Under the Radar: Jo Malone Nutmeg & Ginger- The Original Niche Holiday Perfume

As we approach the completion of the first twenty years of this century I have been peeking backward. It reminds me of the days when I was cycling, and I would start pedaling up a gradual grade. After some time I would glance over my shoulder in surprise at how far I had climbed. Because I am focused on the newest things, I need something to make me look back to see how far niche perfumery has come. Even though they are famous brands today they all started at the bottom of a hill they didn’t know if they could climb. Which is why I want to mention some of the first releases in those lines in this column. Jo Malone Nutmeg & Ginger could be said to be the first Holiday Limited Edition niche perfume.

Anyone who knows perfume knows about Jo Malone. They were one of the first big niche perfume brands to have large-scale success. Where they started in 1990 was someplace quite different.

Jo Malone was an aesthetician working in London. In appreciation for her first 20 clients she decided to make a special fragrant present. A Festive Season treat built around the spices of nutmeg and ginger. Even thirty-plus years ago the word got around and in 1990 she would release the first Jo Malone perfume, Nutmeg & Ginger. In so many ways right from the start the brand aesthetic was in place. It is quite amazing to realize how this simple perfume doesn’t feel outdated. It feels just like it did in the beginning, a scented Holiday treat.

It is a perfume built around the two named ingredients each filled out into accords. Ginger is flanked by lemon and neroli. They provide a softening effect to ginger which can be too zingy. They add a citrusy floral wreath around it. The nutmeg is given cinnamon and clary sage as its partners. The cinnamon and nutmeg conjure up Holiday cookies while the sage gives a green holly-like effect. A lovely creamy sandalwood wraps it all up in a sweet creamy woody embrace.

Nutmeg & Ginger has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

I know Jo Malone as a brand is not Under the Radar, but I suspect few of you have thought of Nutmeg & Ginger for a while. That makes it worthy of being given some current attention. Especially if you’re looking for a good fragrance to wear during the Holidays. Just like it was created for thirty years ago.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Kristiansand New York- One Man One Bottle

One of the frequent questions I get is from a man who doesn’t want to own a lot of colognes. He ideally wants a single bottle that is versatile enough for all occasions. Even someone like me for whom the idea of one bottle sends a chill down my spine can appreciate the request. I was recently reminded on Facebook of a great example of this style of perfume that debuted ten years ago, Kristiansand New York.

I met the co-founders Britt Hovde Ross and Elisabeth Steen both of whom are Norwegian. They wanted to make a perfume that would capture the dichotomy of Norway and New York City. Together with perfumer Pierre Constantin-Gueros they create something which reflects both inspirations.

Elisabeth Steen and Britt Hovde Ross

It begins in Norway with a back to nature top accord of sage and green pepper. It is that second ingredient which has made this stand out over the last ten years. M. Constantin-Gueros uses it to give a vegetal undertone to the stridency of the sage. There are a lot of herbal beginnings to colognes this is unlike most of them. It gets more recognizable with a lavender and cedar heart. This feels like the transition between sophisticated NYC and Norway with the slightly powdery lavender portraying the former and the cedar the latter. It goes full Big Apple with a white musk and amber base accord.

Kristiansand New York has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

As I mentioned this is one of those extremely good choices for everything from office to gym to clubbing. It is also a nice choice if you want a good cologne that few others have. When I say this is Under the Radar it is deeply hidden. As far as I can tell it is for sale at only two places: the Kristiansand New York website and Beverly Hills Perfumery. It is a great choice for someone in the upcoming Holidays. Especially if you have one man who wants one bottle.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar Naomi Goodsir Parfums Bois d’Ascese- The Haze of Woodsmoke

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In the morning I take the dogs out the back gate onto a path through a forest of birch trees. One of the ways I mark the transition from summer to fall is the smell of woodsmoke on that walk. As the mornings gain a little chill there are a set of houses in the distance which fire up their wood stoves. The sunlight slices through the haze. I have a perfume which captures this perfectly; Naomi Goodsir Parfums Bois d’Ascese.

