Colognoisseur 2017 Year-End Review Part 2- Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, & Brand of the Year

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Yesterday, in Part 1, I took a broad view of 2017. Today I take a very focused look at the year naming my best of the best.

Perfume of the Year: Ineke Idyllwild– I met independent perfume Ineke Ruhland in April 2009. My editor at the time Michelyn Camen would introduce me to her in the perfume department of Takashimaya in New York City. She had just made one of the best perfumes I had tried in Field Notes from Paris. I was doing a bit of fanboy gushing. She smiled, listened to my insensate gibbering; then after I calmed down we began to connect. Ms. Ruhland has been one of my very favorite indie perfumers ever since I discovered her Alphabet series. It is a near-perfect collection of perfume. She continually produced releases until 2012 and then nothing. Two years ago at Pitti in Florence she had a stand where she was showing the next two letters in the Alphabet Collection “I” & “J”. “I” was one of my favorites of the entire exposition. I excitedly waited to write about it when it was released. And I waited. And I waited. Almost exactly two years later Idyllwild was released.

Ineke Ruhland

Idyllwild is emblematic of why I admire Ms. Ruhland as she takes a classic perfume style, fougere, then transforms it into something contemporary. From the typical lavender and citrus opening through a pine tree heart to delicate tendrils of smoke this is expertly blended. Supporting notes of green cardamom, rhubarb tea, and a fabulously delicate oud accord for her smoke show her skill. Ms. Ruhland combines the technical expertise with the artist’s soul to make Idyllwild my Perfume of the Year.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux

Perfumer of the Year: Rodrigo Flores-Roux– I can’t remember the first time I met Sr. Flores-Roux but the one thing I know with certainty he was smiling. While I don’t remember the first time, my most memorable meeting took place in October 2012. Sr. Flores-Roux along with Arquiste creative director Carlos Huber were presenting the new brand at the Mexican Embassy’s Cultural Center. I have never forgotten the following quote from his remarks that night, “Maybe I can cite a Mexican poet, Carlos Pellicer, who always praised the beauty of the Mexican tropics: the Mexican people have two obsessions: we are interested in death and we are in love with flowers. And as a Mexican flower lover, I always like to put a bit of Mexico in every perfume I make. It's not an accident I studied biology, specifically botany, and understand the secret language of flowers. It's also my last name!”

Carlos Huber (l.) and Rodrigo Flores-Roux at Mexican Embassy Cultural Center October 2012

That quote is an apt epigraph to sum up his 2017 perfumes where there was more than a little Mexico in them. It was literally a travelogue as no less than eight different perfumes had distinct Mexican inspirations. The three Arquiste releases for the Mexican department store El Palacio de Hierro were the best examples of his ability as a “Mexican flower lover”. Azahares is perhaps his best pure floral perfume ever. He would exercise his indie sensibility in the four perfumes he collaborated on for the small line called Xinu. Monstera is a raw green vegetal perfume which almost magically transforms to leather. This is the botanist at play. His final trip comes from the mainstream release, John Varvatos Artisan Pure. Here he uses a less complex palette to create the summer hillsides of Xalapa. That it is every bit as compelling as the other seven mentioned is a testament to the breadth of perfume he produced this year.

I’m not even including the three Carner Barcelona Black Collection perfumes, his continued work for Tom Ford Private Blend, and his three Palindromes for Santi Burgas. Every one of these confirms my choice.

I think Sr. Flores-Roux has been a runner-up every year I have made this choice. I am happy to name him Perfumer of the Year for wearing his love of Mexico in his perfume.

Runner-ups: Luca Maffei, Jerome Epinette, Bruno Fazzolari, Daniela Andrier, and Antoine Lie.

Jerome Epinette (l.) and Jan Ahlgren

Creative Director of the Year: Jan Ahlgren of Vilhelm Parfumerie– When I am asked, “What’s the brand nobody is talking about?” My answer for the last couple years has been Vilhelm Parfumerie. Ever since it’s founding in 2015 Jan Ahlgren has transformed his love of classic Hollywood, the places he loves in the cities he has lived in, and a generally contemporary aesthetic into a fantastic collection of nineteen perfumes. The 2017 releases of Do Not Disturb, Harlem Bloom, and Basilico & Fellini are some of the best in the collection he oversees with perfumer Jerome Epinette. That choice of working with a single perfumer has resulted in a creative ability to build upon each previous release. When I read the inspiration for a perfume in a press release I am way too frequently left scratching my head. That Mr. Ahlgren can translate his vision into a perfume which doesn’t do that is why he is the Creative Director of the Year.

Runner-ups: Frederic Malle (Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle), Etienne de Swardt (Etat Libre D’Orange), and Christian Astuguevieille (Comme des Garcons).

Brand of the Year: Comme des Garcons– If there is a pillar of the niche perfume sector it is Comme des Garcons. That they continue to innovate twenty three years after releasing their first perfume is amazing. In 2017 they opened with a reminder of their past as they released ten of their previous trendsetters in the Comme des Garcons Olfactory Library. I write Comme des Garcons is ahead of its time; the re-releases ask if time has caught up. The three new releases: Concrete, Andy Warhol’s You’re In, and Vogue 125 all show this is a brand which still has much to say. The past might have been amazing but the present is glorious which makes Comme des Garcons my Brand of the Year.

Runner-ups: DSH Perfumes, L’Artisan Parfumeur, Vilhelm Parfumerie, A Lab on Fire, and Parfums de Marly.

