Colognoisseur 2016 Year-End Review Part 3- The Top 25 New Perfumes of the Year

This year I tried 680 new perfumes which wasn’t even half of all the new perfume that was released. The Top 25 below represent the top 3.7% of all that I tried.

Alessandro Brun, Me, and Riccardo Tedeschi (l. to r.) of Masque Milano

The Top 5 (Perfume of the Year Candidates)

5. Thierry Mugler Angel Muse– Two of the most iconic landmark fragrances ever took it upon themselves to re-invent themselves for a new generation. Perfumer Quentin Bisch didn’t just change the gourmand template begun with 1992’s Angel he sent it off in an entirely new direction with Angel Muse. It is easy to see Angel Muse as a softer unplugged version of Angel with its vetiver and hazelnut cream core. If you look at it that way you miss the complete transformation of the pyramid without ever being anything less than a relative of the original.

4. Faths Essentials Green Water– I love the original Jacques Fath Green Water it is one of my favorite perfumes no matter what year. I worked hard to find as pristine a vintage bottle as I could. Which was why when I sat down to try the Cecile Zarokian supervised re-formulation I expected a watered-down shadow. Instead I found probably the best re-formulation of a classic vintage perfume I can recall. It started with the simplest of choices not skimping on the concentration of neroli oil; matching the percentage in the original. This was not economical but Mme Zarokian convinced creative director Raina Naim it was necessary. In many ways, the fresh snappy quality of the 2016 version is more appealing than the well-aged and macerated vintage versions. There is a time and place for both but there is no embarrassment having them side-by-side on my shelf.

3. The Different Company Adjatay– Simple was the by-word with the 2016 release from The Different Company. Creative Director Luc Gabriel had gone on a trip and left some actual tuberose in his well-worn leather traveling case. When he took it out again he realized that smell he encountered needed to become a perfume. He asked Alexandra Monet to find the balance between tuberose and leather he had experienced. It is an ever-evolving battle through the early going with tuberose on top at first before the leather gains the upper hand finally achieving a balance between the two. If it wasn’t for Adjatay my luggage would all have tuberose inside.

2. Zoologist Perfumes Bat– Almost literally the first new perfume I tried in 2016. From that point every one of the successive perfumes I tried had a very difficult bar to hurdle. Owner/creative director Victor Wong continuing his efforts of working with the best artisanal perfumers collaborated with Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids. Dr. Covey had done some field studies of bats in the wild and had a good idea what should be in Bat. Mr. Wong creditably allowed Bat to evolve into a perfume which was true to both of their visions. I have had the most fun handing Bat to people throughout the year. Most gravitate to it immediately; but it is the ones who at first are unsure and over time keep returning to the strip before finally picking up the sample and spraying it on that make me smile widest. Bat is everything Independent Niche Perfumery should be about.

1. Masque Milano L’AttesaFor a more detailed description why see Part 2 of my year-end review. L’Attesa was another example of a creative team and a perfumer willing to risk pushing boundaries and succeeding wildly.

Here are the rest of the Top 25 in Alphabetical Order

Aeon 001– Another early year release all about a unique take on smoky vetiver. The name of the perfumer was held back until it sold out. When it turned out to be Bogue Profumo’s Antonio Gardoni it wasn’t a giant surprise.

Amouage Lilac Love– I have lauded creative director Christopher Chong for defining the boundaries of perfumery. Working with perfumers Nathalie Lorson and Elise Benat he turned Lilac Love into a gentle lilac tinted nudge towards the greater Amouage collection while maintaining that DNA.

Arquiste El & Ella– My only cheat this year but I couldn’t separate the two new releases from Arquiste. Creative director Carlos Huber and perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux take us back to 1970’s Jet Set Acapulco for a hot night contrasting chypre, Ella, and fougere El, all reflected through a mirror ball of cardamom and honey.

