Under the Radar: Eight & Bob- The Story is Good the Perfume is Better

I am not sure if the European Grand Tour is still a thing among a certain section of affluent society. What it consisted of was after someone had finished their studies before starting their first job they took a tour of Europe. It was a rite of passage. Back in the mid 1980’s it was still a tradition. A new colleague had returned from his. He would tell us lovely stories of his travel. The one that has stuck with me was of an evening in Rome when he and his host lost track of time. My friend was going to be late. His host told him not to worry as they hopped into his Ferrari Spyder. They arrived at their destination in a breakneck ride across Rome. After my friend got out of the car his host flipped his scarf around his neck saying, “Always trust the King of Rock and Roll.” Then he shifted into gear and roared off. When it comes to perfume there aren’t that many stories with that much panache, except for one; Eight & Bob.

When I first tried this perfume upon its release in 2012, I found the story attached to it as engaging as my friend’s. The way it goes is in the 1930’s another young socialite was on his European Grand Tour. He would also make the acquaintance of a man of roguish charm, Albert Fouquet. As they ran around the Cote d’Azur the young American was taken in by M. Fouquet’s scent. Of course there was a story. M. Fouquet had been traveling in South America when upon a hike in the Andes he discovered an indigenous plant called “Andrea”. The polymath Fouquet was also a perfumer and he took some Andrea home and designed his own cologne around it. This was what our Grand Tourist smelled. He cadged M. Fouquet into sending him some. Asking for eight bottles, and one for Bob, the future President JFK would create the name for the perfume.

The perfume is better than the story. M. Fouquet has made a sophisticated cologne meant to be worn on special occasions. He achieves this without resorting to the classic formal tropes of lavender or rose. There is a floral here which I presume is the winsome Andrea but it isn’t lavender or rose.

It begins with a spicy citrus top accord of lemon, cardamom, and ginger. This has a zestiness which makes me think of my friend’s Ferrari ride across Rome. There is a lilting floral in the heart which reminds me of a cross between violet and iris. Both might be here, but it is unobtrusive. It ends with a trio of woods, guaiac, cedar, and sandalwood. Some vanilla and patchouli provide depth to the woody base accord.

Eight & Bob has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Eight & Bob sits on the shelf I reserve for the events where I must dress up. It conveys a worldly sophistication commensurate to the story behind it. I always wonder if it will send me off on my own grand adventure in a Ferrari or on the Cote d’Azur.

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

Mark Behnke

Pierre Benard Challenge Continued: Vanilla

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One of the reasons I have enjoyed writing these pieces is because it allows me to access my earliest connections to scent. I think I was drawn to what my nose detected in the world before I ever wore a perfume. If there is a through line from these it is my childhood experience informs my adult perception of a specific ingredient. I always write about how I think of vanilla as a comforting odor. It can give me an inner warmth which is particularly appealing in these winter months. I was thinking back to whether there was something which set this association in my head. A local baker gave my brain the nudge it needed to allow me to remember.

Out here in farm country we have a lot of small-batch bakers. It is one of the things I have grown to appreciate about living here. We made an order of treats from our favorite. Inside were these white glazed cookies. I asked her what they were, she called them “super vanilla drops”. Right there my brain got a cue. As I brought one to my mouth that took me the rest of the way.

When I was seven my paternal Grandmother came to live with us. I loved having Gaga in the house. Through her I learned a love of reading as I would read to her before she would go to sleep. We also baked together.

We were blessed by a neighborhood Cuban-American market which had an extensive spice section. Whenever it was baking time we would walk down. Gaga and Sr. Lopez the store owner would consult over what he had in stock. There was a day when he held up a glass tube of gnarly brown strands. I thought they looked like dried up baby snakes. My grandmother broke into a smile and haggled a price for a few of them. As we walked home, I asked her what they were. She told me they were vanilla pods and it was unusual to get them. There was a recipe she had been wanting to use them in.

As we got set up in the kitchen, she took a sharp knife to the pods scraping out the insides with the point. She then diluted it down and it was then the room filled with the smell of vanilla. She strained out the seeds and we used the extract in the making of vanilla drop cookies. The seeds would be incorporated into the glaze we dipped them in.

I don’t remember ever making them again, but the smell of the fresh vanilla was enveloping. It was a scented embrace of my grandmother. I was safe and warm with Gaga which is what vanilla takes me back to.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Van Cleef & Arpels First- Playing Telephone

One of the difficulties of writing this column is deciding when a perfume from the past has been reformulated in a way that it is worth pointing out. If I think the original is awesome but it is because of banned materials like oakmoss and nitro musks, it causes a problem. Then when I try the currently available version I must see if it retains enough of the character to write about it as it exists today. One of the things which happens infrequently is the current version surpasses the original as has happened in Van Cleef & Arpels First.

I own an original bottle of First because it is one of perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena’s first. Released in 1976 it is a typical big floral. It is fun to smell something like this and think how M. Ellena will become famous for the antithesis of it. Lots of “to be banned” materials abound. It is exactly what a mid-1970’s floral perfume smelled like.

I was digging in the discount bins a year ago around the Holidays when this nice green chypre hit me from someone spraying it nearby. I went searching to see what it was. I probably picked up everything on the tester shelf but First because I thought I knew what it would smell like. When I finally figured out it was First, I was floored. Mainly because I liked this better.

I’ve spent the last year trying to find out who was responsible for this version. It is a thankless job that no one at the big brands will admit goes on. Tracking down the perfumer was going to take more effort than I was willing to exert.

One of the things I did do was track down some of the iterations that have been released between 1976 and now. What I found was a perfume version of the party game telephone. The way it is played is the first person is given a phrase which they whisper one time only into the ear of the person next to them. This repeats until it gets back to the person who started it. What generally happens is it has been changed in a funny non-intelligible way. Rarely it ends up with a new phrase which is related to the first one.

That is what happened with First. In a 1990-ish bottle the base has begun to be changed as the musks seem to have been changed. In an early Y2K version the floral heart has gone much greener as the overall early moments have dialed back the rose and jasmine power. Then we arrive at what you can buy now.

The current version starts off with some mandarin on top of a green accord of blackcurrant bud, narcissus, and muguet. Hair spray-like aldehydes add some sparkle. The rose and jasmine are still here but they are using one of the more expansive synthetic jasmines. It allows for more space for the narcissus and muguet to expand into. They become the primary counterpoint to the rose. It moves to a modern chypre base where sandalwood, amber, clove, and some synthetic musks form it. It fits ideally with what is here now.

All of this refers to the Eau de Parfum version. The current version has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I think this game of “perfume telephone” has ended up in a better fragrance at the end of the chain. It can be found for less than $25/bottle at many discounters. If you remember the old First give the new one a try you might be surprised, too.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Sikkim de Lancome- Late to the Trend

As we have covered multiple times through this series some perfumes have a shelf life. Not due to their materials going bad. But because trends shift away from them. One of the more frustrating parts of looking back is when a really great version of a style which is in its final days puts out one of its best examples. That is the story of Sikkim de Lancome.

Lancome has been producing perfume since 1935. They have consistently been in front of trends instead of following them. 1969’s O de Lancome, 1971’s Magie Noire or 1990’s Tresor. Especially the latter made a name for the brand. One of the earliest releases was Cuir de Lancome. This was a traditional birch tar cuir de Russie style of leather. In the 1930’s this was the trend. By the late 1950’s early 60’s leather chypres had become the rage. Somewhere inside the creative team at Lancome the decision was made to join in.

Fresh off composing O de Lancome perfumer Robert Gonnon was asked to make one for the brand. He would design one of the driest leather chypres ever. He would also hit the market too late as it released in 1971. The sun was setting on that style, rapidly.

It is that arid intense green quality which sets Sikkim apart from its contemporaries. The general style was for florals and/or stone fruits to add some softness to the animalic chypre foundation. It was thought to make them easier to wear. M. Gonnon was going to go the other direction with very dry top and base with only a bit of floral relief in the middle.

