Under the Radar: Chanel Allure Homme Edition Blanche- Shoulder Season Standout

This is the time of year referred to as shoulder season. Not quite full spring with reminders of winter still present. Just as you wear a sweater or jacket in the morning only to be carrying it on your arm in the afternoon. There are a select few perfumes I enjoy wearing on these variable days. They are among the best constructed perfumes I own because they must be versatile enough to handle the variability of the day. From the moment it was released in the spring of 2008 Chanel Allure Homme Edition Blanche has epitomized the ideal shoulder season perfume.

Chanel has always been blessed with incredible in-house perfumers. Enough that it would be difficult to parse which is better. When it comes to a set of masculine perfumes it would be hard to argue that Jacques Polge and Francois Demachy set the standard for twenty years at Chanel. Allure Homme Edition Blanche would add the exclamation point to this era.

Allure Homme Edition Blanche succeeds by being what I call a high-low style of perfume. Something which starts out light and ends up deep. The original Allure Homme was a soft fresh citrus woody perfume. Even though it shares the name Allure Homme Edition Blanche is entirely different.

It is apparent right away with one of my favorite lemon top accords. This is bright sunshine for a spring, or fall, day. Sun hanging lower in the sky still brilliant but a little softer around the edges. This lemon infuses the perfume with energy which carries into the heart where sandalwood and tonka await. The sweet of both ingredients cover the lemon. Adding more depth without completely overwhelming the citrus. The base uses vetiver and vanilla to provide the final rounding. Vetiver takes the sandalwood to a more traditional woody direction. The vanilla harmonizes with the tonka for a comforting accord. All while the lemon pulses in the middle of it all.

Allure Homme Edition Blanche has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

While I am lauding this for being perfect in spring or fall it is also just as good in the summer as an alternative citrus cologne. There are few better men’s fragrances out there than this. If you’ve come to Chanel because of Bleu de Chanel; Allure Homme Edition Blanche should be another bottle from the brand you add to your radar screen, or dresser.

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

Mark Behnke

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

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

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

Bertrand Duchaufour

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

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

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

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

Mark Behnke

Perfume in the Time of Coronavirus

I am a generally happy person. The current coronavirus pandemic has worn away at that. I like to be informed but this time the more I learned the bluer I felt. Over the last few days I’ve unplugged from the news streams except for watching the local and national news for an hour. It has helped. The other thing that has helped is my love for perfume.

To fill up the time I’ve been working in the perfume vault. I am surprised at how much beauty there is to be found. I shouldn’t be, I write about it every day. On those shelves are history lessons, trips to faraway places, exceptional artistic visions; all of which are fascinating. I’ve been allowing myself the luxury of letting scent take me away.

I have spent some of my time getting lost in my favorite perfume house, Patou. The Art Deco bottles seem appropriate as we enter this century’s own 20’s. The great Joy was created in 1925. I was struck by the way that perfume seems timeless. It is what a floral perfume should be at any time.

I turned to the Japanese inspired perfumes by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz for serenity. My favorite perfume by one of my favorite perfumers is her Bancha. I usually demur when asked to name a single perfume when asked what is the one I like best. Bancha is one which is unequivocal in my affection. I always wear Bancha on the first day of spring. The same sense of tranquility and hope descended upon me with each breath I took as it does every year. It is especially appropriate now.

Alessandro Brun, Me, Riccardo Tedeschi (l. to r.)

I hadn’t thought about what a great collection the Masque Milano perfumes have become until I spent an afternoon with them covering different patches of skin. It is such a varied collection that I smelled like a pile-up on the perfume interstate. Yet there is a real sense of vision now that there are several perfumes to examine. Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi are in the midst of creating perfume which will stand the test of time. To spend this time with them has been illuminating.

I decided to go around the world while sitting at my desk. Perfumes took me to every continent all while never leaving the house.

I’ve never had the best answer when asked why I have so much perfume. Maybe I was just waiting for a time when all that I enjoy can be there as emotional support. I think those days have arrived. Perfume in the time of coronavirus will be what gets me through.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Bvlgari Eau Parfumee Au The Vert- First Haiku

As my closet is testament to, if you wait long enough every trend eventually comes back into style. As I wrote that I gazed at the perfume vault and realized the same thing holds there. As perfume trends go the 1990’s was one of the most vital at creating new genres and styles. Despite it being all the rage today, transparency was one of those. It was also a time where perfumers who were behind-the-scenes artists had some latitude. It would be another ten years before their names were as known as the brands they worked for. The first star perfumer is probably Jean-Claude Ellena. The perfume which probably defined the style he would refine for the next 25 years is Bvlgari Eau Parfumee Au The Vert.

