Colognoisseur 2016 Year-End Review Part 2- Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, & Brand of the Year

As I mentioned in Part 1 2016 is the beginning of a generational shift in perfumery. The winners I am going to highlight next are all emblematic of that kind of change.

Perfume of the Year: Masque Milano L’Attesa– One of the emerging initiatives over the course of 2016 has been the confidence owners and creative directors have placed in young perfumers. For a brand, it is safer to round up one of the more established names. It takes a bit of faith to place the success of your business in the hands of an emerging artist. The team behind Masque Milano, Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi, have taken on this philosophy wholeheartedly. Particularly over the last four releases since 2013; Tango by Cecile Zarokian, Russian Tea by Julien Rasquinet, and Romanza by Cristiano Canali, began the trend. This year’s release L’Attesa by Luca Maffei took it to a new level.

Riccardo Tedeschi, Luca Maffei, and Alessandro Brun (l. to r.)

I spent time with the creative team when they unveiled L’Attesa at Esxence 2016. I think when you do something creative you have a sense when you have done great work. That day in Milan all three men radiated that kind of confidence; with good reason. Sig. Maffei would combine three sources of iris to provide a strong core of the central note. Early on there is a champagne accord that is not meant to be the bubbly final product but the yeasty fermentation stage. It turns the powdery iris less elegant but more compelling for its difference. Through a white flower heart to a leathery finish L’Attesa is as good as it gets.

Cecile Zarokian with Puredistance Sheiduna

Perfumer of the Year: Cecile Zarokian– Majda Bekkali Mon Nom est Rouge, in 2012, was the first perfume by Cecile Zarokian which made me think she was something special. Over the years since then she has done some spectacular work but 2016 was an exceptional year. Mme Zarokian produced thirteen new releases for seven different brands. I chose her because of the breadth of the work she turned in over the year. I am reasonably certain that this kind of output has rarely been matched. The pinnacle of this group was her re-formulation of Faths Essentials Green Water. Mme Zarokian accomplished the near impossible by formulating a 2016 version which is as good as the original. She did this because she understood what made the original was its ridiculous concentration of neroli oil. She convinced creative director Rania Naim to spend the money for this now precious material to be replicated in the same concentration. This made Green Water amazingly true to its name.

She would recreate a Persian feast in Parfums MDCI Fetes Persanes. Picking up on some of the same themes she would infuse some of the gourmand elements into a rich oud in Making of Cannes Magie du Desert.  She modernized the oud in Hayari New Oud. In Uer Mi OR+Cashmere she creates a hazelnut rum cocktail. Laboratorio Olfattivo Nerotic goes for a more narcotic effect. Finally working with creative director Jan Ewoud Vos they conspired to reinterpret the Oriental creating a contemporary version in Puredistance Sheiduna.

Every perfume she made this year was worth smelling. As this next generation of perfumers moves into the next phase Mme Zarokian is going to be right there in the front pushing perfumery forward. For this joie de vivre about perfumery Cecile Zarokian is my Perfumer of the Year.

Runner-Ups: Luca Maffei, Quentin Bisch, Christine Nagel, Jerome Epinette, Rodrigo Flores-Roux, and Antonio Gardoni.

Creative Director of the Year: Victor Wong of Zoologist Perfumes- For the ten years plus I’ve been writing about perfume I have chanted a single mantra; embrace difference, don’t play it safe, stake out an artistic vision and stick with it. There are way too few who embrace this. Because it isn’t easy there is a graveyard of some who tried and failed. All of which makes what Victor Wong has been doing with his brand Zoologist Perfumes more admirable. Two years ago, he started Zoologist Perfumes making the transition from enthusiast to owner/creative director. He wanted to work with some of the most talented artisanal perfumers to produce his perfumes. What is so refreshing about this approach is he has been working with many of the most recognizable artisans providing them outside creative direction for one of the few times. What it has elicited from these perfumers is often among the best work they have produced. For the three 2016 releases Bat with Ellen Covey, Macaque with Sarah McCartney, and Nightingale with Tomoo Inaba this has been particularly true. Bat is one of the perfumes which was in the running for my Perfume of the Year. Macaque and Nightingale do not play it safe in any way. This makes for a perfume brand which does not look for the lowest common denominator but asks if there is something more beautiful in unfettered collaboration. For Victor Wong and Zoologist Perfumes 2016 answers this with a resounding yes which is why he is my choice for Creative Director of the Year.

