Welcome to the year in review, a look back at both the best new releases of 2017 and the noteworthy releases from prior years which I tried this year and enjoyed. Before I start, though, let me say first that I’m operating at a bit of a handicap because I took a long sabbatical for the first half of 2017. I spent the next six months after my return trying to catch up on, test, or review all the new fragrances that I had missed during my break as well as the ones released subsequently, but I’m sure I’ve missed a few great ones along the way. It’s not easy to put a dent in the tsunami of 2,300+ fragrances which are released each year even when one is reviewing nonstop, never mind when one takes a break from modern perfumery. Even so, I found a number of fragrances that either I loved immensely, that I thought were good representations of their genre, or that I thought were original and executed extremely well.
By it’s very nature, fragrance reviewing is subjective and personal, and winnowing things down to a list of favorites is even more so — all of which makes the criteria for selection important for you to know. A number of the fragrances were not for me, personally, for various reasons (like, to give just one example, a particular note or genre that I struggle with), but they were chosen nevertheless because something about the particular scent was either complex, striking, luxurious, evocative, and/or, as noted above, an extremely good example of its genre which also happened to be done in a technically impressive or elegant manner. A handful of perfumes are on the list for the most subjective reason of all: I either bought full bottles for myself, plan to get them, or would love to do so if their price were not a major factor.
Ranking things is always an utter nightmare, but somehow it was even harder this year than usual. Out of the list, only the Number One slot was unequivocably and absolutely certain to me and, as you will see, even then I couldn’t choose and ended up with a tie. The remainder of the scents are ranked within one or two slots, plus or minus, of where they are in my estimation at the present time, though keep in mind that perfumistas are a fickle bunch who can change their degree of fervor from one month to the next, and I’m no exception.
All of the fragrances on the first list were launched in 2017, because that is what people expect from bloggers and these year-end summaries — coverage of the newest, latest releases — but the problem is that some fragrances which I found to be either fantastic, addictive, or noteworthy debuted in other years. As a result, there is a second section below which two lists pre-2017 fragrances that I loved immensely and which I would have rated very highly if they had come out this year, probably in the top five. There is also a section of fragrances (again regardless of year of release) which didn’t rise to the level of others for whatever reason but which are absolutely worth an honourable mention. Finally, as always, the very last section is for fragrances which were my obsession this year for purely personal reasons.
BEST 2017 RELEASES:
TIE: Areej Le Doré Ottoman Empire & Siberian Musk. One is an opulent, head-turning, vintage-style floral oriental, the other is an opulent, head-turning, vintage-style chypre-floriental-musk, but both are fantastic fragrances which truly stood out to me out of all the new releases that I tried this year. Which one you loved the most depended in large part, in my opinion, on whether you personally gravitate more towards florientals or towards chypres musks, and I think the same subjective criteria holds true in deciding which one is a better fragrance. I think Siberian Musk may nudge out its sibling by a nose in terms of structural intricacy and grandeur, but only by a nose. Maybe. Scent wise, Ottoman Empire is my personal favourite new release of 2017 — hands-down and without question — but then, I will always respond more instinctively and viscerally to a floral oriental than to a chypre or musk. As always, it’s such a subjective matter. Ultimately and rather sadly, however, it’s all academic because both of these fragrances were released in limited quantities, sold out in a blink of an eye, and will never be released again in their exact same form/formula. I wish so much that my top choices for 2017’s best new releases were not out-of-circulation but, if I’m to review the year and the fragrances which stood out to me the most, then continued availability cannot be the criteria. It has to be scent, structure, complexity, charisma, and opulence — standards by which these fragrances stood head-and-shoulders above everything else for me.