Bois d’Ascese was one of the first two releases by Australian hatmaker Naomi Goodsir in 2012. Along with co-creative director Renaud Coutaudier they collaborated with perfumer Julien Rasquinet. Ever since then the brand has released three more fragrances. Every one of them have been among the best perfumes the year they were released. Because they are a brand which releases perfume infrequently it is easy for them to fall off the radar. To put them on your radar I will let Bois d’Ascese introduce you to it, as it did me.

When talking to Ms. Goodsir and M. Coutaudier they have an uncompromising vision which they will take their time to realize. M. Rasquinet was early in his career and was just beginning to show his skills off. Bois d’Ascese exemplifies this because they use one of the most common ingredients, cade oil, as the smoky component. I’ve smelled way too many smoky perfumes where the cade oil turns into choking billowing clouds of smoke. This creative team takes that same ingredient to a lighter place where it is that morning woodsmoke haze I recognize.

The way the cade oil is given that effect is through a precise amount of incense. It gives a foundation for the cade oil to not have to carry all the weight of a woodsmoke accord. That keeps it with a consistently strong but not overpowering presence. The woods come into focus through oakmoss, tobacco, and labdanum. This is the smell of birch trees on an autumn morning.

Bois d’Ascese has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Bois d’Ascese is one of my favorite smoky perfumes I own. It has engaged me ever since I tried it eight years ago. If you like smoky perfumes it should be on your radar. Naomi Goodsir Parfums should be there because this is the epitome of what independent perfumery can be.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Caron Le Troisieme Homme- Lavender Power

One of the ongoing tragedies in fragrance is the slow marginalization of Caron. When I slid down the perfume rabbit hole Caron was one of the first brands I connected with. Recently it has become more difficult to find because of the slow contraction of places to buy them. One of the most well-known is Caron Pour un Homme. If there is a place where my enjoyment of lavender fragrances began it is probably here. As much as that classic is near perfect. In 1985 Caron wanted to make a modern version called Le Troisieme Homme.

This came about when the brand was acquired by new owners. They wanted a new masculine lavender perfume. Perfumer Akiko Kamei was asked to deliver a fragrance that felt current to 1985. These were the days of fougere powerhouses. Mme Kamei wanted to explore other sources of intensity using lavender as the keynote.

Akiko Kamei

It begins with a more substantial citrus accord headed by lemon. This isn’t sunlight through the trees but more focused through a magnifying glass. Waiting for it is the floral heart of geranium and lavender. These are florals which can trend towards the green part of the spectrum. Mme Kamei enhances that trend with tarragon and coriander. Then comes the ingredient that will likely make or break one’s enjoyments of this, clove. She layers in a significant amount of it. Enough that the lavender and geranium have some work to do to keep from being pushed aside. Mme Kamei finds the balance with the clove in the lead. The final bit of intensity comes via oakmoss and vetiver rolling out a soft green carpet to finish with.

Le Troisieme Homme has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is a perfume of its time to be sure. It is no wallflower. Your tolerance for this will be another factor in your enjoyment of it. I wear it every summer and really enjoy it as fall approaches. Caron is one of those brands who seems to be fading off the radar screen. Le Troisieme Homme is one of many reasons that shouldn’t happen.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet- My Inner Tom Wolfe

One reason for this column is to remind myself of the early releases of some great perfume brands. Usually that means looking back only a few years. This month’s Under the Radar choice I had to go all the way back to 1902 for Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet.

Penhaligon’s qualifies as one of the more maddeningly frustrating perfume brands. In the recent past they can’t seem to decide what they stand for nor find a consistent aesthetic. It has resulted in some long dry spells. Back in the beginning there was no problem. Penhaligon’s was a perfume for the wealthy British patron. Blenheim Bouquet was a commission from the Duke of Marlborough. What always captures my attention when I wear a perfume from this time is these were the earliest days of modern perfumery. There was no template to adhere to. No focus groups to give input. In the case of this perfume there was a customer who wanted something different than the florals most men were wearing. Perfumer Walter Penhaligon delivered.

