Thanks to the prompting of a reader I was reminded I hadn’t done one of these columns on one of my favorite perfume ingredients. I think the reason I held off on doing my favorite narcissus perfumes is because that keynote is not widely enjoyed. It is an acquired taste. Even as much as I enjoy it, I feel pretty safe in saying I own all the good versions. Because there just aren’t that many. Two of the best Penghaligons’ Ostara and DelRae Wit have been discontinued. It is a tough to love scent. If you do enjoy it this is the time of year to break it out. Its characteristic deeply vegetal greenness easily evokes digging in the early spring garden surrounded by all the green before the flowers bloom. Here are five of my favorites.
My first memory of recognizing narcissus came on a visit to the Caron store in NYC. As much as I was drawn to the other perfumes, I had come there for there was this other green siren calling to me. That was Caron Narcisse Noire by perfumer Ernest Daltroff in 1911. The narcissus is presented in a classic high-low combination with orange blossom. The narcissus is given textrure through vetiver while the orange blossom is made a little bit more of a white flower through jasmine. Musky sandalwood is the pedestal it perches upon. This is the early masterpiece version of the ingredient.
It would be a few years later when I would discover my favorite narcissus perfume. Neil Morris Gotham is a perfume I will never not own. Its one of my personal perfume touchstones. He builds it around the spiciness of black pepper and the juxtaposition of a cuir de Russie leather accord and the narcissus. This is a fragrance that reaches to my depths in all the best ways.
Early on when I was joking around about a perfume only I would like. I said it would have narcissus, immortelle, and a birch tar leather accord. I suspected that idea never to see the light of day until I got my first sniff of L’Artisan Parfumeur Mont de Narcisse. Perfumer Anne Flipo stands in the center ring with three snarling keynotes while managing to put them through their paces. Each of these ingredients is given the space to thrive. Much to my surprise it worked better in reality than I thought it would.
There are two spectacular post-modern narcissus perfumes. One of them is Masque Milano Romanza. Creative directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi work with perfumer Cristiano Canali on a perfume that allows the narcissus to expose all facets of itself as it interacts with absinthe, orange blossom, civet, and amber.
The other one comes from perfumer Bruno Fazzolari, Fzotic Au Dela Narcisse. Narcissus is such a difficult ingredient Mr. Fazzolari wondered what it would add to a chypre style. The answer is it transforms it into something truly noir. Full of shadows as spicy coriander, full spectrum oakmoss, amber, and orange blossom form the chypre of my narcissus filled dreams.
If you want a different spring perfume experience any of these five narcissus perfumes will provide that.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
Every year I make up this list I surprise myself at how much I have tried over the year and how little it represents of the total new perfumes released. This year I sniffed 686 new releases out of 1676 total. I think I am in a great position to try as much as I do and I still missed trying over half of 2015’s new fragrances. It is always a difficult job to winnow my favorites down to a top 25 because there are usually more than that which I will personally own. Here are the bottles which will eventually be gracing my perfume cabinet.
Top 5 (Perfume of the Year Candidates)
5. Alaia Paris– Almost everything I try comes with a pre-conceived notion of what I think it will smell like. When it came to Alaia I had been told it was supposed to smell like “the smell of hot water falling on cold chalk”. While I still don’t get the chalk the hot and cold contrast is readily apparent to me. Perfumer Marie Salamagne created an olfactory silhouette of steamy ozonic accords which eventually end up on a mixture of precisely balanced white musks to offer the cold as well as the feral. Best designer fragrance of 2015.
4. Memo African Leather– Memo has been one of my favorite brands of the last few years. African Leather is the best of what is becoming a very strong overall collection within Memo, Cuirs Nomades. African Leather is the smell of the savannah, animalic and alive. It is also the culmination of the long partnership between creative director Clara Molloy and perfumer Alienor Massenet. They have evolved into a formidable fragrance team who I only suspect have even better days ahead.
