The Epiphanies of 2014

C4crown

  • the thrills and spills of the past year in perfume

It’s that storied time of year again when I finally sit down and decide on my favorites of (the thankfully passé) 2014. In spite of a frantic year that was frantic for all the wrong reasons, and in spite of far too much to review and not nearly enough time to write about it, I did indeed, thanks to dear and generous friends and my own initiative, get to stick my nose in not a few things I loved this year, many I very much liked and a few I absolutely loathed.

This time, instead of posting three separate lists, I’ve decided to mix things up a bit on one ultra-list, otherwise you and I will be here ‘till Doomsday, and I don’t know about you, but I have a long to-do list this year…

Another thing I feel compelled to point out is that many of the perfumes that have made it to this list have yet to be reviewed. Some because… well, that’s a surprise I’ll be getting back to in a bit. In so doing, that violates a principle I have about only including the things I reviewed, but we all have things to do. Some will be reviewed here on TAG, and others… well, I’m getting ahead of myself here.

The Worst of 2014

We might as well get the bad stuff over with.

Which means that whoever is in charge chez Parfums YSL will be the first to go down in flames in my revolution dream. It evidently wasn’t enough to slaughter one of the greatest perfume heritages of the late 20th century in terrible/lazy/rushed refomulations, nor even to pour ‘PVC+phthalate doll accord’ into the dregs of (badly reformulated) Paris and call it ‘Parisienne’. But did whomever-should-be-shot-with-current-version-Tabu stop to think about how we would perceive Black Opium? Because it is neither ‘black’ in the slightest, nor Opium in the least particular. It’s as forgettable and unremarkable as last year’s haute blondes. Henceforth, I shall proceed to call it (“perfume”) Methadone, except it neither alleviates Opium withdrawals nor the nostalgic pangs of prior highs. When Hedi Slimane, chief designer at YSL, finds it necessary to dissociate himself from it in a press release, you know it’s one terrible idea. Horribly executed. Alas, not fatally.

Oud

Perfumers and perfume houses: I have a announcement for you:

I. Am. So. Over. Oud.

And yes, I do like oud, except not so much the barnyard stable ‘fierce’ ouds, and certainly not the synthetic oud that passed for the real thing this past year. This is a trend that needs to die. You still have flowers, woods, resins, plants, all with their own languages to explore and their stories to tell. Start listening.

Hyperinflation

True luxury, stated a friend of mine in the know, is always inclusive. Meaning that inflating an already hefty price tag on a niche perfume, pouring gold dust all over the bottle (or whatever gimmicks are used to justify the price tag) and marking it all up by at least 5000% is not, in fact, luxurious at all. It’s simply, as I see it, pandering to the lowest audience of all: those who are too unsophisticated and too rich to know better. There are far too many ‘hyper-luxe’ sheep masquerading as big, bad wolves worth their prices. If I ever have 1000€ to spend on perfume (because I can dream!), I hope to spend it where my business is properly appreciated, not where I leave with a big, fat “SUCKER” tattooed in risible ink on my forehead. Roja Dove and Diaghilev extrait, here’s looking at you, and I say that because Diaghilev in extrait is literally flawless. And forever and always out of my reach. Damn it.

Flankers.

Because they display a distinct lack of inspiration or ambition, and I can’t decide what’s worse. Maybe both?

Worst idea:

Guerlain Shalimar Souffle de Parfum. I spent the better part of two hours trawling through a large Copenhagen Sephora this Christmas on the first day of the sales, and lo and behold, there was Shalimar and Souffle, and I thought I might as well live a little. While I was certainly impressed with the original current-version Shalimar (although I much prefer the amped-up vanilla frangipane of Shalemur), this was a baby-faced powder puff girl desperately trying to look about 30, because that’s, like, old. Or mature. Or something. I wonder whether the marketing department of Guerlain has a huge THINK YOUNGER neon sign somewhere. The problem is, those ingénues don’t have the cash to go to town on perfume. We gens d’un certain âge, on the other hand, do. Grow up, Guerlain! Thierry Wasser – you’re better than that. And you know it.

Worst trend:

Before I shoot myself in the metaphorical foot here, let me start by saying this is me. Your mileage may vary. Yet for all I adore consuming both chocolate and coffee, sometimes together, I’m emphatically not a fan of wearing either of them. (There are a very few exceptions.) It could be my skin chemistry, it could be something else, but as soon as I try, virtually all the perfumes I’ve tried with either note just grows and grows and grows into an espresso-choc Godzilla, the second before I’m eaten alive. Argh!

The Best of the Best

Biggest Overall Unexpected Surprise:

Jardins d’Écrivain’s Junky.

Please forget that I’m a perpetually immature overgrown teenager who took an inordinate amount of glee in wafting Junky a good deal of this past summer and fall, and then laying it on my unsuspecting audience when they asked what I was wearing. But Junky – just as the other things I’ve sniffed so far from Jardins d’Écrivain’s line – is a super-seamless unisex green floral I can’t get enough of whatever the season or the reason. I’m hopelessly addicted. You can bet your vintage My Sin I hope to explore the rest of Jardins d’Écrivains in detail, tout de suite!

Best Seamless Floral, Part One:

aroma M Camellia Perfume.

If your heart belongs to that grand age of perfumes à la Française, if Coco Chanel had a few great ideas in perfumery at least, if you like your flowers bold and luxurious, if you also love the glories of frankincense all wrapped up in a bow of Parisian Ooh la la!, if in short you’re a nostalgia freak like me, then you might love aroma M’s stupendously beautiful Camellia Perfume.

Best Perfume I didn’t expect to like, but did:

Parfums Serge Lutens Borneo 1837

It smells like unearthed secrets and undiscovered sins of the most glamorous, Baudelairean kind. A dry, dusty, ever-so-slightly rose-flecked, cocoa-dusted patchouli that shouldn’t work at all, but does. This past autumn, I’ve been rereading J.K. Huysmans’ Against Nature and The Damned. I suspect Des Esseintes would be all over Borneo, just as Huysmans would be all over Parfums Serge Lutens, when the paradox is actually the other way around!

