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 Zoologist Perfumes Civet- Additive or Multiplicative?

3

I have a hypothesis about artisanal perfumers. I believe they would be much better if they had someone who would give them honest advice. I know many reach out to friends and customers but these aren’t necessarily impartial. I receive perfumes from artisanal creators who can’t stop altering them. In rare cases, I’ve received six different supposedly finished versions. It is hard to work by yourself which makes it easy for doubts to creep in. This can lead to that dilemma of the perfume being never quite finished in the perfumer’s mind. There is one brand which is helping to show that the best artisanal perfumers given creative direction and evaluation can have a positive impact; Zoologist Perfumes.

Victor Wong

Victor Wong is the owner and creative director of the brand. In two years, over eight perfumes he has worked with six different artisanal perfumers. In every case the collaboration has produced some of the best work from each of the perfumers. With perfumer Shelley Waddington he first collaborated with her on Hummingbird released late in 2015. In that perfume, there was a real extension of Ms. Waddington’s facility with bright florals and luscious fruity notes. Now they have re-united for the latest release, Civet.

Ms. Waddington really blossomed as a perfumer in 2013 and has continued to improve since then. One particular standout for me was a trio of perfumes she released, under her EnVoyage Perfumes brand, called “Souvenir de Chocolate” in which she combined gourmand effects on top of vintage accords. There was one called Café Cacao where she paired ambergris and musk with coffee and chocolate. For Civet, the pairing of animalic and gourmand is explored again plus a blowsy tuberose also joins the fun.

Shelley Waddington

The early moments of Civet are a judicious dusting of black pepper and tarragon over a fizzy set of citrus notes of lemon and orange. The spices are what move towards the heart allowing carnation to use its natural clove character to transport them towards the tuberose waiting there. This is tuberose in all of its glory. Which means it is intense it also means it is creamy with a camphoraceous grace note that if you love the classic vintage tuberoses it will remind you of that. Ms. Waddington skillfully surrounds the tuberose with a host of other florals to provide depth and texture to the overall effect. The coffee comes next and it is a plusher version of the note than I normally encounter. What has this softening effect is the synthetic version of civet oil, civettone. There are a group of perfume ingredients which only become pleasant in high dilution; civetone is one of them. The high dilution also helps in allowing the coffee to stand up to the stronger animalic nature of the synthetic civet. The tuberose is also still here and this is where Civet is finally complete as the tuberose, coffee, and civet form a complete accord. The remainder of Civet is a chypre accord comprised of leather, vetiver, oakmoss, and labdanum. If you’re a chypre lover this is not a perfume which I would primarily call it a chypre. It certainly ends there but it is the trio at the heart which give Civet its true voice.

Civet has 24-hour longevity and huge sillage. This is a powerhouse in every way that term is used in perfumery.

I imagine the effort Ms. Waddington and Mr. Wong put in to get this just right was prodigious. It shows in the final product. Civet is the best perfume of both of their careers to date. Which leads me back to my hypothesis. When two things come together you have to ask if they are additive, as in 3+3=6, or are they multiplicative, as in 3X3=9. Ideally the latter is what you are looking for. With Civet Mr. Wong and Ms. Waddington have multiplicatively created a spectacular perfume.

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

Mark Behnke