New Perfume Review Yves Saint Laurent Libre- Powdery Lavender

I’ve mentioned that Colognoisseur HQ is out in farm country. One of those farms grows lavender. You will be unsurprised to learn I have become great friends with the owners. I taught them my lavender lemonade recipe and one summer day all about the great lavender perfumes. If you’ve read my reviews of lavender-centric perfumes you will know I like the ones which feature the herbal quality as much as the floral. When I had a table full of different lavender perfumes among a group of people who grow it, I noticed an interesting trend when I asked them to pick their favorite. It split almost perfectly along gender lines with the women all choosing the powderier versions while the men went for the ones with the herbal quality. I remember thinking on the way home that a powdery mainstream lavender might be a big seller. Yves Saint Laurent Libre has arrived to test that hypothesis.

Anne Flipo

Usually when the press releases drifts into gender nonsense I tune it out. In this case when they were mentioning that the intent was to have Libre be a feminine fougere I had two reactions. One is I am surrounded by women who regularly wear fougeres in the spring and fall; that kind of assignation seems arbitrary. Then I thought back to my experience at the lavender farm and wondered if Libre was a fougere which would go powderier because it was meant to appeal to those who like that. Perfumers Anne Flipo and Carlos Benaim succeed at creating the latter.

Carlos Benaim

Libre opens on a juicy citrus accord of mandarin given focus with petitgrain. The lavender here is supposedly a Yves Saint Laurent proprietary ingredient called “diva lavender”. Seems like a lot of hype over what seems like a fraction of lavender which has removed almost all the herbal character. The citrus provides an active light contrast at first. As that recedes orange blossom and blackcurrant bud provides an abstract green floral replacement for the missing herbal part. It makes this a lighter fresher lavender accord overall. It ends with a clean mixture of cedar and white musks.

Libre has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I am heading over to the lavender farm in a couple weeks and I will have Libre with me to do my own market research. I predict it will be a hit at the farm and the mall.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Sephora.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Ralph Lauren Polo- The All-American

It’s July 4th and in the US that means we celebrate Independence Day. A day of flag waving, picnics, and fireworks. I thought I’d do a special Fourth of July edition of Discount Diamonds on a fragrance I consider to be the All-American men’s cologne; Ralph Lauren Polo.

Polo the cologne was introduced in 1978. Ralph Lauren had taken the fashion world by storm in 1968 with his American fashion design. The logo was that of a polo player in full gallop. By the time they were going to branch out into fragrance it made sense to put that logo on a bottle and name a men’s fragrance after it. From the day Polo was released it has been a perennial best seller. Even though it has a dated style of leather powerhouse it can still be found almost anywhere that sells fragrance.

Carlos Benaim

When this came out perfumer Carlos Benaim wanted to capture that rugged vibe of the polo player. To do this he would start with an herbal top accord of thyme, basil, and coriander sitting among the branches of a spruce tree. It is a powerful green opening which even at the time of its release was on the upper end of intensity. That remains to the present day but after forty-plus years I find it oddly comforting. This all transitions to a foundation of leather, tobacco, oakmoss, and patchouli. As distinctive as the top accord is, when I think of Polo it is this base which comes to mind. That base has been the essential DNA of Polo and most of the flankers over the years.

Polo has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Polo has surprisingly survived the ravages of reformulation quite well. The brand has taken care to not lose what makes Polo, Polo. Polo is such a classic that if you are interested in trying the vintage formulations those bottles are also out there to be found.

A word of caution even though I write about this on a midsummer’s day this is not a warm weather fragrance. I’m not suggesting you wear some in celebration. On the other hand if you find yourself shopping over the weekend and find that gold polo player staring at you, you might want to pick up a bottle for the fall.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Dunhill Century- Buried by the Flood

There is too much perfume being produced. There is no sector of perfumery that is not flooded with releases. One question I have always had is whether there is enough shelf space for it all. If there isn’t it is only logical to expect some good perfumes will get crowded out. If you need a recent exhibit, I give you Dunhill Century.

Dunhill has been a real under the radar brand. They haven’t had a consistent presence while not releasing a lot of new perfume. For those who read about perfume, earlier releases; Dunhill Signature and Dunhill Icon, have found their fans. I own both and find them to be excellent examples of mainstream perfume.

Carlos Benaim

Dunhill is a British brand and has been released there first with it usually making its way to the US in 4-6 months. At the end of the summer of 2018 I saw that Century had been released. The British bloggers/vloggers covered it. It made me want to find a sample. When my European buyer was putting together my autumn list, I asked her to see if she could find me a sample. A few weeks later there were two samples in with my order. I’ve been sitting on them since then because Century is a warmer weather style. I thought I’d review it when it released in the US. Imagine my surprise when it never made it to the mall it went directly to the online discounters.

I had been asking since the first of the year about it to my contacts at all the department stores. No knowledge of it. When I was doing some research on prices for a Discount Diamonds column I go to the new arrivals and see Century. I was floored it didn’t even get a season in the mall. It isn’t a rare event, unfortunately, but it is sad to see something of the quality of Century never get the chance to find its audience.

The perfumer behind Icon, Carlos Benaim, returned to compose Century. It is a simple spicy neroli over musky woods. It is another above average mainstream perfume.

Century opens on a typical citrus accord which falls away quickly. What comes next is neroli and cardamom. M. Benaim finds a beautiful balance between the floral and the spice. Then to transition to the base incense adds in a resinous connector. Sandalwood and cypriol form a fresh woody base.

Century has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

The market forces have consigned a good perfume to the discount websites. That might be a win. I worry that this is just another exhibit that even quality can get buried under the tsunami of new releases. If you’re looking for a great spicy woody neroli for the warmer weather do a search for Dunhill Century.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Edward Bess Last Night- Rose’s Night Out

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Timing is everything. After I’ve spent weeks smelling one debutante rose fragrance after another; the first to offer something different is sure to get my attention. This year’s refreshing slap came from Edward Bess Last Night.

A little over two years ago Edward Bess began to expand into fragrance with an initial collection of three perfumes. Working with perfumer Carlos Benaim they created a min-max group of simple ingredients chosen for big effects. I was drawn to them for this quality although it was the one which had more subtlety, La Femme Boheme, I enjoyed most. When I saw another spare ingredient list for Last Night I wasn’t sure which way this would go.

Edward Bess (Photo: Ruven Afanador)

One of the things about the previous three releases is M. Benaim takes these chosen ingredients and gives them space to fill. I like it when there is more overlap amongst them. Last Night finds a lot of overlap between the three ingredients of rose, leather, and smoke.

Carlos Benaim

After being fed a steady diet of gentle rose having a diva like Bulgarian rose out in front was the right antidote. This is a rose that wants to be the belle of the ball. She wants to be remembered. She is curved in all the right places with insouciance to burn. When she shows up at the party wearing her biker jacket around her all eyes turn. That is the opening salvo of Last Night as M. Benaim surrounds Bulgarian rose in a leather jacket accord. It is where things pause for a bit before a layer of smoke inserts itself. It is not exactly wood smoke and it isn’t quite cigarette smoke. I’m not sure the source but I think one of the synthetic woods with a prominent smoky scent profile is what M. Benaim is using. This is an abstract smoke effect which I sort of liken to the morning after as our rose, still in her leather jacket, wakes up with a patina of smoke.  

Last Night has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

Last Night has more of what I like from this style of perfume making by Mr. Bess and M. Benaim. They seem to have an agreed upon aesthetic which Last Night executes as rose spends the night out.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Dawn- Desiccated Oud

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Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle has been one of the most innovative brands in perfumery. One of those innovations was the release of The Night in 2014. Working with perfumer Dominique Ropion they produced a perfume which used a large concentration of Indian oud. This was unapologetically oud-y displaying all the power and nuance of this now famous ingredient. For many who tried this I suspect it was the first time they had encountered the real thing over a manufactured accord. Four years later it is time for the flip side of The Night with the release of Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Dawn.

Frederic Malle

M. Malle has tapped perfumer Carlos Benaim to collaborate with him on Dawn. One of the things which Dawn mimics The Night in is as a simple composition around oud mostly and rose. Where it differs is M. Benaim adds in a set of ingredients which serve to take Dawn in a different direction.

Carlos Beniam

The source of the oud in Dawn is a Laotian version. Of the oud oils I own the Laotian version is my favorite. I find it the most versatile of the sources of oud because it never is too confrontational in its less pleasant aspects. That is a matter of taste because I like the more stinky parts of oud. Dawn is a perfume where those aspects are attenuated by using a set of notes to dry it out.

The early moments of Dawn is that Laotian oud paired with a very judicious amount of baie rose. Baie rose adds a catalytic amount of herbal-ness. What this achieves it to bring out the greener pieces of the Laotian oud along with a greater presence of the floral undertones within this type of oud. The rose comes next. As in The Night this reinforces why rose is such an ideal floral counterpart to oud from its earliest times. What changes here is M. Benaim uses an assortment of resins and ambrox-based woods to dry things out. When I say that I’m talking about dry as a desert desiccated. Over the middle phase of Dawn these ingredients mummify the Laotian oud to such an extent that if I hadn’t smelled it early on, I wouldn’t believe this is it. One of the things I missed was this kind of aridity also removed much of the grace notes which make oud such an interesting ingredient. This drying out creates an ashy kind of oud.

Dawn has 24-hour longevity and average sillage.

This is another high-quality oud perfume from the brand. I think for those who want their oud tightly controlled this will be a winner. As I wore Dawn this was one of those times where I wondered if an oud accord would have been better. Dawn dries things out so much it elides away some of what makes genuine oud so fascinating. If M. Benaim could have used an accord, I wouldn’t be missing what I know to be buried under the resins and synth woods. If you want your oud as dry as it can be Dawn is the desiccated oud perfume for you.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Ralph Lauren Collection Saffron- Soft Soliflore

Ever since the success of the early designer luxury brands it was only a matter of time until they all ended up producing a collection. What was surprising was how long it took one of the most successful mainstream designer collections to catch up to its peers. In 2016 the Ralph Lauren Collection was released with ten perfumes. The decision was to create soliflore style perfumes based on a focal point, named on the label, supported by two other notes. Like any debut collection of that many entries it was uneven but when it worked the potential was there.

One from those initial ten which worked was Oud by perfumer Carlos Benaim. By going with the smoky quality of the title note it stood out for having a rougher style than the others. It turned out that the concept was a bit flawed when observed over ten perfumes. To their credit unlike some other of their contemporaries they didn’t follow up with multiple releases every couple of months. They waited two years before adding the eleventh entry; Ralph Lauren Collection Saffron.

Carlos Benaim

M. Benaim was asked to be the perfumer behind Saffron. If what I liked about Oud was the rougher edges; in Saffron he impresses me with the opposite. He creates a plush transparent Oriental style of fragrance. One of the other big differences was there are more than three ingredients. It carries a large effect producing a more pleasing experience.

I knew I was going to experience something different when I smelled the top accord; it had three notes all on its own. The citrus of grapefruit, the spiciness of cardamom and the piquancy of black pepper. This was a delightful combination of three of my favorite top notes. M. Benaim allows the cardamom the place of prominence, but the grapefruit captures the citrus-y character of cardamom while the black pepper provides texture. Saffron has a warm sweet botanical leathery effect when used at a higher concentration as it is here. M. Benaim provides an herbal contrast in davana, adding a bit of bite. It continues a languorous development into a full-fledged suede accord in the base. It ends on a synthetic woody base which keeps things on the light side over the final hours.

Saffron has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Saffron is by far the best in the Ralph Lauren Collection. One reason might be there was a two-year gap between ten releases and one. The other one might be to relent on the concept of three ingredient perfumes. Whatever the reason, the original ten were easy to dismiss. You might even be walking by them in your local store thinking you know what’s there. Next time see if there is an eleventh bottle and give Saffron a try. You might join me in looking forward to what comes next.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Bergdorf-Goodman.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Bond No. 9 New Bond St.- Echoes of the Past

One of the greatest gourmand perfumes is 2004’s Bond No. 9 New Haarlem. Early in the birth of the genre, perfumer Maurice Roucel and creative director Laurice Rahme, produced an incredible coffee-based perfume which is the gold standard. No perfume has been better. It also stood out for taking a lighter tone than the earlier gourmands. Bond No. 9 over the past few years has become a brand which has churned out perfume at a furious pace with a similarity to previous releases that I haven’t been motivated to write about.

Laurice Rahme

A few weeks ago, I received a press release for Bond No. 9 New Bond St. The name caught my attention because the neighborhood around the flagship boutique has changed a lot in the fifteen years since the brand debuted. As I continued to read I learned there was a coffee heart accord. That also made me more motivated to check in and see what this new perfume was all about. Would it live up to the greatness of New Haarlem? Would it come close? Should I really compare the two?

Carlos Benaim

Two perfumers, Carlos Benaim and Laurent Le Guernec, collaborate with Ms. Rahme for New Bond St. If I am looking for similarity to New Haarlem there is a green top accord followed by a coffee heart accord and woody base. That is selling the new perfume short. If I have been critical of an overreliance on cribbing from the past by the brand this is not one of those cases. The creative team has created a different style of gourmand which stands on its own.

Laurent Le Guernec

The top accord uses muguet as the source of green. The perfumers introduce a bit of pepper to provide a sizzle to that floral. The heart is a fancy coffee accord served up by a barista. The coffee source is described as coffee beans in the ingredient list. There is a distinction as the whole beans have an intrinsic oiliness and nuttiness more pronounced than a brewed version. The perfumers pick up on both of those by using cocoa to pick up the oils and chestnut to pick up the nutty. It comes together in a luscious coffee shop accord. It falls into a generic woody base, which has become a signature for the brand, as sandalwood and vanilla present a typical base accord.

New Bond St. has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Since I started this review with the comparison I’ll get it out of the way New Bond St. is not as good as New Haarlem. It is the best new release from Bond No. 9 in a few years. I am happy I took the time to check it out. It reminds me, in a positive way, of what a trend setter the brand was in its early years. If you’ve wanted a reminder of that New Bond St. should do that.

Disclosure: This review based on a sample provided by Saks.

Mark Behnke

Flanker Round-Up: Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio Absolu and Ralph Lauren Polo Ultra Blue

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As I did in last month’s installment I am looking at two flankers of mainstream success stories. It is also another example of taking the original and going lighter or heavier as a flanker.

Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio Absolu

There is no doubt that the original Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio pour Homme is one of the great mainstream success stories. Perfumer Alberto Morillas created one of the landmark aquatic perfumes in 1996. Unlike many brands Giorgio Armani has been protective of overexposing the brand; Acqua di Gio Absolu is only the third flanker released. Another good thing about these flankers is they are distinctly different perfumes which capture pieces of the original formula without just replicating it with a new ingredient or two.

Sr. Morillas is again at the helm and he starts with the “acqua”, as a marine accord of sea and sand opens things up. It is then deepened with not the typical citrus notes but something sweeter. It then takes a very woody turn over the latter stages to become a mainly woody aquatic. For anyone who wanted a woodier version of Acqua di Gio, without the jasmine, Absolu will be your thing. If you want to grow your Acqua di Gio collection it is sufficiently different from the original, Acqua di Gio Essenza and Acqua di Gio Profumo to be worth a try.

Acqua di Gio Absolu has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Ralph Lauren Polo Ultra Blue

Ralph Lauren Polo is one of the alpha masculine mainstream perfumes since its release in 1978. Ralph Lauren has aggressively expanded the collection for a Polo Man as it has expanded into different colors, Black, Red, and Blue. The latter was its entry into the aquatic genre in 2002. It was a nicely done perfume but not one of my favorites in the Polo collection although it does have its fans. I will be interested to see what they think of Polo Ultra Blue because it is extremely light. It fits in with the current trends in mainstream fragrance but it might be so light it has become like ultraviolet light; hard to sense.

Original perfumer of Polo, Carlos Benaim, opens with a chilled lemon top accord. It is right here I wanted more. This is a veil which provides a momentary outbreak of goosebumps. It gets overtaken by sage with a bit of verbena picking up the lemon opening. The base has a stony ingredient providing a craggy coastline for Ultra Blue to crash upon. There was part of me thinking this would have been more appropriately named Polo Blue Sport but there already is one. I can see this being the ideal post-workout spritz because it is undeniably refreshing. I do have to warn those who value longevity and projection Polo Ultra Blue lacks in both categories.

