Category Archives: Best of 2011

Clarimonde Revisited

- At the crossroads of narrative, perfume and prose 

One of the greatest joys and highest privileges in my time as a perfume blogger has been the opportunity to participate in what I can only describe as …magic.

Instead of wrestling with concepts and angles, wondering how to write about any given perfume, the concept is already a given. Instead of wrangling ghosts in solitude, I could write away to my heart’s content, happy knowing that other bloggers wrote as I did, that perfumers felt as I do. As we did, as even I did, we each in our own ways created something that became larger, lusher and far more lustrous than any of us or our readers could have anticipated.

This was – and still is – known as The Clarimonde Project, named for the 1836 Théophile Gautier story La Morte Amoureuse, or as it was known when it was translated in 1907, simply – Clarimonde. The haunting, evocative story of the young priest Romuald who was destined for the seminary and had never known any other love than God’s, and how it all fell away in an instant the moment he looked up at his ordination and saw the celebrated courtesan Clarimonde and in an instant, all he knew and loved and believed fell away…or did it? Did he dream of his other, alternate life as Clarimonde’s beloved, or was it only too real and his old life as a priest of God the dream? Was Clarimonde simply a woman of incandescent beauty, or was she as Romuald’s abbot claimed, the vilest form of monster, renounced as vile as the sins Romuald surely  – or maybe – committed with her? Just as Romuald’s fevered prose, the story shapeshifts and changes each time you read it or listen to Joy Chan’s spellbinding reading of the story.

The Clarimonde Project is the brainchild of my dear friend and fellow blogger Lucy of Indieperfumes, and has since grown to involve not just some truly haunting perfumes, but also a Pinterest page and the inspiration for a masquerade ball and a three-day event at MiN New York to start on October 25th. Tickets to the event can be found here.

But it began…with the story, which can be read online here, or enjoyed as an audio file read by Joy Chan at this link, which is highly recommended.

It continued with bespoke perfumes, lipstains, and a dream pillow created by Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer, Mandy Aftel of Aftelier, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Ayala Moriel Sender and the House of Cherry Bomb by Maria McElroy of Aroma M and Alexis Karl by Scents By Alexis.

So it evolved…into some of the best perfume writing to be found anywhere by some of the very best perfume writers in the blogosphere.

For the story of Romuald and Clarimonde – courtesan, woman, Woman or supernatural aberration – grew into other stories and other words, all of them a surrender…to the beauty of Gautier’s story and to the beauty of the perfumes that story inspired.

Of all my many, many words in my two years writing about perfume, I can say for myself that I have never written as I did for Clarimonde before or since. To this day, they all remain my very best perfume writing, just as the privilege to participate in something so special, so haunting and so magical is an honor I will cherish –  always. 

The Clarimonde Project on the Alembicated Genie:

Sangre – perfume and lipstains by Monica Miller: Blood and Kisses

Aftelier PerfumesOud Luban: The Sanctity of Solace

House of Cherry Bomb’s Immortal Mine: A Philter Perilous

Ayala Moriel Sender’s ‘Clarimonde': Dreaming Venetian

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz‘ ‘Paradise Lost': Reclaiming Eternity

The Perfume Pharmer’s reviews of
Oud Luban
Immortal Mine
Ayala Moriel’s Clarimonde
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Paradise Lost

Jade Dressler

Deana Sidney’s (LostPastRemembered) post on Clarimonde, vampire lore and the perils of perfumed port

Scent Hive
Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Indieperfumes’ reviews of
Sangre
Oud Luban
Immortal Mine
Ayala Moriel’s Clarimonde
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Paradise Lost

Beth of PerfumeSmellin Things: The Clarimonde Project:

The Clarimonde Project on WordPress

Clarimonde on Pinterest

Image: ‘Barbaric Red’ – via the Clarimonde Pinterest page, pinned from Hoop Skirts & Corsets

Best of the Best 2011 – Worn and Adored

Being the true confessions of a dedicated perfumoholic

The problem with being a perfume blogger – apart from the fact that most of your surroundings think you’re certifiable –  is that you by necessity wear a lot – I do mean a LOT – of perfume that you sometimes may love and sometimes…may not. It will inevitably happen that you encounter your own brand of philistinism when you introduce your skin to a highly touted house and your chemistry flips you the bird as this much-marketed brand turns into either a hydra on your skin – sprouting another head of awful the more you scrub – or else…that you’re falling in love with juice that will entail selling off your seven-year-old to pay for it.

The things, the monsters, the hydras I have endured…I rarely wrote about. It just didn’t seem the polite thing to do. But surely, some day I should write about that infamous rite of passage for any hardcore perfumista…sitting out the duration of three whole dabs of Etat Libre d’Orange’s ‘Secretions Magnifiques’ on my skin without scrubbing. It was a bit like Anthony Bourdain drinking venomous snake blood in Vietnam because he wanted to be that guy who could brag about it with impunity…Well, I wanted to be that gal, and if Katie Puckrick had the ovaries to do it, then by Golly, so did I!

