Can Francis Kurkdjian Bring Some Insolence Back to Dior?

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Last Friday saw another big changing of the guard in perfumery. It was announced that Francois Demachy was retiring from his post as in-house perfumer at Christian Dior. His replacement as of October 18 will be Francis Kurkdjian. Of all the great designer perfume brands what has gone on at Dior over the recent years has seemed like they were taking a wrecking ball to their perfume reputation.

Francois Demachy

Starting in 2018 Dior fragrance under M. Demachy’s guidance had turned into something unrecognizable. They were releasing fragrances which had no soul. They were crass exercises in pandering to the least common denominator. All perfume brands do this. While Dior Sauvage plays on every current masculine trope it undeniably sells because it is the greatest hits of accords. Bleu de Chanel does the same for that venerable designer. The difference is for every Bleu de Chanel there is also Les Eaux de Chanel. Creativity is balanced with commercialism. Dior for the last three years has been only commercialism.

Francis Kurkdjian

They have diluted one of the great exclusive designer collections as they released more Maison Christian Dior fragrances over three years than they did in the previous 14. All of them are easily forgettable. That Vanilla Diorama will likely be the last perfume from him is a tragedy. What is most confounding about all of this is the recent documentary “The Nose” which told M. Demachy’s story. That film showed an artist excited about perfumery. Based on the perfumes it feels like it must have been recorded years ago. As much as the film belies the reality, having M. Demachy step down seems like a good choice.

Which brings us to the new in-house perfumer. M. Kurkdjian might be the best perfumer who effectively straddles mainstream and niche. He has one of the all-time greats in Jean-Paul Gaultier Le Male. He has balanced the crowd-pleasing qualities of Maison Francis Kurkdjian Aqua Universalis and Baccarat Rouge 450 with some of the best oud-centric perfumes in the niche sector.

More importantly he has a connection to the beginning of the Maison Christian Dior exclusive line. Back in 2004 creative director Hedi Slimane wanted to position Dior in the high-end niche market. He oversaw the creation of a three-perfume debut collection. Two of them, Cologne Blanche and Eau Noire were composed by M. Kurkdjian. Both were subsequently discontinued years later. Eau Noire has become a unicorn. Cologne Blanche was a warm take on orange blossom that I feel was one of the earliest entries in the Nouveau Cologne trend.

One of the things I enjoy about M. Kurkdjian is he seems to design in a focused way. He is willing to create trends instead of following them. Just think of all the descendants of Le Male if you need an example. It is that which makes me hopeful that he can restore some of the lost creativity at Dior.

What makes me believe this might be the case is the last line of the WWD article announcing the change. M. Kurkdjian is quoted as saying, “Dior had a quotation that I adore: ‘Respect tradition and dare to be insolent. One can’t go without the other.’” It is that insolence which has been missing at Dior in recent times. If M. Kurkdjian can bring that back, he can wake the echoes of the glorious past.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Christian Dior Vanilla Diorama- Its Not Me, It’s You

Not all relationships are intended to last. When they end it is usually because one or both have changed in ways that seem difficult to overcome. It happens between people, but it also happens between myself and perfume brands. There are brands I consider the pillars of how I experience fragrance. Some of them have delighted me for decades now. There are others that have made decisions I don’t understand. They seemingly throw away all that made them special. Like any relationship I try to hold on. Like many relationships the changes eventually become too much to take. I think Maison Cristian Dior Vanilla Diorama has become the place where I walk away.

The exclusive collection for Dior fragrance, Maison Christian Dior has been amazing. When I received a sample of 2004’s Bois D’Argent I purchased a bottle. It is one of those perfumes I will always own because it is that good. In 2010 the line was aggressively expanded with a set of perfumes that were all different from what was currently out there. Perfumes like Mitzah and Granville are also personal favorites. For the next eight years there were a couple of annual releases which remained in the same sphere of creativity. This was one of those collections I tried to recommend to anyone looking for something unique.

