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 Vero Profumo Naja- Wish Fulfillment

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Back on New Year’s Eve I made a wish for 2017; “A new perfume from Vero Kern”. At that point in time it had been nearly three years since her last new release, Rozy. Ms. Kern has a meticulous work ethic about her fragrances. If you love them, as I do, part of the process is to allow her to take it at her own pace. Not long after I made my wish Ms. Kern began posting on Facebook the teases on a new release called Vero Profumo Naja. It was scheduled to be released at Esxence 2017. There are many things I missed about not being in Milan this past March but not being there for the debut of Naja was top of the list.

Vero Kern

Naturally I went in to piteous begging mode asking anyone who would listen, “Please could you send me a sample of Naja?” I am fortunate to have those who respond to my pathetic pleas and a few weeks ago a sample of Naja arrived. When I was hearing about Naja from afar it was interesting to hear from writing colleagues who seemed to be experiencing Naja as if from different perspectives. Everyone agreed that the listed notes were there but which ones were predominant seemed to differ depending on who I was talking to. It was going to be fun to see what stood out on my skin.

Naja is symbolized by a snake on the bottle. There is a stylized cobra poised with hood unfurled. Ms. Kern mentioned that the snake represents its use in numerous native mythologies around the world having to do with transformation and creativity. Naja the fragrance also has a serpentine quality itself. Tobacco provides the spine on which this perfume perches. If Rozy was about honey and rose then Naja is about tobacco. Ms. Kern uses a few other notes to interrogate her keynote exposing different facets of it.

Naja opens with the tobacco already in place but it is not what is part of the first impression. Lime blossom provides a citrusy green floral as sharp as any fang. I know this opening threw me a bit because it is so incisive. When I hear tobacco perfume I expect soft rich narcotic depth. Naja provides an alternative as the acerbic green note constricts the tobacco in the early moments. As the coils slowly release the tobacco edges its way forward. As the tobacco finds a firmer foothold and starts to equilibrate towards something more familiar Ms. Kern finds a complementary sweetness to the dried tobacco leaf in melon. Rich fruits or resins usually provide that role. By using melon Ms. Kern keeps the familiar a tiny bit unfamiliar. There is almost a Calone feeling to this phase of Naja as on a different day it could have become an aquatic tobacco. Before Naja goes too far down that path osmanthus provides its dual nature. The dried apricot part acts like the typical fruit accompaniment to tobacco while the leathery part provides a final foundation. Over many hours the tobacco and the leather is what remains.

Naja has 24-hour plus longevity and average sillage.

More than any of her creations to date Naja is the most fascinating perfume she has made. It is full of contradictions and capitulations. I wore it three times for this review and it wore differently every time. Different notes were on top at different times with the tobacco being the only constant. It makes Naja as hypnotizing as that swaying cobra drawing you in with its unceasing movement. The difference being that when Naja strikes it leaves only pleasure behind. Thank you, Ms. Kern, for granting my wish.

Disclosure: My sample provided by Vero Profumo via Val The Cookie Queen. (Read Val’s review of Naja here)

Mark Behnke