Polo Ultra Blue has 4-6 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Music For A While- Pineapple Crush

There are times when I approach a new perfume with a lot of concerns. Sometimes it is the perfumer. Sometimes it is an ingredient. Sometimes it is an inconsistent brand. It isn’t often all three but Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Music For A While checks off all of them.

Frederic Malle

Over the past few years Editions de Parfums has become maddeningly inconsistent for me. This is a brand I think of as one of the pillars of all that I think is important in niche perfume. Many of those things innovated by M. Malle. Yet over the previous six perfumes I’ve found three of them to be forgettable. One of those was Eau de Magnolia which leads to the second cautionary expectation. Perfumer Carlos Benaim was responsible for Eau de Magnolia and was in charge for Music For A While. The third was the listing of pineapple as an ingredient. It seems like ever since pineapple became a thing it has popped up in mostly boring perfumes. All of this together, of course, means Music For a While turned out to be a charming perfume.

Carlos Benaim

Music For A While is a composition in two movements. The pineapple leads the first one while a sweetened patchouli concludes this. M. Benaim makes some interesting choices throughout which was what engaged me on the days I wore it.

The pineapple is there from the first moments. It is a very juicy version almost closer to pineapple juice than the fruit. There are some hints of the green part of the fruit but there is more sweet than tart here. For the first few minutes I wasn’t very interested. Then some gorgeous lavender pushes back against the sweet with a fougere-like intensity. Once they reach an equilibrium it is the partner I never knew I wanted with pineapple. After some time, patchouli begins the second part of the development. This is a medium-weight patchouli which allows for vanilla to provide a rounding effect. It makes for a complementary style to the pineapple and lavender accord. As this all comes together these four notes from an unexpectedly warm final effect.

Music For A While has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I know I’ll be reaching for this as spring gets more of a foothold. I overcame my trepidation to allow for Music For A While to provide a pineapple crush which might be my favorite perfume featuring the note.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Proenza Schouler Arizona- High Fashion Macrame

There are fashion designers I know are having fun. Lazaro Hernanadez and Jack McCollogh the artists behind the Proenza Schouler clothing brand show it in every collection which comes down the runway. At the recent debut of their Fall 2018 collection they rolled out a neo-1960’s grouping of elegant tie-dye and fantastic macramé weaves. These are designs for hippies who live on the Upper East Side. It does capture the breezy aesthetic which is part of the brand hallmark.

Proenza Schouler RTW Fall 2018

Of course, there was a desire to branch out into fragrance and I had forgotten there was a deal in place with L’Oreal for a few years. I was reminded of it when one of my friends told me of a party they attended at the recent New York Fashion Week and asked me if I wanted them to send me the bottle of the new Proenza Schouler perfume they had received. I said yes and while it made its way to me I looked up what I could find.

Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollogh

In numerous interviews the perfume, called Arizona, arose from the trips Mr Hernandez and Mr. McCollogh take after each collection is released. They have found the American Southwest one of the best places to unwind. When they discussed fragrance concepts they kept returning to a desert-inspired one. This is what makes it into the bottle.

I could not find out who the perfumer, or perfumers, they worked with. (UPDATE: The perfumers are Carlos Benaim and Loc Dong) What has been produced is a transparent fragrance typical of the current perfume trend. What is atypical is the two keynotes in the top and base accords. It comes together into an excellent designer fragrance.

On top the keynote is cactus flower which is really a transparent sweet floral accord paired with a set of expansive warm luminous ingredients to form a “solar accord”. This takes the floral and expands it greatly. As the cactus flower accord spreads out the pulpy heart of the succulent also begins to peek out. Orange blossom grounds all of this in traditional citric floral territory. This is the heart of Arizona and it is a classic floral version. The base is where it again moves in a different direction as a mineral accord of dried out sand composed of Iso E Super or one of its kindred aromachemicals. This is further tuned by using a few white musks and cashmeran. It is an abstract version of the well-known petrichor ingredient. It is my favorite part of Arizona and where it lasts for the longest time on my skin.

Arizona has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

Mr. Hernandez and Mr. McCollogh have effectively translated their fashion style into a fragrance which feels completely Proenza Schouler. Even high fashion tie-dye and macramé feels like the right clothing choice for Arizona.

Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle provided by Proenza Schouler at NYFW 2018.

Mark Behnke