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 Zoologist Perfumes Bat- Cave of Creativity

When corresponding with Victor Wong owner and creative director of Zoologist Perfumes on the making of the latest release, Bat; there was a very telling phrase in the words he sent me. He said, “I might add that Zoologist is such a small indie perfume it should take some risks.” I think throughout the five releases to date Mr. Wong and the perfumers he has worked with have not shied away from taking some risks. In the partnership with Dr. Ellen Covey, as the perfumer on Bat, I think this is the furthest the envelope has been pushed so far. It results in a fascinating perfume that captures the animal on the label.

Victor Wong

Victor Wong

Dr. Covey has studied bats as part of her scholarly work at the University of Washington. As a result, she had spent time in the caves they live in during the day. It was her desire to see a bat perfume that caused her to approach Mr. Wong. Together their long-distance back and forth has produced a fragrance that captures not only the creature but its environment. Throughout wearing Bat I felt as if I was searching for a cavern where they were sleeping the day away.

Ellen-Covey


Ellen Covey

My journey begins by finding some assorted tropical fruit half-eaten outside a large limestone cave. Dr. Covey uses a variety of fruit notes on top of a really great moist soil accord. It is as if I reach down to pick up the fruit to observe it as I inhale. The entire top accord is refreshingly different with the mixture of soil and fruit. The next steps are deeper into the cave. Dr. Covey has an array of mineralic notes forming a cave accord. This cave is also covered with vines and roots so she has also added a deep vegetation accord. The fruit has receded but not disappeared as they still litter the cave floor. As the light dims we hear the leathery flutter above our heads and the musky smell of living things comes to the fore. Dr. Covey constructs a fabulous accord which feels furry and alive. It also is modulated by a truly inspired set of notes like myrrh, sandalwood, and leather. These notes impart a depth. Mr. Wong mentioned he wanted darker and Dr. Covey delivered.

Bat has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Bat is an unusual fragrance. In a world where everything converges on the trends it is pleasing to see two people eschew that thinking and head off to their own Bat cave of creativity. Definitely one of the standout new fragrances of 2016.

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

Mark Behnke

When Victor Met Ellen- How Zoologist Bat Took Flight

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One of the more interesting independent brands to spring up has been Zoologist Perfumes. Owner and Creative Director Victor Wong evolved from perfume lover into perfume creator. One thing I have remarked upon is in all of the releases Mr. Wong has been choosing some of the best independent perfumers to work with. I was considering this had to be a unique relationship as most of these perfumers are used to working on their own. How different was it for them when taking input from a creative director? I had the opportunity to explore this with Mr. Wong and the independent perfumer Dr. Ellen Covey on their collaboration for the fifth Zoologist release, Bat.

Victor Wong

Victor Wong

The story begins in April 2015 when Dr. Covey approached Mr. Wong to ask if he was interested in pursuing a “Bat” perfume. Dr. Covey is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Washington. Mr. Wong had not included bat on his list of animals for Zoologist. Dr. Covey’s enthusiasm and knowledge of the animal convinced him to add it in. Then they went to work.

Ellen-Covey

Ellen Covey

Dr. Covey told me, “First off, I would like to say that Victor has been a joy to work with from start to finish. He gave me free rein to initially develop the basic direction of the fragrance as I would have for my own line, with modifications thereafter, in collaboration. He did not give me a budget, so I was able to use the materials I needed, like real sandalwood.”

Mr. Wong was thinking about the concept in general, “But what should Bat smell like? Metallic notes of "blood" and gothic roses came into my mind. Dr. Covey disagreed, "What I envision for Bat is not a 'bright and cheery' fruit salad, but rather a dark musky fruity note that's like the bats' own odor (which is pleasant to humans) along with damp, earthy-mineral limestone caves and tropical vegetation scents. There might also be just a hint of the ganja smoke that I associate with observing bats in Jamaica.  I'm not into doing yet another American pop mythology goth-girl perfume. There have been more than enough of those.”

As Dr. Covey would recall the distance between Washington and Toronto became an issue, “The biggest difference in working with a creative director in another city was the long lag time as each round of mods were shipped and slowly made their way through customs before I could get his feedback. When I’m working on my own, this feedback process happens immediately and almost unconsciously.”

 zoologist bat bottle

Upon receiving the first trials Mr. Wong relates, “I received my first "mods", or perfume mockups in little 5ml sprayer bottles. I think there were 5 or 6 of them; while they all smelled interesting, none of them struck me as I was smelling a "Bat" perfume. Well, except mod #5. When I first sniffed it, I literally laughed out loud, because it smelled exactly like a cave. The olfactive association was so startling that I almost lost it: a scary hollow cave that's earthy, vegetal, moist and full of minerals. Wow. I told Ellen I really loved #5, but I worried that no one would want to wear it. My friends who also had smelled it thought it was interesting but no one would want it. But I trusted my gut instinct that I had something really unprecedented and unique that was worth developing further. (I might add that Zoologist is such a small indie perfume house it should take some risks.)”

Focusing on Mod # 5 the ebb and flow of ideas continued. Dr. Covey was open to showing Mr. Wong what effect some suggested changes could have, “I’m sure Victor won’t mind my saying this, but a few of his suggestions resulted in my sending “caricature” mods to show what would happen if I implemented them in a literal way, thus subtly nudging him in the direction that I thought things should go. He did have many excellent suggestions, all of which I happily implemented.”

One of these ideas from Mr. Wong was to make it darker which would be the final suggestion which pulled Bat together, “At one point I told Ellen that the revisions lacked "darkness", and the vetiver in the base was the last scent to go away and it smelled very fresh, which I thought was not very bat-like. We had some discussions of what ingredients could be added to make it smell "darker". At the end, we added myrrh, which complemented the earthiness of the perfume, some leather and furry musk to make it more animalic, and suddenly the scent came alive.”

Of course coming to a decision that you are done is always difficult and both Dr. Covey, “By the time we got to the last set of mods, I felt like any further suggestions would lead to muddying of the fragrance at worst, and diminishing returns at best. In formulating any fragrance, the trick is to know when to declare it finished. I’m glad we could both agree on when that point had been reached.” And Mr. Wong, “I will be honest with you, deciding which revision is the final product is the hardest thing to do. It is particularly hard when Bat is nothing like anything out there. The decision finally came easy when I told Ellen that I found a particular mod "addictive". I just couldn't stop sniffing it. We both agreed, and I launched that scent on New Year's Eve of 2016.”

The final word on this collaboration comes from Dr. Covey as in a few words she answers the question I posed at the beginning of this, “In the end, I was pleased with the result, and I think Victor was, too. It’s hard to say how different the fragrance would have been if I had done it on my own, because now I can’t envision it any other way. I had fun working on Bat and feel as if I’ve gotten to know Victor as a friend even though I’ve never met him in person.”

My thanks to Victor Wong and Dr. Ellen Covey for being so gracious in allowing me a look behind the curtain at the work it took to create Zoologist Perfumes Bat.

Mark Behnke