I did. I also turned green, then purple, then blue from holding my breath among other things. I dare say Anthony of NKDMan now owes me a bathtub sized drink…;)

On the other hand are the ones I simply…loved. Loved for their beauty, their peerless construction, the heart-rending drydowns and mood-enhancers and sex-me-uppers and just. Plain. Loved.

Aftelier

Cepes and Tuberose was my gateway into all things Aftelier. So compelling, so stunning, so simultaneously earthy and divine, spicy and sweet, it’s now become one of my Great Immortals, and on most days, there will be a tiny dab of it on my person somewhere. My Goddess Freya ‘fume. Sophia, another goddess in my novel Quantum Demonology, would surely love Fig. Something about jasmine sambac gets me. When it gets with fir and turns to fig, I’m done for. I’ve loved it – that much! I take Tango and Candide with me wherever I go just to breathe in their wonder. Whether it’s the completely seamless opulent bouquet of heaven that opens it or the perfectly balanced animal drydown of yes! Civet! Yes! Castoreum!…my little vial of Secret Garden is going fast. My ex hates it, which makes it a classic right there!

Atelier Cologne

Call me a philistine, but I have yet to meet an Atelier Cologne I haven’t loved, worn and killed off completely. I want one of each in those big, glorious 200 ml bottles. But for now, I’ll settle for a small bottle of Trefle Pur. Because it’s lucky! I just know…

Amouage

Ah, the many perils of Amouage. I first fell in love with Ubar – fatally and forever – and next with Epic Woman, although that took a while longer, but it crept up on me. Then, I met Memoir Woman. That took five tries and I was…toast. An instant love was the outrageousness of  Opus V – a slam dunk for this iris lover which will soon be reviewed – and then, Suzanne sent me a sample of Jubilation 25. “If this isn’t you…” she wrote ominously. I’m terrified it is…me! The good news, from my perspective, is that Lyric Woman is gorgeous …and hates my skin. I now eye that sample vial of Gold somewhat askance…and I don’t want to hear anything about Memoir Woman in extrait. I’ll wait until the day I show up in Knightsbridge, smoking plastic in tow, and they can tell me anything they like, so long as they tell me they take Amex as I take one of everything!

Aroma M

I’ve drained my sample set of Aroma M d-r-y. Geisha Blue (a verdant sanity saver for total stress-out days), Green, which is my other favorite absinthe, Violet, a deliciously subversive chocolate violet, Rouge, the spice fest to spice up anything at all, or the newest, Amber Rouge…Aroma M perfume oils are stunning, beautifully packaged in their Yuzen paper wrappings and they last and last and last. So will our love affair, I just know it!

Balmain

When I need a break from p-e-r-f-u-m-e, when all I want is to get on with my day and not worry about what I wear, when I get hit by acute indecision in the morning, Balmain’s Ivoire is what I reach for. A seamless, perfect dream of a green floral chypre that does everything a perfume is supposed to do – make me feel beautiful. It always does.

Caron

SuperMario Jr’s favorite perfume on his mother is Caron’s Bellodgia, one of the greatest carnations ever made. I make a point of wearing it when he’s sick to cheer him up. (His own, to his mother’s horror, is Amouage Memoir Man. He has sometimes insisted on wearing it to school…) Maman, meanwhile, has become addicted to the bad-gal leather of Tabac Blond extrait, thanks again to Suzanne. Yes, it’s the current formulation. I’m sure it was better before. But this is now and this is it and Tabac Blond is surely one of the sexiest scents I’ve worn this year? Wear wisely. I never did hear back from the guy I was with last I wore it to such stunning effect!

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

Ah, Dawn…she breaks my heart. First, there was…Vert pour Madame, and I have maybe three drops left, it’s such a perfect throwback to those Great Green Chypres we loved and adored. Then, I received a tiny vial of 1000 Lilies, and lilies don’t get any better, no matter what they say. Next, I discovered Sampsuchinon, which really puts the sass to my spice, and finally, she slayed me with Pandora and Paradise Lost. I love all of them when I can. Which is nowhere often enough for my liking.

Etat Libre d’Orange

Yes, I know. I know. But Etat Libre also gave us Like This…and I did indeed, like that, so much it’s all gone…as is Rossy di Palma, a thorny, spiky, green rose I also dearly loved.

Guerlain

In my year of revelations, two Guerlains – both from the L’Art et La Matière line – have converted me into a huge fan of Thierry Wasser. I haven’t yet tried Shalimar Parfum Initial – although I would like to – but Spiritueuse Double Vanille and Iris Ganache have made it into my regular rotation, and I’m so not a gourmand gal. I blame Carrie of EyelinerOnACat. That’s right. My nose had nothing to say in the matter at all!

Histoires de Parfums

There is no justice in this world if I don’t get my grubby hands on at least a decant of HdP 1740 – Marquis de Sade. Should be classified as a drug of a most lethal kind, so naturally, I’ve gotta have it!

