By Mark Buxton

I was really excited to hear Mark Buxton – he of the numerous Comme des Garcons scents and the magical woody-incense — was doing his own line of fragrances.  Here´s a link to his website which you need a way fancier computer than mine to access, so I hope it´s spiffy, I couldn´t get much past the tear-off tab.  I lifted the notes from First-in-Fragrance except where they didn´t make sense (Hot Leather) for which I relied upon Now Smell This.

Hot Leather — citrus, bergamot, coriander, mandarin, orris, jasmine, patchouli, cedar, vanilla.    It´s nice.  It smells like a slightly smoky suede and has an interesting kind of development where the sweet notes (vanilla and jasmine) appear much later.  The orris is prominent on my skin.  Unisex in the direction of pretty.  It also reminds me of some other fragrance, and it´s driving me crazy that I can´t think what that it is.

English Breakfast — bergamot, orange, pepper, ginger, coriander, geranium, galbanum, calendula, jasmine, rosewood, gardenia, patchouli, vetiver, labdanum, fir, cedarwood and benzoin.  An exceedingly bitter concoction of coriander, galbanum and what smells like my old nemesis cilantro.  Spicy-woody drydown.  It´s supposed to be reminiscent of a sushi/sashimi box at breakfast, as opposed to English Breakfast tea, so I guess that´s right.

Sounds & Visions – bergamot, mandarin, pepper, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, rose, jasmine, rosewood, patchouli, guaiac, cedarwood and sandalwood.   Well…. I´ve put this on three times and can´t think of anything to say about it.   Let´s move on to

Nameless – mandarin, cardamom, orange flower, lavender, cinnamon, coffee, clove, jasmine, amber, ciste, wood, guaiac, patchouli, cedarwood and benzoin.   It opens with a strong spiced-coffee accord and a creamy sweetness (jasmine and amber, I´m guessing, or maybe it´s the orange?).  Very promising start.  Unfortunately it dries down into one of those dessicated smells that make me think of opening up the door to your spice cabinet full of five-year-old jars of McCormick, combined with the smell of celery. 

Around Midnight – pepper, geranium, camomile, jasmine, styrax, patchouli, ciste and cedarwood.  A very Buxton-ish peppery/woody resiny scent vaguely reminiscent of mb03, except I like mb03 better.  A sweet, jasmine-rich drydown.  Nice, but I really need to suck it up and buy some mbO3.

Black Angel – citrus, bergamot, mandarin, orange, rosemary, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, jasmine, lily of the valley, orris, styrax, guaiac, patchouli.  Hmmmm.  This smells the most commercially accessible to me.  The opening reminds me of Annick Goutal´s Mandragore, and the drydown somewhat of Ralph Double Black without the coffee.  I don´t mean that in a snotty way – I like it a lot.  I wouldn´t call it wildly innovative.

Wood & Absinth – citrus, orange, clary sage, anise, jasmine, rosewood, wood, vetiver.  Maybe it´s just my skin chemistry, but clary sage, anise and vetiver are not something I necessarily want to smell together.  The jasmine keeps it from being unbearably sour, but the result becomes soapy in short order and isn´t appealing to me, although I admit the weirdly buttery drydown is interesting, it smells like monoi oil, I have no idea why.  Would this be the right place to note that several of these go through a stage when they are faintly urinous?

I find myself strangely disconnected from these scents, and it´s really bothering me.  I feel like I’ve failed to “get it.”  On a certain level I´m not fit to shine Mark Buxton´s shoes.  He forgot more about fragrance ten years ago than I´ll ever know.   He´s a master.  So why do these feel so … of the head, rather than the heart?  I even dug up Ouarzazate looking for clues, and I guess it´s telling that I forgot he did the CdG Incense I like least, mainly because on me it is almost entirely pepper and very little else, for those of you looking for a peppery fragrance.

I´m not opposed to thought in fragrance.  I´m not opposed to ridiculous fragrance agendas like Humiecki & Graef – and wow, did Christophe Laudamiel hit the ball out of the park on those.  I don´t want to own any of them, but there´s no denying their interest as fragrances.  The Mark Buxtons (and look at the overlays and repeats of the notes) hang together as a collection, but mostly in the sense that they sort of feel like drafts of each other, Buxton´s notes about their inspiration aside (Lake Como, Moulin Rouge, etc.)  Despite the list of notes, they don´t feel entire to me, although skimpy isn´t quite right either.  They feel like sketches.  Again, comparing them to H&G – Laudamiel may be batshit crazy, and you may hate them all, but there´s no denying their compelling, peculiar completeness.  He gave us something, something we didn´t have before.  With most of these, I ended up feeling like I´d opened up some giant box of idea and found a very small bar of soap inside.  Nice soap, but soap nonetheless.   

I´m sorry.   Writing this depressed me a little.  Anyone else who´s tried these, feel free to argue with me.

  • Robin says:

    I liked Wood & Absinth better than you did, but cracked up at your inability to say anything at all about Sounds & Visions because my notes for that one are literally blank. Nada.

