When it comes to the culinary arts honey is one of my favorite ingredients to use. It has so much versatility in the kitchen. When it comes to my sense of smell it can be an entirely different experience. Honey when used as the focal point of a fragrance has a tipping point for me. After a certain concentration it changes from being a bit of viscous sweet sunshine to the smell of a urinal cake. I am not unique in this as the perfume forums are full of the same kind of impressions. That doesn’t mean there aren’t perfumes which are on the good side of the line. Here are five honey perfumes I think stay away from the less desirable aspects of honey in perfume.
The first honey perfume I fell in love with was 2004’s Christian Dior La Collection Privee Bois D’Argent by Annick Menardo. An opaque opening of incense and iris evolves into a heart of honey and myrrh. Mme Menardo creates a gauzy drizzle of resins and honey which eventually finds purchase on a base of suede leather. One of Mme Menardo’s best creations ever.
The small perfume brand which has come out of the Bordeaux vineyard Maison Ginestet has made one of the best honey perfumes. Ginestet Botrytis is composed by perfumer Gilles Toledano. M. Toledano wanted to create a perfume reminiscent of the botrytis fungus which helps concentrate the sugar content of grapes. The perfume named after that is a rich mix of honey and quince most recognizably but there are a host of other candied fruits underneath. It all rests on a white flower infused spice bread accord. The wine snob and the perfume snob both approve of M. Toledano’s interpretation of both.
Tokyo Milk Honey and the Moon No. 10 by Margot Elena is one of those amazing bang for the buck fragrances. I tried it for the first time in a promotional rollerball while waiting in line in Sephora. I was back a day later to buy a full bottle. It is a simple construction of sugary sweet on top. Candied violet and honey in the heart leading to sandalwood. It is simply constructed and one of my favorite very sweet perfumes.
The cumin, caraway, and honey opening of Maison Francis Kurkdjian Absolue pour Le Soir by Francis Kurkdjian is just the beginning of what I think is one of the best perfumes of the last five years. Whenever I need to remind myself of the artistry of perfume Absolue pour Le Soir is where I turn. The remainder of this perfume moves through an incense soaked rose down into an intensely woody base of sandalwood and cedar. This is not perfume for the faint of heart. It is perfume for those who love perfume.
I am not sure I have any more words left to praise Vero Profumo Rozy Voile D’Extrait by perfumer Vero Kern. My perfume of the year for 2014 by my perfumer of the year for 2014. I have said it before and I say it again this is the best post-modern rose ever. The reason is the honey which forms the viscous core around which rose, spice, and labdanum are suspended. It is an incredible feat of perfumery.
As I finished this list it occurred to me that for all that I am wary of honey in fragrance I consider four of these perfumes among the best ever made. It is probably the strongest collection of My Favorite Things to date. If you do like honey these are five perfumes which should be on your list to try.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
Once again I tried to smell every new perfume that was released in 2014 and like Wile E. Coyote chasing The Road Runner, I failed. I did smell more this year than I ever have, 614 new perfumes. Unfortunately as of this writing there were 1614 new releases in 2014. I only missed by a 1000. I think we can all agree that there is just too much new product which just smells too similar. The 25 perfumes I highlight below managed to stand out from everything I tried this year.
Top 5 (Fragrance of the Year Candidates)
5. Amouage Sunshine Woman– Creative Director Christopher Chong and perfumer Sidonie Lancesseur have created the most un-Amouage Amouage perfume in Sunshine Woman. With Mr. Chong’s hand on the creative wheel Mme Lancesseur guided Amouage into sunnier places than Amouage usually travels. That they accomplished this without using the typical sparkling ingredients from the perfumer’s palette makes it all the more remarkable. I still don’t think I do justice describing this in words other than it is one of the best perfumes of the year.
4. Maria Candida Gentile Leuco– When I attended Pitti Fragranze I must have tried thirty tuberose perfumes each more boringly generic than the next one. Until Maria Candida Gentile handed me Leuco. As part of her Il Volo del Calabrone (Flight of the Bumblebee) collection she has made a tuberose that does not seek to club you over the head. In Leuco, Sig.ra Gentile has combined it with French beeswax to create a shimmering powdery tuberose perfume.
2. Bogue Profumo Maai– The absolute best surprise of all of 2014 for me. I had heard a little bit of independent perfumer Antonio Gardoni. I didn’t expect such an assured piece of perfumery from a self-taught artist on his third release. Maai feels like a perfume of yesteryear that could be found in the glove compartment of a Tesla. When I speak of Retro Nouveau, if you need an example, try Maai and I think you’ll instantly understand what I mean.
Here are the rest of the Top 25 in alphabetical order:
Aftelier Palimpsest– Natural Perfumer Mandy Aftel is a national treasure as she continues to branch out. Her book Fragrant is the best volume on perfume in years. She also released a transcendent perfume named after the technique used in medieval times of writing over already used parchment. Palimpsest the perfume also has layers upon layers which reward my attention every time I wear it.
Ann Gerard Parfum Rose Cut– Ann Gerard came to perfumery from designing jewelry. Her fourth collaboration with perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour is a bright shining diamond that smells like a rose.
aromaM Camellia– Indie Perfumer Maria McElroy makes what I think is her most personal perfume to date. Camellia takes you more than skin deep right to the soul of a geisha in a subtle floral constructed around the titular note.
Arquiste The Architects Club– My Creative Director of the Year Carlos Huber obviously had a great 2014. The Architects Club is the crown on that year as a clash of uptight architects and flappers in 1930 London turns into a citrus, gin, and vanilla laden party. I keep going back to perfumer Yann Vasnier’s fragrant soiree for more.
By Kilian Intoxicated– If you felt that By Kilian has been off on a bit of a tangent you should come back and try the perfumes in the new Addictive State of Mind Collection. Intoxicated is a perfumed take on Turkish coffee by Calice Becker. She combines green cardamom and coffee into something I never want to see in a Starbucks cup but I want to wear over and over.
Comme des Garcons + Stephen Jones Wisteria Hysteria– There was no sequel I was more wary of than the second collaboration between Comme des Garcons and milliner Stephen Jones. Perfumer Nathalie Feisthauer created something akin to a new hat. You have to wear it a few times before it really fits. If you give Wisteria Hysteria time you will find a perfume with more subtlety and nuance throughout than almost any other release in 2014.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz
DSH Perfumes Seve de Pin– Dawn Spencer Hurwitz finds inspiration in so many places. Once she found Eric Bresselsmith of House of Aromatics and his 50-year old resin crystals in pure pinion oil she turned it into a photorealistic pine perfume like nothing I have ever smelled in this genre. Rocky Mountain high, indeed.
Etat Libre D’Orange Rien Intense Incense– Creative Director Etienne de Swadt asked perfumer Antoine Lie to create an “intense” version of the already intense 2006 release Rien. This could have gone wrong in so many ways but M. Lie created a flanker that is better than the original.
Hiram Green Shangri-La– Hiram Green was inspired by the alpha chypre, Chypre de Coty, to make his own version. His version may not be as groundbreaking as to create a whole new fragrance category but it as good as modern chypres get. Mr. Green has established himself as a new perfumer to watch in just his second release.
Le Labo Geranium 30– I wanted to not like this. A limited edition of only 100 bottles by perfumer Barnabe Fillion in collaboration with lifestyle store Opening Ceremony with added creative direction from floral designer Thierry Boutemy. I wanted to dismiss this, I really did. I can’t. It is the best Le Labo floral since Rose 31. There is no reason for this to be so limited because of some rare ingredient so maybe the new masters at Estee Lauder can release it widely in 2015, y’know as a goodwill gesture.
Map of the Heart Black Heart v.2– If you, like me, have wondered just how dark a perfume can get and still remain wearable this will test that. Perfumer Jacques Huclier makes a perfume that has not even one tiny point of light. If you’ve craved an olfactory heart of darkness, here it is.
Masque Milano Russian Tea– I’ll admit I wasn’t as big a fan of the initial three releases from Masque Milano in 2013. It couldn’t be a more different story in 2014. The second release for 2014, Russian Tea, is fabulous. Perfumer Julien Rasquinet, in the last perfume of his independent career, realized creative directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi’s brief of having a potent cup of tea on a winter’s day in St. Petersburg.
Naomi Goodsir Or du Serail– Naomi Goodsir and Renaud Coutaudier are two of my favorite creative directors because they are uncompromising in waiting until they get the modification they want. For Or du Serail they pushed perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour into creating one of his best and most textural perfumes of the last couple of years.
Neela Vermeire Creations Mohur Extrait– Neela Vermeire let me have a tiny taste of this over a year before it was finally released. It was a very frustrating secret to keep because Mohur Extrait is the best of this line to date. Mohur Extrait is a quantum leap better than the very good parent Mohur EdP all while staying very personal.
Olfactive Studio Ombre Indigo– The blue liquid in the clear flacon is visually striking all by itself. The photographic inspiration by Gustavo Pelizzon is a study in shadow. The perfume by Mylene Alran under owner Celine Verleur’s creative direction is a study in chasing perfumed shadows cast by tuberose and vetiver. I still haven’t tired of it.
Olivier Durbano Promethee– Experiencing Olivier Durbano’s development as a perfumer for nearly ten years didn’t prepare me for this fully realized creation based on the mythological character Prometheus. It feels like M. Durbano has offered a smoldering firebrand announcing his arrival as one of our best perfumers.
Parfumerie Genrale 7.1 Grand Siecle Intense– Pierre Guillaume has been going back and making variations on his earlier Parfumerie Generale fragrances. This re-working of Cologne Grand Siecle felt like he finally completed that perfume, adding in a proper heart and base to what was, and in 7.1 still is, one of the most brilliant lemon accords I have ever smelled. This was my favorite perfume of the summer of 2014. I really hope he keeps making it.
Roja Parfums Nuwa– There are sometimes I want my perfume to be big as it can be. Say what you will of Roja Dove but he has no fear of going as big as you can. Nuwa is that philosophy applied to a classic chypre.
slumberhouse Sadanne– Perfumer Josh Lobb released this in the summer and I have spent the rest of the year enjoying every time I wear this. Mr. Lobb has created a perfume of abrupt tonal shifts from gourmand to prickly floral to feral beast. This is probably too much for many. I can’t get enough of it.
Tauer Perfumes Cologne du Maghreb– Andy Tauer decides to take cologne and make it something completely Tauer-like. Hr. Tauer challenged himself to create an all-natural, all-botanical cologne. The result was a wonderful bit of inspiration and imagination.
Ulrich Lang New York Aperture– Ulrich Lang has been making a habit of flying below the radar. If I had an award for most underrated perfume brand his would be one of the front runners. Aperture is another example of why this brand should be more lauded. Hr. Lang was inspired by an amazing photograph by Olivia Bee. The perfume captures all that the picture promises. This might be one of the harder perfumes on this list to find. Make the effort, you will be well-rewarded for it.
The Final Cuts: The 18 Which Just Missed the Top 25- Aedes de Venustas Oeillet Bengale, Atelier Cologne Blanche Immortelle, Bottega Veneta Knot, Comme des Garcons Pharell Williams Girl, Dior La Collection Privee Cuir Cannage, Grandiflora Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine, Jardins D’Ecrivains Junky, Jo Malone Wood Sage & Sea Salt, Juliette Has a Gun Moon Dance, Le Galion Whip, Masque Milano Tango, Mona di Orio Myrrh Casati, Ormonde Jayne Black Gold, Parfum D’Empire Corsica Furiosa, Parfums de Nicolai Cuir Cuba Intense, Parfums DelRae Wit, Providence Perfume Co. Violet Beauregarde, and Richard Luscher Britos 14oS48oE.
That’s it for 2014. Most of you will be reading this on New Year’s Eve and I want to wish all of the readers of Colognoisseur a happy and healthy 2015. I’ll be here exploring fragrance with you throughout the upcoming year. ACME just delivered my rocket-powered sneakers so maybe I'll be able to keep up this time.
One of the reasons I think 2014 was a very good perfume year was I had so many candidates to choose from for what I think are the best perfume, perfumer, creative director, and brand of the year. I have changed my mind numerous times, revisited the perfumes all had created this year, and considered other metrics. In the end I finally settled on a list I think shows off why this year has produced some great perfume.
Perfume of the Year: Vero Profumo Rozy Voile d’Extrait– When I sat down with independent perfumer Vero Kern in Milan she had had a bad fall and was sporting a black eye hidden behind, her always stylish, trademark eyeglasses. As she handed me the strips of her newest creation my mind was not on sniffing but concern for one of the truly great people I have met in perfume. I was still asking her if she was okay as I lifted the strip to my nose. From the moment I inhaled my focus shifted immediately to what I was smelling.
