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 Imaginary Authors Saint Julep- Modern Southern Gothic

If I say, “mint julep” most Americans will reply “Kentucky Derby”. The cocktail has become synonymous with the first jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown. In May of 1982 I was in Louisville, Kentucky on the first Saturday in May to watch Gato del Sol finish first. I also experienced a mint julep for the first time; it was the worst thing about the day. I couldn’t finish the overly sweet mint and bourbon cocktail. There were many at Churchill Downs who also had a few too many making for another unfortunate association with the mint julep. Pair this with my antipathy for mint in perfume and you might perceive that I wasn’t jumping for joy when I received Imaginary Authors Saint Julep.

Josh Meyer

One thing which tempered my dread was the e-mail I received from Josh Meyer the perfumer behind Imaginary Authors. I don’t care for mint in fragrance because it evokes mouthwash, toothpaste, or dental floss. Mr. Meyer communicated to me that he also is not fond of that style of mint either. He wrote that, “I wanted it to smell like mint leaves”. My favorite mint perfumes are those which remember it is an herb before it becomes something on the end of a toothbrush. Even so the mint julep cocktail is a syrupy intense experience. So, mentioning all the ingredients of the cocktail were present in Saint Julep brought back some of the worry. What got me over all of this is Mr. Meyer’s ability to surprise which is what Saint Julep did.

Saint Julep is less about the cocktail and more about the American South and its ability to draw on its Gothic past to create a modern Southern Neo-Gothic. That focal point is the bourbon accord at the center of Saint Julep. The description from Mr. Meyer’s fictitious storyteller, Milton Nevers, goes like this, “On the outskirts of Clarksdale, Mississippi, at the end of a secluded dirt road sat a small ramshackle church. It was not a place of worship but rather where many went to seek refuge during impoverished times. Legend has it the structure was transported to the wild mint field by hand, hoisted on the shoulders of two dozen men. The outside remained simple and nondescript but the interior was aglow with pilfered neon signs, Christmas lights, and a jukebox donated by the sheriff’s son. It was a distinctly secular place where locals who knew where to find it could share moonshine, socialize, and dance their troubles away. They called their ramshackle juke joint Saint Julep and the oral histories compiled within paint a picture of that magical place where “the smiles was always free and salvation had the distinct smell of sweet mint.”

As promised, the mint arrives with its leafy, herbal nature moved forward. Instead of getting syrupy sweet Mr. Meyer instead dusts his mint leaves with crystalline sugar. It is not treacly sweet it is much more muted than that. What mutes it is the use of tangerine. Then magnolia provides a floral bridge to the bourbon accord. The bourbon adds an alcoholic bite along with its own version of sweet which dovetails with the sugared mint leaves. What is so surprising is this part of Saint Julep is light and refreshing; the polar opposite of a mint julep’s density. The base is an ingredient called grisalva which is an ambergris replacement aromachemical which also carries some leather aspects. It is a fine way to finish Saint Julep.

Saint Julep has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Saint Julep is going to be an excellent summer scent. Mr. Meyer has overcome every reservation I had going in. He has delivered a contemporary Southern classic.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Imaginary Authors.

Mark Behnke