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

New Perfume Review Tom Ford Metallique- The New Aldehyde

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One of the ingredients which defines perfume of the mid-20th century is aldehydes. From their appearance in Chanel No. 5 they were prevalent in many of the great floral perfumes which followed. It was so entwined with that era in perfume it also came to represent it. It also is the one ingredient which elicits the damning reaction, “oh that perfume is for someone older than me.” It is the keynote of the dreaded descriptor “old lady perfume”. This has kept it from being used very often in new perfumes. Tom Ford Metallique is going to try to change that.

Karyn Khoury

Metallique is part of the more widely available Signature Collection. As much as we write about the Private Blend collection the Signature Collection is equally as impressive. Creative director Karyn Khoury makes sure any fragrance with Tom Ford on the label lives up to the reputation the brand has built. For Metallique she partners with perfumer Antoine Maisondieu.

Antoine Maisondieu

The name is appropriate for the way aldehydes present themselves within a fragrance. In those classic perfumes it was described as smelling like “Aqua-Net” hairspray. M. Maisondieu has found a way to lighten up the aldehyde accord he uses here. This is a much more restrained effect overall.

Metallique opens up with the aldehydes springing to life. M.Maisondieu rather quickly brings in bergamot and petitgrain to give some sparkle. It is a smart way of balancing out the metallic quality. It allows baie rose to add a green herbal quality further softening the aldehydes. In the past the florals would be the heavy hitters. M. Maisondieu goes for a less powerful trio of aubepine, heliotrope, and muguet. The green of the baie rose connects to the green of the muguet then expanding into the heliotorope and aubepine. M. Maisondieu then uses the botanical musk of ambrette and the warmth of balsam to provide the foundation.

Metallique has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

What makes Metallique stand apart from those classic aldehydic florals is this modern version does not fill the room. Ms. Khoury and M. Maisondieu have designed a version which is much less extroverted even though it retains the aldehyde-floral-musk spine. It still has some verve without becoming overwhelming. I will be curious to learn if they have found the path for aldehydic florals to appeal to a new audience with Metallique.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Bottega Veneta Illusione for Him and Illusione for Her- Taking a Downward Turn

I write a lot about what I think it takes for a perfume brand to succeed. When it comes to designer brands, I have always extolled the influence of the brand creative director on the fragrance side. If that person can give even a little bit of time to the perfume side of the business, it usually turns out for the better. If the brand just signs their name away to a big cosmetics brand, things usually turn out generic. Unfortunately an example of this for the worse is Bottega Veneta Illusione for Him and Illusione for Her.

Daniel Lee

In 2011 when Bottega Veneta entered the designer fragrance world the then creative director Tomas Maier had a direct hand in the perfumes. It had been that way until he was replaced last year by Daniel Lee. The collection under Hr. Maier was one of the best designer fragrance ones we had. There were clear through lines to the history of the brand with the releases always being among the best mainstream releases of any given year. I was wondering what part fragrance would play in Mr. Lee’s vision for Bottega Veneta. Based on these two first releases it seems like the answer is to give it over to the licensee without giving it another thought.

Illusione for Him was composed by perfumer Antoine Maisondieu. This is a perfume that is exactly what its note list promises. Citrus top accord of orange and lemon, woody heart accord of cedar and base accord of tonka bean with a dollop of vetiver. It smells like everything else on the men’s fragrance shelf which was not the case before.

Illusione for Her was a team effort by Amandine Clerc-Marie and Annick Menardo. It starts with a pedestrian bergamot and fig leaves top with orange blossom at the heart and wood sweetened by tonka bean in the base. This is what commercial perfumery smells like; pretty and bland.

Both perfumes are pitched on the more transparent side probably because that is the current trend. Inexplicably to me both perfumes have some of the worst longevity I have encountered for a mainstream release; barely 6-7 hours.

I am saddened to see this happening to a designer brand I regularly pointed to as how it can be done. It looks like that will no longer be the case as long as Mr. Lee is creative director. I just hope they don’t discontinue the previous releases.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Bloomingdale’s.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Montblanc Explorer- By Popular Demand

One of my favorite department store men’s perfumes to recommend as an office-ready scent is Montblanc Legend. It is an example of a mass-market release done right, without pandering, while intelligently choosing popular trends to include. I have no idea whether this is true, but this seems less perfume by focus group with more directed design at play instead. They followed that up with Montblanc Emblem in 2014. It again was nothing especially original put together in a solid crowd-pleasing way. When I went to my local mall for my unscientific crowd watching, the newest perfume for the brand was being displayed; Montblanc Explorer.