Honorable Mention: I’m ashamed I haven’t tried this one before now, even considering I’m such a fan of leather perfumes. But Chanel’s Cuir de Russie has been growing on me like a fungus, and the more I wear it, the more I love it. Who knew?

Best Mainstream releases:

Even in my backwater part of the world, miracles happen. Such as the time I discovered Dior Homme Parfum

in my local chain shop. Since I consider the original Dior Homme (and Dior Homme Intense) among the greatest masculines ever made and I wear them whatever the label, I had to sniff this one. I was not disappointed. François Demachy, you have almost redeemed yourself. I dreamt about smelling this on the right kind of man for days. Lacking that option, I’d wear this super-sexy film noir beast, too.

Balmain Ivoire Eau de Parfum:

The original (I have a vintage eau de toilette) Ivoire is such an all-star favorite of mine, it was the very first true perfume review I wrote. There is neither a season, a reason nor an occasion when it is less than perfectly satisfying, perfectly lovely in its green soapy-sappy-aldehyde aura and perfectly appropriate. So I was expecting another hot-mess reformulation when Balmain launched the eau de parfum in 2014, only to find they’ve kept virtually everything that made the original so great except the oakmoss base. And speaking of…

Best “We’re not worthy!” perfume, Part One:

Every so often, it happens that a perfume launches I suspect Planet Perfume isn’t entirely prepared for. In 2014 came Bogue Profumo’s MAAI. Holy St. Mary Magdalene! Antonio Gardoni took tuberose, that most erotic of flowers, and super-glammed and super-sexed it up, and up and up and UP. No Superman would stand a chance against this perfume Kryptonite. It is as luxe, as grand, as velvety-plush, as mossy, as heady and did I mention s-e-x-y? as anything the Eighties ever dreamed of. I’m saving that sample for a date night with definite ulterior motives, presuming that ever happens. As they say, hope springs eternal, and Signor Gardoni – I’m not worthy! Of either hope or this perfume, I can’t quite decide… 😉

Best New Perfume House:

Aedes de Venustas. AdV, the storied Greenwich Village perfumery store, has a very special place in my black and decadent heart, because once upon a time, their printed catalog provided all the perfumes I had – to dream about. Some time later, my sister brought me back a modestly priced perfume from Aedes, and whoever sold it to her was also sweet enough to provide samples for a severely aesthetically and perfume-starved woman. I never forgot it. So when Robert Gerstner and Karl Bradl launched their own perfume line in 2012 with their eponymous Aedes de Venustas, naturally I sat up and paid attention. Fate had plans when I was sent samples of everything AdV and they all blew me away. The running theme of Aedes de Venustas is incense – heartstopping, sacred, swoon-worthy incense, in unexpected combinations that both intrigue and hugely please this jaded perfume writer. I’ll be getting to those marvels in future posts. On that note…

Best Resurrected Floral, Part One:

Why carnation has such a fuddy-duddy, dowdy reputation is completely beyond me. I can’t get enough of carnation; peppery, rosy, clove-ish, fiery, feisty, thick, sweet and utterly delicious. Carnation sprang into my awareness with a bang when I had the chance to try a brand-new carnation (or so I thought) through a perfume split of Aedes de Venustas’ Oeillet Bengal. I bought a decant blind and promptly… adored it. Oeillet Bengale – actually, the name of a rare China rose – is a peppery, rich, rosy incense-laden wonder that shot to the top of my Hotly Coveted FBW wishlist, especially since that decant is going, going…

A Rose is a Rose is a Marvel… a.k.a. Best We’re Not Worthy, Part Two:

Not many perfumers can claim to have not one perfume that doesn’t do me any favors. The one who does like no other is Vero Kern of vero profumo. Heaven help me, I love all her work in any version: Rubj, Kiki, Onda (Onda did take a while) and Mito. So Vero gave us Rozy, her fragrant tribute to Anna Magnani in ‘The Tattooed Rose’, and just when you thought there was nothing new to say about rose, here is Rozy: emphatic, dramatic, sensuous and earthy, with a honey-flecked sweetness that shows a true maître’s effortless hand. I’ll have a time-travelling tale for Rozy’s crimson glories, but more on that one later…

Best Heatwave Antidote/Best Re-Release:

Tauer PerfumesCologne du Maghreb.

Bless dear Andy Tauer for re-releasing this instant 2011 classic, for it subverted much I thought I knew about Tauers and everything I assumed about colognes, mainly that most of them are boring, as Cologne du Maghreb never, ever is. It is sparkling, subtle, intricate, cooling, distinctively different and utterly delicious, and over several sweaty weeks of a summer heatwave, it kept me and my composure as cool as a glass of chilled cedary lemonade. I think of ‘July’, and I think of this cologne. Because It’s That Good.

Best All-Round Unisex:

Olympic OrchidsBlackbird.

‘Fruity’ – as in ‘berry’ – and I don’t get along that well. But Ellen Covey’s perfume for Seattle store Blackbird is an exception to that rule. This wondrous green concoction with a heart-of-darkness is an ode to the blackberry bushes (something of a plague) of the Pacific Northwest, and if you think blackberry and balsam firs don’t mix, think again. Many of Ellen’s creations have an extraordinary sense of place, and Blackbird’s verdant ode to where the sweet wild things are has been known to make me sing in the dead of night and high noon too, showing just how much one of my favorite perfumers just keeps on getting better and better. And better.

Best Bottled Gothic Autumn:

Neil Morris Fragrances’ October & Chasing Autumn.

Neil Morris is another perfumer whose nose has an exceptional sense of place, and never more dexterously demonstrated than in his two tributes to the beauty of a New England fall, October and Chasing Autumn. Everything I love and adore about autumn is here: the scent of apples on trees and on the ground cradled by leaves, burning leaves and bonfires, the breath of forest trees breathing their seasonal farewells as flaming leaves dance a timeless measure to the forest floor. I do mean everything. If October is mulled wine, apple cider and all things sweetly great on a peerless Sunday October afternoon, then Chasing Autumn is a forest… of Halloween bonfires and eerie shadows in the dark beyond, a resolutely Gothic ode to all things autumnal with no signs of that fabled new England restraint. Nathaniel Hawthorne could do them justice. I’m not sure I could. I’ve never come across anything quite like either of them, and since they’re Neil Morris creations, I know I never will.

