Independent Perfumery 2018

When I was really starting my descent into perfumed obsession in the early years of the 2000’s it started with the discovery of niche perfumes. What that meant to me were small brands with distinctive artistic aesthetics. Those early years of this century saw the rapid expansion of this style of perfume. Presenting themselves as an alternative to what was available at the mall. It was, and remains, part of the reason I enjoy perfume.

Then in 2006 on the blogs I follow there was mention of this new perfume from Switzerland. A young artist by the name of Andy Tauer had released a perfume called L’Air du Desert Marocain. My perfume world changed again. I discovered there was another world of fragrance makers who worked on their own; independent perfumers. It would be the acclaim for L’Air du Desert Marocain that pointed those who love perfume to a new place.

Every year I am struck by how vital this community is. What spurred me to write this column was my editorial calendar for the next week. One of many important lessons I learned from my Editor-in-Chief at CaFleureBon, Michelyn Camen, is the importance of keeping an editorial calendar. That means I have all the different days subjects planned out in advance. Sometime when I look at my white board I can see patterns which arise out of the list. Looking over next week’s list I saw six wonderful perfumes from six different established independent perfumers. It made me think about where we are now.

One of the things I write about a lot is the concept of a brand aesthetic. It should be easier when an independent perfumer is the only voice in the room. From experience I can tell you it is not. I try a dozen or so new independent brands a year. I provide private feedback which is just between the perfumer and I. One of the more common sentences I write is, “What are you trying to achieve besides smelling good?” The brands which have succeeded have almost always had a personal answer to that. The ones who ask me “What do you mean?” is probably a reason why they don’t succeed.

Proof this has succeeded is there is a part of Hr. Tauer’s perfumes which has been dubbed a “Tauer-ade”. There is a scented fingerprint which says where this perfume came from. The same can be said for Charna Ethier of Providence Perfume Co. or Maria McElroy of Aroma M. I feel if I was handed any of these, and others, perfumes they are identifiable because of this. Independent perfumers can refine a personal vision over every release.

Mandy Aftel

Another more fractious aspect of independent perfumery is very few of them have any formal training. Like all artistic efforts there are the precocious few who are blessed with innate talent. For those the years spent making their perfumes provides its own kind of training; learning through trial and error. That same effort is also rewarded for those who learn entirely from that. Time can be a great leveler. Some of the early founders have become the teachers for those who are drawn to make their own perfume. Mandy Aftel has produced great perfume, under he Aftelier Perfumes label, and a wave of students from her California studio. AbdesSalaam Attar does the same in Europe.

One of the most important aspects of the current state of independent perfumery is the ability of the perfumers to use small batches of amazing ingredients. Particularly over the last few years there have been releases which are made from materials that have been gone from mainstream and niche perfumery due to the difficulty of sourcing enough to produce hundreds of bottles. The independent perfumer can produce tens of bottles if they desire. A good example are the perfumes of Russian Adam under his Areej Le Dore brand. He can source actual musk from the animal through a license he has. Other independent perfumers create their own tinctures, botanical hydrosols, co-distillates, or enfleurage. Each of these create magic. The botanicals sourced by Yasuyuki Shinohara from his home island of Hokkaido, Japan for his Di Ser line are what makes those perfumes unique.

The final thing which has made independent perfumery so important is it lives outside the geography of France, the US, Italy or Great Britain. For over 100 years that was where the perfume we knew came from. Independent perfumery takes place everywhere with the influences of location finding its way into the bottle. All four of the countries where modern perfume was born have their share of independent perfumers who have things to say about that history in their new perfumes. The perspective that comes from elsewhere is invaluable.

If you need the best argument for the importance of independent perfumer in 2018 follow along next week as the perfumes speak for themselves.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review aroma M Camellia- Geisha at Rest

There are so many perfumers who work so very hard to form a brand identity. Then there are others where it feels like an organic extension of who they are. Maria McElroy created her aroma M perfume line in 1995 as an extension of her affection for Japanese art and incense. Over almost twenty years Ms. McElroy has made eight perfume oils and four eau de parfums all meant to portray a different geisha. Each perfume like the variation in kimono or makeup had a distinct personality. I admired Ms. McElroy’s dedication to letting her muse take her where it will. Geisha O-cha was a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Geisha Marron was the French courtesan who formed a mismatch of her Occidental features while wearing a kimono. I only discovered the line in 2011 and it has become one that I keep an eye on because of Ms. McElroy’s singular style. Her latest release Camellia is another entry in her impressive collection.

Ms. McElroy had initially developed Camellia as a line of beauty products; hair oil, face oil, and bath oil. It is said that geisha use camellia oil to remove their make-up and Ms. McElroy was inspired to make her own formula of that product. The funny thing is for a line known for its perfumes there wasn’t an accompanying Camellia perfume oil. After multiple requests Ms. McElroy capitulated and designed two concentrations; perfume oil and eau de parfum. As has been the case with the previous EdP concentrations I find I prefer the oil based formulations better. There is a deeper interaction with the perfume oils and the EdP’s seem to become so expansive that they lose some texture along the way. It is purely a matter of preference as both concentrations are wonderful. I am going to focus on the perfume oil for the rest of this review.

maria mcelroy

Maria McElroy

My imagination takes me to the table where a geisha sits at the end of the evening. She looks in the mirror and uses her camellia oil make-up remover to uncover the person beneath the façade. As the woman underneath the geisha reveals herself she unpins the gardenia from her hair and removes her kimono still holding the scent of the frankincense burning in the main areas of the house. The rose and jasmine also from her hair lies next to the gardenia. As she lies down to sleep the remnants of the camellia oil reminds her who she is before closing her eyes.

Ms. McElroy has made a fantastic deep floral fragrance with Camellia. She opens it with the camellia essential oil on display from the first moments. In those early moments geranium and neroli provide harmony.  The geranium adds a green transparency, the neroli adds a hint of indoles. The heart is a narcotic mix of gardenia and camellia. This is as potent as an opium pipe as it fills every bit of my senses. Ms. McElroy manages to make something encompassing without being overwhelming. Camellia ends on an austere slightly metallic frankincense. The incense really has to push hard to be noticed and it takes hours before it really gains some traction on my skin. Once it does the gardenia camellia and frankincense usher Camellia through its final paces.

Camellia perfume oil has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage. The EdP has 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Camellia is a perfumed homage to a geisha at rest. It feels like the most personal perfume Ms. McElroy has composed to date.  It is the truth behind the illusion. I always prefer the truth.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by aroma M.

Mark Behnke