Colognoisseur Best of 2021 Part 2: Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, and Brand of the Year

Quantity versus quality is an eternal dichotomy. When it came to deciding these top categories for the year I was constantly faced with this dilemma. I ended up choosing two based on the quality of a couple perfumes and two from an impressive body of work. If you look at the runners-up you will see the choices I wrestled with.

Perfume of the Year: Amouage Silver Oud– Prior to this year I was over oud in perfumery. It was too often cloaked in PR nonsense. It was a cynical play to convince consumers there was something worth the price they were paying. Silver Oud from Amouage creative director Renaud Salmon and perfumer Cecile Zarokian deconstructed everything about oud as used in Western perfumery.

They created a fragrance of three accords. One was the typical oud accord present in most commercial perfumes. It contains no oud. Mme Zarokian made a more interesting version of it by using better materials, but it was still not the real thing. The heart is where the real Laotian oud shows up paired with a resinous vanilla from Madagascar. This is what oud can be. This oddly semi-gourmand version is not one of the more common pairings. The final accord is a smoked amber which usually stands alone as a simulacrum of oud. Given the foundation of genuine oud it provided a fascinating resonance that made this amazing. Ever since this arrived, I have enjoyed allowing it to show different shadings of oud to me. This has engaged my nose and my mind more than any other perfume this year.

Cecile Zarokian

Perfumer of the Year: Cecile Zarokian– Ever since 2013 this award was an inevitability. When I tried Majda Bekkali Mon Nom est Rouge, Mme Zarokian showed me she was an independent perfumer to keep an eye on. She has confirmed that assessment year after year. I was waiting for that moment when it all came together, 2021 was it.

She made two perfumes for Amouage which are among my Top 2 perfumes of the year. You see that Silver Oud is one of them. The other is Amouage Material. Mme Zarokian has been the most adventurous in expanding what we think of as a gourmand perfume. She has taken every opportunity to create new space within the genre. Material takes the tritest of gourmand ingredients, vanilla and wraps it in a series of complementary notes which illuminate it in a wonderfully different way. She does the same thing for oud in Silver Oud.

I also considered Nathalie Feisthauer who will figure prominently in the Top 25 and Cristiano Canali who made two brilliant perfumes. Mme Zarokian is my choice for Perfumer of the Year because both Material and Silver Oud were genius level examples of perfume construction.

Runners-Up: Francesca Bianchi, Cristiano Canali, Nathalie Feisthauer, David Falsberg, and Anne Flipo.

Thibaud Crivelli

Creative Director of the Year: Thibaud Crivelli, Maison Crivelli– It would have been easy to keep the Amouage award train running and naming M. Salmon to this honor. Except I have been having a discussion with a perfume friend about the role of creative director. How much do they have to do with the perfume that ends up being released? I am a believer that the best of them is critical to the long-term success. One way I can approach it is by asking this question, is the aesthetic of the brand retained through different perfumers. In other words, if I think a brand is doing great work and the only constant is the creative director that should indicate something.

When Thibaud Crivelli began Maison Crivelli he openly stated he wanted to create a fragrance collection of textures. Over eleven releases he has worked with eight different perfumers to deliver exactly that. 2021 has seen Osmanthe Kodoshan, Lys Solaberg, and Hibiscus Mahajad. Perfumers Stephanie Bakouche, Nathalie Feisthauer, and Quentin Bisch produced gorgeously textural wonders at M. Crivelli’s direction. This is what makes him my Creative Director of the Year for 2021.

Runners-Up: Christian Astuguevieille of Comme des Garcons, Myriam Badault of Diptyque, Alessandro Brun of Masque Milano and Milano Fragranze, Renaud Salmon of Amouage, and Victor Wong of Zoologist.

Brand of the Year: Diptyque– This year was the 60th anniversary of this brand. Creative director Myriam Badault was going to make sure it would not pass with a whimper. Instead, she oversaw a perfume selection beginning with Orpheon paying homage to the founders. Ilio as a reminder of the summery style this brand does so well. She finished the year with Kyoto and Venise which laid down a marker that this 60-year-old still has some innovative life left in it.

