As I survey my desk filled with samples it is amusing to remember a time when that was not the case. As recently as four years ago I was using every connection I had to source a full set of samples from Memo Paris. Back then it was not a sure thing to get European-only releases. Over those four years Memo Paris has become available everywhere. I have also met the husband and wife team behind the brand. John Molloy takes care of the business side of things and Clara Molloy takes care of being the creative director for the brand. Mme Molloy has worked exclusively with one perfumer throughout the entire Memo Paris collection, Alienor Massenet. Over their collaboration they have designed a brand aesthetic while branching out into three collections within the brand. Memo Paris is one of my favorite brands there aren’t any which I have not enjoyed. If you have seen the display of the collection and wanted to know where to start here are my five suggestions.
John and Clara Molloy
The very first Memo Paris fragrance I tried was Inle. When I first reviewed Inle I described it as a tea dyed osmanthus. The creative team uses a focused tea accord, right down to a sprig of mint, to float osmanthus upon. It is framed out in clean lines of cedar and white musk. So often a perfume works to enhance the apricot leather duality of osmanthus. Inle decides to just let it be.
The perfume which made me mad for desire to acquire all of them was Shams Oud. The opening is a spicy glow of the sun setting on the desert. Ginger, saffron, and pepper form that dry desert breeze. As the oud becomes more apparent the three spices find their spot and form a fabulous oud chord. Later on it transitions through a green phase of papyrus and vetiver before letting birch and balsam provide the final notes. Shams Oud is still one of my very favorite oud perfumes.
Manoa is the iris fragrance for the brand. Starting with ginger and citrus a powdery iris sets itself upon a foundation of opoponax, vanilla, and labdanum. Probably the most simply constructed perfume in the entire collection it still carries that Memo Paris vibe.
Quartier Latin also trends a bit simpler in architecture too. It reminds me of walking outside of a nightclub passing through a group smoking Kretek clove cigarettes straight into a wood-paneled room. Mme Massenet chooses clove leaves instead of just clove to add a bit of green which threads itself through the very dry woods of cedar and sandalwood. The desiccated quality is relieved a bit with tonka and amber. The balance in Quartier Latin shows off what a fine technician Mme Massenet is.
There have been four leather perfumes within the Cuirs Nomades collection. The one which you should try first is African Leather. This opens with a slightly different African breeze than Shams Oud. Using cardamom and cumin to go with the saffron this time it has a more primal energy to it. The leather accord in the heart feels as if it is alive and stalking you. Vetiver and patchouli provide a sunbaked earth accord for the base. This entire Cuirs Nomades have been good but African Leather is the current crown jewel.
This is a niche line which carries my highest recommendation. I think most perfume lovers will find one or more which speak to them. Try these five as a start.
Disclosure: This review was based on a 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.