Colognoisseur Best of 2020 Part 2: Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, and Brand of the Year

After yesterday’s broad overview, in Part 2 I get very specific naming the best of the year in four categories.

Perfume of the Year: Shalini Iris Lumiere One of the joys of writing about perfume for over a decade is I’ve been able to watch brands develop. My favorite is when a creative director and long-time collaborator find that magic moment when all their hard work produces a transcendent perfume. Shalini has been making fragrance since 2004. In 2020 it made my Perfume of the Year, Shalini Iris Lumiere.

Iris Lumiere is the fifth perfume from fashion designer Shalini and master perfumer Maurice Roucel. I have enjoyed the other four releases a lot. Iris Lumiere took a quantum leap over those. It achieved that by showing me a different version of iris. As mentioned yesterday I write a lot about the powdery or rooty nature of the ingredient. Iris Lumiere showed me something I had never experienced before, an intensely greener version.

It has always been one of M. Roucel’s strengths to find new ways to showcase well-known ingredients. His choice to use galbanum and muguet as green interrogators of orris formed something captivating. It was if a fresh green rhizome had been harvested with moisture dripping off it. Months away from being the dried version we are familiar with. By using the overdose of galbanum it creates a sparkling set of jeweled facets among the irises. The final piece is to shine silvery moonlight on it using frankincense.
M. Roucel has been making perfume for decades this is among his best perfumes ever and not just the Perfume of the Year for 2020.

Perfumer of the Year: Maurice Roucel– It was clear to me heading into the fall that my Perfumer of the Year was going to have the initials MR. Throughout the year it seemed like Maurice Roucel and Mackenzie Reilly kept having a competition in my head. They both worked creatively across every sector. What tipped the balance is M. Roucel did make my Perfume of the Year.

Besides that he also did an artistic composition in NEZ Hong Kong Oolong. Monique Lhuiller was an entirely different version of the mainstream fresh floral.  A Lab on Fire A Blvd. Called Sunset is a fabulous dry leather via California car culture.

I could’ve written a similar resume for Ms. Reilly as her year was also impressive. They say you are judged by who it is you competed against. M. Roucel was pushed all year by one of the most impressive new perfumers we have. In 2020 it was the old master who is the Perfumer of the Year.

Runner-Ups: Fanny Bal, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Josh Meyer, Mackenzie Reilly, and Cecile Zarokian.

Creative Director of the Year: Victor Wong, Zoologist Perfumes– There is no better story in independent perfumery than that of Victor Wong and his Zoologist Perfumes brand. 2019 was an extraordinary year for Mr. Wong including Squid being named the Fragrance Foundation Perfume Extraordinaire at this year’s awards. He entered 2020 with a dilemma. He chose to re-invent one of the flagship perfumes of the brand with a new perfumer. The 2020 version of Bat shows why I hold Mr. Wong in such high esteem. Working with perfumer Prin Lomros they created a different species of bat as the environment was shifted from cave to jungle. It was every bit as enjoyable. He would follow-up with three new releases Sloth, Koala, and Musk Deer. The latter is an expectation shattering take on musk. It is that ability to take chances that makes Mr. Wong my Creative Director of the Year for 2020.

Runner-Ups: Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi of Masque Milano, Carlos Kusubayashi of A Lab on Fire, Natalia Outeda of Frassai, Renaud Salmon of Amouage, and Celine Verleure of Olfactive Studio.

Brand of the Year: Masque MilanoAlessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi are always looking for ways to evolve their successful enterprise. In 2020 this involved creating a new collection called Le Donne di Masque. They re-invented the first two releases of Petra and Dolceaqua before adding Madeleine at the end of the year. This provides a new way of looking at Masque Milano. Just to make sure we didn’t forget the old way Ray-Flection joined the Opera collection. This was another fantastic year for one of the premier brands in artistic perfumery which is why they are Brand of the Year for 2020.

Runner-Ups: Amouage, DSH Perfumes, Frassai, Imaginary Authors, and Zoologist.

My broad overview of 2020 can be found in Part 1 here.

The Top 25 perfumes of 2020 will come tomorrow.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque Madeleine- Tuberose-filled Confection

When I was invited to the online premiere of Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque Madeleine I was excited for a few reasons. One is just because Creative directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi have rarely disappointed me. Two is because one of my favorite young perfumers was collaborating with them, Fanny Bal. Finally after nibbling around the edges of making a gourmand perfume for Masque Milano, Madeleine goes all in.

Just this year the two previous releases in the Le Donne di Masque collection used doughy gourmand accords as featured parts. Dolceaqua had a flaky croissant while Petra featured a deep-fried dough. Because of that I wanted Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi to go for something exclusively gourmand. In Mme Bal they found a partner who imagined that a gourmand fragrance isn’t for the taste buds but the nose.

Mont Blanc Pastries

The inspiration was a tearoom Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi visited when they were in Paris. Named Angelina they are known for their hot chocolate and their signature Mont Blanc pastry. The latter is filled with chestnut cream to rival the hot chocolate. What Mme Bal has done with Madeleine is to make her own filled olfactory pastry. She uses rich gourmand accords to encase an equally opulent tuberose.

Fanny Bal, Alessandro Brun, and Riccardo Tedeschi (l. to r.)

Those of us at the premiere event were given the two accords to smell. The tuberose is that creamy sultry version which has appealed to so many over the years. The confectionary accord is chestnut and chocolate. It is like imagining your nose bites down on the sweet outside to find a floral center. It is as delightful as it sounds.

Mme Bal constructs her confectionary accord around chestnut, cream, vanilla, tonka and a very special ingredient to give it life, cumin. When I smelled this as an accord the cumin is what gave the gourmand ingredients vitality. It is likely if Mme Bal has not used it this would have laid flat. Instead it brightens the entire accord. Giving it an enticing scent that draws you in. As you do and crack through the shell you find a treat for the nose. Mme Bal uses the finest version of tuberose she can get at IFF, tuberose absolute LMR. The entire catalog of LMR ingredients is amazing. Interacting with this as the accord itself the nuances of the LMR version is obvious. She uses small amounts of geranium to set the glowing green thread in tuberose alight. She also uses cypress to find a foundation for the creamy floral to push back upon. As this oozes out of the center of the confectionary accord it doesn’t take over like most tuberose does. It finds itself in a supporting role which makes this all that much better.

Madeleine has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I’ve mentioned in the past that this gourmand genre is the place where any perfumer could innovate. This has become especially true of this new generation of perfumers of which Mme Bal is part of. It is also why it will be the innovative brands like Masque Milano who give them the opportunity to try. Madeleine is a gorgeous tuberose-filled confection for the nose which shows why it works.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Masque Milano Ray-Flection- A Jolly Good Perfume

There are times when I write about a perfume and I have to guess about the emotion behind it. It is nice when I know the people behind a new perfume who can provide those answers to me. Back in the middle of November I was invited to an online premiere of Masque Milano Ray-Flection. Creative directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi along with perfumer Alex Lee shared the story behind it.

Riccardo Tedeschi (l.) and Alessandro Brun

Ray-Flection is the first release in the Fourth Act of the perfumed opera. According to them we are now in the Act of Dreams. The next set of perfumes begun by Ray-Flection are dreams, fictional constructs. The creative team was thinking about the idea of an “alien flower”. There is even a little big-eyed alien on the bottle. I’m not sure they got into orbit. I found Ray-Flection to be a perfume grounded in the joy of making perfume.

Alessandro, Alex, and Riccardo in Tanneron

Ray-Flection is a honeyed mimosa perfume which takes the gold of the puffy flower and floats it on a golden flow of honey. The perfume started with all three men making a trip to Tanneron, France where mimosa is harvested. If I must stick to the extraterrestrial flower theme the golden puffballs look like spores from an alien plant. Except mimosa is a gorgeous powdery gold. Mr. Lee uses an overdose of mimosa to accentuate all that can be found here. He is equally inventive with his source of a honey accord. He uses yellow mandarin and beeswax to form it. This is used in overdose because Sig. Brun couldn’t get enough. It pushed Mr. Lee into some interesting choices to retain a freshness to it all.

Alex Lee

It begins with that aspect on display. A top accord of aldehydes and cardamom fizz off my skin closely trailed by a cloud of mimosa. This is a lively opening where sunlight seems to infuse it all. There is a slight vegetal tint to mimosa that is rarely encountered except at overdose. Mr. Lee uses some violet leaf to tighten it up and enhance the freshness. The honey accord comes next as the mandarin imparts a sweetness to the subtly animalic beeswax. This is my favorite part of the perfume. This is not that treacly version of honey although it carries weight. It is an active flow of honey as the mimosa floats on top of it with some effervescence bubbling up from below. When Ray-Flection hits this point there is an unbounded happiness in the air. A bit of cedar and musks provide the base.

