Colognoisseur Best of 2019 Part 2- Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, and Brand of the Year

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In Part 1 I took a wide view of the year in perfume that was 2019. Today I get very specific naming the very best of the year in four categories.

Perfume of the Year: Chatillon Lux Weinstrasse– Last year when I was doing my end of year summaries I had never heard of St. Louis-based independent perfumer Shawn Maher and his Chatillon Lux brand. I would catch up over 2019. Mr. Maher is representative of what makes independent perfumery special. He creates perfumes which reflect his hometown’s history and geography. I have enjoyed everything he has released this year. It was his last release of the year Chatillon Lux Weinstrasse that captured my attention most fully of any new perfume I tried this year.

One of the things which has drawn me to Mr. Maher is he shares his process through posts on the Chatillon Lux website. What these entries reveal is a perfumer who understands the materials he is using. He goes deep into the effect each ingredient has on the finished product. You can read the one for Weinstrasse here.

Weinstrasse was inspired by the Germans who migrated to St. Louis and began vineyards. What Weinstrasse captures are the smells of the late harvest. It begins from a clever accord of grapes on the vine using green cognac oil and blackcurrant bud. One thing I marvel at each time I wear Weinstrasse is the way Mr. Maher captures the glow of a late autumn sun. Many perfumes inspired by wine have a claustrophobic feeling. Mr. Maher creates a perfume with a golden glow of muted sunlight. It opens up the entire composition. In that blog post Mr. Maher wanted Weinstrasse to be his version of a fougere. The base is an overdose of the ingredient which defined the beginning of modern perfumery; coumarin. It adds that classic fougere-ish vibe without going fully into it. It fits surprisingly well with everything that has come before.

I believe Mr. Maher is a special talent who is only at the beginning of creating his perfumes. He will have a difficult time making a better perfume than Weinstrasse my choice for Perfume of the Year for 2019.

Perfumer of the Year: Cristiano Canali- Perfumer Cristiano Canali provided brilliant bookends for 2019. In January I was enthralled with Rubini Tambour Sacre only to be equally engaged by Zoologist Bee in December. Sig. Canali is not one of the most prolific or well-known perfumers. He has a layered style of making perfume that requires the right concept to allow it to flourish.

Working with Andrea Rubini and a talented creative team at Rubini Sig. Canali translated the sound of sacred drums from the Horn of Africa into a gorgeous composition in Tambour Sacre. Collaborating with Victor Wong of Zoologist for Bee he created a perfume of multiple layers of honey without falling into the places where honey can be difficult. He successfully traveled the tightrope necessary to make Bee memorable.

This became an easy choice because he was the only perfumer to create two of the ten perfumes I was considering for Perfume of the Year. That is why Cristiano Canali is the Perfumer of the Year for 2019.

Runner-Ups: Mandy Aftel, Antonio Gardoni, Olivia Giacobetti, Christophe Laudamiel, and Shawn Maher.

Creative Director(s) of the Year: Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi of Masque Milano– There have been no creative direction in all of perfumery better than that provided by Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi of Masque Milano. For the past six years they have followed a formula of working with the best young talented perfumers. Also giving them a brief and the latitude they wouldn’t find elsewhere to create one of the best collections you can find. The two perfumes released in 2019 continued that. Early in the year they worked with Vanina Muracciole to create a reconstructed chypre in Kintsugi. At the end of the year perfumer Caroline Dumur produced an elegiac rose rife with poignancy in Love Kills. Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi have consistently pushed independent perfumery to new heights while serving the young rising stars. For this and the perfume they oversaw in 2019 they are the Creative Directors of the Year for 2019.

Runner-ups: Christian Astuguevieille of Comme des Garcons, Etienne de Swardt of Etat Libre d’Orange, Jan Ewoud Vos of Puredistance, and Victor Wong of Zoologist Perfumes.

