December 29, 2010
I believe that 2010 was a better year than 2009. Many of the things that were problematic in 2009 were less so this year. Yes there were still too many releases but there were less and we are much better for the introduction of a couple of new lines. Yes there was too little risk-taking but there were some breathtaking examples of that high wire style of perfumery. I heard a lot of my fellow members of the blogosphere complain that 2010 got off to a slow start. I disagreed because fragrances like Parfumerie Generale Papyrus de Ciane, Annick Goutal Ninfeo Mio and nine other entries in my Top 25 came from the first half of the year. 2010 may have finished with a flourish but it didn't start with a whimper, in my opinion.
One of my favorite trends of 2010 was the emergence of Natural Perfumery. Under the auspices of The Natural Perfumers Guild I was honored to participate in two projects they held this year; The Mystery of Musk and Outlaw Perfume. These projects exposed me to some very talented perfumers who I think are the rising stars of not just Natural Perfumery but Perfumery. Those names you should be looking for are Charna Ethier, JoAnne Bassett, Alfredo Dupetit, and Jane Cate.
This is not to mention the “old hands” like Anya McCoy, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Alexandra Balahoutis, and Liz Zorn. To show how much Natural Perfumery has arrived when I attended my first Sniffapalooza in April this year it was a natural perfumer, Jessica September Buchanan and her debut fragrance, 1000 Flowers Reglisse Noire, which was the most unforgettable fragrance of that weekend for me. Surrounded by the best Niche had to offer it was Ms. Buchanan’s fragrance that lodged itself in my psyche and wouldn’t let go. Five of my Top 25 fragrances of 2010 are Natural Fragrances.
Also at that April Sniffapalooza I was introduced to the Atelier Cologne line of fragrance. I found all five of the Cologne Absolues to be outstanding and have worn all of them throughout the year. I find a lot of parallels between the splashy introduction of By Kilian and that of Atelier Colognes and one of my hopes for 2011 is for Atelier Cologne to continue to thrive; the press release for next spring’s Vanille Insensee gives me hope. Collections were quite the rage this year and besides Atelier Cologne other large collections I found well done and cohesive throughout all of the fragrances within, were those of the Jo Malone Cologne Intense Collection, by Christine Nagel, and the seven fragrances which made up the initial releases of Pierre Guillaume’s Huitieme Art Parfums Collection. Rarely do I find one collection that pleases me from top to bottom but all three of these had pleasures to be found at every turn, with nary a dud in any of sixteen fragrances. In truth I could’ve happily populated my Top 25 with multiple fragrances from all three of these collections.
A place I almost always despair of finding something interesting is the Department Store Fragrance Counter. That is why the summer held so many surprises at this least likely of venues. Marc Jacobs Bang is the Best Men’s Mainstream Fragrance of the last two years, since Terre D’Hermes. Yann Vasnier channeled a Niche sensibility with his use of black pepper into a masstige fragrance and created something special. While fragrances like Thierry Mugler Womanity, Island Michael Kors Palm Beach, or Aramis Impeccable didn’t rise to the level of Bang, they definitely added a little more pizazz to the Department Store mix. I can’t quite leave the Fragrance Counter without mentioning Bleu de Chanel. Bleu de Chanel was a good fragrance, but from Jacques Polge and Chanel it was disappointing to see them not take the opportunity that M. Vasnier and Marc Jacobs took…to pioneer a bold new direction for men’s masstige fragrances. One wish for 2011 is for Bang to be enough of a success so that other designers will be willing to take some risks in this part of the fragrance continuum.
In that part of the fragrance universe where Niche is King, there were a couple of disturbing trends. The first was this notion of anti-perfume. From the beginning of the year with L’Eau Serge Lutens right through year's end to Juliette Has a Gun Not A Perfume, we saw perfumers seemingly not wanting to not make perfumes but scents… inoffensive and tame. I can visit the department store if I want inoffensive, but when I enter the universe of niche, I want perfumers who will try and succeed in dazzling me…not bore me. I wonder if the anti-perfume trend had anything to with the worrisome trend of perfume not being allowed in public places as people are suing for fragrance-free workplaces. In any case I would hope that 2010 has seen the end of anti-perfume.
The other trend was the overuse of Ambrox/Ambroxan in Niche perfumery. Very similar to what happened in 2008 with Iso E Super; ambrox seemed to show up everywhere and sometimes in terribly inappropriate places. On my skin and to my nose I find Ambrox to be almost screechy in character and when it would come strongly to the foreground in some fragrances it felt like someone had dragged the needle across the olfactive record album. My plea for 2011 is a little less ambroxan, please. If I had to guess what the next overexposed note will be I look to Herr “Professor’ Geza Schoen who has seemingly had an uncanny knack at predicting these trends with his Escentric line of fragrances. 01 heralded Iso E Super, 02 was the first drop of the Ambrox tsunami which means this year’s 03 should be the bellwether for Vetiveryle in about a year.
Perfumer Of The Year
When it came time for me to put together my short list of nominees for Perfumer Of The Year there were five names who I felt had strong years, in alphabetical order.
Bertrand Duchaufour had another spectacular year as he continued the hot streak he had begun in 2009 when I named him Perfumer Of The Year for that year. L’Artisan Nuit de Tubereuse along with Penhaligon’s Orange Blossom created an almost post-modern floral triptych with 2009’s Penhaligon’s Amaranthine. The late fall releases of L’Artisan Traversee du Bosphore and Penhaligon’s Sartorial only cemented M. Duchaufour’s reputation as one of the most creative perfumers working currently.
Pierre Guillaume also dazzled with his first two releases of 2010. Papyrus de Ciane was a green fragrance unlike any green fragrance I have smelled before or since his reach into the past to resurrect the classic base Mousse de Saxe added a retro spin to this. Bois Naufrage was a paean to sunbaked skin next to the ocean. M. Guillaume hit this mix perfectly for me and this fragrance resonated all year for me. Finally in the creation of “phyto-perfumery” for the Huitieme Art Parfums line he showed what is possible if an artist is willing to reach out to use newer technologies to see what can happen. What happened in Huitieme Art Parfums is the juiciest mango I have encountered in a fragrance was found in Manguier Metisse. Along with other unique notes like a spicy red iris this collection showed a perfumer with his eye fixed on the horizon.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz is one of the most talented perfumers working currently. The fact that she is also a Natural Perfumer makes it all the more special. She had four amazing releases this year almost evenly spaced out. Bancha in the spring was a delightful citrus fragrance tuned to perfection. Her Mystery of Musk entry Eau Natural showed what could be accomplished if one wanted to create a botanical musk. Her Outlaw Perfume entry Mata Hari was nearly as good, and in some of my colleagues eyes better. She finished the year with Cuir et Champignon an earthy mix of mushroom and leather that has an unreal complexity to it. It is artists like Ms. Hurwitz that will elevate Natural Perfumery from the aromatherapy aisle to the boutique if she continues to create at this level.
Christine Nagel has become the in-house nose at Jo Malone and her presence has been definitely noticed as she has taken Jo Malone to a whole new level. Nowhere was that more apparent than in her Cologne Intense Collection, four world-class fragrances in one collection. In Iris & White Musk, Rose Water & Vanilla, Oud & Bergamot, and Amber &Patchouli she created a perfumer’s tour de force in four acts. From complimentary to contrasting. From skin scent to sillage producer. It felt like Mme. Nagel was teaching a Master’s Class in perfume and these were Exhibits A-D.
Yann Vasnier has had a year where he achieved success at every level a perfumer can. At the Department Store with Marc Jacobs Bang. At the Niche category with Six Scents Series 3 M. At the Ultra-Niche category with Parfums DelRae Panache. It is no easy trick to be creative no matter what the budget or materials you have to work with. That M. Vasnier did this so amazingly well shows me that he not only is a perfume jack-of-all-trades but a master-of-all to boot.
In the end my choice for Perfumer Of The Year was Pierre Guillaume because he produced nine memorable fragrances which portend a bright future and I can’t wait to see what comes next from him.
Perfume Of The Year
No long preamble for this one (as much as I admire all those I considered for Perfumer Of The Year and wrestled with my decision); once I wore my Perfume Of The Year for the first time in September I was pretty sure there wouldn’t be a challenger for the honor. Serge Lutens Boxeuses might be the best fragrance Serge Lutens has made. I waxed eloquently about it in my review but as I have worn it more and more I have found it to have amazing little nuances that I keep picking up even on the 20th wearing. I might have been all cranky about Serge’s anti-perfume but if the break allowed him to come back and create Boxeuses then go ahead and make expensive boring perfumes as long as you make one like Boxeuses every year.
My Top 25 Fragrances in Alphabetical Order (Each Entry is linked to Reviews from Ca Fleure Bon by myself and my colleague Senior Editor Ida Meister):
I hope all those who have been reading Ca Fleure Bon this past year have a Healthy and Happy New Year!
My colleagues and I will be back with more of the same in 2011.
Disclosure: I have once again sniffed too much perfume but somehow not enough. I will try to do better in 2011.
–Mark Behnke, Managing Editor