Colognoisseur Best of 2018: Part 2- Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, and Brand of the Year

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Part 1, yesterday, was my look back at the year in broad terms. Today in Part 2 I get specific naming the best of the year in four categories.

Perfume of the Year: Arquiste Esencia de El Palacio GuayabosArquiste Creative Director Carlos Huber and perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux began their exclusive collection for luxury Mexican department store El Palacio de El Hierro in 2016. As of the end of 2018 they have released eight perfumes exploring the botany of Mexico in a set of “tree stories”. Both creative minds behind this collection have always put a little bit of their homeland of Mexico in every Arquiste release they have collaborated on. Saying that, this collection feels like there is heart and soul, along with the country, within each of these excellent perfumes.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux (l.) and Carlos Huber

During the summer I received Guayabos which immediately connected with me. I have worn this weekly since I received it. I’ve sprayed my bed with it. The poodles have inadvertently ended up smelling like it. It is one of the very best perfumes ever made by Sr. Flores-Roux.

I scheduled a call with him at Givaudan to find out how this came together. The concept was to create a guava perfume which captured the ripe guava in his house as child. As an adult the perfumer had to undertake headspace analysis of green guava, ripe guava, and guava blossom. This would lead to a layered effect which captured the esencia of guava. Jasmine and osmanthus provide the perfect floral companions over a clean woody base accord.

Guayabos is my perfume of the year because it was an obra de amor (labor of love) for Srs. Flores-Roux and Huber.

Charna Ethier

Perfumer of the Year: Charna Ethier– 2018 is going to be memorable for the excellent independent perfumer releases. The independent perfumer who had the strongest year was Charna Ethier of Providence Perfume Co. She has been one of the most consistently innovative perfumers I encounter. 2018 is the year where that quality overflowed in three spectacular releases. The first was Vientiane a study in sandalwood which was elevated by a jasmine rice tincture. Next came Lemon Liada an abstraction of lemon eau de cologne with no lemon used as an ingredient. Sedona Sweetgrass captures the scent of the American desert southwest in a photorealistic manner.

The breadth of these three perfumes is not only testament to why the indies rocked 2018 but more specifically why Charna Ethier is my Perfumer of the Year.  

Runner-Ups: Rodrigo Flores-Roux, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Maria McElroy, Cecile Zarokian, and Sarah McCartney

Rania Naim

Creative Director of the Year: Rania Naim– How about this for a to-do list for 2018? Take on the reformulation of one of the great historic perfumes. While doing that create four new contemporary perfumes honoring that history. That would sink most creative directors. That Rania Naim succeeded makes her the easy choice as Creative Director of the Year.

The first part of the year was given over to completing the new formulation of Jacques Fath Iris Gris. Mme Naim oversaw a painstaking effort to achieve something amazing in L’Iris de Fath. She would end up trusting a young creative team to accomplish this; which succeeded spectacularly. The decision to trust in young creative perfumers extends to the Fath’s Essentials releases where perfumers Cecile Zarokian and Luca Maffei produced two perfumes each under Mme Naim’s direction. All four exemplify the creativity still able to be found in the niche sector.

Capturing the past while living in the present means the future is all that is left to Rania Naim; my choice for Creative Director of the Year.

Runner-Ups: Carlos Huber (Arquiste), Victor Wong (Zoologist Perfumes), and Celine Roux (Jo Malone)

Brand of the Year: A Lab on Fire– If other brands weren’t going to show me something different Carlos Kusubayashi allowed perfumer Dominique Ropion to capture “The Morning After” winning an Academy award in And The World Is Yours. A long night into day encapsulated by neroli and cumin. This was followed up by perfumer Emilie Coppermann combining violet along with the De Laire base of Iriseine in a gorgeous purple flower melody called Hallucinogenic Pearl. Mr. Kusubayashi has never been afraid to release what comes of giving perfumers the space to create freely. In 2018 it makes A Lab on Fire my Brand of the Year.

Runner-Ups: DSH Perfumes, 4160 Tuesdays, Arquiste, Jacques Fath, and Jo Malone

Part 1 was my broad overview of 2018

Part 3 is my Top 25 New Perfumes of 2018.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Fath’s Essentials Tempete D’Automne and Red Shoes- Scent of a Muse

In yesterday’s review of Fath’s Essentials Le Loden and Velours Boise I mentioned this has been a heritage brand which has drawn from its history to make contemporary perfumes. In the perfumes composed by Luca Maffei he focused on the materials designer Jacques Fath would become known for. The other two of the new Fath’s Essentials releases, Tempete D’Automne and Red Shoes, focus on the muse of M. Fath.

Bettina in the 1950 September Issue of Vogue as photographed by Irving Penn

Today you aren’t an elite model until you are known by one name. That trend was begun in 1946 by M. Fath when he met Simone Micheline Bodin. He already had a model named Simone so he called her “Bettina”. She was his muse the apex of his designing career. The perfumes celebrating her are composed by Cecile Zarokian. Tempete D’Automne celebrates the short haircut inspired by M. Fath’s American trip where he was enamored of the crew cut look he saw. Red Shoes are from that iconic Irving Penn photo above from the 1950 September Issue of Vogue.

In Tempete D’Automne Mme Zarokian was looking to fuse the personality of Bettina with her androgynous look in the new haircut. It makes for fragrance of two phases. The first I think of as the bright laugh of someone who is enjoying herself. A giggle of citrus and baie rose turns into a full-throated laugh of cinnamon and coriander contrasted with lavender and ylang-ylang. The opening moments of Tempete D’Automne are kinetic. This is a joyful style. Mme Zarokian grounds it in a creamy sandalwood sweetened with tonka bean. This makes it an especially sweet version of this woody ingredient. A set of animalic musks with a leather accord rounds out everything.

Cecile Zarokian

It is exactly that picture above that Mme Zarokian used as her muse for designing Red Shoes. The top accord is meant to capture that blue stole. Mme Zarokian blends a mixture of aldehydes over grapefruit and berries. This is that sharp contrast of blue against red in the photo. The aldehydes act as if they are swirling around it all like the stole does. The dominant color of it all comes in a vibrant Rose Damascene absolute that explodes through the aldehydes as ginger and baie rose launch it upward. This is one of Mme Zarokian’s best rose accords. It is expansive along with a weight that doesn’t usually accompany that adjective. This is matched with a powerful patchouli which provides the grounding for that rose which preceded it. Once this all comes together it makes an impact; just as Bettina did.

Tempete D’Automne and Red Shoes have 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Red Shoes is among the best perfumes Mme Zarokian has made. What shouldn’t get lost is the more genteel charms of Tempete D’Automne which is a wonderful cozy sandalwood.

Creative director for Jacques Fath fragrances Rania Naim has allowed both of the perfumers to find what makes the brand unique and successfully translate it into perfume.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Jacques Fath.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Fath’s Essentials Le Loden and Velours Boise- Wool & Velvet

There are several heritage perfume brands, now. This effort has seen a mixed record of success. Most of them either concentrate on modern re-formulations of the past or new perfumes inspired by the past. Very few try to do both, although I think it is essential to attempt it. A brand can’t live entirely in the past and a brand can’t choose not to evolve. It has been what has kept many of the heritage brands from flourishing. One which has become one of the leaders in how to do what I’ve described is Jacques Fath under Rania Naim.

Rania Naim

Mme Naim has looked back to the past beautifully recreating Green Water and Iris Gris; the great Jacques Fath perfumes of the past. The new versions have been overseen by someone who wants to get it as right as she can. Which I believe she has done. I cherish both new versions as I do the originals. She has also sought out young exciting perfumers on the new perfumes. For the Fath’s Essentials collection she has worked exclusively with Luca Maffei and Cecile Zarokian. They have delivered a series of fragrances which I have found true to the Jacques Fath heritage while also carrying the mark of Mme Naim and the perfumers. For the end of 2018 four new Fath’s Essentials have been released. Two by Sig. Maffei and two by Mme Zarokian. Today I am going to review the ones by Sig. Maffei followed by Mme Zarokian’s tomorrow.

Luca Maffei (l.) and Rania Naim

The two perfumes by Sig. Maffei were inspired by two fabrics used by Jacques Fath in his clothing designs. He takes that concept and creates two textural constructs.

In Le Loden he takes the heavy woolen fabric known for its use in coats and uses three sources of vetiver as his olfactory equivalents to the fabric.  He opens with Haitian vetiver in the background of a top accord focused on the energy ginger adds. This makes the Haitian vetiver a bit greener in effect which is kept that way by using baie rose’s herbal quality along with a green mandarin teasing out the citrus quality of this style of vetiver, too. In the heart the traditional Bourbon vetiver steps to the foreground. Some geranium picks out the floral quality. Juniper berry and raspberry leaves find the more obvious citric nature of this kind of vetiver. In the base the earthy Java vetiver uses patchouli to add to that quality while a bit of smoke seeps in around the margins. I found the intelligent use of the “heavy” vetiver ingredients similar to the way M. Fath took the heavy woolen Loden in creating something contemporary.

Luca Maffei

If there is a fabric M. Fath is known for it is velvet. Many of his iconic evening gowns were made of this material. I’ve always loved the tactile feel of the material it has always felt plush to me. Sig. Maffei, in Velours Boise, wants the same feeling for his “wooden velvet”. The wood he chooses to mimic velvet is one of the newer sustainable sandalwood extracts from New Caledonia. These have always struck me as softer than the original Mysore variety, but velvet-y is not how I would describe them. Sig. Maffei takes the sandalwood and finds a way to turn it into the fabric he’s trying to emulate.

It opens with the sandalwood in the central position. In the top accord Sig. Maffei chooses a couple of ingredients to sharpen the woodier nature with mate tea and davana. The softening process begins with a clever pairing of immortelle and carrot seed. These botanically sweeter ingredients flow across the creamy woody nature of the sandalwood. This is where the velvet effect comes to life. Over the base accord Sig. Maffei adds some whisky for a boozy contrast which retains the warmth. Some amber further deepens that. I have a scarf which I’ve turned into woody velvet by spraying it with a lot of Velours Boise.

Le Loden and Velours Boise have 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I’ll finish tomorrow with the two by Mme Zarokian.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Jacques Fath.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review L’Iris de Fath- The Right Way

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Almost every time I hear of one of the great perfumes of the past being re-made today, I groan inwardly. It can be especially painful when it is one of my personal favorites. In the spring of 2017, the Creative Director behind the current revival of Jacques Fath perfumes, Rania Naim, contacted me. As soon as she told me she was interested in making a new version of Iris Gris I am sure I made a face; which she couldn’t see because we were internet chatting. The main reason she was contacting me was she was looking for sources of the original to use as reference for making the new version. We would chat about the process she wanted to undertake and that she was reaching out to many people to get advice. By the time we were done I was feeling like this was being approached correctly if you were going to do it.

Rania Naim

As I thought about it I was reminded that Mme Naim had presided over another of my favorite re-creations in the 2016 release of Fath’s Essentials Green Water. What was important in that one was she didn’t skimp on the neroli. Even though it was expensive she didn’t supplement natural neroli with some synthetics and call it the same. It is why I love the new version as much as I do. This was going to be a concern in re-creating Iris Gris. The cost of materials was going to be high if it was going to be done right. From that perspective I wasn’t worried.

What was left was to choose the perfumer to work with. This was done in a way which had me back to worrying. I have been derisive in the extreme about perfumery by focus group. If perfume is art it should be a personal expression. Iris Gris is the apex of original perfumer Vincent Roubert’s career. It is a masterpiece of perfumery. By asking five different perfumers to individually produce a set of mods to a judging panel. Well luxury perfume via focus group didn’t sound like it was going to produce anything memorable either.

Patrice Revillard

By the time it was announced the new L’Iris de Fath would be debuted at Esxence 2018 I was waiting to see what this produced. I must have sent a hundred texts asking if my friends had tried it. I got a mixed response which trended to the positive. Mme Naim informed me my sample was on its way and I’ve had it since the end of April. In the past two months I’ve been my own one-man panel comparing to my samples of vintage Iris Gris. Looking at my notes after experiencing the Osmotheque version. All while wearing a bit of L’Iris de Fath. Because you’ve already waded through a lot of intro I’m going to cut to the chase before diving a bit deeper into my experience with the perfume. L’Iris de Fath is a fantastic perfume inspired by Iris Gris, it isn’t perfect, but it is close enough for me not to care.

Yohan Cervi

The perfumer chosen by the judges is Patrice Revillard. If you’re saying “Who?” you have a right to as M. Revillard is 25 and founder of his own independent perfume company, Maelstrom. Working with his in-house evaluator Yohan Cervi they would form their entry. This was a unanimous choice of the judging panel as the best version considering everything they had to compare it to.

Before I begin my description, there are a couple things I want to mention ahead of that. When we talk about vintage materials we spend a lot of time discussing what is no longer allowed to be used. One thing which isn’t mentioned is the efficiency of new processes of extraction of natural materials. Which means the modern version has a different scent profile than the same ingredient compared to the past. The other thing is when we smell vintage perfumes today the high percentage natural materials continue to evolve, or macerate, which provides a softening effect overall. This was very apparent to me when I tried the fresh Osmotheque version compared to my vintage sample. There is a clearer demarcation of ingredients in the Osmotheque version which is lost in any vintage bottle you will find. Both of these play a significant role in L’Iris de Fath.

For all that I’ve prattled on about natural materials and maceration one of the most important ingredients in Iris Gris and L’Iris de Fath is Peach Lactone aka aldehyde c-14. What has always drawn me to Iris Gris is the gauzy peach overlaying the strong rooty orris. The first moments of L’Iris de Fath is just that as if the perfume is showing me a beautiful piece of orris concrete wrapped in a peach-colored sheer silk scarf scented with the hue. There is no skimping on orris butter in here. This is the smell of high-concentration orris. The effect is critical to my enjoyment and it is here. It is also like a more vital version compared to my vintage samples. There is a verve to the orris not mellowed over time. This is a younger livelier version of the same ingredient that hasn’t aged for decades. As the perfume unfolds here is the main point of departure for me. In the original there is a lily of the valley green vein which threads its way through the orris and peach. In L’Iris de Fath M. Revillard uses violet leaf to provide the green. Violet leaf can have a scalpel sharp green effect and M. Revillard uses that to dramatic effect. It is also bolstered by a modern isolation of carnation which is rich and doesn’t carry as much of the proscribed materials of older isolates of carnation. This is where I found the alteration more pleasant. The bite of the carnation was attenuated. The overall effect gave more space to the iris and peach which I enjoyed. In the base all of the animalic musks of the original had to be replaced but that has not become an impediment anymore. The base does what the original base did and provide a foundation for the heart of the perfume to rest upon.

L’Iris de Fath has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Despite my reservation outlined above I must commend Mme Naim on the care taken to produce L’Iris de Fath. I do not think there are many who would have been willing to make the decisions necessary to succeed; Mme Naim did.

In my final analysis L’Iris de Fath is capable of being compared side-by-side with Iris Gris without complaint. I am happy to have a fresh version to wear with more abandon instead of marshaling my precious drops of the vintage. L’Iris de Fath succeeds because Mme Naim insisted on things being done The Right Way.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Jacques Fath.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Fath’s Essentials L’Oree Du Bois- Ode to Gold

We are told in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”, “All that glitters is not gold”. When it comes to golden notes in perfume they tend not to glitter they more often glow. In Fath’s Essentials L’Oree Du Bois a study in glowing gold fragrance is proof of this.