I’ve mentioned this before; my way of telling whether a new perfume will be popular is the garbage can extrapolation. I set myself up near the closest waste receptacle to where the sales associates are handing out strips. I keep a count of how many people get rid of the strip as quick as they can versus continuing to sniff it while they walk. A good score I’ve found is around 60% retention of the strip. On this visit Explorer had an 85% retention rate. It motivated me to get a sample and find out more.

(l. to r.) Jordi Fernandez, Antoine Maisondieu, and Olivier Pescheux

Anne Duboscq has been the creative director for Montblanc since the release of Legend. It seems like she has clear vision of the market the brand wants to serve. For Explorer she used a trio of perfumers; Jordi Fernandez, Antoine Maisondieu, and Olivier Pescheux. What I found interesting when receiving the press release is this set of Givaudan perfumers liberally laced a set of proprietary company ingredients throughout Explorer. Orpur versions of bergamot and vetiver along with Akigalawood. I always refer to the Orpur collection as the crown jewels of the company. As the creators of Akigalawood the Givaudan perfumers have more experience in using it. It adds a kind of high-class niche veneer to a mass-market fragrance.

The perfumers open with a lot of Orpur bergamot and pink pepper. What the pink pepper does is to provide an herbal contrast to the sparkle of the bergamot making for a tart green top accord. The green is intensified with the Orpur vetiver along with sage in the heart. The base is woody ambrox and the altered version of patchouli that is Akigalawood. The akigalawood adds in a spiciness to the ambrox to keep it from being as monolithic as it can sometimes be.

Explorer has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Besides my garbage can census another reason I predict Explorer will be a success is in a few steps I watched two men stop talking; turn around and each buy a bottle. This is not a perfume for those who have a diverse collection of niche perfumes. You will already have a better version of anything you might be drawn to in Explorer. What I saw on a Saturday afternoon in February is for those men who want an office-ready perfume Explorer is going to end up on a lot of dressers.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Tom Ford Private Blend Beau de Jour- Accessible Lavender

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When there is a brand as long-lived and influential as Tom Ford Private Blend has been it is inevitable there are some discontinued perfumes. One of my favorites which is no longer available is 2012’s Lavender Palm which was released as a store exclusive to their Beverly Hills Tom Ford boutique. It stands out because it was a fantastic contemporary example of a lavender perfume which did not remind you of a barber shop. I don’t know why it was discontinued but it seems like the brand wants to take another attempt at a non-barbershop lavender in Tom Ford Private Blend Beau de Jour.

Karyn Khoury

For this new perfume longtime creative director Karyn Khoury collaborates with perfumer Antoine Maisondieu. What they produce is a perfume of lavender encased in green.

Antoine Maisondieu

When you smell lavender in fragrance the most common version is called lavandin. Lavandin has the more floral quality associated with functional lavender products like soaps. If a lavender perfume is referred to as soapy it is most likely this source. What M. Maisondieu does is to use another source of lavender. From the Provence region of France it is dried in the fields before extraction and distillation. This provides a lavender which has a much deeper herbal quality. This herbal-ness is always around in a natural lavender extract. This version used in Beau de Jour is more pronounced. It must be because M. Maisondieu has some partners which require it.

Beau de Jour opens with the layering of the Provence lavender and lavandin. M. Maisondieu finds a balance of fresh floral and herbal. The Provence version becomes the focal point as a set of four green ingredients tease out the herbal nature. They are rosemary, basil, geranium, and oakmoss. It is like each ingredient find a spot and pulls. The rosemary and geranium do it in a gentle manner. The basil and oakmoss exert more strength. The oakmoss becomes the most prominent over time. As the oakmoss and the lavender hit their stride it is where Beau de Jour comes off as a nouveau chypre. It finds grounding in an earthy patchouli matched with ambroxan. The patchouli dovetails with the chypre vibe. The ambroxan gives it a modern bit of polish.

