Discount Diamonds: Paco Rabanne 1 Million- Seasonal Spice

This column is often dictated by my digging through the discount bins while Mrs. C is shopping elsewhere. While digging a few weeks a go I ran across some gold bars in the bin. Those bottles meant to look like gold ingots is Paco Rabanne 1 Million. Especially for this time of year it is a real Discount Diamond.

Paco Rabanne has been making perfume since 1969. Prior to the 2000’s those early perfumes were some of the best of their kind. After we entered the new century Paco Rabanne became a more aggressive mass-market fragrance producer. A pillar perfume followed by multiple flankers. While most of the flankers are easy to dismiss the pedigree of the brand shows up in the pillars. In 2008, 1 Million was the new pillar which illustrates the point. 1 Million was the fall release for the year. A team of three perfumers, Michel Gerard, Olivier Pescheux and Christophe Raynaud would combine for a rich Oriental style.  

1 Million opens with a chilled citrus accord composed of mandarin and spearmint. The mint is where the frost comes from. It is given a blast of spicy heat as cinnamon removes that icy coating. The cinnamon citrus accord is deep and satisfying. The perfumers then add in rose and leather. The leather is a soft driving glove type. It creates a trapezoid of animalic floral spicy citrus. This is where 1 Million smells as good as the name promises. It fades to a typical vanilla sweetened amber base accord.

1 Million has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

1 Million is the kind of fragrance that shines in the colder weather. It is versatile while adding a classic Oriental aesthetic to any dresser. If you come across a bottle in your local discount bin it is worth its weight in….well you know.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Montblanc Explorer- By Popular Demand

One of my favorite department store men’s perfumes to recommend as an office-ready scent is Montblanc Legend. It is an example of a mass-market release done right, without pandering, while intelligently choosing popular trends to include. I have no idea whether this is true, but this seems less perfume by focus group with more directed design at play instead. They followed that up with Montblanc Emblem in 2014. It again was nothing especially original put together in a solid crowd-pleasing way. When I went to my local mall for my unscientific crowd watching, the newest perfume for the brand was being displayed; Montblanc Explorer.

I’ve mentioned this before; my way of telling whether a new perfume will be popular is the garbage can extrapolation. I set myself up near the closest waste receptacle to where the sales associates are handing out strips. I keep a count of how many people get rid of the strip as quick as they can versus continuing to sniff it while they walk. A good score I’ve found is around 60% retention of the strip. On this visit Explorer had an 85% retention rate. It motivated me to get a sample and find out more.

(l. to r.) Jordi Fernandez, Antoine Maisondieu, and Olivier Pescheux

Anne Duboscq has been the creative director for Montblanc since the release of Legend. It seems like she has clear vision of the market the brand wants to serve. For Explorer she used a trio of perfumers; Jordi Fernandez, Antoine Maisondieu, and Olivier Pescheux. What I found interesting when receiving the press release is this set of Givaudan perfumers liberally laced a set of proprietary company ingredients throughout Explorer. Orpur versions of bergamot and vetiver along with Akigalawood. I always refer to the Orpur collection as the crown jewels of the company. As the creators of Akigalawood the Givaudan perfumers have more experience in using it. It adds a kind of high-class niche veneer to a mass-market fragrance.

The perfumers open with a lot of Orpur bergamot and pink pepper. What the pink pepper does is to provide an herbal contrast to the sparkle of the bergamot making for a tart green top accord. The green is intensified with the Orpur vetiver along with sage in the heart. The base is woody ambrox and the altered version of patchouli that is Akigalawood. The akigalawood adds in a spiciness to the ambrox to keep it from being as monolithic as it can sometimes be.

Explorer has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Besides my garbage can census another reason I predict Explorer will be a success is in a few steps I watched two men stop talking; turn around and each buy a bottle. This is not a perfume for those who have a diverse collection of niche perfumes. You will already have a better version of anything you might be drawn to in Explorer. What I saw on a Saturday afternoon in February is for those men who want an office-ready perfume Explorer is going to end up on a lot of dressers.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Diptyque Fleur de Peau- Axis of the Spring

There has been a refreshing new trend in spring florals this year; it has been more than rose. What has been amusing is several of this year’s seasonal releases have found a new choice, the classic ambrette-iris-musk axis upon which to have their perfume roll. The origins of this triad come from Chanel No. 18, for 2018 this has become the inspiration for many. One which takes it in a different direction is Diptyque Fleur de Peau.

It has been interesting to see new perfumes look for ways to make classic accords more transparent. I don’t think it works as much as it fails. What sometimes makes a classic accord has something to do with balance. If you’re going to re-interpret one you need to make sure you pay attention to that balance. Perfumer Olivier Pescheux takes this tack for Fleur de Peau.

Olivier Pescheux

One way to do that is to alter the botanical musk of ambrette with the synthetic musks in the base sandwiching the iris. M. Pescheux seemingly does this by reducing the concentration of the ambrette while adding in some fresher musks to the base. The iris in the heart is also a much opaquer version as well. Because M. Pescheux strikes the right proportions Fleur de Peau succeeds.

The opening reminds me of a fine milled soap as the ambrette is matched with baie rose. The baie rose picks up some of the slack for M. Pescheux backing off the concentration of the ambrette. The iris comes forward and it is a powdery version kept on the lighter side. It never intensifies to the Coty lipstick style of iris; it stays as a lighter dusting of floral. Some rose, again, picks up some of the heft for using a more expansive version of iris. It finally ends with the musks. There are some of the animalic musks but M. Pescheux also blend some of the linen musks in. It provides a cleaner accord without losing the growly musks entirely.

Fleur de Peau has 8-10 hour longevity with average sillage.

Fleur de Peau takes the axis of the past and transforms it into an axis of the spring. I’d much rather ride in this car than most of the other rose perfumes this year. If you’re looking for a fresh spring floral Fleur de Peau is worth a spin.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Diptyque Tempo- Patch Triple-Decker

2

Over the last fifteen years there has been a revolution in the way the traditional building blocks of perfume have been altered through the different ways of extracting them. Supercritical fluid, headspace, fractional distillation, enzymatic digestion, and a bunch of proprietary effects to each oil house. What this has meant is perfumers have a vast array of effects to choose from for even the most used perfume ingredients. It can make for a new perspective on the familiar. One ingredient which has been significantly differentiated by these processes is patchouli.

Fifty years ago, patchouli was the scent of the hippies during the Summer of Love. Strong, or overbearing, depending on your feeling about it there was one way to get it, as an essential oil. Come to the present day and the shelf which holds patchouli has an array of altered versions. That means the rougher edges can be softened or made more prominent. One of the new perfumes from Diptyque celebrating their 50th year of making perfume, Tempo, is made up of three different extractions of patchouli.

Olivier Pescheux

Givaudan perfumer Olivier Pescheux took advantage of his company’s plantation of sustainable patchouli in Indonesia. By having a consistent source, it allows for the company to experiment with different extraction methods. M. Pescheux has taken three of those methods to be combined as the keynote patchouli accord for Tempo. When I have been exposed to these methods I have always enjoyed comparing it to the original essential oil because they have odd little nooks and crannies for perfumers to insert other ingredients to replace what is missing. M. Pescheux does a wonderful job at choosing some interesting choices for those substitutes.

From the first moment I sprayed on Tempo the patchouli is front and center. Early on it feels like a version where the earthier qualities are minimized. It is soft and to replace that M. Pescheux steps forward with violet leaf. This provides a different kind of grounding through a green type of floral. A fuller patchouli starts to become apparent at the same time I also detect the appearance of pink pepper and clary sage. It is a strengthening but not overwhelming more like half an octave. At this point it is still a soft patchouli. The real strength shows up later as a very green leafy patchouli is made edgy with a shot of mate. Mate when it gets sharp usually bothers me but in this case,  it gives Tempo a bit of bite which I found I wanted after the softer two-thirds of the development.

Tempo has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Tempo is a perfume for patchouli lovers, I would be surprised to see it change anyone who is not fond of the note into a fan. If you do enjoy patchouli Tempo provides a fascinating effect as the three extractions of patchouli form a kind of triple decker with enough space for other things to make it more complex.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Montblanc Legend Intense- Second Bite of the Pineapple

On my latest scavenger hunt at the discount store I was surprised to see the subject of this month’s column, Montblanc Legend Intense, on the shelf. I had always seen this perfume as correcting all the flaws I found in the original Montblanc Intense which deservedly has been in the discount bin for years. Most of the times flankers are either cynical seasonal editions or complete re-workings. Montblanc Legend Intense was something different.

Montblanc Intense was released in 2011 by perfumer Olivier Pescheux. It was a wan attempt at a fruity fougere using pineapple and apple. The whole composition felt thin like it was missing something in support. It wasn’t anything I was going to remember until a couple years later while walking through the mall and being handed a strip. As I sniffed I thought this is very good, I asked the sales rep and she showed me the Montblanc Legend Intense bottle. I realized that this was the new and improved version of Legend. Now all the empty spaces were filled in to create something to remember.

Olivier Pescheux

In the original the opening of pineapple was given no help by the addition of coumarin and verbena. For Legend Intense M. Pescheux switches those out for cardamom and Pepperwood. What these notes do is lift up the pineapple into a crispness which was never apparent in the original. For the heart apple is again the keynote. This time M. Pescheux again goes for a crisp effect around the fruit using cedar, and the rose-apple aromachemical Pomarose. Everything about the opening is better it has clear delineated structure around a set of two fruit notes. The base is even better for the changes. This time M. Pescheux goes all in with a mixture of the most powerful woody aromachemicals mixing a potent cocktail of Ambroxan, Karanal, and Okoumal. These combine to form a long-lasting woody foundation.

Legend Intense has 16-18 hour longevity and average sillage.

I always think of Legend Intense as M. Pescheux’s second bite of the pineapple. I certainly believe it is a much better perfume in every way that I can quantify that statement. I had thought it to be a perennial best-seller but perhaps its days at the mall have passed. So much the better because it makes Legend Intense a Discount Diamond.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Diptyque Vetyverio Eau de Parfum- Back to Earth

Vetiver is one of the more common perfume ingredients. It is hard to find new perspectives when designing a vetiver-centric fragrance. It is one of my favorite ingredients because it displays a wide versatility; which should be obvious if it is used so often. One of the more interesting studies of vetiver was in 2010’s Diptyque Vetyverio.

Perfumer Olivier Pescheux took a solid axis of vetiver and on three different levels spun three sets of notes to shape the vetiver as it developed on the skin. At the time I first wrote about this I mentioned this was a lighter version than most vetivers where the higher harmonics were emphasized over the deeper ones. Vetyverio is one of those that is made for the warmest of days when fragrance verges on becoming an irritant no matter what. It has never made my personal top list because I have come to prefer my vetiver with some more pop to it. Apparently, I am not alone as there is a more concentrated version just released Vetyverio Eau de Parfum.

Olivier Pescheux

Befitting the overall style, the original was released in eau de toilette concentration. M. Pescheux returned to oversee the increase in concentration. As I say every time I review a different concentration it just can’t have the original ingredients modified to fit the new concentration. To be faithful to the original the perfumer must make some important decisions. In this case M. Pescheux has decided to strip the formula down to its essence. The original had twelve listed notes; the Eau de Parfum just four. If pushed to describe the original in a few words I would have said citrus-rose-grass. This time M. Pescheux changes the third part to earth as patchouli is used to take the same Haitian vetiver used before and ground it.

