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 Vilhelm Parfumerie Black Citrus- Impeccable Black

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When I am asked, “How can you smell so many new fragrances and stay optimistic about the art form?” My response goes like this, “Because in every new perfume there is the opportunity to be reminded of why I love perfume.” My most recent love affair came from an unlikely place. I have been a curmudgeon over these new brands which land with too many entries. When I received my envelope of samples from new brand Vilhelm Parfumerie. I am sure there was a frown on my face as I looked at the eight samples in front of me. When faced with this issue I just start at the top of the alphabet and work my way down. In the case of Vilhelm Parfumerie that first perfume in line was called Black Citrus. It also was that perfume which reminds me of why I love perfume.

jan ahlgren

Jan Ahlgren

Vilhelm Parfumerie is the new brand headed by ex-runway model Jan Ahlgren. As he was transitioning from the catwalk he started designing leather goods. He also wanted to find a way to scent those leather goods. That brought him into contact with perfumer Jerome Epinette. They connected and decided they would like to work on a line of perfumes. M. Ahlgren created very specific vignettes for M. Epinette to work on as briefs. Here is the one for Black Citrus, “Serious freshness without frivolity. The fragrance is inspired by the clean breath of the city after the showers pass. Gentlemen step out from under protective storefront canopies, their impeccable British style uncompromised.”

Jerome-Epinette

Jerome Epinette

Despite the name this is a fragrance about black and the citrus is around for a very short time. M. Epinette is one of those perfumers who is high up on my list of favorite perfumers because he finds something different in the well-known. In Black Citrus it is the cardamom on top and the particularly Stygian birch and patchouli in the base.

If you’re looking for the citrus in Black Citrus it comes and goes in the very early going with a rich bergamot. What blows it away is a zephyr of cardamom. M. Epinette allows the bergamot to draw my attention to the lightly lemon facets of cardamom in the first moments. Over time it turns greener. That slow shading sets it up perfectly to combine with the mate leaves in the heart. There is a wonderful sharp green chord that forms. To that violet tempers the keen edge, softening it with its floralcy. Then we move to the base which is birch and a deep earthy Indonesian patchouli. This is where I fell head over heels for this perfume. The birch provides a pungent raw woodiness and the patchouli doubles down with deep earthiness combined with multi-faceted herbal quality. These two ingredients are in constant kinetic motion around each other. There are times it smells of birch tar, there are other times it smells of black soil. Sometimes it is just woody and sometimes it is just herbal. It is constantly fascinating to me.

Black Citrus has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I am very impressed with the great majority of these first eight releases from Vilhelm Parfumerie. I expect there will be more reviews coming as I become more acquainted with the line. Black Citrus inspired me from the first moment I smelled it on a strip and has only become more memorable with each successive time I have worn it. I just had to write about it to get it out of my system. Messrs. Ahlgren and Epinette thank you for reminding me of why I do this.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples I purchased.

Mark Behnke