Beau de Jour has 12-14 hour longevity.

I think Beau de Jour is a more accessible lavender than Lavender Palm. My guess is this will become one of the more popular Private Blends because of that.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar Comme des Garcons X Monocle Scent One Hinoki- A Lemming is Born

One of the fun things about the gathering of perfume lovers that the internet spawned was when lemmings were spawned. The typical life cycle for this was for someone to stumble over a press release describing a perfume to come which sounded amazing. The next stage was a general amplification of desire as it was imagined what it would smell like. Then the first people would get the chance to try it. If they came back and reported it was as good, or better, the stampede was initiated, and we rushed headlong to the cliff…um…I mean the store. The final stage was a kind of post-coital languor as we all talked about how good it was. In 2008 one of the largest lemmings ever born was Comme des Garcons x Monocle Scent One: Hinoki.

Comme des Garcons had serious perfumista cred in 2008 as creative director Christian Astuguevieille had defined what it meant to be a niche fragrance. Merging that aesthetic with a non-fragrance brand was another interesting step. Monocle was a lifestyle magazine founded by Tyler Brule in 2007, Besides lifestyle there were also international affairs stories in between the sleek furniture and cutting-edge fashion. The sensibilities seemed like a good match.

Towards the end of 2007 it was announced that the first perfume from this collaboration was going to be called Scent One: Hinoki. Perfumer Antoine Maisondieu was going to bring the juice to life. Scent One: Hinoki was meant to evoke a soak in a hinoki wood tub amidst a pine forest in Japan. What was great about this perfume when we were in the imagining what it would smell like phase of the lemming cycle was the inclusion of this top note, turpentine. Turpentine? You mean mineral spirits? Lots of debate on whether that was going to be good or not. It, plus another challenging note, would become the acid test on whether it was worth the chase.

Antoine Maisondieu

That other note is camphor and along with the turpentine that is what you get at the start. It is challenging in a nose wrinkling kind of way. When I first tried it on a paper strip it put me off in a big way. When I finally put some on my skin it was completely different as the challenging aspects became more diffused on my skin. Then the camphor and turpentine turn into a raw wood accord. If you’ve ever worked with green wood this is the smell of that. As that fades a more finished wood appears; cypress and pine are the choices. Green is introduced via vetiver, thyme, and moss adding back some of the rawer character lost with the more refined woods ascension. In the base the incense burning just outside the tub swirls over it all.

Scent One: Hinoki has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

During 2008 I was tracking what the most reported scents in the Scent of the Day thread in the forum were. On the men’s forum Scent One: Hinoki was one of the top 5 for the year. The really final stage of a lemming is it is forgotten as the crowd chases the next one. Scent One: Hinoki is good enough it shouldn’t be forgotten or found Under the Radar.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Burberry Brit for Men- A Little Nutmeg on Top

Sometimes I don’t even know when a perfume I like has crossed over into Discount Diamonds territory. This happened recently when I received an e-mail from a reader asking for a recommendation for an affordable nutmeg forward perfume. I had one in mind almost immediately but I still thought it was a full-price around $50 bottle. The reader got back to me about a week later and told me they found a bottle for $20; now we were talking. The perfume was Burberry Brit for Men.

Most people know the British brand Burberry for their iconic trench coats and the equally recognizable check patterns. They are one of the more recognizable fashion brands which means they would eventually turn to fragrance. They did, starting in 1991, but they didn’t really hit their stride until 2000-2007. Over that time the brand was one of the most interesting mainstream perfumes in the department store. I still recommend many of the main versions from those years, often. Also during that time Burberry also became enamored of flankers which meant a consumer if they were looking for Burberry Brit could be faced with choosing from four or five different bottles with the flankers being almost universally worse than the parent. On the men’s side Touch for Men and London for Men are good with the latter being the first entry in this series.

Antoine Maisondieu

Brit for Men would be perfumer Antoine Maisondieu’s first brief for Burberry in 2004. Two years later he would do Burberry London for Men. What made Brit for Men stand out for me was there were a lot of perfumes extolling the use of ginger as an energizing element. Brit for Men was one of the first where I understood that connotation. It also shifted gears from that energy to a spicy rose into a tonka and wood finish. This was mainstream perfume which had a little more to say than others.