Part 1 was my broad overview of 2017

Part 3 is my Top 25 New Perfumes of 2017

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur 2017 Year-End Review Part 1- Overview

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2017 is a year which begins to clarify some of the shifting consumer dynamics. As companies look to create new brand loyalties from younger consumers they also continue to try to appeal to their longtime devotees. This is a more difficult task than it might seem for an ambitious brand. If there is one thing which became clear while sniffing the 678 new perfumes this year it was this divide. A year ago when I wrote this overview it wasn’t that obvious. Within the first quarter of 2017, when I get inundated with rose perfumes, that kind of concentration of data showed some trends.

I said Deconstructed not DEVO

One of 2017’s favorite descriptors was “deconstructed”. What this meant was taking a version of a keynote and using one of the different isolates which removed or diminished the “problematic” part. Think indoles being removed from white flowers and you get the idea. It had the effect of making these perfumes lighter in style. When used just for that effect those perfumes were generally not that interesting. In fact by deconstructing they also removed some of the interesting character. When perfumers took those new spaces and filled them in with different alternatives it provided both the lighter style and something interesting. Comme des Garcons Concrete is an excellent example of this. Perfumer Nicolas Beaulieu used different sandalwood sources where it was hollowed out. Into that space he added a different rose source in rose oxide. You’ve smelled sandalwood and rose many times but deconstructed this way it felt different. If this style can become popular it has the opportunity of appealing to perfume lovers of all generations.

Note of the Year

Every year Pantone surveys the colors used by fashion designers and names a “Color of the Year”. Nobody does that for perfume but based on my sample the “Note of the Year” was tuberose. This follows on with the deconstruction trend as there were now tuberose sources for a perfumer to use which did remove those problematic indoles, or attenuate that overt floral nature with more green. It ended up being a renaissance for this ingredient as there were multiple takes on it released. They covered ground as divergent as the green stemmy version of Naomi Goodsir Nuit de Bakelite to the coffee drenched interpretation of Atelier Cologne Café Tuberosa. I was constantly impressed at the number of excellent tuberose perfumes I tried.

Last year I genially grumped that my favorite independent perfumers let me down. This year was the opposite as Laurie Erickson, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Bruno Fazzolari, Shelley Waddington, Josh Meyer, Mandy Aftel, Vero Kern, Ineke Ruhland, Andy Tauer, and Tanja Bochnig reminded me how critical these very singular voices are.

Fanny Bal (l.) and Mackenzie Reilly

There were two new exciting voices I am looking forward to seeing what the future will bring. Perfumer Fanny Bal produced Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Sale Gosse and Mackenzie Reilly who composed A Lab on Fire California Snow. Both were stunning debuts which hopefully are harbingers of things to come. I know Mme Bal is working on a new Masque Milano which confirms her potential based on working for a brand which has one of the best track records of discovering young perfumers. It is already high on my list of most looking forward to in 2018.

At the halfway point of the year I was unimpressed by the offerings within the mainstream sector. The back half of 2017 was a different story. Thierry Mugler Aura and Chanel Gabrielle both provided new pillars for their brands. Gucci Bloom was another of the better tuberose interpretations. John Varvatos Artisan Pure was a Mexican hillside in summer. Tiffany & Co. re-invented the fragrance brand of the jeweler into 2017 relevance. Elizabeth & James Nirvana Amethyst continues that brand’s winning streak. While Tom Ford Noir Anthracite and Valentino Uomo Noir Absolu gave me flankers I liked much more than the originals.

I have enjoyed the diversity of releases over the year which makes my revelation, over the next two days, of my Best of the Year so much fun.

Tomorrow I name my Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, and Brand of the Year

The next day I reveal my Top 25 New Releases of 2017

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur Hoiday Perfume Buyer’s Guide 2017 Part 2- Support your Local Perfumery

I am not the biggest fan of the shopping mania that breaks out after Thanksgiving in the US. Black Friday makes me blue and Cyber Monday makes me want to unplug. Since 2010 there has been a way for me to participate in the Holiday shopping spirit. That year American Express created “Small Business Saturday”. By using Facebook and television commercials they urged shoppers to go to their local independent merchants instead of the mall. In just a short time it has become a huge success. Just in my local area several of the small city shopping districts are having special promotions. When it comes to perfume that means the locally owned and operated perfumery. For Part 2 of the Holiday Perfume Buyer’s Guide I am going to focus on some of the brands which have become widely available in these stores.

This part of the guide is going to be aimed at people who are perfume wearers already although a couple of choices I will call out as excellent entry points. Latest review of each brand will be linked. Finally, I still think you shouldn’t buy a bottle of perfume for another and instead should use my “How to Buy Perfume as a Gift” as a way to gift fragrance. The beauty of that method at these small businesses is they are all about customer service and you should have no problem following my suggestion.

New Lines Which Have Impressed

Here are four brands which have shone in 2017. All of them are well worth exploring.

Vilhelm Parfumerie– Over the past two years there has been no new brand which has impressed me more than this one. Creative Director Jan Ahlgren and perfumer Jerome Epinette started strong and in 2017 they released one good perfume after the other. My favorite was Basilico & Fellini which is an example of all this brand is getting right.

Tauerville Flash Collection– Indie perfumer Andy Tauer wanted a set of perfumes which were meant as welcome mats to the independent style of perfumery. The Flash series has been that as well as also making perfumes which still had enough for the experienced colognoisseur. The latest release, Patch Flash, turns patchouli into a soft note paired with leather.

Zoologist Perfumes– Owner and Creative Director Victor Wong has collaborated with some of the brightest lights in independent perfumery over the past two years. Zoologist is quickly becoming one of the most diverse brands on the shelf because Mr. Wong lets his heart, and nose, make the decisions. The release of Civet earlier this year is a prime example.

