I’ve been spending most of the month considering the “Best of 2019” selections. It is an interesting process which serves to bring the entirety of the year into focus. The more I did this the more I realized there was one topic which was going to hog my traditional overview of the year. It has been at the top of my mind from the moment I had my shortlist of the best of the year assembled. So I’m going to get an early jump on the year-end festivities with a prologue. It is based on this statement which will be part of the next few days of accolades; 2019 was the best year for independent perfumery ever.
"The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks." ~ Christopher Hitchens
Before I give some context for that statement, I want to define the term as I see it. Independent perfume is that which wants to be different than the mainstream. It is a broad term which captures a diversity of ways of making perfume. Any perfumer who owns their own brand while creating for themselves is part of my version of independent perfumery. Any creative director who works with a perfumer while giving a unique version of direction is also part of that. For the first you can think of creatives like Mandy Aftel, Charna Ethier, or Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. For the second Victor Wong of Zoologist, Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi of Masque Milano, or Mert Guzel and Murat Katran of Nishane are what I am talking about.
"Small is the number of them that see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts." ~ Albert Einstein
I also think it encompasses a way of viewing ingredients. Independent perfumers can work with small batches of ingredients they make. If you’re not trying to make thousands of bottles the time it takes to source a rare ingredient or show the patience for a tincture is another hallmark. Limited editions like Bogue Profumo 0,7738 or Hans Hendley for American Perfumer Bloodline illustrate that.
"If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun." ~ Katharine Hepburn
My final criteria are to take a style of perfume and truly push at the common perception of what that is. It can be taken apart and put back together again as Providence Perfume Co. Drunk on the Moon does with tuberose. Rogue Perfumery Chypre-Siam imagines Francois Coty’s seminal perfume as if it was created in a Thai restaurant. Zoologist Squid, Chatillon Lux Admiral, and Monsillage Route du Quai redefined the idea of aquatics. This is where independent perfumery stakes out its territory as created for those who love perfume and want something more. Over the next few days you will see examples across the board on why this has been the best collection of creative independent perfumery ever.
As part of this I also began to wonder why this has all come together in the way it has. It might be nothing more than a confluence of coincidence. That is the most reasonable explanation via Occam’s Razor. I have another hypothesis I would like to share based on what might just be a different interpretation of events as they happen to me.
After writing about perfume for over ten years now my year has a kind of predictable rhythm. January is a desert of new releases while the new spring florals start arriving around the end of the month. Through the spring it is fresh florals then the advent of summer gives me new aquatics and citrus styles. Things get quiet for the dog days only to pick up with a rush for the fall and Holidays as everyone tries to get in on the shopping season. What was different this year was I got a rush of independent perfumes from the middle of November until just about ten days ago. This didn’t make a lot of sense as they were all bound to get lost in the Holiday shopping rush. Plus it made my life difficult because so many of them were excellent. Every time I got a new e-mail telling me something was on its way, I was shaking my head. Then it occurred to me it might not be the shopping season they were concerned with. Maybe it was December 31 they were thinking of.
I am thinking it is because these perfumers knew they had made something good enough to be entered in this year’s Art & Olfaction Awards. Maybe the impact founder Saskia Wilson-Brown was hoping for has arrived. Like what happens with movies making sure they make the qualifying dates to be considered for Academy Awards. Were the independent perfume community doing the same thing? Maybe being nominated for these awards has attained a status which has pushed these artists to creative heights.
What I can say is I have enjoyed the diversity of the best perfumes from these amazing artistic teams all year. You will see how much as I go through my usual progression over the next few days recapping the year in perfume.
Prologue over, it all begins tomorrow with a more standard overview followed by the naming of Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, and Brand of the Year. It finishes with the top 25 new perfumes of the year. I hope you join me for some of it.