Brit for Men opens with a tart mandarin and that ginger note. Here it picks up the greener facets of the mandarin and bergamot adding a jolt to them. Whenever I spray this on it is an immediate pick-me-up. A fantastic mix of nutmeg and cardamom leads the way to sturdy rose. The star here is that nutmeg as it rises above everything. Cedar is the main wood in the base which is made slightly powdery with tonka bean. Although the sweetness of the tonka extends those same facets of the nutmeg through the later stages.

Brit for Men has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

These early 2000-era Burberry masculines form as good a mainstream set of perfumes as there are out there. I checked out the current versions and there doesn’t seem to be any excessive reformulation of any of them. Now that they are all Discount Diamonds you can buy all three for what one cost back then. That’s the essence of being included in this series.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Tom Ford Private Blend Vert D’Encens- Pine-cense

The Tom Ford Private Blend collection has been releasing a collection within the collection over the last few years. For 2016 the four new releases are called Les Extraits Verts. When I heard the name I was looking forward to a Tom Ford take on green. When I received my samples a couple weeks ago I was surprised overall it wasn’t as vert as I was expecting. Although there was one exception Vert D’Encens.

Antoine-Maisondieu

Antoine Maisondieu

Vert Boheme missed the vert boat entirely as it was mostly citrusy floral before getting a bit musky at the end. Vert de Fleur did have the green going but it didn’t feel special to me. Vert des Bois was my second favorite of the four as perfumers Olivier Gillotin and Rodrigo Flores-Roux really added in some odd versions of green in olive leaves, and marigold along with some more traditional choices. It made for a really engaging development.

shyamala-maisondieu-1

Shyamala Maisondieu

Vert D’Encens was the one I spent some time with because it, too, was an off-beat green but with two very common ingredients; pine and incense. Longtime creative director Karyn Khoury oversaw a team of perfumers consisting of Antoine Maisondieu, Shyamala Maisondieu, and Yann Vasnier. The decision to combine a full body pine tree, including sap, to a full throated frankincense turned out to be just the green I was looking for.

yann vasnier

Yann Vasnier

In the early going the perfumers bring out a very traditional pine joined by lemon and lavender. In these very first moments Vert D’Encens is a little bit a like a lot of drugstore pine fragrances. It doesn’t stay that way long as a green cardamom and sage set the stage for a pine sap accord. That accord carries a tint of the camphoraceous quality which provides a lift as the pine intensifies with the sap accord and the pine from on top becoming stronger. Right as it seems like the pine is at its zenith a fine silvery frankincense cuts across it and embeds itself in the sticky pine. Together it forms what I thought of as Pine-cense. This is where Vert D’Encens stayed at for hours. Much later on cedar and vetiver add a bit cleaner green to close things out.

Vert D’Encens has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

What drew me in to Vert D’Encens over the other Les Extraits Vert was the simple combination of the pine and incense. The perfumers found a way to find just the right balance for me. It is definitely going to be another excellent choice as the weather gets cooler as fall arrives.

Disclosure; This review was based on press samples provided by Tom Ford Beauty.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Comme des Garcons Black Pepper- Series 9?

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My enthusiasm for new materials in perfumery is similar to my enthusiasm for a new release from Comme des Garcons. When they come together in the same package it is like a perfumed double rainbow. When I received my sample of the new Comme des Garcons Black Pepper dual arcs filled my personal headspace.

Black Pepper was composed by perfumer Antoine Maisondieu. M. Maisondieu has been one of the more consistent collaborators with Comme des Garcons over the last few years. I would say they return to him because he seems to have an innate understanding of the place this seminal niche brand occupies. He also takes the opportunity to try and do things with an eye toward innovation. With Black Pepper that comes from the other main ingredient besides the one listed on the bottle Akigala Wood.