Ray-Flection had 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

As I said I don’t usually know the emotion behind a perfume. When this creative team presented the perfume there was a palpable joy which came through the screen. They might have wanted me to think aliens but all I get is a jolly good perfume done with pleasure for perfume.

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

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 Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque Dolceaqua- The Smell of Success

I am going to reveal a secret which I normally wouldn’t do. Except over the last eight years it has turned into such a happy ending. The first time I met Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi at Esxence I thought they were all show, no nose. I had previously smelled their two debut releases Petra and Dolceaqua. I thought they were poorly made. Plus this perfumer, Luca Maffei, who was he? When I saw them at their booth in 2013 and they were talking about operatic perfumes my eyes rolled back into my head. I asked for a sample set and left as quick as I could. It wasn’t until I returned home that I sat down with what I consider the real debut collection that my deep affection for this brand was kindled. Anyone who has read my reviews knows I believe they are one of the best independent perfume brands in the world. My initial assessment was all arrogance, no brains.

Alessandro Brun, me and Riccardo Tedeschi (l. to r.)

What has set them apart has been a willingness to push boundaries. To take younger less established perfumers and give them a freedom to explore their art. The initially maligned Sig. Maffei? Along with Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi they would produce my Perfume of the Year for 2016, L’Attesa. When I received a press release about a year ago from Masque Milano it said they were redoing those first two perfumes. Giving them new names and new perfumers. It has taken a long time for me to finally get an opportunity to try them. What I found is both are prime examples of everything Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi have done well. I am going to review both today and tomorrow. First up Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque Dolceaqua.

Delphine Thierry

I went back to find my sample of Dolceaqua to remind myself what it was. A generic jasmine and rose is the best I can do. Perfumer Delphine Thierry did Montecristo and Terralba from that set of releases after the first two. Asking her to reinterpret Dolceaqua seems natural. The inspiration is a roadside breakfast somewhere in the Mediterranean.

Le Donne di Masque Dolceaqua opens with a fabulously green floral and vegetal accord centered around muguet, ivy and marjoram. The muguet is the core of the opening but the green leafiness of the ivy and the slightly floral woodiness of the marjoram add beautiful facets like sunlight off the water down below. A breeze carries a hint of the ocean up to where we have stopped. This is a love story and it begins in earnest with ylang-ylang holding predominance in the heart. This is a sensual floral carrying a bit of the carnality inherent in the ingredient. Mme Thierry gives it a bit more innocence though the puffy powdery quality of mimosa and rose. We have stopped for breakfast and there is a croissant accord around almond blossom and saffron. This is a delicate gourmand accord cleverly achieved. Our lovers now look deep into each other’s eyes. The passion rises through an accord of benzoin, oakmoss, and cedar. A rich Oriental base to complete the tableau.

Le Donne di Masque Dolceaqua has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Le Donne di Masque Dolceaqua represents the best of what this brand has come to stand for. I have been looking for a smart version of the transparent floral gourmand. The early moments of this deliver it. It is part and parcel of the intelligence Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi have supplied to their brand. Le Donne di Masque Dolceaqua smells like success as a perfume.

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

Mark Behnke

Perfume in the Time of Coronavirus

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I am a generally happy person. The current coronavirus pandemic has worn away at that. I like to be informed but this time the more I learned the bluer I felt. Over the last few days I’ve unplugged from the news streams except for watching the local and national news for an hour. It has helped. The other thing that has helped is my love for perfume.

To fill up the time I’ve been working in the perfume vault. I am surprised at how much beauty there is to be found. I shouldn’t be, I write about it every day. On those shelves are history lessons, trips to faraway places, exceptional artistic visions; all of which are fascinating. I’ve been allowing myself the luxury of letting scent take me away.

I have spent some of my time getting lost in my favorite perfume house, Patou. The Art Deco bottles seem appropriate as we enter this century’s own 20’s. The great Joy was created in 1925. I was struck by the way that perfume seems timeless. It is what a floral perfume should be at any time.

I turned to the Japanese inspired perfumes by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz for serenity. My favorite perfume by one of my favorite perfumers is her Bancha. I usually demur when asked to name a single perfume when asked what is the one I like best. Bancha is one which is unequivocal in my affection. I always wear Bancha on the first day of spring. The same sense of tranquility and hope descended upon me with each breath I took as it does every year. It is especially appropriate now.

Alessandro Brun, Me, Riccardo Tedeschi (l. to r.)