Runners-Up: Amouage, Maison Crivelli, Milano Fragranze, Zara, and Zoologist.

Tomorrow I reveal my Top 25 new perfumes of 2021.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Amouage Silver Oud- All About That Base

Perfume dork that I am there are things which happen in my head as I try perfumes. One of them is when I encounter a particularly intriguing base accord the internal jukebox in my mind begins playing the 2014 pop song by Meghan Trainor “All About That Bass”. The song is speaking about the bass line to a song especially as it pertains to dancing. It is the reason I have bass enhanced headphones so I can make my music all about the bass if I want to. There is something satisfying about a depth which resonates deep in the belly and spine.

I also hum this song when giving advice to fledgling indie wanna-be perfumers. The great majority of the time what is lacking in their earliest attempts is the base accord. This is not so different than the bass line in a song. In perfumery the base is what you build upon, it is foundational. It is often where the soul of perfume resides. It may be covered in all matter of fabulous other accords and ingredients but without it there is nothing. What happens when a professional perfumer decides to make it all about the base? You get something like Amouage Silver Oud.

Renaud Salmon

Creative director at Amouage, Renaud Salmon is early in his time there. He is beginning to create a set of perfumers he believes can realize his vision for the brand. One of them seems to be perfumer Cecile Zarokian. Mme Zarokian is one of the best perfumers as well as one of my favorites. A couple of her earliest fragrances are among my personal faves. She has only become better over time. In recent years she has been the perfumer closest to pushing the gourmand genre into something grand. Earlier this year Amouage Material is an example of this. When I reviewed that I mentioned I wanted more from her and M. Salmon in Silver Oud I am getting that.

This is inspired by Stendahl’s 19th century novel “The Red and the Black”. I’ve never read it, but Wikipedia tells me it is a tale of a young protagonist rising above his modest beginnings only to be brought low by his passions. To that end there are three titled accords in Silver Oud; confusion, passion, and destruction. I’ll allow someone who has read the book to weigh in on those themes as the heart of the novel. I encountered the perfume based on them quite differently as I was brought to mind of a clever rumination on oud in modern perfumery.

Cecile Zarokian

This is a perfume which is three distinct base accords, but they are presenting how oud is perceived in Western perfumery. The early part is an oud accord. Mme Zarokian weaves a classic patchouli, cypriol and cedar version. Most of the oud in fragrance is this kind, an accord given some life with a tiny amount of the real thing. In this case what comes first is a reminder of what those accords represent. Not quite the real thing but close enough to be part of a bigger construct. Here it is given some time to itself. This is much better than many of the commercial oud accords because of the quality of the patchouli and cedar used here. They bring in some of the rougher edges these type of accords usually lack.

In the heart real oud from Assam, India pushes through the simulation with authenticity. This is that full-throated oud which has medicinal, barnyard, and resinous aspects in its profile. Most of the time a perfumer will look for a complement. Mme Zarokian chooses a contrast, a slightly smoky vanilla from Madagascar. This isn’t a gourmand accord yet her facility in that genre allows her to find a sweet smoky contrast. The vanilla smolders its way through the oud. It is what those who love real oud are looking for. A simple pairing which brings out the best in both.

The final piece is a strong smoked amber accord. This is one of those tricks some brands like to play when they say there is oud in their perfume. They create a strong amber layered with ingredients which add smokiness. It is why so few perfume lovers ever know the real thing. Mme Zarokian creates a version of this which is better than almost all the ones trying to confuse perfume lovers. It creates its own version of an oud accord around amber, guaiac wood, and castoreum. The smoke comes courtesy of birch. She smartly keeps it at the level where a comparison can take place. The real oud paired with vanilla versus the smoked amber simulation. It is a fascinating debate which took place on my skin.

