Under the Radar: The Beautiful Mind Series Vol. 1 Intelligence & Beauty- Belle Brilliant

Even I need to be reminded of things which have fallen off my radar screen. When I was speaking with perfumer Geza Schoen about his recent Escentric Molecules M+ Collection I took the opportunity to ask about a different project, The Beautiful Mind Series. In 2010 and five years later Hr. Schoen worked with the creative direction of precocious non-perfume intellects. I was thinking we were overdue for a third volume. He told me that he is just waiting for the right muse. Which sent me to find the earlier releases. When I found The Beautiful Mind Series Intelligence & Beauty Vol.1 there was a gorgeous spring floral waiting.

The beautiful mind he collaborated with was Grandmaster of Memory, Christiane Stenger. She achieved that status at age 12. The brief they came up for the perfume is, “an ode to summer and its memories”. The structure was a floral built around magnolia and tiare. I remember remarking at the time that it was only the second time I had encountered tiare in a perfume. What a difference a decade makes. Even then there is a sparkling presence to this South Pacific gardenia. By pairing it with a creamy woody magnolia it is a study in contrasts They are provided depth through osmanthus and rose. I know they want summer, but this feels very spring-like to me. The tiare is the crown on top of the floral heart. A soft woody base accord around sandalwood and cedar adds in the final flourish

Intelligence & Beauty Vol. 1 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Hr. Schoen would release Vol.2 with ballet dancer Polina Semionova. They produce one of the more interesting fruity florals I own which ends on an animalic accord. Both perfumes are unlike much of what Hr. Schoen has made for other brands. They celebrate the beauty of intelligence which is as good as perfume gets.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Prada Amber pour Homme- In the Beginning

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I’ll make a little admission. I sometimes go back and read the first reviews I did on Basenotes. I don’t think they are bad. They also show some of the things you can still see almost fifteen years later. As I began writing reviews the fashion designers all seemed to be discovering fragrance as part of their brand. I like to remind myself where they started too. For this month’s Discount Diamonds I go back to the beginning for Prada with Prada Amber pour Homme.

In 2006 Miuccia Prada wanted to get into perfume. She would start by releasing pairs of perfumes for each gender. The first effort was around amber at least that was what the label said. When it came to Amber pour Homme the dirty little secret was there was no amber. Perfumer Daniela Andrier began her long tenure as perfumer for Prada by throwing a curveball. This should have been called Myrrh pour Homme. Myrrh is one of those malleable resins which can seemingly be hammered into any shape. One which always surprises me is how it can be made to smell soapy. This is where Mme Andrier starts.

Daniela Andrier

Right from the open the myrrh is there. When I say soapy it reminds me of scented dryer sheets. There is also cotton-like cloth under it. In the early going labdanum slides it in a sweeter direction. Geranium and vetiver pull it back with their greenness. It goes back to being slightly sweeter as orange blossom and sandalwood assert their presence.

Amber pour Homme has 14-16 hour longevitry and average sillage.

Because it has been around so long, I found it regularly in my rack store bins. It is also on most of the discount sites and stores. It is always within the price range to qualify for this column.

These first perfumes by Mme Andrier would begin to form what would recognizably become the Prada fragrance aesthetic. I have always thought of her as a classical designer of perfume. Revisiting the earliest effort at Prada reinforces that thinking.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Tiffany and Tiffany for Men- License Expired

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If there was ever a column that was destined to be written by popular demand it is this one. Every blog has their most commented on post. Far and away the one which has the most comments is my review of 2017’s Tiffany & Co. perfume. The bulk of the 84 and counting comments is a lament for the loss of the originals done for the luxury jewelry store. I realized the reason Tiffany and Tiffany for Men are both in the Dead Letter Office is also a story of how the licensing business in fragrance worked then and now.

Back in the mid-1980’s Tiffany wanted to add an exclusive perfume for purchase at their stores. Most designer brands look for a fragrance company to license their brand to. This has been an ongoing eco-system in perfume for decades. Almost every designer fragrance you own is overseen by one of the huge beauty conglomerates. Which makes the choice made by Tiffany more remarkable. Instead of going with those proven successful entities they chose to collaborate with another exclusive luxury brand who also made fragrance, Chanel.

Francois Demachy

They chose to ask the in-house perfumer team at Chanel of Francois Demachy and Jacques Polge to design exclusive Tiffany branded perfumes. In 1987 they released Tiffany followed two years later by Tiffany for Men. I never knew they existed until I was in Tiffany with a friend and saw the bottles. Both were sophisticated styles which felt perfectly at home in the jewelry store.

Jacques Polge

Tiffany is a gorgeous, layered perfume made up of the best floral ingredients. Rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, orris and muguet form a heady central accord. Grace notes of citrus and berry flirt around the edges. It ends on that characteristically warm Chanel sandalwood and vanilla base.

Tiffany for Men is one of the greatest men’s perfume ever produced on a similar level to Patou pour Homme. The perfumers create a spicy citrus opening which turns greener through galbanum and oakmoss. It also comes to an end on a familiar Chanel accord this time it is an ambery sandalwood given some texture through black pepper.

About the time I learned that Chanel was the perfume house behind them I would learn soon after that Tiffany was not renewing the license, ending it in 2006. The remaining inventory would be depleted over the years following. Eventually the only place they lived on was in the Dead Letter Office.

The story picks up again ten years later. Tiffany wanted to get back into the fragrance game again. This time they would collaborate with one of the large beauty companies; licensing the brand to Coty. This seems to be an attempt to capture a new Tiffany audience. No more exclusivity. Sold everywhere. Looking to appeal to the current trends favored by the younger fragrance buying demographic. If you read my review of this newer version, I think they achieved what they were trying for.

This story is a tale of two different times and places for how Tiffany wanted to be interpreted as a perfume. 35 years ago it was exclusivity. Currently it is in search of a younger demographic by casting a wider net.

For all the commenters I hope this gives you some insight into why it is unlikely to ever see Tiffany or Tiffany for Men find their way out of the Dead Letter Office.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Elizabeth & James Nirvana French Grey- WandaScent

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One of the great collections of inexpensive fragrance is the one created by the twin celebrities Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. Starting in 2014 they released pairs of perfumes under the label of Elizabeth & James. Back then when I wrote about it, I mentioned the name came from the ladies’ younger, less famous, siblings. Revisiting that statement in 2021 the distaff side of the name is no longer the less anything to her sisters. Elizabeth Olsen has been a brilliant actor in the streaming series WandaVision. The twins turned out to have their own version of precocious vision as they moved into fashion and fragrance.

When it came to these perfumes the idea was to design simple easy-to-wear constructs. That isn’t an uncommon target for many modestly priced brands. What always seemed to set this collection apart was the choice of three tightly integrated keynotes. Each of the six releases are designed with this in mind. Elizabeth & James Nirvana French Grey was part of the lest set of two in 2017. Perfumers Nicole Mancini and Linda Song use lavender, neroli, and musk as the trio to build this with.

What all the perfumes do in this collection is to sandwich one multi-faceted ingredient between two others. Using the variability to move back and forth between the two it forms a more dynamic fragrance than you might expect from just three ingredients.

Lavender plays the part of the ingredient with facets. In French Grey it is sandwiched between neroli and musk. The herbal nature of the lavender resonates with the green floral scent of neroli. Early on you get a slightly green floral accord. As the lavender shifts towards the musk it shows off its powdery side. It creates a lightly powdered skin accord. Over the hours it stays on my skin the lavender seemingly pivots back and forth between the neroli and musk until it finally fades.

Nirvana French Grey has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

All six Elizabeth & James fragrances qualify as Discount Diamonds they are that good. Nirvana French Grey is just the best choice for these early spring days. If you are enjoying Elizabeth’s acting, you should see the vision her twin sisters bring to perfume.

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

Mark Behnke

Pierre Benard Challenge Continued: Ice, Ice, Baby

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It wasn’t until I was 22 that I first encountered ice through weather. I had lived in Florida my entire life until then. At grad school in Georgia I walked out to my car one morning. I started it up and turned on the windshield wipers to remove the dew on the windshield. Except it didn’t move the wipers skidded uselessly over it. Of course my Florida trained mentality leapt to the right conclusion. I thought someone had put white spray paint on my car window. As the edges began to melt the actuality came through. There was ice on my windshield. After almost forty years in the parts of the world where ice is a part of the natural order of things, I am more used to it. It has now evolved to the way the ice on my lawn and trees smells.

The smell of freezing precipitation has always fascinated me. just like a summer rainstorm presents itself in ozone and petrichor the colder version does the same. This past week we have had a lot of ice freezing on surfaces in Colognoisseur HQ. As I watched the dogs in the backyard the scent of the world was like a giant ice cube. A little more liquid as the icicles had a drop of water on the ends. What also stands out is the way the ice adds a barrier to all the other natural odors. The only thing I smell is this crystallized humidity.

We’ve also had some snow. That has a different profile to my nose. There is an apocryphal tale that Eskimos have 50-plus words for snow. When it comes to my perception of the world covered in snow there is just a chilly sterility with crunch. As I walk through it the auditory sound of my boots along with what I breathe in seem to go together. The snow doesn’t add as perfect a barrier as the ice. It allows some of the woods to join in.

There are two excellent perfume equivalents to the way I think of snow. One is Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle L’Eau d’Hiver by Jean-Claude Ellena. This is a breathy whisper behind mittened hands in the snow. The other is the more recent Maison Crivelli Absinthe Boreale by Nathalie Feisthauer. She captures the crunch of the snow as I sip absinthe while watching the aurora borealis.

It might be easy to think of snow as odorless. Reality and perfume have taught me differently.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: i Profumi di Firenze Brezza di Mare- Aquatic from the Flood

When I started widening my fragrance horizons, I had some stupid rules. One of them was I didn’t want to try any aquatics. Through the nineties and early oughts that seemed to be the only masculine style mainstream brands were interested in. During these early days I became a regular at the perfume purveyors in Boston. One of my favorite sales associates was Roberto at the Copley Place Barney’s New York. I liked him because he paid attention while also nudging me towards things I wanted to ignore. He also knew I liked hearing the stories behind the brands. One afternoon he showed me i Profumi di Firenze Brezza di Mare and my dopey rules became moot.

The story behind the brand is fabulous whether it is true or not. The tale begins with the once in a century 1966 flood of the Arno River in Florence. After the waters receded brand founder and perfumer Dr. Giovanni di Massimo began looking through the wreckage. He found in a sealed basement the perfume recipes of Caterina de Medici from the 16th century. Dr. di Massimo would take one of those recipes and release the first perfume named after Sig.ra de Medici. For over twenty-five years the brand has been making excellent fragrances.

Brezza di Mare managed to break through my resistance to the aquatic genre despite using one of the keynotes of it. Dr. di Massimo overwhelms that Calone in enough other attention getting notes I didn’t mind its presence.

One of the hallmarks of my favorite aquatics is a heavier concentration of the ozonic sea spray notes. Growing up on the beach the scent of my sun-warmed skin with a crust of salt from the dried sea water is where I want a perfume to go. Brezza di Mare begins with that. It always makes me smile when I wear it because of it. The Calone comes next but not by itself. A full bouquet of white flowers come along for the ride. Calone usually has a strong watery melon quality. Because of the white flowers that is swept up in their exuberance. It attenuates the things I am not fond of while letting the things I do predominate. From here it takes a warm turn with vanilla and white musk forming the base. This is what really makes this so appealing. As the vanilla finds the white flowers it turns those typical aquatic pieces into something cozier. It isn’t so deep as to become gourmand-like. It is just enough different sweetness to resonate with the florals.

Brezza di Mare has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

If you also are down on aquatics give this a try. I would also urge anyone who is intrigued by the history of the house I described to also put it on your radar. It is one worth spending some time with.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Boss Number One- A Perfume Blazer

When I got my first job in 1984, I wanted to upgrade my wardrobe. One piece of clothing I always wanted was a great fitting blazer. I wanted that male version of a little black dress which I could wear on any occasion. When I went shopping, I found a Hugo Boss version which was just what I was looking for. That blazer traveled everywhere with me for years until the lining began to fall apart.  It was as much a part of my wardrobe as my current Hawaiian shirt and fedora are now.

This was also the early moments of the expansion of my perfume collection. I was in Macy’s one day in the mid 1980’s waiting for something. I was killing time at the men’s fragrance counter. The sales associate brought over a new one called Boss Number One. When I sniffed it, I realized this was in line with the scents I was trending towards in those days. I felt it had to be the cologne which would go with my blazer. Back in 1986-ish I just like the way it smelled. I now know a little more about why I liked it so much.

Pierre Wargnye

One of those reasons is it was perfumer Pierre Wargnye’s second perfume after the amazing success of Drakkar Noir. I was never one of those who gravitated towards that even though I recognized its quality. There were too many people wearing it I wanted something different. Boss Number One was a more nuanced style of fougere over his first one. He would add in a lot of grace notes through a central axis of herbs, honey, and tobacco.

The top accord seems to be the perfume version of one of those spice blends. I can pick out rosemary, cardamom, sage, and nutmeg most prominently. There are others on the edges, but it is those which form a green opening. A thread of rose winds its way though which is followed by the sweetness of honey. There is a lot of honey here and it is in the amount where on some people it will smell urine-like. On me it is all slightly animalic sweetness. The tobacco waiting to join it makes a satisfying duet. In my old bottle, a real chypre accord of patchouli, oakmoss, and vetiver form the foundation. For this review I got a small current tester, and it is here where the chypre has been mostly replaced with a cedar, patchouli, and vetiver accord which is an acceptable substitute.

Boss Number One has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Almost as much as my Hugo Boss blazer my bottle of Boss Number One was in my travel bag. That’s because it was as versatile as my jacket.

Disclosure: this review is based on my original bottle and a newer one purchased this year.

Mark Behnke

Flanker Round-Up: Armani Code Eau de Parfum and Yves St. Laurent Y Le Parfum

If there is a masculine counterpart to the ubiquitous spring rose it is lavender. I have noticed that more of the spring men’s releases rely on this floral recently. I received two flankers where its addition is a positive.

Armani Code Eau de Parfum

Ever since its release Armani Code has acted as a cash cow for the brand. They would pump out releases which were uninspired copies. Something changed a couple years ago as the last couple of Armani Code flankers have been much more interesting. Some of that might have something to do with Antoine Maisondieu being involved or maybe being given the ability to color outside the lines. The New Armani Code Eau de Parfum benefits from whatever the reason is.

What is nice is at every phase there is a substitute for the original. It starts as lemon replaces grapefruit. This is a very warm lemon instead of bright. The floral herbal piece of this Eau de Parfum version is lavender and rosemary. Each is a change from the original while still cutting close enough to feel like part of the family. The base accord has a higher concentration of tonka bean which adds in another warmer ingredient. Overall it confirms that warmth a parfum version would likely have. I also think this is a good choice for the spring and fall.

Armani Code Eau de Parfum has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Yves St. Laurent Y Le Parfum

I have been mostly disappointed in the last few years at YSL. The original release of Y Eau de Toilette is an example of fragrance by focus group. It works for people who don’t really like perfume. Just like Armani Code, YSL has cranked out multiple flankers all of which retained that lack of ingenuity. By featuring lavender among many other changes, perfumer Dominique Ropion has made the best version of Y yet.

The opening is a collision of tart fruit in grapefruit and green apple. The tartness is a nice opening for the lavender to walk through. The floral is kept more on its herbal side with a little sage making sure of that. It closes on a sweetly woody accord of cedar and tonka bean.

Y Le Parfum has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Disclosure: this review was based on samples provided by the manufacturers.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Mystere de Rochas- The Art of More

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As I look around the Dead Letter Office considering what to write about there is a shelf which seems overpopulated. The label there reads “Rochas”. It has some of my favorite perfumes on it. I always look as I wonder how it can be the perfume is grand while they missed the consumer. Ever since the post-war release of Femme the brand has flailed about trying to find something which would share the popularity of that. It has led to a few eras over the past eighty years. One of them occurred in the late 1970’s early 80’s. It started with Mystere de Rochas.

Rochas has been a brand which has regularly relied upon in-house perfumers. Especially back then it was a crucial piece to developing a brand identity. Even though nobody but the professionals knew who was behind any fragrance. During this time, the nose in charge was Nicolas Mamounas. As he was working to give Rochas a new identity he was also looking around at what was popular. He made the decision to work on popular styles but to metaphorically pump up the volume. I am unsure what the reception was back in the day. I guess since all four perfumes made during this period are in the Dead Letter Office, I have my answer.

Nicolas Mamounas

What I find kind of sad is how well M. Mamounas did at the art of giving us more. These are super intense versions of well-known styles. Mystere went for the popular style of the time, chypre. The ingredient that made chypre at that time was oakmoss. Mystere is awash in it. M. Mamounas forms a green perfume so deep it almost becomes black.

The lore of the perfume is along the lines of others which touted the “hundreds” of materials to be found. It might be so, but it spins on an axis of three primary ingredients of narcissus, patchouli and oakmoss.

It opens with a familiar hiss of aldehydes and galbanum. This sets the stage for the greening of things to come. Narcissus forms the core of the floral accord. M. Mamounas unfurls an assertive version of this which would be too sharp if left on its own. He expertly weaves in a bouquet of other florals to form an ameliorating wreath of mostly white flowers. We then come to the base where the classic chypre accord is present in patchouli, oakmoss, and a woody accord of cypress and cascarilla wood. Usually the wood is sandalwood, but this choice is much lighter in effect. I think it is so the oakmoss can just coat everything in a velvety soft green blanket. The patchouli modulates the earthiness present in the oakmoss. Whenever I need a reminder of why I miss oakmoss Mystere is a good reminder. It flows in a gorgeously textural way as it sweeps up the narcissus in its embrace.

Mystere has 24-hour plus longevity and above average sillage.

Mystere arrived in 1978 and after Rochas was acquired was reformulated. That 1989 reformulation dumbed everything down. It is the only confirmation I have that even though M. Mamoulas perfected the art of more the only place it lives on is in the Dead Letter Office.

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

Mark Behnke

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

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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