Category Archives: Cologne

Tom Ford’s Soleil Blanc

White hot.

Bright sun.

Summer sizzle.

Leave it to Tom Ford to sneak into the summer fragrance scene with a classic echo of coconut and suntan lotion in refined and elegant form. Soleil Blanc is his take on a white powder beach, and it’s absolutely radiant.

The latest offering from the decadent Private Blend line is a scorcher that subliminally smolders instead of burning intensely. While his Portofino collection keeps things cool and crisp with its citrus heart, Soleil Blanc is a sizzler of a different sort. Coconut imbues the proceedings, but there’s a slight sliver of smokiness to this as well, because summer ripens into such a thing at its apex and again at its end. The most fleeting wisp of musk grounds the proceedings, but it’s barely noticeable. Bergamot keeps everything tidy, and the tinge of amber lends it a warmth that mirrors the hot days.

So many of Ford’s Private Blend line can read dirty – in the best and most interesting way – but this is one of the cleaner scents. There’s still an edge to it, but this one can go on summer mornings or summer nights and be equally compelling at both ends of the light.

Longevity is a few hours, typical of many summer frags but slightly disappointing in a Private Blend that holds its price-point so high. Still, worth a reapplication and a spin along the shore if you need an extra jolt this season.

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Spring/Summer Trio

This precious triumvirate, hailing from the Houses of Tom Ford, Hermés and Diana Vreeland, forms the perfect three-pronged attack on the question of what to wear, scent-wise, for the crux of spring and summer. Ford’s classic ‘Neroli Portofino’ is his decadent homage to all things neroli, while Hermes, under the watchful nose of Jean-Claude Ellena, offers one of their sweet garden fragrances – ‘Un Jardin Sur le Nil.’

That bright green bottle, which comes with an effervescent perfume to match, is Diana Vreeland’s ‘Vivaciously Bold.’ Her posthumous perfume line takes its various whimsical names from phrases the woman herself was known for, and this one fits the bill with a bright bergamot backbone.

Each of these carries a heart of citrus – not always the most-lasting of fragrance builders, but one that is perfect for the lighter touch required in the warmer months.

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Vivaciously Bold by Diana Vreeland

The late, great Diana Vreeland left a lasting legacy of fashion, boldness, and vivacious spirit, and that all lives on in her namesake fragrance collection. It’s also in good hands, as these fragrances are as rich and varied and bodacious as the fearless woman was herself. For the winter months and holiday time I use the sandalwood-centered ‘Absolutely Vital’ – which also employs Turkish rose and Egyptian jasmine for its richness. As I perused the fragrance counter at Neiman Marcus the other day, I noticed a bright new addition: a lime-green bottle called ‘Vivaciously Bold.’

The literature for this one called it “a luxurious vetiver with an audacious cocktail of citrus zests. A bouquet of pettigrain, orange flower, and jasmine creates the ultimate fantasy floral finished by a daring accord of sensual musk and the finest vetiver.” While I’ve never been the biggest fan of vetiver, here it works quite well. Traditionally a masculine scent, vetiver grounds the floral fantasy into something wearable, and Ms. Vreeland’s take on cologne is what reportedly inspired this one: “I think men’s scents are wonderful… They have such character and are so marvelously clean.”

This is very much a spring/summer fragrance, with its crisp citrus opening, and it manages to pull off a neat trick that most fragrances can’t: it disappears somewhere in the middle of its trajectory, falling off wherever you sprayed it for a brief time, before reappearing later on. I’ve never experienced that sort of magic before, and it’s something to keep in mind before you go too gun-crazy assuming the citrus won’t last.

At first I thought last year’s ‘Smashingly Brilliant’ would be my go-to summer fragrance, and on paper it looked like the more logical choice, with its bergamot and citrus oils tempered by wood and suede finishes, but for some reason that read as bracingly chemical on me. It’s a lesson I learned long ago: fragrance is less about what is on paper and more about what is on your skin – and it’s different for each individual.

As the lady herself was wont to ask: “Am I wrong?”

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Daisy by Marc Jacobs

The sad truth is that the classic daisy carries no fragrance. Anyone who brings their nose to the bright blooms expecting some sort of cheerful scent to match their petal-framed faces will be sorely disappointed. Thankfully, we have Marc Jacobs to fill that fragrance-free void. His ‘Daisy’ scent was the accent these flowers so badly needed, and though I’m not the biggest fan of florals, Jacobs manages to keep the sickly-sweet components at bay.

Being that there is no true daisy scent, he goes for the essence of bright and fresh, wisely veering away from any single flower fragrance (rose, gardenia, tuberose) or cloying heaviness. Somehow it works, even if the lighter touch doesn’t lend it much staying power. More like a body spray than anything approaching a perfume, it’s a decent match-up for warmer weather, when potent scents tend to overwhelm.

Judging from its myriad offshoots, ‘Daisy’ must have been a hit for Mr. Jacobs. There are a number of variations on it currently out there, some supposedly even fresher than the oh-so-fresh original.

The trend for sister fragrances is not one of which I’m particularly enamored. Tom Ford has been doing that with all of his Neroli Portofino cousins, and as much as I love a twist on neroli, I’d rather he try something different. His Oud line is slightly more varied, but even that seems to have reached its limit. Still, I’d rather give his side-shoots a whirl over another Daisy.

Sometimes a single Daisy is more than enough.

The bottle comes adorned with classic Marc Jacobs flair – in this case a piece of daisy pop-art that doubles as a cover. It’s a lovely embodiment of a fun fragrance that finally gives the daisy a scent of its own.

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The Scented Tea Route

An old-school Barneys classic, Route du Thé: Homme is a cologne based on a slightly spicy green tea platform with the very slightest tinge of musky undertow. It’s unobtrusive enough to wear in any season, though I’m partial to it in the late spring and summer, when heavier scents tend to overwhelm. For some reason it reminds me of New York, when the city empties out for summer weekends, and places once stocked with crowds of people ease up and become pleasantly inhabitable.

Hot sidewalks open up, loosening the tightness of their usual hold like the businessmen loosen their ties on the subway. A hint of citrus enlivens the languid proceedings when the murky humidity threatens to overcome with its stranglehold. This scent manages to cut through that sultry air, while maintaining its integrity for a surprisingly decent length of time. Summer is not so kind to most colognes, which makes this all the more refreshing.

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Slipping Into Something Naked

Not everything that Madonna does impresses or even interests me. Witness her children’s books (I read the first one and left it at that.) Witness her H&M clothing line (whatever “it” is completely eluded me.) Most surprisingly, for me, witness her first foray into fragrance, ‘Truth or Dare’, the perfume named after her far-more-fascinating 1991 documentary. That’s not to say I didn’t check it out and even buy a bottle for my Mom, but it was a fragrance very much designed for a woman. Boldly floral, with piercing notes of tuberose and gardenia, it was a sweet and voluptuous creation, but not something I could ever stretch into a scent I’d wear outside of novelty nights in.

A few years after its 2012 introduction, I found another bottle at a severe markdown and gave it another go, but by this time its flanker frag ‘Truth or Dare: Naked’ was also on the scene, and there were whispers that it was more masculine in scent, and could be worn by the more daring guys unafraid to bend the rules a little. In fact, the way it read on paper sounded like it might just be something I might love. Not just because it was Madonna.

Reported to be a floral/woody fragrance, with a warm and creamy underside, ‘Truth or Dare: Naked’ felt like a very different entity from its predecessor, and in the best way. With top notes of honeysuckle, peach blossom and neroli, it sounds sickly sweet to start, and the midsection of vanilla orchid, cocoa flower and lily of the valley does nothing to detract from the sweetness. What intrigued me was the base of it all: Texas cedar wood, benzoin from Laos, oud accord and Australian sandalwood. If the latter could outlast and subdue the former – which good base notes always manage to do – this could quite possibly be something exquisite.

Based on that, I did what I’d only done once before: I ordered the scent unsniffed. It was the same dare I took with Viktor & Rolf’s Spicebomb. It turned out to be a fitting move – as ‘Naked’ is surprisingly reminiscent of that scent – the female-friendly version of ‘Spicebomb’ perhaps. It’s got a spicy element that counteracts the floral vanilla slant that I tend to abhor, transforming it into something fruity, with lifesaving bands of woodiness to keep it grounded. Those base notes do indeed keep it down to earth, even if it wasn’t quite enough to challenge anything like the darker Private Blends of Tom Ford. Still, for its cheaper-than-cheap price point (I could get at least fifteen bottles of ‘Naked’ for just one bottle of a Ford Private Blend) this is a prize find, and I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to come around to something by Madonna.

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Tom Ford, Summer Brewing

“In most other areas of the luxury market, instant gratification has also become part of the luxury experience. In fact, the ultimate luxury now is to not have to wait at all. It is a romantic notion to think that people want to wait for things and anticipate them, but I’m afraid that no one really wants to wait for anything anymore.” ~ Tom Ford

It’s never too early to be thinking about summer. Sometimes, it’s the best way of getting through the winter. As such, when a few new Tom Ford fragrances were recently announced, I was giddy with daydreams of summer mornings, lazy afternoon swims, and sultry, languid evenings. The most promising is a new Private Blend ‘Soleil Blanc’ – which I had a quick whiff of a few weeks ago, but didn’t delve too deep as it reeked of summer and coconut oil and I didn’t want to spoil it with a winter memory. Scent is powerful that way – and is often said to be the strongest memory-trigger. ‘Soleil Blanc’ is the aptly named white sun of summer, and though I’ve never been very keen on coconut, this one may make it into my beach vacation repertoire. (Clearly a beach excursion is required this year.) It is said to dry down with an underlying amber glow, which brings it into closer proximity with ‘Costa Azzurra.’

The other new ones are in the Portofino line, something that’s on the verge of being overdone. It’s definitely his most accessible of the Private Blend offerings, but the Private Blend line has, for me, remained special because they are so often dark and complex, and not the usual light-hearted citrus-fare of so many colognes. Don’t get me wrong – ‘Mandarino Di Amalfi’ is exquisite, and come June I will be bathing in it daily. But for a Private Blend I prefer things a bit more off the sand-beaten path.

At any rate, it’s fun to fantasize about the sunny season, and these next few weeks are when we all get a little antsy for a shift out of winter gear. I can’t think of anyone better to lead the way than Tom Ford.

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Perfume 11 by BLK DNM

The doldrums of any winter, even a mild one, can only be broken up by certain jolts. A vacation, a good book, an amazing song, or a new fragrance. I’ve tried them all, but it’s the fragrance option that has always turned the winter around for me. On a recent trip to New York, I ambled about the gift shop at the Standard High Line and waited for my friend Chris to finish his look-see. At the time, I wasn’t scouting for a new cologne, but that’s always when you find a good one. I pulled the small square bottle of black from its shelf and opened the top. It was peppery and fresh, clean and light. A smoky underside fit into the border between fall and winter, and it was so instantly likable that I spritzed some on. (I’m a last-resort spritzer, in the event that I end up hating a scent, or if I might want to try one on later in the day. Entire vacation days can be ruined by a haphazard cologne try-out.)

This one was a safe choice. Perfume 11 by BLK DNM is unisex fragrance, named for its launch year of 2011, and it has some of my favorites in it, which is why I instantly loved it: black pepper, cardamom, musk, cedar, balsam fir, birch, amber and incense.

It begins in a soft way, and stays as such throughout its trajectory. Black pepper and incense are where it’s at, making this ideal for fall or winter. Despite its smokiness, it’s actually quite a clean fragrance, and that smoke will dissipate, leaving a woodiness that’s more than pleasant in these dimmer seasons.

Now for the super-secret, which the salesperson whispered almost apologetically to me in the cloistered confines of the shop: Perfume 11 by BLK DNM actually falls under the Levi company, which initially caused me to turn my nose up at the whole thing. “I can’t tell people I’m wearing Levi’s cologne!” I shrieked to my friend Chris. Yet another instance where I fell into the stupidity of labels and image over what is truly decent and enjoyable. At this point in our friendship, Chris wisely ignored the matter and moved on. I almost did the same, until a few weeks later, when I found myself pining and yearning for the elusive peppery scent and it was nowhere to be found online. Such exclusivity always lends things a bit more magic than they might inherently hold, but it also meant that no one else was likely to wear the scent in the environs of upstate New York. Chris was back at the Standard a few weeks later, so I asked him to procure a bottle, thus resolving the dilemma on a happy note.

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The Season of Citrus, and Accompanying Fragrance

Presenting the amber mandarin glow of a recent Hermès fragrance acquisition: this is Eau de mandarine ambrée, a fitting number for the height of citrus season. It’s a deeper take on the mandarin orange, thanks to its amber aspect, and one that works better in the winter than the lighter and more fleeting orange scents that make-up much of my summer cologne arsenal. The fact remains, however, that a true citrus fragrance is not meant to last. Their very nature indicates a delicate, and quick to fade, timeline. Anything that goes beyond that carries a chemical taint that should only be found in cleaning products and urinals. Certainly nothing that belongs in the rarefied air of Hermès.

It took me a while to come around to this one. Initial try-outs left me unimpressed, precisely because I was expecting that pop of a freshly-peeled orange. This isn’t that kind of sun-kissed fizz. It burns slowly, it doesn’t explode. It smolders, never rages. It is a surprisingly potent charm against winter, one that I’d almost forgotten about, having relegated it to fall fragrance status a few months ago and not thinking to revisit until we received a crate of Florida oranges from Aunt Elaine. There’s just something about citrus in winter that makes one’s outlook a little brighter, whether you eat it, wear it, or peel it in your deliciously sticky hands.

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V-Day Wishes For a French Lover

When the calendar year turns its last page and begins anew, I like to strip down and simplify things as much as possible. That means the sparkling over-the-top indulgences over the holidays are being replaced with something quieter, something with subtlety. Such as my favored fragrance. To that end, I’m making an early Valentine’s request (it’s just one month away…) for a bottle of the magnificently refined Bois d’Orage (50 ml is just the right amount). A more potent take on the exquisite Angeliques Sous la Pluie, this is the winter version of that gin-inspired summer tonic. Created by Pierre Bourdon for Frederic Malle, it exemplifies the elegance that Malle has made a hallmark (as in the equally-excellent ‘L’Eau d’Hiver’ as crafted by Jean-Claude Ellena).

“A serene manliness, both brutal through the overdose of single notes and subtle thanks to the sophistication of the raw materials, Bois d’Orage is the ultimate man’s scent. Pierre Bourdon has composed a perfume that is powerful, sensual and refined, aromatic and spicy. Its heart is built around angelica and its natural complements: cedar wood and vetiver. Shaped by an accord of Florentine iris, pimento and galbanum, it lies on a bed of patchouli, incense and musk. A perfume with an unusual vegetal animality.”

In Europe its christened name is “French Lover” – a rather cheesy moniker for a fragrance too refined for such cheap tricks. The powdery presence of angelica stays close to the heart, the way one keeps many things at this time of the year.

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The Gorgeousness of New York Oud

One of my favorite Christmas gifts (given by both Andy and my parents) is my very first bottle of Bond No. 9 – New York Oud. Up until this year, I’d kept an agreeable distance from the fragrance behemoth, put off by the price tag as well as the garish bottle design. Yet as with certain parts of life, the very things we resist are those that become the most valuable to us later on. Perhaps it just took some time for me to appreciate the Bond house. A little floral oud aided in that as well.

I was browsing The Tannery in Cambridge last month – well, not so much browsing as waiting for Kira to work through her shoe complex – when I stumbled upon a few random bottles of Bond No. 9. Normally, I would veer away from those star-shaped vessels and questionably-emblazoned flasks of fragrance. To be honest, the sheer number and variety of their offerings had always been overwhelming.

However, I was on the lookout for a holiday fragrance – something that sparkled, something that had a little more of an edge, something that I wouldn’t wear every day of the year, but only for special occasions. Based on the price point alone, that would signify a Bond fragrance, the cost of which heads into the stratosphere of Tom Ford Private Blends.

I sniffed a few of the bottles at hand, dismissing them all until I found the New York Oud. A sucker for most things oud, I inhaled this take on the expensive olfactory elixir, and marveled instantly at how much I loved it, and how different it was, even from its close relative ‘Oud Fleur’. The latter was smokier and muskier than ‘New York Oud’ – even as both retained a sweet, rose-hued opening. Bond’s version was brighter and fruitier – just the sort of sparkle and pizzazz I was trying to capture for the holidays. I sprayed it on and fell a little more in love. If only I hadn’t done that, I might have escaped, listening to Kira’s admonishments (even as she looked longingly at a pair of $400 boots).

Instead, I was caught by the beauty around my wrists, enraptured and enchanted by the exquisite scent. It was boisterous and cheeky, yet elegant and jauntily refined. It didn’t read New York so much as a universal sophistication, which was much more appealing to me. As we walked through the sun-soaked afternoon, I felt a little more alive when surrounded by such gorgeousness.

I knew then that it was my next holiday fragrance.

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A holiday fragrance requires a little extra oomph. It’s the one time of the year when we’re sanctioned to be glitzy and over-the-top. For this season, I’ve been at a loss as to what to wear in the weeks leading up to the parties and the celebrations. While I’ve had my eye on my first Bond No. 9 (New York Oud), BLK DNM Perfume 11, and the new Oliver Peoples collaboration by Byredo, none of those will arrive before Christmas Eve (assuming they’ll arrive at all). I almost forgot about a limited edition Frederic Malle fragrance that my parents gave me a few years ago for Christmas – ‘Outrageous!’ – created by Sophia Grojsman. At the time, I knew little to nothing about the vast array of scents that Malle had had a hand in creating over the years, I only knew that I loved the scent of Barneys whenever I walked into the second floor and browsed the wares in their Boston store. I figured that with the scant collection of bottles that they put out in the men’s section, it would be easy to find the overriding scent that signified Barneys. How foolish I was…

While trying to pinpoint that amalgamation of sweet scents and which one it might be, the salesperson wasn’t much help, telling me the scents were sold downstairs (they can be incredibly bitchy at the Boston Barneys) so I walked down the staircase and made my way to the counter, where the entire Byredo and Malle lines occupied extensive space with their crisp and clean bottles.

I asked if there was one scent that was what I smelled every time I came into Barneys – Barneys in a bottle if you would – but they were completely clueless. Instead, they sold me on the new limited edition by Frederic Malle – Outrageous! – and I gave it a spritz. After trying a few of the others, I was lost in a delicious haze that no cup of coffee beans could cure. Overwhelming olfactory overload.

When it arrived on Christmas that year, I wasn’t as enamored of the scent as I thought I’d be. An impulse choice based on lack of research and trial. A lesson learned. And a bottle that it would take me years to appreciate. Since then, my tastes in fragrance have evolved and grown, and the challenging sparkle of Outrageous! may have finally found its way back into my heart. It’s a candy-like thing, colorfully-kaleidoscopic, and sweeter than my usual woody preference. Yet there’s a clinically-antiseptic feel to it too, bordering on harsh. It has some sharp points – all shining stars do – and it has its flaws, but for those days when you need a jolt of something different, something that bursts like a sugar-plum fairy, Outrageous! – and all its punctuated exclamation – will do.

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Tom Ford By Boston & Venice

As if by divine intervention, the latest Tom Ford Private Blend was available just in the nick of time for my birthday this year, so on the actual day, Andy and I made our way to Saks to find the newest release, ‘Venetian Bergamot’. I was ready to buy it sight unseen, given my love for bergamot and Tom Ford, but I was lucky enough to get a sample beforehand and it was just as luscious as expected.

‘Venetian Bergamot’ is definitely a summer fragrance, but one that can linger through the hotter days of fall. In that respect, it’s a stellar bridge cologne, and one that works in many moods or seasons. In addition to the gorgeous bergamot, there are delicious notes of black and pink pepper, ginger, ylang ylang, magnolia, gardenia accord, cedar, pepperwood, sandalwood, tonka bean, amber and cashmere accord.

For me, the dry down is quite reminiscent of the beautiful ‘Champaca Absolut’ – one of the Private Blends I’ve teetered on the edge of purchasing, but always pulled back because it slides just too far into the floral side of things for my liking. ‘Venetian Bergamot’ solves that problem perfectly, veering into the woody realm rather than the floral scene, and I absolutely adore it. It leads stunningly well into the August/September frags of Rive D’Ambre and Plum Japonais, and now it will always bring back memories of my 40th in Boston.

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The Man Behind the Nose of Hermès

As the main fragrance front-man for Hermès over the last decade or so, Jean-Claude Ellena has made a name for himself and brought the venerable company an elegant edge in olfactory matters. His Jardin series is a masterful collection of woody, water-like florals – as distinctively evocative of their inspiration as they are of a standard summer day in anyone’s mind. Unlike some florals, these don’t dominate, they gently ease the scent of the season delicately out of one’s countenance. It’s a subtle and sly sleight of nose, and somehow Ellena manages to make these deceptively lasting (in brilliant counterpoint to the main obstacle of a light spring/summer fragrance, which is that they’re gone too soon).

His latest, and final, contribution to the Jardin line was released this season: Le Jardin de Monsieur Li is an ode to a fictional Chinese garden of one Mssr. Li, with notes of kumquat, jasmine and mint. (Just once I’d like to go along for the planning part of these visits – I’m so easy-upkeep they wouldn’t even know I was there!) Ellena indicated that this fragrance was conjured by an imaginary place for meditation:

“I remembered the smell of ponds, the smell of jasmine, the smell of wet stones, of plum trees, kumquats, and giant bamboos. It was all there, and in the ponds there were even carp steadily working towards their hundredth birthday.”—Jean-Claude Ellena

For me, it feels like a not-so-distant cousin, or somewhat-distant sister, of Un Jardin après la Mousson, which was his ode to a garden after a summer storm. Both are based in watery, fruit-like richness, yet both are light enough for the humidity that signifies such moisture in the summer. Perhaps Mssr. Li bears a slightly more refined bearing, less messily aquatic, more contained, like a pond of manicured water plants, and for that reason I’m a bit more partial to it. Such a spectacular way to end his line for Hermès, this is an impressive addition – the final gem – in a crown of delicious creations. He will be sorely missed, but I’ll hold onto the hope that some other house might coax him out of semi-retirement someday.

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A Whiff Across the Sea

Anything affiliated with Richard E. Grant simply oozes elegance and sophistication. Scene-stealing turns in ‘Gosford Park’ and ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ along with caddish portrayals in ‘The Age of Innocence‘ and ‘Downton Abbey’ are what I remember most of Grant’s vast catalog (along with a hilariously-cheeky strut through the Spice Girls’ movie). I’m happy to report that his first foray into fragrance, ‘Jack’, upholds the sterling image he’s crafted for himself, while treating us to a remarkable cologne that reeks of classy potency, managing to be both refined and somewhat edgy. The very best of British attitude.

Opening with a lime and mandarin punch, it soon settles into something warmer, with notes of pepper, clove, and nutmeg. This spicy interlude then gives way to a richer layer based in vetiver, oud, white musk, tobacco, and olibanum resin. Orchestrated by Alienor Massenet, it’s a refreshing whiff of London gentility. Defining ‘dapper’ and ‘debonair’ with one sniff, ‘Jack’ attacks in playful prissiness, as fresh as a summer day, and surprisingly sinful as a summer night.

I’m hoping to score a sample of his follow-up frag, ‘Jack – Covent Garden’, named after one of my favorite places in the world. If it were possible to take a specific piece of a city as a lover, I’d make mine this delicious corner of London. In the meantime, there’s just ‘Jack’ – and I think I want it for my birthday. Parents and husband, take note.

{‘Jack’ by Richard E. Grant is available at}

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