Papillon Dryad: Liz Moores is one of the very best artisanal perfumers around, in my opinion, and her fragrances are frequent visitors to the top of my annual best-of lists, but I think Dryad is her most technically accomplished release to date. It’s also a very approachable take on both the 1960s/1970s style of chypres and their challenging green sub-category — and I say that as someone who struggles quite a bit with some of Dryad’s central elements (like, galbanum, which I approach in the same way that some people do a root canal). But Dryad isn’t one of those green compositions that is dripping in alarming, icy, mossy hauteur or off-putting, razor-sharp greenness. In fact, I differed from some of my blogging colleagues in that I didn’t find Dryad to be a full, head-long foray into the depths of the forest floor nor a literal forest scent like some fragrances that I’ve tried. To me, it wasn’t that on-the-nose; it was also chic-er, less bucolic, and much more sophisticated than such fragrances typically feel to me. I found it to be a beautifully rounded, warm, mellow, nuanced, polished, and sophisticated trek to the countryside — if one were the wealthy, extremely aristocratic, Brideshead Revisited-sort of country dwellers, the sort who either held picnics in the sun on their grand green estates or who rode noble steeds through it. Part of it is due to Liz Moores’ constant use of warmer materials as a clever counterbalance to the colder, green elements; part of it is due to the unisex floralcy that took Dryad into the meadows rather than the earthen floor of a dark, green forest; and part of it was the carefully calibrated drop of slightly animalic horse leather running under them both. The result is a lovely, evocative, chic, and welcoming green fragrance which actually improved upon the 1960s-1970s style, in my opinion. If those fragrances were frequently exclusionary to all but the most ardent fans of the Chanel and Yves St. Laurent’s 1960s/1970s ethos, then Dryad is their inclusionary modern descendant who welcomes you with a hug but without ever sacrificing its elegance. In many ways, it’s the epitome of Liz Moores herself, captured in a bottle.
Ensar Oud Purple Kinam: I’ve tried countless fragrances with fewer layers and less complexity than this oil made from just one type of wood. Granted, it’s the top-of-the-line and very expensive Kyara/Kinam varietal of agarwood but, even so, what a remarkable fragrance. Purple Kinam creates two completely different but equally well-defined worlds. The first was an old, book-lined study, where I rested in a Churchillian-studded leather armchair, sipping Islay whisky while thumbing through a slightly dusty leather-bound manuscript. Candles cast soft shadows on the walls. Smoke billowed in one corner from falling logs in the fireplace, while incense burned in another. The stereo blasted its way through Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, and Nina Simone. The second world was a campsite in the Pacific Northwest. There, I stirred a concoction of stewed raisins, prunes, bitter chocolate, balsamic vinegar aged into a thick liqueur, red wine remnants, Portobello mushrooms, and steaks over a birch fire. To brace myself against the chill, I rubbed menthol on my chest, wore a black Perfecto leather jacket, and drank a big glass of a particularly peaty, smoky Ardbeg Islay single-malt. Both worlds take hold at different times or, sometimes, occur even simultaneously; and both world are etched with more complexity, luxuriousness, depth, body, and evocative power than a good number of niche or luxury niche fragrances that I’ve tried this year. In those aspects, Purple Kinam also surpasses any oud fragrance — with one exception — that I’ve tried since I’ve started blogging. The one exception is another oud from Ensar Oud called Hainan 2005, that I will discuss further below.
January Scent Project Smolderose eau de parfum: Symphonic, prismatic, striking, and extremely complex, Smolderose is a well-named mix of roses and smolder. The fragrance is divided in parts, each of which emphasizes one portion of its name, going from jammy roses set against greenness to a crescendo of darkness created, at different times, by frankincense, leather, cade campfire wood smoke, balsamic resins, or some combination thereof. It’s a bold, unisex scent that felt to me like the olfactory equivalent of O Fortuna from Carmina Burana, and I mean that as a compliment. Smolderose EDP took years to perfect, and the meticulous time, care, and attention shows in both its carefully balanced slew of notes and its structure. It also shows the talent and technical acumen of its creator, John Biebel, whom I think will one day be mentioned along side other great indie/artisanal perfumers.