To perfume lovers if you speak M. Ellena’s name they think of their favorite minimalist perfume from his time as in-house perfumer at Hermes. Many are surprised when I show them that style was apparent in 1993 with Au The Vert.

Jean-Claude Ellena

The simple brief given him was to create a perfume evoking a Japanese tea ceremony. He took this to heart considering the minimalist aesthetic of Japan. His thought was to streamline the composition down to a few essential ingredients. To keep the focus on the tea as you would at an actual tea ceremony. What comes to life is a vibrant perfume in just a few well-chosen notes.

The opening is the soft floral citrus of orange blossom. It is given definition using coriander and cardamom. The cardamom gives lift to the citrus character. The coriander captures the green undertone of the flower. The floral nature is given some depth with jasmine. This brings us to the green tea. It is a bit bitter. It is also very transparent. It rises in tendrils of steam through the top accord. Underneath it all is a light application of smoky woods as if the brazier the tea was heated on enters the scene.

Au The Vert has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

At the time this was released it was a best seller because there was nothing like it on the market. It was a perfume which wasn’t as forthright in its charms as the others on the department store fragrance counter. It is entirely on trend for today’s perfume customers. The nice thing is it falls into my Discount Diamonds cutoff as you can find bottles available for right around that $40 limit. I can tell you there are few perfumes out there which are better.

As M. Ellena would evolve the style begun here his creations would be called “Perfume Haiku”. Au The Vert was the first of those verses.

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

Mark Behnke

Flanker Round-Up: Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio Profondo and Armani Code Absolu Gold

I sometimes get an e-mail from a reader asking me, “What’s the point of flankers?” Trust me when I receive them in the mail that is something I ask myself. The cynical answer is the large companies are trying to part consumers from their money who feel brand loyalty. It is probably closer to the truth. Yet I have observed there might be a more positive perspective to have on flankers.

When I give someone a perfume to try on a strip and they tell me they don’t like it; I ask why. The most frequent answer is there is one thing which doesn’t make them happy. Too floral. Not floral enough. Too sweet. Too strong. A flanker can address this by making the one small change which might bring in someone who was put off by something in the original. This was my frame of mind when I received the two latest flankers from Giorgio Armani.

Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio Profondo

To their credit Giorgio Armani has not overexposed Acqua di Gio by releasing a ton of flankers of the 1995 original. It is also commendable that they have been clearly different from each other. The original was one of the early uses of Calone as the source of the sea spray beachy quality. The big difference in Acqua di Gio Profondo is the use of an analog called Cascalone. This is a deeper version of the sea with a more concentrated effect. It is what perfumer Alberto Morillas uses in the opening moments. Lavender replaces jasmine from the original. The lavender goes well with the Cascalone in creating a slightly darker shade of fragrance. It ends with a mineralic accord in the base,

If you were someone who found the original Acqua di Gio too fresh and clean; Profondo is just a shade less of both.

Acqua di Gio Profondo has 8-10 hour.

Giorgio Armani Armani Code Absolu Gold

With Armani Code the brand doesn’t seem as protective; releasing nearly a flanker a year since its initial release. That kind of process leads to a cynical view. All the Armani Code flankers have been offshoots of the original’s woody Oriental construction. I had easily ignored them until last year’s Armani Code Absolu which did change things. I wasn’t fond of an odd boozy accord in the middle but I appreciated the effort to try something new. This year’s version Armani Code Absolu Gold makes a change which made me like it much more.

Perfumer Antoine Maisondieu was behind both of the Absolu versions. In Armani Code Absolu Gold the booze is replaced by a fantastic iris and saffron heart. This flows much more naturally from the crisp fruits of apple and tangerine on top into benzoin and tonka bean in the base. It is difficult to get the floral balance right in a perfume marketed to men. I think if you are looking for a subdued floral for a change of pace and you like the Armani Code DNA this is a good alternative.

Armani Code Absolu Gold has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Giorgio Armani.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Halston Z-14- Citrus Chypre

There are a lot of the men’s perfumes designed in the 1970’s that seem to be as dated as platform shoes. They have a way of reminding you of the caricature of the hairy chested Playboy man. There is a more charitable description as simple powerhouses. Which translates to very expressive fragrances. I believe it is these perfumes, and the men who wore too much of them, which have given fragrance a bad name to this day. I still like some of my favorites from those days, modestly applied. It is that lesser amount which shows which of them are better constructed than others. One which falls into that category is Halston Z-14.

By the mid-1970’s fashion designer Halston was the man who dressed the glitterati hanging out at Studio 54 in New York City. He became one of the most famous celebrity designers because he was photographed with Liza, Anjelica, Bianca, or Margaux wearing his designs on the dance floor. As the perfume industry was changing during this time so were the buying habits of American women. Prior to this time most perfume was bought by men for the women in their lives. With women entering the workforce women were now using the money they made to buy things for themselves. Cosmetics giant Max Factor wanted a name to draw those consumers to their own fragrance. They licensed the Halston name and in 1975 released Halston for Women. It was a huge success. Which meant in 1976 it was time for a men’s version called Halston Z-14.

Halston and Liza Minelli

Halston would creatively direct perfumer Vincent Marcello to create a spicy citrus chypre. It is that idea of bright citrus over a chypre base accord which keeps Z-14 still relevant today. Of course that original chypre accord has been altered due to the discontinuation of many of the ingredients. When I tried a current bottle of Z-14 I was surprised at how well it has evolved from its original form. I’m not sure who is overseeing the reformulation, but they have done a good job. The description below is of a new bottle I just purchased.

It opens brightly with the lemony green of verbena ushering in a fuller lemon. Cinnamon is the primary spice which pierces the tart citrus. Just the simple balance between hot cinnamon and sunny lemon feels great. The chypre accord has also been brightened since the original formulation. Most of the time I bemoan the loss of the bite of oakmoss in the current chypres. The chypre accord here is lighter in nature. In this current version of Z-14 I think it allows it not to fall into a dated parody of itself. Instead it helps make it feel a little closer to the current time.

Z-14 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Z-14 can be found for around $10 a bottle. Despite its age and origins it manages to be a Discount Diamond for being a bright citrus chypre.

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

Mark Behnke

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

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

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

Abdes Salaam Attar

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

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

Tabac has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

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

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

Mark Behnke

The Decline of Les Grandes Maisons de Parfum

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I received an e-mail from a reader after the end of year “Best of” lists. I had asserted that 2019 was the best year for independent perfumery ever. The condensed reader’s response was that the great perfume brands no longer care about being good. My instinctual response was to think, “Nonsense!” Then I tried to reply without using one word. It was then I realized without having explicitly thought about it; I agreed with the reader. It has been circulating in my thoughts for the last month. I thought it was time to put it out there.

When I first started reading the perfume groups and blogs, around 2002, I was introduced to the great perfume brands. This was paired with the beginnings of a vital independent perfume community forming. Because I was in that rapid learning and acquisition phase I was getting bottles from what were the perfume brands which helped found modern perfumery. They have been called Les Grandes Maisons de Parfum; The Great Perfume Houses. Chanel, Guerlain, Dior, Yves St. Laurent, and Creed were the old guard. Hermes, Gucci, Prada, and Acqua di Parma were the second-generation. The early independent upstarts were building their own modern architecture as Tom Ford, Serge Lutens, Comme des Garcons, and Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle added some new blood. These were the crème de la crème of perfume brands throughout the first decade of the 2000’s.

There are thirteen brands in that last paragraph. Only Chanel of the old guard seems to still care about being innovative. Olivier Polge has taken the brand into the current day without losing that Chanel-ness. Dior has become a running joke as focus groups rule the day. Guerlain has become a massive machine pumping out overwhelming amounts of mediocrity. They released 25 perfumes in 2019. Embruns D’Ylang was a perfume worthy of the heritage. The rest? Flankers and functional fragrance packaged in beautiful bee bottles. YSL has been in decline for years. They’ve tried with Le Vestiaire des Parfums most recently, but they mostly remind me of what they used to be. Creed has seemingly been swept away with trying to replicate the success of Aventus; releasing two flankers and another attempt to capture the same popularity with Viking.

The second-generation brands fare only a little better. Hermes is doing well under Christine Nagel. Gucci is showing signs of life under creative director Alessandro Michele. Prada and Acqua di Parma seem to have become content to circle in endless holding patterns recycling the ideas of the past.

Comme des Garcons and Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle have shown the way on how to consistently re-invent yourself. Tom Ford and Serge Lutens are starting to fall into parodies of themselves. Tom Ford used to provoke with the perfume now it is the name which seemingly captures all the creativity; in a juvenile way. Serge Lutens lost the plot when they began pumping out the ridiculous Eaus. Now they are so bereft of new ideas they just cannibalize the past making Frankenstein-like perfumes made up of pieces of the earlier great perfumes.

Is independent perfumery having its moment because the original innovators have given up? Once I was forced to think about it the answer seems to be “Yes!”