Silver Oud has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

Silver Oud is as good as Material was earlier in the year. M. Salmon and Mme Zarokian are forming a creative partnership which might be the core of what this phase of Amouage is all about. The absolute fun of wearing this and having the history of oud in Western perfumery play out is fantastic. Then again that’s because this is a perfume which is all about that base.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle provided by Amouage.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: David Jourquin Cuir Altesse- Strong Enough for a Man, Made for a Woman

There are a bunch of great collections which hum along in the background of perfumery. One of my favorites are the perfumes of David Jourquin. He creatively directed a set of seven fragrances from 2011-2016. All of them are different variations on leather in perfume. M. Jourquin’s first two releases were a set designed for daytime and nighttime wear by men. He worked with perfumer Cecile Zarokian for both of those. Three years later he would again collaborate with her on a similar pair designed to be worn by women. It contains my favorite of the collection David Jourquin Cuir Altesse.

Regular readers know I am not swayed by whatever the brands tell me about the gender of a fragrance. I can make up my own mind. Back in 2014 As I tried both of these, I kept thinking of the old Secret deodorant commercial’s tagline, “strong enough for a man, made for a woman”. It is a dopey concept to be sure. Cuir Altesse may have been imagined achieving that. It is as much a shared perfume as any I own.

It opens with one of my favorite cardamom centric top accords. Mme Zarokian uses orange and baie rose as the other pieces. The fruitiness of the baie rose and the juiciness of the orange form the underpinning of the cardamom giving it depth and presence. As it heads to the floral heart, I guess the jasmine was supposed to be the focal point of it all. Except this is where the idea of assigning a perfume to a gender goes sideways. The jasmine is indolic and she ladles in cumin to resonate. This is the sweaty cumin many are wary of. She quickly counters with rose and patchouli which tames the cumin while allowing it to delightfully strum those indoles of the jasmine.

All these perfumes are built on a leather accord in the base. The one fashioned by Mme Zarokian uses vanilla and benzoin to pick up on the sweeter aspects of refined luxurious leather. It makes it softer until a bit of amber and oakmoss add some texture in the final stages.

Cuir Altesse has 12-14 hour longevity and average siullage.

Before writing this column, I confirmed that the entire line is still available to be sampled. This is an example of the amount of great perfume which fell through the cracks in the deluge of releases the last decade. All the David Jourquin perfumes deserve to be on your radar, especially if you like leather.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Amouage Material- You Get What You Need

Every year my final post is of things I hope to see for the following year. On the last day of 2020 I hoped for more collaborations between my favorite perfume creative directors and perfumers. I even called out one by name asking for Amouage creative director Renaud Salmon and perfumer Cécile Zarokian to make a next-level gourmand. At the time I wrote that I couldn’t have defined what that looks like. Amouage Material helps find some clarity upon it.

Right after I posted I was told to stay tuned. A couple months later I would be told that my dream team was working on a perfume focused on vanilla. This sounded promising. Like what I was asking for. When I received Material, I was told one of the inspirations was the song “Material Girl” by Madonna. I was thinking about a line from the song “if they can’t raise my interest”.

Renaud Salmon

Which leads to what did I mean by a next-level gourmand. The way I perceive this style of perfume is it has been focused on the edible scents in overdose. It is the youngest of the perfume styles, so it is still defining all the boundaries. What I want is someone to go to the other extreme. Use recognizably sweet and savory notes not as a focus but as an equal. I have often tossed the name “foodie floral” in my head. Material is not that. It is along the same concept executed with more nuance than I could have expected.

Cecile Zarokian

Material is one of a pair of new Amouage perfumes to feature Madagascar vanilla absolute. M. Salmon encouraged Mme Zarokian to find what was within this source and display it. She has been one of a few perfumers who has been in the lead on re-thinking gourmand fragrances. This was an opportunity to take another step forward. To achieve this she uses no other discrete food-based note. Instead she adds to the vanilla other ingredients which form a fascinating kaleidoscopic version of this ingredient.

