The Different Company 101- Five To Get You Started

The primary goal of this series is to allow someone new to the fragrance world a starting place with many of the extensive lines out there. A secondary goal is to give some attention to great fragrance collections which might not be as well known, but should be. This month I am going to introduce some of you to The Different Company.

The Different Company was founded in 2000 by Thierry de Baschmakoff and Jean-Claude Ellena. In 2003 M. de Baschmakoff would work with perfumer Celine Ellena for the next year before giving way to current creative director and CEO of the brand, Luc Gabriel in 2004. Mme Ellena would continue the collaboration until 2010.  Since 2011, M. Gabriel has brought in Emilie Coppermann for the cologne collection and Bertrand Duchaufour has contributed to the Collection Excessive. These consistent partnerships between creative director and perfumer has led to a house style which has been in place from the very first perfume released. Here are the five I would suggest to get you started.

Bois D’Iris composed by Jean-Claude Ellena was one of the first releases of The Different Company. The name promises Iris Woods and that is exactly what M. Ellena delivers as orris is surrounded by cedar. With M. Ellena it is always the grace notes which make his perfumes memorable and for Bois D’Iris it is the narcissus, vetiver, and musk which make this one of the best florals ever made by M. Ellena.

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Sel de Vetiver composed by Celine Ellena is one of my favorite vetiver perfumes. It might be the perfume I have written the most about over the ten years I’ve been writing about fragrance. The reason for that is Mme Ellena creates an accord of drying salt water on sun-warmed skin which is combined with three different vetiver sources. I have used this perfume as the introduction to vetiver for so many.Those who like it, like me, will never be without it.

De Bachmakov composed by Celine Ellena is a transparent fragrance of winter vistas. It was inspired by the tundra of M. de Baschmakoff’s Russian heritage. Mme Ellena captures the bite of winter air by using the sharply green shiso. Coriander, nutmeg, and cedar come together to form a frozen earth accord. This is one of the best examples of minimalist perfume composition that I own.

Aurore Nomade composed by Bertrand Duchaufour marked a different aesthetic at play. M. Duchaufour in contrast to Mme Ellena is not a minimalist. It could be said he is a maximalist very often as his perfumes can seem overstuffed. Aurore Nomade is one of those perfumes overflowing with ideas. To M. Duchaufour’s credit it holds together to form an accurate evocation of the Spice Islands. With spices like cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg along with a bit of tropical fruit cocktail all with a shot of rum swirling around; M. Duchaufour uses every bit of the potential of ylang-ylang as the central note in Aurore Nomade. It is over the top in a very good way.

Une Nuit Magnetique composed by Christine Nagel is a perfume of magnetic attraction and repulsion. Mme Nagel creates a fragrance which comes together only to be forced apart. In the top ginger and bergamot have their harmony disrupted by blueberry.  In the heart she uses prune to break up a collection of floral extroverts. The way that Une Nuit Magnetique is in constant flux on my skin has always magnetically drawn me in.

If you’re new to the brand these five will give you a good introduction to The Different Company.

Disclosure: this review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Hermes Le Jardin de Monsieur Li- Wistful Whispers

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I was just beginning to discover all that was going on behind my favorite perfumes in 2005 when I remember picking up the March issue of The New Yorker. Inside was an article by Chandler Burr on the creation of Hermes Un Jardin sur Le Nil by perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena. It was one of the most complete descriptions of the creation of a perfume I had ever seen. (If you’ve never read it here is the link) It was the second in the “Un Jardin” series of perfumes for Hermes and it is one of my favorites of the entire line. I have just received the fifth, and supposedly, final “Un Jardin” perfume by M. Ellena; it is called Le Jardin de Monsieur Li.

I am sure this is me projecting my own emotions at the idea of M. Ellena retiring and leaving Hermes in the hands of Christine Nagel but I found Le Jardin de Monsieur Li to have one of the most fragile architectures of any of M. Ellena’s creations in his time at Hermes. For this one he spent time in China in a tranquility garden. This fragrance has an incredible calming effect on my spirits when I wear it. I think it means M. Ellena really was finding that place of calm within while designing Le Jardin de Monsieur Li.

