mardi 29 décembre 2009

(My) Best Perfumes of 2009 -- and a look at the year gone by

Was 2009 a good year for perfume? Judging by the number of additions to my personal rotation, I’d say it was pretty satisfactory. I’ve fallen in love more than once and been knocked out of my Louboutins often enough to say that not only have I not become blasé, but the more I dig into the workings of perfume composition, the more passionate I get about the art…

2009 was the year a perfumer finally came semi-officially clean about reformulations – Serge Lutens, in a comment given to fragrance historian Elisabeth de Feydeau on her blog, about Féminité du Bois. The year IFRA backed up on a guideline after industry protests about the restriction on the use of the massively popular vanillin.

2009 was the year where two renowned perfumers broke out of the big labs to set up on their own: Christophe Laudamiel quit IFF to found Aeosphere, a “fragrance media” company that clearly won’t restrict its activities to personal fragrance since one of its first endeavors was Green Aria, a “scent opera” in which the characters were olfactory.

Francis Kurkdjian founded his Maison along more traditional lines, with a well thought-out concept of his-and-hers or non-gendered scents with complementary room sprays, candles, incense papers, scented leather bracelets and laundry detergent. Though the compositions themselves stayed well within Francis K.’s known register, the mere fact that a perfumer could become a bankable name demonstrates the shift in the industry brought along, notably, by the online perfume culture and its focus on authors.

2009 was also the year in which fine fragrance got housebroken, with Frédéric Malle recruiting top talent (Dominique Ropion, Carlos Benaïm and Sophia Grosjman) to compose scents specifically for living spaces, applying the same exacting standards as they do to personal scents. Two patented diffusion systems, the “Fleur Mécanique” which continuously sends out the fragrance, and a perfume-impregnated mat resembling a mouse-pad, were added to the more traditional candles. Between the hundreds of yearly launches and growing workplace restrictions on wear, personal perfume seems to have come to a saturation point while house fragrance remains a huge potential market, and it is more than likely that it will develop in quality and variety of offer in the coming years.

2009 saw two fine jewelry houses getting into the “exclusives” game. Price points, limited distribution, the feeling that those houses were merely getting in on the bandwagon and the sheer lassitude of having to wade through multiple simultaneously offerings raised some groans in the online perfume community. Van Cleef & Arpels’ “Collection Extraordinaire” comprised six fragrances, by six different perfumers: while none was groundbreaking and there was at least one dud among them (the oddly unbalanced Lys Carmin), two managed to garner a number of enthusiasts, Bois d’Iris and Gardénia Pétales.

Cartier’s “Les Heures de Parfum” marked the eagerly awaited return of the maverick Mathilde Laurent, acclaimed for her work at Guerlain, who had all but disappeared from the public nose whilst composing bespoke fragrances for Cartier’s clientele. Her cult Guet-Apens/Attrape-coeur for Guerlain, as well as, I’m afraid, my own boundlessly enthusiastic reviews may have raised expectations a little too high for perfume lovers. However, not only do I stand by my initial assessment, but I maintain that Ms Laurent has been quietly inventing her own grammar of perfumery over the past few years to such an extent that it may take a while for her idiosyncratic language to be perceived. Clearly, she will be a voice to contend with.

Another voice that emerged in 2009 came from the distant French territory of Nouvelle Calédonie via Switzerland: with LesNez Manoumalia, Sandrine Videault may have single-handedly invented ethnographic perfumery, though the scent, inspired by the fragrant rituals of the island of Wallis, also meets the standards of the best French perfumery – unsurprisingly, since Sandrine was taught by none other than the great Edmond Roudnitska. I am eagerly awaiting her further olfactory explorations.

2009 is the year in which oud definitely became the new patchouli. In a bid to rope in the still-affluent and perfume-loving Middle-Eastern clientele, By Killian came up with Calice Becker’s gorgeously inky-velvety (but steeply-priced) Pure Oud, while Bertrand Duchaufour composed a gloriously whiffy Al Oudh for L’Artisan Parfumeur: it’s been drawing horrified howls around the perfume blogosphere, especially in the cumin-phobic USA, but it’s been selling so well in the Paris shops they can’t keep in stock.