Ensar Oud Sultan Leather Attar: the best Cuir de Russie leather I’ve ever encountered lies at the heart of this fragrance which is far more like a vintage perfume than an oud. Prismatic and a shape-shifter, its sexy, multi-faceted leather is surrounded by lush, jammy roses, crisp bergamot, chypre greenness, rich spices, ambered resins, oakmoss, vetiver, patchouli, frankincense, and a quartet of rare, expensive ouds. The latter add to the beautifully smooth leather but, above all else, they exude dark musks which replicate the sense of rich furs laced with their owner’s scent, something like the sultry base of the oldest versions of Shalimar and Bal à Versailles vintage parfums. If it weren’t for my personal difficulty with large amounts of frankincense and Sultan Leather’s long frankincense-leather stage, this fantastic vintage-style attar would be high on my personal wish list. What a complex, shape-shifting, opulent, and sexy fragrance!
Ensar Oud Hainan 2005: I will never forget this oud oil, no matter how long I live. Even if I’m 90-years-old and can’t recall its specific name, I doubt I’ll ever forget either the staggering range and scope of its notes from beginning to end or what it taught me about agarwood. This is an utterly remarkable, orchestral sweep which goes from the very heart of the barnyard with a purely animal-driven bouquet to the most Guerlainesque of vintage floral bouquets centered upon lilacs, peaches, and cream, with some stops in-between at the smoky leather and floral Guerlain lilac chypre genres along the way. Based on a very rare and now completely extinct variety of Chinese agarwood, I was intrigued by its complexity in its early stages, but nothing can adequately convey the extent of my sheer amazement and stunned stupor once the oud began to waft lilacs and peaches. Lilacs. The absolute best, most beautiful lilacs!!!!!!!! From oud! I mean, honestly, who would ever imagine that agarwood would or could smell of bloody LILACS for crying out loud, let alone heady, liquidy, sweet, minimally powdered, fragrantly floral lilacs, dripping with sweet peach nectar, flecked by smoky vetiver and mossy greenness, then suffused with undercurrents of creamy vanilla. Again, none of this comes from the addition of separate ingredients but is purely, solely, and entirely a natural side-effect of the actual wood itself and how it has been handled by a master distiller. It’s utterly remarkable. Hainan 2005 changed everything I thought I knew about oud, blew away every preconception I had about an entire genre of perfumery, and showed me what the material is capable of when it is the very highest quality possible and treated by a master. If one were to go by sheer impact and memorableness alone, this fragrance really should be in the Top Five, and the only reason that it is not listed higher is a purely subjective one: I’m not a fan of the popular Hindi sort of oud, and the Chinese Hainan varietal used here replicates many of its skanky, chest-thumping, barnyard tonalities in its first stage. It was too animal-centric, dirty, and challenging for my tastes, even though the fragrance gradually turned into a practically vintage-style, Western, floral oriental perfume. Nevertheless, Hainan 2005 is definitely a stand-out in the oud genre and probably like nothing else that most of you have ever tried. Really impressive and one for the books.
January Scent Project Selperniku: I’ve never smelled anything like Selperniku, which is saying something in this day and age where so many fragrances are soulless re-treads of well-worn themes. This is one original, fascinating, and inventive bouquet! Ostensibly, it is about fruit dunked in milk and drizzled with salt, but that isn’t even the half of it. Perfumer John Biebel takes apricots, lashes them with wood smoke and tobacco, then dunks them in a bowl of milk and honey. Immortelle, chamomile, herbal floralcy, cypress, cedar, cardamom, and sandalwood swirl around at different times; the apricots go from being dried to the tangiest, tartest apricot purée to apricot leather, then back again; and the milk is alternatively infused with either honey, immortelle maple syrup, immortelle curry spice, butter, coconut cream, or some combination thereof. Sometimes, Selperniku’s focal point is a semi-gourmand, savory, fruity, and buttery cream, sometimes a purely oriental woody, smoky, apricot leather; and, sometimes, it’s a mix of both. All of it is unique and different. John Biebel follows in the path of Serge Lutens’ pioneering mix of the savory and oriental, and Josh Lobb’s modernistic, avant-garde approach, and gives them both his own original twist. Selperniku will not be for everyone in its unconventional, outside-the-box approach and scent, but that is precisely why I was so impressed. It was also my personal favourite out of the January Scent Project fragrances that I tried.