3.Aftelier Bergamoss– Mandy Aftel had a stellar year with two outstanding releases. Vanilla Smoke could easily have slid into this spot except that Bergamoss got here first and it has been an object of fragrant fascination for me over the last half of the year. A solid perfume, Bergamoss carries with it a unique intimacy as applying it in such a tactile way draws you in. What you encounter is as good a modern chypre as I have smelled. The use of flouve absolute provides an ever-shifting frame of reference between the bergamot and the moss. An Eau de Parfum version was released at the end of the year as a limited edition and it is also extremely good but it is the solid version which is the one I adore.
2. Aedes de Venustas Palissandre D’Or– The creative team of Karl Bradl, Robert Gerstner, and Francois Duquesne collaborated with perfumer Alberto Morillas to create a perfume of colored bands. Spices paint a burnt siena, cinnamon and sandalwood provide a lacquered red leading to a base of molten gold as three different cedars come together. It seems obvious that M. Morillas is delighted to be able to use these ingredients when working on a niche release. Palissandre D’Or is a joyous collaboration of passion.
Here are the rest of the Top 25 in Alphabetical Order
Atelier Cologne Figuier Ardente– Atelier Cologne had a fantastic year with Oud Saphir, Jasmine Angelique, and Musc Imperial all among the best of the line. It was Figuier Ardente which has become my favorite of one of my favorite lines. Creative director Sylvie Ganter-Cervasel works with longtime partner in Cologne Absolue, Ralf Schwieger. What they have done is a time-lapse ripening of a fig from green to luscious decadence. Best fig perfume of the last five years.
Bruno Fazzolari Seyrig– Bruno Fazzolari was another perfumer with two outstanding releases. Room 237 is the Blair Witch Project in a bottle. Seyrig was an homage to the days of big aldehydes with lilac added in. Fabulous Retro Nouveau release.
DSH Perfumes The Voices of Trees– Dawn Spencer Hurwitz released an impressive breadth of releases from the abstract to the Retro Nouveau, all of them are noteworthy. The Voices of Trees is the best of them. Following up on last year’s Seve de Pin; The Voices of Trees adds in maple and sycamore to the pinon resin infused pine oil which made Seve de Pin so memorable. The Voices of Trees is better in every way. After much thought I think this is the best perfume Ms. Hurwitz has ever made. It is flawless.
En Voyage Perfumes Frida– Perfumer Shelley Waddington released a strong slate in 2015, too. Frida is my favorite because within the tuberose there is a fierce heartbeat of passion. Ms. Waddington gets this completely right.
Grandiflora Madigascan Jasmine– Perfumer Michel Roudnitska working with creative director Saskia Havekes has created one of the most interesting jasmine soliflores I own. By using specific notes to explore every facet of a beautifully chosen Madigascan Jasmine I come away with a greater love for this floral than ever before.
Hermes Equipage Geranium– This third re-examination of a legacy Hermes perfume by Jean-Claude Ellena is the best. Evolving the tack room of Equipage into the leather chair in the library with Equipage Geranium. He has created a relevant version for the current day.
Hiram Green Voyage– Indie perfumer Hiram Green has made the best perfume of his career. Voyage is an exotic spicy leather which morphs into a vanilla gourmand. One of the most intricately constructed perfumes on this list.
John Varvatos Dark Rebel– The John Varvatos line might be the best mass-market men’s fragrance line out there. One reason for that is perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux who has overseen all of them. Dark Rebel’s boozy black leather jacket is the best of them all.
Le Labo The Noir 29– Worried that Estee Lauder was going to screw up Fabrice Penot and Eddie Roschi’s baby? The Noir 29 by perfumer Frank Voelkl feels like the spiritual evolution of 2011’s Santal 33. Except I like it even more.
M. Micallef Akowa– Geoffrey Nejman and Jean-Claude Astier create a perfume which is so overstuffed with ideas it is hard to figure out where to focus first. The most kaleidoscopic perfume of 2015 for its ever shifting nature.
Masque Milano Romanza– Creative Directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi put their faith in young gun Cristiano Canali. What they received was a lush passionate narcissus perfume which touches my soul every time I wear it.
Miu Miu– Miu Miu led the charge of the mainstream perfumes over the last quarter of 2015. Prior to that it was looking bleak. Perfumer Daniela Andrier made a perfume which seemed classic and contemporary at the same time.