2009 was the year in which vanilla finally broke free from the pastry shelves and its facile, foody register, subverted by two of the most intelligent perfumers around. With his remarkable Vanille Galante, Jean-Claude Ellena turned the pod back into an orchid/lily/ylang hybrid, then stretched it out into an impalpable mist. Bertrand Duchaufour spliced his with tobacco, drawing out the less-explored animal, medicinal and spicy facets of the pod along with its balsamic aspects, which turned Havana Vanille into a strange beast indeed, shocking to anyone who was expecting a variation, say, on Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille. In a word: a vanilla for people whom vanilla bores to tears (count me among them: expect a belated review early next year).

Finally, 2009 was the year where perfumery went green: organic lines have been sprouting around, Honoré des Prés probably being the most interesting, if only because the scents were composed by Olivia Giacobetti, whom we haven’t been seeing a lot lately (and regrettably).

But green was also one of the “notes du jour”, with a few major mainstream launches reviving (and rewriting, sans oakmoss) the green chypre genre: Chanel's Cristalle’s flanker, Cristalle Eau Verte, Issey Miyake’s A Scent by Daphné Bugey and Estée Lauder’s Private Collection Jasmine White Moss… On the niche side, Linda Pilkington’s heart-stoppingly lovely Tiaré for Ormonde Jayne played the tropical essence in a surprisingly green register as well… A review will follow shortly.

To conclude this far-from-complete retrospective, here are the past year’s launches that actually made it into my collection, the ones I voted for with my skin: my personal best of 2009, in no particular order…

The subverted vanillas:

1) Havana Vanille by Bertrand Duchaufour for L’Artisan Parfumeur

2) Vanille Galante by Jean-Claude Ellena for Hermès “Hermessence”

The carnivorous tropicals:

3) Amaranthine by Bertrand Duchaufour for Penhaligon’s

4) Manoumalia by Sandrine Videault for LesNez

The creamy green florals:

5) Tiaré by Linda Pilkington for Ormonde Jayne

6) Gardénia Pétales by Nathalie Feisthauer for Van Cleef & Arpels « Collection Extraordinaire »

7) Private Collection Jasmine White Moss by Estée Lauder

The smoky potions:

8) Turtle Vetiver by Isabelle Doyen for LesNez

9) XII- L’Heure Mystérieuse by Mathilde Laurent for Cartier « Les Heures de Parfum »

10) XIII - La Treizième Heure by Mathilde Laurent for Cartier « Les Heures de Parfum »

These are only the ones I actually own and wear: otherwise, the list would also certainly include Serge Lutens’ Filles en Aiguilles, Frédéric Malle’s Géranium pour Monsieur by Dominique Ropion, By Kilian’s Pure Oud by Calice Becker, Annick Goutal's Un Matin d'orage by Isabelle Doyen and Parfums DelRae’s Mythique by Yann Vasnier. And I’m sure I’m forgetting several.

For another take on the best perfumes of 2009, see Now Smell This.

And now, on to you: what were your favorite launches of the year?

Image by Irving Penn.

32 commentaires:

  1. Geranium PM is my favourite of the year I think- I just like everything about where it's going- it's so classic and so cutting edge. For me it's a total brilliant piece of perfumery.

    I also liked Vanille Galant and the havana vanilla from L'Artisan.

    For me early on in the year is when I tried the Lostmarc'h scents and I'm very fond of those.

    I shamefully still haven't tried any Lez Nez

    Happy New Year!

  2. Denyse-

    You were there when I fell in love with my resin dream-Filles en Aiguilles. I then belatedly grew a deep affection for Fourreau Noir-which fills my need for a very smokey vanilla. My other vanilla love this year was Vanille Galante-truly a surprise for a light scent that plays hide-and-seek with me all day, beautifully.

    Roses grabbed me this year as well-particularly deep, rich one-FK Lumiere Noire, Amouage Epic, and Rosine Secrets de Rose.

    Not "new" but I am head over heels in love with my vintage Lanvins...I've nearly completed my collection, though dear Rumeur is still missing.

    Happy New Year to you!

  3. My new loves for the year (although they are not new releases -- I'm hopelessly behind) are Enlevement au Serail and Musc Nomade. But I didn't do all that much sniffing this year, I must confess. I hope to rectify that in the upcoming months, especially when I see you in May!

  4. Denyse, thanks to your enthusiastic comments, I ignored the howls from other quarters and gave Al Oudh a try. I fell for it . . . hard, and every time I wear it, I like it even more.

    What a pleasant surprise from L'Artisan and Duchaufour.