Favorite Perfume Experiment:

Sometimes, instead of simply chasing after the Next New Things, it can be good to take a deeper look at what you actually have. The results may surprise you. I was very surprised to learn I owned no less than 22 different Serge Lutens/Christopher Sheldrake creations in varying degrees of full bottles, decants and samples. I then proceeded to wear each of them consecutively over the course of about two weeks, and gained a whole new artistic and aesthetic appreciation of all of them. It goes without saying I don’t have nearly enough of any of them, and wish for at least eleven more…

Happiest Perfume of 2014:

Amouage Sunshine

On rare occasions on Planet Perfume, a concept, the execution of that concept and the final result come so seamlessly and perfectly together it’s all you can do to keep your cool before you surrender with a helpless shrug and a laugh in the face of such beauty. Sunshine arrived with impeccable, supernatural timing at a time when I was seriously considering to pack it in as a perfume writer and just give up the ghost of ever trying to capture the ephemeral art through words. Yes, I reviewed it. No, my words didn’t convey what I had hoped they would. But a few scant days later, I held my daughter as she made me a grandmother to a lovely little girl, and since it was the only thing I had with me at the time, I gave her Sunshine. To see the joy on my daughter’s face as I did was all the sunshine that cold night in November needed. To experience the arrival of a new generation perfect baby girl was all the immortal sunshine I needed. Apropos finding the right words…

Proudest Moment in Prose, 2014 edition:

Amouage Journey

I’ll be honest – Christopher Chong made it very easy for me. Shanghai in the 1930s, Chinese film noir and all things grand and great (noblesse oblige!), wrapped up in the two parts of Journey Man and Woman, one a fiery gold Chinese dragon, the other a sublime osmanthus song, my story of Journey counts among my finest – and hardest – hours as a perfume writer. It took me into new and wondrous places in my research and made me wonder at that story’s continuation of ‘a celluloid cliché of a Shanghai that was an improbable fiction anywhere else but here’. You’ll find no clichés in either Journey, but just as all the best journeys do, you’ll be a changed person when you return home. Whenever I wonder at why I even bother to write about perfume, which happens at least once a day, I look to Amouage. Oh. Yes. That’s why.

Greatest Shapeshifter Perfume of 2014:

Aftelier Palimpsest.

Mandy Aftel’s Palimpsest, inspired by the layer-upon-layers-and-lines of ancient manuscripts, is without question the greatest shapeshifter I encountered in 2014. I’ve never experienced a perfume containing the Australian firetree before, which partly explains it, but this thick, honeyed animalic-peachy-ylang-ylang growl in a bottle did two spectacular things: It completely flummoxed a perfume writer of four years’ standing, and shape-shifted entirely from ‘dead-wildebeest-wearing-ylang-&-jasmine-wreath’ on a blonde semi-vegetarian to a sumptuously sexy come-hither Mae West on Ms. Hare, the carnivorous brunette. Which only goes to prove the artistry of Mandy Aftel and also the maxim, written through several layers of parchment… chemistry is everything.

Best Resurrected Floral, Part Two:

DSH Perfumes Scent of Hope

Among vintage perfume lovers, a select few perfumes stand out for their greatness of execution, their scope of imagination and their sheer, jaw-dropping sleight-of-hand artistry. When perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz was given the bespoke assignment of recreating one such perfume, Jacques Fath’s fabled 1947 Iris Gris for a private client, she apparently succeeded beyond all imagining and expectation. Luckily for those of us who don’t have access to the Jacques Fath original (and being an iris lover, trust me, it’s on my list!), Dawn decided to make it available for the rest of us, and if the original Iris Gris is even 10% of this, then by Golly, it deserves its reputation. Scent of Hope is the apex of Great, Grand Perfume and the perfumer’s art: a peerless, perfect contradiction of everything you’d suspect an orris-centric perfume could be, warmed by the caress of a sun-kissed peach. I thought she outdid herself with Iridum, another of her iris perfumes, but Dawn has had an astonishing creative year and Scent of Hope is among the stratospheric best perfumes I’ve ever encountered. In my life. Why my fixation on the art of perfumery? (Also) Because miracles like Scent of Hope happen. Stay tuned!

Best Floral Reinvention:

Envoyage PerfumesFiore di Bellagio

Readers, bear with me. I tried. I truly did. I tried to think of something else, tried to stir things up a bit, tried to come up with alternatives and be a little different this year. Only to have to give up the ghost, shrug in surrender and kowtow to the spectacular talent of Shelly Waddington of Envoyage as she once again blew my proboscis to smithereens with the companion perfume to last year’s no less spectacular Zelda. Fiore di Bellagio, her ode to Ernest Daltroff’s 1927’s Caron classic, Bellodgia, is neither Zelda nor Bellodgia, but something altogether otherwise and resolutely one of a kind. If you could somehow wrap up all the glamour, all the glitz, all the decadent fun and all the flowers of a 1920s summer day in a luxurious villa at Lake Como, you might come up with something this great, this grand and this glorious. Or, if you love carnations, summers, epically great perfumes and all those words imply, you could take the easier route and head straight for Envoyage and buy a vat of Fiore di Bellagio, the instant before you plant Shelley Waddington on an onyx pedestal in the Perfume Pantheon of Fame and crown her with 20 carat diamond-studded dianthus blooms. This was another high apex of 2014 perfumery for me and although I realize I’m repeating myself (and an army of other perfume bloggers and writers), but there is method to my madness: I recognize greatness when I smell it. That’s all. Go buy it!

