The 2017 Midterm Review

We’ve reached the midway point of 2017 which causes me to pause and take stock of what the year has been like in fragrance so far. In very general terms I think it has been the best year at this point since I started Colognoisseur in 2014. Here are some more specific thoughts.

Many of the leaders of artistic perfumery have stepped up in 2017. Alber Elbaz par Frederic Malle Superstitious is an example as perfumer Dominique Ropion working with the other two names on the bottle created a hazy memory of vintage perfume. Christine Nagel composed Hermes Eau des Meveilles Bleue a brilliant interpretation of the aquatic genre. Clara Molloy and Alienor Massenet celebrated ten years of working together with Eau de Memo; it turns into a celebration of what’s right in this sector.

The independent perfumers have continued to thrive. In the independent sector, very individual statements have found an audience. Bruno Fazzolari Feu Secret, Vero Profumo Naja, Imaginary Authors Saint Julep, and Tauer L’Eau. Plus, I have another four I could have added but I haven’t reviewed them yet. My enthusiasm when I do will give them away. There is a bounty of creativity thriving on the outskirts of town.

Standing out on their own. Two perfumers I admire struck out on their own establishing their own brands. Michel Almairac created Parle Moi de Parfum. Jean-Michel Duriez has put his name on the label and opened a boutique in Paris. Both show each perfumer allowing their creativity unfettered freedom to some great results.

-Getting better and better. I look to see if young brands can continue the momentum they begin with. The two Vilhelm Parfumerie releases; Do Not Disturb and Harlem Bloom, have shown this brand is creating a deeply satisfying collection. Masque Milano is also doing that. Their latest release Times Square shows creative directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi are unafraid to take risks. In the case of Times Square, it succeeds. Victor Wong of Zoologist Perfumes keeps trusting his instincts while working with some of the best indie perfumers. He and Shelley Waddington got 2017 off to a flying start with Civet.

-Mass-market has been good but not great. I have found much to like at the mall in the first half of this year. Much more than last year. My problem is I think I’m going to have to remind myself about these perfumes a year from now. I think they are trying to take tiny steps towards something new. It might even be the right choice for this sector of fragrance buyer, the exception is Cartier Baiser Fou. Mathilde Laurent’s evocation of fruit flavored lip gloss; that I’m going to remember.

The Teacher’s Pets are Rodrigo and Luca. Rodrigo Flores-Roux has always been one of my favorite perfumers. For 2017 he has returned to his roots in Mexico where he produced two collections of exceptional perfume. For Arquiste Esencia De El Palacio in conjunction with Carlos Huber they created a luxurious look at the country of their birth. Sr. Flores-Roux then collaborated with Veronica Alejandra Pena on a new line based in Mexico City; Xinu. These were perfumes which allowed him to indulge an indie sensibility. It all came together in Monstera a crunchy green gem of a fragrance. That leaves out the three Black Collection perfumes he did for Carner Barcelona; and those should not be left out.

Luca Maffei is one of the many reasons for the Renaissance of Italian Perfumery. In 2017, it seems like he is trying to prove it all on his own. He has been behind eleven releases by seven different brands. Taken together they show his exceptional versatility. The one which really shows this off is the work he did for Fath’s Essentials. Working with creative director Rania Naim he took all his Italian inspiration and transformed it into a characteristic French aesthetic. Nowhere is this more evident than in Lilas Exquis.

I am glad I still have six months’ time to find some daylight between these two for my Perfumer of the Year. Right now I’d have to declare it a tie.

My overall grade for Perfume 2017 at the midterm is a solid B+ there is much more to be admired than to make me slap my forehead. I am looking forward to the rest of the term to finalize this grade, hopefully upward.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Alber Elbaz par Frederic Malle Superstitious- Dreamy Remembrance

In 2013 Frederic Malle announced he was going to create a sub-collection within the Editions de Parfums. M. Malle was going to work with other creatives with whom he shared inspiration with. The first release Dries van Noten Par Frederic Malle is the last great release from the brand. It absolutely captured the overlap of creative influences of the two minds on the label along with perfumer Bruno Jovanovic. Perhaps naively I was hoping for one every couple of years. Four years on the second has arrived; Alber Elbaz par Frederic Malle Superstitious.

Frederic Malle (l.) and Alber Elbaz

M. Malle returns to the world of fashion to collaborate with Alber Elbaz. M. Elbaz was the head designer at Lanvin from 2001-2015. His collections for Lanvin were influenced by the silhouettes from the 1920’s. As he began to work on the fragrance he was introduced to perfumer Dominique Ropion. M. Ropion and M. Malle have worked together from the beginning of Editions de Parfums. They always have something on the drawing board. One which had been tricky for them was an aldehydic floral which had never quite coalesced into the fragrance they wanted. When M. Elbaz smelled the work in progress he asked if that could be their starting point.

Dominique Ropion

It was an interesting place to start especially since 1927’s Lanvin Arpege is one of the greatest aldehydic florals in all of perfumery. Could M. Elbaz do with perfume what he had done with fashion; modernize the Lanvin of the 1920’s into a child of the 2010’s?

It is difficult to know what was there before M. Elbaz entered the process. What is in the bottle is a clever softening of the aldehydic part by using the apricot and peach versions. They fizz but they don’t overwhelm. There is a softening of the intensity that existed in the past. This carries throughout the development. Turkish rose is there but jasmine is its partner keeping it from turning powdery like the classics generally did. The base is also a deft inversion where M. Ropion lets vetiver take the lead over the patchouli, sandalwood, and labdanum. This adds a blurriness which is appealing. Very late on there is a surprising amount of animalic musk which is the final nod to the classics.

Superstitious has 10-12 hours longevity and average sillage.

Superstitious is like the recollection of something from the distant past. It carries a dreamy hazy kind of memory. Superstitious is that kind of remembrance of a classic aldehydic floral. I think it will appeal to the current consumer of perfume while also pleasing those who love the vintage inspirations behind it. Not an easy balance to strike but Messrs. Malle, Elbaz, et Ropion do it with style.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle.

Mark Behnke