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

Discount Diamonds: Vera Wang for Men- Discount Bin Archaeology

I still go scavenging at the local discounters still hoping to find something unexpected. Most of the time I just replenish some of my favorite Discount Diamonds. At the end of the summer I saw something different down at the bottom of the giant Bin O’Fragrance. I patiently dug down to see what it was. I saw a plain white box and was hoping it was a tester which got mixed in. Many of my best scores have been the odd tester which gets caught up with the lots. Which explains my motivation to dig down. When I got to the bottom I saw it was not a tester the plain box had a professional logo which read “Vera Wang for Men”.

I remembered Vera Wang for Men as being the topic of discussion on the perfume forums back in 2004 when it was released. I went back and looked and the consensus was that it was derivative being easily compared to other fragrances which were judged as better. That kind of opinion probably kept me from trying it when I was at the department store, at that time. Now, usually when I am reviewing something I don’t have any idea about the overall opinion towards it. But as I was in line with the bottle I was reading the old reviews on my phone. Once again I almost let it stop me but for $9.99 I was curious to see whether I agreed. It took me some time to finally get around to opening the cellophane and checking it out. What I found was an office-ready amiable leather and sandalwood fragrance.

vera-wang-for-men

Vera Wang for Men was composed by a team of perfumers; Jean-Marc Chaillan, Olivier Polge, and Pascal Gaurin. It is difficult to find what brief they were given. All the ad copy was about being the “irresistible fragrance that becomes the signature of the man who wears it”. That could not be the instruction the perfumers were given. Whatever they were told they did put together a pretty traditional fragrance of masculine themes of citrus, leather and wood. As I spent some time with it I found this to be a good version of those themes.

One of the nice things was using a tarter version of citrus by going for yuzu which has a distinct thread of green. Mandarin leaves were used to make sure that thread was noticeable. The leather accord is straight forward but with nutmeg used to tease out the sweeter parts of it. The base is sandalwood, tobacco, and vanilla. These are all there but this is where a little more volume might have made this even better.

Vera Wang for Men has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

For all the notes which could have produced a boisterous vapor trail leaving perfume Vera Wang for Men is much more mannered than that. It is that which I think has allowed me to enjoy it more than those who previously encountered this when it was released. I did some checking online and you don’t have to perform discount bin archaeology; Vera Wang for Men is readily available at many stores for a discount price.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Calvin Klein Crave- Growing Pains

Because I’ve been so interested in the trend of perfume brands reaching out to Millennials this year I’ve been looking back to find other times fragrance was designed to specifically capture a young market. It will not surprise anyone that a good example would come from Calvin Klein. For almost 40 years now this has been a brand all about finding appeal for the young consumer. In 1994, with ckOne, they were perfectly positioned to ride the swelling wave of cleanliness in fragrance long before it turned in to a tsunami. By 2002 they were ready to do it again with Calvin Klein Crave. Except this time, it was one of the rare fragrances for this brand to end up in the Dead Letter Office.

As the brand was looking out at their target audience they were seeing the beginning of the wireless age. Nearly every young person had a pager hanging from their belt while the early cell phones were just starting to penetrate society at large. Creative director Ann Gottlieb wanted to oversee the creation of a perfume which would capture this connected generation on the bleeding edge in 2002.

calvin-klein-crave-the-new-scent-for-men-get-it-on

Ms. Gottlieb assembled a group of four perfumers in Jean-Mark Chaillan, Olivier Polge, Pascal Gaurin, and Yves Cassar. The perfumers were given the brief I think all Calvin Klein perfumers are given, “make it young, fresh, sexy, and clean”. Except with the concurrent electronics modernity in mind it drove them to think a little more outside of the box than they might normally have done. What resulted was something that seems Calvin Klein but at other moments seems like the name on the label must be incorrect.

