If there is anything I associate as the scent of luxury it is leather. Leather always seems like an upgrade. Ricardo Montalban would tell me soft Corinthian leather was part of the luxury of the automobile he was hawking. The pieces of leather I’ve owned all seem like some of the most high-end things I own. Part of that is the smell of leather. There is something primal and opulent about it.
Leather has been a staple of modern perfumery since the 1927 release of Chanel Cuir de Russie by perfumer Ernest Beaux. Here is the thing there is no such thing as leather essential oil. When you smell leather in a perfume it has to be a created accord by the perfumer to smell like leather. When I learned this I realized whenever I smelt leather in a perfume, I was encountering a perfumer’s signature.
Because there is no one recipe every perfumer creates their own version of the accord. M. Beaux would use one of the materials used to tan leather, birch tar, as the foundation for the one in Cuir de Russie. Ever since, each perfumer has had the opportunity to evolve the making of their accord as more and more ingredients became available.
This has resulted in perfume with differing leather effects. They can be subtle as a driving glove to as robust as that original saddle leather. Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour would make different leather accords for different compositions. He combined styrax and birch tar for the classic leather vibe. Frankincense, davana, cistus, and saffron form a piquant version. Angelica seed, blackcurrant bud, and tomato leaf form a raw untanned scent. My favorite is his combination of castoreum and ambergris. There is just the right balance of refined and animalic that is near perfect.
Quentin Bisch (l.) and Marc-Antoine Barrois
A recent pair of releases shows the difference ways a leather accord can be tuned to very different styles of perfume. Perfumer Quentin Bisch working with Marc-Antoine Barrois. Released their first perfume based on a leather accord called Marc-Antoine Barrois B683. This is that luxurious leather accord I spoke of at the beginning. This leather caresses and envelops me in all the things which make leather great. They would return a year later with Marc-Antoine Barrois Ganymede. This time the leather accord is used in a near transparent way allowing immortelle to tease out the ambergris I am pretty sure is there. This makes it that kind of salty animalic that I enjoyed so much by M. Duchaufour.
Leather is one of the most important accords in all of perfumery. It also allows the perfumers an opportunity to append a scented signature to their works. This is why I adore it.
Just to keep this all in perspective. I tried 734 new perfumes since January 1, 2019. That is about a third of all new perfumes released in the same time frame. It is impossible to try everything although I keep trying. The list of perfumes below represents the best of what I encountered this year. If you want to read more on any of these, the link to the full review is in the name for each perfume on the list.
The Top 10 (Perfume of the Year candidates)
10. Comme des Garcons Copper– The best of the six perfumes released by Comme des Garcons. Perfumer Alienor Massenet created the most mutable fragrance of the year. It never seemed to smell the same from minute-to-minute but all of them were memorable ones.
9. Rubini Tambour Sacre– Andrea Rubini has assembled an incredible team of Italian creatives to make perfume. Tambour Sacre captured a night of drums in the Horn of Africa by the Perfumer of the Year Cristiano Canali.
8. Marc-Antoine Barrois Ganymede– M. Barrois asked perfumer Quentin Bisch to modify the leather accord they used in their first release B683. Ganymede is one of the best lightweight leather perfumes I’ve ever encountered. The use of immortelle is as eye-opening as the perfume itself.
7. Zoologist Squid– Victor Wong had a spectacular year for his Zoologist Perfumes brand. Squid was his take on a deep-water aquatic. Perfumer Celine Barel would find a new way of experiencing the ocean as perfume in the inky depths. In a year of groundbreaking aquatics this was the best of them.
6. Zoologist Bee– No you’re not seeing double it just shows what a great year this brand had. Mr. Wong worked with perfumer Cristiano Canali on a perfume that flowed like no other perfume I tried this year. To work with the notoriously difficult honey while keeping it from falling into its well-known fallibilities is top-notch perfume making.
5. Nishane Ani– Creative directors Mert Guzel and Marat Katran allowed perfumer Cecile Zarokian to continue to push at the boundaries of gourmand perfumes. Together they produced the best perfume this brand has ever produced by making vanilla the centerpiece of something new.
4. Hiram Green Lustre– Hiram Green has been assembling a collection of rare beauty. That he can wring presence out of an all-natural palette is part of the reason. The other part is a jeweler’s eye when he makes a soliflore rose like Lustre. It glistens like the finest diamond as every facet gives you something new to admire.
3. Providence Perfume Co. Drunk on the Moon– Charna Ethier has dissected tuberose. Then she puts it back together as pieces floating on top of a cream sherry accord. Every time I wear this, I admire the audacity it took to do this with the queen of white flowers. Stripped down to her essence she displays even more beauty through the subtlety of it all.
2. Talc d’IUNX– Olivia Giacobetti is the ultimate independent perfumer working from a single storefront in Paris; releases are infrequent. At the beginning of the year Talc d’IUNX reminded everyone who started this whole transparent thing before it was a trend. She also reminded everyone there is no other perfumer like her working today. Talc d’IUNX is mesmerizing in its will-o-the-wisp fragility darting through transitions each more beautiful than the last.
Arielle Shoshana Sunday– Arielle Weinberg follows up her debut perfume, collaborating again with Cecile Hua, with a next-generation gourmand based on a mixture of matcha tea and horchata. Cue up Lionel Richie and sink into it.
Bogue Douleur!–Antonio Gardoni collaborated with Freddie Albrighton to turn the metallic nature of rose oxide into something that deserved that exclamation point at the end of the name.
Chatillon Lux Admiral– Shawn Maher makes a freshwater river aquatic inspired by an Art Deco riverboat. If that sounds different it’s because it is.
Cognoscenti Warrior Queen– Perfumer Dannielle Sergent spent 2019 composing perfume differently than she has. Warrior Queen is a multi-layered fragrance which shows Ms. Sergent also has some more layers as a perfumer.
Eris Mxxx.–Barbara Herman and perfume Antoine Lie use last year’s Mx. as the foundation for a trio of exquisitely chosen ingredients. It transforms what was good into something great.
Guerlain Embruns D’Ylang– My yearly reminder of why I shouldn’t give up on Guerlain. This time it’s a smoky ylang-ylang that shows me the creativity at the Grand Maison de Parfum may be buried under a pile of mediocrity; but it still remains.
Les Soeurs de Noe Jardin de Macarons– Creative director Nadia Benaisa worked with perfumers Pierre Wulff and Jerome Epinette on her debut collection. This one stood out because is smelled like what I imagine an orris macaron would be.
Masque Milano Kintsugi– Creative directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi had another fantastic year. The first release was a reconstructed chypre from perfumer Vanina Muracciole. The clever concept was by leaving the seams showing they made a contemporary chypre.
Masque Milano Love Kills– Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi asked of rising star Caroline Dumur to make an elegiac rose. She delivered a perfume composed of the fragility of a dried rose in a memory book.
Monsillage Route du Quai– Perfumer Isabelle Michaud gave me the other perspective on a freshwater river aquatic. She captured the colder flow of the St. Lawrence river where she summered as a child. Another reminder that the most creative perfumers can make the most boring styles vital again.
Rasei Fort Kolonya– Rasei Fort is one of the most inconsistent independent perfumers I have encountered. When he is at his best, the perfume he creates is also one of the best. Kolonya is his remarkable combination of memory and classic cologne into something magical.
Roberto Greco Oeilleres– French photographer Roberto Greco worked for two years with perfumer Marc-Antoine Corticchiato to create an “anti-flower” perfume. It goes back and forth between old school and contemporary in a way which makes it seem equal parts of both.
Senyoko La Tsarine– The best release from a brand I discovered just this year. Joseph and Emilia Berthion have collaborated with perfumer Euan McCall on a remarkable collection with breadth. La Tsarine is inspired by the carnal adventures of Catherine the Great. Rare is the perfume that lives up to that. La Tsarine is unafraid to delve deeply into the concept. A perfume not for the timid.
Strangelove NYC fallintostars– Elizabeth Gaynes and Helena Christensen along with perfumer Christophe Laudamiel have created a memorable collection of perfumes which have always enthralled me. fallintostars is the best of them because they use everything they have learned to create a transcendent perfume.