ODIN NYC

I’ve only ever tried ODIN NY-04 Petrana (although I’ve heard so many great things about the others!), but for an iris lover, it doesn’t get any better, or classier, or chewier, or cooler. Then, I had the inspired idea – no such thing as too much iris! – to layer it with Iris Ganache. Petrana cuts some of the white chocolate overload of IG, and they dance in such beautiful tandem all day and well into evening…

Opus Oils

SInce I was done in by a dangerous bloom, my Flapper perfume oil from the Les Bohemes collection has seen a lot of action in my neighborhood, and never fails to land me compliments. So does Giggle Water. And Absinthia, my other favorite absinthe. Does this mean I’m dangerous? No. It means you must run, not walk, straight to Opus Oils and try them for yourself! You know you want to!

Ormonde Jayne

Linda Pilkington, how do I love thy genius? Let me count the ways…Tolu, a golden, glorious wreath of resinous perfection, Orris Noir, the world’s richest, warmest, thickest, sex-me-up iris got me into a flirt…five hours after I’d applied it and it was still going strong! Taïf, a dark, rich, red desert rose…Frangipani, Osmanthus and Champaca when life’s a bowl of cherries on a flawless summer’s day…oh, yes! Genius!

Penhaligon’s

Once upon a time, I received a Penhaligon’s Scent Library..and then proceeded to murder Malabah and Blenheim Bouquet. That’s love! Amaranthine’s utter strangeness and so-wrong-it’s-right-ness was stolen by a colleague. That’s purloined love!

Puredistance

There is no right way to say this, but say this I must – yet again. If you have the kind of skin that cozies up to green, then you must surely adore Puredistance Antonia. It is a masterpiece of a perfume – at once a reference to all those Great Greens of old and yet totally modern, too. It makes me happy and grateful beyond belief to know that Anne Bezantian felt as I do – and created what is – or what should be – a Classic with a capital C. Sigh. A forever love!

Robert Piguet

I never expected to conjure up the ovaries to fall for Fracas this year, but I did. With a vengeance. But there’s more intrigue from Piguet…since back in my Badass Days (when I was a good deal younger), I wore Bandit extrait…So I ordered a sample of the EdP from First in Fragrance, so I’d have something to complain about, only to find it was only slightly softer and not too changed these days, and that thrilled me no end. Bandit is another of my Great Immortals. Next I knew, I ordered a decant from TPC, because I’m still that kind of badass…and then, things got a little…weird. For this Bandit was not MY Bandit, with its bitter leather-violet-galbanum vibe and ashtray undertone (which is precisely why I love it, something only perfumistas can understand), but rather a fluffed-down, muskier version. Not even the color of the juice was the same. Came to find out that the US version is markedly different – why, I don’t know – and also, that I want that Euro ashtray version, so bad, I can taste it! On the other side of February 1st, I foresee an order…My sample is almost gone. I will cry my bitter isobutyl quinoline tears.

Serge Lutens

It gives me an evil amount of pleasure to state that I have managed to turn four of my friends and acquaintances into diehard Lutensoholics. Now, there are five of us where I live. I lured them in with Fleurs d’Oranger (best orange blossom ever created!), hooked them with Boxeuses, and wiped them up with Ambre Sultan. The Arabie is m-i-n-e. (and Suzanne’s! Cumin lovers, unite!) The Vitriol d’Oeillet I can share. If L’Eau Froide is half as good as I hope, this town is toast. Meanwhile, I have an inexplicable craving for the glories of Encens et Lavande…and want to try De Profundiis very badly. Cèdre I’ve loved for a quite a while, and thanks to JoanElaine, it can love me right back!

Skye Botanicals

The boy of the household – whatever Hairy Krishna, the ginger fiend thinks to the contrary – is a bit blasé about the amount of sample vials in different locations around our apartment. “Argh, Mom…why do you always smell of something?” he asked me yesterday. Nevertheless, he’s being indoctrinated by proximity. A seven-year-old who wears tiny dabs of Memoir Man to school has, I foresee, a very bright future. But one he loves beyond all reason is the one I spray on his pillow every night – Skye Botanicals Fuzzy Blue Blanket. It has replaced the lavender/neroli blend I used to use to get him to sleep. It works! He sleeps, if usually a half hour later than his mother would like…

Mainstream hits and misses

I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t like very much of what came out this year at my local shops…Chanel no. 19 Poudré was such a massive disappointment for me, Prada Candy hated me with a fury. These two words should never occur in the same sentence: Caramel and hairspray. Gah! Bottega Veneta made my best of list. There are a few Guerlains I need to investigate properly – Insolence among them, and yes, you may shoot me! But the closest thing to a mainstream find – and I can’t even find it here – that I loved was a flanker to one I do like: Mugler’s Alien. I said it – I’m a sucker for intergalactic jasmine sambac. When Aromi of IlMondodiOdore sent me a sample of Alien Liqueur de Parfum, it took me no time at all to decide I. Just. Have. To. Have. It. It’s Alien but better, smoother, richer, with a smoky, satinwood, resinous amber drydown to die for.

Ah, we perfume bloggers have it rough. So many ‘fumes, so little time. The ones we had to wear to review, the ones we wanted to love but couldn’t, the ones we loved so much, we couldn’t review them, and the ones we love so much, we wear them even on the days we claim we’re wearing nothing at all! These were mine in 2011. What were yours?

Image: The Queen’s Crown, made for Queen Sophie Magdalene by court jeweler Frederik Fabritius, 1731. Royal Danish Collections, Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen.