Dusita La Douceur de Siam: Tropical Prozac in a bottle, La Douceur de Siam is an exotic and wonderfully lush, heady, creamy fruity-floral oriental whose most striking feature for me is it’s completely sunny, cheery, happy disposition. Its second striking thing is just how chic, polished, and Parisian this fragrance is, and those are not traits that I usually associate with fruity florals. So many of them are gooey, cloying excesses or have a rather juvenile feel, but not La Douceur. It’s as though the chic-est Parisian went to the lushest garden in the tropics, took both their personal attributes and then combined them with silky, satiny ylang-ylang vanilla cream, heady champaca, lush frangipani, jammy roses, tangy green mangoes, exotic lychee mousse, a panoply of other fruits, greenness, sandalwood, vanilla, sweet benzoin resin, and a few other things as well. It’s not the most complicated fragrance around, but it is the sunniest, happiest one I’ve encountered in quite a while. Both men and women alike have fallen for its tropical charms and its bubbly but sophisticated, polished cheerfulness, so if you’re looking for Prozac in a fragrance bottle, this is one to consider.
Ensar Oud Santal Sultan: I’ve finally found my Holy Grail for sandalwood. For decades, I’ve searched for the perfect sandalwood for my particular, admittedly finicky tastes, and I shrugged off so many that one of my readers once called me a Sandalwood Snob and vowed to get me a t-shirt with those words on it. Unlike everything else out there, Santal Sultan isn’t one of those endlessly green sandalwoods subsumed in milk or sour buttermilk, or an ethereal, pale bouquet tinged with smoke. Rather, it focus on the reddest, richest heartwood that brims with the darkest, stickiest, and most resinous aromas. Thanks to two types of ages sandalwood, the result is luxurious, multi-faceted sandalwood with nary a whiff of insipid, demure, sour greenness but, instead, brimming with dark musk, spiciness, and wood smoke, along with undertones of black chocolate, patchouli, bright citrus peel, syrupy jasmine, and amber. Gorgeous, simply gorgeous.
UNUM Io Non Ho Mani Che Mi Accarezzino Il Volto: The name may be ridiculous and too long, but the fragrance is great. “Io Non Ho Mani,” as I call it, takes a beating heart of myrrh resin, cinnamon spice, and amber, surrounds it with gingerbread-scented tobacco leaves, then builds up from there with varying, fluctuating amounts of bright citruses, dry woods, styrax leather, incense, tonka, vanilla, eugenol cloves, honeyed resins, and a dash of custardy, spicy, sweet ylang-ylang. Christmas-y, inviting, warm, and richly spiced, I thought Io Non Ho Mani was a perfect “cozy comfort” scent. However, I think this is one of those fragrances where skin chemistry will strongly impact both the main notes on your skin and the balance of notes. If you do not love large amounts of myrrh or cinnamon (or both together), you should probably stay away from Io Non Ho Mani because I doubt it would be for you. Otherwise, this was one of the coziest amber orientals I tried this year, and I strongly recommend it for fans of the genre, particularly those who adore myrrh, tobacco, and cinnamon.
Bogue Profumo MEM: MEM is a lavender kaleidoscope, one accompanied by fermented malt ale, sticky fruits, crisp citruses, indolic flowers, vetiver, praline benzoin, sandalwood, and so much more as well. The fragrance dances and weaves in its endless nuances but, for me, it is often more of a feel and an experience than a set of concrete notes. This is true whether I sniff MEM during its first two hours which hold the greatest complexity and, thus, the greatest magic for me, or during its less detailed later stages when the scent turns wholly abstract, a hazy impressionistic tableau of nature created through tiny, almost invisible brush strokes of the perfumer’s palette, like Monet in his later years painting Giverny, or Turner trying to capture the essence of light. MEM has so many ingredients (more than 80, in fact) and such a high degree of naturals of it that the fragrance ends up manifesting itself in different ways from person to person. All of it, though, bears a very different aesthetic than Mr. Gardoni’s vintage-skewing earlier releases, and I think MEM is likely to be a Love It/Hate It fragrance for many people. I admired it for its kaleidoscopic character and its painterly, emotional, and very atmospheric feel.
TRULY FANTASTIC PRE-2017 RELEASES THAT I TRIED THIS YEAR:
Rising Phoenix Perfumery Musk Rose (2015): If I’d tried Musk Rose in the year of its release, I have no doubt it would be in my top five for that year. As regular readers know, I’m not particularly enamoured of rose fragrances (to put it mildly), but the one at the heart of Musk Rose blew me away with its three-dimensional character and head-turning naturalism. What makes the attar stand out, though, is the larger whole: its prismatic character, its layers of complexity, the opulence and luxurious smoothness of so many of its materials, the careful balance of notes, the smoothness of the scent, and its sophisticated elegance. A fantastic fragrance all around, and one which I plan to buy for myself in a rare exception to my usual rose avoidance.
Rising Phoenix Perfumery Sicilian Vanilla (2011): Once again, if I’d tried this fragrance in its year of release, it would have been singled out as one of my favourite fragrances of that year. Sicilian Vanilla is a bit of shape-shifter in its primary focus, depending on person: a pipe tobacco scent; a myrrh-like tobacco and smoky woody one; unsweetened Bourbon smoky vanilla; or sandalwood with unsweetened fruits. This is a fragrance with many facets but one common thread between them all: barely sweetened, smoky darkness. On my skin, that darkness takes the form of the most perfect vanilla which is, simultaneously: boozy like Bourbon vanilla, heavily singed with the wood of charred oak barrels, and layered with all the aromas of a newly lit autumnal or winter fire, including the paper used to light it. Eventually, quiet suggestions of tobacco appear and even more elusive whispers of something vaguely approximating an indolic jasmine, but the central focus remains on the woody, slightly boozy, and thoroughly smoke-licked vanilla, all in a chewy, hefty, resinous, and almost all-natural bouquet which has major longevity and might. It undulates on the skin with a siren’s call for people like myself who loathe gourmands and have had endless difficulty in finding a vanilla which is not going to give one cavities or a diabetic seizure from cloying, nauseating, and wholly synthetic saccharine sugariness. Sicilian Vanilla may well have a different emphasis on other people’s skins — like the chap who found it to be his Holy Grail for pipe tobacco fragrances — but if you like any of the central elements, then this is a must-try fragrance. It’s high on my personal wish-list and I can’t recommend it enough.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS :
There were a few fragrances I tried this year that deserve an honourable mention, either because of the perfumer’s skill, because they were good representations of their genre, or some other factor. The fragrances below are not merely from 2017 and their listing is in no particular order:
Parfum Satori Hana Hiraku (2016): Hana Hiraku has the absolute best magnolia note that I’ve ever encountered, thanks to several Japanese varieties being used in their absolute form, but what makes it stand out are the other Japanese ingredients: soy and umami. In the opening, creamy Japanese melon ice-cream is slathered on top of those remarkable magnolia flowers, then things are finished off with a dash of dark soy and salt to give it an umami quality. It sounds crazy on paper, but it has a peculiar beauty all its own. The subsequent part of the fragrance has notes which range from roses to iris, ylang-ylang, jasmine, chamomile, cedar, sandalwood, and beeswax, but the real star of the show is the magnolia which is shown off in all its facets. It’s exquisitely presented, in my opinion, smelling lush, heady, creamy, fresh, and delicate, and it’s quite clearly the real thing, not a synthetic. If the fragrance weren’t so ethereal and discreet on my skin and if it were cheaper, I wouldn’t mind a bottle to wear on occasions. Those things notwithstanding, the use of soy sauce, umami, salt, and melon make this is one of the most creative and out-of-the-box floral orientals that I’ve encountered.
Parfum Satori Satori (2006): a stellar Earl Grey tea note kicks off this Japanese-influenced woody oriental which was inspired, in part, by Kodō incense ceremonies. Notes of sandalwood, oud, incense, spices, a touch of vanillic sweetness, and a fleck of oakmoss are all layered with that fantastic black tea note in a composition that felt like a delicate water colour painting. What stood out to me was that it also felt as though the fragrance had been constructed like one of the Japan’s famous Zen gardens, with an emphasis on precision, balance, elegant purity, and seamless integration. It may not be my personal style of perfumery in its discreetness, but the scent is highly refined, tasteful, interesting, and, in my opinion, demonstrates a masterful technical ability.
Areej Le Doré Oud Picante (2017): Spices, amber resins, more spices, even more resins, tobacco, oud, velvety dark muskiness, leatheriness and smoke — all wrapped up in an inviting oriental sandwich. If you went by the name alone, you might think that Oud Picante was purely about spicy oud, but it’s not because there is just as much labdanum amber. And I think that’s why Oud Picante just pipped its brother, Oud Zen, to the post and won out. Oud Zen, now sold out, incorporated similar notes, but the focus was more squarely on the leather. On top of that, the leather’s olfactory accompaniments were perhaps more expected and traditional: saffron, boozy cognac, tobacco, and, above all else, Hindi oud which started out with its heavily barnyard, skanky aromas. Oud Picante was different. While it isn’t revolutionary in its elements either, I found it to be less of a conventional leather-oud scent and more of mixed oriental with a more interesting mix of elements. More inviting and unisex, too. Then again, I am a labdanum junkie and not a Hindi oud one, so it all comes down to personal taste preferences in the end. Both were smooth, rich, and enjoyable. (So, for all intents and purposes, you might as well consider Oud Zen to be on the list as well, although it’s rather an academic point as that one is sold out. At the time of this post, Oud Picante is not.)
Feel Oud Super KL Oud (2016): Imagine the smokiest and peatiest, high-end Ardbeg single-malt whisky poured lavishly over dark tobacco, leather, oakmoss, smoky vetiver, and blackened resins, and you’ll have Super KL Oud. I enjoyed it from beginning to end. Unfortunately, the oil is now sold-out but, again, the point of the year-in-review post is to talk about fragrances which stood out to me or were really nicely done, not those which are still available for purchase. Having said that, Russian Adam once did a more intense, richer version of this oil, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for anything with the “KL” moniker because it’s the sort of fragrance that I think would appeal to a lot of men.
Feel Oud Lee Lawadee (2016): A gorgeous, heady, indolic and very honeyed floral oriental, Lee Lawadee was made from organic Thai oud distilled with frangipani flowers. Its complex range of aromas include everything from orange blossoms and jasmine to Mysore sandalwood, pine sap, cypress, ambered resins, spices, and cream. Lee Lawadee was released in limited quantities and is now sold out, but it definitely deserves a mention nonetheless. It reminded me of a richer, smoother, and more luxurious version of Kalemat Floral and was a beautiful twist on the usual ouds. This is the sort of oud which is really more like a perfume than an oud. I know that doesn’t appeal to the hardcore purists, but I think it has broader appeal, particularly to people who are wary of Westernized “oud” with its pink band-aid aromas, Hindi oud’s opening barnyard, or Eastern ouds’ occasional menthol. Lee Lawadee was really lovely and nicely done. It’s exactly the sort of thing that, were it not sold-out, I would have recommended to oud-haters as an approachable, floriental take on oud.
Vero Profumo Naja (2017): The technical craft on display here is incredibly impressive; Naja may be the only perfume that I’ve tried that is actually cyclical in nature, not in terms of accords coming back again and again (because that isn’t completely uncommon) but in terms of whole stages of the scent development recycling back in almost identical form again and again. There is phenomenal mastery of perfume structure, materials, and accords here, but the problem I have is a purely personal, subjective one: there is an incredible amount of powder for much of the fragrance’s lifespan on my skin, and I struggle with its scent as much as its quantity. Sometimes, it’s quite sharp, sometimes as sweet as Turkish Delight/loukhoum powder, and quite often, like both things combined together. Naja is, in some lights, a tobacco fragrance but it’s an osmanthus powder bomb above all else, one which closely mimics another powdered cigarette paper fragrance, Habanita, on my skin — and I have great difficulty with Habanita. There is much about Naja to be admired and when it briefly cycles into a stage of beautifully smooth leather and silky suede, lightly lacquered with amber, I thoroughly enjoy it. I also like the dashes of citrus, vetiver, mossy greenness, and spices which accompany the linden-irisy-osmanthus powder bomb. But that powder… I’ve retested Naja again in order to figure out its placement on this list and I can’t get past the degree of powder, but it’s a completely subjective matter of personal tastes because this is one beautifully executed fragrance that is a good representation of the vintage-style, powdered, tobacco-floral genre. If you love Habanita or powdered osmanthus fragrances, this one will probably be right up your alley.
