended by Rasei Fort Cielito Lindo and Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque Madeleine. Both finding a new level for the genre.

If there was one thing I realized as I was looking back over the year I must have written a riff on the following a lot this year. “The dual nature of iris as both powdery and rooty was on display”. 2020 is the year of iris. It is also the year of great iris perfumes as you will see as I unveil the list of the best of the year.

I also want to close this overview with a thanks to everyone on the perfume side who assisted me in getting perfume sent to me. I may not have left the house, but the world of perfume showed up on my doorstep daily.

My other thanks are to the readers of this blog. In this ridiculous year of uncertainty writing for you every day was one of the few bits of normalcy which remained for me. I cherish that you choose to share my passion for perfume by dropping by.

I’ll be back tomorrow with my picks for Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director and Brand of the Year. That will be followed by my Top 25 new perfumes of 2020.

Mark Behnke

Can Guerlain Mitsouko and Chanel No. 5 Tell the Future?

Over the past few months I’ve been having a lot of conversations about where the perfume industry goes after this current pandemic is resolved. Thankfully, I had a place to look for some answers. It has been said, “History does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” The book Perfume Legends II by Michael Edwards gives me some clues from the past to think about the future.

Michael Edwards (Photo by Gary Heery)

Perfume Legends II is ostensibly a book about the greatest French feminine perfumes. It covers the story of modern perfumery from 1882’s Fougere Royale through to 2010’s Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Portrait of a Lady. One of the unique aspects of the book is how author Mr. Edwards presents each entry through the words of the creators. Over the past 30 years he has interviewed the creators, perfumers and designers behind each legend. When those responsible for creation are no longer living, his research uncovered their words from interviews and press statements. Each chapter covers the creative process behind the perfume and the bottle. There is plenty to enjoy if you just focus on the juice and the flacon. What struck me as I have read through the book is how it is also a societal history of the beauty industry. I looked toward the book to reveal what happened the last time the world was affected by a pandemic.

That was in 1918 with the onset of the Spanish Flu. It was at its peak during the fall of that year. When I turn to the subsequent years in Perfume Legends II, I find two of the most iconic perfumes of all time; Guerlain Mitsouko and Chanel No. 5.

Mitsouko was released in 1919. Jacques Guerlain had been working on the Guerlain version of a chypre for seven years. In these early days of modern perfumery women wore mostly floral based perfumes. Mitsouko was going to provide them with an alternative. In this chapter it chronicles one of the first changes in the social status of women. 1918 also saw the end of World War I. Women had been stepping into traditionally masculine roles. This was why they weren’t looking for flowers anymore. They wanted a perfume with the same confidence they had found in themselves. Mitsouko was waiting for them.

It is too early to know what changes are happening with social roles in the current situation. Mitsouko tells us there is likely a perfume waiting to embrace that change.

One of the women who embraced the change back then was Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. The longest chapter in Perfume Legends II tells the story of the woman, her fashion sense, and her perfume. The book tells how in the summer of 1920 while summering in Cannes with her friends Misia and Josep Maria Sert she got the idea for a perfume. Mr. Edwards has revealed this story for the first time. It displays the forward thinking of Coco for which she is lauded.

The perfumer behind No. 5, Ernest Beaux, was also a man recovering his life. He had made perfume prior to the war and the pandemic. Afterward he would pick up the pieces of what remained. There is a popular myth that the creation of No. 5 was a mistake born out of pique. Anyone who reads the section on his process will realize something quite different. No. 5 is one of the great pieces of perfume architecture with each piece meticulously placed. Mr. Edwards lays out each step of the process. M. Beaux left nothing to chance.

By the time he was ready to show it to Mlle. Chanel she immediately knew what she had. She also realized that the perfume was the star and asked for a simple bottle to contain it. Throughout the book the stories of the bottles contain some of the most interesting views on the times they were created. Coco wanted No. 5 to stand on its own in the now iconic bottle known the world over.

No. 5 would be the beginning of one of the great perfume collections of our time. It is not hard to think there is a creative mind out there now considering their first move into the fragrance world. It is not hard to believe there is a perfumer out there with some new ideas. Once this pandemic comes to an end maybe they will find each other and create something which rhymes with the past.

Perfume Legends II is full of the rhythms of the history of modern perfumery.

Disclosure: I was compensated by the publisher for this.

Mark Behnke

A Tribute to Michelyn Camen of CaFleureBon

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If there is anything current times have taught me is to let those you care about know it. I’ve written too many remembrances in the last few months. This time I want to share how important Michelyn Camen has been to my writing but also to the communication of perfumery on the tenth anniversary (and a month) of her blog CaFleureBon.

