Improving the Perfume Vocabulary for the Right Reasons

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Last week when I was writing about some of the new Zara fragrances I wrote this phrase, “an Oriental base accord”. I am not sure why it clicked but I began to think about whether the use of “Oriental” as a descriptor of fragrance wasn’t a problem. After I finished writing I began to look around to see if others felt the same way. I found a few articles which shared the antipathy to continue using it.

The term doesn’t seem to have come from a racial perspective. It came from wanting a descriptive name for perfumes which featured the ingredients of the East. In its earliest uses it was used to describe incense, sandalwood, and amber heavy perfumes. When I see the term describing something I am about to smell for the first time those ingredients are what I expect to encounter. Until last week I had not given it any thought.

One of the frustrating things about writing about fragrance is the lack of an unanimity in what any writer means when using any descriptor. It becomes too easy to rely on what seems to have broader understanding among perfume lovers. I would say even the PR people at brands must be struggling for an alternative. You want a consumer, or a reader to connect with what you write.

As I learned more, I was trying to think of an alternative to use. It isn’t easy. Because I think of incense and oud as key components I was thinking of overusing “resinous”. Except it didn’t feel as encompassing as I’d like. I was thinking of sandalwood and spice which is a popular piece of this genre. “Spicy woods” or “woody spice” also felt like it wasn’t capturing it either. Which made me think again about whether I needed a one-for-one replacement. Why couldn’t I focus on the specific ingredients and forget about the older term? Which is what I am going to do for the near term.

Just as I was writing this, I received an e-mail from Michael Edwards’ Fragrances of the World on this subject. They have the same broad implications in their use of the term. They have decided to replace it with “amber”. I’ll be following their lead when it feels right to use that going forward, too.

As I’ve spent the last week thinking on this, I’ve come to realize that the catch-all term had become meaningless. As much as I want a tiny bit more precision in perfume vocabulary the outdated term wasn’t helping. I think using the terms I’ve mentioned above will improve the description process for all the right reasons.

Mark Behnke

Flanker Round-Up: Dolce and Gabbana Light Blue Forever and Light Blue Forever pour Homme- The Summer 2021 Remix

One of the things I enjoy about music is when a song is remixed. That means the original version is newly produced by a different artist. What I have found throughout the years is my enjoyment of a musical remix is if something I like about the original is amplified and extended. Flankers are kind of the perfumery equivalent to a remix. The basic structure of the original is there as it is changed for the current year. For this summer Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Forever and Light Blue Forever pour Homme remix two of the classic mass-market perfumes of all-time.

Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Forever

When Light Blue was released in 2001 it defined a summery Mediterranean scent marketed to women. Perfumer Olivier Cresp used sunny citrus and apple to a fresh floral heart of jasmine and rose down to a cedar focused woody base.

For this 2021 version M. Cresp moves the apple to a slightly more prominent position over the citrus. It creates a different Mediterranean feel. The floral heart is where the real change of rhythm occurs. He uses orange blossom to replace the original florals. By pushing the citrus back a little bit it gives this flower some room to expand. It ends on one of the dry synthetic woods.

I would suggest that if you liked the original and wanted a remix with a softer floral heart Light Blue Forever might be the right choice.

Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue pour Forever Homme

Perfumer Alberto Morillas created one of the best men’s aquatics in Light Blue pour Homme in 2007. It was the apotheosis of the fresh and clean masculine style. For the 2021 version a new perfumer, Shyamala Maisondieu was brought in. She completely changes the beat from fresh and clean to summery vetiver.

It begins with a fresh air suite of ozonic notes and citrus. In the fourteen years since the original this has probably become the more common representation of fresh. Instead of an herbal green as in the original Mme Maisondieu uses a sharper vegetal green in violet leaves. This leads right into the vetiver in the base. This is a woodier version over the greener facets. Some patchouli adds hints of earthiness.

This remix is a bit fresher and dirtier as the clean part of the original is roughened up by the back half of Light Blue Forever pour Homme. I enjoyed this change, especially in the warm weather.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Dolce & Gabbana.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar Costamor Beachwood- The Remains of the Day

When I am at the beach in the summer there is a time of day which always seems poignant. It is about an hour prior to sunset. The day is drawing to a close. Twilight is still some time away. This is the last piece of full sunlight even though it is approaching the horizon. The beach is mostly empty. A few guys with metal detectors sweeping the sand. The air is cooling off as the sea breeze freshens. The night blooming flowers are early risers as jasmine and its contemporaries scent the air. I would regularly head out after my shower to enjoy this time of day. This was the time of day where life always seemed good. Costamor Beachwood comes the closest of any perfume I own to capturing it.

Costamor was founded in 2007 by Elizabeth Wright. She wanted to make perfumes inspired by her Costa Rican heritage. Her first two releases Tabacca and Sugarwood evoked the tobacco and sugar cane crops of the country. Beachwood was released two years later. This is less obviously Costa Rican and more typical Beach of the Americas. Like the earlier perfumes Ms. Wright showed a light touch which displayed them at their best.

Beachwood opens with a muted citrus accord built upon mandarin and neroli. This captures the sun after it has spent most of the day in the sky. A lilting coconut reminds you of the suntan lotion behind your ear you missed. An ethereal jasmine wafts out to find the neroli. There they form their own end of day floral accord as the neroli gives way to the night blooming jasmine. A sun bronzed skin musk flows underneath. It closes on a driftwood accord of sandalwood and cedar. As If I have found a big piece to sit upon to watch the fading of the sun. Amber imposes its presence over the later stages.

Beachwood has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Costamor is a good example of one of these independent perfume lines where the creative force behind it executed their vision. After they were done, they could look upon it and say they had done well. That is the essence of enjoying the remains of the day knowing things are still good.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Halston- Facts are Better than Fiction

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I am always happy to see the process of perfume making portrayed in pop culture. The most recent example comes from the Netflix series “Halston”. Ewen McGregor portrays the iconic American designer. As he begins to branch out his first foray is into perfume. The business partner he has also has a stake in Max Factor. He brings them together to produce a fragrance.

Here is where the story diverges from reality. In the show they show Halston and a female perfumer having this psychological examination of ingredients. I knew the perfumer was Bernard Chant who was not known for collaborating with his creative directors like the way it is portrayed. This is all played for dramatic effect towards a storytelling goal.

Bernard Chant

The truth is more interesting. As American fashion enters the 1970’s they are beginning to gain an equivalency with the European labels. Halston was aware of being part of the group which was defining the American aesthetic. As he moved to creating fragrance, he wanted to put an American stamp on that too. This is where he and M. Chant would begin. Not with jock straps and cigarettes as portrayed on the screen. Instead a much simpler concept an American chypre.

How do you plant a star-spangled banner on a chypre base? You build a delectable fruity floral. The lusciousness of peach provides the fruit. It is rounded off with some leafy green and sweet melon. This is a fleshy fruity accord. Ylang-ylang is used to accentuate that. Tagete extends the green as indolic jasmine rises towards the fruit. For those searching for the jock strap accord the indoles are as close as you’ll get. The chypre accord in the original is a classic sandalwood, oakmoss, and patchouli which falls together with the fruit and floral pieces.

This has been reformulated a lot since 1975. The current version has a chypre accord which is lighter in tone with more Iso E Super than sandalwood. The peach and jasmine are still as vibrant as they were in the original.

The current version of Halston has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

If you’re interested in the perfume after you’ve watched the series, it is easily found at most of the big discounters. The show did remind me what an important piece of American perfumery this was back then. That’s the truth which is better than any of the fiction.

Disclosure: This review is based on vintage and current bottles of Halston I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Chantecaille Vetyver- All-Day Summer Scent

One of the things I’ve noticed over the years living in the northeastern quadrant of the US; summer comes in a day. Every year everything is cool mornings temperate afternoons. Then overnight humidity and heat takes hold for the next 100 days. When that happens there is one perfume ingredient which seems as if it was designed to be worn in the warmth, vetiver. There are lots of great vetiver perfumes out there. When I am asked to recommend a luxury vetiver my answer has been the same for a decade now, Chantecaille Vetyver.

Vetyver was one of a trio of fragrances released by Sylvie Chantecaille in 2010. They weren’t the first Chantecaille branded perfumes, but they are the beginning of the line that currently is available. All three are full throttle examples of their keynotes. patchouli in Kalimantan, gardenia in Petales and Vetyver wears its exuberance in its name. Pierre Negrin was the perfumer for all three. They rank among his best. Its one thing to go big. It is entirely another thing to make it compelling.

Pierre Negrin

What makes vetiver so good for the summer is its dual nature of green grassiness and earthy woodiness. Depending on what you choose to surround it with one or the other of those faces takes the lead. M. Negrin uses a top accord to enhance the green and a base accord to find the woody depths.

That opening is built around grapefruit given some texture through nutmeg. The freshness finds a harmony with the greener pieces of vetiver. This is a luxurious tonic to begin the day. The citrus and the vetiver are like a crisp linen shirt. What makes me enjoy this perfume is the slow evolution over hours from that into a darker version. It occurs as sandalwood displaces the citrus. Once that happens the earthy piece of vetiver comes forward to meet it. This is the flip side of the first few hours. It has gone from crisp linen to sultry looks exchanged at twilight. This is one of the perfumes I own which really does change dramatically from the morning until the evening as if it has an internal sundial.

Vetyver has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

If you are looking to add something new to your vetiver fragrance shelf for this summer, you need to put Chantecaille Vetyver on your radar.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum- The Affordable Vintage Experience

One of the things new perfume lovers discover is vintage perfumes are held in high esteem. These are older formulations of existing perfumes which contain currently proscribed ingredients. It also refers to discontinued perfumes of a particular style usually from the first half of the 20th century. In the last year I have received a couple of interesting questions from readers asking me to describe a vintage-type perfume. Because of the difficulty of finding them I tried to come up with a good answer. Except it eluded me.

What kept running through my head was these are what are frequently called “old lady perfumes”. That kind of description is lacking in many ways. What makes them interesting is these are the opposite of today’s lighter offerings. These are the fragrances which left a trail behind the wearer, for better or worse. That power is part of the appeal as well as the reason some turn their nose up at them. I kept wondering if there was a good example that might come from the Discount Diamonds section. After a year of thinking about it, Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum might be the affordable vintage experience.

Mon Parfum was released in 1984 by Sra. Picasso. She had a career designing jewelry before giving perfumery a try. Her goal was to create a perfume which hearkened back to the earlier part of the century. Working with perfumer Frank Bocris they would create a multi-layered floral over an animalic base which snarled.

It begins with a citrusy green top accord. Lemon is surrounded by coriander and angelica giving the contrast. The floral heart is headed up by a duet of jasmine and hyacinth, but it is so much more. M. Bocris adds in the freshness of muguet, the lushness of rose, the fleshiness of ylang-ylang, the powderiness of mimosa and the opulence of orris. This is what those early florals were all about a recognizable leader with a parade of others adding nuance and depth. The fun of this is if you concentrate you will notice all the flowers I mentioned. They don’t just become flower soup they are a filigreed bouquet.

As much as I enjoy the floral heart what makes this amazing is the animalic base. In my original bottle M. Bocris used all of them. There are times I wondered if it wouldn’t sprout hair on my shelf. That isn’t the version you can purchase today. Those animalics have been significantly changed or banned. Whomever oversaw the current reformulation did a great job. While this might not roar as loud it still shows its fangs in as fully an animalic base as can be achieved today. That turns this into a sultry sexy perfume.

Mon Parfum has 16-18 hour longevity and gigantic sillage. Trust me a drop or two will do.

I recommended to my correspondents to go pick up a bottle online. Once they did, we had a really nice conversation using Mon Parfum as a starting point on vintage perfume. If you want to see if vintage-type fragrances are for you here is the most cost-effective way I can think of to start.

Disclosure: This review is based on an original bottle and a new bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Flanker Round-Up: Ralph Lauren Polo Cologne Intense and Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb Nightvision EDP

When flankers come out of what I consider the pillars of masculine marketed perfume I look closely. These can be signposts of how the mass-market brands view the current market. They count on the affection for the original to get a consumer to try a new version. This is the reason for the existence of flankers. This month I am going to look at the new flankers Ralph Lauren Polo Cologne Intense and Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb Nightvision EDP.

Ralph Lauren Polo Cologne Intense is the latest flanker to the masterpiece Polo released in 1978. The brand has not been shy about releasing flankers of this. There are years where there are multiples. The quantity makes it a hit-or-miss effort. Polo Cologne Intense is a hit.

Perfumers Carlos Benaim, who did the original and Pascal Gaurin take the strong herbal woody leather of the original and interpret in a lighter form. Even though it is labeled “cologne intense” this is a classic cologne construct using the ingredients from the original which fit the theme. What that means is a citrus top of grapefruit. It means an herbal piece of clary sage and thyme. It ends on the modern equivalent of woods ambroxan. This is a nice warm weather version of Polo without slavishly nodding to it.

Polo Cologne Intense has 12=14 hour longevity and average sillage.

While I know calling Polo a masterpiece finds wide agreement, I am not sure how many thinks 2012’s Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb is. I think it is the 21st century equivalent to Polo. The brand here has been much more judicious in releasing flankers. When they released the Eau de Toilette (EDT) version of Spicebomb Nightvision in 2019 I was disappointed. This was a lighter version, but it lost a lot of the DNA of the original. This recent Spicebomb Nightvision Eau de Parfum (EDP), by perfumers Pascal Gaurin and Nathalie Lorson finds the middle ground closer in style to the original.

Spicebomb Nightvision EDP retains the spicy core of the original as the hot pepper is part of that. In this case it is used to coalesce around grapefruit. The differences come in an herbal lavender meshing with all the spices and a mixture of balsamic notes in the base in place of the leather. This all adds up to a darker shaded version of the original which is a nice change of pace without straying too far astray.

Spicebomb Nightvision EDP has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

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

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Narcissus

Thanks to the prompting of a reader I was reminded I hadn’t done one of these columns on one of my favorite perfume ingredients. I think the reason I held off on doing my favorite narcissus perfumes is because that keynote is not widely enjoyed. It is an acquired taste. Even as much as I enjoy it, I feel pretty safe in saying I own all the good versions. Because there just aren’t that many. Two of the best Penghaligons’ Ostara and DelRae Wit have been discontinued. It is a tough to love scent. If you do enjoy it this is the time of year to break it out. Its characteristic deeply vegetal greenness easily evokes digging in the early spring garden surrounded by all the green before the flowers bloom. Here are five of my favorites.

My first memory of recognizing narcissus came on a visit to the Caron store in NYC. As much as I was drawn to the other perfumes, I had come there for there was this other green siren calling to me. That was Caron Narcisse Noire by perfumer Ernest Daltroff in 1911. The narcissus is presented in a classic high-low combination with orange blossom. The narcissus is given textrure through vetiver while the orange blossom is made a little bit more of a white flower through jasmine. Musky sandalwood is the pedestal it perches upon. This is the early masterpiece version of the ingredient.

It would be a few years later when I would discover my favorite narcissus perfume. Neil Morris Gotham is a perfume I will never not own. Its one of my personal perfume touchstones. He builds it around the spiciness of black pepper and the juxtaposition of a cuir de Russie leather accord and the narcissus. This is a fragrance that reaches to my depths in all the best ways.

Early on when I was joking around about a perfume only I would like. I said it would have narcissus, immortelle, and a birch tar leather accord. I suspected that idea never to see the light of day until I got my first sniff of L’Artisan Parfumeur Mont de Narcisse. Perfumer Anne Flipo stands in the center ring with three snarling keynotes while managing to put them through their paces. Each of these ingredients is given the space to thrive. Much to my surprise it worked better in reality than I thought it would.

There are two spectacular post-modern narcissus perfumes. One of them is Masque Milano Romanza. Creative directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi work with perfumer Cristiano Canali on a perfume that allows the narcissus to expose all facets of itself as it interacts with absinthe, orange blossom, civet, and amber.

The other one comes from perfumer Bruno Fazzolari, Fzotic Au Dela Narcisse. Narcissus is such a difficult ingredient Mr. Fazzolari wondered what it would add to a chypre style. The answer is it transforms it into something truly noir. Full of shadows as spicy coriander, full spectrum oakmoss, amber, and orange blossom form the chypre of my narcissus filled dreams.

If you want a different spring perfume experience any of these five narcissus perfumes will provide that.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

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