Neela Vermeire Creations Pichola– Neela Vermeire working with perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour has made one of the most breathtakingly beautiful tuberose perfumes I own. Mainly because it is a tightly green tuberose which explodes into full flower with a bang. I described it like a Bollywood dance number breaking out in a garden. I don’t have a better way to explain it now.
Nishane Istanbul Afrika Olifant– Creative directors Mert Guzel and Murat Katran debuted their Nishane Istanbul line this year. Afrika Oliphant is the best of the brand as it combines real animalic raw materials with the synthetic musks meant to replace that material. Perfumer Jorge Lee makes something which feels like a cyborg version of the feral.
Olfactive Studio Panorama– Celine Verleure working with perfumer Clement Gavarry would make a perfume of fierce verdancy. With nothing more eye-catching than the wasabi accord which greets you upon spritzing this on. The most singular artistic statement Olfactive Studio has ever made.
Raymond Matts Pashay– Raymond Matts’ Aura de Parfum was a collection I greatly admired. I was first attracted to Kaiwe but over the year Pashay has become my favorite. Perfumer Christophe Laudamiel creates a magnetic salty skin accord using Kalamata olive as the linchpin. Pashay is a triumph of composition.
Rubini Fundamental– Fundamental was a true team effort of Andrea Rubini, perfumer Cristiano Canali, historian Ermano Picco, and packaging sorceress Francesca Gotti. They have made one of the strongest debut fragrances of the last few years. This is why I love perfume.
Slumberhouse Kiste– Josh Lobb’s most approachable creation. A lazy Savannah summer evening with a pitcher of sweet tea sweating on the table. He captured the decaying fecundity of the thickly growing plants along with a bespoke tobacco accord. I get lost within its lunatic embrace every time.
Stephane Humbert Lucas Mortal Skin– Decay is a theme in this magnificent perfume by Stephane Humbert Lucas. From its inky incense opening to a battle of entropy in the base between an accord of ambergris and labdanum versus civet and musk. It is a battle where the winner changes in a kinetic way over hours. This snake has me in its coils.
Strangelove NYC meltmyheart– The second release from Strangelove NYC. Creative director Helena Christensen worked with perfumer Christophe Laudamiel to make a chocolate, oud and orris perfume with an unusual fragility for something made up of those notes. This has been one of my most worn perfumes of the last few months.
The Final Cuts: The 18 Which Just Missed the Top 25: Amouage Opus IX, Arquiste Nanban, Atelier des Ors Lune Feline, Bvlgari Eau Parfumee au The Bleu, Byredo Rose of No Man’s Land, Cartier Oud Radieux, Chanel Misia, Charenton Macerations Asphalt Rainbow, Jo Malone Mimosa & Cardamom, Jul et Mad Nea, Jul et Mad Garuda, Maria Candida Gentile Elephant and Roses, Olivier Durbano Chrysolithe, Orlov Star of the Season, Pierre Guillaume Mojito Chypre, Roja Parfums A Goodnight Kiss, Unum LAVS, and Vilhelm Black Citrus.
That is it for 2015. I will rest up for a couple days and begin 2016 hoping it is as good as 2015 was.
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 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.
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.
I spent three days at Pitti Fragranze 2015 trying 96 new perfumes. It turns out it is very difficult to reduce that list down to ten. A year ago it felt like there were many brands vying for the same bit of olfactory space. This year as I look over the list below I am really pleased to see no obvious thread of similarity running through it. Here are the typical caveats for this list. These are all initial impressions obtained from a small patch of skin during three days where there is nothing but perfume in the air. Also these are the Top 10 which are new to me. Releases like Arquiste Nanban would have made the list but I had it before coming to Florence. I also did not mention Pitti-only perfumes like Pierre Guillaume’s Lumiere Fauve which would have also been on this list. Here is the list in alphabetical order:
ALTAIA Yu Son– Married creative directors and owners of Eau D’Italie Marina Sersale and Sebastian Alvarez Murena did some ancestral research and found their great great great grandfathers intersected in Argentina. It has produced an inaugural edition of three new fragrances all by perfumer Daphne Bugey. Yu Son is the orange-centric fragrance that cuts right to the heart of their story.
