Under the Radar: Hermes Elixir des Merveilles- Holidays with Jean-Claude

I have a whole set of perfumes I wear during the Holiday season of Thanksgiving through the New Year. This is the time of year which seems a natural fit for the gourmands in my collection to make their appearance. As I begin to sort them to the front of my shelves, I am reminded of those that helped define the genre in the early days. This year I looked at the tilted round bottle of Hermes Elixir des Merveilles and thought this might be a Holiday gourmand that flies Under the Radar.

Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena spent over ten years as in-house perfumer at Hermes. His earliest creations of the first Hermessences, the first two “Un Jardins” and Terre D’Hermes would set the aesthetic which would be refined throughout his tenure. Tucked in this same time period is Elixir des Merveilles. It never felt like part of that minimalist aesthetic. As a guess it always felt to me as if it was M. Ellena’s response to the bombast of the alpha gourmand; Thierry Mugler Angel. While Elixir des Merveilles doesn’t get quite as transparent as the other perfumes M. Ellena made for Hermes it is more than a few notches less effusive than Angel.

Jean-Claude Ellena

The original Eau des Merveilles was an homage to ambergris. M. Ellena imagined Elixir des Merveilles to take that ambergris and float it on a chocolate ocean. Before we get there, a fabulous spiced orange accord begins things. Then the chocolate rises accompanied by warm balsamic notes, cedar, and ambergris. This is the amazing gourmand heart which engages me time after time. To give it that final Holiday twist M. Ellena creates a sugar cookie accord fresh from the oven.

Elixir des Merveilles has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

As I was thinking about writing this, I realized that while Elixir des Merveilles does not rise to the transparency of the current trend of gourmands it feels like a forerunner. I always facetiously imagine it is what the Holidays at Jean-Claude’s house must smell like. I’m sure I’m wrong but it is what the Holidays in Poodlesville smells like on the days I wear it.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Knize Ten- My Old Leather Jacket

We’ve just had our first cold mornings here. Which means I reached into the closet for my leather jacket. I’ve owned it for over twenty years. I don’t remember exactly when I purchased it, but it is old and I’m happy it still fits. When I slip it on the first time two things always happen. I smile at the history that jacket and I have lived through. Then I walk back to the perfume collection and find my bottle of Knize Ten.

Knize Ten is the one of the original leather perfumes, created in 1925. Joseph Knize was a Viennese tailor who had royalty for clients. He wanted to offer a fragrance for his male clients which was not the typical floral constructs favored by the dandies of the day. He enlisted perfumers Vincent Roubert and Francois Coty to formulate that alternative. They landed on leather as the style of perfume they would create. This time in modern perfumery it was the birch tar laden Cuir de Russie-type leathers which were in vogue. Messrs. Roubert and Coty had a different vision while creating Knize Ten. What they made was a mannered leather fit for Hr. Knize’s clients.

Knize Ten opens with a bracing citrus focused top accord around petitgrain. The perfumers use tarragon and rosemary as herbal interrogators of the green within petitgrain. It turns decidedly spicy as cinnamon and clove enter the picture. All of this is prelude to the leather accord. At first it has a powdery effect enhanced by iris. It is an interesting part of the development. It seems like the perfumers maybe wanted to entice the dandies in with iris before unloading with a full leather. That full leather comes next. Early on I read someone’s description of this as the smell of an oil change in a garage. Every time I wear it, I see this. There is a greasiness to the early stages of the leather. It continues to intensify at the same time sandalwood arrives. As it settles in for the long haul it is the scent of my well-worn leather jacket.

Knize Ten has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

I have always considered Knize Ten as a timeless leather perfume. Almost one hundred years after it was first released it still holds up. Just like my leather jacket.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Jardins D’Ecrivains Orlando- Shoulder Season Staple

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For most people their perfume choices are split into warm-weather and cold-weather fragrances. A perfume dork like me has to create more categories than that. One part of the year I look forward to is what I call “shoulder season”. This comprises the transition between summer-fall and winter-spring. More practically it means days which start out cool become pleasantly warm at midday to return to cool after sunset. I have a group of perfumes which have a dynamic evolution on my skin which makes them ideal shoulder season perfumes. One of those is Jardins D’Ecrivains Orlando.