I hadn’t thought about what a great collection the Masque Milano perfumes have become until I spent an afternoon with them covering different patches of skin. It is such a varied collection that I smelled like a pile-up on the perfume interstate. Yet there is a real sense of vision now that there are several perfumes to examine. Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi are in the midst of creating perfume which will stand the test of time. To spend this time with them has been illuminating.

I decided to go around the world while sitting at my desk. Perfumes took me to every continent all while never leaving the house.

I’ve never had the best answer when asked why I have so much perfume. Maybe I was just waiting for a time when all that I enjoy can be there as emotional support. I think those days have arrived. Perfume in the time of coronavirus will be what gets me through.

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur Best of 2019 Part 2- Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, and Brand of the Year

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In Part 1 I took a wide view of the year in perfume that was 2019. Today I get very specific naming the very best of the year in four categories.

Perfume of the Year: Chatillon Lux Weinstrasse– Last year when I was doing my end of year summaries I had never heard of St. Louis-based independent perfumer Shawn Maher and his Chatillon Lux brand. I would catch up over 2019. Mr. Maher is representative of what makes independent perfumery special. He creates perfumes which reflect his hometown’s history and geography. I have enjoyed everything he has released this year. It was his last release of the year Chatillon Lux Weinstrasse that captured my attention most fully of any new perfume I tried this year.

One of the things which has drawn me to Mr. Maher is he shares his process through posts on the Chatillon Lux website. What these entries reveal is a perfumer who understands the materials he is using. He goes deep into the effect each ingredient has on the finished product. You can read the one for Weinstrasse here.

Weinstrasse was inspired by the Germans who migrated to St. Louis and began vineyards. What Weinstrasse captures are the smells of the late harvest. It begins from a clever accord of grapes on the vine using green cognac oil and blackcurrant bud. One thing I marvel at each time I wear Weinstrasse is the way Mr. Maher captures the glow of a late autumn sun. Many perfumes inspired by wine have a claustrophobic feeling. Mr. Maher creates a perfume with a golden glow of muted sunlight. It opens up the entire composition. In that blog post Mr. Maher wanted Weinstrasse to be his version of a fougere. The base is an overdose of the ingredient which defined the beginning of modern perfumery; coumarin. It adds that classic fougere-ish vibe without going fully into it. It fits surprisingly well with everything that has come before.

I believe Mr. Maher is a special talent who is only at the beginning of creating his perfumes. He will have a difficult time making a better perfume than Weinstrasse my choice for Perfume of the Year for 2019.

Perfumer of the Year: Cristiano Canali- Perfumer Cristiano Canali provided brilliant bookends for 2019. In January I was enthralled with Rubini Tambour Sacre only to be equally engaged by Zoologist Bee in December. Sig. Canali is not one of the most prolific or well-known perfumers. He has a layered style of making perfume that requires the right concept to allow it to flourish.

Working with Andrea Rubini and a talented creative team at Rubini Sig. Canali translated the sound of sacred drums from the Horn of Africa into a gorgeous composition in Tambour Sacre. Collaborating with Victor Wong of Zoologist for Bee he created a perfume of multiple layers of honey without falling into the places where honey can be difficult. He successfully traveled the tightrope necessary to make Bee memorable.

This became an easy choice because he was the only perfumer to create two of the ten perfumes I was considering for Perfume of the Year. That is why Cristiano Canali is the Perfumer of the Year for 2019.

Runner-Ups: Mandy Aftel, Antonio Gardoni, Olivia Giacobetti, Christophe Laudamiel, and Shawn Maher.

Creative Director(s) of the Year: Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi of Masque Milano– There have been no creative direction in all of perfumery better than that provided by Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi of Masque Milano. For the past six years they have followed a formula of working with the best young talented perfumers. Also giving them a brief and the latitude they wouldn’t find elsewhere to create one of the best collections you can find. The two perfumes released in 2019 continued that. Early in the year they worked with Vanina Muracciole to create a reconstructed chypre in Kintsugi. At the end of the year perfumer Caroline Dumur produced an elegiac rose rife with poignancy in Love Kills. Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi have consistently pushed independent perfumery to new heights while serving the young rising stars. For this and the perfume they oversaw in 2019 they are the Creative Directors of the Year for 2019.

Runner-ups: Christian Astuguevieille of Comme des Garcons, Etienne de Swardt of Etat Libre d’Orange, Jan Ewoud Vos of Puredistance, and Victor Wong of Zoologist Perfumes.

