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

New Perfume Review: Bruno Fazzolari & Antonio Gardoni Cadavre Exquis- Franken-gourmand

Over the past two years or so there have been a number of collaborations within the independent perfume community. I have likened it to when two musicians meet at a festival and start jamming together backstage to find there is some artistic commonality to work from. Perfume is not quite as easy as that but when a couple of perfumers get together and start discussing collaboration it is always exciting to see it actually happen. Such is the case with perfumer Bruno Fazzolari and Antonio Gardoni of Bogue Profumo.

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Bruno Fazzolari

Mr. Fazzolari has been one of the most interesting independent perfume stories. I only really had the pleasure of trying his entire collection in the last year. He has that outsider mindset which most often goes wrong. For him it allows for a way of thinking about perfume by melding it with his color sense as a painter that has resulted in one of the great indie collections.

antonio gardoni

Antonio Gardoni

Sig. Gardoni came at his independent perfume career from a different place; a more classical one. He acquired a perfumer’s laboratory from the 1940’s. After spending time with each of the materials he had, he began to compose starting with a recipe that came with the bottles. His brand has evolved since then and he has made some of the best retro nouveau perfumes of the last two years.

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"Cadavre Exquis" (1927) by Man Ray, Joan Miro, Yves Tanguy, and Max Morise

When the two met they decided on a very unique version of a perfume collaboration. They wanted to do a fragrant version of the 1920’s artists parlor game cadavre exquis. The way that game went was a group of artists, four usually, would collaborate by each drawing on a page and after finishing cover up their contribution. The next artist would then add to the drawing and cover up their contribution and so on until all four had gone. There are examples of the work in museums all over the world. The example above hangs in MoMA in NYC and was done in 1927 by artists Man Ray, Yves Tanguy, Joan Miro, and Max Morise. It is sort of an artistic Frankenstein which manages to lurch into life. Mr. Fazzolari and Sig. Gardoni wanted to do the same and they gave their perfume the same name, Cadavre Exquis.

They further decided that the genre they wanted to work in was the gourmand. The way they played the game was starting with Sig. Gardoni they sent vials back and forth as each added something to it. Not quite as blind as the artist’s game but still each new addition was going to inspire the next. The resulting perfume is as completely original as you might expect.

Right from the beginning of Cadavre Exquis you can see the idea of experimentation. In the booklet which comes with the perfume one of the perfumers mentions his take on how he sees this gourmand. “Think about a potion from 100 years ago….sold by a magician, a “doctor”….a power-food, a love elixir with an almost disturbing smell….think…CAMPHOR!” It is this which greets you upon spraying on Cadavre Exquis it is contrasted with the more usual citrus notes of bergamot and blood orange. I love this opening the camphor immediately lets you know this is an experiment. The heart is dominated by a rich cacao absolute which wraps up the camphor in an embrace and doesn’t let go. This camphoraceous chocolate accord is the beating heart of Cadavre Exquis. Over the next few hours the sense of cadavre exquis the game is most apparent as different floral and herbal notes are used to change this outré gourmand accord. The unctuous nature of ylang ylang oozes across it. The acerbic nature of tagetes pierces it. Star anise amplifies it. Finally, stewed fruit adds an alternative sweetness; a kind of decaying almost rotted version. That degree of decay is what leads in to the base accord centered around the animalic ingredients of civet and castoreum. They add the entropy to the cleaner sweet woodiness of cypress, benzoin, and vanilla.

Cadavre Exquis has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Cadavre Exquis the perfume is a much more complete artistic vision than the visual pieces from the 1920’s. That is not surprising because the perfumers didn’t work as completely uninformed.  Even so the melding of the classic and the synesthetic works in a much more satisfying way that I could have imagined. Cadavre Exquis is a Franken-gourmand which is delightfully alive.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by the perfumers.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Bruno Fazzolari Seyrig- Big Aldehydes

It will come as no surprise to anyone that the chemist loves aldehydes in his perfumes. I like the versatility they bring. I like that they make an impression and then get out of the way for the rest of the perfume to develop. Like an opening act sometimes it sets the stage and sometimes it steals the show. When I received my sample of the latest perfume from Bruno Fazzolari, Seyrig it was right there in the intro; “inspired by the aldehydic motifs of the late 60’s and early 70’s”. This was going to be fun.

Those motifs that Mr. Fazzolari is trying to capture was the perfume industry trying to be mod during the era when being that was desired. I think the aldehyde behemoths of those years came about because perfumers could use them to give a kind of counterculture riff to a traditional construction. Like looking back over forty years later what was once edgy is now dated. Miniskirts and hippies seem like the latter half of the twentieth century companion to flapper dresses and the lost generation. In the eye of time it just seems quaint.

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Bruno Fazzolari

Mr. Fazzolari did have an aim in mind when wanting to go big with his aldehydes. He wanted to make Seyrig an “artistic impression” of the Syringa flower which can’t be extracted. Syringa is a lilac variant and its natural smell is also similar to what we think of as lilac. It carries a more metallic edge than traditional lilac and that’s where Mr. Fazzolari probably decided to go round up the aldehydes to provide that character. Aldehydes have many faces to show and the ones in Seyrig are very soapy early on before settling down to the more hair spray-like version most often associated with the era Mr. Fazzolari is trying to emulate. Underneath is a mix of florals to help assemble the Syringa accord.

Seyrig opens with those aldehydes sizzling off of my skin. Underneath is a pretty rose de mai and red mandarin. For the first half an hour this smells like a sophisticated French milled rose and citrus soap. It isn’t until that time passes that the soapier aldehydes are gone and what is left now encases the rose and mandarin in a cloud of Aqua Net. This is what I like my aldehydes to be. As this accord settles in ylang ylang and orris join it. Then like an apparition a lilac accord arises which with the top accord still present creates the Syringa facsimile. It is exceptionally done as Mr. Fazzolari gets it just right. The base notes are the greenness of oakmoss in contrast to the aldehydes and a musk cocktail which complements the aldehydes.

Seyrig has ridiculous longevity. It lasted well over 24 hours and I think without a shower it might have lasted another day. The sillage is also prodigious.

Seyrig is not perfume for the masses it is a fragrance for those who are already converts to the unusual. It delivers on capturing that late 60’s early 70’s vibe. It equally delivers on creating a different kind of lilac accord. Finally it delivers as another example of Mr. Fazzolari’s artist’s eye as applied to the olfactory. It makes Seyrig one of the most interesting perfumes of the year.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Luckyscent.

Mark Behnke

Perfume Reviews Bruno Fazzolari Au Dela and Room 237- Dreams & Terror

Bruno Fazzolari Au Dela is a modern chypre inspired by the music of French composer Olivier Messaien. Specifically Mr. Fazzolari based it on the Fifth Movement of M. Massaien’s last work “Eclairs sur L’Au Dela” (Flashes of the Beyond). This movement is the only soft dreamy movement within the work everything else is full of percussion and flash. Only here are you expected to linger and smell the roses. The perfume based on this also asks you to let it develop in a less flashy way. It asks you to take it in as it fully forms a chypre on your skin.

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Bruno Fazzolari

Au Dela opens on an herbal shot of coriander with a bit of bergamot. For the first few minutes it is all about the coriander. The heart is all white flowers neroli, orange flowers, and jasmine. I love indoles and white flowers can have a lot or a little and usually a perfumer picks one side of the coin and works from there. Mr. Fazzolari stakes out a more difficult middle ground where he domesticates the snarling ferocity of the indoles into something docile. They have an unusual luminosity to them made even more brilliant by the floralcy that goes with them. As I wore Au Dela many times I expected the indoles to slip the leash and start growling but they never do, they stayed perfectly behaved. Mr. Fazzolari trots out the oakmoss and amber to provide the traditional chypre basics. Because he is independent this is the real stuff and it is glorious in its depth. It creates a platform upon which the white flowers rest to complete the chypre picture. Au Dela has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

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From Stanley Kubrick's The Shining

Mr. Fazzolari’s newest release is Room 237. If you are a fan of the Stanley Kubrick movie “The Shining” then you get the reference. For those who aren’t, a quick summary. A family is left to be caretaker of a Rocky Mountain summer resort over the long winter. The hotel is called The Overlook and the young son in the family, who has psychic powers, is warned by the cook before he leaves not to go into Room 237. It wouldn’t be a horror movie if everyone in the family didn’t eventually end up in Room 237 at some point. One of the hallmarks of The Shining was Mr. Kubrick’s almost glacial pace at building up to a jolt. No sawing violins to denote the impending terror here it is all seen through the eyes of the protagonists. Room 237 as a perfume is meant to capture that sense of opening doors into dangerous forbidden places. As a result Room 237 is a perfume that is going to deeply unsettle some and others are fearlessly going to turn the key and enter. Follow me as I take you inside.