Lubin Epidor: (2017): When simplified to its most basic essence, Epidor is basically a boozy, semi-gourmand, fruity white floral with benzoin caramel, vanilla, and sandalwood. Though it’s uncomplicated and too sweet for me personally, it’s an enjoyable, easy scent which stood out to me because of the way it carefully straddles the fine line between femininity, sexiness, and fruity flirtatiousness — and it does so in a very adult fashion. It’s not one of those excessively juvenile or cloying takes on the feminine fruity-floral oriental. I have a soft spot for Epidor mostly because it reminds me a lot of Cavalli’s Cavalli, which I once loved but which is now too synthetic, cheap, and shrill to my nose. If you like fragrances in the style of Cavalli, Hedonist, or Sensual Orchid, then this is one for you to try.
PERSONAL LOVES & JOYS:
My love of perfumery took quite a beating by the end of last year and two fragrances helped to rekindle my feelings during my six-month sabbatical. Both are Hermès vintage fragrances that, in my opinion, are masterpieces, although I admit to being potentially biased because they have great meaning to me personally, since they were my signature scent at different times in my life. They are oriental-chypres with positively lavish richness, beautifully elaborate structure and complexity, and a long list of notes. I hadn’t worn either of them for decades, but I fell hard for both of them all over again.
The first is Parfum d’Hermes (1984) in its first, 1980s formulation. Its aldehydic, floral, and green opening is centered on bergamot, galbanum, oakmoss, and exquisite hyacinths, and it bears strong, pronounced echoes of Guerlain’s vintage Chamade. But that opening gives way to slew of different bouquets: an opulent jammy but very green rose chypre; a dark, musky, smoldering rose leather oriental; an incense-myrrh rose; a rose-ylang ylang-jasmine with sandalwood and amber; or an musky floral amber. This is one incredibly complex and prismatic fragrance with timeless appeal, in my opinion, particularly for fans of fragrances in the style of vintage Mitsouko, vintage Chamade, vintage Chloé, vintage Ysatis, Malle‘s recent Superstitious, or Roja Dove‘s Haute Luxe.
Equally lovely is vintage 24 Faubourg (1995) in its original 1990s formulation. There are actually a few thematic similarities between the two Hermes fragrances in their middle stages and in their bipartite structure that focuses on both the chypre and floral oriental genres, but if Parfum d’Hermes is heavily tilted towards the rose side, then 24 Faubourg is tilted towards orange blossoms. Yet, once again, there is a long laundry-list of accompanying notes, including wonderfully lush, thick, authentic oakmoss and gardenia. 24 Faubourg in the EDP concentration has a smoldering, dark, leathery, and resinous stage as well, but it is generally a sunnier, bigger, bolder, and headier fragrance with a more ornate nature than its sister. Parfum d’Hermes is chic-er and more elegant, while 24 Faubourg has more of a head-turning va-va-voom glamorousness, feminine seductiveness, and commanding, regal presence. It was the late Princess Diana’s signature fragrance from its release all the way until her death, and she epitomized it well.
Both Parfum d’Hermes and 24 Faubourg are truly magnificent, exceptional fragrances in their original, debut formulations, and I think both of them would bowl over fans of big, complex, intense, and opulent vintage powerhouses in either the chypre, floral oriental, or mixed floriental-chypre genres. Both fragrances are also significantly cheaper than many modern niche fragrances that claim to be luxurious and complex, so they are well worth a look at eBay. (My reviews explain what to look for in terms of bottles and dates.) Out of the two, I think Parfum d’Hermes is quite unisex, particularly if you get one of the more concentrated bottles or the EDP, and I know both men and women alike who love it passionately. As for 24 Faubourg, while I know men who wear and love it, particularly the more unisex EDP concentration, I think this fragrance skews more overtly feminine in character. However, if you are a man who loves and wears fragrances like vintage Shalimar, L’Heure Bleue, Mitsouko, SP Attars’ Reve Narcotique, or any of Roja Doves’ big floral orientals, then I think you could pull off 24 Faubourg without problem.
