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 House of Matriarch Kazimi- In The Heart

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One of the thrills of Cosmoprof North America was to actually meet in person independent perfumer Christi Meshell. I have been impressed with the arc of her career since I became aware of her in 2010. Over six short years she has evolved her small indie perfume brand, House of Matriarch, in to a true brand which is now being sold at Nordstrom department stores across the US. This broadening of her audience as well as her brand is a welcome thing. Ms. Meshell has always had a consistent aesthetic which she has developed assiduously. Particularly the last three years have seen that inflection point I write about so often with self-taught perfumers. There is that moment when the raw talent becomes more refined while truly realizing a particular vision. That happened in 2012 with the release of Black No. 6 (known as Blackbird back then) and Coco Blanc. These were fragrances with definitive intent behind them which Ms. Meshell realized. They changed the way I looked at her as a perfumer and held her later releases to a higher standard; one which she has had no problem keeping up with. She was ready to take the bold step of branching out.

christi meshell

Christi Meshell

While we were talking at Cosmoprof I was talking about her inflection point moment. She thought maybe her next release was going to be another of those. She pulled out a small tester of this new perfume Kazimi. She told me she has been working on it for three years which definitely showed in what was coming to my nose off of the strip. I was looking forward to being home where I could test it all on its own.

Kazimi is an alternative spelling of the astrological tern “cazimi” which means “in the heart”. Ms. Meshell has also given it the subtitle of “Blue Rose”. Kazimi is a perfume which comes alive in the heart of an exotic rose never grown in any garden. Kazimi is a blend of multiple rose sources into a supernatural olfactory fantasy of a rose.

blue rose

Ms. Meshell uses as her opening rose an attar-like rose oil called “ruh gulab”. It is composed primarily of rose damascene grown in the Indian Himalayas. Ms. Meshell adds a freshening effect by using white ginger to fizz across the face of the intense rose. Ms. Meshell adds in a tincture of rose damascena which provides a different face of the same rose in the top; less deep and more of the petals. That effect is substantiated with the use of a rose oil only from the petals. This is like a rose completely balled up with hundreds of petals ready to burst. Which it does into a woody base of wild crafted cedar, oakmoss, and green heart wood. This provides a similar effect that sandalwood does in traditional attars. The woody notes pull the rose away from the core of it all and more towards the simple pleasures of the petals. This is where Kazimi stays for hours on my skin. Ambergris and Africa stone show up later on but they add just a hint of muskiness.

Kazimi has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I have worn Kazimi a few times since my return from Cosomoprof . each time I wear it I am more impressed with it as a complete construction. It continues to display the ever expanding abilities of Ms. Meshell as a perfumer and an artist. It also has connected the best on an emotional level with me as this kind of rose is what I prefer to wear. Kazimi has found itself in the heart of this perfume lover.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by House of Matriarch.

Mark Behnke

Cosmoprof North America 2016 Day 2 Wrap-Up- The Crossroads of Tech and Scent

One of the overarching themes of this year’s Discover Scent at Cosmoprof North America 2016 is that there is more to fragrance than just perfume. I started Day 2 speaking with the team behind X Sense. Co-founder Dr. Ashok Gowda presented a product where specific scent blends are meant to provide boosts to memory (worksense), sleep, (restsense) and athletic endurance (playsense). Each of these were studied in clinical trials which showed significant percentage increases. The blend is meant to be rolled on underneath your nose with a rollerball design to make it convenient. I find the idea interesting backed up with data gathered in clinical settings. Dr. Gowda has his degree in biomedical engineering which makes me more confident in their conclusions.

The next stop was my first meeting in real life with perfumer Christi Meshell the founder of House of Matriarch. This past year or so has been a transformative time for Ms. Meshell’s brand as she is one of the rare independent perfumers who has expanded into a wider retail space. She began having her perfumes carried by Nordstrom. I’ve written often about how important I think it is to have an independent perfumer breakthrough at the mall. Having the opportunity to check in with her shows a perfumer and brand representative who is passionately dedicated to trying to achieve this. More importantly I got a preview sniff of her next new release, Kazimi. I wore this on one arm for most of the day. My first impression is this is one of her best.

discover scent banner

Abby Wallach co-founder of ScentInvent Technologies introduced me to Linger Lasting Fragrance Primer. Certainly one of the more prevalent consumer complaints is the lasting power of some of their favorite perfumes. Linger is a skin treatment you apply prior to spraying on your perfume. This morning I treated one arm with Linger and the other with nothing. The perfume I sprayed on the Linger patch lasted hours longer than the untreated arm. If you have wanted something which can increase the longevity of a lighter perfume Linger seems to be able to do the trick.

As a blogger with a long time relationship with many brands it can sometimes be frustrating waiting for something I’ve smelled years ago to be released. This was the case with Raw Spirit the fragrance line which has made it a point to use indigenous materials from around the world. What had me anticipating this new release, Mystic Pearl, is the second word in the name. The perfumers have made an extract of pearl which adds an incredible brininess. It is very different than ambergris. This seems saltier which allows it to become more of a focal element to the rest of the perfume.

One more day left in Vegas.

Until then Colognoisseur has left the building.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review House of Matriarch Albatross- Getting Littoral About It

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One of my wishes every year is for one of the cadre of independent perfumers to have a mainstream success. One of the first steps towards this is for these perfumes to become more readily available to the perfume consumer. Which means it somehow has to make it to the mall. There have been a few who have taken the initiative to do just that. One of the most current efforts is independent perfumer Christi Meshell’s House of Matriarch launching a collection of nine fragrances, old and new, in Nordstrom’s across the country. I am rooting for Ms. Meshell because she has developed into an assured artist over the time I have followed her fragrances. I believe she offers an alternative to what else will be found on Nordstrom’s fragrance counter. If these can entice a few of those consumers over to something less commercial in aesthetic this could be the start of my wish coming true.

One of the ways to coax someone into becoming more adventurous is to give them a different riff on a style they know well. One of the perfumes, House of Matriarch Albatross, attempts this with the woody aquatic genre. Ms. Meshell was inspired by the Salish Sea area of her native Pacific Northwest. In that area of the world the pine trees grow right down to the rocky shoreline while the slate grey cold ocean laps against the craggy strand. This zone where the land meets the water is called the Littoral zone. Ms. Meshell uses Albatross as a literal interpretation of the littoral of the Salish Sea.

Christi-Meshell

Christi Meshell

What separates independent perfumery from the mainstream is the ability to use unusual ingredients. Ms. Meshell doesn’t conjure the ocean by throwing a ton of Calone into Albatross and moving on. Her marine accord accentuates the cool salinity of the ocean water and not the warm sea spray so prevalent within the aquatic genre. It is that chilly watery accord which opens Albatross. This then captures the evergreens on the shore with a mixture of cork oak and pinon oil. This has a sharp woody quality which is the perfect conjuration of this milieu as the cold breeze bites a bit when you breathe deeply. Albatross has a similar bite as the pines ride the wave of the marine accord. Over a few hours the pine mellows and dries out into what Ms. Meshell calls a driftwood accord. What this means is early on the pine accord is sappy. By the later parts of the drydown that sappiness is gone leaving a drier more austere version of the pine.

Albatross has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I’ve never visited the Salish Sea but I’ve spent a lot of time in the East Coast version of the Littoral zone of Acadia National Park in Maine. Albatross accurately captures that intersection of brine and pine, literally.

Disclosure; This review was based on a sample provided by House of Matriarch.

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur 2016 Hopes and Wishes

As we reach the last day of 2015 it is time to look forward to 2016. Here are some things I am anticipating and/or hoping for.

christine nagel

Christine Nagel

The first fragrance from Christine Nagel for Hermes. This is a holdover from last year. I expected this to happen in 2015 but I will be very surprised if I am typing this for the third time at the end of next year. I firmly believe she is the right successor to Jean-Claude Ellena. I just want to see what she does first.

I want another great Guerlain. Over the last two years Guerlain has fallen into that pitfall of complacency. They have made solid perfume which has been so safe. It has been three years since the release of Rose Nacree du Desert, which was the last one to slay me. Surely when you are releasing over a dozen new releases per year there is a spot for something less safe and more different.

I still want that big crossover success for an independent perfumer. This has been a hope for as long as I’ve been blogging. It hasn’t quite come true yet. Although the move of Christi Meshell of House of Matriarch and Raymond Matts taking their perfumes into Nordstrom is one element that will be needed to make this come true.

perfumed-plume

I want the inaugural edition of The Perfumed Plume to be a big success. For too long as a US writer I’ve been envious of my European colleagues who have yearly awards for their writing. Lyn Leigh and Mary Ellen Lapsansky have established The Perfumed Plume to be the American version. I think there is a lot of great writing happening in the fragrant blogosphere and I want to see it recognized appropriately.

I wish for new brands to start with no more than three to five debut releases. 2015 saw more new brands coming to the market with ten or more entries. This kind of business plan is unsustainable because the little boutiques which are the life blood for a new niche brand can’t just give over shelf space for ten new perfumes with no audience. If you have ten great ideas please pick your three best and build an audience; for the other seven.

vero pensive

Vero Kern

I am hoping for a new Vero Kern release. After taking 2015 off I suspect that 2016 will bring us the follow-up to Rozy. Please don’t make me wait too long Vero.

I hope for the continued success of initiatives like Tauerville. Andy Tauer’s Tauerville line is a great introduction to independent perfumery at an attractive price point paired with perfumes which display that indie ethos. I would like to see some others make an effort to try something similar.

I ended last year’s column with this:

One non-perfume hope is for the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens to be the Star Wars movie I’ve been waiting thirty years for. I think JJ Abrams is the man who can actually pull that off.

Sometimes wishes do come true.

On this New Year’s Eve I convey to all the readers of Colognoisseur the Happiest of New Year’s wishes. May all of them come true in 2016.

Mark Behnke