Runner-Ups: Jan Ahlgren (Vilhelm Parfumerie), Ben Gorham (Byredo), Roberto Drago (Laboratorio Olfattivo), and Carlos Huber (Arquiste).

Brand of the Year: Hermes– In 2003 Hermes in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena would begin his tenure. Over the next thirteen years his overall collection for the brand has defined a modern aesthetic which now has become synonymous with the brand as much as silk scarves and fine leather goods. When it was announced two years ago, Christine Nagel would begin the transition to becoming the new in-house perfumer there was some concern. I was not one of those who had any worries. Mme Nagel felt like a natural evolution from M. Ellena. 2016 proved my surmise to be true as M. Ellena released his presumed final two fragrances for the brand, Eau de Neroli Dore and Hermessence Muguet Porcelaine while Mme Nagel released her first two, Eau de Rhubarbe Ecarlate and Galop D’Hermes. The passing of the torch could not have gone smoother. Hermes is in great hands as the next generation takes over. That this was accomplished so beautifully effortless is why Hermes is my Brand of the Year.

Runner-Ups: Byredo, Vilhelm Parfumerie, Tauer Perfumes/Tauerville, and Zoologist Perfumes.

Part 1 was my broad overview of the year yesterday.

Part 3 tomorrow will be my Top 25 new perfumes of 2016.

Mark Behnke

Hermes 101- Five to Get You Started

If you say Hermes to most people they will respond with Birkin Bag or Scarves. While the leather and silk are what Hermes is more famous for; among perfume lovers it also produces some great fragrances. Since 2003 Hermes perfumes have become almost synonymous with in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena. M. Ellena has produced an impressive body of work but there were some other Hermes perfumes worth remembering from before his tenure. If you’re looking to dive into the brand here are five I think would be good starting points.

My introduction to Hermes came in a shower at a luxury resort in the mid 1980’s. There was this striking colored miniature blue bottle with my toiletries which had this incredible smell of oranges. After asking I found out it was Eau D’Orange Verte. Perfumer Francoise Caron makes a perfume which lives up to its name with a fabulous orange and for the verte, lily of the valley and oakmoss. I still wear this a lot every summer because it is so good.

In 2004 perfumers Nathalie Feisthauer and Ralf Schwieger would collaborate on a more briny take on citrus with Eau des Merveilles. Opening on a blast of orange and lemon which lead to an ambergris accord. It all settles on a balsamic vetiver base.

un jardin sur le nil

One of the great collections within the Hermes brand is the Un Jardin Collection composed by M. Ellena. Of the five in the collection my favorite is Un Jardin Sur Le Nil. This is M. Ellena at his most evocative as he captures a night spent next to the Nile. The top notes of grapefruit, tomato leaf, and carrot are still one of the most unique accords I’ve encountered. Together they form a vegetal green accord with a hint of sulfur. The heart is the smell of the river from lotus and calamus paired with the lush fruitiness of mango. The base is the best part as M. Ellena captures the smooth river stones as incense skirls across the wet surfaces. Every time I wear this I feel transported.

In 2006 M. Ellena created one of the great masculine perfumes of the 21st century in Terre D’Hermes. He placed a tart citrus top into a woody heart to end on another brilliantly constructed mineral accord. The grapefruit is rich and tart. The woodiness comes through a high percentage of aromachemical Iso E Super. This all ends on a parched earth accord. Terre D’Hermes was an instant classic from the very moment it debuted.

The other great collection within Hermes is M. Ellena’s Hermessences. These have often been described as M. Ellena’s olfactory haiku. He manages to create perfume with impact using a much abbreviated set of raw materials. That simplicity makes every one of the collection worth experiencing but the place to start is with 2011’s Santal Massoia. For this entry M. Ellena takes a candied coconut on top which segues into a creamy heart before getting to a transparent woody base of sandalwood and massoia wood.

Hermes is one of the best of the designer houses when it comes to perfumes and has shown their commitment to quality over the years. There is plenty to enjoy after trying the five above.

Disclosure: This review based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke