Dead Letter Office: Polo Crest- Second Time Is Not the Charm

One of the stalwarts of men’s perfumes for over thirty years has been Ralph Lauren Polo. That perfume composed by Carlos Benaim has stood the test of time. It has, deservedly so, found its place in the metaphorical perfume Hall of Fame. Like all mass-market perfumes it has spawned a number of flankers with a mixed record of success. The general rule of thumb is the closer it hews to the original the more likely it is to sell well. I am guessing that rule was first brought home with the release of the first flanker in 1992 Polo Crest.

By 1992 Polo had become one of the most successful men’s fragrances of all time after fourteen years on the market. It was so successful that Ralph Lauren decided it was time to make a companion ostensibly for the warmer months. The concept was a version of Polo that was lighter. If the original Polo was men’s drawing room full of tobacco and wood; Polo Crest was going to be more like being at a polo match in the sunshine and fresh air. Carlos Benaim was asked to re-interpret his original composition with this in mind. What M. Benaim would do is call up more of the fresh cut grass smell of the polo field and the sweaty players. It ends up feeling like a more sophisticated version of Polo.

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Carlos Benaim

The original Polo opens with a strongly herbal beginning of basil and thyme over pine. M. Benaim retains the herbal facets and embellishes them as both the basil and thyme are present but for Polo Crest he lets rosemary take the lead. This is a much smoother opening with both the thyme and basil dialed way back. The really brilliant addition is a tiny amount of cumin which gives that tiny bit of sweaty polo player. Where Polo Crest really diverges is in the heart. As M. Benaim brings back the pine but this time he adds in two floral notes of geranium and jasmine. This is an interesting choice as at this time florals for men were not yet big sellers and the florals are more than just nodded at. They stand up with the pine to be counted. I felt like it captured that feel of a well-manicured greensward when taken as an accord but it is easy to detect the components separately. The divergence is over as Polo Crest moves into the base as the leather, patchouli, and oakmoss which will eventually become the signature Polo accord are here. The biggest difference is the tobacco is gone replaced with olibanum. The other difference is M. Benaim pushes the oakmoss into a more prominent position, as well.

Polo Crest has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I was a wearer of the original Polo but I don’t think I ever saw a bottle of Polo Crest appear at my local department store. It is my conjecture that the floral nature of the heart made Ralph Lauren unsure of how to market it. I also think they went right back to the drawing board and in a little more than a year Polo Sport would arrive. That Polo Sport is still available and Polo Crest is discontinued tells you which generated more sales. Aesthetically I think Polo Crest is the best of the Polo flankers. I don’t think it could be released today because I suspect the oakmoss levels are too high. Lack of sales and lack of interest cause many perfumes to end up in the Dead Letter Office. Polo Crest was a casualty of both.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review S-Perfume Musk-S- Sacre Nobi’s Second Fragrance Period Begins

One of my favorite early niche perfume lines was one called S-Perfume which came straight out of the DUMBO art collective in Brooklyn. The creative director behind the brand was Nobi Shioya who is also known as sculptor Sacre Nobi. In 2000 he became fascinated with fragrance and worked with perfumers Alberto Morillas and Thierry Wasser to add scent to his sculpture. This would lead to a one-off project where he assigned one of the Seven Deadly Sins to a perfumer. Back in 2002 this was the roster he attracted, besides Messrs. Morillas and Wasser, Annie Buzantian, Jacques Cavallier, Ilia Ermenidis, Annick Menardo, and Harry Fremont. I would say that my little sample set of these Seven Deadly Sin perfumes was one of the earliest moments where I seriously began to consider the idea of olfactory art. Each perfume was challenging and the perfumers were encouraged to push the boundaries of perfume making. I can’t say any of them are anything I crave to wear but I do pull them out from time-to-time to appreciate them as artistic statements. Sacre Nobi would go on to produce two perfumes which would be sold in stores 100% Love by Sophia Grojsman and S-ex by Christophe Laudamiel released in 2007 and 2006 respectively. These were and are amazing fragrances I do wear and they are among the very best of both perfumer’s collection.

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Nobi Shioya aka Sacre Nobi

Sacre Nobi would say in 2008 that he was phasing out of his “fragrance period” and for a while that seemed to be the case. 100% Love and S-ex continued to be produced intermittently and the brand was never completely gone. In 2011 I heard Sacre Nobi was back and working on a new fragrance line A Lab on Fire. A Lab on Fire held all of the same principles that S-Perfume had giving perfumers wide latitude to create without commercial pressure. It has been one of my favorite new niche perfume houses of the last few years. Then a few months ago I received a press release announcing the return of S-Perfume with new bottles and four new perfumes added to the original two. Of the four new perfumes there was one I was zeroed in on right from the start Musk-S.

