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.
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.
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 3 is my Top 25 New Perfumes of 2017