My Greatest Perfumers of 2014:

I can’t even hesitate here, and if you’ve read this far, this is a foregone conclusion. But with everything I’ve stuck my nose in this past year, I’ll have to hand it to two. Understand that even the names that made this (overly long) list are at the very top of their game, but these two outdid themselves and their justly deserved stellar reputations:

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz & Shelley Waddington

I’m not quite sure what to say about Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, since I know I’m preaching to the choir, but Dawn has had the most amazing, productive and creative year. Whether it’s her tribute to the Impressionists in her Passport à Paris collection, her Cannabis Culture Collection (review pending), her Brilliant Collection (ditto) or the utterly flabbergasting Scent of Hope (likewise totally ditto), Dawn should be right up there will all the Great and the Grands of perfumery, indie and otherwise.

Shelley Waddington nearly did me in. After taking my breath away with Zelda last year, she pulled another epic rabbit out of her proverbial top hat with Fiore di Bellagio. I had some intimations of what I was in for. Only to find that they weren’t nearly big enough. But Shelley Waddington certainly should be. Make it so…

A Waft of Things To Come

Anticipation is part of the pleasure of writing about perfumes. I’ll never know what pleasures lie ahead. But apart from spending this winter catching up on my review backlog and returning full-speed as a perfume writer to the best of my capabilities, I anticipate becoming acquainted with two ‘new’ brands that have been on my radar for a while: Oriza L. Legrand and Stéphane Humbert-Lucas’ 777. Stay tuned!

Another thing to anticipate is the arrival of not-your-usual perfume book at some point in the year. If you appreciate my perfumed fictions, you might like this book, which will feature not just the Greatest Hits, but also ten brand-new perfume stories, some of which have not been reviewed yet. Watch this space for a book by yours truly with the salacious title: Stories of L’Eaux.

Rumor has it that Neela Vermeire Creations (another all winner line for me) will launch her newest perfume later this year. Are we excited yet? I know I am!

So what are you, dear readers, anticipating in the year to come? What took your breath away this past year, what do you hope to try, what floats you out the door in a cloud of scented bliss?

Tell me all about them in the comments! And have a happy, healthy, fortuitous 2015, too!

With special and perpetual thanks to my greatest enablers and loudest encouragers: Val, Portia, Lucy, Shelley, Dawn, Maria, Neil, Ellen, Andy and Mandy.

Photo: The crown of Danish king Christian IV, 1596.

The Very Best of 2013 – Part One

C4crown

–  the Genie’s slightly belated guide to the perfumes that defined 2013

I’m a bit surprised – to put it mildly – at just how quickly 2013 sped by, and such a year it was! A year of an unprecedented amount of releases, an unprecedented amount of hype and blather, and most of all, an unprecedented claim to olfactory epiphanies that were anything but.

To my own personal dismay, I wasn’t able to write or review nearly as much as I wanted to. This does nothing for my review backlog or my hugely guilty conscience, but I had a rather good explanation – 2013 was the year I became a published novelist, and naturally, that took priority. It also goes a long way towards explaining why October and November seemed to vanish in thin air. As a writer, I doubt I’ve ever worked harder in my life. This holds true even as 2014 begins, because ahead looms events like book launches and Getting The Word Out and dealing with other things that strike terror in my heart.

Yet 2013 was also a high water mark in other ways. Thanks to my fantabulous readers, I was able to purchase an upgraded computer, attend Pitti Fragranze (and what an experience that was!), and more than anything else feel the connection I have with my readers more than I ever have before.

And then, of course, there were the perfumes. One of the last perfume-related statistics I remember reading was this: as of the autumn of 2013, more than 1440 new perfumes were released. Which was more than the year before, and the year before, and the year… etc.

It’s getting to where I read about new brands being launched and I clutch my head in despair. With so many brands competing for shelf space, customers and their own slice of the ever-expanding perfume slice of the beauty industry, inevitably, corners are cut and shortcuts taken, and we end up with what I saw and sniffed at Pitti Fragranze – Eau de High-End Niche, which smells expensive (and all too often is), recycles themes from other, more daring/creative/inspired perfume houses and is in its own aspirational marketing way just as generic and soulless (if far more prohibitively priced) as any ‘mainstream’ brand.

For 2013, which was a year I’m not likely to forget any time soon, I’ve decided to do things a little differently than before. I sniffed more things in 2013 than at any other time in my life, so my own personal favorites in the year gone by will be in part 2 of my Best Of list. Meanwhile, you want to know what really rocked my planet in 2013…

Best Correspondence Between Brand and Perfume:

Donato Style Glam Monster (Donato Crowley/Kedra Hart of Opus Oils)

Donato Crowley, the LA-based stylist, photographer, artist and all-round Renaissance man, really knocked my socks off with Glam Monster, a glorious, sultry, super-unisexy take on all the very best parts of California and all the naughty bits, too. If ever a perfume somehow managed to wrap up an entire artistic statement in a bottle, it’s this one. My sample is all gone. That bottle can’t be far behind. I need glamour, too.

Best Novella In A Bottle:

AmouageOpus VII (Christopher Chong/Alberto Morillas/Pierre Negrin)

In the Just Kill Me Now department, Opus VII wins by default by a) showing just how wrong even a perfume writer can parse/interpret ingredients and b) then humiliating herself in full public view by publishing the first review of it. I said iris. Opus VII contains no such thing. What it does contain is a swirling, whirling, spectacularly moody heart of Gothic darkness I haven’t had enough of yet, and I doubt I ever will. This is Edgar Allan Poe, bottled.

And speaking of iris, only this time, it’s very much there…

Best Iris of 2013:

DSH PerfumesIridum (Dawn Spencer Hurwitz)

Iris perfumes – a definite love of mine since I first fell hard for Chanel no. 19 – tend to run towards the chilly end of the olfactory spectrum. Not so Iridum, which is a feisty, spicy, incense-laden iris revelation that was love at first sniff and holds its own next to that greatest of all irises  – Iris Silver Mist. For a dedicated iris lover, that says everything.

Best Unexpected Hit:

Chanel – Les Exclusifs Chanel 1932 (Jacques Polge)

Having only ever tried 28 La Pausa from Chanel’s Les Exclusifs collection at the time, I was not quite prepared for how much I liked this twinkling, sparkling little marvel of aldehydes, iris, jasmine and all things grand and glorious. It is always classy, never inappropriate (I’ve worn it to job interviews), and perfectly epitomizes the very best of Chanel in all the very best of ways. Unlike 28 La Pausa, it also lasts.

