Colognoisseur 2017 Year-End Review Part 2- Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, & Brand of the Year

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Yesterday, in Part 1, I took a broad view of 2017. Today I take a very focused look at the year naming my best of the best.

Perfume of the Year: Ineke Idyllwild– I met independent perfume Ineke Ruhland in April 2009. My editor at the time Michelyn Camen would introduce me to her in the perfume department of Takashimaya in New York City. She had just made one of the best perfumes I had tried in Field Notes from Paris. I was doing a bit of fanboy gushing. She smiled, listened to my insensate gibbering; then after I calmed down we began to connect. Ms. Ruhland has been one of my very favorite indie perfumers ever since I discovered her Alphabet series. It is a near-perfect collection of perfume. She continually produced releases until 2012 and then nothing. Two years ago at Pitti in Florence she had a stand where she was showing the next two letters in the Alphabet Collection “I” & “J”. “I” was one of my favorites of the entire exposition. I excitedly waited to write about it when it was released. And I waited. And I waited. Almost exactly two years later Idyllwild was released.

Ineke Ruhland

Idyllwild is emblematic of why I admire Ms. Ruhland as she takes a classic perfume style, fougere, then transforms it into something contemporary. From the typical lavender and citrus opening through a pine tree heart to delicate tendrils of smoke this is expertly blended. Supporting notes of green cardamom, rhubarb tea, and a fabulously delicate oud accord for her smoke show her skill. Ms. Ruhland combines the technical expertise with the artist’s soul to make Idyllwild my Perfume of the Year.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux

Perfumer of the Year: Rodrigo Flores-Roux– I can’t remember the first time I met Sr. Flores-Roux but the one thing I know with certainty he was smiling. While I don’t remember the first time, my most memorable meeting took place in October 2012. Sr. Flores-Roux along with Arquiste creative director Carlos Huber were presenting the new brand at the Mexican Embassy’s Cultural Center. I have never forgotten the following quote from his remarks that night, “Maybe I can cite a Mexican poet, Carlos Pellicer, who always praised the beauty of the Mexican tropics: the Mexican people have two obsessions: we are interested in death and we are in love with flowers. And as a Mexican flower lover, I always like to put a bit of Mexico in every perfume I make. It's not an accident I studied biology, specifically botany, and understand the secret language of flowers. It's also my last name!”

Carlos Huber (l.) and Rodrigo Flores-Roux at Mexican Embassy Cultural Center October 2012

That quote is an apt epigraph to sum up his 2017 perfumes where there was more than a little Mexico in them. It was literally a travelogue as no less than eight different perfumes had distinct Mexican inspirations. The three Arquiste releases for the Mexican department store El Palacio de Hierro were the best examples of his ability as a “Mexican flower lover”. Azahares is perhaps his best pure floral perfume ever. He would exercise his indie sensibility in the four perfumes he collaborated on for the small line called Xinu. Monstera is a raw green vegetal perfume which almost magically transforms to leather. This is the botanist at play. His final trip comes from the mainstream release, John Varvatos Artisan Pure. Here he uses a less complex palette to create the summer hillsides of Xalapa. That it is every bit as compelling as the other seven mentioned is a testament to the breadth of perfume he produced this year.

I’m not even including the three Carner Barcelona Black Collection perfumes, his continued work for Tom Ford Private Blend, and his three Palindromes for Santi Burgas. Every one of these confirms my choice.

I think Sr. Flores-Roux has been a runner-up every year I have made this choice. I am happy to name him Perfumer of the Year for wearing his love of Mexico in his perfume.

Runner-ups: Luca Maffei, Jerome Epinette, Bruno Fazzolari, Daniela Andrier, and Antoine Lie.

Jerome Epinette (l.) and Jan Ahlgren

Creative Director of the Year: Jan Ahlgren of Vilhelm Parfumerie– When I am asked, “What’s the brand nobody is talking about?” My answer for the last couple years has been Vilhelm Parfumerie. Ever since it’s founding in 2015 Jan Ahlgren has transformed his love of classic Hollywood, the places he loves in the cities he has lived in, and a generally contemporary aesthetic into a fantastic collection of nineteen perfumes. The 2017 releases of Do Not Disturb, Harlem Bloom, and Basilico & Fellini are some of the best in the collection he oversees with perfumer Jerome Epinette. That choice of working with a single perfumer has resulted in a creative ability to build upon each previous release. When I read the inspiration for a perfume in a press release I am way too frequently left scratching my head. That Mr. Ahlgren can translate his vision into a perfume which doesn’t do that is why he is the Creative Director of the Year.

Runner-ups: Frederic Malle (Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle), Etienne de Swardt (Etat Libre D’Orange), and Christian Astuguevieille (Comme des Garcons).

Brand of the Year: Comme des Garcons– If there is a pillar of the niche perfume sector it is Comme des Garcons. That they continue to innovate twenty three years after releasing their first perfume is amazing. In 2017 they opened with a reminder of their past as they released ten of their previous trendsetters in the Comme des Garcons Olfactory Library. I write Comme des Garcons is ahead of its time; the re-releases ask if time has caught up. The three new releases: Concrete, Andy Warhol’s You’re In, and Vogue 125 all show this is a brand which still has much to say. The past might have been amazing but the present is glorious which makes Comme des Garcons my Brand of the Year.

Runner-ups: DSH Perfumes, L’Artisan Parfumeur, Vilhelm Parfumerie, A Lab on Fire, and Parfums de Marly.

Part 1 was my broad overview of 2017

Part 3 is my Top 25 New Perfumes of 2017

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Ineke Idyllwild- Forget Me Not

The business of being an independent perfumer is not easy. Finding a way to get the word out while simultaneously finding places to sell it; each carrying its own degree of difficulty. Into all that the perfumer must find the space to create. Each of the ones I admire have found their path which works for them. The path Ineke Ruhland has chosen is one of small well-chosen steps. The drawback is when there are years between releases it becomes easy to forget about them. The real risk is when you do return being met with indifference. Ms. Ruhland has returned after a nearly five-year absence with her latest for her eponymous brand; Ineke Idyllwild.

Idyllwild is inspired by a park area within the southern California Mount San Jacinto area. I don’t think I’ve been to Idyllwild but I have been to the surrounding National Parks of Joshua Tree and San Bernadino Forest. These parks are the demarcation between the desert east of them and the coastal environment to the west. This natural border is constructed of tall sentinel pines reaching to the sky. Idyllwild is a fragrance celebrating these conifers.

Ms. Ruhland has made the choice to combine the pine with a fougere accord before allowing tendrils of smoke to rise throughout. It makes Idyllwild a shifting frame of reference which never seems to change gears clumsily as each phase provides something of interest before transitioning to the next.

Ineke Ruhland

Idyllwild begins with the fougere requirement of lavender and citrus. Ms. Ruhland uses grapefruit as the citrus along with the lavender. She then adds a delicate application she calls “rhubarb tea”; it brings an herbal tint to the grapefruit. This then brings the lavender to its herbal side. At this point a raw green cardamom becomes the entry point for the pine. This is one of the best uses of this more primitive version of cardamom because the citrus nuances of its more refined versions are still present with an almost sticky verdancy. That stickiness stands in for the pine sap as a distillation of pine needles takes over. Crisp sharp terpenes in all their glory sing out. As the top accord fades into the pine forest there is a balanced moment that was pure bliss for me as it all found a precise synergy. Now Ms. Ruhland lights her campfire. In less accomplished hands we would be clobbered by cade oil which would obliterate everything. Ms. Ruhland is not that kind of perfumer so she works for a more delicate effect. By using cypriol and oud she forms a transparent oud accord through which she threads sagebrush. This is not a cloud of smoke it is spirals rising to the stars above in fragrant swirling columns in betwixt the pine not over the top of it. The final transition is to a mixture of musks both the expansive white kind to represent the outdoors balanced with the skin-type versions to capture the person watching the fire burn.

Idyllwild has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

I had been missing Ms. Ruhland’s style of perfumery I resorted to writing about one of her earlier creations in my Under the Radar column. I was waiting patiently to be able to write something with “new perfume review” in the header. Idyllwild has satisfied that desire in bravura fashion. I’m not sure if I’ve been missing her or having something new but Idyllwild is so pleasing to me on many levels. If people had forgotten about Ms. Ruhland Idyllwild is a potent “forget me not”.

Disclosure: this review was based upon a sample provided by Ineke Parfumeur.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Ineke Field Notes from Paris- A Warm Tobacco Sweater

It is a given I have too much perfume. There are some silver linings to it as I spend time moving seasonal appropriate things forward I sometimes bump into something which has fallen off my radar. Back in the fall when I was doing this I reacquainted myself with Ineke Field Notes from Paris.

San Francicsco-based Ineke Ruhland began her eponymous brand back in 2006 with four releases. Her concept was she was going to use the alphabet as the source of her names thus her first four releases were After my Own Heart, Balmy Days & Sundays, Chemical bonding and Derring-Do. That took care of A-D. From there the next four came out over the next few years with Hothouse Flower being the last in 2012. I know I & J are near completion and release but so far there has been nothing officially announced. Which means the brand has probably fallen off many perfume lovers’ radar. I think Ms. Ruhland has produced one of the best independent perfume collections and when the new releases are out I suspect these older releases will also be discovered all over again. If you’re in the mood to get ahead of the curve the 2009 release Field Notes from Paris is a good example of everything Ms. Ruhland does well.

Ineke Ruhland

The brief for Field Notes from Paris was, “sweet-scented Paris afternoons, life measured out in coffee spoons.” That phrase might lead you to believe this is a café au lait kind of perfume but that is not the case. This perfume is that cold afternoon where you put your sock-covered feet under a warm blanket on a leather sofa while wearing your favorite cashmere sweater with a humidor of tobacco nearby. I know that last part seems incongruous but this is how Ms. Ruhland works she takes something which should be a square peg in a round hole and finds a way to turn it into something which does fit.

Field Notes from Paris is constructed on an axis of orange blossom and tobacco. In the very early stages it is just the orange blossom paired with a very green coriander. The tobacco comes up right away and it is the coriander which performs the introductions. Ms. Ruhland has a skill at finding these kinds of notes which help two disparate ones find common ground. This all floats over a fantastic leather accord. It reminds me of the smell of a new leather sofa. There is a freshness to the leather prior to being broken in and that is the leather accord at the heart of Filed Notes from Paris. The base becomes all sweet vanilla comfort with tonka and vanilla in a beeswax matrix finishes this off.

Filed Notes from Paris has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Ever since finding Field Notes from Paris back in the fall this has functioned like my favorite perfume sweater throughout the colder months of this year. There are many joys to be found within the entire Ineke collection you just have to put it on your radar.

Disclosure: this review was based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke