Colognoisseur Best of 2019 Part 1- Overview

This past year in perfume was a great one. One of the best since I have been writing about perfume. Part of the reason is what I wrote about in the prologue yesterday. It was the best year ever for independent perfumery. I tried 734 new perfumes in this calendar year. When I look at the bottom of my spreadsheet to see that number it kind of chills me to realize I smelled that many. I knew it was a great year when I put together my first draft of perfumes I wanted to consider for these columns. I ended up with 75 fragrances on that list. 10% of everything I tried was memorable. It speaks to the quality that is out there to be found.

When I say this was the best year for independent perfumery it does not meant that it was a bad year for the mainstream. On the contrary there were some amazing releases from the big brands. Regular readers are tired of my extolling Gucci Memoire d’une Odeur for its fearlessness, but it deserves the recognition. Hermes Un Jardin sur la Lagune stood out for the change in style as Christine Nagel created a more introverted garden which appealed to me. Olivier Polge extended the Les Eaux de Chanel with Paris-Riviera. Thierry Mugler Angel Eau Croisiere is the kind of crazy summer flanker I wish we saw more of. Finally, Guerlain has their yearly reminder they aren’t a spent creative force with the magical Embruns D’Ylang.

Christian Astuguevieille

To my great pleasure Comme des Garcons laid down a fantastic reminder of why they haven’t lost their innovative style after 25 years of doing fragrance. The fall saw six new Comme des Garcons releases under the creative guidance of Christian Astuguevieille. They were a reminder of everything this brand continues to do well. From the collaboration with Monocle for Scent Four: Yoyogi. To the neon pink of Odeur du Theatre du Chatelet. The three new Series 10 Clash perfumes, each a study in synthetic contrasts. Ending with the metallic chameleon of Copper. So many of the brands which sparked my interest in artistic perfume have lost the plot I am thankful M. Astuguevieille hasn’t.

Barbara Hermann

This year saw the ultimate transformation of bloggers into creative directors. I think it is easy to convince yourself that if you write about perfume it is a small step to creating it. There have been a few examples this year of how untrue that is. The three who succeeded put in the hard work necessary to see their vision through to a perfume. Victor Wong of Zoologist Perfumes released four in 2019 all wildly different. Barbara Hermann evolved her brand Eris Parfums into her best release to date Mxxx. Arielle Weinberg has made the transition from blogger to store owner to creative director putting in the time to make each endeavor succeed. Arielle Shoshana Sunday was part of a new breed of gourmands for 2019.

The new gourmands all seemed to be inspired by hot beverages. Arielle Shoshana Sunday by matcha horchata. Floral Street Ylang-Ylang Espresso is an exotic drink of dark coffee and exuberant floral. Ineke Jaipur Chai finds the gentle harmony in the blend of ingredients in chai as a perfume. Cocoa plays a starring role in Curata Dulceo and Eris Parfums Mxxx.

Caroline Dumur

I met fantastic new perfumers for the first time through their work. Caroline Dumur did two of the new Comme des Garcons; Odeur du Theatre du Chatelet and Clash: Chlorophyll Gardenia. Along with her work for Masque Milano Love Kills she has become one to watch. Scottish perfumer Euan McCall impressed me with his work for Senyoko. La Tsarine is a perfume unafraid to go deep into carnality. Contrast that with his work on Migration de L’Arbre which captures the outdoors vibrantly. Shawn Maher of Chatillon Lux was another new name who impressed me with his skill at evoking all that his St. Louis home can give to perfume.

Michael Edwards

Of everything I experienced this year it was a book which has altered my perspective most. Michael Edwards released Perfume Legends II in September. I devoured it over a week. Mr. Edwards has spoken publicly that the revered perfume houses like Guerlain, Chanel, or Dior were the niche perfumes of their day. Though the 52 perfumes covered in the book you realize the era of modern perfumery from Fougere Royale to Portrait of a Lady has always reflected the best of what perfume has to give. It made me view perfumery with a new foundation. It is why I think 2019 has been so good.

Join me tomorrow as I name my Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, and Brand of the Year.

Sunday, I make a list of my favorite non-perfume things of the year.

Monday, I will have the Top 25 new perfumes of 2019.

Tuesday, I look forward to what I hope to see in 2020.

Until then.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Masque Milano Love Kills- Memory of Passion

As much as I grumpily exclaim, “Oh look another rose perfume.” every time I receive a new one there is a reason to sniff them. For all that rose is the undisputed champion of fragrance my lack of enthusiasm stems from the fact that too often it is just another generic version. The reason I try every one is because rose as an ingredient has so much potential in the right creative team’s hands. When that happens, I am drawn deep into the complexity of its beauty. It is that experience I had with Masque Milano Love Kills.

Riccardo Tedeschi (l.) and Alessandro Brun

Over the last six years the creative directors at Masque Milano, Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi, have proven to be one of the smartest in all of independent niche perfumery. Usually when I hear a brand I admire is bringing out a rose soliflore I am usually underwhelmed. A reason I felt differently about Love Kills is because Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi have an unmatched record at using young talented perfumers early in their careers. They also have a reputation for allowing them an opportunity to spread their creative wings. This is not usually afforded younger perfumers on their earliest briefs. It is one of the reasons I believe Masque Milano has stood out among its competitors.

Caroline Dumur

For Love Kills they collaborated with perfumer Caroline Dumur. Mme Dumur has landed on my radar screen with a flourish. She was behind two of the recent Comme des Garcons releases, Chlorophyll Gardenia and Odeur du Theatre du Chatelet. I hesitate to look for too much in a scant few data points but Mme Dumur has shown a deft touch with overtly synthetic ingredients which provide an odd contemporary effect by the end. In Love Kills this is inverted. Starting with a synthetic opening it ends on an elegiac accord for a floral queen.

The synthetic opening is a combination of the light muskiness of ambrette and the metallic floral quality of rose oxide. What turns this is the addition of lychee with its syrupy mustiness. It coats those shiny surfaces with treacly viscosity. In the heart a traditional lush rose pushes back against that modernity. It is classically paired with dark patchouli. This is the deep passionate rose that draws so many admirers. As contrast to that modern top accord it asks which you prefer. I find the question has been provocatively asked by Mme Dumur. The final part of Love Kills is the desiccation of that rose using the synthetic ambergris analog ambrarome and austere cedar. Like the silica in a drying jar it leaves a dusty rose over the final phase of development.

Love Kills has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

As much as I enjoyed the classic v. modern tussle on top of Love Kills it is the final portion which has stayed with me. There is a tragic feel of love which has, indeed, killed. It leaves only the memory of passion in the scent of a dusty rose.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Comme des Garcons Odeur du Theatre du Chatelet- Electric Pink

When I received my samples of the five new perfumes from Comme des Garcons to celebrate their twenty fifth anniversary in the fragrance world, there was one which I was most interested in. Over this time period one thing Comme des Garcons has stood for is pushing unusual accords to extremes. Two of my favorites are the pair of perfumes called Odeur 53 and Odeur 71. Both are fragrances of metallic heat. Synthetic to their core.  They are representative of those odd comforting smells like electronics overheating. It has been since 2000 that Odeur 71 was released. Now we can add another to the collection Comme des Garcons Odeur du Theatre du Chatelet.

Ruth Mackenzie

Theatre du Chatelet is a theatre on the banks of the Seine in Paris. The current creative director for the theatre, Ruth Mackenzie, was asked to join Comme des Garcons fragrance creative director Christian Astuguevieille to oversee the new Odeur. The perfumer they chose to work with is Caroline Dumur. The fragrance they envisioned is a mixture of the old and the new on the floorboards of the Theatre du Chatelet.

Caroline Dumur

Mme Dumur nods back towards the earlier Odeurs with her top accord. She takes the botanical musk of ambrette and combines it with the metallic floral of rose oxide. This is further enhanced with black pepper. It creates this sizzling electric pink accord as if you smell the pink filter over the spotlight in the theatre. This is exactly what I wanted from a new Odeur. It is right on the edge of harsh for my sensibilities. I have a feeling it is going to go way past many others’ tolerances. That is what this series is meant to do. Every time I wear it, I am more and more enchanted by this top accord it is so unique. In the heart it moves to the orris powder used by the actors cut subtly with a bitter coffee from the cups on the apron during rehearsal. It settles on the cedar floorboards for the final moments with a woody base accord.

Odeur du Theatre du Chatelet has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

Odeur du Theatre du Chatelet is why Comme des Garcons is still among the premiere niche perfume makers after so long. It carries aspects from which a thoroughly contemporary perfume takes center stage bathed in electric pink.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Dover Street Market.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Comme des Garcons Series 10: Clash- Opposites Attract

On the rare occasion I am asked about the most influential perfume brand I have a definitive answer. The earliest niche perfume brands were founded in the 1970’s and 80’s. it is my belief it was twenty-five years ago when the fragrance brand which would come to define much of what niche means came into being; Comme des Garcons. From the very beginning creative director Christian Astuguevieille has influenced many of the larger trends by being one of the first to execute them. If I had to, I could learn all I needed to know about the last quarter century of fragrance from the Comme des Garcons collection alone. I was wondering if they were going to commemorate the length of this sustained excellence. Right at the end of the summer I learned there would be a set of new releases to mark the anniversary. The one which had me most interested were the three perfumes in the Series 10: Clash collection.

Christian Astuguevieille

Starting in 2000 with Series 1 each set of perfumes have explored something specific. They have been among the most adventurous perfumes within the overall collection. For Series 10 M. Astuguevieille asked three perfumers to find beauty in the confrontation between two dissimilar ingredients. Each perfume displays why Comme des Garcons still pushes at the boundaries of perfume.

Domitille Bertier

The first is Celluloid Galbanum by perfumer Domitille Bertier. Each of the Clash entries is meant to capture a collision of sorts. Celluloid Galbanum is that of technology and nature. Mme Bertier takes the sweet plasticky smell of cellophane and wraps the deep green of galbanum in it. Mme Bertier uses jasmine to modulate the sweetness of her celluloid accord while lemon adds a sharper edge to the galbanum. It forms an engineered green behind a barrier of plastic which is fascinating. It ends on a base of synthetic woods.

Caroline Dumur

Chlorophyll Gardenia is the least confrontational of the three Clash perfume. Perfumer Caroline Dumur uses a set of green notes to coax out the green quality inherent within gardenia infusing the white flower with a verdant glow. The inquisition of the gardenia begins with its presence from the start. Mme Dumur threads galbanum, spearmint, the synthetic Cosmofruit, and baie rose through the creamy floral. As each of those ingredients come forward, they find a complement in the similar scent deep within gardenia. As they each add to it the gardenia begins to shade green before it glows in an almost neon abstraction. A set of white musks whisper through the glimmering flower.

Nathalie Gracia-Cetto

My favorite of the three is Radish Vetiver by perfumer Nathalie Gracia-Cetto. The reason I like this so much is it is what the Comme des Garcons Series perfumes have done so well over the years. They create a perfume around an unusual ingredient like radish. If you’ve ever sliced fresh radishes for a salad you will know what Mme Gracia-Cetto’s radish smells like it has an acerbic earthiness. She sets that against the grassy woodiness of vetiver. At first the softer quality of vetiver gently caresses the radish before the rootier nature finds a kindred spirit. Mme Gracia-Cetto cleverly uses the patchouli analog Akigalawood to provide an unusual piece of ground for these roots to find purchase in. The base is made woodier with guaiac adding to the Akigalawood.

All three Clash perfume have 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

For those who are less adventurous Chlorophyll Gardenia will be most to your liking. For the others who have followed where Comme des Garcons and M. Astuguevieille have led us for the past twenty-five years I suspect Celluloid Galbanum and/or Radish Vetiver will be part of your collection. I can’t wait for what comes next.

Disclosure: this review is based on samples supplied by Dover Street Market.

Mark Behnke