March 6, 2013
In any artistic endeavor the presence of real deep-seated passion can elevate the final result to something very special. Unfocused passion can have the opposite result and rarely results in something memorable. I am reminded of the first case with the release of the new Charenton Macerations Christopher Street fragrance. With a tag line of “Out of the Bottle, Into the Street” I was concerned that Douglas Bender, the owner and creative force behind Charenton Macerations, would be so emotionally invested that he couldn’t possibly get that sentiment right. After visiting the Charenton Macerations blog and sharing an e-mail correspondence with Mr. Bender I believe Christopher Street is an example of how a focused well-considered inspiration can successfully be transferred to an outstanding fragrance.
In our e-mail exchange I was particularly drawn to this statement by Mr. Bender, Christopher Street “is the notion of real storytelling through scent. Every choice, from ingredients to packaging to selling has a direct connection to the Christopher Street story itself. I came of age during an era of fragrances that told deep, meaningful stories that paired perfectly with the scents crafted. I left the larger industry to start a company that puts us back on that path.” On the blog he explains the story he wants Christopher Street to tell, “Stemming from the rich history of Christopher Street, the fragrance should invoke the decadent spirit of Christopher Street, Stonewall, and the surrounding neighborhood through three lenses: the architecture, the music, and the people.”
Mr. Bender’s experience in the fragrance industry spans many years working on the analytical side of the business. In that time he learned by observing many perfumers at work and as such his background allows him to have a more influential hand in the construction of a fragrance under the Charenton Macerations imprint. He turned to Ralf Schwieger as his co-conspirator and together they would collaborate to see Christopher Street become a reality. Mr. Bender described the relationship this way, “Christopher Street was a story of the rise of a collective force. Whether discussing the initial founding days of Greenwich Village or the rise of the Gay Liberation movement in 60's and 70's, it was never one person's story to be told. To capture that same spirit olfactively, execution needed to be handled in a way that honored that same collective force. So Ralf and I worked to balance each other's points of view.”
My experience of Christopher Street the place came in the mid 80’s and it was a center of AIDS activism as the gay community stood up to avoid being decimated by this disease. I remember seeing the “Silence = Death” sticker for the first time if not on Christopher Street itself, close by. My memory of Christopher Street was a 1990 visit to the AIDS Resource Center. In my first job I was one of the research chemists who were working on drugs to treat HIV. As a scientist I also work best from a place of dedicated passion and so I arranged a visit to see the patients I was hoping to have an impact on. Whether it was coincidence or inspiration the molecule which would become one of the weapons used to fight HIV was conceived and made about a year later. This makes Christopher Street a place of deep meaning for me as well as Mr. Bender and so the fragrance had some high expectations to meet. I am very pleased to say it cleared that bar with room to spare.
Christopher Street the fragrance is not as solemn and serious as the preamble to this might make you think. Mr. Bender also wanted to capture the indefatigable spirit of Christopher Street in music and architecture and those facets are on display throughout Christopher Street. The early citrus gives way to a spicy sweaty accord reminiscent of an early morning dance floor before ending in a deep resinous and reflective place.
The citrus opening of Christopher Street is made up of alcoholic lime, bitter orange, and bergamot. The alcoholic lime is the key ingredient as it blunts the tartness of the lime and lets the bitter orange add an equal amount of tart without ever becoming sharp. It results in a rounded citrus accord that comes together and lingers. Christopher Street was known for its leather bars and so leather and cigarettes had to be here and they are. This is exactly that processed leather accord from a leather jacket infused with the cigarette smoke of the bar the night before. It is surprisingly complementary with the citrus accord and I wouldn’t have expected that to be the case. The heart of Christopher Street is also where Mr. Bender inserted a bit of his heart as he asked Mr. Schwieger to use an accord Mr. Bender created called “Dance on Skin”. For anybody who has ever been on a crowded dance floor you will immediately recognize the perspiring skin character this accord adds with cumin the focal point of this accord. Mr. Schwieger was wise to surround it with a flurry of spices, cinnamon, clove and a bit of floral quality with carnation matching the clove perfectly. Christopher Street, up to this point, has been all about the fun but in the base notes Christopher Street asks for reflection as myrrh and frankincense focus one’s thoughts and musk and patchouli remind us of the humanity we want to celebrate.
Christopher Street has outstanding longevity and above average sillage.
Mr. Bender wrote the following to me, “At the end of the day, the thing I most concern myself with is always first-and-foremost delivering a fragrance that does justice to the story being told. If that fails, the rest of the process is meaningless. Besides, the second we let go of a fragrance, the second we give it over to the public, it is no longer about any of us, but about those who experience it, adding their own meanings and interpretations. Hence the line in the CM mission statement, "Yet they are always incomplete. The final ingredient is always you."
Go out and add yourself to Christopher Street you will be enhancing one of the best fragrances I have tried in the last year.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle of Christopher Street provided by Charenton Macerations.
–Mark Behnke, Managing Editor
Editor’s note: The Charenton Macerations blog is full of more background than I could possibly add to this and is worth a visit as the amount of detail Mr. Bender has shared there is comprehensive. Towards the end of March Mr. Bender and Mr. Schwieger will be interviewing each other about the creation of Christopher Street, and I am looking forward to that post.