Crave opens with some of that unusual quality right away. The perfumers use a Calone-laden “fluorescent fresh accord”. There is so much Calone here that the melon-like quality of that aromachemical is also evident. To that the perfumers add a different fruity partner; carambola, or starfruit, which has a tart smell to it but not nearly as much as a citrus note would have. That actually turns the fruitiness of the melon and the carambola into its own sort of fluorescent fruit accord. To all of this there is a strong green counterpoint. The longer this lingers on my skin the sugarier the fruit gets and just as it is about to become Kool-Aid the perfumers unleash a spate of herbs as basil, coriander, and allspice come forward. For a little while this is a like a chaotic house party as the fresh of the Calone, the fruits, and the herbs whirl madly. Again just as it threatens to become annoying the base notes try and calm things down. Crave goes all woody as sandalwood and vetiver provide the calming effect needed while the typical mixture of white musks finish this off.

Crave has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is a perfume which lives life on the edge of irritating. If it stays on the right side of the line, as it does with me, it is a fun fragrance. If it falls on the other side of that line this is going to be an irritant. It seems the consumers were in the latter category as three years after launch it was pulled. It is still the quickest discontinuation for the brand.

There is a bit of cautionary tale in Crave for all of those brands trying to figure out what the Millennials want. Even an all-star team can miss the mark by trying too hard to cater to a perceived taste.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Chanel No. 5 L’Eau- Refreshing a Classic

Once I received the press release back in May; my most anticipated release of this year was going to be Chanel No. 5 L’Eau. This is a perfume which came with so much anticipation for me. Chanel stated this was going to be their attempt to update their classic No, 5 for a new generation. For in-house perfumer Olivier Polge this was really going to be the first mass-market release under his tenure. M. Polge did release Chance Eau Vive last year but that was really just a riff on the grapefruit, jasmine, musk axis of the original Chance by his father. No. 5 L’Eau was going to represent his first opportunity to stamp his influence on this venerable brand. With my curiosity dialed up to maximum when I had the opportunity to purchase a preview bottle last week I hopped right on it. I have spent most of the last four days intensely examining No. 5 L’Eau. Much to my surprise it is a perfume worthy of the scrutiny.

When I received my bottle, despite being assured in the press release it wasn’t, I expected a watered-down limpid imitation of No. 5. Reading through that press release it felt like Chanel was all on board with the trend of making things ultra-transparent for the Millennials. As I read M. Polge’s words talking about replacing metallic aldehydes, removing the powder, lightening up the jasmine, and decreasing the vanilla I expected the worst. Instead M. Polge has made astute decisions throughout the construction of No. 5 L’Eau. What he seems to be saying to Millennials is if you’re interested in No.5 I’m willing to meet you…half-way.

olivier polge

Olivier Polge

Throughout No. 5 L’Eau M. Polge has cleverly found substitutes for the heavier aspects of No. 5 in an attempt to modernize. It starts right from the beginning as the famous aldehydes of the original are replaced by a different set of aldehydes in No. 5 L’Eau. The main aldehyde in No.5 was a 13-carbon aldehyde, 2-methylundecanal. It has a characteristic metallic scent profile. The beauty of aldehydes is there are a whole palette for the modern perfumer to use. For No. 5 L’Eau M. Polge chose the ones which have a citrus-like scent profile; the 8-carbon and 10-carbon ones seem like the culprits here. These are matched to the actual citrus notes of mandarin, lemon, and orange. Together this comes off as a vibrant blast of pure sunshine. These aldehydes provide lift to the citrus notes as if they were champagne bubbles bearing them upward. I love this opening for honoring the past while updating everything.

Rose, jasmine, and ylang-ylang are the floral DNA of No. 5; providing its heart. For No. 5 L’Eau M. Polge does lighten things up but not so much to turn this trio of notes insipid. It starts with retaining the iconic Rose de Mai. The change comes with using one of the synthetic jasmine notes which provide that same expansiveness that the citric aldehydes did for the top accord. It also elides the indoles out of the equation allowing the depth of the Rose de Mai to do most of the floral heavy lifting. Next M. Polge chooses a fractionated part of ylang-ylang which removes the fleshiness and promotes the greener nature. It is almost lily-like but it has that ylang-ylang floralcy without the stridency lily would have brought to this. Again M. Polge has worked with the historical and turned it as expansive as it could be.