The Next 25 Just Because This Was Such a Good Year
One of my favorite initiatives for Holiday shopping was begun in 2010. The brainchild of the American Express company it was meant to turn the day after Black Friday into something local; Small Business Saturday. It is meant to encourage shoppers’ attention to the small shops in their local area and to spend the day shopping there.
For perfume lovers these are the stores which give shelf space to the most creative independent brands. Almost always owned by people who also adore perfume. These are the ambassadors who show people there is more to perfume than the mainstream. For this year’s buyer’s guide I am going to focus on some stores which produced their own perfumes. Along with some other independent brands which have produced notable new releases this year.
The Creative Director as Store Owner
For a column like this I am going to start locally with Arielle Shoshana Sunday. Owner of the shop Arielle Shoshana in Arlington, VA Arielle Weinberg oversees her second collaboration with perfumer Cecile Hua. This time they make a one-of-a-kind gourmand around a pairing of matcha tea and the Mexican drink horchata.
Dave Kern has been releasing limited editions under the name of his perfumery American Perfumerin Louisville, KY. He won an Art & Olfaction Award for last year’s collaboration with perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz; Colorado. These are limited editions which have generally sold out. This year’s version with perfumer Hans Hendley, Bloodline, was gone in a day. Mr. Hendley has other perfume which is more available. Hans Hendley Bourbon captures the sweetness of whiskey encased in woods. It is an ideal Holiday season style of fragrance.
I only recently tried the perfumes overseen by owner Nir Guy of the store Perfumology in King of Prussia, PA. This year’s release Perfumology L’Ima continues his work with perfumer Justin Frederico. A fantastic mixture of the smell of the summer garden. Tomato leaf, citrus, florals, and warm amber capture the milieu.
Other Great Indie Perfume of 2019
You should be able to find these perfumes at smaller boutiques all of which usually have online sales.
Bogue Douleur! takes you from metallic rose to strawberry cotton candy.
Like many perfume lovers as the weather warms up there are certainly styles of perfume which get pushed to the back of the shelf. As a writer on perfume I don’t always have the luxury of adhering to that completely. I have to take what comes no matter what the weather. It was a mixed blessing when I received my sample of Marc-Antoine Barrois Ganymede. That was because last year’s debut perfume Marc-Antoine Barrois B683 was a gorgeous refined leather perfume. Ganymede was said to be using the same leather accord. What I found was something delightfully different in both style and weight.
Quentin Bisch (l.) and Marc-Antoine Barrois (Photo: Fred Zara)
Marc-Antoine Barrois and perfumer Quentin Bisch were the creative team behind B683 and continue into Ganymede. I described B683 as the scent of luxurious leather. Ganymede is a lighter version of the same leather among an entirely different set of supporting notes. The name comes from the largest moon of Jupiter. This planet has captured the imagination because it has a large frozen salt-water ocean, a magnetic field, and traces of oxygen in its atmosphere. For the purposes of the perfume version Messrs. Barrois and Bisch imagine what would a frozen aquatic smell like over their leather accord.
Ganymede opens with a vibrant mandarin providing sunny citrus energy. Saffron provides a corona around the mandarin as a diffuse glow. The same leather accord of B683 comes in with a stealthy step. It almost infuses itself underneath the top accord. Then immortelle is used as the center of that “frozen ocean” accord. Immortelle is most often described as having a maple syrup-like scent profile. M. Bisch attenuates that in favor of the dried grass aspect it also contains. It is used to create that concentrated salinity you might imagine Ganymede the planet smelling like. Contrasted with the subtle vitality of the leather accord this is out of this world.
Ganymede has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Ganymede is a very transparent leather perfume. I rarely pull out my leather perfumes on a summer day. Ganymede will not fall in that category. I will happily wear this out on a midsummer’s evening. I am not sure if there is a trilogy of leather scents to be completed in the future from this creative team. I selfishly hope so. I also am quite curious to see what they might come up with in a non-leather style of perfume. If they can pull off a summer-weight leather it seems there is nothing out of their reach.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.