2005 Reformulation of Sikkim de Lancome

The opening is a severely green galbanum. Sikkim is one of the perfumes which made me adore this ingredient in high amounts. M. Gonnon adds aldehydes which orbit the crystalline galbanum like fizzy comets. There is an herbal component which is listed as artemisia but if it is it is one of the driest versions of that ingredient. Whatever is present adds a dusting of green herbal dust to the shiny galbanum. It moves to an abstract gardenia heart accord. M. Gonnon does not want the inherent green of actual gardenia to interfere with his galbanum. To anyone smelling this it is gardenia just a sweeter deconstructed one. We then come to the leather chypre base. M. Gonnon moves everything to the dry side of the spectrum. The leather feels skanky, old, and crackly. The chypre accord vibrates off the herbal galbanum. Together it forms an excessively sharp experience.

Sikkim in its original formulation has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Sikkim in its 2005 re-released version has 10-12 hour longevity and average silllage.

Sikkim was originally discontinued within ten years. It would rise again as part of Lancome’s 70th anniversary as part of “La Collection”. That version was hampered by being unable to use some of the ingredients of the original. I’m not sure who oversaw it, but they did a creditable job at retaining the desiccated greenness in a slightly different way. If you can only find the reformulated version, it still hews to many of the themes M. Gonnon expressed in the original.

I think Sikkim de Lancome is right up there with the greatest of the leather chypres. It is just too bad it came too late for others to decide that for themselves putting it in the Dead letter Office.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of the vintage and reformulated versions I purchased.

Mark Behnke

The Perfumers Who Saved Christmas

Back in March when I wrote an editorial on “Perfume in the Time of Coronavirus” I was enjoying the quarantine. I expected it to end in a few months. I was taking the opportunity to enjoy my favorite perfumes with abandon. Each one gave me a shot of needed joy.

As we got to the summer and I was still inside I needed a different kind of booster through fragrance. That came as I spent ten days participating in the Pierre Benard Challenge. This was a big change in perspective for me as I hadn’t examined my connection to scent as deeply. I’m always looking for new things to try. For two weeks I stopped and smelled the world.

Then we got to the fall and the end was not in sight. It was wearing on my mental state. I felt like things would never return to normal. Then a magical thing happened courtesy of some of my favorite independent perfumers. They got me out of my funk because their new releases connected with great memories of my past. I was no longer hemmed in by the four walls of my house.

Frassai El Descanso reminded me of my first cross-country drive as I experienced the wheat fields of the prairie.

DSH Perfumes Tea and Charcoal brought me back to when I discovered a coping mechanism as a child.

Aether Arts Perfume Dia de Muerto had me trick or treating on a tropical S. Florida night.

Maher Olfactive Orris Forest had me hopping over rocks on a hike through the forest.

DSH Perfumes Adrenaline and Scorched Earth put me back on the hiking trail in Yellowstone.

Maher Olfactive Tempo Rubato reminded me of a music lesson in a St. Louis jazz club.

Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque Madeleine had me sitting at a tearoom with cakes and hot chocolate.

Imaginary Authors A Whiff of Wafflecone had me in a specialty ice cream shoppe

DSH Perfumes Couverture d’Hiver had the Florida boy remembering his first New England snowstorm.

All of these and more took me out of my quarantine and into the world through the trigger of perfume. It isn’t the design of a perfumer to make their customer find joy through memory. Although it isn’t an undesired side effect.

Now that we do see the beginning of the end, I am full of hope for the next year. If it weren’t for Irina Burlakova, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Amber Jobin, Shawn Maher, Fanny Bal, and Josh Meyer this would have been a dreary Holiday season. They were the perfumers who saved Christmas for me.

I extend my wishes to all my readers for a Merry Christmas. That I have you is another reason this Season remains merry for me.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Dinner By Bobo- Sensual Gingerbread

The early years of the naughts were a fascinating time for independent perfumery. It was the beginning of what would become a special piece of modern perfumery. Like all new things it drew an eclectic group of entrepreneurs. In that kind of environment it was inevitable that some great perfumes would fail because of inexperience. Dinner By Bobo is one of those stories.

Anne and Alexis Hardouin-Finez

In a lot of ways spouses Anne and Alexis Hardouin-Finez made a lot of the right choices when they started their line, By Bobo. They began by working with perfumer Sylvie Jourdet for their first release in 2002. On the perfume side of the equation they made a great decision to work in the gourmand style. It was a type of perfume which had only just become popular. They correctly believed there was a lot of space for creativity. Dinner By Bobo finds that by adding in a sexy skanky underpinning to all the sweet foodie accords surrounding it. This was the very raison de etre for niche perfumery. To take risks by not smelling like anything else.