The Very Moment I Describe in the Paragraph Above (Photo: Sarah Colton)
There have been a lot of perfumes which have professed to be a post-modern rose. Rozy Voile d’Extrait lives up to that description better than any other which has made that particular claim. By using honey as a sticky bit of texture to pull in all of the other notes it creates unbelievable expansiveness at the same time. Rozy VdE also has some rough edges courtesy of a brilliant addition of labdanum. This rose has not been stripped of all of its thorns. Inspired by Italian actress Anna Magnani, Rozy VdE reminded me of the throaty laugh of a beautiful intelligent woman much like the perfumer who made it.
Perfumer of the Year: Vero Kern– Yeah it seems obvious if Vero Kern made the perfume of the year she should be perfumer of the year. That’s generally not the way I work as I look for a body of work when making this particular decision. One of the things I admire about Ms. Kern is she takes her time perfecting her creations and that has resulted in what I consider to be one of the greatest overall collections by an independent perfumer. Which usually means one release per year and heading into the final part of the year I did not have Ms. Kern on my short-list.
Then I received my sample set of the Richard Luscher Britos Terroir Perfumes. Ms. Kern was responsible for the one called 14oS48oEwhich were the coordinates of an ylang-ylang plantation in Madagascar. For the second time in 2014 a perfume demanded every bit of my attention as the heart of this perfume has what I would consider a near perfect heart accord consisting of ylang-ylang, evergreen, pink pepper, and mimosa. I had an inkling that Ms. Kern had a bit of a challenge working with an entirely natural palette and in some correspondence after I reviewed it she confirmed that to me. This is exactly what does comprise a perfumer of the year one who is willing to work outside of their comfort zone and still be able to produce something instantly gorgeous. For Rozy Voile d’Extrait and Richard Luscher Britos 14oS48oE Vero Kern is my Perfumer of the Year for 2014.
Runner-ups: Maria Candida Gentile, Rodrigo Flores-Roux, Josh Lobb (slumberhouse), Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, and Cecile Zarokian.
Creative Director of the Year: Carlos Huber of Arquiste– I was given the opportunity to introduce Carlos Huber on Sunday of Sniffapalooza Fall Ball 2014 in October. Part of that introduction was my lauding Mr. Huber at creating a distinctive brand identity for his perfume line Arquiste. I believe that too many new brands skip this step to their detriment. From the beginning Mr. Huber has had a clear vision on what he wanted his brand to be. He has worked exclusively with perfumers Yann Vasnier and Rodrigo Flores-Roux on putting this vision into a perfume bottle. That process resulted in two outstanding additions to the Arquiste line in L’Etrog Acqua and The Architects Club. Lots of Creative Directors had multiple good releases.
What elevated Mr. Huber to Creative Director of the Year was the collaboration he did with J. Crew. He created two perfumes for J. Crew which also carries the Arquiste brand; Arquiste for J. Crew No. 31 and No. 47. By working with J. Crew’s Creative Director Jenna Lyons they made two perfumes which were not wholly of either brand but an excellent introduction to each brand to those who like one or the other. Only a Creative Director confident in the concept of his brand can easily do that. Confident and assured describes Carlos Huber my Creative Director of the Year for 2014.
Runner-ups: Christian Astuguevieille (Comme des Garcons), Karl Bradl and Robert Gerstner (Aedes de Venustas), Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi (Masque Milano), Christopher Chong (Amouage), Sylvie Ganter-Cervasel and Christophe Cervasel (Atelier Cologne).
Brand of the Year: DSH Perfumes– As I was looking back over the list of things I reviewed this year there was one brand which kept popping up time and again, DSH Perfumes. Independent perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz had a prolific year as she released two collections The Cannabis Culture Collection and The Brilliant Collection. A very personal re-interpretation of Jacques Fath Iris Gris called Scent of Peace. A masculine perfume, Metropolis. Her Holiday release, Vanilla Bourbon Intense. Three perfumes for The PLP Project. Finally, my favorite of all of these Seve de Pin. There was so much here that reviews of The PLP Project and The Brilliant Collection will be coming early in the New Year. Normally this kind of profligacy leads to less than thrilling results. One of the things I have come to realize about Ms. Hurwitz is when she is inspired she is a force of nature. I think 2014 saw her as inspired as she has ever been. She is also inspired by so many different influences but yet manages to make each new release another brick that fits in the entire DSH Perfumes brand pantheon. For all of that DSH Perfumes is my Brand of the Year for 2014.
Runner-ups: Aedes de Venustas, Arquiste, Comme des Garcons, Etat Libre d’Orange, and Masque Milano.
I have mentioned previously that discovering Andy Tauer’s blog back in 2006 was one of those informational turning points for me. I absorbed everything he had to say and one of the perfumers he spoke of was a Swiss perfumer by the name of Vero Kern. It took me a little while but I eventually acquired her first three perfumes Vero Profumo Kiki, Onda, and Rubj. At this point I was considering relocating to Switzerland because it must be a hotbed of independent perfumery. Those first three fragrances are, to this day, very near the pinnacle of what it means to create an independent perfume. I finally had the opportunity to meet her in 2011 when I attended Esxence for the first time. I think I might have been a little overenthusiastic in my enjoyment at the encounter. I had the chance to renew the acquaintance this year and I also had the opportunity to ask her about her new fragrance Rozy.
Rozy was inspired by Italian actress Anna Magnani who is best known as the winner of the Oscar for Best Actress for the 1955 movie “The Rose Tattoo”. Sig.ra Maganai was known for her intensity onscreen as one of the leading artists in the Italian Neorealism movement. She was also one of those handful of foreign actresses that didn’t rely on her looks to make an impact, she was known for her performances on screen and not elsewhere. Ms. Kern is also an intense perfumer who works in an unhurried exacting manner until she is ready to release something new. It is why there is so much anticipation among those who know her work as Rozy is only the second new fragrance since the original three following up 2012’s Mito.
Vero Kern (r.) and I trying Rozy
While Ms. Kern hasn’t produced new fragrances on a regular basis she has explored the differences concentration makes in her basic architecture and that is why all of her perfumes are available in three versions. The extrait is sort of the baseline version, the Eau de Parfum is a different take altogether usually with a slight tweak to the notes. Just last year she introduced a third version called Voile D’Extraits. I was captivated by the versions of the previous four and when we spoke in Milan she explained she wanted a way to make her perfumes more expansive. They fall in between the EDP and extrait in terms of concentration but they feel like something more original in concept than a simple concentration change could account for. For Rozy I was given a sample each of the EDP and Voile D’Extrait.
Anna Magnani (Photo: Bob Collins)
Rozy Eau de Parfum is the intensity of Sig.ra Magnani’s stare, full of intelligence and potential. Rozy is Ms. Kern’s take on a rose-centric fragrance but this is not your mother’s, or your grandmother’s, rose perfume. She told me that she didn’t want this to be a “typical” rose. One sniff of the EDP and I knew what she was going for. The rose is there right at the heart but Ms. Kern brackets it with peach, honey, and passion fruit. The passion fruit is becoming Ms. Kern’s signature note. When you try all of her fragrances she has an ability to modulate it to seemingly do anything she wants it to. In Rozy EDP she uses it as a way of adding in a bit of foundation to the peach to keep it from tilting too primly sweet and keeping it a little earthier in nature. The honey is here to add a bit of complementary sweetness and textural viscosity. Rozy EDP ends up mostly a genteel honey covered rose very late in its drydown.
Rozy Voile D’Extrait is just simply a genius piece of perfume making. The Voile D’Extrait is a full throated laugh from Sig.ra Magnani full of the enjoyment of life. For the Volie D’Extrait Ms. Kern adds cassis and tuberose to the early going and then she drenches it in honey, dusts it with spice, and adds the final bit of inspiration, labdanum, to turn this more jagged in nature but the honey holds it all together in a sticky matrix where it all unifies. When Ms. Kern said she didn’t want a “typical” rose Rozy Voile D’Extrait is the one that delivers that promise best.
Rozy EDP has overnight longevity and average sillage. Rozy Voile D’Extrait has similar longevity and below average sillage.
There have been many perfumers who have presented their version of a post-modern rose fragrance. With Rozy EDP, and Voile D’Extrait, Ms. Kern has set my personal standard for that category for the foreseeable future. Rozy Voile D’Extrait is the best perfume Ms. Kern has ever made. It is the best new perfume I have tried so far this year.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Campomarzio 70.