Rita Haywoth cutting the cake at her wedding to Aly Khan (r.) in 1949

For 2017 the creative director for Fath’s Esentials, Rania Naim, collaborated with perfumer Luca Maffei on four new releases. The collection is defined overall by capturing the “la Joie de Vivre” that was designer Jacques Fath’s guiding light. L’Oree du Bois is the name of the wedding dress and trousseau M. Fath designed for actress Rita Heyworth on her 1949 marriage to Aly Khan. When you look at the wedding dress in the picture above you see a minimal aesthetic applied to a formal garment. It carries understated streamlined sophistication. All four of the new Fath’s Essentials designed by Sig. Maffei share that design aesthetic. For L’Oree Du Bois he finds a way of combining golden notes which glow but also finds room for some spiciness and bitterness to provide some bite.

Luca Maffei (l.) and Rania Naim

The focal point of the top accord is yellow mandarin and mimosa. The source of the mimosa is golden mimosa which is a version of the floral species which blooms in the winter. When these blooms capture sunlight, they illuminate in to tiny glowing orbs. In the fragrance, the mandarin plays the part of the sunlight transforming the mimosa into pulsing life. There is some neroli, ylang-ylang, and broom here but the main supporting note in the top accord is saffron. It disperses itself through the mandarin and mimosa like copper strands. A lively spicy intermezzo of cumin and cinnamon sets up the use of a honey raw material which has been isolated to give it a corona of bitter sweetness around the more usual viscous goldenness. The base is mainly a creamy sandalwood which supports all the glowy goodness that preceded it.

L’Oree Du Bois has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

One thing about Sig. Maffei is his desire to find a way to add new raw materials into his fragrances. The honey in the heart is that innovation. Sig. Maffei uses it as part of an ode to gold that is L’Oree Du Bois.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Fath’s Essentials.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Fath’s Essentials Lilas Exquis- Lilac Haze

I have mentioned this in previous reviews of heritage brands. They can’t just stick to reformulations of the past. At some point, they must apply the brand aesthetic to the present day. It is daunting when the reformulations have met with praise. Moving to the new holds pitfalls of a different kind. One brand which arrived a year ago has successfully negotiated the obstacles, Fath’s Essentials.

Creative director Rania Naim used perfumer Cecile Zarokian to reformulate Green Water and simultaneously release three new ones. This was a good collection overall and I had hope the brand could continue in this direction. Mme Naim wanted an equal set of fragrances which trended more feminine which you should read as more floral. She turned to another of the younger star perfumers, Luca Maffei, to achieve her vision.

Rania Naim (l.) and Luca Maffei

All four of the new perfumes are quite good and I will review all of them over the following weeks. The one which grabbed me from the first moment I tried it was Lilas Exquis. One of the more interesting aspects of the four new releases is all of them are deeply colored liquids. Lilas Exquis is said to represent Sig. Maffei’s favorite color and flower; lilac. I too am partial to the color and the bloom which piqued my interest how Sig. Maffei would approach Lilas Exquis. What he chooses to do is form a typical late spring milieu after a rain shower. He takes all the components of that and floats it on top of a sturdy base of musk and woods.

Lilas Exquis opens with a fascinating transparent fruity floral accord of hyacinth and blueberry. When hyacinth is kept at a lower concentration it imparts a watery effect along with its floral lift. The blueberry is almost like having it growing in the same flower bed as the lilac. Because the lilac accord is what comes next. Sig. Maffei coalesces it around a nucleus of violet. Wrapped tightly to it are lily, magnolia, and angelica. It forms a lilac accord as it comes in my window after a spring rain. This floats like a lilac tinted cloud. Tethering it to the ground is the base combination of Timbersilk and Ambrox as they keep the cloud from drifting away. As time moves on the woods become progressively muskier as ambrette seeds and other musks give some development from woods to animalic over the final hours.

Lilas Exquis has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Lilas Exquis is my favorite of these new Fath’s Essentials because of the transparency with which Sig. Maffei manages here. Lilac has always been something which comes over my window on the wind expanding to naturally perfume my office. Lilas Exquis also has that expansiveness which is what draws me to it. I have already had the opportunity to be wearing Lilas Exquis after the rain has activated the lilacs outside my office window. Lilas Exquis turned that evening into the most beautiful lilac haze.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Fath’s Essentials.

Mark Behnke