I “met” Michelyn over the internet in 2009 when I answered a question on Basenotes about whether guys wore women’s fragrances. She contacted me and asked me if I wanted to do a guest post for her on Fragrantica. I wrote my very first review on Frederic Malle Geranium pour Homme. From there she asked me to become a regular contributor. A year later in March of 2010 she asked me to help her start a new blog. She called it CaFleureBon. She told me she wanted to cover all aspects of niche and independent perfumery. I was so surprised to be asked but I was also fascinated at being there on the ground floor of trying to build her vision of a “scented salon”. I shared the first day’s post with perfumer Michel Roudnitska’s eloquent editorial on ethical perfumery. Beneath that I did a review of the perfume M. Roudnitska did for Frederic Malle, Noir Epices.

Michelyn and I at the Perfumed Plume Awards

For the next four years I would spend a few hours every day listening to the ideas Michelyn had. Helping her refine them by acting as a sounding board. It was never more fun than when a tangent of a conversation would turn into the seed of an idea in Michelyn’s imagination. I learned that if you give anything enough consideration you can usually find something worthwhile. I’ve never met someone so naturally blessed with the ability to seize upon concepts, turning them into reality.

Together with Ida Meister we grew CaFleureBon into Michelyn’s day one vision. She always knew what, and who, should be in her salon. The list of writers has been impressive; many of them award-winners. I look at the current roster with admiration. I still read everything because CaFleureBon remains relevant a decade on. That is testament to the clarity of her vision.

Michelyn and I at my first Sniffapalooza

When you work on something in the early days you also become friends through the effort. Over time I learned of our shared love of Star Trek, fashion, and urban fantasy among many other things. Michelyn took me on some hysterical adventures. I got my eyebrows plucked. She guided me through my first Sniffapalooza. She sent me to Esxence to represent CaFleureBon. She showed faith in an amateur writer to help make me better. She was so good at that I decided I wanted to start my own blog just because I wanted to write more.

Colognoisseur wouldn’t exist if Michelyn hadn’t shown me what it took to execute a daily blog. The amount of personal joy I get from writing about perfume is because Michelyn saw something in me that she could form into a successful communicator. There are times that the words “thank you” seem inadequate. They shouldn’t be. It is my way of telling you what an amazing person you are, Michelyn.

To her credit she was all ready to have a big tenth anniversary blowout, but these are not the times for that. She is correct but I’m going to celebrate her creativity on my own terms over the next three days. Michelyn has the ability as a creative director to get some incredible fragrances from some of her favorite independent perfumers. I am going to honor everything that she does over these next days as I review DSH Perfumes BIWA, 4160 Tuesdays Dark Queen, and Bogue Profumo OOOH!

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur 2020 Hopes and Wishes

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As has become my tradition I spend the last day of 2019 considering what I hope to see in 2020.

Even though you won’t count me among them I’d like to see more who comment on perfume make the leap to creative direction. One thing this past year has shown me is those who used to be out here in the interwebs can become outstanding creative directors of their own perfume. The key ingredient is putting in the work to do your vision justice. If you need examples of how to do it right Victor Wong of Zoologist, Arielle Weinberg of Arielle Shoshana, or Barbara Herman of Eris Parfums all made some of the best perfumes of 2019 by working hard at getting it right. If you need an example of how not to do it just check out the discount sites. It proves cynicism about fragrance doesn’t only exist in the mass-market sector.

I want even more innovation and boundary busting from the independent perfume community. This one will come off as ungrateful because after a boring 2018 I asked the indies to step it up. If you look back over my Best of 2019 lists, you know I think they did that in a big way. I saw new ideas in aquatics, gourmands, animalic, and chypres all arise from this group of creative minds. I know there must be some ideas for other style-busting concepts percolating out there. Bring them out for 2020. Or in the words of Oliver Twist, “Please sir, I want some more.”

More about the perfume making process from the perfumers. One of the things I’ve enjoyed a lot has been the willingness of many of the independent perfumers to find a way to communicate about their process. Shawn Maher of Chatillon Lux adds a “Scent Notes” blog post accompanying many of his new releases. Dawn Spencer Hurwitz has gotten more interactive as she hosts a weekly Facebook Live where she talks about her perfumes and takes questions live. There are so many ways to remove some of the mystery of perfume making while inviting us in I’d like to see others take advantage of it.

My final wish is for someone to put together a U.S.-Based version of the great Italian perfume expositions. Esxence and Pitti Fragranze are places to be seen on the perfume calendar every year. Nothing similar exists in the US. With the vital American independent perfume community plus New York as one of the world capitals of perfume this should exist. Not sure who I am asking to take the lead on this, but I hope someone gives it a try.

As always, I appreciate everyone who takes the time out of their day to read my words. Happy New Year to everyone. Let’s all step into 2020 full of optimism for another great year of perfume.

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur Best of 2019 Part 3- The Top 25 New Perfumes of 2019

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Just to keep this all in perspective. I tried 734 new perfumes since January 1, 2019. That is about a third of all new perfumes released in the same time frame. It is impossible to try everything although I keep trying. The list of perfumes below represents the best of what I encountered this year. If you want to read more on any of these, the link to the full review is in the name for each perfume on the list.

The Top 10 (Perfume of the Year candidates)

10. Comme des Garcons Copper– The best of the six perfumes released by Comme des Garcons. Perfumer Alienor Massenet created the most mutable fragrance of the year. It never seemed to smell the same from minute-to-minute but all of them were memorable ones.

9. Rubini Tambour SacreAndrea Rubini has assembled an incredible team of Italian creatives to make perfume. Tambour Sacre captured a night of drums in the Horn of Africa by the Perfumer of the Year Cristiano Canali.

8. Marc-Antoine Barrois Ganymede– M. Barrois asked perfumer Quentin Bisch to modify the leather accord they used in their first release B683. Ganymede is one of the best lightweight leather perfumes I’ve ever encountered. The use of immortelle is as eye-opening as the perfume itself.

7. Zoologist SquidVictor Wong had a spectacular year for his Zoologist Perfumes brand. Squid was his take on a deep-water aquatic. Perfumer Celine Barel would find a new way of experiencing the ocean as perfume in the inky depths. In a year of groundbreaking aquatics this was the best of them.  

6. Zoologist Bee– No you’re not seeing double it just shows what a great year this brand had. Mr. Wong worked with perfumer Cristiano Canali on a perfume that flowed like no other perfume I tried this year. To work with the notoriously difficult honey while keeping it from falling into its well-known fallibilities is top-notch perfume making.

5. Nishane Ani– Creative directors Mert Guzel and Marat Katran allowed perfumer Cecile Zarokian to continue to push at the boundaries of gourmand perfumes. Together they produced the best perfume this brand has ever produced by making vanilla the centerpiece of something new.

4. Hiram Green LustreHiram Green has been assembling a collection of rare beauty. That he can wring presence out of an all-natural palette is part of the reason. The other part is a jeweler’s eye when he makes a soliflore rose like Lustre. It glistens like the finest diamond as every facet gives you something new to admire.

3. Providence Perfume Co. Drunk on the MoonCharna Ethier has dissected tuberose. Then she puts it back together as pieces floating on top of a cream sherry accord. Every time I wear this, I admire the audacity it took to do this with the queen of white flowers. Stripped down to her essence she displays even more beauty through the subtlety of it all.

2. Talc d’IUNXOlivia Giacobetti is the ultimate independent perfumer working from a single storefront in Paris; releases are infrequent. At the beginning of the year Talc d’IUNX reminded everyone who started this whole transparent thing before it was a trend. She also reminded everyone there is no other perfumer like her working today. Talc d’IUNX is mesmerizing in its will-o-the-wisp fragility darting through transitions each more beautiful than the last.

1. Chatillon Lux WeinstrasseThe larger reason for why I named it the Best Perfume of 2019 can be found in Part 2. The shorter version is; it is the best perfume based on a wine that I own from the best new independent perfumer, Shawn Maher, I’ve tried in years.

The Rest of the Top 25 in alphabetical order

Aftelier Perfumes Embers & Musk and Forest Bathing– Okay I’m cheating but these two perfumes are actually 11 & 11A on my list. Mandy Aftel made a diptych of night (Embers & Musk) and day (Forest Bathing) in a pine forest.

Arielle Shoshana SundayArielle Weinberg follows up her debut perfume, collaborating again with Cecile Hua, with a next-generation gourmand based on a mixture of matcha tea and horchata. Cue up Lionel Richie and sink into it.

Bogue Douleur! Antonio Gardoni collaborated with Freddie Albrighton to turn the metallic nature of rose oxide into something that deserved that exclamation point at the end of the name.

Chatillon Lux AdmiralShawn Maher makes a freshwater river aquatic inspired by an Art Deco riverboat. If that sounds different it’s because it is.

Cognoscenti Warrior Queen– Perfumer Dannielle Sergent spent 2019 composing perfume differently than she has. Warrior Queen is a multi-layered fragrance which shows Ms. Sergent also has some more layers as a perfumer.

Eris Mxxx. Barbara Herman and perfume Antoine Lie use last year’s Mx. as the foundation for a trio of exquisitely chosen ingredients. It transforms what was good into something great.

Guerlain Embruns D’Ylang– My yearly reminder of why I shouldn’t give up on Guerlain. This time it’s a smoky ylang-ylang that shows me the creativity at the Grand Maison de Parfum may be buried under a pile of mediocrity; but it still remains.

Les Soeurs de Noe Jardin de Macarons– Creative director Nadia Benaisa worked with perfumers Pierre Wulff and Jerome Epinette on her debut collection. This one stood out because is smelled like what I imagine an orris macaron would be.

Masque Milano Kintsugi– Creative directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi had another fantastic year. The first release was a reconstructed chypre from perfumer Vanina Muracciole. The clever concept was by leaving the seams showing they made a contemporary chypre.

Masque Milano Love Kills– Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi asked of rising star Caroline Dumur to make an elegiac rose. She delivered a perfume composed of the fragility of a dried rose in a memory book.

Monsillage Route du Quai– Perfumer Isabelle Michaud gave me the other perspective on a freshwater river aquatic. She captured the colder flow of the St. Lawrence river where she summered as a child. Another reminder that the most creative perfumers can make the most boring styles vital again.

Rasei Fort KolonyaRasei Fort is one of the most inconsistent independent perfumers I have encountered. When he is at his best, the perfume he creates is also one of the best. Kolonya is his remarkable combination of memory and classic cologne into something magical.

Roberto Greco Oeilleres– French photographer Roberto Greco worked for two years with perfumer Marc-Antoine Corticchiato to create an “anti-flower” perfume. It goes back and forth between old school and contemporary in a way which makes it seem equal parts of both.

Senyoko La Tsarine– The best release from a brand I discovered just this year. Joseph and Emilia Berthion have collaborated with perfumer Euan McCall on a remarkable collection with breadth. La Tsarine is inspired by the carnal adventures of Catherine the Great. Rare is the perfume that lives up to that. La Tsarine is unafraid to delve deeply into the concept. A perfume not for the timid.

Strangelove NYC fallintostarsElizabeth Gaynes and Helena Christensen along with perfumer Christophe Laudamiel have created a memorable collection of perfumes which have always enthralled me. fallintostars is the best of them because they use everything they have learned to create a transcendent perfume.

The Next 25 Just Because This Was Such a Good Year

Aether Arts Perfume Burner Perfume No. 10 Chrysalis– Amber Jobin created a perfume of transitions.

April Aromatics Vetiver Coeur– Tanja Bochnig finds the serenity within vetiver

Ariana Grande ThankU, Next– Best bang for your buck perfume of 2019.

Arquiste Misfit– Turns patchouli from head shop to elegant.

Bruno Fazzolari Zdravetz– A unique source of geranium leads to a singular perfume.

Chanel Paris-Riviera– Another fun travel with Coco.

Curata Dulceo– Another evolution of gourmand from a new independent brand.

Floral Street Ylang-Ylang Espresso– Sometimes a perfume delivers what it promises on the label.

Francesca Bianchi The Black Knight– The scent of a noble knight no matter what the color says.

Frapin If by R.K. An homage to India featuring Mysore sandalwood.

Gucci Memoire d’une Odeur– Best mainstream perfume of 2019.

Hermes Un Jardin sur la Lagune– Christine Nagel turns the Jardin series inward.

Imaginary Authors Telegrama– Modern masculine barbershop.

Ineke Jaipur Chai– The smell of a cup of chai while looking out the picture window.

Maison Violet Tanagra– Heritage brand which gets it right.

Marlou Poudrextase– Another musky NSFW perfume.

Memo Winter Palace– The best Oriental from Memo in years.

NARS Audacious– Olivia Giacobetti’s stealth mainstream release.

Phoenicia Perfumes Dark Musk– A truly fascinating musk accord.

Puredistance Gold– A luxurious perfume which lives up to its name.

Rogue Chypre-Siam– Chypre as composed in a Thai restaurant.

Ryan Richmond Rich Mess– Crazy kinetic perfume.

Sarah Baker Charade– Old school elegance in a modern setting.

Thierry Mugler Angel Eau Croisiere– The only perfume which should have had a little umbrella in it.

Zaharoff Signature pour Homme– A great perfume for a man who wants only one on his dresser.

I close all of this with the same phrase I began it with. 2019 was the greatest year for independent perfumery ever. I hope 2020 will be even better.

Mark Behnke

Best of 2019 Prologue

Best of 2019 Part 1 Overview

Best of 2019 Part 2 Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Driector, and Brand of the Year