Tom Wolfe

Blenheim Bouquet stands out because it is a classic summery citrus perfume while also carrying a slightly formal style to it. Whenever I wear it, I am reminded of the author Tom Wolfe who wore impeccable tailored white linen suits as his trademark style. It was a way of being casual and formal simultaneously. Blenheim Bouquet achieves the same feel.

It opens with a tart lemon given a slightly candied sweetness. Lavender sets up as an herbal floral to play against the citrus. A set of spices led by black pepper find places to resonate with the citrus or the lavender. This is where Blenheim Bouquet starts to put a little starch in its collar. The early moments are exuberant but as the heart notes come into play, things begin to regiment themselves. Mr. Penhaligon uses a fresh pine made animalic through musk as the base accord. This completes the formal feeling while keeping the freshness of a warm weather style perfume.

Blenheim Bouquet has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

I will never be cool enough to pull off a white linen suit a la Mr. Wolfe. When I wear Blenheim Bouquet I can at least smell like I could.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Goutal Bois d’Hadrien- Summer Woods

I am guessing my first introduction to Annick Goutal perfumes is the same as many, Eau d’Hadrien. That perfume was a perfect summer refresher built around lemon. I went through three bottles before other new brands spoke to me with different lemon voices. I recently realized I hadn’t replaced it. I then remembered that a couple years ago it was a different Hadrien which has taken over; Goutal Bois d’Hadrien.

I enjoy cedar fragrances when the temperature rises. There is a freshness which counters the heat which appeals to me. Eau d’Hadrien was first released in 1981 and has been one of the flagship perfumes of the brand. It remains a great lemon option for the summer. I expected Bois d’Hadrien to be the version for the cooler weather. It turned out that it was better in the warm than the cold.

Isabelle Doyen (l.) and Camille Goutal

Creative director Camille Goutal and perfumer Isabelle Doyen teamed up again for Bois d’Hadrien. The copy on the website mentions they are trying to capture twilight in Tuscany. I guess that might be it for some. What it reminds me of were the days I would hide from the Florida sun among the sentinel pines of the nearby forest. The trees would capture the cooler air underneath the canopy. That is what Bois d’Hadrien smells like.

It opens with a reversal of the top notes of Eau d’Hadrien. Now cypress is the keynote with lemon playing a supporting role. The heart is incense and pine. This is the smell of the pine trees I remember with the incense evoking the drops of sap on the bark. There is a coolness to this accord I didn’t expect. The fresh cedar holds the center in the base with a musk that reminded me of sweat sheened skin.

Bois d’Hadrien has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

I know that Goutal is not one of those brands that necessarily would be considered Under the Radar. I picked Bois d’Hadrien because I think its more well-known relative keeps it on the down low. That’s why I wanted to make sure those who are looking for a summer woody choice can put Bois d’Hadrien on their radar.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Kate Walsh Boyfriend- The Little Celebrity Perfume that Could

I am generally dismissive of celebrity perfumes. In the majority of cases the perfume is a cynical attempt to cash in on the celebrity’s name. It almost leads to horrendously generic fragrance. Designed for a quick buck. The ones which do not take that path have been associated with someone who loves perfume. They are involved in all the aspects of the creation. When there is a vision that they want to realize it seems to happen. One of the great stories in this vein is Kate Walsh Boyfriend.