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Jean-Claude Ellena

M.Ellena chooses kumquat as the place to begin his final Jardin stroll. For a Chinese garden walk this is particularly apt. Many who smell this fragrance will think this is lemon. Kumquat essential oil is made up mostly of limonene and if you let it glide by without notice that is what you will experience. The special quality of M. Ellena’s perfumes is the care with which each of a very few ingredients are chosen. This kumquat is a great example. If you take the time to zero in on it you will dive beneath the lemon and find a very subtle spiciness under the tart. A pinch of Szechuan hot pepper is added by M. Ellena to make sure this does not go by unnoticed. All of this is placed on a watery bamboo matrix. The bamboo adds a transparent woody green character. All three of these top notes seem so insubstantial that my mere notice seems enough to send them scattering. They manage to stand up, barely, to my scrutiny. The heart is jasmine and rose but these are meditative focal points and not blowsy distractions. The jasmine seems as fragile as fine porcelain. Finally Le Jardin de Monsieur Li ends by a pool of water where it splashes against the slate lining the pond. An aquatic stony accord that also exudes wet wood is the final movement.

Le Jardin de Monsieur Li has 6-8 hours longevity and average sillage.

I think Le Jardin de Monsieur Li is not going to be widely loved. The delicacy to its construction is going to be seen as a significant drawback by some. For me I am so often presented with perfumes as solid as Fort Knox this was a pleasure to experience. I really found myself drawn into the meditative vibe of this perfume. To really enjoy this I think it is almost a necessity to be in this frame of mind. If this is where M. Ellena really does end his Jardin series it is an appropriately wistful farewell, spoken in whispers.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Hermes.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Hermes Rose Amazone- Trying Not to Lose the Melody

I am a big fan of the singing competition American Idol. Every year at this part of the competition they reach the point where all those who made the initial cut at auditions come together in Hollywood so that the judges can further winnow them down to a final 24 contestants from around 200. One of the ways a contestant tries to stick out is to take a well-known song and re-interpret it. The bad ones destroy the song so it is unrecognizable and the good ones put a fresh spin on it. The judges will often remark after the performance that the singer did a good job of not losing the melody. The new re-interpretation of Hermes Amazone called Rose Amazone felt like in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena’s attempt to make a younger hipper version of the original, without losing the melody.

The original Amazone was released in 1974 and was composed by perfumer Maurice Maurin. That original version was meant to be a luxury alternative to Revlon’s Charlie for this nascent “working woman” who needed something to wear on the job. M. Maurin used the incredible green of blackcurrant buds with a healthy dose of raspberry. That it wore its fruit so unabashedly on its sleeve was different at that time. Fifteen years later M. Ellena would reformulate for a different time. Now he would really amplify the fruit throughout the design making the citrus zing and the berries boisterous. It lost some of the blackcurrant bud underneath all of that. The base notes were made creamier woody as a sandalwood played a more prominent role. These two versions are markedly different enough so that even a non-perfume lover who only wore Amazone noticed when her 1974 bottle was done and she bought a 1989 bottle. This would not be the first time I explained reformulation to a confused consumer. To maintain the singing analogy I would say the 1989 version of Amazone was sung out at the top of its lungs and if you like power ballads, it was like that.

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Jean-Claude Ellena

Even though Rose Amazone has a different name it really could be called Amazone 2015 because it definitely is constructed around the same melody. The stated objective is to appeal to a modern younger woman. The idea seems to be that this woman wants a perfume with a slower stripped down melody from the original. That is just what M. Ellena attempts to deliver.

Rose Amazone starts off with a much more pronounced citrus opening as the blackcurrant bud is moved into the heart leaving a very sparkly shiny opening. The grapefruit is the leader of this citrus pack but they’re all here. The rose comes out and this is a big change as the original has a lot more floral notes. Here M. Ellena leaves the rose to do the job by itself. The blackcurrant bud and the raspberry show up near simultaneously with the rose. This is where Rose Amazone slows the beat down so that you focus on these three keynotes of all three versions. I really liked this combination very much. The woodier base of the 1989 version of Amazone is what you finish on in Rose Amazone, as you return to the original melody.

Rose Amazone has 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I think M. Ellena has done a creditable job at making a more modern younger version of Amazone with Rose Amazone. He stayed true to the melody by going unplugged and letting the keynotes in the heart sing out beautifully.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Hermes.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Rochas Globe- The Best of Both Worlds

When it comes to many of the perfumes which find their way to the Dead Letter Office trying to create a demographic for a fragrance is one of the surest paths to discontinuation. When you look back over the history of perfume when there have been these perfumes which have served as pivot points for the industry; the years after that moment is a study in trying to catch up. In 1990, especially in the masculine category, Davidoff Cool Water had completely changed the game. Before Cool Water men’s perfumes were hairy chested powerhouses like Aramis for Men. By the 1990’s the men’s market supposedly wanted aquatics and fresh fragrances. Over at Rochas they had the thought to try and find a middle ground between the old and the new. That perfume would become Rochas Globe.