    All in all, these aren’t nearly as exciting as I hoped. English Breakfast was the only one other than the W&A that I set aside for another try. Several were good but not interesting. Bah Humbug.

  • sybil says:

    March…If you find these ‘fumes to be not so hot, I’d say give yourself credit–they probably aren’t that hot! Feel happy–as a public service, you’ve kept me (among others, no doubt)away from this dreckish-sounding stuff so we can save our $$ for better stuff!

  • moi says:

    I’ve got the latest Macintosh everything, and I couldn’t get his site to load in either Safari or Firefox. But I have a feeling I’d respond much in the same way as tmp00.

    • March says:

      Okay … that’s just stupidity on their part. It looks like they spent a bundle on it, from what little I could see. They can’t be bothered to discover if people can actually view the site? :-w

      • Musette says:

        Angelflake,

        That, alas, is a sad reflection on a lot of industries, from perfume to web design. It sounds as if not a lot of real, practical thought went into this at all (btw – I was so thrown by the mise en place that by the time I got to Black Angel I thought one of the notes was GARLIC! I was beginning to get interested…..alas, no.

        Anyway, it sounds as if there is a desperate need for some editing, art direction and flat-out common sense. This is reminiscent of the Nouveau Paris line just reviewed on NST – something like 14 (or 114) scents all released at once…and all sound and fury…

        Hey! Singing the Guaraldi Peanuts song: Cheeeese Time is Here…Cheese is in the Air. The airports are OPEN, bay-bee!< :-p did you say SEVEN vintage Mitsouko? xo>-)

        • March says:

          I did. Seven. Better than 114 of something else. :d

          You crack me up! You know, I cooked some stew the other day and all my perfume for the next 48 hours had a faint (or not so faint) underlay of onion. It was actually kind of interesting.

  • Divinemama says:

    In an attempt to cheer you up a bit, and because I have been meaning to tell you March…as a result of your articles on your lipstick search, I too have discovered that my lips are blue and therefore orange toned lipstick looks great! I have always, for some unknown reason steered away from oranges in make up. Thanks, Hon! 😡

    I haven’t yet tried the new Mark Buxton line and I am not too encouraged by all these posts from people I respect. Oh well, there are plenty of scents I wish to sample, so a few…okay seven!…less is just fine with me.

    • March says:

      Yesssss on the orange-lipped sisterhood! What have you discovered (if you feel like sharing)? Although on me, and probably on you, they don’t register as orange — just peachy-pinky and nice.

      If you haven’t tried it, let me recommend MAC Crosswires which is matte and very pretty. If you like a creamier finish, MAC Eager which you have to get online (I think they were pulling it from displays the day I was there) looks very, very bright in the tube, sort of coral, but goes on sheer.

      • Divinemama says:

        Exactly! On my lips they look more peachy-pinky. Much more flattering than the shades I have been wearing.

        SinceI wasn’t sure how they would look, and I am not very comfortable trying on ‘public’ lipstick at Sephora, I picked up a couple Revlon tubes at Tarjhay in orangy tones. I think One of them was Apricot Fantasy and the other is…oh let me go check…Peach Me. I like them well enough, especially for a $5 investment. Next time I look at the Bare Essential tubes (another favorite) I will delve into the orange end of the spectrum. We also have a MAC store at our mall, so I will wander in and check out the Crosswires. I like a good matte finish. Very classy. Thanks again March!

        :)>-

  • Olfacta says:

    What I don’t understand about this is the marketing, putting — was it five? — niche fragrances out at once. Is it because it’s Christmas time? I don’t get it. Just seems like not a whole lot of care went into this.

    • March says:

      Seven. Seven apparently being the new three. Three being the new one. /:) And in general I would argue that a release of five or seven or 10 is likely to produce only one or two really great scents. If you’re lucky.

  • Patty says:

    These didn’t inspire me either. It was just no impression at all. I mean, i’m guessing sometimes it’s just about making money, but, well, these just don’t seem to have anything that holds them together or makes them stand out

    • March says:

      I don’t know … they don’t even feel commercial enough to be about making money. And I think the bottles, which they rave over, are ugly – something you’d find at Banana Republic. Actually, I like the BR bottles better.

  • Elle says:

    The *one* ingredient I am literally aching to see listed in a perfume description these days is “time” and lots of it. I adore Mark Buxton, but when I saw he’d done so many simultaneous releases my heart sank. It’s not just the impossibility of having spent enough time w/ each one, it’s the fact that so many releases also means it probably wasn’t going to be cost effective to use the absolute highest quality ingredients possible. I’d be happy to fork over major bucks for an original scent in which I could smell both time and uber excellent ingredients. Demeter excels in multiple releases and they’re great for what they are. They’ve also got the price point right for what they’re doing. But even CB, the original Mr. Demeter, is certainly not sticking w/ that approach for his Archetype series. Cradle of Light, my favorite from the archetypes, took him a lot of time and he used superb ingredients and it shows in both cost and result. Love him for it! The Amouage Jubilations also show that level of attention I’m looking for. I can’t help but feel that Mark Buxton could have done just one unbelievably fantastic scent that would go down in history instead of all of these sketches. 🙁

    • March says:

      Absolutely. Let’s compare it to the one release NST just blogged on — CdG + Stephen Jones. ONE scent, which is starting to look like a novelty. And it sounds fantastic. All the time, money and attention went to that one idea, which apparently paid off. (And I clearly need to order a sample!) I’d rather have had another Elternhaus-level scent in terms of expense, and now of course that I can’t have any I want some. 🙂

  • Louise says:

    These were also very vague to my nose. I often worry that I am “not getting it” because my skin can absorb so much fragrance, but in this case…well, just very little to “get”.

    I rather liked English Breakfast and didn’t find it bitter at all…rather it was citrus-y and woody. And fleeting. I also liked the Absinth number a bit, but again, no punch.

    All said, a disappointing bunch 🙁

  • carmencanada says:

    March, I’m with you on this line. I’ve been putting off my review of the line because, well, these do seem like they’re mods of maybe other commissioned scents, or of each other as you say. From what I’ve been able to deduce, they were originally a line produced for a Russian perfumery boutique (or a chain of). That said, they *do* have his name on them. Did he “art direct” himself? Was it just a sideline? I’m perplexed, because the man is capable of such originality…

    • March says:

      As I said above, I am breathing a huge sigh of relief with these comments, although still sad. I was so flummoxed. You talked in your post recently about separating your self/desires from the fragrance in evaluation — I kept thinking it was ME. The failure was ME. Because how could he do seven fragrances and not have one I lusted after immediately?

      You know about “art direction” better than I do and you’ve added some detail I didn’t know. Do you suppose he needed CdG or Biehl leaning on him and guiding him?

      • carmencanada says:

        I would strongly suspect that CdG had a lot to do with it. I don’t know the Biehls yet (that old “not in Paris” thing).
        That said, I would happily wear Hot Leather, Around Midnight (did you not get incense from that?) or Black Angel if a bottle tumbled my way (no chance of that). Did Hot Leather remind you of Patchouli 24 by any chance? It seemed like a tamer version of the Labo when I first sniffed it.

        • March says:

          I just had a sample binge with someone on a bunch of vintage Mitsoukos (7) and am reeking in the best possible way… a little distracted!

          That’s funny… we liked the same three. And I did get a lot of incense from Around Midnight, rereadng that review it’s unclear, isn’t it? The incense is a bit benzoin-y on me so I went with resin but that isn’t the right word…

      • sweetlife says:

        The question of art direction in perfume is a very interesting one to me. Luca has made a big deal of it in several places — the way that the creative directors don’t get enough credit for what they do, and how much good perfume requires direction. It’s interesting to think we might be seeing the absence of that with these. Being a huge fan of the good editors and readers I’ve had, I can totally see how it might happen — you get entranced with a particular idea and its variations, or fall in love with solving a chemistry problem and lose sight of other things…

        • March says:

          Maybe MB needed (and didn’t have) someone looking over his shoulder saying, dude … no. Try something else. (Or something fewer.) Really, there’s enough overlap on these scents I think he should have either shucked at least two of them or started from another point.

        • carmencanada says:

          Not saying this about Mark Buxton in particular, but from what I’ve heard on the grapevine, not all perfumers are capable of having an artistic vision — some of them aren’t even interested in culture. Of course, with the industry secrecy, it’s hard for outsiders to ascertain how the creative process went and who participated. Perhaps some great creations are more of a teamwork (or at least a duet) than we think?

  • Francesca says:

    I found reading all those notes was pretty exhausting, though was grateful English Breakfast didn’t include kipper, at least.

  • tmp00 says:

    Well, my computer is fairly new (still sold at Apple as the old white MacBook) so I can safely blame it on bad web design. Mark dear, there are about 2 bazillion new lines each year. I don’t want to have to click on a color to find that you’re idea of what fuschia would wear is not me. Give me a list, and give me samples.

    • March says:

      Hahahah! I couldn’t get the effing thing to LOAD. And I don’t have a super-old computer, it’s pretty decent. Part of it might have been Firefox — but too bad, lots of people use Firefox. That’s part of website development, trying different browsers.

  • You got it exactly right. . .before an artist starts on the big project–painting, mural, sculpture, s/he does a number of sketches–of details, of backgrounds, of hands or noses, sunrises or gardens. After those warm-up sketches are worked out, the big work can be started. And that’s what these are. . .except for the ones that smell of celery and cilantro, that’s just mise en place for a kitchen scene.

    • March says:

      Wow. Reading all the comments below I am relieved and a little sad. I wish you could have seen me, hunkered down over my atomizers, growing a little more anxious with each one. I honestly felt I was failing to get the task done in some way I couldn’t sort out.

      Another point I find interesting — let’s compare them to, say, the Hermessences. Now, some people don’t like those — too ephemeral, too simple, whatever — but I wouldn’t call them “sketches” either. Even in stripped down form they feel complete (whether they’re your taste is another story).