Best “Slay ‘em, baby” perfume:

Opus OilsBabylon Noir (Kedra Hart)

I’ll be the first to admit it – I’m biased. Babylon Noir was originally created by Kedra Hart for the Devilscent Project, but it launched to the general public on Valentine’s Day last year, and likely has been slaying scores of hearts and swollen heads ever since. I know for a fact that my bottle is often loaned to Ms. Hare for nefarious purposes with a 100% success rate, because that’s what best friends do – support each others’ nefarious purposes…

Best New Brands I discovered at Pitti Fragranze:

This was a hard decision, since I sniffed many, many things from many, many brands (don’t get me started on those bags of Pitti samples I haven’t dared touch yet) in Florence, but two dedicated perfume brands in particular stood out from the rest: Bruno Acampora and Parfums de Marly. I’ve worn several of Bruno Acampora’s oils (Iranzol was an instant love) and even a lethal dose of Parfums de Marly’s Herod over the course of this past autumn, and although I haven’t had enough time to do them the verbal justice they certainly deserve, they have taken my breath away.

Best Applied Epiphany:

Tauer Perfumes’ Noontide Petals (Andy Tauer)

One of my favorite moments at Pitti Fragranze was finally being able to say hello to Andy Tauer – and sniff ALL the Tauers, which I never had before. Andy will be another expensive person to know. I was also very curious to try Noontide Petals, which was getting a lot of press at the time. So after politely enquiring whether I was sure – Tauers are known for having the perfume half life of plutonium – Andy then proceeded to sweep me off my feet with Noontide Petals by spraying my arm. My nose was glued to my wrist the rest of the evening. It really IS… all that in a blinding burst of sunshine.

Best Perfume Reformulations:

vero profumo’s Voiles de Parfum (Vero Kern) & Neela Vermeire Creations Mohur Extrait (Neela Vermeire/Bertrand Duchaufour)

Interesting things happen when a perfume concentration is amped up. Facets only partly apparent in an eau de parfum can take on whole new multiverses of context and significance. Nowhere was this more evident that in vero profumo’s Voiles de Parfums line of Rubj, Kiki, Onda and Mito, because Vero Kern does not simply add more jus – she redefines and reconstructs her own work to breathtaking effect – as she did. Likewise, Mohur, Neela Vermeire’s no less beautiful perfume was redefined in extrait, and an already bone-chilling glorious creation was painted new in ever richer and more opulent hues. I thought it would be impossible to improve on the peerless Mohur. I was dead wrong.

Speaking of dead wrong…

Worst Perfume Idea, Ever:

O’Driu’s Peety (Angelo Pregoni)

Call me old-fashioned, call me a prude, call me whatever you like. Sometimes, I can admire the concept behind a perfume even if I can’t wear it. Sometimes, I love the perfume and ignore the concept completely. So let me just state that I truly admire the degree of chutzpah/audacity behind Angelo Pregoni of O’Driu’s Peety. It appeals no end to my inner post-punk iconoclast. That’s the idea. The reality of Peety, however, is just about the vilest thing I sniffed this year, mainstream launches included. Your mileage may vary. But this one turned me chartreuse in the worst way, and not just because it was sprayed upon a feather.

From The Bad Idea Department:

One word – oud. Enough of the oud already. Yes, it is a marvel of a raw material. Yes, incredible, astonishing perfumes contain oud. Yes, it has many facets and aspects that can all be shown in many revelatory ways. But dear Creative Directors and perfumers – who are you kidding here? Real oud is now a very rare commodity. Apparently, so is creativity. Which I frankly find hard to believe considering the number of new launches in 2013. Wait a minute…

How To Kill A Storied Fragrant Heritage, Part One:

Dior.

How to Kill A Storied Fragrant Heritage, Part Two:

Yves Saint Laurent. Belle de Opium. Manifesto. I rest my case, because once upon a fabled time, a fashion genius truly cared about his perfumes. Alas, they no longer do at either Dior or YSL.

Worst Aspirational Marketing:

I suppose it’s one thing to flat-out declare your indifference to 99% of Planet Perfume and set your price point accordingly. But since I suspect that 99% of perfume aficionados buy way more niche/indie perfume than the one percent (I could be wrong), I think Roja Dove is doing us 99% a serious disservice by creating something so flawless as Diaghilev in extrait and then pricing it in the exosphere of attainability, splits or no. If that marketing tactic doesn’t prove that life isn’t fair, I don’t know what does.

Best Witnessed Out-of-Body Moments:

I have a friend – tall, good-looking, young, green-eyed, a Scorpio (which figures), who recently stated he was in need of an image upgrade which also necessitated… perfume. His former staple Fleur du Male notwithstanding. So one evening chez Genie, I sat him down with some of the stellar contents of the Red Ikea Cabinet of Doom. And then, I experienced something most passing strange. He sniffed a perfume (Olympic Orchids’ Dev no. 2) and jumped off the floor in a flash. “Holy “#!”§€%!?. What IS that? That should be… illegal!!!” His doom was sealed with Amouage’s Fate Man. He’ll never touch anything mainstream again. Mission accomplished.

Most Extravagant Habit of 2013:

By this time, to my own surprise not least, I have acquired a LOT of perfumes. So it follows that I should use them in whatever ways I can. Mostly, I simply wear them, but in the past year, whether testing for review or simply my own decadent pleasure, I’ve taken to spray my bedding, my Tibetan prayer flag, my carpet and sometimes, the radiator of my living room. This was how I discovered that Janice Divacat is a definite Amouage fangal, whereas Hairy Krishna prefers Serge Lutens.

