Colognoisseur 2021 Hopes and Wishes


Ever since I started Colognoisseur I spend the last day of the year looking forward to the next year with some hopes and wishes.

This is what I’m talking about (DSH and Me pre-pandemic)

It is impossible not to start with the effect of the pandemic. The biggest thing I hope for next year is to see all my friends in fragrance in person…..and hug them! I am by nature a hugger, but I have also realized how much it is a part of my own well-being. That connection can’t be replaced by all the tech in the world. So beware once we can be together again there is a hug with your name on it.

Except I want to hatch perfume brands not chickens

Last year I wished for an American counterpart to the large European perfume expos. In a year where we had none, I’ve realized what important events they are for emerging brands and buyers. There should be a way to provide a similar experience in lieu of just the big trade shows. I am hoping there is some kind of incubator strategy which can help out that appears next year.

Except with perfume instead of guitars

Going into the New Year I am very excited about two powerhouse collaborations coming. The Masque Milano maestros Brun and Tedeschi are working with Mackenzie Reilly. While Victor Wong and Dawn Spencer Hurwitz are teaming up for Zoologist Snowy Owl. This is my version of an all-star perfume jam times two. You would think that is enough, but I have a couple of other dream teams I’d like to see. I would love to see Christophe Laudamiel take some of the incredible oils from one of the small-batch distillers and see what he would make of that. I would also love to see new Amouage creative director Renaud Salmon and perfumer Cecile Zarokian go for it with a gourmand that sets a new standard. Yes I am a greedy guy.

We need these to return next year

Finally because of the pandemic the Art & Olfaction Awards are taking this year off. Being a judge over the last few years has been one of my favorite parts of being involved in the fragrance community. I hope, and expect, they return for 2021. The awards provided a much-needed spotlight on the independent artistic perfume community. I hope that light will shine again next year.

As always, my final words of 2020 are thanks to all of you who choose to read my words about fragrance. It has never been more gratifying than in this crazy year. Happy New Year!

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Perris Monte Carlo Cedro di Diamante- Beauty in Precision

One of the debates I remembered having with my friends who liked jazz was over trumpet player Wynton Marsalis. There was general disdain among some over the precision of his playing. The thesis was jazz needs to be more spontaneous. Wynton was so precise it couldn’t be contemporaneous at the same time. I was always on the other side of this argument. I appreciated the ability to pick out each piece of a greater whole as it was being put together. When you attempt to be as close to perfect as you can be in any artistic effort it can come off as cold. I find this kind of effort exhilarating because a single flaw can cause it to fall apart. There are perfume equivalents as Perris Monte Carlo Cedro di Diamante shows.

Gian-Luca Perris

At the end of the summer Perris Monte Carlo released the “Italian Citrus Collection”. Creative director Gian-Luca Perris collaborated with perfumer Luca Maffei on all three perfumes in the collection. Two of the three, Bergamotto di Calabria and Mandarino di Sicilia, were surprisingly good. The third, Cedro di Diamante was amazing. One reason was Sig. Maffei worked with some of the more modern ingredients to create a citrus perfume which comes together into a brilliantly precise tower of perfume.

Luca Maffei

It starts with a CO2 extraction of the titular Italian version of citron. It enhances the floral spicy nature under the tart lemon. Sig. Maffei uses another CO2 extraction of lemon verbena. This provides a shimmering green-citrus effect over the early accord. The spicy part of the cedro is enhanced with ginger, cardamom, Szechuan pepper, and CO2 extraction of baie rose. When I speak of precision this heart accord and the way it interacts with the top accord is Exhibit A. I have spoken of how mutable Szechuan pepper is. Sig. Maffei wanted it to behave in a specific way. To get that, it is the other three spices which essentially tune it to what he wants. The ginger pulls the fresh aspect. The baie rose finds the green herbal-ness. The cardamom, particularly, finds the thread of citrus and uses it to attach to the top accord. This continues in the base as cedar, oakmoss, and white musks form a solid foundation for this tower to rest upon.

Cedro di Diamante has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

There may be some who find Cedro di Diamante such a shiny surface it is hard to embrace. I’m not there. It is easy for me to swoon over the beauty in precision this perfume exemplifies.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I received from Bloomingdale’s.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Dear George


There is a hazard to knowing too much about the process of writing that goes into releasing a popular book. The rapid, and insatiable, information flow doesn’t allow an author to hide away and finish their book. The more popular the author the worse this is. It is something which is never mentioned enough when discussing J.K. Rowling. Writing the most popular book series in the entire world she managed to finish all seven books in ten years. Especially after the third one was released, for the last four books, through the incessant nattering and theorizing Ms. Rowling found the ability to stay on schedule providing readers with a complete story.

George R.R. Martin

The more typical timeline is what we see with author George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series which is the inspiration for HBO’s “Game of Thrones”. He released the first book of a planned seven in 1996 and we’re still waiting for book six 22 years later. This is also an atypical situation because his story has gotten beyond the books in the television series. Which means the visual version is going to tell us how it all ends before Mr. Martin has the opportunity to do so.

Because of the popularity of these books he also is facing the issue of people who will not allow him to live his life on his own terms. Whenever he posts on his official blog there are always a few responses along the line of; “would you get back to work on the book”. I was going to add the word “please” but these requests are rarely that polite.

There is an even more worrisome level of commentary on the speed of Mr. Martin’s writing that includes the concept that he won’t live long enough to finish as he will turn 70 this September. There is some precedence for this worry because author Robert Jordan did not live long enough to finish his “Wheel of Time” series. I didn’t care because he told a young author, Brandon Sanderson, everything that was going to happen, bringing the series to a satisfying conclusion.

I don’t worry about Mr. Martin’s health. But I think some of getting the ending right might be part of his delay in writing. About a year from now the final season of “Game of Thrones” will have aired. At that point we will know who wins, and loses, the Game of Thrones. It will be the same ending as in the books because Mr. Martin shared it with the producers. I think that has to be monumentally difficult for Mr. Martin. Some of the biggest twists in the story have been shown visually before hitting the printed page. I imagine how much different it is to write out a delightful twist knowing you are the only one who knows it and can’t wait to see how the readers will enjoy it. In the current book he is writing we’ve probably already seen every major twist on the TV screen. He has become a kind of appendix to his own series as the book fills in background and provides texture, but the plot has passed it by. Doesn’t mean I won’t devour it when it comes out, but I will know what’s going to happen; at least the big things.

Which leads me to a short open letter to the author.

Dear George,

Put down the book and leave it alone. Come back to it later; or never. Your story is going to be finished on the screen. Thrill me with something new. Something which excites you to write. Not something which I believe has become an onerous chore. You have one of the most amazing imaginations in fantasy literature. Having it chained to filling in backstory for the next few years is a waste.

I will get your ending on the screen in a year. Make me a new beginning. Just don’t sell the film option until you are done.

Your reader,


Mark Behnke

Arden, Lauder, Lauren: Red (Door), White (Linen) and (Polo) Blue

It’s July 4th in the US; the day we celebrate our declaration of independence from England in 1776. When it comes to perfume American perfumery didn’t have to declare independence; but it surely had to distinguish itself from the French, English, and Italian brands which founded modern perfumery. I thought I’d spend this Independence Day celebrating three of the foundational brands of American perfumery with one each for the colors of the US flag.

Elizabeth Arden Red Door

Born in Canada but emigrated to the US after dropping out of nursing school. When she got to New York City the young Florence Nightingale Graham created her brand name Elizabeth Arden. She would found her beauty salon called Red Door which had one you entered through. As she expanded her beauty empire through the first half of the 20th century that symbol became synonymous with a sophisticated style of beauty.

Ms. Arden made a moderate attempt at adding fragrance to the brand prior to her death in 1966 but they never caught on. It would be in 1989, under the Revlon acquisition of the name, that Elizabeth Arden would make its mark on perfume with Blue Grass and Red Door.

Perfumer Carlos Benaim created an opulent floral bouquet with a little bit of everything. What made it interesting was the use of honey to coat those florals before finishing on a chypre-ish base. This is a product of its time with a blowsy over-the-top style. In truth, it’s also American in its desire to stuff everything in.

Estee Lauder White Linen

When it comes to American Perfumery it is really all about Estee Lauder. Her introduction of Youth Dew in 1953 would begin the change of American men buying perfume for women to women buying for themselves. Ms. Lauder presided over one of the great fragrance brands. Estee Lauder has become one of the largest sellers of perfume in the world. It could arguably be said that it was the success of the Estee Lauder brand from 1969 until 1978 that set the standard for what was to come. White Linen was the perfume which finished that early run.

White Linen was brilliantly imagined as the smell of fresh-laundered sheets drying on a clothesline on a sun-filled day. Perfumer Sophia Grojsman would harness all of the fresh notes in the perfumer’s array at the time. It would begin the trend of fresh and clean perfumes popularity which still exists forty years later making it a perennial bestseller. All for the memory of a summer day on the grass watching the sheets be hung under the sun; perfectly American.

Ralph Lauren Polo Blue

Ralph Lauren has been one of the leading American fashion designers since he started selling his ties in 1967. One year later he would introduce his first menswear line with the iconic logo of a polo player at full gallop. In 1978 he would put that logo on a green bottle of men’s perfume called Polo. That has become one of the greatest selling men’s fragrances of all time. Which of course led to numerous flankers. The one released in 2002 was called Polo Blue.

Polo Blue was composed by original Polo perfumer Carlos Benaim working with perfumer Christophe Laudamiel. By the time Polo Blue was released the aquatic craze was in full swing and this was the Polo version of it.

What makes Polo Blue stand out is there is a lot of the herbal quality of the original added to the fresh aquatic accords. It made it less generic even though it seemed like a hybrid of two different men’s styles. It is a surprise to me how well it works. Then again Mr. Lauren has always been happy to give American men what they want.

Disclosure: These reviews are based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

The Scent of Christmas Past


One of the things those of us who love perfume talk about are “scent memories”. The concept that a smell can connect with a memory and bring an entirely personal subtext to fragrance. One ingredient which does this for me is gardenia. My grandmother had fresh-cut gardenias floating in bowls of water spread throughout her gardenia bush-surrounded Florida pine house. I can’t smell a good gardenia without hearing her voice and seeing her face.

Then this summer, as part of a project I am working on, I was going through vintage formulas of different Guerlains. When I hit the late 1950’s version of Mitsouko Eau de Cologne I had something more than a memory wash over me. I was transported fifty years backward so strongly it felt like a virtual reality had settled over me. What I was remembering so vividly was getting ready to go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve sometime in the late 1960’s. It was so vital I stopped what I was doing and wrote it all out before it faded away. Even thought it was the middle of July I realized I had written my Christmas Day 2017 post.


I stood at the doorway to my parent’s bedroom. In my hand was my first real tie. My excitement on attending Midnight Mass was making my fingers fumble the perfect Windsor knot. As I looked in my mother was seated at her dressing table. She had some candles lit while she peered into the halo of electric light around her mirror. For a moment I was watching her without her knowing. My mother was always one of the most assured people I knew. She made decisions without ambivalence. She also stood up and took responsibility for poor choices. As I had a few seconds to look at her I felt like she was thinking deeply about something. She was coming to a conclusion about something. Before the process completed she looked up.

All children will tell you the smile of a parent happy to see you is a joyous thing. On Christmas Eve that smile feels like a gift. As I received this present I held out my hand with the tie. The smile widened a bit and she said, “Let me finish here and I’ll help you.”

She was still in her pink terrycloth robe and I had caught her at the end of her preparation. All that was left was adding her perfume. My mother only wore two perfumes for as long as I’ve known her. Guerlain Shalimar and Guerlain Mitsouko. She owned the round “bull’s-eye” bottles; red for Shalimar and green for Mitsouko. They had crystal pointed stoppers which were picking up the candlelight behind them. As she reached for the one with the green circle she tipped it, so it would get some on the stopper. She pulled the stopper. On the end was a drop of liquid picking up facets of flame and filament. She drew it to the hollow of her neck where that drop spread onto her skin. She rubbed the stopper against both wrists then returned it to its resting place in the neck of the bottle. She closed her eyes while taking a breath. When they opened a smile accompanied it. She beckoned me over.

She sat me on a stool in front of her chair as we looked into her vanity mirror. She leaned forward as we drew the tie around my upturned collar. I was surrounded by the love of my mother and the scent of Mitsouko. My turn to close my eyes and breathe in.

My mother could have tied the tie for me but instead she carried me through it with her voice. I got it right on the first try. With a final smile at me in the mirror she sent me off to wait for her to finish getting dressed. While I was waiting I realized a bit of the Mitsouko from her wrist had made it onto the tie. It seemed perfect.


That’s what came from my Mitsouko fever dream. I loved going to Midnight Mass with my family. The smell of the incense off the censers. The fanfare from the trumpets. The Latin words said in such a rhythm I knew what was being said without knowing the language. Underneath it all I would be sitting on my knees in the pew under my mother’s arm surrounded by Mitsouko most of all.

This is what makes me continue to love perfume.

Mark Behnke

‘Twas The Night Before Christmas: The Last Flacon


My Christmas Eve tradition over the last eight years has been to put a perfumed point atop Clement Clarke Moore’s “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”. Two years ago, I was inspired by the recent Star Wars release to make a kind of quest out of it. This year I am again inspired by this most recent Star Wars entry and imagine a perfume to be the spark which lights the fire.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

Episode VIII

The Last Flacon

It is Christmas Eve in Poodlesville.

Colognoisseur has lost his mojo.

He has found his inspiration in scented things to be at an all-time low. He knows he is just one brilliant perfume away from finding the way back to his joy. As he looks to the skies with a silent plea he heads to bed….

Walking through the silent house I looked at the stockings, hung so neatly. As I turned off the bubble lights on the Christmas tree I smiled at the poodles curled up, breathing deeply. Mrs. C sleepily adjusted her kerchief. I had just removed my fedora wondering if there was something out there which would return my passion to me; when an incredible racket was heard outside.

I rushed to the picture window to see a silhouette pass across the full moon. I rubbed my eyes because it couldn’t be what I thought it was. All doubt disappeared as a hearty voice called to the reindeer pulling the sleigh. Scent Nick called out, “Now Shalimar! Now, Fracas! Now No. 19 and Chergui! On Rose 31! On Caravelle Epicee! On Mugler Cologne and Sel de Vetiver! Head for the roof!”

The Last Flacon

As I heard the hooves settle on the roof, I looked at the fireplace. Scent Nick whooshed into existence in front with a balsamic air about him. He was dressed as expected in a red coat and pants trimmed with white fur. The pack on his back seemingly was full of bottles as they tinkled against each other. His eyes sparkled like the finest jasmine. His dimples were as merry as lilacs in May. His cheeks were twin spots of Damascene rose. His nose a ripe raspberry. He looked at me with a smile surrounded by a beard as white as snow.

Hope was rising within my battered soul as he pulled the pipe from his mouth and let out a belly laugh which pulled from the tips of his toes to the top of his cap. He was saying “Ho, ho, ho!” but my ears were hearing “Eau, eau, eau!” As our eyes connected I could feel magic thickly swirling around us. He reached into his pack and pulled out a simple crystal flacon which hummed with potential. My eyes looked at it with hope.

Was this it? Was this The Last Flacon? The perfume to bring me back? He swiftly dashed the stopper off and poured it over my head. I was surrounded by hints of every perfume I’ve ever loved in a scented whirlwind of joy.

We hadn’t said a thing and before I could break the silence he was gone up the chimney. With a whistle the reindeer launched into the air. I watched them fly away. Then before he disappeared completely he exclaimed, “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” With a heart filled with joy I laid down next to Mrs. C happier than I had been in a long time.

First, there is nothing about the malaise in this story that is true. My daily writing for Colognoisseur continues to be one of the great joys of my life. My interactions with readers fill my heart on a near daily basis. As I finish my fourth year I am more grateful than I can ever express.

As always to everyone I wish all of you the most magical of Holiday seasons. If you’re finding yourself in need of a little lift keep an ear peeled for Scent Nick he might have a Last Flacon for you, too.

Mark Behnke

Chandler Burr on Creative Directing Etat Libre D’Orange You or Someone Like You


At last October’s Sniffapalooza Fall Ball Chandler Burr showed up with a surprise on Sunday. He revealed that he had been working as the creative director on a new fragrance and wanted to share a sneak preview. The new fragrance is Etat Libre D’Orange You or Someone Like You.

The press release for You or Someone Like You gives you an idea of what Mr. Burr was looking for:

“There is an Englishwoman who doesn’t exist. Her name is Anne Rosenbaum, and I created her in my novel “You Or Someone Like You.” She lives, with her movie executive husband, in a house high in the blue air of the Hollywood Hills, just off Mulholland Drive, overlooking Los Angeles above the 101.

I’m fascinated by LA, this strange dream factory that exists in its eternal, relentless present tense, its otherworldly beauty both effortlessly natural and ingeniously artificial. A movie that makes movies. Palm trees, the symbol of LA, aren’t natural there. They were imported, placed in the hills, “but then,” Anne observes to you, “so was I.”

Los Angeles’ smells mesmerize, the astringent mint/green of eucalyptus, wild jasmine vines unselfconsciously climbing the stop signs, catalyzed car exhaust, hot California sun on ocean water (although “You” contains no jasmine or eucalyptus; if you need to know what it’s made of, “You” is not for you).

When Etat Libre d’Orange approached me about creative directing, my perfumer Caroline Sabas and I created not a “perfume” — people in Los Angeles don’t wear perfume – but a specific scent, the scent someone like Anne would wear, an Angelino Englishwoman high in the hills in the blue air.”

I had the chance to get a little more information from Mr. Burr on the perfume he calls “You”. First, I asked the obvious why did he choose now to take on creative direction. He responded, “The moment I started at the New York Times I was frequently asked, "Are you going to creative direct/ create a scent/ collection of scents/ perfume brand?" The Times would have, correctly, forbidden it had I asked, but I had no intention — I was a critic. Frankly I didn’t have any interest. My focus was and is the scent artists. And for years I never wanted to creative direct a perfume. I was while working at the Times getting to know the Etat collection, which I found and find just extraordinary, along with the Comme des Garcons collection the most daring, aesthetics-forward, balls out art-centric scent works in the world. Tilda Swinton's agent called to say Tilda was interested in creative directing a scent, and Etienne was the instant and most natural person to put her in touch with. and I talked on and off about working together somehow. But then I was at the Museum of Arts and Design as a scent art curator, and for obvious ethical reasons it was still off the table that I'd direct a scent.

After I'd left MAD, Etienne called and said he's read my novel You Or Someone Like You, that he liked the title, and proposed we create a scent using the novel's title. That I creative direct it. The concept came instantly. My novel's narrator is a woman named Anne. She's an Englishwoman who long ago married an American guy, now a movie studio exec. They have one son, Sam. She has a Ph.D. in Romantic Literature and is a voracious reader. Anne is extremely private, reserved. She's perceived as a cool customer by most people, and she is with everyone not her husband and son. She lives in the Hollywood Hills — on Macapa Drive, if you want to google map it — above the 101 and overlooking the city. She lives in contemporary Los Angeles. What my (brilliant) perfumer Caroline Sabas has created is the scent Anne would wear.”

Mr. Burr has described fragrances throughout his career as belonging to different schools. When I asked what school, he was aiming for he said, “Luminism, Minimalism, and contemporary Romanticism. I started with exactly this aesthetic mix in mind.”  

This lead me to asking what perfumes inspired “You”, and you, in the process which lead into his long-held belief (one I disagree with) that discussing notes devalues the art, “Of course– Mugler Cologne, Calyx, Jardin sur le Nil are probably the most important. There are others, but their names mention raw materials, and I really–really–am not going to go anywhere near this fucking reductionism of scent works to their materials. It's extraordinarily stupid. You don't give a sense of a new musical work, say something by Max Richter, by saying "It's in D major, 4/4 time, it has among other instruments oboes and violins and violas and flutes, and the notes include D, E, F#, G, A, B♭, and C." That would be idiotic. We say, "It's contemporary Minimalism that draws on Glass and, more, Reich, but Richter is also strongly influenced by the minimalist Romanticism of Satie." If we're going to describe fragrances in a truly intelligent, sophisticated way rather than the reductionist "This building has cement, steel, glass, plastic", it's going to be by using intelligent analogies.”

I finished my interview with a question I am always interested in, how did he know they were finished? “"Finished" is equal to "perfect," which you rarely get to. The mod of "You" that we chose was one that Caroline, our Givaudan evaluator Audrey Barbara, Etienne, and others at Etat loved. My personal favorite was slightly different in one specific way. But we had a long conversation about it, and I trust them, so I decided that we'd go with that one. It doesn't bother me because, I don't know, I guess I just don't think in this case that my perception and taste is perfect and mandatory. Part of it was that Etienne really felt the mod we chose had an Etat aspect to it. He's the creative director of the collection, so that's a pretty compelling reason from my point of view.”

I am looking forward to wearing “You” and should have a review up soon. My thanks to Mr. Burr for taking the time to answer my questions.

Mark Behnke

If You Like Creed Aventus Will You Like This?

In the corner drugstore near where I grew up the fragrance selection was populated by a bunch of similar looking aluminum canisters. The only thing which differed were two words the rest was the same. What was there was “If you like Fahrenheit You’ll love Celsius” or something like that. I don’t know if they exist anymore but I have been reminded of them often because if there is a frequent e-mail I receive is if I think a particular perfume is similar to Creed Aventus.

Among a group of perfume lovers Creed Aventus is the equivalent of Love Potion No. 9. If you read through the posts on the forums you might also think the same. I can’t think of any other currently produced perfume which is as analyzed as Aventus is. There are whole posts on the variations in different lot numbers. I’m not sure the Rosetta Stone has been as intently studied as much as Aventus has.

I am a fan of Aventus it is one of the few Creeds of which I own a bottle of. I think it stands out among the other Creed releases as being unique which might explain some of its popularity. One of the reasons that people want to know if there is a knockoff of Aventus out there is Creed is a luxury line with a price tag to match. If you could find a perfume which was close enough for a fraction of the price that would be great; which is why I get e-mails. Which is why I am doing this post. Because I just want to point to the link from now on. Here is my Buyer’s Guide on the Creed Aventus clones I am aware of.

Al Haramain L’Aventure is the one with the name that reminds me the most of those old drugstore canisters. As far as Aventus goes it must replace higher quality natural materials with cheaper alternatives, which is true of all of these. For L’Aventure the black currant is here but the pineapple and apple are replaced by a lot of lemon. Then smoke careens through the heart down to a very generic finish. Verdict: If you like Aventus, You Won’t Like L’Aventure.

Photograph by Daisuke Takakura

Armaf Club Nuit de Intense is a better version as the apple and pineapple are present but to keep costs down the concentrations are also minimized. If I spray a lot it is almost similar enough in the early going. The use of the smoky synthetics is better blended here but the floral contrast in Aventus is missing in action in da Club. The base is, actually, a pretty good simulation. The biggest drawback is the lack of longevity as it was gone from my skin in less than six hours. Verdict: If you like Aventus, You Might like Club Nuit de Intense. Especially if the florals in Aventus aren’t your favorite part.

Afnan Supremacy Silver throws a matador’s flag at the fruity opening with a top accord that is barely there. It goes to a faithful reproduction of the rose-jasmine and birch-patchouli heart. The base is also close to the original, too. Verdict: If you like Aventus, You Might Like Supremacy Silver. Especially if the fruity top notes in Aventus aren’t your favorites.

Parfums Vintage Pineapple Vintage gives you a clue where they are going within the name. It is my favorite of these four because of the incredibly vibrant pineapple note in it. That pineapple is the star of the early going and only after a few minutes does the apple, black currant, and apple show up but because of the strength of the pineapple they are significantly dialed down. The smoke is barely present here while the rose and jasmine go well with the juicy fruitiness. The sweet base also fits well. Verdict: If You Like Aventus, You Might Like Pineapple Vintage. Especially if the birch notes in Aventus aren’t your favorite part.

Final Verdict: There is nothing in the list above which is a fraction as good as Creed Aventus. They are credible clones accentuating different aspects of the Aventus architecture. If I had to pick one, it would be Pineapple Vintage because it was the best overall perfume of the four.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle of Creed Aventus I purchased and samples of the other four also purchased.

Mark Behnke

What Do We Know and When Do We Know It?


I have just completed my job as shortlisting judge for The Art and Olfaction Awards Independent Category. I spent a month evaluating a few entries at a time each day. The process was blind as all the fragrances were in identical glass vials. I put some on a strip and some on a patch of skin and worked my way through all of them. Just like last year sniffing perfume stripped of context was an interesting exercise. I put down a score for each entry before I read the supplied description. I would then sniff it again and what was funny was with that bit of information my perception was changed a bit. Over the month, I was struck by the impact the words could have on my perception. The scores I handed in were the blind ones but there were several moments where what I thought I had perceived turned out to be something else. One of the things I love about science and scientists is these questions can be shown to exist, or not, by a properly constructed study.

That study was published in September 2016 from the team of Dr. Camille Ferdenzi at the Lyon Neuroscience Research Center in France. (Camille Ferdenzi; Chemical Senses, 2016; bjw098 DOI: 10.1093/chemse/bjw098 ) In her study she was looking for cultural and semantic links. To achieve this, she gathered two sets of 20 subjects (10 men/10women) from Quebec and France. That was the cultural part French speaking groups from North America and Europe. After being connected to many devices to determine their physical reactions the group was given a set of six essential oils. Two of each which were hypothesized to be culturally relevant to each group and two which were culturally neutral. They smelled each set one time without being told what they were and another time after identifying each oil. They smelled them for 60 seconds each from the same distance. The choices were for Canada-specific: maple and wintergreen; for France-specific: lavender and anise; the neutral choices were strawberry and rose.

Dr. Camille Ferdenzi

The cultural component had some interesting results. Wintergreen was seen as pleasant by the Canadians reminding them of candy; for the French it reminds them of medicinal products. Anise was identified as such by the French but the Canadians called it licorice and again associated it with candy because in North America that is the most prevalent example of anise. The maple was more favorably rated by the Canadians as was the lavender by the French but not by big margins. The rose and strawberry achieved similar scores from both groups. These are interesting preliminary findings on the cultural aspect.

What I found most interesting was the effect knowing what it is you’re smelling had on all the subjects.  In the unlabeled experiment the subjects sniffed much more deeply; taking in more sniffs. Once the oils were identified that process was significantly curtailed as the subjects now had a name on which to thang that smell. The researchers mention that once identified there needed to be less information gathering via smell. The other physical reaction was a decrease in heart rate between the two samplings. The researcher’s hypothesis is the desire to identify the unlabeled samples causes an increase to the autonomous nervous system which is reflected by the increased heartbeat. Once the subjects knew what they were smelling they relaxed into enjoying the pleasant smells reducing their heart rate.

I did not have any monitoring of my vital signs while judging this year but I would not be surprised to see similar results if I had been. What this brings up is the way we use note lists as perfume lovers. Those become the identifiers for us to relax and look for as we experience a new fragrance. After judging this year and now considering the study above I think what we know and when we know it influences how much we enjoy a new perfume.

Mark Behnke

Perfume for Uncertain Times


I am not sure if there are ever “Certain Times” but I am surely acquainted with “Uncertain Times”. One of the things that happens to everyone is that in those moments of uncertainty we look to create certainty in the things which give us pleasure. For me the last few months have had a high amount of variability. Many of the relationships in my life are changing; for better for worse it is too early to know. All that I know is that there are more question marks then there have been for a while.

As I said this is when that which gives me pleasure is meant to be balm for the turbulence. That has seemingly changed too. In the past, I’ve managed to use my love of games, literature, or music to pick me up. This time those aren’t working as well as they have previously. What has been doing the trick has been perfume.

I’ve never really relied on perfume for this kind of comfort before. Yes, there are snuggly comfort scents which are similar to a fuzzy blanket but that is just feeling warm not necessarily less stressed. What allowed me to let perfume to soothe my soul was a classic aromatherapy formula for relaxation, lavender.

I had been having trouble sleeping waking up after three or four hours and staying awake until dawn. As part of a project I was spending an evening with Guerlain Jicky. When I say spending an evening I mean anointed with many sprays looking for nuance by overdosing myself with it. Like the idea of virtual reality I was inside an invisible orb of scent. Poking around with my senses as fascinated with the template of one of the earliest modern perfumes as I would be with a video game. Then covered in Jicky I went to sleep and slept for eight solid hours for the first time in weeks. I awoke refreshed with the remnants of the perfume the first thing I smelled in the morning.

Since that evening, I have been spending more intimate, contemplative time with my favorite perfumes. I have realized that the comfort I am looking for comes from the great perfumes. I’ve spent more time trying to understand the subtler construction techniques that my favorite perfumers use. What I’ve also learned is that everything eventually falls apart. The question is can it be used to build something new? I’m not sure I have that particular answer yet. What I do know is the art of perfumery is providing a place for me to elevate my psyche and calm my furrowed brow. That is as a good a prescription for the present as I can ask for.

Mark Behnke