As we turn the key on the door a mix of angelica, fleabane, and tarragon form a weird accord. It has a sort of miasmic shifting quality as the fleabane and the tarragon have off-center herbal characteristics and the angelica is the only normal kind of note. You can feel the hair on the back of your neck rise as we push into the room. There is a woman stepping out of bath she carries a fresh washed skin smell courtesy of oppoponax and olibanum. She also carries an aura which seems like decomposing wood along with the cleanliness which comes from costus. We should run now but we stand transfixed as she beckons us closer. In the mirror we see she has been in the water too long as flesh sloughs off her back. As we get close she wraps us up, too tightly, in the plastic shower curtain as we are enveloped in it. Mr. Fazzolari has created a powerful plastic accord reminiscent of freshly unpacked shower curtain and it dominates the final part of the development of Room 237. I know my fanciful story might make you wary of Room 237 and in less prosaic terms it really is Mr. Fazzolari working on a perfume which is meant to be emotionally provocative. If you’re willing to go along for the ride you will have a singular experience which only an independent perfumer can provide. Room 237 has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

All four of the fragrances I tried by Mr. Fazzolari show a perfumer inspired by art, music, and film. They show a perfumer who can comfort and discombobulate. They show an artist who is fearlessly exploring all that perfume can attempt to communicate. If you haven’t already look these perfumes up they are exquisite examples of one man’s vision.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Bruno Fazzolari.

Mark Behnke

Perfume Reviews Bruno Fazzolari Monserrat and Lampblack- Ink on Plaster

Some of my favorite independent perfumers have come to it from a beginning in the visual arts, particularly painting. I have known about San Francisco-based artist Bruno Fazzolari for over a year but I only really had a chance to sniff the one of his early perfumes, Lampblack, which has garnered the most press. Mr. Fazzolari contacted me just after the beginning of the year and subsequently sent me four samples of his creations and I’ve now had a real opportunity to live with them. All four of them have a fantastic “visual” component to them as he creates perfumes which drew me into a world of color and texture. Over the next two days I’m going to review all four. Today I’ll start with Monserrat and Lampblack.

monserrat visual

All of Mr. Fazzolari’s perfumes match a painting with the fragrance. Monserrat came from a painting which was exhibited at the Jancar Jones Gallery in Los Angeles. Mr. Fazzolari was “thinking of worn and repainted urban walls and the matte surfaces of Italian fresco painting”. He was also inspired by the paint color Montserrat Orange which is an orange with a distinct pink quality to it. I consider it a skewed orange not pink nor orange but something in between. Mr. Fazzolari seems to be working towards that kind of marriage of influences looking for something like a fruity floral but not really what we think of as a fruity floral.

Monserrat opens with a burst of tart pink grapefruit sweetened with carrot seed. The carrot seed has a really pleasant balancing effect with the grapefruit. This moves into a jasmine and osmanthus floral heart. Here Mr. Fazzolari uses the osmanthus to make the jasmine less indolic and floral and something with more prominent fruity aspects. The apricot and leather quality of osmanthus is very evident. The base is the smell of plaster walls or wet dry wall, whether classic or modern this accord provides a distinctly grounding aspect as Mr. Fazzolari primarily uses a mixture of white musks to produce his accord for his fruity floral color to settle upon. Monserrat has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

lampblack visual

If Monserrat is an affable fruity floral, Lampblack is a deeply threatening meditation on inky darkness. Mr. Fazzolari describes his goal with Lampblack to “create a transparent, colorful darkness.” He succeeds at those diametrically opposed goals by using nagarmotha in one of the more unique applications of the note most usually called “oud” in other fragrances. Here he takes that faux-oud and gives it its own distinct identity.

Lampblack opens on a citrus and black pepper duet. The pepper is more forward as it should be the citrus adds interesting contrast. Mr. Fazzolari then begins to assemble his fast moving shadows as nagarmotha, benzoin, and vetiver ghost through my consciousness like wraiths in the night. There are times that it seems one surrounds me only for another to chase it off. The whole construction of Lampblack feels like an exercise in chasing shadows in a dark alley. There is a reason Lampblack is so acclaimed because it has a unique layering of textures not often found in perfumery. Lampblack has 8-10 hour sillage and moderate sillage.

Tomorrow I’ll review Au Dela and Room 237.

Disclosure: this review was based on samples provided by Bruno Fazzolari.

Mark Behnke

All paintings by Bruno Fazzolari.