Greatest Vicarious Pleasure:

A friend I made in Florence took me to an English apothecary in a Centro Storico side street that also sold Frédéric Malle’s Editions de Parfums and Serge Lutens’ export line. I thought she deserved the very best and introduced her to Carnal Flower. She floated, she told me later, the rest of the afternoon on a cloud of tuberose bliss. I was so proud of her. And when I can, I’ll buy it for her in every incarnation. Because that much bliss to follow is so worth it.

Best Vicarious Pleasure, Part Two:

Furthering pleasure to a dear friend and fellow blogger, Caro of Té des Violetas, by sending her a decant of Fate Woman when Argentine customs impounded her own press sample. This made me happier than I can say, and Argentine customs be damned!

Best Fragrant Export Ever:

The ‘Mysore’/Santalum Album sandalwood plantations of Australia. This is the sort of thing that gives me hope for humankind – that we will never be without this most beautiful of perfumery materials. So long as we have sandalwood, we can endure anything. And now, we will!

Best WTF moment:

Kinski by e-scentric molecules (Geza Schoen)

My sister and I have vastly differing tastes in perfume. For one, she can wear no. 5 and I can’t at all, for another, she used to exude radioactive clouds of patchouli bombs and Obsession for Men. But when she bought Kinski to celebrate her own publication as an author, we both flipped over it. Impossibly louche, impossibly wrong, improbably sexy and possibly the greatest thing two 21st-century thoroughly twisted Sisters Brontë of dark, depraved literature could ever agree upon.

You have been so patient, dear readers, so forbearing. Thank you. You have read through my wrap-up of 2013 blather and are dying to know what skyrocketed to my very top in the past year.

Just as it happened last year, I couldn’t decide between three perfumes I had already reviewed (my criterion for making the list), so I could either roast over a slow fire as I decided which one would win or I could just wimp out and award the Genie’s Best Of 2013 awards equally to all three. They are equally great, equally grand, equally the stratospheric best that perfumery can offer. So without further ado…

Best of 2013, Part One:

Envoyage Perfumes Zelda. (Shelley Waddington)

Are you familiar with experiencing an artform – a movie, a book, a painting, a perfume – and you have that immediate rush of recognition and revelation? Not only is it good, not only is it something your intellect can appreciate, but your emotions chime in, your heart begins to flutter, and you get it in your bone marrow? You feel it, you think about it, dream about it, want to bathe in a vat of it. It won’t let you go. One of those out-of-body moments – they don’t happen often any more – for me this past year was Envoyage Perfumes’ Zelda. If there is a Heaven, they’ll have Zelda the perfume there too (the firebrand by that same name is already there), because it makes the angels (and yours truly) sing.

Best of 2013, Part Two:

Neela Vermeire CreationsAshoka (Neela Vermeire/Bertrand Duchaufour)

I am privileged to live in a world that has such dedicated perfume lovers such as Neela Vermeire in it. For her fourth launch, she took her time and no shortcuts at all when she created Ashoka with Bertrand Duchaufour. It is a) one of the most evocative, numinous perfumes I’ve ever sniffed b) has one of the most unusual developments I’ve ever come across and c) is arguably the greatest figgy, floral, leathery enlightenment in eau de parfum ever made. Yes, I said that.

Best of 2013, Part Three:

AmouageFate Woman (Christopher Chong/Dorothée Piot)

On the day Fate Woman (and Man) arrived, I remember my surprise. Amouage, who delivers epiphanies, decadent olfactory symphonies and full-blown Wagnerian oeuvres, had gone… did I dare think such a heretical thought? – a tad… mainstream? Well, almost/not quite/not exactly, but this is still very much an Amouage and very much an Oriental with no compromises or shortcuts of any kind. If this is the last chapter of the first epos Christopher Chong has to tell, I can’t wait to see what he’ll put into Volume 2.  But the biggest surprise was this: Everyone in my immediate vicinity – and I do mean everyone: Ms. Hare, my sister, my daughter, lovers and friends, complete strangers on the street, a makeup artist in Copenhagen on the day of my photo shoot – everyone loved it instantly without question or quarter. This has never happened before. So I gave small decants to them all from my press sample, and now have to hide the rest of it away in a secret location, or else it will be abducted/stolen by Ms. Hare and I’ll never, ever see it again. But one thing I came to discover for myself – the most incredible things have happened when I wore it. Such is Fate…

Best Perfumer of 2013:

Envoyage Perfumes – Shelley Waddington

Here lies a dilemma – one of my top three favorites was nominated Perfumer of the Year last year, so my apologies, M. Duchaufour. Ms. Piot – I suspect you have marvels and wonders ahead of you. If Fate Woman is any indication, you’ll very soon be exuding greatness of your own.

My nominee for Perfumer of 2013 goes to…Shelley Waddington, for creating Zelda and then, having the hugely flattering idea to send it to me to review. I sniffed it with an open mind and some expectations – I know she’s an exceptionally talented indie perfumer – but Zelda sideswiped me, stole my heart and never gave it back!

Stay tuned for Part Two, which was all I wore and (also) loved…

A Southern Rebelle

zelda

– a review of Envoyage Perfumes’ Zelda

In literature, a certain kind of woman has always been immortalized. She is the Impossible Woman, the muse, the catalyst for a torrent of words in books and stories circulating down through time as both cautionary tale and metaphor, the medium of an often life-long wakeup call that jolts a hapless (mostly male) writer out of his doldrums and provides the fuel for those bedrock molten lava flows from which all creativity springs.

She is complex, intriguing, infinitely various, untamable, indefinable and maybe ultimately unknowable. Her charms are too vast, her appeal too ephemeral to be contained with the parameters of mere words. Often, she is beautiful, but more often still she possesses a far more precious quality – the ability to mesmerize her all-too captive audiences into believing she is, or else to hold up that deflecting mirror of her soul and project back whatever the writer, the artist or the man wants or needs to see, all to feed those ravening beasts that dwell below and breathe the words alive so they sing on the page.

Alas as in all timeless love stories, should the man somehow manage to catch this mythical woman and claim her for his own, it will end badly (for the man and the woman both), if not for the stories and the books that will come, fed by that creative collusion between creator and inspiration. The many mundane details of drab reality will kill the myth, will douse the fires, or else – and this scenario is common, too – the man if not the writer will try to quell if not kill the very quality he fell in love with, only to spend the rest of his life trying to recapture or relive it, through prose or real life.

This old, old story has been on my mind a lot lately for all sorts of reasons but mainly since the arrival of a perfume inspired by just one such story, that great, immortal tale of a true Southern rebelle, femme impossible, quintessential flapper and original It Girl – Envoyage Perfumes’ Zelda.

It was once said about Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald that she was ‘a brave and talented woman who is remembered for her defeats.’ Her short life is a cautionary 20th-century tale of l’amour fou, bourbon, fame, frustration and a final descent into a heart-breaking, tragic end. Yet in my research for this review, I find I wonder whether her story is in fact a story of just such an Impossible Woman, too passionate not to burn so bright, too talented to ever go unnoticed, a free spirit too uninhibited not to thumb her nose at convention, only to be done in by the very conformity her fiery heart raged against. The story of Zelda Fitzgerald breaks my own heart as few stories do.

Somehow by some alchymical sleight of hand, Shelley Waddington of EnVoyage Perfumes managed to wrap up that perception of such an iconic woman, not so much a literal interpretation as a fragrant Jazz Baby-inspired riff, and just as its namesake and inspiration, this Zelda breaks my heart too.

Shelley herself characterizes Zelda as a neo-Oriental eau de parfum, which is nothing more nor less than the truth, which to this perfume writer is a bit like saying Mozart was a composer of classical music, or Bessie Smith was a blues singer. Indeed they were, and yes, Zelda is a definite Oriental in its unfolding and its composition, but just as Zelda was far too complex to be merely muse, wife, inspiration and flapper, this tribute is too…complicated, too rich, too lush and far too evocative to be dismissed as merely…an Oriental, neo- or not.

We’re on a shady veranda beneath the stars of a distinctly Deep South sky with Zelda, the verdant, happy punch of galbanum and bergamot wrapped around a sultry, boozy, sweet coconut-skewed flirtatious laugh, the laugh of the belle of the ball and the queen of the cotillion surrounded by a bevy of beaus. If I am lured in by that exhilarating opening of sweet and sultry, greenery and booze, I’m helpless to resist what happens next.

The real star of the show makes her entrance. A star that blooms luminous as moonlight on her tree, glowing like ivory silk taffeta among those glossy leaves, a fragrant bloom claimed by many perfumes, but I can think of only one other perfume that does her this much justice, and it is nothing in the slightest like Zelda.

Magnolia, that glory of the South. If ever there were a flower that somehow epitomized its location and nearly its women as well, surely it would be magnolia? In nature, magnolia has a deep, lemon-cream green scent with intimations of peach skin and earth, but this Southern Belle is bigger, brighter, bolder and lusher still. Shelley Waddington has managed to encapsulate the entire scope of magnolia grandiflora with all its associations and extrapolated, enlivened and expanded it into an epic bloom that glows in the dark on my skin, that takes me over and demands my surrender with all the charm and guile of a belle of the ball, and it’s all I can do and I want to do. Now I understand the allure of magnolia, now I comprehend all its glories, now I think that heretical thought…this, dear readers, is as great, as grand and as gracious as a magnolia can ever get.

But Zelda contains more stories within her amber depths, just as captivating but very much darker and denser, a shade of midnight to reflect something of the tragedy of its inspiration, when a decadent, seamless mix of amber, musk, sweet vanilla and balsam (I’m guessing tolu, which is spicier and more fiery than Peru) and above all sandalwood wrap all its stellar evolution up in moonlit black pearls.

If I had any hesitations with the magnolia of before, I have none at all now.

Believe me, dear readers, when I say that yes, I’m given to hyperbole and poetic license, yes, when I’m sometimes transported by either the genie in the bottle or my own brand of blarney or simply the rhythm of the words on a virtual page. I will happily agree that verdict is out – it’s all true.

But I will also say this: Zelda, for all its backstory and inspiration, for all the deft historical understanding of zeitgeist Shelley Waddington caught so effortlessly in this liquid filigree, is quite simply one of the superlative best and most original perfumes I’ve encountered this year.

It is as subversive, as rebellious, as breathtaking and as heart-rending as its inspiration, burning just as bright as Zelda Fitzgerald surely did in her time. Other reviews have pointed at its ‘vintage’ feel. The only vintage feel I get is that pang of epiphany when I reflect and think:

They really don’t make them like this any more.

Except, as Shelley Waddington has demonstrated so perfectly, when they do.

Perhaps Zelda Fitzgerald herself wrapped up its mood best of all, when she wrote:

A southern moon is a sodden moon, and sultry. When it swamps the fields and the rustling sandy roads and the sticky honeysuckle hedges in its sweet stagnation, your fight to hold onto reality is like a protestation against a first waft of ether.”

–  Save the Last Waltz

Or as a friend of mine put it last night…

This is a perfume for someone who knows to glow in the dark.

Like all the very best of Southern Rebelles always do.

Zelda is available from the EnVoyage website in EdP.

Notes: Italian bergamot, Iranian galbanum, bourbon, magnolia blossom, amber, vintage musks, vanilla, balsam, sandalwood, vetiver

Disclosure: A sample of Zelda was provided for review by Shelley Waddington of EnVoyage.

Image taken from an original wedding picture of F. Scott and Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, 1919. Photoshop editing/compositing, my own.

______________________________

Seven more days to Save The Genie! Find out more here.

Monday Mini Miscellanea


– or…too many perfumes, too little time!

Not so long ago, I sat down with my ever-propagating collection of samples and reached the conclusion that if something weren’t done, I’d drown. The guilty pleasures I love to wear and have yet to review, the guiltier pleasures of stuff I need to review and I don’t know where to start, the perfumes I really should be reviewing if I want to take this somewhere…and really, people, summer vacations are too precious to tie yourself in knots over all the things you should be writing, when you are in fact supine on the grass painting cloud pictures with Spider-Man Jr.