Vetyverio Eau de Parfum uses grapefruit as the citrus on top. The citrus was bright in the original. Here the grapefruit can display some of its sulfurous quality before the same rose as in the previous formulation picks it up. In a lighter formulation, you take rose and lift it up with pother florals. In this formula, you let the rose alone allowing it to radiate in all its Damascene glory. The vetiver concentration being upped means the woodier quality of the Haitian vetiver has more presence. Adding in patchouli drags it away from the fresher greener grassier elements and down towards the ground. This duet changes the comparison between what came before and now.

Vetyverio Eau de Parfum has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

The original formula was never going to really resonate with me because of the lightness of it all. Vetyverio Eau de Parfum does connect because it takes the vetiver and brings it back to earth.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Ex Nihilo Amber Sky- Do Robots Dream of Amber Skies?

I have been interested in the brand Ex Nihilo from when I first became aware of them a little over a year ago. The concept is they make a perfume and through the use of an instrument they call an Osmologue they add in a specific note of the buyer’s request. It creates a personalization similar to having a bespoke perfume made. As I tried all of the perfumes in the line I have always enjoyed the baseline perfume so much that the idea of adding something to it was not appealing. Even when visiting the brand outpost in Bergdorf-Goodman in NYC I tried the variations on some of my favorites in the line; always preferring the basic model. When I received my sample of the twelfth release Amber Sky I think I’ve found one that I might want to try adding something to it.

Ex-Nihilo-Team

Ex Nihilo Creative Team

Amber Sky is the third perfume by Olivier Pescheux under the Ex Nihilo creative team of Benoit Verdiere, Sylvie Loday, and Olivier Royere. It must be an interesting process to create a perfume made to be tailored at the final step to a personal taste. One of the reasons I haven’t been interested in changing from the perfume as bottled is all of the previous releases have distinct top, heart, and base accords I liked. Amber Sky is the first one which seems to have a missing top accord opening up the opportunity to add something in. The heart and base are lovely and so the opportunity to tune this perfume to taste really explores the entire Ex Nihilo hypothesis.

olivier pescheux

Olivier Pescheux

Amber Sky opens with a full geranium showing its greener qualities to their fullest. M. Pescheux support it with a couple of spices in coriander seeds and nutmeg. The nutmeg does a nice job of making the geranium softer; it adds a definite presence. The advertised amber arrives in the base lifted up by a duet of woods in cedar and sandalwood. This starts very dry until tonka and vanilla act, as the nutmeg did previously, as a softener of the amber-centric base accord.

Amber Sky has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I enjoyed what was here but I did really want more of a floral presence in the early going. This is where the Osmologue might be able to help me out. Of the choices that are available I would really like to see Amber Sky with orange blossom, rose, and jasmine added. When I visit NYC at the end of the month I am going to try it out and see. Amber Sky on its own is a simple amber perfume well-executed and if that is appealing you might not need anything added. I am interested in allowing the robot to dream of amber skies.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office Lanvin Arpege Pour Homme- Too Powdery Masculine Floral

I was always a fan of the original Lanvin Arpege. The 1993 reformulation even felt very much like a perfume designed for men. It was with a great deal of interest when I found out that there was a Lanvin Arpege Pour Homme. I was wondering what Lanvin would consider a manly Arpege to smell like.

olivier pescheux

Olivier Pescheux

In 2005 perfumer Olivier Pescheux was chosen to compose this perfume. At this time in the brand history Lanvin was deep in the midst of a deep identity crisis. Arpege was one of the great perfume classics but they weren’t sure how to leverage that affection from the consumer into a brand-wide version. I could probably make the case that this is the current state of affairs at Lanvin, as well. I speculate that there was vigorous discussion taking place behind the scenes on how best to position Lanvin as a fragrance brand. One thing is for sure there was never any consensus reached even though the team of Creative Directors; Philippe Benacin and Anne Duboscq have been in place for the entire time. For Arpege Pour Homme it would be M. Benacin collaborating with M. Pescheux.