Antoine-Maisondieu

Antoine Maisondieu

I became aware of Akigala Wood about a year ago. When I learned it wasn’t a wood but an enzymatic digestion of patchouli I was very interested. The reason is this is a very different process to altering the overall profile of patchouli essential oil. Distillation is a process of using physics. Enzymatic digestion is allowing enzymes to digest parts of the essential oil they find tasty. This leaves behind a patchouli altered by biology. When I had the opportunity to smell Akigala Wood it is only because I know it was once patchouli that I make the comparison. What the enzymes seem to be feasting on are the molecules within patchouli oil which impart the earthy herbal character of that oil. What is left behind in Akigala Wood is an enhancement of the spicy character in an undefined woody matrix. Which makes it a near perfect partner for the black pepper.

M. Maisondieu keeps the structure of Black Pepper simple. First the black pepper is present. It is very dry and austere. M. Maisondieu modulates it even more towards that spare quality by adding some white pepper. The early moments are so dry it might be too much for some. I really enjoyed it because I knew what was coming. The Akigala Wood turns that aridity into something almost oily in nature. The spicy woody nature of the Akigala Wood envelops the black pepper and almost feels like it rehydrates it. Now the pepper becomes much more expansive as if lifted by the spicy nature of the Akigala Wood. The woody nature of the material keeps things grounded along with cedar. The base adds a dollop of roasted sweetness with tonka bean and a little sandalwood before finishing with a flare of musk.

Black Pepper has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

From 2000-2008 Comme des Garcons released collections titled Series 1-8. Each had a specific focus. Each perfume within each series had a specific ingredient or accord to explore. Many of these are among my favorites in the entire Comme des Garcons line. On the days I was wearing Black Pepper it felt like it was maybe the first entry in a new collection Series 9: Spices. M. Maisondieu has made a perfume which is as exploratory as the best of those fragrances within the Series collections.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Comme des Garcons.

Mark Behnke

My Christmas SOTD Etat Libre D’Orange Noel au Balcon

Perfume wearing is not usually something meant to happen on a specific day. It is meant to be worn on many different days with the only sort of restriction based on the temperature outside. Then there are the exceptions. One of only two perfumes I know of with the French word for Noel in the name Etat Libre D’Orange Noel au Balcon is a beautiful Holiday perfume.

My getting my hands on Noel au Balcon was one of my first forays into having someone bring me back a perfume while visiting Paris. Noel au Balcon was released in 2007 exclusively to French Sephora. I would find out about it on the fragrance discussion boards at Basenotes soon after. After some piteous cajoling I was sent a sample by a kind soul. Which was the worst thing because it was what I was hoping it would be. I would spend the next year figuring out how to score a bottle which I did in the early fall of 2008. After the 2008 Holiday season it was discontinued. Until it returned in 2010 as part of the permanent Etat Libre D’Orange collection. This has become my Christmas scent of the day (SOTD) on either December 24th or 25th. This year it will be my Christmas morning scent.

Antoine-Maisondieu

Antoine Maisondieu

Noel au Balcon comes from the beginning of a French proverb, "Noël au balcon, Pâques aux tisons." This translates to "If the weather is mild at Christmas it will be cold at Easter". In Poodlesville it is unseasonably mild so maybe a cold Easter is on its way. Perfumer Antoine Maisondieu has created one of the most interesting gourmands I own redolent of the sweet treats, spices, and alcohol of the Season.

Noel au Balcon opens on a honey drenched fruit accord of orange and apricot. Whenever I spray this on I see a slice of candied apricot or orange covered in viscous honey. The more I have seen honey-based fragrances go off the rails I have come to appreciate the restraint M. Maisondieu uses. This restraint is further displayed in the heart as cinnamon provides spicy contrast with clove and cumin as its running mates. When you look at those three notes the heart of Noel au Balcon could be a strident muddle. M. Maisondieu uses the clove and cumin to keep the cinnamon from becoming too much like Red Hots candy while retaining the fiery nature. It is a one-of-a-kind cinnamon accord. The base returns to a little soothing sweetness with vanilla and musk which overlay a dark earthy patchouli. Once this all comes together I always feel like this evokes one of those sterling silver punch bowls filled with mulled wine complete with orange slices floating on top.

Noel au Balcon has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

As much as I enjoy Noel au Balcon on Christmas it is a year-round choice for me and you can even catch me in a Christmas mood wearing it out for the evening in July. Merry Christmas to all the readers of Colognoisseur and I hope you are wearing a perfume which will make the Holiday memorable for you.

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

Mark Behnke