Shay & Blue– Creative Director Dom DeVetta and perfumer Julie Masse have been quietly putting out excellent perfumes but this year they finally received wider distribution in the US. 2017 has been a watershed year for the brand and this is best exemplified by the intelligent lily accord at the center of Scarlet Lily.

Older Brands Continuing to Impress

Just because there are brands with that “new car” smell some of the established brands have also had strong years.

Imaginary Authors– Perfumer Josh Meyer really hit his stride this year. This line of perfume based on fragrances which have an imaginary book as their inspiration is fun but not without making some serious perfume. O! Unknown is probably the best perfume in the collection as black tea, iris, and sandalwood form a meditation on the final journey.

InekeIneke Ruhland had been out of sight but this year saw her return as all her previously released fragrances began to be available again. This is one of the best collections by any independent perfumer. If we had any doubt the new Idyllwild, a contemporary fougere shot through with pine, reminded us how good she is.

Byredo– This brand has been around as creative director Ben Gorham and perfumer Jerome Epinette have created an aesthetic which is still compelling after ten years. This year’s Velvet Haze shows that style at its very best in an homage to the 1960’s viewing patchouli through a haze of memory.

The Experimental

These are three of the most eclectic brands you can find. There are less provocative entries in all of them but in 2017 my favorites are not for the faint of heart…. or nose.

Beaufort London– This could easily have fit in the first category except creative director Leo Crabtree and perfumer Julie Dunkley keep expertly capturing the smells of a battlefield. Iron Duke is inspired by the first Duke of Wellington and takes you right onto the battlefield with him complete with gunsmoke, saddle leather and sweaty steed.

D.S. & Durga– The D.S. in the brand stands for perfumer David Seth Moltz. Given some new chemical ingredients with which to play with he made one of the most memorable perfumes of the year in Vio-Volta. An electrically charged version of violet; it is compelling in its oddness.

Masque Milano– This could have easily fit in the second category as creative directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi also lead with the heart of an artist and not the bottom line of an accountant. This year’s Times Square where they work with perfumer Bruno Jovanovic displays all of that as they capture 1993 Times Square when it wasn’t so tourist friendly. The perfume reflects that hidden jeopardy around every corner, in each dark alley. A perfume of gritty florals, neon lipstick, latex, and leather before sandalwood brings you to safety.

Every independent perfume store is full of perfume different from that available at the mall. The list above is a great place to start but it never hurts to just treat the experience like an advent calendar and open as many flaps as you can.

Happy Holiday shopping to everyone.

Disclosure: All samples were provided by the brands.

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur Holiday Perfume Buyer’s Guide 2017 Part 1- At The Mall

The Holiday shopping season is about to begin in earnest. In the US it is signaled by the day after Thanksgiving dubbed Black Friday. Every mall in North America will be filled with shoppers. I thought I’d help those who are out shopping with a checklist of the new mass-market perfumes which have come out this year. This all comes with the caveat that I think buying perfume for someone else is a very difficult task. My "How to Give Perfume as a Gift" can be found in this link. If you want to buy a bottle for someone here are thirteen you will probably find at the mall this weekend and throughout the Holiday shopping season. All are linked to the original review earlier this year.

In the Department Stores

At the fragrance counters of the bigger stores you will find these four:

Bottega Veneta Eau de Velours– A fruity floral leather ideal for the colder temperatures

Jason Wu– A transparent jasmine for someone who doesn’t want something “too perfume-y”.

Jo Malone Green Almond & Redcurrant– A fragrance equivalent of fruit cake; in a very good way.

Tiffany & Co.- An iris soliflore as brilliant as an amethyst solitaire.

The New Ones from the Big Names

2017 saw three mainstream releases from three of the biggest brands in perfume all of them seem to be aiming for the younger demographic. These should also be available widely at anyplace which generally carries these brands.

Twilly D’Hermes– A simple ginger, tuberose, and sandalwood fragrance meant to be someone’s first perfume.

Chanel Gabrielle– A slightly more complex white flower accord sandwiched between citrus and sandalwood.

Thierry Mugler Aura– Here the white flowers are found in a humid green jungle brimming with vanilla.

The Flankers

There have been some good flankers released this year here are three to consider:

Tom Ford Noir Anthracite– This is a very different version of Noir than the previous releases. More spicy and much darker.

Prada Candy Gloss– The cherry, orange blossom, and vanilla perfume is one of the most fun releases and one of the best of 2017.

Valentino Uomo Noir Absolu– A perfume for scarves and sweaters with spices, incense, iris, and sandalwood.

Bang for the Buck

These three are excellent choices at the lower end of the price spectrum

Elizabeth and James Nirvana Amethyst A gorgeous tobacco fragrance. Honestly the entire Elizabeth and James brand is a best buy.

Commodity Bergamot– A shaft of summer sunlight in a bottle glowing with citrus.

Ellis Brooklyn Rives– A fougere framed with petitgrain, neroli, cashmeran, and leather.

If you must buy perfume as a gift these are all good choices. In Part 2 tomorrow I’ll highlight the brands you might find in the small independent perfume sellers for Small Business Saturday.

Disclosure: All perfumes mentioned had samples sent to me from the brand except for Chanel Gabrielle which I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur 2017 Hopes and Wishes

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As we put 2016 to bed it is time to look forward to 2017. I like to end every year with some things I am anticipating and/or hoping for to happen in the next twelve months.

C'mon Vero, Pretty Please?

A new perfume from Vero Kern. It has almost been three years since the release of Rozy. Vero has teased us a little bit that the next one is going to be a tobacco focused fragrance. I know it will come out when she feels it is ready but my inner five-year old is getting ready to wail if I lead off this piece in twelve months with the same wish.