The vanilla absolute is the axis for the rest of this to spin upon. It is present right from the start. There is a leather aspect which verges on boozy which comes through in the very first minute or so. Right after I get what I might have desired as osmanthus creates that “foodie floral” concept. The apricot finds the vanilla to form a creamy fruit dessert while the leather of both vanilla and osmanthus create a new harmony. This is an amazing accord while it lasts. It moves forward on twin sets of resins, balsamic and incense. This adds a tendril of subtle smoke along with a warmth. This is a classic kind of deep resinous heart that this brand is known for. It moves towards an earthy animalic finish as oud and patchouli provide that. The vanilla inserts itself to find the sweet of patchouli and the smoky resinous heart of oud.

Material has 24-hour plus longevity and average sillage.

I’ve spent the last month asking myself if this is that next-level gourmand I asked for. My answer is I think so. I’m going to need some other perfumers and brands to take a chance on venturing away from the tried and true to be sure. As a marker until that happens, I believe it is next-level.

I am also reminded of a different song as it relates to what I thought I wanted back on New Year’s Eve. The Rolling Stones tell me “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. The second half of that lyric applies to how I feel about Material, “you just might find you get what you need”.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Amouage.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Nishane Nanshe- Powder of the Earth

There are certain perfume effects I enjoy in smaller quantities. These are the ones which generally have fans of restraint and ones who love as much as they can get. I am on the side of restraint when it comes to powdery ingredients. I think they can have a dramatic influence when used in judicious and balanced quantities. When they are overdosed it is like being lost in a giant powder puff. Nishane Nanshe takes the path of restraint.

Mert Guzel (l.) and Murat Katran

What powdery ingredients can do is provide a stark contrast to more flamboyant ones. It can soften some of that extravagant nature. Creative directors Mert Guzel and Murat Katran collaborate again with perfumer Cecile Zarokian on Nanshe. Their last perfume together was 2019’s remarkable Ani. This heads in an entirely different direction. The name comes from the Sumerian goddess of fertility among other things. The symbol of that was rose. The creative team uses the rose as the core of a powdery accord which is wrapped in earthiness.

Cecile Zarokian

On top the grounding comes through carrot seed. Mme Zarokian allows the sweet, rooted quality to be contrasted with yuzu and cardamom. The tart citrus finds a potent contrast in the carrot seed. The heart is where the powder accord is constructed. Using rose absolute and orris the potential for a powderstorm is here. Instead Mme Zarokian dials back on the natural ingredients and titrates in small amounts of synthetic powdery notes. When you use the naturals exclusively you kind of get what you get. When you do what she has done here you create a powdery foundation with rose and orris which is given a shimmering expansiveness through the synthetics. What makes Nanshe so enjoyable is what fills in that space. A very earthy patchouli and an austere sandalwood. The patchouli is as present as the central powder accord. It fills in underneath as it expands to keep it firmly planted in the sandalwood foundation.

Nanshe has 16-18 hour longevity and average sillage.

The balance in Nanshe is ideal. Each accord makes space for the other. In the end you have the earth covered in a gentle fall of powder.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Puredistance Rubikona- A Taste for Red

When I was a semi-frequent attendee of New York Fashion Week I was always fascinated with one thing every season. Every designer would be working on their own. Keeping their designs secret. Not speaking with one another. Yet as every season unfolded there was always one fabric color which seemed to show up on every runway. One year as an exercise I kept track of the use of “firecracker red”. By the end of the shows I had seen it 168 times. How does this happen I wonder? Is there an unconscious zeitgeist among the designers?

It happens in perfumery, but it is usually around a specific ingredient. Something new which perfumers can’t wait to use. That makes sense to me. When I look back over a year it sticks out. This year there also seems to be a strong trend pointing towards a color as inspiration. Puredistance Rubikona is the most recent fragrance to add to it.

Jan Ewoud Vos

It is not a surprise that Puresdistance creative director Jan Ewoud Vos is inspired by color. He has been inspired by the connection of scent and color called synesthesia. The entire collection of perfumes by the brand are influenced by it. I do not have that kind of association. I consider myself scent color blind. When challenged with a perfume inspired by synesthetic considerations, I must perceive it from my handicapped perspective. Rubikona is meant to be a perfume of a ruby sitting on blue satin displaying the different shades of red inside the jewel.