In 2013 Anais Biguine debuted her new brand Jardins D’Ecrivains, garden of writers, with five singular perfumes based on famous authors, or their works. The original debut collection of five is exceptional in the way Mme Biguine successfully realized her vision. This wasn’t a brand which played it safe as each fragrance had a few twists and turns to them which made them stand out. Orlando was perhaps the twistiest of the original releases.

Anais Biguine

Based on the novel by Virginia Woolf and further made familiar by the 1992 movie starring Tilda Swinton it tells a story of gender roles. Elizabethan Lord Orlando falls asleep only to wake up as Lady Orlando a century later. Book and movie have lots to say about the fluidity of gender which seems particularly apt today. Mme Biguine produced a perfume which captures her subject matter in three accords.

The top accord is a vibrant concoction of ginger, baie rose, and orange. This is an unsettled opening much like the protagonist it is meant to portray. The perfume leans into its inspiration as each ingredient pinballs off the other not finding a harmony. It is something I find unusually beautiful when I wear Orlando. The heart is amber and patchouli containing a touch of clove which represents our Elizabethan Lord in act two. The final act of lighter woods transforms it into something more contemporary with gaiac, musk, and peru balsam. As our heroine wakes up in a new time.

Orlando has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

Orlando is a bit of an acquired taste, but it is my favorite of the Jardins D’Ecrivains perfumes. Especially in my shoulder season. If Orlando sounds a bit too challenging for you there are others within the collection worth exploring that are less experimental. In any case this is a brand that deserves to be on any perfume fan’s radar.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar Comme des Garcons Blue Santal- Push and Pull

When perfume nerds get to talking about the most influential brand of the niche age of perfume; I have a very strong opinion. My choice is Comme des Garcons. From its beginnings in 1993 it would help define and refine what a niche aesthetic was in fragrance. It has been overseen by one incredible creative director in Christian Astuguevieille for the entire time. That longevity and consistency should not be taken for granted. Many of the early niche pioneers have lost their way. It seemed like it was part of the natural process. Keeping a high level of creativity was just not something that should be sustainable. Especially as we entered the second decade of the 2000’s it was happening with frustrating regularity. Comme des Garcons had seemingly fallen prey to the same issue with a streak of one mediocre release after another in 2012. I was thinking this was the final exclamation point on the first age of niche perfumery. Then M. Astuguevieille showed me in 2013 that the previous year was just an anomaly. Comme des Garcons bounced back with a new set of perfumes which recalibrated their aesthetic to be relevant for the now. At the center of these releases was Comme des Garcons Blue Santal.

One of the things which Comme des Garcons has done well is to have releases for the wider mass-market next to the more exclusive releases. Blue Santal was one of a trio of the former released in the summer of 2013. The other two Blue Cedrat and Blue Encens have been discontinued leaving Blue Santal as the only reminder of the sub-collection.

Antoine Maisondieu

Perfumer Antoine Maisondieu would compose a perfume which creates a push and pull between the green of pine and the dry woodiness of sandalwood. It is the kind of perfume I wear on a warm day because of that vacillation between cool pine and warm sandalwood.

Blue Santal opens with the terpenic tonic of that cool pine. M. Maisondieu adds in the sharp gin-like acidity of juniper berries as the bridging note. The base is one of the early uses of the sustainable Australian sandalwood. It is one of the first fragrances to accentuate the drier character of this newer source of sandalwood. It still carries the sweetness with the creamier character less prominent. It presents the right counterweight to the pine. Then over the hours it lasts on my skin it is like a set of scales with the pine on one side and the sandalwood on the other pivoting on a fulcrum of juniper berries.

Blue Santal has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

You might think it unusual to choose a release from such a well-known brand as Comme des Garcons as an Under the Radar choice. From a brand pushing towards a collection of one hundred releases I think it is easy for even the best ones to fall off the radar screen. I thought it was time to put Blue Santal back on it.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Monsillage Eau Fraiche- Summer Splash

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The amount of perfume in the Colognoisseur Home Office is ridiculous; I admit it. Yet like Gollum I look at all of it and think “my precious”. One cool thing about it all is discovering something in the back of the closet and reacquainting myself with it all over again. It is part of the reason for this column. The last ten years, especially, has seen so much good perfume it shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle. This year literally against the wall of the perfume vault I found a bottle of Monsillage Eau Fraiche. It has been a joy catching up with it this summer.

For those who are unfamiliar with Monsillage and the independent perfumer Isabelle Michaud behind it, a little recap. Mme Michaud released her first perfumes in 2010. She sold them exclusively in Canada, at first. By 2011 when I discovered them, I was impressed with all of them and eventually purchased all three.

Isabelle Michaud

One of the reasons Eau Fraiche returned from the back of the shelf is it uses a lot of verbena. When it comes to citrus perfumes verbena provides a lemon-green combination I find refreshing. Mme Michaud uses it in a classic Eau Fraiche

Eau Fraiche opens with that zing of verbena. Mme Michaud supports it with an herbal coterie of rosemary, thyme, and lavender. All of those provide more traction to the green quality of the verbena. Mandarin is present to make sure the lemony quality does not get lost. A dewy lilac transitions to a deep vetiver in the base. This is that summer vetiver which has made it such a popular perfume ingredient. A little white musk and cedar rounds it out.

Eau Fraiche has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

We have been in a heat wave for much of the last few weeks. Eau Fraiche has been my antidote to that. It is just the right perfume for this season. As I was learning to enjoy it all over again, I was thinking I could have called this column “Back of the Closet” but it is called “Under the Radar”. Monsillage and Eau Fraiche should be on your radar screens.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar Thirdman Eau Contraire (Eau Nomade)- Midsummer Refresher

It should not come as a surprise that a blog named Colognoisseur has an affection for cologne. As I began writing about perfume there was a concurrent re-interpretation of the lowly cologne. Over the last ten years the style has been given new life by many brands and many talented creative teams. One of the earliest brands to re-imagine cologne was Thirdman.

When Thirdman came onto the scene in 2012 they wanted to create a sense of mystery to go along with their colognes. Creative director Jean-Christophe le Greves centers the campaign around the first three releases with the query; “Who is the Thirdman?” I along with many others lauded the first three releases and wondered who the perfumer was. Thankfully M. le Greves gave up that secret with the release of the fourth Thirdman perfume Eau Nomade. The perfumer behind it all was Bruno Jovanovic. Before we get too much further, I must clear up the confusion on the name. When it was released in 2013 it was called Eau Nomade. Some years later it was changed to Eau Contraire which is how you will find it available now. With either name on the bottle it is the same cologne inside.

Bruno Jovanovich

The Thirdman aesthetic was to stick to the classic citrus and spice cologne recipe but to use higher quality ingredients. For Eau Contraire the choice was blood orange and cardamom. There are a couple of other ingredients, but this is a cologne primarily about those two. It provides a cologne of the desert much as its original name portended.

It opens with lemon providing the sun high in the sky. This sets the stage for a high concentration of cardamom to take its place. There is a clever shift of actual citrus fruit to the lemon-tinged spice in the early moments. Blood orange comes next. In most fragrances the blood orange can get lost. When it is the featured player it gives it the opportunity to show off its richer facets. It creates a fantastic harmonic with the cardamom. In the base a set of white musks create a more expansive accord over the final development.

Eau Contraire has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

Eau Contraire has become my midsummer Mad Dogs and Englishmen cologne. I keep a small decant in the refrigerator as a fragrant refresher. I’m not sure why M. le Greves hasn’t followed up with a new perfume in over four years. Because of that it is easy to understand why Thirdman Eau Contraire is Under the Radar.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Maison Martin Margiela Untitled- Layers of Green

I have always been interested when a fashion designer I admire ventures into fragrance. It can be difficult to translate an aesthetic from the runway into a perfume. Some brands eschew it altogether defining a fragrance aesthetic apart from the fashion one. The ones I like best are the ones who take this problem on. This month’s Under the Radar choice did just that; Maison Martin Margiela Untitled.