The original No. 5 ends with a beautiful woody duet of vetiver and sandalwood. Only here does M. Polge go for the obvious although it is in keeping with the expansiveness of the earlier development. Cedar replaces the sandalwood and it is joined by a suite of white linen musks. Vetiver is used more as a supporting player to those than a true equal. By going with the laundry clean musks they provide the final bit of lift which has been building from the beginning.

No. 5 L’Eau has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I don’t think I have ever been as impressed with M. Polge as I am after experiencing No. 5 L’Eau. He laid himself out there on a project where derisive laughter was the more likely outcome. Instead he took that famous society lady of No. 5 armed her granddaughter with an iPhone, a Chanel purse and sent her out into the world. I don’t know if Millennials are going to flock to this. I hope that they do. Of everything I have tried this year which has been aimed at them this is the first one which has challenged them to consider what it is that defines their personal style. My fingers are crossed that when the Holiday scoreboard is revealed at the end of the year No. 5 L’Eau is on top.

Disclosure: This review is based on a preview bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Chanel Boy- Only Coco

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The perfume side of Chanel is in the midst of a generational takeover as son Olivier Polge takes over as in-house perfumer from his father Jacques Polge. The first release by the new man at the helm was last year’s Misia. It gave some indication of what direction the new Polge was taking the grand maison. One point does not make a trend we needed some more evidence. The second data point has arrived with the release of Boy in the Les Exclusifs collection.

coco-chanel-arthur-capel

Arthur "Boy" Capel and Coco Chanel

The name is not meant to be taken literally it refers to Coco Chanel’s lover Arthur “Boy” Capel. Boy was her muse during the years they were together. It was he who would finance her first boutiques. It is also said his fondness for blazers was what led Coco to include them in her fashion at the time. From 1909 until his death in 1919 he was one of the great loves of Coco’s life.

Olivier-Polge

Olivier Polge

The perfume bearing his name is meant to be a masculine fougere according to the press materials. It also mentions it being genderless in homage to those blazers being worn by both genders. I am not a fan of using titles like genderless or unisex when writing about perfume. Even less so when directed to do it. Perfume is a simple equation you should wear what you think smells good on you. Unlike wearing a dress or lipstick perfume doesn’t immediately step out as having a gender preference. If you feel good in it you will never have anyone thinking you smell like a particular gender. Despite those misgivings M. Polge does take what are considered some masculine and feminine tropes and blends them together. I think it comes out like an interesting variation on fougere but it is also easy to see it as a perfume which contains both genders in a duality.

Boy opens on the traditional fougere citrus and lavender opening. It not only opens on it, it comes in with a lot of power as the lavender really carries a presence. I like lavender and the level was pitched just right for me. In the heart is where using a set of floral notes M. Polge tries to bring in the softer side of things. Rose, orange blossom, and heliotropin form the floral trio. There is a freshness to it as well as a soft fuzziness which mellows the lavender. If you are looking for gender wars this is where you will locate them. For me I enjoyed the floral variation on the strong fougere accord. I think if I didn’t have the press materials talking about it so much I probably wouldn’t have mentioned it. The base is back to the traditional fougere architecture. What I particularly like is M. Polge has returned coumarin to its fougere roots. The use of coumarin was what defined modern perfumery when it was used in a fougere. Matched up with vanilla, sandalwood and white musks it is a very Chanel kind of finish.

Boy has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

While I was wearing Boy I never felt like this was a new step forward for Chanel, fougeres, or genderless perfumes. My overriding feeling was one of classical forms being varied in a very brand conscious way. I think Boy could only be a Chanel perfume. It feels like somewhere in the note list there should be a secret ingredient called “Coco” because it feels so much like her style. In a time where many of the grand maisons feel like they are trying to lose that distinctiveness Boy feels like it is embracing it.

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

Mark Behnke