Brand of the Year: Zoologist Perfumes– It is a modern miracle what Victor Wong has achieved with his brand Zoologist Perfumes. He is another creative director who seems to get the most out of his collaborators. In 2019 he worked with Joseph DeLapp on Dodo, Daniel Pescio on Chameleon, Celine Barel on Squid, and Cristiano Canali on Bee. No two of those perfumes are like the other. Mr. Wong has created a brand which has consistently impressed but 2019 was the best year they have had creatively. That is why Zoologist Perfumes is the Brand of the Year for 2019.

Runner-Ups: Aftelier Perfumes, Chatillon Lux, Comme des Garcons, and Masque Milano.

Part 1 is my broad overview of 2019.

The Top 25 will be published on Monday December 30.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Masque Milano Love Kills- Memory of Passion

As much as I grumpily exclaim, “Oh look another rose perfume.” every time I receive a new one there is a reason to sniff them. For all that rose is the undisputed champion of fragrance my lack of enthusiasm stems from the fact that too often it is just another generic version. The reason I try every one is because rose as an ingredient has so much potential in the right creative team’s hands. When that happens, I am drawn deep into the complexity of its beauty. It is that experience I had with Masque Milano Love Kills.

Riccardo Tedeschi (l.) and Alessandro Brun

Over the last six years the creative directors at Masque Milano, Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi, have proven to be one of the smartest in all of independent niche perfumery. Usually when I hear a brand I admire is bringing out a rose soliflore I am usually underwhelmed. A reason I felt differently about Love Kills is because Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi have an unmatched record at using young talented perfumers early in their careers. They also have a reputation for allowing them an opportunity to spread their creative wings. This is not usually afforded younger perfumers on their earliest briefs. It is one of the reasons I believe Masque Milano has stood out among its competitors.

Caroline Dumur

For Love Kills they collaborated with perfumer Caroline Dumur. Mme Dumur has landed on my radar screen with a flourish. She was behind two of the recent Comme des Garcons releases, Chlorophyll Gardenia and Odeur du Theatre du Chatelet. I hesitate to look for too much in a scant few data points but Mme Dumur has shown a deft touch with overtly synthetic ingredients which provide an odd contemporary effect by the end. In Love Kills this is inverted. Starting with a synthetic opening it ends on an elegiac accord for a floral queen.

The synthetic opening is a combination of the light muskiness of ambrette and the metallic floral quality of rose oxide. What turns this is the addition of lychee with its syrupy mustiness. It coats those shiny surfaces with treacly viscosity. In the heart a traditional lush rose pushes back against that modernity. It is classically paired with dark patchouli. This is the deep passionate rose that draws so many admirers. As contrast to that modern top accord it asks which you prefer. I find the question has been provocatively asked by Mme Dumur. The final part of Love Kills is the desiccation of that rose using the synthetic ambergris analog ambrarome and austere cedar. Like the silica in a drying jar it leaves a dusty rose over the final phase of development.

Love Kills has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

As much as I enjoyed the classic v. modern tussle on top of Love Kills it is the final portion which has stayed with me. There is a tragic feel of love which has, indeed, killed. It leaves only the memory of passion in the scent of a dusty rose.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Masque Milano Kintsugi- Reconstructing Chypre

There are times when the name of a perfume describes what is in the bottle perfectly. This is the case with Masque Milano Kintsugi. Kintsugi is the Japanese art form where broken pottery is repaired with lacquer infused with precious metals. It takes something which was ruined and reconstructs it with valuable materials making for an improvement. If there was an analogous effort to be made in perfumery it would be in having a chypre without oak moss. Could a creative team reconstruct chypre using unique materials to bring new life to the form?

Riccardo Tedeschi (l.) and Alessandro Brun

If I was asked which creative teams I would like to see take this on, surely one of my top answers would be Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi of Masque Milano. They have been one of the top creative directors in all of fragrance especially over the last few years. They mix an unapologetic willingness to take risks while using young rising perfumers who also want to push at the boundaries. For Kintsugi that ascending star is perfumer Vanina Muracciole. What they have achieved is to take the wreckage which is oak moss-free chypre and put it back together with unique materials for a completely modern chypre.

Vanina Muracciole

It starts off in the depths of creamy magnolia and powdery Rose de Mai. This forms a rim of the bowl etched with these flowers intertwined. It transitions through an ambery suede accord in the heart. This provides the canvas upon which to assemble the pieces for a nouveau chypre. The heart of the accord will be the heart fraction of patchouli. This is the concentrated earthiness of this well-known ingredient. It has become a favorite fraction because of the feeling of putting my nose in the dirt and inhaling. Mme Muracciole then uses violet leaves and raspberry leaves to add back the greener facets of the patchouli while adding in a shimmer of metal and hint of leather, respectively, to elongate the leather in the heart through to the base. Ambrinol adds the briny muskiness of an ambergris substitute. Benzoin provides the bite of a good chypre accord while a touch of vanilla smooths it all out.

Kintsugi has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Kintsugi is a monument to everything right about the philosophy behind Masque Milano and why they are one of the best perfume brands in the world. They are fearless in taking a shattered form, like chypre, and gluing it back together into a thing of new beauty.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Masque Milano (homage to) Hemingway- The Old Man and The Vetiver

There are perfumes which are going to feel personal to me before I ever get the first sniff of it. This is true for Masque Milano (homage to) Hemingway. It starts with the brand because Masque Milano is one of my favorite niche perfume brands; Owners-Creative Directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi have done everything I think is important. It starts with their care to keep a distinct Masque Milano aesthetic over the ten perfumes they have released. What is more remarkable is they have done this while working with a roster of impressive young stars in perfumery. The roster is a who’s who of the best new faces. Fanny Bal is the nose behind Hemingway which continues this. The final ingredient is they are unafraid of taking risks. They seem to say through their perfumes that they aren’t trying to please everyone but if it pleases Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi there will be an audience. That has also been true in my case as the ones I enjoy are among the best releases of the last few years.

The Hemingway Creative Team: (l. to r.) Fanny Bal, Alessandro Brun, Riccardo Tedeschi

The other half of this being personal for me is the subject matter. Growing up in South Florida it was only natural we would end up in Key West visiting the museum that Hemingway’s house has become. What drew me in as a young child were the six-toed cats which roamed the grounds. Ernest Hemingway was gifted a six-toed cat from a sailor friend in the 1930’s. The genetics which produce the extra toes has continued to this day and if you visit you will find descendants of the original cat. Mr. Hemingway was among the first adult novels I read; The Old Man and The Sea. It was one of my first books and it is one which I return to read every few years. The story of Santiago and his fishing trip resonates deeply within me as one who grew up on the ocean. I have read the rest of Hemingway’s writing but it is this which remains most personally affecting.

Hemingway has been the inspiration for many perfumes. Those tend to focus on the cigars he smoked, the rum he drank, and the leather jacket he wore. What I like about Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi is they found a different perspective. Hemingway wrote and lived up to an ideal of rugged masculinity which was at its zenith in the first half of the 20th century. Hemingway the Masque Milano perfume is also interested in exploring that ideal but with a different kind of keynote, vetiver.

Mme Bal used several ingredients from the Laboratoire Monique Remy (LMR) in her formula. Every oil house has a special set of crown jewels; the LMR series is the IFF version. LMR has also continued to innovate in finding new ways to isolate ingredients. Mme Bal relies on three LMR versions of vetiver to create the heart of Hemingway.

Hemingway opens with a richer ginger then I usually encounter. I wasn’t surprised to find out it was an LMR version. Ginger can be a bit like the Road Runner of Looney Tunes cartoons; racing by with velocity. This LMR ginger is more the syrup used in ginger ale. There is a heft to it which sticks around. Mme Bal then uses rhubarb as the connection to the beginning of the vetiver. It is such an interesting choice because I’ve never noticed the vetiver-like nature that lurks as an undercurrent. It is teased out here as the first version of vetiver comes out. This is a distillation where the “heart” is isolated. It is greener the upper registers of the full vetiver without the woodiness underneath. Next comes a Haitian vetiver. This is the sunny Caribbean vibe. It is contrasted with a smoky Javanese vetiver. This rumbles with portent as if Krakatoa was rumbling off to the east. When it all comes together it forms a rugged masculine vetiver accord that I enjoyed immensely. A kind of six-toed cat of vetiver. Through this is threaded a subtle leather accord. It eventually finds an earthy landing spot with patchouli in the final stages.

Hemingway has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

If you are a vetiver fan Hemingway is something you need to try. The trio of vetiver ingredients being used are worth the effort to find it to sample. The creative team has found a sweet spot where the three versions form an uber-vetiver accord that is compelling.

I have read The Old Man and The Sea through every stage of my life. Now that I am living up to the first part of the title when Santiago speaks of his age it rings more truly. Like him I wake up every day and go out into the world hoping there is still a place in it for me. I think on the days I need some inspiration (homage to) Hemingway will be there to remind me of that.

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

Mark Behnke