Atelier Cologne Citron D’ErableJerome Epinette’s twenty-third perfume for Atelier Cologne finds creative directors Sylvie Ganter-Cervasel and Christophe Cervasel saluting Canada with a mixture of maple syrup and citrus. It makes Citron D’Erable a citrus cologne for cold weather.  

Atelier des Ors Iris Fauve– This probably should have been number 5A on this list; that’s how close it was to being in the Top 5. Creative director Jean-Philippe Clermont continues his collaboration with perfumer Marie Salamagne to create the best of this very good brand, to date, with this musky iris that warms the soul.

Byredo La Botte– The Night Veils Collection within Byredo was begun late in 2015. This year the three releases explored the different versions of leather. Creative director Ben Gorham and perfumer Jerome Epinette turned the one celebrating the leather boot into a real kick.

Cadavre Exquis– There were many interesting collaborations in the indie artisanal world this year. Antonio Gardoni and Bruno Fazzolari did a trans-Atlantic examination of the gourmand. It provocatively reminds you that camphor is a gourmand note. Everything I love about the artisanal mindset is on display here.

Chanel No. 5 L’Eau Scariest press release line of the year “Chanel No. 5 re-interpreted for a younger generation”. Olivier Polge showed me my fear was misplaced with a fresh take on the grand parfum that lost nothing and maybe gained a generation of new admirers of the brand.

Dasein Winter Nights– Another artisanal collaboration between Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors and Sam Rader of Dasein. Making an evolution of Ms. Rader’s first release Winter in to a Holiday bonfire at Big Sur was a triumph.

Diptyque Kimonanthe– 2016 was deep in great osmanthus perfumes. Perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin took an opulent osmanthus and dusted it with the Japanese powdered incense, zukoh. Kimonanthe was the best osmanthus perfume of 2016.

DS & Durga Radio Bombay– Perfumer David Seth Moltz deconstructs sandalwood in a compelling way. As the entropy takes place on my skin I kept trying to tune the signal back in which is why this was one of my favorites.

DSH Perfumes La Belle SaisonDawn Spencer Hurwitz’s work with the Denver Art Museum on their Monet installation last year led to this. La Belle Saison is Ms. Hurwitz’s version of an impressionistic lilac perfume.

Eris Parfums Night FlowerBarbara Herman is another who has successfully made the leap from enthusiast to creative director. All three of her debut Eris Parfums with perfumer Antoine Lie were excellent but it was Night Flower which really reminded me of how they used to make ‘em.

Galop D’Hermes– Even though it was the second perfume Christine Nagel released in her new post as in-house perfumer at Hermes Galop D’Hermes was where she planted her flag in the ground. By retaining the lighter tone the brand has been known for while changing it to her style made Galop the place where generations changed at Hermes.

Hiram Green Arbole Arbole– One of the best all-natural perfumes I’ve encountered in a long time by one of the most talented young independent perfumers, Hiram Green. The smell of being high in an olive tree next to a fresh-faced girl wearing powder. I have spent hours enjoying the places in between in this perfume.

House of Matriarch KazimiChristi Meshell has made the courageous move with her independent brand House of Matriarch bringing it to Nordstrom’s all over the US. With Kazimi she is leading with some of her best work ever. Fingers crossed some of the mall shoppers agree with me.

Jul et Mad Secrets du Paradis Rouge– The continuing story of Jul et Mad co-founders Julien Blanchard and Madalina Stoica-Blanchard continues into their honeymoon with this perfume of travel and love composed by Luca Maffei.

Laboratorio Olfattivo MyLO– Creative director Roberto Drago working with perfumer Luca Maffei creates a carnal lily more in keeping with O’Keeffe than the funeral home.

Olfactive Studio Close-Up– I have long worn this brand’s Lumiere Blanche as my favorite. Close-Up has replaced it as creative director Celine Verleure and perfumer Annick Menardo combine cherry, tobacco, coffee, and patchouli into something I want to keep close-up all the time.