Nowadays Maison Margiela, the Martin has been dropped, is known for the very good, and popular, Replica collection. This is where they divorced themselves from trying to mimic the fashion. In 2010 when they were entering the perfume sector Untitled was trying to capture the asymmetric layering of M. Margiela in a fragrance. The perfumer they chose was Daniela Andrier.

Daniela Andrier

Somewhere along the line the vision of Untitled became layers of green; focused, diffuse, and subtle. The creative team added in fascinating grace notes to each of these layers as if they were detailing a fashion design. It has always been one of my favorite spring perfumes to wear because it captures green as a concept so well.

The first layer of green is a crystalline galbanum glittering with verdant intensity. This is a powerhouse of an opening and if you are not fond of galbanum you will be put off immediately. I adore this kind of concentrated effect especially with what Mme Andrier does with it. She takes a harmonic of bitter orange to come alongside the galbanum. It focuses the green effect while softening it slightly with the citrus beneath. The second layer comes as the galbanum becomes more diffuse. The crystal matrix implodes as it is speared by an indolic jasmine. The indoles keep this from becoming a comfort scent. It retains some of the green edginess of the top accord. This then ends on a green cedar focused base accord. Mme Andrier uses the inherent greenness of cedar while swirling it among incense and white musks. It ameliorates all the early green into something subtle by the end.

Untitled has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

As mentioned above the opening moments are challenging for those who are not fond of galbanum. I can’t even advise you to wait it out because while it gets less intensely green it is still intense hours in. Untitled is a perfume for those who enjoy an unapologetic galbanum. As spring gives way to the heat of summer this is one of my favorites because the layers of green are so good. Next time you’re checking out the new Maison Margiela Replica releases at the mall give the first perfume from the brand a try.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Gendarme- California Cologne

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One of two styles of perfume I have always found uninspiring is the “fresh and clean” style which dominated perfume for twenty-five years. I could argue niche perfume was a reaction to the prominence of this style in the department stores. Even though I am mostly dismissive there are some which have found a place on my shelf. Gendarme is one of those.

I discovered Gendarme in my early days on the internet. It was thrown in as a sample on a swap I was making for a perfume I wanted. I don’t remember that perfume, but Gendarme grew from a sample to a bottle. When I bought the bottle, I was surprised to see it wasn’t French it came from California. Through the mind of a raconteur named Topper Schroeder.

Mr. Schroeder wanted to wear cologne which didn’t irritate his skin. He couldn’t find one at the department store. His search was begun because previously he had used a test-market version of an early hypoallergenic cologne. When he ran out, he discovered it never made it to the shelf. Frustrated by not being able to find an alternative he decided to make his own. In 1983 Gendarme was born.

Topper Schroeder

I’ve had trouble narrowing down who were the perfumer(s) who worked on Gendarme. Mr. Schroeder claims he went back to the original perfumer who had worked on the test-market cologne, Tom Slatery. The Fragrances of the World database list co perfumers, John Doyle and Nigel Priest. I don’t know what to make of that, but Gendarme isn’t a technological marvel it is a supremely functional fragrance.

Gendarme was designed to be a classic cologne. The perfumer(s) gathered the usual cologne ingredient list accentuating one specific part of the recipe; the herbs. Even now thirty-five years later there aren’t a lot of colognes which go in this direction. Which is one of the reasons it has been a favorite.

Verbena is used as the linchpin in the top. It sets up the green style right from the start. Some actual citrus along with ginger, basil, and thyme push the green. The safe masculine floral, lavender, comes next.  Lavender has an herbal character which is made apparent by the herbs from the top accord. A slight sweetness of vanilla finishes things off. If you ever see an ingredient list, it will list leather. If it is in here, I’ve never noticed it.

Gendarme has 4-6 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

There have been others prior to this who have mentioned that Gendarme has a soapy quality. It reminds me of the original Clairol Herbal Essence shampoo. It is a reminder not an imitation. The longevity is also typical for a cologne. If you’re going to wear this for a day bring some along to top things off after a few hours. This is one of the colognes I put a small atomizer of in the refrigerator during the summer. Spraying the cold mist is much more rejuvenating than water. The name may be French, but Gendarme is pure California Cologne.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Kinski- The Reality of Depravity

As I spend my days trying new perfume there are typical parameters the great majority of them fall within. Only rarely do I come across a perfume which gleefully colors outside the lines. It will never be a fragrance which imparts comfort or prettiness. It is a perfume meant to confront the wearer’s idea of what perfume is meant to do. If it succeeds at doing this it almost by definition is going to be Under the Radar; this month’s choice Kinski is an example of that.

Kinski was released by perfumer Geza Schoen in 2011. He timed it to coincide with the 20th anniversary of actor Klaus Kinski’s death. Klaus Kinski was a towering personality which transferred to his acting where he portrayed larger-than-life characters. He was loved by the media because he enjoyed displaying an engaging kind of oddness. His most famous quote is a good indication, “One should judge a man mainly from his depravities. Virtues can be faked. Depravities are real.” When it came to be designing a fragrance to represent that personality Hr. Schoen came up with a larger-than-life enchantingly odd celebration of fragrance depravity.

Geza Schoen

Kinski is one of Hr. Schoen’s most densely constructed fragrances of his career. It starts with deep accords and spends the next few hours diving deeper. Any perfume which opens with castoreum in the top accord should give you a sense of that.

Besides castoreum there is schinus molle, juniper berry, and blackcurrant bud. Each of these pungent pieces are balanced into a fantastic top accord. The near urinous aspect of blackcurrant buds the gin-like aspect of juniperberry and the herbal-ness of schinus molle combine into a swaggering effect. As it moves to a heart of familiar florals a marijuana accord finds Kinski toking in the flower garden. By the time the base of costus, patchouli, benzoin, and styrax over woods arrive we are knee-deep in something depraved.

Kinski has 24-hour longevity and average sillage.

Kinski is a perfume of strong emotions. It is probably why it isn’t mentioned more often. It is one of the most unique creations in Hr. Schoen’s career. So much that I wonder whether this is him telling us some truth about what is “real”.

If you are a fan of bold perfume Kinski should be on your radar.

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

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Rouge Bunny Rouge Embers- The Scent of a Smoky Eye

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Now that the holidays are past my winter fragrance selections shift a bit. I mainly wear resins and woods with some spice. As I was rearranging the perfume shelf to bring that group of perfumes to the front, I found an ideal candidate for this column; Rouge Bunny Rouge Embers.

The readers who wear makeup will immediately recognize the brand. Rouge Bunny Rouge is a successful cosmetic brand known for its fun attitude. What is much less known is the fragrance selections that were produced from 2012-2015. Founder and creative director Alexandra de Montfort decided to add fragrances to the repertoire at that time. Mme de Montfort created two collections the “Fragrant Confections” and the “Provenance Tales”. For all the perfumes that were produced she worked with excellent perfumers.

Alexandra de Montfort

The Provenance Tales collection was meant to be a selection of elemental perfumes. Embers is meant to represent fire. Working with perfumer Shyamala Maisondieu they came up with a fragrance which glows on my skin.

Shyamala Maisondieu

Embers opens with a top accord focused on clove. This is the kind of clove which trends towards an incense-like scent profile. Baie rose and nutmeg provide some support, but the clove carries most of the early moments until a steely eyed incense arises out of it. This forms an intense accord as the clove and incense combine. Mme Maisondieu shrouds it with fresh florals of jasmine and freesia to bank the roaring fire. What remains as the base accord comes in to play is the glowing embers. They are kept pulsing a gentle orange using sandalwood, styrax, and peru balsam. By these end stages Embers lives up to its name.

Embers has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

As I mentioned in the opening this is a perfume collection which flies under the radar because it generally is only found at the Rouge Bunny Rouge cosmetic counters. It is a shame because all six of the Provenance Tales are excellent choices for men. The only way they are going to find them is to be there with a woman in their life and notice the perfume bottles. To get the Rouge Bunny Rouge on your radar it might require you to brave the land of the smoky eye to find a scent which Is definitely worth that trip.

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

Mark Behnke