In 2008 actress Kate Walsh was flying high as part of the Grey’s Anatomy/Private Practice television shows. Instead of someone approaching her to put her name on a fragrance she did the opposite. At that time she was getting over a breakup. The one thing she found she missed was the smell of her boyfriend’s cologne on her skin. As she stood at the mall trying to decide if she should go to the men’s fragrance counter and just buy some, she had a great idea. How about making a perfume that smells like your boyfriend on your skin. Since this was an entirely independent undertaking she had to decide on the bottle, the marketing, the perfume and anything else. In 2010 she had worked with perfumer Marypierre Julien to create Boyfriend. It went on sale on a home shopping network and sold out. in 2011 Sephora asked if she would be interested in selling there. For 2011 and 2012 it was one of the best-sellers there. She succumbed to the pressure of the business and Boyfriend would disappear from shelves by 2015.

Kate Walsh

Ms. Walsh was determined to see if she could bring Boyfriend back in the new social media age by marketing it solely online. Avoiding some of the pitfalls of brick-and-mortar merchandising. In 2018 Boyfriend returned with a full Instagram marketing plan. It has become another success story. At the heart of it is one of the best celebrity perfumes going.

Marypierre Julien

The concept of Boyfriend as that residual scent of your paramour is the perfect starting place. Mme Julien uses myrrh, patchouli, and amber as the accord which represents that. It is the primary thing you will notice. What is equally smart is to remember there is a woman here which are represented by an underpinning of traditional feminine leaning ingredients. Plum, jasmine, and lily complete the idea of a cologne lying on top of a woman’s skin.

Boyfriend has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Boyfriend is a great celebrity perfume because Ms. Walsh was just an independent perfumer with a profile. She leveraged that to make Boyfriend and to bring it back. If all celebrity perfumes were like this, they wouldn’t have such a bad name.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Grandiflora Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine- Beginnings and Endings

Unlike many when I desire a spring floral I tend to run away from rose in search of other parts of the garden. One flower which has become synonymous with spring is magnolia. Some of that comes from my grad school days in Georgia where it becomes one of the first scented flowers to pop after winter recedes. It also comes from owning some excellent perfumes which feature it. One of those is Grandiflora Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine.

Saskia Havekes

Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine was released at the beginning of 2014. It was one of two debut fragrances for the brand. Grandiflora was begun by Australian floral artist Saskia Havekes. For her first two perfumes she invited two perfumers to interpret the same flower, magnolia. One was composed by perfumer Michel Roudnitska called Magnolia Grandiflora Michel. The other perfumer was Sandrine Videault and hers was named Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine. Each of them is excellent interpretations of magnolia. M. Roudnitska’s appeals to me in the colder weather when I want a fuller floral. Mme Videault’s take is to find magnolia just as it bursts from its bud.

Sandrine Videault

What she noticed when spending time with the natural source was an inherent green that read as “chypre” to her. Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine is a fragrance which takes that in a different direction by the end.

At the beginning we get grapefruit and pepper. This is such a spring morning accord. The slightly sulfurous grapefruit and the pepper picks up the dewy green and damp soil of dawn in the garden. The magnolia appears next as if it has just peeked out from its bud. This is where that significant green Mme Videault noticed is given some space. I always expect it to get greener. Mme Videault has other ideas. The flower comes more clearly out, giving a velvety floral quality taking the lead from the green. Now that the sun has risen, and the dew has burned off, the afternoon breeze of white musks expand and lift the magnolia up to be appreciated. A subtle suite of dry woods provides the base accord.

Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine has 18-24 hour longevity and above average sillage.

This perfume represents a beginning and an end. It was the beginning of Mme Havekes Grandiflora perfume brand. She has gone on to add three more floral perfumes to the original two. All of them show the creativity she is known for in her floral designs.

It was also the last perfume made by Mme Videault as she passed away soon after finishing it. There are many who consider other perfumes she made as her best. I think Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine holds that honor.

If you have never heard of Grandiflora or Sandrine Videault they both should be on your radar now.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Eau D’Italie Jardin du Poete- Herbal Spring

With some time I can look back and point at some incredible perfumery. One of the things new independent perfume brands did a lot of in the mid-2000’s was to rely on one perfumer to help refine the desired aesthetic. Spouses Sebastian Alvarez Murena and Marina Sersale wanted to create perfumes based on their hotel La Sireneuse on the Amalfi Coast of Italy. They turned to perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour to help create their line of perfume. From 2004-2011 he created the eight perfumes which would set the template for the brand to thrive. Those eight perfumes when seen together show the artistry of the entire creative team. I own all of them and they are pinnacles of what independent perfumery stands for. It is this kind of perfume brand I like to highlight in this Under the Radar column. Today I will focus on the last of the perfumes M. Duchaufour did for the brand Eau D’Italie Jardin du Poete.

Regular readers will not be surprised to know the scent I associate with spring has nothing to do with rose. I am a fan of the greener herbal perfumes for this season. Jardin du Poete is one of those with a fantastic pivot at the end that I never tire of experiencing. Jardin du Poete captures a springtime dawdle in a garden near La Sireneuse.

Bertrand Duchaufour

It opens with a typical Mediterranean cocktail of citrus. In this case M. Duchaufour captures the bitter side of these fruits. Using grapefruit and bitter orange this is isn’t the juicy ripe citrus of a summer scent. It is more closed in as the sulfurous quality of the grapefruit and the bitterness of the orange create a citrus accord of fruit not quite ripe enough to eat. M. Duchaufour then adds in an overdose of basil. This pungent green herbal note accentuates the greener qualities of the citrus. Baie rose adds in more herbal support. The basil and baie rose form an abstract tomato leaf accord over time on my skin. Then the pivot I spoke of happens as the maple syrup scent of immortelle flows over the herbal nature. Immortelle can dominate the fragrances it is used in. M. Duchaufour uses it here in one of the most transparent ways I have encountered it. It forms a rugged green garden accord as the immortelle reminds me more of broom flower or hay as the basil provides the green beneath. A grassy vetiver brings it all full circle.

Jardin du Poete has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

These early perfumes of Eau D’Italie are all worthy of being on your radar. If you need to find one appropriate for spring Jardin du Poete is a good place to start.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: La Via del Profumo Tabac- Take a Breath

Perfume has multiple positive effects. One of the most important to me is the way some fragrances provide a calming effect. I have many perfumes which I use as ways to soothe when things begin to feel too hectic. There is one perfumer who I have used his creation for this more than once. Dominique Dubrana aka Abdes Salaam Attar has been one of the foremost natural perfume educators we have. He also believes in the power of ethical perfumery. It is a collection which shows it with every one of the perfumes within it. I have one of his perfumes for every season to provide the psychic grounding they give me. For the winter La Via del Profumo Tabac is my choice.

La Via del Profumo is another of the early all-natural perfume lines which displayed the full potential of fragrance made this way. When these perfumes were released there was a canard that all-natural perfumes were somehow less than those which used synthetics. Every perfume here proves the inaccuracy of that. Abdes Salaaam Attar approaches his perfumes from understanding the source of your materials. It allows him to coax all the nuance available out of what he uses. Tabac is a great example of this.

Abdes Salaam Attar

Many tobacco scents draw me into their deeply narcotic embrace. This is done by amplifying the sweeter parts of tobacco. Tabac goes a different way. While things start off in that typical vein they transform to a drier version of tobacco that is different than most any other version out there.

In the early going that expected sweetness is what comes forth. It is a rich sweet leafy tobacco. It is kept that way with vanilla and tonka bean. The change is signaled by a spicy mélange which begins to dry out that tobacco while pulling back on the sweetness. A deeply warm amber completes the process revealing a dry herbal version of tobacco lurking underneath.

Tabac has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

That shift from deeply sweet to desiccated leaf is what makes Tabac such a meditative perfume for me. I can flow with the changes until I find a place where I take a breath filling my senses with Tabac. If you have never tried any of the La Via del Profumo perfumes, they should be on your radar especially if you are interested in all-natural perfumes.

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

Mark Behnke