Puredistance Sheiduna– I appreciate brands which are willing to change a well-known architecture. Creative director Jan Ewoud Vos and perfumer Cecile Zarokian take the traditional Oriental and dry it out with abandon. Never has the Orient seemed so modern.

The Final Cuts (The 20 perfumes which just missed the Top 25)

Aedes de Venustas Greandille D'Afrique– Fabulous woody fougere

Aftelier Memento Mori/ Amber Tapestry– The most dynamic yin and yang set of 2016

April Aromatics Agartha– Peace and harmony in a bottle

Aroma M Vanilla Hinoki– Geisha at rest

Comme des Garcons Blackpepper– Reminder of the old Series collection

Elizabeth & James Nirvana Bourbon– Best Buy of 2016

Gabriela Chieffo Maisia– Chiaroscuro fig

Homoelegans Quality of Flesh– Francis Bacon lives!…in a perfume

Jo Malone Basil & Neroli– Amazing callback to the origins of the brand

L'Envol de Cartier– Honey coated soap bubble

Le Galion Cologne Nocturne This is what modern men should smell like

Mona di Orio Bohea Boheme– Monaesque survives and thrives

Parfums de Marly Layton– Most approachable Parfums de Marly ever

Parfums MDCI Fetes Persanes– A Persian feast of the senses

Philippe Starck Peau de Pierre– The smell of wet stone done with panache

Providence Perfume Co. Love-in-a-Mist– Best from this brand since Moss Gown

Salvatore Ferragamo Uomo– Best mainstream masculine of 2016

SJP Stash– Sarah Jessica Parker returns with a bang.

Tauer Lonesome Rider– A perfume for the wide-open spaces found in the soul

Xyrena Dark Ride– The most unique perfume of 2016 capturing a day at the water park photorealistically

 

That is it for my look back at 2016.

If you missed them Part 1 was my broad overview of the year

Part 2 was where I revealed my Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, and Brand of the Year.

Mark Behnke

The 2016 Tea Interval

In the test match which comprises a year in perfumery we’ve reached the Tea Interval. A time to sit back and consider all that has happened over the first half of the year. Also to think about what it means for the remaining six months.

millenials selfies

Millennials in the Driver’s Seat

2016 might go down as the pivot point when the Millennials finally take over the cultural zeitgeist from the Baby Boomers. In perfume there has been no more prevalent trend from the larger fragrance producers. Every major brand is trying to make the first perfume to be adopted by this generation. While it is clear to me that the companies were aware of the change coming it is also equally clear they are not sure what it is they desire in a fragrance.

The most common choice has been for what I would describe as a floral gourmand, mainly constructed around a sugared floral and a distinct gourmand note which is kept at an opaquer level. Examples include Dior Poison Girl, Thierry Mugler Angel Muse, and Derek Lam 10 Crosby 2AM Kiss.

I have spoken with many in the industry and they are very aware of this. The open question is who will make the breakthrough. Probably the most interesting mass market launch of the back half of 2016 is Chanel No. 5 L’Eau where the grand maison is expressly trying to make a version of the classic for the Millennials. As I sip my cuppa I can’t wait to see how this particular trend continues to evolve.

merger-acquisition

Acquisition is Still in Play

Estee Lauder has continued their insertion into the niche market by acquiring By Kilian in February. L’Oreal for fear of being left behind, perhaps, has joined the fray acquiring Atelier Cologne at the end of June. The niche market has been seen as a growth sector within fragrance which is why these large companies are cherry picking the top brands.

One other point is to be made before the moneychangers all begin to believe there is easy money in the perfumed temple. Every single one of these acquisitions over the past two or so years has been the result of brands which have created a distinct identity within this overcrowded market. As hard as it is to make a memorable perfume I believe it is even more difficult to create an indelible brand. I think it is a combination of perfume and brand which is driving these purchases.

rose barbie

The Roses of 2016

If there is any note I have smelled too much of so far this year it is rose. I have smelled so much of that fresh debutante rose I just want to take her out and muss her perfect hair up. One silver lining to a crush of insipid Barbie-style roses is the ones which aspire to more, stand out. So far this year that means Amouage Opus X, Maria Candida Gentile Rrose Selavy, and Annick Goutal Rose Pompon.

aix scent fair

Indie Perfumery is Thriving in 2016

There is so much to celebrate within the indie sector it is hard to pick a place to start. The diversity on display at the Art and Olfaction Awards and the connected AIX Scent Fair attached to it showed this off. If there is a place which embraces the water park of Xyrena Dark Ride and the glorious osmanthus of Auphorie Miyako it must be healthy.

The co-creation between Bruno Fazzolari and Antonio Gardoni, Cadavre Exquis, has proved to be one of the more fascinating releases of the entire year.

Indie still needs a perfume to make the crossover to the mall for it to really explode. The latest to take up this challenge is Christi Meshell as her House of Matriarch fragrances are currently being sold in Nordstrom.

2013 best of pics106

The Odd is Becoming Commonplace

Usually there are just a few releases which stand out because they take a risk in using an unusual material or two. 2016 has shown creative directors in a particularly adventurous state of mind as they let the perfumers they work with use something different. The best examples come from two of the perfumes which I consider to be the best of 2016 so far.

Masque L’Attesa employs a champagne accord that is not about the bubbly finished product. Instead it is about the yeasty flat, slightly sour, fermenting wine. Perfumer Luca Maffei and creative directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi decided to use this accord as the foundation for iris to float upon.

Creative Director Victor Wong and perfumer Ellen Covey conspired to bring a dank cave full of flying rodents to life in Zoologist Bat. To make that more appealing than it sounds they worked hard to find a balance between realism and impression. Bat succeeds so well because it mixes the wet soil of geosmin with an animalic accord for the realistic part. Myrrh, sandalwood, and leather provide an impressionistic version of the bat.

My tea is finished. Time to return to the game for 2016. I hope the remaining innings are as good as the early ones have been.

Mark Behnke

Olfactive Chemistry: Geosmin- After the Storm

As we come to the end of the first half of 2016 there has been an interesting trend from some of my favorite indie perfumers. There has been more usage of the aromachemical geosmin to different effect. Geosmin is one of the more interesting ingredients on the perfumer’s palette.

Everybody is familiar with the smell of geosmin in Nature. It is that smell in the air which hangs after a heavy rain. It comes about because there is a natural bacteria, Streptomyces, which leaves geosmin behind when it dies. The longer the dry spell the more the chemical is on the surfaces. If a thunderstorm comes along it releases the geosmin into the air. This is that smell also called petrichor. It is earthy and mineralic in turns. The actual chemical structure is below.

decalin geosmin

Geosmin is two six membered carbon rings fused together into a structure called a decalin. Then two methyl (CH3) groups and one alcohol (OH) are what it takes to transform the slightly mentholated odor of decalin into the after the rain smell of geosmin.

The isolation of geosmin is a fascinating study of the ancient and the modern. The ancient way comes from India. Dried out disks of earth which the monsoons have covered and now evaporated are produced. These disks are them placed in primitive distillation apparatus to form what is called mitti attar. This is the earliest isolation of geosmin. There is a great story in The Atlantic from April of 2015 which describes the entire process in detail.

The other way is by mimicking the natural bacteria to make it via biosynthesis. Professor David Cane and his group at Brown University discovered an enzyme from the natural bacteria Streptomyces coelicor. (Journal of the American Chemical Society, vol. 28, pg 8128-8129, 2006) This is the enzyme which transforms the non-cyclic farnesyl diphosphate into geosmin. The study of the transformation of farnesyl diphosphate into natural chemicals has led to the ability to imitate these processes to produce natural products for medicinal as well as olfactory purposes. In the scheme below you can see the process that the enzyme geosmin synthase uses to convert the acyclic to the cyclic. Now geosmin is readily available as a perfume ingredient.

farnesyl to geosmin

The odor profile of geosmin allows it to be used in marine styles of fragrance as perfumer Christi Meshell does in her House of Matriarch Albatross. In that perfume she uses it as the smell of the rocky coast of the Pacific Northwest. Shelley Waddington also is inspired by the same locale and her use of geosmin carries the damp forest milieu in En Voyage Rainmaker. Perhaps my favorite use so far this year comes from Zoologist Bat where perfumer Ellen Covey working under Victor Wong’s creative direction uses geosmin as a key component of the wet cave accord which grounds that fragrance.

If your fragrance carries the smell of after the storm geosmin is probably the reason.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Zoologist Perfumes Bat- Cave of Creativity

When corresponding with Victor Wong owner and creative director of Zoologist Perfumes on the making of the latest release, Bat; there was a very telling phrase in the words he sent me. He said, “I might add that Zoologist is such a small indie perfume it should take some risks.” I think throughout the five releases to date Mr. Wong and the perfumers he has worked with have not shied away from taking some risks. In the partnership with Dr. Ellen Covey, as the perfumer on Bat, I think this is the furthest the envelope has been pushed so far. It results in a fascinating perfume that captures the animal on the label.

Victor Wong

Victor Wong

Dr. Covey has studied bats as part of her scholarly work at the University of Washington. As a result, she had spent time in the caves they live in during the day. It was her desire to see a bat perfume that caused her to approach Mr. Wong. Together their long-distance back and forth has produced a fragrance that captures not only the creature but its environment. Throughout wearing Bat I felt as if I was searching for a cavern where they were sleeping the day away.

Ellen-Covey


Ellen Covey

My journey begins by finding some assorted tropical fruit half-eaten outside a large limestone cave. Dr. Covey uses a variety of fruit notes on top of a really great moist soil accord. It is as if I reach down to pick up the fruit to observe it as I inhale. The entire top accord is refreshingly different with the mixture of soil and fruit. The next steps are deeper into the cave. Dr. Covey has an array of mineralic notes forming a cave accord. This cave is also covered with vines and roots so she has also added a deep vegetation accord. The fruit has receded but not disappeared as they still litter the cave floor. As the light dims we hear the leathery flutter above our heads and the musky smell of living things comes to the fore. Dr. Covey constructs a fabulous accord which feels furry and alive. It also is modulated by a truly inspired set of notes like myrrh, sandalwood, and leather. These notes impart a depth. Mr. Wong mentioned he wanted darker and Dr. Covey delivered.

Bat has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Bat is an unusual fragrance. In a world where everything converges on the trends it is pleasing to see two people eschew that thinking and head off to their own Bat cave of creativity. Definitely one of the standout new fragrances of 2016.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Zoologist Perfumes.

Mark Behnke

When Victor Met Ellen- How Zoologist Bat Took Flight

1

One of the more interesting independent brands to spring up has been Zoologist Perfumes. Owner and Creative Director Victor Wong evolved from perfume lover into perfume creator. One thing I have remarked upon is in all of the releases Mr. Wong has been choosing some of the best independent perfumers to work with. I was considering this had to be a unique relationship as most of these perfumers are used to working on their own. How different was it for them when taking input from a creative director? I had the opportunity to explore this with Mr. Wong and the independent perfumer Dr. Ellen Covey on their collaboration for the fifth Zoologist release, Bat.

Victor Wong

Victor Wong

The story begins in April 2015 when Dr. Covey approached Mr. Wong to ask if he was interested in pursuing a “Bat” perfume. Dr. Covey is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Washington. Mr. Wong had not included bat on his list of animals for Zoologist. Dr. Covey’s enthusiasm and knowledge of the animal convinced him to add it in. Then they went to work.

