Top tuberoses...Vamp à NY by Honoré des Prés and Nuit de Tubéreuse by L'Artisan Parfumeur
Tuberose may well be the ultimate in femininity, while vetiver is just one notch short of the big old-fashioned fougère as the top marker of olfactory virility – at least, that’s what came out of the admittedly unscientific survey I took of my readers some time ago.
So what does it say about the gender politics of the perfume industry that at least three brands, Prada, L’Artisan Parfumeur and Dior in their Chanel Exclusives copycat line, came up with both a tuberose and a vetiver in 2010? Though I doubt that was the line of thinking in the marketing department: offering a tuberose and a vetiver is just a way of ticking the boxes of what any perfume collection must offer… And offering a tuberose is something of a necessity, since the received wisdom in the industry is that the Fracas-addicted American market craves tuberose. It is also sure to attract the attention of niche brand customers, who tend to veer towards the more reputedly “difficult” notes of the spectrum (Frédéric Malle, for instance, knew he’d offer a tuberose in his line-up from the outset).
So in 2010 the olfactory fashion pendulum swung hard towards the diva of the floral world:
Infusion de Tubéreuse (Prada) and New Look 1947 (Dior) represented the big-hitters’ entries with tame versions, the former soapy, the latter cosmetic. On the niche side, Histoires de Parfum hedged its bets by matching it up with iris-suede, fruitchouli and tobacco-immortelle in its Tuberose Trilogy.
The two scents that emerged from the 2010 tuberose tsunami were, unsurprisingly, composed by two of the best and most uncompromising noses-for-hire on the market today, Olivia Giacobetti and Bertrand Duchaufour. Neither went for an obviously tuberose note: between Fracas and Carnal Flower, the bases for both the classic tuberose-orange blossom template and the naturalistic rendition were fully covered, Tubéreuse Criminelle adding a baroque twist to the former.
With its joyful tropical play on rum, banana and coconut notes on a burning balsamic base, Honoré des Prés Vamp à NY “reaches you in places sex doesn’t”, according to my Irish friend Clare, who happens to be a sex therapist, and thus should know. Honoré des Prés itself is totally on-trend, being the first brand to offer organic perfumes composed in the manner, and with the aesthetic standards of, French niche perfumery. It scores additional points by working with Giacobetti, whose signature has become much rarer over the last couple of years.
L’Artisan Parfumeur Nuit de Tubéreuse takes an entirely different tack on the vamp, teasing apart the facets of the tuberose absolute rather than going for a figurative representation and conjuring an uncannily seductive mutant that spans the whole cycle of vegetal life, from fruit to root. Unlike Olivia Giacobetti’s, Bertrand Duchaufour’s signature seems poised to be cropping up more and more frequently as several niche brand owners beat a path to his lab… The launch of the new Frapin in early 2011 will be the kick-off.
Portrait of a Lady by Frédéric Malle Editions de Parfums
As the perfume industry scrambles to capture non-Western markets, the type of French-Arabian perfumery pioneered by Montale and Amouage -- the cross-breeding of Arabic olfactory codes with French forms -- is poised for a sharp surge in the niche sector. You think you’ve already smelled all the oud you could? By this time next year, you’ll be up to your nostrils in it.
Though neither Frédéric Malle nor Dominique Ropion acknowledge having worked with Middle-Eastern tastes in mind, Portrait of a Lady, a paradoxically opulent yet bone-dry wood/rose oriental with oud effects, is one of the most elegant interpretations yet of this new(ish) French-Arabian genre. Because it comes from a house whose editorial policy has been to offer modern rewrites of classic genres, Portrait of a Lady might very well herald the coming of age of the French-Arabian family as an autonomous branch of the Orientals.
Top Faux de Cologne...
Ninfeo Mio by Annick Goutal
With the economic rise of Latin American countries, we’re bound to see a lot of fresh, citrusy scents designed to flatter the Hispanic taste for the agua de Colonia families splash themselves with by the liter, as well as scents I’ve dubbed the faux de Colognes, longer-lasting versions of the classic family with chypre undertones, with a stress on aromatic freshness rather than citrus per se.
However, one of the loveliest offerings in this crisp, fresh genre sprang not from a marketing strategy but from a true story: in fact, the very kind of story that gave the pioneer niche brands their soul. Ninfeo Mio was born of a dreamed Garden of the Hesperides before Isabelle Doyen and Camille Goutal discovered that their raspy green fig and lavender accord existed in reality, and the shimmering fragrance conjures some of the exhilaration of that discovery.
Top post-Guerlain gourmand...
Kiss Me Tender by Parfums de Nicolaï
2010 saw the house of Guerlain reeling after Jean-Paul Guerlain’s unsavory choice of words revealed a side of the old master’s character and opinions insiders had long known about (they were just wondering why it hadn’t come out sooner). His two Arsène Lupin will quite probably be, as a consequence, the last products he puts his name to. But the Guerlain heritage is thriving a few metro stations away from the 68 Champs Elysées, in Patricia de Nicolaï’s little lab on the avenue Raymond Poincaré lab.
With its almond, vanilla and anise facets, heliotrope may well be the most edible of flowers and Kiss Me Tender, a tribute to Après L’Ondée with a more gourmand bent, fully deserves its epithet: it is an airborne embrace.
Top classic-in-the making...
L’Heure Fougueuse by Cartier
The Guerlain line of transmission is also carried out in the Cartier headquarters of the rue Boissy d’Anglas with the maverick Mathilde Laurent, who was apprenticed to the man who was himself apprenticed to the author of Mitsouko and L’Heure Bleue. But it was Edmond Roudnitska she channeled when composing L’Heure Fougueuse for Cartier’s Les Heures de Parfum collection, a modern tribute to L’Eau Sauvage whose “horse mane accord” strikes such a deeply resonant chord that it might well express, as was its author’s intention, an olfactory archetype. If it weren’t for the price point that puts it out of reach of most mortals, this could well become a classic: I haven’t met a person yet who wasn’t immediately struck by its rightness.
Absolue pour le Soir by Maison Francis Kurkdjian
If L’Heure Fougueuse plays on animalic notes in a subtle, almost subliminal fashion, Maison Francis Kurkdjian Absolue pour le Soir uncages the whole menagerie: it is so unashamedly beastly the first whiff made me burst out laughing. Cumin! Honey! Civet! Leather! Not to mention a funky sandalwood base with the half-life of plutonium… If the winsome Francis K. seemed to play it safe with his initial offerings, this time, consider all the hardcore niche-lovers’ buttons pushed.
Top synaesthetic feat...
Wonderwood by Comme des GarçonsWonderwood also has that sandalwood drydown you practically have to sandblast off your skin. But if I’m including it in the year’s Top Ten, it isn’t so much because of the way it smells, as because of the way it looks. The Quay Brothers’ video for the launch – for which the CdG team gave them carte blanche – is, to my mind, one of the most spectacular renditions of the olfactory ever filmed, at least in a promotional video. Watched alongside the indigent new Dior Homme campaign, it’d make me want to douse myself in Wonderwood even though I rather prefer the smell of the Dior…
Top mainstream launch...
Midnight in Paris by Van Cleef and Arpels
Which makes, via Olivier Polge, for a rather lame transition into Midnight in Paris. The black tea note was just enough of a nod to Bulgari Black to send a shiver of pleasure and relief down perfume lovers’ spines: at last, here was a mainstream fragrance to embrace, not least because it was co-signed (with Domitille Bertier) by the author of another gender-bending mainstream classic-in-the-making, Dior Homme.
Top on-trend concept...
M/MINK by Byredo
I was fully poised to include Serge Lutens Boxeuses in this Top Ten – a variation on Prunol and Cuir de Russie, what’s not to love? – when I told myself that Byredo M/M Ink might well be more significant in the year’s launches. Not just because I find its blend of mineral and animal notes refreshingly daring, though too jarring for me to wear, but also because I believe the concept itself heralds a major niche trend.
There are very few perfumers who can art-direct themselves, and very few brands able to come up with consistent, original ideas in an increasingly crowded scene – especially since very few actually bother with hiring a creative director. So we’ll be seeing a lot more artistic types like Michael Amzalag and Mathias Augustyniak, aka M/M, the graphic designers/art directors who supplied Jérôme Epinette with a visual brief for M/MINK, collaborating with perfumers in the conception of fragrances, if only because niche brands, both established and new, will be looking for new sources of inspiration and new narratives to authenticate their products.
So I’ll be spending quite a few entertaining hours speculating on what Jeff Koons, Takeshi Murakami or Mark Quinn could come up with -- and burning candles to Mary Magdalene, the patron saint of perfumers, in the hope that no one approaches Tracey Emin with the idea.
For more Top Tens of 2010, check out:
Bois de Jasmin
Now Smell This
And, of course, I'm looking forward to reading your own favourite picks of the year!