Cecile Zarokian

Mr. Vos collaborated with perfumer Cecile Zarokian for the first time since 2016’s Sheiduna. Mr. Vos and she had begun collaborating based on a phrase “chic inside out”. Living up to that meant the color red to both of them. That was further refined to a blood red ruby as the place for Rubikona to begin from.

When you think red in perfume rose is probably where most begin. Mme Zarokian also begins with rose in Rubikona. She then accomplishes a remarkable effect of turning that floral into a cut ruby. By using orris and ylang-ylang she creates a red rose which has greater depth and subtle shadings. Mme Zarokian has made some of my favorite rose accords. The one here is as good as it gets. She uses the powder and the root of orris to go high and low. The ylang-ylang flows adding the carnal fleshiness I adore when used this way. It is a slowly rotating Calder of a rose presenting different faces as it lazily twirls. Then Mme Zarokian delights me a second time as she creates a faux-gourmand accord as the base. She begins with a deep earthy patchouli which seems appropriate to an intense rose. Then the patchouli moves towards its gourmand-like chocolaty aspect as orange blossom and a creamy vanilla meet it there. A clever twist of clove and it forms an haute cuisine dessert course for the end of this.

Rubikona has 16-18 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I said I don’t have scent-color synesthesia, but I might have discovered I have a different form. I’ve been thinking how to describe the gourmand-like phase since I first tried this. One night I went to get my favorite treat. I take a square of orange flavored dark chocolate and squirt whipped cream on it. On the second day I was wearing Rubikona it was right at this phase on my skin. As I bit down, and the flavors washed over my tongue Rubikona radiated off my skin to join in. I’ve not heard of taste-scent synesthesia but that might be my thing.

Rubikona is one of the best perfumes of the year. It is testament to the shared vision of Mr. Vos and Mme Zarokian. It feels like a natural to wear this Holiday season.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Puredistance.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque Petra- Freeing Imaginations

Over the years since 2013 besides consistently excellent perfume there is another thing Masque Milano has become known for. Creative Directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi have worked with many of the most talented young perfumers in the business. In many cases their work for Masque Milano is part of their earliest work. Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi have an undeniable eye for talent. The list of perfumers who have collaborated with them is a roster of young talents at the beginning of their careers. I think the results have been so good because these young artists are given an unusual opportunity to free their imaginations early in their career. They are just beginning to delve into their potential. One of the first of these returns for Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque Petra.

Riccardo Tedeschi (l.) and Alessandro Brun

That perfumer is Cecile Zarokian. In 2013 when she did Tango for the first of the Opera collection, I had only known her for one previous release, the spectacular metallic rose of Majda Bekkali Mon Nom est Rouge. I had already thought of her as something special. Tango would reinforce that with a sultry summer night in Buenos Aires doing the dance of love. This was one of the perfumes, when I tried it, help erase the memory of the earlier versions of Dolceaqua and Petra. I had a hard time reconciling the boldness from these perfumes in contrast to the blandness of the first two. For this reinterpretation of Petra Mme Zarokian pushes the envelope in a genre I think she is beginning to make her own.

Cecile Zarokian

Based on the press release I think the brief for Le Donne di Masque Petra is the 1976 song by Al Stewart “Year of the Cat”. The accompanying description is just the first verse of the song. Mme Zarokian has been making some of the most interesting gourmands in the last few years. She seemingly has an affinity for the style while looking to evolve it. In Le Donne di Masque Petra she does it again with an unusual pastry accord at the heart.

Before we get there, she uses baie rose at a concentration where both its fruity and herbal facets are prominent. Some sparkle comes through citrus. The gourmand accord Mme Zarokian is attempting is of an Arabic dessert called luqaimat. I’ve never tasted it, but it looks like a more refined version of the carnival staple fried dough. This is what Mme Zarokian creates; a sweet doughy accord infused with fruits and florals. It is another in her recent string of successful experiments as it carries a lighter quality then my description of fried dough might imply. It turns towards a resinous base of incense and patchouli wrapped in a subtle leather.

Le Donne di Masque Petra has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

As it was with Tango Mme Zarokian is given the chance to free her imagination on Le Donne di Masque Petra. It results in another expansion of what a gourmand perfume can aspire to. That is thanks to Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi who know to trust in the precociousness of the young artist. It is a major reason why their brand is one of the best in the world.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Parfums MDCI La Surprise- Modern Throwback

I think its obvious that the current mainstream trend of transparency has not fully engaged me. I leave it to the perfume brands who work the niche side of things to keep the alternative style going. One brand which seems to be doing a great job of this is Parfums MDCI. Creative Director Claude Marchal has let his perfumes become contemporary without giving in to transparency.

Claude Marchal

Lat year he released the first perfumes in “The Paintings” collection. They all had a way of evoking vintage styles in modern ways. My favorite was the unique watermelon leather Bleu Satin. It is exactly the dichotomy I am speaking of as perfumer Cecile Zarokian is particularly adept at achieving this. Which is why when I received Mme Zarokian’s latest Parfums MDCI La Surprise I was excited.

Cecile Zarokian

The inspiration piece here is part of Jean-Honore’s Fragonard “The Process of Love” series. La Surprise depicts that moment of first attraction. Mme Zarokian interprets that though a very green opening into a fulsome white floral that ends in the sensuality of musks. It is remarkable for the contrast between the modernity of the top accord and the vintage-like nature of the heart.

The top accord has a sizzle to it. Some of it is due to the use of the stickier green cardamom. Most of the time that ingredient carries a gentle citrusy breeze across an opening. In this case it feels rawer, less mannered. There are some other strident green ingredients which amplify that effect. It forms a sharp-edged green to contrast the heart. That heart is a white flower accord any perfume lover will recognize. Mme Zarokian mixes the usual suspects with peach and aldehydes. That’s the formula for lots of perfumes of the first half of last century. In this case the green top accord finds the inherent green threads within the creamy florals. It reminded me of a floral bouquet with veins of green running through the petals. A soft slightly animalic musk accord rounds things out.

La Surprise has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Mme Zarokian repeats the same feat she did with Bleu Satin. She reminds me of the classics while adding in a unique modern modifier. For anyone wanting an update to their white floral collection La Surprise is the kind of modern throwback that should delight.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Jul et Mad Stairway to Heaven- White Musk Whispers

As new materials in perfumery are more widely used there are some which I become less fond of. The category of ingredients called white musks became omnipresent in the first decade of this century. Also called “laundry musks” these are the fresher analogs to the heavier versions which hew closer to the natural source. There are so many of the lighter musks because they have uses beyond perfume. They are the main ingredient in clothing detergent when it says, “spring fresh”. As perfumers began to use them more and more for their fixative properties, I would find they could give a kind of screechy quality to the final stages of perfumes. One of the best things about perfumery today is there are so many creative people looking to do something different. I am not sure when it happened, but it seems like around five or six years ago a few of them learned a curious truth. One white musk might be boring but if you layer a bunch of them together there are some almost supernatural effects to be found. Jul et Mad Stairway to Heaven finds the right set can take you to the roof of the world.

Julien Blanchard (l.) and Madalina Stoica-Blanchard

Jul et Mad are creative directors-owners Julien Blanchard and his wife Madalina Stoica-Blanchard. The brand is named after them because it represents their life as translated into fragrance. For Stairway to Heaven it is based on their trip to the Himalayas in Nepal. They would hike up to the Annapurna Base Camp the literal stairway to the highest heights a human can attain via walking. I’ve done my share of high-altitude hiking here in North America. In the press materials they describe the experience as “bowing before the beauty and the sumptuousness of this veritable sanctuary.” There is something spiritual about reaching as high as you are able. There is also a scent to that.