Mark Behnke

How To Trust Your Perfume Reviewer

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I feel fortunate that I have been writing about perfume long enough that I don’t think my motives are suspect to others. I have been concerned about some of the tough criticism that many of the young video reviewers have been receiving lately. There seem to be some common themes which recur. Many of them boil down to, “How can I trust this person?” I’d like to address the biggest thing people seem to be annoyed/worried about. Hopefully it will help.

That issue is the receipt of free perfume. If you work hard at giving yourself a presence eventually you will form a relationship with perfume brands. There is a difference between an independent perfumer who is working for themselves versus the large beauty companies. One is by nature more personal while the other is just publicity. With an independent brand you can find the fragrance creators out in the community. With the large brands you must keep knocking on the door until they let you in. It means that most of the reviewers in their early days spend their own money on the large brands while they might receive a free sample from an independent brand because they can make a more personal introduction. The biggest drive of commenting on perfume is content, having enough to make a video or blog post on. The more you do it the more you will start seeing brands reach out to you. This leads to the most important thing you must do; reveal the source of the perfume you are reviewing.

I believe this simple effort is the most important piece of building trust between reviewer and audience. Each person will decide on the style of their content. The fantastic thing is there is a reviewer out there who closely reflects a viewer’s perspective on perfume. I’ve seen a lot of people comment, “the reviewer got it for free they are just a shill.” I can see why that kind of comment makes people shy away from mentioning where the perfume they are talking about came from. It shouldn’t. First rule of doing anything; you can’t please everyone. Second rule; you shouldn’t tie yourself up in knots trying to.

The best reviewers come to it from a deep love of fragrance. That quality is obvious the more time you do it. Once you believe that, it shouldn’t matter where the perfume came from. As long as you share the source with them. That piece of information allows the audience to make up their own mind about whether you are influenced by something given to you for free. If you are genuine the audience will respond by sticking around. It takes a lot of hard work. Nobody builds an audience overnight.

Everyone who makes that first step should know it will get better the more you do it. If you feel like you have something to say about perfume you will be happy to find there are others out there who want to hear you. To build the trust you will need; be passionate, be honest, and have fun. If the reviewer you are watching is doing that. I think you can trust them.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Jovoy Psychedelique- Sea of Brown Paisley

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I’ll admit that the line-up for future Under the Radar columns comes from my standing in front of the shelf of perfumes I am currently wearing. As I look over that shelf, I think that one needs some exposure. January has always been a month where I break out my patchouli heavy hitters. I don’t know what it is, but I have come to like my patchouli-focused scents coming out of the Holidays. I think part of it is as a tonic to the deluge of spring rose perfumes that will be arriving soon. Many perfume lovers look to avoid some of the deeper shades of patchouli. I understand that. The beauty of modern perfumery is perfumers have such an expanded palette of patchouli-based materials there is a patchouli out there for most tastes. Right now I just want a patchouli perfume unafraid to lay it all out there. To draw me into its depths. That perfume is Jovoy Psychedelique.

Francois Henin

Currently the name of Jovoy and its founder Francois Henin are well-known among those who look for contemporary perfume. M. Henin has been one of the most committed promoters of the independent perfume movement. Opening stores in Paris to display the best of this sector of fragrance. To play it safe he decided he needed his own brand to make sure he had one he knew he could count on. Jovoy was founded in 2011 with an initial collection of six, five of which are still in production today.  I own three of them. Private Label was my first introduction to perfumer Cecile Zarokian. Amber Premier is one of the warmest ambers I own. Psychedelique is the one I spend the most time with; my eyes closed breathing in with a smile.

Jacques Flori

Psychedelique was composed by perfumer Jacques Flori. M. Flori uses a rich source of patchouli as the center of his fragrance. It can make it seem like Psychedelique is a brown paisley pattern where the supporting ingredients lighten or deepen the patchouli in the middle of it all. It is that sense of motion which makes Psychedelique stand apart.

Patchouli has two main aspects to its scent profile; a deep earthiness and a chocolate-like one. M. Flori shifts between the two as the perfume develops. At first it is that earthy quality, but it is kept at a slightly lighter level. A lovely flare of citrus provides points of light amidst the brown. The citrus turns to a dried fruit accord while the patchouli exerts its chocolate nature. This is the part of patchouli that doesn’t get used as much lately. I feel as if I’m sliding across a giant fondant. The earthiness returns for the base. This time it carries the slightly mentholated nature patchouli can show at higher concentrations. Amber and vanilla come to dry things out over the final stages.

Psychedelique has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.

There will be a night, sometime soon, where after I’ve taken care of the Colognoiseur tasks for the day I will spray on some Psychedelique for the rest of the day and to sleep in. I’ll have dreams of being on a sea of brown paisley. If you want to join me put Jovoy Psychedelique on your radar.

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

Mark Behnke