Essenzialmente Laura Lavanda- Perfumer Laura Tonatto has debuted a new line of fragrance with 39(!) new entries. It is overwhelming but buried within all of that new perfume is a trio of lavender fragrances which deserve to rise above the clutter. The best of them is the simplest as Sig.ra Tonatto combines five sources of lavender to create a supernatural lavender accord.
Ineke Idyllwild– Independent perfumer Ineke Ruhland had been focused on her Floral Curiosities collection over the past couple of years and her alphabet series had fallen behind. Ms. Ruhland is about to rectify that oversight with not only I but J coming out in short order. It was Idyllwild which completely mesmerized me. Ms. Ruhland took me through the building blocks which make up this gorgeous smoky rose. It left me more impressed than ever at her ability to construct a perfume.
Maria Candida Gentile Elephant & Roses– Sig.ra Gentile was daydreaming at her home and she imagined an elephant walking through a field of roses crushing them as it passed. Her translation into a fragrance was to merge the animalic odor of the elephant with the floralcy of the rose. She chose a Turkish rose so that the spicy components would pick up the animalic accord it was paired with. Now when wearing it I see the pachyderm amongst the petals.
Masque Milano Romanza– Creative directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi have reached the act of their olfactory opera where the love story is told. Nose Cristiano Canali and the creative team decided on narcissus as the smell of passionate love. Romanza is a narcotic love poem written in bold floral strokes. I broke my first vial and my bedroom was filled with this narcissus swaddling me in its addictive embrace. I never slept so well.
Naomi Goodsir Iris Cendre– This was hands down the most buzzed about perfume at this year’s fair. Knowing nods were traded by those of us who had tried it. Ms. Goodsir and her creative partner Renaud Coutadier working with perfumer Julien Rasquinet created a green iris which never turns powdery on my skin. I already cannot get it out of my head and have been wearing it since my return. It is everything about perfume that I love; creativity, a twist on the familiar, and something eminently wearable.
Nomenclature Efflor_esce– I admit any perfume based on synthetic molecules and packaged in stylized Erlenmyer flasks is always going to have my attention. Creative directors Karl Bradl and Carlos Quintero working with perfumer Frank Voelkl take the synthetic Paradisone, a modern successor to Hedione, and put it at the center of Efflor_esce. Surrounding it are florals osmanthus, tuberose, and neroli paired with bigarade and bergamot. Paradisone is the unquestioned star of the show but the complementary notes chosen by the creative team make it sparkle and shine.
Olfactive Studio Selfie– Creative director Celine Verleure usually uses a photograph as her brief. For Selfie you are faced with a mirrored surface to see your reflection within. To capture the narcissistic tendency to take one’s picture all the time Mme Verleure turned to perfumer Thomas Fontaine. Together the perfume they created has a fantastically realized heart of cinnamon, balsam, lily and an accord of maple syrup. I am not sure I get the relationship to egotism but I do know I definitely want to see my reflection in a bottle.
Olivier Durbano Chrysolithe- I mentioned this last year that M. Durbano really has grown as a perfumer. Chrysolithe confirms that assessment. M. Durbano returns to naming his fragrances after crystals. There were a number of perfumes I tried this year which contained sage. M. Durbano, by combining it with cumin on top; cedar and vetiver in the base, forms a sage which shows off all of its many attributes spectacularly.
TauervilleRose Flash– Andy Tauer working on his second line of perfumes has created a set of three flash fragrances that are all extremely good. I purposely held off trying these because I knew I could experience them for the first time with Hr. Tauer at Pitti. We saved Rose Flash for last and it just slayed me. If you like Une Rose Chypree this is Hr. Tauer showing you a different face of rose. It carries a definitive signature of the rose bush with the green of the leaves matched with the woodiness of the stems. Over it all a spicy lush rose prevails. There is nothing not to enjoy here if you like rose perfumes. Just make sure you get some before it is gone.
That’s it for my wrap-up of Pitti Fragranze 2015. Full reviews of all of these will be forthcoming over the next few weeks plus many others which just missed making the Top 10. Thanks for following the coverage of Pitti Fragranze 2015 on Colognoisseur.