Cecile Zarokian

For Stairway to Heaven the Blanchards turned again to perfumer Cecile Zarokian, whom they worked with previously on Aqua Sextius. It seems like they all agreed that this was going to be a white perfume. Mme Zarokian is that kind of ingeniously curious perfumer that I have a feeling she had a cocktail of white musks she thought might work. The press release says the heart of Stairway to Heaven is a combination of eight white musks. It leads to a fantastic accord at the center of this perfume.

Before those white musks show up Mme Zarokian wants us to take a deep breath of cold air at altitude. She opens with a chilly whoosh of aldehydes; another maligned ingredient. Mme Zarokian uses a firm hand at keeping the balance refreshing instead of obstreperous. Now as we look out over the snow field rising to the sky the musks come together in a powdery snow accord which is kept traditionally powdery in the early moments by rose and iris. The musks get a firmer hold and now they are like shuffling through fluffy crunchy snow refreshing and soft. A skirl of meditative incense wafts over the musks in the final phases.

Stairway to Heaven has 24-hour plus longevity and average sillage to start before becoming a skin scent after 12 hours or so.

Stairway to Heaven is a wonderfully realized brief. Most of the time I laugh at what a perfume is supposed to remind me of. Not this time. Every time I had this on my skin it was like staring up at the majesty of nature. Only to have a mixture of white musks whisper back to me.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Jul et Mad.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Nishane Ani- Rekindling the Glory

1

There are brands which confound me. They can play it safe so much of the time and then truly amaze me when I am not expecting it. I ask myself why they can’t work this way all the time. One brand which continues to do this to me is Istanbul-based Nishane. When they find a unique perspective, they have a way of turning it into magic. It happened again with Nishane Ani.

Mert Guzel (l.) and Murat Katran

Nishane is the brand co-founded and creatively directed by Mert Guzel and Murat Katran. They have been around since 2015 and have made some of my favorite perfumes in Afrika Olifant and Pachuli Kozha. For the last few years I have been disappointed in what seemed to be the choice to take a safer route. Every brand must make the business decisions which are correct for them to survive. I was disappointed because I know there was the ability for more. Ani is what I mean when I say that.

Cecile Zarokian

The name comes from a medieval city currently in Turkey. In its time it was a place known as the “City of 1001 Churches” as well as sitting at the crossroads of many trade routes. It was a multi-cultural metropolis. It holds a pride of place for Armenian and Turkish people. This is of interest because Messrs. Guzel and Katran asked perfumer Cecile Zarokian, who has Armenian heritage, to create a perfume version.

This is the first perfume Mme Zarokian has composed for Nishane. It is focused around vanilla. It is also another of Mme Zarokian’s recent perfumes which continues to explore the boundaries of the gourmand genre. She is putting together a group of releases which show how much room there is to expand within this style of fragrance.

Ani opens with that vanilla out front. What takes place in the early going is a reminder that vanilla comes from an orchid. The top accord is like finding that flower in the jungle as she fashions a humid green accord. She uses a set of green notes to create a green strand within the vanilla. Baie rose is used to give it an herbal infusion. The keynote to this accord is a fabulous ginger which creates a kinetic vibrant version of vanilla. The ginger persists into the heart as the vanilla rises in intensity. Mme Zarokian uses a green cardamom to re-establish the green. Damascene rose and blackcurrant add a floral fruity frisson underneath it all. As the vanilla comes to its full intensity it finds an equally intense sandalwood waiting in the base. They swirl together in a sweet duet which is warmed by benzoin and patchouli.

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

A warning I am writing about Ani in the summertime. This is not a warm weather fragrance. It is a powerhouse which is going to be awesome when the weather cools off.

Ani is the best perfume Nishane has ever produced. It is also one of my favorite new perfumes of this year. It is a triumph on every level. You can feel that the creative team wanted to find something as regal as Ani, the city, was in its day. Ani, the perfume, rekindles that glory.

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

Mark Behnke