Sylvie Jourdet

That desire to stand apart is where Mme Jourdet begins by using cumin. This is all the things which makes cumin divisive among perfume lovers. It has that clean human sweat profile. Right next to it is a Holiday fruitcake of intense facets of dried fruits. The balance achieved is remarkable as both accords have equivalent presence, and they go together delightfully. The heart is another interesting exercise in balance. One of my favorite gingerbread accords in all of perfumery is given a sensual twist through ylang-ylang and indolic jasmine. As if a buttery rich gingerbread man is being propositioned by the sexy florals. In the same way that the cumin finds purchase among the fruitcake the skanky florals do the same to the gingerbread. It develops in a slow burn to a base of incense, musk, and patchouli. Continuing the dichotomy of sweet and skanky.

Dinner By Bobo has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I treasure my tiny bottle because I own nothing else like it. Almost twenty years on nobody has managed to replicate this balancing act. As to why it ended up in the Dead Letter Office I have been told the name was one reason. A perfume called Dinner By Bobo did not inspire elegant thoughts in consumers. I also think that the early successes of niche perfumery were different but not too different. Dinner By Bobo might have been just different enough to be unable to find an audience. It could even be simpler than that. New entrepreneurs just couldn’t get their perfume in front of enough buyers. I don’t have a definitive answer and parts of all three conjectures might be the truth.

Dinner By Bobo is one of the reasons I see such potential in gourmand perfumes. It shows what a perfumer who is willing to seek balance between the foodie and the sensual can make something gorgeous.

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

Mark Behnke

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

Pierre Benard Challenge Continued: The Beginning of The Season of Scent

Anyone who knows me understands the time from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day is my favorite time of the year. The food, the friends, the music; everything. A few years ago I began giving this time of year a name in my head, “the season of scent”. Of all the things I mentioned above it also has a distinct evolving profile of pleasant smells throughout. I don’t think I would love it as much if it didn’t smell so damn good.

It starts on Thanksgiving morning with stuffing preparation and pie baking. The first thing that goes in the oven are the pies. Usually apple and pecan. While the doughy spicy pie baking accord wafts from the oven I am chopping herbs. The Scarborough Fair grouping of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. The cornbread of a couple days ago awaits crumbling itself carrying a hint of the buttermilk used to make it.

After the turkey is stuffed and prepared it is placed in the oven. I drink my first cup of coffee. The bitter bite a contrast to all the sweetness in the air. Now it is time to prepare the au gratin potatoes. I know most people are not fond of peeling potatoes. There is something about the scent of freshly peeled potatoes I find soothing. This surrounds me as I slice the peeled potatoes in the mandolin slicer. After layering the casserole dish I grate the aged cheddar cheese to use for the sauce. Warm cheese has an unctuous quality that someone needs to make a perfume of. I pour the sauce over the potatoes and leave them to go in the oven later.

Over the next few hours the scents of cooking foods fill up the house. It is part of the joy of the Holiday season because I think it provides a comforting sense of place. I sit drinking another cup of coffee breathing in the mingled aromas.

As everything eventually makes it to the kitchen counter ready to be served it forms the coziest feeling of the year. All because of its scent.

To those in the US celebrating Thanksgiving today I wish you a home full of your scents of the season.

Mark Behnke

The New Amouage

I have always mentioned Amouage as advanced style perfumery. Under the creative direction of Christopher Chong the perfumes were bold creative efforts. I was along for the ride with most all of them. They were complex, sensually satisfying fragrances. I could spend weeks dissecting a new release because there was something there to be pored over. I was the desired audience. The question I had was how big a group I was part of. A perfume like Myths Woman was a triumph of finding something compelling within the clash of discordant ingredients. It sang to me. But how many others?

Renaud Salmon

At about the same time there was a release called Lilac Love. It felt like this was a way to bring a more familiar style of perfume done in the Amouage way. I applauded it for the effort because I thought it would be a better starting point for a perfume lover to start their Amouage journey. As I’ve spent the week enjoying the new Amouage perfumes overseen by new creative director Renaud Salmon. I was able to crystallize some of my thoughts around what Amouage really means to me.

First it means excellently constructed perfumes. I have always returned to these because there is that feeling of great architecture underneath. M. Salmon showed that is also something he values. In Overture Woman he successfully matches Mr. Chong’s architecture. It works through similar shifts with the same kind of delight in them.

I also want some intensity. Crimson Rocks cinnamon honey tinted rose delivers that. So do the early parts of Enclave. Even that quibble on my part might be another’s idea of intensity as the AmberXtreme takes over.

Interlude Man Black Iris in hindsight now feels like M. Salmon giving people an invitation to return. If that is correct you can’t then serve up something contextually challenging. You must give them something which extrapolates from that invitation.

Mackenzie Reilly

Which is what the two perfumes M. Salmon worked on with Mackenzie Reilly provides. Ashore is a daydream-like walk along a sandy strand twirling a bit of jasmine. It feels as big as the sky with an expansive smile. This is not something Amouage is known for. Yet Ashore feels every inch like one. Even with a more genial embrace.

Which brings me to the last point. I don’t want to lose the awesome complexity of Amouage. If you read through the above, you might think I’m damning with praise of being more accessible. Let me be very clear; I am not. These are all good perfumes that are well worth seeking out. Things are different but the signature rose, incense , and sandalwood are still there. They aren’t as recognizable as a Guerlainade but they do identify Amouage a lot of the time.

Which is why Meander is such a perfect example of what the new Amouage can be. If I want a perfume where I can happily spend my time picking through a complex accord or two, it is right here. I also think because it is built around a carrot, iris, and incense heart it is easily accessible to someone who just likes a good iris perfume.

Therefore I think M. Salmon is going to be a good influence on the future of Amouage. He has a clear-eyed vision which seems to be to bring the brand back to those who might have drifted away. If that’s you there are six new perfumes overseen by M. Salmon to take a sniff of and see if they appeal. My verdict is he has given me faith that he is the right person to create a New Amouage.

Mark Behnke

Amouage Makes a Change

November and December are the most valuable real estate for Colognoisseur. It is when I am trying to squeeze in all the perfume I have left to try for the year and must figure out when to write about it. I don’t consider it a problem it just forces some decisions to be made. For the first time I am going to spend some of that time on a single brand because I think it is important enough to do it. The brand is Amouage.

Christopher Chong

As we end the first twenty years of the 21st century I’ve been thinking about the brands which have helped define this new era of independent and niche perfumery. Right at the top of my list is Amouage. I would meet the brand in 2007 with the twin releases Jubilation 25 and Jubilation XXV. The latter has stood the test of time as one of my all-time favorites. This was the first year then creative director Christopher Chong began his time with the brand. Until last year he oversaw what I consider perfume for those who love perfume. Mr. Chong’s love of classical music and opera were translated into perfumes with a similar grand sweep. The perfumes he helped conceive were worth spending time with.

Renaud Salmon

When he stepped down as creative director, I had some concerns. I had seen one of Amouage’s contemporaries, Clive Christian, fall to pieces after this kind of change. I waited for news of who was taking over. It took some time, but the announcement of Renaud Salmon had me happy there was going to be someone else. But would he live up to what I believe the brand stands for?

My first impression was Interlude Man Black Iris where he oversaw a flanker of one of Mr. Chong’s creations. My worry spiked again because if Amouage was going to become a line of flankers I was not going to be pleased with that choice. After I said that in my review, I received a few e-mails telling me M. Salmon was not going to do that. He chose to do a flanker as a figurative “get to know you” between new creative director and consumers.

In the waning days of 2020 I have an unprecedented opportunity to weigh in on Amouage past and present. I have samples of six new perfumes with which to illuminate all that Amouage hopes to be. I am going to spend the next three days reviewing two new releases each day. On Friday I will come back and give my conclusions in a single place although I suspect it will become obvious as the week moves along.

Tomorrow I will review Mr. Chong’s next to last release Rose Incense and M. Salmon’s Overture Woman which is the distaff counterpart to last year’s Overture Man. It gives me the chance to compare the style of both side-by-side.

The next day I will do the first half of the new Renaissance Collection; Crimson Rocks and Enclave.

This will be followed by the remaining two; Ashore and Meander.

I hope you will join me for Amouage Week.

Mark Behnke