Brand of the Year: Zoologist Perfumes– It is a modern miracle what Victor Wong has achieved with his brand Zoologist Perfumes. He is another creative director who seems to get the most out of his collaborators. In 2019 he worked with Joseph DeLapp on Dodo, Daniel Pescio on Chameleon, Celine Barel on Squid, and Cristiano Canali on Bee. No two of those perfumes are like the other. Mr. Wong has created a brand which has consistently impressed but 2019 was the best year they have had creatively. That is why Zoologist Perfumes is the Brand of the Year for 2019.

Runner-Ups: Aftelier Perfumes, Chatillon Lux, Comme des Garcons, and Masque Milano.

Part 1 is my broad overview of 2019.

The Top 25 will be published on Monday December 30.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Zoologist Bee- The Best Buzz

This time of year is the only time where I feel a little rushed. I am literally down to the last few days left to me on the review calendar before I begin to compile my end-of-year lists. In previous years it is just trying to squeeze in those last perfumes of the year. This year the final six weeks of the year has seen one excellent perfume after another arrive in my mailbox. The final streak of reviews that will be coming are all from independent lines that have conspired to make my life joyously difficult. Whenever it is posited to me that there is nothing new to be seen in perfume, I would happily gather everything I’ll review over these last few days of 2019 as proof that is flat wrong.

Another by-product of the end-of-year thoughts is it forces me to look back to the beginning of the year. To remind myself of the perfumes which came earlier in the year that I want to remember. On the day I did that recently was the first day I was wearing Zoologist Bee. It ended up having an interesting parallel as I was reminded of the perfumer of something earlier in the year while wearing his latest.

Victor Wong

Whenever Victor Wong of Zoologist Perfumes has something new, I am interested. He has become one of the most reliable creative directors in all of perfumery. He has coaxed some of the best work out of the best independent perfumers in the world. One thing he does which almost seems like magic is he imposes a Zoologist style without overwriting the individual perfumer’s creativity. It is one of the major reasons I believe this has been such a broadly appealing collection. When I heard Mr. Wong was adding a perfume called Zoologist Bee I was excited to see what the interpretation of that would be. When Cristiano Canali was named as the perfumer my expectations soared.

Cristiano Canali

Sig. Canali is one of the most talented perfumers currently working. He has only signed three perfumes previously to Bee. Each of them shows a unique ability to capture his keynote and make it the central layer in a perfume which slowly evolves. He has worked with some of the hardest to tame ingredients only to survive brilliantly. In Bee he is taking on another ingredient not known to be easy to work with; honey.

Honey is notorious for its refractory nature and narrow band where it finds some joy as part of a fragrance. One of the smart things Sig. Canali does is to use beeswax as a surrogate for honey. It allows for there to be less of the actual material. It also allows for him to pick up on the animalic worker bee hum underneath the waxy sweetness. By weaving in a selection of florals, resins, musks and sandalwood he once again builds a multi-layered ode to creative perfumery.

Bee opens with the buzz of ginger in contrast to the honey. As I mentioned above this isn’t a honey that tilts towards a urine-like scent profile because the beeswax keeps it more firmly centered in the pleasant sweet spot. The ginger is also given more viscosity as it is called “ginger syrup” in the ingredient list. There isn’t the usual fidgety sibling quality you find with ginger. This is a quieter version made more memorable for not seeking out attention. It goes with the flow of the honey in and out of the waxy hexagons of the hive. Sig. Canali then crafts an accord which forms a floral honey accord to act as a kind of call and response to the top accord. Using heliotrope, orange blossom, mimosa and most importantly broom he finds similar harmonics to the trio of beeswax, honey, and ginger in the top. This is where Sig. Canali keeps impressing me. He finds ways to create echoes of the ingredients of his perfumes which resonate through the entire experience. The base accord than splits things up as benzoin and labdanum capture the sweetness in a resinous embrace. A suite of musks find that worker bee animalic. Sandalwood provides the final woody grounding while being made a bit creamier with a touch of vanilla.

Bee has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

As he has done so often Mr. Wong has found a new high for a perfumer I already thought highly of. He has become the consummate creative director. Sig. Canali has shown me, once again, that he is a singular perfume designer. There is nobody who designs perfumes which smell like his. When you combine two creative minds working at the top of their game there is no surprise that Zoologist Bee has the right buzz.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Rubini Tambour Sacre- Africa Via Italian Creativity

When my mailbox begins to fill up with commercial fragrance all vying for a similar demographic it is easy for me to worry about the state of perfume. There are pockets of artists who are working to make things which come from an inner vision instead of a focus group. One of the most vital group of creatives come from Italy now. There is a willingness by the Italian brands and creative teams to make perfume the consumer has not encountered before. It is not perfume for the lowest common denominator it is perfume for the connoisseur. One who sees the art in something most see as functional. As a self-titled colognoisseur it is those perfumes which make writing about fragrance so gratifying. Rubini Tambour Sacre is another triumphant release from an Italian team of passionate artists.

Andrea Rubini

I met Andrea Bissoli Rubini almost four years ago at Esxence in Milan. He was introducing his first fragrance. The first words he said to me were, “I was born into a family of perfumers.” As I tried that first release, Fundamental, the proof was in the bottle. Sig. Rubini believed in the power of perfume to be more than pretty. He assembled a team of fellow Italians to achieve his vision; perfumer Cristiano Canali, writer and perfume historian Ermano Picco, and artist Francesca Gotti to create a memorable package. It is a team of like-minded people who all added their piece to the creation of Fundamental.

Ermano Picco

When I was told by Sig. Rubini a new fragrance was coming my first question was if the same creative team was working with him. As soon as he said “yes” my expectations grew. I waited somewhat patiently for my sample of Tambour Sacre to arrive.

Cristiano Canali

Sig. Rubini wanted to translate the rhythm of the African drums he heard on his trip to Somalia into a fragrance. Africa has been a fertile inspiration for perfumers which allowed Sig. Picco the opportunity to provide insight into the paths less taken by others. Sig. Canali is another of the young star perfumers of his generation. His desire to find contemporary applications of the original building blocks of modern perfumery creates a bridge between the past and the present. Sig. ra Gotti’s contemporary sandwich of materials encasing the bottle provides the visual piece as she uses the native iroko wood used to make the African drums which inspired the perfume. Full circle.

Francesca Gotti

Tambour Sacre opens with a spear of spiced sunlight as orange and cardamom come together. The drum beats begin in the distance as white pepper thrums with a sharp piquant slap. The heart is a fabulous alternating rhythm of coffee, tuberose, and cinnamon. The coffee is that fresh-roasted scent of beans which exude a hint of bitterness underneath. The tuberose is the greener version which has become a staple in recent years. This is where Sig. Canali calls back to the past with a modern ingredient. The roasted coffee and the green tuberose form a sinuous cadence around which the cinnamon wraps itself. The heat of the spice creates an expansiveness within the tuberose and coffee which builds to a crescendo. The base uses the resinous mixture of benzoin and myrrh on top of a tonka bean-sweetened sandalwood. This is what remains after the drummers have finished; a sweetly sacred woodiness.

Tambour Sacre has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Fundamental was such a singularly beautiful piece of artistic perfume it wasn’t obvious it could be replicated. Tambour Sacre proves that the right team with the requisite care can find that kind of success again. The Rubini team of Sigs. Rubini, Canali, and Picco with Sig. ra Gotti took me to a drum circle in the Horn of Somalia via Italian creativity. It is what Sig. Rubini was born to do.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Rubini.

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur 2017 Hopes and Wishes

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As we put 2016 to bed it is time to look forward to 2017. I like to end every year with some things I am anticipating and/or hoping for to happen in the next twelve months.

C'mon Vero, Pretty Please?

A new perfume from Vero Kern. It has almost been three years since the release of Rozy. Vero has teased us a little bit that the next one is going to be a tobacco focused fragrance. I know it will come out when she feels it is ready but my inner five-year old is getting ready to wail if I lead off this piece in twelve months with the same wish.

I would like new brands to put fragrance over marketing. I went back and looked; 2016 was no worse for the number of brand debuts sporting upwards of six perfumes. What did seem to be worse was the pricing for perfumes where the money did not seem to be in the bottle. Please if you’re a brand-new brand focus on the perfume; make it great. Try and only do three or four perfumes. Don’t rush to the market.

Le Labo Counter at Tyson's Corner Mall in Virginia

More Le Labo, more places. There was a lot of worry over Estee Lauder’s acquisition of Le Labo. One of the things I have thought is necessary for niche perfume to really expand is more access. In my local mall, they installed a Le Labo counter in the local Nordstrom’s. When it first opened in April it was busy on every visit but nothing like it was on my Holiday visit. Le Labo is one of the exemplars of what it means to be a niche perfume. Estee Lauder taking it to the mall shows that consumers will gravitate to quality if it is right in front of them. I am hoping that this will be rolled out across the country in places where niche is not readily available.

I want a masterpiece from Perfumers: The Next Generation…all of them. Quentin Bisch, Cristiano Canali, Luca Maffei, Julien Rasquinet, and Cecile Zarokian are this set of next generation perfumers I think of as the next set of rule-breakers. They have all consistently stepped up their game over the last couple of years. I want 2017 to have a release from each of them that makes my choice for Perfume of the Year the most difficult it has ever been. Make it so!

I hope we found the ceiling. For the first time since I’ve been writing about perfume the number of new releases were about the same in 2016 as they were in 2015. I always believed there was a number where the market could not continue to expand beyond. 2017, if it stays about the same, can be the third data point which confirms this.

Can this Spring be about something other than rose? The last two years I have been buried by fresh clean rose perfumes for Spring. I can hope that maybe a new floral can take center stage. Jasmine, perhaps?

On this final day of 2016 I want to wish every single reader the Happiest and Healthiest of New Years. Colognoisseur has grown beyond the goals I set for myself back when I started almost three years ago. For that I must thank everyone who spends a couple minutes here reading my writing. I hope 2017 brings us even more perfumed joy.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Masque Milano Romanza- Before the Fall

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I would suggest that every perfume lover has a note which they like that others are not as fond of. One of those notes for me is narcissus. It clearly is not in fashion in the current perfumery trends. In the last two years there have only been 28 perfumes released which contain narcissus. Think about that. There have been over 3,000 new perfumes and less than 1% contain narcissus. It is why the few perfumes I own which feature it I covet. I don’t have a hypothesis for why this is so. Narcissus is far from the only heady floral note in use.

alessandro mark riccardo

Alessandro Brun, Mark Behnke, Riccardo Tedeschi (l. to r.)

While my narcissus collection is definitely my smallest section it is also the most personally compelling. When I walked up to the creative directors of Masque Milano, Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi, at Pitti Fragranze they passed me a strip with the newest release Romanza. Even before the strip got underneath my nose the unmistakable presence of narcissus rose to greet me.

cristiano_canali

Cristiano Canali

Romanza is Act 2-Scene 3 in the ongoing olfactory opera Masque Milano is weaving. It is the aria where a lover sings about that feeling just before they fall head over heels in love. That moment when another person has found someone who they can’t stop thinking about. The person who just might be that missing piece to completeness. The beginning of a lifelong affection. Working with nose Cristiano Canali they decided narcissus was the perfect embodiment of this moment.

Sig. Canali uses absinthe as an alcoholic green attention getter. It is like the besotted lover is using the green fairy to try and break the approaching fever. Orange blossom reminds them that there is beauty in the possibility of love. A little angelica adds some botanical musk as the humanity of it all is winked at. Try though they might the lover is consumed in a narcotic floral maelstrom of narcissus supported by hyacinth and violet. This heart accord is named “Hedonist’s Bouquet” and it is an accurate description. It is a powerfully narcotic mixture. It is where you will also either fall in love with Romanza or decide to break it off early. I fell completely in love with the Hedonist’s Bouquet and dove headlong into its pleasures. What I enjoy about narcissus, as opposed to tuberose, is that for all of its power there is an acerbic green edge to it. Sig. Canali uses violet to hone that edge in Romanza. Just as Bryan Adams sings, “Now it cuts like a knife/But it feels so right”. I like this phase so much I just want to luxuriate in it for days. The final part of Romanza is a “human skin touching” accord. Sig. Canali uses amber, civet, and woods to fashion that moment of human skin-to-skin contact infused with emotion. It is a lovely passionate way to finish Romanza as only head over heels in love could be next.

Romanza has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

When I received my first sample of Romanza in Florence it cracked and when I went to sleep that night the room smelled of Romanza. It was a beautiful lullaby to accompany my dreams. As beautiful as that was; having worn it on my skin it comes more alive especially the final skin accord. There have been few perfumes in 2015 which have burrowed as deeply into my emotions as Romanza.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Masque Milano at Pitti Fragranze 2015.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Rubini Fundamental- Faith Restored (Part2)

Every year when I attend Esxence I wait for that moment. It comes when I am introduced to a new brand and it just captivates me from the first moment I smell the strip. This year that moment occurred when I heard the first words out of the young founder’s mouth. When I stepped up to the booth at the beginning of my third day Andrea Bissoli Rubini looked me in the eye and said, “I was born into a family of perfumers.” The earnest passion with which those words were spoken let me know that something special was on the way. The perfume called Rubini Fundamental lived up to every bit of the promise in those words.

Andrea Rubini

Andrea Bissoli Rubini

As I was smelling the strip Sig. Rubini told me his story. How he wanted to assemble a “Made in Italy” team. He asked nose Cristiano Canali to help design the perfume. He asked fellow blogger Ermano Picco to help refine the brief. He asked designer Francesca Gotti to create an unforgettable package to capture the past and the future. Each member of this team executed their task brilliantly.

Sig. Picco imagined Verona in 1937 as the small perfume shop in town serves the ladies in their iris-scented face powder. The actors still wearing their greasepaint. The alluring smells of the denizens of the local house of pleasure. Finally the smell of ripening Soave grapes on the vine ready to be harvested. These are the fundamentals of Fundamental.

Sig. Canali took a mix of great natural materials and combined them with modern synthetics which creates that Retro Nouveau vibe I like so much. Many attempt this but very few pull it off as well as Sig. Canali does in Fundamental.

rubini side view

Side View of the Rubini Fundamental packaging

Sig.ra Gotti has a very unique perspective when it comes to packaging. She took this new material made from recycled Fiberglas, from boats, called Glebanite. Like an olfactory Oreo she sandwiches the bottle between two slabs of Gelbanite. When I saw it, and touched it, it felt like old stone. It wasn’t until I picked it up and saw how feather light it was despite looking so solid that it struck me that again the future was inspired by the past in Sig.ra Gotti’s design.

Above it all Sig. Rubini conducted his team of impassioned Italians to realize his vision.

Fundamental opens on a Hesperidic accord of bergamot, tangerine, orange flower, and a couple of synthetic citrus notes which add nuance and texture. The orange blossom in particular carries the early moments. Then we get the powdery iris as it floats above the top notes. The Soave grape accord also comes in with the powder. Sig. Canali finds the balance between crisp fruit and slightly alcoholic. It is as light as the iris making it the right partner for the heart of Fundamental. The thicker unctuous smell of the greasepaint also comes to provide the contrast to the pretty notes with a bit of bohemian insouciance. This is made up of vetiver and another set of synthetics which adds an olfactory thickness to Fundamental. We head further into the base with sandalwood and leather providing a carnal promise if you are just willing to take a step towards it.

Fundamental has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Everything about Fundamental makes me elated, and renews my faith, at the state of independent perfumery. Sig. Rubini assembled a group of like-minded visionaries. Together they carried themselves to the heights of creativity. I could wish that this was fundamental thinking for everyone making perfume. As long as Sig. Rubini can keep using his heritage to fuel his future I am sure that Fundamental is only the beginning of something quite marvelous.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample I received at Esxence 2015.

Mark Behnke