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Carlos Beniam

One of the very first S-Perfume compositions was an attempt to create the perfect sheer skin musk. Alberto Morillas created S-Perfume to be that back in 2000. Ever since Sacre Nobi has encouraged the perfumers to tweak that original formula trying to perfect it. Perfumer Carlos Benaim is the latest hand to evolve the original formulation and the result is Musk-S. I am not sure if perfection has been reached but it is getting much closer.

 M. Benaim uses chestnut flower as the top note. In the original formulation this was around in much greater quantity as a method of discomfiture for the wearer. For those unfamiliar with the raw ingredient chestnut flower smells like semen. The higher the concentration the easier it is to make the connection. For Musk-S M. Benaim uses it in a much modulated form more as a nod to the original than anything else. A continued light mix of vanilla and bourbon add a bit of sweet booziness of the barroom. Once these preliminaries are out of the way we get down to the base note collection of synthetic musks. The original S-Perfume came off smelling more like a money shot from a pornographic movie. It was interesting but it felt miles away from where Sacre Nobi wanted it to be. This was also because M. Morillas had a lot of synthetic musks to use but not nearly the arsenal M. Benaim would have 14 years later. That is the key difference as M. Benaim has taken many of the more modern synthetic musks and layered them in to one of the most compelling synthetic musk skin accords I have smelled. There are still a few rough edges here and there which disrupt the illusion but they are slight and require attention to notice them. If I let my analytical mind take a nap they are really unnoticeable.

Musk-S has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I am thrilled that Sacre Nobi has decided to start a second “fragrance period” the freedom he grants the perfumers he works with is unrivaled in the niche perfume business. Musk-S serves as a perfect first fragrance to kick off this new era as it borrows from the past to create a current spectacular synthetic musk perfume.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Intertrade Europe at Pitti Fragranze.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Eau de Magnolia- What Am I Missing?

5

It happens to me a couple times a year there is a fragrance I have consigned to the “not going to review” pile because I am not fond of it. Then some of the perfumed voices I respect all start lauding it making me give it a second, or third, chance. The new Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Eau de Magnolia is one of these examples.

Eau de Magnolia from Frédéric Malle on Vimeo.

Based on the press release and the personnel I expected to be if not enchanted then at least interested in it. In the press release Creative Director Frederic Malle and perfumer Carlos Benaim talked about wanting to take the magnolia candle Jurassic Flower M. Benaim did for the line and turn it into a cologne/chypre hybrid. They literally talk about it in the video above. In the press materials there is also a section on how they used headspace technology to capture the magnolia raw material to be used in Eau de Magnolia. Headspace technology is, in a very simplified explanation, encasing the living bloom in an airtight container and while blowing an inert gas over the flower to release the aroma the container itself is cooled so that it will condense and be collected. It is a painstaking process which has produced some spectacular versions especially of floral raw materials. All of this was prelude to my receiving my sample a couple months ago, my expectations were high perhaps they were too high. Upon first sniff on a strip I got hit with a very spiky lemon containing none of the green and indolic nuances I associate with magnolia. I also got a way too green vetiver overwhelming any delicacy that was present. For the next few nights I kept spraying a strip and a bit of skin trying to find something I was missing. Finally I conceded this was the first Frederic Malle fragrance that just didn’t work for me.

Over the last few weeks I have been surprised to see how different my experience has been to other reviewers. Many of the most respected reviewers I know have raved over it and they certainly have given me more to think about. I read enough of this that I ordered another sample of Eau de Magnolia just on the possibility that my sample was off. I so wanted to like this that when I received the new sample I think I was almost chanting to myself as I pulled it out, “please be different”. Alas the juice that was in the purchased sample was identical to the review sample. I still had problems with it.

On my skin and to my nose the magnolia still seems sharp and it never seems to display the softer character that the more recent Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine captured so perfectly. Eau de Magnolia somehow takes the headspace magnolia and neuters it. Worse by using fractionated patchouli and vetiver coupled with cedar all of the raw materials seem like they are missing some of their vitality. Even the oak moss in the base meant to turn this chypre-like seems as if it has been wilted in the summer sun.

Eau de Magnolia has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

It wouldn’t be unheard of for me to eventually come around to appreciating Eau de Magnolia. It took me quite a few years to overcome the too-realistic Coty lipstick in a leather purse vibe of Lipstick Rose. For right now Eau de Magnolia feels like a perfume which has conformed instead of inspired.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle and one purchased from Surrender to Chance.

Mark Behnke