So in my little blue review box I have five perfumes from five different houses, all different, all neglected and all of them several shades of self-perpetuating headache. Not for being so bad that none of them merited their own review, but simply because…mini reviews are cool! They cut to the chase and free up energy for something truly spectacular to come, and trust me…it’s coming!

I’ve already said too much!

Party Girl Gone Wrong
Angel Garden of Stars Peony Angel, by Thierry Mugler
If I were ever to make up a Top Five of perfumes I loathe, somewhere on that list you would definitely find the original – and for a time nearly ubiquitous – Angel. You may love Angel. You can have her. Any way and any time you please. This flanker, part of the Garden of Stars series, was off to a promising start the first time I tried her. Sweet, as Angel is, heady and very pretty, or so I thought. The second time, not so much. She became the ‘friend’ you invite to a party on that fatal ‘more-the-merrier- premise, only to drink a vat of chocolate mojitos, strip in your kitchen sink, make a pass at your boyfriend, bawl when he turns her down, and disintegrates into a sodden, sorry mess at 3 AM. And worse…she just won’t leave!
There’s peony in there, all right, pretty at first but soon screaming in horror over the company she’s in…patchouli, pepper, chocolate, and Big, Bad Viagra Wolf Vanilla, the second before they all…eat her alive and entire, and you’re left with that gory Wes Craven horrorfest known as ‘Angel’s Revenge’. It comes in a 3D Director’s Cut that runs at least eight hours…too long.
Notes: Pepper, peony, patchouli, chocolate, vanilla

The Hamptons Haughty Go Nicely
Eau d’Hadrien, by Annick Goutal
This is a lemon that went to finishing school in Switzerland, married very well, and now spends her time doing appropriately worthy things with her perfectly appropriate, beautifully turned out children, also lemons like herself, while the Big Lemon Cheesecake does unspeakable things on Wall Street.
There is no room for surprises in Ms. Hamptons Haughty’s universe, because even that slightly risqué touch of grapefruit never overstays its welcome. And when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade you enjoy in a Baccarat glass with a view to the Atlantic on the right stretch of the Hamptons and not even the discreet cypress drydown will ever, ever tell that if pressed hard enough, this lemon will admit sotto voce…she hates Ralph Lauren. That’s just not…nice, and this is a veddy, veddy nice lemon.
On the other hand and the other side of the picket fence, her snarky neighbor calls her Pledge behind her back, and knows exactly what the Cheesecake gets up to in the meatpacking district.
Notes: Citrus, lemon, grapefruit, cypress

The Prettiest Wannabe
Petalia, by Chantecaille
Petalia tries, really, really hard. If I were awarding report cards for effort, she’d surely deserve an A. She is fluffy gardenia, sweetest tuberose and all things gloriously beautiful, and yet somehow, some way…she disappoints. It’s not that she isn’t beautiful, it’s not that she isn’t immaculately turned out and flawlessly coifed, it’s not even the fact she has not one speck of lipstick on her perfect pearly teeth.
No, it’s that Petalia has a deep, dark secret. She wants to be something else, someone else, someone else who had this very same idea several years ago and pulled it off with such panache and èlan. She really, really wants to be Estée Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia, but she’s just not…all…the way there yet. Honey, I’m sorry. Really, I’m sorry. But TG got to me first and best and always, and there you have it. Now, Petalia has a major identity crisis. She tried so hard, and for a lot of people, that will probably be good enough. Not me. I’ll keep my EL PC TG, thank you. Because I’m that kind of picky…errr…witch!
Notes: Gardenia, tuberose, woods, musk

Surfing the Island Breezes
Vents Ardents, by Envoyage Perfumes
If happiness is a Caribbean vacation, then here you go, folks…here’s Montego Bay in a spray, here’s take me a-w-a-y…the perfect cure for the miseries of summers in the left armpit of Northern Europe. Shelley Waddington put de lime in de coconut (and just a touch of that), added rum, a few leaves of bay, a good Dominican cigar and stirred. Voilà! Montego, back when it was cool, before it was ruined by ‘all-inclusive’ and package tours, back when you could look up and see Ian Fleming knocking out the next James Bond blockbuster on his terrace, and meanwhile, life was a tradewind breeze on a perfect moon-shaped beach beneath the coconut palms before a sea such an improbable shade of blue. Stella got her groove back in Jamaica, mahn…and yours truly looked up from her wrist and remembered…oh! That’s right! It’s summer…
I’m going to pack this one away for January, when I need all the Jamaica I can get…
Notes: Citrus, vanilla, bay, tobacco and Jamaica rum

The Tattoo Rose
Rossy de Palma, by Etat Libre d’Orange
There are celebufumes, and there are…the Etat Libre versions. No one, but no one does ‘em like ELdO. If Tilda Swinton Like This did wonders for pumpkin and immortelle – which it did! – then surely Rossy de Palma should do miracles no less for Bulgarian rose. Ah, Rossy, heroine and mainstay of so many Almodovar movies, and if ever there were proof that attitude can get you far indeed, that you are as devastating as you can think, it would be you! My neuroses have never been the same since I met you in ‘Women On the Verge’…And then you got in cahoots with Etienne de Swardt and made your eponymous perfume, and I now have twice as much to be grateful for! Because this is a glorious, twisted, unusual rose, the rose with all the thorns and all the petals, a spicy, fiery green and smoky rose, this is a rock’n’roll and Gothic kind of rose, as beautiful and as unique as you. My kind of rose, and I do like the unconventional – in roses as in roll models. I really need a full bottle of this, just to prove to all those wan wannabes what a rose can do for you! And for me. A rose is a rose is a Rossy, too!
Tattoo this rose, somewhere I can show it…
Notes: Bulgarian rose, bergamot, geranium, ginger, jasmine, black pepper, cocoa, frankincense, patchouli, benzoin

Hands down, Rossy de Palma won the day. But Vents Ardents surprised me in all sorts of good ways on a cool, gray day, and I can’t wait to see what it might do for my mood in dismal, darkest January…

My profound thanks to the Great Facilitators, Undina of Undina’s Looking Glass, Lucy of Indieperfumes and Anthony of NkdMan.