I would like new brands to put fragrance over marketing. I went back and looked; 2016 was no worse for the number of brand debuts sporting upwards of six perfumes. What did seem to be worse was the pricing for perfumes where the money did not seem to be in the bottle. Please if you’re a brand-new brand focus on the perfume; make it great. Try and only do three or four perfumes. Don’t rush to the market.

Le Labo Counter at Tyson's Corner Mall in Virginia

More Le Labo, more places. There was a lot of worry over Estee Lauder’s acquisition of Le Labo. One of the things I have thought is necessary for niche perfume to really expand is more access. In my local mall, they installed a Le Labo counter in the local Nordstrom’s. When it first opened in April it was busy on every visit but nothing like it was on my Holiday visit. Le Labo is one of the exemplars of what it means to be a niche perfume. Estee Lauder taking it to the mall shows that consumers will gravitate to quality if it is right in front of them. I am hoping that this will be rolled out across the country in places where niche is not readily available.

I want a masterpiece from Perfumers: The Next Generation…all of them. Quentin Bisch, Cristiano Canali, Luca Maffei, Julien Rasquinet, and Cecile Zarokian are this set of next generation perfumers I think of as the next set of rule-breakers. They have all consistently stepped up their game over the last couple of years. I want 2017 to have a release from each of them that makes my choice for Perfume of the Year the most difficult it has ever been. Make it so!

I hope we found the ceiling. For the first time since I’ve been writing about perfume the number of new releases were about the same in 2016 as they were in 2015. I always believed there was a number where the market could not continue to expand beyond. 2017, if it stays about the same, can be the third data point which confirms this.

Can this Spring be about something other than rose? The last two years I have been buried by fresh clean rose perfumes for Spring. I can hope that maybe a new floral can take center stage. Jasmine, perhaps?

On this final day of 2016 I want to wish every single reader the Happiest and Healthiest of New Years. Colognoisseur has grown beyond the goals I set for myself back when I started almost three years ago. For that I must thank everyone who spends a couple minutes here reading my writing. I hope 2017 brings us even more perfumed joy.

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur 2016 Year-End Review Part 3- The Top 25 New Perfumes of the Year

This year I tried 680 new perfumes which wasn’t even half of all the new perfume that was released. The Top 25 below represent the top 3.7% of all that I tried.

Alessandro Brun, Me, and Riccardo Tedeschi (l. to r.) of Masque Milano

The Top 5 (Perfume of the Year Candidates)

5. Thierry Mugler Angel Muse– Two of the most iconic landmark fragrances ever took it upon themselves to re-invent themselves for a new generation. Perfumer Quentin Bisch didn’t just change the gourmand template begun with 1992’s Angel he sent it off in an entirely new direction with Angel Muse. It is easy to see Angel Muse as a softer unplugged version of Angel with its vetiver and hazelnut cream core. If you look at it that way you miss the complete transformation of the pyramid without ever being anything less than a relative of the original.

4. Faths Essentials Green Water– I love the original Jacques Fath Green Water it is one of my favorite perfumes no matter what year. I worked hard to find as pristine a vintage bottle as I could. Which was why when I sat down to try the Cecile Zarokian supervised re-formulation I expected a watered-down shadow. Instead I found probably the best re-formulation of a classic vintage perfume I can recall. It started with the simplest of choices not skimping on the concentration of neroli oil; matching the percentage in the original. This was not economical but Mme Zarokian convinced creative director Raina Naim it was necessary. In many ways, the fresh snappy quality of the 2016 version is more appealing than the well-aged and macerated vintage versions. There is a time and place for both but there is no embarrassment having them side-by-side on my shelf.

3. The Different Company Adjatay– Simple was the by-word with the 2016 release from The Different Company. Creative Director Luc Gabriel had gone on a trip and left some actual tuberose in his well-worn leather traveling case. When he took it out again he realized that smell he encountered needed to become a perfume. He asked Alexandra Monet to find the balance between tuberose and leather he had experienced. It is an ever-evolving battle through the early going with tuberose on top at first before the leather gains the upper hand finally achieving a balance between the two. If it wasn’t for Adjatay my luggage would all have tuberose inside.

2. Zoologist Perfumes Bat– Almost literally the first new perfume I tried in 2016. From that point every one of the successive perfumes I tried had a very difficult bar to hurdle. Owner/creative director Victor Wong continuing his efforts of working with the best artisanal perfumers collaborated with Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids. Dr. Covey had done some field studies of bats in the wild and had a good idea what should be in Bat. Mr. Wong creditably allowed Bat to evolve into a perfume which was true to both of their visions. I have had the most fun handing Bat to people throughout the year. Most gravitate to it immediately; but it is the ones who at first are unsure and over time keep returning to the strip before finally picking up the sample and spraying it on that make me smile widest. Bat is everything Independent Niche Perfumery should be about.

1. Masque Milano L’AttesaFor a more detailed description why see Part 2 of my year-end review. L’Attesa was another example of a creative team and a perfumer willing to risk pushing boundaries and succeeding wildly.

Here are the rest of the Top 25 in Alphabetical Order

Aeon 001– Another early year release all about a unique take on smoky vetiver. The name of the perfumer was held back until it sold out. When it turned out to be Bogue Profumo’s Antonio Gardoni it wasn’t a giant surprise.

Amouage Lilac Love– I have lauded creative director Christopher Chong for defining the boundaries of perfumery. Working with perfumers Nathalie Lorson and Elise Benat he turned Lilac Love into a gentle lilac tinted nudge towards the greater Amouage collection while maintaining that DNA.

Arquiste El & Ella– My only cheat this year but I couldn’t separate the two new releases from Arquiste. Creative director Carlos Huber and perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux take us back to 1970’s Jet Set Acapulco for a hot night contrasting chypre, Ella, and fougere El, all reflected through a mirror ball of cardamom and honey.

Atelier Cologne Citron D’ErableJerome Epinette’s twenty-third perfume for Atelier Cologne finds creative directors Sylvie Ganter-Cervasel and Christophe Cervasel saluting Canada with a mixture of maple syrup and citrus. It makes Citron D’Erable a citrus cologne for cold weather.  

Atelier des Ors Iris Fauve– This probably should have been number 5A on this list; that’s how close it was to being in the Top 5. Creative director Jean-Philippe Clermont continues his collaboration with perfumer Marie Salamagne to create the best of this very good brand, to date, with this musky iris that warms the soul.

Byredo La Botte– The Night Veils Collection within Byredo was begun late in 2015. This year the three releases explored the different versions of leather. Creative director Ben Gorham and perfumer Jerome Epinette turned the one celebrating the leather boot into a real kick.

Cadavre Exquis– There were many interesting collaborations in the indie artisanal world this year. Antonio Gardoni and Bruno Fazzolari did a trans-Atlantic examination of the gourmand. It provocatively reminds you that camphor is a gourmand note. Everything I love about the artisanal mindset is on display here.

Chanel No. 5 L’Eau Scariest press release line of the year “Chanel No. 5 re-interpreted for a younger generation”. Olivier Polge showed me my fear was misplaced with a fresh take on the grand parfum that lost nothing and maybe gained a generation of new admirers of the brand.

Dasein Winter Nights– Another artisanal collaboration between Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors and Sam Rader of Dasein. Making an evolution of Ms. Rader’s first release Winter in to a Holiday bonfire at Big Sur was a triumph.

Diptyque Kimonanthe– 2016 was deep in great osmanthus perfumes. Perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin took an opulent osmanthus and dusted it with the Japanese powdered incense, zukoh. Kimonanthe was the best osmanthus perfume of 2016.

DS & Durga Radio Bombay– Perfumer David Seth Moltz deconstructs sandalwood in a compelling way. As the entropy takes place on my skin I kept trying to tune the signal back in which is why this was one of my favorites.

DSH Perfumes La Belle SaisonDawn Spencer Hurwitz’s work with the Denver Art Museum on their Monet installation last year led to this. La Belle Saison is Ms. Hurwitz’s version of an impressionistic lilac perfume.

Eris Parfums Night FlowerBarbara Herman is another who has successfully made the leap from enthusiast to creative director. All three of her debut Eris Parfums with perfumer Antoine Lie were excellent but it was Night Flower which really reminded me of how they used to make ‘em.

Galop D’Hermes– Even though it was the second perfume Christine Nagel released in her new post as in-house perfumer at Hermes Galop D’Hermes was where she planted her flag in the ground. By retaining the lighter tone the brand has been known for while changing it to her style made Galop the place where generations changed at Hermes.

Hiram Green Arbole Arbole– One of the best all-natural perfumes I’ve encountered in a long time by one of the most talented young independent perfumers, Hiram Green. The smell of being high in an olive tree next to a fresh-faced girl wearing powder. I have spent hours enjoying the places in between in this perfume.

House of Matriarch KazimiChristi Meshell has made the courageous move with her independent brand House of Matriarch bringing it to Nordstrom’s all over the US. With Kazimi she is leading with some of her best work ever. Fingers crossed some of the mall shoppers agree with me.

Jul et Mad Secrets du Paradis Rouge– The continuing story of Jul et Mad co-founders Julien Blanchard and Madalina Stoica-Blanchard continues into their honeymoon with this perfume of travel and love composed by Luca Maffei.

Laboratorio Olfattivo MyLO– Creative director Roberto Drago working with perfumer Luca Maffei creates a carnal lily more in keeping with O’Keeffe than the funeral home.

Olfactive Studio Close-Up– I have long worn this brand’s Lumiere Blanche as my favorite. Close-Up has replaced it as creative director Celine Verleure and perfumer Annick Menardo combine cherry, tobacco, coffee, and patchouli into something I want to keep close-up all the time.

Puredistance Sheiduna– I appreciate brands which are willing to change a well-known architecture. Creative director Jan Ewoud Vos and perfumer Cecile Zarokian take the traditional Oriental and dry it out with abandon. Never has the Orient seemed so modern.

The Final Cuts (The 20 perfumes which just missed the Top 25)

Aedes de Venustas Greandille D'Afrique– Fabulous woody fougere

Aftelier Memento Mori/ Amber Tapestry– The most dynamic yin and yang set of 2016

April Aromatics Agartha– Peace and harmony in a bottle

Aroma M Vanilla Hinoki– Geisha at rest

Comme des Garcons Blackpepper– Reminder of the old Series collection

Elizabeth & James Nirvana Bourbon– Best Buy of 2016

Gabriela Chieffo Maisia– Chiaroscuro fig

Homoelegans Quality of Flesh– Francis Bacon lives!…in a perfume

Jo Malone Basil & Neroli– Amazing callback to the origins of the brand

L'Envol de Cartier– Honey coated soap bubble

Le Galion Cologne Nocturne This is what modern men should smell like

Mona di Orio Bohea Boheme– Monaesque survives and thrives

Parfums de Marly Layton– Most approachable Parfums de Marly ever

Parfums MDCI Fetes Persanes– A Persian feast of the senses

Philippe Starck Peau de Pierre– The smell of wet stone done with panache

Providence Perfume Co. Love-in-a-Mist– Best from this brand since Moss Gown

Salvatore Ferragamo Uomo– Best mainstream masculine of 2016

SJP Stash– Sarah Jessica Parker returns with a bang.

Tauer Lonesome Rider– A perfume for the wide-open spaces found in the soul

Xyrena Dark Ride– The most unique perfume of 2016 capturing a day at the water park photorealistically

 

That is it for my look back at 2016.

If you missed them Part 1 was my broad overview of the year

Part 2 was where I revealed my Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, and Brand of the Year.

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur 2016 Year-End Review Part 2- Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, & Brand of the Year

As I mentioned in Part 1 2016 is the beginning of a generational shift in perfumery. The winners I am going to highlight next are all emblematic of that kind of change.

Perfume of the Year: Masque Milano L’Attesa– One of the emerging initiatives over the course of 2016 has been the confidence owners and creative directors have placed in young perfumers. For a brand, it is safer to round up one of the more established names. It takes a bit of faith to place the success of your business in the hands of an emerging artist. The team behind Masque Milano, Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi, have taken on this philosophy wholeheartedly. Particularly over the last four releases since 2013; Tango by Cecile Zarokian, Russian Tea by Julien Rasquinet, and Romanza by Cristiano Canali, began the trend. This year’s release L’Attesa by Luca Maffei took it to a new level.

Riccardo Tedeschi, Luca Maffei, and Alessandro Brun (l. to r.)

I spent time with the creative team when they unveiled L’Attesa at Esxence 2016. I think when you do something creative you have a sense when you have done great work. That day in Milan all three men radiated that kind of confidence; with good reason. Sig. Maffei would combine three sources of iris to provide a strong core of the central note. Early on there is a champagne accord that is not meant to be the bubbly final product but the yeasty fermentation stage. It turns the powdery iris less elegant but more compelling for its difference. Through a white flower heart to a leathery finish L’Attesa is as good as it gets.

Cecile Zarokian with Puredistance Sheiduna

Perfumer of the Year: Cecile Zarokian– Majda Bekkali Mon Nom est Rouge, in 2012, was the first perfume by Cecile Zarokian which made me think she was something special. Over the years since then she has done some spectacular work but 2016 was an exceptional year. Mme Zarokian produced thirteen new releases for seven different brands. I chose her because of the breadth of the work she turned in over the year. I am reasonably certain that this kind of output has rarely been matched. The pinnacle of this group was her re-formulation of Faths Essentials Green Water. Mme Zarokian accomplished the near impossible by formulating a 2016 version which is as good as the original. She did this because she understood what made the original was its ridiculous concentration of neroli oil. She convinced creative director Rania Naim to spend the money for this now precious material to be replicated in the same concentration. This made Green Water amazingly true to its name.

She would recreate a Persian feast in Parfums MDCI Fetes Persanes. Picking up on some of the same themes she would infuse some of the gourmand elements into a rich oud in Making of Cannes Magie du Desert.  She modernized the oud in Hayari New Oud. In Uer Mi OR+Cashmere she creates a hazelnut rum cocktail. Laboratorio Olfattivo Nerotic goes for a more narcotic effect. Finally working with creative director Jan Ewoud Vos they conspired to reinterpret the Oriental creating a contemporary version in Puredistance Sheiduna.

Every perfume she made this year was worth smelling. As this next generation of perfumers moves into the next phase Mme Zarokian is going to be right there in the front pushing perfumery forward. For this joie de vivre about perfumery Cecile Zarokian is my Perfumer of the Year.

Runner-Ups: Luca Maffei, Quentin Bisch, Christine Nagel, Jerome Epinette, Rodrigo Flores-Roux, and Antonio Gardoni.

Creative Director of the Year: Victor Wong of Zoologist Perfumes- For the ten years plus I’ve been writing about perfume I have chanted a single mantra; embrace difference, don’t play it safe, stake out an artistic vision and stick with it. There are way too few who embrace this. Because it isn’t easy there is a graveyard of some who tried and failed. All of which makes what Victor Wong has been doing with his brand Zoologist Perfumes more admirable. Two years ago, he started Zoologist Perfumes making the transition from enthusiast to owner/creative director. He wanted to work with some of the most talented artisanal perfumers to produce his perfumes. What is so refreshing about this approach is he has been working with many of the most recognizable artisans providing them outside creative direction for one of the few times. What it has elicited from these perfumers is often among the best work they have produced. For the three 2016 releases Bat with Ellen Covey, Macaque with Sarah McCartney, and Nightingale with Tomoo Inaba this has been particularly true. Bat is one of the perfumes which was in the running for my Perfume of the Year. Macaque and Nightingale do not play it safe in any way. This makes for a perfume brand which does not look for the lowest common denominator but asks if there is something more beautiful in unfettered collaboration. For Victor Wong and Zoologist Perfumes 2016 answers this with a resounding yes which is why he is my choice for Creative Director of the Year.

Runner-Ups: Jan Ahlgren (Vilhelm Parfumerie), Ben Gorham (Byredo), Roberto Drago (Laboratorio Olfattivo), and Carlos Huber (Arquiste).

Brand of the Year: Hermes– In 2003 Hermes in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena would begin his tenure. Over the next thirteen years his overall collection for the brand has defined a modern aesthetic which now has become synonymous with the brand as much as silk scarves and fine leather goods. When it was announced two years ago, Christine Nagel would begin the transition to becoming the new in-house perfumer there was some concern. I was not one of those who had any worries. Mme Nagel felt like a natural evolution from M. Ellena. 2016 proved my surmise to be true as M. Ellena released his presumed final two fragrances for the brand, Eau de Neroli Dore and Hermessence Muguet Porcelaine while Mme Nagel released her first two, Eau de Rhubarbe Ecarlate and Galop D’Hermes. The passing of the torch could not have gone smoother. Hermes is in great hands as the next generation takes over. That this was accomplished so beautifully effortless is why Hermes is my Brand of the Year.

Runner-Ups: Byredo, Vilhelm Parfumerie, Tauer Perfumes/Tauerville, and Zoologist Perfumes.

Part 1 was my broad overview of the year yesterday.

Part 3 tomorrow will be my Top 25 new perfumes of 2016.

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur 2016 Year-End Review Part 1- Overview

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2016 will probably go down as a pivotal year in the perfume business. As an observer of much of the field this year I have seen change in almost every place I can see. Which leads me to believe it is also taking place behind the scenes where I am not able to know the entire story. Change like this can be unsettling which has made for some worrying trends but overall I think it has contributed to another excellent year. I smelled a little less this year than last year; 680 new perfumes versus 2015’s 686. Surprisingly the amount of new releases has also plateaued with 1566 new releases in 2016 versus 1676 last year. Maybe we have defined the amount of new perfume the market can bear. Over the next three days I will share my thoughts on the year coming to an end.

We are told in Ecclesiastes, or by The Byrds if you prefer; “To every thing there is a season” and so it is in perfume as the season of the Baby Boomers has ended and the Millennials have taken over. This younger generation is now larger, has more discretionary income, and is spending more on perfume than the Boomers are per multiple sources. While the public at large was made aware of it this year the industry could see the change coming a year, or more, prior. What that meant for 2016 as far as fragrance went was every corporate perfume entity was on a fishing expedition to see if they could be the one who lured this group of consumers towards them. The drive for this is huge because lifelong brand loyalties can be formed right now within this group. Certainly, the enduring trends of the next few years in fragrance will be determined by where they spend their money. All of that has made 2016 fascinating because at the end of the year that answer is no clearer than it was at the beginning. The prevailing themes, based on what was provided to them, is they want lighter in sillage and aesthetic, gourmand, and different. That last category is the ephemeral key I think. The brand which can find them in the place where they Periscope, Snapchat, and Instagram is going to have an advantage.

Christine Nagel (l.) and Olivier Polge

There was also generational change taking place at two of the most prestigious perfume brands, Hermes and Chanel. The new in-house perfumers for both took full control in 2016. Christine Nagel released Hermes Eau du Rhubarbe Ecarlate and Galop D’Hermes. Olivier Polge released Chanel Boy and Chanel No. 5 L’Eau. This shows both talented artists know how to take an existing brand aesthetic and make it their own.

Cecile Zarokian, Quentin Bisch, Luca Maffei (l. to r.)

The next generation of perfumers exemplified by Cecile Zarokian, Quentin Bisch, and Luca Maffei loomed large this year. Mme Zarokian did thirteen new releases in 2016 all of them distinctively delightful from the re-formulation of Faths Essentials Green Water to the contemporary Oriental Puredistance Sheiduna. M. Bisch brilliantly reinvented one of the masterpieces of perfume in Thierry Mugler Angel Muse. Sig. Maffei released ten new fragrances with Masque Milano L’Attesa, Laboratorio Olfattivo MyLO, and Jul et Mad Secrets du Paradis Rouge showcasing his range. 

There were also fascinating collaborations this year. Antonio Gardoni and Bruno Fazzolari contributed Cadavre Exquis an off-beat gourmand. Josh Meyer and Sam Rader conspired to create a Northern California Holiday bonfire in Dasein Winter Nights. Victor Wong the owner and creative director of Zoologist Perfumes was able to get the most out of independent perfumers like Ellen Covey in Bat and Sarah McCartney in Macaque.

Some of the independent perfumers I look to surprisingly released perfumes which did not please me. Thankfully there were new ones who stepped up to fill in the gap. Lesli Wood Peterson of La Curie, Ludmila and Antoine Bitar of Ideo Parfumeurs, and Eugene & Emrys Au of Auphorie did that. Chritsti Meshell of House of Matriarch made an ambitious economic move into Nordstrom while producing two of my favorites from her in Albatross and Kazimi.

The mainstream sector had another strong year as the mall continues to have diamonds hidden amongst the dross. In 2016 that meant Elizabeth & James Nirvana Bourbon, Alford & Hoff No. 3, SJP Stash, Prada Infusion de Mimosa, Thierry Mugler Angel Muse, and Chanel No. 5 L’Eau were there to be found.

If the beginning of the year was all about rose the overall year was a renaissance for neroli perfumes. Jean-Claude Ellena’s swan song for Hermes; Eau de Neroli Dore. The afore mentioned Green Water along with Jo Malone Basil & Neroli and Hiram Green Dilettante showed the versatility of the note.

The acquisition of niche brands continued with Estee Lauder buying By Kilian and L’Oreal doing the same with Atelier Cologne. The acquisitions of Frederic Malle and Le Labo, two years ago, seem to have been positive steps for both brands. Especially seeing Le Labo in my local mall getting such a positive reception made me believe that if the good niche brands can become more available the consumer will appreciate the difference.

Tomorrow I will name my Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, and Brand of the Year

The next day I will reveal my Top 25 New Releases of 2016.

Mark Behnke

Sniffapalooza Fall Ball 2016 Wrap-Up- A Peek Behind the Curtain

Sniffapalooza has been putting on a biannual event in New York City for perfume lovers since 2004. This past October the aptly named Fall Ball 2016 was the twenty-fifth of these to take place. In the past editions, it has been the opportunity for attendees to be exposed to all the shopping delights NYC has to offer. For this landmark edition, the organizers Karen Dubin and Karen Adams decided to give those who would be spending the weekend the opportunity to see something special.

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It was a chance for a consumer to peek behind the curtain to see how perfume is made, which is where Saturday of Fall Ball began. Symrise invited the group up to their Park Avenue offices where the perfumes they work on are composed. Over the course of two panels we were going to go “From Idea to Shelf”.

The first panel was comprised of Symrise employees as they would talk about how Symrise worked as a company in creating fine perfume. The second panel would bring in two of their clients who would interact with some of the same panelists as they gave us the background on their brands.

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Symrise Panelists (l. to r.) Doreen Bucher, Dave Apel, Juilanne Pruett, Caroline Catherine, and Sophie Bensamou

The first panel was moderated by VP of Marketing Doreen Bucher. She introduced us to perfumer David Apel, Julianne Pruett VP of Fine Fragrance who represented sales, evaluator Caroline Catherine, and VP of Fine Fragrance Creation for North America Sophie Bensamou.

The panel was a fascinating look into how it takes an entire team to both land an account and eventually turn it into a fragrance to be sold. It starts at the beginning as all the panelists spoke about how when Ms. Pruett is vying for an account they will all learn as much as they can about that potential client. I learned that the cooperation that takes place in bringing a perfume to life occurs before the first raw material is chosen. Once the account is brought in each of the members of the panel do their jobs. Mr. Apel designs the fragrance, Ms. Bensamou and Ms. Catherine act as liaison between Mr. Apel and the client. That job of evaluator is often that of being the behind-the-scenes influencer. Hearing from both about their jobs is something rarely spoken of in the process of perfume making but it is a critical piece of the process. After the perfume is designed Ms. Bucher works on the marketing of it helping decide on the bottle.

For over 90 minutes this panel kept the entire room leaning in to absorb every word.

After the panel, we took a break to do some shopping at Bergdorf-Goodman on our way to the second panel at Brasserie 8 1/2.

Once again Ms. Bucher was moderating and was joined by Mr. Apel and Ms. Bensamou from the morning panel. The new additions were Eric Korman and Anne Serrano McClain of the brand Phlur along with Joseph Quartana of the new line Les Potions Fatales.

Throughout this panel we gained insight in to that give-and-take that happens during the creation of perfume which lives up to what the client wants. In the case of Les Potions Fatales Mr. Apel had been imaging an idea around the plant foxglove and the fairies who live in those flowers. As Mr. Quartana explained his concept Mr. Apel presented his idea to him. This would result in Digitalis becoming part of the initial collection.

I must thank the team at Symrise for being so willing to spend a Saturday with the group. For the rest of the weekend what we heard in these panels became starting points of discussions which took place as we spent our day walking around sniffing the new perfumes.

This made the twenty-fifth Sniffapalooza one of the most unique events I’ve been to.

Mark Behnke

Sniffapalooza Fall Ball Oct 21-23- Visit a Perfume Company and Shop NYC

Sniffapalooza has been doing events twice a year in New York City for over ten years now. The upcoming Fall Ball will be the twenty-fifth edition of these events. For this anniversary the two founders, Karen Adams and Karen Dubin, have put together a very special program.

On Friday October 21 everyone is invited to visit Twisted Lily in Brooklyn for a special cocktail party where you can mix and mingle with your fellow perfume lovers from 5-9PM while trying the latest new releases.

Here is the very special event for this year’s Fall Ball.

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On Saturday October 22 we will begin the day at 9AM inside the offices of Symrise one of the major perfume companies in the world. At their NYC site while we eat a light breakfast we will listen to a presentation called, “From Idea to Shelf”. We will hear from an entire Symrise team on how a perfume is created and marketed using a recent example of a perfume on the market. This first part is, unfortunately, limited seating so only the first 75 people to sign up will be admitted.

After leaving Symrise we have a little time to stop at Bergdorf-Goodman before heading to lunch at Brasserie 8 ½. Over lunch you will hear a continuation of what we heard from the Symrise team in the morning as two of their most recent clients from Phlur and Potions Fatales talk about their experience creating a new perfume collection with the staff at Symrise.

If you have ever wanted a peek behind the curtain at how perfumes get made Saturday at Sniffapalooza Fall Ball will give you unsurpassed access to the process.

After lunch you will be able to visit the midtown NYC locations of Molton Brown and Penhaligon’s.

The day ends with a luxurious cocktail party sponsored by Parfums de Marly.

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Sunday October 23 is all downtown in what I call The Fragrance District of NYC where single boutiques of some of the most famous niche perfume brands are located.

At 9:30AM Annick Goutal invites us in to their boutique for a mini Master Class and the debut of their latest fragrance, Rose Oud.

After that there are open house events at Diptyque, Le Labo, Atelier Cologne, and Red Flower. Each has special surprises for all Sniffapalooza attendees.

At 1PM yours truly is the host of the lunchtime EAU (Emerging Artisans Uncorked) de Sniffapalooza Showcase. I will open with some thoughts about our fabulous speakers; Stefania Squeglia of Mendittorosa, Stephen Dirkes of Euphorium Brooklyn, and Irina Adam of Phoenix Botanicals.

After lunch you have two choices. One is to visit The Scentarium where for an additional cost you can be guided through the process of designing your own perfume by expert Sue Philips.

Or you can visit the Byredo Flagship Store where their new Unnamed fragrance will be displayed. Then you can end at Harney & Sons Fine Teas to have a cuppa to allow you to reflect on this jam-packed weekend.

If you’ve attended Sniffapalooza before the entire program around Symrise on Saturday is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a consumer to see how perfume is made. Remember the attendance at Symrise is capped at 75 so if this is what you want to see you need to register early.

All of the details can be found at this link.

I really hope to see some of you at the end of the month in NYC. I’ll be the one in the hat and Hawaiian shirt.

Mark Behnke