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Rochas Globe had a big problem, who was it being made for? If the younger fragrance wearer was gravitating towards fresh aquatics while the older demographic wanted their powerhouses where did Globe fit? The answer was it didn’t. This would lead to its eventual market death within three years. The tragedy is Globe succeeded brilliantly at creating this kind of olfactory genetic splicing. The mad scientist behind this will surprise many of you, Jean-Claude Ellena. One of the most interesting periods of M. Ellena’s illustrious career was the period from 1988-1990. The five perfumes he signed during this time are some of the most unique in in his fragrant repertory. Globe fits right in.

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A Younger Jean-Claude Ellena

Globe opens with a juicy mandarin paired with a very sharp green leafy note. It was a few years until I was able to identify it as Boldo leaves. Boldo is a leaf used to make tea in some South American countries. It is most often used in a combination with yerba mate. I think M. Ellena knows this because that pungent leafiness runs right into a heart of geranium, rhubarb, basil, and mate. M. Ellena defines his version of fresh and allows the heart notes to become that. The base is very traditional vetiver and amber returning Globe to familiar masculine territory.

Globe has 10-12 hour longevity and prodigious sillage. This is one to definitely be cautious about spraying too much.

Looking back through the lens of twenty-five years it is easy to see Globe just had no audience in 1990. I would love to see this re-released now because it is such a fascinating combination of styles from a perfumer, in M. Ellena, who was at his most experimental. I have said Globe had trouble finding an audience but I am definitely someone for whom Globe was made for. It is too bad there weren’t more of us.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Hermes Hermessence Cuir D’Ange- A Flight of Fancy

There is no collection in perfumery which more fully captures my attention than the Hermessences. Composed by Hermes in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena these deceptively simple constructs have been called everything from perfumed haiku to olfactory watercolors. Without looking back I’ve probably used these terms to describe these perfumes as well. It is an unsatisfactory way to capture the beauty of the best of the Hermessence entries. When they work it provides some of the most heartbreakingly beautiful moments in all of olfactory art. The most recent release Cuir D’Ange is one of the best in the collection.

Cuir D’Ange translates to Angel’s Leather and it was inspired by a visit M. Ellena made to the vault where the leather used to make Hermes accessories is stored. This visit was made in 2004 when he first came on-board as in-house nose. He knew as he walked amidst the stacks of tanned skins he wanted to capture this essence. One of the things that makes capturing a specific leather essence is the perfumer has to create a leather accord as there is no single note which mimics leather. Most often the components of a leather accord are deep heavy things like birch tar as it was for the classic leathers of the early 20th century. For Cuir D’Ange M. Ellena found a fusion of floral notes to complement his leather accord which makes it smell as if it is a Hermes purse or wallet which has been handled by a woman wearing the most delicate floral perfume.

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Jean-Claude Ellena

M. Ellena uses hawthorn as his top note in Cuir D’Ange. Hawthorn is one of my favorite ingredients when used well as it imparts an indolic component along with the floral character. It is a great choice to start with as the indoles stick to the leather template which is also present from the first moments. The leather accord is that of a supple soft leather which smells of opulence. It is by turns dry and then voluptuous. In the early going it the dry aspect which matches up with the hawthorn. Then like the named angel unfurling its wings heliotrope arrives and Cuir D’Ange takes wing. The faux violet nature of heliotrope is perfect as it lifts the leather up and makes it feel luxurious, as a Hermes leather should feel. The final ingredient is a musk which evokes the smell of sun warmed skin. It is an especially apt finishing note as it becomes a duet of processed skin and living skin. It may sound a bit macabre but it is a fascinating study as it lingers on your skin.

Cuir D’Ange has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

One of the things which allows the Hermessence line to stand out is not just the construction but how M. Ellena is able to take a relatively few notes and be so expansive. Cuir D’Ange might be the most successful of all in this collection at providing transitional grace notes. Despite the notes I describe above each of those notes carries subtle undertones and at different points you will get a hint of iris or a suspicion of almonds. Cuir D’Ange is a perfume which allows all of my senses to soar to new heights.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by the Hermes boutique in Vienna, VA.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Hermes Bel Ami Vetiver- The DJ JCE Remix

One of the things I like about music is when a talented DJ takes a song and applies their style to it and often makes me see something different in the original song. These remixes when done right will be my preferred version over the original because the DJ will lay down extra rhythms or add in other samples. In the end it is the song I know and like but with added things which make it better. When I received my sample of Hermes Bel Ami Vetiver I had to say I was imagining Hermes in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena as the olfactory DJ taking the original 1986 Hermes Bel Ami by perfumer Jean-Louis Sieuzac and producing a hipper modern dance remix. Bel Ami Vetiver definitely has some added beats to it and it feels more like a fragrance I want to wear while doing something active.

The original Bel Ami ranks right up there with the best leather fragrances ever. M. Sieuzac captured a textural leather by using cardamom, orris, civet, and vanilla to create the figurative grain to his leather accord. When I received the press release announcing Bel Ami Vetiver I was extremely curious to see what M. Ellena would do besides add the promised vetiver.

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DJ JCE aka Jean-Claude Ellena

M. Ellena chooses to begin with a pinpoint of citric light as bigarade opens Bel Ami Vetiver. He has used bigarade in the past as the focal point but here it is more like a lens flare. It is noticeable within the frame but it doesn’t dominate. What does dominate is a panoply of spices; cinnamon, cumin, clove, ginger, and pimento. This is M. Ellena’s particular genius in producing a memorable accord by precisely balancing these ingredients. Together they form a decadent deeply spicy experience and you can pick apart the different voices but it is the harmony of the choir that is really the point. Now the vetiver appears as green support to the spices before the woodier aspects begin to take over. Then the leather accord comes next. I don’t know this to be true but the leather accords for Bel Ami and Bel Ami Vetiver are identical to my nose when wearing them side-by-side I wonder if M. Ellena used M. Sieuzac’s version of a leather accord. What is a very characteristic effect of M. Ellena’s is the mix of tonka and incense which also accompanies the leather.

Bel Ami Vetiver has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Bel Ami Vetiver is another winner for Hermes in their mainstream, ie. Non-Hermessence, line. Over the past year M. Ellena has created some of the best fragrances of his very successful career. Bel Ami Vetiver is among the best of the fragrances he has created for Hermes. Like my music I think DJ JCE has taken a favorite perfume and remixed it into something more modern which has more of a beat and I can dance to it.

Disclosure: This review based on a sample provided by the Hermes Boutique in Vienna, VA.

Mark Behnke

Editor’s Note: Bel Ami Vetiver has been available in Europe since the beginning of the year but it is just ow available at Hermes boutiques and Saks Fifth Avenue in the US.

Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle 101- Five To Get You Started

When I speak with Michael Edwards on the beginning of niche perfumery he can accurately names L’Artisan Parfumeur in 1978 and Annick Goutal in 1980 as the first niche lines. When I think of when niche perfumery really managed to breakthrough I go back to 2000 when Frederic Malle released the first nine perfumes in his Editions de Parfums brand. These were the first perfumes to feature the name of the perfumer on the bottle. It really was the beginning of my starting to take a stronger interest in the people behind the perfume. Over the last fourteen years and 21 total releases I can say that this is one of the strongest collections of fragrances on the market. There is not a mediocre one in the whole group. A particular style might not be to your taste but the quality and creativity is always prominently displayed. This is one of the best places for anyone interested in niche perfume to start and here are the five I would suggest you begin with.

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Frederic Malle

There are a plethora of citrus colognes but Jean-Claude Ellena’s Bigarade Concentree is one that stands way above the fray. There is fantastic bitter orange (bigarade) surrounded by the most gentle aldehydes. The heart is rose, cardamom, and a bit of textural pepper to coax the spiciness from the rose. It finishes with a golden hay note over cedar. This fragrance re-invigorated my interest in citrus fragrances all by itself.

Lys Mediterranee by Edouard Flechier is one of the most luminous perfumes I own. M. Flechier weaves three sources of lily raw materials to render a larger-than-life composite as the core of this fragrance. He adds orange blossom, angelica, and musk as the perfect complements to the uber-lily. If you want lily in your fragrance here is one of the best.

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Maurice Roucel

Musc Ravageur by Maurice Roucel has a bit of a rakish reputation as a lady-killer if you believe the stories told on the perfume forums. That has died down over time and now what remains is a fantastic ambery musk by one of the great perfumers working. Starting with a flare of tangerine and lavender which are spiced up wiith clove and cinnamon we reach the base notes which form the ambery musky accord. I was well married by the time I found this but it is one of the few fragrances I wear which generates unsolicited compliments, so maybe its reputation is deserved.

For so many years the baseline tuberose perfume was Robert Piguet’s Fracas and nothing came close until Dominique Ropion’s Carnal Flower. M. Ropion chooses an eclectic company of complementary and contrasting notes for the tuberose. He uses eucalyptus to accentuate the mentholated quality a the heart of the flower. He adds coconut to provide an oily sweet contrast. A few other white flowers join in to create the other great tuberose fragrance.

Pierre Bourdon showed that he was more than the perfumer who created Cool Water when he made French Lover (aka Bois D’Orage). When I smelled this when it was released in 2007 it felt like a more sophisticated version of my old staple Calvin Klein Obsession for Men. It doesn’t smell anything like it but it was the one fragrance I continually chose over it once it was in my perfume cabinet. M. Bourdon uses the rich spiciness of pimento to lead into a finely balanced heart of iris and galbanum. It is a greener floral because of the presence of the galbanum and it keeps the iris from getting powdery. A musk and vetiver base finish this off. If I was still prowling the night looking for a connection French Lover would be one of my choices.

As I mentioned above the entire Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle line is consistently excellent. So start here but do yourself a favor and keep on going through the whole line it is a magical ride.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke  

Perfumer Rewind: Jean-Claude Ellena’s 1988- Maxim’s pour Homme & Balenciaga Rumba

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Some of our greatest niche perfumers have a fascinating history prior to the aesthetic we know them best for. In Perfumer Rewind I am going to look into some of my favorite current perfumer’s past creations and look for interesting moments of their development. The first perfumer to get this treatment is Jean-Claude Ellena and the year I am rewinding to is 1988 when he was responsible for two launches Maxim’s pour Homme and Balenciaga Rumba.

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Jean-Claude Ellena

Ask anyone today to describe a Jean-Claude Ellena fragrance and the words minimalist or luminous will likely be the two most common descriptors used. As the in-house nose at Hermes M. Ellena has perfected a style that speaks volumes with few notes. The “Un Jardin” series and the Hermessences are perfect examples of the style he has evolved into. The earliest complete signpost of that style was 1993’s Bvlgari Eau Parfumee au The Vert. What I find completely fascinating was in 1988, after a five year absence of releases, M. Ellena returns with two huge powerhouse fragrances that are as far from what anyone would describe as an Ellena style fragrance.

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Maxim’s pour Homme was done after Pierre Cardin had bought the rights to the French restaurant Maxim’s, in 1988, with the intention of turning it into a worldwide chain. What was even more interesting was the beginning of building this brand was going to be a men’s fragrance. Pierre Cardin contracted Givaudan to do the fragrance and they assigned M. Ellena. Maxim’s pour Homme begins with classic lavender and clary sage with some bergamot. The heart of Maxim’s pour Homme is where you get the hint of what will become a M. Ellena trademark as he combines geranium, muguet, and rose. Those three notes were often huge sledgehammers of scent in that era but in Maxim’s pour Homme they are so restrained they almost get lost between the top notes and the base notes. As a result the heart only lasts for a few minutes but it is like peering into a crystal ball of what will be as they are perfectly balanced to create an airy beautiful floral character. This character would get refined a lot over the years to become the core of many of M. Ellena’s creations almost twenty years later. The base is leathery musky chypre with patchouli, oakmoss, amber, musk, cedar, and vanilla. The base is classic 1980’s masculine perfume trope. M.Ellena probably didn’t want to rock the boat too much at this point in his career so he played it safe at the top and the base but if you pay attention to the heart you will see the indications of where his true aesthetic lies.

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Balenciaga Rumba was a co-creation of M. Ellena and Ron Winnegrad. Like Maxim’s pour Homme it is one particular phase that gives us the insight into M. Ellena’s evolving style. Rumba starts with a fusillade of fruit as peach, raspberry, and plum roar out of the atomizer. Fruity florals were just coming into style and so to go with all of that fruit a full set of florals including jasmine, magnolia, tagete, gardenia, and most prominently, tuberose. This opening is so heady and narcotic it is off-putting these days but in 1988 with Chrisitan Dior Poison the fragrance du jour it almost seems restrained. Then as if a light switch is thrown Rumba turns into this fantastic dry incense. Labdanum is the main resinous source with styrax playing a supporting role with its leathery quality. Amber and vanilla add a bit of warm sweetness to the arid resinous aspect. For those who love the Hermessence Ambre Narguile you will recognize the base of Rumba as the Neanderthal version of that fragrance. The drydowns of Rumba and Ambre Narguile are very similar with the tobacco of Ambre Narguile being the major difference as well as sixteen years added experience.

M. Ellena would continue with similar styles to Maxim’s pour Homme and Rumba with Hermes Amazone, Rochas Globe, and Jitrois Paris until that inflection point in 1993 with Bvlgari Eau Parfume au The Vert began the style we most commonly associate with M. Ellena.

Maxim’s pour Homme and Balenciaga Rumba are still available through a number of internet resellers and auction sites for pretty reasonable prices.

Disclosure: This review was based on bottles of Maxim’s pour Homme and Balenciaga Rumba I purchased.  

Mark Behnke