The Best of the Best 2011 – Phrases, Friends and Facilitators

Without you, I’m nothing!

Here’s a confession for you. In the real world, I’m a newly divorced single mother of a seven-year-old who works a decidedly unglamorous job for a minimum wage that just barely pays the bills. I do not own a credit card except for very dire emergencies, and I live in the Niche Empty Quarter of northwestern Europe. Several stores in Aarhus and Copenhagen do carry a few niche lines, but I get there so seldom, they might as well be located on the moon. It really is…that bad.

So I’m in deadly earnest when I say that without the staggering, stupendous, mind-blowing generosity of my fellow bloggers, friends and facilitators in several locations on both sides of the Atlantic, this past year of exploration and this past writing would never, ever have been possible. I’m so poor, I can’t even send them anything back to reciprocate. The samples I have already reviewed I pass on to a dear friend in the US who is battling cancer right now and who should surely have access to the kind of beauty that inspires hope and a will to survive, because she needs that more than anyone else I know.

OK, guys…you can put down the Kleenex now! ;-)

Instead, I try to pay my facilitators back with what I do have to spare…my words. Words in my reviews, words in emails that have kept me going through a very challenging year, Twitter conversations, retweets and whatever else I can do to express my abject gratitude…for the friendships I’ve forged, the connections I’ve made, the inspirations I’ve found and my hopes for possibilities and a future I couldn’t have imagined just a year ago. Whatever else I’ve achieved in this past year, my own words have carried me out into a world that really does want to read them, and for that, I’m grateful, too.

I was asked to be a guest blogger for Penhaligon’s ‘Adventures in Scent’ blog, and inadvertently channeled Agatha Christie by way of Amelia Edwards, Oscar Wilde, Robert Hitchens and Jane Austen. My review of Puredistance Antonia will be featured along with a few other bloggers’ in Puredistance’s new PR material in 2012, and that floors me, too. Last but not least, two august houses in particular have been more than kind to an unknown perfume blogger by spreading the word, retweeting me and even in one case posting a link to a review on their official Facebook page, which in my world view was a bit like receiving an encouraging postcard from, well, God!

But the biggest compliments I’ve received have been from my readers, who have kept reading in spite of it all. If not for you, if not for those emails and hotly anticipated padded envelopes, if not for the many postcards, cards and notes on my Wall of Fame behind my desk…none of this could ever have happened.

Back in the day, I began writing about perfume on the premise that if I could write about that most ephemeral of art forms, I could write about anything. Below are my personal favorites, the ones where the genie really did talk back and even I was surprised…

¤   Amouage, “Silver and Black” of Memoir Man, “Becoming Violetta” of Lyric Woman. When the story and evolution of an entirely fictional love affair makes even the writer reach for the Kleenex…

¤   Aftelier, “The Union of Heaven and Earth” of Cepes and Tuberose, “The Best of All Possible Worlds” of Candide

¤   Puredistance, “An Eternal April” of Antonia

¤   Opus Oils, “A Swell Party”“Did We Evuh” of the Les Bohemes collection, “Eau de Perdition” of Dirty Sexy Wilde

¤   Aroma M, “Sailing Through Byzantium” of Geisha Amber Rouge

¤   Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, “Reclaiming Eternity” of Paradise Lost, “Vertesimilitude” of Vert pour Madame

¤   Maria McElroy & Alexis Karl, “A Philter Perilous” of Immortal Mine

Friends, Facilitators and the Fellowship of Fumeheads

No best of list would be complete without a big, fat thank you hug to those who made everything possible…the words, the discoveries, the shared laughter, the emails, the acute indecision in front of my perfume cabinet, wondering who I’ll be today…

Lucy of Indieperfumes

When I was just starting out into the perfumosphere, Lucy of Indieperfumes was among the first to sense I might have something to say about perfume that might be worth reading. This was very high praise from such an exceptional writer. Without Lucy, I would never have been introduced to the world of indie perfumers, would never have met Mandy Aftel, Maria McElroy, Alexis Karl, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz…and my life as well as my writing would have been infinitely poorer for it. Without Lucy, I wouldn’t have participated in the Clarimonde Project. As for the rest…we’ve forged a soul friendship that means yours truly is planning a trip to New York in 2012, and if I ever need a literary agent with exceptional promotional skills, I’m hiring Lucy in a heartbeat!

JoanElaine of Redolent Of Spices

JoanElaine and I just…clicked. There’s no other way to say it. Both diehard chypre lovers, both a bit iconoclastic, both of us united in our love of a few great Immortals. When she located a vintage mini of one of mine, Guy Laroche’s Fidji, I about died. As it is, I wouldn’t want to live without her!

Carrie of Eyeliner On a Cat

I had been reading Carrie for a long time when she loudly rebuked me last spring for a reference to someone we both hold very, very dear. Since then, we found we share more than a few things in common, besides a love for cats, black metal and Christopher Lee. Carrie turned me on to gourmands. And Opus Oils. Her generosity of heart and spirit is legendary – for a reason. So is her writing!

Vanessa of Bonkers About Perfume

Vanessa and I could not be more polar opposite in terms of our personal tastes. She prefers understatement, whereas I’m a walking testament to sock-it-to-‘em sillage. Nevertheless, somewhere between her irreverent blog, many emails and a lot of laughter later – and generous decants of Roja Dove’s Scandal and Lucifer no. 3 among others – I’ve found a friend I truly cherish.

Suzanne of Perfume Journal

In the perfumista world is a term called a Scent Twin. Suzanne – an exceptionally gifted perfume writer herself – is mine. A Scent Twin is that rare creature who tends to love what you love, who will know something about your tastes and inclinations, and can often point you in a few directions you might otherwise not know. Suzanne and I met through my first perfume story of Amouage Ubar, whereupon she sent me a decant for my birthday. Since then, she has introduced me to many other wonders, and since then, she’s become not just a scent twin but also a soul sister. We’ve cheered each other up and made each other laugh and shared much else besides perfumed words since. I sincerely hope we always will.

Dee of Beauty on the Outside

It was Mugler’s Womanity – and my own snarky remarks about it on last year’s list – that brought Dee out of hiding to say hello, and what a ride it’s been since then! Devious Dee, I call her, since she tends to know things before I do, or should I say, know things I do before I do them! – has done so much to keep me going in this momentous year, and both she and I know…it ain’t over yet!

Olfactoria of Olfactoria’s Travels

Anyone who can manage to blog daily with two small children in situ and also be such a giving, generous soul as well as a spectacular perfume writer earns my undying respect and profound admiration. Should I ever get to Vienna, which isn’t my least favorite city on Earth, B will surely get me into all sorts of plastic-scorching trouble…and a Viennese cake, or two!

Ines of AllIAmARedhead

Last march, Ines was the very first to bribe me with that ultimate perfumoholic bribe…a Serge Lutens Palais Royal exclusive…a decant of Boxeuses. It has been much adored ever since! As has, gotta say it, the very redheaded Ines herself!

Aromi of IlMondoDiOdore

Aromi’s group blog,Il Mondo di Odore, was one of the first blogs I followed a long time ago, and I’ve read it faithfully since. He was also kind enough to send me a care package that included my favorite mainstream find of this year – Mugler’s Alien Liqueur de Parfum, and a sample of another line so exceedingly rare and off the radar, I’ve only seen it reviewed exactly once. It’s on my shortlist of up and coming attractions…which leads me to…

Favorite Avoidance Actions…err…blogs!

In a year that led to so many connections and so many cherished friendships, more discoveries in the blogosphere expanded my horizons and inspired me, too. On the right, you’ll find my blog list of favorite reading material – what I consider to be the very best in perfume writing. These are the ones I read myself. My one regret is not having the time to comment as often as I’d like, but I mean it when I say I read all of them. Many are mentioned above as Fragrant Facilitators, but I’ve made some new finds and located kindred souls, too…

Memory of Scent

Lyrical, rhythmic prose and thoughtful reviews don’t often go together quite so well in one splendid package as with Christos of Memory of Scent. If you don’t know him, start reading. He’s that good!

TheCandyPerfumeBoy

If not for Twitter and the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, I would have missed out on an absolutely indecent amount of fun – and another fan of Big, Bold, Beautiful Florals in Thomas, a.k.a The Candy Perfume Boy. I’ve decided to adopt him as my wayward kid brother. If we were ever in the same room, we’d be so much trouble…And speaking of trouble…

Persolaise

Once upon a time, there was a frequent reviewer and Basenotes commenter who decided to create his own blog. Since then, he’s become so awesome, he’s been justly nominated for a Jasmine Award for best perfume blog and received all sorts of exposure for his unquestionable expertise. Make no mistake, Persolaise is…trouble! Irreverent, funny, very intelligent and an inveterate tease. There was that running gag one night that involved a pink shirt, an August Personage, rumors of a fabled extrait, rope, a chair, Britney Spears Circus Fantasy, Covent Garden and “Bring me back my oakmoss!” While we’re on the subject, Persolaise, I’ll happily sign that oakmoss petition, too!

Jen of ThisBlogReallyStinksPerfume

In the unlikely event I should ever need a Conanna the Grammarian, Jen is hired in a heartbeat. Her blog – of course highly articulate, funny and grammatically perfect – is as unique as her perfume perspectives and indeed her beautiful self, and with a name like that, you know it’s special!

Ari of The Scents of Self

Ari is a relative newcomer but she’s no newbie when it comes to writing about perfume – or even her highly entertaining and well-planned series of interviews with perfume bloggers! She loves cats – indeed, has a cat named Zelda after a hyperfamous Fitzgerald – literature and Guerlain, probably not in that order.

Nat of AnotherPerfumeBlog

Nat should rightly be listed as a Great Facilitator for being the one to arrange a split of an Ormonde Jayne Tolu travel set that also involved yours truly, but I also love to read her! Whether instigating a poll to decide on her wedding perfume or recounting her adventures in London, she’s always an excellent excuse not to do what I should be doing, which is writing another blog myself!

Undina of Undina’s Looking Glass

I’m not entirely sure what it is Undina does for a living, but I’m relatively certain it involves things like statistics, mathematics and other things that make my eyes glaze. She’s so organized, her monthly lists of perfumes she wore are sorted into graphs and spreadsheets after percentage! That, my friends, is dedication! Here’s my system…reviewed and should be sent to Lily (small pile in red brocade makeup pouch). Received and needs review (large pile in turquoise cakebox). Check inbox. Did I say thank you? Yes. Good. Later. Love! Turquoise pull-out organizer. Will get to later…assorted tangled mess in blue cakebox. Guilt trip – in black voile bag…What I wore this month…what was it again? So you can see why I am speechless with admiration!

Gaia of The Non Blonde

Not content with being named for a Goddess of Earth and origination in Greek mythology, Gaia the Non Blonde is also one of my personal goddesses. My admiration for this ultimate authority on makeup brushes as well as vintage perfumes knows no limits, and even less so when I posed a difficult makeup question to all those beauty bloggers I follow on Twitter, and Gaia gave me what amounts to the winning lottery ticket – a tip about Dutch makeup artist Ellis Faas. Three samples, two emails and a rather expensive concealer later, I no longer have to look my age, never mind act it! From nine+ feet away, I don’t even need Botox! Grateful is not the word…

Joey of Beauty, Bacon, Bunnies

Once in a blue moon, temptation will slink in sideways when you least expect it and before you know it, you have a Devil on your shoulder, egging you on. “C’mon! You know you want to!” Indeed I do, and when I doubt it, I have that devious Devilette named Joey on my shoulder egging me on to ever-more perilous adventures in perfumes that sometimes involve Tiger in his natural habitat…When I do get to New York and finally meet her, Manhattan will never be the same…

The Postcards from God Department

In a year where I’ve written so much, stretched my horizons to silly putty and beyond, met so many mind-blowing people and flirted hardcore with a rock star legend and his bass player, two more stars of a different order appeared on the firmament of social media…and no thank you will ever be enough!

The social media/PR department of Parfums Serge Lutens have been unfailingly kind, encouraging and promptly retweeted any Lutens creation I posted as my Scent of the Day, as well as posted some of my reviews on their Facebook page. This is my fifteen milliseconds of fleeting fame, my postcard from God – and this, too, has made this year one I won’t forget in a hurry, since Serge Lutens perfumes put me on this fabled road to perdition to begin with.

And then, there was a very important August Personage of a Very August Perfume House, who lost his luggage on a promotional trip, whereupon I wrote him I’d keep my eyes crossed it was located safe and sound. I did. It was. Since then, whenever I felt myself flagging, the occasional – and sometimes very prompt – tweet from Christopher Chong of Amouage has either galvanized me right out of my rut or made me laugh until I cried. Until such time as I can get to London and say thank you in person – and rest assured I will, even if I don’t have a thing to wear! – his encouragement and support of one iconoclastic perfume blogger/nutcase/writer wannabe has meant – and spoken! – volumes. Epics! Opera, even!

Because…isn’t that what has been the theme of this year? To connect, to find likeminded souls with likeminded passions and the joy of sharing it, to pass it on and pay it forward and make it real and make it happen?

Without all of you, nothing would have happened. Without all of you, what would be the point? The year of 2011 was the year I laid the groundwork for everything I just know will happen in 2012, the year I began to believe…and for that faith alone, no thank you will ever be enough!

Just remember, guys and gals – our common adventures are just beginning, because now, we can see the road before us, and who knows what wonders lie ahead and what marvels we may find?

Image: The Coronation crown of Christian 4th of Denmark, made by goldsmith Dirich Fyring in Odense, 1595-96, from the Royal Danish Collections. 

Best of the Best 2011 – Perfumes and Perfumers

If anyone had told me what kind of year I would have just three hundred and sixty four days ago, I wouldn’t have believed it. I would have believed it even less if I had known what magic carpet rides I would encounter, what places I would go, or what marvels I would breathe.

This has been an impossible list, impossible because there have just been so many discoveries and so many perfumes, perfumers and fellow bloggers I would have loved to have on my list, but if I wrote about them all – and surely, I’ve tried? – we’d be here until next year.

Instead, I’ve split my best of the best into three – this one, to celebrate the perfumes and perfumers I was introduced to in this momentous year, second, to celebrate my favorite reading material/avoidance actions/friends and facilitators, and third, a tribute to the ones I wore with a passion and loved with a fury. The perfumes I mention in this post have been without exception released this year, which meant omitting others that were released previously, but they’ll receive their own mention in Part Three. It also means that in spite of other important releases issued, I’ve only mentioned those I’ve had the opportunity to try.

Indie Love!

My heart belongs to the indie perfumers of the world. With a few notable exceptions, the idea of handling a perfume bottle that has been touched by the hands that made it, the mind that conceived it, the perfumer who wrote me, wrapped it up and sent it to me, Ms. No One In Particular, makes it that much more…special.

All the indie perfumers who have made it to my Best of list put the ‘mano’ in the Italian phrase ‘fatto à mano’, made by hand, made with love, care and ‘ àl ‘onore della m’arte ’ – “in honor of my art”, an art that mainstream releases all too often ignore in their mercilessly commercialized hunt for the Next Big Thing.

It is a dedication I have rarely found until this past year, a dedication I had all but given up on ever finding again. When you support the indies, you support the artists themselves instead of filling the already overstuffed coffers of Sanofi, Proctor&Gamble, LVMH…

Support your indie perfumers, and you support a commitment to quality and artistic vision that even the Fragrance Foundation itself has now acknowledged with a category all its own. For a reason – the indies are…that good! They do it without much advertising, but only simple editorial write-up (if they’re lucky to get it), reputation/word of mouth and a little help from the blogosphere.

The Perfumers

This was the year I discovered the staggering creativity of American artisanal perfumery. Granted, I had a lot of help to point me in that direction, but geez, Louise…the scope, the breadth, their sheer jawdropping, sleight-of-hand artistry…

Each has their own personal signature, that singular touch and aesthetic vocabulary that makes them instantly recognizable.

This being my own year of Great Epiphanies, I’ve decided that rather than single out one of them, I’ve put them all up on the Number One spot. Ladies – you have all won my heart and undying loyalty to my dying day, and I can’t ever imagine a perfumed life without any of you!

Mandy Aftel, Aftelier Perfumes

The early morning I found an email from Mandy Aftel in my inbox redefined that lovely Yiddish word…’plotz’. Yes, I did. I had read reviews, I had perused her website, I had some intimations of what to expect…so I thought. Nothing could have prepared me for the olfactory shock treatment my Jacobsens’s organ had in store. Mandy’s perfumes redefine sensual shock treatment. Mandy had an amazingly creative year – with Haute Claire in her collaboration with Liz Zorn, with Oud Luban for the Clarimonde Project, and with Secret Garden, her tribute to the classic florals of yore in collaboration with Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. Heaven help me, I love them all. Mandy herself has been a constant encouragement and inspiration for me this past year, and for that, I love her, too!

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Parfums de Beaux Arts

Where does Dawn Spencer Hurwitz quit? I mean…where does she quit? First, she blew my mind with Vert pour Madame, a throwback to my most favorite ever perfume family, the green floral chypre, and next, she created the Cities of Splendor collection in a unique collaboration with the Denver Art Museum, and then…she gave us Pandora, her staggering ode to Mousse de Saxe, and to top it off, she also gave us Paradise Lost for the Clarimonde Project. Not one I couldn’t love, not one I couldn’t rhapsodize about until the cows came home, not one misstep. Dawn’s perfumes will surely be the death of my borrowed credit card. Or me, whichever comes first.

Maria McElroy, Aroma M

Maria is someone who somehow manages to bridge the gap between the time-honored art of Japanese perfumery and thoroughly modern Western scented sensibilities. Her Geisha perfume line of eaux de parfums and perfume oils is incredibly diverse and heart-rendingly beautiful, and therapeutical, too! She outdid even herself when she gave us Geisha Amber Rouge, a thick, heady, all-out outrageously opulent take on her famous Geisha Rouge (another favorite of mine), but she also created Immortal Mine for the Clarimonde Project with Alexis Karl, with whom she makes Cherry Bomb Killer Perfumes. Maria has become very dear to me and she is as lovely in person as her breathtaking perfumes.

Kedra Hart, Opus Oils

I have reasons to suspect that Kedra Hart conjures up an imp for every perfume she makes, because in every Opus Oil perfume I’ve ever tried, it sneaks out and makes me write things or imagine things I never dreamed I could. Mischief and mayhem, time travel and Tiger, and I never know where I’ll end up, but it will certainly… be so much fun, I have to do it again. And again. Kedra, too has had a banner year…with her soliflore collection of good-time gals Les Bohemes, with her Wild Child that won the Patchouli Summer of Love award (and put the POW! in patchouli), with Starfucker for her house model, Tiger the Tempter, and with her latest amazing creation, the world’s first perfume for anosmics, Eau Pear Tingle, which I can’t wait to try. Had I but known that perfumed perdition could be so much fun…and I suspect, there will be…many more imps to come! And a Tiger. And other hazards to my sanity…

Honorable Mention:

No slight is intended to either Liz Zorn of Soivohle/Acoustijuice or Neil Morris, except to say I have been thrilled beyond measure and compare to explore two more lines I had never had the opportunity to try. Expect to see reviews of both Liz Zorn and more Neil Morris in the coming year!

Best Mainstream Niche:

The three that made it to this part of my list are both made by houses that hold a special place in my heart – Amouage and Serge Lutens. What’s worse is that I’ve only reviewed one of them, which will be amended shortly. My opinion is definitely in the minority, but I don’t care – they are each of them the reason I love what I do.

Vitriol d’Oeillet, Serge Lutens & Christopher Sheldrake

Serge Lutens released Jeux de Peau, Vitriol d’Oeillet and De Profundiis this year, and much as I liked Jeux de Peau with its burnt toast, melted butter and delicious sandalwood drydown, I loved Vitriol so much, I arranged for a decant…and drained it. I’m no stranger to the old-fashioned splendors of carnation, but not many carnations have surprised me so consistently as this one, from its pepper punch opening to its silky-smooth drydown and its hourglass shaped development.

Honour Man & Honour Woman, Nathalie Feisthauer, Alexandra Carlin, Violaine Collas with Christopher Chong, Amouage

One thing to love about Amouage is how their perfumes tell two sides to the same story from a masculine and a feminine perspective. Inspired by the final act of ‘Madame Butterfly’ as a filial tribute, they both represent something new – the resinous, black pepper explosion of Honour Man, and the love letter to the big, white floral feminine that is Honour Woman. Both beautifully rendered, both surprising, both stunning. As for the ex who drained my sample of Honour Man to the last drop…he can buy his own!

Favorite Indie Trend:

Once upon a time, I gave up hope that anyone, anywhere would ever love the Green Fiends of yore as much as I did. Was I ever…wrong! I came to discover the marvels of Puredistance Antonia, Aftelier’s breathtaking conciliation of galbanum and ylang ylang, Haute Claire, and Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Vert pour Madame and Pandora. Green is the color of hope, and all of these give me just that. If I were to look into a magic mirror and predict what might lie ahead, that rediscovery of green would be one trend, but more importantly, I believe that indie perfumers are rediscovering the inherent challenges and thrills of the all-out, opulent florals…as we saw with Aftelier’s Secret Garden, or the opulent Oriental, such as Aroma M Geisha Amber Rouge.

Worst Mainstream Launch of the Year:

Chanel no. 19 Poudré

I had such high hopes for this one, was so excited to try it, and was so unbelievably let down. What on Earth were Chanel thinking when they decided to give Chanel no. 19 a makeover? Yes, it’s difficult, yes, it’s different, and yes…it’s an icon for a reason. So they took my beloved no. 19, which I’ve worn for almost thirty years without fail, filleted it, flattened it, and added an overdose of baby powder to make it more palatable for the mainstream consumers who might be intimidated by the original. I was hoping for a no. 19 Eau Premiere. What I got was a pale, wan, semi-starved seventeen-year-old who photographs well but is very vague in person. Me, I’ll take intimidation any day of any year.

Worst Advertising Idea, Ever:

Nothing against the lovely Natalie Portman, you understand, but I am…in an outrage of epic proportions when I see that Dior has now dropped the ‘Cherie’ from Miss Dior Cherie and is now promoting it as simply Miss Dior. Now, an entire generation will equate this hot, synthetic strawberry mess with the perfume that made Dior famous. This is superbad in the worst possible way.

Best Mainstream Launch:

Bottega Veneta

Color me surprised. When a fashion brand best known for its hyper-luxe gloves and woven-leather handbags launched its own eponymous perfume, I had no expectations whatsoever. So I was in the perfect place to be taken aback by the restrained, elegant and very ladylike Bottega Veneta, which is nowhere so restrained it’s boring, but also so consistently well-made, it’s easy to love, even for this cranky leather fan. I might even buy it, so long as I get a handbag, too.

Coolest Fusion of Fumes and Phrases:

When Lucy of Indieperfumes asked me to participate in the Clarimonde Project in time for Halloween, thrilled was not the word to describe my reaction. A vampire story unlike any other, an immersion into the netherworld of dark and light, faith and passion – what wasn’t to love about that idea? Seven bloggers, six perfumers, one story and a kind of synergy I have a hard time describing, but some kind of magic occurred along the way, something very special was created in both perfumes and words, and in several compelling ways, I’m not quite what I was that day I wrote her back to say I’d love to be a part of it. Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer, Mandy Aftel, Ayala Moriel, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl all rose spectacularly to the challenge of being inspired by Théophile Gautier’s 1836 story, and it was all this blogger at least could do to hope I was up for doing each of their creations the justice they deserved. Certainly, Monica, Trish of ScentHive, Lucy, Beth of PerfumeSmellin’ Things, Jade Dressler, Deana Sidney of LostPastRemembered and I pulled no punches each in our own ways to dive into the vials and wrest their interpretations of the story from them. All  – the words and the perfumes – happily coalesced into a special kind of magic I will always feel proud to have been a part of.

Most Dangerous Perfume of the Year:

Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl, Immortal Mine for the Clarimonde Project

I have reasons to suspect that on occasion, not even the perfumers involved in creating a perfume are entirely aware of just what genie they’re unleashing upon an unsuspecting world. The term ‘mortal peril’ is a bit of a cliché in perfume terms, but in the case of Immortal Mine, take my word for it – it’s no cliché here! I broke that dripping, blood-red wax seal and my blood immediately ran icy cold and scorching hot. Even now, I get goosebumps just thinking about it. Magic, mojo, that blood of a slayed Wyvern, the soil from an unmarked grave…whatever else they put into Immortal Mine, it is, hands down, the most dangerous thing I’ve smelled all year, and likely ever in my life. They will have to wrest this one from my cold, dead hands if they can…or bury me with it, so I can haunt my descendants!

Stay tuned tomorrow for Part Two – and more favorites of the year! And tell me, what were your best and worst of 2011?

Image: The Coronation crown of King Christian V of Denmark, made in 1670-71 by goldsmith Paul Kurtz in Copenhagen. This is the crown depicted on all DK coins and it is known as ‘The Crown of Absolute Sovereignty’. Image from the Royal Danish Collections at Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen.