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 Hermes Eau des Merveilles Bleue- Nagel’s Miracle Mineral Water

If there is a perfume series on which to take the temperature of an in-house perfumer at Hermes it might be the Merveilles series. Begun in 2004 with Eau des Merveilles by perfumers Ralf Schwieger and Nathalie Feisthauer. It was meant to be a salute to ambergris and it was amazing in its ability to capture the subtlety of that important fragrance ingredient. Just after Jean-Claude Ellena was named in-house perfumer one of his earliest compositions was Elixir des Merveilles. M. Ellena’s take was to float the ambergris not on top of the ocean but instead a sea of luscious chocolate. It has always been my opinion that this was M. Ellena’s response to Thierry Mugler Angel as a way of doing a sophisticated gourmand. M. Ellena would do another in 2012 L’Ambre des Merveilles which was more in keeping with his minimalist aesthetic. Now that Christine Nagel has taken over as in-house perfumer at Hermes it is her turn to add to the Merveilles line; Eau des Merveilles Bleue.

Christine Nagel

Mme Nagel decides to concentrate on the eau of the ocean for this latest Merveilles. It is a fascinating commentary on how the aquatic genre can be re-invigorated with imagination and the by resisting using Calone along with the other typical ozonic notes. In the press materials, there is this quote from Mme Nagel, “I marveled at the pebbles, wet from the ocean; they had such a particular color and luminosity, and I discovered on them a salty, mineral taste”. Instead of going for sea spray and ozone Mme Nagel chooses to go for stone and salt as she translates that “salty, mineral taste” into a perfume.

The juxtaposition of those two inspirations shows up right away. A mineralic accord is matched with a sea salt accord. To mimic the luminosity of the brine covered pebbles Mme Nagel shines a shaft of lemon to provide the sparkle of sunlight off the pebble in your hand. Then the tide goes out leaving the pebble drying out on a piece of driftwood as at least a couple of the dry woody aromachemicals are used to create a soft desiccated wood accord. All during this the mineralic accord transforms from damp stone into dried earth. The base is a mixture of white musks and patchouli. As in the previous development Mme Nagel is keeping this on the drier side which makes me think this is a fractionated patchouli being used but I am not sure of that. The bottom line is this ends in an accord of the sand drying out as the waves recede with the tide.

Eau des Merveilles Bleue has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

For nearly twenty years I avoided the aquatic genre because of its banality. In the last couple of years, I have been shown time and time again that banality is due to lack of creativity. When a perfumer really is given the freedom to create even in what seems like an overexposed segment of fragrance they can show you there is lots of space to be explored. Mme Nagel has shown that the aquatic genre is not played out it just needs imagination. She has created a new aquatic which I know I will be wearing a lot as the days get warmer. Eau des Merveilles translates to “miracle water”. Eau des Merveilles Bleue should translate to Miracle Mineral Water.

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

Mark Behnke