Francois Demachy

In 2018 something changed. They spammed the market with fourteen new releases. This was almost as many as they had released since the beginning of the brand in 2004. Worse they were mostly designed without any of the creativity that has marked the previous releases. You might be thinking they must have changed the perfumer. That would be incorrect. Perfumer Francois Demachy has been behind all the releases for the brand. He is one of the perfumer all-stars. The recent documentary about him “The Nose” confirms his love of the art or at least it was edited that way.

In trying to give some benefit of the doubt maybe fourteen is too much for even a talent like M. Demachy. Except once they went back to releasing two or three a year the quality never approached what had come before. There were some okay ones, but I looked at the bottles from the past on my shelf and wondered.

This year has seen three additions to the line. Eden-Roc is a flaccid floral aquatic which has had competitors so much better it needs a life jacket to stay afloat in the deep end. I never thought I’d find a tobacco scent based on a hookah boring. Tobacolor continues to make me yawn.

Which brings me to Vanilla Diorama. As have most of the recent releases it feels like Maison Christian Dior has traded chasing trends instead of setting them. Warm vanilla gourmands are a trend. Need a fall release for 2021? What’s selling? Vanilla gourmands you say? I can do that in my sleep. Which is how this seemed to be designed.

A citrus top accord a little chocolate and booze in the heart bomb it with a load of vanilla frame it in sandalwood. That’s it nothing more to see here.

Vanilla Diorama has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

M. Demachy is a master perfumer and the blend of these show his skill. What is more damning, it is done without passion. These perfumes carry a more indicting one-word assessment than “bad”, they are boring. So M. Demachy I am breaking up with you. You’ve moved to a different space I don’t care to follow. In this case “It’s not me, it’s you.”

Disclosure: This review was based on samples from Maison Christian Dior.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Tiffany and Tiffany for Men- License Expired

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If there was ever a column that was destined to be written by popular demand it is this one. Every blog has their most commented on post. Far and away the one which has the most comments is my review of 2017’s Tiffany & Co. perfume. The bulk of the 84 and counting comments is a lament for the loss of the originals done for the luxury jewelry store. I realized the reason Tiffany and Tiffany for Men are both in the Dead Letter Office is also a story of how the licensing business in fragrance worked then and now.

Back in the mid-1980’s Tiffany wanted to add an exclusive perfume for purchase at their stores. Most designer brands look for a fragrance company to license their brand to. This has been an ongoing eco-system in perfume for decades. Almost every designer fragrance you own is overseen by one of the huge beauty conglomerates. Which makes the choice made by Tiffany more remarkable. Instead of going with those proven successful entities they chose to collaborate with another exclusive luxury brand who also made fragrance, Chanel.

Francois Demachy

They chose to ask the in-house perfumer team at Chanel of Francois Demachy and Jacques Polge to design exclusive Tiffany branded perfumes. In 1987 they released Tiffany followed two years later by Tiffany for Men. I never knew they existed until I was in Tiffany with a friend and saw the bottles. Both were sophisticated styles which felt perfectly at home in the jewelry store.

Jacques Polge

Tiffany is a gorgeous, layered perfume made up of the best floral ingredients. Rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, orris and muguet form a heady central accord. Grace notes of citrus and berry flirt around the edges. It ends on that characteristically warm Chanel sandalwood and vanilla base.

Tiffany for Men is one of the greatest men’s perfume ever produced on a similar level to Patou pour Homme. The perfumers create a spicy citrus opening which turns greener through galbanum and oakmoss. It also comes to an end on a familiar Chanel accord this time it is an ambery sandalwood given some texture through black pepper.

About the time I learned that Chanel was the perfume house behind them I would learn soon after that Tiffany was not renewing the license, ending it in 2006. The remaining inventory would be depleted over the years following. Eventually the only place they lived on was in the Dead Letter Office.

The story picks up again ten years later. Tiffany wanted to get back into the fragrance game again. This time they would collaborate with one of the large beauty companies; licensing the brand to Coty. This seems to be an attempt to capture a new Tiffany audience. No more exclusivity. Sold everywhere. Looking to appeal to the current trends favored by the younger fragrance buying demographic. If you read my review of this newer version, I think they achieved what they were trying for.

This story is a tale of two different times and places for how Tiffany wanted to be interpreted as a perfume. 35 years ago it was exclusivity. Currently it is in search of a younger demographic by casting a wider net.