Ellen-Covey

Ellen Covey

Dr. Covey told me, “First off, I would like to say that Victor has been a joy to work with from start to finish. He gave me free rein to initially develop the basic direction of the fragrance as I would have for my own line, with modifications thereafter, in collaboration. He did not give me a budget, so I was able to use the materials I needed, like real sandalwood.”

Mr. Wong was thinking about the concept in general, “But what should Bat smell like? Metallic notes of "blood" and gothic roses came into my mind. Dr. Covey disagreed, "What I envision for Bat is not a 'bright and cheery' fruit salad, but rather a dark musky fruity note that's like the bats' own odor (which is pleasant to humans) along with damp, earthy-mineral limestone caves and tropical vegetation scents. There might also be just a hint of the ganja smoke that I associate with observing bats in Jamaica.  I'm not into doing yet another American pop mythology goth-girl perfume. There have been more than enough of those.”

As Dr. Covey would recall the distance between Washington and Toronto became an issue, “The biggest difference in working with a creative director in another city was the long lag time as each round of mods were shipped and slowly made their way through customs before I could get his feedback. When I’m working on my own, this feedback process happens immediately and almost unconsciously.”

 zoologist bat bottle

Upon receiving the first trials Mr. Wong relates, “I received my first "mods", or perfume mockups in little 5ml sprayer bottles. I think there were 5 or 6 of them; while they all smelled interesting, none of them struck me as I was smelling a "Bat" perfume. Well, except mod #5. When I first sniffed it, I literally laughed out loud, because it smelled exactly like a cave. The olfactive association was so startling that I almost lost it: a scary hollow cave that's earthy, vegetal, moist and full of minerals. Wow. I told Ellen I really loved #5, but I worried that no one would want to wear it. My friends who also had smelled it thought it was interesting but no one would want it. But I trusted my gut instinct that I had something really unprecedented and unique that was worth developing further. (I might add that Zoologist is such a small indie perfume house it should take some risks.)”

Focusing on Mod # 5 the ebb and flow of ideas continued. Dr. Covey was open to showing Mr. Wong what effect some suggested changes could have, “I’m sure Victor won’t mind my saying this, but a few of his suggestions resulted in my sending “caricature” mods to show what would happen if I implemented them in a literal way, thus subtly nudging him in the direction that I thought things should go. He did have many excellent suggestions, all of which I happily implemented.”

One of these ideas from Mr. Wong was to make it darker which would be the final suggestion which pulled Bat together, “At one point I told Ellen that the revisions lacked "darkness", and the vetiver in the base was the last scent to go away and it smelled very fresh, which I thought was not very bat-like. We had some discussions of what ingredients could be added to make it smell "darker". At the end, we added myrrh, which complemented the earthiness of the perfume, some leather and furry musk to make it more animalic, and suddenly the scent came alive.”

Of course coming to a decision that you are done is always difficult and both Dr. Covey, “By the time we got to the last set of mods, I felt like any further suggestions would lead to muddying of the fragrance at worst, and diminishing returns at best. In formulating any fragrance, the trick is to know when to declare it finished. I’m glad we could both agree on when that point had been reached.” And Mr. Wong, “I will be honest with you, deciding which revision is the final product is the hardest thing to do. It is particularly hard when Bat is nothing like anything out there. The decision finally came easy when I told Ellen that I found a particular mod "addictive". I just couldn't stop sniffing it. We both agreed, and I launched that scent on New Year's Eve of 2016.”

The final word on this collaboration comes from Dr. Covey as in a few words she answers the question I posed at the beginning of this, “In the end, I was pleased with the result, and I think Victor was, too. It’s hard to say how different the fragrance would have been if I had done it on my own, because now I can’t envision it any other way. I had fun working on Bat and feel as if I’ve gotten to know Victor as a friend even though I’ve never met him in person.”

My thanks to Victor Wong and Dr. Ellen Covey for being so gracious in allowing me a look behind the curtain at the work it took to create Zoologist Perfumes Bat.

Mark Behnke