    You've piqued my interest regarding Amaranthine, and I thought that you voted with your wallet on Back to Black . . . ? Am I mistaken, or did B2B just not make the gourmand cut as one of your favorites for the year?

  5. My wallet took a bit of a beating this year, opening itself repeatedly to drag out the debit and credit cards. Luckily, some of my friends share my tastes, so sharing and decanting kept me out of total fragruptcy.

    Among my favorites were Amaranthine, Amouage Epic for Women, Mythique, Lumiere Noire pour Femme and Pure Oud, which I dotted on my wrist once or twice and continue to crave. I just sampled and am starting to love Amouage Tribute. And despite the cumin meltdowns, I love Al Oudh. Duchaufour is my hero this year.

    Also, the Tubereuse Trilogy from Histoires de Parfums made its way early into a couple of NYC stores and I am smitten by their interesting and varying treatments of tuberose. I need to spend more time with them, but they seem to be a nice way to end one year and start a new one.

  6. Denyse, this year I loved:

    Cartier L'Heure Mystérieuse
    Comme des Garçons Daphne
    Penhaligon's Amaranthine
    By Kilian Back to Black
    Amouage Epic for Men
    LesNez Manoumalia
    L'Artisan Parfumeur Côte d'Amour

  7. Rose, Géranium pour Monsieur is definitely a grand piece of work, exactly for the reasons you state. Dominique Ropion's perfumes for Frédéric Malle count among the best of the decade in my opinion. I'd love to get into that man's mind...

  8. Louise, I remember well! Now you have to get Piguet Visa in the vintage. I'm sure you'll adore it.

  9. Amy, we'll certainly have a lot of catching up to do, and not just on perfumes, but I can only approve your current loves, since I own and wear both...

  10. Nathan, I'm glad you're enjoying Al Oudh, and I am definitely amongst Bertrand Duchaufour's greatest fans... The man's brilliant, and always gives an unexpected take on things.
    As for Back to Black, I ended up not buying it because I find it a tad capricious. Every time I've tried it I've felt differently about it, sometimes enthusiastic, sometimes a little underwhelmed...

  11. Melissa, next year will bring us a new tuberose from someone we admire... I can't say more, but I've been wearing it a lot and it's a very different take on the note! Haven't tried the Histoires de parfums ones but I'll get on them as soon as I get back to Paris.

  12. Katie, I'm wearing L'Heure Mystérieuse as I type this: it's really gotten under my skin, and well deserves its name. And I see we see nose to nose on the tropicals: I feel totally at home both with Amaranthine and Manoumalia. I'll have to try Côte d'Amour -- Céline Ellena is someone whose work I really enjoy and the woman herself is a delight. I could listen to her for hours...

  13. Denyse,here is my list of top 10 perfumes for 2009 with some comments :
    1.Turtle Vetiver
    2.Manoumalia( LesNez gave for 2009 THE SCENTS OF THE YEAR)
    3.Clemency Humiecki&Graef (alien leather disguised under a maternal look :) )
    4.Ubar Amouage ( beside the perfume, also for the coming back almost not altered)
    5.Vespres Siciliennes MDCI(beautiful Italian landscape)
    6.Wazamba Parfum d'Empire ( was a good companion during Xdays)
    7.Back to Back By Kilian ( a real challenge for my skin )
    8.Essence Narciso Rodgriguez
    9.Black Afgano Nasomatto
    10. Vanille Galante Hermessence
    ( the most exquisite vanilla)

  14. Alex, you were right to mention Clemency by Christophe Laudamiel, which I have a sample of, but haven't had the time to wear properly. I find the whole Humiecki and Graef line extremely interesting: like LesNez, it is a kind of laboratory where perfumery can develop along more experimental lines.

  15. My favorite launches of the year?
    -Une rose chyprée
    -Havana Vanille
    -Bois d'iris by VC&A

    I can see a bottle of the first one in my future. The others are interesting takes on notes I usually don't care for. We'll see...
    However, this has been an year of great (re)discoveries: Beyond love and Carnal Flower made it on my shleves and would appear in a very short desert island list with two Chanel les exclusifs (I must try Tubereuse Criminelle, now I really must).
    And when I hear new tuberoses are getting launched by HDP or by a misterious parfumer... well....

    BTW, Is the mysterious parfumer a very nice (swiss) man? I think he will be tackling the note, too.

  16. I'm still on catch up but to this point my best of the best for 2009 are: Iris silver Mist, L'Air du désert marocain, and Patchouli 24, shorlty followed by Bulgari Black Encre Noire and The Unicorn Spell.
    For the launches, Manoumalia has my vote.
    Weirdly, the more I sample and consequently buy perfumes, the more my must try/ must have list gets longer, (partly because of you, I must say). I wish I could decide which Veroprofumo's scent I like most, I'd like to have now a tuberose, a F. Malle, more time, more arms, a wealthy bank account,.. and Derby. Is it serious doc?

    Happy 31th!

  17. I'm so curious! I'm trying to figure out who developed this mystery tuberose fragrance. And of course, I have no real idea, although I have a couple of decent guesses. Any known date for the release?

  18. Dear Denyse, I do apologize but I want to avoid my horrible Frenglish to your English-speaking readers....

    Pour moi aussi Turtle Vetiver (exercice 1) et la XIIème de Cartier constituent sans conteste les plus belles découvertes de cette année et que j'ai envie de porter (bien qu'un petit obstacle financier demeure pour la 2ème référence...)

    Mon grand revirement de cette année porte sur Havana Vanille : je fais mon mea culpa : il ne faut jamais s'arrêter à une première impression (ici le rhum). Une fois de plus Bertrand Duchaufour démontre la primauté du style sur une simple énumération d'ingrédients. Les "reviews" lues ici ou là me paraissent quelquefois bien hâtives et superficielles... J'attends la tienne avec impatience !

    Enfin, je suis passé à l'acte, en termes freudiens, pour 2 parfums des années précédentes dont je repoussais l'achat et "non, je ne regrette rien..." :
    -Jubilation25 d'Amouage (2007)
    - Cuir d'Oranger de Miller Harris (2005) dont les stocks touchent à leur fin

  19. Oups... il s'agissait surtout pour moi de XIIIème
    (TREIZIEME heure)
    Ah ces Romains...

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  21. Hi dear
    FELIZ ANO NOVO! Beijocas de Elisabeth

  22. Zazie, the answer to your question about the Swiss perfumer is: no. More in a few weeks!

  23. Anatole, welcome to the club... As we always say, so many perfumes, so little skin (time/money/space on the shelves...)!
    Et ça ne s'arrange pas avec le temps, hélas, en tous cas pas pour moi.

  24. Melissa, actually, I'd have to ask. I only know it's going into production soon... I'll talk about it as soon as I can.

  25. Thierry, je suis navrée de ne pas encore avoir traduit ce post, je prends ce temps sur celui consacré à ma famille!
    Je suis ravie que j'aie réussi à te faire percevoir autrement Havana Vanille, que je porte encore ce soir pour la saint-Sylvestre, c'est dire que je suis en bonne compagnie!

  26. My perfume year was overwhelmingly Swiss: Manoumalia by LezNez and Une Rose Chypée by Tauer.

    I never managed to get my hands on Turtle Vetiver 1, and so will have to wait for the second edition to come out. And this week, I shall be heading to an Artisan Parfumeur counter for some of that divine vanilla...mmm...

    On a side note, I am shocked that the stores here in Geneva not only do not stock anything by LezNez, Andy Tauer or Vero, but have not even heard of them (we are talking about the stores that stock the niche lines, like Malle).


  27. Monika, could that be a Zurich vs. Geneva thing? It's true that those three houses are very tiny and not widely distributed, but still... I mean how many perfume houses are Swiss? I'm sure you brought them up to speed.

  28. There have been a good few relases that sound exciting, but which I haven't had a chance to sniff: Al Oudh, Havana Vanille, the Kurkdijans & Cartiers, and Amarinthine are all on my 'to smell' list for the coming year.

    Of the ones I have tried: Pure Oudh is pure beauty, definitely my favourite new release. Manoumalia probably comes second; even though I wouldn't want to actually wear it, it's stunningly well made and original to the extreme.

    A good year I'd say, even if I'm not desperate to buy any of them (well, I would buy Pure Oud at the drop of a hat if it weren't for the crazy price!).

  29. Parfymerad: that's some catching up you have to do, but it's all good... I'm with you on the Pure Oud: I'm holding out until they get purse atomizer refills to do a split. And I'm so very happy to see Manoumalia get all the plaudits it deserves: I can't wait for more scents by Sandrine!

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