For all the commenters I hope this gives you some insight into why it is unlikely to ever see Tiffany or Tiffany for Men find their way out of the Dead Letter Office.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Acqua di Parma Colonia Futura- Fragrance of Future Past

Once I fell down the perfume rabbit hole one of the first brands I focused a lot of energy on was Acqua di Parma. There was a classicism to the way this Italian brand made perfume that appealed to my developing palate. One of the earliest ones I tried was Colonia. I own almost all the ancillary shaving products from this. There is something about it that just gives my morning routine a jumpstart. Throughout the years they have updated the Colonia with multiple flankers. For 2020 Acqua di Parma Colonia Futura returns to its origins for a new future.

What that convoluted sentence means is the brand is reformulating Colonia with all-natural sustainable replacements. The press release talks about the number being 99% of these types of ingredients. It is an interesting exercise to see what effect newer materials will have on a fragrance first released in 1916. Perfumer Francois Demachy is one of the best to attempt something like this. The advances in over 100 years are tremendous. Colonia Futura displays how they impact a classic formula.

Francois Demachy

The original is citrus top leading to a lavender, verbena and sage heart, finishing on vetiver and woods. It remains a perfectly balanced recipe. Colonia Futura plays out identically but for one very important substitution.

The top notes are the same brilliant burst of lemon and grapefruit which I am familiar with. If there is a difference to natural sources, I would characterize it as bit softer on the edges. Not direct sunlight but hidden behind some high clouds. The big change happens in the heart as baie rose replaces verbena as the partner to lavender and sage. This pairing has become quite prevalent over the last ten years because they go together so well. The herbal natures of all three and the subtle fruitiness of the baie rose goes with the floral character of lavender. The natural sources of baie rose have added to its nuance and it seems like a high-quality version has been used here. The vetiver has a very green presence early on before turning woody to greet the cedar in the base.

Colonia Futura has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

As I compared Colonia Futura to its predecessor what I notice most about the use of natural ingredients is the softer quality. If I use Colonia in the morning for a bracing start to the day; Colonia Futura would be what I turn to at the end of the day to soothe me. It is a fragrance which has brought the past to the present as it looks to the future.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Christian Dior Oud Rosewood- A Berry on Top

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When it comes to the perfume brands which comprised the pillars of my perfume foundation recent years have found them decaying before my eyes. It makes the arrival of each new release an exercise in dashed expectations. Dior has been one which has been on a particularly destructive trajectory. Their mass-market releases have been terrible. The place I turn to for hope is their exclusive collection Maison Christian Dior. They changed the name two years ago and promptly did what they’ve done with the mainstream releases dumped a collection of 18 mostly mediocrities. Thankfully for my battered psyche perfumer Francois Demachy has returned to the previous exclusive release pattern of two a year. The one for the back half of 2020 is Maison Christian Dior Oud Rosewood.

Francois Demachy

M. Demachy has made some memorable oud perfumes for the exclusive line. 2010’s Leather Oud and Oud Ispahan two years later remain a couple of my favorites from this collection. Oud Rosewood provides the third point of an oud triangle which stakes out new ground. While I am usually not a fan of berry notes it seems I like them when used with stronger base notes. Oud Rosewood gives me that.

That berry note is what begins things. A tart raspberry one maybe harvested a little early comes forth. It finds the slightly fruity quality of rosewood awaiting it. This is a lovely accord which sometimes reminded me of a cola accord. There were times I was looking for my glass. It takes a turn for darker depths as the oud comes to the foreground. This is that more restrained oud carrying less of the barnyard quality it often can. A little leather picks up for what is missing. M. Demachy then adds in sandalwood to create a woody triptych that carries itself with confidence.

Oud Rosewood has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I enjoyed Oud Rosewood as much as I did the previous oud releases. Together they make an excellent sub-collection within Maison Christian Dior. It is funny to say but I wouldn’t have liked Oud Rosewood as much without the berry on top. It is the contrast which exposes the woody power to come.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Maison Christian Dior.

Mark Behnke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Acqua di Parma Sakura- Cherry Blossoms at Dawn

Living in the Washington DC metro area this time of year means cherry blossoms. The entire city celebrates these harbingers of spring. Mrs. C and I visit every year but we like going in the odd hours when there are less crowds. I’ve written in the past about visiting the charry blossoms by the light of the moon. My other favorite time is at sunrise, as the sun crests the horizon making the delicate pink petals glow with light. Acqua di Parma Sakura reminds me of this.

Francois Demachy

Sakura is part of the 10-member collection called Signatures of the Sun released last fall. I previously reviewed Osmanthus when I received them. Perfumer Francois Demachy is the perfumer behind all of them. By seeing the single ingredient names you could be expecting soliflores. He has done something slightly different. The name on the bottle is the focus, he just chooses some back-up singers who also make their presence felt. Over the months I’ve had the collection it has impressed me for the delicacy of the compositions. Sakura is the best example of it.

The opening of Sakura is similar to all the other Signatures of the Sun fragrances; citrus as interpreted via Italian aesthetic. It has almost become the signature of Acqua di Parma. For Sakura M. Demachy employs a mandarin orange given a green herbal shading through baie rose. Citrus is easy to compare to sunlight. This is one of those accords as the orange is that glowing sun just on the horizon while the baie rose is reminiscent of the dewy grass. The cherry blossom accord at the heart of this is delicate given expansiveness through the support of jasmine. When you are amidst the cherry blossoms at dawn there always seems like a moment, as the sun’s rays hit them, they release their scent in greeting. That is what this smells like. A series of white musks continue to add an airiness to the overall effect throughout the remainder of its time.

Sakura has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

I don’t know if they have cherry trees in Italy. If they do, I imagine this is what a Mediterranean Sakura smells like at dawn.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Acqua di Parma.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Dior Homme Eau de Toilette- Shaking My Head 2.0

In the early 2000’s it was so interesting to watch the mainstream brands try and incorporate some of the independent perfume aesthetic into their releases. One of the greatest successes was 2005’s Dior Homme. Perfumer Olivier Polge and creative director Hedi Slimane collaborated on what might be the most successful masculine floral ever released. By taking iris and wrapping it up in cacao, amber, leather, and patchouli they made florals appropriate for even the alpha males. It is a modern masterpiece which Dior treated as such in the subsequent flankers which weren’t called Dior Homme Sport. There hasn’t been a Dior Homme release since 2014’s Dior Homme Parfum.

The current state of Dior has been chronicled extensively as a brand which has replaced class with crass. It seems every move they make is saturated in cynicism. When I heard there was going to be a new Dior Homme Eau de Toilette early in 2020 I wondered what it would be like. Would this regain the classicism of the Dior Homme releases of the past? Or would it take its place on the shelf next to Joy by Dior as a bottle of functional fragrance meant to appeal to people who don’t like perfume?  

Francois Demachy

My hope was raised by the participation of Francois Demachy who had been responsible for Dior Homme Parfum and a couple other of the flankers. I was worried because M. Demachy phoned it in with Joy by Dior. Unfortunately Dior Homme Eau de Toilette left me shaking my head in sadness in the same way Joy by Dior did.

Dior Homme broke barriers as a masculine floral. Dior Homme Eau de Toilette wants to smell like every other woody fragrance designed for blockheads. I laughed at the PR description of “a new, masculine sensuality”. There is nothing new here. The original Dior Homme was the antithesis to bland things like Dior Homme Eau de Toilette. This is the same Iso E Super, patchouli, and vetiver in hundreds of other perfumes marketed to men.

Dior Homme Eau de Toilette has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I can’t explain the choice at Dior to just give up on creativity in their fragrance offerings. It is like they are actively trying to push away those of us who love the history of Dior fragrance. Things like Joy by Dior and Dior Homme Eau de Toilette are made for people who desire bland inoffensive fragrance. Now when I tell someone that Dior Homme is one of the best perfumes of the last twenty years I’m going to have to put in a disclaimer. I walk away shaking my head at the ongoing decay of the House of Dior.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Christian Dior Rouge Trafalgar- A Fun Fruitchouli

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One of the styles of perfume I enjoy least is the fruity floral. Only in a few cases does it not end up as a fruit salad overturned on a vase of flowers. What I find funny is I like them by themselves just fine. I have lots of floral perfumes I enjoy. I have lots of fruity perfumes I like. Especially the class given the portmanteau “fruitchouli”. If you give me fruit salad and overturn onto an earthy patchouli it turns out I find that pleasant to wear. Which is why Maison Christian Dior Rouge Trafalgar tickles my fruitchouli bone.

It was two years ago when the Dior Collection Privee re-branded itself as Maison Christian Dior. I didn’t have an issue with the name change. It was the simultaneous release of 18 new perfumes; all but a couple of them mediocre and forgettable. Ever since the regrettable perfume dump the brand has seemingly gone back to the two new releases a year formula which was what we had prior. It has also lifted itself out of the doldrums as the fall release of Spice Blend was better than the 18 perfumes released before it. Rouge Trafalgar finds a way to also be better than those.

Francois Demachy

All the Maison Christian Dior come from Francois Demachy. Rouge Trafagar is no exception. M. Demachy has shown the ability to take trite styles and find something different. Rouge Trafalgar isn’t quite as interesting as M. Demachy can be. He does manage to produce a better than average fruitchouli.

Rouge Trafalgar opens with the sweetest of the red berries; strawberry and raspberry. Just for extra red fruit emphasis M. Demachy layers in a cherry. It reminds me of those squishy fruit candies which have a liquid center, so it squirts when you chew it. Rouge Trafalgar squirts with juicy fruits when you spray it. M. Demachy then attenuates that with three great choices. First grapefruit can be its tartest semi-sulfurous self. Blackcurrant buds provide a sticky green contrast. The key to my enjoyment of it all is M. Demachy’s use of violet leaf. It carries a sharp slightly sweet green piece. The violet leaf is the linchpin which turns it into a nicely balanced fruit salad just waiting to be overturned on the patchouli. That patchouli is an earthy classic type of that ingredient. Once it is all together this is a fun fruitchouli.

Rouge Trafalgar has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I’m still not sure if Maison Christian Dior will find its way back to the great perfumes prior to the name change. If they don’t at least releases like Rouge Trafalgar don’t make me wish they had stopped making an exclusive collection.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Maison Christian Dior.

Mark Behnke

Flanker Round-Up: Kenneth Cole Mankind Legacy and Dior Sauvage Parfum

This month’s Flanker Round-Up I look at new releases from two masculine fragrance lines. One which has become a big seller and another which I consider to be an underappreciated mass-market gem.

Dior Sauvage Parfum

The original Dior Sauvage Eau de Toilette was released in the fall of 2015. It has become one of the perennial men’s fragrance best sellers ever since. Its appeal lies in the way perfumer Francois Demachy smooshed together most of the popular masculine perfume tropes into a monolithic whole. It works because there is something to appeal to everyone. The only thing I didn’t care for was the wall of Ambrox at the end of it all. With Sauvage Parfum M. Demachy remedies that.

Sauvage Parfum is a much sweeter fragrance without having that sledgehammer of Ambrox waiting at the end. A juicy mandarin and cardamom comprise a citrus top accord which moves toward a creamy sandalwood heart. This finishes with vanilla and cedar providing twin amplifiers of the sweet and woody aspects of the sandalwood. I can see Sauvage Parfum becoming an excellent winter alternative for fans of the original. It isn’t exactly the same, but it is recognizable as a kissing cousin.

Kenneth Cole Mankind Legacy

I think the Kenneth Cole Mankind series of perfumes is better than most of what is found on the men’s fragrance counter in the mall. In 2014 perfumer Claude Dir was ahead of the curve using some of the more contemporary men’s trends before they became trends. For Mankind Legacy perfumer Stephen Nilsen creates an herbal green woody fragrance.

It opens with a pairing of nutmeg and clary sage. The sweetness of the nutmeg is a nice contrast to the dry green of the sage. Baie rose and rosemary shade the herbal quality a bit deeper. A rich fir and cedar provide the woody foundation for a bridging vetiver to unite the herbs and the woods. I like Mankind Legacy as a weekend hiking kind of perfume. Almost feels like a flannel shirt should come as a gift with purchase.

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

Mark Behnke