philippe benacin

Philippe Benacin

For almost forty years there were attempts to make the “masculine floral”. What this generally meant was a floral perfume wrapped up in enough hairy chested notes it wouldn’t be the perfumed equivalent of wearing a dress. The ones which had a little bit of traction were the rose versions because you could load them up with spice and drop it into a sandalwood base. For this time period there was no breakout successful “masculine floral”. This was the tack Messrs. Benacin and Pescheux wanted to take for Arpege Pour Homme. They wanted to use the iris of the original and sandwich it in between citrus and woods. Iris has always been a tricky ingredient to sell to men because it can be so reminiscent of the women in their lives iris scented cosmetic products. It made M. Pescheux’s task that much more difficult.

Arpege Pour Homme opens with a distinct citrus character from bitter orange sweetened just a little with mandarin and pink pepper. M. Pescheux sets the stage for the iris by using a bit of neroli to provide the transition. The iris comes next and it is reminiscent of those powders. M. Pescheux does his best to keep that quality under control with nutmeg and mate providing a sharper edge. It isn’t very successful. The powderiness doesn’t really become modulated until the sandalwood and patchouli of the base get a chance to add some presence.

Arpege Pour Homme has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

In 2005 Arpege Pour Homme had a bit too much of the cosmetic counter in it to find any real market share among men. The real death knell for this perfume was the release of Dior Homme in the same year. Dior Homme was the breakout “masculine floral” the market had been waiting for. To add insult to injury it was also focused on iris. The Dior Homme iris was paired with lavender and wrapped in chocolate and leather; with not a hint of powder to be found.

I think Arpege Pour Homme is underrated and an interesting counterpoint to Dior Homme. I’ll admit I wear the latter more than the former but there are days I can stand a little powdery iris to be part of it. Arpege Pour Homme is easily found online for pretty reasonable prices.

Sometimes the marketplace given two differing visions postmarks one for the Dead Letter Office which is what happened with Arpege Pour Homme.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Diptyque Eau des Sens- Aloft in an Orange Tree

I am always impressed with the continued excellence shown by Diptyque. They have stayed true to their brand, and what it represents, for forty years. Over the last few years it has been given over to the hands of mainly two perfumers, Fabrice Pellegrin and Olivier Pescheux. That has resulted in one of the stronger runs of releases for Diptyque in their long history. As each new release arrives I look for signs of a downturn. The latest Eau des Sens continues the trend of quality.

One of the earliest perfumes by Diptyque, Philosykos, is a study of the fig tree in its entirety. One of the best orange fragrances I own is L’Eau de Tarocco which was composed by M. Prescheux. Eau des Sens is a study of the orange tree in the same vein as Philosykos with the same perfumer as L’Eau de Tarocco. It makes Eau des Sens a hybrid of two of the best fragrances within the line. It actually lives up to this pedigree.

olivier pescheux

Olivier Pescheux

As a boy who spent way too much time sitting in the branches of an orange tree while growing up in S. Florida that smell is imprinted in my memory. One of my favorite remembered smells of that time is when the tree would be covered with orange blossoms. As the wind would blow through; the softest floral smell on top of the wood of the tree came to my child’s nose. When those blossoms became fruit the smell of the tree would change. M. Pescheux captures both of those transitions within the development of Eau des Sens.

Eau des Sens opens with the fruit, as a bitter orange comes up first. M. Pescheux chooses juniper berry to enhance the bitter quality just a bit. For those who are fans of L’Eau de Tarocco this is that orange made less effusive and a bit more conservative. It sets the stage for the orange blossom to arrive on its own breeze of angelica which plays the part of the tree. After climbing an orange tree I would have the smell of the wood on my hands; which always had a bit of a spicy smell to it along with the smell of my sweaty skin. This is what the angelica imparts to Eau des Sens. The orange blossom is tuned to just the right intensity. Not too transparent and not too concentrated. M. Pescheux balances the orange blossom and angelica just right. A great earthy patchouli provides the soil the tree is rooted upon as the base note.

Eau des Sens has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

M. Pescheux has successfully called back to two of the standouts within the Diptyque brand while making something different enough from both of them to stand on its own. It is a complete experience of being aloft within the branches of an orange tree without a care in the world.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Ex Nihilo Rose Hubris and Musc Infini- Haughty or Powdery Rose

As I mentioned in yesterday’s review Ex Nihilo has opened an in-store boutique at Bergdorf-Goodman in New York City. One of the interesting concepts behind Ex Nihilo is the ability to personalize any of the nine perfumes by adding one of six raw materials via the Osmologue. The six materials are iris, orange blossom, sandalwood, vanilla, Rose de Mai, and jasmine. I was skeptical about this process but on my recent visit some of those concerns were allayed a bit. My favorite of the first five Ex Nihilo fragrances I tried was Vetiver Moloko and I’ve worn it enough to know it well. In the boutique we added three of the six ingredients for me to try; orange blossom, sandalwood, and vanilla. Each ingredient was approved of by the perfumer as being able to blend well with the perfume in its unadorned state. What I found was the orange blossom brightened up what is a shadowy fragrance in Vetiver Moloko. The vanilla turned it into a delicious creamy gourmand reminiscent of the A Clockwork Orange moloko. The sandalwood made the vetiver pop as it brought it to an even greater level. I still think I prefer my Vetiver Moloko as the perfumer created it but the idea works.

I am going to finish up my reviews of the Ex Nihilo debut fragrances with two rose fragrances, Rose Hubris and Musc Infini.

olivier pescheux

Olivier Pescheux

Rose Hubris was composed by perfumer Olivier Pescheux. In my review of Oud Vendome I liked the way he pushed the envelope making the most structurally interesting of the Ex Nihilo perfumes. Rose Hubris is a little less adventurous but the opening moments do provide something different in a rose perfume.

Those early moments are where M. Pescheux trots out fenugreek and lychee as his top accord. Fenugreek is one of those perfume ingredients I would like to see used more often. It has an odd dichotomy of earthiness and syrupy sweetness. I think of it as kindred to immortelle in that department. In Rose Hubris being paired with the lychee it thrusts the sweeter character to the foreground but that earthy quality adds a really unique underpinning. A fabulously beautiful Rose de Mai is the rose in the heart. It really does carry a haughty air as it powers through the fenugreek and lychee to take over. It is a more giving partner to the base notes of patchouli and oakmoss where it settles down into more typical rose fragrance patterns.

I adore the opening phases of Rose Hubris and that makes me more forgiving of it becoming a little more traditional in the back half of the development.

Rose Hubris has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Louise Turner

Louise Turner (Photo: Rui Camilo Photography)

Musc Infini was composed by Louise Turner. Ms. Turner is one of those perfumers who does not make an impression on many perfume lover’s list of favorite perfumers. She should as she has made some of the best mass-market perfumes to be found. For Ex Nihilo she is afforded the opportunity to have some more latitude in constructing Musc Infini. What she does is to take a very powdery rose and sandwich it between a couple of synthetic musks to form an uber powdery floral perfume.

Musc Infini opens with the botanical musk provided by ambrette seeds leavened with a pinch of citrus. This quickly transitions into a soft powdery rose. This rose is turned even softer as two synthetic musks embrace it and form this incredibly silky smooth puff cloud of powder. Very late on a bit of vanilla cuts the powder but not for a long while.

Musc Infini is for those who love their florals powdery. This is the one perfume of the collection where I would like to see what the addition of iris would do to it. Would it add another layer of powder or shift it into something else? I know on my next visit that is the experiment I want to try.

Musc Infini has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I am impressed with this initial collection of Ex Nihilo it shows a breadth of styles along with a new way to personalize the perfume to what you like. Definitely worth a visit next time you are in NYC.

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

Mark Behnke