For me, reconnecting with both these fragrances after all these years was truly the best and most special fragrance-related part of 2017 on a personal level but, even without a personal connection, both fragrances were amongst the very best things I wore this year. If I could include vintage fragrances in my “Best of 2017” as opposed to just new releases, there is no question that these two would be in my Top Ten (or Top Five).
THE BARED FANGS AWARD:
My annual lists traditionally focus on the positives of each year, not the negatives, and they most certainly don’t discuss marketing, but I’m making an exception this year to call out Tom Ford and Estée Lauder‘s fragrance chief, Joe Demsey, for Fucking Fabulous. I made my reasons pretty plain in the article, so I won’t repeat them at length here, nor the problems with the scent itself which is, in my opinion, mediocre, at best, and, at worst, sub-par. I will, however, say this: weeks later, I continue to be quite staggered by the sheer brazenness of the cynical, greedy, and manipulative approach of the two men and the tone-deaf, insulting nature of Tom Ford’s comments to The New York Times. I say this as someone who actually really liked Tom Ford as a person — before this. Judging by the many reader comments to my article, I’m hardly alone in my feelings and, no, Mr. Ford, the negativity is not because we’re prudes or overly sensitive PC-types who can’t handle an expletive. So, for the single most obnoxious fragrance marketing, cynicism, greed, and manipulativeness of this and probably any other year this decade, and for espousing post-truth nonsense in particular, Tom Ford & “FF” get my first (and hopefully my last) Bared Fangs Award.
I think fragrance companies should take the “FF” situation as an object lesson, just in case basic social intelligence and common sense ever go out the window: don’t think your customers are idiots, don’t insult their intelligence, don’t go even further by actually insulting a group of them, and don’t forget that we have plenty of other choices in an industry where, at last count, more than 2,300 new fragrances are released each and every year. I realize those numbers require brands to grab people’s attention, but this was not the way to go.
Since I assume that most companies are not run by raging egomaniacs and morons who need reminders on the common-sense basics, let me move on to an unrelated issue and a small plea to the big-name brands for 2018: please focus more on what your fragrance smells like all the way through, as opposed to just spending ages on your marketing campaigns, ad copy, and the first 20 minutes of the scent bouquet. It would be really nice if the vast majority of big-name brands (mainstream or niche) didn’t create fragrances which dissolved into a shapeless, generic, and wholly impressionistic morass of three basic notes after the first 2 hours of its life. Also, I would be quite grateful if the last 5 to 8 hours weren’t an even duller, even more shapeless morass of white musk and one other note. If you’re all going to raise your prices year after year after year, is it too much to ask for your perfumers not to put all the character right up top, not to care only about the opening impact, and to save a modicum of character for much later on?
I wanted to thank each and every one of you who has been along for the ride in 2017, both new readers and old. I wanted to give an extra word of thanks, though, to all the old readers who remained subscribed even though my sabbatical went on for month after month. I know it ended up being much longer than I had initially planned, but thank you for your loyalty, your faith in me, and staying on. Thank you also for the kind emails which many of you sent during that time.
To new readers and subscribers, I’ve only had the opportunity to get to know a few of you this last year, but it was lovely. Some of you feel shy about speaking up or sharing your opinions, but I hope that will change in 2018 because perfume is more fun when it’s a shared passion and discussed with your fellow perfumistas. So I look forward to getting to know many more of you next year.
To everyone, new readers and old followers, I wanted to wish you the very best new year, one filled with the beauty of connection, love, and shared laughter, the warm glow of accomplishment, and the peace of mind of good health. See you in 2018!